Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Drive-by Post: Holiday Menus

Ok, so I realize that I've missed a week or two, so I think it's time that I share something helpful to get your through the holidays before you mutiny.
So, this week, I give you The Holiday Menu.  No, not the Holiday Menu From Hell, but, rather, some easy suggestions for holiday menus that will keep you from sitting in the kitchen for hours and hours while your guests drink all of your booze and wonder where you are.

Holiday Menu #1:  Buffet for a Small Casual Gathering
Cranberry-Feta Salad
Your Favorite Spiral Ham 
Assorted dinner rolls and small sandwich rolls (if you REALLY want to, you can serve these yummy-o-licious yeast rolls, but I think you should just buy some good ones to keep from pulling your hair out)
Cream of Wild Rice Soup (or another cream soup of your choice, like Creamy Potato or Corn Chowder), but here is the recipe.  DO NOT judge when you see the ingredients.  This soup has absolutely NO trait of any other type of food I make, but it is delicious and super-rich and everyone LOVES it.  Just make it and trust me on this one:  You will enjoy it!
1 pkg Uncle Ben's Original Wild Rice Pilaf Mix
1 lb bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
3-3/4 cups Half and Half (can use fat-free)
2 cans (10-3/4 oz) Cream of Potato soup
1 8-oz loaf of Velveeta (can be reduced fat), cubed
3 cups chicken stock
Cook wild rice mix according to package instructions, OMITTING the seasoning packet.  Set aside.
Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crips, remove and drain, reserving 2 T drippings.
Saute onion and mushrooms in the drippings until tender
Stir in rice, Cream of Potato soup, and Velveeta until cheese is melted.  (At this point, you can refrigerate this "base" until you are ready to serve)
To serve, return base to pot over medium heat and add Half and Half, chicken stock, seasoning packet and bacon until thoroughly heated through, but do not boil.  You might need to add a little more stock, depending on how thick or thin you want this soup.

Holiday Menu #2:  Dinner for a Crowd
Tomato and Romaine Salad:  Chop two hearts of romaine lettuce and spread on platter or shallow serving bowl.  Cut 1 cup cherry tomotoes in half and arrange over lettuce.  Chop 2 green onions (white and green) and sprinkle over tomatoes.  For dressing:  3 T red wine vinegar, 6 T olive oil, 1 t oregano, 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes and 1 - 2 cloves of minced garlic.  Drizzle over salad just before serving and toss well.
Lazy Girl Lasagna and/or Pasta e Fagioli
Loaves of crusty, yummy Pane Paisano

Holiday Menu #3:  Mediterranean Cocktail Buffet
Hummus, Pita Wedges and Crudite with Olives and Chunks of Feta Cheese
Spanakopita Triangles:  You can buy these frozen, or you can make 'em.  
Lemon Chicken Skewers:  Marinate chunks of chicken breasts in olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and lemon zest.  Skewer and grill until cooked, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Add 2 T water to the pan, keep covered and heat in oven at 350 degrees until hot.  Remove chicken from skewers and arrange on tray; squeeze fresh lemon juice over the chicken.
You can always add a bowl of Cocktail Meatballs with your favorite red sauce or pesto, served hot, for the diehard meat-eaters.
Tray of Baklava

Holiday Menu #4:  New Year's Day
Hoppin' John:  On a bed of white rice, pile some black-eyed peas and then top with shredded sharp white cheddar cheese and chopped tomatoes and green onions.
Collard Greens
Slow-roasted Pork:  I simply layer boneless country-style pork ribs and loin chops with lots of minced garlic, salt, pepper and a little bit of crushed red pepper in a baking dish, cover it and roast for 4 to 5 hours at 300 degrees, or until it falls apart.
Honey Wheat Cornbread

All of these salads hold up well to being made ahead and dressed just before serving, while pretty much everything else can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated.  The entire New Year's Day meal can be made ahead and reheated and will actually taste better on Day 2.   For dessert, I always set out a tray of assorted holiday treats and sweets, unless you have some traditional holiday dessert you just have to make.  
For beverages, keep apple cider and mulling spices on hand:  I keep a percolator of mulled cider going throughout the holidays for pop-in visitors and dinner guests alike.  If you like serving a punch, make it ahead of time and freeze the base.  My favorite is a Sparkling Cranberry Punch, which has a base of cranberry juice, pineapple juice, sugar and almond extract, which I make in a big batch and freeze in 2-cup tubs.  I then pull out a frozen base, let it mostly thaw in the fridge and pour ginger ale over it just before guests arrive.  My sweet mother even gave me her lovely pressed glass punch bowl from when she got married, and it has become part of my holiday decor, it's so very pretty and yummy!  And, of course:  It's cold out, so keep beer and white wine, as well as mixers, on the back porch, chilled and ready to serve!  
Okay, now I am starting to sound like a total '50's housewife, so I am going to stop here.  I wish you all the best during this holiday season and hope that each meal is relaxing and fun as you visit with friends and family, because that is, afterall, what the holidays are all about.  I am looking forward to Menu #5:  Our holiday brunch on Sunday with old friends from medical school.  I'll share that menu with you when I finish figuring it out!  
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Yummy-o-licious Yeast Rolls (Or, My Thighs' Lament)

