Turkey Day Planning

Turkey Day Planning

We all know it starts with the bird. But, how are you cooking your bird this year? Are you shooting him up with butter and seasonings, are you bathing him in an overnight brine? Are you getting him ready for the fryer? Or, if you are like me, are you rubbing him down, inside and out, with fresh herbs and olive oil and stuffing him with oranges and apples? Whichever way you plan to cook him, the bird goes on your menu plan as the shining star of the meal.

I have traditional appetizers that I have made for years, and that my mother and grandmothers made before me. I make a salmon mousse spread, and a garlic and sherry infused chopped liver pate. I think two appetizers are great, one that is lighter and one that is rich. Think crudité and bruschetta, cheese board and roasted veggies, savory onion dip, and blue cheese stuffed endive leaves. It’s about balance here. Appys are the lead up to the big event.

And then there are the desserts. Pumpkin pie, of course. We also include chocolate pecan pie, and good old-fasioned chocolate cream pie. All served with a heaping ladleful of bourbon and vanilla laced whipped cream.

Every year it’s the sides that get my imagination going. Here’s where I change it up a bit (much to the chagrin of the family). And, every once in a while I hit a home run! There are the standards: whipped potatoes and dressing. The accompaniments are as endless as your Thanksgiving Day waistband.
In place of a sweet potato dish, this year I’m making a savory carrot pudding served with creamed onions and peas. (You see, three vegies in one!). I’m also serving fresh green beans sautéed in olive oil, with thin slices of garlic and julienne sundried tomatoes (The recipe is below). I’m also considering creamed spinach and saucy succotash. It’s a dilemma. A good one! Here’s my recipe for changed up green beans.

Green Beans
With Sliced Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 6 to 8
20 Minute Cuisine

Here is a really simple recipe that you can make in minutes, and is as perfect for a weekday meal as it is when company comes a callin’. You can make everything in advance, and then reheat just before serving. The best part is that leftovers are delicious in a pasta salad for tomorrow’s lunch!

1 (4-ounce jar) julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, about 4 cups
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

Place the sundried tomatoes into a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft and golden, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Blanch or steam the green beans until crisp-tender. I use the vegetable setting on my microwave for this. I place the green beans in a bowl with a little bit of water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the oven. The green beans are usually crisp-tender in about 4 minutes. Drain the water from the bowl.

Place the green beans into the skillet and toss with the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Cook’s Tip

You can find those fancy, skinny green beans in the grocery store, already cleaned and bagged. These are delicious in this recipe. The only change to make is that you do not have to blanch them first. To make this an even heartier side dish, add baby new potatoes, halved and blanched until they are tender. Green bean, tomatoes and potatoes all in one dish…. Well that’s good!



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….


Best Garlic Bread…. Evah!

Best Garlic Bread…. Evah!

I love it when a versatile recipe comes together, and practically forces you to eat something that you normally wouldn’t. I’m talking about BREAD! No other food has been so greatly loved (bread of life) and hated (it’s a white carb, for goodness sake!), than bread. I mean really, who partakes of that bread basket when you are dining out? I’ve notice lately that waiters offer you the basket before they bring it to the table and then, look at you with dismay if you actually take a piece. What lifestyle diet puts bread at the top of the list of approved foods for you to eat? None! What cooking school offers classes is bread baking? None! How many of your friends actually know what a dough hook is? None! I can go on….

However, there comes a time in dining, when bread is a NECESSARY part of the meal. I’m talking spaghetti and meatballs. Bread is a mighty part of the sauce slurping experience. It’s practically a utensil since we don’t always have an oversized spoon for twirling. And what makes the bread even better? Garlic, butter and cheese, of course.

So, when my sweet brother-in-law came to visit, and after three grueling days of mountain golf, when we decided to stay in for dinner, I made his favorite and ours, spaghetti with gravy. Luckily, I had a loaf of bread tucked into the back of the freezer (for emergency purposes – purely medicinal, I’m sure). I defrost the bread, split it in half and spread it with butter. I toast the bread in a hot oven until the edges begin to turn brown. Then I remove it from the oven and get down to business.

