Chunky Bleu Cheese Dressing

It’s natural, I suppose, for kids to assume the taste and preference of their parents—either based on what they are told or perhaps based on the fact that they don’t really get to experience the flavors of foods the parents dislike.

For many years, I had the impression that “bleu cheese is terrible” was truth. My mother does not have the sense of adventure for food that I have, and come to think of it, my father doesn’t either. Over and over growing up, I heard negative opinion about certain foods from them, and bleu cheese fell into that category, at least with my mom. It had not occurred to me that my own opinion of those foods might be different.

That is, until the day that my grandmother served a casual salad at dinner with a thick, creamy dressing we spooned from one of the Depression glass bowls that was not set aside for special occasions.

I love the creaminess of this dressing, and the fresh taste from the buttermilk and sour cream. And those funky chunks, oh yes!

“What kind of dressing is this, Gram?” I asked. She informed me it was her “homemade” dressing. And I really liked it! Later, when she dropped the truth that it was her homemade bleu cheese dressing, I felt betrayed and compelled to act offended, as I’d been taught. That wild, funky flavor though! Yeah, I couldn’t fake not liking it, and I guess that was one of the first “aha” moments when I realized I was a separate person from my parents.

I loved bleu cheese and I was not ashamed.

If you aren’t making your own salad dressings, you’re missing out on a simple joy and a world of flavor. For the sake of a true story, I can’t claim for certain that my grandma taught me how to make this bleu cheese dressing, but I know she made her own salad dressings quite regularly, and it was one of the first things I began to make on my own when I got serious about cooking. Whether a vinaigrette, Italian dressing or creamy dressing such as ranch or bleu cheese, homemade dressing is remarkably simple to make. I rarely ever buy it anymore.

This is my version of bleu cheese, and unlike most of the dressings you’ll find in a supermarket, it is not loaded up with soybean oil and preservatives. Unlike many restaurant versions, it is not just a mayonnaise-y mess with bleu cheese crumbles (I hate when it gets that awful greasy sheen to it when you serve it with something warm). No, mine is generous with the bleu cheese, both in the base and in chunky texture, and it has buttermilk and sour cream for a lovely, creamy tang. Gram would certainly have approved.

I hope you enjoy this dressing—for its simplicity and its flavor. Use it this weekend to dress up some mixed greens or a wedge salad or a tray of real Buffalo-style chicken wings. Oh yeah, now we’re talking!

Let me know in the comments section what dressings you like, and I’ll share more of my easy recipes. 🙂


Ingredients

3/4 cup mayonnaise* (see notes)

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 oz. wedge of deli-quality bleu cheese*

1 tsp. red wine vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. white pepper


*Notes

My preference for mayonnaise is canola rather than soybean. If you have a Trader Joe’s, they make a terrific version of mayo that is made with expeller pressed canola oil. It keeps its creamy texture and doesn’t have a greasy flavor.

Bleu cheese is made in various places, and they all seem to call it something different. Roquefort, stilton and gorgonzola would all be acceptable substitutes, so choose your favorite. I usually go with Amish or Danish, and for sure, I recommend a wedge of bleu cheese rather than pre-packaged crumbles.


Instructions

  1. Trim the white, non-veiny part of the bleu cheese to blend into the dressing.
  2. Combine buttermilk, sour cream and white part of bleu cheese in a smoothie blender or regular blender and mix until smooth. No blender? Mash this portion of bleu cheese with a fork and whisk vigorously with the buttermilk and sour cream.
  3. Transfer dressing to a bowl. Stir in mayo, vinegar and spices.
  4. Crumble remaining bleu cheese and gently fold into the dressing.

This recipe makes about two cups of dressing. It can be served right away, but the texture is greatly improved after a night in the refrigerator. Keeps in a sealed jar or bowl for about a week.


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Just South of Buffalo Wings

It was circa 1977. I was just a kid in a small town south of Buffalo, New York, and I still remember my first bite of the mouthwatering spicy hot chicken wings my Uncle Mike made for me. Mike worked with nightclub sound and lighting systems during those days, which was a big freaking deal, given that we were hanging onto the tail end of the disco era. For his work, Mike traveled into the larger cities where the clubs were, and after an installation at a club in Buffalo, he brought home with him the recipe for these delectably crispy, tangy-hot treats.

And oh my God, did I love them! Clearly, I was not alone.

It didn’t take long for “Buffalo wings” to catch on across upstate New York, and eventually the entire country. Today, though restaurants everywhere have imagined new and unusual sauces for wings, I will forever favor the original flavor of Frank’s RedHot sauce with a side of celery and chunky bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and I can never, ever get behind the idea of breading them—not in flour or batter or crumbs or whatever, though plenty of sites suggest the original 1964 Anchor Bar recipe had them coated in flour and oven-roasted. That sounds suspicious to me, given that I’ve enjoyed them deep-fried for decades. The wings should be crispy, as they were on that hot summer night in ’77, and they should make my eyes water just from the smell of them. Just give me what I want.

Yep, this is exactly how I remember them! (photo from Wikipedia)

The only problem I have with Buffalo wings today is the whole deep-frying thing. I enjoy them, but I can’t indulge in them very often if I want to stay healthy. A few years ago, however, I came across a new technique for preparing wings that promised the same crispy exterior and juicy interior, but without deep frying or any amount of oil at all. Pinch me, I thought; I must be dreaming. And then I tried this simple little hack and it was as if angels were singing inside my head.

Friends, the non-fried wings are 100% as delicious as the crispy deep-fried Buffalo wings I tasted back in the day, and you don’t need an air fryer or any other special gadgets to make them. The big thanks goes to Alton Brown of Food Network. His technique involves steaming the wings to render some of the fat, and then oven roasting them to perfection before tossing them in your favorite sauce. I’ve named these “Just South of Buffalo Wings” because that’s where I’m from, and also because I’ve added a generous blast of black pepper to the traditional Frank’s RedHot sauce, and a little bit of brown sugar to balance that bite.

