The Baker Upstairs: November 2015


cheesy vegetable chowder


Is it just me, or did winter totally sneak up on us this year? I feel like the weather has been so pleasant for so long that I had forgotten that winter was even on the way. And then Saturday morning I woke up to snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, and it was a total shock. It's almost December? How did that happen? The only positive in all of this is that I can finally unashamedly eat soup several nights a week! I love soup like crazy, and this cheesy vegetable chowder is one of the best! It's easy to make, packed full of vegetables, and deliciously cheesy. My daughter Lizzy (who has been subsisting on about two bites of food per meal for weeks now) actually cleaned her bowl, then asked for seconds. That's pretty much unheard of for her lately, so it's a ringing endorsement of this soup's deliciousness!
Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

5 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 onion, diced
4 cups chicken broth
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 ounces frozen corn

In a large pot, combine the potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork. While the vegetables are cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet. When the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk to form a paste. Allow to cook 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Let the mixture cook for a few minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the cheese, salt, and pepper until smooth. When the vegetables are cooked, pour the milk mixture into the pot and stir to combine. Add the corn and heat 3-4 minutes, or until warmed through.

adapted from Little Red Hen


apple pecan chicken salad wraps


It's Thanksgiving week! I'll be honest with you, the last week has been pretty rough for me. I burned my finger pretty badly, I either broke or badly sprained my toe, and my kids were just off the rails with crazy behavior. Any plans I had for elaborate meals during the week just kind of flew out the window, and we spent the week pretty much just in survival mode. These apple pecan chicken salad wraps were totally one of those flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants meals, and they turned out great! I just threw together this and that, all ingredients I already had in the house, and they came together beautifully into a delicious, flavorful wrap! They're so delicious that I will definitely make them again, even when we're not trying to survive a frustrating week. :)
Apple Pecan Chicken Salad Wraps

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup poppyseed dressing
2 cups chopped cooked chicken (I used rotisserie)
1/2 granny smith apple, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
4 whole wheat tortillas

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and poppyseed dressing. Add the chicken, apple, cranberries, and pecans, and toss to coat in the dressing mixture. Spread 1/2 cup of chopped romaine on each of the tortillas and top with the chicken mixture. Roll up tightly to form a wrap. Enjoy!


Homemade Apple Pie Filling

Homemade apple pie filling! So delicious and flavorful, and makes the best pie ever!

Homemade apple pie filling! So delicious and flavorful, and makes the best pie ever!

So here's something you may not know about me (based on the lack of recipes on the blog)... I am really into home canning! My sister-in-law taught me to can peaches about seven years ago, and ever since I have been hooked. We try to can a variety of fruits every year, and some of my favorites are peaches (from my mother-in-law's trees), grape juice, and applesauce. This year we got a killer deal on apples from a local orchard (80 pounds for $20!) and canned a ton of applesauce. We still had plenty of apples left over after canning the sauce, so I decided it was a perfect time to try some home-canned apple pie filling. I found a perfect recipe on Skip to My Lou and got to work!

Homemade apple pie filling! So delicious and flavorful, and makes the best pie ever!

The part that took the longest by far was peeling, coring, and slicing all of the apples. I used my new handy-dandy apple peeler, but didn't use the corer or slicer on it because I wanted the apples to be sliced fairly thick. It did take a little time, but I turned on a fun podcast and had a good time. I actually find repetitive work to be relaxing sometimes, so it was a nice way to unwind after a busy day. :) 

A note on the ingredients: I would recommend using a fairly flavorful apple that's more on the sweet side. I used a mixture of honey crisp and yellow delicious and they worked great together. I think some granny smith apples would be good mixed in too, but if you used only granny smith, the filling might be a little tart. As far as the Clear Jel goes, it is really similar to corn starch but is safe for canning and doesn't turn cloudy over time. It's not the same as Sure Jell (which is used for making jam for canning) so be sure not to get the two confused. I bought my Clear Jel at a local restaurant supply store (Orson Gygi - best store ever!) and they sell it online as well. As far as the Fruit Fresh goes, my grocery store has it next to the canning supplies. If you can't find it, you could use citric acid or vitamin C tablets instead. 

