Friday, November 27, 2015

On the Homefront: Southwestern Thanksgiving Table

Pilgrim the Dalmatian is back this year to experience a
Southwestern Thanksgiving feast!

I have been wanting to do a Southwestern Thanksgiving for a while now, but circumstances kept getting in the way until this year.  My husband and I hope to retire to New Mexico one of these days. Since he has finally started seriously considering retirement, I thought it would be a good time to try out some holiday recipes appropriate for the region.  My inspirations for the table were the turquoise blue place mats and dessert plates with a teal border that I found at HomeGoods this year.  I also found some beautiful turquoise goblets and napkin rings on Amazon.  In addition to turquoise, I set my table with pumpkin orange, white, and brown accents.

Dark brown wooden bead place mat; turquoise round woven place mat; white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); Fiori Teal dessert plate by Ciroa; pumpkin orange leaf mug for soup (from Walmart a few years ago); white-handled flatware; pumpkin embroidered napkin (from Pottery Barn); turquoise beaded napkin ring (from Amazon); turquoise Artland Iris Goblet (from Amazon); etched horses water glass (Gallop Tumbler Set from Back in the Saddle).

A pumpkin-shaped candleholder surrounded by turquoise glass beads
makes a colorfully glowing centerpiece.

At the head of the table, a metal candleholder with a leaf-punched
design sits inside an oak leaf wreath.  White turkey salt and pepper
shakers from Sur la Table front the arrangement (the light was too
bright to prevent a bit of overexposure here).

Cute little fox plates from Walmart hold blue candles on either side
of the oak leaf wreath.

The Tom Turkey Table Runner is embroidered with a turkey and a
pumpkin at each end.

A closer look at the embroidered napkin and beaded napkin ring.

White turkey serving bowl and gravy boat from Sur la Table
a couple of years ago.

All of the recipes I made were either new to me or familiar ones that have been given a Southwestern update.  It was just the two of us for Thanksgiving this year; otherwise I would never have attempted all new recipes for the holidays!  Luckily everything turned out well, and we enjoyed our brand new Thanksgiving flavor experience.

Southwestern Thanksgiving Menu:

Creamy Green Chili Soup
Chili-Rubbed Roast Turkey Breast/Pan Gravy
Chorizo and Cornbread Dressing
Chipotle Cranberry Sauce
Southwest Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Southwest Vegetable Sauté
Pumpkin Pie with Pine Nut Streusel/Whipped Cream

1 C. diced onion
1 C. diced celery
1 T. minced garlic
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
2 C. chicken stock (I used unsalted)
2 C. low-fat milk
1/2 tsp. chili powder (I used ancho)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 can (7 oz.) diced mild green chilies
crumbled queso fresco and roasted, salted pepitas for garnish

Sauté the onions and celery in the butter until soft.  Add the garlic and cook one minute longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in the flour.

Heat the stock, milk, and chili powder in a large saucepan over medium heat until just boiling.  Add the onion mixture and stir until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.  Blend with an immersion blender until smooth.  Stir in the chilies and heat for one minute.

Ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish with queso fresco and pepitas.  Serves 4.

Chili-Rubbed Roast Turkey Breast

2 T. brown sugar
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. canola oil
5-6 lb. whole turkey breast

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a small bowl.  Add the oil and stir to blend.  Place the turkey breast on a rack in a roasting pan.  Pat the surface dry with paper towels.  Apply the chili rub with your fingers, spreading to coat completely as evenly as possible.  Roast at 325 degrees for 2-3 hours, covering with foil if the skin browns too quickly.  Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for about 30 minutes before slicing.  Serves 8.

Note: The spice rub ingredients came from this recipe for a grilled turkey breast.

4 C. coarsely crumbled cornbread
1 lb. fresh Mexican chorizo sausage
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
3/4 C. chicken stock

Place the crumbled cornbread on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the cornbread is dry.  Allow to cool.

Cook the chorizo in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking it up and stirring it occasionally with a spoon, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic if using and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are browned, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the cornbread, stirring until the pan juices are absorbed by the bread.  Stir in the stock, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dressing is moist but not wet.

