Friday, March 16, 2012

Thinking spring without forgetting the holidays

It's been nearly six months since I wrapped up a 30-day challenge of cooking and eating exclusively on a food stamp budget. I've admitted it was a much different type of challenge than I thought it'd be - being put in a place where healthy decisions weren't out of my reach, just amazingly inconvenient. Choosing to put my focus and energy many other places than what was going on my table was easy. After the challenge was over I decided I would dedicate a portion of this blog to teaching people how cook healthy meals inexpensively, should they choose that's a valuable use of time for them. Honestly? I've done an awful job of giving much on this blog the attention it's deserved since the calendar turned to 12, let alone on the issues of nutritious, budget-friendly eating or hunger. The unfortunate truth is the issue often feels out of sight and out of mind. When I sit down at the end of a long day, fatigued from an array of sources (none of which are unavoidable hunger) it's easier to flip on a movie or run a load of laundry, or even open up the stack of mail piling up on my entryway table than to sit down, research, plan, and provide pointers for eating healthy with limited resources.

While there have been several reasons this blog has acquired some cobwebs in the past month (all of which are topics for another post), I am making commitment to improve the resources available to those wanting to provide healthy meals to their families with limited means. More than that is making a commitment to the awareness of hunger.

A couple weeks ago I received a message from Feeding America about a campaign they are taking on the entire month of March to bring a renewed focus to the issue of hunger in America. One of the biggest reasons? Because hunger is not a problem that starts after our Thanksgiving feasts and ends once we've untied the ribbons of Christmas morning. Bellies rumble all over the country every hour of every day, regardless of the season. There are plenty of us in this modern-day-food-networked-reality-cooking-show-food-blogger-saturated world that are passionate about food, cooking or just sharing a meal. I encourage you to watch this video and pass it along to someone else, especially someone who loves food. I'm pledging my contribution to the fight against hunger to be education, resources, research and awareness. What can you do to help fill bellies and make sure no one goes hungry?

If you're on facebook, check out Feeding America and "like" their page.
If twitter is more your thing, you can find them tweeting here.
If you love good old fashioned web surfing, Feeding America has an awesome blog full of resources and information.

No matter how you choose to communicate, please make sure you share this message.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cajun Risotto

My last post was not wrong - the risotto bug has bitten and is apparently here to stay. Not two days after I finished up the last of the arugula risotto did I go brainstorming for another excuse to make more creamy rice comfort food. However, I wanted something a little more savory than the last time around.

In addition to being just plain delicious, red beans and rice has quite a nostalgia factor for me. Growing up, the one time every year we could count on getting Popeye's Chicken (and a giant tub of red beans and rice on the side) was the annual summer visit to my grandparents house in southern Illinois. There is a water park right on the IL/MO border that we'd take a day trip to and on the way back to their house after a day full of sun and water slides, we'd pick up dinner at Popeyes. The food was always great, but the most memorable part was watching my (depression-baby) grandfather clean chicken bones like they were the last thing he'd eat. It's turned into a little bit of a sport over the years between my sisters and I - who can clean their chicken bones like Pa? This annual summer feast was my first introduction to Cajun food. 

Of all the Cajun dishes I've tried, both as a diner and as a cook, red beans and rice is one of my favorites. The only catch? To really do it well so that the beans are cooked perfectly but the rice isn't soggy, it takes a slow pace and a lot of pots. Think of this as red beans and rice in a hurry. It's a bit more melded than the original version tends to be and it ends up being a bit soupier, which I happened to absolutely love. It also has more veggies than you'll find in many red beans and rice interpretations (especailly Popeye's... though love, guys). Best of all, this dish is very, very easy to make as a vegetarian dish and add meat in separately for anyone who wants it. If keeping the dish vegetarian is no concern, feel free to add in the sausage at the beginning and substitute chicken broth for vegetable broth.

One batch of this will serve four generously and works especially well even it's the only thing you're serving for dinner. That doesn't mean you can't include some fried chicken if you're so inclined... 

