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It’s that time of year where we’re all gearing up for the holidays which means decorating, shopping for presents, and menu planning! Sometimes, menu planning can be the most cumbersome of them all. If you’re like me, you want to try out new things while keeping some of the favorites, please everyone, and have a wonderful dinner with little effort so you can spend time with your loved ones.

I don’t have much experience with the classic green bean casserole. It was never served at any of my family holiday dinners, but so many love it that I wanted to give it a try. Since so many have moaned and groaned about the classic I immediately new I wanted to revamp the recipe. I wanted to bring in some new flavors, while still keeping the essence of the classic. I also didn’t want to overdo it and create so much work in the kitchen for what is supposed to be a simple vegetable side dish. I decided to exchange the overly breaded fried onions for some crispy shallots, forgo mushrooms since no one in my household likes them and bring in bacon. Who doesn’t like bacon? It goes so well with green beans, as does almonds, it was the natural choice. Plus, the almonds, bacon, shallots, and panko give a wonderful crunch. You still have the creaminess that the mushroom soup provided, but it’s not as saturated so you really taste the green beans which are supposed to be the star of the show.

I’m really quite pleased with how this recipe has turned out (and always go back for thirds when I make it) and I hope you will be as well. It’s really pretty easy to make and some can be prepared ahead of time. Simply make your bacon and shallots the night before. You still have the ease of canned green beans, but using a good quality bean from Del Monte along with not saturating it with canned soup, yields a great flavor without the trouble of blanching and cooking the beans before you even begin. Pop the casserole in the oven while your turkey is resting and it will be ready by the time you are ready to serve your food. You’ll also see how easy it is to change up flavors. If you want to add some garlic or herbs, simply add it to the cream mixture. I prefer to keep the flavors simple since the flavors already present already work so well together.

This post was sponsored by Del Monte through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write a post about Del Monte, all opinions are my own.

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Better With Bacon Revamped Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp flour, extra if using for shallots
  • 1/2 cup heavy or light cream
  • 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 14.5oz can of Del Monte Whole Green Beans
  • 1 slice of cooked bacon, diced
  • 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1.5 Tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 medium shallots, sliced into thin rings
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

In a small saucepan, simmer butter until melted. Add flour and stir continuously with a whisk until incorporated and cooked, about 1 minute. Add cream, cheese, salt, and pepper and continue whisking until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a 1 qt. baking dish, add beans and bacon. Pour cream mixture of beans and gently toss. Sprinkle almonds and breadcrumbs on top and cook for about 15 minutes.

While beans are cooking, heat oil in a small pan and lightly fry shallots until golden brown, just a few seconds on each side.  Shallots can be tossed in flour, if desired, before frying for more crunch.

After beans have cooked for 15 minutes, remove from oven and top beans with shallots. Bake for an additional 2 minutes to warm shallots. Remove and serve warm.

*Bacon and shallots can be made the night before.

The Way to His Heart

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Whether I like it or not, winter is just around the corner and I’m not ready for it! It snowed last week, Mother Nature’s way of telling me to deal. The only thing I do love about cold weather is all of the comfort foods, the problem is I still need my jeans and sweaters to fit. As much as I love a good, creamy soup I don’t often make them because I’m usually the only one in my house who will eat enough of it and they don’t freeze well. Not to mention the fact that it usually involves a long day of cooking in the dutch oven. So, when I found this recipe that not only doesn’t contain cream, yet is creamy, and is ready in less than 30 minutes I was pretty happy.

I did make a couple of tweaks though. As much as I love bacon, one whole slice is just too much for a small bowl of soup, so I reduced the amount the recipe calls for. Believe me, you still get to enjoy quite a bit of bacon. I promise! Also, I reduced the onions by half. I felt that the original recipe had too strong of an onion flavor and it overshadowed the sweet potato which is supposed to be the star. By reducing it, you get a better flavor in my opinion. I’ve honestly also omitted it completely and been satisfied as well.

This is a perfect soup to offer your guests for Thanksgiving. It’s so quick and easy to make and the garnish just looks so pretty.

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes, halved lengthwise (about 2 large)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 oz fresh Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley leaves (optional)

Place potatoes, cut sides down, in an 11 x 7-inch microwave-safe baking dish. Add water; cover with plastic wrap. Microwave at HIGH 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Cool slightly; discard potato skins.

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 1 minute or until translucent. Stir in cumin and red pepper. Add stock to pan; bring to a boil. Place half of sweet potato and half of stock mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters); blend until smooth. Pour pureed soup into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining sweet potato and stock mixture. Stir in salt. Divide soup evenly among 6 bowls; sprinkle cooked bacon and Parmesan cheese evenly over top. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Adapted from Cooking Light, November 2013

Cheesy Bacon Dip

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It’s cold out now so bring on the warm, gooey foods. Okay, who am I kidding? I’d never turn down gooey foods, even if it were summer give me a gooey brownie or some cheese and I’m a happy girl. As most of you have figured out, I’m an appetizer lover and dips are my favorite. Baked dips are always the winner. My husband and I will often bake up some concoction on a weekend afternoon and sit around the kitchen while the kids are napping and dig in. This was is extra tasty and you can play around with your favorite cheeses as well. My favorite way to eat it is with bread, but I actually like to dip celery in it as well. See, I can be healthy!

