Comfort food is the best way to deal with cold, rainy days. I have no explanation for how or why the weather has such power over my appetite but as soon as the temperatures begin to drop, I start to crave carbohydrates. Pastas, homemade breads and potato recipes replace the salads and grilled meats that filled our plates over the summer.
Rather than fight the carbo cravings - I'm giving in and making my very favorite potato casserole for the weekend. This is my go-to recipe for most of the holiday meals that I host, nearly all pot lucks that I have to bring food to and almost every luncheon that I put together. I serve it so often in fact that I usually make two pans of potato casserole at a time so I can keep one in my freezer. (You know, for those potato casserole emergencies.)
Why do I love this potato casserole so much? (1) It's simple to put together. (2) It's super cheesy and delicious. (3) I can put it together ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until I'm ready to use it. (4) Everyone always raves about it. Did I mention how easy this recipe is?
2 pounds frozen has brown potatoes (thawed)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup onion, chopped
8 ounces sour cream
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups crushed ritz crackers
1/4 cup butter, melted
Combine all ingredients in bowl.
Scoop into a greased 9x13 pan.
Combine topping ingredients. Spoon over casserole.
Bake 45 minutes at 350.
Potato casserole pairs great with ham, with chicken, with pork and beef. Or, if you're like me, you can skip the protein and get yourself a heaping bowl full of cheesy potato casserole and call it a meal.
I've been making this recipe for at least 25 years and I can't believe that I'm just now getting around to blogging it. I don't normally make recipes over and over again but this one is an exception.
Anyone still have a Christmas tree displayed in their house on January 15th? No shame in that - right?
We're traditionalist when it comes to Christmas trees. We like to go to the Christmas tree farm and cut one down or choose it from the stock of already cut trees. We bring our fresh tree home, place it in the stand and water it faithfully for the first week. After the first week, all bets are off. As Christmas gets closer and life gets busier, the likelihood of us remembering to check the water in the tree stand gets slimmer and slimmer. This year was no different. By the time we got around to taking the tree down this year, it was so dry that even the slightest breeze could have stripped it of all its needles.
We hauled our tree off to the local hardware store for recycling but I just heard about a brewery in The Netherlands that is turning old Christmas trees into beer! BEER! For those of you who live close to Lowlanders Beer, you need to check out this brewery to find out how founder Frederik Kampman is turning these old Christmas trees into a winter IPA. You can check out all of the details on their website. You have to admit - this is a pretty cool idea. I feel like I need to travel to this brewery just to check it out - and I don't drink beer!
Turning old things into new things is a concept that seems to be catching on all over this country as well. Which explains the fascination of the popularity right now of tv shows featuring old house being restored. The same concept applies to recipes. I have seen a recent influx of recipes that feature old recipes that have been redone in new and creative ways. It's always good to look at something that I've been doing the same way for years and years in a new way.
Biscuits are the perfect example of an old recipe that recently got an overhaul compliments of Cook's Illustrated. Warming the cream and melting the butter is a different approach to biscuits than the way that I have traditionally made them. I was anxious to try this brand new technique.
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons melted butter
Bake 10-12 minutes at 450.
Brush hot biscuits with butter and serve.
I made a huge mistake when I made this recipe --- I only made half a batch!!! What was I thinking? Seriously. A half batch made exactly 5 1/2 perfect biscuits and that was the perfect amount to accompany our chicken noodle casserole lunch. The problem was that there weren't any leftover biscuits for chicken biscuit sandwiches or biscuits and gravy or other biscuit delicacies. Next time - double batch.
If you follow my blog at all - you know that I am a workout junkie. I probably averaged 10-12 hours a week of workout time for the past couple of years. I estimate that 70% of that time was spent on cardiovascular exercise and the rest was strength and flexibility work. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I LOVE to workout, but I do love the feeling and benefits that I get when I am FINISHED with a workout.
I've been doing the same series of workouts for the past few years. I ride a stationary spin bike almost every single day and I have a collection of workout DVD's that I follow 5 days a week. I've been putting some of these DVD's in the player for over 10 years now and believe me when I tell you that I can recite them word for word - even the really terrible Tony Horton jokes. I've added new videos to my collection throughout the years but I've definitely been feeling like my workout schedule was in need of some changes.
At the beginning of January, I found a new collection of Barre workout DVD's to add to my workout circuit. When I tried to incorporate these new workouts into my already full schedule, I realized that I needed to revamp my workout schedule so that I could workout smarter instead of longer. I'd been doing the same workouts for so long that I didn't even realize that my workouts weren't meeting my exercise needs anymore. Over the years, I continued to add workouts to my schedule without taking the time to really assess what I wanted to get out of my exercise time.
My exercise goals have changed as I've gotten older. I'm more focused on my strength and flexibility today than I was 10 years ago but over time, I had phased out all of my yoga and strength workouts. It was a decision that I made based on efficiency. Spending an hour on flexibility felt like a waste of my workout time when I could be doing something to work my heart AND my muscles at the same time. I know, I know - wrong thinking. The good news is that I've finally come to realize the importance of adding these workouts back into my schedule.
