Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

She doesn’t like potatoes but Country Grandma is the queen of stirring up delicious gravy, and pretty much any other down-home Midwest comfort food served at a farmer’s table. When it came time to make gravy this Christmas, I had an abundant amount of reserved ham cooking juices but I didn’t have a recipe or a plan for making the gravy. Should I use flour or cornstarch? Broth or milk? My sister Heidi suggested I ask Country Grandma, the queen of gravy, to show me how she makes hers.

ham gravy v

Thankfully she obliged by stepping into the kitchen and showing us how to make ham gravy with milk and cornstarch. She eyeballed it so I’m hoping the mental notes I’m posting will be enough for me to remember how to make it next time.

ham gravy

Also known as Ma T, Country Grandma (Judy Thomssen) is grandma to my nephews—the T Boys. Before Grandpa Ron died, they farmed near Lake Benton and raised a son, Will, who is married to my sister Heidi. (Yes, that makes Judy Heidi’s mother-in-law and we love her company!) When the T Boys were little, Ron and Judy lived in the country and my mom lived in town so they nicknamed Judy Country Grandma. Can you imagine a farmer’s wife not liking potatoes? But my sister was right—Country Grandma is the queen of gravy and she is welcome in my kitchen anytime. I want her to come back and show me how to make her beloved meatballs, and the hamballs I just heard about.

The T Boys in 1998 (Trav, Garritt, Cody)

The T Boys in 1998 (Trav, Garritt, Cody)

Country Grandma’s ham gravy recipe – the eyeball method

Grab what you need:

equal parts whole milk and water

cornstarch (liquified to a paste with ice water so you don’t get cornstarch floaters in your gravy)

ham cooking juice to taste


Make the gravy:

In a large pot over medium-high heat, whisk milk and water to boiling. Pour in cornstarch and stir constantly until thickened. Add ham cooking juice to taste, starting with a smaller amount and adding from there. (It’s easy to add more but you can’t take it out if you add too much.)

Serve over mashed potatoes. Store leftovers in refrigerator and serve hot over fried leftover mashed potatoes or toast.

Salty swine wishes,



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You’ve flipped your paper calendar to November, there’s a gallon of apple cider in your fridge, “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” is chirping on Pandora, and you’re pinning unrealistic menu and holiday decorating to-dos as if Pinterest hands out gold medals. And now you will fall asleep at night counting tiny triangles of caramel apple cider cheesecake.

caramel apple cider cheesecake

But since cheesecake doesn’t fall from trees, this is a realistic dessert to pin to your Thanksgiving Meal board. You will impress your guests or hosts with a cheesecake flavor they’ve likely never tried, and you get to make it well in advance of your dinner because you can refrigerate cheesecake for seven days and you can freeze it for up to six months.

If you are a cheesecake novice, this is an easy enough cheesecake recipe for you. I’ll share my same tips as I did a few days ago in Don’t let cheesecake scare you: start with a recipe easier than monster cookie dough cheesecake:

  1. Bring ingredients to room temperature. Using room temperature ingredients and adding the eggs last, and not overbeating once you add them, are the secrets to making cheesecake. Simple as that.
  2. Plan to be at home for a few hours. (But you can even run errands while the cheesecake cools.)

Caramel apple cider cheesecake


1-1/2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup butter, melted


4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1-1/4 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup apple butter (smooth, nut chunky)

1/2 cup boiled cider (or use this recipe from Midwest Living to make your own boiled cider)

1-1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice

4 eggs, room temperature

1 cup caramel ice cream topping

Put it all together

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. For a 9-inch springform pan, grease the springform pan with baking or cooking spray. For a 9-inch square baking pan, line with parchment paper or pan lining paper leaving extra paper hanging over the edge to use as a handle to lift the cheesecake out.
  2. Combine the crushed graham crackers and melted butter in a small bowl. Stir well. (Or combine in a food processor.) Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of pan. Bake 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat room temperature cream cheese on medium-high speed until creamy throughout, with no chunks or pieces. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times while mixing. This will take approximately 3-4 minutes. This only works if the cream cheese is at a soft, room temperature consistency.
  4. Add the sugar to the cream cheese mixture and beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes until sugar is well combined and the texture is creamy.
  5. Drop the apple butter and apple pie spice in and stir lightly. Pour in the boiled cider and mix on medium just until combined.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on low just until combined. Turn off the mixer and gently scrape down the sides of the bowl after each egg is added. Do not overbeat.
  7. Gently pour the filling into the prepared crust. With a spoon or fork, drizzle the caramel all over the top, trying not to drop big globs on the cheesecake. With a knife, swirl the caramel into the cheesecake, but only near the top of the batter, don’t get it very deep.
  8. Bake at 350° for approximately one hour and 15 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown and the center is just set. Turn the oven off and crack the oven door open slightly. Let the cheesecake completely cool in the oven for two hours. (You can run your errands now.)
  9. Once cool, run a knife between the pan and the cheesecake to loosen it from the sides, then cover the top of the pan with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

When ready to serve, remove the cheesecake from the springform pan or remove from square pan by lifting the edges of the parchment paper. To slice, run a large knife under hot water and dry before making each cut to keep the slices smooth and free from crumbs.

Keep cheesecake in the refrigerator for up to seven days. If you want to freeze the cheesecake or slices of cheesecake wrap tightly in foil or seal in freezer bags for up to six months. Thaw in refrigerator overnight and at room temperature for 2 hours or at room temperature for three hours.

If you want to bake this cheesecake in 4-inch springform pans as I have pictured, lower the oven temperature to 300° and bake approximately 40-45 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown and centers are just set.

