Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Healthier Take on Cornbread...and rambling on Thanksgiving

Cornbread muffins

I didn't grow up eating cornbread; soda and wheaten bread were my staples but when in Rome and all that. My first impression of cornbread was that it was distinctly dry and honestly a bit tasteless. However, I have come to enjoy it with some changes. I particularly think it makes a delicious stuffing.

A few years ago I tried a great version by Giada Di Laurentis.  She added cheese, garlic, fresh corn kernels and sundried tomatoes to a basic boxed cornbread mix. It was delicious, especially with chili and much more moist than my previous experience; I was a cornbread convert.

This Thanksgiving I need cornbread for 2 purposes; one for the stuffing and I also am on cornbread muffin duty for my daughters school Thanksgiving Feast. So, inspired by Giada's idea, I added fresh corn to a basic but healthier cornbread recipe and hey presto; I thought the sundried tomatoes might not go over so well with the 3 year old crowd.

The basic cornbread recipe is from Eating Well Magazine; which substitutes the usual high butter content with more buttermilk and just a little canola oil. In fact, I used light olive oil as I was all out of Canola. No harm done!

A Healthier Cornbread
based on an Eating Well Recipe


1 1/4 cups yellow stone ground cornmeal
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola or light olive oil
1 cup of thawed, frozen corn (or fresh)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F
  2. Grease or butter a 8 " square pan, a 12 count muffin pan or 24 mini muffins (as in the picture)
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  4. In a large bowl whisk together the egg, buttermilk and oil
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir until just combined 
  6. Finally add the corn and stir gently until just mixed through.
  7. Pour into the pan or into muffin cups.
  8. Bake for approx 25 minutes (square pan), less for the muffins; approx 15 mins for the mini muffins and 18 for the regular muffins. They will be done when a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cornbread in the pan. For the muffins, remove them from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool.
  10. Like all muffins and quick breads, these will freeze nicely. I recommend triple wrapping in cling film before doing so.
A note on the recipe:
You can easily double this recipe and bake in a 9x13" pan. 

I plan on using my cornbread for the following stuffing recipe

I am churning the pumpkin ice cream as I write, thanks to David Lebovitz.

Brownie Pie was made and frozen last night thanks to Rachel Ray; sorry can't find a link to it but it's in the November magazine.

Finally, I plan to brine my turkey tomorrow night using the following recipe. I'm changing it up this year as I usually use this recipe, which is a total winner, if you're looking for inspiration.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! Time for me to be thankful for great food, family, friends and health!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Prep...and Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Chutney

After much deliberation (understatement of the century) I have finally decided on our Thanksgiving menu. I have pored through cooking Light, Eating Well magazines, Nigella Feast, Baked (both books) to name but a few. As you'll remember,  I'm Irish so I don't feel so tied to the usual traditions. Therein lies the problem; apart from turkey, I feel we can go in any direction with the food. My only fixed point is for the vegetables to be seasonal. So this morning, off we went to the Farmers Market to scoop up whatever looked best. I'm home with a purple cauliflower, butternut squash, brussels sprouts, parsnips, sweet potatoes, pears and apples. That helped me finalize the menu.

Here goes:

Thanksgiving menu


Pumpkin cheddar muffins


Green goddess dip
Artichoke dip
Trader Joe's Store bought appetizers (my one concession)

The Main Deal

Maple Cider Brined Turkey
Cranberry Pear and Ginger Chutney
Cornbread stuffing
Purple Cauliflower sauteed in olive oil and garlic
Parsnip Gratin
Pureed Sweet Potato with smoked paprika


Chocolate Brownie Pie
Pumpkin Ice Cream
Rustic Apple Pie

Random snack (who doesn't need one of those tucked in the cupboard?)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

What did I miss? The cocktail of course, but that can wait for a couple of days to be finalized.

Last year I noisily proclaimed I was going to take shortcuts via Trader Joe's ready made choices. People who know me might find that ironic; even on a busy week night, it pains me to put a store bought meal in front of my family; so why Thanksgiving of all times?!

The truth is the greatest holiday excitement of my year is Christmas. I have incredibly happy memories of Christmas as a child. Unsurprisingly, most of the fun for me was food, not gift related. I love to recreate some of that for my children but a couple of years ago, after going all out for both holidays, I really did not enjoy my Christmas dinner.

Time to rethink the plan;  I decided to take a very simple approach to Thanksgiving going forward. It worked out for us last year; I used Trader Joe's Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Pumpkin pie and appetizers. It made for a very relaxing Thanksgiving Day. However this year I just can't bring myself to go the store bought route. So, make ahead is my strategy this year, plus I have assigned an appetizer to my husbands cousin who will be coming with her friend.

Today I made the Cornbread for the stuffing and the Cranberry Chutney. Tomorrow the Pumpkin Ice Cream is on my radar. The Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf is already made and in the Freezer. The plan is coming together! I'll share as much as I can.

