Oklahoma Thanksgiving

Perfect first plate at Thanksgiving

I know everyone is probably tired of Thanksgiving recaps and ready to move on to healthy soups and light fare before Christmas baking catches up and becomes an all-consuming passion, but bear with me, because our thanksgiving was pretty awesome this year.  Above, you’ll note the dressing, turkey, mashed potatoes, and peas, but the cheesy-looking casserole is probably foreign to most of you. In fact, I’ll be shocked if any reader has heard of it or eaten it before. This is the coveted spinach-artichoke casserole that we eat once a year. We fight bitterly over who ate how much and who got the last bite. This stuff is amazing. Recipe in a bit. But first, a photo essay of sorts.

The impressive looking list

Surprisingly small amount of groceries (mom bought the turkey)

I helped shop this year after I successfully defended my English Masters exams at OU. That’s right, just call me Master Bear! (and thanks for being so patient with me, folks. I appreciate you). Anyway, I went shopping at the grocery store I worked at in high school. Does anyone else get that knee-jerk, “Omigod I’m going to see someone I know” kind of dread? No? Juts little anti-social me. Luckily, everyone was so crazy two days before Thanksgiving I avoided all awkward exchanges and went home to clean and make pie. My favorite TART apple pie will be featured in tomorrow’s post.

Mom's tasty pumpkin pie- perfect breakfast the day after!

We made everything on Thanksgiving day, which surprised me. If I was hosting Thanksgiving for 7, I would be a complete wreck and all the food would have been prepped two days in advance. Mom, on the other hand, is very philosophical about these things (and has way more experience doing Thanksgiving) and of course it all worked out the day of. We had a schedule of events on the fridge: pies in by 9:30, pies out by 11, turkey in at 11, turkey out at 1, veggies in at 1. As we went cooked, I realized many of the recipes have a heritage. We made Grandma’s stuffing and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, Mary Sheldon’s candied sweet potatoes, and the Sutton’s artichoke casserole. Although none of these women or families were present for our big day, it was really special to have their recipes on our table– food traditions are pretty much awesome.

The recipe: click to enlarge

Assembling pats of squeezed cooked spinach over marinated artichoke hearts

Browned on top and bubbly from the oven

The image of the recipe is above. I know it’s unconventional, but it’s certainly faster than typing it! leave comments if you have questions. Spinach artichoke casserole has a nice acidic flavor and the Parmesan-cream cheese topping can’t be beat. It is decadent and different. I hope you’ll try it for a side sometime this month.

Grandma's cranberry, mandarin orange, and apple jello

Best appetizer EVER!

We managed to fill up on a lot of vegetables this year. With the exception of the turkey and gravy, we had a fairly veggie-friendly meal. I was surprised by the giant vegetable platter one of the guests brought, but it was a great way to get some healthy food in before gorging ourselves on the big calorie items. Also, dessert this year was kind of epic for us. I know people do upwards of 10 desserts, but these 4 were overwhelmingly good.

pumpkin, apple, cherry, and a pumpkin roll

We had one of those peaceful family gatherings that everyone hopes for and only gets occasionally. It was amazing to spend Thanksgiving with family again, something I probably haven’t done in two years. While there was some snarking about who ate how much of certain items, I believe we all felt thankful for the day and the time together. Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving was great too! And maybe next year bring some spinach artichoke casserole. At least they’ll have something new to fight about.



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Autumn Pumpkin Mushroom Soup

Ingredients for pumpkin mushroom soup

It’s November in Houston and the weather is finally feeling autumnal. It’s slightly chilly at night and the days are sparkly and clear and the leaves are thinking about turning. (Neveryoumind that it’s still in the 80’s during the day and I have 4 tomatoes on my fall tomato plant). In honor of fall and all the Thanksgiving style cooking I keep seeing on other food blogs, I thought I’d try out something with pumpkin. What could be more fall-like than pumpkin and mushrooms? If you’re still holding onto summer, make some of this rich soup and feel the change!

