Friday, November 20, 2015

Lasagna for the Night before Thanksgiving

Mrs. King's Lasagna

Here's the dish I like to make for Wednesday night before Thanksgiving when the grandkids arrive.  I took a photo last year before I put it in the oven.  Their arrival time is often in flux so it holds well. And we can serve a salad and rolls.

This year, I thought could make it ahead of time, but realized this past weekend that our freezer shelves are too shallow, and won't hold a 9x13" casserole.  Harummpuff.

Nonetheless, it is a very good recipe....from Mrs. King, a family friend when we were growing up.

Is it spelled lasagna or lasagne?  I think both versions are acceptable.

Mrs. King's Lasagna 
Serves 6 to 8
1/2 lb. lasagne noodles
2 T. cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef (I use beef, pork and veal mix)
2 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. each basil/rosemary
1 1/2 cups water
2 6-ounce cans of tomato paste
2 eggs, beaten
1 pint cottage cheese
1 T. minced parsley
1/2 lb. mozzarella, shredded or sliced
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles as directed and drain. 

Heat oil in skillet, cook garlic and onion until soft.  Add meat and seasoning and cook until crumbly. 
Add tomato paste and hot water.  Simmer 5 minutes or so and set aside. 

Blend beaten eggs with cottage cheese in bowl.  Add parsley and stir to mix. 

In a baking dish (9x13x2) put a thin layer of meat sauce, half the noodles, all the cottage cheese ...  This is where the recipe stops because I have lost the second card over the years.  So, I just put a third of the remaining meat sauce on top, then another layer of noodles, more meat sauce,
half the mozzarella, another layer of noodles, the remaining meat sauce, the remaining mozzarella.
and top it with the Parmesan cheese.

Here are some cooking tips I used when cooking the recipe.  Salt along the way I add a pinch when I start the onions, and keep adding and tasting throughout the course of cooking the sauce, so it doesn't end up over salted.

Add your garlic well after the onions have started cooking so you don't burn your garlic.

A ground meat mix of beef, pork and veal makes a creamier, richer meat sauce than straight beef.  Be sure to buy lean meat or drain off most of the fat.

I use lots of basil only, and skip the rosemary, so the basil flavor really comes through in the sauce.

Serve it with a nice salad.  I like to make the Arugula Salad with Shaved Grana Padama.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Gravy Godsends

Gravy Godsends

For me, the most stressful part of Thanksgiving is making the gravy.

Everyone is hungry.  And swarming the kitchen.  Tom is working on carving the turkey (and needs LOTS of space.) Our son-in-law, Chris, is mashing the potatoes.  And then I am trying to make enough gravy to please everyone... and one that isn't to dark and salty.

Gravy is not my forté.

Over the years, I have learned to compensate and these are my gravy godsends:

  • Wondra quick mixing flour
  • extra Turkey broth 
  • a good gravy separator

Wondra flour has made my gravy lump free.  It incorporates with the pan juices quickly.

Turkey stock is needed because from year to year our turkeys produce inconsistent amounts of pan juices.  It has really helped me control the density and darkness of the gravy.  I just keep adding it a little at a time, tasting it and then adding more, until it is nice and smooth.

I should also mention the extra large glass gravy separator that my mother-in-law gave me years ago when I didn't realize how much I would need it or appreciate it, even though it is a pain to clean.  I take it for granted.

2015 Line-up 

Over the weekend I saw that Target had the OXO gravy separator on sale, so I decided to treat myself to one.  It will so much easier to clean than the glass one.

Also, I found a new brand of turkey broth which I am hoping has more flavor than the College Inn brand.  You can always use chicken broth instead of turkey broth.

So, now it just a matter of asking for help to pour off the juices from the big roasting pan into the new gravy separator, then de-glazing the pan with the turkey stock.  Adding flour to the stock and then returning the juices that have separated.  (To speed up the separation, I stick the gravy separator in the freezer for a while.) Then cooking it until it becomes thick and glossy. Tasting it.  And adding more stock to thin it out as necessary.