Cranberry Pear and Ginger Chutney
based on a Epicurious recipe


2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated fresh ginger (peeled first, I freeze mine in a ziplock bag and find it so much easier to grate when frozen)
2 1/2 lemon zest (finely grated)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large firm pears, peeled cored and chopped into small pieces


  1. Combine the vinegar, onions, ginger, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, pepper flakes and cloves in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil
  2. Simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce by about half
  3. Add the cranberries, sugar and pears and stir until the sugar dissolves
  4. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until the pear is tender and the flavors have combined.
  5. Store in the fridge for 3 days, or freeze until needed and thaw at room temperature.
This would be a great idea to can but that's not in my skill set...yet, so I always freeze. It works out just fine. I always make extra so we can have it at both holidays (when I'm not get TJ's help) and we like it with crackers and cheese also...


Monday, November 14, 2011

Aromatic Butternut Squash Stew

Aromatic Butternut Squash Stew
I am continuing my love affair with the humble squash and here's my latest offering. This is a very versatile stew; you could switch in any number of other vegetables (but stick with the squash, please) and it will still taste great because of the combination of spices. I used the newest ingredient to my pantry; Saigon Cinnamon. I was keen to try it out in something, but you could absolutely replace this with regular cinnamon.

The recipe I used as a base was vegetarian but I added a little chicken sausage for an extra bite. Honestly, the meat is really not necessary to make this recipe a success; just use what you have and go for it! I do think this would make a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It fits my criteria for a restful Thanksgiving; you can make it ahead and simply warm it up. Like many a stew, the flavors even improve over a day or two.

Just one caveat; the photo above was taken after simmering 20 minutes longer that I would have liked. Hey, it was the witching hour in this house and I forgot to turn the stove off after a final taste. I have to say, that although the squash was a little mushier than I might choose, the stew was still utterly delicious. A very forgiving recipe.

Aromatic Butternut Squash Stew
loosely based on a food network kitchens recipe


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 fully cooked chicken sausages, cut lengthwise and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes (whatever you have on hand)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saigon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium butternut squash , peeled and cut into approx1-inch cubes
  • 1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed ( I used cannellini beans but chickpeas would be better)
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • the zest of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cups of frozen corn, thawed
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a small handful of breadcrumbs (optional according to how you like your stew consistency)
  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add cook the onions on medium heat for about 10 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and sausage and cook a further 3-4 minutes
  3. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, coriander, cumin and red pepper flakes and cook a further 3-4 minutes
  4. Add the broth, squash, chickpeas, zest and raisins and simmer with the lid half on, for approx 20 minutes or until the squash is tender but still has a bite. 
  5. Finally add the corn and lime juice and warm through.
  6. Add a sprinkling of breadcrumbs if the stew seems a little watery (optional)
  7. This is delicious served with couscous but, as always with a stew, crusty bread would be a winner too.
A note on the recipe:
Vegetable switch-ins which would work nicely include; fresh spinach, shelled edamame or peas. 


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bread Bread and more Bread

Ahh....fresh bread
Be forewarned; this post has no recipes but, since I have been rather obsessed of late with the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day , I felt I needed to write something up to justify my slow output! At the end of the summer, a good friend of mine, whose cooking and baking skills I greatly admire, introduced me to the concept of Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. So I promptly checked the first book out of the library and had a go. I was hooked! Their basic white rustic loaf is amazing! My kids and their friends just could not get enough.

But, I do regard this bread as a treat; it's ingredient list boasts not even a hint of my other obsession; wholegrains. Hence, next on my list was their 2nd book; Healthy Bread in 5 minutes a day; if I was going to continue the bread habit, better make it healthy. So I tried their Wholegrain Master Recipe . Again delicious and very popular with my kids too.

These breads are truly are very easy and quick to rustle up, but there are a number of detailed steps that should not be rehashed by me, for fear of missing an important point. Example below; I forgot to cross the top with my knife before putting the bread in the oven and this is what happened:

a rather bizarre shaped loaf (still tasted good though!)
Instead I would strongly encourage you to get a hold of one of the books and give the concept a try. I recommend reading the first section in the book thoroughly and do follow each detailed step meticulously for each recipe. It won't take you long to do so, but the authors' attention to detail in their recipes, really pays off with a beautiful rustic loaf.

If you're hungry for a little more information now though, in a nutshell, here's how it works. Mix together a batch of the bread dough in 5 minutes flat (yes, really). No kneading is required, very few ingredients and only 1 bowl or tupperware. The dough rises in a large tupperware on the counter for about 2 hours. Then you place the tupperware containing the dough in the fridge until you feel like some fresh bread. When you get the urge, take the dough out of the fridge and using scissors, snip off a grapefruit sized piece. Shape it into a round (again no kneading) , leave it to rest again then, bake in a super hot oven. What could be easier??? Honestly, not a lot.

I probably should add that this is my first time using yeast as a rising agent; I'm Irish for goodness sake! We use baking soda and buttermilk! Anyway, for whatever reason, I was somewhat intimidated by yeast, but I'm so glad I gave it a go. It's very satisfying to have this dough in your fridge knowing fresh bread is just a notion away. They have amazing ideas for add ins, shapes and sizes to make all manner of bready baked good.

This one even has my beloved butternut squash baked in

And if the bread gets a chance to go stale...whip up a little panzanella or crostini

Have a go!