Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

We've lived in our home for almost 34 years now.  Most of our neighbors have lived here as long, or longer.  Our children are grown and there aren't too many young families around us, so the trick or treaters who come to our door are mostly strangers. We get a lot of them, I have no idea where they come from!  I have a big bowl of candy for them but I always make a special treat for the neighborhood kids and our neighbors' grandkids.

 This year the kids are getting this Caramel Snack Mix.  It's like a combination of caramel corn and Chex mix. It's utterly irresistible! To make it Halloween-festive, I added candy corn, and two varieties of M & M's. I omitted the peanuts today, so many kids have peanut allergies these days.
Our granddaughter spent the night last night so our jack o' lanterns are ready to be lit. Halloween is such a fun holiday!
An upside-down bat!

Caramel Snack Mix

3 quarts popped popcorn
4 cups Cheerios
4 cups Corn or Rice Chex
2 cups salted peanuts
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Candy of your choosing (M & M's, candy pumpkins, candy corn)

Spray a large roasting pan with cooking spray. Combine the popcorn, cereal and peanuts. 

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corny syrup and butter; bring to a rolling boil.  Boil for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat; quickly stir in vanilla and baking soda until mixture is light and foamy.

Immediately pour over popcorn mixture; toss to coat.  Bake, uncovered, at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Stir in candy.  Cool completely.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

No-Sew Burlap Table Runner

I had a monogrammed burlap table runner that I made a few years ago.  Last year we spilled red wine on it (oops!) and I couldn't get the stain out.  I wanted another burlap runner to complement my fall decorating, but didn't want to take the time to sew one. While watching football a few weeks back I whipped this one out.  I like how it turned out; it's a little rustic but softened up a bit with the satin ribbon.

I've gotten frustrated in the past while working with burlap.  It's a very loose-weave fabric and frays as it's being looked at, I think! It's hard to get a straight cut. The clerk at the fabric store enlightened me to a neat trick as she was cutting the fabric for me. She ripped out one of the threads, then used that as the cutting line. Well, how nifty is that?!!
To make this runner I measured how wide and long I wanted it to be.  I identified the thread that was closest to the point of measurement. I followed that thread to the raw end of the fabric and tugged at the thread.  I then gently pulled the thread, holding on to the fabric, so that the thread slid out of the burlap.  That became my cutting line. 

To make the space for the ribbon I marked where I wanted the ribbon to go and how wide the opening needed to be.  I pulled out enough threads so that the ribbon would fit. 
After that it was a matter of weaving the ribbon in and out of the fabric (I went every 5 threads).  To make it easier to weave, I attached a safety pin to the end of the ribbon. 
This is easily a no-sew project.  As the burlap does fray so easily, I ran a quick zig-zag stitch about one-inch in to limit the amount of fray.
I found the most beautiful tulips at the flower mart!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Honey Sriracha Orange Chicken

Even though it's almost November, we are still grilling in central California. For those of you that are already confined to indoor cooking, this chicken dish can easily been done on a grill pan on your stove.  You must try it, it is so good!
The sauce is the star of this dish. It's got a little heat, a little sweet. I love hoisin sauce and never thought to pair it with Sriracha. Yum!   Though it has quite a few ingredients, the dish is easy to put together, takes just minutes to mix it all up.  The marinade doubles as the glaze by the addition of some cornstarch.  Twice the flavor with no extra work! I'll take that!  We loved the glaze.  In fact, we liked it so much, we were dipping each bite of chicken in it.  I could have drank it, it was so good!
So many wonderful flavors in this glaze!

Honey Sriracha Orange Chicken
(adapted from

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (found in Asian section of grocery store)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Sriracha (Asian hot red chili sauce)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade in a medium bowl. Add 1/3 cup of the marinade to a large Ziploc bag; whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the chicken and marinate 60 minutes, up to overnight in the refrigerator. Refrigerate the reserved marinade separately.

When ready to grill, let the chicken sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease and preheat the grill to medium heat.

Separate 3 tablespoons from reserved glaze into a small bowl. Add the remaining glaze to a small saucepan and whisk with 2 teaspoons cornstarch; set aside.

Drain the chicken from the marinade.  Grill the chicken, 7 to 8 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through (165 degrees F), basting with the 3 tablespoons separated marinade.

While the chicken is grilling, bring ingredients in saucepan to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Brush glaze on cooked chicken and/or serve glaze on the side for dipping.

Garnish the chicken with orange zest and green onions, if desired.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Apple Butter Pound Cake

This cake caught my eye when I saw it on the cover of Southern Lady magazine.  I thought it would be a perfect fall dessert and another use for all the apple butter I've been making. I've made two cakes now, though only one got served to anyone.  The first time I neglected to add the 2 cups of sugar. How I did that is still a mystery!  The second attempt was much more successful, I'm happy to say!
The cake has the texture of a traditional pound cake but the brown sugar in the batter makes it a little less un-traditional.  I loved the layer of pecans, apple butter and brown sugar! Oh, my, it is good!