If you want to get fancy, serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Sweet fall wishes,


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There is no better fall smell than filling your home with the comforting scent of spicy pumpkin, especially when the cozy aroma wafts from your oven, not a candle or an outlet. Before your house smells like turkey and scorched potatoes, start your Thanksgiving festivities with pumpkin streusel coffee cake.

A few years ago I baked this cake to celebrate a coworker’s birthday. After I got strange looks from people that morning, I found out I was supposed to have brought treats the day before; but once we sliced into the soft, warm-in-the-middle cake, they quickly forgave me. See, look at those beautiful, forgiving smiles.

The recipe is from VeryBestBaking.com., a website on which I have a recipe box overflowing with homestyle goodness. But here’s what sends it over the top — instead of using plain nuts in the streusel, I tossed in Praline Pumpkin Seed Crunch from King Arthur Flour. I don’t think they sell it anymore, but you could use any praline nuts like pecans or cashews and crush them up.

Cozy cake wishes,

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I never should have messed with it. The cookie recipe that my family will probably publish in my obituary, already tasted like pumpkin spice and everything nice. So I’m not sure why I thought our beloved pumpkin chocolate chip cookies would be even more cherished by turning them into sandwiches with marshmallow maple cream and chocolate drizzle.

pumpkin chocolate chip sandwich cookies with maple cream

Don’t get me wrong, these palm-size sandwiches taste like everything that’s charming about fall. They are soft, with bites of chocolate and warm spices, stuffed with creamy maple filling and a drizzle of glossy honey chocolate sauce.

But my family has more than 10 years under its soft pants belt with this cookie and they just weren’t interested in a change. I came home with a full container, vowing only to make them again for strangers.

Marshmallow Maple Creme

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted sweet butter, softened

1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme

2 teaspoons maple extract

Beat together sugar and butter with an electric mixer on high for 2 minutes. Whip in the marshmallow creme and maple extract on medium speed until smooth. Set aside at room temperature for up to two hours.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

1- 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup sugar

1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick-cooking oats

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (this is my own addition)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups (12 oz) chocolate chips

Bake the cookies:

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in the egg, pumpkin and vanilla. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Makes 10 dozen cookies.

Assemble the cookie sandwiches:

Turn half of the cookies upside down and spread a thick layer of marshmallow maple creme on the bottom of each cookie. Top each cream layer with another cookie, top side up. Drizzle each sandwich with honey chocolate drizzle (recipe below). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for two days.

Honey chocolate drizzle

1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup heavy cream

Pour honey and chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, slowly bring cream just to a boil. Tip hot cream into chocolate and honey; let stand for 1 minute. Stir until melted and smooth. Drizzle onto cookie sandwiches.

Have you ever messed with a beloved family recipe with not so raving results?
Sweet wishes,

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and we’ve all planned our menus. Groceries are lining the counters and over-stuffing the refrigerator. Some of you are already performing culinary magic in the kitchen. It’s not like you need a stuffing recipe in order to prepare for this year’s turkey day. But I only make this savory sausage dish for holiday meals and I want to share it now so you can add it to your Christmas, or other religious holiday, celebration.

I’ve refined this recipe to feed my family of 17 and still have leftovers — give or take a few kids who probably have never tried it. But then there’s the sizeable appetites of the T Boys, my football and baseball-playing nephews, who request this every year. (Check out their favorite hot dog casserole.)

The cool thing about this recipe is that it’s pretty easy to customize. Just use the amounts of bread, sausage, and butter as the recipe calls for so it doesn’t get greasy or dried out. You could substitute some of the celery with mushrooms or a different vegetable, and add garlic, cashews, or cranberries. I’ve used all kinds of breads so pick your favorites and go with it. You don’t have to dry out the bread first for this stuffing.

You may have a larger stove top than I do, or bigger pans, but this batch of stuffing is so large that I need to use two large frying/sauté pans to cook the butter, celery, and onion mixture. You’ll need large pans because once you add the bread, you need room to stir everything together. Or you could split it into batches. You’ll want a very large bowl or pan to bake this in. I’ve used my KitchenAid® roaster and an aluminum roaster. I’ve also put it in a crockpot.

Staci’s Sausage Stuffing

2 pounds bulk pork sausage, cooked, keeping a few tablespoons of the fat in the sausage

1 pound bulk Italian pork sausage, cooked, keeping a couple of tablespoons of the fat in the sausage

4-1/2 cups celery, washed and chopped

2-1/4 cups diced yellow onion

5-1/2 sticks butter

3 tablespoons bacon grease, optional

24 cups of bread cubes (2 to 3 loaves of bread), I use at least two different varieties like white and wheat, wheat and rye, I’ve used pumpernickel and today I used white, wheat, and a small pan of cornbread

5 teaspoons dried sage leaves, or 6 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage leaves

3-4 teaspoons dried thyme leaves, or 3 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme leaves

4-1/2 teaspoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons pepper

Preheat oven to 325°.

Over medium heat, cook the celery and onion in the butter (add bacon grease if using), stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft. Stir in about 1/2 to 3/4 of the bread cubes. Keep on low heat while tossing together, getting as much of the bread coated with butter.

Transfer to a very large bowl or roasting pan. Add remaining bread cubes, seasonings, and the cooked sausage with fat. Toss to combine.

Transfer to roasting pan, cover and bake at 325° for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes.

To use to stuff the turkey, stuff turkey just before roasting.

This stuffing can be assembled and refrigerated a day ahead and baked the day you need it. I actually think it’s better that way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What kind of stuffing is a tradition at your family celebrations?

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