Today was supposed to be amazing. They were predicting 3-5 inches of snow. I spent all day yesterday running around, gathering supplies to make sure we had everything we needed to stay well-fed, warm, and entertained for the next few days. I bought firewood, popcorn, good beer, and the snuggliest sweater. We were ready to be snowed in.
The snow was supposed to start around 9 or 10 this morning. I wanted to wait until it started before taking outfit pictures, but by 10:30 I couldn’t wait any longer. Just as we went out on the deck, the first few flakes began to fall. A few minutes after we came back inside, big fat flakes started to fall. A lot of them, coming down really fast. It was so beautiful! In hindsight, I wish that I’d grabbed my camera and run to the window to capture them — but I didn’t, because I thought it was just the beginning of our beautiful mini-blizzard.
Five minutes later, while Flavio was downstairs building a cozy blaze in our newly-functional fireplace, the snow stopped. We got a few more flurries a couple hours later, but what you see on the leaves there is pretty much the sum total of our first snowfall. What a letdown! I’m sure we’ll get plenty of snow this winter, but there’s nothing quite as special as the First Snow…
As we’ve done pretty much every year since I moved out on my own, my mom and I are splitting the Thanksgiving dinner duties. Last year she traveled up here to Lawrence to have dinner at my house, but this year we’re back at her house in Wichita. My mom’s work schedule has changed, and she has to work Wednesday and Friday, so celebrating on Thursday will just be too hectic — so we’ll be doing dinner on Saturday, freeing Thursday up for prep. We’re pretty big fans of doing as many things ahead of time as possible, so we look for recipes that allow us to do just that.
In the past, we’ve done twists on the traditional Thanksgiving dishes, but this year my mom was craving a good old fashioned turkey dinner with all of the trimmings. I still stubbornly insist on doing things from scratch, with little to no processed shortcuts. And my husband, who misses all of the big 4-hour-long holiday feasts that he’s used to, has requested a classic Italian dessert. The following menu is a direct result of all of these things coming together.
- Turkey in a Pot (from Cook’s Country, November 2014 – online recipe available to members only) — Because there are only a few of us, and my mom isn’t a fan of dark meat, we typically only cook a turkey breast instead of the whole turkey. When I saw this recipe for a turkey breast cooked in a Dutch oven, with a gravy made from the drippings, I knew it would be the perfect recipe to try this year. Cook’s Country rarely (never?) gets it wrong, and this recipe is both simple and straightforward.
- Mashed Potatoes — Leaving this to my mom, because my mashed potatoes never turn out good. She uses a little milk, lots of butter, and an electric mixer. As long as she doesn’t accidentally dump in a truckload of black pepper (it’s happened before), these are guaranteed to be delicious.
- Sausage Cornbread Stuffing (from a Jimmy Dean Sausage ad my mom saw in a magazine) — Like the turkey, this is a recipe we’ve never tried before. For me, I could take or leave stuffing…I’ll eat it if it’s on the table, but I don’t miss it if it’s not there. That’s probably because I grew up with Stovetop, which is easy but bland. My mom, on the other hand, grew up with her mom’s completely from scratch cornbread stuffing. This recipe looks like a good compromise between the two.
- Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole (from Cook’s Country, October/November 2010 – online recipe currently available to anyone, but will probably be members-only after this month) — I made this from-scratch Crockpot version of my beloved green bean casserole for Flavio’s first Thanksgiving in America, back in 2010. I was just learning how to cook, so this was probably my only real contribution to dinner that year (although I seem to remember also making cranberry sauce from the recipe on the bag, and maybe helping out with the relish tray). I’ve got a lot of memories of this recipe: driving across town to my dad’s grocery store to pick up a 2-lb. bag of perfect hand-selected green beans that he’d made up just for me; spending pretty much all dang day chopping, sautéeing, and slow-cooking this casserole; and being so blown away by how much yummier it was than the “traditional” canned green bean & cream of mushroom soup recipe we all know and pretend to love. This recipe takes some work — don’t let the “slow cooker” label fool you — but it’s worth it, especially if you’re trying to free up space in your oven. I plan to do as much of the prep ahead of time as I can this year.
