Hoppin’ Johns

We love soup. There’s a man at our church who says that “soup is for the weak and feeble minded.” If that’s true, I don’t want to be strong of mind or body. Also, to him I say, “No soup for you!”

Our good friends, Kate and Gilbert, introduced us to this awesome soup that you can just throw together. It gets better the longer it cooks, but we usually can’t wait that long – either because it’s time to eat, or because we just can’t resist it.

We make this soup often for family and friends when they come over because it’s delicious and easy and it warms you to the core. However, it’s one of the recipes that I don’t have written down anywhere. The first couple of times I make it each cold season, I have to dig around through emails, chat records, Facebook messages, and texts from Kate to see where it was that I last asked her for the list of ingredients. Lately, my family has asked for the recipe a lot, so I thought I’d put the list of ingredients here so that it’s easy for me to access and I can stop bothering Kate each Fall.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sausage (You could use a brand other than Tennessee Pride, but then I may not respect you as much. Just so you know.)
  • 1 onion, chopped, sautéed in sausage grease
  • 1 box Near East Long Grain and Wild Rice, prepared (You can use other brands, but Near East is the only one I’ve found that is gluten free. Unfortunately, the 90 second Uncle Ben’s microwave pouch has wheat in the ingredients.)
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can beef broth
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can chicken broth
  • 2, 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes (don’t drain!)
  • 2, 14.5 ounce cans of black eyed peas (Don’t drain! Also, we usually get the “southern style” ones that have been seasoned… and cooked in bacon fat…)
  • If you need a bit more saltiness (I find we usually don’t – the broths are usually plenty salty), use Liquid Aminos or Gluten Free Soy Sauce instead of salt
Hoppin' Johns: Loved by big people with big people bowls and little people with little people bowls alike.

Hoppin’ Johns: Loved by big people with big-people-bowls and little people with little-people-bowls alike. Also, those are corn muffins in our bowls. A must with Hoppin’ Johns. An absolute must.

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Gluten Free Candy Cane Cookies

As I mentioned in my last post, since the Bug was sick over Christmas break, we didn’t do any traveling. Bummer, right? Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our quiet, cozy little Christmastime at home, but we missed our families. We missed taking Paige to my mom’s house in Sault Ste. Marie, MI for the first time ever. We missed seeing people on my dad’s side of the family whom we only see once a year and we (well, I) missed whoopin’ my Great-Uncle Jim in cribbage. We missed getting together with Jeffrey’s family, too.

As much as we love our families, I have to confess: we weren’t bummed to stay home just because we missed spending time with them. We missed their food – those special Christmas treats we look forward to all year. So, Jeffrey and I dug out our Christmas recipes and made some quick calls to our moms to get the recipes we lacked. We bought sugar in quantities to which I’ll never fully admit. We got to mixing, taste-testing, baking, frosting… and eating.

Having our favorite holiday tastes helped make our first-ever at-home Christmas feel like the real thing for us.

This Candy Cane Cookie recipe has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. It’s light, minty flavor is awesome, but I think my favorite part of it has always been the texture. So, I was pretty nervous to try it gluten free. I was sure the flavor would still be there, but the texture… I was nervous. However, it worked beautifully! I was so happy! The texture was great, but I think next time I’ll be sure to spend a few more minutes after the ingredients are mixed together mixing it on medium speed to help activate the xanthan gum. A few of the cookies crumbled into powder if you squeezed them, but most of them held up well, and they all tasted great.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour (I prefer Glutino.)
  • 5/8 tsp xanthan gum
  • red food coloring

Directions

Cream the first six ingredients. Stir in flour and xanthan gum. Divide the dough in half and tint one half of the dough with the red food coloring.

candy cane cookies

Four: The traditional number of actual candy canes I make when I make Candy Cane Cookies. The first one I made is on the far left. You can see they got increasingly worse as I got increasingly impatient to eat the cookies.

Here’s what: at this point, for each cookie, you’re supposed to take equal amounts of the white dough and red dough, roll them out into “snakes” (you know, like with Play-Doh), twist them together, and then shape them into candy canes. So every year, I say to myself, “Self: You’re going to make adorable little candy cane cookies this year. You can totes do this.” And then, after about four pathetic attempts at candy canes, I’m so anxious to be able to eat the cookies that I just get out the cookie scoop and make red and white round cookies. They taste just as good. So, you do what you want. Mostly, I just want to eat them.

