Holiday preparation is fun for me—all the excitement, decorating and special trimmings gives me an exuberant sense of energy. But the extra fussing can also pile on unwanted stress, and having a “signature” cocktail for the holidays relieves some of the pressure when guests will be joining the fun.
Sure, it’s nice to be able to offer up an open bar, and ours is fully stocked with everything our friends and neighbors might ask for (and a few things they probably wouldn’t—I’m looking at you, absinthe). Imagine what that would look like if I related it to other aspects of our entertaining though; say, the decorations or the table settings. Our guests don’t choose those; we decide based on the occasion. Too many drink options can overwhelm a guest and leave them standing there contemplating, when they’d probably rather just enjoy a well-thought-out adult beverage, and I’d rather be back in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on dinner.
Naturally, a few people may request their own favorite (a beer or glass of white wine, perhaps), but most of our friends enjoy the unique tipple that we put together for them, and I do my best to keep the flavors within the season. Not too strong, not too sweet, always with a special ingredient twist.
This year, I agonized over my signature cocktail, not because I fell short of ideas (as if that would ever happen in my crazy brain), but because my best experiments this year felt too similar to the signature drink last year, the Pom-Pom-Hattan. At first glance, this drink may seem almost the same, given that cranberry has a similar tartness to pomegranate and both drinks are made with bourbon. But friends, this is no ordinary bourbon, and it was pleading with me to become part of my signature drink.
Before I get carried away, I’d like to emphasize that this distiller is not paying endorsement fees for my shameless raving (and if they did, I’d probably just spend it on more bottles). This is just between us bourbon lovers, and it’s what friends do—share the news about great things we find. The maple notes in this bourbon are very smooth, excellent for sipping neat, and I’ve done my share so far this season. The smokiness is subtle, but present, and a little tang of cranberry (spiked with some spices) is a perfect accompaniment for a cocktail that celebrates the warmth of the holidays.
The ingredients are simple, though one required a bit of advance effort. Rather than use a store-bought cranberry juice (which I didn’t even consider, frankly), I made a simple syrup infused with fresh cranberries, cinnamon for warmth and pink peppercorns for depth. Simple syrup is exactly that—simple. Just equal parts by volume of sugar and water, and for this one, I added the flavor infusers long enough to draw out the color of the cranberry. The rest of the drink is very Manhattan-like; a quality brand of red vermouth and a few shakes of bitters, with a premium cocktail cherry as garnish.
At our house, we enjoyed these on Thanksgiving and again on Saturday night with appetizers before our Ultimate Thanksgiving Leftover Pizza. But just as with last year’s Pom-Pom-Hattan, I have no doubt that this smoky-sweet-tangy cocktail will carry us through all the way to New Year’s.
Ingredients (makes two cocktails)
3 oz. Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon
1.5 oz. red (sweet) vermouth
1.0 oz. spiced cranberry simple syrup
2 dashes ginger bitters
Good quality cocktail cherries, such as Luxardo brand
Measure bourbon, vermouth, spiced cranberry syrup and bitters into a mixing glass or shaker. Add one cup of ice and stir well for about 20 seconds. Strain into coupe (or martini) cocktail glasses and garnish each with a cherry.
Repeat as desired.
Spiced Cranberry Simple Syrup
My confession is that my first attempt at the simple syrup was not great. Cranberries contain a lot of pectin, and I let them simmer a bit too long, releasing all that thickener. It did not taste bad, but left an odd, almost sticky residue in my drink (serves me right for multi-tasking). Keep a close watch over it, as I did with the second batch, and it will be delicious!
In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Heat over medium heat, stirring until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add 1 cup rinsed cranberries, 2 pieces cinnamon stick and 1 rounded teaspoon pink peppercorns. Bring to a slight boil, and then reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer until the cranberries begin to pop and the syrup takes on a pinkish-red color. Remove from heat and let the berries steep for a few minutes before straining into a jar.
Use the cooked cranberries in another recipe if you wish or discard them.
Crispy outside, soft and chewy inside. A hint of onion and just enough salt. That’s what you want in a classic latke, the delightfully simple, traditional food of Hanukkah. Getting them just right takes practice, and what I lack in personal heritage, I hope to make up for in effort. When I started dating my husband in 2015, I found myself intrigued by the foods that are central to the Jewish holidays, and latkes have been on the menu every year since then. Let’s review:
My recipe has evolved, as has my technique. I’m not sure what I was thinking in my first couple of efforts, except that I wasn’t giving enough attention to the oil. And that means I was missing the point, because Hanukkah is all about the oil.
Hanukkah, nicknamed the “festival of lights,” is an eight-day observance of an ancient miracle. The story is multi-layered and, frankly, hard for me to fully understand, let alone explain. But the gist of the story is that God came through for the faithful, and a small jar of oil that was only enough for one night’s lighting of the eternal lamps at the Temple, somehow (miraculously) lasted for eight nights.
In observant Jewish homes, families still mark the occasion by lighting candles on a menorah for eight nights during Hanukkah, and foods are fried in oil in remembrance of the miracle. Traditional fried foods served during this eight-night celebration include jelly-filled doughnuts and, of course, latkes!
The secret is in the starch
The key to crispy latkes is removing the excess liquid from the shredded potatoes, while simultaneously preserving the starches that aid in holding those shreds together. After you shred the potatoes, which you can do either by hand on a box grater or (the easy way) in a food processor, simply soak them in ice water long enough to draw the starch out of the shreds. Next, squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the shredded potatoes, then reunite them with the sticky starch that has settled at the bottom of the soaking bowl. Add in some shredded onions (also squeezed dry), a beaten egg and a few sprinkles of flour, and you’re good to go!
