10/09/2013 02:32 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2013

My Favorite Harvest Vegetables

In the spirit of the Thankgiving holiday I thought I would share a list of my top five favorite harvest vegetables. There is just something amazing about this time of year and the bountiful harvest that comes with it. Here are my favorite ingredients plucked from the field at this time of year, in no particular order.

1) The Tomato
There is just something really special about plucking a fresh tomato ripened on the vine from your back yard. On more than one occasion I had pluck my toddler from the garden because if I turned my back for second she was yanking ripe tomatoes off the vine and eating them like apples. To be honest, I can't say that I blame here though. The "vine-ripened" tomatoes found in the grocery store in January that spent three days on a truck to get there, or was grown in a hot house just can't compare.

2) The Beet
Beets are a vegetable that I despised as a child. If I could go back in time I'd smack my former self for missing out on the sweet and versatile beet for all those years. From pickling to roasting, risottos to soups, this hardy root vegetable can be used in so many ways, highlighting it's earthiness at times, while showcasing it's natural sweetness at others. Oh, and did I mention the incredible variety of color that heirloom beets can add to just about any dish?

3) Corn on the Cob
This was probably one of the first vegetables that I made the connection with the seasons. As a child I couldn't wait until August to arrive for the first of the peaches and cream corn to be ready. We would drive right out to the farm and grab them by the dozen. At their peak of ripeness all they need is a little butter, salt & pepper.

4) Butternut Squash
This was another vegetable that I overlooked for far too long as a child. It wasn't until I had my first bowl of a creamy roasted butternut squash that I realized what I had been missing. Whether eaten on it's own or in accompaniment of others it's almost always the star of the plate.

5) Yams
There is just something synonymous with this time of year and the humble tuber. When at their peak they could easily be served as a dessert they are so naturally sweet. Their versatility knows no bounds either. In honor of Thanksgiving I will share with you one of my favorite side dishes made with the yam. It will surely have your guests licking the bowl clean!

Enjoy these and your favorite vegetables while they are at their best, as it's a long cold winter north of the 49th parallel and we have to make the most of harvest while we can. Eat well and eat often!

Yam Casserole
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Feeds: 8-12 as a side dish

4 lbs. yams, peeled, about 3-4 large ones
½ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract if necessary)
2 ea. eggs, whisked
½ cup butter
1 tbsp. chipotle paste
¼ tsp. cinnamon

For the topping:
1/3 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
¼ cup melted butter

• Chop the yams into large cubes, similar to if you were preparing mashed potatoes
• Place the yams in a large pot and cover with cold water, salt
• Place the pot on the stove and bring to a simmer
• Allow to cook through, until fork tender, but not overcook to mush, about 20 minutes
• Remove from the heat and drain thoroughly
• If using a food processor, place the yams in the food processor and puree in batches, adding the sugar, maple syrup, butter, eggs, and seasonings bit by bit
• Once all batches are pureed ensure that they are all blended well so that the mixture is evenly seasoned
• If mashing by hand, use a potato masher and mash until fairly smooth, then add the remaining ingredients and whip until smooth and flavors are evenly distributed
• Place the yam puree in the bottom of the casserole dish, layering it about 1 inch thick
• In a bowl combine the topping ingredients and mix until evenly combined
• Place the casserole dish on a baking sheet to avoid any mess or spillover during cooking
• Layer the topping over the yam puree, refrigerate until ready to bake
• Everything up to this point can be done in advance, saving you the mess during the big day
• Preheat the oven to 350F
• Place the casserole in the oven and bake until warm through and nicely browned on the top, 30-35 minutes
• Serve immediately
If you like what you see here, check out my website for more great recipes and cooking tips!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!