Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Holidays.... They're coming up and here are some ideas....

Are you already thinking ahead to Thanksgiving? Planning on the usual tried-and-true recipes from year's past or do you want to kick it up some and serve something new? Or how about adding some new side dishes to your everyday meals? I like variety all the time so I'm always on the hunt for versions of favorites that will let me surprise my family and not let me fall into a rut (we all know how easy it is to fall into those, huh?)

This time of year we also have different vegetables and ingredients to choose from we might not ordinarily have and so changes are in order that way too. Out come the root vegetables and heavier fare, mostly due to the cold weather which calls for heartier and heavier fare, yet for those that live in warm weather the holidays doesn't have to mean giving up old favorites either.

I do understand that winter fare is associated with baking, heavy meats and hot dishes for the most part and those of us that will have a cold winter can appreciate the warming aspect that cooking these meals signify. You come in from the cold and you're greeted with great aromas of savory foods and tempting baked goods, YUM! But I also remember friends from Merida with full outdoor kitchens that can still have old favorites without heating up the house. I didn't have the outdoor kitchen but I did have plenty of windows all around that would let me have marathon bake sessions without making the house hotter (Ricardo would go nuts if it got any hotter!)....

I am looking forward to holiday meals, planning menu's and getting together to talk about what we'd all like to have, and whether old classics are selected or we decide to create new memories, the anticipation associated with all this is what will make for a memorable season, don't you think? Putting up some chutneys and curries to have on hand and ready for last minute snacks, making some old fashioned jams and candies, holiday cookies we've always loved and special drinks we only bring out on the holidays will make it a special time for all.

My family is not big on turkey, yet due to the availability and economy this represents, it's always a part of the holidays but with a twist: a spicy filling, marinated, brined, sauced up so it's not "just turkey"..... Let's look at some options you might care to incorporate into your winter season and give it even more flair!

Italian Timballo.- This creamy, rich casserole can be a side dish or vegetarian main meal, in either case you'll love the flavor:

1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cup milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes to plump
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground organic black pepper, to taste
1/2 pound spinach, blanched in salted water and well drained
1/2 pound penne pasta, cooked just al dente, drained
1 tbl sweet butter
2 tbl dried breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine cream cheese, ricotta, milk, eggs, plumped raisins, and spices in a large bowl, and whisk them together until smooth. Finely chop drained spinach; add it to the bowl. Add the cooked pasta to the egg mixture; combine well. Butter a loaf pan and coat well with breadcrumbs. Pour the filling in the baking dish and bake for about 1 hour, or until puffed and brown on top. Remove from the oven and unmold on a serving platter, slice, and serve. Reheats very well in the oven, sliced, as leftovers.
Note: You can use low-fat, organic versions of all ingredients without changing the results too!
Roasted Garlic Squash with Crispy Sage Butter.- The flavor is amazing but you won't believe the aroma from this!

1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1(3-pound)butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3x1-inch chunks
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
5 tbl unsalted butter
24 fresh sage leaves

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss garlic with 1 tsp of the oil; wrap in a foil packet. Put squash on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with remaining oil, salt, and pepper. Place squash and garlic packet in oven; roast squash 1 hour, turning pieces several times, or until browned and tender. Roast garlic packet 45 min or until cloves are tender and soft (I do an hour). Five minutes before the squash is done, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sage leaves and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until butter is lightly browned and smells nutty and sage leaves start to crisp. Remove the skillet from heat; transfer sage leaves with a slotted spoon to a paper towel; reserve the brown butter. Transfer roasted squash and garlic cloves to a large serving bowl. Drizzle with browned butter. Top with crispy sage leaves.
A New Green Bean Casserole.- I love green beans but we can do without that soup can, right? Here's a real keeper....

3 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut in half
4 large shallots
4 large tbl olive oil
1 1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
10 fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 cup lowfat 1% milk
3 tbl margarine or butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat covered 8-quart saucepot of salted water to boiling on high. Add beans and cook, uncovered, 6 minutes or until bright green and just tender. Drain well and transfer to shallow 3-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Meanwhile, finely chop 2 shallots. Thinly slice remaining shallots; set aside. In 12-in. skillet, heat oil on medium until hot. Add chopped shallots and cook 4 to 7 minutes or until browned and tender, stirring occasionally. Add bread crumbs and cook 2 minutes or until dry and golden, stirring. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. In microwave-safe measuring cup, microwave milk on High 4 minutes or until milk is warm. Meanwhile, in same 12-in. skillet, melt margarine on medium. Add sliced shallots and cook 5 minutes or until golden brown and tender, stirring occasionally. Add flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring. Gradually pour milk into flour mixture in slow, steady stream, stirring constantly; heat to boiling, stirring. Stir 2 minutes longer or until thickened (mixture should have the consistency of heavy cream). Stir in nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Pour sauce over green beans; gently stir until green beans are evenly coated. Stir Parmesan cheese into bread crumb mixture; spread evenly over green bean mixture in casserole. Bake casserole 30 minutes or until bread crumbs are golden brown and sauce is bubbling. Top with the almonds.
Root Vegetable Gratin.- You'll love this great dish, it's perfect for any roasted meats or have by itself. If you use beets in this, the color in this dish is simply amazing!

