Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey Pies

One of my favorite post-holiday pastimes is figuring out what to do with the leftovers. I know I am the coolest woman alive. Seriously, though, when you spend a ton of time cooking a great meal, the last thing you want to do is watch it all rot in the refrigerator. In the spirit of cool people who love leftover cooking, I thought I would share some ideas this week.

The most obvious, but certainly one of the best uses for Thanksgiving leftovers: The Thanksgiving sandwich. Turkey, mayo, stuffing, lettuce and cranberry sauce. I like Swiss cheese on it too. A sandwich that uses another bread product as a filling - what could be more emblematic of the indulgences of the holidays?

I also love to make turkey pot pie in the week after Thanksgiving. Here is a really easy recipe that will yield great results. If you have a lot of turkey, I would recommend doubling the recipe and freezing a pie for later. You will be glad you have it on some cold winter night when you really don't feel like cooking.

-In a large sauce pan, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and/or olive oil.
-Add to the pot one small onion chopped, about 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, and 1 medium potato peeled and cubed.
-After they have cooked down a bit add 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables. I usually use the peas/carrots/corn/beans mix, but any variety will work. If you don't have frozen veggies on hand you can, of course, use fresh vegetables. I really like peas and carrots in my pot pie. The corn gives it a nice sweetness, too. But you should use whatever you have and you like.
-When the vegetables have cooked enough for everything to get warm again, add 2 tbsp of flour. Stir the flour in to coat all of the veggies.
-Add about 2 cups of milk. I often use some half and half as well. (Because after eating a bazillion calories a day last weekend, I don't want to come back to reality all at once.)
-Stir it all up. The milk should thicken up as it heats up. If you think it is getting too thick, just add more milk or some chicken stock.
-Pour the filling into a pie dish and top with a pie crust, home made or store bought. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes or until the crust is browned.

When I was making my pie yesterday, I was hit with a moment of inspiration. What if I topped the pie with mashed potatoes instead of a crust? It would be like turkey shepherds pie. But it would need another name since shepherds herd sheep or cattle, not turkeys. Hmmm...What is the poultry equivalent of a shepherd? Farmer, I guess.

So here is what a mini Farmer's pie looks like. I just used the turkey pot pie filling, put a cup or so in a ramekin,  topped with leftover mashed potatoes and browned it under the broiler for a few minutes. Oh my, it was so good. Give these pies a shot. You wont be disappointed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Replay

Even though we  have made the full transition to Christmas time in our house, I thought I would take a few moments to look back at Thanksgiving. Here is the completely, outrageously huge turkey. Sure, 18lbs for 6 people is a little overboard, but that's what Thanksgiving is all about. (Writing this reminds me that I have a huge turkey carcass in my refrigerator that needs to be made in to turkey stock. Yikes.) The bird was delicious. I pretty much followed Tom Collichio's Herb Butter Turkey recipe that I saw on Epicurious. The basic idea is to slather the turkey with herb butter, baste with stock and add butter to the pan as the turkey cooks. The best idea in this recipe was to reserve about 2 tbsp of the herb butter to add to the gravy makings. This was by far the best gravy I have ever made and I credit it all to the copious amounts of butter.

Dave's dinner plate. Note the precise organization.
The other greatest hit of our meal was the sweet potatoes. For years, I have been trying to recreate the sweet potatoes my stepmother made. Her dish was like a sweet potato souffle, but not super fluffy. The best part was the brown sugar crumble that topped her sweet taters. After reading a ton of recipes, I basically decided to wing it. I cooked up about 4 lbs of sweet potatoes the night before. Thanksgiving morning, I mashed the potatoes up with 2 beaten eggs, 1/4 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup soy milk (we had a dairy allergic guest at our dinner) and spiced it up with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. I made a struesel topping using 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup chopped pecans and 1/2 cup butter. (This is pretty much from Pioneer Woman's sweet potato recipe.) This made way too much streusel, but it was really delicious. I just topped off the mashed potatoes, baked them at 375 for about 30 minutes while the turkey was resting. They were great.

These are what my skillet rolls looked like. Almost as pretty as PW's.
In addition to the turkey and sweet potatoes, we had green beans, regular mashed potatoes, confetti Brussels sprouts (a recipe from Dinner a Love Story), skillet rolls, and of course assorted sauces and gravies. It was quite a feast.

 The highpoint of the meal, though, was certainly dessert. Dave made a fabulous pumpkin pie from a Paula Deen recipe. And I made a pretty mediocre apple pie from a Mario Battali recipe I found in New York Magazine. Dave's pie was so delicious and was eaten amidst endless laughter as Jamie yelled, "pumpone pie!" That's toddler for, "Give me pumpkin pie!" It might be the cutest thing ever. And, yes, we spent the rest of the weekend asking Jamie, "Do you like pie?" To which he obligingly shouted, "Pumpone pie!"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Beer Recommendations

