Gluten-free on the Road and a slow cooker mashed potato recipe!

Cooking in a kitchen that is not your own can be nerve wracking! Whether your home kitchen is fully gluten-free (GF) or not, cooking at a vacation rental or someone else’s house requires an extra level of preparedness to be safe.

If the house is close by, one option is to make the meal at your own house and bring it with you. When driving for a trip, I pack a Rubbermaid tub with the cooking essentials. If we are sharing the house with others, I make sure everyone knows that that box is only to be used for gluten-free cooking.

Checklist for Cooking Meals in a Non-GF Kitchen:

  1. Aluminum foil (and lots of it!) – this can cover cookie sheets, serving platters and grills and wrap around food to keep the chance of cross-contamination low. Don’t forget a sharpie to mark GF as needed.
  2. Cutting board (Bring a large wooden cutting board to double as a serving platter for you’re your Thanksgiving turkey if needed)
  3. Frying pan
  4. Pasta pot
  5. Colander
  6. Paper plates and bowls
  7. Plastic cups
  8. Plastic forks, spoons and knives
  9. Chef’s knife (transport it in a paper towel tube)
  10. Spatula
  11. Whisk (I have used a plastic fork instead of whisk many times, so bring it only if you have space)
  12. Mixing spoon that can double as a serving spoon
  13. Gallon and sandwich size Ziploc bags or containers for leftovers
  14. Chicken stock
  15. GF flour
  16. Sugar, salt and pepper, condiments and other herbs that you like to keep separate
  17. Aluminum cake pans, casserole or bread pans, if needed
  18. Crockpot or crockpot liners (When not using the crockpot, I use the bowl as my mixing bowl for other recipes)
  19. Cheese grater

To separate items in the refrigerator, either designate a separate shelf (the higher the better) and/or a drawer. If it’s a small amount put it in a small Rubbermaid bin.

This seems like a lot. I know. It’s a mobile kitchen. If you are not going to be cooking entire meals, then you will not need all these items. Everyone’s checklist will look different depending on what you are cooking. Keep your recipes simple and bring only what you need to make your recipes. If you are flying, consider buying cheap or one-use versions of what you might need at your destination.

An easy way to keep things simple while on vacation is to make a one pot meal in a crock pot. It will feed a crowd, allow you to enjoy the day and can easily be made gluten-free. This is especially important on holidays. Here is a mashed potato recipe you can make entirely in your crock pot.

Slow Cooker Mashed potatoes

Ingredients

About 6 medium yellow potatoes, washed and diced

1 ½ cups milk

3 Tablespoons of butter

1 teaspoon of salt

1/8 teaspoon of pepper

4 ounces of cream cheese, optional

Directions

Add potatoes, milk, butter, salt and pepper to slow cooker. Cook on high for 2 ½ to 3 hours. Add cream cheese if you like cheesier mashed potatoes. Mash or whip with handheld mixer. Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed and it is ready to serve. To keep warm, pour about 1/4 cup of milk over top, cover and set on low or warm until service. Then just mix in milk and its ready for some gravy!

How do you cook gluten or allergen free when you are traveling? You can try my easy chili  or pasta with mascarpone recipe.

Swedish Meatballs

Over the past couple of months I have written about Bahn Mi Meatballs, Taco Meatballs, Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Stuffed Italian Meatballs, Greek Meatballs and even Simple and Plain Meatballs waiting for your own favorite sauce.

One of the favorites in our family is Swedish Meatballs. This is a perfect, stick to your ribs kind of meal perfect comfort food for this weekend while you are watching football, warming up after a day on the slopes or just coming home after a day of carting your kids around to all their different activities.

Swedish meatballs

Ingredients

About 2 pounds of meatballs, thawed (You can use these Plain and Simple Meatballs)

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

½ of a medium sweet onion diced

1 clove of garlic minced

6 Tablespoons of butter

6 Tablespoons of flour (I like to use Gluten Free Cup4Cup)

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves, optional

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of pepper

3 cups of chicken or beef stock

1 Tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

½ cup of heavy cream

 Directions

In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil and cook onions and garlic until translucent. Add butter, flour and spices. Whisk until butter is melted and flour is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Whisk in stock, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice until thickened. Add heavy cream. Stir to combine. Add meatballs and heat them through.

