Scallops with Spinach on Bacon Risotto

Seafood has snagged the spotlight here on Comfort du Jour, and today’s post continues that trend, with a scallop and risotto dish that is both elegant and simple (yes, really).

If you have ever watched “Chopped” on the Food Network, there’s a good chance you have seen the elite panel of judges gasp collectively in sheer horror when a contestant announces an attempt to make risotto. Honestly, I gasp as well—not because risotto is complicated or difficult (it isn’t)—but because risotto is a tricky proposition in the very limited time the chef contestants usually have to complete their culinary challenge. Those chef-judges know from decades of experience that risotto in 20 minutes will not likely be successful.

The soft, creamy texture of risotto is achieved by the breakdown of the starch inside the rice grains. There’s a lot of science to explain why, but the upshot is that you need to cook it gradually, stirring all the while, so that the starches release and become a thick, slurry-like coating. Eventually, the grains are softened and the rice seems to be floating in a creamy sauce that doesn’t depend on cream at all, though most cooks add a little at the end. This kind of perfection doesn’t happen in a hurry.

Find an hour to spare this weekend and you can be successful with risotto. I’ve jazzed up this version with smoky bacon and mushrooms, and I also added a touch of cream. Then I draped it with a layer of sautéed spinach and topped it with perfectly seared sea scallops (also easy). It looks and tastes like it came out of a restaurant kitchen, but I’m going to show you how to whip it up in the cozy comfort of your own home.

Time for dinner!

Gather up your tools—you’ll need two skillets and a medium saucepan, plus a ladle and a wooden spoon. See? Not complicated at all. 🙂

Serves: 2
Time to make: 90 minutes
Leftover potential: Oh, yes! (at the end of the post, I’ll show you how we enjoyed the leftover risotto)


Ingredients

3 slices smoky bacon

3 to 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (most of a standard carton)

1/4 cup dry white wine* (optional, see notes)

1 cup Arborio rice* (see notes)

1/2 smallish sweet onion, minced fine

Handful of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Fat handful of fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and chopped

1/4 cup half and half or cream* (optional)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 portions sea scallops, patted dry

2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend, for serving


*Notes

A typical risotto recipe uses a few ounces of wine to flavor the broth, but that isn’t critical. Make up the difference with additional broth, if you wish. If using wine, go with something dry, such as Pinot Grigio. I frequently substitute dry vermouth, as I have a bottle in the fridge all the time. This particular day, I poured in the remnants of a champagne split. Whatever works.

Arborio rice is specifically used for risotto because of its starch makeup. You will likely find it specially packaged in the rice section of your supermarket. In a pinch, choose any white rice labeled “short-grain,” and follow the same instructions. It may not result in the same level of creaminess, but it will be close. It is unusual for me to choose anything other than brown rice, but I will share honestly that I haven’t yet found success with brown rice risotto, although some internet resources suggest that soaking it overnight may help. I’ll save that challenge for another day. 😉

The addition of cream at the end is not absolutely essential, but I love the softness it lends to the finish of the dish. If you are trying to eat lighter, you might try substituting an equal amount of low-fat evaporated milk. It has similar consistency with lower fat and calories.

Before you begin…

Risotto is best served immediately after reaching perfect consistency. This recipe also requires cooking of mushrooms, spinach and scallops. You may want to employ a helper for these additional tasks, unless you are confident you can manage to cook them simultaneously while tending the risotto. You might also choose to cook the mushrooms and spinach in advance, and re-warm them at plating time. Either way, it’s best to have every ingredient, tool and utensil ready to go before you begin.


Instructions

As usual, the images tell the story, but I’ve offered written instructions below, plus a PDF version you can download for your recipe files. Enjoy!

