28 November 2011

Today Show Home Chef Challenge



I was going to return to blogging today after taking a week off for Thanksgiving, but then one of my kiddos came down with a stomach bug and we spent part of the night and all day on the couch.

But I did want to share with you some super exciting news.  I have been chosen as a contender for the Today Show's Home Chef Challenge!! This week's theme is pizza, and they chose my Chicken Cordon Bleu Pizza as one of the top three pizza recipes.  Please visit the Today Show's Facebook Page to vote for my recipe.  The winner will be featured on Today.com and could possibly even be on the Today Show!

19 November 2011

Caramel Pecan Pie


Less than a week before Thanksgiving and I have another pie recipe for you.  Thanksgiving has nothing to do with why I made this pie; it's really just a timing coincidence.  There is a reason I made this pie but I can't tell you about it yet. This is a Southern Living recipe.


Caramel Pecan Pie


Ingredients:
1 refrigerated pie crust
28 caramels
4 tbsp butter
¼ cup water
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla 
¼ tsp salt
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted


Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°.


Fit piecrust into a 9” pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp. Prick bottom and sides of piecrust with a fork.


Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned; cool on wire rack.


Combine caramels, butter, and water in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until caramels and butter are melted; remove from heat.


Stir together sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Stir into caramel mixture until thoroughly combined.  Pour into prepared crust.  Top with pecans.


Bake pie at 400° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, and bake 20 more minutes, shielding edges of crust with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning if necessary.  Remove pie to a wire rack to cool. 


Makes 8 servings.

I had never made pecan pie before, but this was a great recipe to start with! It's so good!  Caramel and pecans go together so well, so it's no surprise that someone decided to put caramel in a pecan pie.  After having this one, I don't see any point in making a regular pecan pie!



So if you are looking for a pie to sit alongside your pumpkin pie on the Thanksgiving dessert table, I highly recommend this one.  It's a great alternative for those who don't care for pumpkin pie, but it's still has that "fall" feel to it.


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18 November 2011

Cheesy Chicken Potato Soup


It's another chilly November day here in Michigan.  I woke up to snow on the ground for the second time this season.  I've got three new soup recipes that I have made recently, so I thought today would be a good day to share one with you!  This is an adaptation of a recipe I saw in the most recent issue of Everyday With Rachael Ray.


Cheesy Chicken Potato Soup


Ingredients:
2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp onion powder
1½ cups chicken, cooked and shredded
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
½ cup sour cream
Green onions, sliced, optional


Directions:
Combine potatoes, stock, and onion powder in a large soup pot.  Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft.  Reduce heat to low and puree using a stick blender, leaving a few chunks of potato, if desired.  Add chicken, cheese, and sour cream and stir well.  


Serve warm with green onion sprinkled on top, if desired.


Makes 6 servings.

For some reason, chicken and potatoes don't really seem to go together in soups, but this works.  I think adding cheese makes everything better!

This recipe is a little bit different from the one in the magazine.  That one had leeks, but I didn't have any so I left that out.  I also used less cheese; that recipe called for 7 oz.  I weighed out 2 cups, and it was just over 5 oz., but that looked like plenty to me.  The green onions were my idea, but I didn't have any the day I made this.  I will definitely use them next time though, because I love green onions with potatoes in almost any form.

This is a warm, comforting, easy to make soup great for a chilly day!



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17 November 2011

Improv Challenge: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls


I have joined yet another blogging challenge.  I can't help it; they are just so much fun!  They really force me to get out of my comfort zone and make recipes that I wouldn't normally make.

In October, I found out about the Improv Challenge.  The premise of this challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.  I found out about the challenge too late in October to pull a recipe together by the reveal date, so this is my first month participating.  The challenge was cancelled earlier this month, because the blogger who started it removed her blog and disappeared.  But luckily another blogger, Kristen from Frugal Antics of  Harried Homemaker, picked up where she left off and the challenge is back on!

Improv Challenge

The ingredients for this month are pumpkin and cream cheese.  Pretty easy!  I found a great recipe at Picky Palate.  Here's my adaptation.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:
1 (12 oz.) can Big and Buttery crescent rolls (8 rolls)
¾ tsp ground cinnamon, divided
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp pumpkin puree
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°.  