Using quality ingredients are always important and will yield a better taste as we all know. So naturally, using Kerrygold cheese for one of your gooey, warm dips is really going to up the ante. Knowing where your ingredients come from is just as important as how they’ll come together in the kitchen. For over 300 days a year cow graze on lush, green Irish grass, producing a rich, sweet milk you can’t find anywhere else in the world-milk that is the key ingredient in Kerrygold salted and unsalted butters, as well as a full line of incredible tasting cheese.

I received samples from Cooking Light, courtesy of Kerrygold, but the opinions expressed here are my own. I’ve been a long fan of Kerrygold products and enjoy their butters and cheeses.

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Cheesy Bacon Dip

Ingredients

  • 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • sliced green onions for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 400 F.

Mix all ingredients, saving some bacon and the green onions for garnish, together and pour into a baking dish. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly. You can also turn on the broiler for the last minute to get some nice browning.

Serve warm with bread, chips, or some veggies.

Inspired by Crunchy Creamy Sweet

Rapunzel Tower Cake

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Each year we go a little above and beyond the standard birthday cakes we grew up with and make something fun for my daughter Caroline. The first year or two they were my idea, but now my husband has gotten in on the action. He’s always helped, but he’s done it because he has to ;) This year, I wanted to go for something simple. My son George was almost 5 months and we had our hands full, but my husband thought we could pull off this Rapunzel cake and we did. This is only the third time we’ve worked with fondant and I’ve gotten a lot of questions and compliments so I wanted to answer a few here and show you how we did this cake. You can see our how we’ve progressed from our first time with the Puppy Cake and the following year with her Hello Kitty cake. There are links below for recipes, the party, and inspiration.

So, since we do have kids and a regular kitchen we have to do the decorating of the cake the night before the party. What I do to make my life easier the night before is do as much prep beforehand. I start off with baking the cakes a couple of weeks beforehand and then freezing them. A week out, I make the marshmallow fondant and storing that in the refrigerator. This way, once the kids go to bed we can frost and decorate the cake and not need to make everything as well. It still takes a few hours to decorate so leave plenty of time! I wish we had kept track of how much time decorating took, but I’d say probably 4 hours in all??? (This doesn’t include the preliminary cake and fondant making time.) Good music and good company makes it go by pretty fast :)

For this cake, the base cake was pretty easy to make. I used 3 sheet cakes and stacked them on top of each other, did my crumb-coat and then frosted. We rolled out a large piece of green fondant and covered the cake. Easy enough. The tower was a little trickier. I made a 9-inch cake and then used biscuit cutters to cut some circles out of it. I purchased a foam piece from the craft store and used that for some of the tower to give it support and drove dowels into it anchor it into the sheet cake. We measured the foam piece base and used the appropriate sized cutters to start with our tower and then eye-balled it using a knife and a Microplane to shaves down the edges. Frosted and covered it with the fondant and then the decorating begin. Remember, you don’t need it to be perfect, frosting layers before adding the fondant can be used to fill in the gaps. You do want it to be good before you add the fondant though since everything will show up when you apply the fondant.

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I used the inspiration cake and we really went from there. With lots of straight pieces for the wood it really isn’t that difficult to free-hand. My husband had the tower covered and the roof tiles in place before I could doing some other party prep. I originally started using the end of a paintbrush to gently press into the fondant and create a stonewall up the tower, but it didn’t come out as nicely as I had seen online so I ditched that pretty quickly. Tools for doing the fondant work: a fondant smoother, a rolling pin, paintbrushes, edible adhesive, toothpicks, and a knife. Nothing too fancy. For the flowers along the tower and cake, I purchased some punch cutters and used that the same way as a cookie cutter, then I placed a tiny edible pearl in each one for the center of the flower.

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We did all of the fondant work on the cake and then put it in the refrigerator for the night. Quickly cleaned and decorated for the party and went to bed. That morning I woke up and finished the details on the cake; my daughter’s name, vine work and flowers. Place the Rapunzel figurine on top and it was done! For the vine work and name I used a new toy, the Nordic Ware Decorating Pen . This worked so well! I don’t have the best handwriting and I don’t have much experience in writing names with icing and this helped me out quite a bit. While I typically have no problem using a piping bag, this made the task very easy and go much faster than normal.

I hope this has answered some questions and has given some of you encouragement to try playing around with fondant cakes too. Frankly, we’re fans of any kind of cake in my household, but it’s always so much fun to see my daughter’s face light up when she sees what craziness we create for her. We always let her pick what kind of cake, but design is always a surprise. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below so that I can answer them and others can learn as well.

A Very “Tangled” Rapunzel Birthday

Marshmallow Fondant

Chocolate Cake

Yellow Butter Cake

Buttercream

cake inspiration Rapunzel Cake by words, pictures, & cake…,