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Category Archives: Side Dishes

Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Hey, folks…

Reposting last year’s round-up of Thanksgiving ideas for a little menu-planning inspiration!

~Amy

APPETIZERS

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Corn and Bacon Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with Bleu Cheese

THE MAIN EVENT

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy (and tips for roasting a whole turkey)

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey Drumsticks (and garlicky creamed spinach)

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Hot Doughy Buns

DESSERTS

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

A Few Variations on Apple Pie (in an all butter pie crust)

Caramel Apple Cake

Turkey-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Caramel Apple Tartlets

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Cannoli Cheesecake

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‘Temple Run’ Indian-Spiced Meatballs with Raita (and a GIVEAWAY!!)

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Anyone play the game, Temple Run? You know, the video game for phones and tablets where this great big, manic, hybrid gorilla-vulture creature chases your character as you dodge fire, rushing waterfalls, and treacherous cliffs at the same time as trying to collect shiny medallions and green gems? That’s the one. We’re big fans of that game around here, bordering on obsession, to the point that I had to give it up for Lent to prevent myself from spending every second of my already minimal free time dodging fire and escaping gorilla beasts.

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Tiki Lantern Garland from Shindigz, for that exotic ‘Temple Run’ vibe.

Well, when my oldest son requested a Temple Run themed birthday party for his 6th birthday, I promptly replied, “No, they don’t make Temple Run party supplies. I’m not even sure how we’d do that. Think of another theme. How about pirates or rock ‘n’ roll or superheroes?” But, my son is not easily dissuaded once he’s stuck on an idea, so he persisted with his request. And I persisted with offering alternate ideas. Construction trucks, a luau, dinosaurs???

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Beginning of the ‘Temple Run’ obstacle course, complete with jungle entrance, terrifying flames and a rushing waterfall.

But after a bit of brainstorming with some friends, a vision for a Temple Run themed party started to evolve. We’d construct a Temple Run obstacle course in the backyard. There’d be fire and waterfalls and a cave. There’d be green gems and monkeys and tropical birds. There’d be a terrifying gorilla chasing our young party guests through the course, as they attempted to gather gold medallions and green gems to redeem for goody bag treats. Perhaps we’d need to ask parents to sign a waiver as they arrived with the party guests, sort of like those waivers of death they merrily hand you as you arrive at a bounce house party. (Kidding, sort of.) My husband was skeptical about this insane plan, but I’m just about as hard to dissuade as our six year old, once I’m set on an idea.

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Unfortunate temple runner who took a turn down the dead end, lured by the shiny gold medallions.

As if by fate, in the early stages of my party planning, I received an email from a party supply company, Shindigz, offering to send me a gift certificate to sample their products and services, in order to share my experience with all of you. It was kismet. It only took a few minutes of browsing their site to spark a million ideas. During a quick search for jungle party supplies, my plan for a Temple Run obstacle course became clear. I found green festooning in three different colors  to use to as tropical vines framing the perimeter of our course. Rolls of sheer gossamer fabric printed in a water pattern would create the perfect waterfall obstacle. A shimmery foil banner printed with flames would become our fire obstacle. Plastic gold medallions became the coins we needed to entice our temple runners – coins which they could later redeem for goody bag treats. Tropical birds and monkeys lent an exotic feel to my run of the mill backyard. We added tiki lantern garland and a hanging fiery pot to complete the atmosphere. The hardest part was narrowing down my wish list from Shindigz’ extensive collection of party supplies. I was so happy with everything I received and how fast it got to me, that I actually placed a second order for more festooning and a variety of streamers, which arrived just as quickly.

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The gorilla beast, right on Lucas’ tail, as he choose the faster route around the cave, instead of crawling through it.

Once the vision for our ‘Temple Run’ course was in place, all that was left to do was plan an appropriately themed menu. Admittedly, I was stuck for quite a while. I even tried researching the supposed setting for the Temple Run game, but came up empty handed. Then, I started thinking about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I certainly wasn’t about to go down the monkey brains and snake-stuffed snakes route for our menu, but then it occurred to me that Temple of Doom took place in India, which just happens to serve up some of my family’s favorite food. In fact, chicken tikka masala with naan is high on the list of the birthday boy’s favorite foods.