Cajun Risotto
35 minutes
Serves 4 generously
Spoonful of Something Original

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can red beans, drained
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 8 oz. Andouille sausage (optional – see tips and tricks)

1.   In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2.   Sautee onion and garlic for about 3 minutes, or until the onion starts to become translucent.
3.   Add in the celery and allow to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
4.   Stir in the red pepper and beans and allow to cook for an additional 2 minutes.
5.    Add in the rice and stir to combine all the ingredients. Allow the rice to cook without liquid for 2 minutes.
6.   Add in the white wine, stir to combine and continue stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
7.   Add ½ cup vegetable broth, stirring occasionally. Stir in the Cajun seasoning and salt and pepper.
8.   Continue to add the broth each time the moisture is mostly absorbed, but before the rice dries out, ½ cup at a time. Repeat this step until the rice is tender.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. You may not use all 5 cups of vegetable broth and that’s ok! Adding the liquid ½ cup at a time ensures you won’t dry out your rice (provided you’re stirring and paying attention) and you won’t overcook your dish (provided you occasionally stop to taste and check for doneness).
  2. Depending on what kind of Cajun seasoning you use, you may want more or less added salt in your version. To make sure you don’t oversalt, start with less than the recipe calls for, taste and continue to add until it tastes right to you.
  3. If you want to add meat, you can add uncooked Andouille sausage at step 2. Cook it for a few minutes by itself before adding in the onion and garlic. If you’re working with pre-cooked sausage, you can add it to the entire pot as you add the last 2 cups of broth, or top individual services with meat to keep the main dish vegetarian.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Arugula and Walnut Risotto

It will become clear over the next few posts that my love for risotto has recently turned into a mild obsession with the gooey, creamy carbilicious dish. I've made it with butter, with cheese, with walnut oil and spinach, with shrimp and andouille. Even as I write this I think "wow, the only meal you haven't really touched is dessert. ...Dessert risotto? Wait! Breakfast risotto?" See? I've crossed a line.

Any other February I'd swear up and down the trend is attributed to the chilly winter temperatures, but anyone living in south central Indiana knows that excuse is entirely invalid. We've been enjoying what I now refer to as "fake winter" where days are in the 30s or 40s and you barely have to scrape ice from your windshield. And let me tell you. I find it blissful.

Regardless, the month on the calendar has been putting me in the mood for comfort foods of sorts. As far as comfort foods go, risotto is topped by only a few in my book (because, let's get real, macaroni and cheese is second to none). It truly is a simple dish to make, even if it does require a bit of an attentive eye. It manages to still be creamy even when additional fats are few and far between. It can be made as a heavy, hearty meal or a light, but filling one.

Risotto recipes can be a little daunting with the obligatory "don't walk away or you food will burn to ashes!" disclaimer I find in so many of them. While you need to keep an eye on your stove to make sure your rice still has enough liquid, I find occasionally stirring the rice or pouring on stock/water/broth does the trick every time. Most standard sized recipes (1 cup rice with 3-4 cups broth) will take 25-30 minutes to cook the rice through, give or take depending on what else the recipe calls for.

Here are the three most important things to keep in mind when you're cooking risotto:

  • Lay out all your ingredients before hand - it makes it much easier to be quick on your feet when the rice is cooking!
  • Keep an eye on it while it's cooking - if it begins to dry out, stir in more liquid.
  • When it's done, it's done - taste the rice from time to time to check for doneness. If you need more liquid than the recipe calls for, add it. If you don't use it all before the rice is ready, leave it.

If you want, you can always cook it low and slow, or at a lower temperature and for more time than the recipe calls for - medium-low instead of medium and 40 minutes instead of 30. It'll take more time to finish, but start there if that's where you're comfortable.

Here's a recipe for a great dead-of-winter risotto, especially because arugula is found fairly easily this time of year. It works very well as a side dish for roasted chicken but will also stand alone as a meal on its own.