As the next in my series of beer related guest posts, I will be giving a couple of beer recommendations for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I am going to focus on a couple of styles, so that we can have something for everyone. The first typical autumn beer you would probably think of is an Oktoberfest beer.  Not at all my favorite style as I find them kind of bland.  There is a much more interesting seasonal stuff out there.  I really like beer that is brewed with hops that have been freshly harvested and immediately used.  This beers are referred to as “wet hop," “fresh hop” or “harvest” beers.  These tend to have a very crisp, fresh taste that showcases the particular hop being used.  Since it is logistically more difficult to use fresh hops in a beer, these beers are much less common.  (Most hops are frozen or processed right after they are picked, so getting a load of hops from the field to the brewery before they go bad is not easy.)  While these beers will typically showcase the hop, that does not mean that they are super bitter or hoppy tasting.  
Sierra Nevada Estate

A couple of fresh hop beers that I have tried this year include the Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale and Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale.  Both were excellent, but I have to give a slight nod to the Sierra Nevada.  I would like to note that Sierra Nevada has really stepped up their game in the last two years and is really producing some excellent stuff these days.

Yes I have that glass.

I am going to make two other recommendations just because these are beers that I love, and I think they are great beers for an autumn holiday occasion.  First up, Schneider Aventinus, one of my favorite beers of all time.  This is a weizenbock style which basically means a dark German wheat beer, on steroids.  It is a full bodied beer, with an alcohol range of about 8%. So, don’t drink a six pack of them.

And the last is from a local brewery called Victory.  The beer is called Yakima Glory.  This is another high alcohol content beer, clocking in at 8.7%.  This beer has very strong malt flavors balanced out by an intense hop profile.  This was a new seasonal offering from Victory last year, and one of the best new beers I have had in years.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Favorite: Gourmet Magazine's Test Kitchen

Last year my good friend Valerie hooked me up with some locally raised chickens from a farmer in Lancaster County. Sadly, these birds languished in my freezer for quite a while since I had just had baby #2 and was not big into cooking. This summer, I came across one of these chickens in the big freezer and a dinner idea was hatched. We would have bbq chicken on the grill. The only problem - these chickens were not cut up. But I am resourceful girl, I thought. I was sure that with the help of the internet, I could carve up a whole chicken into grilling appropriate pieces.

So I typed "How to cut up a whole chicken" into the Google search box and found several helpful sites. (In retrospect, I am glad that I didn't stumble upon anything too graphic.) The most helpful hits were actually YouTube videos of people demonstrating this culinary skill. This chicken experiment really redeemed YouTube in my view.  Up to this point, my primary experience with YouTube was showing Kara random Disney or Sesame Street songs. Aside from entertaining my kids, I suspected that YouTube was of questionable utility to a stay at home mom.

The best site, by far, was from the now defunct (so sad) Gourmet Magazine website. On the video section of the site they have a sub-section called "The Test Kitchen". Embedded here are quick instructional videos on a wide range of kitchen topics: from how to cut up a whole chicken, to how to warm tortillas, to how to crack a coconut, to how to sharpen a knife. I am telling you this has some great stuff.  I have never even heard of corn silk tea, but after seeing the video, I kind of want to give it a try.

So this week, as you are considering making gravy, pie crust or carving up a turkey, check out Gourmet's very informative site.

Here is a link to "How to Get a Moist Turkey."

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Carbtacular!

If there is one thing that I particularly love about the Thanksgiving feast, it's the complete overindulgence in all that is carby. When else would we think it is necessary to serve at least two kinds of potatoes? What other meal demands that one serve butter rolls to go with all the other buttery concoctions? As Dave likes to say, "It's carbtacular!"

Make this recipe - Your rolls will actually look like this. Promise.
This year, I found the most delicious recipe for dinner rolls. This is a version of the Pioneer Woman's Buttered Rosemary Rolls. But instead of using frozen dinner rolls from a store, I make dinner roll dough in the bread machine. Here is dinner roll recipe that I use from Tasty Kitchen contributor, Sprucehill. You can find a step by step and pictures of the recipe on her very cool blog.

These rolls are great no matter how you cook them. But I highly recommend busting out your cast iron skillet if you have one. (If you don't have one, ask Santa, or other gift-giving entities, to hook you up ASAP. It is an inexpensive and invaluable kitchen tool.) Check out Pioneer Woman's steps, but the basic idea is:
-Make or purchase dinner roll dough
-Place balls of dough in a cast iron skillet that is generously coated in butter. I use seven balls, like in the picture from the PW site.
-Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. Brush with more melted butter and sprinkle on spices to suit your tastes. I think they are especially good with a little Parmesan grated on top.
-Bake at 375 or 400, depending on your oven, for 15-20 minutes

These are so soft and delicious. Not to mention that they look beautiful - a great addition to your holiday feast. Because you can never have too many carbs.

Pre-Thanksgiving Clean Out

This will never do.
So this is what the inside of my refrigerator looks like today. This is a problem. I am about to cook a Thanksgiving dinner and then store leftovers, of which there will be tons.

So, I have proclaimed the next three days, clean out our fridge days. That's right, it's all leftovers all the time until Thursday. Then we'll start another parade of leftovers on Friday. Possibly Thursday night.

Here's my tentative plan:
Tonight - Quesadillas with the beans, steak from last night, and sauteed veggies from Saturdays calzone dinner with Josh, shredded cheese that is taking up way too much room..
Tuesday - Stir fry with broccoli from Sunday dinner, peppers, snap peas.
Wednesday - Pasta with whatever vegetables linger, 1/2 container of ricotta and meatballs.

