Beyond turkey: Ideas for an alternative Thanksgiving menu

Mention the word Thanksgiving, and most people will picture something straight out of Norman Rockwell’s famous “Freedom From Want” painting, circa 1943 — a wholesome depiction of a large family sitting down to a traditional holiday feast, with a glistening, ginormous turkey at the center of it all.

Flash forward a few decades to 2014, and times have changed. While most folks still enjoy a classic Thanksgiving meal, many others will want to try something new this holiday season, says Michael Adams, kitchen manager at Hy-Vee, 4000 W. Sixth St.

“Especially with popularity of food shows, people have become more food-savvy,” Adams says. “They’re looking for something other than grandma’s pumpkin pie that they’ve had for the past 20 years.”


Root vegetable mash with turnips, carrots and parsnips


Roasted goose


Cranberry stuffing


Bread pudding

Go beyond turkey this Thanksgiving with these ideas from local culinary authorities.


When it comes to stuffing, think sugar, spice and everything nice. Stuffing, that starchy Thanksgiving staple, has been re-imagined as a sweet dish in recent years.

Fruit has become a popular ingredient as of late, says Adams, who suggests swapping out conventional bread for Hawaiian sweet rolls, and adding dried cranberries and custard for a sweeter stuffing.

For those with dietary concerns, try thinking outside the (bread) box. The folks at The Merc, 901 Iowa St., make a quinoa stuffing with walnuts and golden raisins, says food services manager Wallace Cochran.

As with conventional stuffing, it starts with a mirepoix (a base of celery, onions and carrots) to give it that familiar flavor profile, Cochran says.

Not a fan of quinoa? Try brown rice, whole-wheat couscous or farro for a similar effect.

Mashed potatoes

Potatoes aren’t the only vegetable that can be mashed. This Thanksgiving, try adding parsnips and celery root to Yukon gold potatoes, Cochran says.

“The parsnips have a lot of natural sugars, so the sweetness in this gives it a lot more flavor than just regular mashed potatoes,” he says.

It’s also a healthy move. Celery roots are “very creamy” by nature, so you can lessen the amount of cream in the dish or skip it altogether, says Cochran, who also recommends cauliflower for a stronger-flavored, slightly pricier alternative.

The main dish

If you want to skip out on turkey but still want a big bird to impress your guests, there’s always roasted goose. It’s an acquired taste, but delicious, says Gus Wessling, The Merc’s meat and seafood manager.

Like the smaller duck, goose has a fatty overlay that lends a rich flavor to the meat.

As families have downsized, so have Thanksgiving meals, Wessling says. He’s seen more requests in recent years for lighter turkeys and turkey parts rather than the whole bird.

There’s also been an uptick in small game like pheasants or quail. One pheasant can serve two people, while a whole quail would provide one person with a light supper.

"We don’t have as many large families coming to the table, so people are looking to slim down the choices, to where each person can eat their own little meal or they make the meal more unique and a little more exotic for the holiday," he says.

Meat dishes more closely connected with Christmas have started to “bleed over into Thanksgiving,” too. A pork loin roast with apple butter sauce, or a rib roast with gravy made from drippings, are crowd-pleasers too, Wessling says.


Cinnamon rolls are a hit with Linda Hoffman’s grandchildren at Thanksgiving. Hoffman, who has sold her baked goods at the Lawrence Farmers' Market for the past eight years, likes to break out the sweet breads at her holiday table.

“Cranberry bread is good at this time of the year,” says Hoffman, who also suggests banana-nut, almond and, of course, pumpkin varieties.

Traditional Thanksgiving flavors are making their way into desserts outside of the pie realm, agrees Adams, who recommends bread pudding as a versatile option.

“It’s a hearty dessert,” he says. “It can be sweet or savory. You can translate a pumpkin or apple pie into a bread pudding easily.”

Conversely, if you’re looking to add a twist to that traditional pumpkin pie, Hoffman suggests adding 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whipped topping (instead of evaporated milk) into the mix before baking. It'll give your pie a smooth, creamy texture.

Linda Hoffman's recipes for cranberry bread and chocolate chip zucchini bread:

Cranberry bread:

Dry ingredients:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup nuts

2 teaspoons grated orange peel

Wet ingredients:

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup real mayonnaise

2 eggs


1 orange peel, grated or zested

1/4 cup sugar or more as needed


Mix together.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange peel and nuts.

Mix orange juice, mayo and eggs. Add to dry ingredients. Chop 1 1/2 cups cranberries. Fold in. Bake at 340 to 350 F until toothpick comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Chocolate chip zucchini bread:


3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs

2 cups white sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups grated zucchini

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon orange zest

Whipped cream (for serving)


Preheat oven at 350 F. Grease 2 (9-by-5-inch) loaf pans. (Or use five small baking pans.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, spices and baking soda.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating until well-blended. Stir in oil, vanilla, zucchini, pecans, chocolate chips (see Linda's hints below) and orange zest. Stir in sifted ingredients.

Pour into prepared loaf pans. Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove loaves from pans and cool. Chill before slicing. Serve with whipped cream.

Hint: I don't add chocolate chips until I filled in the pans first, as they seem to settle to the bottom of the pan. I add them after dough is filled in pan. Gently stir with knife in the pan. Yes, this is slower, but it works so much better. Also, I find this served warm is even better than cool (it melts the chocolate chips!).


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