Sunday, November 30, 2008

7-Up Cake

I have never in my life heard of 7-Up Cake and probably never would have if I had not come across the path of a fellow foodie friend Dan. He and I frequent the same food forum and have "known" each other for years. Business is taking him to my little corner of the world. He arrives in town tonight so I invited him over for dinner. There's a pot roast cooking in the oven, a salad to prep, some biscuits to make, but dessert is finished.

I asked Dan to name his 5 favorite desserts and this 7-Up Cake was on the list. It intrigued me and since he told me it was one that his Granny used to make for his birthday...well my decision was made.

I'm not sure if this was the way his Granny made it. I found quite a few recipes for different versions of this cake, most of them extremely simple. Some had a pineapple topping. Not knowing if Dan really liked pineapple, I opted for a simple orange glaze to compliment the tangy cake. Well at least I hope it's tangy, that's what the review said anyway.

I'm looking forward to meeting Dan and letting him get to know my crazy family and friends. I think he'll have a great time.

If you'd like to check out a very cool website and read some history behind this cake check out
Culinary Types.

7-Up Cake - circa 1965

Printable recipe
1 package white or yellow cake mix
1 small package lemon jello
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup 7-Up soda

Directions:Pour 7-up into a cup slowly to retain bubbles, but not have a lot of foam on top. (that's the way the recipe was written)

Put all ingredients into mixing bowl and beat two to three minutes at medium speed. Pour batter into greased and floured tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees 45 to 60 minutes until cakes tests done and barely begins to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan 10 minutes then move to wire rack to cool completely. Glaze cake if desired, or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

2 cups Confectioner's sugar
4 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together and drizzle over cooled cake.

I hope Dan likes it!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Farmhouse White Sandwich Bread

Well Thanksgiving is over and my fridge is full of leftovers. I think the day after Thanksgiving is almost a nice as Thanksgiving Day itself for me. For most of the day we just lazed about the house, watched movies and ate leftovers. Can you say pie for breakfast? It's true, I admit it. On turkey day I only had one small piece of chocolate cream pie so breakfast yesterday morning was a slice of pumpkin, sans the whipped cream, it is breakfast after all. Hey it's only once a year.

The only place we went to was a crafts fair at the local community college. There were so many beautiful items to purchase. I met a lady that I used to work with who had a huge booth filled with all sorts of goodies. I even bought my father-in-law a gift. It was nice to see so many talented people and all the beautiful things they make.

Before I left for the craft fair I starting making 3 loaves of farmhouse white bread so we would have delicious bread for turkey sandwiches!

I relied on Susan from Farmgirl Fair again for this Farmhouse White Bread. Get the recipe here. It makes 3 loaves....some for now, some for later, and one for the freezer.

Later last night John hauled it up to the attic to get out all the Christmas decorations...all 5 Rubbermaid bins full of them. I decorated the inside of the house and today John decorates the outside.

I'm thinking turkey sandwiches for breakfast!!! Naw I'm just teasing.....pie for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch - again!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chocolate Celebrations

Oh and celebrate we will.
What better time to make a dessert called Chocolate Celebration?
Now I say!

Most of you know how much I love chocolate. Whenever I see a recipe cross my path that contains lots of chocolate, it's all I can do not to run to the kitchen and start cooking immediately. Of course I do exhibit some small forms of restraint from time to time and I hesitantly put the chocolaty recipe in a basket above my computer desk for those days when I'm having massive chocolate cravings. It's my secret stash of emergency chocolate recipes so to speak.

This was one recipe I had to make. I received an email update from Megan's Cookin with this recipe attached. It spoke to me.

"Make me Lisa, make me, even though you have 4 other desserts to make for tomorrow, come on you know you want to"

And I did want to, so I did.

Chocolate Celebrations - from Marcel DeSaulniers
Printable recipes
18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick), unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Melt the 18 ounces of chocolate and the butter in a double boiler and stir until smooth.

In a sifter combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift onto a large piece of parchment or wax paper.

Place the sugar and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes until light in color and slightly thick. Stop and scrap down the side and then add the melted chocolate and mix on low to combine. Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix about 10 seconds. Scrape down the bowl again and add the vanilla and mix for 5 seconds. Remove the bowl and fold in the chocolate chunks and pecans (if you are using them).

Place 2 slightly heaping tablespoons into each cup (I filled mine about 2/3 full). I used paper cupcake liners and filled 20 of them.

Place in the center of the oven and bake about 18 minutes, rotating and turning half way through. A toothpick should come out somewhat clean, but still slightly gooey. Leave in pan 30 minutes. Keep tightly sealed in a container for 4 - 5 days, or refrigerate for 10 days. Bring to room temp before eating.

