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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!

Hurricane Salad

10 Oct

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Right now, leaves are rustling due to a nice, cool, dry breeze, the windows are open in my always-ever-locked house, and I am enjoying what feels like the very first taste of autumn.  When I walk outside, I’m not immediately suffocated by heat and humidity, and there are very few biting bugs flying around (always a good day when this happens in Florida).

It also happens to be a Monday, a day when I’m usually working at school.  But today was a “virtual planning day” per our lovely contract, which allowed me to finish my report cards, or do anything else teacher-y (like cut out paper pumpkins), in my sweatpants.

All in thanks to Matthew.

No, I’m not talking about my husband’s many family members of that name (on my side it’s Bob, and I think the Bobs still win that rodeo).  I’m talking about the crazy, high-intensity, slow-as-a-freaking-snail hurricane that crawled its way through north Florida a few days ago.

Thinking back to those rare times when public school actually got cancelled for things, I’ve seen the gamut.  I’ve had a fire day (thank you SoCal wildfires), a wind day, snow days, a tsunami day (that was a crazy phone call to wake up to), and now Florida has gifted my very first hurricane days.

Growing up mostly in the Southwest, I had never been in a proper hurricane before.  But let me tell you, it’s an event.  The prep alone was beyond stressful – moving all the patio furniture to the garage, securing the house, digging through all the camping equipment to find white gas stoves and lanterns.  With my parents’ help, we got it all done which made me feel prepared – and proud.  I was stocked with water and ice (I bought the last 4 bags at the grocery store, thank you very much), lots of fresh fruits and veggies, and dried/canned/preserved goods to last a long, potential power outage.  And of course I also bought the absolute essentials for any long, drawn out, stressful event: chardonnay and pumpkin donuts.

I was ready.

The storm was what it was.  A storm.  Big, loud, mean, wet, wild, windy, and everything a person might imagine a hurricane to be.  I was scared, nervous, and at times peaceful as my family and I sat in pajamas watching continued news reports.  There was nothing else to do.

But eat.

What a fabulous excuse a hurricane is for eating junk food!  I thought it was just us with our chardonnay and donuts – oh, and beanie weenie casserole – but the grocery store trip afterwards showed us what people really thought was important.

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Bread, chips, bananas all topped the list of hurricane necessities – the empty shelves couldn’t hide it.

But spin around to those green, fresh, healthy things?

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Why golly, those shelves were chalked full.

So funny, because despite our little junk food splurge, we also made a conscious effort to make sure some nutrition did make its way into our bodies, basically to give us the right kind of energy and lack of mental lethargy to face whatever it was that we needed to face with this storm (again, our first major hurricane, folks).

My mom whipped up what she ended up calling the Hurricane Salad.  It was really just a veggie salad full of ingredients that are health-wise important: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans, cucumber, celery, corn, and a simple ranch dressing.  That was it.  But boy did it hit the spot.  We ate it for two days.

With only some chopping, it literally took a few minutes to assemble and a fantastic dinner salad was ready.

Now, you definitely don’t need a hurricane to make this salad.  In fact, let’s hope you don’t have a hurricane to enjoy this salad.  But, it would be great as a take-along dish (dressing separate), easy lunch, fast dinner, or anything else in between.

People – oh those proverbial “people” – always say that something good comes out of something negative.  However, I wouldn’t call this salad good.  I’d call it delicious!  (Too cheesy?  Oh, some cheese would be good on the salad too!)

Try it – sans storms – and let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

(Feel free to use your favorite ranch dressing here – and ranch really is the best for this salad, I think.  But here’s my recipe for a good homemade version that will last you and your favorite salads all week.)

Hurricane Salad

This salad is completely flexible.  Add or subtract as much or as little as you want.  So it can easily be a single serving, or enough to feed a crowd.  Just toss together the following ingredients: mixed greens, yellow bell pepper, soy beans (cooked, I boil mine), cucumber, celery, and corn (cooked or raw).  Sprinkle a bit of s&p, and serve with the dressing on the side (to appease any finicky pourers).

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Homemade Ranch
(makes 1 pt)

Finely mix together 1/2 tsp dried oregano, pinch of ground thyme, 1/8 tsp celery seed, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, and s&p to taste. Use a mortar and pestle to mix (this makes more spice mix than you need- great for chicken, shrimp, or a olive oil dip). Then pour 1 tsp of the spice mixture into a bowl with 1 c mayo, 1 c Greek yogurt, and juice of 1 lemon. Mix and taste for seasoning. 

Enjoy! 

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