If you’re anything like me, this Christmas snuck up on you like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse. No matter how prepared I think I am, this always seems to happen….and the older I get, the more quickly it happens, too!
Anything to make the holidays easier is at the top of my Nice List. Last season, I posted some stocking stuffer recipes that were quick, easy, and fun to make. Take a stroll down Memory Lane with me and maybe incorporate some of these goodies into your own loved ones’ stockings or gift bags, or fruit baskets, or……
The holidays are in full swing. A labor-intensive weeknight meal? Ain’t nobody got time for that!! This cauliflower recipe requires practically no prep-time yet packs a punch of delicious flavor. It’s like finding that perfect Christmas gift … and it’s 75% off! Score!
Sweet & Spicy Roasted Cauliflower
4 cups chopped cauliflower (1 large head or 2 medium heads)
2 tablespoons sriracha
2 tablespoons agave (or be like me, and go to the store specifically for agave, spend $100, and return…without the agave. I used some pancake syrup to fill in the gap.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon soy sauce
salt / pepper
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese (think the powdery kind)
Preheat oven to 400º. Combine all ingredients except the cheese into a large bowl or a Ziplock bag. Chop cauliflower into florets and toss in mixture, coating thoroughly.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread out the cauliflower. To keep the coating from getting watery, make sure the cauliflower isn’t too crowded, as that creates a steaming effect. Use two baking sheets if needed.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cauliflower is tender. Return cauliflower to bag or bowl, add Parmesan cheese, and toss to coat.
I served this up with some grilled chicken and sauteed Brussels sprouts. My husband, who is a huge meat eater, kept returning to the cauliflower, saying ~ and I quote ~ “This stuff is off the hook!” Score!
***In our attempts to outdo the years before, we often try new recipes around the holidays. But some things are better left to tradition…like my One Stop Pumpkin Pie Shop recipe. Rest assured, however, that if you don’t use this for Thanksgiving, you can certainly use it for Christmas. Or, ya know, any given Tuesday. So without further ado, my timeless combination of recipes for all your Pumpkin Pie needs…***
Nothing says Thanksgiving like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and of course … PUMPKIN PIE. Want to really wow your family? Before hitting the frozen isle or the grocery store “bakery,” try making your own. I decided to do that very thing one year and now I swear I’ll never buy Mrs. Smith’s again. Using fresh pumpkin, my own ground spices, an easy buttery flaky crust, and homemade whipped cream, I am now able to proudly present a pumpkin pie worth being thankful for. But not before a faux pas or two….
One of the things I love about this recipe is how much more flavorful the spices are. While many store bought pies can be bland, this one really shines. So for the first year I brought it to Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws’ house, I doctored it up a bit to ensure lots of flavor. I was super excited. Homemade pumpkin pie….what a great daughter-in-law I turned out to be, right?? Dessert time rolled around and I took a slice first, because I just knew this was going to be awesome. As I watched others try it, I noticed they were chewing slowly, sort of obligatorily, and smiling that smile. You know that smile. The something-is-wrong smile. Nobody would say it out loud, but my pie was awful. I had gotten too heavy-handed with the allspice and cloves, and it tasted like medicine. Even I couldn’t finish it. I apologized, we all had a good laugh, and I promptly threw my failure away.
I skipped making pumpkin pie the next year to help the memory fade, but this year I’m back. Pay close attention to my spice notes. They are on point this time, as was evidenced by my husband, daughter, and brother-in-law, who could only mumble “mmm mmm mmm…” while being my guinea pigs. So I’ve finally got it figured out …. and we can all be thankful for that!
Buttery Pie Crust
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, chilled and diced
¼ cup ice water
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. I hand-mix mine for the best results. Stir in water, one teaspoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Spray a little nonstick spray on bottom of pie dish. Roll dough out to fit a 9-inch pie pan, pressing evenly into the bottom and sides of dish. With a fork, poke holes in bottom of dough.
My REAL LIFE confession to you: I have not yet gotten my pie crust to not shrink. I have heard that glass pie dishes amplify the problem, but my husband gave me these dishes and I love them. So, there. But when I finally perfect it, and I will, you’ll be the first to know! (Okay, maybe the second.)
Pumpkin Pie Filling
Cut a pie pumpkin in half, remove seeds, and place open side up on baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake on 350 for about an hour.
Once pumpkin is cooked, mix together the following:
1/½ cup pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1 ²/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
For your spices, put the following in a spice grinder or coffee grinder:
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole clove
1 teaspoon salt
Grind until spices are processed as much as you can get them. When you’re done, take a small strainer and strain powder into a separate bowl. What’s left should just be small pieces. Take out any larger pieces (sometimes cloves leave behind stems). Anything else that didn’t strain through can be ground more in a mortar and pestle or with a meat tenderizer.
Mix all the spices together very thoroughly, then spoon 3 teaspoons into the pumpkin mixture. (You will have about half of the spice mixture leftover, and some of that will be used later for the whipped cream.) Stir and blend pumpkin mixture thoroughly, then pour into pie shell. Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing to ensure pie has completely set up.
Honey Spiced Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (from above)
Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Pipe or dollop onto pie.
October might just be my favorite month. The weather gets cooler, the leaves begin to change, and it wraps up with one of the most fun holidays: Halloween! For years, I threw Halloween parties for my 3 stepsons. I could have anywhere from 12 to 15 boys, ages 7 to 14, jacked up on sugary goodness, running around my house.
I can’t lie. It was some serious work – the preparations before the party, finding the right balance of fun and frightening for the kids, cleaning up after the party. Phew!
But the “boys” are much older now and those are still some of our fondest memories together, so it was worth every bit of energy. Today, I am more than happy to carry on the tradition with my 6 year old daughter. Like starting all over, I look forward to surprising her with new decorations each year, creating spooky soundtracks for her parties, and cooking up all the creepy treats. Plus one of the best parts: watching her and her friends grow up together, just as I did with her brothers.