In addition, I have charged Dave with eating the remaining tuna and egg salad from the weekend for lunch this week. Jamie and I did our part and finished up the eggplant casserole and penne for lunch today.

I think it can be done. Wish me luck!

PS: Coming soon, Dave will post about some beer recommendations for Thanksgiving. He is still "researching."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Make This Now - Donuffins!

To cap off the events of American Education Week, a mom from Kara's class offered to host a parent coffee today. Perfect excuse to bake, right?

Tasty Kitchen is the recipe sharing site attached to the Pioneer Woman website. It is great place to find recipes, especially in the realms of comfort food and baked goods. I was perusing my "recipe box" and found a recipe called "Muffins that Taste Like Donuts." Seemed like the perfect parent coffee offering.

Thanks, Lemanada, for this recipe and pretty picture, too.
The basic idea is that you bake a muffin and when they are cooked, you dip them in butter and coat them with cinnamon sugar. Kara, Dave and I tested them out and determined that they rock. The only complaint: "Muffins that taste like donuts" is a little unwieldy as names go. Dave suggested "Donuffins" - I think that one's going to stick. (And since this is a family friendly blog, I wont share the other contenders for new name.)

These things are awesome. Make them now.

PS: These were so good, that made a pumpkin muffin version. Just add about 1 cup of pumpkin puree and reduce the milk.

PPS: If you make these as mini-muffins, they are pretty much like munchkins.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Feast - Part 1: Cranberry Chutney

This week is American Education Week, and Kara's school is celebrating by hosting workshops and inviting parents in to visit the classrooms. I am a little shocked that I didn't even know American Education Week existed considering I was a teacher. But I am so glad that such a week exists - I love any excuse to get to see what happens in Kara's school, not to mention, any excuse to tell our teachers how amazing they are. By the way, today is Teacher Appreciation Day - a perfect day to tell your kid's teacher how much you value his/her work.

Dave and I were so excited to spend some time with Kara in her classroom where we got to do "math workshop" together. One of my favorite parts was getting a chance to look at all of the student work around the room. Gotta love elementary school teachers - their classroom decorating skills are out of this world. My favorite piece was Kara's picture/answer to the prompt: "What makes you happy?" To which she answered, "Playing with my brother". Seriously, I almost started to cry. But the thing that made me chuckle was her answer to the question: "What is your favorite thing about  Thanksgiving?" She answered, "Having a feast." Girl after my own heart!

For reasons that I don't entirely understand, I have been fretting about Thanksgiving dinner this year. I can't quite explain why. I have made the Thanksgiving "feast," as my daughter calls it, many times. But for some reason, this year I have been paralyzed by all of the choices out there. My usual tendency would be to try all kinds of new things, but I am only cooking for four adults and two kids so serving three kinds of stuffing seems a little overboard.

Yesterday, I took a step towards ending my Turkey Day Anxiety Syndrome and cooked up some cranberry sauce and some cranberry chutney. Now, I really like canned cranberry sauce of any variety - even the jellied kind that shows the rings from the tin can. But on Thanksgiving, I think it is only right to make your own cranberry sauce from scratch - especially since making cranberry sauce "from scratch" is one of the easiest aspects of the feast. Brace yourself, it's pretty complicated:
  • Rinse a bag of cranberries.
  • Put in a pot with 1 cup of orange juice and 1 cup of sugar.
  • Cook at a simmer until the berries pop and the sauce thickens. 
But because I am a freak and because I love all kinds of chutney, I decided to make cranberry chutney too. This is a little more involved, but I would still classify it as "easy" cooking all around. I basically adapted the recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I doubled the recipe - I wanted to preserve jars to give as holiday gifts.

This makes a spicy, sweet and thick chutney. I tried some on my chicken last night, and it was superb.

-In a large sauce pan combine:
  • 1 bag (or about 3 cups) fresh cranberries
  • 1-2 cups onions finely chopped. I used half red and half white.
  • 1/2 to 1 cup dried pineapple chopped. (In my recipe search, I saw many  that called for chopped fresh pineapple, so I think I would try that next time. Let me tell you, chopping dried pineapple was a pain. And it wasn't easy to find dried pineapple that didn't contain extra "pineapple flavors". What the heck? That is scary.)
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh ginger finely chopped
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1/4 cup orange juice - plus more if the chutney gets to thick
  • 1 cup vinegar - I used half red wine and half cider.
-Bring up to a boil and then reduce heat so mixture simmers for about 15 minutes. Then add:
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1-2 cups sugar depending on your tastes. I recommend starting with one cup and adding extra as you go along.
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or pepper flakes
-Simmer gently for about 15 more minutes - it will thicken when it cools, so don't worry if it seems runny. Also, don't fret if it seems a little too acidic initially, it mellowed quite a bit when it cooled.
-If you are going to preserve some, prepare jars/lids, leave 1/2 inch headspace and process 10 minutes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Food for Rainy Days: Spicy White Beans & Greens

Another rainy day yesterday inspired me to make one of my recently discovered meals. Last year my mom, uncharacteristically, saw Emeril on  Good Morning America where he made "Creamy White Beans with Sausage." Shortly after, my mom hosted our gang for a Sunday dinner where she served up this healthy and hearty comfort food. Since then, I have interpreted this recipe several times and each time I am more convinced that it is a true keeper. You know, one of those recipes to put in your recipe box, or at the very least least bookmark on your computer.