  1. In a skillet large enough for cooking the risotto, begin by cooking the bacon until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel to cool, reserving the bacon fat (or drain the fat and substitute butter or olive oil for the next step). When cool, crumble or chop the bacon into small pieces and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable broth over medium-low heat, and keep it simmering. I usually begin with the full amount of broth, but if you prefer to heat it in batches and use only what you need, that’s OK. Begin with 3 cups, plus wine (if using). Season it with salt and pepper.
  3. In a second skillet, brown up the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil. Transfer them to a bowl, and then sauté up the spinach leaves and transfer them to a separate bowl. If you’re uncomfortable multi-tasking, you can do this work ahead, or ask a helper to work alongside as you cook the risotto.
  4. To the same skillet used to cook the bacon, add the dry Arborio rice to the fat (or butter or olive oil) in the skillet. Over medium heat, stir the rice around with a wooden utensil until it’s completely coated in the oil. Continue to cook until rice has a lightly toasted aroma, which should be only a couple of minutes.
  5. Add chopped onions to the rice and continue to cook and stir another minute, just long enough for the onions to appear translucent.
  6. Use a ladle or small cup to scoop about 1/2 cup warm broth into the skillet. Stir it around in the rice, scraping any browned bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan. When most of the liquid is absorbed, add another 1/2 cup of broth and repeat. Continue this effort until the broth is nearly gone. After about 30 minutes, give the rice a taste. It should feel creamy but slightly firm, similar to pasta that is cooked just beyond al dente. For me, risotto usually takes about 40 minutes total. You may end up using the full 4 cups of broth—I usually do.
  7. In the second skillet, melt the unsalted butter over medium heat. Arrange the sea scallops, allowing a bit of space between them for easy turning. Do not move them around, but allow them to cook several minutes until browned. Turn scallops (only once) to cook the other side. Season them with salt and pepper.
  8. To the finished risotto, add the bacon crumbles and cooked mushrooms. Add half and half (if using) and stir to blend.
  9. Plate a mound of risotto onto serving plates immediately; top each portion with sautéed spinach and parm-romano blend, then scallops.

You’ll probably have extra risotto after plating, and that is not necessarily a bad thing (see below).

Time for dinner!

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Here’s what I cooked up with the leftover risotto

As risotto cools, the starches gelatinize and the mixture becomes somewhat clumpy—similar to the way cold oatmeal sets up, and it isn’t necessarily delicious. Rather than trying to “loosen” it up again (which doesn’t work, by the way), I took a chance on the waffle iron. And wouldn’t you know? It was fan-freaking-tastic.

We had about 1 1/2 cups of cold leftover risotto from our scallop dish. I added 1/4 cup panko crumbs and 1/4 cup parm-romano blend, and stirred until the mixture was uniform. It had a thick, clumpy consistency that was similar to cold cookie dough.

I preheated our waffle iron to 400° F, and scooped the risotto mixture into it and pressed the lid closed. A few minutes later, voila! We had crispy exterior and smooth, soft and creamy interior. It reminded me of arancini, but in waffle form.

I made a quick onion-herb gravy with chunks of leftover roast chicken, and another fab 2.0 dinner was served!

I couldn’t have planned it better than this! And now, I always have a fun way to use up leftover risotto. 😀

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?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

1/4 cup whole milk

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

About 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (divided between layers)

A few shakes poultry seasoning

1 large egg

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

1 bulb roasted garlic

4 oz. ground breakfast sausage (uncooked)

1/4 cup plain panko or other bread crumbs

*Notes

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

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

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

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


Instructions

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

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

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BONUS RECIPE:

Put-it-on-Everything Mushroom Gravy

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

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

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


Ingredients (makes about 2 cups)

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

1/2 medium onion, finely minced

About 6 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and diced small

1 tsp. Umami seasoning*

1 bulb roasted garlic

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth*

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

*Notes

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

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

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

Instructions

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

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Sassy Succotash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ingredients

2 cups butternut squash cubes (roasting instructions below)

2 cups frozen butter beans*, cooked according to package

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

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1/2 large poblano pepper, chopped*

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

1 1/2 cups frozen roasted corn*

*Notes

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

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

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

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

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


Instructions

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

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

Want to make this dish vegan?

