Every Thanksgiving it’s the same — turkey, candied yams, that jiggling glob of canned cranberry — but it doesn’t always have to be. Plenty of people celebrate Thanksgiving with non-traditional and inventive dishes, especially when in the company of a diverse group of friends.
When family traditions collide, the holidays can get interesting (and fun). I've spent the last five Thanksgiving holidays among my friends, trying out a slew of unconventional side dishes and desserts. From pumpkin whoopie pies to miniature quiche, cranberry-orange horseradish sauce and gluten-free stuffing, these unlikely dishes will get the culinary juices flowing without deviating too far from the seasonal palate.
Bacon, Leek & Cheddar Mini Quiche
There’s never a bad time for bacon, especially in decadent quiche form. Consider this recipe as comfort food for the sophisticate. Even if pork products do nothing to tempt you (read: vegetarians), simply leave the bacon out or consider adding fake bacon. You’ll need four muffin tins and about 30 - 40 minutes to spare.
¾ lb bacon, diced
3 cups medium-diced leeks, washed and drained (about three leeks, white and light green parts only)
1¼ cups half-and-half
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Two 1.1-lb. packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
Flour as needed for rolling out the dough
Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Position racks to the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Lightly spray the muffin tins with an anti-stick spray.
In a mid-sized skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. Reserve 2 tbsp. of bacon drippings in the skillet and pour off the rest into a heat-safe container. Stir the leeks into the bacon grease until they soften (about five minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine half-and-half, cheese, eggs, yolks, thyme, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the cooled leeks and bacon.
Using a rolling pin, roll one sheet of dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Stamp out 3-inch circles with a cookie cutter and gently press the rounds into the bottom of muffin tins, making sure that each is centered and extends to the top of the cup.
Use the filling to fill each tin to the brim of the dough (about 1 tbsp.). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling until all is used. Bake for 20 minutes, switching the placement of the tins in the oven about halfway through. When finished baking, the filling should be puffed and the crust golden brown.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pie
Cupcake: you’ve had a good, long run but it’s time to stop hogging the spotlight. The whoopie pie, with its creamy filling and soft cakey exterior, has been gaining popularity among bakery aficionados recently. Thanksgiving is all about the pumpkin pie, so why not put a spin on the old classic? Another plus: this sweet treat is also available in vegan form. The recipe yields about 20 pies.
Pumpkin Whoopie Cookies:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cloves
2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
To make the cookies, pre-heat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper; Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. In a separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, pumpkin puree, eggs and vanilla until well combined. Sprinkle dry ingredients over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
Drop uniform tablespoons of the dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake for about 15 minutes and cool completely before adding filling.
Cream Cheese Filling:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
With an electric mixer (or by hand), beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Continue beating and sift in sugar and vanilla.
To assemble the whoopie pies, transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag (or large freezer bag) and snip the bottom corner. Pipe a dollop of filling on the flat side of a cooled cookie and sandwich with another cookie.
Brown & Wild Rice Stuffing with Apples, Cranberries, & Pecans
For the gluten-intolerant, Thanksgiving can be a holiday rife with inedibility and potential discomfort. Brown and wild rice stuffing offers a healthy alternative to the traditional bread-based variety. Allow about two hours for preparation.
6 cups water
1 cup wild rice
1 cup brown rice
1 tsp salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 apples, diced
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup vegetable broth
Bring water to boil in a large saucepan. Add rice and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until rice is tender and grains are split open (about 45-50 minutes). Drain into a colander.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion until they are almost clear (about 5 minutes). Add the apples until softened then stir in the sage, thyme, pepper, and remaining salt for an additional 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with rice, dried cranberries and pecans.
Place stuffing in a greased baking dish, drizzle with the broth, cover and bake at 450°F for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for additional 10 to 15 minutes, until browned.
Cranberry, Orange & Horseradish Sauce:
At first blush, cranberries and horseradish might sound like a strange take on a traditional classic but, in actuality, this recipe is an exciting and flavorful accompaniment to chicken, turkey, or pork. Best part? It’s very memorable and super easy to make.
½ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 bag fresh cranberries
1 ½ tbsp horseradish
1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
In a mid-sized saucepan, add orange juice, sugar and water over medium heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves then add the cranberries. Cook until the cranberries begin popping open (about 10 minutes), stirring frequently. Place in a bowl to cool then stir in the Dijon mustard and the horseradish. Chill and serve.