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Thanksgiving's side show!

Thanksgiving equals turkey. Just so we're all clear: the main culinary event that folks are looking forward to on Thanksgiving is turkey (except for the cases of our vegetarian/vegan friends). That's a given. So, with that relatively obvious element taken care of, we're actually going to the holiday's side show, which offers a bit more nuanced, colorful and possibly even more delicious world of Thanksgiving possibilities: the side dishes.

After all, they are an area of holiday cuisine where a host must find a way to balance some of the expected customary dishes with some fun options that show a bit of variation and personality all-their-own. It's not only a fun task, but with so many great recipes out there the hardest part is going to be deciding to which dishes you're going to have to limit it. So, while we realize the family is probably depending on you to cook-up Nana's stuffing recipe or Uncle Jim's famous sweet potato casserole, here are a few other recipes and resources to take into consideration before you fire-up the stove.

Salad You're likely to be tossing the ol' green bean casserole into the mix this time of year - which, of course, is fine! Most recipes for it , however, are pretty darned similar and I'd rather make room for a couple awesome salad options. Let's start with Williams-Sonoma's Brussel Sprouts, Butternut Squash with Bacon Vinaigrette salad variation. Whether you like brussel sprouts or not, this 'Three-B's' dish will take your tastebuds for a thrill-ride. The other salad consideration that's a bit out-the-norm, but worth a try is Edible Sounds Bites' Quinoa with Roasted Squash, Dried Cranberries & Pepitas. Sounds delish, is a healthy addition to the table and looks the part of a Thanksgiving dish through-and-through.

Stuffing If you're like me, the very next item after turkey that you think of at Thanksgiving dinner is stuffing. They're nearly inseparable, right? Well, there are plenty of standard recipes out there, so instead why not try a cornbread variation with deep carmelized onion flavors? Or, if you've heard about the deliciousness that sausage stuffing can offer, this sausage & apple recipe from Epicurious might be just right for you.

Sweet Potatoes It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes and to many that means the traditional sweet potato casserole, adorned with marshamallows. That's certainly a standard (and a sweet delicious one at that!) However, how do Cranberry-Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Scalloped Sweet Potato Stacks or even Sweet Potato Pockets sound? Remember to have fun with it. People will be expecting the traditional, so if you keep the basics they expect but play with how you're serving them folks will be delighted. Dinner and entertainment!

Mashed Potatoes This may seem like a slam-dunk, right? Potatoes, butter, cream or milk, salt, pepper and a couple other ingredients. Well, as I've come to realize from my fiancee (a true aficionado of mashed potatoes), good mashed potatoes are key and not to be overlooked! While those ingredients are crucial to good mashed potatoes, so are the following: a) Start with Yukon Gold potatoes, they're perfect for the task. b) Don't be afraid to mix some cheese in, like smoked gouda or even some mild or sharp cheddar. (And, if you're up for it, a little roasted garlic just perfects any mashed potatoes. Well, I'd argue it does at least!)

Cranberry Sauce Well, I've got a lot of recommendations in this post, so I'll make this one simple. There are a lot of great and really unique recipes for cranberry sauces (that is, assuming you don't want the jiggly, can-imprisoned variety). There's no one perfect one, but this one caught my eye: Ginger Pear Cranberry Sauce. Now, I haven't tried it yet, but I'll test it out this Thanksgiving. If you're game, give it a try as well and we'll compare notes!

Just be sure to have fun with these side dishes - they're a way to breath some more personality into a pretty traditionally-stocked meal. Side dishes are also a great way to employ the family's help as you tend to the turkey or straighten-up the house for guests, too. And lastly, remember that - as a host - you can also outsource some of these dinner additions to your guests. Remember, you're hosting and cooking the bird, so you've got free-reign to ask folks to pickup or, better yet, make one of these delicious side dishes.

Bon appetit!

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