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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

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Loaded Nacho Chicken

Like many young twenty-something couples, my husband and I spent a good amount of our time, energy, and income on accumulating stuff. We needed the stylish duvet from Pottery Barn, the flatware set from Crate and Barrel, and the clothes from JCrew. When we married, we registered for the long list of items the registry guide told us we needed, fully believing that we would find frequent use for that 50-piece fondue set and the espresso maker with the milk foaming wand. We gathered our items and checked them off the list of things we were ‘supposed’ to have as well-equipped adults. We were consumers to the utmost degree.

But, recently, there’s been a major shift in how we handle our ‘stuff management’. I don’t know if it’s come with parenthood or age or just a general change of perspective, but we now purge, rather than collect. A few months ago, the microwave broke. I liked the counter space better than the microwave, so we didn’t replace it, and we’ve been totally fine since. The blu-ray player broke a few months before that. We dropped it off at the place for recycled electronics and left the shelf empty. This past summer, we sold  a good portion of the books and DVDs we’d accumulated over the years and have been thankful for the reduced clutter. Neglected toys and outgrown clothing, we regularly donate to our local rescue mission.

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And what we ‘need’ has changed too. Gone are our days of overpriced, trendy bedding and clothing. We buy mostly everything from Target now and when our Dyson, which served us well for many years, finally bit the dust, we replaced it with a bargain-priced Bissell. And you know what? It’s done the job just fine. Our priorities have shifted. We just don’t want the same things we used to think we needed; things which take up too much space in our lives and leave wanting holes in our budget.

A week ago, we made what was probably the biggest cut of all. We pulled the plug on the cable. Now, for people who are as serious about our tv-watching as we are, this is a humungous deal. We’d been toying with the idea for awhile. While we love our cable, seeing that bill every month was torturing us. We’d just rather have that money in our pockets. Liam cried when we told him what we were about to do. That alone may have signified that it was the right decision to make.

We kept our Netflix and through the convenience of modern technology, we are able to hook our computer up to the tv to get our weekly fix of Downton Abbey and our favorite network shows. I’ve felt no emptiness in my life without cable. In fact, life feels beautifully simpler now.

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When I told my mom I was making this loaded nacho chicken for dinner, she giggled at me, the ‘gourmand mom’, breading chicken breasts in crushed tortilla chips. But hey, no one ever said that good food needed to be complicated or utilize fancy ingredients. Simplicity can be positively blissful. The tortilla chips in this dish provide a fun variation on a basic breaded chicken breast. The tortilla coated chicken breasts are then topped with warm, delicious chile con queso and a generous dose of nacho toppings for a vibrant dish the entire family will enjoy.

**This dish could easily be adapted for a fun super bowl appetizer, but cutting the chicken into smaller pieces, skewering the cooked chicken, and serving with a big bowl of warm queso, topped with black beans, green onions, olives, and chopped tomato!

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Today’s Focus on Technique – Basic Breading Procedure

A basic breading technique can be used to coat veggies, meats, or seafood with a crispy, flavorful exterior. It is often used to prepare foods for pan-frying, but works swimmingly for baking as well. Foods can be breaded with basic seasoned bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, or any variety of crushed crackers or even chips! Properly breading foods is a three step process. First, dredge the food in a bit of flour. Second, dip the item in a simple bath of eggs whisked together with a touch of milk. Third, press the food into your dry breading, until thoroughly coated. The flour adheres easily to the food. The egg adheres to the flour. The breading adheres to the egg. To prevent your fingers from getting breaded in the process, it’s a wise idea to handle the wet ingredients with one hand, while using the other hand for the dry ingredients. Once breaded, your food can be pan-fried in a bit of oil until golden brown and cooked through or oven baked for a lighter result.

Loaded Nacho Chicken

Ingredients

  • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 cups corn tortilla chips, finely crushed
  • 3/4 cup chile con queso dip (store-bought or homemade)
  • Black olives, sliced
  • Black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1-2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Season the chicken breasts with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  To set up your breading station, spread the flour onto a plate. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a small baking dish or bowl. Spread the crushed tortilla chips onto a plate. Dredge each chicken breast in the flour, then dip in the egg mixture. Finally, press the chicken into the tortilla chips until well coated. Place the coated chicken breasts in a baking dish. Cook for 25-35 minutes, until the chicken reaches 165°F, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

To serve, top the cooked chicken with a generous helping of warm chile con queso and a sprinkle of black beans, black olives, tomatoes, green onions, or your other favorite nacho toppings.

