Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale

Lentil Soup in dutch oven with baguette on cutting board.

Happy New Year!

Many cultures have very specific foods they eat on New Year’s Day, foods that are believed to put the odds in your favor for a wonderful year.  So, if you’re superstitious, or don’t want to tempt fate, or just want to eat some delicious and healthy food, please read on!  As I gathered information, digging through recipes and stories about these traditional foods, a pattern emerged. Certain humble ingredients are likely to lead you to a year full of wealth and good fortune. And though each culture’s final dish was different than another’s, the basic building blocks were the same.

Chopped kale on cutting board.Some key elements include:
Leafy greens (kale, chard, collards): Represent economic fortune as the greens are thought to resemble paper currency.
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils): Also represent economic fortune; the tiny round legumes are symbolic of coins.
Pork: Full of flavor and fat, eating pork signifies wealth and prosperity.

When living in Virginia and North Carolina, my family and I always ate Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Hoppin’ John is a traditional southern one-pot meal made with Green Lentilsblack eyed peas, rice, and pork (bacon, ham hock, or fatback). We served it with greens on the side, usually collards. This year, after all the indulging between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my body needed a major reboot. Instead of Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day, I tried something new. Using the same overall game plan… leafy greens, pork, and legumes, we kicked off the year with Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale, healthy, but still full of good luck. Yes, I know there’s sausage in there, but really- it’s not a lot, less than 1oz per serving.

While the pork and kale will provide additional good fortune for the year, they are not necessary for the recipe. If you don’t want to add the sausage, don’t, but then do bump up the flavor by adding more garlic and other spices such as a bit more thyme, and perhaps red pepper flakes. Or maybe bacon or cubed ham steak is more your thing; either would be delicious. If you prefer a different green, try spinach. How about no greens? Add a bell pepper or turnips to the vegetable mix.

Individual bowl of lentil soup with sausage and kale.Hoppin’ John, a very special dish full of flavor and memories of our time spent down south, will remain in my arsenal of recipes, making an appearance once a year. On the other hand, this soup will be now be part of the regular rotation. Perfect for dinner with warm crusty bread, even tastier the next day for lunch at home or sent in a thermos to school or work. And who couldn’t use some help ensuring prosperity throughout the year, not just at the start?!?

I wish all of you a year full of health, good fortune, and delicious food shared with those you love!

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale, along with baguette.

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale

  • Servings: 10-12
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Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced carrots (about 3 carrots)
1 cup diced celery (about 3 stalks)
1 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 italian sausages, casings removed (I used 1 sweet and 1 spicy)
grape tomatoes (as many as you’d like)
2 cups green lentils, rinsed
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon thyme
1 bunch kale (stems removed), rinsed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
In a dutch oven over medium high heat, warm olive oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion. Sauté vegetables for 5 minutes or until just tender. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add sausage, breaking meat up as it browns. When sausage is cooked, stir in tomatoes and lentils. Add water, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour, until lentils are tender. During last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in chopped kale.

Check seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.

Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, sausage and lentils with dutch oven
The basics of lentil soup… carrots, celery, onions, garlic, sausage and lentils. The spices, kale, and water are waiting on deck.
Carrots, celery, and onions are sautéing.
Sauté vegetables for 5 minutes, or until just tender.
Adding sausage to sautéed carrots, celery, and onion.
Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
Adding green lentils to sausage and vegetable mixture.
Add the green lentils (and tomatoes) if using, stirring them into the sausage mixture. I forgot to add my tomatoes at this point, but remembered and added them while the soup was simmering.
Adding water to sausage, vegetable, and lentil mixture
Throw in a bay leaf and thyme. Add 8 cups of water to the sausage, vegetable, and lentil mixture.
Simmering lentil soup
Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes or until lentils are tender.
Adding chopped kale to lentil soup.
About 5 minutes before the soup is done, add the chopped kale.  Continue simmering the soup until kale is wilted, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serving lentil soup from dutch oven, along with baguette on a cutting board.
Serve with crusty bread.

 

Homemade Gifts

Candied Peanuts

We are all so busy nowadays and quickly grabbing something from the store is an efficient and easy way to tick the boxes off your gift giving to do list;  you’ll get no argument from me!  But that’s what makes homemade gifts so special, taking the time to make something from scratch and presenting it to someone who also has a lot on their plate (no pun intended!). Think about teachers, neighbors, friends, hostesses, as well as those who help keep our worlds moving smoothly, like school bus drivers and postmen.  Those people (and their families) will appreciate the time spent creating thoughtful gifts for them.

