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Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas

  Thanksgiving dinner ideas

  Fresh crisp air, brisk temperatures, and the brown remnants of the final, crackling leaves of fall swept from the walk. The excitement of football games, a layer of white frost lightly coating the grass like glaze on a donut, and the comfort of the first fuzzy sweatshirt of the season (worn over a turtleneck, of course). All sure signs that Thanksgiving is around the corner.

And donít forget the food -- wonderful rich, nutty flavors and the mixed aroma of pungent spices and sweet brown sugar. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, caramelized sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, in rich reds, opulent oranges and golden browns Ė a cornucopia of warm fall colors.

This year, try some innovative Thanksgiving dinner ideas. Following are ways to prepare these traditional dishes and make them even more special. With a little time, a few extra ingredients, a minimal monetary investment and a spark of imagination, Thanksgiving favorites become sought-after recipes.

Begin with the appetizer. Scoop soft, spreadable cheese into a large ball. Arrange small pretzel sticks and crackers into rows to replicate layers of turkey feathers. Be sure to use crackers in various sizes, colors and shapes to create interest. Use capers for the eyes and a long piece of pimento makes a fine throat. The turkey cheese ball is functional, since the crackers are right there, and itís also fun Ė just wait until the kids see this!

For a new twist on turkey, prepare it in a smoker, cook it in a bag of spices, or baste it with a mixture of coffee liqueur and orange juice before and during baking. Add fresh cranberries and walnuts to stuffing for added texture and a hint of tartness.

A bag of frozen raspberries and a can of mandarin oranges, both drained, transform ordinary cranberry sauce (the lumpy kind, not the gel) into a delicious explosion of fruit flavor. For a sweet treat, mix miniature marshmallows into mashed sweet potatoes, top with pecan halves, drizzle with melted butter and brown sugar, and bake. Or, substitute yams in a recipe for potato chips, and make your own sweet potato chips.

Experiment with breads and rolls. Rich zucchini loaves and spiced carrot muffins add a warm touch, while avocado bread is a great recipe for the usual, with an unusual main ingredient.

Even salad can be interesting. Use a variety of greens, and try exotic vegetables and either sweet or tart dressings. Adding distinct flavorings or just mixing two unlikely ingredients together can tantalize the taste buds. For instance, create a wonderful Thanksgiving salad with bib lettuce, canned pears (drained), and cubes of feta cheese. Cover it with a warm dressing of walnut oil, a touch of vinegar and walnut pieces, for a pleasing flavor combination. Try adding sliced strawberries and pickling cucumbers to fresh baby spinach. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds and toss with oil and balsamic vinegar for a colorful and tasty salad.

For dessert, bake a pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin brownies or pumpkin tarts. Add crushed peanuts to the filling of a traditional apple pie, and pour hot caramel over the top after baking. The result: a pie that tastes like a taffy apple!

Whether served at a large gathering of guests or at an intimate family meal, Thanksgiving fare is truly comfort food. This year, try these unique variations and make the menu even more memorable.

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