Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Casserole

Happy Thanksgiving Week!! I thought it only appropriate to share my personal favorite Thanksgiving dish. This one has been passed down through my Mom's family over the years. I'm not sure where it came from originally. Its hard to chose a favorite on Thanksgiving, I truly do love them all, but if I had to pick just one item to accompany my turkey (always deep fried at our house), this would be it... Ingredients: 2 large cans plus 1 small can of yams- drained 2 cups of fresh cranberries 1/3 cup butter 1/2 cup flour 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup oats 1 teaspoon cinnamon mini marshmallows (optional) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Struesel topping: In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, oats and cinnamon. Use a fork to cu the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a 1 1/2 quart buttered casserole dish, add sweet potato, cranberries (whole) and 1 cup of the struesel mixture and gently fold together. Sprinkle the remaining struesel over the top and bake for 40 minutes or so until warmed through. If you have a sweet tooth like me add a generous handful of mini marshmallows over the top for the last 10 minutes or so. They get toasty melty brown and add another layer of crunch as the dish cools. This dish is super simple to throw together and you can assemble it a day or two ahead if you like. The tart cranberries offset the sugary sweet yams and the warm cinnamon struesel makes it feel more like dessert than a dish. Enjoy!! Picture coming soon!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Truffled Oven Fries with Parmesan

For John's birthday dinner this week, I made his his favorite french bistro meal. Seared filets topped with Roquefort cheese, truffled oven fries, and sauteed spinach. Of course the fries (or pommes frites) are typically deep fried (if you're in the right place, they are fried in duck fat...yummmmy) but I decided to try a baked variation. I am pleased to say that the Birthday Boy declared it a success!
Ingredients: (serves 2)
1 large russet potato
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of dried, crushed rosemary generous pinch kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons of finely grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of black truffle oil
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
First I peeled the potato and cut it into sticks roughly a quarter of an inch thick. (I sliced the whole potato lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices, then I sliced each of those into 1/4 inch sticks and then cut those in half.) I soaked the potatoes in a bowl of cool water until I was ready to bake them.
I then drained the potatoes well and then spread them out on some papertowels to remove more of the moisture- blotting the top with another papertowel. I wanted to be sure they would get crispy so I attempted to get them as dry as possible.
I then tossed the potatoes with the olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper in a bowl before spreading them into a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. (You want to spread them out the best you can so they brown on all sides, If you double the recipe, you'll definitely want to bake them on two baking sheets to give them ample room.) I baked them at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes and then, using a metal spatula, I flipped them oven and put them back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Watch for them to reach your desired level of brown and crunchiness.
As soon as they came out of the oven, I tossed them in a bowl with the cheese, truffle oil and parsley. Serve right away while they are nice and hot.
*If you're not familiar with truffle oil, it is absolutely heavenly. I picked up a small can of it at the grocery store for $12 and a little goes a long way. Its a worthwhile splurge and a great way to kick up a recipe for a special occasion!!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pulled Pork Barbecue for a Crowd

I love pork barbecue...Some people crave burgers or steaks- my go-to is a bun piled high with smokey, spicey, sweet pulled pork . Nothing beats a bbq sandwich with all of the trimmings- mac and cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, etc. There are many different schools of thought on the subject- you have your Memphis, Texas, Carolina, and Kansas City varieties to name a few. I don't discriminate by any means but if I had to name a favorite, I'd say my preference would be the mustard-vinegar based Lexington/Carolina style barbecue. I've tried a few slow cooker recipes on a smaller scale but I decided I would try a new method for an event we hosted at our house Saturday for the Urology group at UK. We had 18 adults and a few kids to feed so I figured two pork shoulders (also known as "Boston butt") would feed the masses. Our guests all chipped in with side dishes and beverages to share which was perfect. I studied at least half a dozen recipes and morphed them into this one. It is a two day process- broken into three phases- but it really takes very little "active" cooking time. 1) The Brining Phase- I started with two, bone-in pork shoulders, approximately 5-6 pounds each. I made a brine in the largest stock pot that I own and soaked the pork shoulders for two and a half hours in the fridge. Brining ensures that the pork stays extra juicy and tender in the event you use the slow roast or smoked method of cooking it. The brine consisted of: 1 cup of flour 1/2 cup of sugar 1 tablespoon of whole peppercorns 4 quarts of water

2) The Spice Rub- I removed the pork from the brine and patted the shoulders dry with paper towels. (Removing any peppercorns that stick.) I rubbed them generously on all sides with a spice rub and placed them on a large roasting pan covered with tin foil to hang out in the fridge over night. (I covered the pan tightly with more foil.)