Some of the things I love about this dish:
-It's cheap and healthy. You don't get much better than beans when it comes to nutritional bang for your buck.
-It is easy to prepare - one pot, a knife and cutting board are all that's required and the whole thing can be done in about 30 min or less including cooking time. Rachel Ray has nothing on moms of America, right?
-It is easily adapted to whatever ingredients you have on hand.
-It can accommodate a number of food needs - it is naturally gluten free, but can also be vegetarian.

Following Emeril's recipe will yield great results. Here is what I did in the most recent iteration:

  • Finely chop up 3 cloves of garlic, 1 medium onion, 1 or 2 bell peppers depending on their size. I used a medium red bell and one small green bell pepper.
  • Heat a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add 3 or so tablespoons of olive oil. You want to cover the bottom of the pot.
  • Add the veggies to the pot and stir while they sweat. While the vegetables are cooking up, cut up 12 oz which is about 3-4 links of sausage into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds. Use whatever kind of sausage you like. I used Trader Joe's chicken andouille sausage. You could also use chorizo, kielbasa or hot/sweet Italian sausage. Obviously, a spicy sausage will make for a spicier pot of beans. But if you don't have or don't like spicy sausage, you could spice this up in other ways: add some hot pepper flakes, chopped hot peppers of your choosing, hot sauce. You get the idea.
  • Add the sausage to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add 1 can or about 2 cups of diced tomatoes and cook for a few minutes more. 
  • Add 3 cans or about 6 cups of white beans. Cook for a few minutes and then add 3 cups or about 3 big handfuls of spinach and/or arugula.
  • Season with salt, pepper, sage, thyme, parsley and cook for about 10 minutes more until beans are soft and flavorful. 

Serve it up with bread and salad for dinner. Delicious!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Apple Butter

Looking at the last couple of weeks, it would appear that I am obsessed with apples. What can I tell you? They are in season. They are cheap. They are super easy to transform into all kinds of other delicious foods. Finally, I always seem to have some around that need to get used up.

You see, I am not especially picky about my apples. When I taught at a school in Maryland, I enjoyed the red delicious apples that were from the cafeteria. I think I read somewhere that red delicious are the best selling apples in the US. Now to my husband, my daughter and my friends Katie, Susan and Tim, eating a red delicious is a sin against all truly good apples like honey crisps or pink ladies. Apparently, I know several people who are pretty persnickety when it comes to their apples.

In our house, this picky apple eating, or should I more generously call it "selectivity," often leads to apples languishing in the back of the refrigerator because they have been deemed not quite up to snuff. When I find these poor guys, I channel my irritation, or self-righteousness as Dave might call it, into making apple sauce. In the end, this works out well for everyone since it uses up the apples and results in homemade apple sauce for us all to enjoy.

This year, we went above and beyond and canned a ton of apple sauce to enjoy for the rest of the year. It was in my search for directions on how best to preserve apples, that I came across several apple butter recipes. It turns out that apple butter is just apple sauce that has been sweetened, spiced and cooked way down.

So last week, I make a huge pot of apple sauce and over the course of a day on the stove it transformed into apple butter. I basically used the recipe I found on Food In Jars. Pick Your Own has a good recipe as well. But unlike most other canning applications, this one doesn't really require a recipe. Just make apple sauce, puree until it is very smooth, cook over low heat and add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, ginger or any other spices that sound good to you. Cook slowly and stir frequently. Beware of apple butter bubbles that will splatter all over the place. If you don't have the time, energy or inclination to leave a pot of apple sauce on your stove all day, I have read that you can use a slow cooker to achieve the same effect. A large  Dutch oven of sauce made 3 pint and 2 half pint jars of butter. And it is so good.

You might be thinking, "That's a lot of apple butter. What the heck would I do with all that?" Some ideas:
-Obviously it is delicious on warm toast.
-Try an apple butter cream cheese sandwich
-Spread it in a warm tortilla with a little butter for a delicious roll-up
-Put it on pancakes, waffles or French toast
-Use it as a filing for crepes. Add a little marscapone cheese for a super rich roll-up.
-Add it to oatmeal
-Put it in your homemade granola bars
-Add it to a favorite banana, zucchini or pumpkin bread recipe
-Make apple butter bread (Google it - there are a gillion recipes out there.)
-Use as a base for sweet marinade for pork
-Give it away as a holiday or hostess gift. Never underestimate how much people like to get homemade food. 

So the next time you make apple sauce, consider turning into apple butter. You wont be disappointed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Easy, Impressive (and Gluten Free!) Chocolate Cake

Last night we had dinner at my friend Valerie's house. It was a lovely evening all around. First, our kids all played together so well. (Really, is there a better developmental milestone than when your kids can play mostly unattended with your friends' kids?) Second, Valerie, her husband Owen, and our mutual friend Katie are fabulous company - smart, funny, intellectual without being snooty. And finally, Valerie is a great cook. She mad Bibimbap, a Korean specialty, and it was so good. If she doesn't post something about it on her blog, City Mouse Philly, I will have to write about it this week. Seriously delicious stuff.

