Monday, December 22, 2014


Bizcochitos are the official state cookie of New Mexico and have been around in different versions for hundreds of years.  They're traditionally made with lard, always seem to have anise and some type of alcohol (like brandy or wine) or juice in the dough, and are sprinkled with or rolled in cinnamon sugar.  I've been wanting to make them for years and finally did it!  No regrets, these cookies are delicious.  They have a crunchy, shortbread texture to them and the anise is delightful.  It's definitely there, but is not too strong at all.  Even my husband liked these quite a bit.
This time around I used shortening and orange juice, but in the future I would like to experiment with butter, solid coconut oil, and MAYBE even lard for the fat, and brandy and wine for the liquid.  We liked these so much that I plan to make these every Christmas, so I will have many opportunities to experiment!
I got this recipe from a blog called The Nickel and Dime Ranch.  The blog owner, Bridget, says the recipe came from a New Mexican cookbook called License to Cook.  After I made the recipe, I found basically the same recipe on AllRecipes!  I wonder if the recipe submitter got it from the same cookbook as Bridget.

Tip:  After you've pressed the cookie cutter down into the rolled out dough, wiggle it around a bit so the cut out will be sufficiently separated from the surrounding dough.  This will make it easier to remove the excess cookie dough.

1 C vegetable shortening
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp anise seeds, lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 egg
1/4 C orange juice
3 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1/4 C sugar
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon

With an electric mixer, cream together shortening, sugar, and anise.  Beat in egg, then orange juice.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to shortening mixture and stir just until the dough comes together.  Do not over work the dough.  The dough should be fairly soft and not sticky.  Gently form the dough into a ball.

Lightly flour a clean, flat surface.  Place the dough ball on the middle of the rolling surface and pat it down a bit with your hands so it's flat.  Dust lightly with flour and brush the flour around with your hand.  Roll the dough out carefully with a rolling pin, so it's about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick- whichever you prefer.  I did both and they were all great!  Add a little more flour if the dough starts to stick to the rolling pin.
Cut the dough out with cookie cutters and carefully move the cut outs to the prepared baking sheets with a very thin pancake turner.  The shapes won't really spread in the oven, so you can space them 1 inch apart. Repeat rolling out the dough until it's all used up.
When the cookie sheet is full, stir together the 1/4 C sugar and 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon and sprinkle it generously over each cookie.  Bake until cookies are light golden around the edges, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how thinly you rolled the dough and how big your cookie cutters are.

Optional:  You can gently roll the cookies through the cinnamon sugar again when they come out of the oven (before they cool) if you want.  I didn't do this because we liked the cookies just fine as they were, but I'm sure it would be good this way!

In either case, let the cookies cool until you can handle them without them breaking, then remove them to wire cooling racks.  When they've cooled completely, you can store them in a tin or an airtight cookie jar.

Yield: 25-50 cookies, depending on how thin you roll the dough and the size of your cookie cutters.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

This is another recipe from Making Memories With Your Kids!  Thanks for being such a great source of Christmas treats this year, Erin :)
I've always liked coconut macaroons, but my husband didn't finally give in and start liking coconut until recently.  He loved these, and so did I!  The almond extract is just perfect in them.  They're so dense, chewy, rich, crunchy around the edges, and just perfect.  I'm not sure if they should be classified as a cookie or a candy, but they can definitely be classified as amazing and a recipe to make again next Christmas!
My only changes for next time are that I would make them a little smaller because they're so rich (I used a cookie scoop and only got 15 out of this recipe), and I would dip them in melted semisweet chocolate instead of milk chocolate.  I have a definite preference for milk chocolate if I'm just eating it, but it's so sweet and the chocolate flavor was kind of lost here.  Normally I don't post a recipe on my blog if I have changes to make, but the chocolate thing is pretty minor and I'm 100% sure the semisweet chocolate will work.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
14 oz bag sweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 C flour
1 1/2 C semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together condensed milk and extracts.  Break up the coconut with your hands and sprinkle it over the condensed milk, then sprinkle the flour evenly over that.  Stir together until everything is well combined.  Use 2 spoons or a small cookie scoop to scoop up the mixture and make little balls on the prepared cookie sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart.  These don't spread or grow in the oven, so keep that in mind when you shape the macaroons!  I chose to squash mine down slightly so they wouldn't be rounded.

Bake until the macaroons are light golden and the stray coconut bits are browned.  How long this takes will depend on your oven and the size of the macaroons, but somewhere between 10 and 16 minutes will probably work.
Let macaroons cool on the cookie sheets until you can handle them, then put them on a plate and refrigerate until very cold.  Save the parchment paper.
Melt chocolate chips.  I used the microwave and heated them in 15 second increments at 50% power, stirring between each cooking burst, but use whatever method you prefer. 

