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Archive for the ‘NaPoBloMo’ Category

I was discussing with some co-workers last Wednesday how absolutely insane people get over their Thanksgiving traditions. For some people, it is not Thanksgiving without the creamed onions, while others must have the whole berry cranberry sauce or the death of all those Native Americans was for naught. People lose all perspective and insist on eating total crap they would never eat on a normal day just because tradition dictates. Some if it is not even that good. Green bean casserole, I am looking at you. A can of soup mixed with soggy beans? Really?

Traditions are traditions and I hold mine near and dear, but if we are going to gain some weight during the holidays, it should be for good food. (Speaking of gaining weight, I gained 4 freaking pounds over the course of last week. 4 pounds! It was worth it, but the treadmill and I are the best of friends this week. Yowza.) I merely advocate coming up with some better traditions of your own. Truly examine how much you love those store bought rolls or that nasty olive platter with the canned olives.

As I have stated before, I don’t think sweet potatoes should be relegated to a purely Thanksgiving dish. These did make an appearance on my Thanksgiving table, but I hope to make them again before the winter is through. I mean, they call for bourbon; how can you go wrong? They actually taste great, could be lightened up by using milk, and would perfectly compliment a pork dish. I swear you won’t miss the marshmallows.

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Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

Adapted from Bon Appetit

4 lbs red skinned sweet potatoes

1/2 cup whipping cream

6 tablespoons (3/4 cup) butter

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 1/2 Tablespoons bourbon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup walnut and pecan mixture, toasted, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roast potatoes on rimmed baking sheet until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh into large bowl; discard skins. Mash hot potatoes until coarse puree forms.

Heat cream and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir hot cream mixture into hot potatoes. Stir in syrup, bourbon, and all spices. Season with salt and pepper.

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The tryptophan coma has worn off and the leftovers are almost gone; at appears everyone near and dear to me has made it through this holiday with nary a familial meltdown or kitchen disaster. The next month contains countless birthdays, holiday parties, baby showers, and assorted chaos. I don’t know if I am ready, but life continues.  I have important thing to tend to right now, like leftovers.

I spent a good deal of time staring into the fridge this weekend and pondering what to do with all the turkey Aunt LifeSaver had send home with me. I landed on throwing together a simple, homey turkey soup. It is the perfect way to detox after such an indulgent weekend and has the added bonus of using a bunch of leftover odds and ends in the fridge. Of course, detoxing from all the food is sort of fruitless when I chose to wash it down with an obscene amount of wine. When the two of us decided to crack open the third bottle Saturday night, I finally knew what it is like to reach the point of no return.

This is an improvised recipe, compromised with what I had on hand and supplemented with a few things from the store. Other vegetables–lima beans and green beans come to mind immediately–would be great, and leftover chicken would obviously go just as well. Fresh or dried herbs work great and the pasta if optional and can vary; I used orzo, but any type of pasta, barley, or rice would be great. Soup is the simplest thing to make in the word and the only thing that limits is the imagination. The only thing to keep in mind is making sure the vegetables are chopped small enough to fit on a soup spoon.  I am often asked how I “know” things will work, and honestly, it is trail and error. If you don’t like how the soup comes out one time, just keep on trying. You will find something that works. Though I hate failure, you cannot fear it in the kitchen if you want to learn anything. It just takes some time to figure out what will work.  If it yield soup like this, the time is worth it.

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Turkey Orzo Soup

2 tsp olive oil

1 small onion (1/2 large), chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 carrots, diced (I used a large handful of baby carrots)

3 celery stalks, diced

8 cups low sodium chicken broth (I used some stock which has a richer flavor)

1 1/2 cups turkey, diced

1 cup frozen peas

4 sprigs thyme (the leaves will fall off as the soup cooks)

1 bay leaf

1 tsp herbs de provence

1 cup orzo, dried

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil and saute onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Add carrot and saute for an additional two minutes, then add celery and saute for about two minutes. Add chicken broth, peas, diced turkey, bay leaf, herbs de provence and thyme. Let it heat for about 10 minutes and then add orzo. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and fish out bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. Serves about 6-8.