Bake them at 375° for 7-9 minutes. Let cool for 2-3 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to cool completely on cooling racks.

Enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

“What? It’s like, Christmas Eve Eve!”

Give me a break. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is nuts-o for me! Well, I’ll be honest, all the time is nuts-o for me, at least too nuts-o to blog things promptly. However, I happen to be on day 4.5 in a row of just being at home for the holidays. It wasn’t our plan to be home over the Christmas holidays. As I mentioned in my last post, we always travel north to Michigan (this year, we were even going to go extra far north so that Paige could visit my mom’s house for the very first time) and south to southern Indiana to spend Christmastime with our families. However, our poor Little Bug is quite sick. On Wednesday of last week, she came to work with me because she had a low-grade fever. Within two hours, her fever rose from 100.5 to 103.8, which caused her to have a Febrile Seizure. Cause of the fever? RSV, and a monster case of it. We’ve been under a bit of a quarantine with our wheezy girl and are staying put for Christmas so that we can make sure that she gets wholly well. Dr. Mulder says she needs to stay put (and stay away from others from whom she could pick up other bacteria/viruses or to whom she could pass on this nasty virus) for at least a week, maybe two. So, we’re caring for our Sweet Girl (she seems to slowly be on the upswing, by the way) and soaking up quiet family time at home. So, I have time to blog. But I digress. Like I said, Happy Thanksgiving!

“OK. Umm… still it’s a little late.”

I know. I know. But here’s the thing. I feel like every year at Thanksgiving I have to re-invent the wheel. We have pretty much the same menu every year, but every year I have to sit down and write out a menu, look up recipes, write out a grocery list, and write out a plan for what gets made when and what goes in which serving dish, etc. So, I figure, if we do the same thing every year, I should probably document all that stuff so that I don’t have to pull my hair out trying to figure it out each year. So really, this blog post is for me, not you. Sorry ’bout your luck. I mean, if you want to use some of the recipes or whatever or you’re just really curious about everything I do for Thanksgiving, great. But mostly it’s for me.

My Thanksgiving Lists. They take forever to prepare because they're like, perfect and color-coordinated and stuff.

My Thanksgiving Lists. They take forever to prepare because they’re like, perfect and color-coordinated and stuff. And yes, I scratched Brussels Sprouts with bacon. Why? 1) We have plenty of other things that we have to have each year, so there was no point in adding a new one and 2) I really didn’t have another white serving dish, so… you know.

So, here are my lists in easy-to-access digital format so that all I have to do next year (and the year after, and the year after, amen and amen) is click on my “Thanksgiving” tag and it all magically appears. You know, until we change things up in our menu, which (since this is PERFECT) will be, like, never.

IMG_6503Menu
Dish | Who’s Responsible for the Dish | When (Primarily) the Dish is Prepped | What Serving-Dish the Dish is, um, Served In

turkey1) Turkey | Rachel | Thursday | Large Turkey Platter (There’s no recipe link for this. See how I prepare our turkey below in the Thanksgiving day to-do list.)

2) Oyster Dressing | Jeffrey | Thursday | Large Oblong White Baking Dish (This is one of Jeffrey’s must-have Thanksgiving foods. This is the dressing he grew up with. In addition to what the recipe calls for, he also includes all the meat [and I mean all the meat] from the neck and the organs that come with the Turkey, which he dices very finely.) 

3) Gluten-Free Cranberry Almond Dressing | Rachel |Thursday | Large Round White Baking Dish

4) Gravy | Rachel | Thursday | Gravy Boat (There’s no recipe link for this. See how I prepare our gravy below in the Thanksgiving day to-do list.)

5) Mashed Potatoes | Jeffrey | Thursday | Round White Vegetable Bowl (No recipe. Jeffrey just makes the best, fluffiest, most wonderfulest mashed potatoes in the world. Too bad for you that he doesn’t make the mashed potatoes for your Thanksgiving dinner.)

6) Cranberry Orange Relish | Rachel | Tuesday | White Pumpkin Tureen

7) Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples | Rachel | Wednesday | (Bake in a 13 x 9) Small Round White Baking Dish

8) Broccoli- Cheese Casserole | Jeffrey | Thursday | Small Oblong White Baking Dish

Gluten Free Rolls

OK. I’m not an awesome roll-maker. BUT, I’m super proud of how my first real gluten-free baking experience – these delicious, buttery rolls – turned out! The Gluten Free on a Shoestring cookbook is really quite excellent!