An Indian-themed buffet it would be. From that point, it was just a matter of selecting dishes that would appeal to both children and adults, as well as people who might not be so adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. The other top priority was ease of reheating during the party.

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Capture anyway, just before escaping through the waterfall exit!

This was the Indian-themed ‘Temple Run’ menu we settled on:

Chicken Tikka Masala
Naan*
Basmati Rice with Cinnamon, Cardamon, and Peas
Indian-Spiced Meatballs with Raita
Beef and Potato Samosas with Mango Chutney
Indian Chickpeas
Mango Lassis (Mango Yogurt Smoothies)
 
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We also served a large platter of fresh fruit as well as a plate full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for anyone craving something a bit less adventurous. The PB&Js went largely untouched, as our Temple Run menu was enjoyed by most of our guests, big and small. I’ve linked to the recipes for the chicken tikka masala and naan in the menu above. (Rather than grill the naan, as in the linked recipe, I cooked them on a baking sheet, several inches under the broiler for about two minutes on the first side, a minute on the second. Worked like a charm!) I’ll be sharing the recipes for the Indian Chickpeas and Mango Lassis in the near future.

Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the Indian-spiced meatballs and raita. Raita is a refreshing yogurt dip, not too different from a Greek tzatziki sauce. It’s frequently served as a cooling counterbalance to spicy Indian dishes, and while these meatballs are not overly spicy, the raita makes a perfect dip. (Kids love to dip stuff. Trust me.) I added these meatballs to the menu mostly to appeal to our younger guests, but they were a notable hit with the bigger guests too!

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Chicken tikka masala, spicy and mild, to please all taste buds!

A GIVEAWAY!!! My friends at Shindigz are offering a $50 gift card to one lucky reader, to give you a chance to enjoy their wide variety of part supplies. With graduation and summer barbecue season just around the corner, I’m sure that gift card would come in handy! To enter the drawing for the gift card, simply leave a comment below sharing what you think is the #1 factor which makes a memorable party! The winner will be selected using Random.org on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 12:00pm EST. One entry per person. 18 years or older. US mailing addresses only, please. Good luck!!

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Indian-Spiced Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 pound ground beef

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wipe a baking sheet with a little oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the chopped onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, garam masala, salt, cayenne pepper, eggs and bread crumbs (everything except the meat) in a large bowl, until evenly blended. Add the meat. Use your hands to combine the mixture, just enough to evenly disperse the ingredients.

Form the mixture into balls, about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, until cooked through.

Makes about 24 small meatballs

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Cucumber Mint Raita

Ingredients

  • 1 large seedless cucumber
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/8 cup fresh mint leaves, finely diced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Use a box grater to finely grate the cucumber. Squeeze the cucumber gratings to remove as much liquid as possible. (If you have a piece of cheesecloth available, it’s useful to place the cucumber gratings inside the cheesecloth, then squeeze to remove the excess liquid.) Combine the cucumber, yogurt, and chopped fresh mint. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

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Green Gem Ringpop Cupcakes

Disclaimer – Shindigz provided me with  $100 gift card to sample their products and services in order to share  my experience with you. All opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

Cranberry Mango Sauce

My five year old has discovered my kryptonite…

You see, when bedtime arrives, Liam will begin spewing an endless stream of stories and questions in an attempt to delay the inevitable lights out. It’s his routine. He speaks so fast you may imagine he’s in training for a career in auctioneering. Math facts, dinosaur facts, sight words, stories about school, menu planning, favorite mythical creatures… The only escape is fast and brutal, even as he’s mid-sentence talking about the cunning swiftness of the velociraptor.

Good night. I love you. Lights out. 

Reindeer Liam

But the clever bugger has picked up on something… I can’t leave if he’s talking about God. I’m physically incapable of it. What am I, some sort of monster?!? Stop talking about God. Mommy needs to go downstairs and drink my wine! No, I can’t turn the lights out and walk away when the kid starts talking about God or heaven or angels or prayer. And the little stinker has figured it out.

