Monday, November 30, 2015

Slow Cooker Chocolate Candy

  Here's an easy and yummy do-ahead recipe that falls squarely into a category that I like to call "stupid simple." I'm not even kidding. If you're not usually one to cook, then this is the recipe for you. It's about as easy as it gets! You just throw everything into a crock pot and then in about 3 hours you give it a stir. That's all there is to it! See what I mean? Simple!! When I saw Trisha Yearwood making this on her show, I knew this would be a perfect recipe to share around the holidays, just because everyone is in such a rush with shopping and cooking and decorating and baking. But with this recipe, you can start your crock pot on a Sunday morning, put on a load of laundry, go finish running your errands, then by the afternoon, you're ready to stir everything together and fill your candy cups. You'll be finished in no time at all! You could even put the cups in decorative tins and give them as gifts. And everyone will be SO impressed that you made your own candy! It's so much more personal than just buying a box of candy, dontcha think? So give it a try! And just think, maybe this will be the recipe that you become famous for making every year! It could happen!!

2 pounds salted dry-roasted peanuts
4 ounces German's sweet chocolate (about 4 squares)
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
2 1/2 pounds white almond bark

Put the peanuts in the bottom of a 4-quart slow cooker. Layer the chocolate over the peanuts, beginning with the sweet chocolate, followed by the chocolate chips and then the almond bark. Set the temperature on low and cook for 3 hours. Do not stir the mixture. After 3 hours, stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth. Drop the candy into cupcake pan liners using about 2 tablespoons per liner.* Allow the candy to cool completely before removing the cupcake liners.

 *I decided to use mini cupcake tins instead of the regular ones. I wanted smaller bites, and I also like how they dress up a plate of cookies. No mini cupcake tins? No problem!!  Just place the mini cupcake paper liners in empty egg cartons to help them hold their shape while they set! Easy!
Btw, be sure to use salted nuts. The salt is key! Just sayin!
Not a fan of peanuts? Use any kind that you like! Cashews, pecans, and macadamia nuts would be high on my list. I think I'll try them next time!
This recipe makes quite a few mini candy cups, probably 100-110 depending on how full you make them. I'm not seeing this as a problem, but if you don't want that many, it seems to me that cutting the recipe in half would work just as well.
I also decided to use a small ice cream scoop to portion each one, just to make it easier. Turns out this was a really good idea!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Cream Cheese Glaze

Once upon a not so long ago, I invited a few friends to dinner. For some reason, I never seem to have a problem finding people to be testers for new recipes! LOL What can I say? I like to try out new recipes to get everyone's opinions, see if anything needs to be tweaked, etc.
 I was thinking I wanted to do a pumpkin bread pudding, but I needed to up the wow factor a little. A sauce, perhaps? a glaze? Hmm.. So I happened to be working with my friend, Mary, and I told her about my dinner menu plans. I said "OK, which one do you think I should do, a caramel sauce or a cream cheese glaze?" She looked at me like I had two heads and said "Um.. hello.. BOTH!" (as if this was the most obvious answer in the world, duh). So I went with it!!!
 Let me just say that I need to buy a vowel because O. MY. GOD. It's possibly one of the most heavenly desserts I've ever made. It's warm and comforting, and creamy and chewy and crunchy and gooey all at the same time! This is ABSOLUTELY gonna be your new favorite pumpkin dessert. I'll even go so far as to say that this might be competition for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie! There. I said it. I'm not even kidding, it's just that good!
 So thank you, Mary, for suggesting BOTH sauces. LOL That was definitely the wow factor I was looking for! Make this for your next special occasion or holiday dinner and I just bet you'll agree!

For the bread pudding:
2 cups half and half
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 cups 1/2-inch cubes egg bread (about 10-ounces)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans

 For the caramel sauce:
1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream

For the cream cheese glaze:
 4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 to 4 tbs milk 

For bread pudding:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk half and half, pumpkin, dark brown sugar, eggs, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in large bowl to blend. Fold in bread cubes and golden raisins. Transfer mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle pecans over the top. Let stand 15 minutes. Bake pudding until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. While the pudding is baking, make the caramel sauce and cream cheese glaze.

To prepare caramel sauce:
Whisk brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cream and stir until sugar dissolves and sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes.

To prepare the glaze:
Beat cream cheese until very creamy. Beat in powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla. Add 3 tablespoons milk or enough to make it the right drizzling consistency.

After you remove the bread pudding from the oven, let it cool for about 10-15 minutes, then drizzle with caramel sauce and cream cheese glaze. Serve warm.

