Thanksgiving 2013: Turkey Trotting and Bursting with Flavor!

It’s been a busy few weeks and this blog of mine has suffered. I literally have a month’s worth of updates and with the holidays upon us, it’s likely I won’t ever get caught up. I have some career changes I’m trying to navigate that, right now, are causing an uproar but in the end I’m hoping they’ll be good things. When a door closes a window always opens, right? At this point, I’m hoping for a skylight with a heavenly messenger telling me what the heck I’m supposed to be doing.

We’ve had a great Thanksgiving week. We skied Copper Mountain (details forthcoming), played a lot and ate even more. Jamie’s wonderful mom Linda is in town to help his sister after back surgery so we’ve been busy juggling everything.

I’ve stated before that Thanksgiving is probably my least favorite holiday because of all the gluttony and football but it’s  growing on me. We started out with our 7th Annual Turkey Trot Hike. It was a gorgeous day and I can’t believe how much my kids have grown since the first year we did it.

Please disregard the finger of the dude who took our picture in the top corner. He didn’t appreciate being asked to do it so I’m hoping it wasn’t his middle one.

The hike was as steep as always but these kids of mine are becoming intrepid hikers.

Plus, I gave the pitch as an excuse for Bode to hold my hand to give me balance on the way down. Gotta soak up these moments while you can!

Even in late-November, the views at the top were gorgeous.

We couldn’t fit our fat heads in this selfie but we had to try

Hadley has to free climb every rock wall or boulder she sees

Hiking Turkey Trot is always a great lead-in to our meal. We each had food assignments. Jamie’s brother Chris smoked the turkey (thankfully he gave in to my pleading NOT to do a deep-fried one), we did the sides (garlic-mashed potatoes, jalapeno sausage stuffing, pomegranate-pear salad, green bean casserole and cranberry salsa), while Linda made her famous rolls and was in charge of desserts.

Complication: The day before Thanksgiving she called to say poor Lisa was in the ER in pain so could we please pick-up the cheesecakes from Cheesecake Therapy and run to Costco for some apple pie? The cheesecakes weren’t a problem and Jamie grabbed egg nog, gingerbread, pumpkin and white chocolate raspberry from this darling bake shop.

The apple pie was a problem. I hate crowds and finish most of my shopping before Thanksgiving in an effort to avoid them (and yep, I don’t like shopping, either). So come hell or high water, there was NO WAY I was going to go to Costco the day before Thanksgiving and stand in line for an hour for just one item. Another complication: Jamie loves Costco’s apple pie but I came up with a solution to bake our own. I just added it to our list of items I was already making that also included several dozen cream cheese cutout cookies. Basically, my kitchen looked like a bomb went off. But Hadley was an excellent helper.

Jamie was incredulous. “So, you’d rather spend all this time making a pie just to avoid going to Costco?” Yup.

I retorted. “So you’re actually whining that your wife is making you a homemade apple pie instead of a store-bought one?” Touché, my friends.

In the end, everyone was happy. We had an amazing spread of food, Linda’s rolls were better than ever and Chris smoked some unbelievably delicious gouda cheese in the smoker.

Rolls, pomegranate pear salad and our appetizer spread

Chris smoked his best turkey ever: moist and bursting with flavor

The kids did a wonderful job setting the table with my mom’s china and grandmother’s beautiful utensils. My heart was full of love for this wonderful family of mine, the life we’ve created and the miracles that surround us.

I’m sure Jamie feels the same way regardless of the fact that every picture I took of him that night he looked like was going to burst.

Just chalk it up to an overabundance of culinary blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Perfect for After Thanksgiving: Chicken (or turkey) vol-au-vents!

My mom has been making Chicken Vol-au-Vents for as long as I can remember. Sounds fancy? When you’re from Canada, you don’t think twice about incorporating French dishes into your cooking repertoire. I’m not quite sure what vol-au-vent means but following the enthusiastic response this tasty recipe received from my picky kids, I’d translate it as “miracle food.”

Chicken Vol-au-Vents are essentially a light puff pastry shell filled with a ragout of meat, veggies or fish. They’re super easy to make and delicious. The first time I introduced them my husband when we were first married, he didn’t get it.

