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Monday, December 12, 2011

{Crock Pot's Triple Delicious Hot Chocolate}

After a recent party for a friend where they had a hot chocolate bar, Matt insisted that we needed to have hot chocolate at the party last week. I looked through my Crock Pot cookbook and found this recipe which was easy and delicious.

This makes a wonderful rich hot chocolate without being overly sweet, definitely a keeper!

Photo from my Crock Pot Slow Cooker Recipes for All Occasions cook book

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk, divided
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
1 square (1 ounce) bittersweet chocolate
1 square (1 ounce) white chocolate
3/4 cup whipped cream
6 teaspoons mini chocolate chips or shaved bittersweet chocolate

Combine sugar, cocoa, salt and 1/2 cup milk in medium bowl.  Beat until smooth.  Pour mixture into slow cooker.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups milk and vanilla. Cook on low 2 hours.

Add cream.  Cover and cook on low for 10 minutes, stir in bittersweet and white chocolate until melted.

Pour hot chocolate into 6 coffee cups.  Top each with 2 tablespoons whipped cream and 1 teaspoon chocolate chips.
I used Godiva baking chocolate, subbed out the whipped cream and chocolate chips on top for mini marshmallows, and added a bit of Bailey's Irish Cream to each cup for the adults.  

This recipe is perfect for serving out of the slow cooker so that it stays hot and people can serve themselves as they like.  You could provide any variety of toppings and other items so that guests can customize their own cup.  {Enjoy!}

Sunday, December 11, 2011

{Eat, Drink and Be Married}

Things have been pretty busy with the holidays quickly approaching.  I'm not really sure where the time has gone!  I have been working on my mom's wedding, which will take place on New Year's Day, while still getting all of the gifts wrapped and under the tree for Christmas.  I was also happy to host a quickly planned get together for family in honor of Matt's brother and new bride.  They will have a formal wedding next year, but I wanted to make sure they had an extra special night.

Here are some of the photos.  I will be posting some of the recipes I used this week, specifically the ones I received special requests for!

So here is the full spread...

Matt's mom made the cake.  I wanted to go with a less than traditional topper and loved the pennant banners I have seen on Pinterest.

Rather than a traditional boiled shrimp cocktail, I love Ina Garten's idea of a roasted shrimp cocktail.  I used a traditional cocktail sauce and a parsley paprika pesto for something to mix it up a little.  Full details to follow. 

Who doesn't secretly love to double dip???  I have seen this idea on Pinterest and decided to let people do so shamelessly!  Little veggie cups with homemade buttermilk basil dressing at the bottom.  I included little "C" toothpicks to make the cherry tomatoes easier to grab and to add a personal touch.

I love this recipe!  Giada De Laurentiis uses focaccia bread and adds pesto to make a unique little sandwich that provides a heartier item for a party. 

I also used Alton Brown's Spinach and Artichoke Dip which I posted here (with my new favorite bread machine recipe - to follow), Devilishly Delicious Deviled Eggs here, and my Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta.

We also enjoyed a little mimosa bar and hot chocolate that I made in my Crock Pot.  I will be post the hot chocolate recipe - so easy and very tasty.

For decorations I made a couple of fun signs.  The top one was outside and the bottom on the food table.

I made a simple banner with my new obsession Silhouette machine that says "Congrats Mr and Mrs"

I hung the banner on the mirror above our entry table which was decorated with some cute letters that I painted.

Finally, a small favor for the guests courtesy of Pinterest.  I have made some of these simple ornaments for weddings that Matt and I have attended this year.  All you need is a clear ornament from a craft store and a wedding invitation.  Cut the invitation into strips, twist them around a pen and drop them into the ornament.  I added a little sign that said, "Couldn't wait to spend the first Christmas as Mr and Mrs"

It was fun to use so many of the ideas I have been seeing on Pinterest!  I will be posting some of these recipes soon as well as other items I have been making lately.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

{My New Bread Machine}

I'm in love and I've fallen hard.  Matt has won himself some major points for bringing me home a new kitchen appliance!

So here I am standing in my kitchen at 6 in the morning love struck and making another loaf in my new bread machine.

