Vegetable Soup

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The weather has not cooperated with my desire to make soup. After a freak snowstorm at the end of October, November has been a pretty pleasant month. We've had temperatures in the 60's for more days than I can keep track.

Tom is probably right though, when he says that for every nice day we have in November it means a horrendous day we'll have in February. Since I hate any type of precipitation that falls from the sky, I'm choosing to pretend that February is months and months away and I won't need to worry or think about it for a long time.

Ignoring Mother Nature and strange temperatures, I decided to make soup anyway. I'm sure I've mentioned it enough now that you know Tom isn't a fan of vegetables, right? Well, would you believe that he really likes vegetable soup? Yeah, I don't get it either.

However he did complain quite a bit when we were at the grocery store and I picked up Brussels sprouts. I told him they were going in the soup and it wasn't like he would taste them anyway. I also asked him the last time he had ever tried a Brussels sprout, which of course, he couldn't answer. Silly husband, vegetables won't hurt you.

Vegetable Soup
Source: PreventionRD, slightly adapted from My Kitchen Adventures
Yield: 8 servings
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Ingredients:
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tsp. olive oil
    • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
    • 32 oz. chicken stock
    • 1 tbsp. parsley
    • 1 tsp. thyme
    • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2 large carrots, peeled and coined
    • 2 stalks celery, diced
    • 1 cup Brussels sprouts, ends removed and quartered
    • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
    • 1 cup frozen green beans
    • 14 oz. diced tomatoes with juice
    • 10.75 oz (1 can) tomato soup, plus one can of water
    • 1/2 lemon, juiced
    • salt and pepper, to taste 
Directions:
1. In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is just soft.
2. Add the potatoes, chicken stock, parsley, thyme, red pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Add the carrots, celery, Brussels sprouts, corn and green beans. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
4. Mix in the tomato soup, water and lemon juice. Bring back to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add in salt and pepper to taste.

I did cut this recipe back a bit because the original makes 12 servings at 2 cups each. Since I have limited freezer space, I decided not to take it up with all this extra soup. I thought this was pretty good but next time I might use beef stock instead of chicken stock for a heartier flavor. Tom didn't notice the Brussels sprouts in the soup at all.

We ate this with toasted slices of Italian bread.

Liebster Award

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This morning I was emailed by Jaida of Sweet Beginnings to tell me that I'd been awarded the Liebster Award.


 Have you heard of this yet? It's an award given to bloggers who have under 200 followers but are on their way to many more. Being that this is my very first award, I'm rather excited! And its a great mood-lifter for a Monday after a 4 day weekend!


When I started this blog it was mostly just a place to keep track of my recipes, but it easily turned into one of my favorite things to do. I love writing and cooking so a blog was just a logical choice for me. And I won't lie, every time I see that I get a new follower or there is a comment on a post, I get a bit super giddy.

So thanks not only to Jaida for giving me the award but for all of my awesome followers! And since I can't resist any opportunity to pay it forward, here are 5 blogs that I'm giving the award to:


CONGRATULATIONS! I'm contacting the 5 of you to let you know! Please feel free to pass this on to 5 other bloggers out there with under 200 followers that you think are awesome!


Buttery Soft Dinner Rolls

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When rushing to prep as much as possible for Thanksgiving, there was a split second where I thought "I could just buy rolls..." followed immediately by another thought that I just couldn't do it.

Yeast used to be intimidating to me. I refused to go anywhere near it after a soft pretzel making mishap where my pretzels ended up resembling something you'd find on the ground of a dog park. But then, I got the Kitchenaid Mixer. I'd read enough to know that it can easily handle making bread. So I pushed aside my fears and tried it out. I've been hooked ever since.

Granted, I do still have issues with my dough not rising quite high enough, but I'll just blame that on impatience.

When I started my search for rolls, I knew I wanted something basic enough that it wouldn't take away from the rolls if I added sesame seeds, garlic powder, poppy seeds and onion powder to some of them. (My version of an everything roll.)


Buttery Soft Dinner Rolls
Source: Bakingdom
Yield: 20-24 rolls
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Ingredients:
    • 5 cups bread flour
    • 1 packet instant (rapid rise) yeast
    • 3 tbs. sugar
    • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces and slightly softened
    • 3/4 cup hot water
    • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
    • 2 eggs
    • garlic powder, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion powder (optional)

Directions:
1. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Stir to combine.
2. In a small bowl, light beat one egg and set aside.
3. In a large measuring cup, combine the hot water and butter pieces and stir until the butter has melted. Add the lukewarm water and the beaten egg and whisk until combined.
4. Pour the mixture into the stand mixer and and knead on medium speed for about 10 minutes. The dough shouldn't stick to your hands or the bowl. Add flour as necessary.
5. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
6. Line two baking sheets with sil-pats. Once the dough has risen, divide it into 20-24 2 ounce balls. Place on the baking sheet and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise for one hour or until doubled in size.
7. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water. Brush over the dough. Sprinkle dough with any toppings if desired. Bake for 18 minutes or until lightly browned.

