Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Thanksgiving really is my favorite holiday. Even more than Christmas, well, it's different. Thanksgiving is a fall holiday and I love fall, the colors, the baking, everything, and it's the beginning of the holiday season. We always had Thanksgiving with my moms side of the family, until my grandma passed away about ten years ago. (She was the best grandma, seriously. She could bake circles around me and my mom.) My mom then took over making the turkey and we celebrate with just our immediate family, with the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend sprinkled in over the years. We hang out, bake a lot, eat even more, play Rock Band, go to the movies, and fight the boys in the house to let us girls watch those cheesy Hallmark ones on TV. This year we were plus two husbands, and three step kids but no potential loves for my younger siblings. That's ok though, because they were completely distracted by the delicious turkey and sides. My mom is so funny. Every year she thinks the turkey isn't going to turn out, or not be cooked enough, or too dry, or that she won't get the side dishes done. And then she freaks out about the pie crusts. But every year it all turns out. In fact this year the pies were the best ever! My dad is the one actually in charge of cooking the turkey and deciding when it's done, and he and my brothers carve it up all beautiful for us. I'm kind of rambling, and I'm not posting a recipe since Thanksgiving has already passed. (I'll add them early next year when we're all ready to do this again.) But I wanted to share some pictures of my Thanksgiving and say thanks to my mom for always putting on the most amazing Thanksgiving meal. I'm glad I could help out this year and learn some more of her tricks of the trade. I've got to work on perfecting my rolls! I'm pretty sure she made three batches during the four days we were home. And I'm also pretty sure Brian at two of those batches!  Love you mom!

Stiles Family Thanksgiving Menu: (recipes coming)
Turkey (Stuffed)
Sweet potatoes (candied and regular)
Mashed potatoes
Green bean casserole
Cranberry sauce
Yellow jello
Pumpkin pie
Apple pie
Pecan pie

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Sugar Cookies

With all the craziness in the kitchen today we actually had a moment or two to sit down and decorate some sugar cookies. My dad and two brothers did most of them with me. Brittany and the little kiddies did a few at the end. Just some pictures of what we came up with.

We had quite a few turkeys. We experimented with different designs on the feathers. Here is one using the technique I used with the fall leaves, dragging with a toothpick while frosting is still wet.
I was so excited about this next turkey cookie cutter. I got it at Crate and Barrel. But it didn't work out too great. The little ankles on the turkeys were too skinny and wouldn't come out of the cookie cutter without breaking. (You can see this one is missing a foot!) Then when I tried to get them off the pan once they were cooked their heads and feathers broke off.  Maybe I just needed a bigger spatula, but anyway, this the only one we managed to salvage. My brother, Jeff, decorated this one.  
Here is the other turkey cookie cutter I had. Not as cute, but much easier to make.
We made more leaves.
 And then Brittany came in at the last minute and made the most beautiful leaf of all. She outlined, and then used the fill colors without borders. Red, then orange, and then yellow in the center. The way the colors started to run together made for the most amazing leaf effect. I'll definitely be doing this next year.
 We saved a few cookies for my neices and nephews to decorate. For being five and seven they were pretty good with the outlining. Austin was into outlining everything only and then giving it an eyeball. He even gave the turkey without a head an eyeball. Ali liked outlining one color and then inside with another color until the cookie was all colored in. I think in a few years I'll have to recruit these two to work for me.
Turkey with no head! He didn't care.

Sugar Cookie Recipe
Royal Icing Recipe

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Growing up I loved my moms lasagna. And up until yesterday it was the lasagna I made. She started making this back in the day when we were kids and ate Prego out of the jar like it was the best thing we'd ever eaten. Hence, the lasagna is made by mixing Prego, cottage cheese and hamburger together and layering it between lasagna noodles and topping with mozzarella cheese. Don't get me wrong, it is a delicious recipe. But I had been wanting to try a more sophisticated versions of lasagna and figured my few blog readers deserved that. I had the best time creating, it's not often I just go off and create my own recipe.

