Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Caramel Soaked French Toast

I have a great brunch recipe for you today.  I made this as our Christmas breakfast and as always it was a hit!  I love the crispy, crunchy french toast top with the caramel soaked, oh so delicious ooey-gooey bottom.  You've got to see this for yourself to believe how fantastic it is!  This would be a perfect addition to a New Year's Day brunch!  I don't make this very often because it makes so much, but when I do I want to make it over and over again!  I must admit that the leftovers are really tasty the next day. They loose their crunchiness, but not their caramel gooeyness! :)  Little Man kept wanting more french toast both times that we ate it!  He couldn't get enough of it either!  Make it one of your New Year's resolutions to make this for breakfast, it's one resolution that you can keep!
Caramel-Soaked French Toast
from: Southern Living: Our Best Five-Star Recipes

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
10 slices French bread (~1 3/4" thick)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups milk or half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until mixture is bubbly.  Pour syrup mixture evenly into a lightly greased 13x9" pan.  Arrange bread slices over syrup.

2. Combine eggs and next 3 ingredients; stir well. Gradually pour mixture over bread slices. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
3. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon; stir well. Sprinkle evenly over soaked bread. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter over the bread.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately. Makes 10 servings.

Happy New Year!  2011 is going to be a great year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

From our family to yours - we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  May the reason for the season be on your hearts today, tomorrow and throughout the New Year!
Love,
Rachael, C and Little Man

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rachael Ray's Chicken with Wild Mushroom and Balsamic Cream Sauce

This is one of my favorite weeknight meals.  It comes together so quickly and has such a wonderful flavor - like you have been slaving all day to make it!  I'm a big fan of Rachael Ray and this was one of the first recipes that I tried.  I was hooked, and I've been making at least once a month since then.  Don't let the Wild Mushroom and Balsamic Cream Sauce deter you from making this wonderful dish.  The balsamic vinegar gives it a nice hint of something different, it's not over the top.  And the wild mushrooms aren't very wild at our house, I usually end up just using baby portobellos or white mushrooms.  I used to make a dish with Chicken and Cream of Mushroom Soup, but this has since replaced it!  Here's what you need:


Chicken with Wild Mushroom and Balsamic Cream Sauce
adapted from: Rachael Ray
Salt
1/2 pound orzo pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces 
Pepper
2 tablespoons butter
12 cremini or baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
12 shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
12 white mushrooms, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, a couple of sprigs, chopped
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

To cook:  Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add orzo pasta. Cook to al dente.  Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add extra-virgin olive oil.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper and add to the hot skillet. Cook the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm.
Return the skillet to the heat, turn heat back a bit, and add the butter. Once the butter melts add the mushrooms and brown stirring occasionally for about 4 to 5 minutes. Once the mushrooms are brown season with salt and pepper then add the garlic, thyme and shallots. Cook stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes or until the shallots are wilted. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook 2 minutes more. Whisk in the stock, balsamic vinegar and the cream. Turn the heat up to high and simmer for about 2 minutes or until thickened. Add the parsley and the chicken back to the skillet to heat up, about 1 minute.
To serve, pile orzo on dinner plates and top with the sliced chicken and sauce.

Delicious!  Just a few notes, I usually use one type of mushroom (whatever looks good the day I'm at the store), I rarely use fresh herbs in this recipe, and I don't add the parsley at the end.  It tastes great even with my modifications - I'm sure it tastes better her way, but I just don't buy fresh herbs very often!  What can I say?  Spices in a jar are so much easier!

I hope you guys are ready for Christmas.  I know I am!  I want to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Brownie Covered Oreos and Sugared Up Sugar Cookies - Final Week of 12 Weeks of Cookies!

Can you believe that we are at Week 12 already?  I can't, it seems like just a few days ago I stumbled upon this wonderful cookie linkup.  I'm so thankful that I happened upon it on Baked Bree's blog, and I'm so thankful to Abby Sweets for putting it together.  I hope that you guys have found some great recipes to share with your friends and family, I know that I have!  Since I'm working on my Christmas cookie trays a week early, I decided to go with two new recipes this week, I couldn't pick just one!
I decided to make Brownie Covered Oreos and Sugared Up Sugar Cookies.  I found the delicious Brownie treats at Picky-Palate last week.  How can you go wrong with an Oreo dunked in brownie batter.  I'll answer that for you, you can't! :)  My sugared up sugar cookies were suppose to be more of a snickerdoodle cookie, but I goofed on the cinnamon and didn't get enough on the cookies!  Isn't it funny that when you mess up a recipe, you sometimes create something better than you were intending to make?  Sometimes, other times you get a gigantic cookie mess!  Here are the recipes:
Brownie Covered Oreos
from: Picky Palate
1 Brownie mix
1 package Oreos

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare brownie batter according to package directions.  Leave in mixing bowl.  Dip Oreos in brownie batter then place in bottom of a muffin pan that has been generously sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until brownies are cooked through.  As soon as you remove, take a plastic knife and run along edges, (this is VERY important so you get the cookie out with brownies not stuck to pan).  Let cool for 5 minutes, remove and EAT!  Enjoy! Makes entire package of Oreos

