Everyone knows the classic English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But have you wondered, as I did for so long, what the heck is a figgy pudding? In the traditional carol, the singers on the doorstep become more and more demanding of this figgy pudding, first requesting it (O, bring us some figgy pudding), and then threatening for it (we won’t go until we get some), until finally resorting to justification (we all like our figgy pudding). This must be some good stuff!
I always imagined that a figgy pudding was some kind of smashed up prune-like paste that wobbled and jiggled, but I’ve recently learned (thanks to this recipe by British superchef, Jamie Oliver) that it’s quite different from my Americanized vision of “pudding.” Common in the U.K., where my father’s roots are planted, figgy pudding is actually a sweet, dense fruitcake. Not the artificially colored, sickeningly sweet loaf that could serve as a doorstop and is usually the unwanted prize at an American office party gift exchange. Nope, a traditional British figgy pudding contains chopped dried fruits, nuts, golden syrup, citrus peel and spices. It’s steam-baked in a bowl, then inverted to a platter where it is lavishly bathed in booze (brandy, rum, bourbon—you decide) and set ablaze for a presentation that can only be described as spectacular.
No wonder the carolers demand that figgy pudding be brought “right here!” A boozy, sweet holiday treat—I guess my dad’s people really knew how to party.
My figgy bourbon drink is less dramatic, but still swimming in the warm and festive flavors of Christmas, with spice and fruit and bourbon to spare. The bourbon is lightly sweetened with fig simple syrup, accented with hazelnut liqueur and cardamom bitters, then garnished with a sweet and simple-to-make skewer that includes figs, cranberries, crystallized ginger and a generous twist of fresh citrus peel.
Given that figgy pudding may contain any combination of dried fruits, nuts and spices, the possibilities are very open for a cocktail interpretation. I might just as easily have chosen amaretto rather than hazelnut, or fresh cherries rather than cranberries, or cinnamon sticks rather than cardamom bitters. But this is what my imagination (and my bar inventory) gave me on this particular night.
The fig syrup is central to the drink, and easy to make. Because my dried figs are already sweet, I made a “light” simple syrup, which is 1 cup water to 1/2 cup cane sugar. Heat it to a quick low boil, then stir in several cut-up dried figs and let it steep until cooled. Strain out the fig pieces (reserving them, of course, for garnish purposes) and this syrup will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Going light on the sugar allows the fig to shine more than the sweet. If you prefer a sweeter drink, go with equal parts sugar and water.
Making the cocktail was easy, beginning with the garnish:
Making the Cocktail (makes two drinks)
3 oz. favorite bourbon (we are currently pouring Elijah Craig Small Batch)
0.5 oz. hazelnut liqueur (or amaretto, if you prefer almond flavor)
1.5 oz. fig simple syrup (as described above)
1.0 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice (or maybe Meyer lemon)
2 drops cardamom spice bitters* (see notes)
2 drops cherry or cherry-cacao bitters*
I have found some really interesting bitters online, but Total Wine and well-stocked supermarkets usually carry a good variety, too. My goal for this drink was spice and fruit (in keeping with the flavors of a figgy pudding), so these could probably be replaced with orange, aromatic or Peychaud’s bitters. Be creative, but don’t go overboard as you’ll lose the essence of the fig and bourbon. 🙂
It’s warming and Christmas-y, lovely for sipping by an open fire, with or without chestnuts. Or, as it will be at our house, in front of the gas logs. 🙂
Wishing you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
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.
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 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. 🙂
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dissolve baking soda in hot water and set aside briefly.
Add molasses to the creamed mixture and beat until fully blended.
With mixer running, slowly pour in the soda water. This mixture looked very unorganized and messy; it reminded me of quicksand.
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!)
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!”
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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? 😀
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!
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
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.
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.
Combine dry stuffing mix and milk in a small bowl and rest at least 20 minutes, allowing time for crumbs to be fully moistened.
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.
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.
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.
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″.
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.
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.
