Making Tamales & memories…

November 2015

Greetings fellow foodie friends!

It’s mid-November here in Minnesota and we’ve yet to really see any Winter, which is just fine by me! But, my body-clock knows it’s almost here, because I am craving soups, macaroni & cheese, any pasta dish for that matter and bread and cheese. Oof! I’ve decided that instead of being all proud of myself for knowing how to whip up a creamy béchamel sauce, that it’s actually a curse to know. At any given moment, there are at least five different types of cheese in my refrigerator and freezer, just hanging out, waiting patiently, to get all melty and gooey in a pan of hot pasta. I can have a pan of the creamy devil ready in about 10 minutes…

September 2015-blog post

The real estate market is going to end 2015 on a positive note, across the country really. Here in Minnesota, many people must have took the month of September off, because we had quite a dip in activity over that time period. A couple of my sellers have chosen to take their homes off the market until next Spring, hoping to do some nice updates to their homes over the Winter. If this past Spring is any indication of what this coming one will be, it’s going to be BUSY! And I am taking advantage of this quiet time to get myself ready for that!

Gabs & Dom

These two… ❤ This fall I had one kid start Junior High and the other started Senior High. They have both been doing really well, even with having to be out the door by 7:15am everyday! Although I despise getting out of bed that early, I do manage to have a very productive day, starting that early!  Both are taking Culinary classes this year, so there is alot of talk about Food around our house!

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One of the things I try to do with my kids, is create food-memories.  I love to make things most people wouldn’t even attempt.  And hope someday, they’ll look back and appreciate that.  A couple months ago, my daughter had a friend come over and we made Tamales together. I have always wanted to try to make them and they turned out surprisingly well! You can actually take a class locally, at El Burrito Mercado, Tamalada, that teaches you how and then you get to leave with a bunch.  Both classes for 2015 sold out already, but they have plans for bigger classes in 2016.  And you can always just buy Tamales (and LOTS more) in their Deli!  Find out more HERE.  We took a field trip there that day, for lunch & inspiration and some last minute ingredients for our recipe.

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We made two different kinds of Tamales that day; Chicken & Cheese. The Cheese ones had Havarti cheese & pickled Jalapeños in them…have you ever had those before?! I am not much for super spicy foods, but I love these and find myself putting them on burgers, sandwiches etc. all the time!

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I think if I do them again, I will steam them flat, instead of standing on the ends like you see in the picture. Doing them that way, was okay, but some of the filling started to fall out of the corn husks as the batter expanded.

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We used a Rotisserie Chicken, which made the process go alot quicker!  Costco now even sells pulled Rotisserie Chicken for you!  Can it get much easier than that?!  There are a million recipes out there on how to make Tamales.  I found a great one, and a video showing me exactly how online.  Click HERE for the video, and HERE for a link to the recipe.  I did use Lard, and wish I would have used a better broth, so don’t skip that part either.

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To go with the Tamales, I made a Tomatillo Salsa, or as she called, Green Salsa.  The girls hadn’t ever touched a Tomatillo before, so the sticky parts inside of the husk was a surprise to them!  You’ll see that salsa and those jalapeño pickles find their way onto a burger shortly after that 🙂

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My family and I are anxiously awaiting our annual trip to the North Shore for Thanksgiving…I will share some pictures while there on my Instagram feed, but mostly hope to really unplug and cuddle and eat and spend time with my sweet family.  We are still narrowing down our menu, and I’ve been relying on my Pinterest Board-Get your Gobble On, for ideas!  Looking forward to fireside chats…brisk hikes…eating…drinking wine…I can’t wait!!! ❤

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And if you are a Minnesotan and haven’t ever been up to Duluth for the annual Bentleyville Tour of  Lights event, get it on your calendar for this year!  It runs from November 21st-December 27th and you can find out more info HERE.

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Wishing you all, a warm, relaxing & delicious Thanksgiving with family & friends!

Cheers! ~Shawn

Silver linings…

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Once upon a time, there was a girl that really didn’t know how to cook.  She met a boy, who did and decided she wanted to try to impress him, with her cooking prowess. She failed, miserably.

