Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Plans!

For the past few years, we have spent Thanksgiving day with my husband's family. It has always been a sweet time of fellowship. Last year was even sweeter, as his sister and I teamed up to "take on" the meal together. Although I have always missed being with my own family on Thanksgiving day, I think that the past few years away has helped to prepare me for Thanksgiving 2009.

This year, we are just too far away and there are too many impending tests and papers for us to be able to go home to either side of the family. (And we will miss them. It makes us even more thankful for our time with them. It makes us long for Christmas break, when we will be able to spend two weeks with them!)  So, we will have our Thanksgiving feast, just the two of us, on Wednesday. It will be a sweet time for us to celebrate and to recognize how many gifts and blessings that we have right now.

Why on Wednesday?  Well, because we will be going with a few friends to spend the day in New York City!  That's right, we'll be there to see the 76 trombones and the giant snoopy balloon!  Watch for us in the crowd at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Don't worry, we'll have our turkey sandwiches, sweet potato chips, and cranberry almond bars.

I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, whether a large feast with your family, or a picnic lunch while watching the parade.  If you are looking for something simple for breakfast before you get to the big meal, make up a batch of this wonderful pumpkin butter to serve with toast or spread on toasted Bay's english muffins.

Pumpkin Butter

1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy oven-safe pot and cover with a lid.   Bake at 300 degrees for one hour, stirring every 20 minutes with a whisk.  Cook longer for a thicker consistency, or add more apple juice (one tablespoon at a time) to thin.  Store in the refrigerator or freeze in small portions (canning pumpkin butter is not recommended).
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cornbread for your Chili

You asked for it.  Well, even if you didn't, I know that you wanted it.  The recipe for that beautiful cornbread.  So tender.  So lovely.  So...easy!  One taste of this cornbread, and you'll never go back to that jiffy mix again. 

Sister's Cornbread

1 stick salted butter
1 cup self-rising cornmeal
1/2 cup cream-style corn
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1 small onion, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the stick of butter in a small baking dish, and place in the oven.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. When the butter is melted, mix it into the batter. Pour the batter back into the casserole and bake for 40 minutes.

*This recipe is for a small baking dish. I used a 7 x 11 dish, and it was perfect (an 8 x 8 would work, too). If you use a standard 9 x 13 dish, double the recipe.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's a little "Chili" up here!

Since the last time I addressed the subject of weather, we have had some almost summer-like days and some bitterly cold, late January-esque days. Most days, however, have a bit of chill in the air, just right for fall.  It is on those days that we can really enjoy our soups and stews and most recently, a very large pot of chili. 

Now, this is no ordinary pot of chili.  I should know.  I have a very special, totally impartial means of judging meals.  I don't need to tell you about the complex flavors coming from the toasted spices and the beer.  I don't need to tell you about the perfect amount of spiciness.  I just use my special system.  I could call it the husband-hum system.  Or the hum test.  Or the happy-husband-hum.  You see, I have my own personal "thermometer" for a good meal built right into my (very objective) husband.  The better a meal tastes, the more he hums.  And last night, he was practically singing! 

There are many ways to enjoy chili.  You can eat it over rice (as we always had it growing up), or corn chips (as my husband likes it), but last night we decided to eat it with cornbread, sprinkled with cheese and a dollop of sour cream.  It was a fabulous treat, and a foil to the windy chill outside. 

Chili for a Crowd*
from my mom's kitchen

4 pounds lean ground beef
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 large sweet onions, coarsely chopped
2 large bell peppers, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
10-ounce can tomatoes and green chilies
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
6-ounce can tomato paste
2 15-ounce cans dark red kidney beans, drained
15-ounce can black beans, drained
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons coriander
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bottles dark beer

Brown the ground beef in a large pot.  Drain the beef in a colander to remove the fat.  Set aside.

In the same pot, sauté the garlic, onions, and bell peppers in the olive oil for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat the cumin and coriander in a dry skillet until steamy and starting to brown.  Add the spices and ground beef to the vegetables.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook on low heat for two hours, stirring occasionally.

