Not Your Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Cassarole

This is an awesome Thanksgiving side that we practiced ahead of time to make sure it was better than that classic casserole made with a soup can. We wanted to switch it up and make it from scratch, while also taking handy short-cuts to make it an easy side to go along with the million other things we make on the big day. I took the components that sounded the best from other recipes I found online and mashed them together to make this. Speaking of which, this was fantastic smushed up against some mashed potatoes.

What You’ll Need:

Green beans, of course: You’ll need about two pounds if you are going to buy fresh beans that you’ll clean and snap yourself, but we saved a ton of time by buying two 12 ounce bags of prepared green beans from Target. You can find them near the bags of salad.

Baby bella mushrooms: We also took the shortcut of getting already cleaned and sliced mushrooms so all we had to do was cut them in half.

2 white onions  (you can substitute shallots if you prefer a milder flavor or to spend as much money as possible on your produce)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (once again, we used pre-minced garlic from a jar to save time, man, we’re lazy)

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup and 1.5 tablespoons flour

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

How To:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut one of your onions in half and dice half the onion. Slice the remaining onion and a half as thinly as possible (a mandolin is handy for this if you have one and was another time saver for us). Lightly oil a large baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix the 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the thinly sliced onion through the flour mix and shake off the excess before laying in an even layer in your oiled baking sheet. Pop that in the oven keeping a close eye on the onions for approximately 10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Next, melt the butter in a pan (we used cast iron) on the stove and cook the mushrooms in one even layer over medium heat until they begin to release their juices and soften. If they seem dry, feel free to add splashes of olive oil or additional butter as needed. Then, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent before adding the green beans. Cook until the green beans turn bright green and shiny. Then, sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and add the cream and chicken stock. Once mixed together, this mixture should thicken and you can add salt and pepper to taste (the amount you need will depend on your brand of chicken stock). If your mixtures seems too runny, add teaspoons of flour until creamy. Finally, top with the crispy onions and bake in the oven for approximately 20-25 or until the whole thing is hot and bubbling.

The hardest part of this whole recipe is waiting for it to cool for a few minutes before breaking into it! As with all of our recipes, I encourage you to tweak and experiment. This would be a good one to add a splash of sherry or marsala wine to substitute some of the liquid or to toss some fresh herbs at the end of baking for a hit of freshness. Enjoy!

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Baked Eggs with Lemon Basil Cream (Oeufs en Cocotte if you’re feeling French)

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We just love a good brunch. We got hooked on weekend brunches at this cute little restaurant near where we lived in Florida, but when we moved to Vermont we had a hard time finding a place close to home and started making it ourselves. Planning our wedding was a great excuse to have a weekly brunch to eat great food and sip mimosas while we worked on some project or another (we were an very DIY bride and groom and made just about everything from the invitations to the bouquets, boutonnières, centerpieces, and programs, and even wrote the ceremony ourselves).

Now we still like to make a big deal of brunch every weekend. It’s such a fun meal to play with because the possibilities are endless. The main dishes can be sweet, savory, fancy, or a big pile of just about anything. This recipe is my attempt to recreate an awesome brunch we had at restaurant called Kismet in Montpelier, VT. It’s not health food but it’s a decadent way to kick off a relaxed Saturday. The feta, cream, and egg melt together to form a smooth and rich combination that is perfect for dipping toast or crusty bread with one hand and washing down the creamy goodness with fresh juice or a cold mimosa in the other.

For each serving (make as many or as little as you’d like)

What You’ll Need:

2 eggs

2 tablespoons heavy cream (calories don’t count at brunch)

½ teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons feta

4 basil leaves

¼ cup diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Butter to grease the ramekin

How To:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the ramekin with butter. Carefully crack one egg into the ramekin (try cracking into a small bowl first and then pouring into the ramekin to avoid shell pieces). Pour half of the cream, lemon zest, feta, basil, and tomatoes over the egg and salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the feta adds saltiness so you’ll likely use less salt than you usually would on eggs. Repeat this process again by layering another egg and the rest of the ingredients. Place the ramekins into a baking dish filled about half an inch high with water and put into the oven for approximately 20 minutes if you enjoy runny egg yolks and 25 minutes if you prefer your yolks to be set. Garnish with a little extra basil if you’d like and serve with toast or pieces of baguette to scoop up every last bit of sauce.