I am big believer that you shouldn't be an empty-handed guest, so I offered to bring dessert. Val is gluten intolerant, which put cookies, brownies and traditional cakes out of bounds. Fortunately, I had just been paging through my copy of Real Simple magazine. Dave says he can't really distinguish this periodical from a catalog, but I find it a pretty good read as magazines go. If nothing else the pictures are nice. And if you are looking for a "new use" for tin cans, burnt down candles, or the cardboard toilet paper rolls, let the writers of Real Simple be your guide. (In all seriousness, they have a section called "New Uses for Old Things" - check it out.) I had never really tried one of their recipes, but when I saw one for Flourless Chocolate Cake, I knew it was destiny.

I was not disappointed. This cake was so easy to make, and it looked gorgeous. (Doesn't a dusting of powdered sugar make even the most mundane dessert look "professional"?) Most importantly, it tasted wonderful - it's rich and moist, like a brownie on steroids. Micah, Val's son, wolfed his down in under a minute. The grown ups, because we are so mature, took at least three minutes to gobble up ours. We served it with the sweetened whipped cream/creme fraiche and ice cream too. It's important to have sides with your super rich chocolate dessert, right?

Give it a try this holiday season - you wont regret it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Set...Thanksgiving!

As Jamie and I were strolling through our weekly trip to Trader Joe's, it became clear to me that I am not really ready for Thanksgiving. The entire store was filled with Thanksgiving related food, displays and samples. (Just an FYI - the cornbread stuffing mix they were tasting today was really good. Not at all mushy. Jamie approved of their cranberry sauce, as well.)  This all seemed cute and fun until I noticed that half of the meat case was filled with turkeys. And I had the anxious realization that I have managed to order a turkey, but that's about it. I haven't quite determined what else I will cook.

The problem is that I can pretty much make the Thanksgiving basics without a huge amount of thought or effort. But my resolution this year has been to consciously step out of my cooking comfort zone and try some new recipes. What better opportunity to put my money where my mouth is than a big, food filled holiday, right?

I will have to get on that plan soon. Like this week. I swear.

If anyone has good ideas for Thanksgiving recipes, I would love the help.  And if you, too, are looking for Thanksgiving inspiration, check out Mark Bittman's ideas for "101 Head Starts on the Day."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Super Easy Spaghetti Pie = Dinner Victory!

 I love pie. Really any kind of pie. Cherry, apple, rhubarb, chicken pot, shepherds. You put it in a pie dish, and I bet I will like it. Given this predilection for pies, it is no surprise that spaghetti pie has been one of my go-to meals for years.

I would like to say that my children, really my eldest, shared my enthusiasm for all things pie. But unless it's a cherry pie, Kara's not interested. Yesterday while the baby was napping, I  whipped up a spaghetti pie using the leftovers from the weekend. I tutor on Tuesday nights, so I miss the dinner and bedtime routine. And since Dave is usually running in as I am running out, I try to make something that he can just heat up for everyone. I rarely succeed in these attempts, however.  So I was feeling extra proud of myself for getting a meal ready ahead of time. And I flattered myself that this would be a dinner everyone would like and eat without complaint. It's really just spaghetti is a pie plate, for goodness sakes. What's not to like, right?

As I was about to leave, Kara shouted from the living room, "What's for dinner?"

To which I replied, "Something delicious!" She greeted this answer with a look that communicated her full knowledge that I was trying to put one over on her.

Apparently, it went downhill from there. After I left, Dave had the privilege of listening to Kara complain in advance about her dinner. And when it was actually dinner time, Dave had to "practically drag her to the table by her pigtails" (His words, not mine. I would never get that frustrated by our child...)

But it was all worthwhile because once our little one tasted the pie in question, she couldn't even pretend to hate it. In fact, she loved it. Ate two helpings. Dave, basking in this dinner victory, got to actually enjoy his dinner, too: a delicious plate of spaghetti pie without a side order of whining and drama. I imagine him thinking, "I love the smell of spaghetti pie in the evening...smells like victory."

. There are a lot of spaghetti pie recipes out there. This one is a variation on the dish my stepmother made. I have simplified it quite a bit. Spaghetti pie is a good way to use up all kinds of leftover vegetables, cheese, meat and of course pasta. This recipe is easily made meat-free and/or gluten free too. Get creative - you wont be disappointed.

