While some may think it would defy logic and evolution to not have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I like to push boundaries. Don’t get me wrong, pumpkin is a MUST on Thanksgiving, but who says it has to be pie?
I was actually trying to perfect my pumpkin pie. Instead of a flaky pastry crust I attempted a combination of ground up ginger snaps and graham crackers just to switch things up. It turned out well and the rich, smooth pumpkin filling was pretty darn good, but just not perfect. Not wanting to serve just another average pumpkin pie I began searching for other pumpkin desserts to serve to my family on Turkey Day. I thought of pumpkin tiramisu (maybe next year) and then a pumpkin cake (meh, not very unique) and it wasn’t until I was channel surfing that I saw a recipe for pumpkin strudel, via Michael Symon on the Cooking Channel.
I find Michael Symon to be one of the more entertaining food personalities. His infections laughter and constant smile are reminders of how fun cooking can be. His idea of wrapping a pumpkin and cream cheese mixture in layers of phyllo dough sounded brilliant. You get the creaminess of the pumpkin and flaky layers reminiscent of a well-executed pie crust but in a different format. Sounded like a winner to me! And it was.
While one could make more of a roll or tubular shape, I chose to make mine more flat, almost like those frozen toaster strudels kids eat. And yeah, it was basically the best toaster strudel I’ve ever had and made me think of a gourmet version of a childhood favorite.
A few notes:
- I’ve made pumpkin puree by roasting pumpkins and I honestly didn’t think it was worth the hassle. I typically think homemade is superior, but really, when it comes to pumpkin I think the canned stuff is good and much less trouble.
- I found it helped to refrigerate the pumpkin and cream cheese mixture to let it firm up a bit. Right after initially mixing it was incredibly soft. I found it was easier to form the strudels with the mixture being a bit firmer.
- This is a prefect make ahead dish. Once I formed the strudels (completed all steps before sprinkling with sugar and baking) I placed them on a parchment lined baking tray and froze for about an hour, then individually wrapped in saran wrap and kept in the freezer. I brought them to room temperature a few hours before baking and they came out just perfectly. If you go this route, you might consider brushing on a smidge more melted butter before sprinkling with sugar and baking.
Adapted from Michael Symon – Makes 8 portions
- 1 15-ounce can pumpkin
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 24 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar, or other coarse sugar
- 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
- 2 tablespoons honey (optional)
- Whipped cream (optional)
Combine the cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and whip until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Add pumpkin and vanilla and mix until completely combined and uniform in color (another few minutes).
Place a sheet of phyllo on a work surface (I just used a clean kitchen counter) and brush on a thin layer of melted butter. Place a second piece of phyllo directly on top. Try and line them up closely the first time, as you really can’t adjust after the second piece has been placed. Repeat and add a third layer of phyllo.
I worked quite fast, but if you’re new to working with phyllo you’ll want to cover the remaining phyllo with plastic wrap to ensure it doesn’t dry out (it becomes much harder to work with if it dries out).
Place two heaping tablespoons of the pumpkin filling two inches from the left edge of the phyllo in the center of the phyllo. Moving from left to right, fold over the left edge on top of the filling and lightly roll. Tuck in the top and bottom so the filling is completely covered, then continue to roll (think of how you might roll a burrito). Brush on additional melted butter as needed to ensure the phyllo sticks to itself. Brush all sides of the fully wrapped strudel with melted butter.
Repeat with remaining phyllo layers and filling. This makes 8 total.
At this point either freeze (as described in above notes) or bake.
To bake, sprinkle on coarse sugar and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown.
Serve slightly warm. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with chopped pecans, and top with whipped cream. Enjoy!
When I was younger I used to go on all sorts of trips with my family. My grandmother loved to occasionally treat herself to a few nights at a nice hotel and more often than not she would invite me and other family members. I remember one trip we went to a resort that had been voted very highly on a Condé Nast list of best food in North America. The food definitely didn’t disappoint and each and every meal was delicious! The view was also exceptionally stunning, the service impeccable, and the guest suites luxurious. If there was one thing that seemed a bit off it would have to be the ceiling of the restaurant. It was sort of a tacky looking gold that looked like it had been poorly sponge painted.
