Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

We have 18 people coming for Thanksgiving, and I'm thrilled! I love the kind of Thanksgiving where you have to move furniture and borrow tables and chairs.

With so many good cooks in the family, I'm only making about half the dishes below--everyone is bringing something. My mom is even roasting a second turkey.

I'm also starting a new tradition: Pie-apalooza. I read on Slate about a woman who makes approximately one pie per guest, and I couldn't get it out of my mind. My side of the family loves pie, but we don't have it as often as other desserts. I'm not planning a 1:1 ratio of pies, but we'll have more than usual and maybe add a pie each year from now on.

Chex Mix (Chris)

Main Course
Turkey #2 (Mom)
Make-Ahead Gravy                                      
Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes                  
Green Bean Casserole (Mom)                      
Savory Sweet Potatoes (Kristen)                
Sweet Potato Souffle with Homemade Marshmallow Topping                                         
Cranberry Apple Salad (Beth)                    
Macaroni and Cheese                                 
Corn Pudding/Casserole (Beth)                 
Glazed carrots                                             
Jello salad (Grandma)                                  
Rolls (Chris)                                                   

Pumpkin Pie (Jack)
Apple Pie (Mom)
Cherry Pie (Chris)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whoopie Pies

The whoopie pie - a regional treat beloved of northern New Englanders and the Amish. It's two pieces of soft chocolate cake with marshmallow filling in between. And no, it's not a Moon Pie.

It's disloyal to say so, but I actually prefer Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with cream cheese frosting. But these are very, very good - made better (I think) when I bump up the salt in the filling. Salt cuts the sweetness and makes them irresistible.

Whoopie Pies

1/2 c. shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 c. plus 2 T. Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 cup milk

Filling (note: I make 1.5 recipes of filling)

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/3 cups (4 oz.) Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme
1/4 t. salt (I round the measurement and add more salt as needed after tasting)
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 - 1/2 c. milk

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease or line with parchment 2 cookie sheets.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening, brown sugar, and egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, stir the vanilla into the milk.

3. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk mixture to the shortening mixture, beating until smooth. Drop the stiff batter by tablespoons on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. They'll spread a lot while they bake!

4. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until they are firm to the touch. Check them at 6-7 minutes to be sure. Remove from the oven and cool on cooling racks.

5. Mix all filling ingredients together except milk until smooth. Add enough milk to make a smooth frosting consistency. Spread half the cookies with the filling and top with remaining cookies. These are messy, so it's good to wrap them in parchment or Saran wrap individually.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

I am not one of those people who says, "You find the best recipes in church cookbooks!". But this is a good one: I don't know anyone who doesn't like it. I've changed and adapted it a bit over the years, but the basic idea is the same. If you like your sweet and sour chicken more saucy, just double the sauce ingredients.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into one-inch chunks
1 cup cornstarch
1 t. garlic salt
1 t. seasoned salt
1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks, 1/4 c. juice reserved for sauce
Vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten


3 T. ketchup
2 1/2 t. soy sauce
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Pour enough vegetable oil into a frying pan to coat the bottom and heat to medium. Combine cornstarch, garlic salt, and seasoned salt on a plate. Dip chicken pieces into beaten egg and then into cornstarch mixture. In single layers, pan fry until golden brown in oil.  Place chicken and pineapple in a rectangular baking dish.

In a saucepan, combine sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, and turn heat to low. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour sauce over chicken and pineapple.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Stir and continue baking for 15 minutes. Serve over rice.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pinterest project

I love Pinterest - it's a great source of ideas. I don't want it to simply be aspirational, so I try to actually complete projects from things I've pinned.

Here's a slight variation on an idea a friend found on Pinterest. Instead of shades of green, we used blues. We also added a charm to the ribbon and the star in the upper right.

We found all the supplies at Michael's - the craft wood was $1.99 for two pieces. The paint was craft acrylic, and we just eyeballed them to choose the colors. We used wood glue to hold everything together.

I cut out the letters with my Cricut; you can make decent stencils with contact paper. Just attach the white side up. The only tricky part is when you have letters with interior pieces, like the "b," "e," and "o." We added those pieces in the middle of the letters before painting.

I think this would be a nice wedding gift, using the date on the bottom three boards.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Caprese Kabobs

Serve salad caprese on toothpicks for a fun, light appetizer. I liked these a lot, but would serve them with extra dressing  next time.

