Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Today was one of the hardest days of my life. Today we had to say goodbye to our cat, Dusty.

We got Dusty the day the war in Iraq started back in March 2003. That day we drove around to all the local shelters to see who was up for adoption. Dusty was an older cat, already seven years old, and obviously very unhappy at the shelter. He was sitting in his litter box, subdued where the other cats and kittens were hyperactive. No one was paying him much attention since he wasn't as "fun" as the other cats. But I knew he was the one when he nuzzled my hand while I was petting him. We signed the papers that day and brought him home. Even though I'd grown up with cats and dogs, Dusty was SP's first pet. He was so excited, buying him toys and a bed to sleep in that he never even set one paw in the entire time we owned it. He came to us with the name Doobie, but after spending a month hiding under our bed he was christened Dusty (for obvious reasons). After that the nicknames came easily - Dusty Springfield; Dusty Wusty Was a Bear, Dusty Wusty Had No Hair; Dustman.

Dusty was with us for every major life event, from getting engaged, to getting married, buying our first home and having Baby Girl. He would sleep at the foot of our bed, always hopping off like clockwork 15 minutes after we turned the lights off. He loved to chase string and the light from a flash light. We nicknamed him Doctor Dusty for how concerned he was when one of us was sick. He was always so low-maintenance that we could leave a bowl of food out and he'd just graze all day. He was never a lap cat, but he would sit next to me on the couch every night while we watched TV.

In the almost 9 years we had him we only had to take him to the vet for illness once. A few years ago he stopped eating and we were using a syringe to force-feed him baby food. He bounced right back like nothing had happened. He's always been a chunker, so when he started losing weight about a year ago we got concerned. The vet said we might be looking at the big C. We monitored him and over the last few weeks it became clear that something was definitely wrong. It all came to a head today when we noticed that he was having trouble walking, that his back legs just didn't seem capable of supporting him anymore.

We knew it wasn't good when they put us in the Comfort Room at the vet's office. A quick talk with the vet confirmed our fears. We had known it was coming, but hearing the words made it unbearable. I will forever be in debt to the amazing vet who took the time to talk with us, make us comfortable and who seemed genuinely upset about what was happening. At the end SP was holding Dusty while I pet his head and we said soothing words to him. Right before the sedative kicked in, Dusty looked at me and nuzzled my hand. In that moment we came full circle. It was one of the best and one of the worst moments of my life. I hope I never forget it.

Dusty, you were the best cat in the world. You were more than a cat - you were a friend. You will be missed for the rest of our lives and there will always be a hole in our heart and someone missing from our family. We are better for knowing you and we love you.

Rest in peace, my friend.

PS. I'm planning to take a small break from blogging. Life has been incredibly difficult lately and I need to focus on other things right now. It won't be a long break since I've got another recipe swap coming up in a few weeks and a roundup from the last one to put together. Thank you, as always, for reading.
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Friday, December 30, 2011

Recipe Swap - Endive Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

Want to see what other Special Occasion recipes were made during the swap? Here is the link to the Special Occasion Recipe Swap Roundup

The holiday season means parties and special dinners for many people. We always have a special meal for dinner Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, so I thought a special occasion recipe swap would be perfect. The guidelines were for an appetizer, entree or side dish since we just did two dessert swaps in a row. I received a recipe for Endive Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts. My step-aunt always brings an antipasto platter to Christmas dinner and I thought these would be the perfect accompaniment.

I assembled these in the morning and kept them refrigerated until our guests arrived. They were incredibly easy to make since the only real cooking is making the sauce and that takes care of itself. My walnuts took 10 minutes in the toaster oven to get golden brown but definitely keep an eye on them.

I loved the presentation of the endive stuffed with all the delicious bits drizzled with the balsamic syrup. I've always been a fan of savory and sweet flavors together and these were the perfect blend of both. Everyone loved them. We only had three left and that was with them competing with the gorgeous antipasto platter. I will definitely make these again. Thanks for a delicious, easy recipe Leanne!

Endive Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts
Slightly Modified from Cooking Light, recommended by Around the Table

1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons honey, divided
Cooking spray
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice
16 Belgian endive leaves (about 2 heads)
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 large can mandarin oranges in juice (about 16 slices)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Combine walnuts and 1 tablespoon honey; spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

Combine 1 tablespoon honey, vinegar, and orange juice in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, and cook until reduced to 3 tablespoons (about 5 minutes).

