Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spiced Pecans

You know those things that remind you immediately of the holidays?  Spicy nuts are one of those things for me.  They are a perfect snack to keep on hand for guests.  Wrap them up in cellophane or put them in a lovely tin and, voila!, a lovely hostess gift.  Or just grab a handful to munch on during the football game.  I'm telling you, these things are so handy for the holidays!

The recipe below can be doctored up to your preference.  The husband and I are both a bit wimpy when it comes to spice, so feel free to add more cayenne if you like things hot, hot, hot. 

Spiced Pecans
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Serves: 8-10

1 egg white
1 tablespoon water 
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound pecans (or your favorite nut)
2/3 cup superfine sugar*
1 3/4 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Whisk the egg white, water, and salt together in a large bowl.  Add the nuts to the egg white mixture and stir to coat.  Drain the nuts in a colander for for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, cumin, cayenne, and paprika.  Toss the spices with the drained nuts.  Spread the nuts on the parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake until the nuts are dry and crisp, about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally and rotating the pans halfway through so the nuts bake evenly.  Remove nuts from the oven and allow them to cool completely on the baking sheets, about 30 minutes.  Break up the nuts and serve.  Nuts can be stored in an airtight container for several weeks.

*If you don't have superfine sugar, just process regular granulated sugar in a food processor or blender for about 1 minute.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey Sandwich with Cream Cheese and Cranberry Sauce


I remember when I was a wee little lass, leftovers were about the worst thing that could happen to me.  I mean, seriously, I had a grueling day of electronic talking Battleship, "Hey Dude" on TV, and kick-the-can.  How dare my mother deign to offer me the same dinner two nights in a row?!  It was as if her incredibly busy schedule and sense of frugality trumped my ridiculously picky palate.  The nerve.

Mom, for all of those whiny evenings, I apologize.

Now that I'm an adult and the primary bringer of dinner in our home, leftovers are manna from heaven.  Not only do they taste delicious (sometimes better than the the original meal), but they also save time and money.  I LOVE LEFTOVERS!!

Before the stash of Thanksgiving leftovers dwindles too low, I must share with you this delicious sandwich.  It is so good I can't even handle it.  Make it for your lunch today.  If you don't love leftovers yet, you'll be converted by this sandwich.  The measurements aren't precise, so feel free to use as much of each component as you'd like.  

Turkey Sandwich with Cream Cheese and Cranberry Sauce
Serves: 1

2 slices bread
1 ounce cream cheese, preferably softened so it spreads more easily
3 ounces turkey, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons cranberry sauce

Schmear one side of each slice of bread with cream cheese.  Pile the turkey on one slice of bread, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread the cranberry sauce on top of the turkey.  Top with the second slice of bread.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stir Fried Beef & Broccoli

As you may have noticed from this blog, I cook a lot of chicken and pork.  For some reason, I'm just not sure what to do with beef.  In the summer, I can throw a steak on the grill.  But now that the cold has set in, I am not going outside to cook dinner.  Sorry.

When boneless sirloin steak was on sale recently, I decided it was high time I cooked some red meat. I've been hankerin' after Chinese food recently, so a stir fry seemed like a good choice.  I was multi-tasking while I cooked dinner, so the broccoli miiiiight have been a little mushier than planned, but it was pretty tasty.

Stir Fried Beef & Broccoli
Serves: 4

1 pound boneless sirloin steak*, thinly sliced across the grain
4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons pickled ginger, minced (or substitute whatever type of ginger you have at home: 4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger or 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped crystalized ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons hoisin sauce
3 teaspoons honey
4 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 very large (or 2 small) heads broccoli, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Place steak into a bowl with 2 tablespoons soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  Let the steak marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar, hoisin sauce, and honey.

When all of your ingredients are prepared, remove the steak from the marinade.  Toss steak with corn starch.  Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  In two batches, add the steak to the pan and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Remove to a plate and tent with foil while you cook the broccoli.

Add the broccoli to the skillet along with about 1/2 cup water.  Use a spatula to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  Allow the broccoli to steam until it's crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes.  If the pan is getting too dry, add a bit more water.