Serve these with fresh celery sticks and some homemade chunky bleu cheese dressing. And a cold beer, duh.


Ingredients

2 lbs. fresh chicken wings* (see notes)

1/2 cup Frank’s Original RedHot sauce*

1/4 stick salted butter

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. coconut aminos*

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 or 3 shakes garlic powder

1/2 tsp. black pepper


*Notes

For best results, use fresh (never frozen) wings for this recipe. If they are already split into drummettes and flat pieces, that’s fine. But it’s also OK if they are still whole pieces. I’ve done them both ways, and the only adjustment you may need to make is a bit more roasting time on the whole ones.

There are many newer versions of Frank’s RedHot sauce available today. Get the one that is labeled as the “original.”

Coconut aminos provide some depth of savory flavor to this sauce. It’s a dark-colored, liquid sauce, similar to soy sauce but sweeter and lower in sodium. It is made from the fermented sap of coconut trees, but doesn’t taste at all like coconut. You can find them in the same aisle, or substitute in this recipe with half as much lite soy sauce.


Instructions

I’ll walk you through it with pictures, or you can keep scrolling for more detailed description. There’s also a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files. Begin by setting a steam basket over a pot of gently boiling water.

  1. Bring a couple inches of water to a boil in a medium saucepan fitted with a steamer basket and tight-fitting lid. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place a cooling rack over the towels.
  2. Add the chicken wings to the steamer basket, working in as many as will fit at a time. Steam the wings for 10 minutes, then arrange them on the cooling rack. Repeat with remaining wings and then cool a few minutes at room temperature, allowing most of the steam to dissipate. Cover the baking sheet with foil and transfer the wings to the refrigerator until they are fully chilled, about an hour. This step is important for crisping later.
  3. Preheat oven to 425° F. Remove the chilled wings from the fridge.
  4. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low for several minutes, until the sauce is fully blended and slightly thickened. Turn off the burner and cover to keep the sauce warm.
  5. Roast the wings for 40 minutes, turning them once after half the time. The skin should be crispy and golden brown.
  6. Transfer the wings in batches to a large seal-able bowl. Pour enough sauce to coat the wings. Cover the bowl and gently shake to thoroughly coat the wings. Put the wings back into the oven for about 8 minutes to “seal the deal” and bake the sauce into the wings.
  7. Serve with crunchy celery sticks and chunky bleu cheese dressing.
Just South of Buffalo Wings

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Harvest Turkey Salad

Thanksgiving leftovers are a little bit like family—you can wait ‘til they arrive, and you sure are glad to see them go. So far, we’ve enjoyed full leftover plates, grilled cheese sandwiches made with leftover turkey and other accoutrements, and of course the comforting leftover turkey gumbo that I shared yesterday.

On the fresher side of things, how about a fall harvest-themed salad option that makes the most of leftovers in a bright new way? There are plenty of autumn ingredients in here, but lots of fresh and healthful things to soften the reality that you’re still eating leftover turkey.

For me, a salad must hold a variety of interesting flavors and textures, so this one has shaved fennel for a little crunch, dried cranberries for a little chew, roasted bites of butternut squash for soft sweetness, thin slices of gala apple for a little snap and an easy citrus-maple vinaigrette for a whole lot of mouthwatering goodness in every bite. The prep is minimal and the salad is pretty.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I made this salad more than a month ago, with a roasted turkey breast that we purchased at Costco for sandwiches and salads. It was filling but light, and it gave my taste buds a bit of that autumn pizzazz I was craving so much. But I know this salad would be just as good today with leftover roasted or smoked turkey breast, or if you downsized Thanksgiving this year for safety reasons and didn’t do a turkey, you could easily swap in cubes of deli roasted chicken. Heck, leave out meat altogether and make it vegan. As always, I hope you find inspiration and flavor in my recipe. Enjoy!

It’s fresh and light, but satisfying with so many fall flavors.

Ingredients

2 cups butternut squash cubes

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 fat handful fresh washed kale leaves, rough chopped and thick stems removed

1 fat handful baby spinach leaves

4 romaine heart leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 cup chopped leftover turkey (or deli chicken)

1/2 fresh gala apple, washed and sliced thin

1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin

1/2 small red onion, sliced thin

1/4 cup dried cranberries

2 Tbsp. roasted, salted pumpkin seeds

Citrus-maple vinaigrette (recipe below)

Challah or brioche croutons (instructions below)


Citrus-maple vinaigrette w/sunflower oil and thyme

2 Tbsp. orange muscat champagne vinegar* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. maple syrup*

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp. toasted sunflower oil

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil                                                                                           

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped

*Notes

The orange muscat champagne vinegar is a product from Trader Joe’s. If you cannot find it, I’d recommend substituting half apple cider vinegar and half freshly squeezed orange juice.

If you need to swap the maple syrup, I’d recommend half as much honey or a teaspoon of regular sugar.

Instructions

Most of this recipe needs no instruction; I don’t need to tell you how to slice an apple or sprinkle on dried cranberries. But here’s a bit of info you may find helpful for the prep of the other ingredients.

