Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Breakfast

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”-Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

Yep, it’s Christmas.  A wonderful time, spent with family and friends, enjoying every second with each other, right?  Ok, sometimes it’s not all that easy and smooth.  Christmas can be stressful.  But do you know what doesn’t have to be?  Christmas morning breakfast.  That can be the easiest part of this whole darn season.

I think what makes a spectacular breakfast easy is making it the night before.  Christmas morning?  Throw it in the oven and call it done.  My Christmas morning menu consists of a Baked Gingerbread French Toast that is assembled Christmas Eve and baked off Christmas morning.  Not only can you make it the night before, you really have to.  I will also show you how to make my Maple Apple Sausage Patties….also made the night before and cooked in the morning.

For my Gingerbread French Toast, I use a big loaf of French bread.  I buy one that hasn’t been sliced yet.  I usually get a fresh one from the bakery at the grocery store, but you can get any kind of French bread and keep it in your freezer until the day you are ready to make this.  Take it out of the freezer in the morning and let it defrost.

I start the recipe by melting a stick of butter with some brown sugar and my gingerbread spice mix.  My gingerbread spice mix is some cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice and ground nutmeg all mixed together.  I keep it on my kitchen counter all season long and add it to all baked goods, pancakes, coffee, etc.  I can’t get enough.

I spread the butter/spice mix all over the bottom of a large baking dish.  Then I layer half of the French bread, all cubed up, over the butter.  On top of that I dollop some sweetened cream cheese, then the last layer of remaining cubed bread.

I pour a mixture of eggs, more gingerbread spice mix, and whole milk (that has been beaten together) over the whole thing, and then I mush the bread down into the egg mixture.  I just want to make sure all the bread cubes are coated.  The whole thing gets covered in foil and refrigerated overnight.

In the morning, the bad boy bakes for about  forty-five minutes or until the outside is crunchy but the inside is tender and moist.  I top the whole thing off with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

This French toast is not only easy, it tastes amazing too.  It is rich, warm and spicy all at the same time.  And the gingerbread flavors are so Christmassy!!

As for my sausage….oh kids, you’re in for a treat.  I blend together maple flavored bulk sausage with minced apple, minced onion and poultry seasoning.  The patties can be formed well in advance and then just tossed in a skillet and cooked when you are ready.  Easy peasy perfection.

Have a great holiday!  Enjoy the season and your family and friends!

Gingerbread Spice Mix

2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 Tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Blend together and keep in a tightly sealed container.


Baked Gingerbread French Toast

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

½ cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoon Gingerbread Spice Mix, divided

1 loaf French bread, cubed

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup powdered sugar

6 eggs

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir together melted butter and 1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mix.  Spread butter mixture in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Layer ½ of bread cubes over that.

In a small mixing bowl, blend together cream cheese and powdered sugar.  Dollop cream cheese mixture over bread cubes as evenly as possible.  Top with remaining bread cubes.

In another mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, vanilla and remaining spice mix.  Pour egg mixture over bread cubes.  With your hands, slightly press down on bread cubes to encourage absorption of egg mixture.

Cover with foil and chill in refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, covered.  Uncover and bake another 15 minutes or until top is slightly browned.

Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing. 

Serve with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

Serves 8


Maple Apple Sausage Patties

2 16 ounce packages ground pork sausage, maple flavored (Jimmy Dean)

2 green apples

1 white onion

1 tablespoon Poultry Seasoning

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Blend apples, onion and poultry seasoning in a food processor until minced.  Mix apple mixture, by hand, into sausage until thoroughly mixed.  Form patties of equal size (about 24) and chill in refrigerator overnight.

Add oil to a large skillet and preheat over medium heat.  Brown sausage patties on first side for about 4 minutes.  Flip and brown second side for another four minutes or until sausage is cooked through.

Serves 8

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday Gifts to Share

The holidays are upon us.  The season of giving….and eating.  Don’t you think we should combine the two?  I’ve always been a firm believer that food makes an excellent gift.  Especially if you have friends that love to eat, but don’t really love to cook.  Something homemade, from your kitchen, is the best way to tell someone you care about them.  You took your time to make something especially for them.  Who doesn’t love that?

