Category Archives: Autumn

Manifest Sticky Bun

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I’m struck with cooking ideas at times that just won’t go away until they manifest themselves into a real life scenario. There I was, sitting on the sofa with the cat, reading and enjoying my coffee, and had a need for cinnamon rolls. Our little hamlet is 10 minutes from anywhere that would have one worth driving for, and even if I could muster the gumption to get dressed and go there is no guarantee that one would be waiting for me. I could make my own, but the mixing and rising and punching and all just sounded so unattractive, This, and I wanted a cinnamon roll before 2:00, and classic risen yeast ones weren’t going to be ready.

I dropped the idea, and drank my coffee with Ted. Read a chapter and thought ‘we could make biscuit buns, ones that don’t take rising time.’ Meh, dropped it. Read another page, ‘Pumpkin biscuit sticky buns?’ That one got me off the sofa. Ted stayed put.

I mishmashed a couple of recipes, most notably the spiced pumpkin biscuit recipe on Cooking Light as the base. Made those, rolled them out thinner and into a big rectangle, added cinnamon and brown sugar to the middle, and placed in buttered muffin tins. Topped with vanilla glaze when cool, and voila, a pumpkin sticky bun in no time flat.

 

Pumpkin Sticky Muffin

 

Pumpkin Sticky Muffins (Sticky Buns? Sticky Bun Muffins? I can’t decide)
Makes a dozen

Biscuit dough:

2 1/4 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t. salt
5 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. buttermilk, cream or half-and-half
3/4 c. canned pumpkin
3 T. honey

Filling:

2 T. melted butter
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Glaze:

6 T. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T half and half

Preheat oven to 350*F, and lightly butter a standard 12 hole muffin tin.

Thoroughly combine flour through salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse mea. In another small bowl, combine combine the buttermilk, pumpkin and honey. Add wet ingredients to dry, and combine  until the dry ingredients are just moist.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 4-5 times. Flatten it out into a rectangle with your hands, and using a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a roughly 9×13″ rectangle, about 1/4″ thick, making sure one of the 13″ edges is closest to you.. Brush surface of dough with butter, and brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts (if using( over the dough, leaving about 1/2″ space on the long edge furthest from you. Starting at the long edge closest to you, gently roll the dough up and seal at the blank long edge, using a bit more butter if needed to close the dough. Cut into 12 even-ish pieces using a serrated knife, and place cut side down into the buttered muffin tin. Bake at 350*F for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze:

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla extract and half and half in a small bowl. When sticky buns are cool enough to handle, remove to a plate and drizzle with icing.

Switching it out

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Our home is in a constant state of evolution. It’s no great secret that the key to making a house a home is to make it beautiful but inviting, lovely and lived-in. Somewhere between Please Use A Coaster and Of Course You Can Put Your Feet on the Sofa. Striking that balance isn’t always easy.

One thing I can change seasonally to make things feel bright and new and lovely are the surface decorations in my living areas. Changing out the covers on the sofa pillows, getting a different colored throw out of the linen closet, and adding a seasonally appropriate tablecloth are a couple of quick fixes that instantly make the place spiffed up. Well, that and vacuuming. What is it about hoovering the house makes it look instantly polished? You’d think that would make us do it more often.

Anyway. I wanted new pillow covers and of course I’m too cheap to buy them outright. A trip to the fabric store during a particularly coupony sale netted me a piece of tapestry that I’ve been coveting for MONTHS. I bought a yard, and found a remnant in a bin in a light peacock blue microsuede that nicely complimented the first piece I found. Finally, a piece of peacock blue trim that was clearanced out for $0.97 a yard (down from $6!). And all for about $40. Not exactly cheap, but the pillows I love and covet in my favorite boutique-y stores are usually about that much for just the cover, never mind the actual pillow insert, for a 20″ pillow.

To my sewing corner I went. I have a storage ottoman that I keep some of my shears and things in, and in it I found some beautiful complimentary green remnants in there that I had forgotten about. I make a practice of haunting the remnant bin at the fabric store for this very reason. I’ve gotten some beautiful pieces of fabric, and good sized, for 50% off the bolt price this way. By using some of these pieces along with the two I just bought, I had enough fabric recover a seat cushion for one of our occasional chairs and the throw pillows that go in it. Score!