I have also read that you can make it ahead of time and freeze it, but Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without the stovetop gravy, as far as I am concerned.  But who knows, maybe next year, I will even be willing to forgo that step.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Cornbread Pudding

Etta's Cornbread Pudding has become a welcome addition to our Thanksgiving meal.

Chris S. introduced us to this chef Tom Douglas recipe.  If you haven't made it yet, it is one to put on your list.  Here is the link:  Etta's Cornbread Pudding and Cornbread recipe
The cheesy cornbread is very good.  Excellent with chili.

Cornbread cubes are used in a layer in the pudding. 
So, Saturday I made the cornbread cubes--- and froze them ----to save a step on Thanksgiving.
Here are the cornbread cubes snuggled in the freezer.  Ready to go when I need them.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Classic Pumpkin Pie

Classic Pumpkin Pie

Tom liked this version of pumpkin pie so much he asked me to save the recipe and make again this year.

I found the recipe in Fine Cooking magazine.  It is Abby Dodge's recipe.  She is a pastry chef, instructor and cookbook author.

The crust was the best part.

The dough can be made up to 2 days in advance or be frozen for up to 1 month.
Today I made two dough rounds and put them in the freezer to save us time on Thanksgiving day. One for pumpkin pie and one for pecan pie.  I am going to skip making an apple pie this year.

Classic Pumpkin Pie
(Abby Dodge Fine Cooking Oct/Nov 2014)

Makes one 9 inch pie

For the dough:
1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter
5 5/8 oz.  (1 1.4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
3 T. cold water
2 T. granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt

For the Filling:
1 - 15 oz. can pure pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cups)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
3/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
pinch salt
1 1/3 cups half''n'half
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Whipped cream for serving

Make the dough
Cut the butter into 6 pieces and put in the freezer.  Measure out 3 T. of cold water.

Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor using short pulses. Then cut in the cold butter using short pulses, until there are pieces just a little bigger than the size of peas.  Scrape it out into a mixing bowl.

Drizzle the cold water over the mixture and, using the fingertips of one hand, pinch and squeeze the mixture while tossing with a silicone spatula in the other hand until it begins to form shaggy clumps.

Scrape the dough onto a clean work surface.  Using the heel of your, gently smear the dough away from you in sections.  Using a bench scraper, gather and fold the crumbs on top of each other and turn the pile 180 degrees.  Repeat the smearing action, gathering and turning the dough several times until the crumbs just hold together.  Shape the dough into a 5 inch disk, smoothing the edges.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Roll the dough  If the dough was frozen, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.  Let the dough sit at room temperature until it's pliable enough to roll, 10 to 20 minutes.

She uses parchment, but I just floured my work surface and put the dough in the center.  Lightly flour the dough.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to the edges into a 13.5 inch circle that's about 1/8 inch thick.  after every few passes, rotate the dough a quarter turn.  Re-flour only as needed excess flour makes the crust tough.

Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin, position the pin over a 9 inch glass pie plate, and unroll, easing the dough into the plate.  Gently press the dough into the sides and bottom of the plate without stretching it, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges.  Trim the excess dough to a 3/4 inch over hang.  Roll the overhang under itself to shape a high edge crust that rest on the rim of the pie plate.  Crimp the dough into a fluted edge.  Cover and refrigerate the crust while the oven heats (or freeze up to 1 month.)

Blind bake the crust

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 degrees/  Line the crust with foil or parchment and then fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil and pie weights.  Bake until the crust is pale golden and looks dry, 5 to 8 minutes more.  Let cool on a rack while making the filling.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the filling  -- the easy part!

Whisk together the pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt.  Whisk in the half-and -half and vanilla.  Add the eggs and whisk until just blended.  Pour the filling into the baked crust.  It is okay if the crust is still warm.

Bake until the center of the filling jiggles like jello when the plate is nudged, 48-50 minutes.  (Ours took a lot longer.)  A few small cracks might appear close to the crust -- that's fine.  Cool the pie on a rack until room temperature, about 3 hours.

Cover loosely and refrigerate until ready to serve.  The pie is best when served within 2 days of baking, and can be warmed slightly in a 300 degree oven, if desired.

Serve with whipped cream.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Cranberry Sauce can be frozen

I made cranberry sauce yesterday, and froze it.  Who knew? I didn't.

