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Archive for Thanksgiving & Fall

TIP OF THE DAY: Thanksgiving Cheeses

Jack O'Pumpkseed Cheese

Cranberry Chevre Goat Cheese

Gouda With Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkinseed Gouda Cheese

[1] Jack O’Pumpkinseed, a mountain-style cheese from Switzerland. [2] Cranberry goat cheese log from Montchèvre. [3] Pumpkin spice goat cheese log from Montchèvre. [4] Another Pumpkinseed Gouda from The Netherlands, at Sam’s Club.

 

If you read our articles on Halloween Cheeses, you know that many of them are colorful representation of the Harvest Season.

They certainly work for Thanksgiving. But for a smashing Thanksgiving-specific cheese plate, check out these holiday-themed cheeses: a blue, a goat, and semihard cheeses (Cheddar, Gouda, Swiss).

  • Blue Cheese. No cranberries or pumpkin seeds here, but blue cheese lovers will appreciate the hot chiles mixed into Carr Valley Glacial Wildfire Blue, an artisan cheese from Wisconsin.
  • Cranberry Cheddar, Jack, Stilton and Wensleydale: different retailers will carry one or the other. Seek them out: They’re sure to be a hit.
  • Swiss-Style: Jack O’Pumpkinseed. This washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland has chopped roasted pumpkin seeds in both the paste and the rind. The paste is very smooth with a creamy mouthfeel. Bonus: tiny eyes. Available at iGourmet and elsewhere.
  • Goat Cheese. A number of cheese factories make fresh goat cheese logs rolled in dry cranberries. The Cranberry Chevre Log at Trader Joe’s is just $3.99.
  • Gouda-Style: From The Netherlands, Kaamps Gouda-Style Cheese With Pumpkin Seeds is a popular item at Sam’s Clubs (more information).
  •  
    The semi-hard cheeses are great for a seasonal cheeseburger.

     
    SEASONAL ACCOMPANIMENTS

  • Apple chips. Our favorite brand is Bare Fruit.
  • Breads. cranberry orange, cranberry walnut, herb, nut, semolina
  • Fall fruits. apples, figs, pears, persimmons, pomegranate
  • Plate garnish. Decorate with cinnamon sticks, fresh sage, pomegranate arils, star anise
  • Pumpkin butter.
  • Seasonal crackers. We especially like the Oat Cakes and Rye Cakes from Effie’s Homemade.
  • Spiced pumpkin seeds. You can buy them (our favorite is Superseedz or season and roast your own.
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    HOW TO ROAST PUMPKIN SEEDS

    You can bake raw, hulled pumpkin seeds at 300°F for 45 minutes until golden brown, or roast them in a skillet on the stove top.

    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • 1 cup (5 ounces) hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Spices of choice
  • Fine sea salt to taste
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    Preparation: Oven Technique

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 300°F. Toss the seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a baking pan.

    2. BAKE for about 45 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

     
    Preparation: Skillet Technique

    1. PLACE the seeds in a dry heavy skillet, 9- to 10-inches, over moderate heat. Stir constantly until the seeds are puffed and golden, 4 to 5 minutes.

    2. TRANSFER to a bowl. Stir in the oil and seasonings; toss thoroughly until all seeds are coated.

      

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    PRODUCTS: More Favorites For The Season

    White Chocolate Cranberry Loaf La Brea Bakery

    Cranberry Walnut Loaf La Brea Bakery

    [1] White Chocolate Cranberry Loaf and [2] Cranberry Walnut Loaf, delicious additions to the holiday table from La Brea Bakery.

     

    Two more recommendations from our ongoing nibbling of limited-edition seasonal flavors:

    LA BREA BAKERY: ARTISAN BREADS, READY TO EAT OR READY TO HEAT

    La Brea Bakery, a brand of artisan breads available at select grocers nationwide and from Amazon Fresh, is an asset for home munching or serving guests. All are in the SRP range of $3.99-$4.99.

    You can have seasonally flavored breads in different forms—some actually emerging warm from your oven.

