You don’t need to spend hours in the chicken or be a top chef to create tasty Thanksgiving dishes — using items from boxes and cans. You’ll still be able to bring some TLC to your sides by adding a few extra ingredients to make them your own.
Stock some stock
Chicken or vegetable stock is inexpensive and adds rich flavor to stuffing, potatoes, rice, polenta, risotto, couscous, dumplings and other side dishes. Not enough drippings from your turkey or goose? Add some stock. You can find cans for 99 cents or less, or buy resealable boxes that keep fresh for months.
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Attack your mac with flavor
Kick up your macaroni and cheese by adding spices, a protein or some veggies to create a Cajun, Indian, Tex-Mex or French spin on this American classic. Add some tarragon, sliced cherry tomatoes and cubed ham and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs on top for a European take on mac and cheese. Add andouille sausage, chili powder, thyme, allspice, bell peppers and onions for a ragin' Cajun casserole. Diced chicken and curry powder take your casserole on a trip to the Far East. Add seasoned ground beef, chilies, bell peppers and diced tomatoes to head south of the border. Skip the proteins if you want to make it a lighter side dish.
Make a quick stuffing
Start with a box of just-add-water stuffing and add chicken or vegetable stock, diced celery and onions, sausage, apples and raisins. Bake it in the oven to create a quick upgrade to this must-have Thanksgiving side dish.
Treat your taters
Whether you’re serving instant or fresh mashed potatoes, add a few simple ingredients to take them to the next level. Time-tested favorites include garlic, cream, chicken stock, real butter, parsley and salt and black pepper to taste. Enhance (don’t overwhelm) your potatoes with your ingredients, leaving the spuds the star of the dish.
Boost your baked beans
If you don’t have the time or energy for soaking dry beans, or want to skip the high-priced gourmet canned beans, start with a can or two of generic baked beans. Add brown sugar, dry mustard and ketchup to taste and top with bacon strips for a sweet or spicy (depending on much brown sugar or dry mustard you add) baked bean casserole. Start with teaspoons as you add your sugar and mustard until you get the taste you want.
Go nuts with cranberries
Turn canned cranberries into something special by starting with chunky, whole-berry sauce, rather than jelly. Dice walnuts and stir them into the berries with some grated orange zest. Fold in some sour cream for an even richer side.
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Get your ham cut for free
Many grocery stores will spiral slice a ham you buy from them free. Call ahead or ask the meat department if they offer free ham slicing — at least one supermarket in your area should offer this timesaving freebie.
Borrow a rotisserie
Hand basting a turkey every 15 minutes during a six-hour cook time guarantees a beautiful brown skin, but you can get the same result using a rotisserie oven. Send an email to friends and co-workers — you might be surprised by how many of your friends have a rotisserie oven they don’t use and will lend your for Thanksgiving.