Me: Voila, dinner tonight is Chicken Vol-au-vents with Parmesan couscous and fresh broccoli from the garden.
Husband: Errr..why do these them thar biscuits have holes in them?
Me: They’re not biscuits, you Southern Redneck. They’re puffed pastries with le fowl francais in them.
Jamie: Errr…where’s the gravy go?

Note for the uninitiated: asking where the gravy goes on the “biscuits” is equal unto putting ketchup on a gourmet steak.

Chicken (or turkey) Vol-au-Vent Recipe


Cooking the white sauce

Cooking the white sauce

2 boxes of puffed pastry shells, 12 shells total (I buy Pepperidge Farm, found in the freezer section)
1/2 cup of butter
3/4 to 1 cup of flour
1 small can of evaporated milk (5 ounces)
1-1.5 cups of milk
1 cup cooked, chopped chicken or turkey
1 tsp garlic
1/2 onion
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
1 Tbsp chicken bouillon (or 4 small cubes)
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
Veggies of your choosing. My family likes carrots and onions. Other options could include peas, cauliflower or mushrooms.


Depending upon what vegetables you have chosen, cook them. I always saute garlic and about 1/2 an onion in 2 tsps of olive oil and then add the carrots.

Melt the butter in a separate medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup of flour and whisk with the two milks. You want the white sauce to be fairly thick so be sure to slowly add the milk. Add the white wine if you are using it and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the bouillon, garlic, salt and pepper. Turn the heat down and add the meat and vegetables. Simmer, stirring occasionally.

Cook the puff pastries according to the package instructions. When they are lightly browned, remove and carve out the center of the pastry, spoon the chicken mixture into the middle and serve. Enjoy!

Recipe: Fresh pear and curry pasta

Now, I’m not about to get all partridge in a pear tree on you but ’tis the season for pears.

I call this time of the year the dark and dreary world of fruit eating (anyone else miss their mangoes, peaches and strawberries?) but I love cooking with pears. And a flavor combination I enjoy is pears and curry.

Years ago, my mom gave me a fabulous Canadian cookbook The Best of Bridge. This dish is from their Best of the Best with all their top recipes so you know it’s gotta be good.  It’s meatless but if you want you can serve it with chicken or pork. I generally double it because the recipe only serves two and I add garbanzo beans for flavor and protein. Enjoy…your house will smell wonderful for days after you’ve tried it.

Fresh pear and curry pasta

(serves 2; I generally double this recipe)

1/2 small onion, chopped
2 Tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp medium curry paste (or I just use 2-3 tsp of curry)
1 tsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp honey (I prefer more to make it sweeter)
1 can garbanzo beans
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 unpeeled ripe pear, peeled and sliced in thin wedges
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp cream (optional; I leave out when I’m trying to eat healthier)
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Pasta for 2: rotini, bow ties or shells

In a frying pan over medium heat, saute onion in oil until soft. Add garlic and curry and stir 2-3 minutes. Add tomato paste and honey and stir another 2 minutes. Add broth and beans, increase heat to medium high and boil gently, reducing liquid to less than 1 cup. (This takes about 15 minutes). If you like it less thick and more soupy, don’t cook as long (I love to do this and also use it as soup).

Not cooked as long, used as soup

Delicious with cream

Add pear slices and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cream and stir another 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro. Pour over pasta and toss gently. Enjoy!

Our Junior Chefs and Why Jamie Can Just Eat Ramen noodles

I love Sunday mornings. Every year, our church meeting time changes between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and the latter is my favorite. It’s late enough for us to race back from weekend trips and provides plenty of time to kick back we’re home.

Jamie was just released after a few years in the Bishopric but when he was at his morning meetings, the kids sleep in (at our house, that doesn’t usually extend past 8 a.m. during the school year). Read. Practice the piano. Listen to the weekly broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle choir performing Music and the Spoken Word (seriously inspirational whatever denomination you are).

Weeknights are so chaotic with homework, meetings, playtime and activities that our cooking tutorials have been put on the back-burner. But on Sundays, the kids help me cook a big dinner and we spend a lot of the day in the kitchen together.  On a recent Sunday, we went overboard and I boasted about it to Jamie afterward.

