Friday, December 30, 2011

Super Easy Meal #2: Baked Potato Bar

As promised, today I'm offering up another simple meal so you have plenty of time to enjoy your family and friends this holiday season.

Super Easy Meal #2: Baked Potato Bar

Our cafeteria at work serves a baked potato bar every couple months, and it's one of my all-time favorite lunches. I don't know why it took me years to realize that I could have a baked potato bar at home, too! Keep this meal simple by purchasing prepared toppings. Here are some ideas: butter, chili, sour cream, shredded cheese, chives, bacon, broccoli, and plenty of salt and pepper.

And cooking your spuds couldn't be easier. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Scrub your potatoes clean and use a fork to poke holes all around them. (If you forget to poke holes, you may have a potato explosion. Exciting, but messy.) Microwave potatoes on high for 12 minutes, flipping halfway. At this point they'll still be pretty firm, but will start to feel a little softer. Pop the potatoes into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until a sharp knife can be inserted very easily. Allow everyone to top the potatoes however they'd like!

With such an easy supper, you'll have plenty of extra time to rest up for New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Super Easy Meal #1: Pork Chops & Applesauce

We're all too busy playing with our Christmas presents to worry much about dinner. So, this week I'm offering a couple easy meals.

Super Easy Meal #1: Pork Chops & Applesauce
For this meal, you'll need a little help from your local butcher. Swing my his meat case and peruse the selection. I'll betcha he's got a tray of plump pork chops brimming with golden stuffing. See 'em? Maybe over there between the chicken breasts and the rump roasts? Yep, now you've got it. Get enough stuffed chops for your family. Grab some green beans (preferable the ones that some kind soul has gone to the trouble of trimming for you) and applesauce, and you're ready to go.

Once you're home, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, prep your green beans for roasting. Wash, trim, and spread them on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with lots of salt and pepper. Then set the tray aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high in a large oven-safe skillet. Generously sprinkle your pork chops with salt and pepper. Once the oil is hot, brown the pork chops for about 3 minutes on each side. (You'll know the meat is ready to flip when it doesn't stick to the pan.) Pop the whole pan in the preheated oven, and cook for about 15 minutes, until the pork chops reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Tent the chops with foil and allow them to rest for 5-10 minutes.

When the pork chops have about 5 minutes left to cook, add the tray of green beans to the oven to cook.  They'll need about 12-15 minutes total. Stir them around halfway through. (Check out this post for a detailed description of roasting green beans.) You want them to be crisp-tender with golden brown spots.

Serve the pork chops with applesauce and green beans. (Oh, and if you're feeling ambitious, make your own applesauce. It's delish.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you and your families!
With Love,
Erin & the Lady of the House

The First Noel
The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o'er the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Twas the night before the night before Christmas...

It's Christmas Eve Eve! Can you believe it!? Are you finished shopping? Are your presents wrapped? Are your halls decked and your tree trimmed? Are you ready for friends and family to fill your home with joy and mirth? Are you amused that I used the word "mirth"?

In case you're still finalizing your menu for the holidays, check out some of these tempting favorites.

Goat Cheese Spread with Pecans & Cranberries:

Spicy Nuts:

Roast Beef Tenderloin with Bacon Port Sauce:

Mom's Cheesy Potatoes:

Roasted Green Beans:

Minty Mindies (these taste JUST like Thin Mints!):

Oreo Truffles:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

They're Here!!

Here's an old post I thought I'd dig up and dust off for you. Hopefully these tips for hosting guests is helpful in the coming days!


Ding Dong

I grew up in a family that hosted house guests more often than not. Weary travelers arrived at the safe harbor of our tiny 4-bedroom, and Mum made sure they were comfortable. The fact is, they'd never had it so good.

I'd like to think I picked up a fraction of her ability to make those "foreign" feel completely at home. So here are some tips for opening your home

-Do Come In.
Nothing is better than a joyous welcome--a rush to the door--a genuine greeting. Get over yourself and your to-do list, and get to the door, tongs in hand. It's the primer to the party. You set the mood, not your TV. That being said, make sure Goodbye is as kind. Thank your guests for coming, and how about this...maybe even linger at the door for a moment while they back out. Pay it forward people.

