Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Baking

Growing up, my family would pack up our things each Christmas and pile into the mini van to head to my Grandma Joy's house in Springfield, Illinois. After hours in the car, my family would tumble out of the van and into Grandma's house where she would always have dozens of cookies waiting for us. Grandma Joy would make what seemed like thousands of cookies to give away to family and friends in old coffee cans and festive Christmas tins. Piecrust kisses, oatmeal scotchies, thumbprint cookies... sooo many different varieties. A lot of my Christmas memories are centered around the traditions started with my dad's side of the family... I think my love of baking began in Grandma Joy's kitchen.

This year, Curt and I decided to spend our first Christmas as a married couple with his family up in Massachusetts. It was really nice to be part of the Congdon/Iemolini family traditions. I wanted to bring some of my family traditions up to Massachusetts.... so along with having blueberry muffins on Christmas morning, I baked!

I had already baked 10 dozen cookies to give away to our neighbors and co-workers, so I decided to try something new.... Cranberry Orange Bread.

Cranberries are all over the place during the holidays and I wanted to take advantage of them... these tart little fruits have tons of antioxidants, so they are great for you and they taste great too!
* 2 cups all purpose flour
* 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tbs orange juice
* 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
* 1/2 cup chopped pecans
* 1/4 cup butter, softened
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 egg
* 3/4 cup orange juice

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a loaf pan. Since I was giving these little loaves away as gifts, I wanted to give away a smaller size. I found these adorable little loaf pans at Michaels, so I used those and they turned out to be super cute!
In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and margarine. Add in the egg and the orange juice and mix until thoroughly combined.

Slowly add in the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and mix until just combined.
Next, add in the cranberries, pecans, and orange zest, then mix until combined.

(It took about 1 orange for 1 tbs of zest)
In the first batch I made, I put the cranberries in whole, but Curt thought it was a bit too much cranberry in one bite. For next batches, I cut the cranberries in half (thanks to the suggestion from Genelle!!!). The taste seemed to be a bit more evened out.

Pour into the greased loaf pans, then bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

And now for the finished product!

I thought that the breads looked pretty good once they were finished... but who would complain about a little bit of extra sugar?

(now that's a lot of bread!)

I made a little glaze by mixing together some powdered sugar and some orange juice until it had the right consistency. Then, I just drizzled it over the little loaves of bread. I think it gave the bread a nice sweet touch. Everyone loved it!

I couldn't just give out the bread in the pans, so I wrapped them in a bit of festive green cellophane and tied them up with red and white ribbons.

Cute huh?

(aren't the little loaf pans cute?!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Thanksgiving is one of my all time favorite holidays. For Christmas, my family always did different things, such as travel, volunteer at soup kitchens, etc... but for Thanksgiving, my parents, sister and I would always be at home watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in our pajamas while my mom started on the Turkey and my dad started on his famous stuffing.

While we spend the actual day of Thanksgiving with family, we have started a Thanksgiving Potluck for friends to attend as well. My girls LOVE any excuse to get together for some cocktails and food, so what better excuse than a holiday?!
As you can imagine, I cooked and baked a LOT of stuff over the past few weeks, so I'm just going to post a few highlights as well as pictures!
Thanksgiving Potluck!
Because there were about 20 people at the potluck, we made a turkey and a beef tenderloin for the main dishes. The turkey roasted in the oven for a couple of hours and came out a delicious golden brown.

For the beef tenderloin (modeled below by my adorable Curtman), I let it come to room temperature. I made a paste of rosemary, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and rubbed it all over the tenderloin. I let it marinate for about an hour. Then I wrapped it in bacon and put it on the grill. Bacon is great on everything, but I wanted to wrap it around the tenderloin so that it would stay tender with all of the bacon fat. Because there were about a million things in the oven, we cooked it on the grill. After pulling it off the grill, I let it rest for about 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute.
(Doesn't Curt look cute with an oven mitt?)
My dad made his famous dressing for the occasion. I have no idea how he makes it or what he puts in it (I do know that he does soak the raisins in red wine to give them a little kick). It's really yummy though!

