Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Homemade Mac n Cheese

I've been craving macaroni and cheese lately. I've tried A LOT of mac n cheese in my day.  I love a creamy, cheesy sauce. It drives me crazy when you spend so much time making mac n cheese - then you bake it and the cheese turns out gummy - do you know what I mean? I think baking it draws out a lot of the moisture in the sauce and while the pasta soaks up some of the sauce too - I'd rather have the creaminess - preference I guess...

I try to use a lot of local ingredients and organic protein, high quality cheeses, etc. But I have to say - the use of Velveeta for macaroni and cheese is crucial.

Homemade Mac n Cheese
12 oz Elbow Macaroni
3 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 lb Velveeta cheese, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 t dry mustard
1/2 t hot sauce

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, in a large saucepan on medium heat, melt butter. Add flour, stirring constantly until mixture thickens slightly (roux). Add all other ingredients to roux - constantly stirring until the sauce is smooth.

Add the sauce to the cooked noodles and stir gently until incorporated.

*I really prefer to use elbow macaroni - but as my son is allergic to eggs, I have limited brands that make pasta without eggs - or that make pasta in a factory that doesn't also produce egg products - so... I gotta go with the flow:)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I've tried a new stuffing recipe every year until this year when I hit the jack pot with the best stuffing we've ever had - all of us - including all 4 of my under 10 kiddos.

I have a go to turkey recipe, favorite mashed potato recipe, best roll recipe ever - always buy my pies bc I just can't bake! But as I said - I've been in search of a stuffing recipe until this year and am always wanting a lighter side to cut through all that heavy, starchy, delicious food. I've made several different things. This year I couldn't decide what to make for that "other side" so I let my husband decide. He decided on roasted brussels sprouts. 

I used my tried and true Ina Garten recipe and totally killed it. My kids were going back for seconds!! 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*1 cup Balsamic Vinegar
*1/2 c orange juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt ( I like these salty like French fries), and serve immediately.

I served them with a side of a Balsamic Vinegar Reduction to drizzle over them (if desired).

*Balsamic Vinegar Reduction
1 cup good balsamic vinegar (I love the Kirkland brand)
1/2 cup orange juice

Put both in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Then simmer until reduced to about 1/2 the volume. Drizzle over Brussels Sprouts for a little kick.

Thanksgiving Prep List

I do this every year - try to write down what needs to be done when the week of Thanksgiving so I won't be overwhelmed on Turkey Day so I can make a super fantastic dinner - but still enjoy myself too. 

Check out this bird. It's so beautiful and so incredibly delicious and juicy. We let it sit for 30 - 45 minutes after we pulled it out of the oven, tented with foil as Bobby Flay suggests HERE - you will se the recipe for Alton Brown's turkey we've made for the last few years and if you scroll down a bit, you'll see Bobby Flay's carving tips. I'm telling you, the turkey was so juicy I didn't even use chicken stock to warm it up and provide the juicy factor. 

Plus here's a funny picture of my wild child...

THANKSGIVING PREP WEEK:
MONDAY: Pick up fresh 14-16 lb turkey and put in refrigerator. Decadent Mashed Potatoes - done.
TUESDAY: Stuffing. I've tried a new stuffing every year and having hit a favorite. We hit the jackpot this year with Bobby Flay's Wild Mushroom - Bacon Sourdough Dressing. Boom baby.
Make brine, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate.
WEDNESDAY: Clean turkey, but in brine + 1 gallon of heavily iced water. Cut brussels sprouts.
TURKEY DAY: Take potatoes and stuffing out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature. Take turkey out of brine, wash, stuff with aromatics and give yourself 3 hours to cook the bird and 30-45 minutes to sit after being cooked.
Brussels Sprouts, potatoes and stuffing to cook. Consider 3 hours for your rolls - make these almost as you are sitting down to eat - you want, hot fresh rolls. Make your gravy while the turkey is being carved.
Then sit down, pour yourself a glass of sparkling cider, milk (my son!) or wine and eat with your family. Not stressed, not pushed to the brink - happy that you have make an incredible meal from scratch for your family and that you didn't fall asleep at dinner from sheer exhaustion.
Then watch as your children and husband ooh and ahh and make yummy noises all throughout dinner. See them smile and hear them talk about how delicious the different components of the meal are and about how thankful they are for the wonderful food they have on their plates. Then smile and count your blessings. Then write those blessings on your table cloth with a sharpie. Bring that table cloth out every year to see everything your family has been and is grateful for.

Then kiss your husband for doing the dishes - because he will - after you serve him the best dinner of his life - you bet your bottom dollar he will.