Spice Rub: 1/2 cup cumin 1/2 cup brown sugar 2/3 cup paprika 1/2 cup chili powder 2 tbsp cayenne powder 1/2 cup salt 1/4 cup black pepper, ground 2 teaspoons onion powder 4 teaspoons garlic powder *I didn't use all of the spice rub mixture so I saved a third of the mixture for later. It would probably be great on grilled chicken or pork tenderloin another day.
I also made a vinegar-based sauce the day prior and let it sit in the fridge over night as well. After much tasting and adjusting of ingredients, I ended up with a mixture of the following:
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar 1 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup yellow mustard 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Carolina style coleslaw is also typically vinegar based. I read that many people use this very same sauce to dress the cabbage so I poured roughly 1/3 cup of a sauce into a mixing bowl for that purpose. John prefers a mayo-based coleslaw so I decided to marry the two concepts together. I whisked the vinegar sauce together with about one cup of mayonnaise. The flavor was fantastic however next time, I would prepare the vinegar sauce without the cayenne and red pepper flakes first and take the 1/3 of a cup for the slaw before adding the heat. I like a kick to just about everything but I think the coleslaw should really have a cooling balance to the heat of the barbecue.
*I used one head of green cabbage and a generous 1 cup of baby carrots for the slaw. (This ended up being pretty carrot heavy.) I gave it all a rough chop by hand and then pulsed it into a course confetti like slaw in the food processor. I had to do it in three batches based on the volume. I poured the sauce over and tossed it all together before putting it in the fridge to set up overnight.
3) Sear and Bake the Pork- The next morning I set the pork out on the counter to come to room temperature - or for about an hour and preheated the oven to 325 degrees. I seared each shoulder over medium-high/high heat in a cast iron skillet coated with oil - rotating it every 90 seconds or so to get a nice crust on all sides. (You need some seriously sturdy tongs for this, its a little awkward to maneuver.) I had two of the flatter roasting pans covered with tin foil and I set one pork shoulder in each to bake. I wanted to give them space so that the heat could distribute evenly. (Make sure the oven rack is in the lowest of the three positions. Also check that your two pans can fit side by side on the rack before you put the pork on them. One large roasting pan might work as well- I don't have one.) I covered the pans with more foil and roasted the pork for 4 hours. Two hours in, I took the two pans out and turned them to ensure that they were cooking evenly.
I would start checking the internal temperature of the meat around 3 hours- you want them to 170 degrees exactly. (Insert the thermometer to the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone.) The baking time could vary based on the size of the pork, the position of the pork in the oven, etc. Let the pork cool for 30 minutes or so before removing the bones. You can then slice, chop, or pull the pork depending on your preference. I placed the pork in two large baking dishes and drizzled it with just a bit of the vinegar sauce to keep it moist until we were ready to serve. (I reheated it for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven- covered with foil - just before.) I will say that the vinegar-mustard sauce is quite tangy. I had a few bottles of different sauces for my guests to sample and I determined that the perfect combination was the vinegar-mustard sauce that I made mixed with a Sticky Fingers Sweet Carolina sauce.
Also- if you're a real Carolina barbecue believer, you know that you eat your coleslaw ON your barbecue sandwich. (I like a few pickle slices in there too.)

I would say the barbecue was definitely a hit. By the end of the night (countless sandwiches and some late night picking later) we'd polished all but a few scraps of the pork which was quite a feat. Fortunately John and I did get one more sandwich for lunch the next day. I might need to make up another batch to have on hand around the holidays!

