Wednesday, November 25, 2020

One For The Books

Pumpkin Crunch

As I searched through the recipes here on my blog to find some of the traditional Thanksgiving foods, like cranberry sauce and pumpkin crunch, I found the recipes attached to photos of previous Thanksgivings where the table(s) groaned under the weight of the dishes. More than once, another surface had to be quickly cleared to find a place for more dishes as the last families arrived with their contribution to the meal.

Like so many of you this year is not going to be that kind of day. We will be having turkey for two. And we surely won't have that many choices of casseroles to fill our plate. I am working on the basics today. Fingers crossed the turkey turns out okay tomorrow. It's a little one. I am never the one cooking the turkey so we hope it will be edible. 

Yesterday I heard from friends and family whose plans were still changing. Plans were aborted at the last minute when people thought really hard about traveling, or sharing a restaurant meal. And one sweet friend planned a celebration of life service this week instead of a Thanksgiving dinner. So what is there to be thankful about this year? 

One of the tables at last year's feast.

For me, high on the list is the huge store of Thanksgiving memories of large gatherings with so much food you never tasted it all. Decades of Thanksgiving memories like that are in my head. And I'm thankful for Zoom so that we can share dessert tomorrow with the littles. Am I thankful that I won't have as many dishes to wash in the morning? Maybe a tiny bit. It was always a lot of work to get the food cooked, packed up and make it to the destination by noon. But it was great fun. 

Maybe you are still having a big gathering. Maybe you are home alone. Maybe it's a small group sitting around tables outside. Maybe some new traditions will be started. I, for one, am just thankful for another day.

If you have never tried this recipe I'm posting it again. It isn't new. We've been making it for years. But I took it to my book club last fall and it was the surprise hit that made it to several Thanksgiving tables last year. Even the non-pumpkin lovers enjoy this one. It's easy. Can be made the day ahead. 

Mine is cooling right now. This year I only put nuts on half of it. (Daddy-O and nuts do not get along well.)  

PUMPKIN CRUNCH

15-oz. can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
12-oz. can evaporated milk
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 box yellow cake mix
1 and 1/2 sticks butter, melted
1 to 1-1/2 cup chopped nuts

Mix pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, and cinnamon thoroughly and pour into a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish.
Sprinkle dry cake mix (straight out of the box) over pumpkin mixture. Pour melted butter over cake mix. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake 1 hour at 350º. Let cool completely

Topping:
1 8-oz block cream cheese, softened
1 box powdered sugar
1 8-oz container Cool Whip

Using a hand mixer, blend cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in powdered sugar. Then mix in whipped topping. Spread over cooled pumpkin cake. Refrigerate. Cut into squares to serve. Can sprinkle lightly with cinnamon or chopped pecans to garnish. (I never do this part.) 







Thursday, November 19, 2020

One For The Road


This certainly is not an original idea. I've seen it done several times before as you likely have, too. But in this year of accelerated online shopping, it seemed appropriate to put this box beside our front door for drivers who are working long hours. Sometimes it's after dark when a package is dropped off, like the box delivered last night.

Goodness knows there were plenty of empty pasteboard boxes here to hold the goodies. This one happened to be the exact size I needed. And it works as well as a nice basket. Which I didn't have. Doubt the drivers care one bit.


You could fill a box with anything. (Have any Halloween candy left over?) But I ordered something special because I loved these labels. And we selfishly hope plan to eat some of them. They are delicious. I saw someone on Instagram use these particular treats for a box like this. And I instantly recognized them as ones we loved to buy at a local gift store where Mommy lives. She would use them for teacher gifts. Or a tiny surprise for her little girls. And I may or may not have stopped by that lovely shop more than once and picked up a little bag to enjoy on my drive home.

That shop sadly has closed its doors. We still miss the gift shop...and the cookies. I didn't realize that the cookies are available online until I saw the Instagram story. You can use the search box on the website.  I just discovered stores near me that sell these when I was finding the link for this blog post. If you order, you can choose from many, many labels. There's something for every occasion. Party favors. Thank You. Get Well. Holidays. Stocking stuffers. They also come in bigger packages and large containers if a 2-oz bag isn't enough. 

