Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Day of Thanks

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Being with family, enjoying good food, and just relaxing make it a special day.  Each year my husband and I do something different for Thanksgiving.  Last year, we were alone having a very small meal in our own home.  Some years we are with my husband's family having Thanksgiving with his immediate family.  This year it is our turn to be with my family which includes my mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  In this case, I will be bringing some of the items, but most of the food will be prepared by others since we live out of town.  Items on the menu include turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potato casserole, beans, greens, biscuits, and dessert.  

My contributions for the day will be dessert, cranberry sauce, and Brussels Sprouts.  

I will be making Toffee Pecan Pie which is really superior to regular pecan pie recipes.  The filling is thicker, less jelly-like, and it is chock-full of nuts.  The toffee adds to the pie's deeper flavor giving it a brown-butter like quality.  I will be using the ratio of flour to fat that I do for the All Butter Pie Crust, but I will most likely be adding a little home rendered lard to the crust for extra flakiness and because I happen to have it on hand. 

The Brussels Sprouts will be shredded and cooked with a little bacon.  They are fantastic and can turn anyone adamantly opposed to Brussels Sprouts into a lover of the cute little cruciferous veg. 

The Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Pecans is really more of a conserve than sauce.  It is chunky, loaded for bursting fruits, and crunchy with nuts.  It is my favorite cranberry sauce and the one I have to make every year.  Leftovers are delicious over desserts, ice cream, or on sandwiches.  Imagine melty fontina cheese on sourdough bread with a little cranberry sauce in between the layers.  Yum!

I will also be trying a new recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine for a Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart.  Based on reviews and what I will have on hand, I will be making a few changes to the original recipe.  Since my pie crust recipe makes two crusts (and since many reviewers for the tart did not like the cornmeal crust in the original recipe), I will be using the second all butter crust for the tart instead.  Many reviewers also thought the bourbon flavor was too strong so I will be omitting it from the tart when I make it.  Everything else will remain the same, and we'll see how it goes.  I will make the candied pepitas the day before along with the crust to make assembly a little quicker.  

In the meantime, I will be trying to consume less caloric options so that I can actually enjoy the big day.  I hope everyone has a fabulous holiday with friends, family, good food, and plenty to be thankful for.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Beet Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Here is a super simple, healthy, and tasty salad that works equally well for a quick weeknight meal as it does for a special occasion.  The salad consists of only a handful of ingredients, so the ingredients you use must be of the utmost quality.  Although the salad would be bit time consuming if preparing it from scratch just before wanting to serve it, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort the night you want to eat it by preparing its individual parts ahead of time.  

The beets, which should be purchased when they are small or medium in size, can be roasted in the oven several days before.  I roast them by cutting the tops off leaving about 1 inch of the stem intact.  I then scrub them well, place them in a single layer in a baking dish, and pour in just enough water to cover the bottom.  I place aluminum foil over the dish and roast them in a 425 degree oven for thirty minutes to an hour depending on their size.  They are done when a knife can be inserted into the center with little to no resistance.  You could uncover them about halfway through to get a more caramelized exterior and deepen their sweetness.  They can then be peeled, cut into wedges, and refrigerated until you are ready to use them.  This makes it easy to throw this or a similar salad together several times over the course of a week.  You can also roast and freeze some of the beets if you want a few ready for a future salad as well.  

The remaining ingredients are small, tender greens (I used a mix of baby lettuces and radicchio), candied pecans (such as Trader Joe's Candied Pecans although you could make your own if you are so inclined), and crumbled blue cheese.  Everything is lightly tossed with a drizzle of a tangy balsamic vinaigrette sweetened with honey.  The vinaigrette does not have as much oil as most (this one has a 1:1 ratio rather than the more standard 1:3), but it is important that the vinaigrette be assertive enough to stand up to the earthiness of the beets and the sharpness of the blue cheese.  Once on the salad, it will not seem overly acidic at all. 

With these ingredients on hand and at the ready, this colorful and delicious salad is always at your fingertips.  