I made the first last night and it turned out delicious! Even despite the fact that I was so impatient to try a loaf that I used the express bake setting. Thats right, 58 minutes to heaven. I was so in a hurry though that I forgot to take pictures to share. 

I'm making whole wheat now though and will be sharing the results soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

{Piping Hot Apple Crisp with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream}

I like to keep dessert simple on Thanksgiving.  A bit of Apple Crisp hits the spot without being overly sweet and fussy.  I like to throw mine together while the turkey is in the oven and bake right after dinner.

I appreciate a good apple pie, but a crisp allows you to skip the extra work of a pie dough.  Apples can also be a bit unpredictable as sometimes they are extra juicy and can result in a soggy crust - not a problem with a crisp.

My base recipe allows you to make the recipe as large or as small as you like, so feel free to whip up a single portion on a cold night. 

All amounts are per apple (I like granny smiths the best for this recipe)

For the filling:
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cornstarch
teeniest pinch of salt

For the crisp topping:
1 1/2 Tbl butter, softened
2 tsp brown sugar
2 Tbl oats
2 tsp flour

To assemble:

Peel, core and chop the apples.  Toss with the filling mixture and pour into casserole dish.

Mix the topping ingredients together and spread over the top.  Double the recipe for extra crisp.

Bake at 425 degrees for about a half an hour or until the apples are tender and the crisp is brown.  For an extra large crisp, allow extra time for baking.  The reverse will be true for an tiny portion.

I love to add a little homemade vanilla ice cream on top.  After all, it makes it a little easier to eat it right out of the oven as it cools the crisp down!


{Homemade Gravy}

I'm not quite sure why people buy the jars of gravy when it is so easy to make.  I think the easiest way to go is cornstarch.  With a few easy steps you have gravy in no time!

I like to add a little extra flavor to my gravy so I start with a quarter of an onion and a few sage leaves.

Add two cups of broth or stock.  I usually use chicken broth, but feel free to mix it up with turkey or anything else you like - whatever goes with your meal.
You can also add in some of your pan drippings and maybe even some of your bird innards for some extra flavor.

Let is all simmer together into a wonderfulness of flavor and in the meantime you can get your cornstarch mixture ready.

Two tablespoons cornstarch and a quarter cup of liquid.  
Decisions, decsions...use water, broth or milk, just make sure it is cold!  If its not cold the cornstarch will not incorporate and you will have lumpy gravy.

I like to shake mine together in a mason jar or tupperware container.

After simmering for about 15 minutes, remove the onion and sage.

Pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir as the mixture comes to a boil.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Continue to stir as the gravy thickens.
Keep in mind as the gravy cools it will thicken a bit more.
If the gravy is not thick enough for your liking, mix up some additional cornstarch mixture.

Pour into your gravy boat and enjoy!

Pretty simple right?  No more jars of gravy.

{Roasted Fall Vegetables}

This could be the simplest recipe on my Thanksgiving menu.  My roasted vegetable recipe has a rustic feel and is easy as can be!  The best part is that you can use any combo of veggies.  I like to use carrots and parsnips for Thanksgiving.

Start with your veggies of choice.

Peel them, chop them and toss them in a gallon zip-top bag.
Add a little olive oil, salt and pepper and Rosemary.
Feel free to complete the recipe to this point the night before or the morning/day of.

When you are ready, toss them on a baking sheet (lined with foil for easy cleanup) and bake anywhere from 350-450 degrees until they are tender, but not mushy - 15 to 30 minutes-ish depending on temperature and the size of your veggies.  The higher heat you use, the more the veggies will caramelize and develop additional flavor.

Pull them out.

Plate and serve, its just that simple.

I love the flexibility of a recipe like this because it works with whatever temperature your other dishes are cooking at in the oven.  {Enjoy!}

{Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey - Roasted Chicken Tutorial, too}

I'm skipping to the most important post of the Easiest Thanksgiving Menu.  This recipe is a bit more labor intensive than the menu items, but it should be expected when it is the centerpiece of the meal.

I'm sure it is becoming obvious that I love Alton Brown's recipes.  Yes, this is the third recipe of his that I am using for this menu, but I find his recipes to be very dependable.

