Thursday, November 29, 2012

And Then I Made Gray Soup...

I pride myself on being able to think on my feet in the kitchen, always tasting and adjusting along the way. But here's the thing... sometimes I straight up fail. I'm not saying "eh... not my favorite thing" fail, but rather "this is disgusting on all levels" fail.

Exhibit A -- A slow cooker mushroom soup. I turned these lovelies...

...into this awful mess.

I can't even blame the lighting... this straight up looked like concrete vomit. I wish I could say it tasted great, but it didn't. My best friend and husband lovingly ate it and said it was "good." What thoughtful bullshitters.

You know what though? It's okay that this sucked. When you try new things, you're inevitably going to bomb a few of 'em. Remind yourself... you don't have to love every thing you cook... and it's just fine if some things turn out bad.

And at least you won't be the food blogger who made gray soup.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spicy Toasted Chickpeas

I'm addicted to them. Broiled chickpeas with a touch of olive oil and spice. The crispy, crunchy exterior with a soft and creamy inside. One part gourmet bar snack, another part perfect soup and salad topper.

This is a tip I picked up from Mark Bittman a few years back and the variations are endless. Curry, cumin or chili...oh my. Just drain and dry chickpeas before rolling around in olive oil and seasoning. In the oven for just a few minutes and you're done.

Can't. Get. Enough.

Since you're working toward a crispy outer skin, be sure to drain and rinse your beans well. A quick rub down with a paper towel ensures crunch.

Add an ample sprinkle of spice and into the broiler we go.

Before you know it, your delicate beans will be tanner than a high school girl in 1999 (and thankfully without the stripe-y blond highlights and body glitter).

While I love them alone, they're the perfect way to dress up canned soup on a weeknight.

Spicy Toasted Chickpeas
1 15oz can chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Preheat broiler. Drain and rinse chickpeas and pour on to a foil-lined cookie sheet. Use a paper towel to lightly dry chickpeas. Toss peas in oil and seasonings.

Broil for 4-5 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, until chickpeas are crisp on the outside. Check frequently has broilers can vary.

Serve alone or atop salad or soup. Try swapping out paprika for curry or cumin for variation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

White Bean Soup with Sweet Potato and Spinach

I don't know about you guys, but I needed a detox. So much deep-fried turkey, too many scoops of leftovers sides and a slice more of pie than was needed. Ugh... and before you know it Christmas parties, treats and flowing wine will take over my life. My life is hard.

But in all seriousness, after returning from a morning of travel the Husband and I were both craving something both light and comforting tonight. This white bean soup packs plenty of dark, leafy spinach and a refreshing change of protein pace from all that turkey. A bit of bacon keeps it real.

I love keeping canned beans around the house, especially in winter. They can help you easily turn soups or vegetable dishes into a more filling main attraction. Good-quality parmesan gives this lots of flavor too.

Crisp up the bacon and keep the gorgeous fat in the pan. That's what you'll use to saute your veggies, infusing them with oodles of flavor.

Bacon gets a bad wrap, but the kind I buy is only about 100 calories for two slices... that's a LOT of flavor for a relatively small caloric investment.

Soften up the onions before adding garlic, sweet potatoes, rosemary and thyme.

Once the sweet potatoes have started to soften, in with the white wine. Be sure to scrape up all the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan. That's the whole reason you add the wine... to deglaze (e.g., un-glue) the brown bits from the pan.

After the soup has simmered and you're ready to serve, in with a fresh load of spinach; stirring until wilted and incorporated.

Top with your reserved bacon and a bit of fresh grated parmesan. Mentally prepare yourself for the impending holiday madness. You're gonna make it.

White Bean Soup with Sweet Potato and Spinach
1 teaspoon olive oil
3-4 slices bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 15oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 parmesan rind (the part you cut off the end of the cheese)
6 cups vegetable stock
1 9oz bag fresh spinach
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

In a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add bacon; cooking until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and drain on a paper towel lined plate; reserving for finished soup. Add onions to remaining fat in pan, cooking until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, sweet potato, red pepper flake, S&P and herbs to pan. Cook sweet potatoes until slightly softened, about 8-10 minutes.