Funny enough, while watching TV, an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous came on. It turns out the very same resort we were staying at was being featured and that gold ceiling my family and I all thought looked tacky? Yeah, it turns out it was actual 24k gold. Shows how much I know about the finer things in life.
Besides finding out I had been eating under a gold ceiling, one of the things that stood out the most about that trip was the breakfast I had one day. I had ordered cranberry juice and it was brought out with a lime wedge. I was definitely a youngin’ at that point and I had never heard of lime and cranberry but ever since it has become one of my favorite pairings. I think it’s really common to see the two paired together in drinks and cocktails, but I have to say I don’t see the combination very often in food.
When thinking about Thanksgiving, and the quintessential cranberry sauce, I thought of ways of kicking up the flavor a bit. Cranberry and the commonly used orange is a definite classic, but I thought it was time to switch it up a bit by adding ginger and lime.
Ginger is a perfect fall flavor as it brings a warm heat so I figured it would be a nice addition. To really pack a punch of ginger flavor I added freshly grated ginger and chunks of candied ginger. When it came to the addition of citrus I decided to ditch orange and go with lime since I love lime and cranberry. While this was more tart than a traditional cranberry sauce, I thought it was perfection and I am pleased with myself for coming up with this winning recipe.
Lime, Ginger, and Cranberry Sauce
- 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (if using frozen, thoroughly defrost)
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- A pinch of salt
- The juice and zest of two large limes
- A few pieces of candied ginger, small to medium chop
Bring cranberries, sugar, and water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally. Once mixture has come to a boil, reduce heat to medium, stir in freshly grated ginger, cinnamon, salt, and lime juice/zest. Continue cooking for 10-12 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, remove cinnamon stick, and stir in the chopped candied ginger.
Cranberry sauce is something that can be made well ahead and stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
While my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the stuffing, I’m always eager for the main meal portion to be over so that I can make a pig out of myself eating dessert. Ever since I can remember there have been copious amounts of pies, candies, chocolates, cake, cookies, and other dessert items to enjoy after the turkey.
In previous years we’ve had a large family meal, but this year since relatives are out of town there will only be four of us. While that won’t stop me from making an excessive amount of food, anything more than two or three desserts seems a bit ridiculous, which is why I wanted to really think hard about what desserts to choose as I can’t really justify making 8.
Something pumpkin was a given, but I was having a difficult time choosing between something chocolate (I come from a family of chocaholics) or another Thanksgiving classic, pecan pie. Thankfully, The New York Times published an excellent Thanksgiving Essential guide that included a chocolate bourbon pecan pie recipe (as well as a ton of excellent sounding recipes).
After doing a test run I have to say it’s one of the best pies I’ve ever had! I typically find pecan pies cloyingly sweet, but the addition of bittersweet chocolate and booze cut the sweetness but still left an incredibly decadent and rich pie. Make this and I promise it will be a hit!
Just a few notes:
- I followed the original almost exactly, but I used light corn syrup instead of dark and dark brown sugar instead of light. My recommendation is to use whatever you have.
- I’m on the quest to find the perfect pie crust. If you have one that never fails you, feel free to share! I’m currently using an all-butter recipe that turns out pretty well. I’ve tried tons of recipes and have yet to find one I truly love. For this recipe, use whatever works for you. Most recipes make a top and bottom crust so you’ll only need to use half, as this only calls for a bottom crust.
- I didn’t technically use bourbon (which is made in the U.S., most commonly as Kentucky whiskey). I chose to use Pendleton, which is Canadian. I really enjoy the taste and I can almost always find it on sale somewhere. Use whatever whisk(e)y you enjoy.
Chocolate, Bourbon, and Pecan Pie
From The New York Times
- 1 1/2 cups pecan halves
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Using a pie crust recipe of your choice, role out enough for a bottom crust (typically one half recipe) on a floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Transfer crust to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold over any excess dough, then crimp edges. Prick crust all over with a fork. Chill crust for 30 minutes.