So, when he senses that I’m about to put a quick kibosh on the nighttime story telling, he doesn’t miss a beat. Without even pausing for a breath, he slides right into the God talk. Questions and stories and ideas. It’s endearing. And also manipulative. Amongst a million other things, I’m so thankful for that clever kid and the opportunity to talk about important things with him, like dinosaurs, three-headed dogs, and God.

The countdown to Thanksgiving is on. If you’re hosting, it’s likely you’ve already started the preparations. I beat the Thanksgiving mayhem at my grocery store, by completing most of my shopping early yesterday morning. Just a few fresh items to pick up tomorrow and we’ll be set for a grand feast.

And this morning I started the cooking with this cranberry mango sauce; a unique twist on the ubiquitous cranberry condiment which graces most dining tables come Thanksgiving. For years, I’ve been making a cranberry orange sauce, which we’ve always enjoyed. But this year, I had mangos on my mind. I’d imagined that the mellow sweetness of a mango would be the perfect match for the cranberries’ tart bitterness. I was correct. The smooth mango puree wraps itself around the sharp flavor of the cranberries and gives the dish a satisfying flavor which will pair perfectly with that golden turkey.

Today’s Focus on Technique – Thanksgiving Turkey Safety

Send your guests home on Thanksgiving with a full, satisfied belly. Don’t send them home with food poisoning. Here are a few tips for safely preparing, serving, and storing the star of the show.

  • The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. This technique can take 1-3 days for a small turkey or 5-6 days for a large turkey, so plan ahead. Turkeys that are defrosted in the fridge can be held in the refrigerator for a couple days before roasting.
  • A faster way to safely defrost a turkey is in a large pot of cold water. Wrap the turkey securely, then submerge completely in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes or so, so that it remains cold throughout the defrosting process. Cook the turkey soon after it is defrosted. This process can take a few hours for a small turkey or up to 10-12 hours for a large turkey.
  • The microwave is another option for safely defrosting a turkey, assuming you can fit your turkey in your microwave. To prevent bacteria from multiplying, turkey which has been defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately following. Do not refrigerate or freeze it once it has been defrosted.
  • Never, ever, never defrost a turkey sitting on a counter at room temperature. The outside will defrost much faster than the interior, creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Yuck!
  • Cook your turkey at a minimum temperature of 325 degrees. Any lower could result in the center of the turkey sitting at an unsafe temperature for too long during the cooking process.
  • Consider not stuffing your turkey. To be safe, every part of the turkey, including the stuffing, needs to reach 165 degrees. It can take a very long time for the stuffing to reach this safe temperature, since airflow is restricted within the turkey cavity. This usually means that you will need to continue cooking the turkey beyond the point that the turkey has reached a safe temperature, meaning an overcooked turkey.
  • If you do decide to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely and use a food thermometer to check that it has reached at least 165 degrees before serving.
  • Use a food thermometer, inserted into the meatiest part of the breast and the innermost part of the thigh and wing, to check for doneness. Turkey is safely cooked at 165 degrees.
  • Do not allow your cooked turkey to sit at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Get those leftovers in the refrigerator promptly, so you can safely enjoy all of those turkey salad and open-faced turkey sandwiches smothered with gravy!
  • Enjoy your leftover turkey, hot or cold, within 3-4 days.

*Check out the USDA website for more information about turkey safety, including time estimates for safely defrosting and cooking that big bird!

Cranberry Mango Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 ripe mango, pureed*
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

*See my photo guide on how to chop a mango HERE.

Directions

Rinse cranberries and remove any stems or overly mushy berries. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Lower heat and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all cranberries have popped and the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and cool completely before serving.

Thanksgiving Inspiration

I learned something interesting about myself this week – I do not like corn bread stuffing. I love corn, corn muffins, corn bread, and corn fritters. I eat a ridiculous amount of corn when it’s in season. I even once made a sweet corn ice cream. But I do not like corn bread stuffing.

