thanksgiving potluck

sweet potato gratin

Sweet potatoes are seriously the best.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

Though they’re not technically in the same family, a sweet potato can do almost anything a regular potato can, and can probably do it better. They can be french fried, mashed, baked, roasted, you name it. You can even turn these puppies into dessert! Take that, potatoes!

Sweet potatoes have more flavor and are (obviously) sweeter, but what you might not consider is that they’re also packed with beta-carotene and calcium, and have almost 300% of the vitamin A you need in a day. Now that’s what I call a superfood.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

One thing I’m not crazy about when it comes to sweet potatoes though, is the tendency to make them even sweeter while serving them with dinner. I mean, if you want to make a dessert, go ahead and make a dessert. There’s nothing better than a good sweet potato pie. But if you’re serving sweet potatoes as a side dish I really don’t get the desire to cover them in marshmallows. I guess its just not for me. You wouldn’t cover a radish or a green bean in brown sugar and marshmallows would you? Well, I don’t know, maybe you would. I wouldn’t though!

I know some people really dig candied sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, but it’s just not for me. Sorry.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

Anyway, because I’m a lunatic forward-thinker, I’m already planning my Thanksgiving menu. You already know this, but I take this holiday pretty seriously. I really want to highlight sweet potatoes on my table this year, but I’ll be damned if a marshmallow comes anywhere near my little orange beauties. I love mashing them just like potatoes, with lots of butter, but this year I want to do something special.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

It didn’t take me long to decide on some type of layered casserole. A gratin is the perfect solution. Rich and satisfying, with a touch of cream and cheese to gussy things up.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

Most gratin recipes call for a salty hard cheese like parmesan, but I thought the sweet potatoes called for something a bit creamier and nuttier, so I opted for Jarlsberg. If you’re not familiar, Jarlsberg is a mild cow’s milk cheese from Norway. It has large holes like swiss, but it’s more buttery and nutty. If you can’t find it I think Gruyere would work really well too.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wanted to pack as much savory flavor into this gratin as possible, so I poked around the internet until I found a recipe that sandwiched a layer of caramelized onions between the sliced sweet potatoes. Yes please. To take the flavor even further I went and added a few thing; some thyme and parsley along with the sage in the original recipe, as well as a bit of dijon mustard, some ground cayenne pepper for kick, and some smoked paprika for a nice hint of smoky depth.

This is not only the perfect side dish for Thanksgiving, but really any large gathering or dinner party. On top of being crazy delicious, I think it’ll travel really well too, and could easily be prepared ahead and reheated.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

As soon as I took my first bite, I knew I’d reached sweet potato perfection.

If you want to know how good it tastes, let me just say this. Russell is spoiled by my cooking. While he absolutely loves and appreciates everything I make, most of my cooking gets little more than a “thank you” or “yummy”. This though, he couldn’t shut up about. He went on and on about how delicious and perfect it was. He ran out of words. And frankly, I don’t think there are enough words in the English language to properly describe this gratin. A few that come to mind though are creamy, savory, spicy, smoky, cheesy, buttery, tender, rich, delicious, satisfying, hearty, flavorful, heavenly and amazing… Oh yeah, and Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

sweet potato gratin with caramelized onions & Jarlsberg | Brooklyn Homemaker

Sweet Potato Gratin

  • Servings: 8 to 12-ish (depending on serving size)
  • Print
adapted from the kitchn

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus more for pan)
2 medium onions, sliced into thin half circles
3 pounds sweet potatoes or yams (3 to 4 large)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder (optional)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs (or plain, unseasoned bread crumbs)
3/4 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese (or Gruyere)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finesly chopped

Heat the oven to 350°F and butter a 9×13 casserole or gratin dish. In a heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons of butter to a foam and add the sliced onions. Season them with a bit of salt and slowly caramelize them over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. To get them nice and brown (but not burned) should take about 20 or 30 minutes.

While the onions sizzle away, peel your sweet potatoes and slice them into 1/4-inch thick disks. Getting thin and even slices will be easiest with a mandolin, but is totally possible with a sharp knife and a steady hand. Layer half of the slices in the buttered dish, overlapping them in tight rows or spirals. Season the layer with salt and pepper.

Once the onions are soft and caramelized to your liking, add the sage, parsley, thyme, dijon mustard, paprika, cayenne pepper, and cream. Bring to a simmer, stir well, and cook until the cream is thick and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Do your best to remove the onions from the cream with a slotted spoon. Spread the onions evenly over the first layer of sweet potatoes. Layer the remaining sweet potatoes on top, in the same rows or spirals as before. Season with kosher salt and black pepper, and evenly pour or spread the cream over the top. The cream will not cover the potatoes completely or fill the dish and you will think there’s isn’t enough. Don’t add more! Too much will make the sweet potatoes mushy.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 or 15 minutes more, or until the potatoes are just tender. (Note: If your sweet potato slices are thicker than 1/4 inch- baking time is likely going to take longer.)

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and let cool a bit. In a small bowl, pour the butter over the bread crumbs, grated Jarlsberg and chopped parsley, and toss well to combine. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the gratin and return to the oven (uncovered) for about 15 minutes or until brown and crispy. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Thanksgiving potluck planning

Thanksgiving has always been really special to me.

Thanksgiving potluck planning | Brooklyn Homemaker

I have a tendency to let myself get really overwhelmed by the very idea of Christmas. To me all the planning and running around in the name of gift giving has always felt like a duty to spend money and buy buy buy. I know that’s not what it’s supposed to be about, but that hasn’t stopped me from having mixed feelings about the holiday anyway. Thanksgiving however, is all about food and friends and family, the best parts of Christmas without all the conspicuous consumption.

