The greatest day of the year is nearly upon us, and with that exciting arrival means there is some serious prep work to be done. There are recipes that need planning. Turkeys that need to be bought, brined and cooked. Pies to be baked. Cocktails to be stirred. But before any of that happens, before we begin celebrating our favorite food holiday, there are side dishes to be planned since they are about as turkey is, after all, the star but not the only part of a great meal. Some even argue they’re better than the centerpiece of the meal: the turkey. But not all sides deserve this stellar reputation. Some sides are bland, boring and a waste of your precious stomach space.

There is an unspoken understanding around Thanksgiving meals most people subscribe to: It is not about one meal but several days after too. Thanksgiving weekend is about spending time with friends and family enjoying an incredible meal on Thursday, followed by a weekend of grazing on leftovers that should be guilt free. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potato casseroles… I love them all and always feel a little sad when I scoop the last of the side dishes from their leftover containers onto my plate. These are a couple personal favorites that many haven’t had the pleasure to enjoy with family and friends.

Sweet Potato Casserole

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 stick sweet butter, softened, divided

1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut optional

2 29-ounce cans sweet potatoes, drained and mashed

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine pecans, brown sugar, flour, 1/4 cup butter, and the coconut, if desired; mix until crumbly, then set aside.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, including remaining butter; mix well. Spoon into casserole dish and sprinkle evenly with pecan mixture.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through.

Yield: 6 servings

Green Bean Casserole with Fried Shallots

2 pounds fresh green beans

1 package sliced mushrooms

1/2 sweet onion

1/4 cup sweet butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cup half-and-half

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs


4 large shallots

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Canola oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook green beans in boiling salted water to cover in a Dutch oven 4 to 5 minutes or to desired degree of doneness; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain and pat dry.

Sauté mushrooms and onion in melted butter in Dutch oven over medium heat 10 minutes or until golden; whisk in flour and garlic and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in wine and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in half-and-half and cook, whisking constantly, 3 to 4 minutes or until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat, and whisk in 1/3 cup cheese and next 3 ingredients.

Fold green beans into sauce. Place in a lightly greased 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan and panko over green bean mixture. Top with fried shallots.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

For the Fried Shallots: Separate 4 large sliced shallots into rings. Toss in all-purpose flour. Pour vegetable oil to depth of 1 inch in a medium saucepan; heat to 350 degrees F. Fry shallots, in batches, 3 to 4 minutes or until crispy and just golden. Drain on paper towels; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yields: 8-10 servings