Whole Grilled Fish with Lemons and Onions



The city of Dalian, China is a coastal city, so living there afforded me lots of opportunities to try all kinds of seafood - some that I loved and some that I can't even mention on this blog since my niece reads this (I don't know the official name, just what they looked like) - but my favorite became whole fish, whether it was breaded and deep fried, simply steamed or grilled.

My students once tried to shock me by ordering a rather controversial dish on the menu - a whole fish brought to the table and served on ice, but the fish was still breathing.  Talk about fresh fish.






Whole Grilled Fish with Lemons and Onions, and Vegetable Kabobs
printable recipe

Note: This recipe was written for a medium-sized fish that was just enough for two people.  Just increase the quantities of all the ingredients if you're cooking a bigger or several fish for more people.  You should plan on about 1/2 pound of fish per person.
  • 1 whole fish, gutted and cleaned (about 1 pound)
  • 2 lemons, 1 thinly sliced and the other juiced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • handful of fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup crimini mushrooms, halved
  • 1/2 yellow squash, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces

Preheat the grill to medium-high.  Place the cleaned fish on a double layer of foil. Stuff the fish with the spinach, lemon slices and onion slices, reserving a few to lay across the top.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Wrap up the fish in the foil to create a little package.

Place the bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, squash and zucchini on metal skewers (or wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for several hours).  Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place the skewers and the foil packet with the fish on the grill and cook until the veggies have reached your desired doneness, and the fish flakes easily with a fork (about 20 minutes).



the Best Soft Pretzel I ever ate... and Making my own Pretzels



In October during our vacation week, we had been out and about in Denver one day, and stopped at the Cherry Creek Mall since we were nearby.  I wanted to look for something at Williams Sonoma but ended up discovering Sur la Table instead, which was just as fun.  Those stores carry things that I didn't even know I needed!  Do I need a mini tartlet pan with removable bottoms, a doughnut pan and a popover pan? A mold to make pyramids of rice and tuna tartar, mini silicone pastry brushes, decorative cupcake wrappers, and oh, so much more...  Why, yes, I think I do.

I managed to restrain myself, though.  My blogging budget for baking and cooking supplies is tapped out at the moment.





When we got to the mall, it was late afternoon, and we hadn't eaten since breakfast, but since we had dinner plans and didn't want to eat a big lunch lunch so late in the day, we were looking around for a snack to tide us over.  There was popcorn, which smelled pretty great, chocolate chip cookies, and all the other usual food court fare.

And then I saw the soft pretzels.  Well, first I smelled them.  What an amazing scent.  Which made me look around until I saw them.  Specifically, a soft pretzel covered with golden, melted cheddar cheese and sliced jalapenos.  That decided it.  We each got a pretzel, mine jalapeno cheddar and Jamie's traditional salted, with a lemonade to share -  and maybe I was just really hungry or maybe it was just that good, but it was the best soft pretzel I'd ever tasted.  The dough was hot, soft and buttery, the sharp cheddar was golden and bubbly, the jalapenos pleasantly spicy.





I got to thinking about trying to make them myself.  Baking with yeast is something that I've only recently started to do - for some reason it used to intimidate me, so I tend to stick with quick breads using baking soda and baking powder for leavening.  Maybe it's the whole sourdough yeast starter thing, and the way you have to "feed" the starter in your fridge, which sort of creeps me out a little.  Although I do love homemade sourdough bread.

So for my baking experiment a few weekends ago, instead of a dessert, I made pretzels.  While I can whip up a pie right out of my head, I didn't have the same instinct when it came to soft pretzels, so I looked up a recipe.  It was a slightly time-consuming process of first making the dough, letting it rise, shaping the pretzels, boiling them, seasoning them, and then finally baking them, but the result really was well worth it.  Warm from the oven they were so soft and flavorful, made even better knowing exactly what went into them instead of a bunch of mystery ingredients from the ones at the mall or movies.