Ok, I've mentioned these on my FB status twice and promised the recipe, but I am going to apologize to your thighs in advance:  These yeast rolls are insanely delicious and easy to make.  I think I've eaten a half-pan by myself and I have absolutely no remorse.  Or shame.  I am going to grab another right now to enjoy with my morning tea!  (It was delicious with blackberry jam!)
So, Maggie and I have decided to learn about working with yeast doughs.  We make plenty of quick breads and cakes and such, but other than pizza dough, we are not big yeast users.  I purchased (at Nice Price Books in Durham.  LOVE that place!) The Book of Bread last week, a complete guide to creating yummy varieties of breads with rich histories included.  However, with the holidays upon us, and my sister-in-law's insistence that Migliareses, who don't actually need the carbs or the feast for that matter, simply MUST have a piece of bread with their already-carb-loaded meal.
So for Thanksgiving, I made these yeast rolls.  I found the recipe at Divas Can Cook a fun home-style food blog, and adapted the recipe to my tastes.  What I like most about Diva is that she includes a technique video that is very helpful. My rolls were perfect, so even though I didn't follow her recipe exactly, I did use her technique and these are deeeelish.
Yeast Rolls of Insanity
1/4 cups white flour, divided
1 cup whole wheat flour, divided
1 packet of dry active yeast (use RapidRise if you're in a hurry)
1 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup of butter flavored shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt

melted butter as needed
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine shortening, sugar and milk.  Heat slowly to melt shortening, but do not boil.  
In the bowl of your KitchenAid mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, stir together yeast packet, 1 cup of white flour and 1/4 cup wheat flour.
Pour the shortening and milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix well.  Add your egg and incorporate completely.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and turn your mixer up to med-high speed and whip for 3 minutes.
Remove the whisk attachment and add the rest or your flour (1-1/4 cup white flour and 3/4 cup wheat flour) and salt.  Fold it into the yeast mixture until fully incorporated, using your hands if the dough becomes too stiff to work with a spatula.
Grease a bowl with vegetable oil and turn your dough into the bowl.  Cover and chill for at least an hour, though for Thanksgiving I chilled it overnight.
When you're ready to shape your rolls, rub some melted butter in the bottom of your 9 x 13 baking pan.  
Punch down the dough and cut into small pieces to shape into rolls, greasing your hands with butter to cover the rolls.  
Place the rolls into the baking dish and drizzle with whatever melted butter you have left.  Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and set the pan somewhere warm to let the rolls rise.  (They can hang out for quite some time, but DO allow yourself at least an hour for the rise.)
When you're ready to bake 'em, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Remove towel and bake the rolls for 10 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.  
Try not to devour these on your way to the table.

I am making a batch right now, so pictures are coming soon!

Holiday Treats!

My favorite part of the holidays:  Baking treats for teachers, friends and family.  Every year, some other parents and I host a cookie swap for our grade-level teachers.  We bring in a ton of yummy homemade goodness, tins or tubs for the teachers to take the treats home, and mulled cider for our teachers a day or two before winter break and spoil them a little for all the hard work they do for our children.  This is a fun and yummy way to say thanks to our teachers.  I am already looking forward to the cookie swap and thinking about what I'll make this year.
I shared some recipes last year, but in the holiday rush, didn't have time to post pictures.  So, while I am mulling over what to make, here are some pics of some of my favorite holiday treats:
 Pizzelles, Homemade Marshmallows and the cutest ever Chocolate-Drizzled Homemade Marshmallow Pops!

 My favorite Hershey's Hugs Pretzels and deeeee-licious Hazelnut Cocoa Coins, which are chocolatey AND buttery.  What could be better!?!?

 These were so pretty, I had to take a lot of pictures.  Maggie and I made so many marshmallows last year and we are looking forward to trying some new flavors.  Last year, we made vanilla and peppermint flavors, but this year, I want to try toasted coconut marshmallows.  

