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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas gets most of the attention around this time of the year, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I can’t imagine anything better than kicking off the season with a cozy celebration of family, food, traditions (both old and new) and giving thanks for all of our blessings. Having lived away from both our families these past 9 years, I cherish every holiday we get to travel home, Nick’s work schedule permitting, to be with our loved ones. This year, we get to spend Thanksgiving (or Thanksmas) in Omaha with Nick’s family and Christmas with mine in Southern California. Like last year, we also hope to be able to have a mini-Thanksgiving at some point with just the two of us, so I have an excuse to cook the traditional dinner!

So let’s get to the good stuff: the food! I love seeing people share their recipes and traditions during Thanksgiving. After all, food is love. What are your favorites? For some, Thanksgiving means turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing. In the Wegner household, the traditional lime-green pear jello dessert from his mother’s side of the family makes an appearance at the table every Thanksgiving. During Nick’s first Thanksgiving with my family, I tried making it so he could feel like he had a little piece of home with him. Every person in my family was initially horrified at the sight of it- neon, creamy green in the clear glass bowl (there really isn’t much you can do to make this jello look pretty) but soon everyone, to their surprise, fell in love with its sweet refreshing taste after the first cautious bite. I even caught my late Grandma Sue covertly licking the last remnants off the serving spoon when we were clearing up at the end of the meal. To this day, if we are celebrating Thanksgiving in California, my relatives still request I make it and it’s now an official entry in our family cookbook as the “Greteman Lime Pear Jello.”

Nick’s favorite Thanksgiving food is his mother’s stuffing, which I try to replicate every year but can’t get quite right yet. My personal favorite dish at Thanksgiving is the oft-maligned green bean casserole. The Campbells Soup and French Onion kind, I totally admit without shame. Yes it’s not fancy and the cream of mushroom soup is kind of scary to pry out of the can but I know countless others (though they may not want to admit it), who like me, LOVE and look forward to its comforting deliciousness every year. Sometimes I’ll make a green bean casserole with fresh green beans and eat it for the week, that’s how much I love it.

If you’re looking for a homemade version, Deb Perelman of the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog, wrote a post for green bean casserole this week that was adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. Ms. Perelman (and Alton Brown) rarely make a misstep, so I can’t wait to try it. And it can all be done in one skillet! Score.

I should also mention that Nick loooves canned cranberry sauce (it doesn’t take much to please these Wegners it seems!) I’ve included Alton Brown’s homemade cranberry sauce below. Maybe this is the year we finally fancify our favorite dishes!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels this week, everyone!

Photo by the Smitten Kitchen

Photo by the Smitten Kitchen

Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions
Adapted a little from Alton Brown and a little from trial-and-error

Serves 6, or more if you: a) have a lot of sides on the table, which I bet you will, or b) use the higher amount (1.5 pounds) of green beans

Crispy Onions
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko or plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola, safflower, peanut or other high-heat oil, for deep-frying

Mushroom Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced or coarsely chopped
Few gratings fresh nutmeg (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Assembly
1 to 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and halved (see note about volume)

Make the crispy onions: Toss onion with flour, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Heat a 1/2-inch or so of oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet until a drop of water flicked into it will hiss and sputter. Add onions, just a handful at a time in something close to a single layer, and fry until a light golden brown (they’ll get more color in the oven; I overcooked mine a bit, forgetting this). Remove with a spider or large slotted spoon, let oil drip off a little, back into the skillet, then spread onions out on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining onions. Set aside until needed; this makes a lot.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and boil greens for 5 minutes (for standard green beans) or 2 to 3 minutes (for haricot vert, or skinny ones). Drain beans, then plunge them into ice water to full stop them from cooking. Drain again, and set aside. (If you are adamant about only using one pot, you can boil them in your 12-inch cast iron skillet that you use for the other steps. But a saucepan can be easier.)

Make the mushroom sauce: Over medium-high heat, melt butter in the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and saute them until they start releasing their liquid, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how they were chopped. Add the garlic and saute one minute more. Add the flour and stir it until it fully coats the mushrooms. Add the broth, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring the whole time. Simmer mixture for 1 minute, then add cream and bring back to a simmer, cooking until the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently.

