Sharing a seriously fun love for food

Month: November 2017

Cranberry Orange Bread

Cranberry Orange Bread

It’s the height of baking season. Flour and sugar are frequent guests on my counter, remnants of the last pie, cake or bread that is now baking in the oven. All are wonderful but it’s hard to beat the aroma of bread baking in your oven. And this bread is particularly special. Loaded with fresh cranberries, the juice and zest from fresh oranges and crunchy toasted pecans – each adding a note of taste and fragrance!

Southern cooks have baked quick breads for years. They are great to have on hand for brunch gatherings, light desserts or snacks and make wonderful gifts for friends and family. Quick breads are just that… quick to make, requiring no yeast to rise or kneading of dough. Somewhat of a cake baked in a loaf pan. With any quick bread, always take care to not over mix the batter or your bread will be tough.

A copy of this recipe was originally given to me by one of my dearest friends. She received it from a lifelong friend of hers carrying on that Southern tradition of sharing favorite recipes. In an unexpected twist, I recently found a similar copy among my Mom’s many recipes. Great Southern minds!

This recipe for Cranberry Orange Bread can be mixed by hand. The butter is cut into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter. (If you don’t have a pastry cutter you can also use a fork to cut the butter into the flour.) When using oranges for cooking, I head to navel or Valencia oranges. They have a consistently sweet flavor and lend that orange essence you’re after in the finished result. Some tips when picking oranges or any citrus. You want firm fruit with thinner skin. Check the weight of an orange by simply holding the fruit in your hand, it should feel heavy for its size. For measuring, 1 large orange will yield about 1/3 cup juice and 2 teaspoons zest.

Beaming with bright cranberries, golden pecans and surrounded by orange-scented goodness, this bread will usher in December in delicious fashion!

Cranberry Orange Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature

¾ cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon orange oil, optional but enhances the orange notes

2 cups chopped fresh cranberries, measured after chopping

½ cup chopped toasted pecans

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt, then add the pieces of butter.

Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is broken up into small pieces.

In a small bowl whisk together the orange juice, the orange zest, the vanilla, orange oil and the egg.

Add to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined.

Toss in the chopped cranberries and the toasted pecans, gently fold into the batter.

Divide the batter between two small loaf pans (8” x 4” x 2”) that have been sprayed with a cooking spray. (You can also bake one loaf in a large pan, 9″ x 5″ x 3″. Adjust the baking time to 45-50 minutes.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until golden and the bread tests done. Let the bread cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then turn the loaves out onto a baking rack. While the bread cools make the glaze.

Orange Glaze:

1-1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps

¼ cup fresh orange juice

½ teaspoon orange zest

In a small bowl whisk together the powdered sugar, orange juice and orange zest until the glaze is smooth.

Spoon the glaze over the tops of the bread while it is still slightly warm, using some or all of the glaze to suit your taste.

The delightful smells and tastes of the holiday season!

Roasted Potato, Leek and Fresh Arugula Soup

Roasted Potato, Leek and Fresh Arugula Soup

So you picked up a 15-pound bag of potatoes for Thanksgiving and you have at least 10 pounds left. What to do with a pantry full of Yukon Gold potatoes – well, who doesn’t love a luscious bowl of creamy potato soup!

I’ve gone through dozens of recipes for potato soup through the years and this has become one of my favorite versions. When making potato soup I’ve gone back and forth between leeks and fennel, each lending their own subtle flavor. But the leeks along with the sweet onion cooked in butter and olive oil seem to bring out the best in the Yukon Gold potatoes.

A recent addition to my basic recipe is arugula. I’ve long been a fan of Ina Garten with her simple yet elegant way with food. In her book, “Back to Basics” she turns up the flavor of potato soup, with this wonderful leafy green. Arugula lends its peppery flavor to the soup in an “oh, so subtle” way. Her version calls for three cups of arugula, I reduced it to one cup to suit the tastes of my Engineer but if you like more, by all means, add it!

