Thanksgiving Dinner Part II: The Sides

In my last blog post, I covered the ins and outs of the Thanksgiving turkey.  Now, let’s get into what’s arguably the most exciting part of Thanksgiving dinner – the sides.  Side dishes are the real stars of the table and many of us will happily make an entire meal out of them.  For this reason they deserve just as much attention as the turkey.

See The Kitchn's tips on organizing your buffet table.

See The Kitchn’s tips on organizing your buffet table.

Below are a few of the side dishes that’ll be gracing my table this Thanksgiving.  For those looking for vegetarian options, it’s important to note that variations of these recipes can easily be made by simply substituting the turkey stock with vegetable stock and by removing the bacon.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten about my gluten-free friends.  My Sweet Potato Puree is a great gluten-free side dish and the Brussels Sprout and Bacon Gratin can easily become gluten-free by substituting for GF breadcrumbs.  Here are some additional GF side dishes to check out.

Gluten-free side dishes abound.

Gluten-free side dishes abound.

Prepping and Serving Go ahead and make it easy on yourself by prepping some of your side dishes, such as the start of the stuffing, the night before.  Here are a few pointers on what can be prepped ahead of time.

Whether buffet-style, family-style or a combination of both, the manner in which you serve your Thanksgiving dinner is totally up to you.  Generally, a buffet is a great option, especially if you’ll be feeding a lot of people.  Here’s a nice guide on how to organize your buffet for ultimate enjoyment.

And lastly, without a doubt the most important thing that you should do this Thanksgiving is enjoy your time with loved ones. Have fun creating new memories.


Chef Aram

P.S. – Have a last minute Thanksgiving cooking question?  Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook @chefaramreed!

Enjoy your company

Enjoy your company!

Cranberry Pecan Cornbread Stuffing 

3 boxes, Cornbread Mix ( I love Jiffy)

3 Eggs

1 C Whole Milk

1 C Candied Pecans, rough chopped

1 C Dried Cranberries (Dried Cherries can be used as a substitute)

3-4 C Turkey Stock (see my Thanksgiving Part I post for an easy DIY turkey stock)

3 T Sage, minced


Bake off cornbread recipe following directions on the box

Once cornbread is done, using thongs, break up the cornbread

Add stock, cranberries, sage and pecans

Return mixture to cornbread pan until stuffing has absorbed and dried the stock

Return to 400 degree oven and bake for 10-15 min

Serve and enjoy



Sweet Potato Puree

4 lb of Sweet Potato, small dice

2 T butter

1⁄4 cup Makers Mark

2 T Brown Sugar

2T Sage, minced


Small dice sweet potatoes and place in pot of water

Bring to a boil and cook until tender, approx. 20 min

Drain water

Add remaining ingredients and puree with immersion blender until smooth

Season with salt and pepper to taste

Serve and enjoy



Brussels Sprout and Bacon Gratin 

1 lb Bacon, cooked until crispy, then rough chop with knife

1⁄2 C Reserved Bacon Fat

3 lb Brussels Sprouts, julienned

1 1⁄2 C Heavy Cream

1 Shallot, minced

8oz White Cheddar, grated

3 Rosemary Sprigs, minced

1C Breadcrumbs

1T Vegetable Oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In large sauté, bring to medium heat. Add bacon fat

Sauté brussels sprouts until bright green, remove and place in bowl

Add 1T of oil and sauté rosemary and shallot until tender, 2 min

Add cream and leave on heat until bubbles appear.

Add to brussels sprouts and stir

Place brussels sprouts in casserole dish.  Add cheese, breadcrumbs and bacon

Place in oven and cook until cheese has melted and is golden brown, approx. 15-20 min

Serve and enjoy

Thanksgiving Dinner – Part I: The Bird

Let’s be honest, Thanksgiving is America’s favorite holiday because it’s the only day that’s all about the food.  We’ve waited the entire year for that big, golden bird with all the trimmings.  This is the day where foods that dare not meet during other months, now, happily rub shoulders with one another to form glorious food-collages on our plates.

Thanksgiving Dinner If you’re the person who’ll be preparing this year’s dinner – kudos!  I’ve got a few pro tips that’ll make this the easiest (and best-tasting) Thanksgiving dinner ever.

