Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Asian Oyster Shooters

I love a good Bloody Mary, but (wait for it) especially one without the alcohol. I love the bold spicy flavors, and sometimes too much vodka overwhelms everything else going on. This recipe take the Bloody Mary on an Eastern journey, incorporating the great flavors of Japanese cooking. It still packs a nice punch though. They oysters are a nice addition also, making these little appetizers perfect for your New Year's soiree. (Or serve them the next morning as an antidote to your New Year's soiree.)

Asian Oyster Shooters
Males 4 servings.

1 cup tomato juice
1/4 cup vodka
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
Juice of two limes
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 fresh oysters, shucked and cleaned
Lime wedges, for garnish

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients except the oysters and lime wedges. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour for the flavors to meld.

To serve, place an oyster each in the bottom of four shot glasses. Pour the juice/vodka mixture over them.

Garnish with the lime wedges and serve chilled.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Smoked Salmon with Kettle Chips and Horseradish Sour Cream

What a great combination! Salty potato chips. Tangy sour cream. Spiky horseradish. And creamy smoked salmon. I hate to be cliched, but it's a taste explosion in your mouth.

The sturdy kettle-style potato chips make this an easy appetizer. But it's still classy enough for your New Year's Eve gathering. And PERFECT with bubbly. (Mmmmm....especially a good sparkling rosé.)

Smoked Salmon with Kettle Chips and Horseradish Sour Cream
Makes 20-30 appetizers.

3 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped shallot
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 (9 ounce) bag kettle-style potato chips
1 (8 ounce) package smoked salmon, sliced
Chopped fresh chives

In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, horseradish, garlic, shallot, pepper and salt; mix well. Squeeze lemon juice into bowl; stir. Refrigerate until needed.

Immediately before serving, place several (20 to 30) flat, unbroken chips on a serving dish. Add a small dollop of the sour cream mixture to the center of each chip.

Cut the salmon slices into strips. Roll up the strips and place on top of the sour cream dollop on the chips. Sprinkle fresh chives on each for garnish.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A New Year's Eve Appetizer: Polenta Rounds and Black-Eyed Pea Dip

This is a yummy appetizer to serve at your New Year's Eve party. If your guests eat a bit after midnight, they're well on their way to a year of good luck...

Polenta Rounds and Black-Eyed Pea Dip
Adapted from Southern Living.
Makes 12-15 individual appetizers or two cups of dip.

(Notes: This recipe is delicious as presented, but you can skip the polenta and serve the dip surrounded by good-quality tortilla chips if you'd like. I originally intended to use my homemade black-eyed peas for this, but ended up using canned peas. It was still wonderful.)

1 (16-oz.) tube refrigerated polenta, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 (15-oz.) can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic pepper
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup light sour cream
Optional: 3 tablespoons finely diced jalapeno pepper

Bake polenta slices according to directions on package.

In a medium skillet, cook peas and next 5 ingredients over medium heat 3 minutes or until water evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in tomatoes and cilantro. If desired, stir in diced jalapeno pepper. Spoon warm black-eyed pea mixture over polenta rounds, and top evenly with sour cream.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chilled Oysters with Cava Granita

You're going to pop open a bottle of bubbly for New Year's Eve, right? Here's an oh-so-elegant appetizer to include alongside that uses one of MY favorite sparklers...the wonderful version that the Spaniards call cava.

Chilled Oysters with Cava Granita
From The World in Bite Size.
Makes 12 canapes. (But it's easily divided for smaller portions.)

2 1/4 cups cava
1/4 small cucmber, cut in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced (Use a mandoline if you can. You want them almost paper-thin.)
Pinch of kosher salt
12 oysters, shucked and cleaned
1/2 ounce caviar

Mix 1 1/4 cups water with the cava in a small shallow container and place in the freezer.

After 30 minutes, remove the cava mizture from the freezer and break up the granules with a fork. Return it to the freezer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the salt with the cucumber slices to extract excess water.

Remove the oysters from their shells. Wash and dry the shells, reserving one half for serving each oyster. (Note: I cheated and used pre-shucked oysters and used little Chinese soup spoons to serve.)

To serve, place a bed of two or three cucumber slices in each half shell and top with an oyster.

Spoon some granita onto each oyster. Top with a bit of caviar.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

If you're like me, it's that final push before the Christmas festivities. And, if you're like me, its no longer about the gifts and stockings (done and done), it's about the food and wine. Struggling with a dessert to serve. Here's one to check out. It's fairly simple to make and boasts a stunning topping of jewel-like cranberries. (I also discovered via a leftover piece this morning that it's a great stand-in for a coffee cake...and still just as festive looking.)

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
From Cooking Light magazine.
Makes 12 servings.

Cooking spray
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
6 ounces fresh or frozen, thawed, cranberries

6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk
2 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare topping, lightly coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Heat brown sugar and 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes or until butter melts and sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Pour sugar mixture into prepared cake pan, tilting pan to coat bottom evenly. Arrange cranberries evenly over sugar mixture.

To prepare cake, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir with a whisk. Place granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Fold flour mixture into sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Beat the egg whites with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form using clean, dry beaters. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Spoon the batter over the cranberries, spreading evenly. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Place a serving plate upside down on top of cake, and invert the cake pan onto the plate. Let stand 5 minutes, and remove the pan. Serve warm.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Blue Cheese Bacon Dip

Christmas for my family is a "meaty" holiday. No turkey for us. Mom buys a beef tenderloin as big as a Yule log, slaps some bacon on it and we roast it until medium rare. Accompanied by a fully-loaded baked potato, sauteed mushrooms and a good red wine (this year I'm taking a lip smacker of a Cabernet Franc), it's a feast fit for a king (or three).

So no wimpy appetizers need apply. This is what I'll be taking to contribute to our pot-luck pre-dinner/during-unwrapping buffet. (I might even set aside a spoonful or two to put in the aforementioned baked potato on my plate.)

Blue Cheese Bacon Dip
From Southern Living magazine.
Makes 12-15 servings.

7 bacon slices, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup half-and-half
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted

Cook chopped bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until crisp. Drain bacon, and set aside. Add minced garlic to skillet, and sauté 1 minute.

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add half-and-half, beating until combined. Stir in bacon, garlic, blue cheese, and chives. Spoon mixture evenly into 4 (1-cup) individual baking dishes.

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Sprinkle evenly with chopped walnuts, and serve with grape clusters and flatbread, assorted crackers or toasted baguette slices.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cranberry-Mulled Wine

A warm glass of something is always a nice nightcap as you look at your Christmas tree. Here's my hot toddy of choice this holiday season.

Cranberry-Mulled Wine
Serves 12-15.

8 cardamom pods
4 4-inch cinnamon sticks, broken
12 whole cloves
1 can (about 11.5 ounces) frozen cranberry juice concentrate
1 bottle merlot or other fruity red wine
1/4 cup orange juice or orange liqueur (i.e. Cointreau)
1/3 cup honey

Lightly crush the cardamom pods to break. Center the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves on a square of cheesecloth, bring up the corners and tie closed with clean kitchen string.

