Friday, December 30, 2011

Why Black-Eyed Peas?

Most of us, especially my fellow Southern brethren, will dutifully fix our batch of black-eyed peas for New Year's Day. We've been taught they bring us good luck. But do we know why?

Southern Living says that the tradition dates back to the Civil War. After Union troops retreated from the South after much destruction, only black-eyed peas and greens were serve as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these humble foods allowed Southerners to survive.

This idea of family and friends coming together gratefully to look forward hopefully to a New Year continues as we count down to 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Sparklers: Bubblies to Buy

Recently, The Dallas Morning News' wine panel ran a list of the best wines they've tasted over the last five years.  I was thrilled to see them include several that I consider "house wines."

Early in my wine drinking career, I was mistaken to believe (as many are wont to do) that the only good sparkling wines were Champagnes.  So I dutifully bought Moet and Veuve Cliqout for celebratory occasions.  And I loved them.  But I quickly learned two things.  First...bubbly isn't just for special occasions.  And that there were lots of sparkling wines from around the world that are delicious.  And, since I decided that bubbly was a perfect drink for almost everyday imbibing, that, luckily, a lot of them are quite affordable.

And that brings us back to the list.  Two of my favorites were there.
  • Segura Viudas Reserve Heredad Cava: This one runs about $18.  It's crisp and packed with effervescence.  No skimping on the bubbles here.  It's a great gift also...the pewter-trimmed bottle looks like you spent a lot more than you really did. (There's also another version by this winery that costs about $10.  It's perfect for parties where you'll be pouring quite a bit.)
  • Lucien Albresht Cremant d'Alsace:  This one is French, but not a true Champagne.  For me, its name belies its best quality.  It's creamy.  Perfect to sip alone, but also great paired with just about anything you throw at it. It also costs right at $20.
Here are a couple more I love:
  • Gruet Brut: Also a bargain at around $15, I might make too much of the fact that it's made in New Mexico, but I think this one is wonderful with spicy foods.
  • Schramsberg: On our Napa pilgrimage, the other half and I fell in love with this winery and all their offerings.  As a part of their wine club, we get some of their great $100 bottles and cellar them for very special occasions.  But it's well worth the splurge to find one of their $40 bottlings to raise a toast to 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Eggnog Pound Cake

Worried about what you're putting out for Santa tonight?  (OK...that doesn't sound right.  Anyway...)

Here's an easy delicious snack that you can share...just make sure and save about half a loaf pan for yourself.  You'll thank me later.

Eggnog Pound Cake
Makes 12 servings.
From Southern Living.

1 (16-ounce) package pound cake mix

1 1/4 cups eggnog
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°. Beat all ingredients together at low speed with an electric mixer until blended. Increase speed to medium, and beat 2 minutes. Pour into a lightly greased 9- x 5-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Countdown to Christmas: Gingerbread Party Mix

Oh, crap.  Your next door neighbor just delivered a bourbon-soaked fruitcake as a holiday gift.  They weren't on your list...after all, that legal wrangle about where the fence should go have made things a little (ahem) uncomfortable.  No's the gift you can give back...if you're so inclined.

A quick trip to the grocery store and a raid of your spice cabinet will bear delicious results.  Oh...and you can make it for people you actually like as well.

Gingerbread Party Mix
Makes about 7 cups.  (But make several batches and put in cool tins to share.  The boxes of cereal make 2-3 batches.)

3 cups Cinnamon Chex cereal

3 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 ½ cups cinnamon graham snacks
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped (Hint: Buy this in bulk at your gourmet market and save some bucks.)
¼ cup white vanilla baking chips

In a large microwavable bowl, add cereals and graham snacks; set aside. In small microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on high 40 seconds or until melted. Stir in cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla until blended. Pour over cereal and stir until coated.

Microwave uncovered on high 5 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. Stir in ginger until blended. Spread mixture onto paper towels. In small microwavable cup, microwave vanilla baking chips uncovered on high 1 minute, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted. Drizzle over snack; let stand until set. Store in airtight container.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: Cranberry-Walnut Martini

This is the PERFECT after-dinner drink for Christmas Eve or Christmas night.  Sweet and nutty (just like me), it's sure to go great with whatever dessert you're serving.  Or it could be dessert itself. 

Don't skip the rosemary/cranberry garnish.  It makes it even more festive. you're doing your final shopping tomorrow, hit the liquor store and buy some Nocello.  You already have vodka, right?

Cranberry-Walnut Martini
Makes one cocktail.

2 1/2 ounces vodka, preferably Ketel One

2 ounces walnut liqueur, preferably Nocello
3 fresh cranberries
1 sprig rosemary
1 walnut half, toasted

Combine the vodka and walnut liqueur in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Thread the cranberries onto the rosemary sprig and place in the glass. Garnish with the walnut.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chocolate Crackled Cookies

This is one of the several cookies that went on the plates of goodies I shared with co-workers today.

Chocolate Cracked Cookies
Makes 3 dozen.

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Beat brown sugar, shortening and vanilla in large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well-blended. Add eggs; beat until fluffy.

Stir together flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.  Gradually add to shortening mixture, beating at medium speed until just blended.  Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and chill for 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°.  Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls.  Roll in sugar, then in powdered sugar to coat completely.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes until set.  Cool completely.Dust with additional powdered sugar if desired.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight, and while I'm not sure this recipe is "kosher," I think it's a great way for us Southern Gentiles to pay tribute to our Jewish brethren.  (Oh...and yes, you can still serve them with sour cream and applesauce.  Delish.)

Sweet Potato Pancakes
From Everyday Food.
Makes 4-6 servings.

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup canola oil

Combine grated potatoes, scallions, eggs, flour and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-heat until hot.  Using a 1/3 cup measure, scoop mixture and press into a 1/2 inch cake with hands.  Place in skillet and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. 

Transfer to a paper towel-line plate, sprinkle with salt and keep warm.

Repeat until all cakes are finished.  Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce if desired.

(Note:  I am going to kick this delicious twist on latkes us a notch next time.  Add smoked paprika.  Or cumin.  Or curry powder.  Or maybe a spoonful of adobo sauce.  You get my drift.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gift Ideas: Great Cookbooks I am a little late in posting this, but I'm betting with the magic of and overnight shipping, you could still manage to have some of these in stockings and under the tree.  Some I have and some I don't...but have added to my wish list.

Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller
You won't be making French Laundry recipes out of this one...thank goodness. But there's lots of tips and delicious recipes, included poached salmon, creamed summer corn and buttermilk biscuits.

Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio
I want this one for sure.  I am a big fan of Colicchio--both from Top Chef--and his restaurants.  His philosophy of cooking seasonal local ingredients with exacting technique is here on the page for the rest of us to learn.

Bill Neal's Southern Cooking
I'm a fan of the Lee Brothers and have several of their cookbooks. But I want this one also....especially since it includes recipes for Hoppin' John and Natchitoches Meat Pies.

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
I hate to say it, but I find Bittman's tv show painful.  But I have loved his New York Times columns and love this cookbook also.  Lots to experiment with here....not just American classics like mac and cheese and pot roast, but also forays into Italian, Asian and French cooking.

Martha Stewart's Cooking School
I have reviewed this one before, but it bears repeating.  This tome is a must in every kitchen...not only is it perfect for the new cook, but also an encyclopedia for those of us who think we know what we're doing, but need a refresher every now and then.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

Here's a cookie that Santa would love to get on Christmas Eve.  And they are so easy to make (honestly, the hardest thing about the recipe is unwrapping the Hershey Kisses) that you might as well make a whole bunch for neighbors, coworkers and the kids' teachers.