Turn up heat to high and add white wine; scraping the bottom of the pan while stirring. Cook for 3 minutes before adding beans, parmesan rind and vegetable stock. Bring liquids to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30-45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are cooked through.

Just before serving, stir in spinach to wilt. Serve soup hot with a sprinkle of parmesan and reserved bacon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Few Thanksgiving Reminders

Well I'm signing off soon for the holiday, but before you take on the biggest meal of the year, I thought I would share a few helpful reminders.

Your Parents Knives Won't Be Sharp -- I can almost guarantee your parents' knives haven't been sharpened since 1993. If you're cooking, consider bringing your own chef's knife and paring knife. No one wants to lose a knuckle to a dangerously dull knife. I'm flying today, so this won't be an option for me (like TSA wouldn't freak the F out on that). I'll be sure to let you know if I come back with all 10 digits.

Save the Bones and Veggie Scraps -- That's the stuff of gold for stocks. Plus, I find it very Grey Gardens Creeeper to keep a bag of bones in the freezer.

Dogs are cute... and Other Safe Conversation Topics -- Everyone can agree that puppies are cute and even cuter on YouTube. Avoid the election, Israel, Obamacare and by all means the Fiscal Cliff in your dinner conversations. Again, remember the puppies.

If All Else Fails, Do the Dishes -- Things getting a little heated in the dining room? Remembering sad stories? Is your mother going on about menopause? Why yes, you would LOVE to do the dishes in the other room.

Eating Pants -- Wear 'em.

Happy holiday to all! Count your blessings and enjoy every bite of that big meal.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I know Thursday is supposed to be the big day of gratitude this week, but today is a kinda a big one for me too. Today I turn 28 and as I mark another year, I am taking the opportunity to count my blessings.

This year I'm thankful for:

A Husband that treats me like it's my birthday every day. 

A family that provides unwavering support for all that I pursue. 

Friends -- lifelong and new found -- that love to laugh, listen and linger over wine. 

My health and the financial freedom to pursue adventures.


A hobby that has inspired new creative drive and delicious bites.

Tiny dogs that give gift cards 
(and the Husband who knows my sense of humor too well for his own good)

So kick off a week of thankfulness with me today... and maybe have a cupcake (or seven). Cheers!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Menu

So all this talk of Thanksgiving side dishes and what not, I thought you guys might be interested to know the full menu.

The husband, the tiny dog and I are headed to the great state of Kansas to celebrate with my my in-laws. Like me, my mother-in-law shares a desire to keep things on the lighter side. I'm all for indulgences, but I hate that "bad full" feeling that comes after so many big holiday meals.

And okay, this isn't THAT healthy. This is America after all.

Thanksgiving 2012

with pita chips

Cornbread Stuffing

with giblet gravy

Pumpkin Pie

And you know the best and least healthy part? We FRY that turkey! Oh yeah... the husband stands on the driveway with a can of beer and cooks up that puppy to a beautiful gold, crispy done. And juicy! Have you ever tried one?

Check out some pics from last year. Apparently I got hungry and forgot to take pictures of the finished product... I also didn't have a blog then. Also, disregard the husband's creepy mustache... he did Movember last year. It was gross.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips

No one wants ho hum potatoes on Thankgiving, but so many of the flavor-boosting solutions seem to come in the form of hefty cheese products and cream. In my quest to lighten up Thanksgiving, I borrowed an idea from a friend's mother and paired potatoes with parsnips.

This white root vegetable packs a complex flavor so you don't need near as much butter or cream, compared to traditional mashed potatoes. And the parsnips blend in with your potatoes both in texture and color, so you can fool even the biggest skeptic. Or you can just force them to try parsnips because you're the host and you said so.

