Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving & Turkey what are we thankful for?

If there is one holiday at the top of my list it would have to be Thanksgiving. You might ask why. It is really a holiday that is all about getting together with family over some really great food. It's not as stressful or hectic as Christmas and allows you time to have a good meal and get together with family and friends to relax and  enjoy the holiday season.  
Mom's turkey basting secret "cheesecloth"

In our family we were raised by good cooks. My mother and her twin sister, who were affectionately known as the "gold-dust twins," could cook like nobody's business.  My mother made the best American potato salad and her sister made the best German potato salad. Leaving out one or two secret ingredients from their famous recipes before passing them along was not uncommon.
  Cheesecloth holds the basting liquid on the bird. Whatever ends up in the pan enhances the gravy.
This year I thought about all of the things that I am thankful for. First and foremost is my family and friends. My brother and sister who live in the south with their families couldn't be with us this year. Living in a condo also places some limitations on the size of group you can have over at one time. In our case we artfully managed 17 people.  
Second basting of butter and turkey stock
To make things easier for everybody we shared the responsibility of the meal with everyone. We made the turkey, stuffing/dressing, gravy and mashed potatoes. My mother-in-law made a corn bread casserole. My daughter made sweet potatoes, my son made sour cream cucumbers, my sister and brother-in-law and niece brought a cauliflower casserole, a green bean casserole and Fannie May Mint Meltaway's. My other sister and our nephew brought black olives, Pumpkin, Apple, French Silk pies, and cranberries. My youngest son, girlfriend and children brought a long folding table, chairs, dinner rolls, and hors d'euvres. Of course it was BYOB which lowers the up front cost for everyone. 
PS. My daughter, the chef, finished working at 4:00 pm. so we gave her the day off.
Fourth basting of butter and turkey stock
Time to remove the cheesecloth, cover and let rest 45 min - 1 hour
As you see from the above picture, the cheesecloth does not prevent the turkey from developing a deep golden skin. It really is the best way to keep most of the basting liquid on top of the turkey. 
Cheesecloth off

Carving a picture perfect turkey with an electric knife or very sharp carving knife.
Giblet broth, turkey stock and butter creates your basting liquid
By the time we sat down to dinner it was time to relax and talk about good times, turkey, dressing/stuffing, memories and how preparing a meal of this magnitude is getting more difficult as we get older. We also discussed what might or might not have been served at the very first Thanksgiving. The fact is that turkey was probably not on the menu. 
In the turkey stuffing, out of the turkey dressing
Then we moved on to British Invasion Rock Bands of the 60's. We all left a little wiser and really had a good time. Leave a comment and tell us who your favorite British Invasion band of the 60's was.
A little of each in the turkey cavity
The worst part of this or any holiday meal is the mountain of dirty dishes. Is it time to pass this tradition of holiday meals on to the children? I think so! Teaching the children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren family recipes, and recruiting them to help cook is how traditions are passed down in a family. 
Have a Happy Holiday Season. 
Dinner is served. Who stole my skin?
If you live in the Chicago area try and get to the Christkindlmarket. It is German style Christmas market held annually at Daley Plaza in Chicago, Illinois. If you crave German food you must go. For further information go to the Christkindlmarket website at
Left-overs Open Faced Turkey Sandwich
© TMelle 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket

In my constant quest to see the fall color change and hopefully get some nice photographs, on this particular Sunday my wife and I took a road-trip to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. The main draw for me was that you can hike, or drive through the arboretum which mostly features trees from all over the world. 
The fish were jumpin
Prior to our road trip, I reviewed an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This episode featured Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois. A quick check of Mapquest revealed that it was located about nine miles from the Morton Arboretum.To view that Triple D episode on YouTube follow this link:

Peter Peter pumpkin eater

Being at the right place at the right time can be tricky for fall color
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is not a diner, it’s not a drive-in, and most certainly not a dive. Due to it's close proximity to Rte. 66 and the current I-55, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is really more of a roadhouse. Most roadhouses are located along highways or roads in rural areas or on the outskirts of towns. In this case it is the historic Rt. 66, near the present day I-55. Prior to about 1962 Rte. 66 was the road to travel. Once the Interstate highway system was built most businesses on Rte. 66 vanished as the new Interstate passed them by. Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket survived. How is this possible? I wondered. It must be really good food. All I can say is I’m glad that I have GPS or would have been lost. During the day if you really look hard their sign is visible from I-55. Getting there is a little tricky. Ultimately we reached our destination and it was still light out. The sign/historical marker in the front parking lot tells their story and their slogan "Get Your "Chicks" on Rte. 66."

