And the winner is…

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Comment number 19– Joanne!

Congratulations! Mmmm, Pferneuse are in your future!

Thanks to all who entered to win the goody  box of flavors and colors from McCormick. I have a few more giveaways up my sleeve for this winter–stay tuned!

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Christmas Baking and a GIVEAWAY!

Merry Christmas from the Delicious Potager!

The past two weeks have been crazy around here. I just can’t seem to get caught up. Plus, work is beginning to pick up as I head into my busiest time of year. Look for posts to become more infrequent as tasks get pushed to the side making time for long hours at the office and sleep.

At any rate, I was planning to post this earlier, but things pop up and you have to roll with the punches. So, consider this a holiday gift to one lucky reader. I’ve got a whopper of a giveaway from McCormick.

A few weeks back, I attended Mixed Con for the second time. It was every bit as awesome as it was last year, but it was just different. Different crowd of food bloggers, different sponsors, different sessions. But I went there with all the knowledge I soaked up last year and felt a little less like a fish out of water this time around. That made it feel different, too.

Once again, it was hosted by the two lovelies, Susan at She’s Becoming Doughmesstic and Paula at Bell’alimento, at the picturesque Mountain Lake Lodge. You know the one; the backdrop for Dirty Dancing. Oh, yes. It lives up to every bit of hype.

One of our sessions was a color and flavor session for baked goodies sponsored by the main sponsor of the conference, McCormick. The session was led by Hello, Cupcake! authors, Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. I don’t do a lot of baking, but this session was so much fun, full of really awesome and creative ideas for treats for any occasion.

Right after we got back from Mixed, we had a goodie box waiting for us from McCormick crammed full of the flavors and colors (and all the necessary tools for decorating) Karen and Alan showed us during their session. I was pretty excited, because this is some serious swag. Have you ever plunked down four or five bucks for a tiny bottle of real vanilla extract? (I hope you do. Please tell me you don’t use the imitation stuff… YUCK!) This goodie box had a bottle of REAL vanilla flavor and about a dozen of his friends like anise extract, coconut extract, orange extract, and on and on. We also got food coloring, spices, baking cups, pastry bags, tips, and push-up pop molds.

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I don’t bake much, but not because I don’t like to. I usually try to avoid sweets, but the holidays are a special occasion. I needed to make a couple dishes to take to a family gathering last weekend, and I decided on iced sugar cookies. They are so classically Christmas. I’ve made them since I was little. Also, they travel well and are always a hit with kids and adults alike.

I actually used the recipe we learned from Marian of Sweetopia last year at Mixed. The look so fancy! But they’re actually pretty easy.

The cookie recipe is a basic butter sugar cookie dough. It calls for three teaspoons of vanilla extract. But I thought I would give it a twist and substitute  two of the teaspoons of vanilla for almond extract. I also used four cups of regular all purpose flour, but substitute stone ground winter wheat flour (the flour I get from a local grist mill that is more coarse than regular all purpose) to give it a nice texture. These cookies aren’t totally smooth and soft. They do have a little texture, which I like.

020I also used royal icing, which I’d never worked with before last year. It makes a nice smooth icing that dries solid so you can stack them for packing. Plus, it’s just really pretty. It was originally made with egg whites and confectioners sugar, but more recent recipes call for meringue powder instead of egg whites for safety. I’ve only made this icing twice, but both times, I used actual egg whites. If you are concerned about food safety, I would definitely go with meringue powder, but I have had no issues with egg whites.

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Once I had the icing made, I divided it into three jars to color it. You do have to keep the lid on it while you are not using it because it will harden when exposed to air. I made white, green and red. Christmasy, ya know.

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Make sure your cookies are totally cool before you start or you will have a huge royal icing mess on your hands. It dries fairly quickly and is easy to work with if the cookies are nice and cool. I set up a little assembly station, which made the decorating go surprisingly fast.

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Making the the designs is fairly easy, although they look really intricate. Fill up pastry bags with small (5 or 8) Wilton tips with each color of icing. Pipe the outline onto the cookies then fill them in. Pipe your stripe color across the filled in center. Before it dries, drag a toothpick through it to make the swirled designs. The icing dries completely after you leave it sit out for an hour or so. Then you can pack them into bags and tins for gifts or travelling.

The cookies were a hit with everyone. And making them was at least one thing that wasn’t crazy stressful this time of year since I had a big box of McCormick goodies and didn’t have to go to the grocery store.