You'll prepare the parsnips just as you would the potatoes... wash and peel. Just be sure to chop them in even sizes.

Then both go into a cold pot of water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring water to boil and allow potatoes and parsnips to cook until fork tender.

See you can hardly even tell the difference between the two.

Mash with a manual potato masher or you can use a hand mixer. Be sure to break down some of the woodier pieces of the parsnip. This is when you'll add a touch of butter and cream.

Finish with a touch of parsley

Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips
3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and peeled
1 lb parsnips, washed and peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

Roughly chop potatoes and parsnips to equal sizes. Add potatoes and parsnips to pot and cover in cold water. Add salt and bring water to a boil. Cook until potatoes and parsnips are fork tender, about 30 minutes (depending on size). Drain potatoes and place back in hot pot.

Over low heat, begin mashing potatoes and parsnips until water from boiling has evaporated. Add butter and cream and continue mashing until melted and combined.

Stir in fresh parsley and S&P to taste. Serve potatoes hot.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cranberry Salsa

It's a little awkward when someone to asks you to bring an appetizer to Thanksgiving. You don't want to bring anything remotely heavy, but a veggie plate somehow feels inappropriate. Not to mention it needs to complement the dinner.

Whether your hosting or a guest, this cranberry salsa is a perfect fit. Enjoy with your favorite tortilla or pita chips. And it is KILLER on leftover turkey, so be sure to save some for yourself.

Fresh, gorgeous cranberries are the star. Added bonus, you're actually hitting your fruit groups for the day (as opposed to the soft cheese and pie groups you'll hit up the rest of the day).

And let your food processor do all the work here. Seriously a five minute appetizer, does it get any easier?

Cranberry Salsa
10 oz fresh cranberries
1/2 red onion, cut into chunks
1 bunch cilantro, removed from stems and roughly chopped
8oz can crushed pineapple, drained
2 jalapenos, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 a green pepper, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until mixed. Can be prepared a day in advance. Serve with tortilla and pita chips.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Healthier Green Bean Casserole

You know it's all about the fried onions. In the history of all Thanksgiving green bean casseroles, there has never been anyone to extol the virtues of cream of mushroom soup or wait all year for soggy green beans. So if we're really just looking for an excuse to eat fried onions, let's think about a better way to go about this, shall we?

Now this isn't weeknight healthy stuff, but it is a healthier alternative to the traditional version of the casserole. Fresh mushrooms, onions and balsamic vinegar give this great depth of flavor, without the usual heft. If anything, more room for pie and turkey, right?

And don't worry... there's still fried onions. It is Thanksgiving, after all.

Fresh green beans keep things crisp and flavorful.

After blanching in boiling water, straight to an ice bath to maintain the beans' bite and color.

After the onions have softened, in with the mushrooms until they've given up all of their liquid and that has evaporated.

A dusting of flour for a quick roux, laying the groundwork for a luscious sauce.

Mixed and ready for crisp onions and parmesan cheese. If you're working ahead of time, you can prepare the beans early in the day and then top with cheese and onions and bake just before serving.

Healthier Green Bean Casserole
1 lb green beans, ends removed
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup fried onions
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Boil a large pot of water and add green beans; cooking for 5 minutes. Drain beans and immediately immerse in ice water. Allow beans to cool completely, remove from water and dry.

Heat olive oil over medium hight heat and add onions; cooking until soft and translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until they give up their liquid and that evaporates; about 10 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar  and S&P to pan and cook 1-2 minutes until mostly evaporated. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms, stirring constantly; cook for 1-2 minutes. Add chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pan until all of the bits have released.

Toss beans with sauce and place the beans in a 9-inch square casserole dish. Top with fried onions and parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes; serve hot.

*Recipe inspiration from Cooking Light

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Orange Cranberry Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Some days you just can't seem to get a win. Whatever the gaffes or self-perceived utter failures, I have to remind myself of what I AM good at. We're all good at something. I'm good at holiday meals and vegetables with bacon. I needed a double dose of self-assurance, so my two great talents have come together for the sake of my sanity and your Thanksgiving menu.

