Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 Recap: Our Menu

We had a marvelous Thanksgiving! Because Christmas is around the corner and you might need a few ideas, we will be sharing the details of some of our dishes over the next week.

We had a lovely centerpiece made with a Cinderella pumpkin in the center and two pumpkins filled with mums, thanks to my mother-in-law. The Cinderella pumpkin is real!

Each person had an edible placecard: chocolate dipped ginger cookies.

Our menu for this year's meal was:


• Marinated prawns
• Garlic olives
• Cornichons
• Salami
• New York aged cheddar and dried peaches
• Roasted asparagus
• Prosciutto wrapped melon

Thanksgiving dinner:

• Green salad with manchego cheese, pear and walnuts
• Sweet potatoes with apples
• Green beans with panko bread crumbs
• Sausage and sage stuffing
• Sour cream and thyme rolls
• Plain rolls
• Holiday mashed potatoes
• Oven roasted sage turkey wrapped in bacon
• Smoked turkey (using the Green Egg shown in photo)
• Fresh cranberry relish
• Cranberry ginger jelly


• Sweet potato pie
• Apple pie
• Hungarian chocolate torte (in photo)
• Tiramisu
• Chocolate toffee
• Lemon meringue pie

We were full!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dressing Up Thanksgiving Leftovers for Breakfast

It was a bit of hunt through the stacks of Tupperware to find the dressing, something to cure my Thanksgiving dinner hangover. The dressing was a blend of country, sourdough, pugliese, and perisian breads with pork sausage, onions, celery, and sage . . . savory and a bit crunchy. I basted an egg so it was still runny and the yolk soaked into the bread when I attacked it with my fork.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We'll have lots of Thanksgiving posts coming soon including these turkey-shaped, chocolate-dipped ginger cookies as edible placecards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One Word Wednesday . . . Green

Green . . . as in the Big Green Egg ceramic cooker and grill.

Now that the blog is over a year old it's interesting to see how traffic suddenly ramps up on past posts . . . what's hot right now? Apparently 'tis the season for Big Green Egg Thanksgiving Turkey (click it to see what I did last year)! This year I'll wheel out the Green Egg for the third Thanksgiving while Lauren prepares another bird in the oven, giving our guests proper a point and counter point.

I would be remiss if I didn't not point any turkey grilling enthusiast to Mad Max Turkey Central on the Naked Whiz's Ceramic Charcoal Cooking Page . . . it's updated for 2009.

In the spirit of Mad Max's Turkey Hotline on the Big Green Egg User's Forum we'll open up the Foodspiration Hotline . . . email us at with your BGE or other Thanksgiving questions and we'll write you right back!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Justin and Lauren

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bonus Post: Rethinking Cranberry Relish

Ok, we have to add a few bonus posts this week because of Thanksgiving. So, we are sharing some past Turkey day posts and gearing up for a few new ones after we try recipes this Thanksgiving.

We love Grandma S's fresh cranberry relish. It's easy, it's fresh with a burst of citrus- no cooking here. Click here for the post. This year we are making this classic but I want to try something new: cranberry-ginger relish...We'll let you know how it goes with our two turkeys!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three Past Posts All About Pies

We will be making some new pies this year but in the meantime, we wanted to link you to a few past pie posts on my former baking blog. Click on the title to jump to the post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Date Night!

After sampling this sweet and salty appetizer in a restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska, these stuffed dates become a crowd favorite! While I have seen several variations: dates stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in bacon or dates stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon, I prefer stuffing the dates with mascarpone, tucking in a marcona almond and wrapping it in prosciutto.

It's really easy. Start with Medjool dates if you can find them, and remove the pits by cutting a slit. If you can't find Medjool dates, you can use other dates as well. I just have to say that this recipe made me a date convert. Dates are delicious!!! They are nature's candy and so very good.

So, after the dates are pitted and slitted, used a spoon and put a little bit of mascapone inside. Now if you like a bit of crunch, you can tuck in a Marcona almond. This isn't an ordinary almond, instead it is from Spain and has a rounder shape and it doesn't have the brown outer coating. It is traditionally toasted in oil and salted. I buy mine at Trader Joe's as they are fairly expensive. Now the almond can confuse some people who might think it is a pit, so be sure to let them know it's there.

