Thursday, November 10, 2011

Activity Advent Calendar

I saw a picture of an activity advent calendar on pinterest that I just fell in love with. Instead of eating stale candy from a cheap cardboard cutout every night, this advent calendar had a Christmas related activity to do every day. There two huge reasons why this would be perfect for us. You can reuse it every year and, the best part, you can cheat!  We all know the holidays get crazy so planning activities 20 days in advance doesn't always work out, especially when it involved two little boys. So the way this calendar is set up, you can make sure the daily activities line up with your schedule. My plan is to check the calendar every night after the boys go to bed. I'll make sure I can do the next days activity, if not, I just switch the cards around.... genius!!

But there was one drawback to the calendar I saw in pinterest, the blog didn't have any instruction. So I made a plan, and even though it changed along the way, I am very happy with the results. So here is the step by step for you!

Here is the original picture (from HERE)

My shopping list:
Foam board (which I ended up not using)
Fabric for the backing (from a remnant bin)
A package of Christmas fabric quilting squares
Christmas ribbon
Package of Christmas scrapbook pictures
Fabric glue
Fabric Paint
Index Cards
Christmas shaped white cards
Christmas Sticker

My first step was to mark out the edge of the foam board on the backing fabric so I knew how to lay out the squares.

Using  fabric pencil, I laid the foam board on top of the backing fabric, and being sure to keep the board still, I traced along the edges.

Next I took the package of quilting squares and laid them out on the backing fabric, making to that similar colors and prints were not close to each other.

This is where I ran into my first bit of trouble. There was no way to arrange the squares so that there was 24 inside the area of the foam board. So I could either cut every square to be smaller and cut every activity square smaller, or I could just find a bigger double thick cardboard to mount it to, instead of the foam board. Finding a bigger board seemed to be easier than all that cutting, so I pinned all of the squares to the backing. Make sure you put individual pins in all four corners, you'll be moving this around alot and don't want your squares sliding around. You can also choose to glue the squares down but it may require touchups with use.

I sewed the three sides of each square, leaving the top open.

Next was finding a new backing to attach to it. I asked hubby if he could find a section of cardboard big enough. But he had an even better genius idea (don't you hate it when that happens?). Instead of attaching the fabric to cardboard, why didn't I just sew pockets into the top and bottom and put dowels in it. That would also make it easier to store since it could be folded up. So with a heavy heart, I seceded that Chad's idea was better and headed out to buy the dowels. I also had to finish the edges of the side now since they wouldn't be hidden behind the foam board.

I chose to use a fancy dancy stitch on my sewing machine. Again, you could do this using fabric glue too.

Next I folded the top and bottom in and did an invisible stitch, creating a tube for the dowels.  
Once the pockets were done, I inserted the dowels and put drops of glue just inside the pockets to keep the dowels in place.

Next, I turned my attention to the activity cards.  I used red and green markers to write an activity on each cutout. Be sure to choose activities that can be repeated each year. It helps to keep them general or something that is already a family tradition. Instead of using "Make snowmen ornaments" just use "Make ornaments". That way you have a little wiggle room from year to year. For the cutout on the 24th, I used "Read Night Before Christmas, and leave out milk and cookies for Santa". I also added stickers to each cutout to make them more festive.

The last step was the really fun part. Decorating the pockets. I used cutouts from a Christmas themed scrapbook package. I laid them out before gluing any on to make sure I liked the way it looked. I inserted an index card into each pocket to prevent the glue from seeping through the fabric and gluing the pocket closed. I used Tacky Glue and attached the cutouts to each pocket. I also used glitter fabric paint to highlight some of the pattern in the fabric and to write the day (1-24).

You can see the index cards poking out the top of the pockets. I was going to remove the index cards once the glue was dried but they were pretty stuck. I could have easily peeled them off the back of the pockets, but I liked the stability they gave. So I just cut off the top sections so you couldn't see them, leaving the rest glued to the back of the pockets.

To finish it off, I tied a ribbon to the ends of the top dowel so it could be hung on a wall, and TADA, a new family tradition is born.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Homemade Pretzels

Besides the obvious that they raised alot, these were really good. Not as good as the ones you get from Target or that nice little shop in the mall, but still good.


1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon salt 1/2 egg 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water
coarse salt


In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the sugar, butter, salt, egg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a stiff dough. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Cut each into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 20-in. rope. Shape into a pretzel. Place on greased baking sheets. Beat egg yolk and cold water; brush over pretzels. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 25 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Perfect Biscuits

I have searched for a long time for that perfect biscuit recipe. You know the one. Wonderfully brown and crisp on the outside, and deliciously soft, flakey and moist on the inside. Of course you need to make these from scratch, I knew no box mix was going to cut it. But I tried several of different recipes and never really got the results I wanted. After watching an episode of Sandwich King on Food Network, I am happy to exlaim, "By Jove, I think I've got it!" Turns out the perfect biscuit isn't just about the recipe, but the technique. Two simple things make a world of difference.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder*
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar*
3/4 cup butter 
1 1/4 cup buttermilk or 1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon melted butter


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat.

2.In a large bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Place bowl in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add COLD milk all at once. Using a fork, stir just until moistened.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing dough for four to six strokes or just until dough holds together. Pat or lightly roll dough until 3/4 inch thick. Cut dough with a floured 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter, rerolling scraps as necessary. Handle the dough as little as possible.

5. Pull cast iron skillet from the oven and add enough vegetable oil just to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Place biscuits, sides touching, in hot cast iron skillet. Brush the top of the biscuits with melted butter. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or until golden. Remove biscuits from oven and serve warm.

