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Over the river and through the wood

To grandmother’s house we go

She’s sweating the bird

Her workload’s absurd

Should we bring a casserole? Oh!

Over the river and through the wood

Let’s not go empty-handed

I’ll bring a dish that’s surely delish

And Grandma won’t leave us stranded!

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, give thanks for not having to fuss over a giant turkey in your oven, stress about bumps in your gravy, or fret over lumps in your mashed potatoes.

That said, a place at somebody’s table doesn’t mean you get a pass on your Thanksgiving duties – even if the host says, “Oh, no, really you don’t need to bring a thing.”

Trust us, you really should bring something.

A bottle of wine is always fine, of course.

But a homemade side dish, dessert or appetizer lends a more personal touch.

Trouble is, you’ve got to assume your host will have the starting line-up covered – the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and pie. That means you’ll have to think out of the box when it comes to your contribution.

And you’ll also want something that transports well, no matter if Grandma’s house is through the woods, over a mountain pass or around the block.

Diane Phillips is a California-based cookbook author and cooking instructor who preaches the virtues of make-ahead dishes, a perfect idea for those wanting to bring something to a holiday gathering.

“Most things can be made the day before unless it’s a soufflé,” Phillips says.

She offers a surprising suggestion for a take-along dish: Soup.

Pack a nice squash bisque in leak-proof containers and reheat it before dinner, she says.

“Slow cookers at Thanksgiving, if you’re having a lot of people, are your best friends,” Phillips says.

(If you’re not into soup, follow the same procedure with mulled cider, she says.)

To transport the soup, Phillips recommends getting a tall box. Put the filled container inside the box, surrounded by ice if you’ve got a long trip, and fill the extra space with towels so nothing tips or sloshes. For casserole dishes, you can do the same thing but with a flatter box.

Put the food on the floor of the car so there’s no chance of it sliding off a seat, she says.

Another good option for guests is to bring an appetizer, Phillips says. Often, hosts get so busy with the elaborate meal; they run out of time for the starter.

“The old vegetable platter is a great one because everybody will eat off of that,” she says. “Spinach dip or artichoke dip or something like that is always fun.”

But if you’re bringing an appetizer, she advises, “Make sure you get there before everybody else does.”

Creative touches will no doubt impress your host.

Kris McIlvenna, owner of Greenbriar Catering in Coeur d’Alene, likes to hollow out baby pumpkins, bake them in a dish with a little water and fill them with a favorite vegetable side dish, such as sautéed green beans or peas. Transport the pumpkins unfilled, reheat the filling on the stovetop and fill them at your host’s house.

“It’s a very pretty presentation with the little cap on it,” she says.

Another portable option is good-quality bakery bread with homemade flavored butters.

Just take whipped butter and mix with some caramel or honey, for a sweet option, or stir in garlic, herbs or sun-dried tomatoes for a savory choice. Better yet, mix up a few different varieties to take to the party.

“That’s something that doesn’t involve the stove and nobody’s likely to bring,” she says.

McIlvenna also likes to share a rice pilaf side dish, made with equal parts wild rice and white rice, mixed with some dried cranberries and diced carrots, onions, celery and apple, moistened with chicken stock.

“Rice holds its own heat for a very, very long time, as long as you transport it in the pot in which it was made,” she says. “It’ll still be very hot.”

If you don’t want to cook, but want to tote something handmade to grandma’s house, check out Cena.

The easy meal-preparation business on Spokane’s north side has a selection of Thanksgiving side dishes pre-made and ready for purchase. Dishes of sausage stuffing, yams with marshmallow cream butter, green beans with garlic-oil drizzle and others can go straight into the oven. Call (509) 328-3709 for ordering information.

“It’s transportable,” Cena owner Tami Badinger says. “It’s the nature of our business … All you have to do is pop it in the oven just the way they are.”

Here are some tasty, portable dishes to bring through the woods to Grandmother’s house this Thanksgiving, or wherever you may go. Oh!

Zesty Marinated Olives

From “What Can I Bring? Cookbook” by Anne Byrn. She writes: “Having a jar of marinated olives in your refrigerator means you always have an appetizer ready when friends come to visit … Vary the type of olives as you like, for supermarkets now carry such gorgeous olives in the deli department. And play with the marinade ingredients, substituting orange zest for the lemon and a tablespoon of fennel seeds for the oregano.

1 cup kalamata or brine-cured black olives

1 cup large green cracked brine-cured olives (see note)

3/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 medium size garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or parsley

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Dash crushed red pepper

Place all of the olives in a glass bowl. Pour in the olive oil and lemon juice and stir to coat. Stir in the garlic, oregano or parsley, lemon zest and crushed red pepper. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Let the olive come to room temperature before serving.

Note: Large green olives are sold either cracked or uncracked. If your olives are uncracked, you can crack them by crushing them on a cutting board using the flat side of a large knife.

Yield: 2 cups

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.

Cranberry-Peach Chutney

From “Happy Holidays from the Diva of Do-Ahead,” by Diane Phillips

Phillips writes, “Peaches, onions and cranberries combine in this stunning relish to make a sweet and pungent side dish. You can also serve it with other poultry and pork, and it’s terrific on a turkey sandwich the next day.”