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Toss squash cubes with a tablespoon of olive oil, and arrange the cubes on the cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, or until fork tender and lightly caramelized. Cool completely.
  3. In a large, deep bowl, drizzle a tablespoon olive oil over the chopped kale leaves. Using your hands, reach into the bowl and “scrunch” the kale throughout the bowl. As you massage the greens, they will soften up and wilt in volume. Give it a light sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper and then let it rest while you prep the other salad ingredients.
  4. Make the dressing: combine vinegar, maple syrup, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Gradually stream in sunflower oil and olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify the dressing ingredients. Alternatively, you could combine all dressing ingredients in a lidded jar and shake the daylights out of it. Whatever works for you.
  5. Massage the kale once more, then add the spinach and torn romaine leaves and toss to combine.
  6. Drizzle about half of the citrus-thyme vinaigrette over the greens and toss again. Transfer the greens to a platter or individual serving plates.
  7. Add the cubed turkey to the salad. Scatter the pieces of onion, apple and fennel evenly over the greens. Sprinkle with dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds and drizzle the remaining dressing over the entire platter.
  8. Serve with croutons, if desired.

Homemade Croutons

Cut up stale challah or brioche into large cubes or torn pieces. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and arrange the bread pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° F for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure they dry uniformly. When they are crisp but still slightly soft, remove from the oven and cool completely. For this salad, I pulled leftover sourdough pumpkin challah from the freezer. The cubes roasted up nearly the same color as the butternut squash! 🙂

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Leftover Turkey Gumbo

One of the first things we make at our house with Thanksgiving leftovers is “something spicy.” After all the richness and decadence of the classic holiday meal, my taste buds start clamoring for Mexican food or Asian or spicy Italian—really, anything but gravy and potatoes, if you don’t mind. This year’s turkey went on the smoker with a spice and maple sugar rub, so I wasn’t sure how the flavors would work in some of our other usual “planned-over” recipes, but they were perfect for a spicy gumbo. We had heat, smoke, chunky vegetables and an all-day simmer, and that’s covering all the bases for my post-holiday cravings.

Is my gumbo authentic? Who knows, and I’m not even sure who is qualified to judge it. There are as many “authentic” gumbo recipes as there are grandmothers in Louisiana, and you’d likely find they run the gamut from thin soup to chunky stew. Some will be as brown as molasses and others will have tomatoes. Some will be spicy as all get-out, and others will be filled with sweet juicy crab. Okra is standard in most gumbo recipes, but some cooks favor filé, a powdered form of sassafras root that serves as a thickening agent. My gumbo has a roux base and okra, and it’s dang spicy because I make the roux with a blend of canola oil and cayenne-infused olive oil, the latter of which is really hot.

What I’m getting at is simple: my rules are mine, and this gumbo makes everyone at my house happy. It’s delicious as soon as it’s ready and even better after a day or two in the fridge. It uses simple ingredients and it’ll help you clear out some of the space-hogging leftovers (including that huge turkey carcass). And the most “exotic” thing in it is a half bag of frozen okra. You can handle that, right?

If you’re staring down the remains of a Thanksgiving turkey and feeling inspired for a new leftover tradition, give it a go. 🙂

It’s a hearty, satisfying bowl of post-Thanksgiving goodness.

Rule #1 – Do not rush the roux

I’m sorry, dear ones, but I cannot imagine this part is possible in an insta-pot. The roux (equal parts oil and flour) is the backbone of my gumbo, providing flavor and also an assist on thickening. Without roux, this would just be turkey and okra soup. The roux cooks low and slow on the stovetop for about an hour, and I use that time to prep all my other ingredients. If this seems high-maintenance to you, there are instructions online for roasting a roux in the oven (though I’ve never tried it), but this is a breeze on the stovetop. Get it started, then let it be except for an occasional stir. If you get impatient and rush the roux, you will end up with something that tastes either uncooked or burned.

Rule #2 – It must include the trinity

You have probably learned, from TV chefs Justin Wilson or Emeril Lagasse, that onion, celery and bell pepper make up the “holy trinity” of flavors used in Cajun recipes. The combination is essential, whether your menu includes gumbo, étouffée or jambalaya. Thank God there’s a use for the rest of the celery that didn’t go into the dressing. I use sweet onions, but yellow or Spanish onions are fine. I’ve long considered the color of bell pepper to be discretionary, and for this batch of gumbo, I went with a combination of red and green bells because it’s what we had on hand.

Celery + onion + bell pepper = trinity.

Rule #3 – Use a rich stock, preferably homemade

Gumbo recipes require a fair amount of broth or stock, and making homemade stock is the easiest way in the world to eke out every last bit of flavor from your Thanksgiving turkey. After you’ve picked all the useful meat off the frame, drop it into a heavy stockpot with any scraps of turkey skin, a cut-up onion, handful of garlic cloves, a few celery stalks, some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two. Add enough water to nearly cover it and cook it—and I mean really cook it—until you can pull the bones out clean. This will take hours, and nobody would blame you if you decided to do this in your slow cooker overnight. There’s a world of flavor hiding inside those bones, and a slow-simmering stock is far and away more nutritious than anything you could pour out of a can or carton. Plus, this fulfills one of my grandma’s golden rules: waste nothing. If you aren’t making gumbo, I hope you’ll make a stock from your turkey frame anyway, even if you just put it in containers to freeze for later.

Rule #4 – Use two kinds of meat

The options are wide open for gumbo—chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, sausage, crawdads or whatever. But for the most interesting texture and flavor, I always use a combination of at least two meats. Turkey is obviously the main meat this time, and I’ve used the dark meat for its texture and flavor, plus a spicy leftover smoked sausage link. I got my hubby a humongous new smoker for his birthday this year, and he couldn’t see the sense in having empty rack space, so in addition to the spice-rubbed turkey, he smoked a large salmon fillet and about six flavored sausages. If you choose any of the seafood options for your gumbo, I recommend adding them at the very end to avoid overcooking them.

OK, and listen, if you want more mumbo jumbo on the gumbo, you can check out this link for more information than you could have ever hoped for.

Otherwise, grab an apron and let’s start cooking! My recipe makes approximately six hearty servings.


