Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It can't be over yet?

Oh say it isn't so! Did Thanksgiving come and go that quickly? My refrigerator is saying yes. The last remnants of holiday meal leftovers are but a distant memory now. And what a delicious memory it was! I've received questions about what my meal consisted of...and though I gave a proposed menu on what would be fixed if I were hosting, I didn't host. We all piled in the car and headed South over hill and dale for approximatly 8 minutes until we reached my parents. It was a festive time and good food and fellowship was had by all.

My parents went completely non-traditional and fixed a smoked Beef Briskit (to die for) and a Honey Baked Ham. I went for the Briskit - for those of you in Texas country, you know what I'm talking about. And then we had traditional sides - sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing (pictured above), potato casserole, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, corn souffle, a mixed greens salad, rolls, shrimp cocktail...and an amazing new appetizer that involved jalapenos and cream cheese - oh hold me back! Dessert was pumpkin pie (pictured below), pumpkin roll, apple pie and a plethora of coffee options (my mother has to be a secret Starbucks Barista, I just know it!).

I had just about as much fun as one can possibly have this holiday. My boys are getting old enough to appreciate the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, so we piled on the couch in pj's and watched that. I operated the official "Musing Foodie Turkey 101" call center to field all the calls I got about turkeys and stuffing and other such fun - I loved getting those calls friends! I'm glad to hear your meals turned out delicious too!

We ate Moravian Sugar Cake for Thanksgiving Breakfast, along with eggs and bacon. If you have yet to experience Moravian Sugar Cake, you must indulge. It's a time honored tradition in our family for Thanksgiving and Christmas breakfast - something by husband clued me in to when we first got married. Think foccaccia bread with cinnamon and sugar in lieu of savory seasonings. Heat it up in the oven and you'll rethink your career and want to open a bakery.

I got an unexpected visit from a dear friend, my husband and I knocked out almost all of our Christmas shoppping on Black Friday and we put the tree up. I'm putting the finishing touches of decor up around the house and nothing makes me happier than turning off all the lights in the house but the tree and sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream or hot cocoa and just relaxing. It's the best!

The season is crazy busy and in full swing and I'm bound and determined to get the most out of each delicious moment. I have some fun appetizer recipes to share with you this week to help you ring in the merry good cheer, so stay tuned.

Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grace with a side of Apple Danish

If you saw the amount of butter, sour cream and cheddar cheese that I plopped onto my baked potato for lunch, you would probably pass out. But yesterday was just that kind of day. I had an insanely busy schedule from the moment I woke up and small little nothings seemed to attack from every angle. I found myself hitting the Twix stash, the Reece's stash, helping myself to a large bowl of Brownie Fudge Ice Cream and the generous helpings on the aforementioned baked potato while trial after trial took jabs at me. Nothing seemed to suffice until my husband, who I love and adore more than life itself, came to my rescue. (Where do I also mention that I only remembered to straighten the front part of my hair, not realizing the back was completely curly until the end of the day? And where do I also insert that I put on all my makeup but forgot the key element of mascara?)

My husband helped me put things into perspective, calmed me down and then took the kids off to play in another part of the house so I could have culinary therapy in the comfort of my kitchen. He can always tell when I've had a rough day - dinner is either frozen pizza or I have a bake-a-thon. Last night was the latter.

I baked an Apple Danish from scratch - dough and all and it was to die for. We couldn't wait until breakfast this morning, we HAD to eat it for dessert. HAD to. Will you look at that flaky buttery crust? I astounded my pre-made piecrust self!

I then moved on to a super fabulous Sweet Potato Casserole from my friend Hannah - I'll twist her arm and see if she minds me sharing the recipe with you. After that, I whipped up Shrimp Scampi that I served over Angel Hair Pasta for dinner...all while baking Chocolate Chip and Sugar Cookies for my son's Thanksgiving Feasts today at school. When the last cookie was placed in the appropriate Tupperware container and bookbag, I let out a contented sigh.

This morning I woke up completely rejuvenated and was able to hit Starbucks for all 6 of the boy's teachers for a Thanksgiving Sippable Suprise and then I skipped to my car with my bag of treats purchased from the School Bake Sale - Dinner Rolls, Pumpkin Roll and Whoopie Pies. Today is going to be a GOOD day.

I have no idea what I'm making for dinner and still have a to-do list a mile long, but with some major GRACE I will get through it all. Aren't fresh starts a blessing? Yet another thing to add to my Thanksgiving Thankfulness List.

So, if you read up on last week's posts, today and tomorrow you're working ahead making those side dishes for Turkey Day, right? I already had a delicious two-thumbs up report on my turkey recipe that was fixed last weekend for a potluck - glad you enjoyed it Jenn!

