Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Cookie Bonanza: Holiday Cut Outs

This year, I'll be sharing 13 Christmas cookie recipes in my official Christmas Cookie Bonanza of 2009. I love Christmas cookies. So much so that one Christmas cookie is now a year-round cookie in my family, the wagon wheel. I'm kicking off the Christmas Cookie Bonanza here with a traditional cookie cutter cookie, the Cut Out.

This is the first Christmas cookie I'm posting this year because it is the most basic. It's easy to make, and it's a great crowd pleaser. Everyone loves a good cut out cookie, decorated in a cute way. I grew up decorating cut outs every year, so much so that the first few Christmases I was on my own as an adult, I didn't make them. Didn't want to. I was all decorated out. I think this is the first year I'm actually excited about making them! Maybe it's because part of me thinks that my little boy might enjoy them this year, and also because I'm finally starting to take pride in my baked goods.

Butter Cut Outs

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (5 1/2 oz) superfine sugar (see note)
1/4 tsp table salt
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, cool room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cream cheese, cool room temperature

1. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix flour, sugar and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With the mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.
2. Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20-30 minutes. Dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)
3. Adjust an oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness between 2 large sheets of parchment paper; slide rolled dough on parchment onto baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with second disk.
4. Working with first portion of rolled dough, cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled nad re-rolled once. Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature.
5. Decorate to your liking using royal icing, canned iccing, sprinkles and other decorations.

NOTE: If you can't find superfine sugar, process regular granulated sugar in a food processor for about 20 seconds. This will make a close approximation of superfine sugar.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Lovely Bones

I've picked up "The Lovely Bones" several times since I first purchased it, when it first came out, and put it back down for various reasons. Many times, other books have just called to me louder than this one did, but this time, I was able to pick it up and polish it off pretty quickly.

This was an interesting book. I didn't find it to be as transcendent as some people have, but I did enjoy it. I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone, but I was disappointed by some of the plot points that were left hanging at the end. That doesn't mean I didn't like the book, just that it was real, in a way - I mean, in real life, not all the loose ends get tied up into a pretty bow. This was no different.

I am very curious how this will translate into movie format, as I understand they have turned this into a movie, to come out in December. I just watched the trailer for the first time on, and it looks pretty darn promising. Read the book first, though, really.

I must say, though, that if you enjoyed this book, you would enjoy Alice Sebold's nonfiction work "Lucky" even more. I read that quite some time ago, and couldn't put it down. It's an amazing memoir about a traumatic experience the author went through in college and how it shaped many years that followed.

I've been reading some dark fiction lately, with lots of horrible things happening to children, between this and "The Deep End of the Ocean" and "Nineteen Minutes." Clearly, I ought to read something a little more light and cheery next.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pan Fried Chicken Mom's Way

Growing up, Mom's Pan Fried Chicken was one of my favorite meals. Maybe it was the delicious smell of chicken frying. Or the cream gravy that we'd douse our biscuits with. Whatever it is, this was one of my favorite meals growing up. I've not made it a lot as an adult, but often, when my mom comes to visit, she brings her heavy-bottomed fry pan and makes this chicken for us, which is always such a treat, because she really is the Gravy Queen. This is really a meal that doesn't take rocket science - it's relatively easy to prepare, though messy, and always super tasty.

This was probably the first time I truly felt like I prepared the chicken as well as my mom always did. And my cream biscuits were pretty darn awesome, too!

Mom’s Fried Chicken

A whole fryer chicken = 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, 2 wings; cut the back off; save chicken fat (instructions for butcher)

  1. Melt ½ stick margarine in frying pan over medium high heat. Turn heat down between medium and medium high.
  2. Get piece of wax paper and mix flour (~1 cup) with 3 tsp Accent and 2 tsp salt. Pat chicken dry, and bread chicken
  3. Put chicken fat (if any) in frying pan.
  4. Legs and thighs take longer to cook – cook first. Boneless pieces should be cooked absolutely last – they will cook faster than bone-in chicken. Boned pieces should be ½ done when you put boneless chicken in. Thicker pieces of meat should be placed closer to the center of the pan, where it’s hotter.
  5. Don’t walk away – you don’t want them to burn.
  6. Turn after 10-15 minutes – chicken should be browned.
  7. May need to turn pan around to distribute heat better.
  8. Throw away chicken fat when it browns – it’s just for flavor.
  9. When chicken is done, take out of fry pan. Put on platter and place in warm oven to keep warm.


  1. Estimate amount of fat in pan, or pour off to measure.
  2. Aim for approximately 3 tbsp fat + 3 tbsp flour + some Accent. You will add one can of Campbell's chicken broth to this, but not yet.
  3. Stir over heat, smash lumps until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Stir in one can of broth. Add 3/4 cup of milk and stir while adding.
  6. Heat to boiling, stirring, constantly.
  7. Boil and stir 1 minute. Taste - this is important! Does it taste good? Also, is it too thick? If it is, add some milk until the gravy is the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
Printer-friendly recipe

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Wednesday Sisters

This book sat on my to be read shelf for many months before I finally felt compelled to pick it up recently. I'm glad I did, because it did wind up being an interesting, enjoyable book, though it wasn't as awe-inspiring as I hoped it would be. Then again, because it was about a group of women set in the 60's, I kind of hoped that it would be as wonderful as The Help. I'm starting to think that's not possible.

This was a good read in its own right. The basic story is about a group of women who happen to meet in their neighborhood park, and discover that they love books. They wind up becoming a writing society, inspiring each other to put pen to paper and just write. They share their works with one another, they critique them, and of course life gets in the way as well, as it so often does.

The characters are well shaped, and they each experience the turbulent late sixties and early seventies in different ways. Reading this book made me realize how much I've forgotten from history class about the plight of the womens' rights movement. I think this book would make a great choice for a book club, with lots of interesting issues for discussion.

