Thursday, November 21, 2013
0 Don't Know What to Serve with the Bird? Here are Some Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Ideas....
Yes, it's that time of year again, when many of us start thinking about what we're going to serve for our
Thanksgiving Day dinners. Some will take the traditional route, while others will toss in some unexpected choices. Whether you're still scratching your heads or just need a few dishes to round out your meal, I'm here to help you with your menu planning by providing you with suggestions to suit a wide variety of needs. Plus, if you're serving an army, it's typically a good idea to offer several different appetizers, sides, and desserts to keep everyone happy and well fed. Below, you'll find a comprehensive array of choices from all of these different dish categories. The only thing that's missing is the bird. :) However, it's usually the other stuff (i.e., everything else!) that people have more of a challenge figuring out, so this extensive list should give you more than enough meal ideas to get you started with your menu planning.
As a chef and frequent host, I've planned lots (and I do mean LOTS!) of menus for dinner parties and large gatherings in the past, and have also helped family and friends with this as well. In fact, for one of our previous Thanksgiving Day gatherings (from a year or two ago), I helped my aunt draw up a menu and calculate food amounts for her guests. If memory serves, they had over 20 people at their house that year, along with three very large hungry poodles, one of whom suddenly decided to jump up on the table after dinner to help clean up the scraps. :)
We really went all out that year: One family friend made a sweet potato dish, my aunt made the turkey, some salads, and vegetable side dishes while I "filled in the blanks" with pumpkin soup, cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, and a fruit tart. Everyone's dishes were homemade, so although it was a lot of work (and several days worth of kitchen prep and cooking!), it was lots of fun to make everything. Despite the chaos that sometimes surrounds the process, the end result is usually well worth it, because Thanksgiving is a time when the food and conversation will (hopefully!) bring everyone together and provide a happy background for friends and family to relax and more fully appreciate each other's company.
Anyhow, enough verbiage. I hope you'll find the below meal ideas useful to keep your menu fresh and exciting. Have fun cooking (and eating!), and I wish you all a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving!
Traditional Selections (Updated & Revamped):
- Pumpkin-Potato Soup with Fresh Sage, Rosemary, & Basil: This one was a huge hit at one of my aunt's previous Thanksgiving dinners. Even Erik ate it, and he doesn't typically even like pumpkin soup. :) My friend Charlie's also made it and told me his family liked it a lot as well.
- Antipasto: Well, it's considered to be a traditional fall holiday appetizer if you've got Italian relatives. :) Erik's family will typically serve this at their Christmas dinner, so since these two fall holiday meals are often very similar in nature, it'll surely work for Thanksgiving dinner as well. My version, Italian-Style Marinated Vegetable Salad (Antipasto), still contains all of the traditional elements but, unlike the plated variety, combines them into an easy-to-eat form that fits onto crackers. Just provide a serving spoon and some crackers or bread for your guests, and you're all set. Or, if you'd rather stay away from (or limit) the starch component, cut up crudités for your guests, like cucumber rounds, etc., which can serve a similar purpose.
- Hors d'Oeuvres: It's a good idea to give your guests something to munch on before the meal starts: This is done just as much to stave off hunger as it is to keep curious guests from wandering into the kitchen before meal time and nibbling on dishes for an "advance preview." We all know people who like to break off bits of our unfinished dishes to sample things before they before they are really supposed to be doing that. ;) So, keep them at bay by offering them finger food like Mushrooms Canapés Stuffed With Goat Cheese, Kalamata Olives, & Fresh Herbs or various types of dips served with crudités, chips, &/or crackers. On that note, check out the wide selection of dips on this site as well -- from freshly made guac, hummus, and pinto bean dip to Caponata Siciliana, Creamy Red Hot Pepper Dip, and Tuna à La Tapenade.
- Cranberry Sauce: To liven things up a bit, try my Cranberry Sauce Spiked with Cointreau. Think of this as "cranberry sauce for adults." Actually, most of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, leaving behind just a hint of Cointreau flavor for an extra special kick to the taste buds. So, really, it's perfectly suitable to serve to the kiddies as well. I assure you, unless you just pour in the Cointreau at the end instead of cooking it, or drink it while you're making it, absolutely no one will get inebriated from consuming this dish. :)
- Mashed Potatoes: Typically a popular choice at holiday gatherings, this side is sure to please and always goes well with the bird. If you'd like to stay traditional, go with Mashed Red-Skinned Potatoes with Roasted Garlic & Fresh Herbs or for the Irish(wo)man in you, try my Colcannon instead. :)
- Au Gratin Casseroles: Try Cauliflower & Orange Bell Peppers Au Gratin or Potatoes & Butternut Squash Au Gratin. These dishes are real people pleasers. I've served both in the past, and dinner guests frequently request the recipes, both during and after the meal. :)
- Pasta & Potato Salads: Marinated salads are yet another holiday staple, and there are so many different offerings from which to choose! For example, you could try Tomato & Goat Cheese Pasta Salad with Fresh Dill & Tarragon, Greco-Roman Pasta Salad, or even a cold pesto pasta salad using a recipe for fresh basil pesto with walnuts and almonds, or go with something like Fennel-Potato Salad instead, which is a nice change from the plain version. This potato salad is very light and will allow you to leave room for all of the other selections on the Thanksgiving table that you'd like to try. :)
- Green Vegetable Side Dishes: Broccoli, in particular, is a good selection because it works with almost any traditional holiday entrée, including poultry. Try a simple and versatile version of this dish like Italian-Style Sautéed Broccoli with Fresh Herbs. Or go with Wilted Spinach or Quick & Easy Italian-Style Beet Greens instead.
