Butternut Squash Risotto and Mahi-Mahi

We've already shared some risotto successes here and here, and this post is another in that series. We used the same Sara Foster recipe as before so we won't repeat it here; you just substitute roasted butternut squash as the vegetable. We baked some mahi-mahi as well to add some variety and served it on top. It was a delicious meal!

Molasses Glazed Roast Pork and Sweet Potatoes

One Saturday Whitney was working and picked out this recipe from our Williams-Sonoma Fresh and Fast cookbook. Even though I got started early, we had to wait quite a while to eat. I think we had the wrong type of meat, as we had one of those big pork tenderloins that takes around an hour to cook, and not the specified 10-12 oz tenderloins that probably would have cooked in the stated 15 minutes. In any case, the meat thermometer saved the day as usual, and eventually we had some perfectly cooked meat and a very tasty sauce and sweet potato side to go with it. And there was kale too.

2 pork tenderloins, each 10 to 12 oz.
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup light molasses
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 lb. orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Season the pork tenderloins lightly with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the molasses, mustard, rosemary and 1/2 tsp. of the red pepper flakes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, the remaining 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes and 1 1/2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper and toss to coat the sweet potatoes evenly. Brush a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange the sweet potatoes on the baking sheet in a single layer, leaving a space in the center of the pan. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the pork and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the pork in the center; set the fry pan aside. Brush the pork and potatoes with some of the molasses mixture. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the potatoes are tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork registers 145°F, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and potatoes to a warmed platter.

Pour off all but 1 Tbs. of the fat from the fry pan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently to scrape up the browned bits, until the shallot begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining molasses mixture and the broth and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 3 minutes.

Slice the pork and drizzle with the sauce. Serve the pork and potatoes immediately, passing any remaining sauce at the table. Serves 4.

Penne with Vodka Sauce

It was early in our relationship when I told Whitney that penne with vodka sauce was one of my favorite pasta dishes, and soon after we tried this recipe from her Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Pasta cookbook. It was a success, so we stayed together and got engaged eventually. I was surprised to see that this wasn't on the blog, but at our last two houses we ordered this dish often enough from Pulcinella's (they make a very good "penne with pink sauce") that I guess we weren't so motivated to make it ourselves. For some reason we haven't been ordering from there at the new place, which gave us the opportunity to make this again and finally put it on the blog!

4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs. vodka
2 Tbs. slivered fresh basil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tsp. plus 2 Tbs. salt
1 lb. penne or other tubular pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. In a large fry pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter with the cream. In a small bowl, dissolve the tomato paste in the vodka. Stir into the cream mixture. Add the basil and red pepper flakes. Season with the 1 tsp. salt. Cook until most of the alcohol has evaporated and the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the 2 Tbs. salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and warm briefly over low heat to blend the flavors. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Add as much of the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce and serve. Serves 4.

Chicken with Squash, Turnips, and Shiitakes

I saw this recipe flipping through our Williams-Sonoma Fresh + Fast cookbook which has a focus on seasonal recipes. The book is divided into four sections and, you guessed it, they are the seasons (fall, winter, spring, and summer). I chose it because all the ingredients could be requested from the CSA. I enjoyed the dish but Patrick thought it was just okay. After a few months of butternut squash and turnips his palette is ready for some other interesting veggies. There's a lot of steps too so even though I enjoyed it, it's prep-intensive and I didn't enjoy that part!

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (we used boneless, skinless breasts)
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs. minced fresh sage
1 butternut squash, about 1 lb., peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 bunches small turnips, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, greens reserved (for the greens we substituted cabbage)
1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbs. low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (we used a mixed mushroom variety pack)
1 1/4 tsp. all-purpose flour

   In a large, heavy fry pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pan and brown, turning once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and sage to the pan and sauté until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and turnips and stir to coat with the oil. Add the 1 1/2 cups broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.
   Meanwhile, in a large nonstick fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Chop the greens from 1 bunch of the turnips (reserve the remainder for another use).
   Add the mushrooms and chopped turnip greens to the pan with the chicken. Cover and simmer until the greens wilt, about 5 minutes. Put the flour in a small bowl, gradually add the 1 Tbs. broth and stir until smooth. Stir the flour mixture into the fry pan, cover and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Chocolate chip scone

We're moving backwards a little; this was from the weekend after Thanksgiving! I told yall it was hard for us to get our posts up in a timely manner!

