Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

It’s long been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Just don’t tell that to our dog, Nilla, who learned at age 10 how to politely request the fresh vegetable treats she loves so much. She latched on quickly to my command of “where are you supposed to be?” It usually only takes one ask to get her to back up out of the kitchen and plop down into position in the doorway to receive her healthy snacks, which she catches in mid-air at least 95% of the time. I love that about her! ❤

Nilla keeps her eye on the prize, and she is wicked fast!

And you better not tell my husband, Les, about new tricks, either. Because just last week, this N.Y.-born-and-raised-pizza-snob hubby of mine was scarfing down on a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Who’d have thunk it? (He tells me he has enjoyed Chicago pizza before, just not in the five years we’ve been together. Wait, does that mean I’m the old dog?) 😉

Oh. My. Goodness.


Distinctly different from a classic New York pie in so many ways—the tender crust, the order of layering the toppings, the longer time in the oven—this deep-dish pizza reminded me of a meat and cheese casserole with a crust that was crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy inside. After two-plus years spent tweaking my technique for a perfect New York thin-crust pizza, you may wonder what inspired me to give this deep dish a go. Easy, a sign in the supermarket announcing that the baking pans were 30% off! I’m a sucker for a sale, and the truth is I’ve wanted to try a deep-dish pizza for a while but refrained, given Les’s loyalty to the thin crust. Turns out, Chicago is a fine place to enjoy a pizza! He loved it (actually, we both did), and we are already dreaming up ingredient ideas for the next one. I want to make a deep-dish pie with roasted broccoli, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, mmm.

As with so many recipes, what’s traditional or correct for Chicago-style pizza depends on who you ask, and the internet is jam-packed with declarations about authenticity. My first go-to was Food Network celebrity chef Jeff Mauro, the self-proclaimed “Sandwich King” who also happens to be an expert on Chicago foods because he’s lived in the area most of his life. His recipe for Chicago-style deep dish caught my eye, mostly for its simplicity but also for the kudos given by commenters on the Food Network site. I tweaked it a bit (don’t I always?), swapping in some cornmeal and whole wheat flour—for texture and nutrition, respectively—and embellishing with topping ingredients that suit our taste. Or maybe for this style pizza, I should call them “filling” ingredients rather than toppings, because it all bakes down into a delicious, melty mass. Yes, this is a fork-and-knife kind of pizza, a whole new level of comfort food for our Friday night quarantine pizza party.

You will need a deep-dish pizza pan or a large (12-inch) cast-iron skillet for baking this pizza. Note that the recipe requires a lengthy rise time on the dough, so you’ll want to plan ahead to stay on schedule for dinner. I hope you enjoy it!

Look at those layers! This will be coming up in rotation again very soon.

Adapted from Jeff Mauro’s Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza

Ingredients (crust)

11 oz. (about 1 1/3 cups) lukewarm water

A packet active dry yeast* (see notes for quick yeast or sourdough adjustment)

1 tsp. sugar

12 oz. (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour*

3 oz. (about 2/3 cup) whole wheat flour

3 oz. (about 2/3 cup) medium grind cornmeal

2 tsp. fine sea salt

3 oz. (6 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil


Ingredients (pizza)

1 1/2 pounds deli-sliced mozzarella (the firm style, not soft white)

12 oz. spicy Italian bulk sausage*

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 fat handfuls fresh washed baby spinach leaves

1/2 package thinly sliced pepperoni

28 oz. can San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup prepared pizza sauce

1/2 cup parm-romano blend cheese


*Notes

Does your yeast packet say “instant?” If so, skip the first instruction step for blooming the yeast in warm water. Only “active dry” yeast requires blooming. Instant yeast may be added directly with the flour.

If you’re a sourdough nerd like me, here’s how I converted the recipe to accommodate 4 ounces of ripe sourdough starter: omit the yeast (or only add a small amount to boost rising action), reduce AP flour to 10 ounces and water to 9 ounces. Skip the step of blooming yeast. My starter had not been fed in a few days, so I added 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast. I did not need to adjust the rising time.

If you prefer an all-white flour crust (first of all, you’re missing a lot of flavor), adjust the amount of all-purpose flour to 18 ounces. (about 3 1/2 cups).