While the dough chills, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line chilled crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake until very pale golden, 5 to 10 minutes longer.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth; cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together cooled chocolate-butter mixture, corn syrup, eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, bourbon and salt. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Arrange pecans over filling. Bake until the filling is just set when the pan is jiggled, 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove pie from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
I found this was delicious the second and third day, so it’s definitely something you can prepare well in advance for your Thanksgiving dinner, just cover and refrigerate. I also preferred it being served slightly chilled.
Sometimes when the pressure of life just gets to be too much I like to sit back, relax, and ponder the important things…
Do you call it soda or pop? Is it pronounced crawfish or crayfish? Do you call coleslaw “slaw”?
… And most importantly, given the time of year it is, is it stuffing or dressing?
I guess I like to think of myself as Switzerland; I’m rather neutral when it comes to these touchy issues and pronunciations. I typically interchange saying stuffing and dressing and I honestly don’t know which one I use more or which one is more correct. The only strong opinion I have on the issue of stuffing/dressing is that whatever you want to call it, it’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner.
Everyone has a favorite Thanksgiving dish, but mine has always been stuffing. I could (and usually do) eat plate after plate of it. I love me some mashed potatoes and turkey, but I just can’t get enough dressing.
A note on the cornbread: I make my own cornbread from scratch but you can buy it from a bakery or make some from a mix. My cubes were around an inch, but feel free to cut any size you desire. You can use stale cornbread, or if using fresh, cut into cubes and bake for approximately 45 minutes at 350 degrees (stirring occasionally). You want your cubes to be browned and dry. Also, I’ve never measured how much cornbread I use (super helpful, right?!?!?!). I cubed an entire recipe of cornbread I made, which was made in a 10-inch pan (although what you would make in a 9-inch pan would work just fine as well).
Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing
- 8-12 cups cubed cornbread (see above note)
- 1 lb sausage (either ground sausage, or sausage removed from the casing)
- 1 small onion, small dice
- 3 ribs celery, small dice
- 1 scant cup pecans, medium chopped
- 1 scant cup dried cranberries
- 8 sage leaves, finely chopped
- 1 sprig rosemary (leaves removed from stem), finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups chicken stock
Preheat oven to 350 degrees*.
In a large sauté pan, brown sausage (the sausage I use is pretty fatty, so I didn’t find the need for additional grease or fat, but if using a lean sausage, add olive oil or butter). Once sausage has browned nicely, add in diced onion and cook for a few minutes more, until onion has become translucent and slightly caramelized.
In a large bowl, mix together cubed cornbread, sausage mixture, celery, pecans, cranberries, finely chopped herbs, and salt and pepper. Pour in stock and stir. Taste for seasoning (the amount of salt you’ll need really depends on how well seasoned your sausage is and how salty your stock is).
Pour into a 9×13 inch pan**, cover with foil, and bake for half an hour. Remove foil and continue baking for 15 more minutes, until top is crispy***.
*The dressing is rather flexible when it comes to the cooking temperature. If you’re simultaneously baking something that requires a different temperature you should be okay as everything is already cooked, you just want it to be nice and hot.
**A 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet also works nicely to make the sides and bottom crispier.
***If you like really crispy stuffing, reduce covered cooking time and bake longer uncovered, if you prefer softer stuffing, bake covered for longer.
When I was a younger kid I went through a phase where I was completely obsessed with pumpkins (and the color orange), which was largely inspired by Cinderella (aka the best Disney movie [tied with Beauty and the Beast]). One year my mom even had an orange themed birthday for me where all the decorations were orange, we had cheese pizza (which was orangeish), and of course, orange soda. That same year my grandmother planted pumpkins in her garden for me. It was also the year that I had the most adorable prince costume for Halloween (not Prince as in the artist, but like the royal).
My obsession with pumpkin (although not so much the color orange or Cinderella) definitely continued into my adulthood and I really could eat pumpkin all year round. I’ll totally stockpile on my cans of pumpkin puree and the first week of April I’ll decide it’s the perfect time for pumpkin pie. Sadly, most of the world doesn’t have the same love of pumpkin as I do and people tend to not be too enthusiastic to have pumpkin loaf on the 4th of July, so I try to limit my pumpkin obsession to the months of September-December.
