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Gourmet holiday cooking made easy

The holidays are here, and you have to cook something impressive. Does this mean opening cans of green beans and yams? Why not make something fabulous with just a little more effort than it takes to make bland, boring fare?
Here are some easy ideas of additions and adaptations of typical Thanksgiving dishes for you to try. Even trying one or two of them can make a big impression. Delicious food doesn’t have to be difficult – just delicious!

Cut slits into the turkey skin for cloves of garlic and/or to stuff in fresh or dried rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, oregano, or seasoning salt. The point is to get the flavor under the skin where it will season the meat and not burn. Part of the reason stuffed turkey tastes so flavorful is the herbs and moisture on the inside, so put similar herbs, salt and pepper and a whole lemon inside a turkey if you choose not to stuff it.

Mashed Potatoes
Try adding one part sweet potatoes or yams to three parts of the potatoes you are cooking to mash. Sweet potatoes (the cream-colored ones) are slightly sweet and add a depth of flavor that gets compliments without the sense that it’s something too unusual. The sweet intensity of yams is about as hard to miss as the orange color, but is quite delicious for the more adventurous.
Also, add fresh or dried rosemary to the cooked potatoes before mashing or pureeing. Keep fresh rosemary in a zipper bag in the freezer to prolong its shelf life and keep it handy.

Green Bean Casserole
Use frozen or fresh green beans instead of canned, add several chopped fresh mushrooms (about half a package per can of mushroom soup), replace some or all of the cheese with parmesan, add real bacon bits, and/or make homemade French fried onions.
The homemade mini onion rings may sound like too much work, but they only take sliced rings of onion, egg, breadcrumbs, and a thin layer of oil in a frying pan for a few minutes. The only trouble you’ll really have is not making enough due to how popular they will be.

Heat up store-bought rolls in a warm oven for just a few minutes immediately before serving and blend chopped fresh herbs or scallions into butter for them.

Gravy mix tastes much fresher than bottled. Add a healthy pinch of dried thyme or rosemary per package. If you have pan drippings from the turkey, add some for a burst of flavor.

Cranberry Sauce
Canned cranberry sauce can’t compare with homemade, and it’s about as easy as if it’s out of box. One bag of cranberries needs one cup of water and about one cup of sugar boiled down to a sauce. Like gravy, it thickens somewhat upon standing. Cranberry sauce is actually most flavorful served warm or room temperature, but most people are used to it chilled.
Mix things up by using cranberry juice or pineapple juice instead of water, reducing the sugar slightly. You can also add fruit such as pineapple tidbits (which happen to contain 1 cup of pineapple juice), mandarin oranges and/or dried cranberries. Just reduce the sugar a little for each sweet thing you add.

Pumpkin Pie
Spruce up a store-bought pie with whipped topping to which you mix in a few drops of vanilla and a couple of dashes of pumpkin pie spice. Put the topping in a zipper bag and cut a small hole in the end to pipe it out in a pretty decoration. Dust the pie generously with more pumpkin pie spice. It makes for a heavenly pie.

Sparkling drinks and cranberry drinks are festive. Sparkling cider is nice, especially the unusual fruits like pear or peach, but it never seems to stretch very far. Another option is to combine the sparkling cider or sparkling water with cranberry juice cocktail.

Happy cooking and happy Thanksgiving!

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