Thanksgiving Fever

We’ve managed to use the kids as an excuse for the last seven years but now our time has come. Thanksgiving will be at our house this year and we’re definitely getting Thanksgiving fever. I’m receiving an email every hour with a mashed potato recipe or reading a blog post boasting of the perfect brining method. The chatter is endless. The momentum that surrounds this day, the holiest of cooking holidays, is mind boggling.

Finally, I sat back, took a deep breath and broke it down.

Turkey, gravy, some form of potato (sweet, mashed or both), vegetable, another vegetable, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, which I count as optional since hardly anyone even eats it. Appetizers are fairly easy, we’re just talking some cheese, dips, and chips. Most guests can be counted on to bring a dessert, so I’m not even stressing about that.

Since I can do the sides ahead I’m fairly confident I can pull those off. If I screw a dish up I can remake it, not a problem. It’s really all about the #$^%$^% turkey. Sink or swim, there are no dress rehearsals. But before I even cook one I have to figure out all the other stuff. To brine or not to brine? Wet brine or dry? Organic, heritage, locally grown, antibiotic-fee? How many pounds??? Well, I did what any self-respecting home cook would do – let the experts do it for me! Some might say it’s a bit of a cheat but if the turkey can come pre-brined in a roasting pan already done for you – why not???

So the focus at our house will be coming up with some delicious sides that hopefully will become tradition. And I’m even getting the boys in on the action, they are responsible for a desert. More on that later in the week…

Sweet Potato Crumble (recipe serves 8-10)

Ingredients

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

3/4 cup mascarpone cheese

¼ cup maple syrup

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 stick butter, cold

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup walnuts, rough chopped into small pieces

Method

Place sweet potatoes in large saucepan and cover with water. Boil until they are fork tender. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl. Add mascarpone cheese, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mash or blend with a food processor until smooth.

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Spread the sweet potato mash in a large shallow baking dish and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, flour, brown sugar, and chopped nuts until the topping is a crumbly texture. The best method is to use your fingers to work the butter into the sugar and nuts. Arrange the topping evenly over the sweet potatoes.

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At this point you can refrigerate the dish until the big day or bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until edges are bubbly and topping is crispy, about 35-40 minutes.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “The top is quite good”

Liam (age 5): “I kind of like it”

Dylan (age 5): “Not sure – top’s okay”

Hmmmm, hope the family likes it a bit better!

 

 

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Just Add Water

Okay, I do love to cook but this dinner thing every night for three unpredictable little boys is taking its toll. And let’s not even get into the school lunches (and snacks), three a day, five times a week. At my last trip to the supermarket I was so tempted to just buy a family size pack of instant ramen noodles. A) Because I know my kids would love them, and B) because it was instant! Instant happiness for all! No prep, no clean-up, no tantrums at the table.

Back in my college days, when life was simpler, this was practically all I ate. Sometimes just as a soup, like the package directions dictate. Other times, my roommates and I would get fancy and add some rotisserie chicken. If we were on a health kick some broccoli went into the mix. Shrimp, chicken, beef and pork were the flavor options, although I believe they all tasted the same. Somehow I never seemed to tire of the salty dish, hopefully I didn’t do any long term damage to my body with all of those preservatives.

I didn’t think much about sodium, preservatives or fat grams back then so I never bothered checking the nutritional label of my favorite cuisine. The manufacturers are kind of sneaky because in their minds, ½ a package is a serving so the package actually has twice the fat and sodium listed. But let’s be honest, who eats only ½ of that package??? Little did I know I was consuming 14 grams of fat and 1580 mg of sodium! Yikes – no wonder I gained so much weight freshman year!

Although I’m sure my kids will discover the joys of instant noodles when they head off to college, this week I’m trying a healthier version.

