Monday, November 26, 2012

In the Pantry

hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Are you still eating leftovers? What do you do with your leftover turkey? My husband makes a killer turkey and rice soup, which I enjoyed years ago before I stopped eating poultry. I do miss that soup!

While we're talking food, I thought I'd share with you a few staples I like to keep stocked in the pantry at all times. They're things I may need at a moment's notice for supper, or foods that just "feel good" to have on hand, such as my favorite jams and teas. Here are my 10 favorite pantry staples:
  1. Bonne Maman preserves. You'll find a couple of jars in our refrigerator and an extra in the cupboard. All flavors are yummy, but my two favorites are orange marmalade and cherry -- fig is great too. My husband loves blueberry, strawberry and raspberry.
  2. Herbal teas. I stock a variety of Stash brand teas at all times. Lemon Ginger, Christmas Eve, and Mellow Moments (peppermint, chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, cinnamon) are delicious. I gave up caffeine years ago, so when I crave a hot beverage, I reach for one of these. I keep a few bags stored in the vintage Hoosier cabinet tea canister shown below (I love shopping antiques stores for old jars!).
  3. Canned tomatoes. Diced or whole. I use them in so many recipes!
  4. Canned beans. Black, pinto, garbanzo, kidney, cannellini ... I use a lot of beans in our meals. They're a good source of vegetarian protein. If I were more disciplined, I'd use dried beans instead of canned. They're less expensive and better for you, I'm sure, but canned beans are super convenient. Which do you use: canned or dried? 
  5. Vegetable broth. I use it in any recipe that calls for chicken broth. 
  6. Spices. It's really important to have lots of spices on hand: curry (which we use in practically everything), crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley. For baking, I always have cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice in the cupboard.
  7. Vanilla extract. I only use Nielsen-Massey Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla extract. It's pricey, but worth it!
  8. Dei Fratelli pizza sauce. I've tried a lot of pizza sauces and this one is a nice blend of tartness and sweetness. I add dried oregano for some extra zing.
  9. Rice. We keep a variety on hand: brown rice, wild rice blend, Jasmine, Basmati -- even black rice, which looks dramatic on the plate and is a unique choice for a dinner party.
  10. Kalamata olives. Great on homemade pizza, and essential for making one of our favorite dishes, penne with tomatoes and olives.
So, what are some of your favorite pantry staples? Do share!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks & Our Holiday Menu

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things: my husband, my home, my health, our friends and family, and of course our two adorable dogs. I am thankful that I am employed when so many are not -- and that I love my job and the people I work with. I am very blessed.

We are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house again this year. I love Thanksgiving, and enjoy welcoming family into our home for a good meal and togetherness. Here's what is on the menu this year:

  • Turkey breast (for hubby and our guests)
  • Wild rice dressing (recipe below)
  • Stuffing (this year I'm trying Arrowhead Mills organic savory herb; I'll use vegetable broth to make it vegetarian)
  • Corn casserole (made by my mother-in-law)
  • Steamed French green beans
  • Maple-whipped sweet potatoes -- Everyday Food recipe
  • Biscuits
  • Cranberry conserve -- Ina Garten's recipe
  • Pumpkin pie

Every year I put out these cute turkey candle holders from Williams-Sonoma.

Wild Rice Dressing

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 boxes (6 ounces each) wild rice blend (discard any seasoning packets)
1 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley 

1) In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season generously with salt and pepper.
2) Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Stir in wild rice blend. Return to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover; cook over low heat until rice has absorbed all liquid, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
3) Transfer rice to large bowl. Stir in toasted walnuts, dried cranberries and parsley. Season again with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or hold at room temperature for up to 5 hours.
Note: to toast the walnuts, spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
From Everyday Food

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Banana-Blueberry Muffins

Got a couple of overripe bananas? Here's a great way to use them: banana-blueberry muffins. I first made these muffins in 2010 and they've been a favorite ever since. They're made with whole wheat flour and wheat germ, but don't be fooled -- they are delicious! We keep blueberries stocked in the freezer from the previous summer's picking, so the necessary ingredients are always on hand. 

Here's a tip: when I notice bananas ripening very quickly and I know I won't have time to bake with them right away, I toss them in the fridge. The peel turns brown, but the fruit doesn't. Refrigeration slows the ripening process and buys me a few extra days until I can make some yummy muffins or bread with them. Click here for a chocolate banana bread recipe I posted in October, in case you missed it.