My first batch turned out more cake looking then cookie looking.  I discovered on my second batch that you don't want a whole lot of brownie batter around the cookie, it's best to shake some off before you put it in the pan.  It makes it more cookie like, less muffin/little cake like!  To us these tasted best when cooled off, if you can wait that long!
Sugared Up Sugar Cookies
1 package Sugar Cooke Mix
Granulated Sugar
Cinnamon
Red and Green Sugar Crystal Sprinkles

Prepare cookie mix according to package directions.  In a small bowl, combine sugar, red and green sugar sprinkles and cinnamon (create your own proportions, use more cinnamon if you  want it to be more snickerdoodle like, or leave it out if you want just sugar cookies).  Cook according to package directions!  Deliciously crispy and fantastic!  I know it's not really a recipe, it's a package with sprinkles and cinnamon...sorry!  Just wanted to share though, because I thought they turned out really great.  And I love rolling the cookies in the colored sugar crystals rather than just sprinkling them on top - you get sprinkles on the top and bottom of the cookie and the sides! :)

Thanks for joining us along this 12 week journey.  I've discovered some really great blogs along the way and I can't wait to see what every one has in store for the new year!  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.  May the Joy and Hope of Christmas remain in your heart throughout the coming year!


Week 12 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Lights and Bokeh

Bokeh, eh?  I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't sure what this was the first time I saw it.  I knew it had something to do with photography and getting a good picture, but I had to go look it up!  Kevin and Amanda had a fun idea to take some pictures in front of the tree and see how you can change up your bokeh.  Your bokeh is the amount of blurriness behind your subject and is really fun to play with when you have Christmas lights in the background.
I have very limited photography skills.  I use a Kodak EasyShare Z915.  It's a point and shoot camera, but it also has the ability to go into manual mode and play with the settings.  I thought it would be a good introductory camera to try to figure out "Manual Mode," ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed and all those other terms I'm still learning.  I love my camera and love that I have the ability to adjust my settings.  I play around with it all  the time.  Usually on my blog posts you see the one photo that I think looks decent, what you don't see is the 20 others I take to find one decent one! :)
After seeing K&A's fantastic cupcake and Christmas tree photos, I decided to play around a little bit.  I did this one evening when C got home from work and Little Man was chasing him around.  So I had about 5 minutes to play with it before we were headed out the door!  I'm definitely going to experiment more, but this was fun for a first try.  I've included my camera settings for each photo below it.
f/3.8
1/5 sec.
ISO-800
f/6.8
1/2 sec.
ISO-1600
f/3.8
1/5 sec.
ISO-1600

So in about 5 minutes, I manage to play around with the camera and test out my settings.  Personally, I like the first one.  I think the angel stands out pretty well and the lights in the background look nice and twinkly.  Which one is your favorite?

You can find some other really great holiday photos here:
Kevin and Amanda - bokeh post
The Pioneer Woman - bokeh photo gallery (there are some really amazing photos here, check them out if you have the time)  You will be inspired!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Week 11 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

I've decided to go with a classic this week - Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I've been making this exact recipe for quite a while now.  I remember in college I had a Monday evening class, and I would always make a batch of these cookies to take with me.  My friends and I would sit in the back row eating these cookies and doing crossword puzzles.  Needless to say, we didn't get a whole lot out of the class.  One thing that I did learn is that everyone loves these cookies!  To give the cookies a Christmas look I added some red and green M&M's to the mix - so festive!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
from: Chocolate Fantasies by Southern Living
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (6 ounce) package semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup or more colorful M&M's

Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating at low speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla; beat well.  Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture, beating well.  Stir in chocolate morsels and M&M's.  Using a cookie scoop, drop onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes on cookie sheet; transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Yields: 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies

I love this cookie.  It's my favorite go-to cookie when I'm in a pinch.  I always have the ingredients on hand to quickly throw some in the oven.  I made this cookie a lot in college - especially when I was having a rough day.  Make some today and share them with a friend, you'll brighten their day! :)
Week 11 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas

We love Mexican food in our house.  I think C would choose it everyday if I was game for that.  I'm not though, but I do love it every now and then.  One of my favorite weeknight meals is Chicken Enchiladas.  A friend gave me this recipe a few years ago.  I've adapted it a little and been making it ever since.  It has very few ingredients, but those few ingredients pack a nice punch.  I used to make this with pre-cooked fajita chicken strips, but now that I've had my Chicken *WOW* Moment I will only be using chicken cooked in a crockpot.  If you don't have time to cook the whole chicken, feel free to substitute pre-cooked strips or cooked chicken breast.
Chicken Enchiladas
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
1 package cream cheese, (8 oz.)
Tortillas
1 can green enchilada sauce
1 package Monterrey Jack cheese (10 oz.)