In this blog post, we’ll start with the turkey.  First, let’s decide which type of turkey you’ll buy.  This is really all about preference.  If you’re interested in purchasing a local bird, here’s a good list of places in Chicago where you can pre-order your bird.  There are several turkey variations available such as “natural”, “kosher” and  “heritage” all of which can be a little confusing, but Saveur has laid out the differences for us.

See Saveur's list of what's what in the world of turkeys.

See Saveur’s list of what’s what in the world of turkeys.

Now that we’ve selected our turkey, let’s get cooking. The first mistake that many make with the turkey begins with the cook’s picturesque vision of a whole bird cooked to perfection and served on a platter all ready to carve.  If you have that vision, dump it.

For the best turkey that you’ve ever had, I want you to deconstruct your turkey into two parts: leg/thigh quarters and breasts.  Why?  Well, we all know that white meat cooks faster than dark meat, so by breaking down your turkey, you’re allowing for a more even cooking process.  It’s called the cut-up-and-cook approach and in addition to a juicier turkey, you’ll also get a richer tasting gravy with this method.

Here’s a video on how to deconstruct your turkey at home with just a few simple cuts.  Make sure that you have a good, sharp knife.  And if you feel uncomfortable breaking it down yourself, just ask your butcher to do it for you. (Note: I recommend keeping the leg and thigh quarter together and this video separates them. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your preference.).  Once you’ve deconstructed your turkey, follow my Thanksgiving turkey recipe below.

Thanksgiving Turkey

1 Turkey, broken down into two parts, leg/thigh quarters and breasts, on separate sheet trays

4T Dried Herbs de Provence

Salt and Pepper

1 Shallot, small dice

1 C White Wine

3 C Turkey Stock

2T Butter

1⁄2 Cup Cranberry Puree


• Season turkey with salt, pepper and dried herbs

• Preheat oven to 400 degrees

• In large sauté pan, medium-high heat, add olive oil

• Place turkey skin side down, sear until golden brown ~4-5 min

• Add 1-2T of butter to pan and swirl around

• Flip over, and sear the other side until golden brown

• Remove turkey from pan and place on sheet trays, then in the oven

• Cook until turkey reaches internal temp of 165 degrees.

• 1 hr for white meat, 1.5 hrs for dark meat quarters

• Turn the heat down to medium-low

• Add extra fat if needed to pan, then add shallot

• Sauté until tender, ~2-3 min

• Take a sip of the wine, then add the rest to the pan to deglaze

• Scrape bottom of pan to make sure all the bits come up off the bottom

• Let wine reduce 2-3 min, then add stock. Lets reduce for 10 min

• Add cranberry and butter. Swirl pan, possibly whisk to break up cranberry

• Season to taste with salt and pepper

 Turkey Stock

4 Carrots, rough chop

5 Celery Stalks, rough chop

4 Fresh Rosemary sprigs

Salt and Pepper

Turkey carcass

1 Lg Stock Pot


• In large stock pot, add carrots, rosemary and celery along with turkey carcass

• Fill stock pot with water just short of the top

• Bring to boil, then down to a simmer for 2 hrs.

• Strain stock to remove all impurities

• Return stock pot to burner and reduce until desired color and flavor

• Season with salt and pepper to taste

Make sure the internal temp reaches 165 degrees!

Make sure the internal temp reaches 165 degrees!

Once the turkey is done, go ahead and grab that beautiful platter of yours and arrange the turkey for presentation.  Trust me, once you and your guests take a bite of this bird, they’ll be singing your praises.

 In my next blog post I’ll share a few side dishes that I like to add to my Thanksgiving spread.  Don’t forget to ping me @chefaramreed on Facebook and Twitter with any Thanksgiving cooking questions.


Chef Aram

Giving Green Beans the Spotlight: Green Bean Salad

Green Bean Salad

Green Bean Salad

It’s time to rediscover the green bean!  Green beans get such a bad wrap.  Most of us grew up eating either the canned or frozen variety which was probably overcooked to the point of only a mushy semblance of a string bean.  Thankfully, we now have access to fresh green beans as close as your nearest farmers market.

When choosing green beans at your farmers market, be patient and take a little time to select individual green bean instead of grabbing large handfuls.  Trust me, the extra effort will be worth it when chow time comes.  Here are a more  tips on how to choose, store and prepare green beans.