Place the stuffing into a small buttered casserole dish. Spread evenly and add a bit more stock now if the dressing still looks dry.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until heated through.  Serves 6-8.

Notes: I used pumpkin cornbread made from a Trader Joe's mix (makes one 8-inch square pan, and I used half of that for the dressing).  I accidentally left out the garlic and it did not seem to matter, so omit it if you prefer.  The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro, but my husband dislikes this herb so I left it out and the dressing tasted fine.

1 T. adobo sauce from canned chipotles
1/2 canned chipotle chili, seeded and minced
1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries
1/4 C. brandy
1/2 C. brown sugar
juice of one lime (about 1/4 C.)
1 C. water
1/2 C. chopped pecans

Combine all ingredients except the pecans in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the berries pop and the juice begins to thicken.  Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts.  Cool to room temperature.  Place in a covered container and chill until ready to serve.  Makes about 4 cups.

Notes:  The chipotle was very spicy, so adjust or even omit the chili (use only the sauce) depending upon your heat tolerance level.  If you like a sweeter sauce, increase the sugar to as much as 1 cup.

2 bags (1.5 lbs. each) microwaveable sweet potatoes
1/2 C. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 C. sour cream
1 can (4 oz.) diced mild green chilies
1/2 tsp. salt

Microwave the sweet potatoes according to package directions and set aside (still unopened).  Place the butter in a large heat-safe bowl.  When barely cool enough to handle, peel the sweet potatoes and add to the bowl with the butter.  Stir with a fork, mashing the potatoes with the butter until the butter is completely melted, the potatoes are well mashed, and both ingredients are thoroughly blended.  Stir in the sour cream until smooth.  Stir in the chilies.  Add salt to taste and serve.  Serves 8-10.

2 small zucchinis, halved and sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 T. olive oil
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. shredded Cheddar or Cheddar blend cheese

In a large sauté pan, cook the zucchini, bell pepper, and onion in the olive oil until softened, stirring often, about 5-7 minutes.  Stir in the chili powder, oregano, and salt until well blended.  Stir in the corn.  Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted.  Taste for flavor and add more salt and/or cheese as needed.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.  Serves 6.

Note: My zucchinis were rather large, so I increased the chili powder and oregano to 1 tsp. each, and added about 3/4 C. cheese (as usual, I used a Cheddar-mozzarella blend).

Pumpkin Pie with Pine Nut Streusel

I used the traditional Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe, but replaced 1/4 cup of the sugar with 1/4 cup of molasses; used 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice instead of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; and decreased the salt to 1/4 tsp.  For the streusel topping, I used the ingredients from this recipe:

1/2 C. pine nuts, toasted*
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 C. flour
1/3 C. brown sugar
3 T. butter, cut into small pieces

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.  Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until all of the flour is moistened.  About 10-15 minutes before your pie is done baking, remove it from the oven and press the streusel topping all over the top of the pie, making sure that it adheres to the filling.  Return the pie to the oven and finish baking.

*To toast pine nuts, place them in a heavy dry skillet and cook over medium heat until the nuts begin to turn brown, which should only take a few minutes.  Pine nuts burn easily, so watch them closely!

(Unfortunately I did not have time to photograph the food, but all of it looked appetizingly lovely.  At Thanksgiving, I am chief cook and bottle washer, especially when it is just the two of us, and it literally takes from morning until night to finish.  My husband has tried to help, but after a rather disastrous Thanksgiving a few years ago when dishes were broken, pots were dented, and the mashed potatoes ended up on the floor, his preparation participation has been restricted to opening and pouring the wine, filling the water glasses, and carving the turkey.  Believe me, we all have a much less stressful holiday this way!)

Candy on the table may be rather superfluous for Thanksgiving, but I could not resist the Pumpkin Paws (chocolate-pumpkin-caramel-almond clusters) from Williams-Sonoma, mostly because of the adorable tin!

