So thankful


Here’s the starting lineup during today’s feast for anyone who is interested:
Two turkeys – roasted using Chef Michael Symon’s cheesecloth method. Total weight: 31 pounds
One ham – cooked in the infra-red deep fryer – 20 pounds
Root vegetable stuffing (gluten-free!)
Orange-cranberry sauce
Creamy mashed potatoes
Gravy
Green beans and bacon
Herbed creamed broccoli bake
Corn and Cauliflower bake
Sweet potato casserole
Watergate salad
Green tossed salad
Deviled Eggs
Macaroni and cheese
Cucumber and cream cheese canapes
Cotton Pickin’ Cake
Ice cream cake
Pumpkin pie (regular crust and gluten free graham crust)
Pecan Pie (see above)
Apple Cranberry Tart
Cheesecake
White chocolate cheesecake

Twenty family members and close friends gathered together, prayed together, ate together, and then laid around on the couch wishing for yoga pants. We were joined by five others for dessert. It was a spectacular day and evening where we enjoyed full bellies and fuller hearts.

Oh and that win by my Washington Redskins was the best dessert ever.

I hope your Thanksgiving nourished you as well – body and soul.

What’s on the menu for Thanksgiving?

We’re having 22 for dinner tomorrow, and everyone is contributing. In my house we’re responsible for turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, and my incredible cranberry sauce. I added the zest of one orange to mine tonight and it is a really great balance of orange and cranberry. Not super tart, not overly sweet, just a really great mix. I may split the batch and add some fresh ginger to half just for a little more zing. We’ll see. I also made a huge batch of creamy mashed potatoes courtesy of The Pioneer Woman.

Everyone is bringing something… we’ve got veggie dishes, sweet potato casserole, dinner rolls, mac and cheese, pies of every flavor, cake, deviled eggs, cheesecake, iced tea…. yeah, we are a family blessed with a bounty of food and love, and blessings. I plan on spending my day enjoying THEM. There will be no rushing out to stores, or being distracted by the dust bunnies that I will have inevitably missed. Tomorrow is a day to have my stomach and my SOUL filled with the gathering of family and friends.

I am thankful for so very much this year. November has just sucked so far, but I am still here. I am still alive and kicking, and learning things about myself and my own resilience. I have a wonderful support system, and I plan to surround myself with them this weekend.

Until then, enjoy what my stove looks like, as my root veggies are sauteed in preparation for tomorrow morning. They just LOOK like Autumn to me and the smell is something to be thankful for indeed.

I hope tomorrow provides each of you plenty of reasons for gratitude and thanksgiving. Have a wonderful day, my foodie friends.

It’s Turkey Time!

The biggest foodie day of the year is tomorrow, and I like many of you have been shopping and preparing, and researching. For those of you who are looking for the perfect turkey on Thanksgiving Day, I thought I would share:

MY FAVORITE TURKEY RECIPE

I thought this sounded good! Here is a turkey recipe that also includes the use of popcorn as a stuffing ingredient — imagine that. When I found this recipe, I thought it was perfect for people like me, who just are not sure how to tell when turkey is thoroughly cooked, but not dried out. Give this a try.

8 – 15 lb. turkey
1 cup melted butter
1 cup stuffing (Pepperidge Farm is Good)
1 cup un-popped popcorn (ORVILLE REDENBACHER’S LOW FAT IS BEST)
Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush turkey well with melted butter, salt, and pepper.
Fill cavity with stuffing and popcorn. Place in baking pan making sure the
neck end is toward the front of the oven, not the back.

After about 4 hours listen for the popping sounds.

When the turkey’s a** blows the oven door open and the bird flies across the room,…. it’s done.

NOTE: This recipe isn’t for turkey, it’s for LAUGHS. Please don’t try this at home. If you’re unsure on the best path to a delicious turkey, please see any of the pros on Food Network, or call the Butterball Hotline, or make RESERVATIONS instead of dinner.

And now I’m off to make my cranberry sauce, and prep the vegetables I’m using for my root vegetable stuffing. Two turkeys are thawing, my ham is thawed, and I still have to find more chairs…. More later!

The absolute BEST not-macaroni and cheese EVER

Intrigued yet?

