Amy’s Holiday Favorites: Recipes, Gadgets, and Music

Who else is a sucker for "favorites" lists?

Oprah's favorites lists were always the first page I turned to when I used to get the magazine. Today, we're not getting Oprah's list, but Amy's list!

This list includes the recipes and gadgets I arm myself with year after year for holiday cooking and the Christmas albums that create the most nostalgia in my ear during the season.

For years (until I started using Spotify Premium), I had a personal tradition of purchasing a new Christmas album each Christmas season. I love listening to the same albums each year with one new one thrown in.

Since I start listening to Christmas music on the first of November (about the same time I start Christmas pieces with my students), it's the perfect time of year for a holiday favorites list as we're planning our biggest holiday meal of the year (Thanksgiving), and while simultaneously setting the mood for the upcoming Christmas season through music.

(Just a heads up that this post does not include my favorite Christmas repertoire for students. You can find a list of those in Trust Christmas Favorites: Repertoire I Return to Year After Year and Christmas Collaborations: Recommended Piano Ensembles Music.)


Favorite Holiday Recipes

Appetizers and Side Dishes

My family goes CRAZY over these Cranberry Feta Pinwheels from

cranberry-pinwheelsA couple of tips: First, I needed six tortillas when I used a regular soft taco shell size. If you use the large burrito shells, you might be okay. Second, adding 1/2 cup of sour cream to the mixture helped make it more spreadable. Adding thin slices of ham on top of the spread is a nice variation before rolling.


sausage-stuffed-mushroomsMushrooms are one of my top five foods. I could eat them on everything. Ina Garten's Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms are delectable. My best friend and I salivate over these puppies. The recipe calls for 5 oz. of mascarpone - forget that! Throw in the whole 8 oz container!


green-bean-casseroleMy sister-in-law often makes  Pioneer Woman's Green Bean Casserole, which everyone loves. It's as creamy as they come, and the pimentos are a nice touch.



The Bird

My husband and I hate nothing more than dry/overcooked meat. The best way to avoid dry turkey is to use a brine. Not only does our favorite turkey recipe use an excellent homemade brine, but it's also grilled. Drew loves to grill and smoke meat on our Kamado-style grill, so this recipe is a match made in heaven!

This brined/smoked turkey recipe is from a Canadian show I used to watch when we lived in Australia called Licensed to Grill.

After the first time my nephew ate it, he has forever declared, "Aunt Amy makes the best turkey" (sorry, Mom and grandma!) :-/

Here I am in 2010 with my first grilled turkey. He was a 25-pound beauty!


2012 - looking even better with experience!


The same 2012 turkey off the grill and on my favorite cutting board(recommended below). That's my mom with me. Can you tell?




Dessert and Sweets

I'm not usually in charge of dessert as I prefer cooking over baking, and no one else in my family likes being in charge of the meat. Even so, I still love making a few recipes during this season.


Super yummy and moist. Pinch of Yum hit this pumpkin bread recipe spot-on.

Note: I did one loaf and a pan of mini-muffins instead of two loaves. There ended up with a bit too much batter in the loaf, so it was still wet in the middle after 50 minutes in the oven. The batter was probably 3/4 whole in the loaf pan. If you do two loaves as the recipe calls for you, will probably be fine. 


ultimate-ginger-cookiesIna Garten's Ultimate Ginger Cookies are deliciously spicy. I'm not a huge ginger fan, but I still, love these. I pull back just a bit on the amount of chopped crystallized ginger in the recipe - just a little.



Favorite Gadgets

Disclaimer: The equipment and CD links are all Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you happen to purchase using these links, I will get a tiny percentage back without it costing you anything extra. 

This J.K. Adams Reversible Maple Carbing Board won America's Test Kitchen's carving board equipment test. One side is flat, and the other has a poultry-shaped well. The trench is nice and deep to catch juices. I've had plenty of messes over the years with turkey juices, so a deep

The Polder Digital In-Oven Thermometer, America's Test Kitchen's "best-buy" choice, has worked pretty well for us so far. A thermometer like this is an absolute must for anyone interested in smoking meats.


The oblong shape of the Trudeau Gravy Separator is perfect for pouring liquids into it from a pot.



The best and most convenient way to brine a large turkey and have it still fit in your fridge is to use these fantastic heavy-duty brining bags from Williams Sonoma. They come in a set of 3 sizes. I always use the biggest one, but the small bags are excellent for things like pork loins.

On the off years that we don't do the grilled turkey recipe, I often use this beautiful Autumn Fruit and Spice Brining Blend from Williams-Sonoma.



Christmas Albums

One of my personal Christmas traditions is to purchase one or two new Christmas albums each year. For some reason, Christmas is one of those times when I don't want to let Pandora randomly choose the music I listen to on the "Christmas station." I like having specific albums I listen to each December. I think a lot of it has to do with the nostalgia of listening to the same albums each season.

I usually just Google "Best Christmas Albums of 2016" or something of the sort to research what's out there.

This last CD has a story to it. Country music isn't usually my first choice. I don't hate it; I just don't like it as much as other styles. However, in March 2016, Joey Martin Feek passed away from cervical cancer. She grew up in the same hometown as my husband, Alexandria, Indiana. She was four years ahead of him in school. With a small-town population of just over 5,000, she became a source of local pride.

In September 2016, select movie theaters played the movie To Joey With Love which told her story. Her husband, Rory, took lots of video footage the last year she was alive, apparently, for no particular reason -he just felt for some reason like he should be filming their lives more. *insert tears!*

I cried

Share your favorite holiday grub and tunes in the comments - I can't wait to hear what you love to eat and listen to over during this season

For more inspiration follow my Fall-Thanksgiving ideas Pinterest board or my Winter-Christmas ideas Pinterest board.

Happy Holidays!



  • Yummy recipes, great CD suggestions and your short hair cut is dynamite. Not that your long hair looked bad but wow, it completely changed and updated your look. I had Pentatonix and Botti on my list. Time to go get them. Thanks for sharing!

    • Totally agree about my hair, Leila! LOL. I actually had really short hair in high school – even shorter than I have now. When we moved to Australia, it was so expensive to get a haircut, I decided to just let it grow out then I cut it off for locks of love when we returned home several years later. I took a few years to work my way back to short but I agree it was made for me. Thanks!

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