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Thanksgiving Planning: Get Those Dishes In Order

Thanksgiving Dinner

Because there is so much prepping and food involved with Thanksgiving, people tend to overlook what items they will need to actually cook and serve the food they plan on making.

With Thanksgiving being a week away, take this time to figure out what you will be using and to plan where it will go.

Sound odd? Let me explain it a bit, this is the point where you want to decide on which baking dish the stuffing is going in, which bowl the mashed potatoes will be served in, etc.  This is especially important for dishes that need to be heated up in the oven.  Once you’ve decided on the dishes, you can play around with placement in the oven and figuring out cooking times.

What goes where in the oven and when does it go in?  For example, stuffing takes longer to cook through than green bean casserole so you’d want that to go in first.  And you will want to make sure the items that do need heated up can share space and all fit in the oven.

Once you have the baking and cookware items picked and you know they will all fit in the oven when they need to, it’s time to move on to the table.  Whether you’re doing a buffet style set up or a big sit down to-do, you need to make sure all the food items will fit on the table.

Pick out what serving dishes you’d like to use for the big day and start arranging them on the table.  Trust me, it’s a lot easier to figure this out when the dishes are empty instead of trying to do it the day of when they are full of hot food and surrounded by hungry guests!

I know, this sounds like a lot of work.  But by tackling these little details before Thanksgiving, it makes the big day run so much smoother eliminating a lot of stress. Once you have the casserole dishes picked out and the serving bowls decided on, you can set those aside so they are ready to go when you need them.

Make a list of what kitchen items you’ll need and then go through that check list and pull all of those items out setting them aside.  Checking items off the list can be done the night before.  When it comes time to start cooking, you’ll have everything ready to grab and go.

Don’t forget that many things can be made the day before so that this will save you even more time on Thanksgiving Day allowing you to spend more time with your family and further reducing some stress.

Things like a roux for gravy or even the gravy can be made the day before.  So can the stuffing and green bean casserole (wait until you heat it up to add the crispy onions).

I’ll be providing you with an example schedule on getting you through the week of Thanksgiving!  Shopping days, when items can get prepped, and what things can get made ahead so keep an eye out for that!

In the meantime, start getting those dishes picked out!

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Brine, Glorious Brine

Bourbon Brined Turkey

A brined turkey is a glorious thing!  It seems daunting but it’s actually very simple to do.  Yeah you’ll need some special equipment and figure out spacing in the fridge but it’s totally worth it!

For a basic brine you will need:

  • Kosher Salt
  • Brown Sugar
  • Water
  • A large bucket

You can purchase a 5 gallon bucket at any home improvement store and they are not in any way expensive. I promise they are budget friendly!  Clean it with dish soap and hot water and then label it as a “food bucket” that way you won’t be tempted to use it for something else and contaminate it.

You’ll need to be able to fit the bucket in your fridge for 24 hours.  If you live in an area where it’s super cold outside (under 20 degrees F) you can keep it outside.  Just remember to keep it safe so no animals are tempted to eat your Thanksgiving bird!

If you don’t have room in your fridge to fit a 5 gallon bucket (I currently do not) and your heart isn’t set on roasting a whole turkey, you can break the turkey down and brine the breast and legs in separate containers.  That leaves the back and wings leftover and they are perfect for making stock!  Most likely that is what I’ll be doing this year.

I love brining so much that I have already written several articles sharing tips that I’ve learned over the years.  Here’s a couple to get you started!

Brining A Whole Turkey (a how to)

Tips on Brining (Including seasonings and liquids you can use in a brine)

Bourbon Brined Turkey because holidays should always include booze.

So don’t be scared, give that turkey a good brine bath this year!

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Our Thanksgiving Menu

We are just a little over two weeks out from Thanksgiving and it’s time to start considering a menu plan!  When I first started making Thanksgiving dinner for Scott and I, it was this huge affair filled with all the typical dishes.  It was way too much food for two people to eat yet I felt like I needed to make sure we had all the classics or else it wouldn’t be a real Thanksgiving.

Over the years, I have learned that Thanksgiving dinner can be whatever you want it to be!  Now I keep things really simple with a turkey and a few side dishes that we really love.

