Fabulous Friday Food :: Butternut Squash Soup

Is it just me, or did Thanksgiving creep up behind us, tap us on the shoulder, and surprise the heck out of us? I felt bowled over on Monday when Julia told me this was her last week of school before Thanksgiving.


Of course, Thanksgiving is easy to miss since Christmas decorations have already been up since before Halloween. Again, is it just me? Or is this just WAY TOO EARLY?!

I hate to roll my eyes at Christmas--it's not Christmas's fault--but Thanksgiving is pretty special in my book. So, if it's all the same to you, I'm going to relish this last week before all the crazy. I'm going to plan my Thanksgiving menu and linger over time with my family this week. I'm going to eat every single traditional food in my repertoire and binge on carbs.

And for one more week (hopefully more), I'm going to focus on what I'm thankful for without the loud music and shiny decorations and irritated shoppers getting in my way.

See, this is why I love Thanksgiving. It's quiet. It's reflective. It's delicious (!). It's family time.

Minus all the hoopla.

So let's talk about the Thanksgiving meal. I usually do all the traditional foods--turkey, stuffing (my mom's recipe with sage, apples, and raisins), mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, cranberries, pumpkin AND pecan pies . . . and anything else I feel like making.

This year there will be something new on our table. It's a little recipe I've been working on this fall, and I think I've finally gotten it where I want it.

(A little back story. A couple of months ago B and I went into the city to see a play, and we had dinner at a little Italian place near the theater. That night I had the most delicious butternut squash soup that made me so happy, and I realized that I could probably go home and replicate it. I read a bunch of recipes--who knew there were so many ways to make one kind of soup?--and put together the elements that I liked best to come up with this. So that's my inspiration for this recipe.)

So here we go with Butternut Squash Soup for your (and my!) Thanksgiving meal.

Start with a good sized butternut squash. (If you get the pre-cubed squash from the grocery store, buy two packages because you'll need a lot.) Cut it into cubes and set aside.

Now chop an onion and an apple. That's right--an apple. Any old apple will do, as long as you take the skin off first.

Melt three tablespoons of butter (you could substitute olive oil if you want) in the bottom of a dutch oven, then add the squash, onion, and apple.

(OK, sorry about the low-quality pictures. I was in a hurry and grabbed my phone. Grrr.)

Spend about 10 minutes caramelizing the vegetables. (I KNOW an apple is a fruit. It's just easier to say one thing instead of two).

Once you have a nice, golden brown color on everything, pour 3-4 cups of chicken broth over, just until you reach the top of the mixture. (Don't go any higher or your soup will be runny. Trust me on this one. You can add more broth later if you think you need it.) Throw in a couple sprigs of thyme.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Allow the vegetables to simmer in the broth for 30-45 minutes until the squash is very tender.

(True confessions: In this batch I used a little too much broth and the soup turned out a little thin. In the next batch I just covered the vegetables and it turned out thicker. Learn from my mistakes, people.)

When all the veggies are cooked, turn off the heat and get out your handy-dandy immersion blender that your sweet daughter gave you for Christmas last year (I love this tool!). You could also use a regular blender, but it's a little messier process. Anyway, blend everything together until it's very smooth.

Now add the nutmeg, paprika, salt and pepper, cream, and butter. Mmmmmm.

Stir over low heat for another few minutes and you're done!

I like to sprinkle a few toasted pumpkin seeds over the top, but you could also use some homemade croutons, which would be yummy.

This will be on my Thanksgiving table this year. How about yours?

Leave me a comment and let me know what your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is. I'd love to hear from you!

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

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Also, check out my Recipes page for lots more family-friendly, easy to make meal ideas. Enjoy!

Fab Friday Food: The BEST Grilled Cheese

Never thought you'd see another food post, right? Well, it's fall, and it's the time of year when I feel like cooking and sharing great recipes. I don't know why, but something about fall motivates me. I love the crisp days and cool nights, the leaves turning red and orange and yellow, the pumpkins. All of it.

Fall is my jam.

So today, because it's fall (or autumn, depending on where you live), I decided to dust off the Fabulous Friday Food series here on the old blog and tell you about the very best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had.

Settle in. This may take a while.


A few weeks ago my friend Kim and I headed into the city to meet our daughters for lunch. Kim's daughter is a couple of months away from having her first baby--woot!--and it was fun to catch up with her. Kate, of course, lives in the city and has repeatedly told me about this spot called The Allis where she sometimes goes to work or to meet friends.

I've been wanting to try The Allis, which is located in the Soho House Chicago, so that's where we decided to meet for lunch.

Let me just say right now that I'm surprised that they didn't just shoo us out the door the minute we walked in because that place is WAY TOO COOL for the likes of me. With its industrial decor and hipster vibe, I felt slightly out of place . . . but not enough to make me run. (I'm always up for a challenge.)

Besides, I LOVED the atmosphere, and as long as they didn't mind us old ladies sitting in their lobby munching on lunch (we did, after all, have our very cool daughters with us), I didn't mind the hipsters walking back and forth carrying their portfolios and working on their laptops.

We sat on an overstuffed sofa and soft, retro armchairs around an antique glass coffee table. Chic. We ordered lunch, and very soon I forgot about feeling out of place because suddenly I was in heaven. I had ordered the short rib grilled cheese sandwich (because I like to watch my calories, you know), and I was transported into another realm. The realm of the divine grilled cheese.

This was, without a doubt, the most innovative and delicious grilled cheese sandwich I had ever tasted. And I've tasted a few.

When I got home I could not stop thinking about that silly sandwich. It was a mix of amazing cheeses, caramelized onions, and short rib meat. All on brioche bread.


About a week later I made a pot roast (I used Ree's recipe, I think) and had a little left over in the fridge. The next day my mind started to wander back to the amazing grilled cheese from The Allis and it hit me--leftover pot roast is similar to short rib meat, so I could recreate that sandwich right in my own kitchen.

Of course, we'd have to eat it at home rather than at the hipster joint known as the Soho House, but we put on our thick glasses and knit caps and did our best to recreate the experience.

Anyway, here's how I did it.

I took a beautiful loaf of brioche bread and cut it into thick slices.

Then I caramelized some onions slowly in a little olive oil and butter with about a teaspoon of fresh thyme. (There's just something about adding fresh thyme to caramelized onions. Thank you, Ina for that hint!)

I shredded some of the pot roast with two forks and warmed it just briefly in the microwave to take the edge off the coldness from the fridge.

I shredded some cheese--white cheddar and gruyere, I think. Fontina might also be a nice addition.

Then I assembled.

Bread (buttered, of course).


Cheese. Lots.


And then I pressed the whole thing in a panini press until it was golden brown and melty.

Oh my!

You know what? A fancy grilled cheese, even though it's easy to make, feels like such an indulgence on a chilly evening. Serve it with some soup and you've got a great meal.

Go ahead, give it a try! You won't regret it at all.

So tell me, what are you cooking this weekend? Leave me a comment and let's talk food!

I love sharing stories and I love that you read them. I'd so appreciate it if you'd sign up for email updates (you can do that on the right hand side over there), follow me on Facebook or Instagram, or leave me a comment below. I'm so glad you're here! 

You also know that I have a Recipes page, right? Just click on "Recipes" above and you'll find lots of inspiration for the week ahead. 

Fabulous Friday Food :: Pumpkin Bread

For us, Thanksgiving is usually anything but traditional. See, we don't have family nearby, so for Thanksgiving we're on our own. We've tried having Thanksgiving at home with just the five of us, but something about just the five of us sitting around our dining room table makes me a little sad.

So over the years we've tried different things. We've gone to the big city a number of times for Thanksgiving dinner. We've even stayed in a hotel in the city a couple of times (it's actually more fun than it sounds!).

We've gone to friends' homes, which is also very nice, but a reminder yet again of how we don't have family close by.