-Combine about 1/2 lb of cooked spaghetti with 2 eggs beaten and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. If the pasta is cold, just run a little hot water on it to warm it up. This will make it easier to coat with the egg and cheese. On the other hand, if the pasta is fresh out of the pot, let it cool off before you pour egg into it, otherwise you will get scrambled egg in you noodles.
-Pour coated pasta in to a pie dish or a 9 inch baking dish. Set aside.
-Chop up one medium onion, one bell pepper and about 1 cup mushrooms. I used baby bellas, but white work too.
-Saute one link of Italian sausage in a large pan. After about 5 minutes, move sausage to the side, add a little olive oil and cook the veggies.
-Saute until veggies are soft. Remove sausage and set aside.
-Take pan off of heat and add about a 1/2 cup sour cream and stir into veggies.You could also use ricotta or some marscapone here. I bet chevre would be yummy too.
-To assemble the pie - Pour the creamy vegetable mix onto the spaghetti "crust." Next cut up the sausage and place a layer of  pieces on the vegetables. Cover it all with a layer of spaghetti sauce and then a layer of shredded mozzarella.
-Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
*This dish is also great for freezing ahead of time. It will keep for months - then just defrost a bit and bake.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A New Favorite: Two Peds in a Pod

Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer says, "Alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life's problems"? (If you missed it, here's the clip.) I kind of feel the same way about the internet, especially when it comes to parenting advice. Dealing with troubling, or perhaps just annoying, child rearing issues, I have on may occasions found useful, sage advice on the internet. Or at least the gobs of information online has confirmed what I already knew. (Potty training takes time. Babies will eventually sleep. Pacifiers are not inherently evil.) But let's face it, there is a lot of crap on the internet. And if you are looking to scare yourself or increase your general anxiety level, look no further than your home computer.

Given the scarcity of sound parenting websites, I am always thrilled when I find something that is both intelligent and calming in its tone. Two Peds in a Pod is a "Pediatric Blog & Podcast for Parents on the Go." Written by Dr. Julie Kardos and Dr. Naline Lai, pediatricians in the Philadelphia area, it offers a rational, professionally grounded advice on common pediatric concerns. I especially like that the often address social-emotional development in addition to more common, but no less important, issues like what should your baby's poop look like. A recent post, for example, looked at Silly Bandz as a metaphor for the stages of child development. Cute. And smart. A site worth checking out.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Home Brewing with Dave & Josh

Dave has generously agreed to post about his latest adventures in home brewing. I think it is completely amazing that Dave and his best friend Josh are able to make incredibly good beer right in Josh’s basement. Clearly, I like to cook, but brewing makes home cooking look so JV. These guys combine culinary skill, chemistry and even  gardening to produce some seriously yummy beer. Take it away, Dave…

As I may have noted in my inaugural guest blog, I am a beer geek.  This geekery does not end merely at enjoying unusual and delicious beers.  For quite some time now, our friend Josh and I have been home brewing beer fairly regularly.  As you may know, beer is made with four main ingredients: Water, Malted Grain, Hops and Yeast.  Now for this particular batch of beer, we are using Cascade hops that were grown up the side of Josh’s house in Lansdale. 

Fresh hop cones
Hops are a perennial plant that has vines that can grow to be over 30 feet long.  They are grown commercially in the Pacific Northwest, but they can thrive in our climate here as well.  Hops serve several purposes in beer.  The provide bittering to balance the sweet sugary flavor of the malt, and they can provide additional flavor and aroma.  Hops also serve as a preservative.  We would typically use more than one hop variety in a recipe, but here we are trying to isolate the flavor and character of the local ingredient, so we are using only Josh’s Cascades.
I will not get too in depth on the technique, but I will give a brief description of the basics of homebrewing and I will lay out our ingredients. 

The Ingredients:
20 Pounds of Two Row Pale Malt
1 Pound of Crystal Malt 40L
1 Pound of Victory Malt
1 Pound of Rye Malt
15 Ounces of Fresh Cascade Whole Flower Hops
Wyeast 1332 and 1272 Yeast packs.

Homebrew 101:

Step 1:  The Mash
This is where you take the malted grain and steep it in hot water for usually 60-90 minutes.  The hot water, usually between 150 and 165 degrees, converts the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars.  In our case, the 20 pounds of pale malt are the “base malt”.  This is where the fermentable sugars will come from.  The Crystal, Victory and Rye are called specialty grains that do things like add color, body and hints of flavor to add to the complexity of the final product. 

Sparging the grain with hot water.
Step 2:  Sparge
After the 60 minutes are up, you sprinkle hot water over the mix and drain it out into a huge pot.  This is called sparging, and is the method by which you collect the Wort, which is what will become beer eventually. 

Step 3:  The Boil
Our recipe is for a 10 gallon batch.  So after sparging you will be left with about 12 gallons of wort.  Now we take this giant pot and boil it for about an hour.  During this boil, we will add in hops at regular intervals.  The amount of hops you add in and when you add them determines how bitter your beer will be, and how much hop flavor and aroma your beer will exhibit.  We are making an IPA, so which is a very hoppy tasting and bitter beer, so we are adding hops early and often.  Hops added at the beginning of the boil add bitterness for balance.  Hops added at the end of the boil contribute flavor and aroma.  We added about 2-3 ounces of hops every 15 minutes throughout the boil. 

Step 4:  Yeast Addition
Fermenting away
Once the wort is cool (about 75 degrees), we transfer the 10 gallons of beer into two 6 gallon glass carboys.  This is why we have two yeast packs, one pack is good for about a 5 gallon batch.  Yeast converts the sugar in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  We like to use two different yeast strains to see how the beer turns out differently.  In this case you can see that one batch is much darker than the other.  We are not entirely sure why that is, but the yeast is definitely a factor.  The yeast we use is made by a company called Wyeast – we used one strain called American Ale, and one called Pacific Northwest Ale.  Once the yeast is added, we seal up the carboys and store them in a dark, temperature-controlled environment.