9) Gluten-Free Rolls | Rachel | Wednesday | Basket (Recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring: 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap, which is an excellent and very helpful gluten-free cookbook, if you’re looking for one. I’ve never had a recipe fail yet from this book – not even these very yummy dinner rolls – and trust me, I’ve had plenty of glutinous dinner rolls fail!)

10) The Pioneer Woman No-Knead Dinner Rolls | Rachel | Wednesday | Basket (This roll recipe really is SUPER easy and Jeffrey says it’s really tasty, BUT, it makes enough rolls for all of the PW’s ranch-hands, and since I don’t need enough dinner rolls for 438978370 people – especially since this isn’t the only dinner roll on the menu – I should probably remember to half this recipe next year. Did you read that, Rachel?! Don’t make the whole recipe!!)

11) Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage | Rachel | Thursday | Square White Vegetable Bowl

12) Italian Style Green Beans | Rachel | Thursday | Square White Vegetable Bowl

13) Dutch Apple Pie | Rachel | Wednesday | Pie Plate (Umm… I don’t make this. See ingredient list below.)

14) Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie | Rachel | Wednesday | Pie Plate  (Gluten Free on a Shoestring Sweet Pastry Dough turned out great. It was a lot of work – I did a precise miniature dice on butter, for Pete’s sake! – but it was worth it. It was a dough that was easy to work with after it was chilled, it tasted great, and it baked up to be lovely and just the right amount of flaky. The filling was just the normal ole Libby’s pumpkin pie filling recipe that’s on the back of the can. Easy, trusted, and good. With all the other stuff going on, I just was not insane enough to buy fresh pumpkins instead of canned, although I believe that fresh pumpkin is better than canned. However, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “Pumpkin pie is nothing but mediocrity. The best one you ever ate wasn’t that much better than the worst. It’s just an excuse to eat nutmeg.” But, it’s just not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, right?)

Did I mention that I did a precise dice on butter? It took crazy long. Note: the cookbook version says to dice the butter, the link I included says something like "rough chop." Take the time and dice it. One, it's oddly comforting to make uniform little cubes of butter. 2) Doing so means you'll have an awesome distribution of cold little butter pieces throughout the dough, which means an awesome flakiness in your baked crust. It's worth it.

Did I mention that I did a precise dice on butter? It took crazy long. Note: the cookbook version says to dice the butter, the link I included says something like “rough chop.” Take the time and dice it. One, it’s oddly comforting to make uniform little cubes of butter. 2) Doing so means you’ll have an awesome distribution of cold little butter pieces throughout the dough, which means an awesome flakiness in your baked crust. It’s worth it.

15) Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Pie | Rachel | Wednesday | Pie Plate (Again, Gluten Free on a Shoestring Sweet Pastry Dough and the Better Homes and Gardens Sweet Potato Pie recipe. I’d never had Sweet Potato Pie before this year, but it far outshone pumpkin for me. It wasn’t as sweet as pumpkin pie and I like the milder flavor, especially after a big Thanksgiving meal.)

16) Whipped Cream | Rachel | Wednesday | Small White Rounded Rectangular Bowl (Basic BHG whipped cream recipe. I made it with our homemade vanilla extract and Jeffrey finally said, “THIS is better than Cool Whip.” Homemade vanilla extract FTW.)

17) Beef Ball and Crackers | Rachel | Tuesday | Small White Rounded Rectangular Bowl and Long White Serving Plate (I think every family has a version of this. In our family, you just mix 1 block of Philadelphia cream cheese [I buy off-brand a lot of things, but cream cheese isn’t one of them.], 1 bunch of diced green onions, 1 package of that super-cheap, super-thin roast beef lunch meat [Carl Buddig’s?], 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tsp of Accent. Form it into a ball. Eat on a Ritz cracker. If you’re gluten-intolerant, I’ve found that I like Glutino’s version of Ritz crackers the best.)

Needed (Non-Staple) Ingredients

Numbers correspond to dish numbers above.

