Thanksgiving Countdown: Cornbread Stuffing with Ham

This year, Scott and I are hosting two Thanksgiving dinners.  The first is actually next weekend, when a whole bunch of Sewell's are coming to New York.  Then, on the holiday itself, we will host friends who have joined us for Thanksgiving dinner the last five or six years.

I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner, so I am super-excited about getting to do two menus!  Over the next two weeks, I'm sharing a few holiday prep ideas I'm chatting about on TV shows this month.  Last week, I posted my mother-in-law's breakfast casserole recipe that is the staple of our family gatherings.  Today, I am sharing a yummy recipe for Cornbread Stuffing with Ham - or, if you're from my neck of the woods, Cornbread Dressing. 

I shared this recipe for Smithfield on a TV segment this week in Nashville.  Whatever you call it, it's savory, yummy, and has that perfect crispy crunchy top.  

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The only thing I'd add to this recipe?  A note to make an extra pan if you're hosting a crowd.  After all, it's not Thanksgiving unless you have leftovers, and stuffing/dressing is at the top of my list to enjoy the next day.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers?

Holiday Traditions: Sausage Breakfast Casserole

After Christmas last year, while we were driving to Nashville to catch a flight back to New York, I commented to Scott that we had been in Tennessee so long, I was starting to think of biscuits as a vegetable.

That is because when the Sewell's get together, breakfast is definitely the main meal of the day!  Each morning, we all gather around the table about 9 or 9:30.  After we eat, we stay around that table, talking and laughing until well after noon.  That conversation is only interrupted by kids going outside to play, or someone periodically heading back to the kitchen to pour another cup of coffee.

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Table 16.JPG

The standard menu consists of "breakfast casserole," sliced fruits, biscuits, and coffee.  And it is perfect.

Breakfast casserole is a gooey, bubbly pan of sausage, eggs, and Velveeta - with crispy bread crumbs or croutons on top.  Basically, all of your major food groups.  With 14 people in the family, including four hungry nephews, my lovely mother-in-law seems to magically pull pan after pan of these casseroles out of the oven like clowns piling out of a clown car. 

Laurel and Holly

Because of these memorable breakfasts, I was super-excited to partner with Smithfield this holiday season to showcase their fresh breakfast sausages and spiral-sliced hams.  Enjoy them on their own, or cook them into a recipe like this cornbread stuffing with ham, or Laurel Sewell's breakfast sausage casserole!

Ingredients

Casserole:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 & 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup Velveeta cheese, grated (bonus culinary points if you, like my mother-in-law, can actually grate Velveeta.  I have to cut it into chunks).
  • 1 pound roll sausage
  • 1 dozen eggs

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 & 1/4 cups bread crumbs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt two tablespoons butter over low heat.  Blend in flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Gradually add milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  4. Add salt, pepper, and cheese, stirring until smooth.  Set cheese sauce aside.
  5. Cook sausage and drain well.  Set aside.
  6. Scramble eggs over low heat until softly set. 
  7. Combine cheese sauce, cooked eggs, and cooked sausage, and place in greased 9 x 13 baking dish.
  8. Combine melted butter and bread crumbs.  Top casserole with crumb mixture and sprinkle with paprika.
  9. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Of course, leftover ham or sausage from any meal also tastes great on a biscuit.

What are your favorite holiday meal traditions?

"It's the Holiday Season..."

We put our Christmas tree up on October 22.  Yes - October 22.

So - I always love Thanksgiving week and weekend,  when the rest of the world starts decorating and getting into the holiday spirit as well!  And that Andy Williams song mentioned above seems to play on an endless loop in stores and on our Pandora.

Since I generally wrap up November travel the week before Thanksgiving, Scott and I have several traditions for the holiday week at home together before the craziness of December travel starts.  However, this year's schedule was a bit different because I was still finalizing details for two TV segments on Black Friday morning (more on that later).

On Thanksgiving morning, the Macy's parade is across Central Park from where we live, so the Upper East Side is fairly quiet.  So we headed out early for breakfast and a stroll in the crisp autumn chill.