Assemble and bake: Add cooked greens beans to sauce and stir until they are coated. Sprinkle crispy onions over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and onions are a shade darker. Eat at once.

Do ahead, a few ways: Onions can be made long in advance (up to a day) and keep at room temperature, loosely wrapped (they’d get soggy in an airtight container). Green beans can be cooked and kept in fridge until needed, at least one day. Green beans can also be combined with mushroom sauce and kept refrigerated for up to a day. Add onions and bake shortly before serving. Finally, it’s less ideal, but the entire dish can be cooked, loosely wrapped (so the crispy top doesn’t get soggy) and then rewarmed in a low oven before serving. Just keep an eye on the topping so it doesn’t get too brown while reheating.

Cranberry Sauce
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007
Prep Time:
10 min
Inactive Prep Time:
6 hr 0 min
Cook Time:
20 minLevel:
EasyServes:
6 to 8 servingsIngredients1 pound fresh cranberries, approximately 4 cups
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup 100 percent cranberry juice, not cocktail
1 cup honeyDirectionsWash the cranberries and discard any that are soft or wrinkled.Combine the orange juice, cranberry juice and honey in a 2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cranberries and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and the mixture thickens. Do not cook for more than 15 minutes as the pectin will start to break down and the sauce will not set as well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.Carefully spoon the cranberry sauce into a 3 cup mold. Place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.To unmold and serve, immerse bottom of mold in hot water for 10 to 15 seconds and turn upside down on plate or serving dish. If necessary, carefully run a warm knife around the edge of the mold.

Recipe: Marcella Hazan’s Super Simple (and Delicious) Tomato Sauce

Marcella Hazan, the ultimate Italian cooking maven (sorry Giada) passed away on Sunday. I first came to know of her by her renowned tomato sauce recipe, handed down by a coworker. Skeptical at first, because it only contained four very basic ingredients (canned tomatoes, onion, butter, and salt), I tried it, and fell in love with its simplicity and depth of flavor. I am now convinced that butter does make everything better!

2013-0715_marcella-sauce-035

 

Here is the recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Tomato Sauce
Serves 6, enough to sauce 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta

Ingredients

2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes)
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
salt

Preparation

1. Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
2. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
3. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.

Recipe: Thai Turkey Lettuce Wraps

Nick was on an easier rotation a few weeks ago at the VA (meaning he usually was home in time for dinner) so he decided that this was a good time as any to restart his exercise routine and eat better. Thus, the word “paleo” was introduced into our lives.

Now, I don’t believe in diets. If you tell me to not eat something, I’m going to be good for half a day and then find a way to eat it anyway. Everything in moderation and staying active are the basic tenets of living a healthy and fruitful life. However, Nick being interested in the paleo lifestyle meant that I had to be paleo as well since let’s face it, I’m lazy and I was not going to prepare two different dinners.

In a nutshell (and taken straight from the official website), the Paleo Diet “is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago. These foods include fresh meats (preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat, if you can get it), fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils (olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut and flaxseed). Dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods were not part of our ancestral menu.”

More protein, fruits and vegetables and less processed foods and refined sugars? I can get onboard with that. But don’t take away my cheese or my right to black beans.

So we both agreed- we’re not going to be strict Paleo, but this will at least motivate us to eat more cleanly and make better choices.

We’re both on our own for breakfast and lunch but since we eat most dinners together, I am trying out more Paleo-friendly recipes. I made Thai Turkey Lettuce Wraps a few days ago and they were pretty great for a warm summer night!

*Get this, since he’s started this new lifestyle a few weeks ago, he’s already lost FIVE pounds! MEN!!

As you can see, I was a lot more interested in eating this than styling it for a photo! But you get the gist...

