Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Toast to the New Year

"Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one." 
Brad Paisley
"Ring out the old, ring in the new / Ring, happy bells, across the snow / 
The year is going, let him go / Ring out the false, ring in the true."
English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson

... that today, besides being New Year's Eve Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians played "Auld Lang Syne" as a New Year's Eve song for the first time on this day in 1929. Auld Lang Syne had been the band's theme song long before 1929. However, this night was the start of a New Year's Eve tradition as Lombardo's famed orchestra played at the Hotel Roosevelt Grill in New York City to usher in the new year. 
Chocolate Mousse 

Cook’s notes:
Toast the New Year with this rich, decadent and oh, so good dessert and a bubbly glass of champagne. Serve the mousse in small demitasse-like cups. Add a plate of cookies and you are ready to ring in 2016. Makes 5-6 small servings. 
  • ¾ cup chilled heavy cream 
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature 
  • ¼ cup strong coffee or espresso at room temperature 
  • dash of salt 
  • 3 tsp. sugar, divided 
  • 1/8 tsp. crème of tartar 
  • 8 oz. of good quality semi-sweet chocolate chopped or bittersweet chocolate (61-72% cacao) 
  • 2-3 TB. Kahlua or Amaretto 
  • Separate yolks and whites. 
  • Beat 3/4 cup whipping cream and refrigerate. 
  • Combine egg yolks, coffee or espresso, salt and 2 tsp. sugar in a metal bowl. 
  • Whisk ingredients and set bowl in a larger pan of simmering water. 
  • Whisk constantly until mixture is lighter in color and has doubled in volume about 6-8 minutes. 
  • Remove bowl from water and stir in chopped chocolate pieces. Whisk until chocolate is blended into egg mixture. 
  • Add in Kahlua or Amaretto, mix well and cool to room temperature. 
  • Beat egg whites in another bowl with crème of tartar and remaining 1 tsp. sugar. Beat until firm peaks form. 
  • Gently fold egg whites into whipped cream mixture. 
  • Fold egg whites/whip cream mixtures into chocolate/egg mixture. 
  • Spoon into serving cups. Top with crushed almonds or toasted coconut. 
  • Refrigerate until serving. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One Dish Wonder- Asian Beef and Vegetables Stir Fry

Winding Down 2015 and Looking Forward to 2016 
One Dish Wonder
Asian Beef and Vegetables Stir Fry
Cook's notes: Stir fry dishes are one of the easiest, fastest and most convenient dishes to pull together when you are looking for something hearty and fulfilling. Using hoisin sauce as the key ingredient here, this dish is full of flavor when cooked with beef or chicken. If you haven’t already tried hoisin sauce, then think of it as a Chinese style barbecue soy sauce. Adding in sugar balances out the saltiness of the sauce.
  • 1-1/2 lb. thinly sliced flank steak or boneless sirloin steak
  • ¼ cup cream sherry
  • ¼ cup lite soy sauce
  • 2 TB. hoisin sauce
  • ¾ tsp. chili paste
  • ¾ tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. fresh minced ginger
  • 2 TB. sesame seeds
  • 4 green onion cut into 1 inch pieces or 1 cup red onion strips
  • 2 TB. sesame seeds
  • ½ cup water mixed with 2 TB. cornstarch
  • 2 TB. cooking oil or use sesame oil for more flavor
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 medium carrots-thinly bias sliced
  • 8 oz. pea pods or sugar snap peas 
  • 4 cups of broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sweet red peppers cut in strips
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 4-6 cups of cooked rice
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cashews
  • Partially freeze beef and then thinly bias slice across the grain.
  • In a bowl combine soy sauce, sherry, hoisin sauce, sugar, chili paste, ¾ tsp. sesame oil, and ginger.
  • Add beef and sesame seeds to this mixture to coat beef.
  • Cover beef and marinade and chill mixture for 2 hrs. Stir once or twice.
  • Stir in water mixed with cornstarch.
  • Drain beef reserving marinade.
  • Add 2 TB. oil to wok, stir fry carrots, pea pods, broccoli florets, onions and garlic.
  • Remove the veggies from wok, add beef and stir fry beef about 3 minutes until strips are not pink.
  • To meat mixture add cornstarch/water mixture, veggies, spinach and reserved marinade. Cook on low heat, covered until thickened about 2-4 minutes. May need to add a little more water. 
  • Serve over brown or jasmine rice or noddles. Garnish with cashews.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

One Pot Wonder-Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Bake and Frugal But Festive Ideas to Celebrate New Years Eve

Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Bake
Cook's notes: This dish really is so easy. You just boil the pasta, drain the water, add the pasta right back to the hot pot. Mix in all the remaining ingredients and give it a really good toss until a creamy, basily sauce forms. It’s like magic. Cooked shrimp or cooked cubed chicken can be added as options.
Recipe adapted from

