Countdown to Thanksgiving…

Chef Judi Gallagher –

My favorite holiday is upon us and if meteorologist, John Scalzi, is right, the cooler weather will enhance the aroma coming from the oven(s).

After many many years of cooking for 20-34 people, I am taking the year off… well sort of. Our immediate family is nine, so, for me, the preparation and presentation could be done blindfolded.

However, I am definitely ordering some items already prepared in order to lessen the burden and make life easier. Sweet potato streussel and stuffed pork roast from Geiers Sausage Kitchen, smoked turkey from Aldays, the amazing ‘street corn’ from Brick’s Smoked Meats, and, a ‘master’ stuffing from our niece, Michelle Tonini, will be my suppliers.

(By the way, if you are looking for a meatless stuffing, check out the recipe section on the below…boursin, fennel and caramelized leek stuffing with brioche: yum.)


As we approach the Holiday, I have some helpful hints to keep you organized.

  1. It is not too late to order your pies and sides but do make a list and get confirmation numbers for all orders. Check to make sure your oven is calibrated and you have your oven thermometer handy
  2. To brine or not to brine? Here is the scoop. A dry brine will keep the skin crispy. The wet brine takes a lot of space in the refrigerator, but will be very moist.
  3. If you do dry brine, wash the turkey with cold water and pat dry….completely dry. Mix your seasonings such as garlic salt, truffle salt, fresh ground pepper, poultry seasoning, minced rosemary, sage and thyme in a bowl and rub every single inch on the bird inside and out. Place in refrigerator uncovered for 48 hours.
  4. Make your lists now. I have the list of who is coming and what I am serving. On a separate sheet are my ‘to do’s’. This includes making cranberry sauce with orange and ginger, no cans here, about 4 days in advance.
  5. Select your wines. Ask the experts as Turkey is acidic. For the pork roast, I am popping a bottle of Prisoner cabernet.
  6. Think about non-alcoholic drinks, such as hot or cold mulled cider and sparkling cranberry juice
  7.      Four days before, check your lists and buy your produce (other than salad ingredients). Wash, store in Ziplocs …thus, one less thing to do.
  8. Remember your bread choices. I already have 2 loaves of pumpkin cranberry breads in the freezer. (See pumpkin cranberry donuts under recipes.) Pre-order your rustic cranberry walnut bread from a favorite rustic bakery.
  9. Try not to use untested, last minute recipes. I love the internet but using untested recipes at the last minute may be a disappointment.
  10. Peel your potatoes for the mashed the night before. When we had big crowds, I tricked my grandnephews into a great potato peeling race. The adults peeled and the kids ran them into a pot. First one done wins! Little prizes and you have prep done!
  11. Remember this: do NOT stuff all your potato peelings and vegetable ends in the garbage disposal at once. The number one ‘home-issue’ (other than a possible dry turkey) seems to be plumbing problems> Avoid this by either composting or putting small amounts in the drain and running ice cubes in between.
  12. If you do not want to truss your turkey, simply save the ends of your bread that you are using for stuffing and tuck front and back with the bread.
  13. After 40 years of stuffing turkeys, I have found it better to bake separately. While the juicy dripping are divine in turkey, health wise, it is best not to stuff. Pour ½ cup pan drippings on top of the stuffing ten minutes before done.
  14. Three days to go before the big day. Double check your lists, pick up your turkeys and double check your pans to ensure you have everything you need. As the post-it queen, I put labeled post-its on every serving piece. Another tip: two gravy boats are better than one. By the time you pass around one gravy boat, you will need to get up and refill anyway, so be prepared. And, double check that you have enough refrigerator space for everything
  15. Two-days to go, get your pies, if you pre-ordered. The longer you wait, the longer the lines. If you are ordering from one of my favorite, Pielicious (out of North Port), ORDER NOW!!! Her pies are incredible and she will sell out.
  16. Dry or wet brine your turkeys 2 days out.
  17. One day and the big day is here! You can prepare your stuffing the night before and leave unbaked in the refrigerator. Set the table and line up your serving dishes that were previously labeled. Make your homemade whipped cream. Prep your root vegetables…peel, cut and place in large bowl.
  18. Thanksgiving: make sure you tune in live Thanksgiving morning from 6am-7am to ABC 7 WWSB or live stream www/ and send in your questions. I will be answering your last minute questions and serving up helpful hints. 7-7:30 am you can watch FaceBook live and text in those questions. I am here for you. Think of this as your own personal turkey hot line.
  19. Once the turkey is in the oven, make your mashed potatoes. You can finish them with butter (lots of good Irish butter), sour cream and a variety of extras like horseradish and pancetta. Reheat in microwave or place in warming drawer. Toss your root vegetables in olive oil, fresh thyme, Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. (Remember, fresh ground is most important. Canned pepper has been in a warehouse, sometimes for years.)
  20. Give yourself time for a walk or sip an extra cup of coffee and, most of all, do not panic. Most likely we will all forget something. My Mom was notorious for forgetting the pickled beets. I have overcooked my turkey, set the noodle pudding on fire in the oven and dropped a pan of stuffing. It happens. The holiday is all about gathering at the table. This year especially, after the intense hurricanes and other natural tragedies, let’s be truly mindful thankful for what we have..
  21. Looking for leftover recipes? Well, this. of course, is after the late night turkey and stuffing sandwich, on rustic cranberry walnut bread with a slab of mayo and lettuce. Tune in at noon on Thanksgiving to ABC 7 wwsb or live stream at sunrise news and I will have the scoop, and, please, share your favorite recipes with me.


Mushroom, leek and fennel stuffing with boursin cheese


Brioche is having a moment. Probably the number one bread selling this year. Last year was the year of the pretzel roll. This year most burgers are being graced with this buttery bread and so is your holiday stuffing. This can easily be vegetarian by switching mushroom broth for the chicken broth. Either way it is a buttery mix of sautéed vegetables and creamy French herb cheese

Makes 8 to 10 servings


    • 1 10-ounce loaf brioche (preferably day-old), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing dish
    • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 1 medium fennel bulb, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
    • 2 leeks (white and light-green parts only) split lengthwise and sliced (about 4 cups)
    • 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
    • 1   8 ounce container boursin cheese
    • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Special equipment:
    • 3-quart baking dish


    1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Butter a 3-quart baking dish. Place cubed bread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until slightly dry, 10 to 15 minutes.
    2. Raise oven temperature to 350°F. In a large sauté pan over high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add mushrooms, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until mushrooms have released their liquid and start to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl and set aside, reserving pan.
    3. Return pan to medium heat and melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add fennel and rosemary, and cook until fennel softens and starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add leeks and cook until all the vegetables are very soft, about 5 minutes more. Return mushrooms to pan, add broth, and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add cubed bread and eggs and toss until mixture is combined. Gently toss in boursin cheese.
    4. Transfer bread mixture to baking dish. Bake in the center of the oven until golden brown and slightly puffed, 35 to 40 minutes (add 10 minutes if the dish has been refrigerated). Top with parsley and serve immediately.


A graduate of Johnson & Wales, Judi has managed restaurants and owned restaurants in the northeast and was the founder of a successful dessert company. Today, she is a sought-after restaurant consultant, TV cook on the ABC affiliate in her hometown, and culinary editor of a city magazine. Her personal passions are culinary travel to exotic places and holiday cooking in her home for huge gatherings of friends and relatives. Her guilty pleasure? Bruce Springsteen concerts. “I follow him around the country and have for years,” she admits. “But, in every city where Bruce sings, I do check out new restaurants and talk to up and coming chefs. I want all the food news I can get.”




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