My Super Renegade, Rebellious Ciabatta Stuffing

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Look out people, I’m on a rant. Yup, it’s only been five minutes since my last post, but I’m on a roll. I have been nursing my wounds all week from the news that I was not allowed to “go all food fairy” with Thanksgiving this year. Apparently, change is not appreciated in my family with regards to the Thanksgiving meal, but I have other plans. On this, the most peaceful of holidays, I am waging war on tired recipes. Today, I am thankful for my creative mind, and my cooking skills. Today, I plan to go rogue, be the lone wolf, and make a maverick stuffing! (Ok, I still plan to also serve the preferred Simple Sausage Stuffing, but whatever!)

My rebellion was a departure from all of the traditional ingredients. I swapped dried bread cubes for a loaf of fresh ciabatta bread. I’ve ditched the onions for shallots & garlic, and I tossed the celery in favor of fennel! The sausage stayed, because it’s tasty. I pureed, sauteed, tossed, and baked. Then we tasted, smiled, and let the satisfaction seep in. I have done it. I have created a stuffing that my kids adore! In fact, they cried when I swatted their hands away and stashed the new deliciousness for its formal unveiling tomorrow. Mission complete, rebellion successful, personal satisfaction.

I am now one happy lady that did “go all food fairy” this year, and I’m pretty damn proud of myself!


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Ciabatta Stuffing with Fennel & Sage Pesto


3 loaves of fresh ciabatta bread

4 cups of chicken stock

1 roll of sage sausage

1 bulb of Fennel

4 shallots

4-5 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup of fresh parsley

10-15 fresh sage leaves

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 Tbsp. of olive oil


Cut the bread into large cubes and place them in a large roasting pan.

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Next, brown the sausage in a large skillet, until fully cooked. Drain and set aside, but do not wash the pan.

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Now, combine the parsley, sage, thyme, garlic, shallots, and olive oil in a food processor and chop until fine.

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Dump the pesto into the same pan that you used to cook the sausage.

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Coarsely chop the white bulb of the fennel into pieces (save the pretty tops), and add to the pan.

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Sautee for 5-7 minutes over a medium heat until the fennel starts to soften and the garlic and shallots have also browned a bit. Next, add the stock and stir, de-glazing the pan and scraping up all of the yummy leftover sausage bits.

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Toss the drained sausage with the bread cubes, then add the liquid mixture, pouring it evenly over the bread and sausage.Use a large spoon to toss the stuffing, ensuring that everything is well mixed, but being careful not to smoosh the bread into a paste.

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Once it is well mixed, chop the feather fronds of fennel and sprinkle them evenly over the top of the stuffing to make it look really pretty. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until it is hot and the cubes on top are brown and crispy.

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Crazy Good Cranberry Sauce

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IT IS NOT TOO LATE!! I promise you, there is enough time to make homemade cranberry sauce, and you really need to do it this year!

The other day, I was curled up on the couch with my cup of coffee watching Good Morning America, and I saw a segment about nutritional traps at the holidays. They showed a plate of jellied cranberry sauce, you know, the kind from the can with the ridges on it. I have to admit that I love this stuff. Not only do I eat it plain, but also in a warm dish mixed with baked apples…mmmm.

Well, to my horror, the expert then whipped out a tray of chocolate eclairs and proclaimed that my beloved canned cranberry sauce had as much sugar as the WHOLE TRAY OF ECLAIRS! Holy cow!! It was then and there that I decided I would make my own.

Once I finished my coffee, I headed right to the store to get some ingredients. This was my next mission, to make the best damn cranberry sauce, ever.

Well, the trip to the store was successful. In fact, my creative juices were so abundant, that I made three different varieties to ensure that I could make a sauce that was a worthy replacement of the traditional can. (In case you did not read my last post, my family is a bit possessive of their “traditions”, even if they come in the form of a gelatinous cylinder with decorative ridges in the center.)

Luckily, my efforts were not in vain. I had two good recipes and a third that was a bit of a puzzle. So, I did what any sane human being would do, I took all three varieties to work and made my colleagues taste test them in between parent teacher conferences. One was immediately ruled out for being just plain gross. This was actually a Pinterest find, not a creation of my own. The pictures were so pretty; I was sure the recipe would be just as great. No such luck. It could only be described as “earthy”. UCK! It tasted like I mixed it in a tree stump out back. Not a winner. But the other two were so AWESOME, I am including them below.

Now that the truth is out, and you know what I know about canned cranberry sauce, I am empowering you with the necessary plan to make your own, please. It is so freakin’ easy. If you can boil water, you can make this recipe. I promise!

You are welcome, happy Thanksgiving, eat well, & enjoy your family 🙂

Grand Orange Cherry Cranberry Sauce

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1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries

3/4 cup of dried cherries

1/4 cup of water

1 cup of orange juice

2 Tbsp. of light brown sugar (you can add a little more if you like your sauce sweet)

2 Tbsp. of orange zest (1 orange worth)

1 Tbsp. of Grand Marnier Liqueur

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Mix all ingredients except for the Grand Marnier in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the cranberries split open and the liquid starts to thicken (about 10-15 minutes) Stir it often. Remove from the heat, and mix in the Grand Marnier, stirring well and smashing any whole cranberries with the back of your spoon. Transfer to a dish and cool before serving.