Read on…

As a kid, I learned how to “feed” myself & my little brother, out of necessity basically.  My Mom was a nurse and would often works nights and long shifts.  We did a lot of fending for ourselves.  Mac & Cheese was a staple, as was Chicken Noodle & Tomato soup.  And scrambled eggs.  I remember the day my Mom bought us a electric griddle and I learned how to make really super cheesy grilled cheese sandwiches.  I was even able to make Sloppy Joes in that thing!  And Hamburgers…that I sometimes covered with the Chicken Noodle soup.  Don’t knock it until you try it! Yeah, I know, very gourmet. To this day however, nothing says comfort to me, than a big bowl of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Oh and I could make perfect Chocolate Chip cookies!  At least they were perfect to me.  And they are still one of my favorite things to make! ❤

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Fast forward a decade or so and I met my future husband.  He grew up around many fantastic family cooks, spending weekends with his grandparents cooking & gardening. His food career began at the ripe age of 15 working in the kitchen of a neighborhood restaurant, just about an hour outside of Philadelphia.  One day, a couple of years after we had been dating, I decided I wanted to make something really special for dinner.  By now my cooking skills had improved slightly. I could make pasta, rice, potatoes… you know all the good cheap carbs a busy young girl could whip up, quick & easy.  I loved me anything you could make from a box, as well.  You know the ones, Pasta Roni, Rice-a-Roni, and yes…even Hamburger Helper.  How did I ever survive those days! 🙂

I don’t even know where I found this recipe, but it just sounded so “gourmet” and delicious.  I wanted to prove to myself, that I could make something really great.  Maybe I was also trying to win his permanent affection.  Good thing I didn’t place too much stock on that first “gourmet” meal.  It didn’t end well…the dinner, that is.

Vegetable Cannelloni

The recipe was called “Vegetable Stuffed Cannelloni with a Sherry Cream Sauce”… or something like that.  I did find a recipe on Epicurious that was very similar.  The original recipe was destroyed…on purpose…after the failed meal.  You can see that recipe here.

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I went shopping for ingredients, some of which I had never bought before (eggplant, zucchini) and then spent hours (or at least it felt that way) chopping, cooking and prepping the meal.  Carefully stuffed the pasta…poured that insanely delicious cream sauce over the whole bit and popped it into the oven.  I had some leftover sauce in a pan on the stove, that I saved in case I needed more once it was done baking.  Once the timer on the oven went off, I carefully removed that bubbling, incredible smelling masterpiece and placed it on the stove top…on the burner that was keeping that leftover sauce warm.

Those of you that have been through this kind of nightmare before, you probably know exactly where I am going…  Within seconds, the entire glass baking dish, containing that masterpiece I had spent most of the day toiling over, exploded into tiny shards of glass, all over my stovetop, counters and kitchen floor.  I was both shocked & scared and didn’t know what to do, other than fall to ground and proceed to cry like a three year old.  Apparently, you aren’t supposed to put any glass baking dishes on direct heat sources.  It was insane.  There wasn’t even one spoonful we could salvage, for just a bite to see how it tasted! 😦

My sweet future husband just crouched down next to me, telling me it was okay, that I meant well and it was just an accident.  I was devastated.  I didn’t cook anything “gourmet” for quite some time after that.

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Fast forward to about a month ago, I saw a post on Instagram from Dana Cowin, the Editor of Food & Wine magazine, promoting her new cookbook, “Mastering My Mistakes In The Kitchen”.  She was asking for people to share their biggest kitchen fail and of course, I had to share this story.  I have thought about that dish many times since, and have learned to become a much better cook…not to mention, learning that very hard lesson, that you should not EVER put a glass baking on anything hot or cold!

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A day or so later, I see a notification that I won a copy of her new cookbook!  My sad story has a silver lining!  As I sat there, excited for my luck, I thought “Shawn, you should find that recipe and make it again!”  And, this time, make it with Homemade Ricotta cheese…if you haven’t made that yet, DO IT!  SO creamy & insanely delicious!

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My hubby is returning from another fabulous work trip, this time to Brazil, so I thought I would make this for his welcome home meal.  I am also excited to start cooking from Dana Cowin’s new cookbook.  I plan to try the recipe for Sweet Potato, Coconut + Five Spice Gratin and the Chili of Forgiveness.  Oh and the Halibut with Red Coconut Curry. And the Pimento-Cheese Grits…and possibly the Pear + Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake.  Oh my! ❤

This was a fun post…reminicing about my food journey!  I’ve come along way!  Do you have a similar kitchen failure story?  I would love to hear about it!

Until next time, Cheers! ~Shawn

 

Brine that bird Baby!

Brine

(the above picture was from my #summerofsalads post on Chicken salad but it’s a good representation of what your Brine will look like once you’ve placed in the bird)

Hey there!  It’s the week before the big feast and I am sure alot of you are starting to think about how you’ll prepare your bird this year.  I say Brine it first baby! 🙂

I started along the Brining path, this past year, in an effort to tenderize the little hens we were getting from our friends who’ve been raising chickens the past couple of years.  This summer, we still had a HUGE Turkey in the freezer from last Thanksgiving and I decided I wanted to try and Brine it before I Smoked it.  People, let me tell you….it was SO juicy and delicious!  And typically, I don’t really like Turkey!  Now, if you can Brine it and then Smoke it, great, but if not, it’s still going to be amazing!

