Thanksgiving, 2017: The Plan

Normally, you all get a free preview of my meal plan on Tuesdays, but Thanksgiving has us all kinds of out of order, and with a few days ahead of us to start prepping, I’m sharing this year’s plan today, in hopes it may give you inspiration if you need it.

Spoiler alert: Dear guests who are also readers – don’t keep reading if you want to be surprised, but also, we’re mostly having what we always have. (These photos are from Thanksgiving, 2015)

andre, the turkey.


Mashed potatoes

Green bean casserole (made two days before, cooked while the turkey is resting)

Stuffing (made the day before, cooked while the turkey is resting)

Sweet potatoes (made two days before, cooked while the turkey is resting)

Brussels sprouts from my sister-in-law (usually roasted with pancetta, and whoops, now I’m drooling)

Cranberry sauce (made whenever my husband wants)

Biscuits (made in the morning and warmed up before dinner)

apple pie.

Apple pie (gifted by a friend)

Pumpkin pie (sold by a neighbor who is a far superior baker)

And this pecan praline sauce because I’m not making the usual bourbon pecan tart (made a day or two before)

And ice cream, because, duh

And orange cookies, because I can’t not bake anything. Hopefully they’ll be amazing, and you’ll see them before too much longer. (made the day before)

full plate.

The rest of the week, if you’re interested:

Sunday – Sausage and tomato risotto, which is a forever favorite.

Monday – hot dogs and tater tots, and some sort of veggie. Yep. That’s it.

Tuesday – A veggie and chicken stir-fry (love this teriyaki sauce the most) if I’m home early, and leftovers if I’m not.

Wednesday – whatever we didn’t do on Tuesday

Thursday – LOL, see above

Friday – PIE and only pie.

Saturday – Oh gracious, I don’t know yet.

The Story Behind the Menu – Weeknight Dinner for a Friend

Who: the three of us and a friend

What: a regular weeknight dinner

When: Monday evening

Why: because she works less than a mile away from our house, and we thought it’d be a blast



The thought process: I knew I had to make a lot of food that could be made in advance, and couldn’t make a single thing that would come together at the last minute. I was going to be prepping this with Gooplet right underfoot, so I had to stretch myself to find easy recipes that still qualified as classy.

The menu:

Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk – it had been so long since I last roasted a chicken. It’s one of those tasks that could not be easier, and yet every time I’m about to do it, I get anxious about it. Good news: it continues to be the easiest, and turns out just great no matter what.

Ladd’s Roasted Potatoes – Last time I roasted a chicken was probably about the last time I made something from The Pioneer Woman, so I was long past due. Let me tell you – anything dripping in butter and Lawry’s is just fine by me. (Let me also tell you these would be just as delightful at breakfast as they were at dinner.)

Sauteed Green Beans – Whenever I need to take a vegetable dish to the next level, I make green beans a la my mother in law. Saute a finely chopped onion, add some minced garlic, salt and pepper, and some haricots vert. Quickest, easiest, best green bean dish ever. Add toasted, slivered almonds if you want some crunch.

Apple Pie a la mode – A neighbor of ours just started a pop up bake shop, and she sold apple pies to raise money for a wonderful cause. I bought one to enjoy at dinner, and had one less thing to worry about.

What worked: Dinner! My theory with almost every single kind of entertaining I’ve ever done is: it’s going to work because it has to work. It can’t not work. As I had no intention of calling this friend to cancel, I knew dinner was simply going to happen. There’s something about that mindset that helps me immensely. The wine was flowing, we put the kid to sleep before dessert, and kept the party going long into the night. (Well, long into the night for us parents, which means we were done by 10 and fully cleaned up by 10:30.)

What didn’t: I don’t think this didn’t work, but I wish I had made one or two more dishes. By loading my meal with butter, I’m confident our guest went home well-fed, but when I entertain I love having too much on the table. I wish I had done an arugula salad, and maybe some garlic bread too. And I didn’t take any pictures! That happens way too often these days.

