More Alternative Thanksgiving Sides

Ample Bites has recipes for Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette and Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower that are easily scalable to the size of your Thanksgiving party.

Simple preparation with robust flavorful outcomes make these side dishes perfect for pairing with your roasted turkey. In fact with a watchful eye these two dishes can be roasted simultaneously in the same oven at the lower of the two oven settings of 425F.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Vinaigrette
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Epicurious, 2012)

Serves 4 – 6

2 (1 ½ pound) acorn squash
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 ½ Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 – 2 tsp finely chopped or ground dried hot red chile, including seeds
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Put the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 450F.

Halve the squash lengthwise, then cut off and discard the stem ends. Scoop out the seeds and cut the squash lengthwise into ¾-in-wide wedges. Toss with the pepper, salt and 2 tablespoons of oil in a bowl. Arrange cut side down in 2 large shallow baking pans.

Roast the squash, switching position of the pans halfway through roasting, until tender and undersides of wedges are golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes.

While squash roasts, mince the garlic and mash to a paste with ¼ teaspoon salt. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and whisk in the lime juice, chile to taste, cilantro and ¼ cup oil until combined.

Transfer the squash, browned sides up, to a platter and drizzle with the vinaigrette.


Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of, February 2013)

Makes 4 Servings

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium onion, sliced
4 thyme sprigs
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425F.

Toss cauliflower with onion, thyme, garlic and oil on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast, tossing occasionally, until almost tender, 35 – 40 minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, toss to combine and roast until cauliflower is tender, 10 – 12 minutes longer.

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Creole Versus Cajun

Below you will find an article that I found in an issue of Saveur magazine. It was written by chef Frank Brigsten. The article answers the question “What is the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine?”. Ample Bites found the article to be interesting and informative. I hope you do, too.

Creole Versus Cajun by Frank Brigsten

As a New Orleans chef, I am often asked to explain the distinction between Creole and Cajun, Louisiana’s famous cuisines. It’s the difference, I always say, between city and country tables. Creole, from the Spanish “criollo”, meaning “native to a place”, evolved across nearly 300 years in New Orleans – a city founded in 1718 by the French, ruled soon after by the Spanish, and home over the centuries to arrivals from all over Europe, West Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Caribbean. Creole food is classically French in spirit, exemplified by rich dishes such as shrimp remoulade and trout meuniere. But it borrows from elements from the cooking of all of the city’s populations. Spaniards brought the bell peppers that, along with onions and celery, compose the “holy trinity”, Creole’s version of a mirepoix, the flavor base of so many dishes. Sicilians introduced canned tomatoes, commonly used in Creole sauces. File (ground sassafras leaves), and earthy gumbo thickener, comes from the Native Americans; okra is African, while spicy cayenne is Caribbean. Cajun food, on the other hand, has its origins in the countryside of southwest Louisiana, called Acadiana, where the Catholic French colonists of Acadie (Nova Scotia) started settling in the 1750s when they were expelled from Canada by the British. There, they continued their traditional ways, trapping, fishing and pig farming. Though also French-based with multicultural influences, Cajun cuisine is founded on hearty one-pot cooking and rustic ingredients – salt pork, corn, and wild game and seafood. Soups and stews are built on a long-cooked roux made with lard or oil – darker and more intense than the butter-based Creole version. Cajun cooking wasn’t familiar to city folks until Paul Prudhomme and other Acadian-born chefs popularized it in the 1970s, but the ubiquity of crawfish, pork products, and deeply colored gumbos show how thoroughly New Orleanians have embraced this rural cuisine.

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Alternative Thanksgiving Side Dishes: Part One – Two Gratins

Depending on upon where you live or where you were raised you have staple side dishes for your Thanksgiving meal. Green bean casserole, varieties of sweet potato dishes, and stuffings or dressings are among the most popular. If you want to mix things up a little bit this year, try one of these gratins.


Fennel Gratin with Pecorino and Lemon features a mild anise flavor with a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Leek and Mushroom Gratin is a bit creamier with the same topping.


Fennel Gratin with Pecorino and Lemon
(Mark Kelly, 2012)

Serves 10

5 Tbsp EVOO
1 large onion, halved, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
3 large garlic cloves, minced
5 large fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 ½ tsp coarse kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper

Crumb Topping
3 Tbsp butter
¾ cup panko
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
1 ½ tsp finely grated lemon peel

Gratin – Lightly oil shallow 2-quart glass or ceramic dish. Heat 5 tablespoons oil in large wide pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic.; sauté until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add fennel; increase heat to medium-high and sauté until fennel is slightly softened and beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 18 minutes. Stir in broth and next 4 ingredients. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until most of broth is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer to dish.

Crumb Topping – Melt butter in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add panko; sauté until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature. Stir Pecorino, parsley, and peel into panko.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle panko mixture over fennel. Bake until gratin is heated through and topping is deep golden, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Leek and Mushroom Gratin
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Gourmet, October 2012)

Serves 6

¾ stick unsalted butter, divided
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
¼ pound Gruyere, finely grated – about 2 cups
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 Tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3 pounds leeks, root ends trimmed
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then cool.

