Right after Al Gore invented the Internet, a good friend reached out to me to help her with the launch of her website BlueSuitMom.com.
It was and continues to be a website filled with content to help busy working moms balance childrearing with their demanding jobs.
She appointed me Director of Lifestyle content and gave me a list of food-related questions that she gleaned from her marketing surveys.
The number one asked question was, “how do I make gravy without lumps.” I found this question fascinating.
Of all the food questions you could have, this was the most disconcerting? Gravy is gravy. Sauce is sauce. It just comes together, right?
Well, apparently not. I did my research and answered the question with several tips on how to make lumpless gravy.
I answered this and other questions and my food-writing career was born.
It’s been almost twenty years since the birth of BlueSuitMom and the publishing of my first book, At Home in the Kitchen.
I featured a recipe in that book for roasted turkey with a really good gravy.
Jump to 2020, when we are all spending way too much time in our kitchens and I think I finally get why that gravy question was so important to so many cooks.
It’s not about lumps. It’s about accenting your meal with love.
It’s about texture, depth, richness, velvetiness, pourability. It’s about the icing on the cake, the cherry on your sundae, the crème de la crème.
Gravy is the crowning achievement lavished on a meal well-done.
This might be stretching it a bit. But you get the point.
Every fine dish prepared by a dedicated cook has a splash of sauce or a puddle of gravy somewhere on the plate.
A warm, silky gravy takes a humdrum chicken breast to a level of refinement. A wine-laced sauce takes your supermarket beef steak from commonplace to company-worthy. Each and every Southern knows that a sauce made from butter, milk, and a crumb or two of sausage elevates the every-day biscuit to the star of Sunday brunch.
When you get right down to it, it’s all about the gravy.
My gift to you this holiday season is a foolproof, make-ahead recipe for the best, most delicious gravy…ever.
And what’s even better is that you can use this recipe as a guideline for creating any sauce that you like.
Simply by switching the ingredients from poultry to beef and swapping the veggies and seasonings, you can create a lovely sauce to go with your standing rib roast on Christmas Day. And I guarantee you no lumps!
Enjoy this and a few of my other favorite holiday recipes included in upcoming posts. Stay healthy and safe and I’ll see you in 2021.
This full proof make-ahead gravy recipe not only saves you time but is also the most flavorful gravy you’ve ever made!!
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 heads garlic, halved
2 medium onions peeled and cut into chunks
4 large carrots, trimmed and cut into chunks
6 celery stalks, cut into pieces
4 large turkey wings, about 3 pounds
2 (or more) tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons course black pepper
1 teaspoon ground sage
Serves A Crowd
Time: 30-minute prep cuisine with some roasting and simmering
Preheat the oven to 450°. Drizzle the olive oil onto a baking sheet with lip. Place the vegetables and turkey wings into the baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° and roast until the turkey wings are golden brown, about another hour. During that time, check to make sure that the veggies are not sticking to the baking sheet. You can add water to loosen everything. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly. Scrape everything into a large pot or Dutch oven. Place the pot on the stove. Add 1 cup dry white wine and simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid disappears, about 5 minutes. Cover the vegetables and turkey wings with water, about 1 quart. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the stock until it is reduced by half, about 1 hour.
Pour the stock through a wire mesh colander and into a medium-size bowl. Use the back of a spoon to push the veggie and turkey pieces into the bottom of the colander to push through all the juices. Place the bowl with the stock into the fridge to chill for up to one hour or for several days. (You can sift through and gather enough turkey meat for a couple of yummy hot turkey sandwiches!)
To make gravy from stock, remove the bowl from the fridge. Use a large spoon to skim off and discard the thin layer of fat from the top. Transfer the stock into a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water. As the stock slowly boils, stir in the cornstarch slurry. The gravy will begin to thicken. You can add as much thickener as you like to get your desired gravy consistency.
Reduce the heat to low and let the gravy simmer slowly. Season the gravy with sage, salt, and pepper, stirring in just a bit at a time and tasting while you stir.
Here’s another great tip. You can use this same method for beef stock that turns into a lovey gravy or sauce. Simply exchange beef bones for the turkey wings! I use beef short rib bones. I choose the skinny ones from the package and reserve them until I collect enough to make a really good beef stock. I use red wine instead of white and adjust the seasonings from sage to thyme and rosemary. It’s pretty darn delicious!
Extravagant cheese boards are all the rage right now. I love the pics from The Miami Larder Cheese Shop posted all over my Facebook feed. It’s inspiring. Rather than stack cheese and crackers alongside slices of apple and pear (like we’ve done forevah…) these pics show boards with every inch covered with some edible yummy.