Serve with your favorite noodles or mashed potatoes. I even had the leftovers on top of gluten-free buttermilk biscuits the next morning (a play on biscuits and gravy) to fuel up to shovel the foot of snow we got the night before. I’m testing the biscuit recipes and will share them with you soon!

If you like what you are seeing and reading, please sign up so you don’t miss a post! Also click on the buttons below to sign up to follow me on social media.

The Best Recipes of 2016

To celebrate the end of 2016, I’m sharing this list of your favorite recipes from Mamma’s Cooking. Thank you for reading!

1.  Appetizer Ideas for Thanksgiving

2. Rainbow Pizza

3. Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey

4. Spoon Roast

5. Gingerbread Cookies

6. Gluten-Free Holiday Treats

7. Holiday Mashed Potatoes

8. School Snack and Lunch Ideas

9. Apple or Pear Crisp Recipe

10. What to do with Leftover Cod

This completes my 31 days of posts! I challenged myself with a post a day in December and I did it! Best wishes to you all for a great celebration tonight and an even better 2017. Look tomorrow for my 2017 Cooking Bucket list.

 

Butter, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: How to make a compound butter

Yes, I am spending an entire post writing about butter. Butter is an essential part of Thanksgiving. You rub it all over the turkey, spread it on warm rolls just out of the oven, put butter in the stuffing, melt it on top of roasted squash, cream together in the mashed potatoes and use it to finish off the gravy. I could keep going! I hope Julia Child would be proud.

butter

Because butter is such a big part of the meal, I like to make it more flavorful. It is very easy to do. Make a compound butter. That is a fancy name for a butter that you add flavor to. I usually make it a day or two before Thanksgiving. You can even make it today!

Rosemary, Sage, Thyme and Lemon Compound Butter

compound-butter-mixture

Ingredients

1 ½ cups of unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened/room temperature

1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

¼ teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage

1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme

zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon of salt

A pinch of pepper

Directions

compound-butter

With a fork, mash together all of the ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Take 3-4 tablespoons of the butter and place on a small rectangle of parchment paper and make it into a roll. Place in fridge to cool, until Thanksgiving morning. Take it out, unroll it onto a plate and it will be ready for your table! This can be for your table for your guests to melt on warm rolls. The remainder of the butter should be covered and placed into the refrigerator until Wednesday night. Leave it on the counter so that it is spreadable on Thursday when you start to cook.

compound-butter-roll

If your stuffing mix or stuffing already has seasoning, use plain butter. Otherwise you can use this on any other part of the main meal.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions about your Thanksgiving meal!

Other helpful Thanksgiving posts:

Appetizer ideas for Thanksgiving

Cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey

Easy Thanksgiving Side Dish: My Favorite! Acorn Squash

I guess Thanksgiving is coming soon!  – Great make ahead mashed potato recipe!

Happy Cooking!

Cooking your Thanksgiving Turkey

I decided to post a bonus blog today, since Thanksgiving is next week and I have barely even mentioned the star of the show: the turkey! Everyone has their opinions on the best way to cook a turkey, so here is mine 🙂 First of all, if you are buying a frozen turkey, get it today or tomorrow, so that it has time to defrost safely or buy a fresh one on Monday. I started brining my turkey a few years ago and it makes such a huge difference in flavor. Don’t be scared, its easy!

Step One: Buy Turkey

Can turkeys have gluten? Yes they can. Many times poultry is injected with broth before you buy it. Make sure the brand you are buying or have ordered is gluten free. Butterball and Shady Brook Farms both say on their website that they are gluten free. Most of the time when you order a fresh one from a farm, they have not been injected with anything, just ask.

If frozen, let it thaw for 2 -3 days in a refrigerator or keep on ice in a cooler where the temperature doesn’t go above about 40 degrees.

Step Two: Butcher the Turkey (optional – you can still follow the other steps if you keep the turkey whole)

butchering-turkey

I have been doing this for years, after listening to some professional chefs talk about making the turkey this way. I separate the dark meat from the light meat but keep all the bones in. There are many YouTube videos on how to do this. If you do not want to do this, buy a fresh turkey and ask if the butcher will do it. Whole Foods has done it for me in the past, when I’ve asked ahead of time. My Dad did the honors last year as I was so sick I could barely stand! (I cooked the rest of the meal the next day with a surgical mask on).