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Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of what we now jokingly refer to as The DeLine Family Super Bowl Massacre. Guess who’s not hosting a super bowl party this year?? Looking for some fun super bowl food ideas? Check out my Baked Asian Sticky Wings, Buffalo Chicken Monkey Bread, Spicy Mexican Wontons, Chicken Wing Dip (you know you want some), Creole Deviled Eggs, or any of the other fun recipes found in the party food section of my Recipe Collection.

Baked Asian Sticky Wings

Teaching children to make good choices is one of the greatest responsibilities and most intense challenges of being a parent. Young children are clever, creative, and sneaky; oh so sneaky. Succeeding at this task requires the snooping skills of Sherlock Holmes, the vigilance of an air traffic controller, and the patience of Mother Teresa. You must watch, wait, anticipate, and react. You must act quickly to intervene before irreversible damage is done and you must sniff out clues like Scooby Doo to unravel mysteries. And most importantly, you must maintain a straight face; calm, but firm and consistent; in the face of discipline.

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But kids are devious and unpredicatable. Don’t be fooled by their sweet little button noses and soft, furry backs. They are constantly testing their limits and devising new methods for mischief. Stay sharp, captain.

My husband and I should have known something was up when we noticed that the stack of plastic kid plates was diminishing. We knew it was peculiar. And yet we just shrugged our shoulders in puzzled confusion and moved on. But all misdeeds come to light eventually, as did the mystery of the missing plates.

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It started when I was changing the baby’s diaper. I laid him down on the carpet which sits in the center of our living room. In the center of that carpet is a large trunk-style coffee table, with legs that raise it about three inches off the floor; just high enough for toys and things to slip beneath, but not tall enough to easily vacuum under. In the position I was in, sitting on the carpet with the baby, I saw what had previously been hidden. Peeking out from the edge of the table were the two plates I’d served the boys breakfast on, which they ate at their snack tables in front of the aforementioned coffee table. A small pile of discarded scrambled eggs sat on one of the plates. I scolded the boys for their lazy behavior and asked them if they thought we lived in a barn (’cause that’s what you’re supposed to say, right??). They hung their heads in appropriate shame and brought their plates to the sink.

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In retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t put the pieces together at that point. I should have peeked under the table, but I didn’t. We moved on with our day. Then dinner time came along and I served the boys some of my new Asian sticky wings. Chicken wings don’t make frequent appearances on our menu, so I’d anticipated some normal apprehension. When serving something unfamiliar, I make a practice of always including something known and loved on the boys’ plates, so everyone has a chance to fill their bellies with something they like, while also having the opportunity to try something new. I don’t make a big deal about finishing everything on their plates or eating big portions of food they don’t enjoy. I only ask that they take a small taste of each new item, with the idea that over time, as their taste buds mature, they will enjoy a wide variety of foods. No pressure.

So, what happened next never should have happened.

Liam stood up with his dinner plate, proud to show me that he’d eaten everything on it and making a point that he was going to put it properly in the sink. The rice, the sugar snap peas, the yogurt, and the chicken wings were all gone. You catch that?? The chicken wings were all gone. “Where are the bones?” I asked. “Huh…the bones?” came his innocent reply. “Yes, the bones. Where are the bones?” And then he proceeded to explain that he’d eaten the bones. Clever lady that I am, I knew this could not be the case. I had a hard time keeping that ever-important straight face by this point. I knelt by the edge of the table to find the discarded chicken wings before the dog did. I found those wings under the table. I also found five of the kids’ plates. Another mystery solved, Scooby.

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But the wings…the wings are delicious, even if Liam wasn’t interested in them. I’ve been watching what I eat in the new year, but whereas in the past I’ve messed up by going all-in from the start, then losing steam, I’m trying to take a more long-term balanced approach this time. I’m making smart choices most of the time, but not denying myself the opportunity to enjoy some good food and drinks when the opportunity is ripe, like during a girls’ night out with my besties. On our most recent girls’ night out, at one of our favorite local joints, we ordered the Asian sticky wings, which became the inspiration for this recipe.

Healthy goals in mind, these wings are baked, rather than fried. I tried two different techniques in search of the crispiest result. While the resulting crispiness of the winning technique doesn’t quite match what you’d get from a fryer, they come pretty darn close. The secret is baking the wings on top of a rack, so that the excess juices drip below the wings, allowing the skin to become firm. A final few minutes under the broiler seals the deal with a golden brown exterior. Once cooked, the wings are tossed in a sweet Asian-style sauce, which has been reduced into a sticky, delicious glaze. They’d make a perfect addition to any super bowl menu!!