Festive Turkey Appetizer

My girls really wanted to be involved in making our Thanksgiving meal this year - which was fun and a bit challenging to find work for a 9 year old and a nearly 6 year old to do. I make everything from scratch - so...

I saw this cute idea on Pinterest and set the girls at it.
Our local grocery store was out of Granny Smith apples - so we used pears instead. I bought a few Gala apples and a few Fuji apples. I also couldn't find caramel sauce - so I bought a bag of caramels - had the girls unwrap them, but them in a microwave safe bowl with 2 T water and melted it 30 seconds at a time. We used candy corns to (sort of) make a turkey face.

It kept the girls happy and they felt like they had accomplished something and contributed to dinner.

*And of course, I let them help out where ever else they could - I love to see the satisfaction on their faces after helping/making something themselves.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bobby Flay's Wild Mushroom-Bacon Sourdough Dressing

I've been making Thanksgiving dinner by myself for a few years now - and I've found favorite recipes for everything - EXCEPT stuffing. So - here is this years recipe. I'll post a picture of what mine looks like after Thanksgiving!


Bobby Flay’s Wild Mushroom-Bacon Sourdough Dressing
1 1/4 lb sourdough bread, crusts trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 12 cups or 1 ½ loaves)
½ lb portabella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
½ lb button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 to 5 cups homemade chicken stock or low sodium canned chicken broth
3 T finely chopped fresh sage
2 T finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 c chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
 Spread the bread onto a large baking sheet (or 2 smaller baking sheets) in an even layer and bake, stirring a few times, until lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, put the cubes into a very large bowl.

Increase the heat to 375 degrees F. Combine the mushrooms in a large baking dish or baking sheet, toss with 3 tablespoons of the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven, stirring several times, until soft and golden brown, about 25 minutes.

While the mushrooms are roasting, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a large high-sided saute pan over medium heat (big red). Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat in the saute pan and place back on the stove over high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add 4 cups of the chicken stock and the herbs, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.

Add the mushrooms to the bread, and then add the onion/stock mixture, bacon, salt and pepper, and gently stir until combined. The dressing should be very wet, add more stock as needed. Scrape the mixture into a buttered 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue baking until the top is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

*I made this 2 days ahead of time. I plan to take the stuffing out of the refrigerator 2 hours before I need to put it in the oven so I can bring it up to temp. I’ve also planned to have extra stock on hand in case it dries out in the fridge.

Because of food preferences and allergies, I made changes to Bobby’s original recipe. To see the original recipe click HERE.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Candied Spaghetti Squash

My husband and I went to a cool "speak easy" a few months ago. The front door has a little opening (like the one at the castle in the Wizard of Oz) where they ask for a password - after you give them the password, you are greeted by a big 20's mafia type guy and he walks you to your seat in a dimly lit room with a live piano player quietly playing in the corner. It is easily the most expensive restaurant we've ever eaten at - and the food was delicious. We both ordered the steak and one of the sides was candied spaghetti squash. It. Was. Delicious. I've been want to recreate it ever since.
Candied Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Slice the acorn squash in half and use a spoon to remove the seeds and all the pulp. Rub a tablespoon of butter on both cut sides, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake the squash for 40 minutes cut side down on a cooking sheet you have greased with just a little cooking spray.
Once the squash is finished, use a fork to remove the flesh from the rind and immediately put into a skillet over medium heat with the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the brown sugar and stir until it starts to thicken. Continue stirring until the sauce is very thick.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Artichoke Dip

I thought I've posted this - but I couldn't find it?? We have this for almost every family get together on my husbands side of the family. We even snack on it while we are making Thanksgiving dinner - yum.

For each of our birthdays - the kids get to pick all the menus for the day. This year, for dinner, she requested pizza and artichoke dip.

Artichoke Dip
2 c mayonnaise
2 c shredded parmesan
2 cans artichoke hearts, chopped
7 oz can hot green chilis
7 oz can mild green chilis
10 oz can diced jalapeños

Add all ingredients together and stir to combine thoroughly. Bake at 450 for 20-30 minutes in a 9x13 casserole dish.

Perfect Chicken


Perfect Chicken

2-4 boneless chicken breasts with or without rib meat
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. paprika
2-3 T. olive oil

Mix salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika in a small bowl (I use my old 1/4 cup). Coat the chicken breasts in the seasoning, rubbing in to coat. Pour olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven, and heat to med-high. When nice and hot, add chicken to the pan (in batches if necessary). Cook 2-3 min per side. If any chicken has been removed, add it back to the Dutch oven. Place uncovered Dutch oven in a 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until juices run clear. Let sit on a plate 5-10 minutes before cutting, shredding, or eating.