  1. turkey, celery (at least 5 stalks), onions, butter, fresh thyme
  2. celery (at least 2 stalks), onion, butter, cheap white bread (12 slices), chicken broth, 2 cans oysters
  3. 2/3 cups sliced almonds, 2 cups cranberries, 1 pear, sugar, butter, celery (at least 2 stalks) gluten-free multi-grain bread, 1 leek
  4. (turkey broth and cornstarch – should have both on hand!)
  5. potatoes, buttermilk
  6. 4 cups cranberries, 2 medium oranges, sugar, 1/2 cup pecan chips
  7. 4 lbs sweet potatoes, 2 lbs granny smith apples, brown sugar, butter
  8. 1 package (the “brick” kind) of frozen broccoli, minute rice, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, celery (at least 2 stalks), one jar Cheez Whiz (Note: this moves around the store, sometimes it’s with the real cheese [in the cooler?!], other times with the soup, other times with the non-refrigerated chip dips, other times in places that make no sense at all, so BOLO for CW in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving so that you’re not running around the store with a full cart like a mad woman looking for the dag-blasted CW before you check out), cheap white bread (4 slices)
  9. yeast, eggs
  10. non-GF flour, milk
  11. one head of red cabbage, apple cider vinegar
  12. fresh green beans, onion
  13. a pie from the Lafayette Christian School fundraiser (Seriously. Did you expect me to make three pies from scratch? C’mon son.)
  14. powedered sugar, butter, canned pumpkin, evaporated milk
  15. 3 lbs sweet potatoes, buttermilk
  16. heavy whipping cream
  17. cream cheese (2), green onions (2), Carl Buddig beef (2), Ritz crackers, Glutino gluten-free crackers

Thanksgiving Week To-Do Lists

These day-to-day lists are absolutely essential. Since I work full-time and I only take the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off (which, Paige blessedly still has day-care on that day, so I get the kitchen and house to myself to get things done), there’d be no way I’d have everything ready if I didn’t plan out all the little things ahead of time!

Thursday Before Thanksgiving

  • Deep-clean the refrigerator. Like, take everything out of it and wash it down with hot, soapy water. You’ll feel so much better, trust me.
  • Deep-clean the pantry/fix the organization. (Isn’t it amazing how you can have a perfectly-organized and beautiful pantry and then within a couple of months suddenly there are snacks on the baking shelf, there’s rice in the gluten-free pasta bin, and there’s a mysterious box of Jell-o hanging out with the coffees and teas?! For reals: I never buy or make Jell-o [like, I’m pretty sure I’ve never made it in my whole life], but every time I clean the pantry I find a box or two. What up with that?)

Friday Before Thanksgiving

  • Shopping (Do not, REPEAT: Do NOT go Thanksgiving shopping on the Saturday before Thanksgiving… with a 15-month old. For the love of all that is good and decent, don’t do it!)

Saturday Before Thanksgiving

  • Put the ole frozen turkey in the garage fridge to thaw.
  • Make Cranberry Orange Relish and freeze.
  • Get the house clean and ready for (hopefully) some company!
  • Re-wash the guest room sheets and then re-make the bed. Leave towels and washcloths on the bed.

Monday Before Thanksgiving

  • Get out the serving dishes and the place settings. Put them all in one easy-to-access space, ready to go.
  • Iron the table linens.

Tuesday Before Thanksgiving

  • Eat leftovers for supper. ALL the leftovers. Make sure that all that pre-Thanksgiving food is gone!
  • Make the beef balls.

Wednesday Before Thanksgiving

  • Double-check that the bird is completely thawed. If not, give Tom Turkey a bath in the kitchen sink while you work.
  • Assemble the Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples in a 9 x 13 and refrigerate so that it’s ready to bake on Thursday.
  • Bake the Dutch Apple Pie
  • Bake the Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie
  • Bake the Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Pie
  • Bake the Gluten-Free Rolls
  • Bake the Regular Rolls (Yep. Both. I can’t have the regular ones, and while I think the gluten-free rolls are awesome, Jeffrey’s not such a fan.)
  • Wash and chop the celery for the turkey, both dressings, and the broccoli casserole. Put the measured-out celery in sandwich bags labeled for the correct dish.
  • Chop the onion for the turkey, the oyster stuffing, and the green beans. Put the measured-out onion in sandwich bags labeled for the correct dish. Put those bags in a gallon-sized bag to help keep everything in the fridge from smelling/tasting like raw chopped onion.
  • Cube the breads for the dressings and dry them out in the oven.
  • Wash and chop the leek for the Cranberry-Almond Dressing. Put the measured-out leek in a labeled sandwich bag.
  • Wash and chop the cabbage and place in a gallon-sized bag in the fridge.
  • Wash and snap the green beans and place in a gallon-sized bag in the fridge.
  • Make the whipped cream.
  • Get pizza for lunch/supper from Puccini’s. There will be no leftovers and there will be no cooking. Have Jeffrey go pick it up. :)