After stuffing, cut your prosciutto into generous strips and roll it around the stuffed dates. You can also use a toothpick to secure the prosciutto if you need it.

Turn the oven onto broil, and place the wrapped and stuffed dates on a cookie sheet with foil. Broil them for a few minutes until the prosciutto is visibly crispy.

Let them cool a few minutes before serving as the cheese may be molten hot. And there you have it, a simple appetizer to make yet having complex flavor. The crispy, salty prosciutto is a wonderful pairing with the soft, sweet date and creamy cheese. I also love the crunch of the almond!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Food Science Friday: Talkin' Turkey Thawing

It's almost turkey time! We've already pre-ordered two Diestel American Heirloom turkeys for this year. We thought we'd share some tips for safe turkey preparation since you probably haven't cooked a turkey since last Thanksgiving (we haven't either).

How do you safely thaw a turkey for Thanksgiving?

Never thaw a turkey "on the counter." When uncooked turkeys are frozen or in the refrigerator, any bacteria that could have been present cannot grow. However, as a turkey thaws on the counter, parts of the turkey that are thawing can get to temperatures between 40F and 140F, which is called the Danger Zone, where bacteria that can cause foodborne illness can grow.
The USDA recommends three ways to defrost turkeys:

• in the refrigerator- Allow 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. This means several days to thaw.

• in cold water (we like this method best)- Keeping the turkey in its airtight packaging or leak-proof bag, submerge the turkey in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until thawed. This usually means several hours to thaw.

• in the microwave. This doesn't seem like a good idea to us because often areas start to cook slightly. The USDA says turkeys that are thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately because the partially cooked areas could foster bacterial growth.

Here's a link to some cold water thawing and refrigerator time charts - to estimate how long it will take you to thaw your turkey based on weight.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Word Wednesday...Rosemary

We love rosemary because it is so lovely in both sweet and savory dishes. This a rosemary butter cookie that I originally posted here on my former baking blog. There's a link to the recipe and more photos. We also just tasted a rosemary-cornmeal-cherry donut that was marvelous as well.

And, because I just couldn't resist...

Eeeeee! I just bought this special edition Martha magazine and cannot wait to try some of these recipes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Soup's On! Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

It's squash season and with the chilly weather, what better time for a bowl of soup. I've made three pots of butternut squash this season and this one, with apples, is my favorite. It's adapted from Williams-Sonoma Soups and Stews cookbook.

You will need:

2lbs of butternut squash
1-2 large onions, chopped
2 pippin or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
48oz of chicken broth (you can substitute water if you like but add to taste and desired viscosity)
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp of chopped fresh rosemary ( use less if you are using dried)
a few rosemary leaves for garnish
sour cream for garnish
salt and pepper

1. Start by cutting off both ends of the squash,peeling the skin with a good peeler, and cutting the squash in half lengthwise.

2. Scoop out the seeds and then slice the squash into ~2 inch chunks.

3. In a soup pot, melt the butter and saute the onions until softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the squash and apples and cook about 3 minutes.

5. Add the chicken broth*, and rosemary and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cover. Simmer for about 25 minutes until the squash is cooked. * if using water, add just enough to cover squash. You can add more later to thin the soup to desired consistency.

6. Remove from heat and puree in blender in manageable batches. If too thick, add more chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls.

7. Mix a bit of milk with sour cream to thin to a consistency that will drip from a spoon. Drizzle each bowl of soup with thinned sour cream and sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary and thyme. The presentation is wonderful!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Caffeine is my performance enhancing drug

I broke down this summer and bought a road bike . . . I got a screaming good deal on a last-season Cannondale and quickly learned that my neighborhood is full of cyclists and wannabe cyclists (me). In the mornings we'll pound out an hour of "Fast & Flat" neighborhood riding before work. On the weekends, the East Bay is full of great rides that I can start and end at home: north to Mt. Diablo, south to Calaveras Reservoir, and east to the Livermore wine country.

