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Creamy Non-Dairy Tropical Smoothie

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((Sheepishly sneaks back into the blogging room, pretending as if she hasn’t been absent for the past three months))

If the look he gave me at the doctor’s office is any indication, I’m going to be in big trouble if my five-year-old, Lucas, finds out I’ve shared this story with you.

Many little boys dream of growing up to become superheroes, as if they will magically awaken one morning with webs shooting from the fingertips or the ability to leap the tallest buildings in a single bound. My Lucas has a better plan. He is aspiring to become a scientist when he grows up, with the specific intention of developing a potion which will give him super powers. He’s not about to sit around just waiting for it to happen.

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This plan of his has come up again and again over the past few months. This is no casual daydream. His plans have incited intense arguments on the ride home from school over the morality of animal testing. Though Lucas has no desire to harm any animals, he feels it will be necessary to have an assortment of animals on hand to test his potions.  (Enter legions of super-powered rabbits and monkeys into the story.)

Liam, his older brother, has shamed him for his planned methods, accusing him of being a MAD scientist. Lucas remains insistent that he is a happy scientist.

He claims that while animal testing is necessary, his potions will be made of watermelon seeds and salt, because “salt ALWAYS makes potions better.” (Lucas has apparently spent some time in culinary school.) He will then dye the potions blue to trick the animals into thinking it is water. As you can tell, he’s put a frightening level of thought into these plans.

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At a recent visit to the doctor, Lucas’ plans to become a scientist came up in discussion, as the doctor mixed the chemicals for a strep test. I mentioned the whole watermelon and salt potion, as it seemed relevant to the conversation. Lucas instantly shushed me and gave me the glare of death.

As a friend suggested, that doctor will likely now share the information with a colleague who secretly harbors a mad lust for power. He will attempt to replicate Lucas’ formula, but use the wrong proportions of watermelon seed to salt, resulting in a potion which grants him powers similar in strength to Lucas, but somehow twisted and corrupted.

In my casual comment, I had just created Lucas’ archnemesis.

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It is hard being the mother of a mad scientist.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t done as much cooking recently as I normally do, hence part of the reason I’ve been a bit absent from this blog. Of course, I’ll be making our traditional corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight, along with boiled potatoes, carrots, and Irish soda bread. We’ll also consume a variety of green foods, which don’t normally occur green in nature.

This smoothie recipe hardly counts as a ‘recipe’ at all. It’s more of a “Hi, I still exist.” This naturally green, healthful potion is bursting with delicious nutrition which may actually induce super powers. Lusciously creamy, I suspect this recipe may produce a fantastic dairy-free iced dessert, if thrown into an ice cream maker. I foresee an experiment in our future.

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Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the concocting of this smoothie.

Creamy Non-Dairy Tropical Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2 ripe mangos
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut water
  • Juice of 1 lime

Directions

Scoop out the flesh of the avocados and mangos. Chop the bananas into chunks. Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor, until smooth. Enjoy immediately, or chilled.

*A squirt of lime juice over the top of the smoothie will prevent the avocado from browning.

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Peppermint Mocha Cakes

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…

We’re at the three day countdown to Christmas and the excitement is bubbling over in our home. Our annual cookie exchange took place last weekend, and last night we hosted our first ‘white elephant’ booze exchange amongst my siblings and a few other honorary family members.

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It was a roaring success, most certainly to be repeated in future years. I won a couple bottles of hard cider from a local orchard, a wine glass sippy cup, and a bottle of One Hope pinot noir, a portion of whose profits go toward funding adoptions for homeless animals. Every sip comes with complimentary images of wagging puppy tails and frolicking kittens. Christmas win!

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Gifts marked for the exchange

Tomorrow I’ll cook our annual chicken parmesan dinner, then Tuesday I’ll prepare the beef bourguignon for the Christmas dinner we will celebrate with 16 people. The abundance of our blessings in love, and family, and friendships does not go unnoticed.

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Brothers

Before we get swept into the Christmas tornado, I wanted to share this recipe with you. These delicious little peppermint mocha bundt cakes evolved from one of my favorite Hershey’s chocolate cake recipes. They’re moist and rich, with a minty mocha flavor reminiscent of my favorite holiday Starbucks beverage. Make them as mini cakes, perfect for gifting or bake sale donations, or make it as a full-sized treat for your holiday table.

