Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

Well, hello there.  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  Yes, I am alive and no, I did not plan to beat you over the head with the fact that I went to a knife skills like I ended up doing  since it has been my last post for two weeks. I have had a great and whirlwind of a holiday and nothing to show for it.  So I found a friend to give you a quick synopsis of where I've been.

First,  I cooked....

Rewind to two weeks ago when I probably cooked more in 6 days than I do some months.  I had 11 girls over for dinner, catered appetizers for a Christmas party, and made dinner for my brother and his wife who just had a baby.  Phew.

And then, I ate...

Last week, my parents took Mr.  Hungry and I to New York for an early Christmas present.  The food, oh the food.  From a "macaroni and cheese only" restaurant to Tavern on the Green for dinner , we ate, and ate and ate some more.  One day I will share my favorite places to eat in that little city, but for now I will sum it up with why I have nothing to show for all the cooking I did the week before.

As we were taking a ferry back from seeing the Statue of Liberty, I was playing around with my camera and somehow reformatted my memory card, erasing all of my cooking pics from the week before.  Luckily, my mom had captured all of the pictures from the trip, but I erased all my hard work from the week before.  It was lots of my favorite recipes so I'll be happy to make them again, but for now, I am going to continue to take a small break.   I'll be back mid January with more cooking adventures.  Until then, hope you enjoy the end of the year and the beginning of a new one.


{venturing outside the little kitchen} Sharpening my Knife Skills


I am a sucker for food... I think about it, dream about it, and love to eat it.  That is why I cook.  I can usually be very enticed by something if it involves food or learning how to make new food.  Rarely do I stop and think, I should really work on my cooking skills.  I have especially never chosen to learn a skill over learning a recipe, but after much thoughtful prayer, counseling and consideration, I signed up for Knife Skills 101 at Sur La Table.  If you will remember, Mr. Hungry gave me two cooking class gift certificates for Christmas and I have pondered for almost a year now, which classes to take.  With one already under my belt, I was really trying to pick wisely for this next one.
I had learned how to work with masa dough, which was not only fun, but we got to eat everything we made at the end.  I was having a hard time giving up another experience like that to go to knife skills where you can eat the carrot that you just julienned if you so wish, but no big meal at the end.  However, I heard the class was very informative and so many had told me you can really cook so much better if you get good with your knife.  So I did it!  And what is my conclusion?  You should too!  It was great and I use the things I learned in the class daily.  You see, I loved the other class, but I must admit, I still haven't gotten around to making my own tortillas, but with this class, I started using the skills immediately.  From choosing which knife to use to learning new ways to cut food uniformly, I got alot out of it.  My favorite was learning a new way to cut a grapefruit, which if you are really nice to me, I might share one day.  But for now, I wanted to suggest this as a great Christmas present for all of the cooks in your life.  Or heck, Merry Christmas to YOU... go treat yourself.

A very, very small sampling of what I learned...



All that hard work... just thrown in the trash!



Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

I have two things to tell you... First, yes, I know Thanksgiving is over and second, yes, I know this is a terrible picture.  So now that I have that out of the way let me start from the top.  I have had canned pumpkin in my pantry for weeks and along with my own cravings for something pumpkiny and delicious in November, I also wanted to follow through with the many of you who have been asking for pumpkin recipes.
Well, time just flew by and before I knew it, it was Thanksgiving day, and I was in the middle of Missouri to celebrate the holiday with my in-laws.  I knew there was sure to be some pumpkin, but I had no idea I would bite into what might be my favorite pumpkin dish ever.  Mr. Hungry's cousin, Sara, made this delightful dessert and just when I was devising a plan to butter her up for the recipe, she quickly told me that it was a Paula Deen recipe; pumpkin gooey butter cake!  I was actually very familiar with this because I have made the original gooey butter cake several times and had no idea the pumpkin version was so amazing.
Skip to the week after Thanksgiving when I decided to make a few holiday treats with my friend Jennifer... I had just had this amazing dessert and while the world has already been adorned in red and green since the first of November, I thought it would be an injustice to keep this a secret until next Thanksgiving.
We decide to make this and having talked this up like the Holy Grail of desserts, there were high expectations.  We tried our hardest to let it cool a little before taking a big bite.  Jennifer and I immediately looked at each other and I am pretty sure we had the same look and thought in our head... this tastes like... baby food!  I was very disappointed and just couldn't figure out what could have possible gone so wrong.  Feeling defeated, I took this one measly picture for the sole purpose of featuring this in my "fall flops" post that will be coming soon (yes, I have had my fair share of doozies).  Lo and behold, Jennifer took a piece to her husband and I decided to store it in the fridge thinking maybe Mr. Hungry will be so dillusional from studying all day that when he gets home, he will just eat this.
 Fast forward to the next day when Jennifer called and informed me her husband loved it.  I decided to pull this out of the fridge for just one bite and somehow it had transformed into the exact wonderfulness I had eaten on Thanksgiving day.  I decided to pull it out and give it another chance and everyone I fed it to, wanted more!
So I guess the moral of the story is that you could bake this the night before you planned on serving it.  Or maybe Jennifer and I were in such sugar shock from the taste here, and dollop there of all the recipes we were making, we could not comprehend that this was so amazing.  My brother is now begging for this so I hope to make it again soon and replace the pictures, but for now, bear with me.

