Friday, December 19, 2014

Nothing says "Merry Christmas!" like . . .

Pictures by Christmas trees
Chats with Santa Clause
Kids in Santa hats
Little Wise People
Playing with the nativity
Advent Calendars
Looking at Christmas lights
Christmas colored food 
This kale salad might not be typical christmas fare but it's a good change from the artificially colored red and green food and the plethora of sweets.  I've been making it all fall and realized it's a great and colorful addition to a holiday menu.

Pomegranate & Apple Kale Salad

Fill a large bowl with chopped kale (tough stems removed).  Pour a little olive oil over it and use your bare hands to massage the kale for a few minutes or until all of the leaves are moistened.  Let it set for 10-30 minutes.  Drizzle a light vinaigrette over the kale (I use a blush wine vinaigrette but anything that's light and slightly sweet works well).  Add chopped apples (I like tart Granny Smith), pomegranate seeds, and chopped walnuts.  Toss.  Sprinkle with goat cheese or bleu cheese before serving.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Your Potluck Friend


One of the things I love about the holiday season is going to parties and potlucks and seeing old friends.  If you need a dessert to feed a large crowd or bring to a potluck, the Bundt cake is your friend!  I used to be scared of them because of this disaster but since I found the Baking Pam spray (with flour), I have been a big fan.  It's great for people (like Big) who don't love a ton of frosting and you can slice it thin or thick, depending on how many people you want to serve.  It's also an easy item to have people serve themselves at a potluck.

For your holiday parties, consider the recipe pictured above - a buttermilk cake with butternut squash grated into the batter (don't be weirded out - it's awesome) which I served with pumpkin ice cream.

Another great one is the "All in One Holiday Bundt" with ginger, pumpkin, apple and cranberries.


Or, try out the Gingerbread Pumpkin Guinness Bundt cake.   Gingerbread . . . pumpkin . . . beer . . . not a typical combination but an altogether yummy cake.




Monday, December 8, 2014

Slow Cooker Beef Ragout with Polenta


We've had some rain and cooler weather and I can't quite get over how dark it is by 5pm!  It's time to use your slow cooker, that's for sure.  Although this is similar to dishes I've made in the past, it's a little different take on it - super simple ingredients and a tasty result.  I'm making it again this week because we're going to have soccer playoffs in the evening!

Slow Cooker Beef Ragout with Polenta (6 servings)

1 lb lean ground beef
1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
3 medium carrots, sliced 1/2 in. thick
2 medium onions, cut into thin slices
1 lg red bell pepper, cut into 1 in. pieces
1/2 cup beef broth
salt and pepper to taste
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (16oz) tube refrigerated polenta
Parmesan cheese
6 T prepared pesto (optional)

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and drain the fat.  Transfer to a slow cooker and stir in the tomatoes, carrots, onions, bell pepper, beef broth, salt and pepper, and garlic.

Cook for 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high (give or take depending on your slow cooker).

Slice the polenta into 1/2 inch thick pieces.  Place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and broil for 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned.  Flip over, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and broil another 4-5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the polenta is lightly browned.

Place the polenta on a plate, top with ragout, and about 1 tablespoon of the pesto.  Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Not What It Looks Like

Look what I did yesterday while baby girl was napping!!


No, it's not what it looks like . . . not Christmas gifts.  I have picked up a couple of stocking stuffers for the girls but other than that, I haven't done any Christmas shopping yet.  What I wrapped up was, in fact, all of our Christmas books:


Every year I buy a new book (or two or three) and after Christmas, I put them away with our decorations.  This year, I'm going to let the girls open one package a day in December until they open the fifteen books and we can rediscover the stories we haven't read in a year.  I was trying to think of something fun to do as we count down to Christmas and this seemed like something fun that doesn't cost anything and that will help us to slow down, enjoy some time together, and focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

I don't know about you, but time seems to fly by over here and just for fun, I like to look through our photos and think about what we were doing a year ago.  Here's a quick comparison between our girls in November 2013 to our girls today.

2013



2014


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grilled Cheese Gamechanger

Big the Turkey
I know this is the week where we have big cooking ambitions and obligations . . . turkeys, pies, side dishes, creative uses for leftovers, but I am here to give you a simple idea for Wednesday night's dinner before the big feast or Friday's lunch the day after when you have hungry kids and don't feel like making a mess of your kitchen.  It's . . . . Grilled Cheese!  All of my kids like it, it has some protein and it has some staying power to ward off the inevitable request for snacks that always comes about 30 minutes after meals in my house.