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Peppermint Mocha Cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3/4 cup very strong, hot coffee

For the coffee glaze:

  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • A few tablespoons brewed coffee

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour 12 mini-bundt pans or 1 12-cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and peppermint. Beat for a couple minutes until well combined. Gradually add the hot coffee and stir. (The batter will be thinner than you might expect.) Pour the batter into the prepared pans, so that each pan is no more than 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Approximately 20-25 minutes for mini-bundts, 50-55 minutes for large bundt pan) Cool completely.

To prepare the glaze, gradually stir a little hot coffee into the confectioner’s sugar until a smooth glaze forms. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, then garnish with a crushed candy cane.

Makes 12 mini-bundt cakes or 1 large bundt cake

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Triple Ginger Cookies and Holiday Sangria

This past weekend, I hosted my third annual cookie exchange party. Cookie party, for me, is quite simply an excuse to have a bunch of my friends over to my festively adorned house, so we can indulge in afternoon cocktails and eat cookies.

We eat cheese. We drink holiday sangria, pomegranate champagne cocktails, and cocoa. We trade cookies. The kids make holiday crafts. Everyone has grand time.

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This year’s party was apparently so grand and inviting, that perfect strangers decided to join us.

No joke.

My cookie party got crashed by three women wearing Santa hats.

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They walked up our driveway, let themselves in through the front door, sat on our stairs to remove their winter boots, coats, and hats, then proceeded to walk through the house in search of someone they knew.

One of my friends alerted me to the presence of my new guests, who were wandering my house at that very moment. I ran to my husband to find out what to do.

We were just about to greet our new guests as they walked into the living room and realized their mistake.

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One woman, who appeared to be the mother of the other two, mumbled an embarrassed apology, then made a hasty exit. The other two women sat on the stairs while they laced up what seemed like the tallest winter boots in creation. They then chased after their mom, who was already in her car driving down the road in search of their intended party.

Had it been me, standing there, eating a piece of cheese in the living room of a complete stranger, surrounded by that stranger’s family and friends, I would have run out of that house barefoot, into the foot and a half of snow on the ground.

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Had they brought cookies to share, I would have eagerly encouraged them to stay. But, as I always say, every time someone crashes my cookie party… No cookies? No cocktails!

Next year, I’m hiring a cookie bouncer for my party.

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These spicy, triple-ginger cookies were my contribution to the cookie buffet. They’re sweet and chewy and oozing with gingery flavor. The holiday sangria, which follows, is accented with festive flavors of orange, ginger, cinnamon, and pomegranate.

You’d have crashed my cookie party too, if you knew these cookies and sangria were waiting inside.

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Triple Ginger Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  •  1 2-ounce bottle crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, eggs, and oil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Roll into 1″ balls. Arrange the balls about 1 1/2″ apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until crackles form on the top. Remove the cookies from the oven, then give the baking sheet a little whack on the counter to flatten the cookies.

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Holiday Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1.5 liter bottle of sweet red wine (I used Sutter Home’s Sweet Red Wine)
  • 1/2 cup triple sec
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup ginger ale
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pear, chopped
  • 1 pomegrante
  • 1 orange

Directions

Combine the wine, triple sec, orange juice, and ginger ale. Add the cinnamon stick and the chopped pear. Remove the arils from the pomegranate and add to the mixture. Remove the orange segments from the orange, chop into small pieces and add to the mixture. Remove the white pith from the orange peel, then slice the peel into small slivers. Add to the sangria. Chill and enjoy.

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Rainbow Cookie Cake

Is anybody else planning on getting their two-year-old a Harry & David fruit basket for Christmas this year??

I’m guessing I might be the only one, and yet, I’m 99.99% certain that it will be his favorite gift, by far. The kid is ridiculously in love with fruit.

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In fact, on Halloween, we stopped by my sister’s house to trick-or-treat. She handed each of the boys a piece of candy from the bowl of treats by her door, before remembering that she had an ultra-ripe Harry & David pear for my littlest guy. She ran into her kitchen to grab the foil-wrapped gem, then handed it to my little James, who literally threw the piece of candy over his shoulder like a piece of worthless garbage, in exchange for the tender pear.

