As always, Thanksgiving in Tucson was full of friends, family, fun and food comas—lots of them. While I’m the last person to let dietary restrictions rain on my pig-out parade, I felt inclined to make a gluten-free dish for my dear nana (A thinly veiled attempt to become the favorite grandchild? Maybe). The resulting creation was a sweet potato “stuffing” inspired by a work potluck dish a la creative director of the century, David (A thinly veiled attempt at a raise? Maybe.). This stuff is FANTASTIC—even if you aren’t foregoing gluten. While it won’t replace the good-old Pepperidge-Farm-stuffing-in-a-bag variety my family loves so much, it’s definitely a holiday side worth adding to your rotation. Plus, it’s ridiculously healthy—almost too much so for this butter-loving blogger.
Sweet potato “stuffing”
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1 tbsp. thyme (fresh is better but dried will do—same goes for all herbs)
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup crushed pecans, toasted
4 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Toast crushed pecans in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
Cook peppers in skillet with 2 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Add onions and celery and cook until tender. Set aside.
Cook chopped sweet potatoes in the same skillet with remaining butter over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally, but let the sweet potatoes sit long enough to start to develop a little bit of a caramelized, crispy skin. Cook for several minutes until sweet potatoes are tender.
Mix potatoes, vegetables, spices, herbs and pecans together until incorporated and spoon into a casserole dish. Finish off in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving.
I like horror—maybe a little too much, judging by my Netflix queue. Many a night, Dave flings the bedroom door open to find me in the glow of some weird B-grade horror movie.
What can I say, I love things that are a little sick and twisted. Which is why I say, screw the cutesy Halloween decor—give me fake bugs and terrifying zombie props. Scouring Pinterest, I found some equally spooky Halloween bites:
Spider web dip
Refried beans, covered in a layer of guacamole, surrounded by a ring of salsa and shredded cheese, decorated with a “spider web” of sour cream. I put the sour cream in a plastic bag, cut the tip and piped circles onto the guac, then took a toothpick and dragged it from the innermost circle to the outside. Worked like a charm.
Rice Krispies treat vampire skull
Just follow the good-old-fashioned Rice Krispies treat recipe. To form the skull, I scraped the mixture out of the bowl and onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I sprayed a sheet of plastic wrap with a little Pam, placed it over the mound, and started forming the skull with my hands.
My new GIR Spatula arrived just in time (thanks for the preview GIR folks!) to do the heavy lifting. When tasked with testing/reviewing the strength and functionality of a spatula, the ever-challenging Rice Krispies Treat Stir test is about as tough as it gets. The GIR Spatula passed with flying colors.
Anyway, back to the spooky stuff:
Mummified treats: Mummy hand baked brie and mummy cocktail weenies
For the mummy hand, simply cover a wheel of brie with a full sheet of puff pastry or crescent roll dough (I used the pre-made full sheets of crescent roll dough you find in the same area as the pre-made pie crusts). You’ll need another sheet of the dough to cut up in strips and wrap around the wheel to make it look “mummified”. To form the fingers, roll a strip in a sort of spiral around itself. For the longer fingers, you can stretch it out a bit. Push each finger onto the palm part of the hand and blend the dough together. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. Make things really spooky by drizzling “blood” (i.e., fruit jam) on top. Serve with crackers.
For the cocktail weenies. cut thin strips of pie crust dough (again, go with the pre-made stuff if you want to maintain your sanity) and wrap them around the weenies. Cover the top of each weenie with a little pie dough “cap.” Bake at 375 until golden brown.
Maggots ‘n’ cheese (mac ‘n’ cheese in a bread “coffin”)
This was one of my favorites. Cut off the very top of a loaf of bread (we used ciabatta), so it’s still “hinged” onto the bottom portion. Hollow out the bottom half of the bread and fill it with mac ‘n’ cheese (I maintain that Alton Brown’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe is the best ever, but my sister and I usually doctor it up with about double the cheese). Sprinkle the top with more cheese and panko crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until the bread is looking a little toasty and the top layer of the mac ‘n’ cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Top with a little plastic skeleton.
