6 Great Holiday Dinner Detours
Food and Drink

6 Great Holiday Dinner Detours

Tired of the old standbys at your annual feast? Then slide a little off the rails this year and try a few of the tried-and-true Christmas mainstays in a whole new, delicious form!

Grilled Time-Out Turkey-Apple Meatballs

Excerpted from Tailgating Done Right Cookbook: 150 Recipes for a Winning Game Day by Anne Schaeffer: Photo courtesy of Fox Chapel Publishing

"A handy, flavorful way to serve turkey at your festive tailgates. Or serve these as appetizers during the holidays and college bowl game homegates."

Serves: 8


1 cup barbecue sauce

½ cup grape jelly

4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

½ cup chicken stock

2 red apples

½ pound uncooked bacon, finely chopped

2 pounds ground turkey

1  ½ teaspoons salt

Grease the grill grate and preheat the grill on low heat.

In a saucepan, whisk together barbecue sauce, jelly, vinegar and chicken stock. Set the saucepan on the grill to slowly warm up.

Shred the unpeeled red apples onto heavy-duty paper towels and squeeze out the excess juice. Dump the apples into a bowl. Add the uncooked bacon, ground turkey and salt. Mix with your hands until evenly combined.

Use a 2-inch cookie scoop to form meatballs and thread onto side-by-side thick skewers.

Grill 35–45 minutes until cooked through, turning and drizzling with the warmed sauce occasionally. Serve the remaining sauce with the meatballs.

Grilled Sweetpotato Salad & Hot Bacon Dressing

Courtesy of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission

"Skip the pecan and sweetpotato pies. Instead, combine those flavors into a succulent, flame-kissed side dish."

Serves: 6


for the dressing:

2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar

1 tablespoon Country Dijon mustard

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon bacon grease, warm

sea salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste


for the salad:

2 ½ pounds sweetpotatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds

sea salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 slices center-cut bacon

2/3 cup sliced scallions, about 10–12 scallions

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips and packed in oil

1/3 cup toasted pecans

1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles

For the Dressing: Preheat oven to 200°F. In a skillet, cook the bacon until crispy. Drain and reserve the grease. Crumble the bacon and set aside for the salad. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and mustard. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon grease until the dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm in the oven.

For the Salad: Heat up the grill with areas for both indirect and direct cooking. 

Using a brush, lightly coat the sweetpotato rounds with olive oil or put them in a resealable plastic bag, add the oil, and massage to coat all the surfaces. Just before putting the sweetpotatoes on the grill, season them liberally with salt.

Place the rounds directly on the cooking grate over direct heat. Grill until well-marked, about 3 minutes on each side.

Move to indirect heat. Finish cooking, turning halfway through, until soft and tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the grill. Immediately cut into quarters and place in a large bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons of the dressing to the bowl and toss with the sweetpotatoes until just coasted. Add the crumbled bacon, scallions, sundried tomatoes, pecans and blue cheese. Drizzle a little more dressing and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately while warm or at room temperature. 

Oven Alternative: Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a rack onto a baking sheet. Place sweetpotato rounds onto the rack and season well with salt. Bake until tender and browned around the edges, about 30 minutes.

Buttermilk Brined Turkey

Courtesy of the National Turkey Federation

"A nod to the age-old and delicious holiday tradition for those craving that gorgeous, juicy centerpiece. Try spatchcocking the turkey for a quicker, more even cook on the grill."

2 quarts cold water

½ cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 large bay leaf

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

1 small fresh garlic clove, lightly smashed

12–14 pound whole turkey, fresh or thawed if frozen

4 quarts cold buttermilk

For Savory Brine Mixture: Combine all the ingredients, except the buttermilk and turkey, in a large (3-quart or more) saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely before proceeding.

For brining turkey: Remove giblets and neck from the turkey cavities.

In a large container, such as a sealable brine bag or 5-gallon, food-safe bucket with lid, pour in the cold Savory Brine Mixture and buttermilk. Stir well. Add the turkey to the brine and submerge it. If using a bucket, place an ice-filled bowl on top of the turkey to keep the turkey submerged.

Brine the turkey no longer than 24 hours, always keeping it below 40°F. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel. Discard brine.

For grilling: Prepare the grill for indirect medium-high heat. Place the turkey on the grill and cook for 1½ –2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. The outside should be crisp and golden brown. Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and let it sit for 15–20 minutes before carving.

