Friday, November 30, 2012

the cookie plan

As my Facebook friends know, I started thinking about Christmas cookie-baking this week.  (You know, I did observe that whole "one holiday at a time" plan, and then as soon as Thanksgiving was over, it was time!)  I decided to draw myself a chart this year, which helped a lot!  I devised rows for bars, cookies, and candies, and categories such as "classic," "chocolate," "ginger," "lemon," "fruit," and "nut."  I then went through all of my past blog posts about cookie-baking, adding recipes I might like to make and/or repeat from years past.  And then I went through my bookmarked cookie and bar recipes, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything!  :)  Once I had all of my ideas down, I chose one or two selections in each area.  Here's what I believe to be my final list:

Basic Sugar Cookie Dough (with frosting and sprinkles)
Merengues (likely not dipped in chocolate and nuts)
Anise Tea Crescents
White Chocolate and Peppermint Brownies
Chewy Chocolate-Cherry Cookies
Double Ginger Crackles
Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
Cream Cheese Meltaways with Lemon Glaze
Apricot Coconut Bars
Maple-Walnut Spice Cookies

Ten cookies/bars this year, and no candies.  This might be the first year of my life baking for the holidays and NOT making candy.  I'm also still debating whether I should switch out one of the cookies for a bar in a similar category . . . thoughts?

What are you planning on baking this year?

Monday, November 26, 2012

how to recover

How to recover from a long weekend of too much?

Buddha bowls, of course!

Quinoa topped with chickpeas, shredded carrot, shredded purple cabbage, red and yellow bell pepper, green beans, cilantro, avocado, sesame seeds, and homemade peanut sauce.  (I really like the recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance, but using only half the water called for.)  The awesomest news?  Plenty leftover for work lunches this week!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I think Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday.  The perfect excuse to have an all-out cooking and eating extravaganza!

This year was no exception . . .


Light and simple, and easy to make ahead.  Not that I didn't want to spend my day cooking on Thanksgiving; rather, I didn't want to spend my day washing dishes!  I did much of the prep in advance, which was a very smart idea, in my opinion.  We enjoyed Pumpkin Muffins (using my favorite baking ingredient . . . buttermilk!) and a beautiful fruit salad with some fresh mint from the garden for breakfast.  I used half whole-wheat flour in the muffins to increase their nutritional value a little bit; otherwise followed the recipe as written.  These muffins are FANTASTIC!  They call for very little oil, yet are moist and tender from the pumpkin and buttermilk.


I decided we'd snack on a variety of appetizers for lunch, as we were possibly expecting company and didn't know what time they would show up . . .

Brie topped with Double Cranberry Chutney . . . so delicious!  I always want to make cranberry for Thanksgiving, but always end up with a huge amount of it leftover and never know quite what to serve it with.  This was perfect!

Deviled Eggs!

Veggies!  (With hummus, not pictured)

Spanakopita Triangles:

Using Ali's recipe as inspiration, I ended up simplifying a little bit . . . used one egg, one package of spinach, feta, juice and zest of half a lemon, and a little salt and pepper for the filling.  Perfect!  Now, what to do with all that leftover filo?


The big feast!  I really wanted to make everything, but I didn't want TONS of leftovers, (since I was likely cooking for just John and I,) so I selected my recipes, cut them in half (or sometimes in quarter,) and made most everything in 8-inch loaf pans.  Bonus feature?  Our entire dinner fit in the oven at once, even though John only has one rack in his oven!  Woo-hoo!

(P.S. I made everything, except for the mashed potatoes and gravy, in advance, covered the unbaked things with foil, and froze.  Everything thawed and baked up beautifully!)

Spiced Sweet Potato Casserole:

One of the most important parts of Thanksgiving dinner, in my opinion.  :)  I love, love, love this version from Cooking Light -- it is subtle in its spiciness, just sweet enough (although I do cut down the sugar to 1/4 cup in the full-size recipe,) and lively from the orange juice concentrate.

Creamy Corn Pudding:

This pudding may join the ranks with sweet potato casserole and compete for most important role!  We always had some kind of corn pudding in my family for Thanksgiving, and even though most people don't think to add it to their Thanksgiving repertoire, I want to keep a bit true to my heritage, ya know? This recipe is INCREDIBLE.  (With all that butter and heavy cream, why not?)  ;)  Slightly sweet, creamy and comforting, like a softer, smoother cornbread.  Mmmmmm.

