"It's the company, not the cooking, that makes the meal!" ~Perilee 
(Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson)

Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Thanksgiving Turkey Brine

Every year that the holidays start approaching we think of all the family and friends we are thankful to have in our lives. While we lived on the East Coast during Jacks graduate school we developed some wonderful friends whom became our family while we were away from home. We have fond memories of 4am train rides to NYC to see the Macey's Day Parade where we froze nearly to death. A yearly Thanksgiving Feast with the Strobel family, who turned us on to Turkey Brining! Brining your turkey makes the bird incredibly moist. We have tried various recipes over the years and enjoyed them all. I think it is because they make the bird so MOIST and give it incredible flavor.

So this year I hadn't payed much attention to what I was going to do with the bird. HELLO that's the main course of Thanksgiving what was I thinking! So Wednesday night I did a quick Internet search for Brine that I might possibly have all the ingredients on hand. In years past it has required fresh herbs, lemons, and more items that I typically don't keep in the pantry/fridge. So this year we tried one from allrecipes.com that the contributor said her uncle that loves to smoke meats had given her. Jack loves smoked meats so I thought I would give it a try. The original recipe said to soak the turkey in the brine for 1-2 days. I had barely 12 hours, but gave it a shot anyway. We were pleased with the results. So I share the recipe I used and them method I used after reading a few recipes in a pinch.

Brine Ingredients:
2 gallons water
1 1/2 cups canning/pickling salt
3 Tablespoons minced garlic (I used jarred, but wish it were FRESH)
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup packed brown sugar

In a 5 gallon bucket or container large enough to hold your turkey, mix together the water, salt, garlic, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. (I personally lined my 5 gallon bucket with a food safe bag-aka clean garbage bag. This helps with clean up and you can also twist the bag up tight so that the brine is completely surrounding the turkey.) Store in a refrigerator, and soak turkey for at least 12 hours (most recipes I read said at least 1 day some up to 2 days). I personally don't have that much room in my fridge for it. A blessing of living in Northern Wyoming was that I could leave my bucket outside because it has been below 40 degrees. If you don't have room or the option having it be cold outside. Put it in a cooler with ice packs on it to keep the bird refrigerated at least at 40 degrees.

After brining is complete. Remove the bird from the brine and rinse well with cold water. Pat dry. Cook bird according to package directions. Our was in a 325 degree oven for 3-4 hours for a 16.5 lb bird. Remove the lid the last 30 minutes for browning and frequent temperature checking.

Butter-Pecan Sweet Potatoes

We love these sweet potatoes and eat them year round. I like to make them for our Thanksgiving feast as a healthier verison of sweet potatoes. They never disappear at Thanksgiving because there are to many other choices to fill up on, but at a regular meal there are rarely any left.

Butter-Pecan Sweet Potatoes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Peel and dice 1-2lbs sweet potatoes into small cubes
(the size of my cubes depends on much time I have for them to cook usually 1/2"x 1/2" works well for quick baking).
Toss diced potatoes with Olive Oil
Season with Coarse Salt (I use Kosher Salt)
Transfer to a large baking cookie sheet/jelly-roll pan.
Cook until potatoes are tender, tossing occasionally (25-30 minutes).
When tender sprinkle with
1-2 Tablespoons butter
2 packed Tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup pecans pieces
Two shakes cayenne pepper (1/16 tsp.) If you want more heat add up to 1/8 teaspoon.
Bake until sugar is caramelized and hard about 10 minutes. Gently toss and serve immediately.

Sweet Potato Crunch

I never enjoyed sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving time. Everyone in my family loves my mom's sweet potatoes layered with butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows, but for some reason I have never acquired a taste for them to this day. It is nothing against my mom's cooking because she is a fabulous cook and I am always calling her with cooking questions. It wasn't until I had these yam/sweet potatoes at my sister-in-laws Echo's that I learned to like yams. So the honest truth is this dish is more like a pie--maybe that's why it won me over. It is a very southern style dish. If you like sweet potatoes this dish will have you asking for seconds. If you don't like traditional sweet potatoes with roasted marshmallows this one might win you over like it did me.

