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.