‘Tis the Season for Cookies: Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls

There’s something very satisfying about the peanut butter/chocolate combo, especially peanut butter and milk chocolate. Those two are part of classic combos that you easily think of, peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, cake and ice cream, just to name a few.

Also be sure check out the other participants of ‘Tis the Season for Cookies to see their fabulous cookie recipes as well!:

Diana Cannone at To Di for Bakery.
Judy Chiappini at No Fear Entertaining.
Mandee Racer Pogue at The Kitchen Wife.
Marye Audet-White at Restless Chipotle.
Renee Joslyn at Flamingo Musings.
Sandy Smith at Eat Real.
And Sherri Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl Jo.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls

This week’s theme is Fancy Cookies! But nothing says fancy has to be hard. 😉

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Peanut Butter Ball Fillings

What You’ll Need for the Peanut Butter Balls:
1 – 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of peanut butter (Note: You can use smooth or crunchy.)
1 cup of powdered sugar

Mix together a can of sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter until thoroughly mixed.

Mix the powdered sugar in to the peanut butter mixture until incorporated a ball forms.

Take roughly a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it in to a ball. Place the ball on a lined baking sheet and repeat until you run out of filling.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Peanut Butter Balls

Next make your chocolate coating.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Chocolate Covering

What You’ll Need for the Chocolate Coating:
1 package of chocolate chips (Note: I usually use milk chocolate with peanut butter, but you can use dark or semi-sweet if you like instead.)
2 tablespoons of coconut oil

In a large glass bowl melt chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave on 10 seconds intervals, stirring between rounds, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Dip each peanut butter ball in chocolate until completely covered:

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Dipping in Chocolate

And place each ball back on the baking sheet:

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Dipped

Next make the peanut butter drizzle.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Peanut Butter Drizzle

What You’ll Need for the Peanut Butter Drizzle:
1/2 cup of peanut butter chips
1 teaspoon of coconut oil
1 heaping tablespoon of peanut butter

Melt the peanut butter chips with the coconut oil on the same 10 second intervals you used for the chocolate, stirring between, until melted. Once melted stir in the peanut butter until smooth.

Drizzle each covered peanut butter ball with the peanut butter drizzle and put them back on the sheet.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls: Done!

Notes: You can sprinkle with crushed peanuts if you want, instead of the peanut butter drizzle (honey roasted peanuts would be particularly nice) or you can dust them with cocoa.

The Best Sausage Balls You’ll Ever Eat

The Best Sausage Balls You'll Ever Make

If you’ve been around Dianne’s Dishes for a while, you know I’m all about making things myself, and not using mixes or pre-made things. That being said, some times, thinking out of the pre-made box is harder than others, this time however, that isn’t the case.

Most of the time when you come across a sausage ball recipe, it calls for baking mix. Some baking mixes aren’t bad, you actually turn the package around and it’s made with flour and things you recognize, however most of them contain chemicals and stuff I surely don’t want to eat, I don’t know about you.

This recipe uses flour, along with the ingredients you would have in your standard biscuit recipe, minus the milk and butter, to make a sausage ball that is simply fabulous. Most people have these things in their cupboards right now. So grab some sausage, cheese and cream cheese, head in to your pantry and grab some dry ingredients and let’s make some sausage balls!

What You’ll Need:
1 pound of sausage (Note: I prefer the hot variety. Look for a brand without MSG.)
1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon of organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
4 cups of cheddar, shredded
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the bowl of a mixer, mix together sausage and cream cheese, until smooth.

Next add sugar, baking powder and salt and process until mixed in.

Now it’s time to add the cheese. With the mixer running, slowly add cheese, until incorporated in the sausage/cream cheese mixture.

After the cheese is thoroughly mixed in, slowly add in flour until a crumbly dough forms. Depending on humidity, and moisture content in your sausage and cheese, this could be really crumbly, or more doughy. It’s all good. Don’t sweat it if it isn’t exactly what you had pictured. You’re going to shape the balls with your hands, and it all comes together.