I expect him to be as excited over his Harry & David fruit basket as the other boys will be over their massive Lego castle and Minecraft video game.

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When it comes to Christmas, I am like Walt Disney, carefully masterminding magical moments. While James revels in the magic of an assortment of unusually large, perfectly ripened fruit, I expect the other two boys to be doing giggling backflips over the two-foot-long gummy worm I plan to order or the giant rice krispie treat I found at Target.

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In the spirit of magical, over-sized treats, I think you’ll enjoy this oversized rainbow cookie cake. It’s like those addictingly delicious, almondy rainbow cookies, only it’s the size of an entire cake. It’s like one, giant rainbow cookie, and I wouldn’t blame you if you ate the whole darn thing.

I started with a recipe for rainbow cookies, then lighted it up just a bit with an additional egg, a bit more flour, and a teaspoon of baking powder. It’s got the dense lusciousness you expect to find in a rainbow cookie, just a bit more cake-like.

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This rich, chocolate-drenched cake is a must-have on any holiday table.

Rainbow Cookie Cake

Ingredients

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 8-ounce can almond paste
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Green food coloring
  • Red food coloring
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Seedless raspberry jam
  • Apricot jam
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Chocolate sprinkles

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 9×5 inch loaf pans with baking spray.

Place the five egg whites into a clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Use a fork to break up the almond paste into smaller pieces. In a large bowl, combine the almond paste and sugar with an electric mixer until there are no large lumps. Add the butter and beat until well combined. Add the egg yolks and almond extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Gradually beat the flour mixer into the wet ingredients. The dough will be quite thick.

Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the dough. This will slightly lighten the mixture. Then, fold in the remaining egg whites until well blended.

Divide the dough into three equal portions. Use a few drops of food coloring to color one portion red, another portion green, and the remaining portion yellow. *Gel food coloring has the best effect.

Use a spatula to spread each portion of dough into the three prepared baking pans.

Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cakes are set and the edges just begin to turn golden.

Allow the cakes to cool for a few minutes in the pans, then carefully invert the cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely.

Use a long serrated knife to level the cakes, removing as little cake as necessary.

Spread a layer of raspberry jam over the red layer. Place the yellow layer over the jam, then spread the apricot jam on top. Top with the red layer.

Chop the semisweet chocolate. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan or in the microwave, just until boiling. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, then stir until smooth. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate ganache over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish liberally with chocolate sprinkles.

Refrigerate to set, but remove the cake from the fridge before serving, so it comes up to room temperature.

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Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Hey, folks…

Reposting last year’s round-up of Thanksgiving ideas for a little menu-planning inspiration!

~Amy

APPETIZERS

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Corn and Bacon Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with Bleu Cheese

THE MAIN EVENT

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy (and tips for roasting a whole turkey)

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey Drumsticks (and garlicky creamed spinach)

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Hot Doughy Buns

DESSERTS

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

A Few Variations on Apple Pie (in an all butter pie crust)

Caramel Apple Cake

Turkey-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Caramel Apple Tartlets

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Cannoli Cheesecake

How to Carve Your Thanksgiving Turkey – Photo Guide

In charge of carving the bird this Thanksgiving?

Most of us carve a turkey once a year, if that, which means that just about all of us could use a little refresher on how to tackle that big golden bird.

With that in mind, here’s a little photo guide to help you get the job done.

1. Allow your guests to see that gloriously golden, fragrant, tender roasted turkey. Then, bring it back into the kitchen to carve. It’s a hands-on and somewhat messy job. There’s no need to be dealing with it at the carefully set Thanksgiving table.

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2. Start by removing the legs. To do this, use a sharp carving knife to cut the skin connecting the leg to the body. Use your hands to pull the leg away from the body until you hear the joint pop.

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Then wiggle the knife through the joint and pull the leg off of the turkey carcass.

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3. Repeat on the other side. Then, separate the thighs from the drumsticks by inserting a knife between the joint. If desired, slice the meat from the thigh and drumsticks.

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4. Remove the wings in a similar manner, by gently pulling the wing from the body, then using a knife to cut through the skin and joint.

