December 04, 2014

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Turkey recipes

I can't believe that it has taken me so long to sit down and share my recipes for leftover Thanksgiving turkey!! (These recipes could also be used for leftover chicken, or freshly cooked turkey or chicken.)

I have to say, life has been busy lately- anyone who tells you that maternity leave is relaxing when you have holidays to plan and a three-year-old to entertain, is selling you something. We hosted a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, and Thanksgiving Part 2 on Friday. There were many dishes of incredible food- homemade cranberry sauce, green bean casserole from scratch, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts gratin (I'll share that recipe soon, too!), pies, cookies, and more! The centerpiece of it all, of course, was the turkey...

My husband helped me make two delicious bacon-wrapped turkeys. Thankfully, we have two ovens and he tended the bird downstairs so that I didn't have to huff and puff up and downstairs all afternoon!

Everyone loved our turkeys- and the delicious bacon on top!- but as per tradition, after everyone had eaten all they could, we still had turkey leftover to work with. This year, I made two noteworthy meals with what was left!

First taste of leftovers: turkey wrap with cranberry sauce and mayo
First, I made the most incredible turkey soup I've ever had. I mean, it was awesome. I think some the deliciousness had to do with the residual sage butter and bacon yumminess that was left on the turkey... No wonder we devoured it!

Turkey Noodle Soup
Serves 6-8

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 1/2 cup chopped parsnip
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 big bay leaf
4 cups chopped turkey
7 cups fat free, reduced sodium chicken broth
2 cups medium egg noodles

Melt butter in bottom of soup pot over medium heat, add oil. Add veggies, garlic and seasonings; saute until onion is translucent. Add the turkey and the broth, bring to boil and then reduce to simmer and cover; simmer to warm through and allow everything to come together. About 10 minutes before serving, stir in noodles and re-cover pot. Test to make sure noodles are to your liking, then serve and enjoy!!

For a little fun, I served the soup with some goldfish crackers... it made a perfect meal for a cold rainy night!!

The night after we slurped up our soup, I set out to make another delicious dinner using our leftover turkey... for some reason, the idea of turkey tetrazzini stuck in my head. Because I have never made tetrazzini, I scoured the internet to review several different recipes. I ended up adapting a recipe from the Pioneer Woman (here's the original recipe)... the result was another great recipe for our leftover turkey, one which I will definitely be trying again!!

Turkey Tetrazzini
Adapted from Pioneer Woman; Serves 8-12

4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound white mushrooms, quartered
1 cup dry white wine (I used cooking wine)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 cups leftover turkey, diced
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
12 oz thin spaghetti, broken in half and cooked
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, if desired
about 1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 350. Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat; add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add in mushrooms, saute until lightly browned. Stir in wine, salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces by half- 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle mushroom mixture with flour, stirring to combine. Add the broth to pan, stirring to combine. Cook until sauce is thickened- about 3-4 minutes. Add the cream cheese in small pieces and stir with whisk until it mixes in. Add the turkey, peas, and Monterey Jack cheese. Stir until everything is combined. Stir in spaghetti and red pepper flakes (if desired).
Pour mixture into 9x13 pan and top with Panko. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly and breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Serve with a vegetable of your choice, or simple side salad. We had this tetrazzini for dinner two nights in a row, (what happens when you're busy!) and even shared with my in-laws. I am happy to report that everyone loved it!

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and enjoyed your leftovers in different ways!

I will share my brussels sprouts recipe soon- it will be a good one during the winter, or even at Christmas dinner... I will also start baking this weekend, so look forward to some yummy cookie recipes!

November 23, 2014

Pumpkin Spice French Toast

Good morning!!

This morning I was in the mood to make something special for breakfast. I've been in the midst of planning Thanksgiving- with pumpkin on my mind- and I decided to try making some pumpkin french toast. I'm glad I did!!

This french toast would make an excellent breakfast for Thanksgiving morning, or any other fall morning you're in the mood for some pumpkin spice. The recipe is simple, and since I always seem to have canned pumpkin in my pantry from August-November, all of the ingredients were already stocked.

Since we're having a lazy Sunday morning, I got to involve my son in the cooking. I love having him help in the kitchen, and he loves to whisk and mix things, so we had a great time! He is always so interested in the measuring, mixing and cooking; and is so proud of the finished product... especially when it's as yummy as this french toast!!

Pumpkin Spice French Toast
Makes 10 slices

10 slices of bread (I used regular light wheat bread)
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup 2% milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar

unsalted butter or coconut oil for cooking
pure maple syrup or Lyle's Golden Syrup for serving

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In shallow dish, combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, spices and sugar. Melt butter or coconut oil in large skillet over medium heat. Dip slices of bread in pumpkin mixture, and place into heated skillet. Cook until browned, then flip to cook on other side. When cooked, remove from skillet and place in oven proof dish and into oven to keep warm. Continue until all slices are done. Drizzle with maple syrup and enjoy!!!