For oven roasting: Preheat oven to 325°F. Place the turkey on a V-shaped rack in a 2-inch-deep roasting pan and roast about 3½ –3 3/4 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. The outside should be crisp and golden brown. Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and let it sit for 15–20 minutes before carving.

Optional: Add your favorite glaze or baste to the turkey during the cooking process. Either way, you’ll have a tender, juicy turkey.

Friday Night Lights Thanksgiving Bites

Courtesy of North Carolina SweetPotato Commission

"Designed for tailgates, this is an all-in-one, mini holiday feast in a single serving, complete with turkey, sweetpotatoes and cranberries in a flaky, golden crust."

2-3 large North Carolina sweetpotatoes

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ pound turkey, cooked and cubed

1 3-ounce block cream cheese, softened

½ cup onion, diced

½ cup dried cranberries

1 refrigerated pie crust

18–24 mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Begin with cooled, baked sweetpotatoes (oven-baked or microwaved).

Peel baked sweetpotatoes, add milk, maple syrup, butter and cinnamon. Beat with a hand mixer into a smooth puree.

In a separate bowl, mix cubed turkey, cream cheese, onion and cranberries.

Unroll pie crust. Using a biscuit cutter, cut rounds of dough slightly larger than the cups of your muffin pan.

Spray muffin pan with cooking spray. Line muffin cups with dough rounds. Spoon in turkey and cranberry mixture evenly. Top each cup with a generous spoonful of sweetpotato puree.

Bake for 12–15 minutes until crust is golden brown and filling is heated through. Add 3 mini marshmallows to the top of each sweetpotato layer and bake an additional 2–3 minutes to brown the marshmallows. Serve warm.

Pistachio Cranberry Fudge

Courtesy of Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association

"Who says cranberries have to be a sauce? Instead, pair them with naturally green pistachios to turn these holiday berries into a highly addictive, sweet-and-salty Christmas dessert. "

Makes: 6 dozen


3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

2 cups miniature marshmallows or 16 large marshmallows, cut in half

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pistachio nuts or slivers

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup white baking chips, melted, for decoration

Line a 9×2-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving 1 inch of foil overhanging at 2 opposite sides of the pan. Grease foil with butter.

Place chocolate chips, marshmallows and milk in an 8-cup microwavable measuring cup. Microwave uncovered on high for 3–5 minutes, stirring every minute, until marshmallows and chips are melted and can be stirred smooth.

Stir in vanilla, nuts and cranberries. Immediately pour into prepared pan. Drizzle with melted white baking chips for decoration.

Refrigerate about 2 hours or until firm. Using the foil edges to lift, remove the fudge from the pan. Cut into 9 rows by 8 rows for rectangles,  or cut into diamond shapes.

Chocolate Potato Cherry Cream Torte

Courtesy of Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

"Mashed potatoes in your dessert. Now that’s a twist on a tradition. But in baked goods, mashed potatoes just add a luscious, moist texture."

Serves: 12


¾ cup flour

¼ teaspoon soda

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cocoa powder

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

¾ cup warm mashed Wisconsin potatoes, nothing added

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

¼ cup water


for filling:

½ cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup cherry pie filling from 21-ounce can


for glaze:

2 tablespoons butter

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate

3 tablespoons water

1  ½ cups powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch, round cake pans.

Combine flour, soda, salt and cocoa. Set aside. Separate eggs into two medium-size mixing bowls. Add the mashed potatoes and 1/2 cup of the sugar to the yolks. Beat at high speed 2–3 minutes or until light. Add vanilla, water and almond extract. Beat just until combined.

With clean beater, beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until they hold stiff peaks. Gently fold into the yolk mixture. Then fold in the flour mixture.

Divide batter equally in the prepared pans. Bake for about 15 minutes or until firm when lightly touched. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans on a cooling rack. Then remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely.

Prepare filling by combining the cream, powdered sugar, and almond extract. Whip. Fold in cherry filling. Spread the mixture over one cake layer. Top with the remaining cake layer. Chill while preparing the glaze.

To prepare glaze, combine butter, chocolate and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Heat over low heat until the chocolate melts, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

Spoon glaze over the top of the cake, allowing some to run down the sides. Chill. Before serving, garnish with additional whipped cream and cherries, if desired.