Toss melted butter with breadcrumbs, cheeses, garlic, parsley, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a bowl until combined.

Trim each leek to an 8-inch length. Halve leeks lengthwise, then cut crosswise into roughly 1-inch pieces. Wash leeks and drain well.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 1 to 1 ½-qt heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook roux, whisking, 1 minute. Add stock in a slow stream, whisking, then bring to a boil, whisking. Add nutmeg and zest and boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter baking dish.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper, then cover leeks directly with a round piece of parchment paper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and leeks are tender and just beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until foam subsides. Add mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed and mushrooms are just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove parchment from leeks and stir in mushrooms. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading it evenly. Pour sauce over vegetables and top with crumb mixture. Bake until gratin is babbling and topping is golden, about 15 minutes.

Note: Gratin can be assembled, without breadcrumbs, 8 hours ahead and chilled (covered once cooled). Bring to room temperature, stir, and top with breadcrumbs before baking.

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Crab-Stuffed Salmon

Do you like salmon? Do you like crab (and who doesn’t)? If you answered “yes” to both questions try this decadent but truly simple recipe. Crab-Stuffed Salmon involves a handful of simple ingredients and about 30 minutes of total preparation and cooking time.


Crab-Stuffed Salmon
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

Serves 4

2 thin salmon fillets, about 1 pound each
8 ounces crab meat
8 ounces goat cheese
1/4 red pepper, finely diced
1/4 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs thyme, leaves minced
1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a skillet over medium heat bring the olive oil to a shimmer. Soften the onion and pepper for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute more. Allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the crab, goat cheese, onion-pepper-garlic mix, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Fold the ingredients together with a spoon until fully incorporated.

On a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet place one salmon fillet. Spread the crab mixture evenly over the salmon. Sprinkle with the cajun seasoning. Place the second fillet on top of the crab mixture. Season the top piece of salmon with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the center of the lower piece of salmon registers 145F on an instant-read thermometer. Serve immediately.

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Brine for Fresh Turkey

With less than two weeks until Thanksgiving you should be making a decision about what brining method you will use for your fresh turkey. There are many recipes available in cookbooks and on the Internet. Ample Bites suggests that you need look no further. This simple brine produces a very juicy, flavorful roasted turkey.

You probably have the Kosher salt and the required spices so all you really need from the store will be the brining bag and the apple juice.

Now that the brine decision has been made you can start planning your appetizers and side dishes.

Brining a Fresh Turkey
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

1 12 – 14 pound FRESH turkey
1 brining bag

For Brine
2 quarts of cold apple juice
1 cup Kosher salt
2 Tbsp dried sage
2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Thaw turkey, if frozen, and remove neck and giblets. Mix brine by pouring salt and spices into the apple juice until salt is completely dissolved. Place turkey in brining bag and pour the brine in. Squeeze most of the air from the bag and seal it tightly. Place the turkey in a cooler with a bag or two of ice for 24 hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine after 24 hours and rinse it with cold water. Pat the turkey dry, inside and out, and leave uncovered at room temperature for about one hour before seasoning.

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Fresh Turkey or Self-basting Turkey?

The default choice of turkey for most home cooks is a self-basting turkey from the local grocery chain. The most popular brand is Butterball.



In recent years, there has been a very strong move to fresh turkeys which can be ordered from grocers or purchased frozen during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. One Midwest grower is HO-KA Turkeys.

The typical self-basting turkey is frozen and comes with a “ready button”. The turkey needs to be thawed in the refrigerator over several days. The rule of thumb for thawing time is 24 hours for every 4 pounds of weight. The turkey does not need to, and should not be, brined.

If you simply follow the directions that come on the wrapper, you will produce a quality main dish for your holiday meal. Whether you are cooking a Butterball turkey or a turkey from a competitor you should keep in mind that Butterball has on-line and telephone support for home cooks. You can call them or chat on-line if you run into a problem while cooking.

The fresh turkey, if frozen, should be thawed beginning one additional day ahead of the meal because you will want to brine the turkey for the final day before roasting it. If you have ordered an unfrozen, fresh turkey from the grocer or butcher you should pick it up two days prior to the meal to allow for a full 24 hours of brining time.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, you should order your fresh turkey today or purchase your frozen turkey this coming weekend.

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Today’s Holiday Cooking Tip: Use A Reliable Thermometer

Regardless of whether you will be roasting a turkey with a “ready button”, a fresh turkey, or a roast it is imperative that you use a reliable thermometer to determine when your main dish is done. This may seem like an obvious tip but it is so simplistic that it is often overlooked by the home cook.

