November 14th, 2012

Holiday Sides: tweaking tradition

Acorn Squash Rings stuffed with Sorghum Apples and Pecans

Yukon Gold-Sweet Potato Gratin

There’s a thin line to walk at family holiday gatherings, where Traditions and The New intersect. Expectations for the Usual vie for their place at the Thanksgiving table, as does the Desire for Something Different. If you are like me, you would never dream of replacing the roast turkey. Oh, I’ve refined my recipe over the years. And I’ve completely veered away from how I had it prepared, growing up.

Back in the day, my dad was in charge of cooking the turkey. He would cover the entire bird with bacon strips, which would essentially baste it as it roasted. When done, the bacon was practically annealed onto the golden brown skin. He’d cook it early in the day, let it rest before carving, and saunter off to the den to watch a football game.

Crazed with hunger, we kids would sneak into the kitchen, and greedily pick off the bacon strips, which couldn’t help but tear things up. With a piece of bacon came a piece of skin, oops, and then a hunk of meat. By the time the poor turkey reached the table, it was a rather ravaged looking carcass.

Much as we all loved the bacon, no one missed the “bacon-turkey” when I took over the helm of holiday hosting. My replacement, a garlic-sage-butter baste (slathered under the turkey skin) is much-loved, and arrives like a showpiece on the table.

But, no turkey? Unthinkable! There would upheaval, shouts of betrayal, dejection.

However, times change; diets and tastes change.
When you want to introduce something really new, that’s where the side dishes come in.


When our Third Thursday Community Potluck meets in November, it is a serendipitous convenience that it is held exactly one week before Thanksgiving. (always the fourth Thursday!) Our guests come bearing a bounty of intriguing dishes, ideal for holiday serving. I’m sharing two favorites with you today, for your consideration. Both are vegetarian and gluten-free, one is suitable for vegans. Bearing in mind shifting dietary needs, these are sure to please everyone.


The first dish combines Yukon Gold potatoes and sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced, and layered in a gratin. I love the random look of the overlapping orange and yellow discs. And, grating fresh nutmeg over each layer imparts a subtle spicy note.


The liquid in which these potatoes cook is half-and-half infused with shallots, chives, and flat leaf parsley. Shredded Gruyere cheese enrichens the dish, beautifully melting throughout the layers. If you can locate Comte, an artisanal French cheese that is possibly better than Gruyere, I recommend it.

The layers meld as they bake, but the naturally (and barely) sweet tastes of both potatoes shine through.



4-5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 shallots, diced
2 cups half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
whole nutmeg—for finely grating
1 ½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, cleaned
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated Parmegianno-Regianno

13”x9” deep baking dish

Using one tablespoon of the butter, coat the baking dish.

In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté the shallots in three tablespoons butter until translucent. Add the half-and-half, parsley, chives, salt, and white pepper. Stir well until warmed. Remove from heat.

Peel Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. Slice very thin (1/8’) and layer the bottom of the baking dish in overlapping circles. It’s fine to layer them randomly—a few slices of one potatoes, followed by the other. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the slices.

Stir and cover with a thin layer of seasoned half-and half. Sprinkle with ½ cup Gruyere. Repeat with another layer of sliced potatoes, arranged in similar fashion. Follow with grated nutmeg. Cover again with more liquid, followed by Gruyere. Press down with the back of a wooden spoon to make sure the liquid seeping through all the overlapping slices.

Finish with final of sliced potatoes, half-and-half, remaining cheeses. Dot the top with remaining butter.

Cover with aluminum foil and baking in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes, until casserole is browned, and potatoes feel tender when pierced.

Serves 10-12


The acorn squash rings make a pretty presentation, and couldn’t be simpler to make. Here in the South, we love sorghum, which adds a mineral sweetness to the apple stuffing. But other syrups would work just as readily. Maple syrup would be a terrific choice.

Apples and winter squashes always pair well. Choose a firm, tart apple, like Granny Smith or Jonathan or Ginger Gold. Pecan pieces and diced shallots are folded with apples, the pecans become toasted in the bake.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are traveling, travel safely. Enjoy one another’s company, and dine well.

We are headed for DC to be with my daughter and son-in-law, and I plan to stay until my grandbaby is born! Stay tuned. We are full of excitement and gratitude.



2 large acorn squashes
2 large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gingergold
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2/3 cup pecan pieces
¼ cup sorghum
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
olive oil—for brushing squash rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice squashes into rings, almost an inch in thickness. Depending on the size of the squash, you can get 5-6 rings from each one. Scoop out the seeds, and lay the rings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the rings with olive oil.

Wash, core and dice apples into ½” chunks. Place into a bowl. Add shallots, pecan pieces, sorghum, salt and black pepper. Toss, so that all the pieces are coated with the sorghum.

Mound sorghum apple mixture into the center of each ring.

