The Hot Mess

So, today was Thanksgiving, and I did indeed bake some Babycakes goodies and made The Soup Of Enlightenment. (YUM!!) I also made some Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas on page 42 of Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. It’s similar to hummus, but no tahini (sesame paste.)  It’s literally two cans of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) some chicken broth, added to some cooked tomatoes, minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

I also walked for 90 minutes tonight. And did some pushups. Envy me. Especially in a little black dress. (One of these days.)

Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas was one of the samples from the book they served to us in line at Sur la Table when I went to see Ina Garten on November 12th. I didn’t remember it being watery. . .not sure what I did, but I think I might have accidentally a) over-processed the chickpeas and b) didn’t cook the tomatoes long enough. Oh, well–turn the heat up and let it boil out? Yes, in a cast iron frying pan. It worked. Now I have some delicious stuff in my fridge to nibble on with celery. (The book recommends “shards of grilled country bread;” that’s not something I normally have around.)

I’ve heard a new slang term that I think truly describes many a kitchen disaster: The Hot Mess. I was watching the first episode of the new Hot In Cleveland season online (on, OK?) and heard Valerie Bertinelli’s character Melanie use that term to describe her new job situation. What it came from was describing someone, usually female, who is, well, a mess–bad dresser, drinks too much, whatever. Lindsay Lohan fits this description perfectly; so does Britney Spears. A “hot mess.” Bigger mess than the usual.

We’ve all been there, right?

While making my delish Tuscan Smashed Chickpeas, I started thinking about many a “hot mess” I’ve had in the kitchen, and while they were not fun when they were going on, they’re pretty amusing now. . .and better with no witnesses. Like the Thanksgiving a couple of years ago when I was slicing onions to brine a turkey the day before. My aunt called, and I wanted to talk to her, so I did. While using one of those mandolins to slice onions. I forgot to pick up the holder thingy, and when I got to the bottom of the onion, my thumb hit the blade. Sharp blade. Sharp hit. Lotsa blood. None got anywhere else but the two dishtowels I grabbed to stop the bleeding. Didn’t go to hospital, and it healed up all by itself. Eventually.

I did that once before, slitting open the middle finger of my right hand–not my driving finger, thankfully. I was trying to separate frozen sliced cheese so I could make my new husband a sandwich. No, I didn’t bleed on that, either. But I did go through some bandages that week.

A couple of years ago I bought a head of cauliflower because it was on sale, and finally decided to just roast it in the toaster oven on the convection setting. Well. . .it roasted all right. It was burned to a crisp. DARNIT. A whole head of cauliflower into the trash. I set it aside to cool, and I just idly picked up a piece and ate it.


I’m serious–if you don’t like cauliflower, BURN IT! It gets rid of the chalky taste and it’s SOOOO GOOD. That was an accident that turned out good. They don’t all turn out that way.

“Hot mess” would also be a good way to describe the last attempt I made at making gravy from the turkey. I don’t LIKE gravy, therefore, I don’t MAKE gravy. Every year someone *else* has made gravy. I stay away from it, because it truly was a mess the last time I tried it. And they never let me forget it, either.

About ten years ago, I had just moved in with my very good friend in La Marque, TX (formerly known as “ex-boyfriend,” but that’s another story.)  He’s a widower, and we were going to his mother-in-law’s place for Thanksgiving. Me, nervous. A week or two before, I made some sweet potato frites from that month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living for dinner, and they were SO GOOD! We couldn’t stop stuffing our faces! I decided I’d bring them to Thanksgiving dinner.

Of course, expanding a recipe like that doesn’t *always* work. And it doesn’t help that his comment was, “Oh, yeah, that top oven needs to be recalibrated.”

My delicious sweet potatoes were a hot mess. Ditto that goat-cheese and fig salad I brought, with the balsamic dressing. The hostess, a very nice lady, brought me some Wish-Bone; she didn’t realize that I’d already dressed it. And I never did THAT again. . .but at least I tried.

Whenever I cooked him breakfast, it became a game to see if I could get his eggs “over easy” just the way he liked them. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. There was one day that I made a breakfast that, he claimed, stunk up the whole house with the onions, and he had to leave the doors open to get the cooking odors to go away while I was working. That’s when the stray cat got in the house, and my brave feline Kismet ran that cat up the street. Oh, and I never made that one again.

