Spinach Gratin

Spinach GratinThanks­giving Roulette
I admit. I am a Thanks­giving purist. There should be turkey. There should be mashed pota­toes, gravy, and stuffing. There should be cran­ber­ries. And yes, let there be pie. Pecan and Pumpkin pie to be exact. I would prefer that this menu not be messed with. For most of my life things were as they should be…then I got married.

Once mar­ried, we made the deci­sion to split the hol­i­days amongst the two families—which means that we spend Thanks­giving with my In-​​Laws and Christmas is with my family. For the first few years Thanks­giving was an adjust­ment. I love my in-​​laws. They are awe­some people, and my mother-​​in-​​law is a great cook. But they do Thanks­giving dif­fer­ently, and I had to learn to adjust.

Don’t get me wrong. The usual things are there: turkey, pota­toes, stuffing, etc. But there were other dishes that were new to me. Sweet Potato Tsimmes with Pecans and Prunes is one, and has since become my favorite part of Thanks­giving dinner.(Who’da thunk it?) It is the veg­etable dishes that seem to be in a con­stant state of flux. Some­times it’s broc­coli, and some­times it’s green beans… Just like For­rest said, you never know what you’re going to get. (Thank good­ness it hasn’t been brus­sels sprouts ‘cause…no.)

I am pleas­antly sur­prised to say that after 14 years, I enjoy this little bit of change, and if it were up to me, I would offer Ina Garten’s Spinach Gratin as the veg­etable of choice this year. It’s rich, creamy, and very good. And on a day reserved for feasting, why not?

Ina Garten’s Spinach Gratin
Adapted from Bare­foot Con­tessa Par­ties Read more…

Bar Nuts

Bar NutsTalkin’ Turkey

My favorite thing about Thanks­giving, hon­estly, is that I don’t have to make it. I am for­tu­nate that my mother-​​in-​​law is more than willing to pre­pare the Thanks­giving feast, and I only need to show up. It’s not that I wouldn’t cook, if given the oppor­tu­nity. Of course I would. It’s just that by the time Thursday comes around I’m a non-​​functioning, drooling fool. To be fair, we are all busy at the holidays—but until you have spent the three days before Thanks­giving working at a gro­cery store, you haven’t expe­ri­enced my kind of busy.

The hardest thing about Thanks­giving is the wait. We usu­ally eat around 2 or 3 in the afternoon…there’s the dilemma. Do you have a big break­fast to hold you until the main event? Or do you have a light break­fast and hope for snacks? I’ve tried both ways, and I have yet to find the best answer. Too big a break­fast means less room for turkey and gravy good­ness. If you eat a light break­fast, and hope for snacks, the poten­tial for wanting to gnaw your arm at about 12:30 is high.

This year, I will be arriving later than normal, so I’m going the small break­fast and snack route. I plan to making these just in case. Always good to be prepared…

Bar Nuts
Adapted from Union Square Cafe via Food 52’s Genius Recipes
Makes approx­i­mately 5 cups Read more…

Caramel Nut Pie

Caramel Nut PieThe Life of PIE

To every­thing there is a season, and to every season…there is a pie.

Spring­time means cherry, rhubarb, and lemon meringue. Summer is a pie-​​a-​​palooza with apple, peach, black­berry, blue­berry, strawberry…and so on. Winter is reserved for the choco­lates and for some inter­esting citrus ver­sions, like this one.

Apple is really a year-​​round option. (‘Cause when is it not a good time for apple pie?)

But the Fall, it’s all about nuts and squash. There are some fruits thrown in for good mea­sure. Apple, of course, Pear too…and both are often found mixed with cran­ber­ries. While Pumpkin and Pumpkin Spice seem to rule the month of November, for me the nut pies are the real stars.

Since November is Pie Month at Pied­mont Gro­cery, I decided to get in the spirit and make a pie over the weekend—mainly so that I could eat it, but also to teach my daughter how to make her own. I have always been a big fan of Pecan Pie, but that’s what we will be having for Thanks­giving. I wanted to do some­thing a dif­ferent, and decided to try a Caramel Nut Pie recipe that I saw in the Amer­ican Pie Council’s America’s Best Pies 2015–2014 cook­book my sister gave me last Christmas. I was a little con­cerned about let­ting my 9 year-​​old make caramel, but it turned out great, and we had it for dessert Sunday night.(And some of us may have had some for break­fast on Monday, maybe.)

This Caramel Nut Pie would make a great stand-​​in for pecan at Thanks­giving. It’s for anyone who loves nuts—especially if they are not a big fan of the gooey center. Fair warning, this pie is basi­cally all nuts. It is as dense as it is rich. It is also very good.

Below is the recipe as printed in the book. If I were to make this again, and I def­i­nitely will, I would make some changes. (*See my notes.) For example, I added salt to the caramel because I thought the mix­ture was just too sweet and needed more of a but­tery flavor. Second, next time I will bake this in a tart pan. It would make it easier to slice, and frankly, I think it works better as a tart. Third, I would get a little wacky with the mix of nuts…maybe add some hazel­nuts or cashews to the mix. I also want to see what it would taste like with a little cayenne pepper added to the caramel. I left off the white choco­late because I didn’t think it was nec­es­sary, but a little melted semi-​​sweet choco­late could be tasty option too…

Caramel Nut Pie
America’s Best Pies 2014–2015 by Amer­ican Pie Council
Chris­tine Mon­talvo, Windsor Heights, IA  Read more…

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Dark Beer with Bacon and Red Onions

Beef Short RibsGet Shorty

On Monday, November announced its pres­ence with authority—some crazy rain, wind and even light­ning. My first thought was…”Ooooh, short ribs.” (I know. Just go with it.)

When­ever the weather gets cold, I think of slow-​​cooked short ribs, my ulti­mate com­fort food. (Though I have a long list of favorites.) My list of recipes I con­sider for short ribs is appro­pri­ately short. There are two.

The first is a classic bistro-​​style braised recipe that I serve with mashed pota­toes. It com­bines Guin­ness, red onions and bacon. How can you go wrong with that? Don’t you just feel warm and com­forted by the mere thought of that combo? Or am I just weird and hungry? I could die happy in a vat of this stuff.

The second recipe is per­fect for mid-​​week, because it makes use of the crock pot. If you have ever heard the term “Sunday Gravy” used to describe a slow-​​simmered meat sauce for pasta, this recipe is a great example—except that it uses a crock pot instead of sim­mering on the stove. This rich sauce that gets even better after a day in the fridge. You can serve this over pasta or with cheesy polenta. What­ever floats your boat…

Either recipe is the answer to the colder weather and the arrival of El Nino.

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Dark Beer with Bacon and Red Onions
Adapted from Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamer­sley Read more…