Let’s Make a Gingerbread House!

Gingerbread Fangtasia

If you follow me on Twitter or FaceBook you’ve probably figured out I’m a HUGE fan of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I like the show ok too for the most part, but we won’t get in to my issues about the show here. If you’re really interested you can peruse the Musings category over at Daffodil Lane and see my thoughts on that subject, but the books are definitely my first love when it comes to this set of characters.

I also should tell you I’m firmly on Team Eric. I was from the very first book. My first thoughts when Eric came on the page were “Why the heck isn’t Sookie with him?” Bill is ok and he has grown on me, but I just don’t care for him with Sookie. I keep hoping he’ll find a nice girl elsewhere, but sadly my wants and desires aren’t figured in to the story! ;oP The little tidbit of my preference for Eric will become important in a moment when I explain my choice in gingerbread houses.

Most years I make a gingerbread house. It’s fun. One year I even made one for my friends as gifts. I took a few years off on the gingerbread front when Lex was smaller, but the past few years it has been fun to add her in to the mix and let her make her own gingerbread house too. It’s a fun tradition and one that we both look forward to.

Gingerbread True Blood Style: Fangtasia, Bill, Sookie and Eric

Alexis of course just made your standard gingerbread house, but a few days ago I had a fleeting thought that it would be fun to turn my gingerbread house into Fangtasia. I decided that it would be easy to add a Fangtasia sign and even make a gingerbread Eric, Sookie and Bill. I also decided to make a bite out of Bill’s head as if Eric had gotten fed up with him and taken a little nibble:

Gingerbread: Bill

Poor Bill! 😉 He looks a little emo here, but that’s ok too!

For Sookie I didn’t have the talent to make a Merlotte’s outfit, so she just got a dress, but I combined book Eric (pink spandex pants), with TV Eric (and his black tank top a la Skarsgard) even though I have to admit the tank was not one of my favorite outfits.

Gingerbread: Eric and Sookie

So basically you start out with a really good gingerbread recipe and then you just let your imagination go wild! And imagination is something I’ve never had a problem with! 😉

Construction is always fun! This go around I used small cookie cutters to make a relatively small gingerbread house. In the past I’ve made them as big at 8-12 inches for each piece, but these were more like 4-5 inches.

The first step was putting the walls up:

Gingerbread: Constructing

The walls are the easiest part. Gravity sort of makes them support each other. I like to let them dry 20-30 minutes before putting the roof on, because the roof can (and will!) cause the walls to collapse if you aren’t very careful.

This time the walls were square, with no triangular part for the roof to rest on and it just didn’t work. The roof kept falling down and taking the walls with it, so Alexis and I decided to make flat roofs instead. As you can see we added a chimney to hers and left mine flat:

Gingerbread: Ready to Decorate

And then you decorate!

Gingerbread: Creating

Royal icing works best to stick on all the candy and such. I put a row of peppermint kisses on the roof so I’d have something to rest the Fangtasia sign on and keep it upright:

Gingerbread: Creating

And considering we are talking icing here the Fangtasia sign didn’t turn out half bad either!

Gingerbread: Fangtasia

And Lex’s house turned out really cute too!

Lex's Gingerbread House

Should you wonder her gingerbread people are her and Jamison. Uncanny resemblance those! 😉

If you’ve never made a gingerbread house do try…It’s so much fun! It’s messy, but such a fabulous time that you won’t mind the mess…Much! 😉

You can eat your creation or you can leave it around to enjoy just looking at throughout the season, which is usually my choice. I make extra gingerbread to enjoy instead of the houses (or in this case vampire bar! ;oP)

Gingerbread Fangtasia

Now speaking of messes…If you’ll excuse me it looks like a gingerbread house exploded in my kitchen and I must remedy that situation. 😉

Triple Chocolate Fudge

Triple Chocolate Fudge

Since we discovered that Jamison has Celiac Disease many of his favorite things have been yanked away from him. If you’ve been around Dianne’s Dishes for a while you know he’s a super duper picky eater and having one of his major food sources (gluten) taken away from him was a huge blow. It’s been a tough road for him and it continues to be so.

