Monday, November 26, 2018

Mini Eggnog Cupcakes

  Usually around Christmas time, my focus always goes right to finding cookie recipes, but full disclosure, I don't always have the best luck with making cookies. (I guess that's my Achilles heel.) So for this week's recipe, I decided to go with cupcakes instead! I made these little bites of heaven last year for my family's Christmas party, and everyone loved them! Making small bites for a big dessert table is always a good idea because then you can sample several things without having to commit to a giant piece of cake, etc. Know what I mean? This recipe is from a blog called Life Love and Sugar, and it's SUPER easy. Easy to mix, easy to bake, always a big hit. Sounds like the perfect party dessert, dontcha think? Yum.

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup egg nog
1/4 cup milk 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together flour, sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add butter, egg whites, vanilla, nutmeg, eggnog, and milk and mix on medium speed just until smooth. Do not over mix. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half way. Bake 12-14 minute or until an inserted tooth pick comes out clean. Makes 48 mini cupcakes or 12-14 regular cupcakes. 

To make it easier to fill your cups, use a cookie scoop!
If you're making regular sized cupcakes, use a 2 oz ice cream scoop, and then bake them for 18-22 minutes or until they test done.
For extra egg nog flavor, add a tsp of rum extract!
Use any kind of buttercream or cream cheese icing you want. I made Martha Stewart's Swiss Meringue Buttercream and added eggnog, nutmeg, and rum extract. Also added an extra sprinkle of nutmeg on top!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Round Two Mac and Cheese

 OK, so, I know I'm gonna get a bunch of flack for saying this, but I never considered mac and cheese as being part of Thanksgiving Dinner. I know. I know. For many people, it is just not Thanksgiving without it, but it was never something my family ever included with our holiday meal. Other holiday parties? Yes, absolutely! But definitely NOT Thanksgiving.
 So, if you are also someone who doesn't usually include mac and cheese in your big feast, here's a great way for you to use up some of your leftovers! And yes, I've seen the videos where people are absolutely HORRIFIED watching the video from The Kitchen where they're adding leftovers to a mac and cheese, as if this is some sort of sacrilegious act. And to that I say, no one is trying to CHANGE your beloved favorite mac and cheese! But who says there can't be other kinds too?? I have literally TEN different recipes for mac and cheese on this blog, and frankly I can't wait to find ten more! So how about let's just keep our culinary minds open, and try new things, shall we?
 So, back to this recipe! Everyone always loves to make a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce on the day after Thanksgiving, but there's never anything to do with the leftover vegetables, right? Well, here you go! Add them to mac and cheese! Even if we're not talking about Thanksgiving dinner, it's a great way to use up leftover vegetables. You just add a few fresh ingredients and make an entirely new casserole out of it. Perfect! For my Round Two, I added roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, but you can add any kind of veggies you have leftover. I mean isn't adding cheese sauce usually how parents get their kids to eat vegetables anyway? It's a total win! Oh, and here's a thought.....  if you are someone who MUST have mac and cheese with your holiday meal, this could be a round ONE mac and cheese side dish for your big feast!
Give it a try! I promise you'll love it!

1 lb cut pasta, any shape
4 tbs butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 tbs mustard
1 lb Velveeta cheese
leftover veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, or root vegetables
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tbs melted butter
5 pieces of bacon, cooked and crumbled

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, boil the pasta until al dente.
While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the onions and saute over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the fresh thyme and continue to saute. Add flour and stir well for a few minutes until it blends with the butter. Add the milk, mustard, and Velveeta in chunks. Slowly whisk over medium low heat until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens slightly. Be sure to stir all the way to the bottom to insure that the cheese sauce doesn't burn.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and add it to a big mixing bowl. Now add your leftover veggies and all of the cheese sauce to the bowl. GENTLY toss everything together. Pour into a large casserole dish. In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter and the bread crumbs, then sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Place in oven and bake for 1/2 hour or bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle crumbled bacon over the top. Let it stand for about 10 minutes and then dig in!

