Wordless Wednesday – Super Duper Moon

Closest approach in 63 years… and in my lifetime

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Homemade Cornbread Dressing

Make your own tasty dressing instead of buying it at the store!

Years ago, I started making our holiday dressing from scratch, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as far as our holiday menu each year.  Cornbread dressing has to be one of the most forgiving recipes ever, and anyone can tweak it to their own taste.  Indeed, I think I’ve varied my own recipe just a tad every year, and that is just part of the fun of making it.

Today, I’m sharing my dressing recipe, along with photos of each step.

  • Steps in Part 1 of this process can be done ahead of time to save time on the day the meal is to be served.
  • Steps in Part 2 are best done on the day the meal is served. 

Part 1 (Advance Preparation)

In my previous post, I shared the first aromatic step in making this dressing, sautéing the Creole mirepoix (meer-PWAH).  While this recipe can certainly be tweaked in many ways, omitting a basic mirepoix of onion and celery with another ingredient would be a mistake, since this is the foundation of the dish as far as flavor.  For several years, I just used diced onion and celery, but more recently, I have added diced red bell pepper to the mix because it adds even more flavor and also some nice color.

The mirepoix for the dressing consists of one large sweet onion, the green stalks of a bunch of celery (not the tougher white parts) and one large red bell pepper, all chopped finely by hand or in a food processor.  The mirepoix is then sautéed in about two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes soft butter/canola oil, but feel free to just use butter or oil, if you desire.

Good cornbread is the base of the dressing, and I prepare two boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix.  Jiffy cornbread is actually a traditional family dish and the only cornbread my mother ever baked.  She also added a little sugar to her cornbread, and I’ve been known to do that a few times myself.  For this recipe, I follow the recipe on the box, which calls for one egg and 1/3 cup of whole milk per box, doubling those for this recipe.

The cornbread can be baked as desired, but I start mine on the stove on medium high heat in an enameled cast iron skillet that has been warmed to 400 degrees in the preheated oven.  Before adding the cornbread mix to the skillet, I melt two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes butter with canola oil in the skillet, but butter or oil alone would be fine, too.  Allow the mix to heat on the stove for only one minute, no longer, then transfer the skillet to the 400 degree oven for twenty minutes or until the cornbread is thoroughly done in the middle, using the toothpick test.

Cornbread is a real treat for me these days, as I have to follow a low-carb diet most of the time.  So, when I make it, I want it to be pretty much perfect.  This method of preparation is the best I’ve ever found, as the cornbread has a little crunch on the bottom and is evenly cooked throughout.

Isn’t this a beautiful… gorgeous… lovely sight?

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Cornbread, baked to perfection!
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The cornbread turns out to a plate with ease
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I confess. I ate a warm piece. Cooks prerogative.

I could have just stopped right there and eaten the whole thing!  Seriously.

After letting the cornbread cool, crumble it into a bowl or large pan and leave it on the kitchen counter covered by a paper towel for one or two days.  I used a pan with more surface area to allow it to dry out a little faster.  If pressed for time, use the oven at 250 degrees to help the cornbread dry out faster, stirring it every ten minutes until it is a bit crunchy but retains some moisture, too.

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Crumbled cornbread dries for one or two days on the counter or faster in a low oven

Adding one pound of cooked pork breakfast sausage is an optional step, but it is a requirement for us because it adds even more flavor and helps keep the dressing moist.  Simply cook a pound of regular sausage, then drain it thoroughly on paper towels, removing as much fat as possible.  Store the sausage in a sealed container in the refrigerator until the day to make the dressing or in the freezer if making the dressing more than two days later.

At this point, I add some finely diced fresh parsley.  It adds a subtle flavor and also adds some color, complimenting the red bell pepper nicely, and I store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator until I’m ready to make the dressing.

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Several sprigs of finely diced fresh parsley

 

Part 2 (Assemble and bake)

On Thanksgiving, all that is left to do is combine the pre-prepared ingredients with the seasonings and chicken broth, then bake the dressing in the oven.  Yes, that’s it!  Easy peasy.