These were definitely the perfect little dinner roll for Thanksgiving. Everyone enjoyed them. I definitely plan on making them again.

Thanksgiving Recap and Weekly Menu 11/26 - 12/1

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I'm a bit behind on where I thought I'd be by the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Plan A: Wednesday - use a vacation day. Make the dinner rolls, chocolate caramel shortbread bars and cranberry sauce. Super clean the entire apartment. Thursday - appetizers at 1:30, dinner at 3. Go to Walmart at 9:30 for the Black Friday sales. Friday - decorate for Christmas, make a Thanksgiving recap post, do some homework. Saturday and Sunday - finish college class, catch up on blog, relax.

When my vacation request email was ignored, I moved onto Plan B: Weekend before Thanksgiving: make dinner rolls and the shortbread part of the chocolate caramel shortbread bars. Wednesday - super clean the entire apartment. Thursday - make cranberry sauce and then follow the rest of Plan A.

What Really Happened: I did end up making the dinner rolls and chocolate caramel shortbread bars the weekend before. I followed my Thanksgiving list in regards to prep for Tuesday. Wednesday however, is where my plans went to hell. Tom and I picked up fast food for dinner on the way home. After eating, I cleaned and vacuumed the living room and dining room. Then I cut up all of the potatoes for the mashed potatoes. Then I parked my ass on the couch and refused to move. Knowing I still had a ton of things to do, I decided I could at least feel better if I made a list with a time line to keep me on track. I only had a full sheet of notebook paper listing what needed to be done.

Thanksgiving: I grudgingly woke up when my alarm for work went off. At 5:30 AM.  I actually did a pretty good job of following my list exactly and getting everything done in the time frames until around 10 AM. Then I just didn't feel like doing anything anymore. But a quick look in the mirror reminded me that it wouldn't be nice to scare my guests (even if they are family) by looking like a crazy person splattered with potato starch liquid, pink stained fingers from the cranberry sauce and Medusa hair. So I hauled my ass into the shower. Refreshed, I managed to get everything done before anyone showed up.

Everyone chowed down on the appetizers and everything was good until 2:30 when I started getting everything else together for dinner. I forgot one small part about Thanksgiving. When my uncle carves a turkey, he doesn't just carve off each for us to eat, he completely cleans the turkey down to the bones. Which takes about an hour. Somewhere around 4:30 we ended up eating. Oops. It was around 7:30 before everyone left. At 9:30 we ventured out to Wal-Mart to pick up the two things we needed. It wasn't anywhere near a mad house. I love living in the middle of no where.
[salted caramel chocolate shortbread bars]*

Friday: I really did have every intent of getting the apartment decorated and getting some homework done, but Tom commented on how unseasonably warm it was and that made him not want a tree. The bed also looked really comfortable so I hung out there all day with my Kindle.

Yesterday was a bit more productive. We went to the grocery store and planned for a mini-Thanksgiving again for just us today. I managed to complete my accounting class two weeks early. WOO HOO! We had vegetable soup for dinner, pulled out all of the decorations and were generally just lazy.

We really should get the tree today since I'm pretty concerned on how the kitten is going to react to it. She already likes climbing over the totes and bags of decorations. We really should have gotten it early so we could see how she would be around it. Oh well.

And now onto the menu for this week.

Saturday - Vegetable Soup 

Sunday - (Mini-Thanksgiving) Turkey Breast, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, Corn, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce and Rolls 

Monday - Apricot Pork with Baked Potatoes and Green Beans 

Tuesday - Pineapple Chicken Stir Fry

Wednesday - Beef Fajitas

Thursday - Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup 

Friday - either leftovers or whatever Tom plans to make 

I hope you all had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving and didn't deal with too many crazy people out there for the great sales on Thursday evening and Friday morning! 

*My caramel didn't turn out for the salted caramel chocolate shortbread bars and my attempts to use something else just ended up in a big mess. I won't be posting this recipe until I'm able to get it right.*

27 Things About Me

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When I'm reading someone's blog, I always like the little stories or comments they include about their life. I'm a naturally nosy person and like to know about people without outright asking them. Those little stories and comments satisfy my inner nosiness. Please tell me I'm not alone in this.

I'm going to assume I'm not the only person like this and tell you random things about me.

1. When I was a kid my eyes were hazel. When I was 13, I went through a very vain phase where I'd look in the mirror and say "I wish my eyes were green" every day. My eyes are now green. I'm pretty sure it didn't happen because of my wishes though.

2. I'm vertically challenged; as in I'm 5'1 3/4. My husband finds it amusing that I have to stand a distance away from the fridge to see on top of it.
[source: funnytshirtssayit.com]

3. I love writing. When I was younger I constantly wrote short stories and poems.

4. I am probably the least athletic person you'll ever meet, but I can more than likely kick your arse in flip cup and beer pong. <--- just don't ask me to drink the beer. That's what teammates are for.

 [source: allbackgrounds.com]

5. I am not ashamed to admit that I frequently read chick lit and young adult books. I read so much and so quickly that my brain isn't always interested in something thats challenging.

