Thanksgiving will be different this year.

Maybe 2020 is the year that you serve a different kind of meat as the centerpiece dish. Maybe lamb is your jam. Perhaps you’d like to be stuck with duck. Let your fork dance with pork. Possibly goat really will be the dish that your guests proclaim is the greatest of all time.

Because of COVID-19, many of us won’t be able to gather with those we love for the annual extravaganza of food. That doesn’t mean this year’s meal should be a write-off. You can still make Thanksgiving memorable — even extra special — by serving a unique and creative meal to your family and guests, even if it’s just for two.

My Thanksgiving Day plans are still up in the air. I don’t know if I will be traveling to be socially distant with relatives or hunkering down at home with an ostentatious holiday setup. If I do stay home, I have an elaborate plan to make a reverse turducken. Traditionally, it’s a whole turkey stuffed with a whole chicken stuffed with a whole duck with seasoned stuffing at the core. Since there are only two of us, I am going to attempt to stuff a chicken with turkey breast and a duck breast with smoked oyster-and-andouille sausage stuffing. The leftovers are going to be killer, but I want to be able to explore other Turkey Day options as well.

Straying from tradition can feel emotionally loaded this time of year, but it might be worth it. If the usual cook isn’t on duty and the seats around the table aren’t going to be filled, why stick with the same food? It’s a chance to try something new, especially for first-time holiday cooks.

A “classic” Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people costs about $48.91, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual informal price survey. With a little planning, there’s no reason you can’t find excellent deals between now and the big day.

The NC 10% Campaign has teamed up with NC Choices to promote Meat Suite, a new online platform where North Carolinians can buy local, niche meats in bulk. The only farms listed are ones that sell whole, half, quarter animals, or combine bundles offering meat in bulk for one price.

The campaign provides resources so that customers can feel comfortable buying in bulk directly from farms and processors. 

Tips:

1. Plan, plan and plan.  Make a list of everything you plan to make. Look up make-ahead instructions for each of your recipes to see which ones can be made in the days or weeks in advance.

2. Use your recipe list to set make-ahead dates for each recipe. Keep in mind prep time, cooling and chilling requirements and storage (freezer, refrigerator, room temperature).  

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Don’t experiment on Thanksgiving! If you’re unfamiliar with a technique or a specialty ingredient, this is not the time to test out a new theory. If you’re frying a turkey for the first time, I suggest practicing with chicken wings in order to understand the mechanics of the propane and to feel comfortable come Turkey Day.

4. Creating a charcuterie board with a cornucopia of items could be more palatable for your dinner table. An array of cured meat, hard and semi-soft cheeses with dried fruit, nuts, jam, honey and crackers or bread still falls in line with the spirit of the holiday. 

5. If you plan to stay home for Thanksgiving with only those who live in your house, organize a virtual dinner in to still share some of the holiday spirit with friends and distant relatives. Cook dinner for high-risk loved ones and devise a contactless way to deliver the meal to their door.

6. Don’t forget meals and snacks that might slip through the cracks: holiday breakfast and lunch, day-after leftover creations, pre-meal appetizers, beverages and cocktails. Remember to ask guests for dietary restrictions and allergies. There’s nothing worse than finding surprise vegans at your dinner table after you’ve gone through all of the effort to plan the meal.

7. Accept help if offered. Enlist help for prepping ingredients, bringing ice, wine or snacks, table-setting and entertainment (even if that means queueing up Netflix on the big screen).

Looking for a showstopping meat-free centerpiece ideas this holiday? Try these vegan options.
  • Mushroom and Vegetable Wellington: Wrap hearty sauteed mushrooms and select seasonal vegetables in puff pastry and bake to golden brown perfection.
  • Layered vegetable terrine: Similar to a lasagna, this is high-impact, visually appealing dish is simple to assemble and easy to get creative with vibrantly colored vegetables and layers of herbed ricotta or cashew cream cheese.
  • Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Herbed Pesto:Make a spice blend, add oil, rub it all over this cousin to the cabbage and roast in a hot oven to produce this cruciferous stunner.

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