November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner

I kind of put blogging on the back burner this Thanksgiving and, as a result, I don't have many photos to show you.  I do, however, have a bunch of links to some great recipes, and maybe a couple of scars from food shopping the day before Thanksgiving and clothing shopping on Black Friday.

This Thanksgiving I made almost everything, except for the turkey and a side dish or two.  While for some people that might be a stressful or nightmare-ish task, I actually enjoyed it.  Here's a rundown of what I made, if you're interested:

Arugula Salad with Dried Figs, Walnuts, and Cherry Balsamic Vinaigrette

Skillet Cornbread with Honey Butter:
My dad liked this cornbread a lot, and it was good in the stuffing but, I think a 1:1 ratio of cornmeal to flour may have been more my taste because I found it a little dense.  I also used butter instead of shortening and I think 1 tablespoon to grease the skillet (as opposed to the 2 called for) is more than sufficient.

Cornbread Stuffing:
Made with half the Skillet Cornbread and half a whole wheat baguette.  Stuffing is always good. 

Sauteed Mushrooms with Sun-dried Tomato and Onion:
Ok, ok, I think I really like mushrooms now.  Sauteed with chopped oil packed sun-dried tomatoes and lightly caramelized onion, these make me forget I used to be a mushroom hater.  I'm working on having a more detailed recipe up soon but I keep forgetting to take pictures...
Vegan Gravy:
I liked this gravy WAY more than the one my parents bought from a local market.  It's definitely got a strong, bold flavor but I really enjoyed that.  I've been eating it on crostini spread with goat cheese (yes, this totally defeats the purpose of it being vegan), using it as a sauce for mushrooms, and having a few licks off the spoon.  I bet it'd also be good on mashed potatoes, but I forgot to pick those up at the supermarket.

Cranberry Sauce with Dried Fruit:
A standard cranberry sauce made with less sugar with about ~1/3 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, blueberries) mixed in near the end for a nice textural element.

Apple Compote

Sauteed Green Beans with Leeks

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette:
Yum, yum, yum.  This tart was wonderful, but definitely on the heavy side so take note of that when cutting your piece.  We all agreed that we could feel ourselves getting more and more full with each delicious bite.  Edited to add: I used Gruyere cheese in lieu of Fontina for the filling and I wouldn't change a thing.

I did have A LOT of problems with the crust, but it's probably because I'm not a seasoned tart-crust-maker.  I also subbed in Greek yogurt for sour cream, but I don't think that was the problem.  Basically, it started out too soft even after an hour in the fridge.  Then, I stuck in the freezer and proceeded to forget about it.  When I finally remembered it was in there, it was hard as a rock and I didn't have time to wait for it to defrost, so I threw it in the microwave for a bit, and then back in the freezer to have it set up again.  Then, FINALLY, it was time to roll it out.  Luckily, that part was easy and it ended up tasting great.

Libby's Pumpkin Pie:
The classic.  My younger sister mentioned she'd never had pumpkin pie and was interested in trying it (at 2:30pm on Thanksgiving day, mind you), so my mom and I quickly whipped this up and it was a hit.  I'm not the biggest pumpkin pie fan but if I am going to eat it, I prefer it served cold, perhaps with a gingersnap crust.

Gingerbread Pear Upside-Down Cake:
I love the texture of this cake and the rich molasses flavor.  I added about 1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger to the batter and subbed in bosc pears for apples (originally it was a Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake).  Although the recipe suggests serving it whipped cream, which I did on Thanksgiving, I actually prefer it without, so I can get the full intensity of the gingerbread flavor.

November 22, 2010

Apple Compote

When I saw fresh local apples for 99 cents a pound, I had to buy some.  I decided to make apple compote because not only does it remind me of apple pie filling, but it also reminds me of baked apples.  And no, not the baked apples you core, stuff, and bake in the oven (those are good too though), but the ones from Stouffer's or Boston Market that are served warm, blanketed in a rich cinnamon flecked sauce.  Does anyone else have fond memories of those, or is that just me? Anyone?  I also used to love Stouffer's Swedish Meatballs, but I suppose that's a discussion for another time.