I can't even tell you how these taste personally. After a day of baking the last thing I want to do right now is eat something rich and chocolaty. Wait did I just say that?? I must be ill. But fear not, Evan who is as much of a chocoholic as I am tasted one for me. When asked to describe....His answer:

"Kinda like a brownie, but like a cake, and a little like a thick cupcake. It's really good. Can I have another one?".

Thank you Evan and no, you'll spoil your dinner.

Doesn't that look dreamy??

Pan Fried Brussel Sprouts with Scallions

I have been up to my ears in glue and glitter! My crafting went into overdrive yesterday morning and I finally had to stop to eat and drink...and breathe. When I am on a roll, I'm on a roll. I had some brussel sprouts in the fridge that I picked up last week and decided I should cook them up. I am the only one in the house that will eat them, so they are mine, all mine. They were perfect for lunch.

My favorite way to eat them is roasted in the oven. Since my oven went into overdrive last night (and today too), I thought I'd give it a little break and pan fry them with some scallions.

Pan Fried Brussel Sprouts with Scallions
1 container of brussel spouts (mine are sold in little round cardboard buckets)
1 large scallion
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
Pecorino Romano cheese

Wash and slice the sprouts and remove any discolored outer leaves.

Slice them lengthwise into 2 or 3 slices depending on the size of the sprout.

Toss them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Place them cut side down in a pan on medium high heat. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until sprouts get a nice golden color.

Slice scallion lengthwise into very thin slices. Flip the sprouts over and add the scallions. Cover and cook additional 3 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and top with shaved Pecorino Romano cheese.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to make 4 desserts, 5 side dishes and a brine a turkey! Enjoy your Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Homemade Marshmallows

Before you say "oh geesh, I can buy them in a bag" let me say this: Homemade marshmallows are very easy to make! I kid you not.

I am not a fan of the bagged marshmallows you buy at the mega marts. I will occasionally eat one that has been toasted (almost burnt) over the fire pit, but to eat one raw out of the bag - Blech! These marshmallows are a totally different animal. They do not compare one single iota to the air filled, flavorless, rubber specimens you buy at the store. These melt in your mouth and are fabulous in your hot chocolate.

This recipe is from Ina Garten's Family Style cookbook. The last time I made these, I made the toasted coconut version. That was pre-blog time, so no pics, sorry. The toasted coconut ones are my favorite. I went with the plain version this time to satisfy the kiddos. Can you imagine trying to pick toasted coconut off marshmallows? They would try, trust me.

You do need a candy thermometer for this recipe (you can get an inexpensive one at Walmart for under $5.00). A stand mixer is also a big help cause you do have to mix this for 15 minutes on high speed.

Evan watched diligently until the thermometer reached 240.

If you hate those bagged monstrosities, I urge you to make a batch of these. They just might be the best marshmallows you ever ate.

Homemade Marshmallows
Printable recipe
3 packages of unflavored gelatin (found in the jell-o aisle)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar, for dusting

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow it to sit while you make the syrup.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. (This took a good 5 - 7 mins for me).

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high and whip until it is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

With a sieve, generously dust and 8x12 inch nonmetal baking dish with confectioners' sugar. I don't have a 8x12. I have plenty of 9x13 pans, so that's what I used. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan*, smooth the top (I used an offset spatula), and dust with more confectioners' sugar. Allow to stand uncovered overnight until it dries out.

* Spray whatever utensils you are using with a bit of cooking spray. Makes it the mixture much easier to spread.

Turn the marshmallows onto a board and cut them into squares**. Dust with more confectioners' sugar. Pop into you mouth and thank yourself for going that extra mile and making homemade marshmallows that are a thousand times better then the ones in a bag! Yum!

** I had to make a note here. Ina, I love ya, but there was no way these babies were just fallin' out of the pan onto a board. They are sticky and gooey and it just wasn't happening. I took a long serrated knife, ran it under hot water and scored around the pan. Tried to flip it go. I ended up cutting them in the pan with the hot knife. Worked out just fine. Just make sure you roll them around in more confectioners sugar to coat all the sides and stop them from sticking to each other.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nutella Hazelnut Biscotti

Most of you know I love Nutella. If I was stranded on a desert island, and I had to choose only a few foods, Nutella would be one of them, that's how much I love it. I buy it in bulk at my local Sam's Club. Those little jars just don't cut it in my house. We buy the industrial sized Nutella here!

When I saw a recipe for Festive Nutella Biscotti at Susan's blog. I commented that I would probably omit the cranberries cause no one in this house would eat them and then Susan linked to another Nutella recipe here. I used Nicole's recipe and I couldn't be happier with it. I did use the drizzle recipe that Susan used though, so this is kind of a combined effort recipe.