Today I have four recipes for you that make treats that are perfect for giving.  I have two recipes for pound cake (using a mix!).  The first is a yummy Egg Nog Pound Cake with a Rum Glaze and the second is a fantastic Gingerbread Pound Cake with a Lemon Glaze.  My third recipe is for Apple Pie Fudge, and my last recipe is for a knock-off of a certain coffee shop’s Cranberry Bars.  Don’t you think that you have a friend who  would love to receive a treat like that?

To make the pound cakes, I use a boxed pound cake mix.  For the Egg Nog Pound Cake, I use rich, thick egg nog instead of water.  I also use an extra egg and melted butter, just like the box calls for.  To make it taste even egg noggier, I add a teaspoon of rum extract and ½ a teaspoon of grated nutmeg.  This cake really does taste just like egg nog!

I top the cakes with a glaze made from powdered sugar and rum….or rum extract if you will be feeding little ones.

I bake my cakes in little mini loaf pans, so I get about 3 per box of cake mix.  I always by the disposable mini loaf pans that come with lids.  Perfect for giving!  And what’s even more perfect is that the cakes were super easy because you used a mix, but nobody will ever know!

I use the same boxed mix for my Gingerbread Pound Cake.  I use milk, eggs, butter and a mix of ground ginger, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground nutmeg and ground allspice.  I actually keep a little container of these spices around all season long.  I add my gingerbread spice mix to pancakes, waffles, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.  I love this stuff.

The gingerbread Pound Cakes get topped with a glaze made from powdered sugar and lemon juice.  I have always loved gingerbread and lemon together, but you could always use milk instead of lemon juice.

My third recipe is my Apple Pie Fudge.  Making candy can be kind of a project (a project most people don’t want any part of), but this fudge is actually really easy as long as you have a candy thermometer.  I combine sugar, milk, corn syrup, apple sauce, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, butter, dried apples and cinnamon chips.  The flavors of apple, spices and cinnamon chips comes together to make this fudge taste just like apple pie, but maybe better??

I start by bringing milk, sugar, corn syrup and apple sauce to a boil in a pot, stirring the whole time.  Then, I reduced the heat to medium and let the mixture come to 235 degrees, which is “soft ball” stage.  Don’t try to do this the old-fashioned way….use a candy thermometer.  And oh yeah, during this part, you don’t stir.

Then, I removed it from the heat and whisked in the butter, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice.  Once that was whisked, I had to let it sit for a while to wait for the temperature to drop to 110.  Once it was cooled, I went at it with my hand mixer until the mixture was less shiny and thick.  I know “less shiny” sounds weird, but you really do beat it until it loses its “gloss”.

The last step is to stir in some chopped dried apples and the cinnamon chips.  Then, the whole mixture gets poured into a lightly greased 8x8 pan.  This chills in the fridge for a couple of hours, then it’s good to go.  Package it up in something cute, and you have an amazing gift to give!

Finally, if you are still with me, my last recipe is what I call Cranberry Bars.  Like I said above, it is a knock-off of a famous coffee shop’s cranberry bars.  My version tastes just like ‘em.  And they are so pretty and delicious….the perfect gift!

The bars start with a cookie crust.  The usual suspects are in this cookie crust….sugar, flour, butter, etc.  I also stir in white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  The cookie crust gets topped with an orangy cream cheese frosting that is to die for. The last step is to drizzle more white chocolate over the top and then sprinkle on some more dried cranberries.

These bars just look like the holidays, and they are the perfect gift to give….maybe with a gift card to the coffee place that has gone unnamed?

This holiday season, when you are wondering what to give your child’s teachers, bus driver, the lady that does your nails, etc.  How about some sweet treats?  Like I said above, food is always a great gift!

Egg Nog Pound Cake

1 box pound cake mix

2/3 cup egg nog

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened

3 eggs

2 teaspoons rum extract, divided

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, divided

2 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease loaf pan (I used 3 mini loaf pans-4 ½ x2 ½ x1 ½).

In a mixing bowl, beat together mix, egg nog, softened butter, eggs, 1 teaspoon rum extract and ½ teaspoon nutmeg with a hand mixer.  Beat batter for about 3 minutes.  Pour batter into greased pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While cakes cool, whisk together powdered sugar, remaining extract, remaining nutmeg and 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk.  How much you use will depend on your desired consistency.

Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled cakes.

Makes 3 mini cakes.

Gingerbread Pound Cake

1 box pound cake mix

2/3 cup milk

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened

3 eggs

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease loaf pan (I used 3 mini loaf pans-4 ½ x2 ½ x1 ½).

In a mixing bowl, beat together mix, milk, softened butter, eggs, and all spices with a hand mixer.  Beat batter for about 3 minutes.  Pour batter into greased pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While cakes cool, whisk together powdered sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  How much you use will depend on your desired consistency.

Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled cakes.

Makes 3 mini cakes.


Apple Pie Fudge

2 ½ cups sugar


1 cup whole milk


3 tablespoons light corn syrup


½ cup apple sauce


1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract


1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice


½ cup butter (one stick)


½ cup dried apples, chopped


¼ cup cinnamon chips


In a large sauce pan, bring milk, sugar, apple sauce and corn syrup to a boil over high heat, stirring the entire time.  Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium and bring mixture to 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Do not stir mixture.


Once mixture hits 235 degrees, remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice.  Let mixture sit until it reaches 110 degrees.


After the mixture has cooled to 110, beat with hand mixer until mixture is thickened and loses shininess.  Stir in dried apples and cinnamons chips and pour into a greased 8x8 pan.  Let chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Makes 1 8x8 pan.



Cranberry Bars

2 sticks butter plus ½ stick, softened

1 ¼ brown sugar

3 eggs

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch salt

1 ½ cups flour

1 1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 12 ounce bag white chocolate chips

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon orange extract

3 cups powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat together 2 sticks butter and brown sugar until smooth.  Add eggs, vanilla, ginger and salt and mix well.  Slowly add in flour.  Once the batter is smooth, stir in ¾ cup dried cranberries and 6 ounces chocolate chips.  Pour into a 9x13 pan that has been lined with foil and greased.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.


Cream together ½ stick butter and 4 ounces cream cheese until smooth.  Add orange extract.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar.  Frost cooled bars.

In a microwave safe dish, melt 6 ounces white chocolate chips.  This will take about 45 seconds.  Stir until smooth and drizzle over frosted bars.  Top with the rest of the dried cranberries.

Remove bars from the pan using the edges of the foil.  Cut into bars to serve.

Makes 1 9x13 pan.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Party Nibbles....Including Homemade Ricotta!

The Holiday season is upon us.  That means parties, dinners, Open Houses, etc.  It also means that you need to have some quick appetizer or snack ideas up your sleeve.  In a season that is filled with cocktail parties and potlucks….you need a quick appetizer idea that you can whip out at a moment’s notice.  And I know you want it to be fast and easy, but you also what it to be a show stopper.  You want people to say “Wow, you made this?”  Admit it, you want that. 

During the Holidays, sure, people love a good dip.  But I think that an appetizer that can be passed around and eaten in one or two bites is the best way to go.  Today I have three ideas for you that all have the same base, a toasted baguette slice.  Once you have the vehicle, the toppings are a snap.  My first topping is a delicious mix of mushrooms, wine, cream and cheese.  My second two toppings involve homemade ricotta cheese.  And there is your show stopper.

Yes, you can make ricotta cheese at home!  It is actually really easy, and it is really yummy.  Your friends and family will think you are amazing.  But we will get back to the amazingness in a bit.  First, let’s cover the mushrooms.

In a sauté pan, I sauté mushrooms and garlic in butter, until a little brown and softened.  Then, I add in white wine and heavy cream.  Sounds crazy delicious, yes?  I highly recommend using white wine for presentation purposes, but you could use red if that is what you have.  I let the sauce reduce until it is thick.  Then I spoon over toasted baguette slices and top with parmesan.  Fontina would be delicious here too.  You can toss these under the broiler to melt the cheese, but the warm mushrooms will also do the trick.

Now if that didn’t grab your attention, and you really just want to hear about homemade ricotta, let’s move on.  It’s almost embarrassing how easy it is. 

To make homemade ricotta, all you need is half and half, salt, pepper, white wine vinegar, lemon juice and cheese cloth.  The cheese cloth is not debatable.  It is a must.  You can usually find it any grocery store.