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5. Finally, remove the turkey breasts from the carcass. To do this, make a long, deep cut into the center of the turkey on one side of the breast bone. Carefully glide your knife down along the breast bone to remove the entire breast from one side of the turkey.

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6. Repeat on the other side, then lay the breasts skin side up on your carving board and cut across the breast into slices.

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Save the carcass from turkey soup!!

Pumpkin Gingersnap Bars with Gingered Cream Cheese Topping

Halloween blew my two years old’s mind. Totally blew it. For weeks we’d been talking about how he would be Captain America on Halloween, while his brothers would be Hulk and Thor. Daddy would be Iron Man and Mommy would be Black Widow. We’d go door to door, collecting candy, which we would deposit in plastic pumpkins.

Though clearly flummoxed by this odd outline of what would happen on Halloween, he walked around telling anyone who would listen that he was going to “be Captain America”. (When he says it, it sounds a lot more like “Captain Murder”.)

As Halloween unfolded, every last bizarre detail came to fruition. He became Captain America. He was handed a plastic pumpkin. He said the magic words as he trotted from door to door. He got candy. Somehow, he managed to collect twice as much candy as either of his older brothers, having visited the same number of houses.

Be Captain America. Get Candy.

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Meanwhile, Lucas, my five-year-old Hulk, obsessed over the accuracy of every minute detail of his costume. My initial money-saving plan of picking up a fleece Hulk hat, t-shirt, and green face paint was met with a long list of concerns about muscles, green arms, purple ripped pants, and green legs.

I abandoned my frugal plan once the details overwhelmed me, in lieu of an official store-bought muscles-included hulk costume. Far from solving the problem, this purchase was quickly met by concerns over not having green feet or enough teeth in his partially toothless mouth. A hefty dose of gamma radiation may have saved us all a few headaches.

Learn from my experience, folks… If you stick three little boys in superhero costumes and call them The Avengers, you’d better expect some major chaos. Thor’s hammer was revoked almost instantly. Somehow, we made it through the day, by the skin of our superhero teeth.  Next year, I may dress our whole clan as librarians, monks, and sloths.

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American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Fall Dairy Tour – Part 1

Thankfully, the very next day, I had the pleasure of departing for a weekend of dairy education and wine and cheese tasting, hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. Last year’s event was such an amazing experience. (You can read about it here.) I couldn’t wait to see what ADADC had in store for us this year.

This year, the event began at the beautiful Geneva on the Lake in Geneva, New York, which is located on the northwest side of Seneca Lake. Nestled in the New York Finger Lakes wine country, the manicured grounds of this elegant villa-inspired resort are absolutely stunning.

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After a comfortable night’s sleep in a spacious jacuzzi suite, we awoke for a continental breakfast at the resort. From there, we departed for Cornell University, where we spent the day touring Cornell’s state of the art dairy farm and dairy production plant. We met with experts in the fields of dairy farming, food science, and dairy production.

Going a step beyond the dairy farms, we learned about ice cream, cheese, and yogurt making and how Cornell University partners with local cheese artisans and other small business to help them develop and promote their dairy products.

Part of our ‘learning’ required tasting a variety of ice creams, frozen yogurt, homemade yogurt, and cheese. I had no choice but to eat that delicious ice cream and a second helping of cheese. Twist my arm already!

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I couldn’t possibly do the weekend justice in a single post, so I’m going split my thoughts into a few posts, each post paired with seasonal, dairy-inspired recipe. Think cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and creamy chowder…

For today, let’s start at the beginning, with the cows. During our time at Cornell, we had a chance to visit their state of the art dairy farm, where approximately 150 cows roam within the freestall barn, resting on comfortable beds of beach sand and enjoying pleasant back-scratching from the automatic back scratchers placed throughout the barn.

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Any mom who has ever nursed a baby knows that milk production is at its best when the mom is well-nourished, well-rested, and comfortable. Same applies to dairy cows. Happy cows means more milk and these dairy farmers have mastered the art of keeping cows happy and healthy to maximize production.

Cornell’s dairy barn, which is designed for maximum ventilation, sanitation and cow-comfort, sets an example for the dairy industry and provides a hands-on learning opportunity for its dairy students.