When you're ready to dip the macaroons, remove them from the refrigerator and set your parchment paper lined cookie sheets nearby (you can use the same parchment paper they were baked on).  Dip the bottoms into the chocolate.  Set dipped macaroons on the parchment paper lined cookie sheets and refrigerate them until the chocolate is set.  You can store the finished macaroons in a tin at room temperature.

Yield:  Depends on how big you make them.  About 15 big ones or 30 small ones.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


December is always full of baking cookies and other treats, and I have 3 great recipes to share over the next few days.

The first is Snickerdoodles.  How well known are these cookies?  I'd never even heard of them until I was 10 and I met a new friend with a super cute bunny named Snickerdoodle, my husband had never heard of them until I made these, and a friend of mine didn't know what they were either.  Although I have eaten Snickerdoodles (and knew they were amazing), for some reason this was my first time making them, and they were incredible.  As in, my husband, who has a HUGE preference for chocolate chip cookies, said they give his CCC recipe a run for its money!  Wow! 
The recipe is from Erin over at Making Memories With Your Kids.  I was assigned her blog for Secret Recipe Club last week and made White Chocolate Raspberry Cookies for that, but went on to make these a few days later, and then just yesterday I made another of her cookie recipes (which will be posted here soon!).
Erin, you may get a kick out of this- when I was ready to make these, I asked my husband to pull up the recipe on his computer and he typed into Google "making memories with your Snickerdoodles."  That did lead to the correct recipe!

These cookies are fantastic as they are, but next time I may experiment with using 2 t cream of tartar because a lot of other recipes I looked at use that much for this amount of flour.

1 C butter, softened
1 C white sugar
2/3 C brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cream of tartar
1 t baking soda
3 C flour
1/4 C white sugar
1 T cinnamon
Cream together butter and sugars for 1 minute.  Beat in vanilla extract and eggs, then salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda.  Mix in flour, being careful not to over mix.  Refrigerate cookie dough for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 300 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 C sugar and 1 T cinnamon.  Roll dough into walnut sized balls and roll in cinnamon sugar to coat.  Space 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake cookies just until starting to turn golden.  This was 17 minutes in my oven, but yours may take more or less time!  I'd suggest checking on them after 10 minutes.
Yield: I got 30 cookies from this recipe.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: White Chocolate Raspberry Cookies

This is my second Secret Recipe Club assignment for this month!  I signed up for Cookie Carnival.  Basically, I was given the blog Making Memories with Your Kids and told to make any cookie recipe, then post about it.  Making Memories with Your Kids is written by a very hardworking mom named Erin.  Her blog is absolutely full of amazing looking recipes and child friendly craft ideas.  She has a lot of great looking cookie recipes, and I chose White Chocolate Raspberry Cookies.  I've always wanted to make this kind of cookie, but couldn't figure out how to do the raspberry part.  Jelly would be too runny and would burn, raspberry flavored chips wouldn't seem right... What to do?  Well, it turns out the secret ingredient is POP TARTS!  Genius, Erin!
Anyway, I made these exactly according to the recipe, except I cut back on the salt a little, and had to use semisweet chocolate chips.  I swear this was not intentional.  I thought I had white chocolate chips in the pantry, but did not, and my dough was all ready for the chips, so I simply had to use what I had.  They turned out fine, but I truly believe they would have been best with the white chocolate chips because the semisweet flavor overpowered the raspberry a bit.  Shame!  Sorry, Erin!  I have written the recipe below calling for white chocolate chips, though, and will definitely use those next time.  At some point I would also like to experiment with white chocolate chips, lemon extract, blueberry Pop Tarts, and maybe even adding some oats to the dough.  Regardless, these cookies are a winner for sure!

Erin has so many yummy cookies, I think I'm going to have to make her Candy Cane Pudding Cookies, Marble Cookies, Root Beer Float Cookies, Andes Mint Cookies, Peanut Butter Mallow Cookie Treats, Chocolate Dipped Macaroons, and Snickerdoodles.  I'm actually headed to the kitchen right now to make her Snickerdoodles, and have the ingredients for Chocolate Dipped Macaroons on my grocery list!

White Chocolate Raspberry Cookies
1 C butter, softened
3/4 C packed brown sugar
3/4 C white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 C white chocolate chips
pack of 8 Raspberry Pop Tarts (14.7 oz box)

Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Cream together butter, sugars, and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.  Stir into butter mixture, then stir in white chocolate chips.  Break up Pop Tarts with your hands and then gently fold them into the cookie dough.

Roll dough into golf ball sized balls and arrange 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Bake until cookies are light golden, about 10 minutes.

