Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Extravaganza

Hosting Thanksgiving was so much fun! Even with half the space we used to have in Brooklyn we managed to cook a 26 lb turkey! make homemade stuffing, four side dishes, breads, a relish tray and three different pies. Not to mention all the wine and beer! Along with my parents and my little brother erin's parents also joined us for dinner and her mom made the mashed potatoes and brought a few appetizers and a relish tray!

I knew this post was going to take awhile to get through so here we go....

I know I have mentioned before that I probably get my love for cooking from my dad. Although my mom does alot of the day to day cooking at from my dad, who is famous for trying new recipes (which I of course LOVE to do). The two of us decided to come up with our own stuffing recipe this year. We started with three loaves of bread (a garlic, three cheese and an herb loaf), he cut them into chunks the night before and let them crisp up in the oven like curtons (about an hour at 325). We basically made our own breadcrumbs. The next morning, after my turkey chase race (i won 2nd place by the way and got a medal and a homemade apple pie!) we mixed in some add ins: fresh cranberries, onion, celery and eggs to bind it all together.
We also used some Fat Free canned chicken stock to moisten the mixture. My dad seasoned it with some basil, fresh garlic and various other spices :). We also used a little bit of thyme...which I didn't like. I think that thyme greatly overpowers other spices and have made a mental note to watch out for it in upcoming recipes. Next we stuff the 26 lb bird and threw it in the oven!! (okay placed it very carefully)

Next we move on to all the side dishes. Now in my family we pretty much have the same dishes every thanksgiving and although I strive to be healthy in eating i also fully intended to enjoy my holiday traditions! I made it a point to check with my guest regarding anything that absolutely must not be altered for their enjoyability. Surprising most of the dishes were up for changes as far as they were concerned. I started with the Green Bean Casserole. I had discovered in my Nov/Dec issue of Eating Well a way to healthify this one and thought I would give in a try. Their Green Bean Casserole seemed to be more homemade to me, and if it's healthier why not?! The only difficult item to find was the powdered buttermilk, but everything else was fairly straight forward. Now I know I already mentioned my distaste for's in this one too :(. This picture shows the casserole before being assembled. The large chunks are the fresh mushrooms and the thyme did add a nice color to the mix. Overall I loved the homemade taste of this one! The fresh mushrooms and leeks YUM! But the thyme really overpowered it for me! erin loved it however so to each their own. If I make it again i honestly think i would completely omit that spice.

I didn't take any pictures of this next one (I think my food photographer was busy serving or rather drinking wine :). I had made a Brussels sprouts dish last Thanksgiving and although I know not everyone is a BS fan...i love them! So does erin, so I made sure to try another one this year. I wanted to try something festive so I picked Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts. I tried to roast my own chestnuts last Christmas and it was reeeeally hard so i shopped around and found some already canned (NOTE: these were pretty pricey ringing in at $15 for one jar!). We had alot of leftovers of this one but I LOVED them...and loved the leftovers as well. What can I say I like Brussels sprouts :).

Finally my favorite side dish of the day...and my dad's too! This was possibly the lowest calorie dish that we had! I almost didn't attempt this one because it was the substitute for my Mom's Candied yams that we have EVERY YEAR, however after talking to everyone and realizing that I was the one who was worried about missing the yams...why not switch it out. This one was from Hungry Girl and in her clever way it's simply titled : Get Squashed! Due to the fact that a serving size was a 1/4 of the pan, I doubled the recipe. It was super simple to assemble. It was really soupy when I first put it together. I added more butternut squash to the pan until it thickened a bit (I didn't measure my addition). It was still soupy when I put it in the oven but I knew with the egg beaters that it would solidify a bit. It turned out great!! I also chose not to measure the marshmallows and instead made sure they were covering the whole pan!

This was really really good! I highly recommend it and challenge anyone to say that this taste like a healthy dish...anything but. She mentions that you could even have this as a desert and I fully agree!

I must say that we really planned the cooking well. We prepped before erin's family came over so when the turkey was done all the dishes were ready to cook! We didn't do anything special with the turkey just threw some poultry seasoning on it and let it roast.

Erin even did some of the carving...okay one piece, but she did a great job! We left the rest up to my dad. On a cooking note something he strongly recommends is letting the bird sit for about 1/2 hour after taking it out, prior to carving. It helps the turkey really absorb all the juices.

PHEW...if you are still reading than you made it through the Thanksgiving extravaganza. I was really pleased with the way everything turned out! it sured helped to have my parents their cooking and amazing guest as well. As mentioned before my mom also baked boxed banana and lemon poppy seed bread. erin's mom brought some Amish bread and a baggie for me to start my own (upcoming post alert!).