The nice thing about biscotti is you can make it in advance and they keep wonderfully. This recipe satisfies my chocolate craving in one crunchy, very chocolaty cookie! These are supposed to be on the hard crunchy side, so don't think you over baked them...they are supposed to be dunkable. The word biscotti in Italian is the plural form of biscotto, which applies to any type of biscuit, and originates from the medieval Latin word word biscoctus, meaning "twice-baked. Hey I did my homework. These type of cookies were useful because
they could be stored for long periods of time, which was particularly good during long journeys and wars way back when. Don't worry, they won't last long in this house.

Break out the hot chocolate, coffee or tea and get dunking!

Nutella Biscotti
Printable recipe
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup Nutella
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup hazelnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add sugar and continue beating on high setting for 2 minutes. Beat in Nutella.

Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips and hazelnuts, if using. Divide dough into 2 or 3 logs with well floured hands and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet. Press logs into rectangles roughly ½ inch thick. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.

Remove logs from oven and turn the heat down to 300F. Using a serrated knife, cut logs into 1/3-1/2 inch slices. Arrange on baking sheet and return to oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Turn biscotti over and bake an additional 10-12 minutes (depending upon the thickness of your slices). Remove to a wire rack to cool.

1/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons boiling water (add more if not thin enough)

When cool, in a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup Nutella, powdered sugar and boiling water until smooth.
Drizzle glaze over cookies with fork or dip one end of each cookie into glaze. Dry at room temperature for at least 1 hour to set the glaze.

Store in an airtight container. Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ham & Navy Bean Soup - revisited

Quite a while back, when I was oh so new to the world of blogging one of the first soups I blogged about was Ham & Navy Bean. It's one of John's favorites and it's also a recipe his Gram Fran made all the time, so it brings back comforting memories for John.

It's been extremely cold (were talking under 20 degrees) out this week, and the whipping winds are making it feel even colder. It's that time of year when soup is on the menu at least one a week.

I had a ham bone in the freezer from Evan's birthday. Never throw out your bones! They are the key to the most fantastic soups you'll ever make. Bag 'em and tag 'em I say. The next day we get out the vacuum sealer and got that bone in the freezer. I also saved some of the ham, cut it up into bite size pieces and vacuum sealed those as well. All you do is thaw and get your soup cookin'. The best part is, it's super easy to make.

Ham & Navy Bean Soup
6 - 8 cups of chicken stock (or broth)
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 ham bone
1 pound navy beans, rinsed and soaked over night.
Leftover ham, cut into bit size pieces.

In a large pot bring the chicken stock, carrots, celery and the ham bone to a boil then reduce to a simmer.

Add in the navy beans and simmer about 2 hours, or until beans are tender. I also added some Mrs. Dash, fresh parsley, a bay leaf and some cracked black pepper while it cooked. Take out the ham bone. If you have a big dog in the neighborhood I would save it as a nice treat. Since my pup is only 12 pounds and the ham bone weighs as much as him, I had to toss mine since there wasn't a big pooch around. Add the ham during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Without much work at all you've a got great soup that will warm your belly (and make it happy too).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Butter Crunch Cookies

I know it's been quite a few days since I've posted, but I have a good excuse...I have be insanely busy. It's open enrollment at work, and for those of you in the HR field you know that means, lots of meetings, lots of paperwork, lots of questions, and lots of extra time. Everything wrapped up Friday afternoon, and now I am happy to say I am on vacation until December 1st.

This is one of my absolute favorite times of year. I have been crafting almost every night, planning menus and shopping lists, and taking care of all the last minute details that go into a holiday meal. Monday John and I are going to check out one of the oldest operating country stores in the U.S. It's been in operation since 1809! How come I just heard about it now? Hopefully we will finish up our Christmas shopping and then the cleaning begins. I kind of go into a cleaning frenzy before every holiday. I think John's even used to it now.

I did manage to squeeze in some time so I could make a batch of these delicious cookies. It was the first two words that got me...butter...crunch. Say no more. I had to make them. I did half this recipe. I thought the original would just make too many cookies for us. It would be great if you were making these for a cookie swap or party though. These had such a terrific buttery taste and just the right amount of crunchy chewiness. If you love butter pecan ice cream, you'll love these!

This recipe is adapted from Taste of Home, Best of Cookies & Bars.

Butter Crunch Cookies
Printable recipe
1 cup of butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups lightly crushed cornflakes
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the flour, cream of tater, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk. Gradually add the creamed mixture to the butter & sugar. Stir in cornflakes and pecans (if desired). Mixture will be thick and almost dough like.

Roll into 1 inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 10 - 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 2 minutes on sheet and remove to wire rack.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things that make me happy #20

Bath & Body Works Rice Flower & Shea Body Splash.