6. My favorite color is teal.

7. I know almost every word in three movies: The Grinch Whole Stole Christmas (cartoon version), A League of Their Own, and You've Got Mail.
 [all images from Google]
8. Caramel is better than chocolate.

9. The ocean is extremely calming to me. My dream vacation would be to lie on a beach reading a book with someone fetching me drinks and reminding me to add sunscreen. If I can't retire near the water, I will be one cranky person.
[source: photoatlas.com]

10. I won the spelling bee in 6th grade with the word "antidisestablishmentarianism".

11. I'm an only child.

12. I often find myself thinking about what would be different in my life or in others lives if they hadn't done one thing. As in, if I hadn't worked at X place would I have done Y.

13. I 100% believe the statement "everything happens for a reason".

14. Going to see Jason and Grant from Ghost Hunters is one of the coolest things I've ever done. Which also means I believe in ghosts.
[source: areghostsreal.org]

15. OCD-like tendencies: I have them. Things either need to be alphabetized, lined up by size or in neat stacks. Series must go in order from first to last. No exceptions. I have to do routine things in a certain order or I feel like I'm forgetting something. I color-code almost everything.

16. Is my favorite number.

17. I love cooking and baking for other people. In my dream world, I'd have monthly parties where I could serve five course dinners to at least 8 people.

18. I've designed my dream home in my head right down to the decorations. I'm probably going to be pretty disappointed if I never get to live in a house like it.
19. I feel most comfortable in the kitchen.

20. I've wanted to be a teacher, writer, dream psychologist, genetic engineer and a magazine editor. However, I'm a financial controller.

21. The one food I make that I feel completely confident in bragging about is risotto. I've never thought it was difficult nor do I stand there the entire time stirring.

22. I'm left handed. I also have the ability to write in mirror-images; as in my left hand writes a word backward while my right hand writes the same word going forward. It easier for me to do this on chalkboards or dry erase boards than on paper.
 [I didn't say I could write neatly like this, but I can do it.]

23. I don't possess the natural buoyancy in water that most people do. It doesn't help that I can't swim very well.

24. I am extraordinarily squeamish. I can't see, hear or talk about blood or anything gross without a 50% chance of fainting.

25. I am extremely impressed anytime someone spells my first name right on the first try. It's Nichole. That h confuses more people than I care to admit.

26. The only song I will sing for karaoke alone is I Love Rock and Roll. I can't sing at all. However, 2-3 years worth of Saturday's in my life were spent at a local bar singing karaoke with my friends.

27. Is the age I will turn on April 10th.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about me. :-)

Two Days until Turkey Day

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Since its a short week, I figured a weekly menu was kind of pointless. But because I wanted to post something, I figured I'd give you a little update on my life and where I am with our Thanksgiving plans.

To put it mildly, last week was incredibly unpleasant and stressful. Gidget is my 9 year old cat. I've had her since she was a kitten. Back in October we bought a new kitten. The kitten likes Gidget, but Gidget doesn't really like the kitten. So last Monday I noticed that it didn't look like Gidget ate or drank anything. The same thing happened on Tuesday so I scheduled an appointment at the vet for her.

Wednesday evening we took her in and she ended up staying until Friday afternoon. My poor baby was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She was on fluids but was refusing to eat so the vet recommended we bring her home, thinking she would eat here. Do you have pet insurance? If not, I HIGHLY recommend you get it. I don't even want to talk about how much money this 2.5 stay cost us. If we had pet insurance for her, it would have been around $200.

Anyway, Tom brought home Gidget on Friday afternoon. We had to give her an appetite stimulator (pill) and a laxative (gel paste). Have you ever tried for force feed a cat? It's by far one of the most unpleasant things I've ever done. The bite and scratch marks on my hands and arms are proof. Finally by Saturday afternoon, she was eating, drinking and peeing in her litter box. Unfortunately, that was it. I kept asking her to please go use her litter box, but she wasn't having it. Gidget also seems to hate us now; we can't even get close to her or she'll put her ears back and start flapping around her tail. I can only hope she gets over it soon.

This morning, after noticing she still hadn't used her litter box, I randomly decided to move it to another part of the bathroom. Within 5 minutes she had came in and used it. This is why I wish pets could talk. I'm crossing my fingers that when we get home today she'll have continued to eat, drink and use the litter box. I really don't want to take her back to the vet.

Did I ever mention I'm allergic to Gidget? I didn't use to be, but sometime around March my allergies went insane and now I'm allergic to damn near everything. Dirt, dust, dander, grass, pollen, ragweed, trees, plants, and anything with hair. So guess what holding down a cat who sheds when irritated causes? Allergy-induced pink eye. I'm really hoping my allergist can call in eye drops for me tonight so I don't look diseased on Thanksgiving!

Which leads me to my next topic: Thanksgiving. In the midst of everything this weekend, I still managed to get some prep work done. We visited the orchard and I picked up butternut squash for the roasted vegetables. I planned to get everything else there (baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potatoes) but I just couldn't justify $3.29 per head of broccoli or $2.29 per pound of sweet potatoes. I'm going to hit up the farmers market by work first thing in the morning tomorrow.