1 box devil’s food cake
1 14 once container whipped strawberry icing
1 14 once container whipped chocolate icing
1 bag white chocolate chips
red food coloring
You will also need:
piping bag or gun with very small tip (If you don’t have one, a small sandwich bag can be used.)
cupcake corer (If you don’t have one, you can use a small paring knife or a large icing decorating tip.)
Prepare cake mix according to box instructions, making 24 cupcakes, then let cool.
Meanwhile, prepare your icing bag. If using a plastic bag, cut a very, very small hole in one corner.
Melt about 1/3 cup of white chocolate chips in microwave for 30 second intervals until smooth. Pour into bag and slowly pipe icing in a V-shape, filling in the middle, for your vampire teeth. For 24 cupcakes, you will need 48 teeth. Make some extras, as some will break.
NOTE: White chocolate hardens very quickly, so be sure to be ready to pipe all teeth at once. If you stop for any reason, check your tip for any chocolate clogs before beginning to pipe again. Otherwise, it will not pass through and you’ll squeeze until your bag explodes. Ask me how I know, haha.
Once teeth are hardened, pour a small amount of red food coloring into the food coloring cap. Slowly peel teeth from wax paper and dip the end of teeth into coloring. Place back on wax paper.
NOTE: Food coloring will not fully dry. This creates a nice effect, just use caution around them as they will get you “bloody.”
Next, use your cupcake corer or knife to put small holes in the middle of your cupcakes. If using an icing tip, just punch into cupcake, twist, and pop out the middle. Use a knife to get the cored remnants out of the tip. (And save them for fun snacking later!)
In a bowl, mix your strawberry icing with enough red coloring to make it look bloody. Use your cleaned icing gun or a new sandwich bag with a slightly larger hole to fill the middle of your cupcakes with the bloody icing.
Clean out icing gun and fill with chocolate icing. Ice the tops of the cupcakes, enough to fully cover the red icing. If you don’t have the gun, just ice with a butter knife or spatula. Top cupcakes with vampire teeth and TA-DA! Vampire Cupcakes!
These were my daughter’s special request for her (slightly early) Halloween party, where I had a house full of 6-year-olds. Had this been for an adult party, I may have filled the cupcakes with some raspberry or strawberry jam. Mmmm. That would be yummy. Maybe next year…
This Sunday is Grandparents Day, so today my daughter’s class hosted a breakfast to honor all their special Grandmas and Grandpas. It was particularly wonderful for my girl. She had not 2 or 3, but 5 grandparents present. A few years ago, my dad and his girlfriend moved here from New York, so in attendance today were my in-laws, my mom, and now my dad and his lady. It’s been so great having all of them here together, being able to share in my daughter’s life. She is indeed blessed. I was so thrilled when all 5 RSVP’d yes to today’s breakfast that I happily whipped up this scrumptious (and easy!) casserole.
Tater Tot Casserole
1 bag of frozen tater tots
1 dozen extra large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 bag shredded cheddar cheese
salt, pepper, onion powder
protein of choice, (diced ham, sausage or bacon crumbles, etc.)
Per package instructions, bake your tater tots first, getting them super crispy. Set aside and let cool down a little. Keep oven at 350º. If adding protein to your dish, precook your choice at this time, draining on a paper towel when finished. This will maintain it’s texture more, plus help eliminate extra grease in the casserole. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs and milk. Add seasonings to egg mixture and whisk. Once everything is ready, spread tater tots across the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the tater tots. If you opted for a protein, spread it over the mixture at this time. Sprinkle cheese and chives evenly on top of everything. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until center of eggs are cooked all the way through. If the top is getting browned before center is cooked through, cover with foil and continue cooking.
Bella’s class loved this dish, and it was definitely cooked with love in mind! Happy Grandparents Day!
Summer is perfect for hanging out and snacking on munchie foods. Now, I love a good bag of chips just like the next guy, but let’s be real. They’re just not very good for you. Pita chips are a “healthier” alternative, but so pricey! (Sorry, Stacy.) So, I started making my own. I use whole wheat pitas with olive oil and bake them. They are a hit everywhere I go!
Homemade Pita Chips
1 package whole wheat pitas
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
onion & garlic powders
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 300º. Using a basting brush, or just smearing a small amount with your fingers, spread a thin coat of olive oil on the top of a pita. Sprinkle liberally with salt, onion and garlic powders, and lightly with pepper. Cut pita into 8ths – super easy if you use a pizza cutter. Place pieces on a baking sheet. Repeat for as many pitas as you’d like to serve. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. And can I just say, this goes GREAT with my Sweet Potato Hummus. Enjoy!
***This is the thick version. If you want thinner chips, separate the 2 layers of the pita and repeat the above process for each layer. Bake for maybe 5-10 minutes less, or until golden brown and crispy.***
Have fun with this! Add different spices (rosemary, thyme, basil, red pepper flakes, etc.), or grated cheese (adjust your cook time!), or go sweet with brown sugar and cinnamon.
You know what they say: “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” Fortunately, you can cook this hot little number right on the grill. By the pool. In your bathing suit. Long live Summer!
8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
16 ounces of bacon
Start up your grill so it’s ready when you are. Slice jalapeños length-wise and cut your bacon strips in half. With a spoon, scoop up some cream cheese and stuff into the pepper half. Wrap the bacon around the stuffed pepper and secure into place with a toothpick. Grill on low to medium heat with the cream cheese side face down, then flip and finish face up until bacon is crispy.
For an added Summertime twist, add a fresh peach slice to the popper. Push into cream cheese, then wrap pepper with bacon and grill as usual. So amazing!