Yesterday I was talking to one of the employees at work and I called him over to look at the computer screen. As he was walking away he thanked me and just as he was about to walk out the door he turned and said, “Can I ask you a personal question?” “Ummm I guess" I said. “What kind of perfume do you wear?” “You always smell so nice, I’d like to get some for my wife”. Awwwww. I was just tickled.

I am not a perfumy kind of girl. I don’t like heavy scents, or florals, or anything that smells too sweet. I go for the woodsy, patchouli kind of scents, in fact patchouli oil was my “signature” scent for years until I found Bath & Body Works Rice Flower and Shea. I didn’t even know a rice flower had a smell, but apparently it does and I love it. With a little research I learned that Natural Shea is extracted from the pit of a fruit that grows only on the Magnifolia tree in Central and Western Africa. I love it as well.

I douse my self in it from head to toe each morning before I leave for work. It’s nice and light and not one of those scents that makes you smell like a “whore on a holiday”(not my quote, but something my grandfather used to say whenever he encountered a woman with too much makeup or perfume on).

I stocked piled up on it last July because Bath & Body Works offers this particular scent only two times a year, January & July, and I have no clue why. With one more bottle in my bathroom, one in my desk, and one in my purse, I’ll be ok until January….I hope!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake

I am in holiday mode now. I can't wait for Thanksgiving to be here, and do more crafting for Christmas, and wrap presents and make home made goodies, and dig out all my Christmas CD's (I'll wait till after Thanksgiving. I promise) and cook and bake and bake and bake.

My idea of a holiday during the last few months of the year is just staying home, all cozied up in my house, decorating and cooking and baking for my family and friends. There is nothing more comforting to me than sitting on the couch, all wrapped up in a warm blanket with one of boys, and just snuggling up with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and a home made goodie. My snuggles with Jesse are slowly coming to an end. Now that he's a teenager, he has less and less time to snuggle with Mom. I do get he occasional hug, but I'm relying on Evan for most of my major snuggles now. I don't know what I will do when Evan's snuggling stage passes. I shall be sad.

Holiday preparation always means testing recipes. I wanted to make something for Thanksgiving dessert that wasn't overly pumpkiny. I have the Pumpkin Pie Dessert Squares to take care of the pumpkin addicts, but I wanted to find something that would appeal to the kids too.

I think the combination of chocolate and pumpkin go together quite nicely, so when I saw this recipe for a two-tone chocolate chip pumpkin cake, I was hoping it was a winner. The smell wafting out of my oven was amazing. It brought Jess, Evan and Sara who was over, down from their bedroom to investigate. Knowing that Evan isn't a pumpkin fan I simply told them it was a chocolate chip cake. Once it was cooled they all happily scarfed down big pieces.

"Did you like that Evan?"

"Yeah" he said

"That was pumpkin chocolate chip cake" I told him

"No way"

"Yes way"

"Well I guess I like some pumpkin......if it has chocolate chips in it"

It's amazing what chocolate chips can do.

I omitted the nuts in this recipe cause I knew my little fuss buckets would just pick them out if I added them in.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake - Taste of Home Online
Printable recipe
¾ cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 can (15 ounces solid pack pumpkin)
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate, melted & cooled ¾ cup finely chopped pecans, divided (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon; add to the creamed mixture. Divide batter in half. Stir in melted chocolate into one portion.

In a well-greased 10 inch fluted tube pan, sprinkle ½ cup pecans. Spoon chocolate batter over pecans, top with pumpkin batter. Sprinkle with remaining pecans. Bake at 325 for 65 – 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool.

Almost Too Easy Whole Wheat Beer Bread

Since I have no hot water yet or should I say STILL... I was trying to come up with a meal that didn't require too many dishes. I do have a dishwasher, but I still hand wash lots of items and call me crazy, but I have become spoiled and really enjoy washing up with hot water. So in an effort to use as little dishes and utensils as possible, I thought I'd make some Ham and Bean Soup and some Whole Wheat Beer Bread.

This bread was so easy it was ridiculous! I found the recipe on a great site called
Farmgirl Fare. Susan has some terrific recipes, so many for bread that I could hardly choose where to start. She also has the most adorable farm critters you have ever seen. I saw the recipe for this Whole Wheat Beer Bread I knew it would be perfect to go along with the Ham and Bean Soup.

Susan has so many different variations on the beer bread that I can barely decide which one to make next....garlic & herb, dill & chive, rosemary & cheddar? I think I'm going to be doing a lot of baking in the next few weeks.

This bread was simple to make (under an hour from start to finish!) and tasted divine. A real rustic, hearty bread that will go great with soups and stews. I think I'll have to make 2 next time, cause one loaf doesn't last long in this house!