I started with my pasta sauce, half a recipe. I used one onion and four or five cloves of garlic that I minced really fine in one of those mini chopper things. I didn't want chunky onions in my lasagna like I do in my pasta sauce. I cooked those in a bit of olive oil, saving a tablespoon out to cook with the pound and a half of hamburger.

To the onions and garlic I added two cans of Italian stewed tomatoes and one can of whole tomatoes. I chopped up the tomatoes a bit so they weren't quite as whole. I used the mini chopper and use the scissors to cut a few more in the pan. Mean while I cooked the hamburger and onions until no longer pink, and then trained it of all the grease. (My freshman year of college this boy offered to make me and my roommates lasagna and he did not drain the hamburger grease and our lasagna was swimming in grease. Not good, so we'll drain the grease.) I added the hamburger to the tomatoes and added two tablespoons of basil and parsley and 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes. Also about two tablespoons of honey. The only thing Brian and I thought could be improved is maybe a little bit saucier. Next time I think I'll add a can of tomato sauce too.

I simmered the mixture for about 45 minutes while I cooked the noodles and mixed up the cheese mix. I combined 30 ounces of ricotta with about 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup cooked spinach. I was looking at recipes online and a lot of them put a beaten egg or two in the cheese mixture, so I added one of those. I'm sure it would be fine without. Probably some sort of binding agent.

Now it's time to layer. I used a baking dish a little larger than a 9 x 13. Start with a little sauce on the bottom, then lay down your noodles, then half the cheese mixture, then half the meat sauce mixture, and then a layer of mozzarella cheese and repeat. It is a nice hardly pan full of deliciousness. Cook it about 45 minutes, when you can see the sauce boiling in the pan. The important part about cooking lasagna, I've learned, is to let it sit about 20 minutes. If you don't, when you try to serve it, it's a big ol mess. The sauce slips out from between the noodles, it's not pretty.

So there you have it. My new and improved lasagna recipe. The old one served me well for so many years, thanks mom. It really was the inspiration for my new recipe!

In sauce pan:
1 onion, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cans of stewed tomatoes, Italian style
I can of whole tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons parsley
2 Tablespoons basil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
Simmer for 45 minutes

In frying pan, brown 1.5 pounds of hamburger with a few onions, add to tomato sauce

In bowl combine:
30 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 parmesan cheese
1/2 cooked (or defrosted frozen) spinach
pinch of salt
1 beaten egg

Boil 10 oz. lasagna noodles

1 pound of mozzarella cheese, shredded or in slices

Layer pasta:
put a small amount of red sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer the noodles across the pan, put one half of the ricotta mixture on top, spread around. Next layer one half of the meat and sauce mixture. Next, make a layer of mozzarella cheese. Repeat all layers.

Cook at 350 for 45 minutes until bubbly. Optional: (Turn on broiler at end to brown the top.) Let stand 20 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Last week Garrett and I started watching the Throwdown Thanksgiving episode with Bobby Flay vs. Pioneer Woman. While watching it I was browsing through her site looking for a dessert to make for a dinner party, we were attending on Sunday, and I came across her version of Pumpkin Pie. It's a pumpkin pie of sorts made with pudding and whipped cream in a graham cracker crust, and it is amazing.

On The Pioneer Woman site she gives her beautifully photographed step by step instructions, so I'll just let you go there to check it out. But you start with vanilla cook and serve pudding and make it with half and half and heavy whipping cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves. (I omitted the cloves because I didn't have any. We didn't miss them.) You cook the pudding until it thickens then add in pumpkin puree. I could have stopped right here and ate this as a pumpkin pudding. It was so delicious. I had to stop myself if I wanted to have any left to put in the actual pie. To the pudding mixture you add whipping cream that has been whipped up with brown sugar, hence the name pumpkin cream pie. You place all this in your crust and chill, chill, chill. It definitely needs to be cold.

This dessert went over very well at the dinner party. I didn't leave with any leftovers. I was a little sad about that, so tonight I was feeding a few people dinner and Brian and I both decided that we would be more than ok eating pumpkin cream pie again for dessert. So I whipped up another one this morning. On round two, when I went to the store I couldn't find the small pack of pudding, so I used the bigger box. I used a little eighth grade math and set up a few proportions to adjust the cream, half and half and pumpkin to account for a larger amount of pudding. It turned out just as good as the first. I might consider using the larger box instead, it filled the pie crust a little better.