Save the giblets, the stuff inside the bag! Keep reading and you see how it helps make the most delicious gravy.

Step Three: Brine the Turkey

brine-for-turkey

Get a large bucket. I use a bright orange one from Home Depot that serves as my brining bucket. I have found that using a oven bag designed for turkeys in the bucket, makes clean up easier.

Basic Brine Recipe (inspired by this one from Our Best Bites)

Ingredients

2 cups of salt

2 cups of brown sugar

1 cup of peppercorns

3 Tablespoons of coriander seeds

12 small sage leaves, roughly torn

8 sprigs of fresh thyme

4 stems of fresh rosemary

4 Tablespoons of onion powder

2 Tablespoons of cumin

8 cloves of garlic, smashed

20 cups of water (may need more water to cover turkey)

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a large stock pot. I use a lobster pot. Cook on medium high until it boils. Take off the heat and let it cool.

Once the brine is cool, you can pour it over the turkey inside the bag in the bucket. Add more water or even ice to the brine if the 12 cups do not completely immerse your turkey. If your garage is cool enough or you have a refrigerator that can fit the bucket great. If not keep ice and ice packs around it and change every few hours so that the temperature stays under 40 degrees.

Brining for a couple of days or even one day will help enhance the flavor and juiciness of your turkey. I am also building in an extra day for the turkey to “dry” in my refrigerator outside the brine, as I heard that it will allow the skin to crisp up more. I’ll let you know if that works.

Step Four: Cooking the Turkey

turkey-in-oven-bag

If you did not butcher your turkey, put the whole turkey into an oven bag on top of a bed of onions, garlic, chopped carrots, celery and fresh herbs. I even throw in a couple of sliced lemons for the bed of the turkey. Remember to shake gluten free flour or cornstarch around inside the bag first!

Stuff some of the bed into the cavity of the turkey or if you did butcher it, you’ll have just the turkey breasts still on the bone. Rub butter or olive oil all over the turkey. I often make a compound butter (fancy name for mixing some of the herbs, salt, pepper and lemon zest in with some softened butter) and spread that all over. Close up the bag and cook accordingly with how many pounds of turkey you have. The breasts alone will cook faster. I roast it at 375 until the breast registers about 170 degrees. The dark meat (wings, etc should register about 180 degrees).

braising-turkey

If you braved the butchering, the dark meat is braised on the stove. A large heavy bottomed pot is what you will need. First brown the meat and then add onions, garlic, chopped carrots and celery with fresh sage, thyme and rosemary. Pour chicken or turkey stock about 1/2 up the meat. Add the giblets and make sure they are covered with stock. Braise for about 1.5 to 2 hours until the meat registers 180 degrees. Save the braising liquid to make the gravy!

Let the turkey rest for 30 to 45 minutes before carving!

cooked-turkey-breast

Step Five: The Gravy

Pour the braising liquid through a strainer and then pour it into a sauce pot on medium heat. Let it reduce a little and then taste it. Add 1 Tablespoon of corn starch and whisk.  Repeat adding 1/2 teaspoon at a time until it is the consistency you would like. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and adjust the seasonings to your taste. Just before serving, add a tablespoon of butter and whisk it in.

I serve gravy in insulated coffee mugs. That way it doesn’t get cold! Not fancy, but practical. I think everyone has come to expect the old Westlaw mug at the table 🙂

Ok. Breathe. That seems like a lot of work, but it is so worth it!  This is the star of the show. The actual cooking time is shorter when you cook the dark and light meat separate.

Please let me know if you have questions. There are buttons all over this page now that will put you in touch with me or make a comment and I’ll respond!

If you have missed any of my recent Thanksgiving posts, here are some easy gluten-free side dish ideas:

My Favorite! Acorn Squash

Holiday Mashed Potatoes

Easy Thanksgiving Side Dish: My favorite! Acorn Squash

A question I frequently get from readers is whether my house is completely gluten free. Yes, it is. Except for my husband’s beer 🙂 It is a personal decision to make the entire house gluten free, but it is what works for us. I mixed the kids’ lunches up once while we lived in a shared household and after that decided to go gluten free. Too much work for me to keep it separate! Holidays at our house are also completely gluten free. I love the challenge to make traditional holiday meal items so that no one misses the gluten!

