Wednesday, November 18, 2015

pumpkins & pansies for our Thanksgiving table . . .

I started planning and prepping for our big Thanksgiving Dinner today!

This year will mark my 5th year hosting Thanksgiving . . . and I couldn't be more excited! 

I thought it would be fun to share this post from last year's Dinner, as I hope that it inspires your table setting. 

I'm in the works of planning this year's table setting . . . and I hope I have enough time to take a few photos next Tuesday, and share them before Thanksgiving. I'm excited about this year's table, as I'm planning to incorporate a little Christmas greenery with the pumpkins and Fall fare, which will be a first for me.

If you're hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year too, then I know you're busy as well!

Wishing you lots of inspiration and smooth planning and preparations!

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Lauren (our youngest) and I ventured South to buy more pansies for our Thanksgiving centerpiece this year.  While selecting our pansy colors, I spotted several rows of kale, purple and white/green . . . and thought that they would look pretty with our pansies, so I bought several heads of white and green kale.

 We bought beautiful Fall colors . . . rich burgundy, orange, and deep purple.

I thought it would be fun to share a small sampling of what our Thanksgiving table will look like this year. 

I took these photos just before potting some of them, so that I could get an idea of which ones needed to be planted in taller pots. I can't wait to see them ALL on our Thanksgiving table with more long-stemmed freckled pumpkins, twinkling tea lights, and formal, white place settings. 

This year's table setting is quite different from years past, as this year's colors are much brighter and cheerier. I'm excited to celebrate this side of Fall on our table.

I plan on planting the pansies and kale in our garden after Thanksgiving, so that we can continue to enjoy them through the holidays. 

How will you be decorating your table this year?

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

big and chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies and ramblings . . .


It feels like it's been weeks since I've sat down and shared a recipe or any 'at home' happenings. 

I've been happily busy the last few weeks with school parties and Halloween. Did you happen to see the photo I shared on my Instagram of the 5-inch pumpkin shaped sugar cookies I baked for Charley and Ford's classes? 

Little Lauren and I baked 54+ sugar cookies! 

I under-estimated the amount of batter and number of hours it would take to complete this baking project, but it was well-worth the energy and time! I had so much fun decorating them with their classmates . . . and Charley and Ford loved sharing one of our family traditions with their friends.
I feel so blessed to be a stay-at-home mom, as well as a Room Mom for Charley and Ford's classes this year!  

My 'TO DO list' is crazy long since returning home from an annual girls trip to Solvang with my mom and sister a few days ago. I managed to unpack, clean the house, and tackle 6 loads of laundry yesterday ((which is a relief!)), knowing that I'm going to have to spend the remainder of the week planning, organizing, and shopping for one of my busiest baking months of the year.

I have an order due for delivery next week that consists of 355+ baked goods, including cookies, muffins, and biscotti. Orders of this size require a crazy amount of planning and organizing to ensure a successful delivery.

I'm really excited to share many of the cookie and biscotti recipes with you over the coming weeks! They would make great additions to any holiday party or cookie exchange. 

Countless hours have been spent in this cozy chair (below) gathering recipes, writing lists, and ordering supplies for the upcoming orders. 

These amazing big and chewy oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies will be a few of many cookie varieties included in 20 gift baskets to be delivered early next week.

The photos in this post are of the ones that I made for my sister's birthday last weekend. We took them on our trip . . . and my mom and sister enjoyed them when they craved something hearty and sweet. The recipe calls for 3 cups of good old-fashioned rolled OATS! 

My sister took a bite of one of them and asked me, "So what is this cookie called? HEAVEN in my mouth!?" I'm pretty sure I laughed out loud. And yes, they're really that good!!

They're another WINNER from Cook's Illustrated. 

What I love about them - besides that the recipe calls for 3 cups of old-fashioned oats (NO quick-cook oats here!) - is that NUTMEG is the spice of choice, instead of cinnamon. It's definitely not your typical oatmeal cookie ingredient, but it's PERFECTION paired with the flavor of the OATS. 

I made them BIG! . . . because that's how I think oatmeal cookies should be. 

These photos are a little deceiving, as they don't show the actual size. I made them using a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop. So they really are  . . . BIG, thick, and chewy! 

I couldn't think of a better way to spend a cozy Fall or Winter evening than with a warm batch of Cook's Illustrated's big and chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I hope you enjoy the recipe, too!

thick and chewy 
Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
 .     .     .     .    .     .
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups old-fashioned oats *NOT instant or quick-cook oats
1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks
 .     .     .     .    .     .

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, beating just until combined. Mix in the oats and chocolate chunks until evenly distributed in the dough.