Holiday Sugar Cookies

John and I hosted an event for his department this weekend and I have a few great recipes to share. First up- my mother in law's Holiday Sugar Cookies. This versatile dough recipe is perfect for rolling and cutting into festive holiday shapes to be decorated with icings or sugars. I decided to make some fall inspired cookies for the kids that would attending Saturday. (Also, I thought the timing would be appropriate as we approach Christmas cookie season!)
The dough recipe is super simple:
1 cup of sugar
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 egg
2 cups of self rising flour*
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
* I used all purpose flour. To make your own self rising flour, mix 2 cups of all purpose flour with 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Cream the room temperature butter and sugar together until light. Mix in the egg and extracts until well incorporated and then mix the flour. Shape the dough into a disc and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours before rolling.
I rolled the dough on a lightly floured counter top to a 1/4 inch thickness. I used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter to cut roughly a dozen cookies. I baked the first batch on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until BARELY turning golden. I prefer the cookies to be a little chewy versus crisp.
(I went the icing route this time, if you prefer to use colored sugars, you'd decorate them before baking. You can also sprinkle some sugar over the wet icing for a glitter effect.)
I gathered the dough scraps together and re-rolled the dough. I then used a pairing knife to cut some free form fall leaves from the dough. I didn't have any other fall shaped cutters so I had to improvise. It actually worked out quite well to have mismatched leaf shapes of different sizes.
I ended up with roughly two dozen cookies total.
While the cookies cooled, I made an extremely simple icing from confectioner sugar, orange juice, and food coloring. I used some small mixing bowls and filled them about half way with sugar. I then added orange juice (you could use milk or lemon juice, whatever you like) a tiny drizzle at a time until the icing was a spreadable consistency.
I mixed a few different shades of orange, yellow, and red/brown for fall. (I also ended up with a beautiful pistachio green by mistake so I threw a couple of those in there too.) I used a spoon to scoop some icing onto each cookie and then the back of the spoon to spread it out to the edges.
I came up with a fun way to "vein" the leaves as well. I used a toothpick to pull some icing of a contrasting color down the middle and out to the sides of the leaves. I did the same to make the pumpkin stems look more realistic.
I let the icing dry for an hour or two before arranging on a platter and covering with plastic wrap until serving.

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Mostly) Turkey Bolognese

John had the day off on Friday and because he is wonderful- he spent the majority of it cleaning/repairing/projecting around the house for me. I told him that I would prepare the dinner of his choice as a reward. He requested pappardelle bolognese and his mom's chocolate pie. (I made one big pie this time.) With the holidays rapidly approaching, I wanted to lighten it up a bit so I made my variation of Michael Chiarello's Chicken Bolognese recipe. I love his approach because the recipe comes together in 30 minutes or so (versus your simmered all day kind of sauce which is great too) and it has all the the flavor without all of the fat. Ingredients: 1 lb of ground turkey 0.5 lbs of Italian pork sausage (I used hot) 1 medium yellow onion (chopped) 4 large cloves of garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon of dried, crushed rosemary (or crush it with your hands) 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (or to your taste) 1/3 cup of white wine 1 cup (a little more) of chicken stock roughly 2 cups of jarred marinara or tomato sauce (I use marinara if I have it) 1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley 1 pound of fresh or dried pasta (Per the recipe via the link above, definitely use the porcini mushrooms if you have them on hand- I didn't this time.) In a heavy bottomed pot or skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Sautee the onions 3-4 minutes or until almost tender. Next add the turkey and sausage (turn the heat up a bit to med-high) and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks. As soon as its browned all over, add the garlic and herbs and cook for one minute longer. Add the white wine and cook, stirring to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, until its almost entirely evaporated. Next goes the chicken stock and marinara/tomato sauce. Cook everything together over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the flavors have come together. Use chicken stock to thin the sauce to the desired consistency. At this point, I use my immersion blender to break down the larger chunks of turkey and sausage a bit more. I just pulse it a few times. I like the sauce chunky but to have an even consistency. (You can also do this with a few pulses of the food processor if you don't have an immersion blender- or you can leave it as is if you like.) I wait to stir in the fresh parsley just before serving. I made fresh pappardelle pasta using the pasta machine John got me for Christmas last year (he claims I don't use it enough). Pappardelle are the widest of the pasta noodles to my knowledge, roughly an inch wide. Pappardele with bolognese was one of John's go-to orders when we were in Tuscany for our honeymoon 3.5 years ago. Something about the wide noodles scooping up the chunky sauce just works. Transfer the cooked pasta into the pot with the sauce as soon as the pasta is done cooking. Reserve a ladle or two of the pasta cooking water and use that to thin the sauce if necessary once the pasta has been tossed together with the sauce. (The noodles tend to soak up some of the liquid and you want to be sure you have a silky sauce versus a sticky one.) Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese and a bit more parsley if you like. Confession.. I did not take any pictures (we were visiting and drinking wine with my parents while cooking and I forgot.) this picture was borrowed from the Internet but I assure you mine looked very similar except that I was less stingy with the cheese.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Coq au Vin

