My Best Holiday Cookie Recipes…

Ever since I can remember I’ve made cookies for the holidays. My mother started me out when I was in high school (I think she wanted to transition the job to someone else) and the rest is history. As you can imagine I’ve had many successes and failures over the years but I’ve also developed a short list of my all-time favorite cookie recipes. And that is what this blog is all about – sharing my favorites with you. Just click on the pictures and they will link you to my recipes. I hope you enjoy them and make all of them. I guarantee you, they will all be a big hit.

The first cookie I’ve made for as long as I can remember and it’s stayed tried and true through several decades – the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. There is no better chocolate chip cookie recipe and I’ve tried a lot of them. I was having coffee with a friend the other day and we both agreed that if you’re going to make chocolate chip cookies this is the only recipe to use. And every year it has been my tradition to begin holiday baking by making these cookies. The cookie dough is divine (admit it, you eat this cookie dough), the cookie is to die for and they freeze beautifully so you can enjoy them for several weeks. I’m including the link to this recipe below the picture.  Making Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies means Christmas to me.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here’s the link to the recipe: allrecipes.com/recipe/174864/original-nestle-toll-house-chocolate-chip-cookies/

I love all of the cookies in this blog but I definitely have my favorite. In my estimation nothing beats my iced cinnamon chip cookie. The tartness of the cinnamon combined with the sweetness of the cookie topped with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting is as good as it gets. The challenge with making these cookies is finding cinnamon chips. My local grocery stores used to carry them but not anymore, so I have to order them online. But they’re so good it’s totally worth it. If you try any of these recipes, try this one. It is my absolute favorite!

Cinnamon Chip Cookie

Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookie

The iced cinnamon cookie recipe displaced my next cookie recipe as my all time favorite. For many years it was my triple chocolate brownie cookie. If you love chocolate, this is definitely the cookie for you. The three kinds of chocolate, the brownie-like consistency of the cookie and the semi-sweet chocolate drizzle are simply to die for. I make this cookie every year and it’s alway a hit.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookie

I also love my iced cranberry orange walnut cookies. The combination of cranberry and orange just screams the holidays to me. I love the tartness of fresh cranberries combined with the flavor of orange and the sweetness of the cookie dough. Add some walnuts and you have a killer combo! These cookies look festive and are easy to make. Drizzle them with some glaze and you have a holiday delight!

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

No respectable holiday cookie compilation would be complete without something that looks and tastes like peppermint. These cookies fit the bill. My peppermint twist kisses cookies not only boast the holiday colors but also bring together that great holiday combination of peppermint and chocolate. These cookies tastes divine and dress up any holiday cookie tray.

Peppermint Twist Kisses Cookie

And my last favorite is technically not a cookie, it’s fudge. I tried making fudge last year and could not believe how easy it was. This fudge brings together the classic combination of chocolate and peanut butter for a delightful holiday treat.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Home made cookies make great holiday gifts. Just put a few of them into a holiday bag, tie with some festive ribbon, and you’ve got a gift that’s better than most anything you can buy. Enjoy making them, enjoy eating them, enjoy sharing them.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who checks out my blog. I hope the recipes are fun and the information helpful. I wish you, your family and all of your friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And in the immortal words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Everyone!”

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My Best Holiday Appetizers…

Yahoo – the holidays are here. And with them come the parties and the food, and the singing and the making merry and bright. And you can’t deny food is definitely a key part of making holiday gatherings memorable.

I’ve been doing this blog for several years now and have posted a wide variety of recipes. Undoubtedly some of the more popular ones I’ve posted are the appetizers. And what’s a holiday party without appetizers. So this blog is dedicated to putting in one place all of my most popular appetizer recipes. Make one or make them all but I guarantee you anyone one of them will be a hit at your holiday parties.


CREAM CHEESE, BACON, SPINACH AND SCALLION PINWHEELS

This recipe is perhaps on of the most popular recipes I’ve ever posted. I almost didn’t post it because it’s so rudimentary I thought people would think I was selling out. Much to my surprise it was and continues to be a big hit. The most difficult part of making this recipe is choosing your favorite kind of tortilla. The rest is so easy you won’t believe. A former colleague of mine called the recipe “red neck sushi”. Call it what you like, it’s fabulous and will always be a hit!

