200th post!

It's our 200th post!! Cheers to good food and learning our way around the kitchen. We don't have a recipe for this post but a few cutesie animal photos and a small request. First, the request:

Take our survey! [click here] Hopefully in the next month or so you'll notice a few changes. We've got some loose plans to alter a few things and make other things better. We'd like your input to make things even better and cater to our readers (we do have some, right?). There's only three questions so it won't take up too much of your time.

Now on to the cutesie photos! We were surrounded by lots of puppy and kitty (and goldfish) love this Christmas. Each picture will have a caption explaining its love!

Lucky the Goldfish
Lucky is almost 1 1/2 years old and a nice, healthy goldfish that likes to eat and grow! Since he has grown so much Santa brought him a new aquarium for Christmas. It's not quite done so we'll have to post a new picture later. 

We invited my dad up for a holiday meal and he brought along his companion. P.D. is so sweet and cleaned up the floor for us! We fixed lasagna and salad for Dad. 

I had the pleasure of kitty sitting over the holiday. All the roommates were out of town so I volunteered to watch TJ and Artie's kitty while they were out of town too. Lucien kept me company and didn't let any strangers come in the house. We had so much fun together!

Helo is the little head honcho around the house. He visited Mississippi with Tim over the holidays. Once he returned he reclaimed his roost after inspecting the rest of the house and all the other weird animal scents. 

Pebbles at home
I was able to go home for Christmas Day and enjoy the holiday with my family. Of course that also means I opened some presents. Pebbles, one of our kitties at home, had a present with his name on it but he couldn't quite stay awake to open it.

We're looking forward to 200 more posts and lots of fun cooking endeavors. Thanks for reading! Maybe there will be more comments on the next 200. :-)

Christmas Party Time

Tis the Season to be with great friends! The highlight of the holidays, for me, is spending time with all my favorite people. So we have a party! I referenced all my party notes from last year (you can find them on the blog at this post) to decide on how to move forward with planning this party. I kept some recipes, had some offerings from the roomies, and tried some new stuff! Read on to see the recipes!

Group photo!

Prep Photos
(L): Patrick piping in deviled egg filling. I requested he use his cake decorating tips to give the eggs a little extra flair.
(r): Tim icing his sugar cookies

Party Photos
(top row, L): Sweets area--sugar cookies, fondue with dipping supplies that included angel food cake, pretzels, bananas, and strawberries
(top row, r): Punch area! 
(bottom row, L): Drinks area and crackers with cheese ball 
(bottom row, r): Savory area--shrimp cocktail, meatballs, tortellini skewers, deviled eggs, and spinach balls

As you can see from these few photos I tried to group together my assortment of goodies and spread them out a little. I put them in different areas of the kitchen to allow movement and create a nice flow for the party among our friendly guests! The sweets and punch were on different ends of the kitchen table. The savory area was on the island and then the drinks were on the kitchen counter.

Sweets area--Tim made sugar cookies just like his mom always makes. She uses a popular recipe called Ethel's Sugar Cookies (which is originally from a Betty Crocker cookie book and can be found here). He iced them and then sprinkled them with green and red sugar sprinkles.
    I made our fondue recipe from the blog and a boxed angel food cake. 

Punch area--This is the same party punch from last year which came to us via Food Network's Sandra Lee. Remember when I put cranberries in my flower pieces? (Refresh your memory here.) Well when I was shopping I wasn't sure how many cranberries I needed then and bought too many. I threw the extras in the freezer thinking I could use them here. I'm not sure they kept the punch any cooler but they were a fun conversation piece!

Drinks area and crackers with cheese ball--Self explanatory!