As for the leeks, there is one very important item to remember – cleaning them thoroughly is key. As leeks grow they push up through the soil and collect dirt and sand in their green leaves. To prep them, trim the root end and cut most of the green leafy portion off, keeping the white bulb.

Remove the outer leaf and rinse well. Using a sharp knife, cut crossways across the top starting from the leafy portion, cutting about a third of the way down towards the bulb. Stand the cut portion of the leeks in cold water for about ten minutes – this opens up the leafy part of the leek. Then one final rinse under cold water, fanning the layers out to remove any remaining grit.

For the potatoes, it’s hard to beat Yukon Gold with their buttery, nutty flavor. I’ve always preferred roasting the potatoes in the oven as it brings out a heartier note and an extra layer of flavor in the potatoes.

This recipe makes enough to feed 6-8 people and also keeps well in the fridge. It’s a perfect dish to make ahead and have on hand for the busy days of this holiday season!

Roasted Potato, Leek and Fresh Arugula Soup

3-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 cup fresh arugula

2 large leeks, white part only, rinsed well and sliced, about 4 cups

1 large sweet onion, sliced, about 2 cups

5 cups chicken stock

¼ cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon concentrated chicken bouillon

¼ cup half and half

Garnish: fresh arugula, crème fraîche, grated white cheddar

Line a large baking sheet with heavy-duty foil and spray it lightly with a cooking spray. Toss the potatoes onto the baking sheet and coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper.

Roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, stirring the potatoes after about 30 minutes. Lay the fresh arugula across the potatoes and roast for an additional 5 minutes.

While the potatoes are roasting, melt the butter with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and onion, and season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.

Cook the leeks and onion until they are soft and translucent. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon kosher salt, cooked potatoes and arugula, chicken stock, white wine and the concentrated chicken bouillon.

Using an immersion blender, puree the ingredients until smooth. Stir in the half and half, add additional kosher salt or pepper if needed and continue cooking until the soup is warmed through.

Top with crème fraîche, grated cheddar cheese and fresh arugula!


Turkey Tetrazzini

Turkey Tetrazzini

You’ve survived the first holiday of the season but there’s still turkey hanging out in your refrigerator. One can only eat so many turkey sandwiches so here’s a wonderful alternative for any leftovers. This is a variation of a chicken tetrazzini recipe that my Mom made for years, the handwritten recipe almost illegible from hanging out near the stove! And using turkey instead of chicken is an easy switch to create this wonderful baked pasta dish.

This dish is pure comfort food. It starts with a cheese sauce created from a buttery roux. Warm milk is whisked into the roux then a blend of cheddar and Gruyère cheese is stirred into the sauce. Adding sautéed bell peppers, onions and earthy crimini mushrooms finishes the luscious cheese sauce. If that isn’t good enough, noodles – cooked in stock for an extra touch of flavor, are added along with the leftover roasted turkey. Then it’s baked it until the cheese sauce is hot and bubbly.

This makes a large casserole. But if company has headed home and you only have a small gathering you can split it between baking dishes and freeze one for later.

It’s a comforting meal to begin the tree trimming!

Turkey Tetrazzini

11 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2/3 cup flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus water for the pasta water

¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

2 cups milk, warmed

½ pound cheddar cheese, shredded

½ pound Gruyère cheese, shredded

1 bell pepper, chopped – about 1-1/4 cup

1 small onion, chopped – about 1-1/4 cup

8 ounces crimini mushrooms, rough chopped

16 ounces egg noodles

1 tablespoon concentrated chicken or turkey bouillon

4 cups chopped roast turkey

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan melt 8 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, kosher salt and black pepper until smooth.

Cook until the flour just starts to turn a light golden color.

Whisk in the warm milk, stirring frequently until the sauce starts to thicken. Add the shredded cheese and stir into the sauce. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter of medium heat. Add the bell peppers and onions, cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.

Toss into the cheese sauce. In the same skillet, sauté the chopped mushrooms until they are golden in color; add to the cheese sauce. Stir to combine and check for seasoning, adding more kosher salt and pepper if needed.