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies
Makes 2 dozen cookies.

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
24 Hershey Kisses

In a large bowl, cream the peanut butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat until ingredients are blended.

Roll into 1 1/4-inch balls.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until tops are slightly cracked. 

Immediately press one chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: St. Germain Fizz

Still looking for the perfect grown-up cocktail for Christmas and beyond?  This one should definitely be in the running....

St. Germain Fizz
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
pinch of salt
Barspoon of superfine sugar
1 ounce club soda

Combine all ingredients except for club soda in a cocktail shaker (no ice yet) and shake vigorously.  Add ice and club soda and shake again.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Gifts: Garlic Confit

Here's a lovely homemade gift for the foodie in your life.  The garlic is delicious spread on bread or slipped under chicken skin before roasting.  The flavored oil can be drizzled over steamed vegetables or used as the base for a flavoful vinaigrette.  Make sure you let the recipient know all this when you label it.  Pair it with a loaf of good bread and/or a bottle of rich Pinot Gris.

Oh...and make enough to keep in your own pantry as well.  It can be refrigerated up to 4 months.

Garlic Confit
Makes about 3 cups.

2 cups peeled garlic cloves (about 6 heads)
6 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
3 dried red chiles
2 cups olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer over very low heat until the garlic is tender about 30 minutes.  Watch carefully and do NOT let the garlic brown.

Let cool and transfer to three 1/2 pint canning jars, distributing garlic, spices and oil equally.  Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 months.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

You can't forget dinner even as you're rushing around prepping for the holidays.  Here's a fairly simple dish that's packed with flavor.  Visit your market and buy the spices in bulk.  My bet is on you loving this recipe so set aside enough in jars or tins to make again.  (And you should always have cumin and turmeric on hand anyway, in my humble opinion.)

Chickeb Tikka Masala
Makes four generous servings.

8 skinless and boneless chicken thighs (I used plain old bone-in, skin-on thighs when I made it.)
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 fresh hot red chili, seeded
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided use.
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/4 cups cream (half and half and milk work well also)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

Place the chicken in a shallow dish in a single layer.  Puree the garlic, ginger, lime juice, chili, cilantro and 1 tablespoon oil in a food processor.  Spread over the chicken and cover.  Refrigerate for 2-8 hours.

Heat two tablespoons oil over medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion and cook for 4 minutes; do not let onion brown.  Stir in the turmeric and cumin and cook for 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.

In a separate saute pan, heat the remaining two tablespoons oil over medium-high heat.  Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and cook, in batches, for 2-3 minutes on each side until just barely browned.  Repeat until all chicken has been browned.

Pour pan drippings into onion mixture.  Add reserved marinade as well.  Stir in the cream/milk, tomato paste and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat stirring often.

Pour sauce into baking dish.  Nestle chicken thighs in sauce and bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15-20 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Serve with steamed rice and a sprinkle of cilantro to garnish.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Microwave Peanut Brittle

When the other half looks at you a half hour before bed and says, "I need something sweet before I go upstairs," this is the recipe to go to.  And it's also a recipe you should use to make all those homemade gifts for neighbors and work colleagues that you have on the list.

Microwave Peanut Brittle

(Note: You may have to adjust cooking times depending on the power of your microwave. Watch your first batch carefully and record those times for future cooking.)

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup light corn syrup.

Microwave for four minutes.

Add one cup peanuts (or substitute pecans or almonds) and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Microwave for another four minutes.

Mix in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon butter.

Microwave for one to two minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon baking soda. Stir until frothy. Working quickly, pour onto a buttered or parchment-lined (a Silpat also works nicely) cookie sheet. Spread by shaking pan or with offset spatula. (Take care not to flatten the bubbles.)

Allow to cool completely and then break into pieces.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cocktail (Book) of the Week: See Mix Drink

By now, you're probably making your list and checking it twice.  Here's a great gift for the budding bartender out there. 

Brian Murphy has created a primer for mixology.  Color-coded ingredients, line drawings of the proper glassware, and a pie chart illustrating the drink's ingredients by volume mean you can make any one of 100 popular cocktails with the greatest of ease.

Make sure and buy one for yourself as well of course....

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Greek Skewers

Here's an easy appetizer for that holiday shindig you have in the works.

Greek Skewers

Cucumber, seeded and sliced
Pitted kalamata olives
Cherry tomatoes
Feta cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
Good-quality olive oil

Thread the cucumber, olives, tomatoes, and feta on 6-inch bamboo skewers. 

Place on a platter and drizzle with olive oil.  Finish things off with a sprinkle of oregano.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tip for Making Candy

Lots of folks make candy at this time of the year.  I'm no different and in a couple of days, I'll be posting a great recipe for microwave peanut brittle.

In the meantime, here's a list of reminders to help you make sweet treats successfully.
  • Rain, rain, go away.  Don't try and make candy on an overly humid day.  Wait until it's dry outside and your kitchen is right at 70 degrees.
  • Read through the recipe several times before you start.  Candy can go downhill quickly, and you don't want to be reading instructions while your brittle is hardening (ruining) in the bowl.
  • NO SUBSTITUTIONS.  This is not the time to try and save calories or fat grams.  Use exactly what the recipe calls for, including sugar, butter and heavy cream.
  • This stuff can be dangerous.  I have never had a burn worse than the time I dropped hot sugar syrup on my thumb.  Be very careful...and this is probably not a time to have little kids help you in the kitchen.
What candymaking tips would you add?

Friday, December 09, 2011

(Another) Cocktail of the Week: Apple-Rye Sour

Here's yet one more grown-up/shaken/martini-type cocktail for your holiday enjoyment.  (Hint: If you're crunched for time...or just lazy...I'm betting you could substitute apple butter or applesauce for the homemade apple jam.)

Apple-Rye Sour
Makes one cocktail.

To make apple jam:
Combine 2 good-quality red apples (peeled, cored and cubed) with 2 cinnamon sticks and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. 

To make the cocktail, combine 1 teaspoon of the apple jam, 1 tablespoon simple syrup 1 tablespoon lime (or lemon) juice, and 2 ounces rye whiskey in an ice-filled cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cracker Pairing. Yes....Cracker Pairing.

I'm weird.  I'll admit it.  But I think some things go better with things than others. Yes, I am a big fan of proper wine pairings. Guru Andrea Immer Robinson has taught me that Chardonnay is good with corn and toasted things.  That a funky Pinot Noir goes with cheese or mushrooms.  And that bubbly is good with about anything.

But I look at other pairings as well.  I swear that certain soft drinks taste better with certain kinds of ice and cups.  But I digress....

Another pairing I thought about recently involves crackers.  We all buy lots of crackers over the holiday season.  And we pair them with cheese or a variety of spreads and dips.  And I've realized that I prefer certain crackers with certain things.  Not sure I can explain why, but try them and see what you think. 
  • I think that traditional spinach dip (the one you find on the back of Knorr soup mix) goes best with Triscuits.
  • For my shrimp dip, I buy traditional Townhouse oval wheat crackers.
  • And for our family tradition Kajun Krab Dip.  (Yes, with "k" and in a plastic tub.), nothing works better than good ol' Wheat Thins.
But while we're on the are some other crackers as suggested by the Rachael Ray magazine folks.  I haven't tried them all, but am intrigued by several.
  • Milton's Everything Multi-Grain Crackers:  They say these are great all-occasion crackers; inspired by the everything bagel, they're buttery and coated with five different seeds.
  • Triscuit Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Crackers:  I have not been a fan of these when I've had them before, but I am interested in the idea that they would be great next to a cheese plate.
  • Sensible Portions Pita Bites, Black Olive Feta:  These are dippers, ready for scooping up hummus.
  • Koyo Organic Brown Rice Chips, Tamari: Apparently these crispy little things are delicious all on their own.
  • American Vintage Wine Biscuits with White Wine, Shallot and Cayenne: The tasters compared them to cookies.  Sounds like they would be perfect alongside a cocktail or glass of vino.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: The Last Word

I've mentioned that this is high cocktail time at our house.  A couple of friends dropping by, something grown up while dinner is cooking, even a full-blown cocktail party...all are reasons to skip traditional highballs like gin and tonic and getting the shaker and martini glasses out.