I make my ricotta by bringing my half and half, salt and pepper to a boil over medium heat.  I stir occasionally so that I don’t burn the bottom.  Once it comes to a full boil, I remove it from the heat and stir in my vinegar and lemon juice.  Pretty much immediately, curds will form.  Give it a minute to get all curdy, then pour the mixture into a colander lined with damp cheese cloth.  I let the ricotta drain for about a half an hour. Once it is drained, I am left with thick, rich ricotta. 

This ricotta is nothing like what you buy at the store.  You will be amazed at the difference.  It is pillow soft and absolutely perfect. 

Now that we have the ricotta down, let’s talk about the two toppings that I like to put on toasted baguette slices that have been slathered with ricotta.  The first is easiest….I use Gourmet Rooster Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Spread.  The combination of sweet roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar and garlic is to die for.  And how easy is it to open a jar?

My second topping is a typical bruschetta topping of tomatoes, red onion, garlic, olive oil and basil.  Super simple, but ten times better when you make it yourself instead of buying it.  The flavors are stronger, and you control the oil.  I also like to top my ricotta tomato bruschetta with a drizzle of pesto.


Are you picturing the three amazing toppings for toasted baguette slices?  All of them are amazing.  If you have mushroom lovers, go with that one.  If you have cheese lovers, make some ricotta!  Top the ricotta with delectable Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Spread or homemade tomato topping.  Any way you go, you can’t lose!  These appetizers will make your holiday party!

Mushroom Bruschetta

3 Tablespoons butter

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

¼ cup wine

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Parmesan cheese

1 baguette, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoon salt, divided

2 teaspoons black pepper, divided

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté mushrooms and garlic in butter until brown and softened (over medium high heat), about 7 minutes.  Add wine and cook for 1 minute.  Add cream, season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook until sauce is reduced, about 5 minutes. 

Drizzle sliced baguette with oil and remaining salt and pepper..  Toast in 450 degree oven for 5 minutes.  Top with mushroom mixture and parmesan cheese.

Makes 24


Homemade Ricotta

6 cups half and half

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Bring half and half, salt and pepper to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Once boiling, remove from heat and stir in vinegar and lemon juice.  Curds will start to form.  After about 1 minute, pour mixture into a colander lined with damp cheese cloth.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.  Keep refrigerated.

Makes about 3 cups.


Perfect Tomato Bruschetta

1 baguette, sliced

¼ cup olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon black pepper

3 medium tomatoes diced and squeezed to remove liquid

¼ cup red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced

2 cups ricotta

2 tablespoons pesto, jarred

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drizzle sliced baguette evenly with 2 tablespoons oil and 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Toast in 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. 

In a bowl, gently mix together diced tomatoes, diced red onion, minced garlic, minced basil, remaining olive oil, and remaining salt and pepper.  Chill until ready to use.

Top toasted baguette slices evenly with ricotta, then tomato mixture.  Drizzle with pesto.

Makes 24

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Too Much Turkey

A lot is going one right now, right?  Thanksgiving, Black Friday, etc.  In a couple of days, it will all be over and we can concentrate on other things…..like Christmas.  But in the meantime, we are all going to have a large amount of Thanksgiving leftovers.  This year, let’s do something different with them.  Let’s do more than the usual sandwich, soup or tetrazzini.  Let’s do this together.  Wow, that was quite a pep talk, right?

Today I have two recipes using Turkey Day leftovers to show you, and although they are both “breakfast” recipes, they really are amazing at any time of day.  My first recipe is a “Thanksgiving Benedict”.  I have actually made this for years.  I use leftover mashed potatoes to make potato cakes that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  I top the cakes with “frizzled” (I’ll explain later) turkey, a fried egg and leftover gravy.  Even if you think you ate too much for Thanksgiving, you will totally be able to make room for this the next day.

My next recipe uses leftover sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce.  I use the casserole to make sweet and delicious pancakes, and the cranberry sauce mixes with maple syrup and orange zest to make the perfect topper for the pancakes.  Sounds good right?

My mashed potato cakes are super easy.  I throw a couple cups of leftover mashed potatoes into my standing mixer with a couple of eggs and some flour.  You can use a hand mixer if you don’t have a standing mixer.  I blend until smooth, and then the cakes get fried in a butter/oil combo.  My family loves these almost more than the mashed potatoes.