Once the dough is made you want to make “balls” roughly the size of a walnut and place them on a large baking sheet.They can be close, but make sure they aren’t touching. To make the ball roll a small about of dough between your palms until a ball forms. Remember when this is over to wash your hand thoroughly, you are dealing with raw pork here.

Once you have used all of your dough, place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.

The Best Sausage Balls You'll Ever Make

Notes: Let’s talk cheese! You can do a mixture of cheese in these. I like to use cheddar or Colby, but you can also use Monterrey Jack for all or part of the cheese. A friend of mine likes to add in some pepper jack. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

‘Tis the Season for Cookies: Cow Drop Cookies

This is the last week or our cookie roundup and I must say, I’ve had a lot of fun with this! This week I’m going with another chocolate/peanut butter combo, because you can’t go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter! These are the perfect last minute cookie, and I have it on good authority that Santa really loves these! I’ll let you use your imagination and figure out why they’re called what they are. 😉

Also be sure check out the other participants of ‘Tis the Season for Cookies to see their fabulous cookie recipes as well!:

Diana Cannone at To Di for Bakery.
Judy Chiappini at No Fear Entertaining.
Mandee Racer Pogue at The Kitchen Wife.
Marye Audet-White at Restless Chipotle.
Renee Joslyn at Flamingo Musings.
Sandy Smith at Eat Real.
And Sherri Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl Jo.

This week’s theme was easy to make cookies and these are about as easy as you can get…just perfect for that last minute Christmas prep!

What You’ll Need:
1 stick of butter
2 cups of organic cane sugar
2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa
2/3 cup of half and half
1/2 cup of peanut butter
2 cups of oats
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Melt butter with both sugars, cocoa and half and half in a medium sized pot and bring to a quick boil over medium heat. Boil for five minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until the peanut butter is completely melted and smooth. Stir in vanilla and then add oats, stirring until completely incorporated.

Drop by the rounded tablespoonful onto a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. Let set for an hour or two and serve. Store in an airtight container.

How simple and delicious is that?

Notes: You could use crunchy peanut butter if you liked. Sometimes I like to make these with brown sugar for part or all of the sugar. It gives them an extra oomph. Also I forgot one time to add the cocoa powder, and they were good that way too.

‘Tis the Season for Cookies: Gingerbread!

Gingerbread House

I’ve always loved making gingerbread houses. I’m not sure when I made my first gingerbread house, school perhaps? Or with my mom? But I remember making them, and loving the process. The first one I made was with graham crackers and a milk carton, if I recall. I even made gingerbread houses one Christmas for all my friends.

When Alexis was born I couldn’t wait until she was old enough to make them too, and once she was (we did our first gingerbread house when she was 3), we’ve made one every year since. We make a big production out of it…we make the cookies one day, along with hot chocolate, and then we assemble the houses the next. We make royal icing, get our candy together and construct away.

The secret to a good gingerbread house is a firm cookie, and these have a bit of a crunch to them. That also helps if you want to turn these cookies in to ornaments, because the firmness makes for a good ornament too. I’ll give you instructions on how to do that below as well.

Be sure and check out the other participants of ‘Tis the Season for Cookies to see their fabulous cookie recipes for this week as well!:

10547425_957261164302560_6964634587890662321_n

Diana Cannone at To Di for Bakery.
Judy Chiappini at No Fear Entertaining.
Mandee Racer Pogue at The Kitchen Wife.
Marye Audet-White at Restless Chipotle.
Renee Joslyn at Flamingo Musings.
Sandy Smith at Eat Real.
And Sherri Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl Jo.

The theme this week was formed and decorated!