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(the above picture was also from my #summerofsalads post on Chicken salad)

I was at the grocery store over the weekend and saw a woman and her husband talking about Brining their Turkey.  The husband didn’t want to deal with it, but she had always wanted to.  I saw her in the next aisle and told her to do it!  I haven’t ever used a bag to do so (which is what they were looking at) and wouldn’t trust it not to break open, so I say, grab the biggest container you have and get at it!  If the temperatures are right, you can carefully leave the container (covered) in the garage for the Brining process.  Disclaimer:  just be sure the liquid stays cold enough the whole time, 38 degrees or less.  You don’t want to make everyone sick on Thanksgiving.

I did a little research for you; I use a big pickle bucket my hubby brought home from work and then place the whole thing in my garage fridge.  (do you have a neighbor with a garage fridge you could borrow a bit of space from?) You can purchase the same type of container, from Home Depot for less than $3.00!  Then you’ll have it for years to come, you can call it “Homers Brining Bucket” because trust me, once you Brine that bird, you’ll never go back! 🙂

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So, you’ll first need to thaw out your bird like you normally do….I like to Brine for at least 24 hours, so plan one extra day in the process.  Grab your big container and add the following to it:

Brine:

(Makes one gallon of brine; you’ll probably need two at least…)

3 lemons, cut in half

1 cup kosher salt  (I used pickling salt the last time!)

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

3 (I used roasted) Jalapeños seeds removed

fresh herbs…sage, thyme, oregano, chives etc.

(if fresh is not available, use at least 1 tablespoon of dried basil, oregano & thyme)

1 gallon cold water

Mix everything up together, careful to dissolve the salt & sugar before adding your bird.  Remove your bird from the wrapper and take out the giblets.  (you can save them in a bowl in the fridge to add back into the bird if you want when you bake it)  Rinse the Turkey, inside & out.  Then carefully submerge the bird in the Brining liquid.  It may try to float back up on you, and if so, you can place a heavy sauce pan on top of it to keep it down under the water.  About halfways through the Brining period, grab a long utensil and stir the liquid around the bird.

Over the weekend, I saw a local news channel posted the process of Brining a bird and used a bit different ingredients in their Brine.  As of this blog post, they still haven’t posted the recipe, but you can watch the video here.

Snoopy Thanksgiving

Now we are at T-day; carefully remove the bird from it’s bath, and place inside a clean sink.  Rinse the entire thing with cold water to remove the salt water and excess herbs etc.  I’ve even seen suggestions to soak the bird in cold water for a half hour or so, to help remove some of the salt.  That way your gravy won’t be too salty.  Place into your roasting pan, and bake at 350 degrees, for approximately 3 hours.  Follow this process for a bird weighing 16-22 pounds.  After the first hour, baste regularly (every half hour or so) and once the breast meat has reached a temp of 165 degrees, take it out.  Be sure to let it rest before slicing into it.  If you feel, during the process, your skin is getting too dark, cover it with a bit of aluminum foil.  You can also start with it covered, say for the first hour, then remove it for the remaining time.  I didn’t talk about seasoning the bird, hoping that you’ll have that covered okay…but definitely reach out if you need some suggestions.

Braised Potatoes

Looking for a few different ideas of sides etc. to have with your feast?  Check out my post from last year; it contains some great ideas on twists & new classics.  Also, I recently became obsessed with braising Potatoes….what?!?! Yep, they totally rock!  If you want to divert from the traditional mashed potato action, try these.  I got the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen and you can find it here.  (you’ll have to register to gain access to the recipe, but it’s worth it, trust me!)

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Please share this post with family & friends…I would be so “thankful” if you would!

I am hoping that you enjoy a delicious, relaxing holiday with those you love.  If you are headed out on Black Friday, be careful. 🙂

Cheers,  Shawn

Summer of Salads, Chicken…

Smoked Chicken Salad REC

Prior to getting my smoker, Smoked Chicken would be something I would rarely get the opportunity to enjoy, but when I did…oh, I did!  So, this year when we picked up our portion of chickens from our friends in Hugo that raise & process them for us, I knew some of these little babies were going in the smoker!  We had a friend over the night we made them, and I had smoked three chickens, planning for dinner that night and then making BBQ Chicken sandwiches for a family get together the next day.  This friend, whom I treasure, loved the Chicken SO much I was worried he’d eat it all and I wouldn’t have any left for the next day’s festivities!  So awesome!

