Monday, October 26, 2009

Sweet and Savory Pumpkin Cauliflower Soup with Cinnamon Sugar Croutons


This is the inspiration for this recipe:

My daughter loves this book and we read it every night. The other night she asked me if we could make pumpkin soup, and since I couldn't think of a good reason why not, I said sure. I thought for a few days about how I would make this soup and then bought the ingredients on my last shopping trip.

It's very easy and can be made very healthy (use olive oil instead of butter and skim milk instead of whole). And it's fall so of course pumpkin stuff is all the rage, yes?

What you need:


1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup diced onion
3 cups chopped cauliflower
3/4 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp herbs de province
1/2 tsp dried mustard
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock (5 if you like it thinner)
3 cups of whole milk (4 if you like it thinner)
1 large can (29 oz) of pumpkin

1/2 stick butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar

What you do:
1) Saute the onion, celery, and chopped cauliflower in the 1/2 stick butter until soft.
2) Add in thyme, sage, herbs de province, ground mustard and salt
3) Simmer for 10-15 minutes on LOW stirring often.


4) Add in the chicken/vegetable broth
6) Simmer for another 10 minutes.
7) Add in the canned pumpkin, all spice, and cinnamon. Simmer another 10 minutes.


8) Add in the milk and then blend using an immersion blender. (Worst case, if you don't have one of these, you can blend the soup in batches)


9) Simmer for another 10 minutes or so to let the flavors meld.

To make the croutons:
1) Get a loaf of bread of your choice and cut a 6-inch piece.
2) Soften 1/2 stick of butter, and add cinnamon and sugar and mix.



3) Spread onto bread, cut into cubes, and bake low on 250 for 20-30 minutes until crunchy and crouton-y. Yes, crouton-y IS a word, spellcheck.




*Sorry these pictures kind of suck. I had my camera on the wrong setting and didn't even notice until I was done.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pumpkin Nectarine Muffins with Maple/Clover Honey Cream Cheese Frosting


I'm dead.

Really. This is my ghost typing. I made these muffins and this frosting completely from scratch, completely of my own recipe, and then I died.

My daughter loves the pumpkin muffins they have seasonally at Dunkin Donuts and I've been getting her one or two a week. Her and her baby brother (and the floor) (and the dog) share them and they're all happy. But then I realized 1) I was spending way too much money on something I can make myself and 2) They can't possibly NOT be filled with chemicals and processed stuff.

So today when she asked to stop at DD, I instead said we were going to the foodstore to buy pumpkin and that we'd bake our own together. THEN, because I'm a self-proclaimed reduced-produce whore, I saw a package of six nectarines for $0.50! I HAD to have them. But they were super-ripe as all the food on this section is so you need to cook/eat them that day. I had no intention of making anything with nectarine and there was no way my little family could eat them in one day.

I had a thought: What if I somehow used them with my pumpkin muffins I had intended on making? And this recipe was bred. You're welcome.

What you need:

For the wet muffin mixture:
(You only need 2 1/2 c. of pumpkin mixture. You may have more depending on the size of your nectarines, so make sure not to use too much.)

2 c. can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
3 very ripe nectarines (I suppose you could use peaches as well)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (this is a combination you can buy that has cinnamon, clove, nutmeg)
1/4 c. sweet white wine (or applejuice)

For the rest of the muffin:
1 stick softened butter
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

For the frosting:
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese (room temp)
1 c. powdered sugar
1/2 stick butter (softened)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. real maple syrup (OR 1/2 tsp. maple extract)
2 large tbsp natural clover honey (we use local organic)

What you do:

-Peel and chop up the nectarines:

(Please note that I made a double batch, so it looks like more than you'll have)

-Place in pot with white wine, brown sugar, and vanilla. Cook covered on low, stirring/mashing for around 10 minutes, until reduced. It should look like this:


-Let cool for a few minutes, then add in pumpkin and spices:


-In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and set aside.

-In a mixing bowl, beat softened butter, brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add in eggs and beat another 3 minutes.

-Alternate adding in flour mixture with wet pumpkin mixture. You only need 2 1/2 c. of pumpkin mixture. You may have more depending on the size of your nectarines, so make sure not to use too much.


-Pour into lined muffin cups (this is so much easier for clean up)


-Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until passes the toothpick test.

-To make the frosting, simply beat all ingredients together on high for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.


-Frost cupcakes and dash with cinnamon if desired.
(Note: Personally, I do not frost all of these muffins at once. Cream cheese frosting should be refridgerated when not being eaten soon and I don't like cold muffins. So I keep the frosting in the container and frost the muffins as needed.)

-Let your biggest critic try.


-Get approval


-Try a piece yourself, die, come back as a ghost and immortalize recipe on the internet.