I have to say, I felt awfully inspired when I read this book. I wanted to rush out and start my own writing society, try to get back into fiction writing. I wrote my first book at 13. It's garbage, total garbage, but I still have it. All 437 pages of it. I've written several short stories and novellas over the years, ceasing some time not long after I graduated from college. I think I started to feel like my writing wasn't amounting to anything, wasn't any good, and so I slowly stopped. In the last year, with having started this blog and going back to journaling every day, I'm starting to feel like I'm rediscovering the writer I once dreamed I could be. And maybe one day, I'll manage to write something I'm proud of again. I can dream, can't I? I sure can, and this book, though I know it is entirely a work of fiction, makes me feel like I can do more than that.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Need a recipe for today? Here's a few for you:

Infamous Pumpkin Pie
Gravy 101
Traditional Sage and Onion Stuffing
French Silk Pie

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's on My Nightstand: November

This was a good month for reading, I got through a lot of books, which made me super pleased. I can't remember the last time I polished off this many books in one month. I'm looking forward to several of the books in my to be read, but none more so than The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper.

Read this month:
1. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
2. Family Affair by Caprice Crane
3. Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
4. American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart
5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
6. The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard
7. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
8. Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America's Favorite Food by Penny Pollack

To be read:
1. The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper
2. Sleepwalking in Daylight by Elizabeth Flock
3. The Kids Are All Right by Diana, Liz, Amanda, and Dan Welch
4. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
5. Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace
6. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
7. The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread
8. Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make
9. The Bell Jar (P.S.) by Sylvia Plath

And if you're looking for some awesome holiday recipes to try out tomorrow, visit my Thanksgiving post from yesterday, with links to all of my holiday recipes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

French Silk Pie

This is a classic Thanksgiving recipe. We've been making this pie in my family for years, at least as long as I can remember. The main reason we do it is because I dislike pumpkin pie, so this is the pie for me to eat after Thanksgiving dinner. It's light and fluffy, yet chocolatey and yummy, all at the same time. It's quite easy to make, and, if you use a refrigerated pie crust, it's even easier. This is a pie you can make on Tuesday, set it in the fridge, and enjoy on Thanksgiving, which is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. You could also make it on Wednesday, but I don't recommend making it Thanksgiving Day. It's much tastier if it's been in the fridge at least overnight.

French Silk Pie
1/2 cold butter
2 eggs
1 cup 10x sugar
2 squares melted unsweetened chocolate
8" pie crust
Fresh whipped cream

1. Melt your chocolate, in your microwave or over the stove. Pour your hot chocolate over the butter, and beat the chocolate mixture with the sugar and eggs at least five minutes.
2. Pour into crust and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.
3. Serve cold, with fresh whipped cream.

This is the last day of my Thanksgiving Survival Guide for this year. If you missed a day, here are some great recipes for you:

Infamous Pumpkin Pie
Gravy 101
Traditional Sage and Onion Stuffing
Cream Biscuits

And there's also my Thanksgiving Timeline, which will hopefully save you some time and sanity!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Traditional Sage and Onion Stuffing

I love stuffing. And if you've read my blog for any length of time, you know I'm a recovering super-picky eater. I'm still picky, don't get me wrong, but I've grown a lot in terms of what I am willing to try these days. Stuffing used to be on the "I-will-never-eat-that" list. I can't quite remember when I tried it, but I think it was during one of the first Thanksgiving dinners I prepared. And wow, I loved it. Couldn't believe I rejected it all these years. It's quickly become one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal, and half of the reason that I enjoy roasting a chicken every now and again (that and the gravy, of course). Here's the not-so-super-secret method of making stuffing at my house on Thanksgiving:

Traditional Sage and Onion Stuffing
Printer-friendly instructions
You can make this stuffing one of two different ways - you can make it with the bread cubes and spices from a bag mix, or you can make everything from scratch. Both are quite tasty, it just depends on which is more your style.

Stuffing (from a bag):

I've always found that the Kellogg's stuffing mix is the tastiest. It has also become the hardest to find in recent years. Pepperidge Farm is an OK substitute, but try to find the Kellogg's one first.

- Melt butter/margarine as called for on bag, based on the size of your turkey.
- Add ½ - 1 tsp sage - your butter should smell sage-y, that's how you'll know there's enough.
- Stir for a few minutes.
- Use chicken broth for liquid, rather than water, as based on package instructions.
- Follow rest of package instructions.
- If not all your stuffing fits in your turkey, place it in a casserole dish, after greasing it with Pam or Crisco, then cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 (ish) for at least 30 minutes, but wait until the turkey is done or almost done to stick it in the oven.

Homemade Stuffing:
2 T butter
1/2 c minced onion
1/4 minced celery
1 tsp sage
1 tsp thyme
1 can chicken broth
6-8 slices of bread, left out overnight to get a little stale, then torn into pieces

- This should be enough stuffing for a 8-9 lb turkey - I usually double this, in part because my turkey is bigger and also because we really like stuffing. A lot.
- Put 2 T butter in a small frying pan, add ½ c minced onion, ¼ minced celery, sauté lightly for 5 minutes, then stir in 1 t sage and 1 t thyme, then add 1 can chicken broth and simmer a few minutes. Meanwhile, put stuffing mix in bowl, put broken up bread on top of that. Now pour warm mixture over this and mix. You’ll need more liquid. The can of chicken broth is a little more than one cup. The package directions call for water, but use broth. Mix all of this up. If it seems too dry, add broth. It if seems too wet, don’t worry about it.
- If not all your stuffing fits in your turkey, place it in a casserole dish, after greasing it with Pam or Crisco, then cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 (ish) for at least 30 minutes, but wait until the turkey is done or almost done to stick it in the oven.
- As soon as turkey is stuffed, you should put it right in the oven.

This is part four of my Thanksgiving survival series. Tomorrow, I'll cover a chocolate pie called French Silk Pie. If you've missed a day, here's some links for you:

Infamous Pumpkin Pie
Gravy 101
Cream Biscuits

And there's also my Thanksgiving Timeline, which will hopefully save you some time and sanity!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for November 23rd

Can you believe it's Thanksgiving already? Where did this year go? Don't get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving, it just totally crept up on me this year. Do you still need some recipes for Thanksgiving? Come visit me tomorrow and Tuesday for my stuffing recipe and my favorite chocolate pie recipe, French Silk Pie.

This week we've got some standard fare, with one new recipe for the week on Sunday, Glazed Pork Chops with Asian Flavors. I'm looking forward to that, because if it's anything like my usual usual Glazed Pork Chops, these will be awesome. The day after Thanksgiving, I'm going with some super easy, crowd-pleasing Brown Sugar Barbecued Chicken, one of my favorite easy recipes.

