Farewell sweet mash
If you're as tired of mashed potatoes as I am, try sweet-potato wedges or fries with saffron aioli (garlic mayo with saffron) in paper cones. Start with a newsprint or parchment paper triangle and wrap it into a cone; you can either staple it or fold the seam inwards a few times so it will hold together.
Then, place the cones in a long votive holder or vase to stand them straight up and allow each guest to take their own. This looks fantastic on the table.
Another alternative is a modern take on the classic French dauphinoise - try sweet-potato and coconut gratin. You won't miss the creamy, sweet tastes of traditional sweet-potato mash with maple syrup when you have thinly sliced sweet potatoes, layered and baked in a rich cream, milk, garlic and butter mixture. The breadcrumbs and desiccated coconut make a crunchy sweet topping. Instead of a big casserole, you can use individual gratin dishes .
One of my all-time favourites is sweet-potato ravioli with a sage butter sauce. It's easy to make your own ravioli with wonton wrappers.
Fill one wrapper with sweet-potato purée seasoned with parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Place the second on top and seal the edges. For an equally easy and delicious sauce, melt butter and fresh sage leaves until the butter starts to turn brown and the sage leaves are crisp. Garnish the plate with long, elegant parmesan curls made with a vegetable peeler, and voila - a delicious and fresh side for your meal.
A saucier sauce
There's no reason your cranberry sauce has to be a sticky, sugary mess. For a more playful, and sophisticated approach, combine the sweet and the savoury. Add chopped red and green peppers, onions, cracked peppercorns, sugar, vinegar and a cinnamon stick for a flavourful cranberry-peppercorn chutney. Even more playful: Hollow out small apples, one for each guest, and fill them with chutney. Then, use the top of the apple as a lid and attach a paper leaf on each lid with each guest's name (left). Hey - your chutney's doing double duty.
If you were never a big fan of cranberry in the first place - you're not alone - there are lots of alternatives. Just change up your fruit. Quince, for example, goes as well with turkey as it does with cheese. Add it chopped to sautéed onions and boil it with honey, white wine and a pinch of rosemary for a savoury compote. Or combine pomegranate, molasses and juice with onions, garlic and a dash of port for a colourful (and antioxidant-rich) sauce.
Can't decide? Serve them all. Take a wooden board or painter's palette and add a dollop of each sauce (above). Or smear each one (you may have to thicken your sauces) right on everyone's plates - it's a graphic alternative to the tired drizzle. Better yet, it lets your diners make the tough choices.
The right stuff
Mix up your bread stuffing by using small pasta shapes. Combine cooked orzo with spinach, currants, green onions and almonds. Let the modern-style stuffing do double duty as both food and table decor by serving it in small, hollowed-out gourds instead of stuffing the bird. Cut off the top and scoop out the seeds, fill with stuffing, replace the top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. For a stunning presentation, serve on a plain white platter accented with fresh herbs like sage, rosemary or thyme.
If you're a traditionalist, you can still update your favourite stuffing recipe by using sweet Italian panettone. The bread contains candied orange, lemon zest and raisins, and you can add more flavour with dried sour cherries. Use a shallow wooden bowl to serve this rustic dish, and add elegance with long tendrils of fresh herbs or a handful of local microgreens.
For a healthier, gluten-free alternative, try quinoa with apricots and cranberries. Cook the quinoa before mixing it with more traditional stuffing ingredients such as dried apricots and cranberries, celery and onions. For something completely different, try using a banana leaf as your cooking and serving vessel. Simply cut the leaf in two and use one piece to wrap lengthwise and the other to wrap around the width. Secure with a toothpick or string and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve in tied bundles for a nouvelle presentation - everyone gets their own package.
Although a turkey day standby, Brussels sprouts are anticipated with dread by most people. So treat your guests to roasted Brussels sprouts with pumpkin or sunflower seeds. They're still green - but they won't taste like any Brussels sprouts you've ever had. Parboil the sprouts for two minutes while you prepare the onions. Toss them together with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then roast on a large cookie sheet. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with herbs, vinegar and chicken stock. Toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds are a great crunchy garnish. The sprouts look fabulous on a wooden board accented with red or white currants, pomegranate seeds or whole fresh cranberries.
If barbecuing is your specialty, try cedar-smoked Brussels sprouts and onions. Hop onto the trendy smoking train by using a cedar plank. Place quartered sprouts and onions cut into eighths on the plank and place in the barbecue. To serve, toss with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Serve in stacked bamboo steamers with a lid on top to keep them warm. At dinner time, just pass them down the table so they're within everyone's reach - visually pleasing and a practical presentation.
If you've had complaints about bitter Brussels sprouts in the past, these sweet, caramelized ones are just what the doctor ordered. Melt butter in a saucepan and add thinly sliced red onions. When they begin to brown, add quartered sprouts and brown sugar, and cook until golden. Mix in a bit of red wine vinegar, season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped pistachios. Serve in a long, narrow, white serving tray and watch them disappear.
Roasted Brussels sprouts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds
WHAT YOU NEED
1½ pounds medium
1 pound white pearl onions
kosher salt and freshly
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon finely
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup chicken stock, warmed
½ cup roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped
WHAT YOU DO
Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare sprouts, parboil two minutes. Drain and set aside. Prepare onions; combine with sprouts and toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange sprouts and onions in a single layer on a large cookie sheet.
Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden and tender (25 to 30 minutes).
Transfer to a serving dish and toss with herbs, vinegar and chicken stock. Garnish with sunflower or pumpkin seeds and serve immediately.
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