Monthly Archives: November 2009

Thanksgiving!

An organic table setting.

Holy cow, this weekend has been a whirlwind of eating, drinking and making merry. I barely have the energy to type right now, so I’ll make this post a quick roundup of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t do a good job with the photos because I was too busy zipping around the kitchen like a maniac. Thank goodness I had help!

Appetizers:

Cheesy dip: this is a famous family recipe that you will seriously hate yourself for loving so much. Even the snootiest of people love this mixture of Velveeta, cheddar cheese, garlic, cumin, fire roasted tomatoes, green chilies and cilantro. All melted together, it is a favorite dip for every party.

Cheesy dip

Turkey puffs: A twist on a Martha Stewart recipe – puff pastry layered with Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese, Parmesan cheese and then brushed with a paprika butter.

Gobble?

Cut into turkeys and baked until golden.

Next, the veggie plate. I made an easy falafel dip with garbanzo beans, cumin, garlic, parsley, cilantro, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and olive oil. I served it with cut up celery, pepper, carrots and cucumber:

The dinner course isn’t as well photographed. We brined the turkey and rubbed it with butter and herbs, stuffed it with more aromatics and then roasted it for three hours:

Ready for carving!

We had many side dishes: cornbread stuffing, apple-chestnut stuffing, cranberry relish with rosemary and walnuts, parsnip risotto with a balsamic drizzle, green beans with pine nuts and prosciutto, maple-bourbon sweet potatoes, roasted cauliflower with herbs and Parmesan and home-made rolls.

Serving up.

My favorite part was the gravy! Using all the turkey drippings, we made a dark roux and then whisked in chicken stock. That’s it! So rich and delicious – I just finished the last of it off today, over some stuffing.

Dessert:

We had a pumpkin pie from Fresh Market, but the star was undoubtedly Merissa’s bourbon pecan pie, complete with hand-cut leaves on the crust.

We also made a dutch apple pie with a strusel topping, because who can have enough pies?

I hope everybody had a happy and filling Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the friends and family around me (near and far), my job, my health and my cat.

Cheers! xoxo

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Orange-scented Madeleines

Starbucks used to sell these spongy tea cookies and I absolutely loved them. In fact, I’ve always wanted to make them since I discovered them at The Bucks. It was just a matter of buying that special shell-shaped pan that serves no other use than to make Madeleines (Alton Brown would be mad).

I have to admit that the first time I made these, I used a Nigella Lawson recipe that included rose water. It was basically a massive, burned fail. Jesse declared that he “hated” Madeleines. Alas, I had this pan. So I had to make them again.

Jesse’s mom gave me a Williams-Sonoma cookbook on all baked goods. The pictures are beautifully styled and I’ve needed to crack it open. So I turned to these orange-scented Madeleines with vanilla and almond.

They turned out perfectly. Spongy cookie with that nice orange flavor mingling with the almond extract. I like the crunchy corners that were browned in the butter wash in the pan..

Ingredients:

2 large eggs

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

1/2 c. flour, sifted

1 tsp orange zest

1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375, put rack in middle. Brush the melted butter inside the 12 molds. Dust with flour and tap out excess.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, salt. Whisk until pale and thick, 5 min. Beat in vanilla and almond. Sprinkle in flour and stir to incorporate.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the orange zest and half the melted butter. Fold in remaining butter. You’ll hear the little air bubbles snapping in the dough.

Divide the cookies in the pan, about 1 T per shell. Bake until the center springs back when touched and they are lightly golden on edges, about 8-12 min.

Cool on wire rack.

Best when served warm, with a dusting of powdered sugar. I’m really into Earl Gray tea right now and these would match well. With a touch of cream and sugar.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

A Pretentious Thanksgiving

Ever since I knew that friends of ours have hosted a Pretentious Thanksgiving at their D.C.-area home for the past five years, I’ve wanted to be invited.

This year was the best to join: it was the best-of Pretentious Thanksgiving, meaning that guests voted on their favorite dishes from the past five years, all of which would be featured at the dinner.

