Rachael Ray as a Host at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show

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Preparation of quick and simple recipe is a mainstay specialty of celebrity chef and Food Network host Rachael Ray. With her emphasis on 30-minute meals and more nutritious eating, she gave her own suggestions for Thanksgiving meals–and how to reduce some of the cooking pressure then–during an appearance at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Washington, D.C.

On stage with a copy of her newest book, “Look + Cook,” Ray described her cookbooks as similar to a “paint by numbers” format for food with meals shown in set-by-set pictures. While speaking and answering questions before a live audience during the consumer trade show at the Washington Convention Center, where fellow TV cooks Paula Deen and Bobby Flay appeared too, she demonstrated the preparation of three meals in an hour.

With the approach of Thanksgiving, Ray said her own family traditionally makes apple celery and onion stuffing, roasted butternut squash, and Brussels sprouts with pancetta and balsamic vinegar. For the stuffing, she favors less bread (or using whole wheat) and more onions, celery, vegetables, or fresh fruits such as pears or apples. She recommends chopping the vegetables the night before (but not the apples as they’ll turn brown) and placing them in a bag that can be resealed for refrigeration.

Other possibilities are:

  • Cornbread and chorizo stuffing
  • Fruit and nut stuffing
  • Fennel and onion stuffing (Here are some great onion choppers for you!)
  • Zucchini muffin stuffin’

But key to Ray for a less stressful Thanksgiving is having two small 10-12 pound roast turkeys rather than one large turkey. “A large bird is very difficult to manipulate and with two smaller birds you can sleep much later,” she told her D.C. audience.

Her advice is to clean the turkeys and dry them off the previous night. Then rub them with softened butter and fill the cavities of both with the chopped vegetables along with five to six sprigs of thyme and two bay leaves for seasoning. The turkeys should be placed in roasting pans, covered with foil, and put in the refrigerator.

The next day when the turkeys come out of the oven, one can sit while the other can be carved entirely for serving, Ray said. The other turkey can be left whole on the table until the middle of the meal. However, she advises skipping the skin and going for the white meat or else having a combination of white and dark meat.

Aside from turkey, alternative main courses could be:

  • Roast Cornish game hens with roast squash and cran-apple stuffing
  • Gorgonzola-stuffed pork tenderloin
  • Turkey chili and sweet potato shepherd’s pie
  • Roast turkey breast with citrus pesto and shallot gravy
  • Turkey and stuffing meatloaf
  • Roasted beef tenderloin with roasted pepper and black olive sauce
  • Braised short ribs with roasted beets and creamy polenta

Ray also has meatless suggestions for Thanksgiving entrees including:

  • Sicilian roast stuffed eggplant
  • Ribolitta con Verdure
  • Tofu Jambalaya (with shrimp)
  • Eggplant “steak” lasagna stacks
  • Dandelion green gumbo
  • Vegetable ravioli lasagna

Two Thanksgiving side dishes she favors are sweet potatoes, one with low fat buttermilk or another version with honey. They can be sprinkled with orange juice and a small amount of brown sugar.

As appetizers and other side dishes, Ray suggests baby spinach salad with mandarin orange and red onions, pumpkin soup with chili cran-apple relish, or orange-scented green beans.

For any turkey day leftovers, possible later dishes are turkey and gravy whole wheat spaghetti, chicken or turkey quesadillas or pizzas from a pizza oven, turkey empanadas, turkey pasta, or turkey stoup (a variation of soup and stew) served with crusty bread.

Three Means in One Hour

Among the non-Thanksgiving dishes she made in Washington was halibut pressed on one side only into corn meal for crusting with Old Bay seasoning and served with bacon, leeks, and tomato for a “BLT fish dinner,” as Ray termed it.

In addition, she made a shrimp scampi spaghetti meal in one pan in which the pasta also cooked. Ray melted anchovies in olive oil noting they lose their fish taste. “They develop a flavor very similar to melted nuts.” (Here’s some olive oil dispensers you may like)

The next ingredients are a crushed red pepper or one fresh chili pepper and several cloves of garlic and herbs of choice and melted butter with a quart of stock in a box. “As soon as that garlic gets fragrant, add a couple of cups of white wine,” she said. When the stock starts to boil, add one pound of pasta and put a lid over it. In the last couple of minutes, throw in a pound of shrimp. (Here are some great garlic presses for you!)

Finally, she fixed what she said was one of the more popular dishes downloaded from her Web site: a black pepper parmesan burger with roasted tomatoes and basil and balsamic drizzle. If using a large food processor, Ray said anyone could grind their own meat which can be a combination of brisket, sirloin, or ground or chopped beef.

She cooked the burger patties on a hot skillet until seared, about 6 minutes per side. When the burgers are ready, some crispy lettuce can be placed on the patty bottoms and they can be topped with Parmigiano sauce, a couple of roasted tomatoes, some basil, and balsamic drizzle.

A favorite meal of her husband’s is carbonara bacon and egg spaghetti, in which she beats the eggs with the reserved pasta cooking water. When she cooks the pasta, Ray pours in saffron stock and pepper and then turns off the heat and stirs in the egg yolks, cheese, and parsley.

For children, she likes making macaroni and cheese with whole wheat or whole gain pasta as a source of protein, fiber, and nutrients. She prepares a cheese sauce with sharp yellow cheddar cheese and mixes in some canned unsweetened pumpkin (make sure to open with a can opener). Another related option is a white mac and cheese with chopped cauliflower.

One tip Ray had at the cooking show is undercooking pasta. She pours the water out into a small coffee cup before putting the pasta into a colander to separate the liquids and to give it a good shake. Next she adds olive oil or butter or sauce. “If the pasta seems a little dry and there’s not enough sauce, then you can add a bit of water back in.”

Cooking With Economy and Time in Mind

Given the current economy, Ray tries to recommend less expensive cuts of beef in her recipes and thinly sliced such as steak with marinade or teriyaki or barbeque.

Note: you can use a vacuum marinator! They work like a vacuum sealer, but are meant to better marinade your food!

She acknowledged that braising and slow cooking can be tough on 30-minute meal preparation. On Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day, her newest program on the Food Network spin-off the Cooking Channel, she tries to help people cook for the entire week

On the show Ray demonstrates meals designed to be prepared in advance. The recipes overlap to enable commonality in ingredients. (In addition, Ray has an iPhone application to access recipes and combine them into ingredient lists for shopping and organizational purposes.) She uses a lot of slow cooked meats with the objective of taking one day over the weekend to cook for the week ahead by preparing one to five meals ahead of time.

Viewers also can go online to see her prepare 30-minute meals in live time without commercials. She typically makes stews, chili, pastas, sauces, pesto, and vegetable-based entrees such as eggplant or watercress that can be eaten hot or cold.

While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!

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