Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving, probably the biggest food day of the year for most Americans, is not only a great chance to make dishes that please your guests by bringing back memories with classic and traditional items, but also to put your own spin on those dishes and make them your own.  There are very few people who wouldn’t be pleased with plain old turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, and I’m one of them.  But do you really have to cook everything exactly the way your Grandmother did? Isn’t there a way to have the same concept, and totally pay homage to the old school dishes while also mixing it up a bit? Of course there is.

There’s nothing I like more than combining different styles and flavors that you may not think would go together.  But at the same time, you need to know your limits (for example, French Basque or Southeast Asian might not be the best styles to draw inspiration from for Thanksgiving dinner).  When combining styles, the first thing I look for is commonalities.  What do I think of when I hear Thanksgiving?  Comfort food.  Personally, for me there’s no better comfort food than American Barbecue.  Deep, rich flavors; sweet, spicy, tangy and bold.  I’m not saying I’m gonna make ribs, brisket and coleslaw for Thanksgiving, but now I know the theme, flavors and ingredients I’m going to interject into the classic Thanksgiving dishes I love.

Just because you’re kinda trying to reinvent some dishes here, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.  Keep it simple.  For me, I wanted to do 5 dishes; a first course, three sides and the bird.  But you don’t have to change up all of them, I just picked 3 to jazz up a bit.  What says Thanksgiving/Fall better than butternut squash soup?  But I’m mixing it up by adding a little chipotle pepper to the soup.  Sweetness from the squash, heat from the pepper.  A well rounded dish, classic but modernized.  My favorite Thanksgiving side dish?  Stuffing.  My favorite Barbecue side dish?  Cornbread.  Perfect combo, easy to pull off.  I’m basically making a traditional stuffing, but using cornbread instead of white or wheat.  Again, easy and familiar, but at the same time, distinctly different from the traditional.  For the bird, I’m using the same stuff I start would start my ribs or brisket with, a nice spice rub on the outside.  A nice combination of chili powder, brown sugar, garlic salt, lemon pepper (and whatever else you feel like).  Rub it all over the skin and throw some in the cavity with a couple quartered apples, then slowly roast it to get that same beautiful bark you get on your ribs and a wonderful aromatic scent that’s fruity, spicy, bold and rich.

The point is, you can honor those same classic dishes everyone associates with Thanksgiving, but also incorporate your own new twist on them, and it doesn’t even need to be that complicated.  Just find some common ground, pick a few spots, and keep it simple.

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