Christmas is naturally a wonderful season to share homemade presents with those around us.  But these gifts work well all year round, anytime you would like to say “thank you” or just brighten someone’s day.  My passion lies in the kitchen, so baking gifts is where I turn. Your strength may lie in photography, flower arranging, knitting, crafting, gardening, etc.  If you’re able to, please consider sharing your talents!

Below are some of my favorite homemade gifts to give… nothing exotic, over the top, or containing hard to find ingredients. But, they are all heartfelt and give me great joy to share.

Granola in mason jars.
Maple Nut Granola
A jar of homemade mulling spices.
Mulling Spices
Candied Peanuts
Candied Peanuts
Cranberry Nut Bread- sliced on a cutting board
Cranberry Nut Bread
Dark Chocolate Bark on a silver tray.
Dark Chocolate Bark

Dark Chocolate Bark with Toasted Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Flaky Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Bark on silver tray.

My grandparents grew up in Ireland and for as long as I can remember my grandmother’s preferred chocolate was Cadbury’s. Among all the Cadbury choices, the Fruit and Nut bar was her favorite. However, it wasn’t always easy to get Cadbury chocolates in the US so she had to find an alternative to satisfy her sweet tooth. Success was achieved when Nanny discovered the Chunky Bar. Do you remember Chunky Bars? They were thick cubes of chocolate studded with nuts and raisins, all wrapped in silver foil.

Dark Chocolate Bark on a silver tray.I’m not sure which came first… did the Fruit and Nut Bar or Chunky Bar inspire this bark, or did the taste memories come flooding back after the first bite? In either case, this treat would definitely meet Nanny’s approval. It’s the perfect blend of a fruit and nut studded candy bar and chocolate bark. Like a candy bar, the sweetness of the dried fruit, partnered with the crunch of the nuts, encased in dark chocolate is such a fantastic combination. Spread thin and topped with more dried fruit and toasted nuts brings it closer to a bark. Sprinkled with sea salt pushes it over the top. Excellent with a glass of red wine after dinner or a quick pick me up mid-day; another option is to leave out a small platter of the bark so that every time you walk by you grab a nibble. Not that I’ve ever done that. No judging here.

Dark chocolate bark with toasted nuts and dried fruit.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Toasted Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Flaky Sea Salt

  • Servings: about 1 lb
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Ingredients:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or one 11.5oz bag of bittersweet chocolate chips)
2/3 cup mixed toasted nuts, roughly chopped (such as walnuts, almonds, cashews)
2/3 cup mixed dried fruit (such as raisins, cherries, blueberries, cranberries)
sprinkling of flaked sea salt

Instructions:
Line small baking sheet with foil.

Melt chocolate in heatproof medium sized bowl set over saucepan of simmering water, stirring until melted and smooth.

Stir in half of toasted nuts and half of mixed dried fruit. Pour melted chocolate mixture onto foil, spreading with offset spatula to thickness of scant 1/4 inch.

Scatter remaining nuts and dried fruit over chocolate. Cool slightly. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt.

Chill until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Peel off foil and cut bark into irregular pieces.

Chocolate Bark ingredients- dark chocolate chips, toasted nuts, dried fruit, and flaked sea salt.
Four ingredients and 15 minutes is all it takes to make chocolate bark.
Melting chocolate in a double boiler.
Stirring occasionally, melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over simmering water.
Melted chocolate in bowl waiting for toasted nuts and dried fruit to be added.
The chocolate is melted and ready for the toasted nuts and dried fruit.
Stirring toasted nuts and dried fruit into melted chocolate.
Stir in half of the toasted nuts and dried fruit.
Spreading melted chocolate mixture onto foil lined baking sheet.
Using an offset spatula, spread the melted chocolate mixture onto a foil line baking sheet. The chocolate should be about 1/4″ thick.
Topping chocolate bark with remaining nuts and fruit.
While chocolate is still melted, top chocolate bark with remaining toasted nuts and dried fruit. Press lightly to be sure nuts and fruits adhere.
Sprinkling flaky sea salt on top of chocolate bark.
Sprinkle pinch of flaky sea salt on top of the chocolate bark.
Dark chocolate bark cooling.
Chill, allowing chocolate bark to completely cool and harden, about 30 minutes. Break into irregular pieces before serving.

Dark Chocolate Bark on silver tray.

 

 

Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread- sliced on a cutting board

Quick post today. It’s a busy time of year for everybody… school concerts, Nutcracker performances, decorating the house and tree, sending cards, shopping for gifts, and events every weekend. It’s incredibly easy to become overwhelmed and miss the magic and beauty that is Christmas… the twinkling lights, carols being sung, and the warm spicy scent of pine. When I do feel like I’m becoming engulfed in the frenzy, I escape to the kitchen, put on some Christmas music and start baking… nothing elaborate though, believe me! You will not find homemade gingerbread houses or meticulously cut out and decorated cookies worthy of the front cover of a magazine. I’m more of drop or roll cookie maker (think gingersnaps or Mexican Wedding Cakes) and quick bread baker. Being in the kitchen is like therapy for me, and if I tried to make photo shoot worthy decorated Christmas cookies, I would royal ice and silver dragee my way straight into real therapy!