Thanksgiving Day

  • At 7:45, get the Cranberry Relish out of the freezer to thaw.
  • At 8 a.m., start prepping the turkey. (All I do is stuff the turkey with celery sticks, sprigs of fresh thyme, and quartered onions for flavor and to keep it moist and then put small pats of butter, fresh thyme leaves, kosher salt, and freshly-ground black pepper under the skin. Easy as pie. Easier, actually. You don’t have to dice and ice the butter.)
  • Start boiling the turkey neck and innards (ugh) for Jeffrey to use in his dressing.
  • At 9 a.m., put the turkey in the table-top roaster at 325.
  • Prep the Cranberry Almond Dressing.
  • Jeffrey needs to prep his Oyster Dressing.
  • Both dressings should go in the oven at the same time.
  • Take the assembled sweet potatoes and apples out of the fridge so that the dish can come to room temp.
  • Bake the sweet potatoes and apples.
  • Jeffrey needs to make the mashed potatoes… and make ’em creamy and whipped and perfect.
  • Jeffrey needs to make the broccoli cheese casserole.
  • Bake the broccoli cheese casserole.
  • Make the cabbage.
  • Make the green beans.
  • About 40 minutes before eating, make sure that the oven is empty. Transfer the turkey from the table-top roaster to the roasting pan. Rub down the turkey with butter and put it in the oven, uncovered, to brown. Boom, baby.
  • While the turkey is browning, take out about 3 cups of the turkey juices in the table-top roaster. Skim the fat and bring the juices to a boil in the large skillet. Mix cornstarch with cold water in the blender bottle and slowly whisk into the boiling juices to make gravy.
  • Have someone else set the table.
  • Put out the buffet.
  • Eat.
  • Don’t do the after-meal dishes. Don’t. The eaters can, Little Red Hen.

Successes

After several years of doing this Thanksgiving thing, with the help of my very precise lists, I was finally able to put some of what I’ve learned to use. Thanksgiving is a lot of work, and it’s intimidating before I start each year, so I figure reminding myself of some of the things that went well will help me get over the oh-my-goodness-that’s-so-much-to-do pre-Thanksgiving jitters. Here are some major successes from this year:

I finally had enough white serving wear that everything on the table was in a simple white dish. No glass baking dishes. No dinner plates. No Pyrex bowls. I love the simplicity of having all-white dishes. If I have enough white serving dishes for Thanksgiving, I have enough white serving dishes for anything! table
For the first time ever (fanfare and drum roll, please) I had my ducks in a row enough to finish out the turkey in the oven so that it was golden brown and lovely! (See photos above.) I love the table-top roaster because it frees up the oven for other dishes on Thanksgiving day, but it is absolutely impossible to brown a turkey in it. I’ve always wanted to be able to move the turkey to the oven, but I’ve always been too far behind what I’d like to be.

IMG_6474I got all of my prep work done the day before. All the pre-chopping and storing veggies in labeled and numbered baggies made Thanksgiving day go so smoothly. I just literally threw things together. So quick. So easy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was the first year I did that and it was the first year that I was able to finish out my turkey in oven! Being my own sous-chef on Wednesday makes Thursday rock!

It was the easiest and most stress-free Thanksgiving ever. It was truly enjoyable to do all of that cooking! The dishes were done as they got dirtied and there was never a huge mess. I got to hang out with Paige, even. There were times before dinner that I was actually bored and didn’t know what to do because it was too early to start the next dish. Most of the things that were marked as Jeffrey’s responsibilites, I was able to do just so that I had something to do. I think the only things I didn’t do that he was responsible for were mashing the potatoes and cutting up the turkey neck ‘n stuff for his dressing. I even diced up the oysters (ew).

OK. So I know this was like the longest post ever. But, like I said, it’s for me, not for you. I totally don’t think that anyone else besides myself will read this. But, if someone did, Happy Thanksgiving!

Gluten-Free Cranberry Almond Dressing

Let’s be real. A lot of the recipes that people post are really just variations on someone else’s theme. We make tweaks and minor changes and then we call this revised recipe just a new recipe. And I’m all for it. For real.

But, this recipe, I totally made up. No variations on someone else’s version of this. I just put it together. And, to be rude, it’s AWESOME. This recipe that I made up (did I mention I made it up?) is now one of my must-haves at Thanksgiving each year.