Like many pound cake recipes, it is put into a cold oven.  The cake is dense so doesn't need a burst of hot air to make it rise.  The transition from a cold to warm oven also allows for the nice, crispy crust that pound cakes are known for.  

I thought the glaze recipe made enough for two cakes and was thinner than the magazine picture, even after I added more confectioners' sugar.  Next time I will halve the recipe and probably still increase the amount of sugar.

Using a stand mixer definitely makes the mixing process go easier as the sugar and butter mixture gets beat for quite a while. As I was babysitting this day, the 10 minute mixing time enabled me to step away for a few minutes and change a diaper!
My baking assistant!

My instincts were correct and it's a wonderful fall treat. Like all Bundt cakes, it stores and transports easily. This cake will make a great addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table!

It even looks pretty unglazed, with the apple butter swirl peeking through!

Apple Butter Pound Cake

1 cup apple butter
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar, divided
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Glaze (recipe follows)

Spray a 15-cup Bundt pan with baking spray with flour.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together apple butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and pecans.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, and baking powder.  Set aside.

In bowl of mixer, or a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium-high speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add remaining 1 cup brown sugar, sugar, and salt; beat at high speed for 10 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well combined.

Spoon one-third of batter into prepared pan.  Spoon half of apple butter mixture over batter in pan.  Top with another third of batter, remaining half of apple butter mixture, and the remaining batter. Using a knife, pull blade back and forth through batter to swirl the apple butter layers. Smooth top with an offset spatula.

Place in a cold oven.  Bake at 300 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.  Drizzle with glaze.

Glaze (see comments above)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved, approximately 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, and let cool for 10 minutes.  Whisk in confectioners' sugar.

I found this little gadget at Sur La Table; it's a combination whisk & sifter.  Works great for mixing up flour with other ingredients!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cheddar, Apple and Pastrami Grilled Cheese

So far this fall, I've made two batches of apple butter. It's one of my favorite spreads.  This recipe hit my Facebook feed last week and I knew I had to make it.  I confess to never considering putting apple butter in a sandwich.  I've been officially enlightened, oh my goodness, it makes an amazing addition!
The grocery store I went to on the way home from work didn't have white cheddar so I used a white artisan cheese.  It didn't melt very well, but the sandwich was still good.  My Hubbers requested that I put this in the regular rotation; that's always a nice request and confirmation the recipe was a success!

Cheddar, Apple and Pastrami Grilled Cheese

3 tablespoons apple butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt
4 1/2-inch-thick slices sourdough bread
8 ounces aged white Cheddar, thinly sliced or coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
2 ounces thinly sliced pastrami
6 to 10 very thin slices of apple
Unsalted butter, softened

Combine the apple butter, mustard, honey, and a good pinch of kosher salt in a small bowl.  Spread evenly on two slices of bread and top with half the cheese and pastrami. Top that with a layer of sliced apple, overlapping the slices slightly, and the remaining cheese. Top with the other slices of bread to make two sandwiches.

Spread butter on outside of bread. Grill in warmed skillet or in panini press.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Christmas Tags

I have wrapped my first Christmas gift of the season.  I'm about 2/3 done with the shopping. I dislike shopping, especially with crowds and holiday stress, so I always start and finish early. You definitely won't find me in a store on Christmas Eve!
Many years ago, a friend gave me her Christmas wrapping tip.  She buys one type of paper each year and every gift gets wrapped in that.  She may use different coordinating ribbons or bows, but the paper is all the same. I've been doing the same thing ever since she told me. I find it so helpful.  I usually order the paper and ribbon online or buy at the local floral/gift supply store. When it's time to wrap I only have to bring out the one (usually large) roll.  I don't have to worry if I have enough paper on a roll to wrap a certain gift or if I have a bow to match the paper picked. I have less to store at the end of season and can often go a season or two with the same paper. It works for me!

The last few years I've been making my own gift tags. I coordinate them with that year's wrapping paper.  For me, part of the fun of giving a gift is for it to look nice, to make the recipient feel special. Making the gift tags is my little creative twist!
I've been working on these tags for the last few weeks. I'm an avid NFL fan and have a TV in my craft room. During the games I worked on the tags.  One week I cut all the shapes out, another week I glued the pieces together, the final Sunday I added the ribbon.  It's mindless work but it keeps me occupied while the games are on.  Very seldom do I just sit and watch TV.  My hands have to be moving!