So this weekend, seeing as how I was going to the mecca of grocery stores (WEGMAN’s) I embarked upon the mission of cooking ALL the produce left in my fridge. I had two eggplant, which I baked, hollowed out, and then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, onion, and cheese. I had fresh green beans which got blanched, and bundled wrapped in bacon. I popped them into a hot oven to let the bacon crisp up and man were they good. I had Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which got prepped, tossed with olive oil and slivered garlic, and then roasted until caramelized and gorgeous.

Then there was the spaghetti squash.

I wasn’t in the mood for “regular” spaghetti squash, I wanted something different…. something other than pretending that the squash was noodles to carry marinara. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara at all…it’s getting to be winter, it’s cold, and I needed something hearty enough to kind of act as a main dish with all these other veggie side dishes. And then I remembered it… a recipe given to me by my BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) DeeJay for a “not-macaroni-and-cheese” using the squash, cheese, onion, and bacon.

It has always been my belief that damned near ANYTHING can be made to taste better if you add onion, bacon, and cheese. So, I halved the squash and popped it face down in the microwave for 15 minutes to cook. While that was going on I fried up 7 strips of nitrite free bacon until they were crisp but not overly so. Setting the bacon aside on a paper towel, I poured out all the bacon grease except for a tablespoon or so and used that grease to fry up some diced sweet onion until tender and just starting to brown.

I got two other saucepans out and in one I started about 4 cups of milk just to heat up to a scald. To the second saucepan I added some butter and an equal amount of my cup for cup gluten-free flour (about 2 ounces of each). I cooked these two together for a few moments, and then slowly whisked in the hot milk, dissolving all the solids. The sauce thickened up rather quickly. I added salt and pepper and then whisked in an assortment of shredded cheese I had in the fridge. I had sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, three cheese blend, and mozzarella. All of these cheeses were in the bag and were “convenience purchases” for me, so this helped me by emptying out all of these partially opened bags. I also added 2 cloves of garlic I had put through the garlic press. I kept whisking until the sauce was beautifully smooth. I have noticed that when making sauces or gravies with gluten-free flour, I almost NEVER get lumps!

I buttered a shallow casserole dish and as the squash was done, I pulled it out of the microwave. I took half and scraped out the flesh with a fork, causing the “strings” of squash to fill the bottom of the dish. I chopped up the bacon, and added it and the onions over the surface of the squash. I took half of my cheese sauce and poured it over. Next, I scraped out the OTHER half of my squash and layered it into the casserole, finishing it with the rest of the sauce. Smoothing it all over with a spatula, I popped the lid on (Foil would work here too) and put it in a 350 degree oven. I let everything bake until the casserole was hot and bubbling just a bit around the edges. I pulled the lid off, dusted the top with grated Parmesan, and then let it cook another 15 minutes or so so the top could get brown and yummy. I had one piece of bacon left over so I chopped it up and sprinkled it on top just before serving.

HOLY MOLY…I cannot even begin to explain just how good this was. The cheese sauce baked up beautifully, light and creamy and cheesy…the onions were sweet, the bacon salty and smoky. Best of all, this was EVERYTHING mac and cheese could be, minus the heavy pasta and the OUCH from me eating gluten. So, SO good. Yet another reason my BFFF is one of my favorite people. So dinner ended up being the not-macaroni and cheese, the beans and roasted veggies, and I ended up being one very satisfied woman with a full belly and an empty refrigerator.

Hope your weekend was equally savory and delicious.

Too stressed to eat

I know, right?  So at one point I was stressed and eating ice cream for dinner.  Then I was stressed and bored because there’s no NHL hockey season yet so I was eating chips and dip, or salsa, or whatever OTHER junk I had on hand.  NOW I’ve started a new job and the first month has been, well, a challenge.  An unpleasant challenge. 

And now I’m so stressed I can’t eat.

Apparently the stress also causes me to clench my jaw because I can FEEL the muscles being tight and the accompanying headache sucks big time.  

HOWEVER, I am now home for the weekend, unwinding and I WILL be enjoying some foodie time.  My BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) and I are making the trek to Wegmans, or Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s…or somewhere marvelous to get what we need for Thanksgiving.  Dinner will be for 26 this year I believe.  I am going to need more chairs.

I am responsible for turkey (I have two) and ham, stuffing (gluten free!), and gravy.  Oh and cranberry sauce because I cannot abide the jelly junk in the cans, mine is so much better and it’s SO SO easy.  Don’t believe me?  Let me tell you, my friend Karen from my former (wonderful) job asked me about fresh cranberry sauce and when I gave her my recipe, she couldn’t believe how easy it was… then she made it and definitely couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  This is a woman whose family didn’t like cranberry sauce and now they eat it for more than just Thanksgiving.  

