Monday, November 25, 2013

individual onion crunch topped creamy kale gratins

Onion Crunch has been wooing me with their crunchy onions for a while now. Last year, in the middle of our construction project, a large package of samples arrived... and since I opened the box in front of the workmen, I ended up sharing the contents with our {psyched} carpenters, masons, and painters. This year, my kids got to the package first and excitedly wanted to "do the challenge".  OK, so the "challenge" involved adding Onion Crunch to one of our Thanksgiving recipes.

I have a decadent, make-ahead, creamy kale gratin that my family loves. Normally, I just make it as is-- creamy, rich, and comforting... but I was thinking that it might be even better with the addition of some crispy onions?... I was right. It was ahhmazing.

But first, before I share the recipe, you should know that we had to do a taste test. No blindfolds? No problem! Over-sized ski hats will work.

After trying all three, we read the ingredients. One of the other brands had a few ingredients my kids had never heard of... and I have a rule that if you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't eat it. Onion Crunch has four ingredients: onions, palm oil, wheat four and salt.

Onion Crunch was also the tastiest and crunchiest. Now, there's no "health halo" here, Onion Crunch is still a fried item, so something we'd only eat on occasion. But, as a crunchy, yummy addition to baked potatoes {a current favorite of my children}, or something like these creamy kale gratins, Onion Crunch is my pick. And, according to my very rationale 10-year-old, Onion Crunch is his too. {Note that my 6-year-old was too busy inhaling the various samples to add much to the review...} So, on to the recipe!

It's onions and garlic sauteed in butter...

then I add some whole wheat flour...

then heavy cream and whole milk... {remember, I said this was a decadent recipe}

then a lot of frozen, chopped kale...

and the zest of a lemon, some nutmeg and salt and pepper, to taste...

then this filling going into small ramekins, or a large casserole or two...

and is topped with Onion Crunch. {Note that you don't have to top it with Onion Crunch. I usually make it without, but now that it's been such a hit, I think I'm going to have to start topping our kale gratin with these frizzled onions!}. The whole recipe took me about 10 minutes to make, and then it baked for 20 minutes. Everyone loved it on tonight's trial run.

Individual Onion Crunch Topped Creamy Kale Gratins
(makes 18 individual ramekins or two 8x8 casseroles)
can be made-ahead and frozen

1 stick of organic butter (8 Tablespoons)
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced (or 6 cubes Dorot frozen garlic cubes)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
40 oz frozen chopped kale (four 10-oz pkgs)
5 oz shredded Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & pepper, to taste
1 cup Onion Crunch (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Melt the butter in a large pot and saute onion and garlic until onions become translucent. Add the flour and stir until combined. Add cream and milk and stir for a few minutes, until thickened. Turn burner off and add frozen kale, Parmesan, and nutmeg. Stir to combine, then season with salt and pepper, to taste. Scoop kale mixture into individual ramekins, or into two medium casserole dishes. 

If baking now: top each dish with Onion crunch, if you want a crispy, flavorful topping. Bake for 20 minutes or until top is golden brown and gratin is warmed through. Serve warm.

If freezing and baking later: cover ramekins or casseroles tightly with plastic wrap, then foil. Label and date. Can be frozen for up to 3 months if air-tight. When ready to bake you can thaw the dish(es) in the fridge for 1-2 days, then sprinkle with Onion Crunch (optional) and bake at 425, for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and warmed through. Or, if your dish can go straight from the freezer to the oven, you may put the dish in the oven as it is preheating to 425, then bake the gratin(s) for 30 minutes covered with foil, then uncover, sprinkle with Onion Crunch (optional) and continue baking uncovered for another 30 minutes, until golden brown and warmed through.

Hope your family enjoys this decadent side as much as my family does!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

help w/ organizing Thanksgiving shopping and cooking

A few have emailed me asking how to avoid Thanksgiving overwhelm. I always host, so here are a few of my tips so you truly get to enjoy the feast too.

