Thanksgiving--Out of the Can and Straight to the Heart

By: Erin Zimmer

With Thanksgiving approaching, we asked some of the area’s best chefs if they could jazz up the Thanksgiving-dinner staples—not by using gourmet foods but by including the cans and mixes that many cooks use but rarely fess up to. At first they balked. “Use a can opener?” one asked. “No crayfish tails in the stuffing?” another pouted. But off to their kitchens they went—and came up with a few tricks for turning Turkey Day warhorses into something memorable. Each recipe serves eight.

Nontraditional Stuffing

Brendan Cox, Circle Bistro

1⁄4 cup onions

1⁄4 cup celery

4 cups diced bread (a little stale)

1 cup cream

2 eggs

1 bunch sage, chopped

1⁄4 pound sausage

Salt and pepper

Sauté sausage, then drain fat. Combine sausage with other ingredients and place in a glass baking dish. Bake at 275 degrees for 30 minutes or until the center doesn’t jiggle.

Green-Bean Casserole With Vermont Cheddar

Bryan Voltaggio, Charlie Palmer Steak

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup onions, minced

1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced

4 cups green beans, blanched and frenched

3 cups chicken broth

2 cans condensed cream-of-mushroom soup (103⁄4 ounces each)

2 cans French-fried onion rings (2.8 ounces each)

2 cups Vermont Cabot cheddar, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large pan. Sauté onions in butter until translucent. Remove onions and add mushrooms; sauté mushrooms until lightly browned.

Combine chicken stock, mushroom soup, blanched beans, and sautéed onions and mushrooms in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a kitchen spoon until ingredients are combined; season with fresh ground black pepper and salt. Place the mixture in a buttered casserole and top with grated cheddar. Place in oven and bake until cheese is browned and casserole is bubbling. Top with French-fried onions.

Burnt-Honey Cranberry Sauce

Michael Harr, Butterfield 9

“I grew up on a honey farm, and for me no holiday meal is complete without honey,” says Harr. “Burnt honey provides the rich flavor of honey while minimizing the sugary-sweetness. It’s an excellent flavor that pairs nicely with the bitterness of the cranberries.”

1 16-ounce can whole cranberries

1⁄4 cup dried cranberries

1⁄4 cup sliced almonds

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3⁄4 cup honey

Pour honey into a saucepan and bring to boil. Continue heating until honey starts to caramelize. The smell will tell you when the sugars start to burn. Once it’s a medium-brown color, remove from heat. (Avoid letting the honey get too dark, or it will taste bitter.) Put canned cranberries, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, Grand Marnier, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl and mix together thoroughly. When slightly cooled, add burnt honey, stir, and serve.

Sweet-Potato Soufflé

RJ Cooper, Vidalia

3 cups mashed canned yams

1⁄2 cup applesauce

1⁄4 cup ginger preserves

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 cup evaporated milk

1⁄3 cup unsalted butter

2 eggs

1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons dark rum

Mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Pour into a buttered ovenproof baking dish. Spread topping (recipe below) on top of soufflé and bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes.

Topping

1⁄4 cup brown sugar

2 cups miniature marshmallows

4 egg whites

1⁄3 cup finely minced black walnuts

Combine egg whites and brown sugar in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk until whites form stiff peaks. Gently fold in marshmallows and walnuts.

Pumpkin Caramel Pecan Pie

Huw Griffiths, Tabard Inn

Pecan Crust

1 cup pecans

1⁄3 cup sugar

11⁄2 cups flour

6 ounces butter

Pinch salt

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons cream

1 12-ounce can dulce de leche (available in Hispanic food markets)

8 ounces toasted pecans

Pulse the pecans and sugar in a food processor until fine. Add flour, butter, and salt and continue to pulse until butter is in small pieces. Mix in egg yolks and cream. Flatten the dough by hand and refrigerate for an hour. Roll and place in a greased pie pan. The dough is crumbly, so it may need patching—just press scraps into the broken areas. Refrigerate another hour. Line crust with parchment and fill with pie weights. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Take out parchment and pie weights and bake 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before filling.

Pour one can dulce de leche into bottom of crust. Sprinkle toasted pecans over dulce de leche.

Pumpkin Filling

1 pound canned pumpkin

2 large eggs

3⁄4 cup sugar

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon cloves

12 ounces evaporated milk

Whisk ingredients as you add them to a large bowl in order. Pour into the crust. Bake 40 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool to room temperature before serving.