Step 5:  Fermentation and Bottling
Primary fermentation usually takes about 1-2 weeks.  Once it is done, it is ready to bottle.  We transfer it to a food grade bottling bucket and then use that to fill the bottles.  Before bottling, we add in some priming sugar solution.  This will allow the beer to carbonate itself in a process called bottle conditioning.  After bottling, it is ready to drink usually in about 2 weeks.

Once we open up a couple bottles to test it out, I will post the results here! 

Kitchen Tip - Saving Scraps

I recently came across an old Cooks Illustrated magazine and saw this tip: If you are dealing with a large amount of produce and want to save your scraps for the compost pile, line your sink with a section from the newspaper and use the whole sink as your compost bowl. When you are done, just wrap it all up in a ball and take it out to your heap. Toss the paper and scraps in together. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as my daughter would say.

I actually put this tip to the test  when I was peeling another bushel of apples. (More on that another time.) This technique worked well - the only caveat I would offer is to use a thick stack of paper if you think you will get it wet. I was a little stingy the first time and the paper pretty much disintegrated in the transfer. Once I learned this lesson, it was a handy way to get the kitchen scraps out of the kitchen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Potato Dinner

Thursday was cold, rainy and all around icky here. My morning activity with Jamie? Going to the mall so he could run around and therefore be more likely to nap, something he had refused to do for the previous three days. In a disturbing display of the effects of marketing on toddlers, Jamie spent much of the time running around pointing at stores shouting, "Pettsel!" This is toddler talk for "Pretzel" which we typically buy at Auntie Anne's (or is it Aunt Annie's - I can never remember) on our mall trips. Now that I think of it, maybe this behavior raises fewer questions about marketing and more questions about what exactly goes into those pretzels that an 18 month old knows they are a mall food.Yikes.

In any case, my plan worked and Jamie finally napped. Thank goodness! So I actually had some time to get things done without the soundtrack of an alternately chatting and crying toddler in the background. I could have used this time to cook up a delicious dinner for my family, but I didn't go that route. I decided to write in this blog, read the paper, fold laundry so I didn't have to do it after the bedtimes were done.

While this "me time" was lovely, it left me without a dinner plan. Then I opened a cabinet and saw the bag of russet potatoes that I bought at Trader Joe's yesterday. This discovery reminded me that I had seen a post on Dinner, A Love Story about a potato dinner. Don't you love the way my internet addled mind works?

Since I had potatoes, cheese, sour cream, cooked bacon left from last week's brinner, I had a dinner plan. And as a bonus, I would get to turn on the oven for at least an hour and warm up our kitchen on such a damp and dreary day.

Here is what we came up with: Kara and Jamie went traditional. Kara had sour cream on her 1/2 of a potato and Jamie went with some American cheese melted on top. I found a pack of shredded Swiss & Gruyere cheese, another Trader Joe's purchase, and smothered the grown ups' potatoes in this combo, plus some caramelized onions. A word about carmelized onions: Is there any food they do not improve? I had never considered them as a potato topping, but let me tell you, it was unbelievably good. If you are going to bother caramelizing onions, you might as well do a whole pans worth. They keep for many days and, again, are excellent on just about anything you can think of. I put some on our salads as well.  

Lest you think this dinner was a smashing success just because is was delicious, fast, mostly meat-free and pretty darn healthy, I will inject a little reality. Here is a picture of Jamie's plate after her finished his dinner.

That's right. After he "ate." Yes, my children were not quite as excited about the potato bar idea as I was. Kara ate more than Jamie, but only because I nagged her into it. But there is no nagging a toddler. Just keeping it real.

That being said, I would do it all again anyway. I think the wisdom is you have to present foods to kids up to 20 times before they may actually eat them. I am absolutely willing to give the potato dinner 19 more tries - especially if that means I get to have 19 more excuses to cover a vegetable with cheese and caramelized onions.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Got Apples? Make Apple Pie Bars!

A couple of weeks ago, the four kindergarten classes at Kara's school went on a field trip to a local orchard. By the way, kudos to the teachers and staff who took 80 5 year olds on a school trip only two months in to school - Teachers really need to be paid more to organize and then endure days like that. But I digress...the trip, from what I could gather, was a chance to see how a real orchard works. They got to ride the tractor, pick apples and pumpkins. Plus they learned a bit about how the farmers make all of these delicious things come to life year after year. At the end of the day, each student got to bring home a pumpkin, gourd and several apples.

One of the parents who volunteered to go on the trip gave each student in Kara's class a little card with a recipe for apple pie bars. Such a great idea!  Kara and I decided to give this recipe a try last weekend. Our family declared it a smashing success. This is a very kid-friendly recipe and, of course, a great way to use some of fall's finest apples.