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Thankful

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I have much to be thankful for, including loving and supportive friends, a caring albeit dysfunctional family, an apartment I love, a phenomenal shoe collection and a stomach of steel.

May I remember this always, especially as I stare down into the bottom of my fourth empty wine glass tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

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Killing Me Softly

Basically. NaPoBloMo has me a woman on the brink. I am finding that even more than usual, I am thinking of food, trying to come up with things to post and say. It is a huge statement to say I have never thought of food more; this is coming from a woman who used to be able to eat a whole pint of ice cream and then wash it down with some french fries. Those days are far behind me, but I do feel a bit of uneasiness with how much I have been thinking of recipes, combing through epicurious and visiting a billion food blogs. Maybe one day I will get into the weight saga of the old Lemmonex, but this is something I cannot think about with the orgy that is Thanksgiving two days away. Plus, dude, who wants to hear another girl bitch about her weight on the internet? I may have to take a few days off after Thanksgiving from this and get a big fat F in NaPoBloMo–I need to detox.

Continuing on my path of self destruction, I made a strata this weekend to celebrate Irish Lebowski’s b’day. She came over for brunch, we kvetched, fun was had by all. The strata was decadent and over the top; kind of how I like most things. The recipe below was actually tweaked a lot to cut a decent amount of fat, but make no mistake about it; this is not good for you. A small amount will not kill you, though, and we cut the richness with a salad. As we ate this creamy, eggy dish, we both observed that fruit salad may have been better. This would be the perfect kind of dish to serve over the holidays. It can easily sit in the fridge–as the flavors intensify–and be popped in the oven in the morning.

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(For once, it is not me with the photo problems…damn you WordPress)

Goat Cheese, Artichoke and Smoked Ham Strata

Adapted from Bon Apetit

2 cups low fat milk

1/4 cup olive oil

8 cups 1-inch cubes sourdough bread or soft top white bread

1 1/2 cups fat free half and half

5 large eggs

1 large chopped garlic clove

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet), crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence

12 ounces smoked ham, chopped

2 6 1/2-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained, halved lengthwise

1 cup (packed) grated Fontina cheese

1 1/2 cups (packed) grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Whisk milk and oil in large bowl. Stir in bread. Let stand until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Whisk cream and next 5 ingredients in another large bowl to blend. Add goat cheese. Mix herbs in small bowl to blend.

Place half of bread mixture in prepared dish. Top with half of ham, artichoke hearts, herbs, and cheeses. Pour half of cream mixture over. Repeat layering with remaining bread, ham, artichoke hearts, herbs, cheeses, and cream mixture. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Bake uncovered until firm in center and brown around edges, about 1 hour.

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Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving’s early arrival this year has thrown me off my game. I planned to post some Thanksgivingy ideas earlier, but I’ve been very busy, and work is hectic and blah, blah, blah. So, without further ado, here are some random thoughts that you can feel free to ignore.

  • Turkey is one of those things I never really make at home except for Thanksgiving; I am always super excited for the bird every year. I do feel like people fall in to staunch pro and anti turkey camps, so if you are one of those weirdos…I mean people…who doesn’t like turkey, a roasted chicken would work well. If it is a smaller party, I am really partial to cornish game hens; they are very hard to mess up. Also, there is no rule that poultry has to be served on Thanksgiving; lamb would be great as would a prime rib. I just cannot really advocate ham; to me, that is purely Christmas.
  • In the non meat world, I have been eying a Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna for a while that looks stellar and would be fantastic even if a vegetarian is not attending your feast.
  • Slashfood and Yum Sugar have been updating constantly this week with oodles of Thanksgiving ideas. If you are stumped, it will get your creative juices flowing.
  • Though I love the glut that is Thanksgiving, I think it is best to focus on making three or four really great sides instead of having a bunch of sub par stuff on the table. Aunt LifeSaver asked folks if there was something they needed to have on the table and then planned around that. I, for one, cannot live without cranberry sauce, being the New England girl that I am. But other than that? I can get most stuff any other time. It is not necessary to have three forms of potatoes on the table.