Since the recipe made 8 soft pretzels, I used just half the dough to make 4 soft pretzels - two salted, one with cinnamon and sugar, and one with cheddar and jalapenos.  I took the other half of the dough to make hard pretzel sticks - you'll see in the pictures that mine are a little big, and I really did make them too big.  To get crisp and hard all the way through, they should be rolled thinner.

Of the two, the warm, soft ones hot from the oven were definitely my favorite, but the hard ones dipped in mustard make a really tasty snack, too.

I'd love another of those soft cheddar jalapeno ones for a snack right about now...








Homemade Hard and Soft Pretzels

·         1 ½ cups very warm water
·         1 tablespoon granulated sugar
·         2 teaspoons salt
·         1 package active dry yeast
·         4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
·         4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
·         Olive oil, for greasing
·         10 cups water
·         2/3 cup baking soda (for soft pretzels only)
·         1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
·         Coarse salt, coarse sugar, cinnamon, cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, etc…

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, sugar and salt.  Sprinkle the yeast on top and let stand for about 5 minutes, until foamy.  Add the butter and flour, and combine on low speed, using the dough hook, until well combined.  Increase to medium speed and knead for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.  (I divided my dough in half, placing in two bowls, since I planned to make half the dough into soft pretzels and half into hard).

To make Soft Pretzels:

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line 2 baking sheets with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

In a large stock pot, combine the 10 cups of water and baking soda.  Bring to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, place the dough on an oiled cutting board and divide into 8 equal pieces (or 4 pieces, if only making half the dough into soft pretzels, like I did).  Gently stretch the dough while rolling it between your hands, to form into ropes, about 24 inches long.  Form the rope into the shape of a pretzel and place on the greased baking sheet.

One at a time, place the pretzels in the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a large slotted strainer/spatula and place back on the baking sheet.

Brush the pretzels with the egg wash, then sprinkle with coarse salt, cinnamon and coarse sugar, cheddar cheese and jalapenos, or any other toppings you like.

Bake for 10-14 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool for several minutes then serve warm.  These are best eaten within a few hours of baking.

Yields 8 soft pretzels for the full batch; 4 pretzels for a half batch.

To make Hard Pretzels:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line 2 baking sheets with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

In a large stock pot, bring the 10 cups of water to a rolling bowl.

Meanwhile, place the dough on an oiled cutting board and divide into 36 equal pieces (or 18 pieces, if only making half the dough into hard pretzels, like I did).  Gently stretch the dough while rolling it between your hands, to form into thin ropes, about 14 inches long.  Place on the baking sheets spaced about ¼ inch apart.  Cover the dough not being used with a slightly damp towel to keep it from drying out.

Working in batches, place 6 pretzel sticks at a time in the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a large slotted strainer/spatula and place back on the baking sheet.

Brush the pretzel sticks with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt or cinnamon and coarse sugar.

Bake at 350 until golden brown and hard, up to an hour (check them after 30 minutes – if they appear to be browning too quickly before they’re becoming hard inside, reduce the temperature to 325).

Cool on a wire rack before serving.  Serve with whole grain mustard, or dip the cooled pretzels in chocolate, then chill in the fridge until the chocolate is set.

Yields 36 pretzel sticks for the full batch; 18 pretzel sticks for a half batch.

Recipe slightly adapted from Alton Brown.

Pies, Cakes and Giving Thanks




It's our last morning of our Thanksgiving weekend.  We ate leftovers for breakfast and a football game is playing in the background.  A few slices of pie and cake remain in the fridge, along with the Thanksgiving Leftovers Turkey Soup.  I've made huge pots of turkey and ham stock, and frozen it in small portions, to be used throughout the winter for soups and stews.

Later today, I plan to make a creamy cranberry spread by mixing the last of the cranberry orange compote with a little butter or cream cheese, to have on muffins and toast, and tonight, we'll have turkey and butternut squash pot pies for dinner.  It's going to be a relaxing day.