My revamped workout schedule actually involves LESS workout time per week. My new schedule has 7 hours of workout time per week. 3 of those hours are devoted specifically to strength training. (arms, legs, core, abs, back) 1 hour is spent doing yoga or other similar flexibility workouts. The remaining 3 hours are spent doing some sort of cardiovascular exercise. I have to say that I'm super excited about this much more manageable workout schedule. It was just the shake up that I needed to get inspired to workout again.
It wouldn't make any sense for me to start a new workout program without pairing it with a healthy diet. No matter how much or how often I work out, my weight is more influenced by my diet. Creating healthy, pre and post workout meals has become more of a priority as the workout itself. One of my favorite post workout meals includes this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. It's nutritious and loaded with great fuel for tired muscles and bodies.
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Cold, rainy January days are perfect squash soup days. A big bowl of this is just the thing that I need to warm me from the inside out today.
I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit this but I LOVE Hallmark Christmas movies. I started watching them in October and I didn't stop until after the New Year when they finally took them off the air. I don't even know what draws me into these overly romanticized, uber-cheesy movies other than the fact that I find them oddly comforting. I don't ever have to worry about unresolved story lines or characters not finding the love of their life. Within the 2 hour time limit, I feel confident that every impeccably dressed Hallmark actor will find their true love in an impossibly cute little winter town while snow gently blankets the ground.
I can't even begin to add up the number of hours that I've spent standing at my kitchen counter decorating sugar cookies and while listening to Hallmark Christmas movies. The stress of making 200 Grinch cookies with crooked smiles and perfectly hued yellow-green eyes is more than I can take somedays. Hallmark movies have this strange ability to draw me into their unrealistic and unattainable state of euphoria and bring me a sense of peace even while I'm tackling the most difficult cookies.
I'm oddly soothed by these two hour dramas with predictable plots and cheesy pick up lines which makes Hallmark movies the perfect thing to listen to while I decorate cookies. Cookie decorating requires a lot of concentration and long hours of staring down at the counter without looking up. The great thing about Hallmark is that I've watched so many of these movies that I really don't even have to watch them at all. I can listen to the first 10 minutes of a Hallmark movie and predict with almost 100% accuracy which actors will fall in love and what obstacles they will be forced to overcome.
I have never participated in, attended or even heard of a town that's hosted a "winter festival", yet in the Hallmark world, they're as common as homecoming parades. Hallmark uses these perfectly staged winter festivals to create a utopian environment where actors with perfect hair and teeth can discover (or rediscover) their one true love. It's genius really. We can all agree that the gentle snow falling on the ground, the perfectly crafted snowmen and masterfully decorated Christams trees create a more romantic scenario than a smoky, crowded singles bar.
Hallmark would certainly not approve of my blog. My recipes are not romanticized. My pictures are rarely perfect or pretty. I blog realistic recipes that my readers can recreate in their own homes and not unrealiastic, unachievable dishes. I post about my epic baking fails and routinely photograph myself with bad hair and un-maincured nails. Very un-Hallmark like.
As for me, I'll leave the perfection to the Hallmark experts. I'll keep posting my favorite, rudimentary recipes for all of you to enjoy. This Linguini with Clam Sauce is a perfect example of an imperfect recipe for you to try. This pasta dish is DELICIOUS but ... the preparation process is messy and the finished dish is fairly monochromatic which makes for a less than interesting photograph. In spite of the the boring photos and slightly scattered recipe - this dish is a must try.
Linguini with Clam Sauce
Stir in cream and lemon juice.
Add cooked pasta and toss to coat.
Toss with parmesan cheese and parsley and serve.
Have you ever noticed how many Hallmark movies are based on small town bakeries or baking competitions? Perhaps, THAT is what I find most comforting about these movies. Maybe I'm reassured by the fact that even though they often appear to be in jeopardy, small town bakeries never got sold to big corporations. Small business owners always prevail in Hallmark land.
So until next October when they start airing Hallmark Christmas movies again...
I'm forever trying to get my family to eat less red meat and more vegetables. Some recipes make it easier than others to convert them to enthusiastic vegetable consumers. Ok, so maybe "enthusiastic" is optimistic. I'd be happy with "content" vegetable consumption really.
Replacing beef with mushrooms hasn't been well received in my past experiences. There was the grilled vegetable sandwich that featured a nice, hearty, grilled portobello mushroom cap that I thought was delicious - unfortunately my family didn't share my enthusiasm for this meatless sandwich.
Admittedly, making a mushroom based, meat free french dip sandwich was a bit of a risk considering how poorly mushroom rich foods have been received in recent history in this house. Up until I ran across this recipe for Mushroom French Dip Sandwiches, I wasn't sure there was ever going to be a scenario where my family might willingly accept a mushroom sandwich. I think this is my best (and possibly my only) shot at turning these die hard meat lovers into true mushroom lovers.
Mushroom French Dip Sandwiches
2 teaspoons butter
2 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, vertically sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 pounds portobello mushrooms, gills removed, sliced into strips
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup sherry
1 Tablespoon worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon horseradish
4 whole wheat hoagie rolls, sliced in half
4 thin slices swiss cheese
Serve with dipping jus.
Now for the verdict on how these Mushroom French Dip Sandwiches were received. Ben and I both thought they were delicious and I questioned whether or not he was just telling me what I wanted to hear about my gourmet sandwich creation but when he asked for a second sandwich, I new that he was sincere. It just proves that we love anything that is smothered in melted cheese. LOL
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