For many of us, cranking out Thanksgiving dinner is like being the chef at a restaurant whose menu never, ever changes. And that's fine, we guess. But sometimes the family cook dreams of shaking things up a bit. Of course, the turkey is – you should pardon the expression – the sacred cow. It ill behooves you to mess with it. Oh, you may have tried deep-frying it, or brining it, but you were probably roundly scolded for trying to "sabotage" your family.

If menu-malaise has set in after all these years, though, consider doing something creative with the side dishes this year. After all, candying yams can get boring after decades of fixing them. And mashed potatoes – yawn -- especially if you're fixing them for people who pretty much ignore them anyway – unless you have gallons of gravy available.

So, this year, how 'bout updating tradition by whipping up at least one "new" side dish? Do something a little more interesting (if only to you) with the basic ingredients – namely the carbs you're expected to provide as foils for the turkey, stuffing (also a carb) and gravy. Which exercise just happens to be our topic du jour.

We begin…


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Sweet potato puree

This dish combines traditional yams/sweet potatoes (let's not have that discussion) with parsnips (to celebrate the cool weather harvest season) in an easy-to-eat medley. Interestingly, it comes off nicely sweet, without the cloying taste of maple syrup and/or marshmallows.

4 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into half-inch pieces

8 parsnips, peeled, sliced one-fourth inch thick

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup whole milk

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt, if you must

About 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper.

In a large saucepan, bring some lightly salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and parsnips and boil gently until tender, about 14 minutes. Drain well, cool somewhat, and transfer to a food processor, in batches if need be. Add butter and puree until smooth. Add milks, brown sugar and salt, if using. Blend well. Add pepper and blend again. Makes about 8 servings.

Skillet turnips

When mom served turnips (usually in a boiled dinner), every bite made us young'uns shudder. Some of us have done a 180 on that reaction, and actually have grown quite fond of them. This simple preparation can have the same effect on your brood.

4 pounds small to medium size (2-inch) turnips, peeled, halved horizontally, then the halves quartered

About 3 and 1/4 cups water, divided

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 tablespoons sugar. divided