Caprese Kabobs

1 pt. grape tomatoes
1 8-oz. package small mozzarella balls (or cut fresh mozzarella into small cubes)
1 bunch basil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Prepare kabobs with a grape tomato, a piece of mozzarella, and a piece of basil on each one. Place them on a platter. Drizzle with olive oil and splash with balsamic. Add plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper.

If you like, offer extra oil/vinegar on the side, since the dressing tends to slide to the bottom of the platter.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Smoked Salmon Spread

I love smoked salmon for an appetizer, but I decided to try salmon spread for a change. This is Ina Garten's recipe, and it's great, as usual! Even people who don't love smoked salmon like this savory, creamy spread. It's also a good way to stretch pricey smoked salmon.

I served the spread with Town House Pretzel Crackers, which were really good. Bagel chips or rye cocktail bread would also be nice.

Smoked Salmon Spread 


8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill (I used one teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound (4 ounces) smoked salmon, minced


Cream the cheese in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until just smooth. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, horseradish, salt, and pepper, and mix. Add the smoked salmon and mix well. Chill and serve with crudites or crackers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Menu

Here are links to all the recipes I used for the Academy Awards-themed preschool teacher appreciation menu. It was a lot of fun!

Chicken Cordon Bleu
Twice-Baked Potatoes
Cobb Salad
Carrot Souffle
Artisan Bread
Raspberry Cheesecake

Raspberry Cheesecake

This cheesecake is the best plain cheesecake I've ever made. It's creamy, rich, and not too sweet. The lemon zest gives it tremendous flavor if you don't want to make the sauce.

The original recipe is from Ina Garten, but after making it four times, I've changed it quite a bit. It doesn't matter if you use a 9-inch or 10-inch pan. The baking instructions are great - the cheesecake never cracks and slices beautifully. Make it at least 24 hours in advance.

1 package Oreos
4 T. butter, melted
1 T. sugar
5 packages cream cheese
1 3/4 c. sugar
6 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 c. sour cream
1 T. lemon zest
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. strawberry jelly or seedless raspberry preserves
1 16 oz. package frozen raspberries

1. Process Oreos into crumbs in a food processor. Mix with melted butter and one T. sugar. Press into the bottom of a nine- or ten-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Cool.

2. Mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth - about five minutes - on high speed. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, 2 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust. Preheat oven to 450.

3. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degrees F and bake for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and open the door wide. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2 to 3 hours, until completely cooled. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

4. To make sauce, heat jelly in microwave until melted. Mix in berries. Add sugar if the sauce is too tart. You can cover the top of the cheesecake with raspberry sauce or serve it on the side.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Or as we called them yesterday, Two-Time Award Winning Potatoes. Another 80's throwback! It's hard to mess up twice-baked potatoes, but here's the recipe. They are great to make for a crowd - you can do all but the second baking ahead of time. I made almost 20 lbs. of potatoes and baked them in two batches in my small home oven. At the commercial kitchen at the preschool, they fit on one full-sheet pan.

Instead of cutting an opening into the top of the potato or cutting large potatoes in half, I cut about the top 1/2 inch off the potatoes. This made the potatoes sturdier and left me with a bunch of potato skins for later.

Twice-Baked Potatoes
5 lbs. potatoes
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups cheddar cheese shredded
1 cup sour cream
4 T. butter, softened
2 T. green onions, sliced

Drizzle olive oil over potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 until fork-tender (40 minutes for medium potatoes; at least 1 hour for large).

When potatoes have cooled slightly, cut off about the top 1/2 inch. Gently scoop out the potato into a bowl, reserving skins. Mash potatoes until smooth. Add 1 cup cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter, green onions, 1 1/4 t. salt and 1/4. t. pepper. Scoop back into potato skins and top with remaining cheddar cheese. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

I didn't intend for the teacher appreciation luncheon menu to be a throwback to the 80's, but it did turn out that way! I considered serving chicken Oscar to coordinate with the Academy Award theme but wasn't convinced everyone would love it. I chose Chicken Cordon Bleu (Blue-Ribbon Chicken) and renamed it Academy Award Chicken.

You can make it look a lot prettier if you pound and flatten the chicken breasts, but I didn't do that because of the time it would take. I sliced the breasts length-wise, rolled them up, and secured them with toothpicks which seemed to work pretty well.

This is a great make-ahead dish because you can roll the breasts and brown them on the stove but finish them later in the oven.

