Granola

GranolaYell O!
My nephew is moving into his college dorm today…and the fact that I just typed those words is blowing my mind. It seems like yesterday that he was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine. Now he is staring Psyche 101 in the face.

For all of my disbelief and other emotions, what I am most surprised about feeling is jealousy. Or maybe that’s too strong of a word.

See, my nephew is starting the same college that my sister and attended (he has good taste). And, the college years were some of the best years of my life. I would love to go back to those carefree days. I learned so much during those four years—mostly about life in general instead of academics. My parent’s advice to both my sister and I before we started college was “Don’t let your education interfere with your education” and I took that to heart. Sometimes to the extreme! I mean I did actually graduate, just not with a 4.0.

Of course the old adage You can’t go home again rings true especially in this instance. If I went back knowing what I know now, my experience would be totally different. However, that doesn’t stop me from reliving those good times (and the bad) and wanting just a little taste of that life again. So, I’m heading back for Homecoming in November. Save me a spot at Rennie’s!

In the meantime, I am looking forward to experiencing college life through my nephew’s eyes. I also plan to make sure he remembers us back here at home (I always had a problem remembering to call…) You should know that there will be regular care packages which will always include his favorite granola. I have posted it before because I make him a huge batch every Christmas. But, now it will serve as a reminder of home and of how proud we are of the man he has become. Good luck Noodle! And Go Ducks!

Granola
Adapted from Alton Brown and The Food Network
Yields 6 servings

I have found the best way to get nice, big chunks in my granola is to use 1/2 natural maple syrup, and 1/2 commercial syrup (such as Log Cabin). But, if you are a purist, go ahead and use only the pure maple syrup. You just won’t get the nice, big chunks in your granola.  Read more…

Shrimp and Grits with Bacon

Shrimp and Grits with BaconThe Low Down
I can be obsessive when I find things I like. It can’t be just a close copy. I’ve got to have the real thing. This is especially true when it comes to cooking.

Anytime I find a new recipe I love that comes from a region or cuisine that I am not familiar with, I can go off the deep end a bit. For example, when I, first discovered Moroccan food, I was obsessed with finding the correct ingredients. Not just ingredients that would work but the most authentic ingredients. The ingredients they use. Same goes with the cookware. If I am going to make a paella or a French cassoulet, you better believe I am going to have the correct pan or clay pot.

It’s the same with cookbooks. I may start my adventure into something new with one cookbook but eventually, I will end up finding the most authentic resource for whatever that cuisine may be. (Think Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking or Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean cookbooks.) What I enjoy the most about finding that “reference” cookbook is that you not only get the most authentic version of whatever dish you are cooking but you also get the history of the food, the people and the region it comes from. That’s when the day dreaming stars. I picture myself in the markets of Marrakesh or biking through Provence with the day’s groceries in my basket. I am a culinary romantic.

One of my favorite cookbooks for day dreaming is a book by John Martin Taylor called Hoppin’ John’s Low Country Cooking. If you have ever been interested in the regional cooking of the US, this would be my pick as the best reference for Lowcountry cooking.

For those who don’t know, the Lowcountry refers to the coastal plain region of South Carolina from Cat Island down to the Georgia border. Full disclosure, I have never lived there nor have I had the chance to visit. But I do love to read. And after reading books by Pat Conroy and John Berendt, I was hooked by romantic visions of crab and shrimp boils on the beach with and entertaining cast of characters.

Lowcountry cooking is the source for She Crab soup as well as Frogmore Stew and Hoppin’ John. There is so much to the cooking of the region that it is hard to pick just one recipe to love. If pressed though I would have to pick the Shrimp and Grits with Bacon. It’s one of my favorite comfort foods.

If you find yourself in need of an escape from the day-to-day and with no time or money to actually go somewhere, take a chance and pick up this (or any other cookbook) and step outside your world for a bit.

Shrimp and Grits with Bacon
Adapted from Hoppin’ John’s Low Country Cooking

These typical shrimp and grits are served for breakfast, but they are good any time of day. We love the addition of bacon! Read more…

Amy’s Spaghetti and Meatballs

Amy’s Spaghetti and MeatballsSmiling Is My Favorite
Because it is the week before Christmas, you will have no problem finding Christmas-themed shows or movies available on your television. In some cases, they are streaming 24/7. Some folks are not a fan of this annual occurrence. Personally, I am okay with it.

There are a lot of good holiday movies out there (some not so good ones too…), and everyone has their favorite. People like my brother-in-law, are fans of the classics. For him, it’s not Christmas unless he is schnuggy on the sofa with warm Gingies watching It’s A Wonderful Life. For others it’s not Christmas unless Hans Gruber is falling off of Nakatomi Tower in Die Hard. Nothing says the holidays like blowing stuff up. Although, lately it seems that nothing says the holidays like StarWars.

For my father, nothing says the holidays like mischief. My dad loves little kids, and this time of year it is turned up a notch. Dad just gets a kick out of kids. It makes no difference if he is related to the child or not. If there is a little kid within range, Dad is going to interact with them. And, if said child is “up to something” so much the better, in his eyes. For that reason, while it may not be his actual favorite holiday movie, I always associate the movie Home Alone with my Dad. Here’s why.