This morning, instead of maple syrup, I served our Pumpkin Spice French Toast with golden syrup...
A couple of weeks ago, I was on the hunt for golden syrup for use in a cookie recipe (I'll be sharing that next month). Lyle's Golden Syrup is imported from the UK and is used for baking and as a topping for waffles, pancakes, etc... everything that I had read said that there was really no substitute due to its unique flavor. This morning, I decided to crack open the jar that I had hunted down, (I found it at my local Wegmans!), to see what the fuss was about. YUM! I'll definitely be keeping it stocked in my pantry from now on. It tastes slightly sweet, (less sweet than maple syrup), with a buttery, cooked sugar flavor. I'm glad I decided to try something new!!

November 21, 2014

My Mom's Pumpkin Quick Bread

Pumpkin bread loaf... what's left
Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors of the fall... it makes a great flavor for pancakes, muffins, soups, pastas, pies, coffees, and breads. Soon, it will be time to pack away the pumpkin recipes and make way for all of the goodies that come with the Christmas season.

The other night, while planning our Thanksgiving meal and working on ten other projects, I got a craving for pumpkin bread. I have not made it yet this fall, and was craving a slice of the moist, lightly spiced, childhood favorite. My first fall in college away from home, my mom sent me a care package with a loaf of this bread inside... it was the most wonderful surprise. The smell of the spices immediately reminded my roommate and I of home, and provided a taste of home cooking that we missed dearly. To me, this pumpkin bread = fall.

This bread is fantastic as breakfast- sometimes I like to smear a little cream cheese on top- great as a snack, and could even work as dessert. I brought one of the loaves to work today for a morning meeting, and can say that its a crowd pleaser!

Pumpkin Bread
Makes 2 loaves

3 cups sugar (I use about 2.5 cups)
2 cups salad oil
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups pumpkin
2/3 cups water
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and oil together in large bowl. Add eggs and pumpkin; mix well. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl and stir with whisk. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, alternating with water. Pour into 2 greased and floured loaf pans and bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes in pans, then remove from pans and cool completely.

I hope that you enjoy this bread as much as I do! If you're traveling for Thanksgiving, bring a loaf along with you- your host/hostess and friends/family will thank you!!

November 14, 2014

Farfalle with Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach

I really enjoy seasonal pasta dishes: In the springtime, I thoroughly enjoy making pasta primavera to showcase the fresh produce that has started to pop up in the grocery store and at the farmer's market. Summer isn't complete without at least one serving of pasta salad served at a cookout... Fall is a great time for pumpkin gnocchi, and butternut squash stuffed shells... and winter is prime time for lasagna and other comforting, warming pastas that help us stave off the winter blues, and maybe even some frostbite. (I get really, really cold during the winter- I thank my Florida native blood for that...)

I remember one fall, I made the most delicious baked butternut squash stuffed shells with sage cream sauce. They were incredible... they were also one of the most labor intensive and time consuming meals, (and maybe the most calorie laden- thanks to the cream sauce) that I had made that year. All that aside, pasta and butternut squash make a surprisingly good pair. One that deserves more attention, and certainly more time at my dinner table!

Tonight's recipe was inspired by a Cooking Light recipe that I found in this November's issue, and is definitely a keeper. Far less labor intensive than those shells, much more healthy, and still full of flavor, I highly recommend this dish. Thanks to the quick and easy prep, it makes a great weeknight meal!

Farfalle with Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach
Serves 6-8

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
12 oz. uncooked farfalle
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place peeled squash on baking sheet in single layer; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until tender- turning halfway through- set aside when done. While squash is roasting, bring water to boil for pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions- drain and set aside. In a separate large pan, combine 1 tbsp olive oil, chicken broth, vinegar, and garlic; simmer about 8 minutes over medium-high heat and allow to reduce. Toss pasta, butternut squash, and spinach in pan with sauce; add parmesan cheese and mix to combine.


November 12, 2014

Quick, Delicious and Healthy: Baked Peanutty Chicken Cutlets

Quick and easy dinner recipes can be few and far between... add the requirement of being healthy, and it can become even more daunting to find a delicious, family-pleasing dinner. Thankfully, my favorite go-to for recipes, Cooking Light, delivers such recipes- recipes that have become part of our weekly and monthly rotations... and recipes that have become some of my favorites.

Tonight's dinner: Baked Peanutty Chicken Cutlets, are definitely one of our favorites. Quick and easy- using staple ingredients, these chicken cutlets are some of the best "chicken fingers" I've ever had- and definitely the best I've made. 

To make this recipe a little more kid-friendly and fun, I start with chicken breasts and slice my chicken into tenders. Doing so also helps with making the perfect portion sizes for kids and adults. I also omit the chutney- we think that this chicken is perfect on its own. Tonight, I paired the tenders with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed green beans for a well-rounded meal. 