Another time I decided to try a Suzanne Somers recipe for Beef Curry. I admit that I’m not completely familiar with Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cooking, but this looked pretty simple. I found curry paste in my local HEB, and went to town on this 20 minute beef curry.

Let’s just say that HE went to KFC for dinner that night. Oh, that’s a recipe I’ll never try again. Nobody could tell me what curry was hot and what wasn’t, and of course, the one I got was BURNING HOT. I try to be frugal, but this went out. Neither of us could stomach it, so KFC it was that night.

And, believe it or not, we’re friends today. Amazing.

Then there was the day I roasted my own garlic in the oven. I bought one of those little clay bakers, and did not, at the time, own a countertop (aka “toaster”) oven like I do now. Well, after an hour in the oven, the garlic wasn’t the soft, smushy thing the box said it would be. So I put it in the microwave to bake a little longer.

We’ve all done this, right?

A few minutes later, the light is off, or so I thought. The microwave oven was filled with smoke. I opened the door and smoke came billowing out, and the garlic was ON FIRE. Yes, it ignited, and all I could do was grab it with metal tongs and dunk it in some water in the sink. And that was the last time I attempted to roast garlic.

Around 1990 or so, I decided to make something fancy for a family holiday dinner (Easter, I think.)  I still have my first-edition copy of the 1984 Avon International cookbook, still in the jacket, with native-country recipes from representatives from all over the world. I have long had a fascination with Australia, although I’ve never been Down Under. (I do have friends in Melbourne who have long invited me for a visit; one day, I really am going to go.)

So I decided I would make a fancy Pavlova for dinner, a recipe from the Aussie Avon Lady. If you’ve never had one, it’s basically a large baked meringue with fruit and whipped cream on top. Whipped egg whites that are baked and left in the oven for some time after you turn it off. Turns out crispy. You have to assemble it right before serving so that the bottom doesn’t go soggy. It *should* look something like this:

Aussie Pavlova

Unfortunately, mine didn’t. That bottom layer, the meringue, went flat. As in pancake flat. So I chopped up some fruit and took it as is. Over the river and through the woods to the folks’ place. Tasted pretty good. Fortunately, nobody but me knew what it was, and that it was not supposed to be flat. I have since made pavlovas successfully, albeit not for family members.

Do you eat microwave popcorn? No, I don’t–not anymore, for a couple of reasons, namely the toxins that make the stuff taste good. But I admit, I did buy it at one time, oil, toxins and all. I was not at home, and not alone, with a friend of mine and we were going to have some. It didn’t all pop; a significant amount ended up un-popped. So we put it back in the microwave and tried again.

Flame. In the microwave. Any questions?

She swore she would never tell anyone what happened, and she didn’t; she passed away about a year later, but not from the popcorn. There are some things we do NOT try, and they don’t tell you about stuff like that on TV. Especially not cooking shows. Then again, I’m sure there’s a blooper reel from every cooking show on The Food Network. But one it ever got out, I bet Giada de Laurentiis would sue!

Just kidding, Giada. I know you don’t make mistakes on camera.

Speaking of Giada, just earlier this year, when her new book came out, Weeknights with Giada, I bought it ahead of time to get the much-desired ticket to get into the signing. I tried one of her recipes, and, well. . .I screwed it up. Used a garlic-flavored oil when I shouldn’t have, and did something else or forgot something else. . .it was edible, but didn’t taste the way she intended. So when I got to talk to her, I said, “Hi, Giada. I screwed up one of your recipes last night.” Giada said, “Uh, oh, what’d  you do?” I told her. My bad, I know. But it wasn’t as big of a hot mess as some have been. And I made that recipe again, the RIGHT way.

What *was* a hot mess was another Giada recipe, Lamb Ragu from Giada’s Kitchen. The first two times I made it, I didn’t quite get that at some point you turn the heat down. The second time I did that, I took a pink highlighter and went over the line that says to TURN DOWN THE HEAT. Never made THAT mistake again. (Delicious recipe, BTW.)

Oh, and when I cook with tomato sauce, especially a lot of it, my kitchen looks like a crime scene. I am proud of this. Yes, I clean it up, too.