Farmgirl Susan's Almost Too Easy Whole Wheat Beer Bread
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
14 ounces of beer (or a 12 ounce beer and 2 ounces of water)
(I used a Sam Adams lager)

Glaze: (optional) 1 egg and 1 teaspoons water, beaten.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the flours, sugar, salt & baking powder in a large bowl . Slowly stir in the beer and mix until combined. Batter will be thick.

Spread in a greased 8 inch loaf pan. Brush with egg glaze if desired and bake until golden brown or a toothpick tests clean (about 45 minutes). Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cook 10 more minutes. Serve warm or room temp.

Technical difficulties.

Hey all. Some of you may not have been able to access the blog since Friday. I had some technical difficulties over the weekend. Even I couldn't access my blog. After 2 days of troubleshooting, I finally contacted my IT guru at work and he told me to try to delete the last thing I posted and low and worked! So my Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake will have to be re-posted, right now I'm holding off cause the whole thing gave me some funky posting vibe and I don't want posting karma to come back and bite my ass.

In addition to the blog problems, I've been without hot water since Friday! Yikes, it's been horrible. I have the gas man here now working on it and I am so praying he can fix it cause driving 20 minutes to my Moms to take a shower in not my idea of fun.

I'm going to take my stinky self back into the kitchen and make some Ham & Navy Bean Soup and some Beer Bread (posts coming). I didn't cook or bake all weekend. Feels very strange. We did go out last night for one of the best meals I've had all year at a local restaurant called Spain. We celebrated my friends John's birthday with some excellent food and 2 pitchers of Sangria....which helped my mood out immensely. After a few big glasses of Sangria, you really don't care what you smell like!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some people are just so cool....

If you scroll down the right side of my blog you will see a list of blogs, blogs that belong to people who inspire me, and make me think, and re-think, and be creative and do what I think I sometimes can't. Dana at Old Red Barn is one of those people. She is super talented, lives a charmed life with her hubby and two beautiful girls and is one of the most generous people I have come across on the big ole world wide web. I just love this woman's blog.

She's having a quilt giveaway. Ahhh quilts, just the word makes me think of comfort and home. Dana's not giving away one quilt, or two quilts, oh no, she's giving away three of the most beautiful quilts you have ever laid your eyes on.

If you are like me and you love quilts and would be over the moon to win one, then high tail it over there and try to win one. If you not the 'quilty' type of person, I still want you to enter so if you win you can give it to me! Good Luck!!

Roasted vegetables

I had a perfectly lovely day Monday. I was off and with the kids in school and John at work, Moose and I enjoyed a very peaceful and productive day. I did a little Christmas shopping in the morning and I found a beautiful lace tablecloth for my Thanksgiving table, bargain priced! I came home and organized a few things in the house, worked on the grocery list for Thanksgiving, and just enjoyed the quiet which I knew would end at 2:15 when the bus pulled up to the house.

I also prepped my vegetables for one of my favorite dishes....roasted vegetables. If you haven't tried roasted veggies, then you have no idea what you are missing. Roasting brings out a depth of flavor in vegetables that is simply amazing. It puts boiled veggies to shame. I could eat a whole pan full of roasted onions all by my lonesome. Roasting brings out the sweetness and nuttiness, then you get he crunch factor too. Perfection. Even my picky Evan will eat vegetables that are roasted that he would never eat normally.

I've converted people who tell me they hate brussel sprouts but presenting them with a plateful of golden brown roasted sprouts drizzled with balsamic. Oh how I love them.

The best part....roasting veggies is super easy. Gather up your favorite veggies. This time around I used red onions, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, sweet potato, red potatoes, and some garlic cloves. You can use whatever veggies you like. Just try and chop them all about the same size.

I threw the potatoes in the microwave so I could give them a head start, otherwise the rest of the veggies would be done and you'd still have raw potato.

Ok so now you chop all the veggies up so they are relatively the same size. I seasoned mine with salt, pepper and some herbs de provence. Toss with some good olive oil and pop into a smokin' hot 400 degree oven. I set the timer for 30 minutes, flipped them over and set the time for another 20 minutes to check for doneness. They should be nice and golden brown. I like to drizzle some balsamic vinegar over mine, that's optional, but highly recommended.

Don't they look delicious?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To Die for Blueberry Muffins

Yup that's really the name of these muffins and they really are "to die for". Bursting with sweetness, packed with blueberries and topped with a crunchy, crumbly streusel. It doesn't get much better than this when it comes to muffins.

I've been making these for year and years. I believe I found this recipe on, which before the world exploded into food blogging, was one of my primary sources for recipes.

My mother-in-law just loves, loves, loves these muffins. She's been bringing them to her neighbors and now they love them too. You can't help but not love these little babies.

This recipe makes 10 muffins. I fill the cups up to the top to make bakery style muffins. You will have more than enough topping for each muffin. I use a heaping teaspoon to top each one and it's just about perfect.

