Some people are natural hosts: They love the challenge of preparing a multiple-course meal for family and friends and are happy to spend the day in the kitchen. The holiday season is a time for them to show off their favorite dishes, and they're always happy to welcome others into their homes.
Others, like us, prefer to take a back seat during the holidays and simply attend someone else's event. They can be found catching the football game on the couch or socializing with other guests with a festive cocktail in hand.
Even if you fall into the latter category, you probably shouldn't show up to a gathering empty-handed. That means finding the perfect appetizer, side, or dessert to bring. Unsure of what to bring? Ahead, Kayla Howey is sharing her favorite recipes that make for perfect additions to any holiday feast.
Meet the Expert
Kayla Howey is the foodie, blogger, and recipe creator behind The Original Dish.
From small bites and sides to scrumptious desserts, these dishes offer everything you'll need to impress any crowd and lift some of the cooking burden off of your host. Whip up an eye-catching charcuterie board, cornbread muffins, or a stunning maple apple ricotta cake—just to name a few. Consider this your ultimate Thanksgiving dinner cheatsheet.
Caramelized Apple Ricotta Toast With Honeycomb and Sage
"This sweet, show-stopping toast is perfect for entertaining a crowd," says Howey. She recommends prepping the apples and toasting the bread ahead of time so you can assemble the appetizer just before it's time to serve. This dish may be made of bread, cheese, and caramelized apples, but it's incredibly refreshing and light.
Servings: 8 toasts
Ingredients for caramelized apples:
1 lb. apples, diced
1/2 cup apple cider
2 oz. honey
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Kosher salt, as needed
Ingredients for toasts:
Olive oil, as needed
8 thick slices of rye bread
1 tub whole milk ricotta cheese
Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
4-inch square of honeycomb
2 sprigs fresh sage, leaves picked and chopped
Directions for caramelized apples:
In a saucepan, add the apples, apple cider, honey, and fresh thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring well. Then lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the apples become tender and the cider reduces to a glaze. The apples should be soft and caramelized.
Remove the thyme sprigs. Season with a pinch of salt to taste.
Directions for toast:
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Work in batches to toast the bread for about a minute or two on each side, or until golden brown.
Once the bread is toasted, use a spoon to spread a generous amount of ricotta cheese onto each slice. Sprinkle the cheese with a pinch of sea salt and a few cracks of black pepper.
Roasted Pumpkin Bacon Soup With Popcorn Granola
"I love making a big batch of soup for a holiday party, keeping it warm in a crockpot, and then serving it with a really fun topping," Howey admits. "It's the perfect interactive appetizer that will offer a bit of coziness to a Thanksgiving meal." Plus, soup is always a crowd favorite, especially when it starts getting chilly out.
Serves: 8 people
Ingredients for roasted pumpkin:
2 small pumpkins
Olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper
Ingredients for soup:
4 oz. bacon, diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 large apple, roughly chopped
5 sage leaves
2 lbs. roasted pumpkin
2 qts. chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt, as needed
Ingredients for popcorn granola:
2 1/2 oz. honey
1 tbsp. water
1 oz. popcorn
2 oz. pumpkin seeds
1 oz. dried currants
Cooked bacon (from above)
Directions for roasted pumpkin:
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Carefully cut the ends off of each pumpkin. Leaving the skins on, quarter the pumpkins. Scoop out all of the seeds. Place the pumpkin quarters onto a baking sheet and drizzle with a generous amount of oil. Season with salt and black pepper.
Roast the pumpkin for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 F and continue to roast for another 45 minutes.
Let the pumpkin cool slightly so it is cool enough to handle. Peel the skins off or use a spoon to scoop out the flesh. Discard the skins and reserve the flesh for the soup (to end up with two pounds of flesh).
Directions for soup:
Heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat and add the bacon. Render the bacon until it is crisp, stirring often. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving behind the bacon drippings in the pan.
Add the olive oil to the drippings and let heat. Add the onions, apples, and sage leaves. Stir to coat and season with a pinch of salt. Let the mixture cook until the onions and apples are tender.
Add the roasted pumpkin and chicken stock. Let the stock come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes.
Working in batches, ladle the soup (you’ll want to evenly distribute the solids and liquid for each batch) into a blender. Blend for one and a half minutes, or until completely smooth. Strain the soup into a large heat-proof serving. Stir in the heavy cream. Season with salt to taste and keep warm until serving.
Directions for popcorn granola:
While the soup cooks, combine the honey and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Let the honey dissolve and the mixture come to a boil. Boil the mixture for about two minutes until slightly reduced and syrupy.
Stir in the popcorn, pumpkin seeds, dried currants, and cooked bacon. Stir very well, making sure that every ingredient is coated with the honey mixture.
