Back to the Kitchen: Thanksgiving Part 2—Sweet and Savory Tips and Tricks to Personalize Your Menu

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and the kick off to the most magical time of the year. We all typically prepare recipes handed down from generations (mom’s turkey, grandma’s potatoes) or invite something new, ripped from pages of a magazine or printed from a food website, to keep things interesting.  Last week, I gave you traditional recipes .

Why not add a sweet and savory kick to every dish to give the taste buds a workout and a surprising treat?

To really personalize your meal and make it contemporary without deconstructing the essence of the meal, why not add a sweet and savory kick to every dish to give the taste buds a workout and a surprising treat?

When we think of a sweet and savory Thanksgiving, the first thought that usually comes to mind is a variation of robust yams with brown sugar and caramelized marshmallows. Not on my watch. With just a little bit of creativity you can embark on a really delicious culinary adventure that can be innovative and still honor tradition.

Let’s start with the turkey, the star of the day. Typically it gets stuffed and loaded with butter and prettily placed on greens. To make a sweet and savory turkey you can mix melted butter with the liquid sunshine of oranges and Clementines or you can prepare a pear infused butter and brush that on the bird. Add dried cranberries and grated ginger to your cornbread stuffing. Imagine the possibilities of the sweet, savory, spicy flavors that burst in every bite.

I like to begin my holiday meal with soup. Add a sweet puree of apples and top with cinnamon croutons for a flavorful butternut squash soup.  Melt a pungent guyrere cheese over a sweet pumpkin soup. Or add ginger and orange juice to carrot soup for a real surprise and tasty mélange of flavors.

What about the sides? Take a simple mixed green salad and toss it with a maple balsamic dressing, topping it with pears, apples and Gorgonzola cheese. Mandarin oranges are also a colorful holiday topping for a more robust romaine salad with a creamy blue cheese dressing. Ginger or chipotles can be added to cranberry sauce for a spicy or smoky flavor. And here come the yams. Molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, ginger and nutmeg are all possibilities. You can kick up the dish with ginger, garlic, thyme and cumin.

What could we possibly do to green beans to bring them along this exciting culinary escapade? Forget the canned onions and cream of mushroom soup. How about sautéing with shallots, jalapenos and lemon juice? Another great option is to steam the green beans and toss them with garlic chili sauce, soy sauce and honey. Stir-fry with sweet red peppers, chili flakes ginger and garlic for a simple preparation yet full of exploding flavors. You can add jalapeños, and heavy cream to the sweetest of white corn to make another dish that is really a dynamic mix. If you are including carrots on the menu, add a little honey, butter and cayenne make for a bold side.

Sweet and savory (something I explore in depth in my Sweet and Savory Cookbook) has expanded to the subtlest of sugary to the most aromatic flavors with lots of opportunities for a gingery or peppery finish.

White flour and sugar filled dinner rolls make for a boring addition to this so far dazzling meal. Why not opt for fresh buttermilk biscuits with a touch of festive flair? Consider adding rosemary, perhaps cheddar cheese and even cranberry and orange zest to make an ordinary biscuit a “wow” biscuit.

The crowning jewel of any meal is dessert — and Thanksgiving is no exception. You can treat your family to a stunning finish by making some time-honored favorites with a twist. Sweet potato, pumpkin and pecan are the most popular pies in my family. Adding ginger to any of these makes for a scrumptious flavor. Adding a 60% cacao chocolate to your pecan ginger pie brings in a whole new depth of sweet, sweeter and a kick. Carrot cake or a lemon rosemary pound cake would be perfect endings, as would a salted caramel apple pie. Or consider a less traditional bread pudding made with sourdough bread, pumpkin or butternut squash, agave and cinnamon. These mouth-watering desserts are also stunning to look at to complete any meal.

Because no Thanksgiving meal would be complete without leftovers I  created an amazing Black Friday Sandwich.  Split and toast half of a seeded or sourdough baguette and then generously spread cranberry sauce on both sides. Mix about half cup stuffing with half cup mashed potatoes (or sweet potatoes) with about one quarter cup gravy. Lay turkey on side of the baguette layer on the potatoes/stuffing mixture and top with the other half of the bread.

Chic and scrumptious,  sweet and savory, Thanksgiving leftovers never tasted so good!

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies. Check out her websites and

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.