Sundried Tomato Fettuccine


Sundried Tomato Fettuccine

16 oz Fettuccine
1 c reserved pasta water
4 T olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
½ c sundried tomatoes, diced
1 can petite diced tomatoes, drained
3 T tomato paste
½ T granulated sugar
¾ c sour cream
1 ½ c baby spinach
Pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil, add 1 tbsp. of olive oil then add your fettuccine. Cook according to direction on the box then drain (reserving 1 cup of the pasta water) and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, add the remaining 3 tbsp. of olive oil to the skillet over medium high heat. Once the oil is heated up, add garlic and sundried tomato halves. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Turn the heat down to medium low and gently add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and granulated sugar. Stir until well-incorporated.
Swiftly whisk in the sour cream. You’ll want to slowly add it in but whisk fast to get it all incorporated well. After all of it has been added and combined, bring the heat up to medium high and let it simmer and thicken for about 5-7 minutes.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste, then add in the baby spinach. Once the spinach has wilted, you may add in the cooked pasta and turn off the heat.
Toss to coat the pasta. If the mixture seems too thick, this is where you can slowly add the reserved pasta water a little at a time.
Top with parmesan romano. 

Frito Corn Salad


Frito Corn Salad
1 (12 oz.) bag frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 c grated cheddar cheese
2 c diced ham
1/2 red onion, finely diced (I used yellow bc thats what I had)
1 c mayonnaise
1 T Taco Seasoning
1 bag Fritos
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine thawed corn, cheese, diced ham and onions. Stir well. Then add in mayonnaise and taco seasoning. Stir until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Snacks

Just wanted to document the cute and SUPER EASY snacks I made for Halloween/Harvest parties this year for my kids school classes...

Dole Mandarin Oranges in cups - illustrated with a sharpie by my 5 year old and I...
 "Cuties" aka clementine oranges also illustrated with a sharpie:)
 Pineapples, mandarin oranges, cool whip and a candy corn on top for dessert!

Cute - simple and healthy!! Definitely doing these again next year!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick Sausage Pasta

I saw this recipe on Pinterest originally via HERE. She promised it to be delicious and quick - all in one pan in 30 minutes. I was sold. I used diced tomatoes instead of Rotel because I didn't want my kids to complain that it's too spicy. AND - I spaced the last bit where you broil it.

It was delicious and it was quick and all 6 of us ate it happily.



Quick Sausage Pasta

1 T olive oil

1 lb smoked sausage

1 1/2 cups diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream

8 oz penne pasta

1 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

Add olive oil to an oven-safe skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and onions and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add broth, tomatoes, cream, pasta, salt and pepper and stir. Bring to a boil, cover skillet, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Garnish with additional cheese. 

OR top with additional cheese and broil until cheese is melted, spotty brown, and bubbly. Which is what I wish I would've done!!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I really love soup - yes I do. One of the things I get really excited about when the weather gets even the slightest bit cold is that it is once again soup season.

I have many, many favorite soups - but I've never made broccoli cheese - and why in the world not?? Well, I'm not sure - but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will make this again, and again and again. I got this recipe from the Velveeta box and changed it only slightly to suit me. Okay, I'll be honest - I added TWICE the amount of cheese than the recipe calls for. Well, because I freakin' love cheese AND because I didn't like the consistency of their recipe. I also used the immersion blender - which isn't called for in their recipe either. It turned out PERFECT - best Broccoli Cheese soup I've ever had in my entire life. All 4 of my kids gobbled it up.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
3 T butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 T flour
1 c milk
2 c chicken stock
16 oz Velveeta cheese, cubed
10 oz frozen broccoli
Salt and pepper

Melt butter in stock pot over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until tender about 3- 5 minutes. Add flour and whisk until incorporated. Add milk and chicken stock and heat until warmed through. Add half the Velveeta and the broccoli. Whisking constantly until the Velveeta has melted. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until there are no more big chunks of broccoli. Add the remaining Velveeta. Turn to low heat and cover for about 15 minutes stirring every 5 minutes or so.

Serve with sour dough bread and grated cheddar on top!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Veggie Yakisoba

I've seen a lot of "pins" on Yakisoba on pinterest lately and I was curious. It looks like ramen noodles with veg to me - so I looked it up. Curious.

Then I thought - like every family in America (whether or not you admit it) that I have ramen in my pantry and I just happened to have a package of cole slaw - sans dressing in the fridge. I also had teriyaki sauce on hand - brilliant and ridiculously easy.
Veggie Yakisoba
3 packages ramen noodle soup (minus the seasoning packet)
1 bag prepared coleslaw mix (green and purple cabbage and shredded carrots)
Fav teriyaki sauce
1/2 onion, diced
Sunflower seeds for extra crunch

Cook ramen noodles per directions - don't use seasoning packets.