Now that you have your fresh green beans ready, here’s a quick and easy recipe that’s perfect for your next meatless meal or side dish.  I also love this dish because it’s a great alternative to a traditional leafy greens salad.  For a protein boost alternative, add a can of tuna.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Green Bean Salad

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  shallot, minced

3  garlic cloves, minced

1/2  cup dry white wine

1  pound green beans, trimmed

1  14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1  14-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1  14-ounce can habichuela beans, drained and rinsed

2  tablespoons parsley, minced

1  tablespoon lemon zest

kosher salt



In a sauté pan, add olive oil, shallot and garlic and sauté on medium heat for one minute.  Add dry white wine and reduce.

Blanch green beans in a pot of salted boiling water for two minutes.  Drain and transfer to ice bath.

In a bowl, combine chickpeas, cannellini beans and habichuela beans.  Add green beans, shallots and garlic.  Toss with parsley and finish with olive oil, salt and lemon zest.

Cover and refrigerate for one hour.  Serve cold.



Chef Aram


Chef Aram’s Spicy Summer Playlist

Blog Image Playlist-01


When you step into my kitchen, you’re likely to hear good music mixed in with the sounds of chopping and simmering.  For me, music just adds to the vibe and gets all of my creative juices flowing.  Here’s a taste of what I’m listening to this summer.

Chef Aram’s Spicy Summer Playlist

1.  ”Cocoa Butter Kisses” – Chance the Rapper

2.  ”Money Trees” – Kendrick Lamar

3.  ”Royals” – Lorde

4.  ”Pound Cake” – Drake

5.  ”Keep On Pushing” – The Impression

6.  ”Valerie” – Amy Winehouse

7.  ”Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks

8.  ”Can I Kick It” – A Tribe Called Quest

9.  ”So Far To Go” – J Dilla

10.  ”Sweet Jane” – The Velvet Underground

11.  ”Fancy” – Iggy Azalea

12.  ”0 to 100″ – Drake

13.  ”New Slaves” – Kanye

14.  ”Astronomy (8th Light)” – Black Star

15.  ”SpottieOttieDopaliscious” – OutKast

Now it’s your turn!  What are you listening to?  Tweet me or Facebook me.

As seen on WGN: Farmer’s Market Vegetable Gratin


It’s always a blast visiting the WGN Midday crew!  Thanks to everyone who watched today’s segment.  Here’s the full recipe and you can view the video here.  This really is the perfect dish to include in your  4th of July festivities, so give it a try and let me know what you think on  Twitter  or Facebook!

Farmer’s Market Vegetable Gratin

2 to 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter
1 medium yellow squash, ends trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 Japanese eggplant or other small narrow eggplant, end trimmed and cut into ¼ inch slices
canola oil
2 1/2 cups cups coarsely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
kosher salt
1 Tbs + 1 tsp chopped thyme
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet. Heat about 2 Tbs canola oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic, and season with salt. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook onions until translucent, but without browning, for about 20 minutes. Stir in 1 Tbs of the thyme. Combine the yellow squash, zucchini, and eggplant in a large bowl, toss with the olive oil, and season with salt. Drizzle the slices of tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt. Combine the Parmesan, bread crumbs, and remaining 1 tsp thyme in a small bowl. Spread the onion mixture in the bottom of a 13½-by-9½-inch gratin dish or 13-inch round shallow baking dish. Layer the vegetables in the dish, working on the diagonal. Arrange a layer of overlapping slices of one-third of the zucchini around the outside edge of the dish. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tbsp of the cheese mixture over the top. Make a row of overlapping slices of yellow squash slightly overlapping the zucchini, and sprinkle 2 to 3 tbsp of the cheese mixture over the top. Make a third row with overlapping slices of tomatoes, slightly overlapping the zucchini, and sprinkle with cheese mixture. Do the same with the eggplant and continue making overlapping rows of the remaining vegetables, and sprinkle the top with any remaining cheese mixture and a light sprinkling of salt. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the vegetables are completely tender and offer no resistance when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Turn on the broiler. Just before serving, place the gratin under the broiler to brown the top.

Grilling the Chef: 20 Questions w/ Chef Aram


What did you eat today? 

A leftover bagel from a week ago and a five-course meal at Kinmont. In general, I eat a lot of burritos.

Favorite type of music to listen to when cooking?

