Category Archives: Life

Why I Love Thanksgiving

photo 2No recipes in this article, just me swooning over Thanksgiving.

This is my favorite holiday of the year. It’s earned it’s place at the top of my favorites list because it includes:

  • family and friends
  • great food
  • football (yes, I like watching football)
  • and as long as black Friday fliers don’t appear on the table right after dinner, it lacks the materialism and consumerism that typically accompanies Christmas.

One of my hobbies is cooking, so when it comes to making the Thanksgiving Feast, I get giddy with anticipation. I enjoy cooking large meals because it mixes creativity and process. You can make a wildly creative and fantastic dish, but if you don’t go through the correct cooking process (it’s scientific!) that wildly creative dish won’t be fantastic.

Here is my process:

I make my menu, add more dishes to the menu, then scale back when Nate gives me a realistic talk about how we could not possible need a gazillion side dishes and thirty thousand desserts.

I pull out my recipes for the final menu and calculate how much of everything I need.

Before making the grocery list, taking inventory of the ingredients we currently have helps reduce the grocery bill. Speaking of which, I also scope out the area grocery stores for sales on Turkeys. This year I found two: Buy $30 of groceries and get a 10-16Lb bird for $10 OR Buy $25 of groceries and get any size turkey for 59 cents per lb. Since we need a 10 pound turkey, the second deal was better because the turkey would cost under $10.

photo 3After buying my ingredients, I then like timing out when everything goes into the oven and when it comes out. I work backwards from the time we hope to have dinner on the table. Then I start with the Turkey and calculate cook time (15-20 min per LB), plus 20 minutes for resting (don’t let those juices flow out!) and 15 minutes for carving. I subtract that time from the time from dinner time (4 PM dinner – 4 1/2 hours cook/carve time = 11:30 AM Oven time) and then I set an alarm to remind me to put the Turkey in at that time. I follow the same process to determine when the other dishes go in the oven, starting with the longest duration first.

After I have my schedule complete, I spend three to four hours the night before Thanksgiving preparing the dishes for cooking. This includes:

  • Baking Pies and desserts
  • Peeling and quartering potatoes and leaving them in a pan of water
  • Prepping the sweet potato dish
  • Prepping the green bean casserole (WITHOUT the french onions on top)

photo 1On Thanksgiving, I remove the turkey from the fridge at least an hour before cooking. I also remove the prepped side dishes from the fridge so that they get back to room temperature. Cooking cold dishes will prolong the final cook time.

And then we’re off to cooking! And 5 hours later we are sitting down to a wonderful meal with great company.

 

Garden Vegetable and Beef Chili (Slow Cooker)

When there’s a nip in the air and boots and sweaters are making a reappearance, it’s the perfect time to simmer a pot of chili. This recipe yields a full 5.5 quart slow cooker, enough for 10-12 servings.

Ingredients:

2 pounds ground beef chuck

1 pound of stew beef or beef sirloin (chopped)

2  (15 ounce) cans pinto beans, drained

1 (15 ounce) can Kidney beans

1 (28 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with juice

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

1 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

6 mushrooms, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

2 cups corn (frozen, or canned and drained)

4 cubes beef bouillon

1/2 cup beer

1/8  cup chili powder (can double)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoons ground cumin (can double)

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 (8 ounce) package shredded Cheddar cheese (shredded for topping)

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Garnish- shredded cheddar cheese; serve over cooked rice if desired.

Directions:

Add the beef to the slow cooker and cook on high while you prepare the remaining ingredients. By the time you’re done chopping, the beef should be brown (roughly 30 minutes), it’s okay if it is not browned completely.  Add all additional ingredients to slow cooker, stir. Cook on high for 2 hours , then adjust heat to low for additional two hours. Add salt and pepper to taste. Vegetables should be tender, but not mushy.

*This is a sweeter/ subtle chili. For a more traditional chili taste, double the chili powder and cumin. For a spicier kick, add: 2 t hot pepper sauce (Tabasco), 1 t cayenne pepper, 2 green chile peppers (seeded and chopped).

Apple Glazed Pork Roast (Slow Cooker)

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 pound pork loin roast
  • 3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 gala apples, cored and thickly sliced
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice

Directions

1. In a bowl, stir to combine mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Evenly spread the mustard mixture over the entire roast and place it in the slow cooker.

2. Place apple slices on top of the pork loin and pour cider over the apples. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Serve.

Caramelized brussels sprouts or sauteed green beans make an excellent side dish.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut-Butter-CookiesThese Peanut Butter Cookies are soft and chewy, they’re delicious served warm and with milk. Sometimes I add a few chocolate chips or nuts to the batter, but the original recipe is delicious enough on their own.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 cups peanut butter chips
1 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in both sugars. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in half of the dry ingredients into the mixture. Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in remaining ingredients. Stir in peanut butter chips.
4. For each cookie, roll 1 heaping tablespoon full of dough into 1 3/4 inch diameter ball. Arrange balls 2 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using the back of fork, flatten dough balls and form a crosshatch on tops.
5. Bake cookies until dry on top, about 15 minutes.
6. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

Chocolate Cream Pie

This chocolate cream pie is easy to make and the filling is good enough to eat on its own as pudding.

