RECIPES: Arkansas chefs offer Thanksgiving side dishes that get the star treatment

Sweet Potatoes With Grand Marnier
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Sweet Potatoes With Grand Marnier Photo by John Sykes Jr.

The turkey may get all of the attention at the center of the table, but the real stars of Thanksgiving are the side dishes and desserts.

For this spread we turned to some of our favorite Arkansas chefs.

Matt McClure, executive chef at the Hive — located at 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville — shared his recipe for cornbread stuffing along with a few tips to ease the stress of preparing the holiday meal.

McClure's Turkey Day tips:

■ Make as much as you can ahead of time. Dishes like sweet potato casserole and stuffing are great to make a day or two before and just pop in the oven.

■ Be aware of what you're putting into your dish so you can identify whether or not it's safe for your friend or relative with a food allergy to eat. If you have a food allergy or intolerance, be sure to take something you know you can definitely eat so that you're satisfied.

■ My go-to grocery store items for Thanksgiving are the Sister Schubert's Yeast Rolls — they're delicious. Life is stressful enough, so simplify where you can.

McClure's stuffing recipe makes enough to serve a very large group.

Cornbread Stuffing

  • 2 cups ground pork shoulder
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup chopped garlic
  • 2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • ½ cup picked fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons salt, or to taste
  • 2 batches Buttermilk Cornbread (See note, recipe follows)
  • 8 cups turkey stock
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pan, cook the ground pork, breaking it into crumbles as it cooks. Remove pork from the pan and reserve. Add the onions and celery to the pan with a little canola oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook until onions and celery are beginning to soften. Add the garlic and continue cooking, over medium-low heat until softened. Add the mushrooms to the mix and the white wine. Cook down until the wine has reduced by half. Return the pork to the pan. Stir in the sage, chile flakes, thyme and salt.

Crumble the cornbread into a large mixing bowl. Add pork mixture. Gently mix everything together. Add about half the stock to moisten the mixture. Taste to make sure you have the correct amount of salt.

Transfer the mixture to a 20-by-12-inch, deep casserole or several baking dishes. Add more stock, mixing until dressing has a moist texture. Cut the butter into small pads and place on top.

Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until warmed through and browned.

Makes 1 (20-by-12-inch) casserole.

Note: For best results, bake the cornbread 1 to 2 days before you make the dressing cut it into cubes and let it dry out.

Recipe from Matt McClure

Buttermilk Cornbread

  • 2 cups organic cornmeal, War Eagle Mill recommended
  • 8 tablespoons organic all-purpose flour, War Eagle Mill recommended
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons lard or butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift and mix all dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Add lard or butter to metal baking pan and place it in the oven to melt.

In a bowl, beat eggs with buttermilk. Add buttermilk mixture to cornmeal mixture. Pour in hot pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, rotate pan and bake 25 minutes more.

Recipe from Matt McClure

Crescent Dragonwagon and her late husband, Ned Shank, ran the Dairy Hollow House, a country inn and restaurant in Eureka Springs.

"Those who ate Thanksgiving dinner there will recall these orange-laced sweet potatoes, which we baked in orange cups. This bit of frou-frou was possible and easy for us because we often served fresh-squeezed orange juice in the breakfast baskets, and we could just save the shells of the 'squoze' orange halves in Ziplocks in the freezer and save them for Thanksgiving. But if you don't have the wherewithal to do this, they are almost as good just baked in a casserole dish."

Though the inn closed in 1998 (it's now the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow) I believe I will still be serving these for every Thanksgiving, anywhere, at any time. Yes, they are one of those dishes," Dragonwagon wrote in an email.

Dragonwagon notes the dish can easily be made vegan by using Miyoko's Cultured Vegan Butter instead of dairy-based butter.

Sweet Potatoes With Grand Marnier

  • 6 large sweet potatoes, ideally garnets
  • 5 oranges
  • 3 tablespoons butter, either dairy or Miyoko's, plus more for dotting
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar or coconut sugar, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup Grand Marnier, Napoleon or other orange liqueur
  • Oil or spray oil, for baking

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Pierce each sweet potato several times with the tines of a fork. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, about 1 hour.

Grate the orange part of rind of two of the oranges, and set aside in a small bowl. Halve all oranges, and juice them, adding juice to the grated rind. If you plan to bake in orange cups, carefully remove the spent pulp from the squeezed halves of the three nongrated oranges. Set aside.

As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel the sweet potatoes and place the flesh in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat in about half the butter, half the sugar, all the salt, half the liqueur and about half the juice and rind.

Taste for seasoning and texture: you want a mixture not quite as thick as mashed potatoes, but not soupy either. And you want it noticeably orange-y. Continue adding juice and liqueur until this state is reached. You also want it on the sweet side (maybe most of the remaining sugar) and rich (maybe most of the butter).

To bake in orange cups, oil the wells of a six-indentation muffin tin, and put an orange cup in each one. Fill each one with the sweet potato mixture (you'll have more mixture than needed to fill the cups; you can bake the extra in an oiled casserole, freeze the remainder, or make it a little sweeter and add a half-cup cream or coconut cream and 2 eggs and bake it as a dessert sweet potato pudding. At the inn we folded it into a cheesecake with a pecan crust ... just saying). This step, and all preceding it, can be done up to three days before Thanksgiving.

About an hour before serving, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Make a small indentation in the top of each orange cup (and here and there on the casseroled portion) with a teaspoon, and dot with a bit of butter and brown sugar. Sprinkle the whole thing with a little more Grand Marnier.

Bake until piping hot all the way through and golden brown with crunchy spots on top, 30 to 50 minutes, depending if they had been refrigerated.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Recipe from Crescent Dragonwagon

Simple and Easy Roasted Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Simple and Easy Roasted Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Anthony Tally, executive chef at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, shared this easy green bean recipe with us.

"This is a very simple recipe that my wife and I use quite often throughout the year. It's a very versatile dish and can be changed up with different seasonings and vegetables. It will definitely be a crowd-pleaser during the holidays."

Tally notes the recipe can also be prepared in a large skillet on the stove.

Simple and Easy Roasted Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper

  • 1 pound green beans
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash ground red pepper (cayenne), optional

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash, trim and dry green beans. Place green beans, red peppers and onions on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, add seasonings and mix well. Spread into a single layer. Roast vegetables 20 to 23 minutes or cooked to desired tenderness, tossing half way through.

Makes about 4 servings.

Recipe from Anthony Tally

Miss Betty's Pecan Pie
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Miss Betty's Pecan Pie Photo by John Sykes Jr.

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