Saturday, December 31, 2011

Just for Jen :)

So we saw my cousin and his wife over the holidays.  She gave me a hard time for not having pictures on my blog so she could compare her Italian pasta dish with mine.  Little does she know how hard it is to get dinner on the table with a teen and almost teen asking every 30 seconds when dinner is; picture taking is just not happening with that going on!!  So just for you, Jen, here's some pictures of the pretzel-chocolate treats that I blogged about and we made again for snacks tonight for New Year's Eve.

First, you need a totally awesome chef assistant.

Then you take the waffle pretzels and spread them on a cookie sheet, preferably a rimmed one so they don't slide off.  Top each pretzel with an unwrapped chocolate kiss.

Bake in the oven (250*) for about 5-7 minutes until the kisses are soft.

When they're soft, take them out and top each pretzel/kiss with an M&M.  Push the M&Ms down so they flatten the kisses a bit.  We used the red and green Christmas ones last time, today it was the regular colored ones.

Let them cool so the chocolate hardens, then you can enjoy!  Watch out because they can be quite addictive!

So Jen, just for you some lovely pictures of us creating the pretzel-chocolate treats.  Don't expect more pictures anytime soon. :)  It was pretty hard to remember to take pictures going along just making these.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ham and Bean Soup

Merry Christmas!!  We enjoyed our relaxed Christmas day at home, then my family came over on the 26th for some fun together.  I made a ham, mac and cheese, and salad for dinner that night, something that everyone would like.  Now I have leftover ham to make into something.  Bob has used some of it for breakfast the last two days, but I was thinking more like soup/stew.  I had a bag of Appaloosa beans I had gotten from The Herb Shop at Lancaster, PA's Central Market.  The recipe on the back got the juices flowing for a soup, but it wasn't quite what I wanted (it had salsa in it, not something Bob really likes).  So after a quick web search, I found something better that I made to our liking.

Ham and Bean Soup

1 ham bone with some meat left on
1 lb. Appaloosa beans
3 c chicken broth
3 c water
1 heaping Tbsp brown sugar
1 heaping Tbsp parsley
2 bay leaves
a few grinds of pepper

Put all the ingredients into a large soup pot.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 2-3 hours until beans are soft.  Pull out the ham bone and meat; cut up the meat and return to the pot.  Heat for a couple of minutes to reheat the meat and serve.

This can also be cooked in a crockpot on low all day or on high for 3-4 hours.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas is coming!

Christmas food traditions vary from home to home.  Growing up we always had what amounted to Thanksgiving, Part II for Christmas Day dinner.  Instead of pumpkin pie for dessert, we had plum pudding and hard sauce, but otherwise it was turkey with all the fixings.  While I enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, once is enough for me.  I think it's the turkey, I'm really not that crazy about it. 

For several years, when it was just the two of us, Bob and I would do something similar if we were on our own.  When we had the girls and started spending Christmas at home, we'd have roast beef for Christmas Eve dinner, then turkey or something else nice on Christmas.  I decided a couple of years ago that we didn't need two big meals back to back and I didn't want to spend Christmas in the kitchen cooking, I wanted to play with my new toys too!  So we've moved to a much more casual Christmas meal, keeping the nice one on Christmas Eve.

Our menu for this year:

Christmas Eve breakfast - coffee cake made in my tree shaped pan, coffee, tea, juice
Christmas Eve dinner - roast beef, scalloped potatoes, green beans, and a Buche de Noel
Christmas morning - sweet rolls (I think I'm going to use the Pioneer Woman's recipe), coffee, tea, juice
Christmas lunch/dinner - chili, mini corn bread muffins

The roast beef and chili have become traditions for our family though the sides vary with what I feel like making.  The Buche de Noel was suggested by Sweet Pea; her French teacher encouraged them to make one for extra credit for class.  Can't wait to try it!

Merry Christmas to all!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crunchy Oat & Cranberry Muffins

Yes, more cranberries!!  I made these muffins because I like them.  Bob wasn't home by the time I made breakfast this morning, Sweet Pea doesn't like cranberries (otherwise I think she'd like these muffins), and Rosie Jane doesn't like oats in her muffins.  I got this off the web a long time ago but haven't made them recently; I had just the right amount of cranberries leftover from making something else so it worked out perfectly (except that I'm the only one eating them).

Crunchy Oat & Cranberry Muffins
makes 12 muffins

3/4 c flour
3/4 whole wheat flour
1 c regular oatmeal
1/2 c brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 c butter
1 c milk (room temp)
1 egg

Heat oven to 425*.  Butter muffin cups.  In a bowl combine dry ingredients and blend well.  Toss the cranberries with 1 Tbsp. of dry ingredients and set aside.

Melt butter.  Off heat stir in milk and egg.  Stir butter mixture into dry ingredients and, when well mixed, stir in cranberries.  Put into muffin pan.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned.  Let stand 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Beef Pot Pie

This is a great way to use up leftover roast beef.  The family looks forward to this more than the roast beef sometimes.  I usually don't make gravy, we just weren't a gravy family growing up and so I don't usually make it.  This calls for gravy but I also have a recipe for an improvised gravy that I use to make this.  You need a deep dish pie plate or a casserole dish; I use my favorite pie plate that I got at a potter's near my cousin's in Tallahassee, FL.  You can use more or less potatoes and carrots to your family's taste.

