Friday, November 27, 2009

How Did Your Thanksgiving Go?

I hope your Thanksgiving went well Julie- and I bet it was nice to not have to worry about the turkey this year. However, I've had your famous turkey before and it seems you have it down to a science! You will have to share what else you had at your friend's house and if you were introduced to any new recipes.

I am thankful for so many things this year, one of them being that this was our first Thanksgiving as a married couple! It was also the first Thanksgiving that we hosted ourselves, but it was a nice introduction to the whole process since there wasn't any pressure to make everything perfect. We had Chris (our nephew) and a couple of friends over to our apartment. Let me tell you, it certainly is a challenge making a complete Thanksgiving meal in the world's tiniest kitchen, but we made it happen!

It was our first time making a turkey, and Daniel volunteered to take on the lead of "makin' the bird." We decided to use Alton Brown's recipe for "The Perfect Roast Turkey" using the brining method. Check out the very funny video of Alton Brown showing how to do it, its worth a watch and a few laughs.

We had a few hiccups along the way... like not having a large enough container to submerge the turkey in the brining liquid (resulting in having to brine it one half at a time) and a smoke filled apartment for some mysterious reason (we still can't figure it out!) that left our eyes watery and red Thanksgiving morning. Thankfully we did not have any guests over yet at that point!

Daniel putting in the "aromatics"

Well, how did it turn out you ask?

I am very proud to say that it was a success!!! It was perfectly cooked , and moist and flavorful. Good job Daniel!

Here is what the rest of our menu looked like:

1. Sourdough Stuffing with Sausage, Apples and Golden Raisins
  • I couldn't find any golden raisins, so I used cranberries instead. A very good recipe, but I would recommend using maybe a cup less chicken broth (it was little too soggy at the bottom)
2. Spiced Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar

3. Rose's Baked Artichoke Hearts
  • Wow, was this good. A recipe from my good friend Elissa over at The Painted Peach. I think it will become a regular fixture at Thanksgiving from now on.
4. Brussels Sprouts with almonds and lemon juice

5. Garlic and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
  • Daniel insisted on having both this AND the sweet potatoes. Yikes. We made this with a few Yukons and some purple potatoes. Just saute some garlic and dried rosemary in some olive oil and blend in with the potatoes, milk/cream and butter, salt and pepper. Very tasty.
6. Cranberry Sauce
  • Of course. We just made the sauce according to the directions on the back of the package but substituted spiced apple cider for water, and added in some cinnamon. I made two batches of this, I LOVE cranberry sauce and it makes great leftovers (turkey and cranberry sandwich anyone? Ice cream topping? Chocolate cake filling?) I have yet to try out making your recipe yet, but maybe next year!
7. Frozen Biscuits from Trader Joe's- these were actually the best pre-made biscuits I think I have ever had. Of course nothing beats out homemade, but these were incredibly flaky and buttery.

8. Last but not least, Pumpkin Pie of course. I decided to use a waistline friendly version from Weight Watchers, and you would never be able to tell the difference!

Here it is all together!

I know, not the most elegant of table settings, but our goal wasn't to be pretty this year. Maybe next time!

Well, we stuffed ourselves silly and then went out to a movie afterwards. I am heading off to the gym now, I think I will need to burn off about 5,000 calories!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What are your Thanksgiving plans? (and a recipe for Cornbread Dressing with Smoked Sausage and Green Chiles)

Are you cooking any food this year, Beth? I'm sure you are super busy with school this weekend, but I hope you'll be able to relax at least a little bit! I'll be thinking of you and everyone else in our family, thankful that we love each other so much, even across all these miles.

We are having Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house this year, which means no turkey wrestling for me this year! Fantastic - I'm also thankful for that! Our friends are smoking the turkey, mashing the potatoes, and making a few other sides. We'll bring the dressing, sweet potatoes, and pie. And some adult beverages. I'm a little sad that I can't make my favorite cranberry sauce since our friends apparently have a favorite recipe they want to make instead, but that's okay. I look forward to trying something new!