Cream Cheese, Bacon, Spinach and Scallion Pinwheels.

SALTED CARAMEL CHEESE BALL

Lately I’ve experimented with making cheese balls. Once again I was certain cheese ball recipes would not be popular with my readers. I was wrong. Seems like people still like them. A friend told me one of her husband’s favorite sayings is “the party does not end until the cheese ball is gone”. This particular recipe is special as it can double as an appetizer or a dessert. And the drizzle of caramel sauce on the top gives it a special festive touch for any holiday party.

Salted Caramel Cheese Ball

THE BEST EVER MEATBALLS

When I say BEST EVER, I mean BEST EVER! The recipe was actually an accident. I found a recipe for meatballs that called for vegetable flakes. In my naiveté I used red pepper flakes, because after all a red pepper is a vegetable, right? (those were the days when I was mostly lost in the kitchen). Well, the rest was history. I’ve been making this recipe for years and it has been passed down to family and friends many times over. I know you’ll just love these meatballs and they will be a big hit at your holiday party!

The Best Ever Meatballs

HOLIDAY CRAB DIP

This particular recipe is my holiday staple. It’s so special and so flavorful it dresses up any holiday gathering. I’ve actually had people ask me to pack leftovers of this one. I’ve also used leftovers to make a quick sandwich.  Just toast up some bread and away you go. I guarantee you will enjoy this one.

Holiday Crab Dip

SPINACH ARTICHOKE RED PEPPER DIP

I love this particular recipe not only because it tastes so good but it looks so festive when put in a bread bowl. Remember you eat first with your eyes, and my serving suggestion for this one plays right into that. This is a great vegetable dipper recipe that will keep them coming back for little bites over and over again. I served this one for New Year’s Eve last year and it was a huge hit!

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip

CANDIED PECANS

I had never made candied pecans until last year. I guess I thought they’d be hard to make. Boy was I wrong. And they are so yummy, you’ll wonder why you never made them before. These are good not only as an appetizer but also as a gift. Just put some in a mason jar and add a festive bow and you have a great gift. You simply have to try this one.

Candied Pecans

CHEESE BALL

My last recipe is another cheese ball. This is a savory cheese ball and has killer flavor. I brought it to a pot luck at work and it got devoured in no time. The key to this one is letting the ingredients meld overnight. What I like about this cheese ball is that it looks so professional but is so easy to make. It will be a hit at a holiday party or any gathering  you have during the year. Enjoy!

Cheese Ball

I hope you’ve found this appetizer compilation helpful. Make any of them, make all of them. They are all fabulous!

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Slow Cooker Turkey Or Pork And Stuffing…

If you’re like me you have a taste for turkey and stuffing far beyond Thanksgiving. But who wants to buy a big old bird all the time and roast it in the oven? There’s got to be a better way. Guess what, I found it!

More and more I am becoming adept at using a slow cooker. That means I’m not using it simply to drop something in and cook it until it’s beaten into submission. A slow cooker is a valuable tool but if you don’t use it properly it can create meals that are virtually tasteless.

This recipe, I guarantee you, has tons of flavor. It also has its traditional aspects and its unique aspects and I will discuss those in my lessons learned. I started out by using a bone in turkey breast for this recipe and decided the next time I made it I would try a boneless pork roast. Guess what? Both ways it was fabulous! So let’s talk slow cooker turkey or pork roast and stuffing…

Lesson Learned 1 – How to prepare the stuffing: I used a box of stove stop stuffing for these recipes (one designed to be used with turkey and one designed for pork) so it already had the seasonings I needed in it but you can also use just a plain stuffing mix. If so, you will need to add some poultry seasoning and dried sage. I also added some sliced onions, sliced mushrooms and diced celery to boost the flavor of the stuffing mix when I made the turkey and substituted sliced apples for the mushrooms when making the pork, but you don’t have to. I’ll put both versions in the recipe below and you can chose whatever method suits you.

