February 29, 2012

Mexican Style Stuffed Peppers

Just had the Facebook discussion with my son....he's 13 and so far we have not allowed him to have a Facebook page.  He has been pleading with us lately to let him have one - you know the argument "But ALL my friends have one!  I'm the ONLY ONE who is not on Facebook.  Don't you want me to have a social life??"  Oh yeah, he's pulling out all the stops and I will admit he does get me to re-think where I stand on the issue from time to time.  However, in the end I keep going back to the same line of thinking that I always have - I don't think teenagers and Facebook are a good mix.  I have seen a few teenage girls with Facebook who for the most part write really inappropriate things, and we've all seen on the news how Facebook can be just another avenue for bullying, etc.  I just don't want him to get involved with all the drama that a lot of young people tend to post about on Facebook.  So, I'm thinking 16 for Facebook.  What do all you mothers out there think?  Am I super mean or what???

OK, on to stuffed peppers.  One of my husbands favorite meals from his childhood is stuffed peppers - the regular ones, with hamburg, rice and tomato sauce.  While those are OK, it's never been something I've really had a desire to make.  Besides, I'm sure mine would never come even close to being as good as my mother-in law's (love you Wanda!!).  Then a few years ago my oldest step-son had us over for dinner and he served these Mexican style stuffed peppers.  I loved them - what a great idea!  The Mexican flavors made it way more interesting to eat, it was filling and without the rice they were even low-carb.  This recipe is a keeper in my book!  Sorry hun, maybe someday I'll feel up to the challenge of making your mom's stuffed peppers :)

Mexican Style Stuffed Peppers

1lb ground beef
1 clove garlic
4 green onions chopped
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 jalapeno, chopped
¾ cup tomato sauce
½ cup corn
½ cup bread crumbs
4-6 large bell peppers
1 large tomato

Cut off tops of peppers and place in pot of boiling water with salt.  Cover and let boil for 5 minutes, then remove from water.  In a skillet sauté the beef, garlic, onion, chili powder, jalapenos and green onions.  Drain off the grease and add the tomato, corn, tomato sauce and the bread crumbs.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Stuff the peppers with meat mixture and sprinkle with cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese and bake covered for 45 minutes at 350.  Uncover for the last 10 minutes. 

February 28, 2012

Venison is Healthier Than Chicken!

Hunting and eating venison are two very common things where we live in Vermont.  This is not how I grew up, so I can relate to all of you out there thinking "Ewww, yuck!"  I will admit that it freaked me out a little at first and I was not in the least bit interested in eating it 9 years ago.  In fact, my oldest step-son had to trick me into eating it because I always declined trying it.....he snuck it into some spaghetti sauce then told me about it AFTER I was done eating. 

Nine years later - not only do I like venison but we eat it at least once a week, and often more than that!  My son joined the hunting bandwagon when he got old enough and for the past two years has gotten himself a deer, and so has my husband.  The two deer, eating it once or twice a week, lasts about 9 months in our house.  This is a huge savings, and since I am what I like to call "thrifty" the amount of money we save on meat in a year is a huge plus!

However, if that is not enough of a reason for some of you out there to give venison a try, maybe knowing how super healthy venison is for you would give you a little incentive to try it.  My husband always tried to sell me on eating it by telling me how healthy it is for me.  Eventually I decided to do a little research and discovered he was actually telling me the truth!  Some of the benefits of eating venison surprised even me.  Here is a quick rundown on some of the benefits of eating venison:
  • it's essentially organic meat, free of antibiotics and additives
  • it is rich in protein and other nutrients, while remaining a lean red meat
  • fewer calories and fat than chicken breast meat (since venison is a red meat, I found this tidbit to be very interesting!)
  • very low in saturated fat & cholesterol
I know for myself I seem to be more adventurous and willing to try new foods as I get older, so if you are like me and are thinking about giving venison a try I greatly encourage you to do so.   Below is a recipe for my favorite way to eat venison - Venison Stew.  If I have not convinced you to try venison, you can of course substitute beef and it's just as yummy!  Serve up with my crusty dinner rolls and you got yourself the perfect comfort food on a cold Vermont night.