While I really could eat pumpkin any day of the year, sometimes it can be nice to switch it up a bit and have something reminiscent of pumpkin, but not actually pumpkin. Pumpkin flavoring shows up in everything this time of year from beer to Jello to Pringles to almonds and even I get a bit overwhelmed by pumpkin from time to time.
These cupcakes are very reminiscent of pumpkin, but offer a bit of variety as the sweet potato base is more subtle in flavor. Topped with brown butter cream cheese frosting, these would be a welcome addition to any fall dinner (perfect for Thanksgiving).
A couple of notes:
- Making sweet potato mash can be done in a variety of ways. I find an approximately one pound sweet potato yields enough for 1 1/4 cups and you can bake it or boil to cook it, and then puree or finely mash (of course, be sure to remove the skin). Or, if you’re really pressed for time you can buy the stuff in the can, but homemade is so much better.
- You can use any frosting recipe. I used the brown butter cream cheese frosting from my spiced carrot cake post and thought it was perfect. A maple cream cheese frosting would also work well. I liked topping mine with a few roasted pumpkin seeds. I thought the crunchy salty bits cut the sweetness nicely but that’s totally optional.
Sweet Potato Cupcakes
- 1 stick unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 1 cup lightly packed dark-brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (at room temperature) mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/4 cups pureed sweet potato (at room temperature)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.
2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until incredibly fluffy, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.
3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
4. Once eggs have been thoroughly incorporated, alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures (about a third of the flour mixture, half the milk, etc), beginning and ending with the flour. Once flour and milk mixtures have barely been incorporated, lightly beat in the sweet potato until smooth (although try not to over-mix).
5. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners, filling approximately 3/4 of the way full.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean, but with a few moist crumbs. Let cool completely before frosting.
Frost with desired frosting recipe.
I have a complicated relationship with soups. I absolutely adore a chunky chowder, a velvety smooth bisque, or a brothy French Onion, but something about soup just doesn’t seem filling, hearty, or substantial. Since I’m always looking for make-ahead dishes I can bring to work for lunch I have to say I was a bit hesitant to make soup. Wouldn’t I get hungry long before dinner if all I had for lunch was soup? And being hungry where I work is a bad thing. Everyone is a candy addict and it is so easy to just snack all day on sugary treats.
But, the cold weather makes me want hot, comforting food like soup, so I figured I might as well try out a few recipes and try to find something nice and hearty.
…. and I managed to make a recipe that was packed with flavor and healthy and filling ingredients: minestrone.
I don’t typically like minestrone soups as so many have pasta or rice in them (and even though I love pasta and rice in all forms I don’t care for them in most soups) so it was a relief to make a version that didn’t include either. Instead, heartiness came from beans, potato, chunks of tomato, and ribbons of tender chard.
The recipe (changed slightly from Giada de Laurenttis) is super versatile. I think you could really add any number of herbs to change the flavor; use veggie stock and eliminate the cured meat for a vegetarian version; use onion instead of leek; kale or spinach instead of Swiss chard; sweet potato instead of russet (that sweetness sounds really good… I think I’ll do that next time I make it); the addition of zucchini or other squash could be delicious; you could add chunks of sausage for something meatier; and I think almost any bean would be perfect. And if you’re so inclined, you could add pasta as well…
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 leek, thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, prosciutto, or bacon, coarsely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
- 2 russet potatoes, peeled, cubed
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
- 5 cups beef broth
- 1 ounce piece Parmesan cheese rind (this adds a lot of flavor, but a touch more salt and pancetta would work if you don’t have the rind)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1 fresh rosemary sprig
- Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the leek, carrots, celery, and pancetta. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, Swiss chard, and potato; sauté for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Add the tomatoes and rosemary sprig. Simmer until the chard is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes. It may look like a lot of chard, but it wilts down a lot.
Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the beans with 1 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and Parmesan cheese rind to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the whole beans and parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Discard Parmesan rind and rosemary sprig (the leaves will have fallen off of the stem.) Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired. Delicious served with a crusty piece of bread or roll.
