Tastiest Thanksgiving Dinner... Times Two!

Thanksgiving is a time of love, togetherness, friends and families, sharing... and that slight hint of fear,
wondering what covered dish Aunt Bea's bringing
to the table this year!

(one of the funniest holiday bits ever!)

To shield you from tofu, and take-out, oh my! Here are two menus sure to make your hearts and bellies smile...  no lie!

From our families to yours
Happy Thanksgiving
~With love... and thanks, Diana & Laura  

Bon Appétit, our sweets!
 Chef Laura's Meal Plan:

I grew up in a family that didn’t celebrate holidays.

When I was in my early 20’s, I had no family to spend the holiday with. So, I started cooking a huge dinner as if I had all kinds of people coming over, and my son and I would invite anyone who had nothing else to do. I have carried on this tradition for years now, cooking a huge meal and inviting any and all friends and their families who would otherwise be eating takeout for the holiday.

I often end up with an array of people from completely different areas of my life. It has come to be called "Friends"giving. I cook the exact same easy, but delicious meal every year, and many people have told me that it is these very foods that they consider to be comfort foods. Of course, they have no idea how simple the menu really is. Many of the dishes come from old family recipes that have never even been written down- until now!

I love that this easy menu allows me to see all of these people gathered around my table, enjoying good food, wine, and company, like everyone else, rather than being stuck in the kitchen for the whole party. Every year I take 2 or 3 minutes to sit back and send thankfulness for all of the wonderful people in my life, and especially for those who happen to be with me at that special time.

Starting your own traditions with your nearest and dearest can’t be easier or more delicious than this Thanksgiving menu.

I use this recipe, but I modify the cooking style. I roast at 325 for 45 minutes before basting. I then baste the entire turkey well with its own juices every 20 minutes until it is done, which will be about 2.5 hours. The total cooking time for a 15-pound turkey should be about 3 hours 15 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes. Allow to sit 15-20 minutes before serving. I don’t make gravy- it saves time and my waistline, and this turkey is so incredibly moist that it doesn’t need it.

Cheesy Mashed Potatoes
Peel and chop 3-4 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes. Boil until easily pierced with a fork. Strain out the water and add 1 cup sour cream, a container of cheddar cheese spread, ¼ cup butter, 2/3 cup milk, 1 1/2t salt, 1t pepper, 1T chopped parsley. Beat with a mixer until the potatoes are the consistency you like. Bake at 350 for ~45 mins.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole
Boil 2 small or one large bag of frozen broccoli florets for about 7 minutes. While this is cooking, crush 2 sleeves or Ritz crackers (I crush them right in the sleeve) and dump into an oven-safe casserole bowl. Add one stick of melted butter and stir well. Remove 1 cup of the butter-cracker mixture and set aside. Chop 16 oz of Velveeta into small squares and add to the crackers in the bowl. Drain the broccoli and immediately pour into the bowl also. Stir until the cheese is melted. Cover with the reserved cracker mixture. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

I like to use gingersnaps instead of vanilla wafers for the topping, and I always use dark brown sugar. The flavor it adds to this dish is amazing.

Mammom’s Cranberry Relish
In a casserole bowl, pour 2 small packages of raspberry Jell-O. Add 2 cups of boiling water and stir until powder is dissolved. Add 2 cans of whole berry cranberry sauce, 1 can of crushed pineapple (drained), 1 can of mandarin oranges (drained), and 1 cup chopped walnuts. Stir and refrigerate until the relish is firm. I prefer to let this sit overnight as I like for it to get very firm.

I cheat and buy this amazing and ridiculously delicious bread. But I have to bake it at home, so that still counts….right?

Rice Pudding
Boil ½ cup rice, 1T butter, & 1t salt in 3 cups of water. While the rice is boiling, break 2 eggs into a bowl. Add 1½ C sugar and 1 heavy T vanilla. Stir well. When all of the liquid has evaporated pour an entire quart of half and half (NO substitutions) into the pot. Allow to boil gently and then cook, stirring constantly, at that temperature for exactly 20 minutes. Dump about ¼ of the rice mixture into the egg mixture and stir. Return all of that to the pot and stir again. This step is very important as the eggs need to be tempered to avoid curdling when they get hot too quickly. Return to a low boil and put the pudding into a bowl. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Berry-Apple Crumble Pie
Unroll a Pillsbury (do NOT use generic) pie crust, insert it into a pie pan, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Peel and cut 10-12 good-sized apples. I always use a variety of 4-6 different kinds of apples and make sure to stay from any varieties that tend to be too fibrous to break down well during baking (such as the delicious variety). Add a cup of berries of your choice (I like cranberries at Thanksgiving, although raspberries taste phenomenal) along with 2 T flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 t cinnamon, ½ t nutmeg, and 1T vanilla. Stir well to dissolve sugar. In a smaller bowl, put a stick of softened butter, 1 heavy C rolled oats, 1 heavy C dark brown sugar, ½ t cinnamon, ½ t nutmeg, and ¾ C flour. Use your fingers to get this mixture combined enough that it forms a large ball. Put the apples into the prepared pie crust. Break off chunks of the oatmeal topping and crumble it over the top of the pie. Back at 350 for 50 minutes.

