Monday, November 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Stuffings...

I don’t know about you, but for me, the Thanksgiving meal is all about the stuffing.  Don’t get me wrong; I adore turkey and I don’t roast a whole bird often, so it’s a very special treat in our house.  However, I really think we all eat the turkey as a vehicle for the stuffing!  To me, it really signals the holiday and all those great flavors of sage and thyme smell so good and take me back to wonderful memories of childhood holidays. 

I come from a house divided.  My mother is from Lancaster County Pennsylvania and my dad hales (hails?) from Lower Alabama.  Since I cannot figure out a way to please everyone with a single stuffing, I double down for Turkey day and always make two stuffings!   The good news is that this means I always have plenty of leftovers!  Leftover stuffing is my most versatile ingredient and here a few super ways that I like to use almost any type of leftover stuffing in the days following Thanksgiving:

  1.  Form leftover patties of stuffing and dip in egg.  Saute them in butter or olive oil and make “Thanksgiving Benedict” the next day, toped with a poached egg and leftover ham or smoked turkey.
  2.  Make a deluxe turkey sandwich, including stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and greens
  3. Roll stuffing into small balls and dip into egg and then bread crumbs.  Fry like Risotto balls and serve with warm cranberry sauce as a dipping treat!
  4.  Make leftover stuffing into dumplings with added egg, milk, flour and baking powder and use them in your turkey soup!
  5. Break up small bits of stuffing and add to waffle batter.  Top with turkey, gravy and warm cranberry sauce!
  6. Be a purist - Just eat it with some gravy and leftover turkey scraps!

To be honest, most of the time, my stuffing is not stuffing at all.  Technically, it’s dressing!  I like to cook my stuffing outside of the bird.  This way, I can get a nice even roast on my bird and I can get a soft, moist stuffing with a nice crunchy top!  But whatever you call it, stuffing or dressing, just call it delicious!  Feel free to experiment a bit and try new things.  Sometimes, I like to go crazy and bake one of mine in individual muffin tins.  Sometimes, those don’t even get to the table to be honest!

Here are the 2 stuffings I like to make which offer my guests really different flavor profiles and textures.  Honestly, it is not much more trouble to make two versions because you can chop all the onions and celery and many of the herbs all at once and then, divide them.  I have a cornbread dressing with chestnuts, bacon and herbs as my personal favorite.  The use of cornbread makes it very crunchy and the bacon gives it a beautiful smokiness.  Next, I make a bread stuffing, using sourdough or ciabatta, with parsnips, sausage, apples and golden raisins.  Gobble gobble!   

6 cups cornbread stuffing mix, or cut up stale homemade cornbread (not the sweet kind)
8 slices bacon
3 Tbsp Butter
2 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
2 3/4 cups turkey or chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, removed from stems
2 cups coarsely chopped chestnuts from one 16-ounce jar
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Salt and Pepper to taste
Butter a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Fry bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove bacon and in the same pan, add the butter, and then the chopped onions and celery.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add to corn bread. Mix in 2 1/4 cups broth and herbs. Stir in chestnuts. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the egg and add the whole mixture to the buttered pan. Add up to 1/2 cup more broth if stuffing seems dry.  This can be done one day ahead if desired.  Just check the amount of moisture before baking and add additional broth if necessary.
Cover with foil; bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until top begins to brown, about 25 -30 minutes longer.

4 cups sourdough or ciabatta bread cubes
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
2 cups chopped onions
1 cups chopped celery or chopped fennel
1/2 cup butter, divided
1 ½  pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cubed
1 pound parsnips, peeled, cubed
½ cup golden raisins

1/3 cup packed fresh sage leaves
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, stems removed
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 ½ cup low-salt chicken broth
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F. Bake bread cubes on 2 large rimmed baking sheets until lightly toasted, about 20 minutes.  You can do this step a day or two ahead if you like.
Sauté sausages in very large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking into pieces with spoon, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to large bowl; add bread.
Plump raisins in hot water and set aside. Add onions and celery (or fennel) to same skillet and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes; adding herbs for last few minutes.  Transfer to bowl with bread using a slotted spoon. Melt 1/4 cup butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and parsnips and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes.  Mix into stuffing, along with raisins, drained from the hot liquid in which they’ve been plumped. Season with salt and pepper.
Butter 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Transfer stuffing to the prepared dish; drizzle with  the chicken broth and remaining melted butter. Cover with foil. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake stuffing covered until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until beginning to brown, about 15 more minutes. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cranberry-Orange Cheesecake


1 package oreos, broken
2 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel


For crust:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Finely grind cookies and chocolate in processor. Add butter; blend until moist clumps form. Using plastic wrap as aid, press crumb mixture onto bottom and 1 1/4 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Bake until set, about 8 minutes. Cool completely.
For filling:
Increase oven temperature to 350°F. Wrap 2 layers of heavy-duty foil around bottom and up sides of springform pan. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until light. Beat in flour. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, just until blended. Beat in orange peel and vanilla.
Pour filling into crust. Place springform pan in large roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with enough hot water to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake until filling is just set in center but still moves slightly, about 55 minutes. Remove cake from water bath; transfer to rack and cool completely, about 4 hours. Cover and chill overnight.
For topping:
Stir sugar and water in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium; add cornstarch mixture and bring to simmer. Add cranberries; cook until beginning to pop, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Stir in orange peel. Cool completely. Cover and chill overnight. (Cheesecake and cranberry mixture can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)  Run knife around top edge of cheesecake to loosen. Release pan sides. Top cheesecake with cranberry mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour. 

Re-posting for the 2013 holidays....

I adore pie at the holidays but want an alternative on my sideboard this year.  I thought a moist, decadent cake would be just the ticket and this one completely fit the bill.  Delicate in flavor with a sublime texture, this scrumptious cake, paired with the citrus-y, tangy icing and crunchy pecans is a winner!  If you don’t have all the spices on hand, you could substitute one tablespoon pumpkin pie spice, with little flavor impact.  You could also omit the cranberries, nuts and coconut if you prefer, but they had great texture, sweetness and some interest to the moist cake.  This is a rich dish and needs no accompaniment, other than a good cup of coffee.  Enjoy!
For the Cake:

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1/3 cup dried cranberries or currants
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup flaked coconut

For the Frosting:

½ stick butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) block of reduced fat cream cheese
Zest of one orange
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp cream
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice
3 cups confectioners sugar

For the Glazed Pecans:

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt
dash cayenne pepper
1 tsp butter
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 8” baking pans with cooking spray and dust with some flour.  Line the bottom of both pans with parchment, cut to size, and then spray again.  Set aside.  In a mixer, blend the oil and both sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and then add the pumpkin, mixing well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and all the spices.  Add into the wet mixture, beating until smooth.  Add the cranberries, nuts and coconut and stir well.  Pour batter evenly into both pans and bake for 35 minutes.  Remove from oven and cook for 15 minutes before removing cakes from the pans.

Next, make the candied pecans. Start by changing the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment and use the teaspoon of butter to grease the parchment.   In a small saucepan, mix the water, sugar, salt and spices over medium heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is simmering.  Add the pecans and cook until candied, about 2 minutes.  Spread out evenly on the prepared baking sheet, using a spatula to separate the nuts.  Bake for about 10 minutes and allow the nuts to cool completely on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Set aside.

Finally, make the frosting by beating the butter and cream cheese together.  Add the orange zest, juice and vanilla and mix well.  Beat in the sugar and add the cream as needed until you achieve your desired texture. 

Once the cake has thoroughly cooled, place one layer on a cake server and use half of the frosting to completely cover, leaving the sides unfrosted.  Gently lay the other cake layer atop this and ice with the rest of the frosting, again leaving the sides unfrosted.  Lay the pecans all around the top of the cake in concentric circles.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Easiest Ever Oreo Truffles

I had these little delights for the first time years ago at a party.   A friend mentioned she had brought these three ingredient Oreo truffles and that they were absolutely addictive.  Like crack, but you know, more caloric….and a bit more socially acceptable.  I can be a bit of a food snob, so I wanted to be cynical but I had had a couple of drinks, so in all honesty, she had me at Oreo.   Anyway, several years later, they are still one of my go-to party foods.  I think it is humanly impossible not to like these little 2 bite delights.   Plus, did I mention that they’re three ingredients?  Or four?  Or five possibly depending on how fancy you want to get?  But, who’s counting when they’re this good! 

Seriously though, they are three ingredients.  The only other things to buy would be sprinkles or some other nonsense with which to decorate them.  I really think that’s gilding the lily to be honest, but to each his own.  They do look awfully festive with some red and green sugar crystals perched atop the little spheres of goodness at Christmastime.  You can also expand your ingredient list (ever so slightly) by doing white and dark chocolate coatings.  It makes for a nice platter, but honestly, once your guests taste them, nobody will remember what the platter looked like; it will be completely empty!  

