Fast, Easy & Tasty Thanksgiving Side

We do both Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends at my place, every year. I’ve discovered over time that the best way for me (and everyone else) to enjoy the holidays is to minimize the fuss and thus, my stress level (fitting in a late morning yoga session is an extra bonus). For Thanksgiving that means making the cranberry sauce a few days early, making desserts the night before (pumpkin and apple pie and this year my Double Trouble Tart), making dressing in the crockpot to save room on the stove (delicious with a quick parmesan sprinkle and crisp in the oven just before serving), and asking others to bring the veggie sides.

But sometimes, someone forgets… or doesn’t make enough to serve the gathered hordes…. or has a side dish fail. For those moments or when looking for a tasty, healthy, ridiculously easy side I turn to green beans. Start to finish this recipe takes 15 minutes and can be made on the stove while the turkey rests.

Zesty Green Beans

Zesty Green Beans
Serves 10-12

2 lbs Green Beans
1 TBSP Olive Oil
5-6 cloves of garlic or 1 heaping TBSP if you’re using the minced garlic in jar
Juice of 1-2 Lemons (add one then taste before adding more)

  • Trim green beans and cut into bite-size pieces.
  • Add olive oil to large skillet and heat over medium-high heat (on a scale of 1-10, this is a 6).
  • When oil is hot but not smoking, add green beans and sauté for 6 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté for 4-5 more minutes until green beans are cooked but still crisp.
  • Splash in enough lemon juice so the green beans have a zing but aren’t saturated. Sauté additional minute.

That’s it. You’re done. Transfer into a serving dish and give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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Cajun Cooking Adds Heat to Cold Nights

It seems people rarely get together at each other’s houses for a meal these days. People still love to eat and socialize they just seem to prefer to do it at a restaurant. And that’s a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out (to the detriment of my waistline). But people tend to linger longer at home. Conversations are less guarded and often less PC. Loud laughter is not discouraged and wine flows more plentifully when you BYO (often across our tablecloth which is why I buy in threes).

So why aren’t people throwing more dinner parties? The common complaint I hear is the time involved and not knowing how to plan a meal. So I thought I would share one of my favorite easy dinner party menus. The theme is Cajun – perfect on a cold night and of course, for Mardi Gras celebrations. You can even make it a voodoo inspired Halloween party, which is what I did when the neighbors came over last weekend.

Low-lighting, candles, a spiderweb table dressing & skull from Target plus mini-pumpkins from Trader Joe's give a Halloween air to the table

Low-lighting, candles, a spiderweb table dressing & skull from Target plus mini-pumpkins from Trader Joe’s give a Halloween air to the table

First things first, wine. I chose a McCrea Mouvedre to welcome my neighbors and sip with apps. For dinner I wanted something with a little spice and chose Dunham Cellars Trutina although a tempranillo would also work well. We also dipped into two more bottles the neighbors brought over because that’s how these nights go…

For appetizers I turned to a favorite cookbook – Kathy Casey’s Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers. Although not Cajun, I chose her simple and simply addictive Croque Monsieur Puffs (scroll down the link, recipe is toward the bottom).

This appetizer works for literally every occasion, brunch, lunch you name it - and people cannot get enough!

This appetizer works for literally every occasion, brunch, lunch you name it – and people cannot get enough!

My sister, a serious cheese addict, was visiting so we picked up a wedge of triple cream brie topped it with orange marmalade (apricot jam works well too) and chopped pecans and warmed it in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes (basically until the topping is gooey and running down the sides). We served it with sweet cranberry & pumpkin spice thins and savory pita crackers (both from Trader Joe’s but pretty much any kind of cracker would work well).

Marmalade & Pecan Topped Brie & Creole Crab Cupcakes

Marmalade & Pecan Topped Brie & Creole Crab Cupcakes

Since my sister was helping in the kitchen we added one more app – Kathy Casey’s Creole Crab Cupcakes. This meal has more than enough food without a third app (our guests were a little too full before the entree), but if you can get lump crab meat fairly easily (for those in Seattle, my husband picked up ours at Mutual Fish) it’s a delicious recipe that looks stunning and is fast and easy to make (FYI: you do need a mini muffin pan).

The star of the night, however, is Slow Cooker Jambalaya. You can save some time the day of by cutting up your ingredients the night before and buying peeled, deveined, cooked frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s or elsewhere. Toss your ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, set to low, and seven hours later your house will have a whiff of creole kitchen about it. (If you’re in a hurry, set to high and let cook for three hours). About half an hour before serving, throw some rice and chicken broth (or water) in rice cooker or pot (covered on stove). Put a little rice in each of your guest’s bowls – or do as I do and ask them to serve themselves – and top with the jambalaya.

