Category Archives: From the Cookbook

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

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

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Another braise? I know. But it’s that time again! Winter is coming, and this year, I choose to combat its frosty temps and overall misery by watching Harry Potter marathons* on TV while slowly roasting large chunks of meat in the oven.

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Braised short ribs are a classic, whether you’re cooking them in the oven (like I do here), on the stove (so easy!) or even in a slow-cooker (I promise this is coming!). Red wine seeps into the short ribs and tenderizes them, while herbs and aromatics impart deep flavor to both the sauce and the meat. It’s rich and warm and comforting, and doubles as the most wondrous-smelling scented candle that also heats up your home (or at least your tiny apartment).

I first made wine-braised short ribs a few years ago, using a similar recipe. The major change with this version is the addition of a few tablespoons of flour, which thickens the sauce and makes it more gravy-like, perfect for spooning over garlicky mashed potatoes. I didn’t strain the sauce, since the little chunks of carrot and celery are delicious, and next time (there will definitely be a next time), inspired by this beef bourguignon, I will be adding mushrooms.

You can probably guess how delicious these were — I mean look at those pictures.

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Words aren’t enough, only emojis will do: 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍

*Dear ABC Family / soon to be Freeform: please don’t let me down. I need “Harry Potter weekends” every week from now until April. Continue reading