Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Food-Coma

No day produces more fantastic ideas than Thanksgiving, probably because nothing stimulates creativity quite like falling into REM sleep at 2:30 PM. This year, create the best Turkey Day ever by recreating one of these spectacular starter and start dishes next week. 

That's right, pilgrim: save yourself a holiday-food-idea brainstorm and just storm your brain (and mouth) with these creative twist on the classics. You know you love them, or don't know but will love, or know and like a lot but you just sort of want to explore and see where it goes.


I love to start a Thanksgiving meal off with a first course of soup. If you are a fan of mushrooms then you must check out Ina Gartens Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup. Even though it's full of healthy shiitake mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, cremini and porcini mushrooms, it also contains a full cup of half-and-half and a cup of heavy cream. Yes, it's indulgent but what else are the holidays for?

Another soup recipe from Ina Garten that I swear by is her Shrimp Bisque. It's creamy and indulgent and perfect to serve to company! It starts with fish stock and then builds flavor with leeks, sherry, garlic, whipping cream, shrimp, tomato paste and a surprise ingredient, cayenne pepper.

This Winter Squash Soup from Bon Appetit starts with baking the squash in the oven for an hour, then adding the perfectly roasted flesh with butter, onion, seasonings, chicken broth and whipping cream for a truly lovely soup. Note that this can be made ahead of time and chilled in the fridge for a week. Rewarm on the stove and serve hot to guests.

Want to serve up a big bowl of the Winter season? This recipe for Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream is for you. In fact, this may be the soup I make for my in-laws this Thanksgiving. It's the addition of apples and apple cider that lend a pleasant sweetness to this beautiful soup - cider cream and the fried sage leaf is what puts this recipe over the (freaking) top! O to the M to the G!


One of my favorite green veggies this season are Brussels Sprouts cooked tender crisp with lots of flavor. I especially like them seared in a skillet with bacon, and then add golden raisins, chicken stock and a little wine. Oh my, these are delicious! Read the complete head to head recipe post about Brussels Sprouts here. This side is super quick to make and actually, quick means more freedom to do whatever you want, and isn't freedom what we're giving thanks for?

Paula Deen has done it again with these gorgeous Green Bean Bundles. To make these easy bundles, you first blanch the green beans, and then wrap in a strip of bacon and bake in the oven until crispy. My family loved this twist on a traditional side dish and I bet yours will too. I mean, come on! "Bacon wrapped?" What is not to love!?!
Here is a wonderful twist on the traditional steamed cauliflower. This Roasted Cauliflower with Mustard-Lemon Butter is a real treat because blasting the cauliflower in a hot oven concentrates their natural sweetness, turning them into something akin to vegetable candy. DO AHEAD! This lovely side dish can be made 2 hours ahead and just let stand at room temperature. If desired, rewarm in 350°F oven until heated through, about 10 minutes and then transfer to a platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.
Need ideas for a starch to serve this year? Why not serve a lovely risotto to your family instead of regular rice or potatoes. This is an easy recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto, despite what you might have heard about risotto. You need 10-20 minutes to prep and about 30-40 minutes to cook. I would suggest inlisting a little helper who can stand at the stove and stir while you finish up the other elements of the thanksgiving meal.
When you need to buy yourself some time before the big meal, serve up one of these delicious appetizers to your guests while the turkey continues to roast. These Zucca Chips are completely addictive, but light enough to leave room for the main attraction.
While the awesome simplicity of this all sinks in, check out these other great ideas for Turkey Day Appetizers on this round up of hors doeuvres I've already done for you including my favorite Bacon Wrapped DatesFoie Gras Stuffed Dates and Proscuitto and Fontina Pinwheels along with a few new recipes from Epicurious. They are all quick and easy, meaning you’ll have more time to watch football, play football, or imitate an actual football by lying motionless on the couch.


No matter how full your guests are, they will not be able to resist sampling this Spiced Pumpkin Mousse Trifle. It has layers of fluffy pumpkin puree and layers of ginersnaps drizzled with dark rum (left out if you have kiddos.) This dessert not only taste fantastic, but it looks so beautiful displayed in your trifle dish.  Your family will surely be waiving the white flag in surrender by now.

