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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