Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Few Of My Favorite Things – Holiday Goodies!

A couple of months ago, I teamed up with two of my cousins and we had ourselves a bake-a-thon.  The thought was to finish all of our holiday baking in one fell swoop!  We each came armed with recipes and ingredients for 4-5 things, and we made double batches of everything, which we divided into freezer bags, took home and piled in the freezer to be brought out as needed for holiday parties and such.

Well, as you can imagine, most of it didn’t make it to Christmas.  But it sure was nice to have on hand for company, last minute things to take to a potluck, and family dinners.  And of course, some just called to us in the evenings and had to be eaten.  I was very happy to discover that EVERY SINGLE THING froze beautifully and tasted fresh when thawed out.

Although I have a few things left up in freezer town, I am going to do a little more baking this weekend for Christmas.  So I thought I would put together a few of the recipes I will be pulling from for the holidays, in hopes of helping those of you in need of ideas.  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you out there!

Simply click on each recipe to go to the post.  Any of these will make a wonderful gift or a welcome addition to any holiday party.  Happy baking!

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Rich and indulgent, I love these!

Inside Out Peppermint Patties

Incredibly easy and only a few ingredients!

Classic Chocolate Brownies

My go-to foolproof brownies.  I make these all year long.

Chocolate Mint Snow-Top Cookies

Always a holiday favorite.

Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies

Decadent, chewy, and gluten and dairy free (and you won’t miss either one)!

Flourless Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

I know it sounds weird, but these were delicious!  They also come down on the healthier side of holiday treats at a fraction of the calories of regular brownies.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

My bumped-up version of banana bread.  So good!

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with a Twist

My favorite cookies, soft, rich, with a twist of orange and cinnamon.

Lemon Zucchini Bread

A delicious twist on an old favorite!

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Nothing Fancy Chicken Soup

Cold season is upon us…again.  Everywhere you turn someone is sneezing and sniffing and hacking.  There’s ice on my windshield and my toes are perpetually cold.  You all know by now what this means.  Soup, soup and  more soup!

Normally I play fast and loose with my soup recipes, getting creative, adding pesto or orzo or this and that.  But when I have a cold, sometimes what I really want is just simple, no frills, nothing fancy chicken soup.  I can practically make this in my sleep (or cold-medicine induced brain fog).  It’s warm, tasty and oh so satisfying.  It also freezes well if you want to make a double batch so you’re prepared for the next go ’round.

I normally use leftover chicken (or turkey) or rotisserie chicken from the store, or you can cook up a couple of chicken breasts or thighs.  Whatever you have on hand will work fine.

Wow, I feel better already!

Wow, I feel better already!

Nothing Fancy Chicken Soup

1 cup onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4-5 carrots, sliced thinly
8 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. dry Italian seasoning
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
1 cup green beans (fresh or frozen)
1 cup dry noodles (I used rotini but any smallish shape will work)
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
Salt & pepper

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Saute onion and celery for 2-3 minutes.  Add carrot and cook another couple of minutes.  Add chicken broth and Italian seasoning.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add chicken and green beans.  Bring to a boil again.  Add pasta and stir.  Turn down to medium and simmer another 15 minutes or so, until pasta is tender.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  For added richness, I like to add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream at the end but if you’re watching the calories (or you don’t do dairy), feel free to leave it out.  It’s delicious either way!

If you want to get a tiny bit fancy with it, or you just want an excuse to eat a whole loaf of bread by yourself, serve it in a bread bowl!

There's soup in there somewhere, soaking into my yummy bread.

There’s soup in there somewhere, soaking into my yummy bread.

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The Fanciest Apple Cream Pie

A shortbread crust.  Creamy filling.  Flowers made out of apples?  Yep!

Usually for the holidays I try to make something just a little fancy.  So I happened upon a recipe for this fancy pie covered with apple roses!  It looked like a challenge, but it was so pretty I had to make it.  To make it a little more challenging, the recipe was in another language.  Unfortunately the translator didn’t translate very well, and I am far from a master pastry chef, so I took the idea for the roses, and found crust and filling recipes elsewhere, made my own little tweaks, and a pie was born. It was a gorgeous addition to the Thanksgiving feast this year.