 And there is no holiday without pizzelles and biscotti, which are beautiful cookies to me at every stage of  production.  Perhaps it's the nostalgia:  I loved watching my mother and grandmother making these, and love that my daughters and I make them together now.  Even in their doughy forms, these cookies make me smile!
I am REALLY hoping to make my holiday baking menu soon so that I can get the recipes in for you as soon as possible.  I am also hoping that if all I have to do is add pictures, it might actually come together a little more effectively this year.   I wonder if it's time to put out a call for favorite cookies recipes from friends and family for some inspiration!?!?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pasta! REAL homemade pasta!!!

Today is my first full day home since Thanksgiving, and I have a lot of housework to catch up on, as well as errands to run and general stuff to do around the house and yard.  So, instead of doing any of that, I decided to take advantage of my mother's generous spirit and make homemade pasta using the pasta roller and chitarra I borrowed from her while I was home for Thanksgiving.
Of course, I totally spaced on asking my mother for her pasta recipe, so I found one online and decided to try a half-batch of it to start:
Fresh Semolina and Egg Pasta
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour
pinch of salt
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup water
To start, sift together the semolina flour, white flour and salt onto a clean surface in your kitchen.  Make a mountain out of the flour mixture, then make a deep well in the center.  
Break the eggs into the well and add the olive oil.  
Whisk eggs gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well.  When the mixture becomes too thick to work with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.  (I had to drizzle a little bit of water in at this point, because things were not looking so hot.)
 Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple.  (It will still be VERY firm.)  
 Dust dough as needed with either flour to keep it from becoming too sticky. 
Shape dough into a ball and wrap in plastic.  Allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
After the rest period, roll out dough with a pasta machine or a rolling pin to desired thickness.  
This will require a few trips through your pasta roller, making the dough thinner with each pass.
Now here is where I got sooooo very lucky!  My mother loaned me her pasta chitarra, which is a beautiful instrument for making pasta like spaghetti and linguini.  You simply lay the rolled pasta dough on the top of the strings and use a rolling pin to press it through the wire strings.  

We had to do a little coaxing to get the pasta to release, but we ended up with this lovely pile of pasta in the chitarra!
If your mouth isn't watering, it should be!  Isn't this beautiful?!?!?
Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add several teaspoons salt.  Cook pasta until tender but not mushy, 2 to 8 minutes in boiling water, depending on how thick your pasta is.
Drain immediately and serve with your favorite sauce. DO NOT USE A JAR OF SAUCE or I will be forced to hunt you down and punish you.  

I tossed it with some garlic- and herb- infused olive oil (that I made during the rest period) and freshly-grated Parmagiano Reggiano:

I chose to use the chitarra, but you can cut this into your favorite shape or fill it and make some ravioli, which is our next project!  Whatever you do, let me assure you:  Keep EVERYTHING dusted with flour from the rolling to the cutting and setting aside, or you'll have a big stuck-together mess instead of lovely pasta.
And it is lovely.  YUM.

    S'mores Cupcakes

    For some reason, I've been obsessed with the graham cracker-chocolate-marshmallow combo of s'mores pretty much all summer.  Since we can no longer stand outside in front of our fireplace or the grill and roast marshmallows, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and come up with another way to enjoy this delightful combination throughout the winter, as well as make it a bit less messy.  Et voila:  My friend who makes yummy yummy cupcakes posted a s'mores cupcake on her blog.  Well, she posted a PICTURE of her s'mores cupcake on her blog.  NO RECIPE.  So, I figured this one out on my own, with the help of another friend who makes yummy yummy cakes and cupcakes who was happy to share a baking secret or two.
    So, to figure this recipe out, I laid out the required components of the s'more:  marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers.
    So, starting from the bottom of a cupcake liner, I mixed up about 1-1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, old-school.  (That means I put some graham crackers in a baggie and used a rolling pin to crush 'em.)  I added 2 tablespoons of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar and mixed it all up.  And I tried really, really hard not to sample it, but that didn't work.  Set this aside for later.
    The next step was a little trickier:  Not only do s'mores need chocolate, they need dark, deep, rich chocolate, so the cake had to be super-duper chocolatey.  I asked around about very chocolatey cakes and my sweet friend, Nikki, was happy to share one of her secrets:  To get a very chocolatey cake that is rich, use a Devil's Food box mix (or something chocolatey-er, like what I used:  Chocolate Fudge) that uses oil instead of butter with the mix.  Substitute buttermilk for the water and use 4 eggs.  Otherwise, prepare cake batter according to directions.
    Finally, I decided that this wasn't even chocolatey enough, so I also added a bag of mini chocolate morsels to the batter.  
    Now, time to put it together:
    I used the foil baking cups in my cupcake pans.  Put about a tablespoon of your butter and graham cracker mixture in the bottom of each cupcake liner and press it down.  
    Being careful to get some chocolate chips in each scoop, spoon cake batter on top of crust, filling the liner about 3/4 full.
    Bake per the cake mix directions.
    While the cupcakes were baking, I made some marshmallow buttercream frosting:
    1 cup of butter, softened
    1 7-oz jar of marshmallow cream
    1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
    2 cups of powdered sugar (or to taste, I was travelling with these, so I wanted the frosting more stiff)
    In a bowl, whip the softened butter on high speed until light and fluffy.  Add in the marshmallow cream and whip it until completely incorporated.  (I used the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid.)  Reduce the speed to low and beat in the confectioner's sugar and vanilla.  Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy.
    When the cupcakes were cooled completely, I piped (using a large round tip) the icing on top in a swirl, then sprinkled a little bit of plain graham cracker crumbs on top.  
    These were DELICIOUS.  And I totally forgot to take some pictures before travelling to Virginia with them, so the only pictures I have look like a cupcake post-apocolypse.  But really, these are divine, so try them.

