t-day leftover idea

Thanksgiving is two days away and I can almost, ALMOST taste it! While I know most of you are probably thinking/stressing about, well hopefully not stressing too much over cooking on the big day, I wanted to share an idea with you for what to do with all those leftovers!

Have some leftover turkey and can't stand the thought of ANOTHER sandwich? Because lets be real, sometimes you can only go 3 days eating the same thing over and over again. Have a little leftover red wine? Veggies? Mashed potatoes? Seriously, I came up with a solution to transform the leftovers into the perfect comfort food dish with a twist!

Red wine turkey pot pies are so easy, completely improv-able, and depending on if you have leftover mashed potatoes, might just become red wine turkey shepard's pie! See where I'm getting at here? I made this recipe with what I had on hand. You should do the same and transform your thanksgiving leftovers into a comforting dish perfect for winter!

red wine turkey pot pie
yields 4 individual pot pies

4 TBSP. butter
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled + cut into rounds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 TBSP flour
1 ½ c. red wine (I used cabernet)
½ c. chicken stock
1 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
salt + pepper
2 c. turkey, cubed or shredded into bite sized pieces
1 c. frozen peas
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a medium pot over medium high heat, melt butter. Add in onions and carrots and cook until slightly softened. Add in your garlic and cook for an additional minute. Dump in your flour and give it a good stir until it becomes a paste attached to your veggies. You're looking for the flour to absorb the butter and not be white anymore. Cook for about a minute and add in your red wine. Whisk until the wine and veggie mixture has no lumps from the roux (your flour + fat mixture). Add in your chicken stock, thyme, and salt + pepper to taste. Stir frequently until it gets nice and thick. Add in your turkey, frozen peas and let sit for a few minutes with the heat off while you prepare your puff pastry. 

Ladle the pot pie filling into your ramekin's. Cut circles (or whatever shape you prefer) out of your puff pastry and press against the edge to create a seal. Cut a few slits into the top of the pastry to let the air vent (like you would with pies) and brush the tops of the puff pastry with your egg (just scramble it up). Top with some flaky sea salt and pepper and pop it into the oven for 15 minutes or so. The top will be golden brown and the inside will be bubbly. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

improv style:
use whatever wine you have/like to drink. i prefer bold red's so that's what i used. if you don't like red wine, you could substitute it for milk or white wine. actually, if you don't like red wine, i would do  1 ½ c. milk and then ½ c. white wine. use all milk if you're not down with the hootch.

i used peas, onions and carrots because i like them and had them on hand. if you have leftover green beans, shallots, pearl onions, etc… use them up! i like thyme but rosemary would be a great substitution. puff pastry is good but any biscuit dough would do. you could even top with leftover mashed potatoes. spruce them up with some shredded gruyere cheese or parmesan. 

this is such an easy dish to improv and a great way to use up those holiday leftovers!


pumpkin bourbon cheesecake

Yikes! It's already Friday and I had full intentions of sharing this with you earlier. I guess, as usual, the week got away from me. Good news is only 3 more work days until I get to stuff myself silly and celebrate gluttony with the Weiner's!

This recipe is the second tradition I've brought to my family. It's a Pumpkin Bourbon, wait for it…  Cheesecake with Pecan Crust. It's light and airy, rich and nutty all at the same time. A subtle kick from Bourbon that's barley detected combined with creamy pumpkin makes for the perfect twist to a thanksgiving classic, pumpkin pie. We usually make both but I'm telling you, if you're looking for something different or you want to try something new, you won't be disappointed! 

I stumbled upon the recipe about 9 years ago from America's Test Kitchen. I've tweaked one thing (substituting gram crackers for panko) but other than that, I've followed it to a T. The pumpkin requires a little more work than your typical cheesecake because you have to drain if of the extra moisture. Trust me, it's still really easy to make and totally worth it! The cheesecake can be made up to 3 days in advance which is a huge bonus for Thanksgiving prep work!

I hope you all have an amazing Turkey Day shared with loved ones. A little tip I've learned over the years… a dress or skirt, preferably a stretchy one, allows for maximum turkey intake. For all the dudes, I hope you own elastic waist pants. That or just put on a dress too. Why not?! Happy t-day eating!!

pumpkin bourbon cheesecake + pecan crust
slightly adapted from America's Test Kitchen
yields 1 - 9" cheesecake (about 12 - 16 servings)

for the crust:
1¼ c. pecans
½ c. panko bread crumbs
¼ c. sugar
2 TBSP. flour
½ t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. salt
5 T. melted butter

for the filling:
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground all spice
½ tsp. salt
1 - 15 oz can of pumpkin
24 oz ( 3 - 8 oz packages - or - 1.5 lbs) cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 eggs, room temperature
1 c. heavy cream
¼ c. bourbon

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375º F. Lightly toast your nuts in a pan on the stovetop or in an oven. Be careful not to burn your nuts! Set them aside and let them cool. Once cooled, place in a food processor and pulse until they're a semi-fine powder - only technical terms here :). Add panko, sugar, flour, spices, and salt - give it a few pulses until combined. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and dump in a 9" springform pan, lined with parchment paper on the bottom. Press the mixture into an even layer that comes half way up the side of the dish.  Bake for 10 minutes. Note the crust won't be fully cooked, that's ok. It will finish cooking once you place the filling in. Turn your oven down to 325º F this is the temperature your cheesecake will bake at. 