Last year was probably our favorite Thanksgiving yet: we drove to Washington DC to visit Kate who was studying there for the semester. We rented a house through VRBO, which turned out to be perfect for us. We walked a ton, we saw the sights, and we went to one of our favorite DC restaurants, Founding Farmers, for Thanksgiving dinner. Oh my, YUM! Totally non-traditional (we did have turkey, though), but such a great memory. We still talk about it.

This year is a little different because we've decided to actually stay home for the first time in a long time. Since Kate doesn't live with us anymore and Caroline is away at school, we decided that a nice, quiet, traditional Thanksgiving at home might be just the thing we need this year. 

Today I decided to get a little head start on some baking for next week, so I whipped up a batch of our favorite pumpkin bread. This is a recipe I got from a friend of mine probably 25 years ago (crazy that I've been making this bread for that long)--it's really and truly the best pumpkin bread recipe I've ever tried. 

And easy? Yep. Totally easy. You probably have everything you need right in your pantry. 

So here we go. (This won't take long.)

Basically, cream the butter, sugar, eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients.

Mix the two together until well blended. Add nuts or chocolate chips, if you want. 

Our family always wants chocolate chips.

Be sure you butter and flour the loaf pans before you add the batter. 

I don't know about you, but I seem to have a hard time getting loaves of sweet bread out of the pans.

Anyway, bake the small loaves for about 45 minutes (larger loaves take an hour). When they're done they will look beautiful, like this.

This bread would be great for a breakfast treat or on your Thanksgiving table. It's delicious and moist and tastes like fall. Whatever you do and whenever you serve it, be sure to enjoy your time with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.

Fabulous Friday Food: You Don't Have to Do It All

Happy Friday, friends!

I've had a busy week, thus, no posting.

I was out of town at the Allume conference last week. SO GOOD! And then I came back to the usual stuff--classes, college group dinner, a concert at the high school.

Oh, and I'm painting our guest room. Because my college roommate is coming next week (yea!) and that bedroom needs redecorating.

So, even though I do love to cook, some weeks I just don't have the time.

Maybe you've had a busy week, too. Maybe you've dealt with kids or crises or just Halloween costumes, which used to send me right over the EDGE I tell you. (I'm not a very creative mom, and when it comes to creating costumes . . . UGH . . . I'm the worst!)

Anyway, when those busy weeks come, sometimes it's nice to get a little help. Because you know you don't have to make everything from scratch, right?

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering through Williams-Sonoma, my happy place, and saw this sauce-in-a-jar.

Along with it was a recipe for Pumpkin Lasagna with Fontina. Are you kidding me?! Pumpkin, pasta, and fontina cheese all wrapped into one delicious dish?

Count me in!

So I bought a jar. Yes, they got me. Yes, it's expensive. And, yes, it took a little time.

But, by golly, it was worth it.


So I went home and made this beautiful lasagna.

I followed the recipe exactly as it was given to me on the Williams-Sonoma website, and my lasagna turned out pretty much like this.

Plus it was delicious.

Looking for something special to serve to friends this fall? Try this one.

Because you don't have to do it all.

[P.S. Williams-Sonoma did not pay me to advertise for them. I just really liked the lasagna I made!]

**Photo credits

Fabulous Friday Food: The World's Best Chili

Prepare yourself.

Because after you try this chili you'll never go back to your old, boring chili recipe.

I've been making chili for years--since college, really. And I always used my mom's recipe because, well, she's mom and she's an amazing cook and she made a pretty good chili when I was growing up.

But some years ago I found this recipe in a Texas cookbook that my sister had given me. It's called "Roger Hicks' Cookoff Chili," but since I've tweaked it so much since I first started making it, I think I can now safely call it "Shelly's Chili Will Beat Your Chili in a Cookoff Any Day."

Or something like that.

So, now that it's fall and we're taking rainy-day walks with our dog, scuffling through the leaves, and wearing long sleeves, it's time for chili.

Oh, and football. Isn't chili just the perfect food to eat when the game is on? Piled high with fixings like sour cream, cheese, and cornbread. Yum.

So, now that your appetite is fully whetted, let's get down to business, shall we?

Start with the basics: ground beef, onion, and garlic.

Let that "get happy," as Emeril used to say.

(Where even IS Emeril these days? I miss him.)

Add your tomatoes and kidney beans. Sorry to all the true Southerners out there--I'm a Midwestern gal, and we here in the Midwest add beans to our chili. Only one can, though. We don't want it too heavy with beans.

Next come the spices, some of which might surprise you: cumin, paprika, chili powder (duh!), and cayenne pepper (just a dash). The real surprise, though, is the cocoa powder. And the sugar.

Mix everything together, then add what I think gives this chili its distinct flavor: beer. I recommend starting with a half a bottle, just to see what you think, but if you really like it, add the whole thing.

Now let the pot simmer for a good three hours, uncovered. Just pop by the stove every now and then to give it a stir--don't neglect the chili. And if things start to get too thick, add a cup or two of water and let it keep simmering away.

After three hours, your chili will become thick, rich, and have a deep red color that can only be developed with time. The flavors will come together so well, and you'll have the best bowl of chili you've ever had.

Seriously, if you try this, please pop back here and let me know what you think. I hope you like this one as much as I do.

Have a great weekend!


For a printable copy of this recipe, click here.

Fabulous Friday Food: Illini Bars

Did you know I have a Recipes page? And did you know that it's chock full of fabulous recipes?

For a long time I posted a Fabulous Friday Food recipe each week. But then I stopped cooking or got tired of it or felt like it was too much work. Or something like that.

I've been thinking about resurrecting Fabulous Friday Food for a long time now, but wasn't sure if I had the energy for it or not. But will Fall being here and all of the wonderful food that comes along with it, and also when I realized this week that I've never even blogged my famous chili recipe (stay tuned . . .), I decided that it's time.

And then when my friend, Rebecca, told me this week that whenever she doesn't know what to make for dinner she just looks on my blog . . . well, that was all I needed. Thanks for the push, Rebecca!

But here's the deal--I need your help.

If there's something you'd like to see here on FFF, would you let me know? If you have a cooking-related question that I can answer, would you ask? Maybe that will help me think of something to write about on Fridays.

And if you're new to Fabulous Friday Food (little shout out to Ina Garten in the title because she's just fabulous), let me know that as well. I hope you get a little inspiration here and some encouragement to keep cooking. I know I need that sometimes!

So here we go.

This week I'm making these bars that go way back in our family history. My mom made these when I was growing up, and she always called them "Illini Bars," I think because my parents would take them to tailgate parties at the U of I way back when. I'm not quite sure where they got the name. Basically, these are caramel brownies or turtle brownies or something like that.

But at our house, they are Illini Bars.

These are an autumn staple around here. I'm not even sure why we only make them in the fall, but, again, it must have something to do with football games. All I know is that when the weather turns, it's time to make Illini Bars.

Here's what you'll need:

1 1/2 packages of caramels, unwrapped
1 small can evaporated milk
1 German chocolate cake mix
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 C. chopped pecans
1 package chocolate chips

How easy is that?!

(The chocolate chips are behind there somewhere, I promise!)

In a saucepan, melt the caramels with 1/3 Cup of evaporated milk.

Here's something that drives me crazy. Back in the day, when Mom was making Illini bars, a package of caramels was much bigger than a package of caramels today. So if you choose to only use one package of today's caramels, you'll probably get a runnier, less-caramely consistency to your filling.

Trust me on this one. Use a package and a half of caramels. You'll be glad you did.

Moving on.

While the caramels and evaporated milk are getting acquainted on the stove (low heat, please!), melt 3/4 cup of butter (that's a stick and a half). In another bowl, mix together the German chocolate cake mix, the melted butter, another 1/3 cup of evaporated milk, and the 1 cup of chopped pecans. You can leave out the nuts, but why would you?