    P. S. I wanted to make these as mini-cupcakes, but ran out of mini liners, so I just made the regular cupcakes.  I plan to try these as minis and promise to report back.  However, if YOU try these as minis, let me know how they turn out.  Thanks!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Many Dishes, One Oven

    It just occurred to me that I've always done all of my cooking, baking, roasting, steaming, sauteing, braising, rolling, cutting, and searing in a ridiculously inadequate space.  And worse, I've almost always done it with ONE OVEN.  Now, some of you may say, "Why would you need more than one oven?' and the only response I have for you is, "Go pick up your Thanksgiving meal at Whole Foods."  But, really, I think the biggest challenge everyone faces with holiday meals and worse, holiday entertaining, is the dilemma of one oven and many dishes.  So, I figured I'd help you put it all in perspective using my dinner last night as an example:
    On Monday night, I received a chat message on Facebook from my dear friend, Nancy.  Nancy lives most recently in Nairobi and formerly in Abuja.  Now, one would think that when you live that far from family and where you grew up, you might plan ahead a bit more when you are flying thousands of miles to visit your former home.  This is not the case with Nancy and her husband, Kirk.  Due to a complicated web of extended family, vacations and work-related stuff, they often only give us a day or two notice when they are in town.  And, I must admit:  I am so happy to see them, and thankful that they are choosing to spend their limited family time with us, I don't really care that I often have to juggle and pull some switcharoos to see them.  It is totally worth it.  So, on Monday night, when Nancy sent me a chat message saying, "We're at my in-laws, what are you all doing Wednesday?"  I replied, "Hanging out with you!"  Our friendship with them goes back to our pre-children days when we were big movie buddies with them, so when Nancy said, "Want to go see Megamind?" I immediately started thinking in terms of a quick family dinner so they could see the kids, and then how to arrange a sitter so we could get to a 7 pm movie.  So... what to serve for dinner so that I am not wasting our precious dinner conversation slaving over a hot stove or grill, and, also, something light enough that we will still have room for popcorn?  Et, voila!  Seasoned Roast Pork Loin with Herbed Roasted Root Vegetables and my favorite Cranberry-Feta Salad.  Oh, and because Nancy is a known brownie junkie: A pan of walnut brownies.  
    Now, if you know anything about cooking, you can look at that menu and realize that other than the salad, every single part of my meal is going to do some time in the oven.  And, if you know anything at all about my crazy week, you know that very little cooking gets done on Dance Night, which is Tuesday.  So, it leaves me Wednesday afternoon to cook everything before 5:30, and after 2, which is when I return home from volunteering at the book fair at our school.  So... how to do it?  It's easy:  Just organize your cooking times and resting times.  First of all, I love brownies, but you can't serve them hot from the oven unless you just want to crumble them over ice cream, which I've also done, but there was a chance that the brownies might become contraband at the movie theater, so that would not do.  Also, the roast was BIG, so it needed a good hour or more to roast, then certainly some time to rest to retain its juiciness.  Finally, the roasted vegetables are best served hot from the oven.  With that in mind, here's how it went down:  
    Tuesday night, before bed, I rubbed the roast down with a seasoning of choice.  (Right now, that choice is Emeril's Seasoning mixed with a little bit of my friend's family's secret seasoning, Keith's Salt). Once it was good and rubbed, I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.  
    2:30 pm Wednesday:  I came home and immediately turned the oven to 325 and whipped up a pan of Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownies.  (BEST BOX MIX EVER.)  
