Like many other families, we split our holidays between both sets of in-laws, which means we spend every other Thanksgiving at home. On the alternate years, we’re with Abby’s family, usually in Bryan or Colleyville. On those occasions, our Thanksgiving meal is pretty traditional: turkey, dressing, green beans bundled with bacon, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, all the usual stuff.
Since we moved back to Waco from Little Rock, Arkansas, 10 years ago, we’ve hosted my family — and sometimes friends and their families — a handful of times. When we host, we try to do something different on Thanksgiving Day. One year our lunch consisted of a traditional Southern meal of fried chicken and all the usual sides that go along with it. Another year we prepared lemon pork tenderloin.
The Thanksgiving tradition began in 1621 when about 50 pilgrims dined with around 90 Wampanoag. There were no women at this meal, research suggests, and the meat dishes that were served included venison (provided by the Wampanoag) along with goose and duck, brought by the pilgrims. Conspicuous in its absence was turkey, which wasn’t a mainstay on the Thanksgiving menu until the early 1800s.
And turkey is conspicuous in its absence from any Thanksgiving meal we host. I just don’t really care for the stuff, and there will probably be other chances to dine on turkey sometime in the holiday season. My dislike of the bird notwithstanding, there may be fewer turkeys on platters this year anyway. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture said there were fewer poults, or baby turkeys, born in May and June, and it’s the birds born in those months that will be ready to hit our tables in November.
So with those two things in mind, we offer some alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving meal. In place of the turkey, there’s the lemon pork tenderloin, mentioned above, and a lovely roast chicken. The instructions for the chicken were adapted from a recipe that was in The New York Times a couple of years ago. It’s obviously not unusual for recipes to be printed in the Times, but this recipe — it was called Zuni Cafe Chicken — was at the end of the obituary for Judy Rodgers, the chef at the Zuni Café, who later became a co-owner of the San Francisco, California, restaurant. She died on December 2, 2013.
Instead of traditional dressing or stuffing, we suggest mushroom bread pudding, a recipe that had been in our files for more than nine years. I came across it on some website in 2006, thought it sounded interesting and printed it out. We made it for the first time last month, and it turned out really well. While the recipe calls for several varieties of mushrooms, we couldn’t find all of them locally, so we went with a combination of standard white mushrooms and a couple of portobellos. I can imagine the dish would be even better if you can locate the oyster, cremini and shiitake varieties. We also offer a new take on sweet potatoes — roasted — instead of the usual casserole topped with marshmallows. And for dessert we have a bittersweet chocolate tart with pretzel crust.
Rosemary Roasted Chicken
- One whole chicken, 2 3/4-3 1/2 pounds
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper, freshly ground
Season chicken for 1-3 days before serving. (For larger chickens, for at least two days.) Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse chicken and pat very dry.
Slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets, then use a fingertip to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Push a rosemary sprig into each of the 4 pockets.
Using about 3/4 teaspoon kosher per pound of chicken plus pepper to taste, season chicken liberally all over. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity and on the backbone. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.
When you’re ready to cook the chicken, heat the oven to 475 F. (Depending on your oven and size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 F or as low as 450 F during roasting to brown the chicken properly.)
Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan; it should sizzle.
Place the pan in the center of the oven and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char or the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over. (Previously drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking). Roast for another 10-20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to re-crisp the breast skin, for another 5-10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes-1 hour.
Remove chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Pour the clear fat from the pan, leaving the drippings. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. As the chicken rests, tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape.
Cut chicken into pieces; pour the pan drippings over the chicken. Makes 8 pieces of chicken, if carved traditionally.
Lemon Pork Tenderloin
- 8-10 lemons (depending on size), zested
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat oven to 425 F.
In a small bowl, mix together lemon zest and salt. Rub the mixture over all sides of the pork, coating well.
In an overnproof skillet, heat olive oil until it’s hot but not smoking. Add the tenderloins and sear on all sides until nicely browned. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the tenderloins register 155 F on a meat thermometer.