Before Celiac reared it’s ugly head one of Jamison’s favorite desserts was chocolate pie. I’ve tried to make gluten free versions, but he’s never been that interested. Did I mention the picky part? ;oP

For thanksgiving this year I really wanted fudge. I’m not sure why, but I had fudge on the brain, and I decided to see if I couldn’t make something that Jamison would enjoy too and low and behold I made it, had him taste it and he liked the fudge! Score for me! It’s the perfect mellow blend of chocolate. What’s not to like about that?

What You’ll Need:
4 tablespoons of butter
2/3 cups of evaporated milk
2 1/2 cups of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 – 7.5 ounce jar of marshmallow cream (Note: Look for a variety with no high fructose corn syrup.)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2/3 cup of milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup of white chocolate chips
Butter to coat the dish

Butter a 13 X 9 inch dish generously and set aside.

Melt butter, evaporated milk, sugar and sea salt until smooth. Bring to a boil and let boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. (Note: Fudge is one of the few things that I make that I ever stir constantly, but you really need to. You don’t want it to scorch.)

After five minutes remove from heat. (Note: If you want to do the soft ball test, i.e. dropping a bit of the hot mixture into cold water to see if it forms a soft ball you can, but I usually don’t.) Stir in vanilla and chocolate chips and stir quickly until chips melt.

Spread mixture into the prepared dish. (Note: It will be VERY hot so be careful!) Let sit until fudge cools and firms up. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.

Notes: You can use any type of chocolate that you like. Go for dark if you prefer. Or use all of one kind.

Classic Pecan Pie

Classic Pecan Pie

I love pecan pie, but I rarely eat it because yum, but oh my on the fat content! For Thanksgiving though I thought I’d try my hand at making one since I never had before. For some reason I assumed that they were difficult to make, but it truly is just a dump, stir and pour kind of recipe. Not only is it easy, but it’s delicious to boot! This isn’t something you would make every day, and is most definitely a sometimes kind of food, but oh what a sometimes it is! This my friends is comfort food at its finest!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 9 inch pie shell (Note: Sometimes I make my own pie crust, but this time I took the easy way out and got one out of the freezer section.)
1 cup of corn syrup (Note: Look for a version that isn’t made with high fructose corn syrup.)
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
3 tablespoons of melted butter, cooled
3 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 cups of pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl stir together corn syrup, sugar, salt, butter, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add pecans and stir until incorporated. Pour mixture into a pie shell and sit the dish on a baking sheet just in case it runs over.

Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

Classic Pecan Pie

Notes: No notes for this one.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’ve always wanted to try and make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, but I never have. I had some pumpkin left over from Thanksgiving and thought I’d give the idea a whirl and boy am I glad that I did! These cookies are soft, chocolatey, with just the right punch of pumpkin and cinnamon. I think I’ve found a new favorite when it comes to cookies!

What You’ll Need:
1 cup of butter, softened
3/4 cup of mashed pumpkin
2 eggs
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 1/2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 – 12 ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate chips (Note: Dark chocolate chips would be good, or milk chocolate either one. Go with what you prefer.)

Cream together butter, pumpkin and eggs until smooth. Add both sugars and mix until blended. Add vanilla, sea salt, baking soda and cinnamon and mix until incorporated. Slowly add flour and mix until dough forms. Stir or mix in chocolate chips and put dough into an air tight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Once dough is chilled preheat oven to 375 F.

Scoop dough by the rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking pans lined with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are done through.

Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container. Dough will last in the fridge for about a week.

Notes: You could add 1 cup of nuts and/or raisins into the mix if you liked.

Creamy Salmon Potato Soup

Creamy Salmon Potato Soup

I love snow. I really do. I love watching the flakes swirl and twirl through the air on their way down to the ground. I love how the snow clings to everything in its path, giving the world a quiet, beautiful, bright glow. And surprisingly enough I even enjoy shoveling (though my back wasn’t up for it this past weekend)…I know, I know, I’m weird. But snow also makes me want to cook!

This weekend we had our first snow of the season. I actually didn’t think it was going to amount to much, but we got a very nice little snow, right around 5 1/2 inches the last time I measured, that was fun to watch and play in. You can’t ask for a better weekend than that!

On Saturday I decided I wanted to make some soup. You see snow falling and it makes me think that a nice hearty soup is in order. I had some left over salmon and I was in the mood for potato soup so I thought I’d combine the two. Add some bacon and a few other simple ingredients and you’ve got the perfect, hearty soup for that lovely snowy day!

