Spooktacular Sunday Dinner

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Creepy Crudité

Massacred Meatloaf
Mashed Boo-tatoes
Sinister String Beans

Boston Scream Pie

  Happy Halloween!


Ham and Cheese Stromboli

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Do you need a meal that will help clean out your frig or do you just want to add a new and incredibly delicious recipe to your repertoire?  This recipe is for you.  

Stromboli is basically a rolled Italian turnover that is baked until golden brown and then sliced into yummy portions.  The smell while it is baking will have you drooling!  

What is really great about this recipe is it makes two.  My husband and I can enjoy our version and the kids can enjoy theirs making everyone happy.  Any leftovers are perfect to pack in school/work lunches.  

The recipe is also versatile.  We have a standard version in our house, but you can add whatever you like. Leftover roasted vegetables-- throw them in.  Need to use up some deli meats and cheese-- add them to the filling.  Want to keep it vegetarian-- omit the meats.  Don't want to mess with making your own dough-- use store bought or buy some from your favorite pizza parlor.  Just remember-- make it for you, make it your own.

We enjoy our Stromboli with a nice salad and a side of pepperoncini peppers.


Harvest Couscous

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I love good comfort food in the cool months like roasts, stews, and mac-n-cheese, of course.  But, sometimes my body needs a healthy break.  That is when I crave a nice grain salad.  Still, I want something that has the flavor of Fall, warm with spice and a touch of sweetness.  This recipe certainly delivers.  

I came across this recipes years ago while shopping at The Fresh Market in South Carolina (shout out to family and friends in the Carolinas:)  It was on a recipe card placed by the dried fruits and nuts bin.  I read it and then proceeded to load my cart with dried cranberries, couscous, some nuts and spices and hurried home.  Mmmm...I can still taste that first bite.  There is the  sweetness from the dried cranberries, the toasty crunch from the almonds, the spice from the cumin and cinnamon, and the fresh orange juice just brings it all together into one satisfying salad.

I enjoy the couscous all by its lovely self, but you can certainly serve it as a side to chicken or pork.  Wait, I just had a thought...what if you stuffed a chicken breast with the couscous and some goat cheese?  That might be yummy!  It is also perfect to pack on a Fall picnic.  Feel free to play around with the ingredients.  You can sub the almonds for pecans or walnuts.  You can sub the dried cranberries for cherries or currants.  You can use water instead of chicken broth to make it vegetarian.  Just remember, make it for you...make it your own.


Stove-Top Macaroni and Cheese

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Macaroni and Cheese-- that universal comfort food for kids and adults alike.  The problem is I think too many people are easily tempted to buy the stuff in the blue box for obvious convenience reasons.  Take a few extra simple steps and create a meal that you can really call comfort food.  

This is my quick version of macaroni and cheese that is easily done on the stove top.  It is so creamy and so cheesy that you won't want to buy the box stuff again.  Make sure you buy a good quality cheese (I like Cabot Vermont Extra Sharp White Cheddar) and grate it yourself.  It really does make all the difference.  The pre-grated cheese has stabilizers in it and it just doesn't melt as nicely.  

Enjoy it as a side to your dinner, as a meal buy itself with a simple salad (we enjoy our mac-n-cheese with buttered bread crumbs and slow cooked tomatoes), or pack it in a thermos for those school lunches.  It is a real crowd pleaser!  So, give it try.


Sunday Dinner

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Mini Apple, Goat Cheese and Walnut Pastries

Carbonnades à la Flamande
(Beef and Onions Braised in Beer)
 Green Salad

Pear Tart 
served with a whipped cinnamon crème fraîche


Pumpkin Dip

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Are you hosting any parties this fall or are you just looking for another delicious pumpkin recipe to serve to family and friends?  Then please try this pumpkin spread.  It is super easy to make and it is enjoyed by kids and adults.  Just throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.  Serve it with gingersnaps, butter cookies, graham crackers, pretzels sticks, apples slices or even pear slices.  And if there are any leftovers, make yourself a delicious fall breakfast treat and spread it over a toasted bagel.  A whole wheat bagel with dried cranberries would be my choice.  Mmmm-- so good!