3 pound assorted root vegetables, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
(See notes below)
3 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 1/3 cup low-fat milk
3 tbl all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup finely shredded Gruyère cheese
1 tbl chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch dish with cooking spray.If using parsnips, quarter lengthwise and remove the woody core before cutting into 1/8-inch thick slices. Cook vegetables in a large pot of boiling water until barely tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until light brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 cup milk and bring to a simmer. Combine flour and the remaining 1/3 cup milk in a small bowl to make a smooth paste; stir into the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce bubbles and thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in 3/4 cup cheese, thyme, salt and pepper. Combine breadcrumbs, the remaining 3/4 cup cheese and 1 tablespoon oil in a bowl. Layer the vegetable slices in the prepared baking dish. Pour the cheese sauce over the top and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake the gratin until it is bubbling and the top is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Notes: Beets, carrots and parsnips are easily peeled with a vegetable peeler, but for tougher-skinned roots like celeriac, rutabaga and turnips, removing the peel with a knife can be easier. Cut off one end of the root to create a flat surface to keep it steady on the cutting board. Follow the contour of the vegetable with your knife. If you use a vegetable peeler on the tougher roots, peel around each vegetable at least three times to ensure all the fibrous skin has been removed.
Brussel Sprouts Two Ways.- Lovely little heads of sprouts with two tasty presentations..Mmm!

Salt and pepper
3 (10 ounces each) Brussels sprouts or 3 pounds fresh, cleaned
1 tbl olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup pine nuts (pignoli), toasted

In covered 5- to 6-quart saucepot, heat 3 quarts water and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling on high. Meanwhile, pull off any yellow or wilted leaves from Brussels sprouts; trim stem ends. Cut each sprout in half. Add Brussels sprouts to boiling water and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes. Drain. Plunge Brussels sprouts into large bowl filled with ice water to chill quickly. Drain well. If not continuing with recipe right away, place sprouts in plastic storage bags and refrigerate until ready to use. In 12-inch skillet, heat oil on medium until hot. Add pancetta and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until beginning to brown. Stir in rosemary and cook 1 minute. To mixture in skillet, add Brussels sprouts and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook on medium-high 5 minutes or until heated through, stirring frequently. Add pine nuts; toss to combine.

To make Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Chestnuts: Prepare Brussels sprouts as above in steps 1 and 2. In step 3, omit olive oil, pancetta, and rosemary; melt 2 tablespoons butter (no substitutions) in skillet on medium. Add 1 small onion, finely chopped, and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped roasted, peeled chestnuts (from about 1 pound chestnuts), or 1 jar roasted chestnuts, chopped, and cook 5 minutes longer or until butter just begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Complete recipe as in step 4, substituting 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice for pine nuts.

To make Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Chives: Prepare Brussels sprouts as above in steps 1 and 2. In step 3, omit pancetta and rosemary. Heat oil on medium-high until hot. Complete recipe as in step 4, substituting 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives and 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel for pine nuts.
Creamed Spinach and Parsnips.- A lovely, warming dish.... just perfect!

4 tbl unsalted butter<
2 tbl vegetable oil
2 pound small parsnips, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup turkey stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 tsp chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 pound baby spinach
2 tbl all-purpose flour
2 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

In a large, deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the oil. Add the parsnips and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the stock and thyme and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer over low heat until the parsnips are tender, about 8 minutes.Meanwhile, fill a large, deep pot with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the spinach in large handfuls and blanch, stirring, just until wilted, about 10 seconds. Drain and cool under running water. Squeeze the spinach dry and coarsely chop it. Stir the spinach into the parsnips. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Whisk in the half-and-half and nutmeg, season with salt and pepper, and bring the sauce to a boil, whisking until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir the sauce into the spinach and parsnips and bring to a simmer. Transfer to a bowl and serve.
Note: If you've never had French Fried Parsnips, do try them (make just like french fries) they're fabulous!
These Corn Husk Candles are votives simply covered with corn husks (you can paint them too if you want) and tied with ribbon! (you can use some tape to secure if needed)..... Put them all over your holiday table and let their glow envelop your celebration..... very nice!
I'm doing my homework for great party appetizers and buffet ideas that will make any holiday celebration fun, tasty and a snap! No sense in getting together and being stuck in the kitchen, right? Fast, economical and fantastic ideas that anyone can make!
Now more than ever, friends and family become more important and holiday time is the perfect occasion to reinforce this.... so let's plan on having a great Holiday Season! Talk soon.....

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