Awesome appetizers for your Thanksgiving feast.

If you stop and think about it, it’s kind of absurd to even consider appetizers before Thanksgiving dinner. But let’s not stop and think about it, shall we?

Because all the while the turkey’s in the oven roasting, it’s emanating the most delicious smells from the kitchen. Tummies will invariably rumble. Dinner will invariably happen a little later than the hosts imagined. Conversations will invariably veer in strange directions as family members and guests imbibe.

So, yeah: appetizers are a good thing.

But they should be two things: 1) easy to make (or for guests to bring along) and 2) fairly light. Just little nibbles to keep the edge off the hungries until everyone sits down to the main event. Amiright?

Here are a few great Thanksgiving appetizer recipes that meet those two criteria. Even better: they’re all easily made ahead. Give one or several a try this year:


Fabulous Thanksgiving side dishes.

So, Thanksgiving will be a bit unconventional for us this year, as Rob and I are taking off for the beach in South Carolina, leaving our loving family in Indiana wondering what the hell is wrong with us. Many years ago, we had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of holidays in an island setting, and the idea kept tugging and tugging at us until we simply had to do it again. So, it’ll be coffee on the beach and shrimp and grits for us on Thanksgiving day.

Regardless of our plans, I know you have yours — and that they’ll probably involve a table full of wonderful, traditional Thanksgiving dishes. I wanted to share a few Thanksgiving sides, salads and breads to inspire you as you’re assembling your menu this year. Enjoy!

Overnight Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake recipe |

The Dorothy Project: Overnight coffee cake.

Two things strike me about this recipe that I found in my grandma Dorothy’s old recipe file: one, the beautiful penmanship, and two, this line: “Can be made 2 days before, providing you have good refrigeration.”

Good refrigeration.

This Overnight Coffee Cake recipe was signed by its creator, Alma Worthington. Alma was the much-beloved cook and kitchen mistress at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, where Dorothy worked and worshiped for many years. I remember Alma as a kind and dignified woman, thoroughly in charge of her kitchen and generous with her food. Alma and her cooks catered the various church luncheons that I attended with Grandma, and her recipe for Hot Chicken Salad remains one of my family’s favorite comfort dishes. (I’ll have to share it here.)

This simple coffee cake recipe is one you’ll want to have in your back pocket for the holidays: You can make the batter and topping a day ahead and pop it in the oven the morning you want to serve it, so your houseguests wake up to the enticing scent of warm cinnamon. It would be stellar on Christmas or New Year’s Day morning.

Raising a cup of coffee in toast to Alma. And to good refrigeration.

Overnight coffee cake recipe

serves 12

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:
3/4 cup (lightly packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Spray a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to combine. Mix in sour cream. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon; add to butter mixture and stir to combine. Batter will be thick. Spread batter in prepared pan. In a bowl, mix together topping ingredients; sprinkle evenly over batter. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days. Before baking, preheat oven to 350°. Bake 30–35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with just a couple of moist crumbs attached.

Arizona Mountain Soup recipe |

The Dorothy Project: Arizona Mountain Soup.

About a year ago, I requested this recipe from my mom, who made this hearty soup regularly when I was a kid. And when I found the very same newspaper clipping in my grandmother Dorothy’s “Kitchen Klips” file of old recipes, I knew I had to share it here.

The name itself intrigues: Arizona Mountain Soup. According to “Easy on the Cook,” a long-ago column in the Indianapolis Star (byline: Clementine Paddleford) that Dorothy scissored out of the paper, the soup is attributed to a woman named “Bennie” Bennett, a sign-painter living in the mountains near Yarnell, AZ. (I’m guessing this recipe dates to the early 1970s.) Bennie, a woman on a budget, experimented in her kitchen to come up with this simple combo of rice, beans and vegetables. In the story accompanying the recipe, Bennie advises serving Arizona Mountain Soup with “oven-hot corn bread.” You’d do well to follow her lead.

Now that the weather’s turned (hello, 32°!), this soup is just right. Like all soups known to humankind, this one’s better a day or two after it’s made. (It freezes well, too.) I’ve enjoyed leftovers for lunch these past few days, and had highly productive afternoons as a result.

Good-quality dried beans that you cook yourself (I’m looking at you, Rancho Gordo) are ideal in this soup; with so few ingredients in this recipe, it’s worth using good ones.

Arizona Mountain Soup

Serves 6

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes with their juices
3 cups cooked beans (white, pinto or other; see Note)
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (white, brown or a wild rice blend)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
4 cups vegetable broth or water (or 2 cups of each)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat; sauté bacon until crisp but not too brown. Remove to a plate and drain off all but 2 tablespoons drippings. Add onion and a pinch of salt to the drippings and sauté until soft and translucent, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Add beans, rice, salt, paprika and pepper, then stir in 3 cups vegetable broth/water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer soup for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding remaining 1 cup broth/water if needed. Return about half the bacon to the soup. Ladle into bowls and top with remaining bacon. Soup will thicken as it sits; add water or broth to thin as needed.