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

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Garlic Mashed (Terrie’s favorite potatoes)

I can’t remember exactly when I ditched boxes of potato flakes and started making mashed potatoes the real way for Thanksgiving (and every other time I wanted mashed potatoes). But I can say the process has evolved over the years. As my wife, Terrie, creator of this blog often says, cooking is about being inspired, taking chances and elevating your dishes. Just as I continue to try new methods and ingredients on the first dish I ever successfully created (chili), I’ve tweaked these garlic mashed potatoes over the past 20 years. In fact, they didn’t even start out as garlic mashed!

When I was growing up, I would sometimes take the baked potatoes my mother made, scoop out the innards, add margarine (Parkay, to be specific) and mash. It seemed to make them more tolerable.

For the current version, I’ve upped the ante by adding real butter, roasted garlic, our grated parm-romano blend and heavy cream, none of which were in the early year versions of this dish. About a decade ago, I decided to experiment with the potato mix. I loved Yukon Gold and had a hunch doing a 50-50 mix of Yukon and russet would work well. I was right. The garlic mashed I’m serving up here is a silky blend of flavor that kind of melts in your mouth. I usually add more butter than what the recipe calls for. Just because, as Terrie and I say about certain recipes, “There’s too much butter (or parm-romano blend, bacon, bourbon, chocolate). Said nobody. Ever.”


Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings)

1 large garlic head, roasted

Extra virgin olive oil (or spray)

2-3 medium to large Russet potatoes

2-3 medium to large Yukon gold potatoes

4 Tbsp. (half stick) salted butter (with the option to add more)

4 oz. heavy cream (with the option to add more)

1/4 cup parm-romano blend (with the option to add more)

Salt and pepper to taste


Putting it together

Preheat oven to 350° F. Roast the head of garlic by cutting off the top, adding oil (olive oil preferred) either from a bottle or a spray can. Wrap tightly in foil and roast for about an hour. You can check out Terrie’s post from yesterday for more detail and step-by-step pictures, but it goes like this:

Peel and dice the potatoes and heat stove-top on high. As the water begins to boil, add salt and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a fork. Drain potatoes and return to pot.

Add butter and heavy cream, add salt and pepper. Squeeze out the roasted garlic bulbs into the potatoes. Use a potato masher and mash by hand if you like. Or use a potato ricer if you like (before adding ingredients) for an even silkier texture. There was a time when I added the blend to a stand mixer, but I’ve since disavowed those years (the potatoes get too pasty).

As you mix, continue to taste, adding salt and pepper as needed, but also adding additional butter and/or cream if it feels too potato-ey. Add the grated cheese blend and continue to mash until it completely disappears into the mix, which won’t take long.

Serve with an additional pat of butter, gravy or your own preferred alternatives. Terrie is already eating it straight from the pot.

Now we have perfection.

Terrie’s note:

The blend of potatoes Les uses makes these so special because the Yukon golds are smooth and creamy, while the russets add a soft fluffiness. The roasted garlic and parm-romano add new levels of savory flavor. They are good for Thanksgiving, but we also make them as a side for more casual meals, such as meatloaf, steaks, pork chops and beer can roasted chicken. I confess that I’m always on the lookout for another new main dish that would be an excuse to make these again. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section. 🙂

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Thanksgiving Mini Meatloaf

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.

Every bite has a perfect balance of moist, tender meatloaf, savory hearty greens and soft sweet potato.

Ingredients

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

3 Tbsp. butter, melted

1 egg white

1/4 cup grated parm-romano blend

1 lb. ground turkey*

1 large egg

1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning

2 Tbsp. chopped sun-dried tomatoes

*Notes

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.