I guess it comes down to what you’re raised with – sort of how some families are the Crest kind of people and some families are the Colgate kind. Some families are loyal to Miracle Whip, while others will only use mayonnaise. Some families have corn bread stuffing at Thanksgiving and some families have white bread stuffing. Our family was always a Crest, mayonnaise, and white bread stuffing sort of family.

The four things I am most thankful for.

I didn’t realize how ingrained this inclination towards white bread stuffing was until I set about preparing a corn bread stuffing earlier this week. It should’ve been delicious, with crispy bits of bacon, tender dates, shallots, and celery. It was supposed to be a new recipe to feature in this post about Thanksgiving ideas. But I didn’t like it. I can’t even tell you if it was good or not, as far as corn bread stuffings go. I am just a white bread stuffing girl through and through and I couldn’t wrap my taste buds or my heart around that corn bread stuffing. I’m not sharing the recipe.

But I am going to share this round-up of wonderful, tried and true Thanksgiving ideas, in plenty of time to add them to your Thanksgiving menu…

Give thanks for good food, friends.

APPETIZERS

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Corn and Bacon Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with Bleu Cheese

THE MAIN EVENT

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy (and tips for roasting a whole turkey)

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey Drumsticks (and garlicky creamed spinach)

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Hot Doughy Buns

DESSERTS

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

A Few Variations on Apple Pie (in an all butter pie crust)

Caramel Apple Cake

Turkey-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Caramel Apple Tartlets

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Cannoli Cheesecake

Easy Vegetable Lo Mein and Pork Eggrolls

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Well, the ninja party was a grand success. We had a huge turnout of both children and adults, the weather was perfect, and laughter could be heard in every corner of the house and yard throughout the entire event…just as it should be! I love throwing parties of any kind, but I especially love throwing the boys parties, which are planned around a theme of their choice. This ninja theme sort of took on a life of its own and we all had a lot of fun with it.

We gave the party an Asian feel with a few Chinese New Year decorations I picked up online (shhhh…don’t tell anyone they weren’t authentic ninja decorations) and a whole bunch of red, black, and gold balloons. Little accents of tiny ninjas, dragons, and Asian fans were scattered about.

The boys dressed as ninjas and my gracious brother-in-law agreed to make a surprise appearance in full ninja attire. A bit of quick thinking at the radio had us listening to Kung Fu Fighting, as the ‘ninja’ evoked mixed feelings of terror and elation from the birthday boy and our young guests, while the adults giggled on the sidelines.

Good friends, good fun, and good food…

For our ninja themed party, I served a crowd-pleasing selection of Asian dishes. Though ninjas may be most closely associated with Japan, I planned the party buffet around a more familiar Chinese-takeout menu, which I was certain would be enjoyed by both the adults and children at our event. I made the sweet and sticky orange chicken, which I shared with you in a previous post, along with a mountain of homemade pork egg rolls (and a few veggie ones for our vegetarian guests) and a big batch of super simple vegetable lo mein. Grilled teriyaki beef skewers, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and jasmine rice completed the feast.

I’m sharing the ‘recipes’ for both the lo mein and egg rolls below, though I should note that the batch I made was quadruple of what I’m sharing below and in the flurry of party-prep, I didn’t take exact measurements or record times as I cooked. Use the recipes as a guide, but as always, taste as you go. It’ll be ‘right’ when it tastes good to you. And be creative with the ingredient lists. You can substitute any sort of veggies in the lo mein and add meat or seafood, if you desire.

Focus on Technique – How to Julienne

Julienne is a type of culinary knife cut, wherein the resulting pieces are long and thin, roughly the size and shape of a matchstick. A julienne cut is often used to make shoestring potatoes or can be used to cut a variety of veggies for sushi, soups, or garnish. A julienne cut appears most pleasing when the pieces are a uniform size, shape, and length.

To achieve a nice, even julienne, start by squaring your fruit or vegetable. To do this, cut off the rounded portion of one side. Lay the flat side down onto the cutting board, then slice off the rounded part of each side. Turn the fruit or vegetable to cut off the remaining rounded side. Then, thinly slice the fruit or vegetable, to about 1/8″ thickness. Finally, stack the slices and carefully cut into matchsticks, about 1/8″ wide.

