Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grape Salad

My aunt makes this salad every year for Thanksgiving.

It's both weird and out of this world at the same time.

Thanks for introducing us, Ole Miss.  I look forward to it every year.

It's an amazing contrast of texture.  And I'm a texture person, in case you hadn't noticed.

So this salad hits all the right notes for me.

The cream cheese layer is creamy

The grapes are crunchy

The brown sugar layer is just like caramel

And the pecans (which I forgot.  Don't be like me) are crisp and their bitter flavor is a great contrast to the sweet.

You owe it to yourself to make this while grapes are plentiful and cheap.  And good.  Because this salad is the best way to eat a grape that I can imagine.

Grape Salad

3 pounds green grapes, rinsed and drained well
8 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Mix together the sour cream, cream cheese, vanilla and 1/3 cup sugar.  Beat well to get out most of the lumps.

Layer half the grapes in a serving bowl.  Spread half of the cream cheese mixture on top.  Top with 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Layer the rest of the grapes on top.  Spread the rest of the cream cheese mixture on top and then top with the rest of the brown sugar and all of the pecans.  Refrigerate for at least an hour so the brown sugar will melt like caramel.  This stays good for several days in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chicken Florentine

I'm still recovering from Thanksgiving.

I'm not even sure why, because it was a wonderful weekend, one of my favorites of the whole year.

But I'm trying to act normal, so I made this for dinner.

It's good for you, since it's got so much spinach.  And my kids love it, which makes me happy.

And my husband loves it, which makes me even happier.

Don't forget the cheese, like I almost did.

And serve it with some kind of rice or orzo, because it's just good that way.

Chicken Florentine
Adapted from Paula Deen

1 onion, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
2 T butter
16 oz. bag frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
10 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar
Juice from one lemon
1 T curry powder
1/2 tsp pepper

Saute the onion and mushrooms in the butter for about 10 minutes, until they are tender.  Mix together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, until very bubbly.  Serve with rice or orzo.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole

Thanksgiving is like vacation.  I look forward to it for months, anticipate it, can't wait for it to get here.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I get sad because Thanksgiving is already almost over.  Can't help it.

But I wasn't sad while I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my family.  All four times that I ate it.  Love everything about it.  But these sweet potatoes - courtesy of my great-grandmother - are very special to me.

As special as sweet potatoes can be, I guess.  Which in this case is pretty special.

Don't even think about using canned sweet potatoes.  That's just wrong, people.
I even asked for my mom to make these for my birthday thirteenth birthday.  My birthday is in March.  And my mom was a really good sport about it and made me a whole sweet potato casserole for my birthday.

Can't wait to see how my children pay me back someday.

Be sure to have your toddler mix up the topping for you.
Oh, and the reason that these sweet potatoes are so good?  Easy.  The same reason that dessert is good.  Butter and sugar.

Sweet Potato Casserole
Recipe by Mary Kilpatrick Stephenson

3 cups cooked & mashed sweet potatoes (this is 3-4 sweet potatoes, boiled with the skin on until tender, peeled and mashed)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, melted
2 eggs

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick (4 T) butter, melted

Mix together the mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, vanilla and butter.  Slowly add the eggs and stir quickly to keep the eggs from becoming scrambled.  Pour into a greased souffle dish (you want a deeper dish rather than a 9x13).  Mix together the topping until it is crumbly and sprinkle it on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until bubbly.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegrante & Thanksgiving Menu

First I'd like to thank my guinea pigs for this recipe.  I've been having Thanksgiving dinner with these people for as long as I can remember.  They're family to us.  And since you use your family on which to test recipes, I tested this one on them.

Second, I must say that Bobby Flay deserves pretty much all of the credit for this recipe.  My version of these roasted Brussels sprouts is heavily dependent on and deeply inspired by his version.

There.  Go make this NOW.

I started with the pomegranates, because I had never even bought pomegranates before.  I had seen them in the produce section and looked at them longingly, but I didn't know what to do with them.

Answers: make this dish.

Treat the pomegranates gently.  The seeds will squirt juice all over your kitchen.  Oh, and there are 613 seeds (there are also 613 Mitzot - tell me that's a coincidence) in each pomegranate.

Go ahead.  I'll wait while you count them.

If you think you hate Brussels sprouts, roast them.  It's like not even the same vegetable.  YUM!  I've been making roasted Brussels sprouts for years, but the pomegranate molasses, seeds, and vanilla-hazelnut butter really takes it to the next level.

I love cabbage, so having miniature cabbages on my plate makes me smile.