Finally, the least scary, but possibly most addicting of the Halloween foods …
This stuff is like crack, so consider yourself warned. I assume no responsibility if, after eating this, you wake up with a sugar-induced hangover, covered in cool whip and clutching an empty, caramel-streaked baking dish.
Cupcakes made for easier party eating, but I think the cake is the way to go in terms of maximum deliciousness.
Mix all of the above with ridiculously awesome Pinterest-scavenged DIY halloween decorations, fun people in costumes and lots of liquor, and scary things are bound to happen.
Happy Halloween … MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
As a cook, there’s nothing better than converting the non-believers. I’m talking about the moment when someone says “I don’t like (insert food item),” tries your variation anyway, and becomes wide-eyed with surprise and delight. “I DO like (previously detested food item)!”
My Italian take on deviled eggs elicited this response. The potentially disastrous ingredient combination wasn’t lost on me—but I pushed ahead, mixed the yolks anyway, and came out with finger-food gold. You won’t be embarrassed to show up at your next party with these babies—even if they are in one of those ridiculous pastel-colored deviled-egg carriers.
Uovas Diavolos (Italian-style deviled eggs)
A dozen hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup mayo
1/4 cup pesto
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
cooked pancetta for garnish
Peel and halve your hard-boiled eggs. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a bowl. Mix in all other ingredients. Careful when salting to taste—consider the fact that pancetta is very salty, and you’ll be topping your eggs with it. Pipe yolk mix into egg white halves and top with pancetta (cooked to crispy beforehand in a skillet—be sure it is cooled before topping eggs).
Let me start by saying: Holler if you love baked beans. Like, really love baked beans. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one. Sure, most will take a modest scoopful from the BBQ buffet line, but few make a plate in which their hot dogs/chicken/ribs/etc. are swimming in a sea of ‘em, like I do. In my quest to convert the non-believers, I served up a crock-pot-size vat of these beauties, studded with an entire pound of pork belly:
|Pork belly baked beans||
- 1 lb pork belly, cut into 3 or 4-inch pieces, skin removed and scored
- 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 1/2 cups pinto beans
- 2 cups kidney beans
- 1 cup cannelli beans
- 2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp yellow mustard
Marinade for pork belly:
- 1 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Place pork belly in a baking dish, fat side up.
- Mix the marinade and pour over pork belly.
- Cover dish with tin foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours or until pork is tender and falls apart easily.
- Allow pork to cool, discard all the liquid from the dish and remove excess fat from the pork belly (I left a little of the more tender fat on for flavor, and removed the thicker, tougher pieces).
- Shred pork belly with a fork.
- Combine ingredients for baked beans with the pork belly in a crock pot and cook on high for 3 hours or on medium for 5 or 6.
- I finished my beans of in a cast iron skillet on the stove top to let some of the excess moisture cook off. The result is a thicker consistency and a more concentrated flavor.
Bring this to your next summertime gathering, say the words “pork belly” and watch the madness ensue.
The smell of spring—and bacon grease—is in the air, and both are equally intoxicating. If you care to fill your kitchen with the latter, these little fried morsels will do the trick. While I’m tempted to recommend them alongside more fried food (fried chicken anyone?) they’ll probably seem less gluttonous as an appetizer shared among friends. I had to troubleshoot a little with these because my first batch was a little dry, so I suggest dropping one in the frying pan first to test, then adding a little more butter, cheese or perhaps a little dollop of sour cream to the batter if you need to moisten them up a bit. I served mine with some garlic-herb aioli, but I suspect they’d be even better with a really creamy ranch dip.
|Bacon cheddar hush puppies||
- 1/3 cup cornmeal, plus extra for coating
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups sharp cheddar
- 1 package bacon (12 oz or so), cooked and crumbled
- 1 stick melted butter
- Combine all ingredients.
- Form dough into 1-2 inch balls. They will be a little gloppy, which is what you want, so roll them in a little corn meal to help them keep their shape and to keep from sticking to the plate.
- Fry in small batches in oil over medium heat (keep temperature at around 350 degrees) for about 3-4 minutes per batch or until a deep golden brown.
