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Thanksgiving Traditions and Twists

A handful of tried-and-true, if sometimes unconventional, recipes from a few famously exceptional San Diego entertainers

Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

With so much of our daily lives upended in recent months, it’s not surprising that our holidays may also take on a new look this year. But even in the strangest of times, what often gives us the most comfort are the enduring traditions that are an essential part of this time of year. While some may seize this opportunity to incorporate new ideas alongside time-tested standbys, we found that a few famously exceptional San Diego entertainers, including Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien, Vicki and Chris Eddy, Micki Olin, and Arlene Esgate, are most looking forward to offering the tried-and-true, if sometimes unconventional, favorites that have become their personal signature. By Deanna Murphy & Mia Park

Thanksgiving Benedict

“There is no question (assuming I have a say in it) that my last meal would be a Benedict,” says Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien from the rooftop of his Little Italy home. “Crispy, savory, with a perfectly poached egg running down the side making everything richer and better — all topped with lemony hollandaise. This is just like that, except with stuffing masquerading as the English muffin, turkey standing in for the ham, and gravy subbing for hollandaise. It’s fricking glorious. And if memory serves me correctly, my nephew Marc, a huge fan of the stuffing omelet himself [right], wondered aloud what else might be made with leftovers for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving. That one simple question led to breakfast excellence.”

Sam the Cooking Guy’s Thanksgiving Benedict

Makes Two


  • 1½ cups leftover stuffing
  • ½ Tbsp neutral oil
  • ½ Tbsp butter
  • 4 oz leftover turkey
  • 2 poached eggs
  • 6 oz leftover gravy
  • Finely chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Shape stuffing into 2½-inch thick patties.
  2. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, and add butter and oil.
  3. When the butter melts, put in stuffing patties, and cook 3 or 4 minutes on each side or until getting crispy — remove and keep warm.
  4. Heat the turkey until nicely warmed (a microwave is perfectly acceptable here).
  5. Build: put the stuffing on a plate and top with warmed turkey, the egg, and then spoon over the gravy. Garnish with parsley.
Sam the Cooking Guy’s Thanksgiving Benedict with downtown San Diego skyline in the background
Sam the Cooking Guy’s Thanksgiving Benedict

Stuffing Omelet

“This was created one morning after a Thanksgiving dinner about 25 years ago,” says Zien. “We had a bunch of stuffing left over and wanted to come up with a way to use it with eggs. After a weak attempt at scrambled eggs with stuffing, we landed on this much more elegant and ridiculously delicious version. It’s so good we often buy a Stove Top-style stuffing mix and have them in the summer — and so should you.” Both recipes are available in the 15-time Emmy Award-winner’s latest cookbook, Recipes with Intentional Leftovers, which debuts this month. 

Sam the Cooking Guy’s Stuffing Omelet

Makes One


  • 2 eggs
  • Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp leftover stuffing, warmed in a microwave
  • 1 slice American cheese — just go with me on this


  1. Crack eggs into a small bowl, add salt & pepper and beat well.
  2. Heat a small non-stick pan over medium/high heat and add butter.
  3. Use a spatula to coat the bottom and sides thoroughly with the butter, then add the beaten eggs.
  4. Swirl gently, allowing eggs to begin to stick up the sides and bottom.
  5. Using the spatula, gently pull the setting egg away from the sides, allowing the unset egg to run in behind.
  6. Add the stuffing across about one half of the omelet, tear the cheese in half, and place on top of the stuffing.
  7. Using the spatula, gently fold the half with no stuffing over the stuffing half.
  8. Cook another minute or so, then carefully flip over for another minute — this will help the cheese melt.
  9. Remove, serve, and wait for next thanksgiving
Sam the Cooking Guy’s Stuffing Omelet
Sam the Cooking Guy’s Stuffing Omelet

Caramelized Pumpkin and Onion Soup with Smoked Turkey & Zesty Deviled Eggs

Friends Micki Olin and Arlene Esgate had just completed a Zoom board meeting the afternoon of our visit. They both serve on the board of directors of Patrons of the Prado and are also co-chairing next year’s Art Alive Premiere Dinner for The San Diego Museum of Art. “Arlene and I had a lot of fun setting a pretty table as though we were going to entertain. It feels like forever since we have been able to do so, and it was fun to pretend for a day!” says Olin.

