Salad and Giving Thanks

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This year I didn’t get the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner, which is fine. The typical American Thanksgiving meal is quite involved, especially if you’re trying to make everybody happy and satisfy their requests. You can spend days in the kitchen.

But what one misses out on is Thanksgiving leftovers. And I really missed them this year. Fabulous, hearty and delicious food that reheats well, and is perfect for winter weather.

So I was inspired to create a salad inspired by Thanksgiving dishes, even though I had no leftovers. No problem. Grilled turkey, sausage, rice, wild rice, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, and more.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for a Thanksgiving-inspired salad using your favorite Thanksgiving ingredients. Not all of them – that could get quite messy!

Use rice, barley, wild rice, or even quinoa. And then just have fun with the ingredients. Serve at room temperature with your choice of vinaigrette or citrus-based dressing. Here goes.

Salad for Giving Thanks

Combination of brown and wild rice, cooked
Mini Italian sausage balls, cooked
Cooked Brussels sprouts
Turkey tenderloin
Sliced celery
Toasted pecans
Dried cranberries
Vinaigrette of choice

Have a serving platter large enough for the number of eaters. Plan on large servings, because this salad is delicious and addicting!

Have your rice cooked, and make a layer with it on the platter.
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Add the sausage balls, followed by the Brussels sprouts.


I cooked a piece of turkey tenderloin in a skillet, seasoned only with garlic pepper. Many Americans use poultry seasoning. I browned the turkey on both sides, then put on a lid and cooked it until it was 155 in the thickest part.

Place the turkey on a cutting board and let it rest. I sliced the tenderloin, but you could cut it up as well.
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Add the turkey to the salad. Then add the celery, pecans, and dried cranberries.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature, topped with the vinaigrette.
an equal amount of sherry vinegar. I poured the mixture in a blender jar, added one clove of garlic, some salt, and about 2/3 cup of olive oil. Blend and go!

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note: I wouldn’t recommend using 100% wild rice, which is actually a grass and not legally rice. And because of that fact, too much of it creates a texture similar to alfalfa, which I can only imagine eating.

Easy Baked Brie

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I happen to love baked brie. I’ve discovered since joining the blogging world, however, that there are those who look down on it. Personally, I feel like these people are missing out. But, like with all food, taste is subjective, and no one need be forced to eat baked brie or anything else he or she doesn’t love, ever. Thankfully.

Personally, I don’t like celeriac. There might be a few other foods that I don’t love, but I can’t think of any right now. Not that I claim to love every food I’ve ever tried, it’s just that there unfortunately aren’t many I don’t like. And my ever-struggling waistline proves it.

But hopefully at some point in your life you’ve tried a baked brie – perhaps at a party. It might have been a fancy kind of baked brie, topped with a chutney, and then artistically wrapped in phyllo dough or puff pastry. When I catered, this is the sort of presentation I used because it’s impressive, and the brie is delicious as well.

My baked bries, of course, didn’t compare to something a pastry chef could whip up. The most artistic thing I could ever do with puff pastry, after wrapping and sealing the brie, was rolling the leftover dough strips to make assorted “rosettes.” I then “glommed” these together on top of the brie to make a bouquet of sorts. But even with the simplest presentation, a baked brie in pastry is a pretty thing.

And then, the pièce de resistance – you get to pierce the cheese rind, and the wonderfully warm, oozy brie pours out, along with the chutney, and you get to spread this mixture on bread. A baked brie is heavenly.

When I cook for my own family during the holidays, I sometimes don’t have the time to follow through on such preparations like a puff pastry-wrapped brie. But let’s face it. Sometimes it’s not about time at all, but their appreciation for the hours spent in the kitchen.

None of my family members read my blog, and so I can safely say, without recourse, that there’s not much appreciation for anything I do in the kitchen in my sole desire to feed and nourish them whilst they’re visiting. And make them all happy. Because, of course, that’s why we all cook, right?

They all tell me not to work so hard, but nobody has actually stopped me yet. Or tried helping me out. No one has ever suggested that we go get a bucket of fried chicken at a local drive-in.

But for my own sanity, and for the fact that I want my “kids” to keep coming home for the holidays, I do try to take the easy route occasionally. And thus, I give you a simple baked brie. Simple, yet just as delicious.

