Thanksgiving 2016

Hey Gang,

Sorry I’ve been missing in action for a while.  Motherhood has been taking up my time and I wouldn’t have it any other way at the moment.  But Thanksgiving IS my favorite holiday of the year and I’ve never been more thankful and grateful about life as I am in 2016.  I’m excited to be in the kitchen with my family, many who will be trickling in from out of town for all the feasts and festivities at my house.

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With a 10-month old on my hip, this year is all about keeping things simple, cooking together and delegating a lot more than I usually do.

I’ve ordered a 19-pound BN Ranch Heritage Turkey from Gwen Butcher Shop (so happy to find them after my beloved Lindy and Grundy shut down a couple years ago!) which I’ll be dry-brining on Monday.  My mom and I will tackle Wild Mushroom and Spinach Bread Stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and warm rolls and butter.  For desserts, we’ll make The Best Pumpkin Pie along with my Apple Pie with Cinnamon Sauce recipe that debuts in this week’s Soap Opera Digest Magazine.

img_1796My friend The Foodinista pointed me in the direction of a new recipe to try: Mushroom Thyme Gravy– perfect for the vegetarians at my table.  And she gives a great tip of making it ahead and keeping it warm in a thermos-GENIUS! (Check out her website- she’s got some clever finds for Turkey Day.)

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My dearest friend Steve (and Jemma’s Godfather) who’s been at the Collins Thanksgiving Table for over 15 years, will be taking care of sweet potatoes, artichokes gratin and a cranberry dish.

And if you’re looking for some last minute inspiration, type “Thanksgiving” into the search engine on this site to find all kinds of great ideas for your holiday meal.

lucy-photobomb-apple-pieAnd I always love to hear from all of you.  Find me on Twitter and Instagram and let me know what you’re cooking… Send pics!!!

 

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Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Berries

Have some fun with this easy and delicious cream pie, perfect for a your Fourth of July barbecue!

Buttermilk Flag Pie

Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Berries

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:
For the Vanilla Wafer Crust

2 cups crushed vanilla wafers (about 9 ounces of cookies)

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

For the Pie Filling:

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

2 Tablespoons flour

For the Topping:

1 cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

about 1 cup of your favorite berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)  or use a combination of berries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For crust, combine cookie crumbs and sugar and mix well.  Add melted butter and mix with hands until well blended.  Press into a 9-inch pie dish and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk eggs and sugar together.  Add buttermilk, lemon zest, vanilla and salt.  Slowly add in melted butter and whisk until combined.  Add flour and whisk until no lumps remain.  Pour batter into pie dish.

Bake for about 50-55 minutes until custard filling has set and doesn’t jiggle.  Custard top will be light golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool.  Pie will deflate a bit upon cooling.

Just before serving prepare the topping.  Mix heavy cream, sugar and vanilla together in a cold mixing bowl and whisk either using an electric mixer, hand mixer or by hand using a whisk (and a lot of elbow grease.)

Once pie has cooled to room temperature, cut slices and top with whipped cream and berries.  You can also top the whole pie with the whipped cream and create a design on the top with the berries.  Make it your own!

Refrigerate any leftover pie and whipped cream

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Fresh Corn and Avocado Salad

Here’s the recipe for my most requested salad during the hot summer months.  Taking advantage of the seasons freshest produce, this dish will be a hit for sure at your Fourth of July barbecue!

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Fresh Corn and Avocado Salad

 Makes 4-6 side servings

Ingredients:

2 ears of fresh sweet corn

2-3 large ripe avocados, pitted and diced

1 basket of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1 red onion, medium dice

the juice of one lime

1/4 cup of olive oil

1/4 rice vinegar (cider or red wine will work as well)

salt and pepper

Directions:

Using a Chef’s knife, carefully slice kernels of corn off the cob and place into a large bowl.   Add avocados, tomatoes, red onion and the juice of one lime.   Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Pour over salad and gently toss just until all ingredients are coated with dressing. (You may not need all of the dressing.)

 

 

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White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Sea Salt

This cookie recipe is hands down the one I’m most often asked to share.  Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, with a salty/sweet combo that can’t be rivaled.  The addition of white chocolate pieces sends this cookie over the moon in flavor.

Here’s an episode of my baking show “Sugared” featuring this recipe! Let me know what you think.

