Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Thanksgiving

With me working at a startup and my husband being a doctor, there's just really not time off for Thanksgiving to travel to see our families. So starting last year, I cooked my own giant feast and we stayed in Chicago for the holiday weekend. I cook for the two of us about what most normal people would cook for their whole clan, but if there's any holiday that is truly based of food indulgence, it's Thanksgiving. We get casserole leftovers all winter and I love to cook anyway, so it all works out.

I thought I'd share, for any one else faced with their first time bearing the responsibility that is the Thanksgiving meal, my menu and, because I'm a recovering event planner, my step by step timing for cooking that day. Yes, I've done the math. I will tell you when to get the turkey in so you'll eat at 5pm.

Photo: Reynold's Oven Bags
  • The Turkey: Herb Roasted Holiday Turkey 
    • My mom swears by the oven bags for turkey roasting, and they really do help keep the bird moist. I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil, but this is a great simple dry rubbed turkey recipe.
  • The Stuffing: Biltmore Estate Sage and Onion Dressing
    • The recipe at the link is slightly different from the one I use from a cookbook my mother in law gave me. Biltmore is a classic. If Anderson Cooper's great-great-grandparents were eating this stuffing then you just know it's good. 
    • Here's the recipe I work from:
      • 4 1/2 cups crumbled cornbread (I make some from a Jiffy box mix)
      • 3 cups coarsely crumbled bread (this HAS to be sourdough. Trust me.)
      • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
      • 3 large onions, finely chopped
      • 3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
      • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
      • 3/4 cup butter, melted
      • 1 1/2 tbs sage, rubbed
      • Comine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Spoon mixture into a greased 13x9 inch pan. Bake uncovered at 325 degree for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  • The Gravy: Whole Food's Mushroom Gravy
    • As you all well know, I'm not a vegan or vegetarian but I really prefer mushroom based gravy over meat based. 
    • Here's some substitutions and notes from the linked recipe above:
      • You can use the brandy you're going to buy for the mulled wine instead of sherry or Marsala wine. 
      • I use just a regular clove of garlic, not roasted garlic puree
      • Your broth does not have to be gluten free because that's silly. (Unless you're suffering from celiac disease and then, ya know, don't make yourself sick.)
      • I use flour instead of cornstarch or rice flour. 
Image from Urbanspoon.
That giant hunk up there? Yup, that's the mac and cheese you'll be consuming. 
  • Casserole #1: Lynn's Paradise Cafe Mac and Cheese
    • This dish is legendary in Louisville, KY, my one true adopted home. I only make this once a year at Thanksgiving because it is so insanely decadent and I can't stop eating it once I start. 
Image from Campbell's Kitchen
  • Casserole #2: Broccoli Cheese Casserole
    • Now there are many, many versions of this recipe floating out there in the universe but I go off of a dog eared, slowly browning index card my mom still uses. It's processed perfection.
      • 1 cup minute rice
      • 1 cup water
      • 1/2 cup chopped celery
      • 1/2 cup chopped onion
      • 4 tbs butter
      • 1 10 oz package frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
      • 1 can cream of mushroom
      • 1 8 oz jar of Cheez Whiz (the real deal, yo.)
      • Dump into a 13x9 inch pan and stir. Bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour.
Photo from
  • The Potatoes: Barefoot Contessa's Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
    • I think you all know how much I love Ina Garten and her good olive oil by now. This recipe is simple, as the humble mashed potato should be. Add the mushroom gravy to this and "How easy is that?"
Photo from

  • The Booze: Mulled Wine
    • The first year we made this at my parent's place my mom and I didn't realize how strong it is and got mildly blitzed before dinner was on the table. (Hi, mom! Sorry, mom!) It was probably one of the more entertaining family meals we ever had. This starts in the slow cooker before I've even chopped my first onion, because it's eating, drinking, and being merry. They're all essential.
      • One charger or two bottles of red wine (I usually get Yellowtail Cabernet Shiraz mix. You're going to spice the wine up, so don't bother using expensive stuff.)
      • One peeled and slice orange... save the peel in one piece as much as you can
      • 1/2 cup brandy
      • 8-10 cloves
      • 3 cinnamon sticks
      • 2/3 cup honey or sugar
        • Pour the wine and brandy into a large slow cooker. Stir in the sugar/honey and drop in the cinnamon, cloves and oranges. I get crafty here and push the cloves into the orange peel. Do you. Keep on low in the slow cooker all day long and add more wine and brandy, you know, as needed. You know what you need. It's a holiday, enjoy yourself! 

  • The Bought: Pies, Cranberry Sauce and Rolls. 
    • Y'all know I can't bake. I bought my pies from Aldi. One pumpkin, one pecan. (Guys, I promise I am not being paid to advertise for Aldi. I'm just really stingy and the store speaks to me.)
    • Cranberry sauce is just better from the can. It's the American way. I prefer whole berry. Maybe you like jellied. But save yourself the hassle of some fancy berry recipe since the world prefers canned anyway.
    • My mom makes amazing homemade ice box rolls but there's no way I wouldn't completely screw them up. And they're never the same as when she makes them. Not as much love. My husband grew up with Sister Schubert's Dinner Yeast Rolls and I'm totally hooked. Apparently you have to add a crap load of extra butter when they come out of the oven. Here's to the South.