Talk to you soon friends - I'm off to munch on more of that Apple Danish!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day #4 Turkey Day Planning 101

Ok folks, it's my last day of tips and tricks for all things turkey related. You can do this! Remember, pull the bird out of the freezer this Sunday. Start on your side dishes Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday...put the bird in the oven and make your potatoes and GRAVY! Oh the gravy.

There are Marthas on this and there are Bettys on this. Martha Stewart would pull water from her well out back to make her own turkey stock, select her turkey from the barn she constructed herself, carefully pluck the herbs and seasonings from her organic garden and milk the cow to make fresh cream, all while churning butter and sewing an apron to wear on the big day. Betty Crocker takes her $.50 coupon and buys a jar of the stuff herself and skips all the way home knowing she's saved - not slaved. I am a mix of the two.

I like a lot of gravy as I generously douse everything on my plate with it. A bird only produces so much 'juice' while cooking so you need to help it out a bit if you have gravy lovers like me in your family. This is where Betty enters stage right. I have developed a delicious recipe that is made from scratch with a little help from McCormick.

All the pan drippings and broth from your turkey
Chicken or turkey stock
1-2 packages McCormick Turkey Gravy Packets
Flour or cornstarch on standby
1/2 c. Sour Cream

Pour all the pan drippings into a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Add in 1-2 cups of additional chicken or turkey stock and 1-2 packages of the gravy packets (I'm being purposely vague on the stock and packets as you'll increase based on your bird size). With all of this boiling along, add some salt and pepper to taste. I also add in my gravy packet(s) and once that boils, remove it from the heat.

Make sure you whisk all of these ingredients together - we want a smooth sauce. I'm going for a certain thickness that's not watery and not solidified glop and that is something best defined by seeing it live. If you feel you have a sauce that's too watered down, mix a tablespoon or two of flour or cornstarch with 1/2 a cup of sour cream and whisk it all in the sauce. Putting the flour or starch in the sour cream and dissolving it first will help alleviate those blasted lumps. The sour cream adds divine flavor as well. Make sure you taste along the way and adjust accordingly - you know what tastes good! That's all there is too it.

Now for desserts...there are tons of family favorites out there and about 25 ways to make a pumpkin pie. I won't go into how to make one other than to be the #1 advocate of premade crusts. Eagle Brand Milk has a nice recipe if you wish to google it, and so does Libby's Pumpkin - it's on the can! I've done baked pumpkin pies, whipped pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin roll, pumpkin squares and tarts, not to mention trifle. I like them all...but also appreciate the variety of brownies and cookies and apple pie. Banana pudding would rock the dessert buffet along with pecan pie or some lemon bars. It's nice to give your guests a few options and remember that a standard pie renders about 8 slices.

Whatever you decide - whether it's to make it yourself, assign it to a family member or send your husband to a bakery - it will be delicious. And if it's not, pull out some ice cream and make sundaes. It's the time you're spending with friends and family that outweigh the meal itself. Just relax and enjoy the process. I find cooking to be theraputic. I hope each and everyone of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I can't wait to hear how your meal turns out!

Have a delicious holiday,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day #3 of Turkey Day Planning 101

Howdy friends! I've been amused by two things so far today...finding a chocolate cupcake with white icing and candycorns stuck in it to look like a turkey stuffed half under my couch, and my 4 year old proudly declaring to me that he is in fact, a genius. Two totally unrelated instances (I think) as I have my youngest to blame for the careful cupcake placement. HA! I love my boys.

How are you coming with your Thanksgiving Planning? Good I hope - this is something fun to enjoy! I love this time of year so much. Just driving around today wearing a sweater and admiring the changing colors of Fall got me even more in a Thanksgiving-y mood. Today we're going to tackle the main course - the most intimidating aspect (in my opinion) of the entire meal. THE TURKEY. You don't want it to turn out like Cousin Katherine's from Christmas Vacation as Clark Griswold carves it and it explodes into a dry heap of char and you don't want to undercook it so that everyone goes home sick. It's a tricky bird, but with these careful instructions you can enjoy a masterpiece that will land you standing ovations.

First let's talk bird size - how big of a gobbler does one really need? A good rule of thumb is two pounds per person, and if you want some leftovers for sandwiches, consider 3 pounds per person. Not everyone is going to actually eat 2-3 pounds of meat, you're taking into account the bones weighing a bit too.

Pull that bad boy out of your freezer a good 4 days in advance - he needs to be completely unthawed before you throw him in the oven. So Sunday morning before church, set the bird in a pan and let him unthaw in the refrigerator. The pan will catch any condensation or juice so your frig isn't gross. (I know this from experience). When it comes time to pull the plastic and the netting stuff off the turkey next Thursday, be sure to remove the package of guts and the neck stuffed down inside the cavity of the bird. Some people love to use these parts in their gravy or stuffing. I personally do NOT and find it repulsive so I throw it in the trash as soon as I possibly can. It's just a guts phobia I have. I give him a cute little bath in the sink, rinsing him thoroughly with water and then let the bird sit for about 45 minutes on the counter to get to a good room temperature so as to reduce cooking time by alleviating the chill that may lead to uneven cooking. Nifty trick I learned through research.