-So Fresh and So Clean, Clean.
Please don't make your guests wipe their hands on your bath towel. Make sure there's a clean hand towel or paper guest towel at the ready. If you're going linen (my personal preference), have a few on hand, and pop by the loo to see if it needs to be swapped. If your guests are spending the night or a few nights, check on their linens. It's so easy to throw in a load of towels, and they'll love the 5-star treatment.

-A Little Goes a Long Way.
For overnight guests, make sure their room or sofa is well equipped with plenty of I-thought-about-you tokens. A bottle or carafe of water at the bedside is friendly, as is a little bouquet of flowers. A stack of glossy magazines is also so lovely to set out. Think of the things you neglect to do for yourself, and go for it.

-Duh! Or Stuff You Might Forget in the Flurry of Cooking.
Plunger in the bathroom. Room spray or a candle in there too. Yummy hand soap. ice!!! A clever comment when someone spills or breaks something. ("Thank you for breaking/ruining this! I have been looking for a reason to go out a buy a better one!") Your smile. Good music: Pandora, but make it a blend of a few genres. A little too much Michael Buble, and we all get the crazies.

It's a short list, but hopefully poignant. Be fabulous!!

Lady of the House

Monday, December 19, 2011

Salmon with Dill Cream Sauce

I spent last week in San Francisco, home of the Lady of the House and one of my all-time favorite cities. Most of my time was spent in meetings for work, but I made sure I had some fun, too. A certain Lady brought me to fabulous SPQR where we toasted friendship with generous pours of prosecco and piles of pasta. And I brought back a little treat for the husband, which he is enjoying as I type: a homemade chocolate peanut butter cup from Z. Cioccolato in North Beach. It has flaky sea salt sprinkled on top. It was a good present.

After a week of non-stop action, I'm having a lazy day. I'm refusing to change out of my sweatpants. I wrote Christmas cards, read my book-of-the-moment, and watched football with the husband. I reveled in the Christmas lights strung about my home sweet home. As delightful as my visit to San Francisco was, I love being home.

Even on the laziest of lazy days, this fancy-enough-for-company salmon is wonderfully doable. It's easy, my dear readers. Sweatpants easy.

Salmon with Dill Cream Sauce
Serves: 4

1.5 pounds salmon fillet
Salt and pepper
Lemon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup sour cream
1 lemon, halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place salmon on a baking sheet, skin-side down. Sprinkle with salt and lemon paper to taste (I'm pretty generous with both), and drizzle with olive oil. Bake salmon in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Squeeze juice from half of the lemon over the cooked salmon.

While salmon is cooking, stir together sour cream, juice from the remaining lemon half, and dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (This will probably be more sauce than you need, but you can store the leftovers in the fridge and serve with sliced veggies the next day.) Serve salmon with creamy dill sauce sauce.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chocolate Trifle

We got together recently to celebrate Kelly's birthday, and I was in charge of birthday cake. Since we were planning to stuff our faces with plenty of food and drink before Kelly blew out the candles, we wanted to keep dessert a bit lighter. Well, I'm not sure I'd consider this "lite," but I did use No Pudge brownies. It therefore qualifies as downright healthy in my book.

Now, you can certainly make all of the trifle components from scratch: homemade fudgy brownies, pudding slowly stirred in a saucepan, cream whipped to soft peaks. But I didn't this time. 'Tis the season to take shortcuts, I suppose.

Anyway, the trifle was a huge success. The best thing about it? It takes best if you let it sit in the fridge overnight, so you can make it ahead.

Chocolate Trifle
Serves 6-8

1 package brownies, baked according to package directions for an 8"x8" pan, and cooled (As I mentioned, I used No Pudge brownies to make this a "healthy" dessert.)
3.8 ounce package instant Devil's Food pudding, made according to package directions with 2 cups milk
8 ounces Cool Whip
Raspberries, for garnish

Cut brownies into 1" cubes. Gently fold 3/4 of the Cool Whip into the pudding until it's evenly blended. Layer 1/3 of the brownie pieces in the bottom of a trifle bowl. (If you don't have a trifle bowl - a glass bowl with straight sides - just use whatever bowl you have. A clear bowl is prettiest so you can see the layers.) Top brownies with 1/3 of the pudding mixture.

