Food & Drink

Valley cooks share memorable Thanksgiving Day recipes

Lemon cheesecake bites
Lemon cheesecake bites Special to the Bee

It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving, the biggest cooking day of the year. And if you are lacking ideas on what to serve, don’t worry, these local chefs, food bloggers and home cooks have got you covered.

How does crème brûlée cheesecake, sausage and mushroom stuffing, and jalapeño creamed corn casserole sound? Oh, and what about a stuffed acorn squash and maybe bourbon bacon jam to slather on crackers or combine with cheese for an appetizer?

Fresno-based food blogger Linda Davis,, loves Thanksgiving because it gives her and others who are passionate about cooking the chance to show off their culinary skills.

Davis says it isn’t hard to make your Thanksgiving memorable. A little planning and some good recipes will leave your guests happy and satisfied.

“Thanksgiving is a time to do something special and unique,” she says. “And if you can make some things ahead of time, that always helps reduce the stress level.”

One dish that is relatively easy to make and looks festive is stuffed acorn squash. The squash is cut crosswise, scooped out and filled with a combination of dried cranberries, sweet potatoes, walnuts, Fuji apples and pumpkin seeds.

“It tastes so good and looks great on the table,” Davis says.

For desserts, pumpkin pie is always an option. But consider a cheesecake with a crème brûlée topping.

Fellow food blogger Stephanie Cholakian of Fresno,, says one of the things she enjoys the most about Thanksgiving is her great-aunt’s carrot cake.

“It really takes me back to my childhood,” Cholakian says. “I just love it.”

The cake is made in a Bundt pan and is not overly sweet. The cream cheese frosting provides just enough sweetness.

“And like a lot of Thanksgiving foods, it’s great as a leftover and even good for breakfast,” Cholakian says.

Sareen Bedoyan-Creede, an avid cook, is all for taking things up a notch on Thanksgiving. She likes to splurge and, yes, even be a little decadent. She’s gotten raves for her crème brûlée cheesecake, jalapeño creamed corn casserole and maple balsamic Brussels sprouts.

Bedoyan-Creede uses mascarpone cheese along with cream cheese for a lighter, fluffier texture.

“I like to think of Thanksgiving as being on a culinary adventure,” she says. “I am always looking for something different, something with the wow factor.”

And as for preparing the bird, Chef Catherine Heaney of Char in Visalia, likes a crispy turkey, and recommends deep frying.

“Fat is your friend: Skin wants to be fried,” she says.

If you are skittish about deep frying but like the skin to be nice and brown, she says brining will help. If you don’t brine, it’s still important to take the turkey out of its package and allow it to chill unclothed in your fridge for at least 1 hour before baking. The longer you do this, up to eight hours, the better, she says.

“It will cause most of the surface moisture to leave the skin and allow it to crisp up really nicely,” Heaney says.

Also, be careful about putting stuffing inside the turkey, as it may not reach the proper temperature. And don’t be afraid of salt: It helps dry out the skin, helping to make it crispy.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

Stuffed acorn squash

By Linda Davis.

2/3 cup dried, sweetened cranberries , soaked in hot water and drained

1 cup garnet sweet potato (yams), or carrot, chopped small

1 unpeeled Fuji apple, cored, diced

½ cup walnut pieces

2 tablespoon shallot, finely minced

1 teaspoon ground, dried sage

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

½ teaspoon kosher sea salt, to taste

¼ teaspoon ground pepper, to taste

2 acorn squash, cut in half crosswise, seeds and strings removed, trimmed to stand level

8 tablespoons vegetable stock

1 cup store-bought seasoned toasted baguette slices, chopped into cubes

1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds (pepitas), dried, unsalted, to garnish, if desired

Olive oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a cup of water in microwave and heat on high for 2 minutes. Remove from oven, add cranberries, and set aside to soak until needed.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except pepitas, and stir to combine. Fill squash halves to overflowing, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable stock, garnish with pepitas, place on baking sheet and spray squash and ingredients with non-stick olive oil cooking spray.

Place on baking sheet with sides, in middle of oven. Pour 1 cup of water around the base of squashes, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 55 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.

Cook’s note: This can be made in advance, covered tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated; cook one hour before serving time. Also, this can be cooked in advance for 45 minutes, and later reheated uncovered, for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, or until squash is fork tender.

Serves 4

Mushroom-sausage stuffing

By Tawnie Kroll,

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 cup chopped celery

2 cup chopped red onion

1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, 1/2 pound shittake mushrooms, sliced

1 pound hot Italian turkey sausage

1 cup vegetable broth

3 tablespoon brandy

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Salt and pepper

One 1-pound loaf country white bread with crust, cut into 1-inch cubes

Brush a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add celery and onions; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a very large bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to same skillet. Add both varieties mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until mushrooms brown and liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Scrape mushrooms into bowl with celery.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sausages to same skillet. Sauté until brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes; add to bowl with vegetables. Add 1 cup broth and 3 tablespoons brandy to same skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Pour broth mixture into same bowl; add herbs, salt, and pepper and toss. Mix in bread. Spoon stuffing into prepared dish. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic; cover stuffing with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover; bake until top begins to brown, about 25 minutes longer.

Grand Marnier orange cranberry sauce

By Linda Davis.

12 ounces (about 4 ½ cups) fresh cranberries

½ cup Grand Marnier, or triple sec

1 cup cranberry juice

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large peels of orange rind, without the pith

Place all ingredients in a medium pot and cook over medium heat. Bring to a boil while stirring occasionally, so sugar dissolves. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until most cranberries are split and mixture is nearly the thickness needed for a good sauce, about 6-10 minutes.

