Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Turkey Pot Pie

Post-holiday, I found myself felled by a stomach virus and a chest cold courtesy of whatever germ stew had been brewing up at preschool the week before. After a couple days of not eating, you tend to get hungry, cautiously hungry. Comfort food is in order. Though, I have to admit, it was tough rallying myself up to create a recipe.

We cooked a turkey for Christmas, and I had about a pound of meat left once I pulled it off the bones. I wanted something more substantial than soup, but not too much. Pot pie. What's great about this recipe is that, unlike it's .99 cent foil-cupped Banquet brethren, you could actually serve this to company. For that, thank the herbs, fresh ingredients and the puff pastry top. If you are still tired of turkey post-Thanksgiving, just bookmark this one for next year's leftovers.

Before the recipe, a note on puff pastry. It is much easier to buy this prepared. Read the label. I had to search for "real" stuff that does not contain HFCS, trans fats and wheat gluten. Try a Whole Foods or similar store. The common brand you find at most grocery stores contains the bad ingredients.

Upscale Turkey Pot Pie
2 large parsnips, peeled and diced fine (1/4 inch dice)
5 carrots, peeled and diced fine
2 leeks, white and lightest green parts, rinsed well, chopped
1 small shallot, diced
8 oz. button mushrooms, cleaned, remove tough stems, chop the tops
2 large sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
3-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. diced, cooked turkey
3 tbs. butter
1 tbs. olive oil
4 tbs. flour
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
black pepper to taste
1 box puff pastry, thawed

Place carrot and parsnip in a pot with 1-1/2 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender crisp. No mushy veggies, not even in pot pie. Meanwhile, melt 3 tbs. butter in another sauce pan. Add the mushrooms, leeks, shallot, herbs and 1 tbs. olive oil. Saute until leeks are translucent and mushrooms are cooked. Add flour and saute for a couple minutes to cook the flour. Add 2 cups stock and stir until thickened.

Drain the carrots and parsnips, reserving the cooking liquid. Add the carrots and parsnips to the mushroom mixture, plus 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. (I drank the extra cooking liquid. It was very tasty and seemed like a good snack for a tired stomach.) Add the chopped turkey. Bring to a simmer and allow to thicken. Add the salt and pepper, taste and adjust.

Transfer mixture to a 2 qt. souffle dish. Heat oven to 375. Roll the puff pastry sheet out to a square. Cut to fit the round souffle dish with 1 inch of overhang. Place dough on top of souffle dish, fitting to the sides. Cut a small "x" in the center to vent steam. Place dish on a baking sheet (who needs to clean the oven if it boils over a bit?).

Bake at 375 for about 15-20 minutes until the top is puffed and deep golden brown. As for the leftover puff pastry, you can roll it into rectangles, put dark chocolate squares in the center, fold, seal and bake. Serve these with ice cream for an easy, elegant finish.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Humbug ... Humbled.

The season, or subzero weather, is wearing on me a bit. At this point, it's like, hurry up and bring on the fun part already.

For starters, I don't think I can listen to the "chickamunk" song one more time. Again.

My child burst out the eff word today. She must have gotten it from The Grinch. Or Daddy. All are on the naughty list.

In an email I got from Healthy Toys.org, I learned the ballerina Barbie my kid wanted (and I gave in on) has a dress tainted with a high level of mercury. Thanks, Mattel. Scrooge you.

After schleping through the store to find a less toxic cheap plastic crap item, I arrived at school late to get the kid. At this point the Ghost of Christmas Past arrived. The Kiddo looked up and said, "Mommy, my stomach hurts." Next thing I know, we're both covered in barf. This would be the second year of the last four she's gotten stomach flu just before Christmas.

I am wondering, as I type, just how long until my Christmas Present of stomach flu arrives. Could it possibly be when the 20-plus people invade our house for dessert tomorrow? Oh, joy.

Still, could be worse. I watched the clip on the news of people walking out of a closing GM plant, all jobless. Crashes, deaths, mayhem followed that news item.

We're together, warm, healthy (mostly). What's there not to be grateful for there?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Spring Dreams

Some people dream about dancing sugar plums (what IS a sugar plum?), me, I get all hot and bothered when my rareseeds.com catalog arrives. Ah, seed porn.

Even if I don't grow it, I do buy it. And I buy the unusual stuff. See, by the miracle of my new catalog, I now know that the cool purple pea pods I got last summer are Moonshadow Hyacinth Beans. Sounds cool, huh? I also know that I should not buy the older beans or dry ones as they could be poisonous. Good to know.

In the interest of transparency, I need to mention that I kill every houseplant I have. Well, HAD. My small entry into container vegetable gardening managed to survive and bring forth a bit of produce. I am hardly a budding farmer, or even a bud farmer.

Somehow, though, by my own stupidity, I am now on a planning committee for a community garden and possibly a planning committee for an urban farm tour. Just hope they don't let me near their houseplants. Green houses don't count as houseplants, do they?

Tune in for posts on the pursuit of a community garden and how tos, plus my other 2009 activities. I declared 2009 the "Year of Involvement." I plan on taking the local food thing outside my own kitchen and into the community through a few projects.

I hope 2009 includes some extra days outside the standard 365. I am going to need them.

Ho, Ho, Oh Boy.

If I had to pick a favorite Christmas song, it's a toss up between John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" and Mel Torme's "Chestnut" song. I can't help but sing along when either is on. It's not a good thing. Instead of the back up vocals and harmony part from the back seat, I get:

"Mommy, don't sing. But I love you anyway."