Mexican Rice with Tomatoes and Beans

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With three children and after school activities, there is one night a week where we don't sit down together as a whole family.  So, I need a meal that one can eat before practice and the rest of us can eat later without the food getting cold.  

This recipe solves that problem for me.  It is delicious all by itself, warm or at room temperature.  It is also a nice side to grilled meats, but the way we enjoy it on our busy weeknights is rolled in a flour tortilla with sour cream, cheese and toasted in a non stick skillet for a yummy burrito.  I even make a couple extra for school lunches.  Any leftovers makes a nice lunch for me the next day.  Serve with a simple salad, some sliced avocado, a good habanero hot sauce then dig in!  

You will find me saying this a lot, but please feel free to make this recipe your own.  If you don't like cilantro (I heard some people thinks it taste like soap) omit it.  If you like it spicy then add more jalapeños.  I had poblano peppers in the garden so I added them to mine.  Use water or vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian.  Just make it for you, make it your own.


Kitchen Tip

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How to Peel a Pomegranate

If you read the Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup post, you might remember that I garnished the soup with pomegranate seeds; certainly optional.  However, it was brought to my attention that some of you have never opened a pomegranate. So, I thought I would share a tip for easy removal of those tiny, tasty seeds.  

Fill a large bowl full of cool water.  Score the tough outside peel with the blade of a pairing knife.  Pull apart the peel to expose the inside chambers.  Place the opened pomegranate in the bowl and separate the seeds from the pulp and internal membranes.  Oh, get your kids involved.  Their tiny fingers are perfect for picking out the seeds.  Just remember to put on an old shirt or apron because pomegranate juice stains.  As you seperate the seeds you will notice that the pulp floats and the seeds sink.  Simply remove the floating pulp and drain the water from the seeds.  How easy is that?

Homemade Apple Butter

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I love fruit butters.  Seeing how it is fall and I am 1 1/2 hours away from my favorite apple orchard that sells the great apple butter, I guess I have to make it myself.  I am always up for a new challenge in the kitchen, but really, this recipe couldn't be any easier.  In fact, if you can make the applesauce, then you can make this apple butter.  Just a few more ingredients to spice it up and a little more time on the stove, then you will have this luscious, creamy, spicy, and oh, so satisfying apple butter.  Spread it on toast, put a dollop on some yogurt (with some toasted walnuts for crunch), or when nobody is looking take a big spoonful straight from the jar:)

Like most cooking, adjust the spices according to your own taste.  If you don't have cardamom, that's o.k.  If you like ground ginger, then add more.  Make it for you, make it your own.  I almost forgot-- when you do make it, your house will smell just like an orchard!


Chewy Granola Bar

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Granola bars are a perfect portable snack food for my husband's breakfast while he is working, the children's lunch box for a treat, or a nice break after a long walk in the woods.  The beauty of this recipe is that it is kid friendly for making and eating.  It is a no-bake recipe, so go ahead and get the kids in the kitchen cooking!  

Like the granola, you can make this according to your own tastes.  You can add dried fruit, more nuts, use different sweetners, omit the chocolate (do you really want to do that).   Just experiment and find out what flavors suit you the best.  For me, I had some brown rice syrup that I have been wanting to use, but you can use honey instead.  The original recipe called for Rice Krispies, but I had some puffed rice cereal on hand.  I did use the thin pretzels because I love a sweet and salty combination.  I felt my granola was already sweet enough so, I reduced the amount of sugar.  And the chocolate, well I don't know one person who doesn't like it (I gotta work on her).  

My twist was substituting part of the brown sugar for peanut butter.  Mmmmm--peanut butter and chocolate, salty and sweet.  This is starting to turn into a no-bake cookie.  That's alright with me!