Ingredients

4 Tbsp. vegetable oil* (see notes)

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup each chopped onion, celery and bell pepper

4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

Salt and pepper, of course

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, cayenne or smoked paprika* (see notes)

2 cups leftover turkey, chopped into bite-sized pieces (dark meat preferred)

1 leftover smoked sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 quart homemade turkey or chicken stock (instructions below)*

2 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 1/2 cups frozen sliced okra

Cooked brown rice for serving

*Notes

You can use vegetable, peanut or canola oil for the roux. Alternatively, if you like it spicy, use some amount of cayenne-infused olive oil, available at one of the specialty oil and vinegar shops that have popped up everywhere. I go half and half, canola and cayenne olive oil, and this combination delivers enough heat that I will typically forego the optional red pepper flakes. Note that the cayenne oil has a deep orange color, so you’ll want to consider that in determining when the roux is ready. For clear oil, a caramel color roux is dark enough. When using cayenne-infused oil, let it develop until it reaches a deep amber shade.

Your heat preference will dictate how much (or which kind) of optional hot pepper you should add to your gumbo. Remember that you can always shake some Frank’s RedHot sauce onto the gumbo at serving time. This is a terrific option when different members of the household have a different threshold for heat.

If you don’t have a leftover turkey carcass, or the time or patience to make homemade stock, substitute equal amount of chicken bone broth. You’ll find cartons of this in the soup aisle of a well-stocked supermarket.

This is some serious comfort food for a chilly December night!

Instructions

The visual walk-through will probably do it for you, but if you’d like written instructions, keep scrolling. I’ve listed them below, along with a downloadable version for your recipe files. First, build the roux, and remember to take your time.


Homemade turkey stock (make a day ahead)

1 turkey frame, picked clean of useful meat

1 medium onion, rough-chopped (use the ends, too)

4 ribs celery, cleaned and cut up into chunks (leafy ends are OK, too)

4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

1 tsp. black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

Enough water to mostly cover the turkey frame

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer several hours, until the bones are stripped clean and the stock is a rich, golden color. Remove and discard solids and strain stock into a large glass bowl or pitcher. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight. When the stock is fully chilled, it will be easy to scrape off excess grease, which will be congealed at the top. You’ll want to keep a small amount of the grease, though, for added flavor in your gumbo.

Instructions for gumbo

  1. Place a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat. Add oil. Add flour and whisk until bubbly, then reduce heat to the lowest setting. Allow roux to develop for about an hour, whisking or stirring occasionally. When the color resembles caramel (or dark amber, if using a cayenne oil), proceed to the next step.
  2. Increase heat to medium and add the trinity. Stir to combine, season with salt, pepper and optional hot pepper, then add the garlic, cooking and stirring for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and mixture feels “loosened up” a bit.
  3. Add cut-up turkey and sausage and stir to coat them in the roux. Add the turkey stock, a little at a time, stirring in between. Add vegetable broth, dried thyme leaves and bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about two hours.
  4. Add frozen okra and stir to blend it into the stew. Increase heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until okra is no longer bright green, and tender to your liking.

Serve gumbo over hot cooked brown rice. Spike it with Frank’s RedHot sauce if you’d like.

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Spiced Pumpkin Hummus

Amid the pies, cookies, muffins and lattes that have unfairly typecast pumpkin as being exclusively sweet, I’m flipping the script and respecting the savory side of this autumn favorite. This tasty twist on hummus is a simple appetizer that you can put together last minute for your Thanksgiving pre-feast. It’s satisfying, but low-fat, good for you and vegan.

All you need to make it is a can of garbanzo beans, a little pumpkin puree, some tahini and your preference of savory spices, and I’ll give you a few flavor ideas that will work splendidly.

Hummus is a blank canvas for your favorite flavors. This time, canned pumpkin and garam masala are making it special.

As with any hummus, you need to have a food processor or blender to be successful. For tips and tricks to make your hummus super smooth, you may want to check out my recipe for easy hummus at home. If you’re in a hurry, don’t worry; I’ll also walk you through it in a slideshow below. This is easy stuff.

At our house, a green plate means the dish is suitable for vegan guests.

Ingredients

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), preferably low sodium

2 cloves garlic, minced (optional but recommended)

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)

1/2 tsp. savory spice* (pick a favorite or use one of my suggestions below)

Extra virgin olive oil (2 or 3 Tbsp., depending on taste)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

*Notes

I used garam masala for this batch of hummus, but you might try chai spice, chipotle or ancho chile, cayenne, chili powder, cumin or smoked paprika. Make it your own!


Instructions

Follow along with my pictures, or skip ahead for the written instructions and downloadable PDF for your recipe files!


  1. Pour the garbanzo beans and their liquid into a small saucepan over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or long enough to see moderate bubbling as it boils lightly.
  2. Drain the beans through a mesh strainer, but do not discard the liquid; you’ll need some of it for blending the hummus.
  3. Transfer the beans to the food processor bowl and pulse a few times until it has appearance of a coarse meal. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of the reserved liquid and pulse a few more times.
  4. Add pumpkin, tahini, spices, and several twists of freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until combined, and then run the processor constantly while streaming in additional bean liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches your preferred consistency. This will only take a minute or so. Stop and scrape down sides as needed. Taste hummus and adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. To finish the hummus, run the processor constantly and slowly stream in olive oil. This adds a touch of healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as a silky creamy texture.

Transfer hummus to a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Drizzle hummus with olive oil and sprinkle with additional spice or chopped pepitas, or both, for a pretty presentation. Serve chilled or room temperate with pita chips, crackers, vegetables or my soft pita breads.

Pita chips, cut-up veggies and crackers are all great for serving any kind of hummus.

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Pom-Pom-Hattan (Thanksgiving Cocktail)

Each year that we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving together, my husband, Les, and I have enjoyed building traditions with friends and family. One tradition that has gained traction is the unveiling of the signature Thanksgiving cocktail. Even though we will have no guests in 2020, we are keeping this tradition alive, and sharing it here for those celebrating in their own pandemic bubbles. You still have time to pick up the ingredients if you’d like to join us.