We also watched this year's line of the Christmas shows, amazing they've lasted since I was a kid. Despite all the snow and winter scenes of the workshop, some of it just didn't stick. The kiddo was explaining Santa to a friend. "Santa lives at the North Pool. That's where we go swimming when we visit." Only if it's indoor and heated, Kiddo.

Next bright idea of my season was to go for the Santa photo. Usually, this is okay. But this year, the operation was being run by the Misfit Toys and Santa might have had a sketchy past even if the beard was real. Later, in the car, my child observes, "Mommy, Santa is weird."

"Yes, honey, that one was. Sometimes Santa has helpers for things like photos and it's not the real Santa." I said, in an effort to preserve some of the magic.

"Why was that Santa weird?" she asked.

"Well, honey, it's hard to get good help these days, even for Santa."

Tonight capped off the run up to Christmas, surely, though. We went with friends to see a large-scale puppet show of the nativity. I was thinking little puppets, no problem. It was like eight-foot tall puppets sitting on top of the human puppeteer, and kind of scary looking ones at that. My kid freaks out on the Easter Bunny and anything in a costume. Imagine 14-foot tall camels coming up the church aisle next to her. I could feel her quivering as she hid her face from it all. Great, I think we may have just traumatized her into being a Buddhist. So be it.

Not that we had made a concerted effort at organized religion before. I just thought it might be nice for her to think about Christmas some way other than chilling by the North Pool with Santa. Even if he is weird.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Brunch: Herbed Waffles with Smoked Salmon

We'll be serving Christmas brunch this year. I want to serve something special, but not have to work that hard. By the time we make Christmas Eve dinner and survive the holiday events leading up to Christmas, well, let's keep it simple.

This dish is similar to one I had at a favorite breakfast place with the best ever scones. The place closed, but not because of the food quality. I miss the scones terribly and decided to make my own version of the smoked salmon recipe.

Smoked Salmon on Herb Waffle with Creme Fraiche
for the waffles
1 and 3/4 cup cake flour (not self rising)
1 tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup cream
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 tbs. for garnish
2 tbs. chopped dill, plus 1 tbs. for garnish
1 tbs. chopped chives, plus 2 tsp. for garnish
pepper to taste

For the rest of the dish
12 oz. smoked salmon
6 oz. roasted tomatoes (recipe) (or sundried, packed in oil, or in the Whole Foods cheese aisle)
3 cups mesclun (spring mix) greens
6 oz. creme fraiche (or sour cream)

For the waffles, sift together the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs then add the cream, milk and oil and mustard. Whisk well. Stir in the chopped herbs, reserving the others for garnish. Add a few grinds of pepper and whisk.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing just until incorporated, do not overmix. Cook about 3/4 cup of batter in a round, belgian-style waffle maker for each waffle. The recipe should make at least six waffles with a "spare" just in case.

To serve, place the warm waffle on a plate, top each with 1/2 cup greens, then 1 oz. tomatoes, then 2 oz of slices of smoked salmon. Add a dollop of the creme fraiche and garnish with the reserved chopped herbs.

Main Dishes for Brunch
Shirred Eggs
Breakfast Panini
Hashbrown, Chard, Tomato and Ham Frittata

Breads, Pancakes and Waffles
Orange Brioche French Toast with Bananas Foster
Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles

Salads (Seasonal)
Red Wine Poached Pear with Arugula
Clementine, Fennel and Pomegranate
Arugula Salad with Bleu Cheese Crostini, Roasted Pears and Grapes and Honey-Wine Syrup
Red, Gold and Orange Festive Salad

Poundcake with Blackberry Wine Sauce and Honey Chocolate Ganache
Assorted Christmas Cookies

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Cookie Carnival (Recipe Carnival)

Shopping? Um, almost done.
Santa Visit? Done.
Wrapping? Um, almost done.
Cards? Done.
Baking? Oh yeah! I was supposed to bake!

This week's recipe carnival will help the rest of us who have not yet rolled dough for the season. For my own entry, here are tips on making gingerbread houses with your kids and tips on baking cookies with kids.

And here are the Cookie and Dessert recipes:

Appetizers and Party Food

Off the Menu (miscellaneous entries)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gingerbread Saga Continues

Less than a week after moving into the new subdivision, pieces of their house mysteriously disappeared and the inhabitants fell victim to some kind of savage attack.

Perhaps some new neighbors will move in as I am hosting the Christmas Cookie-theme Recipe Carnival this weekend. Submit your recipes.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Brunch: Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles

I caught the Kiddo trying the bite the whole corner off the gingerbread house today. Perhaps I should make another batch of these waffles.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Waffles
Sift together:
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. nutmeg or mace
1/8 tsp. cloves (ground)
1/8 tsp. salt

Mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl:
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp. orange extract
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbs. black strap molasses
1 tbs. canola oil
1 egg, beaten

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Add the liquid and just mix until incorporated. Heat waffle iron and spray with cooking spray. Makes about 4 round Belgian-style waffles.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Helpful Hints from the Holiday Masochist's Notebook: Gingerbread Houses

I have no idea where the Kiddo saw a gingerbread house before, but it happened, and of course, she asked if we could build one, and of course, I agreed. And I asked her best friend to join the fun.

This is the innocent beginning to the tale of two four-year-olds (nearly), faulty construction, a long day, and lots of sugar. And an important lesson. The tale starts here, with a gingerbread house kit that proclaimed it included cutters and everything you need, except, oh, candy, and actual house piece cutters. It had gingerbread man cutters. Homeless gingerbread man cutters with no home cutters. But I will get there.