I did vary this recipe in two ways from the original. I use brown sugar instead of white sugar in the topping and I added a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla to the batter. I didn't think I could make these any better than they already were, but I did! Huh!

To Die for Blueberry Muffins
Printable recipe
1 1/2 all purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
enough milk to fill one cup
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cold and cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400. Grease the muffin cups or use muffin liners.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk to mix. Place the vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup and add the egg and vanilla and enough milk to fill to the 1 cup line. Mix this with the flour mixture. Fold in the blueberries. The batter will be thick.

Fill the muffin cups to the top. I used an ice cream scoop and one scoop filled them perfectly.

To make crumb topping:

Mix together the brown sugar, flour, cubed butter and cinnamon. Using your hands or a pasty blender combine until the butter is pea sized. Sprinkle over the muffins before baking. I used a heaping tablespoon for each one.

Bake 20 - 25 minutes in a preheated oven or until they test done. Let cool 5 minutes in pan, then remove to rack. Eat warm is possible!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Roasted chestnuts

Ok, ok I'm betting most of the people who read the title of this post will immediately have "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" running through their heads. Am I right??

I knew it.

Just like artichokes and baccala and pomegranates, chestnuts will always make me think of my Dad. We get them every year about this time. Stored in big barrels in the grocery store, it's always a sure sign that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. When they are shelled they kind of look like little brains to me. In fact, when I was little, I can remember pretending that they were the brains of evil and hateful, little, tiny monsters and I giggled gleefully as I swallowed them down. I really did do that, silly as it sounds, and I always think of it every time I eat them.

I have been eating "roasted" chestnuts for as long as I can remember. Ok so we bake them but we never call them baked chestnuts, just doesn't sound right. If you haven't eaten them before you really should try them. They have a smooth and buttery taste and are very tender. I usually pick up a couple of handfuls when I buy them.

Here's what you do with them once you get them home:

The trickiest part of baking them is cutting the X in the top of the nut. BE CAREFUL! They can be slippery little suckas and you don't want to find yourself headed to the emergency room before you get to munch some of these down.

I let John do the dirty work. You want to put the nut flat side down on a cutting board or in a very thick pot holder in your hand. John used the cutting board method and a very sharp knife. Being very, very careful he sliced right through those outer shells, making an X in each one. This allows the steam to escape. If you skip this step you will have exploding chestnuts in your oven. In fact one of mine exploded this time. The outer shell mustn't have been scored deep enough and about 20 minutes into the baking I heard a big pop and a ricochet off the oven walls. BAM! Lost one.

You will have to excuse Johns grubby hands. Just before he scored these for me he had put new brake pads on my car. Even though his hands are clean, they still are a bit stained with grease. Good thing no one eats the shell.

Once you have cut the X into all the nuts, place them on a cookie sheet (X side up) and bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for about a half hour. You will see the shells start to crack open. That means they are finished.

Let them cool for a bit before you touch them. They are very hot. It's best to peel them when they are still warm. Cold chestnuts are much, much harder to peel. If you haven't tried them I hope you and I hope you imagine that your swallowing little monster brains so I won't feel so alone in my crazy thinking. Thanks!

C'mon they do look like little brains!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sausage & Mushroom Penne Gratin

In addition to raising a family, taking care of my home, working 40+ hrs a week, and cooking delicious meals for my crew and many others, I'm also a crafter. I started crafting when I was a teenager and haven't stopped since.

Each year I choose an ornament to make and something from my kitchen to give as a gift. For the past 5 years or so I have been working with clay and dough. I really love it. It dries my hands out like crazy, but working with it is really a joy to me. I think if life had taken me in a different direction I would have been a photographer or a potter. I love the feel of the clay in my hands and the way I can transform it, and sculpt it and make it into something different. Each year I have people tell me how they think of me when they hang an ornament on their tree that I made for them. I think that is just about the coolest thing ever, and that's why I rack my brains each year to come up with something new and different for my friends and family to hang on their tree. It's not always clay, but it's always something I put thought and effort into, in hopes that it will be a present they love cause I made it with my very own hands and filled it with love. Corny as it sounds, it's true.

Since I knew I would be busy crafting all weekend I wanted a nice hearty dinner that I didn’t have to fuss with too much. This recipe was perfect. I copied it out of the November issue of Gourmet magazine a few weeks back. That very same day my friend Krysta over at Evil Chef Mom had made the same dish. Strange how people on totally different sides of the country pick out the same recipe from a magazine loaded with dozens and dozens of others to choose from. A accredit it to good taste.

