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The Misadventures of Mrs. B

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The Misadventures of Mrs. B: 2010-11-21

Cook. Writer. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Klutz.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Creamed Spinach + What To Do With Leftovers?

I love me some spinach.  Add cheese and cream to that spinach and, might want to avert your eyes.  It's not gonna be pretty when I get my hands on it.

This was originally a recipe for spinach gratin, created by Ina Garten.  I sort of diverged from that and did my own thing, and in the future will be making some further changes (maybe using fat free half-and half instead of cream?).  The end result is very reminiscent of Boston Market's creamed spinach.  Check it out...

As with any great recipe, we start with butter.  2 tablespoons unsalted, to be exact, melted over medium heat.

Into the pan goes 2 cups of diced onion, which is sauteed until translucent.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over top...

Stir the flour into the onions until absorbed, and continue stirring while the flour cooks for a minute or two.

Then pour over 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk.

Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg over top, then stir everything together and allow the mixture to thicken.

Meanwhile, squeeze the water out of 3 10 oz. packages of thawed frozen spinach.  Once the spinach is as dry as can be, add to the onions and cream and mix together.  At this point, add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the mixture into a buttered dish, and sprinkle 1/2 cup of fresh parmesan cheese on top.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees until bubbly.  Yum.

And that's it! Simple as can be.  As with my stuffing recipe, this could just as easily be used as a Christmas dinner recipe (that festive green color is perfect!), or as a make-ahead side dish which can be popped into the oven and ready in a matter of minutes.


TIP: Leftover spinach sitting in the fridge? No problem! Reheat the spinach in a saucepan over medium heat and add enough skim milk (or whatever you prefer) to thin it out to a saucy consistency.  A pinch of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and voila! You have a creamy, spinachy pasta sauce! It works terrifically well, believe me, and you can adjust the seasoning and level of thickness any way you like.  So there you go! A tasty way to use up your leftovers.

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Did You Ever...

Did you ever have one of those days (weeks, months...) when you can't seem to muster the necessary "get up and go"?

Do you ever feel like you should be happier than you are?

Right now I'm going through a "blah" moment.  It's the weekend after Thanksgiving, aka The Start Of The Christmas Season (rightfully capitalized, thank you very much!).  In my mind, I'm flitting and floating around the house, tossing little bits of Christmas to and fro while wearing pearls and singing carols.  I am, in case you didn't know, the very spirit of Christmas.


Right now, though, I'm irritated and frustrated and over it.  And the fact that I'm over the whole thing - already! - makes me even more frustrated.  I live for this time of year! And here I am, already squandering it by being moody and depressed.

I know that many people go through things like this and that for me, it's always short lived...but at the holidays, all I see is "perfect" Christmas everywhere, even if that perfection is a facade.  The old familiar "there's no time to waste!" fervor sweeps over me, which only serves to highlight my shortcomings and inabilities. I feel as though I need to top myself every year - even though I know that I never come anywhere close.  I'm left feeling as though I'm letting people down when everything isn't wonderful.  In reality, I know I'm only letting myself down.

I'm praying for serenity this holiday season because if anything, I want to be able to pull off what I can and let go of the rest.

What are YOU praying for this holiday season? And how do you feel about the idea of a "perfect" holiday? Is it attainable?

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving/Christmas Stuffing

Allow me to tell you a tale.

I have not always been the open-minded food lover you now know.  Oh, no.  In my extreme youth I was, like so many other children, rather closed-minded when it came to certain foods.  In my case,  I seem to remember adopting a hatred for tacos (this was soon rectified, thank goodness), pizza (this one took til I was 20 years old - literally, I took not another bite of pizza until I was 20 years old because I didn't like it as a small child), and most of all, stuffing.

I loathed stuffing.  The very smell of it turned my stomach.  I guess I associated it with bad things, I don't know.  Maybe I ate it once and got sick afterward for some other reason.  No idea.  All I know is, it took two decades until I tried stuffing again.

And you know what? I loved it.  I absolutely loved it.  I've spent the past several years, then, trying to make up for lost time.

