Spicy Green Beans

Green bean casserole. Just the mention of it conjures up the specter of Thanksgiving dinner. It also brings up heated debates regarding what is in it, do we really need it, who fixed it well, and heck, why can’t we just have green beans with butter and bacon? Enter Food Network chef Alex Guarnaschelli with her take on green beans. I adapted my recipe from hers, because we all want to copy the best.

3/4 cups green beans (washed, tipped, and cut into 1-inch pieces)
3 tablespoons creamy horseradish sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
zest and juice of one lime
6 sprigs basil, stemmed
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon mustard
bacon pieces, to top beans with
salt and pepper

Whisk together the horseradish, olive oil, cider vinegar, mustard, lime juice and zest. Make sure everything is incorporated well. Taste, then add a touch of salt and pepper. Whisk and taste again. Set aside.

Cook green beans in boiling salted water. Make sure to have a bowl of ice water with a colander in it ready. When the beans are cooked but slightly crunchy (about 2-4 minutes), remove from boiling water and put into the colander in the ice water. Stir the beans in the water to cool them quickly.

Once the beans are cool, drain well and put into a medium bowl. Add the dressing and some of the almonds, then toss to coat. Taste again, and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Stir in the basil leaves and sprinkle with remainder of slivered almonds and bacon pieces.

Optional ingredients: bacon (obviously); cocktail onions, cut into quarters; diced peppers; dried cranberries; fried garlic or onions

Easy Poultry Brine

Ok, so while I was writing this recipe I kept humming Grandma Forgot To Brine The Bird by Alton Brown. Those two times on stage (2015 and 2017) still make me smile. This brine is simple and straight forward. Please dispose of properly, as the quantity of salt in the brine will kill plants if you dump it on the lawn.

3 pints water
1 cup salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, quartered
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons mustard
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (you can add more or less)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (about three cloves)

In a large pot, heat the water until almost boiling. Add the rest of the ingredients, and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat until cool. To prevent food spoilage issues, don’t add the poultry until the brine is cool.

Variations: substitute orange for the lemon; add 1/4 cup soy sauce to the liquid; add rosemary.

Roasted Turkey Leg

I love roasted turkey for dinner. One turkey can provide several meals, and it is a very versatile ingredient. With a smaller household, though, it can fell like too large of an undertaking. By roasting two turkey legs, you can have a manageable amount of protein but still have leftovers the next day.

2 turkey legs, thawed
6 cups brine (see recipe here)
3 stalks celery, large diced
1 cup diced carrots (or 1 cup baby carrots)
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
2 large potatoes, large diced
1 sweet potato, large diced
1/2 medium onion, cut into eighths
2 clove of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
4 cups water or broth
1 teaspoon ground sage or poultry seasoning
fresh sage leaves (optional)
olive oil
1/4 cup melted butter
salt and pepper to taste

At least 24 hours ahead:
Place thawed turkey legs in large zip bags or other sealable container and add the brine. Put in the lowest area of your refrigerator for 14-48 hours.

Heat oven to 375F.

On the day of:
Remove the turkey legs and brine from the refrigerator. Take the legs out of the liquid and rinse in fresh water. Discard brine.

In a large, heavy baking dish or roaster place the turkey legs and all of the vegetables. Add the water or broth, ground sage or poultry stuffing, and salt and pepper. Lay sage leave across the top of the legs, and drizzle with olive oil.

Cover and roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and cook another 45 minutes, or until the legs register 175F on a thermometer (measure at the thickest part, not hitting the bone). During the last 30 minutes of cooking, baste with the melted butter every 10 minutes.

When the legs are done, remove from the pan. You can serve at the table, or shred the meat from the bone and gristle. Unless someone calls dibs on a whole leg, I prefer to cut the meat off before serving.

You can serve with the roasted vegetables as a side dish, shred it down and add to make a hearty soup, or save the broth and vegetables to eat the next day as a light meal.

You can also add shredded chicken or turkey, mini meatballs, or cooked pasta or rice to the vegetable and broth mix. Two meals with one stretch in the oven makes this an easy thing to fix.

Roasted Cornish Game Hen

2 Cornish game hens, defrosted
6 cups brine (see recipe here)
3 stalks celery, large diced
1 cup diced carrots (or 1 cup baby carrots)
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
2 large potatoes, large diced
1 sweet potato, large diced
1/2 medium onion, cut into eighths
2 clove of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
4 cups water or broth
1 teaspoon ground sage or poultry seasoning
fresh sage leaves (optional)
olive oil
1/4 cup melted butter
salt and pepper to taste

At least 24 hours ahead:
Place defrosted game hens in large zip bags or other sealable container and add the brine. Put in the lowest area of your refrigerator for 14-48 hours.

Heat oven to 350F.

On the day of:
Remove the game hens and brine from the refrigerator. Take the birds out of the liquid and rinse in fresh water. Discard brine.

In a large, heavy baking dish or roaster place the game hens and all of the vegetables. Add the water or broth, ground sage or poultry stuffing, and salt and pepper. Lay sage leave across the top of the birds, and drizzle with olive oil.

Cover and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and cook another 30 minutes, or until the hens register 165F on a thermometer. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, baste with the melted butter every 10 minutes.

When the birds are done, remove from the pan.

You can serve with the roasted vegetables as a side dish, shred the game hen down and add to make a hearty soup, or save the broth and vegetables to eat the next day as a light meal.

You can also add shredded chicken or turkey, mini meatballs, or cooked pasta or rice to the vegetable and broth mix. Two meals with one stretch in the oven makes this an easy thing to fix.