Remember when I said “frizzled” turkey?  I really just mean that I fry the turkey just long enough to get brown around the edges and warmed through.  Not quite fried….more of a quick sizzle, so frizzled.  The fried egg and leftover gravy is pretty self-explanatory, yes?

This Thanksgiving Benedict is my favorite part of Thanksgiving.  Yes, I know it’s the day after that I get to eat it, but whatever.  I lump all the deliciousness together.

Does your family make the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and maybe some nuts thrown in?  Well, that makes for amazing pancakes!  Similar to pumpkin pancakes, but even better…because who doesn’t love marshmallows in their pancakes?

I mix leftover casserole into my regular pancake recipe using baking mix.  I also substitute leftover apple cider for milk.  I cook the pancakes until they are golden brown and perfect. 

While the pancakes cook, I heat leftover cranberry sauce with maple syrup and a little bit of orange zest.  Now, I can only recommend this recipe if your cranberry sauce is a sweet version.  Versions using horseradish or mustard might not go over so well.

I top the pancakes with butter and a ton of cranberry maple syrup.  We’ll diet after the holidays, Ok?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Enjoy your day….and your leftovers the next day!


Thanksgiving Benedict

2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

2 eggs

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups leftover turkey, shredded

4 eggs

1 cup leftover gravy, reheated


Melt butter in oil in a large skillet over medium heat. 

Mix together leftover mashed potatoes, eggs and flour until smooth.  Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, drop scoops of the potato mixture into skillet.  Flatten slightly with a spatula.  Fry for 5 minutes each side or until golden brown on each side.  Work in batches if needed.  Place on paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle evenly with salt.

Add turkey to melted butter and oil remaining in pan.  Fry, slightly, until turkey is brown around the edges and reheated.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

Fry eggs in remaining butter and oil, about 1 minute each side depending on how you like your egg cooked.

To assemble:

Place two mashed potato patties on a plate.  Top with about ¼ cup fried turkey.  Top turkey with a fried egg.  Drizzle about ¼ cup gravy over the top of each Benedict.

Serves 4


Sweet Potato Casserole Pancakes with Maple Cranberry Syrup

2 cups baking mix

2 eggs

1 cup leftover apple cider, or milk

¾ cup Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons butter

Maple Cranberry Syrup:

½ cup leftover cranberry sauce

½ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon orange zest


Preheat griddle to 350 degrees.  Melt butter on griddle.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together baking mix, eggs, apple cider, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined.  Let batter sit for 5 minutes.

Scoop batter onto griddle with a ¼ cup measuring cup.  Cook pancakes until the tops start to bubble and the edges brown, about 3 minutes.  Flip pancakes and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

Serve with butter and maple cranberry syrup.

For syrup:

In a small sauce pan, whisk together cranberry sauce, syrup and zest.  Cook, over low heat, until warmed through.

Serves 4-6



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Roasted Autumn Vegetables

Well, kids….it’s that time of year already.  Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  This year, let’s plan ahead.  This year, let’s be the ones who have our menus planned and ready to go way ahead of time.  Who’s with me?

Is anyone still there?  Ok, good.  Today, let’s talk side dishes.   I think that veggies never really get their due on Thanksgiving, unless you are counting a potato.  I’m not.  Mashed potatoes are a great part of Thanksgiving, but everyone has a recipe for that.  Today I want to talk about real veggies.  Like carrots, squash and Brussels sprouts.

I have a recipe for Roasted Autumn Veggies that everyone will love.  Even non-veggie eaters (like me!).  When veggies are roasted, they get sweet and caramelized.  The taste totally changes.  I combine halved Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, cubed butternut squash and red onion with balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper and a smidge of sugar.  When these veggies are done roasting, they are super sweet and tender.  To make ‘em even better, I top them with crumbled gorgonzola cheese, dried cranberries and candied pecans.  I never knew vegetables could be so delicious until I had these.

