Countdown to Turkey Day!

Countdown to Turkey Day!

It’s that time. Time to gather your friends and family, and experience the very essence of togetherness, celebrating all of our blessings. A time to watch parades and football, and have that one day a year where you are encouraged to gorge yourself on all the traditional dishes you have waited (ALL YEAR!) to devour. Hooray, hooray, it’s Thanksgiving Day! Over the next two weeks, I’ll share with you my meal plan, complete with a timeline and my favorite recipes. Take from it what you wish, and substitute freely. I’m here to point you in the right direction. Just do yourself a favor, and make a plan. I guarantee that a plan will help you enjoy your Thanksgiving Day to the absolute fullest… leaving you plenty of time for Christmas shopping!!

Two weeks ahead, make your meal plan. List the dishes you plan to cook, those you’re going to pick up, and those that others are bringing to the party. Make a grocery list of all of the ingredients you need to prepare the dishes you are cooking. Sort your list by departments: dairy, produce, pantry staples, meats and poultry. Take stock of your bar and include wine, mixers and garnishes on your list. After your grocery list is prepared, check your pantry to see which items you’ve already stocked and cross them off your list. (You’re already making progress!) Now, place any orders you need to make. The turkey, of course (I like to order a fresh turkey), bakery goods and specialty items.

One week ahead, plan your tablescape. Take stock of your china and flatware to make sure you have enough. Same goes for glassware and crystal. Don’t be afraid to mix and match china patterns. There’s creativity in designing a pretty table. Look for festive placemats, table runner or tablecloth cloth. A simple throw blanket can double as a cloth on your table. Locate candlesticks and votive candles. Don’t be afraid to experiment with those cute twinkle lights, wrapped around pillar candles for some real tablescape sparkle! Create place cards, organize your centerpiece and assemble décor for platters. Pinecones are great, but pretty twigs and stems of fruit are good for decorating too. I love to include food as part of my tablescape centerpiece. I place artichokes alongside pears and limes for a green experience. Add a few branches, pinecones and a gourd or two, and you have an organic look that is perfect for the occasion.

 

Saturday before Thanksgiving, plan on a shopping day! If you are farmer’s market shopper, get up early and visit the market you love. Purchase all of the fresh produce items that you need. Stop and smell the coffee beans. Remember this is not a race. Rather, it’s time to enjoy your stroll through the market. Smile at the people you pass, and greet your favorite farmers. This is the season to be thankful for the growers! Slow down long enough to enjoy a festive cup ‘o Joe while you double check your list. Finish up at the grocers to purchase anything you were not able to find at the market.

Sunday before Thanksgiving, get your apron out! Make the dishes on your meal plan that are easily made in advance, like chutneys and relishes. Lay out serving dishes and utensils.

Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Make it a prep day! Chop and prep all the ingredients you will need. If you need onions for three dishes, chop a bunch. Same goes for apples (for pie!) and potatoes for mashed potatoes. Here’s a trick. Submerge potatoes in cold water in the pot you will use to cook them in, and place them in your fridge. They will be fine until you’re ready to boil. Set your table! Prepare your centerpiece. Get those place cards placed! Set up your bar. Did you remember to make extra ice? If you have a frozen turkey, let’s get it on its way to thawing.

Wednesday before Thanksgiving, focus on breads and desserts.  Prepare your desserts. Get pies ready to bake. Prepare your casseroles and sides. Prepare dough for breads or rolls. Cover everything with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge until tomorrow. You can place the baking dishes on top of each other to save space. Use a heavy piece of cardboard, or a thin baking sheet to separate the dishes.

Thanksgiving Morning, it’s show time! Get that bird ready to roast. Organize your oven racks, and preheat so that you’re ready to bake off desserts, breads and then casseroles. Before your guests arrive, see to last-Minute details! Prepare mashed potatoes. Save the potato water to help thicken your gravy. Set out appys. Get the ice in the bucket. Pour yourself a glass of wine…. you’re doing great!

Pull the turkey from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. While he rests, use the drippings in the pan to make the gravy. As you carve the bird, encourage friends and family to help you get the dishes to the table. Pour gravy into boats. Spoon the sides onto plates. Say a prayer of thanks….

ENJOY THANKSGIVING TO THE FULLEST!!!