I was okay with the whole mix, figuring the recipe must be extra hard cookies for housebuilding, which is not my favorite kind of gingerbread. This part worked. I never use mixes for anything we're actually going to eat.

What didn't work, was that this kit required you to cut patterns of dough for the house by using the box (still assembled). You can't take apart the box because you use it later as a base for your house. You have to wrestle the box onto the dough and guess at the cutting where the house is still attached. Small children should not attend this part due to language expressed by cook.

Step One, Making the House Structure:
  1. The dough has to be very well chilled, adding 2-3 hours to the schedule
  2. You will need parchment paper to lift the pieces up and flip onto the tray so that the large, floppy pieces of dough sort of stay the right shape. Sort of.
  3. When you bake them, they swell up and stick together at the edges and lose the shape.
  4. You will need lots of cooking spray and lots of cookie trays. Like five trays.
  5. You will then have to match the pieces up and trim them as best you can back to a usable shape.
  6. Overbake the dough to make sure it is crisp and will stand up
  7. This process takes a few hours, your child will not stick around for this. You probably want to spend the hours of prep yourself and include your child at the assembly point.
  8. Who the hell is going to entertain your child for hours? Ah yes, invite a friend over. This does require assembly of not one, but two houses.
  9. The best part of the kit is the house to stick the cookie to so it stays upright.
Lessons for Step One:
  1. This is not the beginner house kit I would choose.
  2. With a young child, I would likely opt for a kit of all the pieces pre-cut and baked ready to assemble. Yes, I said it. Pre-made. It's not like you are going to eat the thing after it sits out getting stale. But, I bet the candy gets picked off ...
  3. To make my own, I would recommend baking forms that help the dough keep it's shape and keep you from having to make your pattern, stretch the dough, retrofit the dough, etc. These cost a bit, so be sure you want to do this activity again.
  4. I had to pull out the big-dog marble pin to work that dough. Good equipment helps.
  5. Good equipment is not included in the kit.
  6. If you want to feel like a total failure, look at books like these before you build a first one. Martha-effing-Stewart couldn't pull one of those off even if she does grow her own ginger for the dough.

Step Two: Assembly of the House
  1. The kit comes with royal icing mix, which is the right type of icing for the job
  2. The icing tastes like sugary plaster, which is kind of the point
  3. It's made from sugar, egg white powder (be warned of egg allergies), and water
  4. Really mix the stuff on high until it has the consistency of sugary plaster
  5. The cheap triangle-shape piping bag included is a weapon of mass frustration. Recycle it promptly before use. I used a real decorating kit, and that was the smartest move I made all day. The dumbest move all day was grinding up the plastic collar piece in the garbage disposal.

Step Two Lessons:
  1. Kids can help with the assembly part, Age four and above is best.
  2. You really can't fill some things in with frosting later. Like inch gaps.
  3. Faulty construction is a problem even for tiny houses.
  4. The cardboard box form was the best part of the kit here.
  5. Royal icing may just work for caulking the bathtub.
Step Three, Decorating. Or, the part where your child eats all the candy:
  1. If the candy isn't included, and it wasn't, get different shapes and a good variety
  2. Plan on twice as much as you need to decorate the house, it disappears
  3. Don't get your expectations set on a cross between Gourmet and Architectural Digest here.
  4. Pre-load the quality pastry bag with frosting. Set out bowls of the candy, fingers will be too sticky reaching into a bag to get it.

Step Three Lessons:
  1. This is the step where most kids have fun and want to "start" the project.
  2. Before your young child touches it, it already looks like a pre-K art project, don't get anal about the perfect design.
  3. Make sure your kid had a decent lunch, cause the rest of the day is blown nutritionally at this point.
  4. Screw Martha Stewart. With all due respect.
  5. When done, don't move the thing until the icing sets. It will. Boy, will it ever.
Biggest lesson? It's the journey here. Unless you plan on making this a hobby, it's really about having fun and enjoying the experience, making a fun activity with your child. Your child will be proud of the result. A house! Out of cookies! Even if you are considering enrollment in a remedial course in construction using Lincoln Logs. Just chill (both you and the dough) and have fun. Get crazy with the frosting. Eat the jelly beans. Sing sappy Christmas songs (but not "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," that's just plain bad music). Play now. Vacuum later.

Seriously, the last thing I want my child to remember when she looks back on the holidays is Mommy being a perfectionist. Ornaments she can't touch, cookies that aren't good enough for company, perfect decorating she can't help with, color-coordinated Christmas trees, sterile, all-white lights because those are classy. Grouchy, yelling mom trying to make the house perfect to impress all-important guests and strangers even as she makes the family miserable.

That's not Christmas. That's the ghost of my Christmas past. It will not be Christmas present or future.

Frosting wars. Occasional sugar-highs. Wobbly gingerbread houses. Laughter. Messes. Things that break sometimes. Gingerbread men with extra "parts" (yes, my brother, that one is for you).

Baby, that's Christmas. That is definitely Christmas. And I am all about that.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

But, I Am Still Full ...

The holidays keep rolling. So do I after all the pie.

We've been living on leftovers at The Kitchen. It's given my "dishpan hands" time to recover with the 14 hours of cooking before Thanksgiving. Two days before the holiday dinner, I had a wisdom tooth pulled and a raging sinus infection. By Friday, I was beat up. Frankly, I needed a break!

