THANK YOU, THANKSGIVING

Over the years, I’ve rotated spending Thanksgiving with different friends. It’s always fun to see how other families spend the holidays, to learn about their traditions, to taste their favorite dishes, and to get to know the other members of their families. But this year, I really wanted to cook on Thanksgiving! I never have before. My parents always go to New York every year to visit my step-dad’s family for Thanksgiving. And our extended family has plans with the other sides of their extended family. But this year, I got to spend the day with my sister and her husband. When Pat’s family (my sister’s husband) said they weren’t doing their traditional Thanksgiving this year, I was delighted that they asked if I wanted to do Thanksgiving just the three of us.

We opted to cook at my mom’s house because there is more room and two ovens. My sister did all the shopping at Whole Foods and brought everything over early in the morning. Pat made us eggs benedict for breakfast while Emily and I watched the Macy’s day parade, drank mimosas and poinsettias (cranberry juice and champagne) and chopped, peeled, mixed, rolled, fried, stirred and cooked our little hearts out. By the end of the day, we referred to each other only as “Chef.” (courtesy of Top Chef) And we could not believe the spread we had made for only three people! Our menu, which was discussed at length, consisted of:

Leek stuffing (Emily’s own recipe)
Winter Greens Gratin (from Bon Appetit)
Mashed potatoes (obviously)
Gravy (made from scratch by Emily!)
Parker house rolls (from Bon Appetit)
Veggie puffed pastry squares (from the fall issue of Vegetarian Times)
Green bean bundles (also from the fall issue of Vegetarian Times)
Champagne Turkey over biscuits (a Christmas Eve tradition from close family friends. I don’t think I’m at liberty to share the recipe…)
Cranberry sauce (homemade! recipe is from our uncle, but modified by Emily)
And Apple Sour Cream Crumb Pie for dessert (from Martha Stewart)

It was a great day with great food and great company. Definitely one of my best Thanksgivings yet! I was so thankful to have such a special day and it really got me thinking about all of the things that I am thankful for.

My family. I have four amazing, supportive parents who are each there for me in their own way and who do so much for me. My sister is my best friend. My best memories are with her. Her husband is like a brother to me. And always makes me laugh. And I’m so thankful that he’s given me two additional sisters. My brother Matt is just the all around best. I’m forever impressed by what a mature, smart, caring, open-minded, kind, funny, and stylish little man he is growing to be. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our extended family. I have a great set of aunts, uncles, and cousins… when they aren’t teasing me. 🙂 We lost my grandmother earlier this year (my mom’s mom) and though she was a serious ball-buster, I miss her and always smile when I think of all the things I learned from her. Such as, always spray a generous amount of Pam on your spaghetti before you reheat it.

My friends. I’m not gonna lie, I have a lot of friends. (Which is odd considering I really don’t think I’m all that nice.) They’ve been so good to me over the years. I love each of them for different reasons. They each bring a little something special to my life in their own way and fill a certain part of my heart. And I’m thankful that whenever we get together, there’s little drama and lots of laughter, deep (and sometimes not so deep) conversations, honesty, dancing, singing, love and drinks. Cheers, ladies! (And gents. I’ve got some great guy friends to be thankful for too.)

My health. There have been moments in my life when I’ve had some health issues– mental and physical. But lately, things are good. And I’m so grateful.

My job. In this economy, I’m thankful to even have a job. But not only that, I have a pretty great one. The work we’re doing is honorable. I feel respected and that my opinions matter. My co-workers are generous and fun. And if I really need to paint my nails at my desk, hardly anyone bats an eye.

My Snowy and Blankey. Yeah, I said it. Blankey. And Snowy is my monkey that my dad gave to me when I was 8, and I’ve slept with it every night since. And no, I am not ashamed. And no, I do not believe this is the reason I’m single.

My iphone. After my snowy and blankey, this is my most prized possession. How did I ever live without one?

My Joses family. These are the people I work at the bar/restaurant with and the people who regularly frequent the joint. I can always count on you guys not to judge me when I just wanna get drunk. And you’re always there when I have no one to go out with. So, thanks for that, you enablers.

My Zella leggings. I swear, these are the most comfortable, flattering, life-changing leggings I have ever owned. They make picking out an outfit so much easier.

My one bedroom apartment. God, I love my apartment.

Bravo TV. I hated TV until I discovered Bravo. Thank you, Andy Cohen, and the rest of the Bravo producers for providing me with such entertainment.

Books. I love love love to read. Anyone who’s ever said they want a book that makes them cry totally knows what I mean.

My hair. I’ve been blessed with hair that I love, a stylist that I love, a curling iron that actually works, amazing hair-spray, and my new-found addiction: TIGI Rockaholic Dry Shampoo.

