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Turkey Day Trials 2016

16 Nov

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Here we go again, folks!  It’s Turkey Day Trials, 2016!

I’m going to invite the teacher to the blog for a moment and grace all of you with a brief history of the tradition.  Turkey Day Trials dates all the way back to November 2010 with culinary experimentation to prepare for the most anticipated foodie day of the year.  It started with prepping for the first Thanksgiving I prepared, lead to grocery store meltdowns, microwaved turkey breast, Kindergarten Turkey cooking (ironically, the frustration of being volun-told to cook for an elementary school “feast” taught me how to make the best bird), appetizers and dips galore, berry mistakes, and finally, comfort food leftovers.  There have been ups and downs, but all have been fun (except last year when I had the stomach flu and could barely scarf down the stuffing).

Clearly, I love Thanksgiving.

So this year’s Turkey Day Trial kind of happened on accident.  By my husband.

Yes, credit is due where credit is due and Chef Robert II (Chef Robert I is my dad.  And it’s pronounced Ro-BEAR by the way) came up with a most fantastic, keep in the fridge all season long, use on everything Pumpkin Butter.  It’s really amazing.

The other day, I just happened to add a bit of spice to that Pumpkin Butter and used it with some braised greens and mushrooms, making one of the best accidental Thanksgiving-worthy-yes-it-will-be-on-my-fancy-table-this-year side dishes ever.  Yes, I said it – EVER.

Sig (the dog) would disagree, but pumpkin by itself isn’t all that flavorful.  It’s a little musty and calls for brightening.  Sweetness and warm spices give pumpkin its quintessential autumn flavor, and in this recipe, water is added to turn the clumpy pumpkin into that silky, smooth, glazy texture fruit “butters” are known to embody.

The Pumpkin Butter is easy: 1 can of pumpkin puree, 1 c of water, 4 tbsp sugar, ¼ c brown sugar, ¼ tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice.  Mix all together in a sauce pan, and heat until the puree and the water have formed a smooth, silky consistency.  That’s it! 

Now, I did mention that I spiced this baby up.  To ¼ a cup of the Pumpkin Butter, I added 5-6 dashes of my favorite hot sauce: Tapatio.  Honestly, the chili spiciness mixed with the sweetness and nutmeg-y goodness is a flavor I can’t get enough of.  Granted – important note from Chef Robert II here – if you are going to use this Pumpkin Butter in coffee for an excelled Pumpkin Spice Latte, please omit the Tapatio.  That would just be silly.

So, onto the Turkey Day Trial side dish.

Southerners loooooove their braised greens.  Collards, actually, and I just can’t jump on that bandwagon.  This isn’t for lack of trying – I’ve had collards every which way.  But I simply do not like them, Sam I am.

But, in an accidental mix up of wild mushrooms and kale, a bit of sherry vinegar, plumped dried cranberries, and a drizzle of salt and honey, I found a sturdy cooked greens dish that could kick the chlorophyll out of those darn collards any day.  Also, it speaks heavily to my Scandinavian roots and Pacific Northwest taste buds, so there’s that for the sake of full disclosure.

Kale, basking in its endless superfood limelight, is softer than collards but still cooks well keeping integrity (it doesn’t disappear like spinach) and offering a bit of sweetness.  The mushrooms, oh the mushrooms, when those buggers are cooked till they just can’t be cooked anymore, they are amazing.  Browned, nutty, addictive; they taste like the smell of the woods next to the ocean after it’s just rained.  It’s a trick I’ve learned from my mom – let the mushrooms be.  Well, my mom and Paul McCartney.

Then – wait for it – I drizzled the Spicy Pumpkin Butter over the greens.

Un.  Bel.  Ievable.

I turned that one dish into a couple different things (Thanksgiving leftover ideas coming!  Hint hint, wink wink!).  I poured the greens on top of creamed barley for an earthy grain bowl, and I also pulled out a breakfast by shmearing some cream cheese on toast, topped with the greens and pumpkin butter, then “garnished” with a fried egg.  Again – delicious.

Time is running out on Thanksgiving countdowns, but luckily these gems are no fuss.  Rob’s Pumpkin Butter and my Mushrooms and Kale are perfect for your holiday feast.

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Mushrooms and Kale
(makes a lot, but you’ll need a lot)

  • 1 bunch curly kale (usually 7-8 stalks are in a bunch), leaves only, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint chanterelle mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ c sherry vinegar
  • ¼ c water
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is better, but do just a bit less)
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp really good local honey
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • s&p

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add all the mushrooms and DO NOT yet season.  Stir the mushrooms, let them absorb the butter, and then finally release their own juices (without the help of salt).  Once the mushrooms start to caramelize, lower the heat to medium-low, and stir occasionally, letting the mushrooms brown, and then brown some more.  Once they are fully caramelized (and considerably smaller) lightly season with s&p.  Turn up the heat to medium, and pour in the sherry vinegar to deglaze the pan.  Once the vinegar has reduced to almost gone, add in the water and the kale.  Season with a bit more s&p, nutmeg, and add the cranberries.  Once the kale has cooked (it will wilt a bit, still look wrinkly, and have a dark green color), and the cranberries have plumped, turn off the heat.  Drizzle over the honey, and serve. 

