Red, White, & Blueberries

Alright ya’ll, we’re going from trashy to classy in 15 minutes or less…southern style.  The Fourth of July is all about independence and living the American Dream, right?  No need to be shackled to your kitchen when there are burgers to grill and cocktails to be had!

You just need about $10 and some good serving pieces.  This is pretty much a perfect of example of presentation-is-everything.  We’re about to take this:

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To this:

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No big deal.

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Wash the berries and slice the strawberries.

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Mix thawed cool whip with a few splashes of vanilla.

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Slice the angel food cake.

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Place the cake in a bowl with a pretty napkin.

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You can cover the cake before serving so it won’t get stale and will stay moist (I know, I hate that word too).

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What?  NBD.

Pecan Crusted Chicken

If you are looking for an easy, healthy weeknight dinner (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), look no further.  The prep for this dish takes 10 minutes max even with the usual distractions (i.e. pulling the 1/4 measuring cup from the dishwasher and begrudingly hand-washing it, scraping the hardened honey from the bottom of the jar,  and hitting “record” on Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, etc.  Wait, did I just type that?).

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Get out your Panko breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs will work just fine too), the pecans (irrelevant side note:  I prefer working with some that have already been slightly chopped because they’re less messy and easier on my stage 5 OCD, but of course whole ones will work too, the caveat being that you will absolutely find pecan pieces in random nooks of your kitchen for days to come), and the fresh parsley.

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Start by finely chopping the fresh parsley.  You’ll need about 4 teaspoons give or take.

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Then, chop the pecans into small, fine pieces.

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With a fork, loosely mix 1/4 cup pecans, 1/4 cup Panko, and 4 teaspoons fresh parsley in a shallow dish.

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Get out the dijon mustard and the honey.

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In another shallow bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons dijon mustard with 2 tablespoons honey.

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Pull chicken breasts from packaging and rinse under water and set aside.

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Sprinkle the parsley/pecan mixture with a few pinches salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper and then dredge each chicken breast first through the honey mustard, heavily coating both sides, and then through the pecan mixture, firmly pressing into chicken until it is completely coated.

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Place in a nonstick baking dish and cook on 400 for about 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and the pecans are starting to brown.  Your house should be smelling pretty damn good by now, especially for a Tuesday night.

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Remove chicken breasts from oven and serve with whatever sounds good.  We opted for couscous and steamed broccolini, which I sprinkled with parmesan for presentation purposes.   Vegetarian?  No prob.  I gottcha.  Substitute chicken for salmon, though you’ll likely need to reduce the cook time by 10 minutes.  Don’t eat fish?  Skip this post and treat yourself to peonies.  See previous post for deats, to my delight they’re still in season, at least in So Cal.

NBD.

Pecan Crusted Chicken:

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/4 finely chopped pecans

4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

Cayenne pepper

2 organic chicken breasts

In a shallow bowl, whisk together dijon mustard and honey. In another shallow bowl, mix Panko breadcrumbs, pecans, and parsley with a fork. Wash chicken breasts and dredge first through the honey mustard, heavily coating both sides, and then through the pecan mixture, firmly pressing into chicken until it is completely coated. Repeat with second breast. Place both breasts in a nonstick baking dish. Bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and the pecans are toasted on the outside.

4-Ingredient Hummus

Okay, fine.  It’s 6 ingredients, but anyone who is reading this blog likely has salt and water on hand and 4 sounds so much simpler, so let’s just roll with that.

I’d like to give a little shout out to my mama this Mother’s Day by sharing one of her oldest, easiest recipes.  I cannot recall a day in my childhood where my mom didn’t express her love to her three children by whipping up a meal or snack for us. They were not always complicated recipes, but they were consistently delicious and we never, ever doubted what her priorities were. If I am half as good a mother, my kids will indeed be very lucky.

In the spirit of being true to my mother, I’m going to give you some unsolicited advice here:  make this hummus.  Like, now.

It’s all too easy these days to buy pre-made hummus at the grocery store, scoop it in a bowl, and serve it with pre-cut carrots and pita chips.  I’m not judging anyone who does this.  Really, I’m not (right, mom? we don’t judge).  I’m just saying, try this recipe and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.  It’s arguably even easier to make this than getting that plastic wrap off of the store-bought hummus.

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You’ll simply need a lemon, a can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), tahini, garlic, and salt.  Tahini is sold at most grocery stores and will keep for ages in your refrigerator.

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Drain and rinse 1 can of garbanzo beans.

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Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon (1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons of cold water).

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Blend beans, lemon juice (+ 2 tablespoons cold water), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 minced garlic clove, and 4 tablespoons tahini until smooth.

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In the meantime, pull apart, wash, and dry endive leaves.

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Serve with sliced radishes, cucumbers, and endive leaves. Alternatively, pre-cut carrots and pita chips (again, no judgment).

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, step moms, and moms-to-be out there.  It’s sometimes a thankless job but just think, if you’re lucky enough you’ll have a daughter write a blog post about your hummus one day.  NBD.

Margareta’s Hummus:

1 can of garbanzo beans drained

4 tablespoons of tahini

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)

2 TB cold water

1 garlic clove, minced

Puree in blender. Serve with sliced cucumbers, radishes, and endive leaves.

 

 

An Easter Side Dish: Healthy(ish) Cauliflower Souffle

When I think of Easter, there are many traditional dishes that come to mind. I gravitate towards light and fresh, as in roasted lamb with rosemary and honey, asparagus served with lemon, mint, and feta…perhaps some red new potatoes with parsley and sea salt.  I do not necessarily think of cauliflower.  At all.   But let’s trust.  For a minute at least, hear me out.

You need to make this.  Like, yesterday.  It is so easy, so light, so fresh. It’s a great companion to any dish and with this recipe you won’t need an EKG any time soon.  I literally convinced my stepsons it was mac and cheese.  Just saying...

Buy a large head of cauliflower.

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Wash and cut into 1-inch pieces

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Fill a pot with an inch or so of water and bring to a boil. Add cauliflower and steam, covered, for about 5 minutes, or until cauliflower can be easily pierced with a fork.  When finished, drain and set aside.

In the meantime, prepare 1/4 butter and 1/4 cup flour.

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Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat and when it’s just starting to brown, add the flour. Stir together. Reduce heat to low and slowly stir in one cup of milk, whisking until thick.

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Add salt and cayenne pepper.  Stir in one cup of cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar- it does not matter- I have tried them all with equal success).

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Remove from heat.  Stir in 3/4 egg whites (or 4 eggs).

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Gently add cauliflower.

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Pour into a dish and bake at 300 for an hour and 15 minutes.

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Check your pulse.  Make sure you’re still breathing.

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YUP…alive…life is that good and that easy.  NBD.

Cauliflower Souffle

1 large cauliflower, but into small, 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 cup fat-free milk

1 tsp salt

A few dashes of cayenne pepper

8 oz shredded cheese (mozzarella or parmesan recommended, but any will do)

3/4 cup egg whites (or 4 eggs)

Steam cauliflower until it can be pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside. In a pot, melt butter over medium heat and add flour. Gradually add the milk, whisking often, until thick.  Add salt and cayenne pepper.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Remove pot from heat. Slowly stir in egg whites.  Gently mix in cauliflower.  Pour into a dish and bake at 300 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Edible Easter Nests

Yesterday was officially the first day of spring and Easter is only two weeks from Sunday.  In other words, what better time to share one of my favorite spring traditions, edible bird nests?  They are so unbelievably NBD and serve many purposes all-in-one, including hostess gift, name card holder, table decor, and dessert (just to name a few).  I love me some efficiency-eeeeeeeee.

With only 4 ingredients, they require little effort or expense.  Seriously, if you can make Rice Krispies treats, you can make these.

Oh, these lil’ ole things?  The only problem being that they’re almost too cute to eat.

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My Mom’s Swedish Easter Bird Nests

1/4 cup butter

10 oz. marshmallows

5 cups crumbled Shredded Wheat

A  dash of cinnamon

Melt 1/4 cup of butter on low heat in a large pot.  Pour in 10 oz. regular marshmallows and slowly melt together.  Sprinkle mixture with a dash of cinnamon.  Add 5 cups shredded wheat that has been crushed and pulled apart to look like little “sticks.” Stir and remove from heat.  Let it cool for a few minutes.  If it’s too hot it will not only burn your hands, but will be too sticky to be malleable.  Form into small little “nests” and place on a plate.  Fill with jellybeans or Cadbury milk chocolate mini eggs.

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No big deal, right?

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Happy Spring!  Stay tuned for table ideas and simple recipes.

 

 

 

15-Minute, 100 Calorie Banana Oat Cakes

Okay people, here’s the deal: these are so easy to make that it’s almost embarrassing and they serve as a delicious, healthy snack or breakfast companion. Chased down with a Greek yogurt on your way to a morning workout?  Stop.  I can’t.   At only 100 calories and loaded with protein and fiber, what is there to talk about?

Except for the Vitamix blender.

I actually have a lot to say about this.  When my husband and I got married a little over a year ago I really, really wanted to register for a Vitamix blender (in addition to registering for a golf cart and a safari in Africa, also vetoed), but he told me that in no world we live in together will a $700 blender ever be a part of our reality.  For those of you who know my generous husband, this is actually kind of funny.  He has been known to spend a lot more on things that are a lot less practical (anyone who has seen or, more likely, heard his car will know this to be true).  But being the expert online researcher that he is, true to form he found a blender that was reviewed every bit as well as the Vitamix, at fraction of the cost, and that’s the one I used for this recipe. Still, while I found it worked well, if I must be honest here (and I must), I also found myself wondering if the Vitamix would have worked even better.  I know this sounds ridiculous. I am totally the girl wearing fake UGGs and resenting every second of it.

But let’s do this, Vitamix…or not.

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You are going to need a large, ripe banana, 1 tablespoon flax seed, 1 cup of rolled oats, 1/4 cup vanilla almond milk ( I accidentally bought regular so added a few dashes of vanilla extract), a heap of almond butter,  and a dash of kosher salt and cinnamon each.  Reminder, I am not scared of generic brands and damn it Trader Joe’s needs to sponsor me.

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Blend all ingredients well.  I actually tried to double the recipe (the original only makes about six oat cakes) and I don’t think I would do that again- my blender seemed sad and mad.  The Vitamix might have embraced the challenge with more gusto.  Regardless, it’s easy enough to just do it twice in a row.

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Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet in dollops with parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 10-15 minutes, until they start to brown very lightly on top.

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Serve with a dash of butter or jam.  YUM.

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I’d like to thank my bestie, Kathryn Delaney, and her sister, Jess, for sharing this recipe with me.

Banana Oat Cakes:

1 cup rolled oats

1 large ripe banana

1 TBS flax seed

1 heaping spoon almond butter

1/4 cup-ish (give or take) vanilla almond milk

1 dash cinnamon

1 dash kosher salt

Optional: Nuts or berries

Process in a substantial blender. Scoop onto parchment paper lined baking sheet (this should make about six oat cakes) and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Serve with a little butter or jam.  NBD.

 

Heart Sandwiches

Dust off that heart-shaped cookie cutter and let’s put it to good use this week.  Don’t own one? No worries, you can’t throw a stone without finding a store that sells them for no more than $2 (Michael’s, Williams- Sonoma, Target, Sur La Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, to name a few).  With Valentine’s Day around the corner, what better way to express yourself than with these adorable, yummy sandwiches (made with lots of love, of course)?

Prepare the sandwich as you always would, business as usual.  When you’re finished assembling, firmly press the cookie cutter into the center (using a pairing knife, if necessary, to separate any stubborn edges).

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It’s no big deal.

Everything-in-the-Pantry Soup

The term “cold” is indeed relative.  Knowing that snowstorms are sweeping across much of the country as I type, I hesitate to complain too much about the weather we’re experiencing today in Southern California.  But let me just say, at 61 degrees and foggy, it’s amazing that the roads haven’t been shut down.  Based solely on the number of puffy vests, fur jackets, and UGG boots I’ve seen today, you would think we were in the middle of an arctic freeze.  It’s really a miracle people can leave their homes at all. The good news is that you don’t have to though, because I have the perfect winter stew and you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry, if not freezer.  Even better, it will only take about 20 minutes to prepare, plus another 20 simmering on your stove.  Of all the meals I cook in our house, this one consistently gets the loudest cheers when I announce we’re having it for dinner, and it also just so happens to be one of the easiest to make.

Finely chop a medium yellow or sweet onion and saute in a large pot with olive oil over medium-high heat.

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When it becomes translucent, add 1 pound of ground turkey or lean beef.  Cook together until the meat is brown.  Turn off the heat and, using an oven mitt, tilt the pot to one side and soak up any extra fat with a paper towel (you may need to use a few).

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Return the pot and the meat to medium heat.  Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and, this is very important to the flavor of the soup so do NOT omit for some silly diet, one tablespoon of white sugar.  Stir together with a cup each of finely chopped celery and carrots.  Add a pinch or two of salt and a few dashes of ground black pepper.  Let cook for a few minutes.  Add 1 can of beef broth, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and 1 cup of V8 Juice, and 1 baking potato peeled and diced into small cubes (larger cubes will take longer to cook).  Then add the following vegetables, either one can or roughly half a frozen 8 oz. bag each of peas, green beans, and corn (I prefer white corn).

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Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potato cubes can be pierced easily with a fork.

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When you’re ready to eat, spoon into soup bowls and sprinkle with cheddar cheese and a healthy dollop of sour cream.  I actually prefer the store brand and I use 2% cheese and reduced-fat sour cream, but to each her own.

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I happen believe that other than hunger, the best accompaniment to any dish is a nicely set table (oh, and a good glass of wine).  Why not light the candles on a cold Tuesday night?

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Hands down my favorite part of making this soup?  The smiles on these boys’ faces when dinner is served.

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Don’t make it a big deal.  Use what you have in your pantry and/or freezer.  Beef broth can be substituted with chicken broth, Bloody Mary mix will work in lieu of V8 juice, use red or sweet potatoes instead of a baking potato…you get the idea.  I have made many impromptu modifications to this soup over the years and it always turns out delicious.  That said, here is the original recipe:

Everything-in-the-Cupboard Soup

1 lb. of lean ground turkey or beef

1 yellow or sweet onion, finely chopped

1 cup of carrots (finely chopped)

1 cup of celery (finely chopped)

1 baking potato (peeled and diced into small, 1/2 inch cubes)

1 can of green peas (or a cup or so of frozen)

1 can of green beans (or a cup or so of frozen)

1 can of corn (or a cup or so of frozen)

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 cup of V8 juice

1 can of beef broth

1 tablespoon of white sugar

Olive oil

2 cloves of minced garlic

Salt & pepper

Cayenne pepper

Saute onion in a large pot in olive oil over medium-high heat.  When it becomes translucent, add 1 pound of ground turkey or lean beef.  Cook together until meat is brown.  Turn off the heat and, using an oven mitt, tilt the pot to one side and soak up any extra fat with a paper towel (you may need to use a few).

Return the pot and the meat to medium heat.  Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and, this is very important to the flavor of the soup so do NOT omit for some silly diet, one tablespoon of white sugar.  Stir together with a cup each of finely chopped celery and carrots.  Add a pinch or two of salt and a few dashes of ground black pepper.  Let cook for a few minutes.  Add 1 can of beef broth, 1 can of diced tomatoes, and 1 cup of V8 Juice, and 1 baking potato peeled and diced into small cubes (larger cubes will take longer to cook).  Then add the  peas, green beans, and corn.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potato cubes can be pierced easily with a fork.  Spoon into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkle of sour cream.

 

 

You Can Take The Girl Out of Georgia…

But I’m still gonna make a cheese ball ya’ll!

A girlfriend texted me on Monday asking for ideas for an easy, no fuss holiday appetizer, prompting me to look through my old, tattered recipe box of hidden gems.  And there it was, tried and true, the Savannah cheese ball recipe.

I’m conflicted about even sharing this recipe, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratitude, I feel compelled to make your holidays a little brighter, a little easier, and a little less stressful.  I don’t think Mrs. Ferrara would approve of my posting her generation old Savannah cheese ball recipe, considering it took literally 10 years of begging her daughter, Rachael, my old college girlfriend, to finally share it with me.  With much persistence, however, it eventually arrived via US mail on a personalized recipe card, in impeccable, careful handwriting.  And I don’t even think she left any ingredients out (an alleged signature move in the deep south to ensure no one else’s turns out as good as yours).

So let’s do this:

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You probably have all the ingredients already, but remember, it needs to refrigerate for at least a few hours so you can’t be too last minute.

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Very finely chop a small Vidalia (or sweet) onion.

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Mix with 1 lb. (or two, 8 oz. bags) of sharp cheddar cheese, 1 cup of chopped pecans (Trade Joe’s has a great bag of pre-chopped pecans, with small pieces), 1 cup mayo (don’t add all at once- you may not use it all), pepper to taste, and a dash or two of cayenne pepper.

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Mix well, adding mayo as necessary until cheese, pecans, and onion are lightly coated.

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Put out a piece of cling wrap and form mixture into a ball.

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Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, but ideally overnight.

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When you’re ready to serve it, mold it into a ring and fill the center with strawberry preserves.  Serve with apple slices, grapes, seasonal crackers, and garnish with rosemary sprigs.

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FYI, these Trader Joe’s pumpkin crackers are the bomb squad for the holidays! 

Mrs. Ferrara’s Savannah Cheese Ball:

1 lb. sharp grated cheddar

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup scant mayo

1 small Vidalia or sweet onion, very finely chopped

Pepper to taste

Dash cayenne

Strawberry preserves

Grate cheese and chop onion very finely.  Mix all ingredients except the preserves.  Don’t add the full cup of mayo at once.  You may not need all of it.  Put on a piece of cling wrap and mold into a ball.  Place in fridge for at least a few hours, but ideally overnight.  Mold into a ring and fill center with preserves.  Serve with crackers, grapes, sliced apples, and garnish with rosemary sprigs.

You can halve the recipe for smaller groups and it will still make about a grapefruit sized cheese ball, but if you’re going to a bigger party, I would definitely do the whole thing because it will get eaten.  You will not believe what a big deal people make out of this appetizer!  But we all know now, it’s seriously NBD.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Butter

Did I stutter when I said it was time to get my pumpkin on?

This recipe is adapted from an old Martha Stewart Living recipe, circa 2001. To make it healthier, I use a little less butter and a little more pumpkin than Martha. It literally takes all of 5 minutes to prepare and will last weeks refrigerated.  It is delicious spread over a slice of raisin toast or nutty wholegrain bread, but it’s also SO YUM lathered on a baked sweet potato or steamed cauliflower.

Grab 2 sticks of butter and a can of pure pumpkin.

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Let the butter warm to room temperature (this will take several hours). Put the soft butter in a bowl with half the can of pure pumpkin and a teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and all spice.

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Mix aggressively, smoothing out any lumps.

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Transfer to tupperware and refrigerate.

To make it a bigger deal, don’t be afraid to spoon it into a more attractive jar or container.  I bought this little guy at Ikea for no more than 99 cents (including tax, I’m sure).

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Cover the lid of the jar with a small piece of fabric or burlap and use a rubber band to keep it in place.  If you’re unsure of what size to cut, use a compact disk case to trace a square…that should be just about right depending on the size of the jar, but modify accordingly.

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To cover the rubber band, use a piece of ribbon and tie it in a bow with a neat bundle of leaves.

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Drop it off at your neighbor’s house or bring it in to the office like it’s no big deal.  

And really, it isn’t.