When I was little, I didn’t like Thanksgiving, my young mind thought if we skipped Thanksgiving, Christmas would come sooner. Now that I am older, I love the meaning of Thanksgiving and enjoy the day with family and friends. If you follow my blog, you know that I love to cook and entertain. And the holidays are special to me. But I have never entertained for Thanksgiving until this year. Due to the pandemic, our plans changed, and I am hosting a small Thanksgiving at my home. Yes, you heard me right. My mother hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and even living in Boston, my family would travel to Pennsylvania to be with my family. After my first grandchild was born, we remained in the Boston area to have dinner with our son’s family and in-laws. Food is the centerpiece in my family that connects us as we share our gratitude with each other. Even those we are not all together on Thanksgiving, our love of family radiates across the miles that separate us. Next year we will celebrate together and toast to health and happiness.
A first-generation American, my mother, embraced Thanksgiving and cooking a turkey with a passion. Now that my mother is no longer with me, I wish I would have asked her how she learned to cook the perfect turkey. My grandparents, both exceptional cooks, immigrated from Italy and cooked the best Italian dishes. I recall them making chicken, never turkey.
My mother was particular about her turkey preparation. Local, farm-fresh turkey, the biggest they had was what she purchased. We anxiously waited for her return from the farm. I can still see her walking up the driveway, weighted down by a twenty-nine or thirty-pound turkey, and we rushed to the door to help her. Then she began cleaning the turkey before cooking. She soaked her turkey overnight in a salt bath in the kitchen sink. Now we are cautioned about leaving the turkey out for an extended time; this was not an issue during my mother’s day. I believe that the salt protected from bacterial growth, and she thoroughly rinsed dried the bird before she stuffed the turkey.
She buttered and seasoned the bird, and then she cut a paper bag to fit over the turkey and the top of the roaster. Twine tied around the edge of the roasting pan secured the covering. When I was young, I was amazed that the bag didn’t catch on fire in the oven. My mother’s turkey was always browned to perfection and never dry.
When I cook a turkey, I soak mine in a tub in the refrigerator or if you don’t have room, place the tub in a cooler packed with ice. I’ve tried various turkey brines, home-made or store-bought; my favorite is still my mother’s simple kosher salt turkey bath. The basic ratio I use is two cups of kosher salt to two gallons of water
And as I prepare for Thanksgiving, getting the turkey ready, I pay tribute to my mother, my guide and inspiration throughout my life!
1 (18 pounds) whole turkey 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 lemon, zested and juiced 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves 2 tablespoon kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 large bunch of fresh thyme 1 whole lemon, halved 1 shallot, quartered 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the zest and juice of the lemon and 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves to the butter mixture. Set aside.
Take the giblets out of the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out. Place 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Let the turkey sit for 30 minutes, and then rinse again. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan.
Fill the cavity with thyme, halved lemon, halved shallot, and garlic, and brush the turkey outside with the butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.
Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh’s meaty parts registers 165 degrees F (75 degrees C), about 4 hours. If Turkey browns too quickly, cover with aluminum foil.
Transfer the turkey to a large serving platter, and let it stand for at least 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Make gravy.
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Defatted turkey drippings plus chicken stock to make 2 cups*
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
Heat the turkey drippings and chicken stock in a pan. Simmer on low. In a large (10 to 12-inch) saute pan, melt butter. Sprinkle the flour into the pan, whisk in, then add the salt and pepper—Cook mixture for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock mixture and Cognac, and cook uncovered for 4 to 5 minutes until thickened.
Mediterranean Stuffed Pepper with Turkey, Orzo and Feta Cheese
Some foods shout out comfort and remind me of my mother. Stuffed peppers was a staple in our home when I was growing up. My mother, a creative cook, never made anything with the same ingredients, doctoring up, her words, any recipe she cut and saved from ‘Woman’s Magazine.’ She never wrote down any of her adjustments or changes to a recipe. She liked the freedom from structure and routine when cooking and living her life. On her bookshelf, she stacked her collection of recipes in a pile that she skimmed through for ideas before she fashioned a delicious meal from scratch.