10 Minute Shrimp Scampi (Camarones al Ajillo)

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This recipe is the one that, to me, proves even something as delicious as shrimp scampi can make a quick and easy weeknight meal. It’s fancy enough to serve at a dinner party but fast enough to whip up any time you find yourself with a craving for some buttery garlic decadence. I loved ordering garlic shrimp whenever I was by the coast in Ecuador and this is very similar to camarones al ajillo, although you’d be more likely to see cilantro in place of the parsley I use here.

What You’ll Need:

1 pound large peeled, deveined, tail-off shrimp

6 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons garlic

¼ white wine (we like the brightness of pinot grigio for this dish)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

How To:

Rinse the shrimp and pat them dry. If you’re using frozen shrimp, make sure they are completely thawed; usually just a few minutes under running water does the trick. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook until just turning opaque, approximately two minutes each side. Set shrimp on a plate to the side and add the remaining four ounces of butter and the garlic to the pan and cook for about one minute until the garlic turns golden brown. Add the white wine allow to simmer about three minutes. At this point, taste the sauce to make sure the alcohol taste has cooked out and to adjust salt and pepper to taste. Then add the shrimp back to the pan and toss with the fresh garlic for about one minute.

This can be served over pasta or rice, but we like to serve it alongside Spanish or Italian style tomato bread. We just halve a baguette or piece of Italian bread, drizzle with olive oil, and top with garlic, salt and pepper before bake at 350 degrees for about ten minutes until toasted. Once baked, we halve tomatoes and rub the cut side over the bread before cutting into one inch slices. The tomato bread compliments the scampi nicely and soaks up every last bit of that wonderful, garlicky, buttery sauce.

The Vine:

Parsley (curly or flat-leaf Italian) is a great way to add splash of brightness to a dish. As with most fresh herbs, it’s best to add it in the last minute or two of cooking or to sprinkle on top after the dish is plated. Though it’s usually associated with Italian dishes, I use it a lot in Latin American cooking as a replacement for cilantro. I’m not a big fan of cilantro but parsley makes a great substitute for the touch of herbal freshness without the bite of cilantro. This is another herb that grows well indoors or outdoors with lots of light and weekly watering, the main difference is that it’s best to harvest this herb from the bottom of the stem rather than the top like most other herbs.

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Big Sam’s Smokey Valley Chili

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Between the snow days and the big game coming up, this weekend calls for some chili! This is my husband’s recipe and it’s not only wonderful, but also super versatile. We make it vegetarian-style using soy crumbles, but using ground turkey or beef would work, too. We have heard over and over again that you can’t tell that the vegetarian version doesn’t have meat in it. In fact, when we entered it in a chili cook-off we didn’t label it as vegetarian and only one person out of over a hundred taste testers noticed. I also love that this can be done on the stove top or in a crock pot, whichever your preference. For a big game day party, I’d suggest serving it in a crock pot and setting out bowls of cheese, scallions, sour cream, tomatoes, avocados and chopped white onions so everyone can dress up their chili however they’d like.

What You’ll Need:

1 bag of soy crumbles (we prefer Boca) or 1 pound of ground turkey or beef

2 14 ounce cans of tomato sauce

2 14 ounce cans of dark red kidney beans

1 white onion

1 red bell pepper

1 heaping Tbsp. minced garlic

2 packets of chili seasoning

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 pinch ground cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

How To:

Chop the white onion and red bell pepper into half-inch pieces and sauté in a large pot. Once the vegetables are tender and the onion is translucent, add the protein (soy, turkey, or beef) and sauté until brown and softened. At this point you can either add the mixture to the crock pot along with the remaining ingredients and allow to cook on low for approximately 6-8 hours or add the remaining ingredients to the pot you are working in and allow to simmer on the stove for at least one hour on medium low heat. Before serving, adjust salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can also add additional chili powder if you enjoy lots of spice and additional paprika if you enjoy extra smokey chili. Serve with a variety of toppings and enjoy!

