Thanksgiving 2014 Central: Ask Small Bites, and Get Your Questions Answered!


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Most of the Small Bites bloggers Photo by Tania Savayan/TJN

No matter whether this is your first time preparing Thanksgiving or your 80th, whether you consider yourself a novice cook or an expert chef. There are always questions.

We are here to help. This is Thanksgiving 2014 Central!

The editors, chefs and contributors to The Small Bites blog on have amassed decades of Thanksgiving cooking and entertaining expertise, and this year, we’re going to lend it to you.

Our first set of tips follows below. But you’re bound to have other questions. We’re ready with answers. Join our live chat on the Small Bites blog at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and ask us anything. Really. Anything! We’ll feature our favorites in print on Nov. 19.

So no more panic attacks about brining the turkey. (Do.) No more hand-wringing about pecan or pumpkin. (Both.) No more worrying about whether to stuff the turkey. (Don’t.)

And if it’s recipes you’re after, we’ve got those, too. Our Small Bites Thanksgiving HQ features recipes from cocktails to dessert, plus tips on shopping, food styling, table settings and entertaining. We’ve even chosen your Spotify playlist!

Start off with these tips, and please — come back with your questions. See you Thursday!

Tip: Mix it up!

MariaAllow yourself to think beyond the traditional.

From: Maria Reina, Seasonal Chef

Her expertise: A personal chef and caterer — her company is Bella Cucina Maria — she takes seasonal ingredients and creates quick and easy dishes for you to re-create at home, but with a twist.

She says: “What I like most is to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, without being extra difficult. Lasagna for Thanksgiving is an Italian-American tradition. No, the pilgrims didn’t have lasagna, but it is nearly 400 years later, right? I think one of the very nicest things about our country is the veritable melting pot of food traditions. Each of our cultures brings something to the table to be thankful for during this holiday.”

Her recipe: Delicata Squash Lasagna

Delicata Squash Lasagna

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 60 minutes

Yield: 6 - 8 servings

Delicata Squash Lasagna

Lasagna was not on the pilgrims table for the first Thanksgiving feast, but this one is sure to be the talk of your dinner. Delicata squash is perfect for the season and easy to bake. Leave the skin on this one, as it's edible when cooked.


  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 5 cups milk, heated for 3-4 minutes in the microwave
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1¾ lb delicate squash, 2 – 3 small
  • 1 box oven ready pasta or traditional lasagna pasta cooked 4 minutes and drained (see note)
  • 15 oz of ricotta, fresh or from a container
  • 4 – 5 oz arugula or spinach, about 4 cups
  • 2 cups grated goat gouda cheese, about 8 oz
  • Scallions, garnish


  1. In a heavy bottom pot, over medium heat melt the butter. Once it gets foamy add the flour and whisk until it’s incorporated. Let the flour cook for about 3-4 minutes, continuing to whisk. Add the heated milk slowly continuing to whisk.
  2. Once the milk is incorporated pay very close attention to the pot. You need to keep an eye on your beschamel and continue whisking so the bottom does not burn. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon and ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg. Once the sauce thickens slightly turn off the heat. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt, pepper and nutmeg as desired and whisk.
  3. While the sauce cooks work on your delicata squash. Make ten to twelve ¼” whole slices for the top. Cut the centers out with a small cookie cutter or sharp knife. For the rest slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lay on the flat side and slice in ¼” half moons.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 11x13” pan with vegetable spray and spoon in 1 cup of the sauce. Set 3 pasta sheets down. Alternate the arugula and squash with the pasta. You will have 2 layers of each. Drizzle sauce over the pasta and add ricotta and shredded cheese. Save one cup of the sauce for the top layer. Make a design with the squash rings on the top and end with cheese.
  5. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. Test the squash on top to see if it’s tender. Turn the broiler on and broil for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.


Cook’s note: Oven ready pasta works beautifully with this dish. You can also use traditional lasagna pasta. You just want to cook for 4 minutes only. The noodles will be very al dente, but don’t worry they will finish cooking in the bake. This lasagna takes a little bit longer than traditional lasagna due to the squash; so par-cooked noodles work best. If using traditional pasta cook your noodles once the beschamel is done.

Tip: Make a signature drink.

LizWhether it’s a seasonal cocktail, a glass of bubbly or a non-alcoholic cider, have a beverage and glasses prepared before guests arrive, so you can greet them at the door with a drink.

From: Liz Johnson, food editor of The Journal News and

Her expertise: The Hudson Valley food scene.

She says: “A signature drink turns a gathering into a party.”

Her recipe: Applejack Sidecar.

Applejack Sidecar

Applejack Sidecar

Yield: 4 drinks.