Divide the dough into 2 tablespoon balls and place on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between them. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown (the centers will still be pale – don’t over-bake).

Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool a few minutes before removing them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough (be sure to let the baking sheet cool in between batches).

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes about 18 cookies
courtesy Cook's Illustrated

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

slow cooker enchilada soup

I've enjoyed sharing my favorite dinner recipes with you lately . . . and enchilada soup is one of my family's all-time favorites!

I'm not sure why I haven't shared this one before. For more than a decade, it's been my go-to recipe when I'm short on time and wanting a dish that's hearty, flavorful, and delicious.

Enchilada soup was my oldest son's favorite dinner growing up, and even after all these years - it's still in my dinner repertoire. I love that it takes about 10 minutes of prep time, and is comforting and oh-so-delicious.

I've not only served it to my family on busy weeknights, but I've also shared it with friends when entertaining on the weekends. It's so much fun to have a loaded toppings bar that includes avocados, shredded cheese, sliced olives, chopped cilantro, sour cream, tortilla chips, and diced tomatoes . . . and then invite your friends to dress up their hearty soup.

Now that I think about it . . . this might be my favorite Sunday slow cooker dinner recipe. Not only because it reminds me of my oldest son, Nick, and his fun and busy high school days . . . but also because it's so easy to assemble and the result is so delicious!

It's another slow cooker recipe that smells amazing as the afternoon progresses into evening dinner . . . and it's perfect for quiet, lazy Sundays!

slow cooker enchilada soup
.     .     .     .     .    .
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
2 cups good-quality chicken stock
1 1/4 cup (or 1 10-ounce can) red enchilada sauce
1 (14-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with juice
1 (15-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
1 (14 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 white onion, peeled and diced *optional
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or more/less to taste
optional garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips/chips

Add all ingredients to a slow cooker, and stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 hours on high heat or 6-8 hours on low heat, until the chicken is cooked through and shreds easily. Use two forks to shred the chicken.

Serve warm, with garnishes.

You can also refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 5 days, or freeze it for up to 3 months.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

raven sugar cookies . . . a Halloween treat

I wanted to create a unique sugar cookie for the Halloween season, and had the idea to make a flock of black ravens.

There's something about these little black birds that remind me of harvest, pumpkins, and Halloween.

So I went on the hunt for a raven cookie cutter, and found one online.

I used my trusty sugar cookie recipe (below), a simple glaze, and a whole bottle of black sanding sugar to make this haunting flock of birds.

I nestled them among a few bare branches and freckled pumpkins for a finishing touch.

                 Be sure and pair them with pumpkin ice cream or shakes for a little festive fun!

raven sugar cookies
.     .     .     .     .     .
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (1 ½  sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 egg, room temperature
 powder sugar (instead of flour) for rolling out dough
black sanding sugar, for decorating
.     .     .     .     .     .

To make the cookies, in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt . . . set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix until just combined.

Form the dough into a flattened ball, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or as long as overnight.

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

On a lightly floured powder sugar surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart, and bake until just golden around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then remove the cookies from the pans and let cool completely.

Makes 10 to 20 cookies, depending on cutter size.

Sugar Cookie GLAZE
2 ¼  cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Combine ingredients and mix until smooth
Using a small paint brush (or the tip of your finger), spread on top of cookies
Sprinkle sanding sugar on top of GLAZE when it's wet

The secret to a 'clean' sugar edge is not letting the glaze drip down the sides of the cookie.
A thick glaze is also key.
After the glaze has been mixed, add 1 Tablespoon of confectioners' sugar at a time, 
until you get the desired consistency.
Have fun!

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Autumn Chicken Stew

Autumn stew is one of my favorite Fall dinners. I discovered this amazing dish several years ago, and I look forward to making it every year when the temperatures cool down. It's packed full of vegetables, chicken, and warm spices.

Aren't the colors bright and beautiful!?

What makes this stew so delicious is the addition of Moroccan seasoning (recipe below).

Moroccan seasoning is made up of warm spices like cinnamon, allspice, ginger, coriander, white pepper, and turmeric.

Did you notice that most of the spices I mentioned above are used in Fall and Winter baking? They're what give desserts and savory dishes their 'warmth.'
In this magical stew, the sweet carrots and butternut squash, spicy parsnips, and creamy potatoes are a delicious compliment to the bounty of warm spices that are used to season every layer of this dish.
It might sound silly, but every bite is like a great big warm hug

My secret to making this stew over-the-top delicious is to sprinkle the Moroccan seasoning on the chicken (under the skin) before browning it . . .  AND sprinkle the seasoning on every layer of vegetables as they're added to the Dutch oven. The heat awakens the spices . . . and then bakes the flavor into the chicken and vegetables, so that every mouthful packs a flavorful, warm bite.