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Three times a day, Cornell’s cows are brought to the milking parlor, where their milk is collected for use within the school’s very own dairy production plant, where Cornell’s own ‘Big Red’ cheddar is made, as well as yogurt and ice cream for the university’s dining halls.

Twice daily milking is standard for most dairy farms, but Cornell’s cows, much like its students, are overachievers. Each cow produces an average of 95 pounds of milk daily, putting them in the top 95th percentile for milk production. I’d expect nothing less from an Ivy-league cow!

As each cow arrives in the milking parlor, its health records are electronically reviewed to ensure that the milk from any cow being treated for an illness is never mingled with the rest of the milk supply. Maintaining the safety of the food supply, from milking to production is a top priority.

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The level of careful planning and practice which goes into the entire process of dairy farming is seriously impressive. As a dairy consumer, it’s comforting to get a closer look into where my food comes from. And as someone who has a soft spot for animals, it’s reassuring for me to learn that cow comfort is intrinsically linked to milk production. Happy cows really do produce the most milk.

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In Part 2 of my dairy adventure, I’ll talk about two things which I love dearly: cheese and Wegmans. For today, enjoy some pumpkin gingersnap bars.

These seasonally perfect pumpkin bars pair a spicy gingersnap cookie crust with a layer of luscious baked pumpkin custard. Creamy half and half (half cream/half milk) lends a satisfying richness to these tiny bites of gingery pumpkin bliss. Cream cheese, another of dairy’s mouth-watering contributions to the world of food, provides the perfect finishing touch.

Pumpkin Gingersnap Bars with Gingered Cream Cheese Topping

Ingredients

  • 2 cups crushed gingersnap crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree fresh or canned (1 – 15 oz can will do the trick)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • Pinch of ground ginger
  • Extra gingersnap crumbs for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the crushed gingersnap crumbs with the melted butter. Press in an even layer into the bottom of a 13×9 inch baking dish. Bake for 7-8 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, whisk together the pumpkin, the sugars, half and half, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves, until well blended. In a small dish, combine the cornstarch with about 1/4 cup of the pumpkin mixture, until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the gingersnap crust.

Bake for about 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Cool at room temperature until no longer hot. Then, cool completely in the refrigerator. Cut into small 1- 1 ½” squares.

Combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and a pinch of ground ginger. Use a pastry bag to pipe a bit of the cream cheese topping onto each square. Sprinkle with extra gingersnap crumbs.

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This dairy tour and wine and cheese getaway weekend was hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. As part of this event, they provided me with accommodations, meals, and compensation towards travel expenses. I was under no obligation to the ADADC, Cornell University, Geneva on the Lake or any other agency. All opinions and observations are my own.

Pumpkin Pancakes with Butter Pecan Syrup

After an extended period of unusually warm temperatures, autumn has taken its inevitable hold on our weather. There’s a definite chill in the air, which requires down jackets, more so than fleecy hoodies. As usual, the kids will trick-or-treat with winter coats stuffed under their costumes this year. It won’t be long before we see our first snow.

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Despite the chilly temps, this weekend was positively beautiful. The leaves are at their peak of vibrant color and the grass is still (mostly) green. And on this gorgeous weekend, I celebrated my birthday. We began our festivities on Saturday morning with these pumpkin pancakes, drizzled in warm butter pecan syrup. Then, we ended the weekend with a full turkey dinner at a crowded table of family and friends. I gave thanks a month early, for another year of good food, good family, and good friends.

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Warm butter pecan syrup seemed like the ideal accompaniment for these seasonally perfect pumpkin pancakes. My love for butter pecan syrup is so intense, that I have made trips to IHOP for the sole reason of dipping stuff in their famous syrup. A quick search for ‘copycat’ recipes for my fave IHOP syrup revealed numerous blends of sugar with water and a variety of artificial extracts. My version takes a more natural approach, using pure maple syrup, melted butter, and non-imitation vanilla extract. Toasting chopped pecans in a bit of butter brings out the buttery-nutty flavor in this crave-worthy pancake topper.

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Pumpkin Pancakes

Slightly modified from Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 eggs

Directions

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, melted butter, and eggs. Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, whisking until well blended. Melt a little butter in a skillet over medium heat. Pour about 1/3 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes approximately 3 minutes per side.

