A Somewhat Relaxed Thanksgiving

For the first time in years, Terry and I were not hosting Thanksgiving nor were we dashing 500 plus miles south to North Texas to join our children for the holiday.  Our daughter has moved to the northwest and is no longer within easy driving distance.  Our son and daughter-in-law had hoped to drive up north from Texas to join us, but the weather was uncertain so they spent yesterday with close friends near them.  I phoned my dad on Wednesday night and told him Terry and I were going to take it easy on Thanksgiving day and not have any set schedule.  I did promise him one of the two pumpkin pies I planned to make (the recipe makes two pies and Terry and I will not need to eat both of them).  The sticky buns, on the other hand, would not survive to be shared.  I urged him to spend Thanksgiving with his step-daughter’s family.

Last minute grocery shopping

I should not have gone to the grocery store first thing Thanksgiving morning.  I do not want to be that person who supports a retail industry that ruins holidays for their employees.  I have a somewhat lame excuse, though, as Terry and I went furniture shopping Wednesday night, bought a sofa, and did not return home until late … too late for me to stumble around a grocery store and forgot half of what I needed.  So my apologies to the employees of my local grocery store for waiting until 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning to do my final shopping.

Thankfully, I did not have much on my list, but I did manage to forget the one ‘strange’ ingredient I needed for a new stuffing recipe I wanted to try:  Provolone.  I got to the dairy section only to discover I could only buy sliced provolone there.  I headed back to the deli section where they have a large ‘international’ cheese display only to be distracted by something and ultimately end up checking out without realizing I’d forgotten the provolone.

Morning cup of tea

I returned home and took a few minutes to steep a large cup of Irish Blend tea and consume a croissant, which Terry had made the day before. Suitably fortified, I proceeded to gather the items I needed to make desserts.

Dessert First, of course

Pumpkin Pies

Following the instructions on the large can of pumpkin (Libby), I began pouring ingredients into my Kitchenaid mixing bowl.  I make two changes to the ‘standard’ pumpkin pie recipe.  First, I use pumpkin pie spice (always have), usually between two and three teaspoons worth.  Second, I always add at least two tablespoons of molasses.  Oh, and I use only brown sugar, not half white half brown as some recipes suggest.  I had preheated the oven two 475 degrees and set the pie crusts out to thaw (I said it was a lazy Thanksgiving – making pie crust is a stressful endeavor for me).  I divided the pie filling between the two crusts and placed them in the oven for 20 minutes.  Then I reduced the oven temperature to 350 degrees, but forgot to put a timer on for 40-45 minutes.  I did not realize my mistake until later (see below).

Sticky Buns

Sticky Buns are an Andrea family tradition going back as far as I can remember.  Some years my mom would make the dough from scratch.  Other years she would use the Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix as the base.  For the last few years, I’ve used the Sticky Bun recipe posted at the King Arthur Flour web site, with slight modifications to the filling and glaze.  I used my bread machine on the dough cycle.  Once I’d gotten the sticky bun dough sealed up in the bread machine, I realized I’d forgotten to set the timer for the pumpkin pies at the lower temperature.  I dug the Libby can out of the recycle bin and read the last of the recipe to determine how to tell if a pumpkin pie is done.  Stick a knife in the middle and it if comes out clean, its finished.  Similar to the toothpick trick with cakes.  I knife-tested the pies and removed them from the oven.  I set them on a rack to cool and snapped my first food photograph of the day:

Pumpkin Pies with Molasses
Pumpkin Pies with Molasses

The bread machine takes one hour fifty minutes to process a dough cycle.  This includes a twenty-minute preheating cycle which I use when a recipe calls for butter and I haven’t had time to let the butter rest at room temperature to soften.  Once the dough cycle completes, I remove the dough and roll it out into a rectangle.  I let the dough rest frequently while rolling it, mostly because I need time to create the caramel.

In a small sauce pan, I combined one stick of butter with one cup of brown sugar.  I normally don’t like to use corn syrup (it can make the glaze harden when you take the sticky buns out of the oven to cool … and besides, it’s corn syrup … ugh).  But I couldn’t remember the substitute trick my daughter learned a couple of years ago.  I asked her later in the afternoon and she reminded me to use lemon juice (which I had both in a bottle and in fresh lemons).  I brought the caramel to a boil and then poured it into the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch cake pan.  I rolled the pan around to get the caramel evenly distributed across the bottom.

I returned to my rectangle of rolled dough.  I’d melted a couple of tablespoons of butter and used my silicon pastry brush to coat the dough.  Then I took a quarter cup of brown sugar, two teaspoons of cinnamon and some white sugar (which I didn’t measure) and mixed them up on a small bowl.  I used a spoon to sprinkle most of this filling on the buttered dough.  I then rolled the dough up and pinched the seam to seal it.  My nifty trick for getting unsquished roll cuts involves dental floss.  Take a length of dental floss, slip it under the edge of the roll, decide how thick you want the roll, then quickly cross the floss through the roll.  Perfect cut quickly with no muss and no fuss.  I ended up with fifteen rolls and set them to rise:

Rising Sitcky Buns
Rising Sticky Buns

Thirty minutes later (or thereabouts) I popped the buns in the oven.   Next up, a new recipe and only the second time in my life I attempted to make cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Pear Sauce

I found this recipe in this year’s Thanksgiving issue of Food Network Magazine insert 50 Things to Make with Cranberries, listed third:

3. Cranberry-Pear Sauce Simmer 4 cups cranberries, 2 chopped peeled pears, 2 cups water, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom over medium heat until the berries pop and the sauce thickens, 25 minutes; cool.