This is where it gets fun. For garlic bread, I mix together two kinds of cheese with mayo, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Spread this topping onto the toasted bread and place it into a hot oven until the ooze and bubble of the cheese, just a couple of minutes. Voila! Really good garlic bread. But, here’s where it gets FUN. You can mix anything into the cheese. You can use any cheese and add veggies like chopped green onion, diced sun-dried tomatoes, and chopped olives. You can mix cooked, diced chicken and hot sauce for an open-face Buffalo Cheese bread. Or leftover shredded pork and sautéed onions for a Southern-Style Cheese bread. How about chopped corn beef and sauerkraut for a Rueben Bread (with a side of Thousand Island, of course). I’ve even mixed in diced cooked shrimp for a cheesier version of Shrimp Toast!

But start with this carb-filled and oh-so delightful template. Haters gonna hate…but they gotta eat too!

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

Overhead view of a cheese grater with parmesan cheese on a rustic wood kitchen table. A plate of spaghetti and garlic bread on board are also shown.

Really Cheesy Garlic Bread

Serves 10

20 Minute Cuisine

Just bite into this cheesy, gooey garlicky bread and relive a childhood memory or two. It’s just that good!

12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated, about 3 cups

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated, about 1 cup

2 ounces Parmesan Cheese, grated, about 1 cup

½ cup mayonnaise

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, about 1 cup

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 loaf crusty French bread

½ cup butter, 1 stick

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Preheat the oven to 425°. Stir together the cheeses, mayo, green onions and salt in a bowl.

Cut loaf of bread in half horizontally, and place onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes, being careful that the garlic does not burn. Brush the garlic butter over the cut side of the bread. Place the bread into the oven and toast until just golden, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Spread cheese mixture on warm loaves and place back into the oven until the cheeses melt and begin to bubble, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Slice the bread into wedges and serve warm. To prepare garlicy bread in advance, simply wrap the bread in the aluminum foil and keep warm.

Rise Up Risotto!

Rise Up Risotto!


I love creamy, cheesy, richly flavored risotto. I love everything about it. I also love tapioca pudding and rich, runny cream of wheat. It’s a thing……. But, my new favorite craving is cauliflower risotto. The dish gives you all the feel of those creamy dishes, and adds just a bit of “it’s good for you” by substituting starch with veg. I must admit, I make this dish about once a week., and in the coming weeks of Autumn am going to ramp things up by using a wide variety of squash at mealtime.

Now that Fall’s in the air, we can’t get away from it: pumpkins, delicatas, acorn squash, and of course, butternut. My favorite way to elevate a squash’s flavor, is to roast it with chili and cinnamon. Squash is simply the perfect canvas for these spices. Combining the two, cauliflower and roasted, spiced squash creates a company-worthy dish that you can make in minutes, and even freeze for later use.

Yes, you heard me right: FREEZE for later use. I never would have thought of this, but ran across a great article on GroomandStyle.com on 10 Awesome Recipes That Freeze Well.

One of the dishes they claim freezes well, is their bacon risotto. While it’s on my to-do list to try that particular recipe, Groom & Style’s freezing technique worked wonders for my healthy risotto recipe, given below. If you visit GroomandStyle, be sure to look at the recipe for Freezer-Friendly Bagel Bombs, too. I may have to get to that one immediately!

Cauliflower Risotto

With Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash

Serves 6

30 Minute Cuisine

Roasting butternut squash, with chili and cinnamon, flavors this entire risotto dish. The creamy texture of the cauliflower is developed by slowly simmering the ingredients in a rich chicken stock.  

For squash

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into ½-inch squares (about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse ground pepper

For risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1 head cauliflower, chopped into coarse crumbs, about 6 cups

3 cups homemade chicken stock or prepared low sodium broth

½ cup half and half

2 tablespoons butter

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about ½ cup

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the butternut squash chunks onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chili powder, cinnamon, garlic and onion powders, and season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to toss the squash with the seasonings to coat every piece. Bake until the squash is soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes. You can use a spatula to move the squash pieces around about halfway through baking.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring so that the cauliflower does not burn. Add one cup of chicken stock and stir. When the liquid is absorbed, add another cup. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the cauliflower for 5 minutes. Add the remaining cup of chicken stock, and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Scrape the squash into the cauliflower. Stir in the half and half, and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Swirl in the Parmesan cheese.

Cook’s Tip

You can purchase cauliflower that has already been chopped into rice-size pieces. Or, you can use a food processor to chop a whole head of cauliflower. Remove the leaves, stem and core. Cut into large chunks, and place into the bowl of your machine. Pulse until the pieces resemble crumbs.