I had an amazing time cooking, chatting and of course eating and I must say that I have quite alot to be Thankful for this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Parents Sam Adams beer

So when the parents come the beer flows...moving on to our 5th tasting!We had saved these tasting for when my mom was here because she is a huge fan of stout beers. I love to taste them but they end up being rather filling if I have a whole one myself! It hard for me when the seasonal beers come around because in the winter they tend to be among the lager and stout family...i can't resist some of my favorites though.

Erin and I had meant a Sam Adams rep a few weeks back, befriended him, and got some samples in the process (we have this on going thing with our friends that we tend to meet new and interesting people every time we go out!).

I was most looking forward to tasting Sample A: Blackberry Whitber. It did not disappoint, it was delish! I could really taste the flavor of the Blackberries and it was smooth and fruity! My mom jumped on the chance to review Sample B: Coffee Stout (our new friend also mentioned that Sam Adams might be releasing this one due to raving reviews). We all took sips as well. Let me say that I am a huge coffee/espresso fan and this was amazing. It definitely was a stout, so on the heavier side, but the flavors made it really enjoyable.

In conclusion, simply stated: Sam Adams is amazing. Both flavors were enjoyable and interesting. I look forward to their sample packs every winter and I love trying all their various options. These flavors were both strong, without being to over powering to the beer. Honestly I would have drank a full one of either of these flavors.

My mom really enjoyed helping us finish up our Autumn brew tasting...but I think she is even more excited to help with the Holiday ales...STAY TUNED and happy beer tasting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Poppin Open a Pomegranate

work pants beware...because when those seeds land they stain!

There is a ton of information out there about how healthy Pomegranates are for you! Whether it be the seeds or the juice they tend to pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. Now of course it would be easy to just buy Pom juice and drink or add to Soda water for a refreshing cocktail...but then what would there be to blog about!

One of my favorite things to do when i go to the grocery store is see what produce is on it's final leg and pick it up...I happened to find two pomegranates just waiting to be seeded on the Johnny Cart (this is the cart located in the produce section that normally has reduced, on it's last leg, produce. I call it the Johnny cart after erin's late uncle who used to Love doing his shopping there!).

I had learned from a friend of mine that when you open the Pom you just have to pull out the seeds. easier said than done! It can be quite messy and that juice stains. Just a disclaimer for those of you wanting to try it.

I sucessfully deseeded two pom's using the "traditional method" show on that link, but perhaps the other ones would be worth a try as well. I also recalled that the Foodie Blogroll was holding a contest for the most creative/tasty recipe incorporating Pomegranates...but i think the deseeding was enough work for one day.

Now I have a bowl of seeds with no where to go...except in my mouth. YUM.
(oh and by the way you can eat the whole seed, crunchy inside and all!)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pumpkin Bread...just the beginning of Thanksgiving Cooking

If you can recall that Pumpkin puree I made last post (that I froze for future use)...I decided instead of adding it to oatmeal every morning (which is also a great option) that I wanted to try to use it in as many recipes as I could this Thanksgiving season. I mean hey, it was a large Pumpkin!
Sure enough, as I assumed, the blogs and emails were full of uses for Pumpkins. Most of them were the typical pie recipes, breads, etc. My old stand by hungry girl promised a bread recipe that can't be beat. I'll give it a try!

As usual with HG recipes I already had the ingredients on hand. Here's the link for HG's Cranberry Pumpkin Bread! One of the things I love about HG is that she shows you how much you are actually saving yourself in calories and fat when you change up a recipe. Again, as usual, I realized mid way through prep that i couldn't find my bread pans anywhere! Now I know that i had them when we moved...but they must have gotten lost in transition :(. thankfully they tell you how to make this delightful dish into muffins! I also didn't have any cranberries and since erin isn't a huge fan of raisins i just decided to omit that ingredient altogether.

I thought they came out great, very similar to my pumpkin cookies that I make! The recipe says that it serves 8, but i was able to scoop out 18 muffins!! Which only means the servings were even lower in WW points! After taking these things out of the pan erin and i both agreed that they were the perfect size AND you don't feel guilty if you want to have 2!! They don't rise much in the oven so keep that in mind when you are portioning your pan out.