2 Large Cans Yams/Sweet Potato, drained and mashed. (I use Bruce's Brand)
3 eggs (I only use 1 Egg if making half a recipe)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix sweet potatoes, eggs, sugar, milk, margarine, and vanilla. Put in a 9 x 13 (or 2 1/2 quart.) baking dish.
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup margarine, melted

Mix brown sugar, flour, pecans, and margarine together. Put over the sweet potatoes in baking dish. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.

Yields: 8-10 servings
May be prepared early in the day or the day before.

Banana Cream Pie-A Family Tradition!

If there is one dessert for me and my family of origin that says "Thanksgiving" and "Family Favorite" It would be mom's homemade BANANA CREAM PIE!! Mom would always feed a crowd. We'd have one of almost every flavor of pie and we had to have 6-9 Banana Cream Pies. The other pies were always leftovers! You were lucky if you got a piece of Banana Cream Pie with all the family and extended family that was at our home on Thanksgiving Day. So holding with tradition I have continued to make this wonderful pie for my little family and guest were ever we have Thanksgiving. It is still the Belle of the Ball so to speak! If you love creamed pies this one is in my opinion just "HEAVENLY!!!"

Vanilla Cream Pie
(Enough for one unfilled baked-crust pie crust)

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
(I like to put these in the saucepan and blend them together before adding the milk)
3 cups milk (I always use 1% whatever you normally drink works here)
3 egg YOKES, slightly beaten
2 Tablespoons margarine or butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

Prepare and bake pastry for unfilled one-crust pie using 9-inch pie pan. In medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in milk. Blending until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes; remove from heat. Blend a small amount of hot mixture into egg yolks. (This part can be tricky if you pour it in to hot it cooks the yokes and you get little lumps of scrambled egg type pieces in your pie. I have found the best method after much trial and error is to put my yokes in a bowl that I can add the hot pudding to one Tablespoon at a time. I cool each Tablespoon just slightly before whisking them in the beaten eggs. I continue you this for about 4-5 Tablespoonful then I had one straight from the pan and when I feel like the yokes are warmed up to my satisfaction I pour them slowly into the main batch). Return the hot egg mixture to the mail pot, blending well. Cook until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 1 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in margarine /butter and vanilla. Cool pudding. (We always pour ours out into a new bowl (Because we need the pan to keep cooking several more batches! ;-)) and cover with waxed paper so it doesn't develop a skin. Pour into cooled , baked crust! (Never put a hot filling in a cold crust. Hot in Hot and cold in cold--to keep your crust beautiful and not soggy.) Refrigerate for 3 hours or until set. If desired, serve with whipped cream. (We also cover it with wax paper after putting in pie crust to keep the skin from developing. Maybe mom did this to keep little taste testing fingers out! until time to serve.)


BANANA CREAM PIE: Cool filling in saucepan to lukewarm. Pour into Pie Crust. When ready to serve, slice banana on top of pie and top with whipped cream. (Bananas can be added in on top of the crust before pouring the filling in, but we have found that they don't keep as well-turning brown and mushy. Our preference is to add them to individual slices when ready to serve.)

Butterscotch Cream Pie: Substitute firmly packed brown sugar for sugar.

Chocolate Cream Pie: Increase sugar to 1 cup and add 1 oz (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate to filling mixture before cooking.

Coconut Cream Pie: Stir 1 cup coconut into cooked filling with margarine and vanilla.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Garden Vegetable Soup

We love soup and this recipe called for fresh tomatoes and Basil which I just happened to have because I transplanted my basil plant and brought it in side (so far it is still a live) and my green tomatoes that finally turned red in their box were screaming, "we are on our way out lady!". . I am pretty confident that using dried alone would produce the same flavor because I had to add some to get it to taste right. (I don't think my fresh basil leaves were big enough.) My kids enjoyed this recipe and it hit the spot for me the day of and then the next as leftovers.