- Sweet Potato Biscuits (from Midwest Living) — My mom hates sweet potatoes. I know this because every time I say the words “sweet potato,” she reminds me how much she hates them. I don’t know what prompted me to make these last year, but I somehow managed to convince my mom to try one. She loved them! When we started planning our menu for this year, she demanded that these be included. They’re made with mashed sweet potatoes, orange zest, and smoked paprika. They’re spicy, sweet, smoky…a little bit of everything. They’re basically perfect, and if you’re feeding a lot of people you need to make a double batch.
- Fresh Cranberry Relish (from Whole Living, November 2012 – dang I miss that magazine) — This is a relic from a year that we decided to make a really fresh & healthy Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve held onto it because it takes like a minute to make, it’s got a nice balance of tart & sweet, it can be made ahead of time, and it’s completely no-cook.
- Pecan Pie — My mom is making this, and I really don’t know why. She doesn’t like it, I don’t like it, Flavio doesn’t like it. I guess she’s making it for my brother, but we’re still not sure if he’s coming to dinner, and it’s not even his favorite pie (he’d probably rather have apple or blueberry). But this has always been her Thanksgiving go-to. She makes it with dark corn syrup and Log Cabin pancake syrup. Gross and double gross. Sorry, ma!
- Tiramisù — This was Flavio’s request. I thought about making a pumpkin version (there’s a recipe for a pumpkin tiramisù pie in Ashley English’s A Year of Pie), but since the running theme this year is “Classic,” and it’s the only thing Flavio has asked for, I’m going with a traditional recipe. I’ve only made this once before, using a recipe from a bag of lady fingers, and it turned out extremely boozy. I figured I should dial back on the liquor this time, particularly since my sister-in-law is almost 6-months pregnant. So if you’ve got a particularly good, low- to no-alcohol tiramisù recipe, send it my way! I figure this may become a new Thanksgiving tradition for us, since this is a dish best served if it’s been allowed to sit in the fridge overnight.
So how do you Thanksgiving? Traditional American turkey dinner, or do you try something new every year? Are there any dishes that aren’t necessarily traditional but are absolute must-haves on your family’s table?
Life has been a little bit of everything lately, although not too much cooking. Dinner still happens, of course, but with much help and with very little fanfare. And there’s been no baking…I should really remedy that soon. Maybe something savory, though. I’m all sugared out after Halloween. We’ve been spending more time in the basement, trying to finally get it done. Flavio painted yesterday, and it’s just beautiful. Exactly what I wanted. The color is Majolica Green, by Sherwin-Williams. We’ve got an appointment to have the chimney cleaned next Thursday, and we’re waiting to shampoo the carpet until after that. Then it’s just furniture & finishing touches! I’m looking forward to many cozy nights knitting in front of the fire this winter.
Earlier this week I started re-reading Little Women, for probably the 6th or 7th time. I just love that book so much. It’s an especially nice reminder to me as we enter the holiday season, to be kind and loving and content with the blessings I have (and not sit around pining for more). I’m also knitting a little elephant for a sweet friend who just had her first baby. I may have promised Flavio it would be ready to mail by the end of October, but the poor little dear still needs arms & legs. Soon, soon. Maybe by Monday.
I’m sorry I’ve neglected this space so much lately. I’ve been posting daily outfit photos at a new Tumblr. It’s a little experiment, and I’m loving it so far. It’s forcing me to be more creative with my wardrobe and my hair & makeup, and it’s also making me get over my hatred of being photographed (though I’m still not a big fan of looking directly at the camera, clearly — my face goes all derpy). Anyway, I’d love for you to follow along with me over there, and I’ll try to post here again soon — maybe with this year’s Thanksgiving menu?
