because what is life without good food?

Holidays

Ham & Asparagus Strata with 3 Cheeses

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue, & Parmesan Cheeses

What do you do when you have a bunch of leftover ham from Easter dinner, some fresh asparagus, and half a loaf of old bread that?

Make Strata. It’s hot, it’s comforting … it’s wonderful. You can make it ahead of time and bake it when you’re ready to eat it, or you can cook it right away. Strata works well for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s a very flexible dish too … toss in more of this and less of that, play with different cheeses or vegetables or meat … pretty much whatever you have on hand that you want to toss in. Strata doesn’t care. Strata will make it all good.

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue, & Parmesan Cheeses

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue, and Parmesan Cheeses

  • 5 cups of bread cubes (any kind will do … I used a bit of French bread + some Spinach Peasant Bread)
  • 2 cups of milk (I used 2%, but skim or whole milk works fine too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cups of chopped asparagus
  • Red Robin (or Red Magic) Seasoning (or salt) & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/4 cup diced ham
  • 4 eggs (to cut the fat/cholesterol, use Egg Beaters or substitute egg whites in place of some – or all – of the yolks)
  • A small bunch of fresh chives, snipped (about 2 Tablespoons?)
  • Several fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 fresh garlic scape, snipped
  • 1 Tablespoon blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and put the bread  cubes in the pan. Pour the milk over the crumbs and let sit for 15 minutes or so, gently stirring it up every once in a while to make sure all the bread gets a chance to soak up plenty of milk.
  2. Now, while your bread is soaking, put a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a pan, swirl it around, heat to medium high heat, and sautee the onion, garlic, and asparagus briefly or until the onion just begins to look a little cooked. The asparagus should still be crisp. Season lightly with the seasoning (or salt) and pepper, being careful to go light on the salt because we will be adding ham and cheese later …
  3. Add the wine to the pan with the vegies and sautee for just a couple minutes longer or until most of the liquid has evaporated. The asparagus should still be a little crisp, if possible. If not, don’t worry over it too much. Strata doesn’t care.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs well, then toss in some chopped chives, basil leaves, and garlic scapes, then stir in the ham as well.
  5. Fold the egg/ham mixture into the milk-saturated bread in the casserole dish.
  6. Pour the vegies over the casserole too, and fold those in as well.  While you’re doing that, sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles.
  7. Mix the Havarti & Parmesan cheeses and separate in half. Take one half of the cheese and sprinkle that half over the casserole, then fold it into the mixture, making sure that cheese taste gets permeated into the whole dish.
  8. Use the reserved half of the cheese to sprinkle on top. (You can pre-make the strata to this point and keep it in the fridge till you’re ready to bake it.)
  9. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 60 to 80 minutes or until the strata is set (till it springs back when you touch it and isn’t all runny when you cut into it).  If you are starting from a refrigerated strata, you will have to cook it a while longer.
  10. If you want to serve it in wedges, let it set up for about 10 – 15 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve garnished with fresh basil leaves or fresh chives or pretty little wild purple violets. Or scoop out servings with a spoon while it’s steaming hot and don’t bother with the garnish. Either way, it’s yummy. Strata doesn’t care.

Ham & Asparagus Strata with Havarti, Blue Cheese, and Parmesan

This recipe was shared at  Totally Tasty TuesdaysTalent Show Tuesday and Full Plate Thursdays.


Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa

with a ginger, cumin & cilantro scented yogurt sauce

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa and a Cumin Cilantro Ginger Yogurt Sauce

One of the most romantic meals of my life was on a Friday night when my date and I cooked this together. We drank wine as we cooked, I chopped the apricots & garlic & ginger and mixed up the sauce, he made the quinoa and broiled the salmon. When the salmon was done, he plated the salmon and quinoa in front of me, drizzled that heavenly sauce over it, and sprinkled on the toasted cashews … then refilled my wine glass before he plated his own. Just the way he did that totally melted my heart. Later I asked him for the recipe … and he gladly gave me the printout. I loved this meal so much I just had to make this again, wanted to share it with all of you here on the blog, and so I decided I would try making it for my children for a special Valentine’s meal. They both love salmon (my daughter moreso than my son, but he will eat salmon). I wasn’t so sure about the quinoa or the yogurt ginger sauce, but I thought I would give it a shot.