I have been researching what you can and cannot freeze for Thanksgiving...

Because it is going to be crunch-time when we return from a wedding in Chicago on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

I am getting as many things done as I can ahead of time, so I can relax and enjoying seeing our kids and grandkids.
Here is the recipe I like to make for cranberry sauce.  Click here

I applied a layer of plastic wrap to the surface to keep it more air-tight and to avoid creating a skin on on the surface.

Now I just need to remember to defrost it, and transfer to a serving bowl when the time comes.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Fanny Farmer's Pumpkin Bread

Fanny Farmer's Pumpkin Bread

A friend of ours, Karen S., gave me this recipe after we raved about the pumpkin bread she brought with her as a housewarming gift.

This past weekend I made 3 loaves --- one for us and two to freeze for Thanksgiving weekend.
  • without any nuts, which make it grandkid friendly
  • with pecans
  • with dark chocolate chips
The bread is very moist. And it is very easy to make.

Pumpkin Bread
(from Karen S. from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups (210 g) flour
1/2 t. salt
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. allspice
1/2 cups chopped nuts or chocolate chips

(Note: I changed up the order of the ingredients, but otherwise it is the Fanny Farmer recipe.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda.  Add the spices and the nuts/chips to the dry ingredients and mix.  Mix the pumpkin, oil, beaten eggs and 1/4 cup water together until smooth.  Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Do not over mix or the bread will be tough.  Pour into a well-greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.  Bake 50-60 minutes.  Mine took 65.  Until a straw comes out clean.  Turn out of the pan and cool on a rack.


Monday, November 2, 2015

November: America

November: America

This month is America.  And Thanksgiving.  The dishes on the tablescape are:
  • Turkey 
  • Stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Gravy
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Green Beans
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Dinner Rolls
  • Apple Cider
  • Pumpkin Pie
Will be fun asking friends and families for their go-to Thanksgiving recipes.  We do brussel sprouts in place of the green beans.  And I have never made a sweet potato casserole.  Otherwise, it is what we serve.  

How about you?  

If you have any recipes or stories that you would like to share, please let me know at


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Curried Pumpkin Soup

I originally wrote back in November, 2009:
Love this pumpkin soup, especially around this time of year. No one usually guesses that mushrooms are in it. It is a very simple, yet deeply flavorful soup. A crowd-pleaser.
Made this soup this week.  It continues to be one of our favorites. This time I served it for dinner --- with cheese and bacon ciabatta sandwiches---with a  little arugula salad.

Click here to see the full recipe.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October: Germany

October: Germany

The truth is I am not very excited about German food.  I am hoping others have something good to share this month.  I found a German and Viennese cookbook at the library book sale over the weekend which I am hoping has some goodies in it.  I am keeping an open mind.

On the tablescape for Germany are:

  • Sauerkraut - fermented moist cabbage
  • Wurst - sausages and cold cuts
  • Pork Schnitzel - a bread pan-fried boneless pork chop
  • Potato pancakes and applesauce
  • Kasspatzen - a Bavarian dish of spaetzel and cheese
  • Pretzel - a twisted knot of salty baked dough
  • Beer stein - a vessel for quenching your thirst with beer
  • Black forest cake -layers of chocolate cake with whipped cream and cherries

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties by Tom

Haggis and Neeps and Tatties by Tom

So this is the foods of England month.  Technically haggis is not an English food.  It is Scottish.  And Scotland is not part of England, but is a part of the United Kingdom.  Scotland even made an attempt at seceding from England last year in a failed referendum.  But I just spent a week playing golf in Scotland with seven other guys, and we saw haggis on the menu everywhere we went.  So that is what I am writing about in this post even if it is not technically an English food.

The weirdest, yet surprisingly good menu item I experienced, was haggis nachos.  Talk about crossing ethnic foods lines!  Fortunately a more traditional Scottish haggis dish was also on virtually every menu we saw:  haggis with neeps and tatties.  Neeps are turnips, and tatties are potatoes.  Haggis is mostly sheep lobes, and that is about all you want to know about haggis.  This is not a dish I would eat everyday, but it was pretty good for local fare. 
Our Scottish van driver, Billie, was disgusted when he saw the haggis nachos.  He said the best haggis is made by Grant's.  And a day or two later, he presented each of us with a can of Grant's Premium Haggis.  Not to be rude, we each took our can and "smuggled" them back into the States in our golf bags.  In truth, even the Customs inspectors were uninterested in our canned haggis.

