Pumpkin Bread with Cream Cheese

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Let’s keep this short and sweet, since I know you have a turkey to dry-brine and stuffing to bake and cranberry sauce to cook up.

You’re going to need something for breakfast on Friday morning, something that requires no cooking or heating of leftovers or time in the overused, please-can-someone-give-the-oven-a-break? kitchen.

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So, in between your prep work today, take 20 minutes to make this pumpkin bread with cream cheese. It’s spicy and barely sweet, and the cream cheese adds a nice tang. It requires just two bowls and ingredients you probably already have at home (plus, it’s a great way to use the pumpkin puree left over from pie-making duties).

The best part: the pumpkin bread tastes even better a few days after baking, which means it’s perfect for making ahead. Simply slice it and set it out before going to bed on Thursday night, and let your guests help themselves the next morning. Doesn’t that sound like a dream? Continue reading

Dry-Brined Turkey with Sage Butter

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No Thanksgiving is complete without the turkey. And if you’ve been on any kind of recipe site or food magazine in the past few weeks, you know that there’s 8,379,201 ways to cook a bird and all of them claim to solve the #1 problem with roast turkey: dryness.

The most popular answer? Brining. Salting your turkey breaks down certain proteins and science, science, blah blah blah … helps keep it juicy. The most common method of brining is a wet brine, ie. dissolving salt in water and then immersing the entire turkey in the solution for a few days.

But there are a few problems with wet brining. Number one: it requires space. The entire turkey must be submerged, so you’d need a large bucket or cooler for a large bird. It needs to stay cold, so you need enough space in the fridge to house the bucket, or you need to routinely refresh the ice in your cooler. Number two: soaking the turkey in salted water keeps it moist, but doesn’t add much flavor. And, because your turkey is wet, it won’t crisp up as well in the oven, so you won’t get that gorgeous bronzed crackly skin.

Last year, because of that space issue, I skipped the brine. And let me tell you, it was delicious. So a brine is not strictly necessary for juicy, flavorful turkey.

This year, I was still curious — after all, if thousands of blogs and recipe sites and magazines are touting the brine, there must be something to this, right? But in my research, I discovered the dry brine, a way to add moisture to your turkey without having to stick a bucket in the fridge, without watering down the flavor of your turkey, without creating insanely salty drippings that can’t be used for gravy.

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It’s stupid-easy: rub salt all over your turkey, then let it sit for a day or two in the fridge. The salt draws out the turkey’s juices then dissolves in them and is reabsorbed by the meat (or something like that), creating a mess-free moist turkey.

The type of salt you use is essential: regular old table salt won’t work here. Kosher salt is a must, since its larger flakes are better for dissolving. There are different types of kosher salt, with different levels of salinity too (Diamond Crystal kosher salt is less salty than Morton’s kosher salt, etc. — here’s more than you ever needed to know about any of this.) If you’re in doubt, err on the side of caution: start with 1 tablespoon for every 4 pounds of bird.

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Though I dry-brined for a day, to ensure maximum moistness I also buttered my bird. Since I was stuffing it with apples and onions, I rubbed the turkey inside and out with a sage-and-shallot butter, and followed last year’s method of flipping the turkey halfway through cooking. The end result was a real stunner, with its crispy golden skin and its perfectly juicy interior.

Now that I’m 2-for-2 with turkey cooking, next year, I’ll hopefully master the carving …

More Thanksgiving:
Classic Thanksgiving Stuffing
Cranberry-Pinot Sauce
Easy Giblet Gravy
And my Holiday Roundup

Continue reading

Thanksgiving Prep Tips + A Classic Stuffing Recipe

Thanksgiving is often touted as the hostess’s white whale, a menacing foe that requires an immense amount of experience and skill to conquer. FALSE. To successfully host a great Thanksgiving, you need just one thing: advance planning. This is the time to really unleash your Type-A-OCD-Excel-spreadsheet-loving side. Schedules and timelines are a must, as are meticulous shopping lists, a thorough check of your pantry, and a healthy sense of adventure.