- Drain on paper towel and serve immediately with ranch. You can also save them and store in the fridge for a day or two, then heat them up in the oven at around 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
… is nearly upon us!! Hip-hip-hooray!!!
As far as food goes, holidays don’t get much better than Thanksgiving. Last year’s Thanksgiving post pretty much covers things so I’m posting the link again (hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it). There’s also my Southwest Thanksgiving post and the Paula Deen post to give you a little turkey-day inspiration. Also keep an eye out for a special Thanksgiving Day post. Happy gorging!
Full disclosure (I don’t want to get sued by the FTC). This post is sponsored by the Slice Slab.
You see, Dave has sort of stumbled into the cutting board business. That doesn’t sound at all odd, does it?
Long story short, we got our hands on some excess Corian (think poor-man’s granite), a state-of-the-art machine designed for cutting countertops and the like out of huge slabs of wood, granite and plastic, and an ingenious design for a unique and fabulous carving board. See, not weird at all.
A pretty neat design (thanks Roy) was made even better after we had the idea to put a graduated “spout” on the corner of the board so you could use the juices collected in the grooves of the board to make gravy and other sauces. This idea came after Q made mess of my mother’s stovetop last Thanksgiving trying to transfer turkey juices from one of those disposable foil roasting pans to make gravy. I present to you, the Slice Slab:
We tested it out, and it works like a charm. I’ll show you if you promise not to judge my filmmaking skills …
You get the idea. We’re shamelessly pimping it on YouTube. All kidding aside, I seriously love this cutting board. Even if you aren’t planning to harvest those cooking juices, it makes cleanup super easy, and it’s dishwasher safe. Not to mention really good-looking.
Anyway, since this is a cooking blog (and Dave made me promise gravy recipes in our video) without further ado, I give you the easiest homemade gravy recipe you will ever use to impress your in-laws:
Homemade turkey, beef or chicken gravy
about 1/4 to 1/2 cup drippings
about 2 to 4 cups of liquid — either broth or water
flour as needed to thicken
salt, pepper and garlic to taste
Using your handy dandy Slice Slab … oh wait, you don’t have one? You can buy it here, then.
Now that that’s taken care of, funnel the juices and drippings from your turkey/beef/chicken carving and any from the pan you cooked with into a sauce pan (as I mentioned, this can get messy, so I suggest you pour the juices from the pan right onto the slice slab, then funnel them neatly into your sauce pan!). Add two-thirds of the broth or stock to the sauce pan. Place it on the stove at medium heat.
In another container, use the remaining broth or water to make a roux. If the liquid is not already warm, heat slightly and slowly add flour, one tablespoon at a time, whisking to dissolve the flour. Once the roux is smooth and starting to thicken a little, add it to the sauce pan and stir. Add spices to taste and additional flour to thicken as needed—in very small increments so it won’t clump.
Gravy isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing food in the world, so instead, I’ll leave you with this for inspiration. Happy Carving.
I’m still recovering from the 48-hour cooking marathon, gluttonous spread and absolute debauchery that is our misfit-full, southwestern Thanksgiving celebration.
Let me paint the scene: Colorful characters mingling over excessive amounts of tequila, criminal quantities of turkey (2, 15-pounders and a 20-pounder to be exact), all the trimmings with a southwestern flair, ridiculously perfect, sun-shiny, 75-degree weather, football broadcast on a backyard pool-side cabana bar TV…
… and me slaving away in a hot kitchen. I kid, I kid. I have to admit I enjoy it. Besides, if I didn’t cook, we’d be eating pies from Costco (no offense Don) and canned cranberry sauce. OK, so we ate those things (and LOVED it) anyway, but I digress.
Anyway, back to my food. You simply can’t mess up Paula’s corn and potato casseroles, so I surrendered those to my sister. I made Rick Bayless’ Chocolate pecan pie, which I first attempted for me and Dave’s anniversary dinner, acorn squash and goat cheese tamales, chorizo stuffing, fiesta salad with avocado jalapeño ranch dressing, Mexican five-layer dip and chorizo bean dip. Let’s not forget the tequila: our poison came in the form of three different tequila cocktails.
My mother, who taught me the fine art of microwaving, muttered “my poor baby,” and looked on pityingly the entire time, as if all this cooking was some sort of cruel and unusual punishment.