Note: Cook 1/2 pound of good quality dried beans to use in this recipe; if you're short on time, use low-sodium canned beans and rinse them well.

The Dorothy Project: Best fudge brownies ever.

The Best Fudge Brownies Ever. That’s the title of this recipe that I found tucked into my grandmother’s “Kitchen Klips” file of old recipes. So, yeah, that one went on my list of her recipes to make.

It did not disappoint. But then, even a bad brownie is a good one, amIright?

I’m not certain where this recipe came from, but it seems that Grandma may have clipped it from a bag of flour; since the recipe specifies King Arthur flour, I’ve a hunch that may be its origin.

In trying out this recipe last week, I made a half-batch [’cause two people have no business eating a full 9-by-13 pan of brownies]. The brownies were super: dark, studded with chocolate chips [yay!] and fudgy. One caveat: to achieve that perfectly fudgy consistency, you’ll want to underbake these slightly.

Best Fudge Brownies Ever? I’ll leave that for you to decide!

Best Fudge Brownies Ever

makes 24 brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar (Note: I reduced to just 2 cups)
1 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In the microwave or in a small saucepan on low heat, melt the butter. Add sugar and stir to combine, then put the mixture back in the microwave or on the stove and heat it until the mixture is hot and shiny, but not bubbling. (The sugar should be partly, but not totally, dissolved.) Transfer the butter-sugar to a large mixing bowl. Add the cocoa, salt, baking powder and vanilla and stir to blend well. Add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously to combine. Add flour and stir well until smooth, then stir in chocolate chips. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake 25–30 minutes, until the brownies are set; a toothpick inserted into the center will have a few moist crumbs. Do not overbake. Let cool and cut into squares.

summer vegetable casserole with cheesy breadcrumb topping recipe |

Seasonal vegetable gratin.

Forgive me for reposting a recipe I’ve shared before … but we made this again this week and it was just so delicious that I just had to remind you of it.

This vegetable gratin is pretty much the perfect dish for early fall: It takes glorious advantage of all kinds of produce that’s available now in farmers’ markets, and dresses them up under a crust of breadcrumbs and cheese. This is a vegetable dish for non-vegetable lovers.

I made it as a side dish to grilled chicken-tomato sausages that we picked up at Findlay Market—and in fact, it’s a terrific side dish to any grilled chicken, pork or steak. It’s also hearty enough to star in a meatless meal, with a hunk of crusty bread and a full-bodied white wine.

This recipe is a take on traditional succotash—the combination of beans and corn—and it calls for both green beans and shelled beans like limas or favas. I found a quart of beautiful cranberry beans at the market, so I shelled them and cooked them off.

To cook fresh shelling beans, place them in a pot of water to cover with a couple of fresh thyme sprigs and a bay leaf or two; bring to a boil, then simmer for 20–25 minutes until the beans are tender but not falling apart. (You could also substitute canned white beans or frozen lima beans, cooked according to package directions.)

While you can still get sweet corn and green beans this early fall, give this recipe a try!

summer vegetable casserole recipe

serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 pound slender green beans, trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups cooked lima beans (or other shelling beans; thawed if frozen)
4 ears corn, kernels removed
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a dash of cayenne)
Coarse salt
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup shredded white cheese (gruyere, Swiss, mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 425°; grease a large baking dish. In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat; add onion, bell pepper and zucchini. Cook, stirring, until vegetables begin to soften, 5–7 minutes. Add green and shelling beans; cook another 5 minutes. Add garlic and corn; cook until all vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes more. Add stock or water and simmer until liquid evaporates. Season vegetables with salt, Aleppo pepper; add basil and chives. Let cool slightly. Transfer vegetables to baking dish. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together cream and eggs. Pour over vegetables and stir to combine. On a piece of waxed paper, toss together breadcrumbs and shredded cheese. Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake 25–30 minutes, until topping is golden and mixture is bubbly. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Double Carrot Risotto recipe |

Double carrot risotto.

Sometimes, the best dishes emerge from what you have on hand. Take this recipe for Double Carrot Risotto. Recently, we made a dish that called for about a cup of carrot juice—and all I could find at the store was a half-gallon bottle of carrot juice. Needless to say, I had a lot of leftover carrot juice. (Which is delicious mixed half-and-half with orange juice for breakfast, by the way.)

I also had garden carrots in the fridge. Carrots + carrot juice became Double Carrot Risotto.