One 16-ounce can peach halves, packed in syrup, drained and syrup reserved

One 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup pecan halves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Coarsely chop the peaches and set aside.

Combine the cranberries, reserved peach syrup, sugar and onion in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook until the cranberries begin to pop, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pecans, cinnamon, ginger and peaches and cook 10 minutes longer.

Remove from heat and let cool. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month or freeze for up to 3 months. Serve chutney cold, warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 1/2 cups

Approximate nutrition per 3-ounce serving: 157 calories, 5 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated, 27 percent fat calories), 1 gram protein, 30 grams carbohydrate, less than 1 gram cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 2 milligrams sodium.

Hot Apple Pie Sundaes

From “Happy Holidays from the Diva of Do-Ahead,” by Diane Phillips

Phillips writes, “The hot apple pie filling can be prepared three to four days in advance, then heated up before layering in sundae or parfait glasses with a crunchy streusel topping.”

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

For the Apple Filling:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

To Assemble:

1 recipe streusel topping

1 recipe apple filling

1 quart good-quality vanilla ice cream

To make streusel, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.

In a medium mixing bowl, cut the butter into the flour and sugar, until the mixture begins to look like peas. Add the pecans and stir to blend.

Transfer mixture to a baking sheet, breaking up any large bits. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Topping can then be cooled and placed in a zip-top bag, refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to 2 months. Defrost and bring to room temperature before continuing.

To make apple filling, melt butter in a large skillet. Add brown sugar, cooking until sugar is melted. Add the apples, cinnamon and nutmeg and cook until the sauce is thickened and the apples are golden and soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and use immediately. Or, cool and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Reheat before serving.

To assemble the sundaes, sprinkle a bit of the streusel in the bottom of 8 to 10 sundae glasses and ladle some of the hot apple filling into each glass. Top with a scoop of ice cream, more apple filling and another scoop of ice cream. Top with more apple and sprinkle with some streusel. Garnish with whipped cream, if desired.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving, based on 10: 450 calories, 28 grams fat (15 grams saturated, 55 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrate, 72 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 55 milligrams sodium.

Wild Rice, Dried Cherries and Almond Stuffing

From “Thanksgiving 101,” by Rick Rodgers

This side dish can be made up to a day ahead and reheated at your host’s house.

1 cup (4 ounces) dried cherries

2/3 cup tawny or ruby port

2 cups (11 ounces) wild rice, rinsed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 3 tablespoons more if making ahead

3 medium celery ribs, finely chopped

1/2 cup minced shallots

1/3 cup finely chopped celery leaves

1 cup (4 ounces) slivered almonds, toasted

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage or 2 teaspoons dried sage

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, for reheating

In a small bowl, mix the dried cherries and port, and let stand while preparing the stuffing.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the wild rice and reduce heat to medium. Cook until the wild rice is tender and most of the grains have burst, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain well and rinse under cold running water. Place the rice in a large bowl.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the celery and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the shallots and celery leaves, and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the cherries and their soaking liquid. Boil until the port has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir the mixture into the wild rise, with the almonds, sage, salt and pepper.

To make 1 day ahead, cool, cover and refrigerate at this point.

To reheat, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the stuffing and cook, stirring often, until warmed.

Place in a buttered casserole dish, drizzle with 1/4 cup broth and heat at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Yield: About 10 cups

Approximate nutrition per 1/2-cup serving: 130 calories, 4 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated, 28 percent fat calories), 4 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrate, 3 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 96 milligrams sodium.

The Famous Disappearing Spinach Dip

From “Thanksgiving 101,” by Rick Rodgers

This dip can be made up to 5 days ahead. Bring along some sliced veggies for dipping.

One 10-ounce box chopped frozen spinach

One 15-ounce container sour cream

2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh scallions

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill

One 1.8-ounce package leek-vegetable soup mix, such as Knorr’s

1 tablespoon cheese-based salad seasoning, such as Salad Supreme

Put spinach in a wire sieve and run under lukewarm water until thawed. A handful at a time, squeeze the moisture out of the spinach and transfer spinach to a large bowl.

Add the sour cream, mayonnaise, scallions, parsley, dill, leek soup and salad seasoning and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: About 5 1/2 cups, enough for 20 appetizer servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.

Cheese Straws

From “Barefoot in Paris,” by Ina Garten

2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm), defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Flour, for dusting

1 extra-large egg

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 cup finely grated Gruyère cheese

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured board until it is 10-by-12-inches. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the pastry. Sprinkle each sheet evenly with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, 1/2 cup of the Gruyère, 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and some pepper. With the rolling pin, lightly press the flavorings into the puff pastry. Cut each sheet crosswise with a floured knife or pizza wheel into 11 or 12 strips. Twist each strip and lay on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed. Turn each straw and bake for another 2 minutes. Don’t over bake or the cheese will burn. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Yield: 22 to 24 cheese straws

Approximate nutrition per serving: 146 calories, 10 grams fat (2 grams saturated, 63 percent fat calories), 9 grams carbohydrate, 17 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 157 milligrams sodium.