I cut the tag and Christmas tree shapes using my Silhouette digital cutter machine. I have so much to learn about this little toy, it's amazing all the things you can do with it! Every project I learn something new!
I ran the tags through my Big Shot machine, using a snowflake embossing folder to give the tags a little more texture.

Once all my pieces were assembled it was just a matter of gluing them to the tags. Again, such an easy thing to do while watching the games! I should have enough made to get me through this Christmas season!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sausage, Spinach and Mushroom Gnocchi

After attending a gnocchi-making class it was time to take what I had learned and do it in my own kitchen.  Without a teacher to guide me, I was a little insecure but I had to try sometime! It was easy, I had no problems. The little tips our chef had given us helped me along. My Hubbers was so impressed, which is always a good thing!

Making gnocchi is very similar to making pasta, the only difference being gnocchi is made with potatoes.  It's a matter of lightly mixing and kneading the potatoes, flour and eggs until a smooth dough is formed.  Lightly is the key word, working the dough too much makes for a tough gnocchi dough. No mixing bowls or spoons, just the oldest cooking tool of all, our hands!

Some gnocchi recipes call for the potatoes to be boiled, some are baked.  After reading many gnocchi recipes and articles, I decided to stick with baking the potatoes, same as we did in class.  They have less moisture this way, so you don't need as much flour. A potato ricer is a must.  It's like a large garlic press; the potatoes are pressed through it resulting in rice-size pieces of potato.  Again, this makes for a lighter gnocchi.
After being put through the potato ricer, the rice-sized pieces of cooked potato are ready for the eggs and flour.

I used a gnocchi board to make ridges on the gnocchi.
I've had gnocchi many times but always with a traditional marinara-type sauce.  During our class we made two very untraditional sauces so I was determined to do the same with my first batch of gnocchi.  I found a mixture with Italian sausage, mushrooms & spinach. I knew my Hubbers would love that. It was a filling dinner and one I will make again. 

As it was just the two of us for dinner, I had extra uncooked gnocchi that I froze for another day. I'm looking forward to trying other sauces and types of gnocchi. Our 2-hour class was full of great instruction and built up my confidence to make gnocchi at home!

Homemade Gnocchi (adapted from recipe by Lidia Bastianich)

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, scrambled
1 1/4 cup flour, plus more if necessary

Bake or boil potatoes until potatoes are soft and can be pierced with a fork.  Cool until able to touch.

Peel potatoes and cut in half.  Put each half in a potato ricer and push potato through.  Repeat with the rest of the potatoes.

Spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet (I used my countertop), sprinkle with salt and let cool.

Once the potatoes are cool, pile in a rectangular mound.  Pour eggs** over the potatoes and sprinkle with the flour.  Using your hands, slowly incorporate all the ingredients.

Once all the ingredients are incorporated, gently knead dough until smooth.  DO NOT OVERKNEAD.

Divide the dough into four quarters.  Using your hands, roll each quarter into a rope, about 1/2 inch thick.  Use flour as needed.

Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut gnocchi rope into 1/2-inch pieces. 

If desired, make ridges on the gnocchi using a gnocchi board or the tines of a fork.  Doing so helps the sauce adhere to the gnocchi.

**  My eggs were large so I didn't use all of them.

To cook the gnocchi:  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Season liberally with salt.  Add gnocchi and cook for 7-8 minutes, or until gnocchi rise to the top. Don't overcrowd the pan, work in batches if necessary.

Sausage, Spinach and Mushroom Sauce

3/4 pound Italian sausage (mild or spicy)
1 small diced onion
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
10 ounces of chopped fresh spinach
Salt & pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Brown sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat and break it into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon.  Add the onion and mushrooms to the skillet and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the skillet and gently toss to evenly distribute the ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper.

Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marshmallow Cereal Treats

We had a pumpkin patch party to attend, my contribution was to bring a dessert.  I've been wanting to try a new recipe for an apple butter pound cake so thought that this party would be a good time to make it.  I gathered all the ingredients which included 5 eggs, 3 sticks of butter, 8 ounces of cream cheese, pecans, apple butter, flour, etc. My kitchen smelled wonderful, the cake released from the pan with no problem. As it was cooling, I reviewed the recipe and my heart dropped; I hadn't added the sugar! Oh no! Now what to bring?

So I had to go to Plan B.  The granddaughters love Rice Krispie treats and they are easy and quick to make. I didn't have enough Rice Krispies in the cabinet, but I had a full box of Trix (Nana's must always be prepared!), so I substituted. I had some rainbow-colored mini marshmallows and threw them in at the end. I liked this addition, there was the melted marshmallows and bits of fruit-flavored marshmallows, along with the cereal. A little drizzle of melted orange candy coating and we had a treat suitable for a pumpkin party!
They aren't fancy but, to be honest, I'm sure the kids enjoyed them more than they would have the pound cake. Sometimes you just have to resort to the easy, tried and true treats! The pound cake is on my agenda to make again, let's hope I don't have another senior baking moment!