Most of the meal is naturally gluten free, except for the stuffing and the rolls. This year I am making my own stuffing. I am going to base it on this recipe, but use all the ends of the gluten-free bread that I have been saving in the freezer for the cubes. I will also substitute vegetable stock so that it is vegetarian for one of our guests.

I tested some recipes for rolls and decided that I am going to use the corn-based rolls recipe from Roben Ryberg’s book, You Won’t Believe It’s Gluten-Free! I will cook them just before we eat, so they come fresh out of the oven onto the table.

Here is my super easy Thanksgiving side dish recipe for acorn squash. The hard part is timing it for your oven space! This can be cooked while your turkey is resting and you are making gravy. Then keep it warm and covered while your rolls cook. Just prep it in the pan earlier in the day so that whenever you have time and space it’s ready to go into the oven.

acorn-squash

Chili rubbed Acorn Squash (feeds 4 so double or triple as needed)

Ingredients

1 Acorn Squash, sliced into half moons

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon chili powder

Directions

acorn-squash-cuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss squash with the rest of the ingredients in a baking sheet (you can probably fit 1 ½ acorn squashes on each baking sheet). Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Take out, flip each piece of squash and return baking sheet to oven and bake for another 15 minutes.

acorn-squash-half-moons

Don’t try to over complicate your meal. I have done that many, many, many times and only you suffer for it. Thanksgiving is not the time to experiment with fancy recipes. Keep it simple with just a couple of seasonings and the fewer the steps for you to take the better! The more you can prep in advance, the better and the more help you can take from the store, the better.

If you missed it, check out my Holiday Mashed Potato recipe and ideas for easy sides, how to simplify your Thanksgiving meal and about the star of the show, the turkey.

Send me a message or comment below if you have any questions about making your Thanksgiving meal gluten free.

 

I guess Thanksgiving is coming soon?!

Yes. It is true. Now that Halloween is over Thanksgiving is right around the corner! Hard to believe. Hosting or visiting family and friends over the holidays can send anyone into a tailspin. Don’t let it get you down this year. Keep it simple!

The stress can be increased when you, a family member or a guest have an allergy or celiac disease. I tend to host. That is because I like to and also because it is the only way to completely take the stress out and guarantee that my son is safe. We don’t have to worry about whether something was prepared safely for him at someone else’s house, even if they very kindly and thoughtfully try.

I’m going to be sharing recipes that are versatile. They can be brought with you or served to a crowd in your home. The best thing…no one will even know that its gluten free! Don’t tell them until after they rave about it.

the-perfect-thanksgiving-bite

Holiday Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

5 pounds of Yukon Gold (or any potatoes you like), chopped

2 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 Tablespoons of salt

½ cup of whole milk or cream (a little more or a little less depending on how smooth you like your potatoes)

¼ cup of butter

8 ounces of mascarpone cheese or cream cheese

1 teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of pepper

prep-mashed-potatoes

Directions

Wash and chop your potatoes. (I don’t peel mine, but you can if you want to take the time). Drop the potatoes and garlic into a large soup pot. Pour enough water to cover the potatoes. Add the salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes can easily be mashed with a fork. Drain water, return potatoes to pot and add remaining ingredients and mash. Add more salt or pepper to your taste.

TIP: After you finish the potatoes in the pot, put them into slow cooker and cover with a thin layer of milk, put on warm or low until ready to serve! This can be made early in the morning and kept warm in a slow cooker, so it is easy to serve and/or travel with.

holiday-mashed-potatoes

When you are making your holiday meal, take some help from the store for items you do not want to cook. There are great gluten-free (GF) items that will make your holiday meal simpler. If you don’t have time or energy to make mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, Wegman’s has great pre-made options that are GF in the refrigerator section near the butter.

I love Aleia’s GF stuffing mix  and have found it at the Big Y and Roche Brothers locally. It is also available on Amazon. I’m also testing recipes for my own stuffing, so I’ll keep you posted if I find a good one! If you have one, please share!

I freely admit that I do not make my own cranberry sauce. Ocean Spray’s canned cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts of the feast. I don’t know if it is nostalgia, but Thanksgiving just isn’t complete without it.

ocean-spray-cranberry-sauce

Cooking the turkey in pieces rather than whole, is also great time saver on the day of. Buying turkey in pieces is not necessarily cheaper if you are cooking for a large crowd, so find a butcher who will separate the pieces for you for free or do it yourself! I learned by watching YouTube videos 🙂

Enjoy the holidays, bring your GF holiday meal with you or enjoy watching people eat your delicious creations without even knowing its GF! Please let me know if you have any requests for recipes or have a non-GF recipe you want adapted. Comment below or send a message to mammascooking@gmail.com. More holiday tips coming up in the next few weeks as well as some ideas for some simple 10 minute dinners. Stay tuned!!