Unroll crescent rolls to form 4 rectangles placed side by side, long sides together.  Pinch seams together to form one long rectangle.  Sprinkle with ½ tsp cinnamon.  Place cream cheese, brown sugar, pumpkin, remaining ¼ tsp cinnamon, and nutmeg into a bowl; beat until well combined.  Spread mixture over crescents leaving a ½” border around edges.  

Starting at long end, roll up into a log, then cut into 1” pieces.  Place around the edge of a 9” cake pan that have been sprayed with baking spray.  

Bake for 28-30 minutes or until rolls are golden brown.  Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.  Frost warm rolls with cream cheese frosting recipe below.

Frosting
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp vanilla
½ tbsp pumpkin puree, optional

Mix all ingredients into a large bowl until smooth.  Spread over warm rolls.

Makes 8 servings.



The rolls before frosting.  Isn't it pretty?  Yes, I know I need to iron my tablecloth; I'll get right on that!


My crescents look a little funky because I put them together the wrong way the first time and had to redo it.  I think next time I might use the crescent roll dough that doesn't have the crescent perforations, that's made for recipes like this.


Cream cheese filling.  I had trouble with my filling oozing out as I rolled it up and as I cut it into individual rolls.  As I put them into the pan, it looked so messy that I thought it was a flop and I would have to redo it.  But, as you can see above, they came out of the oven looking beautiful.

These were so good and my family loved them.  I will definitely be making them again!


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16 November 2011

Spinach Cheese Quiche with Potato Crust


Quiche is a favorite meal at our house.  And it's my go-to meatless meal; easy to throw together when I don't have a new meatless recipe planned to try out.  Earlier this year I shared with you my Broccoli Cheddar Quiche, and in that post, I mentioned that I also make a quiche with a shredded potato crust.  I got lots of feedback about that, people saying that they would love to see that recipe.  Well, I just finally got around to posting it!


Spinach Cheese Quiche with Potato Crust


Ingredients:
3 cups frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed and dried
4 tbsp butter, melted
¼ tsp salt
6 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
½ tsp salt


Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°.  Place potatoes, butter, and salt in a bowl.  Toss to combine.  Spray a 9” pie plate with cooking spray and spread potatoes evenly in bottom and up the sides.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.


Meanwhile, place eggs, spinach, cheese, and salt in a bowl.  Stir to combine.  Remove potato crust from oven and turn oven temperature down to 350°.  Pour in egg/spinach mixture into crust and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until cooked through.  


Makes 6 servings.

My husband loves this quiche.  Seriously raves about it.  He much prefers this potato crust to the pie crust kind.  I love how the potatoes on the outside get all crispy and crunchy.  I can never get the potatoes on the bottom to get crispy, even with the prebaking, but they still make a really nice crust.


Before baking.

I like to keep frozen hash browns on hand for this very reason.  Quiche makes a great last minute meal because I always have eggs and some kind of veggie I can throw in there.  It's really fun to experiment with different kinds.


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Raina at Connor's Cooking chose to make this recipe when she was assigned my blog for the Secret Recipe Club in June 2012.  Click on the button below to check out her post!

Secret Recipe Club

14 November 2011

Spaghetti with Bacon Meatballs


After doing Thanksgiving-y dishes all last week, it's kind of nice blogging about something completely different.  Unless you are Italian, spaghetti would be the last thing on your Thanksgiving table.  I saw this recipe in Real Simple and couldn't wait to try it.  Bacon in meatballs?  Awesome.


Spaghetti With Bacon Meatballs


Ingredients:
¼ cup onion, chopped
3 slices bacon, very coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 lb. ground beef
½ cup grated Parmesan (2 oz.), plus more for garnish
3 tbsp bread crumbs
1 egg
½ tsp salt
12 oz. spaghetti 
3 cups marinara sauce


Directions
Preheat oven to 400°. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. 


In a food processor, combine the onion, bacon, and garlic; pulse until finely chopped, 10 to 15 times. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the beef, Parmesan, bread crumbs, egg, and salt; mix gently to combine.


Form the beef mixture into 16 meatballs (about 2 tbsp each) and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.


Cook the pasta according to the package directions.


Heat the marinara sauce in a large skillet over medium heat, 2 to 3 minutes; add the meatballs and toss gently to coat. Serve over the pasta and sprinkle with the shaved Parmesan.


Makes 4 servings.