Yield:  This made 30 for me, you will get more of course if you don't make your cookies as big as mine!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Baked Lemon Pasta

This recipe is from the Pioneer Woman blog.  As usual, I changed it a bit, but nothing too drastic.  I have another lemon spaghetti recipe that we love, but this one is different enough to have earned its own tiny spot in my pasta loving heart because it is AMAZING.  I can't even properly describe it, but it's creamy, savory, full of great parmesan flavor, and the lemon is perfect: light and mild within the baked pasta, but with occasional bites that have extra punch because of the additional juice drizzled on top at the end.  This is definitely a new favorite!  I'm even considering preparing just the sauce part and seeing how it tastes spooned over asparagus and other veggies.

I made a half recipe because my husband wasn't going to be eating it for dinner (he had several nights of leftover pizza to work on) and I wanted to try something I didn't think he'd enjoy.  He seriously dislikes angel hair pasta for some reason, is easily overwhelmed with lemon in savory dishes, and has some lactose intolerance issues that are especially bothered by sour cream.  Regardless, he tried a tiny bowl of this and really liked it, too.
One last thing- the pasta reheats great in the microwave.  It's a bit firmer, but the sauce part doesn't curdle or do anything weird. 

Baked Lemon Pasta
8 oz angel hair pasta
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 C sour cream
salt to taste (I used 1 tsp total)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lemon, zested and juiced
about 4 oz grated parmesan by weight, divided
about 1/2 C cilantro or parsley, minced
Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 1 quart baking dish.  Cook angel hair pasta in lightly salted water, drain, and return to pot. 

While the noodles cook, place the butter, olive oil, and garlic in a microwaveable bowl or cup and heat until garlic is light golden, about 90 seconds.  Stay close by and check on it every 30 seconds to make sure the garlic doesn't burn!  Stir sour cream, 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, the lemon zest, half of the lemon juice, and half of the parmesan into the butter-garlic mixture.  Taste and add more salt if needed.
Stir sour cream mixture into the cooked pasta and spoon into the prepared dish.  Bake until some of the noodles are a little golden, about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining lemon juice, then the remaining parmesan.  Return to oven until parmesan is melted, about 5 more minutes.  To serve,  you can either sprinkle the entire dish with the cilantro, or sprinkle it on individual plates of pasta.

Yield: about 3-4 servings

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cheesy Bacon, Beef & Rice Casserole

Please do not judge this recipe by its photo!  Casseroles are inherently ugly, but oh boy, this one REALLY is.  I've been referring to it as "50 Shades of Brown Casserole", it's not often you see this many variations on the color brown.  Hideousness aside, this casserole is really good.  It was originally billed as Mexican Rice Casserole on the CopyKat Recipes blog where I found it (it was from a lady named Virginia McDowell in 1968!), but I don't think it really tastes like the rice you get in Mexican restaurants.  The bacon doesn't really help it seem Mexican, either, but it does help it be even more delicious!
You could serve the casserole with sour cream, cilantro, salsa, and the like if you want it to taste more Tex-Mex (I actually made a side salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and this Creamy Salsa Dressing), but on its own, it just tastes good and is a perfect comfort food.  You could also try adding more chili powder, some cumin, and some black beans to play up the Mexican factor.  I wouldn't leave the chili powder out, though, because it does add a special little something.

Note: The original recipe called for minute rice (quick cooking rice).  I don't like minute rice, so just used regular rice since the recipe looked like it had enough liquid and the simmering time of 20 minutes is just right for cooking it.  It turned out great this way!  I also used the whole bell pepper (yellow, in my case) and onion because I didn't want to waste the rest.
Now I'm no great shakes when it comes to photographing food, but isn't this ugly?  I almost feel bad for it!

Cheesy Bacon, Beef & Rice Casserole

4 oz bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 C uncooked rice
1 lb ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced
1 3/4 C water
8 oz can tomato sauce
1 t chili powder
1 t salt
2 C cheddar cheese, grated
Cook bacon in a large skillet over low heat.  Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Add diced onion and bell pepper to the bacon grease and cook until they begin to soften.  Add rice and cook for a couple of minutes, just until it starts to turn opaque and gets a little golden. 

Add ground beef and cook, stirring constantly.  Keep a close eye on the heat because the rice could burn easily!  It's okay if the beef isn't cooked all the way through if you run the risk of burning the rice. 

Add the water, tomato sauce, chili powder, and salt, bring skillet contents to a boil while stirring, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Cook without removing lid for 20 minutes.
While that's cooking, turn the oven to 400 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.  When rice and meat mixture is done, stir thoroughly, then spoon half of it into the baking dish.  Top with half of the cheese.  Layer with the rest of the rice mixture, the rest of the cheese, and the bacon.  Bake about 15 minutes, until cheese is golden.
Yield: 6-8 main dish servings

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ginger Apricot Cranberry Sauce

My Secret Recipe Club assignment for December was The Pajama Chef and this is one of the three recipes I made from that blog.  I made my official post for SRC a couple of days ago, but really wanted to share her Ginger Apricot Cranberry Sauce, too!