So, a little context: A couple that Jesse will soon be related to began this tradition based on their love of hosting parties and the idea that making it pretentious would be funny. People could dress all uppity and the food would be ridiculously full of itself. A wine pairing would be included in each course, with a tobacco course between before the dessert course.

Over the years, the party has grown from eight people to 24 people, making it quite the pretentious social event. People drive from all over the East Coast to attend, partying like a bunch of Gatsby guests lingering well into the night.

I am basically in love with this party idea. I enjoy themed parties and I love wearing pearls and argyle even more! The weekend was so breathtakingly awesome that I’ll tell the rest of the story with pictures, from our shopping trips to food preparation to the meal itself.

We started at the farmers' market, full of beautiful fall bounty

All these colorful radishes! Whoever heard of black radishes?

Brussel's Sprouts

We came for haricots verts and got caught up by the wild mushrooms.

When we got home from the market, Merissa and I began making the mantle decoration, for which she had bought some small squashes. She hollowed them out and inserted a scented votive candle. Then, we foraged for pretty leaves, acorns and pine cones around the garden. I even clipped some beautiful Japanese maple branches to add to the decor.

I am obsessed with these!

Martha Stewart, feel free to call us anytime

All decorations aside, the night was about the food. Here is the menu:

First course: Sweet-potato ravioli with browned-butter sage sauce, toasted pine nuts and fried shallots.

Ravioli is stuffed, ready for boiling

It was simply amazing. A-Maze-Ing. Red pepper flakes added a nice pepper kick and those shallots on top...I will be making this again SOON.

Second course: Cranberry salad with spiced pecans, goat cheese and a sweet vinaigrette.

I can love any salad with spiced nuts and goat cheese. And healthy!

Third course: Haricot verts with roasted potatoes, walnuts and Roquefort

They make this dish every year. I guess I hadn't had Roquefort cheese before because this blew my mind. It tasted rich, savory and somehow smoky. Drool.

Fourth course: stuffing…

Wild mushroom stuffing, which was the most expensive dish of the night.

Oyster stuffing: I always dreamed that oyster stuffing would contain that much butter...and be that delicious. Heaven.

And turkey two ways: smoked…

The boys fussed over this all night.

And roasted with herbs:

A beautiful scene

(Tobacco course)

Dessert course: Pumpkin profiteroles with rum-caramel sauce

Paired with a sweet sherry.

And let’s not forget a whole lotta wine:

I’ll be hosting my own Thanksgiving dinner in a couple weeks, and while it may not be pretentious, it hopefully will be as delicious as this special meal. I just hope I get invited next year!

Cheers, friends. xoxo

Mexican baked omelet

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Mexican chorizo comes well seasoned - no chili powder needed!

I just wanted to give you a quick update before my big “Pretentious Thanksgiving” post from this weekend’s D.C. festivities, which will be full of gourmet foods and argyle sweaters. However, until I can upload and edit the pics, here is a little recipe I made last week.

It is the same recipe as my Italian egg bake, but instead of sausage, I used two links of Mexican chorizo (the soft, spicy kind) and instead of Gruyere I used cheddar. I served it with fresh salsa and sour cream.

See how easy it is to alter recipes once you have a good base?

Until later…Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Apple tart and autumn

Trail near our house - Bethabara Park

Why does it feel like autumn is over when all the leaves finally fall off the trees? We still have quite a few leaves hanging on down here, but this rain/wind storm is doing its best to remove them. This post is dedicated to some of the foliage I’ve enjoyed in my first fall in NC.

Yes, Ellie, this is the "scary trail"

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Now, for the food. I made this apple tart a few weeks ago, adapting it from a Martha Stewart recipe. I made my own applesace, even, and it was pretty tasty. I think it would be even better with home-made crust. Here’s how it goes.

Preheat oven to 375. Roll out one thawed sheet of puff pastry. Smooth on a scant 3/4 c. good applesauce, leaving room for the crust. Fold up the edges to create said crust.