Mmmm. So tasty. Perfect balance of tart and tangy and sweet and savory.

Mmmm. So tasty. Perfect balance of tart and tangy and sweet and savory.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole fresh cranberries
  • 2/3 cup sliced almonds
  • at least 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 leek, chopped (from white to green, the whole thing)
  • 1 pear, diced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 12 slices gluten-free multi-grain bread (I use Udi’s), cubed, dried
  • turkey broth

Directions

Stirring constantly, heat first three ingredients in a large skillet until berries are split and a syrup has formed. Remove from pan and set aside.

Sauté celery, leek, and pear in butter until tender crisp.

Look! It's so pretty!

Look! It’s so pretty!

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, incorporating enough broth so that all of the bread is saturated. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish.

Bake at 350 for at least 45 minutes or until heated through and the bread on top has started to brown.

Cranberry Orange Relish

This. This is the Thanksgiving dish that is the most versatile. It makes an awesome snack, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I’ve had it, by itself, for all of those meal opportunities. It’s also great because you can make it way ahead of time, freeze it, and set it out on the counter to thaw on Thanksgiving morning and it will be ready by dinner. Simple.

Also, please note the awesome pumpkin tureen that I serve it in. No particular reason. Just notice it. Because it’s super cool.

cranberry relish

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 medium oranges
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Directions

Shred the zest from one orange. Peel and coarsely chop both oranges.

Pulse the cranberries and nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.

Mix all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. That’s it! You’re done. It’s delicious!

Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples

I’m about to tell you something that may make you not like me: I’ve never had that sweet potato dish thing with marshmallows on it. Never. Not once. And, really, I’m not interested. Sorry.
This is the sweet potato dish that I grew up with and it’s totally great. Sorry for your luck if you’ve never had it, but you can change that today. Here’s the recipe. Go make it. Now.

IMG_6484

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 pounds Granny Smith apples
  • brown sugar
  • butter
  • freshly-ground black pepper
  • freshly-ground nutmeg

Directions

Cut the sweet potatoes in thirds, leave the skins on. Boil the sweet potatoes until you can easily pierce them with a fork. While they’re boiling, peel and thinly slice the apples. Sprinkle with orange juice to keep them from browning.

When the sweet potatoes are done, shock them in cold water; the skins should come off easily. Slice the sweet potatoes into medallions.

Time to assemble! In a 9×13 pan, add layers in the following order until you’re out of potatoes and apples: sweet potatoes, apples, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 2 Tbsp butter, pepper, and nutmeg.

Bake at 325 for at least an hour.

Italian-Style Green Beans

Simple side dish. My mom suggested this for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago and it’s perfect. It has awesome flavor and it doesn’t require the busy oven on that busy day. It also makes a great side any of the other 364 days of the year.

IMG_6487

Ingredients

  • Fresh green beans, as many as you’d like
  • Onion, as much as you want
  • Olive Oil, as much as you need
  • Kosher Salt, Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Directions

Wash and snap the beans. Dice the onion. Sauté the onions in the hot olive oil. Add the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. So simple. So good.

Yields: As much as you want.

Lovely November

I love November. I love November for so many reasons.

My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is in November. I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday because in recent years Jeffrey and I decided that, since we travel north to Michigan and down to southern Indiana at Christmas, we’ll stay home at Thanksgiving. We treasure those quiet days at home together, snuggled up on the couch watching Christmas movies and eating Thanksgiving leftovers. Leftovers are one of the best parts. I love, love. love to cook, but after cooking and baking for days for one meal, by the time we sit down, I’m mostly ready to take my chef’s-privilege nap while everyone else does dishes. Leftovers take zero effort and taste even better than the food at the main dinner.

My favorite season, autumn, stretches into November. The leaves are still vibrant and holding on here. But every morning driveways are plastered with more and more leaves. Soon, the trees will be bare and delicate white frost will cover the roofs in the morning until the sun chases it away.

November 1 – today! – marks the beginning of what I call “It’s-Finally-Socially-Acceptable-to-Listen-to-Christmas-Music-So-That-Other-People-Can-Hear-It Season.” Some people just call this “Christmas Music Season” (and some people of the Scrooge variety aren’t even ready to call it that). I happen to be of the opinion that Christmas music deserves a year-round spot on my iPod, but I respect that not everyone can be as jolly as me all the time. However, I am also of the opinion that from November 1 – January 31, I can listen to Christmas music all the time without regard for who gets/has to hear.