Ok, so while he's resting on your counter, grab your ingredients.

Ingredients for the Best Turkey Ever
These ingredients are based on a 10-12 pound turkey - adjust accordingly based on your bird size (Thank you Southern Living!)
1/2 c. olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced (I put them through my garlic press)
2-4 t. fresh or dried rosemary
1-2 t. salt
1-2 t. pepper
2 onions

Combine the olive oil, garlic and rosemary. Loosen the skin from the turkey without totally detaching it. Now, forewarning: you will get messy hands at this point. If you want to be froo-froo, use a basting brush - if you want to get in and really baste your bird well, hands are key for me! Take about 1/2 of the mixture and massage it all over the bird under the skin, replace the skin and do the same thing to the outside of the skin. Sprinkle the outside with salt and pepper (and throw some underneath the skin for good measure if you desire). Roughly chop the onion and place it down in the cavity - the flavor will enhance as the bird and onion cook. You'll throw away your onion when this is all said and done.

Put the bird in a roasting pan (I have a nifty roasting rack he sits on in the pan -a sort of turkey throne for this last will and testament). Cover the entire pan - bird and all with foil. You want to keep the moisture in while it cooks so it's not like Cousin Katherine's - remember?

Bake the turkey at 325 degrees for 3 1/2 to 5 hours if you have a 12 to 16 pound bird. An 18-22 pounder will take around 4 1/2 to 6 hours. I baste twice - once about half way through cooking and the second time about 3/4 of the way through cooking. Just take all the juice in the bottom with a spoon and ladle it over the bird and recover it. Simple. Even simpler if you have a turkey baster - it's a fun little squirty gadget. Uncover your turkey when you have about 30 minutes left, so it gets nice and brown - if it starts getting crazy brown, recover it. We don't want the skin to burn, just to turn a nice golden brown like the cover of every magazine currently gracing the supermarket shelves.

How do you know if it's done? I don't trust the little pop up thermometer that some turkey companies have installed in your turkey for convenience. Mine never popped up one year. I use a meat thermometer and shove it in the thickest part of the thigh of the bird - being careful not to rest it against a bone. The temperature should read at least 165 degrees. Pull it from the oven and keep it covered in foil and let it rest while you madly shove your casseroles in the oven to heat up (remember, the ones you made tuesday?). Crank up your oven to 350 and if you've let your casseroles get to room temp, it won't take as long to reheat them.

Here is a photo of me last year, quite happy with my 18 pound bird.

Now, before you catch the last few floats coming down Michigan Avenue for the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, make your mashed potatoes and gravy. The rest of the meal is heating up and all will be done at the same time (or very close to it).

Prior to pulling the turkey out, peel and boil about 8-10 medium to large sized baking potatoes, yukons and yellows are nice and tasty. This sets the stage for the most fattening delicious potatoes ever.

Delicious Mashed Potatoes
8-10 medium/large potatoes - peeled and boiled
1 stick of butter (no substitutions - we're going for flavor)
8 oz. sour cream (again, if you say low fat, I'll have to smack you)
8 oz. cream cheese
Sea Salt or Kosher Salt to taste
Whole milk to reach desired consistency.

Once the potatoes are cooked, I mash them in my Kitchen Aid mixer (ahem, otherwise known as the pride and joy of my kitchen). If you have a large bowl and hand mixer, this gets the job done too. As they are mashing, add in the butter, sour cream, cream cheese...stop and taste it, then add salt according to your taste preference. If you're looking for a thinner potato consistency, add a little whole milk (or shoot - half and half if you've got it) and mix it thoroughly. Transfer the potatoes to your serving bowl and reheat in the oven for a few minutes if need be.

There you have it friends! Now tomorrow, I'll let you in on the gravy making secret and a dessert or two. We're a week away - yahooooooooooooo!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day #2 of Turkey Day Planning 101

I've completed my Thanksgiving cards and placed them in the mail, ate a whoopie pie for breakfast and sit here in utter disbelief over the happenings of my life over the past 24 hours. Indulge me before we talk of casseroles. I've mentioned before that I sing in my marvelous church choir. Last night we were invited to sing for the Reverend Billy Graham at his 60th anniversary commemorating his extraordinary years in the ministry. He is the greatest evangelist of our time. I was awestruck and overwhelmed. How I got chosen to be part of this, I'll never know. It was a once in a lifetime honor and it blessed me beyond measure. I was humbled at how he takes no credit for any of the great work he's done - the millions he's ministered to and lives that have been changed. What an example of a life to lead.