For the filling:
Combine sugar, spices and salt in a small bowl and set it aside. To dry the pumpkin, line a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin in an even layer. Cover the pumpkin with another 3 layers of paper towels and press down on the paper towel to absorb as much of the moisture as possible. Peel back the paper towels, grab the bottom layer of paper towel and fold it over the pumpkin (basically you're folding the pumpkin over itself to pile it up easier). Peel back the paper towel, repeat and then place pumpkin onto the tray. Throw away the paper towels. 

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a simmer. Let the water heat up while you make the mixture. This will be for a water bath to ensure even cooking/cooling.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer if you have one), beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy and smooth. Scrape sides of bowl and add the sugar in at a time. This will let the sugar to dissolve a bit and makes for a smoother batter. Add pumpkin and vanilla extract and beat at medium speed until combined. Add 3 eggs and mix until incorporated. Add the last 2 eggs and beat again until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix as this can create cracks on top of your cheesecake! Finally, add in your heavy cream and bourbon and beat until combined (about a minute). 

Wrap your springform pan with semi-cooked crust in 3 layers of aluminum foil. This will prevent the water bath from getting into your cheesecake. Place springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour filling into the pan and smooth the surface. Place in the oven and carefully pour the warm water into the roasting pan. Bake until the center of the cake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken about 90 minutes (the center of the cake will register to 145º F). 

When cake is done, set roasting pan on a cookie sheet and let it cool until the water is warm to the touch. Remove cheesecake from roasting pan, discard foil and continue to cool it on a cookie rack until it reaches room temperature (about 3 hours). This is another important step in preventing cracks! Once cooled, cover with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours, ideally overnight. 

Serve with fresh whipped cream or even bourbon spiked whipped cream! You know, in the holiday spirit…

improv style:
you can use your favorite type of crust here. i'm not a fan of gram cracker which is why i did panko but you could do vanilla wafers, your favorite nut, chocolate cookies, gram crackers… you get the idea.

pumpkin and bourbon were made for each other but you can totally leave the booze out. just add more heavy cream. if you don't have one or two of the spices listed below, you can leave them out. do not substitute fresh ginger for the ground… different flavors. 

you'll notice that my cheesecake had a crack in the top. i don't have a roasting pan or any pan large enough to do a water bath. i omitted this step and just baked it in the oven. yes i got a few cracks but i just covered it up with whipped cream. crisis averted! you'll also notice i missed some of the crust pulling that first slice out. hey, it happens! just scoop it up and put it underneath, no one will notice! all of the other slices are much easier once you get that first one out!

some really fun garnishes for this would be candied or fried sage, a little leaf shaped cookie, or even some pecan brittle. omg, how gorgeous would that be stuck in a wedge of whipped cream?! i might have to do that next year instead of just a little pecan!!



In my family, food is our religion. Needless to say, Thanksgiving is a big deal for us. My mom usually makes 3 types of stuffing, 4 types of cranberry sauce, 2 - 3 turkeys (depending on how many people come that year), endless side dishes and multiple pies - at least 3 varieties and usually more than one of each. Cocktails and wine are plentiful and it's always a great time. I grew up in the kitchen. Holiday meals like Thanksgiving dinner were like going to the fair… excitement, energy, tons of chaos and lots of good, sinful food. It's quite the production in the Aibinder household. 

It's been 3 years since I've been home for Thanksgiving and sadly, it looks like it will be another 2-3 years before I can do it again. Luckily, I've got great family here in Chicago to celebrate with and they do a great spread too. This year I'm going to NY to celebrate Turkey Day with my boyfriend's family. I'm really excited to share their traditions with them and see how they do Thanksgiving. They're a loud, crazy bunch (in the best possible way) and I'm sure it will be nothing short of a good time. 

Over the years, I've added two "must make" dishes to our family's Thanksgiving spread - Spinach, Artichoke + Brie stuffing and a Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake with Pecan Crust. Both of which I'll be sharing with you. Lets start with the stuffing. It's like spinach & artichoke dip meets bread pudding dolloped with little chunks of melty brie. Yes I realize that it should be technically called dressing since it's not baked in the bird but i like stuffing - it sounds more classic. This dish is the perfect "stuffing" for your vegetarian guests (make sure you sub the chix stock for veggie stock) and it's just plain delicious. 