My one complaint about this pie is that when I cut into it, it kind of fell apart.  I would have loved to have a perfect little wedge but it didn’t happen.  I think next time I make it I’ll use ramekins and make individual little pies so I don’t have to mess up my fancy flowers!

The Fanciest Apple Cream Pie

The Fanciest Apple Cream Pie

The Fanciest Apple Cream Pie


3/4 cup almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. orange zest


1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. corn starch
3 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. grand marnier (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

3-4 apples
2 tbsp. apricot preserves

Preheat oven to 350°. In a food processor, pulse almonds and sugar until finely ground, being careful to stop before they turn into nut butter. Add flour and salt and pulse to blend. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. With motor running, add egg, egg yolk, and orange zest and whirl until dough comes together.  Press dough firmly into tart pan or pie pan.  Refrigerate while you make the pastry cream.

To make the pastry cream, in a medium saucepan mix 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 3 tablespoons flour, and a pinch salt. Whisk in 2 1/2 cups whole milk, then add 1 large egg and 2 large egg yolks. Whisk until smooth. Place over high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture boils and becomes quite thick, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla and Grand Marnier, and 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Pour mixture into a medium bowl; set bowl in ice water and stir often until pastry cream is cool, about 12 minutes. Pour into crust.  Keep chilled.

Using a vegetable peeler or a paring knife (I had better luck with the knife), cut thin strips from the apples, keeping an edge of peel on them.  The thinner the strips the easier they are to wrap into shapes.

Make a bunch of different sizes, long and short pieces.

Make a bunch of different sizes, long and short pieces.

Roll and wrap apple pieces around each other to make flowers and place on pastry cream, pressing down a bit to hold in place.

Start by rolling a piece into a little circle to make the inner rosebud, then curve short and long "petals" around it to form a flower.

Start by rolling a piece into a little circle to make the inner rosebud, then curve short and long “petals” around it to form a flower.

Continue until entire top of pie is covered with apple roses.  Put apricot preserves in a small bowl and microwave until it melts into liquid.  Brush over the top of apples.

All ready to go in the oven.  Isn't it pretty?

All ready to go in the oven. Isn’t it pretty?

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Let cool on a rack and then chill until ready to serve.  Serve cold.



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Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheesy Crostini

It was around 20 degrees when I woke up this morning.  With a bit of snow.  That’s right folks!  It snows in Oregon!  Which makes this a stellar day for working in jammies, enjoying the fireplace and eating soup!

One of the only soups I still buy in a can is tomato soup.  Until now, that is.  This was the easiest, tastiest homemade tomato soup I have ever made. I’ve made tomato soup before but have always used canned tomatoes. This recipe uses fresh tomatoes, roasted in the oven.  It was so easy and added a depth of flavor that was just spectacular.  I may never buy another can of Campbell’s soup again.

The recipe I used to make this also included grilled cheese bites as croutons.  You can do that if you want to, but although I love grilled cheese, soggy bites of it didn’t really appeal to me.  I made cheesy crostini instead.  Crunchy, gooey, and perfect for dipping.  This is comfort food at its finest!

Roasted Tomato Soup.  Perfect.

Roasted Tomato Soup. Perfect.

Roasted Tomato Soup
(slightly adapted from

3-4 lbs plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 yellow onion, cut into large dice
6 cloves of garlic (4 left whole for roasting and 2 minced for sauteeing)
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/3 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp.  balsamic vinegar
6 oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped (plus a little extra for garnish)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup half-n-half (0ptional)

Preheat oven to 375. Lay the tomatoes, onions, and 4 garlic cloves onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment or foil.  Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
No need to peel anything.  Just cut in half and throw on the pan with the onion and garlic.

No need to peel anything. Just cut in half and throw on the pan with the onion and garlic.

Roast for 50 min to 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool.
Roasted to perfection.

Roasted to perfection.