One thing I love to do when smoking or even baking my chicken, is to brine it the day before.  It helps to make the chicken much more tender and delicious!  The friend that does our chickens for us, shared the following brine recipe I highly recommend!

Brine

Brine Recipe:

Makes one gallon of brine.

3 lemons, cut in half

1 cup kosher salt

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

3 (I used roasted) Jalapeños seeds removed

fresh herbs…we used lots of lemon thyme, oregano, chives

if fresh is not available, use at least 1 tablespoon of dried basil, oregano & thyme

1 gallon cold water

Use a bucket or container large enough to hold the chicken and the brining liquid.  I actually used a pickle bucket for my three chickens, but if you have a large pasta pot, or even a roasting pan, you can use that too.  Just be sure to get most of the chicken submerged for most of the time.  If you need to go in and move the chicken around, that’s okay too.  Keep your chicken refrigerated & in the brine for 24 hours before cooking if possible.  Once you are ready to cook the chicken, rinse it well under cold water and then add your rub or other seasonings.  Dispose of the brining liquid and clean your hands, counter & etc. well!

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BBQ Rub recipe:

1/2 cup paprika

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons mustard powder

1/4 cup chili powder

1/4 cup ground cumin

2 tablespoons black pepper

1/4 cup granulated garlic

2 tablespoons cayenne  (be careful, if you don’t like spicy BBQ, then dial back on this amount)

Jack Daniel's chips

Oh my gosh, can I just tell you about these chips?!?!  A friend of mine recommended these Jack Daniel’s brand wood chips to me, when she heard about my smoker.  I didn’t try them until recently, when I made this chicken actually, and now I want to use them all the time!!! They are GREAT!  They are about twice as expensive as basic chips, but when you are making something special, splurge and get yourself a bag! 🙂

Assorted chips

These WESTERN® BBQ Smoking Chips were what I used initially and I really liked them.  They come in a wide range of ‘flavors’.  I bought this Variety Pack my first time out.

Okay, so I know this post is titled Smoked Chicken, and I realize that not everyone has a smoker.  So, I want to show you a couple of ways you can smoke, without the smoker!  First, I have this Mini Smoker Box from Williams Sonoma and I love to use it on my grill!  It holds a small portion of whatever chips you have, and takes about 5-10 minutes to start smoking, but it works great for steaks, fish, vegetables, burgers & other deliciuosness from your grill!  And, oh my gosh, I totally want this Cast Iron Smoke & Sear Station wouldn’t that be fun!

When I first bought my Western chips, variety box, it had a small smoker tray in it, made specifically for grills.  They have a great video you can watch that shows you how to use the chips here.  And if you don’t want to fuss with any of the above, you can also try using a couple layers of aluminum foil.  The chips may burn up faster, so have a couple back up packs on reserve.  If you are using a smoker, you’ll want to soak the chips before using them, but if you are just using them on the grill, you don’t need to soak them, unless you are grilling something that takes awhile to cook.

Okay, time to get back on track!  This post is supposed to be about #summerofsalads!  Ha! 🙂

Salad Fixin's

So for this salad, you’ll want to gather your favorite greens, and then chop up your Smoked Chicken.  I added Black Beans, fresh roasted Corn-cut from the cob, chopped tomatoes, red bell pepper, hard boiled eggs and finished the salad with a small sprinkling of Parmesan cheese & crumbled Blue Cheese!  (have I mentioned I am a cheese-addict?) Be careful how much Blue Cheese you put on; you don’t want to drown out that smokey Chicken goodness!  Add any combination of “salad fixin’s” you like!  It’s your salad silly!

Smoked Chicken Salad up close

Now look at that beauty!  I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions for “smoking” chicken on your grill soon!  Let me know if you do & share what you tried!

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Have a wonderful 4th of July & Happy Birthday America!

Cheers, Shawn

A family recipe, Hunkie Ribs…

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Greetings food-lovin’ friends!

Yes, I know I’ve been away awhile…I have been busy with family & work… the kind that pays the bills, so sadly my food blogging has taken a back seat this past month.  I have also been getting ready for a couple great blog post series for the Summer, that I hope you’ll join me on!

Pulled Pork Salad

First, a “Summer of Salads” sharing all things entree salads with you.  I’ll talk a little about the different types of salad greens, how to make some (mostly) light & healthy dressings and then share some of my favorite entree salads!  Be sure to bookmark the hashtag #summerofsalads on Twitter so you can follow along!

