Monday, November 21, 2011

Baked Acorn Squash with Bacon

 Baked squash is one of my favorite fall and winter foods. I loved them even as a child as I wasn't a picky eater at all. I watched in anticipation as my mother would prepare acorn squash for baking, and then when they were almost done, she'd add brown sugar, bacon, and butter to the cavity wherer the seeds had been. You don't need a recipe for this dish, just a large sharp knife and a steady hand. I also found a Carnival squash to bake along side the acorn. It's bright and colorful, but still tastes like the acorn squash. You can use brown sugar or maple syrup in these beauties, and use as much, or as little butter that you want. The butter and sugar combo does soak into the squash as it sits, so it's best to serve them fairly soon after they come out of the oven.
If you can, cut of the stem from the squash. Then holding onto the squash, cut through it from the stem to the pointed end. Take a spoon and scape out all the seeds and as much of the stringy fibers that you can.
 Now you have cups to hold that wonderful filling! Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the squash cut side down on the pan. They need to cook upside down so the interior will stay tender. After they are done, turn over and fill with as much brown sugar, or maple syrup, and butter as you want. Add bacon then too, or wait until ready to eat. It's your call when to add the cooked bacon.
You will need 1 squash for every 2 people. Try to buy squash that are similar in size for baking. Baking time will vary, depending on the size of the squash.

1. Cook bacon in a skillet. You will need 1 slice of bacon for each squash half. Crumble when it's cool. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Wash the squah; dry. With a large knife, cut the squash in half from the stem end to the pointed end. Using a spoon scoop out all the seeds and the stringy fibers and discard.
3. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Lay squash cut side down on pan and place in the oven.
4. Bake until the squash feels close to done when touched. Depending on the size, it can take from 30-45 mintues to be almost tender. With a spatula, turn the squash halves over. Add butter and brown sugar to each squash. I used about 1 tablespoon brown sugar to each, and added about 2 teasppons butter also. You may use more, and I'm sure I have used more than this before, because I don't measure. I just eyeball it. More is better in this case! You can also use maple syrup instead of brown sugar. Place the squash back into the oven and bake about 15 minutes more until the squash is tender. Remove from oven and add crumbled bacon to each squash.
I have to admit, I eat the squash with a spoon sometimes, ( most of the time ). I scrape all the squash together and mix it with the fillings. With a spoon I can get every last tidbit of deliciousness!
NOTE: You can test for tenderness by poking the flesh of the squash with a fork. If it is soft, it is done. Just don't poke through the shell, or the filling will run out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sausage and Cornbread Dressing

 I love dressing. It is one of my favorite components of Thanksgiving dinner. I like it better than turkey. I'll even take it over mashed potatoes. For me, dressing is on the same level as homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and apple pie.
I've always made an all bread stuffing, but I have memories of eating a super delicious cornbread stuffing years ago at a church dinner. This Cook's Country recipe is wonderful, perfect in almost every way, and reminded me of that long ago dressing. You need to make the corn bread a couple of days ahead, to cut down on food preparations on the big day. I made only half the recipe, because a 9x13 pan is way too much for just my hubby and me. He stills prefers a bread stuffing, but I have been in heaven with this stuff. Even though this recipe contains sausage, the dressing would be equally delicious without the meat. I did double the sage and  I added alittle bit of sugar (gasp!) to the cornbread recipe. I'm one of those people that like some sweetness to the cornbread. Here's the full recipe, for the cornbread, and then the dressing, with my changes added.

Sausage and Cornbread Stuffing
Slightly adapted from America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country.
Cornbread can be made up to 2 days ahead to have time to stale.

Cornbread Recipe:
2 2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
4 large eggs
2 cups cornmeal
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar- my addition

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan. In a bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and oil. In another bowl combine, flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, whisking until smooth.
2. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden and toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan.
3. If the cornbread is made 2 days in advance, you may not need to oven-dry the cornbread. If using freshly baked cornbread, cut cooled bread into 1 inch cubes and place on 2 baking sheets. Place pans in a250 degree oven for about 50-60 minutes. Cool.

1 1/2 pounds bulk pork sausage- I used Jimmy Dean
2 onions, finely chopped
4 ribs celery, finely chopped-- the recipe calls for 3 ribs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves minced garlic- recipe calls for 4 cloves
2 teaspoons dried sage- Recipe calls for 1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme- recipe calls for 1 teaspoon thyme
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth- I needed a little more
1 cup half and half
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper- recipe calls for 1/8 teaspoon

1. Cook sausage in a skillet over medium high heat, but turn heat down if it begins to burn. Transfer sausage to a paper towel lined plate, reserving 2 tablespoons of grease in the skillet and adding 2 tablespoons of butter also. I did not have hardly any grease, so I added 4 of the tablespoons of butter to the skillet. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sage, thyme and garlic to the pan and saute about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, and remove the pan from the heat. Cool about 5 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, salt and cayenne. Slowly stir in the warm broth mixture. Fold  in the cubed cornbread and the cooked sausage. Let the mixture sit, tossing occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Pour the dressing mixture into the pan and drizzle with the leftover melted butter. I forgot to do that and didn't really miss it, but more butter is great in stuffing. The dressing still came out golden and delicious. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve and enjoy.