The miracle of the oil
Frying latkes is the traditional way, and I don’t recommend trying to fry them in a thin film of oil as I did those first couple of years. You may get a nice crispness on the outside, but the inside won’t be done. You need about a half-inch of oil in a hot skillet to make a crispy latke, and the type of oil can make a difference as well. As much as I love and rely on unfiltered, extra virgin olive oil for most of my cooking, its smoke point is about the same temperature as you need for frying the latkes, so it is not the best choice. For this kind of frying, I’ve chosen grapeseed oil, which has a higher smoke point and produces a nice crispy exterior with a neutral flavor.
Enjoy latkes your own way
Not all latkes are the crisp-textured, straw-colored wafers that I am sharing today. Some cooks make their latkes with a soft, almost mashed potato-like texture, and those are delicious also. Onions are usually included in the mix for flavor, but I have seen latke recipes that lean toward the sweet side and there are plenty of other vegetables that can be substituted for potatoes, if you don’t mind a less-than-traditional treat.
Not all spuds are created equal
Although it is true that you can use different ingredients to make latkes, it’s important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of certain potatoes. For best results and crispy latkes, choose a starchy potato, such as russet or Yukon gold. Potatoes that are described as “waxy,” such as red potatoes, are higher in moisture and lower in starch. That isn’t to say you can’t use them, but you would need to give extra attention to the step of moisture reduction and supplement the starch a bit to hold them together. Also, be prepared for a slightly less crispy latke when using waxy potatoes, or any other substitute that doesn’t measure up in the starch department.
What to serve with latkes
Traditionally, latkes are served with applesauce and sour cream, and therefore I asked Les to cook up a batch of his mouthwatering overnight applesauce for Thanksgiving. With Hanukkah falling so close behind this year, I hoped to carry over some of that delicious, chunky applesauce as a side for what has turned out to be one of my best batches of latkes to date.
2 pounds potatoes (I used a combination of russet and Yukon gold)
1 smallish sweet onion
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and black pepper
A few shakes ground cumin (if you are not keeping strict kosher)
Grapeseed oil (or other neutral cooking oil with high smoke point, such as canola)
Peel and rinse the potatoes. Shred them by whatever means is easiest for you and transfer the shreds immediately to a bowl filled with ice water. Allow them to soak for about 45 minutes.
Trim, peel and shred the onion. Use paper towels to wick away the excess moisture from the onions.
Beat the egg lightly in a measuring cup. Add the shredded onion and mix to combine evenly. I have found this easier for even mixing of the onion into the potato mixture.
Pour enough grapeseed oil into a large skillet or electric frying pan to measure about 1/2″ deep. Heat oil to 375° F.
Use your hands to carefully scoop the soaked potatoes from the bowl and onto a clean kitchen towel. Try to avoid stirring up the starch from the bottom of the bowl. Spread the potato shreds out over the towel. Roll up the towel and twist to extract as much moisture as possible from the potatoes. Empty the shreds into a large, new bowl.
Sprinkle the cumin and flour over the shreds and toss with your hands to evenly distribute.
Pour out the water from the soaking bowl, and take it slow enough to keep the powdery white starch in the bottom of the bowl. Scoop the starch into the bowl with the dried potato shreds and toss again with your hands to combine. Finally, add the egg-onion mixture and toss until evenly combined.
Form a clump of potato mixture in the palm of your hand, pressing to shape it as best you can into a flattened ball. Do not try to shape it as a disc at this point. Carefully lay the ball of potato mixture into the hot oil and repeat until you have three or four clumps in the oil. When the edges begin to turn golden, use the back of a small spatula to gently flatten the balls of mixture into more of a disc shape. Turn the latkes after all edges (and the bottom) are golden brown. Fry the second side until golden. Transfer to a rack over layers of paper towel and repeat until all latkes are fried. Season the latkes with kosher salt as soon as they come out of the hot oil.
“Live, from Leftover Land!” Wouldn’t that be a fun name for a game show featuring contestants presenting their most creative effort with post-Thanksgiving overflow? At our house, we tend to go all out on Thanksgiving, regardless of whether we have a houseful or a handful of guests. This year, it was the latter, but that did not stop us from cooking a 17-pound bird. It was my year for the turkey, and I broke one of my own cardinal rules in my decision to try a new method, dry brining. My leap of faith paid off, big time, with a juicy, extremely flavorful bird. And now, there’s a bunch left over.
No matter who cooks the turkey (we alternate years, as part of our pre-marital agreement), the question of how to use the leftovers is always a big one at our house. I adore a good turkey sandwich on homemade bread, but I hardly ever have fresh bread at Thanksgiving, which probably seems strange to anyone who knows my love for sourdough. Despite my best intentions, I did not even save enough time to make the soft dinner rolls that I thought would be so perfect for miniature turkey sandwiches. But I am working today on a loaf of my favorite sourdough sandwich bread to remedy that situation. And Les is pitching in, too. He has all the ingredients he needs for one of his favorite Thanksgiving leftovers—a turkey shepherd’s pie, which also makes excellent use of our leftover garlic mashed potatoes (another of his recipes, and one that we don’t ever seem to make in small quantity). I intend to use up more of the leftover bird in some spicy turkey enchiladas, using handmade corn tortillas, at some point over the next two days before the leftover police come knocking. Food safety experts recommend using the leftovers within a few days, so time’s a ticking and I’ll be on top of it.
In the meantime, we brainstormed ways to bring all the favored flavors of Thanksgiving to a pizza, and this was our result—a deep-dish crust that tastes like sage and onion dressing, with sausage, turkey, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, all topped off with a quick drizzle of spiced cranberry mayonnaise. The best thing about this pizza (other than the fact we enjoyed it with friends we haven’t spent quality, sit-down time with since before COVID began), was that prep was minimal. Everything was already done on Thanksgiving itself, so it gave us more time to relax over cocktails and simply enjoy the company.