  • The Snacks: Summer Sausage, Cheese and Crackers.
    • It's never wise to eat a real lunch or breakfast before Thanksgiving, but you're probably going to get hungry at some point. This is actually a lazy post opening presents, pre feast Christmas tradition in my family, but my husband and I have added it to our Thanksgivings. We just snack on summer sausage, cheese and crackers all day. It feels festive since it looks like a party platter but it takes NO work.  Just don't go so heavy on the cheese that you don't have room when the casseroles are done.
  • The Timing
    • For most folks, the hardest part of a giant meal like Thanksgiving is timing. How do I make sure the mac and cheese is still hot and melty right when the bird is ready to be carved? I did the math and the obsessive planning and this timing worked out perfectly for me last year. 
    • You'll notice that most of the meals above have different baking temperatures. I set everything to 350 degrees and since nothing's really "baking," it worked well.
    • Know your turkey. I get the smallest one I can find which is usually about 10-12 lbs and takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours in the oven. There are plenty of online resources to figure out how long it will take to thaw and cook your turkey. It's not science but you don't want to be facing a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving afternoon. 
    • KNOW YOUR OVEN. Before it gets hot put the turkey pan in to judge how you'll fit at least three casserole dishes in as well. Move the racks ahead of time to save yourself from burning your hands or toppling the turkey to the floor when you realize you have to rearrange everything to get your stuffing dish in.
    • Here's how to get your full meal done at 5pm:
      • 12pm - Have your last cup of coffee and hop in the shower cause it is about to be on like Donkey Kong.
      • 1pm - Prep your turkey. Take out the giblets, follow the herb rub recipe, get the oven heated, etc. 
      • 1:30pm - Turkey is in the oven. Make your mulled wine and it will be warm and ready to drink around 2pm. Take a deep breath.
      • 2pm - Start your prep work. You're baking the cornbread, hard boiling the eggs, chopping onions and celery like a boss, etc. Get your mise en place on!
      • 2:30pm - Assemble the casseroles in baking dishes. I usually label them with the time they need to bake with a post it note on the dish's edge. Even for non-baked dishes like the mushroom gravy, I group the ingredients together so I can grab and go when the time comes.
      • 3:50pm - The stuffing goes in the oven. Start boiling the potatoes. 
      • 4pm - Mac and cheese and the broccoli cheese casserole goes in the oven.
      • 4:30pm - Start the mushroom gravy (you'll add the drippings later) by sauteing the mushrooms and add the bread topping to the mac and cheese.
      • 4:40pm - Turkey out of the oven. If it's done, keep moving on the gravy. If not, hold off for another 30 minutes and set the sauteed mushrooms to the ide. Either way, start assembling and mashing your mashed potatoes. 
      • 4:55pm - Turkey is carved. Put the rolls in the oven. 
      • 5pm - All casseroles and rolls are done and ready to serve!

Image from the Courier Journal
  • The Leftovers: Timothy's White Chili
    • Another Louisville tradition, but this one was passed down to me from my mother in law who went to law school at UofL. Substitute the chicken requirement in the recipe with pulled leftover turkey meat and you'll have a delicious and low calorie leftover for all that meat. I make a double batch with our leftovers and immediately freeze half. You can make this any time of the year, but it is a fitting tribute to the roasted turkey you've just devoured.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Steamed Mussels in White Wine and Leek Broth

I love mussels. They are rich in taste, low in price and calories and they cook in a few minutes. Cheap, quick, easy, low calorie and delicious = my five favorite things. This recipe makes a great romantic dinner for two when you add a loaf of french bread and some prosecco.

You'll need: 
- 1 lb mussels, fresh or frozen in their own juices (Aldi has these and they're great)
- 8 oz frozen leeks
- 2 cloves garlic
- 6 oz (about a half a can) chicken broth
- 2 tbs butter
- 1/3 cup white wine

Calories: 210 a serving

I've already talked about how much I love frozen leeks, but with mussels I don't have a preference.  Frozen mussels will already be prepped and cleaned for you.  If you're getting fresh mussels, you'll have to scrub them a bit to remove grit and de-beard them. The Kitchn has a great how to on prepping mussels. It takes about 15-20 minutes to clean them, so take that into account. Also note that fresh mussels are only good in the fridge for 2-3 days so it is really best to buy these the day of cooking.

1) Grab a large, deep cooking pan with a lid and heat over  medium. Place the thawed leeks and the garlic cloves, minced, in the pan with 1/2 tbs butter. Cook until the leeks have softened.

2) Add the wine, broth and the rest of the butter and let that cook for about 5 minutes so they flavors develop. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Leeks, garlic white wine, broth and butter getting all yummy and stuff.

3) Throw in the mussels and put the lid on the pan. Fresh mussels will cook in about 3-4 minutes and frozen will take about 5-6 minutes. When most of the mussels have opened it means they're done.

Oh yeeeeeaaah...

It's an old wives tale that mussels that don't open when cooked are bad. It just means the muscle of the  mussel didn't loosen up enough to open. Crack it anyway, and if it's thoroughly cooked (it will have a "raw" texture and smell very fishy if it's uncooked) eat that sucker up!

Serve this with a crusty french baguette to sop up the extra juices at the bottom. I usually just move the pan straight to the table, put it on top of a trivet or potholder (because it's hot, duh) and we dig right in. Be sure to bring a bowl for the discarded shells to the table as well.