Obviously, you don't have to do BOTH toppings. You can just do one or the other, but I highly recommend doing both!
Not a fan of nuts and/or raisins? Leave 'em out! 
If you'd like to save a little time, you have a couple options. You can make it up to the point just before you bake it, then cover it and keep it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, then bake it and top it as directed. You can also bake the whole thing as directed, then keep it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Then pour your topping(s) over it just before you serve. You can heat it up a bit in the oven if you'd like to serve it warm, or just take it out of the fridge in time to serve it at room temperature.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Buttered Rum Raisin Pie

 I was recently watching Martha Stewart's cooking show called Martha Bakes, and she was making a rum raisin pie. My first thought was "ooo that sounds good!" but then I realized that what she was making and what I had pictured in my head were two different things. When I think of a rum raisin pie, I immediately think of something that's sticky and gooey and buttery, kind of like a pecan pie with raisins and rum instead of pecans. But Martha was making a CUSTARD pie with raisins in it. Hmmm..  that's not what I wanted. So then I figured, "well, I'm gonna find one that's sticky and gooey." I did something googling and I found one! This is my version of a recipe I found on a website called, and it's just what I wanted. It's sweet and mildly spicy, but more importantly it's buttery and sticky and gooey and chewy and EXACTLY what I had in mind all along! It kind of has a similar vibe to the Mince Pie that my Mom used to make, since it has dried fruit and spirits in it, but it's not as strong. It's just sweet enough, just spicy enough, just rummy enough (rummy?), and the raisins are definitely the star of the show. I brought a piece to my boss and asked her if it's good enough to have as a Thanksgiving dessert and she said "Absolutely!"
 So if you're looking for something new and a little different to add to your Thanksgiving dessert table, give this one a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

4 cups raisins
1/2 cup Bacardi gold rum
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tbs butter
1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice
1 tbs cider vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 9-inch prepared pie crusts

 Preheat oven to 425°.
 Place raisins and rum in a small bowl. Give it a stir, and let it sit until the raisins absorb the rum, about 20-30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the pie pastry and prep the other ingredients.
Line a 9" pyrex deep pie dish with one pie crust.  Set aside.
 In a medium saucepan, before turning on the heat, whisk together water, cornstarch, and salt. Now turn on the heat and bring to boil. Stir in brown sugar, butter, and spices until combined. Add the rum soaked raisins and any remaining rum. Return to boil and let simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until syrup thickens. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add cider vinegar and vanilla. Pour filling into prepared pie pastry. Top with second crust. Crimp edges and vent as desired. Place pie on bottom rack and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375° and move pie to middle rack. Bake for 30 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Use a pie crust shield or foil tent to keep the edges of the crust from becoming too brown. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

If you'd like to serve it in a regular 9" pie dish instead of the deeper pyrex dish, just use 2 cups of raisins instead of 4 cups. The rest of the amounts stay the same.
I used a store bought ready made pie crust, but feel free to make my Easy Pie Crust or your own if you so choose.
When I first served this, it was chilled (which is usually how I like to enjoy a piece of pie). But in this case, you definitely don't want it to be chilled because it sets up rather tightly which makes it much more dense. It's much more buttery and gooey when you serve it warm or at room temperature. SO much better!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Butternut Squash Slaw

Ok, so, before you crinkle your nose, just go with me on this one, ok? Do you trust me? Have I ever lied to you before?
 I saw Damaris Phillips making this on her show, Southern at Heart, and I immediately thought "oo that sounds interesting!" I mean, don't get me wrong, I LOVE regular Cole Slaw, but I figured maybe this is the perfect swap for someone who isn't a fan of cabbage! Makes perfect sense to me! Only one way to find out! So I gave it a try. And guess what! It's absolutely delicious! At first I wasn't sure how it would go with this being a vinaigrette dressing, since regular cole slaw has a mayonnaise based dressing. But it absolutely works! Its fresh and crunchy, and sweet and tangy!
 So if you're not a fan of regular cole slaw, or if maybe you'd just like to try something new and interesting, give this one a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, grated on a box grater
1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Whisk together the maple syrup, vegetable oil, and sherry vinegar in a large bowl. Add the squash, parsley, dried cherries and sunflower seeds; toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.
The key to this recipe, at least for me, is the parsley and the toasted sunflower seeds. The parsley gives such a freshness to cut through the sweetness, and the sunflower seeds add the most amazing toasty note. 
I used apple cider vinegar, just because I had it on hand, and I used dried cranberries instead of cherries, just because I like them and dried cranberries felt more like Thanksgiving. 
Btw, I used a food processor to shred my squash. SO much easier!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sweet Potato Gratin

