November 22, 2016
by Mimi Holtz
1 Comment

Cheaters’ Thanksgiving Casserole

Cheaters' Thanksgiving Casserole

When the weather cools off in November, I’m ready to start eating turkey and stuffing.  Anyone else get that craving for Thanksgiving goodies early? Try my Cheaters’ Thanksgiving Casserole!   Here’s an easy 0ne-pot meal that you can do in a slow cooker or in a covered dish in the oven, or even on top of the stove.  All the flavors of Thanksgiving are here for a comforting supper,  or a party with friends – and it’s budget-friendly too!

The idea for this casserole came to me as I was traveling to Vermont a few weeks ago to visit my mother and daughter.   Mom is 95+ years old now, and holding her own with the help of our daughter, who lives with her to allow her to stay in her own home.   I was hoping to make an early Thanksgiving dinner  so we could celebrate together while I was there,  so I bought a bag of our favorite Pepperidge Farm Herb Dressing,  some sweet onions,  carrots and celery.   My daughter had asked me to use some chicken thighs that were in the freezer, so I didn’t need to  buy a turkey.

Cheaters' Thanksgiving Casserole in a clay cooker

Mom has this vintage Bennington pottery clay cooker,  so I put the partially thawed chicken thighs into the pot,  and piled chopped onions, celery and carrots on top.  I stirred in some thyme, rosemary, and sage.  After about 2 hours in a 350 degree oven, the chicken was falling apart and there were lots of juices.  Actually, with the onions/celery/carrots in the pot,  those juices had already become chicken stock!   I opened the bag of stuffing mix and poured in just enough to soak up all the liquid,  then returned the pot to the oven for about 20 minutes.

On a cold evening in Vermont,  there is nothing better than to have the house smell like Thanksgiving!  We feasted on that hot casserole, and marveled that it could taste just like a turkey dinner without all the work.   I put some into a freezer container so my mom and daughter could have it again after I had travelled back to California.

Cheaters' Thanksgiving Casserole ingredients

As soon as I got back to the ranch,  I needed to fix a good meal for The Farmer, so I bought all the ingredients for my new favorite casserole.  I realized that I could serve 8-10 people for about $15 or less!   Now that’s a pretty budget-friendly “tastes-like-Thanksgiving”  meal!   I wondered what The Farmer would think of my creation.

His comment?  “This is tasty!  Make this one again!”   (I just love it when he says that!)

As I was making my Cheaters’ Thanksgiving Casserole once more to write this post,  I received a text from Annette,  the wonderful nurse who comes to take care of my mom so that our daughter can get out of the house.   She wanted to know how to make the casserole too!   So while I was making my new batch here in California,  she was cooking hers in Vermont.  She used a slow cooker, and it came out just great!

Here are the steps to make your house smell like Thanksgiving with just one pot:

numbered steps for Cheaters' Thanksgiving Casserole

Serve with a salad and some cranberry sauce,  or just fill up a bowl and heat in the microwave.  Perfect for a last minute family supper,  or an afternoon of football!   (Need cranberry sauce?  Put 1 cup water with 1/2 honey in a saucepan, bring to a boil,  add fresh cranberries and cook until the berries pop.  Chill and serve!)

Just put the chicken into the pot and top with all the rest of the ingredients – then relax while the amazing aroma of Thanksgiving dinner fills your kitchen!   No need to add any salt because the stuffing has plenty of seasoning already.  It’s not even necessary  to call this Cheaters’ Thanksgiving Casserole – all the ingredients are fresh! What’s cheating about that?

Cheaters' Thanksgiving Casserole before cooking


Cheaters' Thanksgiving Casserole
Recipe type: Casserole
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This easy casserole can be done in a clay cooker, slow cooker, or a covered baking dish. The chicken falls apart and makes its' own stock. Let the stuffing soak up the juices, and serve a crowd with this budget-friendly meal that tastes like Thanksgiving!
  • 10-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4-5 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4-5 carrots, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1 package stuffing mix ( I used Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing)
  1. Use a slow cooker or clay cooker or covered baking dish that will hold at least 5.5 quarts.
  2. Place the skinless, boneless chicken thighs into the pot, and layer the onion, celery, carrot and seasonings on top.
  3. Cover and cook at 350 degrees (oven) or on high (slow cooker) for 1.5 -2 hours until the chicken is falling apart.
  4. Using a spatula, break up the chicken pieces until shredded.
  5. Sprinkle stuffing mix into the cooked chicken, pressing down with a spatula, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. (You may not need the whole bag of stuffing mix to do this.)
  6. Bake for another 15-20 minutes.
  7. Serve with a salad or vegetable, and fresh cranberry sauce.