Tuesday - Beef Teriyaki
Wednesday - Spaghetti
Thursday - Thanksgiving Dinner
including Infamous Pumpkin Pie, Gravy, Traditional Sage and Onion Stuffing and French Silk Pie
Sunday - Glazed Pork Chops with Asian Flavors (recipe to be posted!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gravy 101

In my family, gravy is the most important part of Thanksgiving. If the gravy fails, the dinner is less than memorable. The turkey is not the star of the day, the gravy is. We put gravy on most everything - the stuffing, the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the biscuits...pretty much everything but the sweet potatoes! My mother has called herself the Gravy Queen as long as I can remember, and it's for a good reason. She can make gravy like nobody's business. Given that I am just the lowly Gravy Princess, and only by birth not through true merit, these instructions come directly from my mother's original Thanksgiving diatribe, the eleven pages of instructions on how to "do" Thanksgiving.

Please note, lots of people make their gravy in their roasting pan - I'm not one of them. In part because I use a foil throwaway roasting pan (the horror, I know), but also because we've always made gravy in a big saucepan in our family.

Photo by chrstphre

Gravy 101

Printer-friendly version

- Remember most gravy is a mixture of melted fat and flour, to which meat broth is added. Fat and flour will mix lump-free. Flour and any other liquid will not.
- Early in the day, open bag inside turkey (neck and giblets and such). I only cook the neck and gizzard. The other things are the heart and liver – yuck. The neck is the biggest thing, and the gizzard looks like two symmetrically pieces bound together. Liver looks like liver, and heart looks like a heart/diamond shape. Put neck and gizzard in pot, add 2-3 cups water. Add a sprinkle of dried onion. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, and let simmer as long as possible. When the water starts to boil, you may notice this “foamy” stuff. You can skim this off. This is going to be your base for gravy.
- 30-45 minutes before turkey should be done, and you have removed the foil from turkey, gather all the juices from the turkey you can in a measuring cup.
- Remove neck and gizzard from homemade broth (toss out), and strain broth into a measuring cup. Wash this same pot and use it to make the gravy.
- For both measuring cups, remove the fat. Use some of it for gravy, after deducing how much gravy you want.
- For each cup of edible gravy, you need

o 2 T fat
o 2 T flour
o 1 cup meat broth – fat removed

- Skim fat you’re using for gravy off of broth and put in gravy pot.
- Add your flour and a little salt.
- Stir over medium heat with a whisk until mixture boils.
- Remove from heat and stir in broth, return to heat and stir until it boils. Let boil 1 minute.
- Don’t forget to taste the gravy. It might need more salt or Accent.
- If the gravy is lumpy, you can strain it, if you must.
- If it's too thin, mix a tablespoon of melted butter with a tablespoon of flour. Bring the gravy up to a boil and whisk in the butter mixture to thicken your gravy. If the gravy is too thick, add a little more chicken broth, pan drippings or a little water and butter to thin it out.

Gravy Troubleshooting
Gravy is greasy: If the gravy seems greasy, a fat separator should eliminate the problem. You can also try to skim extra fat off with a wide-bowled spoon.

Gravy is doughy: If gravy has a doughy, chalky, or floury taste, you haven't cooked the flour enough. Turn up the heat to maintain a rapid simmer for several minutes; then thin it again, if necessary, with more stock or water.

Lumpy gravy: Don't worry if there are lumps. Really. They're tasty, usually. If the look of lumps really bothers you, just strain it before serving using a sieve. You could also toss your food processor or blender and process until smooth.

Thin gravy: If gravy is too thin, simmer over medium-high heat, allowing liquid to reduce more. If your gravy is still too thin, make a paste of equal parts flour and cold water, and add it a little at a time to the prepared gravy, whisking constantly until the gravy thickens.

Thick gravy: If gravy is too thick, gradually whisk in additional stock or broth, a little at a time into the gravy until it reaches desired consistency.

This is part two of my Thanksgiving survival series. Did you miss yesterday's Infamous Pumpkin Pie? Make sure to check it out here! I've also got my super-OCD Thanksgiving Timeline posted, too. And there's more to come next week, too, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Infamous Pumpkin Pie

In my family, we make two pies for Thanksgiving - a pumpkin pie and a chocolate pie (since I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin). This year, I will also be making a Pumpkin Icebox Pie this year, which I'm looking forward to trying, for Husband's sake. Today, I'm sharing my Infamous Pumpkin Pie recipe. This is actually the first pumpkin pie I've ever made - my mother has always been the one who made the pumpkin pie, but according to my official taste tester, I have taken over the Pumpkin Pie throne with this masterpiece.

This recipe is for all of you true pumpkin fans out there. I'm not one of you, but my husband sure is! If you're looking for a classic Thanksgiving pie recipe, this is the one for you.

Infamous Pumpkin Pie
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Pie Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
4-6 tbsp ice water

1. Process the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Scatter the shortening over the top and continue to process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seoconds. Scatter butter pieces over the top, and using short pulses, process the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Sprinkle 4 tbsp of the ice water over the mixture. Stir and press the dough together, using a stiff rubber spatula, until the dough sticks together. If the dough does not come together, stir in the remaining water, 1 tbsp at a time, until it does. Form the dough into a 4-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Let the chilled dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling it in a 12-inch circle and fitting it into a pie plate. Trim, fold and crimp the edges and freeze the unbaked pie crust until firm, about 30 minutes, before filling or baking.
4. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the chilled crust with aluminum foil and pie weights. Bake until the pie dough looks dry and is light in color, 25-30 minutes. For a partially baked crust (like the one for pumpkin pie), transfer the crust to a wire rack and remove the weights and foil. For a fully baked crust (but NOT for pumpkin pie!), remove the pie weights and foil and continue to bake until the crust is a deep golden brown, about 12 minutes longer. The pie crust may be cooled completely or used warm, according to the pie recipe.

1 15-oz can pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar (NOT light brown sugar)
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
4 large eggs

1. After removing the partially baked pie crust from the oven, leave the oven rack at the lower-middle position and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. The crust must still be hot when the filling is added. (This is what makes the filling so creamy!)
2. For the filling: While the crust bakes, process the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, spices and salt in a food processor until combined, about 1 minute. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook the pumpkin, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream and milk, return to a simmer briefly, and then remove from heat.
3. Process the eggs in the food processor (no need to clean the processor bowl of residual pumpkin!) until uniform, about 5 seconds. With the machine running, add about half of the hot pumpkin mixture through the feed tube. Stop the machine, add the remaining pumpkin, and ontinue to process the mixture until uniform, about 30 seconds longer.
4. Immediately pour the warm filling into the hot, partially baked pie crust. If you have any extra filling, ladle it into the pie after it has baked for about 5 minutes, by which time the filling will have settled in. Bake until the filling is puffed and lightly cracked around the edges and the center wiggles slightly when jiggled, about 25 minutes. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool until warm or room temperature before serving.

