For the Gift of Food, try making something with a healthy twist. Who could say no to granola with cherries and dark chocolate? Try making a batch of this great granola recipe and packing it in a glass jar with a festive bow on top. The wheat germ adds a nutty flavor and gives the granola texture and a nutrition boost.

Any kind of dried fruit or nuts can be substituted for the dried cherries and chocolate chips, just keep the proportions the same. You can also coarsely chop any kind of chocolate baking bar instead of using mini-chips.

Jenn’s Chocolate-Cherry Granola
2 1/2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup mini-chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300F and coat a 13×9 baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, toss the oats and wheat germ.

Combine oil, maple syrup, and salt in a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave for 1 minute. Add the vanilla.

Pour the syrup over the dry ingredients and toss to coat everything evenly. Spread mixture over prepared baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Add the dried cherries. Add the chocolate chips while the mixture is still warm and stir to melt the chocolate into the granola, or add the chocolate chips after the mixture has cooled to keep in pieces.

Sprinkle granola on top of yogurt and fruit.

As part of my Thanksgiving feast, I wanted to make the traditional mashed potatoes and stuffing, but with a twist. Since I was not making a whole turkey, it was important to impart flavor in both the stuffing and potatoes. Nothing bores me more than a table full of beige food, both in color and flavor. Shy of using food dye, there is not much that can be done to potatoes to make them prettier. Instead, I focused on taking the beige out of potatoes and stuffing by infusing both with flavors from my Simple Garlic Broth.

The timing on this is near perfect: Prepare and begin cooking the turkey, then begin the stock. While the stock cooks, peel potatoes. Once the stock is complete, begin cooking potatoes. While potatoes cook, prep for the stuffing. Prepare stuffing and finish potatoes while turkey is resting. There will be downtown in between the steps to do other things as well.

You’ll notice there are no pictures to this post, but potatoes and stuffing are just not the most photogenic foods out there.

Simple Garlic Broth is my go-t0 homemade stock, which I love to use in everything from soups to couscous to hummus. Over time, I have altered the recipe slightly, but it still remains fairly easy, as the title implies:

Simple Garlic Broth

5 cups cold water
2 heads of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt, to taste

Break apart and peel the cloves of garlic, crushing each clove slightly with a knife. Combine garlic cloves in a large pot with water, olive oil, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for an hour. Makes about 4 cups.

Remove from heat and strain broth through a sieve, reserving the solids. Add salt to taste to broth. Divide broth, reserving about 3 cups for stuffing and the remaining for potatoes.

Remove bay leaves and stems of the thyme sprigs from the reserved garlic solids. Using fingers, slide off any remaining thyme leaves from the stems, then discard stems. In a small bowl, use a fork to mash garlic cloves into a puree. Add salt to taste then add to the broth reserved for potatoes.

Set aside divided broth until ready to prepare potatoes and stuffing.

Garlic-Thyme Whipped Potatoes

5 lb russet or golden Yukon potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
reserved garlic broth, from above
Cracked black pepper, to taste

Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes, as uniform as possible. In are large pot, cover potatoes with 1-inch of water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender with pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Cover and remove potatoes from heat.

Move potatoes to an unused burner on the stovetop to keep warm until turkey as finished cooking and is resting. Drain potatoes (potato water can be reserved to make gravy) and return to pot. Add garlic broth and solids. Using an electric mixer or immersion blender on medium to high speed, puree potatoes until desired consistency (smooth or slightly chunky, depending on preference). Season to taste with black pepper.

Garlic-Thyme Stuffing

1 package herb stuffing
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
2-3 ribs of celery, diced
3 cups garlic broth
Cracked black pepper

In a medium to large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and celery. Saute 3-5 minutes, until softened. Remove from heat and add about 1 cup of broth and a third of the herb stuffing mix to the pan. Stir until all of the stuffing mixture is moistened, then repeat. Add remaining stuffing mixture to pan and add enough broth to keep stuffing at desired consistency. The package will state 2 1/2 cups of broth, but you may need to use up to 3. Season to taste with pepper.

horchataHorchata is a Mexican beverage that translated to Cinnamon Rice Milk. It is made by boiling rice in  a large amount of water and flavoring the “milk” with cinnamon, vanilla, or other flavors of choice such as peach. Sunny Anderson, the host of Cooking for Real on the Food Network, introduced viewers to this delicious drink. This is a fairly simple recipe, both in preparation and execution. I found this to be a very enjoyable drink on a cold, wintry day (like today!).

If the thought of rice milk seems just a little odd, keep in mind that rice milk is also sold at the supermarket as an alternative to dairy milk (along the lines of soy milk, or even coconut milk, which can be used to flavor beverages and dishes). For this recipe, do not use instant rice. Look for long-grain white rice, not brown. If fresh peaches are not available, frozen peaches can be substituted (thaw before using). The trick to this beverage is to blend the mixture completely, then strain the solids to make sure the texture is consistent.