To start, I preheat my oven to 400 degrees, pretty hot really.  Then, I put about three cups of each of the vegetables that I am using into a large bowl.  You can really choose any hearty autumn veggie for this….parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, etc.  Just make sure that your veggies are all relatively the same size.  I chopped my onion and halved my Brussels sprouts.  I cheated and opened a bag of already cubed butternut squash and left my baby carrots whole.  If everything is pretty much the same size, it will all cook evenly.

To the bowl, I add about a quarter cup of olive oil, two teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons black pepper.  I also sprinkle on about a tablespoon of sugar.  Yes, I know I said these veggies get sweet when they are roasted, but the sugar helps a bit too.  Sprouts can be bitter, so the sugar really brings out that hidden sweetness.

Next, I stir together a half of a cup balsamic vinegar with a quarter cup of soy sauce.  I pour a quarter cup of this mixture directly on the veggies.  Once the veggies are mixed, I pour them on a baking sheet and let them roast for about forty minutes.

While the veggies cook, I let the soy/balsamic mixture reduce to a thick syrup.  All I do is let it cook in a small sauce pan over medium high heat for about ten minutes.  If it is at a full boil, it will reduce pretty quickly to a thick delicious syrup.

When the veggies are done roasting they will be a beautiful golden brown and super tender.  I top the veggies with crumbles or gorgonzola, dried cranberries, candied pecans, and then I drizzle on the balsamic syrup.  Perfection. Thanksgiving perfection.


If you have any veggies left over, you can make my Harvest salad.  I top greens with the leftover veggies (cold), chopped leftover turkey and a chopped green apple.  Then, I top the salad with my cranberry vinaigrette made with leftover cranberry sauce.  This is the perfect lunch the day after Thanksgiving.  Doesn’t a salad sound good when you are still a little bit full from the day before?

Roasted Autumn Veggies

3 cups Brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved

3 cups baby carrots

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 cups red onion, chopped

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup soy sauce

1/3 cup candied pecans

1/3 cup dried cranberries

¼ cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place veggies in a large bowl.  Add olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar.  Mix well.

Stir together soy sauce and vinegar.  Add ¼ a cup of this mixture to veggies.  Mix well.

Pour veggies onto a sheet pan.  Roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

While veggies cook, pour remaining soy/balsamic mixture into a small sauce pan.  Boil over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until mixture is reduced to about 2 tablespoons.

Transfer veggies onto serving platter.  Top with candied pecans, dried cranberries and gorgonzola cheese.  Drizzle with balsamic syrup.

Serves 8-10

Cranberry Vinaigrette

¼ cup cranberry sauce

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

Blend all ingredients together in a blender until well blended.

Makes about 1 cup.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

Tomorrow is Halloween.  You knew that, right?  Are you ready?  Of course, I’ve been on Pinterest and there is no end to the cute, or spooky, or spooky and cute at the same time, Halloween food.  There are thousands of recipes and ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts and anything else you can think of.  While they are all amazing, all it really does it stress me out because I know there is no way I could make most of it.  And I do this for a living.  As crafty as I am, I just don’t think that I could make Frankenstein cake pops or a cake shaped like a coffin.

I have three last minute Halloween ideas for you today, and I promise, not a one of them is too hard or will add undue stress.  My ideas are cute, or spooky, and ridiculously easy.  You don’t need more than fifteen minutes, and you might already have all the ingredients on hand.  And you know what?  Everyone can be jealous of you for pulling off an effortless Halloween.

My first recipe I want to show you is more of an idea then a recipe.  Every year, I make my little “Cookie Monsters” for my kids and sometimes even for all of the kids in their classes.  I start with already baked chocolate chip cookies, like Chips Ahoy or something similar.  Of course, you can bake your own chocolate chip cookies, but I like that these cookies are all the same shape and size and relatively sturdy. 

I assemble these little monsters by laying down a cookie, bottom side up.  I pipe red and green frosting on to form a tongue and an oozy green monster mouth.  I like to add more frosting towards the back so that the cookie sits open a bit in front when I lay the top cookie on.  I also add candy eyeballs to the top cookie.  I adhere the eyes with either frosting or melted chocolate.  From there, I get creative.  Sometimes I add candy corn for fangs or horns, or licorice strings for hair.  I’ve used sliced almonds for teeth, or even Nerds (the candy) for warts and such.  Basically, whatever you can find, you can use.  Use your imagination.  Sometimes they are funnier, then scary, but that’s ok too.  The bottom line is that kids love them, and they are so easy to put together.