R&B/Soul like the Supremes and Bill Withers. I love the positive energy.  

If you weren’t a private chef, what would you do for a living?

I’d be playing for the Chicago Bulls, but I just chose to be a chef instead.

What would be your ultimate final meal?

A big fat bone-in ribeye with an old fashioned.

What is your favorite charitable cause?

Anything that feeds hungry people. No one should go to bed hungry.  

Name someone you’d like to cook for, alive or dead.

Jacques Pepin and Julia Child circa 1950 and in Paris.

Best thing you’ve eaten lately?

Crispy pork shank at Dusek’s in Pilsen.

Wedding season is upon us, for couples about to tie the knot, what are the three must-have kitchen items couples should include in their registry?

Without a doubt, the top three kitchen must haves are a Vitamix, a Le Creuset pot and a really good knife.  All will last you for years to come.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I hate mushrooms.

You’re also a cooking instructor, what’s the most common question that students ask?

How do I cut an onion without crying.  Here’s the trick!

What’s in your fridge right now?

Everything for my event tomorrow and leftover spinach and cheese pizza from Pete’s Pizza.

What’s the one thing you’d like the world to know about the food scene in Chicago?

We’re number one.

Favorite Chicago neighborhood for a great meal?

Logan Square – no question.

What’s your favorite word?

Apparently, it’s “baby.”  Someone recently pointed out that I say it all the time but I’m not aware of it.


Sweet or Spicy  Spicy

Red or White  Red

Ice Cream or Gelato  Both, please.

Malort – Yea or Nay  Ugh, okay, if it’s Letherbee’s Malort then yea, but otherwise nay.

Cats or Dogs  Dogs

Sunrise or Sunset  Sunset

Cubs or Sox  Sox

Jordan or Rose  Rose who?

Chef Aram’s WGN Recipe – Pan Seared Salmon

wgn on the set

Cooking live with the team at WGN was a blast!  Many of you have requested the recipe of my pan seared salmon dish, so here it is!  You can also watch the full segment here.

Pan Seared Salmon Over Orange Fennel Salad

1/2 fennel bulb
1/4 red pepper
2 Tbs fennel fronds
1 orange, juiced and zested
2 Tbs olive oil
kosher salt
6 oz portion of salmon

Pre heat sauté pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil to pan, place salmon flesh side down to sear about 4 minutes. Then put pan into a 350-degree oven and continue to cook the fish for about 3 minutes or until opaque. Do not flip the fish.

Using a mandolin, slice fennel bulb and red pepper into small bowl, add fronds, juice and zest and pinch of salt, toss gently. Place salad on plate, add salmon on top and serve.


Chef Aram

Happy Birthday, Chicago!

Happy birthday, Chicago!  177 years old and you don’t look a day over a century. Such a momentous occasion sparks nostalgia and reminds me why I love this city. I love Chicago for the people. We are hard working people that put up with so much shit. The weather, the politics, the expense, but we are survivors. We live here because we want to. And together we make it one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Amazing neighborhoods, amazing food, amazing architecture, Midwestern values.

The following recipe is a taste of Chicago and I first made this dish as a contestant on Season One of ABC’s “The Taste”. It’s as an homage to Chitown, highlighting our city’s meatpacking and butchering history mixed with a host of flavors that reflect our city’s melting pot. Red pepper flakes straight from the table of your favorite pizza place. Sweet potatoes as a spin on the proverbial Midwestern “meat and potato” with a nod to our city’s soul food influence.

Sandburg got it right, “…city of the Big Shoulders…come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” Words that still ring true today and I’ve never been more proud to represent my city.

Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Sweet Potato and Kale



2T Garlic Minced
2T Red Chili Flakes
2T Fennel Seeds
1 Pork Tenderloin
2 Medium Sweet Potato
1T Butter
1T Brown Sugar
1/4c Bourbon
1 bunch, Kale

Pork: Trim off silver skin and any excess fat. Preheat oven to 375. Then pat down with paper towel to absorb any additional moisture. Season the pork with salt, garlic, chili flakes and garlic evenly.

Preheat saute pan to medium-hi heat. Add oil and brown Pork on all sides, about 5 min per side. Then transfer pork to sheet tray and put in oven for ~15 min. Internal temp should read 145F. Let rest for 5 min before slicing.