Gingerbread House: The Pieces

What You’ll Need:
1 cup packed natural brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl cream brown sugar, butter and molasses until smooth. Add water and mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Sprinkle some flour onto the surface you’re working on and roll dough out to between 1/4-1/8th of an inch thick:

Gingerbread House: Rolling the Dough

To make a gingerbread house cut out house shapes using a template, or gingerbread house cutters. To make ornaments, cut with the cookie cutters of your choice. If you are going to use the cookies for ornaments remember to make a hole for the string or ribbon to tie them onto your tree. You can do this by using a straw to make a hole at the top of each cookie.

Bake for 9-10 minutes and cool completely on the pan. Cooling overnight is best. You want them to get extremely firm, the firmer the better.

And if you’re like Alexis, then you’ll want a little bite of dough, or several bites of dough, or a lot of dough. It’s good dough. And it is eggless, if you’re worried about such things, which we aren’t, but there you go.

Gingerbread House: Dough!

And make sure you get plenty of flour all over yourself. On your face, on your apron, on the floor…I mean the bigger mess the better. Just ask Alexis! 😉

After the cookies have cooled and sat overnight you want to make some royal icing if you’re making gingerbread houses (see below) or you can paint them if you’ve decided to make gingerbread ornaments.

Gingerbread House: Royal Icing

What You’ll Need:
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar
8 cups of powdered sugar

Add all the ingredients to a large glass bowl and stir until mixed.

Beat on medium speed for 5-6 minutes until icing is thick and has a pearly sheen to it.

Use immediately to make your gingerbread house, or to decorate cookies.

Now you get to assemble your gingerbread house!

Take a piece of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil. This will be your “yard” for your house. Next add a layer of royal icing for the “snow” on the yard, and this also serves as glue for the bottom of your house walls:

Gingerbread House: Snowy Yard

Now you want to put up your walls:

Gingerbread House: Putting it Together

I like to use a canned good, or a bottle to balance the walls on until the “glue” dries. Add a line of royal icing to each wall and balance them against each other. Once the icing dries you will do the same process to add the roof to the house.

While the walls are drying you can also start adding some of the decorations around the sides of the house:

Gingerbread House: Decorating

The roof can be tricky, because gravity, well she’s a bitch. You’ll need to hold the roof on while the icing dries. Be generous with the icing on the edges of roof peek, so that it has plenty to hold on to. This is when you can watch a Christmas movie, or something, while you’re sitting there holding the roof. If you’re really talented you can figure out a way to brace the ceiling with cans or bottles, but you have to have the perfectly situated can or bottle size and it’s easier said than done. Your best bet is holding it on and amusing yourself for a bit some other way.

Decorate with icing, candy, sprinkles or other embellishments if you’re going to cookie route. Whatever you like works. Just let out your inner cookie creator!

If you’re making ornaments paint them with craft or acrylic paints and let dry completely. Once the paint is dry you can “seal” the ornaments by painting or spraying on a coat of polyurethane if you want them to last for many years. If you want to make “Pissy” Gingerbread boys and girls, like the one pictured below, use a fluted cutter to cut a “bite” out of the side of their heads or even their foot if you want, because after all wouldn’t you be a little pissy too if someone took a bite out of you? ;o)

Pissy Gingerbread Man

See? Doesn’t he look pissy? I absolutely love these ornaments! To make a girl gingerbread person, paint a little bow on the other side of the head away from the “bite”.

I’ve made gingerbread houses for almost 30 years now. Wow. That’s a long time! Alexis gets a little impatient and doesn’t wait for her “glue” to dry so she ends up with a disaster house, more often than not. Being the laid back kid she is, she just goes with it. Last year she said her collapsed house was hit by a tornado. This year she explained it was caused by a tsunami. But hey, she kept decorating it anyway!

Gingerbread House: Decorating Her Disaster

I mean how disastrous does this look?

Gingerbread House: Catastrophee

Candy cane loss, Christmas tree chopped in half, Santa hanging out next to the rubble. The kid makes it fun, even if it’s not what you expect in a gingerbread house!

But what she really enjoys about the collapsed houses, other than having fun in general, is eating the parts!

Gingerbread House: If it Collapses, Eat it!