From my home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope you get to spend wonderful quality time with your family and eat well too!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crash Hot Potatoes

Here is a no-recipe recipe for a potato side dish. It's super easy and it is something different than a boring baked potato or mashed potatoes.  This was created by Australian food writer Jill Dupleix, it’s called “Crash Hot Potatoes” and it's on my list of favorite side dished to serve with pot roast or another hunk of meat.

Start by filling a large pot with cold water and add plenty of salt.
Wash your potatoes well. I used red skinned potatoes
Drop as many potatoes as you intend to make in your cold water and set over high heat to boil until fork tender.
If you have olive oil, spread that onto a cookie sheet. I used a spray like Pam to grease the sheet first.
Once the potatoes are tender, pull them out and place on your greased baking sheet.
With a potato masher, gently press down on each potato to smash them. Mine fell apart more than when Pioneer Woman did this.
The next step is to season generously with salt, pepper, olive oil or butter, and any fresh herbs you have on hand. Chopped rosemary would be wonderful here.

And that's it. Now throw them onto the top rack of a very hot (450-degree) oven, and cook them for 20-25 minutes…

The potatoes crisp up on top for a nice crunch, while the inside stays soft and creamy. Simple, yes, but a lovely twist on a boring potato side dish. I served this with my favorite post roast recipe, it is perfect!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Caramelized Onion and Mustard Tart

For a quick and yummy appetizer, all you need is puff pastry. I keep a couple boxes of pepperidge farm puff pastry on hand for moments like this. Simply let it thaw in the fridge (if you are planning ahead) or on the counter. To speed thawing, because I tend to want to use it last minute, I heated a plate in the microwave for a minute and then let the frozen pastry defrost on top of it. This isn't ideal, but it works in a pinch.

I thinly sliced an onion and heated it over medium low heat with a drizzle of olive oil so the onion would brown slowly and caramelize.

Next, I added about a teaspoon of minced garlic and stirred until fragrant and then took the onions off the heat.

You could use any grainy mustard, but I had this chipotle dijon in the pantry that I was dying to try. I smeared a very thin layer on the frozen puff pastry.
Then spread the caramelized onion on top of the mustard.

The finishing touch is to grate parmesan cheese over the top.
Bake at 250 for 10-15 minutes, until the pastry begins to brown and puff up. Slice and enjoy this simple appetizer, it is sure to whet your pallet for dinner.

Another puff pastry appetizer that I just loves is from Ina Garten, check out this Goat Cheese and Onion Tart.

I'm still looking for your best appetizer recipes, e-mail them to

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holiday Hors D'oeuvres: An Assignment

I'm looking for ideas on Holiday Hors D'oeuvres and decided to open the floor and see what you have to say. Point me towards those little bite sized foods that you love to pop in your mouth at a party...and you find yourself grazing the buffet table a second and third time to pop another one in your mouth - THAT is the kind of food I'm looking for.

Factors I consider when selecting the cocktail party menu:
  • Can I make it ahead of time?
  • Does it have to stay hot or cold on the buffet, or served at room temperature?
  • Is it easily recognizable or do I need to label the food?
  • Will it contain rare and/or expensive ingredients?
  • Will it look messy or gross on a serving platter?
  • Is it messy to eat?
  • Will I have to serve it with utensils, or can guests pick it up with their hands?
  • Does it help complete the look and feel of the party theme/occasion? 

Found on Epicurious, Savory Parmesan Shortbread Rounds. I love how delicate they look, but imagine your surprise when the unmistakable Parmesan flavors show through in these savory bites. Epicurious suggest serving these along side a nice salumi platter. The best thing about this recipe is that the rounds can be made 1 week ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature, or freeze up to 1 month.

This Crab and Celery Remoulade looks great served with pita chips. It can be made up to 6 hours ahead and covered and chilled. I would imagine this needs to also be kept chilled somehow on the buffet so it doesn't go bad.

We all know that puff pastry is a cooks best friend, or at least I hope you do. I always have a package or two in my freezer because it can do so much. I plan on making several variations of mini pies filled with anything from fruit to meat to cheese this year. I like this recipe for Pork Pies on Epicurious because the filling can be made 1 day ahead and chilled and then brought to room temperature before using. The pies can be assembled and baked 6 hours ahead and cooled, uncovered. Items served at room temperature are IDEAL for a cocktail party.

