We’re now three days out from Thanksgiving. For some of us deciding what to make isn’t an issue. Our recipes seem to be etched in stone and family members will simply not abide any variation. Tradition, my friends, tradition.

But for those of us who like to change things up a bit–even if it means just switching out evaporated milk for cream cheese in our pumpkin pie–perhaps a little inspiration is in order. It could be a different twist on a favorite dish or an altogether new one that could establish a new traditional favorite.

In that spirit, here are some Thanksgiving dishes we’ve featured over the years and a new suggestion:

Turkey Stuffing Muffins and Cranberry Chutney: Just when you thought you couldn’t come up with a new way to approach stuffing someone turns it into muffins. What a cool idea! You could certainly do with your own favorite, traditional stuffing, but take a look at this recipe from the Art Institute of California-San Diego. And pair it with this divine cranberry chutney!

Everything Sourdough Popovers: I just wrote about these popovers, but if you missed it, take a look. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. If you or your clients are not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

 

How to Spatchcock a Turkey (and why you should): Turkeys can be a challenge. You want the skin crisp but if only the breast if facing the heat, the skin on the thighs below tends to get greasy and unpleasant. You want moist white meat but it can get overcooked while waiting for the dark meat to reach the right temperature. Bottom line? Roasting a turkey can be an aggravating guessing game. So, I’m going to make it easy for you. Spatchcock your bird and roast it at high heat. Spatchcocking is a way of breaking down the bird so it will rest flat in a roasting pan and cook evenly. You avoid the age-old problem of having the white meat dry out while the dark meat continues to cook below. Instead, you have moist meat from the drumstick to the breast. And because it roasts at high heat, the turkey cooks quickly and the skin all over the turkey is fully exposed, making it all nice and crisp.

Macaroni and Cheese for Kids and Adults: Is mac and cheese really a Thanksgiving dish? Heck, yeah, and who doesn’t love every cheesy, comfort food bite? You’d be surprised at how many different techniques there are for making it. Yes, I know, your mom or grandma’s is the best, but, whoa, there are a lot of contenders out there. After spending perhaps too much time looking through cookbooks and online to get a better sense of what’s involved I was drawn to two approaches by two big names: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. By then it was easy enough to sort out the basics and create my own version using the best of what I found. A little less cooking of the pasta here, the spice combo there, tempering eggs, adding a panko topping. Well, it all came together in a bubbling, rich, creamy casserole with a crusty top and lots of flavor.

 

Apple Pie: What about dessert? My sense is there are people who love to bake pies and those who are terrified of the idea of making a crust. I get it. I was taught by my grandmother when I was a teenager–but for years it was always an iffy proposition as to whether or not the crust would come out. So I set off several years ago to hit up all my pastry chef friends to learn their techniques. They were all different. Some used butter only. Some butter and lard or butter and Crisco. Despite the variations, I gained confidence. And I make pies with gusto and delight. So, to those of you savory chefs who steer away from THE CRUST, I offer my go-to pie recipe from my friend Michele Coulon. Her way is the traditional French way. It’s simple and straightforward, relies on just a few quality ingredients, and sticking to formula. Bake one up and serve it to clients or your family. You–and they–will be hooked!

Michele Coulon’s Apple Pie

Yield: 1 Pie

1 Southern Pie Pastry (see below)
1 pound, 5 ounces apples (weigh after peeling and coring)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce butter
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup cream
1 egg

Pre-heat conventional oven to 450°.

Make pastry and set aside.

Peel and core apples, placing in a big bowl. Sift dry ingredients together and add to apples, mixing well. Add 3 tablespoons cream and mix with apples. Set aside.

Place one pastry disk on a floured surface and roll out to just larger than your pie plate or tin so that the edges will hang over. Use the rolling pin to place the dough in the pie plate, then refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out the second disc and you can either leave it whole for the top crust or slice into 1-inch strips to make a lattice. Refrigerate.

Fill the bottom pie crust with the apple mixture. Dot apples with butter. Put lattice or intact top crust over the apples. To make the lattice, Michele just lays half of the strips in one direction, then lays the other half across them. If you’re using the intact top crust, center it over the apples, then make a 1-inch hole in the center to release steam and use a fork to gently poke holes around the top. Once the lattice or intact crust is set, roll the top and bottom edges together and under the bottom crust edge. Using a fork, gently pinch edges together but do not go all the way through the dough.