I'm not big fan of breakfast during the week, but often start those rides with a cup of coffee . . . not only does it warm my core, but it makes me coherent when I'm wishing I hit the snooze button. When we started breaking the 40 mile mark on those weekend rides--and I started hitting the wall--I was turned on to the virtues of Gu and the various derivatives on the market. We decided to break the half-century mileage mark on our trip to Livermore and back, so I decided to bring three flavors of coffee-flavored energy gel to taste test along the ride.

The products I tried were: Gu Espresso Love, Hammer Gel Espresso, Clif Shot Double Expresso. The basic promise and form of each product is very similar . . . about 100 calories of easily digested sugars and caffeine in a squeezable pouch with a consistency somewhere between chocolate sauce and frosting and possessing a coffee-like flavor. Every hour I took one so I got to try one of each on my ride.

I've gotta give Gu some creativity points for their flavor name "Espresso Love," however, I was a bit confused about the "2X Caffeine" statement since it wasn't given any more detail on pack. Best I could determine is by slogging through their website to find that the standard product has 20 mg, so this must be 40 mg? My general impression is that Gu has their base formula of sugars, antioxidants, aminos, etc well figured out and that this is just another flavor deployed in the portfolio (note, only coffee flavor is added).

Hammer Gel was definitely the dark horse in this comparison, and I felt that overall their offering fell a little short. The hammer shaped packaging was clunky and I wondered why they only packed 90 calories into 36 grams of product when their counterparts both went with 100 calories in 32 grams. To make it more digestible? At least they were clear that they offered 50 mg of caffeine and had coffee concentrate as an ingredient.

The Clif product went with a 'entirely natural' positioning that resulted in a product that may not be as technically advanced from a raw nutritional performance standpoint. They favored organic brown rice syrup over carefully selected maltodextrins (result is probably less nuanced burst of blood glucose offered up to your muscles) and didn't add in many extras. Even the caffeine (100 mg) came from all natural sources . . . dried espresso and green tea extract. The Clif product stood out with one interesting packaging design feature called the litter leash. Unless you've had the problem you don't realize how it is a pain to tear the top and consume this product on a moving bicycle without loosing that little tab to the environment. This simple cut in the foil allows you to consume with ease and retain all the trash for proper disposal.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Word Wednesday...Leftovers

Now that Halloween is over, we have a few leftovers that I can't stop munching. Of course, the most desirable candy was eaten first and now we're left with mellowcreme pumpkins and black licorice bites. Here's a fun link for 5 things to do with leftover Halloween candy. What candy leftovers do you have?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Making of a Bread Bomb

On a recent trip to Lake Tahoe with friends we were treated to a bread bomb. A bread bomb is an explosion of cheesy, garlic goodness and more calories that you would want to think about. The bomb is a specialty of our friend, DezMo, and she taught us how to build our own.

The necessary elements for one bomb are as follows: a large loaf of bread (a boule is standard), a stick of butter, half a tube of garlic paste (about 2 oz), 3/4 to 1 lb of shredded Gruyere, and a bunch of sliced green onions. However, DezMo always doubles down and makes enough for two bombs to spread the love. To start, prepare a quick garlic butter by softening the butter and then mixing in the garlic paste.

Take your boule and make deep slices about an inch apart and then repeat to form a cross-cut pattern. Going along one direction slather the garlic butter deep into the grooves.

Along the cuts going the other way liberally tuck the Gruyere until it seems that the bread can hold no more! Make sure you actually stuff the cheese into the grooves and don't just sprinkle it on top.

Next apply piles of the sliced onions over the surface of the bomb. At this point you want to form a foil bowl under and around the sides of the bread. This way you be able to capture any butter and cheese that may try to leak away in the oven (you can reapply to the top when finished).

Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 30-40 minutes covered with a foil tent. When the cheese shreads are visibly melted, remove the tent and bake uncovered about 5-10 more minutes to brown it up.