Repeat the layers two more times until you've used all the brownies and pudding. Top with the remaining Cool Whip and garnish with the raspberries to make it look fancy. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve, preferably overnight.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tray Bien! by Lady of the House

We're kind of going through a phase in our house...well, let's hope it's a phase. My husband and I are sort of obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, and it's all my fault. Like, completely my fault.

I can remember being rebuked when the parcel from Amazon arrived years ago. Yes, I'd put in a special order for silicone ice cube trays after having reached my limit with the standard plastic guys. Swearing as you pour drinks for your guests is a little coocoo! My husband said they were stupid. I reminded him he can shuffle cards beautifully. I cannot. I am also apparently incapable of getting ice to plop out of a rock hard tray the way he does.

And then the other night, while we stared into a bowl of batter, lamenting the empty parchment roll that would have been perfect for wrapping up our cookies-to-be, I mentioned the blessed and now terribly scorned pink silicone ice cube trays. He called me a genius, and I happily plunked batter into each little square.

It's not anything new, but it's worth reminding you dear readers that your freezer can either be a locker for weird food you throw in there and swear you'll cook one day, or it can become your very own stockpile of perfectly portioned baked goods. I vote for the latter. Yum!

{ Lady of the House }

Monday, December 12, 2011

And the winner is...

Thank you all for entering our West Bend Hi-Rise Bread Maker Giveaway! Now, let's get down to business. The husband was my witness that I generated the winner randomly and that the contest was fair and square. And the winner of the Bread Maker is....

The Chocolate Priestess, Tammy Jo! Tammy Jo, send us an email ( with your mailing address, and we'll send that bread maker your way.

Even though there can only be one winner, we loved reading all of your holiday traditions. Amidst the hustle and bustle, it was a good reminder why this is a special time of year. Here are a few of those traditions that you shared with us last week.

" took me a while to think of my favorite tradition, since Christmas is full of so many amazing things/memories. However, as I grow older and now live far away from my sister and even farther from my parents, brother and his new gorgeous family, I have found a great appreciation for something that has stayed consistent and keeps my heart connected to those I love at Christmas time. That being said my favorite tradition is a Christmas Eve candlelit service. I went my whole life and there is nothing like raising your candle in a church that glows even when the lights are out all while singing Silent Night! Whether I am at my childhood home in Buffalo, visiting family in Milwaukee, or here in Chicago I feel a warmth in my heart for all of those I love knowing that we share that special moment on Christmas Eve. And I still can't help but open one present when I come home!" - Katy

"My favorite tradition is breakfast with the family while opening stockings. The tree looks beautiful, we have a fire in the fireplace, and everyone is cozy and happy." - Cake

"My FAVORITE holiday tradition is actually not on Christmas, but on New Year's Day. Every year my Dad (who is an Italian America, 100% Sicilian and born and raised in New York City) continues the tradition my great grandparents created by making his ever famous Cioppino. Cioppino is an Italian fish soup that consists of cooking a TON of different types of fish in broth (lobster, scallops, shrimp, clams, etc.). Since I was old enough to remember, this has been our tradition to ring in the new year as we count our blessings and look forward to new ones." - Jake and Lia

"My favorite Christmas tradition is eating dessert for breakfast on Christmas morning. I always have leftover homemade caramel custard and french silk pie from our big family dinner the night before." - Marzipan

"My favorite holiday tradition exemplifies my German heritage. Every year my mom busts out the accordian and plays Christmas tunes and German polkas while my family sings, jingles bells and tirelessly dances the polka around the Christmas tree. I would love to say my dad accompanies her with a yodel, but that would just be a lie. I hope to someday learn how to play this instrument as musically challenged as I am to keep the tradition alive!" - Jill

"Every year I go through the same neighborhoods as my parents took me on Christmas Eve to look at Christmas lights. Some of the houses are old and ran down these days, however those neighborhoods are my favorite to view because they spark such fond memories of my childhood at Christmas with my loving family." - Sharon