Rob and I love to make risotto 1) because its leisurely cooking time allows for wine and conversation in the kitchen, and 2) because it’s endlessly flexible, a foundation for whatever you happen to want to throw into it. Like this recipe for Warm and Comforting Tomato Risotto.

We adapted our basic risotto recipe — 1 large onion, 1 1/4 cups arborio rice, 1/3 cup wine and 4 cups broth — to include the carrot juice and carrots. We find it works to cook heartier vegetables like carrots or butternut squash in the broth before adding them to the risotto, so they wind up tender but not falling apart.

This Double Carrot Risotto was the perfect side dish to grilled pork tenderloin (I also think it would be excellent topped with seared scallops). Plus, it’s a gorgeous orange color, perfect for these early fall days.

Double Carrot Risotto

serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 1/4 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups carrot juice
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

In a large saucepan, mix the vegetable broth and carrot juice; add the diced carrots and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and keep at a gentle simmer while you proceed with the recipe. In a heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the olive oil; when it's warm, add the diced onion and a pinch of salt; sauté, stirring frequently, until it's translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil; cook until you see a white spot in the middle of the grains, 1—2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it's almost cooked off. Begin adding stock about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly. (Keep cooking the carrots for a bit longer.) Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed; when you scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan, it will leave a path. You want the risotto to be "thirsty" before adding more stock.

The process of cooking, stirring and adding broth will take about 20—30 minutes, give or take. After about 20 minutes, transfer the carrots to the risotto pan and add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. At this point, begin tasting the risotto to see if it's done. You want the dish to be creamy, with grains of rice that are firm but tender. If the rice has a bit of crunch when you sample it, keep stirring and adding broth. Cooking it too long will result in a mushy texture; don't worry if you take it too far, as the risotto will still be tasty. With a bit of practice, you'll get the perfect degree of doneness. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Stir 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan into the risotto; use the remaining Parm to top each serving along with a sprinkle of minced parsley.

truck stop corn chowder recipe |

The Dorothy Project: Truck stop corn chowder.

I mean, c’mon: How can you not love a soup called “Truck Stop Corn Chowder”? I wish I knew the origin — which truck stop, and where — of this recipe that my grandma Dorothy clipped from the Indianapolis Star. It isn’t sourced, or dated. Just meticulously cut out of the paper and tucked into the Soups folder of her “Kitchen Klips” file.

Needless to say, Truck Stop Corn Chowder immediately caught my eye when I was flipping through Dorothy’s collection of old recipes. I don’t recall her making this soup specifically, or her calling the soup “Truck Stop Corn Chowder,” but it’s a recipe that just feels like something she would make. She was definitely a soup girl.

I love that this recipe, unlike so many vintage recipes, calls for fresh ingredients: no canned or frozen vegetables here. It’s a real farmers’ market recipe. And it seems perfectly attuned to the season.

The original recipe called for salt pork, which you can certainly use (or pancetta), but I used bacon instead because I had it on hand. Since pretty much every soup known to humankind is better the day after it’s made, I prepared this recipe up to the point of adding the milk and cream, then let the soup cool and refrigerated it overnight. The next day, I reheated it to a simmer, added the dairy, and let the soup simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes until it was warmed through. With any cream-based soup, you want to be sure the soup does not boil, lest it separate and get clumpy.

I also wanted to freeze half the batch, so I transferred some of the cool soup — without the cream and milk — to a container for the freezer. I labeled the container “add 3/4 cup cream and 3/4 cup milk before gently reheating,” so I’d know to add the dairy later.

I’d really like to know what truck stop serves great soup like this …

[Edit: So, apparently, the prolific food writers Jane and Michael Stern discovered this soup at the Keep On Truckin’ Cafe on I-91 in Vermont, at the recommendation of cookbook editor Judith Jones and her husband, Evan. So it has an excellent provenance.]

Truck Stop Corn Chowder Recipe

serves 6

5 slices thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cups water or vegetable broth
3 medium redskin potatoes, diced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
6 ears corn, kernels removed
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, cook bacon over medium-low heat until crispy; transfer to a plate. Add onion and stir to coat with bacon drippings; sauté over medium-low heat until golden (do not burn drippings), about 5 minutes. Add broth and potatoes; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer until potatoes are tender, 10–15 minutes. Add corn and tomatoes; return to a simmer and cover. Simmer until corn is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in butter; taste and adjust seasonings. (Note: If you want to freeze half of the chowder, transfer it to a large bowl and cool completely before transferring it to a freezer-proof container. Label the container to add 3/4 cup cream and 3/4 cup milk before reheating.) Stir in milk and cream; bring soup to a simmer over low heat and cook, without boiling, until soup is heated through. Stir in bacon. Taste and adjust seasoning. To reheat leftover soup, warm over a gentle heat until it simmers — do not boil.