A bit of background: My husband loves homemade cranberry sauce, so I make it every Thanksgiving.  It's usually the very first Thanksgiving dish I make and I do it the night before.  I like cranberry sauce okay, and in the past have always just used the recipe on the bag of cranberries (cranberries, sugar, water).  It's good, but regardless of how much my husband likes it, we always end up throwing some of it away after a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Well, when I made this, we actually finished the entire bowl in a few days.  A first!  If that doesn't speak to how good it is, I don't know what would.  It's such a perfect combination of tart-sweet-spicy (from the ginger) and the apricot actually does manage to hold its own against the cranberry flavor.  I may experiment with other cranberry sauce recipes in the future- found one with crushed pineapple that appeals to my pineapple loving heart!- but this is definitely our default cranberry sauce recipe from now on.

Note: The recipe says to cut the halved apricots into thirds.  I thought that seemed really big and cut them into 6ths.  The apricots kind of fell apart during the cooking process and disappeared into the cranberries.  It still tasted amazing, but I think bigger pieces may be the way to go and will do it this way next year.

Ginger Apricot Cranberry Sauce

12 oz bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
3/4 C sugar
1 t ground ginger
15 oz can halved apricots
Place cranberries in a pot and add sugar and ginger.  Drain the apricot juice into a measuring cup and add enough water to make 1 cup liquid.  Add to pot.  Cut apricots into quarters and add to pot.  Stir to mix.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have popped and are softened, and the sauce cooks down and thickens.  This will take about 15-20 minutes.  Refrigerate sauce until ready to serve.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Dipping Sauce

My blog assignment for this month's Secret Recipe Club was The Pajama Chef, which is written by a lady named Sarah.  This is kind of off topic, but have you ever met someone and felt like you've seen them before?  I swear, Sarah looks exactly like someone I know, but I can't think of who it is.  I even wondered if Sarah and I have met before at some point!

In any case, Sarah's blog has lots of yummy recipes.  So many that I actually made three recipes from her blog this month!  These chicken nuggets, which I made two or three weeks ago, but also her amazing Ginger Apricot Cranberry Sauce and her Mixed Vegetables Mornay.  I made the last two for Thanksgiving and am still enjoying the leftovers.
I decided to make Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets because the recipe looked so different, and different things intrigue me. My only changes here were to season the raw chicken with a bit of salt and pepper, and I turned on the broiler for a couple of minutes at the end of the baking time so the nuggets would brown a little.

These nuggets were really good!  The honey flavor was quite prominent (though far from overwhelming) and the crunch from the panko bread crumbs was delightful.  The dipping sauce is great, too, and would probably be very good with baked french fries served on the side.  I served mine with Green Beans Amandine (another SRC recipe!), which was yummy for sure, but fries just go with chicken nuggets, don't they?  I should probably add that long after the nuggets were gone (side note, they reheated fairly well), I still had leftover dipping sauce and kept looking for things to dip in it because it's so good.  It's like a creamy, mild honey mustard with a bit of BBQ flavor.
Next time I make this recipe, I'm going to try using mustard instead of the balsamic vinegar in the honey-vinegar mixture you dip the chicken into before baking.  We couldn't taste the balsamic vinegar at all (I think it mostly served to thin the honey a tad), but mustard would surely be noticeable.  I would also like to try cutting the chicken in half as described in the recipe, but then just cutting each half into 2 or 3 pieces instead of lots of small nuggets.  My husband ate his chicken with a fork anyway and this would be faster!
I would really encourage anyone who makes this to use panko bread crumbs vs any other kind.  This was the first time I used panko, and they were in the baking aisle with other bread crumbs.  In the past I've tried baked chicken with other bread crumbs, and panko is so much better.  It's so crunchy!

