Countdown to Thanksgiving

It’s coming, and we all know that as soon as it’s here and gone, Christmas is going to tap us on the shoulder and scare us to death because yet another year has gone by! But that’s too much to think about right now so I am going to reign it in and focus on the next six days.

Growing up, Thanksgiving day meant waking up to a bird in the sink, rolls proofing on the counter, and a table full of pies we dare not touch. Oh, and the simmering pot on the stove that always contained creepy-looking giblets but you would forget each year what it was and still crack the lid with excitement, then immediately regret it. I would put the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the television, have some breakfast, then help my mom with whatever I could. It was usually just the six of us as our extended family is predominantly Canadian so the BIG Thanksgiving dinner was in October. Twice. So by the time this one rolled around, it was our third feast of the season. Did I ever tire of turkey sandwiches on homemade buns? Never! But this day was usually low-key for us, and as I got older, the evening was spent with my mom and sister, sipping coffee and reading the flyers, planning our big 3am shop the next morning. Back when it was still black FRIDAY. I miss those days; I miss wondering whether or not I can get a cup of coffee on holidays, or making sure the grocery shopping was done because the stores were closed. I’m getting a little tired of all the conveniences we allow ourselves, while cutting into the family time we already have so little of. Even if you don’t celebrate with your blood-related family, it’s so important to take some time off and allow yourself a real break this time of year.

Now that I am married, my Thanksgivings can change quite a bit from year to year; sometimes we get home, sometimes we host, sometimes we are travelling all day! Anytime I host a large dinner or party, I always get excited to try new recipes, show off my classics, and most of all, enjoy time with those I love. I want to give you a few tips as to how I pull it off without going crazy or locking myself away in the kitchen. First of all, it starts out looking like this:


Phase One: Brainstorming

This is the fun phase! Anything goes - grab that recipe you have been wanting to try that you tore out of the magazine in the waiting room, email your mother-in-law for the family potato recipe, jump online and read a ten-page-long forum about whether or not you should brine! If you are like me and also like to craft and set a perfect table, pull some of that inspiration out too.

Phase Two: Components

Grab a notebook or piece of paper (or start a new Google doc if that’s more your style!) and write down what you know you for sure want, even if you haven’t decided on a recipe yet, and leave some space between each one like this:

Turkey/Gravy -

Cranberry Sauce -

Stuffing -

Salad -

Potatoes -

Vegetable Side #1 -

Vegetable Side #2 -

Dessert -

Misc -

Then, if you know someone else  is bringing something, add their name in. And folks, if you are hosting but others are bringing dishes, for the love of turkey - assign them something! The last thing you want is three sweet potato pies. If you have a self-proclaimed ‘I keep sweaters in my oven’ type of guest, have them bring some nice cheeses for an appetizer platter! When thinking of the dishes you’ll make, consider oven space and perhaps try a new stovetop dish or a squash you can roash ahead of time then pan fry with a glaze to reheat. So now your paper might look something like this:

Turkey/Gravy - Classic roast turkey/pan gravy

Cranberry Sauce - Ginger-Orange infused recipe from my BA mag

Stuffing - try cornbread this year!

Salad - Melissa is bringing

Potatoes - Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Potatoes cookbook pg. 257

Vegetable Side #1 - Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash

Vegetable Side #2 - Carrot & Sweet Potato puree - BHG pg 431

Dessert - Mom’s Pumpkin Pie & whipped cream/ Mark is bringing a gluten free torte

Misc - ice, rolls, Wine/Barbara, appies?

Phase Three: THE LIST

Now that you know all of the items that you are making and what miscellaneous items you need to be a good host, make that list! But not haphazardly. When I do my regular grocery shops, I use an app called Grocery IQ; however, for something like this where I *cannot* forget anything, I map it all out on paper. {Remember that time your finger slipped and you accidently ‘checked’ something off your list but cannot retrieve what it was?! Not the best game to play for Thanksgiving}

  1. Write down all your headings, leaving the appropriate space underneath for items. I used: Meats/Deli, Dairy, Canned/Dry, Baking, Produce, Alcohol, and ‘Misc’ for items like ice, club soda, paper towel, etc.

  2. Take each recipe, in the order it’s written above, and write down every ingredient under it’s proper heading on your shopping list. You aren’t worried about different store at this point - this is your master list you can always reference. Unless it’s something you have a large supply of, write it on the list now, just in case.

  3. Depending on how far in advance you do this step(for any future dinners or parties!), use your master list to check weekly sales and flyers so you can grab items as they come on sale, and then you can check them off and keep all the items together.