To make ahead: (makes Thanksgiving that much easier!)
The pie can be refrigerated, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days!

NOTE: The easiest way to do this is to make the pie dough first. Set up your pie crust and put it in your pie plate. Heat the oven to 375 to bake your crust, and put it in the oven. Set a timer for about 10 minutes. Then start making your filling. You should be wrapping up your filling just as the pie crust comes out of the oven. Perfection!

This is part one of my Thanksgiving survival series - tomorrow, I'll get into Gravy 101, followed by stuffing and my favorite chocolate pie, French Silk Pie. Make sure to stay tuned! Don't forget to check out my Thanksgiving Timeline, also, which can be a real time-saver!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pan Seared Steak with Red Wine Sauce

Beef. It's what's for dinner. I was a big fan of those commercials, and not just because I liked the Aaron Copeland music it used. I am a big fan of beef for dinner. I try not to have it too frequently, because I know red meat is best in moderation, but it's absolutely one of the best things for dinner in my book. When I found this recipe, I had a hunch that it was right up my alley. I've recently learned that I'm a huge fan of red wine pan sauces (hello brown sugar pork with red wine sauce!), so I knew I had to try this.

This was a good recipe - I'm not a master yet at pan-searing steaks, but all in all, it turned out well. Baby was less than interested, but that's not abnormal. I made crispy roasted potatoes to go with, which he enjoyed dipping in his red wine sauce. I would probably make this again, but I would double the ingredients for the pan sauce, except for the shallot. I like to have lots of sauce with my meat, but that's just me. Enjoy!

Pan Seared Steak with Red Wine Sauce
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Printer-friendly recipe

2 boneless 8-oz ribeye steaks or top loin steaks, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick, thoroughly dried with paper towels
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 cup dry red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 1/3 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves

1. Heat heavy-bottomed 10-inch skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, season both sides of steaks with salt and pepper.
2. Lay steaks in pan, leaving 1/4-inch of space between each; reduce heat to medium-high and cook without moving until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks; cook 4 minutes more for rare, 5 more for medium rare, and 6 more for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
3. Off heat, add shallot and sugar to empty skillet; using pan's residual heat, cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are slightly softened and browned and sugar is melted, about 45 seconds. Return skillet to high heat, add wine, broth and bay leaf; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with wooden spoon. Boil until liquid is reduced to 3 tbsp, about 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar and mustard; cook at medium heat to blend flavors, about 1 minute longer. Off heat, whisk in butter until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Add thyme and seasont o taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf, spoon sauce over steaks and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cream Biscuits

Admittedly, I normally just use Jiffy mix for my biscuits when Thanksgiving rolls around. I thought that this year I would try a homemade recipe, see how they compare to Jiffy mix. Naturally, Jiffy mix is easier, but this was quite tasty. They were light and fluffy, and broke in half without a knife or fork. Definitely an awesome recipe! We like biscuits. A lot. Especially when they go with gravy. Yum!

Cream Biscuits
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, sugar, bnaking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until the dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead the dough briefly until smooth, about 30 seconds. The key is to work the dough as little as possible. The more you mix, the more you develop the protein in the flour, which leads to a tough biscuit.
2. Pat the dough into a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut the biscuits into rounds using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on the parchment-lined baking sheet. The baking sheet can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

French Onion Soup

I love French Onion Soup. It's one of my favorite things to eat. I especially love dipping bread in it. Super yum! I first started making this soup last winter, and I've been so anxious for the weather to finally cool off so I could make this soup and share it with you all. Trust me, this is a soup you need to make. It's awesome. Not only that, but it's easy - well, outside of the face that cutting the onions will totally make you cry. This is a perfect recipe for fall and winter, and oh so tasty.

French Onion Soup
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

2 tbsp unsalted butter
5 medium red onions (about 3 pounds), halved and sliced thin
2 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 3/4 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 bay leaves
Baguette, sliced 1/2" thick
8 oz Swiss cheese, shredded (2 cups)

1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, thyme, and 1/2 tsp salt. cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are dark and sticky, about 30 minutes.
2. Stir in the vinegar and scrape the browned crust from the pot. Stir in the chicken broth, beef broth and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and discard the bay leaves.
3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange oven-sade soup bowls on a rimmed baking sheet and ladle the soup into them. Top each bowl with 2 baguette slices and sprinkle each with 1/4 cup cheese. Bake

Monday, November 16, 2009

I could do without all the tantrums...

Sometimes I think I've got this whole mother thing down pat. And then, my munchkin will wake up from a nap and remind me that he's not as easy as I think he is. My toddler is going on 21 months old and has hit the terrible two's with a vengeance.

He's very willful, and pushing my buttons at every turn. He's obsessed with the things that he gets into trouble for doing - coloring on the furniture (during the two seconds that I turn my back to scratch an itch or to pat the dog or something) and trying to stand and run around on the couch. I'm frightened he'll hurt himself with the couch running, plus it infuriates me that he won't listen to me!

He's also obsessed with two television programs - Yo Gabba Gabba and Thomas the Friends. If you don't have a child, you haven't experienced the technicolor acid trip that is Yo Gabba Gabba. At first, I despised it, but it's grown on me over the last six months. It does strike me as truly educational, even if one of the creatures in Gabba Land looks quite a bit like a "dildo with some kind of STD" (as my best friend so wittingly put it). As for Thomas, or "Momas" as he's known in my house, my munchkin just loves trains. He's such a boy.

Recently, he's also become familiar with Blue's Clues, which he's also very into. It's "Boo's Coos" to him, which is adorable. When he draws at his coloring table, he insists on occasion that I draw a pawprint here and there, and he loves to try to sing the mail song. It's the first recognizable song I've ever heard him sing.