The first time I made this most of the stuffing was soft except for the very bottom. I stirred everything together after it was all cooked and it turned out ok. The second time I made this I added a cup of chicken broth to the stuffing mix and it turned out perfectly. Since you put the soup/gravy mixture on top of the meat, it does not totally reach all of the stuffing. And since a turkey breast doesn’t have a lot of fat to begin with you need the moistness of the chicken broth to get the desired consistency of the stuffing. I also added carrots on top of the stuffing in both recipes and they turned out perfectly. The pork roast had a little more fat so that also helped to keep the stuffing moist.

Onions And Celery Added To The Stuffing

Stuffing With Mushrooms And Carrots For The Turkey

Carrots and Apples for the Pork Roast

Lesson Learned 2 – Spray the crock with cooking spray: After the long hours of slow cooking the stuffing will stick to the crock if you don’t spray it. Make sure you spray the crock with cooking spray before adding the stuffing. You’ll be glad you did at both serving and clean up time.

Season Each Layer

Lesson Learned – Season each layer: Slow cooking requires careful seasoning so food does not come out tasting bland. Remember to season each layer with salt and pepper as you prepare the slow cooker.

Lesson Learned 4 – What kind of turkey to use: I am fortunate to have a grocery store that cuts half turkey breasts on the bone and sells them fresh. This works so well in this recipe. When I first made it I was surprised at the moistness of the turkey breast. My husband loved it.

You can use a boneless breast as well. You really shouldn’t use more than a 3 pound turkey breast for this recipe. If you do, you will need to cook it longer. If you buy the breast frozen be sure to thaw it before putting it in the slow cooker. For 4 people, 2 1/2 – 3 pounds is perfect. You may even have some leftovers. The breast pictured below is on the bone and 2 1/2 pounds.

Lesson Learned 5 – What kind of pork roast to use: I used a 2 1/4 pound boneless pork roast for this recipe. Make sure when you put it in the slow cooker you put it fat side up. That way the fat will drip down onto the stuffing and vegetables. I also seasoned the pork roast with fresh lemon thyme. I didn’t need to do that when I made this recipe with a turkey breast.

Lesson Learned 6 – Combine turkey gravy or pork gravy and mushroom soup for a delightful sauce: I found combining gravies with the soup created a surprisingly flavorful sauce to put over the meat. When I made the turkey I used a cream of mushroom soup. When I made the pork I used a cremini mushroom bisque soup. Both were great, although in hindsight I preferred the mushroom bisque over the cream of mushroom.

Gravy/Soup Mixture

I started out by making a packet of McCormick gravy on the stove and combined it with a can of mushroom soup. You can used jarred gravy as well. The combination tasted divine and gave flavorful moisture to the meat as it cooked.

If I was having a small gathering at Thanksgiving I would consider either one of these for dinner. They were unbelievably good and super simple to make. This is also a great recipe for having turkey and stuffing whenever you want it. Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving anymore.

Lesson Learned 7 – Both versions of this recipe results in super moist and tender meat: I have to say I was surprised at how moist and tender both the turkey and the pork tasted. I cooked both for 5 hours on low and both turned out perfectly. Once again I want to make it clear that you need to know your slow cooker. Also, to ensure the turkey and pork are cooked, you need to adhere to the weights I have given you. If you choose to cook something a little larger you will want to add a little more time to the cooking process.

Try this recipe combo and let me know what you think. They are becoming staples in our home!

Juicy And Tender Roast Turkey

Juicy And Tender Roast Pork

Slow Cooker Turkey Or Pork and Stuffing...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 – 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 pound turkey breast, bone in preferable or,

1 – 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 boneless pork roast

I – 6 oz. box of Stove Top Stuffing (chicken or pork variety)

I cup cremini mushrooms, sliced thick (can use for either chicken or pork)

1 large stalk of celery, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 small granny smith apple peeled and sliced (for a pork roast)

4 carrots, peeled and sliced into 2 inch logs

1 cup chicken broth

2 Tbs butter, melted

I packet McCormick turkey or pork gravy

1 10.75 oz. can of mushroom bisque soup

Kosher Salt

Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

Fresh Lemon Thyme (pork roast)

Cooking Spray

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare gravy mix according to package instructions. Once the gravy has somewhat cooled add the mushroom soup to the gravy and stir until combined. Set aside.

Spray the crock of the slow cooker with cooking spray. Mix onion, celery, dressing mix, chicken broth and butter until combined. Spread on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the mushrooms, carrots and apple (pork roast recipe) on top of the stuffing.