Savory area--Patrick picked up shrimp cocktail and prepared Italian meatballs from Costco. To the meatballs we added Giada's Simple Tomato Sauce. We actually made the sauce in the crockpot, let it simmer, used the immersion blender, and then added the meatballs to warm up about an hour before the party! 
    Tortellini skewers were made like last year. For the dipping sauce I spooned some of Giada's sauce from the meatballs into a small dipping bowl and served next to the tortellini.
    If you're going to make deviled eggs you might as well follow a recipe from Paula Deen! There was no butter in this recipe however. Find her recipe here. I didn't really change anything except enlisting the help of Patrick to fill the eggs. 
    Finally the spinach balls were a contribution from Ryan and a hit! Here's the recipe with his notes at the bottom in italics.
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 cups crushed italian croutons
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs, beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl combine spinach, stuffing mix, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, black pepper, Italian seasoning, melted butter and eggs. Shape into walnut-sized balls and place on a baking sheet.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until heated through and browned.
I tripled the recipe for the party. I think each batch probably makes 25 or so, depending on how you roll them. I used a rounded tablespoon for each ball.

This wraps up the 2011 Christmas party planning / menu post! What fun munchies do you serve at a Christmas party?! I'm sure I'll need some new ideas in eleven months. :-)

Chicken and Bok Choy Stir Fry

Bok choy recently popped up again on our CSA, and we decided to give it another go. Last time, we tried a stir fry with pork, but suffered from a common issue with cooking white meat in small pieces - the pork turned out dry and tough. We can usually count on America's Test Kitchen to solve this sort of problem in ways we never would have thought of, so it was no surprise to find such a solution in our New Best Recipe cookbook. It was a success! I was very impressed with how moist and flavorful the chicken was, and really enjoyed the dish as a whole. Bok choy certainly won me over in this one! Here is an abridged version of the recipe.

First you need to prep the chicken breasts (1 pound). Slice them into 1/4-in strips and marinate 20 min to an hour in 1/4 c soy sauce, 1/4 c sherry, and 1 c water. Drain the chicken, then toss in a mixture of 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp cornstarch, and 1 tbsp flour.

1/4 c chicken broth
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (Left out for Whitney's sake)
4 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 minced garlic clove
1 small head bok choy (about 1 pound), stalks cut diagonally in 1/4-in slices and greens into 1/2-in strips
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-in strips

Whisk broth, sherry, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar, red pepper flakes, and 2 tsp ginger in a small bowl. Combine 2 tsp ginger, garlic, and 1 tsp peanut oil in another small bowl. Heat 2 tsp oil in skillet over high heat until smoking. Cook half the chicken for 1 minute on one side (until golden) and 30 seconds on the other side, then remove and repeat with other half. Remove chicken, then stir-fry bok choy stalks and bell pepper until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add garlic-ginger to a clearing in center and mash with spoon, cooking 15 to 20 seconds, then stir everything and cook for another 30 seconds. Return chicken, and whisk sauce to recombine and add to skillet. Reduce heat and cook until sauce is thickened, about 30 seconds.

Flipping the chicken pieces
Action shot!
Serve over rice.

Using some frozen basil with our fav Lemon Spaghetti

We finally had a chance to use some of our frozen basil! We were fixing one of Patrick's favorite recipes: Lemon Spaghetti (made without scallops this time). Then we were able to use one of our little frozen basil chips for the fresh basil.

We plopped the the basil in the spaghetti near the end and of course the heat with a little stirring allowed the basil to be incorporated throughout the dish. 

Enjoyed the Lemon Spaghetti in our pasta dishes and browsed my new Better Homes & Garden December magazine.

Leftover Butternut Soup and Pita Chips

A couple weeks ago Patrick and I made a Butternut Squash-Pear Bisque and it was delicious. We mentioned in that post that it needed a little addition. So when we served the leftovers we fixed little tortilla chips. (We had leftover flour tortillas from making Black Bean & Salmon Tostadas.) This ended up being a simple meal and free since we already had every thing on hand. It's so nice to have leftovers and being able to repurpose items you've already used one night. We didn't really have a recipe to go by because I had seen this on television a long time ago and just kind of guessed! But you're certainly able to google this and there are lots of other helpful suggestions.

