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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.

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Watermelon Tomato Summer Salad

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I’m beginning to feel like I’m being set up to play the role of the little old lady who swallowed a fly. I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Syracuse, NY. It’s a peaceful neighborhood, filled with big, old trees; trees with stature and history. But it’s not a wooded area, by far. It’s neither city, nor country. Just a nice, old suburban neighborhood.

And as in many suburban neighborhoods, we have the occasional sightings of small woodland creatures; squirrels, chipmunks, an infrequent rabbit…nothing too unusual. Every so often, we have the pleasure of spotting a befuddled deer standing in the middle of the road, before it gallops off to find its family. But lately, these sightings are becoming more common and increasingly bizarre. Deer seem to be everywhere these days. (One of them even charged my husband’s car the other night.) And I’ve yet to figure out the large crane-like bird I spotted standing beside the small creek which runs behind my local Target.

Since our yard is fully fenced, animal sightings (aside from our own labrasaurus rex) on our property were once rare. Lately however, it’s a practical wild kingdom out there. Our perimeters have been breached. We are now the proud step-parents of a sweet brown bunny with a fluffy white tail, an orange mouse-catching tabby cat, at least one chipmunk, and a woodchuck…all of whom visit on a regular rotating basis whenever the kids or dog are not occupying the yard. Just this morning, I watched as the tabby cat (sans mouse) took his patrolling position atop the fence, much to the dismay of the woodchuck who was leisurely roaming the yard. It’s like my very own menagerie out there. Anyone know what woodchucks eat?

She swallowed the deer to catch the woodchuck. She swallowed the woodchuck to catch the crane. She swallowed the crane to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the mouse. She swallowed the mouse to catch the fly… I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

I don’t think I like where this is all headed.

But it’s no wonder my neighborhood is being taken over by the wild. It’s been absolutely gorgeous out there. Gone are the winter coats and gone are the days of heavy macaroni and cheeses, filling casseroles, and slow-cooked roasts. This is the time for simple grilled foods and light, refreshing side dishes, like this watermelon and tomato salad. This salad just screams summer to me. Sweet watermelon and fresh orange segments are tossed with summer-ripe tomatoes in a light orange-dijon vinaigrette. It’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor!

I served this summery salad as part of our Father’s Day dinner, aside slices of grilled flank steak, which I drizzled in balsamic reduction and topped with gorgonzola and homemade crispy onion straws. It’s a perfect meal to bring in the summer!

Watermelon-Tomato Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups seedless watermelon, scooped into small balls
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 oranges, segmented*
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly shaved
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade**
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (from one of the oranges)
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to segment an orange.
**Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.

Directions

Combine the watermelon, cherry tomatoes, orange segments, red onion, and basil in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and orange zest until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper as desired. Pour the vinaigrette over the fruits and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

Spicy Chipotle Corn

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Hard to believe that it’s August already. This summer is going way too fast and we’ve been shamefully remiss in using our grill. Shame on us! But, this is part of my dilemma with our choice of grills.

In most regards, I prefer a simple charcoal grill, with coals lit in a chimney starter. The result is delicious, smoky grilled flavor without any lingering hint of gas or lighter-fluid. To me, it just feels like the way grilling should be done.

The big downside of the charcoal grill is the length of time it takes to prepare; waiting for the coals to light and to reach their ideal temperature. It makes grilling a couple of hot dogs feel like a bit of a production. And with a newborn in my arms and two active little boys running laps around me, I don’t have time for any more productions. The ease of simply turning a knob on a gas grill sounds so appealing.

I was very close to purchasing a gas grill this summer and partly regret that I never did. Seems too late at this point, since it will be snowing before we know it. Maybe next year…

On one of the few occasions that we did fire up the grill this summer, we threw on a few locally-made Hoffman’s hot dogs. I don’t eat hot dogs frequently, but sometimes it just feels like the perfect summer food. On the side, we enjoyed salt potatoes and this spicy chipotle corn. Is there anything more summery than sweet corn??

A little chipotle goes a long way when it comes to the spice factor in this dish, so if you prefer a milder result, you may want to reduce the chipotle by half!