“I confess, I use my pumpkin soup to serve two holidays — I purchase the pie pumpkins as soon as they’re available, then incorporate them as part of my Halloween and fall decor until the night before Thanksgiving when I make the soup. To be honest, I don’t know what my youngest likes better: the spicy pumpkin seeds I make as a ‘bonus’ side or the soup! But I know for sure the men in our family would be sad if pumpkin soup was not on the holiday menu!”

Of her Thanksgiving staple, Esgate says, “The deviled eggs are always a favorite before the big turkey dinner. They’ve become the preview of coming attractions!”

Micki Olin and Arlene Esgate
Arlene Esgate and Micki Olin

Arlene Esgate’s Zesty Deviled Eggs


  • 12 white eggs
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • Ice cubes
  • ¾ cup Litehouse Jalapeño Ranch Dressing
  • 1-2 Tbsp freeze dried onions
  • 1-2 Tbsp parsley or cilantro
  • McCormick Himalayan Pink Salt with Black Pepper and Garlic, to taste
  • Paprika

To achieve the perfect boiled egg:

  1. Cover one dozen white eggs with cold water and add 1 Tbsp of Baking Soda.
  2. Cover the saucepan and place on high heat.  When the water gets to a hard boil, turn off the heat and let the pan sit for 15 minutes.  
  3. After 15 minutes, pour out the boiling water, add cold water and ice cubes, and cool the eggs. After cooling, the eggs will peel easily.  
  4. Cut the peeled eggs in half. Carefully remove the yolks and place them in a bowl.
  5. Use a food chopper or fork to cut up the yokes.


  1. Mix the Litehouse Jalapeño Ranch Dressing, freeze dried onions, parsley or cilantro, and salt blend with the egg yolks, and place in the refrigerator. I allow the egg mixture to settle for a while, even overnight. (You can add more jalapeño dressing if the mixture gets too thick).
  2. Fill each half egg white with the yolk filling.  
  3. Just before serving sprinkle Paprika on top. (Try not to sprinkle the paprika on the egg white, the paprika will turn the egg white orange.)
  4. Enjoy the Zesty Deviled Eggs before or with your beautiful Thanksgiving dinner!
Arlene Esgate’s Zesty Deviled Eggs
Arlene Esgate’s Zesty Deviled Eggs

Micki Olin’s Caramelized Pumpkin and Onion Soup with Smoked Turkey

Serves 4-6

A rich but cream free soup with more flavor nuances than a butternut bisque. It looks great in a hollowed-out winter squash shell. A turban squash can be used in place of the pumpkin.


  • 1 large pie pumpkin (approximately 3 pounds)
  • 3 Tbsp plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, very thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, cut into fine julienne strips
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp ground sage
  • 4 cups turkey or chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
  • ¼ lb. high quality smoked turkey, cut into strips 2 inches long by ½ inch wide
  • ½ cup grated Gruyère cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the seeds. 
  3. Brush the surfaces lightly with 1 teaspoon of oil, then lay cut side down in a glass baking dish. 
  4. Bake in the oven approximately 1 hour, or until the flesh is very soft and the cut sides are slightly caramelized. 
  5. Let cool, then scrap out the pulp.
  6. While the pumpkin bakes, warm 3 Tbsp of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.
  7. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring often, approximately 15 minutes, or until soft. 
  8. Sprinkle with the sugar and continue cooking, stirring often, approximately 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until the vegetables are browned and caramelized.
  9. Stir in the sage, stock, and pumpkin pulp, and bring to a boil. Let cool slightly, then, working in batches, transfer to a blender and purée until smooth.
  10. Return the purée to the soup pot and reheat gently, but do not allow to boil.
  11. Season with salt and pepper. 
  12. Ladle into individual bowls or into a hollowed-out winter squash shell, and add turkey to each serving, garnishing with Gruyère and a sprig of basil. 
Caramelized Pumpkin and Onion Soup with Smoked Turkey & Zesty Deviled Eggs
Micki Olin’s Caramelized Pumpkin and Onion Soup with Smoked Turkey

“Almost Famous Eddy Mary” & Corn Grits (Polenta) with Oysters, Mushrooms, and Tasso Ham

Vicki and Chris Eddy welcomed Ranch & Coast to the “Eddy Bar & Grille” to share their go-to creations for Thanksgiving. The dynamic duo’s “Almost Famous Eddy Mary” is “ideal for brunch, holidays, and weekend sports, and is legal before noon!” laughs Vicki. “This family favorite keeps everyone happy until turkey time and spices up any holiday or weekend occasion. One big secret is dipping the glass in agave nectar and then in creole seasoning,” she adds. Of Chris’ Corn Grits (Polenta) with Oysters, Mushrooms, and Tasso Ham, Vicki says, “This succulent side dish is an ideal gourmet companion to turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, and more. It’s a modern-day version of ingredients likely served in early feasts — historically delicious from our family to yours.”     