Fill a large stockpot with enough water to cover the noodles, add a handful of kosher salt and the concentrated chicken bouillon. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the noodles and cook for about 7 minutes. Drain but do not rinse. In a large bowl, add the noodles and the chicken. Add the cheese sauce and stir until well blended.

Pour the mixture into a large baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray.

Sprinkle the top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the dish is heated through.

Rosemary and Orange Maple Bourbon Cocktail

Rosemary and Orange Maple Bourbon Cocktail

The turkey is brining, the pies are made and final preparations are in full swing for the Thanksgiving feast. Time for a little break! And what better way to kick back than with a Rosemary and Orange Maple Bourbon Cocktail!

Run your hand across sprigs of fresh Rosemary to release its beautiful aroma and you’re instantly transported to the holidays. Now imagine a maple syrup infused with this earthy herb. This cocktail begins with a smooth bourbon with its caramel and spice undertones. A touch of citrus is added from a splash of orange juice to brighten the flavor and then it’s finished with the rosemary-infused maple syrup.

This cocktail is an adaptation of a recipe from a great bar book, “Shake” written by Eric Prum and Josh Williams. It’s a wonderful book full of stunning photography and delightful cocktail recipes. The original version of this cocktail calls for lemon juice and sprigs of fresh rosemary simply added to the cocktail shaker.

I wondered if it was possible to get more of the rosemary flavor into the cocktail. So I decided to infuse the rosemary into the maple syrup. I love infusing herbs in simple syrup. It’s easy to do and the subtle herb flavors are pulled into the syrup through the infusion. It seemed logical that if you could infuse the flavor of herbs into simple syrup, the same would work with a maple syrup. Simply warming the syrup with sprigs of fresh rosemary then letting the syrup chill overnight added the right touch of earthiness I was after.

This cocktail has just enough sweet to balance out the rich, warm bourbon notes and is perfect in front of a roaring fire! Let the holidays begin!

Rosemary and Orange Maple Bourbon Cocktail

To make the rosemary-infused maple syrup:

3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary, rinsed and dried

1 cup real maple syrup

Pour the maple syrup into a small saucepan; add the sprigs of fresh rosemary. Bring the syrup to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For two cocktails:

½ cup good bourbon

¼ cup orange juice

3 tablespoons rosemary-maple syrup

Pour the bourbon, orange juice and rosemary-maple syrup into a cocktail shaker; add a cup of ice. Shake until well blended and chilled. Pour over ice and serve.

Chocolate Cream Pie with Meringue Topping

Chocolate Cream Pie with Meringue Topping

My Grandmothers always believed if one dessert was good on a holiday table, three must be better. So in keeping with family tradition, we always make three pies. And this one checks the box for the chocolate lovers in the group. This is possibly the best chocolate cream pie I’ve ever eaten, so good it will bring tears to your eyes. With its deep chocolate custard topped with a fluffy cloud of baked meringue, it’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Different from a classic chocolate cream pie where the custard is cooked on the stovetop then poured into a baked pie shell – this chocolate custard is baked in the oven. The result is a rich, silky and divine chocolate filling.

The pie filling begins as a basic custard recipe, with cocoa, sugar, eggs, half and half plus a splash of vanilla to enhance the cocoa flavor. All the ingredients are whisked together then baked in a buttery, flaky pastry crust. Finally, it’s topped with a luscious layer of meringue, baked until golden.

Some tips and tricks …

If the edges of your piecrust begin to brown more than you’d like, cover them with a pie shield or loosely cover the top with a sheet of foil.

The recipe for this crust will two 9” piecrusts. During the holidays this is my “go to”. If you only need to make one, you can find a recipe for a single crust posted with our Caramel Apple Pie and Rustic Blueberry Tart. Refrigerate the shell for about 30 minutes to help it hold up when it hits the hot oven.

Make the meringue while the pie is baking. You want to get it on the hot pie and back into the oven. The heat from the pie helps to bake the meringue on the bottom.