It was as I thought … while I was photographing the meal, my kids got in a fight. My daughter ran into her room. Our cat persistently tried to eat the salmon I was “shooting” and I had to push her out of the picture several times …

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa and a Cumin Cilantro Ginger Yogurt Sauce and our CAT

We managed to coax my daughter out of her room to join the meal. They both tried the salmon. My son immediately asked for garlic toast, saying “don’t we have some bread?” So I ended up cooking up some quick garlic toast for both of them. My daughter gobbled her salmon up before I could even glance over at her. My son inhaled the garlic toast, ate a few bites of the salmon, and then declared that his sister could have the rest of his. She said, “I can’t eat all of this …”, but she did eat some of his. Neither of them touched the quinoa or would even taste the sauce.

But they were happy that I had Valentine’s chocolates for them. My son said he would have been happier with smaller pieces of chocolate since I got him the BIG Reese’s peanut butter hearts (honestly, I would too … I like my chocolates in little bites!) So he’s trading in his chocolate for some licorice. LOL. My daughter was totally entranced with her heart-shaped Dove truffles in the fancy swirly tin. At least I got one thing right!

All in all, I would say this meal is probably much better suited for a romantic dinner with your sweetheart or for a fancy dinner party than for a Valentine’s lunch with a couple picky eating teenagers. But hey, I have some delicious leftovers. And now I can share the recipe with you … frankly, I think my kids are crazy. The tastes in this meal are phenomenal.

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa and a Cumin Cilantro Ginger Yogurt Sauce

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa

Adapted from Eating Well

You could shortcut the prep time by making up the sauce ahead of time, toasting the cashews and pre-chopping the garlic and apricot and things. Salmon cooks in a matter of minutes, so in the time it takes you to cook the quinoa, you could have dinner on the table.

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1 5-oz. container plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 2  cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or less … I don’t think it needs quite this much salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of honey
  • 1 Tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime (or lemon)

Quinoa ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (or add an extra 1/4 cup of apricots … I only used cranberries because I ran out of apricots! But they did add a pretty splash of red color … and I liked the taste too)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup quinoa

Salmon ingredients:

  • Salmon, cut into portions of 1/4 lb for each person. (You should have plenty of sauce and quinoa for up to 4 people. If you’re serving more, increase the recipe.)
  • Old Bay seasoning (I used this seasoning only because I expected my kids would skip the sauce and thought the fish could use a little flavor on its own … you really don’t need it at all.)
  • Salt & pepper

For garnish:

  • Roasted, salted cashews, toasted and chopped
  • Extra cilantro leaves

To prepare:

  1. First, make the sauce: Stir together all the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Don’t use your handi chopper to whir it all together–it destroys the thickness of the yogurt. You could use all plain yogurt instead of the greek yogurt if you actually STIR the sauce rather than whirring it like I did.
  2.  Next, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the apricots, garlic, onion, ginger, and salt and sautee until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil, then stir in the quinoa. Cover, lower the heat to low, and cook until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile rub the salmon with salt and pepper, sprinkle with seasoning (if using) and broil or grill until the salmon is lightly brown and just cooked through, about 3 minutes on each side.
  4. Serve the salmon drizzled with sauce, topped with cashews and a sprinkle of cilantro leaves, with the quinoa on the side.

Cashew Salmon with Apricot Cranberry Quinoa

This recipe was shared at Totally Tasty TuesdaysLove your Heart MonthCast Party WednesdayThese Chicks Cooked Recipe SwapMidweek Fiesta, Newlyweds Recipe Linky, Thursday’s Treasures, Fit and Fabulous Fridays, Katherine Martinelli’s Nut Bloghop and Freaky Friday.


On Kitchen Disasters, Imperfections, and Love

This is a little different from my normal posts … no recipe, just a story of my latest kitchen disaster.

Sunrise over the Lake

Yesterday Laura from Laura’s Best Recipes shared a funny story from Pioneer woman that jogged a train of thought I had started upon, but didn’t quite finish the journey. What Laura said was “Why @thepioneerwoman is now banned from convenience stories across the midwest … hilarious. Just love her.”

