Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Break...and our Tradition of Christmas Fettuccine

Thank you to everyone who commented and encouraged me as I worked through my exams.  I finished my last one this morning, and that noise you just heard was a sigh of relief!  I spent the rest of the day catching up with many of you on Christmas baking and preparing, packaging and Santa-ing, and am truly looking forward to a good post-exams nights sleep tonight.  We'll be South-bound early tomorrow morning!

Since we're so far from our families, we have become creative with our Christmas traditions.  Thankfully, some traditions remain untouched, like the cookies we (two adults) leave for Santa, but there are many more that have been abandoned or modified.  When we first got married, we decided that we would always wake up in our own bed on Christmas morning.  That went out the window as soon as we decided to move 12 (or more) hours away from everyone.  Family is much more important than our "tradition!"  A couple of years ago we decided to start a tradition of Christmas fettuccine (√† la The Holiday), on Christmas eve.  Well, I don't think that tradition is going to happen this year, although I am thrilled to be going to my home church for the beautiful candlelight Christmas eve service.  While we will not be eating fettuccine on Christmas eve this year, we celebrated a bit early with the meal so it would not be completely missed. 

This Fettuccine is jam packed with vegetables, making it closer to a Primavera than a simple Alfredo.  This year, we made it extra rich by adding fresh crab.  I thought the crab overwhelmed the dish a little bit, but my husband loved it and deemed it the best yet.  Either way, it is a delicious celebratory dish, worthy of a yearly tradition.

Christmas Fettuccine

 12 oz fresh fettuccine
1 bunch broccoli, stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces.
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz sliced wild mushrooms
5 oz fresh spinach
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup vegetable broth
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Romano cheese
8 oz fresh crab (optional)
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

Before beginning, prepare all of the ingredients, as things move quickly.

In a large pot with a steamer insert, steam the broccoli for 8 minutes, or until tender. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until slightly wilted. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 1 more minute (the flour will clump a bit on the bottom of the pan and vegetables). Add the milk, broth, salt, peppers, and nutmeg, making sure to stir the bottom of the pan well. Cook for 6 more minutes, or until thick, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is cooking, drain the steamed broccoli and add to the sauce. In the same pot, bring 1 quart of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and keep warm.

When the sauce has thickened, stir in the cheese and crab (if using) and stir until the cheese has melted. Stir in all but ½ cup of the diced tomatoes. Serve the sauce over the pasta, and top with the remaining diced tomatoes and parsley.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

One Down...Christmas Stollen makes Good Study Food

I just finished the first of four exams!  I am thrilled to say that by this time next week, I will be finished for the semester, and can ponder the season without worrying about how much studying I need to do or what chapters I need to finish reading.  I absolutely love what I am learning; it is life-changing!  I even love how exams bring 12 weeks of classroom material and makes it "stick," in distilled form.  However, the plight of school is the never-ending to-do list that is always rumbling in the back of our minds until that last exam is submitted, and so until these tests are done I'll probably grumble and complain about them.  Thankfully, semesters end and the break ushers in a restful reprieve, and much more appreciation for my professors and their assignments!

As a teacher or student, sometimes it is hard to enjoy the Advent season and to enjoy those festivities which lead up to Christmas day because there is so much to do scholastically with final papers, exam prep, studying, and those pesky exams.  So we take our holiday cheer and make traditions where we can, even during study sessions.  I had some classmates over yesterday for a study session and decided to make a loaf of Christmas stollen for our brunch meeting. 

I'll be honest; stollen is far from traditional Christmas fare for me.  I had never made nor tasted it and none of my study-mates had even heard of it, so I cannot attest to its authenticity.  But that didn't keep us from immensely enjoying the loaf of fruit-studded and marzipan stuffed bread.  And it certainly didn't keep my husband from devouring the few leftover slices, while talking in a pseudo-"German" accent.  Authentic or not, we may have just added a new tradition to our holiday study time!

