Happy Thanksgiving 2017!

I am not quite sure how it became Thanksgiving week, 2017. It feels as though I just planted all of my spring flowers. But now they are gone and I have pumpkins on my front porch.

By now I am usually swimming in Thanksgiving meal preparations and ideas, but my son and his family bought their first house and they want to have the dinner.

But part of me is still thinking of everything that I usually do this time of the year. I guess old habits do really die hard!  I will miss getting up early on Thanksgiving morning to get my turkey in the oven, going back to bed and then waking up to the house smelling amazing!

I always had the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on while I cook.  And the kids in me still enjoys Santa at the end!

I am a little late in sharing this but if you are looking for a meal planner, I have a link to my blog post that will definitely help, the link is here Holiday Meal Planner

There are also links to some of my recipes for the holidays in that blog.

If you need a little encouragement on how to survive all the expectations of the upcoming holidays, I have a link to my blog post here Less Stress for the Holiday Season

Hopefully some of my suggestions are helpful.

I have to admit, Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday.  The only expectation is the fellowship and meal with family and friends.  But for me it is also the kick off to the Christmas holiday.

Remember to enjoy the holidays and your family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sausage, Corn and Potato Chowder

I love hot and hearty soup on a chilly day. It hasn’t been too chilly yet but the soup is still a wonderful meal.

This soup is easy to put together, and can be on the table and in your tummy in no time!

I started with a pound of loose sausage, I usually like using a spicy Italian sausage, which would be great for this soup but this time I opted for just a plain sausage. I wanted to use my own spices this time around.

Brown your sausage and a chopped onion, salt and pepper. As it was browning I added paprika and a few dashes of cayenne pepper.

As soon as the sausage is cooked I added 4-5 cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of cooked, diced potatoes, 1-1/2 cups of corn. And I tossed in a rather large sprig of fresh thyme from my garden.

I love using thyme in just about everything. Last year I was lucky, our winter wasn’t too terribly cold and my thyme lasted all winter. I have it in a large pot by my back door. My rosemary survived as well.

Bring the soup to a light simmer, adjust the spices to your preference. After about 15-20 minutes, remove the sprig of thyme, and serve.

Sausage, Corn and Potato Sausage

Serves 4

1 pound loose, ground sausage

1 small onion, chopped and diced

4-5 cups chicken broth or stock

2 cups cubed cooked potatoes

1-1/2 cups corn

1 tsp paprika

few dashes of cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

1 sprig of thyme

Brown sausage and onion in olive oil in a soup stock pot, salt and pepper to taste.  Add the cayenne pepper and paprika.

When the sausage is cooked, add your broth, about 4 cups to start.  Adding more if you prefer.

Add in the corn, and potatoes and bring to a light simmer, add sprig of thyme. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust your spices. Remove sprig of thyme before serving.

Enjoy!

 

Pumpkin Crumb Muffins with a Cream Cheese Center

Fall has finally arrived! And with that comes hot chocolate, soups, and pumpkin. Pumpkin everything! And I am one of those people that loves everything pumpkin.

I also love muffins. And cream cheese.

Last year I made a pumpkin muffin that had the cream cheese swirled in it, this year I made them with a cream cheese filling. Oh. My. Gosh.

First you will need to make the cream cheese filling and pop it in the fridge to chill. Super easy, just take an 8oz block of cream cheese, room temperature and blend in 1 cup of powdered sugar.

Next, make the sugar crumb topping. I used ½ cup sugar, about 6 tablespoons of flour, 1 tsp cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of butter cut into chunks. Cut the butter into the sugar and flour until it resembles crumbs. Guess that’s why it’s called crumb topping! Anyway, I usually like to use my hands towards the end of the blending as I can get better crumbs. Just my thing. Set aside.

Now for the muffins! I used my stand up mixer for this. Pour in your bowl 1 cup of vegetable oil, one 15oz can of pumpkin puree, 1-1/2 cups sugar, and 4 large eggs. Mix until just combined.

Then add your spices, I used 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, ½ teaspoon ground cloves, and ½ tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Also add 1 teaspoon of salt and baking soda. Blend until the spices are just blended in.

Now add your flour, one cup at a time, 3 cups total. Scrape the bowl often. Once the flour is blended in do not mix any further.