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Baked Feta with Roasted Tomatoes and Oregano

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Once I get into a certain food mode it’s nearly impossible to get myself out of it until I’ve hit the spot. So, when my husband’s gig at a local Greek restaurant was postponed because of Austin Snowpocalypse 2014, there was no way I was going to be able to cope without baked feta in my life. So, it was time to come up with my own recipe. This is going to be my go-to for the next party we go to for sure. Yes, I show affection by bringing people cheese.

You’ll Need:

8 ounce block of feta

1 cup of cherry tomatoes

Olive oil

Pepper

Oregano (preferably fresh)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Optional: Crushed red pepper flakes

How To:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and mix the tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, garlic, oregano, and black and crushed red pepper to taste in a bowl. Place the feta in an oven safe dish (we used a pie pan), drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with black pepper. Pour the tomato mixture on top and back for 30 minutes or until the cheese has softened and the tomatoes have roasted. Serve with crackers or bread and enjoy!

The Vine:

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Oregano is a super versatile herb to consider for a home garden. It is about as easy to grow as basil with full sun and weekly watering. Taking clippings from oregano encourages it to grow, so this is a “use it or lose it” kind of herb. This is a fun one to grow at home because it can grow into a nice big bush. The one pictured started in a 4 inch pot and is now filling a 7 gallon container. As a bonus, if you live in a cold climate and have an outdoor garden, it can winter over, meaning it will come back the following year if you just leave it outside. This is a great herb to toss into just about any Italian or Greek dish and the plant smells fantastic.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

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My grandma used to make me vegetable lasagna when she would come to visit and I loved picking it at for the whole week. Now I’ve come up with my own roasted vegetable version and I think it’s a great, hearty option for a Meatless Monday or any day you want to pack in lots of vegetables and still feel satisfied. In our household, it’s a great way to use up whatever vegetables we have in the fridge before they go bad. You really can throw in just about any vegetable you’d like. This is also a great make-ahead option if you are planning on serving a crowd or if you’re dropping off a family meal for friends.

What You’ll Need:

A pile of your favorite vegetables, we used –

1 large eggplant

4 small zucchinis

1 onion

1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 cup of mushrooms

2 cups of spinach

1 box of lasagna

15 ounce container of ricotta

8 ounce bag of shredded mozzarella

1 ounce parmesan

1 45 ounce jar of your favorite pasta sauce (we used Prego traditional)

Italian seasoning or a blend of basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley

Garlic powder

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Optional fresh basil

How To:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the eggplant and zucchini into ¼ inch rounds and cut the onion, peppers, and mushrooms into ½ inch pieces. Toss the vegetables with approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning to taste. Spread evenly onto baking sheets and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, mix together the ricotta, half of the mozzarella, parmesan, spinach, and Italian seasoning in a bowl.

During the last ten minutes of roasting, prepare the lasagna noodles according to package instructions and strain. They may stick together if they are left to rest too long, but running them under water can help to pull them apart. Oil a baking pan and spoon enough sauce to coat the bottom before beginning to layer the lasagna.

Lay the first layer of noodles and top with the eggplant and zucchini, then cover the vegetables with sauce.

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Then, lay down another layer of noodles and spread half of the ricotta mixture. If you’re not afraid to get dirty, smushing this around with your hands seems to work best.

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On the next layer of noodles, spread the onions, peppers, and mushrooms and cover with more sauce. Then add one more layer of the ricotta mixture.

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Finally, cover the last layer of noodles with the remaining sauce, optional fresh basil, and the rest of the mozzarella. At this point you can cover the dish and freeze it for later or bake it 400 degrees for approximately 30-40 minutes or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown.

Let rest for at least twenty minutes before slicing and enjoy!