Jeff Mauro’s recipe suggested adding the bulk sausage in raw form, but I couldn’t get behind this, so I crumbled and browned it lightly in a cast-iron skillet, then cooled it before topping the pizza.


Instructions


  1. Mix 1 cup water, active dry yeast and sugar in a bowl and let it rest a few minutes until foamy on top. If using instant yeast, skip to step 2.
  2. In a stand mixer or large bowl, combine yeast mixture with flour, cornmeal, salt and remaining water (and sugar, if you didn’t use it to bloom the yeast). Mix until a soft, shaggy ball of dough forms. Pour in olive oil, cover and let rest about 15 minutes.
  3. Knead in olive oil until dough is soft, smooth and sticky. This should come together within about 3 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled clean bowl, cover and let rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size. This may take up to 6 hours, depending on the yeast method and the warmth of your kitchen. If you want to speed it up a bit, put the covered bowl in the oven with the oven light on, and check on it at the 3 hour mark.
  4. Prep the other pizza ingredients by browning sausage, onions and peppers. Sauté spinach leaves until wilted and moisture is cooked out of them. Slice or shred your cheese. Drain the can of tomatoes, reserving puree and juice for another purpose. Set all topping ingredients aside until dough is ready to bake. Keep the cheese in the fridge until it’s time to bake.

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F, with a rack in the center position of the oven.
  2. Spray your deep dish pan or skillet with olive oil spray and transfer risen dough to the pan. Using your hands, spread dough out across the pan, gently stretching to meet the edges and up the side of the pan. The dough may spring back a bit but this is OK. Cover with a clean towel for 10 minutes to relax the gluten then proceed with the dough shaping. If you’re using a 12-inch skillet, you may only need about 3/4 of the total dough.
  3. Layer the sliced mozzarella all over the bottom of the pan, on top of the dough, with edges of the cheese overlapped for good coverage. I ran out of slices and filled in gaps with shredded mozzarella—no big deal.
  4. Scatter the browned sausage crumbles evenly over the cheese, then layer on the sautéed onions, peppers and spinach. Finally, arrange the pepperoni slices evenly around the pizza.
  5. Use your hands to squish each plum tomato slightly, and arrange them all over the top of the pizza. Spoon the pizza sauce into the gaps between tomatoes.
  6. Liberally sprinkle the parm-romano blend cheese completely over all the pizza toppings, and finish with a swirled drizzle of olive oil. I saved the grease from browning the sausage and drizzled that on top. No sense wasting that flavor, right?
  7. Slide pizza pan into the oven and bake 25 minutes, until crust is evenly browned and parmesan cheese is golden and bubbly. Give it a turn at the halfway mark for even baking. Allow pizza to rest at least 5 minutes, then carefully slide it out of the pan to a pizza sheet for serving at the table. My husband is good at this part, and he was able to move the pizza using two large spatulas on either side of the pie. If it’s too difficult, cut and serve directly from the pan.

Of course, we could not resist an extra sprinkling of our spiced-up parm-romano blend for serving.

Want to give it a go?


New York Cheesecake with Spiced Cran-Cherry Topping

One day, I’ll learn that if I’m going to ask my husband, Les, to pick a dessert for me to make, I should make it a multiple choice. When I gave him free rein to decide on dessert for our tiny Thanksgiving for two, I imagined he’d choose from the obvious traditional sweets. You know, maybe pumpkin pie or bourbon pecan pie, or maybe this would be the year he’d ask for the apple cranberry pie I’ve mentioned for the past three Thanksgivings. Nope.

“Make a real New York cheesecake,” he said.

Cheesecake? C’mon, that’s not a Thanksgiving dessert. But maybe I could do a maple cheesecake with a caramelized apple topping, and that would be delicious and appropriate for Thanksgiving. But my hubby was clear about it: he was craving the authentic New York-style cheesecake—tall, dense and creamy. Oh, and topped with bright red cherries. His memory was based on the desserts made by one Miss Grimble, who was apparently an institution in the city of his youth. Not to set the bar too high, right? I’m good at researching, so I was on it.