Take half of the chocolate cake mixture and press it into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch pan.

You can use a spatula, like I did, or your fingers, which work just as well.

Just make sure you get the whole thing covered.

Now bake this for six minutes at 350 degrees. After six minutes, take the pan out of the oven and cover the mixture with chocolate chips.

 Put the pan back into the oven for just a couple of minutes until the chocolate chips melt.

Or not. (I really think you can skip this step. I know I have.)

Now add the melted caramel to the top of the chocolate chips, like this.

You don't need to spread it out--the oven will take care of that.

Now take the rest of the cake mixture and place it on the top of the caramel. This is the only tricky part of this recipe. The cake mixture will be kind of thick, so you won't be able to pour it on. What I usually do is take small pieces and pat it out into a flat disk and place it on top.

You'll have something that looks like this:

Don't worry. Everything will work out in the oven.

Bake for 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees, and in the end you'll have a wonderful pan of brownies/cookies/bars that looks something like this:

The funny thing is, we gobbled these up so fast that I didn't even have time to take a picture of the finished product sitting pretty on a plate like most "real" food bloggers would do.

Trust me, they are THAT good.

So, have a wonderful Autumn weekend and go bake some Illini Bars!


Illini Bars

1 1/2 packages caramels, unwrapped
2/3 C. evaporated milk
1 German chocolate cake mix
3/4 C. butter, melted
1 C. pecans
1 package chocolate chips

1. Melt caramels and 1/3 Cup evaporated milk over low heat, stirring occasionally.

2. Mix together cake mix, 3/4 C. melted butter, 1/3 C. evaporated milk, and 1 C. pecans. Spread half of the cake mixture in the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch pan; bake six minutes at 350 degrees.

3. Add chocolate chips to the top of the baked mixture. Add caramel mixture. Add rest of cake mixture to the top. Bake 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees.

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.


Now tell me, what are YOU cooking this weekend?

Book Review: Bread and Wine AND Fabulous Friday Food: Cassoulet

You guys know I love food, right?

And you know I love to travel, right?

Find me a book that combines a love for both, and you’ve got me at hello.

Hello, Shauna Niequist!

Shauna has just this week released her third book, Bread and Wine, and I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy to review. Let me tell you, I devoured this book. As in, I was so hungry to read it and to keep reading it that I had a hard time putting it down.

This is a memoir, as are all of Shauna’s books. (Her others, which I have also read, are Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet—both very good.) But this one’s a memoir that involves food and cooking and a little bit of travel.

Right up my alley. 

Here’s one of my favorite passages from the book. It’s a little long, so hold on for a minute:

“I hold all these places and flavors with me, like a fistful of shiny coins, like a charm bracelet. I want to be everywhere at once. I want a full English breakfast at a pub in London, and hot buttery naan in New Delhi for lunch. I want conch fritters at a beach bar in the Bahamas, and an ice-cold Fanta overlooking Lake Victoria. I want Cowgirl Creamery’s Triple Crème Brie at the Ferry Market in San Francisco, and the gingerbread pancakes from Magnolia Café in Austin. I want it all—all the tastes, all the smells, all the stories and memories and traditions, all the textures and flavors and experiences, all running down my chin, all over my fingers.
            Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with Henry so often. I think they think it’s easier to keep the kids at home, in their routines, surrounded by their stuff. It is. But we travel because it’s there. . . . We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. . . .
            I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand.” (page 87)

There. She has fully articulated one of the wonders of travel with kids. I love that!

Besides interesting, thought-provoking stories about her life and faith, Shauna fills her book with amazing recipes. I can’t wait to try her recipe for Sweet Potato Fries with Sriracha Dipping Sauce or Esquites/Mexican Grilled Corn which is taken from one of my absolutely, positively, MOST FAVORITE Mexican restaurant: Bien Trucha in Geneva, IL. (I was pretty excited when she mentioned that one.)

And if all that hasn’t convinced you to get the book and read it, I’ve got a bonus for you: a Fabulous Friday Food post featuring one of Shauna’s recipes.

Today we’re making Real Simple Cassoulet from Bread and Wine.

I’ve wanted to try making cassoulet since my husband had it at his very special birthday dinner back in January. He raved about this simple, classic French dish made with meat and beans. Wouldn’t you know, just a couple of weeks after that dinner, I’d be reading Shauna’s book. And wouldn’t you know that she would actually give me a recipe for cassoulet that didn’t seem too intimidating or difficult.

In fact, it was EASY! Not only that, it was delicious. My husband absolutely loved it and commented on it for a long time after that meal. In fact, I think he put it in his top-five-of-all-time favorite recipes. That’s how much he liked it.

After dinner he said, “That one’s a keeper.”

So here we go, making a “keeper.” Hopefully you’ll try this one and put it in your top five list too.

First, assemble your ingredients. You'll need olive oil, Italian sausage (here's where I deviated just a little from Shauna's original recipe--she used turkey sausage, but I used the real thing), chicken broth, onion, carrots, parsnips, tomato, cannellini beans, thyme, garlic, bread crumbs, parsley, and butter. It seems like a lot of ingredients, and it is, but if you do all of your chopping ahead of time, this baby will come together really quickly.

Side note: I had never cooked with parsnips before. Never even bought one. But, I've gotta say, I will definitely be using them in the future. They are kind of sweet, very interesting, and yummy. 

Brown the sausage in the olive oil in a large Dutch oven until it's almost crispy on the outside. You need some of the brown drippings in the bottom of the pan to give the cassoulet its rich flavor.

Remove the sausage from the pan and add the onion, carrots, and parsnips. Brown these for a few minutes to soften the vegetables and add flavor. (Oh, O.K., I deviated from her recipe here too. Shauna said to add the chicken stock here, but I sauteed the vegetables first. Sorry!)

Now go ahead and add the stock, tomato, beans, garlic, thyme, and the sausage. Salt and pepper too. 

Bring all of this to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and allow to simmer for about one hour. Your cassoulet should be thickened and the vegetables nice and tender.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, parsley, and butter and sprinkle over the cassoulet. Bake, uncovered, until the crust is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

And voila! You have a delicious, comforting dish to warm the hearts of your friends and family.

I served this with a green salad and some French bread. Yum! And now I want more. 

I hope you'll try this one. It was so delicious. And, as my husband says, it's a keeper.

Thanks, Shauna! 

Now tell me, have you read Shauna Niequist's book yet? Do you think you'll try to make cassoulet? What are you cooking this weekend?

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.

To purchase Shauna's book on Amazon, click here.

To subscribe to my blog (oh, how I wish you would!), sign up over there ------>

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Bread and Wine in exchange for this blog post. All the views expressed here are entirely my own.

Fabulous Friday Food: Pan Fried Onion Dip

Have I ever mentioned that I grew up with family all around me? My grandparents lived about a half a mile down the road, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived another half mile past them.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of family gatherings--birthdays, holidays, welcome home parties, even the Super Bowl. All were spent with the love of family wrapped around me like a warm blanket.

What I remember most is the food. Lots of it, always good. Fried chicken, jello salads, baked beans, and homemade rhubarb or strawberry pie and ice cream.

Just for starters.

I think these family gatherings primed me to be the food-lover that I am today.

This sounds crazy, being the good-food lover that I am, but I always got super-excited when Grandma served chips and dip. We'd be gathered around the television, watching football, and Grandma would bring out the snacks. Back then it was a bag of Ruffles and a carton of store bought onion dip, but even as a kid I loved me some chips and dip.

I'm still a dipper today. Pretty much with any food, if I can dip it, I will. Sandwiches into au jus. Cookies into ice cream. Bananas into peanut butter.