“The kids did a great job cooking today! IHOP pancakes for breakfast, slow-cooker roast beef, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed artichokes, caramel apple bars, popcorn and caramel apples.”

“That’s awesome they did all that,” said Jamie. “So when are you going to step it up around here?”

Recipes: Mom’s Famous Breakfast Bake

I’m not much of a casserole fan but man alive, I’ve always loved my mom’s breakfast bake. It’s a combination of all my favorite things and I don’t feel a wee bit guilty if I serve it for dinner.

Which I have done many,  many times.

We recently had a bunch of friends over to watch LDS General Conference and I made this dish. My friend’s entire family of eight liked it so much she asked for the recipe so here ’tis!

Warning: my mother is a domestic goddess so anytime I ask for a recipe, it is met with frustration because the woman does not work in exact measurements. However, for a recipe like this it totally works because you can add a little or as much as you’d like of certain ingredients depending upon your preference. And this recipe has always turned out for me.

Maman’s Famous Breakfast Bake


Shredded hashbrowns
Shaved ham (bonus if you have leftover ham from Thanksgiving!)
Grated cheddar cheese
2-3 large Tomatoes
Sliced green onions
6-8 eggs
Half and half cream
Salt, pepper and parsley
Hollandaise sauce


  • Preheat the oven to broil. Cover a 9X13 pan with hash browns. Broil them well on each side (until tips are lightly browned).
  • Turn down the temperature to 350 degrees. Cool slightly and cover the hashbrowns with a layer of shaved ham (about 250 grams).
  • Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese (about 2 cups, depending upon how much cheese you like).
  • Cover with sliced green onions (about 1/3 cup).
  • Slice 2-3 large tomatoes and add these as the next layer.
  • Beat 6-8 eggs, add approximately 1/4 cup of cream. Add salt, pepper and parsley to flavor and pour evenly over the breakfast bake.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until lightly browned and the eggs are firm.  To serve, cut into squares and top with a dollop of Hollandaise sauce!

The Perfect Fall Recipe: Caramel Apple Squares

Once upon a time, I worked as the events diva at Deseret Book. Essentially, I oversaw the promotional events at their 38 stores and corporate office. It was a dream gig and I loved interacting with many inspiring authors and church leaders.

One of my favorite events was when we launched the cookbook, Lion House Entertaining. If you’re not familiar with the Lion House and its amazing history, the next time you are in Salt Lake City you MUST stop by this historical home of Brigham Young, which has been converted into a church-run restaurant. The Lion House has the most melt-in-your-mouth rolls you’ve ever tried (or if you live close to a Deseret Book, many of them have in-house pantries).

For the book launch party, we commissioned the Lion House’s cooks to make several of the recipes from the book–everything from what to serve at brunches to formal or holiday dinners to kid’s birthday parties to dessert buffets.

My very favorite dish from that event has become my must-make treat every fall. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit and prefer to make my own caramel because, let’s face it, homemade is better than those store-bought caramels any day. Plus, there’s always plenty of caramel leftover so we like to make caramel apples and popcorn. But using store-bought is much quicker and delicious as well so you can’t go wrong.

Unless you choose not to make this recipe and that is very, very wrong.


Caramel Apple Squares

1 3/4 cup of flour
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, cold
1 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
2 21-ounce cans of apple pie filling

20 caramels, unwrapped
1 can sweetened condensed milk


1 cup butter
2 cups of brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk


  •  In a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Cut in the butter until crumbly. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of this crumb mixture, press the remaining mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased 9×13-inch baking pan.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes; remove from oven. Add the nuts to the reserved mixture and set aside.

    Crumble topping

Caramel Option 1

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the caramels with the condensed milk, stirring until smooth.

Caramel Option 2

Cook the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Stir frequently and heat to a boil and soft-ball stage (usually about 5 minutes of boiling). Note: You’ll only need about half of the caramel for the recipe so feel free to use it for other treats.