Links to past holiday meal posts (again with the disclaimer: All of these posts are from before our family started eating gluten free):

Thanksgiving Links

Lessons Learned from Thanksgiving

My Thanksgiving Menu

Pre and Post Thanksgiving Ideas 

Happy Thanksgiving

Back online, still cooking and blogging about feeding kids while traveling

Ever have those days where you can’t get anything accomplished besides basic care for yourself and whomever you care for? Two year old twins who are not regularly napping have thrown me into that feeling on a daily basis. I have a pile of laundry, that has been dubbed “Mt. Laundry” and a growing to do list that I don’t even look at most days! Now, I love to cook and have not had the energy for it lately, so props to all of you who don’t like to cook and get it done when you don’t have the time or energy for it! Since returning from our drive down to Atlanta (yes my husband and I are crazy and drove with 3 children under 5 and all their gear in our car with no storage space) we are just getting back in our groove.

BT (Before the Trip) I was cooking to clean out the fridge so that we wouldn’t leave things that could spoil and cooking meals without leftovers so there wouldn’t be food to spoil. The weekend before we left, I made grilled pork with twice baked mashed potatoes and peas. Stressed about the impending drive, I wanted comfort food.
 
The pork was grilled on the indoor grill and seasoned with salt, pepper and coriander. The twice baked potato recipe is based on one I found on Pinterest and is amazing! Here is the Pinterest version from TastyKitchen. I just make my usual mashed potatoes and then put them in a casserole dish, sprinkle with cheese and bake. The peas were frozen and steamed in the microwave. I enjoyed the meal with my favorite Riesling. My son is enjoying his milk in the background 🙂

To use up the potatoes and pork, I had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast with a poached egg on top. At lunch I put some pork over a bed of romaine with a little feta and light italian dressing and at dinner in a quesadilla.

DT (During the trip) we ate lots of fast food. Luckily on the road between Boston and DC, our first stop, there are choices of fast food. My kids enjoyed the Subway sandwiches with apples and the fun little reusable bags the kid’s meals come in. I packed lots and lots of Happy Baby pouches so I would feel like the kids were not eating all junk. They ate apple carrot and butternut squash and pear and spinach as well as squirted lots of it on themselves making for fun clean up 🙂 The pouches are good in theory but sometimes can create a mess. I also packed grapes, whole apples, whole grain goldfish and craisins mixed and fruit leathers.

We had a great night with friends in DC (along with an amazing cheese plate and a great pizza dinner! Caramelized onions on pizza = delicious). We all had breakfast and then got on the road to Atlanta.  Again we ate fast food along the way. The McDonald’s 20 piece chicken nuggets was a good deal for $4.99. We had other snacks and drinks with us, so the nuggets just rounded out the meal, a little 🙂

In Atlanta we were treated to amazing food made by my brother and sister-in-law, along with lots of cake and fun with cousins. One of the standout meals in my mind was the peri peri chicken on the grill. If you have never had peri peri, go out to the store now or go online and order a bottle of Nando’s medium peri peri sauce. Put chicken breasts in a bag. Pour enough sauce to cover the chicken. Marinade for about 20 minutes. Grill to perfection (like my brother did) and serve. So easy and sooo good!

Three days later we were back on the road to Richmond, VA. Fasts food and healthy snacks again. Then we made it to family in Richmond where we were greeted by some delicious sangria, a great pizza dinner, salad and red velvet cupcakes to celebrate a special 3 year old’s birthday! The pizza was from a great take out place in Richmond. The spinach and feta was definitely my favorite!

Early the next morning we were on the road again after a healthy breakfast of cereal, fruit, yogurt and whole grain waffles. More fast food and then we finally made it home, somewhat unscathed 🙂 It was hard to make sure the kids were eating healthy the whole time, that is why I packed mostly healthy snacks and had them get as much fruit and vegetables as I could get in them when were at someone’s house. The pouches do work well, when they eat them.

