Thanksgiving Blessings

_MG_0061As I wash up my kitchen from another day of Thanksgiving baking, I am surrounded by my two favorite smells: Pumpkin and Pecan Pie.  Both smells resinate the holiday season for me and bring back so many good memories.

This year I am thankful for my FAMILY and FRIENDS. My husband and I  have watched our Caston turn into a big 6 year old who’s spirit for life is invigorating, and our little Cora has become quite the charmer, bringing a smile to everyone she meets.  As I opened my third farmers market this year, it was my family that supported me and provided me with love, patience and encouragement.  We have also made many new friendships this year, both within our community and professionally, that have made profound impacts on our lives.  I am thankful for true, genuine friendships that are based on trust and love.

Give thanks to your family  & friends this holiday and let them know how much they are appreciated and loved!

If you are looking for a special pie to share with your loved ones this Thanksgiving, I highly suggest my family’s Pecan Pie. It’s a staple around the holidays for me and isn’t as sugary sweet as most pecan pies.  Check out this previous post above with the recipe.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!


Grannie’s Pie Crust

Looking for a flaky pie crust for your Thanksgiving Day?  I’ve got just the recipe for you to try this holiday.  This is from my Great Grandmother Garrison and is a family favorite for holiday functions.

Single Pie Crust
(My grandmother Garrison’s recipe)
1 1/3 c flour
½ tsp salt
½ c Crisco shortening or lard
3 T ice cold water
½ tsp vinegar

In a food processor pulse flour and salt. Add shortening and pulse into combined (it will resemble cornmeal). Add water and vinegar and pulse until combined- the mixture will form a ball. Place the dough in a bowl and cover and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Beef Tenderloin for Christmas Dinner

Photo from Food & Wine Magazine

Why is it during the holidays we always cook up the traditional turkey and stuffing? Why not try something new?

I don’t know about you, but after having turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving dinners and then again at Christmas dinners – I’m turkey’ed out!

Now don’t get me wrong- I’m a huge fan of turkey and stuffing. I make chicken and stuffing throughout the year and occasionally splurge and buy a turkey, but there is nothing wrong with mixing it up a bit.

My family mixes it up during the holidays when it comes to the main course: sometimes wild turkey, venison, beef brisket or even pork loin (which I love) on the Green Egg.

This beef tenderloin makes a beautiful main course for entertaining  and would be great for your Christmas dinner this holiday.

* Try and make this a local affair this holiday and buy local products from area farmers. Beef, onion, carrot, wine, and cream can all be sourced from your local farmers market.

Peppery Pinot Noir Beef Tenderloin
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature, divided
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/4 cups Pinot Nor wine (try and choose a Missouri wine)
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (3- to 4-pound) beef tenderloin roast (try and buy from a local farmer)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 to 6 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons butter and flour; set aside.

In a large frying pan over low heat, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add onion, carrot, and celery; saute approximately 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add tomato paste and stir until vegetables are coated. Add wine and boil approximately 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Add chicken and beef broths; boil approximately 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced to 1 1/4 cups. Remove from heat and strain liquid, discarding solids. Return liquid to pan; add butter/flour mixture and whisk over medium heat about 1 minute or until sauce thickens. Add heavy cream at the very end (do not overheat the cream). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring roast to room temperature before cooking (usually about 20 minutes). Trim the tenderloin of fat.

Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Lightly oil outside of roast and sprinkle with pepper.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Without adding any cooking fat, brown the roast on all sides (approximately 10 minutes). When browned, remove from heat. Place the browned roast and cast-iron pan in the oven and bake, uncovered, until a meat thermometer registers desired temperature (see below).

Rare – 120°F Medium Rare – 125°F Medium – 130°F

Remove from oven and transfer onto a cutting board; cover with a tent of aluminum foil and let stand 15 minutes before carving (meat temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees after it is removed from the oven).

In the cast-iron frying pan over medium heat, re-warm Pinot Noir Sauce over low heat; mix in any juices from roast.