Now, these are not things you make by the pitcher.  And this particular one (which I found in Bon Appetit's credited to a New Orleans place called French 75) uses exotic liqueurs that you might not keep on hand.  But the complex and balanced cocktail that results is probably worth the investment.  This is a great high-octane sipper for a festive occasion.

The Last Word
Makes one (on the large side) cocktail.

2 ounces gin
2 tablespoons Chartreuse liqueur
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons maraschino liqueur (i.e. Luxardo)

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake vigorously.  Strain into a cocktail glass...and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Good News About Holiday Sweets

We all end to overindulge this time of year.  Who wouldn't with all the Christmas cookies being thrown around?

But the good news is that the butter, eggs and sugar are spiked with ingredients that are actually good for you.  Maybe that will help clear your conscience...

Ginger: After the gym, eat that gingerbread man...and not just the head.  A half teaspoon ginger can help relieve post-workout muscle pain.

Cinnamon: This spice is rich in antioxidants and can help lower your triglyceride levels. (Actually, this tip in one to use all year.  Sprinkle a little cinnamon on your daily cereal, coffee or cup of tea.)

Peppermint: This is a traditional remedy for turns out that it activates an anti-pain reaction.

Nutmeg: Thanks to antibacterial properties, nutmeg can help prevent tooth decay.

Cloves: These little nuggets have the highest concentration of antioxidants in the herb and spice world.

I'm going to go all-out and put all put peppermint in some apple cider...or maybe mulled wine.  It's the healthy thing to do.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Stocking Stuffers for Foodies

Hopefully you're making your lists and checking them twice...not just your groceries and liquor orders for your parties, but also a gift or two.  With my family, the stockings are just as important as the wrapoped gifts, so while I'll have a list of cookbooks, gadgets and other things that you'll want to get for the foodies in your life, today it's all about the little stuff.  Things that I can't do without in my kitchen that will make perfect stocking stuffers.

  • Garlic pepper: This is my secret ingredient.  When a recipe says season to taste with freshly ground pepper, none times out of ten it's the garlic pepper I reach for.  It's available at most grocery stores, but I've also found it in bulk online from several sources.
  • Microplane grater: Nutmeg, Parmesan, ginger, garlic.  These are all things that I grate on this fabulous device.  Get the extra long's easier to handle.
  • Ranch dressing a canister: Ranch dressing is ubiquitous here in the South.  Yes, it goes on our salads, but we also dip raw veggies in it, drizzle it on fried foods, and bathe in it.  (Wait...I think my other half was joking when he offered that suggestion.)  But the little packets are a pain; they're expensive and make more than you need on most occasions. I have tried alternative recipes, but, frankly, nothing compares to the chemical-laden, original.  So I was thrilled to find it in jars at Walmart.  I keep it on hand and can make as much, or as little, dressing as I need.
  • Dawn Power Dissolve: This one is also probably not the most environmental stuff on the planet, but it's a lifesaver when it comes to crusted-on foods on your casserole dishes and baking sheets.  It's a nother one I can usually only find at Walmart.
  • Wooden spoons: This one seems obvious, but a jar full of wooden spoons of various sizes right next to your stove makes it easy to reach for whatever you need.
I'd love to add to this list.  What are YOU asking Santa for? Make your suggestions in the comment section below...

Sunday, December 04, 2011


Pomegranates (and pomegranate juice) are everywhere these days.  You can find them at most grocery stores, and I love that.  They are, in my mind, a perfect ingredient for Christmas-time--red jewels that add a touch of class to lots of dishes and cocktails. And ruby red juice to boot.

Thanks to Food Network Magazine, here are some interesting ways for you to put them to use:
  • Mix up pomegranate cosmos...just replace the cranberry with pomegranate juice.
  • While you're at it, replace your morning OJ with pomegranate juice.
  • Pretty red and green Christmas crostini:  Spread toasted baguette slices with goat cheese and sprinkle pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachios on top.
  • How about pom soda? Muddle a few seeds, add ice, pomegranate juice and top with club soda.
  • Kick up your vinaigrette.  Whisk 1 tablespoon pomegranate juice, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, and 1/4 cup olive oil together.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Top your salmon with 1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds and 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds.
  • Simmer equal parts apple cider and pomegranate juice to warm the cockles of your heart.
  • If you want another cocktail, pour 2 ounces each of bourbon and pomegranate juice over ice.  Add club soda and garnish with an orange slice.
  • And of course, a classic.  Simply pour a glass of your favorite bubbly and toss in a couple of pomegranate seeds.  The little rubies will dance in the bubbles.  Quite the festive sipper!
And a few tips:
  • You can store whole pomegranates in plastic bags for up to three months in the refrigerator.
  • No-mess seeding: Quarter and submerge in water.  As you loosed the seeds, they will sink and the pithy parts will float to the top.
  • Check out Martha Stewart's method also.  Quarter the pomegranate, hold over a bowl and whack the skin with a wooden spoon.  The seeds will fall into the bowl.
  • You can always take the easy way out and buy pre-seeded pomegranates.  They make a yummy quick snack.
  • Make your pomegranate juice last even longer and make pomegranate molasses.  (I'm going to test it out and post a recipe sometime soon.)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Cooking Tips from the Folks at The Food Network

Started posting tips that were gathered together in the May edition of Food Network Magazine back in October, but there's plenty more to go. Here's another batch...
  • Blot meat dry before you get ready to sear it.  If the meat releases too much moisture when it hits the hot pan, it will steam rather than sear.
  • Need to cut pancetta or bacon into lardons or other smaller pieces?  Put it in the freezer for fifteen minutes and it's much easier to cut.
  • To turn your oven into an industrial oven and get great crispy caramelization on roasted vegetables, turn it up as hot as it goes and put a sheet pan inside for 10-15 minutes.  Toss the veggies with olive oil , salt and pepper and put on the hot pan.  Turn the heat down to 400° and then watch carefully.  That initial blast of heat will caramelize the sugars in the vegetables quickly.
  • Make sure you have a cast iron pan in your collection.  It's a great even cooking surface and is a cinch to clean.
  • Keep fresh basil longer by putting its stems in water at room temperature.  It's a nice fresh addition to the look of your kitchen also...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Countdown to Christmas

Just when we've finished putting the Halloween decorations away.  Stored the scarecrows.  And used up the last of the leftover turkey.  It's time for Christmas.  That's exciting. 

And daunting.

But no worries.  Christmas means three "c's" to me.  Cookies.  Canapes. And cocktails. 

So I'll be posting lots of all of the above in the next several weeks.  Join me in the journey....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Here's a simple way to dress up plain ol' green beans. I'm also going to try it with brussels sprouts and broccoli.  And I'm betting the technique of sauteeing and then zapping with a little vinegar will make perfectly wilted cabbage also.

Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots
Makes 4-6 servings. 
Adapted from Southern Living.

1 pound haricots verts (tiny green beans), trimmed (I cheated and used a package of frozen French-cut green beans, cooked according to package directions.)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium shallots, halved lengthwise and peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Cook green beans in boiling salted water to cover 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge beans into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain.

Melt butter and brown sugar with olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add shallots, and sauté 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add vinegar, and sauté 10 minutes or until shallots are golden brown and tender.

Increase heat to medium-high; add green beans, and sauté 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More Turkey Sandwich Ideas

If you were smart, you set aside just a little of that Thanksgiving turkey so you have a sandwich for lunch at work today or tomorrow.  But even if you didn't, these ideas are great ways to kick up a plain old turkey sandwich. Thanks to Food Network magazine for the inspiration...

Turkey Honey Avocado BLT

Here are the critical ingredients (besides the turkey of course):
  • Good-quality toasted baguette
  • Arugula (love the bite...)
  • Red onion
  • Tomato
  • Avocado salsa (2 avocados, 2 T olive oil, 1T lime juice, 2 T diced red onion, 1/4 c quartered grape tomatoes, 2 T minced cilantro, 1 minced jalapeno, salt and pepper
  • Honey
  • Bacon
  • and the piece de resistance: Bacon aioli (1 egg yolk, 1 T dijon mustard, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 T Sriracha, 1 T rice wine vinegar, and salt.  Pulse all in a food processor.  Whisk bacon drippings with enough olive oil to make 3/4 cup.  With the processor motor running, add the drippings/oil mixture until smooth.)
Spanish Turkey Sandwich

Love this one.  In addition to turkey, you need:
  • Ciabatta roll
  • Aioli ( 1 egg yolk, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 T lemon juice, 1 T water, 1 t dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Pulse in food processor until combine.  With motor running, blend in 1/2 c olive oil until smooth.)
  • Pepper-almond relish (Combine 1/4 c chopped toasted Marcona almonds, 1 c chopped roasted red peppers, 4 t olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.)
  • Manchego cheese
Wild Wally Sandwich

This one is Cobb-salad-ish.  On a soft baguette and with roast turkey, add:
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Mayo
  • Hot sauce
  • Blue cheese
Get it?  Got it....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dressing Dumplings

Hopefully, about all that's left of the Thanksgiving bird is the carcass. And you probably have a spoonful of dressing left. Here's a delicious weekend dinner that uses both...

Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dressing Dumplings
Makes 8 servings.

Carcass from one 12-14 pound roasted turkey, picked clean, plus 2 cups shredded cooked turkey meat (divided use)
2 large onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped (divided use)
4 peeled carrots, 2 coarsely chopped and 2 sliced (divided use)
4 stalks celery, 2 coarsely chopped and 2 sliced (divided use)
6 garlic cloves, 4 smashed and 2 chopped (divided use)
1 bay leaf
10 whole black peppercorns
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons flour, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups leftover dressing
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme

Put the turkey carcass, quartered onions, coarsely chopped carrots and celery, smashed garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large stockpot and add enough cold water to just cover, about 2 quarts. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour.

Remove from the heat and strain the solids from the broth. Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer and reserve; you should have about 10 to 12 cups broth.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the eggs, flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and some black pepper together until smooth. Add the leftover dressing and mix until well-combined; cover and reserve.

Wipe the stockpot clean with a paper towel. Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the sliced carrots and celery, thyme and reserved broth and bring to a simmer; cook until vegetables are just soft, about 10 minutes.

Roll level tablespoons of the dumpling mixture into balls with wet hands (see Note) and drop into the simmering soup; cook until dumplings float, 3 to 4 minutes. Gently stir in the turkey meat and corn and season with salt and pepper, then simmer until heated through. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Moistness of dressing can vary; if the dumpling dough is too soft to roll, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it is firm enough to hold its shape while rolling.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey Cobb Sandwich

Here's a great way to use up some of that leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Turkey Cobb Sandwich
Makes one sandwich.

1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese
Bread (sourdough, sandwich roll or even whole-grain. Toast it if you'd like.)
3 slices bacon
1 small avocado, sliced
2 slices tomato
1 egg (hardboiled and sliced if you're packing ahead, fried if you're eating immediately after construction)
4 slices turkey

Blend the mayo and blue cheese. (This is your dressing.) Spread it on your bread and stack remaining ingredients.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Curried Turkey, Spinach and Cashew Salad

Sure you can make a sandwich with your turkey leftovers.  And I'll post a great recipe tomorrow.  But why not shake things up and make a salad?  This one sounds yummy.

Curried Turkey, Spinach and Cashew Salad
Makes 4 servings.
From Cooking Light magazine.

1/4 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 cups loosely packed baby spinach
2 cups chopped cooked skinless turkey (light and dark meat)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted cashews
1/2 cup golden raisins (Personal preference, but I'd probably leave these out.)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
Combine the first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Add spinach and remaining ingredients; toss well to combine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Sticky-Bun Pumpkin Muffins

Just because you and yours will be sitting down to an enormous meal sometime tomorrow doen't mean you should skimp on breakfast.  It's the holidays, dang it.

The typical Turkey Day pantry includes all the ingredients in this recipe.  It's what would result if sticky pecan rolls and pumpkin bread had a love child.  And it's the perfect beginning to your food marathon.

Sticky-Bun Pumpkin Muffins
From Southern Living.
Makes 2 dozen muffins.
(Note: I halved the recipe and it worked quite well.  Don't worry about the leftover half-can of pumpkin.  Toss it with pasta and sage or stir into your favorite butternut squash soup recipe.)

2 cups pecan halves and pieces
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (I just used a pinch each of ginger, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg)
 1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.

Stir together melted butter and next two ingredients. Spoon one rounded teaspoonful butter mixture into each cup of two well-greased 12-cup muffin pans, and top each with one rounded tablespoonful pecans.

Stir together flour and next four ingredients in a large bowl, and make a well in center of mixture. Whisk together pumpkin, next two ingredients, and 2/3 cup water; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans, filling three-fourths full. Place an aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan on lower oven rack to catch any overflow.

Bake at 350° on middle oven rack for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Invert pan immediately to remove muffins, and arrange muffins on a wire rack. Spoon any topping remaining in muffin cups over muffins. Let cool 5 minutes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Green Bean Casserole Tips

Many of us will have the ubiquitous green bean casserole on our Dukey Day tables later this week.  Years ago, I deconstructed and reconstructed a gussied-up version that is worth the effort. But there's nothing wrong with the version concocted mostly from canned ingredients.   Especially if you "tamper" with it and use one or more of these tips and add-ins.

  • Instead of soup, try prepared (refrigerated preferably) Alfredo sauce.
  • How about a few more non-souped up mushrooms?  Add canned or sauteed fresh mushrooms.  And go as exotic as you'd like.
  • Sliced water chestnuts are another nice addition.
  • Everything's better with Ranch.  Stir in a tablespoon of Ranch dressing mix before baking.
  • I don't like my fried onions getting soggy, so I don't mix any into the casserole itself, instead reserving  them for the topping.  However, slivered almonds keep their crunch...stir them in.
  • Speaking of topping, why not add a little Parmesan cheese on top? Or pecans?  Or panko?  You get the idea.
  • And since oven space is always at a premium, you can always prepare the casserole in a slow cooker.  You'll want to cook on high for 2-3 hours. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Mashed Potato Casserole

Mashed potatoes are a staple on most people's Turkey Day tables.  (Along with sweet potatoes and dressing of course...what a carb fest!)  But why not take those spuds and make this casserole?  A special dish for a special day...

