Take a hike, turkey
Shake up the standard Thanksgiving dishes

It's the same thing every year: Turkey, turkey, more turkey and maybe some ham. Thanksgiving, while a splendid holiday with a solid message of gratitude, has gotten rather stale.

This year, instead of dishing out cuts of dry white meat slathered in gravy or slices of ham baked in sweet honey, try something outside of the customary meal mold.

The ultimate authentic meal

As it turns out, the pilgrims didn't have a Kroger or Publix around the corner to buy their holiday edibles. They didn't even have a Winn-Dixie. Instead, they relied on self-sufficiency and nature to supply them with a feast.

More likely than not, our pilgrim pals ate fish rather than turkey for dinner. If you're after an authentic Thanksgiving meal, Mark Alba suggests looking to the sea.

"Actually, fish is about as traditional as you can get," said Alba, executive chef at Food Studio in Atlanta.

For at-home chefs, Alba suggests red snapper or trout as ideal varieties for holiday meals. Not only is fish more true to the holiday's roots, it's also a lot easier to prepare, Alba said. Roasting a whole fish takes about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the fish's size and thickness, as compared to hours of slaving in the kitchen with a turkey.

Plus, Alba adds, a huge platter of fish with heads and fins intact is, admittedly, a striking centerpiece.

"It's very impressive," Alba said. "When you walk in and see a whole fish surrounded by all these side dishes, it looks like it was just so hard to prepare. No one but you needs to know that it was actually very easy to do. Minimal effort, maximum appeal - that's always good."

Mixed-up meal

Most assuredly, the pilgrims were not digging into a large ball of layered poultry, composed of a variety of feathered friends. The lack of authenticity doesn't seem to be hampering any appetites, though, as turduckens are flying off the shelves. (No pun intended.)

"It's just hugely popular," said Chad Treadway, owner of the Cajun Meat Company in Marietta, where the prepared bird is sold locally. "I'd say we sell about 2,500 turduckens a year, mostly in the holiday season."

A mix of turkey, duck and chicken, a turducken is a rather new gastronomic phenomenon. Perfect for indecisive eaters, the holiday hybrid bird has been a Louisiana staple for years. It wasn't until sports celebrity John Madden tried the dish a few years ago that it struck a chord with holiday diners, "and people have been loving it ever since," Treadway said.

At the Cajun Meat Company, turduckens weigh in at around 16 to 18 pounds, and can feed some 20 people. For smaller crowds, the company also sells the turducken breast, which will feed seven to nine people.

The bird concoction can be roasted the same way as a typical turkey, as it comes deboned and stuffed with sausage and cornbread. Which, truthfully, would make it a turduckensaubread. Or something like that.

Meatless meal

Gathered around the holiday table, family members anxiously await sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, steamed broccoli drenched in cheese and heaps of stuffing with cranberry sauce. And at the center of the feast sits the meal's hallmark: A tofu turkey?

That's Seth Tibbot's Thanksgiving. As a vegetarian, turkey is just not what he has in mind for his holiday meal. Until he created Tofurkey in 1995, Tibbot was more or less forced to settle for sides during Thanksgiving celebrations.

"I always felt kinda left out," he said. "I had no real cohesive center dish. It was just, you know, peas and potatoes and salad. Which are fine foods, but they don't say Thanksgiving."

A specialty blend of tofu and wheat gluten, Tofurkey is an ideal stand-in for turkey. Although it doesn't taste exactly like the real thing, it does offer the same texture of turkey, and pairs well with the traditional Thanksgiving accompaniments.

"We're not trying to replace turkey," Tibbot said. "No one is going to try Tofurkey and say 'Hey, that's turkey.' But they will say, 'Hey, that's pretty good.'"

A Tofurkey holiday feast package comes complete with all the traditional fixings: a Tofurkey roast, cranberry-apple potato dumplings, Tofurkey giblet and mushroom gravy, brown and wild rice stuffing, and even a Tofurkey Jurky Wishstix.

"Eating meat or not, that's a full meal," Tibbot said. "No one needs to feel left out."