Blissfully Delicious

nutella hot chocolate 2
Happy Monday everyone! I hope you had a restful long holiday weekend with your loved ones. As cliché as it sounds, holidays have a completely different meaning now that we have kids. I used to dread the holidays, especially during my single days, it seemed like it just intensified the need to “couple-up”. I used to joke with my mom that even my younger cousin, who was 7 years younger than me, always had a boyfriend during our family dinner, and I was always single ;-) I’m now more focused on making sure that the kids get to have fun and have memories of these fun holiday times; especially now that my daughter is older, she really gets all of the holidays since she learns all about them at her pre-school as well.

nutella hot chocolate
We spent this past weekend at home, just the four of us, and it was probably the best Thanksgiving that I’ve ever had. We didn’t get to finish our “official” Thanksgiving turkey dinner until around 5 in the afternoon, but we just took our time in getting all of our dishes ready. We didn’t have any guests to entertain, and we just took turns cooking, baking, and prepping for stuff.  I did dishes throughout the day, so the sinks were not over-flown with dirty pots, pans, or dishes. When my daughter called out and asked us to play, we stopped and played with her instead of just worrying about getting things done for our guests. I figured, that’s what holidays are meant to be.  Since Thanksgiving was over with, I finally put up our Christmas tree as well. I wanted to at least have a good month to enjoy the tree and the Christmas decoration. I made this incredibly decadent hot chocolate for us to enjoy as we were trimming the tree. One of my co-workers had brought in a hot chocolate in a slow-cooker for one of our potlucks and she mentioned that it was a Nutella based hot-chocolate. She couldn’t remember the exact recipe, but  I was adamant about making a similar hot chocolate. I thought about making this in a slow-cooker, but this is so quick to whip up, you don’t need  a slow cooker, unless you want to keep it warm all day. This is a great drink to have around when you make your holiday cookies, or wrap presents, or trim your tree.  Please note that my hubby thought that the final result of this Hot Chocolate is too rich, so he mixed it with some skim milk. It is so decadent that I think it’s perfect as an after dinner dessert and drink. Have a great Monday everyone!

pumpkin ice cream 3
I hope you haven’t finalized your Thanksgiving menu yet. Because if you still need ONE special dessert recipe, I’d love for you to give this recipe a try. As much as I love pumpkin, and ice cream – I have never had a pumpkin ice-cream until about a month or so ago. A local dairy farm where I get our milk and cream hold sample Sundays, which is basically a small event that they host where customers like me get to sample everything that they sell: whether it’s something that they make themselves, or something that local producers make. Their chocolate milk is a favorite at our house: it’s smooth, creamy, chocolaty and light. Not that thicky sugary kind loaded with all the stuff that’s not good for you. They usually have background music or even small band playing, some vendors, kids activities, and some of their farm animals out wandering around for the kids to check out. During our recent outing, they had pumpkin ice-cream. I really wasn’t sure how the kids would enjoy them, but I tried them anyways, and loved it.

pumpkin ice cream 2
The kids ended up liking it too, so I thought why not that I try making my own at home. Their version, I believe, isn’t custard-based. So they must have used only milk, which makes it a little bit less creamy than any custard-based ice-cream. This version below uses eggs, whole milk and cream – so it’s smooth, silky and creamy. I think they’re fantastic to serve for Thanksgiving, it tastes like a frozen pumpkin pie. Have a great Thanksgiving weekend everyone! I hope you get to enjoy delicious food in good company of both your family and members and have a restful weekend. See you next week!

I’m thrilled to welcome Katie Olthoff as a guest blogger today! She’s married to a third-generation turkey farmer, so with Thanksgiving around the corner,  I thought that this would be  such a perfect time for her to come and share with us all about her tricks in cooking turkey! So here you go!!