But especially chips into dip. There's just something comforting about it.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw Ina Garten make her Pan Fried Onion Dip many years ago. I just had to try it, like right NOW! And I'm so glad I did because this has become one of my favorite snack foods.

SO much better than the onion dip in a carton that you buy in the grocery store!

Really, there's no comparison.

I've made Ina's recipe too many times to count over the years, so I've been able to tweak it according to my own tastes and preferences. What you have here is my own, slightly altered version of Ina's original recipe.

You'll need onions (duh!), butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne, cream cheese, mayo, and sour cream.

Sound decadent enough for ya?

Slice up about three or four sweet onions. Vidalia season is almost here, so grab a big bag and get slicing!

Place them in a pan with about 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I like to use a cast iron skillet for this because I think you can control the temperature of the pan a little better than with stainless.

Probably just me.

Sprinkle them with just a dash or two of cayenne pepper and a little salt and pepper.

Now here's where your patience really pays off. Keep the heat of the pan at about medium to medium-low. You don't want to FRY your onions, you want to CARAMELIZE them. And caramelizing takes time.

As in, about 40 minutes.

Here is what my onions looked like after about 20 minutes:

But be patient, child. They might look like they're almost done, but they're not.

Here's what they looked like after 40 minutes:

Isn't that better?

Allowing your onions to fully caramelize helps develop the rich, sweet flavor that the onions have hidden in them. And your dip will be just that much better for it.

Remove the onions from the pan and drain them on a couple of pieces of paper towel on a plate. Ina's recipe leaves out that step, and I've found it helpful to get rid of some of the excess grease.

Next, take an 8-ounce package of cream cheese that you have left out on the counter for quite some time, preferrably overnight (it really, really has to be at room temperature, unless you like little lumps of cream cheese floating throughout your onion dip) and beat the heck out of it.

Make sure your cream cheese is really light and fluffy before you add the rest.

Next, add about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and 1 cup of sour cream, also best if at room temperature, but not entirely necessary.

Beat that together with the cream cheese until everything is well-incorporated.

Next, add the onions that have been drained and cooled and beat just until mixed together.

Place in a pretty bowl (!) and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving with the best potato chips you can find (preferrably not Ruffles).

Now, invite some friends over to watch the Blackhawks cream whomever they happen to be playing (ha!) and enjoy!

To get a printable version of this recipe, click here.

Did you know you can get all of my 42 (so far!) recipes as printables? Just click on the "Recipes" tab above and have a look around. These are all of the recipes that I have featured here on the blog, and every one has been tested and tried by my family. Many times over.

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Linking this post to Richella's Grace at Home party. So glad you stopped by!

Fabulous Friday Food - Braised Short Ribs

Well, hello there. I just checked my archives and found that I haven't done a Friday food post since October. And before that, it was August. And June.

I guess I haven't been very faithful in that, have I?

Oh, let's be honest. I haven't been faithful at all.

I'm no food blogger, and I never will be--Ree Drummond can have the spotlight in that arena. But what I do know is that I can cook me some real good food. (Ree's got nothing on me in the area of execution, if I do say so myself.)

And what I also know is that I love to share my food with you.

So one goal that I have for this year is to share more recipes with you. I promise you I won't blog about food every week, but maybe every two or three weeks might be reasonable. At least once a month--how about that?

So, with that out of the way, let's move on.

Let's talk about pots, shall we? 

I've become a collector of pots, it seems, because my cupboard is bulging with them.

Here's one of the earliest pots I acquired. I think I stole this from one of my college roommates, but I'm not sure. I don't think it was my moms. That's how old this pot is--I can't even remember when or where I got it.

It's kind of hideous, isn't it?

But it still works great, and I'm sure some college girls will LOVE using it next year.

The next pot is one of my favorites--you've seen it featured here many times before. It's a Magnalite roaster that dates back to probably the 1950s.

But this one is special because it belonged to my Grandma Nell. She gave it to me when I was in college, so I have had this since before I got married. This beautiful roaster has made many a meal, has seen many a disaster, and has given me many moments of happiness.

I'll be sad to ever see it go.

Several years ago, when I worked at Williams-Sonoma during the Christmas season (yeah, it was fun and no, I didn't make a dime because I spent it all), I bought this shiny Calphalon pot. Lots and lots of delicious soup has been made in this one.

I also have a 12-quart stock pot complete with both a steaming AND a pasta basket. But I didn't give you a picture because I need to move on.

This Christmas my dear husband gave me this.

Isn't it beautiful?

I will love him (and it) forever.

I have been hinting and hinting for YEARS that I would love to have a Le Creuset, ever since the Williams-Sonoma incident, I think. He finally took the bait.

I've already used it at least four times since Christmas, but I wanted to share with you my inaugural recipe for the Le Creuset: Braised Short Ribs. I made these on New Year's Eve for our family. Get ready to lick your chops. These are GOOD.

Never had short ribs before? Never even heard of short ribs? Me too, until a few years ago when my husband took me to the most amazing French restaurant that served Short Rib Ravioli with Sherry Cream Sauce. Heaven!

Short ribs (known in the UK as "thin ribs" or "Jacob's ladder") are a strange little cut of beef. They can be tough, which is why they require long, slow cooking methods. I get mine at Costco where they come boneless and cut in long strips, but you could probably get them at a butcher shop, too.

I saw Anne Burrell make these on the Food Network a couple of years ago and thought, I could do that, because Anne makes everything look so easy. Turns out they were! This is pretty much Anne's recipe.

Take your beautiful pot. Or your old dingy one. It really doesn't matter.

Get it good and hot and put a little olive oil in the bottom. Add the meat and brown it well on both sides with plenty of salt and pepper.

While the meat is browning, take some onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and pulse it in a food processor. Go ahead. Pulse away. Anne says to make a paste out of it.

When the short ribs have finished browning, set them aside on a plate.

Then add a little more olive oil to the pot and add the vegetables. Anne says to brown the vegetables until a "crud" forms on the bottom of the pot. Scrape it, brown some more, and scrape again.

Then add 1 1/2 cups of tomato paste (that's a big can--12 ounces) to the crud on the bottom of your pan.

Appetizing, no?

Keep browning and scraping, browning and scraping, because this is where all the flavor comes from. Trust me, it's worth it.

Now add lots of red wine and let the whole thing bubble and reduce for a while. In the end, you'll get a sauce that looks like this.

Add the short ribs to the sauce and add enough water so that liquid covers the meat. Place a bundle of thyme on top, along with a bay leaf or two, and put the whole thing in the oven for three hours.

(Here's another shot of my pot going in the oven. Isn't she pretty?)

That's right. Three hours. (About halfway through you'll want to turn the meat over and add more water if you think they need it.)

When finished, the short ribs will be tender and, ohmygoodness, so delicious.

Serve them on a pile of homemade mashed potatoes.

Your family will think they've died and gone to heaven.

And they have!

So there you go. It's a long weekend, it's supposed to get cold, so you need something to do. Go make this recipe. Don't be afraid of it. You can do this!

And if you want a printable copy of this recipe, click here.

Linking this post to Amanda's Weekend Bloggy Reading Link-up.

Fabulous Friday Food - Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apples

Well, hello, Fall!

And hello, Fab Friday Food!

You know things are bad around here when I haven't written a Fabulous Friday Food post since August. And the one before that was in June.

Just ask my family, that's about how long it's been since I've gotten anything close to creative in the kitchen.

It's sad, really.

Lately my argument has been that I'm still getting used to cooking for three since two of my girls are off at college. Or that it was too hot this summer. Or that I'm busy with teaching.

Yada, yada, yada.

Excuses, excuses, excuses. Lately I've become the Queen of Excuses when it comes to cooking meals.

And all of this is so strange for me because I love to cook. When I have time. When I have ideas. When I have motivation. When the stars are aligned and all's right with the world.

