A Squared: November 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 Menu: Using Leftovers

One of the secrets to keeping my sanity during a busy workweek is menu planning.  Each weekend I sit down and plan and write out a menu for dinners for the upcoming week and then we go shopping for the necessary ingredients on Sunday.  This prevents me from impulse grocery shopping (which I have a tendency to do) and also helps us to avoid buying food with no end goal in mind that will inevitably go to waste.  Alex also likes to check out the menu (which I keep on the fridge) so that he can say "Yay!  It's pizza night!" or something of the like.  See?  Saving money, waste, and sanity all at the same time.

When I was planning our menu this past post-Thanksgiving weekend it was hard to see beyond all of the leftovers and random ingredients in our fridge.  I grew up hearing the phrase "waste not, want not" so I decided to get creative and figure out how to repurpose what we already have on hand.  I have included our menu for this week below-- along with where the leftover items originated from and links to some of the recipes we have used.

Dijon Roasted Salmon
Creamy Orzo
Steamed Broccoli and Carrots (leftover from the crudités platter)

Cider-Glazed Chicken (using the leftover cider from the cider-glazed turkey and fresh parsley from the bean dip and stuffing recipes)
Mashed Potatoes for me (leftover from Thanksgiving dinner)
Baked Yukon Gold potato for Alex (from the remaining 2 lbs. we didn't boil and mash)

Bison Fajitas
Cucumber & Tomato Salad
(using leftover red peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes from the crudités platter)

Caramelized Onion & Prosciutto Pizza (leftover prosciutto from the antipasti)
Roasted Broccolini

Sesame-Orange Chicken (using leftover 2% milk, orange juice, chicken broth from mashed potatoes, cranberry compote, and stuffing recipes)
Mixed Greens with Orange Segments (using additional oranges leftover from cranberry compote recipe)
Roasted Garlic Toasts (this is the bread we bought to make leftover turkey sandwiches)

Baked Macaroni & Cheese (using leftover 2% milk from mashed potatoes and crumbs made from leftover appetizer crackers)
Steamed broccoli (leftover from the crudités platter)

And since there are just SO many leftovers hanging around after Thanksgiving, I had some fun with lunches too.  Here are two easy lunch (or dinner) recipes that I created to use up some of those leftovers:

Thanksgiving Stuffed Squash


  • 1 sweet dumpling squash (remember that squash from my mom??)
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups leftover Thanksgiving stuffing
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Slice the stem off the squash and then slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds and membranes from the inside.  Carefully slice off a thin piece of the outer skin on each squash half so that each rests flat when laid skinside down.  Drizzle the inside of each squash half with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Lay the squash flesh-side down on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

After roasting, remove the squash from the pan and set aside until cool enough to handle and turn the oven down to 350 degrees.  Flip the squash halves over and set them back on the baking sheet skin-side down.  Fill the cavity in each half with a generous portion of stuffing and drizzle with chicken broth.  Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes until squash is fork tender and stuffing is slightly browned around the edges.

Turkey Sandwiches with Balsamic Onions, Celery, and Cranberry Mayonnaise 

There isn't much of a "recipe" to speak of here, but it was pretty delicious leftovers sandwich.  You can improvise with whatever you have around, but here is what I used...
  • 2 slices of good quality bakery bread, toasted *I used a roasted garlic ciabatta
  • 1 Tbs. reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. cranberry compote
  • Thinly sliced turkey breast meat
  • 1 celery rib, very thinly sliced crosswise on the diagonal
  • 3 balsamic marinated cippolini onions, sliced in half *I had these leftover from the antipasti apps
In a small bowl, stir mayonnaise and cranberry compote together until combined.  I like to mix 2 parts cranberry compote with 1 part mayonnaise to get a really tangy taste with just a touch of creaminess.

Spread the cranberry mayo on the insides of both slices of bread.  Layer turkey, celery, and onions between both prepared slices of bread and enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving Menu 2012: All About Sides - Part 2

So, we have already talked about Thanksgiving apps, turkey, and carbs... let's take things in a healthier direction: Vegetables! I'm a huge cooked veggie lover and there are so many flavorful and relatively healthy things that you can do with them-- especially when it comes to seasonal fall vegetables.

I prepared two veggie side dishes for our Thanksgiving meal this year. I love brussels sprouts, but my husband won't touch them so I made an alternative side with green beans that was just as delicious. Both of these recipes were pretty easy to make and aside from some butter and sugar usage are actually pretty healthy so you could really make them to go along with any cozy fall or winter dinner.

