Cran-Blue Berry Sauce

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I know some people only like the canned gel-like cranberry sauce.  I personally can’t get on that band wagon.  A sauce shouldn’t be gel, if you ask me.  Fresh cranberry sauce is so easy and I love having something tart and fresh on the table with the feast.  I usually make my cranberry sauce with blackberries in it, but I thought this batch with blueberries was amazing.

CRAN-BLUE BERRY SAUCE

1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
12 oz cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
zest of 1 orange
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 granny smith apple, chopped fine

Put all ingredients in a pot and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until cranberries have popped.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
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DIY Sparkling Cider

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We may or may not have decorated for Christmas… a couple weeks ago… I’m not saying.  But if we HAD, then I most definitely have served this for our annual “Tree decorating dinner” (I know, catchy name).  Every year, the day we decorate for Christmas we have a dinner by candlelight and fancy appetizers and such.  I plan ahead so I don’t have to do any cooking that night, except maybe rewarming in the oven.  Sparkling cider is a must too, but I forgot to get some at the store.  A friend told me about this way of making it and thought we’d try it.  Honestly, we couldn’t really tell much difference!  We’re going to try some other juices sometime too for fun.  If you are making a bigger batch serve in a closed drink dispenser if possible to keep the bubbles better.
I served with some frozen cranberries to help it keep cold instead of ice since they look better and won’t water down the drink.  You may want to warn people about eating them though since they are pretty tart ;)

DIY SPARKLING CIDER

12 oz frozen apple juice concentrate
1 liter club soda (or carbonated water)

Place juice in a pitcher and pour club soda over juice and stir just to combine.
Serve immediately.

Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes

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I’m all about tradition on holidays.  I tend to use my stand-by recipes, many are the same my Mom made with a few updates from me.  But this one might just make the cut!  Smoked gouda is such a good pairing with roasted garlic, and if you’re like me you keep some in the freezer for flavor emergencies. :)  Feel free to use russets instead of gold potatoes if that’s what you have as well.   This one is worth having for Thanksgiving or any day!

SMOKED GOUDA MASHED POTATOES

5 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 stick unsalted butter (8 T), at room temperature
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
2 cups shredded smoked gouda cheese
1/4 cup mashed roasted garlic
salt and pepper, to taste

Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
Drain and put through a food mill (or mash or put through a ricer, or whip).
Put back in pot along with remaining ingredients and cook on low until everything is combines and hot.  Add more cream or milk if needed to desired consistency.

Maple Bacon Crackers

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I’ve seen the original version of this everywhere and wanted to give it my own twist.  In the original recipe a full piece of bacon is wrapped around each cracker and there is no maple syrup or black pepper.   A full piece of bacon seemed a bit much to me (for one little cracker too).  Even though the bacon isn’t wrapped around the cracker they stay together just fine, I didn’t have any issues with them separating.  The maple syrup almost candies the bacon and adding the black pepper gave some bite with all that sweet.  If you like things spicy I would even use red chili flakes instead of pepper.  These are great served at room temperature and if you want to make them ahead for holidays or a party just put them in an airtight container after cooking and cooling and bring to room temperature when ready to serve.  I did make some plain Parmesan crackers (see variation at bottom of post) and some with brown sugar but no syrup,  but these were most definitely our favorite!

MAPLE BACON CRACKERS

1 sleeve club crackers
1/2 lb thin sliced bacon
1 cup brown sugar
maple syrup, for drizzling (1/2 to 1 cup)
black pepper, to taste

Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack on top.  Spray with nonstick spray.
Line crackers on wire rack and top with about 1 tsp of brown sugar on each cracker. (I was making half Parmesan crackers on this tray)
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Cut bacon in quarters, so they are about the same length of crackers.  Place a piece of bacon on each cracker.
Drizzle with maple syrup, about 1/2 to 1 tsp on each.  Sprinkle with black pepper.
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Bake at 250 degrees for about 45 minutes.