I've been making this cornbread dressing for a few years in a row, now. I think we had it when you and Daniel were here for Thanksgiving two years ago, right? It is really good! It is sort of a mish-mash of three different recipes from Joy of Cooking, with a couple of my own twists for good measure. Anyway, I'm making it today so we can bring it to dinner tomorrow.

Smoked turkey and cornbread dressing from last year's Thanksgiving spread on our backyard patio

Cornbread Dressing with Smoked Sausage and Green Chiles

(Any cornbread will work for this recipe, but I prefer to use a Southern-style unsweetened cornbread, made with only cornmeal and no flour.)

8 cups cubed cornbread (about one standard recipe of cornbread)
4-8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 red bell pepper, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound smoked sausage, diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 four ounce cans of roasted mild green diced chiles, like Hatch, drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/3 to 1 cup chicken stock
1-2 large eggs, well beaten

Toast the cubed cornbread in a 400F oven until golden brown. Turn into a large bowl. If you like a crumbly texture, break up the cubes with your fingers.

Heat the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, celery, red bell pepper, garlic, and sausage. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir into the bread cubes and add the chiles and corn kernels. Toss until well combined. Depending on how much butter you started with and how firm you want the stuffing, stir in the stock and egg a little at a time, until the dressing is moist but not packed together. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Turn the dressing into a large, shallow buttered baking dish. Bake uncovered in a 350F oven until the top has formed a crust and the stuffing is heated through, 25 to 40 minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Crusty Bean Cakes with Garlic and Herbs

♪ ♪ Beans, beans, the magical fruit...
(Come on, you know the rest.)

I think beans have an undeserved bad reputation. As the childish ditty implies, they can make some of us gassy, but they are also often looked down upon as "poor people's food." However, when cooked the right way, beans are so good and satisfying!

Cook a pot of beans, and you can do many different things. Take the plain, underrated pinto bean, for example. You can make chili and cornbread. Refried beans for burritos. Or tostadas. Or huevos rancheros. How about pintos with swiss chard and goat cheese (I need to try that one soon)? Or beans and rice ala the "whole bowl." One of Dad's favorites is a simple ham and bean soup served with fresh, buttered dinner rolls. Heck, I've even seen recipes for "fudge" using pinto beans, though I haven't been brave enough to try it myself.

Or try making these fun little crunchy bean cakes. I can't tell you how much I love these! They are very versatile; you can experiment to find your own favorite bean/cheese combination. I usually make these with black beans and cheddar or Parmesan, but I tried them this last weekend with pintos for the first time, and they turned out yummy. The recipe is actually an adaptation of the original crusty lentil cakes recipe from (my well-worn-falling-apart-at-the-binding copy of) Rick Bayless's Mexican kitchen, so apparently lentils are good here, too.

Yes, you could make these with canned beans instead, but they wouldn't be nearly as tasty. Besides, have you read about the recent tests on BPA in canned foods, conducted by Consumer Reports? Scary stuff. We're better off cooking our own beans. Beans freeze really well, so you can always cook up a big pot and use some now and freeze the rest for later. Click here for a good primer on how to cook dried beans, if you're not sure about that part.

Here's the recipe:

Crusty Bean Cakes with Garlic and Herbs

4 cups of any cooked, drained beans
1 medium onion
Vegetable or olive oil, for sauteing the onions and for pan-frying the bean cakes
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup cheese (like crumbled Mexican queso anejo, dry feta, Parmesan, or even pepper-jack or cheddar)
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt, about 3/4 teaspoon
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
About 2 cups dry bread crumbs
Plenty of salsa, for serving

Chop the onion and saute over medium heat in a little oil, until browned and tender.

Roast the unpeeled garlic in a dry pan, turning occasionally, until soft and blackened in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, peel, and finely chop.

In a large bowl, mix beans, onion, garlic, cheese, cilantro and pepper. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon.

