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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Cooking for One: Bring-along side dishes solo guest's invitation to the feast

Thursday, November 11, 1999

By Marlene Parrish

Cooking for one? Not today. You've been invited to join a gathering of the clan for Thanksgiving dinner -- maybe friends, but more likely family. Like a good guest, you want to show up with a dish to add to the feast. Wine, bread or a bowl of olives and celery would be too utterly lame, so offer to bring a side dish. And mean it.

The cook-in-charge will have the basics covered: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy. That leaves the field open. Just because a dish might serve eight or 12, doesn't mean it has to be hard to do. Here are a few good ideas.

Cheese Crisps -- Make an easy before-dinner munch that's not too filling. They're not perishable, can be made in advance and can be served at room temperature or warmed. Offer them in the living room as a tasty diversion while guests wait for the annual Turkey Show. Bonus: Everyone is starved in anticipation of the feast, and your dish, first out of the gate, is guaranteed to reap high praise.

Mashed Yams with Orange and Ginger -- These are the best "yams what am," as my daddy used to say. You'll be instantly famous when you serve this dish -- the color of a sunset and bright with citrus flavors. It is an adaptation of a recipe from chef Rozanne Gold. The names yams and sweet potatoes are often used interchangeably; bottom line, buy the orange flesh tuber. The easiest way to make this is to bake the potatoes the night before, then mash and add the other ingredients at your convenience in the morning. It will heat up quickly on top of the stove or in the oven while the turkey is resting.

Bonus: The dish has no butter or cream.

Rosemary and Spice Nuts -- Nobody wants an extra cook in the kitchen during the countdown. Save these nibbles for after dinner. Just because the turkey is a memory doesn't mean there's no room for a few spicy afterthoughts. Make these ahead, store in an airtight container. Bonus: Requires no cooking skill.

Parmesan Cheese Crisps

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
Dash cayenne
1 egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and butter, using pastry blender or fork. Add cheese, salt, pepper and cayenne, mixing with a fork.

Sprinkle mixture with 2 tablespoons water; using hands, shape into a ball. On floured board, roll into 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut into rounds.

Place on cookie sheet. Brush each with beaten egg. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden-brown.

Cool on wire rack. Any leftovers -- at chance -- are good served with salad. Makes about 20.

Mashed Yams With Citrus and Ginger

6 large yams
Zest of 2 oranges
1 cup orange juice, about
1 2-inch piece of gingerroot
Salt and pepper

Bake yams in 400-degree oven about an hour or until cooked through.

Peel yams and transfer to a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher. Add the chopped zest of orange and enough orange juice to flavor and lighten the mixture.

Peel the gingerroot and chop fine. Working over the bowl of yams, press small amounts of the ginger through a garlic press, allowing the liquid to fall onto the bowl. You should get about 2 teaspoons of ginger juice. Stir it in along with plenty of salt and pepper.

Serve warm. Makes about 10 1/2-cup servings.

Rosemary and Spice Nuts

2 1/2 cups mixed raw nuts, such as pecans or walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Place the nuts in a bowl. Pour the oil into a small, heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat until warm. Add the rosemary and stir until the mixture is aromatic, about 1 minute. Pour the flavored oil over the nuts. Add the sugar, cumin, salt, black pepper and cayenne and stir to coat evenly. Transfer the nuts to a baking pan with sides.

Bake, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are toasted, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

P.S. -- Cranberry sauce is so easy to make it doesn't count. But do make it for yourself. Just follow directions on the 12-ounce package and add a pinch of salt. It will keep in the fridge almost forever. Dip into it next time you bring home a rotisserie chicken.

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