Final Countdown To Thanksgiving

Ray and Scott kissing the turkey before it goes into the oven

Ray and Scott kissing the turkey before it goes into the oven.

In just a few short hours, a weekend filled with family, long held traditions and a lot of food will begin. For everyone other than the person doing all the cooking, it is the most relaxing of all the holidays. There’s no frenzy to find the perfect gift for each of your thirty-six relatives, no religious rituals where you can’t eat certain foods or anything at all for a whole day, and there’s no stress to get yourself and the children dressed and ready to get to church for an early morning service. There’s just food—hanging around whichever house you’ll be at and eating all day long. That being said, everyone seems to have their own traditions and rituals on Thanksgiving. For many, it’s either watching football or organizing a backyard football game—or both. Others tell me it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving unless they went to the Macy’s Parade. Some families dress in their best attire to sit around the table and other have a pajama only policy. Hey! Whatever works for you.

Our Thanksgiving evolved over the years. We start with brunch, because eating for the rest of the day isn’t enough. I usually make blueberry crepes and Belgium liege waffles. My brother-in-law brings over jelly donuts just in case he needs more carbs than I’m already feeding him. But the real reason is that my husband has a particular technique on preparing and eating a jelly donut and it’s the highlight of Uncle Scotty’s morning to watch and make fun of him. Most people bite into a donut and call it a day. Not my husband. Ray has to slice it in half so he can spread the jelly equally throughout the donut.

Anyway, after brunch we put on the parade and the girls make a food project. They have been doing this since they were little. It’s a pretty big deal for me to give up my kitchen for an hour or more, but like I said, it’s a chilled out holiday. The important thing is to enjoy the moments, right?

I’m cooking for nineteen this year. I have two filet mignons and a twenty-two pound turkey ready to go. Have I mentioned that I hate turkey? And the thought of sticking my hand in one is not at all appealing, which is how the brunch tradition started. Scott loves turkey, loves cooking turkey and loves to get involved with the whole preparation. It actually became a joke in our family. One year I told Scott, “Let me take a picture of you kissing your turkey.” Every year I took the same picture of Ray and Scott kissing the turkey. Someday I’m going to make a collage of the “turkey kissing years” for them. They can see how they’ve aged over time. I’m so evil.

The first year we had Thanksgiving in our home, Ray and I put on rubber gloves to clean out the turkey cavity. After that, Scott offered to come and do it and we took him up on it. When the kids came along, we started the food project to keep them occupied. 28 years later, they still are doing it and don’t want to give it up.

After dinner when everyone but my sister and her family leaves, we get comfortable, put on the fireplace and watch a Christmas movie to kick off the season. And at some point raid the fridge for leftovers.

Well, That’s just one day of ritual with a whole weekend to come. I can assure you what we will not be doing. We will not be near a mall.

Whatever your family traditions, I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends. I’m not sharing a recipe today. By now, you have your menu set. Sharing stories about family and food is a recipe for a happy life. Stay safe and don’t forget to be thankful.

Countdown to Thanksgiving! Spiced Apple Cider

what's left of the spiced apple cider. It went fast!

What’s left of the spiced apple cider. It went fast!

Four more days and so much to do! Yesterday, I made two appetizers that can be made ahead, frozen and will taste just as good as if they were made that very day. It’s very helpful when budgeting time to be able to make as much as possible ahead and have everything else prepped and ready to go. The baked clams and tyropitas are a crowd pleaser, those, along with my platter of Greek meze and Italian antipasto will be a typical start to our Thanksgiving dinner.

Often, I find that the beverage takes a backseat to the food, becoming an afterthought. We throw a few liters of soda on the counter, along with a couple bottles of wine and call it a day. I like to fill beverage jars with fruited water, Ice tea and for this holiday—spiced apple cider. I played around a bit to come up with my own version of this traditional autumn beverage.

Served as is, it is delicious for children as well as adults, but you can turn this cider into a decadent alcoholic libation. Last year, my daughter, Eleni created her version of a Caramel Apple Martini. Simply add a shot (or two) of Buttershots and a shot of pumpkin spice crème liquor to the spiced cider.

Spiced Apple Cider

1 gallon apple cider

1 cup orange juice

1-cup sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon of whole cloves

1/2 of a lemon sliced in rounds

4 oz package of apple chips

Put orange juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cloves in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for5-7 minutes. Add this mixture to the apple cider. Stir and add apple chips and lemon slices. Serve from a punch bowl or a glass jar dispenser.

