Trade your traditional holiday lights for a fun food-themed strand. Go for a sweet look with gumdrop string lights ($30 for 25 feet; holidayprojectors.com) or peppermint candy lights ($20 for 11 feet; lightsforalloccasions.com). Or if your family hides a pickle ornament in the tree every year (a quirky tradition in which the kid who finds the pickle gets an extra present), change the game with a strand of pickle string lights ($8 for 11 feet; thewirelesscatalog.com).
When Food Network Magazine went looking for the best edible gift from every state for our 50 States, 50 Food Gifts story, we hit a snag in Missouri: We were torn between toasted ravioli, a St. Louis classic and this famous, cartoonishly tall Caramel Pecan Levee High Apple Pie from Kimmswick ($47, plus overnight shipping; theblueowl.com). The ravioli ended up in the story, but we think the 9-inch-tall pie deserves a shout-out this year: Twenty years ago, a flood almost destroyed Kimmswick, but volunteers built a levee to save the town. The pie is a nod to the high levee. See the rest of the gifts here.
Spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg have been used for centuries in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Latin American cooking to bring out rich, meaty flavors in savory dishes. Try adding a pinch or two of your favorite baking spice to a rub for meat, or drop a cinnamon stick into simmering tomato sauce. Just remember: A little goes a long way.
Pop quiz: What are the top-five grocery items sold during the week of Thanksgiving, excluding turkey? The obvious — milk, eggs and butter — are top-sellers year-round, including Thanksgiving week, but we were surprised that beer came in fifth across the country, beating out canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce. The fourth most popular item? That depends on which side of the country you’re on: East Coasters buy record amounts of cream cheese, while those in the West are big on packaged fried onions.
Don’t be fooled by the label “Grade A” on a bottle of maple syrup: It’s no better than Grade B. Grade B syrup is darker and has a stronger maple flavor; Grade A is milder. We prefer Grade B for cooking (we used it in a Kale-Sesame Chicken Salad for Food Network Magazine). Both grades are more expensive than the imitation stuff (“pancake syrup”), but real maple syrup is worth the splurge.
Pick up an extra bag of cranberries this year and dye a set of napkins for Thanksgiving. Put white cotton napkins in a simmering pot of 8 cups water mixed with 1/2 cup salt for 1 hour (this will help seal the dye later). Meanwhile, simmer 2 cups each cranberries, cranberry juice and water for 30 minutes in another pot, mashing the cranberries; strain and return the liquid to the pot. Rinse the napkins in cold water, squeeze dry and leave one end in the cranberry liquid for 4 hours. Rinse again, squeeze and hang to dry.