Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 2010 Rewind (RECIPES: "World's Best" Mac and Cheese, Roasted Autumn Vegetables, Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms, and Two-Apple Crisp with Caramel Sauce)

I hope that a wonderful Christmas was had by all! Mine was quite enjoyable! Here is my Christmas in a nutshell:

I got the tree put up a few weeks ago. (The tree never goes up before Thanksgiving!)

This year I squeezed it into my small dining room.

My Christmas cards were ordered from Pear Tree Greetings, and due to a shipping glitch on their end, didn't arrive until December 23rd. So my cards didn't get mailed out until that day. I sent a card to my cousin's husband, who is serving in the Middle East. I included a few extra cards for him to hand out to anyone else in his outfit that may need a little "pick me up".

Zook spent much of his time in front of the heater. If he hears you turn the heater on, he will come running from anywhere in the room to get within inches of it.

I had stored up my winnings and Secret Santa gifts that have come in over the last month... open up on Christmas Eve.

Of course most of the packages contained books...
Some, like Mockingjay, I had bought. Most, like Sandman Slim, I had won. Some were Secret Santa gifts.

One Secret Santa got me Clockwork Angel, which was on my Wish List!

And another Secret Santa sent me The Passage, The Handmaid's Tale and Dracula-- all from my Wish List! (She also included a cool magnet!)

What an awesome job done by my Secret Santa's! One of the books turned out to be an unsolicited review copy of Sins of the Flesh sent by the author Caridad Piniero.

I also opened up my gift given me by my boss. There was a very heavy card which contained 4 Troy Ounce silver bars!

We had talked a couple of months ago about how I wanted to get some silver as an investment. I'll be putting this away in a safe place-- perhaps in a safety deposit box! He also got me a calendar.
Included in my Christmas Eve gifts were some things purchased with coupon codes that I had won. For example, with my $100 CSN gift code I got this pressure canner for canning vegetables...

...and this Rachael Ray saute pan...

This was me on Christmas Eve with all of my loot!

(Is that "Hang Ten" that I'm doing? I know not what I do...)

I also spent part of Christmas Eve cooking for the next day. This year was a vegetarian Christmas, and nearly all of my recipes came out of this Pure Flavor cookbook. I believe that I won this cookbook a year or two ago. These recipes all come out of a restaurant in Seattle...

The first recipe was for roasted vegetables...

Roasted Autumn Vegetables
Serves 4


1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp Italian herb blend
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 medium butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I couldn't find celery root, so I just used celery instead)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While that was heating, I prepped the veggies.

In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, herbs, salt and pepper. Add the squash, bell pepper, onion and celery. Toss until the vegetables are evenly coated in the dressing.

Pour the vegetables onto two baking sheets in a single layer.

Roast without stirring for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and continue roasting for another 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are brown and easily pierced with a fork. Serve warm or at room temperature.

(I put the roasted vegetables in the frig, and then heated them the next day for dinner in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.)

I also roasted the portabello mushrooms for my Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms, which would be playing the role of main course the next day...

They were coated in an herbed oil mixture. The recipe will follow in a moment.

And I also made "World's Best" Mac and Cheese.

"World's Best" Mac and Cheese
Serves 4


6 ounces penne (I only had about 4 ounces, so threw in some corkscrew pasta to make up the difference)
2 cps Beecher's Flagship Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)
1 ounce Cheddar, grated (1/4 cup)
1 ounce Gruyere cheese, grated (1/4 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or oil an 8-inch baking dish.

Cook the penne 2 minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse the pasta in cold water and set aside.

Combine the cooked pasta and the sauce in a medium bowl, and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses and then the chili powder.
Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Let the mac and cheese sit for 5 minutes before serving.

(I made up the mac and cheese, and then stuck it in the frig without cooking. On Christmas Day, I popped it into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.)

Beecher's Flagship Cheese Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
(Use leftover sauce in all sorts of ways. For example, spoon over poached eggs or steamed broccoli.)


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
14 oz semihard cheese, grated (about 3 1/2 cups)- I used cheddar
2 oz semisoft cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)- I used a Colby and Monterey Jack mix
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder


Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cooking for 2 minutes.
Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat.

Add the cheeses, salt, chili powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms
Serves 6


1/3 cup plus 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 large mushrooms, such as portabellos, stems and gills removed, caps wiped clean
3 medium zucchini, diced (I used 2 fairly large)
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 oz (6 tbs) cream cheese
3 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 green onion (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1 oz Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated (1/4 cup)
2 tbs sliced drained sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 tbs chopped fresh basil
1 tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbs fresh bread crumbs
3 plum tomatoes, cut into 6 slices each (I used about 1 1/2 plum tomates, as I had small portabello)
4 oz semisoft cheese, grated (1 cup)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To cook the mushrooms, combine 1/3 cup of the olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and half the garlic in a large bowl. Using a pastry brush, coat the surface of the mushrooms, inside and out, with the oil mixture. Place the mushrooms on a baking sheet, domed side down. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the centers of the mushrooms are tender. Drain the mushrooms on paper towels and set aside to cool. Keep the oven on. (I did this the night before, and then put the mushrooms in the frig to finish on Christmas Day.)

To make the filling, in a large skillet, heat 2 tbs of the olive oil over high heat. When the oil is nearly smoking, add enough of the zucchini to make a single layer in the pan. Cook the zucchini without stirring until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir the zucchini and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until lightly browned on all sides. Remove to a medium bowl and repeat the remaining zucchini.

Add the bell pepper, onion, and remaining tbs of oil to the skillet, and cook, without stirring, for 5 minutes, or until browned. Stir the mixture and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper mixture to the zucchini.