Pork Ramen Bowl

Ingredients

1-1/2 lb. pork tenderloin

¼ cup low sodium soy sauce, plus extra for seasoning

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp Chinese five spice

1 package Chinese noodles or rice vermicelli

1 quart chicken broth, low-sodium

3 large button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced thin

3 scallions, cut into small rings

½ cup snow peas, cut in thirds

Method

Cut the pork tenderloin into eight pieces, approximately 1” thick. In a small bowl mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and five spice until the sugar is dissolved. Reserve ½ of the marinade and add the rest to a plastic zip-lock bag with the pork tenderloin. Let marinade for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with foil and a baking rack. Remove pork from marinade and place on the rack. Brush with the reserved marinade.

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Cook for about 25-30 minutes, brushing with marinade once or twice. Cook until internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees. Let rest for about 10 minutes and slice thinly. This step can be done ahead, pork can be kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Meanwhile cook package of noodles according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside. I found these in my local market and they were a great alternative to the instant noodles.

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In a large saucepan, heat up chicken broth to a simmer. Add in sliced mushrooms, scallions, and snow peas. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

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Now you are ready to assemble! In a large soup bowl, add a heap of noodles and some slices of pork. Pour hot broth over the noodles and add soy sauce to taste. Serve with chopsticks and a spoon!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Wish there was no soup, only noodles and pork”

Liam (age 5): “It smells yummy”

Dylan (age 5): “No, it smells funny”

Noodles and pork were a hit, even though it was smelly!

For my local readers:

Fairway Market will be holding a National Eating Healthy Day cooking demo in  Pelham Manor (847 Pelham Parkway) on Wednesday, November 5th from 12pm to 2pm. This year’s theme is fruits and vegetables and customers can learn how to prepare kale and butternut squash salad and Moroccan quinoa. On this day, Americans are encouraged to commit to healthier eating. Celebrating National Eating Healthy Day is fun and easy! The American Heart Association will provide a complete toolkit of materials and how-to information for workplaces, schools, individuals and community organizations.

 

Bottom Of The Barrel

Wondering what to do with those last few apples at the bottom of the barrel? I had about six bruised and battered apples left from our trip to the orchard. I hated to throw these forgotten few on the compost pile so I decided to make a batch of apple pie topping. This was so easy and it can be used on everything from ice cream to pancakes, to granola.

Apple Pie Topping

Ingredients

1 1/2 Tbsp butter

6 apples, peeled and diced

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Method

Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the apples to the melted butter and stir to coat. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt.

Cook until the apples soften but are not mushy, about 5-7 minutes. Serve warm over some pancakes. Or let cool and top your favorite ice cream. Your kids will probably prefer the ice cream option…

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Put mine on the side!”

Liam (age 5): “Thumbs middle”

Dylan (age 5): “Just ice cream!”

Who cares about the verdict – I used up all the apples!!!

Any other ideas for cooking those last few apples? Please share!

A Day on the Lake

Ever wonder what it would be like to live on a lake? Awaking each morning to a picturesque view out your bedroom window would probably feel like being on a perpetual vacation. To celebrate the end of summer we spent the day at our friends’ lake house and it definitely felt like a mini holiday.

The first thing the boys did when they saw the canoe was run full speed ahead with their fishing gear and jump in. With Brian as captain they headed out, their little heads peaking up from oversized life jackets. From afar it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. But I knew better. I strongly suspected Brian was dodging fishing hooks, swatting mosquitoes, and screaming at them not to rock the boat.

But sitting on the deck, drink in hand, enjoying the incredible view, it was a very sweet scene. Just as the boys made a b-line to the canoe, I made a b-line to the food. What can I say? We all have our priorities. My friend’s mother had made her delicious meatballs that were ready and waiting for the boys the minute their boat was docked. Legend has it the first time Matthew tried these meatballs he ate 7 in 7 minutes.

Six fish were caught that day and Brian only got one hook in his hand!