In a slow cooker, mix the cranberry juice concentrate and the wine until combined. Stir in the honey and orange juice/liqueur; add the spice bag. Cover and cook on low 4 to 6 hours or on high 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes.

Remove and discard the spice bag. Ladle the punch into glasses to serve.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Crab Fondue

Here's an old-fashioned recipe that is quite tasty. It's a good hot appetizer to serve in a slow cooker set on warm.

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese
1 jar Kraft Olde English Cheese Spread
1/2 cup half and half
1 can crab meat
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion salt

Melt cream cheese and cheese spread in double boiler or small slow cooker. Stir in half and half and add other ingredients. Serve warm with cubes of French bread for dipping.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beefy Black Bean Stew

Christmas is hurtling down the tracks at us like Santa's sleigh on steroids. There's wrapping, baking, decorating, shopping and so much more to get done. If your workshop is like mine, you and the elves will be pulling some late nights. But don't settle for pizza or take-out Chinese, do yourself a favor and whip up a batch of this stew. Set it in the fridge and you'll have a quick and delicious meal for a night or two later this week.

Beefy Black Bean Stew
From Southern Living magazine.
Makes 8 servings.

1 (1 3/4- to 2-lb.) flank steak
1 (32-oz.) container beef broth, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 (15-oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (28-oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (12-oz.) dark beer
1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 400°. Cut beef against the grain into 1-inch strips. Line bottom and sides of a 13- x 9-inch pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over sides. Place beef in a single layer in pan. Pour 1 cup beef broth over beef. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake at 400° 1 hour or until beef is shreddable. Remove beef from pan, reserving drippings. Shred beef with 2 forks.

Sauté onion and next 5 ingredients in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in shredded beef, reserved pan drippings, beans, next 4 ingredients, and remaining beef broth. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes.

Serve with sour cream, grated cheese and/or tortilla strips.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars

Here's something to put out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Ho ho ho....

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars
From Martha Stewart Living.
Makes 18 bars.

Cooking spray
12 graham crackers, finely ground (1 1/2 cups)
3/4 plus 3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup eggnog
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon brandy
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Stir together graham crackers, 3 tablespoons sugar, and the melted butter. Press into bottom of pan. Bake until crust is just brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, the eggs, yolk, eggnog, flour, brandy, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt. Beat until smooth. Pour filling over crust. Set pan in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of baking pan. Bake until just set, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove baking pan from water bath, transfer to wire rack. Let cool slightly, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Cut into 1 1/2 by 3-inch bars. Lightly dust the tops of bars with nutmeg just before serving. Makes 18 bars.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin

I haven't had a chance to buy Simple Made Southern, the new cookbook by the Lee brothers. A Southerner by birth, I've had a great time recently rediscovering this unique culinary heritage. Both old-fashioned recipes like pickles and relishes, as well as a few of the dishes that my mom fixed all the time. But I like the Lee approach...Southern ingredients used in new ways. No, the results are not always the healthiest of foods, but they are delicious. This potato casserole which riffs on that Southern sandwich staple, pimento cheese, is no exception. It was published in our local newspaper and prompted me to put the cookbook on my Amazon wish list.

Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin
From the Lee Brothers.
Makes 6 servings.

3 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 1⁄2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1⁄4-inch-thick rounds (Note: I didn't peel the potatoes and really liked the rustic touch that added.)
3⁄4 cup heavy cream
3 shallots, finely diced (scant 1⁄2 cup)
1⁄4 teaspoon crushed dried red chile flakes
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 9-ounce jar roasted red peppers or piquillo peppers, with their liquid
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)

Heat the oven to 375° F, with racks positioned in the middle and the top third of the oven.

In a 3- to 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 quarts water and 2 teaspoons of the salt to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Then drain, and set them aside.

Combine the cream, shallots, chile flakes, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, the black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the liquid from the jar of roasted peppers in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the chile flakes have begun to stain the cream, about 2 minutes. Add half of the cheese and stir until it melts, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Layer roughly a third of the potatoes in a 6-cup baking dish, overlapping them slightly so that they fit in an even layer. Scatter half of the roasted peppers on top of the potatoes (cut up any peppers that have remained whole so that they lie flat), and repeat layering potatoes and peppers until all the peppers and potatoes have been used. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes and peppers, and agitate the dish to distribute the liquid throughout. Cover with aluminum foil and bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes.

Uncover the dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, and place the dish on the top oven rack. Bake for 8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and gently browned on top. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Maryland Crab Melt-Aways

Yummy AND convenient. Are there two better words out there when it comes to appetizers? The yummy part will become self-evident as you imagine these ingredients working together. Convenience? Well. you assemble these and then freeze them...the Ziploc bags sitting there enticingly for your next impromptu soiree. (Which might, by the way, simply involve you and a nice glass of white wine.)

Maryland Crab Melt-Aways
Recipe courtesy Anne Legg (adapted slightly)

1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, cubed (Cotswold or Brie)
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic powder (or garlic pepper)
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
8 ounces fresh crab meat, picked over and flaked
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
4 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers
6 English muffins

Place butter and mayo in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth.

Drop Gouda cheese into the processor with the motor running and process until smooth.

Add seasonings, hot sauce and lemon juice and process to blend.

Scrape mixture into a bowl and fold in the crabmeat, parsley and red pepper, mixing well.

Using a serrated knife, evenly split the English muffins.

Divide the crab mixture evenly among the English muffin halves. Using a spatula, spread the mixture to the edges of each muffin.

Freeze melt-aways in single layer on a cookie sheet until solid, about 2 hours.

Once frozen, cut English muffins in even quarters. Bag and keep frozen until ready to use.

To serve, broil crab-side up until browned and bubbly, about 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms En Croute

We've all had stuffed mushrooms, but maybe never like these.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms En Croute
Makes 20 bundles.

1/2 cup herb flavored cheese (like Boursin)
1/2 cup finely minced crabmeat
20 uniformly sized mushrooms, stems removed
1 box phyllo dough, thawed
1/3 cup butter, melted
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine cheese and crab in a small bowl. Stuff each mushroom cap with crab-cheese mixture.

Brush one phyllo sheet with melted butter, cover with another sheet, and brush with more melted butter. Cut stacked phyllo sheets into four squares. Place a mushroom, cheese side up, in the center of each square. Season with salt and pepper. Lift sides of pastry over mushrooms to resemble small bundles and form a "purse," pinching edges to seal.

Repeat five more times to make a total of 20 bundles.

Place on a greased baking sheet and brush with beaten egg. Bake for about 15 minutes until pastry is crisp and golden. Serve hot.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Red Wine Mayonnaise

A Christmas tradition with my family is beef tenderloin on Christmas night. With baked potatoes, sauteed mushrooms and a glass (or three) of good Cabernet Franc, it's a perfect ending to the hectic holiday season.

The great news is that there are always leftovers. And I confess to being a fan of cold rare roast beef. Sliced thinly (but not too), it's great on a piece of good-quality bread with a little spinach or romaine lettuce. usually, my condiment of choice is a little horseradish-laced sour cream. This year though, I'm branching out and slathering the bread with this yumminess.