Spanish vegetable rice pilaf recipe |

The Dorothy Project: Spanish rice pilaf with zucchini and tomatoes.

As I’ve been browsing through my grandmother Dorothy’s “Kitchen Klips” recipe file, I’ve smiled as I discovered recipes that are very familiar to me. That’s because I sent them to her.

In the mid-1990s, when Grandma was working on her cookbook, “Home Cooking with Dave’s Mom,” she sent out a call to friends and family asking for their favorite recipes that she might consider including. I typed up and printed out several recipes that Rob and I made often (and still do), including two that made it into Grandma’s book: Awesome Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins and Cheddar Cheese Biscuits (note to self: make those soon!).

Among her recipe clips, I’ve found all the recipes that I sent her, including this one: Spanish Rice Pilaf with Zucchini and Tomatoes. Rob and I picked this recipe up at a local cookware shop just after we married, and we’ve made it a zillion times since then.

This is the perfect transitional recipe as we shift from summer to fall: it uses abundant seasonal produce like zucchini, tomatoes and bell pepper, but it’s a hearty, comfort-food kind of dish.

Make this Spanish Rice Pilaf as a side dish for grilled chicken or pork, or as a main course with a light green salad and some crusty bread. Either way, leftovers are just as good.

I’m not sure if Grandma ever cooked this recipe, but I smiled when I recognized it among her collection.

Spanish rice pilaf with Zucchini, Peppers & Tomatoes recipe

makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of red bell pepper flakes
1 large onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
3–4 ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (or 2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil; add the dried pepper and cook until it's fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped onion and saute for 5 minutes; add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Add the peppers and zucchini and cook until they soften. Give the vegetables another pinch of salt and a stir, then cover the pan, reduce the heat and cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent (but not brown), about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add the rice and broth. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Add the chopped parsley and simmer 5 minutes more. Season the pilaf well with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

easy zucchini cheddar casserole recipe |

‘Lost and found’ zucchini casserole.

When you’re browsing through an old collection of vintage recipes, it’s fun to imagine what prompted the person to clip or save a particular recipe, and to envision when or why she may have made the dish.

In my grandma Dorothy’s “Kitchen Klips” file (see what they did there, with the alliteration?), tucked into the Vegetables pocket, is a page photocopied from Gourmet magazine’s February 1984 issue. It’s the “Sugar and Spice” column [Remember that one, where readers sent questions or their own favorite recipes? That was back when food magazines were actually about home cooking, and not about pimping the celebrity chef of the second … but I digress.]

So, the “Sugar and Spice” page has three recipes: one for Chicken with Artichokes and Pistachio Nuts, one for Lost-and-Found Zucchini Casserole and one for Lemon Tarts MacCallum. [How quaint: the magazine used to dub readers’ personal recipes with their last names.] OK, so back to the recipes … I’m pretty sure the artichoke dish was a little fancy for Dorothy. And the lemon tart recipe continued on another page, so the directions are totally cut off. Which leads me to believe that it was the zucchini casserole recipe that caught Grandma’s eye.

It’s very much a dish that she would have made — in fact, she made zucchini casserole many, many times every summer when her garden was abundant. It’s so easy and unfussy that it seems out of place in Gourmet magazine. The reader’s note accompanying the recipe describes the raves she earns every time she serves it to company (its name comes from the fact that she’d lost the recipe, which originally dated to the 1950s, then found it again).

So, Lost-and-Found Zucchini Casserole … it’s a simple, one-bowl recipe for baked vegetables with a little cheddar for pop and beaten egg to hold it together. It’s even simpler if you use your food processor to do 99% of the work.

Be sure to bookmark the recipe … so, you know, you don’t lose it.

Lost-and-Found Zucchini Casserole (Baked Zucchini with Cheddar and Breadcrumbs) Recipe

serves 6–8

4 large (but not baseball bat-sized, c'mon) zucchini
1 large green or red bell pepper
1 medium onion
3 slices white bread, crusts removed (or 1 cup fresh bread crumbs)
4 ounces sharp Cheddar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil or Italian herb blend
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten well

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters, then slice thinly into quarter-moons. Transfer zucchini to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the bread to crumbs; add to the baking dish. Process the bell pepper until finely diced; transfer to the baking dish, then process the onion in similar fashion and dump it into the dish. Switch to the coarse shredding disk in your processor, and shred the Cheddar; add to the baking dish. Add the olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and use your hands to combine. Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables and mix to combine. Bake uncovered for 50–60 minutes, until casserole is bubbly and browned on top. Serve hot or room temperature.