In a large pan, sautee onion in a little butter until soft and sweet. Add coleslaw mix and teriyaki sauce. I didn't measure - you want the teriyaki to add flavor - but not drown your veg. Go light - you can always add.

When noodles are cooked, add to the veg mix. Use tongs or chopsticks to combine everything together.  Serve to your family and watch their eyes light up as they enjoy this ridiculously inexpensive and delicious veggie dinner!!

Baked Potato Soup

I've seen many variations on this type of soup. I knew I had some Yukon Gold potatoes that needed to be used, so I decided to make this soup. 

But, as most things in my life are - it didn't work out the way I thought it would - but the soup still turned out amazing.

First, the potatoes I had didn't look so great - I waited a few days too long to use them. BUT, I had already started heating up the chicken stock and had cut the onion. So, I improvised. I had a package of frozen cubed hash browns in the freezer that I thought would work. It didn't look like enough potatoes, so I thought maybe I'd make a corn chowder of sorts. Turns out I only had about 2 cups of frozen corn - not the 8 cups I thought I had. So. Head in the freezer, searching for options, I saw a bag of frozen steak fries. Yes, people - I was just that desperate - and threw those in the pot as well. I only give you these crazy specifics so you know how versatile this soup can be. 

Baked Potato Soup
5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into bite size pieces (or whatever potatoes you find!!)
64 oz chicken stock
1 yellow onion, diced
2 T seasoned salt
Garlic powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 qt. heavy cream
Garnish with bacon, cheese, green onions - the skys the limit!!

Cook potatoes in chicken stock until fork tender. Add corn, onions seasoned salt and garlic powder and cook until warmed through. 

Use an immersion blender to combine everything together into an applesauce consistency. Whisk in the heavy cream until well incorporated. Holy yum.

Taco Sauce

In the pursuit of adding a little kick to our usual taco night, I decided to make a "taco sauce" and it was delicious!!

The only trick is - you have to have time to let the two ingredients marry - so I'd plan on making it at least an hour before eating it. I made enough to keep in the fridge for a week or so - it just gets better with time.
Taco Sauce
Sour cream (or greek yogurt)
Taco seasoning

Depending on how much you make - so no measurements. I put some sour cream in a bowl and added taco seasoning to it until I thought it "looked good". Nice instructions hu? Good thing this blog is just a food journal for myself:)

Amazing Taco Meat

I knew I was going to make taco meat for dinner but I didn't want the same old same old. So, I did a little looking around on the internet and tried a few new things - BIG PAY OFF!!

I usually just make taco meat with a "taco seasoning packet" and adhere to the directions on the packet. I could just kick myself for not remembering what sites got me on this trail - but I'm telling you - this taco meat will knock your socks off.

I'm not a big meat eater myself - but I have to admit that I was eating this meat by the spoonful right out of the pan. Seriously.

Amazing Taco Meat
1 lb ground beef
1/2 onion, diced
1 packet dry taco seasoning (I like McCormick's) *1/4 cup
1 packet dry Ranch seasoning and salad dressing mix *3 Tbsp
3/4 c water

Cook ground beef until browned. Add in the onions when the beef is about 1/2 way cooked - so they have time to get soft and sweet. Add taco and ranch seasoning as well as the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

If you really want to bump things up - check out my post called "Taco Sauce"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuscan Sausage Soup


My 3 big kids all started school last week - and just when I thought things were finally going to slow down - I was wrong!

My kids raved and raved about this - they all had seconds - even the baby:)



Tuscan Sausage Soup
1 lb mild (or hot) Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
1/2 lb bacon, crumbled
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
1 - 1 1/2 quarts of chicken stock
1 bunch spinach or kale, roughly chopped
1 cup heavy cream
Pepper to taste*

I always peel my potatoes but it isn't necessary. Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces and in a large stock pot, heat chicken stock and cook the potatoes until they are fork tender (about 20 min). 

While the potatoes are cooking, in a second large stock pot, crumble sausage and cook until no longer pink - nice and brown. Set sausage aside. Use that same pot and cook the bacon until crispy and onion until translucent. Add the garlic right at the end at cook for only about 1 minute. I like to cut the bacon into smaller pieces while it is still raw - this saves you the "crumbling" at the end and it cooks much faster. 

When the potatoes are cooked, add the heavy cream - stirring continually to make sure it incorporates well.

Add all other ingredients and simmer for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Yum.

*I usually say add SALT and pepper to taste - but the sausage, bacon and stock all have salt - so I personally adding more is unnecessary.

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