November 25, 2013

Each week a question is written on a marker board in the front office of my school. Past questions have included Best Movie of All Time, for what are you most thankful, etc. The marker board is an easy way to get to know each other and something fun to read.

Recently the question asked us about our favorite Thanksgiving side dish. At first I wrote mine was mashed potatoes and gravy. I have been in charge of the gravy at our house for as long as I can remember. No mix or jar can ever replace the taste of homemade gravy. Then I started thinking that maybe my favorite side dish is corn pudding. It's a savory corn soufflé my family has enjoyed for years. I included the recipe in a column of my all-time favorites a few years ago.

For my family Thanksgiving holiday traditions include a mixture of old and new recipes. My mom and I are always on the hunt for new and interesting recipes. We don't always make something the same way as the year before. This year we will use a new recipe for sweet potatoes, but my mom, Ann Wilson, of Carroll, will make the same cranberry salad as previous years.

Besides the holiday meal, I look forward to some goodies before dinner. These are typically things I don't normally eat, and they are reserved for special occasions. For me one of these things is baked brie. Brie is an indulgence, and I look forward to it once a year. I also picked up some dried aged salami and some mozzarella balls that I will marinate in olive oil and herbs.

Our two young sons are looking forward to spending time in Carroll. Carsten, almost 3, asked me yesterday if we could go to Grandma's before we went to the gym. Kellan, a kindergartener, is anxiously awaiting his Grandma Ann to come to his school for the Thanksgiving feast in his classroom.

This year we will be giving thanks in my mom's new house as our traditions keep changing. The boys have already made a list of toys they must take to Grandma's to show their cousins, Gus and Lola.

Thanksgiving is one of the best times of the year to celebrate family traditions. As a child I especially looked forward to watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. The first parade (originally known as the Macy's Christmas Parade) was held in 1924. Our young sons look forward to this very old tradition and will be watching for their favorite characters on the 89th parade route this year.

Sweet Potatoes

At our staff potluck last week, we all signed up to bring a dish to share. My friend Pam Szakacs brought these sweet potatoes in her crockpot. They were a perfectly sweet Thanksgiving side dish.

1 large can sweet potatoes (drained)

1 small can sweet potatoes (drained)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 cup butter


Place drained potatoes in baking dish. Mix other ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour sauce over potatoes. Top with marshmallows. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

To double recipe use 3 large cans of sweet potatoes and double sauce ingredients. To make in crockpot use the same steps, then cook on high for 2 hours.

Garlicky Green Bean Almondine

If your Turkey Day table doesn't include green bean casserole, the blog, Simply Scratch, has a green bean recipe for you to try. Vibrant green vegetables brighten up an autumn-hued table scape.

1 lb fresh green beans

2.5 oz slivered almonds

1 tablespoon bacon fat

1 clove fresh garlic

black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon lemon juice {optional}

sea salt, for seasoning water

Bring a pot of water to boil and season with a generous pinch of sea salt. Get a large bowl of ice water ready.

In a deep 10-inch skillet melt a tablespoon of bacon fat. Throw in the slivered almonds, stir occasionally until toasted and golden. Remove to a small bowl and set them off to the side.

Drop the green beans into the salted boiling water for two to three minutes. Immediately remove and plunge them into the bowl of ice water, to lock in that bright green color. Drain and shake off any excess water before placing the green beans in the skillet with the bacon fat. Toss and cook the beans for a few minutes to get them hot again.

Using a garlic press; press in a clove of garlic (here is where you could add a teaspoon of lemon juice, if desired}.

Season beans with a generous amount of black pepper and toss; cooking until the green beans are al dente or to your liking. Add the toasted almonds back in to the skillet, toss and serve.

Baked Brie

Brie is delicious chilled, but melting it in the oven makes it that much more delicious.

¼ wheel brie

4 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the brie on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper and drizzle with the honey. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until brie starts to ooze but not melt. Serve with crackers.

Apple Cranberry Salad

Most Thanksgiving meals include a fruit salad of some sort. This one incorporates the flavors of apples and cranberries with a bit of a crunch.

7 or 8 apples, (about 5 cups diced) peeled & cored

2 (12 oz) bags fresh cranberries

1 1/2 cups celery, thinly sliced

1 cup chopped pecans

2 cups sugar

3 (3 oz) boxes raspberry gelatin

3 cups boiling water

Peel, core and dice the apple. Grind the cranberries (use a food processor or if you don't have one, use a blender). Empty one bag of the cranberries into the blender pitcher and cover with water. Pulse the blender several times to break up and coarsely grind the cranberries, being careful not to grind them too small. Pour the ground cranberries and water through a strainer to let them drain, while you grind the second bag. Put the drained cranberries into a mixing bowl and prep your other ingredients.

Slice the celery and chop the pecans. Mix cranberries, celery, apples and pecans in the mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar.

Dissolve all three boxes of gelatin in the boiling water. Pour dissolved gelatin mixture over the cranberries and refrigerate until set (I usually leave it overnight, but 4 to 6 hours is probably enough time for it to gel).

Incredible Cranberry Orange Dressing

If you would rather serve a green salad, but still want the flavors of cranberry and orange, blend up a homemade dressing.'s sweet and zesty cranberry dressing can also be made with blueberries.

1 cup frozen or fresh cranberries (can also use blueberries for variation)

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup good olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries, maple syrup, and cider vinegar and heat over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until the cranberries are soft (careful not to boil this mixture as the vinegar liquid will condense and evaporate). The house will smell like you are pickling so be prepared, it will be worth it!

Allow the cranberry mixture to cool a little while you add the remaining ingredients to the blender. Add the cranberry mixture to the blender when cool and blend all until you get a silky and beautiful emulsion of goodness. Transfer the mixture to a jar and refrigerate to cool - this will keep in the fridge for a good while.

Easy Oreo Pretzel Turkeys

Do you need a way to keep your little turkeys entertained if it's too cold to go outside? After the parade, have the kids help assemble their very own turkey. They look adorable on a platter, but most likely, they won't even make it to the table.

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

12 fudge-covered Oreo cookies

36 chocolate-covered pretzels

24 candy eyeballs (or white chocolate chips)

12 pieces candy corn

Melt chocolate chips and vegetable oil for 30 seconds in a small microwave-safe bowl. Remove and stir. Continue cooking in 30-second increments until chips are melted.

Assemble cookies using the chocolate like glue; spread on the back of the Oreo and attach 3 pretzels in a fan pattern to look like feathers.

Dip backs of eyeballs and candy corn in chocolate and stick to the front of the "turkey" to make a face.

Place finished turkeys on a plate and cool in refrigerator 1 hour to allow chocolate to set.

Yields: 12 cookies

Holiday Stove Top Potpourri Mix

One of the instructional coaches at my school, Brooke Hakert, is always sharing cute ideas. After a colleague and I presented to our staff about engagement strategies she gave us each a baggie filled with an orange, cranberries and cinnamon sticks to fill our homes with an inviting aroma that smells just like the holidays.

one whole orange or just the orange peel

1/2 cup cranberries

1 tablespoon whole cloves (optional)

3 sticks of cinnamon or a small handful of small pieces of cinnamon

a bit of grated nutmeg if desired

Quarter the orange. Place all of the ingredients into a saucepan. Fill pan with water. Place on the stove on the smallest burner, on the lowest setting. Refill water as needed.