Sunday Dinner

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Cassoulet with Toulouse Sausage, Lamb Stew and Duck Confit
Simple Green Salad
French Baguette

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake 

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
serves 12-16

Bottom Layer:
6 tablespoons (3 oz) unsalted butter
7 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 extra large eggs, seperated
pinch kosher salt
1/3 cup white granulated sugar

Middle Layer:
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
5 tablespoon hot water
7 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped 
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Top Layer
3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon water
6 oz white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Shaved chocolate or cocoa powder for serving, optional

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350º.  Butter bottom and sides or line with parchment a 9 1/2 in springform pan.  Melt butter, chocolate and espresso powder in a large bowl set over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth .  Remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.  Whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt until frothy.  Add half the white sugar and beat until combined.  Add the remaining sugar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form.  Using rubber spatula fold half of egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten.  Fold in remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain.  Pour into prepared pan and smooth with offset spatula.  Bake until edges are set and middle is soft, 13-18 minutes.  Transfer to a rack and cool completely in pan, about 1 hour.

Combine cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl, set aside.  Melt chocolate in a large bowl set over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

In a clean bowl of  stand mixer fitted with  whisk attachment, whip cream, sugar, and salt at medium speed for 30 seconds.  Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.

Whisk cocoa powder mixture into melted chocolate .  Using rubber spatula, fold half the whipped cream into chocolate mixture.  Add the remaining whipped cream and fold until no white streaks remain.  Spoon mousse into pan over cooled cake and gently rap on the counter to remove any air bubbles.  Spoon the top with an offset spatula.  Clean the sides to remove any drips or smears.  Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water;  let the stand at least 5 minutes.  Place white chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  Bring 1/2 cup cream to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat.  Remove, add gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour hot cream over white chocolate chips and stir until chocolate is melted.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-10 minutes.

In a clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip remaining cream at medium speed for 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 minute.  Using rubber spatula fold half the cream into the white chocolate mixture.  Add the remaining cream and fold until no white chocolate streaks remain.  Spoon white chocolate mousse into prepared pan over middle layer and smooth with offset spatula.  Return cake to refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2 1/2 hours.

Garnish Top of cake with chocolate curls or dust with cocoa.  For neat slices, dip a thin knife in hot water or use dental floss (non-flavored) to cut the cake.  Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from Cooks Illustrated 


Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

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One of my favorite things to eat for lunch is soup.  I eat soup all year long.   Steamy and warm bowls of it in the fall and winter, light and delicate broths in the spring and chilled gazpachos and velouté in the summer.  Soup is so satisfying.  One of the reasons I enjoy soup so much is getting to have a crusty piece of bread, a corn muffin, a hot biscuit, or some type of cracker to eat on the side to sop up the last bit of  goodness in the bowl-- yum! 

So, since I have a bit of that pumpkin puree leftover from the muffins, the only thing to make is a pot of Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup.  This soup screams Fall.  Looking at the ingredients you might think, "How can this taste good?"-- pumpkin, black beans, tomatoes, and cinnamon?  Let me say it just works.   The pumpkin adds a silkiness, the beans add body, the tomatoes add sweetness, the cinnamon adds the perfect spice, and the ground cumin just rounds it all together.  Finish it with a dollop of sour cream, some chipotle sauce, and sprinkle of pomegranate seeds for a bit of texture and you've got yourself a bowl full of goodness.  Oh, don't forget the cornbread.

Note: Can be eaten immediately, but this is also a "next day better" meal.


Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

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After a string of 80º F days here, the weather has finally cooled off.  Not that I don't enjoy 80º F days, but it is just hard to cook and plan fall menus, like soups, stews, and fragrantly spiced baked goods when you are sweating and wearing flip flops.  This morning was particularly nice, overcast and 50º F.  Time to break out the house coat and slippers. couldn't think of better breakfast than a cup of hot apple cider and a basket full of fresh pumpkin muffins to start the day.  The smell of these muffins baking will get any sleepyheads out of bed.  It worked on mine!

This is a simple recipe and you can get all the ingredients out the night before that way they will be at room temperature in the morning.  Mix it up first thing in the a.m. and read the paper while they are baking.  Cool for just a few minutes and eat them while they are still warm with a good slathering of butter.  I have also made them in a mini muffin pan to pack for those school lunches.  Just freeze the rest for another day.