- Carrot Dishes: These seem to be pretty stock and trade for Thanksgiving at many people's homes. Try my Grilled Carrots or Ginger-Garlic Baby Carrots.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are another traditional holiday selection. Instead of making sweet potato mash the sweet way (i.e., with marshmallows, etc.), shake things up a bit and offer a savory (and much healthier!) preparation in another form, like Swoon-worthy Sweet Potatoes. This dish is super-easy to make, and best of all, you don't need to spend all that extra time stirring and mashing. :)
- Rosemary Potatoes: Another holiday standard, or at least it is in our family. :) Need a recipe? Try my Rockin' Rosemary Potatoes.
- Rice Pilaf: You can either do a fairly plain and neutral tasting pilaf like Herbed Bulghur Pilaf or a standard mushroom pilaf like Mushroom Rice Pilaf with Fresh Herbs.
- Pumpkin Pie: For Thanksgiving dinner, it doesn't get much more traditional than good ole' pumpkin pie. This is a non-dairy version for people who are Paleo, vegan, or kosher. It's also gluten-free. For the Paleo version, substitute almond flour for the oat flour and if you're strict Paleo, look for another viscous binding agent (perhaps maple syrup?) to replace the honey. This recipe is one of my most requested holiday dishes. :)
- Tiramisù: Again, if you've got Italian relatives, this one is pretty standard fall holiday fare as well. My own version, Tantalizingly Transcendent Tiramisù, uses both ricotta and mascarpone for a lighter (and far less fattening) flavor, while still remaining incredibly rich and indulgent tasting. This way your taste buds can revel in dessert-esque ecstasy without you having to loosen a few notches on your belt buckle after the meal. ;)
- Elegant But Simple Salads: For example, try Cucumber, Tomato, & Artichoke Salad: So easy (only three basic ingredients!), it can be made in a snap! Or, for an elegant touch, make Baby Rocket, Chickpea, & Hearts of Palm Salad with Shaved Manchego Cheese, Tossed in a Lemon-Mint Vinaigrette -- You could probably finish making that salad by the time it takes to read the recipe name. Lol. When you've already got enough labor-intensive (and time-consuming) tasks like turkey prep and cleaning your house before the arrival of your guests, simple salads like these (and other no-brainer selections!) can be a huge timesaver, not to mention a lifesaver too. :)
- Hearty Soups: These are the types of wintry/fall soups that would nicely complement a Thanksgiving Day meal. Particular suggestions that come to mind include Mushroom Barley Soup, Kale-Potato-Leek Soup, Potage Provençal aux Légumes Verts (Provençal Greens Soup), Corey's Cream of Broccoli, or "Potatoes in Paradise" Potato Soup. Or try a bean-based soup like Italian-Style Two-Bean Soup or Tomato-Zucchini Soup with Kale, Yellow Squash, & Cannellini Beans (Topped with Parmesan Cheese & Pesto Drizzle).
- Celeriac Remoulade: This dish is very similar to coleslaw, but with a sophisticated twist. It's a neat idea if you're looking for a menu update to keep things interesting. :)
- Cauliflower Mash with Rosemary & Roasted Garlic: This dish is a nice (and much healthier!) alternative to mashed potatoes. Plus, it's really tasty too! It also makes a great selection for guests with particular dietary restrictions -- it's Paleo, vegan, and gluten-free. :) Whoopeeeeee! Hahaha.
- Pumpkin Risotto: Still in keeping with the pumpkin holiday theme and yet, it adds an element of surprise. This could also be served as a vegetarian (or vegan) main course as well.
- Mushroom-Olive Quinoa Pilaf with Fresh Herbs: Instead of the usual rice pilaf accompaniment, try this dish to add some interest and round out your menu.
- Lavender-Infused Potatoes with Garlic & Fennel: Highly aromatic and unexpected, this dish is a bit more creative and sophisticated than your average potato dish.
- Cherry, Apple, & Pear Tart (Made with Asian & Bosc Pears): This one's another big Thanksgiving dinner hit. It's also a nice alternative to pumpkin pie.
- Poached Persimmons: Delicious and appropriately seasonal, this dish has a taste that's both tart and sweet. Be sure to allow these fall fruits enough time to blet in order to reach the full peak of their flavor.
- Baked Figs (or Pears): Another seasonal selection, this dish is soaked in Marsala wine, which makes them taste even better. :)
- Apple Tart: Simple but decorative, this version of apple tart is healthy and delicious!