Beet Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Pecans, and Balsamic Vinaigrette- serves 4

4 cups loosely packed baby greens (or tender lettuces, torn)
4 beets, roasted, peeled, and sliced into 4-6 wedges each
4 oz blue cheese, crumbled
4 tbsp candied pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp raw honey
salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and honey.  Slow drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly, until combined. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Set aside.  You could also add these ingredients into a small jar, put the lid on tightly, and shake vigorously to combine.  

In a small bowl, combine the greens with about half the vinaigrette (you just need enough to lightly coat each leaf).  Divide the greens evenly among four plates or bowls.  In the now empty bowl, gently toss the beet wedges with the remaining vinaigrette.  Place the beet wedges on top of the dressed greens, dividing them evenly among the four plates.  Crumble 1 ounce of cheese over each salad.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans over each.  Serve salads immediately.   

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Garlic, and Almonds

Last week I spent a couple of days in New York City.  Usually when we are there it is near Christmas or in the summer, but this year it was nice to go in the fall.  I particularly enjoyed spending the morning at the Union Square Greenmarket where I purchased several heads of beautiful and colorful cauliflower.  At the market here at home, I rarely see locally grown cauliflower much less cauliflower in shades of green, orange, and purple.  It was a treat. It was also a little difficult to pack in my carry-on for the plane, but I made it work.  I also purchased some artisanal Vesuvio pasta from Eataly, a market filled with Italian foods and restaurants.  Vesuvio pasta is a spiral shaped pasta resembling a shell or the volcano for which it is named. 

Of course, bringing produce and pasta back from New York makes you want to do something special with it, so I threw together this tasty dish using an adaptation of a recipe from Cooks IllustratedThe cauliflower gets roasted in a scorching hot oven until it is well browned.  Then it gets mixed with the pasta and a sauce made of roasted garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice.  A bit of freshly grated cheese helps hold everything together and create a sauce that clings nicely to the pasta.  The sprinkling of almonds on top adds a nice crunch.  

I haven't changed this pasta recipe much, but I have decreased the amount of pasta to make it healthier and lighter and to serve two people rather than four.  I also decreased the amount of olive oil and cheese, but the overall dish is just as good or better than it was when I made it with the full amounts.  You can also make this with broccoli or other roasted veggies, and you can substitute other types of nuts depending on what you have on hand.  

A word of warning about the lemon juice...the original recipe calls for 2-3 tablespoons.  We find that 1 1/2-2 tablespoons is sufficient to give it nice lemony flavor without being overpowering.  Add some juice, taste test, and adjust as needed for your own personal tastes.  

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Garlic, and Almonds- serves 2-3

Don't be put off by the amount of garlic in this recipe.  It mellows nicely when roasted and makes a great sauce.  Vesuvio pasta is not available in most markets so use a short pasta such as fusilli or orrechiette instead.    

2 heads garlic, top quarter of each head cut off and discarded
3 Tbsp plus 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil or canola cooking spray
1 head cauliflower, florets cut in bite size pieces, leaves and stems discarded
1/2 pound short molded pasta
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated plus more for grating on top
2 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Place each prepared head of garlic in the center of a square of aluminum foil and drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over each.  Fold the foil upwards to create a sealed packet, and place the packets in the center of a large baking sheet to roast for 20 minutes.  

Remove the baking sheet from the oven.  Place the prepared cauliflower florets around the foil packets on the baking sheet.  Spray the cauliflower with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue to roast the cauliflower and garlic for an additional 20-25 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until the cauliflower is well browned and tender when pierced with a fork.  

Remove the garlic packets from the oven and carefully open the packets to help them cool quickly.  Once cool enough to handle, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into a small bowl.  Mash the garlic with a fork until it forms a paste.  Add the red pepper flakes, a sprinkling of salt, and the lemon juice to the garlic and stir.  Slowly stir in the 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Set the sauce aside.  

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions.  Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Drain the pasta and return it to the empty pot.  

Mix the pasta and roasted cauliflower.  Add the garlic sauce, pasta cooking liquid, and 1/2 cup cheese.  Stir gently to combine and distribute ingredients.  Serve pasta in a shallow bowl sprinkled with toasted almonds and additional grated cheese.  

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