What I didn’t have were zippers. Well, I’d gotten this far, and I was in that zone where nothing was going to stop me but the power going out. I was just going to have to make envelope backed pillows, which to me are easier anyway.

This pillow style is a great project for a start-up sewer. It’s really forgiving, and you don’t have to fuss with making button holes or installing a zipper, both of which can be intimidating and difficult when you’re learning (and I still fight with zipper installation, to be honest with you). And when you’re done you’ll have something lovely to enjoy every day.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your pillows:

  • Your pillow fabric(s)
  • Thread in a matching or complimentary color to your fabric(s)
  • Pillows

Here’s what you do:

Complete step 1 and/or 1A before fabric shopping if you already have the pillows at home, otherwise you can do the math portion of the project at the fabric store after picking out your pillow forms. Taking a tape measure and calculator will be helpful, and the folks at the store are always happy to help out with questions.

1. If your subject pillow has a removable cover on it you’re ahead of the game. Remove the cover, flip it inside out, and measure it top to bottom, and in the case of a non-square/rectangular pillow, from left to right as well. Write down your measurements for reference. My pillow covers are 18″ squares from edge to edge, with a 1/4″ seam allowance, making them about 17 1/2″ across on the inside of the seam placement. I like my pillows to fit tightly inside of the covers so I make them a little smaller than the pillow itself. Keeps them fluffier that way.

1A. If your subject does NOT have a removable cover and you want to make one for it don’t fret. Get out a tape measure or yard stick, grab your pillow, stretch the corners out, and measure from corner to corner along one side. This guy is 18″. Again, I like my pillows to fit snugly in the case so my front piece is going to be cut to exactly 18″.

2. Take that trusty tape measure or yard stick and measure your square on your chosen fabric, checking for pattern placement. Sometimes its worth buying a little more fabric than you need in order to get the right look on your pillow, so take this into consideration before you go to the cutting counter at the fabric store. If you have a smaller print it’s easier to line up your shot, but on a large pattern sometimes it’s not so easy. Another trick is to make a paper template of your square and use that as a guide so you can really see what your pillow is going to look like when it’s completed.

3. Grab your contrasting fabric, if you’re using one, otherwise keep going with your original fabric. To make the envelope back, you want your overlap to be a good 3-4″ in the center of the pillow, to keep it’s belly covered. I take my pillow length, divide by two, and add 4 to get the right amount of overlap. This provides ample room for your seam allowances as well as hemming your raw edges in the middle.

The equation for my pillows is this:
18 / 2 = 9
9 + 4= 13

My envelope flaps need to be 18″ wide and 13″ tall. Measure and cut two (2).

4. If you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag one long edge of each of your two pillow back pieces to check the fray. On one of the long edges on each of your flap pieces, fold each of the zigged pieces down about a half an inch on the wrong side of the fabric, press and pin in place. Sew down with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

5. Turning the right sides of the fabric together, lay the two envelope pieces over the pillow front and pin in place, being sure to put the bound edges facing the center of your square.

6. Sew around the edges of your square with 1/4″ seam allowances, and again if you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag around the outside edges of the pillow to keep the fray down. Flip inside out, cram in your pillow, fluff accordingly, and VOILA!

7. Be smug about your crafting abilities and your smart new pillows.

Now, wasn’t that easy? If you shop the sales and remnant bins you can find some gorgeous fabrics for a fraction of the retail price and make pillow covers that look like they cost a fortune. Happy sewing!

Get Crazy Here

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This, my friends, is a working girl’s breakfast. A breakfast of champions of the work place, lovingly prepared with my own two hands while speeding out the door in the morning.

If I’m smart and together, I’ll prepare it the night before and put it next to my purse so I don’t forget it. If I’m REALLY together I’ll make a few for the week and keep them in my desk. But the nice thing is that it can be thrown together so fast in the morning that if I forget the night before it only takes a second.