This Cranberry Nut Bread is quick, coming together in about 15 minutes, then off to the oven for an hour. Golden brown crust, slightly tart, and studded with cranberry jewels and sweet pecans, the bread is perfect for breakfast, late afternoon snack, or even dessert. It’s also ideal to share with family and friends over a cup of tea, enjoying each other’s company and the season for even just a quiet moment or two.

Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread

  • Servings: 1 loaf
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*recipe adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup orange juice (fresh or bottled)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cranberries
¾ cup chopped pecans

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender. Stir in orange juice, lightly beat egg, and zest. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Scrape into prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Pastry blender cutting butter into dry ingredients.
Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients
Chopped cranberries in a food processor.
Chop the cranberries by hand or in a food processor.
Roughly chopped pecans on a cutting board.
Roughly chop the pecans.
Orange, zest, and juice on a cutting board.
Zest the orange so that you have 1 Tablespoon set aside, then juice the oranges to yield 3/4 of a cup. I need three navel oranges to get the right amount of juice.
Wet ingredients and dry ingredients in mixing bowl.
Add juice, lightly beaten egg and zest to dry ingredients and mix.
Batter in bowl with wooden spoon.
Using a wooden spoon, combine the wet and dry ingredients.
Folding in the cranberries and pecans.
Fold in the cranberries and pecans.

Cranberry Nut Bread Batter

Cranberry Nut Bread batter in a greased loaf pan getting ready to go in the oven.
Scrape the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes.
Testing the bread for doneness with a bamboo skewer.
Bake until a cake tester- or bamboo skewer in this case- inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cranberry Nut Bread- sliced on a cutting board

 

 

 

Candied Peanuts, aka Dirty Nuts

Candied Peanuts

Candied Peanuts in serving dish

These candied peanuts have been in heavy rotation at our house for years. The recipe is my go to for cocktail hour, teacher and hostess gifts, bake sales, and late night snacks. Beyond simple, the nuts are made on top of the stove, in one pan, with 5 ingredients, and done in 10 minutes. It doesn’t get any easier!

Peanuts in bubbling sugar syrupThe recipe is adapted from one by David Leibovitz.  An expat living in Paris, David shares his talents with the world as a blogger, cookbook author, and former pastry chef at Chez Panisse. The original recipe calls for raw peanuts which I have yet to find at my local store, so instead, I substitute roasted (or blanched) and unsalted peanuts.* These are found in the bulk section of the grocery store.

I feel compelled to warn you… the nuts are highly addictive and sought Crystalized sugar coated peanutsafter. Friends have described them as “crack,” but my favorite nickname is Dirty Nuts. A year or so ago, I shared the recipe with my niece, who wanted to make them for a holiday party. Though Emily told everyone they were “Candied Peanuts” one of her friends, after pulling himself away from the bowl, promptly announced the peanuts were so amazing, they were “dirty.” And the name Dirty Nuts stuck.

Candied Peanuts cooling on baking sheetWhatever you call them, know that you will create uncontrollable cravings in your friends and family. Gentle appeals may turn into begging, and finally outright demands. You’ll have to keep up, satisfying their needs as well as keeping your own stash topped off. Thankfully, because the recipe is so quick and easy, the task should be manageable… or just start sharing the recipe (that’s what I did!).

*I have used roasted and salted peanuts, but the recipe doesn’t work as well. I’m not sure why, but the sugar doesn’t seize the same way. The results have been best and most consistent with unsalted peanuts.

Candied Peanuts

Candied Peanuts

  • Servings: approximately 2 cups
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*adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz

Ingredients:
2 cups raw peanuts (or almonds)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
½ teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
sprinkle of coarse sea salt

Instructions:
In a wide, heavy-duty skillet, mix the peanuts with the sugar and water. Cook the ingredients over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid seizes up. It will take a few minutes. The peanuts will get crusty and the sugar will crystallize; they will appear dry and sandy.

Lower the heat and keep stirring. The crystalized sugar will begin to liquefy again. Stir the peanuts into any syrup forming in the bottom of the pan, coating them as much as possible.

Continue stirring and coating the peanuts in the syrup as it darkens without burning the peanuts or the syrup. If the mixture starts to smoke, remove it from heat and stir. The peanuts are done when they are as dark as you’d like them to be.