When broccoli is cooked, add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Then, return the steak and any accumulated juices to the pan.  Add the sauce to the pan and stir to coat everything.  Allow the sauce to come to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 4-5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.

Serve the stir fry over rice and top with chow mein noodles.

*If a different cut of beef is on sale at your market, feel free to make a substitution.  Just be sure to slice it thinly so it cooks quickly.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from the Happy Homemakers!

O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.
-William Shakespeare

We are grateful for family and friends, for health and shelter, for food and laughter.  And we are thankful that you choose to spend time with us here at Hot Dinner Happy Home!

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just a friendly reminder

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Obviously.  For those of you roasting a turkey for the first time, today's post is a friendly reminder:


At this point, thawing your turkey by tomorrow will require a miracle.  Just kidding.  It simply requires some cold water.  Leave your turkey in it's plastic wrapping and submerge it in a big bucket (or sink) full of cold water.  Change the water every 30 minutes.  This thawing method will take about 30 minutes per pound.

If you'd like to read more about thawing turkey, our friends at the USDA have a handy guide to safe thawing.

Good luck tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

French Dip Sandwiches

Thanksgiving is on Thursday.  That means there are only TWO DAYS left until the big event.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.

Now, I don't know about you, but my Turkey Day timetable has me brining the turkey and preparing stuffing components the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  This rigorous schedule doesn't leave much time to prepare today's hot dinner.   On nights like this, I turn to a simple family favorite, French Dip Sandwiches.

I admit, this isn't the fanciest dinner.  I certainly did not roast the beef.  And the dip part is from an envelope.  But it is gooood.  And warm.  And it will give you the energy you need to get that Thanksgiving feast on the table.

So, take a few minutes away from your holiday prep (or your errands, homework help, cleaning, whatever), and throw together this super-speedy hot dinner.  Your family will thank you.

French Dip Sandwiches
Serves: 4

4 crusty rolls, sliced in half
3/4 pound thinly sliced roast beef from the deli
4 slices cheese (The husband loves havarti in these sandwiches.)
2 envelopes Au Jus mix (We like lots of "dip" at our house.  You might be able to get away with one envelope.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Evenly divide roast beef and cheese between the rolls.  Wrap each sandwich with aluminum foil, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sandwich is warmed through.  

Meanwhile, prepare the au jus according to package directions.  Serve the sandwiches with au jus in a little bowl for each person so everyone can dip to their heart's content.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes

My friend Therese asked how I make mashed potatoes the day before Thanksgiving.  Honestly, I try to do as much as humanly possible before the Big Day, and potatoes definitely fall in that category.  When you make these potatoes, they initially appear relatively liquid-y.  But when you reheat them the next day...perfection.

P.S. These are my Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes.  You'll understand why when you see how much butter I used.  I try not to think about it.  It's just once a year.

Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes
From The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Serves: 4

2 pounds potatoes (the folks at America's Test Kitchen recommend russets, but I like yukon golds)
8 tablespoons butter, melted (yes, that is one ENTIRE stick)
1 cup half-and-half, hot
Salt and pepper

Peel potatoes, then quarter them and cut into 1" chunks.  Cover the potatoes by 1" of water in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender and a fork can be slipped easily into the center, 20 to 25 minutes.

Drain potatoes in a colander, tossing to remove any excess water.  Add the potatoes back to the pot and mash to a uniform consistency.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted butter until just incorporated.  Fold in 3/4 cup of the half-and-half, adding the remaining 1/4 cup as needed to adjust the consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

If you're making these a day ahead, transfer them to a baking dish, cover with foil, and refrigerate.  Take them out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to start heating them up so they come to room temperature.  Dot the top of the potatoes with butter (yes, MORE BUTTER) and bake at 350 degrees until they're heated through.  This will take about 30-45 minutes.  If the potatoes are getting too brown on top, cover them with aluminum foil until they finish baking.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roasted Snap Peas

As I have mentioned several times, roasting vegetables is the sneaky way to make something healthy taste like dessert.  And I love dessert.

