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3 Easy Thanksgiving Recipes

Try these recipes for pumpkin bread pudding, chicken with wild rice-cranberry-sausage stuffing, and warm brussels sprout salad

En español | Some years my husband and I feel the need for a quiet holiday. Last year only my older daughter and her husband joined us for Thanksgiving dinner; friends visited over the weekend, but on Thursday it was just the four of us. It was a small holiday meal, and it was wonderful.

See also: Healthier fall dessert recipes

Keeping it small means less kitchen time. It also means there won't be that groaning board of leftovers to manage. Fine with me! After a few days of smelling, roasting and eating turkey and all the trimmings, I'm always ready for a change of menu.

We'll definitely be starting the meal with Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Roasted Grapes and Walnuts. Nervous about serving Brussels sprouts? Don't be. Even Brussels sprouts detractors will be smitten with this thin-sliced, lightly sautéed vegetable partnered with three crowd-pleasers — grapes, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette.

Thanksgiving Chicken With Wild Rice-Cranberry-Sausage Stuffing is a perfectly sized roast for four people. There are two good reasons for butterflying it. First, carving is a breeze. You make one cut down the breastbone for two breast/wing portions — that's it. Skin is the only thing holding the leg/thigh to each breast, which easily separates with a snip. Now you've got four generous portions — two leg/thighs and two breast/wings. To mix up the light and dark meat or stretch it to serve six, just cut the chicken into eight pieces.

The best reason to roast a butterflied chicken is the stuffing. A chicken's cavity (or a turkey's, for that matter) is so small, there isn't room for much stuffing. Opening up the bird and draping it over the stuffing means you can flavor a lot more of it.

I love Pumpkin Bread Pudding With Caramel Sauce and Brandied Whipped Cream because it does double duty: You can serve it warm with a dollop of brandy-flavored whipped cream for Thanksgiving dessert, then enjoy warmed-up leftovers later with maple syrup for a weekend breakfast.

As people who can't imagine a holiday without a slew of people to cook for, we've almost reneged several times on our pact. But I'm hoping we can pull off a cozy Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Warm Brussel Sprout, Walnuts And Grape Salad, Easy Thanksgiving Dishes

Surprise even the smallest Thanksgiving crowd with a salad starring Brussels sprouts.

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad With Roasted Grapes and Walnuts

Serves 4

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Whisk vinegar, mustard, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the oil (this can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days; return to room temperature before serving).

When ready to serve, heat a large skillet over strong medium-high heat. Toss grapes with 1 teaspoon of oil. Add to hot skillet and sauté, shaking the pan frequently, until grapes are spotty brown, about 2 minutes. Turn onto a plate and return skillet to burner. Toss Brussels sprouts with remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add to skillet; sauté until warmed through and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Return grapes to skillet and toss.

Transfer a portion of the Brussels sprouts mixture onto each plate. Sprinkle with walnuts, drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

Roasted Chicken With Wild Rice, Sausage And Cranberry Stuffing, Easy Thanksgiving Dishes

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Give the turkey a little competition with a Thanksgiving chicken served alongside a savory stuffing side dish.

Thanksgiving Chicken With Wild Rice-Cranberry-Sausage Stuffing

Serves 4

If you can't find bulk chicken sausage, buy a stuffed sausage and remove the ground meat from the casing. You can also use pork sausage.

  • 1 whole small chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 ounces bulk Italian chicken sausage*
  • 1 medium-large onion, cut into medium dice
  • 1 teaspoon dry-rubbed sage
  • 2 cups wild rice blend
  • 1 quart, plus 1 cup chicken broth, divided
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt, several grinds of pepper and the thyme; let stand while making rice. While the rice cooks, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees so it's fully preheated when the rice is done.

Meanwhile, heat oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven. Add sausage and cook, stirring to break it up, until it loses its raw color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion; sauté until softened, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Stir in sage and rice to coat. Add 1 quart broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover until rice is tender and has absorbed the broth, about 45 minutes; stir in cranberries.

Immediately turn hot rice onto a large rimmed baking pan in a tall mound. Lay chicken on top so that it completely covers the rice. Roast until chicken is impressively brown and fully cooked, 45 to 50 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board; let rest for 10 minutes. Spoon rice into a serving bowl; cover and keep warm. Set baking pan on a burner set over low heat. Add remaining 1 cup broth and gently bring to a simmer, scraping up brown bits and rice that have adhered. Transfer broth to a small saucepan; bring to a simmer. Whisk in cornstarch and continue to simmer until thickened slightly. Cut chicken into desired portions and serve with rice and gravy.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding With Caramel Sauce, Easy Thanksgiving Dishes

Serve pumpkin bread pudding for Thanksgiving dessert, then enjoy leftovers warmed-up with maple syrup for a weekend breakfast.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding With Caramel Sauce and Brandied Whipped Cream

Serves 8 to 9

This bread pudding makes a wonderful breakfast or brunch dish as well. Just substitute maple syrup for the caramel sauce and skip the whipped cream.

  • 1 can (15 ounces) 100 percent pure pumpkin
  • 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: ground ginger and cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 6 thick slices good quality raisin bread, cut into large dice (about 6 cups)
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • A generous 1/2 cup your favorite caramel sauce

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, and heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch baking pan.

Heat pumpkin, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until sputtering hot. Meanwhile beat eggs in a medium bowl. Working slowly at first to keep eggs from curdling, whisk pumpkin mixture into eggs. Continue to whisk in pumpkin mixture until smooth, then whisk in half and half. Add raisin bread: gently toss to coat, then turn into prepared casserole.

Cover with foil and bake pudding for 20 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with walnuts. Continue to bake, uncovered, until fully set, about 30 minutes longer.

Remove bread pudding from oven and let stand until warm and ready to serve.

Meanwhile, add sugar and brandy to cream and beat to soft peaks. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, cut warm pudding into 8 or 9 pieces and transfer to plates. Drizzle with caramel sauce, dollop with cream, and serve.

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at

Originally published Oct. 30, 2013

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