Now that we have the stuffing out of the way, let’s talk about other things that we can pair with dinner. Here are some great staples for the table that no holiday dinner should be without:

Mashed Potatoes

Everyone loves the mashed potatoes. We just can’t get enough. Here’s a great thing about them: You can, just like the stuffing, do them ahead of time. Nobody wants to be stuck in the kitchen the day of Thanksgiving peeling potatoes, running to the pot to plop them in one by one. Oh, no. If you’re feeding a hungry brood, you want to have it all out of the way. For any good family raised in the Midwest, this means one thing: Instead of serving from a big bowl or pot, shift to the casserole dish.

For each person eating potatoes, you want to figure for at least two sizeable serving spoonfuls of potatoes per person. (If you have sweet potatoes of any form, you can cut this down a bit, but two is a good figure). This means, comfortably, one medium baker or russet per person, peeled and quartered. If you’re going all out, one to two medium yukon golds per person ought to do the trick.

Tip #1– Start with your pot of tap water, put your potatoes in, THEN turn on the stove. If you’re worried about overboiling your potatoes, that problem can always be solved with butter and dairy.

So, peel those potatoes and quarter them, throwing them in your large stockpot filled about halfway with water. If there’s one Ancient Greek Principle to recommend this holiday season, it’s Archimedes’ principle of water displacement.

Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

Salt your water like you salt your pasta water. Not like you’re SUPPOSED to, but how you normally do. If it’s a big pot, this means about a silver dollar sized pile of salt in your palm, right?

The more potatoes you put into the pot, the higher the water level will rise. You want to leave at least 2-3 inches between the water surface and the lip of the pot, as between all your potato pieces, bubbles will emerge and roil the waters with great excitement. You do not want splashover. (Sidenote: I did not read the entire wikipedia entry on Archimedes’ principle, but I bet it says somewhere in there “Don’t overfill your potato pot, lest ye wish to splasheth over onto yon range.”)

Let the pot come to a boil, and let it go for about ten minutes at a full boil. Grab one of those big serving forks and poke at a potato. Even if it’s kind of fork tender, it’s pretty much done. Fork tender, in this instance, means little to no resistance, not simply that you can get a fork into it. If the potato cleaves easily on either side of your fork tines, turn off the heat and pour about 95% of the water out through a colander. You can reserve about a cup or two of water on the side to reincorporate into your potatoes should they need more texture.

Mash the potatoes. If you want creamy potatoes, add your butter and dairy and mash/whip them together. Taste to see if they’re seasoned right. Potatoes will absorb a lot of whatever flavor you put with it, which is why it’s important to add a little to the pot for flavor, but not too much so that they’re all salt.

Tip#2- Put peeled whole garlic cloves in with the water as you boil. The boiling will mellow out the garlic flavor, and as you mash, the garlic will be incorporated into the potatoes. You won’t know it’s there, but it is a comforting yet subtle flavor.

After you’ve mashed and seasoned your potatoes, load them into a casserole dish and cover. Smooth the top with a spatula and cover with foil. On the day of the feast, warm them in your all purpose service oven (300-325 degrees to heat but not dry all your food) at your leisure.  If you have a heavier casserole dish, they will maintain temperature for a while, staying warm for equally as long as you have them in the oven.

If you wish to serve them in a bowl, simply cover them and refrigerate. The day of service, put your potato water in the bottom of a pan and boil it. When it’s hot, add the potatoes and stir until the water is reconstituted into the potatoes. After 5-10 minutes, the potatoes should be warm. If they bubble in a gloppy fashion, you can always add a little more water and fluff them up toward the end.

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Candied Yams/Roasted Squash

These dishes aren’t a big staple at our table, but I hear they’re good. Here’s my take:

Preheat your oven to 400°. For Candied Yams, peel your tubers and cut them into manageable pieces, generally in eighths for a medium sized sweet potato. Melt 1/4 cup of butter and toss with the yams and 1/2 cup brown sugar, a couple pinches of nutmeg and cardamom, and a bit of salt and pepper. Throw it all in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes have a nice glaze on them. If you’re also doing these ahead of time, leave the marshmallows off the top until just before service, when you fire up the broiler and toast them quickly underneath.

Tip#3- With all the side dishes, pull them out of the fridge about an hour before you want to put them in the oven. This gives them the opportunity to come up to room temperature, lessening the time that they’ll monopolize your baking racks.

With Roasted Squash, the principles are the same. When you select your squash, know that butternut is creamy and light, and other smaller varieties are going to be more hardy and firm. Acorns, Delicatas, Red Kuri (doesn’t taste like curry. don’t fret). All of these are great if you are going to roast them. Spaghetti Squash is just silly. Don’t use that one.

So, you’ve selected a squash. Peel it. Pull the seeds out. Dice it into one inch chunks. Toss it with a little bit of salt and pepper, maybe a little smidge of maple, and a good drizzle of a neutral oil. Don’t use olive oil. You’ll taste it.

Same thing. Toss them in a casserole dish, throw it in your 400° oven for about 40 minutes, giving your dish a stir about halfway through. Anything touching your casserole dish will probably caramelize with the maple sugar. You want to get as much festive color on there as possible for maximum sweet/savory dispersal of flavor. When everything’s of good color and has a decent amount of tenderness and starchiness (once again, let the moisture cook out of them. We’re looking for firm, yet tender, like a robot nanny), pull it out and let it cool. Once again, if you’re doing this ahead of time, let it cool to room temperature, then throw it in the fridge. If you want it a little more starchy and a little less mushy, leave it uncovered so a little bit of moisture can escape.

So there we have it. The fridge is full of potatoes and squashes and yams, and you’ve got all your fixings for stuffing ready to roll. Sounding pretty good, isn’t it?

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