The recipe for Alton's Good Eats Roast Turkey can be found here on the Food Network site.  There are also quite a few videos on the site from the episode in which he makes this recipe - very helpful.

Photo from

I decided to roast a chicken last weekend and thought it would be a good time to do a mini version of the recipe to show you the highlights of the process - we'll call it a bonus recipe.  I changed quite a few things from the original recipe, but it gives you an idea of the overall method.  I do stick pretty closely to his recipe for the turkey - with a few tweaks I will include at the end of this post.

Here is my chicken little.

I started by giving him a good shower with water and making sure that I had all of the innards out.

The first time I roasted a turkey (I mentioned this event in my first post with my Thanksgiving menu, and yes I skipped right over roasting a chicken before roasting a turkey so I was guessing) I was worried about leaving something in the turkey because it seemed to be the classic mistake.  When I called my dad he told me to look from the back end until I could see the light on the other end.  Thank goodness because I almost missed the neck which was tucked way in there!!! 

That is my reason for showing you a picture of the back end of a chicken...

Next, I prepped my brine.  I used the Good Eats Turkey recipe, but a smaller amount.
So, I have salt (please, do not use iodized salt, blah!), brown sugar, pepper corns and allspice berries (buy them in the Mexican spice section in the plastic bag - way cheaper)
I skipped the candied ginger because I didn't have any on hand, the recipe will be fine without it.

I also used water instead of vegetable broth this time.
You can see how milky the mixture looks from all the salt and sugar that has not dissolved.
Heat until they have dissolved completely.

This is what it should look like after they have dissolved.  You do not have to bring the mixture to a boil.  In fact, it will take longer to cool so I try to avoid overheating.   

Add some ice to the pot to help cool the brine down.  You don't want to put the brine over the chicken hot or you will create a breeding ground for yucky stuff like salmonella. 

When the mixture is cold, pour it over the chicken.  I put mine breast side down in a large bowl.  I use a 5 gallon bucket for my turkey, but this is a little overkill for my little chicken.

Fill with more water to cover, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and pop him into the fridge for a few hours.
While you are waiting, you can read about what brining does and how it works here.

Fast forward and I have set up my little assembly line for my bird.
Notice I covered the bottom of the pan with foil for easy cleanup.

I also have my twine, softened butter and a mix of spices I threw together (salt, pepper, paprika and garlic) ready.  I am varying from Alton's recipe a bit here as he just coats with oil here.  I wanted to add a little extra seasoning to my chicken.

Lift him out and give him a rinse.  Tongs work nicely.

I like to lift the skin all the way up to get down to the breast with the seasoning.  Rub him with butter and seasonings.

I really got in there, poor guy.

To keep the wings from overcooking, I fold them back.

He looks like he is chillaxin', waiting for his sun tan...

I seasoned the inside with some salt and pepper and tossed in some rosemary, onion and lemon.  I am mixing it up a bit from the turkey recipe, but again I wanted to show you the method.

A little twine to keep his legs from sticking out and overcooking.

And into the oven he goes.  A chicken usually takes about an hour and 20 minutes.  I check mine after about an hour.  The breast should reach 165, the legs should move around easily and the juices should be clear.  I pull mine out around 163 degrees because the bird will continue cooking after you pull him out.

Here he is all done.  Take him out and tent with foil.  If you do not allow the bird to rest, all of the juices will go running all over the place.  This is not good when you worked so hard to keep him moist.

I was hoping to eat some of our chicken (with the make ahead mashed potatoes that I made) and have some over a salad the next night.  Matt went a little crazy though and devoured a good portion of the chicken.  I guess it was good!