Two simple steps, baking in a hot cast iron skillet and refridgerating the ingredients after combining, made a WORLD of difference.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creamy Chicken with Pot Pie Toppers

Chicken Pot Pie. YUM. This is a great way to transfer the meal into a make ahead dish. I did make a few changes. First major change was the celery. And I do this for every dish the calls for celery. I don't care for the texture of cooked celery but it does add a nice flavor. So instead of chopping the celery up, I leave it whole and toss it in. Then fish it out before serving. You get the depth of flavor celery gives your meals but not the mush grey stuff.  In the recipe it calls for mushrooms, but no one around these parts really cares for them, so I just omitted them and the steps. It also say to bake the puff pastry ahead of time also but this is such an easy step that I decided to wait and do it the night of instead of risking the baked puffed pastry crumbling in the mean time. The result was wonderful. I think I will even add more veggies next time.


3 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast

3 onions

2 fresh bay leaves

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced or quartered

4 baby potatoes, diced

2 parsnips, peeled and diced 1/2-inch thick

2 small ribs celery, chopped

A few sprigs fresh sage leaves, very thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Splash white wine

1 rounded tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, defrosted

1 egg


Place the chicken breasts in a pot with 1 quartered onion and 1 bay leaf. Fill the pan with just enough water to come to the top of the chicken breasts. Bring the mixture to a low boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and poach the chicken 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and dice or shred with forks. Reserve the poaching liquid.

In the same pan, heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, a couple of turns of the pan over medium-high heat, add the mushrooms and lightly brown. When the mushrooms are just tender, add 2 chopped medium onions, potatoes, parsnips, celery, sage, salt, pepper and remaining bay leaf. Cover the pot and sweat the vegetables 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf. Melt the butter in the pot, add the flour and stir to make a light roux. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine and add one to 2 cups of reserved poaching liquid. Whisk in the mustard and 2 cups chicken stock. Stir in the cream. Thicken to a light gravy consistency. Adjust the salt and pepper and add in the chicken.

Reduce the heat to low and bake off the pastry tops.

For make-ahead meal: Bake off the pastry tops; cool the filling and store. Reheat the filling, covered, over medium heat to a bubble, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.

To prepare the pastry tops: Cut the pastry into shapes which reflect the shape and size of the dishes or bowls you wish to serve the soup in. Beat the egg with a splash of water and arrange the cut pastry on a nonstick baking sheet or on parchment-lined sheet pan. Brush the dough with the egg wash and bake to golden at 425 degrees F, 12 minutes.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Baked Taco Bowls

We love tacos in our house. They are a great throw together meal. Especially when you have some leftover roast in the fridge. I made these shredded beef taco bowls with the leftover roast from the Braised Beef recipe (HERE) and some inspiration from pintrest. Instead of frying the taco shells, like we had always done in the past, I saw an article on pintrest on how to BAKE the taco shells. The results were delicious. With fried taco shells, they tend to start getting mushy unless you fry them so hard that they are pretty much crumbling when you start to build your taco. With these, they stay crisp and fresh and with the bowl shape, they are all ready for loading.

To make the bowls, preheat your oven to 350. Spray corn tortillas with non stick spray. Lay in an upside down cupcake pan so the shape resembles a bowl. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the shell is crisp and holds it shape.

Then load up with your favorite taco fixings. A quick scrumptious meal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

One of my favorite cake flavors is lemon. The frosting in this recipe is a creamy and light and just perfect with the lemon altered white cake mix. Super easy and fantastic results.


1 package (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package JELL-O Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water 4 egg whites
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar
1 (8 ounce) package PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
yellow food coloring (optional)


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat cake mix, pudding mix, water, egg whites and oil in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon batter evenly into 24 paper-lined 2-1/2-inch muffin cups.

Bake 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, beat sugar, cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer on low speed until well blended. Add a few drops of food coloring until you reach desired color. Frost cupcakes.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Turkey Stuffing Meatloaf with Herbed Mashed Potatoes

This was YUM. It was like the perfect Thanksgiving bite. Mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing and gravy. We just had this last week and it's already on the menu again for this week. Super fast and delicious. And what's almost as good as the dinner? The leftover turkey meatloaf sandwiches. The original recipe (as written here) calls for a oil based gravy, which I didn't like. I also just used butter in the mashed potatoes. From now on, I'll be making my roux based gravy, or you can just use a packet of quick made gravy.


4 tablespoons butter

2 McIntosh apples, cored and chopped

3 to 4 small ribs celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cup stuffing cubes (recommended: Pepperidge Farm) or stale cubed white bread

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

4 cups chicken or turkey stock in a box

2 pounds ground turkey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 large egg

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 pounds starchy potatoes, peeled

1 cup whole milk

1 (5-ounce) package soft herb cheese (recommended: Boursin)

1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (recommended: chives, dill, thyme)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the butter to melt in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the apples, celery, and onions seasoned with a bay leaf, salt, and pepper, until very tender, 10 minutes. Add the stuffing cubes and moisten with 1 to 1/1 2 cups of stock; season with poultry seasoning. Cool completely, then combine in a bowl with ground turkey, salt, pepper, half the parsley, and egg. Form 4 oval-shaped loaves a couple of inches thick. Arrange on a rack over baking sheet or parchment-lined baking sheet and coat with a little oil to glisten. Roast until brown and firm, 45 minutes, depending on thickness.