So I wasn't really sure how these were going to turn out.  Honestly, I thought the bacon wouldn't be that noticeable wrapped up in all that beef.  But I was wrong.  The bacon gives a nice smokiness to the meatballs. The texture isn't that noticeable, but the flavor definitely is.

I didn't use a food processor; I just chopped up my onions very finely and grated my garlic and mixed everything together by hand.  That works just fine.

These were a huge hit with my family.  It's a nice change from the usual.  I wouldn't make them every time we have spaghetti (I usually use ground beef instead of meatballs), but I will definitely make them again every once in a while for a change of pace.


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11 November 2011

Pumpkin Crisp Pie


It's the final day of Thanksgiving Week!  Did you enjoy my unique recipes for mashed potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes?  I thought I'd end the week on a sweet note with a twist on pumpkin pie.  The nice thing about this recipe is that, while it is definitely different from the traditional pumpkin pie, it is similar enough that anyone expecting pumpkin pie won't be disappointed.  This is the pumpkin pie I have been making for the last three years, and my family always enjoys it.  It's an adaptation of one I found on Food.com.


Pumpkin Crisp Pie

Ingredients:
1 refrigerated pie shell, 9” (or homemade)
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 cup plus 6 tbsp brown sugar, divided
10 oz. evaporated milk
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ tsp pumpkin pie spice, divided
½ cup quick oats
¼ cup pecans, chopped
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter, softened
Whipped cream, optional

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425°.  Coat a 9” pie plate with baking spray.  Place pie crust in pie plate, crimping edges.

Combine pumpkin purée, 1 cup brown sugar, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla, and ½ tsp pie spice in a large bowl. Stir to thoroughly combine. Pour into prepared pie crust.

Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350° and bake for an additional 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine quick oats, remaining 6 tbsp brown sugar, pecans, flour, remaining ¼ tsp pie spice, and butter with a fork or pastry cutter. 

Add reserved topping and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before serving. Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 8 servings.


Now, this isn't just a traditional pumpkin pie that has a streusel topping.  The pumpkin part is a little bit different.  It's creamier and fluffier than traditional pumpkin pie.  It's not dense and packed.  The ingredients are similar, so I'm not exactly sure what makes the difference, but I really like it.  And the streusel topping is really tasty and gives the pie a nice contrast of textures, which I'm always big on.



Isn't it pretty?

I hope that I have inspired you this week to try some new dishes at Thanksgiving this year.  If you do try any of them, leave me a comment and tell me how it went over.  


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10 November 2011

Twice Baked Orange Cinnamon Sweet Potatoes


Today is Day Four of Thanksgiving Week.  I have already given you unique recipes for mashed potatoes, dressing, and green beans.  Today I have a really fun sweet potato recipe for you.  One that doesn't involve mini marshmallows!

My family absolutely loves the sweet potato casserole I make every year.  It's one of those dishes that everyone looks forward to the most and is the only thing they request leftovers of.  And I will be making it again this year, but I wanted to experiment with another sweet potato dish to share with you.  I tried a Taste of Home recipe that looked really good, but after trying it twice and being disappointed in it, I gave up.  I decided to skip the casserole dish altogether and do something different with the sweet potatoes.  I often make twice baked potatoes at my Easter feast, so I thought, why not try twice baked sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving?  I have never had a twice baked sweet potato before, but it's got to be good, right?  Right!  I created this recipe (three original recipes in one week, wow!) and I think it's a winner.

Twice Baked Orange Cinnamon Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:
4 large sweet potatoes
4 tbsp butter, divided
Zest of half an orange
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
½ cup pecan chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°.  

Wrap potatoes individually in foil.  Place in oven and bake for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, or until soft.  Remove from oven and unwrap.  Let cool just enough to handle.  Line a baking sheet with foil and coat generously with cooking spray.  Place potatoes on the prepared baking sheet.

Cut a large hole in the top of each potato and discard the skin.  Scoop out the flesh of each potato, being careful to leave at least ¼” of flesh around the outside edges to help the shell hold its shape.  Place the flesh in a bowl and mash until smooth.  Add 2 tbsp melted butter, orange zest, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix well.  Place potato mixture back into potato shells, mounding it up on top if necessary.

To make streusel topping, combine brown sugar, flour, and remaining 2 tbsp butter until crumbly.  Fold in pecans.  Evenly distribute streusel topping among potatoes.   

