Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Cranberry Sauce

I love cranberry sauce so much I could almost just sit and eat it all by itself.  The only time I make it though is Thanksgiving.  Maybe that's what makes it so special.  I like to prepare the sauce two days ahead of the big feast because 1) one less thing to do on Thanksgiving morning and 2) I'm convinced something magical happens with the flavors overnight.

If you're one of those people who buys the cranberry sauce in a can, stop that right now!  Once you've made the sauce with fresh cranberries, you'll never want to go back.  This is how I've made our Thanksgiving cranberry sauce for the last several years.

12oz. fresh cranberries
1c white sugar
3/4c orange juice
1/4c orange-based liqueur (I like Grand Marnier)

Note:  If you prefer to skip the liqueur, increase orange juice to 1c.

1.  In a medium size saucepan, over medium heat, combine the sugar, orange juice, and liqueur    Stir until sugar is dissolved.

2.  Add the cranberries.  Cook and stir until the cranberries begin to pop open.  (Mine took about 10 min.)  

3.  Remove from heat and allow to cool down a bit.

4.  Pour the sauce into a serving bowl and refrigerate at least overnight. (I like to make it 2 days in advance.)  Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Monday, November 24, 2014

As Thanksgiving Week Begins...

It's here!  Thanksgiving Week - the official buildup to the Super Bowl of all foodie holidays is upon us!  Are you excited or panicked?  Honestly, I'm a little bit of both at the moment.  Just yesterday, after wrestling the toddler down for nap, I finally got about 30 minutes of down time during which I was able to sketch out a rough plan for the big feast.

Have you seen all the recent posts about people doing "practice" Thanksgiving dinners?  Is this really a thing now?  Please tell me it's not because if it is, well, it's still not happening at my house.  Seriously, who has time for that?!

And all the planning guides that tell you to begin two weeks in advance?  Also not happening here.  Nope; everything will officially begin today (or tomorrow) with the big grocery shopping trip and we'll go from there.

But here's what I really want to know... Are you trying any new dishes this Thanksgiving?  I'll be keeping some things the same, like the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, but everything else from the sweet potatoes to the green beans, even the appetizers will be all new this year.

What can I say?  I'm feeling adventurous.  I'll let you know how it goes.  :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Red Beans and Quinoa

Southern-style comfort food that just happens to also be high in protein, gluten-free and vegan!  Served alongside Beer Braised Collard Greens, here, and a slice of cornbread, you've got a hearty, delicious meal:

1 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP yellow onion, chopped
1/3c green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 (15-oz.) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2c vegetable broth
1c quinoa, rinsed
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 tsp. Creole seasoning, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over Medium heat.

2.  Add the onion, green pepper, and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until vegetables have softened a bit.  Add the garlic and continue cooking another 1-2 minutes.

3.  Add the thyme, kidney beans, and vegetable broth.  Increase heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to Low, cover, and allow to simmer 10 minutes.

4.  Stir in the quinoa and season to taste.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Apple and Blue Cheese Crostini

I've been kicking around the idea of serving these for Thanksgiving and decided to do a test run last night.  What I love is the simplicity of the flavors and also the way you could put everything together in advance or just spread out the ingredients and let everyone build their own. Saves you a step and, really, people like build-your-own food - it's fun!

I've always loved apple and Blue cheese together but what was new to me was the addition of honey. This is what totally puts this appetizer over the top.  It's just that little kiss of sweetness against the the tanginess of the cheese.  So, what I'm saying is, if you skip the honey, it's still good but not as good as what the rest of us are eating.

If you want to get fancy, your can make your own bread (recipe here) or you can do like I did this time and grab a fresh baguette from the bakery.

1 - sweet red apple (I used a honey crisp), sliced thin
4 oz. medium-soft Blue cheese, room temperature
1 TBSP fresh rosemary

1.  Preheat oven to 350°

2.  Slice baguette into 1" slices and arrange on a baking sheet.  Toast in the oven 1-2 minutes.

3.  Layer each baguette slice with a "schmear" of cheese, a sprinkle of rosemary, and a light drizzle of honey.

Serve with a crisp white wine - perfect!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

Because I had three full bags of baby spinach in the fridge that I needed to use or lose, spinach was the theme of last night's dinner.  We had a delicious spinach and tortellini soup, more on that another day, and these little mushroom bites.  They were such an easy and elegant addition to the meal and, since they're made with cottage cheese, not super heavy in calories like the cream cheese-based stuffed mushrooms I usually go for.