    With the Take & Bake options, the bread is partially baked when you purchase it, requiring just a few minutes in the oven to yield a warm and fragrant loaf.

  • White Chocolate Cranberry Loaf. We love this for breakfast toast and luncheon Brie sandwiches. Creamy white chocolate and tart dried cranberries pair beautifully with the sourdough (photo #1).
  • Take & Bake Cranberry Walnut Loaf. Sourdough with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries is delicious from the oven or toasted the next day for breakfast. We used it at lunch with ham and blue cheese from the fridge. It works with any cheese you’d use for a grilled cheese sandwich. Cut small slices to serve with cheese (photo #2).
  • Holiday Stuffing Loaf. Our friend Linda (a beast in the kitchen) bakes her own bread from scratch, just to make her stuffing. You can save the time and effort with this special loaf, seasoned with sage, thyme, celery, black and white pepper. You can brag that you baked your stuffing from fresh bread.
  • Take & Bake Holiday Stuffing Rolls. The same recipe as the Holiday Stuffing Loaf is available in roll form. Heat them up the day after Thanksgiving for a memorable turkey sandwich.
  •  

    We also had a bite of La Brea Bakery’s:

  • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Loaf Cake. This spiced pumpkin loaf—cinnamon and nutmeg—has a cream cheese swirl, and a garnish of toasted pumpkin seeds. It can be enjoyed any time of the day. We turned it into dessert with a side of mascarpone.
  • Gingerbread Loaf Cake. Moist spiced gingerbread cake with hints of ginger, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, and topped with a candied ginger streusel. Gingerbread was a cookie before it was a cake. It started as a holiday food because the spices were too costly to be used for everyday cookies. Check out the history of gingerbread.
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    The only problem with these two loaves: They disappeared far too quickly.

    For more information visit LaBreaBakery.com.
     
    PUMPKIN TORTILLA CHIPS

    Another treat we look forward to each fall are pumpkin tortilla chips.

    There are many brands. bit we’ve grown to prefer Food Should Taste Good and Way Better Chips.

    You can enjoy the chips with your favorite salsa, or get some of Mrs. Renfro’s Pumpkin Salsa or Frontera Chipotle Pumpkin Salsa, which is sold out on the Frontera website but available at retailers nationwide.

    For $3.95 a jar (Frontera’s is $4.95), these delicious salsas can be given as Thanksgiving favors (so much better for guests than a chocolate turkey) or stocking stuffers.

    The lucky giftees can wake up the day after Thanksgiving and have the pumpkin salsa with their breakfast eggs.
     
    DON’T TARRY: THESE ARE ALL LIMITED EDITIONS…

    …and they won’t be back again until next fall.

     
    DID YOU KNOW…

    YOU CAN BAKE OR FRY ACTUAL PUMPKIN FOR CHIPS!

    Make your own chips from pumpkin slices with this recipe from Hojiblanca and this artsy-looking chip recipe from Savvy Naturalista.

    Make them as a real surprise for your guests, or for your Thanksgiving hosts.

     

    Way Better Pumpkin Cranberry Chips

    Skillet Fondue

    Real Pumpkin Pumpkin Chips

    [3] Try pumpkin tortilla chips (photo courtesy Way Better Chips) with [4] a skillet fondue (photo courtesy La Brea). [5] You can also make solid pumpkin chips (photo courtesy Hojiblanca).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Spiced Tea

    Spiced Tea Spices

    Constant Comment Spiced Tea

    Spiced Rooibos Tea

    [1] It’s easy to make spice tea without special tea. Just blend your own (photo courtesy Republic Of Tea). [3] Constant Comment, America’s favorite specialty tea (photo courtesy Yankee Magazine).

     

    Many tea lovers buy spiced tea as a fall and holiday favorite; gift tins are popular holiday gifts.

    For home, perhaps the most popular spiced tea is the first major commercial brand, Constant Comment. A longtime favorite of ours (and the most popular specialty tea in the U.S.), the original black spiced tea bags are now available in decaffeinated black tea and green tea. It’s also available as loose tea.

    But if you’re home and hankering for a cup of spiced tea, with none in the house, the solution is simple:

    Just make your own with the tea and spices you already have in the kitchen.

    In addition to black tea, you can make green spice tea or white spice tea, or rooibos (caffeine-free red tea) spice tea, exactly as Ruth Bigelow did when she created Constant Comment Tea in 1946.
     
    SPICE TEA VS. SPICED TEA (IT’S SPICED!)

    A bit of a grammatical note on spice vs. spiced:

  • Spice tea would be an infusion of spices in boiling water, with no tea leaves. It’s analogous to herbal tea, where herbs are steeped in boiling water with no actual tea (Camellia sinensis). We know of no spice teas, however. While herb leaves steep into a liquid like tea leaves, spices do not.
  • Spiced tea is tea with added spices; the tea is spiced—the correct adjective.
  •  
    EASY SPICED TEA RECIPE

    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 3 tea bags or 3 teaspoons loose tea
  • Optional: 3/4 cup sugar
  • Garnish: lemon wedge
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    Variations

    You can keep playing with the spice mix until you have your perfect recipe (see more ingredients in the section below).

    You can fill jars with your signature tea blend and give them as gifts to tea-loving friends. For friends who don’t use loose tea, add these unfilled drawstring tea bags.

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE water, cinnamon and cloves in a medium pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

    2. ADD tea bags; steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices.

    3. SERVE the tea hot or iced with a lemon wedge and choice of sweeteners, although the spice flavors are so exciting that no sweetener is necessary.
     
    TEA INFUSIONS

    You can also infuse the tea with:

  • Fruits: apple, citrus peel/zest, lemon, orange, pear or other fruit, fresh or dried
  • Herbs: basil, fennel (licorice flavor), mint, sage, rosemary*
  • Spices: allspice, anise/star anise, black peppercorns, cacao nibs, cardamom, chopped dried chiles, cinnamon, fennel seeds, ginger (fresh, ground, crystallized), nutmeg, vanilla bean, turmeric
  • Sweeteners:Agave, honey, flavored syrup
  •  
    Just look around your kitchen for things to infuse.
    ________________
    *Here are 10 herb choices from Garden.org.
     
    WAYS TO INFUSE TEA

    1. With a spice ball. We prefer the new twist-and-lock spice ball style. The closure is less likely to loose with continued use.

    2. Loose. If you don’t have a spice ball, just infuse all of the ingredients in pitcher or a large measuring cup, ideally one with a pouring spout. Then pour the tea through a strainer, into the cup.

    There are many devices for steeping loose tea, from simple infusers to more complex devices; for example, travel mugs and electric tea pots with built-in infusers.

    IngenuiTEA is our favorite device. Tea steeps in the unit, then easily dispenses into the cup.

     

    RECIPE: MASALA CHAI

    Masala chai is Hindi for spiced milk tea (masala = spice, chai = tea). It’s a strong black Indian tea infused with spices—commonly cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorn, clove and nutmeg (chocolate or licorice are sometimes included)—with milk and sugar.

    Traditionally, the milk and tea water are boiled together, then infused. This ensures that both liquids are hot. In the era of the microwave, you can infuse the tea in boiled water and then add heated milk.

    While masala chai is traditionally made from black tea, green tea chai and rooibos chai have become popular in the West, where it is often simply called “chai.”

    There is no one “best” chai recipe. As with any other recipe, the best version has the seasonings you prefer, in the proportions that you want.

    Here’s a basic masala chai recipe that makes eight cups of tea. Take it as a starting point and adjust the ingredients and the proportions next time.

    If eight cups is too much for you, cut back the recipe. Or, refrigerate the remainder, store it in the fridge and and heat it as needed. You can also drink it iced.

    TIP: Some recipes (and store-bought blends) are pre-sweetened. If you may be serving the chai to people who prefer unsweetened tea, or use a noncaloric sweetener, omit the sweetener (the last ingredient) and provide sweeteners at the table.
     
