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Dishes to spice up your Thanksgiving spread

Now that we are into the full swing of cooler temperatures, our appetites turn to warming and comforting foods. Here are some to use throughout the holiday season as you host or attend various gatherings of families and friends.

APPLE BUTTER -

CROCK POT STYLE

5 1/2 lbs. tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped, such as Granny Smith or Braeburn

4 cups sugar

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2/3 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg and salt

Peel and chop apples. Place apples in four-quart slow cooker. Add rest of ingredients, making sure to mix well. Cover and cook for one hour on high, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook as long as 9-11 hours or until thick and dark brown, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook one more hour. Use in recipes or store in refrigerator in jars.

NOTE: You could put some in small jars, tie with a pretty ribbon and send home with Thanksgiving guests.

APPLE BUTTER

BABY CAKES

(A great way to use some apple butter)

If this is too many to use at once, I think they would freeze well, thaw and make fresh caramel sauce when you want to serve them. The whole batch could be good for a large group.

Nonstick cooking spray

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup each granulated and brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup apple butter or pumpkin butter if you like it better

1 tbsp. vanilla

2 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice

1 5-oz. can evaporated milk

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1 recipe caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly coat twenty-four 2 1/2 inch muffin cups with cooking spray. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl beat butter with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs. Beat in apple butter and vanilla.

Stir vinegar into milk (mixture will curdle). Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Stir in walnuts.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until toothpick tests clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. Remove, cool slightly. Spoon about 1 1/2 tbsp. of warm caramel sauce over each cake and garnish with additional walnuts, whipped cream, etc. Makes 24 servings.

Caramel sauce: Cut in half if serving smaller amounts of cakes or keep in refrigerator for topping ice cream or other cake, etc. (A nice option to have on hand).

In medium heavy saucepan, combine 1 cup packed brown sugar and 2 tbsp cornstarch. Stir in 1/2 cup water. Stir in 1-cup half-and-half or light cream and 1/3 cup light-color corn syrup. Cook and stir until bubbly (mixture may appear curdled.) Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. vanilla. Makes about 2 1/3 cups.

Here are two side dishes especially with Thanksgiving in mind. I like a mix of the old favorites and some new twists as well. (Besides, I think marshmallows ruin sweet potatoes.)

COCONUT-PECAN

SWEET POTATOES

(Also a crock-pot recipe)

4 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 cup each chopped pecans and flaked coconut

1/3 cup each white and brown sugar

1/4 cup reduced-fat (light) butter, melted

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. each coconut and vanilla extract

Place sweet potatoes in 5-qt. slow cooker coated with cooking spray. Combine the pecans, coconut, sugars, spices and butter. Sprinkle over potatoes. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or until potatoes are tender. Stir in extracts.

Gently toss in sauce just before serving - very flavorful. Serves 12.

CORN AND BROCCOLI

IN CHEESE SAUCE

(Another crock-pot)

1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen corn, thawed

1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen broccoli florets, thawed

4 oz. reduced-fat process cheese (Velveeta), cubes

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 can (10-1/4 oz.) reduced-fat reduced-sodium condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted

(To make it vegetarian, substitute cream of mushroom for chicken soup)

In 4-qt. slow cooker, combine the corn, broccoli and cheeses. In small bowl, combine soup and milk; pour over vegetable mixture. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours or until heated through. Stir before serving. 8 servings.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holidays, being grateful for our many blessings throughout the year.

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