Makes about 12-15 pancakes

Butter Pecan Syrup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups real maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan, over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans. Cook for about 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the maple syrup, butter, and vanilla extract. Continue to heat over medium-low/medium heat until the butter has melted and blended with the syrup. Season with a pinch of salt. Serve warm.

Triple Ginger Apple Muffins

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then my little James is going to have the doctors bolting in the other direction. The kid eats, oh, anywhere from 5 – 10 apples a day. No joke.

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At one point, I would dole out his daily allotment of apples, spending a ridiculous percentage of my days washing, peeling, and slicing his favorite food. After eating 3 in a day, I’d determine he’d reached his daily apple limit and try to persuade him to eat some nice, delicious cookies or perhaps some potato chips instead.

This never ended well. In fact, our worst fights pretty much all came down to a disagreement over how many apples a two-year-old should reasonably eat in a day.

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But, you know, as parents, you have to pick your battles, and eventually, I simply decided that if the kid wants to eat apples from dawn to dusk, then so be it.

We now buy multiple sacks of apples each week, which I wash and leave in a giant mountain on the counter, for my little guy to snack on at will. My only remaining problem is finding half-eaten apples hidden within my slippers. True story.

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Naturally, being peak apple season up here in Central New York, we recently spent an afternoon at our favorite apple orchard, Beak and Skiff, where we rode a flatbed tractor up to the rows of ripe Cortland apples and picked until the bags were too heavy to carry.

James filled his bag, then refused to let anyone touch his precious, precious fruit. He walked row by row, dragging that bulging bag of apples behind his little apple-nourished body, shrieking if I even attempted to lighten his load.

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After riding the tractor back to the front of the orchard, we placed our loot on the scales and handed over $26 for our sweet bounty. (Note to self: It costs 16 cents more per pound to pick the apples yourself than to buy the same apples, from the same orchard at the local grocery store.)

I went through the bags of apples once we’d arrived home. To my utter lack of surprise, James’ bag contained at least 10 bucks worth of half-eaten apples.

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Some of what I found in James’ bag of apples…

Thankfully, most of Liam and Lucas’ apples were not already eaten, leaving plenty of freshly-picked apples for snacking and for making these outrageous muffins. Based on a basic not-too-sweet molasses muffin, accented with a triple dose of ground, fresh, and crystallized ginger, these spicy muffins barely made it to the next morning.

I recommend making a double batch.

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Triple Ginger Apple Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 6-ounce container vanilla or apple-cinnamon greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apple, peeled and diced

Directions

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Prepare muffin tins with liners or by spraying with a nonstick baking spray.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, oil, and molasses. Stir in the fresh ginger.

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until well blended. Stir in the crystallized ginger and the apple. The batter will be pretty thick.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, so that each tin is about 2/3 – 3/4 full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Makes 12-15 muffins

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Breaking Bad Dinner Menu

Well, hello friends!

Apologies for my unplanned vanishing act. By the end of Day 1 of summer vacation, I was pretty sure I’d never make it out alive. I fought the chaos tooth and nail for the first week. Then I just I surrendered. Summer swallowed me whole and belched as I went down.

I ran on reserve power for most of the summer, focusing on only my most integral functions, like preventing the boys from maiming themselves during their daredevil play routines and rinsing the mud from their summer bodies three times daily.

I thought that once the school year began, I’d be able to climb my way from the pit of chaos and promptly begin posting again, but I’ve been saying that for three weeks now. Alas, the school year brought upon us its own special kind of insanity and I still find myself with too many balls in the air. If only I knew how to juggle…

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Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.

I’m going to make it up to you today though, with an entire menu’s worth of recipes. Have we got any Breaking Bad fans out there?

I recently read some comment that watched in reverse, AMC’s Breaking Bad tells the inspiring story of drug lord who cleans up his act, beats cancer, reunites his family, and becomes a school teacher. Sounds like a Lifetime movie. In actuality, for the last five seasons, we’ve watched the tale of a seemingly normal man’s struggle with cancer and providing for his family crumble into the most unimaginable chaos, up to the point where last episode left off, with a suggestion that perhaps there’s nothing left of that kind, normal man. The show is widely considered one of television’s best dramas and for good reason. I’m approaching the series finale with mix of eager anticipation and deep sadness for its ending.

