November 11, 2013

In 17 short days, our homes will be filled with family and our tables will be full of food. If you haven't planned your Thanksgiving Day menu, it's time to begin gathering ideas.

Most of us will serve turkey with all the fixins'. Here are some quick and simple ideas for an appetizer, a vegetable side dish, potatoes, and a dessert your family will gobble up on Turkey Day.

Beer Bread and Dill Dip

Beer bread served with a creamy dip is a nice change from cheese and crackers. Beer bread kits are popular, but it's fairly simple to make at home. has an easy, but tasty appetizer everyone will love.

Beer Bread:

3 cups self-rising flour (or make your own self-rising flour - 3 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt)

1 (12) oz can of beer

1/2 cup sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together, there may be a few lumps left. Pour into a greased 9x5 loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool a few minutes, then put on a cooling rack to cool all the way. Then cut up into cubes to use as a dipper.

Dill Dip:

1 tablespoon parsley

1 tablespoon minced onion

1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon Accent

2/3 cup sour cream

2/3 cup mayonnaise

Put all the above in a bowl and mix till smooth. Cover and chill a while to blend the flavors. Serve with chunks of bread bread.

Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are probably my favorite vegetable. I've loved them since I was a kid. Adding pancetta and balsamic vinegar makes them even better and I especially love it when the edges of the sprouts are a bit crispy.

My late uncle, Jim Wilson, used to think he didn't like Brussels sprouts until he tried them one year at Thanksgiving. From then on, we always made sure to have them for dinner.

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the core

4 ounces pancetta, sliced ¼ inch thick

¼ cup good olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon syrupy balsamic vinegar (if you don't have the thick kind, pour some into a saucepan and heat until it reduces down a bit)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan, including some of the loose leaves, which get crispy when they're roasted. Cut the pancetta into 1/2-inch dice and add to the pan. Add the olive oil, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss with your hands. Spread out the mixture in a single layer.

Roast the Brussels sprouts for 20 to 30 minutes, until they're tender and nicely browned and the pancetta is cooked. Toss once during roasting. Remove from the oven, drizzle immediately with the balsamic vinegar, and toss again. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.

Slow Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Don't have much time to boil a big pot of water and boil potatoes? No problem, The Cooking Channel has a way for you to sit and enjoy your family and cook three pounds of mashed potatoes for your Thanksgiving dinner.

3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch chunks

1 head garlic, halved

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

3/4 cup half-and-half

4 oz cream cheese, softened

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Combine the potatoes and garlic in the slow cooker. Pour the chicken broth over the potatoes, cover and cook on high 3 to 4 hours, or on low 6 to 8 hours.

Remove the potatoes and drain, reserving the cooking liquid and removing the garlic. Return the potatoes to the slow cooker.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the half-and-half over low heat. Remove from the heat and add to the potatoes along with the cream cheese and liberally season with salt and pepper. Use a potato masher to mash, adding the reserved cooking liquid to the potatoes if necessary for the desired consistency.

Keep warm before transferring to a serving platter. Garnish with chopped chives.

Creamy Pumpkin Trifle

This year I've seen pumpkin-flavored everything including pumpkin spice granola bars. If you would like to serve a pumpkin dessert, but not a traditional pie, consider a trifle. Trifles are easy to assemble, but they look like they required a lot of work. This version from layers a spice cake with a creamy pumpkin layer.

Cake Layer:

1 (18.25 oz) Box spice-style cake mix

1 cup pumpkin

1 cup water

Pudding Layer:

1 (1 oz) box no sugar added instant vanilla (or butterscotch) pudding mix

1 cup fat-free milk (or milk substitute of choice)

1/2 cup pumpkin

1 tablespoon brown sugar (or sweetener of choice to taste)

1 teaspoon cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)

2 (12 oz) containers light whipped topping

1/3 cup gingersnaps, crushed

ground cinnamon (optional)

To make the cake layer, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13×9 inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Combine cake mix, pumpkin puree, and water in a large bowl. Mix until well combined, and transfer into the baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. When completely cooled, crumble the cake (or cut into small squares depending on the look you want) and set aside.

While cake is baking, in a large bowl, whisk milk and pudding mix together for about 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Let stand for 2 minutes or until soft-set. Fold in 1 of the containers of whipped, and 1/2 cup of pumpkin, brown sugar, and spices until well blended.

In a trifle bowl or (a large pretty glass serving bowl) layer half of the cake, half of the pudding/pumpkin mixture, and half of the whipped topping. Repeat layers until the trifle glass is filled to the top ending with the whipped topping.

Garnish with cinnamon or crushed gingersnaps, (you may also layer the gingersnaps throughout the layers. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to serve. Also tastes great when made the night before.

Note: You may also use wineglasses or individual dessert glasses for individual trifles.