Holiday Cheese and Charcuterie
"What would a holiday gathering be without a beautiful cheese and charcuterie spread?" Howey asks. "It's my ideal appetizer to bring to any party. Simply unwrap and prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time, so when you arrive, you can throw it all together in seconds." You definitely can't go wrong with a cheese and charcuterie spread because there are so many delicious options for everyone to find something they like.
Aged sharp cheddar
Black pepper salami
Dried apricots, dates, figs
Slice the cheeses and meats if needed.
Toast all of your nuts, if not already toasted.
Arrange all of the ingredients onto a festive board, keeping in mind color, texture, and visual aesthetic.
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts With Bacon and Honey
"You can't go wrong by showing up to a Thanksgiving dinner with an intoxicating dish of caramelized Brussels sprouts," the food blogger notes. She suggests cooking them to perfection at home, or asking your host to pop them in the oven for a few minutes before serving. Even if you wouldn't consider yourself a fan of Brussels sprouts, this recipe will definitely change your mind. They're crispy, rich in flavor, and utterly delicious.
Serves: 6 people
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
6 oz. bacon, diced
1 small onion, sliced
Vegetable oil, as needed
4 oz. dried fruit (cranberries, prunes, etc.), chopped
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. butter
Kosher salt, as needed
Trim the ends off each Brussels sprout, only taking off a sliver and still leaving some of the root intact. Remove any dark, thicker leaves. Cut any larger Brussels sprouts in half.
In a pot of boiling, salted water, blanch the Brussels sprouts for four minutes. Drain the Brussels sprouts and transfer them to an ice bath (a big bowl of ice water). Let them cool in the ice bath for one minute. Transfer them to a sheet pan lined with paper towels to fully dry.
In a large cast-iron skillet, add the bacon over medium heat. Let the bacon render until crisp, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.
In the same skillet over medium heat, add the onions to the bacon fat. Let them sauté for about five minutes, stirring often. Lower the heat and continue to cook until tender and caramelized. Remove the onions from the pan and reserve.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add enough oil to the skillet (most of the bacon fat should be absorbed by now) to coat the bottom. When the oil is sizzling hot, add half of the Brussels sprouts. Let caramelize and char slightly in the pan on all sides, about six minutes, or as long as they need.
Remove the Brussels sprouts and repeat with the remaining ones. Once the remaining Brussels sprouts are caramelized, add the first batch of Brussels back into the skillet.
Baked Mac and Cheese With Sage Breadcrumbs
"Trust me, you will have people asking you to make this mac and cheese over and over again," Howey promises. "Prepare the entire dish ahead of time and then pop it into the oven once you get to the party." If you liked mac and cheese as a child, you will love it even more as an adult courtesy of this sophisticated version. Plus, after you taste this, you'll never go back to the boxed kind.
Serves: 6 people
Ingredients for sage breadcrumbs:
4 oz. sourdough bread, cubed
8 sage leaves
Ingredients for mac and cheese:
Olive oil, as needed
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 sprigs fresh sage
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
2 oz. fontina cheese, shredded
4 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, diced into half-inch pieces
1 lb. campanelle pasta
2 oz. fontina, shredded
Directions for sage Bbeadcrumbs:
Combine the bread and sage leaves in a food processor.
Pulse until the bread mixture resembles fine crumbs. Set aside.
Directions for mac and cheese:
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté the onions until golden and caramelized, about 10 minutes.
Add the butter to the onions and let melt. Whisk in the flour. Let cook for about three minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking continuously. Add the sage and thyme.
Bring the milk to a simmer. Let simmer for about five minutes on medium-low until slightly thickened. Stir in the white cheddar cheese, two ounces of fontina cheese, and prosciutto. Simmer for another minute. Turn off the heat and keep warm.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook two minutes less than the package instructions. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir until completely coated. Taste and season with salt, if needed.
Cheddar Apple Cornbread Muffins With Maple Sage Butter
"Instead of a plain dinner roll, why not a sweet and tangy muffin full of all the fall flavors you could ever want," Howey says. "Make sure to keep the butter at room temperature so it can be easily slathered onto every bite." Cornbread is undeniably delicious and this version is no exception: It's cheesy, tangy, and sweet all at the same time.
Servings: 12 muffins
Ingredients for muffins:
1 tbsp. butter
6 oz. diced apples
Pinch of salt
1 cup medium stone-ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup honey
1 cup milk
6 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
Ingredients for sage butter:
2 sticks butter, softened
12 large sage leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp. maple syrup
Pinch of salt
Directions for muffins:
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with oil, making sure to spread a generous amount of oil onto the bottoms and sides of each cup. You could also use greased cupcake liners.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the apples and a pinch of salt. Sauté for about five to six minutes until the apples are slightly caramelized. Let cool.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
In another mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add the honey to the eggs and whisk until fully incorporated. Mix in the milk.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth, making sure not to over-mix. Fold in the caramelized apples and cheddar cheese.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the muffins are golden and cooked through. I like to insert a toothpick into one of the muffins and make sure it comes out dry.