So on Sunday, I cut up the butternut squash, made the dinner rolls and froze them and made 3/4 of the dessert. I just need to add the chocolate layer and I'm done. I probably won't get anything else done tonight since I have a doctor's appointment after work.

Tomorrow I'm planning on cutting up the rest of the veggies, finishing the dessert, making the cranberry sauce and possibly peeling/cubing the potatoes. My vacation day for Wednesday was never approved :( so I'm trying to get as much done before then since I'll more than likely be cleaning all night.

Just in case you're curious as to what we're eating for dinner this week, tonight is leftover Maryland Crab Soup, tomorrow is pizza and Wednesday is fend for yourself.

Hope your Thanksgiving planning is going well!


Recipe Swap: Pierogi and Kielbasa Bake

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The Recipe Swap category this time was one-dish meals. When I read that, I realized I don't make very many one-dish meals. I have no idea why. When I think of a one-dish meal, I think of something that can be easily popped into the oven or cooked over the stove on a weeknight after work. I'm assuming this appeals to quite a few people. So, if you're interested in one dish meals, could you comment and let me know? Or actually just comment on anything you'd like me to make. I'm curious!

Anyway, the recipe I received for this swap was Pierogi and Kielbasa Bake from Christine of Christine's Kitchen Chronicles. She adapted her recipe from Lemons and Love. When I saw this recipe it immediately reminded me of the Bacon Pierogi Bake recipe that was all over the blog world a couple of months ago. A minute or two of research made me realize that duh, it was the same recipe. Which then confused me a bit because I remember making the recipe and I could have sworn I blogged it, but its no where to be found. Strange...

Pierogi and Kielbasa Bake 
Slightly Adapted From: Christine's Kitchen Chronicles, via Lemons and Love, from Cooking Light
Serves 3-4
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Ingredients:
    • 1 32 oz. bag frozen pierogies
    • 1 lb. kielbasa, cut into bite sized pieces
    • 1 red pepper, chopped
    • 1 cup green beans, chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 4 oz. cream cheese
    • 3/4 cup chicken broth
    • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp. olive oil 
    • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400. Spray two 9x13 baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray. Divide the pierogi between the dishes in a single layer.
2. In a medium sized skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the kielbasa, red pepper and green beans. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until the vegetables are slightly soft and the kielbasa is browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
3. Add the cream cheese and stir constantly until it has melted. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper and stir until combined.
4. Pour the mixture over the pierogi and sprinkle the cheese on top.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until heated through and the cheese has melted.

Yum! This was a really filling meal. Usually I can eat about 6 pierogi if I boil then brown them. With the added veggies and cheese, I could barely eat 4! And the real shocker - Tom said he really liked it with the veggies included!

Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls

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A couple of days ago on a message board I read quite frequently, someone mentioned that they were having Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls as appetizers for their wedding. Usually I'm not a huge fan of anything that needs to be fried, but my love of egg rolls and cheesesteaks won out and I knew I needed to make these immediately.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it or I just assumed it was implied, but I rarely ever cook dinner on Saturday. While I may spend hours in the kitchen baking, I consider it my one "off" day from cooking. But, the menu was already planned for the week and I couldn't wait to make these, so I gave up my off day to try them out!

A quick Google search results in quite a few different variations of the recipe. Since I had an extra red and green pepper hanging out in the fridge, I decided to use Guy Fieri's recipe as an inspiration.

Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls
Inspired by: Guy Fieri
Servings: 8
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Ingredients:
    • 10 slices Steak-Umms
    • 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
    • 1 green pepper, thinly sliced
    • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
    • 4 slices American cheese, broken into pieces
    • 4 slices Provolone cheese, broken into pieces
    • 16 spring roll (or egg roll) wrappers
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tbs. milk
    • canola oil, for frying
    • 1 tbs. olive oil 
Dipping Sauce:
    • 2 tbs. Chipotle or Southwest mustard
    • 1 tsp. ketchup
    • 1 tsp. honey

Directions:
1. Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the red pepper, green pepper and onion. Saute for about 10 minutes, just until the vegetables are soft.
2. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Break up the Steak-Umm slices and add to the pan. Stir frequently until cooked through. Scoot the meat to the side of the pan and spray the remaining pan with non-stick cooking spray. Return the vegetables to the pan and add the cheese. Lower the heat to low and stir frequently until the cheese has melted.
3. Place a colander over a bowl and scoop the filling into the colander. Shake a few times to let the excess oil drain to the bowl. Season the filling with salt and pepper.
4. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and milk.
5. Lay a spring roll wrapper with a corner facing you so it makes a diamond shape. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the filling mixture into the bottom portion of the spring roll wrapper. Fold the corner closest to you up to the filling and then take both sides and fold them in. Use a pastry brush to dab a small amount of the egg mixture onto the remaining corner of the spring roll. Take the filled portion of the spring roll and roll it up to the remaining corner. Press down lightly to seal.
6. Place another spring roll in front of you in a diamond shape. Brush all of the edges of the spring roll with the egg wash. Place the previously rolled roll into the center of this wrapper. Fold the bottom corner up, fold in each side and roll to meet the top corner. Repeat with remaining rolls.
7. Fill a large pan with 1-2 inches of canola oil. Heat over medium heat.
8. Meanwhile, in a small dish, add the ingredients for the dipping sauce and stir well to combine.
9. Once the oil is hot, use tongs to gently place the spring rolls into the oil. Fry until golden brown on all sides. Work in batches if your pan is not large enough.
10. Transfer the spring rolls to a paper towel lined plate and blot to remove excess oil. Cut on the bias and serve immediately with dipping sauce.