IPT (Immediately Post Trip) I did not have the energy to cook, so unfortunately some of our unhealthy eating habits from the road persisted a little. We ate quesadillas and pasta a lot. I did try to throw in some veggies, like shredded carrots and zucchini. We had way to much take out though.
PT (Post Trip) I am now finally getting back in the groove, planning my menu and doing thoughtful grocery shopping instead of just going through the store as fast as I can so the boys don’t start screaming. I have been making some foods inspired by good meals we ate on our trip. I made pizza with spinach and feta and peri peri chicken. My energy level is still low (see above re: boys not napping) so I have been making no fuss meals. A great one is my sausage, veggie and potato bake. My husband has already had me make this twice in the last week. I cut up about 4 already cooked chicken apple sausages in small enough pieces for the kids and set aside. Then in a saute pan, that can go into the oven, I saute 1/2 an onion (any onion you have on hand), 1 clove of garlic (minced), 2 cups of chopped veggies that you have on hand (I used zucchini and carrots last night), 2 diced potatoes (sweet or regular), olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika or coriander or your favorite spice blend. Once mixed together and starting to cook, throw in sausage, cover and put in a 400 degree oven for 20-40 minutes depending on amount and size of veggies. Check after 20 minutes and cook uncovered if it needs more time. Sorry I forgot to take pictures!

Another easy and tasty meal is baked citrus dill salmon with couscous and veggies. Salmon was on sale this week, so I bought a piece that weighed about .8lbs. This was plenty for our family of 5.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Take a paper lunch bag and rub with olive oil until completely covered. Remember to get all the creases. Place bag in casserole dish. Mix the zest and juice of one lemon, zest and juice of one lime, 1 Tbsp of sugar, couple of splashes of olive oil, and a handful of freeze dried dill. Take 2 pats of butter and place in paper bag. Place salmon, skin side down, on top of the butter, in the bag. Pour citrus and dill mixture onto salmon and fold paper bag closed. Bake for about 20 minutes. While that is baking, make your favorite easy side dish. I had a box of roasted garlic and olive oil couscous, which takes not even 10 minutes to make. After I took the couscous off of the heat, I added a couple of handfuls of frozen peas and diced carrots, closed the lid and let the heat of the couscous defrost and soften the peas and carrots.

I have been, kind of, going through my cooking bucket list for 2012. I will finish them all by the end of the year, just more in some months than others 🙂 Here is how things stand:
Cooking bucket list 2012
Bread – January, Done, Very successful
Gnocchi – February, Done, Very successful
Meringues – March, Done, Kind of successful (delicious, but couldn’t quite get the consistency right)
Calamari
Flan
Lobster
Koeksisters
Oysters
Mozzarella
Pork Belly
Short ribs
Chocolate truffles
I am hoping this month to tackle Calamari and Flan, so June can be all about Lobstah! I know the month is more than half over, but all I need is one afternoon with a burst of energy and my husband to take the kids and I will be set!

Sweet potato gnocchi with pesto and more fun leftover ideas

To keep things interesting, I’m challenging myself with a new cooking technique each month. Last month it was making homemade bread. This month it is making my own gnocchi, which is much easier than I thought! I made this for a cooking club last week and everyone loved it! My husband and kids really enjoyed it too.

Click link for gnocchi recipe. The cheese sauce is great but I thought a little too heavy with the gnocchi, so the second time I made it with pesto. 
Pesto
Fresh basil, handful
2 Cloves of Garlic, smashed
Olive oil, about ¼ cup
Parmesan, about ¼ cup shredded
Salt and lemon pepper to taste
Blend all the ingredients together in food processor while drizzling in olive oil, until smooth. Can add pine nuts or walnuts if you like. I also sometimes do half blanched kale and half basil. 


 I used some of  the leftover mashed sweet potatoes I did not use to make the gnocchi and made chicken mango and black bean quesadillas. They were so good! Just spread a layer of sweet potatoes on the bottom half of the tortilla. Then in a bowl, mix leftover chicken with mango, black beans, cheddar, mozzarella and some cumin. Spread chicken mixture on top of sweet potato, fold tortilla over and bake in a 375 degree oven for 5-8 minutes.



 I also made one of my kids’ favorites last week. Meatloaf “cupcakes” with mashed potato “frosting” and peas “sprinkles.” This is such a fun way to get kids to eat dinner. Karina enjoyed sprinkling the peas on the plates 🙂 I had so much leftover sweet potatoes from the gnocchi, that I added it to my meatloaf too!

