WRITTEN ON February 7th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Breakfast, Chicken, Dinner, Eggs, Potato

Those of you who reside in the Northeast can attest to the fact that this feels like one of the longest winters in history. It’s only February, yet I find myself longing for spring and warm breezes earlier and more often than I have in years.

I’m not one of those people who sink into a deep depression as the days shorten. I crave seasons, and often think that I’d never want to live in a place where I didn’t get to experience all four. I love cold, bracing air, and snow, fires and hearty meals.  One of my favorite things about winter is waking up on a Saturday with nowhere to go, freezing temps and gray skies. On those days, I love to brew some coffee, bundle back under the covers, and read or catch up on my shows.  Basically, I have no problem hibernating, and because of this, am a big fan of winter.

Not this year. I’m so over it at this point. Two weeks ago I was still in the “bring on the snow” mode, appreciating the beauty of the fat, fluffy flakes as I threw another log on the fire.  But the last two storms, one adding almost two feet of snow to the two that were already on the ground, and the other bringing an inch of ice, have left me feeling like a woman on the verge. Long Island is getting pounded this year, and it no longer feels festive and fun.  It probably doesn’t help that this is our first winter in the ‘burbs, and all the shoveling, salting and worrying about the roof caving in has me (almost) missing our city apartment.

Growing up, my father seldom traveled for work, but when he did, Mom would make us breakfast for dinner. She always made it seem like a big treat, like we were somehow breaking the rules and living on the edge.  Dad wasn’t a fan of breakfast at dinner, so pulling out the waffle iron at 7:00 pm made us complicit in some deliciously deviant behavior.  It was always a spirit booster. Hoping to conjure that same feeling on the night of the last ice storm, I decided to follow suit. While the ice rained down, turning the sidewalks into something resembling a glazed doughnut, I threw this together using leftover roast chicken. I served it with out-of-season asparagus and the whole meal was so out of the norm (eggs for dinner? asparagus in January?) and had a such spring-like quality that we booked a March trip to Barbados the very next day.

I woke this morning to a light sky, sunshine pouring in through the blinds, and a very energetic bird chirping outside our window. It’s a balmy 45 degrees and I spent the better part of the afternoon walking around doing errands. Of course, the forecast has “arctic blast” written across the map for the rest of the week, but we won’t talk about that just yet.

Hash it up

Chicken Hash and Eggs (serves 2)
2 cups leftover chicken, cubed (this can be roast chicken, chicken breasts, or rotisserie from the store)
8 small red potatoes, diced (you want the diced chicken, potatoes and peppers to be similar in size)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Non-stick spray
1 tsp paprika
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 fresh eggs
In a large saute pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil.  Saute onion until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes, over medium high heat.  Add peppers and garlic, saute 2 minutes more until soft and fragrant. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add butter and coat pan and peppers/onions with non-stick spray. Add potatoes, saute over medium heat about 20 minutes until golden and soft (if they stick to the pan just spray some more non-stick spray), seasoning with salt and pepper. Add chicken, tomato paste, paprika, and stir to combine.  Cook a few minutes more until warmed through.  Add fresh herbs, keep on low heat. In a small non-stick pan, cook two eggs sunnyside up, about 5 minute each.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spoon out two servings hash, gently slide one egg on top of each.  Serve immediately.

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WRITTEN ON January 25th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Cheese, Dinner, Italian, Side Dish, Tomatoes, Vegetarian

My husband is one of those lucky people who comes from a big family on both sides. Not only that, but most of his cousins are in a similar age bracket: late 20’s to about 40, all with burgeoning careers and adult lives and families of their own.

Last weekend, we came together with the hubster’s aunts, uncles and cousins on my father-in-law’s side. Sadly, it was to mourn the passing of a family member. We set out Saturday morning, car loaded with food, driving across Long Island and into New Jersey, where we spent the day remembering and showing support and just generally loving each other.

I’m always amazed at the way tragedy brings families back together. We go about our daily lives often forgetting that we have this shared connection to people other than our parents and siblings. Cousins who start out as frequent playmates grow away and apart, as sports, school, and social lives become more demanding.  Careers take entire families clear across the country, or in some cases, the world.  And while social media outlets have certainly made it easier to stay up to date on the whereabouts of our loved ones, nothing compares to a real live hug, a shared laugh about the old days, the reminder that genes run deep, and love runs even deeper.

In my own family, gatherings are always accompanied by good food (and plenty of vino). My hubby’s side is no different. Sharing a meal is the quickest, easiest way of bringing people together, back into the fold of family.  Especially on days as tough as Saturday.  Food serves as the comforting balm that helps people relax and reunite.

I wanted to serve something familiar, easy on the stomach with an enticing smell that would warm people the moment they walked in the door.  Italian food was a natural choice.  Cheesy, creamy eggplant bathed in a long simmered marinara, with a side of meatballs and some fresh Italian bread greeted the family as they came in from the cold, glad for each others company in the midst of heartbreak.

After an entire day of catching up, tears, hugs, and much needed belly laughs, we left for home amidst promises of more frequent reunions, the oldest cousins leading the charge. As I looked around a room filled with faces that looked so like my favorite face in the world, I found myself hoping we’d find our way back to a shared table, the sooner the better.

Rollin' on home...

Eggplant Rollatini (serves 2)
For the sauce:
1/2 a medium sized onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 28 oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 handful fresh parsley, oregano and basil, chopped
1 carrot, washed and whole
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper
Olive oil
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, saute about 4 minutes until soft and golden. Add garlic and pinch of crushed red pepper. Saute about 1 minute. Add wine, reduce by half.  Add tomato paste, stir to combine.  Add crushed tomatoes, carrot, bay leaf and herbs.  Simmer about 1 hour, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
crushed tomatoes.
For Rollatini:
1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 8 thin slices
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375. In a medium sized bowl beat eggs. On a small sheet tray, pour flour, season with salt and pepper.  On another small sheet tray, pour bread crumbs.  Working with one eggplant slice at a time, dip slice into flour to coat, shake off excess flour.  Dip into eggs to coat.  Then dip into bread crumbs, coating fully but shaking off excess.  Lay breaded eggplant slices on an olive oil coated baking sheet in one single layer. Bake in oven about 15 minutes, turning once, until dried out and crispy.
For filling:
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
1 dash cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
1 dash red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients. Spread a dollop of cheese mixture onto each eggplant slice. Roll eggplant.  Place in a glass baking dish and cover with sauce. Bake in 375 oven for about 20 minutes until soft and bubbly.

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WRITTEN ON January 7th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Chicken, Fruit, Grains, No really, what IS for lunch?, Nuts, Salads

I hold a very special place in my heart for chicken salad.   Growing up in Baltimore, it was a menu main stay for pretty much every occasion: bridal showers, baby showers, buffets, cocktail parties, tailgates.  Name an event and a Baltimoron will find a way to get chicken salad on the menu.

The perennial favorites hail from several local markets.  Eddie’s of Roland Park, Graul’s Market, and Donna’s Cafe. They’re delicious, but definitely not nutritious.

The problem with the chicken salad that is so often served at luncheons and teas is this: it’s chock full of mayonnaise, and it’s usually served on some sort of buttery vessel – croissants, buttered white bread (sans crust), mini-parker house rolls.  Which makes it public enemy #1 when attempting a New Year, New You attitude.

Nonetheless, when a girl gets a craving, there’s little stopping her.  In walks compromise. Sub low-fat Greek style yogurt for most of the fatty white stuff.  Add lots of healthy additions, like red grapes, scallions, fresh dill and smoked almonds. And serve it on a bed of lettuce or nutty, dense seven grain toast. You just might find you like it better than the original (but don’t tell the folks at Eddie’s).

You chicken?

Chicken Salad (serves 2)
1/2 lb leftover chicken breast (rotisserie, grilled, roasted, whatever!), cut into cubes
10 red grapes, cut into quarters
1 handful smoked almonds, roughly chopped
1 handful fresh dill, chopped fine
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup  low-fat Greek style yogurt
1 drizzle olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients. Season well and serve on lettuce leaves or multi-grain toast.

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WRITTEN ON January 5th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Cheese, Fish and Shellfish, No really, what IS for lunch?, Vegetables

I hate New Years resolutions. It seems to me that the reason we make them is because we have somehow failed in our attempts to accomplish whatever it is we’re resolving, again, to do.  Be healthy. Lose weight.  Spend less.  Excersice more. Why is it that each January, our resolutions are the exact same as last year?  Clearly we’re missing something.

Are we setting our goals too high?  I’ll be the first to admit I have some pretty unrealistic ideas about how I should look (32 and no wrinkles. Fitting into my high school jeans. Six pack abs that, even at my lightest, most fit self, I never had.) Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have high expectations, but I also think that in general, people are too hard on themselves. We live in an increasingly stressful environment.  Constant bad-news media. Around the clock communications (which is ok in some cases, not so great in others. For example, when it’s Christmas Eve and you’ve taken the day off but still have to respond to 50 work emails.)  Not enough sleep. New and discouraging health information every day. Last year, working out 30 minutes a day was what it took to be healthy. This year, it’s no less than an hour a day. The lists of what not to eat get longer and longer.  You get my point.

So this year, instead of hard and fast resolutions, why not just try to be a better you.  Forget how beauty magazines think you should look. Forget what Dr. Oz is warning will happen if you have that second cup of coffee. Try for a general mental shift. Take the stairs a couple times a week. Get up and go out for a quick walk. Try making only one serving of food per person at dinner each night (this is my downfall.  Hubster and I eat really well but we eat too much at dinner.  It’s the only time all day that we spend together, and I guess we just want to make it as joyful and long as possible, so we eat and eat.  Hey, even too much salad is too much.) Pack your lunch a couple days  a week to save some calories and some pennies (and if you do, try this to die for sandwich. Full of heart healthy fats, veggies and whole grains, and so tasty you’ll never know its health food.)

Kick off 2011 with a resolute change in attitude.  Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve had one too many glasses of wine.  Rather, do 40 sit ups to counter act it. Craving a cookie?  Have a cookie for dinner…and a salad for dessert.  Wanna work out more but hate the treadmill? Make working out fun: try a yoga class, get the whole family into Wii Fit, or go for a winter hike over the weekend. Too many hard and fast rules will only make you feel worse about yourself when you end up breaking them (and lets face it, we all do, eventually.) This year, be kind to yourself, be smart about your choices, and get your body moving.  Who knows, 2011 just might be the start of your best decade yet.

Smokey Treats

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Sandwich (serves 1)
Two slices pumpernickel bread (preferably whole grain, preferably bakery fresh)
1 oz fresh goat cheese
1 tsp capers
1 handful fresh dill
5 thin slices cucumber
3 large arugula leaves
2 thin slices red onion
1 slice lemon
1 oz smoked salmon (whichever kind you prefer, I like Norwegian smoked salmon)
Lightly toast bread. Smear goat cheese on one side. Layer on capers, dill, cucumber, arugula, onion. Top with salmon. Squeeze lemon juice over top salmon. Top with second piece of bread. Cut in half, enjoy.

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WRITTEN ON December 14th, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Uncategorized

Last night we had our first snowfall in the new ‘hood.  Hubster was out at a work dinner, but he got home just in time to head out for a nighttime walk in the snow.

We live on a street of older homes, an area where you can look out your window and see your neighbors’ house and yard. We did this on purpose; while many people crave privacy, we wanted to be a part of a community of homes and families.

Bundled against the bitter cold which was making its way in from the Midwest, we traversed the streets of our neighborhood, admiring the Christmas decorations. Smoke puffed cozily out of many chimneys as we walked past house after house adorned with little white lights.  Fresh greenery was draped over lampposts, mailboxes and porch railings, tied with bright red ribbon.  Festive wreaths hung on most doors. Here, a wooden reindeer tucked into the tapestry of winter gardens, there, a path lit by candy cane ornaments.  A Christmas tree nestled in a bay window, lit from within and dusted with a hundred tiny ornaments, a gift for all passersby.

We marveled at how much can happen in one year. Counted ourselves lucky to be a part of such a thriving community.  Felt childlike wonder at being the first footprints in the new fallen snow. Made snow angels and picked out our favorite decorations, planning what we would do next year to match them.

But the very best part was when we turned the corner onto our own street. There, in the flaky wonderland, tucked behind a magnolia tree frosted with snow, was a house with blue shutters complete with pine tree cut outs, columns wrapped in white pine garland and tied with miniature red bows. In the far window, an eight foot tree stood glowing, beckoning us in from the cold. I could almost smell the cookies that I knew were waiting for us. We dusted ourselves off, stomped our boots on the welcome mat, and walked inside.

A snowy treat

Snowball Cookies (makes about two dozen)
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, at room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350. With an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add 1/4 cup powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat to combine. Mix in flour until just combined and then fold in pecans. From dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill about 30 minutes.  Combine the rest of the powdered sugar and cinnamon into a large ziplock bag. Remove the dough from the fridge, and working with 2 tsp full sized pieces at a time, gently roll the cookies into balls. Place on cookie sheet, bake 16-18 minutes until chalky on the top and golden on the bottom.  Cool for about 5 minutes, then toss, a few at a time, in the bag with the powdered sugar mixture.  Coat completely. Store in an airtight container sprinkled with a bit more powdered sugar.

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WRITTEN ON December 3rd, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Uncategorized

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are undoubtedly my favorite time of the year. Sadly, I’ve felt some trepidation about the holidays this year, as this same time last year I was pregnant and buying little baby ornaments for our tree. Any of my loyal readers know how that worked out, four days before Christmas no less. So I’ve been hesitant, even scared, to unpack our decorations, knowing what was packed away with them: little glass baby bottle ornaments, and a sliver framed picture of our first ultra-sound.  It was as if I had allowed these things to haunt our own house, terrified of seeing them again.

A week before Thanksgiving, I’d had enough. I put on my favorite new girl-power song, Little Miss, by Sugarland (check it out – you will never be the same,) mustered up some courage, and headed up to the attic to dig out and discard the last vestiges of a nightmare. I wasn’t going to let mere objects scare me away from my favorite time of year in our new home. Full of purpose I walked them, ultrasound image included, out to the trash. I have enough memories of that time.  I don’t need physical reminders. It felt oddly freeing to finally just let it go.  Onward and upward, and ready for Santa.

Last Saturday, about a week after my mental “cleanse,” we attended the first ever Huntington Christmas Parade. Since we live in the village of Huntington, we invited a few friends to stop by for some impromptu holiday cheer and park their cars in front of our house, so as to avoid the mayhem that would surely ensue in town once the festivities picked up. We ended up with several of my favorite kids, even more of my favorite adults, and two vats of hot chocolate: one kid friendly and one categorically not. We poured the sweet molten goodness into to-go cups and walked en masse, bellies stuffed with cocktail franks (or teeny wienies, as I like to call them), into town to line the streets.

Bundled against the cold, drinking in our very strong Hot Choc-tails, we waited excitedly for Santa to roll into town on his sleigh and officially light the town Christmas tree, declaring it time to deck the halls and make merry.  Local firefighters had decorated their engines to the nines, and walked alongside to hand out candy canes to onlooking kids, big and small. And, look, the Hess truck’s here! We all cheered as the Girl Scouts marched past with their banner. Floats carrying local bands playing Christmas songs kept everyone in tune. Every lamp post in town was adorned with a lighted wreath.

Finally, finally!  Here comes Santa Claus, ho ho ho-ing into town on a sleigh pulled by a huge local firetruck. We followed Old St. Nick to the center of town to see the Mayor light the tree (ok, maybe we just missed that part), toasty in our hats and coats and warmed from within by sweetened brandy and good cheer. It was the perfect way to ring in the season, a night filled with laughter and love and a strong sense of place.  I grinned from ear to ear as I felt my roots growing deeper into this sandy-soiled earth.

Cheers!

Grown Up Hot Chocolate (makes 6-8 servings)
6 cups whole milk
10 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup brewed coffee
1 cup brandy
1/2 cup Kahlua
In a medium sized saucepan, warm the milk. Melt the chocolate chips into milk, the add coffee and liqueurs. Do not boil.  Serve hot and do not drive!

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WRITTEN ON November 30th, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Dinner, Holiday, Italian, Leftovers, Pasta, Turkey

Our Thanksgiving was everything I’d hoped it would be. A house full of family, an adorable and well behaved baby girl, a long morning walk, a gorgeous table (she said as she pats herself on the back), and heaps of good food.  We had roast turkey and deep fried turkey. It rained, so we had to deep fry in the garage, which didn’t stop us from drinking Long Trails and gazing into a vat of hot oil, fingers crossed and fire extinguishers at the ready. We gorged on fluffy mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing, buttered green beans, almond topped sweet potatoes, my jack’n’cran sauce, soft rolls, and my family’s Maryland-style tradition, tangy saurkraut baked with onions and apples. All smothered in my favorite part of the meal, a rich gravy laced with white wine. Everyone contributed, and by the time the pies and magic bars were served with coffee, we were content, sleepy, and not all that focused on the Jets game (though I heard they won.)

Friday dawned crisp and cold, and I couldn’t wait for everyone to get the hell out and give me my house back.  Ooops.  Sorry family.  Love ya!

My turkey sized secret? I’ve never been big on leftovers. Especially when I’m the one who has cooked the meal in the first place. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, there are two things I avoid at all costs: malls and turkey.  I steered clear of the fridge all day, craving nachos, pizza, sushi, in that order. Over the weekend we did a lot of drinking and laughing and holiday-partying, but very little eating.  So it wasn’t till Sunday night that I made one of the few dishes I actually do crave post-tryptophan coma: turkey tetrazzini.

This dish is a total throwback.  As I put it together, I felt like I should be wearing pumps and a frilly apron.  My mom (who never wore either of those things) made this every year, would sometimes freeze it and pull it out on a cold night in February when we weren’t thoroughly sick of turkey. Don’t be deterred by it’s kitschy quality.  While I’m sure there are lots of terrifying versions of this dish out there involving cans of cream of mushroom soup, my mom’s recipe is as homemade as it gets. It’s wine-y and creamy (though we substitute fat free half and half with surprisingly delicious results) and just elegant enough to make you forget the fact that you’ve been picking at this same bird for days.

So for those of you who are still plowing through your leftovers, try this one on for size.  While it bakes in the oven, you could finish ironing all those fancy linen napkins you won’t use again till this time next year.

Talkin' turkey

Turkey Tetrazzini (serves 4)
2-3 cups leftover turkey, shredded
3 cups leftover turkey stock (or low sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup white wine
1 small onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 cup cream (or fat free half and half)
1/2 cup fresh grated parm
1/2 cup shredded part skim mozzarella
1/2 lb vermicelli or other thin pasta noodle, cooked
10 cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Steam onions and celery in 1 cup well seasons stock until they are soft. In sauce pan, melt 3 tbsp butter.  Do not let it brown.  Stir in 3 tbsp flour to make a roux. Cook about 1 minute, stirring.  Slowly add 2 cups turkey stock, whisking or stirring continuously to avoid lumps.  Add1/3 cup white wine, bring mixture to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer, season with salt and pepper. Add cream, stir to combine but do not boil.  Remove sauce from heat. In a large 9×13 baking dish, spread vermicelli. Sprinkle with half the parmesan cheese. Arrange cooked celery, onions, turkey and mushrooms over top of vermicelli.  Pour sauce over vermicelli and sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake 30-45 minute until cheese is golden and bubbly. Let sit about 10 minutes before serving, in squares, like lasagna.

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WRITTEN ON November 25th, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Baking, Dessert, Holiday

I actually started to well up a bit as I typed out the title of this post.  I know some recent admissions of mine may make it seem as though I’m in a constant struggle.  And I fear some of my more fertility based rants may have been misconstrued, or perhaps poorly communicated.

There are a lot of things that have happened in my life over the past twelve months that have made this year challenging.  Indeed, the most challenging year I’ve ever faced. I’ll not recap. But whenever I write about them, I try to sincerely balance the negative with the overwhelming positive that’s always present. Sometimes I worry that that part gets lost in the more melodramatic aspects of certain posts; make no mistake that I count myself among the luckiest of people.

My parents arrived two days ago from Baltimore.  They made the trek to Huntington to share our first holiday in the house, and this will be the first Thanksgiving in four years that we’ve spent together.

My mother-in-law joined us yesterday, and this morning we all await the arrival of my brother-in-law and his wife, and their new baby, my niece Lily. That we get to spend the holiday together, as a blended family, marking the first in our new home and the first in Lily’s life, makes me feel spoiled in a singularly guilt-free way. I couldn’t ask for more.

I also get to be at the helm of the cooking.  Some people would prefer to play in traffic. Not me.  What better way to show your family you love them? Making sure everyone has their favorite side dish, or dessert.  Planning breakfasts and snacks that I know they’ll like. The act of feeding people has always been my way of showing love, and this year is no different.

There are so many little things in my life that I continue to be thankful for, now more than ever.  Good books (and a new book club to share them with).  An earthy Pinot Noir in a glass that could only be described as over-sized. Unexpected dinners out with my husband. The new Harry Potter film.  The first annual Huntington holiday parade and tree lighting on Saturday. A Ravens win, the Glee Christmas album.  The discovery (albeit late) of Entourage. A really good landscaper who did a fall clean up on our house so that I no longer have to rake leaves. Patient and loyal blog readers. The below pumpkin pie recipe, which I cannot claim as my own but feel duty bound to share with you (it’s just that good). I could go on for hours.

Obviously there are bigger things that I am grateful for. My health, my family, my friends. I often find that relishing the little things provides a direct mental pathway to the people and places I’m most thankful for. A delicious sausage, for example, takes me back to my easy childhood and makes me smile remembering the people who provided that for me. A funny picture taken on a Sunday Funday has me falling in love with my husband all over again. The little things are the link to the bigger picture, a trigger for happy memories and exciting times yet to come.

Most of all, I am thankful for Kevin.  Usually referred to around these parts as hubby, or the hubster, he is in every sense my better half. Nothing is perfect, and we fight just like other couples. But he remains the first person I want to see in the morning and the last person I want to see at night. He has kept me afloat, made me laugh, told me to get over myself more times than I can count. Over the past year I’ve realized that even if it’s just the two of us for the rest of our lives, I will feel luckier than 98% of the people on this Earth.  It’s an honor to be his wife and partner in crime, and this year, as always, I am most thankful for him.

Happy Thanksgiving from my house to yours, wherever that may be. I wish you good food, good wine, good football, and mostly, good company.

Caramel goodness

Caramel Pumpkin Pie from epicurious.com (click here)

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WRITTEN ON November 23rd, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Breakfast, Holiday, Pork

I’ve been getting pretty fired up about our first holiday season in our new neighborhood. Starting today, we’ll have a houseful of family for my favorite all-American holiday. Beside the fact that Thanksgiving is a holiday based solely on food, love of country, and giving thanks, it’s also the official start of the holidays. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a rather nostalgic and sentimental person, and remembering what makes holidays special always has me searching my past.

I had a pretty idyllic childhood. Parents who were involved and loving, friends who made me laugh, and a community built around neighborly concern and conservation of a certain way of life.  One neighbor, in particular, stands out above the rest as a personal favorite.

Mrs. Long lived next door to us when I was growing up (in fact, she still lives there. My parents moved after I graduated from college). She was a friend of my grandmother’s, had lived in the same house for over thirty years, and had enjoyed some success as a local Baltimore caterer. She had a wicked sense of humor and blatantly played favorites, which was fine with me because I was her #1. She never called the cops or tattled on us if we had, ah, small get togethers when my parents were out of town (a shout out to my mother’s friend Madonna, who lived up the road and similarly never busted us, but would stand at the bottom of the front steps and discreetly let us know that she was home should we need her).  In the summer, Mrs. Long would dole out scoops of ice cream in sugar cones from her ice cream freezer in the garage. Whenever she had leftover shrimp from a party she’d send a small portion over for my cats, Purr and Zeus, though she always claimed she hated felines.  On Halloween she’d have special bags of goodies set  aside for the neighborhood kids, and at Christmas she had a huge train set that ran underneath her tree, and a table heaped with good food.

These sausages were a particular favorite of mine. They hit all the right holiday flavor notes: citrus, rum, cinnamon, maple, and they make the whole house smell like happiness. Mrs. Long used to serve them in a little crock with toothpicks, as an appetizer. I’ve done that on several occasions, but this year I’m serving them as an easy Thanksgiving breakfast treat. You can make them a day or two in advance and simply heat them up on the stove in the morning while you’re stuffing the bird.  Served along side a simple quick bread, they make a full and easy breakfast what requires little effort from the cook (which is a good thing, considering you’ll be elbow deep in giblets).