Reheat the meatloaves in medium hot oven to warm through. Place them in a shallow baking dish and cover with foil. Cook's Note: To keep the loaves from drying out - add a splash of stock, this will keep the loaves super moist.

In a saucepan, whisk the oil and 1/4 cup flour over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes, until the color of peanut-butter. Add lots of coarse pepper to the roux, then whisk in a couple of cups of stock and thicken, season with salt to taste. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator. Reheat the mixture in a saucepan over medium flame.
While the meatloaves bake, boil the potatoes in enough water to cover. Drain, then return the potatoes to the hot pot and mash with milk, herb cheese, mixed herbs, remaining parsley, salt and pepper. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator.

Reheat the potatoes in a saucepan over medium-low heat, adding a little more milk as the potatoes warm to loosen them up a bit.

Serve the meatloaves, whole or sliced, with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Spinach Stuffed Braciole with Pasta

Make Ahead Meal. I made this recipe almost as written the first time around. I didn't use pine nuts because they were super expensive. However, it may have just been the brand of frozen spinach I used, but it was a little too "dirty" tasting for me. Next time I will start with fresh and see if that makes a difference. It was great dish, tons of leftoevers.


1 (10-ounce) box chopped frozen organic spinach

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped

2 tablespoons dried currants or chopped raisins

2 to 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

4 (8-ounce) pieces thin-cut top round veal or beef pounded very thin

Special equipment: Kitchen twine


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 large fresh bay leaf

A few sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped

A few sprigs fresh sage, thinly sliced

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups chicken stock-in-a-box

1(28-ounce) large can diced tomatoes
1 box of your favorite wide pasta

1 tablespoon butter

A generous handful fresh sweet basil leaves, torn or shredded

A small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped


For the braciole: Defrost, drain, and wring the frozen organic spinach dry in a clean kitchen towel and separate with your fingertips while adding to a mixing bowl. Season the spinach with salt, black pepper, and a little nutmeg. Add the chopped hard-boiled eggs, currants, pine nuts, finely chopped garlic, and cheese to the bowl and gently combine. Season the meat with salt and pepper and arrange each steak with one of the narrow ends near you. Divide the filling evenly among the meat slices. Scatter the filling over the meat leaving a 1/2-inch edge or border on the sides. Fold the edge over the filling and tuck in the edges as you roll each bundle to secure the filling. Wrap and roll the remaining bundles and secure with kitchen twine to cover the ends and middle, like wrapping a package.

Heat a large Dutch oven with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil a couple of turns of the pan over medium-high heat. Brown the meat bundles 6 to 8 minutes to evenly caramelize the meat all over.
For the sauce: Remove the bundles from the pan and add 1 tablespoon more olive oil, give a turn of the pan to coat. Add the chopped carrots, onions, sliced garlic, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables cook 5 minutes to soften, then stir in the chopped rosemary and sage for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and stir to develop the fragrance, then add the white wine and scrape up the pan drippings. Stir in the chicken stock and tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon or potato masher. Bring the sauce to a bubble, add the meat back to the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook 2 and a half hours more, stirring occasionally.

Bring a pot of water to a boil for pasta. Salt the water and cook the pasta to al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the water.

Remove the meat bundles to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
Drain the pasta and return to a hot pot. Add 1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces, and half of the sauce, toss to combine, adding a little starchy cooking water to make it all come together for you.
Cut the string from the meat and serve the meat dotted with more sauce and sprinkled with fresh parsley on large dinner plates with hot pappardelle pasta topped with fresh basil and some shaved Parm alongside.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

These cupcakes came out beautifully. The original recipe (from Sprinkles) was a little too "pound cake" texture for me. So I will add some baking soda the next go round. But the fresh strawberry taste was incredible. I could eat the light fluffy frosting all day.


2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

2 large egg whites, room temperature


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

Cream Cheese Filling


1 pkg (8 ounces) cream cheese softened

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup milk


About 1 1/2 cups.


In large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, and milk. Beat with mixer until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

I put the filling in a piping bag with a large round tip and just stabbed the end into each cupcake, squeeze a little, then release.

Fresh Strawberry Frosting

1/2 cup whole strawberries

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold

Pinch of coarse salt

3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

French Silk Chocolate Pie

This is a super easy pie, especially if you use a store bought pie crust. But I've always liked making my own, especially for the scraps ;) The original recipe for this pie called for granulated sugar, but I always had a hard time getting the result really smooth. So I switched to powdered sugar and have since gotten really smooth and silky results.

To make the chocolate curls, I left a large bar of Hershey's chocolate out on the counter on a warm day. Then I placed it on the edge of a tall cutting board and just used a potato peeler to get the curls. Worked beautifully.

And the pie does have raw eggs in it, so heads up for our preggo friends


1 cup butter
3 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
Whipped Cream


Cream butter and sugar. Blend in cocoa and vanilla. Beating at high speed, add one egg and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Repeat with each remaining egg. Keep whipping until fluffy. Spread in cooked pie shell of choice and keep refrigerated. Add whipped cream to the top just before serving.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Corn Chowder

I've been making this recipe for quite awhile. It's become one of our favorite dinners.  The great thing about it is you can alter the recipe to fit your tastes or what you have. Don't have ham? Use just bacon. Don't have red bell peppers? ehh green ones are fine. I've even forgot to add heavy cream or have just used milk... still YUM


6 slices bacon

1 hamsteak, cubed

1 onion, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

1/3 c. flour

1 quart chicken broth

1 c. water

2 can whole kernal corn, drained

1 large red potato, cubed

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 t. cayenne

1 c. Heavy Cream


Over medium high heat, saute chopped bacon until crispy. Remove from pan. Using bacon drippings, sear the outside of the hamsteak. Add onions add peppers and cook until tender.