If I hadn't come across these cute little cookie bags, I would have bought individual packaged cookies from the grocery store. Why not homemade goodies? I do love baking, but in today's world a prepackaged treat is just the safest. It certainly is the easiest. And many people feel more comfortable with a wrapped item. 


Why am I even telling you about this? Not at all to say what a nice person I am. (I do try.)  But I wanted to say that this has been so much fun for us. When Daddy-O comes in near dusk, he asks, "Any more gone today?" "Hey! Another water bottle was taken." And that makes us happy. This little box doesn't hold many at a time, so it's easy to see when one or two have disappeared.

Some of these treats will go to other people—the ones who do helpful things but don't come to our front door. It's just a tiny way to say "I see you. I appreciate what you do." During this season of thanksgiving in a year where so much has been upended, it feels good to say "thank you." 



Disclaimer: I am not advertising at all. But someone is sure to ask about the cookies...
These cute cookie bags came from Oh Sugar! You can order them online (shipping is a little pricey) and get the labels you want. But there are many retail locations that carry them. You can do a search on their website for stores in your area. 



 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Another March Around The Sun


I took last week off from blogging. It was my birthday week so I treated myself a little. We did get to see Little Lady, and oh, how she had grown. I ate cinnamon rolls. A friend dropped off the cutest little bundt cakes for us so I really did have birthday cake. (I don't think it counts if you have to bake it yourself.) I got birthday cards and text messages and even phone calls to wish me happy birthday. 


I watched Christmas movies to my heart's content while I started pulling out some Christmas decorations.  Hallmark is the king of this market, but I found some good ones on Lifetime. And I haven't even gotten to the new ones on Netflix. We all know that our beloved Hallmark Christmas movies follow a formula—accidental meeting of people who don't get along, forced togetherness turns into love, the first kiss is interrupted and then at the end when all is well and they DO get to kiss, it snows. Maybe they are fun because they are predictable...in a world where not much else is.

My favorite one of the week—above average for this genre—was Christmas In Vienna. It's from Hallmark. It's worth watching just to see the city of Vienna at Christmas. So many scenes of that beautiful city during the holidays. And I happened to see the female lead do an interview a couple of weeks earlier and she really is a classical violinist. It was refreshing to see a real musician in one of these movies. (I checked. It still comes on a few more times in the coming weeks.)


I also gave myself time off in the kitchen. When I did cook it was recipes I've made many times before. Daddy-O had to fend for himself part of the time. That "meat" on the plate is exactly what it looks like. Spam. Don't judge. I didn't have to cook. I promise I will feed him better this week.

I don't have my week's menu plan done (it's a new thing for me and a hard habit to get going) but maybe it will include something that calls for remoulade sauce. Regardless of my menu, I'm posting the recipe here right now, so that I know where to find it later. I nearly panicked when I went to look for the paper copy the recipe and it wasn't where I thought I had put it.

This was delicious a few weeks ago when I made it to go along with crab cakes. Maybe this week I do something with shrimp. 

REMOULADE SAUCE 


1 cup mayonnaise 

2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning 

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped 

1 tablespoon horseradish sauce 

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard (I used German mustard) 

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 

1 teaspoon Texas Pete hot sauce (or to taste) 

1 teaspoon lemon juice 

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder


Mix all ingredients and store in refrigerator.








Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Enchilada Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potato in the Slow Cooker

Enchilada Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potato


Today is Election Day 2020. It calls for some easy, comfort food in the kitchen. 
This recipe fits the bill.

I have seen this recipe from SkinnyTaste pop up on Instagram more than once. The idea that I could bake sweet potatoes and make chicken in my slow cooker at the same time intrigued me. So last week when I had sweet potatoes that needed to be used and a pack of chicken breasts in the freezer that needed to be cooked, it seemed like time to try this. I must say this is about the easiest meal I've ever made. Healthy. Delicious. Easy. What more could you ask for? 