Thank you for allowing me to share that. Let's transition back to our Thanksgiving planning so you can whip up a feast that will awe and inspire, all while giving thanks for the things that really matter most, to the One who matters most.

I've had you make a guest list, a food-to-fix list and an ingredient list. You're mosey-ing off to the store to get your ingredients. What's next? Eat a piece of leftover candy from the Halloween stash and I'll tell you.

Days in advance, you can set your formal dining room table with the plates, napkins, doo-dads of decor and such - just forbid the kids from playing stomp rocket, tag or basketball in that room. Involve the kids in the preparation - let them feel it's their important job so they can get into the holiday more than stuffing their faces. It's ok if they miss a butter knife or two - the kitchen is just a few feet away. If you don't have a dining room table - no worries! Take the family out for dinner the night before so you can have the kitchen table set in advance. Everyone likes the special feel of the holidays by doing special things like going out.

In setting your table, I happen to be a proponent of name place cards and decor my kids have made in preschool for my centerpiece- if that's too bumpkin for you, a beautiful floral arrangement and figurines of pilgrims will have to do.

Now to the nitty gritty. When can you start making these food items so you can at least have an ounce of sleep before Uncle Bart and Aunt Vivian arrive? Tuesday. The Tuesday before you can start cooking like a FoodNetwork Star. You saw my list in the last post - I'll break it down for you.

Green Bean Casserole - make it and stash it in the frig. Keep the French Fried Onions off until you bake it in the oven the day of, or they'll be a soggy mushy mess.

Yellow Squash Casserole - another beauty that can be made ahead! This goes for the Broccoli Casserole and Sweet Potato Casserole. Often, these flavors get better with time, so Tuesday is your golden day!

Cranberry Sauce - don't laugh at my caveman view on this, but I happen to enjoy it pulled straight from the can with the can rings still impressed on it in a tube of cranberry jello-yness. Slice it into discs and slap it on a platter. I also like the kind with orange zest that you make fresh, but the can rings take me back to my childhood.

Now, we have a few key items left - Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Lettuce Salad, Fruit Salad and Rolls. They are day-of makers. No getting around it. Here's why - the turkey will get a strong game flavor over time - it's best cooked in the oven the day of. The stuffing...whether you are a stuffing or dressing fan (i.e. stuff in turkey to cook vs. in a casserole dish) it's best day of as well - the bread will otherwise get weird. Mashed Potatoes, ah yes - if you want them light and fluffy, they have to be made the day of. When they cool, they get much more dense and we all know the day after reheat in the microwave just doesn't taste the same. Lettuce salad - the lettuce will wilt, and no one wants a wilted lettuce salad. Rolls - a quick heat 'em up in the oven that is 5-10 minutes. No worries there!

Now, a few recipes to get you going, if you're stumped.

I mentioned appetizers the other day. I feel they are key. Undoubtedly, something will go wrong, cause a delay or several family members are late (surely this never happens?!). To keep every one happy and free from knawing on their shoes - have some light appetizers on hand. Hint: placing these OUT of the kitchen is key, so people aren't bothering you and getting in your way. You don't have to go crazy with apps, as you don't want everyone to fill up on them. Think block of cream cheese with pepper jelly on top served with crackers. Think mixed nuts and a bowl of cheese cubes. Think artichoke or olive tapenade from a jar with crackers (replate the jar please). Light and easy - operative words here.

And finally, I'll leave you with my Dressing Recipe. I'm not a turkey stuffer - I have nightmares of undercooking salmonella horribleness and like to keep it safe by baking these items separately. I found a recipe last year on Allrecipes.com and have modified it beyond recognition, so it's now completely my own - but I did want to at least give the source of my inspiration.

Step aside STOVE TOP! The real deal is comin to town!
Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Dressing (and for those skeptics out there who question the sausage - don't knock it until you've tried it! I have people clamboring for this recipe and have gotten so many ooh's and aaah's over it, I KNOW it's delish).

3 cups cubed Italian or French Bread
4 cups Herb Stuffing Bread (this will be in the bakery section of the grocery store and for my loyal HT Shoppers, is B1G1 this week)
1 pound of ground sausage (Jimmy Dean = perfection)
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
2.5 t. dried sage (fresh is fun too! - double if you go fresh)
1.5 t. dried rosemary
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and chopped
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1/3 c. minced fresh parsley (if you go dried - half this amount)
3/4 c. turkey or chicken stock
4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a large cookie sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes until evenly toasted. Transfer all cubes to a large bowl.

In a skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium heat. Add the celery, sage, rosemary and thyme (this so feels like a Simon and Garfunkle song). Cook, stirring for 2 minutes to blend the flavors.