So, I got a day off ... heh. But now it is back at it to plan for the gingerbread houses, cookies, and Christmas dinner-lunch-brunch, and New Year's appetizers ahead. Look for all these recipes to come starting with the Red Wine Poached Pear Salad posted yesterday.

If you have a particular menu type you are trying to plan, leave me a comment, and I will do my best to post a recipe for it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Red Wine Poached Pear Christmas Salad

Pumpkin and apples may be the flavors of Thanksgiving, but it's pears that grace the Christmas lore and table.

To give the holiday dinner some festive color, the pears in this salad are first poached in red wine and spices. The deep scarlet color set off against peppery arugula make a perfect Christmas dinner salad.

You don't have to tell anyone it's easy, either.

Red Wine Poached Pear Salad
For the Pears
3 large winter pears, peeled, halved and cored, sliced lengthwise
2 cups red table wine or Cabernet
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
4 Szechuan peppercorns (optional, available Penzeys.com)
1 tbs. sugar

For the Salad
4 cups arugula
3 tbs. honey
1/4 cup total of sliced almonds, walnuts and pecans
3 oz. bleu cheese crumbles
2 tsp. lemon juice

Heat the wine, sugar, lemon juice and spices in a sauce pot. Add the sliced pears, cover pot, leaving partially uncovered. Simmer for 40 minutes. Let cool. Remove pears and spices. Place pot back on heat and reduce to a thick syrup.

When pears are room temperature, slice and arrange on top of arugula. Drizzle on the red wine syrup and honey. Sprinkle with bleu cheese and the nuts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making a List, Checking It Twice

I decided to document the rather odd process I go through anytime we are cooking for guests, and especially for holiday dinners. My last post outlined a bit of it. Basically, there are several lists.
  • List one: Household chores that need to be done prior to the cooking. This list gets started two weeks ahead of the event.
  • List two: the menu. Gotta know where you are headed.
  • List three: The shopping list, one page, several days of errands, all on one sheet of paper. Don't lose this list.
  • List four: All the recipes printed out (if possible) or gathered.
  • List five: The chop list. This one takes all the various vegetables that are needed, quantity, type of chop, etc. and puts all the prep work together. Sounds odd, we all think of recipes one at a time. For big meals, it makes more sense to combine prep work. For example, the gratin and the green bean casserole both use two chopped shallots. On the list, put down one line item for four chopped shallots and do the prep all at once. It is also a great list in case you have kitchen help or a spouse that likes to chop. You can hand them the list and work on other items. And, yes, do all your chop and prep the day ahead even if you can't complete the recipe. You'll be amazed at how much easier it makes life the day of.
  • List six: Yes, I know, I am anally-retentive. I said it. This one is important. The oven list. This list tells you what temperature the oven needs to work at, when each dish needs to go in (and out). The timing works backward from meal time. This list is important for everything to hit the table in sync. You can go a bit further and add the stove items and all the steps you have to do on the day of (in order) before meal time. It sounds crazy, but kids, there is a reason I got a rock solid A on my practical exam in culinary school. I had a list. One person, five dishes, 90 minutes. No special talent, just a list.

I'll post the sample lists once the holiday is complete. Christmas dinner is coming, and I hear that's the best time of year to make lists and check them. I'll post the final menu and the lists for next Thanksgiving as well.

By now, you menu is set and you are headed to bed to get some rest. Big day of pie making tomorrow. Have a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Days before Thanksgiving. What's the plan?

First things first, the bird needs a few days to thaw, unless you bought one "fresh," or chased the sucker around the back yard with a hatchet yourself. In the latter, case, I can't instruct you. I still have bad flashbacks from when my family butchered our own chickens [shudder].

Seriously, how do you manage the days ahead? I make a list.

Weekend/Days Before:
Clean House
Finalize Menu, consider number of burners, oven, oven temp. when planning, and time
Make Shopping List
Set Table (if you don't need it before then)
Make applesauce and freeze
Clean out fridge to make space

2-3 Days Before:
Shopping, Use List!

One Day Before:
Thaw applesauce
Bake Pies
Prep All Veggies for Next Day (clean, chop, measure, bag and store!)
Brine turkey if needed
Make any dressings for salad
You can make the gratin ahead and some veggie dishes cover and store in baking dish (fridge), allow time to come to room temp before baking next day! Usually, you can make ahead stuffings and casserole-type dishes, rolls/bread, pies, etc.
Run the dishwasher and empty so it is ready
Review your recipes for baking times and temp. Schedule your oven time.
Check for necessary equipment like a meat thermometer

Day Of:
Review your timing plan over cup of strong coffee
Ready, Set, Go!
Delegate, baby, delegate!
Serve, enjoy!

Day After:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Orange, Fennel and Pomegranate Salad

Thanksgiving menu looking a little heavy on the calorie-meter? Here's a nice salad that offers a bright, light contrast to the usual feast yet still marries well with fall's classic dishes.

Orange, Fennel and Pomegranate Salad
5 oranges, rind cut off and sliced
3 medium fennel bulbs chopped, plus 2 tbs. of the fennel fronds
1 pomegranate, seeded
6 cups mixed greens

For Dressing, Whisk Together:
Juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup
2 tbs Champagne vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. honey
salt and pepper to taste

Toss first 3 ingredients together, place over the greens. Dress with lemon vinaigrette.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Best Ever, Real Green Bean Casserole

Step into my work office and ask me to reverse engineer a project and you are going to get The Look. The Look is the serious face, one eyebrow raised. The look is accompanied by The Line, "You know, it's a lot easier to just do it right the first time."

