Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Entertaining and Menu Ideas

After a long, cold winter with tons of ice and snow (you should see the condition of our driveway... it's a cracked mess!) I am so excited that the flowers are finally blooming, the grass is green and Easter is this weekend!

I'm hosting a small Easter dinner this year and I'm very excited. One of the best things about moving to a larger home with a formal dining room has been sharing our space with friends and family for special meals, parties and holidays. It really makes the hassle of moving worth it.

I'm in the process of finalizing our Easter dinner menu. I've created a board on Pinterest with my menu and tablescape ideas, so please check it out and let me know what you think. My plan is to make a traditional meal, but to make sure that it's distinct from the heavier foods that we typically serve during the cold weather holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas).

I'll be trying some new recipes as well as some that I've made in the past that aren't on the blog. There are a few old favorites from this blog that will make an appearance at dinner:

Sweet and savory roasted sweet potatoes are a lighter and healthier way to bring sweet potatoes to your holiday dinner table. I love to enjoy these in the spring and summer with barbecue.

Asparagus is in season and roasted asparagus is always a spring favorite around here.

Of course in addition to turkey and roasted pork loin, we'll also have macaroni and cheese, Southern-style cornbread dressing, and some indulgent desserts, too.

Do you have any special plans for the Easter holiday? Have you hosted a family holiday meal? I'm new to this, but Thanksgiving was a hit last year, so I'm looking forward to many more!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weeknight Red Beans and Rice

This recipe was born after I bought way too many cans of red beans. I have no idea what I was thinking, but somehow I accumulated more than 25 cans of red beans over the course of a year. We typically eat black beans, so I still don't know how or why I made this mistake, but I decided it was time to find a recipe for these beans.

I'm not from New Orleans, so it goes without saying that this red beans and rice recipe probably isn't authentic. Despite this fact, it tastes great and it's quick enough to prepare that you can put it into your weeknight dinner rotation.

I browned the vegetables in a little rendered bacon fat, which brings an extra layer of smoky flavor to this dish. I keep bacon fat in my refrigerator for special meals. Whenever I cook bacon I pour the rendered fat into a mason jar and store it in the refrigerator. However, you can substitute vegetable oil if you don't have or use bacon fat. You can also use a chicken andouille sausage if you don't eat pork.

Most of the ingredients have a decent shelf life, so you can shop for this meal a week or more in advance and have everything on hand for when the mood strikes you. I was looking for a change from the typical pizza/pasta/sandwich quick weeknight dinner rotation. I wanted something complex and savory. This hit the spot. It's very savory, a little spicy and has a a fresh ending with those green onions on top. The leftovers are even more awesome than the original meal.

Weeknight Red Beans and Rice
yield: about 6 servings

3 tablespoons bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 piece of smoked turkey (you can find smoked turkey parts in the meat section of the grocery store)
about 14 ounces of andouille sausage or smoked sausage
1 1/2 cups water
3 cans of red beans (I use small red beans), 2 rinsed and drained and one straight from the can
chopped green onion, for garnish (optional)

Heat bacon fat in a wide pot on medium-high heat until melted.

Saute onion, celery and bell pepper until softened, about 3-5 minutes.

Mix in garlic, tomato paste, thyme, garlic powder, black pepper and smoked paprika. Stir and cook for about two minutes.

Add in smoked turkey, smoked sausage, water and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Simmer for 15 minutes. Use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to mash up about half of the beans to thicken the sauce. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Check seasonings. Add salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve over rice. Garnish with green onions, if desired.

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