Beef Pot Pie
modified from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook

1 onion, chopped
3 Tbsp butter
1 lb.cooked beef, in bite size pieces
1 1/2 c. gravy, leftover or improvised
4 carrots, cooked and sliced
3 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 pie crust (from refrigerated package or make your own)

Cook the onion in the butter until soft.  Add the beef, gravy, carrots, potatoes, and cinnamon, stirring constantly until bubbling.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Put beef mixture into a deep pie dish or shallow casserole.  Preheat the oven to 425*.  Roll out the pastry (or unroll) and place on top; crimp the edges and cut a small vent on top.  Bake about 20 minutes or until bubbling and top is golden.

Improvised Gravy
from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook

2 Tbsp minced shallots, scallions, or onion
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 c red wine or dry vermouth (optionsl)
1 1/2 c beef broth
leftover drippings or additional tablespoon butter
salt and pepper

Saute the minced onion in the butter until translucent.  Stir in the flour and cooking slowly, stir until it turns light brown.  Remove the pan from the fire, add the wine, if you are using it, and an equal amount of broth.  Stir until smooth, return to the fire, and slowly add the remaining broth, stirring constantly.  Continue to cook, stirring often, for another 5 minutes.  Swirl in leftover drippings or butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tuscan Sausage and Bean Soup

I needed something for the crockpot last night; we were making a trip to the ski slopes and were planning on getting in back just in time to get Rosie Jane to dance.  I wanted dinner to be ready when Sweet Pea and I got home so we could eat as it was going to be late.  This was good, first time we'd tried it.  One thing I need to remember is to add things like Italian sausage close to the end.  For some reason, it looses all it's flavor when it cooks all day.  Not sure if it's just me or what, but fully cooking it then adding at the end works much better.

Tuscan Sausage and Bean Soup
modified from

1 1/4 c dry Great Northern beans
1 3/4 c beef broth
1/2 c chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning, crushed
12 oz fresh Italian sausage links, cut into1/2 inch slices
1 medium yellow summer squash or zuchini, sliced
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/3 c dry red wine or water
1/2 of a 10 oz. package frozed chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
grated Parmesan cheese

Rinse beans.  In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine beans and 4 cups cold water.  Boil uncovered for 10 minutes; drain.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet cook Italian sausage until brown.  Drain well on paper towels.  In a crockpot combine the drained beans, 4 cups fresh water, beef broth, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, undrained tomatoes, and red wine or water.  Cook, covered, on low heat setting for 22-12 hours or until beans are tender.

About 30 minutes before serving add the fully cooked sausage and squash.  Just before serving, stir spinach into soup.  If desired, sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese.

Depending on how hot your crockpot cooks, you may need less time.  I think I dished up our soup after 8 or 9 hours and the beans were fully cooked.  It will depend also on how fresh your dried beans are when you use them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chocolate Pretzel treats

Why, oh why, did I make these?  They're SO stinking addictive!  Easy, too.

Chocolate Pretzel treats
makes as many as you want!!

waffle pretzels (or I saw some the other day made with Christmas tree pretzels)
chocolate kisses or hugs (just not the ones with almonds)

Spread the pretzels on a cookie sheet.  Top each one with a kiss.  Bake in a 200* oven for about 5 minutes until the kisses are soft.  Take them out and top with an M&M.  Let cool/harden.

This time I used the special dark kisses (didn't even know they had them!).  I also had part of a bag of Christmas red and green M&Ms and thought they were dark chocolate but they were milk chocolate.  Didn't really notice, so you can mix and match your chocolate.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chicken in White Wine

My mom called me looking for this recipe.  It was one she got from a cooking class she took YEARS ago with her friend.  She makes it often for company, which she's having next week, and couldn't find her copy today. I have a copy of a copy that was probably a mimeographed copy in the beginning. I decided that since I found the recipe that I'd better do something about it so in a couple of years I'll still be able to read it. I can't say that I've made it but I do enjoy it when Mom makes it. Maybe I'll make it for a Sunday dinner sometime soon since it's something my family likes.

Chicken in White Wine

4 to 6 chicken breasts
1/4 lb butter
1 c onions, sliced
1/4 lb mushrooms
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 c flour
1/4 tsp thyme leaves
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1 can chicken broth
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 c sauturn or white wine

Brown chicken in a large dutch oven with fitting lid, adding butter as needed.  Remove chicken; add onions, mushrooms, garlic and brown for 5 minutes.  Remove pan from heat.  Add salt, pepper, flour, and thyme, stirring into onion mixture.  Stir in broth and bouillon; bring to a boil stirring; reduce heat and add wine and chicken.  Bake in oven at 400* for 45 minutes, covered.  Serve with long grain and wild rice.

