Christmas Eve Dinner

I spent much of Christmas Eve trying to finish up my home made gifts.  I wanted an easy dinner, one that I could slide into the oven and not worry about.  One that had vegetables, starch, and meat on one pot.  My of the hubby’s favorite dinners is a recipe I found in the Rao cookbook a few years back. It is Chicken with Peppers and Sausage.

chx-and-peppers-with-sausage

It is a super easy recipe, bone in chicken pieces, italian sausage cut into 1″ pieces, peppers, onions, diced tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes.  All seasoned with oregano, salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil.  Toss it all in one pan, roast at 425 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes, turning the contents of the pan every 20 minutes or so.  The meat falls off the bone, the flavors are off the charts delicious, and it is ridiculously easy to make.  What more could you ask for on an early winter’s night.  Plus, cooking it makes your house smell AMAZING!

HELLO! I’M BACK!

Oh my goodness, I so did not mean to take this long to write another post.  It has been one heck of a holiday season!  Work was insane….which scares the heck outta me because typically the spring semester is busier than the fall semester.  Time just seems to go faster and faster every year.  I can’t believe we are already in the second week of January.  It is hard to believe that my students come back on Monday.  I doesn’t feel like it has been a week since they left.

Anyway, I have been cooking and taking photo’s – just not blogging – so here goes!

For the last admissions open house in December, I always make desserts for our student ambassadors.  This year, time was tight, so I made a pan of caramel brownies, a pan of blondies, and this amazingly awesome apple cake.  Oh my, was the apple cake delicious, so full of apples, barely sweet, with a nice hint of dark rum….YUM! It was the first dessert that the kids devoured, but have no fear….they ate every bit of the home made desserts and begged for more.

 

2016 was a crazy year and I didn’t get the opportunity to make as much jam as I usually do, thankfully, I was able to make a 5 gallon batch of hard cider and multiple batches of cranberry vodka, so at least I had gifts to give away to friends and co-workers.

Hard Cidercranberry-vodka

I, of course,  made  multiple batches of what my neighbor Kim lovingly refers to as Christmas Crack….aka….Burnt Sugar Almonds

sugar almonds

So all was right with the world.  I am hoping that life will slow down a bit once I am finish my responsibilities as task force chair of one of our program review teams.  I am putting in an additional 15-20 hours per week as part of the task force.   March 1st can’t come soon enough!  I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, mine was good, it just went  by wayyyyy to quickly!

Beef….

Is what I did for Thanksgiving!  This year it was just the hubby and I for dinner.  Our niece has a big family Thanksgiving meal at her house on the Saturday after Turkey Day so I knew we would be having turkey.  It gave me a chance to change things up a bit.

t-day-menu

Between my work schedule and the husbands travel schedule, I haven’t been spending as much time in the kitchen as I like.  I find it very therapeutic, so I took the opportunity to spend the entire day in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.   We started with bacon and homemade buttermilk waffles.

Because honestly, a day that starts with bacon is ALWAYS a good day in my book!  For lunch, I made a pot of pasta fagioli soup and paired it with a good old grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

soup-and-sammie

Late afternoon, I put out a plate of cheese and crostini, I found a really awesomely sharp cheddar and a creamy brie.  It was a perfect little bit to get us through the second football game of the day.

Finally, it was time for dinner.  Our first course was homemade pumpkin ravioli.  I made the filling in the morning and just before dinner, I made the dough.  I picked up a ravioli maker from Williams Sonoma and it made my life so much easier.  That and the pasta rolling attachment for my kitchen aid meant I went from a ball of dough to actual ravioli in under twenty minutes!

I made a very simple cream sauce, butter, cream and Parmesan cheese for the ravioli, they were amazing.  I can’t wait to make them again!

For dinner, we grilled beef tenderloin steaks and asparagus, and I made twice baked potatoes. I even made homemade bread using my sour dough starter, I am telling you, I was in the kitchen ALL DAY LONG, and I loved it!

It is always good to end the day on a sweet note, neither the hubby or I are big fans of pie, so I made a caramel apple cheesecake instead.  It was AWESOME!

 

It was a very relaxing, enjoyable day, which I think we both needed and for which I was truly grateful.