So I sit here, typing this blog post, and I can honestly say that stuffing is one of my favorite dishes to make.  It's easy (enough) and can be experimented with, within reason of course, to suit the tastes of just about anyone.  Just google "stuffing recipes" and you'll find tons and tons of variations.  It could leave the average cook quite confused on which path to take - fruit or no fruit? Nuts? Sausage or giblets or oysters or vegetarian? To cornbread or not to cornbread?

This year I sorta mixed things up a bit.  And keep in mind: This is a HUGE recipe which I only make in this volume for holiday celebrations.  For everyday I'd halve the recipe at the very least.  And if you eat the more "traditional" Christmas meal (we don't), this recipe would make a great stuffing for Christmas as well!

Normally I cube up about 2 family-sized bags of white bread and leave it out to get nice and crunchy overnight.  This year, however, I was over it in a big way so I bought two bags of stuffing cubes instead - one white, one cornbread.  Then I took a couple of long hoagie rolls from the freezer - frozen specifically for stuffing purposes - and cubed them, and left them out on a cookie sheet to get stale.  I figured it would make a nice contrast to the smaller cubes.

Two cups of diced onion and two cups of diced celery went into a pan with a stick of melted butter, plenty of salt and pepper, and were cooked up for about 15 minutes, until the onions were translucent. 

Once cooked, the veggies were removed from the pan and set aside to cool a bit.  Into the hot pan went a pound of sausage, to be browned up and broken into little bitty pieces.

Can you smell that? Can you? No, you can't, and I'm sorry.

Finally, everything came together: My bread cubes...lots of bread cubes...the veggies and the sausage.

While the sausage was browning, I chopped up a handful of fresh parsley, plus thyme and sage.

Everything into the pot!

Then, on top of all of that, it's time to add the chicken broth.  This is tricky - if you don't use dry bread it won't take as much broth, whereas dried bread will really soak it all up and leave you needing more.  It's best to add the liquid in small doses so as to not drown the entire thing, and then you'll have to scramble around and add even more bread to try to soak it up and it'll be a big old mess. 

Not like I've ever done that before or anything.

In this case, I used a large can, which I believe was 48 oz., for around 9 cups of bread cubes.  Two beaten eggs added the rest of the moisture I needed.

Into a buttered casserole dish it went, and into the oven for 45 minutes @ 400 degrees.


Just look at that.  Look at it because you can't taste it.  And I'm sorry for that, because Rob said it was the best stuffing I ever made.  I think I've finally hit upon the right combination of ingredients!

So give it a try.  And be prepared to eat stuffing for days because yeah, this makes a lot.  Halve the recipe if you need to...or make the whole thing and learn to like lots of leftovers!

And enjoy!

Sausage Stuffing

1 stick butter or margarine
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
9 cups dry bread cubes
16 oz bulk sausage
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped sage
2 tbs chopped fresh thyme
1 tbs salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
6 cups chicken broth (or more if needed)
2 beaten eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pan, melt one stick of butter.  Once melted, add onions, celery, salt and pepper and cook on medium heat for around 15 minutes or until onions are translucent and celery is soft.  Remove vegetables from pan and set aside to cool.  Add sausage to pan and brown, breaking into small pieces as it cooks.  In very large bowl or pot, combine the bread cubes, cooked vegetables and cooked sausage, along with herbs (don't forget to add the juices!).  Add chicken broth in small doses so as to moisten the mix without over-moistening or turning it into mush.  Stir in beaten eggs.  

Butter a deep baking dish (9x13 or larger) and bake stuffing for 45 minutes, keeping an eye out to prevent over-browning.

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Dining Room Remodel = FINISHED!

As much as I really, truly need to focus myself today and get this house decorated because I really don't feel like working on it all weekend (although I know it's going to be a work in progress as the season goes on)...

...I absolutely can't wait another minute to share our dining room renovation story with you all! It turned out so well and we're all so happy with it, I just have to show you some pictures of the process.