Most recipes for this style cheesecake require baking in a water bath, which promotes even baking and a smooth top without unsightly cracks. That made me nervous right out of the gate. I know for certain that my springform pan is not watertight, a truth I learned when a birthday quiche I made for a gal pal a few years ago leaked out all over the oven. I wasn’t up for a repeat of that performance, for sure. And I was also insecure because there were differing opinions about the right temperature to bake a New York-style cheesecake. Some “authentic” recipes insisted the cake should bake in a water bath at 500° F for the first few minutes, then about half that temperature for almost an eternity. Other “real cheesecake” recipes said skip the water bath and just cool the cake in the oven to avoid the cracking on top. With so many opinions, I made the only decision that felt safe: I searched the King Arthur Baking Company website, read all the way through their recipe instructions as well as the accompanying blog post written by baking expert P.J. Hamel, and then I donned my apron and got to it.

The King Arthur recipe included instructions for a shortbread cookie-style crust, which I promptly replaced with a homemade graham cracker base (Les swears this was how Miss Grimble did it) and the blog post suggested two major rules for perfect cheesecake: start with room temperature ingredients, and don’t whip air into the filling mixture. One thing that attracted me to this recipe was that it did not emphasize a need for a water bath. Whew.

This turned out to be one of the tastiest and prettiest desserts I have made at home, and I did find a way to adapt it to the flavors of the season. Les got his cherry topping, but I spiked it with fresh cranberries and real cinnamon. We both loved it, and the cranberries are making it a festive dessert option all the way through the rest of the holiday season.

I’m glad my hubby requested this. It was delicious! 🙂

Adapted from NY Cheesecake | King Arthur Baking

Ingredients (crust)

1 sleeve honey graham crackers

1 handful ginger snap cookies (I used Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger cookies)

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of kosher salt


Ingredients (filling)

4 packages (8 oz. each) full-fat cream cheese*

1 3/4 cup organic cane sugar

5 large organic eggs*

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia flavoring*

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup full-fat sour cream*


Ingredients (topping)

2 cups frozen dark sweet cherries

1 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted

1/4 cup pure cherry juice (or water)

1/4 cup organic cane sugar

1 cinnamon stick, about 4” long (or a few pinches ground cinnamon)


*Notes

The most helpful thing I learned from the King Arthur experts is the importance of bringing all ingredients to room temperature before blending. This helps prevent clumping of the cream cheese and ensures the cheesecake mixture is the best temperature headed into the oven. Plan wisely, and take all the refrigerated ingredients—cream cheese, eggs and sour cream—out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you begin.

Fiori di Sicilia is a specialty ingredient I purchase from King Arthur Baking Company. You may not have heard of it, but you would find the citrus-vanilla flavor reminiscent of Italian panettone or a frozen creamsicle treat. The ingredient is not essential for this cheesecake, but I love the “special something” it brings to desserts. This was my substitute for lemon zest in the original King Arthur recipe.

The recipe that inspired me did not require a water bath, but P.J. Hamel suggested in her “cheesecake tips” using cake strips, which are soaked and wrapped around a cake pan to promote even baking. Find these online or at a gourmet kitchen store, or give the recipe a go without them. I already had them, so I used one and it worked great.



Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, then cut a piece of parchment paper to size for the bottom, and butter the parchment.
  2. Use your hands to break the graham crackers and ginger snaps into smaller pieces. Pulse into fine crumbs in a food processor or use a rolling pin to smash them into fine crumbs in a large zip-top bag. Pour melted butter into crumbs and stir to mix well. It should resemble the texture of wet sand.
  3. Press crumbs firmly into a springform pan, evenly covering the bottom and about a half inch up the sides. I used the bottom of a small glass bowl to compress the crumbs.
  4. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then remove pan and allow crust to cool at room temperature.
  5. In a stand mixer on the lowest speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again briefly.
  6. Beat in vanilla, Fiori di Sicilia (or lemon zest) and salt.
  7. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended and scraping bowl after each egg.
  8. Stir in sour cream and give the mixture another thorough scraping.
  9. Carefully spoon in part of the filling mixture, taking care to not disturb the crumb crust. Gently pour in remaining filling and use rubber spatula to smooth the top of the cheesecake.
  10. Reduce oven temperature to 325° F and slide the cheesecake into the oven on a center rack. Bake 50 minutes, or until filling is set around the edges and slightly jiggly in the center. Turn off oven and prop door open, allowing cheesecake to cool slowly. This will help prevent the top of the cheesecake from cracking.
  11. When cheesecake is completely cool, cover cheesecake with aluminum foil and refrigerate at least overnight.