For someone who isn't a big fan of fried foods, these were awesome! Tom, the resident vegetable hater said he wouldn't mind them with just meat and cheese, so no surprises there. The flavors of the peppers and onion didn't come through too strongly so I don't know what he's talking about. :-)

If you like your cheesesteak super cheesy, I'd recommend doubling the amount of cheese. Personally, as a cheese-a-holic, I didn't think it was nearly enough.

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Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

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When this recipe popped up in my Google reader, I knew I needed to make them. I have a bit of an...lets just call it an obsession with cream cheese. I could easily just eat spoonful after spoonful of it. Know why I love bagels for breakfast? Because they are the perfect vessel to transport the cream cheese into my stomach.

I did have to make some slight adjustments to this recipe, mostly because I ran out of oil and because I only have one muffin pan and I'm too impatient to cook in batches.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Barely Adapted from: Cooking with Chrissy, via Annie's Eats, as seen on BakeSpace
Yield: 24 cupcake sized muffins + 6 muffin sized muffins
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Ingredients:
           Filling:
    • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
    • 1 cup confectioners sugar
    Topping:
    • 5 tbsp. flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
    Muffins:
    • 2 cups pure pumpkin
    • 2 cup sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 3/4 cup applesauce
    • 3 cups all purpose flour
    • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
    • 1 tsp. baking soda
    • 1 tsp. salt

Filling Directions:
1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and confections sugar until combined.
2. Spoon the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and roll into a 1 1/2 inch log. Freeze for at least two hours but preferably overnight.
Topping Directions:
1. Add the flour, cinnamon and sugar into a medium sized bowl. Stir to combine. Cut in the pieces of butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigeration until ready to use.
Muffin Directions:
1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the pumpkin, sugar, eggs, vegetable oil and applesauce. Mix on low-speed until incorporated and then increase speed to medium.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, add the flour, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Whisk until combined.
3. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the dry ingredients. Once incorporated, increase to medium speed and mix until blended.
4. Preheat the oven to 350. Line 2 cupcake pans and one muffin pan with paper liners.
5. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cupcake pan and 2 tablespoons into the muffin pan.
6. Remove the cream cheese filling from the freezer and quickly 24 3/4 inch slices and 6 1 inch slices. Place the 3/4 inch slices into the cupcake pans and the 1" slices into the muffin pan.
7. Use the remaining pumpkin mixture to spoon on top of the cream cheese, making sure the cream cheese is covered.
8. Remove the topping from the fridge and sprinkle about 1 tbs. of the mixture into each muffin.
9. Bake for 25 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool.

Oh, these are delicious! Pumpkin and cream cheese is an amazing combination! Since I have essentially 30 muffins, I'm debating on bringing them into work to share, but I'm not really sure the selfish cream cheese lover in me can part with these. Maybe if I put a note up next to them saying "1000's of calories" it will convince me that I should share their awesomeness instead of devouring them on my own.

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Weekly Menu 11/12 - 11/17

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What a busy weekend! I haven't received confirmation from my boss that I can take off the day before Thanksgiving yet. If I can't, I'm really worried that I'm not going to get everything done in time since I'm almost done with my college classes too.

Since the appetizers I'm making for Thanksgiving (pumpkin bisque and cranberry ricotta gnocchi) can be made ahead of time and frozen, I spent a bit of time in the kitchen this weekend making them.

On Friday someone on a message board I read mentioned that they are having Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls as appetizers for their wedding. Does that not sound absolutely wonderful? I already had the menu planned for this week but I couldn't pass up a chance to make those! So I went against my usual no-cooking-on-Saturday rule and made them for dinner. They were awesome! I'll have a post up for them soon!

Here's the menu for this week:

Saturday - Philly Cheesesteak Spring Rolls 

Sunday - recipe swap meal!


Monday - Creamy Mushroom and Roasted Cauliflower Soup 

Tuesday - Tailgate Sliders and Fries


Wednesday - Chicken and Pasta with Asiago Cream Sauce

Thursday - Spicy Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans 


Friday - fend for yourself

Tom's friend Scott is coming to visit us on Friday and will be here through the weekend. I probably should be a good hostess and cook that night but there's a much higher chance that we'll end up getting pizza.

I didn't manage to get any baking done last weekend so I'm making pumpkin cheesecake muffins and caramel apple risotto. Recipes to come soon!

Review: Celebrity Kitchens

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Back in the spring Tom's brother and girlfriend (now wife!) bought us gift certificates to a place called Celebrity Kitchens for our birthdays.