Christmas Stollen

Adapted from Cooking Light, November 1999

Give yourself plenty of time when making this.  While the hands-on time is relatively short and the work easy, there is a lot of resting time in this recipe (several hours plus an overnight rise, and cooling time after baking).  

3 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon cherry juice
1 cup mixed dried cherries, golden raisins, dried cranberries, and currants
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 package)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
3 1/2 cups flour, divided
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup sliced almonds
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
7 oz. box of marzipan 
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the brandy, cherry juice, and dried fruit.  Stir and let the fruit marinate for 1 hour. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and warm water.  Let this sit for five minutes, or until bubbly.  Turn the mixer on low and strain the liquid from the fruit into the bowl, then add 1 1/2 cups flour, milk, sugar, butter, salt, and egg.  Increase the mixer to medium-low speed and mix for 2 minutes, until combined.  Add the fruit, almonds, zests, cardamom, and an additional 1 1/2 cups flour and continue to mix for 6 minutes.  With the mixer still on, add up to 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. 

Transfer the dough to a second metal bowl that has been lightly greased.  Turn the dough to coat the top.  Cover with a clean towel and set the dough in a warm, draft free place to rise for two hours.  The dough will not double, but an indentation should remain when you push two fingers into the dough when it is ready.  Punch the dough down and let it rest for five minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a greased baking pan and stretch the dough into a large oval, about 13 x 8 inches.  Cut the marzipan in half length-wise and put the two pieces end-to end in the center of the dough.  Fold the two long sides over the marzipan, seal the ends, and flip the loaf over, reshaping it as needed (it should now be about 12 x 4 inches oval).  Cover with a layer of saran wrap and a towel, and refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, take the baking pan out and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaf for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes, then brush with butter and sift powdered sugar over the top of the bread. 

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Window Shopping Gift List and Cherry Almond Granola

When I was young, Christmas seemed to be all about what I would get.  I wouldn't sleep well on Christmas eve because I was dreaming about what might be waiting for me the next day.  Now, I find that I love pouring my energy into what I will give others.  I still don't sleep well on Christmas eve, but my excitement is more over sharing the day with others, and being able to bless them with gifts! 

When it comes to gifts, I'm more of a window shopper.  I love looking at the gift guides, seeing what's new and what's wanted, but I don't do much of the actual purchasing.  Apart from my husband and a few family members, most of my gifting is of the home-crafted kind.  But since I do love window shopping, I wanted to share my "window shopping" gift list with you.  Many of these things I already have and love, and others are on my wish list.  Maybe my little window shopping list will help you fill in those last few gifts that you have been looking for. 

My favorite gifts for the food lover:

Peppermint Hot Chocolate (Williams-Sonoma); Tucker Honey Glazed Pecans; Crate of Clementines

My favorite gifts for the host:

Mug Cozy (Socks and Mittens); Monogrammed Mug (Anthropology); Dorothy Gail Apron (ImaginAprons)
Latte Bowls (Anthropology); Alabama Dish Towel (Catstudio); Provence Platter (Williams-Sonoma)
12 Days of Christmas Napkins (Williams-Sonoma); Cow Creamer (Williams-Sonoma); Bon Appetit, Y'all (Amazon)

My favorite gifts for the chef: 

In case you're like me and prefer to give gifts of the homemade variety, here are a few ideas that go beyond the cookie jar.  I love the combination of Colonial Oatmeal bread with Apple Butter, or a pretty glass container of pimento cheese.  And a bag of granola will always be welcome. 

Cherry Almond Granola

1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup powdered milk
½ cup honey
1/3 cup 100% cherry juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon almond extract
5 ½ cups old fashioned oats
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ cup oat bran
½ cup millet
1 ½ cups dried cherries
1 cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, powdered milk, honey, juice, and oil. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the extract.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Pour the sugar mixture over the oats and stir well.