And although Thanksgiving is barely over, I'm already excited to start decorating for Christmas, wrapping presents, and baking a few Christmas treats.  Come January, I'm sure I'll be about done with sweets for quite a while.

We didn't do any early shopping on Black Friday, but did hit quite a few sporting goods stores over the weekend with Jamie's parents.  Bass Pro was quite an experience, and there was a lot of interesting stuff to check out there.  And after all, what would the holidays be without a few shopping trips to stores full of people flinging piles of sweaters around trying to find the last one in their size, or stressed out parents of wailing toddlers over not getting every toy they see or not getting to sit on Santa's lap!  Or maybe they're crying because they were forced to sit on Santa's lap?  Either way.  Lots of kids.  Lots of tantrums.  I think I need to balance out all that shopping for hunting equipment with a little trip to Williams Sonoma.  Have you ever noticed how peaceful it feels in there?  At least it does to me.  Pots and pans, beautiful dishes, cookbooks, ramekins...  Aw, that's a fun shopping trip.






We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with both Jamie's and my parents.  (You'll have to forgive a few of my pictures of the cake and pecan pie that I took around the table, with overhead lights and distracting shadows everywhere.) After a late breakfast on Thursday of eggs,  pumpkin streusel coffee cake, and lots of coffee, we spent a relaxing day together while preparing the meal.  We had a ham and a turkey, with savory gravy from both, creamy mashed potatoes with dill, vegetable casserole and sweet potato casserole.  A batch of rolls that wasn't entirely successful, which have now been turned into dry bread crumbs for another use.

A chocolate pecan pie made by my mom - she used her standard pecan pie recipe and added chopped chocolate to the filling, which was a really nice touch.  I love the gooey, brown sugar filling of pecan pies.






A pumpkin spice layer cake made by me - my first 4-layer cake - and one of the best cakes I've ever tasted.  Layers of moist pumpkin cake with rich brown butter and brown sugar cream cheese frosting, and crunchy toasted pecans.  After making this cake, I now have a line-up of layer cakes I want to make in December.





I also made an apple custard pie, which I will never be making again, after getting pretty annoyed with the recipe I used.  I've decided there's no point in messing around with any apple pie other than the classic (deep dish, double-crusted apple pie, with a crumble topping), so why try to change something that's already so perfect?

A chocolate cream pie with a butterscotch crust was a little bit of a happy accident.  A while back, I tried to invent a cookie recipe for butterscotch oatmeal cookies, and while they tasted great, they spread all over the pan and just wouldn't hold together.  I dumped them all in a zip-lock bag, shoved them to the back of the freezer and forgot about them until I started thinking about pies.






A butterscotch cookie pie crust sounded to die for.  I had originally planned on making this crust for the apple custard pie, but when I realized that it would not hold up well for a baked pie, I had to come up with another plan.  It was actually Jamie who suggested I make a no-bake filling to pour into the crust and refrigerate it.

Chocolate cream and butterscotch - what could be better than that?  The last chocolate pie I made was incredibly rich and thick and fudgey, so I found a recipe that sounded much lighter.  The egg-less chocolate pudding was smooth and creamy, but not too sweet, and a really nice pairing with the sweet butterscotch oatmeal cookie crust.  Topped with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa powder, it was as pretty as it was yummy.  Unfortunately, I'll never be able to exactly replicate that butterscotch crust again, but really, this pie can be made with any sort of non-bake cookie crust you like, or a pre-baked pastry crust.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too, with lots of pie!






Chocolate Cream Pie (egg-less)
printable recipe

  • 1 no-bake or pre-baked cookie crust or all-butter pastry crust
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup whole milk, heavy cream or half 'n' half
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • cocoa powder, for garnish

Prepare the pie crust in a pie pan or tart pan, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cornstarch, granulated sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Gradually whisk in the milk and 1 cup cream.  Set the pan over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, while whisking constantly.  Once you see it start to boil, cook for two minutes, continuing to whisk constantly, as mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate and vanilla until smooth and creamy.

