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Holiday Sides

Thanksgiving is just starting to come over our horizon. At this time most of us are finalizing our guest list, agonizing over our menu or deciding what special dish we can bring “to pass.”

Every year it always works out fine and part of that is because we put so much of ourselves into making it happen properly.

Unlike other holidays during the year, Thanksgiving seems to always be about the side dishes. Yes, the turkey does take center stage, but all Thanksgiving tables are laden with multiple and unique side dishes. The side dishes generally tend to be the same every year. For some of us it may be the only time we eat these dishes. Sure, we do like (or love) these dishes, but for some reason Thanksgiving is the only time we bring out these recipes.

For me, part of the love of cooking is always cooking something new. Whenever I'm cooking dinner I always try to add at least one new twist, ingredient or recipe. Often times I'm cooking entirely new dishes, loving those dishes, but then not making them again for a long, long time because there are so many other new dishes to try.

I always give my readers some new flavors to try, new combinations to enjoy or just plain ‘ol advice on how to make existing recipes better. I ran into one of my readers recently and she told me that a recipe I had printed many, many months ago was truly spectacular. What she did was combine part of my recipe with part of her recipe and she was just in love with the results. That was tremendously pleasing. Maybe I will ask her if we can publish her recipe, what do you think? This is what my column is all about learning and adapting.

One of the things that's important about side dishes for Thanksgiving is the ability to make these dishes around the chaos that exists in the kitchen. When we remove our turkey from the oven we can have as much as 30 minutes before the meat needs to go on the table. During those 30 minutes we can finish all of our sides including this one.

Spinach au Gratin

Servings: 10+

3 Tbl unsalted butter3 Tbl all-purpose flour2 cloves garlic, crushed1 pint half and half3 10 oz boxes frozen spinach, thawed with moisture squeezed out, chopped salt and pepper to taste24 oz mild cheddar cheese, shredded8 oz chopped toasted walnuts, optional

Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and garlic, cook making a roux.

Add the half-and-half, whisking to remove any lumps. Bring to a simmer.

Add the spinach breaking apart any lumps. Bring back to a simmer and gently cook for 5 to 7 minutes. If mixture is too thick add some milk to thin it down.

Add salt and pepper to your own personal taste.

Remove from heat, fold in the cheese and walnuts, place into a prepared, (lightly buttered), 9 x 13 baking dish.

Heat under the broiler until cheese is very lightly browned and bubbly.

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