Layer thinly sliced apples over the top. Pick a firm, tart apple because they hold up better.

Brush the whole thing with melted butter and then sprinkle on sugar. Bake until the pastry is puffed and the apples are caramelized, roughly 25-30 min. for me, but check it at 20.

Once finished, brush on some melted jam, apricot or fig or whatever you have. Slice into pieces and serve warm.

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Enjoy the end of your fall, friends! xoxo

Chicken with prosciutto and sage

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I have to say “Wow” to this dish. And admit that Shanlee inspired me to make it with her blog post, in which she describes how it turned her husband, a chicken-hater, into a chicken-lover. Oh, Martha Stewart. How you make foodies out of all of us! Can I play you when someone makes your version of Julie/Julia? Heck, I should write the damn blog-turned-book-turned-movie. “Martha & Me.”

Back to why this dish works: A twist on veal saltimbocca, a Roman classic. The chicken cutlet is only lightly seasoned – in fact, rather unseasoned, and just lightly fried. But that works perfectly with the rather strong, salty flavor of the prosciutto and the amazingly powerful sage leaf that magically infuses the whole chicken breast. I usually think cooked prosciutto is too gamey, but not so in this dish.

A simple white-wine and sage sauce spooned over at the last minute adds an extra tang and richness, tying the whole thing together.

Here’s what impressed me: the prosciutto actually stayed ON the chicken when I pan-fried it! When I do this method with bacon or pancetta, it seems like the pork always falls off somehow. But not here. The thin prosciutto held onto the chicken, trapping the sage leaf inside like a pressed flower.

We really loved this and I will definitely be making this again. It would be perfect for company because it doens’t take long (30 min. total), can easily be multiplied and has wide appeal (My W-S friends? Interested?).

Ingredients:

1/4 c. flour

Kosher salt and pepper

One fresh sage leaf for every chicken breast, plus 4 more, chopped (sage keeps for weeks in the fridge)

4 chicken cutlets (I bought one package – 1.25 lbs – of “thinly sliced” chicken breasts from the store, which basically had five cutlets that I didn’t have to pound out. Use whatever you can find.)

One slice of prosciutto for every chicken cutlet (I just bought one pre-sliced package)

4 tsp. EVOO

3/4 c. dry white wine (pinot griggio?)

1/3 c. chicken stock

1 T cold butter

Method:

In a shallow bowl, stir flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Set aside.

Lay one sage leaf on each cutlet and wrap the prosciutto around it, pressing to seal. Dredge each cutlet in the flour and tap off excess.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp oil over medium. Cook 2 cutlets at a time until golden brown on each side and cooked through – about 4 min. per side for me. Remove cutlets to a plate with foil and keep warm while you add more oil and cook the rest. I put the chicken in the oven on “keep warm” while I made the sauce.

Add wine and broth to skillet and cook until reduced, 2 min. Let cool 1 min. and add butter and minced sage. Stir until melted.

To serve, Martha says to spoon the sauce on the plate, then the chicken. We served ours with toast and some couscous with almonds – even mashed potatoes would work here. A simple side salad would be nice.

Please enjoy this elegant take on a simple chicken recipe. Stay hungry, friends! xoxo

Indian cashew curry

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I had avoided making Indian dishes in the past because they just never taste like the real thing. Adding a little curry powder to chicken and vegetables isn’t the same as mixing your own spices, toasting them and then simmering them with meat and herbs.

Then I found this great book in the discount section of Barnes & Noble: The Best Ever Indian Cookbook (375 recipes, all with color photographs depicting each cooking step). It’s like the Cook’s Illustrated for Indian cooking!

I recently made this delicious dish that is complex with spices, but not too peppery, and makes plenty for four adults. If you want more heat, I would add red pepper flakes. It is strongly flavored, but what else would you expect?