  4. The final shop - check your list against your cupboards and fridge to ensure there isn't anything you can already check off - space is key so you don't want too many "extras" lying around. If you have your go-to places you know will have everything, just hit the store with you list and go to town. Just remember that on holidays, everyone tends to shop at the same time for the same things so planning is key! At this point, I break my list down on my phone because I can separate lists by store/market: Farmers Market, Sprouts, Whole Foods. I’m going on Tuesday, and my list is down to fresh produce, dairy and the bird - no diving for the last can of Libby’s for me!

Phase Four: Fruition

Give yourself a couple hours on a quiet Sunday morning or set your alarm for 2am if that’s the only quiet time you get while the kids are sleeping. The planning of your meal prep should be done no later than the weekend before the big day so that you can go into the week calmly. You also must know your dinner start time!

Take a look at phase two again, and starting from the first component, read through the WHOLE recipe and make some notes, ie Brine 24 hrs, let stand 30 minutes, place in freezer for 15 minutes, can be made 2 days in advance, etc. Think about what time you want to sit down to dinner, and work backward, making timing notes such as ‘oven @ 3pm’ ‘make dough Wed. a.m.’. Do this for all the recipes - and yes, your page might end up looking a bit like this:

Thanksgiving Plan

Now all you need to do is look at those notes and take the step that can start the earliest - for me it’s homemade jelly candies that can be made up to one week in advance before cutting. I am starting my timeline there on Sunday, then following with the next three days of little things I can do to prepare; Thursday will get it’s own piece of paper. Now since you already got your craziness out on the ‘phase two’ sheet, your timeline can look like this:

Daily Lists

Believe me, come crunch time, you want to be looking at that organized page! I have the ability to be at home the days leading up to the holiday so I am a bit more open with my plan, however, you may want to write specific times in the margins so you have a grasp on what the day looks like in detail.

Now, the final piece of this crazy-organized puzzle, Thanksgiving day. Start with a few key times, building a framework:

7am - Make largest pot of coffee possible

8am - Mix up bun dough and let rise / Have breakfast


    -9:30- start stuffing for bird/turn on oven

10am - Start preparing turkey - in at 10:45!

11am -

12pm -

    -Take break to do makeup and hair!!/Quick snack

1pm -

    -1:45-Quickly get changed

2pm - Appies out/Guests start arriving

3pm -

4pm - Sit down to dinner!

Fill in the rest according to cook & prep time, taking care to note when something needs to be removed from the freezer or oven, chilled, etc. Look over your recipes one last time, and make any adjustments needed, and remember to allow yourself time to do your hair & makeup and to get dressed. By the time your guests start arriving, that alone will make a huge difference on your overall stress level - I’ll even go as far to say set a time on your phone to remind yourself! You are now ready to go forth and conquer Thanksgiving with stressless grace and style. Okay, not stressless...but less stress ;)

Through all of this, remember to give thanks - to God, the universe, those who came before us - and enjoy some time {and food!} with those you love.

With a full heart and an empty plate,


A Trio of Autumn Soups

Trio of Autumn Soups

Yes, that's right, a trio. I went a little hog-wild with the soups because I am desperately seeking Fall and soup screams cozy-cool weather to me! I took my husband on an apple picking escapade to Julian, CA where I was able to pick up some beautiful squash at the farm stand, apple cider at the cider mill, and take home several pounds of apples and I wanted to come up with some great ways to use them! {More on my trip to come!} What better way to fill an 85-degree October day than with soup making?! Yes, I was wearing shorts and a tank top the whole time with fans blowing in every direction. I twisted up a classic tomato with some cider and black garlic, combined a new favorite ingredient (celery root!) with an ingredient I always thought I hated until recently (fennel!), and added a step (roasting!) to a favorite of mine, butternut squash soup. Without further ado, I give you 'A Trio of Autumn Soups':

Tomato-Cider Soup w. Sage Oil // Serves 10-12

2 T butter

4 fresh sage leaves, torn

1 large onion, diced (apx. 1 1/2 c)

3 cloves black garlic*, sliced

2 medium sweet-tart apples; peeled, cored, & sliced

8 oz caramelized tomato paste**

1 T Sriracha

1/2 c dry white wine (A not-too-fruity Chardonnay works well here)

44 oz canned San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz + 16 oz cans)

1 1/2 c fresh, raw unsweetened apple cider

2 1/2 c vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 c milk or cream

Salt & pepper

Sage oil for serving

*Black garlic is a fermented/caramelized/milder version of garlic. If you cannot find it (try Trader Joe's and Asian markets!), roast your garlic before using it, or in a pinch, just use 2 cloves sliced fresh garlic. It won't have that umami of the black garlic, but it will still be great!

