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My house smells delicious!

It’s Thanksgiving all week long, and I couldn’t be more excited! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (yes, even better than Christmas). It’s all about warm comforting food, remembering what we are grateful for, spending time with people we love. Joy! I guess that all applies to Christmas too, but Thanksgiving has no pressure for presents or religious undertones.

This year I planned on cooking dinner at my Grandma’s house. Who knows how much longer it will be in the family, so I want to make memories there while it lasts. Then Uncle Randy decided he’s going to spend Thanksgiving camping with friends in the desert. John and Racheal were invited to his parent’s house in Julian. Mary Jo is cooking dinner in celebration of her first grandchild, Johnny (or JR as I plan on calling him). That leaves Leia, my Mom and myself. So we decided to join Racheal and John in Julian on Thursday.

But…I love cooking Thanksgiving! So we’re doing a dinner together on Tuesday. The neighbors across from my Grandma’s house surprised us with a huge turkey, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, potatoes, onions, butter, and milk. I guess their plans changed, they wouldn’t be at home and didn’t want the food to go to waste. Score!

Someday I’ll get all fancy and try variations of the traditional dishes. Maybe when Leia is older and can help me prepare things. Although between helping me push the grocery cart in the store and mixing pretend meals in tupperware bowls with wooden spoons on the kitchen floor – she is already a huge help. For now I’m just sticking with the basics: roasted turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie.

The beauty of all this is I get to make a bunch of it the night before! Here’s the plan: Cranberry sauce is made first, it’s better the next day anyway. The sweet potato and green bean casseroles can be made and stored in the fridge (without toppings) then popped in the oven to heat up when the turkey gets out. Stuffing and mashed potatoes can be made on the stove while the turkey cooks and rolls heat through when people are serving.

Cranberry Sauce

  • Two bags of cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice (I just use the juice from the two oranges I zest, if it’s not a full cup just add water)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • zest of two oranges
  • two tablespoons grated ginger
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar

Helping sort cranberries.

She liked to pinch the mushy ones.

Toss in a pot on medium-low until berries start to pop open. Cook longer if you want a more mushy sauce, take off the heat if you want cranberries intact. I like to let mine go until about half the berries have popped. That’s it! So easy and much better than the canned gelatinous stuff. This makes a lot of cranberry sauce, you can bring me the leftovers if you don’t want them.

Almost done...

Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Banana (Tyler Florence)

Tyler is hot. He can cook, which makes him even hotter. With that said, I modified his recipe a little.

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 large bananas, unpeeled
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (he used honey, I didn’t have any)
  • salt (I had sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped (damn, a 1 1/2 cup bag of pecans was $7!)
  • mini marshmallows

Put the potatoes in the oven at 375 until they’re soft. How long is that? Probably 60-90 minutes. It depends on how big they are so just check after an hour. They’re done when a knife slides through the potato easily. During the last 10 minutes of baking time put the two bananas on the baking tray with the potatoes. The skin will get black and they will be mushy inside.

When the potatoes and bananas are cooled peel them and add the flesh to a big mixing bowl. Add 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of butter, I melted mine to make it easier to incorporate. Add brown sugar or honey and a sprinkle or two of salt. Mix with a spoon until blended and fluffy. Put in a 8 x 8 casserole dish. At this point you can cover it and put it in the fridge until an hour or so before dinner time.

To make the topping put 1 1/2 cup chopped pecans in a big ziplock bag. Add flour and shake until nuts are coated. Chop remaining 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter into pieces and add to bag. Seal the bag and mash it with your hands until the butter and flour mixes with the nuts. Tyler’s recipe calls for brown sugar but I’m adding marshmallows so I didn’t want to overdo the sweetness.

About an hour before dinner I’ll pull the casserole dish out of the fridge and let it come to room temp. After the turkey comes out I’ll add the topping and put it in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes (or long enough to heat through). I’ll take it out and add the marshmallows, then back in the oven it goes until marshmallows brown and melt. Yum! A layer of sweet potatoes and banana, a layer of crunchy pecan topping and a layer of gooey marshmallow. Two perfectly healthy produce items beaten into Americana submission.