Are you a fan of cornbread dressing, or do you prefer a bread dressing?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Easy Cranberry and Apple Cake from Ina Garten

 This is an awesome tasting cake. One reason I wanted to try this cake was because it is small. Since my husband and I are now empty nesters, I don't want lots of dessert sitting around. Another reason for this cake is because I love cranberries and apples together. The cranberries and apple are mixed with brown sugar, cinnamon, orange juice and zest, and placed in baking dish. Then batter is spread over the berry mixture and it bakes and is ready to eat as soon as it comes out of the oven, if you wish! And boy does it smell good while baking! It is better served warm, so there's no torture waiting for it to cool down. Add whipped cream or ice cream if you wish. I like it best without adornment, so I can taste the lovely tart fruit that is infused with cinnamon and orange. I'm addicted. The only changes I made were minor; I used low fat sour cream because that's what I had. I only used the zest from 1 orange, instead of 2. This Cranberry and Apple Cake would be delicious anytime, even for Thanksgiving dinner. I even had it for breakfast this morning (hehe). I hope you'll give it a try.
Easy Cranberry and Apple Cake
adapted slightly from Ina Garten
NOTE: There is no baking powder or soda in this recipe.
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup light brown sugar
zest of 1 orange- Ina says 2 oranges zested
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided ( 1/8 teas. for topping)
2 large eggs- Ina uses extra large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
1 stick unsalted butter - 1/4 pound
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream - I used lowfat because that's what I had
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine cranberries, diced apple, brown sugar, orange juice and zest, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium high speed for 2 minutes. Add the 1 cup sugar, melted butter, vanilla and sour cream and beat until just combined. Slowly add the flour and salt at low speed.
Pour the fruit mixture into a 10 inch pie plate. Pour or spoon the batter over the fruit, covering completely. Sprinkle top with mixture of 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake for 55-60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Try not to eat the whole thing!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Easy Slow Cooker Stew

Stew is one of my favorite meals to have during the cold months of the year. Cooking it in the slow cooker makes it super easy. Last week when my Mother-in-law passed away, we had extra people to feed, so I dug out my crock pot and got to work. Peeling the potatoes and carrots were the most time consuming. Plus, I cut up a chuck roast, instead of buying stew meat. By using a roast, I feel I'm using a better quality of beef for the stew. When making stew, there doesn't need to be a recipe. Just use the vegetables you like and  you can also use up any leftover veggies you may have in the fridge.
Here's what I did this time.

Slow Cooker Stew
1 beef chuck roast, cut into cubes- I had a 2 1/4 pound roast
potatoes, peeled and cubed
carrots, peeled and sliced- I used almost 1 pound this time
1 onion, diced
2 ribs of celery, sliced
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen peas
1 can diced tomatoes
green beans and any other vegetables you want to use
1 can low sodium beef broth
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the beef roast into cubes. Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan, and then add half of the beef cubes. Add salt and pepper to the meat. Brown meat in the hot oil turning when browned on one side. While the beef browns, peel and cut up the potatoes and carrots and add them to the crock pot. Then, remove the beef and add to the crock pot. Add another tablespoon of oil to the dutch oven and add the rest of the beef. When it is brown on the side, stir and add the chopped onion and garlic, if using. Turn the heat down if necessary to keep the pan from burning.
Add the beef broth to the browning meat and stir up all the brown bits that are in the pan. There will be a ton of flavor in those brown bits from the meat. Don't skip browning the meat for the stew as browning gives it so much flavor. Add all the meat and broth to the slow cooker, the tomatoes, then the rest of the vegetables you are going to use. Fill the cooker with water to cover the stew. Add the bay leaves and salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Sometimes I thicken the stew a bit by adding 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to about 1/4 cup water. Mix well and add to the stew, stirring carefully. Cover the stew and cook another 30 minutes. When done, you have a delicious hot stew to warm you up. Enjoy!
This coming week I'll be posting some Thanksgiving recipes, so be sure to stop back by!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm back! My daughter is happily married and life has slowed down a bit now, so I am ready to to blog again.
Boy do I love this time of year! We have had the most beautiful fall; The trees are just now turning their brillant colors, the air is crisp and there are pumpkins decorating almost every porch. I love just about anything made with pumpkin, so I deciced to make pumpkin cookies for the first time. Why I haven't made them before now, I don't know. I usually make bars, bread or pie and stop there. But I've added these delicious cookies to my recipe box now. these Pumpkin Cookies are cake-like, soft and moist, and topped with addictive cream cheese frosting. I made these and took a platter full to a meeting I went to and they were devoured quickly. It's hard to eat just one of cookies. I dare you to make these and eat just one! Here's the recipe.

Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix butter, sugar together until smooth. Then add the agg; mixwell and add the 1 cup pumpkin.
In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients with the pumpkin mixture in 2 parts. Mix well. Dough is going to be very soft. I used a tablespoon to measure the dough for cookies. You can refridgerate the dough to make it a bit easier to handle, if desired. Scoop dough evenly onto baking sheets and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake 9-10minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completly before frosting with the Cream Cheese Frosting.

 !/2 cup softened butter
1- 8 ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugat
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese together with a mixer. Add the vanilla and then the powdered sugar, a little at a time. Mix until smooth and creamy. If the frosting is too stiff add a little milk or cream to loosen a bit.

NOTE: I only used about half of the frosting on these cookies. But since the cookies are not very sweet, you may want to use more than I did.
These are awesome cookies!