Spread the oatmeal over a large baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring 2-3 times. Reduce the heat to 250 and bake for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

In Between Holidays...and My Favorite Apple Crisp

I know we're all Christmas-minded these days, but I just had to post some pictures from our past couple of weeks.  We've been busy! 

I am proud to say that my husband ran the Philadelphia Half-marathon two weeks ago.  He did a great job!

A few days after the race, we had our family in town for Thanksgiving and some vacation time together.  They were so gracious to drive for two days both directions to spend this precious time with us!  For all of their driving, we could at least share a delicious meal with them:

And the turkey!  It was one of the best roast turkeys I have ever had! 

We actually ate that meal on Wednesday, and then packed up to spend Thanksgiving day in New York City.  We enjoyed exploring the city, watching Macy's parade, walking up 5th Avenue and window shopping, wandering through bustling Rockefeller Plaza, and heading back down Broadway through flashy Times Square.  There's just something exciting about New York during the holidays! 

After watching the parade, we ate a lunch of turkey sandwiches, broccoli salad, sweet potato chips, and chocolate dipped pecan bars in Central Park. 

On Friday, we did a quick tour of Philadelphia, including a trip to legendary Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's for cheese steaks, the Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the light display accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ at Macy's, and lunch at Reading Terminal Market. 

Last week was full of paper-writing and late night studying, but I won't bore you with the details of that.  I am just happy to say that all of the papers are in, and we just have exams to go!  Everything will be done by next Friday, and we will be homeward bound. 

I haven't quite moved into the Christmas baking and goodies yet; exam time just doesn't allow enough time for everything.  That means that our break time with family, and the food we eat then will be all the more enjoyable (and we can really splurge!)!  If I only get to make one thing this year, I'm hoping to make my favorite gingerbread cookies before the season is out. 

I made this apple crisp long before Thanksgiving, but I think it's a great low-fuss dessert that carries right through the winter.  My husband calls it "apple deliciousness," but I just call it perfectly comforting. 

Apple Crisp

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup flour
1/3 cup rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Stir together the filling ingredients in a small baking dish (8 inch square or equivalent).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar and salt until well combined.  Gently stir in the oatmeal and flour until just incorporated.  Crumble the topping  over the apples. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes.  Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Days...(Leftover) Turkey Soup

I hope that this day is full of blessing and thankfulness for you and your family.  One thing that has been on my mind recently is that a spirit of thankfulness kills a spirit of selfishness.  In selfishness, I seek what I can get from others and want the world to revolve around me.  In thankfulness, I realize the blessings that I have been given, and I want to bless others in return.  I pray that attitude of thankfulness will be predominant in my life, and in yours.  I also hope that you are enjoying sweet time with family today, large or small, in person or via Skype, immediate family or a "family" of friends.  I just hope it's sweet. 

Today, we're spending the day watching the Macy's day parade in similar fashion to last year, but are so happy to have family along for the ride this time.  Even though we did it all last year, I still get super excited about the parade and floats, and especially the grand entrance of Santa, bringing with him the official start of the Christmas hustle and bustle. 

After our busy day in the Big Apple, I don't think we'll be jumping up at the wee hours tomorrow to participate in that hustle and bustle with much of America.  But, like many, we will have a refrigerator full of leftover turkey to contend with.  If you find yourself in the same boat, and can't imagine eating that many turkey sandwiches, do I have a soup for you!  This recipe, from my grandmother, is a perfect foil for whatever ails on the day after Thanksgiving: too much rich food, too much of a blustery day, too much chaotic shopping, too much turkey in your refrigerator.  It's nice to sit down with a bowl of this soup, and remember to be thankful. 

Turkey Soup

Bones from 1 whole cooked turkey
3 quarts of water
Leftover turkey, pulled (as much or as little as you have left)
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1 lemon, sliced and seeds removed
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 cup of Basmati rice

In a large pot, simmer the turkey bones with 2 quarts of water for about 30 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the bones from the pot.  Pull any remaining meat off of the bones and return the meat to the pot; discard the bones. 