(Here's the gravy and dad's dressing)
I also made a corn casserole, creamed spinach, and a macaroni and cheese. For the corn casserole, I used a recipe from my friend Rebecca!
(Angela's Sweet Potato Casserole and my Macaroni and Cheese)

The macaroni and cheese didn't really have a recipe. I just cooked the pasta and put it in a baking dish. In a saucepan, I melted different cheeses together... I don't remember what type I used... but I think cheddar, muenster, and pepperjack were included in the mix. I added some heavy cream to the mixture to make it creamy and thick. Then I just poured the cheese mixture over the noodles and mixed it all together. I topped it with a few handfuls of breadcrumbs and baked until the top was a nice golden brown.

(Here we have some garlic mashed potatoes -compliments of Billy-,
homemade cornbread -thanks Brook!- and my corn casserole)
Last year, Angela made this AMAZING sweet potato casserole, so I begged her to make it again. So... here it is with the macaroni and cheese.
Kylie was so hopeful that someone would drop food... she has such a cute face that I'm sure someone caved and dropped a bit of food. Last year, she managed to make away with a whole turkey leg because it was close to the table's edge. This year, I had to watch her very carefully!

(Here she is pouting because I made her leave the dining room)
Of course, we had tons of yummy desserts (rice krispy treats, cookies- thanks Caroline, apple pies- thanks to Kimba, etc...) but I forgot to take pictures of them (turkey coma). We also had some really good appetizers... Billy made guacamole and Julia made some really good shrimp and crab dip. Next time, I'll have to remember to take more pictures!
Thanksgiving Day
Since we were kinda turkeyed out from the Thanksgiving potluck, my mom decided to make prime rib instead. Can you say "Delicious!!!" ?
(Here's the prime rib! Soooo yummy!)
Since my sister's in Africa, having a huge feast for just my parents, Curt, and me didn't make sense. We ended up going to a family friend's house to celebrate with her and her family. She made a turkey and some mashed potatoes and a few other side dishes. We brought the prime rib, creamed spinach (I like it so much the first time that I decided to make it again), a lobster dip appetizer -served on cucumber rounds to save on calories, and a meringue cake.

(Here's the lobster spread on cucumber rounds!)
The creamed spinach was really easy! Here's my recipe!

* 5 Tbls. butter
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/4 tsp. salt
* 1/4 tsp. black pepper
* 1 dash ground nutmeg
* 1 cup half and half cream (I used fat free to save on calories)
* 4 oz. cream cheese (again, I used fat free)
* 1 small onion - minced
* 3 cloves garlic - minced
* (2) 10 oz. pkgs. frozen chopped spinach - thawed
* 1/4 cup water
* 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 Tbls. butter, then stir in flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Slowly, whisk in the half and half, then stir in cream cheese. Increase heat to medium and whisk mixture constantly until thick and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onions and garlic in remaining butter until they are soft and cooked through.

Stir in the spinach and water, then reduce heat to medium-low; cover; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes.
Stir spinach mixture into creamy mixture; return to medium heat; heat, stirring often, until warmed throughout.
Remove from heat; fold in Parmesan. I had extra Parmesan, so I topped the whole thing with the rest of the cheese.

It was delicious!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good Old Fashioned Comfort Food

Curt and I have been attending New Life Christian Church for a little over a year. We absolutely love being a part of the church community. The services always provide some eye opening insight and often have me laughing so hard that I cry. One of the great things is that the people there genuinely care about you. Being a decently sized church, there are always families who are expecting babies, or recovering from an illness, or on bedrest, etc... whatever the problem, the members of the church always rally to help those who could use a bit of an extra hand. So.... when a person needs a bit of help, people volunteer to cook meals and bring them to the family so they won't have to worry about a newborn baby and dinner.
A few weeks ago, Curt and I volunteered to bring some food to a family who had 3 children (I think) and 1 newborn. I always worry about making food for kids, because some can be very picky! I decided on making Chicken and Dumplings... a nice warm bowl is always very comforting!