My next Halloween treat is actually something that I bust out at most holidays….it really just depends on what cookie cutters I can find.  I like to use my themed cookie cutters to make homemade “strudels”.  They might be more “pop tart” but my kids have always called them strudels.  I use frozen puff pastry as a base for this.  I punch out themed shapes with cookie cutters and I fill these little pockets of goodness with fresh strawberries and chocolate, blueberry jam, mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, pizza sauce and cheese, really whatever I have.

I start by punching out a shape from the defrosted puff pastry.  Two really, because I need a top and bottom.  I lay the bottom piece out on a greased tray (you can’t be too careful!) and I layer on my toppings.  For the pumpkins and ghosts I used fresh thinly sliced strawberries and mini chocolate chips.  Once the filling is on the bottom piece, I use a little bit of water to seal the top piece on.  The water acts as glue. 

Then, I cut slits (for eyes and mouths) that will not only make these super cute, they also keep the puff pastry from puffing up too much.  These bake for about fifteen minutes and when they come out of the oven, they are puffed and golden and really, really delicious.  


These are also great for an easy breakfast on Christmas Day or Valentine’s Day.  And it gives me an excuse to use one of millions of cookie cutters. Yep, I have a ton and I very rarely make cut-out cookies.

My last recipe is my “Trick or Treat Cider”.  We never go out on Halloween night without this fantastic, spicy cider.  I make it in my slow cooker so it is ready to go for anyone that might drop by or for refills during those long trick or treating runs.  For this cider, I use apple juice, cranberry juice, pear nectar, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, ginger and a couple of clementines.  You could use regular oranges too, if that is what you have.

This is so easy….I literally just throw everything (ok, not literally…that would make a mess), in the slow cooker and let it go for about 3 hours.  The flavors will all meld together over those 3 hours.  The spices, clemetines and ginger will all release their flavors.  Then, I pull the big chunks out and it is ready to go.   I like to serve my cider with whip cream on the top, but you can skip that if you want.  The adults might want a bit of brandy in it too, especially when faced with a long night of trick or treating.  Either way, this stuff tastes like fall in a glass.

I hope you all have a safe and fun Halloween!  Trick or Treat!

Puffy Pumpkin (or Ghost!) “Strudels”

17.3 ounce box frozen puff pastry sheets, defrosted

8 strawberries, thinly sliced

¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lay defrosted puff pastry sheets on a floured board.  Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes.  Make sure you have a top and bottom of each shape.

Lay bottom shape down on a greased cookie sheet.  Top with thinly sliced strawberries and a few mini chocolate chips, leaving a rim.  Using your finger, dab water all the way around the rim.  Press top shape onto bottom, sealing with fingers.

Using a sharp knife, cut slits or shapes on the top shape.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.


Trick or Treat Cider


3 cups apple juice


3 cups pear cider


3 cups cranberry juice


4 cinnamon sticks


8 whole cloves


3 inch piece of peeled ginger


2 clementines, cut in half


Place all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook for 3 hours.  Remove sticks, cloves, ginger and clementines.  Serve warm.

Makes 9 cups cider

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Crepes....Actually Easy!

What is your “go-to” meal?  Do you have one?  You know, that meal that you have in your back pocket.  The one you can cook at a moment’s notice because you know the recipe by heart, and you always have all the ingredients.  I have one, and you might think it’s a strange one because some people think they are too fancy, or something you can’t possible make a meal out of, or maybe you think they are only for breakfast.

Have you guessed yet?  My “go-to” is crepes!  Yep, the thin French pancakes.  Why, you ask?  Because they are ridiculously easy, made from pantry ingredients, can transform leftovers and everybody loves them!  I have yet to find anything that I can’t fill crepes with.  Wait, yes I have.  The Spaghetti crepes didn’t go over well, but they really can be stuffed with pretty much anything within reason.