Add the remaining pulled turkey, plus the next ten ingredients (through parsley flakes).  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the rice and simmer for 15 minutes more, or until the rice is done. 

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Patiently Waiting...for Frozen Cranberry Grand Marnier Mini Tortes

The closer we get to this Thanksgiving, the more excited I get!  Although I made a full Thanksgiving meal last year for the two of us, and I've made Thanksgiving-like meals when hosting supper clubs and dinners, this is my first time to host a family Thanksgiving dinner. 

My husband is excited, too, and he keeps asking me what our menu will be.  His responses of jubilation when I run down the list, or when he comes into the kitchen to see and smell a freshly baked loaf of bread or muffins (which are shortly wrapped up and moved to the freezer), is praise enough, and that's before he's even feasted!  Poor thing, he's tasted all of these things at previous Thanksgiving meals and knows how good they are, but I am pretty strict on no pre-holiday sampling.  He'll just have to wait.

While the Cajun Cornbread Dressing is definitely the star of the meal, my husband's other favorite part of the meal is our very non-traditional dessert.  We find other occasions for pecan bars or sweet potato pies, but I don't think they elicit quite as much excitement from him as these frozen mini-tortes. 

Frozen Cranberry Grand Marnier Mini Tortes

Adapted from Bon Appetit

4.5 oz chocolate wafer cookies or 9 chocolate graham crackers
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of allspice
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 1/2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/4 cup port wine
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, divided

In a food processor, process the cookies, chocolate chips and sugar until finely ground.  Add the melted butter and pulse 6-7 times.  Reserve 1/4 cup of the cookie mixture.  Divide the remaining mixture between 12 standard muffin cups. 

Whisk the eggs, sugar and water in a medium metal bowl. Cook over simmering water, whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 175 degrees. Remove from the heat. Add the spices, and beat with an electric mixer for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk the whipping cream, yogurt, Grand Marnier, orange juice and grated orange peel with an electric mixer until peaks form. Fold in the egg mixture. Spoon the mixture half-way up the sides of the muffin cups.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the remaining chocolate crumb mixture into each cup, and top with the remaining whipping cream mixture.  Cover and freeze overnight.  (You may have some left over; it can either be enjoyed frozen or chilled).
Whisk the wine and cornstarch together in a saucepan. Add the sugar, honey and spices.  Set over medium-high heat until the mixture boils. Add 1 1/2 cups cranberries; return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the remaining 1 cup cranberries.  Refrigerate overnight.

To serve, run a butter knife around the mini tortes to release (some crumbs will remain in the pan).  Serve each torte topped with 4-6 tablespoons of the cranberry wine mixture. 

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where's the turkey, Chuck?...Holiday Broccoli Salad

"What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where's the turkey, Chuck? Don't you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where's the mashed potatoes? Where's the cranberry sauce? Where's the pumpkin pie?"

We have a lot on our dinner plates right now, and we're not talking Turkey and dressing.  Within two weeks we have all of this: A weekend in Virginia, a half marathon, writing two papers, reading three books, class, homework, dinner with friends at our apartment, crafting Christmas presents, cleaning the house.  But wait, "where's the turkey, Chuck?" 
I can hardly believe that Thanksgiving is next week!  I am so excited to have family coming in town to visit.  In addition to all we've been up to recently, I've been excitedly baking, cooking, mixing, blending, and dicing, all in preparation for their stay.  Needless to say, we are both really looking forward to putting aside the books and schoolwork in favor of fellowship and family.  And we're both looking to full plates of yummy Thanksgiving food! 

I have a couple more recipes that I would love to share with you for Thanksgiving day, including this delicious Broccoli Salad.  Whether you're looking for something to bring along with you, or if you're looking for something green and festive to add to your Thanksgiving table, this salad is for you. 

Holiday Broccoli Salad

5 cups fresh raw broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
7 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
1/2 cup salted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt

Combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss well. 