Right before they’re done, remove from heat and sprinkle the peanuts with the chili powder, cinnamon, and sizable pinch of flaky salt. Stir them a couple of times, then immediately spread the peanuts onto a silicone mat or parchment lined baking sheet.

Allow the peanuts to cool completely, and then break up any clumps. Enjoy watching them disappear! If you have any leftovers, store in an airtight container.

Candied peanut ingredients: peanuts, sugar, water, spices, and salt.
Just five ingredients… peanuts, sugar, water, spices, and salt.
Peanuts, sugar, and water in skillet
Peanuts, sugar, and water are combined in a heavy duty skillet.
Peanuts, sugar, and water bubbling away on stove top.
Over moderate heat, stir peanuts, sugar and water to dissolve sugar.
Crystallizing sugar on the stove top.
After several minutes, the sugar begins to crystalize.
Crystalized sugar makes the nuts appear dry and sandy.
The sugar has crystalized and the nuts appear sandy and dry. Don’t worry!!! This is normal… lower the heat and just keep stirring.
Peanuts in syrup.
The crystalized sugar begins to liquefy forming a deep brown sugar in the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir over low heat to coat all the peanuts in any syrup that forms. Remove from heat if the syrup starts to smoke.
Adding chili, cinnamon, and salt to candied peanuts.
Just before the nuts are done stir in spices and sprinkle of salt.
Candied Peanuts cooling on silicone lined baking sheet.
Spread the candied peanuts onto silicone mat or parchment lined baking sheet. Allow to cool, and then break up any clumps.
Candied Peanuts
If, by chance, you have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container.

Cranberry Pineapple Sauce

Cranberry Pineapple Sauce

As a child, my only frame of reference for cranberries was cranberry bread at Christmastime and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving. The smooth jellied sauce emerged quivering and jiggling from the can with a satisfying pop as the seal broke, sliding onto the plate whole, retaining its cylindrical shape and conveniently molded rings marking individual servings. A regular butter knife easily cut the cranberry sauce into perfectly round discs waiting to be plated alongside the turkey and stuffing.

For years this was the only cranberry sauce I knew, until one Thanksgiving when my aunt decided to bring something different. Change is never easy, and there was resistance. What was this lumpy whole berry blob? Where wereCranberry pineapple sauce in a crystal serving dish the smooth, neat slices of cranberry sauce? Eyebrows were raised, whispers hushed as tentative spoonfuls were dropped onto plates in the spirit of being polite. Aunt Rosaleen held her head high and reassured us with confidence; the cranberry sauce was still from a can, though it was whole berry not jellied, to that she added a can of chopped pineapple and handful of walnuts. Initially skeptical, we were quickly won over by the contrast in texture between the whole berries and pineapple and the crunch of the walnuts. The sweetness of the pineapple also complemented and rounded out the dish.

Cranberries, pineapple, walnuts, satsumas, cinnamon, cloves, allspice berries and ginger on a cutting board.Aunt Rosaleen’s cranberry sauce has been on the table ever since, though it has evolved. Today I use fresh cranberries and pineapple, and turn to some of my favorite fall spices- cloves, cinnamon, allspice berries, and ginger to infuse the cranberry cooking liquid, along with oranges (satsumas and clementines work very well, too). The result is a delicious mix of texture, tartness, sweetness, and spice. The sauce is a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving plate and excellent on your leftover turkey sandwiches.

Do you or your family have a favorite cranberry sauce? Jellied or whole berry?

Cranberry Pineapple Sauce

Cranberry Pineapple Sauce

  • Servings: makes approximately 4 cups
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Ingredients:
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
5 whole cloves
2 allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick
1” piece ginger, peeled
1 orange, cut in half
1 cup chopped pineapple
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts

Instructions:
Bring cranberries, sugar, water, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon stick, ginger and orange to a boil in a medium sized sauce pan, stirring often to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally and pressing on the oranges (or satsumas/clementines) to release their juices, until the cranberries have popped, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool slightly. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. Remove cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon stick, ginger, and orange. Stir in pineapple and walnuts. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve. Sauce can be made up to a 1 week ahead. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Cranberry pineapple Sauce ingredients in a saucepan.
Put the cloves and allspice berries in an infuser or small cheesecloth sachet. Place the spices, ginger, cinnamon stick, cranberries, orange halves, sugar, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Simmering cranberry pineapple sauce ingredients
Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries have popped, approximately 10 minutes.
Add chopped walnuts and pineapple to cranberries.
Remove spices, ginger, cinnamon stick and orange halves. Allow cranberries to cool slightly before adding chopped pineapple and chopped walnuts. The sauce can be made ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for a week.
Cranberry pineapple sauce in a crystal serving dish
Serve Cranberry Pineapple Sauce chilled or at room temperature.