Cinnamon Cran-Cherry Sauce

Combine frozen cherries, cranberries, sugar and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan. Stir and cook over medium heat until it reaches a low boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Berries and cherries should be softened and thickened. Transfer mixture to refrigerator overnight. Try not to eat it all with a spoon!


To serve

When cheesecake is completely cooled and chilled, run a clean knife carefully around the inside of the springform pan, then release to plate the cheesecake. Cut into wedges and top with cinnamon cran-cherry topping.

Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. We found that we liked the flavor and texture even better after a few days in the fridge. Enjoy!


Want to make it?


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products or companies 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 about recipes, products and gadgets. 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? 🙂


My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme

The Christmas season doesn’t feel real in our house until the refrigerator holds a bottle of this luxurious libation. My father has made this homemade version of Irish creme (his spelling) for years, and whenever I visited his house during the holidays, I knew I could count on him to have a beige Tupperware pitcher of it in the fridge. It is rich and decadent, far creamier than the shelf-stable stuff you can buy at the liquor store. When I first asked for his recipe, I was surprised to realize that it has both coffee and chocolate in it—I never tasted either of them in the Irish cream, but when I’ve reduced or omitted either, I found that it just wasn’t the same.

For sure, double the recipe, even if there aren’t a lot of folks.

My father’s original recipe suggests using heavy cream and whole milk, but I have fiddled with the recipe and found that light cream and half & half makes it every bit as creamy, without the clumping that sometimes occurs with chilled heavy cream. Increase the Irish whiskey if you like (my dad does), but I think the ratios are perfect just as they are.

This homemade Irish cream is perfect for gift-giving, and it’s so darn easy to make that you’ll find yourself asking “Bailey who?”

Enjoy this straight, on ice or as a decadent flavor addition to your Christmas morning coffee or hot cocoa.

Homemade Irish Cream is a wonderful gift, too!

Ingredients

4 oz. (1/2 cup) light cream* (see notes)

2 tsp. espresso powder (or instant coffee)*

1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup (I use an all-natural brand with no high fructose corn syrup)

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

8 oz. (1 cup) half & half*

6 oz. (3/4 cup) Irish whiskey

The original recipe calls for heavy cream and whole milk, but I’ve substituted similarly rich products with no clumping.

*Notes

Light cream is 20% milkfat, compared to nearly 40% milkfat in heavy cream. For readers abroad, the term “half & half” may not make sense, given that the European market does not have a product labeled this way. According to this article I found, half & half checks in at 12% milkfat. If you combine equal parts light cream with whole milk, you’ll strike a similar balance to the fat in half & half.

If my suggested ingredients are not available where you are, go with my dad’s original suggestion for 4 oz. heavy cream and 8 oz. whole milk, and perhaps use a blender to mix the Irish cream to help avoid the clumps that occur with cold heavy cream.

Espresso powder is available in the baking aisle of many well-stocked supermarkets or online from King Arthur Baking Company. You may substitute a high-quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand. I’ve used Starbucks “dark French roast” instant coffee with very good results.


Instructions

  1. Place a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm the light cream, espresso powder and chocolate syrup until the mixture steams and the espresso powder is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  2. Use a whisk to blend the coffee-infused cream, condensed milk and half & half.
  3. Stir in Irish whiskey. Give it a taste and adjust any ingredient as desired.
  4. Divide Irish cream into sealable bottles and refrigerate.

Recipe makes about 4 cups.

Enjoy within three weeks. At our house, it is usually gone within three hours. 😉

Now, it feels like Christmas.

Want to make this recipe?


Challah Dressing with Venison Sausage and Kale

Somehow, this combination of random freezer leftovers worked itself into the dressing my husband, Les, declared on Thanksgiving to be his “favorite ever.” When we made the decision to scale back Thanksgiving for pandemic safety and change up the menu to experiment with new flavors, I thought immediately of the crudely labeled white butcher-wrapped package in my freezer. The venison sausage had been gifted to me a few years ago by a friend I knew from pool hall, where I played in a 9-ball league. Johnny does both bow and rifle hunting, and in a good season, he’d have venison to spare for lucky friends like me. And if you were in the right place at the right time, you’d be lucky enough to taste his venison jerky. Wow.