Maple Roasted Brussles Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts
  • 1 1b. sweet potatoes (about 4 medium sized)
  • 1 Tbs. butter, melted
  • 3 1/2 Tbs. maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice brussels sprouts in half and cut off the dry stem. Peel the sweet potatoes and dice into 1/2 inch pieces. Place the brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes into a large bowl.
Add the maple syrup to the melted butter and stir to combine. Pour that mixture over the brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well to evenly coat the vegetables.
Pour and spread out evenly onto a large baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove and add the walnuts and cranberries evenly over the sprouts and carrots. Stir the mixture one more time to combine and return to the oven and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes until the brussels sprouts are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Derived from original recipe courtesy of ...In Sock Monkey Slippers

Balsamic Glazed Green Beans & Cipollini Onions

  • 1 1/4 lbs. green beans, trimmed
  • 1 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 8 oz. cipollini onions, halved and peeled
  • 1/4 cup fat-free low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Place beans into a large saucepan of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Rinse with very cold water. Drain well. Place beans in a large bowl and set aside.
Heat 1 1/2 tsp. butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Add broth, vinegar, and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer 3 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy. Add beans, remaining 1 1/2 tsp. butter, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Derived from original recipe by Anthony Rosenfield, Cooking Light

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Post-Thanksgiving Apple Cider Glazed Turkey

We are talking about turkey on this special edition of What's For Dinner Wednesday.  I know that Thanksgiving has passed already, but a roast turkey is an excellent choice for any big gathering during the holiday season.  This one is a little different that turkeys that I have made previously.  The recipe caught my eye in Real Simple Magazine and I thought the idea of a cider glaze sounded delicious and different.  The cider glaze brings in all of those great fall fruit flavors and also gives the turkey that really pretty reddish glazed look that you see in all the food magazines.  It's actually a pretty easy recipe and the glaze can be made ahead of time too.  Add it to your day before to do list and just be sure to warm it on the stove before you start glazing your turkey.

Turkey before...

Ta da!  Turkey after.

Apple Cider Glazed Turkey


  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 4Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Salt and pepper,
  • 3 stalks celery, halved crosswise
  • 3 carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups fat free low sodium chicken broth, divided 1 12-pound turkey—thawed, giblets discarded, and patted dry
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, quartered
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 8 sprigs fresh sage
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet boil the cider until reduced to about ¾ cup, 25-30 minutes. Add the vinegar, 2 Tbs. of the butter, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper and stir until the butter has melted.

Meanwhile, in a large roasting pan, scatter the celery, carrots, and onions, reserving 2 onion quarters.  Add 1 cup chicken stock.  Season the turkey cavity with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper and stuff with the apple, thyme, sage, and remaining 2 onion quarters. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings underneath the body. Place the turkey on top of the vegetables or in a roasting rack if you have one.  Gently loosen turkey skin with your fingers and rub 1 Tbs. of butter underneath the skin.  Rub the remaining 1 Tbs. of butter on top of the skin and season with 2 tsp. salt.

Tent the turkey loosely with a piece of foil in order to prevent it from drying and browning too quickly.  Roast the turkey, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices, for 2 hours.  Remove the foil tent and continue roasting, basting every 15 minutes with the cider glaze, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh registers 165 degrees, 30-60 minutes more.  Keep the reserved chicken broth on hand and fill the bottom of the roasting pan as needed if the liquid evaporates and the vegetables start to burn.

Remove turkey from the oven and carefully tilt it to empty the juices from the cavity into the pan. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving. Reserve the pan and its contents so that you can use the drippings to make gravy.

Original recipe courtesy of RealSimple.com

Looking for some Thanksgiving side dish recipes? Check these out:

Brandy Apple Cranberry Sauce  
Cranberry Walnut Stuffing 
Caramelized Onion Smashed Potatoes
Butternut Squash with a Rosemary Pecan Parmesan Crust 
Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes 
Holiday Cranberry Lemonade    


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Happy First Birthday, Maeve!

What's For Dinner Wednesday is coming later today, but first I wanted to send out a very special birthday wish:

Happiest of happy first birthdays to our beautiful niece Maeve!  We love you and can't wait to celebrate with you soon!


Aunt Anne & Uncle Alex

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 Menu: All About Sides - Part 1

My apologies if you have been looking for my post about "starch sides" recently.  I'm not sure what happened, but if you viewed the blog via Internet Explorer lately that post was messing everything up!  So, let's try this one more time...

Now I love a Thanksgiving turkey, but there is nothing I love more at a holiday dinner than some carbs.  Seriously.  You could take my turkey away all together, but I could eat leftover stuffing for days on end afterward.  And I usually do.

In years past I have always prepared a cranberry walnut stuffing that's a big hit at the Thanksgiving table.  In typical fashion though, I got a little bored with my standard recipe and decided to change things up this year.  We served an apple-cider glazed turkey (more to come on that tomorrow), so I decided it might be nice to play off those flavors and add apples and pecans to the stuffing.  And then I decided to add bacon.  Because bacon just makes everything better.  This would be a great side dish for any holiday dinner and I imagine that the flavors would work really well along with a roasted chicken or pork loin too.