Venison Stew

2 lbs of venison stew meat
15 oz can tomato sauce
2-3 carrots, or a bag of baby carrots

2 large potatoes (I used Russet, but red potatoes would work also)
1 clove garlic or 1-2 tsp chopped garlic
1 onion chopped (or adjust amount to your preference)

1 cup red wine
2-3 capfuls of Gravy Master

3 cups water
2 bay leafs
Salt & Pepper to taste
¼ - ½ cup flour for dredging meat

Combine flour with seasoning (I used garlic salt & pepper, but use whatever you want & any amount you think is good).  Dredge (evenly coat) venison meat in flour mixture and shake off excess flour.  Pour enough oil into a large pan (use the pan you plan to cook the stew in) to nicely coat bottom and let it heat up (med-high heat).  Once pan is hot, start searing the venison – will probably have to do in 2-3 batches.  Once nicely brown on one side, flip meat over and do the other side until evenly browned.  Remove meat from pan and set aside (if you have to do more than one batch, you will probably have to add more oil).

Add the chopped onion to the pan and sauté until softened (about 5 min.) then add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 min.  The pan will have meat bits stuck to the bottom – be sure to stir these up while sautéing the onions (it will add to the overall flavor).  Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour over sautéed onions and cook another few minutes while stirring.  Add the wine and continue stirring while it cooks/thickens for about 2 minutes.  Next add the sauce and stir until well combined/smooth.  Next add the water & stir to combine.  Let this cook for a couple of minutes so it has a chance to thicken a little.  Add the meat back into pot, and give it a good stir.  Add the Gravy Master – start with 2 capfuls and if you think it’s not “brown enough” add another.  Add in the bay leafs and salt & pepper to taste.  Let it come to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low and let it simmer for about 2 hours.  Stir every 20-30 minutes making sure to scrape bottom of pan so nothing is burning on the bottom. 

After about 2 hrs add sliced carrots and potatoes (cut into bite size pieces).  Cook another 1-1½ hrs,  or until carrots and potatoes are cooked to your desired doneness.  

February 25, 2012

Making Homemade Chicken Stock - It's Worth it!

As I have mentioned before, I try to make as much as I can at home from scratch.  Another "hang up" of mine is that I also try to not waste anything, and so it seems natural that at times these two things go hand in hand.  There are members of my family, whom will remain nameless, who think I tend to go overboard with not wasting anything.  I can't help it though - throwing things away/wasting is like throwing money in the trash and I just can't do it!!  Although, there was one time where even I think I went too far - we had family over for dinner and we bought 2 very large stuffed salmon fillets (because we were told everyone LOVES salmon), and as it turned out pretty much NO ONE liked salmon, and for those that did they only ate a little piece because stuffed salmon is filling.  Salmon isn't cheap, and we had soooo much left over.....I just couldn't throw it away, so I ate it - every last piece and it took me a week!!  Needless to say, I will never eat stuffed salmon again (a regular piece of salmon is fine, just not stuffed).