"Our favorite Christmas tradition is going to my parents on Christmas Eve, going to midnight church service, then coming back and opening one present." - Hezzi-D

"My favorite holiday tradition is decorating the Christmas tree with family and friends. We're adding a new piece to the tradition this year by making homemade ornaments with our little one." - ChrissieNer

"My absolute favorite holiday tradition is that each year we get a new ornament each, one for each child, one for the whole family, and one for my hubby and me as a couple. Once the kids grow up and get married they each get their ornament from all the years. My mother did this for us and each year putting up the tree, I remember everything about my ornaments from when I was little." - PV

"Favorite Tradition: Eating dinner like a 'picnic' under the Christmas Tree. Every year, since the kids were little (now 15 and 13), we decorate the tree - one ornament at a time, we talk about them (we have our favorites.) I never move one ornament - even where they were all hanging at 'kid' level! Then, dinner MUST be homemade chicken tenders (with assorted dipping!), french fries and sweet carrots. I love making memories with my family!" - Ann

Friday, December 9, 2011

Stuffed French Toast

First, the important stuff: Today is THE LAST DAY to enter our GIVEAWAY! If you want to win a West Bend Bread Maker, check it out.

Now that we're mere hours from the weekend, it's time to start thinking about brunch. During the hectic work week, the husband and I eat things like oatmeal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and granola bars for breakfast. And the occasional Pop Tart. Don't judge.  Anyway, on the weekends, we're prone to get a little crazy with our first meal. I'll make eggs-in-a-hole or the husband will whip up the best pancakes you'll ever eat. It's weekend food.

Today's recipe is deceptively simple, and wonderfully decadent. Stuffed French Toast is fancy enough to serve to guests you want to impress, but it's perfect for your unshaven husband, sweatpant-clad best friend, bleary-eyed wife, or footie-pajama'ed kids. And doesn't that sound like a much more fun brunch crowd anyway?    

Stuffed French Toast
Serves: 4

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoon sugar, divided
Pinch cinnamon
8 slices bread, toasted (I toast mine in the toaster.)
4 tablespoons jam (I'm partial to strawberry.)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1/2 cup flour
Maple syrup and extra butter, for serving

Stir together cream cheese, 1 tablespoon sugar, and cinnamon. Evenly spread on four slices of the bread. Spread jam on the remaining slices of bread. Top each slice of jam-covered bread with a slice of cream cheese-covered bread to form four sandwiches.  

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and whisk it together with milk, egg, vanilla, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Once the ingredients are blended, whisk in the flour until combined. Pour the batter into a shallow dish. Place sandwiches into the batter and allow them to sit for about 1 minute on each side. 

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Place two batter-dipped "sandwiches" onto the skillet and cook for about 2.5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Repeat with the final tablespoon of butter and remaining sandwiches. Keep french toast warm in a very low oven until you're ready to eat. Serve with maple syrup and a pat of butter.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hang in There by Lady of the House

I'm a year-round chronic recycler/shredder/purger, but I've decided to let my routine take a backseat to the cheery Christmas cards sent my way this season. I'm going to hang on to these goodies for a bit longer than I normally do--let my peeps stay awhile, kick their feet up and relax.

Enter two staples I always keep in my arsenal: mini clothes pins and baker's twine. They kind of go hand-in-hand, if you ask me. And since you didn't, and you're now cocking your head to the side, squinting and wondering where the hell you'd ever find mini clothes pins, read on. Hey, you could use paper clips and that huge ball of cooking twine you bought to tie up the turkey legs. Yes, that very ball of twine that's now the expletive, I mean, thing stuck in the back of your utensil drawer, letting it out only far enough for you to peek at the corkscrew you desperately need.

This is basically free decorating, people. And the added tidbit of joy is that you get to literally hang out with the folks that took the time to send their love.

How do you guys display the deluge of Holiday cards that fill your mailbox each year? I'm curious.

{ Lady of the House }

p.s. Wouldn't your card line-up look so much better if you were baking fresh bread? Win a bread maker!!

p.p.s. Anyone in need of a laugh? Look no further.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Do you need freshly baked bread?

Today's post is purely an attempt to tantalize your tastebuds with dreams of homemade bread. Then, once you can't stand it any longer, you'll be forced to enter the West Bend Bread Maker giveaway I posted yesterday.

Baking bread when you have a bread maker is easy. First you heat milk to 80 degrees and dump it in the machine.

Then you measure out your flour and dump it in the machine.

Sprinkle a little salt and sugar on top of the flour, put butter in the corners, and measure the yeast. (Note: Yeast is not something to fear! You too can bake with yeast!)

Pour the yeast into a little divot you dig in the flour. Channel your inner toddler.

Press three buttons to start the machine.

Wait. This is by far the hardest part. And then...

Eat. Mmmmm.

Now don't forget to enter the bread maker giveaway!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Giveaway:Win a West Bend Bread Maker!

The holidays are upon us, and we are thrilled to be giving an early present to one lucky Hot Dinner Happy Home reader: a fabulous Hi-Rise Bread Maker from local Wisconsin company, West Bend!

The holiday season is such a nostalgic, cozy time of year. While the skies darken early and snowflakes begin to fall, your home dances with light. Trees sparkle, candles flicker, fires crackle. Holiday magic fills the air as you scheme perfect presents for your loved ones. Families laugh together as they decorate Christmas cookies; no one minds the dusting of flour on the kitchen floor. Everyone is filled with kindness; strangers sharing smiles as they pick poinsettias, neighbors lending a hand to clear walkways of snow. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

And what conjures the feeling of "home for the holidays" more than the scent of freshly baked bread wafting from the kitchen? I can't think of a thing.

To enter the West Bend Hi-Rise Bread Maker giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite holiday tradition. Earn a bonus entry for "liking" West Bend on Facebook. Earn another bonus entry for "liking" Hot Dinner Happy Home on Facebook. (Let us know about your Facebook "likes" when you leave a comment. And you certainly get that bonus entry if you're already a fan!) So, you get up to three chances to win: 1) leave a comment, 2) "like" West Bend on Facebook, and 3) "like" Hot Dinner Happy Home on Facebook.

The contest starts now and ends at midnight (Pacific Time) on Friday, December 9, 2011. The winner of the bread maker will be chosen at random and announced on Monday, December 12, 2011.

Happy holidays and GOOD LUCK!
Erin & the Lady of the House

P.S. If you have any questions about the contest or the West Bend Hi-Rise Bread Maker, feel free to email us at

This contest is now closed. Thanks for entering!

You must be 18 years old and a resident of the United States to enter this contest.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy

Last year around this time I described an illness that had settled over my house: Christmas Disease. Recently, I started noticing the onset of the 2011 strain of Christmas Disease. It began when I was trying to sleep. Instead of counting sheep, I counted the shopping days left in December. I get nostalgic and misty-eyed when I see houses glowing with icicle lights and trees trimmed with tinsel. The butterflies in my belly can be attributed only to holiday excitement...or one too many Christmas cookies. 

Since I'm practicallly bed-laden with my illness, tethered to the couch with re-runs of "A Christmas Story" on TBS, I can't be expected for much in the kitchen. So today I offer up another fabulously easy crockpot meal. This will bubble away on your counter while you deck the halls, croon carols, and cut-out cookies. And when you're ready for a piping hot dinner, it will nurish your soul as much as your body.

Enjoy...and happy holidays!

Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy
Serves: 6-8

1 onion, peeled and cut into large wedges
3.5 pounds of your favorite "roast" cut of beef (May I suggest top loin roast or bottom round roast?)
8 ounces white mushrooms, halved
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Salt and pepper to taste

In your crock pot, layer onions, roast, mushrooms, rosemary, and bay leaf. Pour cream of mushroom soup over everything. Fill the empty soup can with water and pour that over the top. Cook on low heat for 10-12 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Helpful tip: I place everything except the liquid ingredients in my crock pot before bed and store it in the fridge over night. Before work the next morning, all I had to do was dump the liquid ingredients in and turn on my slowcooker! That made it slightly less likely that I was late for work.

Side Dish Idea: Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy pairs well with Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes, another make-ahead wonder.