Okay, these are also super easy to make.  Seriously, like REALLY easy.  My nine year old and seven year old made the last batch while I supervised from the next room and focused more on an episode of Housewives and a big glass of “mommy juice” (you might call it wine).  I know, Parent of the Year!  I’m sure my kids had way more fun making these than I would have and they truly are that easy, so here goes.  Get out your shopping list and pen:

1 package of Oreos
1 8oz block of cream cheese
1 bag of chocolate chips

That’s it.  I am not kidding.  I know, right? 

Okay, there are a few recommendations I’ll share.  First, about the Oreos.  No Double stuff, reduced fat (what is that even about anyway?), or flavored.  Go with the classic here and get the regular old original Oreos for the correct creamy filling to chocolate cookie ratio.  When I say a package, I mean the regular size with like three rows and about 18 cookies in each row.  Next, for the cream cheese, please don’t even think about getting fat free or reduced fat or any other such nonsense, because really, why would you?  You’re going to mix these with Oreos for Christ’s sake, so let’s not pretend this is health food.  You need the texture of the original cream cheese for this to work out right.  Lastly, for the chocolate chips, you do have some options.  I prefer the white chocolate, but as I said, you can use milk chocolate or semi-sweet or all three to make a festive platter.  Go wild! 

Here’s how the magic comes together. 

1)   Crush your Oreos.  It’s best to do this in a food processor, but if you don’t have one, don’t sweat it.  You can go old school with a large Ziploc bag and a rolling pin (or if you’re me, an empty wine bottle).  If you do use the food processor, it’s best to do these in three separate smaller batches so they turn into fine crumbs.  You want to really crush the heck out of these Oreos so you end up with a mound of tiny cookie crumbs.  The creamy filling that started out in the cookies, now coats the crumbs and makes them a little sweet and helps them to stick together.  Dump them into a bowl, and …
2)   Add the cream cheese.  Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?  See, so simple. You just mix the cream cheese with the sticky cookie crumbs until everything comes together in one large ball.  I like to use my hands, because that’s how I roll, but you can use a spatula if you prefer.  The mixture will be really dark and nearly irresistible at this point, but try to contain yourself.
3)   Roll the Oreo and cream cheese goodness into little balls. Use a small spoon to chunk off tablespoon (or smaller) sized bits and roll these between your hands into small balls (smaller than golf balls).  Place these on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  When you’re done, try not to lick your hands.  Right! Then, put the cookie sheet in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to chill.  Wash up – especially your face; you probably have cookie crumbs all around your mouth by now.
4)   Dip the balls into the melted chocolate.  First, melt the chocolate in the microwave at 70% power, being sure not to overdo it.  Take it out every 20 seconds or so and stir.  Once it is melted, dip each ball into the chocolate and use a skewer to hold the truffle.  A second skewer or small spoon is handy for getting off any excess chocolate coating.  I like to do some white chocolate and some dark, so I do the white first, and then re-chill the remaining truffle balls, while I’m washing up and melting the dark chocolate.  You can allow these to cool in mini muffin cups (putting them in a mini muffin tin really helps them hold their shape), or you can just do it on waxed paper.  Either way, once you’re done dipping, put the whole thing back in the fridge until you are ready to serve, or at least long enough to thoroughly set and chill. 

If you want to use sprinkles, or colored sugar or something like that to decorate the truffles, do that while the chocolate coating is still warm so it will stick.  These look great just plain, but they are gorgeous when spruced up a bit (especially the white ones). 

Try to show some willpower, and save some for the party.  Because of the cream cheese, these need to be stored in the fridge, but will stay fresh for at least a week after they’re made.  As if!  Personally, I’ve never seen any make it past the 24 hour mark, but maybe you’ll fare better than I did!  Enjoy!   

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chili Cook-Off Winning Recipe

Some friends held their annual chili cook-off recently and I know the heat would be on!  There is some fierce competition in our hood for the yearly bragging rights and highly-coveted trophy.  I was fraught with questions about what type of chili to bring?  Turkey and black bean chili?  Perhaps too healthy a choice for the male voters.  Pork chili verde possibly? Hmm….not sure how many foodies will be there….White Chicken chili?  Is that even chili, really?  Plus, I already made that last week.  I decided to go with a traditional beef and bean chili, kicked up a couple of notches with some bold spices, complex heat, and a few surprise ingredients.  I wanted to be sure it wasn’t wimpy, girly chili – I did want some heat!  But, I also wanted a really rich and complex flavor profile that was not just about making people sweat when they ate it. A few purists may question some of my ingredient choices, I know.  Cinnamon?  Cocoa?  Ketchup, come on?  Trust me that they’re all there for a reason and really give a nice well-rounded flavor and amazing balance to the end product.