I only made one change. I used a can of enchilada sauce instead of making my own like the recipe suggests. Truth be told, I'll probably use canned sauce the next time—and there will be a next time—but I will use medium sauce instead of mild. You might rather go for hot even. But the mild just didn't have enough pizazz here. Top the stuffed potatoes anyway you like. We went for the basics. Sour cream and cheese. And I was delighted to find the very last parsley waiting for me in the garden. It surely makes a better photo with that little pop of green in the picture!


ENCHILDA CHICKEN STUFFED SWEET POTATOES

4 medium sweet potatoes, skin on
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (my pack had 2 breasts)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (10-oz ) can red enchilada sauce 

Your choice of toppings: sour cream or Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, chopped scallions, cilantro

Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Wrap individually in foil. (I love the box of foil sheets for this.)
Season chicken with salt and garlic powder. (I used my house seasoning instead) and place on one end of a 6-qt slow cooker. Spoon 1/4 cup enchilada sauce over chicken. Refrigerate remaining sauce for later.

Place potatoes on the other end. Stack them up to fit. Cover and set to cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours.

When done, remove chicken and potatoes. Place chicken in a bowl and use two forks to shred. Stir in remaining sauce. 

To serve, split sweet potatoes and top with shredded saucy chicken. Sprinkle shredded cheese on each potato and place under broiler for a couple on minutes to melt cheese. (I skipped this step.) Add any other toppings you choose.


I am enjoying seeing fall photos on Instagram. Some even include snow! We don't have much leaf color here yet. Here is what our fall looks like so far...










 



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Apple Cake w/Brown Sugar Frosting

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake w/Brown Sugar Frosting


This morning I'm putting this recipe on the blog so that we don't lose it. It's straight from King Arthur, who says it's their most requested apple cake recipe. It tastes like fall. It was good enough that Jessica made it twice. In one weekend. She made one so that we would have a treat. And two days later, the cake was gone but Todd was here, and he asked, "Can you make another one?" One of those times she measured the dry ingredients ahead of time. That made it so easy. Peeling the apples is the labor intense part. 

We did decide that the frosting is really sweet. Almost too sweet for us Southerners who love sweet. (And we live in the land of Krispie Kreme.) It's almost like brown sugar fudge. But did she change it on cake #2? No. Made it exactly like the first one. And the second cake disappeared as fast at the first one. 

Find the original recipe here. There are more mixing tips, including how to make a gluten-free version, and how to make a less sweet frosting. I am posting it here just like Jessica made it.

OLD-FASHIONED APPLE CAKE w/BROWN SUGAR FROSTING

Cake:

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1-2/3 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice*

2 large eggs, room temp

1 stick (8 tbsp) butter

4 cups peeled, finely chopped apples

1 cup chopped toasted pecans, optional

Frosting:

7 tablespoons butter

2/3 cups brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup milk

2-1/4 cup powdered sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375º. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with cooking spray. Mix all cake ingredients, except apples and nuts, in large mixer bowl. Mix just until mixture comes together and becomes uniformly crumbly. Stop mixing at this point. You don't want the mixture to turn into a cohesive mass.

Add apples and nuts if using. Mix until apples release some juice and stiff mixture becomes thick batter. (Dough will be between cookie dough and brownie batter.) It may take about 3 minutes using a stand mixer. (Jessica says you need a stand mixer for this. Don't try to mix by hand.)

Spread batter into greased pan, using wet fingers to spread it if necessary. Bake cake for 45 minutes, or until toothpick put in center comes out clean. (Or with just a few crumbs clinging to it.)

Remove cake from oven and place on rack to cool while you make frosting.

To make frosting:  Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring until sugar starts to melt and mixture becomes fairly smooth. Add milk and bring to a boil.

Remove syrup from heat and pour into a medium mixing bowl (but large enough to hold all the powdered sugar.) Let syrup cool for 10 minutes. 

Pour powdered sugar into warm syrup, then add vanilla. Whisk everything together until thoroughly combined. Work fast because frosting stiffens up quickly as it cools.

Pour warm frosting onto cake, spreading it quickly over entire surface. (Have an offset spatula ready to spread. Don't lose time digging through the drawer to find it.)