This recipe is largely inspired by a crispy oatmeal cookie my good friend Steve has been making for years.  I made some changes to the ingredients and technique to create a cookie that’s crispy on the outside but still chewy on the inside, and I added white chocolate to give the salty/sweet element.

White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Sea Salt

Adapted from my dear friend Steve Bedenbaugh

 

Servings: about 45 large cookies


Ingredients:

2 cups bread flour (see note 1)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

3 ½ sticks unsalted butter, slightly cold and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups granulated white sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick or instant oats)

2 cups good quality white chocolate, chopped into small pieces (see note 2)

1 tablespoon sea salt

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine the bread flour, baking powder, baking soda and fine sea salt.

In a mixer with paddle attachment, or using a hand mixer, beat butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy- about 1 minute.

Scrape down bowl with a rubber spatula, then add eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed just until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again.

On low speed, add flour mixture and mix just until combined. Do not over mix.

With mixer still running on low, gradually add oats followed by white chocolate pieces and mix just until all the ingredients are incorporated evenly.  Do not over mix.

Form the dough into a loose disk, wrap the dough in plastic and chill dough in the refrigerator for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees, take dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes.

Roll dough into balls the size of a golf ball.  If you are using a measuring scale, measure out cookie dough to 1 1/2 ounces per ball.  Place balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, about 2 1/2 inches apart.

Slightly press the center of each ball with your thumb and sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt on top.

Bake at 350 for about 15- 20 minutes, rotating cookie sheet once halfway through to ensure your cookies bake evenly.

Cookies are done when they are just set and not too brown.

When cookies come out of the oven, place on wire racks to cool.

Note 1: I like to use bread flour in this recipe for a chewier cookie center but all-purpose flour can be used as well if that’s what you’ve got in your kitchen.

Note 2: Buy the best quality chocolate you can afford.  It really makes a difference in this recipe.  I like Callebaut white chocolate chips (you don’t have to chop these.) Guittard also makes a nice white chocolate, as does Valrhona.

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Soft & Chewy Gingersnap Cookies

In continuing with the holiday cookie baking madness going on in my kitchen, the past few days have been all about creating the perfect recipe for gingersnap cookies.  I had a few pretty great attempts, but it was the final batch made last night that I knew was THE ONE.

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This super easy recipe produces a melt-in-your-mouth, soft and chewy cookie with a spicy ginger kick.  A classic holiday cookie, these will be served at my Christmas party this year for sure!

Soft & Chewy Gingersnap Cookies

Servings: About 18 large cookies


Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, (12 tablespoons) just a bit colder than room temp

1 cup granulated white sugar

1 large egg

¼ cup dark molasses

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

cinnamon sugar: 1/3 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon mixed in a small bowl


Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt until well combined.

In mixer with paddle attachment, or using a hand mixer, on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy- about 1 minute.

Beat in egg, molasses and vanilla also on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.  Beat until all ingredients are well combined and no large lumps appear- about 1 minute.

Turn mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture just until everything is combined and a soft caramel colored dough is present.  Do not over mix.

Wrap dough in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, take dough out of refrigerator and let it sit for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll to about the size of a golf ball. Or if you are using a baking scale, measure balls of dough out to 1 1/2 ounces each.

Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Place balls 2 1/2 inches apart on cookie sheet and bake for about 15 -17 minutes.  Cookies are done when they are set and slightly cracked on top.  Note: Cookies will puff up and then flatten.

Sprinkle cookies with just a pinch more of the cinnamon sugar and cool on a wire rack.

Note: Once measured out and formed into balls (and BEFORE rolled in cinnamon sugar), dough can be frozen for up to 6 weeks in an airtight, freezer-safe container or freezer-safe baggie, with parchment paper between the layers.  I like to double the batch, roll them all into balls, and freeze half of the recipe for a later use.  When ready to bake, roll balls in cinnamon sugar and bake as directed, adding a couple of extra minutes to the baking time.

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Holiday Gumbo!

I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a great dish to serve at my Christmas party this year when it hit me… GUMBO!  It can feed A LOT of people, tastes delicious, and I can make it the day before, then heat it up just before my event- allowing me to actually ENJOY my own party rather than feel like the caterer.

Making Gumbo is really fun!  There’s a lot of prep work involved but what a great meal to prepare with family and friends.  (Also a great time to practice your Mise En Place technique: see Tip of the Month on the Home page.)

