Thursday, November 21, 2013

0 Don't Know What to Serve with the Bird? Here are Some Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Ideas....

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Yes, it's that time of year again, when many of us start thinking about what we're going to serve for our
Thanksgiving Day dinners. Some will take the traditional route, while others will toss in some unexpected choices. Whether you're still scratching your heads or just need a few dishes to round out your meal, I'm here to help you with your menu planning by providing you with suggestions to suit a wide variety of needs. Plus, if you're serving an army, it's typically a good idea to offer several different appetizers, sides, and desserts to keep everyone happy and well fed. Below, you'll find a comprehensive array of choices from all of these different dish categories. The only thing that's missing is the bird. :) However, it's usually the other stuff (i.e., everything else!) that people have more of a challenge figuring out, so this extensive list should give you more than enough meal ideas to get you started with your menu planning.

As a chef and frequent host, I've planned lots (and I do mean LOTS!) of menus for dinner parties and large gatherings in the past, and have also helped family and friends with this as well. In fact, for one of our previous Thanksgiving Day gatherings (from a year or two ago), I helped my aunt draw up a menu and calculate food amounts for her guests. If memory serves, they had over 20 people at their house that year, along with three very large hungry poodles, one of whom suddenly decided to jump up on the table after dinner to help clean up the scraps. :)

We really went all out that year: One family friend made a sweet potato dish, my aunt made the turkey, some salads, and vegetable side dishes while I "filled in the blanks" with pumpkin soup, cranberry sauce, two pumpkin pies, and a fruit tart. Everyone's dishes were homemade, so although it was a lot of work (and several days worth of kitchen prep and cooking!), it was lots of fun to make everything. Despite the chaos that sometimes surrounds the process, the end result is usually well worth it, because Thanksgiving is a time when the food and conversation will (hopefully!) bring everyone together and provide a happy background for friends and family to relax and more fully appreciate each other's company.

Anyhow, enough verbiage. I hope you'll find the below meal ideas useful to keep your menu fresh and exciting. Have fun cooking (and eating!), and I wish you all a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving!

-C


Traditional Selections (Updated & Revamped):

Appetizers:

  • Pumpkin-Potato Soup with Fresh Sage, Rosemary, & Basil: This one was a huge hit at one of my aunt's previous Thanksgiving dinners. Even Erik ate it, and he doesn't typically even like pumpkin soup. :) My friend Charlie's also made it and told me his family liked it a lot as well.
  • Antipasto: Well, it's considered to be a traditional fall holiday appetizer if you've got Italian relatives. :) Erik's family will typically serve this at their Christmas dinner, so since these two fall holiday meals are often very similar in nature, it'll surely work for Thanksgiving dinner as well. My version, Italian-Style Marinated Vegetable Salad (Antipasto), still contains all of the traditional elements but, unlike the plated variety, combines them into an easy-to-eat form that fits onto crackers. Just provide a serving spoon and some crackers or bread for your guests, and you're all set. Or, if you'd rather stay away from (or limit) the starch component, cut up crudités for your guests, like cucumber rounds, etc., which can serve a similar purpose.
  • Hors d'Oeuvres: It's a good idea to give your guests something to munch on before the meal starts: This is done just as much to stave off hunger as it is to keep curious guests from wandering into the kitchen before meal time and nibbling on dishes for an "advance preview." We all know people who like to break off bits of our unfinished dishes to sample things before they before they are really supposed to be doing that. ;) So, keep them at bay by offering them finger food like Mushrooms Canapés Stuffed With Goat Cheese, Kalamata Olives, & Fresh Herbs or various types of dips served with crudités, chips, &/or crackers. On that note, check out the wide selection of dips on this site as well -- from freshly made guac, hummus, and pinto bean dip to Caponata Siciliana, Creamy Red Hot Pepper Dip, and Tuna à La Tapenade.


