Appetizer, First Course, and Side: Old Stars Shine Anew for Thanksgiving

Using this as an appetizer? Yay! Pair it with a California Sauvignon Blanc. Add some crackers or fresh veggies to the plate; there should be plenty of cheese to spread around. (Oh! Are those red pepper flakes on that cauliflower? Why, yes; they are!)

…scroll down to bottom for links to many things thanksgiving–crafts for kids, wine advice, music….

When it’s only a week until Thanksgiving, we can go one of two ways: bury our heads in the sand of the past and recreate each and every one of the holidays gone by — could do that with your eyes closed, right; would it be so bad? —or what about spend a little time thinking about trying, even learning something new–perhaps in the way of Thanksgiving sides? If you’ve been reading along lately, you’ll know I’m totally taken with the idea of a curated Thanksgiving. That is to say, a more dinner party-ish meal– not dinner party-ish as in fancy pants table settings or overly-priced sparkling wines served in frighteningly expensive flutes, but rather in a limited number of precisely considered, perfect dishes. Ok, just ones that taste good, not necessarily perfect-perfect. One vegetable instead of 6. 2 desserts in the place of the buffet of pumpkin and pecan lovelies. A beautiful meal, not an eat-all-you-can til you bust your britches buffet. Less cleanup. Fewer leftovers. More energy for a round or two of Hearts or to watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” that all-but-required Thanksgiving movie. No, no. Don’t start the Christmas movies, please. Even football is better than that. Give Thanksgiving its due, its own time. Let’s not mash our day of gratefulness all up into December madness.

So you have to have turkey, right? No; you could have duck–especially if there are only 4 of you. But some sort of fowl is in order. Or not. Potatoes? Yes, of course. Stuffing–totally optional. Rolls? Maybe someone –kids?–would bake cranberry bread instead? You could consider making my Apple-Pear-Cranberry Pie-– (shown below) and nothing more for dessert. Well, whipped cream wouldn’t go amiss. What could be more Thanksgivingy? Perhaps coffee and a little digestif would be in order.

But the thing that truly makes Thanksgiving dinner, though we aren’t always aware of it, is the sides. Just ask someone what it’s not Thanksgiving without for them personally. They’ll rarely answer turkey or stuffing, though some will for sure say, “Pumpkin Pie.” The answers often come in the form of, “Creamed Onions,” or “Sweet Potatoes with Pecan Streusel,” or similar. Occasionally you’ll get the name of a dish brought over from the old country or a platter of something that’s become tradition after a neighbor from a tiny island somewhere in the South Pacific brought it one year. When I asked that question in the upper midwest, I more than once heard, “Gotta have sauerkraut.” My aunt Georgia was of Irish descent, but lived above an Italian restaurant as a young bride, and hence always brought mostaccioli with meat sauce. Spell that three times in a row with your eyes closed.

Why not begin a custom of your own this year by making one, two, or all three of my new side dishes that take an old favorite and dress it in new silky pajamas?

  • Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Spicy Lemon Goat Cheese (photo at top of blog), that old school drama queen made new with a perky, spicy lemony cheese spread, works as a beautiful appetizer and/or an edible vegetarian centerpiece. Let folks carve away on their own, lather florets with the cheese, and eat with their fingers. Skip the heavy appetizers and have a festive first bite without getting full.
  • Quick Curried Butternut Squash Soup, easily vegan, is the sort of fragrant soup everyone makes or eats and adores, but this one is made in a New York Minute by making use of canned or frozen mashed winter squash and canned lite coconut milk. The time saved makes up for the cost here. Serve it as a first course in cute little bowls garnished with pepitas, a drizzle of the quintessential coconut cream, or even a squirt of whipped cream.
  • Blue Cheese Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms and Red Onions is the casserole that wasn’t. Just roast the sprouts, sauté the mushrooms and onions (can do all that ahead), top with crumbled blue cheese, and stick in the oven for only a few minutes to let the cheese melt. No 45 minute bake time here waiting for this goodie to be done.

Let me know what you do make, but try these:


Not an original recipe, of course, but this is my riff on a 2013 BON APPETIT version of a national favorite that can also double as an edible centerpiece. I like it as an appetizer, but serve with the meal if you like. There should be lots of cheese spread; you might put out some crackers, or fresh veggies, too.
Servings: 8 appetizer servings
Cost: $12


  • 10 cups water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 ⁄4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 ⁄4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large cauliflower left whole- washed, trimmed, leaves removed
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil for drizzling over roasting cauliflower
  • Whipped Goat Cheese (see notes below)


  • Preheat oven 475 degrees F.
  • Bring water – bay leaf to boil in a large pot.
  • Add cauliflower. Reduce to simmer, turning occasionally, and cook 15 min. or until knife easily inserts into center.
  • Using two slotted spoons or a large mesh spider, remove cauliflower carefully to a rimmed baking sheet, draining well. Roast, rotating sheet halfway through, drizzle with olive oil, and continue roasting until brown—perhaps 30-40 min. Remove to serving platter. Allow guests to carve a floret. Serve warm or at room temp with whipped goat cheese. (Leftovers tasty cold.)


