Giving Tuesday

Since we have survived Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, what is next?  Giving Tuesday (since Steal Stuff Tuesday doesn’t seem to be catching on)! If you are in the mood to shop, Design Mom has some great ideas for presents that give back.  Also, if you are interested in helping out the tri-state area rebuild after Sandy, the NY Times has a great compilation of non-profits in need.


Maybe it is old age, maybe it is the fact that this year has handed me and my neighbors some challenges.  Here in the northeast, we are still feeling the pinch of Hurricane Sandy.  Hoboken, NYC, the Jersey Shore and all the boroughs are rebuilding, but as a result, it just feels like this Christmas is going to be about family, friends, love and of course, food.  I’m really looking forward to cozying up in front of the Christmas tree and spending time with my family.  Presents are far from top of mind.

Regardless, I am one of those weirdos who shops all year long.  I am actually done with Christmas shopping.  Don’t hate me.  It frees up time to make excessive amounts of Christmas cookies and treats.  I call it the baking factory.  Maybe I’ll share some tips on how I do it.  In the meantime, friends, I leave you with Giving Tuesday.  Give your time.  Give your money.  Or just give your heart.



Thanksgiving: Save the Dessert

Dessert.  It’s the reason for life, right?  It’s the point, right?  I think some people have their priorities out of line.  The problem is that many diners eat all of the savory foods for Thanksgiving and they are all moaning face-down into the bed because they ate too many rolls and turkey and stuffing and peas and brussels sprouts and potatoes and carbs.  Meanwhile, I’m like, “uhhh, hey guys, I think we have some dessert,” to empty silence.   It’s heartbreaking.  Seriously, people, don’t be mean to the pie.  Just practice some self restraint in the name of the savory rolls and stuffing (or fourth meal that dessert!!!!).

Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks.  If you are like me, you loath making a pie crust.   The Cooks Illustrated method saved me.  While unorthodox (it uses vodka!), it works beautifully and I adore it.  (Note to self: buy vodka.  Somehow Hurricane Sandy drained that part of my cupboard.  Can’t imagine what it is about no power for a week that could do that to a girl.)

This year, I am going to try to step up my pie crust game and make this braid  as a decorative edge.  Pray for me.

I love pecan pie and I love chocolate so every year I make Tyler Florence’s Bourbon and Chocolate Pecan Pie .  If you do the crust ahead of time, it comes together so quickly.  I take it on the plane and everyone wants to be my friend.  Served with some whipped cream, it is a delight.  Note: I make the Cooks Illustrated crust with this pie.

If I were surrounded by coffee lovers, I would make a variation and substitute espresso for the bourbon in Fine Cooking’s Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie, but I haven’t tested this one!

A few years ago, I made the Pioneer Woman’s Dreamy Apple Pie and it was a hit!

If I decide against the Bourbon Pecan Pie, I will make Fine Cooking’s Ginger Spice Apple Cranberry Pie.  The streusel on top is amazingly spicy from the ginger and the filling is gorgeous, studded with cranberries.  It is an awesome dessert.

Finally, if you aren’t into pie, which I can understand, Rachel Ray’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes (pictured above) are hands down, my favorite pumpkin baked good.

No matter what you chose to bless your table with at Thanksgiving, regardless if you celebrate it on a different day, I wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings.  I hope you have a chance to pause and experience the day with your loves.

Thanksgiving: Sides But Not An Aside

So yesterday, we talked about the turkey.  However, I am in the minority in caring the most about the turkey. Most people care the most about the sides!!  I have tried a lot of different sides.  I am including some sides that I think would work really well on Thanksgiving but I haven’t done on the day.  It’s good to consider the fact that the oven will be tied up with Mr. Turkey.  Mark Bittman has a fantastic list of items that can be made ahead of time.  I plan to try the delicata squash with apples and bacon (number 45) this weekend.

Recently, I have been making butternut squash soup in the crock pot.  It is so easy!!! Peel and cube the squash, cut up an onion, throw it in with a can of coconut milk (I use full fat) and your choice of seasonings (you could use thyme, curry or whatever your imagination).  Cook on high for 3-5 hours.  If the squash is tender, you are done.  Puree it in the food processor or blender and tada!!  I think this would be great for Thanksgiving because you could then put it back in the crock pot at warm and serve it to your guests.  Also, since it is not in the oven, you don’t run into the dreaded overcrowded oven issue.