For Parmesan crackers:
Top crackers with 1/2 tsp grated Parmesan and top with bacon, then black pepper.  Bake as directed above.
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HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Blackberry Fritters

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“I was going to make fritters today…” (hubby’s eyes light up)
“But I ran out of time”  (hubby appears devastated.)
I’ve been promising for over a year to make fritters for my doughnut loving hubby and finally got around to it.  I even made a double batch, making half into apple fritters, and the other half into these blackberry fritters, since the dough is the same.
I’m not sure why I put it off for so long, they really weren’t difficult once I simplified the recipe a bit.  Make them for the doughnut fan in your life and win a bazillion brownie points. :)  
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BLACKBERRY FRITTERS
Makes 1 dozen

Step 1:
1 1/2 T active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp sugar

Step 2:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/4 cups flour

Step 3:
2 T shortening
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the blackberries:
1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries
1 T sugar
2 T flour

For the berry glaze:
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup plus 1 T hot water, more if needed
1 T berry jam

Place all of step #1 ingredients in a mixer bowl and let bloom for 5 minutes.
In another bowl, whisk together #2 ingredients, set aside.
Add #3 ingredients to the mixer bowl and using a paddle attachment, mix for a minute to break up the shortening.
Add a third of the dry ingredients (from step #2), when blended in add another third.  Switch to dough hook and add the last third.
Knead for 2 minutes.  Dough with be smooth and slightly sticky.
Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Let rise 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Roll dough into a 10 inch square on a lightly floured counter, about 1/2 inch thick.
Spread blackberries on half of square, then sprinkle with the sugar and flour.

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Fold dough over to seal in blackberries.  Using a bench scraper or knife, cut into 1/2 inch strips.

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Now cut the other direction, making 1/2 inch squares.

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Scoop and rearrange the dough.

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Cut again in both directions.

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Now that you have tons of teeny pieces, form them into a log, about 12 inches long by 3 inches thick.

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Lightly coat log in flour.

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Slice log into 12 equal pieces.

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Pat each piece into a palm sized circle and place on a lightly floured cookie sheet and set aside to raise for 30 minutes.
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Fry over medium heat in at least 2″ of oil.  Place on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet.
Make the glaze:  Whisk all glaze ingredients together until smooth, add more hot water a tsp at a time if too thick.
Dip one side of fritters into glaze and place back on wire rack for excess to drip off.  Let glaze harden for about 10-15 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Top Pot Doughnuts

Apple Fritters

 

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“I was going to make fritters today…” (hubby’s eyes light up)
“But I ran out of time”  (hubby appears devastated.)
I’ve been promising for over a year to make fritters for my doughnut loving hubby and finally got around to it.  I even made a double batch, making half for these apple fritters, and the other half into blackberry fritters, since the dough is the same.
I’m not sure why I put it off for so long, they really weren’t difficult once I simplified the recipe a bit.  Make them for the doughnut fan in your life and win a bazillion brownie points. :)  
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APPLE FRITTERS
Makes 1 dozen

Step 1:
1 1/2 T active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp sugar

Step 2:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/4 cups flour

Step 3:
2 T shortening
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the apples:
2 1/2 cups chopped apples (chopped at 1/2″)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 T cinnamon
1 T flour

For the glaze:
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup plus 1 T hot water, more if needed

Place all of step #1 ingredients in a mixer bowl and let bloom for 5 minutes.
In another bowl, whisk together #2 ingredients, set aside.
Add #3 ingredients to the mixer bowl and using a paddle attachment, mix for a minute to break up the shortening.
Add a third of the dry ingredients (from step #2), when blended in add another third.  Switch to dough hook and add the last third.
Knead for 2 minutes.  Dough with be smooth and slightly sticky.
Put dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Let rise 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
While dough is rising prepare the apples.  Heat the apples, sugar, and lemon juice in a skillet over medium high heat and cook 5-7 minutes, until liquid has evaporated and apples are softened.  Set aside to cool.
Roll dough into a 10 inch square on a lightly floured counter, about 1/2 inch thick.
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Spread apples on half of square, then sprinkle with cinnamon and flour.

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Fold dough over to seal in apples.