Heat the chicken and cream cheese thoroughly.  In an 11x7x1/2 inch pan, pour enough green enchilada sauce to lightly cover the bottom.  (Do you like my obscure pan size?  I have no clue where that pan came from, I just know it's great for enchiladas.  If you don't have that size, which I'm guessing most people wouldn't, use whatever you have.)  Place approximately 1/3 of a cup of cream cheese/chicken mixture in each tortilla and roll up.  Place the tortilla seam side down, repeating until you fill the pan, run out of tortillas, run out of chicken, or just get tired of rolling. ;)  Cover the enchiladas with the remaining green sauce and the Monterrey Jack cheese.  Make sure you cover the ends of the tortillas with sauce so they don't get too crunchy and dried out.  Unless you like crunchy ends of tortillas, some people in our house don't so we cover everything with sauce.  Cook them for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly.  Serve them piping hot with a nice Spanish style rice, some refried black beans and some guacamole that you whipped up while the enchiladas were cooking.  Enjoy!  I usually get eight enchiladas out of the recipe.  The last ones that I roll are significantly larger than the first ones.  Once I see I'm running out of space in the pan, those last ones get a lot of chicken and cream cheese stuffed in them.  I mark the larger ones with a toothpick and serve them up to C. :)  I'm not exact when it comes to cooking and I like it that way!

My Chicken *WOW* Moment

So I mentioned last weekend that I was *thinking* about cooking a whole chicken in the crockpot.  There is one thing that you need to know about me before you read this...I can't stand raw chicken.  I despise handling raw chicken.  I've mustered up the courage to cut it into pieces for dinners, but it still makes me a little squeamish to handle.  I know it's weird.  As much as I love to cook, I should be over this irrational fear of raw chicken, but I'm not.  Whew, that feels better.  Back to our regularly scheduled post...
So I finally did it, I cooked a chicken in the crockpot!  Yay me!  I started by unwrapping the bad boy, hoping that the insides would be nicely packaged in a bag to pull out.  Nope wrong, I had to fish them out myself.  Nothing like doing that before you eat breakfast, gross!  So after being grossed out enough for one week, I rinsed the chicken and put it in the crockpot.  I seasoned it up with a generous amount of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning.  I know you have all seen the HV Ranch packets, but did you know that you can buy it in a shaker to sprinkle on everything.  Yes, I mean everything.  I found this tasty tidbit over at the Picky Palate and have used it multiple times already.  Run out and buy it today.  By the way, I am loving the recipes I'm finding there!  Stop by and check them out.  Back to the chicken (I'm definitely diverting today, sorry about that).  I let it cook for 8 hours on low and by the time hour seven rolled around you could see the chicken falling away from the bone.  Yum, Yum!
Next I de-boned the chicken.  This is not a fun task either.  Make sure that you have plenty of time to devote to sorting chicken from bones.  These little chickens have what seem like a thousand bones.  It's something you definitely want to spend time on, especially if you have Little Ones who will be eating it.  So I'm making cooking a chicken sound like a horrific task, right? Yes, but now it's time for the *WOW* moment.  Ready?
The moment we sunk our teeth into that chicken, we knew we would never go back to frozen, pre-cooked or any other forms of chicken.  This chicken was out of this world tender and had the most amazing flavor.  I can't say it enough, the best chicken ever.  This makes so much chicken, I had enough to make the following:
Chicken Enchiladas (recipe to come soon) - this chicken made a world of difference in the taste of my go-to Enchilada recipe.  C and I took our first bite and we were sold on the chicken.  Our enchiladas will never be the same!
Salsa Chicken and Ranch Florentine Tostadas - a Picky Palate find that I am now in love with.  It was Soooo good!  What little leftovers I had, I put on top of a spinach salad the next day - oh my!
Cajun Chicken Pasta - Pioneer Woman Style.  Very tasty, not as good looking as PW's though.  She has mad skills though, and I sadly do not.  I'm working on them! :)
Chicken and Artichoke and Garlic Cream Pasta - a tasty concoction that I threw together using a Nutcracker Market find.  It's an Artichoke and Garlic Cream sauce.  I tossed it with a can of chopped artichoke hearts, a little chicken and some thin spaghetti.  I'm working on recreating this cream sauce, it's on my massive to-do list.  Maybe in January I'll cross that off my list!
That's more chicken dinners than we normally eat in a week.  I usually try to have a nice variety of beef, seafood or chicken.  I wanted to give this a try and see how it worked out though.  Next time I'll plan to make a couple of chicken dinners and freeze the rest for future dinners.
So all my squeamishness and being grossed out by the chicken in the beginning was totally worth the results.  Something that had me so intimidated in the kitchen turned out to be something great!  I'm sure I'll have a whole chicken on my grocery list at least twice a month now.  Hopefully I've encouraged you to get in the kitchen and try something that makes you nervous!  What intimidates you the most in the kitchen?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Andes Mint Cupcakes

I'm in love!  Yes it's true!  I'm in love with this new cupcake that was just concocted in my kitchen.  Do you know what I'm even more in love with?  My sweet hubby...I made this delightful treat to celebrate the big 3-0 today!  On the count of three everyone saw "Ahhh, that's so sweet!"  One, Two, Three!  Or just make a yucky face at the computer if you don't think it's sweet!