The only side you need is a little cornbread. To save time use the Marie Calendar’s mix (just add water), which is pretty unbeatable. You can make squares or muffins. Squares are faster as you can bake an entire pan at once. If I have time, though I like the look of muffins. And no I don’t ever feel obligated to make cornbread from scratch, Marie has it down.

If you’re feeling like you need a little more, add some braised kale. I like this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. And no, you do not have to make you’re own chicken stock.

For dessert we went with a pumpkin spice cake which we ate too quickly to photograph. But I think red velvet cake (or cupcakes) would work especially well. If you are celebrating Mardi Gras, then a King Cake is the way to go.

To provide the perfect background music, put on some New Orleans jazz (we favor Kermit Ruffins & Rebirth), just keep it low enough to allow the conversation to flow.

 

 

Thin Mints and Trefoils = The Double Trouble Tart

I was at dinner with a friend perusing the various soup and salad menu options I had resigned myself to, when an email from the Girl Scouts of Western Washington landed in my inbox. Would I like to participate in a Girl Scout Cookie Recipe Contest? The Grand Prize includes 24 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies…

I eyed up the unsatisfying selection of salad options with Thin Mints, Trefoils, Peanut Buttery DO-SI-DOS and chewy Samoas dancing through my head. Those visions turned into a Double Trouble Tart. Thin Mints, Chocolate, mint, pecans, and Trefoil shortbread combine into a dessert so decadent, eating it will make you feel nothing short of naughty.

DOUBLE TROUBLE TART

Double Trouble Tart

Double Trouble Tart

Ingredients

Crust:

20 Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies

1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted, plus enough butter to butter the pie plate

Filling:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 c. chopped pecans

Topping:

12-16 Trefoil Girl Scout Cookies

1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Peppermint Extract

Directions:

For the Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush 20 Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies (a quick turn in a food processor or mini-prep does the trick). Pour crushed Thin Mints into a small bowl and combine with 1/4 c. melted, unsalted butter. Mix until the Thin Mint crumbs stick together when pressed. Butter a 9 – 9.5″ pie plate. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pie plate. Bake for seventeen minutes. Cool for twenty minutes or until the crust returns to room temperature.

For the Filling: Once the crust is cool, pour chocolate chips and pecans into a medium bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently until the edges start to bubble. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate chips and pecans. Stir until completely mixed. Pour into the pie plate over the Thin Mint crust. Cool in the refrigerator until set, at least 4 hours. (This is a great make ahead dish as it can chill and set overnight.)

For the Trefoil Topping:  Lay a piece of wax paper on the counter or on top of a cutting board. Stack 12-16 Trefoils on the wax paper. Melt 1/2 c. of chocolate chips. If you like, you can do this in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl by microwaving in 30 second intervals at 1/2 power. Stir after every 30 seconds. It usually takes no more than one minute to melt the chocolate this way. Once chocolate is melted, pour in ten-fifteen drops of peppermint extract (the more the mintier) and stir to combine. Use a spoon, knife or pastry brush to cover one side of each of the Trefoils. Brush an entire side or get creative and brush the edges and raised portions of the Trefoil design. Set on wax paper, chocolate-free side down to cool and harden.

To Serve: Once the tart is set, remove from the refrigerator and decorate with your mint chocolate Trefoils and a sprig or two of mint if you have it handy. When it’s time to eat cut into 12-16 slices and top each slice with a mint chocolate coated Trefoil.

***The Girl Scouts will be selling cookies in Western Washington March 1-17th. Stock up while you can (those Thin Mints store perfectly in the freezer – and are excellent eaten frozen or refrigerated).

****Please check out the Girl Scouts’ Contest Page on February 19th to see if my Double Trouble Tart makes the finals!

Kick Your Grilling Up a Notch With Cheese Stuffed Burgers

Blue Cheese Stuffed Burgers

Seattle is finally enjoying some sun after days of rain with more on the horizon. When it’s sunny, Seattleites flock to the outdoors and the smell of charcoal wafts through the neighborhoods. When I catch that smell I start thinking of burgers. Cheese stuffed burgers to be exact.