There are many options for baked brie, without the puff pastry. The bries are first warmed in the oven, and a topping is poured oven the top. You can use a cranberry-apple chutney with some toasted walnuts thrown in for good measure, or a cranberry orange compote, a sweet and nutty Foriana sauce, or just about anything that pairs with warm brie.

So here’s a simple baked brie recipe that I made over the holidays. I actually made it for my Christmas party; I just used my family as an excuse so I could complain about all the hard work I do for them.

This baked brie would be wonderful for Thanksgiving as well, or for any special presentation in the fall. The main flavors are maple and pecan, so you can just save this recipe until next October, and send me your thank yous then. Enjoy!

Maple-Pecan Baked Brie

1 – 2 pound wheel of brie, at room temperature
1/2 cup maple syrup (real maple syrup)
1 stick, or 4 ounces unsalted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of ground cayenne (optional)
Toasted pecans*

Unwrap the brie, and place it on a greased cookie sheet. The greasing helps insure that the brie can simply be slid on to the serving dish. If you use a spatula, you run the risk of prematurely piercing the brie, and you’ll have to start over.

This brie is made from pasteurized cows’ milk. It’s all I can get locally, and I try and support the woman who buys cheese for the grocery store in town. Without her, we’d have no good cheese at all. I probably wouldn’t serve this brie as is, but it was wonderful as a baked brie.

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Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium pot, combine the maple syrup and butter. Heat over medium heat until the butter dissolves. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes to reduce slightly and thicken. Then add the cinnamon, and cayenne, if using. Set aside to cool slightly.

Break up the toasted pecans and set aside.

Bake the brie as is for about 20 minutes. Carefully slide it onto a heat-proof serving dish. Let it cool for about 10 minutes, and then pour the warm maple mixture over the top, and sprinkle the top with the broken pecan pieces. Serve immediately.
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Here’s to a wonderful 2014 everybody! Happy New Year!

* The easiest way to toast a small amount of pecans is in a skillet on the stove. Place the desired amount, like 1 cup, of pecan halves in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet heats up, you will smell the pecans toasting. Shake the skillet around, moving the pecans around, until you can see that they’re toasted on all sides. Then remove the skillet from the heat. Let cool completely, then break them up with your hands.

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note: This is a pretty sweet brie topping. I was thinking that replacing the 1 tablespoon of brown sugar with molasses, or omitting it altogether would cut the sweetness slightly. I’ve personally never loved brie served with straight-up honey, but that’s just a personal peeve. Real maple syrup, of course, doesn’t compare to the sweetness of honey, but still, if you think it might be too sweet for your party table, think about these two options.

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Chocolate Pecan Mousse

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I’ve fallen in love with a product. Here it is. I buy it at Whole Foods in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and just now when I looked up their website, I realized that the company is in Oklahoma! We have a lot of pecans here.

It’s toasted pecan butter.

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Yes, I know. I finally have a Vitamix and I could so easily make this myself. It’s pecan butter, just like a peanut butter, but made from toasted pecans, and sweetened a little.

But instead of just spreading it on apples and overindulging, because it’s that good, (there’s a chunky version that is heavenly) I decided to use this stuff in a dessert, so I could really enjoy it.

I was having friends over for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, and I had a disaster of sorts with the pumpkin roulade I’d planned on serving. Let’s face it – things don’t always work out in the kitchen.

So that morning I ran to the grocery store to get some last-minute produce, and bought chocolate to make a, wait for it… chocolate pecan mousse!

I had a good 7 hours of chill time in the refrigerator before I served dessert, so I was pretty sure this would fit the bill. A bit of chocolate and pecan indulgence, but not too much. Topped with whipped cream and candied pecans. Oh, and layered with a creamy pecan butter!

So I set to work but then got a phone call from my daughter. I hadn’t even gotten the chocolate melted yet, but I don’t get to talk to my busy daughter that often. Oh, and I should point out that phones don’t work in my kitchen, which is why I just had to run in, turn off the heat, and run out. But after about 30 minutes I told her that I really needed to go.

Then, I got a call from a friend, and we gossiped chatted for quite a while. I have to say that I was getting a little nervous, because I usually make chocolate mousse the day before I plan on serving it!