This is a humble instant oatmeal packet, in a homemade dress (or zip-top bag, if you so choose, but mine sounds more romantic). It means that I have a healthy, warm breakfast for a chilly fall morning without succumbing to the siren song of the vending machine or running out for an expensive snack or a cheap donut.

The idea here is a simple one: taking the instant oats packet and removing the extra crud that doesn’t need to be in it (I don’t care if my sugar clumps, I’d rather not eat the anti-clumping agent, thankyouverymuch). I eat a lot of overnight oats in the summer, but in the fall and winter I want something warm with my coffee. And you can’t beat the price: my little packs cost less than $0.20 each, and I reuse my ziptop baggies (recycling!).

The basics are this:

1/3 c. instant oats

A pinch of salt

1/2 to 1 T. brown sugar (or your choice of sweetener)

¼ t. cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice OR apple pie spice

2 T. chopped dried apples, OR chopped dried apricots, OR raisins (optional)

You can swap out regular sugar or coconut sugar or turbinado sugar or whatever for the brown sugar. You can also leave it out and keep a small bottle of maple syrup or agave syrup in your drawer. I like the controlled aspect of the measured sugar here – if I drizzle syrup on top of my oatmeal the likelihood I’ll add more than I should is really high, and defeats the purpose of a healthy, whole grain breakfast. This is your choice, of course. If your willpower and drizzling skills are more honed than mine then this might be a good option.

The spices, too, are up to you. Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, get crazy. You could do some chopped up dried apple with rosemary if you’d like, or dried apricots with some sage, whatever sounds tasty in your head. Raisins and clove? Orange zest and lavender? Get some, get crazy here. It’ll make your coworkers jealous, I tell you. The yummy smells wafting from your cube will drive them nuts.

Get up already

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Hold the phone. In cruising the internet the other day I came across this recipe.

Yes. Bacon. Booze. Maple. Popcorn. Popcorn popped in bacon grease. With dry roasted peanuts. What’s not to love here?! I have no words, I have no description, but I have some advice: Be sure to make it when you can give it away IMMEDIATELY, because eating the whole tray is not good for one’s diet aspirations.

Why are you still sitting there? Take this in the kitchen and get busy, kids!

Tipsy Maple Corn
Adapted from Food52

This recipe makes a boatload. I found that I had a good amount of the syrup left over (which is fine, we’ll drizzle it over ice cream or something), but if you want to use the whole of the syrup for the corn, increase your popcorn by 1/4 cup, popping it in batches. Read the whole recipe first and then attack, as the coating method used here is different than regular caramel corn.

  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease, or non flavored vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/3 cup bourbon (they used Jack Daniels, and I had none. So bourbon it is.)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts
  • 3 pieces prociutto, lightly fried until crispy, and minced (they called for pancetta; again, working with what I had here. Good smoked bacon would work too. Use about 3 oz. total)
  1. Place the bacon grease in a 3 quart dutch oven with a lid. Add the kernels and place the covered pot over high heat. Once the popping begins, gently shake the pot to keep the kernels from burning. Once it is done remove the lid and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In another small pot add the bourbon and heat it to burn off the alcohol and reduce it by half. Add the syrup and butter and heat until the butter is melted, whisking to combine.
  3. Place the popcorn, peanuts and the prociutto into a large mixing bowl. You want to sprinkle a little of the syrup over the corn a little at a time. You want to stir as you do this. Take your time otherwise the corn will saturate with syrup and collapse and just be gooey. (OK, here’s what I found: I drizzled on just over half of the syrup IN TOTAL, adding just a bit at a time and stirring thoroughly, Heed this warning and go sloooow, stirring a lot with a pair of spatulas before drizzling on more syrup. Reserve the remaining syrup.)

  4. Once it is coated put it on a sheet tray and spread it out, giving it a couple of dashes of freshly cracked black pepper (less than 1/8 tsp). Then place it in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10-12 minutes. I drizzled on just about half of the remaining syrup on the first turn, turning to coat (there was a bit left on the bottom of the pan that caramelized and crackled).  Corn will not be completely crispy on the finish, but it will dry as it cools and get a nice kettle-corn type coat on it.