I don't get as many visitors to my office this way.

Still, reverse engineering has it's place especially when it comes to family dinners. Seems like a few folks at the table are adamant about certain dishes being on the menu, and others of us insist on trying new things. Not too many Thanksgiving dishes hold this honor as much as Green Bean Casserole.

I will admit that I have never been excited about the mushy result of canned green beans, canned soup, canned crunchy onions, and cornflakes. The whole dish is like a tribute to the processed food industry. Let's un-process it, shall we? The final result will be crisp green beans, lots of mushroom goodness, fresh herbs, and a bread crumb, caramelized onion and Parmesan crust. It's good enough to make me forget all about any previous version.

Best Ever Real Green Bean Casserole
2 lbs. fresh green beans
2 shallots, minced
3/4 pounds cremini or other gourmet mushroom, chopped
2 tbs. fresh thyme (or 1 tbs. dried thyme)
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup 2 percent milk
2 tbs. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 caramelized onion (recipe here)
1-1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan

Blanch the green beans for 2 minutes, shock in ice bath immediately to stop cooking. Chop green beans into 1-2 inch pieces. Set in a layer in a 9x13 casserole dish.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Add the shallot and saute for a couple minutes. Add the mushrooms and the thyme and saute until the mushrooms are softened and the shallot is golden, about 7 minutes. Add the flour and saute for another 2 minutes.

Add the cream and stir to mix. Add the milk. Season with salt and pepper, cook on lower heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Pour over the green beans, tossing to coat. Spread into an even layer.

Place the bread crumbs and Parmesan in a bowl and mix together. Add the onions and toss to coat evenly. Spread the onion and bread crumb layer evenly over the green beans.

You can prep up to this point and refrigerate. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake casserole for 30 minutes or until bubbly and top is golden brown and crisp. Serve with the gratitude that you ate something real.

Thanksgiving Traditions Carnival of Family Life

Welcome to the Thanksgiving Traditions edition of the Carnival of Family Life. Pull up a chair and feast (menu here).

As for my own memory of traditions, this year I will most certainly be thinking of my grandfather whom I lost earlier this year. He was in that Greatest Generation, having his childhood marked by The Great Depression and his early adulthood serving in World War II. He grew up as a devout Catholic in a struggling family with a lot of siblings.

Every Thanksgiving, just after we all held hands and said a word of Thanks, Grandpa would interject his own prayer from his experiences:

"Father, Son, Holy Ghost, whoever eats the fastest gets the most. Amen."

Then he would laugh and wink. Indeed, tough times required a sense of humor, and, while we may be facing more of a Lesser Depression right now than the Great one, it's going to be a challenging season for us all. It's a time when counting blessings is even more important. If you have family and friends at your table, food on the table, and a secure roof over the table, then you are truly blessed.

I wish each of you a happy and safe holiday, these simple blessings, and the hope that we can all remember others who are not as fortunate this season. And hope. I wish us all hope. Eat fast.


Erin presents Keeping the Faith, Even in the Midst of Academic Struggles posted at School Psychologist Blog Files.

Alvaro Fernandez presents Neuroplasticity and the Brain That Changes Itself posted at SharpBrains, saying, "Review of a great book with compelling tales about the amazing abilities of the brain to rewire, readjust and relearn."

Rose presents Schools remind me why I homeschool - Learning at Home : Appeal-Democrat posted at Learning at Home.

Family Cooking & Recipes

Annette Berlin presents Baked French Toast posted at Craft Stew. "Baked french toast makes a quick and easy Sunday morning breakfast," writes Annette. "It only takes ten minutes to prepare, leaving you free to spend the rest of the morning with your family."

Chief Family Officer presents A typical lunch for the boys: Fried mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, grapes and a vanilla wafer posted at Chief Family Officer.

Stephanie presents Pulling Off a Thanksgiving Feast posted at Make It From Scratch.

Family Crafts and Activities

Tiffany Washko presents Cheap and Easy Entertainment posted at The Attached Parent.

Katey Magill presents Shaving Cream Bathtub Paint posted at Having Fun at Home, saying, "An inexpensive fun idea for the best bathtime ever!"

HappyCampers presents Easy Homemade Gift Idea posted at The Adventures Of The Williams Family. This simple and cheap body scrub recipe was a big hit at Mother's Day when Laura and her son made it for their Mommy friends. "We plan to make another batch for Christmas gifts," she writes.

MoneyNing presents Celebrating Thanksgiving is a Must This Year posted at Money Ning, saying, "Thanksgiving is one of the fun holidays of the year! No matter what, you should celebrate!"

Joanne presents Make Stuff Your Kids Can Play With posted at Simply Saving, saying, "A variety of recipes for clay that you can make with your kids."

Stephanie presents A Christmas Craft for Preschoolers posted at Stop the Ride!.

Stephanie presents Mitten Gift Bag/Decoration posted at Make It From Scratch.

AmyL presents Togetherness Crafts: Making a Unique Pillowcase posted at Earnest Parenting, saying, "Kids can be a big part of making their own pillowcases, from choosing fabrics to actually sewing them together. A quick and straightforward project to do together."

Family Finance

Heather Levin presents How To Set Up A Community Lending Library posted at The Greenest Dollar.