Well, when the husband and I visited Costco recently, we snagged a 48 pound bag of snap peas.  And if you are a family of two trying to polish off 48 pounds of anything, you get creative.  Turns out roasting snap peas is an excellent idea.

Other excellent roasting ideas:
Have you tried roasting veggies yet?  No?  Well, give it a whirl...you won't regret it.

Roasted Snap Peas
Serves: 4

1 pound snap peas
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a big baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place your snap peas on the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Use your hands to mix everything together.  Roast for 12-15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until snap peas are a lovely golden color.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic-Cranberry Sauce

If you have cranberry sauce leftover after Thanksgiving, use a little bit to make this delicious dinner.  Or just snag a can of whole berry cranberry sauce at the grocery store.  Since it's cooked into the sauce, it won't make much difference if you use the canned stuff.

Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic-Cranberry Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves: 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 8- to 10-ounce pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning (I think chopped rosemary would also be nice)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cranberry sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle pork with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.  Sear pork until it is browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Transfer pork to a baking sheet.  Roast pork in the oven until a thermometer inserted into the center reaches 135-140 degrees, about 10-15 minutes.  Transfer the pork to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest until it reaches an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, over medium-high heat, melt butter in the same skillet you cooked the pork in.  Add the onion and saute until it softens, about 4-5 minutes.  Add broth, cranberry sauce, and vinegar.  Whisk until cranberry sauce melts, about 2 minutes.

While the pork continues to rest, pour any juices from the baking sheet into the cranberry sauce in the skillet.  Boil until the sauce has reduced enough to coat the spoon thickly, about 6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Slice the pork and serve with sauce.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Salad with Oranges and Fennel

Recently, my friend, Mo, had me over for dinner.  I walked through her front door to the most glorious smell...homemade spaghetti sauce.  Those of you who know the husband know that he doesn't like tomatoes, so spaghetti sauce, FROM SCRATCH no less, is quite a treat for me.

All I had to contribute was a measly salad, but I have to admit, it was pretty tasty.  Not homemade sauce tasty, but, come on, it's salad.   I promised Mo I'd post the recipe.  Considering she fed me a delicious dinner and sent me home with extra sauce for my freezer, it's the least I can do.

Thanks for dinner, Mo!

Orange and Fennel Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves: 2

For the Salad:
4 cups mixed greens
1 bulb of fennel, halved and thinly sliced
1 orange, segmented

For the Dressing:
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half
3 tablespoons strawberry balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl or on individual salad plates, then make the dressing.  Combine all dressing ingredients into a jar with a lid that seals tightly.  Put on the lid (TIGHTLY, trust me on this one), and shake it up to combine.  Remove the garlic and drizzle the dressing over the lettuce, fennel, and oranges.

*I like my dressing pretty tangy, so I only used 4 tablespoons olive oil.  If you prefer a bit less bite, add more oil to taste.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

In my fanatical quest for a fabulous Turkey Day, I've been scouring the internet for all things Thanksgiving.  During my hunt through the world wide web, I've found a plethora of tips and tricks for a successful (and, dare I say, stress-free) Thanksgiving.  The list below is my attempt to gather all of these ideas into one place.  Did I miss something?  Feel free to share your own favorite tips in the comment section.