As you can see, I was far more interested in eating this than styling it for a photo! But you get the gist…

THAI TURKEY LETTUCE WRAPS

Ingredients

1 ¼  lb ground turkey
¼ cup chopped green onions (4 medium)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2  teaspoons garlic and red chile paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup shredded carrots
1/3  cup chopped salted peanuts
12 medium Bibb lettuce leaves, rinsed, patted dry with paper towel

Directions:

  1. In a nonstick skillet, cook turkey over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until thoroughly cooked; drain and return to skillet.
  2. Stir in green onions, cilantro, mint, lime juice, fish sauce, chile paste, sugar and red pepper flakes. Cook 3 to 4 minutes longer or until hot.
  3.  To serve, spoon 2 heaping tablespoons turkey mixture, 2 tablespoons carrots and 1 teaspoon peanuts onto each lettuce leaf; wrap around filling. Can be served warm, or at room temperature. (Full disclosure: I’ve also had it for the next day’s lunch right outside of the refrigerator and it was still delish.)

Cook’s Note:

  1. I like the tubes of minced lemongrass and ginger you can find in the refrigerated herb section at the grocery store. I added about a teaspoon of the lemongrass and ginger to add a little more flavor to the mixture.
  2. Since I’m so Vietnamese, I also made a little nuoc mam cham (I LOVE THIS STUFF it reminds me of home) on the side to spoon over the lettuce wraps. It’s so divine. I usually eyeball the mix, but found a good basic recipe to follow below.

 

Basic Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce (Nuoc cham)

Ingredients:

1-2 crushed Garlic cloves (or finely minced), but crushed garlic really brings out oils, thus the flavor
1 crushed or minced Thai Chili (customize your spice level)
1/2 squeezed Lime (or about 1 heaping Tablespoon)
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Rice Vinegar (optional)
1/2 cup Fish Sauce
1/2 cup Water

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together well. Yields 1 cup. A little goes a long way. I can eat this drizzled over rice with some sliced daikon and carrots anytime, anyday.

 

Our love for Farmer’s Markets

CJ and I love farmer’s markets.  This love started from our exposure to the amazing Madison Farmer’s Market that is around the WI state capitol every Saturday in the summers.  From the many different farmer’s markets we have been to, no one has topped this one and if you are ever in Madison in the summer you should definitely check it out.  Get the cheesy hot bread because it’s divine!  The Ferry Building in San Francisco also has a wonderful farmer’s market and on the weekends it has cooking demonstrations, food trucks, great restaurants, ok you just really need to check that one out too if you are in the San Fran area please!!

Fortunately our neighborhood also has a farmer’s market every Thursday and Sunday for most of the year and no matter if it’s much smaller we love strolling around and looking at the produce, tasting samples and yes we are suckers and often get overpriced pickles, jerky and pastries just to name a few.

With the fresh produce from the market one recipe I love whipping together is quinoa and vegetable stir-fry.  I will be the first to admit my diet isn’t the healthiest, but this recipe is and it’s actually very delicious!

Quinoa Vegetable Stir-Fry

2.5 cups cooked quinoa
1 onion diced
1 yellow squash diced
2 fistfuls of green beans trimmed and cut into thirds
2 cups of mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil
low sodium soy sauce
oyster sauce (not necessary, i just love putting this on everything)

Instructions

–  Cook quinoa according to directions on the package.  While cooking clean and cup up veggies.
–  Heat olive oil in a larget skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, then add the remaining veggies.  Season with kosher salt, pepper and herbs of your liking (basil, thyme, red pepper flakes).  Add a splash of soy sauce (add more or less to your liking).  Continue cooking until tender.
–  Add cooked quinoa into the skillet and combine with veggies.
–  This can be served hot or cold.

This is hardly a recipe it’s so easy, but trust me it’s really good!!  Here’s some photos of myself at our local farmer’s market.  Plus I just think you can’t have a post without a few photos, right?!

IMG_0248 <<<can you believe we have been here just over a year!!!  here’s my prego self >>>

IMG_0967 <<<a year later we have a stroller and a baby, haha!  here i’m picking ingredients for my quinoa and veggie dish!>>>

IMG_2329                 IMG_2328

<<<these pickles were amazing!!  jerky was good too, but in 2 seconds we finished the bag….>>>

Here’s to a happy start of summer and enjoying our local farmer’s markets!