Return potatoes to oven and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until topping is slightly browned.  Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

Now, the picture above may not be the best, but right after I snapped that pic, the platter tilted off the tiny table I use for taking food pics, and the whole thing slid off onto the floor.  Yep.  That happened.  Right before dinner.  My lovely husband cleaned up the mess and was able to salvage enough of the potatoes that landed on the tablecloth and not the floor, that we were still able to give it taste.

The combination of cinnamon and orange is so good in sweet potatoes.  I've got the amounts just right so that you can taste a little bit of each, but they are not overpowering.  The potato filling is mostly savory. I like it that way since the topping is sweet.  But if your family insists on having their sweet potatoes sweet sweet, you can add a little bit of brown sugar (maybe ¼ cup?) to the potato filling as well.



Try to find sweet potatoes shaped like this, kind of shorter and fat, instead of those that are long and skinny.

These potatoes are really good and I think they are a unique alternative to sweet potato casserole.  The nice thing about them is that you can bake the sweet potatoes ahead of time, and prepare the filling, then they just need 10-15 minutes in the oven right before serving.  My sweet potato casserole bakes for around 30 minutes, so that is a nice time saver.  The more things you can prep ahead of time for Thanksgiving dinner, the better!

Tomorrow is the last day of Thanksgiving Week and I am sharing with you a twist on pumpkin pie.


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09 November 2011

Bacon Cheddar Green Bean Casserole


It's Day Three of my Thanksgiving Week series.  I have already covered Mashed Potatoes and Dressing, and today we are tackling Green Bean Casserole.  I am really excited to share this recipe with you today.  Are you tired of the boring old green bean casserole that appears on the table every year? The one that comes completely out of cans? If so, you're going to love this recipe.  I saw that The Pioneer Woman but bacon and cheddar cheese in her green bean casserole and I took that idea and ran with it.  This isn't her recipe; she inspired me and I came up with this one.


Bacon Cheddar Green Bean Casserole


Ingredients:
2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed
4 slices bacon, chopped
¼ large onion, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt, to taste
6 oz. french fried onions, chopped


Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°.


Cut green beans into pieces, if desired.  Place green beans in a large pot of salted boiling water.  Boil until beans are desired tenderness.  Drain and set aside.


Meanwhile, cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat.  When fat starts to render, add onions and mushrooms and saute until veggies are soft and bacon is fully cooked.


Melt butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Add flour and cook for a few minutes.  Combine milk and chicken broth; add slowly to saucepan, whisking to incorporate.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to low and add cheddar cheese.  Stir until cheese is melted.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.  


Add bacon/mushroom mixture and cheese sauce to green beans.  Mix well.  Pour into a 9x13” baking dish and top with french fried onions.


Bake 10-15 minutes, or until onions are golden brown.


Makes 8-10 servings.

I tried to keep this casserole a little reminiscent of the old standby.  I kept the mushrooms in there, and while the sauce is cheesy, it's still somewhat similar to the canned stuff in the old recipe.  I used a combination of milk and stock to achieve that.

This casserole is so good! I have always loved the canned version, but I'm not sure I will be making it again after having this deliciousness!  I mean, really, bacon and cheese?  How can you go wrong?  We had a mock-Thanksgiving meal where I tried out all of my Thanksgiving Week dishes and this is probably what I ate the most of.


I kept the french fried onions on top, because I love those things, but if you don't care for them, you could use Panko breadcrumbs instead.

Come back tomorrow for an out-of-the-box sweet potato recipe (or should I say "out-of-the-casserole-dish"?)  You're going to love it.


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08 November 2011

Slow Cooker Cherry Almond Dressing


Welcome to Day Two of my special Thanksgiving Week! I hope you enjoyed the Garlic Pumpkin Mashed Potato recipe I posted yesterday.  Today I have a twist on dressing to share with you.  I don't know about you, but my biggest problem on Thanksgiving is oven space.  There are so many dishes that require the oven: turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans, dressing, and usually some kind of bread.  I am insanely jealous of those of you who have one of those double oven dealies, where you can cook things at different temps.  So in the last few years I have tried to lighten the load of my oven by doing one side dish in my slow cooker.  Dressing.  Have you ever made dressing in the slow cooker?  The moist heat of the slow cooker is perfect for cooking dressing.