This New Thing We’re Doing [cranberry apple cake]

Dear readers, I didn’t mean to abandon you, especially not during this, my most epic food week ever.
Except it seems that’s exactly what I’ve gone and done.
I have done 0 work to prepare for Thanksgiving.  And it’s Wednesday!  Thanksgiving is tomorrow!  I need to go grocery shopping. I’m on dessert duty at my in-laws on Thursday, and then I’ll make our little family a mini Thanksgiving on Friday (turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and whatever leftover dessert we walk away with from the afternoon prior).
If you need a little something different on your Thanksgiving dessert table, may I suggest Ina’s easy cranberry and apple cake?
My husband has taken to making a little something each weekend, and this was on the agenda the other day.  We devoured it.  It’s like pie filling with a simple cake on top.
Hope your Thanksgivings are filled with whomever it is you’re most thankful for.
To make cranberry apple cake, you will need:
12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over for stems
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (2 oranges)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/8 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the cranberries, apple, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add 1 cup of the granulated sugar, the butter, vanilla, and sour cream and beat just until combined. On low speed, slowly add the flour and salt.

Pour the fruit mixture evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Pour the batter over the fruit, covering it completely. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle it over the batter. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the fruit is bubbling around the edges.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

On Easy Dinners [baked risotto with peas]

I’ve long said that I’m wary of dinners that claim to be easy.  Easy they may be, but rarely are they any good.  But, leave it to Ina to discover some of the secrets to saving time and making dinner a tad less daunting on a busy weeknight.  Ina bakes her risotto.  Which I’ve done once before.  

I will tell you, dear readers, this risotto doesn’t have the same creaminess as one you stir for 45 minutes, but that’s not always an option when it comes to weeknight dinner, and this is pretty darn close.

 To make baked risotto, you will need:

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups simmering chicken stock, preferably homemade, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the rice and 4 cups of the chicken stock in a Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente. Remove from the oven, add the remaining cup of chicken stock, the Parmesan, wine, butter, salt, and pepper, and stir vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy. Add the peas and stir until heated through. Serve hot.

That Was So Easy! [mocha chocolate icebox cake]

The other day, The (Not So) New Girl and I spent the entire day together, walking the ‘hood, hanging out, and sharing food. She brought me a giant slice of The Barefoot Contessa’s mocha chocolate icebox cake* and I told her I really didn’t need to eat more than half of it. Then I paused for a half second, and proceeded to eat, um, all of it.

I love a good riff on an icebox cake.

Ina’s feels fancy and extra rich because it uses mascarpone in the whipped cream mixture and in place of boring, plain chocolate wafers, she uses chocolate chips. Ah, the genius of Ina!

A huge part of that genius, though, is in her calling for Tate’s chocolate chip cookies, which are thin and crisp (and widely available at the grocery store-look for them by Pepperidge Farm cookies). Because the cream softens the cookies over time, you don’t want to use a soft batch cookie here or things would be a crumbly mess.

Because she always asked for cakes with mocha frosting, I decided right away that this would be Wooden Nickels’ birthday cake this year. I will not be waiting till next year to make it again.

To make an 8 inch cake, you will need:

  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 12 ounces italian mascarpone cheese
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 14 cup kahlua liqueur (I left this out, but I wish I hadn’t)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 (8 ounce) packages chocolate chip cookies (Tate’s Bakeshop recommended)
  • shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, coffee liqueur, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms firm peaks.

To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate chip cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (I break some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the chocolate, cut in wedges, and serve cold.

*Isn’t mocha chocolate redundant?  I’ve been wondering that.  Isn’t mocha, coffee that’s flavored with chocolate?  Because this cake is so good, we’ll let it slide.

My First Dinner Back [truffle mac and cheese]

It took me three days (and about another three weeks to post this), but I finally made Ina’s truffle mac and cheese.  There’s not much else to say.  Truffle mac and cheese.  Ina.  As she would say, how bad could that be?