Separate and wash endive leaves. Lay each leaf, cup side up, on a platter. Top each section with about 1 teaspoon goat cheese, one orange slice and 1 teaspoon walnuts. Drizzle the vinegar mixture evenly over leaves, and sprinkle evenly with chives and pepper.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Asian Turkey Burgers with Spicy Lime Mayo

I can't remember the last time I made a burger. It must have been sometime over the summer. And as much as I love a good beef burger, I've come to realize that I'm a big fan of chicken or turkey burgers. The mild flavor of poultry makes it so much easier to add whatever flavors you like. This is a new phenomenon for me but I'm embracing it in these days of attempted weight loss.

I recently discovered How Sweet It Is and boy am I glad I did. She's got some truly delicious-sounding recipes that I'm dying to make. When I saw her post about these Asian Turkey Burgers with Spicy Lime Mayo I had to take her advice and add them to my weekly menu.

Head over to Jessica's blog for some drool-inducing photos. Mine are ehh, as usual. But don't let that deter you from making these immediately. I prepped the burgers in the morning before work and the smell alone was intoxicating. As far as I'm concerned you really can't go wrong with garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce and sesame. Add the delicious Spicy Limo Mayo and you've got one hell of a burger. Try these soon. You won't be disappointed.

Asian Turkey Burgers
How Sweet It Is

1 pound ground turkey breast
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3 green onions, thinly chopped
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
4 burger buns
Lettuce and sliced tomato for serving

Combine all ingredients (except buns) in a large bowl and mix gently with your hands until just combined – do not overmix. Form turkey into 4 patties about 1/2 inch thick. Heat a skillet (in my case – a cast iron grill pan) over medium-high heat (or preheat your grill) and once hot, add burgers. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side.

Toast buns if desired, then top burgers with mayo and serve.

Spicy Lime Mayo

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (or more if desired)
Zest of half of a lime
Juice of half a lime

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth and combined.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

SRC: Cheesy Spinach Farfalle

It's hard for me to believe that this is already my third month participating in the Secret Recipe Club. Time sure does fly when you're busy.

This month I was given Enriching Your Kid, a blog written by a Clinical Psychologist turned homemaker after having kids. She says her goal is to prepare food that is nourishing as well as enticing for kids. She actually had my blog for the first month of the SRC and made my corn fritters.

A lot of the recipes on her blog are for Indian food, which I love but rarely make at home. I wanted to find something that didn't require specialty ingredients since we are on a budget, so I finally settled on Cheesy Spinach Farfalle, which is right up my family's alley.

I made a few modifications but overall kept the recipe the same. I subbed a can of diced tomatoes for fresh tomato because tomatoes aren't in season (plus I hate loose tomato skin on cooked tomatoes). Since she didn't specify a type of grated cheese I thought mozzarella would be nice. I also upped the amount of pasta to a full pound since this needed to feed us for dinner, lunches and a little leftover for Baby Girl and also upped the spinach, garlic and cheese. I only had one small onion but I found a leek in the fridge that needed to be used, so I combined the two. I also added in white wine for some extra flavor since I thought pasta water alone wouldn't be enough to make a flavorful sauce. To thicken the sauce I opted for cornstarch mixed with cold water, which resulted in a silky-smooth sauce without worrying about lumps.

Make sure to taste as you go and add salt and pepper as needed. I absolutely loved this, but then again I pretty much love any pasta dish with tomatoes and spinach. It's an easy meal to put together on a weeknight, which is another plus in my book, along with being vegetarian and healthy. Score!

Cheesy Spinach Farfalle
Modified from Enriching Your Kid

1 lb farfalle
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup white wine
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook the farfalle according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan. Add the onions and minced garlic, cooking until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the wine and allow to reduce slightly. Add the tomatoes with the juice and the chopped spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste and the Italian seasoning. Allow the spinach to wilt.

Combine cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl. Slowly add to the pan, stirring to combine. Add the reserved pasta water. Sprinkle in grated cheese and allow to melt into the sauce. Add the pasta, mix well and season with salt and pepper. Top with more shredded cheese if you like and serve hot.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta

In one of the "what's for dinner?" posts on Facebook recently my friend Carrie said she was making this White Cheddar Chicken Pasta. The name alone sold me but then I looked at the ingredients and knew I had to make it ASAP.

After Carrie made the recipe she recommended cooking the onions before making the sauce, so I took her advice. I also ended up adding some chicken broth because my sauce was too thick.

We both loved this meal. The sauce is wonderfully flavorful with the sharp cheddar and the spices. I left out the red pepper flakes in the original recipe because spicy food and I don't get along well anymore. The spices on the chicken were perfect and I bet this would be even better with grilled chicken. I can't wait to try that once the weather warms up. Or if I ever get a grill pan.