Baked Peanutty Chicken Cutlets
Cooking Light: Serves 4

2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup peanuts
1 cup panko
4 (1/2 in thick) chicken breast cutlets (about 1 lb)
cooking spray
1/4 cup peach chutney (optional)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Combine honey and mustard in a small bowl, stir well. Place peanuts in food processor, pulse until finely chopped. Combine peanuts and panko in a separate, shallow bowl. Brush each cutlet with honey mixture; dredge cutlets in panko mixture. Place cutlets on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; lightly coat cutlets with cooking spray. Bake at 500 degrees for 8 minutes, or until done. Serve with chutney- if desired.


November 05, 2014

Crockpot Dinner: Balsamic Pork Roast {and Honey Glazed Carrots}

I love making dinners in the crockpot; there is something magical and relaxing about coming home to a house that smells yummy, and a dinner that is (at least mostly) ready to serve.

Today we got to enjoy a family day off together, and a hands-off crockpot meal really helped keep the relaxed pace of the day going, and made dinner time simple and easy.

I don't make a lot of pork. I am pretty finicky about pork in general, but pork tenderloin and crockpots go together like peanut butter and jelly... so I have to give it a go every once in a while- particularly in the fall and winter months.

Tonight's recipe strayed from my fall back flavor combination of pork and apples, and I have to admit that I'm very glad that we tried something new! I found this recipe on another great blog which features healthy and tasty meals. (Thanks to her, I can also provide the nutritional info!) I served the pork with mashed potatoes and honey glazed carrots (see my recipe below) and it was an easy, delicious, and warming meal- one that I will be making again and again!

Crock Pot Balsamic Pork Roast

From Serves 8

2 lb boneless pork shoulder roast
Kosher salt, to taste (I used 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp honey

Season the pork with salt, garlic powder and red pepper flakes and place it into the slow cooker. Mix together the broth, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar and pour it over the pork. The pour the honey over and set timer for 4 hours on High, or 6-8 hours on Low. (I cooked mine for 7hrs on Low)
Once the pork is cooked and tender, remove from slow cooker with tongs into a serving dish. Break apart lightly with two forks and put back into the slow cooker; ladle 1/2 cup sauce over the pork and keep warm until ready to eat. (I didn't seem to have much sauce left after 7 hours of cooking, so I shredded mine in the crockpot and mixed it with all of the remaining sauce, which ended up perfect.)

Serving size 3oz; Calories: 214; Fat: 12g; Carbs: 4g; Fiber: 0g; Protein: 21g; Sugar: 3g; Sodium: 196mg; Cholesterol: 72mg

Notes: Using 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes did result in slightly spicy pork- if you and your family like things more mild, I'd recommend cutting down to 1/4 tsp to be safe. Also, for those concerned about the vinegar- the sharpness of the vinegar cooks out and is well balanced against the honey and the natural flavor of the pork, and the end result is delicious. This was great as the main attraction for dinner, and will make incredible sandwiches with leftovers! I would definitely make this as an alternative to the typical BBQ pulled pork for some delicious sandwiches and an easy party meal!

Honey Glazed Carrots
Makes 4 servings

2 cups thinly sliced carrots
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp honey (or more to taste)
1/8 tsp kosher salt
black pepper, to taste

Melt butter in pan over medium heat; add carrots. Drizzle 1tsp honey overtop and season with salt and pepper. Mix together, and cook partly covered, stirring occasionally until carrots are tender.

I hope that everyone is having a great week! Happy Humpday!

November 02, 2014

Best Ever Banana Pancakes!

I know that I have shared my love for pancakes in the past... and today I'm sharing one of my favorite pancake recipes! It is a go-to weekend recipe in our house, and one that my son requests by name.

I wish that I could lay claim to this perfect-fluffy-pancake-producing recipe, but I have to admit that I found it online! I often hunt for recipes online, and tend to choose recipes that I find on other blogs. This one comes from Kitchen Treaty. I haven't made a lot of her recipes, but I have made these Fluffy Banana Pancakes many times... they really are incredibly perfect. (I can't wait to try out her recipe for Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes, too!)

This is an easy to follow recipe, using standard ingredients that comes together quickly, and yields some of the most perfect pancakes I've ever eaten. Every time. Allowing the batter to sit while you heat up your pan is part of the magic that makes these pancakes fluffy- don't rush it!

I hope that you try this recipe out, and enjoy!!