Form the bean mixture into 12 to 14 2-inch disks, each about 1/2 inch thick (packing the mixture into a 1/4-cup measuring cup is an easy way to do this; gently tap the cake out of the measuring cup to dislodge it. Transfer the cakes to a baking sheet lined with foil or wax paper. Freeze for a half hour or so, to firm for easier breading.

Beat the eggs, milk, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a shallow dish, and spread out the bread crumbs on a plate. Dip both sides of each bean cake in the egg mixture, then dredge in the crumbs, pressing the crumbs into a firm coating completely covering the cake. Refrigerate covered if not frying immediately.

Turn on the oven to the lowest setting. Heat a 1/8-inch coating of oil in a large, well seasoned or nonstick skillet over medium heat. In batches, fry the cakes in an uncrowded single layer until brown and crusty, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels, keeping the fried cakes warm in a single layer in a low oven while finishing the others. Serve each portion of your crusty cakes on a warm dinner plate in a pool of spicy salsa or sauce, decorated with cilantro sprigs.

Advance preparation: The bean cakes can be shaped and frozen several weeks ahead. Bread them while frozen, then let them defrost for several hours in a single layer in the refrigerator. Another option is to reheat them gently in a 300 or 350 degree oven; they will crisp up again nicely, but you do need to be careful that the oven isn't too hot or they will get too brown on the outside.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Baking

The pace of life never seems to quite slow down. If anything, it is only steadily speeding up. We returned from our weeks-long vacation to Oregon back in July, but I still don't feel like things are back to "normal." What is "normal," anyway? Does such a state even exist? Perhaps this is the new normal, and I just need to accept it.

I've known for a while that I really need to do something to take back the control of our increasingly hectic family life. For me, a big part of it centers around feeding my family. When things are too crazy and there is no plan, we end up eating out more or purchasing more convenience-type foods at the store, which results in spending more money than we need to (or should), not feeling our physical best, and getting into the general rut of unhealthy habits, from which it can be hard to break free. And my jeans are getting tight, which is not how I want to start the holiday season.

Beth, I know your schedule has only gotten more full lately, too. I've recently discovered a couple of websites I'd like to share that lately have provided me with some inspiration to eat well again, while still accommodating the reality of life.

The first is actually an article from Mother Earth News on how to make the best ever artisan bread at home. It is, quite literally, Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread (it is a long article worth the read, but the directions for the master recipe begin on page three). Beth, the technique is similar to the one outlined in the New York Times article on No Knead Bread that you mentioned in your post a while back on No-Knead Sourdough Bread, but without the added complication of using a heavy pot with a lid to bake it (I mean, really... you don't need a lidded pot to bake artisan bread). And the sheer beauty of this recipe is that you mix up enough dough for at least three loaves of bread, and then store it in your refrigerator for up to two weeks (!) while using only as much dough as you want, whenever you want to bake it. A time-saving genius! The article also gives proportions for mixing up a larger batch of dough, should you feel it is necessary to do so. The first time I made this bread, everyone at the table swooned and declared the the Best. Bread. Ever. Which is really saying something, since I've baked a lot of good bread. I don't think I'll ever need (or want) to use another recipe.

The other website is Linda Watson's Cook for Good. The thing that intrigues me about this site is the premise - and proof - that it really is possible to eat healthily, consciously, and conveniently, without spending a fortune at hoity-toity grocery stores, like the one that rhymes with "Mole Dudes" (also often referred to as "Whole Paycheck"). There are lots of good ideas here, and Linda also has several ebooks for sale if you are looking for more specific guidance with even more recipes and meal plans.

Sunday is my day off, which is when I am mostly (but not always!) inspired to do the things I enjoy most, like creating extraordinary meals out of ordinary ingredients. Today I baked an apple-cranberry pie using Linda's Sneaky-Wheat Butter Pie Crust. I also baked a loaf of fresh bread, which we will enjoy with tonight's dinner of salad and crusty bean cakes with garlic and herbs. And, of course, a modest slice of pie for dessert.

Do try the bread soon; I can't wait to hear what you think!

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