Turkey in  a roasting pan

Turkey will always be on the table for us.  This year I’m not buying a whole turkey but instead will be buying a breast with some additional legs.  My refrigerator is small and can’t accommodate a whole turkey in a brine.  However, I do have a Bourbon Brined Turkey recipe that is fantastic! If you have the space, I highly recommend you brine that bird!

Collards

 

Collard greens are one of our favorite side dishes and I have been incorporating them in to our Thanksgiving feast the past few years.  They can be made in the slow cooker which makes things so much easier. This frees up space on the stove for other things like making gravy and mashed potatoes. Plus they can even be made the day before or cooked in the slow cooker over night so the only thing you have to do on the big day is reheat them (or keep them warm).

Collards provide plenty of leftovers and heck, you can even eat them for breakfast!

Spicy Cranberry Chutney from The Spicy Paleo Cookbook

Cranberry sauce will also make an appearance!  I prefer to have it as a breakfast item but Scott really enjoys having it has a side dish with the big dinner.  We usually have Cranberry Apple Sauce which is super simple and full of flavor.  This can also be made a day ahead and gently warmed right before serving.

If you’re looking for something totally different, Spicy Cranberry Chutney would be a great addition!

Gravy, and stuffing

Mashed potatoes and gravy is a must.  I like to prep the potatoes ahead of time so that all the starch is removed and they become fluffy and creamy.  I also prefer to use yukon gold potatoes because they create a nice buttery color when all mashed up.  I admit that I have been leaving out the stuffing so that I have room for more greens!

Gravy doesn’t need to be time consuming, I’ve recently started making blender gravy which eliminates the need for a roux!  Using homemade stock and pan drippings, this technique guarantees a smooth and flavorful gravy every time!

If you are going to stick with making a roux for the gravy, the roux can be made up to two days ahead!  Just make sure to store the roux in an airtight container.  It will be ready to go when it’s time to make the gravy.  Just gently reheat the roux in a pan and then add the liquid.

We might be skipping the stuffing this year but you don’t have to! Here is a recipe for a Savory Apple Stuffing that is perfect for Thanksgiving Day.

Sweet Potato Pie

Since sweet potatoes are such a staple at Thanksgiving, I tend to use them in a pie instead of making them as a side dish.  This year I’m working on a pumpkin cream cheese pie (recipe soon!) but this Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie is what we had last year.

Our Thanksgiving is super simple, full of flavor, and has plenty of leftovers.  If you are making Thanksgiving dinner for the first time or will be creating a meal for a small number of people, this menu is perfect for you!  Most things can be made a head of time leaving you with more time to relax and enjoy the moment of the big day.

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Holiday Season Begins

Whole Roasted Chicken

Welcome to November!  It’s time to fully kick off the holiday season!  This is my favorite time of year, the world seems to slow down just a little bit and it won’t be long until we see our first snowfall.

All this month we will be talking food and prepping for Thanksgiving.  The holidays don’t have to be to unhealthy and full of junk foods.  They can be full of awesome food that is good for you.  Sure you’re going to eat your fair share of desserts but whatever.  Don’t dwell on the bad, focus on the good.

This month leading up to Thanksgiving I’ll be sharing tips and tricks on how to make the big day run smoothly along with sharing a few recipes so that you can have a game plan to create a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner.  We are going to be keeping things simple! If you have never cooked a big meal like this before, then this series will be perfect for you!  Everything will be easy to make AND a lot of things can get prepped ahead of time leaving you some breathing room on the big day.

Yes it’s going to take some planning and some time spent in the kitchen but having a home cooked dinner is well worth it.  It will be relaxing and you’ll be able to impress your family with the awesome meal you made!

If you have any questions about cooking Thanksgiving dinner or cooking for the holidays, fire away!  I’ll be sure to answer them in an upcoming post!

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Zoodle Love

Lemon parmesan shrimp and zoodles

Heading into the time of limited sunlight and it’s getting harder and harder to photograph food.  I take pictures of the food when we eat it so depending on the time of day this can be challenging.  During mid-day I’m seeing some funky light and shadows in the house.  Once winter hits I’m not sure if I’ll have a spot in the house where I can take photos!  This will definitely be an obstacle to work through this year.