As hosts, we find the signature cocktail is a fun way to officially welcome guests as they arrive for an afternoon of conversation, laughter, football and what we always hope will be an unforgettable meal. But the secret side benefit of offering a signature drink is that we aren’t all standing around deciding what to drink while so many last-minute preparations are on the front burner. I need my hands and my counter space free, and making one type of drink simplifies the situation rather than trying to pour wine for one guest, mix a vodka drink for another and deal with the inevitable, awkward dilemma that ensues when someone says, “surprise me.”

Seriously, “surprise me” could mean anything at our house.

I put a good bit of thought into the signature cocktail each year, with attention to how well its flavors will fit the season, the hors d’oeuvres and the preferences of our guests. One year we had a pumpkin pie martini, another a spiced pear martini; there was the bourbon-cider drink of a few years ago, and the smoked maple “new-fashioned” drink we sipped just last year (though it seems like ages ago). We are particularly excited about the cocktail we will enjoy this year. So much, in fact, that we’ve “tested” it numerous times over the past few weeks, and again last night, to be sure we have it just right. All in the name of research and development, people. You’re welcome.

This year’s drink is my festive Comfort du Jour twist on a classic Manhattan cocktail, which would traditionally be a bourbon or rye, red vermouth and bitters—stirred with cocktail ice and then strained into a coupe glass with a brandied cherry garnish. But mine takes a few liberties, naturally. If you happen to follow the link above to what appears to be the “official” Manhattan recipe, you’d notice in the comments section a rather testy exchange among various cocktail snobs who all profess to know the actual truth about what should be in a Manhattan. Here’s what I know: those snobs will never be invited to our house for Thanksgiving! I have no fear in spinning a classic and calling it whatever I want.

“Pom-Pom-Hattan”

The Pom-Pom-Hattan is so named because it resembles a classic Manhattan, glammed up in such an elegant glass. The backbone of our drink is Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon, which would rattle the chains of some of those purists who insist that only rye is allowed. If you were at our house this year, you would be sipping Elijah Craig, but friends, please use whatever makes you cheer. Celebration is the point—thus, the pom-pom.

Bourbon, pomegranate liqueur and high quality grenadine are the key ingredients. Accent with a tiny splash of either amaretto or Grand Marnier, if desired.

There’s a double dose of pomegranate flavor in the mix here, first in a shot of Pama pomegranate liqueur, which is the stand-in for red vermouth, and again with a sweet little kiss of authentic grenadine syrup. I was thrilled recently to find a brand of grenadine that has all the right stuff for me (including real pomegranate) and none of the wrong (high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors). This one is made by Luxardo, the same company responsible for maraschino liqueur and real maraschino cocktail cherries. It has a perfectly tart undertone, despite the cane sugar sweetness, and a lovely pomegranate flavor without the painstaking effort of breaking open an actual pomegranate.

Through our various taste-testing sessions (try saying that after couple of nips), we discovered that a tiny splish of amaretto does great things for this drink, and so does a splish of Grand Marnier. In case you’re wondering, a “splish” is approximately 1/3 of a splash; in other words, about a teaspoon. Choose one or the other; we’ve decided we like the amaretto best for its sweet almond-y warmth.

Finally, about the garnish—Les and I recently dialed into a Zoom call that was set up by Elijah Craig and hosted by celebrity chef Richard Blaise. One of his guests was a garnish guru, and I adopted her simple-meets-fancy cinnamon swizzle garnish for my presentation on the pom-pom-hattan. It’s easy to make and I’ll show you how. Raise your glass—it even smells like the holidays, y’all!


Ingredients

1.5 oz. (one shot glass) Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon (or your favorite bourbon or rye)

1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) Pama pomegranate liqueur

0.5 oz. (1 Tbsp.) Luxardo grenadine (or a favorite brand, but look for one that has real pomegranate)

1 tsp. amaretto or Grand Marnier (optional)

2 drops orange bitters (optional, in keeping with an “authentic” Manhattan recipe)

Garnish options: cocktail cherry, orange twist or the fancy-ish cinnamon swizzle

Combine bourbon, Pama, grenadine, liqueur accent and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass or shaker. Add about a cup of ice. Shake or stir for 20 seconds, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish as desired. And if you happen to have a real pomegranate, feel free to drop a few of the arils into your glass, too.


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One final thought…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


Pumpkin Chipotle Deviled Eggs

At our house, the Thanksgiving “pre-feast” is almost as traditional as the feast itself. Even in this weird pandemic year, which finds us home alone for Turkey Day, we will have an eclectic spread of snacks and finger foods that will serve as sustenance until dinner.

We always have deviled eggs in the mix; they are a perfect little bite, savory and delicious, and packing enough protein to fill our bellies in a healthy way rather than just scarfing on carbs. As I mentioned back in the spring when I shared an egg-stravaganza, deviled eggs are a blank canvas for any flavor that strikes your fancy. This time, it’s the savory side of pumpkin, highlighted with a little garlic and ground chipotle powder.

By the way, this recipe would also work great with equal substitution of pureed sweet potato, if you prefer.

The pumpkin and chipotle flavors are a savory surprise with these deviled eggs.

Ingredients

6 hard-boiled eggs

3 Tbsp. pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. canola mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder

Sprinkle of garlic powder

Kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Instructions

The pictures tell the story, but you’ll also find written steps below, and a link for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Cut hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise and drop the yolks into a small bowl (I used the small bowl of my food processor, but this is not essential).
  2. Add pumpkin puree, mayonnaise and spices to the cooked yolks.
  3. Process or mash together until the mixture is completely uniform. Add another small spoonful of mayonnaise if needed for creamy consistency.
  4. Fill the cavities of the egg whites with the yolk mixture. You can spoon this in for a quick finish, or take a simple shortcut for a more polished presentation by using a small zip top bag with a snipped corner.