  • 1 lb. fettuccine 
  • 1 TB. butter
  • 1 cup chunky basil pesto-(store bought)
  • 1-2 (8 oz.) jars of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 1/3 cup enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, oil drained,patted dry on a paper towel
  • 8 oz. sheep's milk feta cheese, crumbled (may sub regular feta, but the sheep's milk is creamier)
  • 6 oz. fontina cheese, finely diced or shredded
  • 2 oz. low fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup low fat cream 
  • salt + pepper
  • 6 oz. (or more) fresh low fat mozzarella shredded or cheese, sliced
  • handful each of fresh basil and baby spinach
  • tom-tom (grape/cherry) tomatoes, halved, for serving
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken or 3 cups cooked shrimp (depends on their size) 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large stock pot or Dutch Oven of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente. Drain the pasta and add it right back to the hot pot. To the pot add the butter, pesto, pasta sauce, enchilada sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, sheep's milk feta cheese, fontina cheese, cream cheese, heavy cream, fresh basil and spinach. 
  • Season with pepper and a tiny pinch of salt. Using a large wooden spoon toss everything together until a creamy sauce has formed, about 3-5 minutes. Add in shrimp or chicken. 
  • If pot is not oven safe, transfer the pasta to a 9x13 inch baking dish. Place the mozzarella slices (or shredded mozzarella) on top of the pasta.
  • Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly.
  • Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil.  Allow to sit five minutes and then serve with fresh tom-tom tomatoes.

there are ways to be frugal yet still be festive for New Year's Eve. 
Visit your local thrift store and buy some inexpensive clocks. You can then gather all of the clocks along with some glitter or gold and silver ball ornaments onto a platter (get a faux silver platter from the dollar store if you don’t already have one). It makes the perfect New Year’s Eve centerpiece.
This New Year’s Eve Party Favor from Create Craft Love (includes the FREE printable) is such cute take on the kissing at midnight thing! To make it part of your decor, you can arrange these in a basket with a large bow to greet guests.
Provide each guest with a bag that has a different time on the front. At the appointed hour a designated bag is opened and an activity is announced. Inside the bag are materials needed for the activity.
Countdown Balloons
Fill several balloons with helium and tie them in a row to help mark the hours as you countdown to midnight. This is especially helpful for a party with kids who keep asking “How much longer?” :-) You could also do these balloons without helium and just tape them to a door or wall. Pop one each hour, on the hour, until midnight!

Monday, December 28, 2015

One Pan-One Pot- One Dish Wonders

Keep It Simple
This week's postings include delicious one pot, one pan or one dish wonders for convenient cooking with holiday guests.
 One Pan Honey Balsamic Chicken
Cook's notes:This dish is so easy cooked on a baking sheet. Advance prep marinating chicken ahead for 2 hours and up to 24 hours.  
Recipe adapted from three sources BHG, Cooking Classy and Damn Delicious and serves four.
  • 10 baby red potatoes, halved 
  • 2 TB. olive oil 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed or 1 pound green beans
  • 1-1/2 cups matchstick carrots or thinly sliced baby carrots
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 2 TB. chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 4 TB. good quality balsamic vinegar, divided 
  • 3 TB. honey, divided
  • 1 TB. Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. flour
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 TB. balsamic vinegar, 2 TB. honey, Dijon, garlic, oregano and basil; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • In a gallon size Ziploc bag or large bowl, combine balsamic vinegar mixture and chicken; marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight, turning the bag occasionally. Drain the chicken from the marinade. Reserve the marinade.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  • Place potatoes and carrots in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Arrange chicken around potatoes and carrots. 
  • Place in oven and roast until the chicken is completely cooked through, reaching an internal temperature of 165 degrees about 25-30 minutes. Turn chicken over once during baking time.
  • While chicken is cooking to a saucepan add reserved marinade, 1 TB. balsamic vinegar, 1 TB. honey and 1 tsp. flour. Thicken slightly and brush on chicken once or twice during cooking time.  The last 10 minutes of cooking time add in asparagus or green beans and tomatoes. Drizzle with a little olive oil. 