Yesterday for lunch we had Shrimp with Zoodles in a Lemon Parmesan Cream Sauce.  I had been dreaming of shrimp for days and the idea for the sauce was inspired by Inspiralized’s recipe.  The shrimp was seasoned with Flavor God’s Lemon Garlic and roasted in the oven at 400 until they were just done.

Three medium zucchinis were spiralized and lightly heated in a skillet for about 5 minutes.  For the sauce, I used the same ingredient’s in Ali’s recipe with a bit more parm added for an extra salty bite.  The sauce got added at the last minute and tossed with the zoodles.  Shrimp on top and lunch is served!

This totally hit the spot and I have to admit that I am in love with zoodles.  There’s so many things that can be done with them and it makes for a nice change from a typical lunch salad.  Still getting in a good amount of veggies and protein without having to turn to salads.  This was a quick and easy unprocessed meal!

I went to the grocery store and loaded up on all kinds of veggies for the upcoming week.  I have big plans to make some interesting stuff and hopefully I’ll have enough light to photograph it!

We’re almost through with Unprocessed month!  How have you done so far?

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Having An Unprocessed Thanksgiving

Mini Squash

How is everyone doing so far for unprocessed month?  Things have been going well here at the HQ!  Bread products like English muffins and sausages are the only things that we have been eating that are technically processed.  However the ingredients are as clean as I can get with them so I feel good about those choices.  We did recently dine out over the weekend but the food left us feeling blah.  I’m pretty sure that dining out is going to be something we eliminate almost completely at some point (unless we’re traveling or it’s a special occasion).

It’s cheaper to cook at home even when cooking with high quality ingredients.  Plus it’s more satisfying eating a meal that I personally made.

I believe in going unprocessed so much that I want everyone to give it a shot!  If you’re not doing it now, then let’s talk about the holidays and how we can keep the junk out of the house.

While it may seem daunting at first, cutting out processed foods from our diets becomes easier with planning, prepping, and having a well stocked pantry.  That’s the challenging part, adopting those habits and getting a groove with this new lifestyle.

In an effort to help keep everyone on track and staying unprocessed once October is over, I was thinking of doing an Unprocessed Thanksgiving.  Providing recipes, tips, a grocery list, and a plan to help everyone get through the holiday while having an amazing meal that is full of flavor and has no unwanted junk in it.

Does this sound like something that would interest you?  

How about fresh cranberry sauce this year and not something out of a can?  Brined turkey and slow cooked greens?  Fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy made with homemade stock?

Let me know what you think about going Unprocessed this holiday season!

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Kicking Monday’s Butt

 

Asian Noodle Soup with 5 Spice Meatballs

Oh Monday.  It did not start off well.  I was having tech issues that were finally resolved by rebooting my computer.  As much as I love Apple, I become more and more frustrated with their products all the time. Well let me clarify this a bit.  The computers work when they are brand new but get a couple of years in them and they start to falter and some stuff won’t even work on them any longer.  That’s the part the frustrates me. I’m definitely leaving my iPhone in the dust and will be switching over to an Android based phone.  I’m a Google girl through and through, and it only makes sense to have a Google based phone verses an iPhone where I have to install apps or run Google through Apple Apps just to access stuff.  Bah! Ok, I’m done rambling. I’m sure you don’t care about my tech bitching.  On to food!

Yesterday was on the cooler side and I finally decided to make some soup.  I had been dreaming of an Asian inspired noodle soup with mini meatballs for days, so that’s what I made.

Homemade chicken broth seasoned with a little garlic and soy sauce.  Rice noodles (passes the kitchen test for unprocessed month, only has two ingredients), wilted spinach, and some pork meatballs.  The meatballs had green onion, soy sauce, and Chinese 5 Spice added to it.  They were roasted in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes and then added right to the soup.

Delicious!  A late lunch/early dinner meal.  Take that Monday!

Later in the evening we had some slices of a chocolate bourbon cake (that I made, no box mixes here) drizzled with a chocolate bourbon sauce. I tried taking a picture but that much dark stuff on a plate in the evening does not photograph well. Trust me.

Soup and cake? We totally kicked Monday’s butt!

How did your week start off?