This past weekend we got not only a first real taste of fall but a sneak peak at winter! With lows in the 20s and highs in the low 40s, it was the perfect slow cooking kind of Saturday. I decided to try Coq au Vin for the second time. The first attempt, two years or so ago, was not necessarily a huge success, nor was it terrible. I'm thrilled to say that this last go-round was quite delicious. Coq au Vin (translated simply to "chicken in wine") is typically prepared using bone-in chicken pieces however I read a Cook's Illustrated version of the recipe using boneless chicken thighs that looked intriguing. I liked this concept 1) because it reduces the cooking time substantially and 2) requires less fuss as far as picking chicken off the bones while eating it. I actually ended up fusing the Cook's Illustrated recipe with Ina Garten's recipe found in the "Back to Basics" cookbook. Again, I'll toot my own horn to say that it was a pretty stellar combination. This method does have a number of steps but I assure you the effort is worth it. Ingredients: (serves 4) 4 slices of bacon, cut into 1/4 inch slices 1 package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approx 1.3 pounds total) 1/2 large sweet onion, sliced thinly 3 cloves of garlic, minced 4 medium-large carrots, sliced
1 package of cremini/baby bella mushrooms, sliced 12 pearl onions- roughly 1/4 of a bunch of parsley 3 sprigs of fresh thyme 1/4 cup of brandy or cognac 1 and 1/2 cups of chicken stock 2/3 of a bottle of full bodied red wine 1 tablespoon of flour
3-4 tablespoons of butter Combine the red wine and chicken stock in sauce pan. Add half of the parsley and the thyme sprigs to the pan, stems and all, and cook the mixture over medium-high heat for approximately 25 minutes or until reduced to roughly 2 cups. Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottomed dutch oven, render the bacon in a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat until the bacon is crisp (7-8 minutes). Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat, discard the rest. Next, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown them in the bacon fat over medium high heat, approximately two minutes per side or until golden brown. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate. At this point, I removed a little bit of the fat remaining in the pan before adding the mushrooms and pearl onions. (I left just enough to coat the bottom of the pot.) Sautee the veggies for 6 or 7 minutes (don't stir too often or they won't brown) until they are just turning golden. Add the cognac and ignite it with a long stemmed lighter, letting the flame burn off the alcohol. (If you're not one for the dramatic effect, you can simply let it reduce down over the heat.) Season the veggies with a pinch of salt and pepper and then transfer them to a bowl on the side.
Melt one tablespoon of butter in the hot pan and add the sliced onions and carrots. Cook these veggies for another 5-6 minutes until they are barely tender, adding the minced garlic in to cook for the last minute. (I promise these steps go pretty fast... by the time you're done with the browning/sauteeing of each layer, your wine/stock has reduced and you're ready to go. Not to mention you have the remainder of the bottle of red wine to keep you company.) Strain the parsley and thyme stems from the wine/stock mixture and then pour it into the larger pot with the carrots and onions. Add the chicken thighs back in and let it all simmer together over medium low heat (with a lid on the pot) for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is fall-apart-tender. The last step... you're almost there. Mix the tablespoon of flour together with a tablespoon or so of water or stock in a small bowl. As soon as the mixture is lump free, pour it into the pot and stir until it is incorporated. This should thicken the sauce as you cook the mixture for a few minutes more. Lastly, add the mushrooms and onions back in along with another tablespoon or two of butter to give the sauce a silky sheen and toss in some freshly chopped parsley.
I served the chicken (with a generous drink of the sauce) over buttered egg noodles with a large slice of french bread and a green salad on the side. (I threw a few of the crispy bacon bits over the top as well.) The chicken thighs were melt in your mouth tender and the sauce was perfectly rich and savory. A ten on the yummy-scale and certainly worth every ounce of the effort.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Treats (with a few fun Tricks)