I found this recipe earlier this year and used it for our Halloween party. I topped lightly toasted baguette slices with a dollop of this red wine mayo and a sliver of Central Market's honey flank steak. Dee-lish.

Red-Wine Mayonnaise
Makes about 1/2 cup.

3 cups good red wine (leftover is fine)
Bouquet garni (bay leaf and sprigs of sage, thyme and parsley wrapped in a small square of cheesecloth)
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 juniper berries
1/2 cup mayonnaise.

Place the wine, bouquet garni, peppercorns and juniper berries in a small saucepan. Reduce over medium-high heat until approximately two tablespoons of wine remain. (Watch carefully at end of process to make sure wine does not burn.)

Strain through a fine sieve. (Make sure and squeeze liquid out of cheesecloth.) Set aside to cool.

Stir the wine reduction into the mayonnaise.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bacon Wrapped and Pecan Stuffed Dates

OK...this recipe is not healthy, but it's delicious. (There can be no doubt it's from Paula Deen.) This one is another favorite of my other half when we have a party.

Bacon Wrapped and Pecan Stuffed Dates
Makes 30 pieces.

30 dates
30 pecan halves
10 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pit dates.

Cut bacon slices into three pieces. Place slices in one layer on a microwave safe plate and partially cook at full power for two minutes. Let cool slightly

Stuff each date with a pecan half. (You can gild the lily and stuff a small piece of blue cheese in with the pecan.) Wrap one piece of bacon around each stuffed date and secure with a toothpick. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until bacon is crisp. Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain and serve.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cheese Dip with Crawfish

Queso (aka Velveeta and Rotel) is a standby of parties here in Texas. It's easy to make (especially in a slow cooker) and quite tasty. Here is a riff on that basic recipe that makes it a little more elegant and "gourmet."

Cheese Dip with Crawfish
Makes 6 cups dip.
From Cooking Light magazine.

2 teaspoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound frozen cooked peeled and deveined crawfish tail meat, thawed, rinsed, and drained (You can also substitute small shrimp.)
1 pound light processed cheese, cubed (such as Velveeta Light)
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add crawfish or shrimp; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove mixture from pan; cover and keep warm.

Add cheese and tomatoes to pan; cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Stir in crawfish mixture and chopped green onions. Serve with tortilla chips. Garnish with green onion strips, if desired.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Balsamic White Bean Dip with Rosemary and Sage

Dips like hummus (made with garbanzo beans) and this one are easy last-minute food processor party foods. Dump the ingredients in and pulse away. The final product is delicious with veggies or pita crisps. (Only drawback is the brownish color...not the most attractive. Who cares when it tastes this good though.)

Balsamic White Bean Dip
Makes about 1 1/2 cups dip.

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained

Combine all ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ooey Gooey Cocktail Toasts

I can't believe I have never posted this recipe in the three years of this blog. It's a delicious messy treat that we've adopted from family friends. It's always at the top of my other half's wish list every time we have a party. Serve it at one of your holiday shindigs. You won't regret it.

Ooey Gooey Cocktail Toasts
Makes 12-24 toasts depending on how heavily you top them.

1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound hot breakfast sausage
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound Velveeta
1 loaf rye cocktail bread

In a large skillet, brown meats. Add seasonings.

Cut the Velveeta into small cubes and melt into the meat mixture.

Spoon onto slices of rye cocktail bread and bake for 15 minutes at 350°. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tangy Cole Slaw

Cole slaw has become one of my new favorites. There are so many ways to change it up. Here's an Asian take with peanuts. And the one I always fix with barbecue. It's such an easy thing to throw together when you're at a loss for a green vegetable or salad substitute.

Here's one more take on the classic. I adapted it from a Martha Stewart recipe. It's perfect in the turkey reuben I posted right after Thanksgiving.

Tangy Cole Slaw
Makes two cups.

1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons safflower oil (or olive or canola)
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 small head green cabbage, finely shredded (3 cups)
1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
(Or substitute half of a bag of pre-shredded cole slaw mix for the cabbage and carrots.)

Whisk vinegar, oil, celery seeds, mustard, salt, garlic pepper, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add cabbage and carrot, and stir to combine.

Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day (bring to room temperature before using).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Farmer's Market in December

An article on locavore cooking the other day got me to thinking. What options were there at our local farmer's market during the "off" season. Sure, I hit the place weekly during the growing season to get tomatoes, squash, green beans and more. And I've been intrigued by the increasing variety of non-fruit/non-vegetable options that have begun to show up. But what about December?

So I decided to trek downtown this past weekend and see what was going on. The atmosphere was perfect for my hunt. Mid-thirties, cloudy and blustery. I knew I wasn't going to find many growing green things this time.

But I DID find a cornucopia of locally-produced items that were quite satisfying. Here's my scouting report:

  • Olive oil and garlic-stuffed olives from Texas Olive Ranch. The oil is yellowy-green and viscous and puts a tickle at the back of your throat when you taste it. I can't wait to try the garlic-stuffed olives in a martini made with Tito's Vodka, another Texas find.

  • Bison chili and stuffed jalapenos from Chapman Chile Kitchen, recently named one of the best new restaurants in Dallas by D Magazine. The chili (no beans, we got the mild version) has a nice heat and a bit of sweetness. The stuffed peppers, baked not fried, keep a nice crunch when you reheat them. I'm definitely going to have to head to their place for lunch soon. Can't wait to try the blue cheese bison burger.

  • Wheat bread from Mennonite bakers Rosey Ridge Farms. The cinnamon rolls also looked awfully tempting.

  • I usually buy my eggs from JUHA Ranch's booth, but she was out. She sent me "next door" and I bought a couple of dozen from Busy B's Market. Scrambled up Sunday morning, they were rich and the most beautiful orange-yellow you've ever seen.

  • I also replenished my stock of cookies from Wackym's Kitchen. (Strangely enough, I first found these little goodies at a local car wash!) The crisp wafers come in all sorts of interesting flavors. I love the salted caramel and margarita versions for the tough of salt you get in every bite.

Lesson learned. There's still plenty to discover even when the tomatoes are long gone. As a matter of fact, it's opened my eyes up to a lot more local possibilities. I'm thinking of experimenting sometime in the spring by going completely local for a week. It's clear there's plenty out there to help me do it.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: The Prairie Basil Gimlet

I managed to rescue some big bunches of basil from our herb garden just before the Arctic blast came through last week. Sure I could whip up some pesto to freeze, but why bother when Central Market is so close at hand. I thought it was much more appropriate to use it in this cocktail recipe I found.

The Prairie Basil Gimlet
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces high-quality vodka
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 squeeze fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 large basil leaves

Combine ingredients in a shaker. Muddle the basil gently in the liquid. You want to release the oils without breaking up the leaves. Add aice to the shaker and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with another basil leaf that you spank between your hands to release its oil.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Three-Cheese Mini Macs

Creamy mac and cheese in bite-size packages. Ain't nothing wrong with that....

(Note: I adjusted the directions slightly to make the individual portions easier to get out of the mini muffin tins. I have posted my new technology below.)