I share so many of my mother’s passions, cooking, gardening, entertaining, and family. One area that we are total opposites is the organization and structure of life. I am an organization geek and live by having a set place for everything.
When my mother would come for a visit, she would marvel at how organized I was and how my life flow systematically. I think she found it amusing that I gravitated to the direct opposite of her raising my family. My children had chores each day, which they completed without being asked and helped in many ways at home. Although she admired my skills, they were not for her. She told me that I was like my grandmother, organized and structured, something she hated growing up. And when she had her own family, she wanted nothing to do with my grandmother’s rules and tasks.
Now that my mother and grandmother are no longer with me, I am grateful that I inherited the best traits from both women.
Mediterranean Stuffed Pepper with Turkey, Orzo and Feta Cheese
2 red, 2 yellow, and 2 orange peppers
1 cup orzo, cook according to package instructions, cooled
1 lb. ground turkey
1 cup mozzarella
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon mint
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon zest of lemon
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoon olive oi
l2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 can(14.5 oz) petite chopped tomatoes, I use Hunt’s no salt added
2 tablespoon parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350F. Cut off the top of each bell pepper and reserve the tops; discard the seeds and white membranes. Put the turkey in a large bowl; add 1 cup mozzarella, 1/4 cup feta, orzo, oregano, mint, dill, allspice, cinnamon garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Gently mix with your hands. Stuff each bell pepper evenly with the turkey-rice mixture; cover with the pepper tops. Place in baking dish.
Make the sauce: Heat oil in a deep and wide saucepan. Add garlic cooking until translucent, don’t brown. Add oregano, pepper, and salt until combined. Slowly pour in tomatoes cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Top peppers with tomato sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover with lid or aluminum foil and bake her for 60 minutes
When I am short on time yet want to make a tasty, delicious meal, I turn to my repertoire of easy, quick delicious meals. Pasta is a go-to for me since I am of Italian heritage. My mother made fabulous meals every night for our family, and I was fortunate to have her as my gold standard.
When I cook, I remember sitting on the kitchen countertop as my mother worked her magic with a recipe. A pinch of this, a dash of that, combined with a few other ingredients, and she created a special dinner for her family.
My mother didn’t write her recipes down because when she cooked, it was a new adventure for her; she never made the recipe the same!
I inherited my love of cooking from my mother. And I get lost in the kitchen creating new recipes from old favorites, experimenting with different flavors and combinations. Every recipe isn’t a success; I’ve failed many times. With each failure, I’ve learned so much from the mistakes.
Have fun, experiment, add your spin when you cook!
1 package(9 oz.) Buitoni fresh Linguine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 pound porcini or baby portobello mushrooms halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (smaller mushrooms can be left halved)
1/4 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 heavy cream
1-ounce Pecorino Romano, finely grated (2/3 cup)
Porcini Butter Sauce Heat a large straight-sided skillet over medium. Add oil, butter, and garlic. When butter melts and garlic sizzles, add mushrooms; season with salt. Cook, occasionally stirring, until mushrooms are tender and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Add pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more. Add cream and stir until combined.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of generously salted boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water; drain. Add pasta water to the skillet with mushrooms. Bring it to a simmer, stirring until half evaporated. Add cream, stirring until combined, coating the mushrooms.
Toss over pasta. Add half of the cheese, tossing to combine. Serve topped with remaining cheese, pepper flakes, and a drizzle of oil.
Now that the leaves are changing and the air is crisp, my thoughts and taste turn to fabulous, warming soup. After working outside, getting my garden ready for a long winter nap, I just love to come inside and warm up with this Tortellini and Escarole soup. It’s delicious and easy to make. And naturally good.
If you prefer a vegetarian soup use vegetable stock instead of chicken and omit chicken sausage. I suggest low salt vegetable stock not broth; stock is more flavorful!