In honor of its finale, the good folks at Cinema Blend asked me to put together a little Breaking Bad themed dinner party menu. Though not in any way a show about food, Breaking Bad gives us no shortage for dinner party inspiration. Many of the shows pivotal confrontations occur over some of the world’s most awkward meals. The following menu, designed with a New Mexican flare for the show’s setting, should give you a few good ideas for hosting your own Breaking Bad series finale dinner party.

Check out Cinema Blend for all of the latest coverage, recaps, and reviews of Breaking Bad.

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During the past season, Walt, Skyler, Hank and Marie met for the world’s most awkward double date at a Mexican restaurant. At the height of the tension, an upbeat waiter arrives, eagerly pushing the joint’s signature tableside guacamole. (You can see the clip here.)

Make this guacamole tableside to your guest’s liking, or prepare it ahead of time. *Squeeze a bit of lime juice over the top and cover securely with plastic wrap to prevent browning.

Heisenberg’s Tableside Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados, halved
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, very finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Smash the avocado using the backside of a fork, a potato masher, or with a mortar and pestle. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Adjust quantities as desired.

Serve with Walt’s signature blue tortilla chips and Jesse’s favorite Funyuns. To go full Breaking Bad style, wait to offer this to your guests during the most tense part of the evening. Orchestrate tension, if necessary.

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No Breaking Bad menu would be complete without some fried chicken, from Gus Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos, the fried chicken joint which played heavily into the show’s third and fourth seasons. We served our boneless fried chicken tenders over a spicy salsa verde, drizzled with a bit of chipotle mayo.

Gus Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos Fried Chicken Tenders over Salsa Verde with Chipotle Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 3 cups buttermilk, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

Soak the tenderloins in 2 cups of the buttermilk in a covered container in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium/medium-high heat, until sizzling hot.

Whisk together the remaining cup of buttermilk and the eggs in a large bowl. Transfer the chicken tenders to the egg mixture.

In a small baking dish, stir together the flour, garlic powder, salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Remove the chicken tenders from the egg mixture. Allow the excess to drip off. Press the chicken into the flour mixture until well coated on both sides. Place in the hot oil. Cook for about 3-4  minutes on each side, until cooked through and golden brown. (The chicken should sizzle when placed in the oil.) Drain the cooked tenders on a paper towel. Repeat in small batches until all of the chicken has been cooked.

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Salsa Verde

Slightly modified from Rick Bayless’ Salsa Verde

Ingredients

  • 8 tomatillos
  • 1 jalapeno pepper or 1-2 serrano peppers, halved, stems and ribs removed*
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, coarse chopped
  • 10-12 cilantro sprigs, bottom portion of stem removed, coarse chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt, to taste

*Use jalapeño for a spicy sauce. Use serrano for a more mild sauce.

Directions

Preheat your broiler.

Remove the husks from the tomatillos. Rinse. Cut off the stem, then halve. Place the halved tomatillos, garlic cloves, and jalapeño or serrano pepper on a baking sheet. Lightly rub the tomatillos, peppers, and garlic with olive oil. Roast a few inches under the broiler for about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side for about 5 minutes. Once cool, transfer the entire contents of the tray (including the juices) to a blender. Add the onion and cilantro. Blend to desired consistency. Season with lime juice and salt, to taste.

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Chipotle Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 1 chipotle (from can of chipotles in adobo), pureed or very finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of adobo sauce (from can of chipotles in adobo)

Directions

Combine all ingredients until well blended.

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The fifth season’s episode “Fifty-one”, finds Walt, Skyler, Hank and Marie seated once again at a dinner table on Walt’s 51st birthday, reflecting back the past year, with Walt spinning a web of lies while Skyler silently contemplates an escape for herself and her children. Attempting to break the tension, Marie offers a compliment about Skyler’s mashed potatoes, eager to learn how she removed all of the lumps. Skyler distractedly credits the use of a potato ricer, though her potatoes were actually store-bought and microwaved.