    While they were baking, I pulled the wrapped pork out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temp.  
    I then washed, spun and chopped my lettuce for the salad, put it in a bowl and topped it with the craisins, walnut and feta, covered it and put it in the fridge.    
    3:15 pm:  I removed the brownies from the oven.
    3:25 pm:  I turned the oven up to 400 and drizzled a roasting pan with some olive oil.  I placed the pork loin fat-side up on the pan and put it in the oven for 15 minutes.  Then I turned the oven down to 300 and roasted the pork until it reached an internal temp of 160 (yes, this is low, but you'll see....)
    While the pork roasted, I peeled and cubed (about 1.25-inch dice) some parsnips, carrots, small yellow potatoes, a red onion, and cut the bottoms off of some brussel sprouts and threw them all into a big roasting pan.  
    3:40 pm:  When the roast came to temperature, I tossed the root vegetables in olive oil, salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence.  I then removed the roast from the oven and covered it in foil.  I cranked up the temperature to 375 and placed the vegetables in to roast.  
    So, by this time, it was 4:30... an hour or so before my guests were to arrive.  I set the table, hid the remaining junk in closets, drawers and under the sofa and chilled some beers.  
    At 5:25, the vegetables were ready, so I pulled them out of the oven and turned it off.  I then returned the roast to the oven to keep it warm and covered the vegetables to keep them from drying out.  (At this point, the sitting roast in its heavy (and hot) roasting pan had continued cooking and its internal temperature had reached the perfect 170.)
    Our guests arrive at 5:45.  
    And I served a beautiful sliced roasted pork loin that was deliciously hot and juicy, surrounded by lovely slightly and randomly browned roasted root vegetables on a platter.  With a gorgeous salad to the side.  And everything was the perfect temperature and, if I say so myself, deeeeelish!
    So... how to convert this to a holiday meal?  
    First, focus on your longest-roasting item and build the oven schedule backward and forward from that.  Turkey needs 5 hours to roast?  Put that bird in the oven at least 7 hours before your guests are scheduled to arrive, which leaves you time for the bird to rest because all cooked meats must rest before being sliced, as it helps them retain their juiciness when sliced.  
    Anything in your menu that needs to be baked, but can be served room temperature or slightly warmed?  Make sure you bake that BEFORE the bird goes into the oven, so figure that time in before the bird's start time.  
    Hot casseroles?  Go right into the oven when the bird (or other big roast) comes out.  
    And, most importantly:  EVERYTHING should be cut, chopped, sauteed, seasoned, and at least mostly assembled a day ahead of time.  The only stuff that should be prepared the day of are the dishes that absolutely cannot be prepared ahead of time, like sauces or salads.  And if you have limited fridge space:  Chop and prep everything into ziplock baggies and lay 'em out flat to store, just make sure you cool anything that has been sauteed first so you don't melt your baggies.  When you're ready to assemble your dish, just pull out the bags you need and mix it up, pour it into your baking or serving dish and you're ready to go into the oven or onto the table.  (Treat these baggies as checked luggage during the holidays:  Identify the contents AND their destination, lest they end up in Denmark.)
    I don't know if this will help you with your holiday meals, but this is how I do it, and, for the most part, it's always worked well and my guests are normally pretty happy with the results.  As am I.
    So, as we come into the holiday season, I wish you all the happiest of times with your families and friends, and a table full of great food to enjoy with them.  