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta
Modified from Homemade by Holman

1 pound chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound rotini or other short cut pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken stock
8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Parmesan cheese to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Mix together mustard, thyme, salt and pepper and sprinkle over chicken pieces. When pan is hot, add chicken and brown about 3 minutes per side until cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with foil.

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter and oil in the now-empty skillet you used to cook the chicken. Add garlic and onions and cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Add wine and Dijon mustard. Cook about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to low and slowly add milk and chicken stock, stirring to combine. Cook about 5-7 minutes more until mixture begins to thicken. Add cheese, thyme and oregano and stir to melt cheese. Add chicken and pasta and toss to incorporate sauce. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Smothered Pork Medallions

As the weather gets colder I am all about comfort food meals. I also love an excuse to make mashed potatoes. They're one of my favorite things and Baby Girl is taking after me in that regard. She will happily eat a big bowl full of them whenever I make them. When Melissa posted this recipe for Smothered Pork Medallions what drew me in was a new way to use pork and a sauce that included buttermilk, which I bought for Buttermilk Mac and Cheese and still had in my fridge waiting to be used up.

When shopping this week I realized I've never purchased pork tenderloin. How is that possible? Thankfully my supermarket had it on sale so it wasn't too expensive, but imagine my surprise when I discovered that what I thought was two tenderloins turned out to be four (the club pack came with two packages of pork, but each package contained two tenderloins). That's four meals for about $10. Awesome.

I was hesitant to use the full 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper to season the flour and I think that was a mistake. The dish was a little too sweet, probably from the onions. The extra cayenne would have helped mitigate that. Even so, this was delicious and we both cleaned our plates. You know SP is a sucker for anything with mushrooms in it. And it couldn't have been easier, which was nice for the Sunday when we decorated our Christmas tree.

Smothered Pork Medallions
Slightly Modified from I Was Born to Cook

3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 package (10 ounces) mushrooms, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup buttermilk
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Put the flour in a gallon food storage bag. Add garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the medallions and shake to coat.

Heat oil in a large skillet and add pork in an even layer. Fry pork on each side until golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add a little more oil to the pan, then add the mushrooms and onions. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and the onions are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add about 1 tablespoon of the seasoned flour to pan drippings. Mix together, then add chicken broth. Once liquid is reduced and slightly thickened, add buttermilk and stir.

Return pork to pan and cover in sauce. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until pork is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley to serve.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Skillet BBQ Chicken Pasta

I love a good one-pot or skillet meal. There's something infinitely satisfying about being able to cook an entire meal, including the pasta, in one pan. Nicole raved about this Skillet BBQ Chicken Pasta recipe so on to the menu it went.

Don't tell SP, but since the recipe calls for only 12 ounces of penne I took this opportunity to try the Dreamfields pasta one of their reps sent me awhile back. I was really impressed. We weren't fans of the whole wheat spaghetti we tried a few months ago but this penne was great for being low carb. I wouldn't be sad if they wanted to send me more samples. Wink, wink.

Anyway, this was an easy meal to get on the table but I was a little underwhelmed. I had hoped the flavors of the BBQ sauce would be more pronounced. And despite using a nice, sharp cheddar cheese that flavor seemed to be masked by the mozzarella. I've made some changes to the recipe below. I'll definitely try it again because you can't beat the convenience of a one-pot meal.

Skillet BBQ Chicken Pasta
Slightly Modified from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, As Seen on Prevention RD

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
1 red onion, diced
3 cups water
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces penne pasta
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded pepperjack cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a large 12-inch nonstick skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the chicken and onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is browned and cooked through. Remove the chicken and onions to a plate and set aside.

In the same skillet, add the water, chicken broth, penne and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until the liquid is almost absorbed, the pasta is tender and the mixture is thick and syrupy. Stir in the barbecue sauce and sour cream. Once mixed, add in the reserved chicken, onions and shredded cheeses. Stir to combine and cook until everything is heated through.

Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with additional red or green onions and more shredded cheese.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recipe Swap Roundup - Holiday Cookies/Treats

Tis the season for baking. You all know by now that I'm not much of a baker, but I couldn't resist making Holiday Cookies/Treats one of the themes for the recipe swap. I know most of the time people make the same recipes every year, usually by request from hungry friends, family or coworkers, but every once in awhile it's nice to branch out.