Three-Cheese Mini Macs
Makes 48 mini-servings. (But don't worry if you need fewer. The mac and cheese is just fine on its own as a leftover in the next couple of days.)
Adapted slightly from Food & Wine magazine.

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (1 packed cup)
4 ounces deli-sliced American cheese, chopped
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, shaking off the excess water.

Spray four 12-cup, nonstick mini muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, melt the 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, until boiling, about 5 minutes. Add the cheddar and American cheeses and whisk until melted. Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolk and paprika. Fold in the macaroni.

Spoon slightly rounded tablespoons of the macaroni into the prepared muffin cups, packing them gently. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano on top.

Bake the mini macs in the upper and middle thirds of the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden and sizzling. Let cool for 5 min­utes. Using a small spoon, carefully loosen the mini macs, transfer to a platter and serve.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Marinated Cheese

Get ready for lots of party food ideas over the next few weeks. After all, 'tis the season....

Usually, for a party, I put out a cheese board. Three or four varied and delicious cheeses. Recently though, I decided to try something else. It seemed I was always spending a lot of money on something that only a few people nibbled on. And I was left with plenty of cheese to nibble on myself afterwards. Not so great for my diet.

So when I ran across this several-years-old Southern Living recipe in my files, I thought I would give it a try. It was a hit. And, since it's just a couple blocks of cheese and other store-bought ingredients, oh, so simple. This is one you should keep in your memory bank.

(Note: The original recipe calls for cream cheese in addition to the Cheddar and Monterey Jack. I couldn't figure out an easy way to slice it without getting messy, so I have omitted it.)

Marinated Cheese
Makes 25 appetizer servings.

1 (0.7-oz.) envelope Italian dressing mix
1/2 cup vegetable (or olive) oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons minced green onion
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 (8-oz.) block Monterey Jack cheese, chilled
1 (8-oz.) block Cheddar cheese, chilled
1 (4-oz.) jar chopped pimiento, drained
Assorted crackers

Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Set aside.

Cut Monterey Jack cheese in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Repeat with Cheddar cheese.

Arrange cheese in 4 rows in a shallow 2-qt. baking dish, alternating Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese. Pour marinade over cheese. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

When ready to serve, place cheese and marinade on a rimmed platter in rows. Top with pimiento, and serve with assorted crackers or toothpicks.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Escabeche: Pickled Vegetables

Escabache is an acidic liquid used to marinate fish and other delicacies. It's also used to "pickle" vegetables. I've posted a yummy Mexican version before. Here's an El Salvadoran version that is more slaw-like. It's also an electric pink color thanks to the beets. It makes a great garnish for pupusas. Or as a topping for burgers or soft tacos.

Verduras en Escabeche
Makes 4 servings.

2 carrots, peeled and julienned into 2 inch long strips
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and cut into julienne
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 small cooked beet, peeled and cut into julienne
1 white onion, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups water (or to cover)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
4 chiles de arbol, stemmed and crushed (substitute a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes if you'd like)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar

Combine all ingredients and marinate overnight in the refrigerator, covered. Drain the mixture before serving.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Oven-Roasted Mushrooms with Mozzarella Bread

On a chilly December night, one wants a meal to warm the so-called "cockles" of your heart. At the same time, there's no reason that the dish has to be complicated. Frankly, good ingredients prepared simply can be great comfort food. Here's just such a recipe. Use the best quality ingredients you can find- like exotic mushrooms and artisan mozzarella- for an out-of-this-world experience. Serve an earthy red a Chianti or an Old World Pinot Noir alongside.
Oven-Roasted Mushrooms with Mozzarella Bread
Serves 2.

10 ounces mushrooms (portobello, shitake, oyster, button, etc.)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ball mozzarella, thinly sliced
2 small ciabatta rolls, cut in half horizontally

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Clean the mushrooms, cut in thick slices, and place in a roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over them, add the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper and toss together. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden and tender.

Meanwhile, lay mozzarella slices so they overlap on the ciabatta halves and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Place on a baking tray and bake until golden and crispy and the cheese is melting.

To serve, cut the cheesy bread into thin pieces and arrange around the mushrooms.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lemony Cole Slaw with Fresh Dill

There is absolutely NO reason that cole slaw should be a summer-only food. Sure it's great with barbecue and burgers, but this one is a crisp fresh side dish that you should serve year-round. It makes a perfect salad substitute. (And use the extra as a sandwich topping at work the next day.)

Confession: The original recipe came from a healthy food type magazine, so it included no mayo. I gilded the lily by adding a couple tablespoons. It made it just creamy enough.

Lemony Cole Slaw with Fresh Dill
Makes 6 servings.

8 cups shredded green cabbage (or cole slaw mix)
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup grape seed oil (olive oil is fine)
1 teaspoon sugar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste if desired. Cover and chill 1 hour or overnight.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Bengali Blackened Salmon

Salmon continues to grow on me. (Three years ago, I wouldn't touch the stuff.) But recipes like this--full of bold flavors--will keep me coming back for more. I first found it in a book of appetizers; they suggest is serving it as little bite-size pieces garnished with a slice of lime. I'll take a FULL-size serving, thank you...

Bengali Blackened Salmon
Serves two.

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, skinned and boned
Olive oil

Mix all spices and salt together. Rub into both sides of the salmon. Cover and leave at room temperate for 20-30 minutes.

Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add a little oil and add the salmon. Cook, without disturbing, for two minutes. Turn the fish over, cover and cook for another two minutes. The exterior will be blackened, but the interior will still be about a medium rare.

Food-Wine Pairing: I'd uncork a fruity Pinot Noir for this one. Maybe Sebastiani.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thousand Island Dressing

Uh oh. When my other half tasted this as we made our Turkey Reubens, he said, "Guess we won't be buying bottled Thousand Island dressing any more." And he's probably right. This stuff is delicious. And if you're any kind of sandwich maker worth your salt, you'll have all the ingredients on hand. So why NOT mix this up from scratch rather than using the chemical-laden stuff from the grocery store?

Thousand Island Dressing
Makes 2/3 cup.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons pickle relish
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Dressing can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Reuben

Just because we've made it through Turkey Day doesn't mean I'm going to abandon you. After all, who's going to help you with all those leftovers? Well, Life Should Be Beautiful is!

Now, let's deal with the turkey first. Sure you could just make a sandwich. Maybe dress it up with stuffing or cranberry...

Nope. You're going to make this sandwich. And you'll love it so much that you'll use plain ol' deli turkey year-round and add it to your regular repertoire.

Turkey Reuben
Makes 1 sandwich.

2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
2 slices rye bread (I prefer Jewish seeded rye to the very dark rye for this one.)
2 tablespoons Russian or Thousand Island dressing
1 ounce thinly sliced Swiss cheese
4 thin slices cooked turkey
3 tablespoons cole slaw
2 dill-pickle sandwich slices

Heat a grill pan or a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. (Note: You can also make these on a panini press or a George Foreman grill.)

Spread butter on 1 side of each slice of bread. Flip bread over, and spread Russian dressing on the other side of each slice. Place half of the cheese on top of dressing on 1 slice. Top with turkey, cabbage slaw, and pickles. Top with remaining cheese, then the second slice of bread, buttered side up.