Not really. I DO love to cook. And I have no idea why I haven't been more motivated over these past few months. Let's just call it an anomaly and move on, shall we? I'm good with that.

Moving on . . .

Now it's Fall, and I'm heading toward having just a modicum of motivation. Cooler temps will do that for me.

But I'm starting out slowly--not overdoing it with the cooking thing. (Truly, what have we eaten over the past three months? I have no idea!)

A couple of weeks ago I decided that it really was cool enough to break out one of my favorite Fall/Winter recipes: Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apples. (My mouth is watering just typing this.)

Don't think you like brussels sprouts? Neither did my family until I tried this recipe. Now they eat those little babies like candy, and that's pretty much what they taste like.

Here we go.

Preheat the oven to 425 and gather your ingredients: brussels sprouts, bacon, and apple. Easy enough for you yet? (In the interest of full disclosure, you will also need salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.)

Cut three or four slices of bacon into pieces (about 1/2 inch) and place in the bottom of a baking dish.

Bake the bacon for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the brussels sprouts, and cut in half if they seem a little large.

(Yikes! My thumb looks HUGE!)

Once the bacon has cooked a bit, it will look like this.

Add the cleaned and trimmed brussels sprouts to the bacon, and stir it up a bit.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake these together for about 15 more minutes. When finished they will look like this:

Now add the apples and bake about 10 minutes longer.

When finished, toss the whole thing with about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

I could make a meal out of these little yummies, but I served them with my delicious Herb Roasted Pork with New Potatoes.

What a perfect Fall meal!!!

Click here for a printable recipe page. And enjoy!

Now, tell me ('cause I really need to know) . . . would you like more recipes from me? Do you like Fabulous Friday Food? And one more thing . . . what do YOU like to cook in the fall?

Linking this post to Amanda's Weekend Bloggy Reading link up at Serenity Now. 


A Rerun - For Emma

One night this week, two of Caroline's best friends came over to say goodbye--they are all leaving for college soon, so they were having one last movie night at our house. And while one of the girls will actually be Caroline's roommate next year, the other is moving a long, long way away. As I was hugging her goodbye, sweet Emma said to me, "I'm reading your blog! I've been reading it since we went blueberry picking that day." I laughed so hard as I remembered that fateful blueberry non-picking day, and I told her I would rerun the story just for her.

So Emma, this one is for you. I wish you all the best in college (I know you will do great!) and look forward to actually picking blueberries with you some day. We love you, sweetie!

* * *

Warning: The tale you are about to read will make you weep. If it doesn’t, you have no soul.

Today was going to be a great day. It was the one day of the summer that I probably look forward to more than any of the year. It’s the day I pack my little darlings in the car and drive for a little over an hour to a blueberry farm where we get to stand in a field, pick berries, and sweat. It’s glorious, and it’s a tradition that we’ve held to pretty much since before Maggie was born.

Today was going to be the day.

But it wasn’t.

Oh, we left our house at nine o’clock this morning, alright. We drove down the highway. We even suffered through a traffic jam for about 45 minutes while singing “Mama Mia” hits. We finally made it to our destination, albeit a little late, but very excited to start filling our little metal pails with blueberry goodness.

But as we drove to the gate of the farm, this is what greeted us:

For those of you who can’t quite read the sign, here’s what it said: “We are closed until Monday, July 27. We finished the 1st pick and the berries need more time to ripen for the 2nd pick. We have large crowds.”

Every one of our jaws dropped as the realization of the situation came upon us. I very nearly drove into the ditch.

“WHAT?!” we all screamed at once.

No blueberries. No blueberry muffins. No blueberry coffee cake. No blueberry crisp. No blueberry pie.

The blueberry farm’s predicament was truly our demise as we realized that today was it. The only day we could work in a trip to the farm to pick blueberries. Next week, all the girls will be gone on different trips, so there was no chance we could go back.

My heart started to sink and sink fast. I knew we had to do something (believe me, the thought of parking down the road and sneaking into the berry farm actually crossed my mind for a minute), so we headed into the nearest town to the diner we always hit on our way home, and we ate lots of greasy food at 11:00 in the morning. Disgusting, I know. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

And then we headed home. Dazed and confused we were, and suddenly Kate realized that we (O.K., I was) moving through the five stages of grief.

Here’s kind of how it went down:

Stage 1 – Denial. “OH NO! This can’t be happening! How could they do this to us?” This was the point at which I contemplated hiding my car in the woods and sneaking onto the property. Who cares that I didn’t have a bucket in the car? I’d figure something out. I just knew I HAD to have those berries.

Stage 2 – Anger. “I called last week and they said they’d be picking for three weeks! They can’t do this!” My rational brain was completely gone by now and my crazy-out-of-my-mind brain took over, thinking of every possible reason I could have to take that berry farm to court. Don’t they know this is the ONLY day all summer that we could get out to their lousy farm to pick their scrawny berries out in the scorching heat?

Stage 3 – Bargaining. “They might not have enough berries for everyone, but maybe they would have enough for me. Maybe if I offer them a little more money, they would open the gate to just let my one little car through. We wouldn’t take too many. There would be plenty left for next week’s suckers pickers.”

Stage 4 – Depression. “You girls go ahead and eat your lunch and drink your milk shakes. I couldn’t eat a thing. I’m just too sad.” And on it went, throughout lunch and the drive home. Me, shaking my head, pounding my fists on the steering wheel (I guess that takes me back to the anger stage, doesn’t it?), and saying, “I’m just so sad” for the next hour or so.

Stage 5 – Acceptance. Truthfully? I’m not there yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be there.

I sure had different expectations for today’s blog post. I was going to come home and take pictures of the freezer bags filled with blueberries stacked up on my kitchen counter. I was going to bake a pie and show you how beautiful it was.

Instead, I’m sitting, still depressed, on my porch writing this sad tale of woe.

The saddest part, to me, though, is that we didn’t make it to the blueberry farm last year either. We were either out of town or too busy, so we didn’t go. And now this. Does missing a tradition for two years in a row make it not a tradition anymore?

Because if that’s the case, I’m sadder than I even was this morning.

* * *

Now, if you're wondering about Fabulous Friday Food, don't despair. Here's a link to one of my all-time favorite blueberry recipes (and the FFF post that shows how it's done). Have a great weekend!


Fabulous Friday Food - Corn and Black Bean Salsa

Hi guys!

I only have about 10 minutes to write before I have to go help one of my dear friends. Her son is getting married this weekend (fun!), and a group of us is pitching in to help pull off the rehearsal dinner. It's warming in my oven (BBQ Brisket--yum!) right now, and I'm headed over to help set up soon.

So I thought I'd write a blog post.

Makes sense, right?

Well, this recipe is so easy you can probably pull it together in about 10 minutes. And to prove it, I'm going to blog it in 10 minutes. Let's race, shall we?

Last week I had such a craving for this that I just HAD to make it. I served it with Steak Fajitas that were equally delicious. I could eat it all over again it was that good.

I love Corn and Black Bean Salsa because it's easy, it's fresh, and you can eat it with chips, on top of your fajitas, or just as a salad. Versatile food, this one.

So here we go. There won't be many pictures because it's just. that. easy.

Ingredients. Corn (obviously), black beans (again, obvi), red pepper, red onion, avocado, lime, and cilantro. You can shake things up by adding a little jalepeno if you want, or tomato, or whatever else your little heart desires. Also, I LOVE Trader Joe's frozen roasted sweet corn--so good!--but you could use fresh sweet corn or canned corn or just regular old frozen corn if you want.

Microwave about 2 cups of the corn for a couple of minutes, just to take the chill off. I then rinsed it in cold water and let it drain for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the pepper, onion, and cilantro and place them all in a bowl with the beans. Stir this.

Add the corn and the avocado last, just so you don't smush up the avocado too much when you stir.