Baked Honey Chicken Nuggets with Dipping Sauce

for the sauce:
1/2 C mayo
2 T honey
1 T barbecue sauce
2 t yellow mustard
1 t lemon juice

for the nuggets:
1/2 C honey
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 C panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper
1 lb chicken breasts
Stir together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl until smooth, cover, and refrigerate while you make the nuggets.  You could even make this the night before, it tastes best after it's had time to sit!
Preheat oven to 375 and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the honey and balsamic vinegar in a cereal bowl.  Measure bread crumbs into another cereal bowl.
Cut the chicken into nuggets.  To do this, slice the breasts in half lengthwise so you have two thin halves, then cut them into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper to taste.
One or two pieces at a time, put the chicken into the honey mixture on both sides, and let any excess drip off.  Press both sides of the chicken pieces into the bread crumbs, gently shake off any excess, and arrange on the baking sheet.  Repeat until all nuggets are coated.
Bake chicken until cooked through, about 30 minutes.  If the crumb coating isn't toasted, turn the broiler on just long enough to make the bread crumbs light golden.  Make sure not to walk away because they could burn quickly!
Serve chicken nuggets with dipping sauce.
Yield: About 4 generous servings

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Stuffed Pepper Soup

For some reason I've never made a stuffed pepper recipe worth repeating.  They've never turned out gross or anything, just not anything special.  I'll undoubtedly try more stuffed pepper recipes in the future because I love them when done well, but it's not very urgent because this soup has amazing stuffed pepper flavor!  This was dinner last night, and it was one heck of a dinner.  The recipe is simple for sure, but extremely tasty.  Everything just works together really nicely.  My husband and I made it together.  Our new kitchen is so much bigger than the old one and we had a lot of fun cooking this.  We made Garlic Butter Dips to go with it.  We just loved this soup, my husband even handed out a rare 10 out of 10 rating.

This recipe is from AllRecipes.  I made a few changes, namely more bell pepper, garlic, crushed tomatoes instead of diced, and more broth (since crushed tomatoes have thicker juice than diced).

Stuffed Pepper Soup
1 Tbsp butter
1 lb ground beef
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 C chicken (or beef) broth
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
15 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t dried thyme
1/4 t dried sage

for serving:
1 C uncooked rice
fresh minced parsley

Place butter in a large pot and melt over medium-high heat.  Add ground beef and break it up with a spoon.  Add bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until meat is cooked through and onions are translucent.  Add garlic and cook another minute.  Drain fat if necessary.  Stir in broth, tomato products, and seasonings, bring to a boil, cover pot, and reduce heat to a simmer.  Let simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

After 30 minutes, steam rice in a separate pot.  Meanwhile, continue to simmer the soup.  To serve, either stir the rice directly into the pot of soup (only if you're planning to eat all the soup immediately), or scoop individual portions of rice into bowls and top with the soup and a sprinkle of minced parsley.

Yield: 6-8 main dish servings

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken

 I came upon this recipe for Teriyaki Chicken on the Cooking Classy blog a couple of weeks ago.  The sauce ingredients looked so good that I had to try it!  It turned out great.  A bit spicy, gingery, sweet (but not too sweet), and tangy.  My husband gave it a 10 out of 10, which isn't a rating he hands out willy nilly.  I had to add a little more cornstarch than the original recipe called for, but other than that, the recipe was spot on.  Next time I'm going to try adding the orange marmalade to the sauce pan after the cooking liquid has been strained so that the little bits of orange peel won't be strained out (I like the orange flavor), but that's the only change I would make.

Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken

1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C honey
3 Tbsp orange marmalade
6 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 C low sodium soy sauce (the low sodium part is important!)
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

In a medium bowl, mix together everything except chicken, cornstarch, and water until sugar and marmalade are partly dissolved.  Pour into a slow cooker.  Add chicken breasts to slow cooker and turn to coat in the sauce.  Cover and cook on either low or high heat until chicken breasts are cooked through.  How long this take will depend completely on your slow cooker!

When chicken is done, remove it to a plate and refrigerate so it can cool down a bit while you finish the sauce.  Strain liquid in slow cooker into a small saucepan and discard the solids left in the strainer.  Bring cooking liquid to a boil.  Stir together the cornstarch and cold water until smooth, then pour it into the liquid, stirring constantly.  Simmer sauce for at least a minute or two so it can thicken and the cornstarch can cook completely.  Pour sauce back into slow cooker.

Shred the cooked chicken breasts, return them to the slow cooker, and toss with the sauce to coat.  Cover again and let cook until heated through, about 20-30 minutes.  Serve chicken over rice.

Yield: about 8 servings

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jumbo Monster Cookies

They may seem like an odd choice for an adult, but Monster Cookies are my favorite kind of cookie!  They're easy to make, bright and cheery to look at, and most importantly, they taste great.  The peanut butter flavor is wonderful and the mix of 3 kinds of chocolate works really well.  There are tons of versions of Monster Cookies out there, and this is just my version.  Many use less peanut butter, have nuts or other things like pretzels or raisins, and I haven't seen any with white chocolate chips, but the white chocolate chips add a lot!  My version is based on Paula Deen's recipe.