Preheat your oven to 350 and line your muffin tins with paper cups. I still spray the paper cups. Remove the cream cheese filling from the fridge and be prepared to assemble!

Put a little of the batter in each of the cups making sure that the bottom of the cup is totally covered. Drop in about 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese filling. Then fill the muffin cup with batter until no less than ¾ full. I tap the muffin tin gently on the counter to make sure there are no air bubbles and that the cream cheese is completely surrounded with the batter.

Top with a sprinkling of the sugar crumb topping. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan to cool.

I can’t tell you how long they will last because I can promise you ….. they won’t! You and everyone that you share them with will scarf them up!!

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Crumb Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Makes 24-26 muffins

 Cream Cheese Filling:

1 8oz block of cream cheese, softened to room temp

1 cup powdered sugar

Blend until soft and creamy, refrigerate until ready to use

Sugar Crumb Topping:

½ cup sugar

6 T flour

1 tsp cinnamon

4 T butter, cut into cubes

Cut butter into sugar, flour and cinnamon mixture until crumbly, set aside

Muffins:

1 c vegetable oil

1 15oz can of pumpkin puree

1-1/2 sugar

4 eggs, large

Blend until combined

Add in 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, ½ tsp ground cloves, ½ T pumpkin pie spice, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda. Mix until just combined.

Add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time and only mixing until blended, scraping bowl frequently.

Preheat oven to 350, line muffin tin with paper cup liners. Drop in enough batter to cover the bottom of the paper liner, drop in about 1 T of the cream cheese filling, fill the rest of the cup with batter. No less than ¾ full. Tap the muffin tin on the counter to remove air bubbles. Sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from pan to cool.

Hash Browns and Eggs

I love breakfast, and I love having breakfast for dinner too!

I made this for a late morning breakfast one day that I was off from work.  There isn’t much in the way of a recipe, you just fry these potatoes, make a hole and dump in the eggs. Easy!  And delicious!

I always keep a bag of these hash brown potatoes in the freezer mostly because I just dislike peeling and chopping potatoes BUT I use them in soups, quiches, and as a side dish.

Start by just frying your potatoes, add in chopped onions, salt and pepper to taste but I have to tell ya, I love using seasoned salt for fried potatoes.

I had a jar of roasted red peppers in the fridge so I chopped one up and added it to the potatoes just enough to heat before I added the eggs.

Clear away some potatoes and create a hole for each egg you want to add, turn the heat down low enough that nothing burns but yet enough heat to cook the eggs.

Pour in an egg in each hole you create, salt and pepper the egg and cover the pan.

I checked my eggs every few minutes, while the eggs cooked I made my toast.

Within about 8 minutes my eggs and potatoes were done and I was pretty much inhaling them!

Again, there isn’t much of a recipe to follow. This one is easy to just wing it!

Enjoy!

 

Growing Butterflies

I have 3 Butterfly Bushes at my house.  I had been so disappointed most of the summer, I had no butterflies!  And then all of a sudden, I did!!!  I loved watching them and trying to snap photo’s.

 

But then, browsing through herbs that were marked down to a $1 at my favorite plant and produce place, I saw what I thought was a garden pest, possibly a large hookworm.  There was a sales person nearby so I left her know.  Before she even came over to look at what I was talking about, she was already telling me it was a caterpillar and would be a Monarch.

She said all I needed to do was to put it in a jar and watch it grow.  The parsley plant was mine!

My girlfriend wanted one too so I gave her the plant with the large caterpillar and the other sales girls found a very small, little black caterpillar.  Lucy and Ethel found new homes.

 

I found out later, after I had posted a picture on Facebook, that we had Black Swallowtails.  So, I researched what we needed to do to grow these little critters.

Since mine was so small, all I needed to do was to keep a few sprigs of parsley in the jar for the caterpillar to feed upon.  I had her in a mason jar, I removed the flat lid and just used a thin piece of paper towel with some very small holes poked through, and then just used the twist part of the lid to secure it.

I kept an eye on her daily, after she ate all the leaves of a sprig I simply removed the stem and added fresh.  They also poop!  So the jar needed a good cleaning every other day.

The growth was fast and furious!  And absolutely amazing!

