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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