For this batch, I used a giant 1/3 C cookie scoop that my mother-in-law gave us recently.  The cookies turned out comically huge, big enough that even cookie lovers like us break them in half to share.  You can make them smaller (slightly larger than a golf ball is good), but come on, they're Monster Cookies- they should be bigger than average!

Monster Cookies

1 stick salted butter, softened
1 C sugar
1 1/4 C packed brown sugar
16 oz jar of peanut butter
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking soda
4 1/2 C quick oats (not instant)
3/4 C semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 C white chocolate chips
3/4 C M&Ms, plus more for the top of the cookies
Preheat oven to 350 and line large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together butter, the sugars, peanut butter, eggs, salt, and vanilla until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add baking soda, oats, and chocolate, and stir until everything is well combined, but don't over mix. 

Measure dough into 1/3 C portions and roll each portion into a ball.  Place dough balls about 3 1/2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.  Top each dough ball with 6 more M&Ms, then flatten the cookies with the palm of your hand because they don't spread a ton on their own.

Bake cookies until light golden, about 15-20 minutes depending on your oven.  Let the cookies cool on the pans for 10 minutes, then place them on a cooling rack to finish.

Yield: 14 jumbo cookies or about 3 dozen smaller ones

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mrs Jones' Baked Macaroni & Cheese

As my blog name hints, I am a huge mac and cheese lover and always have been.  I've probably tried more mac and cheese recipes than any other type!  At the same time, I'm pretty particular about my mac and cheese.  A recipe has to be just right to get two thumbs up from me.  Maybe 1 in 8 mac and cheese recipes I try are ones I deem tasty enough to make it to my blog.  Those include the magnificent Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese (my husband's favorite), Beer Mac and Cheese, and Stove Top Mac and Cheese.  I also made Ina Garten's Mac and Cheese for Ina Fridays and enjoyed it, but wouldn't have posted it on the blog if I hadn't made it specifically for that recipe group.

So what I'm getting at here is that I'm always trolling for more mac and cheese recipes, and when I do make one, it has to be freaking fantastic if it's going to join my little mac and cheese recipe family.  Ladies and gentlemen, I'm happy to say there's a new cheesy, noodley member of the family!  The recipe is called Mrs Jones' Baked Macaroni and Cheese and I found it on a blog called Chick in the Kitchen.  I honestly have no recollection of how I came upon the recipe, I just know it was a couple of months ago.  We moved recently and with all the craziness of buying a house, packing, moving, and not being able to use the kitchen for several weeks, I had in the back of my mind the idea that I would make this mac and cheese recipe once I made my way back into the kitchen.  That happy day finally occurred recently, so of course this is one of the first things I made!  Oh and for those wondering, apparently Mrs Jones was the preschool teacher of the cousin of the blog author, Dara, some number of years ago, and the recipe has been in her family ever since. I altered it a smidgen (increased the Worcestershire sauce and added some salt), but my version is pretty true to the original.

Okay, on to what people may actually care about: a description of the recipe.  This is NOT a creamy, saucy mac and cheese.  There's actually no sauce to speak of.  Instead, the cheese, eggs, and milk make a rich, custard-like binder for the noodles.  It's not dry at all, either, and that's coming from someone who loves lots of sauce!  The mac and cheese also has awesome flavor from all of the sharp cheddar and the dried mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper in the sauce.  All the flavors really work together perfectly.  Even my husband really liked this mac and cheese, and he's a guy who groans whenever I make any recipe other than Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese because he loves that one.  This recipe is definitely a keeper and one I'll still be making 50 years from now!  Thank you, Dara, Dara's aunt, and Mrs Jones!

Mrs Jones' Baked Macaroni & Cheese

1 lb regular or whole wheat small pasta shells (I used Barilla White Fiber)
2 Tbsp butter
1 lb shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 eggs
12 oz can evaporated (NOT condensed) milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 casserole dish.  Boil shells in salted water, drain, and return to pot.  Add butter and stir until it's melted, then let the pasta cool for a few minutes so it won't melt the cheese.  Stir it occasionally so it will cool faster.

While the shells cool, whisk the eggs in a small bowl until smooth.  Whisk in evaporated milk, salt, ground mustard, cayenne pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.
When pasta has cooled a bit, stir in the grated cheese until it's evenly distributed.  Spoon pasta into the prepared baking dish and pack it down lightly with the back of a spoon.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over top.

Bake, uncovered, until the edges are bubbly and the top is golden, about 30 minutes.