Apple, Bacon & Pecan Stuffing


  • 8 oz. center-cut bacon
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 celery ribs with leaves, diced
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, diced
  • 10 cups sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and dried in the oven overnight or at low heat for several hours
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 1/2 cups fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large skillet cook bacon until crispy.  Drain cooked bacon on a paper towel until cool and dice into smaller pieces.  Add butter to the pan and combine with leftover bacon grease.  Add onions and celery to the pan, stirring often. Cook until the onion is golden and add apples to the pan.  Stir to coat the apples and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Scrape the entire mixture into a large bowl and add cubed bread, parsley, and pecans.  Stir in enough stock to moisten the stuffing (about 2 1/2 cups).  Season with poultry seasoning, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper, to taste.

Place in a greased baking dish, drizzle with additional chicken stock, cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake uncovered for an additional 15-25 minutes or until the stuffing begins to brown.  Note: Test the stuffing for dryness halfway through baking and add more stock if needed.

When it comes to mashed potatoes I am most definitely a purist.  I've tried fun add-ins and seasonings, but I find that simpler is usually better.  This is a great Martha Stewart-inspired mashed potato recipe that is simple enough that you can serve it with dinner year round.

And a tip for you: To save time and space in my little kitchen, Emma peeled these potatoes Thanksgiving morning and we stored them in a pot of water in the fridge.  Once we were ready to make them we drained the existing water, refilled it, and then continued boiling.  You can do this up to one day in advance too.

Traditional Mashed Potatoes

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup 2% milk, warmed
In a large pot, cover potatoes with 2 inches of salted water.  Bring water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender-- about 12 minutes.  Drain thoroughly and return to pot.  Mash with a potato masher until potatoes reach desired texture.  I like to leave a few small chunks to give it a fuller texture.

Over low heat, add butter and stir until melted.  Continue to cook and stir constantly until potatoes are stiff, about 1 minute.  Gradually stir in the milk.  You may also want to add a little more if needed to get to desired consistency.  Season potatoes with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Original recipe courtesy of MarthaStewart.com

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 Menu: Afternoon Appetizers

As I begin this series of posts about our Thanksgiving dinner, one thing I should let you know is that we are not 4 pm dinner people-- even for holidays.  Growing up we never ate dinner early.  We were more of a 7 o'clock dinner kind of family.  My mom would say that it is because she is notorious for running late, but I would say that it's because she was busy raising 5 kids, teaching, and running a household.  Even though I don't have kids, I can totally relate.  By the time Alex and I get home from work, go to the gym, and then make dinner we don't usually end up eating dinner until close to 9 pm on most nights.

Now we didn't have dinner at 9 pm on Thanksgiving day, but I did take my time getting the meal together so we could eat in the evening.  With that in mind, I don't serve lunch but I do like to have heavy appetizers out that people can graze on throughout the afternoon while we are cooking and watching football.  This year I planned some appetizers with a little Italian flair and consulted Pinterest and some of my favorite cooking blogs to help me come up with some quick and delicious appetizers.  Here is what we came up with:

 Thanksgiving Day Appetizers
  • Antipasti of olives, marinated artichoke hearts, peppers, mozzarella bocconcini, and prosciutto
  • Rosemary White Bean Dip
  • Crudités
  • Brie en Croûte with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Thyme
  • Crackers, pita chips, and toasts


    Rosemary White Bean Dip

    • 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
    • 1/2 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves
    • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
    • 1 garlic clove
    • Salt and pepper, to taste
    • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
    Combine cannellini beans and next 4-5 ingredients in a food processor.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Pulse to combine and stream in olive oil until smooth and fully combined.  Serve immediately with crudités, pita chips, and crackers or cover and refrigerate until serving.

    Inspired by original recipe by Proud Italian Cook

    Brie en Croûte with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Herbs

    • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
    • 8 oz. brie round
    • 1/2 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes with herbs in olive oil
    • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
    • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
    • 1 egg
    • 1 Tbs. water
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Unfold pastry dough and place brie in the center (note: do not remove rind).  Spoon the tomatoes on top of the brie round and sprinkle with thyme and rosemary leaves. Gather the pastry up at the top of the brie, cinching to seal around the tomatoes. In a small bowl, beat egg and water well until combined. Brush over puff pastry just before baking.

    Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.  Use a dip spreader for serving with toasts, crackers, or pita chips.

    Original recipe courtesy of The Family Kitchen at babble.com

    Sunday, November 25, 2012

    Thanksgiving 2012 Weekend Highlights

    The view from Museum Campus at dusk
    After a brief hiatus from blogging I am back in action and dreading the fact that real life begins again tomorrow.  We had such a nice little Thanksgiving here in Chicago and I am so thankful (again) that we have started our tradition of celebrating in our home.  My siblings and I always loved our tradition of staying at home,  making dinner, and going to see a movie on Thanksgiving Day.  Occasionally a family friend, an aunt, or grandparents would join us, but it was always us at our house.  It was so important to me and I know that the tradition that we have started will be even more special someday when we have kids too.