Pour the sausage mixture over the bread in the bowl. Mix in the chopped apples, dried cranberries and parsley. Drizzle with the turkey or chicken stock and butter. Mix LIGHTLY and put in a large buttered casserole dish. You just need to heat this through - 25 minutes or so. If you want it crisp on top, leave the lid off your casserole dish. This is SOOOOO good and you'll forget you ever even saw a box of Stove Top once you've had it.

Next up - how do you cook that crazy turkey and can we put any more fattening ingredients in the potatoes? Chat more tomorrow!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day #1 of Turkey Day Planning 101

Let the countdown begin! We're a week and a half from the launch of Turkey Day and lots of Thankfulness. I can't wait! I have family flying in to town, we're getting the tree next weekend to start decorating the house, the recipes are flying like crazy and I purchased my massive turkey on sale for a mere $5. Life is good!

I promised that this week I would walk you through some of my favorite recipes, and I got a request from my friend Richelle L. to add my time line to the mix for the planners among us. It's a daunting task if you've never cooked a turkey - let alone being responsible for the entire meal. But you CAN do it, enjoy it and live to tell about it - I promise! I'm living proof. Now, eat a chocolate or two and lets get started!

My first plan of attack for a monstrosity of a meal such as this (and we're taking this from the standpoint of me hosting the shindig - I'm not this year, but for scenario sake, pretend I am). Planning ahead will save you much stress and heartache. I never thought I'd see the day that I would be exactly like my mother, but here goes: Start TODAY. Get out your notepad and make a list. My mom makes lists for lists and then adds another list for good measure. She's the most organized person on the face of the earth.

Your list #1 should contain the following: all your favorite dishes that you want to prepare. This is a task in and of itself as I have about 483 favorite recipes that I have to narrow down. I always go against the grain and try something new as well...but that's my adventurous spirit. From that, determine how many people are attending and if any of them have offered to bring something. This is where you say YES! Don't try to be super woman, this is part of you actually getting to enjoy the holiday. Delegation is an art - start practicing now. If your brother can't cook but wants to help, let him bring the rolls. If Aunt Helen will be there and makes a great casserole - sign her up! That helps defray some of the cost so you're not eating Ramen noodles for the rest of the year. (I don't have a brother or an Aunt Helen, but it sounded nice...work with me here).

You now have your master list - grab your recipes and write out all the ingredients that you need to purchase. We're on list #3...I told you I've turned into my mother. May I also mention I am a total nerd and Excel works wonders for list making? Hit the store and purchase everything non perishable first. Save the week of for your lettuce and floral arrangement and things that won't keep. That way, you're not losing your mind with the rest of America who has waited until the last minute - it's just a quick in and out for a head of lettuce and a few tomatoes.

Once you've gotten home from this shop-a-thon, put on your fuzzy slippers and heat up a mug of hot apple cider and make your way to your cupboards that have all the fun serving pieces. Match your food list to the serving dishes...just so you're not calling mom last minute for a gravy boat or turkey platter. Are we feeling on top of things or what?!

I don't want to overwhelm, so we'll stop here for today. I'll leave you with a typical Musing Foodie Menu, if you were coming to my house for Thanksgiving. Let's say this is for 12-15 people.

2 Appetizers
Green Bean Casserole
Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
Yellow Squash Casserole
Cranberry Sauce
Lettuce Tossed Salad
Sweet Potato Casserole
Broccoli Casserole
Fruit Salad
Rolls with Butter
Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Cookies / Brownies
Pumpkin Roll
Assortment of Drinks (Tea, Soft Drinks, Water...)

Chat with you more tomorrow - start working on your list!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Carmel Corn Shout Outs

I burned the carmel corn. Not just any carmel corn. THE carmel corn. We decided to make samples of the bake sale items for preschool so parents would taste the deliciousness of the items offered and sales would in turn, sky rocket (or that's how it works in my mind). I have a tasty recipe that I adapted from Land O Lakes Sweet and Salty Snack Mix and I can barely get the carmel on the popcorn from wanting to stick my face in the saucepan and lap it like a mad woman. You finish off this addicting treat in the oven and that was when my well thought out plan got burned to a crisp. I attempted 25 too many things at once and it caught up with me.

While wiping off breakfast faces, brushing unruly hair, zipping coats, making turkey sandwiches for lunch boxes and putting the dog in his cage, I simply forgot about the carmalicious delicious in my oven...when what to my wandering nose should appear but the horrible smell, wiping away all cheer. Plan B is to make it again next week and forgo endless multitasking. I'll go ahead and share the recipe with you if you promise not to burn it like me.

But first, I have to give a shout out to my loyal readers that have absolutely made this blog worth typing. I am amazed when people tell me they read The Musing Foodie - what an honor! I love your emails and comments and am totally wowed that you try my recipes. Just this week Mary M. made the Taco Dip for a party, Julianne M. went for the Butternut Squash Soup and branched out putting it on tortellini and Vanessa Z. tried the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies while Serena C. is currently walking through the mall enjoying the Godiva Chocolate Covered Strawberries. These types of things really keep me going. Thank you - thank you - thank you!