The only tidbit I’ll offer is the extended cooking plan.  If you find yourself short of time with full use of both hands, may I share how I prepped this over the course of three days.

Day One: Boil noodles, and shred cheese (in the food processor, of course).  Pack each up tightly, and store in the fridge.

Day Two:  Saute mushrooms.  Put them in a sealed container, and refrigerate.

Day Three:  Make bechamel sauce, assemble casserole, and bake!


To make a 9 x 13 casserole (or two, 8x8s, which is how I tend to roll these days), you will need:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Good olive oil
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced 1/2-inch
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced 1/2-inch
3 tablespoons cream sherry
Kosher salt
1 pound pasta, such as cavatappi
3 ounces white truffle butter (recommended: D’Artagnan)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk, scalded
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 1/2 to 3 cups)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan, add the mushrooms, and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are tender. Add the sherry and continue to saute for a few more minutes, until the sherry is absorbed. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the truffle butter in a large (4-quart) saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the white sauce is thickened and creamy. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, the pepper, and nutmeg.

Combine the pasta, sauce, and mushrooms in a large bowl and pour them into a 10 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish.

Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until they’re minced. Add the bread crumbs and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the crumbs are golden brown. Serve hot.

And to show you how seriously I take my carbs, mac and cheese, elsewhere on this blog:
Wooden Nickels’ Macaroni and Cheese (the only recipe you truly need)

When You’re Feeling Fancy [tagliarelle with truffle butter]

tagliarelle with truffle butter.
I’m no Fancy Nancy.
There’s nothing in my house so precious it can’t be trampled on by an invasion of small children, you can find me in yoga pants as often as possible, and I can’t be bothered to do my grocery shopping at the upscale local market all the time.
But I can eat Ina’s tagliarelle with truffle butter.
Mostly because I can get all the ingredients at my regular grocery store, and get the sauce made in the time it takes the pasta water to boil.
We whipped this up on Christmas Eve between an early pageant and a late service, and I inhaled it faster than humans should ever consume food, no matter what it is.  It is every bit as decadent and wonderful as its name might lead you to believe.
To make tagliarelle for two, you will need:
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 3 oz. white truffle butter (D’artagnan brand, which is what Ina uses on her show, is now sold in my regular chain grocery store, in the case with the organic meat)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. tagliarelle dried pasta, or other egg fettucine
  • 3 T chopped, fresh chives
  • 3 oz. shaved Parmesan

Add 1 tablespoon salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large (12-inch) saute pan, heat the cream over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Add the truffle butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, lower the heat to very low, and swirl the butter until it melts. Keep warm over very low heat.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, exactly. (If you’re not using Cipriani pasta, follow the directions on the package.) When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the saute pan and toss it with the truffle-cream mixture. As the pasta absorbs the sauce, add as much of the reserved cooking water, as necessary, to keep the pasta very creamy.

Serve the pasta in shallow bowls and garnish each serving with a generous sprinkling of chives and shaved Parmesan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve at once.

Regular Nights at Home [wild mushroom risotto]

I love that the words regular and wild are occupying the same title space up there.

I’m someone who always focuses her energy on the routine, the seemingly (to some) mundane, and the little habits that make up our lives.  I’ve been thinking a lot about regular nights at home lately.  Having not had any for a year of construction, I appreciate them so much now.  Rare is the night that I get to spend coming home with nothing on the agenda but cooking dinner and catching up on DVR-ed Food Network and Jeopardy with my husband.

Yes, we are so old, we now watch Jeopardy every night.  And dear readers, I love it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

These regular nights are everything.  They’re what I thrive on.  I have long agonized about whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, and though I think feeding off the energy of others earns me that Meyers Briggs, “E,” I have some serious “I” tendencies.  Regular nights at home fuel them.

mushroom risotto.

