As someone who loves to cook in the kitchen, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year. Planning and executing a perfect menu is the type of pressure and creativity I love — and, with the rise of Friendsgiving in recent years — it gives chefs and bakers another grand opportunity to show off their skills.
In contrast to the traditional Thanksgiving meal — which is often family-centric — Friendsgiving focuses on what the name entails: friends. But if you aren’t a chef and still want to bring a dish, it can be tricky to know what to provide. The key, though, is to just keep it simple; no need to wow your friends with a duck that takes you a week to prepare or a dessert that involves torches and flames. Follow these ideas and you’ll be golden:
Flexible roasted vegetables
Your parents were right: vegetables are, without a doubt, very good for you. You may not have realized while you were growing up, though, just how delicious they are, too. Roasted vegetables are the key to my heart and are unbelievably simple. Pick a mix of phenomenal fall vegetables — sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, squash — and roast them with olive oil. In terms of seasonings, you should at the very least add salt and pepper, but pick an array of spices to accompany the basics. You can pick anything, really — vegetables are like a blank canvas. If you need a starting point, though, I personally enjoy ground mustard, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and even a hint of cinnamon.
For the adventurous eater, try dipping your roasted vegetables in some horseradish. Don’t worry, I’ve tried it, and your nostrils will survive while your tastebuds thrive.
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Jazzed-up box macaroni and cheese
What college student doesn’t love mac and cheese? If you’re sick and tired of the basic store-bought box, though — and can’t afford the fancy ingredients that go into homemade mac and cheese — then all you need to do is jazz up a box of Kraft.
I love adding Italian spices to mac and cheese. They’re earthy and savory, so they’re perfect for autumn cooking. There’s a chance you even already have them in your pantry: basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley and more are great in a dish like this.
To make it even better, top it with breadcrumbs — or RITZ Crackers, which add buttery flavor and texture — and bake it in the oven for a bit. The length of time you bake it for is a judgment call. You aren’t cooking anything for the sake of doneness, like you would be with food like chicken or eggs. Instead, you’re looking for your preference, whether that’s a light golden brown or super bubbly and with a bit of char.
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Super-sweet cooked apples
I’m constantly trying to make new recipes in the kitchen, and they do not — I repeat. They do not — always work. Some are awful, in fact. I usually have to try again and again to get something right. But in the case of cooked apples, it took one try to nail it.
There really isn’t a recipe, though. That’s the key with something seemingly this simple: make sure it stays simple. Just combine apples — make sure to wash them, and actually peel them, too — with a reasonable ratio of white sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt. The sugar makes the apples even sweeter, and the vanilla and salt help to enhance and bring out flavors.
Even though the zest may seem weird, it really will make the dish that much better. Citrus is often a good addition because of its freshness and ability to balance sweetness. Once you’ve mixed all that together in a pot, you can let it simmer until the apples become mushy and have a nice glaze.
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