Mashed potatoes and gravy:

I mashed my local yellow potatoes with garlic, butter, buttermilk, chives, salt, and pepper.  They were so flavorful on their own, they almost didn't need gravy!  (I said this to John, and he replied, "no, no, no."  Ha!)  A big batch of mushroom gravy on the side -- 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, plenty of sliced mushrooms, 1/4 cup flour, 2 tsp soy sauce, and 2 cups mushroom broth.  Simple and VERY delicious.  A perfect vegetarian gravy, in my opinion!

Caramelized Onion and Herb Stuffing:

This has been a repeat my last several Thanksgivings, for a couple of reasons . . . first, it is super-delicious and super-easy, but most importantly, no sage!  I don't care much for sage, especially in stuffing, and it's hard to find a recipe without it.  This recipe is a keeper for me!

Creamed Spinach Casserole:

A new recipe this year, and a good one -- both John and I love spinach, and this was a simple casserole to prepare in advance.  Rich but not heavy, and a beautiful burst of intense dark green on the plate!  (I switched out the traditional cheddar for white cheddar in my version, otherwise prepared the recipe as written.)


This may be the best vegetarian entree for holiday meals EVER.  Rich, filling, and "meaty," delicious on its own, smothered in gravy, dolloped with cranberry chutney, or leftover on a sandwich with ketchup.  :)

My plate:

And don't forget about dessert!

John requested pecan pie this year, and although it's not my favorite, I was happy to oblige.  I tried this recipe from Real Simple, and although I generally find pecan pie too sweet, both John and his roommate were happy gobbling down slices.  They reported it was lighter and less dense than many pecan pies they have had, and his roommate stated it was the best she's ever tried!  Score!

Hope you had a wonderful holiday and enjoyed some time off from work with important people.  Now, I better get started planning my Christmas cookie baking!  ;)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

last weekend

A couple of meals . . .

Four-cheese lasagna with spinach and artichokes:

Whole-wheat buttermilk pancakes, fruit salad, and breakfast sausages:

That's all for now . . . busy getting ready for the best cooking holiday of the year!  Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Special Occasion Potatoes

Can you believe Thanksgiving is nine days away?  I certainly can't.  I had dinner with a friend last night, and we were both kind of surprised that the holiday season is already here, you know?

Last week, John and I were talking about our Thanksgiving plans, and what I might make for our dinner this year.  I suggested I might like to make scalloped potatoes; John mentioned he would really like mashed potatoes and gravy.  His response to my desire to make scalloped potatoes?  "Well, just make them this weekend!"


"Hot-Sauce Glazed Tempeh" from Veganomicon, oven-roasted broccoli, and Scalloped Potatoes.  Real Simple saved the day again, with another stellar, easy-to-prepare recipe!  I would definitely save this recipe for special occasions in the future, as it is RICH and delicious.

So, I'm curious . . . what would your vote be -- scalloped or mashed?

The rest of our T-day menu is as follows . . .

mashed potatoes (likely with buttermilk and chives)
Mushroom Gravy
Spiced Sweet Potato Casserole
Caramelized Onion and Herb Stuffing
Creamy Corn Pudding
Creamed Spinach Casserole
Double-Cranberry Chutney
Pecan Pie

What are you planning for your Thanksgiving menu this year?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Ginger

I have what I would describe as a love affair with soup, but at the same time, I'm not the hugest fan of pureed soups.  Why?  Well . . . I'm definitely one of those people who prefers the more chunks the better in her soup, and will occasionally leave a few spoonfuls of broth left in the bottom of her bowl.  Pureed soups kind of feel like extra-thick broth to me, you know?

Here's my challenge -- John's favorite soup is butternut squash, and he requests it frequently.  I've made a few versions this fall so far, all of which he's loved, but I've felt "meh" about.

Until today, that is . . .