Meringue can be sticky and “weep” if you make it when it’s humid. Don’t fret over this. My Grandmother baked hundreds of pies and her meringue always “weeped”. When mine does, I just assume she has popped in to say hello!

If your meringue is sticky making clean cuts can be a challenge. Simply hold a sharp knife over heat – your stovetop is a great source of heat for this. The heat helps the knife slide right through meringue.

This is simply the best chocolate pie.

Start with a flaky crust:

2-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into cubes

¼-1/2 cups cold water

In a food processor, add the flour, kosher salt and sugar, pulse about 8-10 times to mix together. Toss in the butter and process for about 10-15 seconds, until the butter is the size of small peas.

Pour in ¼ cup of the cold water through the feed tube, adding up to ½ cup (but no more) a little at a time until the dough begins to come together about 30-35 seconds. (Humidity can sometimes be a factor when making pie dough, some days you will need all the water, some days not.)

Dump the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper. Using the paper gently work the dough together, then split it into two equal portions and shape into round disks. Wrap the dough up in parchment paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Note: If you make the dough ahead and it’s been refrigerated more than an hour, let it set out at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes to make it easier to roll.

When you’re ready to roll out the piecrust, dust your surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough into a round about 11-inches in diameter.

Gently roll the dough over the rolling pin and unroll into a 9” pie plate that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray. Trim leaving about an inch then fold the dough under and finish the edges. Chill until you’re ready to fill the pie shell.

Now the fabulous chocolate custard:

1-1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons flour

3 extra-large eggs, whites and yolks separated (keep the whites for your meringue)

1 extra-large egg, whole

1-1/2 cups half and half

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder and flour. Make sure to get any lumps out of the cocoa powder – you can use the back of a spoon to break up the lumps if needed.

In a small bowl, beat the 3 eggs yolks and the 1 whole egg together until thick and light in color. You can use a whisk for this but I use a hand mixer, easier and faster!

Add the half and half along with the beaten eggs and the vanilla to the sugar and cocoa mixture, whisking until well blended.

Pour the custard mixture into the prepared pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 30- 40 minutes or until the center is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

While the pie is baking, make the meringue:

5 egg whites

¾ teaspoon cream of tarter

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tarter on medium speed until the eggs are frothy.

Slowly add the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time and whisk until the egg whites have stiff peaks and the sugar is dissolved. You can rub a bit of meringue between your fingers to make certain the sugar is dissolved. Add the vanilla, blending into the meringue.

When the pie is set, remove it from the oven and spread the meringue over the top of the chocolate custard, making sure you seal the meringue up against the edges of the pie crust. (This keeps the meringue from shrinking while baking.)

Finish baking at 325 degrees for about 10-12 minutes or until the meringue is golden in color.

Cool before slicing to let the custard set up.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

If you had to name one dessert that is quintessentially Thanksgiving few would argue the answer is pumpkin pie. I don’t recall a Thanksgiving holiday where there wasn’t one on the menu so no need to stop now.

Some may think there is a need to return to the “days of yore” and bake your own pumpkins in lieu of canned pumpkin. Here’s a tip – put those pumpkins on your mantle or table and get the can opener out. I’ve tried it. Nope. Canned pumpkin is really better for this dessert. It has a smoother, creamier texture which will yield a more velvety custard.

Pumpkin pie is an extremely simple pie to make. The pumpkin custard in this pie has just enough brown sugar to bring out the autumn undertones of the squash. The result in no way resembles the cloyingly sweet, artificial flavor of pumpkin spice that they pump in your coffee. This is the way pumpkin should taste with hints of spice and warmth from cinnamon, allspice and ginger.

The recipe for the crust is similar to my basic piecrust, using all butter with a touch of sugar but this recipe is adjusted to make two 9-inch pie crusts. (If you only need to make one crust, you can find that recipe posted with our Caramel Apple Pie or Rustic Blueberry Tart.) This pastry dough holds up well with a custard pie and the longer baking time required, yet it still remains flaky and tender. If pastry dough is not your thing, don’t try to learn on top of the holiday – there’s already enough stress! You can find some very nice pre-made pie dough in the refrigerated section of most food markets.

