I have a confession to make. I've been slacking on posting in December because I keep making the same things over and over again. I bookmark new, exciting holiday recipes...and then I remember how easy some of my favorites are, and I opt to make those instead (ahem, saltine toffee). I'm not sure where everyone else finds the time to bake so much in December. It's a crazy month between work and holiday festivities. Thankfully I'll be taking all next week off to return back to NC, and I will therefore be baking up a storm for all of the holiday events back home. The challenge will be posting every red and green, holiday-themed recipe in the limited time before Christmas. Then we will all switch back to disliking the red and green color combination until November 2014.

Thankfully, my baking tendencies have rubbed off on Brooke (my roommate), who, for better or for worse, now bakes a good amount as well. She even introduced me to the peanut butter fudge I've been obsessed with this past month. I like to think it's a positive thing that she bakes now, but I'm sure she has mixed feelings about finding herself scanning baking blogs and coming home from the grocery store with bags of chocolate chips and butter instead of normal items.

Because I've been stuck in my rut of remaking all of my favorites this past month, I took some pictures of this delicious peppermint puppy chow Brooke made last night. She also made two batches of the saltine toffee. So, I guess I have no excuse not to make saltine toffee and something new. I love puppy chow, and it's a very easy thing to make a large batch to put in bowls at holiday parties and such. It's also incredibly addictive, but diets don't start until January, right? (Forewarning: I don't make New Year's resolutions, so I apologize in advance for ignoring all common courtesies around not posting unhealthy things in January.) The candy canes give the puppy chow an added crunch, and she used the red and green striped ones to jazz them up a bit---a perfect holiday dessert!


Peppermint Puppy Chow


6 cups Rice Chex cereal
2 cups white chocolate melts or white chocolate chips melted
1 1/2 cup crushed candy canes
1 cup powdered sugar
*Use something that is meant to be melted and used for candy, most white chocolate chips don't melt down thin enough.

1. Place Chex in a large bowl
2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave (if in microwave, do it in 30 second intervals - white chocolate burns easily).
3. Once chocolate is melted, pour over cereal and carefully stir to blend.
4. Put chocolate covered Chex in a large plastic bag (I use a clean trash bag...if this doesn't bother you it works like a charm.)
5. Add confectioners sugar and crushed candy canes.
6. Shake bag, making sure to focus on breaking up any clumps you can feel. As you do this, the powered sugar will help pull the white chocolate away from the sides of the bag. The end goal is to have all pieces thoroughly covered.
7. Let cool and enjoy! 

Every year I try to jazz up our Thanksgiving menu in some way or another. It's not acceptable in my family to change too many things. The trick is to adapt just one or two recipes that we'd be having anyways. There are foods you can't do this with (the turkey, my grandmother's sweet potato casserole), and then there are things that you can sneak a few extras in without anyone really noticing unless it doesn't turn out well. I will warn you when doing this that you're around family, and family is perfectly comfortable sharing opinions on food, so change recipes at your own risk.

Last year I made this homemade green bean casserole. It was delicious, but not necessarily worth the work for a group who would be perfectly happy with the standard canned beans, cream of mushroom soup and french fried potatoes recipe. My grandmother also didn't understand why we served "uncooked" beans in our green bean casserole (see statement at the end of previous paragraph). We explained the difference between haricot verts and canned green beans to her, but it went in one ear and out the other.

This year I saw a recipe in Cooking Light for Green Beans with Sherried Mushroom Sauce. If you haven't experimented with adding sherry to recipes you are missing out. I didn't realize my love for it until I put two and two together and realized that's what gives She Crab soup part of its kick. Now I want to add sherry to everything.

Unfortunately one thing my family doesn't do on Thanksgiving is anything "light"...so we used a different recipe that had many of the same components and added sherry instead of white wine. This recipe also has all sorts of delicious, unhealthy things like cheese, a roux and heavy cream. I'm not claiming it's healthy, but it's delicious. We bought the big bags of green beans from Costco which made things much easier. You can find steamer bags in the fridge section of the grocery store. This recipe called for homemade french fried onions, but we bought French's instead. I'll pretend we did that to preserve tradition...but really it was just for an easy shortcut.


Sherried Mushroom Scratch Made Green Bean Casserole
Recipe adapted from Serendipity doo-dah

3 steamer bags green beans, blanched, drained and cut in thirds
1 pound mushrooms, sliced (your choice)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1/2 cup sherry
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan and Asiago cheeses, mixed together

Make soup:
Sautee mushrooms, onions and thyme in cooking oil.
Season with salt and pepper. When lightly caramelized, deglaze pan with sherry. Once it evaporates, add chicken stock. Bring to boil.

To make the roux, melt the butter over medium heat. Once it begins to melt and turn frothy, stir in a tablespoon or so of the flour (it should slightly bubble). Whisk in remaining flour and continue whisking until the mixture thickens and turns the color of peanut butter.

Stir roux into mushroom mixture, a bit at a time until it turns into cream soup thickness. Take off heat, pour in cream, and stir.

Place drained beans in bowl, mix in 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and Asiago cheese mixture, and soup. Pour into greased dish and refrigerate.

Assembly and baking: Sprinkle beans with remaining cheese, then top with onion straws. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or until crispy and bubbling.

*And if you want to make your own french fried onions:

1 large white onion, sliced into paper thin rounds
2 cups flour
Oil for frying
Salt & pepper

Put oil in large heavy pot. Heat on medium until it comes up to 350 degrees. Dredge sliced onions in heavily seasoned flour and shake off excess. Fry in small batches until golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with salt and drain on paper towels. 

*To blanch, shock the green beans in ice immediately after cooking to stop them from cooking more.

Sorry for the harsh lighting on these. There's only a limited amount of time to take pictures when you have a table full of hungry people waiting!