Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Are you ready?

I had a lovely new recipe all ready to share with you today, but it just didn't feel right. It's the Monday before Thanksgiving, and who can think about anything other than the biggest food day of the year. I mean, Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of food. It would be sacrilege to tell you about pot roast.

Instead I'm resurrecting one of my favorite lists. Back in 2010 I compiled my favorite Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks. When I reread it recently, I was impressed. I don't want to toot my own horn, but these things are handy, people. So without further ado...

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 Turkey Day classics reheat well or can be prepared the day ahead and popped into the oven while the turkey is resting. That's a darn good reason to give thanks, if you ask me.
  • The following items taste just as good (or even better!) when reheated or prepped ahead of time:
    • Stuffing (I actually saute the aromatics on Tuesday, prepare the stuffing on Wednesday, and bake it on Thursday. Talk about make ahead!)
    • Green Bean Casserole (Wait to add the onion ring topping until Thanksgiving day.)
    • Mashed Potatoes (Just add extra milk 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! I usually make Cranberry Sauce on Tuesday.)
    • Dessert items (pie, cake, whatever)
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. And it will be easy for you to give helpful dinner guests a job, "Katy, can you put this in the dish labelled "potatoes?" 
  • 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.
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, 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 or (let's be real) a crying baby who demands your attention more than your dinner contribution.
P.S. I wouldn't be a true friend if I didn't give this reminder: If your turkey is still frozen, get that baby in the refrigerator today! Thawing your turkey in the fridge takes about 1 day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. If you're short on time, you can thaw the bird in a bucket of cold water, which takes about 30 minutes per pound. Change water every 30 minutes to make sure the turkey stays cold and safe. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sloppy Joes with Crunchy Coleslaw

I was sitting at the dining room table yesterday and working on my grocery list for Thanksgiving: one bag of cranberries, five pounds of potatoes, three onions, eight ounces of sausage for stuffing... I checked my list against my menu several times, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. Then it struck me: I didn't have any groceries to make meals for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I mean, we all know I love cereal, but I don't think three days of it is going to fly.

With most of our food prep energy being channeled to turkey day, it's time for easy meals. Enter the homemade Sloppy Joe. Ground beef or turkey is coated with a sweet and tangy sauce that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy. Piled high on soft rolls and topped with crunchy coleslaw, it's filling and delicious comfort food. The best part? This recipe doubles beautifully so you can have dinner for Monday and Tuesday! 

And on Wednesday? Order pizza. 

Sloppy Joes
Adapted from Real Simple
Serves: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey, ground beef, or a combination
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
8 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (You could use a bit less brown sugar, if you want.)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
4 hamburger buns
Crunchy Coleslaw (recipe below)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high. Cook ground meat and onion until the meat is browned and cooked through, 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. 

Stir in tomato sauce, dark brown sugar, barbecue sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on buns topped with coleslaw. 

Crunchy Coleslaw
Adapted from Foodie with Family

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon agave (or substitute honey)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (14 ounce) package coleslaw mix (or 7 cups of shredded carrots and cabbage)

Stir together Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, agave, vinegar, poppy seeds, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in coleslaw mix. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Panini

When I was a workin' girl, I was lucky enough to have free lunch at my office. That's right, people; there is such a thing as free lunch. The cafeteria offered a hot entree, salad bar, soup, and pizza. My favorite, though, was always the sandwich station.

I'd walk up to Bill the Sandwich Guy every day at 12:15, and he'd say, "The usual?" And it would be the usual. Because I'm a creature of habit, and I ate the same thing for lunch 99% of the time. (Turkey on wheat with a little bit of honey mustard, lettuce, and tomato.) Every once in a while, though, I'd live on the edge and order one of the seasonal specials.

Now that I'm years removed, the details of the special sandwiches are a little fuzzy. There was the one on the pretzel roll, and that other one on a baguette. But there is one sandwich that I remember like I'm spilling it's crumbs on my keyboard as I type. A whole wheat ciabbata roll was schmeared with herbed goat cheese, topped with roasted vegetables and a handful of mixed greens, then grilled to crunchy, melty perfection.