Plum Up the Jam..with These Oatmeal Bars

Plum Up the Jam..with These Oatmeal Bars

My friend, Jenny (the one who loves to can the food she grows in her Napa garden) brought me a jar of her plum preserves, along with a jar of her calamondin jam. Plums you know about. Calamondins are tiny orange-looking fruits. They are citrusy tasting, but not necessarily sweet like an orange. To make calamondin marmalade, Jenny has to seed each little globe, cut them into quarters, and fill a huge soup pot. She saves the seeds and ties them in cheesecloth. These, too, go into the pot with sugar and other secret ingredients! The seeds create the pectin that gives the marmalade its viscous texture.

In case you’re curious, here’s a collection of homegrown calamondins!

I switched up between a spoonful of plum jam, and a spoonful of calamondin marmalade on my toast each morning…and then it happened! While sipping coffee and gaining consciousness, I accidentally put both the jam and the marmalade on one single piece of toast. Strike up the brass band and fireworks! The taste was delicious” a merging of tart and sweet with a twangy aftertaste. It was phenomenal.

I came across an old cookie bar recipe that called for strawberry jam and said to myself,

“‘Self, what the heck… let’s get this fusion of flavors going!”

And here it is a recipe for an oatmeal bar, filled with both calamondin marmalade and plum jam. It’s pretty delish!! Now, if Jenny is not your friend, you might just have to go to the store to look for the proper filling. There are plenty of marmalades and jams on the shelves of your local grocer. If you venture to your local farmer’s market, you’ll find even more varieties. The lesson here is to experiment with new flavors in your traditional recipes to create a new, fresh taste. You can’t go wrong!!

Oatmeal Bars With Jam Filling

Yield about 16 (2-inch) bars

45 Minute Cuisine

Plum Up the Jam..with These Oatmeal Bars

Simple to make and crumbly to eat, these bars are the perfect after-school snack or grab and go breakfast for that picky little eater.

1 cup butter, cut into pieces, 2 sticks

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups your favorite jam

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray and line with parchment paper.

Place the butter, flour, oats, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarse crumbs form and the dough begins to clump together, about 3 to 4 minutes of pulsing.

Spread half of the dough into the bottom of the pan, pressing down to form a layer. Spread the jam over the top. Place the rest of the dough onto the top of the jam. Press down lightly.

Bake until the bars are golden brown on the top, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool to room temperature, and cut into squares.

A Perfect Day for Banana Bread

A Perfect Day for Banana Bread

Last summer I came across a YONANAS machine that turns frozen bananas into soft-serve ice cream’s next of kin. It was really FUN to work with. But, what truly amazed me was the book that came along with the machine. It has HUNDREDS of recipes for banana ice cream add-ins. Mint chocolate banana ice cream, triple berry banana ice cream, pistachio banana ice cream……

So, when I came back home, after a week-long trip, and saw the over-ripe bananas on the counter, I got inspired to make ice cream, until I remembered that my yonanas machine was not with me. The next best thing? Banana bread, of course! Inspired by my yonanas experience, I decided to kick things up a bit. After I prepared the batter, I poured half of it into the prepared pan. Then I mixed cocoa powder into the remaining half of the batter. I dolloped the chocolate onto the vanilla and swirled the two together. The bread is rich, light and perfect for an after-school treat.

Enjoy yours with a cup o’ Joe in the morning, or with a bowl of yonanas “ice cream” for dessert. It’s all good! And I’ve got pictures to prove it!

Chocolate Swirl Sour Cream Banana Bread

Serves a crowd

60 Minute Cuisine

A wonderful swirl of chocolate in a moist spiced banana bread.  Perfect with a cup of tea!

1 ½ cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ cup butter, room temperature, 1 cup

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

½ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

¼ cup cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350°. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl.

Whisk together the butter and sugar. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla. Whisk in the mushy bananas. Pour the flour on the top. Use a spoon or large whisk to combine all the batter ingredients. Pour half of the batter into a 9 X 9 X 2-inch baking dish that has been coated with vegetable oil spray and dusted with flour. Stir the cocoa powder into the remaining batter. Spoon the chocolate batter on top of the vanilla batter. Use a knife to cut through the batter, swirling the chocolate into the vanilla. Bake until a tester inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan and cut into wedges.

 

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs…

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs…

One of my favorite parenting things was sneaking veggies into food my kids like to eat. I hid chopped spinach in homemade pizza and carrots and celery in marinara sauce. It was a FUN game. I’m providing healthy meals, and the kids pretend not to notice.