I also transferred mine to a layer of paper towel on a clean baking sheet, so some of the butter could absorb off of the corn. It was a tad oily when it came out of the oven. But LOOK at this halloweeny, crispy, bacony goodness:

Little Girls and Little Things

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I stopped by the market yesterday to pick up a bag of spring mix and some apples. My little market has the greatest of the great local produce and it’s my favorite place to get first-of-the-season autumn apples. I picked out a couple of winners (Arkansas blacks and pink ladies) and headed to the check stand. On my way there I passed by a display of nuts still in their shells. I circled once, twice, and then swooped up a small bag to bring home for my coffee table.

The simple display made me think of my grandparents’ living room, where my Grams always had a bowl of unshelled mixed nuts on the coffee table with a pair of silver crackers during the fall and winter months. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, filberts (which I later learned are hazelnuts) and Brazil nuts, who have a less than P.C. name for many of a certain generation. We had to google their proper name yesterday when I got home.

I spent many an afternoon as a little girl during the adults’ cocktail hour, trying to crack these nuts open and get to the sweet meats inside. I always had the hardest time, either not being able to get my small hands around the cracker to get enough grip to crack the nut open, or getting enough leverage somehow (usually using both hands) and smashing the nut to bits that went everywhere (because I didn’t have a hand under my work). She never got mad, and neither did Poppa. Someone would always show me the best way to attack the nuts for good cracking, or crack them for me when I was frustrated and didn’t want to try any more.

I got older, my skill got better, and I would try to crack the walnuts and pecans and Brazils open and keep the nut meats intact. It’s harder than it sounds; my dad and my grandpa are both pretty good at being able to mine entire halves from walnuts and pecans. And my Granny was always pretty good at it too, when she was a bit younger.

As I sat on the couch with the cat tonight, with my silver cracker and my bowl of nuts, it was a small joy in my day thinking back on these times gone by, being a little girl and the little things in life. I’m sure if I call my Grams tomorrow she probably has a bowl of unshelled nuts on her coffee table, and I take some comfort in knowing that even though the world around me is changing so much every day, there are still some things that I can depend on. Simple things, like a bowl of nuts and not being able to crack them correctly.

A Little Something Extra

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Happy Saturday Campers!

The sun is shining, the weather is set to stun, and it’s going to be a great weekend! A good friend’s wedding to attend tonight, some beer making with my dear Dad tomorrow, maybe some sewing somewhere in between. Relaxing, fun, festive.

I was up and at ’em this morning at a weekend-early 7:00. I’m not exactly a morning person, but I do love mornings. When I’m allowed to wake at my own body’s ready-set-go and not at the sound of the alarm, I get up in a good mood and ready to start my day. I found my slippers, made some coffee, and took a cup out on the balcony with the cat to let Nick sleep for a bit. And what a lovely morning it was, and even the grape trucks and picking machines rolling through couldn’t bring me down.

For those with a romantic dream of harvest in the the Wine Country, I’m going to spoil it a bit. When everything around you is vineyards, and all of the grape varietals ripen in Nature’s succession over a couple of months, well, how do I put this? Most vineyards aren’t hand picked, they’re machine picked. And picking machines look like a mechanical hell-beast and sound like one too, scaring the bejeezus out of the cat and most of our tourist population. To top it, even vineyards that are still hand-picked have to have a big bin at the end of the rows, that goes on a big tractor trailer to go to the winery crush pad. Did I mention that picking always happens during darkest night so the berries (grapes) are nice and cool and firm? You get the idea. It’s a beautiful time of year and if you have the good fortune to visit during these golden months do so, but bring your earplugs if your visit means you’re ‘sleeping’ in the country.

ANYway. I was going to tell you about my coffee. We are everyday Joe drinkers in this house (can I get an A-men), nothing fancy, just good, locally roasted fair trade coffee, a splash of milk, and sugar for the husband and maybe a drop of honey for me if I’m in the mood. But sometimes, like this morning, I make it special, with just a little something extra.