I also use my wooden cutting boards to create board sauces for grilled goodies. My board is sprinkled with herbs, spices, garlic, and olive oil. The grilled meat or poultry is taken off the grill and immediately placed onto the board, rolled around in all those yummy herbs, and tented to rest and absorb the flavors. The board functions as the main serving dish.
I use my boards to entertain. Recently, I created a bruschetta board with three different toppings, roasted garlic bulbs, whole olives, chunks of cheese, roasted shrimp and so much more!
I admit my brain automatically goes to utilizing my boards for appys, allowing guests to dig in while we sip wine in advance of a seated supper. My bruschetta board is an extension of a cheese board, but still limited to the first course.
But things have changed! My super talented and creative daughter-in-law, Kimber has taken board entertaining to the next level. She uses her boards not only to creatively display food, but also to serve her casually elegant meals family-style.
It all started with the board. For Christmas a couple of years ago, Kimber added a wooden board to her wish list. Ever the over-achiever, I took the opportunity to purchase the largest board, I could find.
It’s over three feet long! Here’s my gift in use, and I see that Kimber’s hubby, my son Trey, couldn’t look happier!
I think I may have overwhelmed her, because it hid in the garage for some time. But things have changed. Her creative dinner parties now feature the board as the centerpiece for everything from a steakhouse supper to a baked fish and roasted veggie extravaganza.
First, it’s attractive. The food is displayed directly on the board, or in small dishes that fit onto the board and then are surrounded by placed items.
Second, it supports your picky eater pals. Often, people talk to me about their resistance to entertaining, because of our peculiarities. Are we allergic to seafood, in carb denial, gluten free, sugar resistant? It goes on and on. By putting all the food onto one board in the center of the table, your guests can pick and choose, as much or as little as they want from your offerings.
Third, serving your meal on a board in the center of the table is a conversation-starter. What’s on the board, how was it prepared, where did ya get that recipe. Did you pick this up at Trader Joes? Entertaining in this way is less formal, but even more attractive than a traditional, sit down, plated dinner.
And, finally using a board to serve your meal is easy! Instead of serving several courses and carrying dishes back and forth, all you carry is the board! Plates are pre-set and guests serve themselves. The dinner is what it is meant to be, relaxed and unhurried.
There are lots of ways to use boards to entertain for large groups and small. For my large parties I use several boards. You can be as creative as you want, because there are no restrictions. And you know what? I find that I’m not bored when I entertain with my board. (How da like that one?)
My gift to you this Christmas is a box of sugar cookies that come together faster than you can say happy holidays. But you don’t have to use mine. Perhaps you have an old holiday cookie recipe passed down from your grandmother to your mother – or you just found it in this year’s magazine.
Maybe you grabbed a tin of cookie dough at the grocery store last week. None of this matters. What matters is that these cookies are made special by making them with those you love. I sure had a blast decorating ginger and sugar cookies with my grandkids this season, and making sure we had enough on hand for Santa.
Our cookies give new meaning to “tree trimming”, and sparkle with Fancy Sprinkles.
So, this season, grab someone special, get out the cookie cutters, and share a couple laughs while you make some cookies!
15 minute cuisine
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
For the dough
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
For the baked cookies
Red, green and gold sprinkles and icing
Confectioner’s sugar for work surface
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in a separate mixing bowl and beat by hand. You can use a mixer but it’s more fun to hand-mix!
Add the beaten egg and milk into the butter and sugar mixture until just combined, gradually adding the dry ingredients and beating until mixture resembles cookie dough.
Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Sprinkle work surface with confectioners’ sugar. Remove cookie dough from refrigerator, and sprinkle rolling pin with more of the confectioner’s sugar.
Roll out the dough to just under an inch thickness, moving it around on your work surface so it doesn’t stick.
Cut the dough into Christmas tree shapes, and place into the oven for 9 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool before you decorate them with the icing and sprinkles.
Since I was seventeen, I spent my Christmases in Florida… most of them in Fort Lauderdale. While the palm trees swayed from ocean breezes outside, we watched old movies and drank hot cocoa inside. It was a fun way to pretend we were having a White Christmas!
While the Season included baking and tree trimming, shopping and wrapping were not far behind. I remember all the personalized gifts purchased from Paper Mpressions and all the beautiful tablescapes on display at Special Additions. I remember buying the boys matching holiday outfits from Flora Ottimer and finding crafty creations at Cross Stitch Cupboard.
Small businesses have always been a part of our community, like patchwork squares in a storied, family quilt. Our friends are their owners, our families are their customers and together we keep each other wrapped in friendship.
While some of these stores have disappeared, some are still going strong. Cactus Flower, owned by Candy Johnson has been in business for over 30 years. Her customers are not only her friends, they are each other’s friends. In the spirit of friendship (which is celebrated in Canvas and Cuisine), I hope my Fort Lauderdale pals will drop by to say hi, sip some bubbly and support Candy Johnson’s store this Thursday. I look forward to seeing you!