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Weekend Getaway Takeaways

w00tstout 2.0 from Firestone WalkerScott and I headed down to Denver last weekend for The Great American Beer Festival (If you’re interested in beer, you can read my article here).  I was covering the event for the beer blog that I write for so we decided to make a weekend out of it.  There was lots of events going on around town as well, like extra special beer tappings and we spent the weekend exploring and sipping on fantastic beers.

We kept our eats clean while in Denver which is easy to do because Denver has plenty of restaurants that use high quality ingredients.  One of our favorites is Freshcraft which offers up amazing food and great beer.  I had cassoulet, and oh man and it was so rich and delicious.

Many lessons were learned from this past trip down and our next trip will be tackled much differently.

Changing up our approach to dining out

Currently when we go to Denver and Boulder we gravitate towards pizza and burgers because we don’t care for the options here in Fort Collins. It’s hard to find a good grassfed burger!  Yet this past trip, going for those types of dishes left us feeling bloated and crappy.  Bah!  So our focus is going to switch to quality veggie and meat dishes (which thankfully Freshcraft has!).

Going for a rental instead of hotel reservations

LoDo is our preferred place to stay when in Denver but it’s expensive as hell.  The hotel rooms we’ve stayed in have been nice but there’s no fridge and no wifi.  No fridge means we can’t bring back leftovers (along with no way to reheat them) and no wifi means we can’t work while away.

Rentals tend to be cheaper and come with a full kitchen and wifi.  We’d be able to cook breakfast at the rental saving us some cash and frustration (breakfast places in Denver serve horrible coffee for some reason and don’t provide enough creamer).  Along with the ability to bring back leftovers and reheat them.  Plus wifi that doesn’t cost extra.  The tricky part will be trying to find a rental that also offers a parking space.

So the next time we go (which won’t be for a while) we’re changing up our approach!

I was definitely ready to be back home and back with the pups, who were totally pissed off that we left them.  They gave us the cold shoulder for hours when we got back.  I was ready to get back in the kitchen and have control over what went into my food and I wanted a good night’s sleep. Down pillows at hotels are for the birds.  Bah!

Egg sandwich

For breakfast yesterday we had fried egg sandwiches on 365 Whole Wheat bread with romaine, pepper jack, and crispy prosciutto.   On Monday we had huge bowls of oatmeal and even though I added fruit and grassfed butter to it, that didn’t last all of two hours before I wanted to gnaw my arm off.  No more oats for breakfast for a while.

In the middle of the day, I had a small snack of yogurt and granola (just oats, no nuts or seeds).

Dinner was glorious!

Chicken and sweet potato coconut curry soup

I made a coconut curry soup with leftover chicken and some sweet potatoes.  I stupidly bought a rotisserie chicken from Costco when we were there on Tuesday.  I thought it would be clean but after checking the ingredients realized that it is in fact full of junk.  Hopefully your Costco has better quality chicken!

I used the leftovers in soup and this was super easy to make.

Andrea’s Quick and Easy Coconut Curry Soup with Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • One green pepper, finely chopped
  • One jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Leftover roast chicken (I used breast and leg meat)
  • 1.5 QT Chicken Stock
  • 1 Can full fat coconut milk
  • Pinch of salt and ground pepper
  • 1/2tsp Garlic Powder
  • 2.5TBSP mild yellow curry powder
  • 1TBSP Ghee (or butter)

In a soup pot, heat ghee over medium heat and add in the onion and peppers.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until softened.  Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Add in the stock, chicken, and sweet potatoes.  Stir and bring to a simmer.  Add in the curry powder and stir.  Cover and reduce heat to where the soup is just simmering.  Allow to simmer for 30 minutes then add in the coconut milk.  Simmer for another 10 minutes, remove from heat and serve.

So easy to throw together and transform leftover chicken.  We’re having leftovers tonight for dinner.

Asparagus and tomato fritatta

Breakfast this morning was a fritatta with chopped asparagus and sliced up tomatoes.  I love fritattas because it also provides enough for breakfast the following day as well.   This also had some chopped red onion and a little dijon mustard added in for extra flavor boost.

Loving the eats this week!  How’s everyone doing this week?

 

 

 

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Resources for October Unprocessed

Whole Roasted ChickenAs I mentioned earlier this week, I’m taking the October Unprocessed challenge.  A whole month of eating whole foods and kicking the unprocessed foods to the curb.