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Lazy Girl Lasagna

    Time for my favorite "you're sick/you had a baby/I'm cleanin' out the fridge/I need a crowd-pleaser" meal:  Lazy Girl Lasagna.  This is my favorite lazy meal that packs a punch.  I will never understand why, but whenever you make a big Italian dish, people think you've been slaving in the kitchen all day.  And the strange thing about that is that if you know anything about Italian cooking, it's that it's all about keeping it simple.  So, first things first:  This is simple.  Second:  You have to swallow your pride and use a jar of your favorite pasta sauce, unless you make sauce by the bucketful and keep some frozen sauce on hand.  Third:  Do not think that you must use this or that pasta.  Use whatever's in your pantry and this will still be delish.  HONEST.  Finally, why do I call this Lazy Girl Lasagna?  Because after years of wrestling half-cooked and over-cooked lasagna noodles into a layer and trying to keep it tidy, I realized that that was far too structured for me.  Also, I hate that no matter how you do it, you never REALLY slice all the way through that bottom layer of lasagna noodle in the pan, so when you go to pull your serving out, you bring the entire bottom layer along with you.  This version is much more scoopable and therefore, family-friendly.  With that, I give you
    1 lb pasta of your choice (ziti, penne, gemelli, shells, just not spaghetti)*
    1 jar of your favorite sauce
    1 16-oz tub of Ricotta cheese (any amount of fat will do)
    1 egg
    2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
    1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
    1/2 cup chopped Italian flatleaf parsley
    a dash each:  salt, pepper and nutmeg (YES.  Trust me on this one.)
    Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add pasta and cook to al dente.
    While pasta is cooking, mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese, the chopped parsley, and the seasonings.  Mix 'em well and taste to adjust seasonings.  Then mix in the egg.
    When pasta is cooked, drain it well and toss it with about half of the jar of sauce.  
    Drizzle a little bit of sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish.  Pour half of the pasta into the bottom of the casserole, then add a little more sauce.  Cover with the cheese mixture and sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining mozzarella over it.  Drizzle a little more sauce over that, then dump the rest of the pasta on top.  Drizzle more sauce to cover, then finish up with the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Sprinkle a little bit of your chopped parsley if you have some left.
    Bake uncovered at 375 F for 30 to 45 minutes or until bubbling and lightly browned on top.
    Allow to rest for about ten minutes before serving, then devour.
    Some notes:
    Do NOT overdo it on the nutmeg. When I say a DASH, I mean a dash.  When you adjust the seasonings, only adjust the salt and pepper.
    If you want to add meat:  Saute 1/2 lb ground beef or turkey (great way to use up leftover meat) with some onion, garlic, salt pepper and Italian seasoning.  Put this over the first layer of pasta.
    If you want to add veggies, there are various methods:  I have just layered fresh spinach under and over the layer of cheese and baked it right in there.  I also like to saute spinach in the method desribed above for ground beef, then add that over your first layer of pasta.  A final and very yummy way to add veg:  Finely chop onion, mushrooms, red or yellow bell peppers and squash and saute with a bit of garlic and seasonings.  Add this under and over the layer of cheese mixture.  This is a great way to use up some veg, and also sneak it in where the kids won't see.
    So, for those of you who already know that lasagna and pasta dishes are easy, this is no great post.  But for others, this is the ho-hum reveal.  I think the biggest secret to making a yummy pan of lasagna is to pour your love into it and know you're bringing someone a big dish of comfort food, likely when they need it the most.
    Don't forget to serve it with some extra sauce for those who like their pasta extra-saucy!
    *A final note:  Last week, I planned to make a pan of my lazy girl lasagna and forgot to check the pantry.  I had a 1/2 lb of penne, 1/4 lb of gemelli, and a 1/4 pound of some weird frilly pasta I can't remember the name of.  I checked cooking times, staggered them appropriately so as to cook them all in one pot, and used the melange of pasta for the dish.  It was deeeelish, very pretty and a lot of fun.  Wish I'd thought to take a picture of it!  

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    The heck with cowbell... MORE PUMPKIN!

    So, on FB yesterday, my friend pops up on chat and says, "Have you seen this?"  THIS, as it turns out, is a recipe that had me drooling while reading it.   As you know, I love everything pumpkin, from the minute the first chill of Fall is in the air until the first daffodils of Spring bloom.  I can't get enough of it, and this recipe is now in my sights as a MUST TRY AND EXPERIMENT WITH... Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan:

    Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything  Good
    1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
    1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
    2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
    4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
    About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
    1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
    About 1/3 cup heavy cream
    Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

    Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment.  
    Using a very sturdy knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (. It's easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot. Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper — you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure — and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled — you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little — you don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it's hard to go wrong here.)
    Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.
    When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully — it's heavy, hot, and wobbly — bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.
    You have choices: you can cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; you can spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or you can dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up. I'm a fan of the pull-and-mix option. Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it's just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.
    OMGOMGOMG... can you even wait for Thanksgiving to try this!?!?!?  I CAN'T!

    Who needs a soup pot when you have a big old pumpkin!?!?!