Stir flour and stir to coat. Then add broth, water, corn and potato. Season with salt and pepper, and cayenne if desired.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Stir in cream and heat through. Heat through then serve. Top with cripsy bacon.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Finally the Disneyland pictures. We had so much fun. Not just fun ourselves, but even more fun sharing it with the boys. We even didn't mind going on It's a Small World four times. It would have been closer to 10 times if we went every time Keegan asked to. And their face while going through the ride was priceless..

 The whole trip was totally worth just that one moment when Keegan first saw Mickey Mouse. He started jumping and just shaking with excitment. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has since become his favorite show.

 Gee you can't tell my boys are related at all can ya?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sea World

Alright, lets get back on track. I think there is some law that you can't come back from vacation without showing pictures, so like it or not here are some of my favorites. The trip was exhausting but so much fun.

Our first stop was my sisters house in Moorpark on the way to San Diego. The boys had a great time hanging out with their cousins. I wish we could do it more.

The next morning, we got up early and headed straight for Sea World. Keegan has recently become obsessed with the ocean and all the creatures in it. To help him get excited and show him where we were going, we showed him youtube videos of Shamu for a few weeks before we left. By the time we got there, all he wanted to do was bounce from sea creature to sea creature. Loudly announcing to whomever was listening that we were going to see SHAMU.

Keegan and Reece "hugging Shamu"

Next stop was three days at Disneyland. Stay tuned for more pics!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reese's Cookies

These cookies came out amazing!! Usually peanut butter cookies smack you upside your head with nuttyness. These were closer to chocolate chip cookies with a nice peanut butter taste. I used the peanut butter cookie recipe from Better Homes and Gardens and just added about a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips. A small change but a HUGE payout. I made the rest of the cookies exactly as the recipe specified, including rolling the balls of dough in granulated sugar right before baking. I will make these ALOT.


1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour


1. In a large mixing bowl beat peanut butter and butter with electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Cover and refrigerate dough about 1 hour or until easy to handle.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Shape dough in 1-inch balls. Roll the dough in granulated sugar. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten the cookies by making crisscross marks with fork tines, (I just smashed them down with my fingers)  flattening each cookie. Bake about 8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to wire racks. Cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Roasted Veggie Marinara

This marinara was fun to make and so good to eat. The roasted veggies really gave the sauce another depth of flavor. The recipe calls for chunks of tomatoes but it still wasn't quite "tomatoey" enough. So I used an immersion blender to get a really smooth sauce. That solved the problem. We also couldn't find the long fusilli noodles the recipe called for. They looked really fun to eat. I will be on the hunt for those to try this recipe again. Not that the kind of noodle changes the way the marinara tastes. I just want it :D


2 large red bell peppers

1 large Fresno chile pepper or Holland chile pepper

1 large head garlic

Sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped

1 medium-large firm eggplant

Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing eggplant

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chicken stock

1 (28-ounce) can Italian tomatoes

2 fresh basil leaves, torn

Sprig fresh oregano, leaves picked and finely chopped

1 pound long fusilli pasta

Grated Pecorino cheese

Fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped


Char the skins of sweet and hot peppers to black under a broiler with oven door slightly ajar, to prevent steam build up or place directly over stovetop flame. Cover the charred peppers and cool, peel, and seed. Reserve.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut head garlic to expose the cloves, dress in extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Press the garlic into the chopped rosemary and coat the cut cloves. Wrap the garlic up in foil and roast 40 to 45 minutes, until soft but still moist.

Halve the eggplant lengthwise and brush with extra-virgin olive oil. Season the eggplant with salt and pepper and place cut-side down on baking sheet and roast to very tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool the eggplant until easy to handle, then scoop the flesh away from skins and add to a food processor with roasted garlic and roasted sweet and hot peppers, then puree.

In saucepan, heat the stock and tomatoes. If the tomatoes are whole, break them up. Stir in the eggplant-pepper mixture and add basil and oregano, salt, and pepper, to taste.

Simmer sauce to combine flavors then cool and store for make-ahead meal.

Reheat over medium heat.

Boil long, curly pasta in salted water to al dente, toss the pasta with sauce and serve with cheese and a sprinkle fresh parsley.

Make Ahead Meal: Tamale Pie

This has been one of my favorite make ahead meals so far. Super easy and really really delicious. In the episode, she covered it with polenta but mentioned that you could also use corn bread. That's what I chose to do.  The cornbread was just a tad too sweet, but that is an easy fix. I used a box, next time I will make my own and cut down on the sugar. I think I will also make the meat saucier. But the flavor was perfect. The recipe calls for ground pork, but I used sausage instead. I also sprinkled cheddar and mozarella cheese right out of the oven, then covered it until the cheese melted.


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound ground pork

1 1/2 pound ground sirloin

1 onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons seeded chipotle in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus couple spoonfuls sauce

1 tablespoon ground cumin (scant palmful)

1 tablespoon coriander (scant palmful)

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 (12-ounce) bottle Mexican beer (recommended: Negra Modelo)

1 cup beef stock

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water

1 1/2 cups milk

About 1 cup quick cooking polenta

2 tablespoons butter

1 generous tablespoon honey

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar or smoked Cheddar cheese


Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat, add pork and sirloin and brown. Add the onions, garlic, chipotle, adobo sauce, cumin, coriander, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and pepper, cook 5 minutes to soften bits of onions. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute more. Add the beer and scrape up the drippings. Add 1 cup beef stock and heat through to combine the flavors then cool completely and store for make-ahead meal.