Directions for sage butter:
While the muffins bake, combine the softened butter, sage, maple syrup, and a pinch of salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat the butter until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Keep at room temperature until serving.
Salted Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Pie
Not your typical pecan pie, this dessert will please a crowd. "It's kind of a mix between a chocolate flourless cake and a pecan pie, with a lovely hint of raspberry running throughout," Howey explains. The bold raspberry flavor will be such a welcome surprise to guests expecting a traditional pecan pie.
Serves: 8 people
Ingredients for pie dough:
6 oz. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 oz. cold unsalted butter, diced
2 oz. cold water
Ingredients for filling:
3 oz. unsalted butter
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 1/2 oz. brown sugar
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 oz. halved pecans
Directions for pie dough:
In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Pulse until incorporated. Add the cold butter. Process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add all of the water at once and continue to process.
Once the dough pulls away from the sides, it's ready. Turn the dough ball out onto a floured surface and shape it into a ball. Cover the dough ball tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease an 8-inch pie pan with butter and set aside. Unwrap the dough ball and turn it out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough (it may need to temper for about five minutes, so it can roll easier) into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. The circle should be larger than the pie pan.
Gently lay the dough into the pie pan, making sure to press the dough into the creases of the pan. Trim the dough around the sides so that only 1/2 inch of dough hangs over the pan. Use your fingers to crimp the edges. Use a fork to dock the bottom of the dough (this allows steam to escape while baking).
Cut a piece of parchment paper into a circle, just about the size of the entire pie pan. Lay the parchment paper lightly on top of the dough. Add pie weights to the pan (dried rice or beans will work). Par-bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove the pie weights and parchment paper.
Directions for filling:
Meanwhile, combine the butter and chocolate chips in a small saucepan. Let the mixture melt over low heat, stirring often. Once both the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth, turn off the heat. Let cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, whisking until they’re thick and pale in color. Add the brown sugar and whisk well. Add the cocoa powder, corn syrup, raspberry jam, salt, and melted chocolate mixture. Whisk well until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
Brown Butter Harvest Cookies
According to Howey, cookies are her go-to dessert when she's in the mood for something simple that everyone will love. "These harvest cookies are full of all the best fall baking ingredients: pecans, cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds, oats, brown sugar, and of course the nutty browned butter," she says.
Yield: 12 cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup salted, roasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup rolled oats
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Allow the butter to simmer for five to six minutes until brown and nutty. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly. Strain the butter to remove any dark particles and set aside.
Meanwhile, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, and cooled melted butter. Beat the ingredients using a paddle attachment on medium speed. Once the sugars and butter are well-combined, mix in one egg at a time until incorporated. Add the vanilla.
Gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until smooth (use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed).
Lastly, stir in the pecans, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and oats on the lowest setting.
Use a two-ounce ice cream scoop (roughly 1/4 cup of dough) to drop each cookie onto a baking sheet, leaving two inches of space between each one.
Maple Apple Ricotta Cake
"This maple apple ricotta cake can be served at room temperature, so it is the perfect dessert to bring to a gathering," Howey points out. "Plus, it is the most satisfying fall recipe with strong hints of maple syrup and caramelized apple running throughout." Apple is definitely a fall flavor we can get behind and, when paired with paly syrup, it only tastes better. This is definitely a cake we will be making year-round.
Serves: 8 people
Ingredients for maple apples:
1 tbsp. butter
8 oz. sliced apples
1 pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
Ingredients for cake:
4 oz. butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Raw sugar, for garnish
Maple syrup, to drizzle
Directions for maple apples:
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the apples. Season with a pinch of salt.
Let the apples sauté until soft and caramelized. Add the maple syrup and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer for two minutes.
Turn the heat off and set aside. Let cool slightly.
Directions for cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line a 9-inch cake pan with a piece of lightly oiled parchment paper.
Add the butter to a sauté pan and let it melt over medium-high heat. Continue to cook until the butter browns and smells nutty. Turn off the heat, strain the butter, and let cool.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Whisk until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, crack and beat the eggs. Whisk in the ricotta cheese, brown butter (from above), and vanilla extract.
In two batches, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth (don’t overmix). Lastly, fold in 3/4 of the maple apples, along with all of the syrup from the pan.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top. Arrange the remaining maple apples across the cake, gently pressing them into the batter.