Spicy Chipotle Corn

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 chipotle pepper, very finely diced (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 3-4 scallions, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked corn kernels or 1 bag frozen corn, defrosted
  • Salt

Directions

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, chipotle pepper, and scallions. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until tender. Add the corn. Stir until the corn is heated through and well coated in the spicy butter sauce. Salt as desired.

Battlestar Ambrosia Salad

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A few months ago, my husband and I embarked on a venture we hadn’t prepared for, a venture which will come to its inevitable end this evening. It began when we decided to watch the first two-part miniseries of Battlestar Galactica. We never really expected to like it. We thought we’d just give it a try and move on with our lives. Seventy-five episodes later, we will watch the final episode tonight.

On the surface, everything about Battlestar Galactica seems to go against my normal television preferences. A Sci-Fi show about a bunch of people living on a battlestar, jumping through space and fighting against cylons?? Yeah, I think I’ll skip that one.

But, we decided to watch that first two-part miniseries. It was just sitting there in our Netflix queue begging to be watched. Well, those two episodes were enough to get us to watch the third and then the fourth. Before we knew it, we were 50 episodes into the series and heavily invested in the fate of the characters. Somehow, the show managed to make us forget we were watching something set in a distant star system, where half of the main characters were machines. Or are they people? The story is engaging, gripping, and relatable.

We could have watched the final episode last night, but I wasn’t ready. I needed the day to prepare to say good-bye to the well-written and wonderfully acted characters we’ve come to love; so multi-dimensional and complex, so very real. At this moment, I’m sitting here with the mixed emotions of both eager anticipation and devastation that you feel as you approach the final chapter of a really good book. Do you plow ahead to find out what happens or close the book to delay the inevitable end; to hold onto the story and the characters for a little while longer?

Even if the total premise of Battlestar Galactica turns you off, I encourage you to give the show a chance. You may be as surprised as I was. It is not really a sci-fi story about outer space, battlestars and cylons. It is a story about people. It’s about relationships, love, and values. It’s about dreams, courage and hope. It’s about a will to thrive and the perseverance to build a better future when faced with the worst of conditions. It’s about life and the things that make life worth living. Tonight’s final episode of Battlestar will be bittersweet indeed.

This recipe, on the other hand, is nothing but sweet. Onboard the Battlestar Galactica one of the beverages of choice is known as ambrosia. Their ambrosia is a bright green liquor of sorts, reminiscent of absinthe. The ambrosia I know and love is a “salad” of marshmallows, pineapple, oranges, and coconut. For me, ambrosia brings back vivid memories of summer days spent running around my cousins’ backyard, culminating with a delicious meal cooked by my aunt, usually composed of kielbasa, rice pilaf, salad in a slightly sweet vinaigrette, and our favorite part; ambrosia salad. Such a treat! This super-simple, super-sweet salad makes a great summertime, grill-season side dish!

Ambrosia Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 ( 10 ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
  • 1 cup mandarin orange segments, drained
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Marashino cherries, for garnish

Directions

Combine all ingredients (except cherries) in a large container. Stir. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving. Garnish with cherries. Serve cold.

Roasted Rack of Lamb

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Tis the season to eat lamb! Falala, lala, la, la, la, laaaaa... Or perhaps it should be, Bababa, baba, ba, ba, ba, baaaa!

Easter is just around the corner. Children everywhere are sporting conspicuous dye-stained fingers and carry the faint aroma of boiled eggs. Their schoolwork is distracted by daydreams of the sweet treats the Easter bunny will soon deliver. Adults are counting the days until they’re released from their Lenten resolutions. And my home smells of Marshmallow Peeps and Cadbury Cream Eggs.

Traditionally, lamb and ham are popular selections for Easter dinner. For some people, Easter may be the one time a year they eat lamb. We are not those people. Around our home, lamb finds its way onto our menu on a semi-regular basis. We enjoy Greek-style lamb burgers with tzatziki sauce, shepherd’s pie, and roasted leg of lamb with fresh mint pesto. I even won a contest earlier in the year with a recipe for tender braised lamb shanks with brown-braised onions and mushrooms.