Arugula and Walnut Risotto
40 minutes
Serves 4 Generously

  • 6-8 cups arugula, loosely packed
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • ¼ cup parmesan, grated
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped

1.   Place 3 cups of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Place the arugula in the water for 30 seconds, then transfer to an ice bath.
2.   Remove the arugula from the ice bath and blend it in a food processor or chop finely.
3.   In the same saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the rice for one minute or until the rice begins to look toasted.
4.   Add the onion and cook for an additional minute.
5.   Add the wine and stir occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed.
6.   Add the vegetable stock ½ - 1 cup at a time until the rice is cooked through.
7.   When the rice is done, remove from the heat and stir in butter, parmesan and walnuts.
8.   Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. Cooking and cooling the arugula will allow it to soften and keep the bright green color in tact. The easiest way to prepare an ice bath is to fill a large bowl with ice water and place a small strainer within the larger bowl.
  2. You may not need all of the vegetable stock. Taste occasionally to make sure the rice does not get overcooked. If the rice is done and there is stock leftover, save it for later. If you run out of stock and need more liquid, add water.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Black Bean Chili

My love of cooking is no hidden secret, but something I don't get to do often that I absolutely adore is cooking for big groups of people. It's the reason I did things in college like volunteer to coordinate a 200-person Thanksgiving dinner (complete with 20 turkeys and real mashed potatoes, thank you very much). And why I still do things today like volunteer as a sous chef once a month to prep 120-person dinners at church.

Last week my boss hosted a dinner for all of the field managers in Bloomington. She decided to make chili for the group and she asked me to I offered to make a batch to share. We had a fantastic spread: white chicken chili, extra spicy chili, traditional chili with bison meat and a vegetarian black bean chili. Even better than the food was the company. One of my favorite things about the kitchen is how it brings people together. That night the house was full of people from all over the country enjoying conversation and laughs over a delicious meal. Maybe it's just me, but I'm fairly certain food even tastes better when you are enjoying it alongside others.

Here's the recipe for black bean chili I made for the group. It's a non-traditional chili flavored with coffee, brown sugar, molasses and cinnamon. It has a flavor reminiscent of baked beans with much more depth and richness. If you're like me and have been making chili fairly regularly since September, this may be a nice change of pace from the traditional style.

The recipe below makes nearly a gallon of soup (perfect for a big group!). It halves or even quarters fairly easily, so feel free to adjust accordingly.

Black Bean Soup
2-3 Hours, Mostly Unattended
Makes 1 Gallon
A Spoonful Original, Inspired by Mark Bittman

  • 1 ½ lbs. black beans, dried
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 2 large (33 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups brewed coffee
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 9-12 cups water

1. Fill a stockpot half full of water and soak the beans overnight. Drain and set beans aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Dice the onion and garlic, then sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until onions become translucent.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juices, coffee, chili powder, molasses, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and drained black beans. Add 4 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil.
4. Reduce to a medium-low simmer and allow to cook, stirring occasionally. Add an additional 1-2 cups of water whenever the chili begins to cook down.
5. Check the beans occasionally for doneness. Continue to simmer and add water until the beans are cooked through (should be slightly firm, but not at all hard or crunchy).

Tips and Tricks:
  1. There’s a definite taste difference with dried beans – give it a try if you have the extra time to soak them. However, if you choose to substitute canned for dried beans, skip step 1 and add the beans at step 3. Add the water in step 3 one cup at a time until the chili is the proper consistency. Be sure to drain the beans and omit the salt until you’re able to taste the chili.
  2. The amount of water you’ll use depends on how thick you want the chili to be. If you’re nervous about adding too much, add less at a time and keep a closer eye on the chili as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
  3. Cilantro and sour cream or queso fresco make fantastic toppings!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spoonful of Something's 2012

Once upon a time a blogger had very good intentions of providing her readers 12 festive recipes through a countdown to Christmas. Unfortunately, she forgot she has a full time job and volunteers away many (possibly too many?) of her few hours outside of the office. Then she got distracted by travel plans, seeing family and other sources of general holiday cheer (not the least of which were piles and piles of crappy but so fantastic holiday food). Next, her appendix nearly exploded so she got some unexpected quality time at the hospital. And then two of her best friends got married. After that, she realized she had no food in her refrigerator other than a half-eaten jar of salsa, soy sauce, mayonnaise and spoiled milk. At some point there were supposed to be ginger bread men and peppermint marshmallows...