Mix together 1/2 cup cream and the egg. Brush egg wash onto lattice or top crust and any dough decorations.

Put on a parchment paper-lined tray (to catch drips) and put in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350° and bake until apples are cooked — 30 minutes at first, then probably another 15 minutes. Use the tip of a sharp knife to check. If the tip goes into apple slices easily, they’re done cooking. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Southern Pastry from Michele Coulon

Yield: 2 pie crusts, top and bottom. Cut recipe in half for 1 pie.

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound cold European-style butter, cut into 1-inch chunky pieces
Ice water

Mix ingredients by hand using two knives in a bowl or in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Then add 12 tablespoons or 160 grams of ice water. Mix until just blended. It should be rough with striations of butter.

When making the full recipe, divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a disk about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. At this point you can start to bake with them, wrap the disks and refrigerate overnight, or freeze them until you want to use them (defrost in the refrigerator). It’s one of those great do-ahead options.

What dishes will you be making for Thanksgiving? What is the one that makes it Thanksgiving for you and your family?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Given that I have diabetes, macaroni and cheese isn’t on my list of dishes to make. I love it–who doesn’t–but like pizza it’s the poster dish for all I shouldn’t eat. But when my neighbors decided to have a potluck alley party I was in need of a dish that both adults and kids would love. What better than mac ‘n cheese?

Because I’m not an old hand with a favorite dish, I consulted various people in my circle and was told that a chef friend of mine had made a stunning one recently. I texted her, asking what her key ingredients were. Her answer? Heavy whipping cream, sharp white cheddar and manchego cheese. Oh, and bacon.

I was with her up till the bacon. I love bacon but I felt it was just one ingredient too many for what I wanted to do, especially if kids were going to eat it. After all, they were likely fans of the blue box. I went shopping for ingredients and found that heavy whipping cream–at least at Trader Joe’s–was ridiculously expensive. Since most people use milk for mac ‘n cheese, I compromised with half and half.

Then there was the actual how-to. I’m curious, chefs, about how you create or adapt a recipe for a favorite dish about which people have so many strong opinions. Do you turn to the dish you grew up with and modernize it via technique or better ingredients? (For instance, my grandmother made beautiful pies and taught me how to make them–but as an adult I rejected her margarine in favor of butter. No doubt margarine was cheaper and made more sense for her Depression mentality, but today I want the real deal.) If  you live in another region from where you grew up, do you look at the ingredients in a traditional recipe and adjust it for your new locale to be able to incorporate its fresh, local ingredients? Do you adjust for dietary restrictions? How about techniques that make the process go faster? Say, instead of mashing soft cooked ingredients through a chinois to create a sauce, just pureeing it all in a blender? Please write and let us know your strategy for recipe creation!

But back to the macaroni and cheese. You’d be surprised at how many different techniques there are for making it. Yes, I know, your mom or grandma’s is the best, but, whoa, there are a lot of contenders out there. After spending perhaps too much time looking through cookbooks and online to get a better sense of what’s involved I was drawn to two approaches by two big names: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. By then it was easy enough to sort out the basics and create my own version using the best of what I found. A little less cooking of the pasta here, the spice combo there, tempering eggs, adding a panko topping.

Well, it all came together in a bubbling, rich, creamy casserole with a crusty top and lots of flavor. And, friends, I had very little left over to take home. I’ll remember it fondly when I munch on a green salad.

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 12 to 16

Ingredients

1 pound elbow macaroni

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

6 cups half and half

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1 bay leaf

2 large eggs, beaten

12 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded

12 ounces manchego cheese, shredded

Topping

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions. (The pasta will finish cooking while it bakes.) Transfer to a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain well. Set aside while making the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, in another pot, melt the butter. When it bubbles, whisk in the flour and stir for 1 minute. Stir in half and half, salt, nutmeg, ground pepper, cayenne pepper, onion, and bay leaf. Temper in the eggs by stirring in a little of the milk mixture to the eggs and then adding that mixture to the sauce. Slowly stir in ¾ of the cheese. Whisk constantly until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove from heat and remove bay leaves.

Stir the macaroni into the sauce. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Mix together the remaining cheeses and sprinkle evenly over the mixture.

Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter for the topping in a sauté pan and add the panko crumbs. Stir until coated. Top the cheese-covered macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 45 minutes uncovered or until brown on top. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

What was your most successful reinvention of a favorite recipe? How did you go about changing it up?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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