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.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the meat roll onto the lined sheet and lightly spray the entire meatloaf with olive oil spray.
Bake at 400° for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375° and bake 45 more minutes.
Test internal temperature to be sure it is at least 165° F. Cool 15 minutes before slicing.
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
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.
Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the onions until soft and translucent.
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.
Season with salt, pepper and umami seasoning. Add roasted garlic and stir to blend it in.
Sprinkle flour over the mixture and cook one minute until the flour seems absorbed and mixture begins to bubble.
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.
After much hemming and hawing, the verdict is in at our house—we are going big for Thanksgiving. No, I do not mean big in the gathering sense, because that is out of the question during a pandemic. It will only be the two of us, so our “big” means bold, less-than-traditional flavors. This departure from the usual has been my fantasy for several years, but other people get pretty attached to classic, traditional flavors and it almost feels cruel to spring big changes on friends and loved ones who have been building anticipation for the flavors they’ve come to expect at Thanksgiving.
As much as my husband, Les, and I also enjoy our own traditions (including taking turns with the preparation of the turkey—a pact we made when we got engaged), we are changing things up significantly this year, partly because we can do so without disappointing anyone, but also because it feels adventurous and fun in a year that has been pretty hum-drum. It’s Les’s year for the turkey, but rather than his usual brined, stuffed and basted 20-plus pounder, he has decided to do a dry spice rub and prepare our smaller turkey in his new charcoal smoker. And with these bold flavors on the bird, we are planning to keep pace with our sides and accoutrements, including the cranberry sauce.
Most years, we make everyone at the table happy with two different styles of homemade cranberry sauce. Les makes one that is sweetened with both brown and white sugars, simmered in apple cider, and accented with sections of mandarin orange. It’s slightly tangy, but mostly sweet, and more on the “saucy” side. I usually ask him to make extra so we have plenty left over to use as topping on vanilla ice cream. Yum. My version of cranberry sauce leans to the chunky, tart side, usually with spices such as cinnamon, clove and cardamom, and simmered in dry red wine. It is a decidedly “grownup” cranberry sauce, and stands in contrast to so much of the richness happening on the traditional table.
This year, however, we will have only this one cranberry sauce—bearing the bright and bold flavors of orange and jalapeno. Now, you may cringe at the suggestion of jalapeno, worried that it will be too intense, but let me assure you it’s a fantastic twist, a pleasant undertone that stands up to the bright citrus and tart cranberry, but does not overwhelm.
If you’ve never made your own cranberry sauce before, please let me show you how simple it is. All you need for this recipe is a large saucepan, a bag of cranberries, a large orange, a large fresh jalapeno and a cup of sugar. You can move this to the “done” column in less than half an hour, and it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks (that is, if you are disciplined to not eat it straight from the fridge with a spoon). Let’s do this!
12 oz. bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted for “losers”* (see notes)
1 cup real cane sugar (or slightly less if you prefer more tang)
1 large fresh organic orange*, washed
1 large fresh jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced*
A stingy pinch of kosher salt
A few twists of freshly ground coarse black pepper
Rinse the cranberries in a wide colander that allows you to inspect the quality of the berries. Discard any that are dried up, soft or otherwise questionable. Even with a brand-new bag of cranberries, I usually find about a dozen losers that don’t make the cut.
Organic orange is best here because we will be eating the peel, and pesticides are neither tasty nor safe to ingest. Whether you use organic or conventional, be sure you wash the orange well before stripping the peel.
If you are nervous about handling the raw jalapeno, feel free to slip on some rubber kitchen gloves for this part of the recipe, then carefully peel them off and into the trash once done. I can’t work well with gloves, so here’s my advice: the sooner you clear the irritating jalapeno oils from your skin, the less likely you are to accidentally touch your eyes, nose or lips and get a painful reminder of the intensity of the capsaicin oils. But if you wash with water right away, you risk spreading the oils around rather than breaking them down. Here’s a simple way to stop the burn before it begins—Dawn dish liquid. Yep, the same blue stuff they use in the TV ads to save the baby birds from oil spills. Any good dish liquid would probably do it, but Dawn is what I use. Gently rub the dish soap, full-strength, straight onto your dry hands, covering every part that may have touched the raw pepper, and give it a few seconds to begin dissolving the pepper oils. Be sure to rub the dish liquid under your nails and between your fingers. Then, wash and rinse your hands and the knife you used to cut the pepper.