Chef Diana's Meal Plan

One of my most favorite and magical days each year is when the Thanksgiving edition of Bon Appetit arrives in the mail!  And once it does, I'm pretty much glued to Food Network's Holiday Specials, planning special meals for family and friends and of course, preparing foodie gifts... until about January 2nd!

Thanksgiving has always been such a beautiful holiday- no worries about buying presents, hiding eggs, or wishing I wasn't allergic to the chocolate in the heart-shaped boxes... just another special day where we can reflect on the special people in our lives and how blessed we are.

Well, I'm thankful for my amazing family and friends, my business partner, my talents, and mainly my passion.  Many of these recipes are old standbys- the kind where Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without them!  And some are newer favs.  But all are special and close to my heart. 

Because cooking and the holidays are really about heart.

This Thanksgiving, I'm sending you love and happiness and hope that you have just as much fun making Thanksgiving dinner this year, as I have over the years!


Rosemary & Thyme Roast Turkey
I found this recipe for brining that is very close to what I've done in the past- but better!  And yes, brining is the secret- try it, you'll love it.  I also have combined recipes from Alton Brown and Ina Garten's Roast Chicken to make a fabulous bird.  Use Alton's cooking technique- taking the bird out at 160 degrees.  And Ina's hints of stuffing the cavity with fresh thyme, whole garlic, quartered onions and halved lemons.  And brushing the outside with lots of melted butter before roasting- yum!

Italian Thanksgiving Stuffing
This recipe was adapted from the fabulous cookbook Pass the Polenta.  My family LOVES this stuffing, and you seriously almost have to stop me from eating 3 or 4 helpings- oh who am I kidding, I could eat the whole pan.  Addicting!! ;-)

4 Tblsp. butter
3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage removed from casings
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 box frozen spinach, defrosted and well-drained (I put in a colander and mush out the water with paper towels)
4 c. bread crumb cubes- I like Pepperidge Farms
3 stalks celery, sliced
1/4 c. raisins (yes... this makes it so yummy!)
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
generous pinch dried oregano,  rosemary and basil
salt and pepper
a glass or two of white wine (bringing to a consistency you like, I usually do about 1-1/2 glasses- I don't like mine mushy)

Brown the sausage in butter over med-low heat until crumbled and cooked through.  Add onion, garlic and celery and saute until soft and golden brown.  Stir in spinach and simmer until heated.  Then in a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Stir in spinach mixture to bread mixture and place in greased 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 for about 45 min.

Mom's Potato Casserole
A favorite dish since about 8 years old!  My mom always boiled the potatoes the night before and refrigerated them to make it simpler to peel and assemble in the morning.  I bake in a large shallow scalloped round dish- so pretty!

Cook, cool, peel and grate 6 large (or 8 med.) red potatoes.  Combine with 1/2 c. melted margarine, 2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 1 pt. sour cream.  Season with salt (salt generously, as potatoes can hold their salt!), pepper and dried green onions (or fresh is better!).  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

This recipe is a total fav!  Make sure and squeeze the spinach out well, to get rid of extra moisture. I also like to use fresh grated nutmeg for a flavor boost.

This recipe adds some nice texture to the plate w/all the other "softer" foods.  I like to sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro right at the end of the baking time... because everything is better with cilantro!

Di's Craison, Peas and Ranch Salad
This is a super simple salad, but I love it- and crave it, at times!  Just tear some red or leaf lettuce into bite-sized pieces.  Add in defrosted baby peas and craisons to taste. Top with the Hidden Valley Ranch (Make sure and use the Buttermilk dry packet and mix up fresh the night before to thicken- don't use bottled!)

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie
This pie was a best seller at A Day in the Country when I was a baker there... and from my wonderful Sister-in-law.  Very unique and yummy pie!

1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tblsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 16 oz. can pumpkin
1 small can evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 9" unbaked pie shell
Nut Topping (below)

Preheat oven to 375.  In large bowl beat cream cheese and the next 6 ingredients. at medium speed until blended.  Add pumpkin, milk and eggs.  Beat just until blended.  Add pumpkin, milk and eggs and beat until blended.  Pour into unbaked pie crust and bake for 30 min.  Spoon nut crunch over top and bake 15 min. longer.
In a saucepan over low heat, melt 2 Tblsp. butter.  Stir in 3/4c. pecans and 1/3c. brown sugar.
This recipe is an all-time favorite- for any time!  So simple with all my favorite flavors- a crowd-pleaser, for sure!