For the tortilla chips, I stacked them onto each other and cut them in quarters. I had purchased the small tortillas so if you have larger ones you might want to cut them more. Of course cutting them is entirely up to you--you might even prefer strips! Place the chips onto a greased baking sheet then either drizzle the chips with evoo or brush it on (we brushed it on). From here you're able to flavor your chips however you'd like. For this night I had chosen to use a little salt and pepper, dried rosemary, and parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350F for around 10 minutes but keep an eye on them. Once they're crispy they're done!

The chips before entering the oven. 
And here's the meal! Can you tell what Patrick added to the chips before he put them in the oven without me knowing about it?! So sneaky...

Patrick added finely chopped onion and cheddar cheese! So many flavors. 

A Lovely Breakfast: Apple Turnovers

I had an October weekend off, a few extra mountain apples from Granny and Poppa, and a leftover puff pastry from making chicken pot pie a couples weeks ago. Put it all together and what do you get?! A lovely breakfast of apple turnovers! Ina Garten helped out -- she lended me her Apple Turnovers recipe from footnetwork.com. I may've gotten a little too into Ina. After the third or fourth muttered "oh Ina, this is going to be so good!" Patrick started giving me weird looks. I guess I couldn't contain my excitement. We also halved the recipe to makes 4 turnovers. Be sure to read the notes after the recipe, it was a morning filled with drama!

Apple Turnovers  Serves: 8
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/4 pounds tart apples, such as Empire or Granny Smith (3 apples)
3 tablespoons dried cherries  We used cranberries because they were in the pantry
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on top
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
1 package (17.3 ounces, 2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the orange zest and orange juice in a bowl. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and then cut them in 3/4-inch dice. Immediately toss the apples with the zest and juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add the cherries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
    Flour a board and lightly roll each sheet of puff pastry to a 12 by 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 4 smaller squares and keep chilled until ready to use.
    Brush the edges of each square with the egg wash and neatly place about 1/3 cup of the apple mixture on half of the square. Fold the pastry diagonally over the apple mixture and seal by pressing the edges with a fork. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, make 2 small slits, and bake for 20 minutes, until browned and puffed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

   If you've got puff pastry in the freezer but didn't plan on breakfast, no worries. Just set it on a pan next to a window while you're prepping everything!

   Then your oven might decide to go off half way through cooking the pastry. If this happens flip the breaker and move on to the toaster. I'm not really sure what happened this morning but there was a lot of beeping and no cooking. :-( But we finished the pastries in the toaster oven without any trouble.

And if you're feeling craft and making breakfast for a loved one, put some hearts on it with extra puff pastry!

Pumpkin Pie

As Whitney mentioned, we had Thanksgiving dinner together with her family at Granny's house. Having recently roasted pumpkins from our CSA, we thought it would be fun to put them to use making our first pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Now everyone knows that cooking for a crowd is never the time to be experimenting, but with no time to test this beforehand, we decided to chance it.

Whitney had selected two recipe possibilities, a Paula Deen one and a Meta Given recipe she discovered on one of the blogs she follows. I thought the Paula recipe might overshadow our fresh pumpkin puree with its abundance of butter, cream cheese, and sugar, so I chose the other recipe. I think it was a good choice! The pumpkin flavor shined through the custard, which was not overly rich.

1 3/4 cups canned or fresh cooked pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 eggs
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
Unbaked, unpricked, chilled 9-inch pie shell (I prepared the crust using my Mom's recipe and didn't bother to chill it. The blog we got this from went into a lot of detail about getting a perfectly baked crust, but we winged it and it turned out fine.)

Turn pumpkin into saucepan and stir over direct heat for 10 minutes until somewhat dry and slightly caramelized, stirring frequently. Remove from heat but keep hot.

Mix thoroughly together the sugar, salt, and spices, and stir into hot pumpkin.
Beat eggs, add cream and milk, and beat into pumpkin mixture until smooth.