Combine the cornbread, mirepoix, sausage and parsley, then add most of a 32 oz. carton of chicken broth, reserving just a bit of the broth.  Add seasoned salt and poultry seasoning, sprinkling both generously over the top, then stir well to combine.  Feel free to taste test and add seasoning as desired, being careful to not over-season the mix.  I don’t add pepper but some other people include it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the empty baking dish in the oven to also preheat.  I used an enameled cast iron baking dish.  When the oven and baking dish are preheated, remove the dish from the oven and spray it with non-stick spray.  (Don’t spray the dish before pre-heating it.)

Pour the dressing mix into the pre-heated dish, smooth it out, then bake it at 350 degrees for thirty minutes.  At that point, remove the dressing from the oven and stir it thoroughly, then bake it for fifteen minutes or more until it reaches your desired consistency.

I love, love, love this dressing!

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The finished product… oh, how I love this!

I can make a meal on this dressing and nothing else.  It’s that good.

As I said earlier, dressing is a very forgiving dish to make.  If your dressing is a bit dry, just add a little more chicken broth and heat it a bit longer.  Take it to new levels by adding even more tasty ingredients, like sautéed diced mushrooms or finely diced jalapeno pepper

For this dish, I do not recommend adding any other types of bread other than cornbread, but feel free to give it a try if you’re feeling especially adventurous.  The consistency and flavor of the cornbread is what makes this dish, in my opinion.  If you opt to use other breads in place of part of the cornbread, just be sure to dry them out as much as possible before making the dressing.

Here is the complete list of ingredients.  Just read back through this post for the preparation instructions.  Enjoy!

Southern Cornbread Dressing

For the Mirepoix:
one large sweet onion

one bunch of celery (use only green stalks)
one large red bell pepper, seeded and cored
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread

For the cornbread:
two boxes Jiffy Cornbread Mix
two extra large eggs
2/3 cup milk
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread

one pound regular pork breakfast sausage

7-8 stalks of parsley leaves, diced

poultry seasoning (to taste)

seasoned salt (to taste)

 32 oz. box regular chicken broth 
(if using low sodium broth, use a little more seasoned salt or regular salt)

 non-stick spray for the bottom of the baking dish

I use enameled cast iron dishes (pre-heated) to bake both the cornbread and the dressing for best results.  If using other non-heated baking dishes, cooking times may take a bit longer.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking!  Savor every moment of the fun! 🙂

 

Creole Mirepoix

The start to so many great dishes!

I’m not sure I enjoy savoring anything more than the colorful look and the fragrant aroma of a nice Mirepoix (meer-PWAH).  My personal favorite is a creole variation with red bell pepper, and I also like equal parts celery and onion in mine.

Sautéing mirepoix is the first step in making our traditional Southern cornbread dressing, and I’m pleased to share these photos today as a part of the daily prompt, “aromatic.”  I only wish I could also share the actual aroma here, too.  Ahhhh!

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Even though we will be dining out with family and friends this Thanksgiving, I still had to make a pan of our traditional dressing because it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving to me without it, even if we enjoy it in the days after the holiday.

Dressing is not difficult to make, and over the past few years, I’ve convinced a few friends to ditch the store-bought dressings in favor of their own homemade versions, especially since most everything can be done ahead of time.  Tomorrow, I hope to share my recipe here, complete with step-by-step photos, but today, I will just enjoy the aroma of this fabulous mirepoix!

via Daily Prompt: Aromatic

 

Fabulous Friday!

Maybe the best collection of dance scenes… ever!

I’ll just leave this right here… maybe the best collection of famous dancers in the history of movies.

Happy Friday!😀

Wordless Wednesday – A Fair Evening

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Enjoying Autumn

My favorite season of the year

Autumn is flying by for me, and it’s been a most enjoyable season at home and for traveling in the RV.  The leaves are just beginning to turn, nighttime temperatures are flirting with the freezing mark but not yet giving in, regular fall activities returned, and my favorite farmer’s market vendor has closed for the season after another good run this year.  This is by far my favorite season of the year, and we now consider it to be our “summer,” since it is our preferred season for travel and outdoor fun now.

Since returning from our week-long vacation to the Enchanted Circle area in early September, we’ve made three more shorter trips in the RV, all to state parks closer to home.  We’ve also enjoyed some nice times right here at home, including our annual visit to the fair and enjoying the great food there on opening night, none of which was on my diet, but hey, it’s a tradition… right?

