Wednesday, November 30, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Asparagus Roll-Ups

So I am taking my favorite seven recipes from Thanksgiving this year and posting a new one every day. I'm going to start with the most amazing appetizer my sister made: Asparagus Roll Ups.  Simple, delicious, awesomeness!

Asparagus Roll Ups Appetizer


12 slices sourdough bread, crusts removed (use the crusts later to make homemade croutons!) 
1 (8 oz.) container whipped cream cheese 
2 tbsp fresh chopped chives 
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled 
24 fresh asparagus spears, partially cooked 
1/4 c melted butter 
Fresh, grated Parmesan cheese 


Use a rolling pin to flatten each slice of bread.Combine cream cheese, chives, and bacon, stirring well. Spread bread with cheese mixture, covering to edges. Place 2 asparagus spears on each slice of bread; roll up, and place seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Brush each with butter, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Very Merry Cranberry Thanksgiving Menu

I did it! I did it!  An entire Thanksgiving meal with not a burnt roll, soggy salad, or broken plate (however, two wine glasses and lever on the sink weren't so lucky).

We had a very quaint Thanksgiving dinner--just me, my husband, son, sister, mom, and dad.  Because it was a casual occasion, there was no set dinner time, which gave us the opportunity to take a leisurely walk down to Starbucks in the morning, snack on lettuce wraps and aspergras rolls in the afternoon, and have a 5pm (give or take a half hour) dinner.

I think the key to success for Thanksgiving dinner is:
  • Know what's ok to make ahead (cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, dessert)
  • Know what not to make ahead (turkey, salad, bread) and how to properly re-heat anything you do make ahead.
  • Pre-cut anything you can't make ahead.
  • Thaw your turkey early.
  • Don't have too many unique flavors that compete with each other.
  • Have a hungry audience so everything tastes good (i.e. lots of alcohol and don't serve lunch).
I will be sharing my favorite recipes from this meal with you over the course of the next week.  Just in time for Christmas!

The Menu:

Asparagus Roll-Ups
Lettuce Wraps
Blue Cheese, Walnut, and Cranberry Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Herb-Roasted Turkey
Mushroom Sausage Stuffing 
Rosemary Mashers with Gravy
Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots (fan favorite)
Rhodes Rolls
Cranberries with Oranges
Sour Cream Cheesecake

I found that I didn't even have to put out the fine China.  My casual dinnerware matched the Harvest decor just fine!  But it was laughable that I actually had to think to remember what side the fork, knife, and glasses go on!

I placed fabric leaves under my recycled glass plates and added gold chargers (from the Dollar Tree) for a festive look.  I can't help but laugh every time I see a charger because it reminds me of this episode of "Cribs" where this basketball player was eating off a charger and was so happy he "found these really big plates).

The table (before we messed it up).

The food (before we ate it).  Dinner was comprised of Roasted Turkey with Herbs, Rosemary Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Rhodes Dinner Rolls, Homemade Green Bean Casserole, Sage Sausage Stuffing with Mushrooms, and Cranberry-Orange Sauce.

Mmmmm.  My husband insisted on canned cranberries (which no one ate because the homemade ones were better), and my sister insisted on Stove Top (which no one made because the homemade smelled so much better).  The only thing not homemade was the dinner rolls, which were an accident because we forgot to put the homemade bread in the breadmaker.

The crowd-winning favorite was the Homemade Green Bean Cassorole with home-fried shallots and homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup (recipe to follow in another post).
For dessert, I made a Cheesecake using my father-in-law's recipe.  It was to die for! I used leftover cranberry sauce for the topping.
I also used a Silky Pumpkin Pie recipe, but it pretty much just tasted like Pumpkin Pie.  The Cheesecake was better.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hosting Idea: Havest Pasta Bar

Short on time? Host with a Pasta Bar!
I always try to be a good host, even when I'm at odds with time and energy.  So when I find easy ways to cater great events--so I spend less time in the kitchen and more time with my guests--I want to share those ideas with others.

I realize that not all of us are cut out for hosting.  There are even days when I doubt my own abilities, especially if my son had a sleepless night or my husband worked too many hours that week.  We've all been at those awkward parties where there wasn't enough food, or the hostess never made it into the shower, or worse of all: you show up at an event where you know only the hosts and no one introduces you to the unwelcoming circle of friends.  I vow to avoid all of the above to the best of my abilities.

