Great side dishes enhance your turkey, tradition

Brussels Sprouts Gratin: The recipe that converted Kevin Gillespie s mom from Brussels sprouts hater to Brussels sprouts lover. (Photo: Angie Mosier)

Brussels Sprouts Gratin: The recipe that converted Kevin Gillespie s mom from Brussels sprouts hater to Brussels sprouts lover. (Photo: Angie Mosier)

Is your Thanksgiving menu set in stone or do you have some room for flexibility?

Maybe you have a tried and true turkey recipe, a preference for the form of cranberries you serve and definite feelings about the right dessert to top off the meal. The side dishes are the one place many folks feel it’s safe to play around.

For Kevin Gillespie of Gunshow, Revival and Communion, Thanksgiving dinner in Serenbe with his family and wife Valerie’s family will definitely feature Valerie’s green bean casserole. “I tried to fancy it up,” he says, “but she said, ‘No way!’ And she’s right. It is delicious the way she makes it.”

Gillespie does all the cooking for the big meal with a few exceptions like that green bean casserole. “We always have all the traditionals, plus venison or wild game, and then I do one new dish every year. We used to go hunting every year on Thanksgiving morning and would serve what we got. I am too busy cooking to hunt now but everyone still expects a wild game dish – this year it will be elk.”

One thing the family counts on is that Gillespie will serve the Brussels sprouts gratin from his cookbook, “Fire in My Belly” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $40). “It was a new dish five or six years ago and now everyone expects it.”

Adding one new dish to the menu is a Gillespie recommendation. “Don’t change everything! Start small, maybe a different version of cranberry salad. Don’t go off the wall. Second, remember there are lots of dishes that are quintessential to Thanksgiving – don’t experiment with them as it throws off nostalgia!”

Chef Savannah Sasser of Decatur’s Twains Brewpub is spending Thanksgiving at home cooking for a small group of friends. She’s definitely serving poultry, perhaps a pasture-raised turkey from White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Ga. Cooking for a small group of friends doesn’t necessarily translate to preparing a small meal.

This year’s menu includes roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted squash with pecans and sorghum, Italian stuffing, mashed cauliflower and potatoes, gravy and pecan pie. “And maybe some Parker House rolls?” she adds.

The most traditional dish for her is the mashed potatoes, and she loves Yukon golds cooked with the skins on. For the Italian stuffing, she’ll be combining a baguette, pine nuts, golden raisins and rainbow Swiss chard. “I love all the different textures and the pine nuts and greens are a wonderful addition,” she says. And the sprouts? “I love the texture and the brightness it gives to a meal like Thanksgiving.

“I used to hate stuffing and now it’s one of my favorite things. I say, ‘Don’t be afraid to try a new take on a traditional item.’ Changing stuffing was why I now love it. And if it fails, so what? You make notes and you have a good story for next year. If that worries you, try out your new recipe weeks before. Just have fun and stay seasonal.”

Keegan Hughes of Roswell's Peach and The Porkchop will wake up Thanksgiving morning and crank up his Big Green Egg. "I smoke a turducken for my whole family and I make a second one for friends. While the turduckens are smoking, I play football with former employees. By the time the game is over, my turducken should be about halfway done."

Back home after the game, he helps his mother prepare the side dishes including her recipe for Macaroni and Corn. “I love collard greens and cornbread stuffing. Collard greens are some of my favorite greens. Cooking them with bacon and bacon fat make it one of the most appetizing things on the table. I’m not originally from the South, but collards were one of the first things I learned how to cook that fit in with Southern culture. Cornbread stuffing has the perfect flavor and balance to go well with any protein that is served, no matter which holiday it is,” he says.

Speaking of protein, Hughes suggests thinking outside the box. His turducken accomplishes just that. “Turducken is a perfect example. It has the game flavor provided by the duck, as well as the traditional flavors of the turkey and chicken. Stuffing the turducken with cornbread stuffing gives any Thanksgiving the perfect Southern flair.”

Football done and meal prepared, Hughes and family will enjoy their food and drinks and cap off their all-American holiday playing board games.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Kale Cornbread Dressing

Chef Savannah Sasser of Decatur’s Twain’s Brewpub offers this updated version of traditional Southern cornbread dressing. You could stuff it in the bird, but it’s just as delicious baked by itself. Perhaps even more delicious because it gets that nice golden crust.

Sasser says use your favorite cornbread recipe and prepare it one day ahead of time. Cube it, then cover and store at room temperature. Toasting the cubes before mixing them into the dressing helps to ensure they stay intact and crisp in the dressing. And if you like nuts in your dressing, Sasser says go ahead and add them for the nice crunch they provide.

Do-ahead tip: Go ahead and crisp the cornbread ahead of time. Cook the sweet potatoes and seasonings to the point where the greens are added, then refrigerate. Just before cooking, bring everything to room temperature and combine with eggs, then bake.

1 1/2 cups cornbread, diced and dried out for a day

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 leek, light green part, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

3 bunches kale, cleaned, stems removed and chopped

3 tablespoons sorghum

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/4 cups whole pecans or walnuts

4 eggs

2 tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering baking dish

2 cups vegetable broth, or as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 15-by-10-by-2-inch baking dish.