Here's a before picture.  I wish we had gotten a REAL before picture, prior to all the junk being cleared out of the room:

As you can see, it was just lovely, wasn't it? Complete with sponge paint and 30 year old brown carpet.  Delightful.  Prior to being all cleared out, this was an exercise room with treadmill, solo flex, rebounder and stationary bike and all the crap we couldn't fit anywhere else in the house.  What you can't see, because it's open, is the curtain in the doorway to the far right.  It was composed of gold vertical blinds which could be drawn across the doorway and closed, making a mirrored door.  It was...something.

While changing out the ceiling fan, it was discovered by our neighbor (who is much more well versed in such matters) that the wiring was completely wrong and against code.  Yay! Good to know 15 years after it was done! So...

...a hole was cut into the wall so he could fix it.  He was such a huge help throughout the process.

What girl doesn't love coming home from work and finding a hole in the wall? Not I!

Here I am, touching up some primer:

Then it came time to paint.  The paint was quite an adventure.  What looked beautiful and rich on the sample from the store went on the walls way, way too orangey.  At first I was okay with it (since red paint is so darn difficult to get evenly on the walls in the first place and I didn't want to have to paint it all over again), but then Rob admitted that he didn't like the color and I agreed.

So he went back to the store and bought another color.  THAT was too pink! With the lights on, it looked like a dark bubble gum.  Again, I was willing to stick with it and suck it up and be done with the entire process (we primed on Sunday afternoon and it was now Monday night and 5 coats into it), but my man was determined to get the right color up there.

The third time was the charm!

That's what we were going for! I just wanted to kiss the walls.

I'll spare you the gory details of the frustrations and surprises we went through.  It's just not worth rehashing here.  Let's just say that we learned that there's no such thing as a straight wall, a squared doorway or a 90 degree corner.  Oh, and that certain cashiers at the hardware store think it's funny to make a running joke of how frequently they see certain customers (I think the worst was 5 times in one day) - the first few times, it's funny.  After a week, not so much.

But the finished product was more than worth the effort, the mess and the random tools being left all over my kitchen counters.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention our beautiful furniture! That's what started the whole debacle - the fact that we ordered furniture last month and figured the room should be finished before it was delivered (it wasn't, by the way!).

Look not at the unironed drapes, and if you do see them, try not to judge me too harshly.  Look, instead, at the beautiful floor! The floor I wish I could have throughout the house.  I just loooove it!

The wedding wall, which coincidentally involves my favorite little trick of the whole room.  See those two bottom pictures? They're in shadow boxes.  The one on the right is an absolute stroke of genius on Rob's part...

Surprise! It hides the ugly thermostat! We keep it open when no one's in there (until Rob cuts out the top and bottom to actually let air circulate around it) and when we want to hide it, we close the box.  I just can't get over how clever he is.

So one more time, before...

And after...

 (Don't ask me what my father-in-law watches on his giant TV.  I have no idea.  It looks like there's a dead body involved.)

Another before...

And after...

I wish I could spend all my time in here, I really do.  I might have to start blogging from that table.  It's so pretty and relaxing in the dining room now.  And a much as I hated that room during the process (and oh, how I hated it - and I wasn't doing HALF the gruntwork), I am so thrilled with it now.

I feel that we remodeled a small dining room and managed to make it feel cozy and warm, not constrictive.  That was the goal!

One room down...


Looking Back at Thanksgiving

We'll talk about the food later, but for now, just a few looks back at the day...

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's All In The Planning

What you see above you is my extra awesome (screenshot) layout of how things are going to be cooked for the BIG DAY, aka Thanksgiving*.

First half is tomorrow, when I want to get started at 9:00 with prepping ingredients - chopping, slicing, you get the idea.  Then it's time to cook! Anything with a topping will be baked without it, then reheated on Thursday.  I just get the feeling that those lovely fried onions won't be so lovely after sitting in the fridge overnight.  Same thing with the crunchy sweet potato topping and the yummy, golden cheesy goodness of the spinach gratin.  The stuffing will be baked tomorrow then reheated in the crock pot on Thursday since I don't forsee any room in the oven for it once that turkey gets out and the reheats go in! Rolls will be baked and frozen since they reheat like a dream.  I can almost taste them now...

Do I expect things to go as I've planned? No.  Of course not.  This is ME we're talking about.