Be sure to boil the pasta in SALTY water. It needs more salt than you think it will need. How do you know how salty it is? TASTE IT. Yes, Taste the water before you add pasta to it. Also, make sure the water is boiling before you add the salt, otherwise the crystals will sink to the bottom and and leave marks on your pot.
When you make the cheese sauce, you will think that this is FAR too much sauce for this amount of pasta, but just go with it. When you bake it, the pasta will absorb some of the sauce and it will be the perfect creamy mac and cheese texture when it's done!
If you have a specific go-to mac and cheese recipe, by all means, use it! Just add your leftover vegetables and some fresh herbs like thyme, or sage, etc.
If you want to make it vegetarian, just leave out the bacon!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Joey's Celery, Apple, and Fennel Slaw

 I've often had the debate about which recipes are a MUST at Thanksgiving. For some people, it's just not Thanksgiving without Mac n Cheese. For others, you can't have Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing. We all have our family traditions and favorite dishes.
In my family, one of the things that MUST be on the plate, is home made cole slaw. Cole slaw, you say???? Yes! It's something my Mom always made for Thanksgiving, and so it will always be on my Thanksgiving table.
 Just as with cranberries, I have my favorite recipe for cole slaw, but I still like to try other different versions and variations. Especially when you have a big plate of heavy casseroles, you definitely want something bright and acidic to cut through everything and balance it out.
 I've always loved the crisp anise flavor of fennel, so I wanted to try it in a delicious slaw. Funny thing... I searched and searched for what I thought would be the perfect recipe, and then I wound up not following it anyway. LOL I have a habit of doing that! Well, what can I say? I like to taste things and then say "what else does it need? And then I go from there.
 So if you'd like to try a new something to brighten and freshen up your meal, give this slaw a try. It really goes SO well with a big Thanksgiving feast!

1 tbs vegetable oil
3 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs mayonnaise
salt and pepper
 2 granny smith apples
3 ribs of celery
2 bulbs fennel plus 1 tbs chopped fennel fronds 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, mayo, and S&P. Set aside.
Core apples, (no need to peel). Slice the apples thinly, then cut into thin match sticks. Slice the celery into thin slices on an angle. Slice the the fennel as thinly as possible across the bottom of the bulb.
All of this slicing is even better if you have a mandoline slicer. (just be very careful of that blade!)
Toss everything in the dressing. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those dishes that can be made very far ahead. No one likes a soggy cole slaw. If you absolutely MUST make it ahead, I wouldn't go sooner than the night before.
For an extra hit of fresh anise flavor, you could add a little chopped fresh tarragon. I probably would have added some to the recipe, but I didn't have any on hand!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Spinach Gratin

 I recently invited a few friends over for a Friendsgiving dinner, and I made a bunch of dishes for everyone to try. I was pretty pleased with all of the recipes, but I think THIS one was the absolute stand-out. As you can see in the picture, it makes a pretty big casserole, and there was not very much left at the end of the night. That's definitely a WIN, in my book.
 This recipe is from Ina Garten, and it's absolutely DELISH. Now, I have to say, my sisters and nieces and I are always joking about how she always says "use fresh, but store bought is fine." But for this recipe, it's an absolutely MUST to use store bought frozen spinach. Because spinach cooks down to practically nothing, you'd need, like, a metric ton of fresh spinach to fill up the pan! So, frozen is the way to go.
 Usually, when I'm looking for recipes for Thanksgiving, I don't always go for the rich heavy casseroles, but this one looked so good, I decided to give it a go. Fun fact, it's not heavy at all! Rich and flavorful, yes. Heavy, nope! As Miss Ina would say "How perfect is that?"
 When I made it, I prepped and assembled it the night before, and then just popped it in the oven on the night of my dinner. Easy! For Thanksgiving, you can put it in the oven when you take the turkey out. The turkey needs time to rest anyway, so that will give you plenty of time to bake the casserole.
 So, thank you, Ina, for yet another fabulous recipe. I'm definitely not gonna wait until next Thanksgiving to make this one again!