This is such a beautiful picture of Bloody Mary Soup Shots with Shrimp and Pickled Vegetables. The pickled veggies can be bought in a pre-prepared jar, which is awesome. The savory soup contains tomato, Worcestershire and vodka and is served in shot glasses for fun. On a chilly evening, I think that a warm tomato soup shot might go over better, but I love this idea and may hold on to it for a brunch menu.

I found these Roasted Pepper and Mozzarella Bites on The Italian Dish blog. I love the color and the presentation. I bet they taste great and pair well with wine. These can also be made ahead of time and chilled under service.

Now for some HWM appetizers that are on my tried and true list for cocktail parties!

These Bacon Wrapped Dates are one of those appetizers that you pop in your mouth and while you are chewing you are trying to figure out how to scoop another one up on your plate. They are the perfect salty and sweet combination. I stuffed these with cream cheese because a certain someone that I married doesn't care for blue cheese. For a cocktail party, I would highly suggest the blue cheese filling and also leave out the nut in the middle.

Another wonderful stuffed date party food are these Foie Gras Stuffed Dates which are super easy to prepare and complete heaven to eat. They are perfect make-ahead-food.

Goat Cheese and Onion Tart is on the list because they are a great vegetarian appetizer and although the tart I made was a large three to four inches in diameter, I think these could be made on a smaller scale. Oh so addicting!

This is one that Jim often requests, my Proscuitto and Fontina Pinwheels which can be made ahead of time and baked a batch at a time. They are wonderful hot out of the oven, but equally good when they come to room temperature. These go fast, so I would recommend a double or triple batch.

Now I turn to you for suggestions on the best party food this holiday season. If you have a tried and true recipe, please send it my way! E-mail me at or leave a comment below. Your recipe just may end up on my holiday buffet this year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Baked Polenta with Quick Tomato Sauce

Polenta is a boiled, slow-cooked cornmeal "mush" -- typically made with coarsely ground yellow corn meal. In some regions of Italy (especially in the north), it's a beloved everyday dish and is topped with meat, fish, pasta sauce, cheese, or vegetables. Cooled and hardened, polenta can be sliced, sauted, or grilled, and served sweet or savory.

You can purchase precooked, ready-to-heat-and eat “solid polenta” in sausage-like tubes, plain and in flavors such as basil, garlic and sundried tomato. In my grocery store, it is found on the pasta aisle.

Slices of polenta can be easily turned into hors d’oeuvres, first courses and sides. They provide a firm base for just about anything. Just pan fry or heat them in the oven.

To make my quick (make-shift) tomato sauce I started with a little bit of olive oil and a tablespoon of bacon grease in my dutch oven.
I added a handful of carrots to my handy chopper and chopped them to bits.
Then added the carrots to the hot dutch oven and sauteed for just a minute or so.
I looked in the pantry and fridge to see what flavors I could add to my tomato sauce and found a jar of sun dried tomatoes with only three tomatoes left, so I dug them out and chopped them up finely in my handy chopper.
In addition to adding the chopped dried tomatoes I added minced garlic and sauteed for a minute.
A can of tomatoes would have been ideal, but all I had in the pantry was a can of rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies. So I added that in.
I liked the chunks of tomatoes but I need a thicker tomato sauce.
So I added a small can of tomato sauce to the mixture.
Then seasoned with Basil and Oregano (from Italy.)
I let this simmer on low for about 20 minutes while I prepared the polenta.
Slice the log of polenta in 1/2 inch discs.

I lightly oiled the baking sheet with olive oil and seasoned each slice of polenta with salt and pepper.

I baked these in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the edges turned a bit crispy.
When it was time to put the dish together I tasted my sauce and decided to add 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese and this gave it a touch of creaminess and the bit of salt that the sauce needed.
When I have the ingredients on hand and the time to make the real deal, here is my favorite tomato sauce recipe:

1 chopped yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3/4 cup good red wine
1 (14.5-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Add the chopped onion and let it cook to translucent for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Then I add the garlic and cook for a minute. Pour in the wine, cook for a minute. Add all the cans of tomatoes. Add salt, pepper, sugar, basil, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Stir to combine and cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes.

For step by step instructions on our favorite Tomato and Meatball recipe (it is oh so good) visit this post.

Plate up and enjoy! I would consider this dinner, Jim would call this an appetizer since there is not any meat included on this dish.
If you like Polenta, you will probably also like it's cousin Grits. One of my favorite grit recipes is Shrimp and Grits, made with sausage, ham and tomatoes.