I have loved almost every chicken and dumpling recipe I've tried... from Cracker Barrel style with thick noodle like dumplings and a thick broth... to my grandma's with biscuity type dumplings and a broth. I tried a new one out of my Martha Stewart Cookbook.... Here's my version!
(The weird looking stuff in the jar is home made chicken stock)

* 2 lbs chicken (white and dark meat)
* 1 tsp kosher salt
* 1 tbs butter
* 2 cups chicken stock
* 4 tbs flour
* 3 carrots thickly sliced
* 1 package mushrooms
* 1/2 tsp pepper
* 1 onion minced
* 1 tsp ground thyme
* 2 cups skim milk
* 1/2 lb green beans

For the Dumplings

* 1 cup flour
* 1/2 cup corn muffin mix
* 2 tbs butter
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 3/4 cup skim milk

For this particular batch that I made, I had the shredded meat from a whole chicken that I had used for stock the week before, so I used the meat and part of the stock for the recipe. If you don't have stock, you could just use chicken broth (I just like the flavor that home made chicken stock adds). If you don't have pre-cooked chicken on hand, just cook the chicken in a big stock pot. Season it with salt and pepper and cook until nicely browned, then remove from pot and set aside to cool.

Add butter to the stock pot and add in onions. Cook until the onions are translucent (can you believe I'm making a dish that doesn't require garlic?!) Add in the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

In a separate bowl, combine flour and milk until there are no lumps. Add into the boiling stock mixture and add in the thyme. Add in the carrots, mushrooms, green beans, and chicken, then reduce heat to low and let simmer.

In a separate bowl, it's time to start making the dumplings! Mix together flour, corn muffin mix, and salt. Add in the cold butter and mix with fingers until mealy. Once combined, slowly add in milk and continue to mix with fingers. The dough will be very sticky.

Bring the contents of the stockpot back to a boil and drop in the dumpling mixture by the tablespoonful.

Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. Once done, the dumplings will puff up and float to the top!

So this is what I brought the family! I hope they enjoyed it!

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert, so I whipped up a quick dirt pie... premade graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, oreo crumbs, a few gummy worms, and a few plastic spiders later and voila! What kid or adult doesn't love this simple treat?!

It was a few days after Halloween... I don't usually have fake spiders just hanging out in my kitchen :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So, Curt and I have only been married for a couple of months, but I absolutely love being a newlywed. Things have been very busy for us. This year, we had 7 weddings to attend, 1 major career change and 1 major company change. All of these changes have been for the better, however, we have both been extremely busy!

One of the reasons I love being married to Curt is that we always make time for each other. We always have weekly date nights where we make sure that whether we order a pizza, snuggle up with a movie, or go out for a drink, we are together. In the hustle and bustle of our lives, having at least one night to ourselves is pretty important for us.
Last week was pretty cold outside. It was the perfect type of weather where you need to sit at home with sweats on and snuggle under a blanket with big bowls of soup and crusty bread! I decided to make a big pot of Cioppino for dinner, along with some fresh rosemary bread, and Curt's favorite dessert- chocolate mousse.

I found a recipe for Cioppino on one of my favorite websites:
I cut the recipe in half and still had PLENTY of soup left.
Here's my take:
* 4 tbs butter
* 1 onion, minced
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
* 1 can stewed tomatoes
* 3 cups chicken stock
* 1 bay leaf
* 2 tsp dried basil
* 1/2 tsp dried thyme
* 1/2 tsp dried oregano
* 1 1/2 cups chardonnay
* 1/2 lb fresh shrimp
* 1/2 lb fresh sea scallops
* 1 lb fresh cod fillet
* 1 lb mussels
* 6 large topneck clams

First, I melted the butter in a large saucepan. I had made this soup before with minced onion, but the onion pieces were still apparently too big, so this time, instead of mincing the onion and garlic, I threw them in my mini food processor and pulsed for a few seconds. This resulted in teeny tiny bits of onion and garlic that Curt couldn't possibly pick out! Anyway, once the butter was melted, I threw in the onion/garlic mixture along with the parsley, and cooked that until I could start to smell the aromas.