Numerous mistakes have been made by NOT reading the recipe, but for the most part, I over came them. Thank heavens.

I have a brother who will tell you to never eat my cooking, because “Amy can’t cook.” I can, but. . .well, I tried to cook for him a couple of times, Let’s put it this way–he sent me an apron for my birthday that says, “Last time I cooked, almost no one got sick!” He even writes songs about my cooking. Or rather, he re-writes songs about my cooking. Maybe I’ll post the lyrics to one he re-wrote for me, called Amy’s Back in Austin. Maybe I should send it to the group who wrote the original, a band called Little Texas. It’s actually a pretty good tune, even though I’m not a country fan, but I don’t think they ever thought someone would parody it like that.

Why would a brother say such things about his sister’s cooking? After all the fabulous desserts transported over 350 miles to New Orleans for holidays? Well, it goes like this. . .

When I got married in 1996, my friend JS gave me a copy of Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus. I still have it, and even used a recipe from it just recently. Well, I still lived in New Orleans, and my brother, his wife and daughter lived here in Houston. (We’ve swapped since then.) They visited for a week, and I made sure I not only invited them for dinner, but made something fantastic from that book. The Chicken Cacciatore with angel-hair pasta. The salad with the creamy balsamic dressing. The garden soup from that month’s issue of Martha Stewart Living. The raspberry cobbler with the biscuit topping. It was FAAAABULOUS, I tell you.

In my world, it was. The Queen would have been very pleased. But this wasn’t the Queen I invited to dinner.

The next day, I got a call from my brother: “What was in that soup?” Seems that my niece, who was then about 15 or so, was, well, hurling all night. Didn’t affect anyone else, just her. Ahhhh. . .then my sister-in-law tells me that she’s allergic to raspberries. . .but she forgot that she was allergic until after she’d eaten some.

Needless to say, I’ve never cooked for them again, and he continues to write songs about my cooking when the muse visits him.

Others have told me of their kitchen disasters. My good friends in Australia have also had their share of them. The wife, a teacher who graduated from LSU in Baton Rouge, told me that she’d once made a birthday cake for her husband when the beaters broke in the cake. She thought she got all the parts out, but just to be safe, they were very careful when they ate it!

My mother told me one of my favorites–she always baked birthday cakes for kids’ birthdays; ours as well as relatives, since she was the best at it, particularly the decorating part. (Mom also convinced me that I would not be able to bake my own wedding cake. I could have, but. . .it was easier to let someone else bake it.)  For my 17th birthday, I requested, and got, a chocolate rum cake–but no, it wasn’t boozy or anything.

Mom had a stand mixer from Sears, (circa 1975, I think) and didn’t use it every day, so it was in a cabinet most of the time until it was needed. Well, it was nearly May 9th, her own mother’s birthday, and Mom made a cake for her, too. She put all the ingredients into the mixing bowl, turned it on, and out the other end was a big roach! It had been living in the motor case for an indeterminate amount of time, and turning it on rattled its cage. Nothing got INTO the batter, it ran in the other direction. Thank heavens, or one of us would have been sent to the store to get more cake mix.

I suppose the last hot mess was the last toaster oven I had. I killed it. Six years after I received it for a Christmas gift from the aforementioned very good friend, it stopped working, and I bought another one. I really don’t want to be without one, and of course I bought the newest Cuisinart model with the convection setting, timer and exact-heat sensor on it. (On sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond, with a coupon, of course.) I use it more than the one in the stove–you can roast a whole chicken in it! Yes, I do it, too.

That’s enough for tonight. I’d love to hear about your kitchen disasters, the ones you can laugh at now. (Someone losing a finger or toe is NOT funny, really.)  Post them below in the comments. . .if you dare.

Happy Dining!

My Alternate Thanksgiving

Well, as it turns out, I’m going to be spending Thanksgiving alone. It’s OK, I don’t mind–I do so at Christmas, since I have no family. (Around or available–this is a good thing.)  I’ll watch some good old-fashioned British comedy on DVD and catch up on some sewing. I was already going to do that, as well as make this dish from whatever remained from the turkey.

Things change.