Place the turkey or pork roast on top of the stuffing and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. If making the pork roast, strip lemon thyme leaves from the stalks and season the top of the pork roast. (You can add remaining stalks around the pork to season the stuffing and veggies – just remember to pull them out before serving).

Pour the gravy/soup mixture over the meat. Cover and cook for 5 hours on low.

Roast Turkey

Roast Pork

 

 

 

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Salted Caramel Cheese Ball…

I know it was just recently I posted a cheeseball recipe. And frankly I didn’t think that post would get much of a response as I thought cheese balls were a thing of the past when it comes to party appetizers. Boy was I wrong. That post was quite popular.

So when we had the first meeting of our book group in my condo community I thought what a great time to experiment with another type of cheese ball. This time with a little salted caramel flare. And once again it was a huge hit!

My renewed love of cheese balls stems from the fact that it’s one heck of an easy way to bring a great appetizer to an event. Mostly it’s just mixing everything together, chilling and serving. Plus cheese balls are so portable you can easily bring them anywhere.

So let’s talk salted caramel cheese balls…

Lesson Learned 1 – This cheese ball can be an appetizer or dessert: You have a great combination of sweet and savory going on with this cheese ball. The combination of the tartness of the apples and cinnamon, along with the savory of the sharp cheddar cheese and the sweetness of the caramel sauce all meld into a killer combo making this cheeseball more versatile than most.

Lesson Learned 2 – Leave the skin on the apple and dice it into small pieces: I always love when recipes state “dice the apple into 1/4 inch pieces. Do people really expect cooks to stand with a ruler measuring the size of the pieces they cut up? (ok, I’ll admit it I’ve done it in the past but no more)… The key here is to keep the pieces slightly smaller than bite size. Trust your instincts. You want the apple pieces to blend in and not overpower the look and taste of the cheese ball.

Also only use a granny smith apple for this recipe. The granny smith apple has that wonderful tartness that compliments the savory cheddar cheese and sweet caramel sauce. Now if you have another apple on hand do you need to run out to the grocery store to get a granny smith? No. But believe me when I say the best flavor combination is achieved when you use a granny smith apple in this recipe.

Lesson Learned 3 – As with any cheese ball, the longer you chill it and let the flavors combine the better: I like this cheese ball because you can chill it for only a short time and it’s still wonderfully flavorful. But if you have the time, letting the cheese ball flavors marry overnight is always preferable but not altogether necessary.

The holidays are fast approaching and if you’re thinking of entertaining this recipe is flavorful, impressive looking and a guaranteed hit!  It will make a wonderful addition to your holiday table. Try it and tell me what you think!

Salted Caramel Cheese Ball...

  • Servings: Lots
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 – 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, plus approx. 1/8 cup caramel for drizzle

1 Tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice

pinch of kosher salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese

1 medium granny smith apple, chopped (leave the peal on)

2 cups pecan pieces

Crackers for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Shred the cheddar cheese and set aside. Remove the core from the apple and dice into small pieces, leaving the peal on. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, using a hand mixer, mix together the softened cream cheese, caramel sauce, lemon juice, salt and cinnamon. By hand, fold in the cheddar cheese and apple. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a ball. Place in the freezer and chill for 1/2 hour.

Place the pecan pieces on a large plate. Remove the cheeseball from the plastic wrap and roll it in the pecans until the ball is completely covered. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

Drizzle the caramel sauce on the cheese ball right before serving.

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Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt 2…

This time of year with all of the Fall/Winter holidays approaching just screams to me cranberry and orange. As a matter of fact I love that flavor combination so much this is the second variety of cranberry orange coffee cake that I’ve posted on this site. To see the original post just click on “recipe”.

There are slight variations to the two of them and both are equally delicious. One you make in a spring form pan with the traditional leavening agents of baking powder and soda and that produces a taller, airier cake. This particular recipe does not use any type of leavening. Rather the eggs and sugars are beaten for an extensive period of time to create a mixture that doubles in size and provides the needed lift for the cake. This particular cake is denser and moister.

Both cakes are equally good, although my husband liked this particular recipe better. Whenever he monitors how much of a finished product I bring to work and how much I leave at home, I know the recipe is a hit. This time he made me bring much less of the cake to work than usual.