You really need to read the story to understand the full humor of the situation. Pioneer woman tells it so well. But here’s the Cliff Notes version: Pioneer woman is on a shopping trip with her husband Marlboro Man. They walk into a convenience store and she goes to get coffee. On her way from the coffee to the front of the store, she passes a glass case and there is a doughnut in there calling her name. So she pulls the knob to get the doughnut and the knob to the case falls off and the case shatters. There is glass everywhere, and she is left standing there, holding the knob to the case, and still wanting that doughnut, which of course she cannot have. The store manager confirms that she is all right, and they leave the store and this is how the story ends (in Pioneer Woman’s words):

When we got in Marlboro Man’s pickup and continued on our trip to the big city, I looked at Marlboro Man, who had a look on his face that I’ll never be able to describe. It was the look of a husband who is married to a complete klutz who complains about her tight jeans then stops at a convenience store and shatters a doughnut case while trying to retrieve an apple fritter. It was the look of a husband who has seen his wife fall down, run into doors, use the wrong remote control to change channels on the TV, and wear her black leggings inside out for an entire day without knowing. It was the look of a husband who had just filed another incident into his vault of similar moments…and who couldn’t wait to remind me of it the next time we’re driving together and I say I want to pull over and get coffee.

“You’re … funny,” he said, reaching over and squeezing my knee, which made me squeal.

The thing is, her husband, and Laura, and I and hundreds of thousands of other people love Pioneer Woman not because she is perfect and polished or famous, but because she is imperfect. She is human. She is real. We can relate to her as a human being because we all make mistakes, we break things, we make messes, we screw up. But if we are able to step back, admit our failure, and laugh at ourselves, it is those very imperfections that make the person so incredibly loveable.

My own personal story: The other day I was at my parents’ house and I was making some of my son’s Muck Ice Cream for them. He is quite proud of this creation. I thought we ought to make it for my family because it was my dad that invented the “Grampa Smoothie” that was later renamed “Muck”. This ice cream was my son’s spin on my dad’s smoothie.

It’s an incredibly simple recipe: you just put the ingredients together in a blender, blend till smooth, then freeze in an ice cream maker. How much simpler can you get? It takes all of 5 minutes “prep time”.

My son let this task fall to me, since it was my idea to share it with the family. I measured out the ingredients, put them in dad’s green blender, put the lid on and pressed the button. Somehow in that moment, the kitchen absolutely exploded into a sea of chocolate and peanut butter. Chunks of banana were flying everywhere. My sister’s sweet little dog and I were completely covered in a chocolate mess. The counter was a sea of brown liquid, the canisters and everything on the countertop were splattered with the sticky brown stuff.

Disaster in the Kitchen

My mom and sister raced to my rescue, and I remember hearing my dad saying “didn’t I screw the bottom on the blender cup?” … I was completely horrified. Shocked. Hurt. Here I was, trying to make something exceedingly simple and delicious for my family and I ended up creating armageddon in the kitchen.

My sister insisted that I need to blog about this … she ran to get the camera to take a picture of me and the mess, but I wasn’t having any of that. She did get a shot of the aftermath.

The countertop and the canisters all got a good cleaning. Mom rushed my clothes off to the washer right away. My sister gave her poor dog a bath. Dad screwed the blender cup together extra tight, and they set it all out for me again. I set to work again. This time, everything went so smoothly. I blended it all up, poured it into the sparkly clean ice cream maker that was set out for me on the now-sparkly clean countertop, and in 20  minutes we had our ice cream.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream

My ego was a little damaged that night … I had to have a beer to soothe my nerves. It was difficult to sleep. I was so angry and upset with myself.  It was hard to banish the feelings of failure.

But after I gave myself a little time to recover from the embarrassment of the situation, I thought, well hey at least now I can say I’ve been dipped in chocolate. And my sister’s sweet little dog and I have formed a new bond. After all, we got dipped in chocolate together …  and lived to tell about it.

Me and my sister's little dog: we got dipped in chocolate together

I hope I will never ever press a blender button again without first checking if the bottom is screwed on tight. But next time I have an explosion in the kitchen, I hope I will be a little quicker to laugh at myself, less critical of my clumsiness and stupidity, and maybe I’ll even let my sister take a picture.

My kids and my family think I am funny because I have so many mishaps in the kitchen. I cut myself and spill things, I break dishes and make horrific messes.

They love me anyway. And I love them.

And no matter how many crazy kitchen mishaps I have, I’m not gonna let it stop me.


Cranberry Raspberry Vinegar

Make your own Cranberry Raspberry Vinegar

This is almost not even a recipe it’s so simple, but it makes such a beautiful color and flavor of vinegar that you would probably have to pay ginormous amounts of money for it … if you could even ever find such a beautiful vinegar at a store.

Making it is so so so much simpler and so much more impressive. You can use this same method to make almost any fruit or herb-flavored vinegar that you want.