What I came away with was an appreciation for experimentation. I love to stuff veggies into places where no man has gone before. Well, at least none of the men in my family. One of my favorites is filling meatloaf and meatballs with eggplant. I peel and dice the eggplant into tiny bits and sauté them in olive oil with diced onion. Once the veggies cool, I add them to my ground meat and season with milk-soaked bread, parsley, and seasonings. To take my meatballs over the top, I place them in marinara sauce and cover them in melting Munster. It’s a doozy of a deception… one I’m sure your family will enjoy!

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs...

Meatballs with ground pumpkin in tomato gravy sauce

Sneaky Eggplant Stuffed Meatballs

Topped with Munster Cheese

Serves 4 to 6

45 Minute Cuisine

Not only is this dish fabulous for the first taste in your Italian-inspired menu, but it’s also a great recipe to use for a midweek meal; it’s also a sneaky but loving thing to do if you’re trying to improve your child’s diet.

4 (1-inch thick slices whole-grain bread), torn into small pieces, about 2 cups

¼ cup milk

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (1-pound) eggplant, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes, about 3 ½ cups

½ medium white onion, peeled and chopped, about ½ cup

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 ½ pounds lean ground beef, veal or pork, or a combination of all 3

1 medium garlic clove, peeled and minced, about 1 teaspoon

2 large organic eggs

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 cup marinara sauce (homemade is the best!)

6 to 8 ounces Munster cheese, sliced

Place the bread crumbs into a bowl.  Pour the milk over top and push the bread into the liquid to absorb.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the eggplant and onion. Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the eggplant is quite soft.  Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Place the ground meat into a large bowl.  Add the garlic.  Add the eggs and soaked bread crumbs.  Season with additional salt and pepper, and the dried oregano.  Add the cooked veggies and fresh parsley.  Use your hands to loosely combine all the ingredients.  Form into 2 ½ to 3-inch diameter-sized balls. Place into a baking sheet with a lip. Bake until the meatballs are just cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Pour the marinara sauce into a baking pan.  Place the cooked meatballs into the pan.  Cover each with a thin slice of Munster cheese.  Place the baking sheet back into the oven and cook until the cheese melts, about 5 to 8 minutes more.

Cook’s Tip

In place of eggplant, you can substitute with any veggie you have on hand.  Mushrooms and zucchini work just fine if you finely dice the veggie. If you do not have a container of your homemade marinara sauce in the fridge, use one with a low amount of added salt and sugar. I like Newman’s Own Tomato and Basil. Ask your butcher for beef, veal, and pork from a source that produces humanely raised animals, not raised with hormones or unnecessary steroids.

Sammy’s Doughnut Factory!

Sammy’s Doughnut Factory!

That

That’s my grandson. livin’ it up in his Happy Place!

One of my grandson’s favorite things to do with his Papa is to visit the doughnut factory! This, if you haven’t guessed yet, is Krispy Crème. There’s something about watching the dough fry in the hot oil, and then travel through that sugar shower that no six-year-old can possibly resist!

With the addition of my new fryer, I’m experimenting with all sorts of fried delicacies. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I can’t match Papa’s doughnut factory experience, but I’ve come up with my own… guaranteed to catch the delight of my grandson and my adult pals as well.

Welcome to my Churro Shop. With just a bit of effort, you can set up your churro shop at home too! Give it a try!!

Churros with Cinnamon Sugar & Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Serves a crowd

30 Minute Cuisine

You cannot eat your way through Spain without finding your way into a Churro shop. Kinda like Krispy Crème, these doughnut-like wedges are served warm, right out of the fryer. They differ in that they are doused in cinnamon sugar, and served with a pot of warm chocolate for dipping. It’s pretty darn delicious.

For Churros:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 large eggs, beaten

Vegetable oil for frying

For coating:

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For Chocolate Sauce:

½ cup heavy cream

12-ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat 2 cups water, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a deep saucepot over medium-high heat until the butter is melted about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the flour. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour into the wet ingredients until it forms a dough ball. You want everything mixed together well. Let the dough cool to room temperature, about 5 to 10 minutes. Use an electric mixer to combine the dough with the eggs.

Transfer the dough (in batches) to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until you are ready to fry.