So let’s talk Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt. 2…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you bake: I found the experience of baking much more pleasurable if I do it in an organized fashion. By that I first get out any ingredients that need to be room temperature in plenty of time for them to reach that desired state. Then I read the entire recipe to see what I’m up against. I preheat the oven and prep any pans that require prep. After that I figure out how to organize the assembly process (as in this recipe I recommend making the crumb topping first as you will read below). Then I get all my ingredients out and ready. That usually means getting the dry ingredients together and combined and then moving on to the wet ingredients. After that, everything seems to fall into place.

What you are trying to avoid is stopping to find things and taking time to mix things while other mixtures sit and wait for a long period of time. Think about how making the recipe can flow and organize yourself to make the process go that way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of beating the eggs and sugar for a long time: As mentioned above this recipe does not use traditional leavening agents like baking powder or soda so you need something to provide the lift to the batter. That lift is produced by beating eggs and sugar into submission. By submission I mean you need to beat them for at least 5-7 minutes. That’s why I recommend using a stand mixer for this recipe so you’re not left with holding a hand mixer for that length of time.

I would also time the process and not leave it up to your memory. You will actually see the mixture double in size and become more thick when you beat it for that length of time. That’s what you’re looking for. Be careful. Don’t try to shortcut this part of the process. If you do you will be left with a somewhat flat coffee cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake may need to bake for much longer than the recipe suggests: I was originally thinking this would take between 45-50 minutes. It actually took me 65 minutes, but then again I live in high altitude where everything takes longer to make. The key with this cake, as with all cakes, is having a toothpick inserted in the middle come out clean. If you have some redness from the cranberries on your toothpick that’s ok. But it should be clean of everything else.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the crumb topping first: I found the entire process of making this cake went much more smoothly if you made the crumb topping first. Other than beating the eggs, this is the most labor intensive part of the recipe. If you make the topping first than everything else seems to go like clockwork.

As with making any type of crumb topping, use very cold butter and a pastry cutter to cut the butter into flour and sugar. The desired result is coarse crumbs as seen in the picture below.

The Desired Consistency Of The Crumb Topping

Lesson Learned 5 – The importance of room temperature eggs: In my baking recipes you will see that I always call for room temperature eggs. Why? The answer is simple. Room temperature eggs blend much more thoroughly into the batter. And that is the ideal. Quite often I hear the reason one doesn’t use room temperature eggs is they don’t have the time to get them to room temperature. Never fear, I have a quick and easy trick for you so you will always have room temperature eggs when you need them. Just click on “tips”.

Otherwise every other step of the process is what you normally expect when you make a cake. This cake, although delicious anytime, is a great recipe for the Holidays. And I guarantee you it won’t be around your kitchen for very long. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Cake Pt. 2...

  • Servings: 20-24
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

CRUMB TOPPING:

3/4 cup flour

6 Tbs. brown sugar, packed

6 Tbs. butter, unsalted and chilled

CAKE

3 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1- 12oz. pkg. of fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 large orange, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 portions

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Juice from 1 orange (approx. 4 Tbs)

1/4 of the orange zest already grated for the cake

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine all the topping ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture forms into coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugars for about 5-7 minutes until thick and doubled in size. Add the butter and vanilla and mix for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and the 3/4 portion of the orange zest.

Put the batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Spread the crumb topping on top of the batter.

Bake 45 – 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool completely.

Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over the cake.

 

Easy Peasy Chili…

There are certain meals that just become necessary to make once the weather gets cooler – pot roast, beef stew, roast chicken… And one of my all time favorite cooler weather meals has to be chili. It is so easy to make and I serve it with shredded cheddar cheese and diced sweet onion and boy or boy, does it ever stick to your ribs! Chili is the ultimate in comfort food on a crisp Fall evening.

What I like about chili is it’s so easy to make. There are a couple of hints to making a chili that suits our needs that I will share. But bottom line, the chili pot is your canvas and you can make chili basically any way you want. I will share with you my go-to recipe.