Serve cake warm or at room temp. Store, covered, at room temp for several days. (Ours didn't last that long.)

* No apple pie spice in your pantry? Mix 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ginger and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg to make your own.


It is awfully quiet here this week. Like grandparents everywhere we would love to see the little ones more than we do. But we are thankful for photos and good memories. This is Little Lady playing with the decades old Fisher-Price farm that belonged to her mommy and aunt when they were the little girls here. I didn't save all the toys, of course, but I'm happy I did hang on to a few. It's fun to see them in use again.








Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Food And Family

Cheddar Beer Bread

What a week we had! For the first time in months we got to spend time with our sweet smallest granddaughter. She and her mommy were here for over a week. We cooked. We ate. We crawled around in the floor behind her. We played blocks. We sang songs. It was heaven.


We made so many good recipes while they were here. It's the most cooking I've done in ages. Now, you know I cook a lot. But I don't always cook every day. With just two of us here, we count on leftovers for dinner at least a couple of days a week. 

I'll share a few of the favorite recipes in the coming weeks. Maybe the most favorite...and the easiest...was this cheddar beer bread. Mommy sent the recipe to me and Jessica several weeks ago. And before she came to visit, Jessica made it twice at her house. We SHOULD have made it twice here. Yes. It's that good. It is perfect to serve along side a bowl of chili or soup. Or, toast slices for breakfast. It's good by itself.

If your first thought is "I can't bake bread. I don't know how to do yeast recipes." don't skip this recipe. This is a quick bread. It's more like stirring up a batch of muffins. Trust me. You need to make this.

CHEDDAR BEER BREAD

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese, divided 

1/4 cup melted butter, divided

1 (12-oz) bottle or can of beer

Preheat oven to 375º. Spray an 8-1/2-inch loaf pan with PAM (or similar) cooking spray. 

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper, 3/4 cup shredded cheese, and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter. Add the beer and stir well. Batter will be sticky. Pour batter into loaf pan.

Top with remaining shredded cheese and drizzle with the remaining butter.

Bake bread for 45-55 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

General rule is to check the bread at the shortest baking time and see if it needs more. All ovens are different.


Jessica said she used white cheddar at her house because that is what they buy. I always have yellow cheddar here. She said it tastes the same but the yellow cheese makes a prettier loaf.


Pattern:  Tchaikovsky Hat, size Child
Yarn: Jodie Young Ciao (DK), Nougat colorway
Needles:  4 & 7

Last year I knitted a nice wooly hat for Jessica with a fur pompom on the top. She asked for a matching hat for Little Lady. That particular pattern (Entwined by Susan B. Anderson) didn't include small sizes and recalculating the cable design was more work than I wanted to tackle. So I used a similar color yarn and made one of my most favorite knitting patterns—the Tchaikovsky Hat from Curious Handmade. This pattern from designer Helen Stewart is written for four sizes...Baby, Child, Small Adult, Large Adult. I made the child size for this 9-month old. (We measured her head and it was close to the child size.) She will be able to wear it for a few years, I think.


We are going to miss our little busybody this week. She is crawling everywhere, pulling up and walking as she holds on to furniture and "tasting" absolutely everything she picks up. 


 




Monday, October 12, 2020

Lesson From My Kitchen


When Daddy-O went out to pull up the straggly garden plants, he harvested a few vegetables instead. He discovered a handful of green beans ready to be picked. there have not been any for some time. This was their last hoorah. He also cut about 6 pods of okra. And well, those little tomatoes...I'm not sure they will ever stop! I suppose frost will get them eventually.

One thing I've pushed myself to do this strange summer is to cook without a "recipe." You don't always need a recipe, but you do need to know some basic cooking directions. Last week I wanted to do the easiest dinner possible and use up these last garden vegetables. Sheet pan dinners are as easy as they come.

 Instead of looking for a recipe, I looked for cooking times and temps for chicken tenders. I had a package that needed to be cooked pronto. I've done sheet pan veggies many times and I knew how they cooked. I searched "chicken tenders sheet pan meal." And a few actual recipes popped up. I was not interested in anything but the cooking time/temp. 