 

Sweet Potato Pie with Maple Meringue

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie begins with one of my favorite types of crust… the press in crust. I’ll be honest, making and rolling out traditional pie dough IMG_7999induces anxiety and nightmares of ruined desserts; so logically, I try to avoid them when I can. This crust is the result of toasted pecans, graham crackers, fresh ginger, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and melted butter taking a spin in a food processor before being pressed into a pie plate. After baking in the oven for 25 minutes you’ve got yourself a delicious pie crust without any tears, curses, or tell tale signs of patchwork.

The filling is very similar to pumpkin pie, but made with roasted sweet potatoes, along with eggs, cream, brown sugar, and a splash of bourbon to round everything out. After baking in the oven, then cooling, the pie could very easily (and tastily) be served with a dollop of whipped cream. However, I highly recommend you spend an extra 10 minutes to push this pie over the top. Blanket it with a heaping cloud of maple syrup meringue and pop it under the broiler for mere seconds to achieve a golden blush. Your family and friends will thank you. You will thank you.

Another plus for this recipe, especially when entertaining, is that it can be broken down into tasks over the course of a couple of days. For example, on day 1 make the crust, roast the sweet potatoes and puree the flesh. Cover tightly and refrigerate. On day 2, prepare the filling and bake. Allow the pie to cool, then whip up the meringue, top the pie and brown. The pie can be served immediately, or covered and tucked in the fridge overnight before making its big debut on your table.

IMG_8062There are a number of ways you could have fun with this recipe if you’re up for experimenting. Simply swap:

walnuts for pecans
rum for bourbon
pumpkin for sweet potato
gluten free graham crackers for regular graham crackers

The original meringue recipe from Food & Wine calls for quite a bit of simple syrup and tastes cloyingly sweet to me, without doing much to enhance the seasonal tastes of the pie. Instead of simple syrup, I use maple syrup (less than half the amount of syrup called for in the original) to make the meringue which pairs beautifully with the fall flavors of the sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and ginger. I also reduce the amount of sugar in the crust, as the graham crackers already have plenty of sugar in them.

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie and Apple Cream Pie will be on our dessert table this Thanksgiving and possibly even Christmas… what will be on yours?

Sweet Potato Pie with Maple Meringue

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie

  • Servings: 8-10
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*adapted from a recipe Chef Andrew Carmellini contributed to Food & Wine

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 cup (4 ounces) pecan halves
11 whole graham crackers, broken (gluten free, if needed)
4 teaspoons minced ginger
1 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
32 ounces of sweet potatoes (about 3 large sweet potatoes)
½ cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 Tablespoons bourbon
½ cup heavy cream

For the meringue:
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
3 large egg whites
pinch of salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a pie plate, toast the pecans for about 10 minutes or until fragrant and browned. Let the nuts cool completely.

In a food processor, combine the pecans, graham crackers, ginger, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon; pulse until crumbs form. Add melted butter and process until incorporated. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Keep the oven on.

Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork and cook in a microwave oven for 10 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to the 325°F oven and roast for 10 minutes longer, or until soft. Let cool, then scrape out the flesh; you should have about 2¼ cups.

Transfer the sweet potato to the food processor and puree until smooth. Add the brown sugar, eggs, and bourbon and process until blended. Add the heavy cream and process until incorporated. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until set; cover the crust edges with foil if they darken. Let the pie cool completely.

In a small saucepan, bring maple syrup to a boil. Cook over high heat until a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup registers 240°F, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. With the machine running, carefully and slowly drizzle in the hot syrup and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff, glossy, and warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Mound the meringue over the sweet potato filling, swirling it decoratively. Broil the pie 4-6 inches from the heat for 30 seconds, or until lightly browned- do NOT look away(!), it can burn very quickly.

Cut into wedges and enjoy!

*Pie can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.