    It also meant a lot to have my little sister Emma here for the holiday again.  And while I can't wait to tell you all about the food and my kitchen adventures from our Thanksgiving Day feast, right now I'd like to share some snapshots from the holiday weekend.  I'm truly thankful for the good company of my husband and my sister this year.

    A yummy and relatively healthy seafood salad at Hub 51 on Wednesday evening before the carbfest that ensued for the rest of the weekend.

    Cranberry Juice + Sparkling MI wine = Thanksgiving cocktail

    A toast of thanksgiving

    Alex is thankful for turkey legs

    On Black Friday we decided to stay far away from Michigan Avenue and anything else resembling a department store and/or mall.  Nerd alert!  We went to the Field Museum instead.  And it was actually really fun.  It has been a long time since I have been to a science museum and this trip to the Field Museum was a first for all 3 of us which made it even better.

    Such a pretty space... especially with holiday lights!

    Alex and Emma's T Rex arms next to famous T Rex Sue

    After our museum excursion and for the second Black Friday in a row we also stopped by the Christkindlmarket in the Chicago Loop.  The Christkindlmarket is an outdoor German-style Christmas market where they sell ornaments, crafts, sweets, and other holiday items.  They also serve German treats and unlike last year (since she was only 20), we got to enjoy a boot full of Glühwein (hot spiced wine) with Emma too.


    Alex and Emma bought matching hats to brave the cold evening at Daley Plaza.  Precious.  And then Alex stocked up on Haribo gummy candies in the Sweet House tent.

    After the Christkindlmarket we took a break from turkey and warmed up with dinner at one of our favorite Italian places-- Via Carducci in Wicker Park.

    On Saturday Emma and I had some girl time while Alex watched football and we did a little Christmas shopping at the boutiques in Lincoln Park.  It was all lit up for Christmas and it was Small Business Saturday so it was fun to be able to get out and support some of these great shops.  Check out Art Effect-- it's my favorite and I could have finished all of my holiday shopping there!  After that we met Alex for some Mexican food and cocktails to toast Emma's last night with us at Adobo Grill in Old Town.

    And finally, we packed away the fall decorations and broke out the Christmas music and decorations.  Emma helped us put the tree up before she left and now our home is officially ready for the most wonderful time of the year.  I LOVE Christmas and can't wait to share more holiday-related posts with you over the coming month!

    Friday, November 23, 2012

    Top 10 Items On My 2012 Christmas List

    I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday and were able to celebrate the day surrounded by good friends and family and overindulging on tons of delicious food.  I'm anxious to start posting recaps and recipes from our Thanksgiving feast, but turkey is just about the last thing I want to think about right now!  I'll be updating you on our holiday meal soon (hopefully when my pants start to fit again!), but in the meantime we will be out enjoying Chicago with my sister Emma.  And probably avoiding the mall.

    Since this is the biggest shopping day of the year though, I thought I'd share with you 10 of the most wanted items on my Christmas list this year. Just in case my mom, my husband, or Santa Claus comes asking about what I want... now you know where to send them! 

    A Squared 2012 Christmas List

    This is, of course, only 10 items on my wishlist.  I have a few more randoms that didn't make the cut for the top ten.  For example, who wants to see a stainless steel colander on someone's Christmas wishlist?  Not me, but alas, my kitchen could really use one!  To see the full and ever evolving list, check out my 2012 Christmas List Pinterest board and follow me there too!

    Happy shopping and be careful if you venture into those Black Friday crowds today!

    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    A Day to be Thankful

    Each year as I get a little bit older, Thanksgiving becomes a more and more special holiday to me.  When I was a kid it was all about turkey and a 4-day weekend.  Now that I'm a grown up though and I've fallen in love, gotten married, and have started a family of my own it has definitely taken on a deeper meaning.

    This year I have a lot to be thankful for again: A wonderful husband of more than a year (!!) and a fun, loving, and ever supportive family.  Speaking of that family, I'm thankful that my parents and my brother and his family have both purchased homes in Michigan this year.  One of the things I loved most about living in Boston was being a train ride away from my family.  Having them a few hours drive away is the next best thing!  I'm thankful for loyal friends (both near and far) with whom we've been able to spend much more time this year; 2 full time and fulfilling jobs; opportunities to travel around the country with my best friend (that aforementioned wonderful husband again); and of course, our health.  Not too shabby.

    And I'm also thankful to be hosting our second annual Chicago Thanksgiving and to be celebrating with my husband and my little sister-- two of my favorite people in the world.

    1st Annual Chicago Thanksgiving: Emma and Alex

    Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving full of friends, family, and food.  Eat a lot, count your blessings, and enjoy the day!