Potato: Peel sweet potato and cut into small dice. Add potato to boiling water, and boil until tender ~15 min. Drain water and add sugar, butter and bourbon to pot. Return potato and stir evenly. Season with salt. Using a masher or your spatula, stir potatoes until they are smooth in texture.

Kale: Rip kale leaves into one inch pieces, removing all stems. In saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil and then saute kale until bright green in color. 3 min. Don’t overcook, as you’ll want the texture to be just right.

Serve together and enjoy.


Chef Aram Reed

Super Football Meatball Sammich

Meatball SammichFood is the major rival of the Big Game this Super Sunday.  Long gone are the days of chip and dip and today’s Bowl partygoers chow down on a range of dishes from gourmet pizza to Super Bowl snack stadiums.

A favorite that I like to make: The Meatball Sammich.  A delicious classic that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Make this recipe your own by switching out marinara for BBQ sauce or adding your favorite cheese.  Give it a try and post a comment on my Facebook page or tweet me at @chefaramreed #Superbowl.


Super Football Meatball Sammich

1.5 lb of ground pork & Beef

1/2 sm onion, small diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 green onions, both green and white part, minced

1 egg, beaten

1/2-1 C bread crumbs

1T Thyme

1 T Rosemary

Salt/Pepper for seasoning

Place Saute pan on med-hi flame, add olive oil

Add onion, green onion, and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender, 3 ~5 min

Meanwhile in large bowl, combine remaining ingredients and begin to mix

Add onion mixture to the large bowl and combine well

Add more breadcrumbs if needed

Once combined, begin to roll out meatballs into 1″ balls, and place on sheet tray lined with parchment paper

Return same saute pan to burner, over med-hi flame, add olive oil

Brown each meatball on all sides and return to sheet tray

Once browned, finish cooking meatballs in oven at 375F, for 15-20 min or until completely cooked through

Add cooked meatballs into nice sub roll, top with your favorite marinara sauce, mozzarella and put under broiler for 2 min or until cheese is melty.  Top with fresh basil and serve.




Homemade Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower Soup

Two words – polar vortex. Yeah, I didn’t know it was a real thing either until it hit hard and shut down Chicago along with most of the country. We Chicagoans can withstand most weather conditions, but the below freezing double digits temps are just brutal. On cold, wintery days like these, there’s nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of soup. No, not the canned stuff with the red label, but fresh, homemade soup. Trust me, it’s way easier than you think!

One of my favorite soups this season is Curried Cauliflower with Roasted Peas and Potatoes. I stumbled across this variation of cauliflower soup and enhanced it with even more vegetables and some additional flavors. Traditionally, when we think of cauliflower soup, it’s the creamed version. However, charged with new resolutions, many of us are looking for healthy alternatives. This soup is full of vegetables to keep you immune system strong. And healthy doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice flavor, so I’ve added cilantro crème fraiche and sriracha to complement the curry. Pita bread toast points make for an easy and hearty one bowl meal.

Cauliflower Soup

1/3 cup cashew

1/3 cup almonds

1lb of small red potatoes, cut into small 1 in pieces

1 cup of peas, frozen or fresh

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 large head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 c crème fraiche

1 bunch of cilantro

Puréed with 2T olive oil

Pinch of salt


1. Put the cashews in a blender and blend until finely ground. Add 3/4 cup water and blend for 2 minutes. Pour the almond mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon. Discard the solids.

2. Preheat your oven to 400F. Cut potatoes into small 1 inch pieces, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on sheet tray until tender and starting to brown ~25 min

3. Once potatoes are done, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

4. Cut pita into triangles, season with olive oil and salt and bake on same sheet tray as potatoes until Golden Brown and Delicious , ~10 min

5. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden. Add the cauliflower, coconut milk, strained cashew milk, almonds, curry powder, tumeric, cumin, sugar, cinnamon, and salt as needed. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a low boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes.

6. Blend the soup with an immersion blender until the desired consistency is reached. If using a standing blender, allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes. Pour the soup into the blender. Hold the lid down firmly with a clean, folded towel over it. Start on low speed and blend until the soup is smooth. Return to the pot and reheat if serving hot. Add potatoes to the soup. Add peas right before you serve so they stay nice and bright green.

7. Ladle into bowls and garnish with caramelized onion, cashews, sriracha and cilantro before serving.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!