Top Ten Thanksgiving Dishes, Reinvented--Part One

Fresh air, fine living, fabulous ideas.  
That’s the Alfresco way--especially for Thanksgiving!

On Wednesday night this week, I participated in a Les Dames d’Escoffier holiday fundraiser for a backpack snack program for kids in need, administered by our local food bank Harvesters. We all brought out our best Thanksgiving recipes to prepare and share with attendees.
Some families require that Thanksgiving stay the same, usually with an 1870s menu that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family would have enjoyed: roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot rolls, and pumpkin pie.
Every family has its favorites, including mine, but tastes can change. New friends and family members can grace your table (and bring a new set of must-haves).
And it doesn’t hurt to try something new--or use your outdoor kitchen more for this feast.
So, here are tasty ways to reinvent Thanksgiving classics.

1.  Turkey.  Last year for Thanksgiving, my sister and I brined a 20-pound heirloom turkey Wednesday night, covered with ice, then started roasting it early Thanksgiving morning.  It turned out moist and delicious.
The guys in our family deep-fried a grocery store turkey that was on sale the day after Thanksgiving, and it was even more moist and delicious!  The moral of the story is—expand your turkey horizons.
If you have traditionalists at your house, then do turkey the expected way. But it doesn’t hurt to try turkey a new way—it could become the favorite. As an alternate turkey that tastes great for a smaller crowd, I love Brie and Basil–Stuffed Turkey Breast , smoked outdoors. And it frees up the oven!

Brie and Basil–Stuffed Turkey Breast
Suggested wood: Fruitwood, grapevines, pecan, oak, or maple
Serves 4
2 boneless, skinless turkey breast halves (about 3 pounds total)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces Brie
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill. In a charcoal grill, bank the charcoal in the middle so you can put a turkey breast on either side of the coals but not over them. In a gas grill, turn on the middle burner, so you can put a turkey breast on either side of the flame but not over it.
2. Add wood. In a charcoal grill, add 3 sticks or chunks of wood to the coals once they have ashed over.  In a gas grill, put 1 cup of dry wood chips in a metal smoker box or an aluminum foil packet with holes punched in it so the smoke can escape; put the smoker box or packet close to a burner.
3. Rinse the turkey and pat dry. Lightly coat both breasts with the olive oil. Make a pocket slit in the thicker side of each turkey breast. Place 3 to 4 thin slices of Brie inside each slit. Tuck 4 or 5 fresh basil leaves evenly on top of the cheese. Wrap each breast with half of the prosciutto. Place the turkey on either side of the fire. When you see the first wisp of smoke from the wood, cover the grill, and smoke until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast registers 160 to 165°F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The turkey will have a hint of pink from the smoke. Let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Serve warm.

2. Sweet Potatoes.  Some sweet potato dishes are so sweet, they practically make your teeth hurt. Why not try a roasted sweet potato dish, especially if you can find sweet potato fingerlings at a farmer’s market? You simply toss the sweet potatoes with olive oil, add chopped red onion and fresh rosemary, season to taste, and roast in a 400°F oven, stirring a couple of times, until they’re tender and caramelized in about 45 minutes.

3. Cranberries.  My food stylist friend Vicki Johnson makes a cranberry sauce that has so much flavor, you could eat it with a spoon. If you’re looking to change up your recipe, this is a great one to try.  It’s fabulous with turkey, over a mild cheese as an appetizer, or as an extra side dish. The only trick is caramelizing the sugar with the vinegar first--for a while, it just boils and stays white. Then, all of a sudden, it starts to go brown, so keep an eye on it. Freeze bags of cranberries to use for use in January and February, when this vibrant flavor and color will perk you right up.

Winter Cranberry Relish
Makes 4 cups
1 cup dark or golden raisins, covered with boiling water in a bowl
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 cup orange juice
6 cups (two 12-ounce bags) cranberries
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples
1 cup slivered, toasted almonds
1. Let the raisins plump in the water  for 15 minutes, then drain.
2. While the raisins are plumping, combine the sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar starts to bubble. Cook until the mixture turns a medium brown, about 5 minutes, but watch it all the way.
3. Stir in the ginger, orange zest and juice and bring to a boil.  Add the cranberries and cook for 5 minutes or until the cranberries burst their skins. Stir in the raisins, apples, and almonds.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

4. Brussels Sprouts. If you’ve been boiling your sprouts to death, there’s another way—roasting! Halve fresh sprouts, toss them with a little olive oil and some finely chopped pancetta or bacon, then roast them in a 400°F oven, stirring occasionally. You can roast these the day before until they’re still slightly crisp, then warm them in the oven—or do this all outside on the grill in a disposable aluminum pan, with the grill lid down. 
5. Pumpkin. Okay, most of us do pumpkin pie.  But you can also make fabulous Pumpkin Pullaparts with a no-knead dough.  You can bake them the day before or the morning of, them warm them before serving. The recipe is in this blog’s 2009 archive.

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