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Bright sidelights

Let the turkey be. Tweak the thanksgiving menu with an adventurous vegetable or two.

Every cook at some point probably wants to fiddle with the Thanksgiving menu, but then no one wants an unhappy crowd. So the table stays pretty much the same from year to year. One way to vary the predictable lineup is to change one of the side dishes - quietly doing something different with the mashed potatoes or making those tiny onions without the cream sauce. Measure the response. You can't make too many adjustments all at once, but tweaking one or two dishes just might pass muster.

We've been adding cranberries to the Brussels sprouts for years (sprouts eaters tend to be adventurous about food), and usually the little heads are sauteed with bacon. This year, the cranberries stay, but they're coated with a warm and sweet mixture of honey and mustard. A handful of toasted hazelnuts garnishes the dish.The potatoes are smashed instead of mashed, mostly because the dish can be reheated just before serving, and anything that makes it easier on the cook is good for the crowd, too. Spinach is not often on the menu, but we've noticed guests eating less turkey and more vegetables. The chopped greens are mixed with a creamy white sauce, like the classic dish. And the applesauce is simply apples simmered with a stick of cinnamon and a secret ingredient - a handful of Red Hots tossed into the pot. These old-fashioned candies lend sweetness, heat, and a rosy color. Sugar and spice: The combination wins all.

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