Despite what you may infer from the description, my holidays were a blast. I'm not even excluding the part where I had to eat hospital jello. The unanticipated ignoring of my blog also allowed me ample time to step back, revisit my purpose (because I would like it to be a little more than just me spouting my opinions) and give some direction to the content I plan to provide throughout 2012. 

There are two subjects you will hopefully find an abundance of information on in the next year. The first is low-budget cooking. This is the place I will leverage what I learned taking on the hunger challenge last fall and ensuring I continue to learn the best methods to cook with limited resources. The other subject I want to focus on is managing meals for vegetarians and omnivores who live under the same roof. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I refuse to give up steak and am very fond of a man who refuses to eat animals (a very stubborn couple we make). I enjoy having meals together, but we don't always eat the same thing. I've come to find this mixed-dining situation is not terribly uncommon within other households. I've learned some great ways to work around different culinary preferences in the last year and want to continue exploring this topic and share with all of you what I find.

Not to fear. There will still be the occasional look-what-freak-show-of-a-baked-good-I-made posts (case in point, homemade sprinkles will be featured soon). Spoonful of Something is meant to be a window into my kitchen. I know I'll be cooking with more purpose in 2012 than years past and I hope you'll enjoy being along for the ride.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The 12 Days of Holiday Treats: Cranberry Sorbet Edition

'Tis the ultimate season for festive foods. In that spirit, I've decided to countdown the 12 remaining days to Christmas with a collection of holiday recipes, both naughty and nice. Sidebar: How is it 12 days until Christmas? Anyone else have no idea where in the world the last month went? Didn't I chow down on massive amounts of turkey, like, yesterday? Anyway...

To kick off the dozen days of Christmas delicious, I want to introduce you to what has become a December staple in my house: cranberry sorbet. This falls on the nicer side of the naughty/nice holiday food spectrum. It's fat free, albeit sugary, but has lots of fruit and is a great alternative to traditional ice cream. 

Unfortunately you need an ice cream maker for this one, but it's totally worth dusting yours off or finding one to borrow. This sorbet is tangy and slightly sweet with chunks of cranberries sprinkled throughout. Provided you don't have far to travel, it makes a great food gift that is a far departure from typical cookies or fruitcakes. 

Cranberry Sorbet
Up to 90 minutes, mostly unattended, plus several hours to freeze
Makes 3-4 cups
A Spoonful Original

  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. orange zest

1.   Combine the orange juice, water and cranberries and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until cranberries start to pop open.
2.   Once the cranberries begin to open, use a wooden spoon to mash them against the side of the saucepan. Continue to mash until most of the cranberries have been pressed.
3.   Add the sugar and orange zest and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow the liquid to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until it cooks down to a syrup-like consistency.
4.   Place the mixture in the freezer for 30-60 minutes to cool.
5.   Transfer the mixture to your ice cream maker and finish according to the machine’s instructions.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. Don’t worry about mashing up the cranberries completely at the second step. As the liquid continues to cook and the ice cream machine beats the mixture, the berries will continue to break down.
  2. You will probably need to return the ice cream to the freezer to harden after the ice cream maker has finished. If you’re using certain containers to store the ice cream, transfer it to those containers before hardening it in the freezer. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

moroccan lentils and accomplishments

Today was a textbook example of what the last days of fall should be like. The temperature outside was downright chilly, but the sky was full of abundant sunshine. On days like that the chill in the air makes you quicken your step to get back inside to the warmth, but truly, you really don't mind the cold all that much. The perfect compliment to a day like that is a bowl full of warm, yet light deliciocity.