<Olthoff, Katie FB photo

Katie Olthoff is a former teacher and farm wife in Central Iowa. She blogs about her life On the Banks of Squaw Creek and shares DIY decorating projects, trials and tribulations of parenting two little boys, and daily life on her family’s turkey farm. Katie has also written a non-fiction children’s book about turkey farms for teachers to use this November. Today, Katie’s sharing several tips on cooking turkey.

On Saturday mornings during our first year of marriage, Bart woke early and headed a half hour north to his grandparents’ farm. There, he worked side by side with his dad, helping with projects that took more than one set of hands. It was good for him. After working in the USDA National Animal Disease Center lab all week, he was able to get outside, do some manual labor, and soak up farm life.

While he was gone, I bustled around our little house, cleaning. Every Saturday morning, I swept, vacuumed and dusted the whole house. I deep cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen. My new (old) house has never been as clean as that first house was every single week.

When the house was spotless, I ran my errands for the week. Grocery store trips were simple when it was just the two of us. I picked up our usual staples and ingredients for our Sunday evening tradition: New Recipe Night.

As newlyweds, we liked cooking together. Neither of us were particularly skilled in the kitchen, but it was fun. We tried recipes we’d seen Rachael Ray make on 30 Minute Meals, something new from the internet (back before Pinterest it was so hard to sort through good recipes online!) or recipes I’d torn out of a magazine.

One Saturday evening, Bart brought home a new ingredient for me to try: fresh turkey. Fresh, never frozen, killed-that-day turkey.

I refused to cook it.

<Olthoff family FB photo

First, I had never had meat so fresh. The idea that the bird had been alive just a couple of hours earlier was just too much for me. Although I grew up in rural Iowa, I did not grow up on a farm. And, like many Americans, “animal” and “meat” were too different categories for me. This fresh turkey was dangerously in a gray area between the two.

Second, I didn’t know what to do with it. He just brought the turkey breasts (not the whole bird, thank goodness) but at that point, I had never cooked turkey breast before.

We froze that first turkey, and a few weeks later, I cooked turkey for the first time. I’m sure I used a recipe that called for chicken, and I’m sure it turned out okay. But it was a long time before I learned to cook turkey in a way that was ALWAYS delicious and something my family would love.

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Now, 7 years later, Bart farms full time and I cook turkey almost 7 days a week. Last night, we had turkey fajitas, and the night before, lemon pepper turkey breast with rotini. My recipes are generally very simple and easy for me to get on the table quickly, but over the years, I’ve learned a few tips that take our turkey from ordinary to outstanding.

  1. Set the crockpot to LOW. I like to stick a frozen turkey breast in the crockpot. Usually I do it in the morning and let it cook all day. The few times I’ve started it at noon and cooked on high instead of low, it was a lot less tender and juicy.
  2. Grease your grill with oil. Because turkey has so little fat, it can be sticky on the grill. Greasing the grill first helps. (I pour olive oil on a paper towel and hold it with my tongs to grease a hot grill.)
  3. Do not overcook your turkey. 165 degrees is perfect.
  4. Soy sauce and citrus are perfect compliments to turkey’s natural flavor.
  5. When subbing ground turkey for ground beef or ground pork, you may need to add back in fat of some sort. When I use ground turkey in something like meatloaf or burgers, I often use a mixture of ground turkey and ground beef.
  6. Roasting a turkey is NOT hard! Most turkeys are pre-basted, which means that you don’t have to do a lot to flavor them. Just stick it in the oven and forget about it! (Check out the Iowa Turkey Federation’s free e-cookbook on whole turkey for more info.)
  7. Pound it out! When I cook a turkey breast steak (turkey breast cut flat) I like to pound it out a bit. It tenderizes the meat and helps it cook quickly, preventing it from drying out.
  8. Let it rest. It’s always important to let meat rest, but even more so with poultry. It helps redistribute the natural juices for the best flavor and tenderness.
  9. Chill your turkey burgers before grilling. Turkey burgers commonly crumble apart, but sticking them in the freezer for a few minutes helps prevent this.