Homemade apple pie filling! So delicious and flavorful, and makes the best pie ever!

This pie filling is so flavorful and delicious, and makes enough for six pies. I'm so excited to be able to enjoy apple pie all winter long!

Homemade Apple Pie Filling

6 quarts peeled sliced apples (about 30 apples)
1-2 tablespoons Fruit Fresh (citric acid)
5 cups sugar
3/4 cup Clear Jel
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cups water
5 cups apple juice (no sugar added)
3/4 cup lemon juice

Fill a large bowl about halfway with water, and dissolve the Fruit Fresh in the bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples, and place them in the bowl of water to soak while you make the sauce. Add the sugar, Clear Jel, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, water, and apple juice to a large pot and whisk to combine. Heat on medium heat until the mixture reaches a boil. Add the lemon juice and let boil one minute. Remove from heat. Drain the apples and toss the apples with the sauce. Spoon into sterilized quart jars, leaving one inch of headspace at the top. Wipe the rims of the jars clean, add lids and bands, and process in a water bath canner for 25+ minutes, depending on altitude. (Increase processing time by 5 minutes for each additional 2000 feet of altitude above 1000 feet. For example, I live at an altitude of about 4500 feet, so I processed mine for 35 minutes.) Allow to cool for 12-24 hours and check that all jars are sealed before storing. Makes 6 quarts.

adapted slightly from Skip to My Lou
To make the pie, I used a store-bought pie crust (I'm still too intimidated by pie crust to attempt my own, but I'm hoping to remedy that for Thanksgiving, fingers crossed!). I found a super easy tutorial for a lattice top on Gimme Some Oven, and I'm kind of amazed by how lovely it turned out! I brushed the top with an egg wash, sprinkled with sugar, and baked at 350 for about 75 minutes.

My pie looked extra pretty in my new pie dish from Personalized Creations! I really love that the pie dish is heavy duty and durable, but pretty too. And the personalization is pretty great, too!

Homemade apple pie filling! So delicious and flavorful, and makes the best pie ever!

Personalized Creations has just about anything you could ever want to personalize, from kitchenware to t-shirts to newborn gifts. They also have a really great holiday section, and I'm seriously tempted to pick up some of these adorable personalized Christmas stockings. If you'd like to try something fun from Personalized Creations, click here for some great coupons to save money on your order!

Happy pie making!

Homemade apple pie filling! So delicious and flavorful, and makes the best pie ever!


easy chicken cordon bleu

The easiest chicken cordon bleu with delicious dijon parmesan sauce! So tasty and ready in thirty minutes!

The easiest chicken cordon bleu with delicious dijon parmesan sauce! So tasty and ready in thirty minutes!

It's perpetually funny to me that I'm happy to spend hours making a complicated dessert or more than a day making a fancy bread, but when it comes to dinner time, 30-45 minutes is about the max I'm willing to spend. I love eating dinner too, mind you, but I think there are so many easy and delicious meals that are ready in about 30 minutes that it seems like a waste of time to spend more time than that. I make an exception for slow cooker meals, of course (because who doesn't love putting in a few minutes of effort in the morning and having a delicious meal waiting for you in the evening?) but otherwise I like everything to be easy peasy. This chicken cordon bleu is exactly that! It takes only a few minutes to make, cooks in about 30 minutes, and tastes fantastic! The dijon parmesan sauce is to die for, and the whole dish is a perfect mix of delicious flavors and textures. We love to serve it with coconut rice on the side, though it's also great with mashed potatoes. Yum!
Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu

for the chicken:
3 large chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise to form six thin cutlets
12 pieces thinly sliced ham
12 pieces thinly sliced swiss cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

for the dijon parmesan sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon chicken base or chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Place the chicken cutlets in the pan. Layer each piece of chicken with two slices of ham and two slices of cheese. Mix the bread crumbs with the butter, and sprinkle the mixture over the top of the chicken. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the topping is golden brown.