There are more recipes for Gumbo than there are food blogs and the folks of New Orleans take their Gumbo VERY seriously.  Being a “northerner”, I was hesitant to even attempt to make this dish until I came across “My New Orleans- The Cookbook” by John Besh.  If you are at all curious about Cajun cuisine, this book is for you.  I’m so inspired to make so many of these dishes!  What a wonderful Christmas gift this book would be for the chef in your life.

To make this recipe a little more “party friendly,” I’ll cut the chicken into smaller bite size pieces. You could also substitute chicken or turkey sausage for the smoked pork and andouille sausage.  This recipe can easily be doubled if you are looking to feed an army like I am!

Holiday Gumbo

Adapted (very little) from “My New Orleans, The Cookbook” by John Besh

“Throughout this book, I’ve had a great deal to say about making the roux that’s the base of our gumbo–and the other steps as well–but I’ll recap it here so that it can be useful every time you start to make our signature dish. Yes, there are other thickeners besides flour that folks use for making their roux, but to my palate, only a flour-based roux yields that traditional flavor. As for the fats in a roux, just about anything works. I love rendered duck fat, chicken fat, or lard, but canola oil works nearly as well.

I always heat the oil first and whisk the flour into the hot oil. Not only does this speed up the process; it yields that deep, dark chocolate-colored gumbo I love. I always add the onions first to the dark roux, holding back the rest of the vegetables until the onion caramelizes. Otherwise, the water in the vegetables will keep the onion from browning and releasing its sweet juices. I like to add file powder to the gumbo, then pass it at the table, too. Serve the gumbo hot with Louisiana rice; serve potato salad on the side, if you like.” –John Besh

Servings: 10-12 (generous portions)

 

Ingredients:

1 cup rendered chicken fat or canola oil

1 cup flour

2 large onions, diced

1 large chicken, cut into 12 pieces

2 tablespoons Creole Spices (like Tony Chachere’s- found in the spice aisle at the grocery store)

2 pounds spicy smoked sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick

2 stalks celery, diced

2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced

1 tomato, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme

3 quarts chicken stock

2 bay leaves

6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped

2 cups sliced fresh okra

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Filé powder

Louisiana hot sauce or Tabasco

4–6 cups cooked white rice

Directions:

1. Make a roux by heating the chicken fat or oil in a large cast-iron or heavy bottomed pot over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, stirring them into the roux with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring until the roux is a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Season the chicken with Creole Spices. Add the chicken to the pot, raise heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the smoked sausage and stir for a minute before adding the celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, Chicken Stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and skim off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.

4. Add the andouille, okra, and Worcestershire and season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat off the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé and hot sauce at the table.


*Note to my readers: A word about the rice. You need to be very careful with rice being left out at a party as it rapidly grows bacteria and, if left out too long, can cause food poisoning.  If you’re not going to eat rice straight after you’ve cooked it, then you need to store it in the refrigerator as soon as possible, but definitely within four hours.  Another option, and what I will be using at my party, is a rice cooker.  This allows you to not only cook the rice, but it keeps it warm and you can hold it for hours- making it the perfect choice for a big party.  Any uneaten rice should be thrown out after three days in the fridge.

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How NOT to look like Santa’s stand-in this holiday season…

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How do we food lovers indulge and have fun without paying the price of the dreaded holiday pounds at the end of the year? My New Year’s Eve little black dress will be VERY unforgiving should I go too far.

I decided to call on my dear friend and celebrity trainer Christine Hazelton to give us some tips.  Chris whips people like Matt Damon, Dane Cook, Sonya Walger, Thomas Jane, and yours truly into camera-ready shape right here in Los Angeles.

Here’s her advice for all of us:

1. Think eighty/twenty. Eighty percent of the time challenge yourself and make good choices, and twenty percent of the time allow yourself to color outside of the lines. Moderation is the key to long term success.

2. Eat slowly and stop when you feel ALMOST full, rather than eating until you feel “stuffed.”

3. Stop before you eat something and ask yourself. Is this worth it? Is this the best choice I can make right now?

4. Eat healthy before you go to a holiday party and decide that nothing tastes as good as being lean feels.  Keep repeating that to yourself.

5. Decide how you would like to look and weigh (body fat percent). Act as if you already weigh that amount NOW. How do you feel? How do you eat? How do you interact?

