I used to think I was a good cook, once upon a time. But of late I’ve been second guessing myself in a major way.  It may have started with some woefully overcooked salmon. Then I made some rubbery pork chops. Long story short, I lost some of my kitchen confidence. And then my big mouth gets me into situations like this.

Recently one of our best friends in the world, Francisco Alvarado – esteemed Miami journalist and one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet if you have the opportunity – mentioned that he had no Thanksgiving plans set in stone. I said “come to Chicago! I’ll make it the best Thanksgiving ever!” So of course he booked a plane ticket and is coming to our home for turkey and all the fixins. And another really good friend of ours, the amazing Tim Ronan, will be coming to Casa Afrobella as well. Dios mio.


The realization that Thanksgiving will be THIS COMING THURSDAY started to fill me with understandable panic. So I turned to friend of Afrobella and respected Chicago chef, Chef Julius Russell of A Tale Of Two Chefs, for much needed advice on key things.

Like how to cook my first turkey ever.

First Time Turkey Advice from Chef Julius

The first thing to remember is to not panic. Yes, the turkey is the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table but” way too often, people make avoidable mistakes. There are several important factors for making your first turkey. Having the right equipment is very important. Items like an instant read thermometer, roasting pan with a rack, plastic turkey baster, measuring cup and aluminum foil are all key pieces of equipment. First timers should start with a smaller bird. A 10lb bird is a good starting point. It also leaves room for you to have another protein that you can order from a professional. Properly thawing the turkey is the key to getting off on the right foot. The standard rule is 24 hours for every 5 lbs. Make sure your refrigerator setting is around 40 degrees. Also, have EVERYTHING you need for seasoning out and placed in your cooking area before you start. Use a mixture of stock/wine in the base of your roasting pan for basting as the turkey is cooking. The white meat cooks faster than the dark meat, so use foil to cover the breast while the legs and thighs are still cooking.”

My husband says he’s gonna take lead on the turkey, so all I needed was dessert advice. There are SO many pumpkin pie recipes out there. I needed to get some perspective.

Thanksgiving Dessert Advice from Chef Julius

“I understand the desire to want to make dessert. But if you are making a turkey for the first time, you may not want to wear yourself out for your first go-around. However if you must, here are a few ideas to make it a bit easier.

1. Go with miniatures. They are so much more fun and “bite-size” can go further without taking up so much space. Also, you can pair it with ice cream, which saves you some cooking time and the effect is still the same.

2. Stay seasonal to save money. Apples are in season and make for easy no-fuss pies.

3. If you must do pumpkin pie, save some energy and purchase it from a reputable (non-grocery store) bakery.”

OK, good stuff. I’ve decided to contact my favorite bakery, Chi Bakery and Café, for a special order of cupcakes and their incredible “dreampillow” cookies to supplement the pie I buy!

Now, the rest of the meal. What do I make?? Chef Julius came up with a menu that would allow me and my husband to whip up “the best Thanksgiving ever,” without needing to freak out. And I’m here to share it with you! Bellas and fellas, I present:

Chef Julius’ Foolproof Thanksgiving Menu and Recipes!

B & B Sugar Glazed Turkey (Balsamic & Brown Sugar)

Andouille & Cranberry Orange Stuffing

Wild Mushroom Gravy

French Green Beans w/ Lemon Zest

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Pumpkin Pie or Pina Colada Bread Pudding

Balsamic & Brown Sugar Glazed Turkey (B&B)

1 10-12lb free range turkey
2 cups Savory Choice Turkey stock
2 cup Cantaluna Chardonnay or any Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
1 ½ cups balsamic vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar
2-3Tb Giangrandi Gourmet extra virgin olive oil or any Chilean olive oil
2Tb Red Monkey Hickory Smoked Balsamic Seasoning (optional)
1tsp Chef Julius’ Gourmet Salt Blend
1 TB Chef Julius’ Gourmet Pepper

Directions :
– Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
– Mix the turkey stock with the wine in a bowl and set aside.
– In another bowl, add balsamic vinegar, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, pepper & balsamic seasoning. Whisk together and set aside.
– Rub the balsamic mixture into the turkey. Be sure to rub some of the mixture under the skin. Let marinate for 45min.
– Place the turkey on the rack and place it inside of a roasting pan and baked uncovered for 30 minutes.
– Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Cover the skin on the turkey breast with aluminum foil.
– Pour the wine mixture to the bottom of the roasting pan. Return the turkey to the oven
– Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 3 ½ hours, until done. Be sure to start basting the turkey every 20min for the last hour of roasting.
– When the temperature registers 160 – 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer, the turkey is done. 

