My best friend says that I am an experimental cook, and she is right. I am a rather creative person, and I have a hard time sticking to recipes.  

For instance, most everyone likes the traditional holiday foods. This year,

I decided to experiment with the traditional sweet potato casserole with brown sugar topping.

Also, instead of cranberry sauce, I searched for a new dish to complement to ham or turkey. Third, I wanted to change the regular green-bean casserole to something different. One new recipe found me, and I searched for and found two others.

The new dish that found me is from my sister Brenda. Recently, I walked into her home in Gainesville, Ga. The air was filled with a buttery, sweet aroma that drew me in.

The fragrance was from sweet tomato casserole she had pulled out of the oven moments before. She handed me a teaspoonful.

I tasted it and knew at once I would substitute this dish for cranberry sauce. It is sweet, dense, and spreadable on meat or bread.

It is so good that also it can be eaten by the spoonful.

The second new dish is one I found is on the Internet. It is a sweet potato casserole topped with herbal-bacon crumbles.

One of the ingredients in the topping is rosemary. It just so happened that, the week before, I had the adventure of eating at Dillard House Restaurant in Dillard, Ga.

I had tried a sweet potato dish with chopped rosemary in the potatoes. However, the recipe I tried a week later has rosemary, sage, cayenne pepper, and bacon. I tried it, and friends who ate it were complimentary.

The third dish is one I found on my favorite recipe site, www.allrecipes.com. I could hardly believe how simple it is to prepare; and if one goes light on the feta cheese, it would be as nutritious and slimming as diet food.

I used frozen green beans because I had trouble finding fresh ones.

Even with these changes, I will not have all new recipes on the table during the holidays.

Fried turkey from the Calhoun County sheriff’s department is a must. Their fry-date this year is on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

Macaroni and cheese can always be found on my holiday table, and no holiday would be complete without pecan pie.

However, everything else is subject to delightful experimentation, which includes some not-so-delightful failed dishes and messes in the kitchen.

Sometimes I surprise myself and create something entirely new, such as a dessert sandwich made of a slice of loaf bread, over-ripe bananas, butter, and cinnamon.

More about that later.

SWEET ‘N SAVORY BACON PECAN TOPPING FOR SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE

6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped

¾ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups raw pecans, roughly chopped

1/3 cup salted butter melted

½ - 1 t. cayenne pepper

2 T. fresh sage, chopped

1-2 t. rosemary, chopped

8 medium sweet potatoes, cooked, buttered, and pressed into a casserole dish

Make the topping by heating a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook bacon until crispy.

Drain and set aside. Next, to a bowl, add brown sugar, flour, pecans, butter, cayenne, sage, and rosemary. Mix to combine.

Stir in the chopped, fried bacon.

Crumble and spread the pecan topping over the top of the sweet potatoes.

Bake at 350 degree F for 30-40 minutes or until pecans are golden. Serve warm.

SWEET TOMATO CASSEROLE

¼ cup boiling water

1 small can tomato paste

¾ cup brown sugar

½ t. salt

1/3 c melted butter

5 sliced of white bread, ripped or cut into one-inch pieces, including crusts

½ cup buttered cracker crumbs tossed with parmesan cheese

Place bread cubes into an 8x10-inch casserole dish. In a saucepan, mix tomato paste with boiling water, brown sugar, salt and melted butter together over low heat.

Once it is completely melted, while constantly stirring, bring to a rolling boil. Pour bubbling mixture over bread.

Mix gently until bread cubes are coated. Sprinkle cracker crumbs over casserole.

Bake in 350 degrees oven for 30 minutes until lightly brown on top.

GREEN BEANS WITH FETA AND WALNUTS

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic (I substituted 1 T. of chopped onions)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped, or frozen green beans

3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, or more to taste

Cook green beans and set aside. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; add garlic (or onion).

Cook and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add walnuts to skillet. Cook and stir until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes.

Stir in green beans, toss lightly to coat, and cook and stir until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer green beans to serving bowl and immediately top with crumbled feta cheese.

When cooking this year, whether the cook is using traditional or new recipes, the important thing to remember is for all to share a meal with friends or family.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Email Sherry at sherrykug@hotmail.com