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
3 pounds frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (5 (10-ounce) packages)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add the cream and milk and cook until thickened. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and add the spinach to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer the spinach to a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the Gruyere on top. Bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve hot.


To squeeze the liquid out of the spinach, place a clean tea towel flat on your work surface. Place your defrosted spinach (in small batches) on the towel. Just dump it right out of the box onto your towel. Pick up all four corners of the towel to make a little bundle of spinach. Twist the bundle so that the towel tightens around the spinach, which will squeeze out all the liquid. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Cranberry Grape Compote

 For me, it is just not Thanksgiving unless you have home made cranberry sauce. I mean, yes, I know many of you are a fan of the can, but for a day as special as Thanksgiving, it's time for something fresh and homemade. Many many years ago, I asked my Mom how she made her cranberry sauce, and now I'm happy that I get to make it for my family every year. But I still like finding other versions and variations! (frankly, I've never met a cranberry sauce I didn't like) And that brings us to THIS recipe from Martha Stewart.
 This is what I like to call "stupid easy." Like, I don't even think it could be any easier. You literally just throw everything into a sauce pot and let it simmer. That's it. Done. How awesome is that?? And as with everything Thanksgiving, we all know that doing as much as you can in advance is the best option. You could make this DAYS in advance, so it's really a no brainer.
 So lets talk about the most important thing.. how it TASTES! I would venture to say that if you are not usually a fan of cranberries, then maybe give this one a try. The grapes mellow out the tartness of the cranberries and it's a perfect blend! Kind of like if grape jam and cranberry sauce had a baby.
 If you've ever felt intimidated by the thought of making home made cranberry sauce, this is the recipe for you!! And if you love cranberries as much as I do, then you absolutely MUST give this one a try!

12oz bag of cranberries (fresh or frozen, no need to thaw)
3 cups seedless red grapes
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt

In a large sauce pan, over medium high heat, bring cranberries, grapes, sugar, and 1/2 cup of water to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped and the grapes are falling apart, about 10-15 minutes. Remove heat. Add salt and stir to combine. Let cool to room temperature (compote will thicken as it cools.) Serve at room temperature.

Because of the amount of natural pectin in the cranberries, the sauce will gel firm when you refrigerate it. I think it looks prettier as more of a loose sauce, so I gave it a quick stir just before serving.
Serve leftovers as a spread on bagels with cream cheese or heat it up and serve it warm over vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Slow Cooker Mashed Sweet Potatoes

 One of the trickiest things about tackling a Thanksgiving dinner is oven time management. The turkey is taking up ALL of your oven space, and you only have so many burners on your stove. So how do you get everything else done? Well, the easiest thing to do is to remove the oven/stove from the equation altogether! Use your slow cooker!
 Seriously, your slow cooker is your BFF when it comes to preparing your holiday feast. It not only frees up your oven, but it also frees up your time because it's a total do-ahead! You can prep your potatoes a day or two in advance, and then on Thanksgiving morning, just turn 'em on! Just a quick mash before you serve, and then you can keep them warm, right in your slow cooker. Easy!
 This recipe is from The Magical Slow Cooker, and it's absolutely perfect.  If you know me, you know how much I absolutely LOVE using slow cookers, so much so that I literally have a collection of them. Actually, I think I may need an intervention (is seven too many?). But here's the thing... I use ALL of them! They're all different sizes, so I can use different sizes for different things!! For this recipe, I didn't need to use the biggest one, because I only had a handful of guests. But if you're feeding a crowd, go ahead and fill up your biggest crock pot! This recipe is so good, it will all still work! You can also tweak it and add whatever flavors you'd like.
 This one is DEFINITELY a keeper.
And if you don't own a slow cooker, this recipe is the perfect excuse to buy one! or seven!