My ability to run. I don’t know where I’d be without this escape.

And last but not least, my age. I really struggled with turning 29 last year. But now that I’m 30, I feel really at peace. Sure, there are parts of my life that haven’t turned out quite how I thought they would. But I feel older and wiser now. And like everything’s gonna be okay. I know who I am and am happy being me. What more can a girl want?

So, happy belated Thanksgiving everyone. A very special thank you to those of you who read my blog.

Note: I ate the turkey. If I were going to the chair, I’d ask for champagne turkey. So, naturally, I had to eat it. Fellow vegetarians, please forgive me.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS

Here in my office, we are big fans of the potluck lunch. We take it very seriously. People go all out. And I must say, everyone here is a really good cook (or baker). And if you’re not, you’ll be chastised for years after you’ve stopped working here. We tend to have a potluck lunch once a quarter. And somehow, I’ve been put in charge of planning them. To be honest with you, I have no idea why. I’m known to be a pretty anti-social introvert around the office… Yet, people still like me. (Or at least I think they do?) Anyway, it doesn’t really make sense that I am the one planning (and suggesting) the office potluck with the way I avoid group lunches on a regular basis. But somehow, there I am. Clearing the date with people. Creating a sign-up sheet with adorable (er, cheesy) clip art. Debating different recipes with my co-workers. Cursing myself the night before because I never feel like cooking for these when the time comes.

We had an office potluck a few weeks ago (I am late with this post… and about 20 other recipes. Forgive me.), and I made butternut squash and spinach stuffed shells. It was the third time I’d made this recipe over the course of about two weeks. They are so yummy and pretty easy to make. For the potluck, I decided I would keep the shells warm in a crock pot. This would have worked well if I had covered the shells before I put them in the fridge the night before. But I was so exhausted that I couldn’t think straight and in the morning, the shells were a little dry. But if you are making these and eating them right away, they are delicious.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SPINACH STUFFED SHELLS 

with lemon sage butter sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups of butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • a box of jumbo pasta shells (or half a box, depending on how many you plan to make)
  • 2 cups of ricotta cheese
  • some parmesan cheese (to taste, about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 box of frozen spinach, cooked according to package directions and drained well
  • 1/2 of a lemon, plus grated lemon peel
  • 1 stick of butter
  • several sage leaves
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

I found a way to peel and cube your butternut squash that makes it so much easier. I can’t recall the website where I found this tip, but I’ve been doing it every time I use butternut squash for something, and I am so thankful I discovered this. First, put your whole squash in the microwave for about 3 minutes. When it is done, let it cool for a bit. Sometimes I don’t wait that long for it to cool and just wear an oven mitt while handling the squash. Put a sil-pat under your cutting board to keep it from slipping and sliding. (Genius!) Cut off both ends of the squash, so that it will stand flat. Then cut the “bulb” of the squash off from the “neck” so that you have it in two sections. Then with a small knife (not a vegetable peeler!), carefully slice off the skin in thin strips. Then cut your squash into discs. From there, cut it into cubes. You can Google this if you want to find videos and photos of how to do this.

Toss your squash cubes with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast them on a sil-pat lined baking dish for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally.

Turn oven down to 400 degrees.

Once your squash is cooled down a bit, you can mash it slightly with a fork. It’s okay if there are still some larger chunks.

Combine the squash, ricotta, spinach, parmesan, lemon peel, garlic and a bit of salt and pepper in a bowl. Fill the shells with your mixture and place them in buttered baking dish.

Bake until heated through and the cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

While the shells are baking, you can make the lemon sage butter sauce. Melt a stick of butter in a small saucepan or skillet, until brown and bubbly. Add your sage leaves and cook until slightly crisp. Remove from heat. Squeeze in the juice from your lemon. Pour lemon sage butter sauce over the shells right before serving.

Recipe adapted from: prouditaliancook.com

Notes: If you are going to travel with this dish and heat it in a crock pot like I did, you should spray your crock pot with Pam or line it with butter. Place the shells in the pot. It’s okay if they are layered on top of each other. Before turning on your crock pot, pour the lemon sage butter sauce over the shells to keep them from drying out. Heat through and serve. You can also reheat this in the oven, but we don’t have one of those in our office, hence the use of the crock pot.

I had a lot of the filling leftover when I made this so I thought it would be a good idea to put the filling in a calzone. WRONG. It was disgusting. These have a very lemony flavor, which when eating them as the shells kinda makes the recipe. But in a whole wheat calzone, dipped in marinara, it is gross. I threw it away. So, I do not recommend that!