Polly Poorhouse presents 10 Cheap Things to Do With Kids posted at Economic Crunch. These days there is so much to do . . . with so little money. Polly offers some creative solutions.

Super Saver presents Financial Lessons from my Parents' Generation Re-Learned posted at My Wealth Builder, saying, "The financial lessons my parents learned from the Great Depression were valuable during the financial crisis of 2008."

Jim presents 0% Credit Cards: No Interest Purchases & Balance Transfers Offers posted at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

Michael. presents The Jammie Thomas Case: RIAA Strikes Hard at Kazaa Users posted at International Law News, saying, "The RIAA wins a $222,000 lawsuit against a single mother of two for downloading music online. What do you think about this?"

Matthew Paulson presents 5 Ways to Keep Even More of Your Cash and Get More Food posted at American Consumer News.

Debt Freedom Fighter presents How Credit Rating Consequences Can Affect Your Life posted at Discover Debt Freedom!.

Money Answer Guy presents Credit Card Mistakes You Should Avoid posted at The Money Answer Guy.

DebbieDragon presents How to Recognize Offline and Online Money Scams posted at Debbie's Debt Advice.

Trisha Wagner presents How Teens and Family Budgets CAN Coexist | Debt Free Destiny posted at Debt Free Destiny.

Elizabeth presents A Son’s Epiphany and A Mother’s Lesson posted at Suburban Wife's Daily Dollar Diary, saying, "A son has his first financial epiphany and a mother learns a lesson about letting go."

Silicon Valley Blogger presents Help Your Kids Get Rich: Invest Early posted at The Digerati Life.

The Smarter Wallet presents Create Your Family Holiday Traditions and Save Money! posted at The Smarter Wallet.

Family Health and Wellness

Hueina Su presents Celebrate National Family Caregivers Month posted at Intensive Care for the Nurturer's Soul, saying, "November is the National Family Caregivers Month, proclaimed by the President of the United States of America. As a life coach working with medical professionals and other Nurturers, I see the Self-Care Deficiency Syndrome reaching epidemic proportion. To avoid burnout, caregivers need to practice Intensive Self-Care, and I'm listing some great resources for them here."

Donald Latumahina presents 9 Tips to Live an Abundant Life posted at Life Optimizer.

freefrombroke presents 6 Ways Eating Out Less Has Made Our Family Better posted at Free From Broke, saying, "Eating at home have proved to have many benefits to our family."

Carole Fogarty presents 14 Funky Ways To Calm Your Nerves Consistently: posted at THE HEALTHY LIVING LOUNGE, saying, "Do yourself a favor and add more deliberate moments of relaxation and deep rest into your day. This article is a reminder of the many ways you can put yourself first more often and soothe your nerves consistently. You can also tell where my focus is at the moment ……. nourishing my nervous system."

Patricia Turner presents Top 50 Green Technology Blogs posted at Green Web Hosting Blog.

Family Humor

Aahz presents Dad Gets Girly With Sparkly Nail Polish posted at Philaahzophy, saying, "Who taught YOU to paint your nails?"

Loren Christie presents Consequences Are Very Not Fun posted at Dude, Where Am , saying, "Raising small children is the most comical time of your life. Don't adopt a beagle."

Riley presents The Post of Christmas Past posted at All Rileyed Up.

Family Relationships and Self-Improvement

makingthishome presents Revealing a Few Secrets You Didn?t Know posted at Making This Home, saying, "Here's a salute to my translator to share."

Nards presents Song of the day: Can You Feel The Love Tonight? - Elton John posted at Nardeeisms.

Laurie Bluedorn presents Reminder about the Pie Auction/Barn Dance Fund Raiser for Greg Wallace posted at Laurie Bluedorn.

Jennifer in OR presents Sleepover with an 84 year old friend posted at Diary of 1.

Family Spirituality/Belief/Worship

Wendy Rae presents Raising Spiritual Children posted at Spiritual Life Design.

Family Travel

Shannon Hurst Lane presents Family Holiday Fun in Branson posted at Traveling Mamas.

Matthew Paulson presents Traveling to Florida’s Space Coast » The Travel Advocate posted at The Travel Advocate.

Parenting Tips and Advice

Joe presents Kids GPS Phone: A Brief Introduction posted at GPS Tracking Watches, saying, "Cell phones have made their way into even the smallest hands in our families. Now these kids cell phones are coming equipped with GPS technology as cellular providers seek to attract more parents to buying these types of plans. This post attempts to educate consumers on what makes this technology work."

Khan presents Working Parents and Children | Effects - Problems posted at Higher Education and Career Blog, saying, "Millions of parents struggle each year to balance career and childcare. Fortunately, more options exist for working parents than ever before. If you want to find a solution that satisfies your family and your employer, read on."

Thank you all for participating in and supporting this edition of the Carnival!

Next week, the very special Thankfulness Edition of the Carnival will be hosted by Hopeful Spirit at On the Horizon. If you would like to participate in next week's edition of the Carnival, click here to submit the link to and relevant information about your posts. Note that for the Thankfulness Edition, two posts per blog will be accepted, so long as at least one of the posts focuses upon Thanksgiving, gratitude, celebrating one's blessings or a similar theme. If you have questions, be sure to review the Carnival guidelines before submitting your posts.

Would you like the Carnival to pay a visit to your site? Check out the hosting schedule, select a date, and then drop a line advising what week you would like to host.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Family Holiday Traditions Carnival

For everyone visiting, I am hosting this week's Carnival of Family Life. The topic is on your holiday traditions, can be humorous or heartwarming, green holiday tips or just sharing a memory.