I have to admit that I so did not use a recipe, so any amounts here are really more of a guess, but in my humble opinion, chili should not be about carefully-measured teaspoons and cup measures anyway.  It should be about passion, heat, and the fun of adding a pinch of this and a handful of that while you sip on an adult beverage.  So, here goes.  Grab a couple of beers and put on a football game, or in my case, a Project Runway marathon, because this dish is best simmered for a long while.  Serve with some sour cream, grated cheese and cornbread for a great cold day meal!  Enjoy the leftovers on a dog, with pasta or over a baked potato – go crazy with it!  It makes a big batch and freezes pretty well!

While this looks like a LONG list of ingredients, relax!  You probably already have most of it in your pantry and if not, leaving out a thing or town will just make it your own.


1 lb. ground chuck or other high quality ground beef
1 lb. mild Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded, de-ribbed and chopped
1 poblano pepper, roasted and seeded and chopped* (I use frozen pre-cut)
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 chipotle pepper, chopped with 1 Tbsp of the adobe sauce it comes in** (canned)
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp Ancho Chili powder (or New Mexican style if you can’t find Ancho variety)
3 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Paprika
2 tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Cayenne pepper
1 ½ Tbsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp ground Coriander
2 tsp dried Oregano
1 tsp dried Dill
1 Tbsp Cocoa powder
1 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp tomato paste (I like the kind in the tube)
1 bottle of beer (preferably lager or pilsner) 
3 shakes Worcestershire
5 shakes Tabasco
1 can reduced sodium beef broth
¼ cup ketchup (trust me on this!)
1 can plain diced tomatoes
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic
1 can of reduced sodium chicken broth
1 can of kidney beans, drained
1 can of black beans, drained
1 can of pinto beans
1 handful of chopped cilantro (optional)


Use a large stockpot or dutch oven and first, brown the ground beef and sausage together on medium high heat.   Don’t stir it too much – you really want it to get good and browned and if it sticks to the bottom a bit, so be it!  Use this time to chop up your onion, garlic and jalapeno.  When the meat is well browned and cooked through, spoon off a bit of the excess fat and discard.  You do want to keep some fat in the pan however.  Add the chopped veggies now and stir occasionally until they’re softened.  Next, add the chopped roasted poblano pepper (you can buy these frozen, already chopped or pick one up and roast it yourself on the grill or over a gas burner).  Now, add ALL the spices and the brown sugar.  You want to be sure to do it now, so they have the chance to toast in the pan with the meat and aromatics before you add the liquid.  Now, you want to start adding liquids.  First, add the tomato paste and the Worcestershire sauce, stirring as you go.  Next, add the beer and stir, scraping off any browned bits from the bottom.     Add the beef broth, ketchup, hot sauce, and the can of plain diced tomatoes, along with any juices in the can.  Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low and cover.  Simmer for about 25 minutes.  Remove the lid and allow to continue simmering for at least 10 minutes without the lid.  This will evaporate some of the liquid and thicken the chili.  In a blender or food processor, puree the can of roasted tomatoes and chicken broth until well blended.  Add this to the chili and continue simmering, adding all the beans, rinsed and drained.  If your chili is a little thick now, simmer with the lid on for the next 15-20 minutes.  If it is too thin, simmer without the lid.  Check for seasoning and add additional salt, hot sauce or other spices as needed.  Chop a handful of fresh cilantro and add that a few minutes before serving.

This is a great bowl of red with cornbread and its also good ladled over a baked potato or spaghetti.  My hubby says it would make a mean chili pie, so we may have that in our future!

It’s even better the second day so try not to over-indulge on your first pass!  Enjoy!  

* Wegman's and Harris Teeter both sell frozen chopped fire-roasted poblano peppers.  They are a great freezer staple to have on hand.  In the early fall, you will often find fresh roasted hatch peppers which are a wonderful sub-on for the poblanos.  Otherwise, buy a fresh poblano pepper or two and quick fire-roast in on the grill or using a gas burner or in the oven.  Remove the blistered skin and the seeds and chop to use.  In a pinch, a small can of mild green chiles will do, but it will not have the same heat or deep smoky flavor.

** Chipotle in Adobo sauce is found in the Latin section of most supermarkets and is a pantry must-have.  They pack a punch so use sparingly!  I typically use one pepper, diced fine with a bit of the sauce and freeze the rest.  Pureed, it makes a terrific marinade component for steak or for use in future chili dishes or salsas.