Recently the memory would suffice no more. I had to have the special sandwich again. So I made it. And I ate it. And good gosh it was as wonderful as I remembered.

I think Bill the Sandwich Guy would be proud.

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Panini

1 small zucchini, halved and cut into 1/4" slices
1 small yellow squash, halved and cut into 1/4" slices
5 ounces mushrooms, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 red pepper, cut into thin 1" strips
1/2 sweet red onion, cut into 1" slices
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 ounces goat cheese, softened
2 whole wheat ciabatta rolls
1 cup mixed greens

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss together zucchini, squash, mushrooms, red pepper, onion, 1 teaspoon rosemary, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile heat panini press. Stir together goat cheese, remaining 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, and pepper to taste. Spread goat cheese on the cut halves of both ciabatta rolls. Top bottom halves of the rolls with roasted vegetables* and a handful of mixed greens. Close up sandwiches with the top halves of the rolls. Grill in panini press for 4-5 minutes until everything is hot and the bread is toasted.

*You may have some leftover vegetables. Use them up in a salad, eat them plain, or make another panini!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gooey Pumpkin Bars

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. Does this make you feel:

a.) Excited. I love Thanksgiving! I've had my menu planned since July, ordered a heritage bird from the market, and created shopping lists based on the ad flyers from four different stores.
b.) Uncertain. Seriously? Thanksgiving? I'm still recovering from Halloween. I guess I'd better call my mom to make sure she's willing to host again this year.
c.) Terrified. I am not ready for this. I am not ready for this. I am not ready for this...

No matter how you answered, I've got a recipe that will have you shaking your tailfeather at the thought of Thanksgiving. Gooey Pumpkin Bars are delicious, indulgent, and the perfect alternative to pumpkin pie.

Eschew your rolling pin and pull together a tender crust using--get this--cake mix. (I won't tell your mother-in-law.) The rich pumpkin filling is extra creamy from the addition of cream cheese. And perhaps the best part? You only dirty one bowl.  

Thanksgiving? We've got this in the bag.

Gooey Pumpkin Bars
Adapted from The Lady & Sons

1 (18.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 egg
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon*
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger*
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg*
Pinch ground cloves*
2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
Pecans and whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13" x 9" baking dish.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, 1 egg, and 1 stick butter. Mix until well combined. Press into the bottom of prepared baking dish and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl (don't bother washing it), beat cream cheese until smooth and a bit fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Beat in remaining 3 eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and spices on medium low until everything is well combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the cream cheese is incorporated and mix for another few seconds. Add in powdered sugar and beat until it's incorporated. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour in remaining 1 stick melted butter and mix well.

Pour filling on top of unbaked crust and spread it out evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the center is just a tiny bit gooey and wiggly. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. If desired, garnish with pecans and whipped cream.

*Feel free to substitute 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice for the spices listed here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Housekeeping...But I will not fluff your pillow.

I've been cleaning house lately, trying to de-clutter and get rid of junk. If my space is organized, it feels like my mind is organized, even if it's anything but. So I did a bit of housekeeping here at Hot Dinner Happy Home as well. Allow me to draw your attention to a few things...

Have you noticed the recipes tab? Next time you're looking for meal inspiration, check it out. I've listed every recipe from the site in what I hope is an easy-to-use manner. If it's confusing, please let me know. I want to make Hot Dinner Happy Home user-friendly.

Let's Connect. 
Truth: I'm not always social media savvy. (Insert embarrassed emoticon here. See? I don't know how to do emoticons. Insert emoticon of head hanging in shame.) But! I am trying to get better at it. I've been tweeting. And Facebooking. (Yeah, that's a verb now.) And pinning. And even Instagramming. So, find me! Follow me! Tweet me! I'll tweet back. Here are the details:

Want to be notified on your Facebook feed when I post a new recipe? Like Hot Dinner Happy Home and you will.