Mashed Potato Casserole
Makes 8 servings.
From Cooking Light magazine.

1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided 3/4 cup (6 ounces)
1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
Cooking spray
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
4 green onions, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place potatoes, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

Place a food mill over a large bowl, and place potato mixture in food mill. Press mixture through food mill into bowl. (Blogger's note: You can also use a favorite techniques for mashed potatoes.) Stir in reserved 1/2 cup cooking liquid, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, and cream cheese.

Spoon potato mixture into an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Preheat broiler.

Combine Parmigiano-Reggiano and panko; sprinkle evenly over top of potatoes. Broil 4 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with onions.
Hint:  You can assemble this the day before and bake shortly before serving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: Gingersnap

Here's a bracing cocktail that puts many of the flavors of pumpkin pie in a glass.  It's wonderfully refreshing...and if you love it, why not repeat it at Christmas time?  After all, it has the flavors of a gingerbread man also.

Makes one cocktail.
From Rachael Ray.

1 ounce ginger liqueur (i.e. Domaine de Canton)
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon agave syrup (or 1 tablespoon simple syrup)
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Pinch each of ground clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake well.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato Dip

Put this one in your repertoire for the holidays.  Easy to make and full of flavor, it will be a hit at any of your upcoming gatherings.

Loaded Baked Potato Dip
Makes about 4 cups.
From Southern Living.

1 (2.1 ounce) package fully cooked bacon slices (or just cook up about 12 strips of bacon until extra crispy)
1 (16 ounce) container sour cream

2 cups (8 oz.) freshly shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup sliced fresh chives
2 teaspoons hot sauce
Garnishes: cooked, crumbled bacon; sliced fresh chives; freshly cracked pepper

Microwave bacon according to package directions until crisp; drain on paper towels. Cool 10 minutes; crumble. Stir together bacon and next 4 ingredients. Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours before serving. Garnish, if desired. Serve with crispy, warm waffle fries or good-quality sturdy potato chips. Store leftovers in refrigerator up to 7 days.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Make-Ahead Giblet Gravy

The very best thing I did in helping prepare last year's Thanksgiving feast was deciding to make the gravy ahead of time. Why wait for the turkey to come out of the oven and throw things together at the last minute? (And it's a moot point at my family's gathering...the turkey is a smoked turkey breast. No drippings available.)

Inspired by an episode of the Barefoot Contessa, here's what I came up with:

Make-Ahead Giblet Gravy
Makes about 3 cups.

Ahead of time, bake two turkey thighs (readily available at your grocery store) at 350° until done, about 50 minutes. (I seasoned mine with a little thyme, sage, salt and garlic pepper.) Set aside to cool. Scrape the drippings from the bottom of the pan and save to use as the base for the gravy. Save the thighs also. You'll take the skin off and chop them up to be your "giblets."

When you're ready to make the gravy, heat the drippings in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add one onion, finely chopped, and cook in the drippings until just translucent. Add three tablespoons flour and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes. (This makes the roux that will thicken the gravy.)

Add your liquid (I used a good-quality turkey stock I found at the grocery, but you could use chicken stock, wither homemade or canned), about three cups. Whisk over medium-high heat until thickened to gravy consistency, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the chopped turkey dark meat and voila. (This year, I'm gilding the lily by adding a few chopped cooked chicken livers for some TRUE giblet flavor.)

Let cool completely and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to reheat for the big meal.

You'll love it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tips of the Trade

More cooking tips from Food Network personalities as compiled in a recent issue of Food Network Magazine.

  • Treat recipes as a guideline, not the Bible.  Replace ingredients you don't care for with similar ingredients you like.  If you like thyme and not tarragon (that's me!), use thyme.
  • If you're using raw onions in a salad or salsa, rinse the diced onions under cold running water, then blot dry.  You'll get rid of the sulfurous gas that can mess up the recipe.
  • If you slice garlic instead of mincing it, it's less likely to burn when you saute it.
  • Keep a bottle of REALLY good olive oil on hand.  It's a great "finisher" on pizza, mozzarella, pasta, fish, meat and vegetables.
  • Save a leftover Parmesan rind and use it as an additional layer of flavor when cooking soup.  Throw it in and then fish it out before serving.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Gravy 101

Thanks to Martha (yes, THAT Martha) and her magazine, here's a primer on your gravy for Turkey Day. (My text, not hers.)

  • Your pan drippings are the foundation of a good gravy. Baste the bird often, adding 1/2 cup dry white wine 30 minutes into roasting.  Watch the pan and add more liquid if necessary to make sure the fats and juices aren't burning.
  • You need some stock.  While the turkey is cooking, combine 1 turkey neck, 1 stalk of celery, 1 carrot, 1/4 onion, 10 peppercorns, and a bundle of herbs (parsley, rosemary and a bay leaf) in a  large saucepan.  Add 8 cups water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half, about an hour.  Strain and discard solids.  Let cool.
  • When the bird is done, transfer to a platter and let rest.  Reserve the pan and drippings and continue.... 
  • Slurry it up.  Combine 1/4 cup flour and 1 cup stock.  Shake, shake, shake.
  • Pour the pan drippings into a fat separator and let it do its thing. You want one cup of fat-free drippings.
  • Deglaze the roasting pan, setting it across two burners and pour in 1/2 cup dry white wine.  Bring to a boil and scrape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon.
  • Into the roasting pan, whisk the slurry and remaining stock.  Add defatted pan juice and bring to a boil.  Cook until thickened, about 12 minutes.
  • Strain the gravy and season with kosher salt and ground black pepper. 
  • Makes a little less than two cups...lots of effort, for not much product, but is SOOOO worth it.  After all, there's only one Thanksgiving a year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicken and Kale Casserole

Yesterday, I proselytized on behalf of that healthiest of winter greens....kale. 

Today, I submit the proof.  A delicious cheesy casserole that is the perfect autumnal comfort food.

Chicken and Kale Casserole
Makes 8 servings.
From Everyday Food.

3/4 pound large pasta shells
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches kale (about 1 1/2 pounds), stems and ribs removed and leaves coarsely chopped
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 container (48 ounces) part-skim ricotta
Splash of lemon juice
3/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta shells. Drain and return to the pot.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add onion and cook until onion is beginning to soften, about four minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.  Add the kale, cover and let cook until almost tender, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the vegetable mixture to the pot with the pasta.

Stir in the chicken, ricotta, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Transfer mixture to a 9-by-13 baking dish.  Top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Bake until the casserole is heated through and the top is golden, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Kale?

So you're in the grocery store looking for something seasonal.  Yeah, there's winter squash.  Sweet potatoes.  And apples are yummy.  But what about greens?  How about that dark green leafy stuff that looks like overgrown parsley?  It's kale and here's why it's good for you and what to do with it...

  • It's quite nutrient-dense.  High in all the goodies--anti-oxidants like beta-carotene and vitamin C, as well as fiber and calcium.
  • Buy the darkest colored bunches you can find and store in a plastic bag in the coldest section of your fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Before cooking, you're going to want to trim out the center tough ribs. 
  • Then, use it in an Italian soup like minestrone.  Pair it with potatoes, white beans, cheesy pasta, or sausage.
  • And you can always keep it simple and saute it with some garlic, a splash of white wine (or white wine vinegar) and a pinch of crushed red pepper.
  • Still not convinced?  Come back tomorrow for a delicious recipe that got the seal of approval in my kitchen. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tips of the Trade...