Staying Organized:
  • Start early.  Nothing will lower your anxiety levels like having a plan in place.  This will also allow you to save a couple bucks by shopping the sales, clipping a couple coupons, and avoiding last-minute desperation purchases. 
  • Once you know how many people you'll be hosting, count your plates, flatware, and glasses to make sure you have enough.  My knives seem to disappear in the dishwasher, so I usually need to pick up a few replacements around the holidays.  Also, it never hurts to have an extra place setting available in case you have a last-minute dinner addition.  
  • After you have your menu planned, sort through your serving dishes and serving spoons to ensure you have an appropriate platter and utensil for each item.  Scooping mashed potatoes out of tupperware takes the class out of a dinner party real quick.  Also, have a few extra serving utensils on hand for guests who are bringing dishes.
  • A few days before Thanksgiving, use post-it notes to label your serving bowls with what they will contain.  Then set them out on the table or buffet.  This will confirm that you have an appropriate dish for every item and also that there is enough room for everything.  I know this tip sounds psycho, but it really helps.  You don't want make your husband create a "buffet table" out of luggage covered with table cloths 30 minutes before dinner.  That will make everyone testy.
  • Buy an oven thermometer to make sure your oven's temperature gauge is accurate.  This will help you avoid the 12-hour turkey.  "I didn't realize the oven was only at 200 degrees!  No wonder this took so long!" 
  • Set the table the day, or several days, before Thanksgiving.  You don't want to deal with this right before the main event.  And if you're worried that your kids/animals/spouse will mess up your beautiful table, cover it with a clean bedsheet or extra tablecloth.  (While I've never tried this myself, it sounds pretty doggone clever.)
  • If you'll have candles on the dinner table, use unscented candles.  Scented candles can confuse your taste buds when you're eating.
Making Dinner:
  • Plan your menu early.  And don't feel guilty if your menu doesn't include 12 different jello salads.  No one needs that much jello, anyway.
  • Are you making any new recipes this year?  To keep your stress level at minimum, give new dishes a try in the weeks leading up to the big day.  Once you know it tastes delicious, you'll be much less nervous.  And if it tastes like crap, you can try something different.
  • Whenever possible, make dishes the day before Thanksgiving.  That way, you can enjoy the holiday with your family and friends.  And many of the Turkey Day classics reheat well. That's a darn good reason to give thanks, if you ask me.
  • Speaking of reheating, the following items taste just as good (or even better!) when reheated:
    • Green Bean Casserole (Wait to add the onion ring topping until Thanksgiving day.)
    • Mashed Potatoes (Just add extra milk/cream and butter before reheating.)
    • Candied Yams (If you're in the marshmallow camp, wait until Thanksgiving day to top with marshmallows.) 
    • Cranberry Sauce (You don't even need to reheat this one!)
    • Applesauce (Again, no reheating needed.)
    • Dessert items (pie, cake, whatever)
  • Prep the day before.  Chop vegetables for the stuffing, brine your turkey, wash fruit and vegetables. 
If You Are Not Hosting:
  • Ask your host what you can bring.  And if you have a family specialty that you'd like to share, suggest that dish to the host.  Likewise, if you can't cook/hate to cook/don't have time to cook, offer to bring booze.  This will save your host moolah and will be much appreciated.  
  • If you are in charge of bringing a dish for dinner, but you might be late due to another commitment, drop off your dish earlier in the day.  Then your host can warm it up for you and serve dinner on schedule.  My friend, Kelly, always does this, and I love her (more) for it!
  • Try to remember your own serving utensils in case your host didn't read our handy holiday tip guide and doesn't have extras. 
  • If your dish needs to be reheated, use a post-it to label the dish with reheating instructions.  Things get crazy in the kitchen at the last minute, and that way anyone can prep your dish.  And there might be a cute guy/girl watching the football game who demands your attention more than your dinner contribution.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stuffing with Sausage, Pecans, and Cranberries

Wise readers, I have a Thanksgiving dilemma.  As with many things, it goes back to my insatiable sweet tooth and infatuation with craisins.  If I had to subsist on craisins and cheesecake (for protein, of course), I probably could.  I'm not proud of that.  Anyway, on to my dilemma...

Stuffing is my favorite part of Thanksgiving, and I like my stuffing a little bit sweet.  So, I turn to the humble craisin for sweetness and general pizzazz.  I've heard from several people, however, that dried fruit in stuffing is an abomination.  Since I don't know the opinion of all my Thanksgiving guests on this important matter, I am turning to you.  Should I throw caution to the wind and make the delicious but craisin-studded stuffing recipe below this Turkey Day?  The comment section is all yours...please help!

P.S. Come back on Monday for a compilation of all the best Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks the interweb could send me. Yeah, I found some real winners.           