When the chicken has about ten to fifteen minutes left, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a paste. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Whisk in the chicken base and salt. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and add the dijon, Worcestershire, and parmesan. Stir until smooth. Serve over the cooked chicken.

recipe via Mel's Kitchen Cafe

The easiest chicken cordon bleu with delicious dijon parmesan sauce! So tasty and ready in thirty minutes!


easy coconut rice


It's funny that I've never shared this recipe by itself on the blog, because it's one that I make really frequently! This coconut rice is one of my favorite go-to recipes. It's savory and sweet and makes a perfect side dish for everything from fish to asian food to chicken cordon bleu (that one is actually my favorite!). I love that it's so easy to make (you just add all the ingredients and then let it cook) and every time I've made it, it has come out perfectly. The recipe makes enough for 2-3 meals for my family, and freezes really well for another meal. (Can you tell I've been trying to restock my freezer lately with a bunch of staples?) As much as I love coconut, I really like that the flavor is a little more subtle in this rice. It adds depth and creaminess and a nice background flavor, but doesn't compete with whatever you choose to serve it alongside. This rice is delicious and is definitely one of my very favorite side dishes!
Coconut Rice

2 cups white rice
1 can coconut milk
2 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
splash of white vinegar
2-3 teaspoon white sugar
black pepper to taste

Combine the rice, coconut milk, water, salt, vinegar, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.

adapted from Our Best Bites


soft orange sugar cookies


I'm excited to share my first holiday cookie of the season with you today! These soft orange sugar cookies are so delicious and flavorful, and perfect for sharing with friends and family this time of year. I've expressed my deep love for soft, thick sugar cookies before, and these orange sugar cookies are such a fun and sweet twist on one of my favorites!

One of my favorite things to do with my girls is to bake cookies and treats, and they love sharing what we've baked with our friends and neighbors. I love that when we bake together, they'll keep someone in mind that they would like to share a treat with, and if they know a friend is having a hard time they'll come to me and say, "Mommy, we should bake a treat for so-and-so!" Baking together has so many benefits... not only do we spend time together working on a constructive activity, but the girls are learning cooking techniques and becoming familiar with ingredients. 

I try to use the highest quality ingredients that I can afford for baking, and I absolutely love baking with Bob's Red Mill flours. It really is the best flour I have ever baked with! I used the unbleached white all-purpose organic flour for this recipe, and I love that it produces light, airy baked goods. It's not enriched with any additives and works great in any recipe! 

These cookies have a soft, thick cookie base that's lightly sweetened and flavored with orange zest, topped by a creamy, sweet layer of orange icing. They taste just like the sugar cookies you can buy at the grocery store, but even better because they're homemade!
Soft Orange Sugar Cookies

for the cookies:
zest of one orange
1 cup sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange extract
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the frosting:
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) butter, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons orange extract
2 tablespoons orange juice
1-2 drops orange food coloring

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, rub the orange zest into the sugar using a spatula to release the oils. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and orange extract, and mix well. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until a firm dough forms. Chill 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400. Roll the dough into one inch balls and place on baking sheets lined with parchment or sprayed with cooking spray. Flatten each ball slightly with your hand or with a drinking glass to be about 1/3-1/2 inch thick. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the bottom edges are just slightly golden brown. Remove and let cool before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat together the butter and powdered sugar. Add the orange extract and orange juice and beat until light and fluffy. Add the food coloring and beat until well distributed. Frost cookies as desired.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


easy turkey meatball subs

These turkey meatball subs are ready in under twenty minutes and so flavorful and delicious!

These turkey meatball subs are ready in under twenty minutes and so flavorful and delicious!