I had never heard of it before, but Celebrity Kitchens is basically like being on the set of a live cooking show. The chef prepares a meal, giving you tips along the way and then you get to eat. They also offer hands on classes where you actually get to prepare the meal with the chef. For someone like me, this ranks in my top 5 coolest things ever.

I looked on their calendar trying to find a hands on class on the weekend that I thought we both would enjoy. It turns out most of their hands on classes are during the week and I was worried we'd be too rushed after work to get there on time. I placed the gift certificate in the drawer and ended up forgetting about it for a while.

I was going through that drawer not too long ago and came across the certificate. I hopped on their website to see what meals they were offering. Magically they were offering an amazing sounding meal on a Saturday. I immediately made reservations.

So last Saturday Tom and I went there. I really wish I would have remembered my camera. Its a small room, about the size of your standard living room with an open kitchen and about 9 tables facing the kitchen. We had chef Scott Clarke. He's really entertaining, offers great tips and even cooks for the Philadelphia Eagles on a regular basis!

Our menu on Saturday consisted of:
Starter:
 Lobster Cakes with Champagne Butter Sauce
Salad Course:
 Autumn Salad with Roasted Pears and Walnuts
Main Course:
Herb-Crusted Beef Tenderloin stuffed with Wild Mushrooms
served with Asparagus with Roasted Shallot Pancetta Vinaigrette and Bleu Cheese Souffle
Dessert:
Individual Ricotta Cheesecakes with Chocolate Crumb Crust
The food was absolutely delicious! The lobster cake had crab meat and shrimp in it too and the sauce was lick-your-plate clean unbelievable. Tom doesn't even like salads but he managed to take a few bites of this one, mostly because of the roasted pears and caramel coated pecans. We also got to watch Chef Clarke make the vinaigrette for the salad by hand. I've never made my own salad dressing and it was definitely easier than I thought! Its impossible to mess up a filet but this was to die for. Chef Clarke used a whole tenderloin and pan seared it than roasted it in the oven for 3 hours at 200 degrees. I need to try this! There was a demi-glace on the beef which leaked onto the asparagus and get this...TOM ATE THEM! All 5 cute little asparagus stalks. I'm beyond impressed. Neither of us are big bleu cheese fans, but the souffle was great, the cheese flavor came through but wasn't overpowering at all. I've never had a cheesecake make with ricotta but I thought that was great as well. The ricotta really cuts down on the sweetness of the cream cheese and makes the cake fluffier instead of dense.

We were seated with a nice couple from PA who even asked for me for my blog site to check out my recipes! The best part about dinner...you get a packet of all of the recipes made that evening. I can't wait to try these out! 

I also can't wait to go back. It averages $50 per person which is slightly expensive, but considering you get 3 glasses of wine, it ends up pretty close to what you'd spend at a regular restaurant with drinks.

Disclaimer: Whatever wording you're supposed to put here that means I wasn't paid or asked to write this for Celebrity Kitchens and the comments above are solely my own.

Thanksgiving Menu & Planning

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Tom and I finally decided what we're doing for Thanksgiving. We're not ready to leave the cats home alone together for extended periods of time, so we're just going to stay home for Thanksgiving.

Of course this means I instantly went into planning mode. The apartment needs to be cleaned, the menu prepared, a time chosen, family deciding what they're making, etc. If you're extremely detail oriented like me, this is where you start making lists.

In case you're interested, here is a master list of everything!

The To-Do List:

The most important part on that list (to me) is selecting the menu. Obviously there would be turkey, but what else? I really wish that we had a large dining room table so we could have appetizers, a soup course, a salad course and so on with everyone sitting in one spot. Unfortunately that's not the case so I end up getting a bit creative on how to serve different items.
The Menu
Appetizers: 
 Cheese and Veggie Tray
Pumpkin Bisque with Smoked Gouda Shooters
Main:
Oven Roasted Turkey
Side Dishes:
Crock Pot Cheesy Garlic and Chive Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Carrots, Broccoli, Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sweet Potatoes
Stuffing
Bread, Butter and Sauces:
Dinner Rolls - half plain, half everything
Gravy
Dessert:
Pumpkin Pie
Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

I don't have the right amount of shot glasses for the pumpkin bisque shooters so I need to go out and buy those. I also don't have enough small bowls to serve the gnocchi in since its an appetizer. I found the shot glasses and small bowls at Ikea. I just need to stop by there and pick them up.

Once I figured out the menu, I was easily able to determine what to pass off to family members. Last year my aunt offered to make the turkey because she gets a huge one free from work. I lent her my roasting pan and we were good to go. We're going to do the same thing this year. Which brings me to my third list. 

What Family Members are Making/Bringing 
Mom -  pumpkin pie and veggie tray
Aunt - turkey, stuffing, apple pie
Cousin - drinks

Since hosting a holiday meal for 10+ people can get a little expensive, it does help to pass off some recipes to family members. Another helpful tip is to write down every ingredient you need for each recipe. Go through and cross off what you currently have in your pantry/fridge/freezer. Then (if possible) separate out the ingredients you can purchase ahead of time so you don't end up with a really large grocery bill a few days before Thanksgiving (or more importantly, before you go Black Friday shopping).