Let me just say that I made it, chilled it, served it, and it was fabulous. Here’s my recipe if you want to try it, too! (And it worked with only 5 hours of chill time!)

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Chocolate Pecan Mousse

8 eggs
12 ounces good, semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup white sugar
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons cognac
1 – 10 ounce jar pecan butter, divided
Cream, about 1/2 cup
Whole pecans
Sugar, about 1/4 cup
Whipping cream, slightly sweetened

Firstly, separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a small bowl, and the whites in a larger bowl.

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Place the chocolate, butter, sugar, espresso powder and cognac in a pot that is over a pan filled halfway with water over medium heat. This is also called a “double boiler” system.

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This is tempering, or melting the chocolate. Often chocolate is tempered by itself, and one drop of water or anything can seize up the chocolate and you have to start over. However, if there’s a significant amount of other ingredients, like the butter, in the pot, it will work perfectly.

Pour the oil from the pecan oil into a small bowl and save it. I actually used it on the roasted Brussels sprouts I made that evening, plus a little bit of pomegranate molasses. They didn’t taste pecan-y, but they were mighty good. Save the oil. Oh, and I tasted it because I didn’t want a sweet oil on the Brussels sprouts, but the oil itself that had separated from the pecan butter wasn’t sweet at all.

Now, back to the recipe. Add about half of the jar – a little over 1/2 cup – of the pecan butter to the chocolate-butter mixture. Gradually, using a spatula, stir the ingredients together until the chocolate and butter are completely melted. Remove the pot from over the hot water and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the remaining amount of pecan butter into a mini blender.
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Add cream and blend until it’s almost pourable, and set aside.
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Using an electric mixer on medium speed, begin adding one egg yolk at a time to the chocolate mixture, and beat it in well.
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The chocolate mixture starts out like this.
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And after all of the eggs are beaten in, it becomes thicker, very shiny and smooth.

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Because of the inclusion of the pecan butter, the chocolate-pecan mixture felt very differently than the traditional chocolate mixture does without pecan butter in it. I could tell it was much stiffer and would be more challenging to work with. But I kept going. Chin up.

Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Then, begin folding in the chocolate into the egg whites.
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Be patient, because it will, eventually work.
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I decided to quit folding and folding and just deal with some chocolate streaks within the egg white mixture – I didn’t want to deflate the mousse. My friends don’t care.

First place some of the creamy pecan butter in the bottom of parfait glasses.
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Then top that with the mousse.
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Refrigerate the parfait glasses immediately. If they would have been refrigerated overnight, I would have covered them with plastic wrap; I’ve always read that chocolate can pick up flavors from the refrigerator.

To make the candied pecans, place some pecans in a skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle with white sugar.
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Eventually the sugar will melt. Don’t do what I did and completely forget that I’d just done this. I was playing on my ipad in another room when I started smelling burning pecans. The whole kitchen was full of smoke. Fortunately the smoke alarm didn’t go off, but it took about a half an hour to get the smoke out, clean the skillet, and start over.

So this is the sugar melting slightly.
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Use a spatula to move the pecans around and try to get them coated with what is essentially caramel – melted and caramelized sugar. When you’re happy with the color of the melted sugar, place the candied pecans on a plate to cool.
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Before serving, remove the parfait glasses from the refrigerator. You can do this up to an hour before if you like, but I like my chocolate mousse chilled. It’s your choice. Whip the cream and place a dollop on top each parfait glass.

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Chop the candied pecans coarsely and sprinkle them over the whipped cream. I’m sure there’s a more sophisticated way of “plating” this dessert, but plating is not my specialty. Again, my friends don’t care about such things!

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I was actually too full to have dessert that night, after all of the cheeses and other goodies I’d set out for hors d’oeuvres, so I enjoyed my mousse the next morning with an espresso. Don’t judge me. Desserts are fabulous for breakfast. As long as you can get past the heart beating extra fast for an hour or so.

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verdict: This mousse is even better than chocolate mousse. And chocolate mousse is heavenly. You can taste the toasted pecan flavor in the mousse itself, but having that layer of the bottom of creamy pecan butter really added to this dessert. A pretty tasty invention if I might say so!
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