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This season or any season, make your cooking philosophy "Give one, keep one."
Making something special for someone special is a very tangible way of saying "I care" that is always received with pleasure. The holiday season, and Thanksgiving, in particular, is a perfect time to express your gratitude with food, but getting busy in the kitchen is also the obvious answer to the question "Is there is anything I can do to help?" In my experience, few people will come right out and say, "Yes! I'm overwhelmed and just don't have time to think about food. Feed me!" But I bet you don't need to look very far to find someone who would be thrilled to have something home-cooked in the fridge, ready to heat and eat after a long day caring for a sick child, juggling multiple jobs, or coping with an unexpected emergency.
It doesn't have to be a four-course meal, but adding a few extras that complete your dish makes the gesture even more thoughtful. Cook up a pot of sustaining soup and deliver it with a loaf of good bread and a simple salad plus a small jar of your special vinaigrette tucked among the greens; pair the loaf of quick bread you baked with a crock of honey-sweetened butter or flavored mascarpone for a complete teatime treat or after-school snack. Bundle that casserole with some good Parmesan cheese for grating on top, or add a bottle of your favorite wine and give the gift of a much-needed date night for a busy couple.
The recipes that follow are all well suited to sharing, and can be easily scaled up if you want to make a batch to give and one to keep—maybe even in the freezer, a hedge against the day you yourself are the one looking for something soothing, homey, and delicious to put on the table when the takeout menus are beckoning. And if the recipient of your generosity asks to return the favor next time you find yourself juggling more than you can easily handle, just say yes!