If you are struggling with leftovers, give this a try, even if your leftovers look different from ours. This pizza does not rely on traditional Italian ingredients, so you can skip the mozzarella. We used shredded gouda cheese in the base of the pizza, then arranged the other toppings in a way that afforded us a good, balanced bite in every thick, delicious slice.
The holidays are coming at me fast this year, as Hanukkah began last evening and that can only mean one thing. Latkes! Stay tuned…
1 batch deep dish pizza dough* (see notes)
8 oz. gouda cheese, shredded
1/2 lb. bulk breakfast sausage, crumbled and cooked just until no longer pink
3 stalks celery, cleaned and chopped
1/2 sweet onion or leek, trimmed and chopped
1 generous cup leftover cooked turkey (we used mostly dark meat)
Combine 1/2 cup leftover cranberry sauce and 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise in a smoothie blender. Or flip the ratio if you want it creamier and less tangy. What you don’t use on the pizza will be fantastic on sandwiches!
For the dough this time, I used the basic recipe from my post for Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza, but with a few Thanksgiving flavor additions—I added a teaspoon Bell’s seasoning (similar to poultry seasoning) to the flour ingredients and kneaded in about two tablespoons re-hydrated minced onion. These simple adjustments gave us a crust that had all the flavors of Thanksgiving stuffing, a great base for our pizza.
Preheat oven to 450° F with rack in center position of the oven.
Stretch the risen dough into a 14-inch deep dish pan. If it springs back too much, cover and rest it 15 minutes, then proceed.
Scatter cheese over the entire bottom of the dough, then layer on the sausage, celery and onions. Follow that with a scattering of leftover turkey, sweet potatoes and a few dollops of leftover mashed potatoes. Top it off with the green bean casserole mixture and a few spoons of turkey gravy here and there.
Bake for 25 minutes, then sprinkle the fried onions on top and bake 10 minutes more. Allow the pizza to rest for 10 minutes before transferring to a flat pizza pan and slicing. Drizzle with the cranberry mayonnaise just before serving.
With so much to do in advance of Thanksgiving, it may seem a little nuts to make the gravy ahead but hear me out on this. There are two big reasons I like to make this vegan mushroom gravy, and neither is related to having a vegan guest at the table.
First, the final minutes before dinner are hectic—the turkey has to be rested before carving, and the oven braces itself for round two, as I shove a baking sheet of vegetables in to roast or a casserole for final re-heating. The warmed dishes all need to be brought to the table and you can’t really make the turkey gravy until after the bird has emerged from the oven. If something goes wrong with the turkey gravy (been there, done that), I love having the savory, earthy flavors of this mushroom gravy as a backup.
Secondly, the mushroom gravy is less heavy—both in flavor and in calories—than a typical turkey gravy. It more than satisfies my craving for gravy without cranking up my cholesterol levels. Besides being completely delicious and easy to make several days ahead of the holiday commotion, this gravy can do double duty as a sauce for green bean casserole. And when we do have a vegan guest at the table, I like to do just one version of that dish for everyone to enjoy.
Rave reviews from all around the table, made from simple ingredients and easy to do ahead; this is a winner no matter how you slice, er, pour it. 😉
8 oz. carton of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and diced or pulsed in processor
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 Tbsp. mushroom and sage-infused olive oil (+ 2 Tbsp. more later in the recipe)
The umami seasoning is a Trader Joe’s product, and it gets plenty of use whenever I’m making a vegan dish. The ingredients are porcini and white mushroom powders, dried onions, ground mustard, crushed red pepper and dried thyme. It brings a depth of savory flavor to everything it touches, but if you cannot find it, I would recommend substituting with the flavors you do have and also use prepared mushroom broth in place of the vegetable broth. Look for mushroom broth in cartons in a well-stocked supermarket.
I always choose low sodium broths because it helps me control the overall sodium of a recipe. In this recipe, I specifically used a vegetable broth that does not contain tomatoes.
Roasted garlic is easy to make at home, and it gives a lot of depth and complexity to this mushroom gravy. If you have never made your own roasted garlic, please check out this post for step-by-step instructions.
As usual, the photos tell the story better than written instructions. Please have a look at the slides and keep scrolling for a downloadable pdf for your recipe files.
If you don’t already have your roasted garlic, go make that. Please don’t try to substitute with fresh sauteed garlic. The flavor will be too strong.
Heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Sauté half of the mushrooms, tossing to coat them in the oil, until they give off their moisture and shrink in size. Repeat with remaining mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper and umami seasoning. Move the mushrooms to the sides of the pot.
Swirl another tablespoon of oil into the center of the pot and add the shallots. Saute until slightly softened. Add flour and toss until absorbed into the oil. The mixture should look somewhat pasty, but not dry. Add a final tablespoon of oil if needed to reach this consistency. Cook the mixture for a minute or two.
Add vegetable broth all at once and stir continuously for a minute or two to hydrate the roux. Bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until mixture is thickened. Stir in wine and simmer over very low heat for about an hour.
Squeeze in the entire bulb of roasted garlic, taking care to not drop the garlic paper into the pot. Use a whisk to ensure the garlic is fully blended, or use an immersion blender to whip the gravy into a smoother consistency.
In a small skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil and sauté the sliced shiitake mushrooms until softened and slightly browned, then stir them into the gravy. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to three days ahead.
This gravy is delicious on a lentil mushroom wellington or use it as a substitute for cream of mushroom soup in any casserole you’d like to convert to vegan.
My love for Brussels sprouts is not exactly new, but I remember a time when my nose would wrinkle at the mere mention of them. If you were forced to try them, as I was for the first time, from the frozen section of the grocery store and drenched in a nasty, congealed “butter” sauce, then you can probably relate. They were mushy, bland and bitter, and the sauce only made them worse. There should be laws against this kind of vegetable abuse.