I’ve wracked my brain to decide how to describe the flavor of venison to any reader who has never tasted it. Texture-wise, it’s similar to beef, but extremely lean so it’s firmer and drier. The flavor is more wild than beef, but less gamey than lamb. Some say venison is an “acquired” taste, but I’ve been eating it since I was about 6 years old, so I can’t say for sure. My stepdad was a deer hunter, and it wouldn’t have been unusual for me to come home from first grade and find a deer carcass hanging upside down from a tree. In my teens, I’d enjoy a free day off as my rural high school was closed for the first day of deer season. Kind of hard to have classes with half of the upperclassmen (and the teachers) all out. I remember eating venison in soup and chili from such a young age, and once biting into a piece of overlooked buckshot. My enjoyment of this wild game meat is as old as any other food memory I have.

I have no excuse for not using the venison sausage sooner, except that I hadn’t felt inspired, and I feared that after four-plus years in the freezer, the sausage would be too far gone to use. But I may as well have a look, I thought, and when I finally was able to unwrap all five layers of plastic film, I found that it was not the total disaster I’d expected. The outer edges were browned and smelled like the freezer, but inside the meat was red, smelled sweet and was perfectly usable.

Only the outside of the venison was discolored from the freezer. I cut those outer edges off and used the red meat inside in the dressing.

So use it I did. I cut away the freezer-burned outer edges and used them to make some homemade cookies for our dog (don’t worry, I researched to learn that freezer-burned meat isn’t dangerous, and Nilla loved them). And the rest of the venison sausage, about 10 ounces, became the star of my dressing.

With non-traditional flavors already at the center of our holiday table, I browned up the venison sausage and used it to flavor this dressing, which also included cubes of challah (also from the freezer) and kale with celery and onions. For a spicy kick, I added a few pinches of dried chipotle flakes. Butter and vegetable broth completed the dish, and—well, it was awesome.


Ingredients

10 oz. ground venison or venison sausage

1 or 2 slices of uncured smoked bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 fat handful kale leaves, washed and heavy stems removed

3 Tbsp. salted butter

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (low sodium preferred)

4 cups challah cubes, dried in low oven

1 egg, lightly beaten


Instructions

  1. Crumble venison sausage and cook it with bacon slices in the cast-iron skillet. When browned, transfer sausage to a bowl.
  2. Heat olive oil in same skillet, and sauté onions and celery until slightly softened. Add chopped kale and continue to cook until wilted. Season with salt, pepper and chipotle flakes. Transfer mixture to the bowl with the sausage. Refrigerate if working ahead or proceed to the next step.
  3. Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter, then add vegetable broth and heat until butter is melted and liquid is warm.
  4. In a large bowl, toss to combine challah cubes and half of the buttered broth. When moisture is mostly absorbed, add the remaining broth and toss again. Fold in beaten egg until mixture is uniform and fully moistened.
  5. Fold in venison sausage mixture and blend to combine. Transfer dressing to a buttered casserole dish. Refrigerate until ready to bake.
  6. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake dressing, covered, for about 35 minutes. Remove cover and bake 15 minutes further, to crisp up the top.
The delicate and eggy challah was a pleasant contrast to the earthy flavors of the venison and kale. A total winner!

Want to make this recipe?


Here’s a behind-the-scenes extra idea for leftover dressing:


And, in case you’re wondering about the venison cookies for Nilla:

I mixed the freezer burned extra venison with some canned pumpkin, rolled oats, brown rice flour and an egg, then scooped and baked them at 300 for about an hour. I love to spoil our dog! ❤

My Gram’s Molasses Cookies

Childhood is one of the greatest examples of selective memory banking ever. I remember the smells and sounds of baking these molasses cookies at my grandma’s house, all the way back to when I needed to stand on a chair to reach the counter and make the cookie shapes. What I don’t remember is working so hard to get the dough right. Perhaps I’m overthinking it and not taking a simple, intuitive approach. Or could it be that these were a cinch for Gram because she made them all the time and I haven’t dared an attempt for 25 years?