Take some fresh cranberries. Cut them in half. Put them in a quart jar. Add some fresh or frozen raspberries (whatever you have). I used more cranberries and just a few raspberries, but if you want more raspberry flavor, use more raspberries. Fill the jar most of the way (like 90% full) with the berries.

Pour in plain white vinegar so that it completely covers the fruit. Let sit in a dark place for a week or so, shaking gently every couple days to mix up the flavors.

After the resting period, strain the fruit out by pouring into a cheesecloth covered strainer over a bowl and squeezing all the juices out of the fruit.

If you are giving it as a gift, package it up in a pretty bottle and add a ribbon. Or make a fantastic vinaigrette salad dressing. The gourmet cranberry raspberry salad dressing makes a great gift too … recipe coming very soon to a blog near you … ;)

Make your own Cranberry Raspberry Vinegar

This recipe was shared at Midnight Maniac Meatless MondaysTuesday Talent Show, and Totally Tasty Tuesdays.


Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Munch

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Munch

One of our favorite treats at Christmas is to dip pretzels. I like mine with white chocolate and peppermint. My daughter likes just white chocolate, or sometimes we will drizzle the white chocolate pretzels with milk chocolate or sprinkles.

I meant to make lots of treats to bring on my trip for my friends at the office, but I was running out of time. So I had to simplify.

This is so much faster than dipping all the pretzels individually. You just spread them in a pan, drizzle them with melted white almond bark, and then sprinkle with crushed candy canes. I threw in some chocolate graham cracker pieces. Result: the same sweet and salty, chocolate minty taste, but without all the work–and it’s a great way to use up broken graham crackers and pretzels.

Chocolate Peppermint Pretzel Munch

Peppermint Pretzel Munch

  • Chocolate Graham Crackers, broken into pieces
  • Pretzels
  • Almond Bark (I used 6 squares for my batch)
  • Peppermint Candy Canes, crushed

Directions:

  1. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and lay out broken chocolate graham crackers randomly across the pan.
  2. Add the pretzels, interspersing amongst the crackers to create a blanket of crackers and pretzels.
  3. Melt the almond bark or white chocolate chips. I used a plastic spoon to stir them so I could make a peppermint spoon.
  4. Drizzle across the cracker/pretzel blanket.
  5. Immediately sprinkle with crushed candy canes.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool, then break into pieces.
  7. Dip the spoon you used to stir the almond bark into the crushed candy canes and allow to sit until the chocolate has hardened. The spoon is great to include in a gift basket with some hot chocolate mix or coffee and a nice mug. I think it would be REALLY cool to do this with some funky antique real spoons.

White Chocolate Peppermint Spoon

This recipe was shared on Favorite Holiday RecipesTotally Tasty Tuesdays, Wonka WednesdaysHoliday Treats Week, Katherine Martinelli’s Mint Blog Hop and EveryDay Mom’s Meals.


Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

I love making food gifts for the holidays and since popcorn, nuts and berries are three of my favorite foods, it just seems natural to combine them into something gift-able.

I think I might keep this one for myself, though. It’s so yummy.

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

  • 10 – 12 cups of popped plain popcorn
  • 2 cups of nuts (I used 1 cup of almonds, 1 cup of walnuts)
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. cranberry-apple juice concentrate
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 T. ginger sugar (This is from my candied ginger recipe … if you don’t have any ginger sugar, just use 1/4 t. ginger in its place)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (Craisins … I found some that are sweetened with pomegranate juice! Isn’t that cool?)

Directions:

  1. Pop the popcorn and mix it with the nuts. Lay the popcorn/nut mixture on a large flat pan and set aside.
  2. Mix the spices, sugar, juice concentrate and oil in a small bowl till the brown sugar is dissolved and everything is well mixed.
  3. With a spoon, drizzle the spice/juice mixture over the popcorn and nuts.
  4. Bake at 300 degrees F. for 45 minutes to an hour or so, stirring every 15 minutes, until the popcorn and nuts are crunchy, not soggy.
  5. Stir in 1 cup of dried cranberries. I am thinking some chunks of candied ginger or pretzels would also be good in the mix.
  6. Store in an airtight container, like a jar or a pretty tin.

Cranberry Nut Crunch Popcorn

This recipe was shared at Totally Tasty Tuesdays, Midnight Maniac Meatless Mondays, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, the Newlyweds Recipe LinkyWonka Wednesdays, and EveryDay Mom’s Meals.