Tortellini and Escarole Soup
3 Tablespoon olive oil 3 cloves garlic crushed 2 shallots, chopped 1 head of escarole, thoroughly washed and cut into bite-size pieces 1 box organic low salt chicken broth or 1 box low salt vegetable stock 1 package cheese tortellini(9 oz) fresh or frozen tortellini
Parmesan cheese (optional)
3 chicken sausages, cooked and sliced into 2-inch pieces
Cook garlic and shallots in olive oil on low for 5 just until shallots are translucent. Don’t brown garlic (it taste bitter if you do). Add escarole, stir, coating escarole with olive, and cook for another 5 minutes just until the escarole is wilted. Add chicken broth, tortellini, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. I sometimes add chicken sausage to the soup. Brown and thoroughly cook three chicken sausages, slice into 2-inch pieces and add to the soup. Simmer an additional 2 minutes.
Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over individual servings if you want. Serve with fresh Italian bread and a salad for a beautiful fall meal.
Soup has a special place in my heart! My mother made the most flavorful homemade soups. She would have hot soup ready for us when we came home, frozen from playing in the snow or ice skating on the pond near our home. And she had a variety of frozen soups ready for an after school snack to hold us over to dinner. My father didn’t return home from work until six or seven o’clock, and we waited for him to eat together as a family.
Those cherished memories return to me when I make soup for my family. Maybe that is why I enjoy making soups. I am transported to my childhood sitting on a stool in the kitchen, watching my mother make magic. My repertoire of soups is extensive for so many reasons. Soups, first, are delicious, easy to make ahead, and by limiting fat and salt, very healthy!
A favorite ingredient I use often is mushrooms. I love their earthy taste and nutritional benefit. And the variety is of mushrooms is considerable. I like to use portabella mushrooms, dark and earthy, complementing the brown rice melody. My mushroom-rice soup is healthy and flavorful; I added four cloves of garlic. The aroma of sauteing garlic is so delightful!
Baby Bela Garlic Mushroom Soup with Brown Rice
2 tablespoon olive oil 4 cloves garlic, minced 8 oz baby Bela mushrooms, chopped 32 oz low salt vegetable stock 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence 1/4 cup brown rice, I used Trader Joe’s, Brown Rice Melody
Rinse mushrooms well and pat dry—heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic sauteing for 5 minutes on low heat. Don’t let garlic brown. Add mushrooms; continue sauteing for 10 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Add pepper, salt, herbs, and rice; cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
Living in New England,, we have an abundance of fresh seafood. Every grocery store has a fish market with fresh fish and seafood. I have many different recipes that I make for Seafood Stew. Combining different tastes make each recipe a flavorful feast.
When I cook for company, I like tackle complicated recipes with exotic ingredients, and everyday family meals, I love no fuss, easy, tasty recipes. Recipes that I can make quickly without sacrificing flavor.
1 can (14.5 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes in juice
1 roasted large red pepper, Mezzetta Roasted Red Bell Peppers,
1 pound skinless cod or halibut fillet, cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound mussels, cleaned and debearded
fresh bread for serving
Combine tomatoes and red pepper in a blender; purée until smooth—heat large pan. Add oil and 2 butter. When butter melts and foam subsides, add shallots and celery; cook, occasionally stirring, until tender and golden in places, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, red crushed pepper, and 1 teaspoon Old Bay and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add vermouth; cook until mostly evaporated, about 2 minutes.
Add tomato mixture and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, season fish and shrimp with remaining 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay, salt, and pepper; nestle with mussels into the skillet. Simmer, gently stirring a few times, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes or until mussels are opened.
This recipe for Stracciatella is an old family recipe that my grandmother passed down to my mother and my mother to me. Every Italian family has its own way of making Stracciatella; some families use eggs, cheese, and pasta. Some families use only eggs and cheese. Our family uses spinach, eggs, cheese, and chicken. I love this outstanding soup that is a meal with a salad and a beautiful loaf of bread. I have included my mother’s recipe for Chicken stock, or you can substitute low-fat chicken broth. (chicken stock isn’t that hard to make!) If you use chicken broth, use 4 quarts. And I love chicken in the soup so just add 3 cups of cooked chicken. If you want a vegetarian soup, substitute vegetable stock, and omit the chicken.