-Defrost or take out of the refrigerator 2 pre-made pie crusts. (I suppose you could make 2 crusts from scratch, but I generally don't have the energy for that unless it is a special occasion.)
-Peel, core and slice 4-5 apples. You could use anything you have around, but if you want to see what kind of apples work best check out this chart from PickYourOwn.org.
-In a large bowl, toss apples with 3/4 cup sugar (We used 1/2 cup white and 1/4 cup brown.), 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a dash of salt.
-Roll out one crust onto a sheet pan. Cover with 1 cup of crushed corn flakes.
-Pile apples on top of corn flakes and cover with second crust.
-Pinch or roll edges to seal. Brush the top with egg white to give it a shiny look.
-Use a small knife to make several vents in the top.
-Cook at 350 for 50 minutes.
Yum! It's like a big apple dumpling.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cooking "Club" - The First Meeting

One of the best things about having a baby, aside from the baby itself, is that people bring you food. People come over to see your new little one and give you delicious frozen meals. Moms, in particular, know that when you are hormonal and sleep-deprived, the last thing you are going to consider is cooking. To prevent the family from eating pizza or scrambled eggs for weeks, good friends and neighbors willingly share their cooking prowess.Again, aside from the new baby and all, there is really nothing as wonderful as looking in the freezer and finding the amazing pasta that Juliane made. Or defrosting the tub of soup from Valerie only to discover that your family will actually get a full serving of vegetables that night.

After experiencing this influx of frozen dinners, I had been considering how, short of having another baby, I could recreate this scenario. The only other times I bring people food is when there has been some sort of horribly stressful event like a death in the family. Obviously, tragedy is not what we are looking for here. So I wondered if I could find like-minded cooks to start a frozen dinner "club".The idea is that you make as many copies of an easily frozen dinner as there are people in your group, and you get together regularly to exchange prepared dishes. (Sounds cool, right? Almost like one of those exclusive dining clubs at Princeton?)

I heard and read about these, but I had never had the nerve to actually set one in motion. My friend Valerie is an excellent cook. And since she just had her third child, I knew she would be interested in any opportunity to have more food in her house that she didn't have to prepare. Once Val was on board, I pitched our friend Katie who is also a great cook, but seldom has the chance to flex her culinary muscles since she is trying to finish her Ph.D. and work and have a social life. Katie agreed and convinced her school friend Vivian to come on board too. So our "club" was born and a date of November 1st was set.

Like all good clubs, ours has a few rules.
  1. Try to use local/in season produce
  2. Try to use local/humanely raised meat
  3. Cook gluten free meals
Yes, that last one really ups the ante. But Valerie is gluten intolerant, so going GF is part of the package. While this does raise the degree of difficulty a bit, I think it is an interesting challenge. I am looking forward to exploring some GF recipes this year.

We met last night and I seriously cannot wait to try these meals. Valerie made a Cuban style arroz con pollo - in quantities that far surpass what a family of four could eat. Katie brought chicken and biscuits. (Homemade biscuits, baby!) And Vivian cooked mapo tofu which I have never had but looks like the most delicious Chinese food of all time. Vivian gets extra points, too, for making a spicy and non-spicy version so that the kids can partake. To top it all off, she made a huge container of rice to go with the main dish. Really, these women are amazing. I was practically drooling looking at all this fabulous food.

My first offering is an eggplant pasta bake. This is basically the eggplant vegetarian "goulash" that I learned to make from my mom covering a layer of pasta and all of it topped with mozzarella cheese. Here is the recipe for the eggplant part.

By definition, goulash is traditionally a meat based soupy stew. This dish is meat free, but I call it goulash for lack of a better word. If you have ideas, I am interested. It can be a super thick sauce, baked like a casserole with cheese on top, or add some ground meat and you've got real goulash. This recipe is near and dear to me as it is something my mom cooked a lot and one of the first things I learned to replicate on my own. Thanks, mom!

-I think of this as the recipe of twos -- makes it easy to remember: Chop 2 small/medium onions, 2 green peppers, 2 red/yellow peppers, 2 carrots, 2 cloves of garlic.
-Heat up a large pot or dutch oven to medium high and coat the bottom with olive oil. Add the chopped veggies and cook until they are softened, but not mushy.
-While the chopped veggies are sweating away, peel and cube 2 large eggplants.
-If you have some red wine sitting on your counter, deglaze the pot. If not, no worries.
-Add the eggplant -- you may have to do this in batches to make room.
-When the eggplant is starting to soften and the volume in the pot has reduced, add two 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes.
-Stir it all together and let the mix bubble on the stove until the eggplant is soft. Season with salt, pepper and any other spices that taste good to you and your family.

Like the toddler knife on the stove? One of my favorite utensils.

-This can be served over pasta, rice, couscous, bulgar, quinoa. My favorite way to have this is over some grain with a slice of cheese melted on top. My mom used to cover her batch of goulash with slices of American cheese right in the pot. This is fabulous! It makes the whole thing creamy and rich.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Despite her disappointment that we didn't decorate our lawn with cobwebs, Kara had a great Halloween last night. Somehow, Halloween has expanded to become at least a week long event. Starting with pumpkin carving at Dave's parents, continuing with the classroom party, school parade and culminating with a walk in the neighborhood.

I think Kara's favorite part was getting to wear nail polish and the "creepy" rings her Nana always gets the kids.

 As you can see, Dave's parents get into the spirit. Kara's comment: "I wish our house looked more like Nana and Poppy's." (Note to self: Get the cobwebs next year.)

And I am a little disturbed by how excited both kids were to see that our neighborhood got tp-ed.