Category Archives: Holidays

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Rosemary Browned Butter

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Ah, Valentines’s Day. Loved my many, loathed by many. It’s a spark of love in the middle of an otherwise dark and dreary month. Whether you spend it with your love, in the presence of those you love, a handful of giggling girlfriends, or with your lovely self, it’s a day to express those glittery, pink and red feelings.

And so I bring you these festive little ravioli. Tasty little morsels in a sweet little package that just shouts Valentine’s. If you have a small heart shaped cookie cutter here’s a place to use it, if not don’t fret, ravioli are perfect in any shape they come in. No fancy tools required here.

They don’t have to be hard, either. That’s right, you out there, the one who’s thinking I must be completely nuts for thinking anyone with a job is going to make ravioli on a weeknight. I may be nuts but you can truly do this on a weeknight. The secret? Wonton or gyoza wrappers. Available in your grocer’s refrigerated aisle (in mine, near the tofu products), they make quick work of these. You can use gyoza wrappers (which are a bit smaller but you can still use a cute cutter), round gyoza wrappers, or the larger egg roll wrappers if you’d like to cut out larger shapes. They work just like fresh pasta sheets (and in fact ARE fresh pasta sheets), and take all of the work out of making pasta.

Fresh Pasta

In fact I did make my pasta for these ravs, but up until I got a pasta rolling machine I didn’t bother to try. You just can’t get the same silky, soft, and evenly thin results with your dough if you use a rolling pin. I’ve made many ravioli with fillings as wide as my dreams with gyoza wrappers, and very few were any the wiser. For purposes of this application, go grab your gyoza wrappers and your Valentine and get to work.

Cooking together is fun and can be very sexy. The tactile work of assembling something like this, getting your hands in it and building your filling, using your damp fingers to brush water around the edges of your pasta to seal it, feeling the filled nubs to make sure there aren’t any air pockets that will burst the packets in the boiling process, it’s all very sensual. And knowing, when you sit down together for dinner, that you made this little treat with each other and your own two hands, is a sexy thing.

For those who don’t cook, this is something so simple that you can do on your own that will impress the pants off of your Valentine. (Pun intended)

A few of these tasty ravioli with a quick browned butter drizzle, a light salad with quick vinaigrette (which I’ll give you another day this week), and a nice loaf of crusty bread and even dessert from your favorite local bakery(ies), and you have a great dinner for two or more. This recipe makes a bunch of pasta, and they freeze beautifully for later use.

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravoili
Makes lots, be prepared to freeze

1 package of gyoza wrappers (round or square, your choice)
1 large red beet (skip the nasty canned ones)
Zest of half of a lemon, about 1/4 teaspoon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 4 0z. log of goat cheese (don’t like goat cheese? Use half of a brick of cream cheese, or about a half cup of good ricotta)

You’ll also need:
A small bowl of water, for sealing
Flour for dusting your work surface
A sheet pan to rest your finished pasta on
A 2″ heart shaped cookie cutter, optional

Preheat your oven to 400*F. Wash and dry your beet, wrap it in foil, and place it in the oven. Cook until a knife slipped into the side of the package (no need to unwrap, just stab it) slides in easily, about an hour. Remove beet to counter and gently unwrap, allow to cool, Can be done a couple of days ahead, cool beet completely and refrigerate.

When cool enough to handle, put on a pair of disposable gloves or a couple of plastic bags on your hands and peel the beet – the skin should slip right off. Discard the skin and using a box grater, grate the beet into a bowl. You’re gloving up because otherwise you’ll have purple hands forever. ūüôā Sprinkle the lemon zest over and combine, adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

In another bowl, crumble up the goat cheese log so it’s easier to handle. Fill a small bowl with water and get your flour out. Sprinkle a light dusting of flour on your cookie sheet and your work surface, I use a cutting board and usually a piece or two of wax paper for easier clean up – I forgot the wax paper this time around.

Lay out a few of your gyoza wrappers, 6-8, and keep the rest in the package or between the layers of a damp paper towel. Pasta sheets dry out quickly and become difficult to work with. Now, you have a decision to make: large or small ravioli? Large ones will have the filling in the center and another sheet of pasta placed on top of the filling, small will have the filling placed just off-center and be folded over to create the ravioli. Choice is yours, you can flip for it.

if you decide to make hearts, cut out your shapes and toss the scraps, you’re going to be making larger ravioli. I used a 2″ cutter for my hearts

Beet and goat cheese ravs

Now. If you’re making large ravioli, put a scant half teaspoon of beet and scant half teaspoon of goat cheese in the middle of the pasta. Dip a finger in the water bowl, run your finger around the edge of the pasta sheet, and lay another on top of the filling. Seal the pasta around the edges, trying to get as much air out of the pocket as possible. It takes a couple of tries to get the feel for it, and even the pros have a few that get air in them and burst when boiled. Don’t stress about it.