Making your own chicken stock is one of those things that just makes sense.  If I buy a whole chicken to roast for dinner, I feel the need to utilize every inch of it or else I don't feel like I got my money's worth. It takes almost no time at all to throw the chicken carcass into a pot with water and veggies.  Some may question whether it's actually worth the time and effort, and is it better than store bought stock?  Here are the benefits of making your own chicken stock:
  1. It tastes better.  Yes, it's true - it tastes better!
  2. You can adjust the seasoning to your preferences (no salt, just a little salt, etc.)
  3. There's no MSG or other artificial ingredients (there are some store bought brands that add artificial coloring, etc.)
  4. You can divide up your batch and freeze it in quantities that best suite your needs (sometimes I'll divide it up into 1 cup containers before freezing so it's easy to take out and use if I just need a little).
  5. There is more calcium and other minerals (and no, I can't remember what they are specifically) in homemade stock verses store bought (it's true - Google it).  Therefore, it's just HEALTHIER!
  6. It makes THE BEST chicken soup....it's true, I wouldn't lie about this!
  7. It's cost efficient - I realize not everyone cares about this, but there are a lot of people out there that do!
So, have I convinced you to make your own chicken stock?  I hope so, but in case you are not quite there yet, here is a simple recipe for making your own chicken stock.  You can also add whatever else you may have on hand (other veggies you could use - turnips, leeks, etc.).  I happen to think the more you add the better it turns out, so below is just a basic guideline to follow.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Chicken carcass, all edible meat removed (if you plan ahead, save the parts included in the cavity of the chicken)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2-4 carrots (depending on how large they are), unpeeled and cut into thirds
2-3 ribs of celery, with leaves and cut into thirds
1 large onion, unpeeled and quartered
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole peppercorns
6 sprigs fresh parsley (or one tbsp of dried parsley)
5 sprigs fresh thyme (or one tsp dried thyme)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary (or one tsp dried rosemary)
1 large bay leaf

Place chicken carcass (and any other chicken parts that were inside the chicken cavity that you hopefully saved) in large pot and add enough water to cover the chicken by about an inch.  Add all of the remaining ingredients (as mentioned above, you don't need to peel or chop anything).  The vinegar helps to draw out the calcium from the bones, so if you let the pot sit for about an hour at room temp it will draw out even more calcium but it's OK if you skip this step.  In fact, you don't have to add the vinegar at all if you don't want to.

Turn heat on medium-low and bring to a low simmer.  Simmer for as long as possible, 3-24 hours - the longer the better but don't exceed 24 hours as it can become bitter.  I find 3-5 hours to be a good amount of time and it ends up being a nice color.  Let cool, then pour through a strainer.

February 23, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Comparison

Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies right?  I mean, what's not to love?  Since cookies are one of my most favorite things to eat, I at times get slightly obsessed with trying to find THE BEST recipe for the various kinds I love. I have been using the same recipe for chocolate chip cookies for about 8+ years now, so last year when I saw various posts about the NY Times recipe for chocolate chip cookies (which is a recipe adapted from Jacques Torres) I knew I had to give it a try.  Could they really be better than mine (I use the word "mine" loosely, as I did not invent the recipe that I've been using forever, but I have adapted it slightly)???

For those of you who have not heard of the NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, it requires some advance planning because you have to let the dough set in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours before baking.  It also calls for the use of cake flour and bread flour, which is something not everyone keeps on hand. You can click here to view the recipe if you are interested in giving it a try.  Many people claim this is THE BEST chocolate chip cookie, but we all know that everyone has different tastes so for the most part I do not take these sorts of claims seriously.  However, soooo many people claimed these were THE BEST so there has to be some truth to the claim....numbers don't lie.  Many describe this cookie as the ultimate chewy chocolate chip cookie, with an amazing rich buttery flavor with decadent chocolate chunks - all of which I would agree with.  Letting the dough set in the fridge for at least 24 hours is what gives it the wonderfully rich flavor, but for me the best thing about this cookie is the sea salt sprinkled on top (I am obsessed with the sweet and savory combination and will be using this idea in my recipe from now on).  I thought this cookie was VERY good, but I did not think it was better than mine.

It's really all about preferences right?  For me, while chewy cookies are yummy, I prefer soft cookies.  I gave my husband and son both cookies to try (mine and the NY Times one) and they both preferred mine.  I think the pudding mix in my recipe adds a richness to the cookie while keeping the texture perfectly soft.  What do you think?  I encourage you to try them both.....either way, they are both delicious and you won't be disappointed. (Note - see below for the recipe I use, and click on the link I provided above to try the NY Times recipe.)