It's amazing what a clear sky will do for my tolerance of cold weather.  Ask me how I feel about that chill in the air come February. I promise my answer will be far less cheery.

Maybe the donning of rose-tinted glasses when it came to today's weather was partially thanks to the fact that today was a big day. For the last year, I've been fighting a back injury that has put me through countless imaging tests, hours of physical therapy, a whirlwind tour of pain-controlling pharmaceuticals, and more exposure to waiting room televisions streaming Fox News than I needed in a lifetime. It's been a very long year that has only begun to show light at the end of the tunnel in the last six weeks. I'm not entirely put back together, but today for the first time in a year, I ran two miles.

Two miles may not seem like a big deal. And if you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said it wasn't. But today, two miles of not just running but the kind of run your mind gets absolutely lost in, qualified as a major accomplishment. My recovery is far from over, but this was a huge step.

After my two miles I came home to a big bowl of Moroccan Lentils. This is a recipe I've made with regularity for a couple of years now, but it's definitely best when the weather is cold. It almost reminds me of a chili with much more exotic flavors. It works well served several different ways: served atop roasted spaghetti squash, served with a large slice of bread on the side or thinned with broth or tomato juice to turn into a soup.

Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's crossing and old familiar finish line you haven't seen in far too long, or maybe it's just getting a taste of something that's as wonderful as you remember, but something has a holiday spirit of sorts running amok in this spoonful's kitchen.

Moroccan Lentils
50 minutes, 35 minutes lightly attended
Serves 4
Adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock or water
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.   Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and allow to cook for 5 minutes.
2.   Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomatoes, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, lentils and 1 cup of stock/water and bring the mixture to a boil.
3.   Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30-35 minutes. Stir occasionally and add additional stock/water 1/2-1 cup at a time as the lentils absorb the cooking liquid. Continue to simmer and add stock/water until lentils are softened, but not mushy.
4.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Kolaches

When I was a kid in grade school, I was the student who had a compulsive need to constantly raise her hand. Always had the answer, always had to talk first... Yeah. That kid. The only problem with that was the occasional question from the teacher that went something like this: "Who has been to Zimbabwe?" *Emily's hand shoots high in the air as quickly as possible* Even though it is clear I have never been to Zimbabwe and I am in no way qualified to contribute to wherever this conversation is going, I felt compelled to feign globetrotter status.

Fast forward to adult life. Very little has changed. While I now avoid the obvious traps (instead of saying I'd been to Zimbabwe, I just act like I know a lot about it), I still fall victim to this set-up from time to time when it's a topic on which I feel I need to seem intelligent.

This past week I was trying to arrange a presentation during a coworker's training session. In order to make my offer for a power point at 8 am on a Friday a little more appealing, I offered to bring coffee and whatever breakfast treat he would like. "Kolaches" he responded. I stared back blankly. He interpreted this blank stare as me being impressed he came up with such a difficult and obscure food item. I was actually staring because I had no idea what the hell a Kolache was. I wasn't even sure what he said. I only had a string of syllables that I thought were what he said. Instead of admitting my cluelessness, I assured him I could make them (because, duh, I can make anything). I've never raced back to my laptop to call on the powers of Google quite so fast.

For those out there who are equally as ignorant about Kolaches as I was, they originated as a semi-sweet dessert in Czechoslovakia traditionally served at weddings. Basically, it's a yeast-based pastry with a fruit or savory filling inside. I am so glad I accidentally walked into a Kolache challenge because these little desserts are so very tasty! Their semi-sweet nature keeps them from being too rich, while their filling gives a great balance to the fluffy, bread-like outside. The first batch I made (per the coworker's request) were strawberry-based. I tossed in a few apple flavored ones as well.