I have to admit; the photo in Gourmet was what got me to take a second look at this. It was so rustic and cheesy. Two things I greatly admire in a recipe, plus it looked fairly simple to make and it was so good. I'm talking really good. It's creamy and cheesy and loaded with mushrooms and sausage and the top has that terrific crunchy cheese, oh that was the best part. I had to stop John from hogging all the crispies for himself!

I made 1 addition to this recipe, some fresh parsley. I also cooked the sausage before I had the penne ready, cause I knew it would take a few mintues to get that cooked. I think the next time I make this, it would be fabulous with some caramelized onions in it. Yum!
You make - you like!

Sausage and Mushroom Penne Gratin
Printable recipe
1 pound dried penne
1 lb bulk Italian sausage
1 lb package of sliced mushroom (I used two 8 oz packages of baby bellas)
1 garlic clove, forced through a garlic press (ONE???…I used 2)
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup grated Parmigano-Reggiano
8 oz shredded whole milk mozzarella divided

Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve a ½ cup of the cooking water then drain and transfer to a flameproof 3-quart baking dish.

Meanwhile cook the sausage in 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces, until no longer pink. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl leaving the fat in the skillet.

Pre-heat the broiler.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet along with the mushrooms and garlic. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden (about 3 minutes).

Return the sausage to the skillet along with the cream, reserved ½ cup cooking water and a rounded ½ teaspoon salt and a ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Boil over high heat, stirring once or twice until thickened (about 4 minutes).

Pour over the pasts then stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano, ½ cup mozzarella and salt to taste. Spread evenly in baking dish and top with remaining mozzarella.

Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat until golden brown in spots (about 5 minutes).

No Rise Biscuits

Sweet, sweet biscuits how I love you. Dripping in butter and honey, slathered in apple butter, covered in jam, I'll take ya just about anyway I can. My husbands favorite way to eat ya is with sausage gravy. It's his absolute favorite breakfast (which he had this morning, lucky dog) and if you throw a few pound of bacon along with that he'd be one very happy man.

Not being a Southern girl, I don't feel confident about my biscuit making abilities. Oh how I wish I was an expert biscuit maker, but the plain truth is, I am not. I have to work on my biscuits. Since I wanted homemade biscuits to be on my Thanksgiving menu and not wanting to subject my guests to a first time recipe flop, I decided I better get my buns into the kitchen and sharpen up on my biscuit making skills.

After several days searching the food blogs I happened upon this recipe from The Homesick Texan. Texans - biscuits right? Southern girls know how to cook biscuits right? Well I can tell you, yes, yes they do. This recipe was quick and easy and produced a mouth watering biscuit just screaming to be doused in butter and jam (or sausage and gravy if you are like my husband).

I always wondered how people got the biscuits to come part into two flaky pieces so nice and easy, well I had an epiphany re-reading the recipe while I was rolling them out. The dough is folded over before your cut out the biscuits. Well duh...I told you I was no Southern girl.

See the two layers?

Biscuits - recipe from The Homesick Texan
Printable recipe
2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of sugar (can add more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 stick of butter, cold (8 tablespoons)
3/4 cup of buttermilk, cream or half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Cut the stick of butter into pieces, and work into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.

Add the liquid, mixing until a bit loose and sticky. Pour dough out on a floured surface, and knead for a minute. Dough should be smooth and no longer wet. You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find it’s sticking. Take dough into a ball, and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes.

Roll out dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, and then fold it in half. Using a round cutter (can use a glass or a cup if don’t have a biscuit cutter) cut out your biscuits from folded dough. Place on a greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Makes 10-12 biscuits. If you don’t want to roll and cut them out, after kneading and beating the dough you can drop the dough onto the baking sheet with a spoon. They’re not as symmetrical (dropped biscuits are also known as cat head biscuits) but they’re no less delicious.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yes we can.

“Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk, Martin Luther King walked so that Barack could run, and Barack Obama ran so you could fly. You can fly.”

Marian Springfield
article found here

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sloppy Joes, Slop, Sloppy Joes

I just want you all to know that Mitch and I had that song stuck in our heads all day yesterday. He came over early yesterday afternoon to spend Election Day with us. That song just embedded itself in our brains. Yes we sang it just like Adam Sandler, over and over and over again. When Jesse asked what were having for supper I could have simply said “Oh Master Jesse we will be dining on the sloppy Joe’s tonight”. But did I say that…..Noooo. I had to have my hips a swinging, wooden spoon in hand like a microphone and belt out the tune that had been swimming around in my cranium all day long “Sloppy Joes, Slop, Sloppy Joes”. He then proceeded to give me a very strange look, sigh heavily, and slowly walked away. I think half the fun of making these was getting to sing that song over and over again.

If you haven’t heard the Adam Sandler Lunch Lady song then you probably have no idea as to what in the heck I am talking about. Don’t try looking it up on You Tube, we couldn’t find the cool version with Chris Farley dancing in it. It's a true classic.