Take it from an expert, turkey can be amazing any day of the year. I know, at first it’s a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. After some practice (and amazing recipes from the Iowa Turkey Federation) your family will be gobbling up any meal you make with turkey.

 

Since I have shared a classic roast turkey earlier this week, I would love to share some of my favorite side dishes that I hope can give you some inspirations as you’re making your menu for the holiday. Over the years, I’ve managed to find recipes of the classic Thanksgiving dishes that I love to make, and pleases everyone. Some of them have been a flop, but there have been some pretty good ones. Ideally, they can also be prepared ahead, to give me more time on the big-day for other dishes, or spending time with the family. Here are some of the ones that I think would be great to make for Thanksgiving, or any holidays, that I’m specifically looking forward to make and eat myself!

Easy Sweet Potato
Easy Sweet Potatoes – This is one dish that I must have every year on Thanksgiving. It’s so easy to put together, and you can tweak the flavor adds on pretty much to adjust to your taste, and can be made ahead (just add the marshmallows before you bake them). Everyone at our house pretty much loves the toasted marshmallows as the topping, but you can also make it a little “healthier” if you want to add some streusel-type topping with roasted pecans and brown sugar. But I will never skip an opportunity to eat marshmallows for dinner :)

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes – this one, while so delicious, takes a little extra time. If I have extra help in the kitchen during the holiday, this is the recipe that I’d probably go to and make. The roasted garlic lends such a beautiful, sweet and smoky flavors into the mashed potatoes that give it just an extra special feeling to it.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes – now this is what I normally make when I’m low on time. I always have buttermilk ready in the refrigerator during long weekends and holiday, and it’s a lot quicker to make. But it’s so perfect, creamy and basically the bowl that you know will satisfy any palette.

bread stuffing

Herbed Bread Stuffing – I’ve tried several different stuffing recipes over the year, but this one takes the cake. It has very simple ingredients, but yet it’s the very reason that it’s a favorite because you can taste each flavor profile in the dish: the breads, the crunchy celery bits, and all of the aromatic that blends everything together. I have not made this ahead of time, so I can’t speak to how well this will be if it’s prepared the night before. The only concern that I have would be the bread texture, it may get soggy being left overnight in the casserole dish.

slow cooker carrot 2
Slow-cooker Orange Glazed Carrots – the oven gets super crowded during the holiday, doesn’t it? Every single time I have moved houses, I always hope that it will come with a double-oven. But here I am, living in my fourth house now, but still no double oven. That’s when a slow cooker comes in handy! But, I didn’t even think about preparing the carrots in slow-cooker until I tried this recipe. Seriously, the best idea ever!

Soft Garlic Knots – Mike and I have a seriously soft spot for homemade rolls and bread.  Some time, we’d make a weekend project just to make a homemade bread, or rolls. This is another thing that I definitely make that if I have extra help in the kitchen: I’d definitely make some sort of homemade rolls for my bread basket. I’m still looking for a reliable homemade bread recipe that I can make a few days ahead so I don’t have to stay up until 2AM the morning before Thanksgiving so that I can get delicious homemade rolls.

No Knead-Harvest Bread – who doesn’t love a soft bread with crusty interior, and tons of bits of cranberries and walnuts? This bread is another one that’s great to have for Thanksgiving dinner because if you can’t finish them all, they’d make a great Turkey Sandwich or Turkey Panini.

Holiday Cranberry Sauce

Slow Cooker Holiday Cranberry Sauce – what’s a holiday dinner without Cranberry Sauce? I loved how easy this is to put together, and can be used basically for anything. A little heaping of this sauce next to your sliced turkey, a topping for your French Toast or Pancakes, or as filling for your turkey sandwich the next day.

Finally, but not least, I have reached out to my fellow Iowa Bloggers and see what are their favorite side-dishes that they’re looking forward to make, and here are what they said:

Gluten-Free Stuffing – If you’re going to have a family member or a guest that needs a gluten free side dish, this is a great one to make. It also has pork in it, so I’m sure the meat-lover at your dinner table will rejoice.