Share your holiday with us! Send submissions to Blog Carnival.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chestnuts, Apples, Sage, Bacon and ... Brussel Sprouts?

Or, how not to be a good hostess.

Want a sure fire way to fail at entertaining? C'mon over to my house for a lesson. First, you don't bother to dress for the occasion. Flannel shirts are okay. Maybe, you don't even have time to shower. No problem.

Don't set the table. When you do, use mixed and matched plates from three different sets. Call it eclectic.

When you ask your guests if they would like something to drink, list the options available. When they choose, give them instructions on where they can help themselves to it.

Drink lots of wine. Ignore silly low carb diets.

Ready for the best part?



If they come back again, then you know they are friends you want to keep.

Actually, our guests did enjoy helping with an annual ravioli fest. It's a lot of work, home made ravioli, so we usually do this as an "interactive dinner." Yep, hands on for the guests, too. The kids actually loved this, especially using the pasta roller and the ravioli mold.

A few tips if you plan on hosting a similar, uh, event.
  • Have the pasta dough ready, it needs to rest a half hour before rolling.
  • Have the fillings ready and the tools and a clean work surface prepared.
  • Put out easy snacks so guests can take a break and have a quick bite until dinner.
  • Serve alcohol to the adults.
  • Don't worry about the mess, or if things aren't perfect.
  • It's about preparing a meal together and having fun.
  • Have a one-pot dinner course in the oven and soup for a first course ready. This helps keep all the activity centered on just the one dish to prepare together and a quick sauce for it.
  • If you serve any other sides, keep them simple to prepare, or prepared in advance.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts
1 lb. Brussels Sprouts, quartered
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1 large shallot, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
3 oz. Pecorino Romano shavings
1/4 cup pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, roast setting, if you have convection oven, or 400 degrees for a regular oven.

Toss the sprouts with olive oil and balsamic. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15-20 minutes until they start to show some golden brown (the balsamic will make it harder to tell what's roasted and what's vinegar). Go for lots of golden brown, you may have to stir once during roasting. When the sprouts are about two minutes away from done, add the pine nuts to toast them. Remove from oven and place on a platter when done.

While the sprouts are getting crispy, cook the bacon in a skillet until almost done. Pour off all but one tbsp. of the grease. Add the shallot and finish cooking the bacon and shallot until browned and done. Remove from stove, whisk in olive oil and red wine vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the sprouts. Top with the shavings of Pecorino. Sit back and watch perceptions of Brussels Sprouts (including my own) shift.

Chestnut Apple Ravioli
6 oz. Roasted and Peeled Chestnuts
8 oz. Marscapone
1 apple, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tbsp. chopped sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe pasta dough (I use the recipe in Lidia Bastianich's cookbooks), or you can use wonton wrappers if you don't want to make the dough.
egg wash for sealing ravioli (egg whites, whisked)

If you are roasting the chestnuts yourself, cut a large "x" in each one, place on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and roast at 375 for about 40 minutes. Peel the chestnuts while still warm. Or, best of all, have your spouse do this part!

Saute 1/4 of the bacon in a skillet until halfway cooked, pour off all but a tablespoon of grease. Add half the diced apple and the onion and cook until bacon is crisp and the apple and onion are golden. Transfer to the work bowl of a food processor. Add the chestnuts, nutmeg and the marscapone. Salt and pepper to taste (pinch). Pulse until it forms a paste and is well combined.

Fill the ravioli (we used a ravioli mold, this is great), using the egg wash to seal the dough. About 1-2 tsp. filling for each. Set the ravioli on a baking sheet with floured parchment.

Make the sauce, heat a skillet, cook the remaining bacon until half done, pour off all but one tablespoon of grease, add the other half of the diced apple and sage. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water for about three minutes, or until each ravioli floats up to the top. Sprinkle the "sauce" on the ravioli and serve. Goes great with prosecco.

Ignore the kitchen full of dishes until after dinner. Don't make guests help clean up. You have to be somewhat of a hostess, after all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pumpkin Molasses Cookies

"What are doing, Kiddo? The cookies are not cooled yet."

"I'm just watching them to make sure they don't move."

"Okay, make sure they don't move into your mouth, deal?"

There are a few sacred recipes that I have hesitated to "recreate." As much as I love pumpkin (and have them lying around) you would think I would have gotten around to new recipes for old favorites. Perhaps it's the fear of disappointment, that the new recipe won't be as good. Or, really, that I am not that good if I can't make a better version.

When I was very young, my favorite cookie was not chocolate chip. My mom was not an enthusiastic cook, being the 70s and a working, single mom. Packaged foods were normal fare. But, every now and then, she would make these awesome cookies. Pumpkin with raisins. They were cakey, and moist, a bit spicy. I never had the recipe, and just now, some 35 years later, I am getting around to making a recipe of my own. I added a couple things like black strap molasses and an icing. I was not disappointed.

Pumpkin Molasses Cookies
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup black strap molasses (or regular)
3/4 brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup pumpkin (I used homemade puree)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
2-1/4 cup flour (use 1 tbsp. less if using canned pumpkin)
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients flour, salt, baking powder, spices together in a separate bowl. Cream the butter, molasses, brown sugar, egg and vanilla together. Add the pumpkin. Stir in the dry ingredients until blended well, but avoid overmixing. I know, it's vague, but just don't beat the hell out of the batter. Fold in the raisins.