Now for that Carmel Corn....

1 Package of Microwavable Popcorn (no butter, no salt)
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) of butter
3 T. light corn syrup (actually I've used dark and it's fine too)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. baking soda

Pop the popcorn according to package instructions (which should mean 2 minutes and 15 seconds). Combine brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt in a 2 quart sauce pan. Cook over medium heat - stirring occasionally until mixture comes to a full boil.

Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour carmel sauce over popcorn in a separate bowl and toss and stir to coat. Pour popcorn onto a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes - stirring every 5 minutes. Do this and only this - do not make a turkey sandwich, wipe a face, blow your nose or go to the bathroom, lest this should burn. Now that you have a cookie sheet full of sweet crunchy tastiness, grab your spouse and kids and watch a movie together while munching away.

I would have taken a picture, but I was too frustrated. Maybe next week?

Have a delicious weekend and I look forward to sharing my favorite Turkey Day recipes with you all next week!


(Side note, I attempted this again and realized the timing was off - don't cook it 15 minutes as I orginally said...let's go with 10 and you should be fine - I adjusted the recipe above so you don't burn two batches in 1 week like I did.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Betty's Quiche

You'll kick me when you hear what I ate for breakfast. Ready? Godiva Chocolate Covered Dried Strawberries. You can snag them by the socks and cufflinks at the cash registers at Macy's for a few bucks and they are worth every bite. I ate the whole box, embarrassingly so. I've never been much for traditional breakfast foods - I tend to thrive on the unusual.

It's two weeks before Thanksgiving and I am getting giddy with excitement. Be sure to tune in next week as I share some of my favorite Turkey Day recipes. For today, my focus is on my kids bake sale at Preschool and my Choir Crony Cooking Show on Saturday. I got priviledge of writing the bake sale advertisement that was sent home with each child and I hope it's a huge success! Pumpkin rolls, dinner rolls, pumpkin pie, carmel corn and whoopie pies - what's not to love, crave and devour?!

Now for the Cooking Show, I'm planning on making my ultimate favorite quiche and though I've modified it somewhat, I owe this recipe's deliciousness to a sweet little lady who is long since retired. I had the pleasure of working her with one summer as I worked my way through school. She was the impetus for many amazing potlucks and that's where I snagged her recipe. Betty Deese - two thumbs up on your quiche, baby!

We enjoy this dish in our house as a dinner entree and I make a killer salad to accompany it. It's not too heavy, so you have plenty of room for the fudge brownies and vanilla bean ice cream that have been calling to you all day.

Here's the prized recipe:
1 pre-made pie crust - Pillsbury has a tasty one that you unroll so you can make people think you prepared it from scratch
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. shredded swiss cheese
1 lb. cooked sausage (I have tried them all - Jimmy Dean is the man)
1 1/4 c. sour cream
2/3 c. milk
4 eggs - beaten
1 t. salt
1/2 t. dry mustard

I am the self proclaimed queen of pre-made piecrusts. They have rescued me on many occasions. I form the crust into a 9" pie plate and call it my own. After all, I did unroll it and smoosh it into the plate and attempt lovely crimped edges. Of COURSE I made it! The cooked sausage is then patted down with paper towels to remove the artery clogging oil and then placed in the bottom of the crust.

I sprinkle all the cheese on the sausage next. From there, combine the sour cream, eggs, milk, salt and mustard together and pour the mixture over the sausage and cheese. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a 375 degree oven and then let it sit on your counter to rest for 5 minutes. The fluffiness of the egg will deflate - don't be alarmed.

I'm convinced I took more pictures than this, but they have mysteriously vaporized, so you'll need to use your imagination from here. This probably happened while I was dodging a flying basketball, jumping over the monster truck filled with animal finger puppets, wiping up the chocolate milk my son decided to smear all over the floor with his feet and so much for having lip gloss on when the hubby got home! This is Mmmm Mmmm good and you'll want to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Fiesta in my mouth! Chicken Nachos.

It's cold outside folks. Frost covered my lawn and roof and the kids were so excited they thought it snowed this morning. Bundled up much like the kid who licked the flagpole in "A Christmas Story" we got everyone off to school. I hope you had a great weekend. I enjoyed the extra hour of sleep and had fabulous family time. We got pizza from our favorite haunt - Brooklyn Pizza. I enjoy it so much, I secretly want to take tupperware in my purse to snag their amazing grated Parmesan cheese. Don't tell anyone...and NO, I don't do this (yet).