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Today’s Focus on Technique – Reductions

Cooking a flavored liquid by reduction is a method used in order to thicken the liquid and intensify flavors. It is typically used to prepare glazes and full-flavored sauces. To reduce a liquid, simply bring it to a boil in an uncovered pan. As the liquid evaporates, the remaining sauce will become thicker and more flavorful. It’s a wonderful technique for elevating the flavor-profile of a sauce. Using a pan with a wider base will spread the liquid over a greater surface area and increase the rate at which a liquid reduces.

Baked Asian Sticky Wings

Ingredients

  • Approximately 2 dozen chicken wings and legs
  • Juice from 1 orange (approximately 1/3 cup)
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sambal oelek (or crushed red pepper, to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1″ ginger root, grated (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • Sliced green onions and sesame seeds, for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a rack on top of a baking sheet.  Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer on top of the rack. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 40 minutes, then turn on the broiler. With the chicken several inches below the broiler, cook for 5-10 more minutes, until the exterior is golden brown and crisp.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the glaze. Combine the orange juice, zest, honey, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sambal oelek in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a bubbling boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Allow the mixture to bubble away, uncovered, for approximately 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened to a glazy consistency. Taste and adjust flavor with additional honey, if a sweeter result is desired.

Toss the cooked wings in the warm glaze, then garnish with sesame seeds and sliced green onions. Serve with rice and/or steamed sugar snap peas.

Thanksgiving Inspiration

I learned something interesting about myself this week – I do not like corn bread stuffing. I love corn, corn muffins, corn bread, and corn fritters. I eat a ridiculous amount of corn when it’s in season. I even once made a sweet corn ice cream. But I do not like corn bread stuffing.

I guess it comes down to what you’re raised with – sort of how some families are the Crest kind of people and some families are the Colgate kind. Some families are loyal to Miracle Whip, while others will only use mayonnaise. Some families have corn bread stuffing at Thanksgiving and some families have white bread stuffing. Our family was always a Crest, mayonnaise, and white bread stuffing sort of family.

The four things I am most thankful for.

I didn’t realize how ingrained this inclination towards white bread stuffing was until I set about preparing a corn bread stuffing earlier this week. It should’ve been delicious, with crispy bits of bacon, tender dates, shallots, and celery. It was supposed to be a new recipe to feature in this post about Thanksgiving ideas. But I didn’t like it. I can’t even tell you if it was good or not, as far as corn bread stuffings go. I am just a white bread stuffing girl through and through and I couldn’t wrap my taste buds or my heart around that corn bread stuffing. I’m not sharing the recipe.

But I am going to share this round-up of wonderful, tried and true Thanksgiving ideas, in plenty of time to add them to your Thanksgiving menu…

Give thanks for good food, friends.

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

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Bleu Cheese

A few weeks ago, my five year old comes out of the dining room holding a little recipe book of cocktails, which he found while rummaging through a drawer in the hutch…the hutch that he’s not supposed to be in, but that’s another story entirely. Liam was holding this little black book of beverages with a page open to a generic looking bit of cocktail clip art. The recipe on the page was for kir royales. Something about the name rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told you what sort of drink a kir royale was. My best guess would have involved whiskey, which isn’t really my thing.

I began uttering my normal line of questioning. Where’d you get that? Why are in the hutch? What other sorts of mischief are you doing in there? But, Liam interrupted me, “I think you should invite some of your friends over for your birthday and make them these drinks”. I smiled briefly, because he’s sweet to think up plans for my birthday. Then I took another glance at that kir royale recipe. Turns out that kir royales are a champagne cocktail, champagne mixed with a bit of creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur).

Visions of champagne cocktails, wine, and cheese began dancing in my head. I mean, is there any more heavenly combination than wine and cheese? Wine, cheese, and chocolate, perhaps??

Did you know that 1/3 of all milk produced in the U.S. is used to make cheese?? We certainly love our cheese in this country! During my recent farm-to-table dairy-themed getaway, hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, we had the opportunity to enjoy some of that delicious cheese in combination with some of New York’s tastiest wines.

After we returned from our morning at a local dairy farm, we were given a chance to clean off the eau de cow and change out of our farm attire. The group reunited at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, conveniently located next door to our accommodations at The Inn on the Lake in Canandaigua, NY. The New York Wine and Culinary Center is a really neat place. In addition to a bistro which showcases local ingredients, they have a wine tasting room where you can sample wines from all five of New York’s wine regions, a hands-on kitchen where they offer cooking classes, and an educational amphitheater for demonstration dinners.