It is difficult to take a picture of an intact bread bomb since they're unceremoniously attacked once removed from the oven. Do not forget your best balsamic vinegar for dipping the bread chunks (this is delicious!). The bread bomb is a true crowd pleaser as an awesome appetizer for wine or accompaniment for a meal.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Pie for People Who Fear Baking: Pear Custard Pie

Hear are two simple questions to assess if you will have the skills to make this amazing dessert:

1) Can you slice fruit?
2) Do you own a blender and can you successfully operate it?

If you said yes to both, then you can totally make this delicate pear dessert that looks like it came from a gourmet pastry shop. I completely heart this recipe because it does NOT involved making pie crust. Let me say that again- no pie crust.

So here is the link to the full recipe but below is the step-by-step:

1) Peel and slice pears into thin ( ~1/4") slices and lay them in a buttered pie pan overlapping in a fan like pattern. This doesn't have to be perfect.

2) Dump the rest of the ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, melted butter, salt, milk, into the blender and blend until mixed.

3) Pour the blended mix ( this is the custard) over the pears and bake in the oven.

And that's it. The custard sets and forms a firm enough base to be both filling and crust and the pear pattern can be seen just enough to give it that gourmet appearance.

Dust the pie with a bit of powdered sugar and you will wow your roommates/ spouse/ friends/ family with this.

So, please, make this pie and post a comment telling us how it went. We fell in love with the flavors of pear and vanilla and the lovely texture, can you tell?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Food Science Friday: Leavening Bread

We had a bread tasting workshop at my work this week featuring different breads made by my coworkers. We had a wonderful variety of textures, flavors and even methods of preparation. Today's food science fact is about leavening via yeast. We already talked about the difference between baking soda and baking powder on a past post as a means of chemical leavening. Biscuits, cakes, pancakes and quick breads like zucchini bread typically use baking powder and/or baking soda (which produces carbon dioxide gas through a chemical reaction) to leaven. In bread, yeast is often used to provide the leavening and create wonderful complex flavors for breads. The yeast is a living microorganism that ferments sugar to produce carbon dioxide and therefore leaven the bread. This biological process takes more time and is referred to as proofing or rising prior to going into the oven. The temperature and the humidity are two important factors that can affect the fermentation rate of the yeast and therefore how long it takes the bread to rise or proof.

So what did we taste this week and was it a quick bread or a yeast bread?

1. Avoca Brown Bread made by Helena

This hearty bread is a quick bread that uses baking powder and baking soda. Since it doesn’t use yeast, it is very quick and easy to make. Helena says it takes just 15 minutes to put together before baking.

2. No-Knead Bread made by me, Lauren

We have a whole blog post on this bread including the step-by-step here. This famous recipe uses 4 ingredients, including yeast, and is easy enough for a first time bread baker. It has very little steps but a very long fermentation time of 12 to 18 hours. This allows the yeast to ferment and develop the wonderful flavor. The high moisture dough and long rising time allows the gluten proteins to form a matrix without really kneading. By cooking the high moisture dough in a sealed pot, this simulates the professional steam injected ovens that make wonderful crusty bread. The steam bake is what allows the beautiful crust to form. The results are phenomenal.

3. Cinnamon rolls made by Adam.

These homemade sweet rolls had a wonderful texture and flavor. These are also yeast raised. Adam served them with frosting but they were eaten before I could take a photo! You may have had cinnamon rolls in a can from the supermarket. Those cinnamon rolls don't use yeast but instead use a baking powder/ soda to leaven. You will notice a different flavor and texture than the yeast raised ones.

4. French-Style Bread by Adam

Adam also shared two loaves of lovely white bread- great alone or with butter and jam or for a sandwich. These are also yeast raised loaves.

5. German buttermilk bread by Thomas

These two versions of dense and hearty bread are great with butter and a bit of salt. Their texture was somewhat similar to Helena's avoca bread but again this was a yeast raised bread.

6. Challah bread made by Rachel

This traditional Jewish braided loaf of bread was almost too beautiful to eat! This was a beautiful yeast raised bread that is plaited into the traditional braid- just gorgeous!

So as you can see, it was a bountiful feast of bread. I have the recipe for each loaf. Please comment or email us if you would like us to send it to you!