*If you were to cut the matchsticks into teeny tiny 1/8″ cubes, you would have a cut known as brunoise, pronounced broon-wah.

Easy Vegetable Lo Mein

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti or lo mein noodles, cooked al dente according to package directions
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup carrots, julienned
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce or oyster sauce
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and veggies. Cook for about 10 minutes, until tender, stirring frequently. Add the cooked spaghetti, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and/or additional soy or fish sauce, as desired.

Garnish with additional sliced green onions, if desired.

For the Egg Rolls:

To prepare the filling: Heat about a tablespoon of sesame or vegetable oil in a large pan. Add about 1/4 pound bulk pork sausage. Cook for several minutes, using a spoon to break it into small pieces as it cooks. Add about 4 cups cups of cole slaw or Asian slaw mix (very thinly sliced cabbage, julienned carrots, celery). Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently until the cabbage is wilted and tender. Drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce over the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To assemble the egg rolls: Arrange an egg roll wrap with one of the points facing you. (If desired, you can layer two egg roll wraps, for a chewier egg roll.) Place a mound of the filling, about 1/3 cup, in the center of the wrap. Grab the point closest to you and wrap it up and around the filling. Then, grab each of the side points and fold them in towards the center. (Brush the points with a bit of water to help them stick.) Brush the top point with a little water, then continue rolling up towards the top point.

To cook the egg rolls: Heat about 1/2″ vegetable oil over medium-high heat, to about 375 degrees. Place a few eggrolls in the hot oil. Cook for a couple minutes on each side, until hot, golden, and crispy. Drain on a paper towel.

Makes about 10 eggrolls

*Detailed pictures of the rolling process can be seen HERE.

Ninjago (ninja lego) treat bags

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

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We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my tv. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well…I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately…the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this…but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degree oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of escaping with my husband to the most charming little place in the Catskills. We’d gone to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of my husband’s beautiful sister at the location she and her husband eloped to last August. Dear old friends, family, and new friends gathered at The Roxbury Motel for a truly blissful weekend.

Grounds of The Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, NY

This place is a polished gem with so many facets that you can’t help but gasp as you view each new angle. It’s hard to put into words and pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just magical. Every space on the property has been tended to with the same special care a momma gives her baby. You can feel the love in every unique little detail. During our time there, we encountered a family with two small children, a group of four women celebrating a bachelorette weekend, a couple on a romantic getaway, and a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Oddly, The Roxbury Motel provides the perfect accommodations for each of these occasions. It’s definitely a special place.

The ‘Maria’s Curtains’ room in The Roxbury Motel

My husband and I stayed in the room which is called ‘Maria’s Curtains’…as in the Maria from The Sound of Music and the curtains she used to create play clothes for the von Trapp children. Our room was swimming in the curtain’s pattern, from the bedding to the hand stenciling which crossed from the walls to the ceiling, to the custom tiling around the massive soaking tub. The lamps were made of brown paper packages tied up with strings. And two fantastically tiny, bright copper kettles sat on a small corner table. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend half of the weekend singing My Favorite Things in my ridiculously out-of-tune voice.

We stayed up too late laughing with friends, old and new. We had massages. We soaked in the spa’s hot tub. We drank champagne. And we dined at an amazing little restaurant, called the Peekamoose. The Peekamoose prides itself on its use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients with a menu which changes based on the day’s freshest available foods. Their execution is flawless in every way. I enjoyed a peppery arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette with fresh peaches, chevre, and toasted pine nuts, followed by tender goat cheese gnocchi and then the most decadent slow-cooked braised short ribs in a truffled bordelaise sauce. It was an amazing meal.

Exterior of the Peekamoose Restaurant in Big Indian, NY

My husband enjoyed the same selections, with the exception of the first course. For his first course, he selected the chilled watermelon gazpacho. (I stole a taste, of course.) And when we arrived back home to find a box full of the most beautiful, perfectly ripe mangos on my doorstep (courtesy of the National Mango Board), I was instantly inspired. Mango gazpacho.