Tip #1: Have a totally organized shopping list. By organized, I mean, list the items you'll need aisle by aisle. It sounds anal, but trust me. Many of you purchased my "Thanksgiving in a Snap" guide, which included my shopping list for the complete feast, but if you are working off your own recipes, organize your shopping list this way (produce, dairy, bakery, pantry items (by aisle/section), meat/poultry, frozen). You'll whiz past the frazzled shoppers and be home in no time.

Tip #2 - Make side dishes ahead.  Most parts of the feast can be prepared ahead of time, and only require a little cooking here and there!

Today (Sunday) I made our cranberry sauce, and tucked it in the fridge. This can be made several days ahead. In fact, it gets better each day.

Today (Sunday), I also made our stuffing (same recipe that's in the Thanksgiving in a Snap guide, only I went super easy on myself and had Trader Joe's chop my onions + I used their "Stuffing Starter" from the produce case too, instead of chopping celery and fresh herbs, so really it was just a matter of dumping everything into the pot, and giving it a quick stir!!). The stuffing I make is almost like a savory bread pudding, and it freezes beautifully. So, I put the stuffing in the freezer, and since it's in a baking dish I know will go right from freezer to oven, I'll pull it out on Thursday and plan to thaw/bake it about 1.5 hours, from frozen.

I also roasted and mashed the sweet potatoes today (Sunday). These could be refrigerated or frozen. I froze ours since fridge space is at a premium (that would be because my husband has enough beer stocked in there for us to throw an absolute bender between now-Thanksgiving... which, um, isn't going to happen?).

OK, so as of Sunday night:
  • I have done most of my grocery shopping (except the green veggies and turkey, which I will pick up on Wednesday)
  • the cranberry sauce is made (fridge)
  • the stuffing is made (freezer) 
  • and sweet potatoes are made (freezer)
Tomorrow (Monday), I plan to:
  • make either mashed potatoes or a root veggie gratin-- verdict is still out on which
  • make an extra side-- either spinach gratin or creamed onions and kale, since I have leftover cream sauce from the pumpkin cannelloni we made for the children's teachers
  • make sure I have apps on hand for friends coming over Wed evening and Thurs mid-day (if not, add to shopping list for Wednesday, when I go pick up the turkey)
  • meet one friend for coffee and another for lunch
Tuesday, I plan to:
  • make a caramel apple pie
  • make a pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust
  • go for a long walk
Tip#3 - It's OK to buy - if I don't feel like cooking, or I get to the pies on Tuesday, I'll pick some up at our local market when I'm there on Wednesday picking up the turkey and Brussels sprouts. In fact, you all should feel 100% ok picking up anything that you don't get around to cooking. No one wants a frazzled mom on Thanksgiving, or the week before.

OK, so back to Wednesday... I plan to:
  • pick up my turkey before 3pm
  • pick up any remaining appetizer ingredients I may need to entertain Wed/Thurs + the Brussels sprouts
  • saute the Brussels sprouts
  • make the brine and brine our turkey
  • go for a long walk 
  • have old friends over for cocktails and an early kiddo dinner
  • pull something out of our freezer for dinner... don't want any mess or effort! 
On Thursday, I plan to:
  • go for a late morning hike with my family
  • have friends over for Bloody Mary's early afternoon
  • roast our turkey
  • make gravy
  • reheat: the stuffing, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spinach gratin or creamed onions, mashed potatoes or root veggie gratin
  • have my mom bring green beans almandine
  • thoroughly enjoy the feast
Thanksgiving is totally doable as a make-ahead feast. It just takes a plan, some tried and true recipes, and a little cooking time here and there. If you have any questions about the make-ahead recipes in my Thanksgiving in a Snap guide, don't hesitate to ask them over on the Meals in a Snap Facebook page. I'll do my best to get back to you within a few hours. Cheers to a relaxing feast with your family!!

make-ahead orange-maple sweet potatoes with coconut oil and cinnamon

This make-ahead sweet potato dish is perfect for Thanksgiving, or as a healthy, rich side dish any chilly Fall/Winter evening. You can enjoy it as is, or top it with crushed and/or candied pecans {or marshmallows!}. And since it's a cinch to make, and can be made several days ahead, it's a keeper for busy families, whether you're hosting the feast or just sitting down to a nourishing family dinner.