6 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (this was about 7 cups, measured)
1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup water or apple juice

Add these items at the end:
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbs. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

 Add the peeled and diced sweet potatoes to the slow cooker (5-quart or larger). Slice the butter and place on top. Pour over the water. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours without opening the lid during the cooking time. When the cooking time is done, add the maple syrup, heavy cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth OR use a potato masher and mash by hand. Serve with additional butter if desired.

Yes, that's all the water it needs. Just 1/4 cup. I promise it will work!
I actually went longer than 4 hours, and it was fine!
When you're adding your flavors at the end, you do you! If you like a lot of something, add a lot! Tbh, I didn't even measure anything. I just added a few glugs of pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup), and then tasted it to see if I wanted more.
If you'd like it to be much sweeter, add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar!
I like the flavor of orange with sweet potatoes, so you could add a little grated orange zest, or even just a couple tablespoons of orange marmalade. YUM.
Is it too dry? Add a little extra heavy cream and/or butter. And definitely don't forget to add the salt! Season it the way YOU like it!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cinnamon Pie

  As I was trying new recipes for Thanksgiving, the question that always came to mind was "is it Thanksgiving worthy?? Allow me to explain.
 In my family, Thanksgiving isn't just a meal, it's an event. It's a HUGE deal, and it's my very favorite holiday of the year. So, a few weeks ago, I tried a couple recipes, and my thought was "Is it GOOD enough for my family's big event on my favorite holiday?" Unfortunately, several of those recipes didn't make the cut.
 And then, ladies and gentlemen, I discovered THIS recipe. First, let me just say that this may possibly be my favorite new recipe this year. I found it on a blog called A Spicy Perspective, and it is HEAVEN in a pie plate. It's absurdly easy to make and it literally proves what I always say...."There's no such thing as too much cinnamon." At first, the recipe kind of reminded me of my family's favorite cherry cheese pie, sans cherries, and of course with the addition of a TON of cinnamon. Of course, I needed an excuse to try it. I had planned on having a few friends over for a sort of meeting/dinner, and this was the perfect chance to test the pie.
 It got RAVE reviews from my friends, and soon they were asking me for the recipe. My friend Chris described it as tasting like the inside of a cinnamon roll. OMG YES THAT'S IT! That's the perfect description! It's rich and creamy, but yes, if a cinnamon roll and a pie had a baby, this would be it!
 So, if cinnamon rolls are your thing (Anthony, I'm looking at YOU), then you clearly need to make this pie! And YES, this is DEFINITELY 100% Thanksgiving worthy!!

8 ounces cream cheese softened 
1 cup brown sugar packed 
2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk 
1 1/4 cups heavy cream 
1/4 cup all purpose flour 
3 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1 pie crust homemade, or store-bought 
Powdered sugar for dusting

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll and fit a pie crust into a deep dish pyrex pie plate. Crimp the edges and place the pie crust in the refrigerator. Place the cream cheese and brown sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Beat of high until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, then beat in the eggs. Scrape the bowl again, then set the mixer on low and mix in cream, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and nutmeg until very smooth. Pour the cinnamon filling into the prepared pie pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until the center seems set when jiggled, but not totally firm. Bake another 5 minutes if needed. Cool completely. Cover and chill. Take out of the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Dust the top of the pie with powdered sugar. Cut and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Yes, that says 3 1/2 TABLESPOONS of cinnamon. That is NOT a typo. I know, I know, that's quite a lot, right? Well, what do you expect? It's a cinnamon pie!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Slow Cooker Mushroom Stuffing