At the same time, he can turn on the charm and make me feel bad for cursing him in my head, and make me smile at the drop of the hat. He's taken to calling me Mommy now, instead of Mama, which is quite possibly one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. But when he's wailing it because he wants to watch another episode of Yo Gabba Gabba, it's not so beautiful sounding. I really could do without all the tantrums. If it weren't for them, I would have to say that motherhood is pretty darn enjoyable.

It blows my mind that his whole happy world can come crashing down just because he can't have a cookie. When he wants something, he wants it now. This crops up as a problem most nights at dinnertime, when I'm trying to prepare dinner. I don't let him in the kitchen when I'm cooking because I'm frightened that he'll find a way to burn himself, so he's usually playing in the living room, and inevitably, at some point, he will start chanting "dinner, dinner, dinner" and throwing himself at the gate. There are plenty of nights where I wind up trying to finish cooking one handed, while carrying Baby on my hip and trying to placate him as best I can.

My best friend and I took our kiddos to the mall play area a few weeks ago and she commented to me that it's no longer relaxing to take the kids to the play area, and she's right. It's downright stressful. Between their lack of social skills with older kids and their newfound obsession with climbing on everything in sight, despite their sometimes shaky climbing skills, it can be positively nail-biting to watch them play. You do the toddler mommy dance - do you step in? Do you let them fall and learn? It's so tough sometimes. And I'm sure it's not going to get much easier as they get older.

Sometimes it blows my mind to think that two years ago, my biggest concerns were work-related. Not even family related. My life has done a complete 180 in the last two years...and as much as I hate it on some days, I think I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for November 16th

This is going to be a neat-o menu week. Yes, I really wrote that. Neat-0. It's one of my toddler's favorite words.

I'm going to be sharing an old favorite recipe with you, for my mom's infamous Pan Fried Chicken. I will also be making a cream gravy to go with the fried chicken, which is almost the entire point of making the fried chicken. In our family, we're big fans of eating our cream gravy with biscuits. Yum. When I'm sick, that's the one thing I crave - not chicken noodle soup, chicken cream gravy and biscuits.

This week's new recipe is for Pork Tenderloin with Cider Sauce. I'm looking forward to trying this recipe, because it doesn't look too hard and because it also sounds awfully tasty. And reminds me of fall.

Monday - IHOP Pancakes (dude, if you haven't checked these out, you must - they are awesome!)
Wednesday - Spaghetti and Garlic Knots
Thursday - Beef Teriyaki
Friday - Burgers on the Grill
Saturday - Pan Fried Chicken Mom's Way (recipe to be posted!)
Sunday - Pork Tenderloin with Cider Sauce (recipe to be posted!)

Don't forget, if you need menu inspiration in a big way, go visit Org Junkie!

MSC: Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes

How did it get to be the 15th already? I opened my journal this morning, wrote today's date, and had a total freakout because I realized I hadn't yet made my MSC cupcakes! Eek! I get up early, so I quickly scrubbed my sweet potatoes and tossed them in the oven, and managed to get my cupcakes in the oven by 9 o'clock. Phew. It's been a busy week or so around my house. Between the garage sale we held on Saturday, my first Wilton cake decorating class on Thursday night and just general insanity the rest of the week.

So...on to the cupcakes. I'm not a huge sweet potato fan. In fact, if Karen hadn't picked the Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes for this month, I'm quite certain I would have never baked them. Fortunately, my husband likes sweet potatoes, so I'm hopeful that he'll like them. As a result, I did halve the recipe, which seemed to work out just fine.

I skipped the candied pecans for two reasons - not kid-friendly in my house (my munchkin can't have nuts yet, and I have a feeling he will totally dig these cupcakes) and my husband isn't super-big on pecans. And the most important third reason? I was in a rush.

And by the way, I totally suck at using my kitchen torch. I do indeed own one - it was on my registry when I got married several years ago. This marks the second time that I've used it. Needless to say, I did more burning than browning the marshmallows. Argh. Oh well, here was my prettiest attempt:

Will I make these again? Probably not. But I suppose it's good to know that I need WAY more practice with my kitchen torch!

See what I mean?

Friday, November 13, 2009

IHOP Pancakes

I enjoy IHOP's pancakes a good bit. There's a reason why they are the International House of Pancakes. We don't eat at IHOP very often anymore, so when I spotted this recipe, I was really excited to give it a shot.

Holy moly, these were good. So good that my husband would've probably eaten every single one I made, if I'd let him. Seriously. These kick my usual buttermilk pancakes' butts. These pancakes were light, fluffy, and perfect. I just loved them. I tend to make a ton of pancakes when I make pancakes, though, so I have frozen pancakes for Baby for breakfast in the morning, so next time I make these, I will double the recipe, because it really does make just 8-10 pancakes.

Do yourself a favor. Make brinner for dinner tonight. Seriously. These pancakes will rock your world!

IHOP Pancakes

Printer-friendly recipe

Nonstick Spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cooking oil
pinch of salt

1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Use a pan with a nonstick surface or apply a little nonstick spray.

2. In a blender or with a mixer, combine all of the remaining ingredients until smooth.

3. Pour the batter by spoonfuls into the hot pan, forming 5-inch circles.

4. When the edges appear to harden, flip the pancakes. They should be golden brown.

5. Cook pancakes on the other side for same amount of time, until golden brown.

Makes 8 to 10 pancakes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I'm a big fan of Jodi Picoult's books. I've read most of them at this point, with a few exceptions of her older works, and I usually devour them quickly. They all involve surprising plot twists, well developed characters, and interesting story lines. Earlier this year, I read her newest book, Handle with Care, and I've just finished re-reading Nineteen Minutes for my book club.

I first read Nineteen Minutes when it first came out, which was right before the Virginia Tech shooting several years ago. It was heartbreaking and timely, telling the story of a fictional school shooting, and I couldn't put it down. Even in re-reading it, I couldn't put it down, though I recalled the basic storyline, I couldn't remember every detail or every nuance in the story. This was definitely an enjoyable re-read.

The thing that strikes me so much about Nineteen Minutes is how authentic the feelings the teenage characters convey are. I remember my teenage years all too well, and remember many of the feelings of confusion and wanting to belong expressed by the teens in the book. Like many of her other books, Nineteen Minutes feels real. Jodi Picoult creates these stories in which you experience a complete suspension of disbelief, where you find yourself immersed in the world the author has created. To me, that's the mark of a good book.