Allow the turkey to rest on a carving board for 15-20min before carving.

Andouille and Cranberry Orange Stuffing
1 bag Marcy’s Gourmet Cranberry Orange Stuffing
2Tb Giangrandi Gourmet extra virgin olive oil
1 cup Cajun Andouille sausage (diced)
3 medium shallots (diced)
1 medium leek (diced)
2 cups Savory Choice Chicken Stock (warmed)
1Tb roasted garlic puree
1Tb “Slap Ya Mama” Creole Seasoning

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
– Place a sauté pan on medium heat for 2 min. Add the olive oil and heat for 1-2 min more.
– Next, add the shallots, leeks, and pureed garlic. Sauté  for 3-5min.
– Add the andouille sausage and Creole seasoning and cook 5 min more.
– Pour contents from the pan into a bowl and add the Marcy’s Cranberry Orange Stuffing.
– Next , bit by bit, add Savory Choice chicken stock, until mixture is moist but not too wet.
– Bake in the oven for 20-25min. Serve with B&B Roasted Turkey


Chef Julius’ Haricot Vert (French Green Beans)
1lb French green beans (rinsed and tips removed on one end)
2Tb Giangrandi Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ tsp Chef Julius’ Salt Blend
1 tsp Etnia Merquen Spice Blend (optional)
½ lemon (zest and juice)
2T kosher salt or sea salt for blanching

– Bring a large pot to a boil and add the kosher salt
– Add the beans and boil 5-7 min.
– Use a slotted spoon and place beans in an ice bath. The ice bath will stop the cooking process.
– Place beans on a paper towel and let drain.
– Heat a sauté pan on med-high heat for 2min. Add the olive oil. Heat 2min more.
– Add the beans and sauté for 3-5min. Add the merquen spice & Chef Julius’ Salt Blend. Sauté for 2min more.
– Remove the beans and sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve warm and enjoy!


Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (Serves3-4)
4 – 6 large potatoes
2-4 TB unsalted butter
½ cup roasted garlic puree
1-1 ½ cups heavy cream
Chef Julius Salt Blend
Chef Julius Pepper Blend

– Place potatoes in a large pot and cover them with water.
– Bring pot to a boil and boil for 25-30min, until potatoes are fork tender
– Drain the water, allow potatoes to cool a bit and remove the skin. (The potatoes should still be warm)
– Place peeled potatoes into a large bowl and add the olive oil. Use a potato masher and incorporate the butter into the potatoes.
– Next add 1TB each of salt & pepper. Use the masher again. The mixture should be really soft and have a smooth texture.
– Start adding the heavy cream, about ¼ cup at a time. Use a wooden spoon to incorporate it. Continue to taste and season as you go. Serve warm.

And there you have it, a foolproof Thanksgiving! Of course the specific ingredients mentioned may not be readily available on such short notice, but this is a helpful guide for me and I hope for you!

Thank you again, Chef Julius!!

What are YOU making this Thanksgiving, bellas? Recipes are always welcome!!

Filed Under:


India says:
November 21, 2011, 7:09 am
Cool beans! I wish I was there. This is my first thanksgiving ever and its just going to be four of us. No friends, no family. I'm a little bummed because I'm used to people being around. Any who, great diversity of friend! I want to be at your table. I have a melting pot of loved ones, and I love it when we all get together. It just makes it more festive with all walks of life come together to give thanks. Happy Holidays!
pets says:
November 21, 2011, 12:14 pm
It is all about the thawing and cooking times.
Deena says:
November 22, 2011, 10:28 am
I've been looking for a good side to bring for Thursday, so this is right on time. Thanks for these recipes, Bella! I think I'll try the haricots verts or the mashed potatoes.
Sherry Blossom says:
November 22, 2011, 10:55 am
Sounds like "dinner is SERVED" in a mmmmmm who made this dish kind of way LOL....have a great time and enjoy your holidays. I love the tips the chef shared. I just learned to cook a little over a year ago (*gasp* lol) and cooking for others still overwhelms me I think I'll be ready in a few years (lol cooking IS an art!)
Shiks says:
November 23, 2011, 7:36 am
I love Yes Divas can cook. She has great recipes and videos. Her red velvet and carrot cake are winners. Happy holidays Bella.