1 TBSP olive oil
12 baby bella mushrooms
12 mushroom stems, chopped
2 TBSP yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2c baby spinach leaves
1/2c cottage cheese
1 egg
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne powder
1 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
2 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Preheat oven to 350°

2.  In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat olive oil.

3.  Add onion and mushroom stems.  Saute 1-2 minutes.

4.  Add spinach and allow it to cook down; 1-2 minutes.

5.  Add garlic and continue sautéing another minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

6.  To a food processor or blender, add the cottage cheese, egg, nutmeg, black pepper, and cayenne.  Pulse a few times to combine mixture but still retain some texture.

7.  Add spinach mixture and basil.  Pulse another 3-4 times; just enough to blend.

8.  Spoon everything into the mushroom caps.  Bake 25-30 minutes.

9.  During the last 5 minutes of baking, top each mushroom with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Tip: Make the filling ahead of time and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds

Have you carved your pumpkins yet?  If not, get to it; it's Halloween week!   If you're ahead of the game, I hope you didn't throw out the built-in snack.

This is the one and only time of year we eat pumpkin seeds so it's important to roast them with the perfect blend of sweet and salty.  Confession: I have never gotten this quite right, until now.  I'm convinced the secret ingredient is the brown sugar.

Mr. agreed these are the best yet and seriously addictive!
2c pumpkin seeds
3 TBSP vegan butter, melted
3 TBSP brown sugar
3/4 tsp. sea salt + a little extra 
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cumin

1.  Clean the seeds by swishing them around with water in a large bowl.  Set aside to dry.

2.  Once seeds are dry, preheat oven to 250°

3.  Add seeds back to the bowl and add melted butter, brown sugar, sea salt, chili powder, and cumin; toss to coat.

4.  Pour seeds evenly into a prepared 11x13 baking dish.  Bake 90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes.

5.  Remove from oven and season with additional salt, to taste.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oven~Baked Refried Bean Dip

It's snack time!  Grab a bag of chips and dig in!

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2c plain yogurt
1 (16oz.) can refried beans
3 TBSP taco seasoning
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper sauce
2 TBSP green onions, chopped + a little extra for garnish
1c Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

1.  Preheat oven to 350*

2.  In a medium size bowl, stir all ingredients together, reserving 1/2c cheese and the extra green onions.

3.  Add to prepared baking dish.  I used two smaller dishes but the recipe works just as well if you put it all in an 8x8.

4.  Top with the remaining cheese.

5.  Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vegan Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Fall is here!  Time for sweaters & boots, hot apple cider, and comfort food at it's best.  I've been making this family favorite every fall for several years now and it is always a big hit.  The recipe has evolved quite a bit from the first time I made this soup and I think it's better than ever now.

Hope you enjoy these classic flavors as much as we do!

1 pkg. Beyond Meat chicken strips
1 TBSP olive oil
salt, pepper, & garlic powder, to taste

6c vegetarian chicken broth
1 - 4oz. pkg. wild rice mix, with seasoning packet
3/4c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2c vegan butter
1/4c yellow onion, diced
1/2c carrots, diced
1/2c celery, chopped
1/2c white wine, optional
2c soy creamer

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add chicken strips and cook until heated through, seasoning with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste.  Remove to a cutting board and shred.

In a large pot over medium high heat, bring the broth to a boil.  Add rice and seasoning packet included.  Cover and remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In a medium-large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add onions, carrots, and celery, sautéing until slightly tender.  Stir in garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant.

Add white wine, if desired, and reduce heat to low.  

Gradually whisk in the flour mixture.

Pour in the creamer, a little at a time, whisking to maintain a smooth consistency.  Allow to simmer approximately 5 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.

Stir creamy mixture into the large pot with broth and rice.  Bring heat to medium and allow soup to heat through; 15-20 min.

 Served with biscuits for dipping - yum!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cinnamon Spice Applesauce (Slow Cooked and Sugar-Free)

Are you ready for the easiest applesauce you've ever made?  Break out the crock pot and let's get to it!