I spent a lazy Saturday morning making Deviled Eggs and half of them were a flop. I didn't let the 2nd batch boil long enough, so I had to start over on those, and then I got a little happy with the sea salt. I hope the poor people that got batch #2 don't hold the over-salting against me. Oops. Thankfully eggs are only $.77 this week. My husband thinks I might have salt hypersensitivity right now though, as we grilled a marinated pork loin that I wouldn't even eat - it was too salty. You'll never have to embalm me when I die - I'll already have enough salt in my system to preserve me from the pork loin. That was gross. Sorry.

Perhaps I DO have salt hypersensitivity and the eggs really weren't overly salty on batch #2. I prayed for them anyway. They were for a funeral meal.

On to a super awesome topic - we had a total Fiesta on Saturday night that was so amazingly delish, we repeated it after church on Sunday night. Earlier in the week I was craving chicken nachos. I can throw down on nachos like no other, and really wanted to make something party-like and fun, so this is necessity being the mother of invention. (I love that term - got it from the movie "Little Women").

I had a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts that I cut the yuck off of and threw in my crockpot. Can we pause right here? Why, if the chicken is boneless an skinless, do they hide mystery yuck on the chicken still? You open the package and underneath is the yuck. Please cut that off Chicken Man! Ok, I'll go back to my recipe now. Adding in about 1/2 a cup of salsa and a 1/4 cup of water with salt and pepper, I let the chicken slow cook while I went to the Metrolina Expo with the fam all day. When we got home, I shredded the chicken (please shred and don't chop - it will change your life for the better). In a big pyrex dish or cookie sheet, I layered tortilla chips, the shredded chicken and lots of cheddar cheese. I popped it into a 350 degree oven to melt the cheese and while this was happening, I got out all my fun toppings - salsa, black olives, tomato, guacamole (made this from scratch), sour cream, and put it all on the table. By then the cheese was melted and the nachos were ready.

I called the hungry brood to the table, from playing tag all over the house and let everyone top their chicken nachos with the toppings of their choice. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, they were delicious! I got a resounding "Mommy - this is so delicious! Much better than other dinners!" - hoping he was talking about the pork loin?

It was a fiesta that was quick and easy and all I can say is Ole!

Have a delicious day!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Apple Danish meets Gingerbread House all in a fit of insomnia

I have a simple confession - I ADORE Apple Danish. Whether it be at a conference, hotel continental buffet, church sunday school class or a restaurant, I am lured to Apple Danish as though there was a homing device baked in them crying EAT ME! Biting into the appley deliciousness (that is half apple pie / half apple sauce consistency) enrobed in a flaky buttery pastry crust sends me to a very happy place.

I was up until well past midnight pondering Apple Danish possibilities and constructing a Gingerbread house in my mind. I'm doing my homework and will keep you posted on how this Danish Adventure turns out. As for the Gingerbread house, well it just so happens there is a competition that I'm entering this year at a local hotel. The proceeds from the votes go to benefit our Children's Hospital. In my mind (until well past midnight) I constructed something magical and amazing that rivaled anything ever created for the National Gingerbread Competition held each year in Asheville, North Carolina. If you've never seen them, it's worth the trek to the Grove Park Inn! A family favorite tradition for sure.

So anyway, I made a gingerbread house once in my life and that was in Mrs. Goodan's Home Ec. class in 11th grade. I was so proud of that house...until my Golden Retriever ate it for dinner one night. I know I can make a replica, albeit a few years since I was in 11th grade. The creative juices are still there...so stay tuned on THAT adventure as well.

Now for my equally latest hairbrained idea, I woke up yesterday morning and had the burning desire to host a cooking show (I've been promising my friend Colleen for over a year that I would do this). Yesterday is when the urge hit, so I'm having a bunch of choir cronies over next Saturday for a breakfast extravaganza. How fun does that sound? Let's hope no one notices that I have no curtains up in my living room. They don't arrive until December 25. Bare rods can be a trend, right? Right....

Friends, I hope you have a delicious weekend - I've already started buying 'party foods' to ring in the holidays. You should do the same!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hey - I wrote that!

It's a cold and rainy Thursday morning and I'm sitting here trying to get motivated with a bowl of cranberry jello salad. My mother makes this amazing recipe that involves nuts and cranberries and jello and a bunch of other stuff and it just works. It's one of those things you only pull out at a holiday and in my case, she knows I love it so she fixed it for me in light of my latest dental soiree. Let's not tell her that all of the chopped pecans are getting stuck in my stitches. It'll be our little secret. (Love you mom!)

I discovered this morning that I have been plagiarized. I was reading an article sent to me in an email that I had already published back in July. There were my own words staring back at me - verbatim. My words are now published to an audience of literal thousands. I'm trying to decide if I should be flattered or frowny. It's a rather strange feeling. I think I'll take another bite of my jello salad.

While I ponder this, I'll mention that Super Doubles are currently taking place at my local grocery store and all of my friends are proudly proclaiming their profound savings, while I still sit here and eat jello salad. I need to get clipping...and then run out in the pouring rain over lunch and launch my efforts towards achieving equally profound savings.