Instructions


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Press the potato mixture with the tines of a fork to leave lines on top.
  9. 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).
Just these, and a little dab of cranberry relish, and you’d have a complete Thanksgiving mini-meal! 🙂

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Follow the steps and pictures above, or click below to download a printable version for your recipe files!


Sloppy “Dogs”

Recently in my news feed wanderings, I spotted an article claiming to list the “7 Classic American Dishes No One Eats Anymore.” This type article always grabs my attention because I immediately assume I’m the exceptional person—the one who does actually still eat the foods that are supposedly yesterday’s news.

The list held a few surprises for me.

Chicken cordon bleu made a showing at #5, and I cannot get behind that. Soon, I’ll share my recipe for this classic dish and a story about the time I made chicken cordon bleu from memory at midnight—on a dare. Some of the other dishes listed in the article truly are better left in the past, such as turkey tetrazzini, which is just a hot mess of a dish that includes leftover turkey with spaghetti and canned peas (blech), and the dreaded creamed chipped beef on toast. Folks, there’s a reason everyone started calling that dish sh!t on a shingle. Let’s just leave it behind, shall we?

Today though, I’m showing due respect for the food item that ranked #1 on the list, the sloppy joe. What is the world coming to, if people are giving up on this fun and tasty handheld, with all its sweet, spicy, tangy sauce? Was it the SNL skit featuring Adam Sandler and the late Chris Farley? I thought that catchy tune was responsible for saving the sloppy joe, not burying it.

The only thing I can find to blame for sloppy joe’s ill-fated appearance on this list of “has-beens” is that people have grown bored with the mass-produced stuff that made sloppy joes so common in the first place, and that would be the canned sloppy joe sauce. Yep, good old Manwich. It exploded onto the convenience food scene in 1969, and everyone embraced this miracle in a can that turned a pound of ground meat into an easy, casual family dinner.

Fast forward 51 years. Palates have evolved (for better or worse), and at the same time, Manwich and other convenience foods went all in with the use of cheap, controversial ingredients—namely, high fructose corn syrup (boo, hiss). Despite mounting flak from savvy consumers, the fake sweetener is still listed as an ingredient on the Manwich label, so it won’t land in my grocery cart anytime soon. No matter, because it’s super easy to make sloppy joes at home without a pre-made commercial sauce. I’ll show you how to mix and match ingredients that are already in your refrigerator door to get the same fun, tangy flavor, but without weird additives (caramel color doesn’t add a thing to Manwich anyway). Use any kind of ground meat you like—I’m going to lighten mine up with ground turkey, and I’m also switching up the presentation by serving them on toasted hot dog buns. That makes them sloppy dogs! Who’s hungry?

Chunky, meaty, tangy, spicy.
Sloppy dogs, sloppy, sloppy dogs!

Ingredients

1 pound ground turkey

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (most of a 15 oz. can)

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp. molasses (or substitute brown sugar)

1 tsp. sweet smoked Spanish paprika

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

Pinch of cinnamon

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 Tbsp. chopped pickle chips (sweet, spicy or whatever you like)

4 toasted hot dog (or burger) buns, for serving


Instructions

  1. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute onions and bell peppers until soft and translucent, but not browned.
  2. Add ground meat in a large chunk, on top of the vegetables. Gradually break up the meat with a wooden spoon or spatula and aim to keep the meat chunky.
  3. Combine tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, mustard, molasses, Worcestershire and spices. Add to the meat mixture and stir gently to blend. If mixture looks is too thick, add a splash of water. If it’s too thin, add another spoon of tomato paste. It’s your kitchen, so take charge and don’t worry about my recipe. Let your taste buds tell you whether the mixture needs more salt,  sweet or tang, and adjust accordingly.
  4. Add the chopped pickles near the end of cooking time, for a zippy crunch.
  5. Cover mixture and simmer a few minutes as needed to prepare the rest of your dinner.
  6. Butter the cut insides of your dog (or burger) buns, and toast the buttered side on a griddle or hot skillet.
  7. Pile the sloppy mixture onto the toasted buns and enjoy!
These sloppy dogs were delicious served up with my Snakes in the Pumking Patch beer cocktail.