Like many of us you probably have a collection of meat thermometers in your drawers or cabinets. Ample Bites has owned at least a dozen meat thermometers. Ask yourself the following questions about your thermometer(s):
— How accurate are each of your thermometers?
— If you have more than one, do you know which thermometer is most accurate?
— If you spent $100 on a roast, would you trust your thermometer to tell you when the meat is done?

Further questions to consider are:
— Have you ever cut into a roast or turkey to see if it is really done?
— Has the turkey “ready button” ever failed you?

If the above questions raise any doubt in your mind, you have time to purchase the last thermometer you will ever need.


Ample Bites has a single trusted thermometer – the Thermapen. The Thermapen is a digital, instant-read thermometer that is well-made and tested in the best professional kitchens in the world. It is not cheap. It will cost you about $90. That said, you will be able to discard all of the other meat thermometers cluttering your drawers and you will never produce another overcooked turkey or beef, lamb or pork roast.

For a full review of the Thermapen see the November, 16 2012 Ample Bites post titled “Thermapen – The Best Kitchen Tool Ever!”.

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The Most Valuable Tips for Planning a Big Holiday Meal

Plan ahead and get organized.


If you have every held a large holiday meal you will likely remember the last minute dashes to the grocery store for crucial ingredients or, worse, to the department store for a critical piece of cooking equipment. Even if you are extremely well-organized the trip to the grocery is probably unavoidable, almost everything else can be managed if you think it through ahead of time and have a plan.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving, now – 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving Eve – is the perfect time to start planning and organizing. You are probably thinking … “Why 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving Eve?” The answer is that you need to be well into your meal preparation by the time Thanksgiving Eve rolls around.

These two weeks will give you time to shop for and stock up on ingredients without battling the last-minute crowds. To do this you need to set your menu including exact decisions about brining and seasoning your turkey; any specialty items required for side dish recipes; and any themed cocktail or beverage you might be serving.

Getting organized starts with building menu lists, ingredient lists and a plan for how these items will be prepared and served in a 36-hour window. I know … 36-hours seems like an enormous amount of time to prepare a meal. Is it? Really? Experienced hosts and hostesses will tell you otherwise.

For the tech savvy cook, pick up the Thanksgiving: A Bon Appetit Manual for the iPad and iPhone.

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Homemade Whole Wheat Linguine with Chicken Italian Sausage Ragu

Making your own pasta is very easy with the right equipment. The same is true for making your own sausage. When you put the two together in Whole Wheat Linguine with Chicken Italian Sausage Ragu taste buds light up.


Whole Wheat Linguine with Chicken Italian Sausage Ragu
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

Serves 6 – 8

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
4 Tbsp cold water
2 pounds chicken Italian sausage, without casing (See recipe below)
¼ pound pancetta, cubed
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, thickly sliced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup roughly chopped basil leaves, plus more for garnish
½ cup roughly chopped parsley
4 (28-ounce) cans diced plum tomatoes
½ cup red wine
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan

Using a tabletop mixer, combine both flours, eggs, water and ½ teaspoon salt and, using a dough hook, mix until the dough forms a ball and comes free from the sides of the mixing bowl. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Bring 2 tablespoons of oil to a shimmer. Brown the chicken sausage in batches. Remove to a platter and set aside to be incorporated into the ragu sauce.

In the same Dutch oven that the sausage has been browned in, brown the pancetta over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the wine. Add the onion, mushrooms, garlic, basil, parsley and tomatoes. Cook for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the cooked sausage and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

While the ragu is simmering, roll the pasta dough out and cut it into linguine.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook until the pasta is al dente, only a couple of minutes. Drain the pasta.

In a large serving platter, combine the pasta and the ragu sauce. Garnish with basil and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Chicken Italian Sausage for Ragu
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

Serves 6 – 8

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 2-inch-by-6-inch strips
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp dried ground sage
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp garlic minced
1 Tbsp crushed fennel seed
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Extra-virgin olive oil

Feed pieces of chicken into a grinder set for a coarse grind.

Mix the seasonings in a bowl. Sprinkle the seasoning into the ground chicken and gently combine with your hands without squeezing too much.

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Baked Dover Sole with Lemon-Butter Sauce

Dover Sole is a very delicate white fish that is best prepared when baked and accented with a simple, light sauce. When making Baked Dover Sole with Lemon-Butter Sauce be sure to prepare enough sauce to top accompanying pasta or rice.


Baked Dover Sole with Lemon-Butter Sauce
(Mark Kelly, 2013)

Serves 2

2 Dover Sole fillets (1/2 – 3/4 pound each)
1/2 pound dried whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
1/4 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine at room temperature
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and soften the onion. Add, garlic, jalapeno and tomato. Cook for 1 minute more. Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil then simmer over low heat until ready to serve.

On a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, place the fish fillets. Brush both sides of fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and just beginning to flake.

Boil pasta in salted water over medium-high heat. Drain the pasta and divide between two serving plates. Place the baked fish fillets along side the pasta. Top the fish and pasta with lemon-butter sauce and serve immediately.

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