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The Vine:

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The fresh basil in this recipe is optional but adds a great burst of freshness to the dish. It also makes a perfect garnish if you like to make food look as good as it tastes. This is another herb that I would recommend starting with if you have any interest in a home herb garden. It’s relatively easy to find, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. Just make sure it gets lots of light, water thoroughly approximately once each week, and pinch off leaves from the top of each stem rather than the bottom to promote bushy growth.

World’s Easiest Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark

Ok, I haven’t tried all the peppermint bark recipes in the world, but I can’t imagine one being easier than this. I have been asked for the recipe so many times and every time I respond with, “well, it’s not even really a recipe.” We have a tradition of making sweet treats for my in-laws every year for Christmas. This tradition started years ago before they were my in-laws and long before I knew how to cook or bake anything. So, the treats all relied on melting chocolate and dipping things in it or making things out of it. This peppermint bark is a great crowd pleaser if you need stocking stuffers, gifts for neighbors, or you’re throwing or going to a holiday party this year.

You’ll Need:

1 package of peppermint candy canes

24 ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips

24 ounce bag of white chocolate chips

No really, that’s it

How To:

First, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Then, put 5 candy canes into a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin until broken into small pieces. This is a great way to work out some of the tension that always pops up during the holidays.

Then, melt the semisweet chocolate chips in a double boiler being very careful not to get any water into the chocolate. You can make your own double boiler by boiling about an inch of water in a sauce pan and placing a glass or metal boil over it so the steam from the water heats the bowl. Low heat tends to be best and it’s important not to walk away for too long since chocolate can burn quickly. You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted. Once melted, just pour the chocolate into the cookie sheet and smooth it out. Let that sit until mostly hardened (about 45 minutes but this can be sped up by popping it in the fridge). Then, just repeat the melting process with white chocolate and stir in about ¼ cup of your peppermint once melted. Pour that over the semisweet chocolate and gently smooth and swirl it on top. Lastly, just top with the rest of your peppermint and let harden completely. Once hardened, break up your peppermint bark into any size pieces you like and enjoy!

Optional:

This is another easy recipe to dress up or down depending on how difficult or fancy you want to make it. It’s fairly simple to pour the layers of chocolate into candy molds or cookie cutters if you want to make some impressive shapes. You can also throw additional toppings on with the peppermint. We like using crystal sugar sprinkles to make it a little sparkly and little snow flake sprinkles are always a fun touch for holiday treats!

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21 Ways to Mix Up Your Mashed Potatoes

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One of the things I’ve noticed since we’ve become foodies is that we just can’t leave well enough alone. When we visit my family in Ohio, it drives them crazy to see us spending the whole time eating a meal we’ve cooked discussing how to tweak it the next time. Whereas some see a holiday classic when looking at a big fluffy pile of mashed potatoes, I see a blank slate with endless possibilities. So, here’s a simple recipe for basic mashed potatoes and a list of ideas for combinations of “mix-ins.” When it comes to mashed potatoes, as in life, cheese is your friend.

You’ll Need:

3 pounds of potatoes of your choice (Yukon gold, russet, and reds are favorites)

½ stick unsalted butter

2 cups heavy cream

Salt

Pepper (white pepper can be substituted if you like purely white mashed potatoes)

How To:

It’s up to you whether you want to peel your potatoes, but keep in mind waxy-skinned potatoes are better if you are leaving the skin on. Chop into even cubes and place into a large pot. Cover with cold water, salt the water, and boil until tender. Drain the water and add the half stick of butter and warmed heavy cream as well as salt and pepper to taste. Mash the potatoes using a hand or stand mixer, but be careful not to overwork them as they can become gummy if the starches are broken down too much.

One you have your base ready, have fun adding as much or little of these mix-ins as you like!