What’s not to like about a little nibble of gingerbread? Oh and royal icing. AND candy! 😉

This was the first year my house collapsed too. I’ve made so many houses over the years, but this one just gave up. I think it had to do with the humidity in the air, as a friend of mine suggested. We had a very rainy day on Saturday, like ark worthy rain, and when I decorated the roof the weight of the icing and candy, just took out the house.

gb12

I’d like to tell you I was as cool about my house collapsing as my 11 year old, but sadly not so much. As I’ve said I’ve never had one collapse I wasn’t impressed, so it took the wind out of my sails a bit, and it felt like a big defeat. But then again I nibbled on mine too, so that made it all better…well sort of! 😉

Gingerbread disasters aside, a few years ago I made a Fangtasia gingerbread house:

Fangtasia Gingerbread House

I was a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse books, and even though they didn’t end up the way I would have liked, this is still one of my favorite gingerbread houses I’ve ever made. I put a bite out of Bill’s head, like the pissy gingerbread men, as if Eric had gotten tired of his nonsense and finally taken a bite out of him to put him in his place. I made Sookie look Christmasy, and I did a cross between book Eric and SkarsgÃ¥rd Eric, by the pink spandex from the book, and the black muscle shirt from the show.

The point being, gingerbread can be anything you want it to be. Just have fun with it. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

‘Tis the Season for Cookies: Pecan Pie Cookie Bars

Pecan Pie Cookie Bars

I’ve been meaning to get back to the blogging thing for a while, and I’ve got plans for a redesign and change around for the the New Year, but when some online friends in a blogging group I’m in on Facebook started to talk about having a cookie post round up in December, I could resist and I signed up for ‘Tis the Season for Cookies right away!

10547425_957261164302560_6964634587890662321_n

Week one’s theme is fruit and/or nuts and I knew these Pecan Pie Cookie Bars were just the thing! This is one of my all time favorite recipes that I got from a friend years ago. They’re just perfect for sharing during the holidays and make the perfect addition to a cookie tray or gift for someone on your list. They take the comfort of pecan pie and turn them in to an easily transported cookie bar that is a whole lot easier to take, not to mention a less messy alternative to share, than your traditional pecan pie.

Be sure and check out the Pinterest board for the group for more great cookie recipes from the other participants. We’ll be posting recipes each Monday for the next few weeks.

Also check out the other participants of ‘Tis the Season for Cookies to see their fabulous cookie recipes as well!:

Diana Cannone at To Di for Bakery.
Judy Chiappini at No Fear Entertaining.
Mandee Racer Pogue at The Kitchen Wife.
Marye Audet-White at Restless Chipotle.
Renee Joslyn at Flamingo Musings.
Sandy Smith at Eat Real.
And Sherri Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl Jo.

Happy Holidays!

Pecan Pie Cookie Bars

What You’ll Need for the Shortbread Layer:
1 1/2 cups of unbleached, all purpose flour
1/2 cup of organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 sticks of butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spray a 13 X 9 inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Set aside.

In a bowl stir together flour, sugar and salt until combined. Next add butter and stir until dough forms.

Mash flour mixture in to the prepared dish, spreading it out to cover the entire bottom of the pan.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.

While the crust is baking, make the pecan filling. (See Below).

Pecan Pie Cookie Bars

What You’ll Need for the Pecan Filling Layer:
4 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 cup of light corn syrup
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 cups of pecans, chopped

In a large glass bowl melt butter in the microwave.

Once butter is melted add sugar, corn syrup, eggs and vanilla extract and stir until well mixed.

Next add the chopped nuts. (An easy way to “chop” the nuts? Put them in a ziplock bag and beat the snot out of them with a rolling pin. Not only do you get “chopped” nuts, you have the added benefit of getting out some of your frustrations at the same time. What’s not to like about that?) Stir nuts until thoroughly incorporated with the sugar/corn syrup mix.

Pour filling on to the baked shortbread crust and spread out to the edges. Return to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Let cool completely before cutting in to squares.