Let me just first say, even if you've been making applesauce with white or brown sugar forever, I promise, you absolutely will not miss it in this applesauce.  The apples have so much natural sweetness anyway.  I used Galas but don't see why any variety of apple wouldn't work here.

So, just use whatever you've got on hand and adjust spices to your personal preference.  Serve it hot; serve it cold - doesn't matter.  This recipe is super flexible!  Bonus: Your entire house will smell amazing!

Recipe can be scaled for whatever amount of apples you want to use without changing the cooking time.  I went with a small 1 lb. batch and it yielded approximately 1 1/2c.

1 lb, apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
1/3 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1.  Layer apple slices in the slow cooker.

2.  Sprinkle with spices.

3.  Set temperature on High and leave it alone for about 4 hours, checking progress periodically.

4.  Stir everything together and mash to desired consistency.  I like a chunkier applesauce so all it took was just a few times around in the pot with a spoon and it was ready.

Monday, October 6, 2014

White Wine Alfredo Sauce

My husband could probably eat fettuccine Alfredo every day of his life and I've experimented with various combinations over the years.  Most were tasty, some were so-so, but this one has emerged as the clear favorite:

4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP all-purpose flour
1c. heavy cream
1c. chicken flavored broth (Better Than Boullion makes a great veg version)
1c. Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2c. Parmesan and Romano cheese, shredded
3 TBSP Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4c. white wine 
salt and pepper, to taste

1.  In a medium-size sauce pan, melt butter over low heat.

2.  Add flour.  Cook and stir with a whisk until well blended. (2-3 min.)

3.  Add cream and broth.  Stir to blend.

4.  Add remaining ingredients and continue stirring over low heat until cheeses are melted and sauce is a smooth consistency.

*If the sauce starts to get too thick, just thin it back out with a splash of wine or broth.

5.  Toss with pasta and serve warm.

Some people swear by Chardonnay for Alfredo sauces but I used a Sauvignon Blanc for this one 
and thought it was fabulous - Cheers!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Green Chile and Pepper Jack Egg Bake

This is officially my new favorite egg dish!

I had big plans to make it last weekend but... I don't know, something happened and it just didn't work out.  You know how these things go.  Days went by and I finally remembered I had bought the cheeses specifically for this so I should probably get on with making it.

And that is how we came to have "breakfast for dinner".  In order to make the meal not so breakfast-y  though I did throw together a side of black beans (butter, onion, garlic, cilantro - easy) and that rounded out the meal nicely.

Here's the super simple and oh, so yummy recipe:

6 eggs, beaten
1/2c pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1c cottage cheese
1/4c all-purpose flour
1/4c green chiles, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350°.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, pepper Jack cheese, cottage cheese, and flour.

3.  Fold in the green chiles.

4.  Pour everything into a prepared 8x8 baking dish.

5.  Bake 1 hour, or until eggs are set.  Serve warm.

P.S.  The leftovers were great the next day.  
I spooned some into flour tortillas and devoured them for lunch!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cheesy Broccoli Twice Baked Potatoes

I love a big baked potato for dinner!   Aside from the classic-style buttered potato, BBQ vegetarian chicken had been my go-to favorite, until now.

Served these up with sides of Clean Out the Fridge Soup, here, for an easy and tasty dinner!

5 Russet potatoes
1c broccoli florets, chopped
3-4 TBSP butter
2 TBSP green onions, chopped
1 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped
1c sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 385* and bake potatoes approximately 1 hour, or until tender.  Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, sauté broccoli in 2-3 TBSP water until cooked through.  Drain and set aside.

2.  Slice length-wise across each potato and remove tops.  Scoop out insides, leaving enough potato that the skin holds its shape.

3.  In a medium mixing bowl, mash the scooped out potato with butter until it reaches your desired consistency.

4.  Stir in the green onions, parsley, Cheddar cheese, salt, and black pepper.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Spoon mixture back into the potato skins.

5.  Bake 15 minutes.  Garnish with a sprinkling of paprika and serve warm.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Late Summer Garden Minestrone

We're on the very edge of fall here and I've already been craving heartier soups and stews lately.  Farmers' markets are overflowing with okra, tomatoes, carrots.... add to that, my little backyard garden is bursting with herbs.