Michael’s Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Michael's Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

I remember those awful jellied cans of cranberry sauce would find their way to our Thanksgiving table sometimes in my childhood, and I remember loving the sweet tart taste of the cranberries, but the jellied stuff was just so ugly and weird. I think we all eventually decided we just don’t like cranberry sauce because we don’t usually have cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving anymore.

But this year will be different. I remembered this cranberry sauce that Michael, an old boyfriend of mine, made one year when I lived far from my family. We were having Thanksgiving dinner in his apartment with his roommate. Michael worked at a French restaurant and was a total foodie. I told him I didn’t like cranberry sauce, but he said you will like THIS cranberry sauce. And I loved it.

So this year, I am making Michael’s maple cranberry sauce. He didn’t give me his recipe, but I think this is pretty close. I think my family will like THIS cranberry sauce.

Actually I hope they don’t like it TOO much because I saw a gorgeous and super simple appetizer idea made with cranberry sauce that I want to try: Just take a block of (light) cream cheese, put it on a fancy dish, and pour cranberry sauce over it. Serve with crackers. I have decided I will stir in a few chopped jalapenos into the sauce before I pour it over the cream cheese to give it a little kick. I have big plans for this cranberry sauce.

Michael's Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Michael’s Maple Cranberry Sauce with Toasted Walnuts

Adapted from About.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12 ounces) package fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup red Zinfandel or other dry red wine (I used some of my dad’s California Trinity Red wine.)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger sugar (the reserved sugar from making candied ginger) or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Place cranberries, maple syrup, juice, wine, and ginger sugar in a heavy saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes, until cranberries begin to pop.
  3. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
  4. Remove from heat and gently smash a bit to open the cranberries, but do not mash.
  5. Toast the walnuts by spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet and baking for about 5 minutes at 300 F. or until they are just lightly browned and you can smell the scent of the walnuts.
  6. Stir in walnuts and vanilla. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Maple Walnut Cranberry Sauce

Look at that gorgeous color! (And yes, in case you were wondering, that IS snow on the table. We had our first snow last night.)

This recipe was shared at Melt in your Mouth Mondays.


Pumpkin Dip

Pumpkin Dip with Apples

I did the weirdest thing this year. As we were carving pumpkins, I saved the pieces we cut out of the pumpkins, chopped off the outer skin, put them in a bowl with a little water, covered the bowl, and microwaved it until the pumpkin was cooked. Then I put the chunks into my handi chopper and voila! I had a nice little treasure-bit of pumpkin. I didn’t know what I was going to use it for yet, but I knew I wanted SOMETHING pumpkin.

And then BranAppetit posted this dip and I was compelled to run into the kitchen right away and make it. It took all of a few minutes to put together. It even got me to eat an apple. Did you know I don’t eat apples? I really don’t like apples all that much. I love them in pie or other baked things, but I’m not all that fond of apples. My daughter eats them like crazy so we always have lots of them on hand.

But with this dip, I could eat apples every day.

Pumpkin Dip with Apples

Festive and delicious, quick, easy and healthy. A little addictive.

Pumpkin Dip for Fruit or Crackers

My twist on this ingenious pumpkin dip recipe from BranAppetit

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 oz greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • just a pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a handi chopper or food processor and whir until smooth.
  2. Serve with graham crackers, sliced apples (or other fruit), or gingersnaps.

Pumpkin Dip with Graham Crackers

I did try the dip with graham crackers; it’s delicious that way too. I hear it’s heavenly with gingersnaps.

This recipe was made by We Heart Vegan for the Secret Recipe Club–I love her name for it! “Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Dip”

Shared on:

 


Twice Baked Potato Casserole

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

To me, this isn’t really a recipe. I have been fascinated with twice baked potatoes since I started cooking I think, so it’s just second nature to me to take mashed potatoes, mix in some cheese, onion, bell pepper, bacon and bake. You don’t need any special seasonings or spices … just let the onion, bacon, bell pepper and cheese do their magic.

I love to put this mixture back into the potato skins if I have them, but if not, just throw it in a casserole or oven proof bowl and bake till everything is hot and the cheese is god and melted.

It’s so simple and so good. I just had it for lunch and it was oh so warm, comforting, filling, and delicious.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

If you make it with low-fat mashed potatoes and don’t overdo it on the bacon or cheese, it’s even good for you.