Very low turnout for our potluck, so it was decided that we would *not* cook a turkey. Since the hostess is veeegan and likely the other *two* are too (or some other ridiculously weird diet only they know about), one is not of the friendly sort (like me, these days), I backed out. Not going to be very enjoyable–especially when I can use a rolling pin to help someone get over their stupidity.

I can, you know. That’s why I’m staying AWAY from everyone much as I can. I can’t afford an attorney.

One thing I have made every year since 2006 is make this incredible soup. I found it in the November 2006 Everyday Food magazine, but it’s not an EDF recipe. Glad added it in as a pullout card with an advert for their plastic food containers, as they did for quite a few years.  It looked pretty good, so I made some to use up the turkey and dressing and stuff.

It is the most delicious thing ever.

Make it exactly as is. You eat this soup, you become ENLIGHTENED. It’s that good.

After the first time, I wanted more for Christmas. I went to get turkey PARTS at the grocery, but. . .all I could get was a 12-pound turkey. So I roasted me a big turkey and made this soup. Repeatedly. It was literally what I ate for the entire holiday break, about ten days. I just kept making more soup, and dressing as I needed more. I LOVED it.

I’m going to HAVE this soup, of course, but I’m skipping the “dinner” part and going directly to the soup part. I’m roasting two turkey thighs, and making some Tarragon Turkey stuffing/dressing from an old Suzanne Somers cookbook (for the dumplings), and have at it tomorrow. Doesn’t take long, either if all the parts are completed.

This is what it looks like when you get ready to eat it, Dear Readers:

Leftover Turkey Chowder, or The Soup of Enlightenment

Take your spoon and cut a piece of a hot, crispy dumpling while scooping up some soup in it. Become enlightened. Repeat as needed.

You have just become enlightened. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you’ve got Thanksgiving leftovers, first, consider yourself lucky. Some folks don’t. Say a prayer of thanks. Me, I’m happy to be able to get me some turkey thighs and make this for myself.

Make this soup, and you will be giving many thanks. Here’s the recipe:


Although I only make this once or twice a year, you can make it pretty much anytime you want. Turkey parts are available all year long, and you can use pretty much any kind of stuffing you want.

The first year I made this after Thanksgiving, I brought it for lunch for a week. Two people at work asked me for the recipe, so I gave it to them. (Many were following me around asking, “what’s THAT??”) One of the Engineering guys told me his wife made it, and they used. . .Stove Top Stuffing. UGH!! But they loved it, even with Stove Top. So it is worth the little extra work to make it whenever you want it, using your favorite stuffing/dressing.

I’m going to be busy this weekend, sewing, among other things, but I may not get back to post here at HeatCageKitchen for a few days, so be patient. I have to have some new adventures, and I don’t anticipate that just yet. I mean, who gets excited about a breakfast sandwich or a panini from Starbucks?

Have a great Thanksgiving, whatever it means to you.

And if you’re alone, enjoy the time alone and have yourself some of this delicious Leftover Turkey Chowder (for more than one day, too.) What you have for dessert is up to you, but there’s lots of easy desserts you can make online. Make something with cranberries while they’re available fresh. Or chocolate–how can that be bad? Better yet–chocolate AND cranberries. And let me know what you made with them, because I’ve never put them together. Yet.

Me, I haven’t even thought about dessert. But I’ll likely do something I’ve done before, probably from Babycakes. Again. 🙂

Make it a point, as I have, to never miss another holiday meal again, even if you have to be by yourself. Enjoy it, and you won’t worry about being alone for a holiday anymore.

Happy Dining!

Twinkies–end of an era


I read with despair the passing of the iconic Hostess Brands. While I’ve been an occasional connoisseur of Twinkies, or better, the frosted chocolate Ding Dongs, they were never a regular part of my repetoire. Admittedly, I have not touched any of them in many years, preferring the kind of thing that showed up in this article. But no, the hard-balling by arrogant union leaders and employees finally took its toll, and the owners of the Irving, TX-based company shut the entire company down, being unable to handle an extended strike. Approximately 18,300 employees will be quickly laid off and on unemployment, just like me.

Smooth move, Ex-lax.

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And not the way you wanted it.

So now, what happens to the millions of Americans who are lost without Twinkies, Hostess’ most popular item?