Pour into the prepared crust.  Smooth out the top, and cover with plastic wrap, with the plastic resting against the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill for 3-4 hours, until set.

Before serving, whip the 1 cup whipping cream with the powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  Top the pie with the whipped cream and garnish with a sprinkling of cocoa powder.

Yields 8-10 servings.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet, via Smitten Kitchen.


Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake, with Brown Butter/Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting and Toasted Pecans
printable recipe


cake:
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans, plus extra whole pecans for garnish
To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare two 8-inch cake pans by spraying them with non-stick spray, lining the bottom and sides with parchment paper, and then spraying the parchment paper with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Pour into a small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  In another larger bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk.  Gradually whisk in the flour mixture until combined.  Add the brown butter and whisk until incorporated.  Divide the batter between the cake pans.

Bake until the cake tests done, about 28-30 minutes.  Set the pans on wire racks and cool completely in the pans.

To make the frosting:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Pour into a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes.  Set the bowl in the freezer and chill for 20 minutes.

Scrape the chilled butter (discarding the browned solids at the bottom) into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the cream cheese and brown sugar.  Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping as needed, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth.  Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until you have the desired spreading consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Remove the cooled cakes from the pans and carefully peel off the parchment paper.  Level the tops of the cakes with a sharp knife or cake leveler.  Carefully divide each cake into two equal layers, so you have 4 layers of cake.

Place one layer of cake on a cake plate.  Top with just enough frosting to spread it about 1/4 inch thick.  Add the second layer of cake, and spread with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Top with the third layer of cake, and spread with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting.  Top with the final layer of cake, bottom side up so you have a smooth, crumb-free surface for the top.  Apply a thin crumb coat of frosting all over the top and sides of the cake.  Let sit for 20 minutes.  When the crumb coat has set, finish frosting the cake, reserving 1 cup to pipe decoratively around the top edge of the cake.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining chopped pecans.  Line the bottom with the whole pecans, all the way around.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve and refrigerate any leftovers.  The cake will stay moist and fresh for days, if refrigerated and covered.

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking.


Chocolate Pecan Pie
printable recipe

  • 1 all-butter pie crust, unbaked
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chunks) (chocolate is optional)
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare the pie crust in a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with the flour and the chopped chocolate.

In a bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until well combined.  Pour into the crust.  Bake the pie for 45-50 minutes.  If needed, cover the edges of the pie crust with foil to prevent them from over-browning while the pie bakes.

Cool completely before slicing.  Yields 8-10 slices.

Spinach and Feta Pastry Pinwheels



The holidays are such a fun and exciting time for me, I almost feel like a kid again.  I love the baking, the decorations, the light-covered trees lining the streets, the warm coziness of the kitchen and all the lovely scents of bread and pies, getting together with family, relaxing and playing games, snacking on cheese, crackers, summer sausage and popcorn, taking time off work to enjoy all the other things I love to do.  I have yet to listen to Christmas music - although I just found myself singing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in the shower - but I think I'll wait to break out the Christmas CDs until after Thanksgiving when we decorate for Christmas.

One year when I was living by myself, I'd already put up my Christmas tree, when about a week before Christmas, the urge to rearrange my living room struck me.  It's not an urge that can be denied - if you're a chronic "rearranger" like my sister and me, then you understand.  My brother-in-law jokes that he can never get too attached to where the couch is, because in a few weeks, it'll be somewhere else.





So this particular winter day, I spent a few hours rearranging all my living room furniture into what I believed was a more perfect setup - but it didn't quite work with where the Christmas tree was.  So I carefully dragged the tree by its base, fully decorated, across the living room to a better spot - and managed not to tip it over or break any ornaments.  But once I got the tree to that side of the room, I realized I'd neglected to account for the slanted ceiling in my apartment, which was lower on that side...  too low for the tree, which was a good 6 inches too tall for that part of the ceiling.  I knew I could remove the bottom section of the tree to make it shorter, so I took all the ornaments and lights off and disassembled the tree, with every intention of redecorating.