  • I made these Sweet Potato Biscuits from A Cozy Kitchen last weekend with poached eggs and hollandaise.  These biscuits are a lovely orange hue, are soft and tender, and have the wonderful flavor from the sweet potatoes.   A fantastic accompaniment to the Thanksgiving bounty.
  • Are you avoiding dairy or carbs?  Garlic and Herbed Mashed Cauliflower from the Primal Palate is fantastic.  No, it does not have the same flavor as the dairy and butter laden mashed potatoes but I think it is a comforting option.
  • On the Paleo note, the Apple and Pork Sausage Stuffing from Balanced Bites is amazing.   However, this year, I have my sights set on PaleOMG’s Caramelized Onion and Sausage Stuffing.
  • While I have not made this version of a Sweet Potato Casserole,  I trust How Sweet It Is implicitly and it is for sure on my list of must makes!!
  • I did not grow up with the “classic” green bean casserole but I have made recipes that are spin offs, the Pioneer Woman really outdid herself on this one.  It could be a meal in itself!  It is very rich, so plan accordingly.
  • However, if you must go down the green bean casserole route, I would try this one.
  • One spring, I made a turkey and made this Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad from Joy the Baker.  I really liked the flavors and it was a very different way to incorporate Brussels sprouts into a special meal.  Avocado?!
  • If you are more of a traditionalist, you really can’t go wrong with the Cooks Illustrated technique for brussels sprouts.  Have it ready to roll into the oven when that bird comes out!
  • Finally, you can easily make this Bourbon Vanilla Cranberry Sauce from Eat Live Run the weekend before the big day.  Bourbon?  Vanilla?  Sign me up.

Tomorrow?  The best for last.  Dessert.  Stick with me people.


Turkey Talk

Let’s talk turkey.  On a greater scale, let’s talk logistics for the big day. While I have never hosted Thanksgiving (please don’t crucify me), I have made a Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us on other days because we love Thanksgiving and want the leftovers.  I also want to be prepared for the day that I do host Thanksgiving!

We tend to get the frozen turkey from the grocery store (because we buy so much that we get a free one) and the thawing definitely comes into play.  Also, I only use the Alton Brown turkey recipe.  It is the BEST!  It uses a brine which adds even more time to the lead time on Mr. Turkey.  So I work backwards.

What time do you want to eat Thanksgiving?  Count 5 hours backwards from that as a general time to put that turkey in the oven.  Count 16 more hours for the brine.  Then count 24 hours for every 4 pounds to thaw that sucker in the fridge. The USDA gives this nice guideline:

  • 4 to 12 pounds ……  1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds …… 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds …… 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds …… 5 to 6 days

From my experience, it takes FOREVER to thaw.  But it is so important that you allow this to happen so you don’t have the dreaded cooked on the outside, frozen on the inside turkey situation.

I would highly recommend watching Alton’s videos since it is a method I have used numerous times with fantastic results: tender, flavorful turkey!!

More controversially, Mr. Brown has some strong opinions on stuffing inside the bird.  I grew up on stuffing inside the bird and it does taste amazing.  However, it results in a dry bird.  In order to get that stuffing to a safe temperature, you overcook that bird.  I tested it.  It’s true.  Now, it is all about priorities.  Do you care about stuffing in the bird or the bird itself?  I am a turkey person.  You decide for yourself!!

Tomorrow, I will regale you with a list of fabulous Thanksgiving recipes that I love.

Speculoos Cookies

You may be aware of the Speculoos trend.  Or as it is called here, Biscoff.  Or the offshooting trend, Cookie Butter at Trader Joe’s.  As huge fans of Speculoos when we were first turned on to the spread by the Wafel & Dinges waffle truck, I was on a hunt to make the cookies (that are ground into a spread) from scratch.  I also saw a blog post about making s’mores using them instead of graham crackers, which seemed fun.

Dorie Greenspan seemed like the most reputable source.  I learned that these are traditional Belgian Christmas cookies.  They certainly smell like Christmas and Thanksgiving, what with the cloves, ginger and cinnamon.  Of course, the first time I made them, I didn’t read the directions very well (too much text crammed together is my excuse), so I didn’t see that you are supposed to roll them out between parchment immediately after making the dough.  Then you are supposed to refrigerate it for 3 hours.  Then you are to cut out the shapes and bake them.  So I refrigerated balls of dough for 3 hours and tried to do the cut outs but they were waaaaayy too soft.  At that point, Sparky was a little disappointed there would be no cookies that evening.  Also, I really wanted to eat them so I rolled them out and stuck them in the freezer for 30 minutes and cut a few out.  It was still quite soft but I baked 1/4 of the batch.

The result was a lovely, thin, chewy cookie with a ton of flavor. I know it would be a waste, but it would be so nice crushed into a pie crust.  Also, quite lovely with the afternoon coffee.  Or stress eaten while your unranked NC State football team beats (not for much longer) ranked 3rd Florida State.  #Wolfpacknation baby.  Or you could wait so long to post this blogpost that your beloved WOLFPACK is struggling to make it to a bowl game.  College football.  It’s an early killer.  #cardiacpack