Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Givin' Thanks

You can ask Mom, Dad, or anyone in my family: Thanksgiving is my fave.

From The Vagabond Table

Not to bash on Christmas, but I dig the idea of a holiday whose sole purpose is to bring together a ragtag bunch of family and friends to gather round a table and share some damn good food. Share things they are thankful for. Share turkey and cranberries (has there ever been a better combination of foods?) and maybe not share the stuffing (because that usually gets stuck around me somewhere, and I do NOT share stuffing easily.)

From The Vagabond Table

This year I road-tripped it back to my other home, OH-IO, with my roomie to visit her family in Cleveland because, you see, Cleveland Rocks. And holy bajolies, I love me some Thanksgiving food, especially with my adoptive Albanian family (cheering the Buckeyes on to a victory over Michigan wasn't bad either.)

From The Vagabond Table

This year we made a combo of traditional favorites, new Thanksgiving recipes, and some Albanian dishes. Classic roast turkey with rosemary and sage, cinnamon-orange-cranberry sauce, a pimped out gravy, Pancetta and Chestnut Stuffing with Prunes, Rosemary crackers with white bean dip, Wild Rice and Mushroom dressing, an array of kalamata olives, Tave Tiranse, Moussaka, Spanikopita, salad, and roasted veggies…truly, it was divine.

From The Vagabond Table

From The Vagabond Table

And while everyone else in the Midwest was making pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies…I was bucking tradition and making Almond Cheesecake.

From The Vagabond Table

With a crunchy crust made of crushed almonds and Nilla wafers, a whisper of almond in the cheesecake and a sweetened layer of sour cream baked on top…served with a lovely strawberry compote, a slice of this is worthy of kings (or a ragtag group of family and friends).

Also as a side note, today is my two year Blog-iversary! Yay! Dear Vagabond Table Readers… thanks for sharing in these foodie adventures, for your support, and for always being curious about the world beyond your front door. Let’s all celebrate with a slice of Almond Cheesecake as you stick with me for additional recipes and stories. As the Albanians like to cheer: Gezuar!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Go Bananas

First you peel, banana, peel- peel banana

Then you eat banana, eat-eat banana

Then you GO Bananas! GO-GO Bananas!

I think I sang that song about a thousand times during my years in youth group growing up. In the vans traveling around for volleyball games or Sonora, Mexico to build houses or just to plain ole’ winter camp, that song ping-ponged around the van and made us laugh banana-inspired giggles.

Bananas, I know, are not for everyone. In fact, I know people who absolutely, positively hate bananas. Me? I personally like them, but I do not love them. I especially do not love them in fruit salads where they get brown and slimey. Bleh. But bananas, when combined with other powerful food forces, are pretty damn good. Like with homemade granola on some Greek yogurt, drizzled in honey. Or as Bananas Foster. Or, like in a tried-and-true favorite: Banana Bread.

From The Vagabond Table

Growing up my mom was a pro at things like Zucchini Bread and Banana Bread. The banana bread my mom baked had caramelized nuts and coconut on top, was ridiculously decadent, and after my college days in Ohio (where regular packages of these breads found their way into my little postbox), has seemingly disappeared from my regular staples of food munchies.

But no more.

Alas, while mourning the loss of mom’s coconut banana bread, I happened upon this recipe from Molly’s blog over at Orangette, which was perfect. I had exactly two bananas beyond the point of help in the fridge. I had no walnuts to throw in the batter. I had, in short, everything I needed to make this Cinnamon-Sugar Crusted Banana Bread. I like how when the stars align, I get Banana Bread. Thanks, Universe!

From The Vagabond Table

I substituted half the white sugar in the recipe for brown sugar, which made the loaf much darker than normal banana bread, but even tastier. And, with a nod to the fam back in AZ, I threw a couple of handfuls of grated, sweetened coconut along with the cinnamon-sugar mixture onto the top of the loaf. What I love is the crunch: slice into a piece of this and you are first met with a crispy crust of crackly deliciousness. What lies beneath is a dark and moist crumb, not too banana-y, and mostly just right. Slather some butter on and I might just be in heaven. Or, alternatively, I might be eating this exact breakfast (and post-dinner snack) for a week straight.

It could just be the perfect pre-Thanksgiving breakfast to tide you over until the real show begins.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get Comfortable

I just might be in love with November.

I always think of October as Fall, but seeing as how the trees don't really start blushing until Halloween, which is practically the next month over, I'm just going to go out on a limb (preferably draped in yellowed Gingko leaves) and say: My. I DO love November.

From The Vagabond Table

I most especially love these clear, cold, brisk fall nights with a glass of wine, good friends, and a big plate of Zucchini and Mushroom Lasagna. Followed, of course, by multiple games of Up and Down the River, which could possibly be one of the best card games out there that almost no one has heard of. Trust. This game has quickly become a foundation of our little apartment these past few months.

The last time I made lasagna (3 years ago) it was somewhat of a "fail." I had even added bacon to entice my sister to it, but not even bacon could rally her. The layers kind of slid around, making quite a mess, and the bacon and zucchini just didn't mesh with the rest of the layers and overall it was just so-so, which, in my book, is a huge disappointment where pasta is concerned. Pasta is one of those balls-to-the-wall kind of dishes: either go strong, or go home.

From The Vagabond Table

But this time around, SANS RECIPE I might add (!) it worked. Like, really worked. Even my vegetarian-inclined friend (and her not-so-vegetarian-inclined husband) were fans. It was, quite simply, a solid lasagna recipe that I'm fully comfortable around and everyone liked. I think we all need one of those "I don't need to think twice about making this" kind of pasta dishes, especially a cozy, steamy, veggie-filled delicious lasagna one.

From The Vagabond Table

Extra bonus points: this fed three adults (and seconds!) for dinner and me for lunch and dinner several times later that week. Money saver! Belly saver! All around, a savior of sorts. For this lasagna restored unto me my comfort of making dinners without a recipe, which is quite the accomplishment.