Not until I finish my jello salad.

Have a great day friends!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


My friends at Land O Lakes sent me a few recipes to try and I picked one that looked especially delicious as it involves one of my favorite ingredients: Cream Cheese. Put cream cheese in a dessert and you pretty much have an automatic two thumbs up success rate every time.

I was asked to bake some cookies for a funeral meal at church last week and I felt like Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies were just the right choice. They are perfect for this time of year and show a little extra care in the baking and assembly, which equates to the sentiment I was trying to convey. They were a huge success and were gobbled up immediately - with not even a crumb left and the recipe begged for. So, here you go...technically Land O Lakes wants to call them Pumpkin Sandwich Cookies, but we all know they're really Whoopie Pies. I mean, c'mon - you can't live in Amish country for 14 years of your life and try to pass something like this off as a 'Sandwich Cookie'. You'd be scoffed and mocked and I want neither so they're Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. Done.

I feel like the key to these is piping the cookie dough in even 1.5 inch circles on your parchment paper lined cookie sheet. They give you uniform looking cookies. You can try to wing it with a spoon, but they may not match up as nicely when you get to the 'sandwiching' stage. Oh, and a word to the wise, you'll taste one of these cookies before adding the cream cheese and second guess yourself. Don't. It's the cream cheese that pulls this recipe together into the amazing delight that it is. So let's get started!

Cookie Ingredients
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. canned pumpkin
1/4 c. milk
1 egg
1 t. vanilla

Filling Ingredients
1 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
2 T. butter, softened
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Combine brown sugar and stick of butter in a large bowl, beat at medium speed until creamy. Add pumpkin, milk, egg and vanilla; beat until well mixed.
Drop batter by level measuring tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet (or my tried and true method of partchment paper). Bake for 9 minutes or until set and lightly browned around edges. Cook 2 minutes on cookies sheets and remove to a cooling rack. Cool completely. They will look a little something like this:

Now for the filling that turns this into a wow moment - combine all filling ingredients except the powdered sugar in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth. Gradually add the 4 cups of powdered sugar, beating until creamy.
Spread 2 teaspoons of filling onto bottom-side of 1 cookie. Top with another cookie to make your whoopie pie. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. This makes about 2 1/2 dozen if you make them 1.5-2 inches in diameter.

Yum! I have some leftover cream cheese filling that is calling my name so I'm off to spoon it down. Enjoy these fall treats and have a delicious day!

A Hug in a Bowl - Butternut Squash Soup

It's the second day of November. I am now less 4 wisdom teeth and recovering. Today is my 8th wedding anniversary to my knight in shining armor and as luck would have it, we're celebrating tonight by him attending a mandatory work conference and me attending a mandatory choir rehearsal. Sigh. Life - I think I live for weekends. We'll have fun celebrating when I can eat more than mushy foods. I've been surviving on quiche, pudding, milkshakes, noodles, soup and ice cream. How I long for a halloween candy and a burger!

In addition to the aforementioned burger, I've been craving Butternut Squash Soup. With the Fall season upon us, Harvest Festival at my son's school and cooler weather, I've got comfort food on the brain. Nothing quite gives you a warm food hug better than a bowl of hearty homemade soup. I happen to enjoy the sweet flavor that is brought out in this soup by roasting the ingredients first. Since I am in a mushy foods state right now, I made a rather large vat of this to last me a few days. Using only one butternut squash will do you just fine for a normal family of 4 portion with perhaps a leftover bowl or two.

I've looked at many recipes on this topic and some take the skimpy easy way out by microwaving their squash. Honey, if you want food that tastes good, take the time to roast this with me - you can multi task while it's in the oven and the taste will be worth every minute of effort yout put into it.

1 butternut squash, halved and scooped of seeds
1 onion, cut in 4-6 large chunks
1 small potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 small apple, peeled and cored - seeds removed
Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
Olive oil
1-2 cups chicken stock
Sour cream for garnish (Yes, you want this and No, don't buy lowfat)

Slather some olive oil on the flesh of the squash, as well as the onion and potatoes. Place squash skin side up on a foil lined cookie sheet with apple, onion and potato. Roast at 425 degrees for 35 minutes. Here are some before and after shots to help the visual people like me:

The squash skin will come off much easier now that it's roasted. Remove the skin, and place the squash, onion, potato and apple in your blender and puree away until it's nice and smooth. Pour this into a stock pot with the 1-2 cups of chicken stock and heat through. If you want a thicker soup, start with just one cup of the chicken stock. If you want to go thinner, add an additional cup. Add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste (if your soup is bland - you haven't seasoned enough) and garnish each portion with a dollop of sour cream. It adds a creamy tart zing to the dish and you'll love it. Comfort food at its finest. Doesn't this look like a hug? Love it!