1 4 1/2 lb 5 lb whole chicken
2 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 carrots, quartered
2 medium onions, halved
6 fresh parsley stems(without leaves)
1 Turkish bay leaf
8 black peppercorns
3-4 qt cold water, enough to cover the chicken
1 1/2 tsp salt
Wash chicken well. My mother always put a tablespoon of sea salt in the chicken cavity for a few minutes and then rinses the chicken well. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a large 10-qt pot. Skim the frothy fat off until there is no more sudsy fat. Simmer for 3 hours, covered. Remove chicken to a large bowl and set aside. The chicken will be very tender and fall apart. Let cool and then remove meat from the chicken. Set aside The white meat is what I like to use in my soup. Pour stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard the remains in the sieve. If using stock right away, skim off and discard any reminding fat. If you make the stock a day ahead and chill overnight, the fat will form on the top and easy to remove, making the stock lower in fat. The broth will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator or can be frozen for 3 months.
1 box 10 oz frozen chopped spinach
1 cup Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
Cooked chicken about 3 cups cut into bite-size pieces
Cook spinach according to package instructions; I like to microwave. Beat eggs well in a large bowl, adding spinach and 1 cup cheese. Bring stock to boil, add spinach mixture. Don’t touch soup for a minute or two. Then stir and reduce heat immediately to low. Continue stirring for 4 to 5 more minutes. Add cooked chicken—season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, topped with additional grated cheese.
Like The Seven Kingdoms of Westerly, I do miss Game of Thrones, winter is coming to New England. To ward off the frigid, snowy weather, I love to create tasty, healthy soups and stews filling but low in fat, salt, and calories but not short on flavor. My vegetable stew fits that description perfectly. Totally healthy, vegan, flavorful with just the right kick from the hot sauce. I make a big batch for future dinners when snowdrifts are blanketing our homes.
Hearty Vegetable Stew
2 tablespoon olive oil 4 cloves garlic crushed 1 large shallot chopped 8 oz baby portabella mushrooms, sliced 1 can(14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes, Hunt’s no salt added 2 cups vegetable broth 1 tablespoon chili powder 1 cup chopped baby carrots 1 cup farro, rinsed 1 can (15 oz) Cannellini Beans, rinsed Griller Crumbles, Morning Star 2 tablespoon Franks Hot sauce
In large stock pot heat olive, add garlic and shallot cooking for 5 minutes until translucent. Don’t brown. Add mushrooms cooking another 5 minutes. Combine tomatoes, vegetable broth and chili power adding to vegetables mixture. Add carrots, farro, cover, simmer for 15 minutes. Finish stew by adding beans, Griller Crumbles and Franks Hot Sauce. Simmer for 10 more minutes.
My family loves a traditional Pecan Pie. For years I’ve wanted a more creative pie, like adding chocolate, but , no, no, they tell me. So I no longer ask them; I give them what they want! Here is my traditional Pecan Pie. It’s easy and delicious!
Traditional Pecan Pie
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
4 – 5 tablespoons cold water
1. Stir together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until pieces are pea-size.
2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the water over part of the mixture; gently toss with a fork. Push moistened dough to the side of the bowl. Repeat moistening dough, using 1 tablespoon of the water at a time, until all the dough is moistened. Form dough into a ball.
3. On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten dough. Roll dough from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.
4. To transfer pastry, wrap it around the rolling pin. Unroll pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Ease pastry into pie plate, being careful not to stretch pastry.
5. Rim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry. Crimp edge as desired. Do not prick pastry. Or you can use a pre-made pie crust(I like Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust)
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup of sugar
2 Tbs. butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecans halves
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Whisk the first five ingredients thoroughly. Pour into the pie crust. I like to place the pecan halves in a circular design.
Bake on center rack of the oven for 55 to 60 minutes. Do not over bake.
TIP: Pie is done when the center reaches 200 F. Tap center surface of pie lightly; it should spring back when done.