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Sausage Stuffed Turkey Meatloaf (& “faboo” mushroom gravy)

Here I go again, twisting up a classic to put the best flavors of Thanksgiving on the table with minimal stress. If you’re looking for a way to simplify your homemade holiday dinner, but still have your favorite turkey, sausage stuffing and gravy combo, this might be the best thing you read all day.

My ground turkey meatloaf has a swirl of spinach and sausage stuffing, packing all the flavor of Thanksgiving into one easy but impressive main dish. As a bonus, I’m sharing one of our family’s favorite turkey day sides—a rich and tasty mushroom gravy, which happens to be vegan (but don’t let that stop you). You may wonder, “why offer a vegan gravy over turkey meatloaf?” I love having a single gravy on the table that makes everyone happy, whether or not they eat meat, and this one is the stuff. It is as good on any meatloaf with mashed potatoes as it is in the sauce of your favorite green bean casserole or as a savory accompaniment to nearly anything you serve at Thanksgiving.

If you enjoyed my darling husband’s recent guest post for spinach balls, now is the time to make a batch because the sausage stuffing swirl in this meatloaf makes use of leftover spinach balls. If you don’t have time to make the spinach balls in advance, you could create a similar blend with some herb stuffing mix and frozen spinach (I’ll offer suggestions).

This meatloaf exceeded my own expectation, which is really saying something, given that I have made many other “stuffed” versions of meatloaf in the past. We liked it so much it will find its way to our table again as a Sunday Supper later in the winter, you can bet on it. And we’ll serve it up with Les’s amazing garlic mashed potatoes, just like we did with this one. This is teamwork, friends, and it is delicious!

Served with Les’s incredible potatoes and the savory mushroom gravy. I’m in heaven!

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry herb stuffing mix (I used Pepperidge Farm brand)

1/4 cup whole milk

1 lb. all-natural ground turkey* (see notes)

About 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (divided between layers)

A few shakes poultry seasoning

1 large egg

2 large leftover spinach balls,* cut into very small dice, measuring almost 1 cup

1 bulb roasted garlic

4 oz. ground breakfast sausage (uncooked)

1/4 cup plain panko or other bread crumbs

*Notes

For turkey meatloaf, I always choose regular ground turkey rather than turkey breast, which tends to be drier. If you choose ground turkey breast, consider adding an extra egg white or an extra tablespoon of olive oil to make up for the lost moisture.

The spinach ball recipe my hubby shared a couple weeks ago gets a lot of attention at our house, especially with Thanksgiving guests. If you don’t have time to make them in advance of this recipe, try this as a substitute:

3/4 cup dry herb stuffing mix
1/4 cup frozen dry spinach (thawed and squeezed dry)
2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend
Additional egg white + 2 Tbsp. chicken or vegetable broth

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and allow time for the dry mixture to absorb the liquid ingredients. It should still feel somewhat dry and rather firm; from there, proceed with the recipe.


Instructions

Follow along in my kitchen to see how I made this mouthwatering meatloaf. Written instructions are below, along with a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Combine dry stuffing mix and milk in a small bowl and rest at least 20 minutes, allowing time for crumbs to be fully moistened.
  2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in extra virgin olive oil and add the diced onion. Saute until onions are soft and translucent. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the ground turkey, half of the sauteed onions, stuffing “paste” and egg. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, then set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a food processor, combine spinach ball bits, remaining sauteed onions, roasted garlic and raw sausage (pulled apart into pieces). Pulse mixture several times until it is uniformly blended.
  5. Line a small baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Scatter panko crumbs evenly over the paper. Using a rubber spatula, spread the ground turkey mixture evenly over the crumbs, shaping a rectangle approximately 9 x 13″.
  6. Using your hands, grab up tablespoon-sized lumps of the sausage mixture and place them over the turkey layer. Don’t rush this step because it will be tough to separate the layers if you misjudge the amount as you go. I placed “dots” of the sausage mixture all over (keeping one short end bare for sealing the roll later), then filled in noticeable gaps with the remaining mixture until all was used. Press the sausage mixture firmly to seal it to the turkey layer. Lay a sheet of plastic film on top of the sausage layer and refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour. The chilling time will make it easier to roll up the meatloaf.
  7. To roll up the meatloaf, begin by lifting the parchment and slightly fold the meatloaf onto itself. Continue this motion, keeping the roll tight as you go. Some of the turkey may stick to the parchment, but you can use a rubber scraper to remove it and patch the roll. Full disclosure: this step was pretty messy, but I pressed on to finish the shaping.
  8. Press on any loose bits of panko crumbs, adding more if needed to lightly coat the shaped meatloaf. Wrap the rolled-up meatloaf as tightly as you can in a sheet of plastic film, twisting the ends as with a sausage chub. Tuck the twisted ends underneath, and chill the roll overnight.
  9. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Place the meat roll onto the lined sheet and lightly spray the entire meatloaf with olive oil spray.
  11. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375° and bake 45 more minutes.
  12. Test internal temperature to be sure it is at least 165° F. Cool 15 minutes before slicing.

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But wait, there’s more!

BONUS RECIPE:

Put-it-on-Everything Mushroom Gravy

This all-purpose sauce is so delicious, and we use it in many ways at Thanksgiving, especially when Les’s vegan daughter has been able to join us. It’s fantastic on mashed potatoes and turkey, in casseroles with green beans or (I’m speculating) perhaps even straight from the pan by the spoonful.