Enjoy!

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The Zombie Apocalypse

8 Nov

  

Have you ever had a time or experience that just seems so odd, so strange, that the first reaction of an open-mouthed crinkled confused face simply turned into uncontrollable laughter? No? Only me?Well imagine this: Autumn is in full swing, and the Thanksgiving magazines are on all the newsstands and in all the grocery store check-out lines. Glowing turkeys seem to smell off the page. Commercials of family gatherings bring comforting memories, and all the Halloween candy has fulfilled its sugar-high destiny. Pumpkin Spice candles are lit on dining room tables in houses feeding families with acorn squash gratins, kale casseroles, and Cornish game hens.   

Sounds about perfect, right?  

Then, as these wonderful people walk outside, they are hit by something horrible – it’s sticky and heavy and a vomitus wave overcomes them. Crawling into their cars, they find they are lucky if their air conditioning is still turned to full blast from the day before. The outside thermostat screams: 93 degrees. The weather channel app beep, beep, beeps from the phone: Weather alert: Feels like 95 with humidity. Then, as if called to ridiculousness, the sounds of the holidays – Bing Crosby, et al – start singing their Christmas comfort on the radio.

What?  

Cue the uncontrollable-what-is-going-on-did-I-wake-up-in-a-summer-time-machine laughter, for this is dissonance at its best. Forget El Nino, Global Warming, or any other weather mumbo jumbo. There is only one explanation for this. 

Zombie apocalypse.  

Yes, zombie apocalypse. So much for that brand new scarf I worked so hard on knitting.  

Ok, ok. I am obviously kidding about the zombie takeover, but the absurdity of it certainly parallels the fact that while White Christmas is playing in the background, it is SUMMERTIME here is Jacksonville.  

So, as the rest of the nation is going outside to enjoy the foliage, pick apples, walk through the leaves, snuggling in scarves and warmed by hot cider, we are doing exactly what we do in the hotness of summertime: staying indoors.  

While I cannot control the weather outside, I can surely control the inside temperature. Call me crazy, but if that means turning up the AC to put on a sweater, gosh golly I’m doing it. I’m also going to keep my Pumpkin Spice candle lit, and I’m going to have something delicious in my belly.  

So there.  

One of the biggest treats of the season has to be all those crazy coffee drinks that pop up. Pumpkin, peppermint, spice, even eggnog makes its eclectic appearance. But loaded with who-knows-what-kind-of-too-sugary-syrup (and is there really egg in my coffee?) mysteries, I’ve decided to come up with my own. I actually started to develop this when Rob was deployed. When he is home, my wonderful husband makes me coffee every morning. It is one of the best parts of my day. When he is gone, that little detail makes me miss him that much more.  

So, as I started to try and make my own coffee to be as delicious as his, my first big change was switching from sugar to honey. Really, the initial reason was to try and alleviate some seasonal (ha!) allergies, but as I measured my heavy teaspoon of good, local honey, I found it added such a richness, such an earthy sweetness – not cloying at all – that turned me into a Java Pooh Bear. What better to make this new-found coffee experience even better? Beat out all those expensive, PSL drinks with some homemade pizazz: Thus, the Cinnamon Honey Almond Coffee was born.    

Cinnamon Honey Almond Coffee

(makes 1 unbelievably delicious cup)

Brew your favorite caffeinated or decaf coffee (I like a French press, or an Americano-style espresso). Add 2 tbsp of unsweetened almond milk. Add a good tsp of local honey (the sweetness varies with the flower; wildflower tends to be very sweet, orange blossom has a citrusy note to it, tupelo, buckwheat, sage, and palmetto have earthy flavors). Add ¼ tsp cinnamon and a dash of cardamom. Stir to mix. Drink while hot! *If you wanted to serve this as an after-dinner drink, an added touch of bourbon makes it super special.

Drinking this coffee when it is cold outside is sure to bring some holiday warmth to the season. Drinking this coffee while it is cold inside, well, suffices.   

El Nino or not, this weather can’t last forever, right? And if it really is the zombie apocalypse, well, at least we’ll go while drinking something wonderful!  

Enjoy!

