Royal Icing

Confession time - I am not a great baker. I'm not even a particularly good baker. I have learned the hard way that the skills which make a good cook are not the same as those that make a good baker. I'm simply too impatient to follow recipes to a "T" and I have a tendency to improvise and let me tell you; improvised baking is really never a good idea...

Both of my sisters are exceptional bakers, and my youngest sister recently came to stay overnight to bake gingerbread cookies! I  persuaded her to use a mix (Better Crocker's Gingerbread Cookie Mix - available seasonally) rather than bake them from scratch - because I'll take any excuse to cut corners when I bake. The cookies turned out to be surprisingly tasty - even without being homemade. She shared her favorite royal icing recipe with me (below) and we spent the most of the night decorating! That, after all, is the fun part!

Butternut Squash & Pear Soup

I can't get enough butternut squash, and soup is one of my favorite ways to enjoy it. This silky, decadent soup really hits the spot on a cold night (or lunch at work, or anytime really!). 

I made this recipe as a starter for our Thanksgiving meal this year, but it is filling enough to eat as the main dish! If you're making it for guests, you can easily make it the day before and reheat it before serving. It also freezes really well if you end up having leftovers.

Easy Pumpkin Mousse

My mother makes a spectacular (and relatively labor-intensive) Pumpkin Chiffon Pie every year for the holidays. It is the jewel of the dessert offerings and basically manna from heaven. This year, to celebrate Thanksgiving with my in-laws, we decided to have a low-key appetizers and desserts gathering, so I decided to try to make a quick and easy interpretation of the chiffon pie. Here's what I came up with:

Easy Pumpkin Mousse (adapted from this Alton Brown recipe) 
Serves 10

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 (3.4-ounce) box pumpkin spice flavored instant pudding mix
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 (8-ounce) container of cool whip
6-8 Biscoff Cookies
Whipped Cream

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin puree and milk, whisk to combine.
  2. Add the packet of pudding mix, and the vanilla extract, whisk until smooth.
  3. Add the cool whip, no need to be gentle, just whisk it right in.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and let it set up in the fridge during the next steps.
  5. Crush the cookies into crumbs using a food processor, or just place them in a plastic bag and mash with a mug. 
  6. Place 1 Tbsp of cookie crumbs in the bottom of a small dessert dish*. Use the back of a spoon to tamp the crumbs down to a packed, evenly distributed layer on the bottom of the dish.
  7. Take the filling out of the fridge and, using a spatula, load it into a large pastry bag or plastic bag (just snip off the corner).
  8. Pipe the filling into the dishes, about 3/4 of the way to the top of the dish.
  9. Top with whipped cream - I use canned, but you could certainly make your own if you prefer!
*You could use this same method to make larger trifles, but I use Libbey - Just Desserts Mini Bowls, 5.3-ounce glass dishes.

Yucatecan Style Chicken Tacos with Pickled Onions

This is a quick and simple version of my favorite Mexican meal. I first had this dish on our honeymoon - one bite and I was obsessed! The spicy pickled onions add such brightness and kick. 
This is kind of the lazy man's recipe, but you still get the flavor with much less fuss!
Yucatecan Style Pickled Onions
1 large red onion, sliced very thin
1 C orange juice
1/2 C lime juice
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
1 jalapeƱo pepper, seeds removed and diced (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a dish large enough for the liquid to cover the onions completely. Allow to sit overnight preferably, but at least a few hours.

Yucatecan Style Chicken Tacos
6 small corn tortillas
1/3 C black refried beans
1 chicken breast, grilled and diced
a small handful of fresh, chopped cilantro
pickled onions

Warm the tortillas and black beans in the microwave (about 45 seconds each). To assemble the tacos, spread about a tablespoon of black beans down the center of the tortilla, top with a modest amount of grilled chicken, a sprinkling of  cilantro and a nice pile of pickled onions. Serve with fresh lime wedges.

Notes/Substitutions: More optional toppings include cojita (a mild Mexican cheese), diced fresh white onion (yes onions on top of onions, trust me, it's delicious), or even some avocado! Whatever suits your fancy!

This recipe is good when I need a fix of relatively authentic Yucatecan cuisine. Be on the lookout for an upcoming post which will feature a similar taco, but using spicy pulled pork (cochinita pibil) which is the dish that inspired this recipe!