Although most of the serving dishes were on the table, I put the big beautiful pumpkin-shaped soup tureen on the credenza, with two more fox plates on either side to hold the soup garnishes (I bought the tureen so long ago I don't even remember where I got it):

Today I got to rest up from all of yesterday's cooking activities (and write up this post) before starting my Christmas fruitcake baking this weekend.  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Oh, I almost forgot two little Thanksgiving observations:

1) our favorite after-the-feast turkey sandwich is a big onion bun spread with mayonnaise and loaded with turkey, cranberry sauce, and soft Bibb lettuce (not a fan of stuffing on a sandwich, although I know many people are);

2) the absolute worst Thanksgiving food idea has to be the pumpkin pie-spiced potato chips I bought at a local grocery store.  I can honestly say that this is the most awful combination I have tasted in a very long time.  Chocolate-covered chips may be tasty (although I have never had one), but sugar and spice on a potato chip is a total fail!  Don't waste your money, people (I'm still kicking myself for succumbing).  You have been warned!

Foodie Fridays: Pumpkin Walnut Bread

I consider pumpkin season to be over with Thanksgiving, or at the very latest the end of November.  After that, the Yuletide flavors, such as gingerbread, peppermint, eggnog, and the like, take center stage.  This Pumpkin Walnut Bread is the big cucurbit's last hurrah at our house, and a rousing sendoff it is!  If you like dried fruits by all means add some, but I prefer to add only nuts.  I love this bread spread with plain cream cheese, or with no topping at all, and I will enjoy every slice until it is time to move on from fall to winter holiday flavors.

Pumpkin Walnut Bread

1 C. pumpkin purée
2 eggs
1/2 C. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 C. sugar
1 C. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
pinch of cloves (optional)
1/2 C. coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the next 8 ingredients.  Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.  Stir in the walnuts.

Pour the batter into a well-greased loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before removing from the pan.  Makes one loaf (about 12 servings).

Note: This recipe can also be used to make 12 muffins.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Three Lesser-Known Movies That Are Worth Seeing

From The Wall Street Journal

While everyone else is watching football over the holiday season, I am always on the lookout for a good movie, preferable one that is family-friendly.  Every once in a while I come across a movie that I had never heard of before but which turns out to be excellent.  Here are three that you may end up enjoying as much as I did (especially if you need an alternative to sports viewing):

From Crop Circle Season

The Blue Butterfly (2004)

Based upon a true story, this film focuses on a young boy, terminally ill with cancer, who dreams of catching the rare and magnificent Menelaus Blue Morpho butterfly, which is only found in Central and South America.  He and his mother manage to convince a well-known entomologist (played by William Hurt) to guide him on a trip to the Costa Rican jungle to find the butterfly.  Both the boy and the man learn a lot about themselves and life on this arduous journey, and the ending is truly a miracle.

From SimpleMovie

A Lobster Tale (2006)

A struggling Maine lobster fisherman named Cody Brewer (Colm Meaney) finds a strange glowing green moss in one of his lobster traps.  Quite by accident he discovers that the moss has tremendous healing powers.  Cody is inundated with requests for access to his special find and he is caught in a dilemma as to how to use this unexpected gift, especially when he is tempted by a generous financial offer.  Added to his troubles are problems at home with his sadly neglected wife and his son who is being bullied at school.  Then the magical moss is stolen, and it seems as if the situation could not get any worse.  In the end, however, it is this theft that leads to the best possible resolution for Cody and his family.  This low-key, low-budget film, which also stars the excellent Graham Greene as the town sheriff, is a great movie to watch with the family.

From Amazon

Dean Spanley (2008)*

In Edwardian England, a man named Fisk (Jeremy Northam) and his elderly father (Peter O'Toole) have a troubled relationship, although the son feels duty-bound to pay his parent an uncomfortable weekly visit.  One week the two of them attend a lecture on transmigration.  There they meet the title character, a vicar called Dean Spanley (Sam Neill) who has a peculiar penchant for a particular type of Tokay wine.  Later that day another new acquaintance is made with a conveyancer named Wrather (Bryan Brown), who is able to procure this wine.  Once Dean Spanley consumes the Tokay, a strange and mystical journey begins which involves a Welsh Spaniel, a past life, and the Fisk family.  The tale is both unexpected and surprising, and leads to a better understanding between father and son.