4 ounces each goat cheese and cream cheese at room temperature; 3 ounces feta, chopped or crumbled, at room temperature;
2 tablespoons olive oil; 
Grated zest of one lemon; 
2 drops of hot sauce or to taste; 
2-3 tablespoons milk or enough to thin the cheese enough to spread it;  Fresh ground black pepper. Directions–
Add goat cheese, cream cheese, feta, and olive oil to a food processor and process until smooth. Remove to a a bowl and stir in lemon zest and hot sauce along with 2 tablespoons milk or more until at spreading consistency. Spoon into a small bowl and grate black pepper over the top. copyright a morgan, 2019. all rights reserved.
Note: In a  pinch, you can sub fresh mozzarella and 1/4 teaspoon salt for the feta. 
Serving this soup as a first course? Try a Pacific Northwest riesling for a wine pairing. I like an off-dry riesling here, but you may prefer something a tad sweeter. TIP: the lower in alcohol content (say 8 or 9%), the sweeter this wine.

quick curried butternut squash soup

There are several squash soups on the blog, including a couple for butternut squash, but none is as fast and, at the same time, as luscious as this vegetarian and easily vegan version. If you can’t locate canned butternut squash, look for the boxes of mashed winter squash in the freezer section of your grocery store. You can also use canned pumpkin instead if you like. Concerned with heat in the soup? Add a little curry powder at a time, tasting as you go along, and/or skip the ground cayenne as curry powders vary greatly. Why not take it to a potluck holiday meal in the slow cooker? By the way, this recipe also halves easily.
Servings: 8 first course servings
Author: More Time at the Table
Cost: $25


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large medium shallots minced (can sub a medium red onion)
  • 2 large plump cloves of garlic minced
  • 4 15- ounce cans butternut squash
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne optional
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder or to taste I like Sweet Curry Powder from Penzey’s
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ⁄4 teaspoon each ground cumin and ground ginger
  • 2 15- ounce cans lite coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable broth can sub low sodium chicken broth for a non-vegetarian version
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • GARNISHES: choice of toasted peanuts or pecans, seasoned or plain pepitas, grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, minced fresh parsley, or croutons


  • Add the oil to an 8 or 10-quart soup pot and warm over medium flame for two minutes. Stir in shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring for a minute or two or until tender, being careful not to brown them. Stir in squash and season with salt, pepper, cayenne, curry powder, ground cinnamon and ground ginger. Pour in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and honey and mix well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with your choice of garnishes.


For a more-colored orange soup—and also one that tastes more of vegetables– add 1⁄2 cup well-cooked and mashed carrots along with the butternut squash. For a non-curry version, try my ITALIAN BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP on my blog
STORAGE: May be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled, and stored in containers with tight lids in the refrigerator or frozen up to 10 months.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2019. All rights reserved.
Wine: Since this is a side to be eaten along with the turkey and dressing, you’ll need to suck it up, cupcake, and drink whatever you’re serving for the meal. I say this because both blue cheese and Brussels sprouts are notoriously difficult pairings. You could continue serving either the California Sauvignon Blanc and/or the Pacific Northwest riesling and not be too distressed in the taste buds. A red will be an unhappy camper here, but if you really want one, just go with the Oregon Pinot Noir and don’t take a sip of it after you’ve eat the sprouts!!! Whatever you do, buy American wines for this holiday. It’s only fair.

blue cheese brussels sprouts with mushrooms and red onions

This dish has all the feel of a creamy casserole without the casserole. While I like serving it in the pan, which keeps it hot at altitude, feel free to spoon it into a warmed serving dish.
Cost: $15.


  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts-trimmed, brown leaves removed, and cut in half if larger than 1 ½-2 inches
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 8 ounces-about 10- large cremini mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into large dice (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cloves plump garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces crumbled or chopped blue cheese, about 1 cup


  • ROAST THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil along with 1 teaspoon of the salt, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, and the ground cayenne (you’ll use the rest of the oil and salt and pepper with the mushrooms and onions later.) Turn them out onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, stirring half-way through, or until tender and browned. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on.
  • SAUTE THE MUSHROOMS, ONION, AND GARLIC: Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet or saute pan, heat the butter along with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Tip in the mushrooms and onion and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspooon pepper or to taste. Cook and stir for about 10 minutes or until quite tender, adding the garlic for only the last minute or two.
  • ADD BRUSSELS SPROUTS TO MUSHROOM MIXTURE, ADD CHEESE/RETURN TO OVEN: When both the Brussels sprouts and the mushroom mixture are done, add the Brussels sprouts to the large skillet with the mushroom mixture and stir gently, but well. Sprinkle evenly with the blue cheese and return to the oven for 7-8 minutes or just until the cheese is well-melted. Serve hot.


Cook’s Notes: This dish is best fresh and hot or warm, not reheated. If you have leftovers, try them cold or at room temperature.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2019. All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving Wine Advice from FOOD AND WINE

Thanksgiving Basics — Start Early Finish Late

Thanksgiving Starters, Soups, Sides, and More

Thanksgiving Baking

Thanksgiving: Gluten-Free and Vegan

Thanksgiving Listening and Watching + Kids’ Stuff:

Garrison Keillor, Philip Brunelle, and VocalEssence in “Over the River and Through the Woods”

.…..or try here.

Listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Thanksgiving Song.

Watch Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on youtube.

Thanksgiving Day Parades

Thanksgiving Day Football Games–Networks, Kickoff, etc.  

Thanksgiving Day Kids’ Activities 

Martha’s Thanksgiving Tables for Kids 

Thanks and kudos to my October Healthy Living class who helped me test these recipes and kept me laughing for days.

Blessings on your being grateful, that so very healthy spiritual practice….


2 thoughts on “Appetizer, First Course, and Side: Old Stars Shine Anew for Thanksgiving

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