And the larger she got, she ate more which meant she pooped more (and bigger!!) so I needed to clean the jar daily.

She was beautiful!  I couldn’t believe how quickly she changed.  In just one day she was bigger!

Once she reached a larger size, I put a small stick in the jar.  She didn’t bother with it for a few days, she still had some growing to do, and lots more eating.  I was afraid I would need to go get another parsley plant.  She had almost eaten all of the parsley plant that she was on when I got her.

   

Then one day when I came home from work, she was on the stick.  For a day or so she moved around the stick, I guess looking for a good spot to settle down.

One day she managed to find that comfy spot and she spun a silk button to attach herself to the stick.  I pulled the stick out to look at her closely, carefully placed her back in and then the next day she moved again.  Okay Lucy I won’t move you this time.

  

Then she hooked her head, curled in her legs and by the time I got up the next morning, she was a chrysalis.  This whole process took about 12 days.

I read that it could take 10-14 days for her to emerge.  The chrysalis changed colors, she turned brown and I thought for sure she died.

Ethel, my girlfriends Swallowtail had already morphed into a butterfly, she was gorgeous!  My girlfriend told me that I should be able to see her move as she is getting ready to emerge.

I swear one night I saw one end totally bend!  But after that I saw nothing, for days, I was convinced she died. Every moment that I walked past the jar I was peering in, like a peeping-tom, trying to witness some kind of movement from her.

Then one day, I came home from work, and she was on the paper towel trying to figure out how to get out!!!  Exactly 14 days!

I practically threw my stuff on the floor, grabbed my phone and the jar and went outside to my flowering butterfly bush.

I unscrewed the lid and carefully laid the paper towel over onto a flower.  She quietly sat and spread her wings for about 30 seconds which allowed me to snap a few photo’s.

 

Then she stepped off the towel and onto the flower for a few more seconds, and she took off!!  She circled my yard and was gone.

  

What a beautiful sight it was!  And an amazing thing to watch and experience!

But my story does not end here.  In the midst of Lucy’s transformation, I discovered I also had a Monarch outside.

I had ordered a Butterfly Weed/Milkweed online, early Summer so by the time it arrived and I got it in the ground it was July.  It didn’t grow.  And I was really disappointed.  Then one day it sprouted and grew only about 4 inches so I figured I would not have any luck with it.

I was mistaken!  The last week in August I was planting a Sedum near the Milkweed when I spotted this gorgeous creature!  I was so excited!

 

She was already pretty much full grown so she must have been there for about 2 weeks.  I began to read about what to expect, learned what I could and patiently waited.  Then she was gone.  Darn!  I figured something got her as I expected her to attach to the milkweed once she became a chrysalis.

But then I learned she could have traveled to a nearby plant to attach to.  I figured that would have been my Rose of Sharon since it was the closest.  My son, his girlfriend and I searched one afternoon but we couldn’t find her.

The next plant is one of my Butterfly bushes.  I needed to trim that back so as I did, I kept looking for the chrysalis.  Never found it.  I was convinced she was deep in the middle of the Rose of Sharon or sadly, something ate her.

Silly me. She was there, in the Butterfly Bush, near the bottom, still in caterpillar form.  Hanging upside down.  I wasn’t looking for that!  But I was soooooo happy to have found her.

 

She stayed in the J position what seemed like many days.  I always checked on her in the morning when I would leave my pup out, and I noticed nothing unusal.  Went to work but later that day I need to run home around 1 to have my fridge repaired.  Of course I went out to check on her.  She had begun the process of changing.  I kept an eye on her while I was home but I needed to run back to work for a few more hours.

By the time I had gotten home she was not quite done so I was able to watch her the rest of the evening.  The remaining change happened quickly, by the time it was getting dark she was finished.

 

Another 10-14 days of waiting for nature to do its beautiful thing! By now Lucy had just left me to explore the world in her short life time.

And then it happened!  Last Sunday morning when I left the pup out I meandered over to check on the Monarch, wishing and hoping today was the day so I could watch her while I was home.

I noticed the chrysalis had changed to a deep dark green.  Hmmmm, I didn’t remember reading about this color, only that it would turn to a clear covering so that I could see the black and orange wings inside.  But I kept watching, praying that she didn’t die.