Simply Scrumptious Cranberry Sauce

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1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries

1 cup of cranberry juice

1/2 cup of palm sugar (use a little less if you prefer it to be more tart)

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Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the cranberries split open and the liquid starts to thicken (about 10-15 minutes) Stir it often. Remove from the heat, stir it well, smashing any whole cranberries with the back of your spoon. Transfer to a dish and cool before serving.


Thanksgiving: Traditional or Trapped?


I had a great idea for Thanksgiving this year. I usually cook for about 26 people, but this year I am only cooking for 19. With the smaller number, I thought I’d change it up a bit. I sat down yesterday to draft a menu and update some of the side dishes. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with the old favorites, they have been made for years for a reason, but I just thought we’d add variety.

I casually mentioned the changes to my husband, who balked. He wanted to keep the traditional offering, but I have to admit I was annoyed by his response. This is the man that insists that I make his mothers “traditional” stuffing, and when I say traditional, I mean boring. He has also been known to profess that “Turkey is turkey!”

Ummm. No, it’s not!

Whatever! I did what I normally do when I don’t like his response, I called my sister. Can you believe she sided with him? And to make things worse, my niece piped in her dissent!

Et tu, Brute? 😦

My sister had me on Bluetooth, so it went more like a conference call.

Me: “I was just calling to ask if corn casserole is a necessity, or if I can make a corn & quinoa salad instead.”

My Sister: “Wait, you can’t change Thanksgiving! It’s a tradition.”

My Niece:  “Is she asking if she has to make corn casserole???”

Me: “I just thought I’d update the menu a bit. Simplify it a little.”

My Niece: “I wait 364 days to have corn casserole. You have to make it!”

My Brother-In-Law: “Ugh! Is she going all Food Fairy on us?”

Me: “Can I at least make carrots with parsnips?”

My Sister: “What are parsnips, and who would eat them? I am completely content with all yellow, brown, and white food on my Thanksgiving plate!”

Me: “Well, I thought some of it could be healthy, I know we have all been working hard to eat well.”


So there you have it, the menu will stay the same. I tried to explain my disappointment to my husband, after the phone call ended. I shared my desire to update, simplify, and add new variety. I vented that my sisters get to change up Christmas and Easter. Why can’t I change Thanksgiving? To that, he explained how Thanksgiving is about tradition. Unfortunately, I chose a holiday where no one wants change. They DO wait 364 days to indulge in family food traditions and dishes that are reserved for this special feast. How can I argue with that?

This year, then menu will be the same, with minimal innovation, and I think I am okay with it.

Thanksgiving 2012

The menu:

Brined & Roasted Turkey

Simple Sausage Stuffing

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Corn Casserole

Garlic Tossed Green Beans

Escalloped Apples & Cranberries

Cranberry Sauce

Roasted Carrots & Parsnips

Meme’s Green Jello (AKA “The Green Sh#*%”)

Sweet Potato Gratin –(which my other sister makes her own & brings it anyway)

Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

Apple Cider Doughnut Bread Pudding

…and most importantly, fall sangria!

Happy Thanksgiving,



Extra Creamy Pumpkin Dip with Chai Whipped Cream

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This recipe is an old favorite with a new twist. I have made this simple pumpkin dip for many fall occasions, but this is the first year I have topped it with the chai whipped cream. This marriage of flavors makes a simple recipe into something sophisticated that is sure to catch the attention of your fellow party goers.

Extra Creamy Pumpkin Dip with Chai Whipped Cream

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I recommend making the whipped cream first. While you can used a pre-made whipped topping, it’s really not the same as homemade.

Chai Whipped Cream

1 pint of heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup of confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsp. of powdered chai drink mix ( I prefer Tastefully Simple)

1. Place an empty metal mixing bowl in the freezer for about 5 minutes.
2. Remove the chilled bowl and add the cream.
3. Using an electric mixer, whisk on high-speed until it starts to stiffen.
4. Add sugar & chai slowly until fully blended.
5. Set aside in a clean bowl.
6. ** Be sure not to over-whip it so that it is stiff and firm. It should be soft & fluffy.

Extra Creamy Pumpkin Dip

2 blocks of cream cheese, softened
1 can (14.5 oz) of pumpkin puree
2 cups of confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of ground ginger

1. Place the softened cream cheese into the same bowl that you just used to make the whipped cream. (I don’t even wash it.)
2. Using the whisk, whip the cream cheese on medium until it is fluffy and free from any lumps.
3. Spoon in the pumpkin puree, 1 dollop at a time, until it is completely incorporated.
4. Add the sugar and spices until creamy & smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl!

The Final Presentation

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Pour the pumpkin dip into a shallow dish. Then gently spread the whipped cream on top. Garnish with a few sprinkles of cinnamon. Keep refrigerated until you are ready to serve it.
I have served this dip with apple or pear slices, ginger snaps, Nilla Wafers, or graham crackers, but be creative and see what else you can pair with this simple favorite.

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Note: The chai whipped cream is great on pumpkin bread or gingerbread. It is also heavenly on top of pecan pie 🙂