*This recipe make a lot; there will be plenty for you and friends, or you can freeze it for later enjoyment!  You could half the recipe, but make sure you find a good use for that half-can of rotel (tomatoes with chilies)!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kickin' it into gear

Things have been a little slow in this belle's kitchen. I've made a couple of pots of soup this week, but other than that, I've spent many hours at the library. And I'll be honest with you, I haven't even kicked things into gear yet. Things are about to become really crazy. Thanksgiving will be an all too brief respite.

Meanwhile, I just had to share this recipe with you! We made these bars last weekend for our dinner with friends. They have only gotten better throughout this week. They are just sweet enough to cut the tartness of the cranberries, and the almond crust and crumble is so good! We originally served them with vanilla ice cream, but they are great on their own. 

Our Thanksgiving plans will be quite unique (for us) this year.  I'll fill you in on those details later, but for now, just know that these little cranberry bars will probably make the trip (hint, hint!).

Cranberry Almond Bars
Adapted slightly from goodLife{eats}

1 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almonds
2 sticks cold butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp cinnamon, divided
juice of 1/2 orange
4 cups fresh cranberries
2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Grease a 9×13 inch pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of 1 inch on all sides.

Place the almonds in the bowl of your food processor.  Run the processor for a minute or so, until the almonds are finely ground.  Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and 1 cup sugar.  Pulse once or twice.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl.  Pulse until the butter is pea-sized.  Add the egg and pulse until it is mixed through the flour mixture.  Put half of the dough into the prepared pan.  

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, orange juice, and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.  Mix in the cranberries. Sprinkle the cranberry mixture evenly over the dough in the pan.

Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to the remaining dough.  Crumble the dough over the berries.  Bake for 45-55 minutes at 375 degrees, or until top is a light golden brown.  Allow to cool in the pan, and then refrigerate for 4 hours (or overnight).  Using the parchment, remove the bars from the pan to a cutting board and cut into squares.  Store in the refrigerator, or freeze.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Overlooking November

It is amazing to me that November gets almost completely overlooked these days.  Now that Halloween is passed, many stores are putting skeletons and tutus on deep discount to make room for wreaths and wrapping paper.  Those in the world of academia (including myself) walk around humming Christmas tunes, in an attempt to tune out the impending pre-Christmas exams (for now, at least).  The blogosphere is filled with holiday recipes and crafty home-made present ideas.  What happened to Thanksgiving?  Don't we know that Santa doesn't come around until the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, only after the giant Turkey and pilgrims have already passed? 

Well, despite those Bing Crosby tunes going through my head and the Peppermint Mochas that I've been sipping recently, I don't want to overlook Thanksgiving!  Not only is it a much-needed day for me to reflect on all that I have to be thankful for, but it is a fabulous cooking day!  I am not ready to give up pumpkins, cranberries, and caramel apples; all of those tastes that embody fall.  And of course, who can forget the Thanksgiving turkey? 

My dad has cooked our Thanksgiving bird on the smoker for as long as I can remember.  My mom would finish out the rest of the meal with corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, cranberry wine salad, and the most amazing Cajun cornbread dressing you can imagine.  I'm sure there were other variables in the meal (like, for example, something green?), but these were the staples. 

I've tried my hand at roasting turkeys and turkey breasts in the past few years.  They have been good, but I have found a recipe for roast turkey breast that is a winner.  It doesn't have the wonderful smoked flavor of my dad's, but I think it's pretty fabulous!  We were able to share this meal with some friends last night, with our guest of honor, Ruthanne.  It might not have been Thanksgiving Day, but we were all thankful.

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast

from Ina Garten at the Food Network

1 Whole (Bone-In) Turkey Breast, 6 1/2 to 7 pounds
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Rinse the turkey and pat it dry.  Place the turkey, skin side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Alternately, cut two yellow onions into eights and scatter in the bottom of the pan, and place the turkey on top.

In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, mustard, herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice.  Using your fingers, separate the skin of the turkey from the breast.  Rub half of the seasoning paste in between the skin and meat.  Rub the rest of the paste over the top of the skin.  Pour the wine in the bottom of the pan.  Roast the breast for 1 hr 45 minutes to 2 hours, or until a thermometer reads 165 degrees in the thickest part of the meat (check in several places).  Remove the breast to a serving platter (if desired) and cover with foil.  Let the turkey rest for 20-30 minutes before you carve it. 