Stuffing with Sausage, Pecans, and Cranberries
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Serves: 12-16 (incredibly hungry people)

2 cups dried cranberries
1 1/2 pounds bulk sausage
1 1/2 sticks butter
4 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 onions, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
4 teaspoons poultry seasoning (or substitute 2 teaspoons dried sage, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, and 1 teaspoon dried marjoram)
3 pounds good white sandwich bread (I used Arnold brand potato bread), cut into 1/2" cubes and dried*
3 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
5-7 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cover the dried cranberries with boiling water and let soak for 15 minutes.  (This will soften the cranberries.)  Drain and reserve the cranberries. 

Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, breaking into small pieces with a spoon, until lightly browned, 5-10 minutes.  Remove the sausage to a separate bowl and reserve until later.   

In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  (If desired, you can substitute the rendered sausage fat for an equal amount of butter.)  Add the celery and onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the parsley and poultry seasoning and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Transfer to the biggest bowl you have.  (Seriously, the biggest bowl.)

Add the dried bread, cranberries, sausage, pecans, 5 cups broth, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Although it sounds strange, taste the stuffing at this point to make sure it's well-seasoned and moist enough.  Adjust the seasonings if necessary.  Also, if the stuffing is too dry, add more broth until it is the desired consistency.  Then, add the lightly beaten eggs and toss to combine. 

Turn the mixture into a greased 10"x15" baking dish.  Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until golden, about 20-30 minutes longer.  Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

*There are a couple ways to dry your bread cubes.  If you don't have animals or small children who will eat them, simply leave the bread pieces on the counter for a few days to become stale.  Otherwise, spread them onto a very large baking sheet (or two) and bake in a 300 degree oven for 30-60 minutes.  Stir a couple times during baking to make sure your bread dries out evenly.  (Please note: if you stir while the tray is still in the oven, some bread will most likely fall out of the pan and into the darkest depths of your oven.  Then it will burn and stink up your house.  I may or may not know this from experience.)  Also, make sure you cool the bread cubes before using them in your stuffing.  If you don't feel like making your own stuffing cubes, feel free to buy the ones that come in the bag.  We don't judge here at Hot Dinner Happy Home.  But remember to add extra broth if you're using bagged bread cubes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Citrus and Ginger Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is a must-have on my crowded Thanksgiving plate.  Growing up, my family wasn't digging this sweet and tangy and side, so we always had the canned stuff.  Now, I'm not knocking Ocean Spray—there's something strangely delcious about that canned concoction—but I've never turned back after trying this homemade Cranberry Sauce.  The recipe is from my mother-in-law, Cheryl.  Culinary genius, excellent mom, and all around wonderful woman, I thought I hit the jackpot when she shared her son with me...but then I found out she shares recipes, too?!  Yep, I'm pretty lucky.

Cheryl's Cranberry Sauce
From the happy home of my mother-in-law
Serves: 4-6

3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
5-6 whole cloves
1 tablespoon crystalized ginger, chopped
Zest from one orange (removed with a vegetable peeler in thick strips)
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine 3/4 cup water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, and orange zest in a medium sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange zest.  Add fresh cranberries and return to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  At this point, the cranberry sauce will be a bit runny, but it thickens as it cools.  Let your sauce cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

May I offer you something to drink?

Liquid courage. Social lubricant. Nectar of the gods. Whatever you call it, you'd better have plenty of the stuff on hand in the coming months. Nothing seems to strike fear in the party planner quite like booze. Now we all have our reasons for fretting over the issue, but the fact of the matter is we bring far too much anxiety to the wine aisle.

This year, skip the half hour trudge through every label that catches your eye, and pack my list of crowd pleasing bottles. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm willing to bet you and your guests will enjoy the following...
Big Fat Cabs
Versatile Syrahs
Runquist 2008 (May be a bit harder to find, so order online. This is the one to bring to dinner if you're a guest.)
An Amazing Pinot Noir
Calera 2007
Skip champagne and go for Prosecco. It's a bit more dry and always makes for a festive toast to any occasion.

Go ahead a fill your cart with 6 or 7 bottles, and I'm sure you'll bump into your first grade teacher, your dentist, AND your pilates instructor at the checkout. Hey, it's a good opportunity to invite them over!

