30 November 2014

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! 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.  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 a blog I know and love, Cupcake Muffin, written by Sara.  I've had Sara's blog on my blog reader for a while now. I love her stuff.  I have even made two of her recipes before.  My Dark Chocolate Chip Blueberry Muffins with Chocolate Streusel were adapted from Sara's Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins.  And I made her Indian-Spiced Spinach to go with my SRC pick for September, Potato Chops.  

Did anyone else feel like November just flew by?  I did!  I was working on my Thanksgiving menu when I finally got the chance to sit down and peruse Sara's blog for my assignment this month.  I knew that we would be posting after Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't help including one of her lovely dishes on my Thanksgiving table this year.  Not to worry, though, because this dish would be equally amazing for a Christmas dinner.  Her Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Bacon looked irresistible to me.  Every Thanksgiving I make my family's favorite Sweet Potato Casserole, but I decided to give it a break this year in favor of this awesome butternut squash gratin.  I broke the news gently to my husband, who made me promise to make the sweet potatoes some other time this coming month.  But I think he forgot all about them once he tried this squash gratin.

Butternut Squash Gratin with Goat Cheese and Bacon

8 cups cubed butternut squash (½” cubes)
2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
Kosher salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 shallots, minced
4 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
4 oz. goat cheese
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet (or divide between 2 baking sheets) and toss with 2 tbsp of oil, Kosher salt, and smoked paprika.  Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes or until squash is slightly tender.  Remove from oven and place squash in a medium mixing bowl.  Reduce oven temperature to 375°.

Heat remaining 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat and sauté the shallot until it becomes translucent and tender.  Add shallot and chopped bacon to the butternut squash.  Crumble the goat cheese into the squash mixture and mix well.  If the squash is still warm, the goat cheese will melt, which is fine.  

Pour squash mixture into a 1.5 – 2 quart baking dish.  Drizzle with the heavy cream and top with the chopped pecans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

This dish made a beautiful addition to my Thanksgiving table this year.

 It fit in perfectly next to the Brussels sprouts and the rolls.

I know this is not a great picture, but it's the only one I managed to snap of the gratin plated up before it totally disappeared!  The goat cheese melted as I stirred it into the warm butternut squash cubes.  I wasn't really expecting that, but I think it worked out really well that way.  

This gratin was so amazing.  It really has a little bit of everything going on: sweet, smoky, tangy, salty, creamy, and crunchy.  It is truly a delight for the senses!  I really loved how it was decidedly savory, despite the sweetness of the squash.  People have a tendency to make butternut squash (and sweet potatoes) even sweeter with brown sugar and cinnamon, etc, but I love finding recipes that make them savory.  I made a few tweaks to Sara's recipe.  First, I changed the flavor profile slightly by using smoked paprika instead of sage.  My family are not huge sage fans and I am more than a little obsessed with smoked paprika.  It just goes so well with butternut squash!  The only other thing I changed was to use shallots instead of leeks.  My husband really doesn't like leeks, and I wanted him to love this dish, so I used shallots instead.  It was a good call because he definitely did love this dish.

I think he's in trouble, though, because I would love to make this every. single. Thanksgiving. from now on!

Please don't wait until next Thanksgiving to make this dish!  It would be a great addition to your Christmas dinner.  Thank you so much for sharing such a great recipe, Sara!

Be sure to check out all the other great SRC recipes below.  Group A is taking a break in January, so our next posting will be the first Monday in February.

20 November 2014

It's time for another Improv Challenge!  

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.  

This month's assigned ingredients were apples and cinnamon.  Classic combo!  And great for this time of year.  I didn't spend too much time deciding what to make this month.  I have been pretty busy, so when I saw this recipe at Lauren's Latest, I decided it would be perfect.  My husband leads a monthly study on the Lutheran Confessions (kind of like a Bible study) and my contribution to it is a yummy baked goody for the participants to nosh on during the discussion.  It's a morning event, so I usually do a coffeecake or muffins, but when I saw this danish I knew it would be perfect.  I loved how it called for crescent rolls.  Easy peasy; my kind of baking!  

Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Danish

½ tbsp butter
1 Johnagold apple, peeled, cored, and diced
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup + 2 tbsp white sugar, divided
1 tube crescent roll sheet
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1¼  tsp vanilla, divided
3 tbsp flour
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375°.

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat.  Add apple, cinnamon, and 2 tbsp white sugar.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples have softened, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine softened cream cheese, remaining ½ cup white sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla.  Stir in flour.  Set aside.

Unroll crescent roll sheet on a baking sheet.  Using a paring knife, cut diagonal slits along the left and right edges, about 1 inch apart and 2 inches long.  Spread cream cheese mixture down the middle of the dough and top with the apples.  Starting at one end, fold the diagonal dough strips over the top of the apples, alternating sides to make a criss-cross pattern.  When you get to the end, tuck the last pieces underneath.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.

While it’s cooling, make the glaze.  Combine the powdered sugar, heavy cream, and remaining ¼ tsp vanilla.  When danish is cool, drizzle the glaze over the top.