I made them again this weekend to see if I could fix a few things with the dough I thought could be improved and used leftover cranberry relish for the filling (best use of leftover cranberry relish, ever, by the way). I've landed in a spot that I like a lot, so I want to share these with you. I'm dubbing the cranberry-stuffed version Christmas Kolaches. Even though cranberry is not a traditional filling, I think the semi-sweet dough is meant to be paired with a slightly tart inside. Plus, they're delightfully festive. I think Santa would be as happy as a clam if some of these awaited him at the bottom of your chimney this year.

Christmas Kolaches
3 hours, 2 ½ unattended
Makes 16 kolaches
Adapted from Simply Recipes

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 cup filling (see tips and tricks below)
  • Egg wash (1 egg whisked together with 1 tbsp. milk)

1.   In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast and nutmeg.
2.   In a medium saucepan combine milk, butter, sugar and salt. Heat on medium low until all of the butter is nearly melted.
3.   Add the contents of the saucepan to the mixing bowl along with the eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. Using a dough hook, beat on low speed, scraping sides of the bowl until ingredients are combined. Beat on a medium-high speed for three minutes.
4.   Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth. Coat the mixing bowl with nonstick spray, return the dough to the bowl and cover. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
5.   Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Punch the dough down and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal parts.
6.   Roll the dough as close to 16” x 8” as possible (your dough should be about 1/8” thick). Cut the dough into 8 4”x 4” squares.
7.   Spoon a tablespoon of filling into the center of the dough. Brush the outside of the square with your egg wash, fold the four corners together in center and pinch to seal the kolache. Place a toothpick through the sealed corners to ensure they stay together.
8.   Preheat the oven to 375. Place the kolaches on the stovetop, covered, and allow them to rise for 30 minutes.
9.   Brush the remainder of the egg wash over the kolaches. Bake for 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. The Christmas Kolaches are filled with cranberry relish made with 1 cup of finely chopped cranberries, 1-2 tbsp. of sugar and 2 tsp. orange juice. For an apple filling, dice 1 cup of peeled apples and combine with 2 tsp. brown sugar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg and 2 tsp. apple juice. For a strawberry filling, dice 1 cup of strawberries and combine with 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 tsp. water.
  2. If you secure the kolaches with toothpicks you can place them through the top and angled towards the bottom of the kolache or you can skewer them straight through the top with the toothpick parallel to the surface of the pan. The latter is more secure, but more difficult to remove once they’re baked. Either one should do the trick.
  3. To make sure I'm actually cutting 4"x4" squares (because you know I'm terrible at eyeballing it), I use a yardstick (a ruler would be fine, too) to measure and rolling pizza slicer to cut straight lines. It might sound excessive, but it's very easy and accurate. If you're off a bit here and there it won't matter too much, just make sure it's still a square. If it's too rectangular, fillings tend to fall out when you pull the corners together.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey...Leftovers

The Thanksgiving celebration has come and gone. If yours was anything like mine you ate way too much incredibly delicious food, lounged around the house in sweatpants for several hours and then got your game face on for black Friday shopping. If yours was nothing like mine, it probably still involved copious amounts of turkey, gravy, dressing, potatoes, vegetable casseroles, roles, pies and the like. With a Thanksgiving feast comes the inevitable refrigerator full of leftovers.

Don't get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving leftovers. For about 36 hours. After that, I'm really, really tired of turkey that's now losing its moisture, gravy that looks like Jell-o, and casseroles that are more chewy than crisp. It's one of the many reasons I'm thankful I don't host actually Thanksgiving; it's not my refrigerator that gets packed full of tupperware!

What to do with all that turkey...
Here are three different ways you can use the leftovers to give you a break from mundane reheating:

The Traditional: Open-Faced Turkey Manhattan
This is a great way to use up lots of Thanksgiving day leftovers at once. Start with a slice of bread and layer mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy on top. The turkey and gravy should reheat in the microwave with no problem. You may need to add a bit of milk to the potatoes to get them back to their fluffy consistency. Warm the potatoes first, then stir in additional milk one teaspoon at a time until you've got the right consistency. 