When I need a good breakfast, or when I come home from work and can’t figure out what to make in a pinch….it’s always crepes.  I tend to stuff them with whatever I can find in the fridge or pantry.  I love rotisserie chicken and broccoli rolled in a delicious crepe and topped with a yummy cheese sauce.  Or melty mozzarella rolled in a savory crepe and then topped with pasta sauce.  I’ve done leftover steak and potatoes, meatloaf, taco meat and cheese, and even just plain old butter and garlic.  For breakfast, I like scrambled eggs and ham topped with cheese sauce (again!) or sweetened cream cheese rolled into a sweet crepe and then topped with strawberry jam and homemade chocolate sauce.

Looking for a great holiday breakfast?  How about pumpkin, cream cheese and powdered sugar blended together, rolled in a crepe and topped with maple syrup?  Or how about stuffing your Thanksgiving leftovers into a crepe and then topping with gravy?  See?  The possibilities are endless!

Let’s talk about the crepes.  First off, don’t be intimidated because they are not hard!  Crepes are flour, eggs, milk, melted butter and a smidge of water.  Don’t you have all of that in your pantry and fridge?  You can also make crepes from packaged baking mix.  Really, the batter is just super thin pancake batter, so it makes sense when you think about it.  I tend to grab the baking mix to make my crepes just so I don’t have to melt butter. If I am making sweet crepes, I add a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar to the batter.  Savory crepes?  Try dried herbs.

Once you have your batter mixed, you need to grease your pan really well.  I think that is the most important factor when making crepes.  Not a fancy crepe pan….just gold old fashioned butter and oil.  I use a combination of both.  I like the way oil makes the pan super non-stick, but I prefer the taste of butter.

I ladle in about 1/3 a cup of batter into a large skillet.  Then, I swirl the pan until the entire bottom surface of the pan is coated in a thin layer of batter.  Be careful….these cook quickly!  Once the crepe starts to bubble along the edges and lift up, I know it’s time to flip.  I slide the crepe out onto foil, add more oil and butter to the pan, then flip the crepe back in to cook on the other side.  These cook in less than a minute.

Once I have all of my crepes cooked, I put some filling down the middle, roll ‘em up and top with a sauce of some sort.  Sometimes I will also pop them under the broiler to get a browned bubbly top.  Dinner, lunch or breakfast is served.

Above I mentioned cheese sauce and chocolate sauce….this brings me to my “go-to” pantry item.  I always have evaporated canned milk on hand.  You can make so many different sauces with evaporated milk.  I have talked about the cheese sauces I make with evaporated milk here before.  You can find those recipes at www.gourmetrooster.blogspot.com.  If you are after a chocolate sauce…again…..grab the evaporated milk.

For my deep dark chocolate sauce, I pour a can of evaporated milk into a sauce pan with about 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I whisk the two together as the chocolate melts.  At first, you will think that I am nuts because the sauce won’t be a sauce.  It will be a runny mess.  But keep whisking and keep the faith….as the sauce comes to a boil, it will thicken into a luxurious, rich chocolate sauce.  I also add about a tablespoon of butter and some flavored extract in at the end to really gild the lily.  I usually use vanilla, but rum, mint or orange are also delicious.  You can also stir in peanut butter for a crazy good treat.

This chocolate sauce is great on crepes, but it is also fantastic on ice cream, cake, my finger, a spoon…whatever.


What do you stuff crepes with?  I bet you could come up with some great ideas!

Easy Crepes

Butter and Oil for cooking

1 cup baking mix

3 eggs

¾ cup milk

For sweet:

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For savory:

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Mix ingredients in a large bowl until smooth.  Let batter sit for about 10 minutes.

Pre-heat a large flat skillet over medium heat.  Add about 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the pan.  Once butter is melted, ladle about 1/3 a cup batter into skillet.  Swirl skillet until batter completely coats the bottom of the pan.  Let crepe cook until edges have large bubbles and start to lift up, about 1 minute.  Loosen edges with a spatula and slide crepe onto a piece of foil.  Add additional butter and oil to the pan.  Flip crepe back into pan to cook second side.  Let second side cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Slide cooked crepe back onto foil.

Repeat with remaining batter.

Makes about 10 crepes.


Easy Chocolate Sauce

12 ounces evaporated milk

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons flavored extract

Heat evaporated milk and chocolate chips in a small skillet over medium heat, whisking as the chocolate melts.  Let sauce come to a boil to thicken, about 4 minutes.  Whisk in butter and extract.

Makes about 2 cups.