  • Spoon the apple filling over the baked crust, top with the caramel mixture, then crumble the reserved crumb mixture over the top.
  • Bake approximately 30 minutes or until set. Cool and cut into squares. This may be served warm with ice cream.

Recipe: Perfectly Pumpkin Magic Cookie Bars

Confession: I have a bakery weakness. OK, I have many of them. But when push comes to shove, I can usually resist the temptation of cookies, cakes and doughnuts.

But on the off-chance I spot a rare magic cookie bar at a bakery? All bets are off and I must buy it.

If you’ve never had a 7-layer magic cookie bar you’re missing out. Anything with sweetened condensed milk is a winner in my book but then add coconut, chocolate and graham crackers? #Winning.

For our pumpkin party this year, I decided to go one step further and add pumpkin. Try it.  You won’t be disappointed.


Perfectly Pumpkin Magic Cookie Bars

  • 4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 32 whole crackers)
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 11/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup salted almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate chips. I also chopped up some Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses, which are available seasonally.



Heat oven to 350 degrees. Create a foil sling with a 1 inch over hang in a 9×13 pan..

  1. Combine graham crackers and butter  and stir until well blended. Press mixture onto bottom of pan
  2. Combine sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and stir until well combined. Pour mixture over graham cracker crust.
  3. Sprinkle on chocolate chips, followed by the nuts and then finish by sprinkling coconut on top.
  4. Place assembled pan in the oven and bake for about 35-45 minutes. Let cool in pan completely and then transfer finished pan to the refrigerator to chill before cutting.
  5. ====
    In case you missed it: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars

Our debut as professional pie contest eaters at Four Mile Historic Park

Four years ago when Jamie was in Portland visiting his buddy at a pumpkin weigh-off, the kids and I fell in love with Four Mile History Park’s annual Great Pumpkin Harvest Festival. This rustic 12-acre historic oasis and the site of Denver’s oldest house is a charming throwback to yesteryear. Scarecrow making. Caramel apples and apple cider. Pioneer games. Horse-drawn wagon rides. Museum tours. Wood-burning stove cookie baking and Native American fry bread. Mountain man encampment. Gold panning. Historic blacksmithing demonstrations.

I loved it all and have been dying to go back but last weekend was our first opportunity while Jamie was at another weigh-off.

Pumpkin ring toss

Very heated musical chairs cakewalk

New obsession: stilt walking


Apple cider doughnuts I’ve dreamed about for four years

Four Mile Historic Park had pumpkins for purchase in a cute little pumpkin patch but we couldn’t be bothered.

“We don’t need to stop there, Hadley. We’re pumpkin snobs.”

“What’s a snob?”

“Someone who thinks they’re better than someone else.”

“Why yes, yes we are pumpkin snobs.”

But there’s nothing better than pie-eating contests and darn it if Hadley and Bode didn’t hit the jackpot by being two of the lucky 15 kids who signed up.

There was some stiff competition: a lot of hungry-looking teenagers. Bode looks like he’s praying in this picture. It worked. At least it did when he figured out it’s better not to lick the berry pie…

and just jump right on it. Little dude never looked back.

Hadley, on the other hand, started strong by smashing her face in her apple pie and ingesting it. About a minute later, she came up for air.
“Mom, I can’t breathe! I have pie up my nose”

“Breathe later, eat now.”

I have a future as a competitive pie-eating coach. My first rule: do not slurp the apples like a straw.

Or look at your competition. Bode lost precious seconds here.

But  he needn’t have worried because he totally beat Hadley who ended up looking like this.

I don’t think she’ll want apple pie anytime soon.

But we had a blast and you’d better believe we’ll be training for next year.

Recipe: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars

I still remember the day I became obsessed with eating all-things pumpkin. I was pregnant with Hadley, called home and my family was eating pumpkin pie for Canadian Thanksgiving.  As a wave of homesickness washed over me, I developed a pregnancy craving for pumpkin that never went away.

Thankfully, the pregnancies did.

I absolutely love our pumpkin party and all the delicious treats our friends bring. I mean, just look at this spread!

Every year, I like to experiment and fell in love with two new recipes that I tweaked until they were just right. I’ll share one this week and another next week.