Spoon onto the cookie sheet and bake for about 12-14 minutes depending on your oven. Allow to cool and prepare glaze.

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbs. cream
1 tbs. melted butter
1/2 tsp. orange extract

Blend to glaze consistency. Drizzle over cooled cookies.

Now, the pumpkin pie (my other longstanding favorite) is still a work in progress, but I really like the version I worked on over the weekend.

Honey Five Spice Pumpkin Pie
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) Pumpkin or 15 oz. home made puree
1 can (12 fl. oz.) Evaporated Milk
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell or your own crust.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients, sugar, salt, spices. Beat the eggs, stir in the honey and pumpkin. Stir in the dry ingredients. Slowly stir in the evaporated milk.

Pour into pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 and continue to bake for 45 minutes more. Cool and store in refrigerator. Serve with whipped cream.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hey, What About Thanksgiving? Recipes and Reflections

The Halloween candy has not even hit the bargain bin yet and already the shelves are going red and green. Wait a minute. Where's Thanksgiving?

You know, the holiday created around sharing our blessings with family and friends, cherishing what you have, not shopping for more? Oh yeah. That doesn't sell on the store shelves. And that is exactly why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. That, and it's a holiday with FOOD.

I will be working on a new menu for this year, but below are my favorites that I made for the last couple Thanksgiving meals. I hope you and your family are blessed this holiday season.

Thanksgiving Recipes:

Apple, Sausage and Sage Stuffing
Cauliflower, Chard and Leek Gratin
Cranberry Applesauce

Basil-Orange Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato and Aged Gouda Gratin with Sage and Thyme
Roasted Green Beans
Best Ever Real Green Bean Casserole
Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Brown Sugar Crust
Red-wine Caramel Apple Tart with Gorgonzola on a Walnut Crust
Roasted Fig and Pear Crumble

Fall Menu Side Dishes
Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Gruyere
Winter Risotto
Balsamic-Glazed Carrots
Sesame Kale
Polenta Cakes with Sun-dried Tomato and Spinach
Collard Greens and Bacon
Caramelized Onion and Chard Saute
Carrot Orange Souffle
Honey Sage Sweet Potato Pasta
Apple Cider-Sauce
Delicata Squash with Red Rice, Cranberries and Pecans
Maple-Orange Sweet Potato Souffle

Fall Menu Main Courses

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce
Turkey and Noodles
Acorn Squash and Chicken Sausage Cassoulet
Apple-Sage Roasted Chicken

Fall Soups
Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin, Lentil and Carrot Soup
Pumpkin White Cheddar Soup
Vegetable Soup, How to Make Broth-Based Soups
Cauliflower, Carrot and Greens Soup, How to Make Cream Soups
Fennel, Potato and Leek Soup
Carrot Soup with Coriander Two Ways


Maple-Sage Reduction Sauce
Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Recipe Index for 2008

Wondering where a recipe link is from the last year? I have been very bad and not updated the recipe index. Here's everything from Nov. 2007 until now.

Note, these are ORIGINAL, COPYRIGHTED RECIPES that belong to me. Enjoy the cooking, let me know how the recipes worked, but please, respect the copyright. And, yes, I really do cook this much in a year. More.

Lucky Fruit Salad (St. Pat's Day)
Lemony Couscous Salad
Classic Potato Salad
Tangy Kohlrabi Slaw
Perfect Peach Summer Side
Panzanella Salad
Thai Summer Salad
Amaranth Salad

Side Dishes
Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Gruyere
Carrot and Quinoa Biriyana
Apple, Sausage and Sage Stuffing
Cauliflower, Chard and Leek Gratin
Cranberry Applesauce

Winter Risotto
Balsamic-Glazed Carrots
Sesame Kale
Polenta Cakes with Sun-dried Tomato and Spinach
Caramelized Onions
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Tomato-Herb Pesto
Collard Greens and Bacon
Zucchini Bacon Fritters
Beet Green Gratin
Caramelized Onion and Chard Saute
Fava Beans with Pecorino Romano
Curried Eggplant and Long Beans
Squash Blossom Quesadillas
Carrot Orange Souffle
Honey Sage Sweet Potato Pasta

Main Courses

Meatball Stroganoff
Beef Braised in Red Wine
Halubki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce
Lamb and Lentil Stew
White and Wheat Pizza
Black-Eyed Peas and Smoked Ham Hock
Roasted Vegetables, Lamb and Couscous
Healthy Chicken Nuggets
Healthy Shepard's Pie
Turkey and Noodles
Lamb Chops with Blackberry-Balsamic Sauce
Spring Green Pasta (St. Pat's Day)
Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus, Peas and Green Onions
Guinness, Caramelized Onion, and Cheddar Burgers

Coconut Curry Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin, Lentil and Carrot Soup
Pumpkin White Cheddar Soup
Vegetable Soup, How to Make Broth-Based Soups
Cauliflower, Carrot and Greens Soup, How to Make Cream Soups
Fennel, Potato and Leek Soup
Carrot Soup with Coriander Two Ways

Shirred Eggs
Ginger Banana Oatmeal Pancakes
Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie
Orange Brioche French Toast with Bananas Foster
Breakfast Panini


Carrot Raisin Cupcakes
Coconut Cardamom Tapioca
Chocolate Coconut Tapioca
Cherry Wine Turnovers
Chocolate Beet Cake


Broccoli Herb Pesto
Maple-Sage Reduction Sauce
Brown Butter Sage Sauce
Spinach Pasta
Fig Balsamic Dressing