Jaida loves mint and chocolate so she was thrilled to get Mint Oreo Fudge:

Melissa celebrated her blog's first birthday with these Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Jenna was hoping her White Chocolate Dipped Spice Cookies would bring back memories of her grandpa's favorite cookie, but they were a little too busy in the flavor department for her tastes:

Nicole had my Jam Thumbprint Cookies, which are my all-time favorite holiday cookie. Thankfully, she agreed:

Lishie loves baking and her recipe for Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies really hit the spot:

Jey's Caramel Chex Party Mix was the perfect mix of sweet, tasty and easy:

Ashley isn't a big fan of fudge but her sister loved the pretty colors in the Candy Cane Fudge:

Cathy's recipe was aptly named Christmas Crack (aka Saltine Toffee Bark):

The Cookaholic Wife is a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter so she loved her recipe for Peanut Butter Cups, even if she had to use a regular size muffin tin to make them:

Coleen had some minor issues with her Oatmeal Cookies, but they were still light, chewy and delicious:

Allison, a newcomer to the swaps, enjoyed her Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies, a spicy treat (especially for breakfast):

Katie made adorable Spoon Cookies filled with apricot preserves:

After making tons of cookies this holiday season Nicole was happy to do something different with Chocolate Dipped Pretzels:

I had a small issue with my Black Bottoms, so this is my pinch baker's photo:

Diana, a newcomer to the swap, doesn't have a blog but she did take pictures and write a review of her recipe for Pumpkin Seed Cranberry Biscotti:

I adapted this recipe from its original form – subbing out the cranberries and pumpkin seeds. Neither one of these items are liked in my household and with the base recipe the changes were easy to make. I have to say I was a little bit skeptical about making biscotti since I’d never made it before. This was a very easy recipe and I have to say with my minor substitutions this recipe came out delicious. My husband (who never really liked biscotti) likes these.

Pecan Chocolate Chip Biscotti Recipe
Adapted from Delish!

3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a small bowl, beat the sugar, eggs, oil and extracts. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to sugar mixture and mix well. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips (dough will be sticky).

With lightly floured hands, shape each portion into a 12-in. x 2-in. rectangle. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Carefully remove to wire racks; cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; cut diagonally with a serrated knife into 3/4-in. slices. Place cut side down on baking sheets.

Bake for 5 minutes or until firm. Turn and bake 5-10 minutes longer or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 2-1/2 dozen.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Pasta with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone

If you've read this blog for any length of time you know that I have a weakness for cream sauces, especially in pasta dishes. I've seen this recipe for Orecchiette with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone floating around the blogosphere for awhile and figured it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

After looking at the ingredient list I knew my first task would be finding a substitute for mascarpone. I'm sure the stuff is great but I'd rather use ingredients that I already keep on hand then spend extra money for a specialty item. A quick Google search led me to this recipe at I really appreciated the tool to increase or decrease the serving size to adjust for different recipes. The original recipe yielded 10 ounces and I only needed 4 ounces or 1/2 cup. Easy peasy.

I subbed nugget pasta for the orecchiette simply because I had a box at home and, again, didn't want to spend the money for a specialty item when I had something else at home already. Next time pasta is on sale at my supermarket I plan to stock up on mini shells, so next time I'll use those. As the original blogger said, the crevice in the orecchiette/shells is perfect for cradling the sausage and beans, although the nuggets were fine in a pinch.

My only complaint about this dish was that there wasn't more sauce. I'm thinking about upping the amount of mascarpone ingredients next time to see if that helps. Otherwise this was outstanding, if a little spicy from the red pepper flakes. I've made them optional in the recipe below but if you like spice use them. I prefer my cream sauces mild, thankfyouverymuch.

If 1/2 pound of sausage seems like too little for 1 pound of pasta never fear; the beans more than make up for it. I wish I'd taken my own advice, though. I thought the pan seemed a little empty so I used a full pound of sausage and it overwhelmed the finished dish once everything else had been added. Next time I'll stick with a 1/2 pound.

Orecchiette with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone
Modified from Stirring the Pot

1 pound orecchiette or shell pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup Marsala wine (you can also use brandy, sherry or Madeira)
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 ounces cream cheese
1/8 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid.

In a large, heavy skillet warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and onions. Using a wooden spoon, break up the sausage into bite-sized pieces as it browns. Continue cooking until the sausage is golden and the onions are tender. Add the garlic and stir, cooking about 1 minute until you can smell the garlic. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup Marsala wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the beans, oregano, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook for 2 more minutes. Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid and stir. Add the cream cheese, heavy cream and sour cream and stir until it dissolves into a light sauce. Add the salt, pepper, and hot pasta. Stir until coated and serve.
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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekly Menu - Week of December 18, 2011

Can you believe next weekend is Christmas? I knew this month would go fast but I wasn't prepared for how fast. Once again we are hosting Christmas dinner, one of my favorite meals of the year. I also look forward to our Christmas Eve dinner, which has become a tradition over the years. Lots of great meals coming up this weekend, but first we have to get through the week.