Fluffy Banana Pancakes
Kitchen Treaty: Makes about 12 pancakes

2 cups buttermilk (or substitute)
2 small or 1 large ripe banana, (about 1 cup mashed)
2 eggs
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Sliced bananas to top, if desired

In a large bowl, combine buttermilk, mashed banana, eggs, butter, and vanilla. In separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the dry ingredients over the wet, and mix until incorporated. (Do not overmix.) Let the batter rest for about 5 minutes.
Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Melt butter or coconut oil in pan, and spread evenly. Using a 1/3 cup measure or other scoop, pour the batter into pan. The pancakes are ready to flip when the edges appear dry and bubbles start to appear. Flip, and cook on the other side until golden brown, and cooked through. Serve with additional sliced bananas, butter, and maple syrup.

...Fall in love with pancakes all over again...

October 29, 2014

Fall Flavor: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Today was a beautiful, cool, crisp, breezy fall day. What better way to celebrate than to open all the windows, fire up the stove, and make some delicious soup for the even cooler evening ahead?!?

One of my favorite fall foods is butternut squash, whether it is roasted, mashed, in salads, pureed in soup; it is versatile, healthy and delicious. This afternoon, roasted butternut squash, caramelized onion and apple came together to create a creamy, satisfying soup- perfect for a cool evening.

Most of the cooking is hands-off, so don't be afraid of the almost 2 hour cook time. It is well worth it!! I have made other butternut squash soups that begin with cubed and boiled squash, but roasting the squash, and caramelizing the onion really add depth to the flavor of this soup.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 6-8

4 pounds whole butternut squash, (about 2 medium)
5 tbsp unsalted butter- divided
1 Granny Smith apple
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 tsp ground sage, plus a sprinkle
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
dollop of sour cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash the outsides of the squash and dry, then cut squash in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place the squash pieces cut-side up on the baking sheet. Melt 2 1/2 tbsp butter and brush the squash with the butter. Season squash with salt and pepper. Place on middle rack of the oven, and roast until the squash is tender- about one hour.
While the squash is roasting, thinly slice the onion. In small pan, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat; add sliced onion. Season with salt, pepper and sprinkle of ground sage. Saute for about 40 minutes, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, turning down heat if needed to keep onion from burning. The onions are done when they are a beautiful medium brown, (see photos). Set aside.

Onion, just placed in pan...
Onion, after about 15 minutes... 
Onion, after 40 minutes... nice and caramelized!
When the squash is tender, remove from oven and place baking sheet on cooling rack until the squash is cool enough to handle. Peel, core and dice the apple. 
Melt 1/2 tbsp butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the apple, 1/2 tsp ground sage and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the apple has softened. Use a large spoon to scoop the flesh of the squash into the pot with the apples. (This gets messy!! The skin is very fragile- it may be easier to pick it up and use your fingers to separate the flesh from the skin.)
Add the caramelized onion, broth, water, and salt and pepper to the pot with the apple and squash mixture. Using spatula, break up any large pieces of squash and stir occasionally. Allow soup to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Using a blender, carefully puree the soup in batches until smooth. Once pureed, return soup to Dutch oven. Stir in heavy cream and serve!

I paired the soup with an "adult" grilled cheese: Swiss cheese and thinly sliced pear on rye bread. So delicious!

October 27, 2014

Sunday Dinner: Meatloaf, Shredded Brussels Sprouts, and Mashed Potatoes

I hope that everyone had a great, relaxing weekend!! I am happy to say that we had beautiful weather, and got to relax and enjoy some time at home- and spend a little time prepping for baby.

I know that I have mentioned my love for Sunday dinners before... getting to make something comforting and perhaps slightly indulgent, while spending the evening as a family, enjoying the calm before the week begins again. Sundays are also usually the days that I have the most time to mess around with my own recipes, like the ones I made tonight!

After a quick, late-afternoon nap, I set out to make our Sunday dinner: meatloaf, shredded Brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes.

First, a confession: I used to hate meatloaf... (like really, actually hate and refuse to eat). Over the past couple of years, however, I have set out to make a meatloaf that I enjoy... and after some trial and error, I have happily succeeded. (I actually enjoy it now, and have developed a love for ketchupy, gooey topping...) Usually, when make meatloaf I throw a bunch of seasonings together and hope it turns out well, forgetting to write things down so that I can make it again... Tonight, however, I kept track of my ingredients so that I could share a yummy, family-friendly, easy, meatloaf recipe with you!

This meatloaf is so good, that in between bites, my (three-year-old, picky eating) son came over to me, gave me a hug and said "you're a good cooker, mommy." !!!!! If that's not enough of a reason to make this meatloaf, I don't know what is!