So. I did mention this was a giveaway. I actually have another box of McCormick goodies exactly like the one I used to give to one lucky reader. It might be too late for your Christmas baking, but Valentine’s Day will be extra sweet with some sugar cookies or raspberry cupcakes decorated in pink and red.

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To enter, all you have to do leave a comment to this entry telling me what you’d like to make with these goodies from McCormick.

You can get an additional entry by tweeting the link to this giveaway and coming back and leaving a comment with the tweet url in your comment. You can get a third entry by sharing this post on your facebook page and coming back and leaving me a comment telling me you shared it with your facebook name.

The winner will be chosen by using the random number generator, random.org. The contest is open until next Monday, December 30th at 11:59 p.m. I’ll announce the winner on this blog on Tuesday and ship the goodie box to the lucky reader.

I’m super excited about this giveaway since it was so much fun making these iced sugar cookies. I can’t wait to hear what you’d like to make with these flavors, colors and decorating tools.

Good luck!

PROJECT RECIPE: Chickpea and Butternut Squash Curry

I am constantly looking for new recipes for Meatless Monday. I love to cook vegetarian dishes, although I’m not a vegetarian. I think they are usually more flavorful because there’s usually so many darn ingredients, particularly in vegetarian one-pot dishes like this one.

I am also a late fan of curries. It was only a few years ago I warmed up to actually eating them, and it took me getting my first curry cookbook to really dive into making them myself. This one did not disappoint.

I found this recipe for Chickpea and Butternut Squash on Pinterest. I’m not gonna lie, it was the picture that drew me in. It just looks so warm and hearty and cozy in that iron skillet. Seriously, click on the link and check it out. If this isn’t an example of photography driving traffic to your site and the power of social media, I don’t know what would be. It looks so tasty, I just want to grab a fork and take a bite.

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Mine isn’t nearly as pretty, but I’m sure it’s no less delicious. I think this will be one of those dishes that gets better when it’s been leftover, giving the flavors time to blend together.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Def a keeper. This seems like it’s pretty healthy and a nice way to do Meatless Monday. If you’re tired of doing the same old things with butternut squash, this recipe is sure to shake up your usual rotation. I’m a fan of savory butternut squash dishes, rather than sweet ones (and that’s true for pumpkin and sweet potatoes, too). This curry has just a little bit of heat to balance out the sweetness from the squash and coconut nicely.

How I changed the recipe: I only used half a small butternut squash because it looked like that was enough as I was cutting it up. I also only used one onion instead of two. I added some red pepper flakes, and when I make it agian, I’ll likely add more, as I think it would have been good with just a little more heat. The Hubs topped his with Sriracha, like he doesn’t pretty much everything.

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It was pretty quick to make once I got the butternut squash peeled and diced up. That took a little bit of time.

Special shout out to my BFF, Erinn, who bought me several napkins for Christmas after listening to me complain I didn’t really have anything colorful to use for my blog. They are a nice change. Gotta love a friend who listens and takes mental notes!

That time I made turnips for the Hubs

The Hubs has mentioned a couple times over the last year or so how he would like me to make turnips sometime. He said his Grandpa Jones used to make a big pot when he was a kid, and he cooked them with carrots and ground hog. I am not joking.

If you’re wincing at the screen while you’re reading this, let me assure you, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat ground hog. This is West Virginia, after all. And “old timers” used to eat ground hog on the regular. I was telling my mom about this request for turnips, and she said she could remember when she was little her parents cooking ground hog. They were a readily accessible and tasty protein that cooked up fairly easily (and a nuisance for gardeners).

Someone gave her some turnips, so she passed a few along to me to make some for the Hubs. While I didn’t have any groundhog, I did have some squirrel I thought would substitute fairly well.

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Aren’t they beautiful?

The problem was, I couldn’t find a recipe for ground hog … er, squirrel stew with turnips. So, I kinda winged it.

The stew wasn’t bad. Except for the turnips. I thought I must’ve eaten them before at some point. But now that I’ve had them in this stew, I definitely don’t think that I have. And I’m not crazy about them. Put that on the very short list of foods that I would be totally okay with never eating again. I mean, I didn’t hate them, they just weren’t great. I guess I expected them to taste kinda like potatoes, but they do not. Unfortunately. Maybe somewhere someday I’ll be wowed by them at a restaurant. I won’t rule them out.