Another difference between making round one and round two was the length of time I cooked the crust. The first time I cooked it for eight minutes and the crust was very crumbly when I tried to serve it. So round two I cooked it for ten minutes and the crust was very hard to cut making it equally hard to serve. So take your pick, I think I prefer the softer crust to the harder. But do note that they tasted exactly the same.

Brian and I are finishing the Throwdown episode as I type this, so I don't know if Pioneer Woman won, but I'd be willing to bet if she used this pie as her dessert she would have it in the bag!

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fall Leaf Sugar Cookies

Yesterday I made these sugar cookies to give away today. I bought a bunch of fall cookie cutters was dying to try them out. I ended up only using leaf cookie cutters, I'll save the acorns, squirrel and turkey for another day. I used a new decorating technique to make the leaves look like they are changing colors. The bright, colorful leaves are my favorite thing about fall. To make the leaves, use royal icing, pipe the outside and flood the inside. While the inside is still wet dot or swirl another color on top. Take a tooth pick and swirl the two colors together. You can use this technique to create all kinds of beautiful designs on cookies. I thought these fall cookies turned out great! Check back later in the week to see my turkey sugar cookies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pumpkin Sheet Cake

Only a week left until Thanksgiving and already fall is out of the stores. I hate that. I went shopping for fall decor yesterday and all that was left was the cheesy clearanced items, most of them left over from Halloween. Christmas has taken over. Now don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. So much. But there is a time and a place. And time is the day after thanksgiving, starting at 12:01. (Have you seen those people who camp out at Best Buy? It's a family tradition to dry by.) I'm totally rambling, but my point is, I thought I'd try and get in a few more fall recipes before all the Christmas baking takes over, because they are different.

There a million recipes out there for a pumpkin type bread/cake and a frosting involving cream cheese goodness. This is another one of those that I have fallen in love with. I made it last night for a girls Bunco night I hosted, and it was a huge hit. I love this recipe because it makes a ton, sheet pans are big! I'm sure it would work just fine in a 9 x 13 pan too. It's a good, quick, no special ingredients needed kind of recipe. It calls for oil, which I think makes the cake extra moist. If you're looking for a last minute recipe to feed the family in town, whip this up.

Pumpkin Bars

Mix these ingredients:
4 eggs
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup oil
15 oz. can pumpkin

In separate bowl mix these ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda

Mix together. Pour into sheet pan. (Or 9x 13)

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes (Adjust cooking time for other pans)

4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Easy Is That?

A few posts back I mentioned that I was going to a book signing with Ina Garten, thee Barefoot Contessa at Willams Sonoma South Coast Plaza! She just released a new cook book "How Easy Is That?". If you watch her show you know that's a common catch phrase she uses. The signing was the day after my birthday and I looking forward to the signing more. I heard about it from my new and fabulous friend Michelle. She told me it was on Friday the 12th and I thrilled because I didn't have school that day. A while back I found out about a Giada signing, but couldn't justify taking a day off of work for it. So thank you furlough days.

Michelle had the inside scoop on book signings since this wasn't her first one. She works at Crate and Barrel and they hosted the previously mentioned Giada book signing. She also went to Williams Sonoma to check out the Bobby Flay signing, just to get a peek at him. That's when she saw how out of control the lines were! Michelle suggested we get there at 8 am, when the store opened to hand out the pre-ordered books. That was a great plan! We knew we were going to have to wait in line until the signing started at noon, but at least we'd get to wait inside the mall. We were in the first line, maybe about 40 people back. We sat on the floor next to Saks Fifth Ave, made friends with the people around us, ate the pumpkin treats the Williams Sonoma workers kept bringing around, and read through all the cookbooks we had purchased. We had such a great time talking all things Ina. My Mom kept saying she hoped Jeffrey, Ina's husband, was going to be there! No such luck. Then we dared her to ask Ina why Jeffrey didn't come. Good times! While we were waiting in side, having a fabulous time, the rest of the last comers were waiting outside in a line that went past two department stores and around the corner. And this is Orange County, is was kind of hot out there! Rumor had it though, if you were in line by 2 pm she would sign your book. The signing was supposed to be from noon to two.

