Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yummy Mummy Cheese "Ball"

My experience with cheeseballs has been that, at most parties, they sort of just...sit there, ignored in favor of something fancier or more scrumptious. Whenever I've taken a cheeseball to a party or family gathering in the past, there's always at least half of it left over. That is, until I took this particular cheeseball to a Halloween potluck at work two years ago. This one definitely got eaten, and it won me first prize (a cheap little witch flashlight that cackled) in our Most Festive Dish contest to boot.

I was inspired by this recipe from Taste of Home, but I decided to swap out the port wine cheese logs in favor of my go-to cheeseball recipe (the ingredients of which looked more like the mummy's guts, muahahaha). This is delicious, and so much fun to eat at Halloween!

Yummy Mummy Cheese "Ball"
Source: inspired by Taste of Home, cheese ball recipe by Cassie

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine
1 small jar pimientos, drained and chopped (reserve 1 pimiento strip)
3/4 cup sliced corned beef (Buddig brand works best)
Dash hot sauce
1 tablespoon milk
2 peppercorns

1. In a large bowl, combine 2 packages of the cream cheese with the cheddar cheese. Stir in onions, pimientos, corned beef and hot sauce. Wearing disposable, latex-free gloves, shape the cheese mixture into pieces for the head, body, arms and legs of the mummy and arrange on a serving plate.

2. Combine the third package of cream cheese with the milk. Place in a plastic storage bag and nip the tip to create a make-shift pastry bag. Pipe rows of cream cheese across the mummy, creating bandages. Add peppercorns for eyes and the pimiento strip for mouth. Chill until serving.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

There are some meals that just don't photograph well, and this is one of them. The photos here just don't do this justice. You can't tell how flavorful, aromatic, and comforting this dish is by looking at the pictures. But trust me: This is the best shepherd's pie recipe I've ever come across and it's absolutely perfect for a chilly fall or winter evening. It warms you up from the inside out and fills the house with the delicious aromas of cinnamon and beef.

Someone got me this Emeril cookbook as a gift a long time ago, and to date this is the only recipe I've made from it. Now that I have Andrew, though, I'm sure I'll be using this cookbook a lot more. It contains tons of recipes that he'll be able to help me out with when he gets a little older.

The original recipe gives instructions for how to make the mashed potato topping, but I'm going to skip over that part. I think everyone makes mashed potatoes their own way, and your usual way works just fine for this recipe.

Shepherd's Pie
Source: Emeril's There's a Chef in my Family!:Recipes to get Everybody Cooking

3 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (I use golden potatoes, which are smaller, so I used 5 of them. I also left the skins on for texture.)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb (we use beef)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon Emeril's Italian Essence or other dry Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/4 cups beef stock
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup green peas (I used a frozen peas and carrots blend)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1. Grease casserole dish with 1 tablespoon butter and set aside.

2. Position rack in center of oven and preheat the oven to 375°.

3. Boil potatoes until fork-tender, mash with a potato masher until smooth, and add your usual mashed potato ingredients (I used butter, salt and pepper, sour cream and half-and-half this time).

4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes.

5. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, then add the ground beef and cook, stirring to break up the meat chunks, until cooked through, about 8 minutes.

6. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove as much excess liquied as possible from the pan and discard.

7. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the Italian Essence, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, the cinnamon, and cloves, and cook until meat is well browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.

8. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and cook, stirring, about 1 to 2 minutes.

9. Add the beef broth, carrots, peas and tomato paste, stir to combine, and bring to a boil.

10. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes.

11. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish and spoon the mashed potatoes evenly over the top. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 30 minutes.

12. Increase the oven temperature to broil and cook until golden brown and crisp around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Let casserole sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes

Ohhh, how I wish I could take credit for this idea, but alas, I cannot. I was at McDonald's the other day and noticed that they have a specialty milkshake on the menu, like the shamrock shake but better. Their current specialty shake is a pumpkin milkshake, which I knew I had to try immediately. And I did, and it was delicious.

I decided to try my hand at making an at-home version, and I have to say -- my version's even better than theirs, and it's a lot cheaper per serving too. Joe and I absolutely loved these, and I think I'll be making them for years to come. Hey, any excuse to eat ice cream in cold weather, right? This recipe makes two healthy-sized shakes.

Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes
Source: inspired by McDonald's

8-10 scoops vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup to 1 cup milk (depending on how thick you like your shakes)
4 tablespoons pureed pumpkin
Pumpkin pie spice to taste

Blend ice cream and milk in a blender. Stir in pureed pumpkin and pulse to combine. Add pumpkin pie spice to taste. Pour into tall, frosty glasses, drink, and die a little death at the deliciousness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Creamy Tomato Soup

Jessie mentioned tomato soup the other day, and I immediately thought to myself, "Oh my gosh...I haven't had tomato soup since I was a little kid!" It's true: I really haven't had it for that long, and I used to love when my mom made a big pot of it when I was little. Her version of tomato soup was always really creamy, and unfortunately, even after pawing through her recipes countless times, I've never come across that one. Since I hadn't eaten tomato soup for years and had never made it myself, I didn't feel completely comfortable coming up with my own creation. So, I turned to good old Allrecipes to steer me in the right direction.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese for dipping is something I equate with childhood, and it's something I want Andrew to equate with his childhood, too, so I'll definitely be making this a lot in the future. And I don't know if I'll ever need another recipe, because this one was delicious. I sort of have a love affair with cream cheese, and its creamy sweetness really adds a lot to this soup. I did add salt and pepper to taste, which was conspicuously absent from this recipe, but otherwise kept everything the same. Fresh basil would definitely have been better, but the dried is definitely fine if it's all you have on hand. Joe and I both loved this, especially served with delicious grilled cheese.

Creamy Tomato Soup
Source: Allrecipes

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed tomato soup, undiluted
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, cubed

1. In a saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender. Stir in tomatoes, soup, milk, sugar, basil, paprika and garlic powder. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in cream cheese until melted. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spinach Feta Strata

I had French bread left over from the soup I made earlier last week, and I thought a strata would be the perfect way to use it up. Unfortunately, by the time I thought of this yesterday afternoon, I didn't have enough time to refrigerate the strata for the entire 8 hours, but it was still delicious. I found this recipe in one of my trusty Taste of Home cookbooks, and I'll definitely make this again. It had great flavor and was very filling, and I think the roasted red pepper I added really worked well. Unless you're serving guests, though, I would suggest cutting this recipe at least in half, because this makes 12 servings and it just doesn't work for me as leftovers.

Spinach Feta Strata
Source: Taste of Home's Best of Country Breakfast and Brunch, also found on the Taste of Home website

10 slices French bread (1 inch thick) or 6 croissants, split
6 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 roasted red pepper, patted dry and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 and 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. In a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish, arrange French bread or croissant halves with sides overlapping.

2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, spinach, roasted red pepper, salt, nutmeg and pepper; pour over bread. Sprinkle with cheeses.

3. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

4. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm.

Brie-Leek Tartlets

So, the picture of this delicious little appetizer was borrowed from Taste of Home, because my family swiped up and devoured these little tartlets literally before I could retrieve my camera.

I'll keep it simple: MAKE THESE. They are so creamy and delicious and I wish I would have made more than just one batch for my stepmom's birthday dinner last weekend. I could have eaten all 15 of them myself, that's how good they are.

Brie-Leek Tartlets
Source: Taste of Home Magazine, October/November 2008

1 medium leek (white portion only), finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Dash salt and white pepper
Dash ground nutmeg
1 package (1.9 ounces) frozen miniature phyllo tart shells
2 ounces Brie or Camembert cheese, rind removed

1. In a small skillet, saute leek and garlic in butter until tender. Add the cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.

2. Place tart shells on a baking sheet. Slice cheese into 15 pieces; place one piece in each tart shell. Top each with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons leek mixture.

3. Bake at 350° for 6-8 minutes or until heated through. Refrigerate leftovers.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Drop Cookies

"Now that's a cookie!" were my husband's exact words as he chewed his first bite of the cookies I made last week. I had some pureed pumpkin left over from the pasta I made, so I scoured online recipes trying to find something that sounded good. I came across a recipe on Allrecipes for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that sounded delicious, so I was going to make those, but then I had a brainstorm: What if I used cinnamon chips instead of chocolate chips? The pumpkin-cinnamon culinary combo is second only to chocolate and peanut butter in my book, so I decided to go for it.

These cookies are, hands down, my new favorite fall cookie. I made them twice last week, and both times they were devoured. These are a cake-like drop cookie -- very moist and flavorful. They're addictive, too, so make with caution!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Drop Cookies

Source: inspired by this recipe from Allrecipes

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 (16 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups Hershey's cinnamon chips
1 cup chopped pecans (the original recipe calls for walnuts, but I didn't have any, and I like pecans better with pumpkin anyway)

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add pumpkin, oil, eggs, milk and vanilla; beat on medium speed until well mixed.