I was unable to get days off after Thanksgiving so Patrick visited Chicago solo. He returned late Saturday night (I had to pick him up from the airport at midnight!) so since I knew we would be tired the next morning I made us a chocolate chip scone Saturday evening before I picked him up. Over the weekend while he was gone I worked on a few decorations but my main project was getting the Christmas Tree china into the cabinet. I move our other everyday dishes to the top shelf in the cabinet (that's empty) and placed the Christmas Tree dishes in their place. I want us to feel comfortable using the china and not saving it for just a special meal over the holidays.

I set the table with the salad plate, coffee mugs, and pie server. I served the scone on a cheese plate and covered with the dome from my cake plate.

Since the scone didn't need to be refrigerated I had placed it right on the dining table so Patrick could see it when he walked in. He seemed so excited! We had planned a busy day for Sunday and I knew a relaxing breakfast would be just the right thing to get started with. Sunday morning we woke up, enjoyed a scone and some coffee while reading the paper. After that it was a downtown Raleigh day! We went to a late brunch and then an afternoon matinee of The Nutcracker! What a wonderful way to start the holidays. 

This recipe was originally pinned on pinterest and comes from skinnytaste.com

3/4 cup cold buttermilk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup all purpose flour (website recommends Bob's Red Mill; I used Pillsbury)
1 cup white whole wheat flour (websites recommends Bob's Red Mill; I used some from our CSA)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp chilled butter (must be cold) cut into small pieces
3/4 cup chocolate chips
cooking spray
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tbsp sugar

   Preheat oven to 375°. Combine the first four ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.
   Combine flour, baking powder, salt, in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender, or you could use 2 knives, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gently fold in chocolate chips. Add milk mixture, stirring just until moist.
   Place dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly four times with floured hands.Form dough into an 9-inch circle onto baking sheet, about 3/4" thick. Using a knife,cut dough into 12 wedges all the way through.
   Brush egg white over dough and sprinkle evenly with sugar. Bake until golden, about 18-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Serve warm.

I would say for never having made sconces before they turned okay! I wasn't really sure what the consistently of the dough should be like throughout the process so I just kept going.
Do you have any scone making secrets to share?

Christmas Decorations

The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care! Patrick and I have been enjoying the fruits of our holiday decorating labor for the past few weeks now. As you know Thanksgiving came early this year and the holidays are a little bit longer. We decided to go ahead and get our tree that weekend to maximize our enjoyment! We purchased a live tree from TROSA. They're a local nonprofit, Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, that is a "comprehensive, long-term, residential substance abuse recovery program" click here for more information. If you are interested in a live tree we highly recommend TROSA! Their holiday tree lots are amazing; so many options and they trim the tree, bag the tree, and load it on your car!

We decorated our tree with the small colored lights and the felt ornaments we made two years ago.

We splurged on "forever" stockings this year that we can use for years to come when we're married! Patrick chose a train and I chose the cute ginger bread couple. We purchased the cotton Holiday Needlepoint Stockings from L.L. Bean and have been very happy with them. I wonder what Santa will fill them with? And just so Santa knows who the stockings belong to we placed our individual homemade felt stocking ornaments with our initial on the appropriate stocking.

This was our centerpiece that held on for a few weeks but I just couldn't get the hang of when the poinsettia needed watering. All the leaves fell off and Patrick threw it out last week. I love the candles on our table because you can switch out the visual display for whatever is appropriate. I have miniature ornaments in them this month (mainly because I didn't have enough space to display the miniature tree).

As I just mentioned space is a premium in the townhouse and it was hard to find nooks and crannies for all the decorations! I displayed our snow globe collection from Granny and Poppa as well as some nutcrackers where we usually have our wine racks. Then on the bar counter I placed a collection of Christmas trees.

The wine rack got moved to the kitchen. Next to it you'll see the first glimpse of our Spode Christmas Tree collection which has been expanding. Last year we started with a 12 piece set; I added another set this year so we have eight place settings and some additional serving pieces.

I displayed all of the Christmas Tree serving pieces in the coffee bar area so that it would be pretty and easy to grab when we would be entertaining! My parents visited one Sunday afternoon for a pleasant luncheon; then we had Marianne and Stephen over for a fun game night.