What REAL Americans have ALWAYS done: make it yourself.

You might be asking, how do I do that? Roll up your sleeves, get your apron on, get suited up, booted up and into your kitchen! YES!! Make your own Twinkies. Just like your grandparents would. Heck, other countries don’t know what it is to buy them at a convenience store, so they won’t know what they’re missing. You do, and it’s now within your control to have them yourself.

Granted, you won’t have the opportunity to pick them up at the store whenever you want them, and you will have to work for it, but what would you rather–no Twinkies at all?

One thing I credit Rachael Ray for is reminding viewers that when you make dinner at home, you can control the quality of the ingredients. For instance: if you find canned soup too salty, and the lower sodium version lacking in more than just salt, making your own soup solves that problem. Make sense?

OK, back to the Twinkies–I have not tried this myself, nor am I likely to try it. But for those who are suffering because of the lack of Twinkies, I have found you a recipe for the real thing, DIY Twinkies.

Here’s another way to do it, with a DIY Twinkie baking kit from No, I’m not an affiliate member. (Yet.)

It is very likely that Hostess Brands will sell off the recipes and names to other bakeries. Probably a competitor like Little Debbie of Tennessee, or the multinational Bimbo, (pronounced “BEEM-bo”) since they seem to own every other bakery operation, including Mrs. Bairds, which *used* to be a Texas company. If Bimbo gets ahold of them (and they likely will, cheaply, since Hostess will likely go to Chapter 7, liquidation) then you could see the beloved Twinkies returned to store shelves soon. This is simply speculation on the part of HeatCageKitchen; I have no personal knowledge of such an acquisition.

If you are in a baking mood, may I also suggest picking up the books by BabycakesNYC, a well-loved vegan/allergy free bakery in New York with branches in Orlando and Los Angeles. Their stuff is good and a lot healthier, but so delicious you’d never realize it.

On page 88 of the first book, Babycakes, there is a recipe called “Healthy Hostess,” which is a vegan/allergy-free version of the Hostess Cupcake, complete with frosting.

On page 80 of the second book, Babycakes Covers the Classics, there is a recipe for Sno Balls. You could do worse.

Granted, when you start doing healthier versions, the ingredients can be more expensive–but, as author Erin McKenna points out, so are the heart attacks you get from the “standard” ingredients, like white sugar and white flour. If you already have someone in your household who is allergic, then you’re already buying them. Learn to use them.

It may be the end of one era, but you can still have your Twinkies and eat them too.

If I hear of anything good coming out of this, I’ll let you know. I hate to see sugar junkies in sudden withdrawal. But for now, at least, you can buy what’s left for a fortune on Ebay or bake your own for as long as you want them.

Happy Dining!

Turkey–The Big Chicken

Ok, Thanksgiving is next week.

Are you ready?

Are you having a big family dinner, or just a small gathering?  Are you cooking the whole traditional turkey-and-trimming meal, or are your guests bringing the sides and desserts? Or are you a guest somewhere else at Thanksgiving, looking for something to bring?

If you make reservations for Thanksgiving, or go to your local deli to get your holiday meals, this column is not for you. Ditto if you go to Wal-Mart and buy something from the freezer case called Thanksgiving in a Box. Ugh.

This post is for those who want to make a real, home-made turkey for Thanksgiving. It’s very possible, and easier than you think.

Until 2004, I made an effort to spend Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my family. Things changed, and Katrina blew New Orleans around. That year, 2005, my religious group’s neighborhood district leaders announced that they would have a Thanksgiving Day activity for anyone who wanted to attend, and we could cook stuff at their house. The hosts, a husband and wife with 3 children, are from Taiwan, and wanted to host it for folks who weren’t going anywhere, or were too far away from their families to visit.

It’s also a great opportunity to have a little culinary cultural diversity. With members from Japan, China, Latin American and occasionally Europe or the Middle East, along with “regular American” folks, you never know what’s going to show up for dinner. And that’s part of the fun.

So I asked, “Who’s cooking the turkey?” The husband responded, “We don’t know how to cook turkey.” I stuck my foot in it and volunteered.

Then I got home and realized what I did. AAAAAAHH!!!