Long ago, with a roommate far, far away, when we could afford nary a bag of fair trade coffee and in fact didn’t even know what the stuff was, we were making toast and coffee in our kitchen one weekend morn and getting the day started. After putting the coffee in the filter, she sprinkled in a little bit of ground cinnamon. ‘Really?’ I asked, having never actually seen this before. It was a nice surprise. Just a little added depth of flavor, and makes for a festive cup. Since then I’ve riffed (of course) and added a piece of vanilla bean, some dried orange peels, some nutmeg, whatever sounds good that  won’t be overtaken by the coffee or changed too much by the bitterness of the brew.  I don’t do it often since we aren’t really flavored coffee people, but some mornings, like this beautiful crisp fall morning, it sounds too good not to add. Give it a try someday if it sounds tasty to you.

Enjoy your weekend, guys, I’m off to go smoke a couple of pumpkins for beer making.

For the Love of Leftovers

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I read a book last week called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. If you haven’t read this book, run out and get it, it’s a game-changer. I’ve always considered myself to be a  thrifty and frugal cook, but this book brought me up to a whole new level. I mean, I make chicken stock from my clean-picked birds, but hadn’t thought about saving the skins and ends from onions, scraps and tops of carrots and ends and tops of celery to make my stock with, I always start with whole vegetables that I go out and buy. I’m familiar with the adage Waste Not Want Not, but this, this was different. Her creative use of what’s left and what most people think of as trash is outrageously amazing. We’re talking about saving artichoke cooking water to be the basis of soup, here. Stuff like this was head-slapping realization for me. Why not? As such, I’m rereading the book this week, a bit more slowly, and taking notes. In a time when we should all be a bit more cautious with our spending, I urge you to read her book.

And beyond her uses of these cast-away items, her description of food, how it should taste, her use of salt, her use of olive oil, her encouragement of nibbling and savoring, was, in a word, beautiful. It spoke to my food obsessed soul. Yes.

In reading this book, it’s changed my view of leftovers yet again. I’m pretty good about not throwing away food, but will admit my guilt about the things that compost in the vegetable bins (whoever named them the Crisper Drawers was either a liar or horribly misinformed). Now, though, with some of the new things I learned in this book, I’m armed with some new game plans for lifeless lettuce and dying cucumbers. Not that dinner last night contained either of these things. It did make use of some rather morose looking bell peppers, though.

The weather took a turn toward cooler this week, which I’ll be honest with you is fine by me. After last week’s 100+ degree blitz for more than a couple of days, I’ll take some overcast drizzly mornings, 70 degree afternoons, and cool evenings. Last night I almost wanted to put another blanket on the bed, it was so chilly! (Un)Luckily for me, the cat decided he needed to sleep on top of my feet all night long (no matter where I put them), so I had toasty toes without getting out a blanket. He’s such a needy little beast sometimes.

And with the turn in the weather, my appetite took a turn toward comfort. Last week I could hardly bear to turn on the stove, this week I made Chicken and Rice Soup for dinner on Monday. My mom thought I was crazy but it just sounded so good. I got myself a double-coupon deep discount organic chicken on Saturday (that cost me less than $5 for a 6.5 pound bird), and though I didn’t need one I couldn’t pass up the price. A whole chicken is a poor housewife’s savior if she’s a crafty girl, and can be made into not just one but upward of 4 dinners. Warm chicken bistro salads one night, another night he was Chicken and Rice Soup, last night he was pasta, and today he’ll be chicken stock to re-up my freezer coffers. Chicken stock means polenta, quick soup, and risotto base. I blast through a ton of it any given week and making it is a skill that I’m happy to have.

For those of you freaking out that it’s Friday and that chicken was just used up last night, well, calm down. The mystical powers of refrigeration and high heat made it perfectly safe to eat. I assure you.