Pie crust ingredients ready to go into the food processor: pecans, graham crackers, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
In a food processor, combine pecans, graham crackers, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
Pecan and graham cracker crust
Press processed ingredients into deep dish pie plate. Bake at 325°F for 25 minutes.
Pecan and Graham Cracker Crust
Let the pie crust cool while you make the filling.
Roasted sweet potatoes cooling.
Microwave the sweet potatoes for 10 minutes, then finish roasting in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until soft. Allow to rest until cool enough to handle, then scoop out flesh and puree in the food processor. You should have 2 1/4 cups puree.
Sweet potato puree, brown sugar, eggs, bourbon, and heavy cream on cutting board.
Sweet potato puree, brown sugar, eggs, bourbon, and heavy cream are ready to combine in the processor.
Sweet potato pie filling in the processor
The sweet potato pie filling is ready to go into the pie crust.
Unbaked sweet potato pie
Bake at 325°F for 50 minutes or until set.
Baked sweet potato pie is cooling.
Filling is set and pie is cooling.
Maple syrup in saucepan.
Let’s make the meringue! Boil maple syrup until thermometer reads 240°F.
Soft peak egg whites on whisk.
At medium speed, beat the egg whites and salt to soft peak stage.
Pouring hot syrup into beaten egg whites.
With mixer going at high speed, pour the syrup in a slow steady stream.
Stiff peak egg whites on whisk
Continue beating egg white/syrup mixture until eggs are glossy and stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.
Mound of maple syrup meringue in center of pie.
Mound maple syrup meringue in center of the pie and swirl decoratively.
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie
Place pie under broiler for 30 seconds or until lightly brown. Do NOT walk away from oven… it will quickly go from brown to burned. Watch it carefully!
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie with Pecan Graham Cracker Crust

Apple Cream Pie

Apple Cream Pie

I love this time of year! The weather, color, gatherings with friends and family,Braeburn and golden delicious apples in a bowl. and the food! Thanksgiving in the US is just a few weeks out and menu planning at White House Red Door is well underway. Truth be told, the planning is not too difficult, as the menu has pretty much remained unchanged since my childhood. It’s not that my parents, siblings, or my own family don’t like to try new foods, or experiment; Christmas dinners, Easter brunches, and other traditional meals vary from year to year, but Thanksgiving has always remained the same, well at least the main dish and sides. There would be a “coup de cuisine” if candied yams weren’t on the table. That said, desserts are an entirely different story. We are far more flexible in our after dinner fare thinking. Friends often join us for dessert, bringing their favorite treats, creating a beautiful cornucopia of desserts.

One pie that has made appearances off and on through the years is my mom’s Apple Cream Pie. Quite unlike a traditional double crust apple pie, Tarte Tatin, or apple crisp, which have all shown up to the party over the years, this pie features tender slices of apples nestled in a bed of creamy custard. Traditional enough for the purists but outside the box enough for those wanting something new or different. For reasons unknown, this pie has not been in attendance for some time, and I’ve never made it myself. Curious to give it a go, I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered and should be included on the menu this year. Without a doubt, it was and will be.

Women's Day Encyclopedia of CookeryConversations with mom revealed that the original recipe came from a long out of print encyclopedia like set of cookbooks from Women’s Day, actually called Encyclopedia of Cookery. My mom still has her set and found an identical set at a tag sale years ago that she gave to me as a gift. It turns out the recipe for this wonderful pie has been sitting in the vintage set of cookbooks, in my own house, for years.

The pie is simply elegant, with few ingredients, quite light and perfect after a heavy meal. I’ve taken the original recipe and updated it somewhat by adding a cinnamon stick, star anise, and cardamom pod to the stewing liquid. These additions infuse the simple syrup, and eventually the cream, with classic flavors and aromas that pair well with the apples. After making the cream pie for dessert this week and receiving all round approval, it will now regularly appear not only on our holiday tables, but throughout the fall and winter.

What desserts will show up on your table this year? Are you a traditionalist serving the same menu each year, or do you like to mix it up?

Apple Cream Pie

Apple Cream Pie

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients:
5 cooking apples, peeled and sliced into eighths
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 anise star
1 cardamom pod
Pastry for one 9” pie crust, unbaked
1 egg
½ cup heavy cream

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put apples in a saucepan with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. While apples are simmering, line a 9” pie plate with crust, decoratively crimping edges and place in freezer until needed.

When apples are tender, remove and place them in a strainer set over a bowl to catch any juices. Continue to simmer syrup left in saucepan until reduced to approximately ½ cup. To that add any syrup caught from draining apples.

After apples have cooled slightly, place in the pie pan lined with pastry. Beat egg and cream together and stir in reserved syrup. Pour over apples. Transfer to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until custard is set- the center will be slightly jiggly, but will continue to firm up as it cools. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Peeled apples, cut into eighths.
Peel the apples and cut them into eighths.
Apples with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod in a saucepan.
Add sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod.
Simmering apples in sugar syrup with cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod.
Simmer apples until tender, about 10 minutes.
Apple syrup in measuring cup, with apples draining in sieve.
Drain apples, reserving any syrup, you should have about 1/2 cup of apple syrup.
Apples placed in the bottom of a pie plate lined with pastry.
After apples have cooled slightly, place them in the bottom of a pie plate line with pastry.
Egg, cream and syrup mixture poured over the apples.
Egg, cream, and syrup mixture is poured over the apples. Bake for 30-45 minutes in a 350°F oven until custard is set.
Apple Cream Pie cooling on a wire rack.
When the custard is set, remove the pie and place on a wire rack for cooling.
Apple Cream Pie dusted with powdered sugar.
If desired, dust the Apple Cream Pie with powdered sugar before serving.

