Friday, November 27, 2009

Marinated Mushrooms

One of the things that I was thankful for yesterday was having a really great marinated mushroom recipe to rely on. It's one that I found a number of years ago in Good Housekeeping magazine. I always make a relish tray for holiday dinners, and these mushrooms add a delicious and elegant touch to any relish or appetizer presentation. It's funny. Marinated mushrooms are one of those things that people mindlessly buy in jars at the grocery store, and they tend to think that's the only way to get them. As though they're not something you could ever make at home. Salad dressing, applesauce and pancake mix are kind of like that, too. (Remind me to share my pancake recipe sometime -- I promise that once you try it, you'll never go back to buying boxed or prepared mixes again.) Anyway, the point is that these marinated mushrooms are lots better than the jarred ones you can get at the store, probably because the mushrooms are only lightly cooked and therefore don't turn out all rubbery and tasteless.

The other great thing about this recipe is that it's quick. You can make these in just a few minutes the night before a holiday, pop them in the fridge, and they're ready to go for dinner the next day. Like most marinated things, the longer they stand in the marinade, the better they become. So, if you've been looking for something to add a little flair to your holiday relish tray, give these a try. They go great with turkey, ham, pork roast, or most any meat.

Marinated Mushrooms

1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
12 oz. container fresh whole white button mushrooms (small if possible)
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper (I use a black and red pepper blend)
1/8 tsp. salt
1 T. pimentos (from small jar)

Clean mushrooms, trimming stem ends and halving any large mushrooms. In large saucepan, heat vinegar and water to boiling. Add mushooms and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring the entire time. Remove mushrooms from liquid with a slotted spoon and place in a glass bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the mushroom cooking liquid, then stir in remaining ingredients. Cool slightly; cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu Cards

Aren't these the cutest Thanksgiving menu cards? The best part is that they took less than an hour to make, from start to finish. I used an A2 (card-sized) Quickutz embossing folder and did the embossing using my Epic Six machine. The folder dry embosses the turkey at the top and the "Happy Thanksgiving" at the bottom of the card, resulting in a textural, raised image. The second photo shows a close up of one of the embossed areas. I achieved the different colors by using Co'ordinations cardstock in two different colors, then sanding lightly over the embossed areas to reveal the core color of the cardstock. If you aren't familiar with Co'ordinations, it's textured cardstock that has core colors that are different (sometimes slightly different, sometimes startlingly different) than the surface colors. They have several color lines, including whitewash, which is what I used for the light card, and vintage, which I used for the green card.

After embossing, sanding and trimming the blank cards, I typed and formatted my Thanksgiving menu on my computer using a graphics program. I could have used Word or Word Perfect, as well. I sized my text box to be about 3-1/4" square, so that it would fit nicely onto the blank card. I printed the text box onto plain printer paper, making sure that I didn't print the "outline" of the box. Then I carefully positioned and adhered one of the blank cards on top of the sheet with the printed menu on it (using a temporary adhesive), and ran the whole thing through the printer again. I repeated the process with the remaining blank cards.

I then inked the edges of the menu cards and matted them onto dark brown cardstock. I'm going to put one on each person's dinner plate for Thanksgiving dinner. If you wanted to make cards that stood up, you could emboss the front of a folded piece of cardstock, instead of using a single, flat piece, as I did.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Perfect Menu for a Crisp Fall Evening

I'm happy when fall rolls around, because as I often say to friends, I'm always at a loss as to what to cook in the summer months. Besides throwing something on the grill, I can never seem to come up with yummy, yet summery, fare. Nope, I'm much more of a fall and winter cook, since some of my favorite dishes to make (and eat!) are soups, stews, and comforting casseroles. I generally make a pot of chili on the first weekend that, temperature wise, I can possibly justify a cold-weather menu.

One of my favorite cool-weather dinner entrees is White Bean Chicken Chili. I first had a white chili that I really liked at a friend's house in a neighboring state, but when she shared her recipe with me, I found out that it used a commercial seasoning mix that isn't available where I live. So I started trying other, similar recipes, and when I found this one, I knew I'd hit the jackpot. My older son insists that this Southwest-inspired chicken chili "tastes like tacos," and it's become one of his favorite dinners. It's an added bonus that the recipe is pretty healthy and very low-fat. Although the recipe itself doesn't call for using a slow cooker, that's how I make mine, and I've included a couple of tips about that at the end of the recipe. And, I pretty much always accompany the white chili with Grandma's Cornbread, hands down the BEST cornbread I've ever eaten. In fact, this recipe turned my husband, who is a confirmed cornbread-hater (he says it's always dry), into a multiple-piece cornbread eater. The cornbread from this recipe comes out moist and delicious, and it's just as good reheated the second day, as well (if the pan lasts that long!).