And oh, that pasta. Sometimes a girl has to dispatch with the healthy and just have creamy pasta for dinner. On the whole the husband and I eat pretty healthy, but you have to give in every now and again. This pasta jogs somewhere in between. And for those of you who don’t think they like leftovers, I promise you, this pasta will change your tune. You see, the thing about leftovers is that they just need a little finesse to turn them into something else. This isn’t Saturday’s Chicken, this is Thursday’s Pasta.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
Serves 8 (easily divides in half)

1 lb. short pasta (penne, spirals, something that will hold the sauce in. I used gluten free brown rice penne.)
3 strips of thick cut bacon
1 t. butter
2 c. chopped bell pepper, whatever colors your family likes (no bell pepper? Use whatever is about to die in your ‘crisper’ drawer)
1 c. chopped onion
3 c. cooked, shredded chicken (we used white and dark meat, the choice is yours)
½ c. low fat buttermilk
½ c. sour cream or mayonnaise (use light or fat free if you’d like, I used good ol’ full fat mayonnaise because it’s what I had)
½ t. dry mustard
½ t. dried oregano
½ t. dried basil
¾ t. dried dill
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese
½ c. minced green onions
½ c. bread crumbs

In a large bowl, combine buttermilk through minced garlic, mixing well to combine, and set aside. Boil pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400*F.

In a medium skillet, cook bacon until very crisp, drain and crumble into bits. Drain all but 1 t. of the bacon drippings, add in butter. Sautee’ peppers and onions in skillet over medium heat until cooked and onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Add in chicken and warm through.

Add pasta, chicken mixture, and bacon to the buttermilk mixture, stir together well to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour all in to a 13×9” oven safe baking dish (if you’re halving the recipe, put it in your favorite 2 quart baking dish). Top with cheese, green onions, and bread crumbs. Bake uncovered at 400*F for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and dish is heated through. To crisp breadcrumbs, run the dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, if desired.

It would be refreshing

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And somehow, the Thanksgiving weekend is upon us. Time has certainly gotten to flying, and while I ordinarily would shrug at that, this year I really want it to slow down. Watching our friends’ kids getting older (the ‘first’ of the babies is going to be 5 in January), my youngest cousin turning 16 last week, and seeing my grandparents aging more quickly than I’d like makes me wistful and wishful for a set of brakes on Time.

I’m getting ready for the annual Thanksgiving feast up at my grandparents’ house, and for the very first time we’re all pitching in on the cooking. Mom is making desserts (of course, poor Mom always gets dessert because she’s the best baker – it’s a curse), my aunt is appetizers, I’m in charge of vegetables. Vegetables, for whatever reason, make me feel like I got the short end of the stick but it is what it is.

The hard thing about vegetables for a holiday is that everyone has The Standards. There are things that are required to be included on a holiday table. For Thanksgiving in our family, this is always the bird, stuffing, whipped potatoes (not mashed), candied yams (blech), gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce both jellied and whole berry, and a bunch of vegetables that no one eats which includes peas, corn, and I think green beans (but no one eats them, so I can’t remember). See why I got the short straw here? We usually have frozen vegetables. And with my love of cooking I can’t just go buy a bag of corn and slap it in the microwave. But will a new recipe be embraced, or deemed too exotic and banished to the other room?

New could be invigorating, I said, and a new recipe it will be. I hemmed, I hawed, I considered making Brussels sprouts with bacon, maybe some roasted squash glazed with a sweet chipotle something, even a salad. Salad could be interesting, I thought as I swirled my wine. We never have a salad, and it would be refreshing.

I made a similar salad to this one for an open house we had in September, where it was devoured so quickly that I was glad I made a ton of it. That time I made it with sweet potatoes alone, but since we already have two other potato dishes on the turkey table I thought I’d sub in the squash instead. Feel free to use both, though, as they’d both be delicious.