Beet & Goat Cheese Ravioli

If you’re making small, fold over ravioli, place a scant quarter teaspoon of beet and goat cheese, respectively, just off-center of the pasta sheet. Using your finger, dampen¬†half of the pasta, fold over and try to get as much air out as possible. Set the pasta on the prepared baking sheet as you finish them. Repeat with remaining filling and sheets until finished.

Pasta may be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for two days, or frozen for a month. Freeze the pasta on the sheet pan, and when solid transfer to a freezer bag.

Freezing Ravioli

To cook, bring a pot of salted water just to a boil. Slip the ravioli in gently (if frozen no need to defrost, just add 3-4 minutes of cooking time) and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain and serve in large flat bowls with a drizzle of Rosemary Browned Butter.

Rosemary Browned Butter
Serves 2, can be doubled infinitely

4 T. butter
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
2 t. grated grana padano or parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides and butter begins to turn brown. Stir in sage and cook, stirring, until sage is crisp and butter is golden brown. Drizzle over ravioli, dust each plate with 1 t. of grated cheese, and serve.

Cinco de Mayo!!

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Happy Cinco, campers! One last post for you about taco bar and side dishes, then I have to dash and get to work picking up my house.

Let’s have a quick coffee chat about refried beans. Coming from a taqueria they are silky, salty and savory. Coming out of a can from the grocery store, they are the consistency of brown paste.

And who likes a side of brown paste with their beautiful taco bar? Not me. Especially when they are so easy to make. I learned just how easy they are to make at home from my aunt’s best pal on a camping trip last summer, and I haven’t bought a can of refried beans since.

Refried Beans
Serves 8 as a side

1 40 oz. can of pinto beans (I was taught to use Teasdale, if you can find them)
2 serrano peppers, washed and dried
2-3 slices of bacon, on the fatty side if you have it (alternatively, if you keep bacon grease like I do you’ll need about 2 tablespoons

Drain the pinto beans, reserving the liquid in a bowl or measuring cup. Don’t bother rinsing the beans.

In a very heavy pan (cast iron is best), render the fat from your bacon over medium low heat. The object isn’t to crisp the bacon, this is sacrificial bacon as it’s being used for it’s fat only. (Use it to make yourself a BLT while your beans are cooking, no reason to throw it out). Remove the bacon from the pan.

Alternatively, if you hoard bacon grease like I do, scoop a couple of tablespoons out of the jar in the fridge and drop it into your pan. Melt it over medium heat until it glistens.

When your bacon is rendered or your fat is melted, drop in your serrano peppers and let them blister and brown over medium heat (be careful because they will pop on you). Give them a squeeze with your spoon every now and again to get some of the oils out.

If you like your beans with some heat, leave the peppers in and add your beans. If you prefer them mild, remove the peppers from the pan and add your beans. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved bean liquid. Give the pan a stir and let it hang out for a bit.

For these beans, you’re going to almost completely cook out the liquid before adding more, over and over until they are the creamy consistency that you want them. I like mine with some chunks still but go ahead and let them break down completely if you’d like. Resist the urge to smash the beans, as the gentle cooking will do that for you. Give them a stir every now and again, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, but they don’t need babysitting. Total cook time is about 20-25 minutes. When you’re done, your beans should look approximately like this, for taqueria style beans:

Now, go pour yourself some sangria and finish putting together your taco bar. Your party is going to be a hit!

Hearthside Happy Hour: Sangria

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In typing the title there, I realize that I’m going to have to rename this series of segments someday, as we have no hearth in our new home.

I’m going to be so, so sad about that come Fall. But right now, it’s springtime and sunny. And there’s a festive reason to eat and drink this weekend (though you know me, I don’t need a festive reason to do either of these things).