Cut into slices and serve.

Makes about 8 servings.

Here are a few pics of the process:

 Instead of regular crescent roll dough, I used the crescent roll sheets.  I can't believe these haven't caught on yet!  It's just like the regular crescent roll dough but without the perforations.  So all those recipes that have you pinching the seams together?  Ain't nobody got time for that!  Use the sheets!  They are right with the regular crescent rolls.

 Cutting the strips.  The original recipe called for cutting them every 1/2", and I did this first one that way.  I thought the strips were a little too skinny, so on the second one I did 1" instead.  I liked that a lot better.  But this gives you an idea of how it should look.

 Smear on the cream cheese mixture.

 Top with cinnamony apples.

 Then start the criss-crossing.  

 Left side, right side, left side, right side. . . 

 When you get to the end (I had turned my baking sheet around for easier access). . . 

 . . . fold the last pieces over. . . 

 . . . and tuck them underneath.  Like it's hugging itself!

Wrapped up like a mummy and ready for the oven!  This is the second one with the wider strips.  Prettier, I think.

Our of the oven and ready to be glazed.

Isn't it lovely?  I have to tell you; the morning I was supposed to make this (I actually made two), I woke up with a stiff neck.  Could hardly move my neck at all without excruciating pain.  Oh man!  I hate it when that happens.  I was up early with the kiddos and I just wanted to sit and relax and try to work this neck thing out.  But I couldn't.  I had to make these danishes.  I am so glad I picked such an easy recipe to make!  Even with a stiff neck, I had these babies done, baked, glazed, and ready for my husband to take out the door in less than an hour.  But they still had that "wow" factor that I love.

It was such a hit that the only bit left after the study was a little end piece for me to try.  Yummy.  I would have loved to have gotten a pic of it sliced for you, but it didn't happen.  Sorry!  

The great thing about this is you can easily change up the fruit.  I think any kind of fruity pie filling would be good.  You could also use lemon curd or apricot jam, or any number of other things instead of the apples.  

So if you need an easy breakfast or dessert treat that will really "wow" people with minimal effort, this recipe is for you!

Be sure to check out all the other awesome apple and cinnamon recipes below and come back next month to see what kind of "red and green" thing I come up with!

14 November 2014

This is a really great dessert I discovered earlier this year.  They are good anytime of year, but for some reason the butterscotch, brown sugar, and oats make them seem like a great fall dessert.  They have the perfect amount of chew. The glaze is optional, but it's a great addition.  I got this from Sweet Treats and More.

Butterscotch Oatmeal Bars

1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 ½ cups quick oats
11-12 oz. package butterscotch chips
¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp milk
½ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat a 9x13” baking dish with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and mix together gently.  Add both kinds of oats and the butterscotch chips and mix again.  Batter will be very thick.  Pour into the prepared baking dish, smooth out evenly, and bake for 22 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.  Remove from oven and let cool.  

While bars are cooling, melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in brown sugar and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium and stir constantly for two minutes.  Add the milk and return to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm temperature.  Gradually stir in powdered sugar until smooth.  If it’s too thick, add some warm water.  If too thin, add more powdered sugar.  Cut the bars and drizzle with the glaze before serving.

Makes 15 bars.

The original recipe didn't specify what kind of oats to use.  The first time I made these I used rolled oats.  That was okay, but they were a little too chewy for me.  I thought they might turn out too cakey if I used quick oats, so when I made them again last week, I decided to do half and half.  That turned out just perfectly.

Like I said above, the glaze isn't necessary.  If you are one of those people who don't like your desserts "too sweet", definitely skip it.  They are good without it.  I like them with the glaze though.  I will admit to letting my kids have one of these bars for breakfast one morning, but I had left the glaze in a separate container so the "breakfast version" didn't have the glaze.  

I adore butterscotch, so the butterscotch chips are my favorite part of these bars.  If you aren't a huge fan of butterscotch, you can definitely use chocolate or peanut butter chips instead.

These bars are best served the same day they bake.  You can make them a day ahead, but they dry out easily, so be sure to cover them as soon as they are cool.

I've been working on my Thanksgiving menu. Do you know what you are making yet?

What I'm Reading Right Now


07 November 2014

Can you believe the first week of November is already gone?  Wow!  Time is moving so fast this fall.  Thanksgiving is now less than three weeks away.  Do you have plans yet?  I just found out yesterday that my mom is coming up to spend the holiday with us. :)  Last year it was just the four of us.  It was the first time since we were married (10 years) that we didn't spend Thanksgiving with any extended family.  Since it was just us, I felt like experimenting a little bit.  Instead of cooking the big bird, I cooked a turkey breast in the slow cooker.  It was so super easy.  My husband and kids love the white meat, but I am a dark meat fan, so I also roasted some drumsticks for me.  It was awesome!  We were all happy and it was so much less work for me (much less prep work) and for my husband (who gets clean-up duty after big meals like that).  I have decided that it will be our "new tradition".