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    What's For Dinner Wednesday: Roasted Spicy Lemon Broccoli

    Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day, so I am sure you are feeling as busy and crazed as I am!  My sister is on her way into town as we speak, I'll be working for the morning, and then will be spending the afternoon catching up with Emma and getting things prepped for our dinner tomorrow.  With that in mind, I will keep the small talk to a minimum and get right to today's recipe.  It's an easy, flavorful, and healthy veggie side dish.  It's versatile and a great compliment to most entrees... including a Thanksgiving turkey!

    Best of luck to all of you as you gear up for the greatest dinner of the year.  I can't wait to hear how your dinners were and to share the details of ours with you too!


    2 1/2 cups fresh broccoli, cut into large chunks
    1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 Tbs. lemon zest
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    2 Tbs. parmesan cheese, grated
    1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    Cooking Spray
    1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine broccoli and next 6 ingredients through salt and pepper.  Spread broccoli mixture out evenly on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes until broccoli begins to brown and look slightly charred.  Remove the broccoli halfway through and turn with a spatula to ensure it cooks evenly.

    Remove broccoli from oven, sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and serve.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Top 10 Turkey Day Prep Tips

    Our turkey circa 2011
    We just got back from a very intense trip to the grocery store where we picked up all of our supplies for Thanksgiving week/weekend.  My mind is reeling now with everything that I need to get done in order to be ready for the big day.  This is the second Thanksgiving that I have hosted on my own, but I have assisted my mom with many holiday dinners over the past several years so I have some sanity saving tips to share with you (hint: a lot of them include planning ahead) as we begin this crazy and wonderful Thanksgiving week.  Some are a little random, but all are helpful!

    1. Thaw your turkey! 
    If you have not done so by now, you are probably going to want to do this very soon-- especially if you are serving a large turkey.  The Butterball website has a fantastic little page dedicated totally to the turkey including calculators to tell you exactly how long to cook your turkey, how long it will take to thaw it based on its weight, and what size bird to buy based on your number of guests (it told me I should get a 6 lb. turkey.  Do they even raise them that small?  That sounds like a turkey breast to me.  Or a chicken.  Guess we will have lots of leftovers!).  Check  out the website here.

    2. Make a master shopping list.  This is one of my favorite tips.  There are so many ingredients to consider when planning this meal so get out your computer, all of your recipes, and start making a list of all of the ingredients you will need.  There are certain items like butter, flour, broth, salt, etc. that will be used in multiple dishes so add them up as you go so you know exactly how much you'll need for the whole meal.  When your list is done, check your pantry against each item to see what you already have on hand, and then take your trusty list to the store to fill in the rest of the blanks.

    3. Prep as much as you can ahead of time.  In my opinion, a pumpkin pie tastes better after it has rested for a day so bake it ahead of time and that will free up time and oven space on Thanksgiving Day.  A lot of people peel potatoes the day before and leave them soaking in a pot of water until its time to boil them on Thanksgiving Day.  Cranberry sauce is an easy thing to make ahead of time and can be stored in your refrigerator.  Just make sure you bring it closer to room temperature before serving.  Also, chop all of your veggies the day before to save time and cutting boards.

    4. Paper plates are your friends.  You'll likely want to pull out your good china for Thanksgiving dinner, but for breakfast and snacking throughout the day paper plates will save you cleanup time and dishwasher space later in the day.

    5. Movie theaters are open on Thanksgiving Day.  Sometimes the house gets a little crowded with children or with people that are generally in your way.  Send them to the movies (a lot of great holiday blockbusters will come out for Thanksgiving) for a few hours while you're working on dinner.

    6. Refrigerate your mixer bowl.  Homemade whipped cream is so delicious and pretty easy to make in your stand mixer.  Just make sure that you keep the bowl (and also the beaters) in the refrigerator-- overnight, if you can-- and remove just before you are ready to make your whipped cream.  It will make a huge difference in the texture.

    7. Keep the drinks out of your kitchen.  If you don't, people will be in and out (and in your way) grabbing and fixing drinks throughout the day.  Keep beer, soda, white wines outside in a party bucket filled with ice or skip the bucket all together if it is cold enough.  Set up a bar (complete with glasses, cocktail napkins, mixers, garnishes, etc.) in your living room or even near the entry of your home so that guests feel welcome to serve themselves.

    8. Serve low maintenance appetizers and snacks for afternoon grazing.  Veggie trays and antipasti platters are great things to keep out during the day on Thanksgiving for your guests to graze on.  They're substantial enough to tide people over until dinnertime, but require very little work from you.  And don't forget about your slow cooker!  Make a hot dip like spinach and artichoke or a chile con queso, plug it in (away from your workspace, of course), and forget about it.  Guests can serve themselves throughout the day and you don't have to worry about keeping things warm and taking up valuable space on your stovetop or in your oven.