Sides:

  • Cranberry Sauce: To liven things up a bit, try my Cranberry Sauce Spiked with Cointreau. Think of this as "cranberry sauce for adults." Actually, most of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, leaving behind just a hint of Cointreau flavor for an extra special kick to the taste buds. So, really, it's perfectly suitable to serve to the kiddies as well. I assure you, unless you just pour in the Cointreau at the end instead of cooking it, or drink it while you're making it, absolutely no one will get inebriated from consuming this dish. :)
  • Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are another traditional holiday selection. Instead of making sweet potato mash the sweet way (i.e., with marshmallows, etc.), shake things up a bit and offer a savory (and much healthier!) preparation in another form, like Swoon-worthy Sweet Potatoes. This dish is super-easy to make, and best of all, you don't need to spend all that extra time stirring and mashing. :)
  • Rosemary Potatoes: Another holiday standard, or at least it is in our family. :) Need a recipe? Try my Rockin' Rosemary Potatoes. 

Desserts:

  • Pumpkin Pie: For Thanksgiving dinner, it doesn't get much more traditional than good ole' pumpkin pie. This is a non-dairy version for people who are Paleo, vegan, or kosher. It's also gluten-free. For the Paleo version, substitute almond flour for the oat flour and if you're strict Paleo, look for another viscous binding agent (perhaps maple syrup?) to replace the honey. This recipe is one of my most requested holiday dishes. :)
  • Tiramisù: Again, if you've got Italian relatives, this one is pretty standard fall holiday fare as well. My own version, Tantalizingly Transcendent Tiramisù, uses both ricotta and mascarpone for a lighter (and far less fattening) flavor, while still remaining incredibly rich and indulgent tasting. This way your taste buds can revel in dessert-esque ecstasy without you having to loosen a few notches on your belt buckle after the meal. ;)


Novelty Dishes:

Appetizers:

Sides:
  • Celeriac Remoulade: This dish is very similar to coleslaw, but with a sophisticated twist. It's a neat idea if you're looking for a menu update to keep things interesting. :)
  • Cauliflower Mash with Rosemary & Roasted Garlic: This dish is a nice (and much healthier!) alternative to mashed potatoes. Plus, it's really tasty too! It also makes a great selection for guests with particular dietary restrictions -- it's Paleo, vegan, and gluten-free. :) Whoopeeeeee! Hahaha.
  • Pumpkin Risotto: Still in keeping with the pumpkin holiday theme and yet, it adds an element of surprise. This could also be served as a vegetarian (or vegan) main course as well.

Desserts:

  • Poached Persimmons: Delicious and appropriately seasonal, this dish has a taste that's both tart and sweet. Be sure to allow these fall fruits enough time to blet in order to reach the full peak of their flavor.
  • Baked Figs (or Pears): Another seasonal selection, this dish is soaked in Marsala wine, which makes them taste even better. :)
  • Apple Tart: Simple but decorative, this version of apple tart is healthy and delicious!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

3 Tomato-Zucchini Soup with Kale, Yellow Squash, & Cannellini Beans (Topped with Parmesan Cheese & Pesto Drizzle)

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First of all, congratulations to the two very knowledgable winners of the Fall Fun Contest! Your pumpkin and squash expertise is truly impressive! Hope everyone had fun with the contest. It seems that a lot of you did, since you gave me lots of positive feedback about it. So, because it was such a smashing success, I might hold another one next year, with new and different types of squash and pumpkins for you to identify, but of course. And who knows, maybe I'll even toss in a few edible gourds or two to make it even more challenging. :)

I realize it's been way too long since my last recipe (Oh my goodness! It's been since early September! Has it really been that long?!), but to be honest, I needed to take a little (OK, long) breather from cooking, recipe writing, and just writing in general. It's been about 2 years since I took any sort of serious break from writing, whether blogging or book writing. If you'd been going that long without a break, you might want to take a break from recipe writing too. :-D In fact, a few weeks ago, my sister made the comment, "I don't know how you've been able to keep pumping out recipes for these books. If I made that many recipes without any break in between, I'd probably never want to cook or write recipes ever again!" Hahaha. 