Mr. Rogers’ Tweets

6 Feb

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It’s no question that Mr. Fred Rogers was an icon for children.  For that matter, he was probably an icon for many adults, too.  And it’s a strange wonder to think about what Mr. Rogers would post if he were a part of today’s technology addicted world.  Would Mr. Rogers “like” things?  Would he “retweet?”  What would be Mr. Roger’s answer to cyber bullying?  If only we could ask him.

Despite the fact that I used to do web design for a Fortune 500 company (this was many moons ago, folks; we’re talking Front Page fun), I am what many would call, “Old School” when it comes to modern day technology.  Facebook was purposefully not on my radar.  Twitter, Instagram?  Hardly!  Once, I had a Bluetooth.  That lasted about 5 ½ days.  My husband, on the other hand, is very technologically sound and has been able to hook up our HDish-something television to Netflicks, and connect Pandora through our internal and external house speakers, all through his phone.  It’s a quiet house when he deploys, for sure.

When I was little, my mom would let me watch certain shows on TV, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood being one of them.  She recalls how I would giggle and shy-up when Mr. Rogers asked, “Would you like to be my neighbor?” like he was talking to only me through that electronic box.  I was infatuated with the guy; his quiet nature, slow talking cadence, and always-caring demeanor naturally drew me in, as it still does today.  Now, after teaching for 10 years, and seeing such a drastic change – not only in education, but generally in kids these days – there’s a need for Mr. Rogers and his wisdom.

Last Friday, it was rainy, cold, and all around dreary.  The kids were, what teachers would say, “Done.”  Being one that does not normally turn on the tube in class, I surprised my students with a streaming episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  With just the first few jingly notes of his intro, the kids were hooked.  When he asked, “Will you be my neighbor?” Almost every student in the class responded in a quiet, genuine, “Yes.”  When he slowly yet deliberately asked, “Are you growing up?” Again the class, mesmerized, responded.  Just like when I was young, my 5-year old students thought Mr. Rogers was talking to them personally.

To top the cake, at the end of the program, one little girl breathed a huge sigh, and telling no one in particular commented, “Wow.  He is such a helpful guy.”

Yes, he is.

So that got me wondering.  Stepping out of the wonderfully simple, old, syndicated television world into a comparatively loud and crazy one, what would Mr. Rogers do with today’s technology?  What would Mr. Rogers tweet?  Which of his Instagram pictures would get “likes?” How many Facebook “friends” would he have?  I know I would certainly “follow” Mr. Rogers, but would he “follow” me?

This is all too much!  But, for better or worse, it’s a reality that won’t go away.  So rather than fight it, I am slowly deciding to join the social media world with a Mr. Rogers-esque viewpoint:

Share with care, like what’s nice, and always tweet upbeat. 

With that being said (and with its arguably too-long prologue), here’s the point: A friend asked me to publicize my public domains and hashtags, so here they are:

  • Pinterest: 42 Potatoes Entertains @42potatoestable
  • Twitter: 42potatoes @TweetsTheTable
  • Instagram: @42potatoesblog
  • Popular Hashtags: #eatgoodfood, #yum, #vegetarian, #healthyfood, #eatingacrossAmerica #42potatoes

On these sites, you’ll find all cheerful, cheeky, fun, inspiring (if you like to cook), *mostly* healthy pictures, recipes, and personal anecdotes of, and related to, food.  Please visit, please comment, and I hope you, as always, enjoy.

Not knowing if Mr. Rogers cooked, or enjoyed cooking, or dabbled in any culinary arts, I’m sure he would have appreciated any valiant, positive effort.  So here’s my latest, just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Chocolate Strawberry Muffins!  These were a hit at our latest work potluck.  They are super simple (and quick) to make, have all the comfort of a muffin, and the indulgence of a chocolate dipped strawberry.  Disclaimer: Strawberries are currently in season here in Florida (weird, I know), so I completely understand that this recipe would be better suited for May-July in most parts of the U.S.  But, hey – something to look forward to!

For the dry ingredients, whisk 1¾ c all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, ¼ tsp cinnamon, and ¼ salt until combined.  For the wet ingredients, cream 6 tbsp room temp butter with ¾ c brown sugar, and then add 1 room temp egg and 1 tsp vanilla extract.  Also add 1 pint of hulled strawberries that have been smushed, smashed, crushed, and almost liquefied – but not liquified – by a fork.  When mixed, add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3 batches.  Fold in ½ c mini bittersweet chocolate chips until combined.  Then scoop into a cupcake-lined muffin tin. Sprinkle the tops with raw sugar and a tiny pinch of sea salt.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes until browned and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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These muffins are what baking is all about– simple, sweet, comforting, and hitting that special place that brings about a smile.  Kind of like what Mr. Rogers does.  In fact, if Mr. Rogers was still around, maybe just maybe, this would be his tweet: Chocolate Strawberry Muffins: enjoy and bring to a neighbor! #yum #BeNice #SnappyToday

Enjoy!

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