Cheaters' Thanksgiving casserole with cranberries

endive and arugula salad

November 17, 2016
by Mimi Holtz

A Fresh Fall Salad: Walnuts, Apples, Endive, Arugula

endive and arugula salad

Today I’m sharing an easy, refreshing salad that is perfect for a weekday meal or as part of  your Thanksgiving feast!  The colors are festive, and  the sweet nutty flavor of the greens pairs beautifully  with crunchy apple and walnuts in this fresh fall salad.  Optional gorgonzola is a creamy accent for blue cheese lovers.

After visiting the  California Endive Farm last summer, I’m using Belgian endive in salads  as an alternative to lettuce more often.  (If you missed reading about that adventure,  check out “How Do You Pronounce “Endive”?)   I discovered that Trader Joe’s has a cute little package with three endives:   two green and a red,  the perfect portion when serving two or three people.  Each little compact head can be thinly sliced and added to a salad.  The light green and red endive are so pretty with the dark green arugula!

Add some thinly sliced apple or pear for crunchy sweetness,  and some chopped California walnuts.  Use  candied walnuts if you want to be fancy!  (Trader Joe’s has a small bag of candied walnuts,  or you can make your own.)  The dresssing?   Make your own simple vinaigrette  or buy  Trader Joe’s Champagne Pear Vinaigrette (with gorgonzola).

Speaking of walnuts,  I haven’t yet written about my recent trip to northern California with the California Farm Water Coalition to learn about agriculture in  the region just north of Sacramento.  I’ll be posting more about the trip, but for now I’ll introduce you to Stan Lester of Lester Farms in Winters, Ca.  He took a few hours out of his day to talk about his love of agriculture and show us how walnuts are harvested.

walnut farm with CFWC

When Stan Lester was growing up on his parents’ farm in Santa Clara,  the family grew peaches,  cherries and apricots.   Even though the soil, climate, and growing conditions were among the best in the world for agriculture,  farmers were forced out of the area as Silicon Valley businesses took over the land.   The family moved to an area north of Sacramento,  and transitioned to growing walnuts and prunes.

Stan Lester farms walnuts

Stan Lester discusses his life as a walnut farmer

Stan explained that trees are just like people.  They need water, nutrients, and vitamins.  Using technology,  farmers are able to monitor and analyze the trees’ need for water by using water sensors that send data directly to their phones or tablets.  Soil and leaf analysis allow the farmer to keep track of the nutritional needs of the trees.  Farmers also monitor for diseases and insects that can damage the crops.

walnut trees

Weather is one of the biggest challenges to farming.  As much as farmers hope for rain,  storms can interfere with harvesting and make it necessary to work long days during the short period when their crops are ready.  After investing a whole year of work,  care, and financial commitment into a crop,  farmers have one chance to  ‘collect the pay check’  by delivering their crops to market.  Sometimes this requires working  10-12 hour days and 7 days a week to bring in the harvest.

I’ll be sharing more  about our trip very soon,  but right now I’d better give you this tasty salad recipe!

5.0 from 2 reviews
A Fresh Fall Salad: Apples, Endive, Arugula
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Belgian Endive pairs perfectly with arugula, apples and California walnuts for this sweet and nutty salad, dressed with Campagne Pear Vinaigrette.
  • 3 heads of Belgian endive, a combination of green and red
  • 1½ cups arugula
  • I fresh apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped California walnuts or candied walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons Trader Joe's Champagne Pear Vinaigrette or vinaigrette dressing of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola (optional)
  1. Wash and slice the Begian endive into a medium salad bowl.
  2. Add the arugula and stir gently to distribute evenly.
  3. Core the apple and cut into thin slices, arranging them on top of the greens.
  4. Sprinkle the walnut pieces on top of the apples.
  5. Add the dressing and toss the salad.
  6. Sprinkle the gorgonzola on top. (optional)


Cabot cheese gift box

October 27, 2016
by Mimi Holtz

Chop Chop Magazine and Cabot Cheese Giveaway!