New York Wine and Culinary Center

We began our experience in a private tasting room, where a personable wine instructor introduced us to the basics of wine tasting as we sampled a fantastic flight of New York wines. Then they brought out the cheese plate, a perfect way to make the farm to table connection during our dairy-themed adventure. We tasted each cheese on its own, then experimented with pairing each cheese with the variety of wines. Play with my food? Yes, please.

Following the wine and cheese tasting, we moved into the amphitheater, where a chef prepared a three-course meal before our eyes. We enjoyed ricotta and pancetta ravioli in a delicious cream sauce, bleu cheese port wine crusted beef tenderloin over root vegetables in a red wine reduction, and chocolate amaretto crème brûleé. Each course was perfectly paired with another New York wine. Wine, cheese, steak, and chocolate… I’d died and done to gastronomical heaven.

When I returned from my little dairy getaway, feeling fully inspired by cheese and wine, I began planning my kir royale birthday celebration. Pumped up with New York agricultural pride, I selected a few bottles of New York champagne. Then I set about planning the cheese selection…a little pepperjack and NY cheddar with crackers, some baked brie with marmalade on crostini, and a few simple bacon-wrapped, bleu cheese-stuffed dates. Liam was feeling pretty impressed with himself as he watched his brilliant idea become reality. I just barely caught him trying to sneak the cocktail recipe book into his backpack for kindergarten show and tell.

Focus on Technique – Entertaining with Cheese

Entertaining with a cheese-themed spread is effortlessly elegant and delicious.

A few tips for entertaining with cheese:

  • Keep it simple. Cheese has a way of speaking for itself.
  • Choose a variety of mild and pungent cheeses to please everyone’s palate. Try to serve a mix of aged (aged cheddar, gouda…), fresh (fresh mozzarella, chevre…), firm (provolone, monterey jack, gruyere, emmentaler…) and soft cheese (camembert, brie…). A creamy bleu cheese (stilton, gorgonzola, roquefort, maytag…) or spreadable port wine are other popular favorites.
  • Garnish your cheese plates with a variety of fresh and dried fruits, honey, nuts, and/or cured meats. Fresh mozzarella pleases the eyes and the taste buds when arranged on a platter with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette or basil pesto.
  • Serve the cheese with an attractive variety of crackers, baguette slices, and crostini.
  • Consider serving a few warm cheese dishes, such as a cheese dip, baked brie wrapped in puff pastry, or the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates featured in this post. All of these items can be prepared ahead of time and simply thrown in the oven when your guests arrive.
  • Serve with a selection of wine and have fun experimenting with the way each wine and cheese complements each other.

*** Don’t forget to enter the dairy themed giveaway! You have until noon on Saturday, November 3. To enter, simply leave a comment on the Delicious Dairy Round-Up post. I’ll assign each comment a number, then use a random number generator to pick a winner. Lots of cute stuff in that gift bag. Check it out HERE

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Bleu Cheese

Ingredients

  • 24 pitted dates
  • 2-3 ounces bleu cheese
  • 8-12 slices bacon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stuffed a bit of bleu cheese into the center of each date. Cut the bacon slices in half or thirds, depending on the length. Wrap a piece of bacon around each date, so it overlaps just slightly. Secure the bacon with a toothpick, then place on a baking sheet. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the bacon is cooked and crisp. Drain on a paper towel. Serve warm.

Birthday Kir Royales

Spicy Mexican Wontons

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A few weeks ago, I opened one of my kitchen cabinets and set my eyes upon a set of margarita glasses which have been long neglected. And what’s a girl to do when her margarita glasses have gathered dust, but wash them off and host una fiesta pequeña.

With the purchase of a few brightly colored decorations, a sombrero, maracas, and a piñata, plans for our little Mexican shindig were coming along. I taught the boys a few Spanish greetings and we practiced dancing in the kitchen to the sounds of a mariachi album, while we cooked up a chocoflan and spicy Mexican wontons.

It wasn’t until the tequila was chilled and the limes sliced that I realized we were hosting our Mexican-themed party on the weekend when many Americans would be celebrating America’s Independence Day. Oops. Arriba? I will celebrate America’s birthday in appropriate patriotic red, white, and blue style on July 4. Honest.