So, I’ll start off by saying this is one of the best things I’ve ever made. Tender, fall-off-the-bone meat is one of my favorite things in the world and after making this dish I realized it only gets better when it’s been braised in a rich, decadent tomato sauce. I’ve made my fair share of ragu sauces before with mixed results; really, I had made decent versions, but none that I could declare exceptional (and certainly not a ragu I would describe as being one of the best things [period] I’ve ever made).
I initially found the recipe on The Amateur Gourmet (where it was adapted from Canal House Vol. 2.) and I have to say it sounded a bit odd. Besides salt and pepper, the dish is mainly seasoned with nutmeg and anchovies. While many may think “weird” or “eeeew,” I could only think of how much I wanted to make it. See, when I’m at a restaurant I try and order the weirdest, most unique thing on the menu. I’m totally that guy that will order a Yak burger or tofu glazed in squid ink. So when a spice that can go either sweet or savory and a fish I’ve only used in salad dressing showed up in a tomato sauce recipe I just had to try it.
The thing I loved most about this is how versatile it was. I found it most delicious served with pasta, but I loved it over soft polenta and a few nights later when I was feeling “healthy” I found it to be delicious over brown rice. It was even perfection spooned over a crusty piece of bread. Next time I make it (which I hope is soon) I definitely plan on using it as a sauce in lasagna and I think it would be divine served over gnocchi. It makes a pretty hefty portion and the leftovers reheated really well (I actually think they tasted better a day after it had been made as the flavors melded more).
Before I give you the recipe, here are a few tips:
- You should be able to find lamb neck and beef short ribs at most butchers
- Do not rush the browning process on the meat! It will have more flavor the browner it gets.
- Do NOT taste the sauce the first hour or two. I wanted to make sure it was seasoned properly but nearly gagged on the heavy anchovy taste. However, the anchovy flavor really mellowed out a few hours into the cooking process and became much more balanced. In the end, you really couldn’t tell there were anchovies—simply added a je ne sais quoi quality.
- With so few ingredients, make sure you use good ones! Freshly grated nutmeg has much more flavor so go with that instead of the pre-ground stuff in the spice bottle. Also, now is not the time for a cheap wine! Lastly, I find that San Marzano tomatoes have the best flavor (definitely worth the extra buck or two per can)
Lamb and Short Rib Ragu
- 1.5 pounds lamb necks (or shoulder chops) (should be roughly one lamb neck)
- 1.5 pound beef short ribs
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 2 ribs celery, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
- Approximately 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 2 cups white wine
- One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- One 15-ounce can plain tomato sauce (weird, I know, I used plain Hunts)
- Handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a large, heavy, deep skillet or pan (I used a 5.5 quart Dutch oven that was almost filled to the brim), heat up 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Let heat until nearly smoking. Meanwhile, pat meat dry with paper towels (dry meat sears better) and season with salt and pepper.
Sear and brown meat in batches (I found it took two batches) until browned on all sides. Do not rush this process as browned meat has more flavor. It probably took about 5 minutes per side for a very browned crust. Remove meat from pan and continue additional batches. Meanwhile, chop and prepare remaining ingredients.
Once all meat has browned and been removed, add in onion, celery, and carrot (I found there was enough grease in the pot from the meat, but add more olive oil if necessary). Cook vegetables until nicely browned (approximately 8 minutes), then add garlic and anchovies and cook for a minute or so longer (you don’t want to brown the garlic too much as it takes on a bitter taste).
Pour wine into the pan and scrape up any crusty bits stuck to the pan (so much flavor!) and cook for a minute or so, until wine has just slightly reduced.
Return meat to the pan and pour in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Bring to a low boil and reduce to a simmer (low heat) and cook (uncovered) for approximately 3.5-4 hours, stirring occasionally. I added a few splashes of water here and there to ensure the sauce didn’t get too thick, but don’t fret too much, you’ll only need to add half a cup or so the entire cooking process.
Once meat is fork tender, remove from pot, let cool slightly, and shred, being sure to discard bones, large pieces of fat, and any gristle. Return shredded meat to pot and continue cooking for 1.5-2 more hours.
Serve over pasta, polenta, or rice; sprinkle with parsley and/or parmesan cheese, if desired (it was so good, even without cheese, which you’ll never hear me say [I typically think cheese makes everything better]).
Prepare to enjoy an epic meal!