Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Thanksgiving is the most frenetic day of the year for cooks like me. So to take a little stress out of the day, there are 3 things I make in advance so that I can give most of my attention to roasting that 24-pound turkey.

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes

The frenetic pace and challenge of getting turkey and side dishes to be served together at precisely 6pm on Thanksgiving day is exhausting. So over the years, I've been working in "make ahead" recipes that makes serving the meal a whole lot easier. Make ahead gravy. Make ahead stuffing.

This year, I added make ahead mashed potatoes. And I'm here to tell you they were the best mashed potatoes ever. First off, I avoided all of the chemistry class theatrics required of boiling potatoes from scratch with cold water. And that method requires great precision in order to serve piping hot potatoes with piping hot turkey at the same time.

And this method is foolproof. You cannot screw it up. Anyone who can read can make perfect mashed potatoes. Yes, even you, Joan.

5 pounds of russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, each potato peeled and quartered
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1-1/2 cups whole milk

8 tablespoons butter
2 cups of half & half
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Chopped chives, for garnish


  1. Peel and quarter potatoes and place in slow cooker with garlic and 1-1/2 cups of milk. Set slow cooker to high and cover. Cook for 5 hours.
  2. After 5 hours, turn slow cooker to warm. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the slow cooker.
  3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. When melted, add half & half to the pan and heat to warm (do not boil). When warm, add mixture to slow cooker. Using masher, blend potatoes with butter/half & half mixture.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste....a half of a teaspoon at a time for the uninitiated.
  5. Cover potatoes and serve whenever you want.

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

Being obsessive-compulsive is actually an admirable quality if you are a cook. I find that it comes in especially handy at Thanksgiving, where micro-managing the production of an enormous feast is no small feat.

In order to handle the complexity of the Thanksgiving meal preparation, I create a very comprehensive list of every task that must be accomplished and at precisely what time to perform that task. It starts at 12:35pm with the convection roasting of the turkey. Then the schedule is set to make sure that everything gets done so that we can eat precisely at 6:00pm.

But regardless of the schedule, there are three items that always need my attention at the very last, frenetic second: the carving of the turkey; the mashing of the potatoes; and the making of the gravy. I cannot do all three at once by myself.

I'm really good at quickly carving a 25-pound turkey, so I take on that duty. The potatoes need to be mashed at the last second so that they are good and warm, which is a role my son Patrick has excelled at since he was a boy. Being a big, strong defensive back on the Macalester Football team, he is now able to execute his mashing duties in mere seconds.

Which leaves us with the gravy. I'm really anal about making turkey gravy from scratch. Use butter and flour to make a roux, then add turkey drippings and turkey stock. The problem here is that the drippings come at the end....after you've removed the turkey for carving.

But alas, Mark Bittman (food writer for the New York Times) solved my problem by creating this make-ahead gravy recipe. It can be made up to five days in advance, then re-heated just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. And the gravy still gets the flavor boost from the pan drippings...you just add them in at the last second to your already "at serving temperature" gravy.

A small note here about the stock. Most grocery stores have an abundance of turkey stock on their shelves at this time of year. But if you couldn't find any or simply forgot to pick some up, chicken stock is a really good second choice.

1 stick of butter (I prefer Kerrygold)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups warm turkey stock
Turkey drippings


    1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
    2. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
    3. When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings or to gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.

    Thanksgiving Stuffing

    Stuffing is, without a doubt, my favorite side at Thanksgiving. And I've been making it the same way for 40+ years. The recipe is nothing earth-shattering...it's all store-bought ingredients with just a few extras thrown in. I cook my stuffing in a casserole as I am not partial to Salmonella Russian Roulette when stuffing is cooked in the cavity of the bird.

    I always start with Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Cubed Stuffing. I just love how that stuff tastes. It's simply toasted white and wheat bread cubes in their own special blend of spices. To that I add hot Italian sausage, celery, onion and sautéed mushrooms. I cook those up in the morning and then add the Pepperidge Farm stuffing about an hour before eating. Like I said...there's nothing extraordinary about the recipe...except for the taste. Once you try it, you are hooked for life.

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 pounds hot Italian sausage
    2  yellow onions, chopped
    6 stalks celery, chopped
    16 ounces mushrooms, chopped

    10 tablespoons butter
    4 cups chicken broth
    2, 12-ounce bags Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion Cubed Stuffing


    1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat olive oil until it is shimmering. Then add sausage, onions, celery and mushrooms. Cook until there is no pink in the sausage and all of the vegetables have softened (about 8 minutes).
    2. In a large saucepan, heat butter and chicken broth over medium heat until all of the butter has melted into the broth.
    3. Preheat oven to 350º.
    4. In a large casserole, add the two bags of cubed stuffing. Add sausage, onions, celery and mushrooms then stir thoroughly to mix. The add broth/butter mixture and stir again to thoroughly mix.
    5. Cover casserole and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, then serve in a room that is no warmer than 68º.

    Saturday, November 16, 2019

    Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

    I posted my first Beef Stroganoff recipe on this blog in September of 2011. That recipe, from Cooks Illustrated, has always been a favorite of mine. That recipe called for using beef tenderloin. But that's a stovetop recipe that comes together quickly. This is a slow cooker recipe. My thinking has evolved over the last few years. In the past, if I was adding beef to a slow cooker, I would typically choose a chuck or arm roast. These days, if I'm tossing beef in a slow cooker, it has to be brisket.

