All-Star Thanksgiving Sides

Every year, I host Thanksgiving dinner. It's the one day a year that I really go all out, from the colorful napkins and special tumblers to the menu, typically planned weeks in advance. There are a few dishes, however, that I never have to switch up because they've come to be expected every year.

One of those super popular dishes is my Chipotle-Bacon Cheddar Mac & Cheese. It is SO good! And I don't even really like Mac & Cheese! But this. This is different. It's creamy and cheesy with a little kick and a good crunch from the bacon. I never have leftovers, because it's the first thing everyone scoops up! You're in luck if you've been looking for a side dish shakeup, because I'm sharing it here today with you. 

mac and cheese

What you'll need:

3 teaspoons sea salt, divided 

1 (16-oz.) package cavatappi pasta 

2 tablespoons EVOO, divided 

1/2 cup butter 

1 small onion, diced 

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 

3 cups half-and-half 

2 cups heavy cream 

1 teaspoon ground white pepper 

3 cups freshly grated smoked Cheddar cheese* 

1 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese* 

1 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder 

6 cooked bacon slices, chopped*

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

*If you cannot find smoked Cheddar Cheese, you can also sub with Sharp Cheddar

*Shredded cheese works fine if you don't have time to freshly grate

*I use thick cut applewood smoked bacon, but feel free to mix it up

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bring 1 gal. water and 1 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil in large saucepan; add pasta. Cook 8 to 9 minutes or until al dente. Drain; rinse with cold water. Toss with 1 Tbsp. EVOO. Pour into large bowl and set aside.

2. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and sauté 4 to 5 minutes or until tender. Add flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until smooth. (Do not brown flour.) Add half-and-half, next 2 ingredients, and remaining 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, and bring to a simmer. Cook, whisking constantly, 5 to 6 minutes or until thickened. Gradually add cheeses, stirring until blended. Transfer mixture to the large bowl with the cooked pasta. Spoon into a lightly greased 8x8 square baking dish (will fill to top) or 13x9 baking dish.

3. Sauté ancho chile powder in remaining 1 Tbsp. EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat 30 seconds or until mixture begins to smoke. Remove from heat, and quickly stir in bacon and panko until coated. Sprinkle mixture over pasta.

4. Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and crisp on top. Serve immediately.

VOILA! ENJOY!

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Growing up, we always had canned cranberry sauce. It was a tradition, in fact. Each year, a kid was picked to open the can, and cut it fashionably onto a plate. That was our contribution to Thanksgiving. But last year, I decided to try my hand at making homemade cranberry sauce and I will NEVER go back to canned! It was such a hit and so funny to realize that most of my guests had never had homemade cranberry sauce either. Not sure if that's a southern thing, but I see a common denominator. ;) This cranberry sauce is ridiculously easy to make, incredibly flavorful and not overly sweet. In fact, I'd say it's the perfect amount of sweet. 

cranberry sauce

What You'll Need:

12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice*
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

*To save time (and dishes), I use Simply Orange Pulp Free OJ

Directions:

1. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until many of the cranberries have burst, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

2. Let cranberry sauce cool in the pan, then transfer to another container, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will thicken as it sits as well, for the perfect consistency.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? Feel free to share below!