If desired, make the pan juices into gravy to serve with the meat (although you will find that it is so tender, juicy and flavorful, you probably won't need it).

Please excuse the poor lighting in these photos; the sun sets around 4:00 these days! 
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Monday, November 2, 2009

This Little Piggie went to Tennessee

Here are a few photos from our weekend in Knoxville:

The Appalachain Foothills

Family Time

Mickey and Minnie preparing to Trick-or-Treat

Low Country Boil

A Very Rainy Football Game

A Winning Team

Our Return Flight, over the Phillies' Stadium as Game Four in the World Series Was about to Begin (The bright blur in the middle of the photo; Eagles Stadium is in the foreground)

These weekends, it is very hard not to be piggies. I'm of the mind that it is okay to enjoy good food in moderation, but to indulge on special occasions. As Mireille Guiliano says, "We eat grandly on occasion, not regularly." So, as we head back north, we're also heading back into a world of moderation.

You might be wondering about our eating habits, as I'm prone to make quickbreads and brownies and cakes (oh my!). I'm not going to say that we don't struggle with weight gain with all of these goodies around, but I do want to give you a trick which my mom taught me: use your freezer! If you wrap your goodies up and freeze them, you will be able to enjoy them longer, avoiding the siren call of overindulgence from the brownies on your countertop. Plus, you avoid wasting your hard work and good food due to some questionable blue fuzz.

Depending on the food, I wrap differently. Here's an idea of what I do:

Yeast bread (Like the Colonial Oatmeal Bread): Sliced and bagged by half-loaves. I know that we can safely get through a half-loaf without it going bad. When we run out, I pull out the next half-loaf the night before so I can easily make sandwiches the next morning (without having to pry apart frozen slices of bread).

Quick Bread: Sliced and bagged. I'll admit, my husband is the one who usually eats this for breakfast, and he does have to do a bit of prying with a knife to get the slices apart. He pulls out a slice each morning and toasts it. You could also leave a half-loaf out like the yeast bread, but that's too tempting for me.

Muffins: Individually wrapped with saran wrap, and then bagged all together in a freezer zip-lock bag. My husband pops these out for an on-the-go breakfast.

Brownies: I made these brownies in muffin tins and wrapped them individually with saran wrap, but have also wrapped traditional brownie squares (two together) with saran and bagged them all together in large zip-locks. I can pull these individually wrapped portions out of the freezer to throw in my husband's bag; they'll be thawed by lunch.

Cookies: I usually freeze put these in rubbermaid containers, but they could also be bagged in smaller baggies for pre-portioned on-the-go goodies.

Don't throw out leftovers: When we don't make it through a batch of soup or red beans and rice within a few days, I freeze those, too. I use quart bags and label them (date and contents--There's nothing worse than an unknown, questionable substance in the freezer!). Some items don't freeze well as is, but can be safely stashed away in soup or stew form (for example leftover thanksgiving turkey can be frozen as turkey hash). It might take a little bit of extra effort, but you will love having something on reserve for those nights that you don't have time to cook.

Our freezer is small enough that these emergency meals, goodies, and on-the-go breakfasts don't get lost below the ice cream and freezer packs, but if you have a larger freezer, it might be a good idea to keep a running list of what might be lurking behind the frozen peas. And remember, don't leave food in your freezer for more than a few months; it will start losing its quality.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Home, for the weekend.

By Friday night we will be in the land of dixie! We are going to see the Tennessee side of the family, and of course, go to a game! These weekends are always a highlight of the fall, and this one was quite a surprise for us! We are thrilled to be able to see the family again.

Saturday will be a full day. We will spend time with my husband's grandparents, and then spend the rest of the day tailgating with family until the evening kickoff (translation: full bellies all day long)! Usually everyone brings something to contribute, so I have been racking my mind, thinking about what I can bring along on the airplane. Something light, something fall, something yummy. Caramel corn. Perfect.

Caramel Corn with Cranberries

14 cups plain popped popcorn (scant 2/3 cup unpopped kernels)
1 cup honey roasted peanuts
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cranberries

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the popped popcorn and peanuts in two large roasting pans.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and butter over medium heat. As the butter starts to melt, stir to mix completely. When the mixture begins to boil, stir constantly for five minutes. Remove from heat and mix in the baking soda and vanilla extract. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir a couple of times (not all of the popcorn will be coated).

Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. After 30 minutes, stir in the cranberries. Turn the popcorn out onto parchment paper, break apart, and allow to cool. Try not to eat it all at once!
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Monday, October 26, 2009

On Halloween

We're not really Halloween people. We've given out candy the past few years, but other than that, we haven't dressed up or gone to any Halloween parties. It's not that people our age don't have parties, but I guess they're not too eager to invite the youth minister and his teacher-wife to celebrate ghouls and goblins. Go figure.

Growing up, my family wasn't really "all about it," either. We would put together costumes from our "dress-up basket," rummage through mom's closet, or raid the magical closet in my grandparents' house (which was full of interesting clothes, costumes, masks, and hats). We would go to my grandparents' neighborhood and take a turn about the block, and we were done. No crazy parties. No incredibly expensive costumes. It was simple fun.

This is one of my favorite costume years. I was miserable. The false eyelashes. The plastic nose. The high heels. But, oh, wasn't I so cute as Minnie Mouse? My sister was a Gypsy, and my little brother was a bunny (I think).

I can't leave my husband out. Here he is as a clown. Appropriate. And very cute.

I don't remember what we would eat before we would go out on Halloween; our little minds were focused on the candy that we were going to receive. These days, I think that the perfect meal for a chilly evening is a good soup. Something that will warm you through, but not be too heavy. This soup is simple, and simply good.

Russian Mushroom and Potato Soup

Adapted from Allrecipes

3 tablespoons butter
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 leeks, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 pounds potatoes, diced
1 cup half and half (fat free is fine)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sherry

Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the same pan. Add the leeks and carrots and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the broth, dill, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and potatoes. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender (but not falling apart). Stir the sauteed mushrooms back into the soup.

In the empty mushroom bowl, mix the half and half, flour and sherry until smooth. Stir into the soup until slightly thickened and warmed through (but don't let it boil). Enjoy with a slice of crusty bread.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Housewife Cooking Classes 101

If I had an alternate calling in my life, it would be to teach home cooking classes; the kind of classes Julia Child was teaching young American housewives in Paris when she was writing "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I can just imagine housewives in flattering dresses and cute aprons, taking home economics style classes, learning how to graciously fulfill their wifely duties! That kind of homemaking preparation is so foreign to our culture today!

Maybe I should have taken some of those classes. There are areas of housekeeping that I struggle with; particularly the cleaning. I remember my sister telling me "you will always do the things that you want to do." I think that's why I always make it to the grocery store on Fridays, but I usually don't get to the vacuuming and mopping. When it comes to my house, I like decorating and putting things in their place. I don't like having to work to keep them looking pretty. My husband is a wonderful complement to me in that way; he likes things to be neat, so he often picks up the slack where I fail. It is not uncommon for him to fold the laundry, wash the dishes, or make up the bed! (Shameless brag moment: I have an amazing husband. I mean, wonderful. I am completely blessed and humbled.) Okay, so maybe I don't need classes to learn how to make the bed. Maybe I just need discipline.

Cooking is different, though. Being in the kitchen is about being adventurous and having fun, but also having the right tools and know-how. These days, many wives fear their kitchens because they just don't have the experience, or even the time to spend trying new recipes and honing their skills. I think I could teach those housewife classes on cooking. If only I lived when 1950s style home economics was a la mode.

If I were to teach these classes, my first lesson would be "How to Roast a Chicken, perfectly" (one of Julia's classic dishes, appropriately, updated a bit by Ina Garten). It is beautiful, impressive even. And it is so easy!

Even now, I am roasting a chicken at the end of a very busy week (I had a midterm and two papers due!), and making an extra to take to friends who recently had a baby. Trust me, if this messy housewife can roast a chicken at the end of a crazy week, you can too!

Perfect Roast Chicken

from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 5-6 pound roasting chicken
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons butter, melted (squeeze a little bit of lemon juice in the butter)
1 onion, cut into sixths
4-5 carrots, peeled and cut diagonally
2 sweet potatoes, cut into medium sized cubes or 6-7 new potatoes cut in half
Optional for Gravy:
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Sprinkle the vegetables on the bottom of a large roasting pan.

