Diggin’ In

Your Thanksgiving feast is planned to perfection.    
    Well, almost.    
    If you’re still looking for last-minute inspiration, we offer three dishes that capitalize on the season’s local bounty to crown your Thanksgiving menu and give all at your table reason for thanks.

   Sprout-Stuffed Pumpkin            

Here’s a vegetable side dish that’s both practical and pretty enough to be a Thanksgiving centerpiece and conversation piece.
    It’s practical because it puts one of the extra pumpkins languishing on your steps to good use.
    Its combination of bright orange and green brings the colors of the season to your table. The pumpkin contributes the orange; Brussels sprouts, the vegetable that ripens just in time for Thanksgiving, contribute the green. Pile the sprouts in the pumpkin for dramatic effect.
    Choose a round, brightly colored medium-size pumpkin. Cut off the top, making a decorative edge of scallops or half-diamonds. Plan to leave an ample base for your pumpkin bowl. Scrape out pumpkin innards. Spray inside with vegetable oil.
    Pumpkin may be left raw or baked at 325 until softened for an edible bowl. If baking, rub insides with oil and sugar. Remove from oven while still firm enough to stand.
    Wash your Brussels sprouts, removing discolored leaves. Trim the ends and cut halfway into each sprout from the top to allow heat to penetrate.
    Shake with olive oil, and lay in a single layer in a roasting pan. Cover and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove and shake. Return to the oven without the cover for 15 more minutes. Toss with sea salt and a bit of Balsamic vinegar.
    “You’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven,” says Bay Gardener Francis Gouin of this Brussels sprouts recipe.
    Fill pumpkin to top. Hold on warm until presentation time. Platter and impress.


   Sweet Potato Biscuits         

These marvelous, russet-tinted biscuits — which we first tasted with Virginia ham — leave no room for debating whether bread overdoes the Thanksgiving table.
    “Make the dough wet, not dry to keep your biscuits light and fluffy,” says Tom McReynolds, executive pastry chef at Herrington on the Bay.

2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup or less sugar
2 tbs. softened cream cheese
2 tbs. softened butter
1 cup mashed sweet potato
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk, more to keep dough moist

    Flour tabletop well and work from outside, tossing ingredients together for no more than 30 seconds. Roll out or pat flat. Cut big biscuits with 21⁄2- to 3-inch cutter. Bake 12 minutes on lightly greased pan in 450-degree oven. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.


   Beautiful Baked Apples         

Apples are every bit as seasonal as pumpkins, but they’re pretty much overlooked. We think the old-fashioned baked apple deserves a place at the table. This version of the standard, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, tastes delicious and is a treat for the eyes.
7 large (about 6 ounces each) Granny Smith apples
6 tbs. softened unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
1 tsp. finely grated zest from 1 orange
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch table salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup plus 2 tbs. apple cider

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
    Peel, core and cut 1 apple into 1/4-inch dice.
    Combine diced apple with 5 tbs. of butter, brown sugar, cranberries, pecans, oats, orange zest, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Set aside.
    Shave thin slice off the bottom of remaining 6 apples to allow them to sit flat. Cut top 1/2-inch off stem end of apples and reserve. Peel apples and use peeler or baller to remove 11⁄2-inch diameter core, being careful not to cut through bottom of apple.
    Melt remaining butter in 12-inch, nonstick, oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add apples, stem-end down, and cook until cut surface is golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Flip apples, reduce heat to low, and spoon filling inside, mounding excess filling over cavities; top with reserved apple caps.
    Add maple syrup and 1/3 cup cider to skillet. Transfer skillet to middle rack of oven and bake until skewer inserted into apples meets little resistance, 35 to 40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with maple syrup mixture in skillet.
    Transfer apples to serving platter. Stir up to 2 tbs. remaining cider into sauce in skillet to adjust consistency. Pour sauce over apples. Serve with vanilla ice cream.