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I even made biscuits because that seemed like the thing to serve these with. They were great for sopping up the stew. Yes, I just used the word “sopping” in the context of biscuits…

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The squirrel was actually delicious. The only drawback was that it still had bones in it that you had to eat around. I’m not sure that could have been helped really. I made these in the slow cooker, but I lightly dredged the squirrel in flour and browned it off in a skillet before I added it in. I used chicken stock and diced a couple carrots and an onion in with it. The flour from the meat thickened the soup a little, which made it hearty and warm.

The squirrels were actually one of the ones the Hubs and I killed this fall. I added some squirrel meat that my father-in-law canned last fall. This stew was a great way to use those since they weren’t freshly killed. The meat was nice and tender.

I might try this again, except using potatoes instead of turnips. As for turnips, the Hubs said that was his one batch for the year, so I don’t have to worry about making those again for a while, and that doesn’t bother me.

Restaurant Redo: Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks

A few years ago, I was in Philadelphia for a conference for work. And no trip to Philly would be right without a proper cheesesteak.

Pat’s King of Steaks lays claim to be the home of the original iconic sandwich. This establishment has been operated by the same family since opening in 1930. On an opposite corner is Geno’s Steaks, another famous beacon of cheesy hot steak served on a roll. And I literally mean beacon. Geno’s is lit up like Las Vegas. While Pat’s seems every bit historic and stoic with it’s cupola-like windows on the upper level, Geno’s is completely shameless. Although the two places serve the same sandwich–the classic Philly Cheesesteak, the two places couldn’t be more opposite.

When I was there a few years back, a group of us took a morning and walked through Philadelphia’s Little Italy Market (well worth spending a couple hours here on a trip to Philly) and browsed some of the shops and cafes, as well as “oohed” and “aahhed” over stand after stand of fresh produce that lined the sidewalks.

After shopping, we headed to South 9th Street to try an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. Most of my group opted for Pat’s, but I wanted to try both to see how the two compared. I went to Geno’s and split my cheesesteak with another coworker who’d ordered one from Pat’s.

I hate to admit this because I don’t want to take anything away from the rivalry of these two titans of cheese and meat, but I couldn’t tell much difference between the two. Most locals it seemed had a definite favorite, and could articulate things they liked about their favorite that the other lacked. Maybe I just thought they were both really good.

This fall, when we ordered our half beef, we had the option to order some “hoagie” meat cuts. The person who hooked us up with the beef and butcher recommended we get the hoagie cuts, as they were excellent. It reminded me of my mom making Steak-ums when I was growing up. Do you remember those? I wasn’t sure you could still buy them until I looked them up on the internet. I haven’t seen them for years.

For our first taste of the hoagie meat cuts from our beef, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. An authentic Philly Cheesesteak. I have had some really good cheesesteak sandwiches over the years, but nothing quite like the one I tried in Philly.

After a quick internet search, I actually found the recipes for both Pat’s and Geno’s. There weren’t a lot of differences: thinly sliced steak, processed cheese, onions and mushrooms on a hoagie roll. Easy enough.

These were pretty good, but there was just something about having them at a picnic table outside of Pat’s in Philly that could not be replicated. I guess it was all about the ambiance.

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I used generic cheese whiz. If you order an authentic Philly Cheesesteak, be prepared to be asked “Whiz wit?” when you order. This means cheese with onions, peppers and mushrooms. If you answer “whiz without,” that means no vegetables. I don’t know how to order it without the cheese, nor do I think this is advisable. Just don’t do it.

Since I sorta took from both recipes and made it my own, below is the recipe:

Whiz Wit Philly Cheesesteaks (makes 4 sandwiches)

  • 8 oz. thinly sliced steak
  • 4 Tb cheese whiz or store-brand
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tb unsalted butter
  • 6 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 4 hoagie rolls
  • salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
  • lettuce and tomato to finish the sandwiches, if you prefer

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onions. Cook until the onions soften and begin to get translucent, 7-8 minutes. Add the thinly sliced steak, piece by piece. You don’t have to lay it out flat in the skillet. We just dropped it in piece by piece. Season with red pepper flakes and a little pepper. Cook for a minute or so until the steak starts to brown. With a couple spatulas, tear the steak apart and break it into bite size pieces, stirring to prevent it from burning. Cook a few more minutes until the steak is done through and browned, and the juices have cooked off. (This steak put off a lot of juice). Remove from heat. Meanwhile, in a smaller skillet, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the mushrooms and stir well. Cook a few minutes until the mushrooms begin to turn golden brown. Add the mushrooms to the onion and steak mixture. Spread a tablespoon of the cheese whiz on each hoagie roll. Most of the time, I say there’s no such thing as too much cheese, but here, less is definitely more. The cheese was so salty the taste completely over powered the meat mixture. Definitely use a light hand here. Add the meat mixture. Top with lettuce and tomato if you prefer. Enjoy!