Last but not least are the miniature Christmas trees lining the kitchen cabinets!

Hope all your decorations are up!

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

One night Whitney had planned for us to make butternut squash gnocchi, which was exciting for two reasons - it was a departure from our typical cubed and roasted preparation, and it was my first time making pasta. We prepared it based on this recipe from Martha Stewart for pumpkin gnocchi. Making the pasta was fun, although very messy (it takes a lot of flour before it stops being super-sticky). It was worth it though! The pasta was sweet and flavorful, the mushroom sauce was delicious, and the goat cheese we added made it even better! I'm looking forward to experimenting with more pasta-making.

Raw pasta after kneading and cutting

1 small sugar pumpkin (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), stem removed, halved lengthwise, and seeded
2 cups "00" flour, plus more for work surface
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for serving
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
20 medium chanterelle mushrooms, trimmed
8 fresh sage leaves
1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pumpkin halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and fill each with 1 tablespoon water. Cover each half with parchment paper-lined aluminum foil. Transfer to oven and roast until soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool. Scrape pumpkin flesh from skin; discard skin.
Mound flour in center of a large work surface; add 1 tablespoon salt and the nutmeg. Using a fork, mix until well combined. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add 2 cups pumpkin and 1 cup grated cheese to well. Slowly incorporate flour, beginning with inner rim of well. When flour is incorporated, gather dough together to form a rounded mass; knead mixture until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes.
Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a cylinder about 1 inch in diameter; cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. Transfer gnocchi to a baking sheet and cover with a clean, damp towel. Repeat process until all the dough has been used.
Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Generously salt water and return to a boil. Add gnocchi and cook until they rise to the top, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over high heat and add butter and shallots. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until shallots are golden. Add mushrooms and sage; cook, stirring, for about 10 seconds. Add 1/4 cup pumpkin, chicken stock, heavy cream, and 1/4 cup grated cheese; cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to skillet and toss to combine. Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan and nutmeg.

Mixed Greens and Apple Salad

I've mentioned before that sometimes what you're seeing on the blog may not be the previous night's dinner (rarely does that ever happen). I used to be better about working on the blog every few weeks but recently it's not as frequent and the posts are somewhat sporadic and the meals may not be that recent; my apologies. This will be my New Year's Resolution!

This dinner is from October! And I remember because one of my best friends Stephanie was my sous chef that night! Stephanie was transitioning to a new job in Raleigh at the time while finishing a lease in Greensboro. We offered her our guest bedroom to spend a few nights during her transition to ease the burden of commuting. There were quite a few nights where we had some non-fancy dinners but I decided to step it up a notch one evening. On the menu was a special salad and Patrick's favorite lemon spaghetti.

This recipe is from the Pennies on a Platter blog. I subscribe to the blog and read it through Google Reader. I would estimate I follow about 25-30 blogs this way and every day about 15-20 recipes / blog posts (they don't all feature recipes) are new. Whenever I'm interested in something I will "star" the recipe and know that it's something I would like to try. This salad recipe was one of those starred recipes.

Mixed Greens and Apple Salad from Pennies on a Platter blog which was adapted from Epicurious
1/4 cup minced onion
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3 Tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 bag (10 oz) baby spinach leaves (we used mixed greens!)
2 red-skinned apples, cored and sliced thin
1/2 lb Gouda cheese, sliced in small pieces

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together the onion, vinegars, sesame seeds and paprika. Stir in the 2 Tablespoons sugar. Gradually whisk in the olive oil then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in the almonds and cook until the almonds begin to brown, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Sprinkle the remaining 1 Tablespoon sugar evenly over the almonds and toss until the sugar melts and begins to turn golden, about 2 more minutes. Transfer toasted almonds to a plate to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach leaves and sliced apples. Toss with just enough dressing to coat. Mix in the almonds and cheese. Serve the salad with the remaining dressing separately.

In my opinion apples always give a pleasantly surprising crunch!
Dinner for 3!
Stephanie, you can be my sous chef anytime!

Have you tried a ...

White Sweet Potato?!

No fun recipe here just a white sweet potato! Have you ever had one?!
We hadn't and it was on our CSA so decided to give it a try. It was tasty but we prefer a regular sweet potato.