Sunday - Cheese ravioli, SP's Sunday sauce, Caesar salad

Monday - Cheesy farfalle with spinach and tomatoes, leftover Caesar salad

Tuesday - FFY

Wednesday - Pork Medallions in Balsamic Reduction, rice, green beans

Thursday - Asian turkey burgers with spicy limo mayo, sweet potato fries

Friday - Homemade pizza

Saturday - Asparagus with Fried Egg and Cheese, Baked Stuffed Shrimp, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream

Sunday - Breakfast: Christmas Morning Strata, pancakes, bacon. Dinner: Appetizer platter provided by my step-aunt, Endive Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Walnuts (recipe swap), Roast Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes, green beans with almonds, Yorkshire Pudding, Santa Hat Brownies, bread pudding with whiskey sauce and whipped cream
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Recipe Swap - Black Bottoms

Want to see what other Holiday Cookies/Treats recipes were made during the swap? Here is the link to the Holiday Cookie/Treats Recipe Swap Roundup

The holiday season is in full swing and for many people that means doing a lot of baking. Many of my favorite food blogs have been posting recipes for cookies and other treats to make for holiday parties and gifts. I thought, what better theme for the swap then Holiday Cookies/Treats!

Since I'm the organizer for these swaps I tend to hold myself to a higher standard. I like to make my recipe early and allow myself plenty of time for any mishaps. I ask the participants to be conscientious so I need to do the same. Imagine my dismay when I realized the swap was due in a week and I had completely forgotten about it. There it was, late Sunday afternoon and I found myself with about an hour to get these Black Bottoms from Katie together. Thankfully I had 4 ounces of cream cheese left in the fridge from another recipe, but I was out of chocolate chips. With no time to run to the store and no chance to make them during the busy workweek, I forged ahead. Not being a baker, I didn't realize how vital the chocolate chips were going to be. I figured they were just an added bonus, but unfortunately my Black Bottoms weren't very good without them. Here is my photo of the Black Bottoms:

My friend Jaida has always said she'd be willing to fill in if someone had an issue with the swaps, so I asked for her help as a pinch baker. Being the great friend and baker that she is, she rose to the occasion. Here is her photo of the Black Bottoms:

And her comments about the little treats: "When the opportunity arose to try out these blackbottoms, I was excited because I love chocolate and I love cream cheese. Not to mention I love miniature-sized desserts! The cake part itself is not too sweet, but the cream cheese topping with the chocolate chips makes it just right!! And, a few of the chocolate chips sneak their way into the chocolate part and when you bite into one, there is a surprise center of melty chocolate – delish!! I refrigerated them overnight due to the cream cheese element, and brought them to work the following morning. I had barely made it through the door when a co-worker accosted me for the day’s baked goods and after one bite she declared, “Oh my God, these are delicious!” So, the verdict is in – these little treats are a winner!"

Katie, I promise to make these again once I pick up some chocolate chips. And a big thanks to Jaida for stepping in and helping a girl out. You rock.

Black Bottoms
So Tasty, So Yummy
Makes 48 miniature cupcakes/24 regular cupcakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix first eight ingredients (through vanilla) together and set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese, egg, salt and sugar together. Stir the chocolate chips into the cream cheese mixture.

Line two muffin pans with paper liners. Divide chocolate batter evenly. Top evenly with the cream cheese mixture.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until set.
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Southwestern Ranch Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches

I had planned to make these Southwestern Ranch Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches with leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, but between sandwiches and soup we used it all up. I didn't want to miss out on these sandwiches so I bought deli turkey, which was just fine.

These are definitely a knife-and-fork sandwich, which disappointed SP. He was hoping for a traditional sandwich. Next time I'll use less ingredients per sandwich and maybe cook them panini-style. I'm also thinking about adding bacon (thanks for the idea, Cassie) and switching the avocado slices to guacamole or an avocado spread for easier eating. No matter how you assemble them, these are truly delicious.

Southwestern Ranch Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches
Cassie Craves

6 slices sandwich bread
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 to 1 pound turkey, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cup shredded pepper jack or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 ripe avocados, sliced
Juice of 1 lime

Toast bread in toaster or under the broiler. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine ranch dressing mix, chili powder, and cumin. Stir in mayonnaise and sour cream.

Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil. Place bread on baking sheet and spread 1 tablespoon of the sauce on each slice. Top with sliced turkey and 1 more tablespoon of the sauce. Top with cheese and tomatoes.

Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is melted. Top each sandwich with sliced avocado and a spritz of lime juice.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Creamy Baked Fettuccine with Asiago and Thyme

As soon as Maryanna posted her recipe for Creamy Baked Fettuccine with Asiago and Thyme in the recipe swap roundup I knew I had to make it ASAP. It sounded like a baked version of fettuccine alfredo and how could that be bad?

I apologize for the less than stellar photo (look at Maryanna''s much nicer).

This dish was exactly as I imagined it would be, except for my own stupidity. Instead of grating the cheeses using my microplane, which would have resulted in feathery-light cheese that would melt easily in the sauce, I grated my cheese on a box grater. I'm not sure what I was thinking. The result was clumps of unmelted cheese throughout the sauce. Not quite the silky, creamy concoction I'd planned. I've modified the recipe below to be more specific. As a friend told me, this just gives me an excuse to make it again, which I definitely will be doing soon.

Oh and for those wondering how the homemade creme fraiche turned out, it was perfect. I was really, really skeptical about leaving dairy out on the counter for 36 hours but it was fine. And I saved over $10 making my own. Score!

Creamy Baked Fettuccine with Asiago and Thyme
Taste and See

1 pound fettuccine pasta
2 cups grated Asiago cheese, plus 1/4 cup (grated using a microplane)
2 (8-ounce) containers creme fraiche (or make your own, recipe below)
1 cup grated Parmesan (grated using a microplane)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

In a large bowl, combine the 2 cups Asiago, creme fraiche, Parmesan, thyme, salt, pepper, cooked pasta, and pasta cooking liquid. Gently toss until all the ingredients are combined and the pasta is coated.

Place the pasta in a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Asiago cheese. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, and serve.

Creme Fraiche
2 tablespoons buttermilk, room temp
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Heat heavy whipping cream over very low heat until it reaches body temperature (not to exceed 100-degrees F). Remove from heat and pour into a glass bowl or jar. Add buttermilk, and give it a couple of stirs. Seal the bowl with plastic wrap or jar with a lid, and let it sit in a warm place (about 70-degrees) for 12 to 36 hours until it thickens.

Stir the thickened creme fraiche and store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Note - If using for the above recipe, double the amount of buttermilk and heavy cream.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cheese Ravioli with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Melissa recently shared this recipe for Cheese Ravioli with Broccoli Rabe and Pancetta as a fast, easy weeknight meal. I was looking for something simple to make the night before Thanksgiving and thought I'd give it a try.

I adapted the recipe to include sausage instead of pancetta since I had some in the freezer that needed to be used up. I also blanched the broccoli rabe before adding it to the skillet to remove some of the bitterness. I loved the simplicity of this meal but SP tends to like pasta dishes with sauce and this didn't really have one. Even so, I'll make this again and just tweak the amount of oil and cheese to make a sauce.

Ravioli with Broccoli Rabe & Sausage
Adapted from I Was Born to Cook

1 bag cheese ravioli
1 bunch broccoli rabe, ends trimmed
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more if you like it spicy)
1/2 lb Italian sausage, casing removed
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated pecorino romano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous sprinkling of salt. Cook ravioli according to package directions. Remove ravioli with a strainer to a bowl. Bring water back to a boil. Chop broccoli rabe into large pieces and add to boiling water. Cook 5 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large deep skillet over medium high heat. Crumble sausage into skillet and cook until no longer pink. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, stirring constantly. Add broccoli rabe and heat through. Turn heat down to low, then add ravioli to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together until ravioli are coated with all ingredients. Add cheese, toss quickly and serve.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweet Pork Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Dressing

I've decided the way to successfully use my crockpot is to only cook with it when I'm home to monitor it. Yes, I realize this defeats the overall purpose of the crockpot, but until I feel like shelling out money for a new one this has become my only feasible option to prevent burnt food. Since I didn't want to miss out on this recipe for Sweet Pork Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Dressing, I made it on a Sunday. It was perfect because I didn't really have to do anything except keep an eye on it and flip the meat over a few times so the side that wasn't completely submerged in the liquid didn't dry out.

With all the Thanksgiving leftovers taking up space in my fridge I couldn't fit the crockpot insert in there as well, so I double-bagged two galloon freezer bags and put them into a Corningware dish to sit in the fridge overnight. I was a little skeptical of the three cans of Coke, but all it added was a nice sweetness. The pork is definitely sweet, but the tanginess from the cilantro ranch dressing helps offset it.