Please don’t assume, if you’re a meat eater, that you’d feel cheated with a vegan gravy recipe. I’m not exaggerating to declare that everyone at our table chooses this gravy over standard turkey gravy, hands down. My friend, Linda, has a special word for it: “faboo!” 😀

I prefer to make this gravy ahead, so that I have it ready when the mood strikes me to add it to another recipe, but if you’re short on time, it can certainly be served immediately after preparing it.


Ingredients (makes about 2 cups)

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil* (see notes below)

1/2 medium onion, finely minced

About 6 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and diced small

1 tsp. Umami seasoning*

1 bulb roasted garlic

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth*

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

*Notes

Any good quality olive oil will work here, but I’m somewhat addicted to this one (pictured below), which is infused with the flavors of wild mushroom and sage. You can find it at one of the specialty olive oil stores that have popped up all over the U.S. It’s terrific for roasting butternut squash, too!

The Umami seasoning is a Trader Joe’s item, and it contains mushroom powder, garlic powder, sea salt and red pepper flakes. If you cannot find it, just add a few of the red pepper flakes or a slight sprinkle of ground cayenne for a subtle touch of the same heat. The recipe already has plenty of mushroom and garlic.

Vegetable broth ingredients vary a great deal, and for most of my recipes, I recommend one that does not have tomato in it. I favor this low-sodium version from Costco, which contains carrot, onion, celery and mushroom, but not tomato, which changes the acidity of some recipes. If you are not concerned with the vegan aspect, you could also use chicken broth.

Instructions

  1. Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the onions until soft and translucent.
  2. Add another tablespoon of oil and half of the mushrooms. Sauté until moisture is reduced and mushrooms are soft, then repeat with remaining oil and mushrooms.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and umami seasoning. Add roasted garlic and stir to blend it in.
  4. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and cook one minute until the flour seems absorbed and mixture begins to bubble.
  5. Add broth, a little at a time, and stir or whisk into a smooth and thickened sauce consistency. Simmer on low heat several minutes before serving.

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On the Best-Laid Plans.

This past Sunday was a doozy of a day in our kitchen. It wasn’t for lack of planning—no, my husband, Les, and I had laid out a terrific plan for completing a list of specific preparations for Thanksgiving. But things went amiss, and through a comedy of errors, I was rattled back into the reality that I rarely have things under control.

The day began innocently enough with a leisurely breakfast, including my favorite coffee and a fresh batch of the hash brown waffles that we adore, and then I attended a virtual church service while Les had a pleasant phone conversation with his daughter.

We finalized our plans for a scaled-back holiday meal and settled into some of the early prep work, including the overdue task of cleaning the oven. We’ve made a ton of pizzas in there, not to mention several other dishes that had spilled over and burned to a blistered black mess on the bottom. We agreed two nights earlier that we could afford a few hours without the oven on Sunday, and we would set the self-clean cycle to run after breakfast. Friends, I don’t know if I’m alone, but this whole idea of self-cleaning oven scares the bejeezus out of me.

First of all, I’m straight-up terrified that we will set the house on fire. I’m equally afraid that I will accidentally bump into the thing while it’s “cleaning” at 900° F and give myself third-degree burns. I have nightmare visions of our cat getting curious and jumping on top of it while it’s working. And above all, my sensitive nose (and eyes and throat) cannot stand the smoky smell produced while the oven incinerates every last crumb of every single thing I’ve cooked this year. For me, this simple maintenance task amounts to four hours of sheer anxiety. But Les had read the instruction manual (twice as requested) and was very calm about it, so I deferred to him.

Out of an abundance of caution (mine), we removed from the adjacent base cabinets all my bottles of olive oil (lest they explode) and cleared away the countertop items—the salt and pepper mills, the butter dish and the onion basket to a safe distance. I took time to remove the cast iron grates and give the cooktop a thorough cleaning before we started, to prevent the intense heat from baking on any spills. Then, Les touched a few buttons to begin the countdown to clean.

I could feel my pulse racing just knowing how hot this thing was going to get.

Within an hour, the house was so rank with the haze and stench of burnt leavings, I urged Les to open a few windows. The cross-breeze helped, and I was relieved for a couple of hours—that is, until I entered the kitchen to assess the progress. I could see through the black oven door that the electric element in the bottom of our dual-fuel oven was glowing bright red and, like the furnace in the basement of the Home Alone movie, it looked like a possessed demon monster. I suddenly realized our glaring omission in preparing for this task.

We had ignored the upper cabinets.

We were so careful to remove heat-sensitive items from the base cabinets, but we hadn’t considered that basic science might apply and the heat might manage to waft up to the wall cabinets, and so we had neglected to remove things that could be damaged in there. Like the expensive, specialty chocolate bars (they melted) and the jar of coconut oil (also melted all over the shelf) and the dozens of spice bottles we keep on a spinny turntable thing inside the cabinet on the other side (probably ruined). Thank God we saved the stupid onions. 🙄 Fourteen minutes of “self-clean” remaining and I was full-on farmisht.

Yep, that’s me.

Thankfully, just as I felt my head was about to explode, the thing turned off. It’s crazy that our new range has a beep signal to alert you that preheating is complete or that you’ve activated a new setting, but there was no fanfare whatsoever when the clean cycle ended. It just stopped. Excuse me, where are the trumpets? After it cooled enough for the door lock to release, Les wiped down the inside of ash residue and replaced all the racks so we could get on with the rest of our plans for the day, which included food preparation for this blog and me shakily pouring a glass of wine.

This wine is getting me through the pandemic.

And that’s when we were reminded—again—that even the best-laid plans had room for trouble.

Les is such a team player, and very supportive of my work on Comfort du Jour, and he had agreed in advance to whip up a batch of his garlic mashed potatoes for sharing (if you missed his post yesterday, you will want to go check it out), and I had planned to make the succotash that I’m sharing with you today. The breeze from the window had calmed things down in the kitchen, and we set off to work, right on schedule. It was at this point that Les discovered all our Yukon gold potatoes (an essential ingredient in his garlic mashed) were soft and wrinkly, and they smelled funny. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know this during the four hours we were waiting for the oven? Off he went to the supermarket to buy some more Yukon golds.