THE Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix (sometimes I use cheesecake flavor)
2 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts if you prefer
sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  In separate bowl combine the flour and baking soda and set aside.

In another large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in the instant pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture until combined, then stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.  I usually measure out about a ¼ cup of dough for each cookie and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray (I like BIG cookies).  Sprinkle a little sea salt on each cookie.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

February 22, 2012

158 Main, Jeffersonville VT

This past weekend we had breakfast at one of my favorite places - 158 Main in Jeffersonville.  As I sat there eating I realized I should blog about how much I love this place....too bad I didn't have my camera with me. Jeffersonville, VT is home to Smuggler's Notch Resort which is a popular spot for skiing, but is also popular all year round as a family resort. 

158 Main is a family style diner type place, and they make mostly everything from scratch.  They have delicious homemade bread which they use for toast and for all their sandwiches, and they also sell it by the loaf.  The portion sizes are HUGE, so you get a lot for what you pay.  Staff is friendly and for the most part service is usually pretty quick, but really that depends on time of day and who is in the kitchen I think.  We've gone and gotten our food quickly, but other times we've gone and felt like we waited a while so I think it all depends.  I've only had dinner there twice (both times were good) and lunch there twice (yummy both times), however I've eaten breakfast there wayyyyy more times than I can count.  Breakfast is my favorite there hands-down. I pretty much always get their veggie egg sandwich - which is egg whites with mushrooms, spinach, tomato and garlic served on multi-grain bread (I always add cheddar cheese to it) and it comes with home fries.  It is the best egg sandwich I've ever had....I love it so much I can't even remember the last time I ordered anything else!  The home fries are always good, however they are almost never the same which tells me they utilize their leftovers which I greatly admire (gotta love a place that tries not to waste anything).

My husband almost always gets the corned beef hash, which comes with 2 eggs any style, toast and home fries.  He used to always get the eggs over medium (I don't eat eggs like this at all, but I guess it's supposed to still be slightly runny in the middle) but for the last several times he ordered them like that they came out over cooked and he wasn't happy.  I suggested ordering them over easy and then maybe they'd come out the way he likes them but he refused to try that.  Instead he now orders scrambled eggs to go with the corned beef hash.  My son, who is 13, doesn't seem to have a favorite dish, and since they serve such large portions he goes back and forth between ordering off the kids menu (on the days he's just a little hungry) to ordering off the regular menu (which usually results in him not being able to finish).

All in all, it's a favorite local spot for us.  I would recommend it to anyone visiting the area - I don't think you will be disappointed! 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery on Urbanspoon

February 21, 2012

Crusty Dinner Rolls

Yesterday was President's Day and both my husband and I had the day off, while my poor son had to go to school :)  So, my husband convinced me to go look at a truck that he's been eying.  Why do guys like trucks so much???  I agreed to go with him as long as we could go to a particular store that I've been wanting to go to for a while now.  It's kinda far away so I figured this would be a good time to make the trip...husband gets what he wants and I get what I want.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.  We left the house at 9:30am and spent the entire day messing around with this truck, which he ended up buying!  Didn't get home until 5:15pm....whole day down the drain and I didn't even get to go to the store I wanted to go to. When we got home my son was so excited he ran outside to greet us and said "This is the best day of my life!"  Really???  The best day of your life is today because we bought a truck???  Poor thing!

Anyway, here's a recipe for crusty dinner rolls.  These are my husband's favorite rolls - for some reason he likes the crunchy ones better than the soft ones.  I happen to think they each have a purpose - soft dinner rolls are good with a holiday meal, and the crunchy ones are best with soups and stews.  But, they are both good and go well with anything.  I made these to go with the Shepard's pie we had the other night - a favorite meal in this house, and since the boys spent the day working on the deer camp they are building I figured I'd be nice and make them one of their favorites....yeah, I'm good like that :)

Crusty Dinner Rolls

1 tbsp active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
5 1/4 + all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water in bowl of electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Stir in sugar and salt, and add the flour one cup at a time.  Turn mixer to med-low and let the mixer knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into ball and place in bowl and turn over once. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size (about an hour).

