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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Check It Out: Petite Treats

Wanted to share a fun find with you for the holidays!  Whether you are looking for a nifty gift for your foodies friends or looking for some fun new treats to serve at your seasonal soirees, you should check out Petite Treats: Mini Versions of Your Favorite Baked Delights by Christy Beaver and Morgan Greenseth.

The book may be small and the treats may be tiny, but there are some big taste explosions to be found between the pages -- Blueberry-Lavender Scookies, Kiwi Upsidedown Cake, Tiraminiscule (heehee), Red Velvet Yippie Pies, and Chocolate Chipolte Cream Pie!  And that's just to name a few.  They have a chapter called "Fancy Stuff"...and it IS! 

Just because I'm a giver and I like you guys so much, I'm going to try out a couple of the recipes (Whiskey Maple Bacon Mini Cupcakes anyone?) to share with you.  Sigh...yeah, it's a rough gig, but I do it all for you. 

In case you are in the mood to do a little first-hand experimentation, here's some info to help you track down the soon-to-be newest addtional to your kitchen collection.

Petite Treats by Christy Beaver and Morgan Greenseth
Ulysses Press, ISBN 978-1-61243-111-6, 144 pgs, $14.95


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Creamy Chestnut & Tilapia Soup

This is a very thick, creamy soup which sits nicely in your belly.  It has a mealy taste, but I like that.  By taking out the tilapia, you can make it a straight-forward vegetarian dish.

Creamy Chestnut & Tilapia Soup

2 tilapia filets (about 3/4 lb)
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks (about 5 small ones)
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, tied together
2-3 bay leaves
2 cups chopped celery (about 5 stalks)
4 cups diced potatoes (about 1-1/2 lbs = 2 large potatoes)
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups milk
1-3/4 cups (8.5 oz jar) chopped roast chestnuts
sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
fresh parsley or green onions, to garnish

Lightly oil a medium skillet and warm pan over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper the tilapia filets on both sides, then place in the heated skillet.  Cover and let cook 3-4 minutes.  Uncover and flip the filets, then cook covered for another 3-4 minutes.  Keep cooking until filets are whitened through.

Once cooked, using your spatula, flake the filets and then set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. 

Saute the leeks with the garlic and salt 5-7 minutes until the leeks are soft and tender.

Add nutmeg and rosemary, then saute for another 1-2 minutes.

Add rosemary, bay leaves, celery, potatoes and vegetable stock.  Bring everything to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Remove pot from heat and discard the rosemary and bay leaves.  Stir in milk and 1 cup chestnuts.

Doing it in small batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth.

Add the remaining chestnuts and the flaked tilapia, then season with salt and pepper.  Heat lightly and garnish with parsley or green onion then serve.


When you chop the leeks, you can use the white part and the tender part of the greens which is all but the super fibrous ends of the greens.

By tying the rosemary sprigs together, they are easy to fish out of the soup and less likely to break off as much in the soup.

For potatoes, you can use pretty much whatever you have on hand.  I used russet because they cook up really well and have a nice mealy texture.  You can use red potatoes if you want a creamier texture.

The original recipe called for half-n-half, but you can use anything you like.  If you want to make it a vegan soup, eliminate the tilapia and use soy or almond milk.

The original recipe I based this on just had chestnuts, the tilapia was an addition requested by the Guinea Pig Mom and it was a really good one, but if you are not a fish fan, you lose nothing by taking it out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chestnuts: More than Just a Song Star

Went to a cooking class at The Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC with my parents last weekend to learn how to prepare a fabulous vegetarian holiday dinner.  One of my favorite dishes (which I will be making to share with you this weekend) was a Creamy Chestnut Soup.  YUM!

And of course, it made me realize that while I always hear the name of chestnuts bandied about during the holidays, I really don't know much about them other than their propensity for being roasted on an open fire.  So here's a little bit about that holiday classic.


Chestnut trees are deciduous and like the temperate climates found above the equator.  A chestnut tree refers not only to the nut, but to the tree itself which tends to be cultivated as much for its lumber as for its produce. Chestnuts are found predominantly in Europe, Asia, and North America and, by way of its early European settlers, in southwest Australia (which while not above the equator is temperately similar).