Remove the giblets and excess fat from the cavity of the chickent. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Place the chicken on top of the vegeetables. Sprinkle inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the lemon halves, thyme and garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using kitchen string, tie the legs together, and tuck the wing tips behind the body of the chicken. Brush the vegetables with any extra butter.

Roast at 425º for 1 ½ hours.

Place the chicken and vegetables on a platter and cover with foil.

*Optional Gravy Recipe (I don't always make this--the chicken is delicious without it, but it is wonderful if you have the time): Remove all the fat from the bottom of the pan, reserving 2 tablespoons in a small cup. Add the chicken stock to the pan and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, until reduced, scraping the bottom of the pan. Combine the 2 tablespoons of chicken fat with the flower and add to the pan. Boil for a few minutes to cook the flour. Strain the gravy into a small saucepan and season it to taste. Keep it warm over a very low flame while you carve the chicken.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Hello...My Name is Cold

Just over a month ago, we put our window units in storage. The weather was mild and comfortable, and we left our windows open except for a few chilly nights. Last weekend, on our aforementioned date, I wore a halter sundress and sandals and we enjoyed a beautiful evening dining al fresco. This past weekend, I wore fleece socks, long underwear, gloves, and two layers of jackets and stayed indoors as much as possible. Where did our beautiful fall weather go?

Oh. That's right, we live in the north now. So long to mild winters; we're about to really experience what the word "cold" means! And while I am thrilled about bundling up and experiencing true cold weather, this sudden change (and the lack of sufficient heat in our apartment) has been a bit drastic for me and has put a damper on some of my excitement. Good thing my food calendar provides for a nice bowl of warm soup every Monday so we can say "nice to meet you" to our new acquaintance, Cold.

Chicken Corn Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
3-4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 cups chicken broth
2 cans cream of chicken soup
4 oz pepper jack cheese, grated
16 oz. frozen kernel corn
1 can creamed corn
1 can original Rotel with chilies
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon sherry (optional)

In a medium stock pot, place the chicken breasts, chicken broth and enough water to cover the chicken. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saute pan, melt the butter and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Set aside.

Remove the cooked chicken to a plate to cool. Measure out two cups of chicken broth to return to the stock pot; discard the rest (or save for a later use). Add the sauteed vegetables, cream of chicken soup, and the remainder of the ingredients to the stock pot. Shred the chicken and add to the pot. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

No Yankee Pies Here

I have a few precious memories of my paternal grandmother. She loved sweets and always had ice cream, butterscotch sauce, and maraschino cherries in stock. Although she had a color TV, I am pretty sure that it was bought no later than 1969. Her Christmas tree always had giant, colorful, and hot C7 bulbs. She often hummed, and she liked to sing in church.

There is one anecdote about her that I don't actually remember happening, but have heard my dad recount many times. At Thanksgiving dinner, when someone would inevitably bring a Pumpkin pie to the table, she would scrunch up her nose and pronounce "Pumpkin pie, that's Yankee!" She would then proceed to eat every bit of her slice.

It is because of this story that I made my first sweet potato pie while I was in college, cultivating my southern culinary roots. You see, if pumpkin pie is Yankee, then sweet potato pie is the pumpkin pie's quintessentially southern counterpart. They are like siblings who chose opposing sides in "The War of Northern Aggression." If you are a Yankee, please do not take offense. I like Yankees. I have many Yankee friends. Like my grandmother, I will eat a good slice of pumpkin pie. But I am southern, and must stay true to my roots.

The only issue that I have with sweet potato pie is that when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, a sweet potato casserole is one of the indispensable side dishes. A sweet potato pie is just redundant. You might as well stick with the typical, albeit Yankee, pumpkin pie and let the Pecan pie represent the south at Thanksgiving dinner. Sweet potato pie deserves to be a star, the southern belle of the dessert table. Enjoy this pie for a not-Thanksgiving feast.

Buttermilk Sweet Potato Pie

30 gingersnaps
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 dash cloves
1 dash nutmeg
1 dash cinnamon

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a food processor, blend the ginger snaps until coarsely ground. Add the 4 tablespoons melted butter, dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and process until the butter is distributed. Pour the crumbs into a deep pie dish and press into the bottom and the sides. Bake at 325° for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and increase the oven temperature to 350°.