After reading the recipe you will note: 1 cup (about 1/2 can) of pumpkin puree...?  Yes, I am sure most of you have heard about the pumpkin can shortage.  But fear not, I have seen them on the shelves.  If all else fails it is simple to make your own, but we will leave that for another post.  Oh and what about the other half of the can because if you've been reading you know I don't like to waste food?  Stay tuned!


Chicken Tortilla Casserole

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There, I made one--a casserole.  For those of you who know me, go ahead and pick yourself off the floor.  For those of you who do not know me, you now know that I have an aversion to the dish called casserole.  O.K., maybe not the dish, but definitely the word.  It just reminds me of church basement potlucks where people bring in a wide variety of casseroles that all have the same ingredients.  And you know what I am talking about--mayonnaise, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, crushed crackers, and even cornflakes.  Sorry if I am offending anyone, but that is just not my thing.  

What is my thing is this recipe.  I was looking for a different recipe to use up white corn tortillas and some leftover chicken.  I came across a treasure trove of recipes out there for a Texas dish called King Ranch Casserole.  It is basically layers of tortillas, chicken, cheese, and a sauce with--you guessed it, condensed cream of mushroom and chicken soup.  However, I did come across of a few other recipes that actually made the sauce from scratch with butter, flour and broth.  Now we are talking.  So, with a few tweaks here and there I have come up with a definite crowd pleaser.  I believe my husband's exact words were, "Don't forget about this one!"  Bonus to the blog!  The recipe is now published.

Oh, and even though I made a casserole.  The word still doesn't roll of my tongue well.  Maybe I should call it a Chicken Tortilla Bake or how about Chicken Tortilla Hot Dish (shout out to those in Minnesota)!

 We enjoyed this with a side of stewed black beans and a simple salad.


Pasta alla Checca

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This is another quick and easy to put together weeknight meal.  It is a fresh, uncooked tomato sauce.  I normally wouldn't think of buying a tomato out of season, but this is a recipe where I make an exception.  Those little Nature Sweet Cherub tomatoes you find in the grocery store have a delightful sweetness to them even in the dead of winter.  

The original recipe calls for coarsely chopping the tomatoes in the food processor, but I have children.   As good of eaters as they are, they are not too fond of chunky tomatoes.  So, I puree the mixture until it resembles a creamy Italian salsa.  No chunks = happy kids!  The original recipe also serves it with thin strand spaghettini or angel hair, but since I puree my sauce I like using the twisted pasta called Gemelli.  The finer sauce clings nicely into the spriral shape.   Feel free to use whatever pasta your family fancies.  

For dinner we eat it warm with the mozzarella cheese all gooey and stringy, but my kids enjoy it so much that they ask for it in their lunch box as a cold pasta salad.  Healthy lunch = happy Mom! 


Pickled Red Onions

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Last night we enjoyed a simple appetizer of cheese and crackers with these pickled red onions.  This recipe comes from Thomas Keller's  Bouchon cookbook.  It was for an open faced sandwich called Tartine of Lamb with Pickled Red Onions.  As delicious as the tartine is, I find myself making these onions for so many other things because my family absolutely adores them.  

We eat them with cheese and on all types of sandwiches, like chicken or egg salad.  We enjoy them as a side to stewed beans and rice, on salads, or packed in small containers for school lunches.  We eat them with just about everything.  In fact, last night my son ate more pickled onions than cheese!   They are simple to make and very tasty.  Give them a try.  You will be glad you did.


Sunday Dinner

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Aged White Cheddar and Pickled Red Onions on Water Crackers

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Béarnaise Sauce
Mushrooms sautéed with garlic and shallots
Green Salad 

Chocolate Cake

Happy Birthday, Boo!  

Chocolate Cake
12 servings

2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 unsweetened cocoa (I use Ghiradelli)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 cup hot water

Heat oven to 350º.  Line three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick baking spray.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder in a large bowl.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes.  Stir in hot water.  Evenly pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Remove pans from oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Leaving parchment paper on remove cake layers and place on a wire rack parchment side down to cool completely.  Frost with Chocolate Frosting (recipe follows).