    Masala Chai Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups whole milk (or substitute a lower fat or nondairy version)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 vanilla bean, chopped fine
  • 4 teaspoons black tea leaves: Assam or other strong tea
  • 8 ounces honey or 4 ounces agave
  •  

    Masala Chai

    Masala Chai Blend

    [1] Masala chai means milk tea. In its country of origin, India, it’s black tea steeped with spices, with added milk (photo courtesy Charles Chocolates). [2] You can mix your chai spices ad hoc, or keep your favorite blend in an airtight jar (photo courtesy Foodie Underground).

     
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the water and milk to a boil in a sauce pan. Add the remaining ingredients except honey and simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.

    2. REMOVE from the heat and strain into another pot or bowl. Add sweetener and blend thoroughly.

    3. SERVE from a conventional teapot or a pitcher; or bring pre-filled cups the table.
     
    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEA

    Check out our tea Glossary: the different types of tea, with beautiful photography.

      

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    RECIPE: One-Pan Chicken Dinner For Fall & Winter

    Chicken & Fall Vegetables

    Delicata Squash

    [1] Winner, winner: quick and easy chicken dinner. [2] Delicata squash has an edible rind and a built-in scalloped edge (both photos courtesy Good Eggs).

     

    Winner, winner chicken dinner!

    This phrase is typically credited with originating on the Vegas Strip. Back in the 1950s, every casino had a $1.79 three-piece chicken dinner, which included a potato and a vegetable. At that time, a standard bet was $2. So if you won a hand, you’d have enough money to buy yourself a nice chicken dinner.

    At the time, as in many places today, this simple chicken dinner was the cheapest dinner around. So you didn’t win the roast beef dinner.

    But hey, don’t disparage a good plate of chicken and veggies. It’s one of America’s favorite meals.

    This one is a winner because you make it all in one pan, as in: Winner, winner, chicken dinner with a side of delicata squash and brussels sprouts.

    If you haven’t had delicata squash, it’s a great opportunity to try it. It may become a favorite.

  • Its orange flesh has a sweet and nutty flavor like acorn squash, but the skin is edible: no peeling required! That’s why it’s called delicata, Italian for delicate*.
  • It creates flower-like slices with great eye appeal for no extra effort.
  • Slices can be served atop green salads, with cottage cheese and/or Greek yogurt, topped with grains, potatoes, or other vegetables. It’s a winner.
  • You can roast it like any other winter squash.
  •  
    Thanks to Good Eggs, which delivers fine provisions in the Bay Area, for the recipe.

    RECIPE: ONE-PAN CHICKEN THIGHS WITH FALL VEGETABLES

    You can have this on the table in 35 minutes. If you don’t like brussels sprouts, exchange it for something else.

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 handful sage leaves, chopped roughly
  • 1 pinch chile flakes
  • ½ pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1 delicata squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out and cut into ½ half moons
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SEASON the chicken thighs on both sides and set aside.

    2. HEAT a large (10-inch) cast iron pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the chicken thighs skin side down and cook until the skin starts to turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove the thighs and set aside.

    3. ADD a tablespoon of olive oil to the same pan. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, sage and chile flakes. Cook until the garlic starts to color, about 4 minutes. Add the brussels sprouts and squash and cook for about 5 minutes. When the vegetables start to soften…

    4. NESTLE the chicken skin-side-down in the vegetables. Turn the heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook until the thighs are cooked through and the vegetables are tender and caramelized, about 25 to 30 minutes.
     
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    *In fact, the delicate skin is why no American over 20 years of age grew up with delicata squash. The thin rind is susceptible to mildew which rots the crop. Thus, delicata squash all but disappeared after the Great Depression. Thankfully, a group at Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding took it under their wing around 2000, and bred a variety that was resistant to most squash diseases.

    †A handful is one of those imprecise measures that says: Use how much you want. More or less of the ingredient is not critical to the recipe’s outcome.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Before You Buy A Turkey, Ask These Questions

    Roast Thanksgiving Turkey

    Fresh Brined Turkey

    Live Wild Turkey

    [1] Which is your turkey: Frozen? Heirloom? Heritage? Brined (photo courtesy Reynolds Kitchens | Facebook)? [2] A fresh free-range brined turkey (photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma). [3] What the Pilgrims ate: Wild turkeys are streamlined birds that look like marathon runners compared to turkeys bread to have more meat (photo by Larry Price | National Wild Turkey Federation).