Lady of the House

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bird

For the past few years, the husband has been in charge of deep-frying the turkey on Thanksgiving.  He gets a kick out of doing it and, bonus, it's delicious.  Last year, however, our trusty turkey fryer sprung a leak.  So, for Thanksgiving 2010, I'll be roasting my bird in the oven.

Since I have a small kitchen, the oven gets pretty darn crowded on Thanksgiving.  In attempts to move the turkey along more quickly, I'm going to roast a turkey breast instead of the whole darn thing.  So, below you'll find my recipe for roast turkey breast.  But it all starts with the brine.

Let's be honest, turkey tends to be dry.  In order to add moisture, try brining it first.  For me, turkey is just a vehicle for cranberry sauce, so I was dubious that a brine would really help.  Well, you can call me a monkey's uncle, 'cause this brine was the business.  It will turn your turkey into juicy, delcious awesomeness.  Trust me.  And you can use the Turkey Brine recipe wether you're roasting the whole bird or just the breast.  (One additional note about brining: according to the good folks at America's Test Kitchen, "Do not brine kosher poultry, frozen injected turkeys (such as Butterball), or enhanced pork."  These are already treated with salt, so brining will make them taste nasty.)

After you roast your turkey, it's gravy time.  I must admit, I was terrified to make my own gravy.  I'm not sure why it scared me so much, I knew the husband wouldn't leave me if there was a lump or two in my sauce, but I did NOT want to try it.  Well, again, I was pleasantly surprised.  First of all, it wasn't hard!  Second of all, it tasted delicious!  I'm still going to keep a packet of Knorr gravy mix on hand this Thanksgiving, but it will only be in case I run out of the real stuff.

Without further ado...

Turkey Brine
Adapted from epicurious.com

1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup honey
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons peppercorns
2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 head garlic, halved (don't worry about removing the paper)
3 quarts water (approximately)

In a very large bowl or pot, combine salt, honey, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice berries, and garlic.  Add a few cups of water and stir the brine to start dissolving the salt and honey.  (You want to stir the brine now because it will be difficult to stir once you add the turkey.)

Add the turkey and then add water to cover.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.  

Once the turkey has been in it's brine for 4-6 hours, remove it from the liquid and rinse it well under running water.  Then, dry your turkey thoroughly with paper towels.  Now you're ready for the roasting steps!

Roast Turkey Breast
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Serves: 8-10

1 whole turkey breast, about 5-6 pounds, preferably brined
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (I use Penzeys Poultry Seasoning), plus extra for sprinkling
1 onion, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1 rib celery, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1 cup white wine

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Set a roasting rack inside a large roasting pan.

Mix 3 tablespoons softened butter with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.  Using your fingers, separate the skin from the turkey breast, creating a sort of pocket between the skin and the breast.  (I know this sounds gross, but it will help flavor your bird and crisp up the skin.)  Rub the butter-seasoning mix all over the meat under the skin.  Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and brush it over the breast.  Sprinkle with additional salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.

Place the turkey on the roasting rack in the prepared pan.  Place onion, carrot and celery in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Pour 1/2 cup of the wine in the bottom of the pan as well.  (This will help prevent the vegetables and turkey drippings from burning.)  Place the pan in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.

Lower the heat to 325 degrees.  Continue to roast the turkey until it registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer.  ***Keep an eye on the turkey while it is roasting.  If the vegetables on the bottom of the pan look like they're burning, add the extra 1/2 cup wine.  If they STILL look like they're burning, add water, 1/4 cup at a time as needed, to prevent burning.  Also, if the breast looks like it's getting too brown, tent it with aluminum foil.***

Transfer the turkey to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.  While the turkey is resting, move on to the gravy!

Quick Turkey Gravy
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Serves: 8-10

1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the onion, carrot, and celery from the roasting pan.  Using a spoon, skim any fat from the pan drippings and discard it.  Place the roasting pan over two burners turned to medium heat.

Add 1/2 cup wine to the pan and whisk about 1 minute to begin scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Whisk in 4 cups chicken broth and bring to a simmer.  Continue whisking until all the browned bits are incorporated into your gravy.  Reduce heat and simmer slowly for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/4 cup water and 3 tablespoons cornstarch to form a smooth paste.  Whisking constantly, gradually pour the cornstarch mixture into the simmering broth.  Cook for 1 more minute and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Strain the gravy (if you're feeling ambitions), and serve along side the turkey, and the potatoes, and the stuffing, and the...well, you get my drift.

