How to Add New Twists to Your Thanksgiving Menu

November 03, 2014

How to Add New Twists to Your Thanksgiving Menu

Nothing says Thanksgiving like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. But if you’re tired of these tried-and-true foods or just want to freshen up your holiday meal, here’s help. Ellen Harte, a caterer with Tasty Catering in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, offers these tips for serving up new twists on old favorites that will still make your dinner guests happy.

Warn your guests about changes. If you’d like to change your holiday menu, such as substituting ham, roast beef, chicken, or roast pork for The Bird, forewarn your guests so they know what to expect. “Don’t go rogue without letting them know,” Harte says. You might e-mail your guests ahead of time, informing them that you’ll be substituting the turkey for tofu or that all the sides will be inspired from your summer trip to Tuscany.

Harte learned this tip the hard way. One year, without telling anyone, she made stuffing from White Castle hamburgers. “It was darn good,” she says, “but people asked me what was different about it.” The looks on their faces told her they were less than thrilled about her novel twist on the traditional side dish.

Go global. To change up your menu without any extra effort, invite your guests to bring a dish that celebrates their heritage. “Thanksgiving is about what you’re thankful for, so if you’re German, Italian, Polish, or Chinese, why not put dishes from your culture on the menu?” Harte says. “Rather than telling your guests what to bring, let them surprise you.” Several years ago, for example, one of Harte’s guests, who was 100 percent Polish, brought pierogies, the half-mooned shaped dumplings that are typically filled with minced pork, onions, cottage cheese, and seasonings. “We celebrated her heritage at our traditional Thanksgiving dinner and it was touching because it made the meal more personal,” she says. Harte scored brownie points too, with someone who later turned became her son’s mother-in-law.

Find new recipes for old favorites. Don’t be afraid to scan the Internet for recipes that offer new takes on traditional Thanksgiving foods, especially the side dishes. Swapping out roasted cauliflower for green bean casserole or acorn squash instead for sweet potatoes, for example, can mix up the menu just enough to make it interesting without threatening anyone’s vision of Thanksgiving.

Feature a fashionable ingredient. Trending now: kale and edamame. Adding those ingredients to your Thanksgiving menu can perk up a tired tradition. Harte suggests serving edamame hummus as an appetizer or incorporating the beans into a harvest salad with poached pears, candied walnuts, champagne vinaigrette, and fall lettuce, such as frisee. Kale as a salad or sautéed as a side dish can also add just the right contemporary touch.

Get creative with dessert. If you’ve got some die-hard Thanksgiving traditionalists on your guest list, chances are you can get away with at least changing up dessert without anyone pouting. “Everyone is so stuffed by dessert so it usually doesn’t matter as much,” Harte says. Instead of pumpkin pie, she suggests serving minis — as in mini cupcakes, éclairs, tarts, or cream puffs. “Try a couple of different flavor profiles,” Harte says, such as mini key lime and pecan pie tartlets.

Get the Recipe! Mini Pumpkin Pie Cheesecakes


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