Next thing I knew the chrysalis was black, I knew she was coming out today!

The bad thing for me was that it was so terribly hot.  It would be good for her to dry herself but the heat was killing me.  But I had things to do in the house so I would run inside to do a chore and then sneak back outside.

I could tell by the color change it would be soon but I couldn’t stand the heat so I brought out my rain umbrella to help give me a little shade.

The next thing I knew, she was out!  I missed part of it but not much.  All I could see was the body and lots of legs with curled wings struggling to grasp a good grip on the sack and stretch her body out.

It was hard to get good pictures because of her location on the bush and the morning sun behind her.  But I hunkered down to watch this amazing show.  Slowly her wings unfurled, she moved around a bit, turning and twisting on the sack.

    

Little by little her beautiful wings opened.  I read that she would need to hang upside down for 3-4 hours to dry her wings.  If she didn’t her wings wouldn’t be strong enough for her flight.  So after her wings were open, I left her alone and just occasionally checked on her.  Well, it only took her an hour and she moved up the bush. Opening and closing her wings.  And I could actually see the water dripping off of her!  I snapped a ton of pictures, she was gorgeous.

She seemed to take a test flight once in a while, jumping to a different flower.  Then, she surprised me and moved to the Rose of Sharon.  I stayed back for a while, only watching from the door.  I didn’t want to spook her.  And then I didn’t see her.  I stepped out on the door and took a step, it was just in time to watch her take off!

Monarch’s born at this time live the longest, over the winter to start a new generation in the spring.  She is on her way to Mexico or Southern CA.  How crazy is that?!?!?  This was one of the amazing things to watch.  I would suggest giving it a try if you find a parsley  plant with a caterpillar and invest in a milkweed plant to bring the Monarchs to your yard.  They do get infested with aphids, and being that this was my first attempt, I have not clue how to fight the aphids without harming the Monarch.

Live well friends!

 

Mexican Skillet Dinner

Get out your cast iron skillet!  This creation turned out way better than I had anticipated!  I loved it!  And it’ll be a recipe I use often.

I am trying to incorporate more veggies in my diet.  This dish is definitely the way to do it, I just love the combination of the spices and sauce with the veggies and rice.  And the topping of cheese is just an added benefit.

And its versatile so you can pretty much change the veggies and spices to your liking and serving size.  You can’t really mess this up.  Unless you burn it.  And that would be a tragedy!

This is perfect for those days or nights that you are just too darn tired to cook but you really need something healthy and filling.  It comes together quickly so I would suggest you have everything on the counter and ready to go.

If you do not have a cast iron skillet, you can still make this recipe you but you won’t be able to pop it in the oven for the final step.  Unless you have a skillet that you can wrap the handle so it doesn’t melt.  I have never tried that so I am of no help!

In a cast iron skillet, coat pan with enough olive oil to sauté your veggies.  Dice a half of green bell pepper, half of a yellow bell pepper, and a small onion. Toss into the pan, season with a little salt and pepper, sauté until tender.  Add in either frozen corn or corn freshly cut off the cobb.  Grilled corn is even better.

Here is where the variety comes in, you can use any veggie that you want.  Just make sure you start with the veggies that take longer to cook and end with your softer veggies.  Make sense?

When the veggies are cooked, I added my beans.  I used canned, small white beans. Stir well to heat. Again, you could use whatever bean you prefer.

I then grabbed my jar of sliced banana peppers and chopped a few of them up and tossed them into the pan.  You decide if you want them and how much heat you want.  You can use jalapenos, green chillis, or whatever you want for the heat.

Toss in cooked brown rice and your spices.  I used cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, chili powder, and fresh thyme from my garden.

Stir until heated through.  Add red enchilada sauce.  Stir gently until heated and the ingredients are blended well.  Turn off the heat and top with your favorite cheese, I use shredded Monterey Jack.  Pepper Jack would be good too.  Or cheddar.  Well, probably most any cheese would work.

Broil in your oven until the cheese is bubbly.

Top with chopped parsley, sour cream, guacamole, more cheese, nacho chips and a good bottle of Shiraz.