I have tried a different slow cooker dressing recipe every year and so far haven't found "the one".  They have all been okay, not horrible, definitely, but I just kept feeling like there was something missing.  I grew up eating very savory dressing and I loved it.  Lots of poultry seasoning, namely sage, onion, celery, etc.  The recipes I have tried in the past were similar to that, with some additions of mushrooms, bacon, and other fun stuff.  But when preparing for this special Thanksgiving Week on my blog, I wanted something different, something that would really stand out.  I decided to stay mostly savory, with a little bit of sweet and tart thrown in for good measure.

I came up with this recipe all on my own.  I am quite happy with it; I think it may be "the one"!


Slow Cooker Cherry Almond Dressing


Ingredients:
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil, divided
½ cup onion, diced
12 oz. package dried bread cubes (about 7 cups)
6 oz. package dried cherries
1½ cups sliced almonds
1 orange
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg


Directions:
Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Sauté onions until soft.  


Place onions, bread cubes, cherries, almonds, zest of half the orange, broth, cinnamon, nutmeg, and remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in a 6 quart slow cooker.  Stir well to combine ingredients.


Cover and cook on low for about 4 hours, stirring once halfway through.  Add more broth if desired.  Garnish with additional orange zest.


Makes about 10 servings.

I was really happy with how this turned out.  I started with only 2 cups of broth, but thought it was a little on the dry side, so I added one more (after the pic was taken, btw).  I love how it's mostly savory, but has just the right amount of sweetness and tartness from the cherries, and crunch from the almonds.  I left out the poultry seasoning because it didn't fit in with the flavor profile I was going for.  I wanted something more different, so I went with cinnamon and nutmeg.  They don't make the dish sweet; they just give it a nice warmth.  The orange zest adds a little brightness. And isn't it so pretty?  This dish really has it all! It will really impress your Thanksgiving guests.

Be careful when buying dried cherries and don't make the same mistake I did.  All Craisin products are cranberries, they just come in different flavors.  Sunmaid makes dried cherries, so look for those.


Even if this specific recipe doesn't appeal to you, you must try making dressing in the slow cooker.  It's so easy and helps ease the burden of cooking a huge meal.  Most traditional dressing recipes can be easily adapted for the slow cooker.

Come back tomorrow for a recipe that puts a twist on green bean casserole, and doesn't include a can of anything!



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07 November 2011

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Garlic Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes


This post is doing double duty! This is my post for this month's Crazy Cooking Challenge, while also being the first post for my Thanksgiving Week.

Photobucket


First, about the Crazy Cooking Challenge.   In this challenge, all the participants make and blog about the same dish each month.  Each blogger is to scour other blogs for the "ultimate" version of whatever that month's dish is.  The goal is to highlight and promote personal food blogs. This month's assigned dish was mashed potatoes.  So we were to find the "ultimate mashed potato" recipe, make it, and blog about it.  I honestly don't remember now how I found it, but I found a recipe for Garlic Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes with Spinach on the blog Oh She Glows.  I hadn't read that blog before, but it is a great vegan blog.  While I am not vegan, I have been trying to reduce our meat consumption and I have other vegan blogs on my reading list, so this one looked really interesting to me.  


This recipe is doubling as the first recipe of my Thanksgiving Week.  Each day this week, I will be posting a recipe for a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, but with a special twist.  So this recipe is for mashed potatoes, but the special twist is that they are Garlic Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes.  You may not think that garlic and pumpkin go together, but you would be surprised!  I was very intrigued by the idea and wasn't sure how it was going to taste, but I loved it, and so did the rest of my family.  And isn't the color just gorgeous?


This is an adaption of the one on Oh She Glows, as I left the spinach out of mine and used real butter and milk instead of vegan.



Garlic Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes


Ingredients:
2½ lbs. potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
1½ cups pumpkin puree
½ cup milk
2 tbsp butter
Salt, to taste


Directions: 
Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil potatoes for 18 to 22 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and place in a large bowl. 


Meanwhile, heat olive oil over low heat in a skillet and sauté garlic for about 1 minute, or until fragrant.  


Drain and mash potato chunks with a potato masher until desired consistency.  Stir in pumpkin puree, milk, butter, and salt. Serve immediately.


Makes 5-7 servings.


These potatoes are really good!  Pumpkin and potatoes go really well together, and the addition of garlic brings it to an even higher level.  Don't worry about the consistency being funny; these potatoes were rich and creamy and very smooth and silky.