After Market Leftovers

If you have leftovers (and I really doubt that you will), you can freeze cauliflower risotto. Bring to room temperature before you gently reheat.

“Pretty Pickles” Great Pick for Next Picnic or Outdoor Affair

“Pretty Pickles” Great Pick for Next Picnic or Outdoor Affair

Imagine your favorite trendy food on this table :)!! Imagine your favorite trendy food on this table :)!!

You remember the edamame rage. It wasn’t so long ago… really! You, in your best (I am so healthful) voice, order up an edamame appetizer from the very approving waiter. Within minutes, the kitchen produces a steaming pot of pods, garnished with just a sprinkling of sea salt. You, (so hungrily) pull those pods between your clenched teeth and out bursts a tiny seed or two of a very trendy snack.

Meet the next craze in trendy appys, the shishito pepper. You’ll find them in the farmer’s market or in your local grocery store if you look really, really hard. They are made-in-the-USA, but they have an Asian ancestry. Here they are for you to ogle:

Fresh picked shishitos Fresh picked shishitos

A Japanese cousin to the Spanish padron pepper, shishitos are the size of a jalapeno with a crinkly skin and a sweet-crisp taste. Easy to prepare, you can cook them on a grill – OR my favorite preparation: roast them in a cast iron skillet with a squeeze of lemon juice, a bit of minced garlic, a drizzle of kosher salt and a bit of crushed red pepper flakes. Serve them hot on their own, or with a side of your favorite dipping sauce.

If you’re like me, you just might find that you got a tad carried away when purchasing your peppers for the week. Faced with a mound of peppers, and not enough friends to eat them, I took a page from Grammy’s cookbook, and decided to pickle these little devils. I used my favorite brine (from my Pretty Pickles recipe from my book Fresh Traditions), which adds a bit of turmeric and a couple slices of fresh ginger. Instead of squash, I pickled the shishitos and they are a hit!!

You can eat them out of the jar, or get a little creative with your high-end cocktail. Skewer a pickled shishito on the end of a toothpick, and dangle it over the rim of your best Bloody Mary. Now we’re really moving into the new age!!

Here’s my recipe for Pretty Pickles. Not only can you insert shishito peppers, feel free to pickle any of your favorite veggies. You really can’t go wrong!

When it comes to pickling, the possibilities are endless! When it comes to pickling, the possibilities are endless!

Pretty Pickles

This is a really fun way to preserve freshly harvested veggies.  The brine mixture allows crisp vegetables to last in your fridge for at least several days, and up to several weeks.  This showstopper dish works well alongside panini sandwiches, as salad toppers, or all by themselves on your picnic table.  Any veggie and veggie combo will work in this recipe. 

2 cups raspberry vinegar

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons coarse salt

4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)

2 teaspoons pink peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 (1-inch piece) ginger, grated (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 large yellow squash

2 large zucchini

1 medium red bell pepper

To make brining liquid, combine the vinegar with 2 cups of water in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar, salt, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, turmeric, and ginger and bring to a boil.  Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove the pot from heat.  Stir in the parsley.  Cool the brine to room temperature.

Cut the squash, zucchini and pepper into very thin slices. (If you are using shishito peppers, blanch them, and then transfer to ice water. Drain and place whole peppers into the jars.) Layer the vegetables into glass jars, or plastic containers with lids. Pour the brining liquid, covering all the vegetables.  Seal the container.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to several days.  Drain the pickles from the brine, reserving extra liquid for re-packing left-over pickles.

Yield:  about 2 quarts

Preparation Time:  20 minutes plus chilling

Blanched Veggie Pickles

It’s totally A-OK to blanch veggies before placing them in the brine.  This process (placing the veggie in boiling water, then refreshing in ice water), brings out the color in green beans, and crisp-cooks broccoli and cauliflower.  Other nice pickling choices include English cucumbers (which are seedless), boiled beets, pearl onions, patty pan squash, and julienned carrots.

Spiced Pickles

You should always experiment with your favorite herbs, spices and flavors in the brine.  Substitute with distilled white wine or apple cider vinegar.  Cumin, mustard seeds, white and black peppercorns, whole coriander, cloves and fennel seeds, are just a few of the possible brine flavorings.