The Great Pantry Check and REcheck

Heather says:
Thanksgiving is nearly here, all of the work you’ve done over the past few weeks will help ensure your event runs smoothly. Today it’s time for the Thanksgiving Pantry double check. Did you see that. I said DOUBLE check. You not only need to do this today, but again before Thanksgiving. Why? Teenagers. Household gnomes. The Movers. The Spouse. The Roommates. The kid going through a growth spurt. The surprise guests. Whatever or whoever it was, someone may grab the last of something you need for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Do you need to catch up on the entire Countdown to Turkey Day Series? Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

What’s on today’s agenda?

It’s time to pull out your Thanksgiving menu and grocery list again. Today you will use your grocery list to do a pantry double check. Did someone swipe your mini-marshmallows or use all of the evaporated milk when the milk ran out?

It’s worth looking again.

Is your frozen turkey thawing safely in the bottom-most section of your refrigerator? It should be. If your turkey is still in the freezer you may want to check out this post on thawing a turkey safely using a water-bath.

Make your list of perishable goods and buy them tomorrow or Wednesday.

If you’ve been keeping up with housework, spend a little extra time today making sure the place is presentable.

Do yourself a huge favor and make sure you aren’t down to the last roll of toilet paper. I’m serious, running out of TP with a houseful of guests would be awkward. For you, for them, sure it’s funny ten years down the road, but why be the butt of that joke?

har har

Are you serving wine on Thanksgiving?

There is a handy, free smartphone app created by  The Wine Sisterhood to help calculate how much wine you’ll need for your Thanksgiving dinner. It’s called Drink-U-Lator and is available for both iPhone and Android (yay!).  The app calculates a responsible amount of alcohol to have available for your guests.

That’s pretty much it for today, provided you have all of serving dishes clean and ready to go. The rest is optional.

Are you doing a Thanksgiving centerpiece?

Do you need a centerpiece?

Not really.

However, here are directions to make a simple Thanksgiving centerpiece like the one pictured.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?

Gluten-Free Chicken Gumbo

Heather says:

I am ridiculously happy. I was recently doing my weekly shopping and found Pillsbury Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix near the regular flour at Publix. It isn’t the fanciest of grocery stores, but it’s generally a step above of say Food Lion. Long story short, this gluten-free flour mix already contains xanthan gum which mimics the elastic nature of wheat gluten. Happy day, I can now make a gluten-free roux that doesn’t break down. The gumbo was still thick after re-heating to take pack for the kids’ lunch.

Easily Make Gluten-FrAee Chicken Gumbo

And even better than staying thick? It’s a one-to-one substitution. Please note, you may notice that the roux doesn’t get as dark as a traditional roux. I gave up on a dark roux after 15 minutes. I was starving and really didn’t want to crank up the heat only to have to start over if the roux began to break down, so it was a blonde roux gumbo, but it was gluten-free which made everyone happy.

Shortcut – substitute frozen trinity and onion / pepper seasoning mix instead of chopping everything, for a much faster prep. (Yes, working full time and commuting the chauffeur the kids does cause me to take some short cuts some nights. Please don’t ask how often we have breakfast for dinner, now be quiet and eat your scrambled eggs)

: Chicken Gumbo

  • 3 – 5 lbs bone-in, chicken (chicken thighs work perfectly)
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 celery ribs, with leaves, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 lb andouille sausage
  • 2 Tablespoons Cajun or Creole seasoning -please check that the brand you use is gluten-free
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 1 lb frozen okra pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free flour mix that contains xantham gum
  • 1/3 cup bacon fat or vegetable oil
  • OPTIONAL 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • file seasoning (when serving)
  • Hot Sauce (Tabasco or my favorite Louisiana Hot Sauce)

  • In a large pot (6 quart minimum) add the water, chicken, sausage, onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, and Cajun seasoning. Bring the water to a boil, immediately reduce to a simmer and cook over low – medium low heat for 2 hours.
  • Remove the chicken, cool enough to handle, and debone, discarding the skin and bones. Return the chicken to the gumbo along with the okra and tomatoes.
  • In a heavy skillet heat the bacon fat or vegetable oil until hot, reduce the heat to low and sprinkle in the flour and stir carefully to begin making roux. Cook the roux until the color is somewhere between peanut butter and milk chocolate, depending on your preference.
  • Whisk the roux into the gumbo and cook over low heat (at a simmer) for twenty minutes.
  • Taste and add additional seasoning, if necessary.
  • In each bowl, stir in a scoop of cooked rice, a pinch of file, and a dash of hot sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 2 hour(s) 30 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8

Boneless chicken alteration

Use 2 -3lbs, weighed before cooking.

