Friday, November 28, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Carrots au Gratin


If you are looking for a new way to serve carrots, why not try Carrots au Gratin?  This creamy and delicious casserole is easy to put together, especially if you buy pre-sliced carrots, and is even hearty enough to serve as a light meal rather than a side dish.  If you want to add more flavors, try some nutmeg, ginger, tarragon, or any other favorite seasoning for carrots.  This dish is so similar to macaroni and cheese it could just become your new comfort food!

Carrots au Gratin

4 1/2 C. sliced carrots
3 T. butter
2/3 C. panko bread crumbs
1/2 C. diced onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
3 T. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 1/2 C. milk
2/3 C. shredded cheese (I use a packaged shredded cheddar-mozzarella blend)

Lightly greased a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Put the carrots in a steamer basket over one inch of boiling water.  Cover and steam for 10 minutes until soft but not mushy.  Melt one T. of the butter and combine with the panko.  Melt the remaining 2 T. butter in a Dutch oven (or other large pot) over medium heat.  Add the diced onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour, salt, and pepper.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring to prevent browning.  Gradually add the milk, 1/2 C. at a time, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Cook until thickened.  Add the cheese and stir until melted.  Remove from the heat and stir in the carrots.  Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish and top evenly with the panko.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until the topping is lightly browned.  Serves 8.

Note: The original recipe calls for 2/3 C. crushed buttery crackers (such as Ritz) but I prefer the panko.

*I used one bag (1 lb.) Publix Dip Chip Carrots slices.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Thanksgiving Movies

Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick in "What's Cooking?" (2000)
(from Examiner.com).

I may be in the minority, but I have absolutely no interest in watching football on Thanksgiving Day (or any other day for that matter).  After the cooking and the eating are done, I prefer to watch a good movie instead, one with at least a hint of a Thanksgiving theme and definitely a film with a feel-good ending (I am rarely a fan of depressing movies).  Here are a few of my personal favorites:

From Future Shop

1) "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947)

Watching this classic movie for the holidays has been a long-standing tradition of mine.  While it is really more of a Christmas movie, the opening sequence features the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the characters portrayed by Maureen O'Hara (one of my favorite actors), John Payne, and a very young Natalie Wood.  The humorous and heart-warming story just keeps getting better, and who could resist Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle?  I have been watching this movie since I was a child (which was a very long time ago) and I continue to watch it every year.

From MRQE

2) "What's Cooking?" (2000)

Four families in an ethnically diverse neighborhood of Los Angeles celebrate Thanksgiving in their own unique ways, full of good food and a roller-coaster ride of emotions and interpersonal interactions that seem to be inevitable at any large family gathering.  I somehow missed this movie when it was first released, but when I discovered it on video and saw it for the first time, it immediately became my absolute favorite Thanksgiving movie.  The excellent ensemble cast includes Maury Chaykin, Joan Chen, Dennis Haysbert, Lainie Kazan, Mercedes Ruehl, and Alfre Woodard.  If you have not yet seen this movie, I urge you to find it and watch it -- you just may see your own family in one of the four in this movie (or be thankful that you do not!).

From BlogHer

3) "Addams Family Values" (1993)

If I am in a darkly humorous mood, this is my movie of choice for Thanksgiving.  Most of the movie is not about the holiday, but one of the most hilarious scenes is the one in which Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) bring their own sinister twist to the story of the first Thanksgiving in a play organized by their annoyingly overzealous summer camp leaders (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski).  In fact, the whole summer camp subplot is so funny it almost overshadows the main plot of Uncle Fester's disastrous marriage and its effect on the delightfully dysfunctional family.  This sequel to "The Addams Family" (1991) retains most of the original cast, including Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, and Christopher Lloyd (Carol Kane replaces Judith Malina as Granny Addams).

Whether you decide to watch football or a favorite movie, or just have an old-fashioned argument conversation with your nearest and dearest, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Pugsley as the Thanksgiving turkey (from Paste)
             

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: White Owl & Company


While wandering aimlessly about the Internet one day, I came across a delightful shopping site called White Owl & Company, which describes itself as "Classic American Style - Luxury Home Decor".  The items offered are casual and rustic but elegant, and would work with a wide variety of styles (the "Home Collections" category lists eleven different options).  Here are just a few animal-themed objects that I find irresistible:

Pewter Dog Drawer Pulls ($11.99 each)

Pig Soup Tureen with Ladle ($69.99)

Set of 4 Forest Animals Stoneware Mugs ($39.99 for one set)

Ceramic Owl Cookie Jar ($32.99)

Christmas is fast approaching, and White Owl & Company would be a great place to shop for the perfect holiday gift!
             