2. Stir in cinnamon chips and nuts. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets.

3. Bake at 375° for 13-14 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Cool for 2 minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

French Onion Soup

One of my favorite things to order in restaurants is French onion soup. If it's the soup of the day, it goes right into my belly; I love it so much and could probably eat it once a week for the rest of my life. Last week, I was on vacation and was seriously craving a big bowl of French onion soup. But I spent most of last week in my pajamas, and going out to a restaurant would mean I'd have to get dressed, and I just didn't feel like doing that. A quick check of my pantry revealed that I had all the ingredients on hand to make the soup myself, so I decided to give it a try.

I was very, very pleased with how well this turned out. It was just as good as the soup I've had in restaurants, and better than the soup I've had some places! I would definitely suggest adding this to your menu this fall or winter -- either as a starter course, or as big healthy meal-sized portions (which is how my husband and I ate it).

French Onion Soup
Source: Cassie

6 cups onions, thinly sliced (about 6 medium onions)
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon sugar
2 bay leaves
Dash of dried thyme (a few sprigs of fresh would be better, but I didn't have any on hand)
Salt and pepper to taste (I went pretty heavy on the pepper)
Dash of Worchestershire sauce
6 cups beef stock
Sliced French bread, toasted
Mozzarella, Swiss, or gruyere cheese, shredded (I used mozzarella, but any of these would be good)

1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium low heat. Add onions, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized (about 20 minutes).

2. Add Worchestershire sauce and beef stock to pot; bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Discard bay leaves and ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Top each bowl with a slice of toasted French bread and a sprinkling of cheese. Broil for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pumpkin Pasta

Let me just get this out in the open: I sort of have a love/hate relationship with Rachael Ray. I TiVo 30 Minute Meals and I subscribe to her magazine, but her talk show? It's a little much for me. It's too much...Rachael for me to handle.

I haven't tried too many of her recipes in my own kitchen, and I'm not exactly sure why. They always look and sound good, especially her burgers!

Anyway, I saw this recipe in her magazine, and it looked so delicious and fall-y that I knew I had to try it. I have to say that I wasn't blown away by this, but my husband really liked it. I'm glad I added bacon to it; otherwise, I think it would be way too bland for my tastes. I think some sage would have been good in here, too, but I didn't have any fresh and apparently I'm out of dried. My changes are in purple.

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce
Source: Every Day with Rachael Ray, October 2008

1 pound penne pasta
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
One 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (omitted)

1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.

2. Fry bacon until crisy in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Place on paper towels to drain and discard bacon grease. In the same saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Add the cooking water and toss sauce with pasta. Stir in the parmesan; season with salt and pepper.

3. Top the pasta with the parsley (if using), the bacon and more parmesan.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

French Onion Pork Chop Skillet

I'm sort of wondering if I should even post pictures of last night's dinner, because it really wasn't the prettiest meal. I don't want the pictures to keep you from trying this, because seriously: This dinner was probably one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. It was so, so good. It's finally feeling like fall around here, and this was a perfect fall meal: comforting and filling and flavorful. The best thing? My house now smells like caramelized onions, which is one of my favorite smells in the world. Too bad Joe and I ate all of this last night; I'd love to have some for lunch today!

This is a Kraft recipe I received in one of my weekly e-mails. I made a few modifications (the original recipe says to cook the onions in cooking spray -- um, excuse me? Onions must be caramelized in butter, HELLO?), but kept the basic components the same. I highly recommend this one!

French Onion Pork Chop Skillet

Source: slightly adapted from Kraft Foods

4 boneless pork chops, 1/2 inch thick
Salt and pepper to taste
2 onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 package stuffing mix for chicken
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Heat butter in large nonstick skillet medium-high heat. (Add some vegetable oil if the butter starts to brown.) Season chops with salt and pepper. Add chops and onions; cook 10 minutes or until chops are cooked through (160°), stirring onions occasionally and turning chops over after 5 minutes. Transfer chops to plate; keep warm. Continue cooking onions 5 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

2. Add Worcestershire sauce to skillet; mix well. Reduce heat to low. Return chops to skillet; spoon onion mixture over chops.

3. Mix stuffing mix and hot water. Spoon stuffing mixture around edge of skillet; sprinkle with cheese. Cover. Cook 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.