November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Desserts: Fun Turkeys and Delicious Crisp

I hope that everyone had a happy, yummy Thanksgiving!  As I mentioned in my last post, this year I was co-responsible for desserts.  While my mother-in-law conquered the pumpkin pie, (which was delicious), I decided to follow tradition and make my family's pecan tarts, and try a new recipe for a pear, apple, cranberry crisp.  We also got together and made fun, whimsical turkey treats following a recipe she found in Taste of Home Magazine.

Needless to say, there was no dessert shortage and everything tasted great- it's a good thing we all get together for "Thanksgiving Part 2" on Black Friday so we could savor every last bite.

The turkeys were a big hit!  Made out of Keebler's Fudge Stripe cookies and Rice Krispie treats, embellished with candy corns, and held together with melted chocolate- they were both yummy and adorable.  My mother-in-law and I were surprised at how easy, (and reasonably quick) they were to make... a good bit more manageable than the turkey cupcakes I made last year!
First, we "glued" candy corn onto the back of a cookie with some melted chocolate.  While they were setting up in the refrigerator, we made the Rice Krispie treats, which we rolled into balls- the body of the turkeys.  Then, my mother-in-law attached the bodies and the candy corn feet to another cookie using chocolate glue.  While they were drying, I gave each turkey a candy corn face.
Then, we attached the tail feather cookie to the turkey's body using more melted chocolate.  Finally, my mother-in-law gave each turkey two chocolate dot eyes.  In the end, each turkey had a little personality of its own, and because of the tasty materials we used, everyone enjoyed eating them!  (Even our dog Honey, who never steals food from the table, took and ate four and a half of them!! Thankfully, it was not enough chocolate to make her sick.)

A little more "grown up", the crisp I made was phenomenal!!  I really wanted to make a dessert that used some of the wonderful fruit that is in season, without making the usual apple pie.  This crisp, an Ina Garten recipe from the Food Network, was exactly what I was looking for.  Made with in-season apples and pears, the fruit flavors are highlighted by fresh citrus and a little surprise of tart cranberries.  The topping provided just the right amount of seasonal spice and richness.  I will definitely be making this recipe part of my fall repertoire!

Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp
Ina Garten: Serves 8 (probably more)

2 lbs. ripe Bosc apples, (4 pears)
2 lbs. Macoun apples, (6 apples)*
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel, core and cut the apples and pears into large chunks.  Place the fruit into a large bowl, and add cranberries, zests, juices, sugar, flour and spices.  Stir to combine, then pour into 9x12x2 inch baking dish.

For the topping: Combine flour, sugar, salt, oatmeal and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed for one minute, or until the mixture is in large crumbles.  Sprinkle topping over the fruit, covering entirely.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan, (to catch any drippings from the fruit), and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly.  Serve warm.

Notes on this recipe: Although this recipe was wonderful as-is, next time I think that I will substitute the all-purpose flour in the topping with whole wheat flour to add some nutty flavor.  For Thanksgiving, I made this dish ahead of time.  The day before, I followed the recipe but did not bake- I covered in with foil and kept it in the refrigerator.  After getting to dinner, which was held at my husband's aunt's house, I put the crisp in the oven and baked for one hour. The timing was perfect: the crisp was still warm when we were finished with dinner and ready for dessert.  The next night, I tried the crisp cold... it was still delicious!

*My grocery store did not have Macoun apples, so I substituted Pink Lady apples.

Again, I hope that everyone really enjoyed their Thanksgivings! I had a lot to be thankful for this year, and definitely enjoyed my holiday.

Coming Soon: An annual cookie exchange... I'm not really sure what kind of cookie I will be making this year, but I will be back to share my cookie recipe and cookie exchange stories with you soon!  For now, I'm off to decorate the house for Christmas!

You can find the original crisp recipe here on the Food Network website. 

November 22, 2011

Fall Flavors: Roasted Butternut Squash

Thanksgiving is almost here!!  Sadly, I'm having trouble getting into the spirit of my favorite holiday this year.  I think I just lost track of the season between having a baby, being out of work, and being out of town during the height of the fall leaves...