I served my tacos with shredded cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses, with some extra sprigs of cilantro as a garnish. Absolutely delicious and even better the next day. This made a lot of food so I froze about half of it for another time. I'm thinking about making quesadillas with the leftovers - melty cheese, the sweet meat and maybe some tomatoes for freshness, all dipped in the delicious sauce. Yum!

Sweet Pork Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Dressing
Cassie Craves

For the pork:
2 to 3 pound pork roast
3 cans Coca-Cola
1 cup brown sugar
2 cloves garlic
1 can diced green chilies
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 packet taco seasoning

For the dressing:
1 cup salsa verde
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1/3 cup cilantro
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup sugar

Tortillas and shredded cheese for serving

The night before you want to serve, place pork in the bottom of a slow cooker. Mix together all other ingredients for the pork and pour over the roast. Cover the slow cooker and refrigerate overnight.

Cook pork mixture on low for 6 to 8 hours, or until the pork shreds easily with a fork. Remove pork from crockpot and shred. Spoon some of the cooking liquid onto the shredded pork to moisten it.

Blend all dressing ingredients in a food processor or blender. Serve drizzled over pork.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekly Menu - Week of December 11, 2011

Only a few more weeks until 2012. Can you believe it? I can't. Every year seems to go by faster than the last. I'll be celebrating another birthday in less than a month and that doesn't seem possible either.

Sunday - Cheeseburger meatloaf muffins, mashed potatoes and broccoli - I've made cheeseburger meatloaf before but never in muffin form. This is mostly for lunch on Monday since we had a late lunch at a birthday party.

Monday - White cheddar chicken pasta and side salads - My friend Carrie posted on Facebook that she was making this recipe and I couldn't wait to get it on my menu.

Tuesday - FFY

Wednesday - Honey Dijon salmon over arugula, roasted potatoes - I love the idea of honey and Dijon with salmon, especially when it's served on a bed of arugula.

Thursday - My company's holiday Christmas party

Friday - Pretzel Ranch chicken tenders, stovetop mac and cheese - Cassie said these were a big hit with her boys so I'm hoping the same holds true for Baby Girl. And what better to serve them with then mac and cheese.
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Friday, December 09, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes: Whiskey-Glazed Carrots

I made these Whiskey-Glazed Carrots last year for Thanksgiving but for some reason I didn't blog about them beyond the standard Thanksgiving recap. Big mistake. These carrots need their own post so I can rave about them. UPDATE - I made them again for Thanksgiving 2011 and took a much better photo.

These are AMAZING. The whiskey, brown sugar and butter make the most delicious glaze I've ever tasted. I serve these with roasted chicken and love dipping pieces of chicken into the extra glaze. I cut down on the amount of butter and sugar from the original recipe, but that doesn't make these healthy by any means. SP always jokes that I've managed to make carrots bad for you.

Whiskey-Glazed Carrots
Slightly Modified from Pioneer Woman

4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into thick circles
1/2 cup Jack Daniels Whiskey
3/4 cup brown sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped chives, optional garnish

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add carrots and cook about 2 minutes until they start to brown in spot.

Pour in whiskey and allow to evaporate 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium, and add remaining butter. When butter melts, sprinkle brown sugar over the top. Stir together to coat the carrots.

Cook about 15-20 minutes more, stirring often, so the sauce thickens into a glaze and the carrots cook through. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour onto a platter and serve immediately. Sprinkle with chopped chives if desired.
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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes: Creamed Onions with Thyme and Sage

You probably know by now that I'm a sucker for anything in a cream sauce. So what's not to love about creamed onions? These Creamed Onions with Thyme and Sage are so simple to make but pack great flavor.

Since I use frozen pearl onions these require next to no effort. The most time-consuming part is chopping the herbs. And the recipe gets bonus points for being make-ahead friendly.

Creamed Onions with Thyme and Sage
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bag frozen pearl onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped sage
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 30 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, nutmeg and white pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, transfer to a bowl and serve.

Make Ahead - The onions can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat gently.
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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes: Thanksgiving Stuffing

I have to admit, stuffing is not my favorite Thanksgiving side dish. Why fill up on carbs when there's turkey and veggies to eat? Even so, I know most people love it and I needed a great recipe for my first year hosting. My friend Melissa recommended this Thanksgiving Stuffing recipe from the Pioneer Woman.