Mix together ½ cup granulated sugar with ground cinnamon in a bowl. Transfer this mixture to a sugar shaker if you own one.

Heat heavy cream with chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave, cooking 1 minute at a time. Stir in between cooking, until all the chocolate is melted.

Heat the oil in a fryer or deep pot to 375°. Remember to make sure that the oil only comes ⅓ up the side of the pot. The oil will bubble up when you add the churros. Cut the piped dough into 4 to 6-inch long pieces. (Basically, churros can be as long as you like, if they fit into your fryer). Place the dough lengths into the hot oil. Use a slotted spoon to gently move the churros in the oil. Cook until just golden brown. Transfer the churros to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the hot churros with cinnamon sugar. Serve with hot chocolate for dipping.

Chow-Chow: Simple Down Home Goodness You Can Make Tonight

Chow-Chow: Simple Down Home Goodness You Can Make Tonight

Traditional stew meal with a floral handmade embroidery

An earthenware pot, Granny would have loved…

In the Deep South, “Chow-Chow” is a well-known decoration on sandwiches and plates of BBQ. One of my readers, Martha McCray Wallace, is on a mission to recreate her Grandma’s Chow-Chow, so it lives up to the version in the food memoir she seeks to publish. My assistant, Jen Russon, is editing Martha’s book, and I have to tell you, the passages she’s shared with me about Martha’s grandparents and their downhome country cookin’, had my mouth watering! I look forward to this poet and journalist’s narrative cookbook gracing bookstands – the memoir has so many recipes that are just a thing of beauty, in terms of simplicity and tastiness. I can’t wait to make them all!

When you make Chow-Chow, your home fills with a savory aroma that doesn’t seem possible, considering how few ingredients are involved. Beyond the vegetables called for, I used only butter, salt and pepper to flavor this dish. True, when I served it, I added a dollop of sour cream, but I would have been pretty happy with or without that.

 

I think the next time I make kielbasa, Chow-Chow is going right on top.

 

Other than lots of chopping, it’s easy to make. So, if that’s so, then why is it hard to find or duplicate in one’s own kitchen, a faithful rendering of Granny’s Chow-Chow? Well, it could be that Martha’s grandparents, born of Alabama sharecroppers, grew nearly everything they ate in their own backyard. These Chow-Chow experts also used top secret recipes: special pickling spice and vinegars they shared with no one – not even Martha. When I told her my own version of Chow-Chow contained butter, she was quick to point out her Grandma skipped that ingredient, altogether. Whoops…well, it was still darn good!  

Country Cookin’ back in the day: How Granny Made Chow-Chow

 

“The chopped veggies were placed in an earthenware crock, with kosher salt, for about 12 hours. Then the spices got mixed in. The following day, Grandma drained the veggies with cheesecloth, then placed them in a large pot and put the water, seasonings, sugar, vinegar, pickling spice…letting them cook about 5 minutes. While they were cooking she prepared the mason jars for canning it.”

 

I’ve seen Chow-Chow at farmers markets, but it’s just not the same. Those vendors average short spans from field to table, too, but it’s still hard to get that recipe exactly right. I will have to see if my Watauga County Farmers Market in North Carolina carries it, and does an honest job. As to Martha’s search, LaGrange, Georgia had something almost akin, but it lacked the amazing earthy flavors of her Granny’s version.   

Why don’t you take a stab at it, and let us know how your Chow-Chow turned out?

A Quicker but Still Pretty Savory Version of Chow-Chow

Prep Time: About 15 minutes, and an hour to cook

Serves 8

Ingredients:

·         1 large head green cabbage, chopped, about 6 cups

·         2 large red bell peppers, seeded and diced, about 4 cups

·         2 large green bell peppers, seeded and diced, about 4 cups

·         5 green tomatoes, diced, about 4 cups

·         1 large white onion, diced, about 2 cups

·         1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pats

·         1 teaspoon each, sugar, sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Place chopped vegetables into a Dutch Oven or large stock pot, and mix in pats of butter, sugar, salt and pepper. Adjust the stove to medium high heat. The butter will melt over the vegetables, and help mingle and marry their flavors. Stir often, so that none of the veggies stick to the pot. After the first 8 to 10 minutes, lower stove temperature to low, and let cook for 30 minutes and up to an hour. Serve as a garnish for meats, on top of any sandwich, or enjoy as a stand-alone dish.  

Isn’t the aroma divine?