Today I used shredded sharp cheddar and a bit of blue cheese crumbles, chopped red bell pepper, chopped onion, crumbled in a bit of crispy cooked bacon. Mixed it all together, topped with a little more cheese, then baked for about 10 – 15 minutes at 350. Then I topped it with a few snips of fresh chives. I like to use fresh onions and bell pepper for the crunch factor, but if you like your veggies soft, you can sautee them first. Sometimes I add mushrooms too, if I have them, and if the mashed potatoes are dry, a little cottage cheese, light sour cream or buttermilk. Sometimes a little dill is a nice addition.  Play with it to find a combination you like. You really can’t go wrong with this one.

You can make this in individual portions like I did today for lunch in my oven-safe bowl, or in a larger casserole for a crowd. It would be a nice touch to bake in ramekins for holiday meals. Larger dishes will take longer to cook.

Mmm. I’m in heaven.

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

This recipe was shared at Recipe of the Week: Potatoes and Weekend Potluck.


Witch’s Broomstick Cookies

Witch's Broomstick Cookies

I have Halloween cookie envy again. These looked so easy! And adorable. They were supposed to have gorgeous chocolate and butterscotch drizzles across the middle. But the cookie batter was crumbly and the chocolate was gloopy — definitely not the pretty drizzle I had in mind at all!

The cookies were so ugly to me when they came out I wasn’t even going to bother with the chocolate. But then I tasted one and it tasted pretty dang good. So I decided to add the chocolate after all and take them to the Halloween party with us. They have been elevated a bit in looks with their smeared-on glops of chocolate. Certainly still not up to the vision in my head, but almost presentable.

Maybe I don’t have to put them back in the closet after all.

But go look at Budget Gourmet Mom’s beautiful broomstick cookies. You’ll see why I have cookie envy.

I’m not even going to post the recipe because I’m convinced I must have done something wrong. Visit Budget Gourmet Mom and maybe you will have better luck …

Witch's Broomstick Cookies

But hey, isn’t our little ceramic pumpkin cute? We picked it up at a gas station on a trip up to see my parents a couple years ago. My daughter saw it and just had to have it and I caved. How can you resist that cuteness? Now it’s a little smile added to our table every October. :)


Eyeball Truffles with (Fake) Blood for Halloween

and a few thoughts on “being good enough”

Peanut Butter Eyeball Truffles for Halloween

Does this ever happen to you? You see a brilliant ingenious idea and I think “I’ve got to try that!” and in your head it’s going to be SO cool! It will look just like this awesome thing in the picture! … but then when you make it, well, it’s kinda good, but just not quite what you thought it SHOULD be.

That’s been happening a lot to me lately. I made this pumpkin bread that I thought would be SO awesome, but I didn’t like how it turned out. I decided it wasn’t even worth blogging about. I didn’t take pictures. I tried to turn it into pumpkin bread pudding … and hated that too. Then my dad came to visit and he was digging around my kitchen … he discovered the pumpkin bread and he thought it was brilliant! I tasted it again and thought “wow, it’s really pretty good … what the heck was I thinking?”  I gave him some to take home with him … and then I had a long talk with myself. Why am I self-editing out so much of the great things I have to share?

This isn’t the only creation I’ve been hiding from you. I also made this brandied pumpkin ginger pear ice cream that I was convinced was going to be SO brilliant … but when I made it, I didn’t like the texture. Maybe it was the graininess of the pear? I don’t know. The taste was good, but the texture wasn’t right. I want to try it again … make it better. I will post it when it’s perfect in my eyes.

Speaking of eyes … they’re all looking at me!

Peanut-Butter-Eyeball-Truffles-for-Halloween-2

These were supposed to be the coolest things ever. And you know what? Even though they are probably not the best eyeball truffles on the planet (Confessions of a Cookbook Queen totally has that one covered!), they may just be the best eyeball truffles on the block. (ok, probably the ONLY eyeball truffles on the block!) I think they are still pretty cool. And maybe even worth sharing.

My dad thought they were pretty good anyway. They are pretty dang yummy. And hey, how can you beat the gore factor of oozing blood for Halloween?