I won't reveal any of the plot twists, that's half the fun of reading a Jodi Picoult book. I will, however, recommend this book, and have since I read it the first time. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Next, I'm starting The Lovely Bones. I tried to read this once before, and lost my way at one point, I think thanks to a another book that I was just too desperate to read at the time, and I never went back to pick this one up. Stay tuned to hear my two cents on that one!

Are you looking for more worthwhile reads? Check out my A+ Reads collection, full of wonderful books, personally recommended by me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving Timeline

I tend to overthink things. Kind of a lot. That's why you shouldn't be surprised that I have a ridiculously detailed timeline for Thanksgiving. It helps me make sure that everything is ready, and it's great to use for your first Thanksgiving. It's a combination of things I've learned over the years, the Thanksgiving manifesto I inherited from my mother when I held my first Thanksgiving, and what I've learned from Martha, too. I've also included a printable version of this, to post on your fridge. Trust me, it will make your life easier during this hectic time!

Type A Mommy's Thanksgiving Timeline

Printer-friendly version

2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving

* Plan your menu
* Decide if you would like guests to bring anything, like side dishes or desserts
* Decide if your dinner will be sit-down or buffet-style
* Make your master grocery list, with all the items you need in order to make the recipes you've selected.
* Create a list of everything you need to purchase/gather
* Go grocery shopping and buy your non-perishables now. It's easier on your wallet this way, and easier in case you forget something. Don't forget other items like aluminum foil, paper towels, and decor items like candles and napkins and such.
* Take an inventory and make sure you have:
* Table(s) big enough for your guests
* Chairs (though you can always ask guests to bring a chair if you're short)
* Plates, glassware and silverware for guests
* Table linens
* Serving ware and dishes
* Roasting pan or disposable aluminum roasting pan

One week before

* National Thaw Day! Time to take that turkey out and put it in the fridge to thaw. Allow one full day to thaw for every four pounds of turkey you have. A fully thawed turkey may remain in the fridge for four days before cooking. Better to thaw early than late!
* Wash all of your holiday dishes, glasses, and silverware. Iron all tablecloths and napkins.

* Review your shopping list. Cross off the non-perishables you bought last week, and review to make sure you've got everything covered. Don't forget to include munchies for the living room while your guests await dinner. You can always make pumpkin bread for snacking or roast some nuts.

* Do your final grocery shop. Trust me, you don't want to be at the grocery store on Wednesday, or trying to find one that's open on Thursday (but you want to know which one is open on Thursday, just in case!!).

The Week of Thanksgiving


* Decorate your house. Use pumpkins and gourds, Indian corn and the like. If you need to create arranged seating, do so and make placecards.

* Review your recipes, and make your Turkey Day Timeline. What needs to go in the oven when? What early prep work can you do to make your life easier?
* Bake desserts and side dishes that can be refrigerated a few days before.

* Clear out your coat closet (unless you live in Florida, in which case, this is totally unnecessary).
* Clean the guest bathroom and put fresh towels in it.
* Pick out your Thanksgiving outfit, as well as your cooking outfit. I always cook in a different outfit, because I don't have a full-body apron. Inevitably I get something on myself every year in random locations - sleeves, pant legs, etc.

* Set the table.
* Eat breakfast - you will be much more delightful to be around if you do.
* Make the stuffing in the morning, but don't stuff the turkey until it's ready to go in the oven.
* Make sure to get the turkey in the oven on time or early so it will be ready on schedule.
* Take a deep breath and relax. Try to enjoy the day. If something goes wrong, so be it. Try to learn something from it, or at least have a laugh about it.
* Enjoy yourself!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Daddy's Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookies

I don't remember my dad doing much cooking in the kitchen when I was a kid. I remember he tried to make me a grilled cheese sandwich once and put mustard on it. (Ew!) He was, however, a pretty good baker. The only problem was the he wasn't always too interested in following the directions for a recipe. For instance, he often would cheat to soften butter, or not let chocolate cool for brownies, but for the most part, it didn't impact the flavor of the cookies and brownies he baked.

Dad mostly baked cookies. He had an arm pretty equivalent to a stand mixer, and he so far has been the only person in the family to make awesome oatmeal cookies. This is his recipe, I have no idea where it came from, but it was the only one he would make. Over the years, I've tried tweaking it, and it's just best the way it was back then.

These cookies are ridiculously easy to make, so definitely give this recipe a try. It's one of my favorites.

Daddy's Cape Cod Oatmeal Cookies
Printer-friendly recipe

1 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp molasses
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cup oatmeal

1. Preheat oven to 350. Mix melted butter with sugar. Add molasses and combine.
2. Beat one egg in separate bowl and add to mixture.
3. Add milk, mix.
4. Mix dry ingredients, except oatmeal, in separate bowl. Add slowly to cookie dough.
5. Add oatmeal last, combine.
6. Spoon onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Make sure to place on parchment or grease cookie sheet.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Beatty's Chocolate Cake

My mom came to visit recently and reminded me of a story from my childhood that I had forgotten, but remembered as soon as she started to tell the story.

I was in elementary school, and I had signed up to bring a cake to school for our class Halloween party. Either I forgot to tell my mom until the last minute, or my mom forgot about it until the last minute, and my mother bought a cake mix. She was horrified at this, because cake mixes are evil in her world, and wound up making homemade frosting to make up for the fact that it was a boxed mix. She also decorated the cake with mellowcreme pumpkins, my all-time favorite Halloween candy. When I came home from school that day, I told her it was the best cake I ever had. She remembered that so well that she wanted to make another cake like that.

Well, I am my mother's daughter, and I just didn't want to bake a cake mix - I wanted to bake Beatty's Chocolate Cake, the infamous Barefoot Contessa recipe I've read so much about on other food blogs. I must say, all the hype is for a good reason. It is an awesome cake. So moist! so chocolate-y! So sinfully yummy! This is now officially my favorite cake recipe. Ever. If I want chocolate cake, this is what I shall make. Sorry, Husband cake, this is my new favorite.

Let me apologize in advance for the lack of beauty in my cake - I'm not the best with layer cakes, which is precisely why my friend and I are taking the Wilton I class at Jo-Ann's, starting this week, so you'll probably see more cake stuff in the next several weeks as I practice my craft. In the meantime, make this cake. Seriously. Right now.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
Printer-friendly recipe

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

3. Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting:

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

1. Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Friend Making Monday

Today's Friend Making Monday topic is....what are your favorite candles/scents?