Recommended cookbook

I dug out the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home for this one. A few years ago I was looking for a good vegetarian cookbook and I kept hearing about Moosewood. Apparently it’s a small empire with more than ten titles, but this book is supposed to be the original and the best. I adapted my recipe from their “Pumpkin and Porcini Soup” which is thicker (no food processor and less broth in theirs) and completely vegetarian. My recipe could easily be made vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth for the beef broth.

Rich and warming


1/2-1 Cup broken pieces of dried porcini or shitake mushrooms soaking in 2 cups boiling water

2 medium onions, minced

2 tablespoons butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms (I use baby bella)

4 cups or 29 oz. baked and pureed or canned pumpkin

3-4 cups beef broth or vegetable broth

1/4 cooking sherry or Marsala wine

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Spices: 1 tsp thyme, 1.5 tbls sage, generous dash nutmeg, pepper to taste

stewed onions and mushrooms


1. Soak the dried mushrooms while you cook. Be sure to SAVE their liquid for the soup.

2. Melt butter and saute onions and garlic for about 10 minutes until very soft.

3. Add in mushrooms, thyme, and sage. Saute mushrooms until soft, about 7 minutes.

4. Stir in nutmeg, sherry or Marsala, and soy sauce. Add in 1-1.5 cup beef broth and allow to simmer about 5 minutes.

5. Allow to cool on back of stove while draining the soaked mushrooms. Make choices about how much of the soup you want chunky and how much you want smooth. I reserved half the soaked mushrooms and added them AFTER food processing.

Pumpkin mushroom chowder

6. Ladle mushroom and onion stew into the food processor. You don’t need a ton of liquid. Add in spoonfuls of canned pumpkin, about half. Process to desired consistency.

7. Pour the processed chowder into a LARGE pot. Add in the rest of the pumpkin, any left over stew, the reserved soaked mushrooms, the mushroom soaking liquid, and at least two cups of the beef broth. You may like your soup thinner or thicker– so use as much broth as you want– but don’t leave out the mushroom liquor! Moosewood also suggests adding a cup of milk at this point so you could do that too.

8. Heat and stir until incorporated. Taste for salt, pepper, etc. Serve with crusty bread.

Perfect warm and rich soup

This is a really flavorful, rich soup. I’m not going to lie, it tastes a little like kicking fall leaves around on a sidewalk and throwing a scarf around your neck. It’s also fairly guilt free and can easily be made vegetarian. What are you cooking that makes you feel like it’s officially fall?


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Pork Chops with Whole Grain Mustard Sauce

Chops with fresh green beans

My exams start on Tuesday and I need comfort food. I need warm, friendly, delicious and uncomplicated meals because I am in a dark, scary place my friends. But not to worry. I eagerly await the freedom Friday, Nov. 5th and the joy of being done with all this hard work. And in the meantime, I’ve had mustard pork chops. Remember the awesomely comforting and filling chops I ate at Max and Julie’s during Houston Restaurant week? I got a craving for them last week but wanted to make something less expensive at home.

whole grain dijon mustard makes it pretty

Epicurious had my solution: Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce.  I follow the recipe pretty closely except I use thinner chops, so they take less time to cook and I use way more cream and probably more broth than is entirely necessary. The sauce makes this dish sooooo goooood. Honestly, I am not a mustard person, but the flavor of the sauce is not sharp and the cream makes it very rich. And after the chops sit in the mustard in the fridge overnight, it might be even better. Eat this with green veggies– you’ll want to dip them in the leftover sauce. Can’t wait to start blogging for ya’ll again next week!


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Food Adventure: Dinner and Dessert in Houston


Inside Blue Nile Restaurant


Note: I’m not sure why there’s so much space in between pictures. Sorry.

I don’t have a lot of brain cells tonight, but I wanted to share this “only in Houston” experience eating out last night. Houston, as you know, is an international city and out meal was an international experience.  J. has been dying to try Ethiopian food ever since some co-workers described it to him a year ago. The allure of eating entire meal with sticky bread as the only utensil was tempting idea. I found Blue Nile while browsing online and we finally decided to go with our friend H.


