Turkey Weary? Jazz up your Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving the day comes once a year, but we have much to be thankful for all year long.

I love gathering together – out from the cold into a warm house with all the wonderful smells and the hum of people talking here and there. When our house is host, the cold cheeks that come into the kitchen bring me the deep shiver of late fall.

Sometimes it may feel like the choices of foods for Thanksgiving are getting…dare I say it…boring.  That should never be the case; there is such variety in the culinary word this should not be a problem.

Here are some recipes to mix it up a bit this year.  Beware: there are those who see the selection and order of the food as just as much of a tradition as the holiday itself. They may not take well to change. Nevertheless, each year I try to serve something new and different.  Sometimes the new dishes come from our guests; our daughter-in-law grew up in a traditional Cuban-American home and her additions to our Thanksgiving feast have been delicious.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, white parts only
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 cups peeled and roughly diced butternut squash
3 cups peeled and roughly diced apples
2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub (recipe follows)
6 1/2 cups chicken stock or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth mixed with 3 cups water
Sea salt, preferably gray salt

1 cup chopped Spiced Candied Walnuts (recipe follows), optional


Directions:

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, and cook until it turns nut brown. Add the leeks and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly to release its fragrance. Add the squash and apples; raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Toasted Spice Rub and cook briefly to toast it, about 1 minute. Add the stock or broth-water mixture, bring to a simmer, and partially cover. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the squash and apples are tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer in batches to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, reheat to serving temperature, and season with salt. Divide the soup among warmed bowls and garnish each portion with some of the walnuts, if using. Serve immediately.

Toasted Spice Rub
1/4 cup fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup pure California chili powder (about 1-ounce)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

In a small heavy pan over medium heat, combine the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes, and toss, toss, toss, always under the fan. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool. Put in a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. If you have a small spice mill or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, grind only the fennel, coriander, pepper, and chili flakes. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.
Yield: about 1 cup

Spiced Candied Walnuts
Peanut or canola oil
4 cups walnut halves
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat about 1-inch of oil to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add walnuts and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and transfer nuts to a medium bowl. While nuts are still hot and slightly wet, add confectioners’ sugar and toss to coat nuts. Stir and toss until all the sugar has melted into the nuts; if bits of unmelted sugar remain on the nuts, they will not fry properly. Stir the nuts again before frying. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer a few nuts to the hot oil, allowing the foam to subside before adding another spoonful. (Otherwise, the oil could foam over and burn you.) Fry in small batches until the nuts are medium brown, about 45 seconds per batch; be careful not to overcook. Scatter on an unlined baking sheet to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, stir together cayenne, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and the pepper.  While the nuts are still warm, transfer them to a bowl and sprinkle evenly with about half of the spice mix. Toss well to distribute the spices and then taste a nut. Add more spice mix, to taste, and toss well after each addition. When cool, pack in an airtight jar. They will keep at room temperature for at least 2 weeks.
Yield: 4 cups

Tostones (Fried Plantains)
Oil, for frying
3 plantains, sliced lengthwise
Salt
Preheat oil to 350Ëš F.
Fry the slices until golden. Remove and smash lightly with the back of a small saute pan. Fry again until crisp and more golden, drain on paper towels and season with salt.
Deep Fried Turkey with House Seasoning
1 (10-pound) turkey
2 tablespoons House Seasoning (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons of your favorite dry rub
3 to 5 gallons peanut oil

Cook’s Note:
To measure the amount of oil needed to fry the turkey, place turkey in fryer, add water to top of turkey, remove the turkey and the water line will indicate how much oil will be needed to fry your turkey. Having too much oil can cause a fire. The pot should not be more than 3/4 full or the oil could overflow when the turkey is added.

Directions:
Wash bird inside and out, and allow to drain. Rub turkey all over with House Seasoning. Coat turkey with dry rub. Allow the bird to sit until it reaches room temperature.

Heat peanut oil in a turkey fryer or a very, very large stockpot to 350ËšF. Lower turkey into hot oil, very carefully, making sure it is fully submerged. Fry turkey for 3 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes per bird. Remove turkey from oil and drain on paper towels.

Serve with favorite Thanksgiving sides and salads.

House Seasoning
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

These unique twists in traditional Thanksgiving food can spark lively conversations around the table. Have a delicious and safe Thanksgiving.

About Dori Fritzinger

I live and work with my multi-generational family in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. We have a farm of cows and calves, wool sheep, dairy goats, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, honey bees, a horse and a donkey. We have a goat's milk soap and bath products line available on our farm web site. I enjoy reading, quilting and doing embroidery.