 Punch down dough, and turn out onto floured surface. Cover with towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray and sprinkle on a layer of cornmeal. Shape dough into 12-14 rolls, place on cookie sheet and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400. Slash roll tops in 2-3 places with a sharp knife, and brush rolls with a little water. Optional - sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs or coarse salt. Place a pan 1/2 filled (or 1-2 inches) with boiling water onto lower rack in oven. Place rolls on upper oven rack and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

February 20, 2012

Apple Sausage Stuffing

Recently my husband and I have been pondering the possibility of getting a pig to raise for meat. This seems to be the next logical step in our quest to become more self-sufficient and to provide meat for our family that we know is healthy. However, as it turns out I seem to be the one holding us back on this one. While I want very much to raise our own meat, I happen to LOVE pigs and I am afraid I will become attached and therefore upset when it comes time to slaughter it. I've been trying to think about it logically and weigh the pros and cons. Really there don't seem to be too many cons, so I am just not sure what to do....

While I was thinking today about the pig situation, I started to think about all the uses of the pork - from bacon and sausage to pork chops and roasts. Then my mind started to wander to this yummy stuffing that my family LOVES. I know it's not necessarily the time of year to post about stuffing (I guess Thanksgiving time would be more appropriate) but I figured who cares! This recipe is worth posting any time of the year because it's that good. I first came across this recipe a couple of years ago. At the time I had never made homemade stuffing from scratch and the combination of apples and sausage in a stuffing sounded so good I knew I had to try it. Needless to say it was a big hit in our house. All of us thought it was the best stuffing we've ever had, and it has since become my go to recipe for stuffing. I have tweaked the original recipe to my own preferences and the result is a keeper. No need to wait for Thanksgiving - I make this as often as possible because none of us can get enough of it!

Apple Sausage Stuffing

1 large onion, finely diced
3 ribs celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely diced
1 pound spicy sausage, casing removed, broken up into bite-size chunks
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch dice
1 cup apple cider
1/2 bunch sage, leaves finely chopped
8 cups stale rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups cornbread, crumbled up
2 to 3 cups chicken stock 

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and celery, and season with salt. Cook until veggies start to become soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until the sausage browns/cooks thru. Stir in the apples and apple cider and cook until the apples start to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in the sage leaves and turn off the heat. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add the diced bread and toss together. Pour in the chicken stock and knead with your hands until the bread is very moist (you want it to be pretty wet). Taste to check for seasoning and season with salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a 9x11 deep ovenproof dish and bake until it is hot all the way through and crusty on top.  Serves about 10.

February 17, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Treats

Do you just ever feel like "Man, I'm sick of being sick!"? That is the thought that has been running through my mind all week. I do not get sick very often.....in fact, I can't remember the last time I was sick and I was just thinking about that last week. Then BAMM, stomach bug....UGH! The odd part is that I can't seem to completely shake it. It's been 5 days and I still don't have an appetite and I don't feel great after I eat. Obviously I love food and cooking, so the fact that I'm not interested in food is starting to get me a little down!

However, it is Friday and it's a long weekend for me so things are looking up :)  So I got to thinking about what little treat would make me feel better and would put a smile on my face, and these little gems came to mind. I love that these are small so you don't feel guilty when you have more than one! I came across these at a bake sale at my son's school many years ago and I thought "Hmmm, interesting!  I gotta try it." and I bought two. Sure enough they turned out to be really yummy, especially if you like peanut butter cups and chocolate chip cookies. Combining these into one treat is pure genius. I don't know who came up with this idea, but kudos to you!!

After that I went home and figured out how to make these on my own.  I have since seen "recipes" for them, but really a formal recipe is not needed...trust me, you an wing it with these! These are perfect for a potluck, BBQ or a bake sale - kids and adults will love these and they will disappear before you know it.