Traditionally, gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup accented with cucumbers, onion, and peppers. But, inspired by the sweet and savory watermelon gazpacho at Peekamoose and the box full of gorgeous mangos on my doorstep, I came up with this refreshing (and quite mangolicious) variation.

Somebody couldn’t stay away from the mangos…

Mangos are just so perfectly versatile. They’re sweet, smooth, and bursting with fiber and vitamin C. Everyone in our family loves their flavor and I always feel good about feeding my family fresh, nutritious foods. When selecting mangos, focus more on the feel of the fruit, than the color. A ripe mango will feel slightly soft, like a peach. If your mangos are not quite ripe, store them on your countertop for a few days. Placing them in a brown paper bag can help speed the ripening process. Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. For a photo guide on how to cut mangos, check out my mango guide HERE or stop by www.mango.org for more tips and delicious mango recipes.

Apparently, I was taking too long to cut the mangos.

This smooth, chilled soup makes a refreshing first course during a summer meal or an eager partner to a nice fresh salad. Sweet mango provides the main flavor base, combined with a bit of creamy Greek yogurt and vegetable broth. Fresh cucumber, added to both the soup and the garnish lends a cool, crisp flavor. We tend to like things spicy around here, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your family’s liking by increasing or decreasing the cayenne and jalapeño pepper in the recipe.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 4-5 large mangos, skin and pit removed, cut into chunks*
  • 1 (6-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3″ segment seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if desired)

For the garnish

  • 6″ segment of seedless cucumber, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • Basil oil, optional

*Click HERE for a photo guide on how to cut a mango.

Directions

Place the mango chunks in a blender. Blend until smooth. (You should have about 3 1/2 cups of mango puree.) Add the cucumber, vegetable broth, lemon juice, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until chilled.

For the garnish, combine the cucumber, jalapeño pepper, and shallot with the lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.

For the optional basil oil, blend about 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves with abut 1/4 cup of olive oil, then strain through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to remove large chunks of basil.

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

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There’s a full moon tonight. Of that I am certain. I didn’t look it up online and I haven’t glanced at the evening sky. I need only to spend a moment observing my children to know for sure that the moon is full. They are like small, incredibly accurate phase of the moon indicators. And they’ve been in rare form this week.

Just yesterday, two of the boys spent thirty minutes engaged in a volatile argument over who is going to get the longer surfboard. You should understand that getting a surfboard of any size is not (and has never been) in our plans, which made this argument completely irrelevant and bizarre. But for thirty minutes they argued their way around Target shouting at each other about surfboards, until my five year old exclaimed that he was going to hire a shark to bite Lucas’ arm off. Anyone know what the going rate for mercenary sharks is this days??

Meanwhile, the baby has learned how to remove his own diaper and in the process has discovered that he’s a boy. He’s absolutely delighted with his new skill and new discovery. So, in between calling off the sharks, I’ve been chasing the baby and his bare tushy around the house, hopelessly trying to keep him dressed. He thinks he’s pretty funny. But I had the last laugh when I stuck him in a onesie and foiled his disrobing endeavors.

Trouble monkeys; every one of them.

When life gives you chaos, make bacon. Bacon makes everything better. Truly. Even the baby eagerly oohs and ahs at the sight of a plate of bacon. Smart baby. When he was younger he used to crawl around teething on a rubbery piece of pretend bacon. We called it his ‘training bacon’. We’re raising these kids right.

Make a lot a bacon and then throw some in these biscuits. These super simple drops biscuits are a delicious variation on my cheddar garlic biscuits. Cheesy, buttery, bacony; they make a perfect accompaniment for just about any meal. We enjoyed them alongside some grilled chicken in a spicy apple barbecue sauce and corn on the cob. You may want to make a double batch. These biscuits are gonna go fast.