What You’ll Need:
3 slices of thick center cut bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 a sweet onion, chopped
3 potatoes, 2 chopped, 1 baked and mashed
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 quart of broth (Note: I used turkey, but chicken broth will be fine too.)
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cooked salmon fillet, flaked (Note: I usually cook my salmon with dill, so there was an underlying dill flavor there.)

Add bacon to a medium sized pot and let cook over medium heat for a minute or two:

Creamy Salmon Potato Soup: Bacon

Next add butter and let melt and then stir in onions:

Creamy Salmon Potato Soup: Onions, Bacon and Butter

Cook until onions are tender, stirring often.

Next add a pinch of sea salt, some freshly grated black pepper and chopped potatoes and stir to mix:

Creamy Salmon Potato Soup: Ready for Broth

Add broth and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender.

For the baked potato you can use a left over baked potato, or you can “bake” (i.e. steam) one in the microwave. Cut the baked potato into pieces, skin and all, and add to a food processor and process until smooth:

Creamy Salmon Potato Soup: Mashed Potato

This mashed potato mixture helps thicken the soup slightly. Add the mashed potato mixture to the soup as the potatoes are cooking and stir to mix.

Once the potatoes are tender stir in salmon and heavy cream to mix. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to heat through and serve immediately.

Notes: This soup could easily be made without the salmon. Bacon could also be added to the top of the soup as a garnish, along with a little cheese.

Pumpkin Pound Cake

Pumpkin Pound Cake

What’s Thanksgiving (or Fall for that matter) without a little pumpkin? This year I wanted to do something a little different, yet still have that iconic autumn fruit on the menu. I normally make a pie, tart or cheesecake, but this year I thought it would be fun to make a Pumpkin Pound Cake and I was very happy with the results!

The pumpkin gives the cake a moist and substantial texture, while the mix of sugars adds a nice complex sweetness that pairs perfectly with the pumpkin and sour cream. This is a very easy cake to put together, yet a delicious alternative to the traditional pumpkin treats. If you’re a pumpkin fan then this is the cake for you!

Pumpkin Pound Cake

What You’ll Need:
2 sticks of butter softened
2 cups of mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup of sour cream (Note: I used the light variety)
2 cups of organic cane sugar
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
6 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Add butter, pumpkin, sour cream, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt to a mixer and mix until completely smooth. Slowly add flour and mix until just mixed. Add eggs two at a time and mix until completely incorporated.

You can add the batter to loaf pans that have been sprayed with non-stick spray or a Bundt pan. I prefer the Bundt pan. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 50-75 minutes until cakes stick done.

Pumpkin Pound Cake

Let cool and then remove from pan. Slice and serve plain or with whipped cream.

Pumpkin Pound Cake

Notes: You could add in 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon if you liked and/or perhaps some nutmeg.

Vegetable Beef Soup

Vegetable Beef Soup

If you’ve been around Dianne’s Dishes for a while you know I’m a big fan of my slow cooker. With a few simple ingredients you can drop them in and have a really fabulous, healthy meal with little, to no effort. Slow cookers are very versatile, but they are exceptionally fabulous for soups/stews.

This soup is very simple, yet still delicious. It’s full of vegetables, which are always a good thing, and just the right amount of meat to give it a hearty bite. The best part is that you just throw it all in and in a few hours you’ve got the perfect, warm, healthy meal that really hits the spot on a cold fall night!

What You’ll Need:
1 quart of broth (Note: I used beef broth, but you can use whatever you like.)
1 quart of diced tomatoes (Note: I used some I canned this summer, but you can use a large can if you like.)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cups of yellow squash, diced (Note: I used some I had frozen from the summer, but fresh will work fine.)
2 cups of green beans (Note: Again I used some I had frozen, but fresh will work here too.)
1 small package of frozen lima beans
1 pound of ground beef, broken into little pieces (Note: You could use ground chicken or turkey instead if you wanted.)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of dried thyme

So this is basically a dump and eat soup. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker as is (i.e. raw). Give it a stir to mix everything and cook on high for 4-5 hours until meat is done through.

Notes: You could add in any vegetable that you liked. Mushrooms are always a good addition. Peas and/or corn would be good too.