Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Menu

Christmas Menu...

It's so nice to have a quiet Christmas at home!  Of course this leaves the cooking and hosting up to us, but we don't mind a bit!  My parents come over late in the morning and stay for an early dinner.  The girls enjoy relaxing while playing with all of their new toys.  It's a great day that I want to be a part of and not observe over my shoulder from the stove and kitchen counter.  Here is how we prep ahead our Christmas menu allowing us to enjoy the day together!  Many of the links in this post direct you back to previous posts, but several of the links direct you to other recipe and/or gourmet food resources we have been using for years!  I hope you find some of the recipes useful and time saving during this holiday season! Merry Christmas!


We have a huge breakfast on Christmas morning.  I set it up like a buffet for snacking and grazing at our leisure. I do all of the work a day or two before and have everything ready for baking that morning. The menu consist of cinnamon buns (a Christmas morning staple), cheese cloud or baked eggs all served with fresh fruit and oven bacon.
Cheese cloud (shown above) or baked eggs are easy, prep ahead 
breakfast menu options for Christmas morning!

I have to admit, after our ginormous breakfast, we are not left with much room for lunch.  We order a tray of shrimp cocktail from our local seafood market and serve it alongside a crock pot full  of New England clam chowder.   The chowder link will take you to my slow cooker recipe BUT because we travel on Christmas Eve to enjoy the holiday with Mike's family, I admit, I order our chowder each year from a phenomenal local wholesale/retail seafood market called Blount Foods.   Throw in some crudites with balsamic dip and we are full until dinner! 

*photo from Uxmoor Publishing
I swear, we wait all year for this dinner.  It's not something we serve on a typical weekday. It's the kind of thing we enjoy on special occasions, such as Christmas. We order a fresh, 6 pound beef tenderloin from our local market and make  beef tenderloin with a yummy shallot sauce.  I season the meat and prepare the shallots the night before.  I'm left with only the shallot sauce to prepare on Christmas day! Also on the table is a prep ahead, homemade artisan bread boulle served with rosemary infused olive oil, prep ahead Pioneer Woman creamy mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus and a salad with both caesar dressing and basil vinaigrette dressing.  I can't wait!!!

roasted asparagus
basil vinaigrette 

Dessert..'s so hard to think about dessert after all of that food, but we manage.  My mom usually brings some brownies for the girls and we pool our Christmas cookies to serve on a large platter.  This simple recipe for warm apple pie with a few scoops of ice cream is the perfect ending to a perfect day!

I hope you find a few of these recipes useful in planning and enjoying a Christmas feast, the majority of which can be prepared ahead of time!  Happy holidays! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

more homemade gift's not too late!

It's amazing how long our gift giving lists get this time of year.  It's easy enough to run out to The Christmas Tree Shop or other discount department store and pick up a few knick knacks, candles or other chochkies (defined in the Urban Dictionary as 'worthless crap!' Seriously!).  But as a former teacher, I beg you, please don't.  

Last year, our  minestrone soup mix recipe was a big hit.  We also used The Food Network as a resource  and made some other fabulous mixes!  The curried lentil soup mix on their site is amazing as is Alton Brown's hot cocoa mix (shown above).

Last night I experimented with a magic bar mix and came up with this version.  We sent Mike to the baking aisle at our local market where he was able to quickly pick up the several ingredients needed to complete our project!  The girls LOVE making these jars.  They finished this project today, beaming with pride.  It's so nice to see my little ones begin to truly understand the joy of giving!

Magic Bar Mix
In a 1 quart jar, layer the ingredients in the following order...

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (be sure to press them down with either the end of a spice jar or your fingers)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup butterscotch chocolate chips
1/2 old fashioned oats 
3/4 cup shredded coconut

Attach these directions to the jar:

Magic Bars
1/3-cup butter
1 jar magic bar mix
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Place the butter in a 13 X 9 inch pan; heat in the oven until melted.  Remove pan from the oven.
2.  Place contents of the jar in a large bowl; mix well.  Add sweetened condensed milk and stir until blended.
3.  Bake 22-25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Resist the urge to cut until they are completely cool!  Enjoy!

Friday, December 17, 2010

oven baked shrimp scampi

recipe adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa

I love so many of The Barefoot Contessa's recipes.  She is a phenomenal hostess and entertainer who emphasizes the importance of attending your own gathering and not just catering it!  This recipe is great for that purpose!  It's filling enough to serve as a main course alongside a plate of greens and some crusty french bread or as part of an appetizer buffet.  It's simple, delicious and quick to put together.  Impress your guests that will be stopping by over the course of the next couple of weeks by serving this fabulous dish!   