    • Serve immediately, garnish with parsley, if desired

    A fun family activity. It's not too late to make New Year Wishing Wands.
    Love this idea for kids New Years' Eve wishing wands - great way to make resolutions too.:

    Step by step directions for children to make wands- a fun family activity

    Next Posting:Tomato Basil Pasta with Shrimp

    Saturday, December 26, 2015

    Weekend Round-Up

    Cook's notes: Presenting Some of the Best Ever Ready 2015
    month by month favorites with links to the recipes
    I thought you might be interested in knowing what were some of my favorites from the past year. As I scrolled through the months all I could think of was "Did I really cook all that food?" And indeed I did! It was challenging choosing which recipes to repost. Enjoy a look backwards.   
    January 2015
    Salted Nut Bars
    February 2015

    Southern Buttermilk Red Velvet Cake
    March 2015

    Asparagus Spinach Quiche

    April 2015

    Creamy Tomato Parmesan and Spinach Tortellini Soup
    May 2015

    Provencal Shrimp and Walleye in Foil Packets
    June 2015

    Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
    July 2015

    Pesto Appetizers
    August 2015

    Copycat Chicken Lettuce Wraps
    September 2015

    Apple Crisp
    October 2015

    Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Wild Rice and Cranberries
    November 2015- A Tie

    Cranberry Pear Crumble

    M and M Bars 
    December 2015 Another Tie

    Overnight Bacon Breakfast Pie

    Wild Rice Salad with Cinnamon Pecan Butternut Squash and Cranberries l 

    be sure to check out Bella's latest blog to find out how her Christmas turned out. and her posted story 
    Woodland Treasures for WWN

    Friday, December 25, 2015

    Merry Christmas

    Assumption Church St. Paul, MN
    Wishing all of you the blessings of the season

    Thursday, December 24, 2015

    Christmas Message

    Well the stockings have been hung
    by the chimney with care. 
    The presents are wrapped
    and under the tree.
    Cookies and breads 
    placed on a tray
    now we wait for Christmas Eve 
    and Jesus' birth.

    that today is Silent Night Day? On this day in 1818, Franz Gruber of Oberndorf, Germany composed the music for "Silent Night" to words written by Josef Mohr. In 1863, nearly 50 years after being first sung in German, "Silent Night" was translated into English. Today the words of "Silent Night" are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.

    Join Bella as she tracks Santa's progress on his way to Minnesota!

    Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Twas The Night Before Christmas

    It was on this day in 1823 that the holiday poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel in New York. In recent years, there has been considerable debate as to the authorship.

    According to legend, Clement Clarke Moore wrote his immortal poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," also known as "The Night Before Christmas," for his family on Christmas Eve 1822. He never intended that it be published, but a family friend, Miss Harriet Butler, learned of the poem sometime later from Moore's children. She copied it into her album, and submitted it to the editor of the Troy (New York) Sentinel where it made its first appearance in print on December 23, 1823.
    Soon, the poem began to be reprinted in other newspapers, almanacs and magazines, with the first appearance in a book "The New York Book of Poetry in 1837". It was not until 1844, however, that Moore himself acknowledged authorship in a volume of his poetry entitled "Poems"published at the request of his children. One hundred and eighty years later it is the most-published, most-read, most-memorized and most-collected poem in all of Christmas literature. The poem is largely responsible for some of the conceptions of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today.

    A Visit from St.  Nicholas
    by Clement Clarke Moore

    'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
    In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
    The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
    While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
    And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
    Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
    When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
    I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
    Away to the window I flew like a flash,
    Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
    The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
    Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
    When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
    But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
    With a little old driver so lively and quick,
    I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
    More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
    And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
    "Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
    On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blixen!
    To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
    Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
    As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
    When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
    So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
    With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
    And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
    The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
    As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
    Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
    He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
    And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
    A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
    And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
    His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
    His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
    His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
    And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
    The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
    And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
    He had a broad face and a little round belly
    That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
    He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
    And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
    A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
    Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
    He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
    And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
    And laying his finger aside of his nose,
    And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
    He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
    And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
    But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
    “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

    Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House Inc., 1983)
    A visit from St. Nicholas or Santa would not be complete unless a plate of cookies and a glass milk were left out for him on Christmas Eve.
    Cook's notes:
    Chocolate Crackled Cookies that even the grown-ups will like. Using Saigon cinnamon elevates the cookie recipe to a whole new level. The recipe called for the addition of Ancho Chile Pepper. I wasn't sure Santa or my neighbors would like the spice so I skipped it for this batch. But it would be interesting to try another time.   
    Recipe from and makes about 2-1/2 dozen cookies.
    • 12 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided
    • 1 tsp. cream
    • 1 cup flour
    • 2 tsp. Saigon cinnamon 
    • 1 tsp. Ancho Chile Pepper
    • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 stick of butter or 1/4 cup
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 2 eggs lightly beaten
    • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
    • Mix flour, cinnamon, Ancho chile pepper, salt and baking powder. Set aside. 
    • Melt 8 oz. of the chocolate with cream in microwave. I used high for 12 seconds, stirred and then did another 12 seconds or until melted. Chop in rest of chocolate into small pieces. 
    • Beat butter, sugars on medium until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. mix well and add melted chocolate and beat until will mixed. Gradually add in flour on low speed until well combined. Stir in chopped pieces of chocolate.
    • Chill dough for 30 to 45 minutes. 
    • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
    • Flour hands and roll dough into balls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Bake for about 8 minutes until cookies are set and slightly cracked on top. 