As I was rolling out the dough for these—my favorite cookies ever—I found myself missing the metronome-like cadence of the cuckoo clock that hung on the back wall of my grandparents’ family room, and the rising aroma of potatoes simmering on the stove, much less the patient encouragement of Gram saying something like, “That’s it, now change direction and roll it the other way—good job.” What I had last weekend at my house was the sound of Led Zeppelin blasting from the Bose speaker in the next room, me cursing up a storm and vowing to NEVER make these freaking cookies again, and my husband and the dog just staying the heck out of the way. Yes, I’m certain that Gram had this process down to a science, and she probably handled all the hard parts of this exceptional recipe and let us grandkids show up just in time to have all the fun.

This was the first time I’d flown solo on this family heirloom recipe for Molasses Cookies—and yes, I do believe it should be capitalized, same as a classic novel or an epic film, because they’re just that good. For as long as I can remember, visiting my Gram’s house (anytime, but especially at Christmas) meant that I could reach my short, grubby fingers into the brown and tan beanpot she used as a cookie jar, and pull out one of these super-sized, super soft, sugar-crowned molasses cookies. Several years ago, I spotted a similar bean pot in an antique store and bought it without even checking the price tag. Last year, I found another bean pot and sent it to my younger cousin, Brad, who was my sidekick for so many baking adventures at Gram’s house. Just after we lost Gram in the summer of 2019, I found on Etsy a sweet creative soul who helped me turn our family recipe into a tea towel keepsake. Yes, these cookies deserve serious respect.


Brad and I have been reminiscing a great deal as the holidays approach, and though he was eager to share other memories of Christmas with Gram, he deferred to me the task of recreating her wonderful cookies. I’ll admit that I was terrified.

Mixing the dough was not complicated. It was just a little confusing, without solid direction on which order to add certain ingredients. The recipe card says, in Gram’s distinctive scrawl, “Mix. Chill at least overnight.” A more thorough explanation might have suggested first creaming together the butter and sugar, then adding eggs one at a time, blending completely after each one, and scraping down the sides, etc., but I suppose that knowledge is meant to be in my genes (and apparently it is). I did OK to that point, but lost my confidence when I got to the baking soda. Oh, how I wished I could just call her up and ask, “should the soda be dissolved in boiling water, or just hot tap water? Also, is it alright if I use butter instead of shortening? And the card says 6 or 7 cups of flour, but how do I know when the dough is right? I’m so confused, Gram, and I need you here.”

For these challenges and more, I had a helpful assist from my aunt, who offered her own experiential wisdom, plus a bonus family history lesson that I never knew. It seems that my great-grandmother, original author of this recipe, ran some kind of underground cookie business. These molasses cookies and her famous-to-our-family sugar cookies were her top sellers. Great Gram also saved up her own money to buy laying hens, and had an eggs-for-sale business. She was an entrepreneur long before women were supposed to be! I do remember the old hen house in back of her house, come to think of it. And suddenly, I realized again that these are big family shoes to fill.

I took deep breaths and followed the advice Gram gave me so many times on so many things—she’d say, “try it and see.”

For starters, I halved the recipe, which is a little tricky given that the original calls for 3 eggs, but I’ll explain what I did when we get to the instructions. Gram’s recipe card lists shortening, which was a common ingredient when money was tight (and before research showed how awful the stuff is), so I subbed in real unsalted butter. I never bake anything with only white flour, so I swapped about a third of it with whole wheat pastry flour, which is nice and soft and perfect for cookies, quick breads and pastry dough. Finally, to aid in keeping the dough soft, I used a combination of white and brown sugar, hoping that the latter would help compensate for the softness that would be lessened with the butter swap. Yes, I think Gram was also my first science teacher.

This was it for ingredients, plus the eggs. Be sure your baking powder is fresh for any cake or cookie recipe.

This is at least a two-day recipe (the dough must be thoroughly chilled), and several kitchen tools will be needed on baking day. I recommend review of the entire recipe before committing to the baking step. Once you begin rolling the dough, things move quickly and you’ll want to have your ducks in a row.

The ingredients list reflects my own changes I made to the recipe, and I’m certain my grandma would have approved these choices. 🙂


Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, but not room temperature

3/4 cup cane sugar* (see notes)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 large eggs*

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. molasses (unsulphured)

3 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1/2 cup hot tap water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour* (measure for success; see notes!)

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour*

3 tsp. ground ginger*

1 tsp. baking powder*

1 tsp. salt

Coarse sugar for decorating


*Notes

For all baking and cooking, I prefer organic cane sugar, which is not as processed as common white sugar. The fineness of cane sugar varies by brand, and I’ve found the Florida Crystals brand to be my favorite, as it is closest in texture to typical fine baking sugar. It’s slightly tan in color, compared with pure white sugar that has been heavily refined.