Here are a few (unrelated I'll admit) kitchen tips I've run across lately...

  • If you're like me and the other half, you love BLT's.  (For us, more often than not, it's just BT's.)  But this is NOT the time to buy a tomato at the grocery store.  With our Texas farmers done for this year, I refuse to buy the inspid poseurs that present themselves from the hothouse.  But here's a hint that allows you to approach the same flavor.  Mix some chopped cherry tomatoes in some mayonnaise; spread that on some bread and add the lettuce and bacon.  Not the same, but maybe enough to keep you happy until next summer.
  • I'm betting egg casseroles are in your holiday brunch plans.  But who has room for those big casseroles to sit in the fridge overnight at this time of year?  They're already brimming over with food, party fixings and leftovers.  Instead, pour the ingredients into a pitcher.  Takes up less room and you can easily pour into your baking dish the next morning.
  • Are shrimp a go-to cocktail buffet option for you?  Me too.  But how do you keep them cold?  not ice, you end up with the little suckers swimming in the Arctic.  How about frozen lemon slices?  Cold and flavorful all at once.
Always on the look out for new tips.  Have any to share?  Post them in the comment below.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Apple Crumb Coffee Cakes

Yes, October was Apple Month.  But apples are still in season....and still delicious.

These tasty treats were a hit at last week's staff meeting at my office.  Earned me some brownie points....

Apple Crumb Coffee Cakes
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes 18 muffins.

To make the streusel:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 

Preheat the oven to 350°. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour with the brown sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces and mix at medium-low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal; continue mixing the streusel until very small clumps form. Transfer the streusel to a large plate and refrigerate until it is well chilled, about 10 minutes.

To make the crumb cakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg, beaten
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely diced

Line 18 standard-size muffin cups with paper liners. Spray the liners with vegetable oil cooking spray. In the mixer bowl, combine the flour with the granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add the butter pieces and beat at low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the sour cream and beaten egg and beat until the batter is smooth. Add the diced apple and beat just until incorporated.

Fill the muffin cups halfway with the crumb cake batter. Press the streusel into clumps and sprinkle on top. Bake the crumb cakes in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until risen, golden and springy to the touch; rotate the pans halfway through baking. Let the crumb cakes cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Pumpkin and turkey are both staple ingredients this time of year.  But rather than waiting until the end of November and roasting a bird and baking a pie separately, why not combine the two in this yummy and simple chili?  The pumpkin adds a complexity of flavor both earthy and sweet. 

Now this recipe is not going to replace my traditional recipe, but I'm definitely glad to add it to my repertoire.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili
Makes 5-6 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion, bell peppers, and garlic until tender.  Stir in the ground turkey and cook until evenly browned.  Mix in tomatoes and pumpkin. Season with remaining ingredients.  Cover and set on low and cook for 4 to 5 hours.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

More Cooking Tips....

...courtesy of the team of chefs at The Food Network.

  • To season meat and fish more evenly before cooking, sprinkle from higher it's snowing.
  • Accroding to the Barefoot Contessa, you'll get better results if you leave your butter and eggs out at room temperature overnight.
  • You're not done after you cut the corn off the cob.  Use the back of the kinfe to scrape the cob again and extract the juice.  The "milk" will add flavor and body to your corn dish.
  • Here are Iron Chef Michael Symon's flavor boosters of choice: acidity, salt and horseradish.
  • A basic one that too many of us forget: read a recipe entirely and thoroughly before you start cooking.
  • Don't use oil in the water while you boil pasta.   You might think it will keep the pasta from sticking, but it will do is keep the sauce from sticking to the pasta.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hummus Two Ways

Tried a couple of new recipes for our Halloween shindig the other night, including a couple of variations on traditional hummus.  And the experience taught me a valuable lesson.  I will never buy prepared hummus at the ridiculous prices that you pay at the market.  Instead, I will keep a can of chickpeas on hand and, with a few other pantry ingredients that I'll keep on hand, whip up a batch at will.

Now, these recipes as published in Food Network Magazine, would make a VAT of hummus.  Even after I hlaved them there was too much.  So, unless you're feeing a Mediterranean army, use these versions that I have cut down even further.

That said, these are fun to set out side by side and compare.

Buffalo Wing Hummus
(Makes a little over 2 cups.)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (Reserve 1/2 cup liquid.)
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons cayenne hot sauce
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
Generous pinch of kosher salt

Place all ingredients, including 1/4 cup reserved liquid, in a food processor.  Puree until smooth and creamy.  Add additional reserved juice if necessary to achieve right consistency.

(I also think this would be good garnished with a generous sprinkling of blue cheese....)

Pizza Hummus
(Makes a little over 2 cups.)

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2 cloves garlic
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (Reserve 1/2 cup liquid.)
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Generous pinch of kosher salt

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan.  Add the tomato paste, oregano and basil and cook until toasted, aout 2 minutes.  Transfer mixture to a food processor. (I'll admit that, in a rush to get things ready for the party, I skipped this step and threw everything into the food processor at once.) Add other ingredients, including 1/4 cup reserved liquid, in a food processor. Puree until smooth and creamy. Add additional reserved juice if necessary to achieve right consistency.   

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cocktail of the Week" Bloody Eyeball Martini

Happy Halloween!

You're going to need a cocktail after all those trick-or-treaters. Here's a festive one.  Mix your favorite  martini....although if you're like me and partial to dirty ones, you're going to want to skip the olive juice just this once to make sure that you get the full effect.

The holiday trimming is the garnish.  Take a couple of pimiento-stuffed olives and spear them up.  Embed a peppercorn in each to make an eye.  Place in your cocktail glass and pour the martini in.  Take a couple of dashes Peychaud's bitters and drop in for the full bloodshot effect.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

No Guilt Trick or Treating....

It's coming up in a couple of days.  The holiday where kids get candy and us adults sneak a piece or two from their plastic jack-o-lanterns after the young ones have gone to bed.

But don't can do it without feeling guilty.  (Except for the fact that you'

As to the calories though, don't worry too much about it.  A recent LSU study found that adults who ate about an ounce of candy a day on average tended to have smaller waists, a lower body mass index, and a lower risk of high blood pressure.

Would someone please pass me a Reese's?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Veggies

You already know this...but fruits and vegetables are seasonal.  They are best-tasting and best nutritionally when they are harvested at the right time in your region.  So, here in Texas, it's no longer time for tomatoes, yellow squash and peaches.  It's time for these four fall superstars (all of which I LOVE)...
  • Butternut squash:  This one packs a lot of fiber, potassium and beta-carotene into its distinctive shape.  Mash it together with potatoes.  Or roast it and toss with whole wheat pasta, sage and olive oil.
  • Brussels sprouts: Good ones are great steamed whole, but try shredding them and sauteeing with a little bacon.
  • Pears: It's not all about apples.  And pear's aren't just for eating out of hand.  Poach them for an elegant dessert.  Toss into a salad with blue cheese and walnuts.  Or slice onto a sandwich with a spread of almond butter.
  • Beets: They're red thanks to beta-cyanin...thought to fight cancer.  Other good stuff in these root veggies improve blood flow to your brain to keep it sharp.  Throw these guys into a fall salad...shredded with apples or roasted with carrots. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Halloween Hunting Guide.... Halloween is upon us.  That holiday where we (ok...our kids or neighbors' kids as surrogates) go out with roomy containers to collect sugar-laced, fat-filled nuggets of goodness.