Grocery Store List


Sticking with the menu, the next list I make specifies what to make ahead of time and when. The absolute last thing you want to do is spend the day before Thanksgiving cooking and cleaning for hours. Believe me, I did it the first year and I'm still kicking myself in the ass for it. Its just too exhausting. 

Preparing Ahead of Time 


And now for the really fun (/sarcasm) list - cleaning! Just because I'm usually slightly overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done, I write down all of my regular cleaning along with any extra things that I want to do to prepare for guests. This way I won't forget anything.

Cleaning List (click to enlarge)

Are you sick of reading different lists yet? There's only one more...

 The Day of Checklist / Timeline
All times are approximate and each time list is when the task should be completed by
8 am - wake up, feed cats, usual morning routine
9 am - boil potatoes for mashed potatoes, transfer herbed butter to butter dish to soften
10 am - any last minute cleaning, put out any serving plates, make sure enough beverages are in the fridge, transfer the potatoes to the crock pot 
11 am - shower and get dressed
1:20 pm - put out cheese and veggie appetizer
1:30 pm - family starts to arrive
1:45 pm - heat up soup and cook gnocchi
2 pm - serve soup and gnocchi, put vegetables into pan for roasting
2:30 pm - start gravy and cranberry sauce, get out dinner plates
2:45 pm - warm up rolls (and anything else), start carving turkey
3 pm - serve dinner
3:30 - 4 pm - serve dessert
5-6 pm - family goes home, clean up and take nap
9:30 pm - head to Walmart for Black Friday sales

Within a week or so after Thanksgiving I plan to have all of the recipes not previously blogged up for everyone. I hope this helps you plan out hosting your Thanksgiving Feast!

Cranberry Ricotta Gnocchi

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As soon as my Thanksgiving Taste of Home magazine arrived, I immediately began looking through it for recipes. Since I wasn't a fan of Thanksgiving foods for so many years, I'm playing a bit of catch up trying to make and try everything I missed out on for so long.

The magazine didn't disappoint and provided me with two recipes I knew I needed to make right away if I wanted to serve them on Thanksgiving. I still don't even know what our plans our for Thanksgiving, but I planned out a menu anyway. (I'll post that later this week if you're interested)

Gnocchi was something that I tried for the first time this year. To be honest, I'd never heard of it before. Last year I had two coworkers talk about getting it from a restaurant that was near where they lived. I finally looked it up and saw that it was just pasta made with potatoes. Duh, Nichole. So when I began following the Closet Cooking blog and found his super easy recipe for gnocchi, I had to make it!

Tom and I instantly fell in love with it, my aunt watched intently as I made it for her and even my picky mother ate it. I consider that pretty successful. I was a bit hesitant with this recipe though since it uses ricotta cheese instead of potatoes and I'm not a huge ricotta fan.

Cranberry Ricotta Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sauce
Slightly Adapted from: Taste of Home, November 2011 
Servings: 6-8 people
Printer Friendly 

Ingredients:
Gnocchi:
    • 2 cups ricotta cheese
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • 3/4 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
    Brown Butter Sauce:
    • 1 stick unsalted butter
    • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
    • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped 
    • 2 tbs. sage
    • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
1. Fill a large pot halfway with water. Heat over medium.
2. In a large bowl, combine all of the gnocchi ingredients until it forms into a ball. Lightly flour a surface and roll the dough through the flour. Knead 12 times. Separate the dough into 3-5 equally sized pieces. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
3. On a floured surface, roll the dough into 1" logs. Cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Use a fork to lightly press down on the dough, making indentations.
4. Bring the water to a boil. Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. Top the cooling rack with paper towels or a clean dish towel.
5. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches and transfer with a slotted spoon to the cooling rack once the gnocchi floats to the top, 30-60 seconds. Repeat until all of the gnocchi are cooked. 
6. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sage, salt and pepper and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add in the cranberries and walnuts and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the first batch of gnocchi and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the gnocchi are lightly browned. Repeat with remaining batches of gnocchi and serve immediately.

*If you want to make the gnocchi ahead of time, stop at Step 3. Place the gnocchi on a baking sheet and freeze 1-2 hours. Transfer the gnocchi into a freezer bag.

My hesitation wasn't warranted at all. Tom ate two little gnocchi bites and told me that it was absolutely wonderful and I could make this recipe again as many times as I wanted. Rarely do I ever make something he likes THAT much. Also, as you can see, the walnuts are optional. :-)

Secret Recipe Club: Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits

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Whew! I sure did cut it close with getting this recipe done in time! I attempted to make it last weekend, figuring they were calling for snow (grrr!) but right in the middle of making it, the power went out for 5 HOURS! Of course I used the last of the carrots and potatoes on the original recipe so I couldn't make it again until I bought more.