Prep Ahead Plan:  Put the whole dish together in the morning.  It can sit, covered in the fridge, until you are ready to bake it!  If we are having this as a weeknight meal, I put it together the night before.  I'm not sure if that method would be recommended by fish mongers,  but I haven't poisoned anyone yet by doing so!  

Baked Shrimp Scampi

2 pounds, raw, deveined shrimp with the tail on 
3 T  olive oil (plus a little more to saute shallots-that step is optional)
2 T dry white wine
kosher salt and pepper
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/4 cup minced shallots
3 T minced fresh parsley leaves
1 t minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 t grated lemon zest
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 extra-large egg yolk
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
Lemon wedges, for serving


1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2.  If the shrimp are frozen, leave them in a bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes until they are defrosted.
3. Butterfly the shrimp by running your knife up the back of the shrimp (be careful not to split them), leaving the tails on. 
4.  Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, wine, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature while you make the butter and garlic mixture.
5.  In a small saute pan, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil and saute shallots until soft. (This step is optional.)  
6.  In a bowl, mash the softened butter with the garlic, shallots, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolk, panko, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until combined.
7. Starting from the outer edge of a 14-inch round or oval dish, arrange the shrimp in a single layer cut side down with the tails curling up and towards the center of the dish. Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp. Spread the butter mixture evenly over the shrimp. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until hot and bubbly. If you like the top browned, place under a broiler for 1 minute. Serve with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Basil Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

After our middle daughter, Talia, was diagnosed with severe food allergies at a very young age, I experimented with a variety of marinade and salad dressing recipes.  Most of the store bought, bottled varieties had some kind of allergen, not allowed as part of her diet.  Although, thankfully, she has outgrown her allergies we still put to use some of the great recipes we stumbled upon through those years.  This salad dressing is one of them!  It is one of my favorite dressings to put over a salad or use as a marinade.  We have been enjoying it as the first course of our Christmas dinner for years!

The original version of this recipe is from The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook by Cybele Pascal.  In her book, she calls the recipe, "My Favorite Dressing," which I think is a simple, perfectly stated and most accurate title!

Prep Ahead Plan:  Blend all of the ingredients in a magic bullet or blender up to 48 hours ahead of time! It keeps in the refrigerator for about a week but it definitely won't last that long.  

Basil Vinaigrette
2 small garlic cloves, minced or crushed
20 fresh basil leaves
4 t dijon mustard
2 T honey
4 T vinegar (rice vinegar or cider vinegar work well)
4 T balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil

1.  Blend garlic, basil, mustard and honey until it forms a paste.
2.  Blend in both vinegars and then the olive oil.
3.  Serve in a pretty decanter or toss over greens*.

*This also tastes amazing served over some fresh mozzarella and tomatoes!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pepperoni Bread

My mom has been making this stuffed bread forever.  The ingredients are so simple and it takes no time to throw together.  This is the perfect appetizer type finger food to serve during this busy holiday season. You can bake it ahead of time and warm it up as people stop by to say hello, drop off some gifts or bring over a plate of cookies! It also is a great dish to bring to one of the many holiday gatherings that seem to dominate December weekends.  Sometimes we like to eat it for dinner, with a salad on a laid back Saturday night!

Prep Ahead Plan:  Make the whole recipe ahead and warm the bread up, wrapped in foil, at 200 degrees for 30 minutes!  

Dough (I use either this bread machine pizza dough recipe from all recipes or the one that came with my Oster.  Store bought pizza dough works fine too!)


  • 1 cup flat beer
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast


1.  Put beer, butter, sugar, salt, flour, and yeast in a bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Dough setting, and press Start.

2.  Remove dough from bread machine when cycle is complete. Roll or press dough into a 16 X 14 greased cookie sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil. Cover and let stand 15 minutes.

To Make Bread:
1/2 pound American cheese
1/4 pound large wafer sized pepperoni
olive oil for brushing over dough
sprinkle of garlic powder
sprinkle of basil and oregano

1.  Preheat over to 375 degrees.  Layer pepperoni over the entire dough that was rolled out onto the cookie sheet.
2.  Layer slices of cheese over the pepperoni.
3.  Sprinkle with seasonings.  Fold each side in so it meets and closes the loaf. Roll ends in and fold to close.  
4.  Rub with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 min.  Be sure to cool for about 15 minutes before cutting so you don't lose all of the cheese!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Slow Cooker Pepper Steak over Lo Mein Noodles

This is a busy time of year.  I have four slow cooker recipes on the menu for this week.  Turn it on in the morning and come home after a busy day to a flavorful, home cooked meal that took (literally) not time out of your crazy day to prepare!  Here is a great recipe for a mild flavored beef dish that works well served over lo mein noodles or over some brown rice!  I like to add a few extra splashes of soy sauce to my plate!