But, wait, everyone is on a health kick these days, so what to do....

Cooking Light comes to the rescue with a New York magazine-style quadrant map "Halloween Treat Picker."  The bad corner maxes out on saturated fat and sugar while the opposite (what we should aspire to) section offers "healthier" options. 

The results?

Of course, my favorites are in the bad corner.  Reese's.  Twix.  M&M's.

Only a little better...3 Musketeers.  And Hershey's Miniatures.

But here are the ones you need to have your tykes set on "search"...  Laffy Taffy.  Smarties.  Tootsie Roll. Starburst.

I agree...ignore this post.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cooking Tips from The Food Network

The good shows on The Food Network--and there are quite a few of them--are educational.  Not just recipe how-to's, but peppered (pun intended) with great cooking tips.  A recent issue of Food Network Magazine collected a hundred of them from its stable of chefs.  Over the next several weeks, I'll share some of the ones I found most helpful.  Some are tried and true in my repertoire...others were real eye-openers.

  • When you make stock, make it in large quantities and freeze it in two cup portions in plastic bags or containers.  You can use it to add extra flavor to rice, sauces, and stir fries.
  • If you have a stainless steel sink, use it to get rid of the smell of garlic on your hands.  Rub your hands on the sink vigorously for 30 seconds and then wash them.  No odor.
  • Use a microplane grated to shave veggies into a vinaigrette.  Kick the flavor up with grated fennel and orange zest.  Or lemon zest and carrot.  Or...well, you get the idea.
  • Yes, you want your spices close to you as you're cooking.  But, no, you don't want them over the stove....nothing will kill their flavor faster.  Store in a cool dark place NOT above the hot zone of your kitchen.
  • If you need to add more oil to your pan while sauteing, add it in a stream along the edges of the pan.  That way, by the time it reaches whatever you're cooking, it will be heated.
  • Healthy up your creamy dressing by subbing Greek-style yogurt for half of the mayonnaise.
Stay tuned for more....

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: The Presbyterian

I'm not exactly why this drink has a religious name, but it's appropriate for a Sunday, no?

It's also a perfect autumn sipper...several of the ingredients make it the color of fall leaves.

The Presbyterian
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces Bourbon
2 ounces club soda
2 ounces ginger ale
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled highball glass and stir.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Butternut Squash Spoon Bread

This is what you get when cornbread and butternut squash souffle have a love child.  It will be a perfect side for your more gourmet Turkey Day dinner spread, but why wait?  It was a delicious side to a perfectly cooked sage and bread crumb breaded pork chop....

(Dang....wish my camera wasn't at work so I could have taken a picture.)

Butternut Squash Spoon Bread
From Southern Living.
Makes 8-10 servings.

2 cups buttermilk
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups thawed, frozen unseasoned, pureed butternut squash (or use frozen or fresh squash that you cook and puree yourself)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
(Next time I make it I might add a little spice as well.  A teaspoon of hot pepper sauce?  Generous pinch of crushed red pepper?  Maybe even a diced jalapeno pepper.....)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook buttermilk in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often, 4 to 6 minutes or until bubbles appear around edges (do not boil); remove from heat. (Mixture may curdle.)

Lightly beat egg yolks in a large bowl; stir in squash and cheese. Combine cornmeal and next 4 ingredients in a small bowl. Stir cornmeal mixture into squash mixture. Pour warm buttermilk over squash mixture; whisk until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes or until lukewarm.

Brush a 2 1/2- to 3-qt. baking dish or 12-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon melted butter; stir remaining melted butter into squash mixture.

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold into squash mixture. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish.

Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkin Panache...

Sure, we've talked apples and pears this month.  But we can't forget the pumpkin.  It's not just for jack-o-lanterns anymore.

Here are a few more creative ideas...

  • Kick your oatmeal up a notch...stir in a spoonful of pumkin puree and top with pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds).
  • Blend that pumpkin pie into a shake.  Combine a slice of pie, 1/2 cup milk and a cup of vanilla ice cream in the blender.  Slurp up with a straw.
  • Substitute pumpkin for your next batch of fries.  Roast sticks of pumpkin that you've tossed with olive oil and salt (and any other herbs/spices that sound good) at 450° for 20 minutes. 
  • Trick (or treat) out your bagels.  Blend 4 ounces cream cheese, 1/4 cup pumpkin puree and a pinch of cinnamon. Then spread the October love...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It's Still Apple Month....

...and there are lots to enjoy in your grocery store produce section.  And we all have our favorites.  (I'm partial to Honeycrisps and Pink Lady's.)  But what if you're picking based on antioxidants.  It turns out that the common "lowly" Red Delicious has 500% more antioxidants than and Empire apple.  But, if you're peeling for a pie, use Northern Spies.  Their flesh has more antioxidants than others.

Source: Real Simple magazine

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vintage Menus on the Web

Seems that if you were on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Pullman car in 1900, you could choose between stuffed mangos or boiled red snapper with shrimp sauce.

In 1969, if you were staying at the Holiday Inn in San Marcos, Texas, you might start your meal with a chiffonade salad or one of several "Appeteasers" like Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail or Split Pea Soup.

And in 1954, at the Plaza, a tequila would set you back $1.15.

How do I know these things?  From a fascinating wesbite launched by the New York Public Library. At, you can peruse hundreds of menus from more than a century ago to today.  You can even help them transcribe menus to make them searchable.

Check it out...and post links to your favorites in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


For most of us, it's time to get out there and see the leaves.  They are's not yet clear what kind of color show we'll get here in Texas, but I am hoping there are a few still on the branches when I head to North Carolina in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, I'm taking every opportunity to wander around the neighborhood and local parks to take a look.  Did you know there are more than 750 tree species native to North America?  If you can't figure out what you're looking at, snap a photo of a leaf with your iPhone and use the Leafsnap app to identify it.  You'll know your Shumards from your water oaks in no time at all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pear-Chile Salsa

When I found it in a Central Market Hatch chile cookbook, I set this recipe aside to try a month or so ago when I was gifted with a bag of end-of-season New Mexico chiles, figuring it was a good way to use them raw rather than roasted.  You have no excuse to save it until next year's Hatch chile season though.  As I mentioned yesterday, pears are in high season, so it's a perfect time to mix up a batch.

Not sure exactly how I'll use it, but it strikes me as an excellent candidate for roast pork, taco garnish, or cracker and cream cheese topper.

Pear-Chile Salsa
Makes about 5 pints.

1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon garlic pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 cups chopped chiles (chop by hand for a chunky salsa or in the processor as I did for a saucy salsa)
1 medium red onion, minced
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
8 cups pears, coarsely chopped (again...I cheated and used the Cuisinart)

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Ladle hot salsa into clean canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a hot water canner for 15 minutes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Let's Not Forget About Pears....

Yes, it's a wonderful time for apples.  But it's also the peak of pear season as well.

Here's a list of varieties for you to investigate:

  • Anjou:  This one can be either red or green and is ubiquitous and available year-round.  It's also quite adaptable, good both raw and cooked.
  • Bartlett:  This one also comes in red and green varieties.  It is slightly more floral, and is also good both raw and cooked.
  • Bosc: This is the most autumnal-looking pear with its rusty brown skin.  It has a firm texture so it's good for preserves or poaching.
  • Comice: Creamy, juicy and sweet, these are the ones to eat out-of-hand.  
  • Concorde: This variety is firm and resists browning, making it perfect for a cheese plate.  It aso cooks well.
  • Seckel:  These cuties are great as garnish or for snacking.
  • Starcrimson: Bright red skin contrasts with creamy white flesh...perfect for a fruit salad.
What's your favorite?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fun with Ice Cube Trays

Ice cube trays are favorite objects for people who come up with kitchen tips.   A couple of ideas that come up often are freezing pesto or chicken broth in trays, freezing and then and then storing in zip loc bags.  You'll have little cubes of goodness to add to soups, sauces, salad dressings, you name it...