***Have a turkey conundrum?  Leave a comment or e-mail me at hotdinnerhappyhome [at] gmail [dot] com.  Even if I don't know the answer, I'll make up something that sounds good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

'Tis the Season

The symptoms started a few weeks ago now.  Insomnia, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate.  It seems like the flu struck early at my house, but, no.  It's much more serious than the flu.

It's Christmas Disease.

You may be asking yourself, "What in tarnation is Christmas Disease?"  Well, professionals would categorize Christmas Disease as a syndrome, "a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition."  That abnormal condition is simple: I am too excited about Christmas and, really, the entire upcoming holiday season.

The remedies I've found so far include regular consumption of Edy's Peppermint Ice Cream and copious amounts of planning for each holiday leading up to Christmas.  Consequently, I've been tethered to my cookbooks to track down the most delectable Thanksgiving recipes possible.

With the onset of Christmas Disease, it seems only appropriate to kick off the holiday season at Hot Dinner Happy Home.  You can take advantage of my (someone compulsive) Thanksgiving Blitz with upcoming posts.  We'll cover dinner, drink, and decorating ideas for the big day.  And check out the new Thanksgiving tab at the top of our page for a compilation of all things Turkey Day.  Throughout the month, we'll be adding more information, so check back often!

So, if you feel Christmas Disease setting in, grab a (very large) bowl of peppermint ice cream, and come on over to Hot Dinner Happy Home.  We'll help you through the holidays.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Spiked Cider

I recently attended a festive fall fete at my friend Ryan and Niki's house.  Niki had a grand idea to spice things up with some Spiked Cider.  It's fall, and we need to stay warm somehow, right?

After a little digging on the interweb, I came up with the recipe below.  You start whipping this up on weeknights, and you're gonna have a problem on your hands.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Spiked Cider
Adapted from epicurious.com
Serves: 15

2 oranges
6 cinnamon sticks
25 allspice berries
25 whole cloves
1 gallon apple cider
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup dark rum
1 1/4 cup applejack

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the orange in strips.  When you're peeling your orange, try to remove only the orange part of the peel.  The white part (a.k.a. the pith) can be bitter.  Cut a piece of cheesecloth (about a 12" square) to create a little bundle for your mulling spices*.  Onto the cheesecloth square, pile the orange peel, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, and cloves.  Tie your cheesecloth bundle closed using kitchen twine or another thin piece of cheesecloth.  

Pour the apple cider into a large saucepan or crockpot.  Stir in the brown sugar and butter.  Add the cheesecloth packet of spices.  Turn on the heat, medium for a saucepan or low for your crockpot, and let the mixture simmer until you're ready to drink it, at least 15 minutes if you're using a saucepan or 1 hour in your crockpot.  You want the cider to be warmed through and infused with the spices.  

When you're ready to drink the cider, remove the spice packet.  Stir in the rum and applejack just before serving.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick if you're feeling extra fancy.  

*If you don't have cheesecloth, don't dispair!  Simply dump the orange peel and the spices right into the cider with the brown sugar.  When you're ready to drink it, strain the cider before adding the booze.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Baked Oatmeal

When the word got out at my day job that I have a serious infatuation with oatmeal, The Investment Dudes of the First Floor supplied me with the recipe below.  A local coffee shop, Alterra, serves up some killer breakfast treats, including baked oatmeal.  One of the Dudes, Adam, reverse-engineered the recipe, and this is the delicious result.

Baked Oatmeal
From Adam, Investment Dude and Culinary Mastermind
Serves: 4-6

1 1/2 cups oats (you can use old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups of your favorite fruit, peeled and chopped (I took Adam's suggestion and used frozen peaches that I thawed in the microwave, but Investment Dude Bill swears by the frozen mixed berries from Costco.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray an 8"x8" baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In a bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  In a separate bowl, combine egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla.  Mix the wet and the dry ingredients together.  Stir in the fruit.

