Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tried-and-True Thanksgiving Menu

Nine years ago I gave birth to my third and largest child.  In fact, he weighed as much as a small turkey (10 pounds and 6 ounces)and his head was the size of an ample pumpkin.  At that moment, my husband realized that cooking our own Thanksgiving feast would actually be easier than schlepping all of our young children over the river and through the woods to two different grandmothers' houses.  Plus we are big fans of leftovers.

That first year we used a disposable roasting pan, kept the sidedishes super simple, and somehow prepared a delicious Thanksgiving meal with all of our children underfoot.  I must say, I mostly nursed the baby, occupied the toddlers, and yelled words of encouragement from the fully baby gated fortress that was our living room, while my husband did all of the true cooking.  He's my hero!

This Thanksgiving my husband and I will be collaborating in order to prepare our tenth feast!  Many things have changed during these past ten years - we had another baby, moved across the country, acquired a quality Williams Sonoma roasting pan, and lost all of our baby gates.  We've taken turkey cooking tips from my mother, Martha, Emeril, and Ina, but our favorite method comes from Alton Brown.  Yes, he's wacky and scientific, but his brined bird is consistently moist and flavorful.

The first time we attempted an Alton Brown brined turkey, our biggest challenge was finding a container in which we could soak our bird while simultaneously refrigerating it.  My husband, being the resourceful type, went to the basement, dumped all of our sons' Supermans and Batmans out of their tub, and used that.  Although the site of a giant raw bird suspended in a liquid filled rubber maid container labeled action figures was quite disconcerting, the turkey was the best we had ever had and we've been brining ever since.

My husband makes homemade vegetable stock, just like Alton recommends, and visits the local farmer's market and spice store to get the freshest herbs, spices, and vegetables.  We have retired the action figure bin and now use an Igloo beverage dispenser.  Not only does a large turkey fit nicely down into the cooler, but when filled with ice, it doesn't have to be refrigerated.

In addition to perfecting our turkey brining process, we have also perfected our menu.  Last year I organized all our recipes, task lists, and past menus into a Thanksgiving binder which is on our top-ten-things-to-grab-during-a-natural-disaster list.   It contains our tried-and-true Thanksgiving feast menu which includes Real Simples Dried-cherry and Italian Sausage Stuffing, Pioneer Women's Creamy Mashed Potatoes, my mom's pan gravy, and my college roommate's Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole.  We also add one new recipe each year and for our 2010 feast it is Bobby Flay's brussel sprouts.  Our desserts includes pecan pie, apple pie, and pumpkin pie.  All of the links for the recipes are listed below.  

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday now.  I love the days of preparation, the hours of cooking with my husband and children, the feast itself, and, most of all, the leftovers.  I am so thankful for all of the blessings in my life.  Thank you for reading Heidi's Recipes and enjoy this tried-and-true menu.

Tried-and-True Thanksgiving Feast Menu

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Did you watch The Thanksgiving Throwdown  last night on Food Network?  If you did, please don't tell me who wins.  Although I love Bobby Flay, I'm totally rooting for my bloggy hero, Ree Drummond, a.k.a. The Pioneer Women.  When I found out that the Pioneer Woman, or PW (as she's called by all her closest friends:) had challenged Bobby to a turkey day throwdown, I jumped up and down, yes, literally jumped up and down (it's a good thing I had on my sports bra).  After much unintelligible jabbering, I calmed down enough to tell my family the reason for my excitement.  They were slightly less than impressed, but glad to see Mommy doing a happy dance in the privacy of our own kitchen instead of out in public.  Plus their brains and tummies were fast forwarding to all the the great recipes I would try after watching this Throwdown episode!

"Do your children even know who the Pioneer Women is?" you might ask.  Oh, they know PW.  How could they not?  The Pioneer Woman Cooks, the first cookbook I've spent money on in at least a decade, has a prized place on our family room coffee table.  Also, my children and husband have all been the lucky recipients of PW's creamy mashed potatoes, luscious macaroni and cheese, and her best chocolate sheet cake ever.  Plus, kids of food bloggers just know these things.

My current dilemma is should I curl up on the couch with a nice pumpkin spice latte and watch The Throwdown solo style or should I wait until all the kids have done their homework, bathed, and brushed their teeth and then curl up on the couch with lots of blankets and lots of kids and watch it?  Who am I kidding?  I'm going to watch it at least twice, so I think I'll watch my PW Throwdown and save it too!