At this point I was so exhausted though, that I put it away and went to bed, too tired to do it all over again.  It's kind of embarrassing to admit taking my Christmas tree down a week before Christmas, just to rearrange my living room, because it sounds so Scrooge-ish.  The moral of the story is - don't try to rearrange your furniture until after New Years!  Resist that urge!





On Friday night, I made these pastry pinwheels to have with our dinner of steak, sauteed mushrooms and sweet potatoes, and they were such a tasty little appetizer that I'm looking forward to a chance to make them again.  The delicate flavor of the shallots, tangy feta cheese and fresh spinach rolled into a flaky pastry was a delicious combination.

If you don't want to make your own dough, then store-bought pie dough will work great, too, although since those come already rolled into a round shape, it may be hard to reshape them into a rectangle, so I would suggest using puff pastry (which comes in a square/rectangular shape already).  Making your own pie dough gives you the advantage of being able to roll it into any shape you want.

These easy pinwheels are also something you can prepare earlier in the day, refrigerate, and then pop into the oven at the last minute so you can serve them hot.  Your guests will love you for it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and have a lovely week of cooking and baking and spending time with your friends and family!





Spinach and Feta Pastry Pinwheels

·         1 prepared pie crust, unbaked (can substitute puff pastry)
·         2 tablespoons olive oil
·         Salt and pepper
·         1 medium shallot, minced
·         1 cup chopped fresh spinach
·         1 cup crumbled Feta cheese

Note: For this recipe, I used my own homemade all-butter pie crust, but store bought pie crust or puff pastry will work just fine.

Preheat the oven to 350.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough fairly thin, about 1/8 inch thick.  Try to roll it into a rectangular shape, measuring approximately 10x12 inches.

Brush the dough with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle on the shallot, spinach and Feta, leaving a 1-inch border along one of the 12-inch sides.  Carefully roll the dough up, toward that edge.  Dip your fingers in a little water to moisten the edge of the dough and seal it against the roll.

Slice into 16 slices, approximately ¾ inch thick.  The dough will be pretty soft, but don’t worry if the pinwheels look a little misshapen – you can reshape them into rounds on the baking sheet.

Carefully transfer the pinwheels and place them, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.  If any filling falls out when you transfer them, sprinkle that on the pinwheels and reshape them into rounds if they got misshapen while cutting.

Bake until golden brown and flaky, about 30 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes, then serve warm.

Yields 16 pinwheels (plan on 2-3 per person).

Cookies and Cream Bark




I have a present for you.  Isn't it pretty?

Every season brings with it something special on that one aisle at the grocery store - you know the one I'm talking about.  All those Halloween costumes and candy have now been cleared out for Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations, dishes, ornaments and candy.  Special edition candy like those chewy peppermints and chocolate bells are in abundance already, but there's one item that I haven't seen make an appearance yet...

White chocolate-covered Oreos.  At this time of year, Oreos get a makeover and go from something that I would usually only eat after soaking them in a glass a milk to something kind of heavenly.  They could make anyone's bad day seem brighter.  My parents love these cookies so much that they buy 4 or 5 packages of them every Christmas.  But there's a really short window to get your hands on some of these special edition cookies, and then they're gone, not to be heard from for another year...





If you miss that window, or just want to make something simple, delicious and beautiful, whether it's a treat just for you, or a gift to add to your cookie exchange list, then consider this Cookies and Cream Bark.  I might even go so far as to say that it may even be better than a whole cookie dipped in white chocolate, and just looking at how pretty and wintery it is will make your day.  Especially when you realize it takes only 2 ingredients and about 10 minutes to make.

Oreos and White Chocolate.  This could be yours tonight.







Cookies and Cream Bark

·         2 bags (12 ounces each) white chocolate chips
·         1 package (15.5 ounces) Oreos

Place the white chocolate chips in a large heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water – the bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water.  Slowly melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until smooth.

