There’s no use in pretending: After years of shepherding Thanksgiving recipes into print and our Recipe Finder database, I admit have my favorites. They’re in balance, flavorwise, they’re not hard to do, they look great on the plate.
And they fit quite nicely into one menu. The Food staff has made a beauty contest of this exercise before, but in 2011 we offer an exhibition, not a competition. So here are four meal plans for the holidays that might inspire you to add something new to your own favorite repertoire:
Chestnut Soup With Green Peppercorn Mascarpone. I love the richness of this. Serve in small portions as a first course.
Shaved Fennel, Pear and Tarragon Salad. A trifecta of sorts.
Sweet Potato and Grits Spoonbread. The texture’s winning; this has a surprising 4 grams of fat per serving. (pictured at left)
Sauteed Green Beans and Spinach. Chef Ris Lacoste thought of this; I never would have combined the two. The dish tastes green and clean.
Roasted Maple-Brined Turkey. I was a briner before, but this preparation convinced me that herbs, spices and syrup work wonders from within.
Madeira Gravy. My go-to for more than a decade; the base for this can be made a few days in advance.
Red Wine Cranberry Sauce. The wine lends depth.
Silken Turnip Soup. No cream, but it sure tastes like it.
Sweet Potato Rolls. A longtime favorite, courtesy of James Beard.
Fennel, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad. Here’s how you lighten up the meal, giving it color and crunch.
Herb-Crusted Roast Butterflied Turkey. If you haven’t tried butterflying the turkey, flattening it so it cooks more evenly, you’re missing out. It’s the only way I roast.
Cider Herb Gravy. The taste of fall.
Prosciutto and Cornbread Stuffing. A Southern-by-way-of-Italy approach.
Cranberry Salsa. A little heat perks up the table.
Green Beans With Lemon Relish. I like to keep things bright and tart, and this recipe does both.
Moroccan Spiced Carrots. For a global take on a side dish.
Rich, Velvety Potato Puree. This may be the most butter you will consume in one dish the entire meal — dessert included
Mama’s Pecan Pie. With its admirably high goo-to-pecan ratio, this pie is on my must-bake every year.
Tourte au Potiron (French Pumpkin Pie). Tired of traditional pumpkin pie? This will satisfy you, deliciously.
Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup: Wake up your palate for the feast to come.
Julia and Jacques’s Deconstructed Turkey with Corn Bread Stuffing and Gravy: I can’t think of a better way to give thanks on this American holiday then to dig into this typically complicated recipe by two icons of French cooking.
Fig Gravy: Yes, Julia and Jacques’s recipe comes with its own gravy, but I love figs enough to want this option on the table, too.
Kale and Butternut Squash Gratin: Skip the tired squash soups and potato gratins.
Apple, Pear and Walnut Salad: You know, just in case someone feels like eating fruit.
Brussels Sprouts California Style: I love how this dish adds both color and intensity to a typically plodding dinner.
Smoked Sweet Potato Mash With Hickory Syrup: You’ll be hooked on smoke after trying this.
Meme’s Yeast Rolls: I’m a sucker for airy, slightly sweet dinner rolls slathered in butter.
Miniature Pecan Pies: This pecan pie won’t lose its form on the plate.
Ginger Pumpkin Pie: Spice up a holiday favorite.
Cranberry Tangerine Sauce: Perfect for those leftover turkey sandwiches the next day...and the day after that.
Cumin-Cayenne Cashews, Pine Nuts and Pistachios. Help stave off that afternoon hunger with a handful of this spiced snack.
Sweet Potato Bourbon Soup. Have your orange tubers as a first course in this dish from Ris Lacoste.
Basic Mashed Potatoes. Easy, fool-proof take on the classic side. I like to jazz it up with a little garlic powder or even some roasted, smashed garlic cloves.
Spiced and Fruit-Stuffed Chicken Breasts. If you don’t have the time, oven or courage for cooking a whole turkey, try something different. These chicken breasts look and taste great.
Jellied Cranberry Sauce. Step away from the can. You can do this.
Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart. This dessert is so gorgeous — and surprisingly light — that your guests might not care about the bait-and-switch on your pie tradition.
More Thanksgiving recipes: