Monday, November 28, 2011

Random Images from Turkey Day (Before & After)

Just thought I'd share some photos from our Thanksgiving weekend while I gather thoughts for a more organized post later this week.

I hope that you enjoyed your time with family and friends as much as we did here in Southern California. The sun was shining and we loved the 80 degree weekend with walks outside and stops for gelato and frozen yogurt. I'm thankful!

Prepping the turkey brine.

Turkey ready for the smoker!

Coffee break for the chef. ;o)

Fresh-baked pumpkin pie.

Sauteeing the wild (and crazy!) mushrooms.

Deviled eggs ready to be served on a silver platter.

Pretty turkey! Nom, nom.

Hey, there's a kitty in my Christmas tree!

Advent has begun. May the Hope of the season fill your hearts and home!

I'll be back soon with a full-on cookin' with whatcha got kind of post.

Monday, November 21, 2011

We're Hosting Thanksgiving!

I think I finally feel like a grown-up. We have a house now and we are able to host our family Thanksgiving dinner. On Thanksgiving Day. Last year we had an "early Thanksgiving," but this's the real deal.

Mom and Sister and Nieces and Aunts and Uncle are rolling into our neighborhood this week and well, chances are, they will be rolling out! I'll post pics later, but here's a sneak peek of our menu:

Ringler Thanksgiving 2011

Deviled Eggs
Pike Place Smoked Salmon
Cheese & Olive Plate

Smoked (and brined) Turkey & Gravy
Butternut Squash Ravioli with a Butter Balsamic Sauce
Green Bean Casserole
Wild Mushroom & Leek (savory) Bread Pudding
Sweet Potato Casserole
Cranberry-Walnut Jello Salad

Homemade Apple Pie (from home-grown apples)
Homemade Pumpkin Pie (from fresh pumpkin)

I can hardly wait. Lord, am I thankful for food! What are you excited to eat on Thursday?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hot Pot At Home

Dumplings and soba noodles boiling in the pot!

The Fondue Pot: Hubby brought this small appliance from his bachelor life into our marriage. Ever since he made me cheese fondue for our first Valentine's Day, I have loved this fondue pot. It makes great meals...cheese fondue, chocolate fondue, and yes, even Chinese "hot pot."

When I was growing up we used to celebrate Chinese New Year at my grandparents' house and have hot pot for dinner, using butane camping stoves atop numerous card tables with metal folding chairs set up around them in their basement. Boiling pots of broth with plates full of raw meats and vegetables, all to be cooked up and fished out of the pot with small gold mesh strainers with long handles. Such fun and fond memories with family.

Now, a few times a year, we try to re-create the experience at our home, but most of the time, there aren't 30 other people in the room around card tables. It's usually just us two and our fondue pot.

I add chicken stock (homemade) to the pot with a splash of soy sauce and some diced green onions. Then I wash, cut and gather all the goodies:

This time I had baby bok choy and broccolini from my CSA box (upper left corner).

I buy pork and beef already sliced at the Asian market. You can also get ready-made fishballs or meatballs there. Then I wash and cut up any combination of baby bok choy, broccoli, and napa cabbage or lettuce. Cut up firm tofu into inch-sized cubes, and this time, I got some frozen dumplings and soba noodles to add to the mix.

Then you just set the table with sauces like soy, chili garlic paste, vinegar, hoisin, and/or whatever else you might have that's Asian in your condiment collection.

The rolling boil of the soup tells you it's ready to dump in the food - a little at a time, and when it's cooked, you fish it out with a strainer or a slotted spoon or tongs (you can see, I have no cute little strainers). Use little dishes to make a mix of condiments and then dip the cooked meat and veggies into the sauce and eat it up! You can serve it with rice or without. This makes a really fun dinner and a great way to use the fondue pot in a different way!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bugs On A Log

It was the afternoon on Sunday and we were ready for a snack. I had celery. What goes with celery?
Why, peanut butter, of course!

Back in 1st grade, my teacher, Ms. Nobusada, showed us how to make "bugs on a log." Some people call them "ants"...anyway, same idea.

Since that day, it's been one of my favorite snacks (although I'm often out of bugs, so it just ends up being peanut butter on celery sticks).

Well, I found some bugs (raisins) in the pantry, along with peanut butter...and I also remembered that I had some Laughing Cow cheese wedges in the fridge. Yum. And I threw some bugs on there too. Cheese goes with grapes, right? Yes, yes it does.