So there's no hiding the fact that Andes Mints are high up on my list of holiday treats.  Haven't noticed?  Check these out...Andes Mint Cake Balls and Creme de Menthe Truffles.  Seeing how popular the Andes Mint Cake Balls are, I just knew I had to experiment in cupcake form.  Generally I wouldn't use a boxed cake mix, I would use this recipe; but today I didn't have the time to whip up a from scratch batch.  It's okay to use a boxed mix when you need too, they have perfected some of those mixes so why not take advantage of it? I chose the Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge for this cupcake.  I knew that I wanted something extra decadent and rich, and it seemed like the perfect match.  I let the cupcakes bake according to the package directions, let them cool for a bit and then whipped up a Mint Buttercream Frosting.  Oh.my.goodness!  I could prepare a batch of this and eat it like ice cream, it is that good people.   I almost didn't want to put it on my cupcakes, I almost sat down in front of the tv with a bowl and spoon.  Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration.  That might be even a little too sweet for me! :)  After piping on the frosting, I adorned the cupcakes with Andes Mint baking chips, just to give it a little something!  One bite of these tasty treats and you will be dancing for joy.  Just make sure no one is watching, okay?
Mint Buttercream Frosting
Generously frosts 12, meagerly frosts about 18-20
Double the recipe if you are a frosting gal
Recipe adapted from:Chocylit
1 stick of butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/8 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon pure mint extract
3-4 drops green food coloring
Cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar, milk, mint extract and food coloring until nice and creamy.  Frosting will be thick enough to pipe using this recipe!
Happy Birthday C!  Another decade down, many more fantastic ones to come!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies - Week 10 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

Raise your hand if you like chocolate and peanut butter.  That's what I thought, most of you do!  I was lurking around Pioneer Woman's site in honor of cookie week and happened upon these delights.  They are a creamy, oh so delicious peanut butter filling sandwiched between two chocolate cookies.  What's not to love?
The cookies are so quick to make, they take a little help from a box of cake mix.  The cook time for the cookies is only 10 minutes and the filling comes together in a snap.  If you are looking for a tasty treat to make at the last minute, add these to your list!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
from: The Tasty Kitchen
Ingredients:
COOKIE:
2 Eggs
½ cup Vegetable Oil
¼ cup All-purpose Flour
1 box Devil's Food Cake Mix
Filling:
4 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
¾ cup Smooth Peanut Butter
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
2-½ cups Powdered Sugar
3 Tablespoons Milk

For the cookies:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly whisk eggs and oil in a medium bowl. Mix in flour and cake mix until well blended. Roll into 1 inch balls and bake for 8-10 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cool completely on a wire rack.
For the filling:
In a bowl cream together cream cheese, peanut butter and vanilla. Add in powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add in milk a little at a time until you get the desired consistency.
Spread about 2 Tablespoons of frosting onto the bottom of one cookie and then place another cookie on top.  Repeat with remaining cookies.  Enjoy!

The next time that I make these (oh there will so be a next time, maybe as soon as this batch is gone and maybe with a mint filling), I will flatten the cookies a little before they go in the oven.  I like to use a cookie scoop, but sometimes cookies retain too much of that ball shape and don't flatten out.  That happened here, so my sandwich cookies looked a little more round than they should have.  They still tasted great though and that counts for something.
The recipe says it makes 16 servings, but we all know that I never get that many.  I was able to get about 14 sandwiches and a lot of leftover filling.  I'm thinking of making a batch of brownies and putting the filling on top and then a layer of melted chocolate over that.  Does that sound fantastic or what?  Stay tuned for that experiment!
Oh and make sure you have a big glass of milk nearby, these cookies require it!

Can you believe we only have two more weeks of cookie posts?  That means Christmas is right around the corner, hooray!
Week 10 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good Intentions...

It's shaping up to be a sloppy joe kind of night!  I had intentions of cooking my first whole chicken in the crock pot and then using the meat for enchiladas tonight and other dishes throughout the week.  Waking up later than usually, rushing out the door as always and forgetting to put a chicken in the crock pot may make that a little difficult don't you think?  Good thing I'm prepared with my trusty can of Manwich...*everyone cringe* and hamburger buns!  I like Manwich every now and then...please don't stop liking me! :)

Maybe I'll get that chicken cooked tomorrow and bring you a delicious Enchilada Recipe to go with it...just maybe!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Toffee - Week 9 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies!

 I hope that each and every one of you had a fantastic Thanksgiving.  I know we did...I'm still feeling full from all of the delicious food we ate.  I'm finally getting around to my cookie post for the day.  We've been having so much fun decorating for Christmas that I haven't gotten around to it...until now.  I made toffee this week to share for our Thanksgiving dinner, but we had so much food that we barely ate it!  :)  It's super easy and fun to make.  The recipe says to use foil, but next time I would probably try something different.  The toffee stuck to the foil pretty bad and I had to use some strong forces to get it off!  Maybe parchment paper or a silicone mat would work better. 
Toffee
adapted from: Cooks
40 saltine crackers
1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. milk chocolate chips
Arrange 40 saltine crackers on foil on a jelly roll pan. Melt butter and brown sugar in pan and boil 3 minutes. Pour over crackers. Bake for 5 minutes in preheated oven at 325 degrees. Pour chocolate chips over and let stand 5 minutes to melt. Spread around with knife. Place in refrigerator until hard. Break up into bite-size pieces. Yum!