But, our little gathering was un gran éxito; a grand success. Everyone brought a dish to share and we killed a few bottles of tequila shaken with homemade mango and strawberry lime margarita mixes. The kids even enjoyed kiddie margaritas in sugar-rimmed glasses, as their pockets burst full of piñata candy. My three-year-old is already reminiscing about ‘the old days’…way back yesterday when we had a piñata. That was living!

One of my contributions to the party menu were these spicy Mexican wontons; not exactly traditional Mexican food, but I like to dance to the rhythm of my own maracas anyway. They start with a simple combination of shredded chicken, a hefty dose of Mexican cheese, fresh jalapeño pepper, and green onions which are then seasoned with a bit of chile powder, cumin, and cayenne. Spoonfuls of the mixture are tucked into wonton wrappers, then quickly pan-fried until crisp.

They can be completely made ahead of time and reheated in the oven for a few minutes before serving. They re-crisp beautifully in the oven, which means that you can get that messy frying part out of the way and all cleaned up, long before your guests arrive! Perfect party food.

Spicy Mexican Wontons

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded*
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, very finely diced
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 3 cups Mexican cheese shredded**
  • 1 tablespoon chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • 40-50 wonton wrappers (check the refrigerated or frozen section of your grocery store)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

* I poached the chicken breasts in simmering water. Alternately, they can be baked until cooked through.

**I used 1 1/2 cups queso blanco and 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican blend (cheddar, monterey jack, and asadero). If you are unable to get queso blanco, you can use any combination of cheddar, monterey jack, or other Mexican cheese.

Directions

Combine the chicken, jalapeño pepper, green onion, cheese and spices. In batches of about 5 or 6, place a hefty teaspoon of the filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with a bit of water and fold over into a triangle. If desired, wet two of the corners and fold them in towards the center. Place the prepared wontons on a tray in a single layer as you repeat the process for all wonton wrappers.

Once all wontons have been prepared, heat about 1/2″ vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium/medium high heat. Get the oil good and hot. Test out one of the prepared wontons by placing it into the oil. It should become golden brown and bubbly-looking within about 30 seconds. Flip to cook on the other side. Cook all of the wontons in small batches. Remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon. Drain the cooked wontons on a paper towel. Serve hot.

If desired, the wontons can be served with a chipotle sour cream, made by blending one chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo) with 8 ounces sour cream.

To reheat, place the wontons in a single layer on two large baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for about 7-10 minutes, until hot and crispy.

Click HERE for more tips on working with wonton wrappers and a photo guide showing an alternate method of folding the wontons.

St. Patty’s Day Round-up

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Parenthood has a way of constantly making you feel brand new. I mean, I’ve got three kids. We’ve been doing this whole parenting thing for almost five years now and in some ways, we feel like old hands at it. We know our kids and have a good enough understanding of child development to know what to anticipate as our children work through the daily challenges and joys of childhood. Our hearts pound with pride as they take those first steps, say that first sweet word, and cut that first little tooth. And we hold our breaths with anxiety when one of our little ones is not well. But, for the most part, we know what to expect and we know how to react.

And then something completely unexpected happens. Rationally, I know that parenthood is full of unexpected surprises, but sometimes they just sneak up on you. Like when I glanced over at my almost five-year-old and noticed that one of his bottom teeth was loose. And I panicked. Panicked as if blood were pouring from his ears. It’s just a loose tooth; a normal part of being a kid. But I never saw it coming. Not yet, at least.

So, I did what any mildly irrational parent would do and called the dentist to make an emergency appointment. Somebody do something! My kid has a slightly wiggly tooth! Of course, the trip to the dentist confirmed that it is totally normally for my little guy to have wiggly teeth. His adult teeth are just working their way up. Adult teeth??? But, he’s my baby! Guess it’s almost time for me to put on some tooth fairy wings.

And now we’re just waiting for that first tooth to come out. I stopped by the bank today and picked up a handful of gold dollar coins to leave under his pillow when the time comes. The tooth fairy always left me silver dollars, which I collected like treasure. But since the gold dollar coins are the best I can find, they’ll do the trick. In fact, I suspect the gold coins may be even more intriguing to my little men for their likeness to pirate treasure and a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

Speaking of leprechauns, we’re all very excited for St. Patty’s Day around here. My sister and brother-in-law will be visiting for the weekend and we’ll be spending the day with friends. To celebrate our bursting Irish spirit, I made a batch of my World’s Simplest Fudgey BrowniesThen, I spread a thick layer of dark chocolate frosting on top and decorated with a handful of Lucky Charms marshmallows. They definitely brought some smiles to my rowdy bunch of leprechauns, though I suspect they’ll be disappointed to discover the marshmallow shortage in their snack cereal.