Striped tee: JCPenney
Belt: Lane Bryant
Tights: Lane Bryant
Eiffel Tower necklace: Macy’s
Lipstick: Maybelline Color Sensational in Red Revival
Nail polish: Essie in Dress to Kilt
Confession: I’m not really into Halloween. As a kid, it was always so heartbreaking/frustrating to go to the store and not find any cute costumes in my size. Since I was about 11, my default Halloween costume has been “witch” — wear a black dress, put on a cheap pointy hat, and call it good.
This year, Flavio & I have been invited to a Halloween party at his boss’s house, so I knew I wanted to put a little bit more effort into my costume than I have in the past. I also knew I wanted to be comfortable and that I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. And I wanted to look cute!! So, I know this costume isn’t the most creative, but there’s something to be said for not having to answer the question, “What are you supposed to be?” forty times in one evening.
All you really need for this costume is a black & white striped tee, a black skirt, a beret, and red lipstick. C’est tout! Now you’re a French Kiss. :)
I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything here — in the past month, my workload has almost tripled. With all of that busyness, I’ve had very little time to cook anything special or work on much crafting. A couple days ago I picked up my camera for the first time in over 2 weeks. This golden autumn light we’ve been getting is just gorgeous, and the tree in my front yard (a sweet gum, I think?) is engulfed in flame-red leaves. Beautiful.
The tiny bit of crafting I’ve done lately was when I stitched up a little Befana ornament from some felt scraps. Befana is similar to Santa Claus in Italy — they do have Santa, of course (Babbo Natale), but Befana fills the stockings for Ephiphany. The general story, as told in Tomie dePaola’s wonderful book, is that Befana was sweeping her porch when the Magi walked by and asked her if she wanted to join them on their journey to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus. Befana declined, saying she was too busy, and the Magi continued on their way. As Befana continued with her sweeping, she thought about their offer, and decided to join the Magi afterall. She spent all day baking sweets for the baby Jesus, but by the time she was ready, she had lost track of the procession. She ran to catch up, and ran so fast she took off flying on her broom. She never did find the Magi, so she left some sweets at every house that had a child, just in case one of them was the baby Jesus. There’s also a really fascinating Wikipedia article about the history of the legend of Befana, the possible pagan origins of her character, and the symbolism of her sweeping. Also, if anybody’s interested in a pattern for this ornament, let me know! If there’s enough interest (like, more than 2 people?), I’ll get to work on it. I’ve never written a pattern before, and I want to take my time and do it right, so this isn’t something that would be ready for this Christmas — but definitely would be ready for next year!
I hope you’re all having a lovely autumn and enjoying the beautiful leaves that never seem to look the same two days in a row! :)
(A thousand apologies for this picture — risotto has got to be one of the most unphotogenic foods in the world! Plus we ate dinner really late, so the light was bad.)
I love pumpkin desserts, but they rarely seem to call for using an entire can of pumpkin puree. This risotto is a great way to use up whatever’s left in the can after making your pies, cakes, or muffins.
Pumpkin risotto with Gorgonzola, bacon, & sage
serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as a main dish
4 to 6 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1-1/3 c. short- to medium-grain risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, baldo, etc.)
2 slices thick-cut bacon
1/4 c. yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage, divided
a splash of dry white wine
1/4 to 1/2 c. pumpkin puree (I only used about 1/4 c, but use more for a more pronounced flavor)
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. crumbled Gorgonzola, plus more for serving
2 Tbsp. toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped, for serving (optional)
Put the broth in a medium saucepan, cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. In a large dry skillet set over medium heat, toast the rice until it starts to smell slightly nutty and the grains become slightly translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Take care not to burn the rice. Remove the rice to a bowl and set aside.
Return the skillet to the burner and cook 2 slices of the bacon over medium heat, until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the fat inside the pan. Crumble the bacon and set aside. Saute onion and 1 Tbsp. minced sage in the bacon fat until the onion is softened, about 2 minutes. Add a splash of white wine and scrape the brown bits from bottom of the pan. When the wine has mostly evaporated, add pumpkin puree and cook, stirring, until the pumpkin softens and fully combines with the onion and sage. Add the toasted rice to the pan and stir to combine.