Interestingly enough, because chestnuts have a low oil content and a high fiber content, they are treated more as a vegetable than a nut.  They can be eaten raw but are very astringent in taste and should be boiled or roasted (there's that open fire again) to get the best taste from them.

Being soft and sweet, chestnuts also lack that crunch factor associated with other nuts.  Once cooked the texture of the chestnut is similar to a baked potato but a little mealier with a sweet nutty flavor that's very appealing.  Personally, I like them much better mixed in with something, thought I doubt you would ever have a reason to serve them as a stand-alone item.

Because chestnuts are low in fat, low in protein, and high in carbs they have been used throughout European culinary history as a substitute for potatoes and wheat in areas that were either unable to grow them or had a limited supply of them.  Chestnuts can be dried and then ground into flour and used as such to bake into cakes, fry into doughnuts, or thicken up a stew.

Chestnuts can also be steamed, grilled or candied and are often used in holiday cooking as a stuffing ingredient.  Like other nuts, chestnuts work really well in either sweet or savory dishes.  So if you haven't tried them out before, give them a chance, I think you'll find them very versatile and likeable.

Hope that you all have a wonderfully homebaked happy, kitchen-safe, gut-busting Thanksgiving holiday! 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cranberry-Pecan Corn Muffins

Now if you like mealy corn muffins, these are the one for you.  Have a nice slightly sweet taste that will make a nice complement with all your other Thanksgiving fixin's.

Cranberry-Pecan Corn Muffins

2-1/3 cups self-rising cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup veggie oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/3 cup whole uncooked cranberries, rough chopped
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

In a large bowl, mix together cornmeal and sugar.  Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together oil, buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.

Make a well in the dry mixture and pour in the wet mixture.  Whisk together until very well blended.

Fold in the cranberries and pecans.

Spoon batter into a muffin tin, filling each 2/3 full.*

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve warm.  Butter slathering optional.


*I spooned mine into cupcake holders and discovered that they get very greasy-bottomed in the oven. So before serving I let them sit on a rack for a minute while I removed all the papers that way the grease wouldn't soak up into the muffins.  And by grease I mean butter.  I would recommend spooning them into the muffin tin directly, lightly greasing the sides of each cup to make them easier to remove.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Good and Good for You: Pecans

Being a North Carolinian, I am lucky to have easy access to fresh pecans.  There is nothing better as a sweet and crunchy snack and I do find any excuse to toss them into a recipe.

Did you know that pecans are really good for you?  Of all the nuts, they have the highest level of antioxidant nutrients which makes them a good partner in the fight against aging and disease.


A common misconception is that eating nuts adds to weight gain, but actually the fatty acids they contain are the good ones.  Eating pecans may help curb those cravings for sugar goodies. A handful of pecans is on the Phase One approved foods list for people doing South Beach!
  • They are rich in omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Their high level of oleic acid can help keep your skin healthy and clear.
  • They contain a good level of high quality protein.
  • They are an excellent source of vitamin B6.
Pecans are considered an "All American" food because about 90% of the world's pecans come from the U.S.

They were widely consumed and traded by Native Americans because they provided 3-5 times more calories per unit compared to wild game, and they required no preparation because they could be eaten raw.

Pecan trees, which are a species of hickory, can grow and produce nuts for up to 300 years.  Wild pecans tend to be smaller and have a larger shell-to-kernel ratio. They are native to the Southwest (NM, TX, and LA) but found their way across the Southeast and up the coast to Virginia.

Because the tree genus is native to North America, Europeans weren't introduced to pecans until the 16th Century when Spanish explorers brought them back from their travels to the New World.

Pecans are harvested by skaking the tall trees they grow in and collecting them while fighting off squirrels once they are on the ground.

Unshelled pecans will keep up to a few months stored in a cool place.  Shelled pecans will keep up to a few weeks stored in an airtight container in the fridge and much longer than that if kept in the freezer which is where I squirrel mine away.

Pecans' slightly buttery flavor makes them great for sweet or savory dishes.  Toss them in a salad, add them to some stuffing, or bake them into a pie, you really can't go wrong with pecans!*

*Unless you are allergic to tree nuts in which case I am sorry you are missing out and apologize for flaunting their fabulousness in front of you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Green Bean Gratin

Here's another new side to try this T-day holiday.  It's a spin on your traditional green bean casserole.

