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.



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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Amaretti Cookies

I love almond flavored baked goods and if a pastry has almond paste, even better.  The bakery in Claremont makes some of the best almond croissants that I've ever had and I seriously have to avoid that place or else I'd eat way too much.  I've been intrigued by this Amaretti cookie recipe since it a) only has 3 ingredients, b) is basically almond paste, and c) is gluten free and dairy free.  I finally tried them out this past weekend.  Middle, my helper, was quite disappointed that there wasn't more to measure and mix but we finished this project pretty quickly and the results were great.  The almond flavor is strong as you would expect an amaretti cookie to be, but I filled some with raspberry jam (homemade by my friend Ellen) to create sandwich cookies and that helped balance the flavor a bit.  

My husband observed that these are a lot like macarons - chewy yet light - and he didn't love them as much as me but he still ate his fair share!  I'm imagining all kinds of other fillings . . . nutella, chocolate ganache, fig jam . . . these are definitely going into the rotation of gluten free Christmas cookies!  

A couple of baking notes:  the cookies spread a lot so make sure you use small dollops and leave space between them.  As always, check your almond paste to ensure it's gluten free if you need to avoid wheat.

Amaretti Cookies (4-6 dozen)
from Smitten Kitchen

1 (7oz) tube almond paste
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats.

Pulse almond paste, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer until broken up and mixed.  Add egg whites and mix at medium high speed until smooth.  Place dollops of batter (approximately 1 T) on cookie sheets, leaving plenty of space between them.

Bake, rotating pans halfway through) until puffed and golden brown, about 14-17 minutes.  Let cookies cool almost completely on the pan.  Once they've cooled off, they're easier to remove from the parchment paper.  Transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two.  On Smitten Kitchen, it says they can be frozen for up to a month.

If desired, use your choice of filling and make sandwich cookies.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bruschetta Chicken Bake

Before I move on to today's recipe (for which I have no photo), here are my kiddos dressed for Halloween this year:

I can't believe it's almost a week into November.  This time of year flies by for me with all of our fall activities and a busy work schedule.  I have been pretty proud of my ability to still put a hot meal on the table on weeknights after work and soccer and other stuff but it's involved some shortcuts, like this recipe where a box of Stove Top stuffing features prominently.  I love stuffing and I haven't had Stove Top in years but it was delicious - perfect fall comfort food.

This was a crowd pleaser - my kids picked off the stuffing (how weird are they??  They also don't like potatoes which I don't get) but ate the cheesy chicken underneath.  My oven tends to cook fast (not hot, just quicker than most recipes), so next time I'd reduce the time and possibly lower the temperature to 350 or 375.

Bruschetta Chicken Bake (6 servings)
Recipe adapted from Kraft

1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes with Italian spices, undrained
1 (6oz) package Stove Top Stuffing (for chicken)
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
1 tsp. dried basil
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. grated Parmesan
1/2 T fresh thyme

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix together the tomatoes, stuffing mix, water, and garlic just until stuffing mix is moistened.

Spray a  9x13 or 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray or olive oil.  Spread the chicken in the bottom of the dish.  Top with basil and cheese.  Spread the stuffing over the top.  Sprinkle with Parmesan & thyme.

Bake for 30 minutes (uncovered) or until chicken is done.