1. Don't have dessert as part of the dinner; that is, don't have a sweet potato dish that tastes like pumpkin pie filling. (Boo! Hiss! I can hear the pro-marshmallow crowd gathering in the front yard with their torches and stakes.) Hey, if you're going to have dessert, have it as dessert, not as a so-called side dish. But you don't have to agree with me. I will quote from the inimitable Ann Hodgman in her inimitable cook Beat That!: "I'm not the boss of you. No one's forcing you to use my recipes." But if you'd like a sweet-potato recipe that's a little more . . . adult? then I would recommend the following, adapted from Rick Rodgers' wonderful cookbook Thanksgiving 101:
About 4 pounds sweet potatoes (I always try to get the Garnet ones--with the dark, almost purplish skin and the dark orange flesh--they're the moistest and sweetest.)
1 cup cider, boiled down by half,or 1/2 cup of apple juice concentrate, or 1/2 cup of the cider syrup I described here.
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar (could be omitted)
1/2 tsp. salt
Rick has this weird cooking method of putting the scrubbed but unpeeled yams in boiling water and cooking until soft, then peeling. But it's much much easier just to microwave them, again scrubbed and unpeeled. I use the "potato" setting on my microwave, although I usually have to do it twice, flipping the potatoes over and re-arranging them. Then I peel them while they're still warm, which is pretty easy to do. Mash the potatoes with the rest of the ingredients, but don't make it into baby food! I wouldn't use a food processor but instead a hand mixer, and I don't worry about leaving some lumps. Put the mixture into some sort of baking dish. You can then refrigerate it if you're making it way ahead of time, or just leave it out at room temperature if it's only a matter of an hour or so. Either way, cover it and re-heat it in the oven after you take out the turkey.
Note: You could also include some sliced, sauteed apples in this if you really wanted to emphasize the apple aspect.
Simple-but-Elegant Green Beans
2 pounds of fresh green beans--The grocery stores often have nice ones on sale during the holidays.
1 pound fresh mushrooms
1-2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup finely-chopped pecans
6 slices cooked and finely-chopped bacon
4 tablespoons butter, olive oil or other vegetable oi, depending on what nationality you have in mind for your beans
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce--same comment as for the butter/oil
Some kind of herb that goes with your other ingredients--I used Italian seasoning
All ingredients except for the beans, shallots, fat, and seasoning are optional and can be combined any way you choose.
Trim beans and boil in lightly-salted water until almost but not quite done--more crisp than tender. I just pour them into a colander and let them sit and drain there. They will continue to cook a bit more since they're still hot, and you can of course go to the trouble of shocking them in ice water and then draining them again, but if you're careful to stop cooking them soon enough you don't have to go through that somewhat messy process, as far as I'm concerned. Then they can just sit there in the colander until you're ready to use them, unless you're doing them the day before in which case you should refrigerate them. Either way, when you're ready to get them ready to serve, melt the butter/heat the oil in a shallow pan large enough to allow you to toss the beans, saute the shallots and the mushrooms, if using, and then add any or all other ingredients with the beans and toss together until hot. Serve immediately. (Don't you hate it when recipes say that? But remember that you've been able to prep the beans ahead of time.)
Please note: I'm a serious fan of from-scratch green bean casserole (the recipe for which can be found on Sally's Baking Addiction or Smitten Kitchen) and will definitely be making it, homemade fried onions and all, at some point during the holidays. (Those two recipes are basically the same, but I'm including both links because they come from two seriously awesome cooking blogs which you should read.) I just don't think you always have to have it.
My gravy came out great, but I'm not going to try to write out the directions in detail. There are some general principles to be followed, though, which I will list below in my opinionated way:
1. You must pour off the drippings from the turkey pan and let the fat rise to the top, at which point you skim off and measure 3/4 cup, adding melted butter if you need extra. (The gravy separator I talk about at the end of this post is very helpful.) You can't just pour shaken-up flour and water into the roasting pan.
2. You must then make a roux with the fat and an equal amount of flour. You then need to measure out the skimmed drippings and add enough good turkey or chicken stock to equal 8 cups. (Again, go here to see what I use for chicken stock. If you want to go to the trouble, you can make homemade turkey stock with wings and backs, if you can find them, or you can actually buy turkey base, although it's very hard to find. I just used my chicken base and it was fine.) What good ol' Rick has you do is to pour the fat back into the roasting pan, heat it over two burners on your stove, and scrape up the browned bits, then add the flour and stir until you have a nice lightly-browned roux, and then whisk in the stock, cooking until thickened. I think it's a little easier to make the roux in a saucepan and deglaze the roasting pan with the some of the stock, then whisking the stock into the saucepan. If you feel that the gravy is a little weak on flavor and you've used a base, you can just add more base.
I guess I ended up with some pretty detailed instructions after all--I don't make gravy very often, but when I go to all that trouble I want it to be right. I just did a turkey breast this year since there were only six of us and we all like white meat, and I seriously overcooked it. I followed the directions on the package and that was a big mistake. So next time I'll cut down on cooking time and temperature. I really liked not having that monster turkey carcass to deal with. There was much less fat with just the breast, so I basically made the gravy with all butter, which didn't hurt! I had lovely browned bits in the roasting pan that added great depth of flavor. And if you cover up your overcooked turkey with enough gravy it's pretty good!