Season the vegetable mixture with 1/4 tsp salt and pepper to taste. Let it cool in the frig while preparing the rest of the filling.

Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. Fold in the green onions, Parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, parsley, remaining garlic, bread crumbs, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper.

Mix the cheese mixture into the vegetable mixture, combining thoroughly but gently.

Place the mushrooms, domed side down, on a baking sheet. Divide the filling evenly among the mushroom caps, mounding it slightly. Push the filling to the edges to fill the entire cap.

Top each with 3 slices of tomato (I could only fit 2 slices), and sprinkle with the semisoft cheese (I used a Colby/Monterey mix), mounding it high.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are heated through and the cheese is melted and is beginning to brown.

And viola! Dinner is served!

The mac and cheese was quite good. I probably could have used a little more chipotle for an extra boost. Good mac and cheese!

The stuffed portabellos were quite good! Very nice flavor! Tommy and Woodrow both deemed this their favorite of the dinner.

The roasted veggies were also awesome! I could eat this all by itself! Woodrow described them as tasting sort of like stuffing. I'm guessing that was probably due to the Italian seasoning along with the celery.

I also made some green beans with shallots.

Finish it off with some crescent rolls, and you're talking good eating! Also, might I note that you can't tell in this picture, but that tree is actually leaning in the corner in order to remain standing.

I pulled out the dining room table yesterday, and then got down on the floor and began moving the tree over to the corner by pulling the base of it, when it suddenly fell over on top of me! We couldn't get it to stand on its own after that. I don't know that the stand actually broke. I think it may have just come apart. I hope so. This tree is so much nicer than most of the ones that I see for sale today that cost upwards of $200, so I don't want to have to dispose of it. If the stand is broken, I'll have to search for a replacement stand.

Later on I made Apple Crisp for dessert. This recipe also came from my Pure Flavor cookbook! However I decided last minute to skip the caramel sauce, as I was tired and it was getting late and Mom and Tommy needed to get home to their animals. So we just did the apple crisp with ice cream.

Two-Apple Crisps with Caramel Sauce
Serves 8

Intended to be baked in individual servings (as this recipe comes out of a restaurant), I did it in a 13x9 inch baking dish.


1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp table salt, plus a pinch for the apples
 8 tbs (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 lbs Golden Delicious apples (about 3 large apples), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples (about 3 large apples), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of nutmeg (I used pumpkin pie spice)
Caramel sauce (I omitted it, but I'll include the recipe below)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the topping, combine the brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt in a medium bowl. Using a fork, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside until ready to use. (I used gloved hands to mix it instead of a fork. It worked great!)

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the granulated sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Divide the apples among 8 ramekins, mounding them. (Or just put in a buttered 13x9 inch baking dish instead.) Cover the apples with the oat topping, pressing the mixture lightly onto the apples. Make sure the apples are completely covered by the topping.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Let the crisps cool for 5 minutes before serving. Drizzle each one with caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups


1/2 cup plus 2 tbs granulated or turbinado sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp table salt
1 tsp vanilla extract


Pour 6 tbs water into a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Add the sugar and heat over medium-high, occasionally swirling the water gently, until the sugar melts, about 3 minutes.

While the sugar is cooking, bring the cream and salt to a simmer in a separate small, covered saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as the mixture starts to simmer, remove it from the heat.

Once the sugar is completely melted, raise the heat to high and boil it for 6 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture turns the color of straw. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for 2 mintues, or until the syrup is a deep amber color. (Pay close attention during these last 2 minutes of cooking so the syrup does not burn.)

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour about one-third of the hot cream into the caramel. The mixture will bubble vigorously. Let the bubbling subside and add the remaining hot cream and the vanilla, whisking until smooth. Serve warm.

Even without the caramel sauce, this is delicious! But...aha!...while typing up the recipe I realize that I used 4 apples instead of 6. That explains why it was so skimpy! Still good though...

Woodrow and Tommy went back for seconds.

And here is a glimpse at just a few of my gifts...

A super comfy sweater...

Lots of kitchen gadgets, which I always love!

A birdhouse to add to my growing collection...

And a sign perfect for me. I can think of a few people whose homes I would like to hang this over the front door...

And Mom made up a bath basket for me, which includes a beautiful bottle of cucumber melon bath salts.

So today is a day for recuperation. Zuchi is resting his injured leg...

I don't know whether he is nursing an injury from jumping off the bed or from tearing around the yard as if it is a race course, or if he is dealing with a birth defect of the knee, which chihuahuas are prone to. However I could swear that it was his right leg that initially bothered him on Thursday, but now it is the left. So I am wondering whether he could have both. He may have a knee defect that was triggered on Thursday after he ran around the yard, but then he was favoring that leg when he jumped off of the bed and landed on his left leg. So now it is his left leg that is bothering him. I'm giving him a few days to see whether it improves. If not, he'll be heading to the vet this week.

After Mom and Tommy left last night, I was so exhausted that I promptly fell asleep on the couch at 9:30 and didn't get up until nearly 1 AM and go to bed. This morning everyone is recuperating.

Momma and Zuchi are curled up on the couch with me...

Delilah is sleeping on the new condo I got the cats for Christmas...

Fancy is sleeping up on the kitchen cabinets...

Shotsie is sleeping on some of my Christmas gifts...

And Simon is on the floor by my feet, hidden under the blanket covering my lap. Even Odie was silent this morning until I started thinking about him a moment ago. Now he is chirping and screaming up a storm. I swear he has a psychic connection to me and knows when I am just thinking about him, as he often seems to respond to my thoughts.

So today will be a quiet day of lounging and then some clean up. Thankfully I am off this coming week, so I don't have to get everything done today!

Merry Christmas everyone!