Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hearty Thanksgiving Breakfast: Apple Pie Oatmeal

On Thanksgiving Day, some people watch the parade. Some watch football. Some play football. Some hunt. A common denominator is food, and serving something that stands for the bounty with which we are blessed. Either we raised it or we earned the money to purchase it. When we're serving the food, we want to please our loved ones -- we serve family recipes or, at least, family favorites. We're nourishing them and we're nurturing them.

When my hunter went to the woods this morning, he had a belly full of hot oatmeal that tasted like apple pie -- his favorite dessert. He also carried pepperoni rolls, trail mix and apples.

I've been working on this hot apple pie oatmeal recipe since September. I have it almost right. I'm using bits and pieces of other recipes I've found all over the web, trying one, keeping what I like, discarding what doesn't work.

One thing that didn't work for me was using a full-size Crock-Pot. The oatmeal spreads out and cooks too fast. You want to put this on and have it be ready when you wake in 6, 7,  or, if you're lucky, 8 hours. It's going to burn in a full-size Crock-Pot. So I use my smaller slow cooker. But this is a sticky recipe that will start to cement itself around the edges of the smaller pot. A slow cooker liner is too big. Greasing the pot doesn't seem to help much.

My solution is to get a Christmas light timer ('tis the season after all). My slow cookers are older and don't have built-in timers. Turn your slow cooker to Low, plug it into the timer and set it to turn on the pot 5-6 hours before you want to eat.

If you don't have a small Crock-Pot, double the recipe and use a slow cooker liner. I got 5 servings out of this recipe so if you're serving more than 4-6 people, you might want to double it anyway.

Here's the version I'm going to make next time, only slightly altered from how I made it this time:

1 1/4 cups steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats)
3 cups water and 1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup brown sugar

1 packet spiced cider (optional but it gives it extra apple flavor, sold near hot cocoa and tea)
3 apples, cored, peeled, and diced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Place the steel-cut oats in a 2-quart Crock-Pot. Add water and spiced cider. stir. Top with apples and cinnamon. Cook on LOW for 5-6 hours by setting a timer at bedtime.
Top with walnuts or milk but it's delicious served as-is.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey Leg Place Cards for Thanksgiving

I have waited a whole year to show you this cute idea for a place card on your Thanksgiving table!

I found this idea online somewhere last year -- on Thanksgiving Day. It was super easy to pull off with things I had around the house.

Take a brown paper lunch sack. Fill it about 2/3 full of popcorn -- I used kettle corn. Twist the top of the bag tightly.

Make the frilly white paper "booties" for the end of the drumstick by folding a length of white cardstock or copy paper in half -- about 2 inches wide by 8 inches long. Use scissors to cut through the folded side -- don't cut all the way. Make cuts every 1/4 inch or so. Eyeball it. Roll the strip of slashed paper around the end of turkey leg and hot glue the end to secure it. I wrote each guest's name on the little paper bootie.

Here's a close-up:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Make Turkey Tracks

In our school district in West Virginia, public school students have no classes the entire week of Thanksgiving. This is because the first day of rifle deer hunting season is Monday of that week. This is a rural area. When I was child, we got Monday off, were supposed to go to school Tuesday and Wednesday, and got Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday off. Well, hunters gonna hunt. So the district allowed hunting students to take "educational leave", guaranteeing them excused absences for Tuesday and Wednesday. I don't know why or when the county started giving students the whole week off.

If you're looking for something your children can do while they're off from school before Thanksgiving, have them make place cards for the dinner table. I found this idea online a few years ago -- probably from Family Fun magazine. All you need is some white cardstock (colored would work too), tempera or other washable paint in a variety of colors and their thumbs.

My daughter and her older cousin made these when she was probably 6 or 7 years old. Once I showed them what to do, I think they could do it mostly unsupervised. I was free to work on something else in the same room without giving them my complete attention.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Potato and Shrimp Stew

Our first holiday season in our new house, in 1999, I hosted Christmas Eve. My husband's family came over after the church service for hors d'oeuvres and desserts. I had planned extensively, but I was inexperienced. I can't remember the menu, just the toast points topped with cilantro mayonnaise and shrimp. It needed to be assembled as soon as I got home from church before serving. I guess I took a little too long getting it out because David's grandma murmured "Next time I'm invited here, I'm bringing a peanut butter sandwich!"

That was my first experience cooking with cilantro. I don't like cilantro. I won't tell you what I think cilantro tastes like because it's unappetizing, and you'll wonder how I know what that tastes like. I can think of three things I will eat cilantro in: fresh-made salsa, the hummus on Panera Bread's Mediterranean Veggie sandwich and this Potato and Shrimp Stew I just discovered. 

Knowing that I don't care for cilantro, I used less than the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for when I made this soup. But when I tried it for the first time, I declared I would make it again -- and leave out the cilantro. However, when I ate the leftovers two days after I first served it, I found the cilantro taste diminished. I was surprised -- most flavors intensify with time.