I’m so sorry adorable little lambs, but we really do appreciate your delectable contribution to our dinner table!

With Easter quickly approaching, I thought I’d share another lamb dish with you; a classic roasted rack of lamb, crusted with sweet roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. We’ll set our perfectly roasted lamb chops aside slices of toasted sourdough topped with a white bean and kalamata olive puree and a side of roasted asparagus.

Sounds kinda fancy, right?? I promise you that it’s a cinch to make! The combination of naturally flavorful ingredients does the brunt of the work. You just need to do a little arranging and then sit back and take credit for this elegant spring meal!

White Bean and Kalamata Olive Puree

Ingredients

  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 4-5 cloves roasted garlic*
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 slices sourdough bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

*Click here to see my photo guide on roasting garlic.

Directions

Puree the beans, olives, and garlic using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until ready to use. To serve, spread each slice of sourdough with a generous amount of the bean puree and top with a few pieces of sun-dried tomatoes and a touch of fresh parsley.

Leftover puree makes a delicious dip or spread on veggies or bread!

Roasted Rack of Lamb with a Roasted Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomato and Parmesan Crust

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/8 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4-5 cloves roasted garlic*
  • 1/8 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound rack of lamb, trimmed and frenched
  • Olive Oil, for browning lamb
  • 1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard

*Click here to see my photo guide on roasting garlic.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, and rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil and stir until moist. The mixture will still be slightly crumbly. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Set aside.

Trim the lamb of any excess exterior fat or silver skin. Season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over medium heat in an oven safe pan. Place the lamb in the pan. Cook the lamb for a minute or two on each side, until lightly browned. Rub the top side with the dijon mustard, then press the bread crumb mixture into the mustard. Place the pan in the oven. Cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and cook for another 8-10 minutes for medium-rare/medium doneness. Rest for 10 minutes before slicing into chops.

Serves 2


Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the asparagus and trim off the tough end. (A little trick for determining how much to cut is to hold one asparagus spear by the ends and bend. The point where the asparagus snaps is generally a good place to trim off.) Toss the asparagus in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the spears in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Meal Timing Tips:

  • Prepare the white bean puree and crust mixture for the lamb ahead of time. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Brush the sourdough slices with a bit of olive oil and place directly on an oven rack while the lamb is cooking. Once they’re toasted, you can prepare the bread with the white bean puree and sun-dried tomatoes while the lamb finishes.
  • Place the asparagus into the oven during the last 5 minutes of the lamb’s cooking time. They will finish cooking as the lamb rests.

Super Simple Side Dish – Mediterranean CousCous

Life has left little time for blogging these past few days. Between normal day-to-day business, specialist visits for our ill dog, normal prenatal exams, and a fierce stomach bug which put myself and my family under siege, we’ve been scrambling just to keep up with the basics around here.

I’ve got a few new recipes lined up to post once things settle down for a moment, but for today we’re keeping it extra simple. I’ve got a super quick side dish, with a great amount of flavor and appeal. We decided to roast a few sausages for dinner last night. Is it weird that after a day of consuming nothing but peanut butter toast and ginger tea, all I was craving was spicy Italian sausage?? Perhaps not the wisest first dinner post-stomach bug, but the pregnancy brain is stubborn. I needed a quick, easy side dish to go along with the sausage. Pulling a few items out of the pantry and fridge, I came up with this Mediterranean-inspired couscous. Simple, delicious, and ready-to-eat in under 10 minutes.

Mediterranean Couscous

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Plain Couscous, prepared according to package directions in lightly salted water
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic or White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Feta Cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup Greek Olives, Kalamata or oil-cured
  • 1/8 cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the cooked couscous. Stir until well combined. Stir in the feta cheese crumbles, olives, tomatoes, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4

The Kids Cook Monday – Chicken and Green Beans with a Twist

Tired of coating your chicken in plain old bread crumbs?? Did you know that you can bread your chicken with just about anything that crumbles? So, leave your bread crumbs in the pantry and pull out a box of Cheez-Its instead.