  • 8 ounces Laird's Applejack Brandy
  • 4 ounces Cointreau
  • 2 ounces lemon juice


  1. Chill four cocktail glasses. Combine brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice in a small pitcher and stir. Pour some into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the chilled glasses. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Tip: Plan your menu visually.

RinkuInclude a good balance of orange, greens and red. Then explore how to balance and add new flavors to your table.

From: Rinku Bhattacharya, Spices and Seasons

Her expertise: Combining spices with seasonal ingredients. Her roots are in Indian cooking, and she grew up learning the how, why and when of seasonings, herbs and spices. A two-time cookbook author and blogger at Cooking in Westchester, she creates recipes that bring the best of the seasonal table and the spice cabinet.

She says: “I like to use a lighter touch with spices, so that my recipes work with little ones on the table as well.”

Her recipe: Cranberry and Clementine Chutney

Cranberry and Clementine Chutney

Cranberry and Clementine Chutney

This recipe is one of my favorite recipes as it combines chutney seasonings for a classic and colorful relish that perks up the Thanksgiving table. I often play around with this, but keep the citrus and seasonings intact. My version is not very sweet, so if you like things sweeter increase the sugar. (Recipe Adapted from The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles)


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 clementines, zested and juiced
  • 11/2 cups about 12 ounces cranberries
  • 1 -2 star anise (optional)


  1. Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds and wait until the mustard seeds begin to crackle. Add in the ginger and stir well.
  2. Add in the cider and the sugar and the clementine zest and cook for 5 minutes, until the mixture has thickened.
  3. Add in the clementine juice and the cranberries and the star anise if using. Cook for about 5 minutes, just until the cranberries begin to pop.
  4. Turn off the heat and cool and use as needed.

Tip: Prepare dessert ahead.

JosephineLot of pies, cookies and cakes that can, and sometimes should, be prepared in well in advance.

From: Josephine D’Ippolito, Suburban Sweets

Her expertise: She’s been baking for 25 years and has accumulated countless recipes and tricks. She loves to share her best ideas – the ones most requested by family and friends – with the Small Bites community.

She says: “When it comes to dessert for this football-watching, family-gathering, eating-without-abandon holiday, prepare it ahead of time! Personally, I will be making individual pumpkin cheesecakes two days prior to Thanksgiving. The extra time I’ll have for football, family and food will make me particularly, and appropriately, thankful.”

Her recipe: Individual Pumpkin Cheesecakes

Suburban Sweets: Individual Pumpkin Cheesecakes

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours

Yield: 12 individual pumpkin cheesecakes

Suburban Sweets: Individual Pumpkin Cheesecakes


  • Crust ingredients:
  • ¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup finely ground walnuts
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Filling ingredients:
  • 1 - 8 ounce bar of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup pureed pumpkin
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Topping ingredients:
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Shelled walnuts for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a standard-sized cupcake pan with 12 foil liners.
  2. Make crust: In a medium bowl, stir together all crust ingredients (graham cracker crumbs through cinnamon) until mixture resembles wet sand. Spoon about a tablespoon of mixture into each cupcake liner. Press down on crumbs to compact the crust, making it as flat as possible. Bake crusts for 5 minutes.
  3. Make filling: With an electric mixer, beat together all filling ingredients (cream cheese through salt) until well combined. Pour filling into cupcake pans; each cup should be filled almost to the top. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes; the cakes will deflate a bit.
  4. Make topping: In a small bowl, stir sour cream and sugar until well combined. Spread topping on top of cheesecakes and bake 5 additional minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and garnish with shelled walnuts, if desired. Allow to cool completely in pan, about 1 hour. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

Tip: Mix tradition with innovation.

ArlenServe something new on the side, and ease people into new flavors.

From: Arlen Gargagliano, Latin Twist

Her expertise: Infusing sabor Latino, Latin flavors into dishes and cocktails based on her travels and life abroad.

She says: “My Rioja-wine infused salsa has layers of flavor, and a deep maroon color. It could be an alternate to your cranberry relish (though yes, my friends, those relishes are often sacred!), or even served with chips as a starter. This salsa is one that sings Thanksgiving, but has other seasonal applications!”

Her recipe: Rioja-Pear Salsa

Rioja-Pear Salsa

Rioja-Pear Salsa

This Rioja-wine infused salsa has layers of flavor, and a deep maroon color. It could be an alternate to your cranberry relish (though yes, my friends, those relishes are often sacred!), or even served with chips as a starter. This salsa is one that sings Thanksgiving, but has other seasonal applications!