As a "treat" for Barbara, I made her this very traditional Scottish meal.  It was actually pretty good, and we both finished our portions.  The savory beef gravy certainly did not detract from the taste.  A hint of sliced leeks in the tatties also added to the flavor.  And a wee dram is always good.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
(from the van driver Billie, and on menus throughout southwest Scotland)

Serves 2

can of haggis
leeks - about 1" of white part, cleaned and very finely chopped
potatoes - about 1 pound, cut into 1" pieces
turnips - about 1 pound, cut into 1" pieces
gravy - I used a jar of savory gravy...much easier to use
salt and pepper
4 ounces butter
Wee dram of single malt Scotch

Boil the turnips in salted water for about 20-25 minutes.  Do the same for the potatoes.  Add the leeks to the potatoes as well.
In a small sauce pan gently heat the haggis.  Just before serving, add the wee dram of single malt Scotch to the haggis and stir in.  If you would like, you can pour another wee dram for yourself.
Split the butter in half and add to both the turnips and the potatoes.  Thoroughly mash both the turnips and the potatoes in their cooking pans.
Heat some of the savory beef gravy so that it is warm.  Put a small amount on each plate.
Then mound over the gravy, first the haggis, then the turnips(neeps), and finally the potatoes(tatties).
Pour a little more gravy over the top.

Now you have an authentic Scottish meal.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hummingbird Cake by Tom

Hummingbird Cake by Tom
Made this cake today as a treat for David's birthday. 

This cake originated in the Caribbean and most probably in Jamaica as the story goes.  In fact the Jamaican Tourist Board sent recipes to the United States in the late 60s as a way to encourage more tourism.  Whether that worked is unclear.  But hummingbird cake did become a favorite throughout many of the southern states showing up at county fairs and other baking competitions.

I had the opportunity to taste it while we were visiting New Orleans last March.  I enjoyed it because it reminded me of a cross between the denseness of a carrot cake and the taste of a spice cake.  Bananas and pineapple are two of the main ingredients, which give this cake its characteristic taste.  Throw in pecans and coconut to add texture and additional taste.  A cream cheese icing tops the cake.

And contrary to its name, there are no hummingbirds in this cake.


Hummingbird Cake
(from King Arthur Flour catalogue who got it from Sunset Magazine)

Serves 12

for the cake:
4 large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups (24 ounces) mashed ripe bananas, about 4-5 medium-large bananas
3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) unbleached self-rising flour
2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained and the juice reserved
1 1/2 cups (5 5/8 ounces) toasted chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 ounces) sweetened coconut

for the frosting:
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons, 4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups (16 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners' sugar, sifted
Up to 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) pineapple juice, reserved from the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour three 9" round cake pans.  Believe it or not, at this step I had to make an audible.  Unfortunately our oven crashed a couple of days ago, so I had to resort to our toaster oven.  Fortunately it worked out just fine, but I had to bake the three layers separately.  Not ideal, but workable.

To make the cake:

Beat the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla until foamy.  Then mix in the bananas.

Whisk together in a separate bowl the flour, cinnamon and allspice.  Then add that to the mixture and make a smooth batter.  Stir in the pineapple juice, 1 cup of the pecans and all of the coconut.

Spoon the batter into the cake pans evenly.  Bake the cakes for 32-38 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool in the pans for 15 minutes.  Run a spatula around the edges and then turn out the cakes onto cooling racks.  Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:  beat together the butter, cream cheese and salt until fluffy.

In a separate bowl combine the confectioners' sugar with the xanthan gum, and stir.  Now slowly add that to the cream cheese mixture, beating well.  Beat in the pineapple juice a little at a time until the frosting is of a spreadable consistency.

Frost each cake layer, then frost the top (and sides if you would like).  Decorate the top with the remaining pecans and a little leftover coconut.