From my little kitchen to yours... Enjoy.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Adapted from Paula Deen
Recipe Notes
Be sure to buy canned pumpkin and not canned pumpkin pie filling.  I made this mistake once with a pumpkin dessert and did not get the good thick taste of pumpkin I was looking for... you only make that mistake once.
For the Cake
1 package (18 1/4 ounce) yellow cake mix  
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted
For the Filling
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16 ounce) box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Step by Step
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease and 9x13- inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray.  Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter well with an electric mixer.  Press the mixture into the lightly greased pan.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth.  Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter and beat until smooth.  Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and beat well.  Spread the pumpkin mixture on top of the cake crust.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure to not over bake... center should still be a bit gooey.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with fresh whipped cream.


Martha's Mac & Cheese

It snowed here yesterday.  It was just magical... now you are either in Texas and are aware of this or you have been snowed on for quite some time now and it's no big deal.  Well, let me tell you, it's a big deal here.  Actual white flakes falling to the ground for hours actually breaks some kind of record around here.  Special days call for special dishes and let me tell you this Martha Stewart's macaroni and cheese is special... or let's just say absolutely scrumptious.  It's the kind of mac that you save for a holiday... partly because its takes a little extra time and makes a huge amount and partly because you can't stop yourself from eating a large amount at a time, which if you do too often, will most likely result in you being... hmm... large).  Well, the stars seemed to align yesterday (got off work two hours early and remember, it was a very special day... almost a holiday as far as I'm concerned) and this was the exact kind of stick to your ribs dish I was in the mood to make.  Let me just tell you if you are even half the macaroni and cheese fan that I am, you will go crazy for this.  This recipe makes a ton of mac so even with halving the recipe, we still had leftovers.  If you are making it for a big crowd, here is the exact full recipe.
From my little kitchen to yours... Enjoy.








Martha's Macaroni & Cheese
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Recipe Notes
The original recipe calls for gruyere cheese.  I happened to have fontina on hand so I decided to substitute.  I also read that others have substituted swiss, but cannot promise the results on that one. Both fontina and gruyere are on the expensive side, which is also why this is not an everyday dish, but definitely worth the splurge.  On the milk, I used reduced fat 2%... because that is what I had, not because I was trying to trick myself into thinking I was saving any calories.
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
3 slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch pieces
2 3/4 cups of milk
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese (about 10 ounces)
1 cup fontina cheese (see recipe notes above about cheese type)
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
Step by Step
Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish; set aside.  Place bread pieces in a medium bowl.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Pour butter into bowl with bread and toss to coat.  Set aside.

Return pan to medium heat (no need to clean it out from the butter that is left) and heat the milk in it.

In a high sided skillet, melt remaining 3 tablespoons of butter.  When butter melts, add flour and whisk for 1 minute.

While whisking, slowly pour milk into flour mixture.  Continue cooking and whisking until the mixture  bubbles and becomes thick.

Remove pan from heat.  Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper,  cayenne pepper, 2 cups of cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cup of fontina cheese; set cheese sauce aside.

Cook macaroni according to directions on package but undercook 2 to 3 minutes. The macaroni should be done on the outside and undercooked on the inside.  Drain pasta and rinse under cold water in a colander; drain well.   Stir macaroni into the cheese sauce.

Pour mixture into prepared dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese and fontina cheese on top.  Sprinkle bread crumbs on top of cheese.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 30 minutes.  Transfer dish on a wired rack and cool for 5 minutes.  Serve hot.