Pour immediately into unpricked pastry-lined pie pan and bake in a moderately hot oven (400° F) for 25 to 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and only an inch circle in the center of the filling remains liquid. Cool thoroughly on cake rack before cutting.

Here's something you haven't seen before - a picture of us together in the kitchen!
Stirring liquid into warm pumpkin.
No more prep pics - Pebbles was hogging the camera!
All done!
Guarding the pie on the way to Granny's
Dessert's ready! This was complemented by coffee and a mincemeat pie.

Roasting Pumpkins

We roasted pumpkins! It was something that I'd been playing around with for a month or so (good things pumpkins don't rot quickly). I knew we were going home for Thanksgiving and with Patrick's good baking skills thought we could offer a homemade pumpkin pie. This finally gave me the motivation to get started on this cooking endeavor. We had two pie pumpkins from our CSA that we had been using as table decorations throughout the fall that were perfect candidates for the experiment. The plan was to roast the pumpkin, puree it, and then immediately freeze it. We would then bring a frozen bag home and use that to make the pumpkin pie.

I browsed the Internet a while before figuring out what we should do. And like all research on the Internet I learned that there were a bajillion ways to roast pumpkin and that all of them were the "right" way to do it. The constant things seem to be: deseed the pumpkin innards, roast with the peeling on (because it slides off after it's roasted), and after it's pureed make sure excess moisture is out by letting it drain in a sieve. Contradicting procedures included whether to roast it in halves or cut it up, roast it cut side up or down in the pan, and whether or not to include water in the pan. I chose to cut it up, roast it cut side up, and put a little water in the pan. My favorite source for this was from the Pioneer Woman blog. She's funny and very informative. For more details on roasting pumpkin see her post about making homemade pumpkin puree since this is basically what I decided to do.

Enjoy these prep pictures

These two little pumpkins produced about 2 1/2 cups of puree which we split into two quart size freeze bags. Pumpkin pie recipe is just around the corner!

Christmas Decorations for your Table...and Mantle!

Yay Christmas! My favorite time of the year for decorating! Even though this blog revolves around recipes I feel that I can get away with putting up pictures of my table decorations since that is after all where we eat. 

This table decoration is for our informal table in the kitchen. I put down a red tablecloth for some color and then added all sorts of fun things in the center. I may try to find a green placemat or something to put underneath everything to anchor the items a bit more. In the center is a Spode Christmas tree footed bowl (adding to the collection!) which is serving as a napkin folder. To the left are the cutest salt and pepper shakers. To the right are some decorative candles. Then some super miniature Christmas trees flank each side. 

Hopefully I'll have a picture of the more formal dining table soon. But have no fear! I have more decorating ideas. Here'a picture of the mantle. Can you guess why it's on the blog?! There are two different ideas here. 

Did you guess?! Now here's a close-up of the mantle and one hint: it's edible (and remember there are two things to find). And, of course, being edible is why I'm featuring it on the blog! 

Did you find ...


One evening while we were decorating Patrick had the assignment "to hang the stockings." I expected him to find some tacs and put them up but he went beyond expectations! He was so clever to think to use candy canes as stocking holders. He just taped them on the mantle with clear mailing tape. So far they're still hanging!

I had seen this idea from Martha Stewart for filling a vase with cranberries and placing flowers in them. The cranberries act as a placeholder so I'm able to use the long-stemmed carnations and baby's breath. I just love the way it turned out. I purchased two large hurricane vases from Pier 1 so I could use them on the mantle and they would have enough presence. 

Do you have other edible decorations throughout your house? 

What to do with a cornish hen and lots of lettuce?