Countdown To Thanksgiving!


2007 Thanksgiving morning food craft project

With less than a week away, the countdown to Thanksgiving has begun, and along with it, a massive preparation to make the day a gastronomic success. For our family, the day doesn’t begin with the turkey dinner. Ever since our children were very little, we would start the day with brunch, the Macy’s parade occasionally catching our attention, and a food project for the little ones. Each year it was something new—decorating cupcakes, cookies or mini bundt cakes—not works of art, I assure you. But as the children got older, their final products looked more…shall we say—edible. They took on more difficult and challenging tasks—using marzipan to decorate the top of a cake or icing cookies a professional would be proud of. In our family, as you will find out as the week goes on, we don’t let go of tradition easily. The “kids” now range from the ages of nineteen to twenty-eight and they still expect to do their morning project on Thanksgiving. Last year my twenty-three year old niece asked me, “Aunt Ef, what’s our Thanksgiving craft this year?” I had to laugh. Naturally, I had one planned, but I told her that when they had their own kids, they would be pushing them aside, still wanting to do the craft themselves, as if they were still the children.

I guess it’s a given that most people will make a turkey next Thursday. I’ve been asked for suggestions for side dishes. There are always the obvious choices—mashed potatoes, stuffing and yams. It seems everyone has a favorite recipe, I know I do, but here are some vegetable suggestions that are easy and won’t consume too much of your time.


  1. You can slice the carrots the day before and even prepare them a day ahead if time is short. Parboil 2 pounds of sliced carrots for 3 minutes. Dice an onion and sauté in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add carrots, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until carrots are tender.
  2. Another variation is to eliminate the onion. Cook the carrots in the butter and add1/3 cup of brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of honey. Cook until tender. Add some thinly sliced almonds and remove from heat.

String beans

  1. Steam or boil 2 pounds of string beans with some sliced garlic until tender. While the sting beans are cooking, season ½ cup of panko bread crumbs with grated cheese, salt, pepper, parsley and garlic powder. Drizzle either 3 tablespoons of olive oil or butter on the string beans and toss. They should be coated but not dripping with grease. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and toss to coat.
  2. Or forget the breadcrumbs and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the zest and juice of one lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat.


  1. Roast these with whole garlic cloves and a drizzle of olive oil in your oven for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Everyone’s oven is different, so adjust accordingly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Follow the above instructions, but sprinkle a generous amount of grated cheese and seasoned breadcrumbs on top before roasting.
  3. Another way to prepare asparagus is to steam or boil them until tender-crisp. Add olive oil, zest and juice from one lemon, a little crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Brussels sprouts

Cut Brussels sprouts in half. In a bowl, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat. Lay them on a baking sheet and put in oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The Brussels sprouts will caramelize and become tender.


  1. Boil or steam until tender but still firm. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice on top. Season with salt, pepper, parsley and garlic powder.
  2. Boil until very tender with a couple of cloves of garlic. Drain and place in a food processor. Add salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Pulse until smooth. The consistency will look like mashed potatoes.

If you notice, I wrote very few exact measurements. I suggest you work by feel and taste. Be conservative with the oils and butters. You can always add, but you can’t take away. Each of us is hosting a different number of people at their table. The amount of vegetables I make will be different than what you will make. I will be cooking for twenty.

Throwback Thursday! Cauliflower Puree Soup


Originally, I posted this recipe in November 2010 on my Livejournal blog. I love the idea of cooking with fresh seasonal vegetables. What once was the norm, mainly out of necessity, has now become a trend. “Farm to table” restaurants are popping up all over, and consumers are finally realizing that buying fresh ingredients rather than packaged products is a much healthier and tastier option.

Living on Long Island, I have the luxury of driving to local farm stands and buying produce that was harvested that same morning. The corn, broccoli and cauliflower are my favorites. The enormous heads of snow white cauliflower cannot be compared to anything you find in the supermarket. Travel out East a bit and many roadside stands sell roasted corn dipped in butter and freshly made caramel apples. One farm I went to this year had a long line of people waiting for their famous apple cider donuts that were being made as quickly as they were being ordered.