6. Make a contract with yourself and have a friend or your spouse sign it. Commit to certain rules for a given period of time -like having only a couple of bites of dessert at Christmas parties and/or completing a certain number of workouts over the holiday season. At the end of the contract period give yourself a reward (not food obviously) for completing the contract successfully. Only give yourself the reward if you complete the commitment.

7. Make a goal for January 1st rather than waiting to make a New Years Resolution. Write it down and place it somewhere visible along with a list of goals that you’ve accomplished in the past.  If you’ve done it before, you can do it again!

8. If you hear yourself say “Fu&% it!” when about to eat something, do the exact opposite of what you’re about to do!

Chris is also the creator of the amazing phone app BODYFATE: a fitness game that entertains and challenges you while getting you into the best shape of your life!  It’s a killer workout you can do anywhere, anytime.  I use it when I can’t get to the gym and I even use it at the gym as my “personal trainer” to help me with my workout.

Don’t let the characters in this cartoon fool you- this is one ass-kicking circuit workout! Featured in The New York Times, Men’s Fitness and ABC News, this app is like having your own personal trainer programmed right into your phone.

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Snowballs (Mexican Wedding Cakes)

I grew up calling these cookies “Snowballs” but you may know them by a few other names including “Mexican Wedding Cakes”,  “Russian Tea Cakes” and “Butterballs”.  These melt-in-your-mouth, shortbread like cookies are one of my favorite holiday cookie recipes.

Snowballs

Makes about 36 cookies

Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confetioner’s sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup walnuts, pecans or almonds, toasted and coarsly chopped

Directions:

In a standing mixer with paddle attachment or a hand held mixer, beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy- about 3 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, the salt, and vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Turn mixer to low and slowly add the flour, followed by the nuts.  Mix until all ingredients are combined.  Do not overmix.

Divide dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Working with half of the chilled dough, pinch off a piece of dough – about 1 Tablespoon- and roll between your hands into balls.  Place balls on parchment lined baking sheets, 1 inch apart, and bake for about 18-20 minutes just until bottoms are light golden brown.  Lift one cookie up to check for doneness.

Remove cookies from oven and cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes.

Place the remaining confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl and drop warm cookies in one at a time and roll until completely covered with powdered sugar.

Cookies will keep at room temperature for about 2-3 days but can be frozen in a freezer-safe container for about 2 months.  Re-sugar cookies before serving.

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Auntie Kate’s Cream Cheese Cherry Cookies

If I get my baking talents from anyone, it’s definitely my Aunt Kate.  This is her recipe and these cookies were my favorite as a little girl.  I still remember dangling from my auntie’s bellbottomed pant leg begging her to make these whenever she came to visit.  As I got older, we made them together.  She shared with me what would become my most treasured recipe.

A few years ago, my aunt passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was my second mother and words cannot express how much I miss her everyday.

When I make her cookies now, I can feel her over my shoulder, going through the steps and making them with me.  I’m transported back in time to conversations we had, her gigantic laugh and her brilliant smile that could light up any room.  Food and cooking is something that truly connects us to the people we love, even when they are no longer with us.

Of all the memories I have with my aunt, and there are many of them, it’s when I make these cookies that I feel closest to her.  And now I share this recipe, and the abundance of love that comes with it, with you.  Happy Holidays, Xoxo, J

Auntie Kate’s Cream Cheese Cherry Cookies

Servings: About 4 dozen


Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (not runny or whipped)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (not whipped)

about 2 cups powdered sugar

2 jars (12 -14 ounces each) of maraschino cherries

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix together flour and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl with electric mixer, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture to butter and cream cheese and blend in just till combined.  Don’t overwork the dough.

Form dough into a ball and flatten into a disk about 2 inches thick.  Wrap in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness on a cutting board or flat surface sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Using a ruler for accuracy, cut dough into 2×2 squares with a knife.

Place 1 maraschino cherry in the center of each square and fold 2 sides so that they meet and cover the cherry.  Be sure to secure dough to prevent opening up during baking.

Bake at 375 degrees on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for about 10 minutes or until bottoms are just lightly browned.  Do not over-bake.

Let cookies cool on a wire rack.

When completely cooled, sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar.

Baked cookies can be stored frozen for up to 3 months sealed in an airtight, freezer safe container or freezer safe baggie.

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