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Pomegranate and Poached Pear ‘Salad’

I’d like to take a moment to officially declare pomegranate as the most fun fruit to eat.

First comes the game of removing the tiny, shimmering pomegranate gems, called arils, from the hard exterior rind. Some people recommend a process of scoring the outer rind of the pomegranate, soaking it in cold water for a few minutes, then breaking the pieces open and allowing the arils to fall to the bottom of the water while the rind floats on top. Others recommend cutting the pomegranate into pieces and smacking the rind with the back of a spoon to loosen the arils, which should eject from the fruit. I like to simply cut the pomegranate into pieces and go to work, pulling apart the fruit piece by piece, systematically releasing the gazillions of juicy arils from within. There’s something incredibly satisfying about peeling back the layers of membrane within the fruit to uncover pockets of the sweet, plump gems.

The small effort of removing the arils yields a great reward; a bowl full of sweet, ruby gems. Pop one in your mouth and enjoy the sweet burst of juice as you bite into each delicious seed. Pick one up the next time you spot them in the grocery store. Now is the time to enjoy this delicious, fun fruit! And they’re super healthy for you too!

If you can stop yourself snacking on this tasty fruit, save some of the pomegranate arils for this delicious composed ‘salad’ of sorts. This seasonally perfect dish would make a very elegant hors d’oeuvre for a holiday party or perfect first course for a seated dinner. (Pretty certain this is going on my Christmas dinner menu!) Fresh pears are poached until tender, then paired with salty gorgonzola and vibrant pomegranate arils, nestled into a crisp leaf of Belgian endive. A simple pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts provide the finishing touches.

Poached Pears and Pomegranate ‘Salad’

Ingredients

  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For the Poached Pears:

  • 2 ripe, firm pears (Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett…)
  • 4 cups poaching liquid (water, white wine, champagne, apple juice…)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

For the Candied Walnuts:

  • 1/2 cup shelled walnut halves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of cinnamon
For the Vinaigrette:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
Directions

For the pears: Peel pears, cut off tops and bottoms, and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the core, using a melon baller or knife. Place the pears in a saucepan with your poaching liquid. (Any combination of water, white wine, champagne, juice, etc. would be delicious.) Stir in the honey. If desired, add a cinnamon stick and/or a vanilla bean to the liquid. Bring the poaching liquid to a gentle simmer. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears from the cooking liquid and allow to cool. Once cool, chop the pears into small chunks and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Walnuts: Heat walnuts in a pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until they begin to toast.  Add butter and cook for an additional minute.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and about 1 tablespoon water to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the water has evaporated and the nuts are glazed. **You may need to add small quantities of additional water to achieve a glaze. Allow to cool. The glaze will harden as the nuts cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the Vinaigrette: Whisk the oil, vinegar, pomegranate juice, and mustard together. Season with salt and pepper.

To Assemble the Salad: Rinse the endive. Cut off the core end and carefully separate the leaves. Fill each leaf with a bit of the pear, pomegranate, and crumbled gorgonzola. Top with candied walnuts. Arrange on a platter to serve as an hors d’ouevres or plate 2-3 prepared endive leaves per person as a first course. Lightly drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serves 4-6

A Few Variations on Apple Pie

Recently I had an idea which seemed so genius I could hardly believe the internet wasn’t overwhelmed with recipes for it. My idea: a traditional apple pie with bits of warm, melty brie nestled between the sweet apples in a homemade buttery pie crust. Doesn’t the thought of it make your mouth water with anticipation??

I had to make it. And I did. Only the result was not what I had hoped for. Rather than melting in creamy layers between the apples, the brie seemed to boil in the apples’ juices, becoming firm and a bit rubbery. Far from inedible, but definitely not the decadent twist on apple pie I was hoping to share with you.

So, I put a few other possible apple pie variations out there to my facebook followers. Perhaps a Chocolate Apple Pie or Apple Peanut Butter? Or maybe Apple Cinnamon? Someone even suggested adding raisins to the apple cinnamon pie. In the end, I just couldn’t decide which to make. So, I made four (yes, four) miniature apple pies and then enthusiastically taste-tested every pie, again and again…for the sake of accuracy, of course.

The apple peanut butter pie was my favorite of the bunch, though the apple cinnamon-raisin, made with cinnamon chips and golden raisins, was a close second. Anything with chocolate is better in my book, so I  ate more than a few bites of the chocolate apple pie. And while I was looking forward to the butterscotch apple pie, the addition of butterscotch chips was less than successful. They seemed to separate during the baking, becoming too liquid and then coagulating when cooled…not appealing. (A bit of butterscotch ice cream topping drizzled over the apples before baking may produce a better result.)

The following pie recipe is for a classic (full-sized) apple pie. You can make it as is or add in any of the optional ‘extras’ for  an interesting twist. I’m still undecided, but I think I’m going to stick with the perfectly plain, classic apple pie, served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, for my Thanksgiving dessert!

Ok, friends…I’m out of here until after Thanksgiving. Time to put all of my energy into preparing our feast. But I’ll be around if you’re in need of Thanksgiving meal recommendations or advice. Just shoot me a message as a comment on this blog or on The Gourmand Mom facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I count you all amongst my many blessings to be thankful for!

Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 portions pie crust dough (homemade or refrigerated store-bought)*
  • 3 pounds of apples, peeled, cored, and sliced**
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

* I highly recommend a homemade all-butter crust. Click HERE to my my step-by-step photo guide.

**Use a combination of apples for an interesting flavor and texture. You’ll want to use mostly apples that hold there shape when baked, liked Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious, or Northern Spy, but I also like to throw in a few apples that soften when baked, like Macintosh or Cortland. (I used about 1.5 pounds Granny Smith, 1 pound Honey Crisp, and 1/2 pound Macintosh in my pie.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Press one of the pie crust doughs into your pie plate. Toss the sliced apples with the sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and flour. If desired, toss in one (or more) of the optional extras. Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie crust. Cover the apples with the second pie crust dough and use a fork or your fingers to seal the edges. Cut off any extra pie dough. Use a knife to cut an ‘X’ in the center of the pie to allow the steam to vent during cooking. Bake for about 55 minutes. Allow to cool for a few hours before serving.

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

I call myself a runner. In fact, I’m going to run a 5k race this upcoming Sunday. Pretty impressive, huh?? More accurately, I will partially run, partially walk, and partially crawl a 5k on Sunday.

I am, in fact, a terrible runner. I can’t breathe. My muscles ache. I’m slower than a crippled snail. It’s not in my genes to be a runner. And yet I run. Diehard runners would probably call what I do “casual jogging”. But when I’ve got my running sneaks on, I feel like a runner. And so that is what I consider myself.

I started running sometime after having my second son. I was looking for a quick calorie burn to get rid of some of the extra weight I was hanging onto, without giving up my favorite foods. But what started as a means for losing the baby weight quickly became a treasured part of my day. The solitude. A chance to be alone inside my head for a few minutes. It made me feel strong and capable. It gave me peace and helped me recover a bit of the sanity that small children seem determined to abolish. And in that way, it made me a better, calmer mom.

I’d hoped to continue running throughout my third pregnancy, but fatigue and the waning evening light had other plans. Now, after months of not running (and some extra lingering baby weight), it’s been an uphill battle (both literally and figuratively) to regain my running ability.

This Sunday will be my first race since having my baby. I’m not ready. Not even a little bit. But I’m going to tie on some bells and run the jingle out of that Jingle Bell race.

I can run for 10 minutes (most of a mile) before I feel like I’m going to die. During the 5 minutes which follow, I start talking a variety of nonsense to myself. You’re a superstar. You’re strong. You can do anything! By the time I get to 15 minutes, I’m desperate and fully out of my mind. I’m screaming the lyrics to Pink’s Perfect in my pitchy off-key voice. They don’t like my jeans! They don’t get my hair! Which makes no sense since I almost exclusively wear sweatpants and keep my hair in an incredibly non-controversial pony tail. I’m quite a sight. Panting, crazy eyes, accusatory lyric shouting. Not exactly sure how I’m going to complete this race on Sunday… Ay! What was I thinking??

Run, Amy! Run!

The run will be good for me though, no matter how long it takes me, because I’ve been enjoying more pumpkin treats and apple pie (post coming soon) than any person should. Including this delectable pumpkin vanilla custard. It’s like a pumpkin pie without the crust. And it’s really good. Good enough to add a few more calorie-burning minutes to that run!

Pumpkin Vanilla Custard

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk*
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of ginger
  • 4 egg yolks
*Skim milk would work fine if you’d like to reduce the fat and calories.

Directions

Combine the milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and ginger in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking continuously so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Once the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Gradually whisk about 1/2 of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk mixture in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Pour the custard into individual serving dishes and refrigerate until set. Garnish with whipped cream and crushed vanilla wafers.

We all enjoy an occasional pat on the back for a job well done! And as a stay-at-home mom there are no pleased supervisors or satisfied co-workers passing out the pats..only little people who need more apple juice. Urgently. So, it was such a delight to be informed that The Gourmand Mom has been awarded the Editors’ Pick Best Food Blog award by the editors of Parents Magazine. What a fabulous recognition! Thank you, Parents Magazine!

You can check out the complete list of blog award winners here.

Favorite Thanksgiving Ideas

Hard to believe Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. I’d better get my butt in gear and start preparing.

To be honest, I’d been struggling to come up with new Thanksgiving recipes to share with you. I’m just really in love with my standard Thanksgiving dishes. It’s a menu that’s evolved over the past several years and in my mind, it’s the perfect Thanksgiving feast. But, as my husband reminded me, Thanksgiving is very much about tradition.

So, this Thanksgiving, we will be enjoying what has become our traditional Thanksgiving feast, but I have come up with a few new ideas to share. Over the next two weeks, keep your eyes out for a Pumpkin Vanilla Custard, How to Make an All-Butter Pie Crust Photo Guide, Spiced Pumpkin Wontons, From-Scratch Green Bean Casserole with Homemade Crispy Onion Straws, Garlicky Creamed Spinach, a fun twist on a classic Apple Pie, and Braised Turkey Drumsticks.