The signing started at 11:45 am, Ina was very prompt. The line moved fast. You could take pictures but she wasn't going to pose for any. As we got closer I snapped a few of her signing other peoples books. When it was your turn they had workers taking your camera and would get a picture of her signing your book. I turned around when she took mine, but I have like a million chins in that picture, so I'm not posting it! But we got a few others. We all were deciding what we would say to her, I ended up just telling her thanks for coming and my mom was like, "we love you!" She was friendly, but didn't have time to chat. I had her sign two books, then my mom had her sign one, then Brittany came and had her sign one. The workers moved us right along after three books were signed and we kind of held up the line trying to figure out what happened to the fourth. Ina tapped the table and said laughing, "Come on ladies, pay attention." That's quite typical of us, to hold up a line of 2,000 people. Ina talked just like she does on her show. She looked really pretty, much better than on TV, and she looked smaller too. While in line we were talking about what color of shirt she would be wearing. She had a blue button up on all three of the different cookbooks we had. At the signing she wore a black button up with black pants.

I'm kind of amazed I have so much to say about a five second encounter with Ina, but it was so fun. I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, I wouldn't wait in a four hour line for just anyone. Ina is special. So classy. While in line we read an article in the Costco Connection magazine about her. In it she talks about how she gets asked to expand her "brand" beyond food to accessories, furniture even clothes. She said, "I wear the same thing everyday, you don't want me to do your line of clothing." But that's what I love about Ina, she's all about the food, keeping it real, but sophisticated, and getting back to the basics.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oak Glen Apple Farms

My birthday was on Thursday! First just a big thank you for everyone that wished me a happy birthday and made my day so special. I love that my birthday is the same day as Veteran's Day because as a school teacher we get that day off each year. This year, because it was on a Thursday was also got Friday off! Who doesn't love a four day weekend? I wanted to spend my birthday doing something I don't usually get to do. So I looked around at little day trips and decided I wanted to go see beautiful fall leaves and do some fall activities.

EnterOak Glen, a little town up by Yucaipa, CA located up in the San Bernardino Mountains, about an hour away. There are a bunch of different apple farms there where you can pick your own apples and enjoy all kids of apples desserts. So my mom, older sister and I headed out to spend the day enjoying a fall that we don't really get in Orange County. The funny thing was, that we got there we completely forgot that it might be cold. My sister, Mikken, had on a skirt and t-shirt, and was pretty cold in the 57 degree weather. I was loving it. I love fall, I miss fall. All the leaves weren't quite as red as I would have liked. Most were more green turning yellow, but some were beautiful.

When we got there we checked out a few farms and decided where to eat. We settled on Rileys' at Los Rios Rancho and ate at their BBQ and Bakery. I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich while Mom and Mikken had deli turkey sandwiches with potato salad. Mom got hot apple cider which was a nice treat on our cold fall day. I loved Los Rios Rancho. We browsed around their cute store, bought apple butter and fresh baked bread, and tasted all kinds of apples picked fresh from their orchard. I would have been fun to pick our own apples, but it was a little late in the season and they didn't have a ton left on the trees.

Next we drove back to first farm we passed on the way in, can't remember it's name. (It's the one with Apple Annie's country restaurant.) We went into the bakery and bought a slice of apple pie, an apple empanada and an apple burrito. We didn't eat it all ourselves though, we took the goodies home to share. We also got hot apple pie mini doughnuts. I had read all about these apple cider mini doughnuts, but we weren't at the right stand. These doughnuts were good, but tasted very fried, I only ate one but my dad and the boys loved them. I found out that the real mini doughnuts I wanted were located at Snow-Line Orchard. These are the famous ones. Oh well, that gives me a reason to go back next year.

If you have kids there are tons of fun little activities to do. There are hay rides, petting zoos, pumpkin patches, and you can press your own cider. We could have stayed up there much longer than the three hours we did. There is so much to do and see and eat! It was definitely a great way to spend my birthday. I can't wait to go back next year.

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