During my morning run on the grocery store, I’d bought two red pears.  I’d also bought the somewhat expensive spice cardamom, which I can’t recall ever using in a recipe alone before.  I peeled the pears and chopped them.  I put all the ingredients listed above in a saucepan on medium heat to simmer.

Cranberry Pear sauce ready to simmer and reduce.

Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to bake the sticky buns.   The sauce recipe claimed I would only need 20-25 minutes to achieve sauce consistency, but even after I took the sticky buns out of the oven, the sauce still seemed too watery.  I simmered it an addition 15-20 minutes and finally removed it to be chilled and hopefully finish gelling in the refrigerator.  Next time, if we make this recipe again, I might reduce or half the amount of water.  Thankfully, I could sample a hot sticky bun.

Hot sticky buns fresh out of the oven


I posted a few pictures via Twitter, including one of an expectant drooling supposedly starving (I wasn’t convinced) Rottweiler named Lexy.

Lexy hoping I’ll drop something edible on the kitchen floor

I also had a couple of nice Twitter conversations with Royna, Ron and a friend who lives in San Diego and planned a Thanksgiving picnic because it was 82 degrees there (Lansing was 50 degrees cooler than that so we stayed warm and snug indoors).  At about this time, I received a call from Rachelle on her lunch hour at work.  She called to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving.  I also spent a couple of hours watching the original Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone.  Terry pretended to be Friar Tuck under the tree by the creek (i.e. napping).

The Main Course

When my son had told us he might be joining us for Thanksgiving, I opted to buy a ham rather than a turkey.  He doesn’t care for turkey and I was thankful to not have to deal with roasting a turkey.  A spiral cut ham is already cooked and just needs to be warmed up before serving.  Since Terry was asleep and had been for most of the day, I decided to use a Reynolds Oven Bag to reheat the ham.  I don’t have a dish large enough to place the ham in with a lid (like a Dutch oven) so the bag is the next best thing.  I had an eleven pound ham, so without the bag, reheating would have taken about three hours.  With the bag, that time was cut down to about two hours.  I got the ham in the already warm oven and took a short break to give my back and feet a rest.


Kale chips

I started prepping vegetables for the stuffing and determined I had way too much kale in the bunch I bought.  So after chopping up what I needed for the stuffing, I made kale chips on my large pizza pan, sprayed with olive oil and lightly sprinkled with fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt.  I slipped them in the oven on the rack under the one holding the ham and checked on them after ten or fifteen minutes.

Signature Sides

Sausage and Kale Stuffing

I saw this recipe in the November 2014 Thanksgiving issue of Food Network Magazine (see p. 168).  I had all the ingredients except the provolone cheese, which I wasn’t too excited about in a stuffing to begin with (I’m lactose intolerant and don’t care for cheese).  I’ll list the ingredients as modified by me here followed by the instructions.

  • 1  stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage (ground)
  • 1/2 pound hot Italian sausage (sliced)
  • 6 stalks organic celery (chopped)
  • 1 organic yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon thyme (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary (chopped)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 bunch organic kale (stemmed and chopped)
  • 3 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs (cage free, grain fed, organic)
  • 1/4 cup fresh organic parsley (chopped)
  • 16 cups 1/2-inch stale* white bread cubes (about 1 1/2 pounds)

* Tip from the magazine:  Stale bread works best for stuffing.  If your bread is fresh, spread the cubes on baking sheets and bake at 325 degrees until dry, about 20 minutes (I did this after baking the sticky buns but before putting the ham in the oven).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray.  Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large skillet (pot or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and cooked through, about 7 minutes.

Add the celery, onions, thyme, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper to the skillet.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the kale and cook, stirring, until just softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and set aside.

Whisk the eggs and parsley in a large bowl.  Add the bread cubes and the sausage mixture.  Stir to combine.  Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish.  Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into cubs and dot over the stuffing.  Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until golden brown, about 20 more minutes.

 This stuffing ended up being our favorite item during dinner.  I should have cooked it about ten minutes longer (I cut the uncovered time in half) but we were impatient to finally eat our Thanksgiving dinner.

Asparagus and Wright Bacon

Terry woke up and assisted in the kitchen by cutting up the asparagus and four slices of Wright smoked bacon.  I cooked the bacon in my non-stick skillet and then added the asparagus plus some kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.  Ten minutes later we were finally ready to eat.

Dinner is served

Terry and I made up our Thanksgiving dinner plates and sat down to watch Jurassic Park, being broadcast on the AMC channel at 5:00 p.m.


Terry fell into a food coma soon after, missing bits and pieces of Jurassic Park.  No loss, I’m sure, since we’ve seen it multiple times since its original release in 1993.  We also received a call from Derek and Royna to wish us Happy Thanksgiving.

By this point in the day, my back and feet were killing me.  Despite my wishful thinking, this ‘relaxing’ Thanksgiving wasn’t as relaxing as I’d hoped.  Terry did manage to sleep six or eight hours though.

I finished off the day by eating a slice of my pumpkin pie and all was good with the world.  I came full circle, starting out with pumpkin and ending with pumpkin.

And the turkeys should be grateful since this was our first turkey-free thanksgiving (if you’ll pardon the half pound of turkey sausage in the stuffing).

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, eating scrumptious food and visiting with family and friends.


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