Yield: 8-10 main dish servings or twice as many side servings.  Mac and cheese is ALWAYS a main dish at my house!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Buttermilk Spice Cake

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned Lisa's blog, Sweet As Sugar Cookies!  I had such a hard time choosing a recipe because Lisa's blog is just full of amazing looking desserts.  She makes other things, too, and I almost chose either Oyster Sauce Meatballs or Spicy Peanut Butter Meatballs (will have to try those later), but ended up choosing her Buttermilk Spice Cake because it looked like the perfect recipe for autumn.  We just purchased and moved into our first house, and this cake had the honor of being the first dessert I made!  It was definitely a good choice, because we loved how the cake turned out.  The spices were fantastic and the amount of ginger gave it a little bit of a burn, in the best way possible.

My one change from the original recipe was to use a maple glaze on top instead of cream cheese frosting.  I used the glaze recipe from Pound Cake with Maple Glaze, and it was the perfect accompaniment to the spicy, flavorful cake.

I will definitely make this cake (and the glaze!) again, but will try using cake flour instead of all purpose flour, and a 7 by 11 pan instead of 8 by 8.  There was a lot of batter for an 8 by 8 pan and by the time the center was cooked, the edges were a bit dry and it was a bit over browned, to the point that I covered the cake with foil for the last 10 or 15 minutes of baking.  I think a slightly larger pan will help with this!

Update:  I made this again for Thanksgiving dessert with cake flour and baked it in two 8 inch round cake pans.  The cakes only took 20 minutes to bake and were SO light, fluffy, and soft!  I had serious issues getting the cakes out of the pans (next time will put parchment paper rounds in the bottoms) and ended up making a trifle with the broken cake pieces instead of a layered cake frosted with caramel cream cheese frosting, but it was definitely a hit this way.

Buttermilk Spice Cake

1 stick butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
3/4 C brown sugar
2 eggs
2 C flour
2 Tbsp ground dried ginger
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 C buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease either an 8 by 8 pan or a 7 by 11 pan (see my note above).

Cream together butter and sugars, then beat in eggs.  Stir together dry ingredients in another bowl.  Alternate beating dry ingredients and buttermilk into butter-sugar mixture in 3 additions each, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread batter in the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  You may need to cover the cake with a sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side up, if it browns too much.

Remove cake from oven and allow to cool about 20 minutes.  It does not need to be completely cooled before you add the glaze.

Maple Glaze

2 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp maple syrup
1 C powdered sugar

Place butter and maple syrup in a small pan and heat over medium until butter is melted.  Remove from heat and whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.  Spread over partly cooled spice cake.  Let cool until the glaze has set.  You can either serve it while still warm, or let it cool completely- it's great either way!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Green Beans Amandine

Secret Recipe Club
My blog assignment for this month's Secret Recipe Club was The Tasty Gardener!  This blog is absolutely stuffed with really good looking recipes, and it was hard to choose one.  I ended up going with Green Beans Amandine.  It's a recipe I've wanted to try for years and years, so this was a great opportunity!  The recipe turned out wonderfully.  It's very simple, with just 5 ingredients (plus salt and pepper), but all the flavors really come together and are so good.  The almonds get fried in the butter and olive oil, and I think that's what really makes the flavor incredible.  My husband and I ate the whole pound of green beans in one sitting, they're that good.  Most definitely a repeat recipe.  Thanks, Heather!

I tweaked a couple of little things.  First, I used black pepper instead of white because I absolutely cannot stand white pepper.  I also changed the directions so you cook the almonds a little before adding the garlic, because I found the garlic cooked a lot faster than the almonds.

Update:  I've since made these again with frozen french cut green beans.  They were good, but not as good as with fresh beans.  They also didn't reheat is nicely as some veggies.  Not bad, but I think I'll stick to making this with fresh beans and when we plan to eat the entire batch in one sitting.

Green Beans Amandine

1 lb green beans, rinsed and ends trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 C sliced almonds
2 cloves minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook beans until crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes (length of time depends on how soft you want them).  Drain beans and keep the lid on the pot so they stay hot while you cook the almonds and garlic.

In a large skillet, melt olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Add almonds and cook just until they begin to barely change color, then add the garlic.  The almonds and garlic cook quickly, so don't walk away!  When the almonds and garlic are golden, add green beans to skillet and toss to coat.  Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.   Place the beans in a serving bowl so the almonds and garlic don't burn on the bottom of the still hot skillet.

Yield: About 4 servings

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ina Fridays: Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

It's Ina Friday again!  This month I was supposed to make a dessert.  My husband and I both love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I've only made ONE PBJ dessert before (some cookies about 10 years ago), so it was pretty quick to settle on Ina's recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars.  You can find the recipe here.  My small changes were to cut back the salt from 1 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp because my butter was salted, and leave out the peanut topping because as much as we love peanut butter, neither of us is crazy about peanuts sprinkled on things.