Pour into the greased baking dish and bake for 35 minutes.

Serve warm with milk, cream, or vanilla yogurt.

P.S. As you can see from this post, I'm always game to try new recipes!  Have an idea for me?  Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail at hotdinnerhappyhome [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bust out the Linens

Our household made the switch from paper napkins to linen a few years ago, and we've never looked back. I'd like to say it was an earth-friendly decision, but chances are I had depleted the stack of the sweetly embossed paper variety and reached for the linen drawer. I submit to you that dinner, tea time, heck, even breakfast tastes better with linen napkins. It elevates things, makes things feel slightly more special, and I daresay we all deserve to feel special.

Over the years I have turned up some lovely linens in second-hand shops, and I make a point of having a little look whenever I'm traveling. This is the least expensive way to buy napkins, and you can score some fantastic old embroidered numbers. You'll always remember your trip when you set the table, and talk about an easy thing to pop in your suitcase!

Maybe you have a neglected drawer of linens as I did, or maybe you don't own any. As I said, you'll find the most charming things second-hand, or if you prefer brand spanking, then the following sites will have you set. Oh, and pick up a few extra for those inevitable hostess gifts
you'll be needing at the holidays.

Here's to being fabulous, and wiping the dribble from our mouths!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

? and Bean Burritos

If you're trying to use up leftovers, this is an excellent way to disguise them.  I have made these burritos with leftover chicken, beef, and pork.  In this case, I had leftover pork, so Pork 'N Bean Burritos.  The two cup measurement for the pork conveniently happens to be the amount I had left over, but these burritos will be just as good with more or less meat.  In fact, if you are a vegetarian or looking for a meatless meal, serve Bean Burritos.  Let me know what you replace the "?" with...I'd love to hear your ideas!    

? and Bean Burritos
Serves: 4-6

1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
2 cups leftover pork loin roast, cut into 1/2" cubes or shredded
1 tablespoon Penzey's Chili 9000 (or if you aren't a devotee of Penzey's Spices, substitute 2 teaspoons chili powder and 1 teaspoon cumin)
1/3 cup water
Salt and pepper
Tortillas and toppings of your choice for serving (shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream...)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering.  Add onion and season with salt and pepper.  Saute onion until its softened and translucent, about 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it's fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Turn the heat down to medium.  Add beans, pork, and spices.  Stir to combine.  Add water to the pan and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Turn the heat down to medium low and stir occasionally until heated through, about 3-4 minutes.

Serve with tortillas and your favorite burrito toppings.

**If you have leftover burrito filling, use it to make nachos!  Just put tortilla chips in an oven-safe dish, top with the burrito mixture, and finish with cheese.  Bake at 350 until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cubano Sandwiches

I first had a Cuban sandwich at one of my favorite restaurants, Juniper 61.  Pork on pork?!  What took me so long to try this glorious creation?!  You all know how I feel about pork...

So, when I had that leftover pork roast to spice up, a Cuban sandwich was the obvious choice.

The recipe below is how I make Cuban sandwiches, but feel free to tweak the recipe to make it your own!  For example, if you have leftover pork tenderloin, use that instead of the pork loin roast.  Or if sliced ham is on sale at your local deli, replace the prosciutto with ham.  When you layer lots of tasty ingredients and melt them together with cheese, you can't go wrong.    

Cubano Sandwiches
Serves: 2

2 crusty rolls, cut in half
2 tablespoons mustard
4 thin slices of leftover pork loin roast
6 paper thin slices of prosciutto
6 slices of dill pickle (I use Vlasic Stackers)
2 slices Swiss cheese

Preheat your panini grill.  Spread mustard on the cut sides of both rolls.  Layer on the bottom half of each roll: 2 slices pork, 3 slices prosciutto, 3 slices dill pickle, and 1 slice cheese.  Close your sandwiches with the top half of each roll.  Grill in a panini maker until sandwiches are heated through and cheese is melted, about 4-5 minutes.

**If you don't have a panini grill, check out this post for alternative ways to heat up your sandwich.