I hope everyone had a very Happy Halloween! John and I had a few friends over Sunday night to celebrate.. We didn't have quite the trick or treator traffic for which we had hoped (not for lack of effort... a big thanks to Chris and Emily, aka Darth and Bubbles, for entertaining those that did find our house)- but we had a great time (and lots of candy) nonetheless. I made some casual, festive snacks for the occasion. I'll make a note to send these recipes 'round again next year when you're looking for ideas.
Pumpkin Shaped Cheese Ball recipe from Southern Living. My "pumpkin shaping" skills need a little work and I think my broccoli stem top was a bit too large, but my guests got the point. A great make-ahead start to a fall get together. I added a bit of garlic salt to the cheese mixture but otherwise followed the recipe as they published it.
"Pigs in a Coffin"/Mummified Pigs
A play on the classic Pillsbury Crescent Roll Dough Pigs in a Blanket, I was able to dress my piggies up for the occasion. I used one container of crescent roll dough and one package of Hillshire Farm Turkey Lil'Smokies. (You can buy the dough in one whole sheet nowadays. If you can't find it, roll the perforated dough out to a sheet and press the seams together to form a solid sheet.)
Using a pizza roller, I cut the dough horizontally into quarter inch strips. I then wrapped each strip around the sausage haphazardly, creating a mummy wrap effect. (Some people go as far as to create eyes with peppercorns or dots of mustard later on, but I didn't want to take the time.) I then baked them on a lightly greased cookie sheet for about 14 minutes at 400 degrees (until golden brown.) I served them warm with spicy mustard and ketchup on the side, toothpicks for dipping.
Chicken and Green Chili Empanadas A Tyler Florence recipe with a few time saving twists of my own. The ghoulish green tomatillo salsa on the side for dipping was also quite festive. I actually had two dozen of these already in the freezer which saved me time. When I make them, I like to double the recipe and freeze portions of it for a quick and easy appetizer later on.
Emeril's Two Bean Turkey Chili Nothing tastes better on a cool Halloween evening than a big pot of steamy, spicy (mildly) chili. I tried this recipe for the first time and it was absolutely delicious. (I decided the turkey/low fat avenue would leave us more room for candy but it was honestly hard to tell it was turkey seeing as it packs lots of flavor. I used one pound of turkey breast, two pounds of 93/7.) Also, I used half ancho and half chipolte chili powder in place of regular chili powder so it had a southwestern smokiness about it. I let guests serve themselves from the pot at their leisure, choosing from a few of my favorite toppings (sour cream, a mexican blend of shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, and corn chips.)
Martha Stewart- Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing I made these a couple of years ago and they are fantastic. Extremely moist and tender cake with all of the warm spiciness of pumpkin pie. I top them with my favorite cream cheese icing and a few decorative sprinkles. (I found these festive paper cupcake liners and cute pumpkin cut-out-toothpicks at Walmart.)

Lasty I was in search of a spooky beverage idea and decided on a quick and easy red wine sangria that resembled witches brew with the dark red color and chunks of "blood stained fruit."

You'll need one large or two smaller pitchers for this...


1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced

1 orange, thinly sliced

2/3 of a container of strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 small container of blackberries, whole

3/4 cup of triple sec

1/4 cup of peach schnaaps

1/4 cup of Agave nectar (sugar will do if you don't have it)

2 bottle of red wine

I used two pitchers and divided everything in half between them. I gave it a thorough stir together and let it sit in the fridge for 2-3 hours before my guests arrived. I served it in stemless wine glasses over ice, spooning out some of the fruit in each glass. *Sorry no pictures, once we started pouring, I started slacking on my blogging duties...