Brown the chicken and dice. Skip to the roux making portion of the recipe and make the roux, then add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic directly to the roux, just as you would in shrimp étouffée. Then slowly stir in the chicken stock you have substituted for water and then add the Cajun seasoning, bay leaves, chicken, okra and tomatoes. Stir well and simmer for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

One Week Until Thanksgiving

Heather says:

We’ve got one week to go until Thanksgiving. This means that it’s time to actually dig out your serving ware and make sure it’s clean. If you ‘re going to polish your silver (who has silver anymore?) it’s time to do that, too.

Make room in your refrigerator for your produce and the turkey itself. Yes, this means throwing out those science experiments and those condiments from 2010. Just let it go already.

If you are short on refrigerator space you can supplement it with a cooler kept in the pantry, garage, or even on the back porch. Just keep in mind that you’ll want to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator itself, if you want to be sure it thaws according to the 24 hour per 5 lb rule.

If you are buying a fresh turkey, make sure you don’t pick it up until Tuesday afternoon.

Will there be children in your home on Thanksgiving? Have you figured out something to keep them occupied?

If you’re not sure if you’re on track for Turkey Day, check out what we’ve covered so far.

I tried to keep it short and sweet today after my mailing bungle earlier in the week. I’m sorry about that. See you tomorrow!

Lasagna: The Company Dinner

The hearty sauce for this lasagna recipe is made from scratch and provides enough for a very large pan of lasagna. However, if you’re going to go the trouble of preparing a pan of lasagna, double the recipe and freeze one to bake at a later date. Also, don’t get overwhelmed looking at the ingredient list. The only things that get chopped are onions, garlic, and parsley. Everything else is a simple shake, stir, or squash in.

This is one of those meals, where you could sneak a book into the kitchen and rattle pans once in a while and people will assume you’ve been hard at work the whole time, even though there is a significant down time while the sauce simmers.

If you don’t want to go to all the trouble of lasagna, serve the hearty meat sauce over spaghetti noodles or toss with ziti and mozzarella. Add some fresh spinach or sauteed mushrooms, bell pepper or zucchini and skip the immersion blender for some variety. It’s not rocket science, as long as you don’t stray too far from the bones of this recipe, you’ll have a fantastic meal.

Company’s Coming Lasagna

Sauce:

  • 1 lb hot or mild bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • 2 6.5oz can tomato sauce (or just use one 15oz one, it’s not critical)
  • 2 TBSP white sugar (cuts the acidity of the sauce, omit if you use seasoned tomatoes as they frequently already contain sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil (or use 2 – 3x as much fresh
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 4 TBSP chopped fresh parsley – divided

In a large, heavy pot brown the beef and sausage over medium heat, drain and set aside. I set the meat on paper towels to soak up any remaining grease. Do not wash the pot, all of the browned bits from the beef and sausage add flavor to the final sauce. If you’d like, give the pan a quick wipe to remove any excess grease.

Onion garlic seasoningPlace the pot back on the burner over medium heat and add the diced onion, dried basil (wait if you are using fresh), Italian seasoning, fennel, salt, and pepper. Once the onion begins to soften, add the minced garlic.

To the onions, garlic, and seasoning add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar and if you choose, fresh basil. Return the meat to the pot, stir until well combined and lower the heat to low.

Cover and simmer for 1 – 1.5 hours. Alternately, place all the ingredients in a large crockpot and cook on low all day.

While the sauce simmers, boil 8oz of lasagna noodles according to the package directions.

Also, assemble the ricotta filling.

Add 2 TBSP of parsley at the very end of cooking, unless you skip the blender step. In this case, add all the parsley.

Immersion Blender

I don’t like big chunks of meat in spaghetti or lasagna sauce, except for meatballs. I never said it was rational, it’s just one of my quirks. So, I give the whole sauce a good whir with an immersion blender. I use this thing for everything from soups to smoothies; stick blenders can be found for as little as $25. I’m sure high-end ones are great, but I’ve been happy with my el cheap-o for several years. Add the rest of the parsley and stir.

Now it’s time to assemble the lasagna.