This salad can be made up to 24 hours in advance. 

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Friday, November 12, 2010

The Thanksgiving Star...Cajun Cornbread Dressing

A recent conversation...
  • Classmate: So, do you make some awesome dish for Thanksgiving?
  • Me: Well, my absolute favorite part of the meal is the dressing. My family has this special dressing with sausage. In fact, I brought back a special sausage from the south, because the sausage we've tried up here doesn't compare.
  • Him: So, is this some kind of gravy?
  • Me: No, it's dressing. You know, dressing. As in, Turkey and.
  • Him: Like a salad dressing?
  • Me: (Realizing now that the kind of dressing that I'm talking about is a foreign entity to him) Hmmm. How do I explain? I guess it's like stuffing. But it's not stuffing. We don't put it inside the bird.
  • Him: So it's stuffing, but you call it dressing?
  • Me: Yes, but it's not stuffing. It's different. We don't put it inside the bird. And it's made with cornbread. In a casserole dish...
I still don't think this poor soul quite has a firm understanding of what dressing is. And he cannot possibly understand how fabulous it is. Otherwise, he would be beating our apartment door down for me to make some right now!

What I told him is true, though. It is the best part of the Thanksgiving meal. And the sausage that we use? Well, there's just no comparison to Conecuh sausage. If you live anywhere in the Southeast, try to get your hands on some. If you can readily get your hands on some, I am jealous of you. We brought enough back with us at the end of the summer to last us until our trip home at Christmas, including enough to make this dressing.  If you aren't blessed to have access to this wonderful gift, use the best spicy smoked sausage that you can find.

I will be honest with you; this dressing does require a little bit of time to put together.  But it can be made in advance and frozen for several weeks, making the actual day of the feast much simpler.  And the praise you will receive is well worth the effort. 

Cajun Cornbread Dressing

From my Mom's kitchen, adapted from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

For the cornbread:

2 cups buttermilk
8 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups self-rising cornmeal
1 cup Aunt Jamima buttermilk pancake mix
4 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Butter a large skillet or 9 x 13 baking dish.  Combine all ingredients and bake for 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool. 

For the dressing:

3 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
6 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups finely chopped onions
1 ½ cups finely chopped bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 bay leaves
1 pound link smoked sausage
1 14 ½ oz. can chicken stock or homemade chicken or turkey stock
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
6 eggs, beaten
Butter two casserole dishes, one large (9 x 13) and one small (8 x 8). 

Thoroughly combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. 

Boil sausage in a pan in 2 inches of water for 12 minutes.  Drain the water and grind the sausage in a food processor.  Set aside. 

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic and bay leaves. Sauté about 2 minutes on high heat. Add seasoning mix and continue cooking until vegetables are barely wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground sausage and stock; cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn off heat. Remove bay leaves.

In the large bowl, crumble the cornbread.  Add the milk and eggs, stirring well.  Add the vegetable and sausage mixture to this and mix well.  Divide the dressing between the two buttered casserole dishes. 

Bake at 350 until brown on top and bubbly in the middle, about 45 minutes.

Freezing instructions: If you decide to make this in advance and freeze it, wrap it well with aluminum foil and freeze.  To defrost, move the frozen casseroles to the refrigerator for 36 hours.  Put the defrosted casseroles in a cold oven.  Turn the oven to 350 and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until bubbly.  Do not overbake. 

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Count Your Blessings...A season of Thanksgiving

As soon as October passes away, things seem to go into hyper-drive.  I know that I'm kidding myself if I think that things will change after I graduate, because things have been like this as long as I can remember.  Exams, papers, assignments, and the like will stop eventually, but fall events, obligations, time with friends and family, and the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season will not.  So, in light of that, I want to share some thoughts of thankfulness. 