Last Christmas we paid a visit to our dear old friend and neighbor. The trains are now a thing of the past, but all of her other familiar holiday decorations were cheerfully hung with care. My delight in finding these sausages among the other treats was simple: in a world that moves more quickly every day, there are moments that make you slow down and remember to enjoy the little things.  That’s what my holiday season is going to be about this year, and I can’t wait for it to get started.

Golden delicious

Maple Rum Sausages (makes 20)
10 fresh breakfast sausage links, cut in half
1/4 cup brown rum (such as Mt. Gay)
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
Juice of two oranges
Zest of 1 orange
In a medium sized saute pan, brown sausage links well on all sides. Remove from pan, blot with paper towels. In a small sauce pan, pour rum.  Bring to a boil (boiling will remove the alcohol, so these are perfectly safe for kids and non-drinkers). Turn down to a simmer, add remaining ingredients. Add sausage links, simmer about ten minutes until sausages are nicely glazed and cooked through. Can be made two days in advance and reheated in saucepan on stove. Remove cinnamon stick before serving.

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WRITTEN ON November 22nd, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Dinner, Potato, Tomatoes

When I was a sophomore in college, I had to get my tonsils and adenoids removed. At the same time, I also had holes poked into my sinus pockets so they would drain more efficiently. All of this happened over Christmas break, and though the doctor said it would be only about 3-4 days until I was good as new, it took a full two weeks to be able to eat truly solid food (though I will say it was the best diet ever.  Lost like 10 pounds and was too thin for all my new Christmas clothes.  Hmm…maybe I should look into getting it done again.)

I was completely spoiled by my mother, who made me scrambled eggs and chicken broth pretty much day and night for a week. When, finally, I thought I might be able to handle something more substantial, she made meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  I took one swallow of the meatloaf and started crying at the table.  It was that painful (or I was that much of a wimp). Unbelievably, that was my very first taste of meatloaf.

I’ve kind of stayed away from it since then.  I hadn’t had it for the first 19 years of my life.  It brought me to tears the first time I tried it.  What, really, was I missing? I had meatloaf trauma in a major way. I felt like Randy from A Christmas Story.

But it turns out that I married a man who loves meatloaf (and meatballs and burgers and crumbled sausage and meat sauce), and I couldn’t keep up with the “honey I have a meatloaf headache” avoidance any longer. So I gave it a shot.

I served it with oven fries, which were so delicious I might never go back to regular when I’m cooking at home. We ate in front of the fire and watched football and felt thoroughly American.

I used bison meat (yes, I went to Bucknell.  Yes, I am aware that our mascot is the Bison.  Yes, I think it’s weird that I was basically eating my mascot), lowfat milk, and lots of fresh onion and garlic.  I chopped fresh tomatoes for the sauce, and used dried herbs de Provenance. I pretty much gave meatloaf a makeover.  And man did it look (and taste) good.

Loaf 'n' Fries

Bison Meatloaf and Oven Fries (serves 4)
For Meatloaf:
1 lb lean bison (buffalo) meat
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup lowfat milk
2 tbsp ketchup
1 egg, beaten
2 sprigs fresh thyme, picked and chopped
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
For sauce:
1 can tomato paste
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 tsp honey
2 dashes Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp dried herbs de Provence
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine ingredients for meatloaf well. On a small cookie sheet, form into a loaf shape, place in middle rack in oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan. Heat until smooth and silky. After 20 minutes in oven, remove loaf, smother with sauce. Bake another 30 minutes. Rest about 15 minutes before serving.

For the Oven Fries:
3 Russet potatoes, cleaned and dried
3 springs of thyme, picked and chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut potatoes, skins on, into 1/2 inch wide strips. Toss in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Turn out onto a large cookie sheet.  Potatoes should be in one layer. Bake on rack below meatloaf for about 30 minutes, turning twice with spatula.  When meatloaf is resting, finish baking potatoes on middle rack until golden brown and crispy, about 15 minutes.

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