Notes: You can stir a package of chocolate chips into the filling if you like. You also do a mix of nuts instead of all pecans, or how about adding in some seeds of some sort like pumpkin of sunflower, for part of the nuts.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

I’ve always been curious about squash blossoms, but I had never tried one. I’ve never had the nerve to take them off of my own squash plants, preferring to let them become their destined squash. A couple of summers ago I got some blossoms at the farmer’s market with the intention of stuffing them, but they got pushed back to the abyss of the refrigerator and I forgot about them, until they turned up on my next fridge clean shriveled and beyond use. That little foray in to squash blossoms was the end of my curiosity until I saw them again recently at a local farmer’s market. This time however I would be scrumptiously victorious!

Edible flowers have always amused me. When Alexis was three, she became obsessed with them. At the time we lived near a Whole Foods, and they usually had packages of them in their produce section, so we’d pick one up from time to time. A particular favorite of both of ours were Nasturtiums, which sort of have a peppery taste about them, and also violets, which tend to be a bit sweeter. I also have fond childhood memories of eating rose petals from my mom’s roses with my sister. I even introduced this tradition to Alexis on one of our trips to Tennessee. If you’re curious about some of the flowers that can be safely eaten, Wikipedia has a nice section on the topic.

Squash blossoms are a lovely, golden yellow color and are slightly sticky to the touch. Sometimes when you purchase the blossoms, they will have small squash attached to the end, but most of the time when you buy the blossoms, you’ll get just the blossom. You can eat them raw, use them in stir fry, or as I have done, you can stuff, bread and fry them. Any way you make them though, they’re a fun little treat.

What You’ll Need:
1 small package of button or baby bella mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 – 10.5 ounce package of goat cheese
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup of parmesan cheese
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Extra virgin olive oil

In a medium sized skillet, sauté mushrooms and garlic in a little extra virgin olive oil, until tender. Set aside.

In a glass bowl add goat cheese and microwave on high for 10 seconds, to soften. Stir in mushroom/garlic mixture, thyme, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper until well incorporated. Set aside.

Add about an inch of olive oil to a deep skillet and heat over medium heat until hot.

While your oil is heating, mix breading and then stuff/bread your blossoms.

To make the breading, in a pie dish stir together panko crumbs and parmesan. Depending on how salty your parmesan is, you might want to add a bit of sea salt too. The easiest way to decide is to take a taste of the breading/cheese mixture and see if it needs a bit of salt. You can also add in some black pepper if wanted.

Beat your eggs in a separate dish.

You can stuff the blossoms one of two ways…

First you can fill a pastry bag with the mushroom/cheese mixture and gently pipe the mixture down in to the blossoms until each one is relatively full…

Or you can gently tear the blossom down one side and put a dollop of the mushroom mixture in each, then wrap the blossom back together, using the cheese mixture to stick it closed. This is the method I used.

Once the blossoms are filled roll the blossom in the beaten egg to coat and then roll the egg washed blossom in the bread crumbs until completely covered.

Place breaded blossom in the oil and cook for about 20 to 30 seconds until the side in the oil is browned. Then slowly and gently rotate the blossom in the oil until all sides are browned. It takes 1 – 2 minutes per blossom depending on its size. I usually brown 4 “sides” and once it is browned all over place cooked blossom on a paper towel lined plate to drain and then serve while still hot.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Notes: You could play around with the goat cheese mixture and add onions or other herbs. You could add a mixture of cheeses, blue cheese would be heavenly. You could also replace the goat cheese with cream cheese if you liked. It’s a fun dish to play around with. If you have any of the cheese/mushroom mixture left over, it makes a good spread on bagels.

Where to Eat: The Main Cup Middletown, Maryland

The Main Cup: My Tea Cup

There is a restaurant in Middletown, Maryland that I have wanted to blog about for a while for my Where to Eat section, but as you can tell I haven’t been blogging much lately. Today Alexis and I ate lunch there and I remembered to take some pictures, so today is the day! Let me tell you about The Main Cup.