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup bacon, cooked to crisp, crumbled
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted (for brushing the biscuits)

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat baking sheets with cooking spray or vegetable oil. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the 3 tablespoons of cold butter and 3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening to the flour mixture. Use a dough cutter or fork to blend the butter and shortening with the flour mixture until pea-sized bits of flour-coated butter and shortening are dispersed throughout the mixture.

Stir in the buttermilk, cheese, bacon, and green onion. Do not overmix. Use an ice cream scoop or measuring cup to drop mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Melt the butter in a small pan or microwave. Brush over the baked biscuits.

Makes 10-12 Biscuits

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak and Asian Cabbage Slaw

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I’ve written before about my Lucas and his regard for the truth. If Lucas tells you that pink elephants are falling from the sky, you’d better seek cover and fast. The kid doesn’t lie.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that his regard for the truth carries over into his assumption that everyone else around him is also always telling the truth. My first inkling of this issue occurred on an afternoon when Lucas approached the screen door, which was locked to prevent the baby from letting himself out. He called inside, where my husband and I were sitting, and requested to be let in. In what should have been obvious jest, my husband called back, Nope, sorry. You’re an outside kid now. I giggled. Lucas did not. He instantly crumbled to the deck floor and sobbed, But…I don’t want to live outside. 

His literal interpretation of any statement explains why he became so upset when his older brother told him we were going to put salt on his ice cream cone instead of sprinkles. It also explains why a simple game of hide-and-seek with his brother became so complex. Lucas was assigned the role of seeker. Liam came crashing into the house, ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Very un-ninja-like. Lucas began counting, 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. 100. Then, he began searching the house. Meanwhile, Liam is raising a ruckus in the bathroom…slamming the toilet seat, running the water, banging into walls. Lucas jiggled the bathroom door knob, but couldn’t get the door open. So, he called into the bathroom, Are you in there, Liam? Liam (clearly from the bathroom) shouted, No…I’m under the dining room table. Lucas ran off to check under the table. Unable to locate his brother in the dining room, Lucas returned to the bathroom to ask, Where are you? Liam then explained that he was hiding under the kitchen table. Lucas, of course, checked the kitchen table and then came to me and sadly said, I can’t find Liam. 

He’s in the bathroom, silly goose.

I cried myself laughing when I shared this story with my husband. As exhausting as it often feels to spend spend all day, every day, with my very busy kids, I am so happy to be able to witness these funny times in their lives.

At the end of a busy day of mind-boggling hide-and-seek, a delicious dinner is always in order. This meal is inspired by a cabbage salad I recently had the pleasure of tasting at a friend’s barbecue. I’ve tasted other similar salads; fresh cabbage in a sweet, tangy dressing, topped with some sort of nut and crushed ramen noodles. It’s the ramen noodles that sell me every time. Seriously, how addicting are uncooked ramen noodles?? I decided I’d come up with my own rendition of an Asian cabbage salad, sweetened with honey, mixed with sweet red pepper and bean sprouts, and finished with cashews and the gotta-have-’em ramen noodles. This recipe makes a bucketful of the addictive salad. I’ve been happily eating it for three days now.

But, this meal doesn’t stop with the salad. Using the same set of ingredients in different proportions, I came up with a simple soy-ginger marinade, which I dunked a nicely trimmed flank steak into. I let the steak chill out in the marinade for about an hour or so, then I threw it on the grill and sliced it up to serve over the cabbage salad. Let me tell you, aside from imparting savory goodness into the meat, this marinade did something magical to the steak. Even though I let my steak go a bit too long on the grill, the result was incredibly tender, practically falling apart around the exterior. Even the baby, with all of his six (almost eight) perfect teeth, thoroughly enjoyed this steak. I’m sure the tenderizing has something to do with the soy sauce in the marinade breaking down the proteins in the steak. Honestly, I’m just as content to believe it’s a magical marinade.

I told Lucas it was magic. He ate all of his steak, of course.

Grilled Soy-Ginger Flank Steak

Ingredients

  • 1 flank steak (1.5-2 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground chili paste)*

*Can substitute cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, oil, honey, garlic, rice vinegar, and sambal oelek until well combined. Pour the mixture over the steak in an air-tight container. Refrigerate for about an hour or two. Periodically turn the steak in the marinade so that all sides are coated.