So, a good place to start for a new host is an easy menu so you can focus on the other stuff.  This Halloween, I found a great way to host: with pasta!
I once heard from an Italian, "the longer the noodle, the better."  I believe she was talking about pasta.  In that case, these 8' noodles from World Market are perfect for a pasta party.

It was so easy, the night before, I made three sauces plus a side of turkey meatballs: Tomato/Basil, Pumpkin Sage Sausage, and Sweet Olive Tomato.  This gave me something fresh and homemade to serve, but without the chaos of the kitchen the next day.
The key to a good pasta party is lots of options.  I had three types of noodles, three sauces, a side of meatballs and lots of toppings so each person could create and discuss their pasta masterpiece.
On Halloween, I unwrapped my pre-made sauces, reheated them on the stove, threw the meatballs in the oven, and then boiled an assortment of pastas.  I had three kinds of fancy, colorful (yet inexpensive) pastas that I purchased from World Market.  I had a long, harvest-colored spaghetti noodles, leaf-shaped macaronis, and a whole wheat pasta for the health-conscience.  Then I took little dishes and put a selection of toppings in each one: fresh basil, shredded Parmesan, fresh tomatoes, ground pepper, and garlic.  Add a bowl full of meatballs, and there were hundreds of pasta/sauce/topping combinations that could be created from this simple little pasta bar!
These pumpkin and leaf-shaped pastas from World Market gave my party the harvest flair I was looking for.
Among all the creations, the Pumpkin Sage Sausage sauce with the harvest-shaped noodles was the most popular combination.  The recipe is below.

Pumpkin Sage Sauce
 Pumpkin Sage Sausage Sauce


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pound sage-flavored sausage (Johnsonville)
4 TBSP fresh garlic
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound pasta
Fresh Romano/Parmigiano blend (Trader Joes)

Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Remove sausage from pan (drain if desired). Add to pan the remaining tablespoon oil, and then the garlic and onion. Saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender.

Add bay leaf, sage, and wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5 to 10 minutes to thicken sauce.

Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.

PS - The side of meatballs were a real hit!  I highly recommend making your meatballs from turkey, as they absorb the taste of the sauce better than red meat.  Plus, they are so much healthier and the leftovers freeze well.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Secret Talent for Grilled Cheese

Did you miss me?  Probably not, because either a) you rarely come to this site; or b) you were one of my loyal followers which means you were also probably one of the friends or family riding the waves alongside me on a Mexican Rivera cruise last week (there was 50 of us total for my brother's wedding along the Carnival Splendor).

We got in last night, unpacked, and headed straight to bed.  Since the life of a social media consultant is not the most lucrative position in the world, I'm pretty cautious about our spending, and made sure we did not spend a penny on groceries for the week and half prior to the cruise.  So late this morning, when I realized I hadn't eaten anything more than a frozen springroll in 24 hours, I opened the fridge for some grub and this is what I found:
The story in the pantry was not much better...
Now, at this point, most people would have chosen to hit the Jack 'n the Box, Starbucks, or Deli for lunch.  But after a solid week of processed food and take out, I'm three pounds heavier and feel like crap, so no take out for me.

Luckily, I have a secret talent: Making creative food concoctions from practically nothing.  Case and point?  What do you do with pepper jack cheese, Parmesan, olive oil, a can of soup, and two slices of bread?  Make an olive oil pepper jack panini with tomoto soup!  And to be honest, this may have been my favorite grilled cheese sandwich EVER!

Olive Oil Pepper Jack Panini

Italian Bread (100 calories/slice)
Olive Oil (I have a Misto so I can use sparingly)
Pepper Jack Cheese
Specialty Salt granules (I have a seasoning salt blend from Savory Spice Shop that I LOVE)
Can of Tomato Soup
Pepper (from a mill)
Parmesan Cheese

Spritz the olive oil lightly over the inside of two pieces of bread.  Add the pepper jack cheese, and salt granules and make into a sandwich, oiled sides in.  Coat your pan with a light coating of olive oil and cook over medium high heat until pan is warm.  Add sandwich and cook approx. three minutes on each side.  Meanwhile, heat up tomato soup.  Top with fresh pepper and Parmesan.  Easy, delicious, and not-too-bad-for-you lunch.
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