Prep Ahead Plan:  Place all ingredients (except lo mein or rice) in a slow cooker insert the night before.  Refrigerate overnight and turn slow cooker on low in the morning!

Slow Cooker Pepper Steak


  • 2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into 2 inch strips
  • garlic powder to taste
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (heated in microwave for 1 minute)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 large green or yellow bell peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes, with liquid
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Sprinkle strips of sirloin with garlic powder, salt and pepper and place in slow cooker.
  2. Mix heated broth with cornstarch. Pour into the slow cooker with meat. Stir in onion, peppers*, stewed tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, and salt.
  3. Cover, and cook on High for 3 to 4 hours, or on Low for 6 to 8 hours.

*If you are going to be home, add the peppers in about 3 hours before the 8 hour cook time in complete.  This leaves them a little crunchy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mary's Michigan Pot Roast with PW Mashed Potatoes

Please forgive my recent but brief blogging hiatus!  As I (slowly) work through the literacy program at Providence College I sometimes experience a severe backlog of assignments! End of semester due dates collided with holiday madness and I lost my footing for a couple of days.  I think I can officially say that I am 100% caught up and ready to dive into a Christmas season full of shopping, baking, crafting and decking!  I did, however, manage to continue to obnoxiously take pictures of ALL of our prep ahead meals over the past two weeks and have many great recipes to share!

I thought I would post this most excellent Sunday dinner type dish from my good friend Mary.  It requires little effort and makes enough to serve as a leftover weekday meal.  I like to serve these with the Pioneer Woman's creamy mashed potatoes which can be made up to two days in advance and reheated!  YUM!!!

Prep Ahead Plan:  You can prepare the roast the night before and make the potatoes up to 48 hours ahead of time.  Leave them in the fridge until you're ready to cook the roast and reheat the potatoes.  I make the entire meal on Sunday and then serve the leftovers as an easy "heat and eat" weeknight meal!   

Mary's Michigan Pot Roast
1 large Pot Roast (approximately 4-5 lbs)
1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix
1 beef bouillon cube
1 cup water
2 T corn starch mixed with 4T water

1.  Open soup mix envelope and pour the entire contents in the center of two long sheets of aluminum foil (double thickness).  Roll the beef in the soup mix to coat.
2.  Wrap the beef roast tightly with the foil, sealing well.
3.  Place the package in a large roaster pan and bake at 325 degrees for 4-5 hours.
4.  When done, open one end of the foil and pour juices into a saucepan.
5.  Add a cube of bouillon and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Add cornstarch water mixture and continue to boil until it thickens.  Serve over meat and potatoes!  

Here is an organic version of Lipton's Soup Mix.  Whole Foods carries it.  You will need to use 3 of the 1 oz packets.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup for the Thanksgiving Table

I remember when the girls were babies.  Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peas, even spinach were all some of their favorites.  I'm not sure exactly when the transformation took place, maybe it was when they realized the sheer joy a power struggle brings.  Today, I find myself pleading with them to TRY the zucchini, sweet potato or other vegetable on their plate they believe I am trying to poison them with.  I remind them of the days when I needed to wash the peas out of their hair and had to limit the amount of sweet potatoes they could consume in one sitting.  They shake their heads in disbelief.  I'm sure it won't be long before Riley will learn to role her eyes at me.  Heartbreaking.

Despite my children's new found dislike for butternut squash, I made this soup as a side dish to serve with dinner.  My hope is that with repeated exposure, their love for all things garden fresh will return.  Until then, bribery will suffice.

I however, happen to LOVE butternut squash.  This soup is deliciously sweet, creamy, and a perfect side dish for the Thanksgiving table!  It actually tastes better when made a day or two ahead of time.  Enjoy!
Lola definitely enjoys a good power struggle, but when it comes to food, she will eat ANYTHING!!!!

Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 T butter
  • 6 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • 4 cups chicken broth 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of apple cider (optional)

  1. In a large saucepan, saute onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add squash*, broth, cider (if using), marjoram, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and cook for about  20 minutes until squash is tender.  Stir in cream cheese and allow to melt through.
  2. Puree soup mixture in a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender**, until smooth.  Return to the soup pot, and heat through. Do not allow to boil.

* I like to roast my squash first at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes (or longer if the chunks are bigger).  It adds a nice caramelized sweetness to the soup!

** I bought an immersion blender at Wal-mart a few years ago for around $15.  I don't use it often but it really comes in handy for recipes like this. Here is the newer version of the one I have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

slow cooker Thanksgiving dinner with roasted asparagus

We will celebrate Thanksgiving twice in the next seven days; once with Mike's family and then again with mine.  Needless to say, my family was *thrilled* to hear that turkey was on the menu this week.  I just couldn't help myself.  The fall is slipping away and I had not yet made one of my favorite fall weeknight meals:  slow cooker  turkey with stuffing.  I realize this is not the slaved over, hours to prepare, from scratch version that we will all be enjoying on Thursday, BUT by using good quality, all natural and organic ingredients, it is a close second.