Prior bad eating habits aside, this compote is truly addicting.  I finished a jar within two days! Luckily, it's much better for you than the Stouffer's or Boston Market variety.  Oh, and if you're thinking "what could I possibly do with two or three jars of apple compote?"  Well, I'll tell you:
  • You could make a sandwich with toasted cinnamon raisin bread, almond butter, and apple compote (I haven't done this or anything...).  
  • You could use it as a topping for oatmeal, Greek yogurt, or ice cream.
  • You could use it as a condiment for roast pork.
  • You could also eat it out of the jar, that's allowed.
As you can see, there is really no shortage of ways to put this apple compote to use.  I even stuck some in the freezer because I imagine it'll be pretty tasty on Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, and... roasted brussel sprouts.  Maybe that last one's a little bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.

Apple Compote
Adapted from Martha Stewart

3 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
~ 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2- 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pat good quality salted butter (optional, but suggested)

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cover, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely. Apple compote can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week.

November 17, 2010

Lavender Honey Spice Cake

This is my kind of cake, but sadly, I can't take any credit for the unique mix of flavors that make it a stand out.  I found the recipe on Serious Eats and kept it pretty much as is because making major changes just didn't seem right.  So, instead of inserting my adaptations into the recipe, I noted my minor tweaks on the side, because I think you deserve to have the recipe in it's original form.

The flavors are complex, but subtle, and the cake pairs oh so perfectly with a mug of hot tea.   

The first word that came to my mind after just one bite was "delightful."  And it really, really is.  I was so happy with how it turned out that I even brought some to a few of my friends and their families.  Some of them commented on the moistness, others on the notes of fennel and cinnamon.  Everyone asked what was in it and everyone was impressed.  This is a recipe for the archives if there ever was one.

Lavender Honey Spice Cake
From Gina DePalma on Serious Eats

1 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour [I used 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon]
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour [I used 1 cup]
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon ground ginger 
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed 
1/2 cup packed dark muscovado sugar or dark brown sugar [I used 1/3 cup packed]
1/2 cup lavender honey*
2 large eggs 
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
Freshly grated zest and juice of 1 orange 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt [I used Fage 0%]
2 Tablespoons hot water

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 9-by-3 inch loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder and soda, and spices, and set aside.

Place the sugar, lavender honey, and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat them together on medium speed until the mixture is creamy and light, about a minute. Beat in the melted, cooled butter, followed by the orange juice and zest and vanilla.

In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and hot water. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in 1/2 of the yogurt mixture. Follow with another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the rest of the yogurt, and ending with the last of the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat the batter well for 20 seconds to fully emulsify it.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing and evening the top. Bake the cake on the center rack for 40 minutes [mine took about 50 minutes], rotating it halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning [Warning: I attempted to to this halfway through baking and the cake was FAR from set... if I would have moved it to rotate, it would have turned into a cake wreck.  I would wait longer if you're going to rotate]. The cake is done when it is cracked and firm to the touch, and slightly pulling away from the sides of the pan; a cake center inserted in the center should come out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing it to a rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into even slices.  The cake may be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

*I used to buy lavender honey from a brand called "Palette." Unfortunately, I think they went out of business so I bought lavender herb (the dried buds would probably work too) and infused it into the honey by heating it on the stove.  See this website for more specifics on infusing honey.

November 12, 2010

My Morning Müesli

I recently started working part-time in New York City.  While working part-time is nice (who doesn't want a day or two off during the week?), it also makes it a bit difficult to get into a 'regular' schedule.  So for now, I still eat dinner too late, go to bed past midnight, and have the occasional "2:30 feeling" when I'm at work.  To make the transition smoother, and my mornings less hectic, I've started preparing my breakfast the night before and eating it on the train in the morning.  It's true, not all breakfasts lend themselves so well to night-before preparations (soggy egg sandwich anyone?), but one breakfast certainly does, and that's Muesli.