The food there is great, but we’ll get to that in a minute, first let’s talk a little about the ambiance. Ambiance…who cares? I do, and so should you. This restaurant is in a charming historic building on Main Street in Middletown and you can read a little bit about it’s history here.

It has charming brick walls, art from local artists you can purchase and a nice homey feel. As you can see above, Alexis likes to sit at the table with the leather couches. They open early, have free wifi and I’ve been known to pop in to write in the mornings, especially when we lived on that side of the county, and enjoy a muffin or bagel, along with some hot tea. It has a laid back attitude and friendly service that makes it a very pleasant place to stop.

Now let’s talk food….

Alexis and I usually go for lunch, but Jamison and I have gone for dinner before too. I’ve never ordered anything I didn’t like. If you want to start out with a fabulous appetizer, I recommend the buffalo or crab dips. Their salads are fabulous, and so are their soups. Their burgers and pizza are extremely good too. They also have some really great fish and chips, some of the best I’ve ever had.

The Main Cup: Reuben and Sweet Potato Fries

One of my favorite things to get is their Reuben sandwich with sweet potato fries. It is perfection, especially the fries. Alexis likes to get their chicken tenders with regular fries:

The Main Cup: Chicken Tenders and Fries

They even have a fabulous selection of desserts. Alexis is particularly fond of the lava cake and I like the carrot cake a lot too. Today we tried the Smith Island Cake, which is Maryland’s official cake, the more you know! 😉

The Main Cup: Smith Island Cake

So if you’re in, or around, Middletown, stop by and check it out, or even drive over…it’s worth it I promise. Even now that we live across the county we still pop back over and now and then. You won’t be sorry you did.

Cocktail Time: Grown Up Jungle Juice

I have to admit, when it comes to cocktails, I like fruity drinks. In fact the less of the alcohol you can taste, the more happy I am with the concoction. For a while now I’ve been looking for a fruity, adult punch type drink, and I’ve never quite come across what I was looking for, so I made this. This, lovely, fruity combo that really packs a punch.

When I was finished I let Jamison taste it, even though this isn’t his type of drink at all and his face was priceless. He informed me this is similar “hunch punch” and was often served at frat parties he attended with friends. I had heard of hunch punch, but someone never actually tried during my years in college, probably because I was a huge dork, and I went to a frat party all of once in my time at UT. I wasn’t impressed and drank nothing. I might have been there for all of 30 minutes, if that long. My roommate insisted I go along with her and we walked around Frat Row after a football game. The whole thing didn’t make of an impression on me, other than not being impressed. It’s funny how that notion sticks with you. I think it was the equivalent of, “Hey, hold my beer and watch this!” and that just wasn’t me thing.

Anyway…I got sidetracked again didn’t I? I’m good at that. 😉

Another thing this reminds me of is the Jungle Juice they used to serve in the school cafeteria when I was growing up. I don’t know why, but it does. It’s probably the Kool-Aide component come to think of it; I think Jungle Juice was a fruit punch as well, which would explain the similarity. The idea of the Jungle Juice stuck though, and thus Grown-Up Jungle Juice was born.

This is definitely a drink to share. It makes a large pitcher of goodness, and did I mention how strong it was? Of course I did! 😉

What You’ll Need:
1 lid full of Kool-Aide Fruit Punch mix
1 – 12 ounce frozen pineapple juice
4 cups of lemonade
1 cup of peach schnapps
1 cup of dark rum
1 cup of triple sec
1 cup of limoncello or limoncino
1 cup of Everclear
1 bottle of sweet red wine (Note: I used a bottle of muscadine wine from Savannah Oaks Winery in Tennessee.)
1 cup of whipped cream vodka
1 cup of Absolut Mandarin vodka

First off, again let me warn you…this stuff is STRONG!! You’ve got a lot of alcohol here, mixed with a little juice, and a splash of Kool-Aide for fun. This is a stay where you are sort of drink, not a have a glass and go drive sort of libation. Stay where you are, have fun with friends, tell some stories, relax, but not drive. Do not drive.