  • I am thankful for Jesus Christ, whose sweet love and sacrifice is the greatest blessing in my life.  I am thankful for the nudges and reminders He gives me when I am living selfishly, and for the help that He gives me to love and serve others. 
  • I am thankful for my family and my husband's family, who are a constant source of support and encouragement.  I cannot even express how blessed both my husband and I have been. 
  • I am thankful for my husband.  I am blessed by the time that I get to spend with my husband: the dates, the special gifts, the sweet words, and the surprises.  I'm equally thankful for the struggles that we get to grow through together. 
  • I am thankful for my education.  I may sometimes gripe and complain about studying or writing papers, but when it all comes down to it, this time is such a blessing and it is an honor to be learning this material from my professors and with my classmates. 
  • I am thankful for oatmeal, one of the most comforting foods for a chilly morning. 
  • I am thankful for tea.  My favorites right now are Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice, Stash White Christmas, and Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane. 
  • I am thankful for Christmas music.  Not that I've been listening to it, or anything. 
What about you?  What delights your heart with thanksgiving?

This year is the first year that I will be hosting Thanksgiving at our house with visiting family.  I will be keeping things simple for our day of thanks, but over the next two weeks I hope to share with you some of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes.  This pear gingerbread is wonderful to have on-hand for a quick breakfast of toast and coffee or tea.  It is fairly spicy and barely sweet, which works well for Thanksgiving breakfast because there will be plenty of sweets later in the day.  Wrapped well in a layer of saran wrap and another layer of aluminum foil, this bread can be baked in advance and stored in the freezer for several weeks.

Pear Gingerbread
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup molasses
2/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup applesauce
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cup fine diced pear
½ cup fine diced crystallized (candied) ginger
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, molasses, oil, and applesauce.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the baking soda and next eight ingredients (through whole wheat flour).  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just until there are no dry patches. Fold in the pear and ginger.

Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Apple Picking and Caramel Apple Cake

When we discussed our favorite things about the season over breakfast the other morning, I mentioned that I love the nostalgia of things…even if those are things which I have never experienced. But setting aside the time to dip apples in caramel, carve a pumpkin, or go on a hayride can often be the highlight of the season and the thing by which all future autumn seasons are defined.

I had never been apple picking, so when our church’s young adults group proposed the idea, we were both thrilled to go. I spent the morning stewing a pot of chili, baking a loaf of bread, and glazing an apple cake in homemade salted caramel in anticipation of our late afternoon picnic (between apple picking and a hayride, all to be concluded with a bonfire, roasted marshmallows, and cider). How perfect could a day be?

The only problem was that my sweet husband began that day with a long distance run, and by that afternoon his body was rebelling against him. He willingly went, but our apple picking was a little slower than we had hoped, he couldn’t eat much of the dinner that I packed, and we had to cut our evening short of the hayride and bonfire. We did have a great time, though, despite his ailing body, and we are definitely making plans for a repeat trip next year.

I don’t think that he even had a piece of this cake on Saturday night, but he made up for it with about four pieces on Sunday as he made his recovery.

I first came across this apple cake on All Things Farmer. It is a homey cake, and is delicious with Elise Bauer’s Caramel Sauce (with an added pinch of salt) drizzled over the top, but you are welcome to use store-bought variety for an easier version.

Caramel Apple Cake
Apple Cake from All Things Farmer
Caramel Sauce from Simply Recipes

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups chopped apples (about 3 medium apples)
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
1 cup caramel (homemade or store-bought)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 335 degrees.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Add the soda, salt, flour and cinnamon and stir until just combined. Mix in the apples and pecans.
Pour the batter into a buttered and floured bundt pan. Bake for 1 ½ hours, testing with a toothpick after about 1 ¼ hours. When the cake is done, cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto the rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the homemade caramel and cool until slightly warm and thick, or warm the store-bought caramel until stirrable, but still thick. Stir in the kosher salt to caramel. Drizzle about ½ cup of warm caramel over the cooled cake. Slice and serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and drizzle with more caramel sauce.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

I gave him fair warning...of Bourbon Pumpkin Pancakes

These busy days, my husband and I have to make extra efforts to spend good time with each other.  So, in addition to a stroll around our neighborhood that we try to fit in once a week, we generally try to have date nights every other week.  But recently our date nights have turned into date lunches and yesterday, a date breakfast. 