It may seem odd to add any amount of salt and pepper, but remember that salt is an enhancer that punches up whatever flavors are in your dish. As for the pepper, it’s an easy way to add an extra little “bite” to underscore the surprising flavor of jalapeno. You will not taste black pepper. Trust me, it works.
The essence of orange is front and center, giving this cranberry sauce a bright and festive freshness, and the jalapeno is evident but not at all “hot.” It’s going to be a nice complement to the smoky flavors Les will be infusing into our turkey, but I’ll probably sneak into the fridge with my spoon for a few more taste tests (just to be sure) between now and Thanksgiving. And don’t be surprised if I find a way to use the leftovers in a post-holiday appetizer or something. As you all know, I cannot leave well enough alone. 😊
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Thanksgiving will be different for a lot of folks this year. Sure, some percentage will press on with their big gatherings, but between the pandemic, travel restrictions and general upheaval and uncertainty, many more of us (my husband and me included) will have lots of extra space at the table, and the menu will either be smaller, less elaborate or altogether different.
At our house, we have already opted for experimentation and wild cards with our menu. This will be the year we do a bourbon brine, or smoke a turkey breast or whip up a venison sausage dressing. I’ll be taking creative liberty with the side dishes, too, because, well, why not?
Over the next week, I’ll be sharing plenty of recipes—twists as well as classics from our personal recipe playbook. In the midst of the excitement, I’m also having fun creating new ways to enjoy the flavors that are so traditional for Thanksgiving, even if the dishes aren’t. If you missed the savory sausage mac and cheese baked in a pumpkin, you’ll definitely want to go check that out. It’s as tasty as it is pretty!
Today, I’m whipping up a batch of miniature meatloaves that have all the same flavors you’d expect for Thanksgiving. These little minis have a base of seasoned ground turkey, blended with sage stuffing mix and onions, a middle layer of sautéed kale and onions with mushroom seasoning, and a rich and fluffy top layer of Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. They’re conveniently portioned for sharing or freezing, and if you don’t have a mini loaf pan, you can make them instead in a regular or jumbo muffin tin.
Each bite of mini meatloaf delivers the Thanksgiving flavor that I’ve been craving every day since the beginning of November. Best of all, these are a snap to make, and they are ready for the oven in less than an hour.
1/2 cup Pepperidge Farm herb seasoned dry stuffing mix
1/4 cup whole milk
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped and divided between layers
2 fat handfuls washed kale leaves, chopped (heavy stems removed)* (see notes)
1 tsp. Umami seasoning (powdered mushroom flavor from Trader Joe’s)*
1 large sweet potato, scrubbed clean and baked*
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
I had a big bag of kale already in the fridge, but if you prefer, you could substitute spinach. I think shredded brussels sprouts would also be excellent here.
Can’t get your hands on the umami seasoning? No problem. Chop up a few mushrooms very fine and toss them into the skillet ahead of the kale, to give them time to sweat out their moisture.
I’ve listed the sweet potato as “baked” because I had one leftover. If you prefer, cut up the sweet potato and cook on the stovetop along with the Yukon golds.
If you opt for ground turkey breast, the mixture may be a bit drier than regular ground turkey. Consider adding a drizzle of olive oil to the meat mixture to make up the moisture difference.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
In a small bowl, combine the dry stuffing mix with the milk and allow it to rest a bit. Stir the mixture occasionally to ensure all liquid gets absorbed and the mixture becomes paste-like.
Place cut-up potatoes in a medium pot and boil gently over medium heat until they are just barely fork tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Add butter, egg white, parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine.