Garden Vegetable Soup (Found this recipe on Parents.com)

1 Leek, white part only
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 of medium Zucchini (I doubled the recipe so that I could use a whole Zucchini)
6 green beans (I left them out!)
1 medium carrot (I always double or triple the carrots in my soups because they are the boys favorites)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
1 1/2 Tablespoons water
4 cups no-salt added Chicken Stock (I used my Chicken Base added to water)
3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded (I used medium size)
15 fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (mine were small and it didn't seem to taste right so I added 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil. If you don't have fresh I would use 1-2 teaspoons dried basil to taste.)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced

Cut all the veggies into 1/4-inch pieces. In a large pot, mix half the olive oil with the water. Add veggies; saute on medium-low until the water evaporates. Don't let the veggies brown. Add stock, bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil for 30 minutes. Meanwhile puree tomatoes, basil, garlic, and remaining oil. Stir puree into soup. Don't let it return to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.

We enjoyed this soup with crackers or toast.

Popcorn Brittle

We are always willing to try new caramel corn, so when I saw this popcorn brittle I just had to give it a try. It taste just like peanut brittle. I used small baking M&M's because I had them on hand. They didn't hold up so well. I definitely think that the bigger ones wouldn't melt as quickly and would add a bigger splash when it comes to the fun colorful dimension they are to add to the treat. We ate it and enjoyed it anyway! This recipe reminds me of Harry and David's Gourmet Moose popcorn with the chocolate drizzles.

1 bag (3.3 oz) Gourmet Butter Microwave popcorn (I used a 98% fat-free version)
1 cup M&M's plain candies
1 1/2 cups firmly packed Brown Sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
1 cup Lightly Salted Peanuts
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

Prepare popcorn according to package directions. REMOVE all UNPOPPED KERNELS. Spread pooped corn evenly in 15 x 10-inch nonstick shallow baking pan. Sprinkle evenly with M&M's; set aside.
Place sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla in medium heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium-high and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. Add peanuts. Cook an additional 2 minutes or to the hard-crack stage (300-310 degrees), stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add baking soda and mix well.
Immediately pour caramel mixture evenly over popped corn and candy until coated. DO NOT STIR! (We learned the hard way!) Let stand 30 minutes or until caramel has cooled and hardened.

When Cool Break into pieces, share some with friends & neighbors then simply enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Crock Pot Caramel Apples

Every year I remember my mom making three things around Halloween or on Halloween night-Homemade chili, breadsticks, and caramel apples. She always makes hers from scratch and so did I until I tried this simple crock pot method. Nothing tops homemade caramel, but this recipe wins my heart because it was so kid friendly and the boys could work with the caramel and learn to dip them because the caramel was the perfect temperature.

Crock Pot Caramel Apples


2 packages (14oz each) caramels

1/4 cup water

8 medium apples, such as McIntosh, Gala, or Fuji

sticks for apples

In slow cooker, combine caramels and water. Cover and cook on high for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until caramels are melted, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, line a baking pan with wax paper; butter the paper.

Wash and dry the apples. Insert a stick into stem end of each apple. Reduce crockpot heat to LOW.

Note: If the caramel does happen to scorch, put it through a mesh strainer and discard any dark particles. Put the sauce into a saucepan or back into the cleaned slow cooker and keep warm while you dip the apples.

Dip apple into hot caramel; turn to coat entire surface. Holding apple above pot, scrape off excess accumulation of caramel from bottom apple.
Place coated apples on prepared wax paper in pan. As you near the bottom of the pot, use a spoon to spoon hot caramel over apples. Put the pan of coated apples in the refrigerator to set thoroughly. Use caution if children are helping; the crockpot will probably be quite hot to the touch and the caramel could scald.

Makes 8 caramel apples-med to large in size. (I got almost 20 *small apples) *If I can get this size of apples again I will always use them. They were the perfect size for eating without getting the caramel all over your face. I also didn't feel bad about allowing my kids to eat the entire apple.