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup with meatballs, spinach and orzo

Italian Wedding Soup with meatballs, spinach, and orzoThis fragrant and nourishing soup quickly comes together with ingredients you probably already have on hand. Besides the meat for the meatballs and dill for the soup, the other elements are pretty standard pantry and fridge items.

The humble, but delicious broth begins with a “holy trinity” of carrots, celery, and onions; the addition of white wine and dill brings about a brightness and freshness. I especially love the meatballs, “pre-seasoned” by using Italian sausage mixed with ground turkey. And, instead of standing over a stove cooking them in hot oil, inevitably developing tiny blisters over your hands and wrists from splattering grease (clearly, I am speaking from experience), the balls are measured with a small ice-cream scoop, laid in neat little rows, and baked in the oven. I often double the meatball recipe and freeze half for future soups, pasta nights, or meatball subs. These bite sized gems are incredibly handy to have tucked away in the freezer for last minute snacks, appetizers, or meals.

The original recipe appears in Ina Garten’s Back to Basics. I’ve tweaked it a bit for my tastes (and you can, too). For example, while the original calls for ground chicken and chicken sausage, I use ground turkey and regular Italian pork sausage, one sweet and one spicy. Ina uses a tiny pasta, such as tubetini or stars, which I can’t always find. Instead I use orzo, a staple in my pantry. I cook the orzo separately and add it to the broth right before serving, otherwise the pasta soaks up too much liquid. Not that that’s the end of the world; it will happen if you have leftovers. Simply thin the soup with a bit of water or stock. Speaking of stock, you will need 10 cups- homemade or store bought. Though I love homemade stock, I’ll be completely honest, I don’t always have some stashed in the freezer. Good quality store bought stock is smart to have on hand and I do, though I am very picky about the brand. I only use low sodium Swanson’s Organic Chicken Stock (Swanson’s did NOT pay me to write that!).

On another note, while no one in my family suffers from celiac disease, one of my best friends does. Whenever I can, I reach for a recipe that with just a little tinkering, can be one everyone at the table enjoys. This Italian Wedding Soup is one of those easily adjusted recipes. Simply use gluten free breadcrumbs, and a small gluten free pasta to replace the orzo, or if that isn’t available, rice would be a fine substitute.

As always, I encourage you to “play with your food!” If your CSA pick up included lots of kale, chard, or other greens use them instead of spinach.  Do you love carrots?  Add more.  Are there other veggies lingering in your vegetable drawer… turnips, leeks, or even a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes would be savory additions to this lovely soup.  Most importantly, have fun and enjoy gathering your friends and family around the table to share a meal.

Italian Wedding Soup with meatballs, spinach and orzo

Italian Wedding Soup

  • Servings: 8
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*adapted from Back to Basics, by Ina Garten

Ingredients:
For the meatballs
½ lb ground turkey (white meat)
½ lb ground turkey (dark meat)
2 Italian sausages, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs (gluten free, if needed)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
3 Tablespoons milk
1 extra-large egg, slightly beaten
salt and fresh ground pepper

For the soup
2 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots)
1 cup diced celery (3 stalks)
10 cups chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta, such as orzo (gluten free, if needed or use rice)
¼ cup minced fresh dill
10 ounces baby spinach

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the meatballs, place the ground turkey, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. Using a tablespoon or small ice-cream scoop, drop 1 to 1 ¼-inch meatballs onto a parchment lined sheet pan. You will have about 40 meatballs. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

In the meantime, for the soup, cook orzo (or rice) according to package directions, removing a minute or two before it’s done. Rinse and drain, toss with a little extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs and cooked orzo to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, just until the spinach is wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan cheese.

Meatball ingredients on a cutting board- ground turkey, hot italian sausage, sweet italian sausage, pecorino romano cheese, parmesan cheese, milk, egg, parsley, breadcrumbs, and salt

Raw Meatball Mix
Using a fork, gently combine all of the meatball ingredients.
Scooping meatballs onto parchment lined baking sheet.
Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, measure out the meatballs.
Raw meatballs laid out on a sheet pan, ready for the oven
Bake the meatballs in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Cooked meatballs on a sheet pan.
The meatballs are done and ready for the soup (or freezer).
Carrots, celery, and onions are the base of the broth.
Carrots, celery, and onions are the base of the broth.
Adding wine and chicken stock to carrots, celery, and onions.
Add wine and chicken stock.
Meatballs, orzo, and dill are added.
Meatballs, orzo, and dill are added.
Raw spinach is added to the soup.
Spinach is the last ingredient to be added and only takes a minute to wilt.
Wilted spinach in Italian Wedding Soup
Soup is ready! Serve with a warm crusty loaf of bread and parmesan for passing at the table.