Naturally, I'm a big fan of the smell of baked goods...especially...


I've yet to really find a candle that recreates the smell of freshly baked cookies, but the one that's come the closest is...Christmas Cookie!

I must say, though, that there's nothing like the smell of chocolate cake baking in your oven, especially the chocolate cake I made this weekend...

Don't forget, if you want to join in on the blog hopping Friend Makin' Monday fun, visit aefilkins to learn more. It's a great way to meet other great bloggers!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for November 9th

In theory, we're going to have a cool down this week that might actually make it finally feel like fall. I sure hope so, because I'm planning to make French Onion Soup this week! French Onion Soup is one of my all-time favorite foods, has been for a long time. I think I first had it at a Bennigan's when I was in college, and I loved it. Several of my friends and I lived in an apartment complex across the street from a Bennigan's while I was in college, and we would constantly go there, for late night drinks, late night dinners, you name it. In fact, there was a Jameson whiskey-soaked steak there that I loved for a long time until they took it off the menu. I should hunt for a copycat of that recipe. I was really sad when Bennigan's shuttered its doors earlier this year - it was like a chapter of my past closing up for good. I guess I fared pretty well, though, given that Husband still hangs around and he was a big part of those Bennigan's dinners. He could slam back frozen mudslides there with the best of them.

Anyway, not too much excitement with this week's menu. I plan to start working on getting some of my Thanksgiving recipes up here very soon, so stay tuned. I also believe I might just have another book review for you this week. We've got three recipes this week that will be coming to you soon, and I'm way excited to share the steak with red wine sauce recipe, it looks delicious! Have a great week!

Wednesday - Spaghetti
Friday - French Onion Soup (recipe to be posted!)
Saturday - Honey Soy Grilled Pork Chops (recipe to be posted!)
Sunday - Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Sauce (recipe to be posted!)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chicken with Mustard Pan Sauce

I made this recipe a few years ago, when I first picked up How to Boil Water, which is a pretty great beginner's cookbook. I wasn't a very good cook at the time, my idea of cooking was heating up from frozen chicken for dinner. I wanted to learn to cook, badly, but I spent very little time trying, so I wasn't good at all. I recall this being a particularly bad dinner that we had. It was bland, it was boring, not tasty at all.

I thought it'd be fun to try to make this dish again, which sounded promising when I first read it, and see if my skills have really improved. I'm pretty sure they had, but I figured this would be a good test, especially since the recipe didn't seem like rocket science. Plus, I'm a big fan of pan sauces these days.

Sorry about the complete lack of pictures, I could have sworn I took some, but apparently I must have forgotten. This whole time change thing is really messing with me! Anyway, this was an easy dish to prepare. I didn't love the flavor, which was my fault (not the recipe) because I didn't have any whole grain mustard just dijon mustard, but Husband thought it was quite tasty, so maybe it's just me.

Chicken with Mustard Pan Sauce
adapted from How to Boil Water

4 boneless chicken breasts, preferably with skin
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup white wine or dry white vermouth
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp whole grain mustard
1 tbsp unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the hot pan and swirl around to evenly coat. Lay the chicken pieces in the pan, skin side down, and cook without moving them until the skin crisps and browns, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to baking dish, skin side up, and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
3. Pour the wine into the hot skillet. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Boil until almost all the wine evaporates and it gets a little syrupy, about 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil.
4. Mix the flour and water together to make a thin paste called a slurry. Then whisk the slurry and mustard into the broth and boil until the sauce thickens, 1-2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat. Swirl in butter, to give the sauce a little richness; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add any collected juices from the chicken to the sauce. Put chicken on a plate, pour sauce on top and serve.

NOTE: You can also use 2-4 tbsp heavy cream instead of butter for a cream sauce; skip the slurry, then and just boil until thick. Pork chops can also be cooked this way instead of chicken.

Click here for printable recipe

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crispy Skinned Orange Chicken

Husband and I are big on Food Network these days, especially the food-related reality shows. We are currently into "The Next Iron Chef" but I much preferred "The Next Food Network Star." Their cooking skills weren't quite as intimidating, and they worked with ingredients that I have heard of. Anyway, Melissa D'Arabian was this seasons's "The Next Food Network Star" winner, and she cooked something toward the end of the season that sounded really easy and yummy - a crispy-skinned orange chicken. She said her children really liked it, so I thought it was worth a try for us.

This was definitely a tasty dish. It was also a big mess - but thankfully, I'm not the one who does dishes in the family. I think that's why I make such big kitchen messes. Anyway, I had a tough time getting all of my chicken done, because my pieces were all different sizes, really.

Baby seems to be on a meat strike, so I don't think he managed to eat a bite. But Husband and I both enjoyed this a lot. He gave it an 8 out of 10. I think I'd agree. I served this with some sweet potato fries and corn, and it sure was a pretty meal. The chicken was super moist, I just wish that the flavor had seeped more into the chicken itself, not just the skin. I will definitely make this again, though. It's officially in the rotation now.

Crispy-Skinned Orange Chicken
from Melissa D'Arabian (Food Network)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 skin-on bone-in chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
4 tablespoons honey

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Liberally salt and pepper the chicken breast halves. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and sear the chicken, skin side only, until brown and beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the orange glaze: In a small saucepan, heat the orange juice concentrate, honey, and salt and pepper, to taste, over medium heat, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
4. Turn the chicken over and brush each piece with the glaze. Turn the chicken skin side up and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, brushing on more glaze halfway through, about 15 minutes in total. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board. Remove the chicken breast from the bone and slice the meat on the bias. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and serve.

Printable Recipe

Orange-Glazed Chicken on Foodista

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thanksgiving is a-Knocking!

How did it get to be November already?

Thanksgiving is positively one of my favorite holidays, primarily because it has so much to do with cooking and baking (Christmas is my all-time favorite, thanks to Christmas cookies). My mother, being the Type A Mommy that she is, actually wrote a lengthy instruction guide for Thanksgiving dinner when my older sister first skipped coming home for Thanksgiving, so she could prepare her own authentic Thanksgiving in her new hometown, and I ultimately got that same guide many years later, when I also began starting my own family traditions for Thanksgiving.