Now if I could only find someone to clean my KitchAid, I'd be set. Ugh


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pot Luck Dinners: Bringing them back.

I want to plan a Pot Luck dinner. I think we should bring them back. I love them. I love the idea of everyone coming together to have dinner. I love that everyone brings something and it's likely there favorite thing and then you all get to enjoy a dinner of your favorite things.

What is the ideal way to host one of these dinners though? I'm thinking that I'll pick a day and make up a little invitation that will say:

I'm making pulled pork sandwiches for Saturday night - join us and bring a dish to pass.
BYOB. Water and Iced Tea will be available.

So if you were invited to my Pot Luck what would you bring?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Orzo Salad

My mother in law makes this Orzo salad that is so delicious that I beg her to make it whenever she asks "Can I bring anything?".

What you need for the base:
1 small eggplant, peeled and diced (you can use zucchini or squash too)
2 colorful peppers diced
1 red onion peeled and diced
1/2 a package of frozen corn
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb Orzo

What you need for the dressing:
2 Lemons (squeezed)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosker salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper.

1/4 cup pignolis
3/4 lb diced (not crumbled) feta
Diced Chicken or Sliced Steak or Tofu

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss eggplant, peppers, corn, onion, garlic and olive oil with the salt and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes. Stir it up once.

Cook the Orzo until tender.

In a large bowl mix the roasted goodness and the Orzo. Add the dressing (which I mix before and make extra because it's a delicious light salad topper) and chill. Before serving mix in the nuts and the feta.

I love to have this as a side one night, and then I mix in some chicken or grill some sliced steak and have it on top for lunch or the next nights dinner.

You will hide the bowl behind all of the apple juice in your fridge so that no one asks to take some home. And if they find it. You'll fake sneeze on it while dishing it up. You will go to any means necessary to keep this within your possession.

Great for pot luck dinners.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Crockpot Sweet and Savory Beef Stew

You know what's awesome on a crisp autumn day? Stew. Steaming fresh from the crockpot.


I saw this recipe in Eating Well magazine but it was not a crock pot recipe. I however, want to make out with mine so I try and find every excuse to use it. I make stews often but never thought of doing this kind of thing - mixing sweet and savory - but I love sauerbraten so I thought the flavor pairings of the sage and thyme and cherries would be similar. It was awesome, easy, and delicious.

(As an aside, my personal Hell would have me cutting and peeling butternut squash for all eternity. After today's debacle with my boning knife, I hereby declare that unless I plan on roasting the thing in halves, I will buy the already chopped squash from now on. My sanity is just not worth it.)

This will make a giant pot of stew, enough for 4-6 people. I served it over egg noodles, but you can serve it in a bread bowl or with biscuits.

What you need:

-bottom round roast, around 2 pounds, cubed
-medium butternut squash
-32 oz beef broth
-2 large shallots, thinly sliced
-canola oil
-1 c. dried cherries
-2 tsp dried rubbed sage
-4 tsp dried thyme
-salt & pepper to taste

What you do:

1) Brown the meat briefly (you're not cooking it at this point, just a quick sear) in a pot with 2 tbsp canola oil.


2) Add meat to crock pot with 32 ounces beef broth, leaving oil and meat juices in pot

3) Toss the shallots and dried spices into the pot and cook on low for 2 minutes, adding more oil if necessary, and until the shallots are translucent.


4) Add shallots and spices into crock pot. Set on low for 6 hours.

5) Two hours in, add in cubed squash and cherries


6) Five hours in, you need to thicken your stew. See, it's too watery:


You can use a roux (a paste made from butter and flour, adding in broth from the stew until a paste is formed, then stirring back into crockpot) or a cornstarch slurry (will save calories). I, of course, use the roux.


7) Cook another hour to fully thicken and serve!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Salmon Cakes

Think crab cakes, but cooler, fresher, more sophisticated. Then think about baked potatoes and bacon and put all those thoughts together. This is what you get:


My mother called me the other night and said she saw this recipe on the Food Network and I had to try it. Since I could eat salmon eight days a week, I figured this was a good way to toss it up. It's a Melissa d'Arabian recipe and I followed it pretty much exactly, so she gets full credit. But it was easy, quick, and beyond delicious and I figured I'd put it here with photos so you guys could try it next time you have a salmon hankering.

What you need:

  • 2 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled, bacon fat reserved (I used three bacon strips because I'm a bacon ho')
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, zested
  • 1 (14-ounce) can wild salmon, checked for large bones (I used a fresh fillet, cooked earlier in the day and then cooled)
  • 1 baked or boiled russet potato, peeled, and fluffed with a fork
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
What you do:

1) Fry up some BACON! (I used three slices instead of her recommended two)
frying bacon
(Seriously, is there anything more beautiful in the world than frying bacon?)