Cut the roast into 1/2-inch slices and place them on a warm serving platter. To serve, spoon some Pinot Noir Sauce over the meat; pass remaining sauce separately. Serve immediately. Makes about 6-8 servings.

Slow Cooked Beef Stroganoff

StrognaffWhen the weather turns cool, comfort foods like soups and stews, chicken and dumplings, chili, and my family’s favorite beef stroganoff reappear on our menu.  Something about settling in for the evening with a warm bowl of home cooked food warms the heart and soul.

This is a great weeknight meal that makes your job easy in the kitchen, so you can spend more time playing with your kiddos this holiday.  Enjoy!

Slow Cooked Beef Stroganoff
1.5 lbs beef tips
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 can golden mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
10 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. pepper
1 (8oz) cream cheese
1 (8 oz) sour cream
1 (16 oz) bag of egg noodles, cooked

In a crock pot combine the beef, onion, soups, pepper and mushrooms.  Cover and cook on high for 6 hours.  When the beef is tender, add the cream cheese and sour cream and mix well.  Add the noodles and combine.

Cooking Tips Ever Home-cook Should Know

I don’t know how many times I have had to call my mother when I’m in the middle of cooking something to ask, “Mom what is that special thing you do to make (whatever I’m cooking) so perfect.” She usually laughs, then proceeds to explain her ticks of the trade.

I grew-up watching my Grandma Hart and mother in their kitchen and always loved the smells and conversations had over preparing a good meal.  I am very thankful to have a mother who has passed on our family’s cooking secrets to me, as now I can cook with my own little family and carry on our family traditions.

I found a special piece of notebook paper the other day among my recipe cards.  It was a list of “cooking tips” that I had written down early on in my marriage- things I had heard my mother say or my own tips.  Here are cooking tips that have helped me in my own kitchen and I know you will find these tips helpful as well.   If you have a special kitchen trick you would like to pass along….please post it here.

Drain Cleaner
To unclog a drain, mix a cup of salt with a cup of baking soda. Pour the dry solution into the drain, and then add a pot of boiling water.

Bread – How to get a light, soft crust
For a light, tender crust, use very hot water and stir only 20 times. Stirring the dough too much will make the crust tough.

Biscuits Tips
Biscuits will be crisp on the outside and flaky in the center if you roll the dough thin and fold it over once before cutting out biscuits. They’ll also split open easily when you’re ready to butter them. To re-freshen and heat biscuits, put them in a well-dampened paper bag, twist it closed and put in a 300 degree oven for several minutes or until warm. If you want soft-sided biscuits, bake them in a pan with sides and put the biscuits close together. If you want crusty biscuits, bake them on a cookie sheet and place them apart from each other.

Dinner Rolls – Freshening When Stale
Seal rolls in a brown paper bag, sprinkle the outside of the bag with water, then heat 10 to 15 minutes in a 350F (175C) oven.

Keeping Rolls Warm
Place aluminum foil under the napkin in your roll basket and the rolls will stay hot longer.

Lowering the Fat, Oil in Baking
When baking, use fruit purees, applesauce, or plain non-fat yogurt instead of oil.

Apples – For Pies
Which apples are good for pies? Excellent for pies: Cameo, Cortland, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Newton Pippin, Pink Lady, Rome Good for pies: Braeburn, Empire, Fuji, Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold

Freezing Pies
Custard and cream pies do not freeze well, which unfortunately means that the requisite Thanksgiving pumpkin pie cannot be made ahead of time. However, fruit pies, especially unbaked ones, freeze beautifully, as do baked pecan pies and cheesecakes. To prevent sogginess, brush the bottom crust of fruit pies with egg white before adding the filling. Before freezing, wrap pies and cheesecakes securely in several layers of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Allow already-baked items to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving. To bake a frozen fruit pie, leave it at room temperature for 20 minutes to allow the glass plate to warm up, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar if desired, then bake as usual, adding about 20 minutes to the baking time.

Green Peppers, Freezing
Green peppers may be frozen without blanching in an airtight container for later use in hot dishes or casseroles.

