Eat this! Holiday meals to remember



Just because you can’t travel for Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holiday with some good eats.

Cheesy Pumpkin Dip
I believe canned pumpkin deserves more respect and isn’t necessarily just for the bakers in the house. It should have a place in the beginning of a meal, such as an aromatic appetizer. If you like the smell of a pumpkin pie cooking, this one will start you off early. The combination of cheeses with texture of the pumpkin just begs you to pile it on a thick cracker such as crostinis or thick bagel chips. Serves a crowd – 10

1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 brie cheese round, such as Presidents
1 package cream cheese
1 cup shredded four-cheese Italian blend cheese
½ cup shredded sharp white cheese
½ cup parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons pure pumpkin, from can
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons onion powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Hot sauce

Open the can of milk and put in a medium pot. Take the rind off the brie cheese and cut into cubes and put into the milk. Start cooking on medium heat and stir continuously until the brie cheese is melted. Add the shredded cheddar and block of cream cheese. Turn heat down and stir until all ingredients are blended. Scoop 4 tablespoons of pumpkin and stir into mixture until all blended. Add worcestershire sauce, onion powder, nutmeg, pepper and a couple splashes of hot sauce. Mix again. Turn heat back to medium and fold shredded four cheese blend into mixture. Mix around and turn off heat. Add mixture (four cheese does not have to be melted.) to a glass baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Heat for 10 minutes at 350 degrees until bubbly. Serve hot with crostini or bagel chips.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Sausage and Soda
Acorn squash is one of those vegetables that you can leave in plain clothes or dress it up for the holiday. It never disappoints and always gives you a why-don’t-I-eat-this more often feeling. It’s a fall and winter highlight for me. I don’t want to burn it out. So in the fall, keep it simple. When the holidays come around, surround it with fun and friendly ingredients that can be eaten as a hearty side dish, or as the whole experience. Serves 4

4 medium acorn squash
1 pound each ground sweet Italian and hot Italian sausage
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup packed, chopped parsley, plus one tablespoon
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ cup Hanks vanilla cream soda, or like
2 tbsp – extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp – minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp – fresh or dried sage
Salt and pepper

Start by preheating the oven 375 degrees. This is important because the squash needs to cook before you stuff. Take the medium acorn squash and cut each in half, short ways. Core out the seeds and trim the bottoms to allow them to stand up. Place them in a glass dish and drizzle with one tablespoon of olive oil and a good shot of salt and pepper. Cook for 45 minutes.
Place both sweet and hot sausage in a large pan with one tablespoon of olive oil and cook over a medium-high heat. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat pieces into small bites. Chop onion, garlic, parsley, rosemary, apple and add to sausage mixture when it’s almost completely brown. Mix together well. Turn heat down to a simmer. Cook for five more minutes. Add one-quarter cup parmesan cheese and a teaspoon of dried sage. Mix again. Pour one-half cup of Hanks vanilla cream soda, stir well into mixture and turn off heat. Let sit.
After 45 minutes, take out the acorn squash. You should be able to put a fork through — but it will still be firm. Remove from the oven and add a generous amount of the meat mixture to each squash. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese and parsley.
Cook for an additional 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until squash is deep brown around the edges and cheese is melted.

The Grinch Burger with string bean casserole slaw and apple cider ketchup
This was an easy one. Not everyone is into the huge Thanksgiving meal. And let’s face it, with COVID restrictions, not everyone will be going home to family or getting together with friends. It doesn’t mean some people don’t embrace the holiday spirit; it just means they may want to simplify and consolidate the meal. It’s certainly another way to enjoy the other perk of Thanksgiving Day — football. Serves 2

2 pounds ground turkey
1 package goat cheese with cranberries
¼ pound of string beans
6 mini Portobello mushrooms
1 pint package cherry tomatoes
½ cup onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup half and half
2 tablespoons cream cheese
3 tablespoons soy sauce
⅛ tsp red pepper flakes
2 brioche rolls

Divide ground turkey into four patties. Remove goat cheese from the package and slice off four one-quarter-inch pieces. Lay pieces on two of the patties. Place the other two patties on top of the first two patties and press lightly to flatten and secure the cheese inside. Salt and pepper on top.
Ketchup: Take the entire package of cherry tomatoes and put them in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and stir around with a wooden spoon. When they sizzle add chicken broth and turn down heat. Cook down and stir frequently until liquid is cut in half, about 20 minutes. You can strain the skins out but I prefer to keep them for texture on the burger. Let sit.
Slaw: Slice string beans vertically in half to make small striips. Dice mushrooms and add both to a medium saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Saute on medium heat for ten minutes then add slowly half and half, cream cheese and soy sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir on low heat until it thickens and beans are soft, about 20 minutes.
Cook burgers in the oven or the grill. If in the oven, use the broiler and cook eight minutes a side for medium. On the grill, same time on medium high heat.
While burgers are cooking, heat up the slaw on low temperature. The ketchup can stay at room temperature.
Place the cooked burgers on one side of a brioche bun. Spread some ketchup on the other side. Then dollop a nice amount of the casserole slaw on top. Slice in half to expose the cheese.
A good side to this would be sweet potato fries. They need about 30 minutes to cook, so do ahead. Slice and toss with olive oil, salt and a spritz of cayenne pepper.

Cran and Rosemary Collins
This cocktail is not only tasty but looks really festive served in a martini or margarita glass.

2 ounces gin or vodka
1 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ to 1 ounce (depending on sweetness) cranberry/rosemary simple syru
Top with club soda and garnish with a sprig of rosemary and candies cranberries.

Simple syrup: 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. Simmer with fresh cranberries and strain. As the liquid is still warm, add a small sprig of rosemary.