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Ideally, you want to start planning at least 10 days in advance. (Like right after you read this post, you know?) By now, you should know how many people are coming to dinner, and what, if anything, they are bringing. From there, you can figure out how much food you’ll need to make: a turkey for X amount of people, gravy, two sides, etc. Pick your recipes early and stick to them! You may be dazzled by the latest, greatest trendy way to cook a turkey, but dinner party rule #1 is don’t try anything new, and what is Thanksgiving if not a gigantic dinner party?

Once you have your recipes, you have your shopping list. Scour your pantry first: you probably still have spices, specialty flours and random sugars from last year. Then, divide your list by items that can be bought 7-10 days in advance, and items that must be bought 2-3 days in advance. Spices, chicken stock, herbs, sturdy vegetables (carrots, onions, celery potatoes), butter, eggs, most baking supplies, anything canned or frozen — all of these will be fine if you buy them now. This way, you only have to focus on the perishable items next weekend, and you’re not slammed with a $300 grocery bill. Also, items tend to get sold out, so the earlier you pick them up, the less chance you have of fighting another human for the last bag of French-cut green beans on Wednesday afternoon.

One note here: if you’re buying a frozen turkey, you’ll need a few days to thaw it (at least 1 day in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds of turkey). So plan accordingly if you’re going that route.

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Ideally, the only things you’ll need to make on Thursday are the turkey and the gravy. Almost everything can be made ahead of time, and in fact, a lot of dishes are better on Day Two or Day Three.

Pie crusts can be made weeks in advance — simply triple-wrap them with plastic wrap and freeze until needed (just thaw it overnight in the fridge before using). Biscuits can also be made weeks in advance and frozen — simply freeze the raw biscuits on a baking sheet until they’re frozen completely, then transfer to a freezer bag and freeze until needed. No need to thaw — simply pop them in the oven and add 10-15 minutes to your original baking time.

Gratins and casseroles reheat like a dream. Make them on Monday and refrigerate them until 45 minutes before dinner time. Soups are also easily reheatable, and can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated until just before serving. Cranberry sauce can be made up to a week in advance and needs no reheating — simply take it out of the fridge on Thanksgiving morning so that it loses some of its chill before dinner.

Bake your pies on Wednesday night (or Thursday morning, if you eat later in the day) and leave them on the counter (hidden, if you’re worried about overeager human vultures). You can also make your whipped cream Thursday morning and leave it in the fridge until dessert time (or make it earlier in the week if you plan to use stabilizers).

You can even make your gravy base ahead of time, cooking your giblets in stock up to two days in advance and reheating gently on the stove for 15 minutes before whisking in the turkey drippings.

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And stuffing? Stuffing is better when made two days in advance, and then reheated just before dinner. It allows all of the flavors to meld together in one herby, delicious mess. As I mentioned in my newsletter this month, I am not on stuffing duty for Friendsgiving. This is not out of any noble decision to share the workload or anything like that. It’s a practical decision: Debleena makes stuffing because her recipe is a classic, full of Thanksgiving flavors and probably straight from this Norman Rockwell painting.

The apples and sausage and herbs create a perfect balance of savory and sweet. I forgot to add dried cranberries, but they’d add a nice tartness to the stuffing, and chopped nuts would add a bit of crunch. I’ll be honest though: this recipe doesn’t need any of that. It is delicious and perfect on its own, and I’d should maybe be embarrassed that I ate 10-12 servings all on my own … BUT I’M NOT.

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More Thanksgiving:
Herb-Buttered Roast Turkey
Cranberry-Pinot Sauce
Easy Giblet Gravy
And my Holiday Roundup
Continue reading

Stovetop Mac and Cheese

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You’re going to hate me for posting this recipe. I mean, why would anyone want a mac and cheese recipe that is both addictive and quicker to make than a box of Kraft? What need could one possibly have for mac and cheese made entirely on the stove, in one pot, with ingredients you surely already have in the fridge?