Last night, I set out to fix my season slump by making a dinner full of some of my favorite fall flavors.  I made a oven roasted pork tenderloin, (which I marinated in a mixture of maple syrup, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, cloves, cinnamon, salt and red and black pepper), sauteed kale, and the best part: roasted butternut squash.

I really enjoy the flavor of butternut squash, so I wanted to lightly season the squash with spices that would highlight the squash's nutty flavor.  Roasting the squash in the oven further enhanced the flavors and created the perfect bite: a caramelized slightly crisp outside with a tender, moist center.  The surprise at the end: a light drizzle of pure maple syrup brought out the squash's natural sweetness and helped create the subtle sweet/savory flavor I really enjoy.

Roasted Butternut Squash

1 medium butternut squash
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure maple syrup, drizzled over squash to finish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Slice squash in half, scoop out seeds, and using vegetable peeler, peel skin off of squash.  Cut squash into bite-sized pieces.  Place squash onto baking sheet,  toss with oil and spices.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes*.  While squash is still on baking sheet, drizzle with maple syrup.  Transfer squash to serving dish.

*Baking time will depend on how big "bite-sized" pieces are cut.

Dinner was delicious, and I can happily report that I'm now in the spirit of the season... just in time!! I have dessert duty for Thanksgiving, and today is planning and shopping day.  I will share my baking adventures soon!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes and desserts??

November 15, 2011

Road Trip: Florida's Columbia Restaurant

My husband and I just got back from a two week long road trip that we took with our now 6 week old son...  Yes, we are some of those insane parents determined to stay mobile with an infant.   It was exhausting at times, (especially for my husband who did most of the driving), but overall it was a great vacation.  We were able to visit family, relax and eat a lot of great food!

A view of the patio dining room at Columbia Sarasota
While visiting my family in Florida, we made it a point to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, the legendary Columbia Restaurant.  We were unable to visit the original Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, c. 1905 during this visit, but instead we went to the location on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, Florida which was opened in 1959.  Columbia, Florida's oldest restaurant, is also the world's oldest Spanish restaurant.  Owned and operated by the Hernandez Gonzmart family since it's beginning, the Columbia restaurant now spans seven locations and has won several awards; including the Best Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator, "One of America's Top 10 Salads" from USA today, and several awards of excellence and distinction as both a Spanish restaurant, and a restaurant in general.  The awards are well deserved and the menu definitely lives up to its reputation.

For much of the very warm summer, I had been craving a mojito... and no one makes them like Columbia does!  They are also known for their incredible Sangria, (both their red and white are fabulous), but I had mojitos on my mind.  There is something incredibly refreshing about the taste of mixing cool mint leaves, tart lime juice, a touch of sweetness, a little fizz and, of course, the rum... We ordered a pitcher which, prepared table side by our waiter, made it even more fun to enjoy.

There is, of course, more to a restaurant than the drinks they serve and Columbia's menu offers plenty of delicious dishes to choose from... all served with generous portions of warm, freshly baked, crusty, cuban bread and butter.

"1905 Salad"

They are very well known for their "1905 Salad", a mix of crisp iceberg lettuce, julienned swiss cheese and baked ham, beefsteak tomato wedges, spanish olives, freshly grated Romano cheese and their incredible garlic dressing.  The meal-sized salad is assembled and tossed table side, but we opted to order the smaller versions to accompany our tapas lunch.

Black Bean Cakes
Chorizo "Espanola"
My husband and I had the "Tapeo" Sampler- made of three tapas of our choosing.  We ordered gambas "Al Ajillo", (shrimp sauteed in olive oil, garlic and chili pepper), black bean cakes, and chorizo "Espanola".  All three were mouth-watering.  My mother ordered the tapas plate of Empanadas de Picadillo- two perfectly assembled empanadas filled with their family recipe Picadillo served with a fresh corn and black bean salsa...delicious!

The food, along with the friendly and attentive staff, the beautifully decorated dining rooms and fresh open-air environment right on St. Armands circle made for a wonderful afternoon.  On our next visit, I'm hoping to be able to experience the original Columbia restaurant in Tampa and learn more about the restaurant's rich history... perhaps while enjoying a glass of their Sangria!

You can learn more about Columbia Restaurant on their website.
Photo of patio dining room was taken from the Columbia website.