 One of my all time very most favorite dishes in the whole wide world is Sweet Potato Casserole. It's one of the top 5 reasons I look forward to Thanksgiving every year! I mean, come on, with all the butter and brown sugar, what's not to love, right? But let's think about sweet potatoes for a minute..
Do they really need to be covered with sugar ALL the time? We're so used to doing sweet potato recipes that are sweet enough to be a dessert... what if we just do a savory dish instead? I say let's try treating sweet potatoes just like a regular potato and see what happens. So that's exactly what I did!
 This recipe was adapted from a recipe called Four Ingredient Potatoes Au Gratin from a website called Always Order Dessert. I was looking for a fabulous gratin recipe that I could tweak a little for my sweet potatoes and this was the one that seemed like the perfect fit. Very often, a potato gratin will have some sort of cheese in the recipe, but for this particular dinner, I was cooking for someone who doesn't like cheese (I know, I know, it makes no sense to me either). This was definitely the right recipe! It turned out great!!! The sweetness from the potatoes went so perfectly with the garlic, and the cream just made everything rich and comforting. And actually, if you're all about the cheese like I am, I bet you could add a little grated cheese to the top with the bread crumbs for a little extra salty hit. Doesn't that sound amazing?? I'm definitely gonna be making this one again!!

3 sweet potatoes, peeled
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons butter, sliced thinly plus more for greasing pan
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
panko bread crumbs (or any that you prefer)

Butter an 8" round baking dish all along the bottom and sides. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Set your mandoline to the thinnest level possible and slice your potatoes into paper-thin slices. Layer the potato slices with just a light overlap all the way around your baking dish, covering the bottom completely. Scatter with a bit of minced garlic and a few slices of butter. Season with salt and pepper, then repeat with another layer of potato slices, more butter and garlic, S&P. Continue to repeat the layers until you use up all the potatoes. Top with a few final slices of butter and a generous sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour the cream over the dish, making sure it distributes evenly. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake for 40 minutes, then increase the temperature to 400 for an additional 10 minutes or until the top of the dish is golden and the potatoes are crisp at the edges. Remove from the oven and let sit for a good 10-15 minutes before serving.

I have to be completely honest. When I made this, I didn't measure a thing. I just sliced up a bunch of potatoes, chopped up the garlic, layered everything until my pan was completely filled and then poured cream over everything. I was using a 9x13 pan, and I figured it wouldn't make any difference. It worked perfectly!
 Btw, be sure to season everything well. I was afraid of adding salt and pepper to every layer, and I wound up needing to add salt at the end.
Also, I think I may add caramelized onions to each layer the next time I make this... just sayin!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Parmesan Corn Pudding

 A few years ago, I was looking for corn recipes to make for a 4th of July BBQ. I happened upon a version of this one, and I thought "This is clearly more Thanksgiving than 4th of July..", so I saved the recipe and planned to revisit it at a later date. The following year, it occurred to me that I still hadn't tried it, so I gave it a whirl. Honestly, it was not at all what I was hoping it would be. Hmm.. set it aside.. let me think on it,  I'll revisit it again at a later date....
 Cut to this year... and I thought, "ok, let's figure out what's going on with this recipe."
 My main problem was that the recipe is called Parmesan Corn Pudding, only you could barely taste any Parmesan! Seems to me that if an ingredient is in the TITLE of the recipe, then you should at least be able to taste it, dontcha think?? So I switched a few things around, added a couple other things and here we are!! THIS is what I was hoping for all along! It just goes to show that recipes are not engraved in stone. I know I always say it, but seriously, you can always tweak a recipe to fit your personal tastes. Read your ingredients. Taste as you go. I'm sure the person who originally wrote this recipe was quite thrilled with it, but it just needed a few adjustments to work for me! Do what works for YOUR family! If you want to add a little kick, add some diced jalapenos. Would you like it to have a little more onion flavor? Add a few more chives, or even some chopped scallions. Make it however you like it! I'm sure the love you put into it will be greatly appreciated!!

2 (12-oz.) packages frozen corn, thawed and divided
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
2 tablespoons plain yellow cornmeal 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
6 tablespoons butter, melted 
4 large eggs 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a couple tbs more
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Garnish: chopped fresh chives

 Preheat oven to 350°F.
 Place 1 package of corn and the milk in a large food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add the other package of corn along with remaining ingredients, stirring until completely combined. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; sprinkle with more grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until set. Garnish with fresh chives, if desired.