  1. Mascarpone cheese and chives
  2. Sauteed or roasted garlic and parmesan
  3. Fontina and scallions
  4. Cream cheese, parsley, and chives
  5. Gorgonzola and crumbled bacon (we use turkey bacon)
  6. Rosemary (chopped finely! we skipped chopping once and it was like potatoes full of little sticks) and sage
  7. Cream cheese, roasted garlic, and red pepper flakes
  8. Sautéed leeks and garlic
  9. Smoked gouda, fontina, and scallions
  10. Caramelized onion and roasted red pepper
  11. Goat cheese and sautéed shallots
  12. Chipotle pepper and cream cheese
  13. Sour cream and dijon
  14. Cheddar cheese (use white cheddar if you want to keep them looking like classic mashed potatoes), chives, and thyme
  15. Mozzarella stirred in and topped with parmesan and breadcrumbs and briefly broiled for a crispy top
  16. Pesto and parmesan
  17. Blue cheese and a dash of cayenne
  18. Alfredo sauce and parmesan
  19. Sour cream and sautéed leeks
  20. White cheddar, sautéed shallots, and chives
  21. Cream cheese, garlic sautéed in butter, and scallions

Festive Wine Cocktails

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I think serving a signature cocktail is such an easy way to add a festive touch to any holiday gathering. When serving a crowd, wine-based cocktails can bring such a warm touch while keeping beverage expenses lower than providing a full bar. As an added bonus, they are harder to over-indulge in than traditional cocktails so they keep the holiday spirit up without knocking you down!

These are three of my favorites, which I like to serve in glasses that fit the theme of the beverage and the occasion. All of these recipes can be made in big batches so you don’t spend the whole evening tending to drinks.

Spiced Red Wine:

In the days of the crockpot craze, this is a great one to leave warming in a crockpot and let guests help themselves. Just add a full-bodied red wine (shiraz and chianti are good options for this) to the crockpot with a small splash of orange juice, sliced oranges, and either store-bought mulling spices or a mix of cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. Allow to heat through before serving and garnish with orange slices, cranberries, or cinnamon sticks. This one has the added plus of filling your home with a wonderful holiday scent!

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Champagne Cider:

This one is light and refreshing but still works well with the season. Chop a mix of apples and pears into squares or slices, whatever your preference. Add one part apple cider to three parts champagne and sprinkle cinnamon over the top. Garnish with the apples, pears, and a cinnamon stick. We love this one in mason jars!

Champagne Cider

Cranberry Pomegranate Mimosas:

We love to sip these and get into the holiday spirit while we start cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. It’s such a festive way to kick off the day! Simply fill a flute or wine glass halfway with champagne and add a dash of cranberry juice and a dash of pomegranate juice. A couple of cranberries or a spoonful of pomegranate arils look beautiful floating around on the bubbles.

Thanksgiving mimosa

Cheers!

Caramel Brie En Croûte

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We serve this with crackers, pieces of baguette, sliced fruit, really whatever else is around. Honestly, you could put it on a shoe and your guests would still love it.

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You’ll Need:

¼ cup brown sugar

¾ pecans

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 roll out pie crust

1 16 ounce wheel of brie

1 egg

1 cup sugar

½ cup water

6 tablespoons butter

½ cup heavy whipping cream

How To:

For the Brie:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the maple syrup, brown sugar, and ¼ cup of the pecans. Roll the pie crust out on a cutting board or other flat surface and pour the pecan mix onto the crust in a circle about the size of your brie. Place the brie on top and wrap the whole thing in the crust, smoothing out the edges and making sure the crust meets all the way around. Flip the brie pretty-side-up, brush with an egg wash made of egg white and a splash of water, and bake for approximately 25 minutes until golden brown. You’ve just made brie on croûte and could stop there but, oh, please don’t.

For the Sauce:

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk or stir until the mixture begins to boil, then stop stirring immediately. Once the sugar turns a light amber color (just a few minutes), add the butter. This may foam up briefly. When the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat and stir in the cream until smooth. Add the remaining pecans and pour on, over, under, or around, the brie.

Optional:

I love making food beautiful, so I can’t help but decorate this brie with the leftover pie crust. If you’d like to add a little flourish like I do, you can use cookie or pie cutters to cut out shapes or, my favorite, cut out a little leaf with a butter knife and add a little stem made from a piece of the crust rolled in your hand. Just stick them to the top before popping the brie in the oven. This step just adds a couple of minutes but makes this dish feel even more special for the holidays.

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Shout out: This is a variation on a recipe my mom gave me. Great find!