1 Graham Cracker Pie Crust

3/4 C Sugar

1/3 C Cocoa

1/3 C Cornstarch

1/4 t Salt

3 Eggs, beaten

3 C Milk

3 T Butter

2 t Vanilla

In a medium sauce pan, stir together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Combine the eggs and milk in a bowl, slowly stir into the sauce pan. Blend well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with whisk until it thickens and begins to boil. Remove from heat. Add the butter and vanilla, mix until smooth. Poor into pie. Press plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate for 8 hours.

 

Zucchini Bread

zucchini breadGardens are in full bloom. With plenty of zucchini squash being plucked from the green gardens, you may have more of the vegetable then you know what to do with. Giving the extra produce to your neighbors, friends, and family are a great option. Another is baking zucchini bread.

Ingredients:
3 C Flour
1 t Salt
1 t Baking Soda
3 t Ground Cinnamon (if not using chocolate chips)
3 eggs
1 C Vegetable Oil
2 1/4 C brown sugar
3 t Vanilla
2 C Zucchini, grated

Optional Ingredients-
1 C Walnuts
1 1/2 C Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 – 8X4 bread pans.

Mix together the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, cream together the eggs, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until well blended. Fold in the zucchini and the optional walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the two bread pans. Bake for 40-60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Tip-

I shred the zucchini, measure out the correct amount and freeze in freezer safe bags. I use these pre-measured packs to make fresh zucchini bread through the winter. Alternatively, I use these for additions to pasta dishes and sauteed dishes.

Oh So Sweet Potatoes

This is one of my favorite recipes from my grandma’s Thanksgiving menu. Every time I make them (and not just for the holidays) I think of home and family and love.

3 C canned sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
1/2  C sugar
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
1 stick butter
1/2  can condensed milk
1 t vanilla

Topping:
1 c brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 flour
1 c walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the first list of ingredients together in a large bowl until blended well. Place in an oven safe bowl or pan.
Mix the topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Spread over the potato mixture.

Bake for 45- 60 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the center of potatoes are hot.

This dish serves enough for 8-10 people.

I Baked My Way Out! A Story of Minecraft Survival

MinecraftI am a newbie video game player. I also like to bake. Therefore, when I started playing Minecraft (the game of mining and crafting), I started farming wheat to bake food supplies.

Nate and I played on our own server and built a house with  a storage room. The storage room contained a door that automatically opened from inside if you stepped near it.

The storage room had an oven and chests organized with weapons, food, and raw materials. The oven, food, and raw materials were on one side of the door and the weapon chests on the other (see diagram).

This is a story of how I escaped a Skeletal Archer by baking my way out.floor map

I was in the storage room putting my freshly harvested wheat away. When all of a sudden, I heard the swoosh of an arrow indicating the much dreaded Skeletal Archer had found its way inside our home.

It had its eye and arrow on me. I was cornered, the only protection I had was the door. I knew if I went to the other side of the storage room to retrieve a weapon to defend myself with, I would cross the threshold of the door and it would open automatically, allowing my nemesis in.

Could I run quickly enough to retrieve a weapon in time? Perhaps.

But wait, oh no! My health level was down to 1 heart! If I were to run by the door and get shot, I’d be a goner.

The only logical thing was to strengthen my health. This left me with one choice. Use the wheat I had just harvested to bake bread in the oven to eat.

I baked. I ate. I ran. I grabbed a sword and fought! I won! And I survived because I baked my way out!

Pancakes

We work really hard, juggling careers, academics, and side projects. I like to treat us to a weekend breakfast, the go to recipes are pancakes or fruit filled crepes (recipe to come). But one of my favorite things about making pancakes for two on Saturday…. I can save some batter and have pancakes for two on Sunday!

Ingredients

1 3/4 C Buttermilk.

(Don’t have buttermilk? Mix 1 3/4 C milk with 3 T  white vinegar and let stand 5 min)

1 1/4 C Flour

1/4 C Sugar

1 t Baking Powder

1 t Baking Soda

1 Egg

1/4 C Oil or melted Butter

Directions

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add in buttermilk, egg, and oil. Mix. It’s okay if there’s lumps. Spoon onto hot griddle (medium heat), flip when bubbles appear on the top and the edges become cakey. Cook for 2-4 minutes.

My favorite- serve with fresh fruit or jam topping.

Apple Crisp

One of my favorite desserts is Apple Crisp. Below is the recipe I use, but in all honesty, sometimes I make the crumble topping and store it for individual servings in an airtight container in the fridge. When I have a hankering for a treat, I’ll slice up just one or two apples, sprinkle them with a bit of sugar and water, add it to a bake safe ceramic bowl and sprinkle some of the topping on top. Bake for about 15-20 minutes and I have a mini dessert I don’t have to share!

But for those of you who are not gluttonous/selfish like I, here is the full recipe, that’s sure to please:

Ingredients
• 10 C apples, peeled, cored and sliced. I prefer a mixture of Macs, Fuji, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith
• 1 C white sugar
• 1 T all-purpose flour
• 1 t ground cinnamon
• 1/2 C water

• 1 C quick-cooking oats
• 1 C all-purpose flour
• 1 C packed brown sugar
• 1/4 t baking powder
• 1/4 t baking soda
• 1/2 C butter, melted
• 1/2 C Nuts, optional

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
2. Place the sliced apples in a 9×13 inch pan. Mix the white sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and ground cinnamon together, and sprinkle over apples. Pour water evenly over all.
3. Combine the oats, 1 cup flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, nuts and melted butter together. Crumble evenly over the apple mixture.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 45 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and a fork enters through the apples with only a little resistance.

Serve warm a la mode, with whipped cream, or drizzled with caramel.