Meanwhile, set aside 8 of the Oreos.  Chop the remaining Oreos into fourths.  Chop the 8 reserved Oreos a little smaller, to be sprinkled on top of the bark.

Line a baking sheet with foil.  When the chocolate is melted, stir the chopped Oreos (except for the 8 reserved) into the chocolate.  Pour onto the baking sheet and spread all the way to the edges of the pan.  Sprinkle the remaining chopped Oreos on top.

Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.  Lift the slab of bark off the foil, place on a cutting board and break or cut into pieces.  Keep leftovers in the fridge.

Yields about 2 ½ pounds of bark.

Sweet Potato Casserole and our Thanksgiving Menu



I love to hear what everyone's holiday traditions are, what special dishes their families make, what memories people have.

I write a lot on this blog about my memories from childhood and from living overseas, and I think it's just that food touches so many of our senses - first, our eyes are delighted by what we see on the plate and how it's presented, then we inhale its aroma, and finally, taste.

All of these senses being touched by something as simple as sliced apples simmered in butter and cinnamon bring back the memories associated with those feelings.  I like that.





My family is pretty traditional with what we cook for Thanksgiving, although instead of the usual green bean casserole, we make a vegetable casserole with green beans, corn, peppers, onions and mushrooms, cooked in a creamy, cheesy sauce, and topped with crumbled cheese crackers.  And instead of marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, we top ours with a brown sugar and pecan streusel topping.

I don't usually eat much of the turkey at dinner - I'm more into what you can do with the leftover turkey...  sandwiches, soup...  But I do love baked ham, and the really salty, rich gravy it yields to pour over creamy mashed potatoes.




Cranberry sauce is another of my favorites.  And we always put a bowl of black olives on the table, too - as a kid, I'd try to steal as many olives as I could get away with before dinner.

And pie.  LOTS of pie.  Double crusted, deep dish apple pie with crumble toppingGooey pecan pieChocolate cream pie with mounds of whipped cream.  And pumpkin, although only because other people like it - as much as I love baking with pumpkin, pumpkin pie is always the last one I'll choose to eat.

So here's our menu lineup for Thursday...
Mom:
  • Turkey or Ham (not sure which she's making, or maybe both?)
  • Gravy
  • Potatoes
  • Rolls or Biscuits
  • Chocolate Pecan Pie
Me:
  • Vegetable Casserole
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Cranberry Orange Compote
  • Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecans
  • Caramel Apple Custard Pie
  • Holiday Drink

After talking with my mom about our Thanksgiving menu this year, I started compiling my ideas, jotting down thoughts and gathering recipes for the dishes I'll be making.  I wish that I could share more of them with you all before Thursday, but since I've only been writing this blog since May, I don't have any photos from dishes in previous years, so I've decided to just share one or two dishes.

Yesterday, I shared my recipe for Cranberry Orange Compote, and today I'll share the recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole that my family has been making for as long as I can remember.





Friday night, Jamie and I cooked a couple steaks with sauteed mushrooms for dinner, and I had planned on making some simple mashed sweet potatoes to eat with that.  And then I just couldn't help making a small version of the sweet potato casserole instead, because who says you have to wait until Thanksgiving for sweet potato casserole?

Usually I mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or a pastry cutter to leave them a little chunky, but pureeing the sweet potato filling in the food processor made it so smooth and creamy that it's almost like a pudding.  This dish really could be eaten for dessert also.  Instead of using a large baking dish, it would also be beautiful spooned into individual ramekins and baked, then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

But calling it a side dish instead of dessert means you still get to eat pie, too...





Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potato filling:
·         4 large sweet potatoes (or substitute 4 cups canned sweet potatoes, mashed)
·         4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
·         2 eggs, lightly beaten
·         ¼ cup cream or buttermilk
·         ½ cup brown sugar
·         Cinnamon

Topping:
·         1 cup brown sugar
·         ½ cup self-rising flour
·         1/3 cup (2/3 of a stick) unsalted butter, cold
·         1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat the oven to 400.  Split the sweet potatoes lengthwise and place, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Dot the potatoes with the butter.  Roast until tender, about 1 hour.  Set aside to cool until they are cool enough to handle.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream or buttermilk and brown sugar for the filling.  Set aside.