Being the owner of a *number* of cookbooks, I consulted the ones I had and did a little searching online. And I realized that a turkey isn’t a big deal. It just takes a while. And once I learned how it’s done now, it was simple.

Like a lot of things, I didn’t exactly learn this growing up.

My mother always cooked it at 200F for six to eight hours. You have to “kill all the bacteria.” I know this because one year I had this idea that I would bring dessert packed in an ice chest in components (pie crust, filling, etc.) and bake it at Mom’s It’s a 6-hour drive from my front door to theirs, plus preparation.

I *thought* we could finish it and bake the pie early in the morning, but NOOOOOO!!!  Why? Because Mom bakes the darn turkey all day. It’s kind of like turkey jerky, so you *have* to put gravy on it. I don’t like gravy (the one thing I left off my earlier post on Stuff I Hate.) The pie crust was hastily rolled out and baked immediately upon my arrival, and the pie left to cool overnight. (I can’t remember anyone touching it anyway, so why did I bother?)

Listen up–it’s not that difficult to roast a turkey. Nor is it that ridiculous. But over the years, people keep on doing things “the way it’s always been done,” never considering an alternative. Not only do you get a boring Thanksgiving (or other holiday meal), you’re inefficient as well. This is particularly true in New Orleans–sorry, but it’s the truth. That’s why I live in Texas.

Anyway. . . .

Let me (pardon the pun) boil this down for you. Roasting a turkey is really no different than roasting a chicken. If you roast a chicken at 350 for an hour or so, why would it be any different than roasting a turkey, except for longer?

Listen to me: your Thanksgiving turkey is simply a Big Chicken. Got that? It’s a BIG CHICKEN.

Are you afraid of a chicken?

Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing to be afraid of. If you are that afraid of a turkey, get one ready made. Just know that it will not be nearly as good as one you made yourself–I know this personally.

A couple of years after our first “Buddhist Thanksgiving,” the hostess unknowingly invited one of my coworkers, who had no idea I could cook. Two weeks later at the department holiday luncheon, this same coworker told anyone who would listen that she had some of my Thanksgiving turkey two weeks prior, and it was completely different from the Kroger turkey we were having. Not that the Kroger turkey was bad, mind you, but Amy’s homemade turkey was “so delicious” and she continually crowed about my turkey (pardon the pun) to anyone within earshot.

This, of course, made me a very happy cat. Complete with the Cheshire grin.

In recent years, the Thanksgiving open house has moved to someone else’s house. A single woman. Who is vegetarian. No kidding. But she doesn’t mind turkey in her house. Just not COOKED in her house, which is what I did last year. Brought my roaster over there, plugged it into the laundry room socket, and left to finish other stuff. I can do it all at my place this year, then transport it a few miles away, since I’m driving a small pickup and it has to rest for a bit anyway. And the turkey roaster, which is a cross between a toaster oven and a crock pot, makes it easy.

Now, punning again, let’s talk turkey.

These “big chickens” are generally sold between 12 and 14 pounds, but larger turkeys are available. You must thaw them either in cold water (for hours) or in the fridge, on a cookie sheet or big baking tray, at the bottom of the fridge for up to 5 days. This is not the time to leave it out on your counter. Seriously. You could have a bunch of really sick people on your hands, since it takes so long to thaw. Botulism/salmonella puts a big damper on a holiday dinner.

I’ve personally roasted a few 20 pound turkeys, and it’s just a matter of leaving them in the oven longer. The only fear you should have is that of dropping a 20 pound frozen bird on your foot. THAT, my friend, is a justified concern, and a possible trip to an ER right before a holiday.

Of course, that’s still better than slicing your thumb wide open on a mandolin slicing onions the day BEFORE Thanksgiving (while on the phone with an older matron aunt) so you can brine the turkey. I did have help that day, who was nice enough to take care of all that while I held off the bleeding. No blood went anywhere else but into the first dishtowel I could put my hands on. And the second.

Ask Martha Stewart about holiday ER visits; she’s had a few battle-scarred holidays herself.