Chicken in Cashew Nut Sauce (adapted by Write Gal)

2 medium onions

2 T tomato paste

1/2 c. cashew nuts (unsalted, if you can find it)

1 1/2 tsp. garam masala (in the spice aisle)

1 tsp crushed fresh garlic

1 tsp chili powder

1 T fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp ground tumeric

1 tsp kosher salt

1 T plain yogurt

2 T canola oil

2 T fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 c. golden raisins

1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cubed

1 1/4 c. water

Long-grain or Basmati rice

Cut the onions into quarters and pulverize in the food processor for 1 min. Add the next nine ingredients, through yogurt, and process until smooth, like a pesto.

In a dutch oven or other heavy pan, heat the oil over medium and add the spice mixture, frying for 2 min. When it’s lightly cooked, add half of the cilantro, raisins and chicken. Stir-fry another minute. Add the water, bring to a simmer and cover. Cook over low heat for 10 min., or until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is thickened. The chicken will be tender and perfect.

Meanwhile, as your house fills with those amazing aromas, make the rice according to package instructions. I also heated some naan bread in the oven at 400 with olive oil, salt, cumin and paprika.

To serve, spoon rice, then add the curry and top with more cilantro and sliced naan.

According to the book, each portion has less than 300 calories and very little fat. Not bad for a filling, savory meal!

I will definitely be making this again, as Jesse helped himself to two huge portions (brain food). I get that craving for curry now and again – and when you live in certain regions, it’s best to make your own ethnic foods. 🙂

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Pear-almond cake with chocolate chunks

Almond Joy

At first I didn’t think I would like pear and chocolate together. It just sounded weird, somehow. But this cake is really tasty, especially when served cold. My only problem with the recipe is that the batter is thick and there isn’t much of it. I found it difficult to spread in two layers in my spring-form pan. Next time, I will put it all perhaps in one layer, with the pears on top. We’ll see. Also, you do not need a standing mixer for this.

You can find the recipe at RachaelRayMag.com. It is a basic cake batter layered with sliced pears, dark chocolate chunks and then drizzled with an almond glaze. Those almonds on top really pull it all together. I need to bake more with almonds. The pear is really moist and the chocolate adds a nice contrast. Plus, extra powdered sugar on top is always good.

The “rustic” cake is supposedly Roman in origin, so take that as you will. The result: a lovely cake for any occasion, with pears and chocolate and almonds. I’m a chocolate-pear convert!

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Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Happy Halloween!

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I always try to make roasted pumpkin seeds when we carve pumpkins. They are so easy and fun to munch on. I’ve found that one pumpkin’s worth is plenty, so don’t drive yourself crazy collecting everybody’s seeds.

Some people have special recipes for these things. I’ve seen the sweet and the savory. But I just do mine simply:

Once you’ve carved the pumpkins, separate the seeds from most of the goop. Leave some goop on, it will be yummy roasted. DO NOT WASH THE SEEDS. Spread the raw, slimy seeds on a cooking sheet and sprinkle with seasoned salt (or salt and pepper) and paprika. Roast at 400, tossing a few times, until crisped up. We like ours still a little soft in the middle.

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Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Palmiers

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When I was little, we called these elephant ears. Not the deep-fried carnival fare. The light, flaky pastry rolled in sugar and baked until golden. The recipe is so easy, I’m not sure they deserve such a snooty title as palmiers, but Ina Garten would have it no other way.

I accidentally added way too much sugar to mine, so they were more caramelized than normal. But they still tasted good, especially a couple days after I made them. Yummy with your morning coffee or tea.

Preheat oven to 450.

Mix together 1 c. sugar, pinch of salt and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Spread 1/2 c. on a flat surface and lay out a sheet of thawed puff pastry. Spread the rest of the sugar on top and roll out the dough to about a 13-inch square. Fold two sides halfway toward the center. Fold again to the center of the square. Fold again, like you are closing a book. Slice the dough in 1/2-inch pieces and lay on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake 6 minutes, flip each cookie and cook another 3-5 min. until caramelized. Repeat with second batch, as needed. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

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Serve at room temperature and enjoy! xoxo