Arrange cornbread pieces on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until slightly toasted, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sweet potatoes, leek, garlic, oregano and thyme. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until sweet potatoes are just beginning to get tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Do not overcook of the sweet potatoes will be mushy in finished dish. Add chopped kale, cover and cook just until greens wilt, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together sorghum, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add sweet potato mixture and stir together. Fold in cornbread pieces and nuts, if using.

In a small bowl, beat eggs together and then pour over sweet potato mixture. Stir to combine.

Transfer stuffing to prepared dish and drizzle with vegetable broth to moisten. Dot top of stuffing with 2 tablespoons butter. Butter a piece of foil and lay it butter-side down over stuffing. Bake stuffing 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is slightly crisp and golden, about 20 minutes. Serves: 12

Per serving: 322 calories (percent of calories from fat, 47), 8 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 18 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 88 milligrams cholesterol, 750 milligrams sodium.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Kevin Gillespie shares this gratin recipe from his cookbook, “Fire in My Belly” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $40). In the book he tells the story of the development of this recipe.

“My mom always hated Brussels sprouts. They were taboo in our family. I hated them, too, until I learned how to cook them. Now I absolutely love Brussels sprouts. I shave them really thin and stir-fry them. I separate the leaves and serve them raw in salads. And I roast them every which way.

“Of course, I was determined to convert my mom. So I came up with this gratin for our family Thanksgiving in 2009. I couldn’t roast the sprouts because it was a covered dish situation. I had to make something that could be baked in a crowded oven. One taste of this gratin and the whole family loved it. Now, it’s a requested dish at almost every family function. My mom and dad even ask me to make it for potlucks they’re going to, and they pass it off as their own.”

Gillespie says the secret to turning Brussels sprouts haters into Brussels sprouts lovers is to thinly slice the sprouts and then barely cook them. A mandoline is the right tool for the thin slices you need, but Gillespie says if you have a 2mm slicing disk for your food processor you can cut out the sprouts core and then process the rest of the sprouts through the feed tube.

Do-ahead tip: In his book, Gillespie suggests making and pureeing the sauce, slicing the Brussels sprouts and making and rolling out the topping, then refrigerating everything. When ready to bake, reheat the sauce, fold in the sprouts and assemble and bake the dish right away.

11 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dish, divided

1 baseball-size Vidalia onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1/3 cup chopped garlic, about 8 big cloves


4 cups heavy cream

2 pounds Brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon Colman’s mustard powder

1 tablespoon water

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 lemon

1 cup panko

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

In a 4-quart Dutch oven, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook until onions are very soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add cream and bring mixture to a simmer. Cut the heat down to low and cook until cream is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

While cream is cooking down, thinly slice Brussels sprouts crosswise on a mandoline, slicing just until you get to the hard core. Discard the core or reserve for another use. You should end up with about 14 cups of thin, coleslaw-like rounds.

In a small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, just until the mixture begins to smell toasty, about 2 minutes.

Mix the mustard with water to make a thin paste. Whisk 2 tablespoons of the flour-butter mixture into the onion sauce along with the mustard paste, nutmeg and 2 teaspoons salt. Turn heat to medium and continue whisking until the mixture comes to a simmer and begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until the sauce loses any floury taste or grainy texture, about 10 minutes.

Zest and juice the lemon and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub the inside of a 2-quart casserole with butter and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the panko, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and the remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Process to a crumbly paste. Spread the crumb mixture on a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, top with another sheet and, using a rolling pin, roll the crust to fit the top of the casserole.

Carefully pour the onion sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the remaining zest from the lemon, all of the lemon’s juice and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend again until smooth. Pour the sauce back into the pot and fold in the sliced Brussels sprouts. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook until the sprouts are wilted, about 5 minutes. Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole. Remove the top sheet from the panko crust and invert over the Brussels sprouts. Remove the other sheet and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Serve hot. Serves: 12

Per serving: 464 calories (percent of calories from fat, 80), 8 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 42 grams fat (26 grams saturated), 142 milligrams cholesterol, 188 milligrams sodium.

Peach and the Porkchop’s Macaroni and Corn

Yes, you can make creamy macaroni-and-cheese without precooking the macaroni. This recipe from Keegan Hughes’ mom goes together in minutes and bakes up like a dream.

Hughes is executive chef at Roswell’s Peach and the Porkchop. This is a traditional dish for his family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and he offers it as an occasional side dish for specials at the restaurant.

Do-ahead tip: This casserole goes together in minutes. The only thing you might want to do ahead of time is cut the kernels off the corn cobs, then refrigerate. When ready to bake, stir everything together and put it into the oven.

1 (14.75-ounce) can creamed corn

Kernels from 5 ears sweet corn

1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup shredded smoked Gouda

1 cup shredded cheddar

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine creamed corn, corn kernels, macaroni, cream, smoked Gouda and cheddar. Mix well to be sure cheese is evenly distributed. Move to prepared baking dish. Bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir mixture, then sprinkle with bread crumbs and return to oven. Bake 30 minutes or until crumbs are lightly golden and crisp. Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. Serves: 6

Per serving: 636 calories (percent of calories from fat, 60), 17 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 44 grams fat (26 grams saturated), 137 milligrams cholesterol, 654 milligrams sodium.


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