So let’s talk chili…

Chili Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – The onions: I use a large sweet onion when I make my chili. I dice the onion and use about three quarters of it in the chili itself. The rest I set aside and use as a raw topping when I serve the chili. I’ve found the best way to use these onions to enhance the flavor of the chili is to caramelize them. That takes a little time. The pictures below show how I dice the onions and the onions when they first become translucent. The photo below them shows when they are caramelized. Technically you can use them either way but I’ve found if you take the extra time and let them caramelize they add more flavor to the chili.

The challenge when you caramelize onions is the extra time. Normally I can get them the way I want them (as pictured below in the bottom photo) in about 15 minutes. If you want to cook your chili faster that may not be an option. But if you can take your time with this first step you will definitely taste the benefits of doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of seasoning during the initial stages: I find if I season the onions and the meat with salt and pepper each time during the first two steps the flavor of the chili is greatly enhanced. Besides is their anything better than the smell of onions seasoned with salt and pepper cooking on the stove? So after I season the onions and let them caramelize I add the meat and season the meat with salt and pepper as well. It may seem like a lot of seasoning but it actually is not.

After that I don’t add any more salt and pepper until the very end after all the ingredients have been added and combined. At that time I taste the chili to see if it needs anymore salt and pepper. Very seldom do I have to add any at the end. Seasoning the first two layers and then adding the other seasonings makes a big difference in the end result. Don’t forget to do this.

Lesson Learned 3 – When to add the garlic:  I’ve tried adding the garlic a couple of different ways and have landed on a preferred choice when I make chili. You can always add the garlic once you caramelized the onions but I prefer adding them to the ground beef just before I start adding the other ingredients. I allow them to cook in the meat for a minute or so until fragrant and then I continue adding the rest of the ingredients. I find this totally prevents the garlic from burning and better infuses the garlic into the chili.

Lesson Learned 4 – Chopping the green pepper: I guess I don’t actually chop the green pepper – it’s more like dicing. I like the pieces small so that they add flavor to the chili but aren’t necessarily highly visible. The green pepper flavor, in my estimation, balances some of the heat of the chili and adds a nice freshness to it. The pictures below show how I prepare the green pepper:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 5 – Chili seasoning: I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to season my chili and finally chose my preferred method. I use McCormick Mild Chili Seasoning Mix because we prefer our chili on the mild side but you can make it has hot as you like. McCormick has a few varieties of seasonings and if you can’t find a seasoning mix that gets you the heat you crave you can always add red pepper flakes. This seasoning mix contains a blend of chili pepper, paprika, cumin, onion salt and garlic. I also add about a teaspoon of chili powder and this combination of seasonings gives us the kind of chili we prefer.

Lesson Learned 6 – The mushrooms: I am a big fan of fresh mushrooms especially now when you can buy them in bulk. This time I had a jar of canned mushrooms in the pantry that I wanted to use so I went that route. Either way, add the mushrooms at the very end so that they don’t overcook. Generally I add fresh sliced mushrooms to my chili.

Lesson Learned 7 – A little bit of tomato paste helps thicken the sauce: Here’s a handy dandy little trick. Add about a tablespoon of tomato paste to the ground beef before you add the seasonings. This will help thicken the sauce. Look for tomato paste that’s sold in a tube. That way you’ll have no waste and can use it whenever you need versus wasting a whole small can.

Lesson Learned 8 – Simmering the chili: I’ve found the best way to meld all the flavors in the chili is to let it simmer for about an hour. Put your heat on very low and stir the chili occasionally making sure none burns on the bottom of the pan. Then the chili is ready to serve. And, of course, if you have the luxury, you can always let it sit overnight to let the flavors meld.

So that’s basically it. Once you’ve browned the ground beef and added the seasonings it’s just drop in and stir from there…

Stir in the diced tomatoes

Drop in the beans

Add the mushrooms and green pepper

IMG_5714

Stir and simmer for about an hour and you’re done. I serve this chili over rice, my husband’s preference, or over elbow macaroni, my preference. Or you can serve it plain. I add shredded cheddar and raw diced onion to mine, but you can top it with sour cream, guacamole, diced jalapeños, or whatever you like. I’ve been making this recipe for years and have it down to a science. It is unbelievably easy to make and so good. Try it. I know you’ll love it!