    9. Don't overplan for post-Thanksgiving meals.  You'll have tons of leftovers and chances are your family and guests will be just as happy having a slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast or making turkey sandwiches for lunch as they would be if you got up and slaved over pancakes for them.  Just make sure you add bread, cheese, and condiments to your Thanksgiving shopping list.  And use those paper plates too!

    10. Don't sweat the small stuff.  Something is bound to go wrong and that's okay.  I felt so prepared last year, but grossly underestimated my turkey cook time and it ended up pushing dinnertime back almost 2 hours.  All of my sides were done and getting cold and I got really frustrated.  My guests really didn't care though.  So at the end of the day, you just have to laugh about it and move on.  Enjoy the day, your friends and family, and go with the flow.

    Saturday, November 17, 2012

    Girls Night Pizza Party

    I hosted a girls night earlier this week, but the last few days have been so busy that I haven't had time to sit down and recap it all for you until now!  On Friday I was doing some local travel for work and on Thursday Alex and I went to the Riviera Theatre for our belated anniversary celebration-- the Fun. concert! It was a great show.


    So, you may remember that a few weeks back Mere hosted all of us for girls night and I brought a glazed pumpkin angel food cake.  This week was my turn to host and the girls brought wine and dessert and I was in charge of the meal.  I decided to serve a pear and goat cheese salad and a few different fun pizzas, finally putting to use the pizza stone we received as a wedding gift over a year ago.  I didn't want to cop out and use Naan or pre-baked crust like I usually do when it is just Alex and me, so I went to a few grocery stores to see if I could find some bakery pizza dough, but was unsuccessful.  I decided to suck it up and make my own but I'm not the greatest baker, so I was a little nervous about the crust.  I found a great recipe via Pinterest though and [surprise!] it was a success!

    I found the original pizza dough recipe here and it worked really well.  I did make a few tweaks-- I mixed mine in my mixer using the dough hook instead of in the food processor and it worked well.  Also, this recipe makes 4 individually sized pizzas, but I was making 3 kinds so I split the dough into 3 slightly larger balls.  I made the dough on Sunday night and stored it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until Wednesday.  I rolled each ball out on a lightly floured surface and then placed the rolled dough on flat baking sheet layered with a sheet of parchment paper and dusted with cornmeal.  Top the dough with desired toppings and then carefully shimmy it off the parchment paper and onto a pizza stone that has been warming in a 450 degree oven.

    The results were actually really good and I have been eating the leftovers for the last few days.  Here are the recipes for my three party pizzas:

    Bacon Butternut Pizza

    • Rolled pizza dough
    • 1 Tbs. Extra virgin olive oil, divided
    • Cooking spray
    • 1 small butternut squash (about 1 lb. or less)
    • 1/2 Sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 Tbs. butter
    • 6 slices center-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
    • 8-10 fresh sage leaves
    • 4 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
    • Salt and pepper, to taste
    Spray or brush 1/2 Tbs. olive oil on surface of pizza dough.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel the skin off the squash and using just the long portion of it (set aside the round seeded bottom as you won't need to use that for the pizza), slice the squash into 1/4-inch rounds and arrange on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Spray or drizzle remaining 1/2 Tbs. olive oil over the squash rounds and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 20 minutes until fork tender, remove from the oven and cool slightly.  Arrange the squash rounds on the prepared dough, leaving 1/2 inch border around the edge.

    Heat a pan over medium heat and add butter.  Once melted, add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Arrange onions on top of the squash rounds and sprinkle bacon evenly over the top.  Arrange sage leaves evenly over the pizza and top with Gruyere cheese.  Bake on pizza stone at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese begins to brown.  Remove, slice, and serve.

    Spinach & Artichoke Pizza

    • Rolled pizza dough
    • 1/2 cup prepared pizza sauce *My favorite is Mario Batali's brand, found at my local grocery store
    • 1/4 cup baby spinach leaves, torn into large pieces
    • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
    • 1/4 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and rough chopped
    Spread pizza sauce evenly over prepared dough leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edges.  Sprinkle spinach evenly over the sauce and then arrange mozzarella slices in a single layer on top.  Add artichoke pieces to the top and bake at 450 on a pizza stone for 10-12 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is melted.  Remove, slice, and serve.

    Chicken & Herb White Pizza (inspired by Cooking Light recipe)

    • Rolled pizza dough
    • 1 Tbs. butter
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
    • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
    • 3/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk 
    • 3/4 cup grated fresh pecorino Romano cheese, divided
    • 1 1/2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken breast
    • 1/4 cup diced red onion
    • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
    • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives
    • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley 
    Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add flour, pepper, and nutmeg; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 3 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat; add 1/2 cup cheese, stirring until cheese melts.

