My Thanksgiving All-Stars

I typically spend my Thanksgivings alternating between my grandma’s house and Blake’s family. And so while I haven’t hosted turkey day at my home but once or twice,  I’m usually making half a dozen sides to contribute to the meal and so I’ve acquired my favs over the years. My office also has an annual Thanksgiving lunch, and so I get another opportunity to try new recipes and perfect the tried and true.

Ever since I began eating cleaner and cutting out all the “cream of whatever” soups, I’ve been on a quest to find recipes that are just as flavorful, but truly made from scratch. So far so good. I’m still lacking a good green bean casserole, but I’ve got a couple of Pinterest ideas that I may just try next week – stay tuned.

So here’s the list… sorry don’t have pictures for all of them, but trust me, they look as good as they sound!

My Thanksgiving All-Stars:Butter and Bay Leaves Roasted Turkey (see below)

Sweet Potato Casserole

Squash casserole5

Creamed Spinach

Broccoli and blue cheese casserole2

  • Cauliflower Gratin with Gouda and Asiago (see below)

Cauliflower gratin

Mac n cheese

Green Beans

Pumpkin pie slice

  • Chocolate Pie (see below)

Recipes for some of the my unblogged dishes above:

Butter and Bay Leaves Roasted Turkey
Courtesy of my good friend, Glynis

1 turkey (any size)
2 sticks of softened butter
2 tsp salt
10 or more bay leaves

1.) Rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towel and set aside.
2.) In a small bowl, mix softened butter and salt.
3.) Rub the exterior and underneath the skin with butter and salt mixture. (I suggest you wear gloves for this, and you will have to do some work to separate the skin from the bird – but do not give up!)
4.) Arrange bay leaves in a decorative pattern underneath the skin.
5.) Bake according to the size of the turkey, basting often.

Cornbread Dressing
Courtesy of my grandma

2 10-inch skillets of homemade buttermilk cornbread
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 cups diced celery
2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, diced (optional)
2 tsp ground sage (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
6 to 8 cups turkey or chicken stock (enough to thoroughly moisten cornbread)
2 eggs

1.) In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium-high heat and add onion and celery. Sauté until onion is translucent. Set aside.
2.) In a large mixing bowl, crumble cornbread and add onion/celery mix, hard boiled eggs, sage, pepper, salt and stock until it is very moist (but not soupy). If you add too much liquid, you can always cook longer to dry out, but if you don’t add enough liquid your dressing will be dry! Do not add raw egg yet. Taste to make sure seasoning is good and adjust as needed. Once the taste is right, add raw egg.
3.) Pour into a greased 10″x13″ casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees until golden brown (about 45 to 60 minutes).

Cauliflower Gratin with Gouda and Asiago

2 lbs (or 1 large head) cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk, warmed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded gouda
1/2 cup shredded asiago
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup seasoned panko

1.) Steam cauliflower for 5 minutes, then allow to drain in a colander for at least another 5 minutes.
2.) In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk continuously for 1 to 2 minutes and then gradually add warmed milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue whisking until sauce thickens.
3.) Remove pan for heat and add gouda and asiago. Stir until cheese melts.
4.) In a large bowl, combine cauliflower with cheese sauce. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the top with parmesan and then with panko.
5.) Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until top is brown and sides are bubbly.

Chocolate Pie
Courtesy of Cooking Chef’s Grandma’s Chocolate Pie

½ c. cocoa
¼ cup cornstarch
3 egg yolks
1 ½ c. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix cocoa, cornstarch, beaten egg yolks; sugar and salt and vanilla, then add milk gradually, while stirring in a pot over med-high heat. Cook until thick, beating it smooth. Pour into a pre-baked pie shell (use this homemade version and bake it for 12-15 mins on 375). Put in the fridge to chill.

Road trip with my boys… all by myself

Part of being married means you’ve got to split holidays. So for Blake and me, it means we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas between Georgia and Florida. And this year, it’s was Thanksgiving in Florida. However, this year presented a small complication… Blake recently started a new job… and his new restaurant happens to be open for Thanksgiving… and Thanksgiving happens to be one of their busiest days. And so not wanting to miss the holiday with my family I decided I would brave the trip solo with the boys. Yes, you heard right. Despite all of the prior experiences that would point to this not being a good idea, I pushed all the negativity out of my mind and took the “I can do this” approach.