On this particular night our dinner had quite the evolution. This was not a "planned" dinner so to speak meaning I did not have this on my grocery list. The first part of the dinner planning started with the chicken. When I was grocery shopping I had a "blank" day later on in the week on my list that needed a meal. Whenever I have a day like this I'll either hope I find inspiration at the store or don't worry about it and figure it out closer to the day. (Or tell Patrick he's in charge that night!) As it so happened I was buying some other meats and saw some cutely packaged cornish hens. Two hens come together and I thought this would be perfect because it would provide dinner for two different nights with the two small chickens. So I threw them in the cart then wheeled around to the fresh produce. A green vegetable is always a nice side dish. I ended up with asparagus and thought roasting it would be yummy. When I left the store my plan for that dinner was going to be roasted chicken, asparagus, and a small salad with lettuce from our CSA.

While Patrick was preparing the chicken I realized he had bought lettuce, I had bought lettuce, and we had ordered 2 heads of lettuce from our CSA! What?! How did that happen... we still don't really know. We quickly knew that this was going to evolve into a meal salad dinner. Turned out the chicken and asparagus were easily adaptable for a salad meal. Read on to see how everything came together.

Patrick rubbed the cornish hen with an olive oil-herb mixture. We cooked the cornish hen according to package directions and had no trouble. After the cornish hen was done we let it rest for a few minutes. During this time we roasted the asparagus in little evoo, salt, and pepper. Once the cornish hen had cooled slightly we carved it and shredded it into bite-sized pieces. Patrick's mom had visited us the past weekend and left us with some pomegranate seeds. Now the only thing was a dressing! I browsed around the Internet a bit and found a dijon vinaigrette. I found it at vinaigretterecipe.com; you'll have fun browsing it if you're interested in making your own dressings! The dijon vinaigrette is just a combination of olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.

Ta-da! Salad time!

Home for Thanksgiving

Patrick really spoiled me this past Thanksgiving as he chose to stay here. It was such a joy to be able to celebrate together. And I think he was pleasantly surprised with his choice since the weather was fantastic! We drove home in short sleeves. We were able to spend three days at home--whoa! Of course Granny prepared our wonderful Thanksgiving meal but Mom hosted us for dinner on Wednesday and had an equally delicious meal. Be on the lookout for more info on Thanksgiving because Patrick made a pumpkin pie.

Here's Mom's spread:

The pork tenderloin was sliced thin and marinated in a soy sauce and powdered ginger mixture then grilled.
Patrick and I supplied the acorn squash from our CSA. We roasted it with a little brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. This was in the oven with the fruit dish that follows.
Hot Fruit Compote recipe
    1 - 20oz can pineapple chunks, 1 - 16 oz can peach slices, 1 - 16oz can pear slices, 1 - 11oz can mandarin oranges (all fruit drained), 1/4 cup margarine or butter, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 tbs lemon juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp cloves, 1/8 tsp nutmeg.
   Heat oven to 375F. Arrange all fruit in 9x13 baking dish. In small sauce pan over medium heat, combine all remaining ingredients. Heat and stir until brown sugar is dissolved and margarine is melted. Pour over fruit. Bake for 25 minutes or until fruit is thoroughly heated. Garnish with maraschino cherries (if you like them). Serves 8.
And finally steamed broccoli!

Doesn't Mom have the cutest Thanksgiving decoration?
I'm thankful for really awesome parents!

Introducing...Spode Christmas Tree!

December is finally here! And it wouldn't be Christmas without a tree now would it?! So here it is!

Since we love cooking so much Patrick and I decided to start a collection of a Christmas pattern. We settled on the classic Spode Christmas Tree. Even though it's an old pattern (first introduced in 1938) and not necessarily unique we were still drawn to the wonderful Christmas scene. It's a popular pattern and we'll be able to add pieces throughout our lifetime. We've started off with a 12-pc set and who knows where we'll end up! I can't wait to find out. (Maybe we'll end up with 700 pieces like this lady but Patrick says no.)

 It's so much fun to fill your plate and uncover the beautiful design underneath. For our first meal on the plates we served pan-seared scallops, wild rice, and sweet potato. For the sweet potato, I microwaved it on the potato setting then peeled it and sliced it (could've been a bad idea as the potato was very hot to handle). Then drizzled with a little evoo and salt & pepper to serve.