While catching up on my backlog of Barefoot Contessa episodes, I saw her make wild mushroom risotto, and put my own spin on it with what we had in our pantry.*  The plan was to share it with The (Not So) New Girl, but she ended up enjoying a regular night at home with her new little boy, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

To make mushroom risotto for four, you will need:

  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 8 oz. button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 C barley (risotto is usually made with Arborio rice, but I didn’t have any)
  • 1/2 C white wine
  • 4 C chicken broth
  • 1/2 C shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven, or heavy bottomed pan, on the stove till butter is melted.  Add onion and cook till soft, 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook another 5-7 minutes, till mushrooms are cooked through.  Add barley and stir to coat with oil and butter.  Pour wine into pan and scrape brown bits off the bottom.  When wine has mostly evaporated, begin adding chicken broth by the ladle-full.  As broth cooks off, add ladle after ladle, until barley is fully cooked.  Dump in cheese, and stir till melted. Serve hot.

*I have a storied history with risotto.  In short, I love it more than anything.  Here are some of my previous risotto endeavors:  baked corn risotto, pesto risotto, spinach and sun dried tomato risotto, champagne risotto, tomato and sausage risotto

Best of 2014

Here were are again dear readers, at the close of another year.  Time to look back and reflect on our successes in the kitchen.  Mine are almost all recipes that add little nutritional value to your life.  So if you’re looking for help with your resolution, that’s another blog.  Sorry!

Click on the pictures to go to the recipes.

chocolate crunch bars.

banana walnut baked oatmeal.

funfetti cookies.

garlic and herb bread twists.

black bean burritos.

best chocolate chip cookies.

pounded cheese.

swedish pancakes.

chubby hubby cupcakes.

brown butter cherry bars.


toffee tiramisu.

cheddar tailgating bread.


chocolate peanut butter globs.

candy cane cookies.

And two non-recipe posts:

brownie taste test.


Want to know what else is good here?  Check out the best of 2013, and 2012.

On Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is {chocolate peanut butter globs}

I spent much of November thinking about important things like gratitude and thankfulness.  And if you’ve been on blogs, or Pinterest, or ever watched Oprah, then you’ve probably had someone tell you that these are important muscles to strengthen.  November is all about working them out.  How many friends of yours posted something they were thankful for every day on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?  A million?  Me too.  I’ve done it myself before.

chocolate peanut butter globs.

But I didn’t this year, mostly because I never got enough get-go to start.

And kind of sort of also because this whole celebrate thing has me thinking about action.  I can easily find something to be grateful for each day.  And I should.  That’s important.  But I could also act on those things.  Maybe not every day, but a lot of the time, I could.  I just don’t.  Cue December.  Another month perfect for cultivating a thankful attitude.  So this month, as I go through the holiday motions, with less of a focus on gifts, and more of a focus on gratitude, I want to make sure the people and things I’m grateful for know and feel that they’re important to me.

Cookies, I find, are always a great way to show gratitude.  These are some of the best I’ve had in a while.  They’re a riff on Ina’s chocolate peanut butter globs, and they’re amazing.

To make at least 2 dozen, you will need:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder, such as Medaglia d’Oro
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
almost one full bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups, choppedRead more at:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a few sheet pans with parchment paper.In a bowl set over simmering water, melt the butter, 6 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate, stirring occasionally, until just melted. Remove from the heat and cool for 15 minutes.In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, espresso powder, and vanilla until combined. Add the sugar, raise the speed to medium-high, and beat for 2 minutes, until the batter is thick and falls back on itself in a ribbon. Set aside.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture. Combine the 1/3 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and fold it into the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. In another bowl, combine the peanut butter cups, the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips, and the tablespoon of flour, and fold it into the chocolate mixture. With 2 soup spoons, drop rounded mounds of batter 1 inch apart onto the prepared sheet pans. Bake for 15 minutes exactly. Cool on the baking sheets.