I knew my success on this trip would be directly related to how prepared I was, and so I did my best to anticipate every situation. I packed a cooler full of every snack imaginable (had a bag of snacks too) and I positioned it all to be within reach. I bought a new DVD player with dual monitors and a new Mickey Mouse Club House DVD (according to Amazon, the one with the longest run time). I strategically placed the bin of toys we were bringing below Beckett’s seat so that if he threw his milk or his blanket or his stuffed bear, that I’d be able to grab it for him. I loaded all the luggage behind the double stroller, so I could get it in and out with ease. I planned for potty breaks every two hours.

And I’m happy to report that the forethought paid off and my trip was as smooth as I ever could of imagined. They were happy, and sleepy, and totally engrossed in Mickey Mouse. On the way back they were sick, so the accompanying lethargy actually worked to my advantage.  There was very little screaming, virtually no fighting, only 1 unscheduled potty stop, and I even realized that Beckett could wipe his own nose (I handed him a tissue, he wiped his nose and handed it back… what else can he do, I wonder??).  Although they were sick on the ride home, they weren’t miserable. They saved all their puke for when we were home (thank you, thank you, thank you!!).

So while I was certain that my trip would have given me some real stories to tell, it didn’t. Except that I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged that my boys can behave every now and again.  But I’m not naive to think we’ve crossed into this alternate universe where they are easy and I can venture out into the world again (a trip to the bowling alley with the boys and my brothers smacked me back into reality!), but I’ll take this as a little victory and count my blessings.

The time in Florida was great. I spent the first two days cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my grandma (where we served 30!), got to visit with almost all of my cousins (on my mom’s side), my aunts and uncles, hung with my mom, sister, brothers and grandpa. It was a trip full of family and way too much great food (more recipes to come) and it was awesome.  I hope everyone had as nice a Thanksgiving as I did.

Me and Grandma
Me and my grandma

Me and Mom
Me and my mom

DSC_0417
My family – Mom, sister, brothers and boys

DSC_0472
My good boys 🙂

Sweet Potato Casserole

This is my grandma’s sweet potato casserole. I’ve been eating it for as long as I can remember. It is by far, the best sweet potato dish I’ve ever eaten… and I recognize it’s hard to be objective about grandma’s recipes – but for real, this is great!

I made this a couple of years ago for my Thanksgiving lunch at work and some of the ladies in my office adopted this as their go-to sweet potato recipe. And so now that I can’t make it (with my son’s tree nut allergy), I’m happy that they’ve got this recipe down and I can continue to enjoy one of my favorites.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potatoes
3 cups canned sweet potatoes
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Topping
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup pecans (chopped)
1 cup coconut

1.) Mash together all ingredients for the sweet potatoes and place in a casserole dish.
2.) Combine topping ingredients with a fork.  Place evenly on top of sweet potatoes.
3.) Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

If you’re using fresh sweet potatoes, you may need to add a little more sugar to the sweet potato mixture. You can either bake or boil them. If boiling, peel, cube and then boil until fork-tender. If you bake, bake with skins on then scoop sweet potatoes out of skins.

Sweet Potato Casserole2

Sweet Potato Casserole3

Super Easy Pie Crust (and Pumpkin Pie)

When I found this recipe for pie crust on Pinterest, it seemed too good to be true. You mean to tell me that I can make a pie crust with four ingredients, without rolling it out, in the pie plate?? Why yes. Yes you can. When I first read that this crust was made with oil instead of butter, I was slightly put off. I put butter in everything! But I figured I’d give it a shot. To my pleasant surprise, this crust was good and flakey.

To say I’m thrilled about this pie crust would be the understatement of the year. I stopped buying store-bought pie crusts a while back (except Immaculate Baking Company brand, when I can find it) because they are full of hydrogenated oils and preservatives. But most times I’m too lazy to go through the trouble of rolling out a crust. So what happens? I don’t make as much pie as I’d like. Well my friends, not any more! I’m going to be a pie making machine! This weekend I made two pumpkin pies and a buttermilk pie (just because I could).

Super Easy Pie Crust

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt

1.) Add all ingredients into a 9″ deep pie plate.
2.) Using your hands, mix ingredients together and form a dough ball. Place dough in center of the pie plate and use your fingers to press it out, starting from the center and moving out toward the edges.
3.) Use with any pie that calls for unbaked dough (pumpkin, apple, pecan, buttermilk, etc.)

Easy pie crust2

Easy pie crust

Easy pie crust3

Easy pie crust4

I switched pie plates on you (I made a couple pies and forgot to get this shot in my stone pie plate)

Recipe from Redhead Can Decorate

I use Libby’s famous pumpkin pie recipe (plus nutmeg) – simple but delish!