In a medium pot, place a steam basket and 1 to 2 inches of water. Put the sweet potatoes in the basket, cover, and steam for about 15 minutes. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, blend the sweet potatoes until they are well pureed. Add the softened butter and sugars, and blend. Add the eggs, buttermilk, remaining spices, and vanilla, and blend on low until completely mixed.

Transfer the filling to the cooled pie crust. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 25 minutes (it will still be slightly jiggly in the center). Allow the pie to cool completely on a rack. Serve at room temperature, or cold.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eat your (Roasted) Vegetables!!!

My sister-in-law recently asked me for advice on cooking vegetables for kids.

If you've picked up anything about me from reading this blog, you'll know that I have a husband. Although he sometimes acts like a kid, he's not one.

So...I don't really know anything about getting kids to eat their vegetables. But I can tell you, that when I do research for different recipes, I occasionally come across comments like, "My children devoured this!" or "I'll never cook this any other way--I hated the mushy vegetables my parents made as a child," or "My kids beg for this." I'm assuming there's some credit in the testimony of others.

Most of these astounding testimonies of vegetable-craving children have revolved around one cooking technique: roasting. I'll admit it, I am a huge advocate for roasting vegetables! Roasting is basically tossing the vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper, and cooking vegetables in the oven at a high temperature (usually around 425 degrees) until they are slightly crispy. Depending on the vegetable, they will caramelize slightly in a way that brings out the natural sweetness.

Here are some of the vegetables that we have tried (and the extra herbs or spices that I toss in with the salt and pepper):

Broccoli (lemon juice or lemon pepper)
Cabbage (nutmeg)
Brussels Sprouts
Carrots and Parsnips (dill)
Sweet Potato Wedges
New Potato Wedges (rosemary)
Butternut Squash (rosemary)
Green Beans (herbes de provence)

Some vegetables that are on the docket: Cauliflower, Acorn Squash, Bell Peppers

Fall is one of the best times for roasting; most of the fall vegetables are roast-worthy. I'm not going to give you recipes for all of these vegetables (although the method stays the same, the cooking time varies)*. But I am going to encourage you to try this method**. See what your family likes. Our family likes the broccoli stems roasted, but we prefer the florets steamed in our traditional manner. My husband begs for roasted brussels sprouts all year long. I could roast butternut squash every night of the week and be happy. What does your family like? Try it and see.

Roasted Butternut Squash

1 whole butternut squash (3-4 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Peel and seed the squash and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Put the squash in a roasting pan and toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary.

Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring every ten minutes.

Sprinkle with extra kosher salt and pepper to taste.

*Ina Garten is the queen of roasting. If you are looking for good recipes for roasting other vegetables, check out her recipes on Food Network. You can also just do a google search; there are tons of other bloggers out there eager to share their roasted vegetable recipes!

**Try roasting several times with the same vegetables, and don't give up! I recently read in Southern Living magazine that "it takes kids seven tries to change their picky ways."

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Date Night

My husband and I spend a good amount of time together. We ride to the gym together, ride to class together, study together, and very occasionally, we watch a TV show on hulu together. But if we aren't careful, even with all of this togetherness, we could become side-by-side strangers.

We make preventative efforts each day. My husband really loves to follow me around the kitchen, clobbering me with hugs and kisses while I am trying to cook. We eat most of our meals together and catch up on each other's days and goings on. We sit down for a family devotional each night before we go to bed. Even when we protect our precious time together, we sometimes get to a point where we "miss" each other. That's when we plan a date night, a time of undistracted togetherness, a time of cultivating the sweetness in our marriage.

That's what we're doing tonight.

That's why I made my Friday night meal on Thursday night.

Red Beans and Rice

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse via Food Network

1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped ham
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning, plus more to taste
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 pound smoked sausage, split in quarters lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound smoked ham hocks
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
9 cups of water
4 cups of cooked rice

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil for two minutes, then remove from heat, cover and let sit for an hour. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers to the oil in the pot. Season with the salt, pepper, cayenne, and Tony’s, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage, and ham hocks, and cook, stirring, to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. (Should the beans become too thick and dry, add more water, about 1/4 cup at a time.)

Remove from the heat and with the back of a heavy spoon, mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves. Season with more cayenne and Tony’s to taste. Serve over the hot cooked rice.

*This recipe looked a bit daunting at first, but there is very little hands-on time. Go ahead and have the chopped vegetables, ham, sausage and spices ready, because the sauté time is relatively short, leaving little time to run around the kitchen looking for ingredients.

**Also, this recipe will make your house smell INCREDIBLE. It makes a good amount, and is good to freeze (without the rice) for one of those nights when you have just don't have time to cook. Or you can defrost it for a stay-at-home, no cooking obligation date night.

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Monday, October 5, 2009


How would you like to receive that grade? I know that I would, and I did! I'll admit, the grade is not on a paper, assignment, or anything even remotely school oriented. I cannot say that it doesn't count, though. It was an encouragement to me, but I hope even more that it means that our friends who visited us this weekend were edified by our fellowship (or at least well-fed). As we said our goodbyes, they said that I had earned an A+, in hospitality!

After working diligently to stay on top of our studies, we freshened up our apartment and welcomed in our friends on Saturday. We watched a little football (of course, it's a fall Saturday, isn't it?) and then we showed them a bit of our town. We went to a local dive for lunch, and then took the scenic route home, before a walk through the neighborhood, dinner at home, and just a little bit more football before bedtime. Our three guests happily squeezed into our living room on the sofa and an air-mattress.

On Sunday we walked to church, and after the morning worship service, we meandered home through our neighborhood's annual fall street fair, enjoying a glorious fall day. All in all, it was an A+ weekend.

For such a short time with our friends, I didn't want to spend all of my time in the kitchen. While I was whipping up Beef Stroganoff and roasted broccoli for dinner on Saturday night, my friend whipped up these wonderful biscuits. They are so easy, and so good!

Sour Cream Biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour
2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence (or other herbs, optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the flour and butter. Add the sour cream and herbs and blend well. Spoon batter into greased muffin cups, filling 12 muffin cups half-way full, or 24 muffin cups for smaller muffins. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bread is Not Optional

I do not have much to say just now except that school has been keeping us very busy. It is really in full swing now. I sat down this week and put all of my reading assignments on a calendar, and whew, it is a lot, verging on impossibility! I am doing my best to stay on top of things, but of course, there is always the tyranny of the urgent. The most pressing assignment is the one which will monopolize my time. I have to remember not to worry about tomorrow, for it has it's own worries, but to focus on today's assignments.

Which brings me to my kitchen. Of course, we have to keep eating (and that food calendar is very handy right now). Most days, we have sandwiches for lunch. And because bread is not optional for sandwiches, I took some time out last weekend to make Colonial Oatmeal Bread.

I make this bread for several reasons. First, it is wonderful. It is so tender and flavorful. Second, it is an escape; it takes me to my childhood when my dad would make this and we would eat buttered slices straight out of the oven while it was still warm (This was before the days when there were four bakeries in every neighborhood offering freshly baked breads of every variety.). When I am in the midst of five different theological books, each slightly out of my grasp at points, it is good to have something simple and good for which I can praise God. Third, because we just plain need bread for sandwiches, and I wouldn't rather have any other bread to get me through the day.

Colonial Oatmeal Bread
from my Dad
(I think the recipe originally comes from Good Housekeeping, 1981)
*I need to get my facts straight before I post. My dad told me that he had the recipe before 1981, and thus, any later copies were stolen from him.*

4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (two packages)
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons butter
2 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour (more or less)
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 egg

In a medium bowl (or in a saucepan), heat the butter and honey until the butter is melted.  Remove from heat.  Add the water; the mixture should be warm (110-120 degrees). Stir in the yeast and let sit until bubbly, about 10 minutes (this is called making a sponge).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine salt, 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose flour. With mixer on low, gradually blend liquid into dry ingredients until just blended. Increase the speed to medium, beat two minutes, occasionally scraping bowl. Gradually beat in egg and one cup whole wheat flour to make a thick batter. Continue beating two minutes. Stir in oats, 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose flour. Knead till smooth and elastic. Use more flour if too sticky (I usually have to add about 2/3 cup more).

Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down. Turn onto floured surface; cover with bowl and let rise 15 minutes. Shape into loaves and let rise 1 hour in greased 9 x 5 loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes.

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