Unfortunately my supermarket was out of cornbread so I had to make this with just hearty white bread. I think the cornbread would have added a whole other dimension to this stuffing and next year I'll either make my own or go out of my way to buy some. This was good, but I can only imagine how much better it'll be with the cornbread.

Thanksgiving Stuffing
Adapted from Pioneer Woman

2 loaves hearty bread
1 stick butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups celery, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons (to 3 Teaspoons) fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Chop bread into 1-inch cubes. Spread them out on two baking sheets and let them dry for approximately 24 hours.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter. When it’s melted add the onion and celery and cook for a few minutes until onions are almost translucent. While it’s cooking chop up any fresh herbs you will be using.

Add 4 cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of basil, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, a few teaspoons of fresh chopped rosemary and 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley. Stir until combined.

Place dried bread cubes into a large bowl. Gradually ladle the broth mixture into the bread, tossing lightly as you go. Keep gradually adding the broth mixture, tasting as you go and adding more seasoning and herbs if needed. Add salt carefully. You don’t want to over-salt your stuffing. If the mixture is not quite moist enough add a bit more chicken broth and stir.

Butter a large baking dish. Add stuffing and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Make Ahead - The bread should be air-dried at least 24 hours ahead so it has plenty of time to stale. Cook the veggies the night before and put the stuffing in a greased baking dish, covered with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge. Moisten with additional chicken stock before baking.
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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Weekly Menu- Week of December 4, 2011

Now that December is here I feel like we're on a downward slide to Hanukkah, Christmas and celebrating the New Year. It may only be early December now but before we know it we'll be opening presents and ringing in 2012. In fact, we bought our Christmas tree over the weekend and decorated it Sunday night. I love that warm glow in the living room.

Like most people this time of year, our weekends are quickly filling up with errands and parties or events. Add working full time and keeping a curious toddler from destroying the Christmas tree and I am one tired cook. I'm trying to keep our menus simple and make at least one meal at week that requires very little effort in order to maintain my sanity.

Sunday - Smothered Pork Medallions, mashed potatoes, green beans - In my quest to find good pork recipes, this one from my friend Melissa sounded easy, delicious and a great way to use up some the buttermilk I still have lurking in my fridge.

Monday - Cheese ravioli, sauce and garlic bread

Tuesday - FFY

Wednesday - Orecchiette with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone - I'm really excited for this recipe because of the creamy factor. I'm actually going to make my own mascarpone using ingredients I always keep on hand instead of buying the expensive stuff.

Thursday - Skillet BBQ Chicken Pasta - I won't be going as healthy as Nicole with the whole wheat pasta and low-fat everything, but the original recipe sounds right up our alley.

Friday - Homemade pizza
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Monday, December 05, 2011

Recipe Swap Roundup - Thanksgiving Desserts

With Thanksgiving falling right in the middle of the two weeks participants have to make their recipe for the swap I thought a theme of Thanksgiving Desserts would be perfect. Pumpkin pie might be the traditional sweet treat, but judging from these recipes below it certainly isn't the end-all, be-all of Thanksgiving desserts. Check out the recipes below and see if one catches your eye for next year's feast.

Melissa was worried her recipe for Pumpkin Roulade with Buttercream would be difficult to make, but it was actually easy and delicious:

Patrizia, a newcomer to the swaps, really enjoyed her recipe for Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, despite her initial hesitancy about the "fall" flavors:

Chrissy loves anything with white chocolate in it, so her Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies were a big hit:

Ashley really stepped out of her comfort zone with Triple Chocolate Cheesecake, which was a big hit with her husband and family:

Nicole's Caramel Appledoodles were so good they solicited a marriage proposal:

My stepdad went back for seconds of these Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes, which is a testament to how good they were:

Jaida was happy to break away from the pumpkin craze she's been on with Nantucket Cranberry Pie:

Ellie's Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Squares were perfectly moist and utterly delicious:

Jenna modified my recipe for Butterscotch Pumpkin Cupcakes and they were a big hit:

Lishie had a lighter holiday dessert, Meringue Nests, that were melt-in-your-mouth delicious:

The Cookaholic Wife doesn't have good luck with layer cakes, but that didn't stop her from enjoying her Vermont Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, with two layers instead of four:

Coleen wasn't able to make her recipe for No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake for Thanksgiving as planned because her son decided to arrive two weeks early (congrats!!):

Nicole loves baking bar treats so she loved her recipe for Pumpkin S'mores Bars:

Christine's Cranberry White Chocolate Almond Cookies were devoured by her hungry relatives:

Jey's Chocolate Hazelnut Tart was a huge hit at Thanksgiving dinner:

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