The night you would like to serve tamale pie, reheat in a skillet over medium heat while you make the quick-cooking polenta. Preheat broiler. Heat chicken stock and milk to a boil, then whisk in the polenta and cook until thick, 3 minutes. Cook's Note: Polenta needs to be very thick.

Stir in butter and honey and season with salt and coarse black pepper. Spread the thick polenta in an even layer over the tamale filling. Top the polenta with cheese and brown under broiler.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Make Ahead Meal: Chicken Caeser Mac

One of my favorite salads is chicken Caesar. And I'm pretty particular about it too. I haven't found many restaurants that have a dressing I like. And even less that don't feel like the romaine should be swimming in dressing. Soggy lettuce. YUCK. This super easy macaroni recipe has all the wonderful flavors of a Caesar salad. I used leftover chicken that we had grilled. I would definitely recommend doing the chicken on the grill.  Feel free to substitube the cheese for another one. I left out the anchovy paste but only because I couldn't find it. I want to make this again with it, though there are many alternatives if you just can't stomach it.


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

Extra-virgin olive oil, for liberal drizzling

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound penne pasta or whole wheat penne

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon anchovy paste

3 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups freshly shredded Pecorino cheese

1 head escarole or romaine, shredded

1 lemon


Heat grill pan over high heat.

Coat the chicken in extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill about 12 minutes, turning occasionally, then set aside.

Bring water in saucepot to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water, add pasta and undercook by 1 minute.

While the pasta cooks, melt 6 tablespoons butter in a separate saucepot. Spoon out 1/2 and toss with the panko to moisten. Combine with 1/2 the grated Pecorino and reserve. To the remaining melted butter, add the garlic and anchovy paste, lots of coarse black pepper, stir 2 minutes then whisk in flour then stock, milk, and Worcestershire, thicken until it coats a spoon, then stir in the remaining half of the grated Pecorino.

Drain the pasta. Halve the chicken breasts lengthwise, then thinly slice and combine with the pasta and sauce, transfer to a casserole and top with the bread crumbs. Cool and store for make-ahead meal.

To reheat: Reheat, covered, in a hot 425 degree F oven to warm through, then uncover to brown.

Serve with shredded escarole or romaine and dress with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Serve alongside Chicken Caesar Mac.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Make Ahead Meal: Texas Bacon Beans and Eggs

This was a wonderful recipe. I didn't have avocado on had so didn't use it but would imagine it would make the dish even better. The spice was just a hair more than what I would have liked but that is easy to adjust. And putting a medium egg on top really helped. The yolk gave it a nice richness. And the tortillas were a great texture to add, I had only cut them in strips but did make it difficult to eat at times. So the next time I will cut them into squares.. We will be making this again.


12 corn or flour tortillas, cut into strips
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 slices smoky lean bacon, sliced across the strips 1/2-inch long
1 red onion, peeled, quartered and sliced
2 Fresno or jalapeno chiles, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can black beans
1 tablespoon cumin (a scant palmful)
1 rounded tablespoon chile powder (a healthy palmful)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup beer (recommended: Negra Modelo)
1 (14-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Small handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded hot pepper sharp Cheddar cheese or Pepper Jack cheese
4 eggs, to prepare any style (1 per person)
Ripe avocado, halved, pitted and diced
Lime, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut tortillas into strips and spray with cooking spray. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until crisp. Arrange in casserole dish.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add bacon and brown then remove with a slotted spoon. To the skillet, add the onions, Fresno peppers, and garlic and saute a few minutes.

Add the beans and season with cumin, chile powder, salt, and pepper, stir in tomatoes, cilantro, and beer. Thicken 1 minute, then adjust seasoning and arrange on top of tortillas, and scatter in bacon bits and cheese.

Cool and store for make-ahead meal.

Bake in the hot oven until bubbly and hot, top with fried eggs (as soft or hard as you like), diced avocado and lime wedges.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Chocolate Bread Pudding

So you didn't get a super pretty plated picture. That's what happens when I want to eat it so I just hurry up and snap a shot ;) Idler's in Paso has a cooking demonstration once a month. I learned this simple recipe there. I've never liked bread pudding before. It's always been more like soggy bread to me. But this is like a dense underdone brownie. So good. I added walnuts but feel free to omit them or change them to another nut. Experiment with it, that's what makes this such a great recipe.


1 One pound loaf of day old bread
1 cup sugar
3 cups milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups chocolate syrup
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup nuts


Cut the bread up into small cubes or use a food processor. In a seperate bowl, combine sugar, milk, eggs and syrup. Whisk until well combined. Add the bread "crumbs" and gently stir until well coated. Add nuts if you'd like, reserving about half for the top.

Pour into a greased 13x9 pan. Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips and remaining nuts. Push them down into the bread slightly with a flat palm.  Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees in a water bath (place the 13x9 pan in a larger dish or cookie sheet and fill with water until halfway up the 13x9 pan)

Cool slightly and serve with ice cream, whipped cream and more chocolate syrup.

Braised Beef

This was one of my all time favorite braised beef recipes. It's simple and the meat turned out beautifully. So tender and moist. The potatoes were really good too. The entire meal, braised in one pot, for hours. Easy and so yummy.