I will have to post my mom's caramel apple recipe later.

Ramen Salad

This quick and simple salad is fun to toss together
for a quick lunch or a last minute get together.

1 lb Cole Slaw (I just buy the 1 lb bag for simplicity)

2 pkg. Ramen (oriental or shrimp flavor)
1/4 cup Margarine
1/3 cup Slivered Almonds

1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/2 cup Red Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup Sugar
Seasoning packets from the Ramen noodles

Optional: I always add more carrots (julienned or sliced) and chopped chicken when I want to make it more of a meal and not a side salad.

Break noodles; saute with almonds in margarine until lightly browned. (As a note if you crush your noodles to much then you will have smaller pieces that with brown or burn before the larger pieces are browned--you will have to play with it to get a method down that you like.)
Combine oil, vinegar, sugar and Ramen seasonings in a small bowl and set aside.
Mix all ingredients when ready to serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Boston Cream Pie/Cake

I have made this delicious cake with both chocolate and yellow cake. Both are delicious and have gotten rave reviews by those eating it! I will say that the yellow cake really does make it taste like a Boston Cream Pie. The pudding layers make the cake so incredibly moist. It is a cake that looks like it takes a lot of time, but it really is quick and easy.

1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) JELL-O Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding (I use two small boxes)
1 cup cold milk (1 cup of milk per box used)
1-1/2 cups thawed COOL WHIP Whipped Topping (because I use two pks of pudding I use the entire container of cool whip)
1 round yellow cake layer (8 or 9 inch)
1 square BAKER'S Unsweetened Chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. cold milk
(I add 1 teaspoon vanilla)
Make Cake according to box directions. Cool Completely!
BEAT pudding mix and 1 cup milk with whisk 2 min. Stir in COOL WHIP. Let stand 5 min. Meanwhile, cut cake horizontally into 2 layers with serrated knife.
STACK cake layers on serving plate, spreading pudding mixture between layers.
Melt bakers chocolate and butter in microwave for 30-1 minute on high until melted (care not to burn it). Add the milk, then add 3/4-1 cup powdered sugar depending on how thick of a consistency you desire.
This is where I add 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

~Recipe taken from Kraft Foods Food and Family Magazine. It can also be found on their website.

Energy Bark

This is such a great and healthy snack! If you are picky about the snacks you give your family, you are going to love this one!! It has carbs and protein to keep you and your kids going. Its a sweet and nutty flavored snack that everyone at our house loves. I usually double or triple the batch every time I make it. (I got this recipe from Parents Magazine in November 2006, p. 2006)

1 cup Old-Fashioned Oats
1 cup sliced Almonds
1/2 cup Coconut Flakes
1/4 cup Wheat Germ
2 Tablespoons Whole Wheat flour (I have used white here too)
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Honey

Heats oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, mix together oats, almonds, coconut, wheat germ, flour, and cinnamon. In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, and honey; bring to a boil and cook 30 seconds. Pour over oat mixture and stir to combine. Spread on foil-lined baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet, then break into pieces.
Makes 12 servings
Nutrition per serving: 153 Calories, 4g protein, 9 g fat; 17 carbs; 32mg calcium, 2 g fiber.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Zucchini Soup

I got this recipe over the summer from Sisters Cafe, who gives credit to a Julie Badger Jensen for this recipe. It is now one of our all time favorite soups. My boys gobble it down and ask for seconds and thirds. The recipe listed here is doesn't make much so I highly recommend doubling it if you are hoping to feed more then 4 or 5 people. I would say it serves 4 a cup of soup, so if you are wanting it as the main dish take that in to consideration. It is quick and has a wonderful flavor!

1 cups chopped onions
1 Tablespoon butter (original recipe calls for 2 T)
3 cups sliced Zucchini
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half (I have always used milk and it taste great to us!)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, the crumbled (I don't usually do this. Real Bacon Bits have come in handy when I have wanted to add this touch)

In a large saucepan cook onions in melted butter until tender. Add sliced zucchini and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender (about 15 minutes). Add salt and pepper. Cool Slightly. Pour mixture into blender and puree it. Stir in half-and-half (or milk). Return to saucepan and reheat, but do not boil. Garnish with cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits.