Okay, on the pomegranate molasses.  I have no idea where you buy it except for here:

which is where I got mine.  But in case you're not in the Atlanta area, you could either check at a Whole Foods-type market or just make your own.  Apparently Alton Brown has a reliable recipe.

This hazelnut-vanilla butter is very good, too...and would be yummy on pancakes.

Looks like Christmas on a plate!

Definitely make this soon.  It has replaced green beans on our Thanksgiving menu, and I just might make it again for Christmas.

Just in case you're curious, here is our Thanksgiving menu.  You're welcome.  Now you have a year to plan for next Thanksgiving.

Roasted turkey and gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Corn Pudding
Sweet Potato Casserole
Broccoli Casserole
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate
Pretzel Salad
Derby Pie
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and sliced in half
3 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
Zest from 1 orange
Vanilla-Hazelnut Butter

Vanilla-Hazelnut Butter
4 T butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste (or a couple drops of vanilla extract)

For the butter: Combine butter, hazelnuts and vanilla bean paste.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Toss the Brussels sprouts in the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper.  Roast for 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Toss with the pomegranate molasses and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  Add the pomegranate seeds, orange zest and mix.  Dot the vanilla-hazelnut butter on top of the hot Brussels sprouts and serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme

Oh, how I love chicken.

Especially roasted chicken.  It's so moist and flavorful, and you can make awesome chicken stock with the carcass tomorrow.

And then you can put it into your freezer just like I did.  Money saved is money earned.  Or something like that.

PLUS, according to Bobby Flay, chicken stock is the key to Thanksgiving dinner.  Who knew.  And who am I to question an Iron Chef.

To get the chicken ready, you want to wash it first.  And then don't forget to pull out the goody bag (also known as "giblets," though that word makes me gag) from the inside of the chicken.  I've never opened the little goody bag, so I don't even know what's actually in there.  But I don't have to open it to know that it's gross.

I'd would like to know who thought it was a good idea to package the chicken's innards into a nice little package and stuff it back inside the bird.  Because I'm going to sue them.

My mom used to make my brother and I eat chicken liver before she would let us have our drumstick.  Even though I've never checked, I'm pretty sure that liver is one of the surprises inside of the chicken innards goody bag.  She's going to pay for that someday.

Do you see how the chicken leg and thigh is literally falling off of the bird?  All I did was poke in between there with a knife to see if the juices ran clear, and the whole thing fell apart.

That's exactly what should happen.  We're talking tender to the point of ridiculous.

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme

4-5 pound chicken, washed and giblets removed

2 lemons, quartered
1 head of garlic, sliced in half

1 onion, cut into eights
1 lb baby carrots
2 T butter

1 T salt
2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme)

Place the chicken in a large baking dish or roasting pan.  Stuff the lemons and garlic inside of the chicken.  Place the onions and carrots around the chicken.  Brush or pour the butter on top of the bird, pouring any extra butter over the vegetables.  Sprinkle the salt, pepper and thyme over the chicken and the vegetables.

Roast in a 400 degree oven for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Stir the vegetables several times while they roast.  You can test the chicken with a thermometer (you want the thickest part of the chicken breast to register 160 degrees as it will continue to cook when you remove it from the oven) or you can cut between the leg and the breast and when the juices run clear and the chicken is fall-apart tender, you're good to go.

Chicken Tetrazzini

Hands down, this is on my husband's top-five favorite meals.

It's very good and really easy.  Once you get the ingredients together, you just throw them all in the pot with the (drained) pasta, and mix it up.  Put it in a casserole, top it with cheese, bake, and there you have it.  Dinner.

You want to start by cooking the pasta.  While it's going, saute the mushrooms in some butter.

Once you cook the pasta, drain it and return it to the pot.  Now start pouring stuff in.

So far we've got the mushrooms, some chopped cooked chicken, chicken stock, and parm.

Now we're going to add all the creamy stuff:

Stir it all up.

This makes a lot of casserole, so I always make one to bake and one to freeze.

And I forgot to photo the baked one, because it was eaten too quickly to get a shot.  Trust me, it was good.

You can also make this with leftover turkey!  Just a little Thanksgiving tip for you.  More turkey day recipes tomorrow.

Chicken Tetrazzini
Adapted from Southern Living

1 pound vermicelli, cooked according to package directions, drained and returned to pot
1 cup liquid (like white wine, chicken stock, milk or half-and-half)
4 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken (about 3-4 breasts)
10 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
10 oz. can cream of celery soup
10 oz. cream of chicken soup
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 T butter
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 cups (12 oz.) cheddar cheese, grated

While the pasta cooks, saute the mushrooms in the 2 tablespoons of butter for about 10 minutes, until soft and browned.  Set aside.