Serves 4

1 lb. ground beef (I used 90% lean)
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

1/3 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tbsp yellow mustard
1 tbsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place ground beef, Panko, and other loaf ingredients (through pepper) into medium bowl. (Remove jewelry!) Mix with your hands, turning mixture over, until ingredients are well combined. Do not overmix. Place into loaf pan and shape into loaf. In separate bowl, combine ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. Spread half of topping mixture over loaf and place into oven. Bake 30 minutes, then cover meatloaf with remaining topping mixture, and bake another 30 minutes.
Remove from oven, and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Now, for the Brussels sprouts! Brussels sprouts are my husband's favorite veggie, and one that I really didn't eat before I was married and tried to cook his favorite things. Over the last six years though, I have had plenty of time to practice, and tonight's side is one of my successes! This is a simple, delicious and fresh side- one that even non-sprout lovers would enjoy.

The only time consuming part of this dish is the prep of the sprouts, (about 10-15 minutes), which is easily done while your main dish (tonight's meatloaf) is in the oven. The sprouts aren't actually shredded, but sliced very thinly- if you care to, you could use a food processor to speed up prep. I cooked the sprouts once the meatloaf was out of the oven and resting- cook time is about 5 minutes. The vinegar and honey mixture helps rid the sprouts of any bitterness without becoming overpowering.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

Serves about 4

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels Sprouts
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp honey

Rinse sprouts, remove outer leaves. Then trim, cut into halves lengthwise and thinly slice sprouts into strips. (If some leaves fall apart during this process, don't worry, just toss them in with your sliced pieces for a little extra texture). In small dish, whisk together vinegar and honey and set aside. Heat oil and butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add shredded sprouts. Season with salt and pepper, and saute for four minutes, or until sprouts are crisp tender. Add vinegar mixture to pan, tossing sprouts to mix well and saute for about one more minute. Remove from heat and serve!

I paired my meatloaf and sprouts with very simple mashed potatoes (no recipe to share), for a perfect comfort food, family dinner!

For dessert, I kept it super quick and easy and made microwave mug brownies... I followed this recipe, used milk in place of the water, reduced the sugar to 3 tbsp, and spiced it up a little bit with a dash of cinnamon and some vanilla ice cream. A perfect ending to a great night- and the perfect satisfier for a chocolate craving!

I hope you have a great week!

October 23, 2014

"Practice Thanksgiving": Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing, and Cherry Pie!

My dinner plate, a little of everything! 

First, let me just say... I love Thanksgiving!!! It's my favorite. Pumpkin, cranberries, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and turkey of course. But really, I love the idea behind it. You get together with your family and sometimes close friends, and you say thanks. You watch a great parade, say thanks, eat delicious food, then relax. How much better can a holiday get?!?

My family and I started the tradition of celebrating holidays en masse when I went away to college. Since I moved 1,000+ miles away to school, and started working in healthcare, I didn't always get to come home on time for holidays. So, when I could make the trip home, we started celebrating the holidays closest to make sure that we would get to spend them together. When we were planning our vacation to Florida this time, and my aunt asked if we wanted to have "Practice Thanksgiving", of course my answer was yes!!

For our 'Thanksgiving', I was in charge of sweet potatoes, green bean casserole,  (I used my peoplefood recipe from two years ago, but steamed fresh green beans, and added some fresh sauteed mushrooms), and stuffing. My mom mastered the turkey, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. My aunt was in charge of hors d'oeuvres, and the apple and cherry pies. Yes, we went all out. Yes, it was all comforting, delicious and is making me look forward to my favorite holiday even more!

I cannot share all of the recipes of the day... (and I doubt you want to read all of them!) but I wanted to pass on the recipe for the Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing I made, (which will likely be re-appearing on my table on turkey day), as well as the family recipe my aunt shared with me for a super simple, delicious, cherry pie!

Last year, I made a cornbread stuffing and it was moist, delicious, dotted with cranberries, and all around awesome. Of course, I couldn't find the recipe/my notes and didn't have all of my recipe stuff with me on vacation to sort through.... So, I set out to find a new recipe to try, (it was "Practice Thanksgiving" after all....). I ended up using a Martha Stewart recipe for Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing, minus the pecans. I am sure that the roasted pecans would add a great meaty/nutty note to the stuffing, but I had to cook with safety in mind so I omitted them for my son's sake.

Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing
Martha Stewart, serves 10