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PROJECT RECIPE: Quinoa and Kale Stuffed Squash

038I have been searching for my “go to” recipe for acorn squash for the last few years. I love to see them at the farmers market. They are so little and cute and festive for fall. I’m sure some people buy them only for decoration on their porches with other odd and colorful winter squash. I just eat them.

I found this recipe for quinoa and kale stuffed squash on Pinterest. I have a “Meatless Monday” board. There are tons of recipe ideas out there if you are looking for inspiration for vegetarian dishes. There are tons of reasons to eat less meat like your health, the environment or your wallet, and Meatless Monday is a fun and easy way to do it.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Eh. Probably not a keeper. I love pretty much all the components of this dish. I love kale, winter squash  and chic peas because they are so delicious. I love quinoa because it is so healthy and high in protein. I love white cheddar, cause, well, I just love cheese. But mixed together, they were just okay. Nothing special, really. It seemed a little ho-hum. I was dubious about the maple syrup and cinnamon, but the taste isn’t overwhelming. Just a little hint in the background.

How I changed the recipe: I really didn’t, except for I accidentally put too much cinnamon in it. I had a little mishap and too much came out of the canister over the skillet. It really didn’t seem to be overly cinnamon-y, thank goodness. If I were going to make it again, I would probably cut the filling by half-ish and double the cheese. I did actually double the cheese for the top. But I would have mixed the extra cheese through the filling. It was the best part. and the bites that you got some of the cheese in were actually pretty good, but it wasn’t in every bite.

Last fall, I made roasted acorn squash with Burrata and fried sage leaves, and I think I liked that recipe using acorn squash better than this one. This was a great Meatless Monday recipe, though. And I’m sure it was super healthy, although I didn’t calculate the nutrition information. The quinoa and chic peas make it high in protein and healthy fiber. The acorn squash is a good source of beta carotene, too. It was very filling, and a nice cool-weather fall dinner. But I’m still looking for that “go-to” recipe for acorn squash when they come in season.

Giving new life to leftover turkey–Nachos!!!

Do you remember that movie from a few years back, The Ice Harvest? No? It was starring John Cusak. Jog your memory? Of course…

It was a pretty forgettable movie except for the role Oliver Platt played of John Cusack’s ex-wife’s sloppy drunk and portly new husband. My favorite line from the movie is when he shows up at his mother-in-law’s, who has invited him for dessert. He says “Screw the pie, you old harpy. We’re here for dinner. Turkey lurkey!”

I had so much turkey leftover from both mine and my mom’s Thanksgiving bird, but also from the Hub’s parents’ Thanksgiving spread, which included two 18-pound smoked turkeys.

Turkey lurkey, indeed.

This week, we’ve eaten turkey every day. In every way. One of my favorite things to make with leftover turkey is soup. I had a fresh carcass to make stock out of, so why not? I’ve posted about my love of homemade chicken (turkey) soup before here.

Seriously, bone broth is practically a super food. It’s anti-inflammatory, which is why they always say to eat chicken soup when you’re sick. But not from a can. The real-deal homemade stuff with bone broth is what will cure what ails ya. Bone broth is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other trace minerals, that absorb easily into our system because of the slow simmering process of turning bones into a delicious and healthy broth. (Here’s the source with some more info on the benefits.)

Brown baggin' turkey leftovers.

Brown baggin’ turkey leftovers.

This week, instead of adding pasta to the turkey soup, I used some wild rice I had in the pantry. We have been eating it all week. And I still had the better part of a gallon zip-top bag full of turkey left.

So I did what anyone would naturally do with their turkey leftovers, right? I made nachos!

I’m kind of a nachos connoisseur. They are my comfort food. Cheesy, crunchy, warm and salty goodness. I like to try them at different establishments, but I also like to make them at home. One place I ordered them which I can’t remember now, really impressed me by making them double-layered. A layer of chips on the bottom with toppings, then another layer of chips and more toppings. I have only seen those once, but it’s genius! That way all the chips had some of the toppings on them. Sometimes if it’s a big pile, the chips on the bottom are just… well, chips, not nachos. So, that’s how I made these. Cheesy goodness for all!