*We only add a dollop of sour cream if any to individual soup--we don't want to ruin a low-fat and healthy dish by adding unnecessary fats.

Peanut Butter Granola

I got this recipe from Diana E. at a Relief Society function. I was so excited to try it because we love granola at our house. Its great and fun to have a new flavor. We liked it plain as snack or as a quick cereal with milk on it. It is great on top of ice cream sundaes. For me it has to be paired with the right fruit and yogurt. It still doesn't top our Almond-Coconut granola, but we will make it over and over I am sure! Thank you Diana for another great recipe

Mix and Heat in 4 cup glass mixing bowl fir 4 minutes on High in the microwave.

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/3 cup margarine or butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl:

12 cups Rolled Oats
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
(you can also add nuts or coconut if you would like)

Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix quickly until it is evenly coated. Put onto 2 greased cookie sheets. Put both in oven one on upper rack and one on lower. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Switch cookie sheet to alternate rack and bake additional 10 minutes. Then turn off the oven and let the granola dry for several hours in the oven. Store in air tight container and enjoy.

Pizza Cobbler

This is a recipe I got from my sister-in-law. She makes this frequently for her kids when she and her husband are going out on a date. I took pictures of it, but it is a picture of melted cheese and isn't much to look at. This is a pretty quick little toss together meal if you have the ingredients on hand (which I usually don't so I have to plan for it). If you enjoy pizza this is a quick option with out a lot of fuss.

Pizza Cobbler
Grease a 8 x 8 (I would suggest using a 9 x 13 so that it will cook faster)
Pour a 1/4 cup sauce to cover the bottom of your pan.

1 pkg refrigerated Pillsbury Grand Rolls
Cut the biscuits into quarters, roll each quarter into a ball and place in the pan of sauce.

Top with remaining Pizza sauces and sprinkle with Mozzarella cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Cover with foil if cheese starts to brown before the biscuits are done in the center.

*I found cooking them in an 8 x 8 they are really tight and it took almost 40 minutes to cook it through. I think if you use an 9 x 13 it would cook the biscuits quicker 20-30 minutes. We also added olives and mushrooms before topping with remaining sauce and cheese and it turned out great.

S'More Cookie Bars

These little bars are rich and tasty. The are a great alternative to the MAGIC Bars (chocolate chips, nuts, and coconut drizzled with sweetened condensed milk).

3/4 cup margarine
3 Cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In 13 x 9-inch baking pan, combine the margarine with crumbs; press to form even layer in the bottom. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, then butterscotch chips, then mini marshmallows. Pour condensed milk evenly over mixture. Bake 25 minutes or until bubbly. On wire rack, let cool in pan completely. To serve, cut into squares. For easier cutting, refrigerate 1 hour.
Makes 2 dozen bars (24 bars out of a 9 x 13 seems small, but their are rich so it works great!)

Banana-Cinnamon Bunt Cake

Hugh sneaking a taste!

My kids loved this recipe. I personally will use homemade frosting next time, and I will probably leave the cinnamon out of the frosting because there is so much in the cake; if I even frost it at all. This cake was surprisingly rich. (We got this recipe from Betty Crocker's recipe newsletter).

1 Box Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix
1/2 cup water
1 cup mashed very ripe banana's (2 medium)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 chopped walnuts (we always use pecans)

Cinnamon Glaze
1/2 cup Betty Crocker Rich and Creamy cream cheese ready-to-spread frosting
2 to 3 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1/8 tsp. but will leave it out next time)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12- cup bundt cake pan.
Beat cake mix, water, bananas, butter, cinnamon, and eggs in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in nuts. Pour into pan.
Bake 43 to 53 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn pan upside down onto wire rack or heatproof serving plate; remove pan. Cool completely, about 2 hours. Stir all glaze ingredients in small bowl until thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over cake.