  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups red onion,diced into approximately 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1 cup rioja (or your favorite…oldish) red wine (you may need more!)
  • Turbindado sugar
  • 5 Bosc pears
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • Toasted pecans
  • Flat leaf parsley or cilantro for garnish


  1. Pour a bit of olive oil into a sauté pan; you'll need enough to coat the bottom. Heat over medium. Add the red onion and sauté for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of the wine and continue cooking until the wine is mostly absorbed. Taste and add sugar as needed (this will vary depending on the age/acidity of the wine).
  2. Meanwhile, stem and seed the pears and apple before cutting them into 1/4-inch chunks. Add them to the wine mixture, with the additional wine. Cook until well absorbed and the pear and granny smith apple take on a deep red color. Add the orange zest and stir well. Taste and add salt as needed. Remove from the flame, and let cool before storing. Before serving, return the salsa to room temperature, correct seasoning as needed, and add toasted pecans and parsley or cilantro for garnish.

Tip: Make a flavorful gravy.

Donna.newRoast root vegetables in the pan under the the turkey, then blend them with the drippings.

From: Donna Monaco Olsen, Chef’s Tip

Her expertise: As coordinator of the Taste of Westchester Continuing Education program for Westchester Community College, she organizes more than 75 food with top chefs in restaurants all over Westchester. This tip — and her recipe — comes from AJ’s Burgers in New Rochelle.

She says: “Over the years, I have attended hundreds of classes, and I always learn a new trick or two from our great chefs!”

Her recipe: Alan Cohen’s Turkey Gravy

Thanksgiving Gravy

Thanksgiving Gravy


  • 4 Medium onions
  • 2 Carrots peeled
  • 2 Celery ribs
  • 1 Parsnip (if desired)
  • 1 Turnip (if desired)
  • 3 Parsley sprigs
  • 10 Sage leaves
  • 2 Thyme sprigs
  • 2 Tablespoons flour dissolved in 1/4 cup of water (if desired) {Omit for gluten free}
  • 1 Teaspoon Gravy Master (if desired)


  1. Put all cleaned and cut vegetables in the bottom of the roasting pan under and around turkey. When turkey is done roasting remove from pan. Remove thyme sprigs.Transfer all to a pot and blend with stick wand or in blender. If desired for thicker gravy add flour and blend again. Bring to a boil. If desired add Gravy Master for color. If a smoother texture is desired strain through a fine mesh sieve. Serve warm.

Tip: Don’t re-create the turkey for your vegan and vegetarian guests.

JodieFrom: Jodie Deignan, I Eat Plants

Her expertise: She went vegetarian nearly 11 years ago, and vegan more than 7 years ago. Her blog, The Picky Vegan, features cooking and recipes, with a sampling of restaurant highlights, health and wellness topics, social activism, participation in the vegan community and a little vegan fashion.

She says: “I can’t promise that every vegan wants to go to a dinner with a turkey on the table, but most of us want to be gracious guests when we are invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. I’m here to help you figure out what to serve, whether you are the omnivorous host inviting a vegan or hosting your own vegan Thanksgiving dinner!”

Her recipe: Rosemary-Hazelnut-Encrusted Seitan

Rosemary-Hazelnut Encrusted Seitan

Rosemary-Hazelnut Encrusted Seitan


  • 10 oz seitan slices or chunks
  • 3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, skinned
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs minced rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup almond or soy milk
  • 2 tbs stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp agave nectar (or sugar)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup water (as needed)
  • oil for frying
  • For the Seitan:
  • 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (or "gluten flour")
  • 1 tbs nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • For the seitan broth:
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce, optional
  • water as needed


    Make the seitan:
  1. Add the gluten flour, nutritional yeast (if using) and garlic to a medium sized bowl and whisk together.
  2. Add the vegetable broth, and mix with your hands until it comes together in a ball.
  3. Kneed the ball for 3-5 minutes, let it rest for 10, and kneed again for another 3-5 minutes. Shape into a small loaf.
  4. Mix the seitan broth ingredients together either in a small slow cooker (2 quart), or a medium pan on the stove.
  5. If using a slow cooker, add the kneeded seitan loaf to the slow cooker, and cook on low for 6-8 hours (perfect to do over night!). If using the stovetop, bring the broth to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Add the loaf, and simmer for 1 hour, turning occasionally. The broth should completely cover the loaf; if it does not in your pan/slow cooker, add water or additional broth as needed.
  6. Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before slicing.
  7. For the coating:
  8. Grind the hazelnuts, flour, rosemary, salt and pepper together in a food processor and add to a shallow dish.
  9. Mix the mustard, water and agave together in another shallow dish (the water should just thin the mustard out to a thin yogurt consistency).
  10. Add the almond or soy milk to a third small dish.
  11. Take a slice of the seitan, dip it into the mustard mixture, coating on both sides.
  12. Dunk the slice into the hazelnut/flour mixture, turning to coat.
  13. Dunk it into the almond/soy milk, and then back into the hazelnut/flour mixture. This all works best if you can use one hand for the wet, and one for the dry!
  14. Repeat with remaining seitan slices.
  15. Heat about a 1/2" of oil to about 325F to 350F (medium, of you're not using a thermometer. This all works fine in a cast iron skillet), and add the seitan gently. Fry until golden on both sides, being careful not to burn it.
  16. Serve with your favorite holiday side dishes!