Years ago, my parents were in town to pick me up from college, and for whatever reason Home Alone was the only thing on TV. (Don’t ask me why it was on in June, but it was.) While watching the movie, Dad was laughing so hard he had tears rolling down his face, and we were concerned about his oxygen intake. It got so out of hand that my mother and I were more entertained watching him watch the movie, than actually watching the movie. So, right or wrong, I will always think of Home Alone and Dad when I think of holiday movies.

If I had to choose my favorite, it would be Elf. Though I do enjoy a good A Christmas Story marathon, Elf is a must-watch to get into the Christmas spirit (other than singing loud for all to hear, and having a tickle fight). I have seen this movie hundreds of times and it never fails to make me laugh. The one-liners sustain me through the year.

Last night some friends of ours had a Buddy The Elf themed party, and it was great. While we didn’t make snow angels or snuggle, we did manage to eat the four basic food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn and maple syrup. And, of course, there was spaghetti…

Amy’s Spaghetti and Meatballs
Yield 6  servings
I usually double the recipe for the meatballs when I make them, because I like my meatballs the size of tennis balls. If you prefer to make them smaller than that, just go with a single recipe. Read more…

Hearty White Sandwich Bread

Hearty White Sandwich BreadThe Left Overs

I think it’s safe to say that we all have our favorites for Thanksgiving. For some it’s the sweet potatoes or the pecan pie. For others, it’s the stuffing or the turkey. For me, the best part comes afterwards. (Well, after the pie anyway.)

The most anticipated part of Thanksgiving in my world is the leftover turkey sandwich. And there is no question that I am an unapologetic turkey sandwich snob. My husband would prefer to have the entire meal over and over again. Not me. I want a turkey sandwich. (Okay. Let’s not get crazy. I still want some more pie.)

The Thanksgiving leftover sandwich is a thing of beauty. and has taken me years to perfect. Now, I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way but there is my way.

Here’s how it stacks up:
You gotta start with good bread. The concept of good bread is always a hot debate in my family. There are those misguided souls that prefer super-fluffy white bread with questionable nutritional value, but excellent moisture content. Other, more enlightened sandwich veterans, prefer honey wheat for its nutty flavor and ability to stand up to the fillings. Then there are the black sheep who opt for the tortilla wrap or even the rogue croissant. I shudder…

Next come the condiments.
I am using the word condiments loosely here. Because for my turkey sandwich, the condiments consist of the following: Mayo, a very healthy smear of left over gravy, and a smidgen of cranberry sauce. (Now you see why I may want a more substantial piece of bread!) These three combine to provide a whole lot of flavor, and some much needed moisture—because the stuffing and the turkey get piled on top. (Yes. You read that right. Stuffing on bread. Just go with it…)

With that, you now have perfection on a plate.

Because of my sandwich psychosis, I usually make a couple of loaves of bread for the day after Thanksgiving. I always make Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread. But I have been known to compromise with the white bread lovers by making this Potato flour version as well.

Not only does this loaf of Hearty White Sandwich Bread make fantastic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it also works well with your leftover turkey.

Hearty White Sandwich Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flours
This recipe works well in a bread machine. Read more…

Amy’s Sage Stuffing

Amy’s Sage Stuffing Traditionally Bad
I can’t speak for your family, but in my family there are holiday traditions that are sacred. And these cannot be messed with without serious repercussions. The rules are more strict for Christmas, but the other holidays still have their musts.

There must be Gam’s purple glasses on the table for Easter and, of course, a ham. There must be warm Gingies and Ebleskiver for Christmas. (There is no wiggle room for this one. Ebelskeiver in the Summer is a capital offense—though I have noticed a relaxing of the rules a smidge in recent years…) Thanksgiving is no different, though I do think it’s time for some thought and self-reflection on this one. Here’s why…

For my entire childhood, there were creamed onions on the dinner table for Thanksgiving. The only people who liked them were my grandfathers. And it baffles me to this day that they did. They smelled horrible as the onions bubbled in their sauce on the stove. And, the taste made me gag, Still does—even worse than red cabbage. (Seriously. I am gagging as I write this…) Of course there were always left overs, ’cause after my grandfathers had their serving, that was it. No one else went within five feet of ‘em.

Despite their position as the Thanksgiving pariah, the onions were still there year after year. My grandfathers have been gone for a while now, and I think it’s time that we consciously uncouple from the onions…as a public service. Who’s with me?

So, I asked a number of my friends if they had similar experiences with their Thanksgiving feast. I was pleased to know that my family wasn’t alone in it’s tradition weirdness. Not surprisingly, the one Thanksgiving side that avoided any bad press was the stuffing. I mean it makes sense. How can you go wrong with seasoned buttery bread goodness? And if you make your own not from a mix? Forgeddaboutit!

It’s got to be simple though. None of that newfangled stuffing. If you get funky with the stuffing, we might have problems…

Amy’s Sage Stuffing
Serves 6
This recipe for Amy’s Sage Stuffing tastes best with fresh sage, and is only as good as its ingredients. But it’s so good…
Read more…