These days, Mom comes to my house usually for Thanksgiving, and she still really loves to cook on Thanksgiving, so we spend a good bit of time together in the kitchen. I wanted to give you all a quick preview of what I'm going to be sharing with you this Thanksgiving to help you prepare the best Thanksgiving ever.

Later this month, I'm going to sharing a timeline and shopping list to help you get things together for Thanksgiving. I will be sharing many, many recipes leading up to Thanksgiving, including Authentic Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Icebox Pie, French Silk Pie, Homemade Bread Stuffing, as well as a Gravy 101 tutorial. In the meantime, I'm going to share with you my Thanksgiving Day Menu:

Thanksgiving Breakfast:
Pumpkin Pancakes

Thanksgiving Lunch:
Fend for yourselves! Or eat a pumpkin mini-loaf.

Thanksgiving Dinner:
Classic Thanksgiving Turkey
Homemade Bread Stuffing with Sage and Thyme
Mashed Potatoes
Bourbon Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans (but not green bean casserole, because Baby's not a fan)
Baking Powder Biscuits (because biscuits and gravy on Thanksgiving are a family tradition)
French Silk Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Icebox Pie

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard

I had a hard time with this book. Perhaps because it's every mother's worst fear for her child to be kidnapped. Or perhaps because it just wasn't as good as I'd heard it would be. I think if I had read this before I had Baby, I probably could have enjoyed it more as a realistic piece of fiction, as opposed to my worst nightmare.

The only reason I was able to finish this book quickly was the swine flu quarantine we've been under lately. It's like there was nothing to do other than read when Baby was sleeping because it wasn't like I needed to pack the diaper bag to go some place, and I was too frustrated to clean (not to mention, I knew I was going to have to clean all over again when the swine flu was all over), so I read. And read. And read. And here we are.

I was hooked by the premise of this book - what happened to a family who endured the kidnapping of their middle child, but I had a hard time enjoying reading about what actually happened to them. Normally, I enjoy depressing fiction - some of the best books are depressing! But this one just didn't sit well with me. I kind of rushed through it to get it over with because I just wanted to be done with it. I don't think I would recommend this book to a friend.

My next read (which I'm already almost done with) is Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. It's a re-read for my December book club meeting, so it's going by pretty quickly. Stay tuned to hear what I thought about it. And don't forget, since I have been entirely inept lately at picking out books for myself, drop me a line if you've got a great book recommendation! And don't forget to enter The Anti-Socialite's book recommendation contest while you're at it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Buttermilk Waffles

I like waffles, but I've always made from them a mix (eek, the horror!). Even my mother, a self-described from-scratch-nazi, has always made waffles from a mix, but from a certain mix. Jiffy mix. The blue box Jiffy biscuit mix that's becoming increasingly harder to find as I get older. The recipe is ridiculously easy - biscuit mix, milk, melted butter and eggs, and hard to screw up. I also love pancakes, and I love my buttermilk pancake recipe, so I thought this week that I would try some buttermilk waffles from scratch and see what I think.

Yes, they were definitely yummy, and the texture was delightful, but I guess when it comes to brinner, I am mildly lazy. My pancake recipe is quite easy, and while this recipe isn't rocket science, it does dirty more dishes and requires egg separating. I think if I make a super yummy breakfast for a special occasion, I'll dust this recipe off, but in the meantime, I'll stick with my Jiffy mix waffles.

Buttermilk Waffles
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional - I didn't use this)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg , separated
7/8 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted


Heat waffle iron. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Whisk egg yolk with buttermilk and butter. Using a hand mixer, beat egg white on high speed just until stiff peaks hold (do not skip this step – beating your egg whites separately makes a huge difference in the end product)

Slowly add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients while gently mixing. Do not add liquid faster than you can incorporate it. Once all liquid has been added, gently fold egg whites into batter.

Spread batter onto waffle iron (enough to cover) and cook waffle until golden brown. This should take about 3-5 minutes depending on your waffle iron. As a general rule of thumb, your waffle is ready to come off the iron when it stops steaming. Serve immediately.

Yield: 3-4 waffles (note, this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if you’re feeding a family or a crowd)

Friend Making Monday

Woo hoo, it's Monday, and therefore it's time for another edition of Friend Makin' Monday - and I actually remembered this week, yay!!!

Did you have an awesome Halloween this weekend? Did you eat all your kids' Halloween candy? This is totally the first year that I didn't eat a bite of it, and not even for noble reasons like because I'm trying to watch my weight. I purposely didn't buy any candy because we were taking Baby to the mall to trick-or-treat (when you live in Florida and it's 85 degrees on Halloween, and your child is in a hot monkey costume, it's the best decision ever). He didn't wind up getting any candy that I had any interest in - mostly things like Tootsie Rolls and Double Bubble. Ick. Had there been something yummy in that little pumpkin of his, I probably would have snarfed it down.

What is your Halloween Kryptonite? What is the candy that just beckons to you at Halloween? For me, it's these little suckers....
And I must say, I'm intrigued - I searched for a photo online of a Kit Kat bar, and came across some very interesting variations sold in other countries, like a lemon cheesecake flavor, green tea, and various other oddities. Wonder why they haven't tried those here. Oh well.

Anyway, if you want to join in the blog hopping fun that is Friend Making Monday, go visit Aefilkins, and write a post about your favorite Halloween candy. And don't forget to tell me about it, too! Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Menu Plan Monday for November 2nd

I am so happy to be done with the whole swine flu quarantine. If money grew on trees, we would totally eat out every night this week, just to get out of the house! But, I haven't found the money tree yet, so we're just back to normal, with some tried and true favorites this week as well as two new recipes to try. I'm especially looking forward to trying the steaks with balsamic mustard sauce recipe.

The other new recipe I want to share with you all, but so far the weather's not cooperating, is French Onion Soup. It's one of my all-time favorite things in the world, but when you live in Florida, you really only have it when you're sick or when it's actually cold outside. Right now, it's not cold, at all, it feels more like August than November. As soon as the temperature starts to dip, I will absolutely make my soup and post the yummy recipe - trust me, it will become one of your favorites, so stay tuned, and hope for a cold front!!!

In the meantime, here's what's on the menu for this week:

Wednesday - Spaghetti
Saturday - Steaks with Balsamic Mustard Sauce (recipe to be posted!)
Sunday - Skillet Pizza (recipe to be posted!)
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