This would look great on any holiday cookie tray!  I can't wait to see what every one else is baking this week for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies!  Christmas Season has officially begun - time to pack up the pumpkins and pull out the trees, angels, Santa's, nativities, and stockings!  Our house is starting to feel like Christmas!
Week 9 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Cutest Turkey Shirt

I've been wanting to make Little Man a turkey shirt to wear on Thursday.  Of course, I waited until this week to actually put it into action.  I searched the entire town to find a plain white short sleeve t-shirt in his size with no luck.  I finally found a long sleeve white shirt at Target today and decided that I had to use it.  I had already drawn my own turkey template, but then I happened upon this one over at The Cottage Home.  I decided to use it instead of my own.  The shirt turned out super cute if I don't say so myself.  I found some fabric scraps at the store that semi-coordinated and got to work.  Don't forget to make sure you have Wonder Under in your craft stash before you get to work.  I searched and searched this afternoon in my craft closet and couldn't for the life of me find it - so I had to make another trip to Hobby Lobby!  That's not always a bad thing...

Here's the super cute shirt for Thursday.  I still need to give the turkey eyes and a beak, but it's basically finished!  I'm so happy with it!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Menu

Thanksgiving week is here!  Are you ready?  I think I'm ready, but we will see when Thursday rolls around!  We are having a little get together, 6 adults and Little Man so we are keeping it low key this year.  I'm sure most of you have your menus finalized, but I just wanted to share mine in case you are still looking for that last minute side dish!  Here's the plan:

Turkey and Cornbread Dressing
My aunt has offered to cook the turkey and dressing for us.  I'm so very thankful for this, because I've never actually cooked a turkey before.  I can't believe that I am admitting that to you...

Hashbrown Casserole
Cheesy, potatoey, ooey-gooey goodness.  You need this crunchy cracker topped goodness in your life!

Cheesy Bacon Green Bean Casserole Pot Pie
The name says it all: Cheese+Bacon+Green Beans+Puff Pastry=Deliciousness.  I might not need the rest of the sides once I start eating this!

Sweet Potatoes
My mom's recipe which I have yet to perfect.  It contains sweet potatoes (obviously), some brown sugar, a touch of honey, a little Karo syrup and lots of marshmallows toasted on top!  It's like eating candy!  Delicious.Sweet.Potato.Candy!  Enough said!

Rolls, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce
The essentials.  Can't have Thanksgiving Dinner without these!  I'm using a little help from the store on these items....shhh don't tell anyone!

Desserts - yes please!
Pumpkin Praline Pie - yep it's pumpkin pie on the top with a crunchy pecan praline layer on the bottom!  Courtesy of my mother-in-law!
Pumpkin Bread  - I haven't made this one myself, but I have several friends who have and it is delicious!  It makes a ton of bread though, be prepared to gift some of it off to your guests when they leave! :)
Toffee - I'm thinking of substituting Graham Crackers for the saltines in this one.  I'll let you know how it goes.  This might end up being Christmas Cookie of the week! :) 

After stuffing our faces with such good food, I don't know if I'll be able to waddle my way to the laptop for Friday's cookie post!  I hope that you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving and enjoy spending time with each other.  Remember the spirit of this holiday, be thankful for all that we have been blessed with!  I'm blessed beyond measure and I hope that you feel the same too!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pecan Pie Cookies - Week 8 of 12 Weeks of Cookies!

I had a request from C this week for some type of Pecan Cookies.  After browsing through a few recipes, I finally settled on this Pecan Pie Cookie recipe from the Land O'Lakes website.  I have to admit that I'm not the biggest pecan pie person.  I prefer pumpkin pie over pecan pie any day of the week, especially Thanksgiving.  Nevertheless, I thought it might be good for me to try pecan pie in a cookie form.  They aren't my favorite cookie by any means (I know, who bakes a cookie they don't like and then blogs about it?), but C said that they were really good.  I guess that I'm just biased when it comes to pecans.  For some reason I don't want them in my baked goods!  Call me crazy! :)  Enough of that, on to the recipe:

Pecan Pie Cookies
From: Land 'O Lakes
Ingredients:
Cookie

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Filling
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions:  Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all cookie ingredients except flour and baking powder in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed.  Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Make indentation in each cookie with thumb; rotate thumb to hollow out slightly.  Combine all filling ingredients in small bowl; fill each cookie with 1 rounded teaspoon filling. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.

So, moral of the cookie story is:  If you like pecan pie or pecans in general, you will like these cookies.  If you are like me and prefer pecans to stay away from your cookies, then maybe you want to avoid making these!  :)  I find it hard to write much about a cookie that I'm not fond of, I feel like I am leading you guys astray!  You come to this blog to find things that I love, so it seems a little weird to me to be doing this.  It makes me feel better that C says they are good.  At least the cookie has his support!  He wouldn't lie to me about the way something tastes.   I've heard the good, the bad and the ugly about some of my recipes, so trust him!
Alright, I'm off to bake something with chocolate in it!  That makes my tummy happy!  Don't forget to check out the other cookie posts that are part of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies!  Happy Baking!
Week 8 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hashbrown Casserole

The holidays are here.  Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week?  We are having a small get together at our house and I'm slowly preparing for it...I may post my menu later this week.  A staple in my house for any holiday or get together is Hashbrown Casserole.  My sister-in-law always makes this and now I do too.  It's so easy to throw together and is the perfect pairing for a turkey, a ham or even fried chicken.  Once you make this, it's going to become a staple in your house too!