Add the juice of one lime, a splash of olive oil, a little salt and pepper, then stir the whole business up one last time.

Pour into a pretty bowl and refrigerate a couple of hours before serving.

[Side note: I just had to chuckle to myself about the chips. I'm sure that the Pioneer Woman uses only full-triangle tortilla chips when she shoots her food. Me? I only had half a bag of chips stuck in the back of the pantry, so I used all the broken pieces from the bottom of the bag. Typical.]

There! I'm pretty sure most, if not all of you can do this.

I know! Why not have a party this weekend and make this salsa? Invite your friends and neighbors. They will all love you and want to come back for more.

Ten minutes, and I'm done. And you will be too. Have a great weekend!

So tell me, do you ever get a hankering for a food that you just HAVE to have? What is it? Share here!


Fabulous Friday Food {guest post} - Julia's Soft Pretzels

Today I want to welcome a very special guest blogger--my daughter, Julia. Julia is a fantastic baker. She started playing around in the kitchen a few years ago, and now, at the age of 14, Julia can do pretty much anything she sets her mind to. Which brings us to her recipe for today.

The first time Julia made these soft pretzels was, as she says below, on Superbowl Sunday this year. I had been on a retreat all weekend and walked in the door exhausted. As soon as I stepped inside our house I smelled yeast dough. I couldn't believe it! My daughter had experimented with yeast, and I wasn't even around to help her with it.

To the surprise and delight of everyone in this house, Julia's pretzels were amazing. Chewy on the outside; soft and delicious on the inside. I'm not kidding when I say that these are so delicious. Why not have your own kid try them today? ;)

Everyone, meet Julia.

I love to bake. There’s something that’s very satisfying when some soft dough turns into bread, or when smooth batter turns into cake. It’s amazing! It’s science at its best. So, this year for Superbowl Sunday, I decided to bake up a classic snack food: soft pretzels. I used Alton Brown’s recipe, but tweaked it just a tiny bit. The result was delicious, beautiful soft pretzels that are so easy, a fourteen-year-old can do it! My family loves them so much, I have made them twice since. I’m sure you’ll love them too!

First you want to make the dough. Start by combining 1 ½ cups of warm water, one tablespoon of sugar, two teaspoons of kosher salt, and one package of active dry yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.

                  Let it sit for about five minutes, or until it begins to foam.

                  Next, add 4 ½ cups of bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour, but bread flour makes it softer) and four tablespoons of melted butter to the mixture. Combine it with a bread hook for about five minutes. You have your dough!

                  Now cover the dough and allow it to rise for one to two hours, or until it has doubled in size. This step is difficult for me because I am not a very patient girl!

After it has risen, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and either spray with Pam (the easy way) or brush with vegetable oil (the right way). I use Pam. Now put about ten cups of water into a large saucepan. Add 2/3 of a cup of baking soda and bring to a rolling boil. Yes, 2/3 of a cup. I know that’s a crazy amount of baking soda, but that’s what makes these pretzels taste like pretzels, not just bread. The water should look like this:

                  While this is happening, separate your dough into little balls, depending on how many pretzels you want. Roll them out into a rope, and make them into a pretzel shape! Now put the pretzels in one by one into the water for about thirty seconds.

                  This seems to take forever, so I took a stool over to my stovetop!

(Isn't she just the cutest thing?!)

                  After all of them have been boiled, brush them with a simple egg wash, just one egg yolk plus one tablespoon of water. Cover them all with a pastry brush. This gives them that golden brown color. Sprinkle with kosher salt, and they’re ready to bake!

They bake for about twelve to fourteen minutes. When they come out, they look like this:

                  These pretzels are a delicious snack perfect for parties and more. They are easy to make and so tasty! I highly recommend them. 

So there you have it: Julia's (via Alton Brown) soft pretzels. I call that Pretzel Perfection. Enjoy!

Fabulous Friday Food {Memorial Day Edition} - Blue Cheese Potato Salad

Well, friends, it's Memorial Day weekend, which for a lot of us means firing up the grill and having a good, old-fashioned cookout. It's supposed to be hot here this weekend, so I know we'll be cooking outside as much as we can.

For us this weekend, it's not just Memorial Day. This weekend is high school graduation, so we're hosting family and friends and celebrating together all weekend. It's going to be great!

Despite the craziness that will surely be happening around our house this weekend ("You, go get the tables and chairs." "You, pick up the balloons." "You. Ice. Now."), I'm still cooking just a bit. These people have to be fed, you know!

(And, my readers, you didn't think I'd leave you high and dry on a Friday, did you?)

One thing we will be eating this weekend is my famous Blue Cheese Potato Salad which is one of my husband's favorites. Oh. my. word. this is heaven on a plate. If you like potato salad and you like blue cheese (and really, who doesn't?) you have to give this recipe a try. It will be a perfect compliment to your brats or burgers or whatever you throw on the grill this weekend.

First, make your sauce by combining the mayo, sour cream, vinegar, celery seed, parsley, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

Set that aside while you cook, cool, and dice 2 1/2 pounds of red potatoes. (I leave the skins on because I like them that way, but you can peel them if you want to.)

Next, you'll need the potatoes, celery, green onion, bacon, and blue cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about this.

Combine the potatoes, green onion, celery in a bowl.

Toss these together gently, then pour the sauce over and combine. Gently. Those potatoes will break up if you're not careful.

Add the bacon and the blue cheese, and voila! The best darn potato salad that ever ticked your tastebuds.

I'm not kidding. You think I'm kidding, but when you try this recipe you will see that I absolutely am not.

I like to make this up ahead of time and refrigerate it for a few hours to let the flavors combine. 

So there you go. A new recipe to add to your Memorial Day feast. It really isn't hard to make and is SO worth the effort. You sure won't get a potato salad that tasty from behind the deli counter.

For a printable recipe, click here.

Now tell me, what will be on your Memorial Day cookout menu?


Fabulous Friday Food - Banana Streusel Muffins

I can't believe I haven't shared a muffin recipe with you yet. I love making muffins--so easy!

I especially love eating muffins--they're kind of like your own personal cake, except healthier.

At least I tell myself they're healthier--they have fruit in them, right? One can dream.

For these muffins, I simply searched around on the internet and found a recipe that looked like a good start. But, of course, it's me; I had to tweak the recipe just a bit. And one of my tweaks was adding whole wheat flour. Yea for healthy muffins!

So if you've got some bananas hanging around that are threatening to turn brown pretty soon, grab them, smash them up and get baking.

Here we go!

Basically, muffins take three bowls: a big, daddy-size bowl for dry ingredients; a medium, mama-size bowl for wet ingredients; and a small, baby bowl for the topping.

After you've mixed your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon) in one bowl and your wet ingredients (eggs, sour cream, melted butter, mushed bananas) in another, you just combine them.

Wet ingredients into dry, please.

Voila! Batter!

True confessions time: I only wanted to make muffins because Julia and I recently found these adorable muffin papers at Sur Le Table (LOVE!).

Aren't they the cutest?!

Of course, I don't need much of an excuse to bake. Excuses galore needed to exercise, but baking? Never!

I digress . . .

Now make your streusel. It's not hard. Just remember to combine the flour, sugar, and cinnamon first, then cut in the butter using either two knives or a pastry blender (my preferred method).

Now sprinkle the streusel on top of the batter in the muffin papers.

Another true confession: I doubled the streusel from the recipe I found on the internet. I like a lot of streusel! Don't worry, I doubled it on my recipe, so you won't have to.

Now you're ready to pop them in the oven. Pop! (Side annoyance: I've already written about how I kinda dislike Sandra Lee. She's the one who always says, "Pop! them in the oven" all perky-like. Ugh.)

See? Plenty o' streusel.