Healthy Comfort Food: Moroccan Lentils with Turkey
This lentil recipe is one of my go-tos for warm, comforting food that doesn't pack too many calories or fat (an especially nice post-Thanksgiving break).  I usually serve it over spaghetti squash, but have swapped out the squash for turkey in this variety.

Dice a medium onion and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Saute in 1-2 tbsp. olve oil over medium heat for five minutes. Add one can of diced tomatoes, 2 tsp. turmeric, 1 tsp. coriander, 1 tsp. cumin, 2/3 cup dried lentils and 1 cup diced turkey. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water 1/2 cup at a time if the lentils absorb all the liquid before they're done cooking.

Fusion-Inspired: Turkey Dumplings
This will take your turkey out of the Thanksgiving realm entirely. For each serving of dumplings you want to make, take 1/2 cup of shredded cabbage, 1/4 cup shredded carrots and 1/2 tsp. minced ginger and saute in 2 tsp. of vegetable oil over medium heat. Allow the mixture to cool briefly, then spoon equal amounts into 4-6 wonton wrappers, brush water along the edge and press to seal the edges together. Lightly coat a non-stick skillet with vegetable oil and cook the dumplings over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side. Add 1/2 cup of water, cover skillet with a lid and steam dumplings for 3 minutes. Serve with soy sauce mixed with minced ginger to taste.

If you have any recipes you like that call for diced or shredded chicken, substitute your leftover turkey for the chicken. Try turkey in these chipotle tostadas for a decidedly different leftover flavor.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weddings, weddings everywhere! And edible tuxedos!

Edible tuxedos got your attention for all the wrong reasons, didn't it...

Does wedding bonanza seem to be upon anyone else these days? I have quite a few close friends getting ready to tie the knot and know several more people who either just took a trip down the aisle or are in the process of planning their big day.

With weddings come bridal showers and with bridal showers come opportunities to cutes-ify every detail of the décor and food (bridal showers and baby showers are very similar in this way). There also seems to be no shortage of shower-related inspiration on the internet (seriously, just google wedding shower food/décor/games. It’s nutty, I tell you). And I find myself a little too excited whenever I have the opportunity to dream up theme food for a group.

This past weekend I was delighted to have the chance to make these tuxedo cheese and cracker platters, but I was more excited to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my friends Lisa and Avery. This was before the tiny little cold I'd been fighting for a couple weeks mutated while I was sleeping on Friday night and turned into a double ear infection. Super fun. Thankfully, I'd prepped these ahead so the time I had to be within arms reach of the platter was minimal. 

These little guys were surprisingly simple to put together and decorate. The base is simply a large round cracker with a slice of wedge cheese on top (I used sesame crackers and Laughing Cow cheese wedges). The cheese wedges sliced beautifully, but did take a bit of coaxing to get off the knife unscathed. For the decoration I used raisins, either cut into small triangles or stamped out with a cake decorating tip. To cut the raisins, I sliced one in half hamburger-style (come on, you all know it's clearer than me saying widthwise), then cut the raisin again 45 degrees from the first cut. Same with the other side, put them together and boom! Instant edible bow tie. For the buttons, I just pressed a writing tip into the raisin until it went through, then poked it out with a toothpick over the spot I wanted it on the cracker.

Initially I thought to use olives (and still think it would be easier to do it with them instead of raisins) but avoided that option to better suit the bride’s taste preferences. If you want to give these a try, raisins are absolutely doable, but olives would remove the stickiness that occasionally made the former grapes a little tricky to work with.

Have you seen any particularly clever foodstuffs at recent showers? Stuff that was so over-the-top cutesy that you kinda threw up a little bit in your mouth? I mean it, cute has its limit... 
Share away in the comments! There are lots more bridal/baby showers in this little blogger's future, so stay tuned for more cute (but not too cute) wedding- and baby-themed goodies!