Once the roasted tomato/onion/garlic mixture has cooled a bit, transfer it to a blender and puree until smooth.
In a soup pot over medium heat, add 1 T olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook a minute or so until garlic is fragrant but not brown.
Pour in the pureed tomato mixture and cook about 5 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, chopped basil, red wine, chicken stock and balsamic vinegar and stir to combine.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil and then reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
Cheese Crostini.  Perfect for dipping!

Cheese Crostini. Perfect for dipping!

Cheesy Crostini
1 baguette
Shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and cheddar)
Heat oven to 425˚.  Slice the baguette on a bias to create long oval pieces.  Lay out on a baking sheet and top each with a little pile of cheese. Bake for a 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and edges of bread are starting to brown.  Remove and serve with soup!


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Savory Beef Stew

Few things are more satisfying on a cold winter evening than a warm, comfy bowl of beef stew.  I love the way the aroma permeates the house, and even wafts outside to invite you in (and make all the neighbors jealous!).  I usually save this one for weekends or days when I’m free in the afternoons since I like to let it cook an hour or two so the beef can get really tender and wonderful.

I’m always amazed that people buy beef stew in a can.  It really tastes nasty compared to the real thing.  It might be different if beef stew was hard to make, but seriously folks, you dump things in a pot and let it cook for an hour or two.  You can do it!  It’s soooo worth the tiny bit of effort.

I never measure anything when I make this so it does tend to vary a bit from time to time, but I’ve made it so many times that this has become the standard version in my house.

A bowl full of love.

A bowl full of love.

Beef Stew

1-2 pounds stew meat or sirloin, cut into bite sized pieces
3 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 tbsp. butter
4 plum tomatoes
1 cup red wine
4 cups beef broth
1 onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
4 red potatoes, 1/2″ dice
4-5 carrots, sliced

Combine flour, pepper, salt, paprika, rosemary and Italian seasoning in a large ziplock bag.  Add beef to bag and shake up to coat all the pieces.  In a Dutch oven, melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat.  Add beef in batches (you want to leave a little space in between the pieces so they can brown instead of just steaming.  Brown on both sides and remove from pan, then add another tablespoon of butter and more beef until it is all done.

Brown the beef first for extra tenderness!

Brown the beef first for extra tenderness!

Add onions and tomatoes to pan.  Cook and stir one or two minutes.  Add broth, wine and beef back to pan.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the little meat bits off.  It adds color and flavor to the soup, plus the bits of flour will help to thicken the broth as it cooks.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cook on low for 45 minutes.

Starts out soupy but as it simmers, the flour from the beef and the veggies will thicken the broth as you go.

Starts out soupy but as it simmers, the flour from the beef and the veggies will thicken the broth.

Add potatoes, mushrooms and carrots.  Cook another 45 minutes or more, until veggies are tender.  Taste and add salt & pepper if needed.  At this point you can eat or let it simmer until dinnertime.

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Harvest Enchilada Stacks

One of my very favorite friends is a vegetarian.  She also happens to be one of my favorite guinea pigs when it comes to trying new recipes, especially of the vegetarian variety.  Whenever she is coming over, I try to flex my flabby vegetarian muscle and do something creative that she doesn’t eat all the time.  To take the challenge up a notch, her husband is watching the carbs lately, so easy solutions like pasta are out the window.  Fine by me.  On this occasion, it gave me a chance to try out some enchiladas I had been dreaming up.  You could of course use whatever veggies or meat you like in these, but I did like this combo, especially the mushrooms!

I make verde sauce quite often, so I wanted to try something different and do a red sauce from scratch instead.  The dried peppers added a nice earthy/smoky tone that really went nicely with the fall/winter veggies.  I actually made a bigger batch of the pepper base so I’ll have it on hand for a couple more enchilada dinners later in the month.  Mmm, can’t wait!