For the Secret Recipe Club this month I was assigned Holly's blog PheMOMenon. Considering she's the mother of three and wife to a skydiver, I'd definitely consider her a phenomenal mom! I can't imagine what type of interesting stuff goes on at her house! When I first looked through her blog, I immediately found some recipes I wanted to make. I originally planned to make them all and have them all post this week, but that just didn't turn out. I'm pretty sad I didn't get a chance to try her caramel apple rice pudding, chocolate biscotti or ciabatta bread but hey, at least they're on my list to make in the future!

For months, Tom has asked me to make chicken pot pie. Honestly, I didn't think I would like it so I kept putting it off and telling him I forgot about if after he saw the menu for the week. So when I found chicken pot pie on Holly's blog, I knew it was just the push I needed to finally make it and to make Tom happy. Of course when Tom saw the recipe called for biscuits, not a pie crust he said it wouldn't be real chicken pot pie. I  stuck my tongue out at him, rolled my eyes smiled and told him that he'd get over it.

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits 
Slightly Adapted From: PheMOMenon
Servings: 4-6
Printer Friendly

Ingredients:
    • 9 buttermilk biscuits, baked for 10 minutes at 425
    • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
    • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
    • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
    • 1 1/4 cup water, divided
    • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
    • 1 can corn, rinsed and drained
    • 1 cup frozen peas
    • 1/4 cup cornstarch
    • 1 chicken bouillon cube
    • 1/2 tsp. parsley
    • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400. In a medium saucepan, add the potatoes and cover with salt. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook the potatoes for 10-15 minutes or until fork tender.
2. Drain the potatoes, reserving at least 2 cups of the cooking water. Transfer the potatoes to a 9x13 baking dish and spread evenly in the dish.
3. In another medium saucepan, add the chicken stock and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then add the chicken pieces. Cook for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, spread the chicken over the potatoes in the baking dish.
4. Pour the reserved potato water into the saucepan with chicken cooking liquid. Heat on low.
5. In another medium saucepan (or rinse and use the one from the potatoes), add the carrots and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the canned corn and frozen peas and add more water to cover if necessary. Bring back to a boil and continue to cook for 5-7 minutes more or until the carrots are fork tender but not mushy. Drain all liquid and spread the vegetable mixture on top of the chicken and potatoes in the baking dish.
6. Increase the heat of the reserved cooking liquid to high and add the chicken bullion cube. Whisk until it has dissolved. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup of water until a slurry forms. Once the chicken liquid is boiling, pour in the cornstarch/water mixture, whisking constantly.
7. Season with parsley, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes. The mixture should thicken into a gravy.
8. Pour the gravy into the baking dish, spreading it around to make sure everything is coated. Place the biscuits on top.
9. Place the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet (in case it bubbles over) and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly and the biscuits are golden brown.
10. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

I needed to get some homework done so I ate dinner in another room from Tom. When I came out to put my plate in the sink, he said "You can make that again." I looked at the dish and all that was left was a biscuit and about a tablespoon of vegetables. I think that explains just how much we liked the dish!

So much for him not wanting it with biscuits! And so much for me having leftovers for lunch the next day. I was really looking forward to that! I guess I'll just have to make it again.






Weekly Menu 11/6 - 11/11

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I'm feeling unusually un-chatty so I'll just get right to the menu.

Sunday - Secret Recipe Club 

Monday - Crab Cakes over Risotto with Asparagus

Tuesday - Chili Pasta Bake

Wednesday - Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Thursday - Beef Stir Fry

Friday - Buffalo Chicken Sliders

Other things I plan on making this week: pumpkin cream cheese muffins, salted caramel apple slices and breakfast muffins

Beef Mushroom Barley Soup

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Most people use the first day of fall on their calendars to tell them that its the first day of fall. I use the first three consecutive days where I can no longer wear flip flops without my toes freezing to finally concede that summer has left me once again.

I think fall is an okay season. I just hate that its followed by winter with cold winds and that evil white stuff that falls from the sky. But since we have a bit of time before that happens (hopefully!), I pretend its not happening and focus on making soup. Last year I made quite a few different soups and unfortunately the warmer weather snuck up on me before I could make all of the ones I wanted. 

Beef Mushroom Barley Soup
Slightly Adapted from: Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Elly says Opa!
Yield: 6-8 cups
Printer Friendly

Ingredients:
    • 1 lb. stew meat
    • 1 tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup red wine
    • salt and pepper
    • 2 tbsp. butter
    • 3 carrots, peeled and coined
    • 3 stalks celery, diced
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 6 cups beef broth
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 tsp. thyme
    • 1 tsp. basil
    • 3/4 cup barley
    • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

Directions:
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the stew meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pot and cook until browned.
2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the water and red wine. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until at least 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid remains.
3. Remove the beef and cut into bite sized pieces. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and discard the rest.
4. Melt the butter in the pot. Add the carrots, celery and onions and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring frequently, just until the garlic is fragrant.
5. Add the beef broth, water, beef, bay leaf, thyme, basil and salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved cooking liquid and simmer for 30 minutes.
6. Add the mushrooms and barley and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

This is one of those soups that will draw people from anywhere to come find out what that delicious smell is! Tom and I both really enjoyed it. If you're not a big fan of the hearty beef broth flavor, I'd suggest using half water and half beef broth.
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