    If you are a carnivore, brisket is the second greatest gift from the beef gods (steak, of course, is the first). Brisket cooked low and slow is a transformational experience. It has the perfect amount of fat to create extraordinary flavor. And eight hours in a slow cooker essentially converts beef brisket to something akin to meringue...it literally melts right on your tongue.

    So opting for brisket is not the only change-up I'm making. My old recipe called for spooning the stroganoff over the egg noodles like a sauce. But I have seen the light. In this recipe you take the cooked egg noodles and stir them right into the stroganoff before serving. The benefit of this is that every square inch of pasta becomes coated with this incredible stroganoff gravy. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom :-)

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 pounds beef brisket, cut across the grain in 2-inch strips
    Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
    8 ounces petite mushroom caps, sliced in half
    1 medium onion, diced
    2 teaspoons minced garlic
    2 cups beef broth, divided
    3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    3 tablespoons corn starch
    12 ounces egg noodles, prepared according to package
    1 cup sour cream

    1. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large pan. Season the beef with salt and pepper on all sides. Add half of the beef to the pan in a single layer. Brown for 3-4 minutes on each side. 
    2. Add the meat to the slow cooker. Repeat the browning process with the other half of the beef.
    3. Add the onion to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until browned.
    4. Add the onion, mushrooms and garlic to the slow cooker.
    5. Pour 1-1/2 cups beef broth and Worcestershire sauce into the slow cooker and stir to combine.
    6. Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 8 hours.
    7. One half hour before serving, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup beef broth with the corn starch. Pour the mixture into the crock pot and stir. Cook covered on HIGH for 20 minutes or until sauce has thickened.
    8. Uncover the crock pot and add the sour cream, stirring until a smooth sauce forms. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    9. Turn off slow cooker. Add the cooked egg noodles into the slow cooker and stir until they are fully coated in the sauce. Serve.

    Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

    Grogs and Goldie, 1956

    Saturday, November 9, 2019

    Pork Chops in Lemon-Caper Sauce

    This week Toni Tipton-Martin released her new cookbook, "Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African-American Cooking. Sam Sifton, a New York Times food writer (and one of my personal favorites), called this recipe from Toni's book "glorious and elegant" and heralded it as his new favorite recipe. As soon as I finish this blog, it's off to my neighborhood grocery store (Jerry's) to gather the ingredients as tonight this is what's for supper in the Gruggen household!

    4 bone-in pork chops (8 ounces each)
    Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    4 tablespoons butter
    1 small shallot, minced
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
    1 cup dry white wine
    1-1/2 cups chicken stock
    2 tablespoons drained capers
    2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
    1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
    2 tablespoons lemon juice

    1. Dry the chops with paper towels and season aggressively with salt, pepper and the thyme. Swirl the olive oil into a large skillet and heat over medium until the oil begins to shimmer. Add chops, and cook until well browned on each side and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate, and cover to keep warm.
    2. Drain the fat from the skillet, then melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat until sizzling. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until the aromatics soften, reducing the heat if necessary, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the wine and chicken stock, raise heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes.
    3. Stir in the capers, parsley, lemon zest and juice and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter until it’s melted and the sauce looks smooth. Nestle the pork chops into the sauce and allow them to warm up for a couple of minutes, then serve, pouring sauce over each pork chop to taste. Garnish with more fresh parsley.

    Wine pairing: Merlot

    Grogs and Goldie, 1956

    Saturday, November 2, 2019

    Slow Cooker Beef Ramen Soup

    It's November in Minnesota and the meteorologists are already talking about windchill. (Windchill is 22º here this morning while the ambient temperature is 33º.) Whenever I hear windchill, I think about reaching for my slow cooker and making some soup.

    This" Let's Dish" recipe is quite simple and the slow cooker makes it a breeze. But if you want to make it special, I made a couple of changes. The recipe called for stew meat, but I substituted boneless short ribs. It dramatically elevates the taste and makes for a big jump in the texture of the cooked beef (melt-in-your-mouth delicious).

     The second change I made was to the ramen noodles. The recipe called for regular ramen noodles...the kind that were the staple of our diet in our college days. But I used Lotus Foods Organic Millet and Brown Rice Ramen. They are delicious...gluten free...vegan...and loaded with 8 grams of protein. If your local grocery store doesn't carry them, they are available at both Costco and Amazon.com.

    Blogger's Note: This recipe will make four, entree size bowls of soup. If you are using it as a side dish, this will make eight, 1-cup servings.

    2 pounds boneless short ribs, cut into 1-inch cubes
    2 tablespoons canola oil
    1 small yellow onion, diced
    6 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon fresh chopped ginger
    8 cups beef broth
    8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
    1/4 cup soy sauce
    1 tablespoon fish sauce
    2 teaspoons sesame oil
    8 ounces snow peas
    Juice of one lime
    4 chopped scallions 
    2 cakes ramen noodles
    1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (for garnish)
    Chili oil (for garnish)


    1. Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add stew meat, working in batches so as not to crowd the pan and sear until well browned. Transfer to slow cooker.
    2. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, beef broth, mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil to the slow cooker with the beef. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
    3. About 30 minutes before serving, add the snow peas, lime juice and green onions to the slow cooker and stir to combine.
    4. Meanwhile, cook the Ramen noodles according to package directions. Place cooked noodles in individual bowls and ladle the soup over top. Garnish with chopped cilantro and a splash of chili oil. Serve with Sriracha Sauce on the side.

    5. Wine pairing: Zinfandel

      Grogs and Goldie, 1956