Here’s the recipe:

Mexican Skillet Dinner

1/2 each of a green and yellow bell pepper, seeded, and diced

1 small onion, chopped and diced

1 cup corn, can be frozen, or grilled on the cob and cut off

1/2 T finely chopped banana peppers

3/4 to 1 cup cooked white beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked brown rice

1-1/2 cup red enchilada sauce

Sale, pepper, season to taste

1/2 tsp each of cumin, paprika, chili powder, and season to taste

Dash or two of red pepper flakes

a sprig or two of fresh thyme, remove leaves from stems

About 2 cups of shredded cheese, I prefer Monterey Jack

Assorted toppings to serve: salsa, sour cream, guacamole, nachos, etc.

  1. Heat olive oil over a medium heat in a cast iron skillet, use enough oil to coat the skillet you are using..
  2. Saute peppers and onions until tender.  Salt and pepper to taste.  You can also start adding some of your spices,  I prefer to season each layer of food that I add.
  3. Add corn to sauté a little, especially if you’re using frozen.
  4. Add the beans, banana peppers and rice along with the rest of the spices.  Taste and adjust the spices to your taste. Stir until ingredients are heated, just a few minutes.
  5. Reduce heat, stir in enchilada sauce to coat and heat through.  Turn heat off.
  6. Cover top with as much shredded cheese as you like.
  7. Place skillet under the broiler until cheese is bubbly.  Don’t walk away.!
  8. Ladle each serving into a bowl, top with desired toppings.

I hope you love this dish as much as I do!  Live well friends!

 

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

I love pasta, and I am always looking for different ways to prepare it.  So, for these hot summery days I thought pasta salad would be appropriate, but I didn’t want the same boring old recipe.

Typically, I just chop up broccoli florets, cut grape tomatoes in half, cube up cheese and maybe ham.  Toss with some sort of an Italian dressing and Salad Supreme.  That is super easy and delish for sure but I wanted something different.

Enter roasted vegetables!

I chopped a half each of a red and yellow bell pepper, and in a bowl they went.  Added about 1 cup of whole grape tomatoes and about 2 cups of broccoli florets.  I also added a handful of sugar snap peas, but in hind sight I probably won’t do that again.  I coated the veggies with extra virgin olive oil, salt and peppered them well and spread them out on my baking pan.

I use a baking stone (with sides) to roast my veggies and I absolutely love it!  The pan doesn’t look very clean but it is!  Don’t judge!

Popped them in the oven at 350 until they were tender, and roasted well.  Maybe about 30 minutes.

While the veggies roasted, I cooked my pasta, I used about a half of a box of penne.  To the water I added a large sprig of thyme from my garden to flavor the pasta.  It was a lovely hint of flavor and I will definitely be doing this again!!

When the pasta was cooked al dente, I drained it and put in a large bowl.  I removed the skins from the peppers and cut them into smaller pieces and added them to the pasta.  I put all the veggies into the bowl along with the oil from the pan.

To that I also added about ¼ cup of jarred sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, along with about a tablespoon of the oil from that jar.  I love sun dried tomatoes, they give any recipe a little boost of flavor.

I added just a sprinkling of thyme and tore up some basil to top the pasta salad and gave it a good toss.  I also topped the plated salad with some grated parmesan cheese.

This recipe is so versatile, you can use any veggies that you want.  You can mix up your herbs and try different spices too.

I think this would be wonderful with some herb infused olive oil too.

Give it a try, but if you want the recipe for what I did, here it is:

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

½ Red Bell Pepper, seeds removed

½ Yellow Bell Pepper, seeds removed

1 cup Grape tomatoes, whole

2 cups Broccoli Florets

1 cup Sugar Snap Peas

¼ cup Sun Dried Tomatoes, jarred, chopped

Olive oil, salt and pepper

Penne Pasta, half of a box

Large sprig of Thyme to cook the pasta, reserve some thyme flakes to add to the finished dish

About 5 Basil leaves, torn

Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Toss all the vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper, season well and use enough oil to be able to coat the pasta salad when combining in the serving bowl.

Cook the pasta, add the thyme to the cooking water.

Remove the skin from the roasted peppers, cut in smaller pieces and add to the cooked and drained pasta.  Pour in the rest of the veggies along with the oil from the pan.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and basil.

Toss and top each serving with grated parmesan cheese.

This will last a few days in the fridge and serves 2.

Enjoy!