A wonderful fruit pie for your holiday table – yes, squash is technically a fruit!

Let’s start with the pastry dough:

2-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into cubes

¼-1/2 cups cold water

In a food processor, add the flour, kosher salt and sugar, pulse about 8-10 times to mix together. Toss in the butter and process for about 10-15 seconds, until the butter is the size of small peas.

You want to see small pieces of butter. As it melts in the oven it will add the layers of flakiness to your crust.

Pour in ¼ cup of the cold water through the feed tube, adding up to ½ cup (but no more) a little at a time until the dough begins to come together about 30-35 seconds. (Humidity can sometimes be a factor when making pie dough, some days you will need all the water, some days not.) Take care not to over process the dough or your piecrust will be tough.

Dump the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper. Using the paper gently work the dough together.

Split it into two equal portions and shape into round disks. Wrap the dough up in parchment paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Note: If you make the dough ahead and it’s been refrigerated more than an hour, let it set out at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes to make it easier to roll. When you’re ready to roll out the piecrust, dust your surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough into a round about 11-inches in diameter.

Gently roll the dough over the rolling pin and unroll into a 9” pie plate that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray. Lift it into the pie plate, settling the dough into place. Don’t stretch the dough or it will shrink more than you plan when it’s baked!

Trim around the edges leaving about 1-1/2-2″ of dough. Turn the dough under and finish the edges. Chill until you’re ready to fill the pie shell, this helps the dough hold its shape when it hits the hot oven.


Now the really good stuff – the Pumpkin Pie Custard:

1 can pumpkin puree, 15-ounces

3 extra-large eggs, gently beaten

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup dark brown sugar, packed when measuring

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Place the pumpkin puree in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the eggs and the cream.

Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and kosher salt. Whisk together until well blended and smooth.

Pour into the pie shell and bake at 375 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until the center is set and no longer “wet” in appearance.

Cool before slicing to let the custard set up. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Pecan Tart with Bourbon Nut Crust

Pecan Tart with Bourbon Nut Crust

There’s not a dessert much more Southern than pecan pie. My Mom made one of the best and she always had one on her holiday table. For a time the pecan pie disappeared from our Thanksgiving table. Some holidays it was a very small group and having more pies than guests seemed excessive. Then Emily found Matthew. Along with allowing him to add a favorite side to the Thanksgiving feast I let him add a dessert. It was pecan pie. My Mom would be so happy!

Pecan pie is a delectable dessert. A pie with a creamy, silky custard-like filling topped with a layer of toasted, crunchy pecans – well that’s a hard thing to improve upon. But what if we turn it into a deep-dish tart encased in a bourbon nut crust? Spectacular! It creates a perfect balance for this sweet delicacy. And if you’re afraid of piecrust, you’ll love the very forgiving nature of this pastry dough.

Many pecan pie recipes call for pecan halves, but I’ve always preferred chopped pecans. They still make a beautiful pie but are far easier to slice through when you’re serving. The filling I make is from my Mom’s recipe and I’m sure it is the same one scattered across many Southern kitchens. Always use real butter (Do I really need to say this?), a bit of whipping cream in lieu of milk and a high quality, pure vanilla extract. The filling needs to burst with vanilla and have a luscious texture to balance out those toasted pecans.

I bake the pecan tart in a 9-3/4” diameter tart pan that is 2” deep and has a removable bottom. The removable bottom makes it easy to remove the edge ring and transfer the tart to your serving plate.

Nut crusts have been around for years but aren’t as common as a basic pastry crust. I ran across the idea of adding bourbon to a nut crust in a recipe posted from Alton Brown. The bourbon adds just a hint of warmth and flavor to the crust. A nut crust can sometimes be crumbly when you roll it out but you can easily press the crumbs and any stray pieces into the tart pan. So don’t stress if it’s not a perfect sheet of pastry! This crust is made in a food processor but you can also mix it together with a pastry cutter.

A beautiful and delicious dessert for your holiday table!