Peach Horchata
adapted from Sunny Anderson

1 cup white rice (not instant)
8 cups cold water, divided
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp salt
1 ripe peach, pitted and sliced into 8 wedges
5 cardamom pods, slightly crushed (optional)
Ground cinnamon, for serving

In a large saucepan, stir rice with 6 cups of water, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon stick, salt, peach slices, and cardamom pods (if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.

Working in batches, puree rice mixture in a blender. Pour puree through a fine sieve, pushing through the solids and discarding the large pieces. Return to saucepan and add remaining 2 cups of water. Stirring occasionally, return mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving pitcher.

To serve hot: pout into mugs, dusting with ground cinnamon as desired.

To serve cold: allow mixture to cool to room temperature, then chill for 2-3 hours. Mixture might be slightly thicker when served cold. If to thick, add a small amount of cold water.

Lemon-Thyme Turkey Breast

December 3rd, 2009

For Thanksgiving, I did not want to undertake the daunting task of cooking a whole turkey. I have done so in the past, but for this year I made things a little easier on myself and went with a turkey breast. It was cheaper and most of my guests do not eat dark meat anyway, so it was a better choice all around. What is really great about turkey breast is that it thaws and cooks in less time, so there is no need for a 4 am wake-up call.

When cooked breast side down, there is still a cavity that can be “stuffed.” I would not recommend this for actual stuffing, because the cavity is rather small and not as enclosed as a whole turkey, so the stuffing will fall out if the bird is turned. This is, however, a great place to add flavor and keep the breast moist by using onions, lemons, and fresh herbs. Below is my recipe for a quick and easy rub and fixings for a turkey breast.

If you do not have poultry seasoning, use a mixture of rubbed sage, dried thyme, dried rosemary, and a pinch of nutmeg or cloves.


Lemon-Thyme Turkey Breast

1 turkey breast, about 6 lb
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 salt
Cracked black pepper
1 small onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
1 large garlic clove, lightly smashed
4-5 fresh thyme sprigs

Preheat oven to 325F and lightly coat the rack of a roasting pan with cooking spray. Place rack in the roasted pan so that the “V” points down.

Rinse turkey well, including the cavity, and pat dry. Unlike a whole turkey, there are no giblets or neck to remove. Place turkey, breast side up, on the roasting pan.

Combine melted butter, poultry seasoning, and salt in a small bowl. Rub the mixture over the entire turkey breast, reserving a small amount for the underside (because the turkey is still cold, it will cause the butter to solidify slightly). Top the turkey breast with cracked black pepper.

Turn turkey over so the cavity is face up. Place half of the lemon and onion wedges in the turkey cavity, along with the garlic clove and springs of fresh time. Press down slightly and add remaining onion wedges if they will fit. Drizzle the remaining butter mixture over top and top with cracked black pepper. Squeeze 2 of the remaining lemon wedges over top, reserving the last 2 lemon wedges for later.

Cook turkey, breast side down, for 2 1/2 hours. Increase the oven temperature to 350F and turn turkey breast over (some of the lemons or onions may fall out, leave in the pan drippings for flavor if you are making gravy). Squeeze the two reserved lemon wedges over top of the turkey breast and return to oven for 30-45 minutes.

The turkey breast is cooked when a meat thermometer registers 185F when stuck into the breast, but the bird will continue to cook for 15-20 minutes after it has been removed from the oven. When the meat thermometer registers a temperature of 175-180F, this is a good time to remove the turkey breast. Place turkey breast on a large cutting board to “rest” and cover with foil. After 20 minutes, remove foil and begin slicing turkey to serve.

By the time the turkey is sliced and served on the table, it will still be warm but not hot. Solve this problem by serving piping hot gravy and no one will notice.

roasted-root1Here is one of my side dishes from Thanksgiving this year, full of seasonal root vegetables along with the flavors of fresh ginger and maple syrup. The vegetables can be prepped the night before, or during the day while the turkey is cooking.

While the turkey is cooking, prepare the dish and place it in the oven during the last 20 minutes of the turkey cooking time. Once you remove the turkey, increase the heat to 400F and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 more minutes. This gives you time to let the turkey rest and get the rest of the food ready, then pull out the vegetables right before serving.

When preparing the vegetables, cut everything to the same relative shape and size. This will ensure that all the vegetables cook at the same rate, and that way you don’t end up with mushy carrots and rock-hard sweet potatoes.

Ginger Roasted Root Vegetables w/ Pecans
adapted from Food & Wine magazine

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 inch cubes
2 large parsnips, peeled and sliced about 1 inch thick
4 medium to small carrots, peeled and sliced about 1 inch thick
1 container (8 oz) whole baby bella mushrooms, rinsed and halved
1 cup whole pecans
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger (about a 2 inch piece)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 /4 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup maple syrup
Ground cinnamon, optional

Preheat the oven to 400F and brush a 13×9 inch baking dish with olive oil.

Combine the prepared vegetables in a large bowl along with the mushrooms and pecans. Add ginger, olive oil, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss all of the ingredients, coating the vegetables.

Add vegetables to the prepared baking dish, then drizzle with maple syrup. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon just before serving, if desired.