About the recipe: two of my favorite treats are pumpkin pie and apple crisp. This recipe melds the best of both worlds with the “crisp” not only as the topping but also on the bottom and delicious pumpkin in between. Then, add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger and this treat tastes like fall.

Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups quick oats (old fashioned works too)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pumpkin Pie Filling
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed-light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned pureed pumpkin
1/3 cup half and half
Whipped cream and cinnamon, for serving (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, salt and baking soda for 30 seconds. Add in 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar an mix until no clumps remain. Combine melted butter and vanilla and add to mixture, then stir with a spoon until evenly moistened. Gently press half of the mixture into a greased 8 by 8-inch baking dish (a 9 by 9-inch baking dish would be great to, just reduce the baking time slightly as needed) and bake in preheated oven 15 minutes.

Meanwhile in a mixing bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt. Add in egg, egg yolk and vanilla and stir until blended. Mix in pumpkin then milk. Pour mixture over baked cookie portion and return to oven to bake 15 minutes, then remove from oven and sprinkle remaining cookie crumb mixture over top while breaking the crumb into small bits. Transfer oven rack closer to the top-center (not directly beneath but a few levels below) and return to oven to bake about 20 – 25 minutes longer until golden on top and center only giggles slightly. Remove from oven and allow to cool 1 hour at room temperature, then transfer to refrigerator to cool 1 hour longer (or serve warm from the oven like a crumble with ice cream). Cut into squares and serve with sweetened whipped cream and a light dusting of cinnamon if desired.


In case you missed it:

Drumroll: And the Great Pumpkin’s Weight is….

Like a giant pumpkin to the slaughter: a pumpkin party to remember

Stanley the Pumpkin Does Colorado Schools and the Fun Run

When a Man Loves a Woman: The Pumpkin Version

Recipe: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Crisp Bars

How to mend a man’s broken heart: fresh peach pie with shortbread crust

We had a heartbreak at the Johnson household yesterday. Jamie’s pride and joy (no, not his children but his giant pumpkin) blew up. We knew at the rate it was growing, it would be very possible for it to crack and that it did. He intends to caulk the split and hope it makes it to the weigh-off at the end of September but it is now disqualified, which is a disappointment because it was on-track to becoming a state record.

Jamie with 1,000+ pound Stanley the Pumpkin during happier times

He still has another pumpkin that is growing less rapidly as back-up but for now, the dream is dead.

So, how do you mend a man’s broken heart? Through his stomach, of course. As I was driving home from mountain biking, I passed Heinie’s Market, a family-owned and operated fresh produce market and spotted the  most glorious Colorado Palisade Peaches. One of Jamie’s favorite desserts ever is his mom’s fresh peach pie so I figured it would give him at least a little bit of a lift. A couple of my friends asked for the recipe so I’ll post it here.

What I like about this pie: I’m a crust snob and shudder at any recipe that says to use those crap pre-made or frozen ones. But I’m also not the best crust maker so this one calls for what could be classified as shortbread and is so so so easy to put together.

And there is nothing better than fresh peaches when they’re in season so why on earth do we bake them and suck all the glorious goodness out of them? The crust is baked but the peaches are not so the sweeter and better the peaches, the more delicious the pie. Trust me, try this recipe and you’ll never look back.

Oh, why peach pie to help salve the wound?

Because pumpkin pie would’ve added insult to injury, of course.


Grandma’s Fresh Peach Pie with Shortbread Crust


1 cup of butter
2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of sugar (though I add a touch more)
dash of salt

Mix and press onto a pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes and let cool.


2 cups of boiling water
2 1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup of cold water
3/4 cup corn starch
1 3-oz package of peach Jello
1/4 cup of lemon juice
4-6 fresh peaches

Instructions: Boil 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Mix sugar, salt and cornstarch with the cold water. Pour the mixture into the boiling water and let it cook until it is thick and clear (about 5 minutes). Add the Jello powder and cook for another minute. Take the saucepan off the head and add the lemon juice. Let it cool. Peel and cut the peaches and stir them in. Pour into the pie shells and refrigerate until you’re ready to eat.


To read about Stanley the pumpkin’s demise, be sure to go to