Chocolate Frosting
about 3 cups 

6 oz (1 1/2  sticks) unsalted butter melted
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons of milk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 + 1/8 tsp espresso powder

In a medium bowl stir together the melted butter, cocoa powder and espresso powder.  Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.  Add splash of milk if frosting seems too stiff.  Stir in vanilla.
Note: You can use a wire whisk or a hand held mixer

Source: Adapted from Hershey's


Honey Almond Granola

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Once fall rolls around I like to start my morning with a nice bowl of hot oatmeal.  However, the weather here lately has not be ideal for a hot breakfast.  Still wanting my oats, I decided it would be a good time to make some homemade granola.  

Like the applesauce, granola is extremely versatile in its ingredients and uses.  You can use maple syrup or honey to sweeten it.  You can add pecans, walnut, or almonds to the mix, and the add-ins like coconut and dried fruits are endless.  As far as uses, the obvious is a simple cereal with milk. But we also enjoy it over yogurt in the summer or use as a topping for ice cream.  You can even incorporate into your favorite cookie recipe or how about making homemade granola bars--another post?  The best part about making your own granola is it is more economical than buying it from the store, the taste is superior, and it is rewarding as well.


Feta And Roasted Red Pepper Spread

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I hate wasting food.  Most of our leftovers are made into lunches for my children and husband, but then there are those single ingredients that just don't have a place in my weekly menu.  

One of my biggest problems is with feta cheese.  I like feta in block form.  I find that the pre-crumled feta is too salty.  So, I buy a 6 oz package of feta to use in a salad or pasta dish and then I am left with 2/3 of it-- what to do, what to do.  

I have finally figured it out.  It is in this delicious spread.  Just a few simple ingredients and you have a tasty concoction for spreading on a crostini, dipping with breadsticks (I like Alessi garlic breadsticks), or better yet, smear it on grilled country bread and top it with grilled veggies and a drizzle of good aged balsamic vinegar for a scrumptious open face sandwich.  It is so good! 



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Well, with  the bacon leftover from the appetizers and the last of the tomatoes from the garden there was only one thing on my mind to make, a loaf of homemade Challah for BLTs. 

Challah is a Jewish bread very similar to the French Brioche.  It is a basic bread dough that has been enriched with eggs and butter that is braided for a beautiful presentation.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  Why go through all the trouble for making your own bread?  Because it really does make a difference to the sandwich.  The firm texture holds up beautifully when toasted, the taste is just delicious and your house will smell sweet, buttery, and oh, so good.  Those flavors are a perfect match for the salty bacon and savory tomatoes.  So get out your standing mixer or make it by hand.  Please give this a try, you will be glad you did. 


Sunday Dinner

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Bacon and Cheese Pumpernickel Toasts

Simple Pear Tart
served with a whipped cinnamon crème frâiche 

Beef Chili

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After a windy and chilly (no pun intended) day at the soccer fields, I couldn't think of a better way to warm up than with this chili that has an unexpected ingredient, cocoa!  Put it on the stove top in the morning and let it simmer away.  Or better yet, make it the day ahead to give it that "next day better" goodness.  

I like to make this in a big batch and freeze the rest of it to have on hand on those busy weeknights.  You can certainly eat it as, but we enjoy ours over rice with lightly salted avocado slices and garnished with chopped red onion and cilantro.  A little dollop of sour cream doesn't hurt either and the tortilla chips...well, they really make it.  In fact, it seems as if we eat the chili with the tortilla chips instead of a spoon or fork.  That's o.k. with me!


Cupcake Tease

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This is a Saturday morning special, French Toast & Bacon.  It is a cream cheese stuffed cinnamon cupcake frosted with a maple syrup buttercream and topped with brown sugar bacon crumbles.  Oh my word!  Breakfast is served!


Cinnamon Apple Chips

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Running with the cinnamon-apple theme, I thought I would post about this sweet and satisfying snack. They are simple to make with just 5 ingredients that you probably have on hand and are a great alternative to the ordinary potato chip.  I don't know a kid that wouldn't eat something with the word "chip" in it.  Perfect for an after school snack or pack them up in individual bags for that post game Saturday soccer treat.

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