We prepared the white sweet potato in the microwave just like we would a regular sweet potato; served with salmon and asparagus.
What other types of potatoes have you tried?

Asian Slaw

Patrick and I both enjoy "Asian night" on the weekly meal plan. I would say we do something Asian inspired two to three times a month. Patrick likes seared tuna; however I try to limit this fish since it's high in mercury. I would say I only buy tuna medallions once every four or five months. When I do purchase them Patrick is the executive chef and likes following this technique.

A few weeks ago I tried a new Asian side (which is the star of this blog post, not the tuna)! There was some pointed head cabbage on the CSA list and we thought we'd try it. I don't think we knew what we were going to do with it when we selected it so this Asian night came about after I realized we needed to eat some cabbage! I googled around and found a Spicy Crunch Asian Slaw from the eat, live, run blog. We really enjoyed the flavors and Patrick gave his approval for making it again. We served this alongside the seared tuna and brown rice.

Look how pointy it is!
Stay tuned to the blog... we only used one half of the cabbage for this recipe and  may have something even yummier for the second half.
Spicy Crunchy Asian Slaw from eat, live, run blog
serves 2-4
1 small head napa cabbage (or a bag from Trader Joe’s)
   or half a pointed head cabbage! 
2 large carrots
   we used one
1 bell pepper, very thinly sliced
2 T dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped*
1.5 tsp canola oil
1.5 tsp sesame oil
1 T rice vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 lime, juiced
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

   Shred the cabbage and place in a large bowl. Using a peeler or a grater, peel or grate the carrots and place in bowl with the cabbage along with the bell pepper. Toss well to combine.
   In a small bowl or measuring cup, combing the canola oil, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar and red pepper flakes. Drizzle over coleslaw and toss well. Add peanuts and serve.

*Peanut note: I put Patrick in charge of roughly chopping the nuts. He decided to get down his coffee grinder ... the next thing I hear him mutter is "so this is how they make peanut butter." If you choose to use an electric gadget to assist you in roughly chopping be mindful not to pulse too much!

Roasted Carrots

As we all know life gets busy! This featured recipe is a good example of that... it's from the summer! I kept putting off drafting the post because it required dragging out the cook book and transcribing the recipe but I didn't want to delete it because the carrots were really good! And super cute! We served these carrots with sauteed tilapia and a mixed greens salad. The carrots are from Sara Foster's "Fresh Every Day" cookbook. For additional comments I found the recipe on this other blog (which made drafting the post much easier).

Pan-Braised Carrots with Orange and Rosemary from Sara Foster

1 pound small carrots, with tops on (about 2 bunches) or bagged baby carrots*2 tablespoons olive oil1 tablespoon unsalted butter1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemaryJuice of 1 orangeSea salt and freshly ground black pepper   *From my experience I would recommend the baby carrots; most of the green tops came off during the prep.
1. Trim the tops off the carrots, leaving about 1/2 inch of the green stem attached, and wash thoroughly.2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the carrots and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 8 minutes, until tender and have a little color.

3. Add the rosemary and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Stir in the orange juice, 1/2 cup of cold water, salt, and pepper. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and let the carrots simmer until nearly all of the liquid has cooked off, about 10 minutes. Season the braised carrots with more salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

Can you believe it's already December?! That was fast. Good thing Thanksgiving was early so we have an extra long holiday season. Patrick and I have put up our Christmas tree and the outdoor lights. I have a few decorating odds and ends to do in the house and will hopefully finish them this week. The townhouse is much smaller and doesn't allow for all my decorations to be displayed. Stay tuned to the blog for some pictures.

Do you have up your decorations?

Scallops with Kale

All this meal planning makes incorporating our favorite meals into weeknights easy. I've always been able to predict my retail schedule but now that I'm meal planning I can put two and two together -- I can plan more intensive meals on my days off! Even though scallops are a quick cooking meal they require a little more prep (with the soaking). I think we hit the jackpot with this recipe. We both loved it and thought it had a good balance between the scallops, grain, and green.

We followed the recipe from our Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Fresh + Fast cookbook. I feel like they almost looked exactly like the picture in the cookbook!