In another bowl, use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the brown sugar and flour for the topping.  Stir in the pecans.  Set aside.

Use a spoon to scoop the sweet potato flesh from the skins; discard the skins.  Place the sweet potato flesh in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Add the beaten eggs, cream or buttermilk and brown sugar and puree until smooth and blended.

Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick baking spray.  Spread the sweet potato filling evenly in the pan.  Sprinkle the filling generously with cinnamon.  Sprinkle the streusel topping on the filling.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until hot through and the topping is browned.

This casserole can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated, unbaked, until ready to bake.

a Holiday Cranberry Cocktail and Cranberry Orange Compote



Until last Thanksgiving, I'd never eaten any kind of cranberry sauce other than what comes in the can.  I'm not complaining - I've always loved the canned jelly-like cranberry sauce - and as a kid I considered it a work of art to get the whole thing out of the can in one intact log, and then slice it up into neat little slices, arranged in concentric circles in a bowl.

Having become so used to the way we sliced and served cranberry sauce at home, I once mistook a pan of sliced beets for cranberry sauce at a buffet-style restaurant.  I took a bite, expecting that sweet tartness of cranberries...  but my mouth was filled with the taste of beets.  It's really the reason I still dislike beets so much to this day.




My brother-in-law's family has a tradition where they set the jelled cranberry sauce upright in a dish, then pass it around where everyone has to scoop some out of the middle.  The first person to break the "wall" around the edges has to do the dishes, I think.





So last year was my first time actually hosting Thanksgiving when my parents came over to our place, and I wanted to make it special.  Of course we had the turkey and potatoes, and all the other usual favorites - vegetable casserole with cheese crackers (my dad's favorite), sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pecan topping (my favorite), and lots of pie (Jamie's favorite).





Never having cooked with actual cranberries before, I wanted to make a cranberry compote instead of serving cranberry sauce from a can.  And after tasting that compote, I'll never go back to the canned variety!  This compote is such a wonderful blend of sweetness and tartness, with hints of orange, cinnamon and ginger - it's delicious on your turkey, or could even be spooned onto ice cream or cake.  Since I won't be making the compote until next week, I don't have any good pictures of it, just one fuzzy little picture I found from last year.  But I don't think you need a picture to imagine how good this sauce is, and how beautiful it would look on your table.  I know I can't wait to taste it on Thursday.





For a fun holiday drink, I like the idea of freezing some cranberries - like little cranberry ice cubes.  They look beautiful and festive, and will keep your drink cold, too.  I made one of these last night, and it was totally yummy - although Jamie said it was too fruity for him.

I plan to make the non-alcoholic version next Thursday, and I think my family will love it!






Cranberry Orange Compote
printable recipe
  • 2 pounds cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens.  Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm.

This can be made a few days in advance, stored in the fridge, and then rewarmed on the stove.  Leftovers can be refrigerated for several weeks.


Cranberry Holiday Cocktail
printable recipe

alcoholic version:
  • 10 frozen cranberries
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1 1/2 ounces orange juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces cranberry juice
  • 3 ounces white wine
  • splash of 7-up or Sprite
 Place the frozen cranberries in a cocktail glass.  Place the ice, orange juice, cranberry juice and white wine in a cocktail shaker and shake for 30 seconds until well chilled.  Strain into the glass.  Top off with the 7-up or Sprite.

Makes 1 cocktail.

non-alcoholic version:
  • 10 frozen cranberries
  • scoop of orange sherbet
  • 4 ounces cranberry juice
  • splash of 7-up or Sprite
Place the frozen cranberries in a cocktail glass.  Add the scoop of sherbet.  Add the cranberry juice and top off with the 7-up or Sprite.

Makes 1 cocktail.