Everything was a big hit, especially the chocolate pecan pie with Kahlua whipped cream, which my mom hid from our guests to save it all for herself. You think I’m kidding—I had to sneak inquiring party-goers out to the garage fridge to smuggle a slice behind her back. You already have that recipe, and here are the others:
Acorn squash, corn and goat cheese tamales
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1/2 cup shortening
3 tablespoons softened butter
1 roasted acorn squash
2 cups corn
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 cup water
20-25 dried or fresh corn husks
about 6 oz. goat cheese
about 3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 jalapeño minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
First, brush the squash, cut in 3-4 pieces, with a mixture of half butter, half olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft. Meanwhile, soak the corn husks (if dried) in water for 1-2 hours. Once the squash has cooled, mash and mix in thoroughly with the shortening, butter, masa, corn, baking soda, salt and cumin. Slowly whip in the water with a mixer, and beat the mixture for about 5 minutes.
The mixture should be light a fluffy. To test it, drop a marble sized chunk in water—if it floats it’s ready. If not, continue to beat the mixture and add a little more shortening if necessary.
Make the filling by mixing the goat cheese, cream cheese, minced garlic and jalapeño. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pat each corn husk dry and cut 3-4 into long strips that can be used to tie the tamales. Spread a 1/2-inch layer of the masa mixture in a 4-5-inch square on a corn husk, spread a teaspoon-sized portion of the goat cheese mixture on top of the masa. Roll the corn husk so that the masa encompasses the goat cheese, twist each end of the husk and tie off with a strip of husk.
You can cook these several different ways, and if you’re like most normal people and don’t have a tamale steamer, this is as good a way as any: lay your tamales on a sheet of foil (you can stack them), add 3 tablespoons of water for every ten tamales, lay another sheet of tin foil on top and roll up each side tightly to create a foil packet. Cook at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes. These freeze well too.
2 packages of jiffy cornbread, prepared
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper
1 stick of butter, divided
1/2 pound chorizo
3 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 each chopped green pepper and red pepper
1/2 minced jalapeño
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups chicken broth
Cut the cornbread into 1 inch cubes and spread on a sheet pan. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and brush on the cornbread, then season with thyme, salt and pepper and toast under the broiler. Watch carefully—they burn easily. Set aside. Cook the chorizo in a stock pot until browned and set aside. Pour out excess grease and cook the vegetables in the same pot with the remaining butter for 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and heat until the broth is hot but not boiling. Stir in the chorizo and cornbread croutons and mix thoroughly. Use to stuff your turkey, or pour into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes before ready to eat.
Fiesta salad and avocado jalapeño ranch dressing
1 bag romaine lettuce
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 large red onion, chopped
one cucumber, chopped
2 avocados, chopped
shredded mexican cheese
tortilla strips for garnish
1/2 bottle of ranch dressing
1 teaspoon cumin
Mix all salad ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Blend dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and toss on salad or serve on the side.
For the longest time, we called this seven-layer dip. Alas, it’s really only five. We’ve been know to add a sixth layer in the form of seasoned cream cheese (cumin, garlic powder and chili powder), green onions or diced tomatoes, but I’m not really sure where this mythical seventh layer comes from. Anyway, this is an easy, fool-proof crowd pleaser at any party and it always makes an appearance at ours.
1 can refried beans
shredded cheese (Mexican blend, pepper jack or colby jack)
Layer the ingredients in a dish in the following order: refried beans, guac, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese. I like about a 1-2 inch layer of beans, an inch layer of guac, a half-inch of sour cream, a thin layer of salsa and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese. Serve with tortilla chips.
Chorizo bean dip
1/4 pound cooked chorizo
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup shredded mexican cheese
16 oz. Velveeta
1 teaspoon cumin
Mix all ingredients, minus 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Spread in a oven-safe dish. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top of the mixture. Heat in a 375-degree oven until the mixture is bubbly and golden brown on the top. Serve with tortilla chips.