Müesli, also called Bircher Müesli or Swiss Müesli, was developed in the 1900's by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner.  Basic Müesli is a mixture of soaked raw oats, yogurt, milk, citrus juice, honey, nuts, and fresh or dried fruit.  Of course, additions and subtractions are easy and endless.

On a typical night before work, I'll come into the kitchen and mix up some oats, yogurt, "milk," and dried and fresh fruit in a clean jam jar.  In the morning I give it a stir and then decide what other fresh fruit, nuts, and toppings I'm in the mood for.  It's simple, healthy, and totally worth the few inquisitive stares I get when I pull a glass jar and metal spoon out of my bag and start to eat Müesli on the train.

My Morning Müesli
I never measure any of this out but I did this morning just for you!  Below is my usual recipe, but feel free to use your favorite fruits and nuts.  I like to change mine up every so often because too much of the same gets boring!
Serves 1

1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not the quick kind)
generous 1/4 cup milk of choice, I use almond or soy
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
a squeeze or 2 fresh lemon or orange juice (optional)
1/2 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon dried cranberries
1- 2 dried apricots
6 red grapes, halved
1/2 a medium apple, small dice or shredded
7 almonds, roasted and chopped
honey, for drizzling

Variations and Additions: cinnamon, maple syrup, roasted cashews, macadamia nuts, raisins, dried cherries, dried figs, dried coconut, fresh blueberries, banana, peaches, fruit compote, jam or preserves...

The night before: Mix all ingredients together in the vessel you intend to eat out of in the morning.  Since I'm not the biggest mixer (I like toppings!), I usually only mix the oats, milk, yogurt, citrus juice, flaxseed, dried fruit, and maybe one fresh fruit in the night before. Then in the morning I add my other ingredients on the top to create some textural variation (i.e. crunchy nuts, crisp apple, chewy dried fruit, jammy jam...).  Experiment to find what you like best.

November 5, 2010

Easy Vegetarian Casserole

I know it's been awhile since I've posted a savory recipe.  I guess that's because, the truth is, I'm more of a baker at heart.  I make savory dishes often but mostly out of necessity (gotta feed myself breakfast, lunch and dinner) but I bake because I love it.  So, I hope none of you, readers, mind that this blog has veered much more in the direction of baking as of late.  I'll still post savory recipes occasionally, but I have much more fun talking about and experimenting with baked goods.  Plus they're much prettier to look at, don't you think?

This casserole came together very quickly one night when I didn't feel like devoting that much time or energy to cooking dinner, but still wanted something tasty, healthy, and comforting (I have high standards, if you didn't already know).  This ended up being much better than I expected, which is why I decided to share it with you.  It was a leftover that I didn't mind eating, and that says a lot.

Below is a rough recipe because when I cook, I don't really measure out ingredients.  Casseroles are pretty forgiving anyway.

Easy Vegetarian Casserole
Makes enough for 1 bread pan sized casserole dish, easily doubled
Inspired by Gourmet

Tomato sauce (I used my homemade version)
1 15oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
~2/3 cup brown rice, millet, or other whole grain
generous 1/2 cup 1% cottage cheese
a few handfuls of spinach, just wilted in the microwave (about 15 seconds)

~1/2 block firm tofu, drained and pressed
~1/4 cup medium hard or hard cheese, freshly grated (I used a mix of cheddar and gruyere)
~1/4 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper
pinch of oregano
sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. 

Using your fingers, crumble the tofu into a small bowl.  Mix in the rest of the topping ingredients and set aside.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your pan.  Top with all the black beans and spread to cover completely.  Layer the brown rice above the black beans followed by a layer of tomato sauce to cover.  Top the tomato sauce with roughly tablespoon-sized spoonfuls of cottage cheese, no need to spread these out.  Add a layer of spinach over the cottage cheese and top with tomato sauce.  Lastly, pour the topping evenly over and add a bit more grated cheese if desired. 

Place in the oven and bake for 30- 45 minutes, until the casserole is warmed through.  Move the dish to the top rack near the end of cooking to ensure a browned crust.