The original version of this recipe is from one of the Southern Living Christmas cookbooks.  It calls for a 3 pound boneless turkey breast.  If your market carries them, they will be in the frozen meats section, but they tend to be hard to find.  On the rare occasion I do find one, it isn't usually an organic, free range brand.  What I have found to work best is buying 3 large boneless turkey breasts OR buying a turkey breast and cutting the meat off of it.  That is what I did this week.  

You might not put this on your family's dinner menu in the next few days, but it is a great recipe to have in your comfort food, cold weather recipe repertoire!

Prep Ahead Plan:  It's easy to throw this together in the morning.  It takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. This recipe isn't necessarily ideal for people who are going to be gone for a 10 hour work day.  When I was teaching full time, this was a perfect Sunday dinner!   The asparagus takes no time to mix up and can be prepared the night before and kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

Slow Cooker Turkey and Stuffing

1 (8 oz) package herb-seasoned stuffing mix ( Pepperidge Farms brand is great and Arrowhead Mills is a good organic brand)*
1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
3 pounds boneless turkey breast meat, thawed
1/4 teaspon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (0.88 ounce) package turkey gravy mix (McCormick's is pretty good actually!) 

Coat the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray. Add stuffing mix, onion and celery. Combine broth and melted butter. Pour over stuffing and stir gently.
Rinse turkey breast. Place turkey in slow cooker on top of stuffing. Combine salt, pepper, and thyme; sprinkle over turkey. Cover and cook on HIGH 1 hour. Reduce to LOW and cook for 5 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in turkey registers 170 degrees.

Remove turkey to a serving platter. Stir stuffing gently in slow cooker; cover and let stand 3 to 4 minutes. Prepare gravy. Spoon stuffing around turkey on platter.

* I always find that there is too much liquid in the stuffing when it is done.  The stuffing packages are sold in 14 oz bags.  Reserve the unused stuffing to mix some of it into the saturated stuffing in the slow cooker after the turkey is moved to the platter.  

Easy Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
2 t olive oil (or more if you prefer)
sprinkling of garlic powder, sea salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss asparagus with the ingredients listed above and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Organic Minestrone Soup Jars ~ the gift of dinner

What could be more personal than giving gifts from your own kitchen?  Gifts from home are gifts from the heart.  Last year at this time, the girls and I started our holiday gift project: organic soup mix jars!  I set up somewhat of an assembly line at our kitchen table and we began the layering process!  As you can see with help from little (clean) hands, the layers are perfectly imperfect which, in my opinion, makes this gift even better!  If you are not interested in anything less than perfection, see the tips below!

You can make these jars up to six weeks in advance.  Just be sure the containers are airtight. I used 16 oz Ball jars for this particular mix and it fit perfectly!  

Here are are some jar assembly tips:
1.  Good quality organic ingredients make all the difference.  
2.  Finding a good quality, organic vegetable bouillon in a jar was tricky.  I bought the kind packaged in individual squares and mashed them with a fork.  Alternatively, you could combine the cubes in a magic bullet and blend them up for a few seconds.
3.  If you have a wide mouth canning funnel, it will be helpful in loading the ingredients into each jar, especially if your kids are helping!  You can find them at Wal-mart.
4.  It is also helpful to pack down each layer with a tall spice jar or something else thin and round.  This will assure even layering...see picture above  for a good example of uneven layering :)
5.  Include a gift tag.  I created a word document with the cooking instructions, printed it out on cardstock, cut it with fancy scissors, whole punched it and tied it on with ribbon.  Email me if you would like a copy of it!

Organic Minestrone Soup Jar Mix

¼ cup red lentils
¼ cup green split peas
¼ cup barley
1/3 cup vegetable bouillon powder
2 tbsp. parsley flakes
3 tbsp. onion flakes
1/3 tsp. thyme
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
approximately ¼ cup ditalini pasta

In a 16 ounce jar, layer from the bottom in the order given, then seal the jar.

Include these instructions on your gift tag:In a very large saucepan combine 8 to 10 cups of water, a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, and soup mix. Add 2 chopped carrots, and 2 to 4 chopped potatoes (optional: 2 cups chopped cabbage). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour or until peas are tender. Enjoy!

This is the brand of bouillon I bought from whole foods.  Amazon sells it in bulk as packs of twelve. I'm guessing you have no use for 192 vegetable bouillon cubes but I thought I would post the brand I used.