*According to IMDb, the title of the movie has been expanded to "My Talks with Dean Spanley", which is the full title of the Lord Dunsany story upon which this movie is based.

All of these movies are more character-based than plot-driven (my favorite type of movie), family-friendly, and involve a touch of fantasy.  Any one would be a delightful treat during the holidays, especially if you are looking for films that do not involve violence and destruction.  If you can find them, they are certainly worth a look.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Bits and Pieces Murder Mystery Story Puzzles

If you enjoy murder mysteries and jigsaw puzzles, then you will love the Murder Mystery Story Puzzles from Bits and Pieces.  The puzzles come as a set of two for $24.99 (you can also purchase each puzzle individually for $16.99), "Murder at the Museum" and "Murder at Bedford Manor".  The puzzles consist of 1,000 unique pieces.  For each jigsaw, you must read the enclosed mystery story, then piece together the puzzle and search for clues in the resulting image to solve the murder.  This set would be a great gift for the holidays, and could also provide entertainment for guests (especially those who are not interested in watching football!).  After the holidays, a challenging jigsaw puzzle is always a great way to while away a stormy winter day.  There is even an appropriately sized black metal frame ($29.99) available if you would like to keep your puzzle together once it is complete!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Pasta with Mascarpone Pumpkin Sauce and Toasted Walnuts

For my Halloween table post this year, I included a recipe for pasta with a pumpkin sauce.  It was good but not great.  I just tried a recipe for Pasta with Mascarpone Pumpkin Sauce and Toasted Walnuts, and it is much tastier.  In fact, I may just have to use the recipe for next year's Halloween menu!  Of course, I could serve it at any time of the year, but this rich and hearty dish is especially good for an autumn dinner.  The only change I made was to increase the toasted walnuts and stir them into the pasta rather than saving them for a garnish.  This recipe is a keeper for me, and I will make it again often!

Pasta with Mascarpone Pumpkin Sauce and Toasted Walnuts

12-16 oz. farfalle pasta
4 T. butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh sage
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin purée
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 C. mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese)
1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese
1 C. walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

For garnish:
1/4 C. snipped fresh chives or minced fresh parsley
1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 C. of the cooking water.  Put the pasta in a large bowl and mix with just enough olive oil to keep it from sticking.

In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat until it starts to turn a golden brown.  Add the onion, garlic, and sage and cook over moderately low heat until the onion is softened, about seven minutes.

Add the pumpkin purée and reserved pasta water.  Blend with an immersion blender until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Mix in the mascarpone and 1/4 C. Parmesan cheese.  Cook on medium low heat until the cheeses are incorporated.  Add the pasta and toss to coat.  Heat through and season to taste with salt and pepper if needed.  Stir in the walnuts.

Transfer the pasta to serving plates or bowls and top with chives or parsley and Parmesan cheese.  Serves 4-6.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: A Passion for Paisley

Traditional paisley Persian rug
(from Houzz)

Even though my paternal grandmother was of Scottish descent, I have never been enthusiastic about plaid.  I do, however, have a relatively recent passion for paisley!  The distinctive twisted teardrop shape is of Iranian origin, but the print is named after the Scottish town of Paisley, a textile center where paisley patterns were produced during the 1800s.

Paisley ties from Paisley, Scotland
(from Wikipedia)

I am not normally especially interested in traditional interior design, but lately I seem to be drawn to more traditional décor done in paisley prints.  Upholstered seating options in paisley seem to be popular:

From Polyvore

From Overstock

From Sturbridge Yankee Workshop

From Wayfair

From Overstock

From Wayfair Supply

I think paisley home accents in seasonal colors would be perfect for the holidays:

(by MeredithRosePetal on Etsy)

(from Pottery Barn)

(from Bon' Cui)

Throw pillow
(by PillowDetails on Etsy)

(from Bonanza)

Afghan sofa throw
(from eBay)

Tree skirt
(by kdcurb on Etsy)