I burn grilled cheese all the time.  And set off the smoke alarms.  I've tried lower heat, my big griddle . . . I don't know what my problem is.  But, thanks to Pinterest, I have a new solution that makes this crazy easy.  If you've all discovered this ages ago, sorry (and why didn't you tell me sooner??).

Here's the gamechanger:  You're going to make your grilled cheese in the oven and you're going to make 4-6 at once.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it - I use olive oil spray, you can use another non-stick cooking spray, or you could butter it.


Lay one layer of bread and top with the cheese of your choice.  Slices are fine and shredded cheese is fine - whatever you have. If you want other fillings, or any other spread on the bread, that's ok too (my husband likes dijon mustard on the bread, basil and a couple kinds of cheese).


Top with another piece of bread.  Spray the tops of the bread with more olive oil (or butter them or something).  Lay another piece of foil on the top of the sandwiches and then set another baking sheet on top.  The heavier the baking sheet, the better.  You're basically making a panini press out of them.


Stick it in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Peeking is ok and flipping is not necessary. You want them nice and brown without burning.    Mine turned out perfectly!!  Brown, crispy on the edges, melty in the middle - yum!  It's not a turkey, but it's a legit way to feed the hungry masses.  And it goes good with leftover pecan pie or apple pie!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

PIlgrim Hats


All right, while there's still ONE WEEK before Thanksgiving, here is an easy Thanksgiving treat.  It involves no baking (which I was mildly disappointed in, since I love to bake) but some assembly.  Buy cookies that have fudge on one (or both) side (I used Keebler Fudge Stripes), some miniature Reese's peanut butter cups, and orange icing.  Place the cookie fudge side up, put a peanut butter cup upside down, and use orange icing to adhere the peanut butter cup to the fudge cookie.  Draw a little square buckle on the hat . . . and there you have it! Even me, craft-challenged Mama with a shaky hand and poor fine motor skills (note the not straight icing) managed to pull this one off for a party tomorrow.

I thank God for this day
For the sun in the sky
For my home on the ground
That keeps me warm and dry
For the love that we share
'Cause God listens to my prayers
And that's why we say thanks every day
For a grateful heart is a happy heart
I'm glad for what I have, 
(that's an easy place to start)
for my mom and my dad, 
I'm so very very glad
And that's why we say thanks every day!
--Veggie Tales

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken


This hands down the best dinner I've made in awhile.  The ingredients look pretty ordinary and you probably have most of them on hand (I have a mustard problem . . . I counted 5 different kinds in my refrigerator) but the end result is extraordinary.  I told my husband that I was going to make it again this week - I'd better watch out before I make my family sick of it.

The sauce is delicious so consider serving the chicken with something to soak up the sauce - we had couscous but rice, potatoes, or bread would work well too!

A few recipe notes:  The original recipe called for bone-in skin-on chicken thighs.  I used 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  The original recipe says that if you use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, to skip the searing step and just put it in the oven and reduce the cooking time to 15-20 minutes.  If you did it this way, you could just use a regular baking dish and wouldn't need an oven proof skillet.  If you don't have an oven proof skillet and want to do the searing and baking steps, you could also use a Dutch Oven.

Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken (4 servings)
original recipe

3 T Dijon mustard
4 T Whole grain mustard (divided)
2 T olive oil (divided)
3 T honey
salt and pepper
2 T chicken stock (or more if needed)
3 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
1.5 lbs chicken pieces (see note above)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of the whole grain mustard, and the honey.  Whisk until smooth.  Set aside.

Combine the remaining tablespoon of the whole grain mustard with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.  Add some salt and pepper to make a rub.  Using a brush or your fingers, work the rub into both sides of the chicken pieces.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in an ovenproof skillet.  Sear the chicken on each side until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Add the honey mustard mixture to the skillet (drizzle over the chicken pieces) and sprinkle the whole thing with the rosemary.

Place in the oven and roast until cooked through, about 25-30 minutes for bone-in, skin-on thighs.  If you're using boneless skinless chicken pieces, chop it into smaller pieces and stir the sauce to coat it all before serving it.