Bake these puppies for 20-25 minutes in a 375 degree oven and here you go . . . banana deliciousness.

Another side note: don't you love my cake stand?

I got it last year when I was in New York at a store we stumbled upon one evening called Fishs Eddy. Such a cool store! I was so happy to find this cake stand because the stand comes apart from the plate, making it easier to store in my cupboard. Plus, every time I use it I remember the fun times I had with those sweet girls in NYC.

These muffins turned out great! Not too sweet, and just the right consistency. Give them a try this weekend.

You can find the printable recipe here.

And also, if you paid veeerrry close attention to this post you got a bonus recipe. Did you find it? :)

Tell me, what's your favorite kind of muffin?


Fabulous Friday Food - Spring Green Risotto

Note: This is a reprint of a post I did last June, but since it's Spring and also asparagus season, I thought this would be good to share again. Have a wonderful Easter!

This recipe comes straight from my cooking muse, Ina Garten. I want to be Ina. I want to cook her fabulous food and work in her fabulous kitchen and live in her fabulous home and throw fabulous parties for my fabulous friends. She is the epitome of fabulous.

Alas, I am not Ina and I'm pretty far from fabulous, but I can make her fabulous food (on Friday . . . get it?).

Let me tell you, this one truly is fabulous. I'm pretty much a risotto freak, and this is one of the best I've ever had. I've made it twice now, and both times it has been amazing.

Let's get cooking!

Assemble your ingredients (there are kind of a lot for this one--and I have no idea why they aren't all in the picture): olive oil, butter, leeks, Arborio rice, white wine, chicken stock, asparagus, peas, lemons, mascarpone cheese, and Parmesan.

Ina tells you to use a couple more ingredients like fennel and chives, but I didn't have them and I didn't feel like using them. My risotto turned out just fine.

Warm your stock in one pan while you heat the oil and butter in another.

Add the chopped leeks to the oil and butter, and cook a few minutes.

I just need to stop and say that I had never cooked with leeks before. Yes, it's true. I was a little intimidated because every time someone on the Food Network talked about leeks they sounded like leeks were such a pain in the neck to clean. I mean, what with all the tough green stems you had to cut off and the sand between the leaves, they made it seem like you could spend the whole day washing the darned thing before you got around to cooking it.

Enter Trader Joe's and their pre-washed, pre-cut, pre-packaged leeks. Can we all shout a collective "Amen" for Trader Joe's and their leek situation? Hallelujah!

Alright. I'm fine now.

Once you've softened the leeks, add the rice and stir it around a little bit to coat it.

Add some wine. And maybe just a splash more. Because . . . you know . . . wine!

Here's where you do the risotto thing. Once the wine is absorbed, start adding the chicken stock a couple of ladles-full at a time. Stir it around a bit so it doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pan. Because it will, if you don't watch it.

While that's happening, cook the asparagus in some boiling water for just a couple of minutes. Be careful here because you don't want mushy asparagus.

After two or three minutes, pull the asparagus out of the pot . . .

. . . and give it a good old ice bath.

By now, your risotto should be getting all nice and soft, but not too soft.

Add the asparagus and the peas (I don't know where the peas went in this picture!) and cook for about another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix together the mascarpone cheese and lemon juice.

Add that, along with the lemon zest and some salt and pepper, to the pot, stirring to mix everything together well.

And there you have it . . . Spring Green Risotto. Serve in a pretty dish and enjoy! (I know you will . . . it's that good.)

For a printable copy of the recipe (the way I made it, so it's not exactly Ina's recipe), click here.

Fabulous Friday Food - Breakfast Won Tons

I know, I know, it's not technically Friday. Just play along, will you?

Want a quick, easy, make-ahead recipe for when you have out-of-town guests for the weekend? You have GOT to try this one.

As I mentioned last week, my college roommate and her daughter came into town last weekend. We had a blast! It's always great to have them here, and hopefully, in a couple of years, we'll be seeing even more of them when E comes to school here. *fingers crossed*

Anyway, I love creating fun breakfasts when visitors arrive. You don't always know what you'll end up doing for lunch and dinner (although I always have options), but you can pretty much guarantee that everyone will be around for breakfast. I like to offer a little something sweet, a little something savory, and a little fruit. Nothing huge and heavy, but just enough to get us started.

So last weekend I made these beauties that everyone loved. I made the filling a day or two ahead of time and just baked them up in the morning when I needed them. Easy!

You only need four ingredients: sausage, cheese, ranch dressing, and won ton wrappers. You can handle four ingredients, right?

Brown the sausage with a little olive oil.

After the sausage has browned, put it in a bowl to cool just a bit.

Add about a half cup of ranch dressing.

And about a cup and a half of cheese--cheddar/monterrey jack combo.

Mix everything together.

Let me know if you need me to slow down.

At this point you can either transfer the sausage mixture into a plastic container to refrigerate until you need it . . .

. . . or you can bake these puppies up and devour them.

Here's how you bake them.

Take 24 won ton wrappers and carefully shape them into a mini-muffin tray that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Just kind of smoosh it in, like this.

Put the tray of empty won tons in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes until they get slightly brown around the edges.

Now fill the won tons with a teaspoon or two of the sausage mixture.

And bake for another 10-15 minutes, but watch them! They can burn!

You'll know they're done when they are crispy and brown . . . like this.


Now pile them up on a pretty plate . . .

. . . and enjoy!

Note: this recipe actually makes about 48 won tons. I only baked about half of what I had. 

If you want the printable version of this recipe, click here.

Fabulous Friday Food - Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Sorry I'm a day late here with the FFF. Read on and you'll see why.


I often tell my college girl and her friends, "Take a good look at these people because you'll be friends with them for the rest of your life."

They kind of laugh, nervously. They're probably wondering if they really DO want to be friends with these people in 30 years. But they do. They really do.

This weekend, my roommate from college (hey, Jen!) is staying at my house. She brought her daughter for a college visit, which makes me very happy because that means that if her daughter comes here we'll have another girl to look out for (yea!) AND Jen might come visit a little more often (yea! again). This weekend, though, we'll probably drive our kids nuts as we reminisce about all the antics Jen dragged me into when we lived together.

She really was a trouble maker, that one.


It's going to be a fun weekend, and in anticipation of Jen and Ellen's arrival, I've done a little cooking. Yesterday I made some Italian Beef (forgot to take pictures--sorry!), some Sausage Breakfast Cups (recipe next week!), and a coffee cake that is heavenly.

I'm a sucker for sour cream. How about you? Pretty much anything with sour cream in it is amazing in my book. So when I saw that this recipe called for not one, but TWO cups of sour cream--an entire pint!--I knew I couldn't go wrong. (Besides, my mom has made this coffee cake for me, so I've already tasted it and I know it's amazing.)

The best thing about this coffee cake, though, is that, like wine and women, it gets better with age. The longer it sits, the more moist it becomes. So bake it a day or two ahead of time--if you can resist it that long.

Here we go.

Ingredients are pretty basic: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, soda, salt, sour cream, cinnamon (duh!), and nuts (walnuts or pecans, whatever you like).

May I give you a little baking tip here? Set out your butter and eggs at least a half an hour, if not an hour ahead of time. Your cake will turn out so much better if you use room temperature butter and eggs. I didn't believe it until recently, but trust me, it's just better. Everything seems to mix together easier.

This is so easy. Just cream together the butter and 2 cups of sugar until they are light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.

Now, if you don't worry about things like raw eggs (I don't--I eat raw cookie dough all the time), take a little taste of the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla mixture. Call me crazy, but that's one of my favorite combinations in the world.

(Don't tell anyone at the Food Network. They'll never hire me.)

Moving along.

Sift together the flour, soda, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Like this.


Sour cream.

Somewhere I read that you should always start and end with the flour, so that's what I did. Can anyone set me straight on that? Is that right?

