A traditional Thanksgiving dinner

Pictured is Amy's Cranberry Dip that she says serves as a great appetizer to serve guests while waiting on the main course. You can serve it with tortilla chips, Wheat Thin crackers or your preference. The recipe for this dip can be found in the article below.

In this week's segment of "Set the Table", Amy provides recipes that are must haves at her family Thanksgiving dinners. 

Different circumstances may affect your Thanksgiving this year, but the power of nostalgia and all the traditions that come with it will keep you feeling happy and bright. The “must haves” on your autumn table may involve cranberry sauce, dressing, pumpkin pie, layered cakes, baked ham, fried turkey breasts, or casseroles galore, or your family may prefer steaks, spaghetti, or crock pots of soup to fill those Thanksgiving cravings. Whatever you choose to serve to your family and friends will be perfect. Even if you are feeding fewer mouths this holiday, be sure to have plenty of empty containers on hand for the leftovers to share with friends and neighbors or with those who are in need of a warm meal. This season is a time for all of us to reflect on what is truly important, to let our family members know how much we appreciate them, and to remember warm, happy memories of times past.

Cranberry Dip

Even if you don’t eat or serve cranberries or cranberry sauce, this recipe is a unique and delicious spin on the quintessential flavor of Thanksgiving.

• Half package of 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries

• 2 TBSP. chopped green onions

• 2 TBSP. chopped cilantro

• 1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped

• ½ to ¾ cup sugar (according to taste)

• ¼ tsp. cumin

• 1 TBSP. lemon juice

• Dash of salt

• 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened slightly, but not melted

Blend the cranberries until chopped but not liquefied. Add all of the ingredients, except for the cream cheese, into a bowl. Mix together, then cover and store in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, place cream cheese on a plate and spread out evenly. Pour the cranberry mixture over the cream cheese. Serve with tortilla chips or Wheat Thins.

Jean’s Squash Dressing

My wonderful mother-in-law always prepared this dish especially for me.

• 2 cups diced yellow squash, cooked (stewed or steamed for 10 minutes until tender), about 4 uncooked squash

• 2 cups baked cornbread, crumbled

• ½ stick butter

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of chicken soup

• 1 large egg, beaten

• Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in butter until tender. Cook the squash and place in a colander; drain all excess liquid. Add cooked squash, cornbread crumbs, soup, and spices to the onion and mix well; stir in the egg and pour into a greased 2-quart casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until set.

Must Have (Make Ahead) Mashed Potatoes

These holiday potatoes are the second most requested dish at my home; the number one item is creamy macaroni and cheese. The best potato for making mashed potatoes is definitely the russet potato, and the Yukon Gold is a great option as well.

• 5 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

• 1 ½ sticks of butter

• 2 tsp. kosher salt

• Black ground pepper to taste

• 8 oz. cream cheese, softened

• 1 cup of half and half, heated

• Dried chives for garnish

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Once potatoes are tender, drain them really well in a colander.

Return potatoes to a large bowl. Cube one stick of butter and add to the hot potatoes.

Sprinkle in salt and pepper and mash (with hand masher or can use an electric hand mixer) until smooth. Don’t overbeat. Add softened cream cheese and mash until combined. Stir in the hot half and half.

Transfer potatoes to a baking dish. Slice remaining ½ stick of butter into 6-8 slices and place on top of mashed potatoes. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes.

You can make this dish a day or two in advance. Take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before baking, and bake until warmed through.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake

Cheesecake, whether it is caramel apple, pumpkin, pecan pie, or chocolate, is one of my family’s favorite desserts. In our home, chocolate chip cookie cheesecake is often requested for birthdays, too. This cheesecake is less intimidating to make because it does not require a springform pan but is made in a 9x13 pan.

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. baking soda

• ½ tsp. baking powder

• 1 cup packed light brown sugar

• 1 cup sugar

• ¾ cup butter, room temperature

• 1 TBSP. molasses

• 2 tsp. vanilla extract

• 2 eggs, room temperature

• 1 ½ cups chocolate chips, divided

• 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature

• 1 cup sugar

• 2 eggs

• 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugars and butter together with an electric mixer for 3 minutes. Mix in molasses and vanilla. Beat in the eggs until creamy. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low until almost combined. Fold in 1 ¼ cups chocolate chips. Place cookie dough in the refrigerator while making the cheesecake layer.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric stand or hand mixer, beat cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, and 1 ½ tsp. vanilla together until smooth. Add the 2 eggs and beat until fully combined.

Line a 9x13 pan with heavy duty foil and grease with cooking spray. Remove dough from refrigerator and press at least half the dough into the bottom of the pan. Pour the cheesecake batter on top. Dot the top with tablespoon size amounts of the remaining cookie dough. Sprinkle the top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips and then bake for 40-42 minutes until cookie dough is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight before cutting and serving. Place bars on a decorative plate to serve.

— Amy Fischer has worked as an educator and librarian in the Fort Payne City School system the last 27 years. She loves to cook, plan menus and host large family dinners or small luncheons for friends. Her column, Set the Table, appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions.

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