Oozing blood peanut butter eyeball truffles

I followed Confessions of a Cookbook Queen‘s recipe except I just used my homemade cookies in place of the Nutter Butters–and low-fat cream cheese–but gosh that’s not much of a change, so please head on over to Confessions of a Cookbook Queen for the recipe. And a lot of laughs. She is so funny. There are times when I wish I could be that amusing. But then, I think maybe I would be someone other than who I am. I do think she’s amazing and awesome and I applaud her talent at making eyeball truffles. And the way she can perfectly photograph an eyeball truffle to show the blood oooozing out of it. She is so creative and executes her projects with such style and grace … and still manages to make it humorous. I have sometimes found myself wishing I could be more like her …

But today Sherron at Simply Gourmet Photography told me that what she likes about me is “I think Ann has shared more of my recipes with the foodie universe than anyone I know. She is very generous with her page and shares lots of recipes with her followers.  I can always count on a wonderful and kind remark from Ann, for this I am so appreciative.”

So I have decided that being me is quite ok. And (as my dad told me without saying as much) that I need to quit questioning myself so much.

The lesson here (note to self!): Give yourself a break and LOVE who you are. Maybe you’re not as organized or as perfect as another person at something you are striving to do, but you do have special talents worth sharing with the world.

Just be the best person you know how to be … and don’t worry so much about “how you compare”.

Peanut-Butter-Eyeball-Truffles-for-Halloween-4

My bumpy imperfect eyeballs agree.


Melted Witches for Halloween

Halloween Treats: Melted Witches

When I found these adorable Melted Witches in my quest for spooky foods for my Halloween Collection post, my daughter was really taken with these and DETERMINED to make them for the upcoming Halloween parties we are helping with. So we went out and bought Oreos, Laffy Taffy, pretzel sticks, Hershey’s Kisses, almond bark, and food coloring.  And last Sunday we sat down to make these.

First we had to clear off our table and our island in the kitchen so we would have plenty of space for our project. That is a major task in itself in our messy house!

Melted Witches

Making the Hats

The hats are simply half an oreo with a chocolate kiss stuck on top. My girl sat down and made the hats herself, using the sticky stuff from the oreos to stick the kisses on the “hats”. It was a great idea, but I really recommend using something stickier, like some melted almond bark or a bit of melted chocolate. The oreo filling just isn’t quite sticky enough to hold the hats together.

Next, make the Broomsticks

The broomsticks are made from pretzel sticks and Laffy Taffy. You have to flatten the taffy with your fingers, then cut it in half. “Fringe” the bottom half with a scissors, then wrap around the pretzel to make the broom. The taffy is very sticky, by the way, so you need to set them far enough apart so they don’t stick to each other.

Melted Witches Halloween Treats

Now, time to Melt the Witches

Melt your green candy melts or almond bark, then tint it with green food coloring in the microwave. Also melt a small amount of chocolate–you don’t need much chocolate. We used semi-sweet chocolate chips and they worked fine I think.

With the back of your spoon, make a circular shape with the green candy melt, then add a drop of chocolate and swirl it around in the green with a toothpick. Before the melted candy cools, stick on the broomsticks and hats. I recommend putting the sticky taffy end of the broomstick on top of the melt to keep the witches from sticking to the serving tray.

Halloween Goodies ... Melted Witches!

After making these, I have to say I have a completely new level of respect for Confessions of a Cookbook Queen. Not only is she incredibly entertaining in all of her posts, she has a level of patience and dedication that clearly surpasses mine. Both my daughter and I were exhausted after this project! I felt a little melted myself.

I think I’ll be a witch for Halloween.

This is part of my series of 31 Days of Warmer Connections. Every day in October, I am blogging about connections through food.


Candied Ginger

Candied Ginger

I don’t know why exactly, but the other day I was suddenly struck with this incredibly insistent urge to make candied ginger. I immediately googled it and found a recipe and was pleased to see that she said it was EASY! Yes! Awesome!

A day or two later I made it to the store to purchase some ginger root. The knobby roots sat on the island in my kitchen staring at me … waiting for me to have time to turn them into chewy sweet hot candy. They were calling to me. I could barely stand it!

Ginger is one of those amazingly versatile seasonings. We generally put it in sweets like cookies and cakes and pies, but also in soups and curries and tea and all sorts of other savory dishes as well as sweet! I especially love how a bit of fresh ginger root can add a good spicy KICK to your food.

Not only is it tasty, ginger is also good for your health. It has a lot of strong antioxidants that can help in healing our bodies and maintaining health. It is good for soothing vomiting, nausea, chest congestion, headaches, and can even help as a anti inflammatory for people with arthritis, motion sickness, migraines and diarrhea. So how about that? This is a candy that is actually GOOD for you.