The general rule is at 325F or 350F, and you cook the turkey from 30 to 45 minutes per pound. Using an instant-read thermometer, the thigh meat must be 180F. However, before carving, the turkey must be removed from the oven, put in a safe spot, covered with foil and allowed to rest for 30 minutes; it will continue to cook while resting. Best to roast the bird until the thigh meat temp is 175, then remove it from the oven and cover it with foil for resting. (source: Therefore, a 14 pound turkey cooks in about 3 to 3.5 hours, and a 20 pound turkey, 3.5 to 4 hours (source:

Stuffing/dressing is a hotly debated topic (sorry, another pun.) The rule is this: stuffing is literally stuffed into the turkey’s cavity, increasing cooking time, possibly not completely cooking. Dressing is cooked completely and separately in a baking dish, and can go into the oven after the turkey is removed and resting (just don’t turn the oven off.) There are advantages to both, but I rather prefer the dressing route, just to be safe; it’s also easier.

A great suggestion from Rachael Ray a few years ago was to put stuffing into muffin tins and bake it that way. No kidding, she called it Stuffin’ Muffins. I did that a few years ago and it went over well. Perfect single servings, and everyone gets lots of the hot crunchy part. Perfect! Easy to do, too.

Another Rachael Ray suggestion for emergencies: if you don’t thaw the turkey on time, you can cook a turkey in 90 minutes. How? Halve it and cook it that way. No kidding. Spatchcocking, it’s called–cut it in half and roast it flat on a baking sheet. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure it would work. I’d go to 350F, which is where I normally cook them anyway, and make sure the thigh meat is at least 175F, and let it rest for 30 minutes covered in foil in a safe place.

The “safe place” is anywhere it won’t get bothered, knocked to the floor, messed with, or pulled off the counter by little children. No fun here, please be safe, it’s easy to let safety slip by when you’re busy with a holiday dinner.

Additionally, in the new Barefoot Contessa book Foolproof, she has a recipe called “Accidental Turkey.” A friend of Ina’s put the oven on 425F and forgot to turn it down ten minutes later. The place filled with smoke, but the turkey was moist and delicious afterwards. The way it works is this: roast it for 45 minutes at 450, then lower it to 325F, and roast for another hour, until the thigh meat registers 180F. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. There’s a little more to it than that (seasonings, mostly) but you get the idea. Make sure your oven is VERY CLEAN if you do this one!

In my experience, a brined turkey is incredibly flavorful, and when roasted, will fall off the bone, no carving necessary. (This is good because I can never get those silly little slices done correctly, and I prefer thighs anyway.) Brining takes a little more time and work, but is TOTALLY worth the effort.

Repeat after me:  It’s a big chicken.  See? It’s gonna be OK.

Now what do you want with it? In my earlier post, I mentioned the most incredible cranberry sauce there is, which you can make a couple of days in advance. Make one batch and and see if you like it before Thanksgiving; if not, well, there are always alternatives. (Every time I make it I get requests/demands for the recipe.)

Do a search. Start with famous chefs, like Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, or try,,,, or any one of the myriad of cooking websites out there. It’s not like you’re getting advice off the street, OK? Well, maybe you are. . .sorta. . .just make sure your source is a good one.

To be safe, don’t go too far off the beaten path with lots of new or unusual recipes. If there is one really wild thing you want to try, just do ONE, say a new pie, and make the rest of your dishes familiar ones, even if you use a slightly new or somewhat different version of it.

For instance–holidays in my family are always Waldorf Salad. Know what? I like Waldorf Salad anytime, and I can make it and eat it anytime I want. Keep your Waldorf Salad, or add/have a pasta salad this year–and use tortellini if you’re feeling adventurous. If you *must* have rice pilaf, keep it and add this delicious (and vegetarian) quinoa/butternut squash pie as another side dish. (Made that one last year for the veggie hostess, went over well, and again for the department luncheon. Then again just for myself.)

What about a different version of your favorite dessert, or perhaps an alternate? If you always have pumpkin pie, why not have a fruit cobbler or crostata too?

Here’s a quick and tasty dessert I want to try soon. Sur la Table featured it on the front cover of one of their recent catalogs to advertise their professional-grade cake pans.

Really–enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, but don’t bore everyone with the same predictable menu year after year. Try a little something different, just one. Classic side dishes are great, but there’s nothing wrong with shaking them up a little and turning up the volume, too.