    So, today is my pumpkin-inspired blogpost day.  My friend shared a recipe for a stuffed pumpkin, which reminded me of one of my favorite vegetarian WOW dishes from back in my veggie days:  The Pumpkin Tureen from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest.  I loved to serve this in a big, beautiful cooking pumpkin and bring it to the table on a round platter, because something about a slightly browned, glistening pumpkin full of a lovely chowder is just jaw-dropping and drool-inducing in and of itself, before you even taste the yumminess within.  With that, I give you:
    The Pumpkin Tureen
    1 sincere 3-4 lb pumpkin
    1 Tbs butter, softened
    1/2 cup finely minced onion
    1 tsp prepared horseradish (or to taste)
    1 tsp prepared mustard (or to taste)
    1 13-oz can of lowfat evaporated milk
    2 slices rye bread with caraway seeds, cubed
    a few dashes of each:  salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg
    1/2 cup (packed) Swiss cheese (the sharper the better)
    Preheat oven to 35o F.  Prepare the pumpkin as you would a Jack O'Lantern by cutting a circular opening in the top and scooping out the seeds and stringy stuff.  Rub the interior of the pumpkin with 1 Tbs softened butter.  Add all of the remaining ingredients into the pumpkin and replace the top.  Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet (either greased or lined with parchment to make it easy to remove) and bake until the pumpkin becomes tender, about 2 hours.  To test for tenderness, remove the "lid" of the pumpkin and gently poke the sides of the pumpkin from within with a fork.  You should feel scant resistance on the pumpkin's part.  
    To serve:  Carefully and gently, place the pumpkin tureen on a round serving platter and plop it right down in the middle of your table as your guests oooh and aaaah.  When serving, scoop deeply to include bits of pumpkin flesh along with the creamy, yummy soup.  Enjoy!
    What kills me about this recipe is how insanely simple the ingredients are and how easy it is to throw together.  Maximum WOW for very little effort, if you ask me!  (My favorite kind of recipe!)  Now I am off to the grocery to find a nice cooking pumpkin.  Or two.  I've got some recipes to try... or to revisit!

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    And what good is chili without cornbread!?!?!?

    This is my favorite cornbread recipe, so I thought I'd share.  I don't know that any cornbread recipe is much different from any other, but I get compliments on mine and it does seem to be quite a bit moister than others.  And it's definitely better than Jiffy mix!

    1 cup good quality yellow cornmeal 
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    1/2 cup white flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup (plus a bit extra) buttermilk
    1 egg

    3 T unsalted butter, melted
    4 T honey 
    Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease your favorite cornbread pan or muffin tin.
    Combine dry ingredients in bowl of mixer.
    Combine the honey and butter and stir together.  
    Beat the egg into the buttermilk.
    Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.
    Spread batter into prepared pan.
    Bake for 22 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.  Keep an eye on it though; you don't want to bake it!  For muffins, bake for 14-18 minutes or until golden.  (I never really know the range with my oven, sorry!)
    Spread a little bit of butter across the top of the hot cornbread.  Devour immediately, or pace yourself and enjoy your cornbread warm or cold.
    Tonight, I am making muffins so the girls can enjoy them with some jam for breakfast, but this cornbread, once cooled, slices beautifully so it's not too messy to serve to a crowd.  Store in an airtight container and you can enjoy this cornbread for several days, if it lasts that long.

    Fall is Finally Here!

    Ok, another drive-by:
    Today's cool weather (coupled with my desire to use up stuff in the pantry and freezer) has inspired a Beef and Bean Chili.
    I've posted about chili before, and I will say it again:  There is no such thing as a chili recipe, only chili suggestions.  So, here is today's 

    1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
    1 green bell pepper, diced
    1 small hot red pepper, and now I can't remember what kind it was, minced
    3 cloves of garlic, minced
    Combine above ingredients in dutch oven and saute until soft-ish.
    Add 1 lb ground beef (7% fat is what I used) and saute until browned.
    Add the following HOMEMADE CHILI POWDER that I made from scratch:
    1 tsp paprika
    2 tsp garlic powder
    1 tsp oregano
    2 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp ground cayenne
    Stir together and add to the chili, allowing it to cook in for a few minutes to release the flavors of the seasonings.
    Add 1 20-oz can crushed tomatoes, and three cans of your favorite beans (rinse 'em first!); Today I used a can of light red kidneys, a can of black beans and a can of cannelinis.  Stir to combine.
    Chop three Chipotle Peppers in Mole sauce and add it to your chili.
    Bring it to a boil while stirring, reduce heat and allow to simmer for as long as you can stand it.
    Serve with some chopped cilantro, sour cream, shredded Mexican cheeses and cornbread, or with Tortilla chips or whatever else you like with your chili.  This is just a suggestion afterall!