Place on grill pan, and cook, pressing down occasionally with a spatula, until golden brown and cheese has melted, 3 to 4 minutes per side. (Cover with a heatproof bowl to encourage cheese to melt; use caution when removing.) Cut sandwich in half, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cinnamon Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie

OK...first the disclaimer. I am actually posting this recipe before I've tried it. But it's on the list for this Thursday and if I post it after the fact, it's not going to do you much good now, is it?

Plus it comes from a very reliable source. And can you mess up a pumpkin pie?

This one drew my attention thanks to the topping. Frankly, pumpkin pie can get gloopy and boring to me. I'm betting the topping will add a bit of crunch and added flavor.

Cinnamon Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie
From Cooking Light.
Makes 12 servings.

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
Cooking spray

1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup regular oats
1/4 cup chopped pecans
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2 to 3 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare filling, combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.

To prepare crust, roll dough to an 11-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Fold edges under; flute.

To prepare streusel, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through 1/8 teaspoon ginger) in a bowl. Cut in butter with a fork or fingertips until crumbly. Sprinkle with water, tossing with a fork just until lightly moistened.

Pour pumpkin mixture into crust; sprinkle with streusel. Place pie on a baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from baking sheet; cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Praline Topping

Uh oh. My other half remembered this decadent cheesecake from last year. Looks like I'm going to be in trouble unless I fix it again. Despite the fact that it's fairly labor-intensive, you ought to try it for your feast. It will most likely become a tradition for you.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Praline Topping
From Food and Wine magazine.
Serves 12.

One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cups)
8 whole graham crackers, broken
1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups cream cheese (14 ounces), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pecan Praline Topping and whipped cream, for serving

Set a rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with 2 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin puree over the paper towels and let drain for 2 hours, until the puree is fairly dry.

Preheat the oven to 500°.

Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until finely ground. Add the pecans and brown sugar and pulse until finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse just until incorporated.

Press the crumbs onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for about 8 minutes, just until it is fragrant and lightly browned. (Be careful not to overcook. I've had to start over after I burned it.) Let the crust cool completely.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese until it is very smooth.

In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.

With the machine on, add the spiced sugar to the cream cheese and beat until creamy, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl. Carefully add the drained pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in the heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla until the cheesecake mixture is smooth.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the cooled crust and bake for 12 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 225° and bake the cheesecake for about 3 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°; the center will be very jiggly but not liquid.

Let the cheesecake cool on a rack, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Run a hot knife around the cheesecake and loosen the springform ring. Carefully remove the ring and transfer the cake to a plate. Using a warm knife, cut the cake into wedges and serve with the Pecan Praline Topping and whipped cream.

Pecan Praline Topping

1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans (8 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel cool.

Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the pecans to a work surface and let them cool. Coarsely chop the nuts, stir them into the cooled caramel and serve.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cocktail of the Week

Need a drink to serve before Turkey Day dinner? Here's an autumnal cocktail that incorporates the ubiquitous Thanksgiving cranberry with the bite of ginger.

(Keep the gin on hand and add an extra splash to your glass if the inevitable family drama has begin to play out...)

Apple Cider, Cranberry and Ginger Punch
Makes 4 cocktails.
From Martha Stewart Living.

1/3 cup fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh apple cider
2/3 cup chilled ginger beer
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) gin

Muddle cranberries with sugar in a pitcher. Add apple cider, ginger beer, lemon juice, and gin if desired. Divide among 4 glasses. Serve chilled or over ice.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Whipped Cream

Here's simple topping for that pumpkin pie you've made. It also could be used to dress up other things to make them more "Thanksgiving-y"--like pound cake or gingerbread.

Pumpkin Whipped Cream
Makes 2 cups.

Beat together 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon canned pumpkin puree until soft peaks form.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: John Besh's Oyster Dressing

Another entry in the dressing hit parade. This one is oh, so Southern. (Although surprisingly it is NOT a cornbread dressing.) It is spicy and briny and tasty though. And it gets nice and crispy. Watch it though...I let mine go a few too many minutes and got it a little TOO crispy. (Still ate it though.)

Oyster Dressing
Makes 12 servings.
From Food & Wine magazine.

2 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 stick unsalted butter
1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large baguettes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice (12 cups)
4 dozen shucked oysters plus 1 cup oyster liquor, oysters halved (2 cups)
2 scallions, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 10-by-14-inch shallow baking dish. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and let melt, then add the celery, green pepper, onion and minced garlic and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika, garlic powder and cayenne and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Put the diced baguettes in a large bowl. Spoon the bacon mixture on top. Add the oysters and their liquor along with the scallions and parsley.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the hot sauce and salt. Pour the eggs into the bowl and mix everything together. Scrape the dressing into the prepared baking dish and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes, until heated through and crisp on top. Serve hot.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Sure I love the taste of pumpkin pie, but not always the texture. It can come across as too "goopy" (yes..that's a technical term) for my tastes. When paired with the obligatory soggy crust, I give it a firm thumbs-down.

Here's a solution though. All the taste of pumpkin pie and its spices, but with a wonderful dense bread pudding texture. Add a dollop of whipped cream and a grating of nutmeg and you'll wow your Turkey Day guests.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Makes 6-8- servings.
From Gourmet magazine. (RIP.)

1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
5 cups cubed (1-inch) day-old baguette or crusty bread
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together cream, pumpkin, milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, salt, and spices in a bowl.

Toss bread cubes with butter in another bowl, then add pumpkin mixture and toss to coat.

Transfer to an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and bake until custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Fiesta Turkey Soup

Here's a great way to use up those turkey leftovers next week. But no reason to limit yourself to just this time of year. Keep a few cans in your pantry and you're ready to make it year-round. All you need is a little chicken (pre-cooked rotisserie from the grocery store would work just fine) and a can opener...then it's dinnertime.

Fiesta Turkey Soup
Makes 8 servings

1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken
1 (15-ounce) can chili beans
3 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 (11-ounce) can whole kernel corn with red and green peppers, drained
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Toppings: sour cream, shredded Mexican four-cheese blend, crumbled tortilla chips

Sauté onion in hot oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat 7 minutes or until tender. Add garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in turkey and next 8 ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Serve with desired toppings.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Mashed-Potato Spring Rolls

This delicious dish caused a bit of a spat here at my house. Not because it wasn't yummy, but because my other half had his feelings hurt. He insisted that if he had made the suggestion of wrapping mashed potatoes in white bread and deep-frying it, I would have scoffed. He's probably right.

But I am now officially a sucker for anything David Chang, the proprietor of New York's Momofuku, comes up with. I had a wonderful quirky late lunch at his ssam bar a couple of months ago. So when this recipe showed up in my fave Food and Wine, I decided to give it a go. It would be a perfect way to use up leftover mashed potatoes...thus it's posting in the Thanksgiving chronicle. But don't wait for that. Make up a batch of mashed potatoes JUST for this.