Once that's mixed together, combine the cinnamon, nuts, and 3/4 cup sugar. I just used the same bowl as the flour--easier to clean up. And I'm all about the easy clean up.

Put about half the batter into a 10 inch tube pan. Yes, a tube pan. I know it's not as pretty as a bundt pan, but there's just too much batter to use a bundt pan. Sorry, I tried it and it didn't work.

Sprinkle the cinnamon/nut/sugar mixture over the top. If you want to be really fancy, you could do this in 2 or 3 layers, but I'm lazy, so I just put it in the middle.

Then put the rest of the batter on top.

Another baking tip for you. Do you have trouble spreading the top layer because the cinnamon and nuts keep wanting to come through the bits of batter? Use a spreader, like the kind you use for frosting, and spread it very gently. I think it works better.

Bake the cake at 350 for 60-65 minutes. Check it with a toothpick to make sure it's done. Cool for about a half an hour before you remove it from the pan, otherwise you'll have a cakey, gooey mess on your hands.

So there--delicious coffee cake to share with your very own college roommate. Why not call her up and invite her for the weekend?

Here's the printable version if you want it.

Now share. What are YOU doing this weekend?


Fabulous Friday Food - Lemon Squares

Well, my friends, you've asked. . . . and asked. . . . and asked.

I cannot tell you how fun cool interesting it is to me that you actually like my recipes and want more. So, because you asked, I'm bringing back Fabulous Friday Food.

For one week, anyway.

No guarantees as to what next week will bring.

Who do you think I am, the Pioneer Woman?

I wish.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I shared a little meme which asked the question, "When life hands me lemons I make . . ." to which I answered, "Lemon squares, of course!"

Now, lemons, to me, are not a bad thing. In fact, lemons are good things. They are juicy and tart and bright yellow. Lemons remind me of the sun. Which is what makes this post fitting for this week because we have had SUN! Lots and lots of sun. In fact, we've broken records this week for bright, sunny, WARM March days (all oxymorons, of course).

A couple of you asked me to share a recipe for lemon squares after that meme, so, to re-inaugurate (is that even a word?) Fab Friday Food and to celebrate the warm, lemony sunshine we've been having, I'm giving you my recipe.

Except you have to know something--it's not my recipe. I use Emeril's recipe which you can find here. I've tried a whole bunch of lemon square recipes over the years, and I really do think this one is the best.

You have to know one more thing, too. I looked back to see when I last did a Fabulous Friday Food post (June, 2011--yikes!), and do you know what I posted? (Why would you?) It was Amy's Lemon Cake. Isn't that weird? I think that's weird. I also think I have a thing for lemons.

So are you ready? Here we go! Get your ovens ready because we're making lemon squares.

As always, assemble your ingredients (this really does save time). Lemons (duh!), butter, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, salt, and powdered sugar. Simple, huh?

First you have to make the crust, and the easiest way to do this is in the food processor. Just dump in the butter, flour, and powdered sugar and give it a whirl.

Ten pulses or so ought to do it.

Your mixture should look like cornmeal or slightly larger.

Put the crust mixture into a parchment lined 9x13 inch baking pan . . .

. . . and pat it down so the crust is evenly distributed in the pan.

Put this in the oven.

While the crust is baking, make the filling by combining the granulated sugar, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and baking powder. (Are you still with me? This is so easy I thought you might have nodded off there for a minute.)

When the crust has baked, it should be slightly brown. Like this.

Pour the filling over the warm crust. Emeril says that if you add the filling while the crust is still warm it will set up better. Emeril is smart.

Now bake this.

When it's finished it should look like this.

Once your lemon squares have cooled completely, dust the entire thing with powdered sugar. Cut into generous squares and enjoy with a cold glass of milk . . .

. . . on a nice, warm, sunny lemony day.

If you want a printable copy of this recipe, click here: Lemon Squares.

Now, talk to me. Do you really want more recipes? 'Cause I've got 'em if you want 'em. Just let me know in the comments. It's all for you, my friends. All for you.

Fabulous Friday Food: Lemon Cake

I just realized that I promised you a FFF post . . . yesterday.

But yesterday I had the afternoon to myself, so I ran a ton of errands that I had been putting off. Important things like buying hair spray and getting my mug shot taken for my new I.D. card for my new job. *gulp* But they were errands that Julia would not have enjoyed, so I sent her off to the pool with a friend and I got down to business.

Except that I forgot to put up my FFF post. Sorry about that. I may be late, but I'm not a liar, so here we go.

Today's recipe comes from my BFF Amy. Every year at Christmas, Amy hosts the most beautiful Christmas party at her home. She invites all of our neighbors, and she makes a fabulous Raspberry Champagne Punch. (Note to self: steal borrow Amy's recipe and post Raspberry Champagne Punch recipe around Christmastime.)

Anyway, Amy always serves beautiful appetizers and desserts, and every year, without fail, Amy makes this lemon cake. Oh boy, is it delicious.

And have I mentioned that lemon cake is B's favorite? It is. (I think.)

Personally, I think lemon cake is a perfect summertime dessert because it's light and fruity and delicious. (Could I write commercials, or what?) And this cake is especially so.

I made this cake earlier in the week for a meeting we held at our house, and without naming names Don can I just say that certain people ate more than two pieces? And certain others might have had more than one?

That's O.K. It makes me happy when people really enjoy something I've made.

When one of my friends (who reads my blog) was leaving our house that night she said, "I'll look for the recipe on your blog!" But, alas, I had forgotten to take pictures!

Being the faithful blogger that I am, I decided to bake another cake for all of you, but especially for Kate who wanted the recipe. I now have another lemon cake in my fridge, and frankly, my family is getting a little tired of it, so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by. I'll share.

You'll probably just want to make your own, though, because this recipe is so easy. Forget "Five Ingredient Fix," this is a Four Ingredient Fantasy.

All you need is a lemon cake (baked and cooled), lemonade concentrate, sweetened condensed milk, and Cool Whip. That's it! (Don't tell Amy I said this, but no wonder she serves it at her party! There's nothing easier!)

You need a 6 oz. container of lemonade concentrate. Remember when they used to make the small ones? Guess what. They don't seem to make those anymore. At least my grocery store doesn't carry them. So just buy a big container and measure out six ounces.

In a mixing bowl, pour the can of sweetened condensed milk.

Then add the lemonade.

And stir the two together.

Easy, right? Now hold on, things are about to get harder.

Add one 8 ounce container of Cool Whip, thawed . . . (I guess the thawing must be the hard part.)

. . . and a few drops of yellow food coloring . . .

. . . and mix it all together. There's your frosting!

Now, take the cake you've baked--I've used a 9 x 13 inch pan, but you can use round layers too (that's what Amy does)--and carefully remove it from the pan. (By the way, my cake really wasn't moldy--it just looks like it in these pictures.)

Set the cake on a sheet of waxed paper.

Take some toothpicks and poke them into where the center of the cake would be--all the way around.

Then take a knife and cut just above the toothpicks. Now you know how all the pros cut the cake layers to make their fancy cakes. Cool, huh?

Now you have two layers.

Remove the toothpicks and return the bottom layer to the pan . . .

. . . and cover it with half of the frosting.

Top with the second half . . .

. . . and cover with the remaining frosting.

Once you've kind of dolloped around the top of the cake, you're done! Easy peasy lemon cake, right?

You could probably garnish with a thin slice of lemon if you want. I obviously didn't.

One more thing . . . make sure you keep this one in the refrigerator. I know Cool Whip seems like it could withstand a nuclear disaster of epic proportions and still come out just fine, but it's probably best to be safe.

If you really can't remember how to do this and you'd like to print out the recipe, you can click on the link below.

Amy's Lemon Cake

Now tell me, what are you cooking this weekend? Any Father's Day plans?