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Baked Greek Chicken


Like a lot of people, I am always looking for new ways to prepare chicken.  The recipes I seek tend to be quick and simple, but most importantly the end result must be moist and full of flavor.  Baked Greek Chicken fulfills all of these requirements.  I could not believe how incredibly juicy the chicken was, even as leftovers reheated the next day, and I will certainly be making this recipe frequently!

Baked Greek Chicken

2 T. olive oil
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 C. Greek yogurt (I used FAGE 0% plain Greek yogurt)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. Greek seasoning*

Place the olive oil in a glass baking pan.  Add the chicken breasts, turning to coat in the oil.  Combine the remaining ingredients and spoon over the chicken, covering completely.  Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes until the chicken is no longer pink in the center (turn the pan about halfway through cooking for even heating).  Serves 3-4.

*The original recipe calls for 3 T. of a homemade Greek seasoning (find the recipe here).  I had a can of store-bought Greek seasoning in my pantry, so I used that.  Unlike the original seasoning, mine was mostly salt, so I used half the amount, but it was still way too salty.  I scraped off the yogurt sauce and discarded it to decrease the level of saltiness, which solved the problem, but next time I will try using just one teaspoonful of my seasoning, or make the original recipe's seasoning blend instead.
             

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Thanksgiving Table Centerpieces

From Sweet Something Designs

I rarely put elaborate centerpieces on my dining table, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate and enjoy the efforts of others.  Here are some images of creative and beautiful Thanksgiving table centerpieces that I would love to attempt if I weren't just too darned lazy to go to the trouble!

From Trends Photo 2014

From By Stephanie Lynn

From Apples & Onions

From Home Design Extra Ideas

From Living for Pretty

From DGR Interior Designs

From Guru Koala

From Life. Style. Design.

From Shelterness


From Shelterness

Hopefully these inspiring photos will force me to overcome my aversion to effort and come up with a lovely centerpiece of my own for Thanksgiving!
                

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Painted Deer Pillow Cover


As we rapidly approach the holidays, my thoughts turn to decorating the house to fit the season.  The problem is that décor for Thanksgiving does not necessarily fit a Christmas theme.  The Painted Deer Pillow Cover ($39.50) from Pottery Barn is one item that does work for both holidays.  The colors are appropriate for an autumn celebration, while the reindeer is of course perfect for wintry festivities.  I think I need a couple of these 20-inch cotton covers for my living room pillows!

I'm pretty sure this lovely fellow must be the model for the
pillow cover's image!
(from Aachen and Maastricht)
             

Friday, November 14, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Soup


This week I have another soup recipe to share.  Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Soup is a wonderful comfort food on a chilly day, as well as an extra tasty way to get your vegetables.  Quick and easy preparation is an added bonus, so there is really no reason not to try this great recipe!

Butternut Squash and Cauliflower Soup

1-2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 C. diced butternut squash
3 C. cauliflower florets
4 C. vegetable stock
salt to taste (1/2 tsp. in the original recipe)

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onion in the oil until translucent.  Add the squash, cauliflower, and stock and cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes (cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar about halfway through cooking time if the vegetables are not softening quickly enough).  Add salt to taste and purée the soup (I used an immersion blender).  Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped parsley, roasted pumpkin seeds, and/or sour cream or yogurt.  Serves 6.

Note: I used one 10-oz. bag of frozen diced butternut squash and one 10-oz. bag of prepackaged fresh cauliflower florets.  I also used Greek seasoning instead of salt, because I was using it in another recipe and it is mostly salt anyway.
                         

Thursday, November 13, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Eight Essential Foods List

Are you a fan of the Food Pyramid?
(from Food Pyramid)

In last week's post I mentioned how much I love lists.  Some of my absolute favorite lists are those that tell us what foods to eat.  While the items specified are never exactly the same, a lot of foods do make frequent appearances.  One list I found recently recommends "8 Foods You Should Eat Every Day".  I don't know how practical that "every day" edict would be, but I have no problem including these edibles in my diet on a regular basis, as I like them all.

From Women's Health

1) Spinach

Benefits: Spinach is full of omega-3 fatty acids, folates, and lutein to fight heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and macular degeneration.

Substitutes: Kale, bok choy, Romaine lettuce

From The Best Remedy

2) Yogurt

Benefits: Yogurt with active and live cultures contains probiotics, which improve digestion, boost the immune system, and help fight cancer.