And second, “Summer Sippers” a cocktail blog post series.  I haven’t really done the cocktail thing in the past, but have started to really enjoy a good cocktail instead of wine some nights.  Especially in the Summer!  Again, bookmark #summersippers and I hope you’ll join me on both Summer series!

Summer Sippers

So let’s talk about Hunkie Ribs.  I know, the name is strange.  The dish is a bit as well.  My husbands (partly Hungarian) father makes this dish and ever since I’ve been with my husband, he’s been making this for me.  It’s mostly a winter dish, because it can be pretty heavy if you choose to eat it with mashed potatoes.  I haven’t ever tried it on the grill (using my dutch oven or something similar) but might give that a go this summer.  And you have to like sauerkraut to like the dish!  Did you know, sauerkraut can be enjoyed on things other than hotdogs & brats?!  Actually, you wouldn’t even have to eat much of the sauerkraut to enjoy the dish, as you’ll see, the ribs cook on top of the sauerkraut, soaking in all that deliciousness from the kraut!  But come on, give it a try!  I LOVE the sauerkraut mixed into my potatoes! 🙂

Here’s what you’ll need:

Hunkie Ribs:

Pork Spare Ribs

Frank’s Kraut

Paprika (use any type, but we like both regular & smoked)

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

Garlic, granulated

Seasoned Salt, we use Lawry’s

Grab a big baking dish, glass or metal is fine.  We like to use Frank’s Kraut when using sauerkraut.  We’ve tried other kinds, but Frank’s is crunchy & has the best flavor.  Open the bag of kraut and place in the bottom of the pan.  On a seperate cutting board, cut down the ribs into 2-3 bone sections.  Place those on top of the kraut.

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Take your Lea & Perrins and sprinkle over the ribs, generously.  (you’ll want the ribs fully coated with it, so don’t be shy about it!)

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Grab the granulated Garlic and sprinkle the ribs with it, not too much, but enough so each of the ribs have some on it.  Then sprinkle the ribs with the Lawry’s seasoned salt.  Again, about as much as with the Garlic.

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Next step, is the Paprika.  Now, we’ve used all kinds of Paprika over the years.  Our favorite spice store, Penzey’s, carries four different kinds.  You can use sweet, which is the most traditional, but add in Hungarian and/or smoked for an extra kick!  You’ll want to thoroughly coat the ribs with the Paprika.  See the picture above, the coating will be THICK.  Trust me on this…you’ll love it when it comes eatin’ time!

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Once you’ve completed the Paprika step, wrap the pan in plastic wrap.  Then cover the plastic wrap with foil.  You want an air-tight seal on the ribs.  The foil helps the plastic wrap from melting during baking.  Place the ribs in the oven, set to 275 degrees for 2 & 1/2-3 hours.  Low & slow baby.

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When the ribs are done, the pan will look like this when you pull away the foil.  Be careful when pulling back the plastic wrap, that steam is gonna be HOT.  The meat should fall off the bone almost immediately. Serve this deliciousness over a bed of mashed potatoes or if you want to be healthier, next to a crisp salad!

Hunkie Ribs!

I am already working on my next post, more or less a wrap-up of the past month, food-wise.  So hopefully you’ll see that in the next couple of days.  I am hoping to begin the #summerofsalads series this week, with a great picnic salad for Memorial Day weekend!

Until then,  I want to know….how do you like to eat sauerkraut?

Cheers, Shawn

Curried Chicken & Couscous…and the winter that won’t end!

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Sorry I’ve been away for awhile…priorities have gotten in the way of fun…work…taxes…family…cats…you know, LIFE!  🙂  I feel like we are drowning in snow, here in Minnesota.  We’ve had 6+ inches of snow this past week (to add to the two+ feet on the ground) and today we are under a Winter Storm Warning currently with another 3-5 inches of snow today…AND temperatures are diving back into the single digits. Hello January.

Oh & Wednesday, it’s the first day of Spring.  Yeah, so there’s that.

Anyhoo, today I bring you my version of Sautéed Chicken Breast with Apple Curry Sauce, via Caprial’s Cafe Favorites written by Caprial Pence.  One of the things I love about this dish, is that it’s super quick & easy, perfect on a busy weeknight!  I have had this cookbook forever…and oddly enough, only ever made two things out of it!  She’s got plenty of great looking recipes…I will have to give some of the others a chance.  You know you love a recipe, when you grab the cookbook to refresh your memory and the book falls open to that exact page because the binding has worn itself open there!  Not to much the splatter marks of dinners past.  This dish definitely ignited my love of curry, many years ago.