But no one can say I didn't try.  The goal isn't perfection, anyway.  The goal is to be able to take some time on Thursday to relax, enjoy the company and not go into fits of time-crunched hysteria.  I also padded my times in order to be able to take pictures for y'all!

So that's why I did this.  Not because I'm a helpless control freak.  But because I know myself and how forgetful I can be.

And dang.  I forgot the peach cobbler.  Back to the drawing board, I guess...! (See? Told ya!)

How do YOU plan the cooking on holidays? (if you're the cook - if not, do you bring a dish to the party?)

*Rob caught a look at this and asked me who I got the idea from.  I gave him a dirty look at even insinuating that I couldn't come up with this by myself!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Roasted Chicken and Gravy + Preparing for Thanksgiving

Sometimes there's nothing more satisfying that a simple roast chicken, is there? Nothing fancy, nothing special.  The best part is that it's almost like a blank canvas on which you can impart whatever flavors you're in the mood for.  And when prepared well, it can be amazing.

A couple of nights back, for instance, I was in the mood for simplicity and was frankly in a bit of a hurry.  Plus, I was so obsessed with the Thanksgiving food while at the grocery store that I forgot to stock the basics, so I grabbed whatever I could get my hands on and made happen what you see before you now...

After removing the giblet bag, then washing and thoroughly drying the chicken, I salted and peppered the cavity.  Then I halved and peeled an onion, and placed it inside.

Normally I use other things along with it, like a halved lemon and/or unpeeled garlic cloves.  You know, any little thing I can find.

I took this opportunity to remove the wings - we never eat them, and I wanted to use them for stock.  So I took my knife and removed them at the joint.  It took a while and some sawing but I managed to find it!

Then it comes time to coat the chicken with either butter (or margarine) or olive oil.  In this instance I was more in a butter/margarine mood, but olive oil is lovely as well.  So I got very intimate with the chicken breasts, going so far as to carefully lift the skin and place the spread between the skin and the breast (I make sure to do this with turkey as well).

Once complete, I smeared spread all over the outside of the chicken as well.

Then comes time for the seasoning.  This time around I used a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper, then garlic powder and dried thyme.  Of course I've been known to use parsley, dried basil, rosemary...whatever the mood.  Again, this is all about imparting the desired flavor - the possibilities really are endless, aren't they? It's a beautiful thing!

A cup or two of water in the pan for drippings and to prevent scorching, and into a 400 degree oven it went.  This was a 7 lb chicken and it took 1 hour and 45 minutes to bake up to a golden brown and juicy bird.  Sure, it didn't look like much prior to roasting but let me tell you, it was a thing of beauty.

Meanwhile, it came time to make the gravy.  Into a large pot went the wings, the ends of the onions that I'd used, the neck and giblets.

Again, I didn't have much else to go into the pot since I don't have any old veggies like celery and carrots - at least, nothing that's not going into Thursday's dinner.  So I left it at that, with a bit of salt and pepper.  The pot was filled with water and was simmered for 2 hours.

After 2 hours were up, I strained out the solids and the scum which had floated to the top.  I was left with a LOT of liquid but I wanted to save it so I only took out 3 cups and left the rest.

Into a medium saucepan went 3 tbs of butter.  Once melted, 1 1/2 tbs of flour were mixed in and cooked.  What is this called, children? Of course! It's called a roux!

You can see that the key to this is browning the roux.  This is what gives color to the finished product, along with dictating the thickening power of the roux.  Here's the before...

...and here's the after:

Yummy.  Just yummy.  Once the roux reached this color, stock was added a bit at a time and thoroughly combined until smooth.  Then it was left to simmersimmersimmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

I do wish I had gotten a picture in the bowl! But it was one of those last minute, get-everything-on-the-table moments.  Suffice it to say, after swirled with one more tablespoon of butter, it was lovely and rich and divine.  Not to mention good preparation for this week's poultry and gravy extravaganza.  Since I'm making the gravy for Thanksgiving the day before (when there will be much more natural light!) I'll post those pictures on Wednesday.

A little bit of extra work - you know, placing butter and/or herbs between the skin and meat, and making a gravy rather than opening a jar, can elevate a simple roast bird to something drool worthy! Trust me on this!

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