Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Cookies with Links

Hi Crushers,
As you may know from an earlier blog posting, Steve and I are using our Advent Calendar to count down to Christmas with #24daysoftogetherness that I saw on Tina's blog, Carrots N Cake. One of the days this past week was "share your favorite Christmas memory". I told Steve about how we all took my sister's Big Bird themed Big Wheels three-wheeler out for a spin in the snow when she was six. We both talked about our favorite gifts (his: VHS Wrestling game, mine: Cabbage Patch Doll), caroling, Christmas Eve church services with candles, and family time.

I forgot to tell him about Christmas cookie baking with Grandma K, Mom, my sister Lisa and I all crammed in my Grandma's kitchen. This was the same home that Mom grew up in, so there were probably 10,000 cookies baked in this kitchen over the years. This is where we learned kitchen time management, how to grease a cookie sheet, the correct size of a dough ball to roll, how to crush pecans and almonds, and above all that you are not allowed to lick the chocolate or sugar off your fingers before you are done! By the time we finished making candies and cookies, we probably had inhaled a cup of powdered sugar each, but it was so much fun!

This year, we all took turns making cookies with Mom and Dad in their kitchen. If I could nominate my mom as a kitchen crush for only one reason, she would win for most organized. Seriously. She organizes us all by what cookies we need to bake, who has the patience to roll out all the dough balls or dip them in chocolate and what ingredients everyone needs to buy. She's like the general of cookie organization. When other people are freaking out on trying to figure out when to put things in the oven so they all come out at the same time, I am not because my mom taught me that one. Virtual High Five, Mom!

We always say that, "We don't need to bake so many cookies this year", and yet we still make 13 different kinds! Here they are with links to the recipes (if I could find them).
1. Scottish Shortbread (we melt chocolate on top of ours)
2. Spritz Cookies
3. Molasses Cookies
4. Grandma M's sugar cookies (It's a secret, but this one is pretty darn close. We double this recipe since they melt in your mouth!)
5. Sugar Cookie cut outs (use the dough recipe from my blog post here)
6. Peanut Butter Balls
7. Ting-a-lings (some people call them chocolate haystacks)
8. Raspberry thumbprints
9. Rosettes (my dad is the pro at these)
10. Peppermint Bark
11.Cherry Chocolate Nougats - sorry all, but I cannot find this recipe online!
12. Pecan Fingers - from one of my favorite bloggers!
13. Chocolate-dipped Angel Macaroons (use the recipe for Angel Macaroons from this post here and if you dip one half in chocolate and sprinkle with some ground almonds it kind of tastes like an Almond Joy).

Please note that all of these recipes are actually handwritten on sheets of paper or down on note cards in careful cursive writing. I am supplying the links to the recipes that are the closest to what we made. Also note, we are cookie crazy, and make most of these as double batches so we all go home with at least 4-5 tins of cookies.

Pfew... That was a lot of cookies! I think I need a glass of milk now.

How about you? What are your favorites? Did we miss any?

UPDATE: Here are photos of all the cookies except the Peppermint Bark.

Steve's Homemade Pizza

For a little while now, we have been using free meal planning printables that I found on The Nest Effect. Tiffany is a very organized gal! It has been helping us plan our meals around nights out, meetings and the holidays. It also helps us organize when to pull things out of the freezer and in making grocery lists.

Last night, Steve was up for making dinner. He has been wanting to make homemade pizza for a while, but we had never seemed to come home from the grocery with pizza dough. Well, thanks to our handy meal organizer, we remembered to buy toppings and thaw out the dough!

Steve's Homemade Pizza:
1 loaf of freezer pizza dough, thawed
1/2 cup of pizza sauce (to taste)
1/2 pound pizza sausage, browned (save the other half for your wife to use in stuffed mushrooms and on her salad for lunch)
18 slices of pepperoni
5 white button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 a large onion, diced
2 cups mozzarella cheese

Knead dough to warm it and make it pliable. Spread dough on a lightly greased, non-stick cookie sheet until it reaches all the edges. While you are working on this, brown the pizza sausage on the stove top. This should take about 5-7 minutes. Spread pizza sauce over the dough. You can add as much or as little as you would like. Just make sure it is even. Sprinkle the browned pizza sausage over the sauce so it is even. You don't need it every where, just evenly spread out. Place the pepperonis over the sausage so they are spaced out. Do the same with the onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle cheese over the entire pizza. You can use whatever other pizza toppings you choose, but these are what we used. Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese and crust edges are a golden brown. Enjoy!

Slice and serve!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Creamy Tomato Pasta and Homemade French Dressing

After seeing too many sitcoms where the wife makes her husband's favorite recipe, which happens to be something his mother always made for him, and the recipe never turning out right, I have learned not to try and top something Steve's mom has made. Food has a lot of feelings attached to it, and that is why I think those recipes never work. That, and it gets a lot of laughs.

My grandma's bread and butter pickles never tasted as good unless you were up north eating them with a view of the lake. My dad's French toast never tastes as good unless it's a Sunday morning before church. My mom's anything never tastes as good as when she makes it and you get to sit and chat in the kitchen while it bakes. Sometimes you just need the original.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, Steve's mom makes this cranberry fluff that he loves. He could eat pounds of it and never get tired of the tart treat. When his mom offered me the recipe, I declined. She was shocked. However, I knew I could never make it just the way she did because he loves her and how she makes it. It's something special that they share. Someday I'll ask for it or have Steve ask her for it. It is really good, and you never want a delicious recipe to get lost.

This hasn't stopped us from swapping recipes for other things. Her cherry dessert with the sweet pretzel crust? Oh yeah, I'm making that for Christmas. My cheesy potatoes? I left Thanksgiving dinner with an empty dish. Some recipes are a hit no matter who makes them.

A few nights ago, Steve said, "Hey, you haven't tried one of my mom's recipes in a while." So I grabbed my recipe cards and did a search. Since we have accidentally been doing a meatless Monday for a few weeks now, I thought I would make her homemade French dressing for a side salad to go with our creamy tomato pasta dinner. I'm never using store-bought French dressing again!

Creamy Tomato Pasta
1 box of pasta (pick your favorite shape!)
1 tbsp butter
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 small zucchini, chopped
1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 tsp pepper
1/3 of an 8 oz. block of cream cheese (the low fat kind works fine)
1 shot glassful of white wine (optional)
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce

Cook pasta in a large pot according to the package. Meanwhile in a medium-sized sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter so that it's liquid, but not bubbling. Saute the zucchini, mushrooms, onions and garlic on medium heat. When they are soft (when the onions are translucent), stir in the cream cheese so it melts. When that has melted, add the pepper and a shot glass-sized splash of white wine and the pepper. 
Keep stirring so that it doesn't scorch on the bottom. No one likes burnt cream cheese.
Mix well and then add at least half if not the whole jar of pasta sauce and stir. You should be able to get that completed and simmering by the time the pasta is done (in 12 minutes).
You can keep this simmering on low.
Drain the pasta and return it to the big pot. Pour the whole sauce mixture over the pasta and toss so it is well coated.

Carol's French Dressing
Super easy!
1 cup salad oil (meaning a light oil like canola oil)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed
1 small grated onion

Directions: Combine ingredients and beat until thick. Makes 1 pint. Store in fridge.
Tasty and healthy-ish!

I made 1/3 of this since 1 pint of dressing is a lot for two people and she didn't say how long this lasts. So the only hard thing to measure was the vinegar because I don't have a 1/9 cup. (Who does?!) For the salt and celery seed, I just eye-balled it and it tasted fine. I'm sure the next time we use it, we'll have to stir it up again because the oil will try and separate. That's easy enough, and it's nice to have on hand for a salad. We're keeping it in a plastic jar with a tight lid just in case it should fall off of a shelf in the fridge. There are a lot of Christmas cookies chilling in there right now. More on those later this week!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Blog Day of Silence

I'm not sure who started it, but today is a Blog Day of Silence.

To quote Tina from Carrots N' Cake:
In honor of the memory of lives cut short [the adults and children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary], I’m stepping away from my computer today to celebrate the gift of life and those I love most. I hope you’ll join me in remembering, praying, and being with those you love most.
As the President said, "I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight... Newtown - you are not alone". 

Although I'm sure you already have, please say some extra prayers for the children, the families, the community, the rescue workers, the clergy and the reporters who have dealt with this, non-stop, and who will contine to work toward recovery. 

Thank you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Steak review and our Christmas tree

Good morning Crushers!

Remember last week when I was really excited for our date night at a steak house? No, well you can read about it here. Let's just say I was really looking forward to trying one of the best steak places in the city. I was not disappointed in my steak. I had a great dinner, but I had to wimp out and get a take-home bag. You'll see why in a few photos.

The cool part about the 5 O'Clock Steakhouse is that you feel like you either step back in time or you're instantly transported up north to a supper club. We started out at the bar and ordered a drink. I did get an old fashioned and it was terrific! The hostess explains that you sit and have a drink and your waitress takes your order at the bar. Then she goes and sets up your table.

When we were seated there was a HUGE bowl of salad at the table with a lazy susan filled with different dressings. There was also a relish tray. I almost took a picture of it, but we were really hungry and then... well, it didn't happen. I can tell you that it had a few spicy peppers, sweet peppers, carrots, radishes, olives (black and green) and green onions. I definitely enjoyed the veggies. Our waitress also brought out a warm 1/2 loaf of sour dough bread, which got devoured quickly. It was a nice reminder of our California honeymoon!

The only bummer about steakhouses is that you often have to order everything a la carte. While this was true of this restaurant, I feel like we really got our money's worth. Steve ordered a bowl of French Onion Soup that was amazing (and better than the one I made, but probably because it was not the low-cal version). The soup broth was flavorful and loaded with onions. The croutons and the cheese that was gratinéed over the top was perfectly crisp and bubbly. We also ordered crab stuffed mushrooms because when we get our once-a-year fancy dinner out, we like to splurge on calories and a random appetizer.
These mushrooms were so stuffed with crab and cheese that you couldn't even seem them!
They were very rich and tasty, but I don't know if I would order them again.

On to the steaks, the main event! I ordered a New York Strip Sirloin since it was described as "for the love of the finest". I was served a perfectly "medium" steak with a nice char and a generous portion of mushrooms and au jus (French for "with [its own] juice"). Now, I say steak like it's a regular portion of meat. Ha ha, no. This was the size of a small roast. I'm totally planning on taking the leftovers (I could only eat about 1/3 of the steak) and making them into fajitas later this week.

The whole steak wouldn't fit in the picture. It was HUGE, but so very delicious and flavorful.
The rumor goes that only the chefs know the secret to the perfect char and the seasoning.
Steve ordered Bacon Wrapped Filets which were filet medallions surrounded by bacon and then covered with blue cheese. It also came with a Parmesan sauce. Steve said he could have done without the sauce, but it was a nice way to cut the sharp flavor of the blue cheese. We eat traded bites and declared that we made good choices. The bite I had of Steve's steak was very interesting because it was very tender and yet it had the smokey flavor of bacon infused into it somehow. I'd be very interested in trying to repeat all of these at home.

It was smothered! We both agreed that it could have done with less sauce.
This dinner was a nice kickoff to a fantastic weekend. On Saturday we did some marathon shopping and I got to see the Nutcracker ballet with some of the ladies from church. The dancers did a great job! We ate dinner at Elsa's, which makes fancy sandwiches the size of your face. If you go, I highly suggest a burger or the turkey and avacado club. So good!

Sunday was another Christmas-y day. After church we spent time with my sister-in-law's family making Christmas cards and then we went home to decorate our tree. It was a wonderful weekend of family, food and friends!

Makes you want to sing some carols doesn't it?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Get excited for Steak!

Happy Friday, Crushers!

I am very excited for date night with my husband tonight. We were given a gift card for a supper club in Milwaukee, and we are going to have steak! I don't normally cook steak unless it's on the grill, but I do love eating it. The majority of our diets is composed of white meats like chicken, fish and pork, but for a treat (and some iron), we go for red meat. Whether it is a juicy hamburger, some spicy tacos or a roast, beef is a great choice. Everything in moderation, right?

Wait, you don't know what a supper club is? Check it out on Wikipedia. I think they have a spot-on description of these restaurants. Usually we go to one when we are up north by our cabin, but to have an old school supper club right here in Milwaukee is a treasure!

I can't wait to settle in to the 1950's-60's decor, order a martini or old fashioned (another very Wisconsin drink), snack on the relish tray and wait for my steak. Where are we going to enjoy all this kitsch?! The Five O'Clock Steakhouse "One of America's Best Steakhouses" says Rachel Ray. It has been voted number one in the city so many times, and people on Yelp can't be more enthusiastic. I can't wait! You can believe I'll be taking pictures of my meal!

Until then, have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Desserts - it never hurts to make a back up

Good morning crushers,

We have a "food fight" going on at work. The idea is that we split our office building into two teams (east side vs. west side) and we play various games and have drawings and things to support a local food bank called Hunger Task Force.
"Hunger Task Force believes that every person has a right to adequate food obtained with dignity. Hunger Task Force works to prevent hunger and malnutrition by providing food to people in need today and by promoting social policies to achieve a hunger free community tomorrow."
Last year, we raised over $14,000 in 10 days! One of the many activities we do to raise money is a bake sale. Hopefully, some of the desserts I made will help. I tried two recipes last night. One is a tried and true recipe and one is brand new.

First: Mint Chocolate Brownies
1 box of chocolate brownie mix (1/2 cup oil, 1/4 cup water, 2 eggs)
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 - 1 whole bag of chocolate mints (I used Andes Candies) for the topping

Mix the brownies according to the box.
Tip: When cracking eggs, I like to crack them on their sides on a flat hard surface like the counter top because it cracks the egg in a nice line around the whole thing. I have less rogue egg shell pieces that way.
See? It broke evenly in half!
Mix in the peppermint extract making sure you get all the way to the bottom in the mixing process. Bake according to the box. When the brownies are done (a fork or toothpick inserted comes out clean), pour the mint chocolate chips evenly over the top of the brownies. In a few minutes, the heat from the brownies will melt the chips so you can spread them like frosting. It's a nice little chocolatey crust.

Minty and Melty!
I have to confess that I made these brownies as a back up for the cookies I'm about to show you. I had this box of angel food cake mix in my cupboard forever, so I really needed to do something with it. Since I can't find the pan that I would need to make that in (moving is hard), I did a Google search for "angel food cake cookies" and I got the recipe for Angel Macaroon Cookies. I wasn't sure how they would turn out, so I thought I would need a back up. Plus, I have very hungry women at my book club, so I figured it couldn't hurt to have more.

Here is how I made the recipe for Angel Macaroons (or as Steve calls them, Snow Angels).
1 box of angel food cake mix
1 small package of sweetened coconut flakes (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp almond extract

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Because the box of my cake mix said not to use a plastic bowl, I used my big ol' trusty glass mixing bowl with a handle on it. There were very specific directions on how long to mix things for and at what speed. Since I didn't read the directions about "folding in the coconut flakes" and I just dumped them in, I figured I should at least follow the directions for beating the dough more closely: Beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape bowl; beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Well, we all know that I'm likely to break hand mixers, but we bought a new one that should be able to handle a little coconut. And boy did it work well! This thing could have drilled through the wall!

Awesome new mixer! It even has a retractable cord, bowl rest, and lots of attachments!
After you have it all mixed up and it looks really sticky, drop by small, rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. This is important for two reasons: 
Oh how they grew... Especially that guy in the upper right corner.
  1. There is no "grease" in the mix, so the parchment paper is important. Angel food doesn't like oil - it doesn't get puffy if there is grease. I did not use parchment paper (ran out), and my non-stick pans didn't do quite the whole job.
  2. Be sure and separate them because they will grow. My little spoonful of dough turned into a big cookie.

Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove paper with cookies to wire racks to cool. Marvel at the deliciousness that is the Angel Macaroon. Steve saw how some of the cookies stuck together to look like snowmen, so he now calls these "Snow Angel Cookies." He's a bit disappointed that they are going in the bake sale. Fortunately, they're super easy to make. They'll make an appearance at our house again!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Taco trade off

Good morning!
I was all set to take pictures of our meal last night to share with you today, but although it tasted good, we think we won't make it again. I sort-of, kind-of followed the Taste of Home recipe for Baked Chicken and Acorn Squash. If I had actually used canned peaches and rosemary, it probably would have tasted really good. However, I didn't have either of them, so I though I would use some thyme instead since that goes good with chicken. Overall, it was very tasty (especially the squash!), so you should try it, but my red-pepper-loving husband asked for "more kick, less sweet". I had to agree.

Instead of sharing photos and such of the chicken and squash, I am going to share my sister-in-law, Beth's taco seasoning recipe. This way you get all the spice and none of those ingredients you can't even pronounce!

Beth's Homemade Taco Seasoning:
1 Tbsp chili powder

1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or 1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Add to ground meat (lean beef or turkey) and simmer with 3/4 cup water.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Non-food crushes

Hi Crushers,

I just wanted to share a few links today to some other bloggers that I get a kick out of because THEY ARE AWESOME.

1. Tina from Carrots 'N' Cake or CNC
Tina is a fitness and pug fan that blogs about food, fitness programs, her family and her pug, Murphy. He's adorable and obsessed with chicken. She is also doing a #24daysoftogetherness project with her husband. Last year, I made a huge Advent calendar out of an over-the-door shoe organizer for my husband, Steve, and filled it with all sorts of little treats from his favorite candy to books to restaurant gift cards to new ornaments for the tree to a box of bandages (we climbed Half Dome on our honeymoon). Since I've got a different plan for his gift this year, I am joining Tina's #24daysoftogetherness for our Advent calendar. You can too!

Day 1: Sing and Dance to Christmas Carols - CHECK!
Day 2: Make an ornament - see photo proof!
I have paint on my fingers from making gifts for our "handmade Christmas" party.
We did some finger painting. That's supposed to be a heart made from our thumbprints.
It says, "Our first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. 2012"

Day 3: Eat dinner by candlelight - CHECK!

Day 4 (today): Play a board game. This morning was full of "Tonight I will win!" trash talk. Muwahahah

2. Ree from The Pioneer Woman
Yes, Ree is an awesome cook and I have been making a number of her recipes lately, but she is also very crafty and has a very interesting life on a ranch to read about. She cracks me up because she must write like she talks. I'd definitely take this woman out for a cup of coffee.

3. Tiffany from The Nest Effect
This woman is a teacher and recently-married person who loves organization. I can't say that I'm as organized as she is, but Tiffany sure has some great ideas! From time to time, she shares free printables. She also has an Etsy shop.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent by Candlelight with Easy Chocolate Cherry Trifle

Hey Crushers,
This past weekend was full of getting ready for Christmas Spirit! Every year for the past 15-ish years, our church has hosted a Christmas program for women called "Advent by Candlelight" or ABC. The idea behind the program is that the holidays are always filled with hustle and bustle, so sometimes we forget the real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate Jesus' birth as the fulfillment of a long-ago promise that God would send a Savior to the world. This often gets mixed up in the cookies and lights and stockings and cards and shopping and wrapping and groceries and cooking and more and more... Although you hear about the true "reason for the season", this really makes you stop and think about it.

For ABC, there are table hostesses that invite friends, family, acquaintances and neighbors to join them in a relaxing afternoon of fellowship, faith and desserts. I was a reader for ABC and I am in the handbell choir which played "Tree of Life" and "Here I am Lord" as part of the program. The theme for this year was "Here I am Lord" about how God often used the unexpected woman in the Bible to help bring about His promise of a Savior. You never know when you're going to be called to a bigger purpose!

Jen's ABC table (before we lit the
candles). Note the baking soda
on the table in case of fire.

Part of the fun is that we hold this whole event with only a few electric lights for the readers and musicians. All of the tables for participants are lit by candles. Every hostess is encouraged to decorate her table and bring a dessert to share. Since my sister and I got married this year, I was able to recycle a lot of the table decorations from our weddings. I wrapped mason jars (from my wedding) with sheer ribbon for a nice glow and used a Christmas/wintry centerpiece that my mom gave me as a gift a few years ago. She also let me borrow some of her white dishes so the whole table was red and white. I got lots of compliments, so that was very nice, but I must say that each hostess really showed how creative she is!

For the dessert, I wanted to make something that I could just hand out individually instead of needing to slice and serve. Cupcakes are a great option, but I was feeling a bit caked-out after all the weddings this year. So, I made individual Chocolate Cherry Trifle cups! Instead of putting it in one big trifle bowl (which would give me the scoop and serve problem), I put them in clear plastic cups. They were easy to make, easy to serve, and everyone enjoyed them!

Chocolate Cherry Trifle Cups
1 box of chocolate cake mix (plus 3 eggs, 1 1/3 cup water, 1/2 cup oil)
2 packages instant chocolate pudding (plus 4 cups of cold milk)
1 large tub of whipped topping
1 can of cherry pie filling
1 square of semi-sweet baking chocolate (mini chocolate chips would work, too)

Bake the chocolate cake according to the directions on the box. If you're feeling ambitious, go ahead and make chocolate cake from scratch (I ran out of time because we were giving the house a good pre-Christmas decorations cleaning). While that is in the oven, make the chocolate pudding according to the package. I sound like I'm on "Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking", don't I? It works!

Assembly process
Once the cake has cooled (takes about an hour), it's time to start assembling. I needed to make enough for 12 servings, so I grabbed a muffin tin to help me keep the cups from tumbling over, plus it's easy to carry! Cut the cake in 1 x 1 inch squares or just tear it with your fingers in little clumps. Layer each cup with the following: cake, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, cherry pie filling, cake, whipped topping. Be sure and spread out each layer so you can see it from the outside.

All done! I saved putting on the chocolate shavings until I was ready to serve them.

Tip: You can cover these and put them in the fridge overnight, but I wouldn't make this two nights ahead. That might make them a little too soggy. For a pretty garnish on top, take that chunk of baking chocolate and shave off some with a veggie peeler.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smoke Alarm Chicken

I have never been able to live in a home where I didn't have to call 911 at least once, except my current home, but we haven't lived here for very long. Here are the calls:
  1. At my parents' house, I called the emergency number because our minivan started on fire in our driveway so we had to call before it set our garage and the neighbor's house on fire. No one was harmed.
  2. At my first apartment, I called 911 because there was a big fight that broke out in the parking lot next door and it sounded like someone was going to get their rear-end kicked or worse. I think one guy got punched in the face before the cops showed up.
  3. At my second apartment, I didn't actually call the cops myself, but my neighbor did because another neighbor was super drunk and was making a ruckus. My cousin and I took turns watching the action through the front door peep hole and the balcony doors. I think the drunk neighbor kicked a cop, but otherwise everyone was fine.
  4. At my third and final apartment before we got married, Smoke Alarm Chicken happened. No one was harmed.

Perfect temperature!
Last spring, my then-fiance and I decided to go for a short run while I had some chicken in the oven. I thought that I had the oven temperature low enough that nothing would happen while we were gone for about 30 minutes. Yes, I know that you're not supposed to leave the oven on and leave the house. Please don't scold me. I learned my lesson, which you will read about shortly.

Anyway, I had placed 3 chicken quarters in a lightly greased baking dish sprinkled with a seasoning of some sort (I'm pretty sure it was Penzeys Forward!). Then I placed it in the oven at 300 degrees. I figured I would need to crank it up to 400 degrees when we got back to my apartment because you need dark meat to reach an internal temperature of 170-180 degrees.

So we left to go running and on my way back, I couldn't help thinking what a dumb thing we just did. I was right. We were a half a block away when I could see all the lights on in the apartment, and I could hear sirens. Crap. Crappity Crap Crap...

My landlord met us at the door. He wasn't pleased with us, but he had also just taken nearly PERFECTLY cooked chicken out of the oven and told me to go talk to the firemen and he left. The firemen entered my apartment while my then-fiance-now-husband was in the living room fanning the smoke detector to get it to shut up.

"Ma'am, is everything OK?" Fireman #1 asked. He sniffs the air to check for smoke, I assumed, and looked around.

"Yes, we just have a really finicky smoke detector," I replied. "It sounds off if I'm boiling water." True story.

"Is that the item that was in the oven," Fireman #1 asked while pointing at the nearly PERFECTLY cooked chicken. Fireman #2 was standing behind him trying not to laugh.

"Yes, I had put the chicken in the oven while we went for a short run. I know I shouldn't have done that because of the fire danger. I'm very sorry," I tell him. Firemen #1 and #2 try to give me a stern look about leaving the oven while it was turned on, but the chuckles and remarks of "something smells good" from Fireman #3 didn't quite make them seem very angry.

After offering them a beverage or some chicken for their troubles (my then-fiance-now-husband was laughing in the other room), the firefighters politely declined saying that they had already eaten. Again, I was told to not leave the house with the oven on, and they left. I popped the chicken back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so to finish cooking. I went upstairs to apologize to my neighbors, who were very nice about the whole thing, and then we ate dinner, which was delicious.

Later that night, I called my dad with a, "You'll never guess what just happened to me!" story. After telling me that I shouldn't have left the apartment with the oven on and laughing at what happened, he said, "You should name this dish Smoke Alarm Chicken!" Thanks for the name Dad!

Last night, my husband and I decided on Smoke Alarm Chicken, broccoli and baked potato slices for dinner. This time we did not go out running or even leave the house to go to the mailbox. See? I learned my lesson.
This is what it will look like when done. New Year's resolution:
Learn better food photography.

Smoke Alarm Chicken and Baked Potato Slices:
2-3 Chicken quarters, thawed and trimmed (use more chicken if you are serving more than 2-3 people)
2-3 Russet potatoes, sliced (tips on that to come)
2 tbsp olive oil or garlic grapeseed oil
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning, divided (I couldn't find the Penzeys stuff!)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish. Trim your chicken so that most of the fat is gone, but leave the skin on because it keeps it juicy. You can remove it later, which is way easier when cooked. Place the chicken in the dish, bone-side-down. You may need a buddy/sister/parent/brother/husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend/neighbor for this next step. From the thigh side, pull the skin up and hold it away from the meat to have your other person sprinkle the meat with some of the seasoning. Put the skin back down to cover the meat and sprinkle a bit more seasoning on it. Sorry, I don't have a picture of this procedure, but my hands were all chicken-slimy, which is why I didn't sprinkle it myself. I don't need salmonella on my spice jars.
Seasoned chicken ready to go in the oven.

Go wash your hands thoroughly and then scrub the potatoes so you get any extra dirt off of the potato skins. The skins are good for you, so leave those on unless you can't stand them. Slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch chips and place on a baking sheet.
Tip for slicing potatoes (no joke, I learned this from Tyra Banks on America's Next Top Model): If you don't have a mandolin slicer or food processor that you feel like getting out (and dirty), take a sharp knife and start slicing the potato at one end. When you get to the other end and you are running out of room to safely hold the potato without slicing off the tip of your finger, turn the end around so the small end is toward the knife and the bigger end is in your hand. Hold it with your fingers curled like a cat claw. This also works for onions or other round veggies. Remember, we don't want to have to call 911 again.
Note how I switched the direction of the potato end.
Drizzle a bit of oil over the potatoes and toss. Sprinkle with seasoning. Place both the chicken and the potatoes in the oven (chicken on the middle/low rack and the potatoes above it with space between). Bake for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender (you should flip the potatoes on the baking sheet about half way through) and the chicken is done. That means NO pink insides, the juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 170-180 degrees.
Finished potatoes.
Remove the skin (or not if you like it) and serve with some broccoli for bright green veggie goodness (or your veggie of choice). Enjoy the chicken in peace without a visit from the fire department.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pommes de Terre with photos!

Hey Crushers!
So the pan of cheesy potatoes I made got inhaled in about 5 seconds or however long it took for everyone to make it through the buffet that my mother-in-law set up in her kitchen. Here are the photos that I took, but didn't post with the recipe for some reason. Sorry about that.

A few pounds of potatoes all sliced thanks to the food processor.
While I had it running, I sliced the onions in there as well.
The onion juice seemed to prevent the potatoes from turning brown.

Mixing all the ingredients together. You need a really big bowl.

Put all the ingredients in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan and bake.

With 10 minutes left, top with some cheese and corn flakes and bake uncovered.

Melty crispy magic! Done!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving prep - Pommes de terre

Paula Deen

Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman)

Gina Neely

I love all of these ladies dearly, but there is no question that the real Queen of Comfort Food is Julia Child. She was the original celebrity chef who encouraged everyone to use butter and plenty of it. Yes, some of her food is ridiculously hard to make, but most of the time it's just delicious food that seems difficult to cook because it has a fancy French name. For instance, my husband's favorite side dish is Puree De Pommes De Terre A L'Ail, also known as garlic mashed potatoes. See? Not so scary after all. (Really not scary if you watch the clip at the end of the link I posted where they set some Julia Child to Guns N' Roses - HA!)

Thanksgiving is the food Superbowl of comfort food. There is turkey, which has the sleep-inducing tryptophan (although the wine and overeating are also culprits). There is starch everywhere from stuffing (or dressing) to rolls to potatoes. The creamy goodness of green bean casserole and mashed yams just make you think of napping. Oh, and that dollop of whipped topping (mock me, I'm a Cool Whip fan) sitting on top of a slice of pie doesn't hurt either. Everything about this day suggests comfort.

I try really hard to eat healthy meals with a variety of color and texture. My kitchen crush mom always said that you need at least three colors on your plate. I was assigned to bring potatoes to dinner at my in-law's house. Now, they didn't specify what kind of potatoes to bring. I thought I could try out a new recipe or put a twist on the Ina Garten roasted potatoes from this blog post by adding other root veggies like parsnips and beets for vibrant colors. Wouldn't that be fabulous?

When I suggested this to my husband, he was horrified. HORRIFIED. He couldn't believe that I wouldn't make cheesy potatoes. It's a staple in his holiday diet. So, I made the roasted veggies for my office's Thanksgiving potluck lunch and bought all the ingredients for cheesy potatoes.

Here is the recipe I'll be using:
Cheesy Potatoes
2 lbs shredded potatoes (you can cheat and buy the frozen hash browns and thaw them)
1/4 cup butter
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup (if you can, find the low-sodium kind)
1 cup sour cream
1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (save some for topping)
1/2 cup onion, diced (more or less to taste)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup corn flakes
salt and pepper, to taste 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients together in a big bowl except the corn flakes and a handful of the cheese. Pour the mix in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking dish and cover with foil. Remember, if the veggie grows underground, cover it up! Bake for 50 minutes. When the timer goes off, take the dish out of the oven and remove the foil without burning yourself. Steam is hot, people. Sprinkle the top of the whole dish with corn flakes and the cheese you saved. Put it back in the oven without the foil for 10 more minutes so it gets nice and crispy and melty. I don't know how it gets both crispy and melty, but it does. I don't question miracles. 

"But Jen, how do you shred all those potatoes?" Well, crushers, I usually cheat and buy the bags of frozen potatoes. However, this year I own a food processor with one of those fancy, schmancy slicer attachments, so I'm going to try that. If that doesn't work, I'll end up slicing them and making potatoes au gratin. I'll post that recipe next week.

I know I haven't been around much and I'll be MIA for the next few days, but that's because my sister is getting married this weekend, so I don't have to do much cooking! I'll be eating Thanksgiving potluck dinner, then leftovers and rehearsal dinner and then wedding food and then more leftovers all weekend! WHOO HOO!

Thank you to all the crushers who read this blog, make comments, share what you've learned or made you laugh and special thanks to those who take it one step further and either donates to get food to those who need it or just shares meals with others.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I don't want to be right - Breakfast style

Hi Crushers,

Last night after using lots of coupons and thinking we were saving all this money by working ahead on Christmas gifts, my car got rear-ended with me in the driver's seat and my mom in the passenger's seat. Hello new bumper and deductible. Goodbye all the money I just saved.


Obviously, I'm very glad that no one was hurt and that we weren't pushed into oncoming traffic. Being a little sore is the max of our injuries. There is a lot to be thankful for here.

However, the being annoyed part hasn't gone away yet. I got to work today after dropping my husband off (carpools are awesome!) at the school where he teaches, and sat down at my desk. I keep a big old canister of oatmeal at my desk for a nutritious breakfast since I usually fly out of the house before eating. Well, today that plain oatmeal didn't sound so appealing. It needed something. Think, think think... Time to dig around in my lunchbox for some inspiration.

My husband packed my lunch for me last night while I was dealing with the police and the (uninsured, license-less) young man that hit my car. He made me a very nice lunch including several dark chocolate Hersey Kisses (R). Yet, another reason why I love him!

*Click* goes the light bulb over my head.

Oatmeal + one Hersey Kiss + a spoonful of natural peanut butter that I keep in my desk for afternoon apples or celery snacks = GONE!

That was awesome, so I had to share it. Next time, if I lack the chocolate, I'm totally chopping up some apples.

Office breakfast deliciousness...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Stuffed Shells with cheesy goodness

Every once in a while, I like buying a box of fun shaped pasta just for the heck of it. Some times I actually use the appropriate sauce. There was an episode of "Lydia's Italy" on PBS where Lydia talked about the appropriate combinations of sauce and pasta shape. Then I found this website called The Geometry of Pasta which also gives you a good idea of what to pair up. It's not all macaroni and spaghetti, crushers!

There are some pasta shapes that are begging to be filled with delicious ingredients. Shell pasta or conchiglioni is one of those types. These shells are stuff-able and bake-able. 

When I bought the shell pasta, my husband asked me when I would actually make time to do this. I reminded him that sometimes I bake things at 10 p.m., so I would for sure find time to make these. Well, yesterday was a bit trying since it was SLOW at work until the last 45 minutes. Of course, this is when we needed to carpool and I was the picker-upper. Then traffic just sucked. 
Yes, I know I live in Wisconsin where the biggest city is still relatively small compared to larger cities. You're welcome to your 6-lane highways. I get fed up with slow drivers when we have only 3 lanes!
Plus, it was starting to get really cold and snow. Now, I love snow, and it will be perfect for my sister's holiday wedding coming up, but I just didn't want it to snow right then since we wanted to go running. What to do?
It's hard to tell, but that is snow on my windshield (taken after cooking - not while driving).
Make a delicious meal for your loved one. Relax in knowledge that water will boil when heated and onions will soften and release their yummy fragrance when cooked in olive oil. Knowing that a hot, delicious, cheesy meal is only an hour away can make all the difference. Or is it the glass of wine you drink while browning the ground beef? Who cares?!

I (mostly) followed this recipe for Three Cheese-Stuffed Shells with Meaty Tomato Sauce by one of my all time Kitchen Crushes, Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman. This woman is an amazing cook. Also, if I ever thought I could be a red head, I'd want her hair.

Anyway, here is the recipe that I used. It is almost the recipe that Ree used. She has awesome pictures and the full recipe on her site, so you should check it out. Or, if you accidentally bought the wrong cheese and spinach instead of basil, you can use mine below:

Pasta and Sauce Ingredients:
  • 12 oz, weight Jumbo Pasta Shells
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 whole Medium Onion, Chopped
  • 5 cloves Garlic, Minced or crushed
  • 1 lb ground beef or Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup Red Wine
  • 1 whole 28 Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes 
  • 1 cup pasta sauce
  • 15 oz, weight Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 heaping cup of Parmesan Cheese, Grated, Divided
  • 15 oz cottage cheese (the smaller the curd, the better)
  • 1 whole Egg
  • 2-3 handfuls of spinach, washed and chopped
  • 1 tsp dried basil or a few leaves of the fresh stuff if you've got it
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste
You're going to start with the sauce because it takes longer. First, heat up the olive oil in a large skillet. When that's hot, but not bubbling, toss in the diced onion and crushed garlic cloves. Let those cook away until the onions start to get all soft and fragrant. When that happens, add in a pound of ground beef. Break that up so it's in small, bite-size pieces and let it brown, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, get water boiling and cook the pasta shells as directed, but only for half the time. I kind of forgot the HALF part, so I think my shells were too soft and that's why they ripped easily. Fortunately, cheese works as a good glue to hold things together!
Ground beef + onions + garlic + spinach + tomatoes + wine = happy smelling kitchen
Going back to the sauce, once the meat is all browned, drain off the fat, but reserve 1 tsp-tbsp. This can be hard to do or get it all the way drained, so feel free to put the meat, onion and garlic on a plate covered with paper towels and pat it like you would for bacon. When you've got the fat drained off, put the meat back in the pan with it's onion pals and introduce it to a half cup of red wine. Let them make friends and bubble away for a few minutes. Then add the crushed tomatoes and some pieces of chopped spinach. I also had some leftover pasta sauce, so I added that. Let that all simmer in the pan for awhile. I would give it at least 15 minutes.

By now your pasta is done. Drain it and set it aside. So that you don't get ANOTHER pan dirty, you should put in the spoonful of reserved meat juice in the pot that you cooked the noodles in. Take the two large handfuls of spinach and chop it up. Put the chopped spinach in the pot and let it cook down. If you don't, all the water from the spinach will make the shells kind of runny. Once those are all limp-looking, then you should take them out of the pot so they can cool. You can always put it in the fridge or freezer to cool quickly.

Our house was chilly, so I just set it on a plate on the counter.
I have no idea how that one onion jumped in with the spinach.
While you are waiting for the sauce, it is time to make the cheesy shell stuffing and pre-heat the oven to 350. This is a lot like the cheese you would mix together for lasagna. In a big bowl, combine the ricotta, cottage and half of the Parmesan cheese. Add in one egg. Sprinkle with dried basil. Mix that all up. If the spinach has cooled, stir it in the cheese mix. It is important that it doesn't cook the egg. Otherwise, you get this weird spinach-y-egg-y thing going on that looks gross.

Not that this looks much better, but there are no weird half scrambled egg bits.
Take a 9x13 pan (or two 8x8 pans if you're cooking for two and want to have a freezer meal) and cover the bottom of the pan with the meat sauce. Fill the shells with your cheese mix by the spoonful. Don't worry if the pasta rips because the cheese will hold it together. Place the filled shells open-side-down on the meat sauce. Repeat until you have that pan full! Cover with the remaining sauce and the Parmesan cheese that you saved. You saved it, didn't you?
Shell o'cheese

Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees uncovered. This is enough time to run two miles and walk a little cool down. Or if you discovered that you and your husband under-dressed for running in the snow, run about a mile and then come inside and do this abs/core routine:

  • 10 sit ups 
  • 10 leg lifts 
  • 10 side leg lifts 
  • 10 push ups 
  • 10 side leg lifts on the other side
  • Repeat! I go around so I'm on my back, my right side, my stomach, my left side and then back again.
If you're really speedy, you can even do some of the dirty dishes from making the sauce, throw in a load of laundry or run back outside to take a picture of the snow on your car for your blog and to show your friend Susan, who lives in Colorado and already had snow.

When it's all done, it's is basically stuffed shells with cheesy goodness that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. I would have called Ree just to thank her for this recipe if I could have tracked down her number. Lucky for her, I was in a cheesy coma enjoying a relaxing end to a weird Monday. Also, that would have been creepy, and I'm not like that.

Party Food and Thanks

Hey Crushers,

I hope you all enjoyed your weekend. Mine was a whirlwind as usual. But that's the way I like 'em!

On Saturday, Mom and I went shopping for some fabulous new boots before going home to make some snacks for my sister's bachelorette party.

I made cupcakes and decorated them as matching lingerie sets:
We went a little crazy with the sprinkles too.
Did you know that you can bake sprinkles or colored sugar into the dough, so that it's like Funfetti (R) cake? It's awesome and you can do it in whatever color or color combo you like!

We had a few other snacks to munch on with fun labels!
In addition to getting to celebrate another milestone as my sister and her fiance get closer to their wedding day (11 days!), there was another important holiday to celebrate: Veteran's Day.

I sincerely hope that everyone in the US and around the world took a moment to say thanks either in prayer or directly to a soldier/veteran for the peace and freedom you have. If you are reading this and you are not in a country that has peace, we will all say a prayer for you that your country will soon know peace.

My great-grandfather served in WWI in the Army. My grandfather served in WWII in the Army along with my great-uncle and his cousins. Another great-uncle was a career Marine and served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. I have some cousins who served in the Navy and in the Marines. Some made it home; some did not. I'm sure you know many others as well.

For those serving now, for those who served in the past, for the ones who made it home, for the ones who did not, thank you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Food bloggers care!

Hi Crushers,

Due to leftovers, a new work/carpool schedule, and getting to eat delicious Chinese takeout for my sister's birthday earlier this week, I haven't been cooking like normal. I promise that I'll have stuffed shells to share with you shortly.

In the meantime, I suggest that you all head over to Liz's blog That Skinny Chick Can Bake for a delicious red velvet whoopie pie recipe and information on how you can help support the people affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Here is the link to the American Red Cross. If you have another organization that you donate through like your church or a local nonprofit, I encourage you to make a donation if you can.

In general, all the people I know who love to cook and feed others are generous in other areas of their lives. Thanks for your kind support and willingness to improve the lives of others.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tailgating: Grill vs. Slow Cooker

From Wikipedia:

In the United States, a tailgate party is a social event held on and around the open tailgate of a vehicle. Tailgating often involves consuming alcoholic beverages and grilling food. Tailgate parties usually occur in the parking lots at stadiums and arenas, before and occasionally after games and concerts. People attending such a party are said to be tailgating. Many people participate even if their vehicles do not have tailgates.

Everyone tailgates differently. I wish, oh how I wish I had taken pictures of the many types of tailgate parties I saw at the Packer game yesterday when The Pack beat the Arizona Cardinals. Some people just sat in chairs at the back of their cars eating sub sandwiches and some people had multiple grills for a buffet feast. I've seen catered groups with fancy cocktails and wine to tiny grills with 20-something men drinking crappy beer. It varies by sport, location, and local cuisine. However, the basics are all there: parking lot, sporting event, food and fun.

Here are some fun links about tailgating food, tips and accessories (the magnetic beer koozie cracks me up):

Home Tailgating

Tailgate Warriors

American Tailgaters

When I tailgate for baseball games, I usually have a grill with some brats and burgers with chips and salsa or taco dip, some sort of dessert, and some sort of salad like potato, pasta or coleslaw. Generally, the weather is nicer so you can hang out for hours before (or after) the game with your fellow-fans. Oh, and don't forget to have some tasty beverages handy, too!
Tailgate picture from October 2010 - not much changes year-to-year.

We're at Lambeau Field!
(You can't tell that we've got a ton of layers of clothes on to keep us warm!)
Everyone in the stands had a piece of colored paper
to hold up to make a "Thank You Veterans" card stunt
during the Star Spangled Banner. I took this picture from
behind my red card.

When I go to a Packer game, which if you are from Wisconsin, then you know it's a big deal even if you're not a fan, I want warm, tasty comfort food that will stick to my insides and keep me warm through the whole game at Lambeau Field. It's not called "the Frozen Tundra" for nothing, folks!

If we go to an afternoon game (3 p.m. kickoff), then you're more likely to have time to start the grill and cook some brats or burgers. However, we went to a noon game, which means that we were there around 10:30 a.m. I don't know about you, but that's a little early to be eating brats for me. What to do? Breakfast casserole, bloody mary's and spiked coffee!

Unfortunately, since I make this slow cooker breakfast casserole as the very last thing before I went to bed, I was not thinking about taking pictures. I also spent most of the day learning how to caulk our bathtub so I was tired of scrubbing and just wanted to get cooking. It's so easy, you can do half asleep!

Anyway, you can go over to this website where there are pictures. I took Ott, A's recipe and only changed it by using crumbled Italian sausage in the layers for a little kick. Also, I did not saute the garlic and onions. I just put them in fresh.
Funny story: I found this recipe through, and I later found out that one of my co-workers is related to the blog author. Small world!
6-8 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2-1 pound of Italian sausage (as mild or hot as you like), browned
1-2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 green pepper, seeds removed and chopped
1 - 2 lb bag of frozen hash browns, I like using the string kind instead of the cubes
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, pepper jack would probably be good too
12 eggs
1 cup of milk
salt and pepper to taste

You might want hot sauce or ketchup available in case you have people who like condiments.

While you are browning the Italian sausage and/or cooking the bacon, take the time to chop up your veggies. It makes the assembly time much quicker! Depending on how fast you chop, you might also have time to crack the eggs in a big bowl and whisk in a cup of milk. Ott, A's recipe called for whole milk, but we just always use whatever we have in the fridge (skim, 1% or 2%).

Once you've got your bacon cooked and crumbled and the sausage is browned and all the fat is drained off of both, it is assembly time! Grease the inside of the slow cooker all the way TO THE TOP with butter or cooking spray. Layer 1/3 of the hash browns, cheese, onion, peppers, meat, salt and pepper in order and repeat. You will have three layers. This will fill up your slow cooker all the way to the top. Although, you think that you can't possibly fit in any more ingredients, you pour the egg mixture over the whole thing. It sinks right in!

Now turn the cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hours. Then go to bed since you're going to be up early to hit the road to see your beloved team (hopefully) squash the other team.

Serving suggestions: Enjoy with coffee (spiked or regular), a Bloody Mary (with all the fixings or not), some coffee cake and a heaping dose of friendly trash talk with tailgaters wearing the other team's colors.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mushroom and Beef Stroganoff-ish

Thinking all the way back to Monday night, I am finally posting my version of the Skinny Taste Mushroom Stroganoff. That version did not have any beef and Gina at used different noodles. I only had these veggie penne at my house, so I got a bonus serving of veggies!

However, I also used more wine in my recipe than hers called for, so perhaps it was a wash?

Once my husband takes a bite, he usually tells me it's great and gobbles up a whole serving or two. The real question is, "Would you like me to make it again?" If the answer is "sure..." then I know I should only make it again if I have to. That has only happened once, by the way. Usually, the answer is "yes!"

I know I've hit the proverbial kitchen jackpot when I get a, "Can we have it again soon? Like tomorrow?" This was one of those recipes! WHOO HOO!

Mushroom and Beef Stroganoff-ish
  • 1 pound ground beef - the leaner the better!
  • 1 box noodles - we used the veggie noodles
  • 2 tbsp butter, divided so it's about 1/2 and 1 1/2 sections
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium vegetable broth (or beef if you're a carnivore)
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce - don't use if you have a seafood allergy
  • 2 tsp tomato paste divided
  • 5 oz sliced Cremini or plain button mushrooms
  • 8 oz sliced baby Bella mushrooms
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 shot-glasses white wine or sherry
  • 1/4-1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
First, you should start with the beef and the noodles. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles as directed. It's OK if you leave them a little undone because you're going to end up mixing them in the sauce later.

Put the smaller portion of butter in the pan and let it melt, but not burn. Break up the ground beef in small-ish pieces and let it brown, stirring/flipping occasionally. Feel free to keep this on low while you're making the sauce. It'll take about as much time to brown the meat as it will for the noodles to boil unless you have super beef.
Ground beef waiting to be added to the sauce!
Once the beef is done, drain off any excess grease. Add about a shot glass-ful of wine to the beef along with 1 tbsp tomato paste. I know this isn't very stroganoff-y, but I think it tasted really good. You can stir this well and then set it on low to keep warm. The creamy part will be coming up, so don't worry. Anyway, we have some friends who brew their own beer and make their own wine. Since I didn't have any white wine in the house (NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE), I uncorked a blush wine from our friends and used that. It was very tasty!

Ok, now for the amazing mushroom creamy part. I just drained the pasta and set it aside so that I could use my big stock pot for making the sauce. Melt the remaining butter (the bigger portion) in the big pot. When it is nice and melty, add in your onions until they are soft and translucent. This takes a little over 2 minutes. When they're ready to go, add in the flour and stir it all up. You don't want it to stick or burn.
NOTE: We didn't have broth at home, but I had veggie bouillon, so I made 2 cups of that in the microwave while the butter and onions were doing their job.
Simmering away!
 Add in the broth, Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste. Stir this constantly until it's all mixed in well. After that, add your mushrooms and spices. Stir and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until the sauce is thickened and bubbly. Add the wine and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for another 4 minutes or so. Once it looks all amazing and creamy, stir in the beef and noodles so you have one big pot of amazing noodles, mushroom and beef.
So good and you'll get 4-6 servings of this lovely pasta dish!