You can’t serve up Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey, but truth be told, isn’t it the side dishes — the savory soups and salads, creamy vegetables and rich desserts — that make the feast memorable?
Some people are so enamored of the Thanksgiving side dishes, they will hold a separate holiday, Sidesgiving, to shine a light on the true stars of the table. But even on turkey day, it’s nice to incorporate a few adventurous veggies into the all-American melting pot of flavors.
“I have a lot of vegetarians in my family, and I like to mix it up and add a few different things,” said Peggy Fallon of Petaluma, who attended a recent Holiday Sides cooking class at The Fork at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. “When I see all these side dishes, I could care less about the turkey ... although you do need it for gravy.”
Taught by The Fork’s executive chef Jennifer Luttrell, the side-dish tutorial provided new inspiration for everything from a seasonal bourbon cocktail and a dry brine for the turkey to a flaky biscuit studded with blue cheese and an apple pie topped with a crumble instead of a crust.
“I love Thanksgiving,” said Luttrell, who has been teaching the class for several years. “It’s my favorite meal of the year, and I eat it for days.”
Her lineup of California-inspired vegetable dishes give the old standbys a new, cheesy twist. For example, mashed potatoes seem rather bland when compared to the deep, satisfying flavors of a Caramelized Onion, Chard and Potato Gratin with Young Gouda and Sage.
The brown bowl of Brussels sprouts gets a splash of color and flavor when you finish the edible buds with a Cranberry Brown Butter sauce made from fresh cranberries, maple syrup, ginger and orange zest.
Instead of the Southern-style sweet potato casserole topped with pineapple and marshmallows — so last century — Luttrell lightened things up with a Delicata Squash Salad with Kale, White Beans and Shaved Toma.
“Delicata squash is my favorite thing about fall,” she said. “You can eat the skin, and it has a nice, natural sweetness.”
And you don’t need to serve ho-hum Parker House dinner rolls once you perfect her recipe for Original Blue and Caramelized Onion Biscuits with Honey Butter, a nod to her Southern childhood in Oklahoma.
“The Original Blue (cheese) is peppery and full flavored,” she said. “It goes well with the sweetness of the onions.”
As an option to the same-old stuffing, Luttrell suggested baking a Mushroom Bread Pudding with Bay Blue, a dish so complex that it could stand on its own as a vegetarian entrée on any day.
“The Bay Blue (cheese) is really great with mushrooms,” she said. “We added extra bread so it’s not quite as rich.”
As appetizers, Luttrell suggested serving guests some kind of seafood to keep it light but luxurious — oysters, crab or smoked salmon are all good bets. For more indulgent fare, pick up some cheese and salumi from your favorite cheesemonger.
“The Toma is one of my very favorite cheeses,” said Jane Lyon, wholesale coordinator at Point Reyes Farmstead. “It’s warm and appetizing, and it’s accessible to everyone.”
The cheese company, which started making its famous Original Blue back in 2000, now makes a young and an aged Gouda along with another blue, the Bay Blue. The Original Blue was inspired by the Danish-style of blue cheese — creamy, buttery and smooth — while the Bay Blue is inspired by the earthy flavors of the English Stilton. Both are American originals, Lyon said.