“Now John, let me tell one ya one damn ‘ting,” the late great Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme told me many years ago, “the chef’s job is to make food that ain’t borin’.” I could tell he felt that statement was self-evident and self-explanatory, but he wanted to make double-sure I understood anyway. “If you take a bite of somethin’ and say, ‘Well, dat’s pretty good,’ and then you take another bite and it’s still pretty good, and then you go to take another bite and decide you don’t want it after all – well, dat’s what I call borin’. Nobody should ever make food that’s borin’.”
Chef Paul’s words of wisdom are very much on my mind this (as every) holiday season, since the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is filled with recipes that, frankly, may be traditional and might even be beloved but probably meet Prudhomme’s implied definition of “borin’.” They exist because they have seemingly always existed, and because Grandma, or those who remember Grandma, might be upset if you added so much as a little extra salt.
Dare to make this the Christmas, inspired by the carrot and also the stick of one Cajun master’s instruction, that you embrace the idea of spiced-up sides. With an assist from some creatively applied products made right here in Fredericksburg, the embrace is a lot quicker and easier than you might think.
Sure, one solution might be doing non-traditional sides altogether. But honestly, when it comes to these iconic family meals, most families insist on some kind of dressing or stuffing, some kind of sweet potatoes (that you might or might not incorrectly call “yams) and some kind of green beans. All three of those side dishes have very traditional preparations available to you all over the map. Yet all three, with the addition of one or two unexpected flourishes, can weight in as what we are called “spiced-up.”
Take those sweet potatoes, for instance. Most people serve them in full holiday regalia, which is most households means butter and brown sugar. Those are fine flavors, as is many family traditions involving baking a casserole dish of the bright orange-yellow flights beneath a layer of marshmallows. It becomes, in such cases, kind of the s’mores of holiday side dishes. But there is another and, we are here to suggest, better way to cook sweet potatoes.
Why not peel and chop the things and then roast them in the oven until soft, then toss them in our Ancho Cherry Sauce before a few more minutes in the oven. The taste is one powerful flirtation between holiday tradition and holiday innovation.
Or that dressing? Traditionally it’s serving alongside a platter of turkey – if you stuff it and roast it inside the turkey, the dressing is then a stuffing. But what about layering the flavors of the dressing itself. One of the best ways to do this is to make the mixture you like best – we prefer crusted bread torn up and mixed with caramelized onion, carrot and celery along with cooked breakfast sausage – and add a jar of our Pecan Cranberry Relish. It’s hard to get more “holiday” than that.
For a long time, I’ve struggled with green beans, as strange as that notion might sound. While fresh beans are delicious enough that no one should ever eat the mushy canned version again, they do suffer from a tendency to meet and exceed Prudhomme’s definition of boring. In the past few month, though, I’ve taken to parboiling then in salted water, draining and lightly caramelizing in extra-virgin olive oil, then glazing them with equal parts of our Mild Green Jalapeno Jelly and Red Hot Jalapeno Jelly. The results are sweetly spicy, and not likely to let anyone with taste buds stop eating.
Other terrific options for spiced-up sides include caramelized Brussels sprouts with our Whole Lemon & Fig Marmalade, baby carrots glazed with butter and our Mango Ginger Habanero Sauce (recipe below), and Arrabbiata Squash Casserole, given spice by our Mom’s brand pasta sauce of that name. That last is a delightful spin on vegetable lasagna. Expect more recipes for spiced-up sides in this space between now and the new year.
MANGO GINGER HABANERO CARROTS
Most people’s eyes pick out the word “habanero,” meaning the hot pepper, before they notice much of anything else. Yet between the mango in the sauce and the carrots themselves, this side dish’s main claim to fame is its delectable sweetness.
1 pound cut baby carrots
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ bottle Fischer & Wieser’s Mango Ginger Habanero Sauce
Salt and black pepper to taste
Dehydrated parsley flakes
Boil the carrots in salt water until just tender, 10-12 minutes. Drain with a colander. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a skillet or saute pan and add the drained carrots. Stir until lightly speckled golden brown. Pour on the sauce and toss to liquefy, coating the carrots completely. Season with salt and pepper to balance the sweetness to your taste. Add the parsley and toss one last time to moisten them. Serves 4-6.
Written by: John DeMers
TRY & BUY at Home