HAHA JUST KIDDING. I know that you, like me, crave mac and cheese on the reg. And let me tell you, this recipe is a godsend. No more making do with neon orange powder or fussing around with a bechamel or a roux. This isn’t the most rich or the most hearty (and certainly not the most traditional) mac and cheese you’ll eat. But most nights, that’s not what I’m looking for. I want a comforting bowl of cheesy goodness, and this stovetop mac and cheese is exactly that, with the added bonus of being a one-pot affair.

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Boil pasta, drain it and then add your cheese sauce ingredients: milk, butter, salt, pepper and a half-pound of grated cheese. The real genius is throwing in a bit of Dijon mustard, which brightens the mac up a bit and brings out all of its cheddary goodness. (Mustard and cheddar are a harmonious pairing — see: beer cheese, Welsh rarebit, etc.) Heating the sauce and the pasta on very low brings it all together, until it combines to form something comforting and soothing, an antidote to those long, stressful days that are all too frequent this time of year.

So go forth and rejoice this winter, knowing that swimsuit season is months away and you are, at any given point, just 15 minutes away from a bowl of delicious mac and cheese, no box needed. Continue reading

My Marathon Diaries: Running The 2015 TCS NYC Marathon

For those of you coming here for a recipe or something food-related today, I apologize. Today, I’m talking only one thing: the TCS NYC Marathon, which I ran yesterday in one of the most harrowing, challenging, exhilarating experiences of my life.

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I never thought I’d run a marathon. It wasn’t something I really aspired to: in fact, when I signed up for my first half, I swore up and down that 13.1 was the furthest I’d go — no way I was crazy enough to run 26.2. But somehow, after running a few halfs, the thought began creeping back into my brain. Halfs were starting to become if not easy, manageable. I need a new challenge. People do it, it’s not that crazy. I kind of have time to do all of the training.


And then all of a sudden, I was in. I entered the marathon through Team for Kids, a New York Road Runners charity that raises money to fund youth programs and promote healthy habits for underprivileged children in NYC. Running with a team has its advantages–training sessions, support groups, and great race-day amenities–but I also needed to raise $2,620. It was a lofty goal, but thanks to the generosity of friends and family, I ended up raising almost $3,000!

Fundraising was hard, but training was even harder. I traveled a bunch this summer, which made it difficult to do my long runs, and the heat and humidity of New York in July / August was pretty brutal. I tried to follow my training plan as closely as possible, but I was a nervous wreck in the week leading up to the race and a part of that was my deep-down realization that I probably could have trained harder and more effectively.


But race day waits for no one, and mine started with a jolt at 4:47 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1. I took a Team for Kids-arranged bus to Staten Island, where the race begins. There’s also a huge Start Village there, which is a little mini-campsite for the 50,000(!!!) runners. The village had people handing out bagels, Gatorade, Power Bars, coffee, water and other pre-race goodies, but I was so nervous that I mostly sat on a small patch of grass with my head between my knees, trying to pass the hours until my 11 a.m. start time. Thankfully, I was wearing a few layers so the cold didn’t bother me too much (there are huge bins everywhere for all the extra clothing that runners discard pre-race, which are then donated to shelters). And one very nice man gave me his blanket so that I wouldn’t have to sit directly on the ground — everyone was kind of in it together, supporting each other wherever they could, and I was so visibly nervous that people were extra-nice.

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The start is on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn. It was a pretty cool feeling, standing on the bridge with thousands of other people, hearing the gun go off and “New York, New York” playing in the background. Everyone was fired up, but the first half-mile was pretty slow since everyone was jammed on the bridge and trying to weave in and out of the crowd. Less than two miles later, I was already in Brooklyn. Continue reading