While potatoes cook, place a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and sauté half of the chopped onions until softened and somewhat translucent. Season with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.
Remove half of the cooked onions to a large bowl, along with the raw ground turkey. Add egg, sun-dried tomatoes, stuffing paste, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then set aside.
To the same onion skillet, add the chopped kale and sauté (use a bit more oil if needed) until kale is wilted and softened. Sprinkle with umami mushroom seasoning and stir to blend.
Time to assemble the mini meatloaves! Spray the cups of your mini pan with olive oil spray, then fill each cavity about halfway with the turkey mixture. Press down with a fork or spoon to ensure the meat is packed thoroughly to the edges. Next, divide the kale mixture over the turkey layer, and press down again. Finally, top the loaves with the mashed potato mixture.
Press the potato mixture with the tines of a fork to leave lines on top.
Bake the meatloaves for 35-45 minutes (depending on the size of your mini pan cavities—for muffin tins, check doneness after 35 minutes. My meatloaf pan had cavities for 8 mini loaves and it took 45 minutes).
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Didn’t I promise this would happen, when my beloved Pumking ale was released this year? I have been obsessed with the idea of turning this seasonal spiced ale into an ice cream, and here I’ve gone and done it!
Many of the recipes I make are merely altered versions of something I’ve made before. In this case, I followed the lessons I learned when I made the Black Mountain Chocolate Stout Ice Cream I shared back in the summer. As with that recipe, I’ve reduced the beer to intensify its flavors, giving immeasurable boost of pumpkin-y-ness to my standard custard-based ice cream. Throw in a fair amount of pureed pumpkin, and what do you suppose I got?
The pumpkin flavor is amped up three times—first with pure pumpkin puree, and then with the infusion of the pumpkin butter, which is essentially cooked pumpkin with sugar, spices and lemon juice. Finally, the Pumking ale accents the ice cream with a spiced and slightly hoppy flavor that is exactly the right balance to the sweet richness.
The other ingredients are straight off my go-to list for homemade custard-based ice cream. Equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, three egg yolks, just shy of one cup of sugar. I heated the milk and cream, plus half the amount of sugar, to the just-barely-boiling point.
While that was working, I whisked the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until it was lighter in color and fluffed up in volume. Sometimes I do this in my stand mixer, but this time it worked fine in a glass pitcher bowl and a little elbow grease.
I gradually streamed half of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the whole time to prevent scrambling the eggs. Then, I returned the tempered egg mixture to the pan with the remaining cream mixture, and cooked (stirring constantly) until the custard was slightly thickened and coated the back of my wooden spoon.
The cooked custard mixture went back into the pitcher bowl, and I blended in the pumpkin puree, pumpkin butter and reduced Pumking ale. As always, I laid plastic wrap directly on top of the custard (this prevents a skin forming on top, and also prevents condensation that could screw up the texture of the finished ice cream. Into the fridge for at least 8 hours (I usually leave it overnight), then into the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Here’s how the rest of the recipe went:
This ice cream surprised me with its super-creamy, unbelievably pumpkin-y flavor and texture. You don’t taste beer in the ice cream—just a complex layered flavor that seems more complicated than it was.
As Thanksgiving desserts go, this is a winner, not only because it’s delicious and satisfies the desire for a rich, creamy pumpkin dessert, but also because you can make it several days ahead to free up time in your schedule for more pressing dishes.
Serve it in an ice cream cone or bowl, or on top of a square of gingerbread or a brownie or a big fat oatmeal cookie or…OK, straight from the container. Why the heck not?
8 oz. Pumking spiced ale (or another pumpkin seasonal ale)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup organic cane sugar, divided
1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/4 cup Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter* (see notes)
1/4 cup crushed ginger snap cookies (optional)
1 oz. vodka (optional, for texture; this is added during final minute of freezing)
If you cannot get your hands on the Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter, I would recommend increasing the puree to 1 cup, and cook it with a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spices. Cook until it’s caramelized and thickened, then refrigerate overnight before adding it to the ice cream. It won’t be exactly the same, but darn close.
