Saturday, November 20, 2010

This Turkey tells a story

Several years ago I had the idea to incorporate a family tree into my Thanksgiving decorations.  I contemplated tying pretty craft paper leaves to a real tree branch and still think that would be a good idea but before I could decide, my children kept bringing home these pine cone turkeys from preschool.  I have always loved using their handmade things in my decorations so we came up with this Family Tree Turkey.  Ours is made from a pretty piece of brown crafting paper, using a ruler and a dinner plate I made the lines for the family lineage.  It is simple, children go on the "feather"  in front with parents above them.  On the back feather, grandparents go closest to the pine cone, with their parents above them, with their parents above them.  Set in the middle of the table, this is a great conversation piece for grandparents and children.  I was sadly amazed at how little my children knew about our grandparents and greatgrandparents.  Every year, when I unpack this turkey it is a reminder to share those stories and to keep those loved ones alive with our oral history.  Take the time to tell the stories you loved to hear as a child and connect your children to their past.  And be thankful.

I made these with my sons third grade class of 18 students with no problems.  To simplify, I made the template for turkey head and feathers ahead of time and copied them onto 11 x 17 sheets of watercolor paper at Postnet.  The class wrote in their names and the names of their siblings on the semicircle at top right, then their parents went on the center spots of the spokes, grandparents next, then great grandparents.  Then we watercolored the pieces, cut them out and hot glued them to the pine cone.  It works best if you cut a small semicircle out of the feathers where they slide onto the pinecone.  This activity took about 1 1/2 hours in the classroom with me hot glueing the feathers in place for them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Seasonal Special #1- Pumpkin Pie

Ok, Ok, I know lots of you will say that you don't like pumpkin pie.  Before you settle in on your final opinion let me make my case.  Pumpkin(canned) is low calorie, low in saturated fats and cholesterol and a very good source of Vitamins A,C,E, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper, Manganese...and the list goes on.  In pie form, you add calories with cream and sugar BUT you also add protein with eggs and the pie will last several days in the fridge. 
We like the Joy of Cooking recipes for Pumpkin Pie- they always turn out nice and the sour cream version is souffle-like, avoiding that heavy custard texture some people don't like.  The picture shows how much one batch of filling will make.  I do a pie for dessert with leftovers for breakfast, tarts that pack well in lunchboxes, and a crustless in a ramekin for my low-carb husband. 

Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie(simplified)
Pie Crust-unless you are feeling adventurous and have tons of time-buy the pie crust in the biscuit section of the grocery in the red box- you can form it in your own pan and no one knows it isn't homemade
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 large egg yolks(reserve the whites)
1 1/2 cups milk or light cream or sour cream(I use 3/4c. milk and 3/4 c. sour cream)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
Mix all these ingredients together in a large bowl.  Form your pie crust in the pan and bake at 400 degrees until it starts to brown.  While it is cooking:  Beat egg whites into peaks and add scant 1/4 cup sugar after peaks are forming.  Fold egg whites into pumpkin mixture and fill crusts.  Bake at 375 degrees until pies are set about 45 minutes for a pie, 20 minutes for tarts.
Notes from my test kitchen:  my husband likes the top of this pie- the sugar kind of rises to the top and does a glaze-like finish- we recommend shallower pies and tarts and let them brown just a little.

You will probably have leftover pumpkin because this recipe takes about 1 1/2 cans of puree.  Mix the leftover pumpkin with whipped light cream cheese, add the same spices you have out for the pie and one tsp of honey.  This makes a great topper for bagels and sliced apples.  Mine keeps in the fridge for a week.

PS.  Save extra pie crusts I have some apple ideas coming soon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fake Food Freaks Me Out- Make Your Own Granola

I don't use fat-free, lowfat, sugar substitutes... I use olive oil, butter in small portions, and real sugar or honey for sweeteners.  Sometimes the mile-long list of ingredients on the cereal box is just plain scary.  How many food items really need to be created in a lab and need to last two months on the shelf? 

This granola is from one of my favorites- The Clean Food cookbook by Terry Walters.  We adjust it with different dried fruits and nuts depending on the season and what we have in the pantry.  My husbands favorite breakfast is this granola over Greek Gods yogurt with honey.  ENJOY!

Maple Nut Granola

*4 cups rolled oats
*2 cups crispy brown rice cereal
*1 cup sunflower seeds(unsalted, raw)
*1.5 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup pecans, cashews, or walnuts
1 cup raisins(I like golden or dried cranberries or apricots or apples)
2 Tbsp cinnamon
*3/4 cup canola oil
*3/4 cup maple syrup(Grade A amber)
1 tsp almond extract

*these are the items I hold constant-- all other ingredients can be substituted with other kinds of nuts, dried fruits, spices, and flavored extracts or just vanilla
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl.  Whisk wet ingredients together before mixing them into dry ingredients.  Spread into the largest Pyrex pan you have like an 11 x 14 inch casserole.  Push dried fruits down so they are covered by grains. Bake for 1 hour to 1.5 hours, until lightly golden.  Allow to cool before breaking up.  After it is completely cooled, store in an airtight container. 