Can be made up to 2 days ahead for better flavor.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Italian sausage and pasta casserole

I had to come up with a name for this dish since several friends asked for the recipe.  It's one of those dishes that I pulled together from what I had available in the pantry.  It's really an easy riff on my aunt's delicious baked ziti.  It's also one of those dishes that you can expand to easily feed more and one with no real recipe.  Enjoy!

Italian Sausage and Pasta Casserole
serves 6

1 box of pasta (I used rotini, all I had, and actually about 2/3 of the box)
4 Italian sausages
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
Italian seasoning, salt & pepper
shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook the pasta according to the directions (slightly undercooked is better).  Cut the sausages into pieces.  In a large skillet, cook the onions and garlic in oil until just soft; add the sausage and cook thorough.  Add the crushed tomatoes and season with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.  Let simmer for a few minutes.  Mix the cooked pasta and sauce in a 9 x 13 dish.  Add a couple of handfuls of mozzarella cheese and stir.  Top with more mozzarella.  Bake at 350* for 25 minutes or until warm through.

You could also top with Parmesan as well, which I meant to do but forgot.  You can add more or less onion and garlic, more sausage, whatever you need to do to feed your family how they'd like it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas cookies!!

I love this time of year when I can make lots of cookies.  We have plenty of family favorites.  Today I needed cookies for a cookie exchange at MOPS and was planning on making Chocolate Walnut Puffs.  Since it's been pouring out since yesterday making meringue cookies wasn't really a good idea.  Went to plan B which also included chocolate and walnuts and made Chocolate Walnut Jumbos. Both are really good, the Jumbos are chewy chocolate and walnut goodness and the Puffs just melt in your mouth.  Here's both recipes.

Chocolate Walnut Puffs
makes 3 dozen

1 6 oz. package (1 cup) chocolate chips
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp vinegar
3/4 c chopped walnuts

Melt chocolate.  Beat egg whites with salt until foamy.  Gradually add sugar, beat until stiff peaks form.  Beat in vanilla and vinegar.  Fold in chocolate and walnuts.  Drop on greased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350* for 10 minutes.  Remove immediately to cooling racks.

Chocolate Walnut Jumbos
makes 30

1/4 c soft butter
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 c coarsely chopped walnuts

Stir butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla together; beat with a spoon until just smooth.  Add chocolate.  Sift dry ingredients and add.  Stir in walnuts.  Drop on greased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350* only 10 minutes.  Should be soft.  Cool on rack.

I doubled the Jumbo recipe today (except the salt, I left that at 1/2 tsp) and it works out fine.  I think you only get 30 cookies if you make really small ones.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cranberry bread

Time to get back to cranberries.  I have a bunch of recipes that I'll try to remember to share using fresh cranberries as well as crasins (have I mentioned that I love the Ocean Spray commercials??).  This is a family tradition in our house, Mom always made this cranberry bread at Christmas time and I now make it as well.  I love the orange and cranberry flavor and I've never seen another cranberry bread recipe like it.  This recipe will give your food processor a workout!  I use it to chop shred the oranges, then chop the cranberries and nuts.  Mom used to hand chop the cranberries, I can't imagine doing that but I would for this bread.

Cranberry Bread
makes 3 large loaves

4 c flour
2 c sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 oranges, quartered, seeded, and grated (leave the peel on)
4 Tbsp butter plus boiling water to = 1 1/2 cups
2 eggs
2 cups chopped walnuts
4 cups coarsely chopped cranberries (fresh or frozen)

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Mix the oranges with the butter/water mixture and add the eggs.  Blend liquid into dry ingredients, stirring only until mixture is dampened.  Add the nuts and cranberries.  Pour into 3 large loaf pans and let sit 20 minutes before baking.  Bake 40-60 minutes at 350*.

The bread is yummy fresh out of the oven with butter or cream cheese.  It's also good the next day, toasted with cream cheese on top.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chicken with Walnuts

We had this the other night for dinner, it's just been a crazy week and I haven't had a chance to post it yet.  I almost always have chicken in the freezer as well as walnuts so this was pretty easy to throw together.  This is a favorite stir fry of ours.  It gave me a chance to again use a new discovery.  I had wondered about the pre-grated ginger in a tube.  Used it and loved it!  Yes, it's more expensive than buying a piece of gingerroot but it sure is easier and there's probably less waste.

Chicken with Walnuts

3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. dry sherry
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
2 boneless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 c broken walnuts
1 tsp. grated gingerroot
2 medium green peppers, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
4 green onions, bias-sliced into 1 inch pieces
2 c hot cooked rice

For sauce, in a bowl stir together soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch, sugar, and red pepper. Set aside. Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Cut into 1-inch pieces; set aside.

Preheat a wok or large skillet over high heat; add oil.  (Add more as necessary during cooking)  Stir-fry walnuts in hot oil about 1 minute or till lightly toasted.  Remove from wok or skillet.  Add gingerroot; stir-fry for 15 seconds.  Add green peppers and green onions; stir-fry about 3 minutes or till crisp-tender.  Remove vegetables from the wok.

Add the chicken to the wok; stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or till no longer pink.  Push chicken from the center of the wok.  Stir sauce; add to center of wok.  Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly.  Stir in walnuts and vegetables; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes more or til heated through.  Serve with rice.