Marshmallow Cereal Treats

4 tablespoons butter
40 large marshmallows or 10 ounce bag mini marshmallows
6 cups Fruit Loops
10 ounce bag rainbow marshmallows

Combine butter and marshmallows in a large microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave, in 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until marshmallows and butter are melted. Stir thoroughly so that the butter and marshmallows are fully incorporated. Working  quickly, stir in cereal and rainbow marshmallows. With buttered hands, pat into a buttered 9x13-inch pan. Let cool before cutting into squares.

This is all it takes!

Granddaughter approved!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Cream Sauce

We love salmon and it's quite often in our meal rotation. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to serve salmon as I get very bored making things the same way. I've had this recipe earmarked for a while now, after tasting it I'm not sure why I waited so long to try it! 
This dinner dish is so quick to put together, it just needs to marinate 30 minutes or so, before roasting. I came home from work, threw the marinade together and tossed in the salmon. The sauce is easy to put together, too.  While the salmon was marinating, I made the sauce and did a few chores. I love when I can multi-task on a weeknight!

The sauce calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk.  I think the next time I make this I will leave this out and add a little sugar instead.  I now have an opened container of the condensed milk that needs to be used! Not sure that is going to happen. To make it even healthier, I think a plain Greek yogurt would work in place of the mayonnaise. But, you have to add the Sriracha, it adds just the right punch!  The sauce is a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy.  If you like things real spicy just add more Sriracha.

Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Cream Sauce
(Adapted from

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons honey
4 (5-ounce) salmon filets

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons Sriracha (to taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

To make the Sriracha cream sauce, whisk together the mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons Sriracha and condensed milk in a small bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup water; set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic powder, honey and 1 cup water; bring to a simmer.  Add in the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes; let cool to room temperature.

In a gallon size Ziploc bag or large bowl, combine teriyaki marinade and salmon filets; marinate for at least 30 minutes to overnight, turning the bag occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly coat an 8x8-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Place salmon filets, along with the marinade, into the prepared baking dish and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Serve salmon immediately with the Sriracha cream sauce.

I served the salmon over ginger rice and with a side of veggies.  I think most of the food groups were covered!  Have you seen The Pioneer Woman's new dish and cookware line? I bought a set of her red dishes.  My husband doesn't understand why I needed more dishes.  What's not to understand? I didn't have any red ones!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Girlfriends and Gnocchi

Every year or so three of my home town girlfriends and I get together for a girls weekend. The last time we were able to meet was in January 2014 (recap here). During that getaway we made homemade ravioli.  We had so much fun that I thought it would be equally fun to take a cooking class together.  So we booked a gnocchi cooking class at Sur la Table in San Francisco and made all the necessary arrangements to spend the weekend together. What fun we had!
I had previously attempted making gnocchi for dinner one time while my children still lived at home.  They weren't impressed with the dense, hockey-puck consistency, Italian potato dumplings that I presented them. I've since been intimidated to try again.  No one else in our group had made gnocchi before and Jody had never even tasted gnocchi.  So we all entered this class pretty much as newbies. The Chef and her staff had things very organized.  We had work stations fully equipped with the necessary tools as well as the food necessities. We made two types of gnocchi, the traditional potato gnocchi as well as a beet version. They weren't difficult to make at all.  
Using a potato ricer to make small, almost rice-like, pieces of cooked potato.
Rolling out the gnocchi.
We made two sauces for the gnocchi.  The plain gnocchi was
mixed with a corn, pancetta and sage sauce.  We all loved this, it was so fresh and earthy.  We added beet puree to the next batch of gnocchi which was topped with a cream sauce made with gorgonzola and wilted greens (we used spinach, chard and kale).  We were all in agreement that this dish was too rich for us, it would maybe be better as an appetizer.  I know I'll never make the sauce as my husband hates anything with blue cheese! I will make the beet gnocchi again, using a much simpler sauce.
We loved this gnocchi version the best!

The beet gnocchi simmering in the gorgonzola sauce.
We had a blast at the class, taking turns chopping, mixing the gnocchi dough, rolling them out, and cooking the sauces, laughing throughout the two hour session. We were definitely the most lively group in the class and we aren't ashamed of that! Probably the only thing that would've made the class better was some wine to drink, not just to cook with!

We're tossing around plans for our next gathering.  No matter where we go, what we do, I know we will have a good time. We often go awhile with no contact but when we meet up again it's as if we were never apart. We all realize how fortunate we are to maintain friendships started many years ago.