To make a large batch (12+ servings), pierce five large sweet potatoes and roast them on a foil-lined baking sheet {for easy clean-up} at 375 degrees, for one hour. If you want a smaller batch, simply halve the amounts.

When they come out of the oven the sweet potatoes will be easy to peel. Combine roasted and peeled sweet potatoes with the zest and juice of two large oranges, 2 Tablespoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of allspice, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, a sprinkling of sea salt...

1/4 cup of maple syrup...

and 1/4 cup of coconut oil. {I'm currently looking for healthy ways to add calories/fat to my children's meals, and this side dish was one easy, healthy way to do so.}

Then, using a hand mixer, or potato masher, whip the sweet potatoes to desired consistency.

The prepared sweet potatoes can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept in the fridge, or can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to 3 months.

Orange-Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Oil and Cinnamon
(makes 12 servings; can be frozen)

5 large sweet potatoes, pierced with a fork
2 oranges, zested and juiced
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork, then roast them on a foil-lined baking sheet for 1 hour, or until tender. Once cool, peel sweet potatoes. Combine sweet potatoes with remaining ingredients {zest and juice of oranges, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, maple syrup, coconut oil, and sea salt}. Mash/whip to desired consistency using a potato masher or hand-mixer.

To reheat, warm in a 350 oven, covered with foil, for about 30-40 minutes, or until warmed through. {From frozen, either thaw in fridge for 1-2 days, or double the reheating time, so about 1-1.5 hours.} If adding a topping of crushed pecans, candied pecans or marshmallows, uncover, and add topping for the last 10 minutes of reheating. 

Hope your family enjoys these sweet potatoes as much as my family does!

Friday, November 22, 2013

making the most of a sick day {how a well-stocked freezer makes it rather blissful}

I will not lie... I heard the sounds of screeching brakes when my older child's sniffle from last night turned into a full-blown-stay-home-from-school-chest-cold this morning. I had my whole day planned out, including my annual pilgrimage to the Container Store for the upcoming Pumpkin Cannelloni Project / homemade Christmas gift packaging / wrapping paper + all of my pre-Thanksgiving grocery marketing.

But all of that running around was not meant to be. Instead, I'll join the crowds at the market next week, and today I'll stay home and take care of my older child. We'll sit by the fire during a {forced} day of relaxation. {Something I would never do on my own.}

And the fact that I found myself well-stocked for any untimely illness makes today actually kind of blissful.

Want to prepare for winter cold season too? Both of these recipes freeze beautifully, so you can make a big batch and tuck them away for days when you might need them:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

a relaxing Thanksgiving?!! i've got you covered!

Why am I flitting about the trails with friends instead of sitting at home stressing that I've got a huge feast to plan?

Because I've got it all planned out! My shopping lists are done. {Heck, most of my grocery shopping will be too, by Friday-- ahead of the crowds, baby!}. All of my family's favorite side dish recipes have been divvied up across a few hours of cooking here and there. I'm gearing up for a sane Thanksgiving week ahead!

I want time to relax before the feast. Time to enjoy my family and company. And I want all of you to do the same! Bundle up, get out an enjoy a walk, address Christmas cards, meet a friend for coffee, just chill with a glass of wine and a magazine ... Do anything you want. But do not stress about the feast. I've got you covered!

And to make the deal even more festive + fun (as if having me plan out a sane Thanksgiving feast weren't bliss enough!) all purchasers of my "Feast in a Snap" instant download who do so before Friday, November 22, 2013 (at midnight, EST) will be entered to win one of three $10 Starbucks gift cards... so you can meet that friend out for coffee, on me.

So what are you waiting for? A nervous breakdown? A kitchen fairy?

Feast in a Snap is an instant download {handy for those like me, for whom patience is not a virtue}, which will be delivered to you by SendOwl, so you too can get totally organized and enjoy a relaxing-- delicious-- feast next week. More info on the recipes can be found here. 