**ADDENDUM a few days later because erin and i are attending a book club tonight and many of the ladies attending are WW followers such as myself! I wanted to bring something festive to the party and thought that making the bread would be perfect. I had just finished my Thanksgiving shopping so I now had disposable bread pans and I had picked up a package of dried cranberries as well. The mix looked so festive and yummy I thought it called for a picture! As noted in the recipe this took a solid 55 mins of baking. Although I wanted to save it for the party i couldn't let the loaf leave without a tiny sample...what if it was awful...:)
Never fear hungry girl delivered again.
AND I must say I think the cranberries really added a great element, I don't think I would omit them again!

Now lets hope the ladies of book club will feel the same way.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Yet another night of Autumn Beer Drinking...#4

So there are only a few more weeks of Autumn/Pumpkin beer tasting...and if you all recall I still have not tried Pumking....:(. I better get a move on it too because I am about to leave for a week long business trip, AND I am already seeing the Winter Flavors in the stores. I guess that just means plenty of tastings over Thanksgiving. Now that's something to be thankful for!

Our most recent tasting was for Blue Moon Harvest. Erin had tried this flavor previously and did not seem to care for it. So there it sat in the fridge...five unopened Blue Moon Harvests just waiting to be...harvested up! It didn't take much to encourage her to give it another try. I just told her that sometimes the harvest gets better with time. Okay enough puns already.

I really liked this one. It had an amber color and a definite pumpkin flavoring with little to no bitterness. I was thinking it would be like a blue moon, with pumpkin...and it sorta was.
To be honest they all seem to be welding together in my head. I would have to say that i would buy this again!
And just to clear it up...erin liked it the 2nd time around too!

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Meal in the New Apartment...

Could it be anything other than Mexican?! erin and i have spent the last two weeks moving into our new apartment. We have have painting, carrying, decorating and unpacking for two weeks straight and we were in dire need of normalcy. Last night i really wanted to cook in my new kitchen...but i knew that my exhaustion called for something quick and delicious...HOMEMADE NACHOS!!

Our friends Molly and Nick introduced us to how simple it is to make your own nachos. you don't have to use that liquid cheese... or drizzle it on if you like! You simply add chips, whatever topping your heart desires and bake at 375 degrees until the cheese is melted. Normally erin and i each choose different chips. I love the Guiltless Gourmet chips but erin not so much. She is also a huge fan of jalapenos (I use maybe 2) and I love to add sauteed peppers and onions to my side!

We start off with a cookie sheet covered in foil (no pans to wash!) add our chips (i found a bag of Lays Light Rest. style tortilla chips that I have wanted to try), then we add 99% fat free vegetarian chili. We use to use turkey chili but for some reason it had a sweetness to it that erin didn't really care for, the veggie kinda was more to her liking. We added some canned seasoned tomatoes (they were seasoned with green chilies and mexican spices) added our own toppings and finish it off with reduced fat mexican cheese. Unlike fat free cheese the reduce fat actually melts rather well! Molly and nick make layers with theirs so that you get toppings through out the whole pile. we were far too hungry to be that careful!

They only took about 10-15 mins to melt up and we devoured them in approximately the same amount of time :).

Pumpkin Puree 101

I love using pumpkin in recipes, but I always forget to cook the pumpkin, as they make for lovely decorations, and before you know it...rotten :(. This year I made a point to buy a smaller pumpkin so i could cut it up and freeze puree to use in a homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving! I also have a great recipe for squash bread where you can use any squash that you'd like!
One day while getting ready for work I thought: if a pumpkin takes an hour to cook and I take an hour to get ready...why not both get "ready" at the same time! I started by cutting the pumpkin into fourths and then scooping out the stringy insides and pulling out the seeds (for a later roasting job). I then lined a pan with foil and threw them all in the oven on 400 for 45 mins. The pumpkin ended up cooking over an hour before the flesh felt soft enough to take out (it should be soft to the touch). I later read on alot of blogs/sites that you can also season the pumpkin prior to cooking it (salt and pepper was the popular season of choice).
Once I took it out and let it cool for about thirty mins. I started pulling the skin off. It was really simple and the pumpkin just easily fell off. I recently read that many skins of fruits and veggies that we all throw away are actually edible and good for you. Most of us shy away from it due to the texture (can you imagine biting into a banana without peeling it :(. BUT I thought I would try the pumpkin skin because I have eaten acorn squash with the skin and I loved it. It was similar to that experience. No harm done, don't know if I would make a recipe on it. As you can see here there was plenty of skin that did not land in my mouth.
I had to rush off to work so I threw the pumpkin in a container and into the freezer it went...right now it's currently defrosting so that I can puree for use in about a week!!!
Countdown to cooking bonanza!