We then came home, and after chopping, slicing and dicing a small mountain of veggies for dinner, I set the table.  I never met a sequined place mat I didn't like, so I layer up the table with as many place mats and charger plates and glasses as possible - while leaving a bit of room for the food.

While I always enjoy making holiday dinners from scratch, I had to be realistic about this year's time constraints.  I did bake pumpkin bread  - absolutely essential to our Thanksgiving menu - the weekend before.  On Tuesday, I picked up a roasted turkey breast, and then dropped by Whole Foods for cranberry sauce and dinner rolls. 

That lets me focus on the vegetables, which occupy the limited amount of real estate in our oven.  Oven-roasted creamer potatoes with herbs de Provence, roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta, and a mix of vegetable stir-fry with peppers, green beans, water chestnuts, mushrooms, broccoli and carrots rounded out the menu. 

For several years, our dear friends Ivy & Simon and Nancy & Jean-Jacques have joined us for Thanksgiving.   We had an easy, relaxing afternoon and dinner, laughing, catching up and reflecting on what we are thankful for.  We decided that we enjoy our Thanksgivings so much that we will add "spring-giving" to our schedule for April or May.

I always cook twice as much as food as we will actually eat on Thanksgiving.  Maybe that is the Southern girl in me, or perhaps because I have a habit of inviting more guests at the last-minute.  But that also guarantees plenty of leftovers - both for us and for guests to take home.

Friday morning, we were up at 3 a.m. to head to "FOX & Friends," which booked me to do two segments featuring Black Friday shopping deals.  Yes, that's early - but one upside is that it only takes about 10 minutes to travel the 40 blocks to the studio in predawn Manhattan.  At that hour, pretty much the only people on the streets were those who already lined up for stores opening at 5 a.m.

Once we unloaded a van-load of props into the studio, Scott and our set-up crew (our friends John, Evan and a different food stylist for each segment), started setting up the table for my first segment.  I then headed down the hall from the studio to hair and makeup - FOX has the best! - to get camera-ready. 

Then - it was on-the-air with all three anchors for our first spot at 6:30 a.m.; a rush to clean up the table and set up for the next segment; and the final hit at 7:30 a.m.  

Clean-up goes fairly quickly, especially when food is involved.  Happily, the crew made quick work of helping us "clean up" the burgers, chocolate-covered strawberries, and other food piled high on the tables.

After the show, Scott and I dashed home to drop off the props, and then headed to one of our favorite diners, Café Luka, to have breakfast and make our shopping list.  One of our Black Friday traditions - now six years strong - is a morning trip to Bed Bath & Beyond.  In recent years, the store (full disclosure: they are one of my clients) has offered 20 percent off your entire purchase all day long on Black Friday, as long as you come into the store and pick up your coupon before noon. 

So, after a breakfast of eggs and too-many-cups-of-coffee-to-count (did I mention we got up at 3 a.m.?), we headed to their First Avenue store and stocked up on exotic purchases such as washcloths, K-cups, a few throw pillows to update our living room décor - and travel size toiletries in the Harmon Face Values section.  While we save a lot of money, I think Scott's favorite part is that he gets to play with the shopping cart escalators.

Friday afternoon, after wrapping up details connected with the day's shows, we pretty much crashed.

Saturday, we headed to the cinema (with Netflix and Amazon, this a rare occurrence) to catch the new Brad Pitt - Marion Cotillard World War II drama "Allied." I loved it, but might have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't seen so many trailers and reviews that revealed a bit too much of the plot.  So, don't read too much about it - just go and enjoy.

After church on Sunday, it was time to relax and finish packing and planning for my holiday TV tour that will have me up-in-the-air almost every day until Christmas.  One of the things I love about holiday season travel is checking out airport Christmas trees across the country.  Follow me on Instagram to come along on the tour.

Happy holiday season!

Really Good Pumpkin Bread

As soon as there is a hint of chill in the air, I start craving pumpkin bread.

I am not a fan of pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin tea and other seasonal products, but a slice of pumpkin bread with a thick, crunchy layer of cinnamon brown sugar topping? That is something I can support.