Substitutes: Kefir, soy yogurt

From Earnest Holistic Health

3) Tomatoes

Benefits: Red tomatoes contain the most lycopene, and this nutrient is more bio-available in cooked tomatoes (fresh or canned).  Lycopene protects against cancers and coronary artery disease.

Substitutes: Red watermelon, pink grapefruit, Japanese persimmon, papaya, guava

From The Virally

4) Carrots

Benefits: Red, orange, and yellow produce contains high levels of carotenoids, which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Substitutes: Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, yellow bell pepper, mango

From She Knows

5) Blueberries

Benefits: Full of antioxidants (anthocyanins), which protect against cancer, diabetes, and age-related memory changes.  Also rich in fiber and vitamins A and C, that help improve cardiovascular health.

Substitutes: Acai berries, purple grapes, prunes, raisins, strawberries

From Natures-Health-Foods.com

6) Black Beans

Benefits: In addition to the usual positive health benefits of legumes, black beans also contain anthocyanins (like blueberries) for even more nutritional punch.

Substitutes: Peas, lentils, and pinto, kidney, fava, and lima beans

From Health Me Up

7) Walnuts

Benefits: Walnuts contain more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than salmon and more anti-inflammatory polyphenols than red wine, plus they are a good source of protein.

Substitutes: Almonds, peanuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts

From Camp All-Star

8) Oats

Benefits: Oats contain high levels of soluble fiber, which lowers the risk of heart disease, as well as a fair amount of plant protein.

Substitutes: Quinoa, flaxseed, wild rice

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A nice bonus with this list is the inclusion of alternatives if you don't care for the specific item mentioned.  All of these foods do seem to have significant nutritional benefits, and I will continue to happily add them (and/or their substitutes) to my diet as often as possible.  How about you?
             

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Tom Turkey Table Runner


Last week I chose some lovely napkins for my Thanksgiving table.  This week I am sharing my choice for the table runner.  Everyone knows the Thanksgiving meal is all about the turkey, and the Tom Turkey Table Runner ($39) from Expressions is a beautiful reminder of that fact!  The autumnal colors and embroidered turkey accompanied by a pumpkin (the other focus of this holiday meal) on a linen-cotton blend fabric will bring a festive flair to any Thanksgiving table.  Now all we need is the roast turkey, the pumpkin pie, and family gathered round!
             

Friday, November 7, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Soup


A few months ago our local Kroger stores were roasting Hatch chiles right in front of the store and offering them for sale for a limited time.  My husband, who loves these chiles, decided to stock up on some by freezing them.  I have been wanting to make this recipe for Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Soup ever since, but the weather was just too hot.  Well, we have finally had our first frost, so I think it is soup time now!

The original version is a Weight Watchers recipe, but I modified it a bit and sautéed the vegetables in some olive oil before simmering the rest of the ingredients together because I like the added flavor.  I used light sour cream instead of fat-free because I do not like the thickeners used to make the fat-free version creamier (I prefer the Daisy brand because no additives are used except for vitamin A palmitate).  My soup was not as smooth-looking as the one in the photo above, and this substitution may be the reason, but the result is still tasty, especially if you sprinkle a little shredded cheese over the top (which I'm afraid makes my recipe no longer Weight Watchers approved!).

Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 C. frozen corn
4 C. fresh baby spinach (I used one bag of prepackaged baby spinach)
3 Hatch chiles, roasted and diced
4 C. water
4 C. chicken stock or broth
1 T. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. cooked and shredded chicken breast
1 C. light sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook one minute longer.  Add the remaining ingredients except for the sour cream and simmer on medium heat for 30-60 minutes.  Stir in the sour cream and heat through.  Serves 8.

Note: A crock pot can also be used.  Cook all ingredients for 3 hours on LOW.
             

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Pantry Essentials List

From Park Town Hotel

I love lists.  I love making lists, and I also love lists I find on the Web telling me what I should and should not do.  Not that I always agree with or follow the advice on these lists, but I do enjoy the commandment-like certainty with which the information is presented.  The following list from POPSUGAR of nutritionist-recommended essential pantry items is one that I would tend to use in my own home, especially as most of these foods are already in my pantry.  Take a look, and see if you feel the same way:

From care2

1) Healthy Oils

The list suggests extra-virgin olive oil, light olive oil, and sesame oil as three must-haves for the pantry.  I usually use canola oil when I need a lighter, neutral-flavored oil, but I may just switch to the light olive oil instead.  Many cooks are now using coconut oil for its reputed health benefits (check out this list of those benefits) and I do have a jar, but it has to be refrigerated and I always forget that it is there!