Sauce will thicken as it cools. Remove from heat and pour into one or two serving containers.

Cook’s note: If made in advance, allow to cool, then, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. When needed, warm in microwave on defrost power until sauce is warmed, about 2 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes about 3 cups sauce

Pistachio lemon mini cheesecakes

By Linda Davis.


½ cup unsalted pistachio nuts, plus 24 extra to garnish, if desired

½ cup graham cracker crumbs (four 4-segment pieces)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter


1 large egg

1 cup Philadelphia brand whipped cream cheese

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoon lemon zest (about 1 small lemon)

24 teaspoons (one 10-ounce jar) Dickenson’s Lemon Curd, to garnish (found in jam section of grocery store)

1 spray can of sweetened whipped cream, if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using nonstick baking spray, lightly coat a 24-mini muffin cups pan (or two 12-muffin cups pan).

For crust: Mix nuts, crackers and sugar together in a food processor. Pulse a few times until nuts are all chopped. Add melted butter and pulse again to blend briefly. Measure 1 scant tablespoon of crust mixture and place in bottom of each cup. With a pastry tamper (or your fingers), gently press down so mixture is firm in bottom of pan. Set aside.

For batter: In a medium bowl, combine cheesecake ingredients and mix with electric mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour 1 scant tablespoon of cheesecake mixture into each opening of mini muffin cups over nut crust mixture, being careful not to overfill, and dividing batter evenly.

Bake for 15-18 minutes. Mixture will puff and possibly crack, but not overflow. Once cheesecakes are slightly browned around edges, and gently pressing on top doesn’t leave a mark, remove from oven and cool for at least 30 minutes. They will sink a bit in the center.

If making ahead, at this point, the mini cheesecakes can be tightly covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Otherwise, loosen carefully around edges and scoop out each mini cheesecake.

Top with 1 teaspoon lemon curd per cheesecake, using a pastry bag and tip, or a small spoon. Add one pistachio nut and a small, slow spray of whipped cream to each mini cheesecake.

Cook’s note: The cheesecakes can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Serves 6-8

Roasted maple balsamic Brussels sprouts with bacon

By Sareen Bedoyan-Creede.

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved, stems removed

8 slices bacon, chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon maple syrup

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large sauté pan, cook chopped bacon until gently cooked on medium heat (4-6 minutes). Transfer cooked bacon to plate lined with paper towels; pour rendered fat into a small dish.

Line baking sheet with foil, toss Brussels sprouts with rendered fat, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Spread onto baking sheet. Roast, stirring half way through, until sprouts and caramelized (20 minutes). Add balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, coat evenly. Before serving, top with chopped bacon. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Jalapeño creamed corn casserole

By Sareen Bedoyan-Creede.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup chopped shallots

2 ½ cups half and half

Two 16 ounce-packages of frozen corn, thawed and drained

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons jalapeño or Anaheim chilies (diced)

Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, season to taste

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, grated

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

¼ pound Gruyere cheese, shaved, for top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add shallots and sauté over high heat until soft.

Stir in flour and whisk for 1 minute, then gradually add half-and-half. Heat to boiling over medium high heat, constantly whisking, until thickened.

Stir corn and chilies and bring back to a boil. Stir in salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, sugar, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup mozzarella.

Transfer to shallow 1  ½ quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese and top with Gruyere cheese slices. Bake for 10-15 minutes, to melt cheese and until top is golden. Garnish with jalapeño slices.

Crème brûlée cheesecake

By Sareen Bedoyan-Creede.

1 package of vanilla wafers, finely crushed (2 cups)

2 tablespoons sugar

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Three 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature

One 8-ounce package of mascarpone

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch of kosher salt

1¼ cups sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 tablespoons sugar

Tools needed: springfoam pan, kitchen torch

Position a rack in the center of oven, preheat to 375 degrees. Stir together vanilla wafer crumbs and 2 tablespoons sugar. Combine melted butter with crumb mixture until crumbs are evenly moist and clump together. Transfer mixture to 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and up the sides about 2 inches. Bake until golden brown and fragrant (9-12 minutes). Let pan cool.

Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. With a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, mascarpone, flour, salt on medium speed until smooth and fluffy (5 minutes). Be sure that cheese mixture doesn’t have lumps. Add 1 ¼ cups sugar and continue until smooth and blended.

Add vanilla and beat until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended. Pour the filing into the cooled crust and even out the top.

Bake for 55-65 minutes. Set on rack and cool completely. Unclasp springform pan and remove cake. Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar evenly on top and slowly glide kitchen torch over the sugar until melted and caramelized.

Maple roasted bourbon butternut squash

By Linda Davis.

1 butternut squash

2 tablespoon Jim Beam bourbon

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup Panko plain bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, sided baking pan with a silicon baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine maple syrup, olive oil, bourbon, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

Peel, seed, and chop squash into evenly sized, bite-size pieces. Add squash chunks to the large bowl of seasonings and toss together. Sprinkle in bread crumbs to coat. Spread squash evenly in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Cook in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until squash is fork tender, and bread crumbs are browned. Serve hot.

Cook’s note: To make in advance, prepare butternut squash chunks and seasoning sauce separately, and refrigerate until needed. When ready to serve, combine in a large bowl, toss gently, and sprinkle with panko bread crumbs. Then cook according to above directions.

Serves 4-6