I thought we could first talk about curry, because for some of you, it might be a new spice to your cabinet!  I buy most of my spices from Penzey’s but found another great online source call The Spice House.

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On the page where they show their curry powders they say this:  Curry powder is a blend of many spices, and comes in almost infinite varieties.  Each curry powder can have different component spices, in differing amounts–making each curry blend unique.  In recent years, Ras El Hanout has become increasingly popular as a Mediterranean style curry. Garam Masala is a Northern Indian style sweet curry blend useful for many vegetarian Indian dishes, and is available in whole or ground forms. And try our newest curry blend, the French-influenced vadouvan curry, a mild yellow curry with grated shallots.  Maharajah curry powder, a sweet yellow with cardamom and whole threads of saffron in the blend–it’s curry fit for a king!  We also offer a Thai red curry, which is hotter with lemongrass and galangal.”  I definitely want to try the Thai red curry!

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The two most common versions of curry powder is yellow sweet (mild) or hot.  I have used both the sweet (mild) curry in this dish but this time, used Penzey’s Maharajah curry powder, with those little flecks of saffron, it really took this dish to new heights!

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This is a great dish to enjoy in late fall, as the apple orchards are humming with gorgeous apples & cider.  Or, in my case, in the throws of a winter that will never end…

I have always served this with couscous.  I feel like it’s just the perfect texture to absorb this sweet & savory sauce!  The original recipe calls for a boneless chicken breasts, but I used two bone-in chicken breasts. Caprial also mentioned this sauce would be just as delicious on pork or fish!  Chicken thighs would also be a wonderful option to try!  So let’s get cooking!

Curried Chicken & Couscous:

~ two bone-in (or boneless) chicken breasts

~1/2 cup heavy cream

~ 1/2 cup apple cider

~ 1/2 cup white wine

~ one granny smith apple, peeled & diced

~ 1 tablespoon (or more) curry powder (your choice)

~ two shallots (or 1/4 onion), chopped

~ two cloves of garlic, chopped

~ two teaspoons of fresh ginger, chopped

~ butter & olive oil

Can I just say a word here about chopped garlic & chopped ginger?  We always have three varieties of garlic in our house.  Granulated (powdered), fresh (jarred) chopped and fresh whole garlic.  We use the granulated for dry rubs or in the kids pasta (they don’t like the bite of actual garlic), the fresh whole, for roasting and recipes where I want the “bite” of garlic, and the fresh chopped for everything else.  People, don’t be afraid to buy the little jars of garlic & USE IT.  It’s quick & easy to add into just about anything.  We’ve always had granulated ginger on hand, for this recipe or that, but recently I bought a jar of the fresh chopped and boy, I am glad I did!  I LOVE ginger and now have been using it much more because of that cute little jar, just hanging out in my fridge, waiting for it’s next moment to liven up a dish!  Now, if I could just find shallots this way…

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Start by getting all ingredients gathered & prepped.  Take the chicken and drizzle a bit of olive oil on to them and then season with salt & pepper.  In a large sauté pan, on medium-high heat, brown off the chicken breasts on both sides.  Remove from pan and place into a baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pop the chicken in.

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In the same sauté pan, turn medium-low heat, add the shallots (or onion) and ginger.  Then add the diced apple & garlic.  After a couple of minutes, add the wine & cider, deglazing the pan and reduce this to about half it’s original. While that is working, in another small sauté pan, add the curry over low-medium heat and dry sauté.  Do this until the aroma is given off, being careful not to burn it.  Add the curry powder to the apple mixture.  Then add the cream to this mixture and continue to cook until sauce thickens.  Set aside, keeping warm until the chicken & couscous has finished cooking.

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Cook your couscous according to package directions, but be sure to use stock instead of plain water.  It just makes it taste LOTS better.  (see mine even had bits of veggies in it!)

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Your chicken breasts will be done, when the internal temperature reaches 155-160 degrees, most likely after being in the oven for 35-45 minutes.  (do you have a meat thermometer?  You should if not…)  Be sure to let them rest before slicing into them, just like any other meat.

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I’ve been thinking about the ingredients in this dish.  I bet, it would be ridiculous with coconut milk instead of heavy cream…and can you imagine using the Thai red curry powder?!?!  Oh…and how about coconut rice instead of couscous?!?!  That might have to be another blog post!  🙂

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And last, I don’t ever do this, but that night, when we settled in to eat this dish, we drank this wine with it…….it was REALLY great with this dish!  It’s a relatively inexpensive Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon you can find at most liquor stores.  Nothing fancy, but it was a great pairing if I do say so myself!

