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Vail food: Updated Thanksgiving standbys

Mary Morgan Parker
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – I’ve found that at Thanksgiving, tradition rules. Most people will want the classic sides, from plain mashed potatoes to the green beans with the canned fried onion garnish. I put other things on my menus, but many clients just want the tried and true. Stuffing seems to be the most emotional – it’s GOT to be cornbread, or it’s GOT to be rice – no compromises.

There are quite a few ways, however, to give a bit of freshness (and flavor) to the old standbys. I roast the yams, so they’re not so soggy, then add a little bourbon along with the butter and brown sugar, and try to convince clients to skip the marshmallows. Rosemary also goes well with roasted yams as an alternative to sage.

Another idea, if you want to keep the traditional flavors but offer a change of pace, is sweet potato soup instead of mashed – you can serve it in small coffee cups as an hors d’oeuvre or with the meal. Offer mini marshmallows as a topping, if you must.



I love mashed potatoes unconditionally – smooth or lumpy; with cream, milk, or buttermilk; Russet, new potato or Yukon Gold. I think a combo of Russet and Yuke is the very best, with butter, milk, a little nutmeg, salt, white pepper and a splash of buttermilk. A really, really good variation is to add pureed cooked celery root, and toss in a little heavy cream instead of the buttermilk.

For the green beans, I like to caramelize the onions with white wine, sherry vinegar and a little sugar. It’s a lot lighter and fresher than the old cream of mushroom soup. Saute or roast some mushrooms, and platter the dish with beans on the bottom, then mushrooms, then onions. A sprinkle of toasted almonds, pecans, or pine nuts gives a lovely crunch. Try tossing the steamed or sauteed beans in a little walnut or hazelnut oil, then top with toasted nuts to match the oil.

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An interesting cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts of an updated Thanksgiving – make a chutney with port wine, cider vinegar, sugar or honey, dried cherries, and fresh cranberries; or try adding some shallot and rosemary instead of the usual orange. One note: make sure your sauce doesn’t clash with the turkey!

And the turkey is actually a place where you can make a few changes without offending Grandma. Try putting some herb butter, prosciutto or ham, roasted garlic, or spices under the skin to add flavor and combat the dryness demon. At Pan For Hire, we always brine the turkeys overnight before cooking – a basic brine of water and kosher salt will do the trick. Just make sure to rinse and dry the bird thoroughly before it goes into the oven or turkey fryer. And be careful when making the gravy with the drippings from a brined turkey – use low-sodium broth, and check to make sure it’s not too salty. Everyone wants extra gravy, so we buy turkey legs and wings, roast them, and use them to make quarts and quarts of gravy.

An important turkey observation: it’s better to cook two (or three) small turkeys than one monster – not only does the meat come out better, but you’ll get better leftovers as well. This is especially true if you’re deep-frying the birds – don’t go larger than 12-14 pounds. If you want to grill your turkey, butterfly it (or ask you butcher to do that for you).



Mary Morgan Parker is the chef/owner of The Pantry in Minturn and the owner of Pan for Hire, a local catering company. For more information, call 970-477-7490.


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