     

    If you just grab the nearest Butterball from the freezer case, you have a plan. It’s a fine plan: We actually chose the Butterball in a blind tasting of heirloom, heritage and organic turkeys.

    But with more and more people interested in the fresh turkey experience, there are other options to consider.

    Whole Foods sent us this turkey advisory from master butcher Theo Weening, Whole Foods Market’s global meat buyer. He suggests that you ask these questions when searching for your perfect bird.

    1. How Fresh Is Fresh?

    The fresher the turkey, the faster it cooks. If you’re paying for a fresh turkey, the question to ask is: Exactly how fresh is this “fresh” turkey?

    Fresh turkeys are processed and stored just above the freezing point to keep them juicy and tender…but for how long? Many conventional grocers advertise “fresh” turkeys that are actually harvested nine months or more before Thanksgiving!

    Whole Foods and other quality vendors sell turkeys are processed just before the holiday season, to give you the freshest and best-tasting turkey possible.

    2. Antibiotic-Free & Organic Turkeys

    The question here is: Where and how was this turkey raised?

    The best birds are raised with the highest standards, and a great butcher will steer you to a turkey that meets the highest quality breeding stock and practices: no antibiotics, no animal by-products in the feed, no added growth hormones, animal welfare standards, and audits by third-parties like the Global Animal Partnership.

    While you can find all these qualities in non-organic birds, organic-certified* turkeys continue to grow in popularity each year, and WFM butchers agree that they are some of the most flavorful birds around. They’re raised on organic pastures with outdoor access and fed non-GMO, organic feed. They are available from 10 to 20 pounds, sometimes a bit larger.

    3. Heritage and Heirloom Birds

    Most Thanksgiving turkeys are bred to have huge breasts with lots of white meat. In fact, large commercial producers have bred the breast so large that the top-heavy turkeys can no longer fly†. More and more people we know are choosing to make Thanksgiving more “authentic” with an old-style bird.

    Heritage turkeys are bred for flavor. Raised slowly and traditionally, they are rich and succulent birds with a more robust turkey flavor.

    Unlike supermarket birds, they are not bred to have a huge double breast that delivers a preponderance of white meat. Rather, these breeds are the closest you’ll get to what the Pilgrims ate, which makes them a new experience for most people.

    Heirloom turkeys are breeds that date back to the early 1920s-1930s, heirloom turkeys strike a balance between the wild turkey of the heritage breeds and the milder flavor of Butterball and other modern breeds adjusted to the preferences of many Americans. Heirlooms have offer more white meat than heritage turkeys. They can be up to 28 pounds.

    4. Brined Birds

    Fans of brining will tell you that the technique produces a more tender and flavorful turkey. The technique requires soaking the bird in a saltwater solution for 4 to 24 hours before roasting. You can buy them pre-brined.

    Note: Kosher turkeys have already been salted, so brining will create an overly salty bird.

    If you want to try it but not for the first time on the most important turkey day of the year, mark a date on your calendar; New Year’s Day, perhaps? A roast turkey is great football food.
     
     
    MORE TURKEY TIPS

    1. Order Ahead.

    Some of in-demand turkeys can sell out before Thanksgiving. Now’s the time to call or visit the butcher to reserve exactly the type and size you want.

     

    2. Consider A Fully Cooked Turkey.

    If you don’t have time to cook your turkey, don’t have space in the oven, want to minimize stress, etc., let someone else do the work for you. You can order a cooked turkey prepared for reheating.

    You’ll know the turkey has been professionally cooked—no mistakes—and can focus your time on the more memorable sides.

     
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    *USDA organic certification requires time and expense devoted to paperwork and steps required by the auditors that don’t improve the flavor of the turkeys. There are family farmers who produce all-natural, top-quality poultry but elect not to invest their resources in organic certification.

    †These big-breasted turkeys are also too top-heavy to mate. The females must be artificially inseminated.
     
      

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