Until next time friends…here’s hoping we finally get out from under all this SNOW!

Cheers!

Shawn

The day my life changed, 13 years ago…

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I became the mother of a teenager this week.  Wow, that truly boggles my mind.  I remember waiting for her arrival, just 13 short years ago.  She was late…not surprising, she likes to take her sweet time with most everything!  I remember feeling like she’d never get here and then after waiting what seemed like forever, I didn’t even realize I had gone into labor!  (because by that point, I really didn’t think she was ever coming out!) After a trip to the hospital the night before…being sent home, then to find out, when I was really ready to go back, they were full…we ended up at another hospital…laboring for another 12 hours (I pushed for 2 & a half of those) she was finally here!  I remember her looking up at me, all quiet and beautiful.  What a day that was!

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I never knew that motherhood would feel this way.  You are so much in love with your child, you actually physically ache.  Tears well up almost hourly during those first few days together.  The first time you change her diaper, with your hands shaking you almost needed 10 minutes to get the darn thing on.  And the first time you strap her in the car seat…and then pull out of the parking lot, practically holding your breath all the way home.  And the first terrifying bath…fearing she’d slip right out of your hands.  Seems like just yesterday.  And today, she dresses & bathes herself…made the honor roll twice this year…plays the violin & piano better than I ever could and soon, I expect,  will be coming home to say she’s got a boyfriend and then asking to start taking drivers ed classes.

I feel like just yesterday I was 13.  Sometimes I hear that (obnoxious) 13 year old screaming in my head.  I had just moved to a new city when I turned 13.  I was just starting Junior High when I turned 13. (that alone is crazy traumatic for a kid) I had my first real boyfriend at 13.  I also was blessed with that monthly sign of womanhood at 13.  So many changes that year.  I look at my daughter and hope that life is easier on her, than it was me.  I am thankful for my hardships, as I believe it has made me the wife, mother & woman I am today.  But, if I could prevent it, I would keep some of those “character builders” away from her.  I know I shouldn’t, as it will just make her stronger.  She’s already smarter than I ever was.  Just this morning she said she figured out why adults are always forgetting things.  “It’s because when you were a kid, you were expected to remember so many things that your brain has just worn out from it all.”  Yep, that’s what I am going with.

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So I got the morning of this awesome occasion and made my new teenager an Omelette.  She loves them, and I put it on a heart plate and in her strawberries I put a candle and poured her some juice in a special champagne flute.  I do feel a little bad that we aren’t making more of a big deal of this birthday.  But, she’s somewhat like her father in that she says “it’s just another year Mom”.  My husband’s birthday was last week and I finally made him the pie he’s been asking for; Coconut Custard.  I can’t take credit for the recipe, that one goes to Andrew Zimmern.  You can find it here.  But just look at that pie!  Oh my, how I love pie….. 🙂

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And for dinner I fed her Lasagna, her favorite meal.  And I begrudgingly got her a DQ Ice Cream Cake, that she also requested.  I love/hate those things.  Have you ever made your own?  They are delicious, but we never eat the whole thing right away, so for the next few nights, it will tempt me…taunting me with it’s deliciousness…like that pie still is.  I think it would be fun to make Ice Cream Cupcakes!  Maybe that’s a summer recipe experiment…

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Anyway, I am excited about this Lasagna; it’s a family recipe and I did it a little different this time around, so I thought it would be fun to share it with you!  This would be a good Sunday afternoon thing to make.  You’ll want to be relaxed & have enough time to put it all together.  Here’s what you’ll need…

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Italian Sausage Lasagna:

Sauce ~ let me say a bit about this.  I make my own sauce throughout the year, but you can always use whatever bottled sauce you use for making spaghetti, combined with some extra tomato sauce/paste if you like.  I believe that I used around 48 oz. (or more) of sauce.  We love a little extra to put on once you’ve plated up the Lasagna.

Lasagna noodles ~ 12 oz. box, this time I used a “no-boil” version & it worked great!  (and saved time & mess)  I didn’t follow the box directions though, because I had enough sauce on it.

Italian Sausage ~ sweet, six or so links, (the kind that is the size of Brats) or about a pound-ish of ground sausage/beef.

Ricotta Cheese ~ I like to use whole milk, and usually buy the 16 oz. container (so there’s leftovers for Lemon Ricotta Pancakes of course!)

Mozzarella Cheese ~  don’t be grossed out, but I used almost a pound & a half of Mozzarella…

Parmesan Cheese ~  I would say about 8 oz. +/- grated.