8 oz. (2 cups) pecans
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 large onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
6 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped*
1 batch Skillet Cornbread*, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 loaf day-old white bread, with crust, cut into 1 inch cubes (10 heaping cups)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley*
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp Bell's seasoning (poultry seasoning)
1 quart chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until golden and fragrant, 8-12 minutes, tossing occasionally. Let cool, then roughly chop; set aside.
Melt butter in large skillet. Add onions and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Add oregano and stir to combine
Transfer onion mixture to a large bowl. Add pecans, cornbread, bread cubes, eggs, and all other ingredients. Mix to combine. Cook stuffing in turkey or baking dish. If using baking dish, generously coat dish with butter, fill with stuffing, and dot stuffing with additional butter. Cover with parchment paper-lined aluminum foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Notes on this recipe: I think that this makes much more stuffing than 10 servings. I would probably make this same batch for 15, and expect it to be perfect. (There are always so many sides to choose from!) I made this batch for 8, and we still ended up with a gallon freezer bag of leftovers. Also, I used dried herbs instead of fresh... I will typically buy fresh parsley because its so versatile, but decided to scrimp a little and go without fresh herbs. Instead of 1/4 cup fresh oregano, I used 4 tsp. dried, and instead of 1 cup fresh parsley, I used about 5 tbsp of dried. In the future, I would say that you can do without fresh oregano, but would recommend fresh parsley to brighten things up a bit. I made the cornbread (see bottom of post) the day before, cubed it, and let it sit out for a day before making this recipe. I also cubed the white bread a day ahead. (It is humid in FL, and I thought that it could use more time to dry out so that the stuffing wasn't gummy and too moist, here in NJ, I would probably cube the breads the night before and they'd be good to go). I would recommend mixing it in two batches- this makes a lot of stuffing, and it was difficult to mix in all of the seasonings evenly.

Now... for the belle of the ball.... cherry pie. I love my aunt's cherry pie, and I don't get it very often. She has made this pie every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember... and no one makes it like she does. I am very excited that she shared her recipe with me, and I can't wait to make it later this year. My mom is the pumpkin pie queen (maybe I'll share her secret next month), but my aunt always wins for her cherry and apple pies.

What I love about this cherry pie, is that it's not heavy. It's not syrupy or artificial tasting... and its easy!! The cherries are juicy and light, not-too-sweet, and the pie makes a great breakfast treat, snack, and dessert... especially with some vanilla ice cream!

Cherry Pie

2 cans sour cherries in water
3 tbsp instant tapioca
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp flour

Mix the ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes. (This allows the tapioca to "bloom", and gives time for the tapioca and flour to work their magic as thickeners).
Pour into pie crust. Slice top crust, and lay over pie in lattice pattern.
Bake in oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350, and bake for additional 25 minutes. (You can cover crust with shield or aluminum foil if it browns too quickly).

Mmmmm... my mouth is actually watering just typing the recipe. I cannot wait to make it myself now that we're home... I may have to practice before Thanksgiving again!

Martha Stewart's Skillet Cornbread:

2 tbsp. solid vegetable shortening; 2 cups all purpose flour; 2 cups yellow cornmeal; 2 tbsp sugar; 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder; 1 1/2 tsp salt; 2 cups milk; 4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with oven rack in center. Place shortening in a 9-10 inch cast iron or ovenproof skillet, and place in oven to heat.
In medium bowl, whisk together flour and dry ingredients. In separate bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and stir until just combined. Do not overmix- batter should be lumpy.
Carefully slide out oven rack. Pour batter directly into hot skillet. Cook until cornbread is golden brown, and firm to the touch- about 25 minutes.

October 15, 2014

Good Eats: Myrtle Beach, SC

View from the Porch of Conch Cafe
Good morning from Florida!! We arrived in my home state last night after enjoying a fun day in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with family.

While in Myrtle Beach, we had the opportunity to relax and enjoy a home cooked meal for the first time since leaving home, and to check out a couple of the area's restaurants.

Myrtle Beach, whose economy largely revolves around tourism, seems to have the most restaurants per capita of any city I've visited. There are countless seafood restaurants and buffets, barbecue joints, steakhouses, and more! Thankfully, there are also great places to shop- like the Tanger Outlets.
Croissants' HAB sandwich and cup of Tomato Basil Soup
Cobb Salad
I had the chance to have a ladies day at the outlet mall, followed by lunch at a great little cafe called Croissants Bistro & Bakery. Croissants is home to a delicious bakery- making gorgeous cakes, tarts, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, and more! The bakery case was definitely a site to behold... I had the chance to compare their chocolate chip cookie to the cookie I enjoyed from Southern Season in Chapel Hill. Croissants' cookie was more moist, a much more reasonable serving size, and just as satisfying! In addition to a beautiful and delicious bakery, Croissants is also home to a great bistro! Serving fresh, local ingredients during breakfast, lunch, and dinner- and brunch on weekends- in a casual atmosphere, it is definitely a place that I would recommend!! Although tempted by the Banana Foster French Toast, I opted for their 1/2 Soup, Salad, or Sandwich Lunch- choosing a cup of the French Onion soup along with their "famous chicken salad" on 1/2 of a croissant. The soup was delicious- a great onion flavor, perfect amount of cheese, not too salty, and a perfect serving; the chicken salad was simple and wonderful- reminiscent of a salad that your grandmother or mother would make- it was light and satisfying. The other ladies tried the Cobb Salad, the HAB Sandwich (a delicious offering of ham, apple, and Brie warmed in the oven, served on multi-grain bread with honey mustard, lettuce and tomato), served with a cup of the tomato basil soup, and the full-size chicken salad on croissant served with fresh fruit. We also all greatly enjoyed the iced tea! They use Tazo tea for their iced tea, and it was delicious and refreshing- I will be on the hunt for the same blend when I return home. It was a lovely lunch- and I would happily return to taste more of their menu!
Chicken Salad on Croissant with side of fresh fruit