Bake for 25 minutes.
Makes 10-12 rings


Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes

27 Responses to “Holiday Sides: tweaking tradition”
  1. Ale Says:

    You had me at the colorful potato gratin… and then I saw the squash!!!! Both are going on the list

  2. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    What an awesome recipe! I love the different textures – I’m making this for Christmas :D

  3. Kristi Rimkus Says:

    I love that you’re “tweaking” tradition. These side dishes are definitely worth their gold on the holiday table!

  4. Kath Says:

    Happy holidays and I am looking forward to news of the baby. x

  5. Teresa, foodonfifth Says:

    I will be expecting to taste these fall delectables tonight at Third Thursday! Sides have always been what I love about Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey lovers can have the turkey, I’ll take the sides any day. Yum.

  6. ernestine lawson Says:

    Nancy, thank you so much for a new idea for my
    Thanksgiving dinner. Making the squash rings.
    Safe travel wishes go out to you and when you see that new grandbaby – it is the best feeling in the world.

  7. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    I agree with Teresa–the sides have it! And these sides would be a wonderful addition to any table. Have a safe trip to D.C.,enjoy the holiday and the new arrival.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Yes, The Sides Rule!
    Thank you all for the kind wishes;
    Hopefully my next post will have Grandbaby News!
    Ernestine–I just realized I didn’t send you the chess tart recipe–I’ll do it today! Sorry!

  9. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    It is a delicate balance, merging the old with the new. Your gratin might have to be part of my new this year.

    But most importantly, a grandbaby right around the corner. You must be overwhelmed with anticipation. Enjoy!

  10. goodfoodmatters Says:

    thank you, Denise! the gratin really is quite good–I hope you’ll enjoy it, if you give it a try.

  11. Eileen Says:

    You know, we haven’t had a turkey for Thanksgiving in something like ten years! The tradition is well and thoroughly tweaked at our house. :) Those acorn squash rings look amazing–perfect for our 3rd year running of hosting vegan Thanksgiving!

  12. Rach Says:

    I like the sound of the gratin very very much and it fits perfectly into the orange hued, nutmeg dusted phase I (we) are all having. More importantly the day is getting closer, lucky M having her mum near, I have such fond memories of those first days with Luca and my Mum,
    happy Thanksgiving to you.

  13. gg loyd Says:

    Congrats on your growing family Nancy! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  14. Sue Says:

    Both look yummy! These will definitely be going into my recipe collection.

  15. Beth Says:

    Both of your sides look wonderful! What a great way to celebrate the holidays with a twist. And congratulations on the soon-to-be new addition to your family.

  16. Tammy Says:

    Sides are the stars, aren’t they? Love the look of both dishes and still planning our Thanksgiving meal.

  17. Magda Says:

    Oh you’re expecting a grandbaby!! How exciting this must be for you, dear Nancy.

    Your dishes look, as always, amazing. I love gratins and side dishes in general. Us Greeks always have huge spreads on holiday tables with small plates of this and that. I’m definitely bookmarking your recipes! Thank you!

  18. FOODESSA Says:

    I’ll certainly have a side of your first dish and a few notes to take towards the next time I prepare my acorn squash. Besides the scrumptious ingredients…the presention possibilities just lit the light bulb a little further. Nancy, this one will be on my table very soon ;o)

    Have a lovely Thankgiving.

    Ciao for now,

  19. thewobblingoblins Says:

    Making your potato gratin now…kitchen smells fantastic!

  20. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Eileen–good for you holding the vegan Thanksgiving–there are so many possibilities, to never miss the bird.

    rach–I hope that I’ll be good help to Madeleine and baby. if it works out, our plan is for me to be her coach in labor and delivery. exciting, yes, and a little surreal. it will all be real soon. x n

    Sue-I hope you’ll get the chance to make these recipes.

    thank you, Beth and Magda! We are looking forward to meeting this new family member. very soon.

    Hey there wobblinggoblins—thanks for the heads up. I bet that gratin smells good.hope you enjoy it!

  21. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    i am wishing I was having thanksgiving with you- for both the company and that amazing stuffed acorn dish:) Have a great week and thanksgiving!

  22. A Couple in the Kitchen Says:

    That gratin really speaks to us. Love the idea of having both Yukon Gold and sweet potatoes instead of the usual one or the other. Yum yum yummy!

  23. Juliana Says:

    Very creative Nancy…love both recipes and sure like the twist that you have here…perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.
    Have a happy Thanksgiving :)

  24. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    How amazing the holidays must be at your house! This one will be extra special when the family’s special bundle of joy will be delivered. :) Have a great Thanksgiving!

  25. Karen (Back Road Journal) Says:

    You are right about just how much you can change a traditional meal. I have made the gratin of sweet and regular potatoes but I think your recipe is better than the one I found in a magazine several years ago.

  26. Ashley - Baker by Nature Says:

    What amazing sides! Although Thanksgiving is over, I would totally make these any night!

  27. lapiubelladitutte Says:

    Some serious drooling over here even thought thaksgiving is gone!!!

Comment on This Post: