Sunday, November 21, 2010


This is a picture of the first Thanksgiving meal I hosted five years ago.  I knew a food passion was brewing when the menu planning brought on a giddy rush and when I began to truly believe that the quantity of dishes had a direct correlation with the level of enjoyment.  More just had to mean better. 

So I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family, and yeah, it is always fabulous to get everyone together.  But to me, the first feeling I have when I anticipate this holiday is a rumbling in my tummy for the warm and savory flavors of this feast.  The turkey is clearly the star, and there are lots of ways to brine/rub/roast/fry/smoke a bird to perfection.  I shouldn't provide advice here though, as this has become a husband thing over the years.  I don't pout about being relegated to the side dishes though, because I love little more than the pile of gravy covered stuffing I look forward to each year.  So thus begins a sampling of my favorite side recipes....

Sage, Sausage and Apple Dressing - This is completely gorgeous as is, but I do typically omit the walnuts because of babies, allergies or aversions. 

Homemade Gravy - I mean, this is insane.  I also love that it can be made in advance. 

Sweet Potato Casserole - courtesy of my friend Jess:
Boil 5-6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed for 20 minutes or until tender.  Drain and mash.  Add these ingredients to the potatoes:  1/2 cup sugar, 4 Tbsp room temperature unsalted butter, 2 room temperature eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup room temperature milk.  Stir to combine and spread into a casserole dish.  Top with a mixture of the following: 1 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Bake for 35 minutes at 350; in the last five minutes of cooking, add (lots of) mini marshmallows on top!

Wayne's Cranberry Sauce - I am crazy about cranberry sauce.  I think many think about it as just "eh".  I, on the other hand, just love it and am thrilled to have it with leftovers for days and days.  For this recipe, I omit the walnuts and raisins, because they're just not my thing in cranberry sauce.   I add drained, crushed pineapple for texture and sweetness as well.

While most people are about to pop with discomfort by the meal's conclusion and prefer to retreat to the couch for some digestion prior to dessert, I am one that simply cannot wait to dive into a smorgasbord of sweets.  I find it a bit of a challenge to narrow down the options in this glorious category to a reasonable number that can feasibly be prepared and served fresh.  These three recipes are my faves:

Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust -  This could be the best pecan pie I've ever had (though I seriously love my friend Kate's chocolate bourbon pecan pie).  Please note that this recipe needs to be made the same day to enjoy the optimum level of delicious goo.  Bonus: the crust is amazing, but also simple and forgiving.

Pumpkin Roll - My family can't get enough of this classic.  I am not certain as to the original source of this recipe, but my Mother-in-Law has made it for years and was kind enough to pass it along to me.  I increase the cream cheese quantity just a tad, because the innards are what makes it awesome.   

Grease and flour wax paper on a 10x13 rimmed cookie sheet.  Mix the following ingredients with an electric mixer and spread onto the wax paper: 

2/3 cup pumpkin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda

Bake at 350 degrees for 13 minutes.  Turn onto a dish cloth dusted with confectioner sugar.  Remove wax paper.  Roll till cool.  Unroll and spread filling - made of the following ingredients, beaten well - evenly all the way to the sides:

2 Tbsp softened butter
8 oz room temperature cream cheese
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar

Roll....refrigerate....slice and serve.

Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart - I don't want to offend at all here, but I personally find pumpkin pie boring and not altogether worth the calories.  Thank you to my BF Ina for this lovely deviation.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grilled Cheese

The thought of gooey cheese oozing from a crusty, buttery sandwich takes me to a happy place.  I've learned of an ingredient that elevates the grilled cheese experience to the upper decks.  That, my friends, is bacon.  This is probably odd news to some who knew me as a relatively long-term vegetarian years ago.  But man, am I converted.  I hold crisp, thick-cut Black Forest bacon rather dear to my heart these days.  The sandwiches described below present two scrumptious opportunities to incorporate bacon into an already great and long-loved classic.

I've got to make a couple shout-outs to ingredients that aid in realizing the full potential of these recipes.  The first is bakery bread, which boosts flavor as well as the awesome crunch factor that seems (at least in my kitchen) next to impossible with the common grocery loaf.  I've used bakery white, sour dough, ciabatta, and various herbed varieties, and they are all great.  The second is a good sharp cheddar, which adds complexity and a nice offset to the other ingredients.  There are tons of other cheeses that make a gorgeous statement melting between two slices of bread (ex: brie, smoked turkey and cranberry conserve from Fall Marathon);  I adore all of them, but today I'm goobing on cheddar.

Martha Stewart offered a grilled cheese tribute with a few interesting variations in her magazine, and the combination of cheddar, bacon and pickles on sour dough just sang to me.  I had some white Vermont cheddar leftover from the apple and cheddar scones which I sliced thinly for the first layer.  Next I added three slices of bacon (um, it was a big sandwich).  These had been cooked for 20ish minutes in a 375 degree oven on a baking rack atop a foil-lined cookie sheet.  I am all about cooking bacon in the oven as opposed to the stove top, as it prevents splatter all over the kitchen and the necessity to flip, as well as keeps the bacon from swimming in the drippings.  The last component to the sandwich was dill stackers.  The bite of vinegar adds a proud "ta-da" in concert with the smoky bacon and rich cheddar.

The next sandwich (lacking a picture...sorry) comes courtesy of Tyler Florence, who wisely adds slices of Granny Smith apples and a touch of dijon mustard to the cheese and bacon combo.  I hesitated on the mustard step when I made these, because I was nervous that it would overpower the apples.  But I'm so glad I followed through, because it took the sandwich to a whole new level.  This is YUMMY, and a really fun lunch to serve to friends along with some veggie chips or sweet potato fries.

I will never turn my back on two American Singles nesting between whole wheat bread, cooked in a non-stick skillet and dunked in a bowl of tomato soup.  It's just fun to change it up every now and again.

Before I scoot, here's a quick note that posts of new creations may become a bit more sporadic as we finish a kitchen renovation.  I'll likely find something to ramble about anyway, but posts may be sans photos. I am planning to post some old favorite Thanksgiving recipes later this week!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday Best

'Twas a tasty Sunday with a laborious - though totally worth it - lunch offset by a fast, easy, and equally delicious dinner. 

I frequent the smittenkitchen site, which I'm kind of embarrassed to share since it makes this blog look so very amateur. On it, I came across a recipe for Apple and Cheddar Scones, which screamed from the screen for me to try them, like, immediately.  I thought pumpkin soup would be a nice flavor companion, not to mention a festive Autumnal partner, for the scones.  So thus, this cozy Sunday lunch was born.  

Pumpkin Soup

This recipe came from a soup cookbook my Great Aunt Marilyn gave me years ago (contributing editor Debra Mayhew).  It is straightforward, while remaining interesting - and of course, yummy.  I sort of dreaded the process of breaking down the pumpkins and the mess that would result.  But in the end, I actually found it kind of therapeutic.  I followed the recipe's suggestion to pre-roast the pumpkin for added flavor.  I just tossed the cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted for about 10-15 minutes at 375 (the temp required for the scones).  In addition, I made the following minor changes:  1) replaced vegetable stock with chicken stock, because, well, I forgot (twice) to pick it up at store; 2)  used dried tarragon instead of fresh, as I didn't realize my plant outside had already given up its fight against the frost; and 3) reduced the quantity of milk from 2 1/2 cups to about 1 1/2, so to lessen dilution of the texture and flavor of the pumpkin.   I'm providing the recipe below as I prepared it.  I added roasted pumpkin seeds leftover from our carving adventure the weekend before as a "why not?" garnish that I think led Ryan to a momentary eye roll.  Hey, it looked pretty.

 In lieu of a food processor, I used my immersion blender, an adored past Christmas gift from my in-laws. This tool conveniently saves time and minimizes clean-up, and I also think it's fun to use.  Okay, I'll stop rambling now and give you the recipe:

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add 1 large sliced onion and cook for 10 minutes over medium low heat, stirring frequently.  Add 6 cups pumpkin that have been cut into large chunks (and roasted if desired), along with 3 cups sliced potatoes and stir well.  Cover and sweat over low heat for 10 minutes until the veggies are almost tender, stirring occasionally to keep them from sticking.  Stir in 2 1/2 cups chicken stock, a pinch of nutmeg and 1/2 tsp dried tarragon, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the veggies are completely tender.  Allow the soup to cool slightly.  Use a food processor or immersion blender and process until smooth.  Pour back into pot and add 1 1/2 cups milk.  Heat slowly and taste - adding 1-2 tsp of fresh lemon juice and extra seasoning as necessary.

Apple and Cheddar Scones

Drum roll....  The only modification I made was to use half and half instead of heavy cream, as I keep it around to dress my coffee anyway.  Even with this decadence-reducing substitution, they were insanely, ridiculously good.  Her entry describes them as addictive, and this is entirely accurate.  Consider yourself warned.

Grilled Sea Scallops with Green Onion Relish and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Whoever decided to marry scallops with bacon deserves a big, fat round of applause.  And leave it to Bobby Flay to heap on even more perfection in the form of, you guessed it, vinegar.       Unfortunately, this recipe is not available online, so I'll have to send you to his Grill It cookbook in order to avoid being busted by the copyright police.  As we've made nearly 20 recipes out of this book (all of which have been truly delicious), I can say that it is a totally worthwhile investment!   

In an effort to not sign off on a completely useless note, let's talk scallops for a sec.  Being able to achieve that beautiful color without overcooking the scallops is something that takes some practice; well, at least it did for me.  My first scallops were rubbery and heinous.  The key, regardless of whether you cook on a grill or stove, is a screaming hot surface, which sears quickly without cooking the inside to oblivion.  

PS.... The side dish is simply zucchini sliced on the diagonal, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled alongside the scallops.  Easy and delicious.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


How do you appropriately celebrate eight happy years of being married to your best friend (and the two precious souls that entered the world as a result)?  Eat, of course!  We contemplated going out for a restaurant experience, but instead opted for a dinner date in the comfort of our home - to commence subsequent to said little souls slumbering peacefully in their beds.  We also seek any excuse to make the following meal, and were pleased to have this superb celebratory occasion.

Seared Filet Mignon with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese

I will not rant yet again about my love affair with caramelized onions ( Hodgepodge and The Onion) - which I suppose are kind of like my new cereal and milk.  I will, however, rant about the combination of the savory and buttery steak, sharp blue cheese (or Gorgonzola) and sweet onions that play off one another in perfect harmony.  A forkful of these three components is so completely to die for that my pace of consumption halts from its typical wolf mode to the way a cow savors a pile of grass with, well, the opposite of urgency.  I always poke fun at the commercials where a woman dressed in silk takes the most painfully slow bite of a chocolate morsel and then stares away in space for a ridiculous 15 seconds.  But, though entirely unintentional, it is quite possible that I actually look like that when I eat this feast.  Wow, did I just admit that?  On to the recipe: 

Roasted Asparagus

I think roasting is my favorite way to prepare asparagus, and it's mindlessly simple.  Trim and toss the asparagus on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (depending on how thick the stalks are), turning once along the way.  Done!

Peanut Butter Pie

I decided at about 4:00 sitting at my desk at work that I wanted this dessert to put the exclamation point on our celebration that same evening.  As such, I did a speedy online search to locate a simple, but acclaimed recipe and took a second to peruse the reviews.  Why not garner wisdom from those that have done some homework?  And if you find a recurring theme from their commentary, look at it as a probably reliable and free nugget of insight to make your life a bit more delicious and perhaps easier.  The nugget I located was to jack up the peanut butter quantity and ease up on the whipped topping to give it some more richness.  Seemed like a no-brainer to turn up the decadence, so I made this modification.  Given the time crunch, I took the suggestion of the recipe and opted for a pre-made chocolate crust at the store.

Happy Anniversary, Ry! xo

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I don't have a theme to offer today, so here goes on a random assortment of yummy meals.

Roasted Vegetable Wraps with Sesame Sauce and Salad with Restaurant Ginger Dressing

You know the ginger dressing you get on a crispy iceberg pile right between the miso soup and sushi entree?  Well I love that stuff, and I've been curious to give it a go at home.  When a lovely friend passed on a tasty recipe for a sesame sauce (discussed below), I thought this was a fab opportunity to try it as an accompaniment.  I just Googled "Japanese Restaurant Ginger Dressing", and clicked around until I found one from a reputable source that was well tested with high marks.  I, too, give this a thumbs up and am psyched to have found the formula for that restaurant goodness at home.  By the way, it doesn't get much easier than zapping all the ingredients (including an unexpected one: ketchup!) in a blender!   

The sesame sauce recipe suggests it to be served over or alongside roasted vegetables.  I used that strategy but opted to do so in a wrap in order to give it a shot in a starring role.  For the veggies, I thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant lengthwise and lined them up on a cookie sheet with sliced red onion.  I brushed them generously with olive oil, then sprinkled them with kosher salt and pepper on their way to a 400 degree oven.  They roasted for about 25 minutes total, with a flip halfway through.  I stacked the veggies on a burrito sized flour tortilla, and then topped them with the following sauce. This recipe makes a boatload, so you might want to cut it in half.

Sesame Sauce

2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 1/2 cups mayo (recipe calls for 2 cups, but I thought that was a bit much)

Put first 5 ingredients in small saucepan and boil until reduced by half.  Remove from heat.  Whisk together last 3 ingredients until smooth and light brown.  Then pour saucepan mixture in and whisk until combined.  

Ravioli with Caramelized Fennel

My obsession with all things caramelized continues.  I found a(nother!) clip in Real Simple with 10 ideas for cheese ravioli, and this one spoke to me.  I fell in love with fennel on a trip to Italy when our friends Amy and Roberto served it raw as a palate cleanser.  Well it gets even better when it's cooked.  I've carried on about this before, but I'll take another opportunity to praise the magic that happens in 30 minutes as a standard onion - and fennel bulb in this case - transform into a gorgeously sweet, complex jam.  You should so try this. 

In a large skillet, cook 1 thinly sliced fennel bulb and 1 sliced onion in butter over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until golden, 25-30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Meanwhile, prep the ravioli...which is almost too easy to call it prep.  Just drop store-bought fresh cheese ravioli into boiling salted water for 10ish minutes.  When it's done, toss it into the saute pan with the onions and fennel, along with 1/4 cup (or a little less) reserved pasta water, and 1 Tbsp butter.  Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds (the green part) and freshly grated Parmesan. 

Vegetable Chowder

I am always on the hunt for make-ahead, kid-friendly meals.  In addition to these traits, this dish is HEALTHY and freezes well!   It becomes beautifully thickened by pureeing a third of the mixture (in a blender or even better, with an immersion blender in the pot itself).  I love this soup, but I do think more seasoning improves it.  In addition to what's suggested by the recipe, I season with salt and pepper in step 1.  I also substitute the salt with garlic salt in step 4.  PS - I use frozen cut green beans as a time-saver.