The fine print: Winners of each of the three $10 Starbucks gift cards will be chosen by on Saturday, November 23, 2013, and announced on the Meals in a Snap Facebook page and here in the comments section below. Your lucky entry # is the order in which the Feast in a Snap ebook was purchased. Winners will be emailed (to the email address on file with SendOwl) on Saturday and have 24 hours to reply, or a new winner will be chosen. Gift cards will be mailed to you on Monday, in time for a coffee date with a friend next week!! Cheers!!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Slow-Cooked Beef Barbacoa {Dutch / French Oven method}

I recently pinned a recipe that caught my eye: Chipotle Barbacoa Tacos. I was hosting a Mexican-themed dinner party this weekend-- a perfect time to make a big batch! Now, I know most would not try out a new recipe the day they're hosting a dinner party... I guess I'm reckless like that. {Living on the edge, this one.}

I did a little poking around on the Internet after seeing that recipe and realized that slight derivations of this same recipe are repeated over and over... basically everyone must have gone to Chipotle's site, checked the ingredient page, and returned to their home kitchens. The glitch is that most of the recipes recommended using a slow-cooker... which I don't have. What I do have is a large Le Creuset French oven and a leisurely Saturday. 

So, with that in mind, here's my easy recipe for a day when you can stick around, enjoy some family time, and let your home fill with amazing aromas...

A lot of the recipes I came across involved extra steps like grilling peppers, pressing things through sieves, browning the meat, etc. that I deemed unnecessary.

I went easy on myself when it came to ingredients. Yes, I had a bunch of limes... but those could be reserved for the cervezas. One of those plastic lime things {that my kids always want to buy and use as a 'cool squirter'} contains exactly the right amount-- 1/2 cup-- of juice, already squeezed for me. Besides, that would have been a lot of lime squeezing... I wanted to keep my Saturday simple.

I used a bit of creative licence when making this dish... I was kind of like a kid in a candy shop when it came to my spice drawer.

And while I was, originally, going to go the dried chipotle route, these canned ones in adobo were the ones I could find.

Having a high powered blender or food processor made this recipe a cinch. While the actual cooking takes the bulk of a day, the prep takes mere minutes, and then the beef just slowly cooks.

Really, the hardest part of this recipe was the waiting. The aromas were able to escape even the tight fitting lid.

I peeked at the 4 hour mark....

And at the 6 hour mark my patience ran out.

I pulled the hunk of meat out, shredded it with two forks...

and then popped it back in the sauce while I went for a long walk. It slowly simmered for 1 more hour in the sauce.  I came home to an amazing smelling house and perfect shredded beef.

Slow-Cooked Beef Barbacoa
(Makes about 25+ servings. Freezes perfectly. You can easily halve this recipe too if you don't have a large pot. I used a 7 1/4 quart Le Creuset French Oven.)

7-8 lb boneless beef round bottom roast*
slow cooking sauce:
1 1/2 onions, rough chopped
10 +/- cloves garlic
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup cider vinegar
three 6 oz can tomato paste
two 16 oz jars chipotle salsa
one 7.5 oz can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon oregano
1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon salt
2 cups beef broth

In a food processor or blender, combine onions, garlic, lime juice, cider vinegar, tomato paste, salsa, chipotle peppers, spices (cumin, cinnamon, oregano, smoked paprika, cloves) and salt. Pulse to a thick, smooth consistency. Add this to a large pot with a tight fitting lid, then add the beef broth, stir to combine, and place the beef roast into the pot. Turn burner onto medium-high, until the liquid comes to a nice, quick simmer, then lower heat and cover. Keep at a low simmer for 6-7 hours, until beef can easily be shredded with a fork. Carefully remove beef from the sauce, and shred using 2 forks. Then, return shredded beef to the sauce and simmer for another 1-2 hours until very tender. The barbacoa beef will freeze well for up to 3 months in an air-tight container. 

This made a very large batch, which was great, since it takes long enough that it's kind of a once-a-season sort of recipe. On Saturday, I served the beef barbacoa alongside a batch of my butternut squash-black bean enchiladas, citrusy black beans and Spanish rice at a casual fiesta-themed dinner party. On Sunday, we enjoyed leftovers at our family dinner. And I popped three family dinners' worth into the freezer for busy nights or action-packed ski weekends ahead.

*This is the cut that my butcher recommended, based on what he had in stock. You could also use brisket, shoulder or rump roast, top round.