Peanut Butter Cup Treats

One bag of mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
One batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, minus the chocolate chips

A few hours before you want to make these you need to unwrap all the peanut butter cups, place them in a bowl and put in the freezer. Leave them in there long enough to become frozen, at least an hour. 

Prepare a batch of your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough, but do not add the chocolate chips. In a mini muffin pan fill each cup halfway with cookie dough.  Put in oven and bake until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.

When you remove the pans from the oven, immediately start placing the mini peanut butter cups into the center of each cup and gently push down until the cookie rises up around the peanut butter cup. Once you are done, put trays into the freezer for about 15 minutes. This just gives it a chance to set and makes it easier to pop them out of the pans.

February 14, 2012

Hen of the Wood

Since I have not been feeling well the last couple of days, I decided this would be a good opportunity to talk about my most favorite place to eat (to date anyway) in Vermont - Hen of the Wood in Waterbury.  I admit that I've only eaten there twice, and it was after the first time I went that I decided it was my all time favorite place and after going again recently, I still hold firm to that opinion.

Let's start with the atmosphere. The first time we went it was a warm spring day and it was early evening, so the sun was still out and shining perfectly through the open doors that led out to a small deck that overlooks a bubbling brook.  It was magical sitting there in the sun, listening to the brook while sipping some local wine with my husband.  The building is a historic factory type building with beautiful stone walls and wood beams.  Gorgeous.....really, I would love to live in that building!  We went for the second time recently to celebrate our anniversary, and I can tell you that even though it's winter here in Vermont, the atmosphere was still beautiful - warm and inviting, and very romantic with all candles and low lighting.  This is the perfect place for a special occasion dinner.

Now let's talk about the food. Hen of the Wood bases their menus around seasonal fresh local food, cooked to perfection in an elegant but simplistic way by their AMAZING chefs.  The menu may seem small/limited to some, but really it has just the right amount of different options. The menu changes constantly, but for the most part you get a choice of 3-5 appetizers, 4-6 starters and 4-6 main entrees. One of the things I love about this place is that they serve you, what I consider to be, the proper portion sizes of everything. You are not going to be served a meal here where you will have leftovers to take home. So, my best piece of advice if you are really hungry is to order an appetizer and a starter for each person, in addition to your entree. If you do this, no one will leave hungry nor overly full....which is how it should be.

Normally when we go out to eat I get fish, mostly because it is the one thing I don't make at home very often because my husband is not fan of fish (he is more of a meat and potatoes kinda guy). So the first time we ate here I amazed myself by choosing steak as my main course. For the most part I ordered it because it was a cut of beef I had never had before, hangar steak. Plus it came with creamed Swiss chard, which I love and was curious how their version would taste. We also got a cheese plate for an appetizer and I ordered a wonderful salad for my starter, all of which was amazing and the presentation was rustic but elegant. Back to the entrees - my husband ordered steak as well, but it was a cut of meat we had never heard of before and we actually had to ask the waitress about it....that was a first! Unfortunately, this was two years ago so I can not remember the name of the cut of beef he ordered, but I can tell you that he LOVED it and I tasted it also, so I can attest to the fact that it really was amazing. Both of our steaks were cooked perfectly, and you could tell that it was fresh local beef because the flavor was how beef should taste, which is something some people have never really experienced before. Needless to say we left that day satisfied, in awe of how delicious everything was and amazed at the gem of a restaurant we had found!