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Using a bench scraper or knife, cut into 1/2 inch strips.

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Now cut the other direction, making 1/2 inch squares.

 

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Scoop and rearrange the dough.

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Cut again in both directions.

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Now that you have tons of teeny pieces, form them into a log, about 12 inches long by 3 inches thick.

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Lightly coat log in flour.

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Slice log into 12 equal pieces.

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Pat each piece into a palm sized circle and place on a lightly floured cookie sheet and set aside to raise for 30 minutes.
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Fry over medium heat in at least 2″ of oil.  Place on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet.
Make the glaze:  Whisk all glaze ingredients together until smooth, add more hot water a tsp at a time if too thick.
Dip one side of fritters into glaze and place back on wire rack for excess to drip off.  Let glaze harden for about 10-15 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Top Pot Doughnuts

Pan Fried Pork Chops

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I don’t know if this qualifies as a “recipe” but there are a few tricks to getting simple pork chops to turn out great you should know.  The first is cutting a couple slits, otherwise they will buckle up in the middle and not lay flat, which means you won’t get an even sear.  The other is letting them rest for a few minutes to allow the moisture in the chop to start moistening the flour.  If you put them in the pan immediately you’ll have more loose flour that will start to burn before the chops are done.
My favorite way to cook pork chops is smoking them, but this is a great quick dinner, especially when paired with these amazing brussel spouts with bacon and walnuts.   Or maybe mashed acorn squash.

PAN FRIED PORK CHOPS

1 cup flour
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Oil, to coat bottom of pan
4 bone in pork chops (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick)  I used rib cut

Combine the flour and spices together in a shallow bowl.
Cut a couple slits in each chop, about 2 inches deep and 2 inches apart, cutting thru the fat.
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Coat in seasoned flour, and let rest on a plate for about 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.   (You don’t need it to come up the sides, just enough to coat the bottom of the skillet.)
Cook the chops, flipping once, until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

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You may be familiar with making your own pumpkin puree, but butternut squash is another favorite of mine.  I make some every fall and freeze in 15 oz containers (so it translates well for recipes that use a 15 oz can).  I use it to make sauces, like this one, or gnocchi (you can follow the recipe for the pumpkin gnocchi, just sub out the butternut).
Butternut squash has a great texture and mouth feel so it makes a wonderful sauce without needing to add milk or cream.  This is such a quick and easy recipe, and having the squash made ahead of time makes it ridiculously easy.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH PASTA SAUCE (With homemade bacon!)

8 oz (or a pound if you like) bacon lardons (you could also use chopped bacon, or panchetta, or omit entirely)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 T fresh sages, very finely minced
15 oz butternut squash puree
2 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta (something with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce works best)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy.  Drain and set aside.
Remove all drippings but a light coating in pan.  Add garlic and sage and saute until fragrant.
Add squash and chicken stock to pan and cook for 5-10 minutes over medium to medium high heat until reduced slightly and thickened slightly.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, add pasta and toss to combine.
Top with Parmesan cheese and reserved bacon.

NOTES: To make this without any meat, just use a tsp of olive oil to saute the garlic and sage.
If you have fresh butternut squash, peel, seed, and cube it.  Add about 2 1/2 cups to pan instead of the puree along with the chicken stock.  Cover pan and cook through, then puree.  Proceed again per recipe.

DIY Smoked Bacon

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I love a good kitchen experiment.  This takes kitchen experiments to all new level though.  If you’ve never had homemade bacon you have no idea what you’re missing.  It makes bacon from the store seem so wrong and inferior.  It is really very easy and while it takes some time you don’t have to do much during the time.  If you don’t have a smoker yet I don’t know what better argument there is than homemade smoked bacon :)

I like to cut the pork belly into manageable sizes, since it makes it easier to cure them in ziplock bags and also when it comes time to slice it later on.  The rub amounts are for each pound of pork belly, so adjust accordingly.  I did half of mine in brown sugar rub, and the other half in the peppercorn herb rub.  We go back and forth on which we like better and I honestly can’t tell you which is better!  Next time I might try adding a little maple syrup as well.  You can play around with the seasonings, just be sure to use the right amount of tenderquick, as that will keep bad bacteria from growing.  You can use pink salt, but you need to be careful when using that, as too much can actually be lethal.  I feel like tenderquick is a little safer for a home kitchen.