Pumpkin Pie

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs
1 15-oz can pumpkin
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
Unbaked pie crust

1.) Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in a small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in sugar/spice mix and pumpkin. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
2.) Pour into pie shell.
3.) Bake for 15 minutes in a preheated 425 degree oven. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 40 to 50 minutes longer, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 2 hours.

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie slice

Squash Casserole

More of the Thanksgiving fare… squash casserole. I got this recipe from Blake’s Aunt June and first tried it at a family get-together. I was impressed by the flavor, the fact that it was not made with cream soup and how easy it is to throw together. It’s made it into my Thanksgiving all-star roster and I make it every year. Enjoy!

Squash Casserole

2 1/2 lbs squash, sliced (see pic below)
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 egg
1 sleeve saltine crackers, crushed
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 stick of butter, melted
Salt and pepper

1.) Steam squash and onion for about 10 to 12 minutes (or until fork tender). Place squash in a colander to allow all the excess liquid to drain.
2.) Mix all ingredients (except 1/2 cup of the cheese) in a large mixing bowl.
3.) Pour into a greased casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.
4.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (or more if it’s sharing an oven).

I doubled the recipe in the pictures below.

Squash and onion

Squash and onion steamed

Crushed crackers
I think it’s easier to crush your crackers in the sleeve – less mess.

Squash casserole2

Squash casserole3
Doubling the recipe it fits nicely in a 9×13″ casserole dish.

Squash casserole4

Squash casserole

Squash casserole5

Broccoli and Blue Cheese Casserole

Next up on the Thanksgiving recipe line up… Broccoli Casserole. But this one has a little something special – blue cheese. I got this recipe from my aunt and have been making it for years. Even before I was a big blue cheese fan, I have loved this casserole! It’s a great from-scratch recipe with no cream soup but a whole lot of flavor. I served this at our office Thanksgiving lunch today and they ate it up!

Broccoli and Blue Cheese Casserole

3 bunches of broccoli (about 9 stalks – see pic below)
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
8 ozs cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup blue cheese
2 cups milk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup crushed crackers (see pic below)

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.) Cut off broccoli florets (cutting large ones in half). Steam for about 10 to 12 minutes or until fork tender. Place in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice.
3.) In a saucepan, melt butter and add flour and salt to make a roux. Add milk while whisking. Add cream cheese and blue cheese and stir with a whisk until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Add mayo. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
4.) Add cheese sauce to broccoli in mixing bowl. Mix well until broccoli is evenly coated.
5.) Place into a casserole dish. Top with crushed crackers and bake for about 30 minutes or until crackers are golden and sides are bubbly. Longer if it’s sharing an oven with another dish.

Broccoli
I used 3 of these bunches… each bunch had 3 stalks

Broccoli cut up
Here’s the size of the cut broccoli

Broccoli blue cheese sauce
Blue cheese sauce

Broccoli and blue cheese sauce

Broccoli and blue cheese casserole pre crackers

Back to Nature Classic Round Crackers
These are my Ritz cracker substitutes – all natural and they taste exactly the same!

Broccoli and blue cheese casserole topped with crackers

Broccoli and blue cheese casserole

Broccoli and blue cheese casserole2

Creamed Spinach

The official kick-off to my holiday season is the Thanksgiving lunch at my office. It’s always the Monday of the week before Thanksgiving, and so it’s sort of a warm up (for cooking and eating) before the big day. My contributions to the lunch are: Pumpkin Pie, Buttermilk Pie, Broccoli and Blue Cheese Casserole, Squash Casserole, Mashed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach. I’ll eventually post all of these recipes, but I will start with the spinach.

A couple of years ago I sought after a Boston Market copycat recipe for their creamed spinach… and this one is really close (and maybe better). As is true with my other Thanksgiving casseroles, no cream of anything – these are all from scratch (or darn close). I hope you enjoy!

Creamed Spinach

3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
2 to 3 tbsp finely minced onion
20 ozs frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Pepper to taste

1.) In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 3 tbsp butter and add flour and salt to make a roux. Cook for about 1 minutes stirring constantly. Add milk while stirring. Once it starts to bubble, remove from heat.
2.) In a large pot over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp butter and saute onion. Add spinach and water. Cover and cook until spinach is heated through.
3.) Add white sauce, sour cream and parmesan cheese to spinach and stir until ingredients are mixed well.

I doubled this recipe in the pictures below.

Creamed Spinach2
I place the thawed spinach in a colander and use a large spoon to press it against the sides to remove all the excess liquid.

Creamed Spinach White Sauce
This shows how thick the white sauce will be right after it starts to boil.

Creamed Spinach3

Creamed Spinach
The finished product!