    Tuesday, December 22, 2015

    Holiday Countdown

    Need any last minute ideas? Check these out
    Italian Cookies
    Cook's notes:These delicate cake-like cookies are glazed with icing and topped with colorful candy sprinkles. They have a mild anise flavoring, which is very typical of Italian baked goods. The cookies are the perfect bites of sweetness for this time of year and hard to stop at just one. Adding sprinkles make them all the more festive for your holiday tray or with a cup of tea. Recipe adapted from and makes about 5 dozen rolling the dough into 1 inch balls. It's a very easy recipe to make.
    For the cookies:
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1/4 cup shortening (margarine)
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 4 large eggs
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 5 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 2 tsp. anise extract or almond extract
    For the glaze:
    • 3-4 TB. milk
    • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
    • 1 tsp. anise extract
    • Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.
    • In the microwave melt butter and shortening  together in a bowl.
    • Beat the melted butter and shortening together until it is completely incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add granulated sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 minute each. Mix in anise extract.
    • Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture slowly, until fully incorporated. Don't over mix. If the cookie dough is too sticky to roll in the palm of your hand, add a bit of flour. However, the dough should remain very soft, so don't add too much.
    • Roll the cookie dough in small balls (they puff up quite nicely) and place them on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes (mine took 8 minutes). The bottoms of the cookies should be lightly browned but the tops of should remain light in color.
    • Remove cookies from the cookie sheet immediately and move to a wire rack. Cool completely before glazing.
    • For the glaze, slowly mix milk with powdered sugar and anise extract. The glaze needs to be thick to adhere to the cookie. Dip the top of each cookie into the glaze. I dipped about 8-10 cookies at a time. Add sprinkles to each cookie and leave  them on rack to dry. 
    Anise-has a distinctive taste which is a bit sweet with licorice undertones.

    Smart Cookie Tips from Southern Living December 2015

    Make A Little Noise
    When cookies are done, sharply tap the baking sheet against the counter. It will force the cookies to settle faster, creating a crisp outside and a chewy center.   
    Crack The Right Eggs
    Use eggs at room temperature so they easily incorporate into your dough. In a rush? Place eggs in a bowl of warm tap water for 10 minutes.
    Avoid A Sticky Situation
    When  a recipe calls for you to measure something like honey, molasses or peanut butter first coat the cup or spoon with cooking spray.
    Reach for a Spoon
    When measuring flour, spoon-don't pack the dry ingredients into the measuring cup. This technique helps yield tender cookies.

    Monday, December 21, 2015

    The Gingerbread Cowboy

    If you recall last week I posted G is for Gingerbread Man in the kindergarten classroom.
    This is a follow up you don't want to miss. It all started with the book "The Gingerbread Cowboy " by Janet Squires. 
    It is her first picture book and what a creative fun story. Squires gives the popular folktale a Wild West setting, where the rancher's wife, tired of baking her husband biscuits, makes a gingerbread cowboy complete with a vest and big hat. When the gingerbread boy leaps out of the oven and wriggles through the corral fence, he is chased by javelinas (boars), by long-horned cattle ("No more grass for us! We want gingerbread"), and by cowboys riding the range--until he meets a tricky coyote napping in the sun. Berry's double-page spreads, painted in lots of brown and green, make the chase a series of uproarious encounters across the wide desert. One of the best scenes is the close-up of the coyote drawn with lots of furry cross-hatching, stretched out on the sand, one sly eye open. Children will easily join in on the chant "Giddyup, giddyup as fast as you can. You can't catch me . . .") as they enjoy this universal trickster tale with a cowboy slant. 
    It's a delightful read with bold eye catching illustrations. Recommended ages 5-8.

    A very creative EA (aide) made a bold move in a kindergarten room. She decided a plain gingerbread man would not do and instead turned him into gingerbread cowboy. 
    And then the fun began.
     The class took their job of cleaning up seriously.
    But then many began to express concerns as to the gingerbread cowboy's fate. But lucky for them the EA was quick thinking and followed that gingerbread cowboy right to the kitchen and took his picture. She then returned to class to show them he indeed did not run away. Honestly I just melted with this photo.  
    If you are looking  for a holiday activity for kids really of any age put this activity and book top of your list. Directions for making this gingerbread man/cowboy can be found at the link posted above. 

    Cinnamon Apple Muffins

    GET TO KNOW YOUR APPLES Pink Lady , great balance of sweet and tart. Granny Smith , maybe the most popular baking apple. A little more tart ...