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Fast, Easy & Tasty Thanksgiving Side

We do both Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends at my place, every year. I’ve discovered over time that the best way for me (and everyone else) to enjoy the holidays is to minimize the fuss and thus, my stress level (fitting in a late morning yoga session is an extra bonus). For Thanksgiving that means making the cranberry sauce a few days early, making desserts the night before (pumpkin and apple pie and this year my Double Trouble Tart), making dressing in the crockpot to save room on the stove (delicious with a quick parmesan sprinkle and crisp in the oven just before serving), and asking others to bring the veggie sides.

But sometimes, someone forgets… or doesn’t make enough to serve the gathered hordes…. or has a side dish fail. For those moments or when looking for a tasty, healthy, ridiculously easy side I turn to green beans. Start to finish this recipe takes 15 minutes and can be made on the stove while the turkey rests.

Zesty Green Beans

Zesty Green Beans
Serves 10-12

2 lbs Green Beans
1 TBSP Olive Oil
5-6 cloves of garlic or 1 heaping TBSP if you’re using the minced garlic in jar
Juice of 1-2 Lemons (add one then taste before adding more)

  • Trim green beans and cut into bite-size pieces.
  • Add olive oil to large skillet and heat over medium-high heat (on a scale of 1-10, this is a 6).
  • When oil is hot but not smoking, add green beans and sauté for 6 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté for 4-5 more minutes until green beans are cooked but still crisp.
  • Splash in enough lemon juice so the green beans have a zing but aren’t saturated. Sauté additional minute.

That’s it. You’re done. Transfer into a serving dish and give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Cajun Cooking Adds Heat to Cold Nights

It seems people rarely get together at each other’s houses for a meal these days. People still love to eat and socialize they just seem to prefer to do it at a restaurant. And that’s a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out (to the detriment of my waistline). But people tend to linger longer at home. Conversations are less guarded and often less PC. Loud laughter is not discouraged and wine flows more plentifully when you BYO (often across our tablecloth which is why I buy in threes).

So why aren’t people throwing more dinner parties? The common complaint I hear is the time involved and not knowing how to plan a meal. So I thought I would share one of my favorite easy dinner party menus. The theme is Cajun – perfect on a cold night and of course, for Mardi Gras celebrations. You can even make it a voodoo inspired Halloween party, which is what I did when the neighbors came over last weekend.

Low-lighting, candles, a spiderweb table dressing & skull from Target plus mini-pumpkins from Trader Joe's give a Halloween air to the table

Low-lighting, candles, a spiderweb table dressing & skull from Target plus mini-pumpkins from Trader Joe’s give a Halloween air to the table

First things first, wine. I chose a McCrea Mouvedre to welcome my neighbors and sip with apps. For dinner I wanted something with a little spice and chose Dunham Cellars Trutina although a tempranillo would also work well. We also dipped into two more bottles the neighbors brought over because that’s how these nights go…

For appetizers I turned to a favorite cookbook – Kathy Casey’s Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers. Although not Cajun, I chose her simple and simply addictive Croque Monsieur Puffs (scroll down the link, recipe is toward the bottom).

This appetizer works for literally every occasion, brunch, lunch you name it - and people cannot get enough!

This appetizer works for literally every occasion, brunch, lunch you name it – and people cannot get enough!

My sister, a serious cheese addict, was visiting so we picked up a wedge of triple cream brie topped it with orange marmalade (apricot jam works well too) and chopped pecans and warmed it in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes (basically until the topping is gooey and running down the sides). We served it with sweet cranberry & pumpkin spice thins and savory pita crackers (both from Trader Joe’s but pretty much any kind of cracker would work well).

Marmalade & Pecan Topped Brie & Creole Crab Cupcakes

Marmalade & Pecan Topped Brie & Creole Crab Cupcakes

Since my sister was helping in the kitchen we added one more app – Kathy Casey’s Creole Crab Cupcakes. This meal has more than enough food without a third app (our guests were a little too full before the entree), but if you can get lump crab meat fairly easily (for those in Seattle, my husband picked up ours at Mutual Fish) it’s a delicious recipe that looks stunning and is fast and easy to make (FYI: you do need a mini muffin pan).

The star of the night, however, is Slow Cooker Jambalaya. You can save some time the day of by cutting up your ingredients the night before and buying peeled, deveined, cooked frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s or elsewhere. Toss your ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, set to low, and seven hours later your house will have a whiff of creole kitchen about it. (If you’re in a hurry, set to high and let cook for three hours). About half an hour before serving, throw some rice and chicken broth (or water) in rice cooker or pot (covered on stove). Put a little rice in each of your guest’s bowls – or do as I do and ask them to serve themselves – and top with the jambalaya.

The only side you need is a little cornbread. To save time use the Marie Calendar’s mix (just add water), which is pretty unbeatable. You can make squares or muffins. Squares are faster as you can bake an entire pan at once. If I have time, though I like the look of muffins. And no I don’t ever feel obligated to make cornbread from scratch, Marie has it down.

If you’re feeling like you need a little more, add some braised kale. I like this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. And no, you do not have to make you’re own chicken stock.

For dessert we went with a pumpkin spice cake which we ate too quickly to photograph. But I think red velvet cake (or cupcakes) would work especially well. If you are celebrating Mardi Gras, then a King Cake is the way to go.

To provide the perfect background music, put on some New Orleans jazz (we favor Kermit Ruffins & Rebirth), just keep it low enough to allow the conversation to flow.