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Turkey Lurkey Leftovers Nachos (serves 4, but really serves 2)

  • half a bag of tortilla chips (I used yellow corn rounds)
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped up roasted turkey
  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 1 Tb minced garlic (3ish cloves)
  • 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tb butter
  • 2 Tb flour
  • 1 cup milk (plus more as needed)
  • 4 oz. queso fresco
  • 2 Tb taco seasoning (recipe follows)
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a pinch of smoked paprika
  • garnishes for nachos such as lettuce, tomato, sour cream, diced avocado and salsa

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In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium heat. Add diced onion and garlic. Stir well and cook until onion is softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the turkey and the taco seasoning.You want the turkey to get slightly golden brown so that it no longer has that slimy cold leftover turkey quality to it. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, melt the butter and add the flour. Stir well so that it resembles paste. Add the 1 cup of milk, whisking to get the lumps out. Bring to a boil and let thicken about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Crumble the cheese (or diced it into 1/2 inch pieces. It mostly crumbles when you try to cut it anyway) and add to the milk mixture.  Stir well with the heat on medium-low until the cheese has melted. I could not get mine as smooth as Mexican restaurants somehow do. It still had some lumps and chunks of cheese, but it was fine. Add the pinch of cayenne and smoked paprika. Stir well and remove from heat. Turn the broiler on the oven to high. Spread about half of the chips out on a platter, top with half the turkey and half the sauce. Repeat with another layer of chips, turkey and cheese. Broil on high until the cheese starts to get browned and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t burn. While it’s in the oven, get the rest of your toppings together. I had lettuce, tomato, avocado, sour cream and salsa, but you could add black olives, jalepenos, or whatever you like on nachos. Enjoy!

Also, please don’t buy taco seasoning. I guarantee you already own all the spices that it’s made of. It takes you less than five minutes to make a batch, and you’ll have it ready next time you need it. Making it at home saves money, and helps you use up those spices that they say you should throw every six months. With the price of them, I certainly don’t throw them out after six months, but I do try to use them up. This is a great way.

Taco Seasoning (makes enough for one pound of meat–easily doubled or quadrupled)

  • 1 Tb chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin

Mix all together in a jar and shake. Add to meat. Or quadruple it and store it in a small jar with a tight lid with your other spices for future use.

These turkey nachos were so, so good. The Hubs and I “gobbled” them up. (Haha.) The smoked paprika gives these a little hint of unexpected smokey flavor. And this recipe makes plenty of cheese. Probably too much, but no one ever said, “Man, there’s just too much cheese on this…” You really wouldn’t guess they were made from Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, and it’s a nice way to change up the regular rotation for leftovers–usually including turkey soup and turkey salad.

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PROJECT RECIPE: Lazy Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls

I know what drew me into this recipe: the words “lazy” and “slow cooker.”

The Hubs said he was craving some cabbage rolls right around the time I ran across this recipe. I figured it was a win-win. The flavors of cabbage rolls without actually going to the trouble of making them into rolls. I suppose it’s not that hard to roll them, but what is easier than layering cabbage, ground beef and tomato sauce in the crock pot?

There problem with these was that they are ugly food. I hate to even post this picture, because they look like something you’d clean out of your garbage disposal. But appearances are deceiving. They are mighty good.

Even Instagram couldn't make this food any less ugly.

Even Instagram couldn’t make this food any less ugly.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: The Hubs says keeper. They WERE pretty easy. And tasty. And I have a ridiculous amount of ground beef in the freezer. I guess that’s a keeper recipe. These were rich and hearty from the rice and beef filling, and tangy from the tomato sauce. The recipe said to serve them with a spoonful of sour cream, and they were definitely good that way. I wasn’t really sure about the sour cream, but it really added something that was missing otherwise.

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t really. Except, I might not have sliced the cabbage as thin as the recipe said. It said to slice it in 1/2 inch slices, and I don’t think I would. The cabbage broke down quite a bit, and the bigger slices seemed to hold together a little better, which I liked. When I make it again, I think I will make more of the tomato sauce. It seemed like that would have been good, because it didn’t seem like there was enough.

I will warn you, though. Your house will smell pretty bad when you make these. Cooked cabbage doesn’t have a very welcoming smell. Especially when you walk into your house after work and smell these lazy cabbage rolls cooking. But at least dinner is hot and delicious and ready when you walk in the door. And you won’t even notice the smell of your house once you start eating these.