Hashbrown Casserole

1 cup sour cream
1 can cream of chicken
1 package grated cheddar cheese (8-10 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds frozen hashbrowns (you can use the shredded or cubed, I prefer the cubed)
1 stack of Ritz crackers
1 stick of butter (melted)

Combine the sour cream, cream of chicken, cheese and salt in a large bowl.  Add in the hashbrowns and stir to combine.  Pour into a 9x13 casserole dish and top with crushed Ritz crackers.  Pour the melted butter evenly over the crackers.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.  Enjoy!

See...so easy!  The flavor combination of the crispy Ritz crackers, the ooey-gooey cheese, and the soft potatoes is fantastic.  And your kitchen will smell so amazing while this is cooking.  I think my favorite part of this whole dish is the deliciously toasted crackers on top.  They are golden and perfect when you pull the potatoes out of the oven, kind of like this:
This dish travels well also.  You can make it a day ahead and then just reheat when you arrive at your destination.  If you only make one dish next week, make this one.  You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Perfect Necklace...

I spent most all of Friday at the Nutcracker Market!  I love, love, love shopping at the Market and always find the cutest things there.  If you haven't been, you must go!  It's usually the middle of November at Reliant Arena in Houston.  Make the trip, even if you live across the country...it's worth it!  Call me and I'll go with you!  You can't imagine how big this thing is until you have actually trekked for hours and hours through it!  Be prepared to wait patiently to get in, to park, to pay for your items at each vendor and to eat lunch.  Patience is a MUST at this thing, and it's something I sometimes have very little of!  Anyway, I found so many great gifts and a few choice pieces for myself.  Like this little number that I couldn't resist...
isn't that the cutest necklace?  I've never seen anything like it and I knew that if I didn't get it then, I would never find it again!  I found it at A Rosy Outlook's booth.  I searched their website for it, but didn't see it.  I'm sure if you really, really wanted it you could contact them and they would find a way to get you one!  They have so many cute things there, I found quite a bit that I just had to have!  Here's a close up view of the charm:

I still have my eyes set on this sweet Lisa Leonard "Through My Lens" necklace.  I'm hoping Santa drops one by my house this Christmas! :)  I'm usually a one necklace kind of gal, the one C gave me for Christmas while we were dating.  It's a James Avery silver and gold heart on a dainty little chain.  I love it, I wear it every day, every where!  99% of the time that you see me, I'll have that one on!  Although, I'm starting to branch out a little and wear a different one here and there.  It's not that I don't have necklaces to choose from, trust me I have a ton.  I just like to stick with my favorite.  When I'm not wearing the other ones, I like to keep them on display.  As soon as I saw this metal cross at a decorator store, I knew it would be perfect for hanging necklaces and bracelets.
You can probably find something similar to it at Hobby Lobby or Michael's.  I just love the way it looks on my dresser and love to look at all of my necklaces, even though I don't always wear them!  What about you guys, do you stick with the same necklace every day or do you mix it up a little?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Andes Mint Cake Balls - Week 7 of 12 Weeks of Cookies!


Oh.my.goodness!  I am in love with this chocolate and mint delight!  I'm surprised there were any left to take a photo of after I sampled the first few.  OK, the first six!  Lucky for you guys this recipe makes a lot, so there's enough for you to eat and for you to share with friends (if you want, I won't tell if you don't).  I love making cake balls.  They remind me of little petit fours without all the work.  Don't get me wrong, you will have to do a little work but not much!  It's a delicious little cake covered in chocolate, how could that go wrong?  It can't!  So let's get to the recipe!
Andes Mint Cake Balls
Method: Bakerella
Chocolate and Mint Combo - came to me at 3:00 in the morning, I'm sure!

Ingredients:
1 package Chocolate Cake Mix (your favorite)
1 tub of chocolate frosting
2 packages of Andes Creme de Menthe Baking Chips

Directions:
Cook cake according to package directions in a 13x9 pan.  Let cool completely (don't try to skip ahead, you'll regret the mess).  Crumble cake into a large bowl.  Stir in one tub of frosting...yes the whole thing.  Some people only use 1/2 a tub, but the secret to moist cake balls is the amount of frosting!  Make sure the mixture is thoroughly combined, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty!  Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out cake balls onto a parchment paper lined tray that will fit in your freezer.  You will probably need 2 or 3.  Once complete, place the cake balls in your freezer for at least an hour, longer if you have the time.  Remove a tray from the freezer and working in small batches (think 1/3 cup) melt the Andes chips in a microwave safe bowl for 20-30 seconds.  Stir to create a nice smooth chocolate, then begin by dipping one cake ball at a time into the chocolate.  Cover completely, then remove with a spoon.  Place on parchment paper to cool.  Keep working in small batches until you have 5 to 6 dozen tasty treats!  I like to store these in the refrigerator, there's something about a cake ball being cold!  It just seems right!

That's it!  Easy as...well cake balls of course!  It will seem a little time consuming having to wait between each step, but it will be well worth the wait.  There's just enough mint in each of these to balance out the delicious chocolate goodness!  One bite and you will be hooked.  And remember it's just a method so you can choose whatever cake flavor and frosting flavor you like!  The cake ball world is at your fingertips my friends!  I'm off to polish off the other 5 dozen now, I might need professional help!