Later, when I was a teenager fulfilling my household chore of tending the home garden, I found myself intrigued by these enormous stalks covered in bulbous little cabbage heads. It was the first time I had ever seen them as nature intended, and it pleases me now to see them presented that way at Trader Joe’s, where they are proudly perched this time of year in a large case just inside the entrance.
Cutting the individual sprouts off the stalk can be a bit tedious (I still cringe as I remember doing so all those years ago), and I’ll confess here that I usually prefer to buy them already cut and packed up in the mesh bags. They should be firm and bright green in color, with no wilted leaves in sight. To prep them, you only need to wash them under running water and trim a thin slice off the bottom, allowing the outer leaves to fall away. Cut them in half from top to bottom and toss them in the marinade for a few minutes, then into the oven on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Brussels sprouts are part of the brassica family of vegetables and, like their cousins (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale), they are positively loaded with nutrients. Additionally, they have terrific heft and body that make them an essential part of our Thanksgiving day table.
Last year, I shared a spicy-sweet version of Maple Cayenne Brussels Sprouts, and this year, an alternative for those who like a fresher, tangy twist. The lemon and pomegranate flavors are simple to impart—I love the flavor-infused balsamic vinegars that are available in the boutique oil and vinegar shops that seem to be everywhere these days (or can be found for online ordering). This recipe uses the pomegranate balsamic, plus lemon-fused olive oil and the juice and zest of a fresh lemon. These sprouts are simple to make, and you can roast them in the oven while your turkey is resting. Or, if you are going plant-based this year, they can probably be roasted alongside whatever else you have in the oven.
1 pound bag of fresh Brussels sprouts (cleaned, trimmed and halved)
1 medium shallot, sliced into rings
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice plus the zest
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I love the lemon-fused)
2 Tbsp. pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and black pepper
Heat oven to 400° F, with rack in a center to upper position in the oven.
In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil in a slow, steady stream into the lemon juice, sugar and zest. Season with a pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Do not add the pomegranate balsamic at this stage.
Add the trimmed brussels sprouts to the bowl and toss until evenly coated with the marinade. Use a slotted spoon to scoop them out of the bowl, and reserve the marinade that remains in the bowl. Arrange the sprouts, cut side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Aim to separate them a bit so that they don’t steam from overcrowding. Roast for about 20 minutes.
Whisk the balsamic into what is left of the oil-lemon juice marinade until it is smooth and not separated. Toss the hot sprouts back into the bowl and toss until evenly coated. Spoon them back out onto the parchment-lined sheet and put them back into the oven for about five minutes, just long enough to heat through and add a touch of caramelization.
These lemon-pomegranate brussels sprouts are best served immediately, but you can reheat them in the microwave if you need the oven space for other dishes.
Thanksgiving is the favored holiday at our house. My husband, Les, and I both love preparing the traditional meal and we made an agreement early in our relationship to alternate responsibility for the turkey. We love having friends and family at the table and, more often than not, the friends outnumber the family members by at least two-to-one. I have no children, and Les’s two adult kids can’t always make it. His son, Alex, lives and works in Europe, and has only been here for one holiday season since I’ve known him. His daughter, Sydney, lives two hours away in the mountains of North Carolina, but she also sometimes has her own plans with her mother’s family or her friends. When she is able to join us, though, I have more than a few adjustments to make to the menu because Syd is vegan.
If the idea of having a vegan at the holiday table scares you, then I hope this recipe brings some relief. It most certainly will bring some big Thanksgiving flavor, and everyone at our table—vegan or otherwise—has asked for seconds. One of my friends, a regular guest at our Thanksgiving table, has been begging me for almost two years to share this recipe, so she is probably screaming right now to finally see it on my blog (you’re welcome, Linda). 😉
You might wonder, “why not just share it with your friend after the first request instead of making her wait?” Linda (who is not a vegan) has been asking the same, and the reason is simple—I didn’t actually have a recipe for it. As I have said many times about my way of cooking, I develop recipes by instinct (otherwise known as flying by the seat of my pants), and it has only been since I began blogging that I have bothered to write down how much of what goes into most of my dishes. The first time I made this lentil mushroom wellington, I couldn’t even quite remember all the ingredients so there was no possibility of describing it to someone else. But just after Christmas last year, I made the dish again when Syd came for a post-holiday visit—and on that occasion, I kept my notes—but I didn’t post it on the blog right away because the holidays were over at that point and I doubted that anyone would want to make a fuss over such a showstopper without a special occasion. It isn’t exactly a quick weeknight recipe.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this dish does take time and effort, though none of it is difficult. If you wish to make it for Thanksgiving, perhaps for a vegan guest at your table, the good news is that almost all of it can be done in advance. You will find most of the ingredients familiar—cooked lentils, rice blend, cremini mushrooms, kale, sweet potatoes and (vegan) puff pastry—and I’ll describe in more detail how I put the whole thing together and even gave it a faux “egg wash” before baking, to give it a golden crust while keeping it plant-based.
Now, with the holidays upon us, the timing is right and I have a written-down recipe to share. So for Linda, and anyone else who wants to enjoy a pretty, entirely plant-based meal that still captures the essence of Thanksgiving, here is my recipe for the lentil mushroom wellington. Enjoy!
1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed and picked over* (see notes)
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice or rice blend
32 oz. carton low-sodium vegetable broth
1 or 2 bay leaves
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size cubes
Extra virgin olive oil*
1 leek, cleaned and sliced (white and light green parts only)*
Liquid from a can of chickpeas (use low-sodium; reserve the chickpeas for another use)
1 Tbsp. milled flax seed*
1/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted
3 Tbsp. hemp hearts
A pinch (or two) of dried thyme leaves (or several sprigs of fresh thyme, if you have it)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 sheet puff pastry (choose one with plant-based ingredients, such as Wewalka or Pepperidge Farm)
Flour to dust the countertop
Small handful (about 1/4 cup) of panko bread crumbs
For brushing, in place of egg wash:
1 Tbsp. plant milk, such as almond or soy
1 Tbsp. real maple syrup
1 Tbsp. canola or avocado oil
I use a lentil blend, which includes green, red and black beluga lentils. If you choose a single type of lentil, I would recommend using the green ones. Cook the lentils in vegetable broth rather than plain water. Why miss a chance to add flavor?