I got an email from a reader¬†(remind me to teach you guys how to comment soon) asking about a Sangria recipe, as there are many out there and they vary widely in ingredients and additions. Some call for lemon lime soda, some call for orange soda, some call for orange¬†juice, some call for brandy and some don’t, ad nauseum. I’m here to tell you, it’s going to depend on how sweet you want your punch. I personally like to let the fruit and wine do the talking and let the sweetness take a back seat. This is a twofold preference, as the sugar added to the red wine makes for a Wicked hangover if you have too many. And a red wine drunk is bad, but a red wine hangover is awful.

Or so someone told me.

Here are a handful of tips:

  • Make your sangria at least 4 hours before you’re serving it and stick it in the fridge. This will help with keeping it cold later.
  • If you are heeding my advice and making it hours ahead, add the sparkling water just before serving (and make sure it’s cold before adding).
  • Use an inexpensive red wine, but not an out-and-out cheap wine. I prefer using Yellow Tail over Two Buck Chuck.
  • I personally like my Sangria a little less sweet, and so I use mineral water or club soda in place of the lemon lime soda. You may do as you wish, but in my personal polls most people dig it without the sweet soda. It’s more¬†refresca that way.
  • You can easily sub in white wine for the red if the mood strikes you.
  • For a larger party or open house, I like to make fruit skewers to put into the glasses and serve the punch from a dispenser. And I drizzle my skewers with a little bit of Triple Sec for some added kick.
  • Speaking of fruit, the I list the basics in the recipe. You can add strawberries, blueberries, apple slices and melon cubes to your skewers or serving glasses.
  • And if you are using additional fruit in your dispenser or punch bowl, wash and freeze it prior to adding it to the container. Helps keep your punch cool.
  • If you’re using a beverage dispenser, do yourself a favor and pick the seeds out of the citrus. Nothing slows a party down like having to disassemble the nozzle and pry out a seed. And it’s not as easy as it sounds.
  • And last but not least, adding ice cubes directly to the Sangria if you’re serving it punch bowl or dispenser style will water it down in a hurry. Keep the ice on the side and let people fill their cups with it on their own.

And without further ado, here’s the recipe.

Sangria
Makes 8 servings, and scales up easily

1 750-ml bottle of dry red wine
1 1/2 cups of club soda, mineral water, or lemon-lime soda (regular or diet)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup sugar or honey or agave
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, etc.)

Combine all in a large pitcher and let sit for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Serve over ice with additional lemon, lime and orange slices, and any other fruits you wish.

Cinco de Mayo ~ Carnitas

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Mexican food is a staple in our house. The husband and I eat many tacos, taco salads, enchiladas, rice plates and quesadillas, filled with different savory meats, beans, rice or grains, and cheeses. Chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, it all makes for great fillings. Because a lot of our favorites come together quickly and have bright, fresh flavors, they are weeknight staples for us. The secret to Mexican cooking? It’s the spices. In order to whip up a fiesta in a flash, you need to have ground cumin, ground coriander, red chile flakes, New Mexico chile powder, chipotle powder, ground cinnamon and Mexican oregano in the cabinet and a handful of varied citrus or citrus juices (lemon, lime and orange) laying around. Fresh cilantro is also a must. Luckily, most of these spices are not expensive and can be found in the spice aisle of your grocery store. Look for the ones that come in the little pouches in the Mexican spice area, rather than your traditional spice bottles, to save some money.

For this recipe, though, you actually don’t need the spices listed above. This is a very simple recipe that only takes patience and a heavy cast iron pan to make it happen. Carnitas are one of my taqueria go-to items. Tender, succulent shreds of pork roast that have been slow roasted to perfection are the name of this game. Traditional carnitas are cooked covered in lard over very low heat in a very heavy pan until they quite literally fall apart, but for the sake of our arteries we won’t go there in this recipe.

Because of our love of all things Mexican food and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’ll give you some of our favorite recipes this week. This first one is still not healthy by any means, but sometimes only carnitas will do. And as part of a bigger meal, one little taco won’t hurt anyone.

Carnitas

Serves 8-10 hungry caballeros

1 fatty pork shoulder roast, about 4 lbs, stripped from the bone if bone-in, and cut into 3-4″ chunks
2 c. orange juice, freshly squeezed or from concentrate
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
3 chiles de arbol, crushed, or 1 t. of crushed red chile flakes
1 t. salt

In a large plastic zip-top bag or deep bowl, combine the orange juice, garlic, chiles or chile powder and salt. Put in pork pieces and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to 4. Remove from refrigerator about a half hour prior to cooking.