Flatten the rice & pumpkin mixture around the pan with the back of a wooden spoon, then add enough broth to cover the rice (up to 1 c). Gently push the rice around the pan with the spoon, making sure that there are no dry spots sticking to the pan. Once the broth has been mostly absorbed, flatten the rice in the pan with the back of the spoon, then add another 1-2 ladles full of broth, enough to just cover the rice. Continue to gently push the rice around the pan while the broth absorbs. Continue on in this manner — pushing the rice around the pan, adding broth once the previous addition has absorbed, and flattening the rice in the pan before each addition of broth — until your risotto has reached the desired consistency. (A note about risotto consistency: in northern Italy, the rice is cooked until al dente, and the risotto has a thicker, more “standing” consistency. In the US, and for all I know maybe other parts of Italy, risotto is cooked down a little bit more, until it spreads on the plate when served. This makes Flavio’s soul weep. We only use about 4 c. broth when making risotto, but if you cook yours longer you may need the full 6 c.)
Once the risotto has reached your desired consistency, season to taste with salt & pepper. Remove from heat, stir in 2 Tbsp. butter and 1/4 c. crumbled Gorgonzola, and adjust seasoning to taste. Garnish each serving with reserved crumbled bacon, crumbled Gorgonzola, minced fresh sage, and coarsely chopped toasted walnuts (if desired).
I grew up with pot roast always made in a slow cooker with onions, potatoes, and carrots. This wasn’t just how my mom made it; everyone I knew made it this way. In fact, I didn’t know there was any other way to cook pot roast until just a few years ago. So this is still the way I prefer to make it, because it reminds me of chilly autumn Sundays: pot roast simmering away in my mom’s little blue & white Crock-Pot, everybody (except me) gathered in the living room watching the Chiefs lose, emerging from my room (where I’d be listening to the Top 40 countdown on the radio, or maybe reading) to the overwhelming scent of delicious pot roast beckoning me to join my family.
I still make my pot roast in a slow cooker, with a giant slab of beef and big chunks of potatoes, carrots, and onions. But I’ve also taken inspiration from Flavio’s culture and their traditional brasato, flavoring the beef with red wine and cloves. And then there’s my secret ingredient — star anise — which adds a depth and complexity to the flavor of the pot roast.
Slow Cooker Pot Roast
one 2-lb. bottom round beef roast
salt & pepper
dry red wine
1 small yellow onion, or 2 shallots, peeled and cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
3-4 whole cloves
2 star anise pods, broken into large pieces
2 bay leaves
3-4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & cut into large chunks
3 medium carrots, peeled & cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
Place beef in slow cooker, fatty side up. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and dried rosemary. Pour water around the roast (but not on top, which will wash away the seasoning), about 1-2 cups, just enough to come halfway up the sides of the roast. Drizzle in a good amount of red wine, about 2-4 tablespoons. Cover with lid, and set to the lowest temperature setting possible.
Four to five hours later, add onion or shallot wedges, smashed garlic cloves, whole black peppercorns, cloves, star anise pieces, and bay leaves.
Three to four hours later — or about an hour before you plan to serve — add the potatoes, carrots, fresh rosemary & thyme sprigs, another sprinkling of salt, and another drizzle of red wine. Cover and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Serve with juices drizzled over pot roast.
Notes: I developed this recipe when I had a job that allowed me to come home for lunch in the middle of the day, which is when I would add the onion, garlic, and whole spices. If you don’t have the option of adding this stuff in the middle of the day, these things can all be added with the roast in the first step. I always added them on my lunch break because I never had enough time to chop up an onion or dig through my spice drawer early in the morning. If you don’t have or can’t find star anise pods, omit them and add wedges of fresh fennel with the potatoes & carrots.