Extra-virgin olive oil, for sauteing and drizzling
4 onions, very thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
3 pounds chuck, bottom round or top sirloin steak
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 to 5 starchy potatoes
1 (32-ounce) can Italian tomatoes, sliced or roughly crushed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
A few fresh basil leaves, torn
1 loaf ciabatta, for serving


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with a thin layer of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the onions, and garlic to the hot oil and sweat them until very soft and very light caramel in color, 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and reserve.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a thin layer of oil to the pan. Pat the meat dry and season very liberally with salt and pepper. Brown the meat to a deep brown all over, 12 to 15 minutes.

Peel the potatoes and very thinly slice them lengthwise into planks. Slice the tomatoes working over a bowl to catch their juices.

Arrange 1/2 the onions over top of the meat, season with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon thyme. Arrange 1/2 the potatoes over the onions and dress the potatoes with a liberal drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, about 1 tablespoon, salt, pepper, rosemary, and a handful freshly grated cheese. Top the potatoes with 1/2 the tomatoes and their juices, and season with salt and pepper. Scatter a few leaves of torn basil. Repeat the layers. Do not add basil to the top layer of tomatoes.
Cover the pan and roast the meat in the oven until very tender, 4 hours. Cool and store for make-ahead meal.

To reheat: Reheat, covered, in a preheated 325 degree F oven until warmed through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Take off the lid of the pot, drizzle the top of the meat with oil, sprinkle with cheese, and broil to lightly crust the top. Cut down through the layers of the potatoes, tomatoes, and onions to portion the meat, serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread and pan juices.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

All Day Pork Roast with Apple Chutney and Sweet Mashed Potatoes

And yet another Rachael Ray 5 in 1 recipes. These are usually all the new recipes I try these days. But this is one of the reward meals. The pork roast bakes in the over for 6, that's right SIX, hours. So on your cook day, you season this one up first and toss it in the oven. Later in the day, you pull the rest of it together. The pork was so tender and juicy. The chutney was kinda meh, but as Chad put it, we're not "chutney" people. The sweet potatoes were really good, even without the orange zest it calls for. And the aspargaus is another simple saute with butter, salt and pepper. I wasn't brave enough to try the chard.


1 (5-pound) bone-in pork shoulder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 medium onions, sliced
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
5 to 6 fresh bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 Fresno chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, grated or minced
6 medium Braeburn or Gala apples, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup dark amber maple syrup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly grated nutmeg

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 very large bunch red chard, stemmed and shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg


From 6 hour pork, cook your way through the day with slow-cooked, braised, and simmered comfort foods.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Score the top of the roast in a crosshatch pattern about 3/4-inch apart. Rub the salt, pepper, fennel, and thyme into the pork skin and set the pork into a roasting pan. Roast about 30 minutes, or until crispy on top. Cover the pork tightly with foil and reduce oven to 325 degrees F, and roast about 4 hours.

Remove the pork from the oven and set onto a cutting board. Spoon off most of the fat from the drippings and add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaves, salt, and pepper to the pan, and stir to combine. Set the roast on top of the vegetables and cover again with foil, roasting for 1 to 1 1/2 hours more.

Meanwhile, start on the spicy apple chutney and side dishes.

For the spicy apple chutney: Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a saucepot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions, chiles, and ginger to the pan and cook to soften, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the apples, dark brown sugar, thyme, maple syrup, cider vinegar, lemon juice, a little salt, and nutmeg. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until a thick sauce forms. Adjust the seasoning and transfer to a serving dish.

For the sweet potatoes: Cover the sweet potatoes with water in a pot over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until tender. Drain and return to the hot pot. Mash the sweet potatoes with orange zest, chicken stock, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve.

For the chard: Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and saute until just tender, about 5 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Remove the pork roast to a carving board and cover with the roasting foil to tent. Skim the fat again, and then place the roasting pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Deglaze the pan with stock, and wine, and stir for a few minutes with a wooden spoon to scrape up all drippings. Strain the sauce and pour it into a serving bowl or gravy boat. Serve the pork with the spicy apple chutney, mashed citrus sweet potatoes and sauteed chard.

Cook's Note: Use the leftovers to make pressed sandwiches on ciabatta bread with extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese and leftover spicy apple chutney.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Portuguese Fisherman's Shrimp and Chorizo

The recipe says shrimp, but I say chicken. I can't eat seafood, so I easily altered this recipe, changing the shrimp to chicken. I was hesitant about the kale, but it was very good. It holds up well to long cooking and doesn't become really soggy like I imaged it would have. The recipe wants you to add the shrimp in the reheating process. This is because the shrimp is delicate and won't hold up to long heating without dreadfully overcooking. But since chicken does well simmering in liquid for long periods, I added it in the begining instead of when it was reheating. This is a very simple "chop and drop" recipe.


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces chorizo, casing removed and chopped

1 starchy potato, peeled and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped or thinly sliced

1 Fresno or Holland pepper, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 small bunch flat-leaf kale, leaves stripped and chopped

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 (15-ounce) can chick peas, drained

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes or diced tomatoes with chiles

3 cups chicken stock

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, deveined and stemmed

Juice of 1 lemon

Portuguese rolls, for serving


Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat, add the chorizo and render 2 minutes. Then add the potato, onion, carrot, garlic, chile pepper, thyme, and bay leaf, soften 5 to 6 minutes. Wilt in the kale and season with a little nutmeg. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, and stock into the pot, bring to a low boil and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Cool and store for make-ahead meal.