I don't know why but I've never been a stuffing fan. When I saw Emeril Lagasse make this dish on the Food Network, I knew I had to try it. Over the years I've tweaked the recipe slightly (mostly just quantity changes of certain ingredients). This dish is pretty easy to improv too! I usually do all of my prep work a night or two before I need to bake it to make assembly of this dish quick and painless. Anything you can do to spare you time on the big day comes in handy. See my improv suggestions below on what to do/make ahead of time. This recipe makes a good amount of bread pudding. If your family is like mine and takes a little of everything, it will easily feed a crowd of 12 - 14. Double it up if you want to serve more people. 

What's on your absolute "must make" list for Thanksgiving? 

spinach, artichoke + brie stuffing
adapted from emeril lagasse
yields 6 generous servings

8 c. cubed (1-inch) day old bread - I used an italian loaf 
1 TBSP butter
1 lb fresh spinach, washed (1 ½ c. cooked, drained and roughly chopped)
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 TBSP chopped garlic
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
2  tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 - 9 oz bags frozen artichoke hearts (defrosted and drained)

1 egg
¾ c. heavy cream
1 c. chicken stock
¼ c. white wine
1 TBSP lemon juice
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan
¼ c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 pound Brie, rind removed and cut into ½ - inch cubes

(it all starts here... the size loaf I used)

The day/night before making, cut bread into cubes and let sit out so that it becomes stale. If your bread is already a few days old, you can skip this step and just cut bread into 1" cubes. If your bread is fresh and you need to make it today, cut the cubes and put it in a 200º F oven for 10 - 15 minutes to dry out the bread a little bit.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a 9x9 baking dish with butter (olive oil or non-stick spray works too). Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil and cook spinach until wilts. About 30 sec - 1 min. Drain and rinse with cold water. Once cool, squeeze all of the water out of the spinach and give it a rough chop. Note this step can be done 1 - 3 days in advance to help prep for a big meal.

Heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and golden brown. Add in the garlic, italian seasoning, salt + pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Then add in your spinach and artichoke hearts and continue cooking a few more minutes until ingredients are combined. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit and cool.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cream, chicken stock, wine, lemon juice, ¼ c. of the parmesan cheese and parsley. This can be done the day/night before you want to make the stuffing (another small, but good time saver. plus it free's up the dishes). Add in your cooled veggie mixture and stir until it's combined. Add the bread cubes to your bowl and gently mix until all of the cubes are coated in the liquid. Toss in your brie chunks, pour into your baking dish and let the mixture sit for 20 - 30 minutes, and up to a few hours before you bake it. This way all of the liquid will be absorbed into the bread before you bake it. Pop it into the oven for about 60 minutes until it's golden brown on top and the egg mixture has fully cooked. 

improv style:
thanksgiving is a chaotic time. make it easier on yourself by prepping your spinach a few days before you make the stuffing. if you're not going to make it ahead of time, save a dish and cook the spinach in the sauté pan once the onions are translucent. basically you need to get them wilted so whatever way is easiest for you. don't have fresh spinach or enough fresh spinach? that's ok. you can use frozen, just make sure you drain all of the liquid once it's defrosted. one year i bought only half the amount of fresh spinach i needed. i did half frozen half fresh and it still turned out great.

can't find frozen artichoke hearts? just use 2 cans instead. i find the frozen to be a little better in flavor and texture but really it doesn't make or break the dish. use what you can find! not a fan of brie? you can use mozzarella or leave the cheese out!

to save more time, the wet ingredients can be assembled the day before to save you time and dishes. if you make the entire veggie mixture before, you can combine the liquid with the spinach + artichoke mixture but it will turn your liquid a greenish color. however you prefer to do it, will work!

cooking temperature. 350º F is ideal but you can get away with a range of 325º - 400º.  you have to adjust your cooking time accordingly but the bread pudding is more forgiving with a different temperature than your turkey is. if you're cooking at a higher temp, cover it with foil the first half of the baking time and reduce the time by 15 - 20 minutes. if you're cooking at a lower temp, make sure you increase the cooking time (most likely 15 - 20 minutes more). 

on to improv'ing the dish… mushrooms would be a fantastic addition to the mix. if you're not a fan of spinach or artichokes you can leave one of them out. you can use any kind of bread you like… white, wheat, french, italian, brioche, you get the point. if you want to leave the wine out, just use chicken stock or veggie stock (if making it for true vegetarians). adding in a little truffle oil would be nice. don't have lemon? leave it out, it will still taste good.