Another random holiday photo share, and another recipe at the end. Today’s pictures feature our gingerbread construction. First, the gingerbread items arrive in the mail. They are safely stored away until the ideal moment arrives.
On a calm afternoon, it’s time to pair off and go to work. Two teams, two gingerbread projects, and the last of the coloring tablecloth to catch all the crumbs!
The finished products are proudly displayed for quite a while (although the jelly beans start disappearing remarkably quickly…)
Good work, builders!
Pasta with Sausage and Fennel
This pasta recipe isn't that hard to assemble, and the fennel and fun pasta shapes make it a good meal for entertaining guests. Don't be afraid of fennel's licorice-y reputation. Its flavor mellows nicely when cooked, and no one at our table was bothered by it. This dish is also surprisingly good as a leftover, which is unusual for pasta.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
Heat olive oil in a skillet or electric frying pan over medium high heat. Add sausage and brown, breaking up large pieces with a wooden spoon.
Cut thick stalks off the fennel bulb (reserving leafy fronds for garnish). Remove the core of the fennel bulb and slice the rest into thin strips. Slice the onion half thinly as well. Halve the cherry tomatoes or chop regular tomatoes.
Add fennel and onion to sausage. Cook 6 minutes and reduce heat to medium.
Stir in chopped tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or just until warmed. Garnish with fennel fronds if desired.
Serve immediately with plenty of Parmesan cheese.
We enjoyed so many good dinners with friends over the holiday season! This recipe was requested by one of our guests, and I am happy to share it.
Since I am not a food photographer, I will also add some unrelated photos to this post just to make it more interesting. One of the fun things we sometimes do in a busy entertaining season is print up a large coloring tablecloth to be enjoyed by guests both young and old. Here’s what the Christmas one looks like:
I think the adults have even more fun than the kids, sitting around with pencils and markers, doodling and shading while they talk. It’s a great way for different ages to hang out together.
If we are careful, the coloring might even survive more than one dinner party. We never get it totally finished, but it is fun to watch the colors and patterns grow over a few days before it is time to say goodbye.
(If you want more info about the tablecloth, here is the website where I purchased the file: http://caravanshoppe.com/ I’ve gotten lots of really good printables from them!)
Pork and Veggie Enchiladas
These tasty enchiladas prove that you can hide all kinds of interesting veggies in a dish. As long as it is smothered in enchilada sauce and cheese people will love it! I started with a Penzey's recipe and modified it significantly to fit my tastes and what I had on hand. Don't be afraid to experiment!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9x13 pans, or one 10x15 and one 9x9. (I use a big one for company, and then freeze the little one for a later dinner).
Brown the pork in a large skillet or electric frying pan over medium heat until no longer pink, about 8-10 minutes. Drain well.
Add onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, and Southwest Seasoning or other herbs. Cook until the veggies are softened, about 8-10 minutes.
Add the beans, zucchini and corn. Add 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce. Stir to combine thoroughly. Cook over medium heat until everything is heated through, about 10 more minutes.
Spread a thin layer of enchilada sauce over the bottom of each baking dish.
Microwave the corn tortillas wrapped in towels or plastic wrap for 1 minute or until steaming hot. (If they break when you try to bend them, heat them up some more!)
Put a few spoonfuls of pork and veggie mixture in the center of each tortilla and roll as tightly as possible. Place seam-side down in prepared baking dishes. Continue until your pans are full, you run out of tortillas, or you run out of filling.
Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese.
Bake enchiladas at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown around the edges.
Serve with desired toppings--we like sour cream, avocado, lime wedges, and cilantro.
When I made this recipe, I ran out of tortillas before I ran out of filling, so I froze the rest of the filling for later use inside quesadillas or on top of nachos. If you are freezing half the batch, cover the assembled enchiladas well with foil and plastic wrap. A disposable square aluminum cake pan works great, and after covering it with foil it slides easily into a 1 gallon ziploc freezer bag. Label and freeze! When you are ready to use them, thaw as much as possible (overnight in the fridge is best). Cook covered for 25-35 minutes, then uncover and cook 20-30 minutes more or until browned and bubbly.
The first time I had Spaghetti Carbonara was when my sister was experimenting with an Italian cookbook, and I always think of her when I make it. It is one of my favorite “rich elegant company foods” since it isn’t super hard to make, but comes together in impressive fashion. The last time I served it was a special summer dinner out on the patio, appreciating some dear ministry partners. Now I have that memory to add to my other good carbonara stories. Hooray for good food and good friends!
Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
Adjust oven rack to the lowest position. Place a large heat-proof serving bowl on the rack and heat oven to 200 degrees.
Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, cheeses, and garlic together and set aside.
Cook the bacon and olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the bacon is crisp, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
When the water is boiling, stir in the pasta. Cook, stirring often, until the noodles are almost tender but still firm to the bite--around 10 minutes. Drain the pasta.
Remove the warm bowl from the oven and add the hot pasta. IMMEDIATELY pour the egg and bacon mixtures over the spaghetti and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
A note of explanation: Eggs are the key to a smooth, creamy carbonara sauce. And the key to incorporating the eggs into the pasta without having them scramble is to time things just right and use a warm serving bowl for tossing. The heat from the freshly boiled pasta is enough to cook the eggs without scrambling them.
This recipe is from my go-to cookbook, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Unfortunately my version isn't in print any more.
This is the classic All-American Beef Chili recipe from my favorite cookbook, unfortunately no longer in print. (America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook). It is an October Staff Lunch staple, and there is nearly always a bag in the freezer in case Than gets a sudden chili-for-dinner craving.
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, bell pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Cook until veggies have softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute or so.
Add beef to veggies and spices. Increase heat to medium high. Cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until no longer pink (around 10 minutes).
Stir in the beans (drained and rinsed), the diced tomatoes (undrained), and the tomato sauce. Add additional salt and chili powder to taste.
Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to simmer until beef is tender, about another 45 minutes. Season again with salt, chili powder, and pepper before serving.
Chili can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for 3 months. Reheat over low heat, adding additional water or tomatoes as needed to adjust the consistency.
This is a perennial fall and winter favorite. Since most of the ingredients are shelf stable, I sometimes give them along with a recipe card as a hostess or housewarming gift.
I make my own Herbes de Provence blend (click the link to see my recipe), but you can also buy it at Penzey’s or a grocery store. Each blend is slightly different, so the flavor will vary based on what kind of spices you use.
Beef Soup Provencal
This simple, satisfying soup is a delicious dinner that's ready in minutes. It is easy, fast, nutritious, and has excellent flavor.
In large stock pot, cook ground beef with 1 Tbsp. Herbes de Provence over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until no longer pink, breaking up into 3/4 inch crumbles. Pour off drippings.
Stir in beans, broth, tomatoes, juice, and remaining Herbes de Provence. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
Stir in spinach and simmer 5 minutes more.
Sprinkle with cheese at the table.