For dinner, we picked up the boys and headed towards the ocean. While in a beach town, sampling the local seafood is a must for me... and this dinner definitely didn't disappoint. We headed to Conch Cafe for beautiful views of the ocean, and a great dinner. The Cafe, open February- mid October, has a large wrap around porch for outside seating with great views of the ocean, and a large, open, casual dining room if you prefer to eat inside. We all enjoyed the conch fritters as an appetizer, which were wonderfully seasoned, and perfectly cooked. One of the night's specials was a crab cake and sautéed scallop dinner, served with vegetables and the side of your choice.
The Special: Crabcake and Scallops

Four out of the seven adults in our party ordered the special, and gave it rave reviews. I had the opportunity to taste the scallops, and they were incredible! Well- sized, perfectly cooked and just the right amount of sweetness, they were some of the best scallops I have ever had! I opted for the caesar salad topped with a crab cake, my husband went for the Conch Sea Sampler appetizer (a platter of conch fritters, fried bacon wrapped shrimp, grouper fingers, and shrimp pasta salad), my son enjoyed the grouper fingers and fries, and my husband's aunt greatly enjoyed her grilled shrimp and scallops. I was very impressed by the fact that she is allergic to crab, and despite all of the crab served at our table and within the restaurant, after mentioning it to the waitress, she was able to safely enjoy her shrimp and scallops. (To me, that also says a lot about the cleanliness and order in the kitchen). We had a great dinner, and enjoyed the perfect ocean breeze and casual atmosphere. Afterwards, we were able to enjoy the beach access next to the restaurant and take a sunset stroll on the beach. It was a great evening!
Kids grouper fingers and fries
Conch Sea Sampler

Running around on the beach with a three-year-old was the perfect way to charge our sweet tooth. Several of us are ice cream lovers, so we headed to Meyer's ice cream in Surfside Beach. It was a great choice!! A beautiful, vibrant atmosphere, paired with Hershey's ice cream in more flavors than I cared to count, along with creative sundae choices- and even ice cream for dogs!- it is a must-taste!!! My hubby loved his "More Smores" sundae (chocolate ice cream with hot fudge, marshmallow syrup, crushed graham cracker, chocolate chips and whipped cream), and I savored my scoops of "Midnight Caramel River" (vanilla and dark chocolate ice cream with a caramel swirl), in a freshly made waffle cone! They also had soft serve- and give complimentary sprinkles on all kids cones! It was a sweet ending to a great day!

I wish we had our dog Honey with us to enjoy this treat!

I hope that you get to head to Myrtle beach, and enjoy these great spots, and more!! If there are places in the area you enjoy, please share!! We will be back and would love to try your favorites.

October 12, 2014

Good Eats: Chapel Hill, NC

Fried Green Tomato Appetizer at The Weathervane
Hello from the road!! We have been enjoying the first stop on our vacation: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We have had the chance to see some sights- we visited the North Carolina Botanical Garden, walked, and shopped in downtown Chapel Hill, and visited a local playground/park- in addition to enjoying the wedding festivities which brought us here.

Of course, no trip would be complete without touring the local restaurants and enjoying the flavor of a new place! I have done my best to document our little sample of what Chapel Hill has to offer...

Our first night in town, we headed to The Loop Pizza Grill for a relaxed, quick, and casual dinner. The Loop, which was recommended by the bride and groom's website, seems to be a local haunt; it is a small chain with locations in North Carolina and Florida. The restaurant itself is open and bright, with a few televisions showcasing various sports channels, and simple decor. Upon entering, you are guided down an open hallway decorated with posters of their tempting soups, salads, sandwiches and pizza. Fountain drinks, bottled Boylan's sodas, along with a selection of beers are available in addition to their shakes. They have a reasonably varied menu of sandwiches/salads, burgers, and pizza, all which utilize fresh ingredients and produce tasty results. (Their service system is the same as a Panera- you order, get a buzzer, relax at your table and then pick up your food when ready, which keeps the environment casual). Everyone in our group was happy with their meal; between the five of us, we enjoyed the Veggie Burger (pretty standard) with a side of fresh fruit; the Chili Cheese Dog with kettle chips and blue cheese dressing (the chips and dressing were incredible!); the Veggie Melt Ciabatta with the kettle chips and blue cheese dressing (again, a must-have!); and the kid's grilled cheese. The food was good quality, fresh, and worth stopping for; I would go back for a quick lunch or dinner on the fly.