I wouldn't hesitate at all to make these for Thanksgiving dinner.  In my opinion, they don't need gravy, and I served them without it, but if you have very traditionalist guests at your Thanksgiving table, they would taste just fine with gravy.  The pale orange color and the lovely pumpkin flavor means that these potatoes will go with just about anything else you serve at your Thanksgiving meal.

I dare you to be brave this Thanksgiving and try something new!  Your guests will love your creativity and I bet you will be asked to host again next year! Please vote for this dish in the Crazy Cooking Challenge linky party below.  It's number 15.

Come back tomorrow for a dressing recipe that frees up your oven space, takes 5 minutes to throw together, and is simply just beautiful!


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Secret Recipe Club: Salmon En Croute


You're getting double the recipes today as two of my monthly blog challenge reveal days fell on the same day.  This is my post for this month's Secret Recipe Club.  Come back at noon for my post for this month's Crazy Cooking Challenge and my first Thanksgiving Week post.

The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  This is my fourth month participating.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.

This month I was assigned the blog, Recipe Taster.  Its author is Alessio, an Italian currently living in Germany.  Alessio is a very interesting guy!  He has a Masters degree in physics, makes jewelry, does catering, and somehow finds time to blog about the delicious food that he makes.  While perusing his archives in search of a recipe to make, I saw that he has many lovely pasta dishes, like his Middle Eastern Raviolo with Cranberry-Sage Butter Sauce.  I also saw lots of German recipes that I would like to try, like his Schwäbische Bierbrezeln and his Sauerbraten and Schupfnudeln.  But in the end I went with something completely different.  As soon as I saw his Salmon en Croute, I knew that was what I was going to make.  While it used ingredients I was familiar with, I had never made anything like this before and was ready to challenge myself.  It's basically salmon fillets wrapped up in pastry with a creamy spinach sauce on the inside.

I made a few changes to Alessio's recipe.  Here's my adaptation.


Salmon En Croute

Ingredients:
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, grated
6 cups fresh spinach
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
Zest of half a lemon
2 (8 oz.) skinless salmon fillets
Salt
1 egg, beaten

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°.  Remove pie crusts from fridge to bring to room temperature.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until onion is softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted, turning occasionally.

Place spinach/onion mixture in a small food processor and pulse a few times to chop up the spinach.  Place cream cheese in a bowl and stir to make creamy.  Add the spinach mixture and lemon zest and stir to evenly incorporate.

Roll out the pie crusts.  Season salmon fillets with salt and place a thick layer of cream cheese mixture on one side.  Place each salmon fillet, cream cheese side down, in the middle of each pie crust.  Fold edges over and press to seal.  Flip packets over, place on baking sheet, and cut small slits in the pastry as vents.  Brush with beaten egg.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.  Cut in half on the diagonal.  Serve with the rest of the spinach/cream cheese mixture as a sauce.

Makes 4 servings.


Alessio made his own shortcrust pastry for this, but I'm not a baker and prefer to buy my pastry from the store.  I thought the store-bought pie crust worked really well in this dish.  And it was already the perfect size for the salmon fillets I had, so there was no rolling out or cutting down.

Alessio used a combination of spinach, watercress, and arugula, but I simplified things buy using just spinach.  He also wrapped up a whole salmon fillet, instead of cut up fillets, like I did.  

 I served this salmon over a long grain/wild rice blend.

Here are a few pics of the process:

 Spinach and onion after wilting, before going into the food processor.


 Spinach/cream cheese mixture.  You can use less cream cheese if you like; I didn't feel like cutting it up, so I used the whole brick.


 Spread spinach/cream cheese mixture on salmon and lay face down on the pie crust.


 Wrap up like a Christmas present!  Alessio folded his up so that the join was on the top, but I knew if I did that, there was no way I would get it to look good enough for a picture!


 Cut slits in them to vent.  My slits were a little too big perhaps; the ones on the right packet opened up too much during cooking and didn't come out as pretty.


The cooked packet.

This makes such a pretty presentation that I would make it for a dinner party.  If your salmon fillets are smaller than mine were, you may have to cut up the pie crusts and fold up your packets a little differently.  

This recipe was a great success.  My husband was so impressed by it!  And it was super easy.  I'm really glad  I challenged myself to make something completely new to me.  Thanks for the recipe, Alessio!