And yes the Kool-Aide is a little low brow, but who cares…this is a fun drink, not a sophisticated sort of deal. If you want sophisticated, make some sangria. This is more of a beachy, party, have fun, be silly with your friends sort of drink.

Now let’s make some Jungle Juice!

You’ll need a very large pitcher, at least a gallon. Add all of your ingredients and stir to mix. Chill at least an hour before serving. If you want to make it really fun you can put it in the freezer and let it get slushy, like I did as you can see in the picture above, which might take a while depending on the temperature of your freezer.

Notes: You can different kinds of juice if you like. You could even leave out the Kool-Aide and add a bottle of cherry juice instead. If it’s too sweet, you can water it down with a little lemon-lime soda or even plain sparkling water.

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole

As some of you know Jamison is a pick eater. On top of this, a few years back, we found out he can’t really tolerate gluten. Not a big deal, but when the majority of your diet is in some form of gluten, you’ve got problems. Every once in a while, I go out on a limb and try to make something different for him to eat, though he’s not much of a “Let’s try something new!” sort of person. I get bored with his food. He suffers through, but I’m completely bored to tears, and this is how this came about.

He’ll eat bacon, he’ll eat cheese, he’ll eat potatoes, why not toss them all together and make something new. I knew it was a crap shoot whether he’d eat it or not, but hey, I like all those things too, so it was all good, and that’s exactly what this was…all good! Jamison even liked it, and Jamison liking something, especially food, well that’s not a common occurrence.

The great thing about this, is there are no wrong answers. A little more of this, a little more of that, it all works. This is also a good dish for using left over baked or mashed potatoes. I always like something that takes leftovers to a new level. It’s a win, win, win, win situation! 😉

What You’ll Need:
10-12 potatoes, baked and peeled (Note: Just fill up most of a 13 X 9 inch dish with potatoes.)
1 package of uncured, natural bacon, chopped and cooked and drained
1 cup of half and half or heavy cream, divided
1 stick of butter, melted
Sea salt (Note: If you want to just go crazy use season salt instead!)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 – 8 ounce block of cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

First you want to bake your potatoes and let them cool. Or you can use left over potatoes. It’s all up to you. You want enough potatoes to basically fill a 13 X 9 inch dish with mashed potatoes when it’s done. This go around I baked them for the recipe specifically.

Bake those potatoes, let them cool, peel the skin off. Set aside.

While the potatoes are baking, chop up a package of bacon and cook until crispy. Drain and set aside.

Next shred your cheese. I can’t stress this enough…take the time and shred it yourself. The stuff you buy pre-shredded is weird and has stuff in it to keep it “separate” and from molding. You want cheese, not fillers. It’s so much better when you start with a block of cheese and shred it yourself.

Trust me.

After your potatoes are cooled, and all of your ingredients are ready, turn your oven on and start mixing!

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl mash the potatoes with butter, 1/2 cup of half and half or cream, salt, pepper, 1 cup of cheese and sour cream. You want the consistency of mashed potatoes. If you need to add a bit more dairy or sour cream to get it right, go for it. Once you hit the right consistency stop adding. Just add a bit at a time. Sometimes you won’t need to, others you might. Sometimes potatoes are more dry than others.

Spray a 13 X 9 inch dish with non-stick spray. You can use the dish you baked the potatoes in if you like, that’s what I did. Spread potato mixture in to the dish. Sprinkle the top of the mixture with the rest of the cheese and all of the bacon. Then pour 1/2 cup of half and half or heavy cream over the top of the cheese and bacon evenly.

Bake for for 25 minutes covered. Uncover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until slightly golden and bubbly.

Let sit for 5 minutes and then serve.

Notes: You could serve this by topping it with a bit of sour cream and some chives or green onion if you wanted, but trust me, it’s good just as it is!