    Spread white sauce over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top with chicken and onion and sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over the top.  Bake on pizza stone at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven, sprinkle with herbs, and serve.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Thanksgiving 2012 Menu Planning

    Thanksgiving is only 1 week away... can you believe it? 

    I've been busy collecting recipes over the past few weeks in order to be fully prepared for next Thursday's big meal.  I'm a little neurotic (Monica Gellar-style for all you Friends fans out there) and have compiled a list of all of the ingredients that I will need for all of these dishes, added up the total amounts needed (i.e. you'll definitely need butter for more than one recipe), and then arranged them by location in my grocery store-- dairy, deli, produce, baking aisle, etc.  I also went to a different grocery store this year just to find the smallest whole turkey possible.  Blogs are about honesty, so there's a little glimpse inside my crazy for all of you!

    So, I wanted to share my tentative menu with you.  These may not be exactly what I end up making, but here are some of the recipes that I will be using, tweaking, or drawing inspiration from on Turkey Day.  I'll share my final products with you post-holiday, but these photos should be enough to make you hungry for now!

    For starters/nibbling throughout the afternoon...

    Tuscan White Bean Dip
    Brie en croute

    And for the main course... 

    Cider-Glazed Turkey
    Fresh Cranberry Compote
    Balsamic-Glazed Green Beans & Pearl Onions

    Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

    Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Carrots, Cherries, Walnuts

    Pancetta, Apple, Sourdough Stuffing

    And the grand finale...

    Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie

    Looks yummy, right?  I can't wait!  Any holiday that is all about food, friends, and family is winner in my book.

    Check out some of my other favorite Thanksgiving and holiday recipes here.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    What's For Dinner Wednesday: Chicken & Baby Bella Stroganoff

    The next few days are about to get super busy.  Long days, late nights, and probably a lot of eating on the run.  With that in mind, I wanted us to enjoy a good homemade dinner tonight while I had some time to do so.

    Alex loves beef stroganoff, but I try not to make it too often as between the beef and the sour cream sauce it can be a really heavy unhealthy dinner.  I did some digging though and found a great recipe for a lighter chicken stroganoff that-- with a few of my own tweaks-- sounded like a good compromise.  Subbing chicken breasts in for beef, light sour cream for full fat, and whole grain noodles for regular egg noodles really bumps up the health factor here.  I also chose to use sliced baby bellas instead of regular button mushrooms.  I'm not a big fan of mushrooms, but certainly prefer the meatier texture of the bellas so I chose to use those here.


    • 1 Tbs. butter
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 1 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
    • 1 tsp. dry sage 
    • 1 1/4 tsp. salt, divided
    • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
    •  8 oz. sliced baby bella mushrooms
    • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. all purpose flour, divided
    • 1 tsp. paprika
    • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4 inch strips
    • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
    • 3/4 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth, divided
    • 2 Tbs. sherry
    • 1 cup low fat sour cream
    • 5 cups hot cooked whole grain wide egg noodles (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

    Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add thyme, sage, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and mushrooms to the pan.  Sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown. Spoon mixture into a large bowl and set aside.

    Combine 1/4 cup flour and paprika in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken strips in flour mixture; shake off the excess flour mixture. Heat oil in pan over medium high heat. Add chicken; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Sauté 4 minutes or until chicken is browned and cooked through. Add chicken to mushroom mixture.

    Add 1/2 cup of broth and sherry to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to medium low. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and flour until combined. Stir sour cream mixture and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt into broth mixture. Add chicken mixture to the pan and cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Add noodles and parsley; stir well to combine.  Depending on consistency of the sauce or how long the strogranoff sits before serving (as the sauce will thicken and dry out quickly), stir in any of the remaining chicken broth to thin out the sauce.

    Derived from original recipe by Lia Huber, CookingLight.com

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    In My Lunchbox This Week: Toasted Chicken & Apple Sandwiches

    So, I know that the photo I posted of this weekend's Healthy Fall Chicken Salad wasn't the prettiest, but really?  Is chicken salad ever pretty?  Regardless, the photo and brief mention of the toasted chicken and apple sandwiches garnered much more interest so I thought I'd share my "recipe" for that here.  Nothing too scientific about this recipe, but these sandwiches made for a nice hot lunch on a chilly Sunday while I played in the kitchen and Alex caught up on some football.



    Makes 2 sandwiches

    • 4 thin slices of sourdough bread
    • 1 1/2 Tbs. whole grain mustard
    • 2 oz. 2% milk sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or thinly sliced *I sliced the block of cheddar
    • 1/2 apple, thinly sliced *I used Honeycrisp, but any apple of your preference would work
    • 2/3 cup rotisserie chicken, shredded or thinly sliced
    • Extra virgin olive oil or cooking spray

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.  Spread mustard evenly on inside surfaces of each slice of bread.  Using one slice from each sandwich, begin layering the rest of the ingredients-- a thin layer of cheese, followed by a layer of apple slices, then chicken, and top with remaining cheese.  Top with the other slice of bread (mustard side inside, of course) and spray the outside lightly with cooking spray.  Place each sandwich on the baking sheet and bake until the cheese begins to melt and the bread starts crisping, about 10 minutes.  Using tongs or a spatula, gently flip the sandwiches over and back for another 5 minutes.  Let them cool for a few minutes and then slice each sandwich in half and serve.