Preheat oven to 300*F. Heat a large cast iron skillet (I use a 10″ skillet) over medium high heat and pour in about a tablespoon of canola oil. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and pat dry, reserving 3/4 cup of the marinade.

Sear the pork pieces on all sides in the skillet until they develop a nice brown crust. Pour reserved marinade over the pork pieces in the skillet and place in the oven, uncovered. Bake at 300*F for about 3 hours, or until pork shreds easily with a fork.

Remove skillet from oven, and raise oven temp to 450*F. Carefully shred the pork into bite-sized shreds and place the skillet back in the oven. Cook at 450*F until the liquid has nearly evaporated from the skillet and the pork shreds have a nice brown crispy crust on them, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, radish slices, your favorite salsa*, and warmed corn and flour tortillas.

* Pssst, about salsa: I RARELY make my own. If you have a great taqueria near you whose chips and salsa you love, swing by and ask if you can buy a quart of their salsa and a bag of chips. It will generally set you back less than $5 for the lot, and it’s fresher and tastier than anything you’re going to get at the store.

Feeling Green?

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One thing I’m not is Irish; my people hail from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Like the rest of America, though, I get my green out and get my Irish on for St. Patrick’s Day every year. I washed my favorite green dress yesterday, bought some Guinness and some whiskey, and made a batch of Irish Cream so we could spike our coffee this morning.

Wikipedia says that – what, no history lesson? Well, for those that are interested to know who St. Patrick actually was, here’s some info. He was an interesting fellow, and is the most widely celebrated saint in the world. And for the rest of you lot, I give you the recipe for Irish Cream.

While this isn’t the exact consistency or sweetness of the little brown bottle on the shelf, it comes pretty close, and I like that it isn’t as thick and that I can adjust the flavors to my liking. I also made the Unemployed House Wife version, as I found myself without any freeze dried coffee, and used about a quarter cup of cold, strong brewed coffee instead. Those little insta-packets that come from America’s Favorite Coffee House work brilliantly in this application, if you have them.

You’ll see that this recipe calls for what amounts to enough whiskey to bring down an elephant. I’ve successfully made it with only 1 cup of the hooch, but hey, if you aren’t driving anywhere or are going to rebottle it to give as gifts, make it as leaded as the recipe says. Your hostess and St. Patrick will thank you.

Get out your blender, and put on a pot of coffee, because by the time the joe is finished your Irish Cream will be too. It does taste best when it’s refrigerated for a bit, if you can stand it, but if not just dive in. I won’t tell.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all! Be safe, wear green, and be merry!

Irish Cream
From Cooks.com 

Makes about 5 cups, which goes surprisingly fast.

1 3/4 c. Irish whiskey
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (NOT EVAPORATED)
1 c. (1/2 pt.) whipping cream or half and half (use the heavy cream, you won’t be sorry)
4 eggs*
2 tbsp. chocolate flavored syrup
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
In a blender, combine all ingredients; blend until smooth. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Shake before serving. Makes about 5 cups.
*If you’re worried about egg safety in your area, you can substitute either pasteurized eggs, found near the regular eggs in most markets, or powdered egg substitute, reconstituted according to the package directions.

Shut ‘er down

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I don’t know what’s happened to me in the last couple of weeks. December is my second favorite month of the year, what with all of the parties and Christmas decorations and shopping and baking and such. I look forward to it from January 1 of the new year until its arrival at the tail end of the calendar, all chilly and festive. Maybe the weather had something to do with it. December was decidedly balmy and dry for our neck of the woods. Folks around these parts have loved it: sunny and warm with temperatures getting into the 60’s during the day. And dry! I feel like a lizard. This, for me, is not hunker-down-and-be-cozy weather. I think that having to apply hand lotion 150 times a day because my skin feels like it’s shriveling to be excessive. Can it rain, please? Not just a day, I’m looking for a solid 4 day whopper. I’m hoping it happens soon.

I just wasn’t in the spirit as much as usual this year. Not to get all Charlie Brown on you, but the closer we got to Christmas the less I wanted to ‘do’ it. I wanted to stay close to home or my parents house and enjoy the day. I felt like the running around was all too much, even though we didn’t run around nearly as much as we were supposed to. I apologized to my tree three times because I felt so bad for abandoning it on the day it had been cut and dressed for. I only got to spend just a handful of time with some of my family and I still feel remiss about it. Am I the only one that feels this way? I was definitely the Charlie Browniest this year. I think it was palpable.