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We have reached the end of October 2020 to find it almost the same as it began—with too many political ads, too much strife and worry, and a big fat full moon in the sky. Yep, this month has graced us with two full moons, beginning with the Harvest Moon on Oct. 1 and ending tomorrow with another full moon. This one bears distinction as a “blue moon,” not in reference to its color, but the fact that it is the second full moon in the same month.
A full moon on Halloween is an event that happens about every 19 years, but it isn’t always visible as “full” in every U.S. time zone—this time it is, and the last time that happened was 1944, just shy of the end of World War II. Maybe we are nearing the end of our current madness as well. One can dream. Oh, and there’s this:
This weekend is also a return to standard time in most of the U.S., so we will have an extra hour to ponder the unusual things that supposedly happen underneath a full moon—you know, more crime, more accidents, more babies being born. Most of those examples are wives’ tales, by the way, myths that are perpetuated by the mere fact that we already believe them, so they must be true (psychologists call this confirmation bias). Except the last one, as there is some data to support the notion that more babies really are born under a full moon. It has something to do with extra gravitational pull.
Science also assures us that the moon affects the ocean tides (I’d give anything to be back at the beach this weekend), and on that note, there’s also whispering among the scientific community suggesting that scores of coral species will be “getting busy” in the Great Barrier Reef this weekend, and that sea turtles also are waiting for the full moon high tide to ride ashore and lay their eggs. Let’s combine that with the good news that sea turtles have already been more active because COVID has reduced human activity at the beaches, and we might have an extended sea turtle baby boom. This makes me so very happy. 😊
Whether you’ll be gazing at the moon this weekend, howling at it, wooing a lover beneath it or maybe just sitting around waiting for trick-or-treaters to ring the doorbell, here’s a special cocktail dedicated to the beauty and brilliance of the moon, which feels to me like a promise that life is continuing, despite all we’ve seen this year.
I’ve tinkered quite a bit with this cocktail to achieve a beautiful look and appealing flavor, and the end result is very nice. Flavored with vanilla vodka and Chambord raspberry liqueur, my blue moon cocktail has a subtle sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm. The smallest spoonful of cocktail cherry juice is a like a kiss on the cheek, and I searched the world over (thank you, internet) to find edible shimmer dust that gives it a special, blue moon-worthy glow. With or without the special effects, I hope you will give it a try, or at least enjoy the idea of it, along with the intonations of the incomparable Billie Holliday.
1.5 oz. vanilla vodka (I used Absolut Vanilia)
1 oz. raspberry liqueur (I used Chambord)
1 tsp. cocktail cherry juice (mine are Woodford Reserve brand)
Large ice sphere or whatever kind of ice you have on hand
Here’s another grown-up beverage offering for Halloween week, and my series of “spooky” cocktails. I realize that not everyone enjoys the taste of bourbon or other liquors, and I’m just beginning to explore the wide array of cocktails that are made with wine and beer. One that comes up frequently in my Pinterest feed is a “snakebite,” which is a layered cocktail made of hard cider and lager or stout beer.
It looks cool, like a classic black and tan (or a tan and tan, depending on the type of beer), but the fermented apple base gives it a distinctly tart seasonal flavor, and that’s what I wanted to emphasize for my Halloween drink series. I thought, “what if I take that seasonal aspect to the nth degree by mixing it with my favorite seasonal beer?”
If you missed my earlier post about this brew (Hello, Pumking!) you can revisit that for proper introduction to what is, in my opinion, the BEST pumpkin ale ever, and I’m not just saying that because we were born in the same part of upstate New York. My opinion is shared by enough other people that Pumking’s maker, Southern Tier Brewing, has expanded the brand to include a nitro version, a cold brew version and even a small batch whiskey. The newer offerings aren’t readily available in my part of North Carolina, but I’ll keep loving original Pumking until the shelves go bare. Then I’ll wait patiently until next autumn, the same way Linus stood guard in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.