My preferred temperature for oven roasted vegetables is 425º on the convection setting. They roast quickly and get beautifully browned and crispy. I had also done them at 400º, so I knew that was an option. On a few times, I've roasted things at 450. 

I needed to know about cooking the chicken tenders on a sheet pan. So many recipes. So many temperatures and times. But I did find a recipe for chicken tenders on a sheet pan at 425º, cooked for 20 minutes.That fit perfectly with how I like my veggies. I didn't bother with recipe specifics. I only wanted the basics. Here's what I did...

SHEET PAN CHICKEN TENDER VEGGIE MEAL
  • Preheat oven to 425º. Use convection setting if you have it. Without convection, it might take a little longer.
  • Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Put sliced/cut vegetables on pan, being careful not to crowd. Drizzle a little olive oil over all veggies and use hands to toss them, making sure all are coated. Sprinkle with house seasoning, OR salt, pepper, garlic powder, OR seasoning of your choice. 
  • Rub a little olive oil on the end of pan reserved for chicken tenders. Season tenders and line them up on one end of sheet pan. Brush with a little olive oil (I used my hands and rubbed some on) and season. 
  • Press panko crumbs on each tender and spray with olive oil spray or other cooking spray. Sprinkle a little more seasoning on top.
  • Roast for 20-25 minutes. Watch carefully near the end and check that you are not overcooking. 20 minutes was fine for this pan. 
  • Cut grape or cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with a little oil. 
  • With 10 minutes remaining, add tomatoes to the pan and sprinkle with seasoning. 

I turned Daddy-O's meager harvest into a feast for two. It was delicious! And knowing this was the last of the garden vegetables (not talking about the tomatoes) made it even sweeter.

Remember, THIS IS NOT A RECIPE. It's a starting pace. An idea. A launching pad. I had green beans and okra and little tomatoes to cook. You might have other vegetables. Next time I won't have this combo from the garden . Or you might have even a different meat. Spend a few minutes to check recipes for times and temps to make your combination work. Make sure your veggies are dry before you roast them. Wash them, of course, but pat them dry, or let them sit out a while to dry.

You are free to use any seasoning you like. The seasoning for Sausages & Veggies w/Mustard Sauce would be good to use if you want to make your own. And there are many good  bought seasoning mixes. Just pick your favorite. Or, go a little crazy and sprinkle an assortment of herbs over the pan! Another time, I might just cook the chicken tenders this way and do side dishes on the stove top. Do not get locked into this as a "recipe." 

This turned out better than I expected. The chicken tenders were browned and crispy. I did not turn them over during cooking. The vegetables were nice and crispy. I did stir them when I took the pan out to add the tomatoes. And 10 minutes was plenty of oven time for those little guys.

Please know...you can do this at a different temperature. Sometimes I roast vegetables at 400º if that works better with the rest of my meal. That will take a little longer. Watch and go by color. I did use a meat thermometer to check the chicken. That's the safest way. If you don't have one, cut a piece open to make sure it's cooked through.


Here is another panful of my most cooked recipe this summer—Grape Tomatoes & Pasta.  It was as good  this weekend as it's been every time I've made it. I've lost count of how many times I've made this during the summer. It's a delicious way to put a dent in the grape tomatoes harvest. And many of my friends have made this and loved it. I know I can buy the tomatoes and the basil in the store all year, but this has been a special recipe for us, knowing the star ingredients came from our back yard.


And here it is for the very last time with our garden tomatoes. It's a little different than usual. Using that same principle above, I used the basic recipe—which really wasn't a recipe—and changed it up to make do with what I had here.

I didn't have any fresh mozzarella. And I did have green peppers from the garden. So this time I sautéed diced peppers and onions a little before adding the tomatoes which I cut in half this time. After I added the cooked spaghetti and stirred it all together. Then I sprinkled shredded mozzarella on top and popped the pan into a 350º oven for about 10 minutes to let the cheese melt. This was so good.

Be brave in the kitchen. Out of an ingredient? See if you can find a reasonable substitute and skip a trip to the store. Or can you leave something out all together? Be brave.