Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving...

About 4 o'clock this afternoon my mom sent me a text asking what was for dinner. No idea. Ended up looking in the fridge and found a few things that sounded good. I found a recipe for Penne with Sausage Cream Sauce that looked good on The only thing I didn't have was any cream, so I went to the little market and bought half & half instead. I figured I could cut a little of the fat (this is not a low fat dish) out; better some than none.

I followed the recipe pretty closely with only a couple of changes. A few of the reviewers mentioned that the recipe made too little sauce for the pound of pasta and sausage. I was going to make half the recipe, so I used half the sausage and pasta but made the whole sauce recipe. It turned out to be just the right amount of sauce. It was a creamy, tomato-y, garlicky sauce that really went well with the sausage and pasta. It was creamy without being too rich; the tomato helped cut the richness. The recipe also called for flat-leaf parsley, but I had none so left it out. I also used spaghetti instead of penne, but I think that doesn't really change the recipe, just the look and maybe texture of the dish. I think it would be very good with penne too.

Now, I'm writing this while chilling some brown sugar-shortbread cookie dough. Shortbread cookies are one of the easiest, simplest types of cookie to make. My favorite recipe comes from the Brown Bag Cookie Mold company. They make shortbread/cookie pans; I have a couple of them, and they make very good shortbread. However, most of the time I just chill and slice the dough instead of using the pan. You can find some of their shortbread recipes on their website,

My two favorites are the original and the maple walnut shortbread. My dad loved both of these but especially the original. He didn't like getting birthday or Father's Day presents, so I would make him a batch of these instead.

Anyway, they're dead easy to make. I made them tonight with brown sugar instead of powdered sugar. It makes a denser cookie with a hint of caramel to it.

If you haven't commented on the last post with your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, please feel free. Thanksgiving dishes usually work well for Christmas dinner too.

I'm thankful that I have wonderful friends, a loving and supportive family, a roof over my head, and food and clothing. It's more than some people have. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Calling all Cooks

So I was thinking about Thanksgiving today and they types of dishes we've traditionally made for family Thanksgiving dinners. Reading recent magazine issues and watching Food TV, I see that families have very different takes on Thanksgiving sides. Pretty much the turkey part is similar enough, but those sides can be completely foreign to me. Some sound delish while others sound vile.

So, I'm calling all cooks to post about your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes (with or without recipe), either traditional family ones or new ones you have added to the tradition. Post your contribution using the comment box below. Thanks!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pumpkin Praline Torte

Since it's been mentioned recently on facebook, I thought I'd post about the Praline Pumpkin Torte that so wowed everyone I know who has tasted it.

About 5 years ago, my mom emailed me about a recipe from Sunset magazine she thought looked good. It would be something different for the holidays while still being seasonal. I looked the recipe over, and it looked really good. It was a big hit from the first.

Fast forward 2 years to Thanksgiving 2007; I was in Boston at grad school for my MLIS. Since I was going home to California for Christmas, I stayed in Boston for Thanksgiving. Some of my friends and co-dorm residents were also staying, so we decided to make our own Thanksgiving dinner. It turned out great! Everyone made something, and it was all so yummy. I was in charge of dessert, so I decided to make the Praline Pumpkin Torte.

It was a huge hit! There's just something about the combination of layers of rich, spicy pumpkin cake studded with praline pecans and sandwiched together with whipped cream.

The recipe was featured in a Sunset Magazine website feature called 17 Thanksgiving Desserts.

Praline Pumpkin Torte
from Sunset

Notes: You can bake the cakes (through step 3) up to 1 day ahead; cover and store at room temperature. [I recommend making them at the night before, letting them cool, and then wrapping them up. I think it makes the cake dense, moist, and melds all the flavors together.] Up to 6 hours ahead, assemble layers; cover with a large inverted bowl or pan and chill.

Prep and Cook Time: about 1 hour, plus 1 1/2 hours to cool cakes.

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons plus 1 3/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup chopped pecans
4 large eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups canned cooked pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 3/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with cooking parchment. In a heavy 1- to 2-quart pan over low heat, stir brown sugar, butter, and 3 tablespoons whipping cream until melted and blended, about 5 minutes. Pour half the brown sugar mixture into each of the cake pans. Sprinkle 3/4 cup chopped pecans evenly into pans.

2. In a bowl, with a spoon, beat eggs, granulated sugar, and oil until well blended. Stir in pumpkin and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt to blend. Whisk dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture until well blended. Pour half the batter into each of the pans; smooth top.

3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pans on racks about 5 minutes, then invert onto racks and remove pans and paper. Let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Up to 6 hours before serving, in a bowl, with an electric mixer on high speed, beat remaining 1 3/4 cups whipping cream until soft peaks form. On low speed, beat in powdered sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla just until blended. Set one cake layer, pecan praline side up, on a serving platter. Spread two-thirds of the whipped cream mixture over the top. Set second layer, praline side up, on top. Cover with remaining whipped cream mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup chopped pecans.

Yield: Makes about 12 servings

If any of my friends who have made this cake have any variations they've tried, let me know.

--recipe and photo copyright Sunset Magazine, photo by Monica Buck--

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Original and the Leftovers

This will be 3 nights in one since I didn't get to this post when I said I would. I actually didn't eat much early this week other than mashed potatoes, split pea soup, and pudding because of my tooth; first it hurt then after the root canal I wanted to be careful about chewing. This past Thursday I made Curried Chicken and Vegetable Roast from a recipe in Eating Well magazine. The recipe looked really good, but it ended up kind of blah.

The recipe called for butternut squash, onion, and brussel sprouts. I had a winter squash, but it wasn't butternut. I used it anyway. I also included brussel sprouts, onion, beets, and carrots. You were supposed to toss then in some olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt & pepper. The recipe was supposed to serve 12, so I reduced it by a bit more than 1/2. The original recipe called for 1 cup of oil, so half the recipe would have been 1/2 cup, which seemed like an exorbitant amount to me. I only used about 3 tablespoons, which was plenty.

The chicken part called for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but I had a cut up chicken, so I used that. The recipe called for non-fat Greek-style plain yogurt, ginger, garlic, and Madras curry powder mixed together then coat the chicken pieces with it and lay them on top of the vegetables in a large, shallow, roasting pan.

The vegetable turned out tasty except for the squash, which had a bad aftertaste. The chicken was pretty bland. I think it would turn out better if I added about twice the amount of ginger, garlic, and curry to the same amount of yogurt and then let the chicken marinate in it for a couple of hours before cooking. The chicken did turn out pretty tender though, and we ended up using the leftovers in various ways the next few days.

Friday night I used some of the leftover chicken in a vegetable risotto and served it with leftover roasted vegetables. I think I've become obsessed with risotto. That and frittata, I think. Trying different combinations of additions. The risotto had minced carrots, finely diced onion, garlic, chicken, and a little Parmesan. I really liked it, but I'm not sure if my mom did. I think she thought it was fine but not particularly delicious.

My mom made lasagna last night--so yummy. Dangerous because I could easily have eaten way too much of it, it was so good.

Tonight I made a frittata with the last of the chicken, some corn, and potato. I added some oregano, garlic, chipotle powder, and chili powder. It was good though it would have been really great with some salsa.

So that's the dinner report for the last few days. This coming week we'll be having a stir fry, vegetable barley soup, and quick mac n cheese with more roasted vegetables (they're a favorite of mine and my mom) and Thursday we'll be going out to dinner to celebrate my brother's birthday. I'll try to post again later this week because I'll be in Sacramento all weekend at the California Library Association Annual Conference.