It was his idea to have breakfast at one of our neighborhood restaurants, but since I've really been wanting to make pancakes recently and since they're more of a treat breakfast for us, I suggested breakfast at home instead. 

What I really wanted to do was breakfast in bed.  I love the idea of surprising my husband with a beautiful, bountiful tray of goodness, but it rarely happens because his feet hit the ground as soon as things start smelling good in the kitchen.  I can almost always surprise him anywhere else, but this one had alluded me.  So this time I gave him fair warning.  Although I didn't tell him what kinds of goodness I would be whisking together, I told him he had better not get out of bed! 

His wait was worth it; these silver-dollar sized (slightly boozy) pancakes were oh so good, and we had a sweet early morning date discussing our favorite things about the season. 

Bourbon Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 cup real maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and the next eight ingredients (through nutmeg).  In a small bowl, beat the egg.  Add the buttermilk, pumpkin, bourbon and oil and whisk until well combined.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. 

In a small oven-proof bowl, measuring cup, or pitcher, combine the maple syrup and bourbon. 

Set the oven to "warm."  Place a heat-proof plate in the oven to keep cooked pancakes warm.  Carefully place the bourbon maple syrup in the oven to warm, making sure that it is on a stable surface (put a plate under it, if you are worried). 

Grease a griddle and heat to medium-low.  Using a large cookie scoop or a 1/4 cup measure, scoop the batter onto the hot griddle.  Use the back of the scoop to spread the batter a bit.  Cook the pancakes for 1-2 minutes, until the edges begin to dull.  Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes more, and stack the cooked pancakes in the oven to keep warm until serving.  Top the pancakes with the warm bourbon maple syrup. 

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

If at first you don't succeed, make tried and true Chicken Pot Pie

Sometimes I get in trouble when I try to come up with new recipes.  Things sound so good, until you end up with some rather strange looking pink rice (tasty, but still needs some work, and a little less...color).  It is for precisely that reason that I try to have a good balance between experimental recipes (of which there are so many) and the tried and true. 

I have been making this pot pie since we have been married, in the days when I learned not to experiment on guests (okay, I still do this occasionally) and when I learned that the true test was the hum test.  Later on, I was the youth group "cook," providing meals to the kids in between snowy trips down the North Carolina mountains.  There, I made larger batches of this pie and covered them with biscuits instead of crust.  My friend Laura, a gracious co-chaperone on that trip, now only makes this pot pie recipe with a biscuit crust. 
No matter which way you top it, this pot pie is a classic keeper. 

Chicken Pot Pie

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup peeled carrots, sliced (about 2 medium carrots)
1 cup frozen green peas
2 cups new potatoes, cubed
1/2 cup celery, diced (about 2 stalks)
1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons port wine, or sherry
1 pie crust, or 8 raw buttermilk biscuits

In a large saucepan, combine the chicken, broth, carrots, peas and potatoes.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool.  Using a slotted spoon. transfer the vegetables to a deep dish pie pan.  Reserve the chicken broth in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Cut the chicken into 1/2 inch cubes and transfer it to the pie pan. 

Using the same saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Saute the onions and celery for five minutes.  Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, herbes de provence; cook for one minute.  Add the milk and reserved stock and cook for 3-4 minutes, until thick.  Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture in the pie pan, spreading to reach the edges. 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Top the pie with the pie crust, cutting away excess dough.  Make five slits around the top to allow steam to escape.  Alternatively, arrange the biscuits over the top of the pie.  Place a piece of foil under the pie to catch any drips.  Bake for 35 minutes, then cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

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