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Sandra Lee’s last-minute Thanksgiving appetizers and cocktails

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Thanksgiving recipes and tips

Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings family and friends together to celebrate delicious food and a year of blessings. If you just found out that you'll have more Thanksgiving guests than you planned -- or perhaps you've been too busy to fully plan your Thanksgiving meal -- Sandra Lee has some delicious last-minute Thanksgiving menu and tips for a gracious Thanksgiving gathering. When faced with extra guests, simply stretch your holiday meal with scrumptious appetizers that will dampen appetites before the big feast.

Thanksgiving Dinner Spread

Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Cocktail TimeSandra Lee's Thanksgiving tips

Every holiday should be a gorgeous gathering around good food. "Thanksgiving is the perfect time to bring everyone together to celebrate a year of blessings," says Sandra Lee, semi-homemade maven of Food Network's Money-Saving Meals. "Serve savory and decadent dishes such as Savory Bread Pudding and Praline Sweet Potato Casserole on an inviting table, filled with rich colors and seasonal textures."

Sandra Lee suggests simple, time-saving shortcuts to create a meaningful feast, which can be found in her new book Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Cocktail Time. "Give your gracious gathering a heartwarming start with my personal favorite, Joshua Bell's album, At Home With Friends and greet guests at your door with a vibrant cocktail, such as a Peach and Apricot Cider or Pumpkin Pie Martini," she adds. Here are a few more of her Thanksgiving tips.

Mix up celebratory Thanksgiving cocktails

Serving a cocktail with your Thanksgiving meal will make your holiday gathering even more festive, especially if you put a little thought into the cocktails you serve. Music also adds a nice touch. "Re-name your cocktails for a signature touch and serve them in an array of glasses in different shapes and sizes for a glamorous effect," says Sandra Lee. "If you have a special album playing, review your song list and allow the song titles to inspire your cocktails. For example, Peach Cider can be turned into 'Cinema Paradiso' to match the brilliant duet of the same name on Joshua Bell's album At Home With Friends. Brilliant!"

Click to listen to Joshua Bell's Thanksgiving tune

Save time with make ahead Thanksgiving appetizers

Appetizers may seem like an unneeded extra step in light of the large feast you're in the throes of preparing. However, Thanksgiving appetizers will keep your Thanksgiving guests busy nibbling so you can get your Thanksgiving meal to the table. "If you're facing a time crunch -- pick party foods that are delicious and impressive, without being fussy," suggests Sandra Lee. "I recommend Savory Bread Pudding and Fig and Port Tartlets—both of these tasty treats can be prepared before your guests arrive and served at room temperature."

Serve warm and comforting Thanksgiving sides

Roasted turkey is an expected Thanksgiving centerpiece, so surprise your holiday guests with side dishes that are deliciously different. "Sometimes you need the culinary equivalent of a big warm hug," says Sandra Lee. "Praline Sweet Potato Casserole is a classic, comfort food creation that is baked to perfection."

Sandra Lee's Thanksgiving appetizer and Cocktail recipes

Savory bread pudding

Makes 12 mini bread puddings

Ingredients:
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, Johnsonville
1 package (8-ounce) sliced fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon canola oil, Wesson
1 teaspoon bottled crushed garlic
2 cups milk
4 eggs
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, McCormick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 loaf country-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Coat twelve 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with cooking spray; set aside.

2. In a large skillet, over medium heat, cook sausage until browned, breaking up lumps. Remove sausage from skillet. Add mushrooms, oil, and garlic to skillet. Cook and stir until mushrooms are lightly browned. Remove from heat and stir in sausage. Let cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Add cubed bread and sausage mixture to egg mixture; press bread with back of a large spoon to submerge into milk mixture. Let stand for 10 minutes or until bread absorbs milk mixture.

4. Ladle bread pudding mixture into prepared muffin cups and place in a large rimmed baking pan. Carefully pour hot water into the baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until top is golden brown and bread pudding puffs. Serve warm.

Fig and Port Tartlets

Makes 15 tartlets

Ingredients:
1 jar (12-ounce) royal fig preserves, St. Dalfour
1/4 cup port
2 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, Domino/C&H
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon extract, McCormick
1 package (2.1-ounce) baked miniature phyllo dough shells, Athens
Ground cinnamon, McCormick
Powdered sugar, Domino/C&H

Directions:
1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, heat preserves and port, about 6 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat; set aside.

2. In a chilled mixing bowl, beat whipping cream, sugar, and cinnamon extract with an electric mixer on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Transfer whipped cream mixture to a large resealable plastic bag. Snip 1/2 inch off one corner of the bag.

3. Fill each shell with about 1 tablespoon of fig mixture. Pipe whipped cream on top. Garnish with a dusting of ground cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Cinema Paradiso

Makes 10 drinks

Ingredients:
2 cans (11.5 ounces each) peach nectar
2 cans (11.5 ounces each) apricot nectar
1 bag (12-ounce) frozen peach slices
3 cups water
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup bourbon, Bulleit
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Cinnamon sticks

Directions:
1. In a 4-quart slow cooker, combine peach nectar, apricot nectar, peach slices, the water, brown sugar, bourbon, lemon juice, allspice and 2 cinnamon sticks.

2. Cover and heat on Low heat setting for 2 to 3 hours. Discard cinnamon sticks. Turn slow cooker to WARM heat setting. Serve in mugs with additional cinnamon sticks.

All recipes excerpted from the book, Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Cocktail Time, by Sandra Lee
Copyright © 2009 SLSH Enterprises, Inc. www.sandralee.com

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