This soup creation is exactly what I was in the mood for on a recent cool and rainy day.  It is a minestrone in the classic sense that it's a vegetable soup with a little pasta thrown in for fun.  The ingredients are what's in-season here right now and I think could be easily adjusted to whatever you've got on hand.

2 TBSP olive oil
1/4c yellow onion, diced
3/4c okra, sliced 1/2"
1/4c celery, sliced
1/2c carrots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4c vegetable broth
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
3 large roma tomatoes, diced
3 TBSP fresh parsley
1 TBSP fresh oregano
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme
3c fresh baby spinach, rough chopped 
1/2c ditalini pasta

1.  In a large pot, heat olive oil over Medium heat.

2.  Add onion, okra, celery, and carrots.  Saute 3-5 minutes.

3.  Add garlic and continue cooking another 1 minute.

4.  Add all remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to Low.

5.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning to taste and serve warm.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Goat Cheese Quinoa with Spinach and Pine Nuts

It was one of those days when very little went according to plan and I was *this* close to letting the pizza man handle dinner...

but then I remembered the gorgeous okra and corn on the cob just bought two days ago at the farmers market.  I needed a dinner that incorporated both these purchases.

Oh, and there's that partial bag of spinach I need to use or lose... and that goat cheese I bought with no real plan for its use (I love the stuff and can't help myself sometimes) ... this meal was clearly meant to come together.

Paired with oven-roasted okra and corn on the cob with Old Bay seasoned butter, this was an easy, and delicious, dinner:

1c quinoa, cooked according to pkg. directions
1 TBSP olive oil
3 TBSP pine nuts, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2c spinach leaves, rough chopped
2 TBSP goat cheese, crumbled

1.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

2.  Add pine nuts and garlic, cooking 1 - 2 minutes, until lightly toasted.

3.  Add cooked quinoa and spinach, cooking and stirring occasionally until quinoa is heated through and spinach is wilted.

4.  Remove from heat and fold in cheese.

5.  Garnish with additional 1 TBSP pine nuts and serve warm.

Yields 2 generous portions.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Julia Child's Cream of Spinach Soup

The first female celebrity chef would have been 102 today so it's fitting to showcase this simple but decadent soup.

My husband has been fighting a cold bug for the last few days and I thought a nice, hot soup would soothe his sore throat.  Why spinach?  Honestly, I had a bag of spinach I needed to use fairly soon or lose forever.

I opened Mastering the Art of French Cooking to page 43 where I found a recipe for Potage Creme d'Epinards (Cream of Spinach Soup) described in the book as, "...a lovely soup, and perfect for an important dinner."  Sounded good to me so I decided to give it a try and the resulting soup was a definite winner!

Side note: I love the way this recipe is written..."enrichment butter," "off heat" etc. - so charming.

Here's Mrs. Child's exact recipe, in case you don't have the book:

1/3 cup minced green onions, or yellow onions
3 Tbsp butter
3-4 packed cups of fresh spinach cut into chiffonade (thin slices)
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp flour (I used 5 Tbsp total for a thicker soup, your preference)
5 1/2 cups boiling white stock or chicken broth
2 eggs yolks
1/2 cup whipping cream
1-2 Tbsp butter

1. Cook the onions slowly in the butter in a covered saucepan for 5 to 10 minutes, until tender and translucent but not browned.

2. Stir in spinach and salt, cover, and cook slowly for about 5 minutes or until the leaves are tender and wilted.

3. Sprinkle in the flour and stir over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

4. Off heat, beat in the boiling stock. Simmer for 5 minutes. *If not to be served immediately, set aside uncovered. Reheat to simmer before proceeding.

5. Blend the yolks and cream in the mixing bowl. Beat a cupful of hot soup into them by driblets. Gradually beat in the rest of the soup in a thin stream. Return soup to saucepan and stir over moderate heat for a minute or two to peach the egg yolks, but do not bring the soup to a simmer. Off heat, stir in the enrichment butter a tablespoon at a time.

I made the usual vegetarian and vegan substitutes for all but the egg yolks:

This recipe is not complicated but I still had lots of help.  My littlest chef-in-training takes her job very seriously.  :)


Serve hot with garlic bread.


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