Roasted Autumn Salad

1 large orange fleshed sweet potato (about 1/2 lb), peeled and cut into 3/4″ cubes
-OR-
1 large Delicata squash, gutted and cut into 3/4″ cubes
1 large or 2 small fresh poblano chiles, seeded and cut into 2″ x 1/2″ strips
1/4 lb of shallots, peeled and cut into rings
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
A handful of dried tart cherries
1/2 c. or more of roughly chopped toasted pecans
2/3 c. salty crumbly cheese (cotija, feta, ricotta salata, something on these lines)
4 c. mixed salad greens (hearty types: arugula and spinach are perfect here, as are mustard greens)
Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette, recipe below

Preheat oven to 425*. Toss the potatoes or squash (or both if you’re daring) with a drizzle of olive oil (no need to measure), sprinkle on  salt and a couple hearty cracks of fresh black pepper. Toss all to coat and spread out on a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 15 minutes in the lower 1/3 of your oven, or until the cubes start to sizzle and brown. Meanwhile, toss together the chiles and shallots with a little more olive oil and salt and pepper.

After 15ish minutes, stir the potatoes/squash around so everybody gets brown on more than one side. At this point add in the peppers and shallots. Roast for another 15-20 minutes or until everything is browned to your liking. Pull from the oven and set aside and let cool to room temperature.

On a large serving, platter, lay out a bed of mixed salad greens. Top with the potato/squash mixture. Sprinkle on the cheese, nuts, and tart cherries. Drizzle on the pepper jelly vinaigrette (about 1/3 c) and serve. I pass the dressing with the salad for those who want more (myself included, I like a heavily dressed salad).

Have a very happy long weekend, everyone!

Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette
From Cooking Light magazine

1/4 c. pepper jelly
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
1 T. fresh lime juice
1 T. grated onion
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/4 c. vegetable or canola oil

Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Gradually add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate. OR toss everything into your mini food-processor or bullet blender or use an immersion blender in a bowl and whiz together.

Thanks, I feel pale.

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Having a head cold is possibly one of the crappiest things to have on a weekend. Weekends are meant to be full of fun, cocktails, shopping, something entirely more fun than ‘Do I want to wear flannel jammies and those slippers today, or fleece jammies and these slippers?’ I felt this most recent cold coming on at about Wednesday of last week and knew it would ruin my weekend. I have to admit, though, that I was thankful I didn’t get sick during the work week because I had entirely too much to do and feel terrible when I stay home sick and my tasks burden my coworkers.

I spent the majority of yesterday making Christmas gifts and watching Westerns on TV. The commercials were a welcome respite to get off the sofa and blow my nose (sad). Keeping a thought together was one of the most daunting things I dealt with yesterday, to only be outdone by a trip to the grocery store, which almost sent me overboard. I try to avoid the store on the weekends anyway, but the weekend before Thanksgiving and with a head cold should have been enough to deter me. I was very obviously under the weather to make such a poor decision. My favorite moment: while picking out Brussels sprouts in the produce department (and yes, I swabbed myself with Antibac gel to the elbows before diving in), an older grandmotherly type with a cart piled so high with groceries that you could barely see her blue hair poking over the top, took the time to stop and touch my arm and say ‘honey are you alright? You look awfully pale.’ Thanks, ma’am, I feel pale. I threw my sprouts in the cart and weaved off to get the rest of my stuff.

Dinner should have been takeout last night, but I’m so damn stubborn that I refused to break down, and nothing from anywhere else sounded good anyway. Nothing sounded good period, actually, but the hubster insisted that I eat something so I could better fight this cold (that and I’m sure part of it was that he didn’t want to starve, either). Had I not accidentally blown my brains into my handkerchief prior to that trip to the store I’d have picked something up, but getting out alive and unscathed was at the top of my list.

Anyway. I had a package of chicken legs in the freezer and was thinking of crockpotting them somehow. The weather was bitter cold yesterday for the first time this season so it seemed more prudent to turn on the stove or the oven instead. Whatever we were eating, it needed to have buttered rice involved, because that’s what I decided I really wanted. Hot buttered rice with lots of salt and pepper.