Ethiopian honey wine





We went early so the restaurant was fairly empty. It’s located in a dilapidated strip mall (although the Columbian restaurant next door smells divine) but the interior is lovely. Someone put a lot of thought and time into decorating Blue Nile. It’s full of authentic baskets and pots and wall decorations. We started with a small jar of honey wine and some meat and lentil Sambusas.


Vegetarian platter on bread


Ethiopian food is indeed eaten with bread, but it’s more sponge-like than sticky. When the bread came out with the food at first we mistook it for towels– the texture and color are very unusual. But we took pieces of it and scooped up bites quite easily. The platter of vegetables and meat was colorful and interesting, so many spices and flavors! I liked the three types of green, red, and yellow lentils and the beef the best. The meal was very filling and we didn’t manage to finish it all, but we did take it home. J kept saying it was exactly what he wanted, something completely different from anything he had ever tried. H and I liked it, but it’s not food I want to eat every week, probably because I’m just not accustomed to those flavors– especially the slightly sourish taste of the bread.


Spongy bread


After dinner, we girls decided to get yogurt for dessert. There was some misunderstanding during the car ride about what kind of yogurt– “You guys want to get what? Really?” J was a little confused. But when we arrived at Yogurti Yo, he was all smiles.


Stoked about Yogurt


This place kind of rocks. It’s a self-serve bar that allows you to choose from 10 flavors of frozen yogurt, put the amount you want in a cup, and then choose your toppings of fruit, candy, cereal, etc. from a huge toppings bar. At the end, they weigh your yogurt and charge by the ounce.  It’s great! and the design is rather futuristic with flat screen TVs and white Ikea-like furniture.


J and H enjoying dessert



Tart yogurt with raspberry



Blueberry Acai (not so great) with gummi bears


We sat on the pretty white couch with our colorful desserts and watched Disney TV for about 10 minutes. It was like brain-melt heaven (or maybe that was just my interpretation since exams are so pressing).  Thank goodness for lovely evenings like this with good friends. I can’t wait for another food adventure!


Yogurt bar


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Little Green Things

Warning: This is a short, pretty pictures post. Click on photos to enlarge and see the beauty of the close-up.

Fresh Garbanzo Beans

I found some little green things at the supermarket this week… I’m not sure what to do with them. Fresh garbanzo beans are supposed to be good pan-roasted and eaten with salt like edamame or boiled for 3 minutes and served in a salad. I just keep peeling and eating them. They taste like grass and springtime and… like edamame, really.

Piquin/Pequin Peppers

These are supposed to be little and mighty– some of the hottest peppers on the ol’ Scoville scale. Ranked at 40,000 – 58,000, they’re well above serrano and cayenne peppers. The only recipe I’ve seen so far is peppered vinegar. Aren’t they so pretty? They’re from Mexico and I imagine make excellent hot sauce.

Garbanzo bean outside the pod

I’d like to note that these two little green things shouldn’t be in the supermarket at the same time. Garbanzos are a spring bean and piquins are fall peppers. Hmm. I blame a combination of the gorgeous Houston fall weather and my own recent nuttiness for this shift in my produce universe. I will cook with these ingredients, study for exams, and hopefully by the end of the weekend all will be right with the world. If you have any ideas about what to do with these, give me a shout. The searches of my usual haunts haven’t turned up anything inspiring.


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Awesome Chicken Tortilla Soup

Comforting and delicious

I wasn’t going to post again for a while because of exams and studying and freaking out, but 60 visitors in two days requires a follow-up post. You really like me! Or are at least curious. In any case, thanks for stopping by. So it’s the end of Hatch chile season in Houston and we tried to make the best of it this year while the chiles were plentiful. (Have you heard about this foodie craze? Hatch chiles have been all the rage for a few years because they’re hard to locate outside of Texas and are only available for a short time. Luckily, supermarkets in Cy-Fair had them and shoppers didn’t know what they are). I made a sauce (not great, but okay), we roasted the chiles with varying degrees of success in our broiler, we stuffed cheese grit inside them, I made awesome stuffing with them, and we added them to chicken tortilla soup. I got this soup recipe from Central Market as well– it was one of the only places online that had a large cache of recipes featuring the much-lauded peppers.