**To caramelize tomato paste, heat 1 1/2 T olive oil in a small frying pan, add the whole 8oz can of tomato paste and cook & stir until the oil in incorporated and the paste caramelizes into a deep red

Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat, add onions and slowly sweat (covered, stirring occasionally) until onions are translucent but no browning has occurred; about 30 minutes. A few minutes before they finish, add garlic, sage, and a pinch of salt.

Add wine and cook 1-2 minutes, add apples and tomato paste and allow liquid to reduce by half.

Tomato-Cider Soup

Add tomatoes, cider, and broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes. Add milk and simmer another 10. In batches, transfer soup to a Vitamix, and blend until smooth. Return to pan and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. The flavor should be slightly sweet, with a rich tomato flavor and a hint of heat. If possible, allow the flavors to meld for several hours over overnight before heating and serving. Drizzle sage oil on top for a little fancy flavor!

Sage Oil

1 c packed sage leaves

1/4 c olive oil

Blanch sage by plunging them into boiling water for 15-20 seconds, then immediately into an ice bath to stop any cooking. Drain leaves and dry well in paper towel. Give the leaves a rough chop and place in a blender or small food processor with the oil and blend at a medium speed until it's a nice consistency for drizzling. This should sit up to 24 hours to blend flavors and will keep for a week, tightly covered, in the fridge.

Celery Root & Fennel Soup

Cream of Celery Root & Fennel Soup // Serves 6

5 white peppercorns

1 small bay leaf

2 sprigs parsley

2 sprigs thyme

1 T butter

1 medium leek, light green & white parts only, halved, rinsed, & sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 c water

1 c vegetable or chicken broth

1 1/2 c peeled & 1/2" diced celery root (apx. 3/4 lb)

1 c sliced fennel bulb (1 small or 1/2 large)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp white pepper

1/4 c milk

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Creme fraiche, for serving

Create a sachet d'Epices with the first four ingredients {place them in a square of cheesecloth and tie it up!} Set aside.

Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven, add leeks, cooking to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add water, broth, celery root, fennel, salt, pepper, and sachet.

Sachet d'Epices

Bring to boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until celery is very tender, apx. 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Remove sachet and blend remaining ingredients with an immersion blender or in batches in a Vitamix.

Return puréed soup to pot and taste for seasonings; you may add a little more broth here if it's too thick for your taste, but add it before adjusting the salt so you don't make it too salty. Bring soup to a simmer and stir in the lemon juice. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche.


Roasted Winter Squash Soup // Serves 6-8

Roasted Squash:

2 lbs winter squash (I used 1 butternut and ½ an acorn)

1 tsp butter

¼ tsp nutmeg

Salt & pepper

Remaining Ingredients:

1 medium leek, light green & white parts only, halved, rinsed, & sliced (apx. 1 c)

1 T butter

4 c vegetable or chicken broth

1 tsp salt

8 fresh sage leaves, divided

1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored & sliced

¼ tsp white pepper

1 bay leaf

Olive oil for fried sage garnish

Heat oven to 425 degrees; line sheet pan with foil. Using a sharp knife, carefully split the squash in half lengthwise; scoop out and reserve seeds. Place squash cut side up on pan and rinse the seeds clean of any ‘guts’. Melt 1 tsp butter and brush over the flesh of the squash; sprinkle with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Place the seeds on a small pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place both pans in oven and check on the seeds at about 20 minutes, and roast the squash 50 minutes - 1 hour, until fork-tender but not mushy. Allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, stack 4 sage leaves, roll them up, then slice thinly to create little ribbons; this is called a chiffonade. Set aside and repeat with remaining sage leaves, keeping them separate. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a soup pot over medium heat; add leeks and cook 3-4 minutes to soften. Add four of the sliced sage leaves, the apple, and ¾ tsp salt. Cook until the apples soften and the leeks begin to caramelize.

Scoop the flesh of the squash directly into the soup pot (I reserved half of my acorn squash and ate it as a snack!). Add broth, pepper, and bay leaf; stir and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to low, simmer, stirring to break up and soften squash, about 25-30 minutes. As the soup simmers, heat 2 T olive oil in a small frying pan; separate and sprinkle in remaining four sliced sage leaves and fry until crispy but not brown. Transfer to paper towel and sprinkle with salt. {Tip: Reserve oil to brush on toasts for serving!} Once the squash is soft, remove bay leaf and process soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add remaining salt if necessary. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with fried sage and toasted seeds to serve.