I have to add a shameless plug here: Did you check out my Giveaway Post?  You don't want to miss it!

Don't forget to hop on over to the other baker's blogs this week!  It's hard to believe that we are 7 weeks into this project.  That means Christmas is just around the corner.
Week 7 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taco Soup - Paula Deen Style!

Another bowl of soup?  Yep, with the cooler fall weather I'm trying to get in all the soup I can before the 90 degree weather creeps up on us again!  I love this Taco Soup recipe.  My sister-in-law introduced me to it during the holidays last year and I couldn't stop making it.  I've been patiently waiting for the temperature to drop so that we could have Taco Soup for dinner again!  I love this recipe!  It is so simple and feeds a large group of people...very hungry people!  The recipe serving suggestion is 12-16.  I don't know about you guys,  but I rarely feed that many people at once.  That's the best part about this recipe though, it makes enough to freeze at least two nights worth of dinner for us!  This soup freezes so well, you can't even tell you didn't throw it together that day!  After last night's dinner, I have two large containers in the freezer and two in the refrigerator for lunch tomorrow.
I love meals that serve double duty for those nights when I know I won't have time to cook!  I freeze my soups in large round food storage containers and dump the frozen circle of soup into my crock pot.  Turn it on low and walk away until dinner time, no mess, just dinner!  I love it!
This recipe uses a lot of cans of beans, tomatoes and other assorted goodies!  I think I counted 11 cans that I opened and dumped into the pot.  That's the beauty of this recipe, while you are browning 2 pounds of ground beef and an onion, you are opening cans and dumping them into a pot!  Easy, easy!
We love to put corn chips on the bottom of the bowl and then top with the soup and lots of grated cheese.  This soup is filling and comforting, it's exactly what you need when the weather outside is cooling down!  I love all of the beans and tomatoes...Paula Deen has done Taco Soup the right way!  Here's the recipe:
Taco Soup
from: Paula Deen

2 pounds ground beef
2 cups diced onions
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans pinto beans
 1/2-ounce) can pink kidney beans
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can tomatoes with chiles
2 (4 1/2-ounce) cans diced green chilies
1 (4.6-ounce) can black olives, drained and sliced, optional
1/2 cup green olives, sliced, optional
1 (1 1/4-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 (1-ounce) package ranch salad dressing mix
Corn chips, for serving
Sour Cream, for garnish
Grated cheese, for garnish
Chopped green onions, for garnish 
Pickled jalapenos, for garnish

Brown the ground beef and onions in a large skillet; drain the excess fat, then transfer the been and onions to a large slow cooker or a stockpot.  Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, green chilies, black olives, green olives, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix.  Cook in a slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours or simmer over low heat for about 1 hour in a pot on the stove.  To serve, place a few corn chips in each bowl and ladle soup over them.  Top with sour cream, cheese, green onions and jalapenos!  Enjoy! 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hot Chocolate Mocha Cookies - Week 6 of 12 Weeks of Cookies!

Wow...Friday snuck up on me this week!  It's time for a cookie post already...oh my!  Last night I got to work in my kitchen trying to whip up a batch of chocolate mocha cookies.  Getting all of the ingredients out, I realized that I am out of coffee.  We are not coffee drinkers in our house, I love the smell, not the taste.  I used to have those little Folgers packets that look like tea bags, but I ran out.  (I'm sure those taste icky to people who actually drink coffee, but for cookies they work).  Anyway, I realized that I was out and had to figure out a solution.  I searched my pantry and spice cabinet and came across my Ghirardelli Chocolate Mocha Hot Chocolate, and that's what I used!  Here's the lineup:
 Start by melting 1/2 stick of butter.  Mix in one box of devil's food cake mix, one egg, and 1/3 cup of brewed hot chocolate.  Once combined, mix in one cup of milk chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of white chips.  Using a cookie scoop drop onto your cookie sheet like so:
Yum!  Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees or until they are soft in the center and crispier on the edges.  Let them cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Serve them up with a tall glass of milk, don't resist when you want to help yourself to more!
These cookies are so soft and chewy!  I just love the texture of cake mix cookies!  Adding the hot chocolate gave these cookies a nice taste, just a little hint of mocha.  Not too overpowering, just a taste!  I love a cookie with lots of chocolate chips in it, and the mixture of white and milk chocolate is oh so yummy!  You and your guests will love these.  Make a batch ahead of time and you can store them in the freezer.  Pull them out the day before you need them and let them thaw on the counter...it couldn't be simpler.  I don't know about you guys, but I'm always looking for time savers, especially around the holidays!  I can't believe Christmas is sneaking up so fast!  Are you ready for the holidays?  Have you done your shopping and made you holiday menus?