Easy Bread Stuffing

Ok, is it just me, or do you think stuffing/dressing should be enjoyed all year? This recipe is easy to put together, and super simple to swap out ingredients for what you have on hand. It is also a great way to increase the amount of vegetables that you (or your kids) enjoy with a meal. I made this with French bread, but you can use sandwich bread, rolls, or even soft pretzels. If you don’t have croutons, you can make your own or simply increase the bread chunks by 1 cup.

1/2 loaf French bread
1 cup croutons (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup orange and red bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 tablespoons unsalted pepper
3-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water, if preferred)
1 teaspoon ground sage or poultry seasoning
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Tear bread into 1-inch pieces and let dry for several hours in a large, heat-resistant bowl.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Melt butter in a large skillet and cook the onions, celery, half of the peppers, and mushrooms until just starting to get soft, about 4-5 minutes. Pour in 3 cups of broth and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

Add the croutons and poultry seasoning or sage to the French bread pieces, then pour the broth and cooked vegetables into the bowl. Mix well and add more broth if it seems too dry.

Fold in the parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly grease an oven-safe dish and fill with the stuffing mixture. Smooth out the top so it is even, and bake uncovered until golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Variations: substitute chopped walnuts for croutons; top with sliced almonds or dried cranberries; add browned sausage to the stuffing mix before baking.

Quinoa Stuffing

The annual holiday debate seems to center around stuffing or dressing. They are the same thing, but dressing is cooked outside of the bird and stuffing is, well, stuffed into the bird before cooking. I grew up with stuffing, but as an adult I prefer is prepared as dressing. When a turkey or chicken is stuffed, it takes so long for the poultry to get to a safe temperature to eat that the meat winds up drying out. If your family prefers stuffing, I suggest preparing dressing and then fill the cooked bird right before taking it to the table.

1 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock (you can use plain water as well)
1 cup quinoa
1/8 cup olive oil
1 small butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cubed)
1 zucchini (diced into 1-inch cubes)
3 green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon ground sage or poultry seasoning
1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
chopped parsley for garnish
1 tablespoon lime juice, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Put chicken or vegetable stock into medium pan and bring to a boil. Add quinoa and sage or poultry seasoning, then cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Add the diced zucchini and butternut squash until slightly browned.

Stir in the cooked quinoa, chopped green onion, dried cranberries, then drizzle with parsley and lime juice. Enjoy.

Note: this recipe works really well to make stuffed portobello caps.

Quick Cranberry Sauce

I happen to like both types of cranberry sauce (fresh and canned), so I don’t have to take a side in the matter. However, making your own cranberry sauce or relish only takes a few minutes and you can make it to your liking. If you wind up having leftovers, use them on a turkey sandwich spread as an ice cream topping, or swirled into oatmeal the next day.

1 12-oz. bag cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Reserve 1/2 cup of cranberries and set aside.

Put 1/2 sugar and the rest of the cranberries in a medium, non-reactive pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the berries are soft.

Increase the heat to medium and cook an additional 12 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add the remaining sugar, orange juice, and reserved 1/2 cup of cranberries. Cook 3-5 minutes more, then remove from heat. Stir in the orange zest.

Pour into a heatproof glass dish and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Graham Cracker Crust

This is one of the easiest pie crusts to do, and you can always have children help with filling the pie pans. Just make sure to check it before putting it into the oven to make sure it isn’t too thick or uneven in spots.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cup crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl add the graham crackers, sugar, and salt, and stir. Drizzle the cooled melted butter over the crumbs and mix well. Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan or eight 4-inch tart pans. Make the crust as thin and even as possible, pressing it down with a large spoon or measuring scoop.

Bake until golden and crisp, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before filling.

Variations: swap out some of the graham crackers for crushed chocolate cookies, gingersnaps, or pretzels.

This is the perfect crust for my no-bake pumpkin cheesecake.

No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
3 cups whipped cream or 8 oz. (1 tub) Cool Whip, thawed
1) 9-inch or 8) 4-inch small graham cracker crust(s)
(You can find the graham cracker crust recipe here.)

Place the softened cream cheese and sugar into a large bowl and beat together on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla extract, salt, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin pie spice to the cream cheese mixture and combine.

Fold in the whipped cream or thawed Cool Whip. Spoon into the pre-made graham cracker crust or tart shells, and refrigerate for two hours.

Top with cookie crumbs, whipped cream, or even a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Apple Persimmon Galette (rustic pie)

Crust
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice water

Filling
2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
2 Fuyu persimmons, peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder

Topping
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the vegetable shortening into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your hand until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of ice water over the mixture and mix just until moistened. Repeat 6-8 times, using a tablespoon of water at a time. Do not overmix. The dough will be a little ragged and stiff.

Gently push the dough into a ball and place in a plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap. Put into the refrigerator and chill for an hour. It can be made the night before and used the next day.

Slice the apples and persimmons about 1/4 inch thick, and place in a bowl of cold water with a little lemon juice added.

After an hour, preheat the oven to 375F, and take the pastry dough out of the refrigerator.

Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour, and roll out in a circle or rectangle (the choice is up to you) that is about 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Transfer the flattened dough to a rimmed baking sheet. You can put a piece of parchment paper underneath the dough to help with cleanup later, if desired.

Drain the apples and persimmons well, and return to the bowl. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch or arrowroot powder, and mix well. Arrange the fruit on the dough, keeping an 1-1 1/2 inches from the edge. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top, and dot with the butter pieces.

Gently fold the pastry edge up to cover the edge of the apples and persimmons. If the edges break a little, dab the edges with cold water and press together. You do not want any holes on the sides or bottom for liquids to cook out. You can sprinkle the edge with sugar if you choose, but it isn’t necessary.

Bake 55-60 minutes until the crust is brown and crisp, and the apples are tender. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.

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