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away. People, this is a day that is completely dedicated to cooking and eating. There is no religious occasion that takes priority or gifts to distract -- this is solely a food day. Oh yeah, and thankfulness and the spirit of friendship and compromise or whatever.

And stretchy pants.

Consider adding Brussels sprouts to your side dish rotation. They're seasonal and simple to prepare. The fresh orange zest, cranberry and bacon in these will make any of your party guests love Brussels sprouts.

Did you know this is how Brussels sprouts grow? Little nodules on a heavy stem. It's nifty to see them on the stalk, isn't it?

Crisping the bacon renders beautiful fat, which you'll use to brown your sprouts.

A little color to start and then in go the cranberry and orange juice. Those cranberries will plump up before you know it with bacon-y orange goodness.

Orange Cranberry Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
1-11/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, halved
1 teaspoon olive oil
4-6 slices bacons, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Juice of 2 oranges
Zest of 1 orange
Salt and pepper

Heat oil over medium-high heat and add chopped bacon. Cook until crisp and remove from pan with a slotted spoon. Place on paper towel to drain. 

Add sprouts to pan with bacon fat. Cook until edges begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice to pan, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add cranberries and cover; reduce heat to medium and cook until sprouts are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Toss with orange zest before serving. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Just about the only thing more American than apple pie... is voting. We are blessed to live in a place where we all have the right to participate in government. Whomever you choose today, just be grateful you have that right and do your part by making an educated decision.

Like the ever-present conflict of red and blue, this pie is a delectable flavor fight to the Ohio-like last bite. Sweet tart granny smith, piqued with salty, sticky caramel. All checked and balanced by a flaky, buttery crust.

After seeing Smitten Kitchen's Apple Mosaic Tart, I was dying to make a pie variation for my Thanksgiving menu.

I started with Martha Stewart's pie crust recipe. Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor with COLD butter until a light meal forms.

Stream in ice cold water until this lovely dough comes together.

Refrigerate covered in in plastic wrap for at least an hour. This can be done a few days in advance.

Then we roll out on a floured surface. This dough will stick, so no cuts in the flour department.

Of all the damn kitchen supplies I've acquired over the years, I realized yesterday that I don't have a pie pan. A cake one will work just fine, but you'll feel like a failed food blogger for a lacking a kitschy vintage pie plate. Note to self to raid mom's cabinets at the holidays.

Prepare for caramel time. Admittedly I was a bit intimidated at the "candy" part of this... the only "soft ball" I know involves drinking beer in the outfield. But this was surprisingly easy.

Pour over thinly sliced apples, reserving a bit to glaze the top.

Baked until ooey gooey done.

Enjoy a piece after you've cast your ballot. You've earned a moment of true American celebration. Try not to stay up too late tonight trying to figure out how this thing is gonna go.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie
For the crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes2-3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling
4-6 Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced

For the sauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons heavy cream

Combine crust ingredients and COLD butter in a food processor. Pulse until a coarse meal forms. With machine running, stream in cold water one tablespoon at a time, until a stick dough forms. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to several days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare an 9-inch pie plate by greasing with a butter wrapper. Roll out   dough on a floured surface until thin and wide enough to fit pie plate. Gently lay in to the pan and fill with apples, setting aside enough slices to cover the top.

Over medium high heat, melt sugar for caramel sauce; stirring frequently with metal whisk. Cook sugar until it acquires a copper color (about 3-5 minutes; monitoring closely). Off the heat, add butter and sugar; stirring until butter is fully incorporated. Add heavy cream and return to heat; stirring vigorously. Cook another 1-2 minutes and handle with care; this is VERY hot.

Pour 2/3 of caramel over apples in pan. Beautifully arrange remaining apples over the top of the pie and glaze with remaining caramel.

Bake pie until crust is golden; about 45 minutes. Serve at room temperature.