Pecan Tart with Bourbon Nut Crust

For the Nut crust:

¾ cup chopped pecans

1-1/4 cups flour, plus 1-2 tablespoons for dusting the rolling pin and counter

½ teaspoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons butter, well chilled and cut into cubes

2 tablespoons very cold water

2 tablespoons good bourbon

Place the chopped pecans in a food processor and pulse about 10-12 times until the nuts are finely chopped.

Toss in the flour and kosher salt; pulse about 5-6 times until the flour is blended together with the nuts. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse about 6-8 times until the butter is about the size of small peas.

As with a basic pastry dough, you still want bits of butter visible.

Pour the cold water and bourbon over the top of the mixture. Pulse about 6-8 times or until the dough begins to holds together. Don’t over process or your crust will be tough.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper and form it into a round disk.

Fold the parchment over the dough, drop it into a plastic bag and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to roll out the dough, dust your surface and rolling pin with a light coating of flour. Roll the dough into a disk measuring about 11” in diameter. Gently roll it over the rolling pin and place it in the tart pan. Press it into the pan and the fluted edges going up the sides about two-thirds of the way. Set the crust aside while you make the filling.

Pecan Pie Filling:

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon whipping cream

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

3 extra-large eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (yes, tablespoons!)

1-1/2 cups chopped pecans

Cream the butter and brown sugar together; add the corn syrup and blend together until smooth. Stir in the whipping cream.

In a small bowl beat the eggs with the kosher salt until the eggs are light and frothy. Pour the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, beating together on low speed until smooth.

Stir in the vanilla then add the pecans and stir until well blended. The pecans will make their way to the top of the pie while baking.

Pour the pecan pie filling into the unbaked nut crust and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

Lower the heat of your oven to 350 degrees and continue baking about 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You can also check the internal temperature by inserting an instant read thermometer into the center of the pie. You want the pie filling to reach 200 degrees. (Thank you Alton Brown for this tip!)

Set the pie on a rack to cool before slicing, allowing it time to set up as it cools.

Note: If you prefer to bake the pie in a traditional pie pan, reduce the second cooking time to 35-40 minutes.

Turkey Pan Gravy

Turkey Pan Gravy

Your bird is out of the oven so whatever you do, don’t throw out those pan drippings from your roast turkey! Your guests will want gravy and not just any gravy. Pan gravy should be rich in flavor from gorgeous drippings, whisked into a buttery roux resulting in a silky creation.

There are some handy tools you should have at your fingertips for making gravy:

The sturdy roasting pan that was a must for roasting turkey now goes to the stovetop to make the gravy.

One of my favorites tools in making pan gravy is a fat separator. Pouring the pan drippings off the roasted turkey through a fat separator literally pulls the fat away, capturing only the good stuff for your gravy.

I use a flat whisk for starting the roux and keeping the gravy smooth as it thickens. A whisk will break up any lumps or clumps in your flour, creating that beautiful, smooth gravy that is picture perfect for your table.

The last item is very elementary, a pint size jar. I always keep one on hand in the event I need to add a bit of flour to thicken the gravy. You can add flour to room temperature stock, shake it until it’s smooth and pour it into your hot gravy. Never, ever add flour directly to hot liquid! The results are not pretty.

If you want to make the gravy in advance, start by making the roux in a deep skillet then add the stock reduction (reducing the stock enhances the flavor). Then when you’re ready to serve, reheat the gravy and top it off with the separated pan drippings.

Pan Gravy

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour, more if needed for thickening

¼-1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste

*5 cups turkey or chicken stock, more if needed

Pan drippings from the roast turkey

While the turkey is roasting pour 5 cups of turkey or chicken stock into a saucepan and set over medium heat to reduce down to about half. This takes about 45 minutes and brings out the best of the stock. After your turkey is done and resting on a cutting board, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into the fat separator.

Beautiful rich pan drippings from the roast turkey enhanced from the added stock and white wine.

Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted add the flour and whisk until you have a smooth roux. Season with the pepper and cook for about five minutes or until the flour starts to turn golden, stirring frequently.