My go-to olive oil this time of year is the wild mushroom and sage-infused oil found in specialty olive oil and balsamic vinegar stores. But any olive oil is fine, or substitute canola oil or a favorite plant-based butter, if you prefer.
If using leeks, be sure to clean them properly to remove all traces of grit between layers. Drain and pat completely dry on layers of paper towel before sautéing. If preferred, substitute 1 medium sweet or yellow onion.
The umami seasoning blend is a product sold at Trader Joe’s, and its flavors include dried mushroom, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. If you can’t buy it, you can substitute with a combination of onion powder, garlic powder and a couple shakes of red pepper flakes, plus a pinch of salt. You might also want to mince up a couple of mushrooms to sauté with the kale or leeks to add earthy flavor to the lentil loaf.
Flax seeds are loaded with Omega-3 fats and very good for heart health, but you may not know that our bodies only reap that benefit when the seeds have been milled. You can buy flax seed already milled, but keep it fresh in a tightly sealed container in the fridge or freezer. I purchase bags of whole flax seeds and use my blade-style coffee grinder to mill it a little at a time as I need it. For this recipe, it’s essential for the flax to be milled because it will be used in place of an egg as a binding agent.
I chose a combination of cremini mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms for this recipe. Use the largest ones you can find; mine were each about the size of a silver dollar. Clean the mushrooms as suggested in the slideshow before sautéing them.
There are many components to this recipe, and I believe it is helpful to break it down into manageable tasks over two days, beginning with preparation of the lentils, rice, sweet potato and vegetable mixtures (steps 1-6). On the second day, you can relax and focus on assembling and baking the dish.
Helpful tools for this recipe: food processor or small blender, rolling pin, pastry brush.
Cook lentils according to package instructions, using low-sodium vegetable broth in place of some or all of the water. During simmer, add a bay leaf to the pot. Drain excess liquid when lentils reach desired tenderness. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Add salt to taste.
Cook rice according to package instructions, using low-sodium vegetable broth in place of some or all of the water. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Add salt to taste.
Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with enough olive oil to lightly coat all sides. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 400° F until they can be pierced with the tip of a paring knife and are only slightly firm to the bite. Cool completely.
Sauté leeks (or onions) and chopped celery in a tablespoon of olive oil. Season with umami seasoning (or recommended substitute) and black pepper. When vegetables are tender and have given up their moisture, transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
Swirl another teaspoon or so of oil into the skillet and sauté the chopped kale until it has softened and reduced somewhat in volume. Resist the urge to cook the kale together with the onions; it will be used as a bed for the lentil mixture, not as part of the filling.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Arrange the mushrooms topside down, in the skillet, and then cook until the tops are browned and tender. Turn them over and sauté the underside. The mushrooms should give off a good bit of their moisture, but not to the point of shriveling. Lay them on layered paper towels to cool, allowing excess moisture to drain from the underside.
To assemble the mixture, gather up all the prepared components from steps 1 to 6. In a small saucepan, heat the liquid drained from the chickpeas over medium low heat. Simmer until it is reduced in volume to about 1/4 cup. Transfer the liquid to a bowl and stir in the milled flax seed. Let this mixture rest for at least 20 minutes. It will thicken up into a gel-like substance.
Transfer about 1/3 cup of the cooked lentils and about 1/4 cup of the cooked rice to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the flax mixture to the bowl and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of a loose porridge.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining lentils, rice, sweet potatoes, leek-celery mixture, toasted pecans and hemp hearts. Toss them all together. Give this mixture a final taste and adjust salt to your liking. Sprinkle thyme leaves and give the pepper mill a few twists over the mixture. Add the full amount of flax binder and fold to combine this mixture well. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 400° F, with oven rack slightly lower than center, so that the wellington will rest squarely in the center of the heat.
Thaw puff pastry (if using frozen) according to package instructions. *Note: when working with puff pastry, do your best to work quickly to keep the pastry from getting warm.Sprinkle flour onto the counter and use a rolling pin to smooth out wrinkles and slightly enlarge the rectangle.
Spread panko crumbs over the center of the puff pastry, then layer the cooked kale on top of it. This will be a bed for the lentil mixture, and the crumbs will help absorb excess moisture so the puff pastry doesn’t become soggy on the bottom.
Scoop about half of the lentil mixture onto the kale, shaping it into an oblong mound like a meatloaf. Arrange the mushrooms in a tight line down the center, pressing them slightly into the lentil mixture. Shape the remaining lentil mixture over the mushrooms.
Use a paring knife to trim off the square corners of the puff pastry, leaving them rounded to match the shape of the lentil loaf. Use a cookie cutter on the scrap corners to make embellishments for the top of the wellington. Score the long sides of the puff pastry into strips, about 1 ½ inches apart. These will fold over the top of the lentil loaf, kind of like shoelaces over a sneaker. Turn up both ends of puff pastry to enclose the ends of the lentil loaf, then carefully fold the strips in alternating order across the top. Tuck in any loose edges.
Transfer the wellington to a parchment-lined, heavy cookie sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together plant milk, maple syrup and oil. Brush this mixture evenly over all exposed puff pastry, including down the sides. This will produce a beautiful golden color on the baked wellington.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating pan once after 25 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a serving platter. Cut into thick slices and serve on individual plates with vegan mushroom gravy and tangy lemon-pomegranate Brussels sprouts. And don’t worry, I’ll have those recipes for you later this week.