Yeah, I was feeling a little bit burnt out, but realize that it's probably time to start posting some recipes again. Otherwise, I might continue my lazy streak of eating nothing but salads, hard boiled eggs, raw veggies and fruits (i.e., preferably ones that don't require any peeling), and cans of sardines. JUST kidding. Er, well, sort of. :) Here's a brief anecdote to illustrate my point: One morning, (a morning less distant that I care to admit - lol), I ran out of breakfast food but was so disinclined to cook that I took a head of broccoli out of the fridge, steamed it, and just ate that for breakfast. No spices, no herbs, no nothing. Yes, THAT is just how bad it got. Talk about lazy. :) (Yeah, let's not mince words. It was pathetic, I know.) I told my mom that story a few weeks ago and we had a good laugh about it. Well, even though a head of steamed broccoli isn't traditional breakfast food, at least it was healthy. And it was so filling that I wasn't even remotely hungry again until dinnertime. That's the great thing about cruciferous veggies. Lots of fiber. :)

But really, it was about time to climb back onto the horse again. So here I am again, back in action after 2 1/2 months, in case you were wondering if I was ever going to post another recipe here ever again. ;)

Soooooo, let's talk about soup, shall we? I've been wanting to post a soup recipe like this for a while now. In the past, I've created various types of soup recipes with kale (e.g., kale-potato-leek soup, Azorean kale souptomato-basil with kale and various greens, etc.) and even another version of tomato zucchini soup, but nothing exactly like this. In addition to its full flavor and simplicity, the beauty of this recipe is that it only takes 20 minutes to make. So, without further ado, I give you.....


Tomato-Zucchini Soup with Kale, Yellow Squash, & Cannellini Beans (Topped with Parmesan Cheese & Pesto Drizzle)

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
4 c. vegetable stock, divided
2 c. fresh kale leaves, stems and ribs removed
2 c. zucchini, diced (about 1 large or 2 medium zucchini)
2 c. yellow squash (about 1 large or 2 medium yellow squash)
2 c. vine-ripened tomato, diced
15.5 oz. can cannellini beans
4 c. water
8 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

Toppings:
shredded Parmesan cheese, about 1 Tbsp. per serving
pesto, about 1 tsp. (or more) per serving

Directions: Heat olive oil in a large (8-10 qt.) stock pot on medium heat until shimmering. Then reduce heat to low, add shallots and garlic, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Occasionally stir with a heat-proof spatula, then deglaze with 1/4 c. vegetable stock, using the sides of the spatula to release the fond (i.e., brown bits) from the sides and bottom of the pot. Continue to cook until stock has been reduced to a thin layer. Next, add kale, zucchini, yellow squash, tomato, and beans, followed by remaining stock, water, and tomato paste. Stir to incorporate. Turn up heat to high and bring to a rolling boil, (which will take about 10-15 minutes!). Then quickly reduce heat to low again and simmer for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add fresh basil and thyme, and cook for a final 5 minutes. Pour into bowls and top each portion with Parmesan cheese and pesto drizzle. Serve hot and enjoy!

Yield: 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

1 Fall Fun Contest!

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Time to have some fun! How well do you know your squash and pumpkins? Name that squash or pumpkin, from left to right. And no cheating by googling. :) Please post your answers (or guesses!) in the comments section of this post for all 6 types shown below.

#1
#2
#3

#4
#5










#6

The first two (2) people to correctly identify all (or the greatest possible number) of the above produce by this Friday, November 8 will get a private preview of special, unreleased recipes that can ONLY be found in either the Cooking with Corey cookbook or The Athlete's Cookbook. The winner will have their choice of 2 of the following, "top-secret" recipes:

(To whet your appetite and help you choose which recipes you'd like to win, click on the below links to view the corresponding photos.)

(1) Oven-Baked Rosemary-Parmesan Sweet Potato Fries
(2) Crème de Cassis Hazelnut Chocolate Fudge Brownies
(3) Guilt-Free Peanut Butter Fudge
(4) White Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies
(5) Gourmet Halva/Halwa Bonbons
(6) Pear & Pecan Clafouti
(7) Toasted Chili-Lime Pumpkin Seeds
(8) Olive Hummus
(9) Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus in White Truffle Oil
(10) Greek-Style Eggplant Gratin with Feta & Tomato Sauce

Good luck and have fun!

-Corey

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