 OK so here's an easy no brainer of a dish that is PERFECT for your Thanksgiving feast! Why is it perfect? Well, for one, it's a total do-ahead. You can have it all prepped and ready on the night before, so that all you have to do is turn on your slow cooker when you put the turkey in the oven. And that brings me to number two, the oven! Guess what? No oven space needed! It frees up your oven for your turkey and your other side dishes, so not only is it a time saver, but also it's a space saver! And then that leaves me with number three, the most important thing of all.. it's absolutely delicious! I mean, come on, how can you have a turkey dinner without stuffing? Frankly, you can't. And this recipe from Taste of Home is one of the best I've ever tried! Yes, Kelsie Kels, I know you love your Stove Top (not that there's anything wrong with that), but it's Thanksgiving! How about lets splurge a little and make something home made, with fresh herbs and aromatics, want to? It's everything a home made stuffing should be! Love love LOVE it! And I know you will too. :)

1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 pound baby portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
12 cups unseasoned bread cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups vegetable broth

 In a 6-qt. stockpot, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, celery, and onion; cook and stir until crisp-tender, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add stuffing cubes, herbs, and seasonings; toss. Whisk together eggs and broth. Pour over stuffing mixture; stir to combine. Transfer to a greased 6-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, on low until heated through, 3-4 hours.

For a little variety, add several different kinds of mushrooms! More is more!
If you'd like a dryer stuffing, place a clean tea towel over your slow cooker, and then place the lid over it. The towel will prevent any condensation from dripping back into your stuffing!
I find it's best to use stale bread cubes. They absorb so much more flavor!
Btw, I may or may not have added a little more butter and a little more celery. And by a little, I mean A LOT. Why? Because I like it!!  If you like a lot, add a lot!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries, Feta, and Honey

 Every year, I try my best to find new and different Thanksgiving side dish recipes. I mean, for the most part, just about everyone has a turkey, or at least some sort of big something as the star of the meal (ham, prime rib), but it's the SIDE DISHES that you can vary from year to year to add some excitement to your menu! For this one, I wanted something fresh, easy, and yes, I wanted it to be a little lighter. Of course I know it's a huge feast and this is not a day for dieting, but it seems to me that having a few lighter dishes would be a very welcome break from all the super heavy casseroles. Am I right? Yes, of course I LOVE a good rich casserole, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, get it?
 So lets talk about this dish. I've seen it on several websites, but I first found it on a website called Out of the Woods Fitness. So, since that's where I saw it first, that's who gets the credit! It's EXACTLY as delicious as it sounds and it hits all the marks. The honey and squash are sweet, the cranberries are tart, the feta is salty, and the parsley adds a burst of green freshness. It's so perfectly balanced! I swear, when I made it, I could not stop eating it. Some websites also add toasted pine nuts over the top, just to add a little crunch, and I'd be all for that too. But you do you!
 So if you're looking for a new way to make butternut squash, or if you're looking for a new and lighter and dare I say it HEALTHIER side dish for your Thanksgiving, this is definitely the one!

1 large butternut squash, (about 3 lbs) peeled + cubed
a hearty drizzle of olive oil
salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste
2 cups fresh cranberries
2-3 tbs honey
1/4 cup finely crumbled feta
ground cinnamon, to taste
fresh parsley, to garnish, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400ºF.
Lightly drizzle or spritz a baking sheet with olive oil.
Add cubed squash to the sheet along with another drizzle of olive oil.
Sprinkle with a light layer of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste.
Roast for 25 minutes on the center rack.
At the 25 minute mark, pull out the oven rack, and add your fresh cranberries to the roasting pan.
Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cranberries have started to soften and burst a bit.
Remove from oven and add a sprinkle of cinnamon (approx 1/8-1/4 tsp or to taste) along with feta and honey.
Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.

To make this in advance, follow the recipe as far as roasting the squash and cranberries, then place them in a sealed container in the fridge until your dinner. Then just reheat (in oven or microwave) and then pick up where you left off and finish the recipe as directed. In other words, don't add the feta, honey, and parsley until you're ready to serve!
In the original, it was noted that the honey is drizzled after the roasting (instead of before) in order to retain some of its health benefits. I don't know if there's any truth to it, but it makes sense to me!