This is my version of a cocktail my husband and I enjoyed during our recent whirlwind tour through the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. At the end of the first full day of our road trip, we stopped for a live music show at Hailey’s Harp & Pub in Metuchen, N.J., and the cocktail menu called this drink “Long Live the King!”
We had not intended to order quite so many rounds of drinks that night (we had four apiece over five hours), but it was an easy way to spend the extra time we had, given that we arrived way early for the performance by our musical pals, Glenn and Oria of Blue Americana. These are the friends who ushered us through the chaos of COVID with their weekly “Quarantunes” concerts on Facebook Live, and the honorees of my Tequila & Lime Pie post back in the spring. We thought our 5:30 pm arrival at the pub would be just right, allowing us time to have a drink and a bite to eat before the show. Except for one thing—because it was a rainy, miserable night, what was supposed to be an outdoor 7 pm show was changed to indoors at 8 pm! So we got cozy at a table right in front, and just stayed and enjoyed. The food was delicious, the drinks were great and the company was delightful.
Les and I played the role of geeked-out groupies and Glenn and Oria played along—they signed our CDs and even posed with us for a picture. It was such fun meeting them in person after so many months of rocking out with them (virtually) on Friday nights during Quarantunes. And as was true for so many of the adventures we experienced on that end-of-summer vacation, I found something tasty to bring home and enjoy later. With only twelve days left to decide on a Thanksgiving signature cocktail, I’d say this one is a strong contender. It delivers the warmth of bourbon, the freshness of citrus and just a hint of sweetness.
I have not been able to figure out a good reason for the name given to this drink by Hailey’s Harp & Pub. It’s made with Bulleit bourbon, red vermouth, blood orange liqueur, orange bitters and a lemon peel garnish. It’s a smashing combination—almost a perfect meet-in-the-middle between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned—but also reminiscent of a Boulevardier without the bitterness of Campari. If I had to give it a name myself, I would call it “One Night in Metuchen,” because I will always remember that fun evening whenever I make it.
Most of the ingredients are easy to find, and I’d encourage you to seek out the Solerno blood orange liqueur. Solerno has a brighter, slightly sweeter flavor than other orange liqueurs, and it is a very nice accompaniment to the bourbon and sweet vermouth. If you cannot find Solerno, I would recommend substituting Cointreau rather than Grand Marnier, which has strong cognac undertones. You want the citrus to shine in this drink.
1.5 oz. Bulleit bourbon 1.0 oz. red (sweet) vermouth 0.5 oz. Solerno blood orange liqueur 2 quick shakes orange bitters Lemon peel garnish
Combine bourbon, vermouth, blood orange liqueur and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass or shaker. Add about one cup of ice and shake or stir vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosty. Strain over a large ice cube into a double rocks glass. Express the lemon peel over the top of the glass, swipe it around the rim of the glass and drop it into the drink to garnish.
If you prefer, you can strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass and garnish the same. That’s the beauty of this drink—it can be served on the rocks or up, depending on how fancy you’re feeling.
If I told you that you could serve up a pumpkin spice dessert for Thanksgiving that was creamy, indulgent, no-bake, no-cook and easy to prepare ahead with no special tools—well, you’d probably think I was lying or, at least, overpromising, right? But the proof is right there in the picture, and this tiramisu achieves all of that and then some.
As I surmised when I made the chocolate-cherry tiramisu at Valentine’s Day this year, the classic Italian dessert is basically a dressed-up version of an ice-box cake. Layers of sweetened mascarpone cream and espresso-soaked delicate ladyfingers are accented with a hint of rum or brandy, and dusted with pure cocoa for a chocolate-y finish. I am a huge fan of tiramisu, and I enjoyed it most recently in its traditional Italian style when my friend, Peg, and I traveled up to West Virginia and Ohio for the Fiesta Factory tent sale.
But I came home thinking, “why couldn’t I give this scrumptious dessert a little Thanksgiving twist?” And so I did. Note that I have made several substitutions from a typical tiramisu recipe:
The recipe is made with raw egg yolks, so if you have health concerns about that, I’d encourage you to seek out an eggless or cooked egg recipe, or perhaps consider using pasteurized eggs. Also, planning ahead is more of a requirement than a convenience, as tiramisu improves after a 24-hour setup time. If you’re going to try the recipe for Thanksgiving, you might want to make it a couple of evenings ahead.
Ingredients (6 generous servings)
3 egg yolks, room temperature*
2 Tbsp. maple sugar (or use superfine if you can’t find maple)
8 oz. tub mascarpone, room temperature
5 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter*
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
4 Tbsp. Pumking whiskey, divided* (see notes)
1 1/2 cups brewed light roast cacao with cinnamon*
7 oz. package ladyfingers (this might be labeled as biscotti savoiardi)
2 Tbsp. maple sugar, mixed with 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
The egg yolks should be room temperature for this recipe, but it is easier to separate the eggs when they are cold from the fridge. Save the whites for your weekend omelet.
If you don’t have access to a Trader Joe’s store, any other brand of pumpkin butter will work just fine. Homemade would be even better!
I found the Pumking Whiskey completely by chance when my husband and I traveled through New Jersey and Connecticut at the end of summer, and it’s a real treat. Distribution from this craft distillery is limited, but readers in the northeast U.S. should have little trouble finding it. Otherwise, go with spiced light rum, or perhaps even Frangelico.
My first impressions of the Crio Bru brewed cacao were only so-so, but I’ve grown to really enjoy this as an occasional alternative to coffee. Since the time I first discovered the company, it has added an array of new seasonal flavors, and the cinnamon is one of my favorites. It’s a limited edition that is currently only available in a sample pack, but the company just added another flavor—you guessed it, pumpkin spice!
I made this in a Pyrex dish that measures 8 ½ x 7” inches, but I’m sure you could also make this recipe work in an 8 x 8” dish. Or double the recipe and use a 9 x 13.