(Note: When we have fried chicken and mashed potatoes, it's always been green peas on the side. I substituted peas for the green peas in the recipe and didn't regret it. You could most likely go just with the potatoes if you're a hard-core carboholic.)

Mashed-Potato Spring Rolls
From Food and Wine magazine.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

16 slices of packaged white bread
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup thinly sliced cooked green beans
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

Stack the bread in 4 piles and trim the crusts. Using a rolling pin, roll out each bread slice to a thin 3-by-5-inch rectangle.

In a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes, green beans and cayenne pepper; season with salt and pepper. Brush the edges of 4 bread rectangles with the egg yolk mixture. Shape 1 tablespoon of the potato mixture into a log along a long edge of a rectangle, leaving 1/2 inch on each end. Tightly roll up the bread to form a cylinder; press the ends together to seal. Repeat with the remaining bread and potato mixture.

In a skillet, heat the oil to 325°. Add half of the rolls and fry, turning occasionally, until well-browned, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Repeat with the remaining rolls.

I served mine with a little cream gravy, but get creative and make up your own dipping sauce.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Sautéed Swiss Chard with Onions

I don't care how much you love dressing, yams, mashed potatoes and all the other yummy starches that weight down the table on Turkey Day. You still have to serve something green. If for no other reason than to add a bit of color to the grayish brownness that dominates the Thanksgiving plate.

This is just the thing. It's quick and easy and hearty enough to stand up to the other dominant tastes of the meal. And it's not just for the holiday. Add it to your repertoire as a delicious side to roast pork or even a steak. (Treat it like you do other greens and add a splash of hot pepper sauce or vinegar at serving time if you'd like.)

Sautéed Swiss Chard with Onions
From Gourmet (RIP) magazine.
Serves 6-8.

3 pound green Swiss chard (about 2 large bunches)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Cut stems and center ribs from chard, discarding any tough portions, then cut stems and ribs crosswise into 2-inch pieces. Stack chard leaves and roll up lengthwise into cylinders. Cut cylinders crosswise to make 1-inch-wide strips.

Heat oil and butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook onions and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add chard stems and ribs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until stems are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add chard leaves in batches, stirring until wilted before adding next batch, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a serving bowl.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Turkey Day Tablescape

You have your menu set. (Including this delicious stuffing no doubt.) You've picked your wines, whether red or white. And you have a cocktail planned so that hopefully Uncles Jim and Steve are relaxed enough to avoid the annual political debate.

But what's going on your table? A holiday like this is absolutely the time to bring out the good china and silver if you dare. But you always need something to set the mood. Something festive and appropriately autumnal. This centerpiece should fit the bill nicely.

Simply take a square or rectangular clear glass vase. Fill it up about halfway or so with unpopped popcorn. Then place several ears of dried harvest corn in it. Check the photo out....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Shallots

"Simple" should never equate to "boring." While I'm a fan of mashed potatoes made rich with lots of milk and butter, it's not a dish I'd want to eat every night. But it's just so easy (and cheap!). So anytime I can find a way to "gussy" a recipe like that up, I jump at the chance. Here's one such example. A few crispy shallots thrown on top can make all the difference...crunchy texture and nice sweet taste.

Just be careful. While I've posted the recipe as written, my shallots took nowhere near this long to cook. Make sure you don't let them burn.

If you've never mashed potatoes with a ricer, run out and get one. The perfect tool for fluffy mashers every time....

Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Shallots
From Food and Wine magazine.
Makes 12 servings.

6 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 peeled garlic cloves
2 cups canola oil
6 large shallots, thinly sliced (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Kosher salt

In a large pot, cover the quartered potatoes and garlic cloves with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the canola oil until shimmering. Add the shallots in a single layer and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to paper towels to drain.

Drain the potatoes and garlic in a colander, shaking out the excess water. Add the half-and-half and butter to the pot and heat until melted. Remove from the heat. Press the potatoes and garlic through a ricer into the pot and season with salt. Stir and cook over moderate heat until very hot. Transfer the mashed potatoes to a bowl. Just before serving, sprinkle the shallots with salt and garnish the potatoes with the shallots.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Countdown to Thanskgiving: More Turkey Day Wine Pairings

As a follow-up to last week's white wine pairing list, here are a few value-priced reds that I think are versatile enough to stand up to all that your Thanksgiving menu will throw at the palate. Again, they're all American wines.

MacPherson Rosé of Syrah
Ok...this one's not red, but pink. From deep in the heart of Texas. I've talked about its versatility before, and that's a trait that will serve it well on Turkey Day. It has a bit of smoky spice, but still plenty of juicy fruit to stand its own.

La Crema Pinot Noir
A good fruity red is called for here, and this one fits the bill. It has what I think of as the cherry cola notes of the varietal down cold. With just enough backbone to keep it form wimping out.

Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvee Zinfandel
You have to be careful with Zinfandels. Some of them have such a high concentration of alcohol that they can blow out your tastebuds (and your wits) after only a glass or two. This one avoids that predicament. Zinfandel, that most American of grapes, is a versatile wine that pairs with proteins, starches and fats well. Try it and see if you don't agree.

Have any wine pairings to share? Please post them as a comment below.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Chipotle Cranberry Sauce

If there's such a thing as Texas cranberry sauce, this just might be it. It's almost a barbecue sauce for your bird. Sassy, spicy and tart all wrapped up in one delicious package.

Chipotle Cranberry Sauce
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Makes about 2 cups.

2 dried chipotle chiles
1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground cumin

Place chiles in medium saucepan filled with water; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chiles are tender, adding more water if needed to keep chiles submerged, 1 to 11/2 hours, depending on dryness of chiles. Drain. (Note: I peeled, seeded and chopped the chiles here rather than waiting for the later step.)

Combine softened chipotles, cranberries, sugar, and lemon juice in heavy medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until cranberries begin to pop, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, cinnamon, and cumin. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly and flavors meld, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Cool.

Remove chipotles. Stem and seed. Mince chiles and return to cranberry sauce; stir to distribute. Cover and chill.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Gussied-Up Green Bean Casserole

This is a repeat p0sting from three years ago. However, the effort I put into it (and the great results) earn it a place in this year's Countdown to Thanksgiving.

My grandmother always made the traditional green bean casserole for Thanksgiving. Cream of mushroom soup. Canned green beans. Those little fried onion thingies.I don't think my mom ever really cared for it it; she never made it when she took over the Turkey Day responsibilities. When I got accomplished enough in the kitchen, I would make it and bring it myself. I have to admit though, it's gotten a little tired. Lots of sodium in the soup. And canned green beans? Really?!?

Now, I will still probably fix that one periodically. (The comfort food and easiness factor make it worth it.) But I decided this year to see if I could "gourmetize" the tried and true recipe.The casserole has to have green beans, mushrooms, something soup-like, and fried oniony thingies. Here are my proposed substitutes. The final dish should serve six to eight people.

Green Beans
Instead of canned, buy some nice fresh green beans. Two pounds should do it. Trim the ends and cut or snap into bite-size pieces. Blanch in salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes. (I like the beans on the softer side for this recipe.) Drain immediately and set aside.