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

    Weekend Happenings & A Healthy Fall Chicken Salad

    It's Sunday night already.  Sigh.

    For a weekend without many plans, it ended up being a very busy one.  It got warm and weirdly summery in Chicago this weekend, so I think we had the same idea as everyone else and took full advantage of it.  Rumor has it we may see the first snowflakes of the season tomorrow.

    So, here are a few snapshots from a fun fall weekend in Chicago.  Have a great week!

    We grabbed burgers at 25 Degrees with a few of Alex's nearest and dearest friends from college.  25 Degrees is a fun burger bar in River North where you can customize your own gourmet burgers.  It was great to catch up with the boys and even better to catch up with my old friend Lauren.  She tends bar at 25 Degrees and I haven't seen her since childhood-- so glad she was working that night!

    We went up to Wicker Park on Saturday night for dinner at LoKal.  It's a cute little place with a small menu that is sort of traditional American meets Eastern European.  It reminded me a lot of the meals we ate in Poland and Prague during my study abroad stint.  Some highlights of the meal (below) were the kielbasa appetizer (with marinated beets, grilled onions, and dill potato salad) and the pork tenderloin entree with apple and radish slaw and a potato pancake.  It's definitely worth a visit.

    And then we headed over to Pint to meet up with Alexis and Mere for some cocktails.  Of course my BFF and I unknowingly showed up in similar outfits.  That's just what we do!

    Sunday was all about food!  I dug out all of my back Thanksgiving issues of my favorite cooking magazines to begin my holiday meal plan.  Can you believe it's less than 2 weeks away?

    I remembered that last year we bought an enormous turkey-- it was 15 lbs. and that is far too much for 3 people!  It was the smallest turkey I could find at my grocery store and we ended up having to throw away a lot of the leftovers.  I've been on the hunt early for a more appropriate sized bird this year.

    Conveniently, a new Mariano's Fresh Market just opened somewhat near us in Greektown so we decided to go check it out and see if we could find a reasonably sized turkey.  I love this store and I wish it were just a few blocks closer to our place!  It's like a Wegman's meets Whole Foods-- a local feel, a huge selection of basic and gourmet items,  and shockingly reasonable prices.  They have an oyster bar, a cafe that serves coffee, wine, and gelato (my 3 faves), and an amazing prepared foods section with brick pizza ovens and a handmade candy station.  We left today with some fresh sourdough bread (for my Thanksgiving stuffing), a pint of pecan pumpkin pie gelato from the cafe, and a more "petite" 10 lb. turkey.  Well done.

    Did I also mention that Alex's firm designed this building?  It's modern, but with some Italian touches here and there.  I love the scooter over the fireplace detail in the cafe.

    And then I spent the rest of Sunday in the kitchen.  I made a big batch of marinara to freeze and then also prepped the bread for Thanksgiving stuffing.  I'm going to try to be very prepared ahead of time for dinner this year and will keep you posted on all of the menu details as they come together.  I also did some prep work for the girls dinner I'm hosting this week including homemade pizza dough (I'm a little scared about this one) and breaking down a rotisserie chicken breast.  A good portion of the chicken will be used in my girls dinner menu (more to come on that later too), but there was enough left over to make lunch for us today-- toasted chicken, cheddar, and apple sandwiches with whole grain mustard.  And then I used the rest to make a healthy chicken salad to pack up and take to work for my lunch this week.

    Fall Chicken Salad


    • 1 1/2 cups rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
    • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
    • 2 celery ribs, diced
    • 1 medium pear, cored and diced *I used a Red Anjou
    • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
    • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
    • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
    • 1 Tbs. light mayonnaise
    • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
    • 1/2 Tbs. dry parsley
    • 1/2 tsp. dry sage
    • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
    • 1 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
    • Salt and pepper, to taste

    In a large bowl, combine chicken and next 5 ingredients through cranberries.  In a small bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt and next 6 ingredients until combined and smooth.  Add dressing to the chicken mixture and gently stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until serving.  Serve over greens, with crackers, or on a sandwich.

    The ingredients in this recipe can be swapped depending on your tastes too.  Sub in apples or sliced grapes for the pears, walnuts or almonds for the pecans, red wine or apple cider vinegars for the white wine vinegar, scallions for the red onion, or raisins for the cranberries.  You could also play with the flavor profiles here and change the seasoning for a totally different chicken salad.  Swap curry powder in for the spices and use grapes and cashews for a delicious curried chicken salad.
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