Italian Wedding Soup with meatballs, spinach, and orzo

Chili con Carne and Buttermilk Cornbread

Chili con carne with tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream.

Fall and winter suppers beg for chili.  Hearty, warming, and versatile, chili is a one pot wonder perfect for brisk nights that begin to get dark as early as 4:30pm, casual get togethers with friends and family to watch a game in front of a roaring fire, or coming in from the cold after time spent raking leaves or shoveling snow.  Of all evenings, Halloween is the ideal night for chili, shoring up your stamina (as well as that of any goblins or ghouls spooking you) for a night of trick or treating. Whether you are out in the neighborhood or manning the candy bowl at home, a warm bowl of chili before or after a night of haunts will keep you going and be an excellent antidote to all the sugar consumed.

Depending on your preferences chili can suit a wide variety of eaters… vegetarians or vegans at your table? Skip the meat and add more vegetables or beans. Offer an interesting assortment of toppings and sides like cheeses, cornbread, tortilla chips, avocado, and sour cream (I use greek yogurt) and let your family and friends build a complete meal around your chili base.  And, like most stews and soups, making chili ahead of time allows it to become even more delicious.  Chili only gets tastier as it “ages.”

Chili powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, chipotle, and dijon mustardThis recipe is my own. Most of the ingredients are typical, but there are a few surprises. Dijon mustard adds a wonderful brightness and tang; the chipotle peppers in adobe sauce add a subtle smokiness, while the cinnamon delivers a hint of sweet warmth. It is also very easy to play with this recipe. Please experiment to suit your taste. Love bell peppers? Add more. Need more spice? Add a chopped jalapeño. Can’t stand onions? Eliminate or reduce the amount. Don’t like beans in your chili (I’m talking to you, dear husband!), then don’t add them. Play with your food and have fun!

The buttermilk cornbread is adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook. Kathleen King owned Kathleen’s Bake Shop in Southhampton, NY in the 80s and 90s. One summer, I was fortunate enough to visit the bakery and in addition to the cookies I bought (which were quickly consumed), I also purchased a copy of her cookbook, a lasting souvenir. It was a wise purchase. My copy of the small spiral bound book is splattered, tattered, and torn- all signs of an excellent cookbook. The book practically opens itself to certain recipes, like the Devil’s Food Cake I use for birthdays, in addition to the recipe that inspired this cornbread.

CornbreadIn Kathleen’s intro to the original recipe, which was for corn muffins, she explains how the recipe has changed since she first received it. Her baker altered the formula by adding half-and-half instead of milk; I’ve tweaked it again by using buttermilk, instead of half-and-half or milk. In any case, the choice is yours… buttermilk, half-and-half, and regular milk all work just fine. The buttermilk lends a wonderful tanginess that seems a natural counterpart to the sweetness of the bread; the half-and-half produces a really rich cornbread, while using regular milk leaves you with a lovely straightforward cornbread. Another occasional adjustment I make is to add frozen corn kernels to the batter, maybe a handful or two. The kernels contribute a wonderful texture to the cornbread and add pops of sweetness too.

What are your favorite sides and toppings for chili?  Do you have a go to dinner for Halloween night?

Chili con carne with tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream.

Chili con Carne

  • Servings: 6-8
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Ingredients:
1lb ground beef or turkey
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 bell peppers, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 chipotle chili in adobe sauce, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 28oz can of whole tomatoes, with juice
1 16 oz can kidney beans or black beans, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until beginning to turn golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Add finely chopped garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add ground meat, and cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until cooked through.

Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in chili powder, chipotle chili, mustard, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds or so.

Add beans and tomatoes with juice, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Stir well, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with accompaniments such as rice, tortilla chips, cornbread, shredded cheddar or Monterey jack, sour cream and chopped avocado.

*This is the perfect dish to make ahead. Like most soups and stew, the longer it sits the better it gets. Just reheat when needed.

Cornbread

Cornbread

  • Servings: 16 squares
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*adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal or corn flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and mix until crumbly. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives, a fork, or even your fingers.

In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk and egg. Fold liquid ingredients into flour mixture, folding just until combined. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Whisking flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
Whisk dry ingredients together.
Pastry blender cuts butter into flour.
Cut softened butter into flour mixture.
Rubber spatula folds buttermilk and egg mixture into dry ingredients.
Fold buttermilk and egg mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.
Cornbread batter in greased baking dish
Pour batter into prepared baking dish and bake at 400°F for 25 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Cornbread just out of the oven.
Enjoy!