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We always enjoy our yearly visit to the fair

At the fair, we once again dined at the same place I used to take my mom for lunch each year, a charitable organization’s restaurant that I’ve always enjoyed supporting and one that also serves reliably good food.  I guess I will always have my mom on my mind every time I go to the fair now, remembering how much she enjoying it, and that’s ok.  Those are good memories, but it still gets to me each time I go now.

In late September, Hubby and I returned to Lake Brownwood State Park with another couple who also joined us in their RV for four days and three nights, the same couple we met at Caprock Canyons State Park in August on a weekend that was cooler than normal.  It was our first time to visit Lake Brownwood in September, and we managed to get adjacent sites with awesome lake views in the Council Bluff campground.

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View of Lake Brownwood from Texas Oak hiking trail… one of favorite trails

We enjoyed acquainting our friends with the park, and we also had fun hiking and geocaching together, dining outside in the evenings, watching college football on Saturday evening outside on their RV television and driving into Brownwood to dine at one of our all time favorite places to eat, Underwood’s BBQ.

We also celebrated Hubby’s birthday with our traditional family birthday cake, a Texas chocolate sheet cake that I made, and we even made him blow out candles.  Once again, I ate that yummy cake, even though it wasn’t on my diet, a most familiar tale this fall.

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View from our campsite at Lake Brownwood State Park. We enjoyed a nice campfire here on Friday night with our friends.

In late October, we made a quick weekend trip to Lake Colorado City State Park to just get away and relax.  Hubby’s nephew surprised us and met us there in his big, new pop-up camper on Saturday afternoon.  The guys had fun checking everything out on it a little more, and we all enjoyed a great visit around the campfire together on Saturday night and even made Nutella s’mores.  (Yes, we used Nutella instead of chocolate bars!)  We had the campground mostly to ourselves, which was so nice for a peaceful weekend away.

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View from our front door at our pull-thru site at Lake Colorado City State Park
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The site we scoped out for Hubby’s nephew. He wanted a site that was level and had a little shade, if possible, and he was quite happy with this one.
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Another view of his site – lots of room and green grass
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Big Red was waiting patiently on us in the RV as we were getting ready to leave on Sunday

Last week, Lake Colorado City finally received some significant rains, and the lake is now up at least eight feet since we were there.  We have never seen this lake with that much water in it because we started traveling by RV during the big drought in 2011.  This lake was hit hard and has been very slow in recovering.  Hopefully, it’s made some nice progress now, and I’m anxious to return soon to see it.

Our most recent long-weekend trip took us to Palo Duro Canyon State Park in early November for three days and nights.  We’ve visited this well-known state park off and on for most of our lives, but this particular trip was by far our best one to date.

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We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery at Palo Duro Canyon State Park once again, as well as some great weather and fog

I plan to write a separate post soon to share more about that trip and some of the pictures I took.  Palo Duro Canyon State Park just keeps getting better and better, especially since it was named the top state park in the nation a couple of years ago, and I’ll try to share more soon about the most recent improvements and expansions in the park, which are newsworthy, especially to campers!

The state park system has definitely spent some money on this great park in recent years to improve the roads and add campsites, both of which were sorely needed.  Now, if they could just figure out a way to make that 10% grade road going down into the canyon not so steep and narrow!  ;-)

Since our last trip, we have been cleaning and sprucing up the RV as we begin to transition it for colder weather camping.  Hubby wanted to do some exterior caulking, and I opted to rent a Rug Doctor and clean the carpet while the weather was nice.

Even though we began winterizing in late October at our campsites before heading home, we also started switching out some supplies to prepare for winter camping… loading our heated water hose, electric blankets for us and a guest, extra blankets for us and the dogs’ beds and our good space heater with a thermostat.  Right now, though, the weather is still very nice and looks to stay that way, at least for the near future.  We’re hoping it stays that way next week for Thanksgiving, too.

Visiting a Volcano

We finally paid this unique and scenic place a personal visit!

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Entrance to Capulin Volcano National Monument at Capulin, NM

Over the past five years, we have traveled regularly to northeast New Mexico in the summer to escape the heat at home a bit.  However, on our drives to and from the area, we have never had time to stop at a rather prominent national monument along the way.  We have always enjoyed seeing it as we drove by and always remarked that we needed to make the time for a quick visit in the future.  So, on our week-long trip to the area back in early September by ourselves, we finally decided to take a little time to make the short drive from our route to check it out in person.