White Bean Chicken Chili
8 servings

2 T. vegetable oil
2 lbs. diced, cooked chicken
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chicken broth
1 can tomatillos, drained and chopped OR
1 jar salsa verde (such as Archer Farms)
1 (16 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (7 oz.) can diced green chiles
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cans small white beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat oil in a Dutch oven, and cook onion and garlic until soft. Stir in broth, tomatillos or salsa, tomatoes, chiles, and spices (except salt and pepper). Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add corn, chicken and beans; simmer another 10 minutes to half an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish bowls with chopped cilantro. Serve with an assortment of toppings, such as lime wedges, shredded cheese, avocado, sour cream and tortilla chips.

Slow cooker instructions: Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a large slow cooker. Cook on low for 7-8 hours, until flavors have combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve as noted above.

Note: I like to buy big "family packs" of bone-in chicken breast when they are on sale at my local grocery store. Sometimes they are as inexpensive as $1 per pound! I load the breasts into a large stock pot, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of hours. I remove the chicken breasts from the pot and, once the pieces have cooled, I pull the meat from the bones and cut or shred it. I package the cooked meat in meal-sized portions and freeze it. When I'm ready to make this recipe, I just grab a bag of chicken from the freezer and add it to the slow cooker along with all of the other ingredients. Then I skim the wonderful broth that's left in the stock pot, cool it, and put it into 2 cup containers for the freezer. There's NOTHING like homemade chicken stock!

Grandma's Cornbread
Makes 12 pieces

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9" square baking pan. In mixing bown, mix together melted butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until well blended. Combine buttermilk with baking soda and stire into mixture in bowl. Stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Note: I often make this cornbread in a pan that's a little bit larger than the size called for in the recipe, so that the pieces aren't quite as thick. If you decide to do the same, be sure to adjust your cooking time, because cornbread made in a larger, shallower pan won't take quite as long to bake. Oh, and can I just say -- this recipe is worth buying a carton of buttermilk for. You can use sour milk but it just isn't the same. I've found that buttermilk (because of it's very low fat content) will keep quite awhile, and it's a great addition to many kinds of baked goods.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Note Cards with Flair

I love making cards with my leftover scrapbooking supplies, especially note cards. Even with e-mail and cell phones, I'm one of those people that never abandoned communication via the U.S. mail service. As much as I like opening my in box and seeing an e-mail from a friend, there is nothing like finding an unexpected envelope in my real mailbox, addressed to me in a familiar hand. I figure that other people enjoy surprises as much as I do, so I like to send notes and cards to family and friends. I'm pretty big on written thank-you notes, as well. I know, I know, I'm old-fashioned. I get e-mailed thank-you's from my young adult nephews, and I'm fine with that, but nothing can capture the charm of a handwritten thank-you. So when it's my turn to write the thank-you, you won't find me using e-mail. Besides, making cards is a great use of paper scraps and embellishments that I have left over from scrapbooking. Reuse, recycle, be green, and all of that.

The picture above is a few of the cards that I made recently. I love the dollar bins at Michael's, and I often find perfect card embellishments there. All of the 3-D embellishments on the cards in the photo came from the dollar bin, and I used dollar bin stamps from Studio G on both the green card and the pink and yellow card with the hearts background. The Studio G stamps are small, so they're just perfect for cardmaking. Oh, for the background of the green card, I ran a piece of white-core cardstock through an embossing machine using the Cuttlebug "Swiss dots" embossing folder. After the dots were embossed, I sanded the outside of the card so that the white core of the cardstock would show through a bit. I love the way it came out.

Ok, the ADORABLE pumpkin card is NOT my design. Yeah, I wish! In fact, it was designed by Kristina Werner and it, along with two other great cards, constituted the September version of her free online class, A Year in Cards. You can get the instructions and the downloads to make all three uniquely-shaped Halloween cards here: Halloween cards. As soon as I saw that pumpkin card, I knew I had to make it. It came out so cute that I decided to make up little kits and do the card as a make-and-take at my scrap group's October crop. Just a note if you decide to make some -- if you position the pieces carefully, you can get two entire cards from one 12x12 sheet of pumpkin-colored cardstock.

As you can see, my pumpkin cards didn't turn out exactly like Kristina's, but that, of course, is the wonderful thing about paper crafts -- you can make them your own. I sent a few of these as note cards, but in addition to making perfect Halloween and "just because" cards, I thought this design would also make a fantastic Thanksgiving card. You could change the greeting to say "Happy Thanksgiving" or maybe "Give Thanks," and add a meaningful quote inside. I'm also toying with the idea of reducing the size of the .pdf download on a copy machine, and using the reduced size design to make place cards for my Thanksgiving table. The white banner would have each person's name on it. How cute does that sound? Ok, right now I'm working on Christmas gifts for my sisters, but if I end up doing the place cards, I will definitely post a picture.

So, the moral of this post is, be green and use your paper scraps and extra embellishements to make some cute note cards and thank you cards that just might make someone else's day.