Roasted Winter Squash Soup

Each one of these soups has it's own distinct flavor, but they play together well. I think these were fantastic served together in small bowls as a starter, but each are great for a healthy, but hearty, lunch or dinner too. Feel free to use any type of dairy you like to adjust the richness, or leave out completely if that suits your family best! It's so fun to cook seasonally and discover new vegetables; as I mentioned above, I always thought I would hate fennel because it's described as having a licorice flavor which I detest. However, I tried it roasted and I liked it, so then I sliced it thinly for a salad and I like it, so I added to the celery root soup to balance out the flavors. It just goes to show you that you never know until you try! However, I continue to try olives in different forms and I still do not care for it doesn't always work!!

With a full heart and an empty plate,


Wellness Wednesday {vegan}: My First A-tempeh

I never spent a lot of time experimenting with protein alternatives in the kitchen, but when my sister and I were baking and she was out of yogurt, we used pureed silken tofu instead, and that started a conversation about her favorite ways to use it. Tofu is something I had seen a lot of but tempeh was completely foreign to me. I picked up a ‘multi-grain’ type package at the store and stuck it in my fridge until inspiration struck. That inspiration, not surprisingly, came in my bon appetit magazine with a recipe for vinaigrette which I adapted slightly to come up with this hearty grain-based salad.

Grilled Veggie & Tempeh Salad w. Toasted Spice Vinaigrette // Serves 3-4

1 c quinoa or your favorite grain (barley or farro perhaps?)

2 c vegetable broth

1 medium zucchini

½ red onion or 1 small

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 pkg tempeh (I used multi-grain)

Olive oil

Baby spinach (optional)

Toasted Spice Vinaigrette:

1 tsp coriander seed

1 tsp cumin seed

1 tsp dill seed

¼ c olive oil

2 T white wine vinegar

1 tsp dijon mustard

Kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper

To make the vinaigrette, begin by toasting your spices. In a small, dry, skillet, toast the coriander, cumin, and dill seeds over medium heat until the color richens and you can smell their delightful scent, shaking the pan every so often. Transfer to a mortar and pestle to crush them; it does not need to be a fine powder, but small enough that the flavor distributes well.

Toasted Spices

In a small bowl, whisk together the spices, vinegar, and mustard. Pour oil in at a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, to emulsify the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice tempeh into 8-10 pieces and place in a shallow dish. Add just enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat and allow the flavors to soak in; set aside.

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer to remove any of the bitter outside before cooking. I have tried cooking it without rinsing and I much prefer the flavor when rinsed, in case you were wondering (like I always did) if it really mattered! At this point you can cook your quinoa however you please, this is how I go about it: transfer rinsed quinoa to a medium saucepan, add 2 cups of vegetable broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and set a timer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over medium high to start cooking the veggies. Coat the tomatoes in a little olive oil, then throw them on, tossing occasionally, until they are charred in spots and starting to pop open. Remove from pan and transfer to a plate. Slice the zucchini, lengthwise, flip it on the flat side, the slice lengthwise again to create ¼ inch strips and add them to the grill. It’s a personal preference how you like them cooked so just pull them off when they look good to you, and repeat with thinly-wedged red onions.

Once your timer goes off, remove pan from heat and allow quinoa to rest for another 5 minutes. Give the grill pan a light spray if needed, then add the tempeh strips and cook until heated through, turning once. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and transfer it to your serving bowl. Give the vinaigrette a quick whisk and drizzle some over the quinoa, stir to incorporate and then taste for seasoning - you may need to add a bit of salt here. Arrange the grilled vegetables and tempeh on top, add a little more dressing, some fresh-cracked pepper, and then serve over baby spinach with remaining vinaigrette alongside the meal.

Tempeh Bowl

I really enjoyed this meal. Really and truly. Much more than any tofu dish I have had. I think it’s the texture - I like the sturdier texture of tempeh as a replacement for meat. For someone who never eats meat, it may not matter as much, but it did for me! My husband did not touch this meal; I made him a hot dog with all the fixings. He likes what he likes and I love him for that. Even if you are not ready to make your first a-tempeh with meat alternatives, at least try the salad and vinaigrette, and don't you dare skip the toasting step - it makes all the difference in the depth of flavor.

With a full heart and an empty plate,