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Our view of Capulin Volcano National Monument back in July while driving Highway 87 from Clayton to Raton.  After some recent rains, the area was beautifully green.  We couldn’t stop for a visit then, but two months later, we did!

Capulin Volcano National Monument is definitely worth a quick (or even longer) visit when driving on Highway 87 between Clayton and Raton.  Since we started visiting this area each summer a few years ago, I have truly loved the beautiful and unique scenery in this remote area that is comprised of extinct volcanoes and grasslands because is it so unique, unlike any other area we have visited.

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Highway 87 cuts across the Raton-Clayton volcano field, and Capulin Volcano is actually one of the youngest cones in this area, listed as *probably* extinct, which I find a little fascinating.  It last erupted 56,000 to 62,000 years ago, and there are about 125 cinder cones in this field.  If this area in northeast New Mexico has been blessed with good rains, this entire area is truly a spectacular sight to see, but I find it spectacular pretty much every time we make the trip, it seems.

Our side trip to the monument only took us a little over an hour, but it was an hour well-spent just to drive up the volcano to see the amazing views.

 

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Visitor center and gift shop

 

 

 

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Wildflowers were in abundance

 

The visitor center sits at the base of the volcano and has a small gift shop where we bought our traditional souvenirs when visiting state and national parks, a magnet for me and a hiking stick medallion for Hubby.  His wooden hiking stick, made from an old broom handle that his father had, is really an impressive thing now.  He did such a great job staining it and adding some thin green rope accents, and it is displays his many medallions in a most impressive way.  He used to use it as his regular hiking stick, but now, it is primarily a display piece in our RV.  My magnets just sit on our refrigerator at home, not nearly as impressive, but I enjoy seeing them everyday and letting them remind me of so many beautiful places and fond memories.

 

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View of the visitor center (and our RV) from the parking area at the top

 

After parking the RV in the visitor center parking lot, we loaded up in the car with the dogs for the drive up the volcano.  The drive to the upper lot was not a long one, but it was pretty curvy in parts while also offering some great views, at least for the passengers. 😉

 

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Starting our drive up the volcano
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Curvy road on the drive up

 

Even though the park allows some folks to drive their RVs to the top, after stopping two-way traffic on both ends to allow the RV sufficient room to make the drive up and back down, there is absolutely no way we could recommend anyone doing that!  The parking lot at the top has very little room for cars, much less RVs.  Just leave the RV in the lot at the bottom and drive the car to the top… and save some aggravation to others by not inconveniencing them on their own drives up and down the volcano.

 

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Small parking area at the top

 

We were slightly disappointed that the parking lot at the top wasn’t actually very close to the top of the volcano, as we hoped it would be.  It was still a pretty steep hike on a long sidewalk to the top of the volcano, and we couldn’t take the dogs along on any trails up there.  I walked up the very steep sidewalk just a bit to grab a few photos, but it wasn’t a good plan to go too far, since I was wearing my flip flops.

Nevertheless, the views of the extinct volcanoes in every direction from this vantage point were fabulous!  Taking in the views of the area while driving on Highway 87 is great, but taking a little time to see these ancient volcanoes from on high was even better.

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I’m glad we finally made this little side trip to see Capulin Volcano, and I certainly encourage others to do the same when in this area.  (Just leave the RV at the visitor center.)  The views are spectacular, especially on a clear day.

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There is also a small, privately-owned RV park (Good Sam rated) nearby in Capulin just a few miles away, that would probably be nice for a night or two.

Also, be sure to check the park hours of operation before planning your visit, as they shorten their operating hours at the park in the off season.

More information on the magnificent ancient volcanoes of northeast New Mexico

More great views, including aerial views, of Capulin Volcano

We certainly enjoyed our nice vacation week in northern New Mexico and the Enchanted Circle, but it’s always good to come home again, too.  After all, there’s no place like home and our always magnificent sunsets.

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Home Sweet Home on the plains

Our own personal “summer” of RV travel was finally beginning after our long, hot actual summer months at home, and little did we know how much fun we would have on our shorter trips in the coming weeks with a family member, with some friends and also on our own.  More to come.