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The Best Bread Pudding

It strikes me funny that a dessert as simple and humble as bread pudding shows up so frequently on upscale restaurant menus. Rarely do you find it an option in a sandwich shop or a casual dining joint. But go to a “nicer” place, and there it is—usually spiked with some kind of liqueur and almost always drenched in a rich creamy sauce. They can make it as fancy as they like, but as far as I’m concerned, my grandmother set the bar on bread pudding. Hers was never quite the same twice, but it was always delicious.

Of all the cooking lessons Gram gave me in her small upstate New York kitchen, one of the most important—that she lived out every day—was to “waste nothing.” As a survivor of the Great Depression, she saved things that most people threw away, including scrap pieces of aluminum foil, fabric remnants, even used twist ties. But the best things she saved went into a bread bag in her freezer, until she had collected four cups worth, enough to make a batch of her famous bread pudding. End pieces of stale bread, that last uneaten sweet roll and even the occasional hamburger bun were revitalized into a delicious, custardy dessert that was cinnamon-y and sweet and tasted like a day at Gram’s house.

I was taken aback recently to realize that I only have four handwritten recipe cards left to me by my cooking mentor, but I’m thrilled that one of them is titled “Basic Bread Pudding.” When I got the news last summer that she had passed away, just as I was awaiting delivery of my new gas range, I pulled out every bread scrap we had in the freezer, and this pudding is the first thing I baked in it.

Like everything else she made, Gram’s recipe for bread pudding is flexible; it’s meant to make use of whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. The formula is simple, and you can dress it up (or not) however you like. If you like it more custardy, she had a suggestion for that on the back of the card (I’ve included it below, as a direct quote from Gram).

In honor of what would have been Gram’s 99th birthday this week, I’m proud to share her recipe with you. She would have been tickled pink, and also a little surprised, because to her, bread pudding was a given.

No matter what I add to the recipe, somehow it always tastes like Gram made it! ❤

There’s a reason that bread pudding today is showing up on upscale restaurant menus. It’s rich, dense, custardy, and so, so comforting. You can flex the flavors to match the season, serve it warm with a creamy sauce or chilled, straight from the fridge. Frankly, I’m in favor of having it for breakfast. Bottom line, it’s a fantastic dessert that you can make yourself, and (by way of my pictures and descriptions) my grandma is going to show you how easy it is.

For this batch, I’ve followed Gram’s lead in pulling some scraps from the freezer. I made sourdough challah a couple months back, and I also found some leftover cinnamon rolls, just minding their own business in the freezer. I swapped out the raisins for chopped dates and dried apples, and some of the cinnamon for cardamom. Oh, and I also boozed them up a little bit by soaking the dates in some Grand Marnier (of course, I did).


Ingredients for “Basic Bread Pudding”

2 cups milk

4 cups coarse bread cubes

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 beaten eggs

1/2 cup raisins (or other fruit)

1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg

Pour into 1 1/2 quart casserole. Set in pan of hot water. Bake at 350° F for about one hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

For more “custardy” pudding, use 4 cups milk and reduce bread cubes to 2 cups.

Gram (on the back of the recipe card)

Follow along, to see how easy it is to create this luscious dessert! You’ll find a downloadable recipe to print at the end of the post. Enjoy!


I suppose you want to know about the rich caramel sauce that’s drizzled all over the pudding? It’s salted caramel sauce, which I might have made from scratch (but didn’t). This time, I took an easy shortcut by warming salted caramel ice cream topping in the microwave with a few tablespoons of heavy cream. It thinned out nicely and provided the perfect finishing touch. Gram would’ve loved that idea, I’m sure of it. Just wait ‘til Christmas, when I share her recipe for molasses cookies!


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