Cooking with Wine
When cooking with wine, leave the pan uncovered so the alcohol will burn off. The resulting liquid will have a rounder, firmer, fruiter flavor.

Grilling – Preventing Overcooking
To avoid burning vegetables before they’re done, push them to the side of grill where heat is moderate. Wrap the ends of bone in ribs with aluminum foil to prevent drying and burning.

Grilling Vegetables
For the best results, rub the vegetables with vegetable oil or toss them with a clear or light marinade prior to grilling. Although some cooks prepare corn for the grill by soaking it in its husk and grilling it cloaked, this method steams the vegetable rather than grilling it. For the smoky flavor typical of grilled foods, husk the ears and cook them directly on the grill rack.

Eggplant can be cut lengthwise or crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Red, purple, orange, white, yellow, and green peppers are tasty when grilled. Add them to appetizers, sandwiches, and home-baked breads and pizzas as well as salads. Potatoes can be cooked whole or cut into halves, thick slices, or wedges.

To reduce grilling time, blanch cut potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes before grilling.

Summer squash, including zucchini, yellow squash, and pattypan, can be cut into chunks and used for kabobs. You can also slice them lengthwise.

Select firm ripe tomatoes or plum tomatoes for grilling. Cherry tomatoes are easily cooked on skewers.

To prevent onion slices or wedges from falling through the grill rack, cut a large onion into 1/2-inch-thick slices or inch-wide wedges, then push a small metal or water-soaked bamboo skewer through the onion sections to secure them.

To roast peppers, put whole peppers on the grill over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally until skin is charred on all sides. Put the peppers in a brown bag, fold over the top to seal, and cool for about 15 minutes. Then cut peppers lengthwise in half and discard stems and seeds; place cut-side down on work surface and scrape off skin with a small knife.

To roast portabello mushrooms, brush with olive oil and grill 4 to 5 minutes each side. Asparagus: Break off and discard tough asparagus ends. Blanch tips in a large pot of boiling salted water for a minute or two (depending on size), just to remove the raw taste. Drain and transfer to ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and pat dry. Roll in olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Cook directly over hot coals, turning the asparagus with tongs as they color, until they are lightly blistered by the grill and hot throughout, about 2 minutes.

Carrots: Leave skinny carrots whole. If carrots are thick at the top and thin on the bottom, cut them in sections and halve the thick ends. Roll carrots in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over indirect heat until softened, about 20 minutes, moving them progressively closer to the coals.

Potatoes: Roll whole red potatoes, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill over indirect heat until the potatoes can be pierced easily, 30 to 40 minutes, moving them progressively closer to the coals.

Sweet potatoes: Grill large, whole sweet potatoes directly on ash-covered coals (not on the grate). Mound some of the coals around the sweet potatoes. Give them a quarter-turn about every 15 minutes so the skin chars evenly. Keep vents partially closed and grill covered so fire does not get too hot. Sweet potatoes weighing about a pound will take 45 to 50 minutes. Split in half and serve with butter.

Grilling Fruits
 Cut 2 large apples into quarters, then core and peel. Brush with melted butter. Grill over indirect heat (not directly over the coals) until softened, about 45 to 55 minutes, moving them progressively closer to the coals. Remove from grill, sprinkle with brandy or rum and top with vanilla ice cream.

Bananas: Put whole ripe bananas, unpeeled, directly over ash-covered coals and cook, turning occasionally, until they are soft, about 15 minutes. Peel carefully, slice and serve over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Melon: Halve a medium cantaloupe lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut each half into six wedges. Peel the wedges. Brush the melon with melted butter. Grill directly over coals until hot throughout and lightly marked, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve with grilled pork or ham steaks.

To Brine or Not to Brine…That is the Question

TurkeySome say that turkeys don’t need to be brined, but in my opinion a brine can really add a little tasty punch to  your holiday turkey.