There's a place near my house called Moochie's that has the absolute best subs! My husband and I have lunch there frequently, and we love to share either a chicken parmesan sub or a chicken philly sub. They're most famous for their meatball subs, though, and a few weeks ago I tried one for the first time. It was totally heavenly! I've been craving another meatball sub ever since, so I decided it was high time I made one at home. Using my homemade marinara sauce and garlic parmesan turkey meatballs, they were a snap to make and delicious too! (I think they would be delicious with store-bought meatballs and marinara sauce, too.) One of the things that makes these subs extra special is that the buns are made into garlic bread before the sandwiches are baked, so they're full of extra flavor and nice and crisp. I love super easy meals that are ready in just a few minutes!

Easy Turkey Meatball Subs

4 sub rolls, sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon parsley
16 meatballs (make your own using this delicious recipe!)
1 cup marinara sauce (I love this homemade marinara sauce)
8 slices provolone cheese

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix the butter, garlic powder, and parsley, and spread the mixture on both sides of the sub rolls. Place the rolls in the preheated oven and bake 10-15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and top each roll with four meatballs. Spread 1/4 cup of marinara sauce over the top of the meatballs and top with two slices of provolone. Return to the oven and bake until the subs are heated through and the cheese is melted. Enjoy!


garlic parmesan turkey meatballs


Turkey meatballs have such a special place in my heart! My mom almost never cooked red meat when I was growing up, and so we ate a lot of ground turkey. I fondly remember many nights when my mom made swedish meatballs for dinner with lots of creamy sauce, served over egg noodles. It was one of my favorite dinners as a child and as an adult it brings back so many good memories. My mom always made her own turkey meatballs and sometimes she let me help roll the meat mixture into balls. I thought it was so funny that she always mixed her meatballs by hand, and I half loved and half hated the feeling of squishy raw meat when I rolled the balls.

These days I make my own turkey meatballs frequently (though I still haven't perfected my own version of my mom's swedish meatballs) and I always mix them by hand too! Somehow it just seems like the best way to get a thorough mix. If you're very averse to touching raw meat, by all means just use a spatula, but it's kind of a fun sensory experience. :) I use a cookie scoop to get all of my meatballs the same size, and I love baking them in the oven so I don't have to worry about cooking them in multiple batches or the meatballs not getting cooked through. These are great for saving in the freezer for another night... I usually make a double or triple batch, then flash freeze them after baking. I like to save them in meal size portions (for us that's a dozen meatballs) in quart sized bags to make it easy to just pull out what I need. These meatballs are delicious, flavorful, and kid friendly too. My kiddos request them frequently for dinner and I'm happy to comply! :)

Garlic Parmesan Turkey Meatballs

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and mix with your hands until well blended. Shape into 1 1/4 inch balls (I like to use a cookie scoop for evenly sized meatballs). Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through.


homemade marinara sauce


This is just the week of DIY pantry staples, right? Between the homemade cranberry sauce, perfect white bread, and this homemade marinara sauce, I feel like I'm going a little nuts with the "make it yourself" stuff. But that's cool, right? One of the reasons I decided to work on improving my cooking skills was that I love to eat good food, but often my wallet and my palate don't quite match up. Making it myself at home is the perfect way to get delicious, high-quality food that tastes even better than what I buy at the store.

This marinara sauce is unbelievably delicious, and so simple that it's almost ridiculous. I am amazed at how much flavor it has considering the minimal ingredients and ease of cooking. It's perfect for pasta sauce, pizza, dipping mozzarella sticks into... you name it! You could add meat or vegetables to it easily, but it's also delicious just by itself. I used it to make some turkey meatball subs (recipe coming soon!) and had enough left over to put two jars of sauce in the freezer for later. Score!

Homemade Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 teaspoons minced garlic
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 14.5 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the chicken broth and let the garlic simmer for a few minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, parsley, sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer 25-30 minutes, or until slightly thickened. 

adapted from The Pioneer Woman