Heat the chorizo and vegetable sauce base to a low boil, when ready to serve. Add the shrimp and cook until pink and firm. Add the juice of 1 lemon and turn off the heat. Serve the shrimp and chorizo in shallow bowls garnished with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and warm Portuguese rolls alongside.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Make Ahead Meal - Mexican Beef Stew

This was a great stew. Served with charred tortillas and wedges of lime for squeezing on top. The color is beautiful. My favorite part, besides the bacon of course, is that it calls for large cubes of meat instead of the traditional hamburger. 



6 ancho chiles
2 cups beef stock
Vegetable or olive oil, for drizzling
4 ounces smoky good quality bacon, chopped
2 pounds beef top round, cut into bite-size chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
About 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
About 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 (12-ounce) bottle Mexican-style lager beer (recommended: Negra Modelo)
1 (14-ounce) can whole, diced or crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lime


Sour cream

Fresh cilantro leaves

Warm or charred tortillas or rice

Black beans


This dish is a Chili con Carne made with stew meat rather than ground chuck. It is pretty enough to entertain with and made with top round rather than bottom, so it's lean enough to feel good about eating.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Stem and seed the chiles and place in a pot with beef stock over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently to reconstitute. Cook's Note: Use a little water to supplement if stock alone will not cover peppers.

Heat a large Dutch oven with a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat, and add the bacon to the pan and stir until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Pat the meat dry, season with a little salt and lots of black pepper, then add to the bacon drippings and brown evenly to caramelize the meat. Brown the meat in 2 batches if necessary in order not to crowd the pan. Remove the meat and add another drizzle of oil, if necessary. Add the onions, and garlic and soften a few minutes. Stir in the cumin, coriander, cocoa, cinnamon, and cloves, and stir to toast the spices and combine. Deglaze the pan with beer and evaporate.

In a food processor, puree the softened peppers and stock with tomatoes. Pour into the pot, slide the browned meat and bacon back in, and drizzle in the honey. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat falls apart with a fork. Cool and store for a make-ahead meal. Reheat over medium heat and add the lime juice just before serving.

Garnish with sour cream and fresh cilantro leaves, and serve with tortillas or rice and warm black beans

Monday, April 25, 2011

French Chicken in a pot with Druken Au Jus

Are you ready? We're going on a recipe streak. I have several pictures of meals on my memory card. Because of our upcoming vacation, the card has gotta be emptied and I'd rather put the food pics straight to my blog. They're the biggest reason I take them in the first place! And Chad seems to like making fun of me ;)

So our first recipe is a French Chicken. Again this is from Rachael Ray's 5 in a day show. But instead of this being a make ahead meal, this is the reward for your day of cooking. The chicken was delish. I altered her potato recipe a little. I didn't use the cambert cheese, just butter and milk. I did use the turnip though. I gave the potatoes a nice flavor, but not too noticable. Also a great texture. The green beans I simply put in boiling water just short of being done, strained then sauteed with butter, salt and pepper very quickly.


1 (4-pound) whole chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib celery and green tops, chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and sliced
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1 large fresh bay leaf
2 pounds starchy potatoes, peeled and chunked
1 medium turnip, trimmed and chunked or 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 cup milk or chicken stock, warmed
10 to 12 ounces ripe Camembert or 1 small individual wheel
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 bottle dry white wine (about 1 cup)
Juice of 1 lemon


Remove the giblets, then wash and dry the chicken. Tuck the wings back and underneath the backbone until they stay in place. Season liberally with kosher salt or sea salt and lots of black pepper.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat.

Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil to the hot pot and brown the chicken breast-side down first, turn using a wooden spoon or closed tongs placed in cavity.

Once the bird has browned on both sides, remove the chicken to a plate and add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, and pepper, and cover the pan. Sweat the vegetables to make a little pan juice, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place the bird atop the vegetables and cover the pot. Transfer to the oven with the rack at the oven bottom, and roast about 1 1/2 hours, until a thermometer reads a minimum of 165 degrees F at the thickest part of the bird.

About 15 to 20 minutes before the chicken comes out of the oven, place the potatoes and turnips in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook to tender. Drain, and mash with milk, and ripe camembert cheese. Season the potatoes with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, to taste. Cover and turn off the heat to keep potatoes warm.

Place the chicken on a carving board and cover with foil.

In a large pot, bring a few inches of water to a boil for the green beans. Salt the water, and boil the beans 5 to 6 minutes for tender-crisp. Drain and dress with butter.

Pour the pan juices and scrape the solids through a strainer into a bowl and return the pan to stovetop over medium heat. Press down on straining solids to collect all of the pan juices. Add the wine to the hot pan, and scrape up the drippings. Pour in the juices and reduce over a rapid simmer for about 10 minutes to concentrate the flavors. Add the lemon juice and turn off the heat. Transfer to a gravy boat or serving dish.

Carve the chicken and serve with pan juices, potatoes, and beans.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter Egg Hunt Playgroup

Thanks to a wonderful group of mommies, Keegan and Reece were able to practice their egg hunting skills last weekend. They had a great time. And Keegan is now obsessed with eggs. I can't wait to give them their Easter basket. And the hunt is going to be tons of fun!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Make Ahead Meal - Brisket with Sage Polenta

Mmmmm  Brisket. Brisket is a great meat for a Make Ahead Meal. This five pound brisket actually made several meals outside of the recipe. The leftovers were used to make shredded beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, and also shredded beef tacos. Chad even got some lunches out of it too. LOTS of meat. And if you get a good price on the brisket, you can't beat the deal.