It’s easy to remember too…just think one, one, and one.

One package of fresh cranberries, one cup of white sugar, one cup of orange juice.  

Wash the cranberries and pick through, getting rid of any stems, as well as berries that are soft, blemished, or under-ripe.  Combine the sugar and orange juice in a sauce pan and heat on medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and cook until they start to pop (about 10-15 minutes).  Once the berries have popped, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  As the sauce cools it will thicken like jam/preserves.  

This is the basic recipe, but if you want to jazz it up you can add any one of the following:  the zest of one orange, one tablespoon fresh or candied ginger (grated), 2 ounces of gold or spiced rum, or even 2 teaspoons tequila and a finely chopped jalapeno pepper!  

I love cranberry sauce.  It’s that deep delicious mix of sweet and tart that is perfection with turkey, chicken, pork, or even a delicious beef roast.  It also SCREAMS “holiday!” and that is definitely something to be thankful for.

Long time no post, I know

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting. Two weeks ago, my children’s Godmother (and the mother to MY Godchildren) passed away unexpectedly. To say that I was shocked and saddened would be a gross understatement. Even now I have a tough time processing the fact that this wonderful person is gone from my life forever. She was one of those people that no matter how long had passed since we last talked, we always picked RIGHT up where we left off. I had spoken to her less than a month before her death and she sounded great, happy…everything I loved about her. So that is how I will remember her, not the last few days of her life and her untimely death.

So I came back home from her memorial services, and back into my routine. New job, kid stuff, market runs, hit and miss dinners.

HOWEVER, I was able to make Italian stuffed cabbage rolls for my family as well as an extra pan which I delivered to friends who are brand new parents. I’ll do the tutorial on those later (they were LABOR INTENSIVE but oh so good!), but today I wanted to celebrate the most delicious, easiest side dish/salad I’ve had in a long long time. I call it “Zucchini Ribbon Salad” and it seriously couldn’t be easier.

I was fortunate enough to snag some tiny yellow squash and some small zucchini from the farmer’s market, hooray for fall plantings! and I needed something delicious to do with them. So here’s my answer… warning…it’s addictive.

I used four small yellow squash and two small zucchini… as well as a small red onion. I put them on the mandolin, and sliced them super thin into ribbons. I sliced the onion thin as well, and popped it into ice water to take some of the “bite” out of it. You could also use a simple vegetable peeler to get the ribbon effect from the squash, but since I had the mandolin out, I couldn’t resist!

I put one large clove of garlic through the garlic press into a bowl. I added the zest of a lemon and then the juice of that lemon to the bowl. I chopped up a handful of fresh parsley, added salt, and then whisked in a generous amount of olive oil to make a lemon vinaigrette. Be sure to taste! You want it lemony, but not so tart it causes the pucker factor.

I added the squash ribbons to the vinaigrette, making sure to separate them (no clumps of ribbons for me), and removed the onion from the water. I patted it dry on paper towels, and added it to the squash, then tossed everything together, mixing well and coating it with that delicious dressing. To serve, I used tongs and pulled the ribbons out, piling them loosely on the side of the plate. I topped it with some feta cheese, and it was perfect. Fresh, lemony, slightly salty from the feta… YUM. I could have eaten the entire bowl by myself. AND it was even better the next day.

It ended up being a great end to a pretty crappy couple of weeks.

Now I’m back and working on my next passion: Christmas shopping! But my idea for Christmas this year is to eschew the big box stores as much as I can, and either make gifts by hand, or purchase from local vendors, artisans, craftsmen, and small businesses. Yes, I know, Wally World hires people in my neighborhood, but ultimately a lot of the money goes to product manufacturers in China, and the profits to stockholder portfolios. However, by purchasing locally, the money goes in the hands of REAL people in my community. Plus these folks are putting their talent, their passion into their product…they deserve to be rewarded for that!

So, this Christmas it will be pre-paid meals (or gift cards) from the locally owned restaurant, or fitness classes with the personal trainer, or handcrafted jewelry, or prints of local nature photography.

Feel free to find us on Facebook and get the ball rolling in your own neighborhood! Our group is open to anyone, come shop with us, or promote your own ideas. I’d love for this to become a nationwide movement, just think of all the benefits we could bring to the economy if we all shopped small?

An Outside the Box (Store) Christmas on Facebook.