Next, I added the chicken stock. The original recipe called for chicken broth, but I had made some fresh chicken stock the week before and I think it adds a much richer flavor, so in that went! I also added the can of tomatoes, bay leaf, herbs, and wine. The original recipe called for water, but I just increased the amount of chicken stock used. Once everything was in the pot, I covered it and let it simmer for 30 minutes. This allows the flavors to really infuse and make the house smell great!
While the broth was simmering, I prepared the seafood. There was definitely a large selection at Grand Mart, so I just picked out my favorites. I started by peeling the shrimp. I kept the shells because I know that you can make a really good shrimp stock with them (keep your eyes out for a posting about my experiments with them!!!).
Anyway, once the shrimp were cleaned, I started on the mussels and clams. A couple of the mussels had died, so I tossed those. I ended up cutting the scallops into quarters because they would hav been too big for 1 bite of soup. I would have used bay scallops because they are smaller and a good size, but they didn't have any at the store.
Once all of the seafood had been prepared, I just sprinkled some kosher salt over all of it and began tossing them into the soup. First, I added the clams. Since they were big, I knew that they would take the longest to cook. Next, I added the mussels.... next went the shrimp... then scallops... and lastly, the cod.
I was watching an episode of Julia Child (I NEVER really watch her but she's apparently amazing, so I tuned in for a minute)... she was making a fish chowder and she said not to cut up the fillet of fish before putting it in the soup. The fish is so delicate that it will naturally break up, and if you cut it first, it would break up into even smaller pieces. So... I put in the entire piece of fish and covered the pot.
The seafood only took a few minutes to finish. I let the soup sit until the fresh rosemary bread was out of the oven and served big bowls of the soup with big chunks of fresh, warm bread.
It was an amazing meal! Next time, however, I think I might add a bit of red pepper flakes to give it a little kick :)
Here's all that was left haha! Just a bunch of empty shells :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MoRe StUfF wItH pUmPkIn

So I've been feeling the urge to try all things punkin! Aside from the pumpkin cookies I made last week, here is another of my other experiments!
I found a recipe for this in the Food Network Magazine and thought it looked amazing. I haven't been able to find a link to the recipe or the picture, but here's my version!
* 3/4 cup flour
* 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 tsp. salt
* 3 eggs
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/4 cup brown sugar (the original recipe didn't call for brown sugar, but I love the flavor it adds, so I substituted 1/4 cup regular sugar for brown)
* 3/4 cup pureed pumpkin

Preheat oven to 375. Spray 2- 8 1/2 inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
In a small bowl, sift together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.

In another bowl, beat eggs and both sugars together until the mixture thickens a bit, then mix in the pumpkin puree. Slowly add in the flour mixture and beat with electric mixer until combined.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until completely baked through. Cool on wire racks.

The recipe I found calls for a chocolate ganache icing, but I didn't have the chocolate chips needed, so I made my own whipped cream:

* 2 cups heavy whipping cream
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1 tbs brown sugar, pushed through a sifter to remove chunks

Beat all 3 ingredients in a chilled glass bowl until stiff.
When the cakes had cooled, I placed one cake on a decorative plate and slathered on some chocolate frosting that I always keep on hand. ( I guess I could have used the whipped cream, but I love the taste of chocolate with pumpkin) Then, I placed the 2nd cake on top and spread the whipped cream all over the cake. To make it look a bit snazzy, I sifted some unsweetened cocoa powder on top.

The layers were kinda thin, so next time, depending on how adventurous I want to be, I might double the recipe and make a 4 layer cake!

And here's the final result!