Because I'm not a creature of habit, some folks think my children are deprived. I get bored so easily that even though it takes Thanksgiving a full year to roll around, I never reproduce the same dishes twice. Since repetition is not part of my repertoire, when my kids love something, chances are they will never taste it again.
Before you begin conjuring up images of my Thanksgiving table laden with linguini or graced with grouper, let me set the record straight. I would never go that far. Nothing ever replaces the resplendent traditional holiday fare -- turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and cranberries always adorn my table; it's their attire that changes. My dressings have run the gamut from bread, legumes and grains to ground meat, seafood and sweetbreads. Cranberries have been concealed in soups, gravies, cakes and muffins, and sweet potatoes have masqueraded in so many guises they are often unrecognizable.
I certainly didn't inherit this wavering quality from my mom. She served the same bread stuffing drenched in butter, cranberries swimming in sugar, mashed sweet potatoes hidden under a blanket of marshmallows and canned green beans smothered with mushroom soup every Thanksgiving of my childhood.
I loved those dishes back then, and I still remember how eagerly I awaited their arrival. But life does change and today we have less time to cook and more time to worry about fat (saturated and unsaturated) and cholesterol.
That's the reason I spruce up my menu with fresh vegetables. By modern standards, if there is one thing missing from the traditional holiday table, it's a colorful sampling of the season's harvest. And no other dish shows off fall's bounty like the vibrant Chartreuse of vegetables.
Adapted from an early 19th century recipe, this spectacular mosaic was created by the great chef Antonin Careme. He composed it by artistically arranging cut vegetables around the inside of a mold, filling it with layers of partridge and cabbage and then unmolding it.
When I first made this dish in the early '80s, I used much more butter and cheese than I do now. And in the interim I have experimented with a variety of vegetables -- cooked brussels sprouts cut in half, strips of red and yellow pepper, cooked spinach, kale and collard greens -- all of which work beautifully. You can use either mashed sweet or white potatoes, but you must include one or the other because they hold everything together.
Although it is time-consuming to cut the vegetables and arrange them around the inside of the mold, the entire dish can be assembled a day in advance. If you have a deep, metal, straight-sided Charlotte mold, be sure to use it. If not, a souffle dish or any straight-sided bowl will do.
Once you've presented this healthful extravaganza to your loved ones, I guarantee they will ask for an encore. Plan to make it part of your annual Thanksgiving tradition or you, too, may find yourself accused of depriving your family.
Chartreuse of vegetables Serves 8 to 10.
2 pounds fresh sweet potatoes or yams or 2 pounds canned yams, drained
1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
2 large carrots, peeled
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh broccoli flowerets
1 cup fresh cauliflower flowerets
1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (about 6 ounces)
If using fresh yams or sweet potatoes, bake them at 400 degrees until tender when pierced with a fork, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cool and peel. Place potatoes in bowl and mix with electric mixer until smooth. Mix in milk and salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
Grease a 2-quart (8 cup) charlotte mold or souffle dish. Line the bottom with a round of parchment or waxed paper. Grease the paper and set aside.
Trim the beans to the height of the mold. Cut the carrots the same length as the beans, then cut them into strips about 1/4 inch thick and 1/4 inch wide. Slice any short pieces into rounds.
Fill a medium saucepan half full of salted water. Bring to a boil and cook each type of vegetable, except peas, separately until crisp tender. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove to paper towels to dry, keeping each vegetable type separate. Season with salt and pepper.
Melt the butter; stir in garlic, basil and salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange a layer of cut vegetables in an attractive pattern on the bottom of the mold. Spread with a quarter of the potatoes. Arrange beans and carrot sticks upright around the side of the mold, using some of the mashed potatoes to help hold them in place. Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the garlic butter over the potatoes and sprinkle with a quarter of the cheese. Continue alternating three more layers of vegetables, cheese, potatoes and butter.
Note: The Chartreuse may be covered with plastic wrap and foil and refrigerated overnight at this point, if desired. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for 40 to 45 minute or until heated through. Run a knife around the inside edge of the mold and invert it onto a serving plate. Serve with a spatula and large spoon, cutting and scooping out portions.
Marlene Sorosky, a Baltimore-based writer and cooking teacher, is the author of five cookbooks, including "Easy Entertaining With Marlene Sorosky" (Harper & Row, 1988, $22.50).