If you’re looking for some other ideas for St. Patty’s Day fare, check out these previously posted Gourmand Mom recipes:

Traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage

Grasshopper Pie

Irish Soda Bread

Reuben Quesadillas

Corned Beef and Cabbage Egg Rolls

Classic Lamb Shepherd’s Pie

Guinness-Braised Beef

Low-Carb Cottage Pie

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Corned Beef and Cabbage Egg Rolls

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Parenthood has strengthened my heart (both literally and figuratively) but it has seriously weakened my brain. Seriously, it’s like mashed potatoes in there. Between lack of sleep and the daily routine of chasing around three very young children, my brain is melting. I used to be smart. Honestly, I was. I used to do smart people stuff like earn a 4.0 GPA while completing my Master’s degree at Johns Hopkins and lead presentations at statewide teaching conferences about things like disaggregating and analyzing student assessment data to inform differentiated instruction and improve student learning. See? Smart people stuff.

Nowadays, a good deal of my time is spent trying to figure out what to do with the 500 tiny Legos, which the boys have amassed over the past few months, and retrieving bits of chewed paper from the baby’s mouth. (I’m certain he’s part hamster.) I fruitlessly clean messes while the boys are busy making even bigger messes. I watch shows like Diego and Bubble Guppies and count some children’s shows amongst my favorite television programs. I repeatedly chase the boys from floor to floor of the house, with the baby dangling off of one hip and a laundry basket balanced on the other. Good for the heart. Bad for the brain.

So, some things have started to slip my attention. It’s become more of a challenge just to keep on top of life’s little responsibilities. Take my car, for example. I’ve been staring at the little sticker in the windshield which had an expiration date of 2/25 on it. So, I told my husband we needed to get the car inspected. He made the appointment and spent last Saturday morning at the auto service shop. Job completed. Or at least we’d thought. Until I noticed that the expired sticker was still in our window the next day. That’s when I’d realized that I hadn’t been looking at the inspection sticker at all. I’d been looking at our (expired) car registration. I panicked. How in the world did I mess this up? We’ve got systems in place to stay on top of this stuff! The registration renewal comes in the mail. It gets filed with the bills. I pay it. They send a new sticker. It’s a system which has never failed us, no matter how distracted my brain has become. I tore through the house trying to find the misplaced registration renewal notice, yet it was nowhere to be found.

So, I hopped online to determine my next steps. That’s where I read that you can not operate an unregistered vehicle. I had been unknowingly operating an unregistered vehicle all week. My heart started pounding. I am not a rule-breaker… I cross in the cross walk and I wait for the little blinking man to tell me when it’s time to go. I always come to a complete stop at stop signs, even when no one is around. I return my library books on time. I follow the rules. It’s just part of who I am. So, this discovery that I had been a rule-breaker all week long was distressing. I immediately tried to renew the registration online. When that failed, I gathered all of the necessary paperwork and cautiously drove my unregistered vehicle to our local Department of Motor Vehicles, heart-pounding over my reckless rule-breaking.

I arrived before the office opened and barely sat for a second before they called my number. At that point, I was feeling pretty impressed at how efficient the DMV was…not at all like the dreadful stories you hear. I approached the window, children swarming around me like flies on a horse, and shamefully admitted that I’d been driving an unregistered vehicle for the past week. I mumbled a few excuses about mushy brains and unnecessary inspections, then handed over my paperwork. She made the necessary photocopies, then sat down to process my registration. Things were going smoothly and I wasn’t even scolded for breaking the rules. Relief.

Then she turns to me and says “Who is Jose Sanchez?” At that point I’m wondering if this is some sort of trick question. Like years ago when my husband and I went to open some bank accounts and the bank associate suddenly asks, “Do you like the Bills or the Ravens?” right after gathering our names, address, and all of the other normal info required to set up a bank account. Umm…What??? Neither? Being a grown-up can be confusing.

So, I explain to the DMV lady that I do not know a Jose Sanchez, but was curious as to what he had to do with my car registration. Well, your car is registered to a Jose Sanchez. Well, this was a twist I never expected. And again, my heart started to pound as my brain struggled to process the situation at hand. A moment later she determined that Jose’s plate number was off by one digit from ours and that someone had made a clerical error…an error which explains why I never received a registration renewal notice. My car was in fact already registered, just not to me. Nice work, DMV. Thankfully, after a lengthy phone call, she returned and was able to process my registration. I left with my newly renewed sticker for my windshield and the reassurance that my brain isn’t total mush, at least not yet.

Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner…hands-down my favorite holiday for eating corned beef, wearing green, and celebrating my Irish heritage. Having already shared some delicious recipes for traditional corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and shepherd’s pie with you, I wracked my (semi-functional) brain for some interesting twist on a corned beef and cabbage meal. And I’ve got just the thing…corned beef and cabbage egg rolls! My Irish ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves. But this is quite possibly fusion cooking at its best. A simple filling of leftover corned beef, sauteed with very thinly sliced cabbage and carrot, gets rolled up in egg roll wraps and fried until crispy! Dip them in Thousand Island dressing or your favorite mustard for a fantastic day-after St. Patty’s Day treat!

Corned Beef and Cabbage Egg Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 cup leftover corned beef, chopped
  • 2 cups cabbage and carrots, very thinly sliced (prepackaged cole slaw mix works well)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • 4-8 egg roll wraps (My grocery store sells them in the refrigerated produce section.)
  • Thousand Island dressing or mustard, for dipping

Directions

To prepare the filling: Heat about 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the corned beef, cabbage, and carrots. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until the cabbage is tender. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To assemble the egg rolls: Arrange an egg roll wrap with one of the points facing you. (If desired, you can layer two egg roll wraps, for a chewier egg roll.) Place a mound of the corned beef filling in the center of the wrap. Grab the point closest to you and wrap it up and around the filling. Then, grab each of the side points and fold them in towards the center. Brush the points with a bit of water to help them stick. Brush the top point with a little water, then continue rolling up towards the top point.

To cook: Heat about 1/2″-3/4″ vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat. Give it a few minutes to get good and hot. Carefully place a few of the egg rolls into the hot oil. They should sizzle when placed in the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes on all sides, until golden brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towel before serving.

Makes 4 Egg Rolls

Leap Day Monkey Breads

The interior springs, which prevent the unusually heavy dishwasher door from recklessly crashing to the floor, busted the other day. The repair man has assessed the damage and the necessary parts have been ordered. In the mean time, we’re fondly referring to the dishwasher as “toddler crusher”, which certainly kicks up the level of excitement in the kitchen. Because being in the kitchen should always feel a little like Thunderdome, shouldn’t it?

Aside from the added thrill of crashing appliance doors (thank you, LG), we are all buzzing with excitement around here today, because it’s Leap Day…and if we learned anything from last week’s episode of 30 Rock, you can do anything you want on Leap Day, because nothing counts. (Buh-bye diet!) Being as I learn most of life’s important lessons from Thursday nights’ TV line-up, we’re going to celebrate Leap Day as it ought to be celebrated.

Which means we’re going to wear mismatching socks, forget about chores, and eat ice cream sundaes for dinner. I might even buy that Mercedes E320 I’ve always wanted. And I’m totally going to bathe myself in salted caramel. Because it’s an extra day and you can spend it however you want. In an ideal world, I’d actually spend my extra day taking one very long nap in a warm, quiet sensory deprivation chamber. But since I still need to take care of my children…even on Leap Day…we’re going to go the recklessly over-indulgent and silly behavior route for the day.

In between our ice cream sundaes, we’ll eat monkey bread…because it has a funny name that I don’t understand and it’s just really, really yummy. It makes me happy. Monkey bread, though an old familiar to many, is pretty new to me. I made (and tasted) my first monkey bread for my super bowl party (aka the DeLine family super bowl massacre). I fell in love. Big time. It was a pepperoni pizza monkey bread, with gooey mozzarella cheese and bits of spicy pepperoni scattered between buttery, garlicky bits of pizza dough. But, the thing I loved most of all were the infinite possibilities.

You can make monkey bread with any number of flavors. Use whatever sort of dough floats your boat. Stuff the little balls of dough with anything your heart desires. Roll the balls in any coating. Go savory. Go sweet. Go crazy. It’s monkey bread! This time, I made two types of monkey bread. The first (your dinner course, if you will) is a buffalo chicken pizza monkey bread…gooey balls of pizza dough stuffed with spicy chunks of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and bleu cheese which are then rolled in a buttery wing sauce. Dip ‘em in bleu cheese dressing…holy yum!