If you like cilantro, you will like this. If you don't, it's still a good recipe -- either make it the day before you intend to serve it or leave out the cilantro. I think this would be a splendid first course to a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. But it's a great-tasting, filling meal on its own with a loaf of hot, crusty bread, especially on a cold winter night.

I apologize for the terrible photo.



14-ounce bag large cooked, peeled shrimp, thawed (tails removed)
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped in small chunks (I used Yukon Gold from Davis Bros. Farm)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 can corn, drained (I used the 8-ounce can)
1 15-ounce can chicken broth 

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, not drained
12-ounce jar chili sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
Set aside thawed shrimp. Cook potatoes in lightly salted water until tender. Drain; return to pot.
Add chopped cilantro, corn, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, jar of chili sauce and cumin to pot.
Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cover; simmer gently 5 minutes Stir in shrimp. Heat briefly until warm. Do not overcook! Add water if thinner broth is desired. (It wasn't.) Salt to taste. (I didn't.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

I am making this cheesecake for Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's house this year. I found the recipe in a women's magazine several years ago and it has been a few years since I've made it. It is always a big hit -- with my husband and my co-workers.


1 cup chocolate cracker or cookie crumbs
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 8-ounce bricks reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 15-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, plus whites from 2 large eggs

Heat oven to 350. Lightly coat an 8-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Stir crumbs, sugar and butter in a small bowl until evenly moistened. Press over bottom of pan. Bake 8 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate according to package directions. Keep warm.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with mix on high speed until smooth. Add sugar, cornstarch, spices and vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to medium and beat mixture until well blended. Scrape bowl and beaters. Add eggs and egg whites and beat until just mixed. Add pumpkin and beat on low speed until well blended.

Stir 2 cups of pumpkin mixture into chocolate. Reserve 1/2 cup of pumpkin mixture. Pour rest of pumpkin mixture into crust. Pour chocolate mixture onto pumpkin batter in a thick ring about 1/2-inch from sides of pan. Top with dollops of reserved 1/2 cup of pumpkin batter. Run a knife through both batters for a marbled effect. (Don't overdo it or the effect will be muddied.)

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Run knife carefully around edges to release cake from pan. Cool in pan on wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least four hours before removing pan sides.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The old-fashioned art of making your own fun

There are still almost 9,000 households in my county in West Virginia without power from the blizzard caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Remarkably, there are people whose major concern, once their power was restored, turned to "When are we rescheduling trick-or-treating?" Really? Really.

A woman I know decided to make her own fun. She and a friend called friends and relatives to see if they'll be home on Sunday afternoon. They plan to take their children, in costume, to visit select households. To chat and show off their costumes. If they get a little leftover Halloween candy, that's just bonus.

An area church is planning indoor trick-or-treating. Volunteers will wait in the church classrooms to give out candy to children who go door-to-door through the hallways. This is the event we'll probably attend.

These approaches remind me of my childhood. We lived so far down a holler in West Virginia that you couldn't see your next-door neighbor's house, let alone walk to it to trick-or-treat. When I was 4 or 5, my mother dressed me in a clown costume, walked me down our driveway and back up to our front door, where my grandfather gave me candy when I said, "Trick or treat".

I wish I could find the photo album with the picture of my first Halloween costume. So instead, here's a photo of my daughter's Halloween costume from this year. It was taken the weekend before the storm when she dressed up to attend a haunted house at her school. She is Cleopatra.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Superstorm Sandy: Baking on the stovetop

When Hurricane Sandy roared far inland Oct. 30-31 and stalled over West Virginia, mine was one of the 275,000 households robbed of electricity. Fortunately, we were only without power for 36 hours. There are still people in my community who have yet to get power restored. I was pretty well prepared for the storm as far as food.

Here is one way we were resourceful: We baked frozen biscuit dough in a dutch oven on our stove top.

I noticed that the package of frozen biscuits I had in the freezer were thawing. We have a gas stove with electric ignition. That means we could light the burners with a match or lighter. But we couldn't light the oven. Well, we COULD but once it reached temperature, it would shut off. So baking was out of the question.

We put our cast-iron dutch oven on the stovetop, turned a pie pan upside down to hold the biscuits and turned on the flame. You don't want the biscuits or whatever you're baking to be in direct contact with the bottom of the dutch oven or it will scorch. You want to simulate an oven with hot air circulating. It took about 22 minutes (the average time it would in the oven) for the biscuits to get done. They cooked, they browned a little, and hey, we didn't have to throw out perfectly good food.

Note: Our first attempt -- you can fit about 6 biscuits at a time -- we added water to the bottom of the dutch oven. This is not necessary and in fact, gave the biscuit tops a weird, chewy appearance and caused the bottoms to burn.

Inspired by my post about biscuits, a friend who is still without electricity baked a pumpkin pie in a dutch oven on her wood stove. She made it crustless, meaning she baked only the custard filling. She said it worked and it was good!  She did not add water as you would with a creme brulee.
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