My recipe adaptation is half the original recipe, which called for 3 eggs, meaning I had to get to 1½ eggs. Here’s how to divide one of them to get the proper amount: crack 1 egg into a glass measuring cup, and beat it well to fully blend the white and yolk. Note the total volume of the egg, and pour half of the volume into a separate bowl for another use. Voila!—half an egg. Add a whole egg to it, beat lightly and you’ll be ready to go.


One of my grandma’s golden rules of baking was correct measuring of flour, so listen up. Always begin by sifting or fluffing up the flour before you measure. Spoon the fluffed flour over your measuring cup and fill to overflowing. Then use the back of a knife to scrape off the excess flour. Do not plunge your measuring cup directly into the flour bag or canister, or you will not have successful cookies.


Whole wheat pastry flour is a low-protein variety of flour, and can be substituted 1:1 for all-purpose flour in many recipes. It doesn’t have the strength needed for yeast-risen breads, but it is perfect for cookies, quick breads, pancakes and pastry dough. It also meets one of my primary goals of introducing whole grain into our foods. For this recipe, the whole wheat pastry flour is approximately 1/3 of the total flour in the cookies. If you prefer, combine for a total amount of white, all-purpose flour.

Ginger and baking powder both lose their power after a period of time. Ground ginger should provide a pleasant “zing” to the cookies, and active baking powder is needed for leavening. If you can’t remember buying the containers you have, they are probably too old. This is less a concern for the ginger, as that will only affect flavor. Baking powder that is old will give you poor results, because your cookies won’t rise during baking. I use aluminum-free baking powder with excellent results.


Dough Instructions


  1. Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and both sugars. If you want to go old-school, as my great grandmother would have done, you can do this in a large bowl with a good strong wooden spoon, and it would help you to have biceps like Rosie the Riveter. The mixture should be beaten until it looks uniform and slightly fluffy.
  2. Combine all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour in a medium bowl. Scoop out a heaping cup of the flour blend to a second bowl, and add the ginger, baking powder and salt, stirring to combine. This ensures the ginger and leavening agent will be evenly mixed into the dough. Set both flour bowls aside.
  3. Add beaten egg mixture, half at a time, to the creamed butter-sugar mixture. Beat until well blended, and stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  4. Dissolve baking soda in hot water and set aside briefly.
  5. Add molasses to the creamed mixture and beat until fully blended.
  6. With mixer running, slowly pour in the soda water. This mixture looked very unorganized and messy; it reminded me of quicksand.
  7. Add the second bowl of flour (with ginger and baking powder) to the molasses mixture and stir until blended. Stop mixer and scrape down the sides. Stir in remaining flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until all flour is blended. Scrape down the sides. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate at least overnight, or preferably a day or two.

On baking day, gather your supplies:

  • 2 or 3 large cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper
  • Rolling pin (a round wine bottle works nicely in a pinch)
  • Dough mat (or board, or a really clean countertop)
  • Cookie cutters (preferably round, or anything not too intricate as the cookies will spread)
  • Extra flour for dusting (keep it handy, you’ll use this a lot)
  • Paper towels for wiping your hands
  • Small, thin spatula to assist with moving cookies to baking sheet
  • Large spatula for moving baked cookies
  • Cooling racks (at least two will be helpful)
  • Coarse-grained sugar for decorating (I used turbinado sugar)
  • A baking timer
  • Christmas music for inspiration (I recommend Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack)
  • A glass of wine (seriously, I found this very helpful when things got ugly)
  • My aunt on speed-dial (oh wait, that was just for me!)
Best Christmas music, ever!

Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° F (much hotter than most cookie recipes, and they bake fast)

Generously flour your rolling mat or board, and begin with about 1/4 of the chilled dough. Put the rest back in the fridge until you’re ready for the next batch.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. My aunt suggested that I use “a lot of extra flour,” and I think she meant to say, “Make it look like you had a blizzard in the kitchen.” You need a lot of flour to keep this ultra-soft dough from sticking. Roll it gently to about 1/2” thick.


