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Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp is an option for Thanksgiving dinner, but it's also a side dish that can be prepared and served right through the winter. Photo by Sue Doeden

Layers of flavors: Why not try something new with layered vegetable dish?

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It doesn't seem so long ago when my adult sons were young boys. As if it were yesterday, I can see them sitting at the dinner table. And as clear as day, I can see the twisted look on their faces as they say, "Why can't we have the same potatoes we had last week? Why do we always have to try something new?"

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It's tough being the child of a recipe tester.

At our Thanksgiving meal table this year, I may hear something very similar from family members when they see Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp. From some it may be a simple, "No thank you," when the layered vegetables are served. And from others, it could be, "Why aren't we having the sweet potatoes we had last year?"

My reply will be similar to what I've been saying for years. "It's good to try something new. Give it a taste. I'll bet you will be surprised at how delicious it is."

For many families, the Thanksgiving meal is steeped in tradition. Everyone knows what to expect and always looks forward to the big meal with family and friends. In my family, we have the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing. But the rest of the meal? It's always a surprise at my house.

Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp holds layer upon layer of some of my favorite autumn vegetables. Thin slices of slightly sweet parsnips and carrots are parboiled to be sure they will be completely tender after baking. Thin rounds of sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes become creamy as they bake in a simple sauce of milk and heavy cream. Right in the middle of all the vegetables is a layer of grated Gruyére cheese. The same cheese is mixed with bread crumbs and garlic to create a crunchy, very flavorful topping that turns the dish into a crisp.

This layered side dish allows you to immerse yourself in the enjoyment of creating food that is satisfying to the eye as well as the palate. Prepare the ingredients and then invite the children to layer them into the baking dish. You can prepare the topping while they are busy with their task.

The layered dish can be put together the day before Thanksgiving and stored in the refrigerator. Mix up the topping, too, and store it in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Take the dish out of the refrigerator to let it warm up a little before baking time.

This is a dish that travels well, making it an easy tote over the river and through the woods to grandma's house. Pop it into the oven to bake when you get there. Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp may become a permanent part of my family's Thanksgiving meal. I know it will make several appearances on the dinner table throughout the cold winter months.

I'll have to come up with another Thanksgiving meal surprise next year. After all, it's good to try something new.

Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp

3 cups peeled and thinly sliced parsnips

3 cups peeled and thinly sliced carrots

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 cups peeled and sliced sweet potatoes

3 cups peeled and thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 medium-sized potatoes)

1 1/4 cups grated Gruyére cheese

Butter

Salt and pepper

Topping:

1/4 cup butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish that measures about 8 x10 inches. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add sliced parsnips. Boil for 2 minutes or until just tender. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer parsnips to a colander. Rinse with cold water. Lay parsnips on paper towel and pat dry. Set aside.

Repeat same procedure with sliced carrots, using the same pot of boiling water. Pat the carrots dry and set aside.

In a saucepan, warm milk and heavy whipping cream over medium-high heat, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from heat.

Layer half of the sweet potatoes in the bottom of the prepared dish, overlapping slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Layer half of parsnips over sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with carrots and Yukon Gold potatoes. Sprinkle half of grated cheese over the Yukon Gold potatoes. Slowly pour half of the hot milk and cream mixture over the layers in the dish.

Repeat layers of sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and Yukon Gold potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper between each layer.

Slowly pour remaining hot milk and cream mixture over vegetables, allowing the liquid to seep down into the layers. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Set the dish on a baking sheet to catch any liquid that bubbles up and out of the dish while baking. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes.

While Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp is baking, prepare the topping. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Stir in bread crumbs, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl to cool. Stir in remaining Gruyére cheese.

When Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp has baked for 45 minutes, remove foil. Sprinkle topping over the vegetables. Bake, uncovered, for another 10 to 15 minutes, until topping is crisp. Allow Layered Autumn Vegetable Crisp to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Tips from the cook

--Pinch the dried parsley to release flavor as you add it to the pan of bread crumbs.

--Gruyére cheese is smooth and buttery with a slightly nutty flavor. It melts well. Since the taste is not overpowering, it combines perfectly with many flavors. Gruyére is often used for fondue and on French onion soup.

--Allow for extra baking time if you store the dish in the refrigerator overnight.

--I've prepared this dish for two by using a small 3-cup glass baking dish and dividing the recipe by 3.

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