One of my friend's husbands ate some leftover chicken for dinner, and she texted me that he said, "I am fixing to smack somebody" after eating it. I had to ask her if that was a good thing, and she assured me it's very good - in a redneck way!

Chicken Cordon Bleu


3 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 lbs.)
6 slices Swiss cheese
6 slices smoked ham
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chicken base (like Better Than Bouillon)
1 cup heavy whipping cream


1. Slice the chicken breasts in half the long way. Pound chicken breasts if they are too thick. Place a cheese and ham slice on each breast within 1/2 inch of the edges. Fold the edges of the chicken over the filling, and secure with toothpicks. Mix the flour and paprika in a small bowl, and coat the chicken pieces.
2. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the chicken until browned on all sides.
3. Remove the chicken from pan. Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 oven.
4. Add tablespoon of flour to skillet and cook for one minute, stirring. Add the wine and bouillon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer while the chicken bakes. 
5. Remove chicken from oven. Whisk cream slowly into the skillet. Cook, stirring until thickened, and pour over the chicken. Serve warm.

Cobb Salad

I had the privilege of catering the teacher appreciation luncheon at the boys' former preschool yesterday. I always love to go back and cook for the wonderful teachers there! The theme was Academy Awards, so I chose a menu at least tangentially related to Hollywood. I snapped a few pictures with my phone just before the luncheon started, so they are not that great!

I made Hollywood Derby Cobb Salad without chicken. Since chicken was the entree, I left it out, but it's included in the recipe below. This is a great salad to serve to a group because you toss the lettuces and then layer the toppings in vertical lines. That way those who don't like hard-boiled eggs (for example) can just choose the toppings they like.

I adapted the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Watercress would be an authentic addition, but I just went with iceberg and Romaine.

Hollywood Derby Cobb Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup canola oil
2 T cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 T cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1 small clove garlic, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and shredded

1 head romaine lettuce, chopped

2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
6 strips cooked bacon, roughly chopped
2-3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2-3 Roma tomatoes, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
 or slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced

Make the dressing: Combine the canola oil, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, sugar, and garlic in a blender or dressing shaker. Purée the ingredients to make a smooth dressing and season with salt and pepper. Set the dressing aside.

Make the salad: On a large platter, combine the iceberg and romaine lettuces along with the watercress. Drizzle a little dressing on the lettuces. Arrange the blue cheese, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, chicken, and avocado on top of the greens in neat rows. To serve, drizzle salad with dressing, season with salt and pepper, and top with green onions.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Stuffed grape leaves - so delicious but not so photogenic!

I'd never had them before, but I made them for a Greek dinner, and they were a hit. Many recipes call for meat, but I liked them with this combination of rice, pine nuts, and vegetables. Tzatziki sauce makes a great addition, and you can eat them hot, room temperature, or cold.

I went to a Greek market to buy the grape leaves before realizing Publix sells them. I got a pound for $5.69, and I have tons left over. I'll be making this recipe again soon!

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence

Yield:about 30 dolmades


* 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
* 1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored and diced
* 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
* 1/2 cup pine nuts
* 1 cup long-grain rice
* 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
* 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill leaves (I used 2 t. dried dill)
* 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 (8-ounce) jar grape leaves, rinsed and drained
* 2 lemons, juiced


To make the filling, coat a large saute pan with 1/4 cup of the oil and place over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel and lemon zest and stir until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the pine nuts and rice and saute for 2 minutes, stirring to coat. Pour in just 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and lower the heat. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 10 minutes. Scrape the parboiled rice mixture into a bowl and add the dill and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool. Now on to the grape leaves.

Bring a big pot of water to a simmer. Blanch the grape leaves in the hot water for 5 minutes until pliable. Drain, then trim the stems and any hard veins from the leaves. Pat dry with paper towels.

To assemble the dolmades, lay a grape leaf on a work surface, shiny-side down. Put 2 tablespoons of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaf. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and roll up into a cigar – it should be snug but not overly tight because the rice will swell once it is fully cooked. Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the roll. Repeat with remaining grape leaves and filling.

Place the dolmades in a large Dutch oven or wide deep skillet, seam-side down in a single layer. Pour the remaining cup of broth, remaining olive oil, and the lemon juice over the dolmades, the liquid should reach halfway up the rolls, add some water if necessary. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dolmades are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm, at room temperature or cool.