For our second visit to Hen of the Wood, we ordered Panisse Frites with Aioli for an appetizer to share. While they did a wonderful job on cooking this, it was a bit on the salty side but it really didn't matter because everything else about it was perfect - soft and creamy and the Aioli helped to tone down the saltiness, so in the end it worked. We did forget that the portions here are on the smaller side, and so we didn't order a starter. Instead we munched on some bread, and while I didn't leave hungry I wouldn't advise skipping the starter unless you aren't very hungry. Anyway, my husband was psyched to see rabbit on the menu (something he ate often as a child) and I was excited he was ordering it because I've never tried it before so I was looking forward to taking a bite of something new that I personally would never order. I decided to go with the fish this time, halibut topped with a fruity compote served over caramelized onion and cabbage. Once again the chefs did not disappoint! My husband loved the rabbit, which I tried and thought was so creatively cooked that if I had not known it was rabbit I wouldn't have been able to guess what it was - it was actually very good. My fish was perfect, delicate with the perfect amount of fruity topping - just a enough to enhance the fish, not overpower it.  Another perfect meal, and I can't wait to go back!!  I'll have to think of another special occasion in the near future....

If you are visiting Vermont in the Stowe area and looking for a special place to eat, I HIGHLY recommend this place. The only "warning" I have is that it is a bit pricey, and I also have never seen a kids menu nor have I seen kids at this restaurant period. Here is a link to their website so you can check it out. Be sure to make a reservation - this is a favorite to locals as well so they book up fast!
Hen of The Wood on Urbanspoon

February 13, 2012

Strawberry Cupcakes

In honor of Valentine’s Day and my birthday I decided to make these strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. It’s a good thing I decided to make them over the weekend instead because I have come down with a terrible stomach bug, and cooking is about the last thing I want or even can do right now. Had to stay home today and laid in bed all day incredibly bored, and a little sad while watching all the coverage on the death of Whitney Houston. This bug is taking it’s sweet old time moving on. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow so I can make my family one of their favorite meals, chicken and biscuits, especially since they’ve had to fend for themselves while I’ve been sick. 

This recipe uses a box cake mix, which is something I pretty much never do.  However these cupcakes are perfect – the texture is soft, yet light and moist and the cream cheese frosting just brings it all together. These are a favorite in our house…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 pkg plain white cake mix
1 pkg strawberry gelatin
1 cup mashed strawberries with juice
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F degrees. Line two cupcake tins with liners (makes 24 cupcakes) or spray tins lightly with cooking spray.
Place cake mix, strawberry gelatin, mashed strawberries, oil, milk, and eggs in large mixing bowl and beat on low speed for 1 minute. Strawberries should be well-blended. Divide batter among pans and place in oven.
Bake until lightly brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
Prepare frosting:  Combine 1 (8oz) package of softened cream cheese, and one stick of softened unsalted butter in bowl of electric mixer. Mix on low speed for one minute or until smooth. Add ½ tsp vanilla extract and 3 cups confectioner’s sugar. Blend on low until sugar is incorporated and frosting is smooth.

February 11, 2012

Leo's Chicken Wings

This may sound "un-American" of me, but I am not a fan of chicken wings. They are messy, I don't like eating with my hands at restaurants, and I'm just not fond of buffalo sauce. My husband on the other hand could eat chicken wings everyday...with extra Blue Cheese! I realize there are different flavors and rubs, bone-in or boneless, etc.  The bottom line is I can easily pass them up.

Then one day, in the beginning of our marriage, my husband made HIS chicken wings and I fell in love (with the wings - I'm already in love with my husband). Couldn't stop eating them...for real!  They are more on the Asian side in flavor, which I love - no buffalo sauce on these babies. If you are like me or if you are just looking for a different twist on wings, give these a try.

Leo's Chicken Wings

7-8 lbs fresh chicken wings (cut in 1/2 and slice off tips)
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
2/3 cup of low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
garlic salt

Put all wings in roasting pan (big pan, a 9x13 is not big enough) and sprinkle with garlic salt. Combine all ingredients for sauce in a bowl and whisk together. Pour over wings and toss together until well coated. Let set overnight in fridge, or for at least 4 hours. Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours stirring about every 15 minutes. Then turn oven up to 425 to brown the wings up and thicken the sauce. Be sure to stir every 8-10 minutes or as needed to avoid burning.