Banana-Blueberry Muffins


1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas
1/3 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

2) In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, mash bananas; stir in milk and vanilla.

3) With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and banana mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix just until combined. Fold in frozen blueberries.

4) Divide batter among muffin cups (I use a small ice cream scoop to do this). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of muffins comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer muffins to a rack to cool 10 minutes more.


recipe adapted from Everyday Food

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Bed Linens!

We've finally given our bed a face-lift with new linens. It's embarrassing to admit, but we've had the same comforter, shams, throw pillow and bed skirt for a very long time. I tend to keep things until they wear out: clothes, cars (I had my last car for 16 years), appliances, televisions ... you get the picture.
So the story of our old comforter goes like this. Remember when Martha Stewart first came out with her line at Kmart back in '97? Well, it was probably a year later that we bought our comforter set there (yes, Martha Stewart brand). To be honest, my poor husband never really liked the pattern and would complain about it from time to time. But since the comforter was still in good condition, I always talked myself out of replacing it, figuring we didn't really "need" something new.  

I guess I finally got to the point my husband had been at for some time. I had grown tired of the pattern on that old comforter set and it was time to pull the plug! The two of us sat down at the computer and browsed various sites. We like what Crate & Barrel carries, but the patterns tend to be more modern, and we agreed that modern wouldn't work as well in our room. 

Pottery Barn has nice patterns and good quality, and the dimensions of their queen duvets are the same as what we had (C&B's queen size duvet is larger). So we chose Pottery Barn's "Charlie Paisley" organic duvet cover and shams in natural, and a PB classic bed skirt in linen. As a finishing touch, I ordered a beautiful feather and down-filled accent pillow from Room & Board in a color called wolf. The front of the pillow is mohair and the back is linen. It's simple, but elegant.

We are both very happy with our new bedding. But the best part for me is hearing my husband exclaim over it when he walks into the room. Our bedroom has finally gotten the face lift it has long needed. Oh, and in case you're wondering what I did with the old comforter, well, it's inside the new duvet cover, of course!

P.S. Happy birthday to my hubby, whose big day is this weekend.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wood Oil

Here's a simple, but good, thing. I bought this butcher block oil by Parker & Bailey at Restoration Hardware a (really) long time ago, and rediscovered it in my pantry a few months ago. Made of food grade mineral oil, it's great for keeping wooden cutting boards and utensils from drying out and cracking. The cutting board above was getting quite dry, but a coat of this oil brought back its rich color. You can go to the Parker & Bailey web site to view and purchase the product, which now has a new look and a new name: Wooden Ware Cleaner & Conditioner. There are other mineral oil products on the market that I'm sure are also very good. Since this bottle is getting low, I'll be adding it to my shopping list soon.
I have received no compensation for featuring this product; the views expressed are my own.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies

Yum! Wait, make that double yum! These Mexican hot-chocolate cookies are delicious. This cookie recipe may very well be one of my favorites. The combination of chocolate, cinnamon and chili powder is amazing -- and a little exotic. I do recommend you enjoy them with a tall glass of cold milk.
You can watch a short video of Martha Stewart and John Barricelli making these cookies and find the Everyday Food recipe for them here.
The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of chile powder (they suggest ancho), but since I didn't have that, I used chili powder -- you know, the kind that contains a blend of spices and is used in making chili? Well, it worked just fine. But next time, I will use chile powder so I can compare the two. The chile (or chili) powder is combined with sugar and cinnamon and the cookies are rolled in the mixture before being baked. The result is a soft cookie with a slightly crunchy exterior. Yummy!
A note about cream of tartar, which is called for in this recipe. I didn't have any in my pantry, so I looked online to see if there were any substitutions. Most of what I read suggested not substituting anything for cream of tartar, so off to the grocery I went. 
While online, I learned some interesting facts about cream of tartar, which is the culinary name for potassium bitartrate, a by-product of winemaking. It crystallizes and collects in the fermentation tanks before being removed and purified to create the white powder we purchase as cream of tartar. It's frequently used to stabilize and add volume to egg whites when making meringue. It also prevents sugar from crystallizing so it is sometimes added to syrups, icings and caramels. I didn't know anything about cream of tartar, so I found this very interesting.
I hope you try making these Mexican hot-chocolate cookies and if you do, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!
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