Gluten-Free Cranberry Sauce – Amy offers another Gluten-Free option with this very simple Cranberry Sauce. THREE ingredients, how can you beat that?

Healthy Sweet Potato Gems –  if you’re looking for a Gluten-Free, Vegan and No-Added Sugar version of sweet potatoes, this is the one for you.

Scalloped Corn – mmm… I was really drooling when I saw this! Who doesn’t love corn?

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits – this is a great way to dress up your convenient tube biscuit from your grocery store!

Balsamic and Bacon Brussels Sprouts – Ally is a girl after my own heart! I have made a dish similar to this, minus the bacon, every single time I make steak at home. The balsamic vinegar just does wonder to these beautiful gems.

Corn Bread Casserole – Ally offers another dish that I know that I’d love to have on my dinner table. Who doesn’t want to scoop into a big spoon of this casserole?

Scalloped Corns- Stephanie is looking forward to make this corn casserole dish. I love the extra crunchy topping :)

Simple Farmhouse Bread – This a is a great addition to any breakfast, lunch or dinner menu! Just imagine a thick slice of this freshly baked bread with salted butter. Anytime that Cristen wants to bring me a loaf of this bread, I’d be happy to take one off her hands!

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes – Cristen is also looking forward to make this simple buttermilk mashed potatoes. Her version uses sour cream; but seriously – great minds think alike!!

Roasted Vegetables – You really can’t go wrong with roasting vegetables. You can basically use whatever winter vegetables you can find, as long as you cut them in similar sizes.  Jenny here loves mixing sweet potatoes with regular potatoes and onions. Simple is best.

Mulled Wine - Allison has posted about this beautiful wine! Ah, mulled spiced wine! Who doesn’t want to drink this by the fire as the Thanksgiving craziness winds down? I’m thinking that I’d need to make a batch after our kids go to bed, if that is, they ever go to bed :) This is also a great one to serve and enjoy during Christmas tree trimming party.

Additionally, since we’re still on Thanksgiving spirit, the Iowa Turkey Federation has provided a free Thanksgiving cookbook. Check out their website so you can download your version for FREE!

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roast turkey

Whenever the holiday season is here, I get both excited but also a little conflicted and even a little sad. I’m excited about having some time off from work and get to spend more time with my hubby and kids at home. At the same time though, I wish that we had more extended families who live nearby that we can spend the holiday with.  Basically, all holidays except Christmas,  we only get a long weekend, which means that if I want to do anything special, I have to take extra days off. Thanksgiving for example, is the only holiday that we get two days, but it’s still hard to justify a 10+ hour drive (more like 13+ with kids) or an all-day long trip for flying with two kids in tow, because that means that we will spend two days in transit.  Mike and I finally decided that we aren’t going to put ourselves through the stress of trying to “see everyone”. If it works then it works, but if it doesn’t – we also love staying with our kids and actually relax during the extended holiday weekend.

roast turkey 2

Since there are only four of us, we normally don’t get to roast Turkey every year, but when we do, I always try to do it very simple. I have probably only cooked turkey a handful of times in my life; and while it gets intimidating, it is not as daunting as it looks.  The brining method seems to be the least the amount of work that produces consistent juicy meat, while roasting it in a high temperature oven makes sure that you get that crispy skin. I also try to keep the birds as small as possible; so an 18-lb turkey is probably the biggest that I’d probably make, although my ideal weight would be 14-16 lbs. I don’t care how many delicious side dishes that you have, bringing a whole bird out of the oven always generates a pretty impressive entrance to a Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, not but at least, make sure that you have a serving plate ready to be used, so visually check how big your bird is, and make sure that you’re prepared to have a plate before the actual bird comes out of the oven. I have a good collection of serving plate, and that one that I have used above pretty much just fits the turkey, I don’t even think that anything else will fit in that large platter :)