We are staying at a Hampton Inn, and have been thoroughly enjoying their complimentary breakfast every morning!! Make-your-own waffles, fresh fruit, eggs, oatmeal, cold cereal, and a selection of pastries, bagels and muffins every morning! I highly recommend it!

While checking out downtown Chapel Hill, we headed to the Top of the Hill, affectionately shortened to TOPO. The restaurant, located on the third floor of a building at the corner of East Franklin Street and South Columbia Street, is home to an award-winning microbrewery and some pretty great food! You are given the chance to eat outside on their large rooftop seating area with great street views, or within their open, airy, simply decorated dining room with views of the brewery tanks. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch in this landmark restaurant. My husband enjoyed his house-brewed porter, and as a group we devoured the freshly made kettle chips with onion dip and the "Lizard Chips" (beer battered fried pickle and jalapeno chips served with chipotle ranch dip). For our main courses, my mother-in-law and I both thoroughly enjoyed "Ninny's BLT" (bacon, lettuce and lightly battered and fried green tomatoes on texas toast, served with a salad of mixed greens); my husband loved his "The Top Cheeseburger" (featuring local, grass-fed beef); my father-in-law raved about his fried catfish sandwich; and my son devoured his corn-dog nuggets (served with a side of fresh green beans, per our request, and a creamy mustard dipping sauce).  We did not have the chance to sample desserts, but I am sure that they were also incredible! I would definitely recommend checking out the TOPO, and hope to have the opportunity to return to enjoy the dinner menu, and personally try one of their beers, or specialty drinks (they distill their own vodka, gin and whiskey).

 After our day of exploration, we attended a beautiful wedding at a church in Chapel Hill, and great reception at the Barn at Fearrington Village. The Village itself has a small shopping and dining district that seemed to have some great offerings, and live music. If you're planning an event in the area, the Barn is definitely a venue to check out! It was a beautiful space, with great food and great service.

Our second day in town was spent at a local playground and park, allowing my son to run off some steam, and a surprise bonus of a beautiful public rose garden! For lunch, we headed to the Weathervane at Southern Season. With locations in Chapel Hill, Charleston, and Richmond, the Southern Season is an incredible gourmet grocery. Complete with a coffee and tea bar; an impressive bakery; an expansive collection of international foods; gifts and kitchen gadgets; a cooking school; beautiful floral department; a wonderful wine selection; and restaurant- I could have spent hours exploring and tasting! (and if I were a local, I would definitely become a regular!) The Weathervane was accessible through the store and from the outside, and was bright and cheery, with fresh flowers adorning every table, and a simple weekend brunch menu. (They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a full bar.) Our service was a little less than cheery, but that didn't detract too much from our experience. Within our group, we were able to enjoy the Fried Green Tomatoes; Butternut Squash Soup; Farm Egg Salad Sandwich; Fried Green Tomato Cackalacky; Housemade Chorizo Quesadilla; and the kids cheeseburger sliders. The menu is based on local, fresh ingredients and was definitely delicious. I would highly recommend stopping by to check it out- perhaps without kids. After our meal, my mother in law and I went on a hunt for a chocolate chip cookie, and were delighted by the offerings we found in the bakery area of the store. There was a large case with cakes, cupcakes, and tarts, as well as the expansive area showcasing cookies and pastries baked in-house, as well as at local bakeries. Thankfully, the store's ingredients labels were clear and complete, and we were able to stay clear of cookies with nuts. We chose a chocolate chip cookie and an expresso, chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips. Both cookies were about the size of my hand, and about one inch thick (the perfect size for sharing)... and yummy!!!

Chorizo Quesadilla, Hashbrown Casserole @ Weathervane
Egg Salad Sandwich, Sweet Potato fries @ Weathervane
We kept dinner simple, ordering pizza to bring back to the hotel. We asked at the front desk for a recommendation, and they came through! We tried out Amante Pizza, which is was within walking distance of our hotel. We decided to try out two of their gourmet pizzas, ordering a large "San Gennaro" (tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, spicy italian sausage, roasted red and green peppers and onions), and a small "Fig and Prosciutto" (fig jam with thinly sliced apple, prosciutto, sauteed red onions, and a mix of gouda and mozzarella cheese). The crusts were light and crispy, and all of the toppings were fresh and perfectly cooked. The sausage was a little spicy for my son (a very easy fix), and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza was a little saltier than I was hoping- however, I would definitely order from them again! It was great to have a low-key dinner in our room and spend the evening relaxing after dancing the night away the night before.
The "San Gennaro"
Fig and Prosciutto Pizza
I hope that anyone visiting Chapel Hill finds these reviews helpful, and will get the chance to enjoy some of these good eats! I look forward to visiting the area again, and checking out what else this great city has to offer- any suggestions are welcome, please share!

...The next stop for us is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina! Stay tuned for more stories from the road...

Chocolate Chip Cookie @ Southern Season