In the meantime, I'm sharing one of my favorite Thanksgiving dinner side dishes, Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole.  This recipes comes from my college roommate who transplanted from Virginia to Texas a few years ahead of me.  She and her husband helped me ease into the whole celebrating Thanksgiving hundreds of mile away from all family members thing, by inviting us to spend our first Texas Thanksgiving at South Padre Island instead of home alone.  Good idea! My husband and I multi-tasked that year by brining our turkey in a large beverage cooler perched in the back of the mini-van while we drove to South Padre (that's a whole other blog worthy story) while she and her husband provided the sweet potatoes.  I thought I had seen it all when it comes to sweet potatoes, but this recipe is 'all that' and a bag of pecans.

In perfect Pioneer Woman style, "Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole" uses basic ingredients to create an amazing side dish.  The sweet potatoes are whipped together with lots of buttery sweet goodness and topped with a lovely pecan crumble.  This casserole can be made ahead of time and then baked until the nuts are lightly brown, the edges are bubbling, and your kitchen smells like heaven.  Yummy!  Until I watch my highly protected episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay - Thanksgiving Feast, I won't know just what Bobby and PW made for their sides, but I think Ree and Bobby would thoroughly enjoy this casserole.  Maybe, I should change the name to "Slap Yo PW Good Sweet Potato Casserole"!

Slap Yo Mama Good Sweet Potato Casserole

For the casserole:
3 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes*
3/4 cups white sugar
3/4 stick melted butter (6 Tablespoons)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the topping:
1/3 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Butter your favorite 2 quart casserole dish.
  3. Beat together mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon.
  4. Place sweet potato mixture in buttered casserole.
  5. Sprinkle the pecan topping over the sweet potato mixture.
  6. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until the nuts are slightly browned, the edges are bubbly, and your kitchen smells like heaven.
*Wash sweet potatoes, poke them with a fork, place them on a tinfoil lined baking sheet, and bake them at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until soft.  Then cool completely, peel, and mash.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake Recipe

Happy National Bundt Cake Day!  Did you celebrate this sculpted cake that has a pleasing hole in the center?  My family and I did.  While stranded at home with two sickish boys, I made a Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake which we enjoyed for after school snack and again for dessert.  A bundt cake is simple, homey, and the ultimate comfort food.

When I heard from The Food Librarian that National Bundt Cake day was November 15th, I marked it in my calendar and began to contemplate bundts.  The first thing that came to my mother's mind when I asked her about bundt cakes was the tunnel of fudge cake.  That recipe won the Pillsubury bake off in the 1950's and although it called for a tube pan, many home cooks prepared it in a bundt pan.  After discussing bundts with my mother, I moved onto my husband.  He immediately remembered this Chocolate Pistachio Cake which my mother often made for my family to snack on when we visited her.

I chose this recipe as my National Bundt Cake Day celebration dessert because it is moist, flavorful, and my entire family loves it. With the addition of pistacio puddding, orange juice, and Hershey's chocolate syrup, a lowly white cake mix is transformed into a delectable treat.  It's festive green color makes it perfect for Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and National Bundt Cake Day, but you don't need a holiday to make Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake!

Printable Recipe for Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake

Chocolate Pistachio Bundt Cake Recipe

1 box white cake mix
1 small box instant pistachio pudding mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup cooking oil
4 eggs

  1. Prepare bundt pan by buttering and flouring or spraying with baking spray that contains flour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Blend together cake mix, pudding mix, water, orange juice, and oil in a large bowl.
  4. Add eggs and mix with an electric mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed.
  5. Pour 2/3 of the batter into the prepared bundt pan.
  6. Add chocolate syrup to the remaining batter and mix until fully incorporated.
  7. Pour the chocolate batter into the bundt pan.
  8. Bake for 50-55 minutes.
  9. Cool.  Dust with powdered sugar. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Apple Pie Play Dough

Last year Pumpkin Pie Play Dough was such a success with my classroom of preschoolers and with my own children that I knew I had to add some other multi-sensory and seasonal doughs to my repertoire.  In my search I encountered a blogger named Mari-Ann, creator of Counting Coconuts, who seems to love making homemade play dough as much as I do.  She shared about Apple Pie Play Dough and inspired me to create some for myself.