I have to admit, I’ve been on a major Cheez-It binge lately. I don’t recommend this diet to any health-minded individual. Nor am I proud of the quantity of Cheez-Its I’ve consumed in the past few weeks. They’re irresistible to me. If only my local grocery store would ban me from buying them. (But thank goodness they don’t!)

But, back to the chicken. If you can crumble it, you can coat your chicken with it. Cheez-Its, crackers, potato chips, croutons, cereal…the possibilities are infinite. Like Doritos? Smash them up and coat your chicken with ‘em. More of a corn chip fan? Go crazy with crushed corn chips. Another fun option? It turns out that those crunchy French-fried onion pieces, which you’ve probably seen on green bean casseroles, make a delicious chicken breading too. Have fun and liven up your chicken. It’s a great way to get the family excited about a simple baked chicken dinner. Follow the same procedure you would to coat your chicken in bread crumbs; season with salt and pepper, dip in an egg wash, coat with the crumbs, and bake.

On the side, we’re serving another dish with a twist. Bird’s Eye makes a fantastic frozen vegetable dish, called Beans with a Twist. It’s a super tasty combination of green beans, wax beans, baby carrots, and dried cranberries, in an herbed butter sauce. To Bird’s Eye’s credit, it is absolutely delicious and free from the unnecessary preservatives or sweeteners which are so commonplace in many other prepared foods. I’ve bought this dish for myself on several occasions and always enjoy it.

Recently, while rummaging through the freezer, the kids found one of my packages of these tasty veggies and requested to have it with their dinner. The possessive side of me wanted to save them for myself, but what mom is going to deny their child’s passionate request for veggies?? The kids loved the simple veggie dish. So, along with our chicken, I decided to serve our own homemade version of Beans with a Twist.

This entire recipe is full of opportunities to get kids involved in the kitchen. Children of all ages are expert food crushers. In fact, my experience has been that toddlers come preprogrammed with impressive destruction abilities. The best way to go about crushing your Cheez-Its (or other desired breading) is to place the quantity in a ziploc and let the kids go to town. Running a rolling pin over the bag or smashing with a child-safe mallet or fists are all effective methods.

Cutting the soft, steamed green beans is another excellent, kid-friendly task for tonight’s recipe. I wasn’t the only one to receive new cutlery for Christmas. The boys received a set of child-friendly, but effectively sharp, plastic knives. Made by Curious Chef (available on Amazon.com), these knives are not toys, but rather real, functional kitchen tools for little chefs. Before using, we reviewed a few basic knife safety rules, such as watching out for fingers and I modeled how to safely hold the green bean with one hand, while cutting with the other. Then, under close supervision, the boys took care of chopping the beans. My boys will be cutting julienne and brunoise vegetables in no time! A regular plastic dinnerware knife would also make an appropriate cutting tool for most young chefs.

So, join in on the Kids Cook Monday fun and get cooking as a family. And if you don’t have any pint-sized helpers of your own, borrow someone else’s kids or simply awaken your inner child. Just be careful with those plastic knives!

Breaded and Baked Chicken with a Twist

Ingredients

  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups Cheez-Its, crushed (substitute crushed potato chips, French-fried onions, chips, or other crackers, if desired)
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten egg mixture. Then, press the chicken into the crushed cracker crumbs to coat. Place the coated chicken in a baking dish and bake until fully cooked. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken. My large chicken breasts took about 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Chicken is fully cooked when it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

Green Beans and Carrots with a Twist

Inspired by Bird’s Eyes’ Beans with a Twist

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Green Beans and Wax Beans, steamed until tender, but crisp
  • 1 1/2 cups Baby Carrots, steamed
  • 1/3 cup Dried Cranberries
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 cloves Roasted Garlic, smashed into a paste*
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Fresh Chives, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

*Click here to see my photo guide on How to Roast Garlic.

Directions

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the roasted garlic paste and stir until well combined. Add the beans, carrots, dried cranberries, and chives. Toss to coat with the roasted garlic butter. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

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