I dug around the web, I tried to read a couple of cookbooks, and nothing. Nothing sounded good, everything sounded weird and I couldn’t find a way to make it not seemingly taste nasty in my head. So I riffed. I smashed together a couple of different recipes and came up with Sweet and Sour Chicken Legs. It worked, and we ate all of it.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Legs (can also be made with thighs)
Adapted from this recipe at the Food Network

Serves 3-4

1 package of chicken legs (mine had about 5 in it)
1 8 oz. can of pineapple, drained and juice reserved
An orange
Half of a red bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
Half of a yellow bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
2 T. chopped fresh ginger
3 large garlic cloves, minced
3 T. rice wine vinegar
1/4 c. of soy sauce
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 t. red chile flakes
1 T. cornstarch
Canola oil

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan with a fitting lid over medium high heat.

In 2 cup measuring cup, measure in your pineapple juice and add enough fresh squeezed orange juice to make 2/3 cup. Removed one tablespoon of the juice mixture to a ramekin or small bowl. Add in your brown sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, chile flakes, garlic and ginger and stir together.

Sear the chicken parts for a total of 5-6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove them to a plate and saute the peppers and onions for about two minutes, then lower the heat to medium low. Add the chicken back in and pour the sauce over the top. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Turn the chicken parts over, and add in the pineapple. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Stir the cornstarch into the reserved juice, and whisk into the sauce in the pan, it should thicken a bit in a minute or two. Nestle the chicken pieces back in, and serve with plenty of hot rice (white or brown, your choice, and the butter and salt and pepper are optional).

Here it comes.

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Well, I knew it would happen. When the weather starts to waffle and the mercury drops quickly (39 degrees this morning, brrr) I get my first (and usually only) cold of the season. Over the last couple days I’ve felt That Tickle in the back of my throat and have blissfully ignored it. But last night and this morning had me scrambling for zinc and tea. By 10:30 the situation wasn’t improving and visions of chicken soup and a warm blanket were dancing in my head.

Dear Impending Illness, let’s just get this overwith already. I have a very busy week next week and very little time to deal with you. Do your worst but please do it now. Thank you.

It’s times like this when I’m thankful that I always have a couple quarts of chicken stock in the freezer, because I can whip up a pot of soup in a flash. And as tradition and Wives Tales dictate, it must be chicken when I’m sick. Well, chicken or Hot and Sour from my favorite take-out joint, but only if I’m too sick to throw some vegetables into a pot of broth and we aren’t quite there yet.

Traditional chicken noodle will cure what ails you, but when I have a sore throat there’s nothing I want more than something spicy and full of warm flavors: ginger, chiles, garlic. All three of these are a great restorative too, along with the chicken broth. And adding lime (Vitamin C) never hurt either.

When I’m out the other side of this thing (or stuck to the sofa this weekend but I’m hoping the soup will prevent that), I promise you a post on chicken stock. I know I’ve been promising this for two years but this time I mean it. In the meantime, though, this is what we’ll be having tonight around our house. This is a versatile recipe, so go ahead and riff if the mood strikes you. No cilantro? No biggie. Mint sounds weird in soup? You can leave it out. A dot of sesame oil or chili oil on top is a nice addition. I don’t have snow peas but I have some frozen veggies in the freezer that will take their place, and the rice stick noodles will be substituted by egg noodles tonight. You get the idea. Making this your own is easy.

Stay well! And if you can’t stay well make soup.

Spicy Asian Chicken and Noodle Soup
From Cooking Light

3 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken breast
1/2 cup grated carrot (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup thinly sliced snow peas
2 teaspoons Sriracha (hot chile sauce, such as Huy Fong)
2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 (2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
6 cups water
3 ounces uncooked wide rice sticks (rice-flour noodles)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

1. Bring first 9 ingredients to a simmer in a medium saucepan; keep warm.

2. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add rice noodles; cook 3 minutes. Drain. Place about 1/4 cup rice noodles in each of 4 bowls.

3. Discard ginger. Add juice to broth mixture; stir. Ladle 1 1/3 cups broth mixture over each serving; top with 1 tablespoon each mint, cilantro, and green onions.

Oh and P.S.: I know I muttered something about garlic under the Restoratives section up above. I chopped up two monster cloves and tossed them in to the pot. Even when I’m sick I can’t leave a recipe alone.