If you brined your turkey, check for seasoning before you go near the salt! Most likely, you won’t need to add any additional. Pour in the pan drippings taking care to not add the separated fat back into the gravy. Whisk until smooth. Add the additional stock reduction, about a cup at a time whisking into the gravy. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the gravy has thickened, adding more stock if needed to reach your preferred thickness.

Don’t be concerned if the gravy is thinner or thicker than you would like. If you want thicker gravy, add an additional 2 tablespoons flour along with one cup stock and shake in a jar until smooth. Slowly pour the flour and stock mixture into the gravy, cooking for an additional 10 minutes. If you want a thinner gravy, simply add a bit more stock.

For leftovers, gently warm over medium-low heat, adding more stock to thin if needed.

Roast Turkey Breast

Roast Turkey Breast

You’ve been asked to host Thanksgiving. Fear sets in, there’s a turkey involved! Tackling the bird seems to the biggest mental stumbling block when hosting the Thanksgiving meal. We’ve all been served that bird straight out of the movie “Christmas Vacation” – dry, mealy and well, just not great. Turkey should be moist and yield a pop of flavor in every bite, the skin golden in color and crispy.

The best method to achieve a succulent roast turkey is a step you take long before you ever turn on the oven. Brining. If you’re not brining your turkey, you should be. The flavor and moisture achieved from brining are worth the time and effort. I’ve included a basic brine recipe or you can buy prepackaged brining salts. Williams-Sonoma has a wonderful brining salt that can be used for poultry or pork.

There are some basic tools you should have on hand for roasting the turkey:

A sturdy roasting pan is a must. You want a pan that holds up under the weight of the bird and heat of the oven but can also be used on the stovetop for the gravy.

Either a flat or “V-shaped” rack to hold the turkey up off the bottom of the pan to help the heat circulate around the bird.

A digital thermometer to ensure your turkey has reached the proper temperature.

You’ll also want to have a cutting board with juice grooves or one that is indented to catch any drippings – this makes carving the turkey less difficult. Carving at the table is best left for the movies.

Some quick tips:

Figure out the size of turkey you’ll need to feed your guests. I only buy turkey breasts as no one in our family will eat the drumsticks. I normally cook two turkey breasts, about 6-7 pounds each for a holiday meal. One pound per person is a common estimate. But at our house leftovers are a requirement and friends often stop by for a bite! Either way, Butterball has a great website that calculates the size, time to thaw and time needed to cook. Genius!

When buying your bird, you can sometimes find turkeys that are not frozen but the ones I typically run across are completely frozen. Don’t shortcut the thaw. I’ve found it takes every bit of the time plus some. Add one day after thawing to brine the turkey before you cook.

Let’s brine!

This recipe makes enough brine for up to a 10-12 pound whole turkey or turkey breast.

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup brown sugar

4 bay leaves

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon whole juniper berries, optional

1 tablespoon dried rosemary or 3-4 sprigs fresh

2 teaspoons dried thyme or 5-6 sprigs fresh

3 cups apple juice

1 large brining bag (You can also use a large plastic container, large enough to hold the brining solution and the turkey.)

Before you start, make certain you have a spot in your refrigerator.

Combine the kosher salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries, rosemary and thyme in a medium saucepan with 8 cups of water.

Cook the brine over medium heat until the kosher salt and the brown sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and allow the brining solution to cool to room temperature. Place the brining bag inside a deep stockpot or container (in the event the bag leaks) Once the brine has cooled pour it into the brining bag and add 9 cups of ice water along with the apple cider. Mix together. Remove any giblets from the turkey, rinse and place it in the brining bag. Seal and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 36 hours.

Roasting the Turkey:

1 turkey breast, 6-7 pounds, brined

2-3 stalks of celery, cut in half

1 medium onion, quartered

2-3 sprigs fresh Rosemary

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

¼ cup dry white wine

1-3/4 cup turkey or chicken stock

One hour before you’re ready to roast, remove the turkey from the brining solution and rinse well. Tuck the celery, the onion and fresh Rosemary into the cavity of the turkey.