A few of my favorite recent recipe finds on Pinterest: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and BarleyCreme Brulee French Toast, and Korean Pork Roast Lettuce Wraps. Now I'm hungry. 

See? There are tweets there. It's proof. I tweeted. Find me @hotdnnrhppyhome.

It's a sneak peak at my non-internet life.

Back to food later this week. Until then!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot soup is like autumn in a bowl. Rich and creamy from sweet potatoes. An earthy sweetness from carrots. It's the mealtime equivalent of a warm, cozy sweater. And it's the exact hue as the crunchy leaves littering my lawn.

Wait a minute...I think I was supposed to rake the lawn yesterday. Dang.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
Serves: 4
Inspired by Crepes of Wrath

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces
1/2 large (or one small) sweet red onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Bonne Herbes* (optional)
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds for serving, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line one very large or two small baking sheets with parchment paper for easy clean up.

Place vegetables on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with Bonne Herbes (if using) and salt and pepper to taste. Toss together so vegetables are evenly coated. Roast for 35-40 minutes or until vegetables are fork tender, stirring halfway through to ensure even cooking.

In batches, puree vegetables and broth in a blender until smooth. Pour the soup into a saucepan and heat until warmed through. (If you have an immersion blender, you can just puree everything in the saucepan and skip the blender.) If the soup is too thick, add water or additional broth until it reaches your preferred consistency. Serve topped with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds if desired.

*Bonne Herbes is a blend of chives, dill, basil, tarragon, chervil, and pepper. Truthfully, I just sniffed around (literally) in my spice cupboard until I found something that I thought would work with sweet potatoes and carrots. While I really like the dimension Bonne Herbes adds to the soup, I think it would still be delicious without it. Or substitute a sprinkling of dried basil or tarragon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn Spice Granola

Ok, interweb, it's time for a true confession: I'm a stay-at-home mom, and sometimes I get bored.

I love my kid. I mean, he's adorable and wonderful and sweet and precocious, blah, blah, blah. But the only word he says is "hot", and sometimes I'm looking for more stimulating conversation. In order to get my kicks, I go to the grocery store. Danny loves riding in the cart; all the clerks and the guys at the meat counter smile at him, and the grandmas picking their produce stop and admire his chubby cheeks. He couldn't be happier with all the attention. Meanwhile, I get out of the house, enjoy exhilarating adult conversation about potato salad with the deli people, and fill my fridge at the same time.

Last week was gray and cold and rainy. I came up with a stellar (if I do say so myself) SAHM plan to occupy my kid: Bake granola. It was the perfect excuse to go to the special grocery store with the bulk bins to buy interesting things to put in the granola. That alone would kill at least an hour before nap time. But in addition, he could stir it all together. Best part? I'd have a delicious treat on hand for easy morning meals. Genius.

A few notes:

  1. If you're not a stay-at-home parent looking for time to kill at the market, you can absolutely use what you have in your cupboards to make this granola. Fresh out of pepitas? Use almonds or extra pecans. Don't have flax seeds or chia seeds? Skip 'em. Prefer raisins to dates? By all means, make a substitution.
  2. If you are a stay-at-home parent and let your toddler stir everything together, he will eschew the spoon to "stir" with his booger-covered hands. Then he will put his sticky, granola-crusted hands in his mouth. He will like the maple syrup and repeat this several times, adding spittle to the boogers in the granola. Ensure yourself that a stint in the oven will bake off any grossness, but use this as the perfect excuse not to share your granola with anyone. 
Happy baking!

Autumn Spice Granola
Adapted from this granola recipe

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch salt
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup roasted coconut chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine oil, vanilla, syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Stir in oats, pecans, pepitas, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Evenly spread the granola onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring two times to make sure the granola bakes evenly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Once cooled, stir in dates, cranberries, and coconut chips. Store in an airtight container.