The holidays are packed full of family, fun, spirits, food, and a ton of calories. One search online and I can come up with tons of new Thanksgiving dinner ideas. This is exactly what I needed because as a kid, every year we would have with the same food: Aunt Betties “famous” mashed potatoes with gravy, Helen’s squash casserole, mom’s green bean casserole topped with crunchy onions, baked turkey, that was normally as dry as could be, with stuffing that was either one extreme or the other (sticky or dry), and the old faithful dessert, pumpkin pie. And me, I was always in the middle of the kitchen mess with mom.
As an adult, I wanted to spice things up a bit, instead of the traditional recipes, I hunted for new and exciting ways to fix a rocking Thanksgiving meal. Start with the main meat, the turkey. Let’s face it, most turkeys are so dry and tasteless, simply because the person preparing it doesn’t know how to properly brine a turkey and then cook it. My cooking of choice it the greaseless turkey fryer. Yeah baby.
In the kitchen, I am very creative with the side dishes. Anyone who has been to my cookouts, knows I mix things up. It doesn’t get boring here. Although I do receive request for some of the same dishes. I do my best to oblige.
Below are a few recipe ideas I have used. They include some of my favorites and the guests loved them too. I really like this first one because it’s great served with turkey or pork. It’s not limited to only a Thanksgiving side dish. Use it anytime to add flare to your meat.
Kicked-Up Candied Apples
6 cups apples (your choice) I like pink lady. Peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
¼ cup Jack Daniels Whiskey (optional) I have sub for other brands
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place apples, sugar, and butter in a saucepan. Cook stirring occasionally until butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Pour into 9×9 inch baking dish. Bake 40 minutes or until apples are tender and sauce is bubbly. Optional stir in whiskey while apples are hot.
Credit given to the folks at the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchberg, Tennessee
Tip: Prepare this so it is one of the last to come out of the oven or place it in a warmer to keep hot and serve a scoop next to or over the turkey. Oh man, this is so good!
Sweet Potato Gratin – Instead of Candied Yams
3 tablespoons butter, divided
4 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices
¾ parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter. Add one third of the sweet potatoes to the bottom of the pan, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of the grated parmesan cheese. Repeat with two more layers of sweet potatoes and cheese. In a small bowl, combine heavy whipping cream, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Pour over potatoes. Dot the top with the remaining 2 table spoons of butter. Cover the dish with foil and bake for twenty minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until potatoes are tender and slightly browned, around 20-25 minutes.
Balsamic & Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower
8 cups cauliflower florets, cut into 1 inch thick slices (1 large head will normally do)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup parmesan cheese, finely shredded
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
¼ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large glass bowl, toss in the cauliflower, pour olive oil over and mix. Make sure all florets are covered well in oil. Sprinkle marjoram, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper on top of coated florets, mix well, to ensure even coat. (Optional: you can place a sheet of aluminum foil on a large baking with rim first, shiny side down – this makes for easier cleanup) Arrange florets on baking sheet, so that they do not cover each other. Place in oven and roast until they start to soften and brown on the bottom, about 15-20 minutes. Pull out of oven and put back in cleaned bowl, then add vinegar, toss well. Sprinkle with cheese and return to the oven. Roast for another 5 – 10 minutes, until cheese is melted, and all moisture has evaporated. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Garlic Butter Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus
½ stick butter
1 small clove of garlic (sometimes I used already minced garlic)
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash asparagus and cut ends off(not the flowered portion, the other end). Layer them in a glass baking dish. Cut butter into small thin squares and lay on the asparagus. Chop garlic and spread over top of butter (or add minced garlic on top). Sprinkle with salt. Bake for around 20 minutes or until tender. Not mushy, you want them with a little crunch.
Fair warning on this next recipe, it takes time and preparation, however it’s so yummy and worth all the effort.
To Die for Eggplant Parmesan (Not Kidding)
1 medium sized eggplant, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons milk
3 cups cooking oil
1 cup parmesan cheese finely grated
1 cup romano cheese
**Tomato sauce (See recipe for instructions)
Optional 3-4 basil leaves
Peel eggplant. Slice into about ¼ inch slices. If the eggplant seems dry, you can wet them. Next step is to make the eggplant slices sweat. To do this, arrange a layer in a colander, then sprinkle well with salt, place another layer and repeat until all slices have been covered in salt, place a paper towel on top, then place a bowl or something heavy on top as a weight. This helps get the moisture out so the eggplant when cooked is tender and not rubbery. Let them sit for 1 hour. After the hour, rinse each piece to ensure all salt is rinsed off. Lay on paper towels and blot dry.
While you’re waiting on the eggplant slices to sit an hour you can make your tomato sauce, or you can use an already prepared sauce, like an Italian spaghetti sauce no meat (I buy the plain spaghetti sauce and add basil, garlic powder and onion powder to taste). I’ve made my own tomato sauce before and it’s yummy, but if you are short on time, you can use already made kind. Heat the sauce up right before you start frying the eggplant slices.
Let’s get the assembly line ready.
Place breadcrumbs in a bowl. In another bowl combine eggs and milk, then whip. Place oil in frying pan on a medium heat setting to get hot. Now you have your sauce heated and have a baking dish ready. At least an 9×9 size. (If you have extra, you could prepare, cook and freeze or serve fried eggplant as part of the meal or an appetizer with the sauce for dipping)
Once oil is hot (not too high because you don’t want to burn, take the first slice of eggplant and dip in the egg mixture, then in the breadcrumbs. Coat one side then flip to coat the other, place in frying pan, repeat until you have the oil surface full of cooking eggplant. Fry on side until golden brown, then flip (about a minute on each side). Repeat until all eggplant is cooked golden brown on both sides. Once they come out of the frying pan, place on top of a few paper towels, to absorb some of the oil.
At this point you will have some of the eggplant that has been cooked, now you can put a layer of sauce in the baking dish on the bottom, then arrange a layer of the cooked eggplant, then sprinkle the parmesan cheese and then the ramona cheese on top of the eggplant slices. Next, spoon in another layer of sauce on top of the cheeses. (If I have them, I added a few basil leaves on top of this layer of sauce- this gives extra flavor). Repeat the process one to two more times, according to the size of your baking dish. Make sure your final topping is the cheese. Bake half an hour at 350 degrees.
This eggplant recipe is one of my favorites and was given to me by a family friend. She has lived in Italy and visits often. Her food is delicious. If you’d like to watch her video you can do that here. I like to use any leftover cheese and make Italian cheesy bread to go along with it.
I’d love to know if you try any of these alternative recipes to make your Thanksgiving dinner menu a bit more exciting and different than every other year. Hey, if you think friends and family will freak out, try a one or two to start and see how it goes this year. Then if they love it, you can do a few different ones for next year. Just make a note of what went over well and what didn’t. The same old thing gets boring, at least to me it does. If you love Martini’s as much as we do at our parties, you might want to check out some of the adult beverage Martini recipes.
Have a great Thanksgiving!