Tip: Serve kid-friendly side dishes.

ElaineFrom: Elaine Studdert, House of Bedlam

Her expertise: As a mother of three boys she’s cooking every day in the trenches. Along the way she’s learned a lot about bringing up healthy eaters. On Small Bites and her House of Bedlam blog, she shares tips, tricks and recipes that have been tested and kid-approved (or rejected) in our her kitchen.

She says: This suggestion is “in addition to your grandmother’s green bean casserole!”

Recipe: Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese

House of Bedlam Chef’s Tip: Kid-friendly Thanksgiving Side Dish

House of Bedlam Chef’s Tip: Kid-friendly Thanksgiving Side Dish


  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 lb. box pasta, elbow, mini penne, or ditalini
  • 1 cup diced ham (optional)
  • 1 ½ cup gruyere cheese, grated, reserve ½ cup
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated, divided


  1. Peel sweet potato and cut into large chunks. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt to the water and bring to a boil. Cook sweet potatoes until they are fork tender. Drain and mash with a fork. Set aside. The mash can be done ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. (Use a large enough pan to hold six cups of liquid.) Add flour to melted butter and whisk together for about a minute. Whisk in milk and 2 cups of water.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook, stirring often, until sauce gets slightly thick and glossy, about 10-12 minutes.
  5. Stir in sweet potato mash, salt and pepper, and whisk until sweet potato is incorporated into the milk.
  6. Toss dry pasta, ham and 1 ½ cups of the cheese (1 cup gruyere, ½ cup cheddar) in a large shallow baking dish.
  7. Pour milk mixture over the pasta. Do not stir! The pasta should be completely submerged. It will seem like a ton of liquid but don’t worry it will become cheesy and gooey and yummy.
  8. Cover the pasta with foil and bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.
  9. Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake, uncovered until pasta is tender, edges are bubbly, and top is golden brown.

Tip: Use kuzu or arrowroot powder as flour substitute to thicken a gluten-free gravy.

LizTFrom: Liz Tigani, DishingWell

Her expertise: She’s founder of the blog DishingWell, a food writer, health coach and natural food chef. Her background is in social work and she is currently earning her masters degree in nutrition. She’s been gluten-free since 2010.

She says: “My passion is culinary nutrition — I love cooking and health-ifying classic recipes — with a focus on gluten-free.”

Her recipe: Takeout. Really! “After trying several recipes, my favorite gluten-free stuffing to date is from Tulu’s Bakery in NYC; not surprising since their bread (and just about everything else they offer) is fantastic. Just call in to order the mix, which includes all the spices pre-measured and ready to go. Simply add stock and butter and you’re done. I also add sausage and granny smith apples. Believe it or not, this stuffing usually goes faster than the non gluten-free version at our family Thanksgiving.”

Tip: Make dessert gravy, salted caramel sauce in this case.

MeganServe it in a gravy boat and you’ll find that there is no dessert on the Thanksgiving menu that doesn’t benefit from a drizzle.

From: Megan McCaffrey, food writer for The Journal News and

Her expertise: Craft beer.

She says: “Whether you’re serving pumpkin pie, an apple tart or flourless chocolate cake, it’s all good.”

Her recipe: Salted Caramel Stout Sauce

Dessert Gravy: Salted Caramel Stout Sauce

Dessert Gravy: Salted Caramel Stout Sauce


  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup stout-style beer (I like Keegan's Mothers Milk Stout, Founders Breakfast Stout, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout or good ol’ Guiness)
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. flakey sea salt


  1. Add the sugar and beer to a heavy bottom saucepan over high heat. Stir just until the sugar has melted then stop stirring.
  2. Allow to boil untouched (you can swirl the pan a few times to evenly distribute caramel but stirring will cause crystallization) until the caramel reaches a deep amber color (like a penny) and hits 350 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  3. As soon as the caramel hits 350 degrees add the butter, stirring continuously until all the butter has melted. Remove from heat.
  4. Slowly whisk in the cream until well combined.
  5. Stir in the salt.
  6. Allow to cool for ten minutes before transferring to a glass jar.
  7. Keep refrigerated until ready to use, heat the caramel to thin, if desired.


This recipe is adapted from The Beeroness blog,


About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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