10 Best Thanksgiving Foods and How You Can Make Them Even Better

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, ever. It’s practically stress free, aside from preparing food. Which hasn’t really been stressful for me, personally, since my family celebrates Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house every year. I get to show up, stuff my face with ten pounds of food and nap until pumpkin pie is served. It’s incredible. I do, however, make turkey dinner at least three times a year (not including Thanksgiving) because nothing is as comforting as fall food and an enormous turkey in the oven. The aroma of rosemary and cinnamon drifting throughout your apartment/house is like nature’s best Yankee candle. But not as over-priced. Here are my favorite recipes that I’ve collected over the years or stolen from friends (thanks, friends!).

1. Let’s start with turkey.

Turkey should really be on the same pedestal as chicken. It’s easy to cook, it goes with almost anything, and it’s supposedly healthier. The centerpiece to a hearty Thanksgiving meal is turkey (or tofurkey, which I will get to) and I really like this recipe by The Pioneer Woman.  It’s more or less your standard turkey recipe, but it also calls for brining, which is basically marinating. Ree Drummond uses apple juice, brown sugar, peppercorn, garlic, rosemary, and some more spices. I think it makes for a juicier turkey, which we all love. You can also pour cranberry juice over a turkey that’s in a pot and leave it overnight so it soaks in all that tart goodness, and pop it in the oven the next day.

If you want to experiment with something more unique, you could try Martha Stewart’s spice-cured turkey.  It calls for cumin, red pepper flakes, and allspice, so you’ll definitely be getting some flavor there.

Pro-tip: don’t rely on the little red timers that usually come with the turkeys. They’re set to go off at 185 degrees, but turkeys are done at 165 degrees (Fahrenheit). It’s a liability thing, but it totally dries your turkey out. Just buy a meat thermometer at Target, or poke a hole through the breast; if the liquid that comes out is clear, the turkey is done.

Vegan? I asked some vegan/vegetarian friends if they had any secret recipes they would like to let me borrow to spread the word on HG, and someone lead me to this online recipe.  I’ve had tofurkey, and I know it can be kind of blah if you don’t really dress it up. This recipe shows you how to make tofurkey from scratch and seems to incorporate plenty of spices.

2. An alternative to turkey: the vegan thanksgiving bean burger.

I actually made this a couple weeks ago. I was trying to get in the spirit of fall, even though in San Diego it’s relentlessly 80 degrees every day, and my neighbors are still barbecuing. I found this recipe here and it’s not super hard to make, it’s healthy, and it’s meat-free. So, if you don’t feel like baking off an entire turkey, this is a cool, animal-friendly alternative.

3.  Green bean casserole

I can pretty much live off of green bean casserole. In fact, I might have during my sophomore year of college. Green bean casserole is creamy, almost good for you, and restores your faith in all things canned. You can always go the easy way and buy cans of green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup (don’t cheap out though, always go for Campbells, I’m telling you) a little bit of milk, and French fried onions. But if you feel like trying something different this year, I baked this last year and it was pretty amazing. The recipe calls for fresh French green beans, Portobello mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and corn flakes. If you feel like REALLY spicing things up, The Pioneer Woman has an awesome recipe that includes pimentos and BACON. You can find the recipe here.

4.  Skinny pumpkin cupcakes

My friend called me up one day and told me we should totally make these. Although they are more “Halloween” themed, these pumpkin cupcakes are still totally delicious, and I make them every single year either for Halloween or Thanksgiving. Usually on Halloween, I’m too preoccupied with seeing how many Almond Joys I can eat in between trick-or-treaters, so I end up making these cupcakes later on in the fall. I love this recipe because even though I usually like the challenge of making things from scratch, I appreciate the simplicity of these cupcakes and how good they taste (even though they’re half the calories of normal cupcakes!!!). Plus, they’re cupcakes. I love cupcakes. I don’t care if they’re not trendy anymore. I will love cupcakes till the day I die. No shame.

5. Stuffing

I may or may not have gotten this recipe from Good Housekeeping, but you guys, it’s so amazing. Brought to you by Ina Garten, this recipe  for stuffing involves a ton of butter, two loaves of French baguette, apples, and almonds. You can always buy your stuffing from a box, but making it from scratch is pretty bad-ass. I’ve also added pears, cranberries, and squash to the mix.

I also found this recipe and honestly, I have never tried it before, but I think I am going to this year. I love tortillas. I love chorizo. Nothing can go wrong here. Also, apparently it tastes like nachos, which is never a bad thing.

6. Cranberry sauce

Yeah, you could just get a can of cranberry sauce and call it a day, but I like to make my own. It’s pretty easy. This recipe literally only takes ten minutes and it’s delicious. It combines all things fall: cranberry, maple syrup (it’s best if you get the real stuff), and cinnamon.

7. Pies

Not including a pie on your Thanksgiving menu is just sacrilegious. There are so many kinds of pie to make and everyone will adore you if you present them with a hot, doughy fruit-filled plate of amazing. But instead of going with something traditional, why not try these alternatives:

You could go with a vegan apple crumb pie. I love pies with a streusel topping. It’s almost like I’m eating granola, but it’s way more sugary and buttery. In this case, you would just use margarine, but if you made a regular crumb-apple pie, I would suggest not only using tons of butter, but making caramel to drizzle on top, You can buy some if you run out of time; I know Trader Joe’s has really tasty caramel sauce for a couple of bucks.

This pear, cranberry and gingersnap crumble from Smitten Kitchen  isn’t technically a pie, but it’s SO GOOD. Plus, it’s unique. And even easier to make than a pie because you don’t even need to make pie dough.

Serve everything with ice-cream. A lot of ice-cream.

8. Salads

Essentially, anything with cranberries, apples, or squash is game for a perfect fall salad. I love this recipe because there’s quinoa in it and quinoa is like the Avengers of superfood; it has pretty much every nutrient your body needs. Plus, you can substitute this salad for a grain if you don’t want to go totally calorie-crazy on Thanksgiving.

9. The caramel apple sweet potato casserole

I love sweet potatoes, but they can honestly get old sometimes. You can bake them and stir in some cinnamon and brown sugar. Or you can go the other way and sprinkle some salt and garlic powder in for a sweet and salty flavor. I found this recipe for a caramel apple sweet potato casserole last year and it was amazing. It combines everything that is Thanksgiving. Sweet potato, apple, sugar, salt, butter, and potatoes. You can also use pumpkin if you want.

10. Thanksgiving leftovers!

Thanksgiving leftovers are the best kinds of leftovers. Seriously. They are so versatile. You can make sandwiches like the turkey cranberry and green chile sandwich, which is delicious and spicy.

Usually, by Friday I have about three different meals that have been half-eaten. Sometimes, I can combine them all in my crockpot and call it soup, but this process is so much easier with Thanksgiving food. If you have turkey, side dishes, and some leftover veggies like carrots and celery, you are pretty much golden.

Okay, this looks kind of gnarly. But this Thanksgiving leftover pizza is actually really good.  You can pretty much improvise your own pizza; either make the dough or purchase some pre-made (I love Trader Joe’s pizza dough). Just throw anything you want on it. Turkey, cranberry, goat cheese, arugula, BOOM. Instant gastro-pub Thanksgiving pizza.

I hope everyone is as excited as me for Thanksgiving and it’s okay to admit it’s just all about the food. Does anyone have any special recipes they bust out for Thanksgiving?

Featured image via. Turkey via, tofurkey burger via, cupcakes via, stuffing via, cranberry sauce via,  salad via, pizza via,

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