And suddenly, New Year’s Eve. I recall seeing or hearing somewhere recently that someone has a friend who believes that you should ring in the New Year in a way that will reflect what you want that year to be filled with. Maybe you want more excitement so you’ll be sure you’re at a party. Maybe you need more rest, and so will bid New Year’s Rockin’ Eve adieu at 11:00 and go to bed. Maybe you’ll surround yourself with a couple of the folks you love most and laugh, drink champagne, and play dominoes. No matter how you slice it, I like this idea: bringing in 2012 surrounded by the loving environment you want to be part of. Chew on that for a second. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

That’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.

New traditions and changes in plans equaled our little house full to the rafters with laughs and love.¬†And for dinner, we had Beef Wellington. I know, Beef Wellington is a 1950’s era staple that has seen more than it’s fair share of rotation on the dinner party circuit. But a¬†good Beef Wellington is impossibly tasty, simple to prepare if you follow the instructions, and hopelessly fancy for a nice dinner presentation. And the fact that you can make it up to a day early makes it even better. It gives you more time to enjoy your guests instead of slaving away in the kitchen while your designated Barkeep pours drinks.

Filet mignon, the cut of meat required in this dish, can be extremely pricey. Talk with your butcher and see if beef medallions, which are cut from the tenderloin as well, are less expensive. And if you have to, buy the whole tapered end of the tenderloin and slice your own. Don’t be frightened! You need a sharp knife and a ruler and you are just about set. Sliced 1.5 – 2″ thick you’ll have a lovely piece of heaven worthy of being called a hand-cut filet (which, I hate to break to you beef fanatics, is what you’re eating in most restaurants, because an actual filet mignon isn’t as shapely for cooking and plating).

Beef Wellingtons with Gorgonzola
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4, doubles easily

four 1 1/2-inch-thick center-cut filets mignons (about 6 ounces each)
4 large mushrooms (about 1/4 pound total)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 large egg
1 puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry), thawed
4 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 425¬įF.

Pat filets mignons dry and season with salt and pepper. In a shallow roasting pan roast filets in middle of oven 12 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 110¬įF for rare, and cool (filets will be baked again after being wrapped in pastry). Chill filets, covered, until cold, about 1 hour.

Thinly slice mushrooms and in a heavy skillet cook in butter with shallot, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, until mushrooms are lightly browned. Transfer mushroom mixture to a bowl to cool completely. In a small bowl lightly beat egg to make an egg wash.

On a lightly floured surface roll out puff pastry sheet into a 14-inch square. Trim edges to form a 13-inch square and cut square into four 61/2-inch squares.

Put 1 tablespoon Gorgonzola in center of 1 square and top with one fourth mushroom mixture. Top mushroom mixture with a filet mignon, pressing it down gently, and wrap 2 opposite corners of puff pastry over filet, overlapping them. Seal seam with egg wash. Wrap remaining 2 corners of pastry over filet and seal in same manner. Seal any gaps with egg wash and press pastry around filet to enclose completely. Arrange beef Wellington, seam side down, in a non-stick baking pan. Make 3 more beef Wellingtons in same manner. Chill remaining egg wash for brushing on pastry just before baking. Chill beef Wellingtons, loosely covered, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 425¬įF.

Brush top and sides of each beef Wellington with some remaining egg wash and bake 20 minutes, or until pastry is golden.

So, you’re supposed to serve this with a Madeira demiglace, which I don’t do, as I never have Madeira or demiglace laying around and I’m not going to go buy them for one dinner. I plan to serve mine with the sauce from this recipe, made with Bourbon instead of the Cognac.

Happy New Year Everyone! May the upcoming year bring you everything you wish for.

Cheese plate looming in the distance

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This time of year can be a little daunting on the Eating Healthily front. A two pound box of See’s delivered to the office here (‘Merry Christmas’ indeed), a plate of cookies from the neighbors there, a holiday party or three on one bustling Saturday. It’s tough to behave all the time, and I know we’re all trying to do our best without feeling like we can’t eat anything.