As for the Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe, a few notes from my experience making it:
  • For the brining, pick up a 5 gallon bucket and lid from the hardware store.  They are cheap and you know its clean!
  • I had a miserable time with the half sheet pan.  It is really hard to move around without spilling everything all over the place.  Instead, I will use a regular roasting pan and a high roasting rack to ensure the heat can move all around the bird.
  • Cranking the oven up to 500 degrees created a smoky mess as the juices from the bird hit the hot pan.  I think you could pick one of two options to prevent this.  
    • One, only start at 450 and stretch the time a bit longer to get the brown on the bird.  
    • Two, add a can of chicken broth to the bottom of the pan - only if you use a deeper roasting pan as opposed to the half sheet pan.
    • Feel free to mix the two methods.
  • You may also find you do not need the full 30 minutes of browning at the higher temperature, 20 minutes was enough for me.
  • Give him a spin.  I like to turn my bird halfway through cooking to prevent uneven cooking due to hot spots in the oven.
  • Leave plenty of time for the bird to cook.  My experience is that it always takes longer than expected.  Give yourself plenty of time as you can always pull the bird out early.  Trust me, it will stay plenty hot tented with foil and you can move on to finishing your side dishes in the oven.
  • In line with the tip above, remember that your bird will continue to cook when you remove it from the oven.  You should let it rest at least 20 minutes and count on the temperature increasing around 5 degrees.  Resting longer is just fine.
  • KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED!  This goes for all of the recipes you make. The more you open the door, the more you drop the temperature of the oven!  Keep it closed.  Its hard when you are stressed about getting things done in time, but opening the door to check only makes the process take longer.
  • Thermometers - Invest in a couple, or three...
    • One, an oven thermometer.  I have one that hangs from the rack in my oven at all times.  This helps to see what the temperature of the oven really is so you can adjust (or stop opening the door) accordingly.
    • Two, a thermometer for in the bird.  I have a digital one with a cord that stretches out of the oven and beeps when it reaches the desired temperature and it works great.  A regular, dial one that stays in the bird is just fine too.
    • Three, a backup, instant-read thermometer.  I like having a backup for a second opinion that I can check a couple of different spots.
  • Carefully place your thermometer.  I place my thermometer into the breast at an angle.  If you touch bone you will get a false read so avoid bone.  I double check around the thighs also with the instant-read when the breast is done.
And there you have it!  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.  Let me know if you have questions, I will do my best to answer them.  {Enjoy!}

Friday, November 18, 2011

{Autumn Apple Stuffing}

There are a lot of people that are not a fan of stuffing. I was one of them. I think the main reason was the texture...soggy, soggy stuffing. So, I would say my number one suggestion for stuffing is regulating the moisture. For this recipe, I use apples to do that.

Although this is a pretty basic stuffing you can certainly take the base and play around to swap out different breads (corn bread perhaps) and add additional ingredients (maybe some dried cranberries) to create your favorite mix. All the while keeping in mind the moisture level is key!

Here is how I make mine...

Start with butter. I like to use a couple of tablespoons. Keep in mind, this is essentially a bread dish...butter and bread are best friends, so don't be shy with the butter.

Next, I like to add carrots to my stuffing. One carrot, peeled and roughly chopped...

one onion, chopped...

two stalks of celery, chopped...

and an apple peeled and chopped. Again, this helps regular the moisture and adds a sweetness to the stuffing. I like to use fuji apples or granny smith for a little more zest.

You can play around with the spices to vary the flavor of your stuffing. The most basic is poultry seasoning which is a blend of sage, thyme, marjoram and rosemary. You can also use fresh herbs - I like to add some fresh sage. I'm adding a couple of teaspoons. 

In addition to your spices and herbs, season well with salt and pepper.

At this point, I cook all of the ingredients together until they are tender, but not mush.

When your veg is ready, mix with your bread. I'm using a bagged mix of bread (14 oz) because I'm reserving my stashed away bread heels and other goodies that I keep in a gallon ziplock in the freezer for Thanksgiving. Make sure that the bread is completely dried out.

Now, to add the broth. I add between 2 to 2 1/2 cups of broth depending on the moisture level. Add in some broth and mix it together. Give it a minute to soak in and then check the moisture level. Your bread should no longer be dry, but should not be soggy and there should be no extra liquid at the bottom of the bowl.

When you reach the consistency that you like, spoon the mixture into your casserole dish and cover with foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes to warm through.

Finally, the finished product.

I should address that this is actually "dressing" since it is not stuffed into the bird. I prefer cooking the stuffing dressing separately because of the moisture control of the method. I think it is much harder to control when it is in the bird. As for the turkey, I think that by using a brine and filling the bird with other ingredients like onion and herbs, it stays moist and flavorful sans stuffing.