On the other side of the kitchen, I was busy prepping my butter beans and was just beginning to twist the can opener on a can of golden hominy that was to be a key ingredient in my succotash when Les returned with his fresh potatoes. The lid came off the can, and I poured the contents into a colander to drain and found the hominy was nothing but mush. Disgusting, bland, no-way-that’s-going-in-my-recipe mush. It was all too much for me.

“Are you OK, Mommy?”

I didn’t have the heart to send him back to the store, and I wanted to sit on the kitchen floor and cry. Not because the hominy was mush (so what) and not because it was too late for plan B (it wasn’t). I wanted to cry because I felt like a failure for having missed so many details in all my planning. I am just so hard on myself.

I felt the fresh, cool breeze again and I thought of Alex Trebek, and all my intention last week to be grateful rather than complain-y, and I glanced over at Les working on his potatoes, cool as could be under pressure, and I realized (again) how lucky I am. I threw out the hominy mush, wrapped up the other succotash ingredients and put them in the fridge for another day, and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the evening with my husband—complete with a satisfying meal that included his thoughtful batch of my favorite mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving will be here in a week. I love our life and I am blessed, indeed.


Sassy Succotash

All’s well that ends well, and after a few unexpected issues with the ingredients in this dish, I’m pleased to deliver the end result. It’s a colorful mix of healthful ingredients, with a little bit of crispy bacon on top, just because.

In case you aren’t familiar, succotash is a very popular dish in the southeast U.S., one that I first met when I dated a guy who was born and raised in rural North Carolina. His mother made succotash with sweet corn and lima beans as a regular part of her Sunday supper, which was immediately followed by three hours of gazing at a NASCAR race (yawn). They were nice people and she made juicy fried chicken (and the best coconut cake I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating). When I dared to make Thanksgiving dinner for them, I was admonished by boyfriend’s dad, who informed me that I needed to learn how to cook green beans. In the South, this would customarily involve a pressure cooker and a pound of “fatback,” a pretty dramatic contrast to my “upstate” green beans, which were delicately blanched and served with butter and almonds. Yep, they were still actually green. My bad.

I’m quite sure his family would not have approved all the liberties I’ve taken today with this succotash, adding all this crazy color and bold flavor, but what can I say—you can’t fix sassy.

For my version of succotash, I changed course for a moment with an idea to use golden hominy rather than corn because the hominy matched the size of the butter beans and roasted squash pieces. But as they say about the best-laid plans, things didn’t work out when the canned hominy proved to have texture equal to hog slop—it would have looked even worse in pictures than it did in the bowl. That’ll teach me second-guessing myself (this time, anyway).

I suspended preparation of the dish, long enough for my super-efficient husband to pick up a bag of our favorite frozen roasted corn, which brought me back to my Plan A. The roasted corn is pretty and rustic, and with addition of the big pieces of red onion and dark, earthy poblano pepper, my sassy succotash is a bona fide hit for Thanksgiving this year.

The finished dish has so many different colors and textures. It’s flavorful, and full of nutrients, too!

Oh, and I married the right guy, too—born and raised in NYC, and couldn’t care less about NASCAR. All’s well that ends well. ❤


Ingredients

2 cups butternut squash cubes (roasting instructions below)

2 cups frozen butter beans*, cooked according to package

3 slices uncured, smoked bacon, cut into 1” pieces

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1/2 large poblano pepper, chopped*

1/4 tsp. ancho chile powder* (see notes)

1 1/2 cups frozen roasted corn*

*Notes

Butter beans are usually a bit larger than lima beans, although I’m not sure it was the case with the bag I purchased. Either will work fine in this dish, so don’t sweat it.

I chose poblano for this dish because of its dark green color and mildly smoky flavor. It’s not as hot as jalapeno, but does have a little kick to it, though the heat dissipates during cooking. You could substitute a dark green bell pepper if you prefer.

Ancho chile is the dried, smoked version of poblano peppers. If you cannot find it, substitute any chili powder—it’s a small amount, so you won’t compromise or alter the flavor much.

We love the roasted corn from Trader Joe’s in so many things. I have seen other brands occasionally, but it would also be fine to use regular frozen corn, or, of course, you could upstage me and grill fresh corn!

The hominy setback turned out to be a blessing, because everything was prepped and ready to go for assembling the dish. Here’s how it goes, and you’ll find written instructions below, along with a downloadable version for your recipe files. Enjoy!


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the butternut squash pieces in olive oil, just enough to coat all sides. Season with salt and pepper and roast them for about 25 minutes, or until fork tender, but firm.
  3. Prepare the frozen lima beans according to package instructions, and then shock them in cold water to halt the cooking so they don’t get mushy. Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and toss to cook until they are done and crispy; remove to a drain on a paper towel. Do not drain the bacon grease.
  5. Add the red onion and poblano peppers to the skillet and sauté in bacon grease until they are very slightly soft. Sprinkle ancho chile powder over the mix and toss to coat.
  6. Add the frozen corn to the skillet and toss until heated through. Add the cooked butter beans and toss again.
  7. Just before serving, toss the butternut squash into the pan and toss the mixture to reheat the squash and combine everything evenly. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl, and sprinkle with the reserved crispy bacon pieces.

About that extra squash…I had a sweet patient girl waiting for just such an occasion. Good catch, Nilla! ❤
(She is lightning fast!)

Want to make this dish vegan?

Omit the bacon, and saute the onions and peppers in a tablespoon of olive oil rather than bacon grease. No other adjustments will be necessary. I love an adaptable recipe!

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