The sign in front says it all
Judging from the many cars in the parking lot I was expecting a long wait to be seated. In the entrance there was a menu board listing their daily specials. Lobster pot pie was one of the selections. Yum! Since we came for chicken, chicken it would be. We were greeted a hostess who showed us to a table and gave us menu's. 
The room was warm and inviting and had a roaring fire in the fireplace. Within minutes we were approached by our waitress and asked if we wanted to order drinks. She left us to look over the menu. 
Under the heading "Chicken, Chicken and More Chicken!" was what we came for:
Our Famous Fried Chicken in a Basket
1/2 fresh Grade A chicken cut into four pieces, hand breaded and deep-fried in TRANS FAT &CHOLESTEROL FREE shortening. Served with French fries, homemade Cole slaw and freshly baked biscuits. Please allow 30 minutes! No substitutions please! All white meat is available for $3.00.
All of this for $11.95. For an additional $5.00 more you can get their Fried Chicken Dinner which is the same as the basket but includes mashed potatoes, green beans and the soup and the salad bar.
Winner winner chicken dinner
When our waitress returned we each ordered the chicken basket. I just kept thinking about their lobster pot pie and their chicken pot pie. I decided that I really wanted the chicken pot pie to go. She told me that they were all out of them and suggested calling ahead next time because on Sunday the pot pies sell out fast. She informed me that they did have 3 lobster pot pies left and if I wanted one to take home they are half baked and ready to be finished at home. She told me that each pot pie had the meat from a whole lobster in it. I took one home to enjoy at a later date.
I got one to go
We were served a basket of fresh biscuits and butter packets. In the basket there was one half of one biscuit in it covered in whole buscuits. Was this a left-over from a previous customer? The biscuits seemed like drop biscuits and were very good especially with honey. 
The dinner was served and it was plump, juicy, and really delicious. This is not the chicken you will find at your average corporate chicken restaurant. This is the real deal chicken dinner reminiscent of the type of chicken you would expect at a Mom & Pop restaurant in the 60's. Support your local Mom and Pop's so they don't vanish.
To see the episode featuring Dell Rheas Chicken Basket on WGN "Chicago's Best" follow this link
PS. The lobster pot pie was delicious! It took about 20 minutes to finish cooking it in a 325 degree oven. 
Check out Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket menu, directions and website at
© TMelle 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sausage and Cheese Biscuit Hors d' oeuvres

Fried Bologna
While I do enjoy watching a good football game from time to time, part of that time spent must include an outdoor or indoor tailgate party to help pass the time. As I've gotten older tailgating usually involves a television and indoor or outdoor cooking. Usually during football season a bowl of hot chili takes the edge off of the Midwestern fall weather.
Game Day Chili
When my brother moved from Chicago to Mississippi he quickly developed a taste for all things southern, including the laid back, low and slow cooking and lifestyle attitude that goes with it. He quickly developed a taste for things like fried bologna sandwiches, Beaufort stew, pulled pork and ribs, and brisket just to name a few.
Pulled pork sliders

One day he asked if I had ever tried sausage and cheese biscuit balls. I hadn’t. He said that they were a big hit whenever they went to a Mississippi football game. I’m not sure who invented this recipe but it is often associated with a company that makes and sells breakfast sausage like Jimmy Dean or Bob Evan’s, or Bisquick.  I personally prefer Bob Evans brand over others so I’ll stick with that.

If you have a party store in your area, they have a large number of sports theme party supplies. Since I was doing football snacks I was thinking of football party supplies. We have a “Party City” near us and they even have sports theme party recipe ideas at I quickly found exactly what I was looking for football shaped party picks and table cloths for my sausage balls.
Sausage and Cheese Biscuits Ingredients
What you’re going to need:
1 pound spicy pork sausage, Bob Evan's preferred

10 ounces cheddar cheese, grated good quality
3 cups baking mix, such as Bisquick, or self-rising flour
to taste Sriracha hot sauce, or any hot sauce that you prefer
to taste Kosher salt  
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Options: You have many options when making these sausage and cheese bites. Just before they are finished baking you can brush melted butter on the outside and lightly sprinkle with garlic salt and parsley and put them back into the oven to finish baking.
Breakfast sausage
If you have a stand mixer, using the slow speed and the paddle attachment combine the uncooked sausage, Bisquick, cheese and a couple of drops of hot sauce to your taste. Be careful so that you only combine the ingredients and don't over mix. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and make the sausage balls 1 inch in diameter. Place the balls about 1 inch apart so that they don't grow together. If you don't have a stand mixer just mix the ingredients by hand.
Add flour to sausage
Place the trays into the oven and bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Don't allow to over cook. They will be tough if you do. Remove from oven and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Add cheese to flour and sausage
Form 1 inch sausage balls
Sausage balls baked
Serve and may the best team win
Serving suggestion: 
If you like you can make a milk gravy dipping sauce to pour over or as a dipping sauce. 
Melted butter (bacon grease preferred)
Add flour to fat
To make the Milk Gravy you’re going to need:
1/3 cup hot bacon drippings, or melted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cup milk
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Cook roux at least 1 minute
In a saucepan heat the bacon drippings until hot. Stir in the flour and cook for about another minute to get rid of the starchy flour taste.
Add in hot milk
Using a wire whisk slowly stir in the hot milk until until well blended. Continue stirring until the gravy thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
Season to taste
Serve immediately in a bowl with a small spoon or spoon over the sausage balls. It's game time!
 © TMelle 2013