Don't forget to check out the other cookie bakers blogs this week.  I'm still making a list of all those fantastic cookies I want to bake and give away!
Week 6 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PW's Corn Chowder with Chilies

I have to start out by saying that we don't eat a lot of soups at our house.  I'm not quite sure why, but we just don't.  This is the second one I have made in the last few weeks, remember the Baked Potato Soup.  I think we still both have this notion that it's not very filling, but once I saw this recipe for Corn Chowder over at the Pioneer Woman's website I decided to give it a shot!
Oh man, it was so simple!  The hardest part was cutting up the frozen bacon! :)  That's about the point I realized that my knives could use a serious sharpening!  Have I done it yet, no...maybe I can talk C into it this weekend.  Something about sharpening knives makes me nervous!  Anyway, after the bacon debacle it was basically opening cans and cartons and waiting patiently!  I opted to use a bag of frozen corn kernels rather than fresh corn, I'm all about simplicity people.  If you haven't figured that out yet, you aren't really reading my blog!  The smell of the chilies cooking is something else.  I opted to use a couple of teaspoons of Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle Seasoning rather than the Chipotle in Adobo from a can.  I had a bad experience with it last year, and I haven't gotten over it!  I was so upset about the oh so spicy, inedible dinner that I still haven't forgiven the Chipotle in Adobo!  Maybe one day we can be friends again, but not anytime soon!
I let the soup sit for a while after I added the corn meal, but I never got it to thicken up like the Pioneer Woman's, but let's face it...I'm no Pioneer Woman.  I am me and that's enough!  Even though it never really thickened up, it still tasted so refreshingly delicious.  As C said, who thought corn and chilies in a soup would taste so good!
Corn Chowder with Chilies
Adapted from: the Pioneer Woman

2 slices Bacon, Cut Into 1/2-inch Pieces (or Smaller)
2 Tablespoons Butter
½ Onion, Diced
1 bag frozen corn (need about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle seasoning
4-ounce Can Diced Green Chilies
32 ounces Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1-½ cup Heavy Whipping Cream
½ teaspoons Salt (more To Taste)
3 Tablespoons Corn Meal OR Masa
¼ cups Water
"(Carefully) slice the corn kernels off the cob. Set aside.
Add bacon pieces to a pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Cook for a couple of minutes. Throw in diced onion and stir, cooking the onion for 3 to 4 minutes. Add butter and melt. Add corn. Stir and cook for one minute. Add both kinds of chilies and stir.
Pour in chicken broth and cream. Add salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low.
Combine cornmeal (or masa) with water. Stir to combine, then pour into the chowder. Cover and cook for 15 minutes over low heat. If chowder needs more thickening, add another tablespoon of cornmeal mixed with water. Cook for another ten minutes.
Serve with crusty sourdough bread or in a bread bowl. Absolutely yummy!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Picky-Palate's Double Pumpkin Kissed Chocolate Chunk Cookies - Week 5 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

When I happened upon this recipe over at Picky Palate I knew they were my next cookie!  Oh my goodness...pumpkin, chocolate chips, and pumpkin spice Hershey kisses.  Have you heard of these?  I hadn't, so I went out on a hunt for them.  After much searching, I finally found them on and end cap at Target.  They are quite interesting.  I'm not so certain that I would just unwrap one to snack on like a regular Hershey kiss, but in this cookie they are delightful!
This cookie has more of a muffin/cake consistency than a cookie consistency.  I made them in my muffin top pan per the suggested cooking method and they turned out great.  They were all perfectly round and cute, unlike some of my other cookies I've made recently.  I don't want to rehash bad memories, so I won't go into it here! :)  I think I may have filled them a little too full.  The recipe yields 24 muffin top sized cookies, but somehow I only ended up with 16, and no I didn't eat the other 8!  We love these cookies.  They are perfect for the fall and would be equally perfect for a Christmas gift!  Who doesn't love pumpkin and chocolate chips together?

Here's the recipe!  Stop by and check out all the other great recipes Jenny has at the Picky-Palate.  She is on a Pumpkin streak, so if you need Pumpkin recipes she's got you covered.

This is part of the 12 weeks of Christmas Cookies Link-up!  Don't forget to check out what everyone else is baking this week!
Week 5 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Scrapbooking Weekend means Major Progress!

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, I'm trying to recover from a weekend away!  I spent the whole weekend at a fantastic scrapbooking retreat.  Between the socializing, the delicious meals (that were served to us, we didn't have to lift a finger), and creating 54 digital pages, there wasn't a lot of time for sleep!  I'm so excited that I was able to complete portions of our 2010 book from January to the middle of June.  I'm in love with digital scrapbooking!  I felt a little guilty about not having anything tangible to bring home to show C, but once I opened all the files to show him I felt better.  I really had done a lot!  I'm putting all my digital freebies and downloads to good use!  I just wanted to share a few of my favorites from the weekend with you guys!  Thanks for checking them out, I've added the links to the templates, papers and fonts if you are interested in downloading any of them from their respective websites!  Happy Scrapping! (Just a note: they aren't shown at the highest resolution, blogger doesn't support gigantic file sizes.  Just know that when they are printed out they will be crystal clear.)


 Park
Papers and Elements: Bounce by Shabby Princess
Font: Pea Amy from Kevin and Amanda
  


April
Paper and Elements: Simple Pleasures
  
Gymnastics
Paper and Elements: Happy Go Lucky
Font: Digs My Hart and Arial 
Weekends
Paper and Elements: Roseytoes Designs
Fonts: Rebekah's Birthday and the Blue Cabin (Are you starting to see that I have a little bit of a KevinandAmanda font obsession??)

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