Pottery Barn seems to be an especially good source for paisley home décor.  I don't know if I am quite ready to change my current decorating style, but I did recently purchase some Christmas paisley napkins on Amazon for my holiday table, so maybe I am willing to add just a few traditional touches to my home for the season!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Sakkas Paisley Pashmina Shawl

Recently for some inexplicable reason I have become obsessed with paisley patterns.  In my opinion, more than any other print, paisley treads a very fine line between gorgeous and ghastly.  When done well, however, this pattern can bring a vibrant but subtle elegance to any interior or outfit.  I am drawn to paisleys in rich jewel tones, especially ones with lots of red, as red is my favorite color.  I have been looking for a warm and attractive lightweight layer to wear indoors during these cooler months, and when I saw the Sakkara Paisley Pashmina Shawl on Amazon, I knew I had to have it.  It doesn't hurt that the price is a mere $15.99, and the shawl comes in a variety of colors.  I am looking forward to lounging about the house in style when my pretty paisley shawl arrives!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Chickpea Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

Clear skies have returned to Georgia!  After over a week of wet and gloomy weather, we are overjoyed to welcome back that prodigal sun to our neck of the woods.  I no longer feel the need to overdose on carbohydrates, so to celebrate I made a Chickpea Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette, to be served over salad greens for a light and healthy meal.  The only change I made was to leave out the chile pepper flakes and substitute smoked paprika for regular.  I also used queso fresco rather than feta, which I don't care for, but the saltiness of feta would be a good addition to this salad.  Be sure to spoon some of the dressing over the greens before topping them with the chickpeas.  Eating foods like this should help to compensate for my carb overload of the past week!

Chickpea Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

1 T. red wine vinegar
juice of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. capers, drained
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. olive oil
1 can (about 15 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed*
1 large tomato, diced
1 bottled roasted red pepper, drained and chopped
1/2 C. golden raisins
2 T. fresh thyme, minced
2 T. fresh parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4-1/2 C. crumbled feta cheese (or queso fresco)

Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl.  Slowly whisk in the oil until well blended.  Add the next five ingredients and toss until coated with the vinaigrette.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Gently stir in the feta cheese (or you can do what I did and top each serving with the cheese later).  Chill until ready to serve.  For best flavor, remove from the fridge before serving and let the salad come to room temperature.  Spoon each serving atop a bed of salad greens.  Serves 2-4.

*Or use 1 C. dried chickpeas, cooked, drained, and rinsed.

Updates: I decided that this salad needed more complexity of flavor, so I added 1/2 C. golden raisins. What a difference this addition makes!  Also, as the weather has cooled down I've been warming the salad in the microwave and serving it over couscous.  I think it is even better this way!  Give these changes a try and see what you think.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Decorating for Thanksgiving

From Love This Pic

Thanksgiving is more of an eating holiday than a decorating one, but there are certain areas of the home where Thankgiving décor often makes an appearance.  The front porch, entry hall, fireplace mantel, and of course the dining table are favorite areas for sprucing up with holiday finery, probably because they are all areas for welcoming and entertaining guests who have arrived for the annual feast.  Here is a bountiful collection of beautiful decorating ideas for Thanksgiving:

Simple but effective
(from Interior Decorating and Home Design Ideas)

Colorful and creative
(from Minimalisti)

Autumnal eucalyptus
(from Homeditorial)

Kumquats and pinecones
(from Family Holiday)

Thankful Thanksgiving tree
(from Centsational Girl)

Thanksgiving gallery wall
(from Minimalisti)

Mantel in fall hues
(from Just Destiny)

Mantel in white and blue
(from Minimalisti)

Thanksgiving centerpiece
(from Interiordecodir)

Turkey table setting
(from Crate & Barrel)

Cotton for Thanksgiving table setting
(from Talk of the House)

Autumn leaves pumpkin
(from Midwest Living)

Popcorn candles
(from Homefurnishings)

Indian corn candle
(from B. Lovely Events)

Any of these ideas would add a warm and welcoming touch to your Thanksgiving gathering, unless your family happens to be one of these:

From GeekDad

From Playbuzz

Since it is highly unlikely that you are related to any of these individuals, you are already on your way to a wonderful Thanksgiving!