For my Halloween version of a snakebite, I’ve layered the Pumking over a hard cider, but I wasn’t satisfied with any old hard cider. Nope, I tripped down the craft aisle until I found one that is also enhanced with pumpkin and spice. I found it, of course, in the pumpkin spice capital of everywhere, Trader Joe’s.
6 oz. pumpkin spice hard cider
6 oz. Pumking (or other pumpkin ale, if you must)
Layering a beer drink is easy to do, but it only works if the two ingredients have different specific gravity weight. In the classic drink, it works because Guinness ale is dry and light so it hovers neatly over the sweeter cider. Layering is not really necessary for my version of this drink, given that the cider and Pumking are virtually the same color anyway. Give it a try if you’d like (I’ll show you how in the slideshow), or just pour them in together. Either way, the resulting blend of tart, crisp cider and creamy, spicy ale is something quite special and it goes down very easy, but watch your step—as the name implies, these guys will definitely sneak up on you!
This Halloween-themed beer cocktail is super easy to make in about 30 seconds, and it was a great way to wash down our Sloppy Dogs! Recipe for these yummy treats coming Friday!
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 products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀
Around the time of Kentucky Derby 2.0 (the actual running of the horses in September), my husband, Les, challenged me to create a Halloween cocktail and call it Rosemary’s Baby, after the 1968 Roman Polanski film that is, frankly, the most terrifying psychological thriller I’ve ever seen. Les’s suggestion was inspired by the rosemary old-fashioned I’d made for the Derby, and this weirdly addictive mezcal-based cocktail, infused and decorated with rosemary, is my response.
Mezcal (which I incorrectly assumed was just cheap tequila) is produced from agave hearts that have been roasted and fermented underground in clay ovens. Most mezcal is produced in Oaxaca, in the far southern region of Mexico and some brands are quite sophisticated (and pricey). By local tradition, mezcal would be consumed straight and savored for its unique smoky funk and flavor. But in the U.S., it has seen resurgence in craft cocktails, especially as a substitute for other more “common” spirits, replacing bourbon in old fashioned drinks and gin in negronis.
My spooky libation is a version of the latter, and it is not for the faint of heart. A classic negroni is already an “acquired” taste, with the standard equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Here, I’ve subbed in mezcal for the gin to replicate the fiery, smoky depths of hell that poor Rosemary must have gone through when her selfish husband sacrificed his soul—and her womb—to the devil. Worst husband ever.
Predictably, the mezcal is smoking up the glass, big time, and the Campari is lending its usual herbal bitterness. Sweet vermouth is keeping it in the Negroni family, and spicy chile syrup surprises you with just enough heat. With a habanero sugar rim, this drink (like that poor little demon baby) is trying to be sweet, but can’t quite linger there because of the intensity of what lurks underneath.
Remember the chilling scene at the end of the movie where Mia Farrow’s character is assured by the creepy devil-worshipping neighbors that her newborn son “has his father’s eyes?” I’m betting he had smoke in them.
1 oz. mezcal
1 oz. sweet (red) vermouth
1 oz. Campari
a few rosemary leaves for muddling
1 Tbsp. three chiles syrup (available online, but I found it in the mixers section at Total Wine)
To rim the glass, wet the outer edge of the rim with a lime slice, then roll the outside of the glass into habanero sugar sprinkled on a paper towel. Do this a few minutes ahead to allow time for the sugar rim to harden and set. This embellishment brought quite a bit of additional heat to the drink. If you prefer, skip it or substitute a fine sea salt rim as a tribute to Rosemary’s salty tears.
In a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, muddle the rosemary leaves with a small amount of the campari. Add remaining campari, mezcal, vermouth and simple syrup. Add ice and shake or stir vigorously until the outside of the container is frosty. Strain over a large ice cube into the prepared sugar-rimmed glass. Scorch the rosemary sprig until leaves begin to burn, then drop the sprig into the glass. The smoke will linger as the flame dies away.