You will not believe how easy cooking a turkey breast in the slow cooker is.  Cutting off the skin is the worst part, but even that isn't too bad.  Then you just season it, stuff it with onion and fresh herbs, and throw it in the slow cooker.  I have made it three or four times now and it comes out perfectly every single time.

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

7 lb. bone-in turkey breast, thawed if frozen
1 onion, cut into large chunks
3 cloves garlic, quartered
Fresh oregano, thyme, and sage
2 tsp Bicentennial Rub
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder

Cut all the skin off the turkey breast and discard it.  Stuff the cavity with onion, garlic, and herbs.  Combine the spices and the salt and coat the breast with it.  Place the breast on its side in a 6 qt. oval slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 7 hours.  If you want to, you can flip it to its other side halfway through, but this is not necessary.  Remove from slow cooker, carve, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Isn't it beautiful?  I don't even care for white meat that much, but this is really good!  It is very moist, and the fresh herbs permeate the meat so well you can taste them in every bite.  Amazing.  

You really need to take the skin off if you are cooking in the slow cooker.  It will become rubbery and gross and it will make it kind of greasy and fatty.  You really don't need it; the slow cooker locks in the moisture so the breast doesn't dry out.

You will notice that I didn't list how much salt to use.  That's because I use Bicentennial Rub from Penzey's as the main seasoning, and it contains salt.  So I don't add very much more.  But if you aren't using Bicentennial, you might want to use more.  Use your best judgement on that one.  The Bicentennial is awesome because it contains turmeric, which gives the turkey its beautiful golden color.  Golden color is hard to achieve in the slow cooker, so this turkey really benefits from that.  The smoked paprika helps with that too.  So if you don't have Bicentennial Rub and are putting together your own blend of spices, I suggest throwing a little bit of turmeric and smoked paprika in there.

About the gravy: I am not good at the gravy-making.  The frozen turkey breasts that I buy come with a gravy packet.  I have used that and find it's a little salty.  Even better is making a simple roux with flour and butter and then whisking in the liquid that accumulates in the slow cooker when the turkey is done.  Bring to a boil until it thickens.  Season with additional freshly ground black pepper.

This is such an easy meal that I always stock up on frozen turkey breasts when they go on sale.  Not only is this awesome for Thanksgiving, it works really well for busy weeknights too!

I can't wait for Thanksgiving!

What I'm Reading Right Now


02 November 2014

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! 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.  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 to Renee's Kitchen Adventures.  Renee is a nurse-turned-stay-at-home-mom from Ohio.  She has so many great recipes on her blog.  I happened to have a surplus of pork in my freezer when I was perusing her recipe index, so I was interested in any pork and/or fall dishes.  Renee did not disappoint!  I found Crockpot Roasted Pork Loin with Onion Gravy, Mustard Pork Tenderloin with Maple Rosemary Glaze, and Pork Chops with Brandied Apples and Onions.  Oh my goodness, so many yummy options!  I still want to make every single one of those recipes, but I ended up going in a different direction when I saw her Crockpot Chunky Gingered Applesauce.  I made applesauce in the slow cooker last year, but I lost the paper I wrote down my recipe on.  Bummer.  Renee's recipe really intrigued me because I love ginger and I thought it was such a genius idea to put it in applesauce.  I couldn't wait to try it.

Slow Cooker Gingered Applesauce

3 lbs. apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
½ tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup apple cider or water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Place all ingredients into a 3 quart slow cooker.  Stir well.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.  Remove lid and either lightly mash with a potato masher, leaving some chunks, or puree with a stick blender.  If it seems too wet, leave the lid off for a while with the slow cooker set to high.  Taste for seasoning, adding more sugar if desired.  If the flavor seems a little dull, add the apple cider to brighten it up a bit.

Pour applesauce into a container with a lid and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 5 cups.

I changed a couple of things.  I increased the amount of apples from 2 lbs. to 3 lbs., only because my bag of apples was 3 lbs. and I was too lazy to get out my scale to weigh 2 lbs. worth.  I also increased the ginger and decreased the cinnamon.  I was afraid the cinnamon would overpower the ginger.  I love how Renee used vanilla; that was a great addition.  I was out of apple cider when I made this, so I used water instead.  I found the finished product was lacking a bit of acidity since I used water instead of cider, so I added a tsp of apple cider vinegar and that helped a lot.  You probably won't need that if you use cider instead of water.

I loved how Renee served hers chunky, and I tried it that way and loved it, but I knew my kids wouldn't eat it that way.  They aren't picky eaters in general; usually they are very adventurous, but for some reason, they won't eat chunky applesauce.  So I did a quick zip with my stick blender.

I tasted this when it was warm from the slow cooker and found it to be a bit spicy!  Maybe I increased the ginger too much.  I was afraid my kids wouldn't like it.  But I found that it was absolutely perfect after being refrigerated.  The cold toned down the ginger just enough so that it was still noticeable, but the bite was significantly muted.  Perfect.

My kids loved this!  This will definitely be my go-to homemade applesauce recipe from now on.  Thanks for a great recipe, Renee!


    An InLinkz Link-up