One thing that we do around our house is make an extra concerted effort to eat better on the days we can control it. Not to say we can’t control what we eat every day (even when faced with three holiday parties full of good eats), but I’m going to be honest with you here: I’m not one of those people who believes in outright deprivation or strictness. If I want a piece of candy, I eat a piece of candy. Cheese plate looming in the distance? I’ll have a bite or two of my favorite. Cookie buffet in the corner? I’ll choose two that sound awesome or are something I don’t make, and stick to those. Being mindful that the first bite or two is enough, and reminding myself that a second helping will never taste as good as the first, are what I use as my aids.

What was I talking about? Eating mindfully, right. (My brain started to segue into cookies, sorry.)  So, when the husband and I are staring down the barrel of a smorgasbord of parties or an upcoming family ravioli feed, I adjust our portion sizes and dinners accordingly around those days. I say dinner because I have no control (and no desire to control) what Nick eats during the day.

I stick to the basics of lean protein, tons and tons of veggies, and maybe a little starch or carby goodness. And since it’s a weeknight, it has to be pretty quick too because I’m not getting everything in the house dirty to lay out 3 courses, you get me? And necessity is the mother of invention as we all know, so most of the time I’m making it up as I go along.

One thing that you can add almost completely guilt-free is extra seasonings. More herbs, more spice, more flavor. It takes an otherwise boring entree and makes it more tasty, and is a simple way to feel indulgent on a Monday night. One way I like to accomplish this is to make a pot of infused olive oil. Our choice fat for everyday cooking, olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking staples we use.

The fancy pants infused stuff in your standard Overpriced Gourmet Grocer can cost you upward of $8 for a 6 ounce bottle (trust me, I’ve looked). And while it’s cutesy and makes a nice quick hostess gift in a hurry, I don’t buy stuff like this to have at home when I have all of the stuff to make it at home. I know, I’m so cheap, but I just can’t.

Infused oils perk everything up. A tiny bit on a salad tossed with some balsamic and it’s instant dressing. A little bit heated in a pan takes a boring boneless chicken breast to a pan-seared golden wonder. Used in conjunction with a bag of spinach and a quick saute it makes wonderful wilted greens for an amazing side dish (crack a couple eggs in there and dinner is done in one pan, more on that later). It takes¬† a couple of minutes and a couple of ingredients to make something that will literally jazz up anything you dare to drizzle it on. And back to that hostess gift: poured into a clean bottle or jar with a lid, and presented with piece of ribbon and a sweet homemade tag it’s a welcome gift, even for those that don’t cook (labeled as Bread Dipping Oil for those folks).

Infused Olive Oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled (no need to chop)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 c. olive oil
4 whole black peppercorns

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and place over medium-high heat until the herbs and garlic are sizzling. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10ish minutes. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature. Remove herb sprigs and garlic cloves and pour into a container with a lid. I’ve been told you should store this in the fridge but I personally never have. It doesn’t stick around long enough to ‘go bad’. Do as you wish. And get crazy with this idea, too: add citrus peels during the infusing process, more garlic, swap for shallots, different herbs. It’s your creation, have some fun with it.

Over it

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I’m sure a couple of you opened the fridge this morning and said the same thing I did: ‘You’re still here.’ Four days ago you couldn’t imagine being tired of turkey. The prospect of the glorious steaming bird and sides for dinner, compounded by an endless need for bottomless turkey sandwiches piled Dagwood-high with all of those sides played tricks on your mind. We gave thanks, we tucked in, and ate turkey dinner and turkey sandwiches with reckless, waist-expanding abandon.

Today, though, most are over it. And I can’t say I blame them. Most Americans aren’t the type that can eat the same thing over and over and over again. Our society has beaten us into thinking that leftovers are second-class citizens, not first-class lunch fixin’s. Right now though, times are tight for a lot of people, throwing the rest of the leftovers away is a wasteful option, if an option at all. And getting the biggest bird you can lift at fire sale pricing is a huge boon to a lot of families, giving thanks or not.

So today, resist the urge to be done with the bird. Thank him one last time for being such a tasty treat, and use every morsel of what’s left. It sounds daunting but I’ll help us all out.