Let me know if you have any questions, but hurry up–Thanksgiving is next week!

The Barefoot Contessa In Houston!

More than ten years after being introduced to the simple but elegant food style of Ina Garten, a/k/a The Barefoot Contessa, I got to meet her today at the Sur la Table in Rice Village. It’s the same place I got to meet Giada de Laurentiis twice before (including in April of this year), and they know what they’re doing when a celebrity chef comes to visit.

It was a pretty homogeneous crowd, about 2/3 women, 1/3 men. When you’re in line to do something like that, you’re among friends. Mostly. I thought I was going to finish reading my first John Grisham novel, The Partner, but not until later. (It’s an awesome book, BTW; someone gave it to me on Saturday.)

I mentioned to Susan, the lady in front of me, that I went to a book signing with Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, on 11/2. My goodness, the look I got! Susan turned up her nose and let me know that she does NOT like Ree or her show, or her cookbooks. So I was exactly right, at least in this case, when I told Ree’s driver that Ree isn’t a River Oaks/Galleria kind of celebrity. Conservative type cooking shows aren’t popular in the fancier part of Houston. A cooking show about a adorable happily married couple, with their own four children, live on a ranch, home school their kids and produce cattle that eventually become their Tartare and Steak au Poivre. But in the ‘burbs, like the Pearland Sam’s Club, Ree gets more appreciation. Nevermind that she was an LA gal for many years.

Ok, back to Ina Garten. She looks just like she does on TV. Very nice lady, pretty, too, and she does have freckles.

As usual, the Sur La Table staff was serving up bites made from recipes in the new book, and I managed to get five bite sized nibbles of the Chocolate Chunk Blondies (page 205) Also tried the Couscous with Peas & Mint, which surprises you with the mint. Being a recently converted fan to hummus (not so much lemon that it screams at you), I enjoyed the sample of the Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas (page 42), which may show up on Thanksgiving, too. It’s really good, but it’s not *exactly* like hummus.

I should have left home earlier, but I got as much chance as anyone to meet Ina, and they were moving us pretty fast. Maybe it’s the East Hampton time thing, but Ina arrived an hour early and Sur la Table started immediately. No questions, just “Hi, I’m Amy,” she signed her new book Foolproof, and you moved on. There were a LOT of people there! I did manage to tell her that I can roast a turkey because of her books and advice. (More in my turkey post, coming soon.)

I have all of Ina’s books, but only brought one other to be autographed, the first one. (More would have been freight hauling!) However, one of Ina’s assistants had signed bookplates and handed me a few for the others, because she was only had time to sign Foolproof. I thanked her and moved on so the gentlemen behind me could have their chance.

The pictures of me (hint: red hair) were actually taken by a Sur la Table employee, who was nicely doing them for everyone. Admittedly, I look bad in one or two of them, mostly because of the bag I was carrying–it pushed the shirt forward and made me look. . .oh, nevermind.

I got to meet The Barefoot Contessa!!!

I’ve already decided that I will be making Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes, from Barefoot  Contessa At Home, (page 144) partly because of the vegetarians that will be in attendance, but mostly because it’s REALLY good. I’m also considering the “Accidental Turkey” recipe from Foolproof, because it looks really easy. And maybe, just maybe. . .I’ll show up with two more Apple Crostatas from Barefoot Contessa Parties! I brought those to a birthday party once at the request of the honoree, and one guest told me, “Don’t tell my wife–I ate five pieces!” It’s that good.

Now that it’s a bit chilly, I may make a big pot of BC Chicken Chili from Parties,, which is delicious but isn’t the same as the “chili” you’re used to, and more of the lentil stuff for me. I MUST try that new Chicken with Wild Mushrooms recipe from Foolproof, and maybe roast sausages with grapes, too.  I MUST make the new Chocolate Cassis Cake for Christmas, and some of the new Chocolate Chunk Blondies for any special activity I can find. (READ: excuse.)

Many thanks to Sur la Table in River Oaks for having yet another great celebrity chef come to Houston and visit with the peeps. It’s greatly appreciated, and we await the next personality we can’t wait to meet. (Pictures are here.)

Happy Dining!

%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar
Verified by MonsterInsights