It helps to have an electric mixer (either stand or handheld) to make this dessert, but it can also be done with a whisk and a good strong arm. 🙂
In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whip eggs until they are smooth. Gradually add maple sugar and continue whipping until all sugar is dissolved into the yolks.
Add mascarpone into the bowl and blend on low speed until the mixture is evenly mixed, smooth and glossy. Fold in 2 Tbsp. of the Pumking whiskey, plus the pumpkin butter and vanilla extract.
Using a mesh sifter, sprinkle about half of the maple-spice mixture into the baking dish.
Combine brewed cacao and remaining Pumking whiskey in a flat bowl. Carefully dip the ladyfingers, one at a time, into the liquid. Turn only twice before arranging the cookies in the dessert dish. I have learned that it is very easy to make the ladyfingers soggy, so err on the conservative side. Repeat until you have a complete single layer of ladyfingers in the dish.
Carefully spread half of the pumpkin-mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers, smoothing it all the way to the edges of the dish.
Repeat with the next layer of ladyfingers, top with the remaining mascarpone mixture, and sprinkle the top with the remaining maple-spice mixture. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving.
If I had to guess a number, I’d say conservatively that I have probably made about 280 loaves of sourdough bread since I developed my starter back in the spring of 2016. That’s figuring an average of one loaf per week for 5½ years. Of course, there have been some weeks that I have baked much more than that (especially during holiday seasons) and others that I have not baked at all, either because our schedule didn’t allow it or we didn’t need it or, as has been the case recently, because we didn’t have a kitchen.
What to do with my sourdough starter was a big part of the discussion when my husband, Les, and I sat down to figure out the details of our kitchen renovation, which I am pleased to say is nearly done. Would I just let the starter go to sleep and try to revive it when all was said and done? I supposed that I could at least make my Sourdough English Muffins, which are cooked on a griddle. Or should I keep feeding the yeasty rascal on schedule and just call the discard a total loss? That would be a shame.
A freshly baked loaf of homemade sourdough bread was the last thing I made in our old, time-worn kitchen, and it is the first thing I have made in the shiny new kitchen, even though a few loose ends remain before we can do our big reveal. The bread I made both times was this one—a sourdough-based recipe by Maurizio Leo, a master bread maker whose own blog, The Perfect Loaf, has been on my radar for about a year, thanks to a few contributions he has made to the King Arthur Baking website. Maurizio is a genius when it comes to sourdough, and I can hardly keep up with my desire to bake everything on his blog at least once.
This bread, which Maurizio has named Sourdough Sandwich Bread with Pre-cooked Flour, is a favorite at our house because of its softness, height, chewy crust and versatility for sandwiches, toast and just plain eating with a fat schmear of soft butter. As the recipe name suggests, there is an amount of the flour that is pre-cooked, specifically with whole milk, and this pre-cooking of the flour creates a sticky, roux-like addition that lends a beautiful texture to the finished bread and, as a bonus, prolongs its shelf life. This pre-cooking technique itself is not new; the Japanese have been doing it for a long time, and they call it “tangzhong.” But the combination of that milk-cooked method with sourdough and no added commercial yeast sends it straight over the top for me. Quite simply, I love this bread.
I’m happy to report that I have been able to make bread, even without access to my beloved oven during this remodel, thanks to the generosity of a couple of our neighbors, who offered their own ovens as surrogates. They received their own loaves of this bread as a barter for their oven services (not to mention the benefit of that lingering aroma), so it was a win-win situation.
So, have I put my own spin on this fantastic bread? Kind of, but not much. My method of steam baking is less sophisticated than what Maurizio Leo describes in his original recipe, but it works. I have fiddled with the ratio of flours in favor of greater percentage of whole grain and have even swapped in whole rye for the pre-cooked part several times, and the bread still comes out terrific. I have also subbed out the honey—with brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses and even sorghum—and it wows me every time. Finally, I’ve halved the original recipe because I usually only make one loaf at a time (unless, of course, I’m baking at a neighbor’s).
One of these days, I’ll get around to trying some of Maurizio’s other recipes; I especially want to check out the Jalapeno Cheddar Sourdough Bread (yum!), and for sure, my Thanksgiving table deserves his Super-soft Sourdough Rolls this year. How ridiculous is it, given that I love making fresh bread, that I have never made it at Thanksgiving? I guess I have been too busy with everything else for the table, or else I didn’t plan well to have the oven free, but this will be the year.
In the meantime, I’ll keep making this darn-near perfect bread, my favorite, go-to sourdough. Enjoy!
Before you begin:
This recipe requires use of a mature, ripe starter. Plan to feed your starter eight to 12 hours before making this dough.
All ingredients are listed by weight. I highly recommend use of a digital scale for sourdough baking.
Plan to have a shallow pan available for steam baking. It is also helpful, but not essential, to have a digital thermometer for testing doneness of the bread at the end of baking time.
148 g whole milk
38 g whole wheat flour* (see notes)
175 g room temperature water
18 g honey*
32 g olive oil
106 g sourdough starter, recently refreshed (starter should be 100% hydration)
295 g bread flour
78 g whole wheat flour*
8.5 oz. fine sea salt
I have had great success using whole grain rye flour in the first step of pre-cooking. The resulting dough will be rather sticky, but I find it more manageable to handle it with wet hands.
If you want to increase the nutrition by using more whole wheat flour in this recipe, try swapping about 30 grams for equal amount of the bread flour. Greater adjustment may require that you also increase the volume of water by a small amount, as whole wheat flour absorbs more water.
Alternative sweeteners can be an equal swap by weight if they are liquid. If you swap in sugar or brown sugar, try using two heaping tablespoons, and add them with the dry ingredients rather than in the starter mixture.