Turkey Leftover Compendium
Surfed from the Web and complied by Yours Truly (me, folks)

Turkey Pot Pie  Рthis one will use up leftover vegetables and mashed potatoes too, if you have them. Triple Word Score!
Tuscan Turkey Soupy Noodles – makes short work of the bottoms of the boxes of pasta on your shelf – you don’t have to use the prescribed noodles
Turkey Porcini Tetrazzini Рsavvy homemakers could whip this up ahead of time to have it ready for dinner later this week
Baked Pasta with Turkey, Tomatoes and Mozzarella РBuon Giorno Bird!
Cobb Salad¬†– this one doesn’t list poultry, but chop up some of that turkey breast and add it to the salad. And the lemon yogurt dressing is such a bright, fresh flavor after a weekend of heavy eating
Moo Shu Turkey Рtired of Thanksgiving flavors all together? This is your recipe.
Turkey Hash¬†– Sub in what pleases you here: if you don’t have stuffing or don’t want potatoes, don’t add them. Throw in some extra vegetables or diced sweet potatoes instead. But whatever you do, be sure to top it with a fried or poached egg. You’ll thank me later.

And if worse comes to worst and you just can’t fathom another bite of that poor bird, pick off all of the meat, chop up the big pieces into bite-sized ones, and freeze it in 1 or 2 cup portions in nice heavy freezer bags. Use it in the same way you would use rotisserie chicken in almost any recipe. Toss the bones and wings into a pot and make stock out of them, which you can also freeze in small or large portions. By just doing these two things between football games today, you’re making dinners for upcoming busy nights. Now, get out there and get some exercise! Ours will be in the form of hanging lights on the house ~ I can’t wait a minute longer.

Most festive of holiday beverages

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I broke down last week and bought a container of eggnog at the grocery store. Moreover, I bought a container of light¬†eggnog because I felt like I should be mindful of my calories in the week leading up to Thanksgiving (which as we all know and don’t admit is a 4 day eating extravaganza).

In doing so, I broke two huge rules on my personal “Are You Nuts?” list, those being 1. It’s socially unacceptable to buy eggnog before Thanksgiving, and 2. High Fructose Corn Syrup is evil. The SECOND INGREDIENT on the back of the carton (which I didn’t read until I got home) is HFCS. I refuse to touch the stuff now, and have learned my lesson for trying to sneak one in on my own Don’t You Dare list.

Besides, grocery store eggnog is supremely sub-par if you’ve ever had the delight and pleasure of having homemade eggnog. Laced with nutmeg and spices and plenty of booze, there’s no way to celebrate the holiday weekend. Roaring fire and blustery weather make it even better. The addition of a snowstorm would make it just about perfect.

No snow here in the wine country, though we have some friends that are crazy enough to go camping this weekend. Camping. In November. In a tent. While this isn’t my ideal way to spend a 4 day weekend, visiting for an afternoon around their campfire and having snacks and laughs is a pretty close second. I’ll bring up a prewarmed Ultimate Turkey Sandwich (more on that later) and a double batch of Ultimate Eggnog.

My Aunt Nancy makes the Best with a Capital B eggnog ever, and while I used to have the recipe, it’s since been lost in one too many reorganizing missions of my recipe folder. This one though has all the makings of hers: raw eggs, plenty of hooch, and enough saturated fat to stop your heart. All of this is OK though, because this is a libation of which you’re only meant to have one (or one and a splash). If you’ve never had the distinct displeasure of drinking too many White Russians then I’ll warn you that one should be very careful when mixing dairy and hard alcohol. Enough said.

Now, if you’re worried about egg safety or just not so sure about raw eggs, I recommend using this recipe instead. It’s not worth taking risks and tempering eggs only takes another minute or two. For those of you lucky enough to have chickens or access to fresh eggs, this is the recipe to showcase them. The bright yellow of a fresh egg yolk adds a distinctly lovely color to this most festive of holiday beverages.

So, whip up a batch of nog this weekend to share with your friends and family. Please note that you should allow it to sit for at least 3 hours, I prefer to let it rest overnight before serving (or at least make it in the morning for that evening’s consumption). It allows the alcohol to temper a bit and all of the flavors to blend and mellow. If you’re used to a more substantial nog, whip your egg whites and your yolks separately, and fold the yolks back in just prior to serving.

The Ultimate Eggnog
From Epicurious

6 large eggs
3/4 cup vanilla sugar (no vanilla sugar? Sub in a teaspoon of good vanilla extract with the 3/4 cup of sugar)
1 quarts half and half (or light cream)
1 cup brandy
2 cups bourbon or dark rum
freshly grated nutmeg

In large bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow and slightly frothy. Add sugar and half and half, and stir until well blended. Add brandy and bourbon (or dark rum) and stir. Transfer to large pitcher and chill until cold, at least 3 hours. Divide between 6 punch cups, garnish each with sprinkle of nutmeg, and serve.

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.