Hatch chiles make this soup sooooo goooood!

Chicken tortilla soup is something of a sacred cow in this area of the country and this recipe holds it’s own. But in order to bulk it up– it only calls for chicken, tomatoes, and onion as it’s main ingredients–I added sliced zuchini and yellow squash. ( I also boil the chicken in the stock until cooked, shred it, then add in everything else).  The first time we made this I was floored by how much it tasted JUST like the tortilla soup I ate in Santa Fe at a place called Tortilla Flats. Their recipe is almost exactly the same: “We start with a seasoned savory Chicken Stock, add Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Corn, Green Onion, Green Chile then topped with Corn Tortilla strips and melted Cheese.” I left out the corn, but it’s pretty much the same thing. How cool to stumble across the taste of something I encountered once three years ago!  You could probably use other kinds of chiles for this recipe– jalapenos or poblanos– but these folks sell them frozen and fresh, so it might be worth hunting a little. Foodie trends aren’t always so rewarding, but I’m glad we participated in the Hatch Chile buzz. It’s been worth it!

Hatch and jalapeno haul from HEB

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Homemade: Acorn Squash with Cornbread, Sausage and Apple Stuffing

Stuffed Acorn Squash

I know I said I’m working on exams, and I am, but I couldn’t help it, I just had to share this awesome dinner with everyone! There’s finally a touch of autumn in the Houston smog-air and we’ve been enjoying it by jogging in the cool mornings and taking lots of walks with the dog. I can even sit on the patio with a book without fear of being carried off by mosquitoes! As you may have noticed, squash of all kinds are available at the supermarkets this month: acorn, butternut, “decorative,” and pumpkin, to name a few  (although how anyone keeps a jack-o-lantern from rotting for an entire month is beyond me. Ya’ll make your jack-o-lanterns on October 25ish, right?) I’ve been on an eat more veggies kick, so I grabbed up some acorn and butternut squash during my last shopping trek. I already have a good recipe for butternut, but haven’t made acorn before. Apparently it’s perfectly good with cheese and butter, maple syrup and brown sugar, baked or microwaved– but I was interested in recipes that called for baking apples in the middle of them.

Sausage and cornbread stuffing-- this is going to change thanksgiving forever!

I was going to make something with apples, maple syrup, and brown sugar, but then today I found recipes where people were stuffing acorn squash with sausage and I couldn’t resist. I ended up cobbling together a stuffing out of 1 batch fresh cornbread, chopped and sauteed 1/2 an onion,1.5  apples and 1 hatch chile pepper (seeds removed), and 3 hot Italian sausages, casing removed, and cooked. I flavored the stuffing with 1/2 a cup of chicken stock, some sage, and some pepper. The idea for this recipe originally came from a recipe by Central Market for Hatch chile pepper stuffing— which is phenomenal. I baked the stuffing at 350 for half an hour, covered.

Apples and Acorn Squash

Acorn squash are a breeze, as are all squash. Once you cut a squash open, (which can be a harrowing experience depending on the size of the squash and the size and sharpness of your chef’s knife) it’s easy to peel and dice or just put cut side down on an oiled baking sheet and bake until done. And one acorn squash makes dinner for two! I baked the cut halves for 20 minutes alone, then turned them over and filled with stuffing and baked them for another 20. This was a filling dinner– I didn’t finish all of mine. It would be easy to make the stuffing separately and then bake and assemble the squash with stuffing on a busy night. I hope you’ll go check out the fall produce and make something awesome soon!

Just scoop out the seeds and bake for 40 minutes-- squash are easy.


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