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Ginger

1 butternut squash, (2 to 3 pounds,) peeled, seeded, and diced
2 small apples, quartered and cored
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter, Earth Balance, or canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp grated or minced fresh ginger
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth or water (or a combination of the two)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
ground black pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream, half and half, or full-fat coconut milk

1. Combine the squash, apples, and olive oil in a 9X13 pan and roast at 425 until tender and the edges are beginning to brown, about 45 minutes.  (Stir the apples and squash once or twice during the roasting time.)  Cool slightly.
2. Melt the butter in your soup pot on medium-low, and add the chopped onion and ginger.  Cover, and cook gently, until the onion is very soft.
3. Add the roasted squash & apples, broth or water, salt, and pepper to the pot.  Bring to a boil.
4. Lower the heat and simmer 5 minutes.
5. Puree (either with a stick blender, or in batches in a regular blender)
6. At this point, check your soup's texture.  You want it a bit on the thick side, but not TOO thick.  Gently boil off excess liquid if you need to, or add extra liquid if you need to.
7. Just before serving, stir in the heavy cream.

John hasn't even tried this one yet, (he's still at work,) but I hope he loves it as much as I do!  The combination of sweet apples, savory squash, slightly spicy ginger, and rich dairy is incredible!  Given that I don't much care for pureed soups, I think it's a good sign that I seriously considered going back for seconds.  :)

Serve with something delicious on the side, such as crusty bread with olive oil for dipping, a beautiful green salad, a grilled cheese sandwich, or like I did today, cornbread!

I'm a big fan of this buttermilk cornbread recipe, with one slight modification . . . I cut the sugar down to 1/3 cup.  (It seems plenty sweet to me with this reduction, but if you like a more cake-like cornbread, by all means, use the full amount!)

What is your favorite kind of soup?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Sunday night = pizza night

Lately, as in the last two weeks, we've managed to have homemade pizza on Sunday night.  I kind of like this tradition, actually!  It leaves something to look forward to for the tail-end of the weekend, and yields plenty of leftovers for the week, too.  :)

I was inspired to make pizza again this week, as we had everything on hand, except for a butternut squash, to make another Butternut Squash Pizza:

And as I was talking about dinner plans, John exclaimed, "you're only making ONE pizza?  That's not nearly enough."  ;)  Ok, two pizzas it is:

This second pie was loaded with olive oil, fresh spinach, chopped artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper strips, kalamata olives, parmesan, and feta cheeses.  Earlier in the day, we made a stop at the Holy Land Deli, so I found inspiration in the beautiful and affordable ingredients I picked up!

Do you have any weekly food traditions?

A not so lazy Sunday breakfast

This past weekend, we had every intention of making Sunday a "lazy day," after too many weekends in a row with too much going on. Well ... we didn't manage much of a lazy Sunday in the end, (funny how stuff just pops up, isn't it?) but we did manage at least a lazy breakfast ...

Buttermilk biscuits, tempeh sausage gravy, and a fruit salad of persimmon, kiwi, and Texas ruby red grapefruit!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Popcorn crack

If you are like me, you already have a hard enough time eating a reasonable amount of ordinary popcorn ... but if you want true "popcorn crack," coat it in caramel, add nuts, and bake it! Mmmmmm. Hardest part will be making sure we have some left to take with us to the Halloween party tonight!

Saturday morning bagels

I can't think of a better way to spend my Saturday morning than catching up on chores around the house while making bagels from scratch!

I slightly modified Cooking Light's recipe for Real Bagels by subbing 3 cups of whole-wheat bread flour for the white bread flour, and cutting the white bread flour back to a total of 3 cups.  (Whole wheat flour, in my experience, has a tendency to suck up more moisture than refined flour.)  I did use the optional barley malt syrup . . . and now I have a LOT leftover!  Any suggestions for how to use it up?

These were somewhat time-consuming, but worth it -- I have been on a MAJOR bagel kick lately, and these are SO much better than storebought bagels.

Light, chewy, and just plain delicious.  According to the comments on the posted recipe, these freeze well, so I'm excited to look forward to fresh bagels for the coming weeks!  My ONLY complaint about the recipe is that my bagels turned out quite large . . . almost too large for me, as I like to use bagels as a component of breakfast (i.e., egg sandwich,) or spread with Neufchatel for a snack.  At this size, (about 4 ounces of dough per bagel, for a total of 12,) they are nearly a meal in and of themselves.  Next time, I'll likely use 3 ounces of dough per bagel, and then the recipe will yield 16 or 17 bagels.

How do you like your bagel topped?