I just think November is lovely. And today has been a lovely start to a lovely month.

Christmas music. People’s posts on Facebook of the not-so-little things for which they’re thankful. A big cold glass of well-brewed unsweet tea. (I do love sweet tea, but, you know, calories…)

Another thing that made today great is that it was the first time since cooler weather hit that the Ravellettes have had Kielbasa Mashed Potatoes for supper. You read right. Kielbasa. Smashed Potatoes. Butter. Red Wine Vinegar. Onions. Spinach. All mixed up together in a bowl of comfort, hugs, and cuddly food-love.

kielbasa mashed potatoes

Does it look sloppy? All the better. Kielbasa Mashed Potatoes is a comfort food. It doesn’t stand on ceremony. It doesn’t mind if you eat it in your pajamas on the couch in front of Netflix. It just wants you to be cozy.

danae is the genius behind this dish that has become a staple in many households among our friends. Check out her recipe on her cooking blog here. (Really. Check it out. You’ll add it to your cool-weather meal rotation tout de suite.)

Since I’m counting calories, I plugged the recipe in to myfitnesspal.com. I followed danae’s recipe for the most part, except I only used half a stick of butter and instead of the milk or cream, I used a half cup of plain soy milk. Be sure to keep extra red wine vinegar on hand – Jeffrey loves to add a lot of extra vinegar to his. In case you’re counting calories or carbs or are just somewhat interested in the nutritional information of this dish, I’ve included what I came up with through myfitnesspal at the end of this post.

This was not just our first Kielbasa Mashed Potatoes of the season, it was also Paige’s first experience with the dish. She gobbled it right up, but she was quick to pull out the spinach. I guess I can’t blame her. I accidentally picked up the regular spinach instead of baby spinach, so it was pretty long and slimy when isolated from the rest of the delicious mixture.

So I’m definitely thankful for Kielbasa Mashed Potatoes. I’m thankful for November. I’m thankful for a lot of things. So this lovely November, I’m going to try to take part in thankful November on Facebook by posting something for which I’m thankful each day. I won’t post them all here because, you know, redundancy, but here’s today’s:

thankful

I’m also going to be participating in No Make-Up November. At first when I read about it here, I was like, “That’s a sweet idea, but I don’t just participate in things just to participate in them. It’s not for me.” Then, I read this

Even after I agreed to participate, it wasn’t easy at first for me to jump wholeheartedly into this challenge. After all, I wasn’t a teenage girl with fresh skin. I’m a woman in my 30s. What will my friends think, I wondered? What will other women think of me, especially at church on Sunday? It was then that a revelation struck me: Aren’t we into beauty sometimes more to please other women in our lives, especially church women?

Ouch. That one hit a little too close to home. I decided, like the author of the article, that if it was really this hard for me to give up the idea of wearing make-up for 30 days, then I probably need to give up wearing make-up for 30 days. I’m a little freaked out about this one. I’ve been wearing make-up every day that I’ve left the house since college. I don’t know why I started wearing it all the time, but I did. I don’t think I wear way too much make-up. (If I do, please message me in private. I promise I’ll forgive you for not saying anything until now, although your mistake would be akin to letting me speak to a room full of strangers with basil in my teeth x 1,000,000.) The way I think about make-up is just wearing enough to make myself look fresh and not dead tired each morning. However, the point of No Make-Up November is to focus on allowing God to fill me with the confidence that comes with knowing – really knowing – that my beauty rests in Him.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.
– Psalm 139:13-16

So the make-up’s been moved to the closet. I’m going to try to keep it there all from now through December 1 (since I didn’t find out about No Make-Up November until after I had already put on make-up today).

Here’s to a lovely, comfort-food-filled month filled with the sounds of Bing, Frank, Dean, Sammy, and Karen crooning Christmas music while we rest in gratitude and in the deep-soul knowledge that we were made beautifully by a Loving God who loves us still. Dayenu. It is more than sufficient.

Grace and peace,

Rachel

Here are the nutrition facts for danae’s Kielbasa Mashed Potatoes per serving based on her recipe making 8 servings (which is realistic for a my-size portion, but completely ridiculous to someone like Jeffrey who could eat the entire bowlful, if he really wanted to): 332 calories, 27g carbs, 20 g fat, 12 g protein, 550 (gulp) mg sodium, 1 g sugar.