Return the cooked and drained pasta to the pot.  Add the chicken stock (or other liquid) to the pasta and stir to coat.  Add the remaining ingredients, except for the cheddar cheese.  Stir well to combine.  Grease two 3-quart casserole dishes (or one large dish) and pour in the pasta mixture.  Top with the cheese and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until very bubbly.

If you freeze one casserole like I did, just cover it well with foil (I usually wrap the entire dish in foil) and it will keep in the freezer for a couple of months.  When you are ready to bake, thaw it and bake it as directed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tomato Bisque

There's this tea room in Lexington called the Greentree Tea Room.  It's very old-fashioned, very traditional and of course, very Southern.

And every December, they have Tomato Bisque on the menu.  It's the best stuff I've ever had in a bowl.  If I'm ever asked to be on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, I'm totally picking this soup.  (Food Network?  Are you there?)

So, after our annual trek there last December, I spent the next three months of my life trying to copy the bisque.  My persistence paid off, and this is pretty darn close to what the Greentree serves.

And now you get to benefit from my obsession to replicate a bowl of soup.  I know I need help.

We'll start with some onions and garlic in butter.  What's new.

And then pour in some rice - a really really full 1/3 cup.

Okay, now add the flour, and stir it around.

Do you like my heart-shaped tablespoon?  Special, I know.  I found it in my things from storage.  And I really like it.

Okay, now dump in these things:

And some seasonings:

Here's what we have: salt, sugar, pepper, red pepper flakes, and thyme.

Cover it and let it simmer for awhile.  You want the rice to actually be overcooked.  It needs to be super plump and soft - this is not the place for al dente.

Okay, then.  Time to take this soup from a regular tomato and rice soup to a rich and delicious tomato bisque.

Here's what we're going to add:


home-grown pesto.

Stir it all together, make sure it's hot, and you're done.

Yum, y'all.

Some homemade garlic croutons would be super yummy on top.  But the soup by itself is really out of this world.

If I do say so myself.

Tomato Bisque
Inspired by the Greentree Tea Room

2 T butter
2 onions, diced very small
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 T flour
Heaping 1/3 cup rice, uncooked
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 T sugar
2 cups half-and-half
2 T pesto

Melt the butter in a large pot.  Add the onions and saute over medium heat until very tender, about 15 minutes.  Stir them frequently so they don't brown.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Add the flour and rice and stir to incorporate.  Stir in the stock and crushed tomatoes.  Add the seasonings (salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, thyme and sugar).  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently so the rice does not stick to the bottom.  When the rice is very tender - even overcooked - add in the half-and-half and pesto.  Heat through and serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Waldorf Salad with Pralines

Years ago, I had this Waldorf salad unlike any other Waldorf salad.  (Until that point, I think I had eaten one Waldorf salad.  But whatever.)

It was special because instead of just plain ol' pecans, it used pralines.  Yes, I know, my life is very exciting.

And since I've had nothing to do lately but unpack a whole house while entertaining two toddlers, I thought of that salad.

And then, since I have nothing to do, I ran multiple Google searches trying to find the recipe.  I'm pretty sure it was a Southern Living recipe (of course), but SL has let me down, because I cannot find it anywhere.

Just so you know, I did draw the line at flipping through the past nine years of my Southern Living cookbooks.  I have limits, you know.

I am the most inspired when I have the least time to concoct my inspirations.

So, after I wasted time searching for a recipe that apparently doesn't exist except in my imagination, I came up with this.

Hope you love it.  Because I did.  I ate the almost whole thing, so I guess I loved it.  Those things aren't always synonymous in my life.

Oh, and use the most gigantic bowl you own.  This makes a whole lot of Waldorf salad.

Waldorf Salad with Pralines

8 apples, chopped (I used an assortment of Honey Crisp, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious)
1 1/2 cups small-dice celery
2 cups red grapes, cut in half if they are large
3/4 cup raisins
10 oz. pecan pralines, roughly chopped


3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
3 T honey
1/4 cup sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
Pinch of kosher salt

In a very large bowl, toss together the apples, celery, grapes and raisins.  Whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, honey, sugar, lemon juice, and salt.   Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well.  This is best if you refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to allow the flavors to blend.  Before serving, top with the pralines.  Serve chilled.