But here are a few more ideas I recently ran across.  For all, simply freeze in the trays and use as needed.

  •  Chopped onions.  (I'd add other veggies like peppers as well.  Perfect to add to an omelet of scrambled eggs.)
  • Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce.  (Great idea!  Who ever needs a whole can?  And who likes to throw the wasted stuff away when you're cleaning out the fridge?)
  • Tea.  Now you're iced tea won't get diluted as the "ice" cubes melt.  Apply the same idea to lemonade, sangria, and the like.
  • Tomato paste.  A great way to add a burst of flavor to veggie sautes or pan sauces without having to use the whole can.
  • Chopped herbs.  This is the perfect way to preserve all those great summer flavors.
  • Wine.  Don't throw those last splashes of wine away.  Freeze and add to sauces.
  • Tomato juice.  Yeah, you could add to stews or chili, but wouldn't they be perfect in a Bloody Mary?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More October Is Apple Month Ideas...

Here are a few more great tips to utilize the apples fresh off the harvest...

Make some apple slaw by shredding carrots and cored apples in a food processor. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a dash of cumin.

Spike up your iced tea as it brews with some diced apples and then sweeten with honey.

Swap melon for apple and wrap thin wedges of Golden Delicious with prosciutto for a different kind of nibble.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Heirloom Apples

It's Apple Month, and I've given you some tips already...with more to come.  But faced with the plethora of apple varieties that you can find at even the most pedestrian of grocery stores, one can be overwhelmed very quickly.

And I'm about to make it worse.

Thanks to Cooking Light, here are four heirloom varieties to look for...they're definitely on MY list.

  • Hidden Rose (pictured above): Cooking Light says this one has a nice floral scent and tastes of cranberry and wine.
  • Ashmead's Kernel (Great name!): Tart and crisp with notes of citrus and Champagne.
  • Winesap (probably the least exotic of this bunch): It has a sweet-tart flavor with hints of wine and spice.  This one is good for juicing and baking.  Apple pie, anyone?
  • Tompkins King: This one is a biggie with a nice balance of sweetness and tartness.
I can't wait to check them out....

Friday, October 07, 2011

Are They Insane?

Real Simple  magazine says that 53% of 16- to 22-year-olds would rather give up their sense of smell than their favorite personal technology device.  Hopefully, they can Tweet their way through the garden pictured.  Me?  I'll be stopping to smell the roses.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Compound Butters

More and more, I am becoming a fan of what I now call "finishing agents": sauces, salt mixes, salsas.  Those final touches that take a simple protein to a new level.  A category of these I need to explore more is compound butters...butter mixed with herbs or other ingredients and then used to top steak, grilled chicken, steamed veggies, whatever.

You take a stick of softened butter, combine with the additions and use parchment paper to make into a roll.  Then you can refrigerate for 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.  Each recipe makes 1/2 cup.  To use, unwrap the roll and slice as needed. 

Here are a couple of interesting combos that are on the list to try that I ran across in the October Bon Appetit. 
  • A basic riff: 1/4 cup chopped herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives) and a teaspoon of grated lemon zest.  Season with salt.
  • An Indian twist to use in rice: 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon toasted brown mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon toasted yellow mustard seeds
  • How about this Asian one on fish...or popcorn? 2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds, 2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds, 1/2 sheet toasted nori, finely chopped, and kosher salt to taste.
  • This is going on my next ribeye.  2 tablespoons finely chopped dried porcini mushrooms and 1 tablespoon red wine.  (Oh, and kosher salt to taste.)
  • Need some richness on your chicken fajitas? 1 finely chopped canned chipotle in adobo and a teaspoon of freshly grated lime zest.
  • I have no idea what to do with this one, but I am mkaing it just in case. One slice bacon chopped and cooked, 1 tablespoon bourbon, 1 tablespoon maple syrup (NOT the cheap stuff in a plastic bottle from the grocery.  Mrs. Butter-who???) and 1 teaspoon brown sugar.  I might just eat this one by itself.   

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cocktail of the Week: Basil Lime Daiquiri

It's happy hour!   And often as not, that means I head to the herb garden as well as the liquor cabinet.  I still have some basil hanging on after our long hot summer. So this refreshing cocktail is in order...

Basil Lime Daiquiri
Makes one cocktail.

Simmer 1/2 cup water with 1 1/2 cups basil leaves until reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons.  Strain, then stir in 2 teaspoons light brown sugar and 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice.  In an ice-filled shaker, combine the basil-lime syrup with 2 ounces light rum and 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice.  Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with basil and lime.

Tasty, huh?  So good that I made extra syrup for a second (and third) round.

Monday, October 03, 2011

It's Apple Month!

October is Apple Month every year. So it's time to hit the grocery, farmers markets or...even better...orchards for a sweet crisp treat. And if you get tired of pies or eating them out of hand, courtesy Real Simple magazine, here are a few ideas for you.

  • Make apple chips by very thinly (think mandoline) slicing three apples. Bake the slices on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a 200° oven for an hour. Sprinkle with salt.

Make a savory apple napoleon of sorts. Slice an apple horizontally and layer the slices with goat cheese, bacon, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Butter a whole-wheat pita and top with apple slices and cinnamon. Toast for 10 minutes at 350. Drizzle with honey before digging in.

Toss a couple of diced apples into your spinach salad, spiked with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, blue cheese and walnuts.

More to come soon...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Words To Live By.....

"Gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home."-M.F.K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

Love this.  But it means that either we need to head out to a restaurant...or four of you need to come over NOW.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bread and Butter Pickles's another pickle recipe.  One of the last of the season though.  Sigh.

Get thee to a farmers market and buy some cukes.  Then make these.  You'll be glad you did come January.

Bread and Butter Pickles
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes 6 pints.

1 cup kosher salt
1 1/2 gallons water
5 1/2 pounds Kirby cucumbers, sliced crosswise on a mandoline 1/8 inch thick
5 cups cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
1 1/4 pounds onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper

In a very large bowl or pot, dissolve the salt in the water. Add the cucumbers, cover and soak overnight in the refrigerator.

In a large, heavy pot, combine the vinegar and sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Drain the cucumbers and add them to the pot. Stir gently and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Ladle the hot cucumbers and their liquid into 6 hot 1-pint glass canning jars, leaving a 1/2 inch of space at the top. Close with the lids and rings.

To process, boil the jars for 10 minutes. Cool the pickles to room temperature and serve immediately or store them in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Skillet-Roasted Spiced Okra

Yes, you can fry okra.  And, yes, you can pickle it.  But what a lot of fellow Southerners don't realize is that it's also an important part of Indian cooking.  This recipe utilizes some classic spices from that cuisine.

Skillet-Roasted Spiced Okra
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes four servings.

3/4 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/8 teaspoon turmeric Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of ground fenugreek (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound small okra, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a small bowl, blend the paprika with the cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cinnamon and fenugreek.

In each of 2 large nonstick skillets, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the okra, cut side down, and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until browned on the bottom, 4 minutes longer. Turn the okra and cook over low heat until tender, 2 minutes. Season with salt and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Drizzle the lemon juice over the okra and serve.