Eggs ~ to add to the ricotta mixture, one or two is all you need.

Basil or Pesto ~ every summer I make Pesto and then freeze it in 2-3 tablespoon sized portions, you don’t have to include this, but it’s incredible when you do!  I used two portions.

Oregano ~ fresh is always best, but this time of year dried is better than nothing!  You can use 2 + tablespoons, chopped.

Mushrooms ~ I used a whole pint of white button mushrooms, but you can omit or use as much or little as you want!  Slice them up to the size you’d like best.

Onion ~  I used a medium sized sweet onion & chopped it as small as possible. (unless you like it chunky)

Carrots ~  this seems like a strange thing to put in Lasagna, but just do it.  Chop as small as possible.  It helps to add a little sweetness to the dish you can’t get from anything else!

Garlic ~ chopped or whole crushed, your choice!

~salt, pepper, olive oil~

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Start by adding a bit of olive oil to a large stock/soup pan on medium-high heat (this pan needs to be big enough to simmer the sausage & sauce in, so something you might make soup in).  Throw in the whole sausage links (or ground sausage). Turning every so often to caramelize each side of the link.  Cook almost completely through.

IMG_6034Pull out the sausage and set aside.  Keeping the pan at a medium heat, and if needed, add a bit more olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions & carrots together for a couple of minutes.  Add the mushrooms & chopped garlic.  Season a bit with salt & pepper.  Once they have started to get a nice caramelized color going (being very careful not to burn the garlic) add in all of your sauce.

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This will deglaze the pan and help pick up all those amazing bits from browning the sausage.  Now taste your sauce.  If you feel it need something, add more salt, or pepper, or garlic, or even some of the Basil and/or Oregano.  It’s gonna simmer a bit, so the flavors will intensify eventually.

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Next, take the sausage links that have been resting and slice them lengthwise about 3-4 times each link.  Carefully place them back into the simmering sauce.  The thing about making Lasagna, is you really want it to be saucy.  The Lasagna while it’s baking, absorbs lots of the moisture, especially if you are using a no-boil noodle.  The worst thing to have is a dry Lasagna after almost an hour & a half of baking.  So it’s always best to have more sauce than you think you’ll need.  You can always freeze it off if you have a bunch leftover.

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Okay, so let’s talk filling next.  Grab a medium-ish sized bowl and add the ricotta, basil/oregano, and I like to add about half of the Parmesan cheese.  Mix these all together.  Now, in the past, I have added an egg to this mixture.  This is totally up to you.  It will help give a bit more body to this mixture and hold it together inside of the Lasagna.  It’s not a make or break, so don’t sweat over it.

Remove the sausage from the sauce mixture so that when you handle it, it’s not super hot.

So at this point, you are ready to start putting it all together.  You can either use a large rectangular baking pan or split it between two pans, so you can bake one and freeze one.  I love to give this Lasagna to friends who’ve just had a baby, or a family healing from sickness or loss of a loved one.

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Begin by putting a swath of sauce in the bottom of your pan(s).  Grab one of your noodles and using a spoon, spread a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture.  This is very easy if you are using the no-boil noodles.  Another bonus of using those!  Continue until you have your first layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan.  It’s also best to slightly overlap the noodles, to help hold in the filling on each level.

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Next, add a layer of sausage, I like to follow the direction of the noodles with the sausage.  After the sausage, carefully spread a layer of sauce over that layer and then a layer of Mozzarella cheese.  Continue this process until you’ve either gotten it as tall as you want, or you’ve run out of something.  (leave the leftover sauce on the stove and re-heat a bit just before serving to top each piece)  Another little thing I do, is once I’ve finished layering it all, I take a piece of wax paper (so I don’t pull up anything onto my hands) and lay it over the Lasagna and gently push down, helping to condense it and remove any air bubbles in between the layers.

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Pop this in your oven, around 350 degrees +/- for an hour.  At that time, pull it out and look at it.  Is the cheese layer on the top starting to get too brown?  Either cover it or lower your oven temp a bit. We like the crunchy brown bits around the outside of the Lasagna, so some of that is good!  It should need another half hour or so, but you can judge for yourself if it’s done but sliding a butter knife into the middle and checking to see how hot it is once you remove it.

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Once it’s done cooking, I like to sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese over the Lasagna and let it rest a bit because it’s gonna be really hot.  Top with sauce & you’ve done it!  I hope you enjoy this amazing Lasagna.  It’s perfect cozy food, to get us Minnesotan’s through the longest months of the year…

Until next time ~ Cheers!

Shawn