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Holiday Foods and Tweaked Traditions

Oct. 30, 2012
Melanie Thortis


In the South, traditions are part of the language we use to connect to each other, to our families, to our history. We wear our traditions proudly and find that the best ones can wrap us in a soft, warm blanket and give us a sense of place - especially at this time of year. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and holiday gatherings aren’t far behind - all chock full of traditional expectations.

We do things a certain way because that’s the way Mama did it.

But sometimes, you may want to rock the boat a little. Stir a little rebellion into the mix. Walk on the wild side. Fresh from the Flame’s Julie Levanway maintains there’s a way to put a twist on tradition for your next family gathering or holiday party.

With a nod to staples like turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, she advises, “If you’re entertaining and want to do something totally different, it’s OK to step right outside the box this year and do something you’ve never done before. You can still have a menu that includes similar elements.”

For example, instead of cranberry sauce, she suggests a wonderful cranberry salsa, “It’s a great, easy, quick appetizer that you can serve with blue corn chips or sweet potato chips – and it’s heart healthy.”

Sweet potato puffs are another delicious twist on a holiday favorite.

Julie continues, “Try preparing tender pan-sautéed Brussels sprouts as a side, which is something a little bit different. But it’s a green vegetable, and it’s a little bit healthier than green bean casserole. I love green bean casserole, but sometimes you need to change it up.”

Butternut squash bisque served in a hollowed-out squash or pumpkin and a tender steak topped with mushrooms are mouth-watering surprises in this menu. Finishing with champagne-soaked fresh fruit is an elegant touch for dessert, and Julie notes that while it can be topped with whipped cream, it can be dusted with cinnamon or nutmeg for a holiday touch.

Occasionally, traditions are bound to be broken - or at least tweaked. In this case, I don’t think Mama would mind.

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Menu for Fall Entertaining

Cranberry Salsa with Sweet Potato Chips and Blue Tortilla Chips
Butternut Squash Bisque
Easy Skillet Filet of Beef with Sautéed Mushrooms
Sweet Potato Puff
Golden Pan-Sautéed Brussels Sprouts
Cinnamon Dusted Fresh Fruit Soaked in Champagne

Fresh Cranberry Salsa

1 (12 oz.) bag fresh cranberries
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 limes, juiced
¾ cup brown sugar or Splenda brown sugar
pinch of salt

Combine cranberries, cilantro, green onions, jalapeno pepper, lime juice, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a medium blade. Chop to medium consistency. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Serve at room temperature with sweet potato chips and blue corn tortilla chips.

Butternut Squash Bisque - Serves 4

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ cup diced onion
¾ cup diced carrots
4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
3 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Pistachios (optional for garnish)

Heat the oil and melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Cook and stir the onion in the butter and oil until tender.

Mix the carrots and squash into the pot. Pour in the vegetable stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender.

In a blender or food processor, puree the soup mixture until smooth. Return to the pot and keep warm until ready to serve.

Garnish with pistachios if desired.

Skillet Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms

filet of beef, rib eye or New York strip, room temperature
fresh ground black pepper
sea salt
olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of sliced mushrooms

Preheat an iron skillet over medium high heat for no longer than 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter and allow them to melt.

Coat the steak with pepper and salt. Sear the steak on the first side 1 to 2 minutes or until it develops a nice crust. Flip it, baste with the oil mixture and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes until the second side has crusted.

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Top the steak with some additional butter and the garlic and place in a preheated 350-degree oven and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes for medium rare.

Remove from the skillet from the oven and remove meat and let it rest.

Add the mushrooms in the juice in skillet and cook over a medium flame until tender. Pour mushrooms over the steak and serve immediately.

Sweet Potato Puffs - Serves 8

4 large sweet potatoes
¼ cup butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon grated orange peel
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon butter melted
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger, if desired

Bake sweet potatoes in a preheated 350-degree until tender. Set aside and allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop out sweet potato and place in a bowl and mash. Add remaining ingredients except for 1 tablespoon butter and the ginger. Beat vigorously until potatoes are fluffy.

Drop potatoes by ½ cup scoops onto ungreased cookie sheet, forming eight mounds.

Brush 1 tablespoon melted butter over potatoes. Bake about 15 minutes or until hot. Sprinkle with ginger, if desired.

Golden Pan-Sautéed Brussels Sprouts - Serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup chopped onion
24 small Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
fine-grain sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
dash of balsamic vinegar
¼ grated Parmesan cheese

Wash the Brussels sprouts well. Trim the stem ends and remove any loose outer leaves. Cut in half from stem to top and gently rub each half with olive oil.

Heat butter in skillet and sauté onions until soft. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your skillet over medium heat. Don’t overheat the skillet, or the outsides of the Brussels sprouts will cook too quickly. Place the Brussels sprouts in a single layer in the pan, flat side down. Sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt, cover and cook for roughly 5 minutes; the bottoms of the sprouts should show only a hint of browning. Cut into or taste one of the sprouts to determine whether they’re tender throughout. If not, cover and cook a few more minutes.

Once they are tender, uncover, turn up the heat, and cook until the flat sides are deep brown and caramelized. Use tongs to turn them once or twice to get some browning on the rounded side. Season with a dash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately.

Fresh Fruit Soaked in Champagne - Serves 8

1 cup of fresh strawberries, cut in half
1 cup of fresh pineapple, cut into cubes
1 cup of fresh blackberries
1 cup of fresh blueberries
2 fresh peaches or fresh nectarines cut into slices
1 bottle of champagne
cinnamon for dusting

Combine the fresh fruit and the champagne and allow to soak for at least 2 hours. Drain and place in a bowl. When ready to serve, dust with cinnamon.