Oh my, the broth is heavenly, too! So I serve a loaf of fresh bread alongside the stew, so that we can soak up every bit of the yumminess. 

I hope your family enjoys this hearty and delicious Fall-inspired stew as much we as do! 

Autumn Chicken Stew
.     .     .     .     .
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs (or chicken breast, bone in)
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
2 red or purple potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
3 cups chicken broth
2 Tablespoons Moroccan seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped *optional garnish

Moroccan Seasoning
.     .     .     .     .
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
.     .     .     .     .

Heat oil in a 4-quart dutch oven over medium heat.

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken (under the skin) with salt, pepper, and a pinch of Moroccan seasoning.

Cook chicken in oil for for 5-7 minutes. turning once, until browned. Remove from Dutch oven; cover to keep warm.

Add onion, carrots, and parsnips to Dutch oven and cook for 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with Moroccan seasonings, stirring occasionally, until crisp tender.

Add butternut squash and potatoes. Sprinkle with Moroccan seasoning and cook for 5 minutes; stirring occasionally.

Return chicken to pan; add chicken broth, and sprinkle with the remaining seasoning. Stir.

Heat to boiling, reduce heat. Cover; simmer 20 minutes. Uncover; simmer 10 minutes longer, or until stew is thickened and juice of chicken runs clear.

Remove chicken from stew. Remove skin; cut chicken off bones and discard bones. Chop chicken, and return to stove top. Serves 6.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

silhouette bats for Halloween . . .

My Littles could hardly wait for October 1st to roll around before they started asking me to decorate for Halloween.  I'll be honest, I was hoping that I could get away with only having Fall decorations like last year, but they wanted me add Halloween decorations to this year's pumpkins and Fall leaves. 

I should've shared these photos a few weeks ago when I tackled this fun and simple project, but I'm not great about sharing HOME-inspired posts. I get too excited about sharing FOOD and recipes, and then the HOME posts tend to sit on the back burner. ((I need to work on that!))

Anyway, I found these silhouette bats by Martha Stewart Craft at our local Michael's . . . and fell in love with their simple - yet creepy, scary - style.  

I had visions of bats flying above our mantle, so that the Littles would see them every time they walk up and down the stairs, but after hanging them up - the scene didn't have the look I was going for . . . and then I had the idea to hang them on the inside of the lampshades in our entry room. 

There are 3 lamps in our entry room, and I hung bats in all of them! 

I love the eerie glow of the bats when I turn the lamps on in the early evenings. Their silhouettes become more bold as the room gets darker. The Littles and I love it!

The lamp that's on the pumpkin patch table (that's what I've dubbed it, since it seems to continue to collect pumpkins) is my favorite place in the room. I hung bats all the way around the inside so that our Littles can see flying bats even when they're playing outside. 

I LOVE this kind of decorating . . . simple materials, thoughtful placement, big impact, and everyone's happy! 

It looks like a few others were inspired by Martha Stewart's Halloween Silhouette crafts, too!

LOVE this porch!

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Monday, October 19, 2015

mummy skillet brownie . . . a Halloween treat

This super simple dessert was inspired by the darling spooky eyes you see in the photos.

Our youngest daughter, Lauren, saw them in our local craft store and HAD to have them!

I had no clue what I was going to do with them, but they were too cute to pass up.

It didn't take me long to think of several ways to use them!

One afternoon while Charley and Ford were at school, Lauren and I baked a quick batch of my favorite boxed brownie mix . . . Ghirardelli Double Chocolate . . . in a cast iron skillet.

While the brownie was cooling, I whipped up a batch of scrumptious cream cheese frosting (recipe below), and then piped long, sweeping ribbons (Wilton's Decorating Tip #150) across the top of the brownie. There's no right or wrong here. Your goal is to pipe ribbons from left to right and right to left. A little over-lapping helps it look like mummy wrap. It's super easy and fun . . . and my Littles and neighborhood kids LOVED it!

Lauren helped me nestle the spooky eyes on top . . . and voila, you have a fun and festive mummy dessert.

You could use this same technique on top of cupcakes to make mini mummies for a classroom party or Halloween gathering.

It's such a fun time of year to create and bake! I hope you're taking time with your family to have a little fun in the kitchen, too!

Happy Halloween baking!

cream cheese frosting
.     .     .     .     .     .
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners' sugar
.     .     .     .     .     .

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, 
blend together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract. 
Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

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