Easy Peasy Chili...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter (or 1 Tbs. butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil)

1 large sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

1 Tbs. tomato paste

I pkg. McCormicks mild chili seasoning

1 tsp. chili powder

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 20 oz. can of chili beans in chili sauce

1 10 oz. can of sliced mushrooms, drained

1 green pepper, diced

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Serve with rice or elbow macaroni, optional

Toppings can include: Shredded cheese, raw onion, sour cream, guacamole, sliced jalapeño peppers, or whatever your preference

DIRECTIONS:

In a 5.5 quart dutch oven melt the butter. On a medium heat add the onions and cook until caramelized, approximately 15 minutes. Season the onions with salt and pepper while cooking. Push the onions to the side and add the ground beef. Layer the cooked onions on top of the beef. Break up the ground beef with a spoon and cook through, seasoning the ground beef at the beginning with salt and pepper. Once cooked, stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.

Stir in the tomato paste and thoroughly combine. Stir in the chili seasoning and chili powder. Add the diced tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add the chili beans. Stir to combine. Cook for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and the green pepper. Gently stir to combine. Taste to see if any additional salt and pepper is needed.

Cover and simmer for one hour. Serve with desired accompaniments.

 

 

 

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Cheese Ball…

Ok, admit it, when was the last time you actually made a cheese ball? I hadn’t made one for ages but was faced with an upcoming potluck at work with little time to make anything. And after thumbing through a very old cookbook I noticed a recipe for a cheese ball and thought, I should make that. And, as with any recipe, I added my own personal touches.

The ingredients for this recipe are not all that complicated, cream cheese, scallions, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, worcestershire sauce, mayo, spices and some almonds. Easy enough.

My major concern was I thought people would think this was too much of an “old school” kind of appetizer and turn up their noses at it. To my surprise, quite the opposite. It wound up being the perfect compliment to the other things people brought to the potluck and it disappeared in record time. Being that this was a potluck at work, people not only enjoyed the taste of the cheeseball but the fact they could go into the break room, put a dollop of the cheeseball on a cracker and be off on their merry way. Once again this shows how one’s perceptions regarding food can be so off the mark. I was so glad everyone enjoyed it and would definitely consider making this again. It was that much of a hit.

So let’s talk cheese ball…

Lesson Learned 1 – Taste the mixture before forming it into a ball and adding the almonds: When I did that I knew the cheese ball needed some salt. So instead of just using garlic powder, I used both garlic powder and some garlic salt. That little addition made a big difference.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use shredded parmesan versus grated parmesan: Shredded parmesan cheese gives a richer much more noticeable flavor to the cheese ball. Grated parmesan seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make the cheese ball the day before your event: When I initially tasted the cheese ball I thought it was ok, but the next day after the ingredients really got acquainted in the refrigerator, the cheese ball tasted fabulous! I was not prepared for the difference in the flavor. Everyone raved at how delicious it was. This is definitely a recipe that tastes markedly different the second day.

Not too many lessons learned on this one. It really is just a recipe where you mix everything together all at once, roll it into a ball, cover it with sliced almonds and refrigerate it overnight. And with the holidays and holiday parties not too far in the distant future, this is a great little recipe to have in your hip pocket.

If you want something that looks impressive and tastes divine, make this one and bring it to your next party. I guarantee you it will be gone before you know it!

Easy Party Cheese Ball...

  • Servings: Many
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup shredded medium sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup green onions, minced

1/2 tsp. worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1 cup sliced almonds

crackers and fruit (grapes, sliced apples, etc., optional) for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Combine softened cream cheese and mayo until smooth. Add remaining ingredients except the almonds. Stir until well combined.

Spread almonds out on wax paper. Form the mixture into a ball (it will be soft and sticky) and roll the ball in the almonds until the ball is completely covered with the almonds. Transfer the ball onto some plastic wrap, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Unwrap and plate the cheese ball. Serve with crackers and fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mustard Herb Salmon With Oven Roasted Butternut Squash…

Although this recipe may sound difficult it is incredibly simple to make. Even non-fish lovers will find this recipe hard to resist. Couple that with delectable butternut squash and being able to cook both at the same time – well the result is you have one heck of any unbelievably easy,  flavorful meal!