2) Remove bacon, place on paper towel, toss the onions into the bacon grease (Hey, I never said this was a low-fat recipe). Cook until see-through and let cool a bit.


3) Mix the bacon, onion, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, and lemon zest in a bowl.


4) Add the salmon


and potato


mixing gently after each addition.


5) In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and pepper, to taste.


6) Form patties (around 12 small ones or 9 medium) and coat them in the bread crumb topping.


7) Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and cook the salmon cakes in batches until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil, as necessary.




Note: I whipped up a quick sauce with mayo, Dijon mustard, a splash of rice wine vinegar and some honey to serve with it, which was awesome, but it's totally a personal thing. Me, I'm a sauce girl. But this definitely had enough flavor that it wasn't necessary.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


By Country Girl

Who hosts a Greek wine tasting party? NO ONE. Except me. Because oh yeah I am trying to drink 100 wine varietals and that means I have to knock off some pretty obscure grapes like Moschofilero, Roditis, Savatiano, Agiorghitiko and Mavrodaphne. And if one is going to sit around and drink random Greek wine, shouldn't one have the appropriate cuisine to go with it? I really wanted to serve Saganaki but frankly me and flambe don't mix so I opted for that traditional Greek classic Moussaka.

OMG Y'all - why have I never made Moussaka before? Seriously - it's off the hook delicious. Also? Why the hell do I own this cookbook?

I have no idea. It's not like I am way into Greek food (although after this party I might be). But for whatever reason I own Rena Salaman's Little Greek Cookbook and that was my primary source for my Moussaka although I altered the recipe ever so slightly because 1) my kitchen situation is a bit abnormal right now and believe it or not, I don't have the necessary equipment to fry 2 pounds of eggplant (or aubergines as Rena calls them) and 2) I love cheese. She just did not call for enough cheese in her recipe.

So what is Moussaka? It's basically a layered casserole of eggplant, ground beef or lamb seasoned with tomatoes and spices, bechamel sauce and cheese. I saw recipes that included potatoes and zucchini and I am pretty sure you could doctor this up any way you wanted to but I pretty much stuck with this basic version.

To start, you will need 2 pounds of eggplant, trimmed and sliced in 1/4-inch thick slices. Immerse the eggplant slices in lightly salted water for 20 - 30 minutes.

What this does is draw out the eggplant's natural bitterness and trust me when I say - DON'T SKIP THIS STEP. In fact, you should always disgorge eggplant (that's what it's called - disgorging. Who's a show off with her fancy shmancy cooking terms? Not me.) because otherwise you will wind up with something bitter and nasty and OMG y'all - maybe this is why so many people have eggplant issues. Seriously.

Anyways, once the eggplant slices have soaked, remove them from the water, rinse them off and pat dry. Now you have 2 choices: Rena calls for lightly frying the eggplant slices in sunflower oil until lightly golden on both sides. I would have been frying eggplant til 2am so I actually brushed my eggplant slices with sunflower oil and threw them on the grill:

All I will say is this: grilled eggplant totally works but it's your call.

Next: take 1 large onion which has been finely diced and throw it in a pan with some sunflower oil. Cook for a few minutes until transparent and then add 1 pound of either ground beef, ground lamb, or a mixture. I went with straight lamb but ground lamb is not exactly available everywhere. Saute until it starts to brown and then add the following:

* 1 14-oz. can of tomatoes, finely chopped
* 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
* 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1 tsp. dried oregano
* salt and pepper to taste.

So I added the tomato paste. Rena does not call for it. But I had seen it in another recipe and I liked the idea. Also? I am not the kind of girl to actually measure spices. I may have added a wee bit more than 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon and I will tell you what - a wee bit more is just the right amount. Cover the meat mixture and let it cook for 20 - 30 minutes until it is quite dry - like this:

Set it aside to cool.

To make the bechamel, melt 3/4 of a stick of butter in a heavy saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of plain flour and stir until well incorporated. Remove from the heat and add 2 cups of warm milk while stirring. Return to the heat, add a pinch of salt, and stir continuously for 8 - 10 minutes until the sauce thickens. Once it's thick, take off the heat and whisk in 1 egg yolk. Voila - bechamel:

Line a medium-sized baking dish (10x10) with the eggplant slices and season them:

Next, spread the cooled meat mixture evenly over them:

Cover with the bechamel:

Sprinkle with 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese:

Again - this is where Rena and I had a slight disagreement. She calls for 2 Tbsp. of grated cheese on top. I saw recipes that called for as much as 3 cups. In the end, we compromised and went for 1 cup and it was perfect.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 - 50 minutes until crisp and golden.

Let it rest for 10 minutes and then cut into squares and serve. OPA!