It may not truly be Skyler’s trick to creamy potatoes, but a potato ricer is in fact the ticket to smooth, non-gummy potatoes. By pressing the cooked potatoes through the ricer, lumps are thoroughly removed, without disturbing the cooked starches too much. I’ve had my eye on a potato ricer for many years now, though the idea to purchase one always corresponds with the holiday season, when I’m bleeding money and just can’t wrap myself around the added expense. I bought myself one yesterday in honor of this dish. Those are some smooth potatoes!

Skyler’s Creamy Potatoes with Cheddar and Jalapeño

Ingredients

  • 8 large russet potatoes, peel and chopped into 1″ chunks
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1  jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, very finely diced
  • Salt

Directions

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan. Add water to just cover the potatoes. Bring the water to a boil. Cook for about 10 minutes, until fork tender. Allow to cool slightly. Mash the potatoes in a potato ricer or food mill. Alternately, use a potato masher. Stir in the sour cream, cheese, milk, and jalapeño, just until blended. Do not over-stir. Add more milk, as desired, to reach your preferred consistency. Season with salt, to taste.

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Oh, Jesse, Jesse, Jesse… poor conflicted man, with any chance of living his American dream looking pretty hopeless right about now. Trapped in a concrete cell by some uber-creeps, Todd (no doubt the creepiest one of all) offers him some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, giving him a choice between Peanut Butter Cup and Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream.

Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream combines vanilla ice cream with fudge coated waffle cone and caramel. This ice cream pie is inspired by the crave-worthy Ben and Jerry’s flavor. A waffle-cone crust gets coated with rich chocolate ganache then filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel.

*Did you know that you can make a pie crust out of just about anything that crumbles? Combine two cups of crumbs with enough melted butter to make it stick (I usually use 10-12 tablespoons for 2 cups of crumbs, though other recipes use less butter), then press it into your pie shell and bake for a few minutes to set.

Jesse’s “Americone Dream” Inspired Ice Cream Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ice cream cone crumbs (sugar cones or waffle cones)
  • 10-12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together the ice cream cone crumbs and melted butter, until it sticks together when pressed. Press the mixture into a deep dish pie pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Cool.

Bring the cream just to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir the hot cream into the chocolate chips. Stir until melted. Pour the ganache onto the bottom of the pie crust. Use a spatula to spread the ganache in an even layer on the bottom and up part of the sides of the crust. Cool.

Allow the ice cream to soften at room temperature. Spread the softened ice cream into the prepared crust. Place the pie in the freezer to set.

Before serving, drizzle with caramel sauce.

For more of a Breaking Bad effect, garnish the pie with little bits of blue rock candy or crushed blue hard candy. *You might want to wait until the kids go to bed before adding the crystal blue garnish. It just didn’t seem right to have the kids around pretend drugs, even if they’re clueless about the reference.

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Blue is Walt and Jesse’s signature color. This crystal blue cocktail is oozing with orange flavors. I used an orange infused simple syrup to sweeten the drink, in order to preserve the beverage’s crystal transparency.

*This is a strong one, folks. Drink responsibly.

Crystal Blue Martini

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces orange vodka
  • 1 ounce triple sec
  • 1 ounce blue curacao
  • 2 ounces orange infused simple syrup
  • Lemon juice, to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour off the ice. Garnish with orange peel.

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Orange Infused Simple Syrup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Peel of an orange, pith removed, thinly sliced

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes. Remove the orange peel and reserve for garnish. Cool.

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Here are a few other fun ideas you could incorporate for a Breaking Bad viewing party:

Rooftop Roasted Pizza, just how Walt likes it. – Try any of the pizza recipes in the pizza section of my recipe collection.

Green Beans Almondine, like the store-bought ones that so impressed Jesse during his dinner at the White’s.

Breakfast with a number made of bacon, Walt’s annual way of bringing in his birthday. *This pic is from my son’s fifth birthday dinner. He is nothing like Walter White, except that he like breakfast foods and bacon.

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Tuco’s Burritos

Gus Fring’s Seafood Stew

Huevos Rancheros or this Huevos Rancheros Pizza

Rice ‘n’ Beans – Say it again. Rice ‘n’ Beans. Get it? Ricin Beans ** WARNING** DO NOT USE ACTUAL RICIN. It’s poison.

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