Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Memories

I can't quite move on to Christmas yet without sharing some Thanksgiving memories and one more pumpkin recipe.  It's hard to believe that the holiday season is here . . . I got my Christmas boxes out of storage, addressed my Christmas cards, and graded my students' essays.  Now I'm counting down to going to our first Christmas party on Saturday and giving my finals next week.  

It's hard to recap the amazing trip we had to the east coast so I'm going to keep the post (mostly) to the actual Thanksgiving.  It was a beautiful New England day - sunny and cool.  My cousin is a wonderful hostess, not stressed at all, and everything from the beautiful table with the floral arrangements (that she did herself) to the two tasty turkeys and more side dishes than you can imagine was perfect.  But the real highlight is how warm and welcoming her home is and what a great time the family all had hanging out and being together.

There were Shirley Temples for the kids . . . 

Pictures with the turkey (not calling names - the literal Thanksgiving bird)

Venison appetizers

A deep fried turkey

The table - how cute are those turkeys?

Delicious desserts that we ate even though we were all so full

Phone calls home to California

And, football games . . . this was the next day but it's my favorite action shot

My contribution to the meal was pumpkin bread pudding - thanks for the recipe, Des!

The pumpkin bread pudding was super easy and delicious.  I admit I was a little skeptical of the recipe because other bread puddings I've made call for something crazy like 8-10 eggs, loads of heavy cream, etc. but this was honestly perfect.  I could have finished the pan for breakfast the next day!  It's a great dish to make for a holiday gathering - just because Thanksgiving is over, it's not too late!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce (makes a 9x13 pan)

1 pound loaf of stale challah bread
Two eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8- 1/4 tsp. cloves
2 cups half and half
1 can of pumpkin puree
Salted caramel sauce (see note below)

Cube the stale challah bread (should be appx. 10 cups) and set out to dry more.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, seasonings, half and half and pumpkin.  Mix well.

Stir the bread into the seasoning and let it soak for at least 10 minutes.  I put it in a buttered 9x13 pan at this point and refrigerated it for a few hours before baking.

Bake at 350 degrees until it's firm all the way through, about 30-45 minutes (maybe more if you refrigerated it like me).  

Remove from the oven and let it cool a bit.  Spread with a thin layer of salted caramel sauce and serve more on the side.

For the salted caramel sauce:  My cousin had a jar in her cupboard and I opted not to make any more work for ourselves.  Here's a link for making your own.  Des says the secret is to not stir it while it's coming to a boil.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that Thanksgiving is almost a week away, but we're headed out of town for the week and I wanted to share this.  Have a happy Thanksgiving - may your plate be full, your heart be grateful, and your half of the wishbone be longer!

The "before" picture for Thanksgiving dinner . . . a turkey Little and I met last week

If Turkeys Thought
- Jack Prelutsky, Children's Poet Laureate

If turkeys thought, they'd run away
a week before Thanksgiving day
but turkeys can't anticipate,
and so there's turkey on my plate


-Ralph Waldo Emerson

For each new morning with its light
For rest and shelter of the night
For health and food
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends

And I would be remiss if I didn't share a few menu ideas:
My mom's pecan pie

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pumpkin Soup

It's still that pumpkin time of year . . . I've been making this soup for a few years and the recipe was originally from Trader Joe's.  Last night I wanted something warm to go with our salad and decided to make a batch - this recipe is so quick it's definitely instant gratification.  I prefer it as a starter soup in a small portion rather than eating a whole big bowl; it has great flavor and has been a big hit for dinner parties.

Pumpkin Soup (4 first course or 2 main course servings)

1 can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling - plain pumpkin)
3 T butter
1 small onion, diced (I reduce this to about 1/2 cup max)
1/2 cup heavy cream (again, usually I start with 1/3 cup and see how it looks & tastes)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
pinch cayenne
1-2 T honey
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions in butter until slightly caramelized.  Add water, pumpkin, spices, honey, and cream.  Let simmer for 10 minutes.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Creamy Lentil Soup

The other night I was thinking that lentil soup & fresh baked bread would be a great November evening meal . . .  and then it was 90 degrees on the day I had planned to make it.  Oh well - at least with the time change, it was dark and cool by dinner time.

I like a good lentil soup and if you look through the blog, there are a few versions of it already on here. This one is unique because you blend it smooth at the end and add a little half & half.  It also has potato to add some creaminess. I'm a big fan of having the soup smooth instead of chunky.  The bonus of lentil soup is that with 25 percent protein, lentils are one of the highest protein vegetables and they are great for a meatless meal.  If you're not a vegetarian, you could start by cooking 2-3 bacon slices in the pot, removing and crumbling the bacon to top the soup at the end, and cook the onions & leeks in the bacon drippings (and omit the olive oil).

Creamy Lentil Soup (serves 6)
from Cooking Light "Soups"

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped leek
1 cup chopped onion
3 cups water
2 cups chopped, peeled baking potato
1 cup dried lentils
3/4 cup chopped carrot
1/2 tsp. salt
1 (14 oz) can vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon dry sherry

Heat olive oil in a big pot over medium high heat.  Add the leeks and onion and cook for about 4 minutes.  Add the water, potato, lentils, carrot, broth, and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour or until the vegetables are tender.  The soup will be quite thick with not much broth left.  Blend until smooth.  Return to the pot, add the sherry & half-and-half and cook until warm.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sweet & Sour Chicken

My girls love this stir fry that I make about once a week (really basic soy marinade, chicken breasts, carrots, snap peas & red bell pepper) and I thought that this new recipe might qualify as "good China food" so I can put it in rotation.  A bonus is that you make it in the crockpot and other than buying the chili sauce (Heinz makes one but I bought a more natural version with fewer ingredients), you'll probably have everything you need on hand.  Double check your chili sauce but with gf soy sauce, this would be an easy gf meal.  We ate it over rice with steamed broccoli and the girls actually liked it!  Big said that the "usual China food" I make is better but she did eat her whole serving.

Sweet & Sour Chicken (6 servings)
from Baked Bree

6 chicken breasts
olive oil
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. chili sauce
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 T soy sauce
1 T dijon mustard
1 (14oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Heat a large skillet and add a little olive oil.  Brown the chicken breasts, about 2-3 minutes per side.  In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.  Put the chicken breasts in your slow cooker and pour the sauce over the top.  Cook on low for 6 hours.  Shred the chicken with a fork.