Tips for a New Thanksgiving

Let’s face it: Some of us are far from excited about the prospect of dining on another big bird on Thanksgiving Day. Maybe you never really liked turkey in the first place or several years of leftovers have taken their toll. Whatever the reason may be, rest assured there are alternatives. With the arrival of fall, a whole new set of crops abound and make for many new meals. Chestnuts, zucchini, squash, and apples are just to name a few. The increased availability of fall vegetables and fruits provides you with more opportunities to not only make delicious side dishes but more importantly main meat dishes that accompany it.

The dishes below feature meats and game that are similar enough to turkey to blend into any Thanksgiving meal. However, they are also different enough to pull any Holiday menu out of its slump. The entrées below include a magnificent Crown Roast of Pork with Prunes, Pancetta & Chestnut Stuffing; a succulent Calvados-Braised Pheasant with Apples and Pearl Onions; a Seared Pork Tenderloin with sweet bourbon mash and a Port-wild cherry sauce. Whichever you choose, feel free to accompany it with your usual favorite side dishes and all your friends and family will forget about that boring turkey. Additionally, as Thanksgiving and the Holidays get closer most home cooks start to become anxious about all the planning and cooking that lies ahead. Rest assured as I have listed some tips below that will help you get organized when planning your Thanksgiving dinner so that you can pull off an unforgettable meal.

The Crown Roast of Pork is a ceremonial cut of meat that will wow all your guests! Additionally, while roasting the smell wafting throughout the house will make your guest’s mouths water. Just ask your butcher to join the rib portions of the loin together to form a circle.  The pork’s natural sweetness is enhanced here by the prunes, herbs and chestnuts in the stuffing. And the crispy, savory bones are a great combination with the salty pancetta cracklings. Remember to plan ahead though and special order this cut of meat as it is very popular during the Holidays.

For the pheasant recipe remember that long, slow cooking is the key to these lean birds. The best type of equipment to use for this style of cooking is an enamel coated cast iron pot. The cast iron distributes and maintains the heat perfectly while the enamel coating ensures that the ingredients will not stick to the bottom of the pan. Braising them in an autumnal combination of Calvados (apple brandy), caramelized onions, and apples ensures a tender and juicy bird. If pheasant is hard to come by, you can always substitute quail or chicken.

Another great Thanksgiving dish without turkey is a seared Pork Tenderloin with sweet bourbon mash and a Port-wild cherry sauce. The pork tenderloin can be seared in a pan and finished in the oven. While resting the tenderloin, you can use the same pan to make the Port and wild cherry sauce. The sweet mash and French green beans can be made ahead and re-warmed in the oven when your guests arrive. This dish is so simple to cook and yet when carved correctly (on a diagonal) can be very elegant looking. Plate the tenderloin slices on top of the sweet mash, set several green beans to the side and drizzle some of the Port and wild cherry sauce and you have a very elegant dinner that will satisfy any friends or family.

Tips for a successful meal:

Plan ahead

Look over your recipes carefully at least a week or two in advance and make a list of any unusual items that you will need. For example, most home cooks do not have certain liquors like Calvados or spices like fresh nutmeg just lying around ready for use. Additionally, chestnuts are unique to fall and can still be difficult to find at times so plan ahead. Even though wild game such as pheasant is available from many high-end butchers be sure and always order ahead.

Utilize produce in season

We all look forward to the soups and fruit pies that are such a part of autumn – apple pie anyone? So, when the weather turns chilly, enjoy making the most of autumn fruit and vegetables. Whatever you do, choose the fresh produce of the season rather than imported varieties whenever you can. Don’t start making recipes that require fruits and vegetables from the spring or summer. Purchase and cook with fall harvest produce; vegetables like swish chard and squash and fruits like apples and figs are unique to the fall season. Make the most of them by making side dishes and desserts with fall produce as the star ingredient.

Create a cooler

If refrigerator space is an issue as it usually is once guests arrive with their beverages and desserts, remember that you can create extra space with a simple cooler. Certain vegetables or uncooked meats in separate sealed bags can be stored in a cooler surrounded by plenty of ice. If you have any germ phobic family members simply attach a thermometer inside the cooler (not touching the ice) and add additional ice as needed to keep it at 40°F or lower.

Manage the oven

Determine which dishes on your menu require use of the oven, and plan accordingly. For example if you choose to cook the pork tenderloin, remember that you will need the oven within the last half hour to cook just before dinner. Depending on the size of your oven, most of you will just have one medium size oven which may only hold the tenderloin and possibly one casserole dish. As a result, try to prepare some side dishes a day or two ahead or the morning of so that you can then just warm them up the day of the dinner. Another helpful tip is to simply write up an “oven” schedule to help you manage your time and ensure that everything comes out hot and ready when it is supposed to be.

As you can see, the fall harvest not only produces a diverse set of crops that can inspire different side dishes but also new entrees that will make your Thanksgiving dinner unforgettable. I hope the tips will help you when planning your dinner and that the fall harvest inspires you to go out and try one of these entrees. Who knows, maybe you will create a new family favorite that you can look forward to year after year.