Look at the perfect sear from Chef Patrick.
Seared Scallops with Greens and Orzo from Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Fresh and Fast
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup orzo
3 cups plus 3 Tbs. low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup chopped greens, such as red chard, Tuscan kale or escarole
3 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
3/4 lb. large sea scallops
3 Tbs. sherry vinegar; we used champagne vinegar

   In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the orzo and stir until it begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the 3 cups broth and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the orzo is almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add the chard and stir until the orzo is tender, the greens have wilted and the mixture is creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley, 1 1/2 tsp. of the thyme and the lemon zest. Season the orzo with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 Tbs. of the butter. Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.
   Season the scallops on both sides with salt, pepper and 1 tsp. of the thyme. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the scallops and sauté until almost springy to the touch, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer the scallops to a warmed plate. Pour off the oil from the fry pan. Add the vinegar and the 3 Tbs. broth to the fry pan and boil until syrupy, stirring to scrape up the browned bits, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Add any scallop juices from the plate. Swirl in the remaining 1 Tbs. butter. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
   Divide the orzo mixture between 2 warmed plates and top with the scallops. Drizzle the pan sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp. thyme. Serve immediately.

Crockpot Italian Pot Roast

I promised more recipes from pinterest. Here's the next one: Crockpot Beef Stew with Herb Dumplings. We have a traditional slow cooker pot roast that we like (originally from Mom) but it's good to switch things up and try new things. I selected this recipe because it looked healthier (no cream of mushroom soup) and had a fun dumpling topping. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish; Patrick wasn't a fan of the dumplings. Next time I make this roast those will be omitted.

Beef Stew with Herb Dumplings (from bestcrockpotrecipes.net)
Serves 8; we cut everything in half
2 lbs top round steak or lean stew beef, in 1 inch pieces
2 celery ribs, sliced
4 carrots in ½ inch slices
2 onions, sliced
¼ cup water
¼ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup beef broth or dry red wine (we used beef broth)
8 sliced mushrooms
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
   For the Herb Dumplings
½ cup milk
1 ½ cups Bisquick
¼ teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
½ teaspoon dried thyme

   Combine the beef, celery, carrots, onions, tomatoes, thyme, pepper, mustard, mushrooms, and wine or beef broth. If you are using wine, use all the salt. If you are using beef broth you might not need it depending on the saltiness of the broth so taste it to see.
   Cover and cook on a low heat for 8 to 10 hours or a high heat for 4 or 5 hours. The vegetables and beef will become tender.
   Combine the flour and water and stir this slowly into the beef stew. Combine the Bisquick, thyme, sage and rosemary and stir in the milk until the mixture is just moistened. Drop spoonfuls of the dough on to the hot beef stew, then cover and cook on high for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the herb dumplings comes out clean.

When we do a crockpot recipe I typically try to have all the vegetables cut the night before so everything can be assembled quickly. We cooked this on low throughout the day. Patrick was able to do the last few steps of preparing the dumplings once he got home from work.

Taco Soup

One day Whitney and I went to check out the Penzeys store in Cameron Village in Raleigh. They have an exciting selection of all kinds of spices. We picked out three on our visit: pasta sprinkle, pumpkin pie spice, and the focus of this post, a bold taco seasoning. The store has little recipe cards on a lot of displays to help inspire you, and that's where we found the recipe for this. It was pretty good, and definitely comforting on a cold fall day, but the spiciness was a little intense. I'm not sure whether I would bother to make this again vs. just preparing regular tacos.

1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
2 cans (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) corn, drained (or kernels from 3-4 ears corn)
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1-3 teaspoons taco seasoning
1 container (16 oz.) salsa of your preferred heat level

1 cup tortilla chips, crumbled
1 cup shredded cheddar, jack or mozzarella cheese
½ cup sour cream

In a soup kettle, brown the ground beef or turkey and drain any fat. Turkey won’t really get brown. Add the black beans, corn, tomatoes (with the juice), taco seasoning and salsa. Water may be added to make it a little soupier as desired. Cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes. Serve with garnishes.
Serves 8-10.

Mmm beef and beans and tomatoes and stuff
Taco soup, prior to serving and garnishing

Mom's Pork Chop Casserole

It's finally made it to the blog: Mom's pork chop casserole that I couldn't ever quite seem to get right. This was one of Mom's go-to recipes and I always enjoyed it; the rice is so moist and the pork chops are quite tasty. I have attempted this a few times without much success. One time I forgot to put the extra liquid in the rice so it was anything but moist. The next time I used boneless pork chops and they weren't moist or tasty either. But finally I got it right! And finally Patrick approved and said I could continue making it.