Harvest Enchilada Stacks

Harvest Enchilada Stacks

Harvest Enchilada Stacks

2 dried pasilla peppers
2 cups boiling water
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. salt
2-3 cans tomatoes, crushed or blended up

Other ingredients:
3-4 portobello caps, sliced
1 delicata squash, seeded and diced (peel if you want – I didn’t)
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup corn kernels
2 cups baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 cup crumbled Queso fresco
Corn tortillas
2 green onions, thinly sliced

To make sauce:  heat oven to 400˚.  Toast dried peppers 3-4 minutes in oven.  Put in a bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them.  Let them sit and soften for 10 minutes and then pureé in a blender.  Set aside.  If you haven’t blended up your tomatoes do that, then set those aside as well.

In a medium saucepan, saute onion for 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute.  Add crushed/blended tomatoes and seasonings to pan. Add pepper mixture (if you don’t want as strong a pepper flavor, you may want to add this gradually, tasting as you go).  Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 20-30 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  If pepper taste is too strong, you can add another can of tomatoes if you wish to mellow it out.

In a large skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat.  Add portobellos, squash and onion.  Cook, stirring often, 4-5 minutes until veggies are tender.  Add garlic, spinach and corn kernels.  Cook another 1-2 minutes, until heated through and spinach is wilted.  Add seasonings and brown sugar.  Cook and stir an additional minute.

Yummy veggies

Yummy veggies

Turn oven down to 375˚.  On a large baking pan or casserole dish, ladle out enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan.

Just getting started.

Just getting started.

Build your stacks on top of the sauce, starting with a corn tortilla, then a scoop of veggies, then a sprinkle of cheese (if desired).

Working on the 2nd layer.  Are you hungry yet?

Working on the 2nd layer. Are you hungry yet?

Continue with another layer just like the first.  End with tortillas.  Ladle sauce over the top of the stacks until well coated (you might not use all of your sauce, freeze leftovers for another day).

Don't skimp on the sauce!  If you have leftover sauce, you can freeze it for later or serve it alongside.

Don’t skimp on the sauce! If you have leftover sauce, you can freeze it for later or serve it alongside.

Crumble remaining cheese all over the top and sprinkle with green onion.

Beautiful!  All ready for the oven.

Beautiful! All ready for the oven.

Bake at 375˚ for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and starting to brown.  Serve hot.  Makes 5-6 enchilada stacks.

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Thanksgiving Leftover Fritatta

Fritattas are my favorite dumping grounds for leftovers.  I have used everything from potatoes to rice to tortillas for the base, but up until now, I’ve never used stuffing.  But I had a bunch left from Thanksgiving and, while I’d happily just eat a bowl of it, I forgot to snag any gravy from mom so this time I decided to do something different with it.  I also added some of the leftover roasted veggies.  Now you could also add a little turkey if you want…but I saved mine for sandwiches.

Thanksgiving Leftover Fritatta

Thanksgiving Leftover Fritatta

Thanksgiving Leftover Fritatta

1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup mixed veggies (I used leftover roasted carrots and green beans)
1 cup Thanksgiving stuffing
4 strips bacon
5 eggs
1/4 cup shredded cheese

Heat a 10″ skillet over medium heat.  Cook bacon until crisp.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Discard the grease in the pan.

One of the most useful things I've learned on Pinterest.  Put a piece of foil in a bowl, pour your grease into it.  When it cools and solidifies, simply crumple it up and throw it away.  Genius!

One of the most useful things I’ve learned from Pinterest. Put a piece of foil in a bowl, pour your grease into it. When it cools and solidifies, simply lift it out and throw it away. Genius!

If needed, add a drizzle of olive oil.  Sauté the onion for 1-2 minutes.  Then add the roasted veggies.  Stir and cook until onion is tender.

Leftover veggies.

Leftover veggies.

Add stuffing and cook until heated through.  Chop bacon and add to stuffing mixture.

Stuffing and bacon into the mix.

Stuffing and bacon into the mix.

In a bowl, beat eggs with a pinch of salt & pepper.   Pour eggs over everything and swirl around to coat.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t cover everything.  Sprinkle with cheese.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Turn heat down to medium low, and cover.  Cook 10-15 minutes, or until top is set.  Cut into wedges and serve.

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