From The Millbrook Independent

2) Vinegars

If vinegar really does help control blood sugar levels then I am all for keeping a variety of flavors in my pantry!  I really love Boyajian maple vinegar, although it can be hard to find in stores, and a good sherry vinegar, which is not so hard to find.

From The Dog's Breakfast (love that name, but I'm just weird!)

3) Canned Tomatoes

Did you know that canned tomatoes are just as desirable nutritionally as fresh ones?  Cooking tomatoes makes the nutrient lycopene more bio-available, and lycopene has anticancer and heart-healthy properties.  I always buy the unsalted versions as I like to control the amount of salt in my foods and actually prefer very little salt.

From philly.com

4) Canned Beans

I wish I was the sort of person who could cook up a pot of dried beans perfectly, but the fact is that I rarely have much success.  Most of the time the beans are still hard, no matter who long I cook them, or if I presoak or not.  This is probably because the dried beans I am using are too old, but how do I know how old the beans I buy really are?  No, I much prefer to use canned beans, because that way I get properly cooked beans with all the benefits of legume consumption and none of the time-consuming hassles.  It is even possible to find lower-sodium and sometimes even no-salt-added versions, which are my preference.

From Pointerior

5) Dried Herbs and Spices

According to the list, dried herbs and spices have more antioxidants than almost any other food.  I did not know this, but I love using herbs and spices and this will just encourage me to use them even more often.  Now I no longer have to feel guilty about using dried rather than fresh herbs, but I do need to remember to throw out expired bottles and replace them with fresh ones on a regular basis.

From Web Health Watch

6) Whole Grains

According to my sister, who is pre-diabetic, whole grain products, as opposed to their more refined counterparts, are acceptable in limited quantities even for people who must restrict carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates in the diet have become quite controversial lately (read a quick and relatively unbiased review here), but for those who choose to eat them (and I am one of those) whole grain pantry staples such as oats, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pastas are the better option.

From Yoder's Country Market

7) Honey, Maple Syrup, and Molasses

Sugar has really taken a bad rap lately, and probably rightly so as this ingredient is far too ubiquitous in the Western diet.  In my opinion, the best way to cut back on sugar consumption is to read labels and avoid processed foods that tend to have too much sugar in any form, including high fructose corn syrup.  However, if you are preparing your own food and feel the need to add a bit of sweetness, choose a less refined sweetener such as honey, maple syrup, or molasses, all of which contain a few extra nutrients.

From Wellness

8) Nuts and Nut Butters

I have always loved nuts (the edible kind, that is, although other types can be lovable as well!), but when I was young nutritionists warned against eating too many because of the high fat content.  The good news is that now we are actually being encouraged to eat these satisfying flavor powerhouses because their antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats help protect against heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Raw nuts or those prepared with little added fat and salt are preferable.  Be careful when choosing nut butters, as many contain hydrogenated (trans) fats and/or added sugar (also read the label to check for salt content).

From A Latté with Ott, A

9) Mustards

In addition to packing a lot of low-calorie flavor into a small serving, mustards have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and heart-healthy properties.  While I am not a big fan of mustard, we always have several on hand because my husband loves this condiment.  Occasionally even I feel the need to use mustard, either on a sandwich or in a recipe I am making.

From Nutritional Outlook

10) Sauces

Sauces can be tricky as they are often full of sodium and/or sugar.  Like mustard, however, a small amount of sauce usually goes a long way in terms of flavor impact, so we do keep a supply of these condiments on hand to use sparingly.

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I keep most of these items on my shelves, even though some of them are not high on my list of essentials.  I would have to add canned tuna, canned pumpkin, and unsalted chicken stock to the list, and if I were being completely honest, some sort of chocolate (preferably Lindt Lindor truffles) as well!  I also have an entire pantry shelf devoted to all sorts of packaged teas.

So what do you think?  Are any of these foods essential pantry staples for you?    What would you add to or subtract from the list?  (And what would you keep on the fall bucket list at the top of the page?)  Lists are so much fun!
             

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Autumn Leaves Napkins


Halloween is over, so now it is time to start thinking about Thanksgiving!  Since this holiday is all about the food, naturally my thoughts turn to the perfect table setting.  I would love to see these elegant Autumn Leaves Napkins ($35 for four) from Charleston Gardens on my Thanksgiving table this year.  Each of the four white, hemstitched, cotton/linen napkins has a different embroidered fall leaf or berries design.  My holiday table would be off to a good start with these lovely napkins at each setting!