Pork belly, rind on

BROWN SUGAR RUB:
1 T Morton’s tenderquick
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

CRACKED PEPPERCORN AND HERB RUB:
1 T Morton’s Tenderquick
1 tsp sugar
1 T crushed black peppercorns (Using the side of a chef’s knife, press down to crack)
1 tsp garlic powder (or 1 crushed garlic clove)
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 crumbled dried bay leaf

Place pork belly in a shallow pan and rub all sides with rub.  Place in a ziplock bag with any remaining rub.
Refrigerate for 7 days, turning ever day to redistribute the rub and any liquid.
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After 7 days it’s time to rinse the rub off.  You don’t want to skip this, as the bacon will be too salty if you don’t.

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After you have rinsed the pork belly, place it on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for 2 days.

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Time to smoke!  Hot smoke, rind side up, for about 2 hours (we used a mix of hickory and cherry) or until it reaches 150 degrees.
If you don’t have a smoker you could bake it in the oven at about 200 degrees on a rack set over a rimmed sheet.  But for optimal flavor, we’re going to smoke. :)

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Above is what the rind side looks like when done, below is rind side down:

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Trim the rind off.  Unless you want rind-on bacon, then you would leave it on.

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Cool, then slice in desired thickness.  It’s easiest if you slice with fat side down.

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You’ll want to cut the ends off to get nice neat slices.  But you don’t want to waste any!  So cut the ends into 1/2 inch cubes, or lardons.  You can throw these in a freezer ziplock and they won’t freeze together solid.  You can pull out however much you want at a time.  These are great for chili, cook until crisp to top baked potatoes, salads… pretty much anything you want to taste amazing.
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To store the bacon I weigh out half pound amounts, wrap in butcher paper and freeze.

Tea by the Sea

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This summer we had a “Tea by the Sea” for my daughters and few of their friends (and the moms).  It was such a fun way to end summer.  These ideas would work well for a mermaid type birthday party as well.

I kept the invites simple, printed on vellum and ripped the sides, attached to brown paper using some washi tape.

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My girls had alot of fun making each of their friends a mermaid clothespin doll.  We used them as a napkin ring and they each got to take theirs home.
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We kept decorations simple since we had made so much fun edible things.  just a few shells and such we had around the house.
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For the kids I made “Mermaid Lemonade”.  Mix lemonade and blue Hawaiian punch.  ( I also had hot herbal tea for the moms).
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I made pink seahorses using pink candy coating and a seahorse chocolate mold, then attached them to a pretzel rod dipped in blue candy coating, then sprinkled some sprinkles and pearl candy around them.
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And of course coral reef candy.  Make it yourself using the recipe here.
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Smores Starfish, recipe found here , and some cookie clams made with cookies, frosting, and candy pearls.
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I’m not the best at decorating sugar cookies, but the kids didn’t care!
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And of course the sandcastle cake went in the middle of the table

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And the teeny cupcakes disappeared very fast!
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Sea Glass candy, recipe here
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Seafoam (also called honeycomb candy) recipe here
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Lime mousse, recipe here. I served this for both the kids and adults.
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Fairy bread, of course.  A must for every tea party.   Cut bread with an octopus cookie cutter and spread with frosting or softened butter and coat with sprinkles. I mixed a few colors in with blue and added some candy eyes.
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Using some mini croissants we made crabs cutting the mouths from marshmallows and the candy eyes with “glued” onto marshmallows with frosting and put on toothpicks.  I put ham and cheese around them so the kids could make them how they wanted.
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For the moms I made some tea sandwiches.
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And I frosted some of the cupcakes with plain frosting and put a chocolate shell on top instead of the gummy candy for the kids ones.
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And lots of sweets to go around!

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It was a fun day! I wouldn’t be surprised if we do it again next summer!
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