Place the turkey on a roasting rack set inside the roasting pan – spray both with a cooking spray. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Brush the olive oil all over the turkey then cover with freshly cracked black pepper. Do not add any additional salt! Pour the wine and stock into the bottom of the pan.

Let the turkey rest at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes before roasting to take the chill off the inside of the bird. Insert the probe of the meat thermometer into the deepest part of the breast meat, but not touching the bone and set it to 165 degrees. Place the turkey on the lower third rack of your oven (not the bottom rack) that has been preheated to 325 degrees.

Roast for approximately 2-1/2 hours to 2-3/4 hours or until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 degrees. If you’re roasting a larger turkey you’ll need to adjust the cooking time. Figure about 20 minutes per pound. If the turkey starts to darken too much, loosely cover with foil. Remove the turkey and place it on a large cutting board, cover with foil to hold in the heat and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.

If possible do not remove the probe, this helps to keep the juices in the bird.

Brining before roasting creates a scrumptious result!

Cornbread Dressing

Cornbread Dressing

There are probably as many versions of dressing as there are cooks in the South. And no, we don’t call it stuffing. Ask anyone about dressing and they will quickly begin to tell you about their Mother’s or their Grandmother’s dressing. Few if any wrote down their recipe. Both my Grandmothers and my Mother made wonderful dressing. In all honesty, if the dressing isn’t up to par, well Thanksgiving is a bust!

Our family recipe for dressing is cornbread based, as are most Southern dressings. I start with a fresh baked savory cornbread, seasoned with freshly cracked black pepper, parsley, sage and poultry seasoning.

But you need a balance from other breads. In our family we’re big fans of sweet and savory. As this recipe has evolved through the years I’ve added two breads to partner with the cornbread, a Challah bread plus panettone –  a wonderful Italian holiday bread. You can find panettone bread in a number of specialty markets or online. My favorite, carried by Williams-Sonoma is made in Italy by Pasticceria Scarpato using a recipe dating back to 1888. It is studded with golden raisins and glazed chestnuts. Then I add a handful of dried cranberries and you have a wonderful balance of sweet to savory.

Dressing is somewhat akin to a savory bread pudding. Chunks of bread soak up half and half, broth and eggs all highlighted with the herbs and seasonings of the holidays. Toasted pecans add a final element of taste and crunch!


For the Savory Cornbread:

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon dried parsley

½ teaspoon dried sage

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 cup milk

2 eggs

½ vegetable or canola oil

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, kosher salt, pepper, baking powder, sugar, parsley, sage and poultry seasoning.

In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, eggs and oil. Mix with the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined.

Pour into a 9” cast iron skillet or 8” square baking dish, which has been sprayed with a cooking spray.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. You can make the cornbread several days ahead, break it up and leave it in your mixing bowl to dry out a bit.

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped, about 2 cups

4 stalks of celery, including leaves if on the celery stalks, about 2 cups

1 clove garlic, finely chopped, about ½ teaspoon

1-1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided

2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

4 cups seasoned cornbread, broken into large pieces

4 cups Challah, cut into 1”-2″ cubes

4 cups Panettone bread, cut into 1″-2″ cubes

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup toasted chopped pecans

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning, or to taste

2-1/2 teaspoons dried sage, or to taste

½ teaspoon dried parsley

2 teaspoons sugar

2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup half and half

2 cups chicken stock

1 can cream of chicken soup, 10.5 ounces

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and ½ teaspoon of the black pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent then add 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt along with the chopped garlic.

Continue cooking for an additional five minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl toss together the breads, the dried cranberries, toasted pecans, the remaining pepper and kosher salt, poultry seasoning, dried sage, parsley, sugar plus the onion and celery. Stir to blend together.

In a small bowl whisk the eggs with the half and half. Add the chicken stock along with the cream of chicken soup. Using a light hand, stir to mix together.

Spoon the dressing into a large baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 20- 30 minutes or until the center is set and the edges have started to turn golden.