So what led up to this whole Sloppy Joe night was that I decided that I wanted to make something fairly quick and easy for dinner last night. My guys love Sloppy Joes. I don’t make them as often as they would like so I decided it was time to give them some made from scratch (no Manwich in sight) Sloppy Joes.

I used a Dave Lieberman recipe and tweaked it to my likings as I always do. At first I was hesitant about the soy and Worcestershire, but in the end, I have to say, these were really flavorful and were busting with tangy flavor. A keeper for sure.

This recipe made a big old batch. Enough for 6 big buns, with a good amount of leftovers.

Sloppy Joes
Adapted from a recipe by Dave Lieberman
Printable recipe
3 pounds ground beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves crushed garlic
3- 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
2/3 cup BBQ sauce
¾ cup ketchup
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup soy

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender. Add the beef and garlic. Crumble and break up the beef as it cooks. Drain any liquid and return mixture to the pan.

Stir in the tomato paste until the meat is coated. Add the BBQ, ketchup, Worcestershire and soy. Bring to a boil and cook until sauce it thickened. About 3- 5 minutes.

You can make these in advance and just re-heat over low heat or nuke it in your microwave.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Oh my gosh! I just couldn't believe it when I found the photo above. I was just amazed. That's exactly what I looked like today when I went out to vote. Stockings, red white & blue high heels and all!

It's uncanny!

(ok, ok so I was in jeans and a t-shirt...I like to dream a little sometimes)

Election Day started off early for us today. John was in line at the polls at 6:40am. As he was standing in line, one of the poll workers stuck her head out of the door and said "we don't have any ballots". Great John thinks. Five minutes later she came back out again and said "the ballots are here, but we can't turn the machine on. We don't have the keys". What?? At 7:15 John is finally in to vote. He's the 3rd person in line, the first one in the booth and he discovers that his marker has no ink! He stands there for 5 minutes, waving his empty marker in the air. Finally the 196 year old poll worker (hey John said that, not me!) shows up with a new marker and John can vote.

I took the day off to hang with the kids, take care of some medical stuff, run some errands and of course make cupcakes to support my candidate. I also took my second trip to Trader Joe's. This time I wasn't packed into the aisles like a sardine. Opening day was just too hectic and I missed out on a lot of the items I wanted to try. Today I got to take my time and really look at all the products. I got some really yummy stuff. I found that they made Goddess Dressing, a favorite of mine. I scooped up 2 bottles. I can't wait to have it on my salad tonight. I also picked up hard salamis for the guys, along with some salsa and chips and some hummus for Mama. I can see myself going back a few times a month to get the things I really like.

Ok on to the cupcakes. This is my "go to" cupcake recipe. Everyone loves them. They are moist. They are chocolaty. They have creamy peanut butter frosting. They have been consumed in mass quantities.

They might give you a hint as to who I voted for.

I'm just sayin'.

You can find the recipe here.

Please remember to VOTE - -it's important. Also remember, if you don't vote, you can't bitch about the situation cause you did nothing to try and change it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pizza Bites

I came across a really great blog called Chaos in the Kitchen this past week. My mother-in-law and I were sitting in front of the computer screen almost drooling over all the terrific looking recipes on Katie's site.

This recipe found here looked particularly scrumptious. I knew I was going to be making it the minute I saw it, and I did.

It's so easy to put together and it makes three, yup I said three, pie plates full of deliciousness. I skipped the recipe for the pizza dough this time around and bought two 2 pound bags of fresh dough. I used about 3 pounds of dough. Next time I'm going to try this with home made dough.

This is how I made them:

I cut off walnut sized pieces of the dough, then just rounded them off in my hand.

Then I flattened the dough a bit...

and stuffed in about 2 pieces of cut up pepperoni and a good chunk of mozzarella.

Then I pinched the dough back over the filling. So easy!

I laid them seam side down in a greased pie dish.

Then brushed them with the olive oil and herb mixture and then sprinkled them with Parmesan cheese.

I really liked that it made 3 plates full.
I cooked 2 and put 1 in the fridge
(1 will never be enough!).

Some pans had 16 in them, some 18....I just kinda filled them and didn't count until the end. Hey - it worked out just fine.

I baked them for 20 minutes. Let them rest 5 minutes then called the boys in to snack.

I heated up 2 bowls of marina sauce for dipping and let the grazing begin.

These were wonderful. I'm glad I increased the amount of pepperoni, cause the only complaint I heard was "Mom next time put more pepperoni".

These would be great make ahead appetizers to bring to a party.

Conclusion in my house:

"Make these again Mom"

I'm just waiting for them to ask me to cook the third pan.

Thanks Katie! This one's a keeper!