Cranberry Vodka

Fresh cranberries have made their debut in my grocery store and it isn’t a minute too soon as far as I am concerned!  I started making liqueurs for the holidays about ten years ago.  Up until three years ago, I had never duplicated a recipe.  Well that all changed when I made Cranberry Vodka.  It was a huge hit and I have had multiple requests for it.  I sincerely doubt I could get away without making it for the holidays, it is now a tradition.

cranberry-vodka

It is super simple to make, you toss the cranberries in a food processor to chop them finely, you add them to a jar along with a bit of lime peel, orange peel, a cinnamon stick, vodka, and simple syrup.  You let it sit on the counter, covered, shaking it every few days, for the next 8 weeks.  After that it is a simple matter of straining the vodka and bottling it.   I absolutely love the color, it will deepen over the next few weeks, it is such a cheerful color that livens up even the coldest, dreariest, darkest days of winter.

Luckily, I have found some pretty bottles to decant the liqueur into for the holidays.   Between this and the hard apple cider that is currently fermenting in my kitchen, we should have a festive holiday season on our hands.

Apples, apples, everywhere

I worked Saturday morning, but was done by 12:30pm, whoo hooo!  I left work and drove straight to the farm stand.  I picked up a half bushel of Cortland apples and five gallons of apple cider.

I turned the apples into maple apple jam and an apple crisp.

It is so hard for me to believe that I have only done strawberry jam and now maple apple jam.  Usually by this time of year, I have at least 10 different varieties of jam, nicely labeled and sitting in my office ready to give away at Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas presents, I decided to brew hard cider again this year.   I took the five gallons of unpasteurized, freshly pressed cider from the farm stand, poured it into a five gallon food grade bucket and added a little bit of brown sugar.  Once the sugar measured 16 brix on the scale, I added the yeast and topped the container with a lid.

hard-cider-brewing

I will need to check the sugar level each day, until it reaches 2 brix.  Once that occurs, the cider is done fermenting and can be transferred to another container where it will sit until the cider clears and I can then bottle it.  For those impatience folks out there, yes, there is a product you can use to clear the cider and bottle it immediately, but it is made from shellfish so I can’t use it.  I just have to do it the old fashioned way and wait.  I did put a sign on the container, the last thing I need is five gallons of sticky sweet apple cider to be spilled in my kitchen!

London Broil

Our weather has been a bit crazy, lots of late day thunderstorms, pretty much what you expect this time of year!  I was tired from a long weekend, so I opted for an easy dinner on Monday night.  I picked up a beautiful London Broil from the local market.  I poured a bottle of store bought marinade over the meat, turning it once to coat the entire piece, then covered it with foil and placed it in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours.  It is a recipe that I learned from one of my line cooks at work.

The meat was so tender,  you didn’t even need a knife to cut it. This is such an easy recipe and I like that you put it in the oven hours before you are going to serve it.  It only leaves you with a few side dishes to make at the last minute and as an added bonus, the house smells delicious!

london broil

I made a batch of mashed potatoes and sauteed some zucchini from our garden with a bit of red onion and tomatoes.   I even indulged in some mashed potatoes, my favorite food on the planet, thank you very much!

There was just enough left over for the hubby to have it again for lunch on Tuesday.  Not a bad way to end a four day holiday!

Neighborhood BBQ

Late Saturday afternoon I texted a few neighbors to see who was around on Sunday and if anyone was interested in an impromptu BBQ.  There were three other families around and interested.  Everyone brought food and drink, we relaxed on the deck, played some yard games, and genuinely had a lovely time.

It was so relaxing, just a casual get together of friends on a long holiday weekend.  I couldn’t have asked for a nicer day or a better group of neighbors!  We had some hamburgers and two different kinds of sausage, I made my Mom’s cucumber salad, which as a total aside, the kids thought were pickles and ate nearly ALL of them, hehe!  My neighbors brought pasta salad, spinach salad, all manor of dips, chips, snacks, chicken sausage, hot dogs, and even two different types of sangria.  For goodness sake, no one left hungry, in fact, we had food to spare!

Since we had a bunch of kiddo’s at the party, I opted to make a batch of sugar cookies that I rolled in rainbow sanding sugar.  They were a big hit.  I don’t usually make sugar cookies, I tend to make chocolate chip or peanut butter, so I was pleasantly reminded about the power of a really good vanilla-y sugar cookie.  They were delicious, and the coarse sugar on the outside gave them a nice crunch to off set the chewy softness of the cookie.

cookies

The day ended with a beautiful sunset, that we all enjoyed while sitting on the back deck, laughing and talking.   What a wonderful mid summer night! I am so grateful to live in a neighborhood with such fantastic people.

sunset