Dip your cutter gently into the cookie dough bowl, then liberally into the extra flour to prevent sticking. Cut as many shapes as you can from the first rolling, and transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheet. Aim for only 6 cookies at a time, as they will puff and spread quite a bit during baking. Knead up remaining dough scraps and add them to the next batch.

Generously sprinkle each cookie with turbinado sugar.


Bake for 5 to 8 minutes (depending on your oven) until cookies are soft and puffy but not brown on the edges. Transfer cookies as quickly as possible to a cooling rack. Place the hot cookie sheet somewhere to cool.


Prepare a second batch of cookies on the extra pan. This whole scene was very stressful for me, and I found myself wondering how my grandma did this with such grace and ease, and with excitable grandchildren “helping.”

Repeat this process until all cookies are baked. You should have flour everywhere (including your hair), about 5 molasses-coated spoons stuck to the counter, a sink full of bowls and random sticky objects, a dining table covered in molasses cookies and an empty wine glass bottle. If you’re crying, well, join the club. If you’re crying and laughing simultaneously at the end of it all, you get bonus points and a commemorative recipe tea towel.


Is it OK for me to share your recipe, Gram?

She would say—no, wait, she would sing, “Oh, ya, sure!”


“Un-stuffed” Cabbage Roll Soup

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is an unexpected twist on a food from my childhood. I remember seeing a recipe card in some family member’s collection for a dish called “glumpkies” or “go-umpkees” or something like it. Who knows the story on the name of the dish, but I remember that I really liked these rolled up packages of seasoned meat and rice inside tender leaves of cabbage and smothered in rich tomato sauce. It was pure comfort food, and though I’ve made them plenty of times in their classic form, I much prefer this simple, one-pot interpretation.

My Comfort du Jour twist on stuffed cabbage is what you might call a “deconstruction,” and it makes the classic dish a lot more approachable with minimal effort. It’s a pain to pre-cook the cabbage for traditional stuffed rolls, and in many ways, it even feels dangerous. I’ve burned myself in some of my early attempts to make the rolled-up version, and in some other attempts I’ve ended up with too much of the cabbage head remaining, and limited options for how to use it because it’s been boiled. That certainly won’t work for cole slaw, and what else are you gonna do with a bunch of extra, partially-cooked cabbage?

One of the flavors I always associate with cabbage rolls is caraway, the same seed that gives deli rye bread a distinct seasoning. I don’t know where the caraway was introduced to this dish for me, but it adds a little something that really works with the rustic chunks of cabbage, tomato and ground beef. If your family has a favorite traditional season, consider how you might put your own spin on my recipe with those beloved flavors.

The rest of the ingredients are simple, and you only need a medium stockpot and about an hour of simmering to get it on the table. Enjoy!

Served with a slice of crusty bread, this soup is hearty, satisfying and comforting.

Ingredients

1 lb. lean ground beef (90% lean is good)

1 tsp. caraway seed, crushed or milled in a spice grinder*

1 medium onion, rough chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

2 cups green cabbage, rough chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes, preferably low sodium

Salt and pepper

1 32 oz. carton beef broth, preferably low sodium

Cooked brown rice for serving


*Notes

Caraway seed is the same spice that gives rye bread a distinctive flavor. I’m not sure how I came to associate this flavor with stuffed cabbage rolls, but it is really delicious with the cabbage, tomato and meat. Substitute your own favorite flavor, or simply omit this ingredient. The soup will be delicious either way!


Instructions

  1. Press ground beef on a cutting board or parchment into a flat shape, about 1/2″ thick.
  2. If you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, use it to crush or grind the caraway seed into smaller bits. This is not essential, but it contributes flavor without the seed texture.
  3. Sprinkle the caraway powder or whole seeds all over the surface of the ground beef, and press to fully adhere it.
  4. Place a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Swirl in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and sauté until slightly softened and golden. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Tear off bits of ground beef and add them, only a few at a time, tossing in the hot oil to cook the edges before adding another small handful. Repeat until all ground beef is lightly browned. Avoid the temptation to add all the meat at once, as this will result in mushy meat rather than browned, individual bits.
  6. Add the chopped cabbage to the pot and toss to begin cooking. Add tomatoes, sauce included.
  7. Add beef broth and stir to combine. Allow mixture to come to a light boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer about an hour, until cabbage is tender.
  8. Serve over brown rice.

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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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