1 (5 to 5 1/2 pounds) lean beef brisket
Sea or kosher salt and coarse black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium onions, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 fresh bay leaves
A couple pinches ground cloves or allspice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
2 cup chicken or beef stock
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
16 oz precooked Polenta tube
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 pound sliced mixed mushrooms
8 to 10 leaves fresh sage, very thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken stock plus 1 cup whole milk or 3 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter, optional
1 cup watercress or upland cress, arugula or fresh flat-leaf parsley tops, for garnish, optional


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper. Add a couple of tablespoons olive oil to a large Dutch oven, a couple of turns of the pan, and heat over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown all over, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and drain off meat fat if any accumulates. Add another turn or 2 of the pan with extra-virgin olive oil. Add onions, garlic, bay and season with salt and pepper, cook to tender 8 to 10 minutes, add in a few pinches cloves and stir in the tomato paste 1 minute. Next stir in the wine and deglaze the pan, then add the stock and canned diced tomatoes and stir to combine. Settle the meat back into the pot and cover. Bake 1 1/2 hours, then uncover and bake 1 hour to reduce the liquids, then place the cover back on and cook until very tender, 1 1/2 hours more.

Remove the brisket to the carving board and cover with foil to keep warm.

Reduce the sauce a few minutes, simmering gently, uncovered to thicken a bit.

Heat 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat and add garlic and mushrooms, cooking until very tender, season with salt and pepper and stir in sage. Bring the stock-milk mixture to a boil in a saucepot and add the polenta. Whisk the polenta 2 to 3 minutes until it pulls away from the side of the pot. Add the butter, if using and fold in mushrooms.

Slice the brisket and serve with sauce over polenta with mushrooms. Cool half of the brisket and store for later in the week. Scatter a few bitter greens over the top for an optional garnish.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The backscratch

Everyone loves a good back scratch. But more than likely no one loves it more than Reece. Whatever he is in the middle of the world stops for the back scratch. We have employed this tool to our advantage. Best way to get Reece to calm down when he's upset - Back Scratch. Best way to get Reece to fall asleep - Back Scratch. Any place, any time. Reece loves him some back scratch. One of these days his foot is gonna start bouncing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chicken Egg Noodle Casserole

About three times a week, Chad has to work late. So I am in charge of trying to make dinner and keep two boys from killing themselves. Not the easiest task, especially when you're stuck in the kitchen for long periods of time. You're forced to choose between  burning dinner and keeping peace. What ends up happening is screaming "LEAVE YOUR BROTHER ALONE" from the kitchen several times. Much to stressful.

Then last weekend, while sorting laundry, I had turned the Food Network on. Rachael Ray came on and I usually don't like watching her shows but this one had a good idea. Make dinner for five nights in one day of cooking. This was my AHA moment. I could spent half a day at the begining of the week making meals that essentially just had to be thrown in the oven or reheated. TAA DAA!!! Yummy dinners and less stressful evenings!!

Week one went wonderfully. This Make Ahead Meal (MAM) was Chicken Egg Noddle Casserole. I think when I make this again, I will add more salt and make more sauce. But the result was very yummy!

This made enough for all four of us to eat and some leftovers for lunch later.


1 small head broccoli, trimmed and cut into small, thin stalks and florets
2 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast, fat removed
1 medium onion
2 fresh bay leaves
1 pound extra-wide egg noodles
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 rounded tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
2 egg yolks
1 cup white or whole wheat panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
1 cup shredded mozarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
A handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped


Place a large pot of water on to boil. Salt the water and cook the broccolini until tender. Remove to a plate. (do not discard water) When the broccoli is cool enough to handle chop it into bite-size pieces.

Place the chicken in a few inches of the water with a peeled quartered onion and a couple of bay leaves. Bring the water to a low boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and gently poach the chicken 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the extra-virgin olive oil in skillet over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the broccoli to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat off pan.

While the onions cook, heat the butter in a medium saucepot over medium heat, whisk in flour 1 minute then whisk in the milk and season with salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, and thyme. Thicken 5 minutes then whisk in a little of the sauce to the egg yolks to combine, then add the egg yolks back to the sauce and whisk to combine, turn heat down to the lowest setting.

Cook's Note: If sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of chicken poaching liquid and turn off the heat.

Shred the poached chicken with forks or dice poached chicken into small, bite-size pieces.

Preheat broiler.

To the large pot of boiling water, add the egg noodles. Cook the noodles according to package directions for al dente. Drain the noodles very well and add them back to the hot pot. Stir in the broccoli, chicken, and sauce, and then transfer to a casserole dish. Place the casserole in the middle of the oven and broil 3 to 5 minutes until bubbly and brown. Cool and store for make-ahead meal.

To serve the casserole, heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mix together the panko, Gruyere, Parm, and parsley. Place the casserole on a baking sheet in upper half of the oven and bake 30 minutes, add the topping and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, or until brown and crispy on top.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The First Project

Well he's got all the tools, so he's gotta use right. We found a kit at Lowe's to build a bird house. This should work out perfect. We have a great tree in the backyard that we can hang it from.  Of course, Dad (and a little bit of Mom) had to help him along but Keegan really enjoyed building his bird house. We've got it all built, now we just need to paint it. That's a other project, and mess, for another day. It would also help if I could remember to buy birdseed one of these days :D