The images in the how-to are from a previous bake, so please don’t be startled to see the old kitchen.
Whisk together milk and first amount of flour in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and becomes sticky and heavy. Remove from heat and spread the mixture out onto a plate to cool for several minutes.
Combine bread flour, whole wheat flour and salt in a bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine starter, water, honey and olive oil until blended and smooth. Add pre-cooked flour mixture and blend with the beater blade until smooth. Add dry ingredients all at once and mix with the beater blade until all the flour is incorporated and the dough begins to look organized on the blade. Scrape dough from blade and cover the bowl. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before kneading.
Switch to the dough hook, kneading the dough on speed two for about 7 minutes. Spray a large glass bowl with oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover and rest it for 30 minutes.
Wet your hands, then stretch and fold the dough like this: Loosen the dough from the edge of the bowl that is farthest away from you and lift it, stretching and folding it down toward the center. Rotate the bowl to fold the opposite, then rotate the bowl to repeat the folds on the sides of the dough. Cover and rest again and repeat the folds twice more at 30-minute intervals.
By the final stretch and fold, you will find that the dough has built enough strength to feel resistant. Prepare a large loaf pan, oiling and dusting with semolina or cornmeal if needed to reduce sticking.
Shape the loaf by flattening it out onto a flour-covered board, the rolling it up tightly into a cylinder shape. Pinch the final rolled edge to seal it, and pinch the ends of the roll. Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap or an elastic bowl cover and let it nap in a warm spot in the kitchen, with no drafts. Final proofing will be about 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400° F, with one rack in the center of the oven and another rack below it for the steam pan. When oven reaches temperature, place a shallow pan of hot tap water on the lower rack and allow it to preheat 10 minutes longer.
Bake the bread with steam for 20 minutes. Remove the steam pan, rotate the bread for even browning, and cover with a loose tent foil if the bread is browning quickly. If the loaf is still pale, the foil may not be necessary. Bake an additional 25 minutes without steam. Internal temperature of finished bread should be 205° F. Remove from pan right away and cool on a rack.
What if everything we have always assumed about the Wicked Witch of the West turned out to be smear campaign, orchestrated by someone else, whose own reputation was at stake? What if the Wicked Witch was misunderstood, mischaracterized and scapegoated? What if she was driven to be wicked or what if she was never wicked at all?
These are all questions I have pondered, after my husband, Les, and I enjoyed seeing the touring performance of Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz. Neither of us had seen or heard much about the story, which began as a book in 1995, and was adapted for the Broadway stage in 2003, ultimately skyrocketing into the $1 billion+ range in ticket sales. There has been talk for more than a decade about a live-action film based on the story, which remains to be finalized, but I have my fingers crossed!
The performance we attended in Greensboro, N.C. was delightful, funny, magical and thought-provoking. The set decoration and costumes were breathtaking, and the music was simply spectacular! I had often heard the tale of Wicked described as a “prequel” to The Wizard of Oz, but we found it to be more departed from that classic, beloved story—perhaps more of a re-telling or an alternate perspective with more context. The tale revolves around the unexpected early connection between Glinda and Elphaba (see?—the wicked witch actually had a name), their rivalry in magic school and in a love triangle, and the final straw that became the wedge to drive them apart. Well, sort of.
There is a flashy scene near the middle of Wicked, when Glinda and Elphaba first discover the glitz and glamour of the Emerald City, and Glinda remarks that it’s “all very Oz-mopolitan!” When Les and I left the theatre, I removed my mask and said, “You know I’m gonna have to make a Wicked cocktail, right?”
I will not present any spoilers, in case you have not seen the play, but I will say that my cocktail is a very slight riff on a classic drink called “The Last Word,” and there’s a reason (other than the color) that I chose this drink. The story of Wicked is itself a riff on a classic, and in that magical tale, it is Elphaba, the perhaps-not-so-wicked witch, who has the last word, and that is what left me with all the questions I pondered at the beginning of this post.
Now, about this green drink. 😉
The original drink, The Last Word, was a Prohibition-era classic—made with equal parts gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and freshly squeezed lime juice—and it is all at once herbal, sweet, citrus-y and complex. I have not altered the recipe of The Last Word; rather, I have pushed it into “wicked” territory by use of three simple but dramatic special effects.
And for those special effects, I have renamed my version “Oz-mopolitan.” Enjoy!
Ingredients (makes one cocktail)
3/4 oz. dry gin
3/4 oz. green Chartreuse liqueur* (see notes)
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur*
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
Black sugar sprinkles*
Pearl green edible glitter*
Green food coloring
Chartreuse is a French liqueur, and there are two varieties of it—yellow and green. The green version (used in this drink) is strong, bold and herbaceous, almost medicinal on its own. For the most part, it is enjoyed as part of a cocktail rather than as a cordial.
Maraschino liqueur is also generally used as a mixer with an anchor spirit, such as vodka or gin. It is not as “cherry flavored” as you might expect, but it does lend a tart cherry accent to a cocktail. Luxardo makes a terrific version of this liqueur.
The black sugar and edible shimmer dust I used for this were very easy to find on Amazon, but you might also check the cake decorating section of a well-stocked craft store, such as Michael’s. Be sure the products you choose are clearly marked as “food grade” or “edible.”
Prepare a martini or coupe glass by swiping a slice of lime all the way around the rim. Sprinkle black sugar onto a clean paper towel and roll the outside rim of the glass over the sugar, repeating the roll as needed for full coverage. It’s best to do this several minutes ahead, giving the sugar time to “set up” on the rim of the glass.
Combine the cocktail ingredients in a shaker, add ice and a drop or two of green food coloring. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds.
Sprinkle a small amount (I used just shy of 1/8 teaspoon) of edible shimmer dust into the bottom of the rimmed glass.
Strain the cocktail into the glass and watch the shimmer dust create a gorgeous, magical swirl!