Ricotta filling:

  • 16oz ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 lb pkg frozen spinach, drained completely, squeeze the ever loving life out of it! I mean it

Mix all ingredients well.
That was rough, eh?

Other ingredients for lasagna assembly:

  • 1 lb mozzarella – grated
  • 1 generous cup grated Parmesan (use a Parmesan Romano mix if you’d like)
  • boiled lasagna noodles (the number depends on the size of your pan, use your judgement)

To assemble:

Preheat the oven 375F.

sauce layer Spoon just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan.

noodle layer Add a single layer of noodles.

CHEESE Spread with 1/2 the ricotta mixture, sprinkle with 1/3 the mozzarella and parmesan. Repeat layers and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

**optional tip** add a layer of thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, and summer squash.

Cover tightly, but do NOT let the foil touch the cheese or you’ll yank off all the yummy goodness when it is removed. Alternately, add a layer of parchment paper between the lasagna and foil, this works very well.

Bake for 25 minutes, remove the foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes. If the cheese isn’t nicely browned, broil just long enough to add some color.

**Warning, all the cheese makes this dish nuclear hot, allow it to cool some before serving.**

Enjoy.

Plan Your Thanksgiving Thaw and Cooking Timetable

Heather says:

The big day looms ever closer, but we’re well on track to getting ready. So far we’ve:

  • Found the dining room table and kept it clear
  • Figured out who, where, and when
  • Checked on seating and place settings
  • Begun following the chore chart and getting the house company ready so it’s not a miserable whirlwind of stress the night before
  • Created our Thanksgiving menu
  • Created our Thanksgiving shopping list
  • Begun shopping – no produce or fresh turkeys until next week, please
  • Ensured we have enough serving dishes and utensils

Today you need to grab your Thanksgiving day recipes and look at the cook times and temperatures and figure out to get everything cooked and ready at the same time.

If you oven roast your turkey, know that you’ll probably only be able to fit a baking sheet beneath the turkey, unless you have one of those super cool ovens with the rack that morphs to allow a bird and another item in the oven. I’m not that fancy. Are you? If so, I’m kind of jealous.

How to plan your Thanksgiving Dinner Timetable

Your turkey needs to be fully thawed by the morning of the 27th and since life is what it is, go ahead and actually aim for the 26th. A fully thawed turkey will be fine for more than 24 hours in the coolest portion of your refrigerator. Remember your turkey will need 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 5lbs.

Begin your timetable plan by adding 15 minutes of Oops factor into the scheduled serving time. If you want to eat dinner at 4pm, plan on 3:45. Remember the turkey needs to rest before carving, so plan on it coming out of the oven or fryer by 3:15.

Make sure you also have counter space or a table set up for the turkey to rest – Don’t be afraid to cover it  and set it out of the way somewhere like the laundry room or some other convenient surface, just make sure all family pets and scavenging children are accounted for before leaving the turkey alone.

You can often cook pies, dressings, and casseroles the day before, so all they’ll need is a quick warm up in the oven. Make sure you have enough racks and space to account for each dish and any refrigerated items should be taken from the fridge about an hour before they are scheduled for the oven. This will reduce the amount of reheat time needed.

Don’t be scared to utilize your stove, a roaster oven, toaster oven or crockpots on the big day. Some slow cookers have a warm setting that will hold gravy, so it won’t have to be made at the last second.

Use this information to create a schedule.

Start with the time you should get the turkey ready for the oven to get it in with the expectation it’ll be done 45 minutes prior to serving time.

Add each recipe name, the time it needs to be started, and its scheduled time and temperature in the oven. Put these in order so on the big day, you don’t forget a dish or procrastinate anything with a long cook time.

WATCH FOR CONFLICTS.

Some items aren’t going to be very picky, dressings are going to be okay at 350 or 400F. Delicate baked goods? Well you’ll need to adhere to their preferences and let the sturdier dishes cope.

If you are serving salad, don’t forget to allow time to toss it before taking it to the table.

If you are going to have helping hands in your kitchen you should probably write this time table down in legible handwriting or better yet, type it out. Post this in a prominent location so people can refer to the sheet when your hands and mind are otherwise occupied.

While you’re at it, print out a copy of each recipe. Put everything in a folder or 3-ring binder and put this in a SAFE location. Not a location you think you’re going to remember on Thursday. Heck, comment here with where you’re putting your notes. I won’t mind, I’ll be here on Thursday and you can come back and check to see where you hid it.

We’re getting close.

I’m getting excited.