That’s not to say that Thanksgiving is a day without stress though. I certainly understand that it’s the biggest food holiday of the year (duh, that’s why I love it) and sometimes it can be a daunting process to try prepare a meal of that magnitude. There’s a few things you can do to make things less stressful, like avoiding recipes you haven’t made before, and making (or at least prepping) as much of the menu ahead as possible.

Thanksgiving potluck planning | Brooklyn Homemaker

My favorite way to ease the workload is to share some of the duties with friends or family. Every Thanksgiving I’ve hosted since living on my own has been potluck style. Spreading some of the work out to the other dinner guests means that your meal will have all the variety you’d like without having to spend a week planning and shopping and prepping and cooking. It also means that your guests get to take part of the credit for the fabulous spread on the table.

Even a potluck Thanksgiving requires some advanced planning though, so if you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving meal, or just hoping to work on your Thanksgiving game plan, I thought it might be helpful to share what I do to stay organized.

Thanksgiving potluck planning | Brooklyn Homemaker

First, there’s the turkey.

In my opinion, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey and gravy will probably have to be your responsibility. Asking someone to bring a pie or a plate of biscuits is one thing, but a fully cooked 20 pound turkey is quite another. If you’re uncomfortable making a turkey, ask someone who isn’t to come over early and help. Grab an extra bottle of wine and get the festivities started early. Who’s gonna stop you?

While we’re on the subject, there’s a lot you can do with your bird, and I’ve tried several methods. You can brine it, give it a spice rub, coat it in butter, blanket it in bacon, or even deep fry the beast. I used to brine my turkeys but soon realized that it’s a lot of work for a little pay off. The whole point is to ensure moist breast meat, but I’ve found an easier way. Last year I rubbed the whole bird in citrus herb butter and roasted it (and heres the important part) BREAST SIDE DOWN! If you roast your bird breast side down for the first several hours, all the juices and fat and flavor from the dark meats runs down through the breast instead of the other way around. About an hour or two before its done you flip it breast side up for even browning, and you’ll have a beautiful, moist, and truly tasty turkey.

When it comes to choosing the size of your turkey, I generally try to give myself at least 1 1/2 pounds per person. Smaller birds, say twelve pounds or less, have a higher bone to meat ratio so you may need to go with something more like 2 pounds per person. Of course, if you get more than you need you’ll be more likely to have leftovers for sandwiches and soup the next day.

Thanksgiving potluck planning | Brooklyn Homemaker

With your turkey plans out of the way, it’s time to figure out who’s going to make what.

Rather than dictate, I think it’s best to let people choose what they’d like to make. Some people have real attachments to certain dishes or have specialties they love to make, and letting them decide makes it more fun for everyone involved. If you want, go ahead and reach out to the best cooks first so they get first dibs on whatever they like. Feel free to encourage people to make a few dishes if they feel up to it. Just make sure you ask if anyone will need to use your kitchen to finish or reheat their food!

This requires a bit of organization and communication, but it’s important that you let everyone know what dishes are already chosen so you don’t end up with four green bean casseroles and fifteen pies. Rather than choosing what specific dishes you want people to make, I think it’s better to give general suggestions. Instead of saying, “we need candied yams”, say “we need a vegetable dish”, or even “we need a yam dish”. If you want to, you can try to steer people in a certain direction, but it’s best not to dictate to them if you want them to enjoy the process.

This can be a bit tricky, but I also think it’s important to try to encourage your guests to consider other guests’ dietary restrictions. That doesn’t mean that no one gets to eat meat just because one guest is a vegetarian, but if a dish is easy to make meat-free then it shouldn’t be too much to ask to avoid bacon and chicken stock. If someone says they want to make sausage dressing, then fine, your vegetarian guests don’t eat that. If they say they want to make mushroom dressing though, urge them to try it with vegetable stock instead of chicken or turkey.

Thanksgiving potluck planning | Brooklyn Homemaker

When it comes to choosing what dishes you need for the full experience, I think it’s best to break it down into categories.

In addition to turkey and gravy, you’ll probably want:

  • Dressing (or stuffing, if that’s what you’re in to)
  • Cranberry sauce (canned is fine, but homemade is better and actually pretty easy)
  • Some starchy sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or corn pudding
  • A few vegetable dishes. This category has the greatest room for creativity and diversity, and could even be broken down into subcategories by color. A few popular dishes on thanksgiving are green bean casserole, brussels sprouts, braised greens, glazed carrots, roasted winter squash, roasted root vegetables, or maybe even a nice salad with fall flavors like pears and candied pecans.
  • Some type of bread like biscuits, rolls, or cornbread
  • Don’t forget that you’ll need something to drink. You’ll want juice or milk for the kiddies, but when it comes to the grown up juice you can go traditional with wine and beer, or get creative with punches or cocktails. I think a spiked hot apple cider or a punch with ginger beer, cranberry juice and bourbon would be great!
  • Of course, you can’t forget dessert! I always have apple pie and either sweet potato or pumpkin pie. You could also do pecan pie, pecan praline bundt cake, harvest bundt cake, apple kuchen bars, or even pumpkin cheesecake!

The only thing left to consider is the supplies you’ll need to cook and serve all this food! Make sure you have enough plates, silverware, glassware, & napkins. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to use (sturdy) disposables to save on dishes. You’ll also need serving platters & bowls, serving spoons and ladles. Get your carving & chef knives sharpened ahead of time and make sure you have a roasting pan large enough for your turkey.

Thanksgiving potluck planning | Brooklyn Homemaker

Of course, this is just how I like to do things, but I really do hope these tips are helpful!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving y’all!