Brown Rice & Pork Chops
1 cup rice (not instant)
   Mom recommends using Uncle Ben's
1 - 10.5oz can beef consomme
4-6 bone-in pork chops

Preheat oven to 350F.
Mix rice, consomme, and water (refill the consomme can and use that amount) in 9x13 pan.
Place pork chops on top of rice mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and poke a few holes in there.
Cook for an hour or until liquid is soaked up; remove foil first 30 minutes.

We served with homemade apple sauce and green beans.

Silicone Baking Mat: Roasted Chicken with Turnips and Green Bean Casseroles

The real focus of this post is not the roasted chicken, turnips, or green bean casserole but rather a silicone baking mat. These mats are nonstick, and don't need to be greased; basically they replace parchment paper or anything you would use to line a pan. It's great! Patrick had been wanting one for quite awhile so I tipped Mom off last Christmas that he would enjoy a silicone baking mat. Imagine his surprise!

I must admit it got little use the first few months we had it because we'd never had one before and just thought it would be good for cookies. Then slowly we began experimenting with recipes; "oh the silicone mat would be good for this, let's try it" and so on and so on until now we're using it the majority of the time. We enjoyed it so much we even bought a smaller one that fits the toaster oven pan since we use it so much! It makes clean up a breeze too.

As you can it's the flexible blue mat lining the baking pan. Since we would be using the oven we decided to get everything in there. We marinated the chicken and placed it on one half of the baking dish; then diced turnips and tossed them in evoo with salt and pepper so everything could roast at the same time. We also placed a standard green bean casserole in the oven. One note is to make sure your cooking times will be the same otherwise you will need to start the item that needs the longest cooking time first and then take out the pan and add the other item.

And everything turns out like this!
We highly recommend these as stocking stuffers! What fun kitchen items do you use as stocking stuffers?!
Also, thanks Mom for the silicone baking sheet. We have really enjoyed it.

Thanksgiving Pot Luck

Woo hoo pot luck time! As you've noticed the pot lucks have waned a bit. This happened because friends moved away. But no reason not to have a pot luck when all the friends visit! Two weeks ago UNC celebrated Homecoming! And guess what... all my friends came home. (My friends are the UNC ones; Patrick's friends are the Duke ones.)

Even I was impressed with how well this pot luck turned out since almost half of the pot luck attendees were out of town folks without access to a kitchen. But everyone stepped it up and we had the most fantastic Thanksgiving Pot Luck ever. I made a quick toast before the meal to thank everyone for coming and how thankful I was that we, as "old" friends, are continuing to get together.

Here's the breakdown: Caesar salad, green gelatin side, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, stuffing, turkey breast, deviled eggs, warm yeast rolls, and pumpkin pie. And Richard.

Wow! What a spread. As I mentioned in the blog yesterday I needed to set up a small folding table because we had 13 people! Somehow we all fit.

This was a great kickoff for the holiday season. It's always a good time to get together with good friends.

Fall Squash and table decorations

Patrick and I have really been experimenting with the fall squash this season. Our CSA has all sorts of things to choose from. This is our second fall season so we felt comfortable with some from experimenting last year but we branched out even more this year. And now for the first time on the blog we're playing a game! It's called...

Name That Fall Squash!

From L to R: A, B, C, D. Answers at end of blog. 

While we were busy fixing all these squash I also had a beautiful fall table set. We also had decorations outside (pumpkins and then jack-o-lanterns) but unfortunately they got moldy before we took pictures.

Here's the dining room table! I purchased a new autumn tablecloth, placed a bamboo style place mat in the center, and then centered a large pumpkin candle holder in the center flanked with smaller candles.

I purchased the autumn tablecloth to use for our Thanksgiving potluck (more on that tomorrow). I set up a 4" square folding table and needed a smaller tablecloth for it but I wanted to make sure I could use it after the potluck. I knew the measurements would fit (70" round measurement) but didn't really think about the sides. When I placed the small round tablecloth on the dining room table and realized it was lacking in the corners I decided to put a regular red one under (probably measures 60"x84").

Name That Fall Squash! Answers:
A. pie pumpkin, B. butternut squash, C. acorn squash, D. buttercup squash
How many did you get right?