Really Good Pumpkin Bread.jpg

So, on Sunday afternoon, as 20-degree wind chills (and a few random snow flurries!) sliced through Manhattan,  I dusted off the baking pans that see little action in warmer months. This also allowed me to get a jump on preparing for the Thanksgiving dinner we will host this Thursday (more on that later this week).

For my first years out of college, I made my mom's pumpkin bread recipe, which was yummy.  But a few years ago, I came across a recipe in Cooks' Illustrated called "Really Good Pumpkin Bread" - so it must be really good, right?  I tried it, it was awesome - and I no longer even look at other pumpkin bread recipes (sorry, Mom).

(Sidebar - Once I feel like I have my "definitive" recipe for a dish, I stick with it.  That's the way I also am with peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pound cake and lemon bars, as well as "real food" like soups and veggies.  That frees me up to experiment with other dishes - and perhaps explains why I geek out over Cooks' multi-page descriptions of recipe testing.)

This recipe differs from my mom's and others I tried in two ways.  First, it includes buttermilk and cream cheese.  Second - and probably more significant - you cook the pumpkin on the stove before mixing up the batter.  If you want to know why this works, read about the science behind it.

This recipe requires the use of every single measuring cup and measuring spoon you have in your kitchen.  It is also super-easy because you mix the batter by hand - from start to finish - in a large saucepan in the stove. 

Here is the recipe. The only note I would add is this: Use Libby's canned pumpkin.  They are not paying me to say that, but I will not use anything else.  I used a store-brand canned pumpkin puree in this once, and it turned out two grayish loaves that were completely devoid of taste.  So, spend a tiny bit more to guarantee these will be "really good."

Ingredients

Topping:

  • 5 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Bread:

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

  • 1 cup packed (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

Method

1.  For the topping:  Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well-combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.

2.  For the bread:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in a bowl.

3.  Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat.  Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, six to eight minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined.  Let mixture stand for five minutes.  Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.

4.  Whisk together eggs and buttermilk.  Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine.  Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK).  Fold walnuts into batter.  Scrape batter into prepared pans.  Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf.  Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45-50 minutes.  Let breads cool in pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes.  Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

What is your "go-to" recipe for holiday baking?  Please share it below! 

Thanksgiving Made Super-Easy

Scott and I are gearing up for one of our favorite holiday traditions: hosting several friends for Thanksgiving dinner.

While I generally make pretty much everything from scratch - including tons of leftovers for us and for people to take home - this year is a bit different because I am doing TV appearances both Thursday and Friday morning.

So - ready-made items to the rescue!

If you're in a similar boat this year, I shared some quick and easy Thanksgiving dinner ideas for Omaha Steaks, Teleflora and Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits (Stamford, CT) on today's "Daytime" show.  Click on the photo to see the full segment, and check out details below.

With "Daytime" co-host Jerry Penacoli.  Food styling by  FoodSTYL Tampa Bay .

With "Daytime" co-host Jerry Penacoli.  Food styling by FoodSTYL Tampa Bay.

If you don't feel like cooking everything from scratch this year, you can order a complete turkey and trimmings dinner from Omaha Steaks.  You still need to cook the 10-pound turkey that comes with it, but all of the sides - yummy sage stuffing, green bean casserole, smashed red potatoes, and turkey gravy - are all ready to heat and eat.  It even comes with a pumpkin pie.  If you prefer to customize your own meal, you can "build your own" meal for four, six or 10 people - choosing from a delicious assortment of savory meats, scrumptious sides and delectable desserts.

To accompany that meal, Barone Fini Pinot Grigio is a food-friendly white wine that complements many dishes on a traditional holiday menu.  For guests who prefer red wine, Josh Cellars Pinot Noir is a nice match for red meats and heavier dishes on the table.  Sparkling wine is perfect for any occasion, and greeting guests with a flute of Enza Prosecco will get any party off to a festive start.

For your own table or an ideal hostess gift, the gorgeous flowers in Teleflora's Autumn Gathering Centerpiece are nestled into a food-safe artisanal stoneware bowl/vase that can be used year after year.

Happy Thanksgiving!