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  Thankful for Food  
  The traditional Thanksgiving turkey is a given on many holiday dinner spreads, whether you roast it, grill it or try your hand at frying it. This year, why not shake it up a bit with the fixings and add side dishes and desserts with a twist to your table.  
By Lyndsay Fogarty

Potato & Leek Au Gratin 
Chef Josh Evans, Executive Chef for LongHorn Steakhouse

This layered potato dish is a cheesy and delicious alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. The addition of leeks and bacon provides a boost of flavor, and the breadcrumbs give it a nice crunch. Chef Evans recommends salting the leeks from the beginning to help release the flavors. He also notes that the leeks should be cooked all the way through – they’re ready when they become translucent and lightly browned – before adding them to the other ingredients. Homemade or store bought breadcrumbs can be used when topping the dish, based on your preference. Evans prefers Panko breadcrumbs, which can usually be found in the baking aisle of the grocery store, because they are larger and add an extra crunch. This dish is presented beautifully in a large casserole dish, but you can also make individual portions in small au gratin dishes for a personalized touch. 

Hawaiian Sweet Bread Stuffing
Chef Ryan Vargas, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop

Stuffing can be made inside the turkey or in a baking dish, with or without meat, using cornbread or an alternative like rice or quinoa to make it gluten-free. However you cook it, it’s a welcome addition to the dinner table. This year, give it a Hawaiian twist by using alternative ingredients like Hawaiian sweet bread, Chinese sweet sausage, and pineapples. Ginger, boursin garlic and herb cheese, cilantro and scallions complement the sweeter elements and add a burst of flavor unlike traditional stuffing recipes. Chef Vargas suggests drying out the sweet bread the night before you cook the dish so the bread will soak up more of the bright flavors. If you prefer, fresh pineapple can be substituted with a can of diced pineapples; just be sure to drain the syrup before adding it to the other ingredients. When cooking, the baking dish should be covered in aluminum foil, but removing it in the last 10-15 minutes will add a nice crunch to the top.

Maple Glazed Carrots
Chef John Rivers, The COOP

Instead of a traditional green bean casserole, opt for carrots smothered in a sweet, sticky glaze as a vegetable accompaniment to your turkey. This root vegetable is full of antioxidants and nutrients, and they are in season in the fall months, meaning the flavors are at their peak. To obtain the best flavor in the dish, Chef Rivers shares his secret to carrot selection: selecting bright orange carrots that are firm to the touch. Make sure to avoid carrots that are limp, sprouted, or that have soft spots of large, green areas at the crown. While cooking carrots brings out their natural sweetness, the core of older or larger carrots can be woody and taste bitter. So before cooking, remove the cores to avoid flavors that aren’t so nice. 

Green Bean Casserbowl
Orange County Public Schools

Just like turkey, casseroles have a place on the Thanksgiving menu, whether it’s vegetable or meat based. Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) shakes it up by combining both into a Thanksgiving casserbowl. While this recipe uses chicken as the main protein, turkey can easily take its place and provide the same great flavors. To make this dish at home, adjust the amount of each ingredient to align with the number of people on your guest list. Keep the dish healthy just like OCPS by opting for low-sodium gravy, fresh vegetables, and choose brown rice instead of white rice. This dish is the perfect combination of all of the elements represented on a traditional Thanksgiving spread, all wrapped up into one flavorful dish. 

Pumpkin Pie Empanadas
Chef Jill Holland, Second Harvest Food Bank

You can’t have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. Give it a twist by adding those traditional flavors to empanadas and get that light, flaky crust by frying rather than baking. When you’re making your filling, you don’t want it to be too wet, so Chef Holland suggests adding a few tablespoons of flour to get it to the right consistency. She also recommends using a bigger pot for frying than you think you need because adding cold items to hot oil causes the oil to foam up. If the pot is too small, you will have, at best, a huge mess and a house fire at worst. To get the perfect empanada, make sure you have a fryer thermometer on hand to help you determine the readiness of the oil. If it’s too cold, your dough will absorb the oil and leave you with a greasy finished product. On the other hand, if the oil is too hot, you risk burning your empanadas. 

Chef Vassilis Coumbaros, Taverna Opa Orlando

Served in many cultures in celebration of special occasions and religious ceremonies, baklava is an exotic dessert that layers phyllo dough with a sugary, spiced nut mixure and soaks in a sweet, honey syrup after baking. If you’re not familiar with the technique used when baking this sweet creation, Chef Coumbaros offers several tips to ensure your finished product is just as authentic as you would find on Greek holiday tables. When you’re not working with the phyllo dough, make sure to cover it with a damp towel so it doesn’t dry out. To avoid over-chopping the nuts into a powder, and also to avoid creating pistachio butter, use a food processor to help you get the correct consistency. Finally, to get your flavors just right, the syrup must be hot when poured over the cooled pastry. 
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