Mix about 2-3 lbs of ground meat (whichever you like, turkey, chicken, pork, beef I like to use a mix of pork and beef), 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs, 1/2 onion – grated, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 cup cooked shredded vegetables (I’ve used leftover carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, or all three combined), salt, lemon pepper and coriander.

The key to good meatloaf  is to do what the professionals do and cook a small pattie of meat in a pan and taste it so you know if the seasonings are right. I know its an extra step, but it is so worth it! That way you know to add more seasoning.

Grease your muffin tin and use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to scoop out the meatloaf mixture, roll it in your hand to make a giant meatball and then drop it in the muffin tin. Cook at 375 for about 35- 45 minutes (may be longer or shorter depending on your oven). About half way through brush with mixture of 2 parts ketchup and one part Sweet Chili sauce (I love Trader Joe’s sauce) that has been heating on the stove. At the end brush again.

Put mashed potatoes into a large ziploc bag and cut off one corner and use it to pipe mashed potatoes on top of your muffins. Then sprinkle with peas. (I just used frozen that I microwaved for 3 minutes).

For the leftover mashed potatoes and even the meatloaf, add it to your eggs in the morning and just scramble together to make a hash with some bacon or ham deli meat that you need to use up and serve with fruit. Below I gave it to my kids with some chocolate zucchini bread on Saturday. This chocolate zucchini bread recipe is good, but for me needs a little more sweetening and moisture. Kids loved it regardless!


My Thanksgiving Menu

Cooking creates some stress in people and that stress increases even more when it’s for a holiday and large numbers of people. Don’t let it stress you out! Take help from the store or take others up on their offer to bring a specific item, make what you can ahead of time and keep it simple of the day of!!
Here is my plan this year for Thanksgiving (recipes are below):
Roasted Turkey
Gravy
Cranberry Sauce
Steamed Lobster
Stuffing
Sweet potato gratin or sweet potato soup.
Mashed Potatoes
Spinach Salad with roasted butternut squash, goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette
Dinner Rolls
Compound butter
Dessert
Beverages
I haven’t even thought about appetizers yet!!! Simple is best though because a big meal is coming.  I’ll probably just put out a simple veggie tray with hummus, a cheese plate and salami, prosciutto plate.
Recipes:
Roasted Turkey
 I cook my turkey in pieces. I know, I know, not traditional, but after listening to many chefs being interviewed on the Splendid Table (http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/) over the last few years, I have followed their lead and roast the white meat in the oven while the dark meat, bones, and giblets braise on the stove.  This is actually faster, only a couple of hours for a 12-15 pound bird. If you want to brine the turkey go for it. I did last year in water, salt, lemon, pepper and garlic over night. The morning of Thanksgiving, dry the breasts thoroughly. In a separate bowl mix butter, sage, rosemary, thyme , salt and lemon pepper. Take the butter and rub it all over the breasts, including under the skin. Roast the breasts in an oven safe bag on top of sliced lemons, chopped onions, carrots, garlic + whatever veggies you like.  Depending on the weight of your turkey, about an hour and a half (I think that is how long the breasts from my 12 pound bird took last year), until the right temperature. Check out the USDA sight on safe poultry handling for time and temperatures: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/lets_talk_turkey/index.asp
The dark meat and the giblets I brown in 1 part butter, 1 part olive oil in a very large sauce pan after rubbing with salt and lemon pepper. Then I add a chopped onion, clove of garlic and the braising liquid. The braising liquid is one part chicken stock, one part beef stock, 1/8 part white balsamic vinegar, thyme, rosemary and sage. Cover and braise on medium for 2-3 hours (depending on the size of your bird).  Make sure liquid is about ¾ way up the bird.  
The Chew is talking turkey today and here is a link their turkey recipes.  Food network and many other cooking blogs have tons of recipes for turkey. If you get overwhelmed, stop searching! You will find a million different ways to make a turkey, so just read a couple of recipes and think about how you roast a chicken and keep it simple! Simple = delicious!
Gravy
When the dark meat is done, take it out and let it rest on the platter under foil.  Reduce the braising liquid by ½. Take out the veggies.  Taste the liquid and add water or stock if too strong or if you want more of a vinegar flavor add more vinegar. You can use wine instead of vinegar. It all depends on your own taste. To thicken the gravy put a tablespoon of cornstarch in a mug and ladle some of the liquid into the mug and mix. Then pour it into the pan and whisk. Repeat until desired thickness. Strain to get out any lumps.  Finish by whisking in a couple pats of butter. TIP: I usually serve gravy in travel coffee mugs. That way it stays warm all through dinner. 
Cranberry Sauce
Everyone has their own preference and I am one of those people who LOVE the cranberry sauce out of a can. So good! I usually have a can of cranberry sauce + a can of the whole berry one so that there is a variety for people. If someone asks what they can bring and homemade cranberry sauce is their thing, by all means, they can bring it.
Steamed Lobster
For the past few years while we lived in Seattle I have served salmon alongside the turkey to add a little Pacific Northwest flair to the meal. Now that we are back in New England we were talking with my brother about what would be a good Boston flair to the meal. His idea was to bring already steamed lobster. I’ll never say no to that! 
Stuffing
This is where I take some help from the store. Maybe it is nostalgia, but I love Stove Top stuffing. I buy the savory herb blend. To make it a little more my own, I brown up some mild Italian sausage and some chopped apples and add it to the stuffing after cooking it according to the directions on the box. Put it in a casserole dish covered to stay warm, putting it in the oven if you need to. If its drying out, add a little chicken/turkey or beef stock and cover to allow the steam to moisten the stuffing. 
Sweet potato dish
I haven’t decided yet which I am going to make. I think I am going to go with a soup. Like this one I made a couple of weeks ago. It will be lighter than a gratin. Although this gratin dish sounds amazing! – http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/recipe/michael-symons-sweet-potato-gratin-14954467It is from Michael Symon, who made it on The Chew.
Mashed potatoes
Peel and dice the potatoes (You don’t have to peel them if you don’t want to). Put them in a pot and pour enough milk over to cover the potatoes. Add a little garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and stir. Turn on heat to medium/medium high and watch to make sure milk doesn’t boil over.  Simmer until potatoes are soft. Drain potatoes leaving a little milk in the pot. Add butter, couple of tablespoons of cream cheese, salt and pepper. Mash, taste and add more butter, milk, salt or pepper to your taste.
Spinach Salad with roasted butternut squash, goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette

Thanks Lauren for this! This is so good! First, peel and cube a fall/winter squash of your choice. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. I also add some Trader Joe’s Everyday seasoning, a coriander mix on a sheet pan.  Roast for about 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees. While its roasting arrange fresh spinach leaves on a platter. When squash is browning around the edges, take out and place on top of spinach. Top with some crumbled goat cheese and drizzle with a raspberry vinaigrette of your choice. Sooo good! 
Here is another option for a squash salad from Sally, using items from your local farmer’s market.
Dinner rolls
I also take some help from the store or local bakery with this one. Here is a tip from Our Best Bites to make store bought rolls a little fancier with some fresh herbs:
Compound Butter
This may sound fancy but is really simple and delicious! I take a couple of sticks of butter and leave on counter to soften. Once soft, then mix it in a bowl with some lemon zest and fresh thyme (or whatever other fresh herbs you have on hand). Either put it in a small shallow bowl and refrigerate or make a log out of it and wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate or (what I’m going to do this year) put in a shallow flat pan and refrigerate. Once cooled and hardened then use cookie cutters to cut out little shapes. I found some cute leaves, acorns, pumpkin ones that will look very fancy, but without much work! I found the idea in an old Martha Stewart magazine.
Dessert
I’m not really much of a baker, so when people are coming to Thanksgiving at my place and ask what they can bring, I usually say dessert. I have made some things in the past from Our Best Bites. This pumpkin crumble is amazing!!
Beverages
Wine – good pinot noir or Riesling – whatever you like the best.
Beer – Have on hand what you know your guests will like.
Butterscotch martinis – My favorite fall drink! 1 part butterscotch schnapps, 1 part vodka, shake and serve.
Coffee/Tea
Milk
Apple cider
Cranberry Juice
Apple Juice
TIP for the kids:  Have a little project or puzzle handy for each kid (dollar store is a great resource) to give them after dinner so they have something to keep them occupied until dessert, especially if is raining. If not raining have one, two or more adults play with them outside until dessert.