Asian Meatballs w/Carrot Noodles (recipe inspired by Lyn’s Mom)

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 Tbsp ginger, grated

¼ cup scallions, finely chopped

2 Tbsp soy sauce, low sodium

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp sesame oil

¼ tsp salt

½ cup Panko breadcrumbs

1 lb. ground turkey (or chicken, or beef)

Teriyaki sauce, for drizzling

Sesame seeds, optional

For the carrots:

4 large carrots, peeled

2 tsp sesame oil

Salt & pepper

1 Tbsp teriyaki sauce

Method:

For the meatballs:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean-up, or lightly brush the baking sheet with cooking oil.

In a large mixing bowl combine the first eight ingredients.

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Add in the breadcrumbs and mix well. Then add the turkey to the breadcrumb mixture and mix until just combined. Using your hands is the best method for this step. Be careful not to over mix the meat.

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Form into small meatballs, about 1” diameter. Place on baking sheet and bake for approximately 20 minutes until cooked through.

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For the carrots:

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the carrots into long ribbons. Place on a baking sheet and toss with the sesame oil. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

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Place in oven for approximately 15 minutes until carrots lose some of their moisture. Remove from oven and toss with the teriyaki sauce.

Top the carrot noodles with meatballs. Drizzle with teriyaki sauce, sprinkle with sesame seeds and break out the chop sticks.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “Not the same, but it’s super good”

Liam (age 5): “It’s a little medium. At least I tried a carrot”

Dylan (age 5): “Eh, the flavor doesn’t taste good but I tried a carrot too”

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For more glimpses of life on the lake read my friend Lyn’s blog, PinotbyLyn

Home On The Range

Another season of The Next Food Network Star wrapped up this week and Lenny McNab scored the win. I was rooting for Chef Lenny, aka The Gourmet Cowboy, from the beginning. He was one of the few contestants with a unique POV. For those non-fans out there, POV stands for “point of view”. It’s a phrase thrown around ad nauseam on the show. The contestants come up with one at the start of the season and work on perfecting it each episode. If their POV makes no sense they usually get the boot.

Although I love watching the car wrecks each week, as the contestants struggle through silly challenges to impress the judges (Bobby, Giada, and Alton), I would prefer to see them do more cooking. But becoming a Food Network star seems to be more about the ability to make a fool of yourself in front of millions of people than about having culinary skills.

Chef Lenny was a favorite from the start since he was willing to go to any length to impress the fans, from duct taping candy bars on his bare chest to a fully-clothed belly flop into a pool in Vegas. How these stunts tie into cooking I’m not sure, but it certainly made for amusing television.

Chef Lenny’s signature dish that won him the title was a Coffee-Crusted Rib Eye. The recipe calls for grilling and flipping steak, throwing handfuls of spice mixture all over the kitchen (some even on the steak too) all while shouting “make it rain!” in a cowboy twang. I knew a dish that involved making such a mess would appeal to the boys. Instead of coffee and refined sugar, I’m putting my own twist on it with cocoa powder and brown sugar. Let’s make it rain! Yeehaw!

Cocoa Crusted Bedlam Steak (inspired by Chef Lenny McNab)

Ingredients

2lbs strip steak, about four 8oz pieces
Salt & pepper
Olive oil, for brushing

Spice rub (save extra in airtight container)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/4 cup seasoned salt*

* If you don’t have seasoned salt, it’s easy to make, combine:
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp parsley
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder (save any extra in airtight container)

Method
Heat grill to high heat. If you don’t have a grill this can also be cooked in a cast iron skillet. Bring steak to room temperature. Season both sides with salt and pepper. IMG_9667 Brush with olive oil. Place on grill and “make it rain” with the spice rub. IMG_9677 Cook about 2-3 minutes until you get some grill marks, flip it and, you guessed it, “make it rain!” all over the steak.

IMG_9702Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat until steak is cooked to medium rare. About 6 minutes per side. Add additional flips if you like your steak well done. IMG_9740 Remove steak from grill ( with tongs – do not use fork) and let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing. IMG_9738 And the VERDICT is:
Matthew (age 7): “It has a special sauce- really good”
Liam (age 5): “I should have guessed it had cocoa!”
Dylan (age 5): “Love it”

Not bad for a city slicker!