Burgers stuffed with cheese is the savory equivalent of a jelly donut. You get a crisp bun, meat that is positively juicy – no medium-well only at our house – and gooey, hot cheese filling in the middle. Forget the ordinary burgers, once you start stuffing your meat you’ll never go back.  (For the slider version of this savory treat, check out my recipe in the Nudie Foodies: Food Bloggers Peel for Japan cookbook.) 

Cheese Stuffed Burgers

Ingredients: Makes 4

  • 1.25 pounds of ground beef. Minimum fat of 7% but you can go higher if you like.
  • Cheese: grated or broken into pieces. We like Cougar Gold Cheddar, Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar and Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese.
  • Hamburger buns (buy or make your own, just make sure they are not too squishy);
  • Waxed paper.

Optional:

  • Onions: either raw or grilled, I prefer the carmelized taste of grilled onions;
  • Lettuce;
  • Tomato;
  • Variety of condiments (mustard, mayo, but no ketchup please, it overwhelms the taste).

Step One: Get Your Grill Going (For Charcoal Grills Only)

If you’re a fan of the gas grill, skip on down to Step Two, but if you’re charcoal grill fans like us, you’ll want to get your grill going before you start assembling your stuffed burgers. Unlike traditional burgers, stuffed meat requires indirect or slow heat. We get our charcoal going and let the coals heat for about 20 minutes before putting the burgers on the grill.

Step Two: Forming and Stuffing the Hamburger Patties

Each stuffed burger requires two thin patties. So for four burgers, you need eight patties.  Roll your meat out as thin as a pie crust and then use a glass to make patties of matching size.  

On four of the patties layer your cheese in the middle of each patty. Be generous with that cheesy filling. Once your cheese is in place put another patty on top and crimp the edges of the two patties together to seal the cheese inside the meat. 

Step Three: Start Grilling

Now that your stuffed burgers are assembled, it’s time to get them on the grill. You want to cook on low or indirect heat so the cheese can melt.

Stuffed Burgers on the grill

15-20 minutes is optimal for achieving volcanic, cheesy, fabulousness. During the last few minutes we like to spray our hamburger buns with a decent coating of olive oil and throw them on the grill. Once everything is cooked, take it off the grill and assemble as you see fit. With a blue cheese filled burger I favor onions (raw or grilled) and Maille’s chocolate-mustard – my homage to Paris.

And one last but vital note – there is an art to eating a stuffed burger, go slow and hold the back of the burger down so the cheese doesn’t go exploding out the back when you take that first bite 😉

Hamburgers on Foodista

Easy, Elegant Appetizer: Crispy Pancetta, Gooey Blue Cheese and Sweet Dates

Pancetta Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed, Dates

When trying to pull a cocktail hour off on a weeknight, my goal is simple: provide an array of elegant, substantive, appetizers that I can put together in the hour or so between work and the minute the first guest arrives.  Ambitious? Perhaps, but very doable.  Here’s my secret.

Appetizers

  • Nuts and/or olives:  Interesting is always better. Think salt and pepper pistachios from Whole Foods or lemon stuffed olives.
  • Cheese: The perfect cheese plate contains a hard cheese (a sharp aged cheddar, pecorino or manchego), a soft cheese (chevre or brie), a cheese of interest like Humboldt Fog or Stilton with apricots, and a blue or gorgonzola cheese. Garnish with fresh raspberries, strawberries, grapes, honey and/or fig spread.
  • Baguette from the best bakery available, preferably French.
  • Something Sweet: I prefer cookies, like Chocolate-Cherry cookies, truffles, anything individual sized.

And then there’s the secret weapon:

Pancetta Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed, Dates

  • Pitted Dates: 4-6 per person
  • Blue Cheese Crumbles
  • Pancetta: 4 ounces for 24 dates
  • Toothpicks, one per date

Preheat  oven to 375 degrees.

Cut dates in half and lay them on a cutting board for easy assembly.

Using a spoon, fill one half of each date with blue cheese and place the other half on top to “close” the date.

Tear the pancetta into strips.

Wrap each date with a strip of pancetta and secure with a toothpick. Place on the baking sheet.

When the baking sheet is full or you’ve wrapped as many dates as needed, put the baking sheet with dates into the oven for 20-30 minutes.

After 15 minutes, flip the wrapped dates and turn the cookie sheet around for more even baking.

These can be served warm (not hot) or at room temperature if you want to make them a few hours before serving.

When I serve these there are rarely any left. What’s your secret appetizer weapon?