The boys enjoyed my second variation; s’mores monkey bread. We stuffed the chunks of pizza dough with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, then rolled them in a sugary graham cracker crumb mix. The final result is oozing with s’mores flavor. For an even more decadent treat, dip the warm chunks into hot fudge or some sticky marshmallow fluff!

Go ahead, indulge. All foods are 0 calories on Leap Day. Google it.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 cup chicken, cooked and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot sauce, divided
  • Bleu Cheese Dressing, for dipping

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray four mini pie pans with non-stick cooking spray. (Alternately, you can use one large bundt pan or smaller cupcake-sized pans. Adjust baking time, longer for larger pans and a few minutes shorter for smaller pans.) Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of the hot sauce over the chicken and toss to coat. Mix the remaining hot sauce in with the melted butter. (If desired, add additional hot sauce for a spicier result.) Set aside. Pull off small chunks of the pizza dough (about 1″ diameter). Slightly flatten the dough. Place a little chunk of the chicken and a pinch or two of both cheeses in the center of the dough round. Wrap the dough around the fillings into a small ball shape. Dip the ball in the butter/hot sauce mixture to coat, then place it in the pie pan. Repeat until all dough has been used and each pie pan is filled with multiple stuffed dough balls. Scatter any remaining crumbled bleu cheese over the top of each pie pan. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to rise slightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve warm with bleu cheesing dressing and/or additional hot sauce.

S’mores Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • 40-50 mini marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 4 full-sheet graham crackers, crushed to fine crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray four mini pie pans with non-stick cooking spray. (Alternately, you can use one large bundt pan or smaller cupcake-sized pans. Adjust baking time, longer for larger pans and a few minutes shorter for smaller pans.) Stir the graham crackers crumbs and sugar together. Pull off small chunks of the dough (about 1″ diameter). Slightly flatten the dough. Place a mini marshmallow and several mini chocolate chips in the center of the dough round. Wrap the dough around the fillings into a small ball shape. Dip the ball in the melted butter, then roll the ball in the graham cracker crumbs. Place the ball in the pie pan. Repeat until all dough has been used and each pie pan is filled with multiple stuffed dough balls. Sprinkle any remaining mini chocolate chips over the top of each pie pan. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the dough to rise slightly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve warm. Dip in hot fudge or marshmallow fluff, if desired.

No diet report today. It’s Leap Day. Diets don’t matter on Leap Day!

Cocktail Meatballs Three Ways

When it comes to any type of sport, I’m more of a go-to-a-game kind of person than a sit-on-my-couch-cheering-and-cursing kind of person. There’s a whole atmosphere to being at a game. There are people passing out beer and food. There’s music and singing. There are people doing ‘the wave’. And I really like ‘the wave’. I like the whole experience of attending a game. But watching sports from my couch…boring.

So, sports-watchin’…not really my thing. But game day snacks…totally my thing! We’re throwing a little super bowl party this year, because it’s a great excuse to have some friends over and enjoy some tasty food. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. We’ll laugh. We may even do the wave.

I’ll be serving of few of my old favorites, specifically chicken wing dip, creole-deviled eggs, and spinach dip along with a few new items, like pepperoni pizza monkey bread (doesn’t that sound delicious??) and these cocktail meatballs in three different sauces.

We’ll start with a basic, versatile meatball, made with a mix of beef, pork, and turkey, then we’ll dress them in three different, but equally delicious, sauces. Make one, two, or all three! These meatballs can be made ahead of time, tossed in their sauce and refrigerated or frozen until use. Reheat in a 350 degrees oven for 15 minutes or so, until heated through. Meatballs can be reheated from frozen, but allow for extra time.

**Each sauce recipe makes enough to thoroughly coat 1/3 of the meatball recipe. Doubling any of the sauce recipes should make enough sauce for the entire meatball batch.

Basic Cocktail Meatball

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Roll the mixture into balls, about 1″ diameter. Place the balls in a single layer on baking sheets which have been lightly rubbed with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until fully cooked.

Makes about 90-100 meatballs

Honey Mustard Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup spicy brown mustard
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Pour over the meatballs.

Sweet and Sour Pineapple Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pineapple preserves
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Pour over the meatballs.

Thai Peanut Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons red curry paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3 green onions, chopped

Directions

Combine all ingredients, except green onions, in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Stir in most of the green onions, saving some for garnish. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or additional red curry paste, as desired. Pour the sauce over the meatballs. Garnish with remaining green onions.

And if those meatballs don’t do it for you, check out these previously posted Gourmand Mom meatballs…

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Asian Style Turkey Meatballs in Hoisin Peanut Sauce

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