Beer Can Roasted Chicken

Note: I’ve moved this post over from an old cooking blog I started in February of 2011, but then kinda forgot about. There are good recipes there, but I really want all of my blogging to be in one place. Let’s be honest, I’m not good at keeping up with one blog, so how would I keep up with two? :)

February 3, 2011: I almost fell over when I saw this recipe listed in January 2011 Martha Stewart Living! I guess I never pictured Martha poppin’ the top on a can of beer. However, I’ve come to trust that most recipes in MSL – no matter how odd sounding – are worth a shot (no pun intended… ok, maybe a little bit intended).

This recipe goes super well with Thyme + Garlic Roasted Potatoes. I’ve changed it up a bit because the original recipe called for a fig jam pan sauce (Call a spade a spade, Martha. It’s gravy.). Fig jam isn’t on my list of pantry staples and because I’ve never tasted a fig I like, I wasn’t about to buy it just for this recipe. I substituted a little blackberry jam and some lemon juice (I know it sounds odd, but trust me) and it turned out really great! Enjoy!
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • coarse salt
  • 1 can stout, such as Guinness (If you and your fellow eaters can ingest gluten, I wouldn’t change this – the Guinness not only gives a deep flavor to the chicken, but Guinness cans are tall, which helps support the chicken better in the pan – a super important quality since you’ll pull the bird in and out of the oven a few times. I haven’t made this yet with a gluten-free beer, but I’ll update when I do to let you know which beer[s] are good/better. I’ve read there are some serious flavor issues with most gluten-free beers, especially stouts.)
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme (OK… so I used 2 large bunches. Yum.)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (Gluten-free, if you please!)
  • 2 tablespoons fig jam (I would definitely recommend blackberry jam because it gives another deep flavor and just the right amount of sweetness… a splash of lemon juice helped to brighten it up a bit, too.)

Directions

Take all your oven racks out save one. Put that one rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 450º.

If your chicken is damp, dry it with paper towels. Rub butter on skin and season with salt.

Pour out 1/2 cup of the beer and reserve it for the pan sauce (ahem – gravy) later. Drop the thyme bunch(es) into the can. Poke a couple of extra wholes in the top of the can and place in in the middle of an oven-safe skillet. (I used my large cast iron skillet, which worked out really nicely for when I made the gravy.)

OK - I promise I didn't make this just because it looks funny, but you have to admit - it looks funny!

OK – I promise I didn’t make this just because it looks funny, but you have to admit – it looks funny!

Place the chicken over the can. With the tall Guinness can, I had no trouble getting the chicken to stand upright and stay stable. Martha recommends using the legs to act as a tripod, if you need some help balancing it.

Carefully move the skillet to the preheated oven. Roast for 20 minutes. Take the chicken out of the oven, baste it with the pan juices, and then return it to the oven. (Remember, the oven is 450º, so I wouldn’t recommend reaching in to try to baste it.)

First basting - already looking yummy!

First basting – already looking yummy!

Remove the can from the chicken (that was the trickiest step of all and required Sweet Husband’s help), discard the beer in the can, and allow the chicken to rest on a platter for 10 minutes before carving it.

While the chicken is resting, place the skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan drippings are sizzling, add the reserved beer. Add flour to the pan while whisking rapidly to avoid clumping. Whisk in blackberry jam and just a splash (not too much!) of lemon juice. Use chicken stock (or vegetable, or beef – whatever you have) to thin out the sauce according to your preference.

It only took like 45 minutes and it was so easy!

It only took like 45 minutes and it was so easy!

beer can roasted chicken 4

Any meal that looks like it took way more effort and time than it really did gets a bajillion bonus points in my book.

Yield: 8 servings

I don’t have the nutritional stats on this one yet because I haven’t made it since I started using MyFitnessPal.com. Next time I make it, you can bet I’ll be coming up with Nutritional info so I can count the calories (although… I probably don’t want to know!).

gluten freeEasy Gluten-Free Substitution

Again, you can easily make this Gluten Free by making sure that you use gluten-free all purpose flour (or corn starch, but remember to cut the measurement in half if you go this route!) and a gluten-free canned beer. Again, I’m not sure what gluten-free beer would be a good fit here, but I’m willing to do some testing and let you know! If you have any suggestions, please share in the comments. I’m not really much of a beer-drinker, so I hate to have to spend beaucoup bucks testing a bunch of different brands!