    P. S.  I did take some pics of this chili, but I have to go pick the girls up for dance, so I'll post 'em later!

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Drive-by Blog Post

    Okay, so maybe I've been a slacker of late.  I have decided to start posting recipes in five minutes or less, recipes that either I know by heart, or have so few ingredients that I can crank out a blog post in, yep, you guessed it, five minutes or less.
    So the inspiration for this post:  I read an article this summer that stated if you have four things you do well, you can convince anyone you are SuperMom or something like that.  Well, so far, I can only think of one thing I do well, and that is find ways to avoid doing housework and, apparently, blog posts.  I'll let you know if I ever figure out the other three!   Oh, wait, I just thought of another:  I have an arsenal of super-quick, super-delicious salads that can go with just about any main course and are perfect for pot-lucks, impromptu meals with friends, or just those "oh, I should have made a salad" moments in life.
    Today's yummy, easy, you-should-always-have-this-stuff-on-hand recipe:

    Cranberry Feta Salad
    1 cup Dried Cranberries
    3/4 cup LIGHTLY toasted walnuts, chopped
    3/4 Crumbled Feta Cheese
    1 head  Romaine Lettuce, chopped
    Your favorite Poppyseed Dressing (I prefer Brianna's)
    Put your clean, dry, chopped Romaine lettuce into a pretty salad bowl.  (Glass is best, because this one is pretty to serve.)  Sprinkle the feta cheese over the top.  Sprinkle the walnuts over that.  Sprinkle the cranberries over all of it.  Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve.  To serve:  Use about a half-bottle of dressing to begin (though you might want to add more to taste), and toss the salad to disperse the dressing and toppings throughout the greens.  Very delish!

    This salad is soooo incredibly nommy, that I feel guilty taking all the credit, so I am going to give a shout-out to one of my awesome peeps:  The stylish, beautiful, and great cook, Aimee Carroll.  She brought this salad to one of our SeaFair parties in Seattle and I've been using this recipe ever since. (For those of you keeping count, that's going on about 12 years now!)  I've served this salad with ham, pork, chicken, fish and beef and it ALWAYS gets gobbled up and everyone asks for the recipe.  It travels well and you can always bring extra fixin's to make more on the spot if you need to.
    I don't know what else to say.  I LOVE THIS SALAD!  Go try it RIGHT NOW!

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    Mandarin Salad for Jimmy and Mary

    Okay, so I know it's been a while since I posted, but it's been a heckuva year.   A REAL heckuva year.  But, I've still been cooking and sharing food with family and friends, so have no fear:  Recipes are here.
    As a little welcome back, I thought I'd post a much-requested recipe for Mandarin Salad, an easy, yummy, always-have-this-stuff-on-hand salad that is great with fish or chicken, or if you are having any kind of Pan-Asian menu on your buffet.  I, for one, love to keep it simple:  I served this last week with some Grilled Steelhead that rubbed with some sesame oil and soy sauce and a little black pepper.  I grilled the fish skin-side down and, along with this salad, it was a yummy, delicious meal to share with my brothers, their families and my mother and her husband.  

    Mandarin Salad
    1/2 cup sliced almonds
    3 T sugar
    1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
    1 cup chopped celery
    2 whole green onions, chopped
    1- 11-oz can of mandarin oranges, drained
    1/2 tsp salt
    dash pepper
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1 T chopped parsley
    2 T sugar (I have also used Splenda and it worked well)
    2 T white wine vinegar (I often use apple cider vinegar)
    dash Tabasco

    On medium heat, cook almonds and sugar, stirring constantly until almonds are coated and sugar dissolved.  Stir until they are evenly browned, though be careful NOT to overcook.  Watch 'em closely, they will burn once the sugar starts to caramelize.  Cool almonds and store in airtight container.
    Mix all dressing ingredients and store in airtight container.
    Mix lettuce, celery and green onions.  Just before serving add almonds and oranges.  Toss with dressing.
    Note:  Almonds and dressing can be done ahead of time, so this makes a great salad for taking with you to pot-lucks and such.

    I love, love, LOVE this salad and pretty much everyone who tries is loves it too:  After I served it last week for my family, my brother in Richmond AND his daughter at UVa both called and texted me to get the recipe.  Jimmy and Mary, I hope your friends enjoy this salad with you!  xoxoxox

    Oh, and for those of you who've wondered where the recipes are:  There will be more.  I've been working on several posts and will get them on here ASAP, I promise.  A new school year, some new recipes!