Green Bean Gratin

1 lb haricot vertes, trimmed
2/3 cup plain bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup fresh shredded parmesan cheese, divided
1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped
2 oz crumbled feta
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Trim and cut beans crosswise into thirds.  In a medium pot, covered just with water, cook beans until tender crisp.

Drain and drop into ice water to stop cooking process.  Remove from ice water and pat dry.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix bread crumbs and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Add olive oil and mix well until bread crumbs are coated with oil. I used my fingers to mix it up to make sure the olive oil got evenly distributed. Stir in pecans then set aside.

Toss beans with feta, whipping cream, salt, pepper.

Add in the remaining 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese.

Spoon bean mixture into an 8x8" baking dish.

Sprinkle with crumb mixture and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes uncovered.

Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. 

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


The beans are still a bit al dente, which I love, but if you'd rather have slightly softer beans, I would boil them longer.  Give them a taste test at this stage because they won't baked down much softer.

If you like a little more crumb topping, then you can up the bread crumbs to 3/4 or even 1 cup without changing anything else.

It's not as moist a dish as a traditional green bean casserole.  If you'd like a little more moisture, just up the heavy cream to 3/4 cup and that should do the trick.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Yellow Squash Casserole

With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, I wanted to try to come up with some non-traditional side dishes for that oh-so traditional food holiday.  I like a good change of pace and it's fun to come up with new alternatives so here's a nice squash dish thats crunch-topped and filling.

Yellow Squash Casserole

3 lbs yellow squash, cut into 1/4" slices
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1-1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 cup carrots, grated
1 (10 oz) can cream of celery soup
1 (8 oz) container sour cream
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/2 cup cornflakes (cereal)
1/2 cup crushed French fried onions
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 tsp pepper

Places yellow squash slices in a large pot.  Add onion, 1 tsp salt, and water, just to cover.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cooking for 5 minutes.  The goal here is to parboil the squash before baking them.

Drain well and pat dry with a paper towel.

In a large bowl, stir together grated carrots, cream of celery soup, sour cream, chives, and 1/2 tsp salt.  

Fold into cooked squash and spoon mixture into a large (2 qt) baking dish.

Mix together cornflakes, French fried onions, butter and pepper. 

Sprinkle over squash mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.  After 20-25 minutes, cover with foil to prevent excessive browning.

Let stand 10 minutes before serving up to allow the cream base to thicken up a bit.


It is important to get as much moisture drained out as possible after you parboil the squash, otherwise the extra moisture makes the creamy casserole base a little runny after it bakes.

I would recommend draining them, then placing them on a rack over a paper towel-lined cookie sheet to allow them to drain a bit more, then pat them dry.

Even if your mixture is runny after it bakes, we found that after a night in the fridge and a gentle reheating, the sauce get's thicker.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ravioli Soup

Cooler weather calls for warmer bellies and what does the job better than soup.  Here's a nice vegetarian dish, light but hearty, that will hit the spot.

Ravioli Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
4 cups water
1 (9 oz) package cheese ravioli
1/3 of a (10 oz) bag, leaf spinach, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
fresh shredded parmesan to garnish

Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Add onions, carrots, celery, and thyme to oil.  Cook, stirring occasionally until the veggies start to soften up (3-4 minutes).

Add stock and water to the pot.  Increase heat to high, cover and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, add ravioli to pot.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the ravioli are tender (about 10 minutes).

Add spinach to the pot and cook until it's wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve up with some nice fresh artisan bread.  Yum yum.


This is a great springboard recipe, lots of room to make it your own.  I used pre-made four cheese ravioli, but you can substitute you own favorite stuffed shell (though if you switch to tortelloni, I wouldn't call it "ravioli" soup anymore).

You can use beef or chicken stock instead of veggie.

You can add any other type of veggie you'd like -- mushroom, zucchini, corn -- just be mindful of when you add it in.  If it's a denser veggie like carrots (any of your squashes) add it earlier.  If it's a lighter veggie like mushrooms, add it later.

You can switch out the type of fresh herb you use as well.