The thought of that can be a little overwhelming at first, especially once we realize how much processed foods we currently are eating.  I’ve got resources, links, and guides to help us get through it!

Definitely make sure you go over to Eating Rules because Andrew has a ton of information to help with this challenge including a free PDF! The PDF goes over everything you would want to know including what to do about dining out.  This is helpful to me because Scott and I are going to be exploring Denver and I plan on dining well and eating at restaurants that do most of their dishes in-house (like handcut fries instead of frozen bagged fries.).  Thankfully it’s not hard to find great restaurants in Denver that fit my food philosophies.

For those of you that have families and are feeling like you can’t make this work when you have to feed kids, don’t fret, there’s resources for you too!

100 Days of Real Food has loads of information and resources for cutting out processed food and tips for feeding the kiddos.

Nom Nom Paleo has a lunchbox series that gives you tips, ideas, and recipes for sending your kids to school with a lunch full of real foods.  No snack cracker packs here! This isn’t just for kids though, you can definitely alter this for work lunches too.

Meal planning and prepping gets easier the more we are prepared and ready to tackle the week. Popular Paleo lists 9 things that she always has on hand and ready to go so that there’s no temptation to fall back to packaged snacks.

Good Food For Bad Cooks has a free downloadable weekly menu planner.  You can print this out and stick it right on the fridge so that you can stay on track for the week.  There’s also lots of other great guides and resources as well, so take a peek around the site.

None of these links are affiliates or anything like that.  These are resources that I use and that I feel can be helpful to all of us to make this month a success.

Starting next week, I’ll be posting our eats, how meal planning and prepping is going, and my thoughts about the process.

If there’s sites or sources that you find helpful, feel free to share!  Your comment might go into moderation but don’t worry, I’ll make sure it gets approved.

Here’s to a healthy month full of delicious foods!

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30 Day Streak Wrapup And October Unprocessed Month

Scott and Andrea runningWe did it! We have made it through the 30 Day Streak Challenge!  How did everyone do?

Did I run or exercise everyday?  Short answer, no.   Longer answer, there were a few days where either the weather wasn’t cooperating or that I didn’t have the energy or time to head out.  I learned a lot during this streak though and realized a few things about myself.

For one, I am not a runner.  At least for this period in time running and I are breaking up.  But I did find an activity that I love and have put the passion I used to have for running into cycling.

I’m not ready to call myself a cyclist just yet but I hope to become one.  I have also realized that I’m ready to give the gym another chance. Before when I tried the gym, I didn’t go and got frustrated with it because it wasn’t running.  I still had it stuck in my head that I needed to run for exercise and to lose weight.

Very foolish thoughts.

Next week I’m going back to the gym to sign up and start taking classes.  Spinning, Body Pump, and yoga are the classes I’m going to start off with and we’ll see how it goes.

During this challenge I learned that one of my biggest obstacles was exercising on the weekend.  I struggled trying to figure out when to add it in and then ended up not doing it at all.  I made it more of a bigger deal than it should have been, which is something I tend to do.  This is not OK.

New goal is to workout at least one day during the weekend but also respecting my bodies signals.  If it’s telling me I need a rest then I’ll rest.

I am also committing to another challenge for the month of October!

Veggies noodles in a peanut sauce with curry shrimp

October Unprocessed run by Andrew over at Eating Rules.  This is the fifth year of this challenge and each year it grows bigger and bigger.  The idea is to cut out processed food from your diet and to start cooking more meals at home.  It sounds simple BUT we as a society eat a lot of processed foods and we don’t even realize it.

I cook a good bit already but I’m committed this month to cook even more at home.  Aiming to get us back on track and ready to tackle the winter holidays properly and in a healthy way.

Since Andrew has been running this for a few years now he has loads of resources ready for you and any questions you might have.  Like The Kitchen Test to help you determine what is processed and what isn’t.  Along with a lot of guides to help out including a free PDF download.  Make sure to head over to his site clicking any of those previous links and you will find everything you need to know.

Yes cutting out crap means more time is going to be spent in the kitchen but is that a bad thing?  If everything is planned and there’s a prep day that means less time in the kitchen during the week and only one major cooking day.

We can do this!

I’ll have a post up later this week with some resources that will help keep us on track and tips so we can make this month a success!  Let’s do this!