Even though I love to play around with recipes and switch this and that, I still make sure to try it once as it was originally written. How can you switch things up if you're not sure what you don't like about it in the first place? In this case, I wanted more Parmesan flavor, and I also wanted the cheese to be grated instead of shredded (as the original recipe had suggested). I also found it was easier to stir most of the ingredients together instead of doing the whole thing in the food processor! Boom.
Oh, one other thing.. this recipe only makes a 2 qt casserole. If you're cooking for a crowd, or if you're making it for a huge holiday dinner, you'll probably want to make it in a 9x13 pan, right? In order to fill a 9x13 pan, don't double everything.... but instead, increase the recipe by HALF. You'll wind up with just enough to fill your casserole pan!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Green Beans with Garlic Butter and Cashews

When you think of green beans for Thanksgiving dinner, you usually think of the classic Green Bean Casserole, am I right? That's fine and all, but I say there's nothing wrong with mixing things up a little every now and then, dontcha think? That's how new classics are born!! So when I decided to have a few friends over for a Fall dinner, I decided to do a new green bean recipe.
 My first thought was to do something a little bit lighter than a heavy casserole, since I was already planning to do a sweet potato gratin. Then I thought it might be fun to do a variation on the classic Almondine, which has slivered almonds. I thought, hmm... how about cashews? So I did some googling and I found a recipe for broccoli and cashews.. Ok, lets try it with green beans instead!
OMG it turned out great!! It was EXACTLY what I was hoping for and everyone loved it! It was easy as can be, too. So even if you're not looking for Thanksgiving side dishes, you should still add this one to your repertoire. This one's a keeper!

1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
1/3 cup butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped salted cashews

 Remove stem ends from beans, and break or cut them into small pieces. Place them in a large pot with about 1 inch of water in the bottom. Bring to a boil, and cook for 7 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside. While the beans are cooking, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Mix in the brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Mix in the cashews, and then pour the sauce over the beans. Toss everything together. Pour onto a serving plate.  Serve immediately.

If you want to get a head start, you can prep and par cook the beans the night before. After you cook the beans, plunge them into a big bowl of ice water. It will stop the cooking and it will set the bright green color. Then when it's time to serve, just heat them back up again (either in the microwave or a few seconds in boiling water), and then toss them with the cashew sauce. Easy!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Spirited Orange Cranberry Sauce

Ok, first, let me start off by saying that this is one of the easiest recipes you will ever try. Here's the thing.. In my family, everyone contributes to our amazing, fabulous, can't-wait-for-it-all-year Thanksgiving dinner. The more experienced cooks will take care of cooking the turkeys (yes, PLURAL), and all of the other sides dishes. The less experienced cooks will do appetizers and dips, etc. The ones who don't cook at all will bring the ice, paper products, egg nog, and booze. Is that how it works in your family? Well, cooking novices, here's the perfect recipe for you! If you're usually someone who doesn't contribute to the dinner, you should give this recipe a try! It's amazingly simple to make, you can do it DAYS in advance, and everyone will be so amazed and impressed that you made this yourself. And seriously, the flavor is just SO much better than your basic cranberry sauce out of a can, I can't even put it into words.
 I originally found this recipe on, and it was described as "An easy and slightly different cranberry sauce recipe. Great with turkey or with Brie and crackers." I tweaked it a little, just because I couldn't help myself, and it turned out so great, I couldn't stop eating it. You just throw everything into a pot and let it simmer! Easy, huh? But definitely don't just serve it at Thanksgiving! It goes great with weeknight baked chicken as well! If you like cranberries, I PROMISE you will love it! And everyone will love you for it, especially if you are not known for your cooking skills.
 Try it! And then take a bow.  :)

2 (12 ounce) bags fresh cranberries
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 large orange, zested and juiced
1 cup port wine
2 tbs Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

 Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes. Let it cool for a bit so it's not piping hot, then pour into a serving bowl and refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.

Be sure to zest the orange before you juice it. It's just easier that way.
I was a little heavy handed with the port wine. I probably added about 2 tbs more than the 1 cup listed. (I'm not really seeing the downside to this, are you?)
This recipe can be doubled if you're cooking for a crowd. Just sayin!
If you're making this for Thanksgiving, you can do it 2 or 3 days ahead and then just keep it in the fridge. It will be perfectly fine for Thanksgiving, and you'll have one less thing on your to-do list!
Don't just serve this in the Fall. When fresh cranberries are in season, buy several bags and throw them in the freezer! They freeze amazingly well, and then you'll have them on hand to make cook throughout the year!