I have long loved ginger. I don’t know why I never thought to prepare it this way. Until now.

Finally, yesterday the time came to cook up my precious ginger.

Candied Ginger

This candied ginger is chewy and sweet with a bit of a kick! I think it would make a great holiday gift, especially for someone with health issues. I am not sure exactly why I suddenly HAD to make candied ginger, but when I have these strong feelings telling me to go DO something, I just do it. I will discover later the connection that pulled me to do this.

Candied Ginger

from Chrysanthemum by Bonibella who got it from Alton Brown

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 pound fresh ginger root
  • 5 cups water
  • Approximately 1 pound (2 cups) granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it over a pan for catching the stray sugar that falls from the ginger.
  2. Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices. I tried to use my slicer, but found this went easier with a good knife and a cutting board. Place the ginger into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.
  3. Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Save that precious ginger juice!
  4. Return the ginger and 1/4 cup cooking water to the pan and add the sugar. They say to weigh the ginger and add an equal amount of sugar, but not having a scale, I just used 2 cups of sugar.
  5. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize. This takes about 20 minutes. I was kind of watching the clock at this point, and not really believing that this would happen because it still looked liquified to me at 20 minutes but then suddenly a minute or two later: poof! it was done. Just as she said. It went from liquid to solid so suddenly that if I hadn’t been paying attention, it would have burned!
  7. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and using a spoon or tongs, spread it out on the rack to separate the VERY HOT ginger slices. Once the ginger is completely cool, transfer it to an airtight container. She says it will store for up to 2 weeks.
  8. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee or tea. The spicy gingery juice (that reserved cooking liquid!) is great for use in tea or soups.
Candied Ginger Root
This is part of my series of 31 Days of Warmer Connections. Every day in October, I am blogging about connections through food.

Super Fun and Spooky Halloween Foods

One of my friends is having a Halloween party, and was asking if we had seen any good Halloween food recipes they could serve at the party. Oh boy have I seen some good ones in the blogosphere! Here are some of the best ideas I’ve seen out there … it was so much fun putting this together, and now I know just where to go when I need good Halloween food ideas!

Spider Deviled Eggs from Simply Gourmet Photography

Halloween Popcorn Cake from Taste and Tell

Halloween Popcorn Cake from Taste and Tell

Halloweenies from Meg’s Everyday Indulgence

Monster Mash Party Mix from In Katrina’s Kitchen

Meatloaf like Mummy Never Used to Make from the Knead for Speed

Meatloaf like Mummy Never Used to Make

Owl-o-ween Cookies from Cookin’ Cowgirl

Peanut Butter Eyeball Truffles from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen

Mummies Night Out Veggie Dip (+ Decorating Ideas!) from Hostess with the Mostess

Pumpkin Poptarts from Family Kitchen

Pumpkin Poptarts

Cheerios and Chocolate Tarts from Family Fresh Cooking

Cheerios & Chocolate Tarts

Halloween Pumpkin Quesadillas from Cake, Batter, and Bowl

Halloween Pumpkin Quesadillas

Macaroni Cheese Bake in Coffin Toast from Almost Bourdain

Macaroni Cheese Bake in Coffin Toast

Halloween Bones from Food Mayhem

Halloween Bones

Caramel Toffee Fruit Dip from Our Best Bites

Caramel Toffee Fruit Dip

Spider Whoopie Pies from Wing-It Vegan

Halloween Spider Whoopie Pies

Spiderweb Cookies from Sweetopia

How to Make a Spiderweb Cookie

Witches Digits from Shockingly Delicious

Witches Digits

Melted Witches from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen

Melted Witches

Deviled Eyeballs from Avocadoes from Mexico

Deviled Eyeballs

Black Cat Cheeseball from Hungry Happenings

Black Cat Cheeseball

Black Cat Cookies from Lick the Bowl Good

Black Cat Cookies

Kid’s DIY Banana Mummies from Lexie’s Kitchen

Kid's DIY Banana Mummies

Dracula’s Dentures from Very Best Baking

Dracula's Dentures

Halloween Lunch in a Muffin Tin from Another Lunch

Halloween Muffin Tin Lunch

Witches Broom Cookies from Budget Gourmet Mom

Witches Broom Cookies

Had enough yet? No? If you want MORE ideas, here are some other fun Halloween collections to check out!

This is part of my series of 31 Days of Warmer Connections. Every day in October, I am blogging about connections through food.

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