Cherry and Chocolate Affair Conceives Captivating Cookie

 

For years I’ve baked by the book, deviating only once or twice. But I decided it’s time to let creativity into my kitchen, damn the mistakes and bowls of dough donated to yard waste. 

I began dreaming of cookies. I wanted something rich and indulgent but with a tangy, sweet edge.

The indulgent part was easy – what’s more luxurious in a cookie than chocolate? With chocolate as a base, I started thinking of fruity pairings. Apricot? No, better with white chocolate. Pineapple? Possible, but still seems to miss the mark. And then it became obvious, cherries. But not any old cherry, Bing cherries.  

I began whipping the components of a recipe around in my mind and then took to the test kitchen and failed. Hmm, sometimes you can’t use salted butter in a pinch. With round one a yard waste donation, it was time for round 2. It yielded success in the form of:

Chocolate-Cherry Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz. dried Bing cherries

Melt chocolate. You can do this using a double boiler or go the easy route and follow the microwave directions on the package. Just microwave in 30 second bouts at a reduced power level (like 5) and vigorously stir between each round as sometimes the chocolate keeps its shape but is actually all melty inside and just needs a good stirring.

Melt butter in microwave until 80% melted (about 50 seconds on Power Level 5).

Combine sugar and butter in a medium bowl. Use electric mixer on low to beat together.

 Add egg, vanilla and chocolate and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl add the flour, salt and baking soda. Sift together (or stir if you don’t have a sifter or don’t want to be bothered).

Add flour mixture gradually into chocolate mixture until well blended. 

Stir in cherries.

Refrigerator at least 1/2 hour.

When you are ready to bake. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll dough into balls and place on cookie sheet (you can roll the balls  in sugar first if you like). Gently press the middle of each ball to flatten it 1/2 way, as if you were making a shallow thumbprint cookie.

Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and let cool.

Makes approximately 2 dozen.

Can’t get enough cherries? Check out Eat the Love’s Bing Cherry Goat Cheese Tart and see what he does with fresh cherries.

Baking Cookies on Foodista

Indy 500 at Home = Ham and Cheese Biscuits and Beer

Biscuits, Beer and the Indy 500

Growing up, Jim listened to the Indy 500 on the radio every year. But he never made it to Indianapolis for the race; until 2009.

That year I went all out for Jim’s birthday (it was a big one with an 0 at the end) and gave him an insider’s trip to the Indy 500. We went to every event from Carb Day through the race, were driven around the track by two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk in “hot laps”, watched the pit competition from the track, walked the track, kissed the bricks, and watched the race from the Hulman Terrace. We even managed to get an intro to two of Jim’s childhood TV icons, Florence Henderson and Ruth Buzzi, and snapped a picture of him with Florence on one side and Ruth on the other . . . twisting his nipples (through his shirt). (Those ladies are wildly funny, down-to-earth and sassy. But it was the nipple-twisting that pretty much made them my idols.)

The only thing we didn’t do was see Jim’s current favorite driver – Dario Franchitti win. (Jim likes Franchitti because “he has a hot wife” (Ashley Judd) and he’s Scottish, as is Jim, although a generation or two removed from the homeland.)

So we went back last year. And Franchitti won.

This year our work demands precluded a third Indy 500 trip, but we did manage to slip away to Westport for an overnight and decided to recreate race day there.

On race day, two things are required, Foster’s Lager or Miller or Bud Light and biscuits. We settled for Bisquick over Clabber Girl. And gussied our biscuits up with ham and cheese.

Franchitti didn’t win this year – although it looked like he would through much of the race – but the race had its exciting moments and the biscuits were pure comfort food with none of the trackside grease.

Ham and Cheese Biscuits

  • 2 1/4 c. Bisquick
  • 2/3 c. Milk
  • 3-4 oz. Medium cheddar cheese
  • 5-6 slices Deli Ham

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Add 2/3 c. of milk to 2 1/4 c. Bisquick. Stir until combined. Dice 5-6 slices of ham and 3-4 oz cheese. Add ham and cheese to biscuit mixture (if you want more ham and cheese at this point go for it and add some more in). Knead it altogether with your hands.

Form into 4-6 balls and place each one on an ungreased cookie sheet. Once on the sheet, flatten the balls so they are no more than 2 inches high.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes. When there is a bit of browning and the outside texture feels dry and slightly crisp, the biscuits are ready to be taken out of the oven. Let cool 5 minutes.  

Grab your beer, turn on the race and enjoy the greatest spectacle in motor racing.