Burning my "Thankful" Yankee candle. The color is off, it's an iPhone picture. The potatoes are a brighter orange, much more appealing.

The Best Ever Green Bean Casserole (Alton Brown)

Oh Alton, you’re the man! I’ve never had a bad recipe from him, and his cooking science is awesome. In a perfect world I’d look like Giada, cook like Paula, and be married to a hybrid of Tyler and Alton. Dear Santa…

Campbell’s can keep their canned soup, this version is so much better and worth the effort. I don’t like mushrooms so I made some modifications. I use the French’s fried onions. I know I could probably make them from scratch, but I like to save the time. I made a double recipe to fill my big casserole dish.

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved (I trimmed them by hand, Leia helped, it was beyond cute)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 large white onion sliced thinly (love my mandolin!)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 14 ounce can low sodium chicken broth
  • Approximately 2 cups half-and-half (I just fill up the chicken broth can after it’s empty)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar

Mmm, green beans and clementines.

Boil water, add beans and cook for 5-8 minutes (less time for firmer beans, more time for softer beans). Drain and add to an ice bath. This step is important to stop the cooking so you don’t have mushy beans. Drain again and lay beans out on a towel to dry.

Melt butter, salt and pepper in a big pan. Add onions and cook until they start to soften. Add garlic and nutmeg and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle flour in and mix until combined (you’ve just made an onion roux!). Add chicken broth and simmer for a few minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low, add half-and-half, and stir until thickened. Add cheddar and stir until melted.

All I need is crunchy onions and a hot oven!

Spray pan with nonstick coating, add beans and pour sauce on top. At this point I cover the dish and put it in the fridge for tomorrow. It will get topped with an entire can of fried onions and go in the oven with the sweet potatoes at 375 degrees until bubbly and the sauce has reduced to a cream. Another perfectly healthy vegetable, smothered with fatty goodness.

Roasted Turkey

I don’t have a recipe for this. I just go by what my Grandma did. The big ass bird is 22 pounds (the same as Leia!) so it will need to cook for at least 4 hours at 325 degrees. I remove all the gizzards – such a fun word – rinse and dry the bird. Then I give it a liberal shake of salt and pepper. I cut up carrots, an onion, some sage and rosemary and toss it in the cavity. I soften some butter and add chopped rosemary, sage and thyme. Then I coat the outside of the bird with the butter mix. The bird gets covered loosely with foil for the first 3 hours. Take the foil off and turn up the temp to 400 for the last hour, basting with the melted butter and juices every 15 minutes. Use a thermometer to check the thick part of the breast, it’s done when it hits 165. Take the bird out and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. I’ll probably cover it loosely to keep it warm for 30 minutes while the beans and sweet potatoes heat up. How to carve a turkey.

Gravy

I usually make the packet stuff but I might get my roux on and try to make it from scratch.

Mashed Potatoes

I’m not a huge fan, this is just to appease the family and for tradition. While the turkey is cooking I’ll do the standard boil water, add potatoes, mash with butter and milk, add salt. I might use half and half since I’ll have some leftover and they won’t know I’ve added a “fancy” ingredient. I’d love to add some onion and chive cream cheese and bacon pieces, but that might be too much.

Stuffing

I used to only love StoveTop. It’s what I grew up on, all I knew. Then I tried a homemade sage and ground pork stuffing and I realized I was dating the wrong stuffing. However, like the potatoes, I need to please a more traditional palette. I also don’t have a second oven to cook stuffing in. So the box it is! But I’m going to modify it a little. I’ll add some dried cranberries, fresh sage, extra bread and sauteed onion. I might pick up some ground pork to brown with the onions and add in.

Rolls

I’m torn. I’ll either throw some crescents in the oven while people are plating, or just heat some dinner rolls. Depends on timing and how the meal is coming together.

Pumpkin Pie

It feels wrong to not make dessert from scratch. Desserts are my favorite thing to make. But in the interest of time (and the wonderful free pie we were given), I’m going to just relax and not worry about it this time. I have plenty of holiday baking on the horizon…

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Tell the people you love how important they are in your life. Make time for hugs, stories, pictures, making memories.

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