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Joni Woolf: Thanksgiving is right around the corner

Forget the saying “Time flies while you’re having fun.” Whether or not you’re having fun, time flies, and Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away when you read this. Every year, as it approaches, we think “this year I’ll do better.” And sometimes we do. Last year, I took my own advice in this column, made the dressing a month in advance, and (according to “Southern Living” instructions) froze it in gallon bags to thaw before the big day, added turkey drippings, and sure enough, it was easy. I’ll do the same this year. In fact, I made the cornbread yesterday, and tomorrow will make the dressing and store it away for Nov. 23.
Several years ago, the magazine “Country Living” offered an alternate dressing — the kind that’s easy to pack up and take to a get-together that you’re not hosting. I’ve made it several times, as an additional side dish (never instead of the traditional one), and it’s always enjoyed. The recipe’s name gives it away: Cornbread Dressing with Chorizo and Apples. It is easy to make, can be prepared the day before and baked just before the meal, or before taking it somewhere you’ve been invited. Every three or four years I make it, just to have something a bit different.
Earlier we’ve published a recipe for a wild rice salad that combines wild and white rices. The recipe below features only wild rice, and is a refreshingly different taste for a Thanksgiving menu. Easy to prepare, it holds up well, and is just as good if made the day before the meal. It is served at room temperature so there’s no need to worry about heat or refrigeration. Just find a place at the table, and it will be consumed.
A third recipe comes from Alacia Lee Rhame, who grew up in Quitman (in Brooks County, Georgia), my hometown, and who became one of our food writers at Macon Magazine in the 1990s. Her recipes were gathered into a collection called “Bo’s Best,” and featured the creations of Bo McIntosh, who had worked for the Lee family for many years. The cookbook was published on the occasion of Mrs. McIntosh’s 90th birthday, and is filled with classic Southern recipes. In today’s column, we’ll feature her Praline-Topped Sweet Potatoes. Some variation of this luscious “vegetable” is always a Thanksgiving favorite. So, put on your “Get-Ready-For-Thanksgiving” hat, and surge ahead.

Cornbread Dressing with Chorizo and Apples

2 8-oz. packages corn muffin mix
1 pound fresh chorizo or hot Italian sausage, casing removed, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
3 celery ribs, chopped (1 ½ cups)
2 carrots, chopped (¾ cup)
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled if desired, cored, and chopped (3 cups)
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
Bake muffin mix according to package directions in 2 (8-inch square) baking dishes. Cool and cut into 1-inch cubes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread corn bread cubes in a single layer onto 2 (15 x 10 x 1-inch) jelly roll (or biscuit) pans. Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, 5 minutes or until browned. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon. If less than 3 tablespoons of sausage drippings remain in skillet, add enough butter to make 3 tablespoons of liquid. Add onions, celery and carrots to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until softened. Stir in apples and cook 5 minutes or until beginning to soften. Stir in broth, salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to large bowl and stir in sausage, corn bread cubes, eggs and parsley. Transfer to a 9 x 13-inch greased baking dish. Bake, covered at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes; uncover and bake 5 minutes more. Serves 8 to 10. (Note: In my efforts with this recipe I have alternated between chorizo and Italian sausage — at different times. I prefer the Italian sausage.)

Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Orange-Sherry Vinaigrette

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup fresh orange juice (3 oranges)
¾ cup diced dried apricots
½ cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 large shallot, minced (1/3 cup)
1 celery rib, diced (1/3 cup)
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 16-oz. package wild rice, cooked and cooled to room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place pecans in a single layer in shallow pan and bake, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until toasted. Set aside. Bring orange juice to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add apricots and raisins, remove from heat, cover, and let stand 15 minutes. Whisk together vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl; gradually whisk in olive oil. Stir in orange zest, shallot, celery, parsley, fruits with their soaking liquid, and prepared rice. Stir to combine. Stir in toasted pecans just before serving.

Praline-Topped Sweet Potatoes

6 medium sweet potatoes cooked and peeled, or 3 16-oz. cans, drained
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Hot milk
Dash of white pepper
Mash potatoes in mixing bowl. Add butter, brown sugar, salt, pepper and enough milk to moisten. Beat with electric mixer until fluffy. Turn into 1 ½ quart casserole dish.
Praline Topping
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped pecans
Mix above ingredients except pecans until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle over potatoes and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Start planning now and you’ll be ready when the day arrives. And if you have food to prepare, and loved ones to share it with, pause to give thanks.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net