Don't forget to come back at noon to check out my Crazy Cooking Challenge Post and the first dish of my special Thanksgiving Week series!


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04 November 2011

Groovy Gobblers


It's National Candy Day! What better way to celebrate than to give you a recipe using chocolate chips, fudge-stripe cookies, and lots and lots of candy corn?  I saw these cute little guys in Taste of Home and had to make them for preschool treats.

Groovy Gobblers

Ingredients:
1 (12 oz.) pkg semisweet chocolate chips
1 (11 oz.) pkg candy corn
52 fudge-striped cookies
¼ cup butter, cubed
4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies

Directions:
In a microwave, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth. For tails, use a dab of chocolate to attach five candy corns to the chocolate side of half of the cookies in a fan shape; refrigerate until set.

In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add marshmallows; stir over low heat until melted. Stir in cereal. Cool for 10 minutes. With buttered hands, form cereal mixture into 1½” balls.

Remelt chocolate if necessary. Using chocolate, attach the cereal balls to the chocolate side of the remaining cookies. Position tails perpendicular to the base cookies; attach with chocolate. Refrigerate until set.

For feet, cut off white tips from 52 candy corns; discard tips. Attach feet to base cookies with chocolate. Attach one candy corn to each cereal ball for heads. With a toothpick dipped in chocolate, 
dot each sprinkle to make pupils. Let stand until set. 

Store in an airtight container. 

Makes 26 turkeys.

Aren't they adorable?  And pretty tasty too!  I made most of them with regular candy corn, but wanted to see what they looked like with the chocolate kind.  I think I kind of like the chocolate kind better.  

The original recipe called for round white confetti sprinkles for the white part of the eyes, but I couldn't find those.  I melted some white chocolate and freehanded that part. I think in the future I would not even worry about the white part.  Since the candy corn is light colored, I think it would be fine to just put a dot of dark brown for the eyes.


 
It's kind of funny to see a whole army of little turkeys sitting on your table!


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02 November 2011

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup


This is a really tasty soup that I discovered last year.  It is not to be confused with my Thai Chicken Soup; although their names are similar, they are very different soups.  This one is creamier and has peanut butter in it.  It's like a Thai-flavored version of American chicken noodle soup.  I got it from the cookbook, The Six O'Clock Scramble.  Here's my adaptation.


Thai Chicken Noodle Soup


Ingredients:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½” pieces (3 cutlets)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp Bangkok seasoning
4 cups chicken broth
¾ cup light unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups thin egg noodles
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


Directions:
In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the carrot and cook until slightly softened.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until it is a light golden color.  Add the chicken, turmeric, and Bangkok and stir fry it for 3 to 4 more minutes.


Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, peanut butter, and noodles.  Bring to a low boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.


Add the sugar and cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper.


Makes 6 servings.

I made a few changes from the original recipe.  The Bangkok Seasoning (which is a Thai seasoning from Penzey's) used to be cayenne pepper, so if you don't have a Thai seasoning, you can use that instead.  Made with the Bangkok seasoning, the soup isn't spicy at all, so if you like things spicy, add some cayenne anyway.  The carrots were my addition; after I made it the first time, I felt like it needed a little color and since carrots are a staple in regular chicken noodle soup, that was kind a no-brainer.  I also increased the amount of peanut butter, because we couldn't really taste it the first time I made it.

The nice thing about this soup is that there is an easy shortcut way to make it.  The last time I made it (last weekend) I made it this way and it turned out great.

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup (Shortcut Preparation)

Steam 1½ cups matchstick carrots in the microwave for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, combine 2 cups cooked chicken (diced or shredded), ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp Bangkok seasoning (or cayenne), 4 cups chicken broth, ¾ cup light unsweetened coconut milk, and ½ cup creamy peanut butter, 2 cups thin egg noodles, and 1 tbsp sugar.  When carrots are done, drain well and add to the soup pot.  Give everything a good stir to incorporate the peanut butter and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer 5-15 minutes, until noodles are done.  Ladle into bowls and top with chopped cilantro.

Makes 6 servings.

Super easy and really pretty fast.  This method can get your soup on the table in under 20 minutes.  You can use any kind of noodle you like, just remember that the thinner the noodle, the quicker it will cook.  The soup in the picture above contains "fine egg noodles", and those were done in 5 minutes.

This is a great recipe to have on hand for busy weeknights.  


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