At home, I roast fresh ears of corn and brush it with my own blend of herb butter. And I grill the broccoli with a marinade of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The cauliflower— I will eat it any way I can. Raw, steamed with lemon and olive oil, grilled, roasted, or sautéed in tomato sauce and garlic. My favorite is the cauliflower gratiné, which I serve as a side dish on Thanksgiving. A while ago, I ordered a cauliflower soup at a restaurant, and I’ve been craving it lately. This is my attempt at what I think I ate. It’s not exact, but pretty close. Although the soup had a creamy texture, there was no cream in the restaurant version. This is simple and easy to make and doesn’t require a lot of time.

Cauliflower Puree Soup

1 large head cauliflower

1 32-ounce chicken broth

3 cloves peeled garlic

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Boil or steam the cauliflower and garlic until very tender.  Drain and rinse under cool water. Place in food processor and puree.  Add a little of the chicken broth as needed to loosen up the cauliflower. Transfer the puree into a pot with the remainder of the chicken broth, bay leaf, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the grated cheese and stir until cheese is mixed and melted into soup. Remove from heat.  Ladle in a bowl and garnish with croutons or crostini if desired.

* You may substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth to make this a vegetarian dish. If you choose to omit the cheese, I suggest you add more seasoning or the soup may be a little bland.

Pastitsio – Greek Comfort Food


 It seems that once Halloween is behind us, the holiday frenzy begins. The shelves in the stores are cleared of any evidence of autumn and spook, Thanksgiving seems to be all but ignored and all focus goes to scoring the best deals on gift purchases. But I like tradition and even though my children are older now, I still carry on the little rituals our family created. More so, I treasure the traditions and foods that have been passed down through the generations in my family and my heritage. The stuffed peppers I made for Halloween were the very ones my mother made— Yemista. It’s comforting to me to make the foods she cooked for us when we were children. In a small way I feel I am preserving history and giving our children a sense of where they come from through the food of their ancestors. Each culture tells a story through their cuisine and the Greeks are certainly passionate about their food. Just try and leave a Greek woman’s home without eating something. Any of you reading this who have been to my mother’s home would know this firsthand!

Aside from the questions and requests I get about baklava and “those cookies with the powdered sugar”, people ask me if make “that Greek lasagna.” The answer is yes. But, although layered like lasagna, it is quite different. The pasta needed for this dish look like spaghetti length ziti. No tomato sauce is poured between the layers, and the top layer is béchamel sauce. Although in Northern Italy, lasagna is made with a layer of béchamel on top.

I will warn you, that although this is not difficult to make, it is time consuming and requires many pots. For this reason, I double or triple the recipe and make several trays at a time and freeze them. I cook, cool and cut the squares before freezing. It is nearly impossible to cut neat squares when this dish is hot. I can guarantee you the pastitsio will taste just as good out of the freezer and heated as it did the first day you made it.

I happened to have a tray in the freezer and knew I was having a large crowd, so in addition to the stuffed peppers, I served the pastitsio. So, here is my mom’s recipe(with a little less butter), and I know she would have something to say about that!



2 pounds chopped meat

½ stick of unsalted butter

1 chopped onion

1 cup white wine

½ cup water

1 4 ounce can tomato paste

Dash of nutmeg

2-3 cinnamon sticks

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup breadcrumbs

½ cup grated cheese

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add meat and onion. Cook until meat is brown. Add wine, water and tomato paste. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

*While preparing meat mixture, boil water for 2 pounds of pastitsio pasta. You can find it in specialty stores and many Italian and Greek groceries. The pasta should be very al dente when you take it out of the pot and drain it.

Béchamel sauce

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter

1-cup flour

4 cups warm milk

Salt to taste

Dash of nutmeg

4 egg yolks

1 cup grated cheese

Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan and whisking in the flour. Stir for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add the warm milk while continuously whisking until the sauce thickens. Add the salt and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Add the grated cheese. Slowly add the beaten eggs to the sauce while whisking, so not to cook the eggs in the sauce. The sauce should be smooth and pale yellow in color.

To assemble– Add some butter and grated cheese to the pasta to give them flavor and coat well. Layer the bottom of a deep baking dish with half the pasta. Distribute the meat mixture on top of the pasta and layer the rest of the pasta on top of the meat. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top layer of pasta. Sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees until the top is golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. Let it set and cool a bit before cutting into squares.