Phew. That’s a lot of food. Now onto the cocktails. You may remember the description of the different varieties (plata or silver, reposado and anejo) from my tequila tasting post. As a refresher, silver lends itself to typical vodka mixers, reposado: rum and anejo: whiskey.
I got a list of recipes from our gracious Tres Generaciones tequila ambassador, Mando, and I tweaked a couple to make my own recipes. As far as my personal brand recommendations go: Tres Generaciones, Don Julio, and 1800.
Silver/Plata: El Cosmopolitano
2 parts plata tequila
1 part triple sec
1 part cranberry juice
½ part fresh lime juice
Mix all ingredients together in a shaker over ice and strain into a glass. This was my sister’s favorite
Reposado: Mojitarita and Pina reposado
2 parts reposado tequila
8 mint leaves per cocktail
1 part simple syrup
1 part club soda
½ part fresh lime juice
Muddle mint leaves and mix all ingredients over ice. This is a refreshing and less sweet version of a mojito—my dad couldn’t get enough of this one.
1 1/2 parts reposado tequila
2 1/2 parts pineapple juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar per cocktails
Mix all ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Strain into a glass. My mom, who rarely drinks, was guzzling these like a drunken sorority girl. They’re my favorite too.
Anejo: Prickly ginger
1 part anejo tequila
1 1/2 parts ginger ale
½ part prickly pear syrup
Mix the tequila and prickly pear syrup together in a shaker with ice and add the ginger ale. Strain into a glass.
These recipes are actually Paula’s own, but if Sandra Lee and Paula Deen had culinary love children, they’d look something like these. If this sounds appealing to you, read on. If the thought of Sandra and Paula joining forces makes you want to tear your hair out, don’t close that window just yet.
Yes, I’ll admit it’s slightly shameful that two of my favorites Thanksgiving dishes involve canned cream corn, frozen hash browns, dehydrated potato flakes and french-fried onions. But I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll love these recipes too—even if you won’t admit it and have to sneak bites of leftovers by the light of the fridge while everyone is sleeping.
Paula Deen’s corn casserole
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can cream-style corn
1 package corn muffin mix (8 oz.)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup shredded cheddar
This couldn’t be easier: 1) preheat the oven to 350 degrees 2) mix all ingredients, minus the cheese, together 3) pour into a greased baking dish.
After the casserole has baked for 45 minutes, or is set in the middle and golden brown, sprinkle with cheddar and put it back in the oven. Let the cheese melt, take the casserole out and enjoy this ridiculously buttery, semi-homemade dish.
Paula’s mashed baked
4 cups frozen hash browns
2 packages of butter and herb mashed potato mix (if they are 4 oz. each—or 1, 8 oz. package)
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups boiling water
2 cups french-fried onions
This recipe is a little more involved, at least by Sandra’s standards. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add in the hash browns. Let them cook for about 5 minutes and then drain, being sure to keep 2 cups of the boiling water. Mix all ingredients together and then add the boiling water. Put in a greased casserole dish and bake for 35-45 minutes. Sprinkle with the french-fried onions and bake for another 5 minutes.
C’mon .. you know you want ‘em.
For the Northwestern tailgate earlier this month, I attempted to contribute to the festivities and failed miserably. The cornbread tasted great, there just wasn’t enough of it.
I placed my puny loaf pan next to the enormous aluminum banquet trays, and I have a feeling it was greeted with deep suspicion. “What the hell is this tiny pan of cornbread doing in our ridiculously giant tailgate buffet? Is this some sort of trick? Is it poisoned??”
I have to say I don’t blame them. It was a slightly confusing sight. By the end of the tailgate there was just a paper-thin slice missing from the pan. I should mention that the Paces gobbled up the corn muffins I brought like skittles, so I know it wasn’t for lack of taste. Here’s the recipe. Tailgate at your own risk.
Jalapeno green chile corn muffins
2 cups masa
2 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 can green chile
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 jalapeno, minced
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 cups cheddar cheese
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients (minus the cheese) and pour into a greased pan (cupcake, loaf or cake pan).
You know I used my beautiful mixer.
Pour the batter in the pan or cupcake tin and sprinkle with cheddar. Bake for 20-50 minutes (depending on the pan you use) or until a toothpick comes out clean.