Yikes! Ok…it’s probably unrealistic that I’ll be able to get all of that posted before Thanksgiving. But I’m gonna give it an honest effort. Let me know if there’s anything in that list you’re especially interested in seeing and I’ll try to prioritize that post.

In the mean time, take a look back at some of my classic Thanksgiving favorites:

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel 

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry Orange Sauce 

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts 

Hot Doughy Buns 

Soupy Soup Round-up

Are you on facebook or twitter?

Well, what do you know…me too! In fact, I’m hardly ever not on facebook, especially now that the temperatures are dropping and we’re retreating into full hibernation mode!

Come keep me company! Click on over to follow The Gourmand Mom on Facebook or Twitter!

See you there!

And speaking of dropping temperatures, has it cooled down by you too? Got snow in the forecast? Ready to throw on your Snuggie or Slanket (I promise, I own neither.) and hibernate for the winter? Well, here are a handful of toasty soups (and chilis), guaranteed to warm you up! Enjoy!

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

Italian Wedding Soup

Vanilla Carrot Bisque

Chicken Soup from Scratch

Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup

Spicy Beef Chili

White Chicken Chili

BBQ Beef Chili

Split Pea Soup with Ham 

Cheesy Cheddar Soup 

Chicken with Matzoh Ball Soup

Sweet Potato Bisque (with seared scallops and bacon)

Baked Potato Soup

Chilled Avocado Soup (Ok, so this one isn’t going to warm you up. But it’s yuuuummmmy!)

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

Remember when I thought I didn’t care for soup? Then, remember when I woke up and discovered the glorious world of soup?

What a difference a year makes!

This new world is so much warmer than the old soupless world I was living in.

I like it here. I think I’ll stay.

Here’s a new favorite soup for you. It’s a creamy mushroom soup, kicked up with a punch of bacon flavor. (And bacon makes everything better, right??) Pureeing a bit of the broth and mushrooms helps spread delicious mushroom flavor throughout the soup. It’s seriously yummy. Even my mushroom adverse husband enjoyed this one!!

Creamy Mushroom and Bacon Soup

Ingredients

  • 8 slices bacon, chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • 4-5 cups button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • Splash of Marsala wine (optional)
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2  – 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

Directions

In a large saucepan or dutch oven pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the diced shallots to the bacon grease and cook for about 3 minutes, until tender. Add the mushrooms, rosemary and garlic to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and golden. Return the cooked bacon to the pan.

Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and bacon and stir to coat. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Pour the chicken broth into the pan. If desired, add a splash of marsala wine. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. It should begin to thicken as it simmers. Simmer for a few minutes, then reduce heat and add the half and half.

Remove about a cup of the soup. (Make sure to get lots of mushrooms in there.) When cool enough to safely handle, blend the cup of soup until smooth. Return the blended mixture to the pan with the rest of the soup.

Season with the salt and pepper.

Serve topped with croutons and/or bacon crumbles.

Serves 4

**For a person who claimed to be indifferent about soups, I’ve got quite a few soup recipes hanging around this site! Keep an eye out this weekend for a round-up of some delicious, warm-you-up soup recipes!!

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

I believe that childhood should be magical.

I want my children to believe in Santa Claus and feel a swell of excitement when they walk into the living room on Christmas morning. That’s a feeling that gives me eager goosebumps to remember.

I want my children to eagerly await the tooth fairy and to believe that Mommy has to power to banish monsters from their room. I want my children to believe that wishes can come true.

Because I believe there is magic all around us.

I’m not talking about magic in the Harry Potter sense or even in the pulling a rabbit out of a hat sense. But magic in each of our abilities to make unbelievable things happen for each other. Magic in surprises and unexpected treats. Magic happens because we make it happen.

So, when I showed my son how to make a wish on a wishbone, and he wished for a motorcycle, I decided I would make his wish come true. And when he comes home to find the large metal motorcycle decoration hanging on the wall above his bed, I’m going to pretend to know nothing about it. Let him believe in granted wishes and a little magic.

Someday my children will reason these things out for themselves. They’ll realize that it was Daddy who meticulously scattered cookie crumbs on the kitchen table; not Santa’s sloppy eating. They’ll know it was Mommy who purchased and hung the motorcycle on the wall; not some mysterious wish genie. They’ll discover that the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and Santa Claus don’t exist; at least not in the physical sense.

But in return, I hope they’ll learn that the spirit of giving, generosity, and hope they represent is very real indeed. We’ll teach them to share the spirit of those myths in their lives, the way we shared it with them. We’ll teach them to spread the magic.

This chicken salad is the product of the chicken leftover from making the Italian Wedding Soup broth. It’s a fantastic way to use leftover chicken, but would be totally worth cooking a chicken from scratch just to make! Sweet, savory, crunchy…magically delicious!

And when you get to that wishbone in the chicken, don’t forget to make a wish! Who knows…someone may be waiting to make your wish come true!

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1/3 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pecan, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Serve on thick, doughy slices of sourdough bread.

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