Remove the skillet from the oven and let the tenderloins rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes. Slice the tenderloin on a diagonal bias and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 orange, zested
- 1/2 cup orange juice, fresh squeezed
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, to taste
- Cilantro (optional)
Heat oven to 375 F.
Place cubed sweet potatoes on a sheet pan. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until tender. Pour into a serving bowl.
In a small bowl, mix together orange zest, orange juice, brown sugar, butter and chipotle peppers. Add mixture to the sweet potatoes and toss to coat well.
Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if desired. Makes 4-6 servings.
Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thickly sliced
- 6 ounces oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced
- 6 ounces cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
- 2 portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, caps thickly sliced
- 4 teaspoons garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 1 cup milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated — Parmesan cheese, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 6 cups 1-inch cubes crustless day-old French bread (about 6 ounces)
Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
In a heavy large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add all mushrooms, garlic, basil, parsley, sage and thyme; saute until mushrooms are tender and brown, for about 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Season mixture to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs, cream, milk, 1/4 cup Parmesan, salt and pepper to blend. Add bread cubes; toss to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes. Stir in mushroom mixture.
Transfer to prepared dish. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan on top. Bake until pudding is brown and puffed and set in center, for about 1 hour. Serve warm. Makes 8-10 servings.
Bittersweet Chocolate Tart
- 1 1/2 cups pretzels, finely crushed
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the tart:
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 percent cocoa)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
- 1/4 cup sugar
Heat oven to 350 F.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse pretzels until they are fine crumbs. In a medium bowl, combine crushed pretzels, sugar and melted butter; mix to combine. Pour the mixture into a tart pan and press onto the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible.
Melt chocolate and heavy cream in the microwave or over a double boiler. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg and sugar until well mixed. Add melted chocolate mixture and whisk until the mixture is uniform.
Place the prepared tart pan on a sheet pan and pour the chocolate filling into the crust. Bake for 30-35 minutes. The filling should be set, and a tester should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and carefully place the tart pan on a wire rack to cool. Just prior to serving, remove the outside ring and place the tart on a platter to slice. (Or after the tart has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.) Makes 8 full-size servings or 16 small servings.
- 3 cups flour
- 1/4–1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1/2 tablespoon ginger, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
- 2-4 tablespoons cold water
For the poached pears:
- 8 ounces piloncillo (cone-shaped block of unrefined brown or cane sugar, usually found in the produce section), grated
- 1 cup water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
- 4 cloves
- 4 pears, peeled, cored and cut in quarters
For the topping:
- 1 egg white, to seal the empanadas
- 1 egg yolk and 1-2 teaspoons of water, for egg wash
- Sparkle sugar or regular sugar, for garnish
Heat oven to 375 F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment. Set aside.
For the gingerbread dough: in the bowl of a food processor, place flour, brown sugar, dry spices and salt; pulse several times. Add butter pieces and pulse until mixed. Add eggs, molasses, ginger and 2 tablespoons water; mix until a clumpy dough forms. Add the additional water one tablespoon at a time, if needed.
Remove the gingerbread dough from the food processor and knead it a couple of times. Form dough into 2 balls, flatten into thick discs and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime, in a large saucepan, combine water, piloncillo, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Cook over low heat until piloncillo has dissolved and you have a syrup. Add quartered pears and bring to boil. Cook over medium- to medium-high heat for 25 minutes. To keep the pears from turning to mush, do not stir them. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin sheet, about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 4-inch circle dough cutter, cut out as many circles as possible.
Cut the pear pieces into thirds and place a spoonful of the pears on the center of each dough circle. Brush the edges of the empanada disc with the egg whites. (This will act as a form of glue that will help seal the edges.) Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges gently with your fingers. Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle each empanada with a little bit of sugar. Chill the empanadas for at least 30 minutes or until ready to bake so they stay sealed.
Bake for 15-20 minutes and serve warm. Makes 20-25 empanadas.