Cabot cheese gift box

Today I have an exciting giveaway for my readers!   A gift box of Cabot Cheese worth $25!   Along with the cheese you’ll get a subscription to Chop Chop magazine too!   I remember learning to make grilled cheese sandwiches with Cabot cheddar cheese when I was growing up in Vermont. Continue Reading →

Chicken with Kale and White Beans

October 5, 2016
by Mimi Holtz

Kale in Comfort Food

A "Bou-Kale" from San Miguel Produce

National Kale Day

If you didn’t know that today is National Kale Day,  you know now!  I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of it either, until I received this gorgeous “Bou-Kale” from San Miguel Produce of Oxnard, California.  They’ve been planning for this special day for a long time!   In fact, if you happen to be in the Ventura area on Oct. 5, 2016 you could receive some free kale!   At various sites in Ventura county and in Malibu  in Los Angeles county,  people will be handing out bunches of kale to celebrate  the day.

San Miguel Produce has been growing and processing  kale for 20 years, and selling under their “Cut ‘n Clean Greens”  brand.

“When we first started growing kale, no one wanted to eat it. It was used as decoration on the salad bar or for your pets. It’s exciting to see how kale has grown in popularity and now have a day dedicated to celebrating its health benefits and versatility,” Jan Berk, chief operating officer of San Miguel Produce, said in a news release. “San Miguel Produce hopes their campaign will help get kale into more homes and onto the plates of Americans both young and old.”

I remember seeing fields of greens on road trips when I was a child in Vermont and asking my dad what was growing.  He would say, “That’s kale!  They feed it to cows!”   If he were alive today he would appreciate how many people enjoy eating kale.  He used to pick dandelion greens every spring and ask my mother to cook them for dinner.   “Eat your greens!”   We didn’t get fresh greens all year long then,  as most of our vegetables came from our garden or the neighbor’s farm stand.

Kale Is Related to Cabbage

Kale has been cultivated for over 2000 years, and since it is resistent to frost it has been a preferred green leafy vegetable through the ages.  In fact, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are all the same species of plant.

ready to eat kale

I was thrilled to receive several bags of ready-to-eat Kale from Cut ‘n Clean Greens too!   Each bag is a different variety and has suggestions for serving on the bag.  The kale is triple washed and already cup up to be used in salads or recipes.  In fact, these special bags of kale can even be frozen and used without thawing.

adding kale to meat sauce

 Kale in the Lasagna

I happened to be making lasagna on the day the kale arrived, so I just put some into the meat sauce for the lasagna.   Just mix it right into the sauce and let it cook for a few minutes.

lasagna with kaleThen build the lasagna as you normally would.  It’s a great way to get some green leafy vegetables into the meal,  and makes the lasagna into a one-pot healthy supper.

Chicken with Kale and White Beans

Chicken with Kale and White Beans

Tonight I’m cooking chicken thighs with kale and white beans.  I used boneless skinless chicken thighs and cooked them with onions, garlic, fresh thyme and a little chicken stock and white wine.  When the chicken was tender,  I chopped it up and added fresh ready-to-eat Lacinato Kate from Cut ‘N Clean Greens and a can of white beans.  Seasoned it with salt and pepper,  optional red pepper flakes.   I added some fresh lemon zest and grated parmesan cheese just before serving.

Chicken with Kale and White Beans

Disclosure:   I received a gift box of ready-to-eat kale and a “Bou-Kale” from San Miguel Produce.  I was not required to write a blog post and I was not compensated.   All opinions and experiences are mine. 

Do you eat kale in salads or cook with it?  I’d love to know how you use kale in your family meals!

Cheesy No-Knead Bread

October 4, 2016
by Mimi Holtz

Easy Cheesy Bread: Fool Proof No-Knead Recipe

Cheesy No-Knead Bread

Bake Easy Cheesy Bread!

Want to be the world’s most popular mom and wife?  Cheesy Bread!   Want to have your grown kids flocking to your house,   hanging out in the kitchen with you,  and spending extra time at your kitchen table?  Cheesy Bread!   Those of us who are are empty-nest moms  never stop missing those days when our kitchen was filled with kids and food.

This week I discovered a new way to make  memories in my kitchen with my family.   Make fresh homemade bread!  The grown-up kids and their father will smell that fresh baked bread before they even get past the front door!   You’ll hear “oohs” and “ahs”  and “wow, Mom, this is so good!” again!

But wait — before you stop reading because you think baking bread is too much work,  or you think you need to buy a bread machine —  THIS IS SO EASY!   A fool proof recipe Continue Reading →

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