My husband and I have been trying to incorporate more fish into our diet and salmon is one of our favorites for a few reasons: 1.) It has a nice, mild, non-fishy flavor, 2.) Salmon is a reasonably priced fish, and 3.) Salmon can be made in a wide variety of ways. And what can I say about butternut squash? When you roast it the sides caramelize and give a nutty/sweet flavor to the squash. You definitely can’t beat that!

So, lets talk mustard herbed salmon with roasted butternut squash…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use a piece of salmon that is at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick at its widest part. A thinner piece will not stand up to this roasting time. You want the fish to flake but you don’t want it to dry out. My husband and I tend to opt for approximately 4 ounces each and you can go up to 6 ounces. Just make sure that the filet is not thicker than two inches at the widest part or thinner than 1 1/2 inches. The length of the piece does not matter.

Also keep in mind the cost of your filets will be less if you buy them with the skin on. For this recipe I remove the skin. As long as you have a sharp boning knife that should not be a problem whatsoever.

2. Choose any herb blend you think will work well with salmon: I used a Tuscan Garlic Seasoning Blend. It contains onion, garlic, spicy red pepper and lemon peel. I like it because it gives a gentle spicy kick to the salmon. If you’re not sure what to use read the label on the jar your considering. Quite often it will tell you whether it works best with meat, poultry or fish. Think of the herbs you enjoy and find a blend that resembles that. Or mix up a blend of your own.

When using herbs in any recipe always start from the standpoint that less is more. With the herb blend that I use if you add too much the salmon gets overpowered and the fish is too spicy, at least for us. I’ve found that as you repeatedly make a recipe you get a good feel for the amount of herbs to add. I lightly coat the mustard with the herbs and the combination of both gives a wonderful zing to the fish. So start out with less, you can always add more.

Lesson Learned 3 – Cut the butternut squash into 1 inch square pieces: Now I know that is easier said than done and there will be variances in your pieces but you want to make sure the pieces are large enough so the squash cooks through but does not become mushy. The beauty of this recipe is that you can roast both the fish and squash together, albeit you put the squash in the oven ten minutes prior to the fish. That way they are both ready to come out of the oven at the same time. Here’s at tip – check out any pre-prepared butternut squash you might find in your grocery store. I can get squash that is already peeled and cut into large chunks. I only have to do minimal prep when I buy my squash that way. Believe me, it saves a lot of time and effort.

I normally roast the fish on the middle rack of the oven on a foil lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. I roast the squash on the lower rack, also on a foil lined baking sheet. Because I use olive oil in the prep of the squash there is no need to use cooking spray on that sheet pan.

Lesson Learned 4 – My secret for getting a nice caramelized squash – don’t flip it: So many recipes tell you to flip the squash half way through the roasting process. I found that if you don’t you get one side with a gorgeous caramelization, sort of like creating a crust on each piece. That caramelization provides a sweeter taste that permeates the entire piece. So be brave, don’t flip the squash. I guarantee you’ll love it!

As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of this recipe is that you can prep both the fish and squash and roast them together in the oven at the same temperature. How easy is that. This is one of my go-to week night meals and if you try it, I’m sure it’ll be one of yours as well. Enjoy!

Mustard Herb Salmon With Oven Roasted Butternut Squash

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Mustard Herb Salmon:

2 four to six ounce salmon filets, skin removed

2 tsp. dijon mustard, I use Grey Poupon

1/2-1 tsp. herb blend, I used tuscan garlic blend

Olive oil cooking spray

Roasted Butternut Squash:

12 oz. butternut squash cut into 1 inch. cubes (I get mine pre -packaged and cut)

1 Tbs. dried thyme (you can use a little more if you need to evenly apply it to the squash)

Garlic infused olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pat salmon dry and place it on a foil lined backing sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Dollop one tsp. of dijon mustard on each piece. Spread the mustard to coat the entire top of the salmon. Sprinkle the herb blend over the mustard. Set aside.

Place squash pieces on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the squash. With your hands mix the squash pieces to make sure all are covered with the olive oil. Spread the pieces apart so they do not touch. Sprinkle pieces with salt, pepper and thyme.

Place the squash on the bottom rack and roast for 10 minutes prior to putting the salmon in the oven. After 10 minutes put the salmon on the center rack in the oven and roast both the salmon and squash for and additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

 

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