After the steak has been well marinaded, preheat the grill at medium heat. Place the steak on the grill. Allow the steak to cook for approximately 6 minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Remove the steak from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Serves about 6

Asian Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, shaved or very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1 cup roasted cashews
  • 1 package ramen noodles, uncooked, broken into small pieces

Directions

In a very large bowl or container, combine the cabbage, red pepper, and bean sprouts. Toss to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, honey, ginger, soy sauce, and sambal oelek until well blended. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss until well combined. Add the cashews and toss to disperse. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Add the crushed ramen noodles just before serving.

Serves about 8

Spicy Mexican Wontons

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A few weeks ago, I opened one of my kitchen cabinets and set my eyes upon a set of margarita glasses which have been long neglected. And what’s a girl to do when her margarita glasses have gathered dust, but wash them off and host una fiesta pequeña.

With the purchase of a few brightly colored decorations, a sombrero, maracas, and a piñata, plans for our little Mexican shindig were coming along. I taught the boys a few Spanish greetings and we practiced dancing in the kitchen to the sounds of a mariachi album, while we cooked up a chocoflan and spicy Mexican wontons.

It wasn’t until the tequila was chilled and the limes sliced that I realized we were hosting our Mexican-themed party on the weekend when many Americans would be celebrating America’s Independence Day. Oops. Arriba? I will celebrate America’s birthday in appropriate patriotic red, white, and blue style on July 4. Honest.

But, our little gathering was un gran éxito; a grand success. Everyone brought a dish to share and we killed a few bottles of tequila shaken with homemade mango and strawberry lime margarita mixes. The kids even enjoyed kiddie margaritas in sugar-rimmed glasses, as their pockets burst full of piñata candy. My three-year-old is already reminiscing about ‘the old days’…way back yesterday when we had a piñata. That was living!

One of my contributions to the party menu were these spicy Mexican wontons; not exactly traditional Mexican food, but I like to dance to the rhythm of my own maracas anyway. They start with a simple combination of shredded chicken, a hefty dose of Mexican cheese, fresh jalapeño pepper, and green onions which are then seasoned with a bit of chile powder, cumin, and cayenne. Spoonfuls of the mixture are tucked into wonton wrappers, then quickly pan-fried until crisp.

They can be completely made ahead of time and reheated in the oven for a few minutes before serving. They re-crisp beautifully in the oven, which means that you can get that messy frying part out of the way and all cleaned up, long before your guests arrive! Perfect party food.

Spicy Mexican Wontons

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded*
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, very finely diced
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 3 cups Mexican cheese shredded**
  • 1 tablespoon chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 40-50 wonton wrappers (check the refrigerated or frozen section of your grocery store)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

* I poached the chicken breasts in simmering water. Alternately, they can be baked until cooked through.

**I used 1 1/2 cups queso blanco and 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican blend (cheddar, monterey jack, and asadero). If you are unable to get queso blanco, you can use any combination of cheddar, monterey jack, or other Mexican cheese.

Directions

Combine the chicken, jalapeño pepper, green onion, cheese and spices. In batches of about 5 or 6, place a hefty teaspoon of the filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with a bit of water and fold over into a triangle. If desired, wet two of the corners and fold them in towards the center. Place the prepared wontons on a tray in a single layer as you repeat the process for all wonton wrappers.

Once all wontons have been prepared, heat about 1/2″ vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium/medium high heat. Get the oil good and hot. Test out one of the prepared wontons by placing it into the oil. It should become golden brown and bubbly-looking within about 30 seconds. Flip to cook on the other side. Cook all of the wontons in small batches. Remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon. Drain the cooked wontons on a paper towel. Serve hot.

If desired, the wontons can be served with a chipotle sour cream, made by blending one chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo) with 8 ounces sour cream.

To reheat, place the wontons in a single layer on two large baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for about 7-10 minutes, until hot and crispy.

Click HERE for more tips on working with wonton wrappers and a photo guide showing an alternate method of folding the wontons.

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