I began by making a batch of my tried-and-true salt dough.  I kept the dough in its natural color, which closely resembles real pie dough, and then let the children sprinkle on spices.  They added pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves.  When they began to knead the dough the wonderful aroma of apple pie was released.  Once the spices had been mixed into the dough, it took on a lovely brown color with beautiful shadings and stripes.

I provided the children with pie tins, rolling pins, plastic apples, and a variety of cutting tools.  The more they worked with the Apple Pie Play Dough the better the classroom smelled.  I stored the dough in an air tight container for a few weeks.  After a couple days of free exploration and lots of other 'appley' classroom activities, I set out a ball of dough (this photo actually shows red Kool-aid play dough), an apple shaped cookie cutter, and cookie cutter letters that spelled APPLE.  Some of the children were thrilled to spell the word apple while others created an apple pie shop at which I was a very satisfied customer.

I'm so grateful to have discovered the inspiration for Apple Pie Play Dough over at Counting Coconuts.  As with all play doughs, it is a multi-sensory experience that helps develop fine motor skills and inspires creative play.  It also makes any kitchen or classroom smell just like a fresh apple pie is baking, but without any calories.

Apple Pie Play Dough Recipe

3 cups flour
2 tablespoons oil
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
a few tablespoons each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves

  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Stir constantly over medium heat.  The mixture will be soupy for several minutes and then suddenly it will stick together and form a rough ball.  
  3. When it thickens and sticks together, remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring.
  4. Turn the hot ball onto a floured surface, and began kneading as it cools.
  5. Sprinkle the spices onto the dough and continue kneading.
  6. Store in a large zip-lock bag or other air tight container.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Night Sky Birthday Cake Directions

This year my son requested a Night Sky Cake for his birthday.  I probed his almost nine year old brain to find out exactly what a night sky cake is and instead found out what a night sky cake is not.  Although he is a fan of Star Wars, he was not talking about a Star Wars cake (been there, done that). Despite the fact that he likes planets, he did not want a cake with the planets on it. He also pointed out that he was not thinking of a cake in the shape of a star. O'kay, armed with lots of information about what a night sky cake is not, I began browsing blogs and flickr photos until I had a general idea of what I could create for my son's Night Sky Birthday Cake.

After the birthday boy and I got on the same page about the theme of the cake, we moved onto the flavor and shape of it.  He wanted a tall round cake that, "kinda looks like a fat cylinder".  For the flavor of the cake he didn't really have a preference, but after browsing the color photos in my favorite cake cookbook The Cake Mix Doctor Returns!, we agreed that a Chocolate Peanut Butter Marble Cake with Chocolate Pan Frosting would be just perfect.  I then decided that I would create the stars and moon out of white chocolate using some molds that my daughter had in her chocolate lollipop making kit.

The Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrne's, directions for the Chocolate Marble Cake were, as usual for her recipes, thorough and clear.  She had suggested to bake this cake in a sheet pan, but going with my son's wishes, I used two eight inch round pans instead.  Using my offset spatula I had an ample amount of chocolate icing to fully cover the cake.  I made an additional batch of basic butter cream frosting that I tinted blue and loaded into my Williams Sonoma mechanical pastry bag for some further embellishing.

My son and my family loved the Night Sky Cake.  It was moist, flavorful, and delicious.  I'm not quite sure if this was what he had in mind when he put in his cake order, but he was thoroughly impressed on his birthday.  He said, "Wow, mom!  That's a Night Sky Cake!"  And I said, "Yes it is and I made it just for you!"  Can you feel the birthday cake love?

Night Sky Birthday Cake Directions

  1. Bake your favorite cake in two 8-inch circular cake pans.  Cool completely.
  2. Mix up a batch of your favorite chocolate icing.
  3. Mix up a batch of Buttercream Frosting, tint blue.
  4. Using white chocolate tinted yellow and a star and moon mold create a few stars and one moon. 
  5. Ice the cake with chocolate frosting.
  6. Embellish the cake with blue Buttercream Frosting.
  7. Place the stars and moon on top of the cake, pushing gently.
  8. Enjoy!