Button mushrooms are fine, but you can use an assortment of your favorites. You'll need 1 pound, sliced. (I used 8 ounces button mushrooms, 4 ounces of creminis and 4 ounces of shitakes.) Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over mushrooms in baking dish. (If you have it, sprinkle the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon fresh thyme before roasting.) Bake mushrooms, stirring once or twice at 450° for thirty minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. (Hint: To save on cleaning, line a baking dish and use for mushrooms. After mushrooms have roasted, remove foil and reuse baking dish for casserole.)

Here's a substitute for the high-sodium cream soup you would usually use.
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cream (I substituted low-fat milk with no problem.)
1 egg yolkIn a small saucepan, heat broth for ten minutes.

In small sauce pan, melt butter and stir in flour to make a roux. Whisk roux into broth. In a small bowl, blend together cream and egg yolk. Gradually add 1/4 cup of broth mixture to egg yolk to temper. Pour into saucepan. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, without allowing to boil.

Crispy-Fried Shallots
2 cups canola oil
10 large shallots, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a large wok or saucepan and deep-fry the shallots until light golden brown and crisp. (I've read recipes that say this should happen in 3-5 minutes, but on my stovetop the oil only got up to 225°. So, the shallots took about fifteen minutes.) Drain the shallots on paper towels and let them cool completely.

To assemble the casserole:In a large bowl, gently mix green beans, mushrooms, soup base and one-third of fried shallots. Season with salt and black pepper. Pour into baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining fried shallots. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes until heated through. (Cover with foil if you need to to keep shallots from getting too brown.) I tried it last night and loved it. It even got a "thumbs-up" from my resident taster. It's definitely worth the effort to prepare this great fresh twist on the old-fashioned favorite.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Mushroom Pillows

Sure, you're about to serve a cornucopia of food...more than anyone can ever eat in one sitting. You still need to have a nibble for your guests when they arrive though. What else are they going to do while you make the gravy and glaze the carrots?

Try this delicious canape. They are easier to make than you'd think. (Even easier when you prepare them up to one day ahead and refrigerate them. Bake them just before your guests arrive.) The final result is delicious and elegant. (The marjoram MAKES this dish, although I suppose you could substitute thyme in a pinch.) Perfect with a glass of bubbly. As a matter of fact, that's what I paired them with at a wine dinner once.

Mushroom Pillows
Makes 24 appetizers.

20 medium cremini or other mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Chop mushrooms semi-finely and set aside.

Mix together marjoram, salt and pepper and set aside.

Place puff pastry on work surface and cut into 6 strips lengthwise and 4 strips across. Place 24 squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick squares all over with the tines of a fork.

Brush squares with olive oil. Place small amount of chopped mushrooms on each square and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Sprinkle marjoram-salt mixture over squares and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cranberry-Mustard Relish

Every year I go to the Chi Omega Christmas Market. (Yes...usually I'm the only male customer there.) There are just a couple of things on my list. Dough ornaments for all the nieces and nephews. Delicious frozen pecan toffee. (I stock up for the year.) And yummy cranberry mustard from Cherchie's. I love a spoonful alongside roast pork.

Well...I may have saved some money since I found this recipe. It's even more wonderful when you make it yourself. Yes, it will be great with your turkey and dressing, but just as delicious when you make it throughout the year. Now, if I could just figure out a way to can it...

Cranberry-Mustard Relish
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Makes about 2 cups.

1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 1/2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard

Combine cranberries and sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until cranberries begin to pop, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Stir in both mustards.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Italian Sausage and Bread Stuffing

Here in the South (I'm writing this from Dallas), our Thanksgiving Day dressing is mostly cornbread redolent with sage, celery and onion. Pretty simple and awfully delicious. But apparently you Yankees put sausage in your "stuffing." (You even call it something different...) So in the interest of geographic equality, I thought I'd try a recipe like this one.

And I'll admit it was delicious. I just know it won't replace my other half's cornbread dressing on our table. It's a Southern thing.

(That said, Southerners, take heart. Fix a casserole of this up and serve it with scrambled eggs at your Thanksgiving Day brunch. It's a wonderful sausagey bread pudding...)

Italian Sausage and Bread Stuffing
From Gourmet (RIP) magazine.
Serves 10-12.

1 (3/4- to 1-pound) round Italian loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes (8 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, divided
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 medium onions, chopped
4 large celery ribs, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided (I substituted milk.)
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Generously butter baking dish.

Put bread in 2 shallow baking pans and bake, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until just dried out, about 6 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook half of sausage, stirring and breaking it into small pieces, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. Brown remaining sausage in remaining tablespoon oil, transferring to bowl.

Pour off fat from skillet and wipe clean. Heat butter over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook onions, celery, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Add vegetables and bread to sausage.

Whisk together eggs, 1/2 cup cream (or milk), chicken stock, cheese, and parsley, then stir into stuffing.

Pour stuffing into large baking dish. Bake stuffing, covered tightly with foil, until hot throughout, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is golden and crisp, about 15 minutes more.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Chill Out!

OK...the tip for today? Find time this weekend to do nothing. That's right...nothing.

Our household has been abuzz recently. We had the big Halloween shindig, followed the next weekend by around 375 little darlings trick-or-treating at our front door. Finally though, all the skulls, spiders and witches have been put back into storage containers for hibernation until next year's spooking time.

And, yes, I've started thinking about Turkey Day. After all, we have the out-of-town relatives coming in for dinner at my parents' place. That means table rental, transporting glassware, and lots of baking. But, There's still several weeks for that. In the meantime, it's time to actually pay attention to the Life Should Be Beautiful philosophy and take some time to observe the glories of the world around us.

So put away the to-do list, turn off the computer and television (and that pesky cell phone) and forget about that load of laundry. Put on your "best" sweatshirt and tennis shoes and hit the road. Walk around your yard. Or a local park. Or even better a local wildlife preserve. And really pay attention to all the great transformations Mother Nature has underway.

The leaves are changing. Not just on trees, but vines and bushes. Grasses and flowers have degenerated into interesting seed pods. Squirrels and birds are having a field day scrounging around for nuts and seeds before the chill of winter sets in. Listen carefully...what's scurrying in the leaves over there? If you're lucky, you'll catch the whiff of someone's fireplace going.

Try it. Turn on all your senses and relax. Here's betting you'll find yourself rejuvenated and more ready for the holiday onslaught ahead. Be careful might actually enjoy it so much that it becomes a regular thing. Wouldn't that be a shame?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Old Fashioned Cornbread/Oyster Dressing

Thanksgiving isn't Turkey Day as far as I'm concerned. It's Dressing Day. The big bird is just an excuse to carb-load sage-laced breadcrumbs. So I'm always eager to test stuffing/dressing recipes.

This one would make my grandmother proud. I don't think I've had oyster dressing (Is that a Midwestern thing?) since she fixed it in the days we had the feast at her house in Tulsa. It add a twist new to me also...herb-infused half and half that makes the final product extra rich and delicious.

Don't worry if you're not an oyster fan. Just leave them out...the recipe is still fantabulous.

Oyster Dressing
Makes 12 servings.