While you’re there, take a look around. Cactus Flower’s vendors are both old and new, and the combination leads to whimsical tables perfect for entertaining.
Meanwhile, please accept this simple, yet elegant holiday party dinner plan as my gift to you. It allows you to prepare everything in advance, so that you can enjoy your party as much as your guests do. And, if you are looking for the perfect serving platter for the salmon, or cake stand for the jam cake… then I’ll see you at Candy’s on the 12th! Merry, merry!
Simple Holiday Dinner Party Menu
Pan Roasted Veggies
Cumin Crusted Salmon with Tarragon Caper Sauce
Cranberry Jam Cake
serves a crowd
45 minute cuisine
16 to 20 Brussels Sprouts
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 tablespoons, plus more for the other veggies
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the other veggies
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the other veggies
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper, plus more for the other veggies
16 to 20 Baby New Potatoes
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
16 to 20 Whole Baby Carrots
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground curry
16 to 20 Asparagus Spears
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Large Yellow Onions
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Cut each Brussels sprout in half and steam (or blanch) until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with Balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Cut each potato in half and steam (or blanch) for a about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with mustard, Parmesan cheese, garlic, thyme, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Steam (or blanch) the carrots for a about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with brown sugar, curry, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Cut the onion into wedges leaving the root intact. This will help to keep the onion together. Toss with Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
You can prepare the vegetable up to this point several hours in advance. When you are ready to serve, roast the veggies until they begin to crisp and brown, about 20 minutes. You can serve them warm or at room temperature.
with Tarragon Caper Sauce
serves a crowd
20 minute cuisine
1 (2 ½ pound) center-cut whole salmon fillet with skin
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup cream
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the whole fillet, skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet, coated with vegetable oil spray. Drizzle the lemon juice on top.
Combine the brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and oregano in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Rub this mixture all over the salmon, coating well. Drizzle the top with olive oil.
Place the salmon into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Roast until the salmon is rare in the center, about 8 minutes per inch of thickness, or about 15 to 30 minutes for the whole fillet.
For the sauce, stir together the sour cream, mayonnaise, cream, capers, tarragon vinegar and fresh tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the salmon with the sauce on the side. Garnish with fresh lemon or orange slices and fresh tarragon sprigs.
serves a crowd
60 minute cuisine plus baking
1 (12-ounce) jar cherry preserves
¾ cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries, (about 3 to 3 ½ cups)
8 large egg whites
3 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks, room temperature
Zest of 2 large oranges, about 2 tablespoons
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 cup milk
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (32-ounce) package powdered sugar
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 to 2 tablespoons half and half (optional)
Place the filling ingredients into a deep pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries soften and begin to pop, about 20 minutes. Use a potato masher to mush up the cranberries. Remove the pot from the heat and cool. Spread the filling into a shallow pan. (A cake pan or pie plate works well for this.) Place the pan into the freezer to cool thoroughly while you make and bake the cake.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray 2 (9-inch) square cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Place a square of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and spray again. Use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, about 3 to 5 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the whipped egg whites to a large bowl. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Use the mixer to combine 1 cup butter and granulated sugar. Stir in the orange zest. Add ⅓ of the flour followed by ⅓ of the milk. Continue until all the flour and milk have been added. The batter will be quite thick.
Fold the egg whites into the batter using about ⅓ of the whites at a time. This will lighten the batter. Use a spatula to scrape and smooth the batter into the two pans. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely. Now is a good time to remove the cranberry filling from the freezer. You want it to be chilled – not frozen!
Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with cream cheese until fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt. Mix in the sugar a little bit at a time. Alternate the sugar and the remaining orange juice. If the frosting is too thick, you can thin it with a bit of half and half.
Now, here’s the fun part. You can turn this into a four layer cake, by horizontally slicing each of the square cakes in half. Or, you can just use one layer of jam frosting in the middle of the two cakes. It’s up to you how much cranberry to put in the center. Either way you will have cranberry jam left over which is the whole idea. The jam is perfect as an accompaniment to your favorite pork or poultry dish or spread onto your morning Christmas toast! Spread the frosting around the sides and the top of the cake.
This December, I am reminded that yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year and it’s because of family, friends and all of you. My little food blog at Jorj.com brings me joy 365 days a year. Every Monday, I get to tell a story and bring you with me. I’ve been writing cookbooks forever, and I thank you for being the most important part of my journey as an author.
Here are some of my highlights from 2018!
I couldn’t live my dreams without you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for following me. I promise amazing things in the year 2019 – let’s continue our kitchen adventures and see where the yummy road takes us next.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!