So, there are my thoughts. Have any of your own?

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Thursday Bonus Round

Things I find personally disturbing:

1. Cheese in a can

2. Canned Olives

3. Carrots in a can

Things I don’t mind as much:

1. Box of Mac ‘n’ Cheese

2. Bento Box

3. Dick in a box

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Cindarella will be in Peru for Thanksgiving, so she did what any other rational and reasonable person would do: planned a full, over the top Thanksgiving dinner for her friends. The two best cooks in my life are Cindarella and Aunt LifeSaver, so I consider myself extremely lucky that I get to have a meal prepared by each this year. The only thing better than Thanksgiving is two Thanksgivings.

Just like last year, I was put on gravy duty. Cindarella considers the gravy to be her white whale, so for the second year in a row, I was summoned by her to the kitchen and handed a whisk. While stirring away, I was quickly reminded of the infamous gravy incident of last year. I had consumed an entire pitcher of sangria as I helped Cindarella out in the kitchen; it is a mortal weakness of mine and I just cannot pass up sangria. As I prepared a huge vessel of gravy in a bubbling roasting pan, I dropped my whisk into the molten liquid. Without a seconds thought, I plunged my hand into the pan and grabbed my whisk. Cindarella stood by, mouth agape, and suggested that maybe I should lay off the sauce while cooking. I obliged, but I don’t think that was what our forefathers would have wanted.

(Another memory from last Thanksgiving that makes me feel warm and tingly inside: an understandably angry ex-Vet hitting on me, raging about the war in Iraq and insistently showing me his chest, which was adorned with the two scariest clown tattoos I have ever seen. This was not the Thanksgiving of my youth.)

Luckily, I had more to contribute to this years (pre) Thanksgiving than drunken shenanigans and gravy. I have been promising a pumpkin cheesecake recipe to my Aunt Carol and this was the perfect time to take one for a test drive. This is an adapted version of one circulating on the interwebs claiming to be “the Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Cheesecake”. I changed the crust recipe, amped up the spices and added ginger, and topped with pecans. I must admit; it was incredible. The steps may seem daunting, but it is not complicated to put this together. The results will make you the most loved member of your Thanksgiving party. Well, I may have loved Cindarella’s bourbon sweet potatoes a little more, but still, make this. I implore you.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake

Adapted from RecipeZaar

Crust:

1 1/2 cups cinnamon graham crackers, made into crumbs

5 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted

2 tsp. sugar

Filling:

3- 8oz.pkgs. cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup canned pumpkin

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. allspice

½ cup halved pecans

Homemade whipped cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Make the crust by combining the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and 1 T sugar in a medium bowl.
  3. Stir well enough to coat all of the crumbs with the butter, but not so much as to turn the mixture into paste. Keep it crumbly.
  4. Put foil partway up the outside part of an 8-inch springform pan.
  5. Press the crumbs onto the bottom and about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the springform pan. You don’t want the crust to form all of the way up the back of each slice of cheesecake.
  6. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then set aside until you are ready to fill it.
  7. Boil a kettle of water.
  8. In a large mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, 1 C sugar, and vanilla.
  9. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth.
  10. Add the pumpkin, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and continue beating until smooth and creamy.
  11. Pour the filling into the pan.
  12. Put boiled water in a pan and put on the rack below the cake pan. (this prevents excessive cracking of the cake, though I usually get one crack.)
  13. Bake for 60-70 minutes. The top will turn a bit darker at this point.
  14. Remove from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool.
  15. After it has cooled about 20 minutes, press pecan halves around the edges.
  16. When the cheesecake has come to room temperature, put it into the refrigerator. (this took about 2.5 hours)
  17. When the cheesecake has chilled, remove the pan sides and cut the cake into 8 equal pieces.
  18. Serve with a generous portion of whipped cream on top.

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