Two 8½-ounce boxes corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
2 large eggs, for the muffin mix
2/3 cup milk, for the muffin mix
1 stick unsalted butter
One half onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 pints fresh raw oysters
Salt and pepper

Follow the package directions for making the cornbread with the eggs and milk. Let cool and break into large chunks.

In a large, deep skillet, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the half-and-half, parsley, sage, thyme and basil and bring to a simmer. Add the oysters with their liquid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cornbread chunks and gently toss to coat.

Spoon the stuffing into a buttered casserole dish, dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Wine Picks

Picking a bottle of wine to serve with turkey and all the trimmings can be a challenge. Some bottles simply don't have the versatility to pair with the diverse tastes on your holiday table. The wine I would pick to go with a delicately roast turkey is not necessarily the same one I would open to go with herb and spice-spiked sausage stuffing.

Others are simply too big. I want a big California Cab with my steak. But the same wine is likely to overpower the more subtle flavors at play on Turkey Day.

That said, I have, through lots of trial and error, come up with a really dependable list. It's varied enough to keep all of your guests satisfied. And value-priced enough that you can pour generously without qualms. THe great news is that all of these wines are less than $15 each.

(Oh, and, of course, they're all from right here in the good old U.S. of A. I'm certainly not serving anything else on this most American of holidays.)

Let's start with the whites.

Sparkling: Gruet Blanc de Noirs
My first experience with this bubbly from New Mexico (!) was a pleasant surprise. It's well-balanced with both toasty and creamy notes. It's not quite as big as Gruet's rosé (which would also be a good choice), but has a nice salmon color nonetheless. Now I don't know that I would keep drinking this throughout the meal. I'm not sure it will stand up; it's still a pretty delicate wine. It's definitely a great start though with nibbles. You could return to it at dessert time also.

Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is an often-recommended varietal for the Thanksgiving meal. Bracing acidity and a hint of sweetness can be a great foil for the rich foods you'll be serving. I like this bottle thanks to a twist...Chateau St. Jean ages this wine in oak for a bit. It gives it a real smoky character that I think is a great asset.

Sebastiani Chardonnay
While more and more Chardonnays, even from California, are getting back to a cleaner, more European profile, this one has just a hint of the old buttery, oak bombs of recent decades. Don't get me's well-balanced. I just think its oaky backbone gives it the heft it needs for this particular menu.

Stay tuned for more picks. I'll post my red list next week sometime.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Sweet Potato Soufflé Pie

"Enough already!" you're saying. Two days into the countdown and no dessert recipes yet?!? Simmer you go.

This delicious pie is wonderfully light and not too sweet. The perfect end to that huge meal you'll be preparing and/or eating. But it's also traditional as heck also. It takes a little extra work (Thanks, Martha!), but is well worth the effort.

Sweet Potato Soufflé Pie
Makes 10-12 servings.
From Martha Stewart Living

2 medium sweet potatoes, pierced with the tines of a fork
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus 1/2 cup melted, plus more for pan
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
9 sheets phyllo dough , (17 by 12 inches) thawed if frozen
Pinch of cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 400°. Bake potatoes until tender, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand until cool enough to handle.

Peel potatoes, and press through a ricer into a large bowl (you should have about 1 cup); let cool completely. Stir in ground ginger, vanilla, salt, egg yolks, and brown sugar; set aside.

Meanwhile, heat milk and fresh ginger in a medium saucepan over medium heat until just under a boil. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Melt 1/4 cup butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour; cook, whisking, 1 minute. Whisk in milk mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook 1 minute. Stir into potato mixture.

Butter a 9-inch springform pan, and place on a baking sheet; set aside. Stir 1/3 cup granulated sugar and the cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush 1 phyllo sheet with melted butter. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Fold in half crosswise; brush with butter. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon-sugar mixture, and fit into prepared pan, folded side in, allowing a 2 1/2-inch overhang. Repeat, overlapping sheets to cover bottom.

Put egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. With machine running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar; beat until stiff glossy peaks form. Whisk one-third of the egg whites into potato mixture. Gently but thoroughly fold in remaining egg whites.

Pour over phyllo; fold overhang over filling. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture (if needed, combine 1 to 2 tablespoons more sugar and a pinch of cinnamon). Reduce oven temperature to 375°. Bake pie until puffed and just set in center, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand until slightly cooled and center has fallen, about 20 minutes.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Spaghetti with Sweet Potatoes and Ricotta

I'm not sure this is a completely apropos recipe for your Turkey Day...unless you're doing something with an Italian flair. However, it uses one of the most ubiquitous of Thanksgiving ingredients--the sweet potato. It's a perfect autumnal side dish, whether served with turkey or pork tenderloin, or even just by itself.

Note: I made my version even heartier by using whole wheat pasta. Penne actually.

Spaghetti with Sweet Potatoes and Ricotta
Serves 4.

12 ounces spaghetti (3/4 box)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
kosher salt and black pepper
2 shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 ounce)
1/3 cup ricotta

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes, 3⁄4 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the shallots and rosemary and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Toss the pasta with the potato mixture, Parmesan, and the reserved cooking water. Dollop with the ricotta before serving.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Curried Pumpkin Seeds

It's time for another series of tips to help you get ready for Turkey Day. I'll have recipes for every part of the menu, as well as wine suggestions, cocktails, decor ideas, and much more.

Let's kick it off with a really simple-to-make snack. They are the perfect things for your guests to munch on with a drink or a glass of wine. (I'm thinking about a non-Thanksgiving use also. They'd make a great topping for a salad of Romaine, tomato , avocado and Mexican queso fresco.)

Curried Pumpkin Seeds
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 ounces hulled pumpkin seeds (about 2 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment; spray with nonstick spray.

Whisk egg white, lime juice, and oil in large bowl. Add next 4 ingredients; whisk. Add pumpkin seeds; toss.

Transfer to baking sheet, spreading evenly. (Use a lrage enough pan that you can get them in a single layer so they toast evenly and don't clump together.)

Bake until toasted and fragrant, stirring often, about 24 minutes. Cool on sheet.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Best Banana Pudding Ever

This time of year, it seems that I post nothing but appetizers and desserts. But that's the majority of what I'm cooking (or just enjoying thanks to the hard work of others) this time of year. From Halloween to the New Year, it's Party Central. And, except for a dinner party or two, it's mostly nibbles and sweets for the two buffet tables.

But don't wait for a party to make this creamy, sinful banana pudding. It's a great annual tradition around these parts. A friend makes it to bring to our Halloween party and makes way too much (or even one just for me) so that there's plenty leftover for my later guilty pleasure.

The Best Banana Pudding Ever
Serves 8-10 generously.

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 large (5 ounce) box vanilla pudding
3 cups milk
1 large tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 box vanilla wafers
6-8 bananas, sliced

Mix the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add the pudding mix and milk and mix well. Mix in the whipped topping.

In a the bottom of 9 x 12 baking dish, place a layer of vanilla wafers and then a layer of bananas. Top with half of the pudding mixture. Repeat layers, ending with pudding. Garnish with vanilla wafers and dollops of whipped topping if desired.