Brine you may ask? Brining adds moisture and flavor to poultry and helps to keep it from drying out. A turkey can be a serious investment in time so you want to make sure it is perfect, especially if you’re entertaining. Whether you grill, smoke, fry, or roast your turkey, you should use a brined bird.

A brine is simply a salt and liquid mixture that adds lots of great flavor and moisture to your bird. There are many recipes out there for the perfect brine, but all do about the same thing. However, there is one step that is a must when brining a bird- you must brine the bird for at least 24 hours, otherwise the entire brining process just isn’t worth it.

To properly brine a turkey you need to start the night before you plan to cook. You will need at least 10 to 12 hours (plan on 1 hour per pound of turkey), a container large enough to hold your turkey and enough brine to cover it. You’ll also need salt, water, sugar, seasonings, and enough room to refrigerate it. A large stainless steel stock pot or even a 5 gallon clean plastic bucket (or my family has used a clean cooler before) would make excellent containers. Whatever container you choose, the turkey needs to have enough room to be turned so it should be big.

Now let’s get to the turkey. The turkey should be cleaned out, completely thawed, and should not be a self-basting or Kosher turkey. Self-basting and Kosher turkeys have a salty stock added that will make your brined turkey too salty. A fresh turkey works best, but a completely thawed, previously frozen turkey will work just as well. Look for local turkey from area growers at your local farmers market.

Make the Brine
Mix 1 cup of table salt in 1 gallon of water. You will need more than 1 gallon of water, but that’s the ratio to aim for. Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved before adding the seasonings you like, making sure not to add anything that contains salt. Brines can be spicy hot with peppers and cayenne, savory with herbs and garlic, or sweet with molasses, honey and brown sugar. My favorite seasonings to add are fresh herbs like thyme and parsley and onions and garlic.

Sugar is optional to any brine, but works to counteract the flavor of the salt. While you may choose a brine without sugar, I do recommend that you add sugar (any kind of “sweet” will do) to maintain the flavor of the turkey. Add up to 1 cup of sugar per gallon of brine. Like the salt you need to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.

Place the turkey in a container and pour in enough brine to completely cover the turkey with an inch or two to spare. You do not want any part of the turkey above the surface of the brine. Now you put the whole thing in the refrigerator. If you are like me, making enough room in the fridge is the hardest part of this project. The turkey should sit in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of turkey. Brining too long is much worse than not brining enough so watch the time.

Don’t have room in the refrigerator? Try a cooler. A cooler big enough to hold your turkey makes a good container for your turkey and brine. The cooler will help keep it cool and allow you to brine your turkey without taking up precious refrigerator space. If the weather is cool, but not freezing you can put the whole thing outside until you need the turkey (just add ice to the cooler).

When you are ready to start cooking your turkey, remove it from the brine and rinse it off thoroughly in the sink with cold water until all traces of salt are off the surface, inside and out. Safely discard the brine and cook your turkey as normal. You will notice the second you start to carve your turkey that the brining has helped it retain moisture. The first bite will sell you on brining turkeys forever, and after you’ve tried this you will want to brine all your poultry- I promise!

Check out these great turkey brine tips before the BIG Turkey Day to help you out as well.

Whether you decide to brine this Thanksgiving or Christmas or not- I wish your family happy holidays and the best to the new year!

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip CookiesWho doesn’t want to take a bite out of the perfect chocolate chip cookie? Every good baker must have the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe in their baking arsenal. I’ve gone through hundreds of batches of cookies and there is one recipe that is the stand alone winner for the best chocolate chip cookie.

This is a Martha Stewart recipe that I’ve only slightly changed the baking directions from the original.  I strongly recommend using high quality chocolate when baking cookies, it’s the small things that make an average cookie or the ULTIMATE Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s EVERYDAY FOOD, OCTOBER 2009

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk chocolate chips
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high until light and fluffy, 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Mix in flour mixture just until incorporated; fold in chocolate chips and chunks.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Using an ice cream scoop, roll dough into 1-inch balls.  Arrange 6 unbaked cookies, 3 inches apart, on each of two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges are light golden brown, 16 to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

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