Vicki and Chris Eddy

Vicki and Chris Eddy’s “Almost Famous Eddy Mary”

Per Glass


  • Agave nectar (syrup)
  • Creole salt seasoning of choice (small grain)
  • Tito’s or similar vodka (top shelf not necessary — save for martinis!)
  • Zing Zang Bloody Mary Mix (highly recommended for its complete, flavorful blend allowing for less ingredients)
  • Chilled prepared horseradish in a jar
  • Pickapeppa Sauce
  • Tabasco Sauce
  • Fresh lime cut into quarters
  • Celery stalks (the tender heart stalks are best)
  • Marinated pickled spicy okra
  • Knotted bamboo toothpicks


  1. Pour ¼ inch agave nectar into small flat storage dish (you can seal and keep in fridge for next time).
  2. On a salad-sized plate, distribute Creole salt seasoning evenly.
  3. Dip glass firmly in agave nectar, then press into the seasoning mix.
  4. Fill generously with ice without disturbing the rim. 
  5. Pour 2 oz of vodka over ice, then 1 Tbsp of Pickapeppa, one tsp of horseradish, a dash or two of Tabasco, and squeeze wedge of lime and toss in. 
  6. Shake Zing Zang and fill glass to the seasoned rim.
  7. Stir with tall spoon or stirrer.
  8. Garnish with lime wedge, celery stalk (with leaves). Place okra on toothpick and lay across top. Or garnish as you wish: olive, bacon, pickle spear, large peeled shrimp.
  9. Cheers!

For Pitcher Serving: 40% Vodka/60% Zing Zang. Prepare each drink glass as above.

Vicki and Chris Eddy’s Corn Grits (Polenta) with Oysters, Mushrooms and Tasso Ham

Serves 10-12


  • 1 package thinly sliced uncured bacon without sugar, chopped
  • ¾ lb Tasso ham
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 5 Tbsp French salted butter
  • 4 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 16 oz (2 packages) sliced white mushrooms
  • ½ bunch Italian parsley
  • 10 sprigs tarragon
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper
  • 12 large oysters
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 3 cups corn grits
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 7 oz shredded mild white cheddar cheese (Kerrygold preferred)
  • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese, handful
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

For the Sauté:

  1. In a heavy skillet, fry bacon. Drain on paper towel and reserve drippings.
  2. In a large sauté pan, add 2 Tbsp of bacon drippings and 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, and bring to heat, add 2 Tbsp chopped garlic.
  3. Add sliced white mushrooms, cover, and cook down.
  4. Mince the Italian parsley and tarragon, and add to the moist mushrooms, then add 3 tsp kosher salt and 2 tsp ground pepper.
  5. Slice oysters into pieces (do not drain) and add to mushrooms, often stirring gently and allowing them to cook down. Keep pan covered. When cooked, the natural liquid should be approximately 1 cup.
  6. Cut Tasso ham into small cubes and add to mixture and simmer.

For the Corn Grits:

  1. Bring chicken broth, whole milk, 2 Tbsp chopped garlic, and 2 tsp kosher salt to a boil.
  2. Lower heat to simmer and add corn grits (a little at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumps).
  3. Stir in beaten egg yolks.
  4. Stir in French salted butter and 2 Tbsp ground black pepper.
  5. Stir grits regularly for 25 minutes.
  6. After 15 minutes, add shredded mild white cheddar cheese and stir well.
  7. After the full 25 minutes, add the entire contents of the sauté pan to the grits and mix well.
  8. For a little extra kick, stir in cayenne pepper to taste.

For Presentation:

  1. Pour entire contents into a large, oven safe, shallow casserole dish, and cool sufficiently for the mixture to firm up and be refrigerated.
  2. Scatter shredded sharp cheddar cheese and fried bacon bits on top and heat before serving.
  3. This dish can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. The entire casserole can be reheated in the oven (don’t overheat or it will lose its firmness). Present with sprigs of fresh parsley on top. Cut into squares to serve or cold squares can be sliced and fried in a pan.
“Almost Famous Eddy Mary” & Corn Grits (Polenta)  with Oysters, Mushrooms, and Tasso Ham


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