Post your favorite combinations!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turn a Vegetable into a Main Course

This is NOT an attempt to turn anyone into a vegetarian.  I recently had a conversation at the health food store with a lady that told me an average serving of meat(animal protein) should be the size of a deck of cards.  Each time you eat that much meat, you should have 3 times that amount of green, leafy vegetables.  I can promise you, our household rarely meets that proportion.  But it gave me some ideas.  This month's(Nov.2010) issue of Bon Appetit magazine had several wonderful veggie recipes suggested for Thanksgiving.  I took those, eliminated some butter and simplified, added turkey sausage and turned them into weeknight dinners.  Here are two- and before you say "yuck!" my family voted them both "keepers".

Sauteed Shredded Brussel Sprouts
 with Turkey Sausage and Toasted Pecans

2lbs brussel sprouts
4 tbsps olive oil
5 turkey sausage links
1 garlic clove
1 cup lowfat chicken broth
1/2 cup toasted pecans

Slice the turkey sausage into diagonal rounds 1/4 inch thick.  In a heavy skillet saute sausage until lightly browned and cooked through(5 minutes).  Meanwhile, trim the root ends from the brussel sprouts and shred them(you can use a food processor).  Remove cooked sausage from pan and set aside, add olive oil and 1 large minced garlic clove.  Saute garlic until fragrant then add brussel sprouts and chicken broth stirring until they turn bright green and start to wilt.  When most of the broth has evaporated, add sausage back into the pan and toss in the pecans.

As you can see, I served this with leftover mashed potatoes just in case my kids didn't like it and the mashed potatoes were left on the plate!

Iron Skillet Succotash - Grilled Turkey Sausage- Sauteed Spinach

olive oil
1 yellow onion- cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 zucchini-cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 yellow squash-1/2 inch cubes
1red bell pepper- 1/2 inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper-1/2 inch cubes
1 10 ounce pkg shelled edamame
dried marjoram
Turkey Sausages
12 oz. spinach leaves
1 garlic clove

This is so simple!  Grill the turkey sausages one per family member.  In a heavy skillet use about 3 TBSP olive oil and add the onion first, sauteing until golden(5 min) then add squash and bell peppers saute 5 minutes until starting to soften then add partially thawed edamame and saute another 5 minutes.  After you throw in the edamame, start 1 TBSP olive oil in another pan and add crushed garlic clove and then toss spinach until wilted. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Reinvent The Wheel

In our house, at the end of dinner we vote whether or not dinner was a "keeper".  This allows the children a vote and keeps them actively involved in the planning/cooking part of dinner.  Over time, our "keepers" keep coming from the same sources. 
For years I have subscribed to Bon Appetit magazine.  I credit their recipes and seasonal issues with most of my kitchen knowledge.  My favorite column in the magazine is Fast, Easy, Fresh-formerly, 30 Minute Main Courses- you can see the attraction.  So naturally I was thrilled when Bon Appetit compiled all these recipes into one cookbook.  I LOVE THIS COOKBOOK!  Most of the recipes have short ingredient lists, use fresh veggies and spices without unrealistically labor intensive prepping.  These are our weeknight meals.  My family loves the curries, roast chickens, red bell pepper pestos and soups.

Another go-to for recipes is Clean Food.  My husband bought this for me during a Lenten pledge to eat better and we found that it was easy and tasty to use wholesome-healthier alternatives.  I make a batch of Maple Nut Granola at least every two weeks and change it up with whatever nuts and dried fruits that are in the pantry.

And lastly, for basic reference material and classic recipes, The Joy of Cooking.  The beginning of each chapter has a column that details the basic properties of the item in that chapter- how to purchase, different cooking methods and tips for preparation.  I love the Pumpkin Pie, Sugar Cookies and Pesto Cheesecake from this book.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my adaptations of these recipes and how to plan a menu around them.  Stay Tuned

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Simple Dinners Make them Smile

Menu: Pear and Pecan Salad
             Lemon-Oregano Roasted Chicken
             Sauteed Spinach
             Sweet Potatoes

OK--This meal looks impressive but here are the directions.

1)Wash the sweet potatoes and throw them in the oven on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for at least an hour

2)Wash and pat dry the chicken(bone in, skin on whatever pieces you want)  put in a baking dish with 1.5 to 2 inch sides, salt and pepper and dried oregano sprinkled on top put in oven at 400 degrees for 1hr10min(or with the sweet potatoes if you need to)

3)Wash asparagus, break off tough ends and put in microwave safe dish with water not quite covering it. Set it in the microwave but do not cook yet.

4)Salad-wash lettuce and leave to drain

5)Make salad dressing-olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic(mince 2 while you're at it, you need one for the spinach later) and a little dijon mustard.


Final Preparation
Check sweet potatoes, stick meat thermometer in biggest piece of chicken
Add pecans to oven to toast for 10 minutes
6)Heat 1-2 TBSP olive oil in skillet with sides, add 1 clove minced garlic and saute on medium until you can smell the garlic.  Add a whole bag of spinach, tossing until it completely wilts, turn off burner and cover.

7) Microwave asparagus about 6minutes.

8)Cut pear for salad, toss pear, pecans, and vinaigrette(go easy on this) 

9)Squeeze one fresh lemon over top of chicken just before serving.

It's done. 

Offer grated parmesan for the salad and butter and cinnamon for the sweet potatoes. 
Your family will think you worked all day.

Shopping list:
Chicken-bone in, skins on-whatever pieces your family likes
Sweet Potatoes-1 per person
Asparagus-Fresh, one bunch
Spinach-One bag
Lettuce-green leaf
One Pear
1/4 cup almonds
Olive Oil
White Balsamic Vinegar
Dijon Mustard
2 cloves garlic