It turned out to be a great snack to tie us over until dinner. These things aren't just for 6-year olds. They can satisfy a grown-up's tummy just as well.

Don't forget all the things you learned in 1st grade. They could come in handy later in life!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Soup

It seems like kale is the latest "it" superfood. In the last year, it's as if someone in the culinary or nutrition world made it the most trendy thing to cook with. Or am I the only one who's noticed this?

I never knew what it was until a couple of years ago when someone made a kale salad for a church potluck. And it was really tasty and hearty! I thought, "Hey! This is what they used to use as filler in the dining commons salad bar to make it look pretty!" Yep, I worked in the dining commons back in college, and sure enough, they used kale as a garnish on the salad attempt to make the bowls of sunflower seeds and thousand island dressing look more appealing to 18 year old freshmen. Who knew you could eat it too?

After eating that yummy salad at church, I started playing with it - especially now as it comes in my CSA box. It can be used like any other dark green - like spinach or chard. It works great in stews and soups.

I made a sausage and kale soup a couple of weeks ago. This soup was adapted from a Pioneer Woman recipe for sausage, potato, and kale soup. I swapped out the potatoes for Cannellini beans and used less dairy, but other than that it's pretty close. Mom was here last weekend and had some for lunch. She said she liked it. You might like it, too.

Here's the step-by-step:

Dice half an onion.

Add the onion to a big stock pot with 2 cloves of crushed garlic. I use Dorot frozen garlic. It comes in these perfect portioned cubes and are great if you tend to let fresh garlic go to waste (like me).

Saute the onions and garlic in 2 T of oil with a dash of salt until tender and translucent.

Cut up 3 links of fully cooked chicken sausage in half moons.

Add the sausage into the pot, with 1/4 tsp red chili flakes, and a bay leaf.

Add about 4-5 cups of chicken stock.

Drain and rinse a can of cannellini beans and add to the pot.

When the soup is boiling, add one bunch of kale leaves (washed, de-stemmed, and torn into bite-size pieces).

When the greens are wilted, add 1/4 cup half and half. This adds a little more love to the pot!

Let simmer for 15-20 minutes to let the flavors get acquainted in the pot.
And that's pretty much it! You can add salt and pepper to taste as well. And remove the bay leaf. Serve it warm with a side of crusty French bread or toasted pita triangles. It's hearty, healthy, and has a little kick from the pepper flakes. This meal makes the rainy days in L.A. a little more bearable. Oh, I'm so spoiled here. :)

What have you been making with kale?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Making Your Own Stock

I always cringe at how many food scraps I end up with after I trim my veggies. Soon, very soon, I hope to start composting. But until then, I've been trying to make the most out of the scraps.

My favorite way to use all the "unedible" parts of vegetables (stringy stalks, peels, etc) is to make homemade soup stock. It saves me money on buying canned stock or broth, and it uses meat bones and veggie scraps to their fullest.

If I have veggie scraps and no meat bones, I'll stick them in the freezer until I get some bones. And vice versa - if I have bones and no veggies, I'll put the bones in the freezer until all the goodies are there.
When I'm ready, and have a few hours at home, I'll make my pot of stock. First, I put in the veggies...

This time, I had carrot peels, broccoli stems, the core of a bunch of lettuce, and kale stems. Onion peels are great, as well as celery stalks and leaves. Then, I add a couple of bay leaves and peppercorns for extra flavor. I don't add salt because it's easier to cook with if you can salt it to taste later on, according to what you are making.

On top of that, add the meat carcass, if you are making a meat stock. I had frozen innards from 2 organic chickens that hubby smoked on the grill, as well as some of the bones and skin.

Cover it with water, and let it come to a boil on the stove. When it boils, turn the heat to simmer, and let it simmer with a lid on for at least one hour.

Strain the cooled stock to get rid of all the grit, bones, and veggie matter...and you'll have plenty of stock (a few quarts at least) for soups, stews, and other recipes that call for a little broth or stock! This time I also skimmed the fat off the top before storing it, using a ladel. You can freeze it in plastic containers for a long time, or store it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. I've seen some people freeze it in ice trays and then store them in ziplock bags after they are frozen in cubes. I hope you try this out if you've never done it before!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Ultimate Banana Cream Pie

A couple of months ago, we took a friend out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, Depot, right here in Old Town Torrance. The meal was excellent, as always. Chef Michael Shafer knows his stuff. And he definitely knows about banana cream pie.

We ordered it to share among the three of us that night, and this is what we got...

The thing was massive. It had a shortbread crust, filled with milk chocolate ganache, topped with heaps of cream bearing chunks of fresh banana, raspberries, toasted pecans, and a sprig of mint. Oh, and caramel dripping off the heap of cream onto the plate. Yep, that's what you're looking at. Heavenly.

After I indulged, I thought...I could make this. I really could.

And after I posted this bad boy on Facebook, I got a lot of 'likes'. I also told my Aunt Lucy that I'd make it for her someday. And that day came this week.

For her 60th birthday, my cousins and I threw her a party and I got to make her (one of the) dessert(s)! She's made at least 18 cakes for me, including birthdays and my wedding cake, so it was time to honor her with some sweet stuff. This is how I made it:

Cut up butter in chunks and place in a microwave safe container to melt it down to liquid,
Add the butter, flour, cornstarch, and sugar to a mixing bowl and mix until it all comes together,
Press dough into a tart pan or several individual ones, being careful to get it about 1/4 inch thick all around and bake it in the oven. 
Start your ganache on the stove top, pouring in 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 cups of chocolate,
Stir with a whisk until it gets smooth and glossy,
and pours thick, like this into the bottom of the tart shell.
Then whip the cream for the topping, adding powdered sugar to sweeten it slightly,
cut up the bananas in big chunks,
and start dishing up the cream,
add a layer of banana,
more cream, and raspberries,
and finally, the nuts and caramel syrup! 

The Ultimate Banana Cream Pie, inspired by the pie at Depot Restaurant
For the Crust:
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour
3/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup sugar

For the Ganache:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups chocolate (semi-sweet, milk, or dark, whatever you prefer)

For the Cream and Toppings:
1.5 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 medium-large bananas
1/2 pint raspberries
1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans
3-4 Tbsp caramel syrup (I used Smuckers Caramel Flavored Syrup)

Preheat oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, blend the melted butter, flour, cornstarch, and sugar until the dough comes together (about 1-2 minutes). Press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan for the scalloped edges (or several individual ones). A regular cake pan or glass dish would work too, but for presentation, I like the pretty decorative crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

In a saucepan, add 1 cup heavy cream and chocolate (chips or chopped up). Heat on low-medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture looks smooth and glossy. It should also be thick like syrup.

Once the shortbread crust is cooled, pour in the chocolate ganache, and let it set on the counter top. In the meantime, cut up the bananas into large chunks (1-1.5 inch pieces). Whip up the remaining heavy cream and powdered sugar with a mixer until fluffy peaks form.

When the ganache has set, spoon half the whipped cream on top, then add the bananas in one layer. Add the rest of the cream to cover all of the bananas to prevent browning. Then decorate with fresh raspberries, pecans, and caramel syrup. Share this dessert with friends and/or family! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fresh Pumpkin Puree & Roasted Seeds

I was surprised to find a cute little pumpkin in my CSA box last week. It was a Sugar Pie Pumpkin, the kind that you can cook with, so I was looking forward to trying something new. I decided to try making homemade puree, so that my pies this season could be made with real, organic pumpkin, instead of the canned stuff. I was pleased that it really wasn't too difficult and only took a little bit of time.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree, from Pioneer Woman
Use a Sugar Pie pumpkin.

Cut off the Stem.

Cut into quarters.

Clean out the seeds.

Roast in the oven at 350F for 45 minutes until tender, when a knife goes in easy.

Remove the flesh from the skin. Puree the flesh in a food processor or blender. 

Store in plastic freezer bags, measured in portions.

My one sugar pie pumpkin made about 6 cups of puree. I'm planning on using it for Thanksgiving pies and possibly more Grab 'n Go Cookies!

Of course, I wasn't going to waste the seeds! I'd never roasted my own seeds as an adult...I remember making them with my mom when I was little, but this was my first time cleaning seeds on my own - and wow, are they slimy and slippery!

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds, adapted from a recipe on

Clean the seeds by rinsing them in water and draining out the stringy pumpkin goop.

Dry with a tea towel.

Drizzle with oil (canola, olive, vegetable, etc). Season with salt and/or any other spices (I used salt, cumin, and a bit of cayenne pepper). Then toss them around a little to make sure everything is evenly coated. Roast at 300F for 35 minutes or until light brown and crispy. Store the cooled seeds in an airtight container. Snack when you get the munchies!