It was such an easy recipe to throw together, and a perfect, all American, homey dessert for the 4th of July!  We loved how they turned out, it's hard to imagine the bars being much better than they are.  Unlike some other bars that need to sit over night before serving (thinking of Carmelitas), they held up together very well when cut about 4 hours after coming after the oven, and the flavors are perfect.  Can't wait to see how they taste tomorrow after the flavors have had a chance to blend and balance out!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

1/2 lb salted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 C sugar
3 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
18 oz jar smooth peanut butter
2 eggs
18 oz jar jam (I used seedless blackberry)
2/3 C salted, chopped peanuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 pan.  Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until fluffy and light yellow, about 2 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl.

Add vanilla extract, peanut butter, and eggs to butter-sugar mixture and mix on low until well combined, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low just until completely combined (do not over mix).

Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Spoon jam over the top and spread evenly.  Drop remaining dough in small pieces over the jam.

Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Allow bars to cool completely (at least 4 hours) before attempting to cut them into squares.

Yield:  About 16 servings

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ina Fridays: Weeknight Bolognese

It's time for another Ina Friday!  Unfortunately I missed last month because I was sick and in no condition to cook, but it's a new month!  This time we were supposed to make a main dish.  I had about 5 main dish Ina recipes bookmarked as potentials, and after spending all day today thinking about her Weeknight Bolognese, I picked up the ingredients on the way home from work and whipped it up.

This recipe did not disappoint!  I did have to make a few small changes, the most important being that I only used 1/2 teaspoon salt instead of a tablespoon, and only 1/4 teaspoon black pepper instead of 1 1/2 teaspoons.  I think this was a VERY good call because with that amount of salt, we probably would have shriveled up and died.  Reducing the pepper was more an issue of personal taste, but I really think the given amount would have been excessive.  I also left out the olive oil simply because even lean ground beef has enough fat to cook fine, and used pre-shredded parmesan.  Normally for a recipe like this, I would have grated my own, but I had an open container in the fridge that I couldn't bear to throw away!  It definitely would have been better with freshly grated though, the pre-shredded kind detracted a bit from the dish because it made it a little chalky.  One last thing- I boiled a whole 1 pound box of shells even though the recipe called for 3/4 and thought my husband would just eat the leftover pasta with butter for lunch.  The recipe ended up making so much sauce, though, that I went ahead and mixed all of the pasta with it.  Even with the extra noodles, it was still wonderfully saucy.

Now, plenty of sauce aside, what did we think of this recipe?  Well, my husband LOVED it and rated it 10 out of 10!  I didn't like it nearly as much as he did, but it's still something I will make again and am quite pleased with how it turned out.  The sauce is very robust and hearty with great flavor from the wine and a bit of creaminess.  It does not taste like a sauce that was only simmered for 20 minutes!  Next time I may experiment with adding a bit more cream, mostly because there was a lot left over in the container and there's no way an extra 1/4 cup cream could make it worse.

Weeknight Bolognese

1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/4 C red wine, divided
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
salt to taste (I used 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped roughly and packed lightly into measuring cup
1/4 C heavy cream
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 lb small pasta such as shells or orecchiette
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high and add ground beef.  Saute until cooked through.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano and saute another minute, until garlic starts to turn golden.  Add 1 cup of the wine and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and pepper.  Bring sauce to a boil, then cover with a splatter screen, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After the 10 minutes are up, begin to cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water.  While the pasta cooks, stir basil, cream, and nutmeg into sauce and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is done. 

Drain pasta and place into a large serving bowl.  Pour sauce on top and add the parmesan.  Toss until pasta is coated and cheese is melted.  Serve in bowls topped with additional parmesan.

Yield: 5 generous servings

Monday, June 2, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Chicken Shawarma with Pita Bread & Toum

Secret Recipe Club
For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the amazing blog of a nice lady named Sawsan who lives in Jordan.  Her blog is called Chef in Disguise and has so many incredible looking recipes!  I had a heck of a time choosing one because food from that region of the world is basically my favorite.  When I saw her recipe for chicken shawarma, I decided to go full out and make that along with her pita bread and toum (creamy garlic sauce) recipes.  This was my first time making any of these things and also the first time I'd had chicken shawarma or toum.

For the purposes of this post, I'm just focusing on the chicken shawarma recipe, but you can find her pita bread here and toum here.  I made the latter two exactly according to her recipes and they turned out great!  The bread was soft and tender, and formed pockets like it was supposed to (something I worried about a bit!), and the toum was extremely creamy, lemony, and garlicky.  They definitely get my recommendation.

The chicken shawarma was very good, too.  It's something I've always wanted to try and ended up being quite unique!  I've never tasted anything with this specific combination of ingredients, but cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom are among my favorite spices and this recipe has all three!  Sadly I did not have the mastic so had to do without, but I will definitely try to get some next time I'm in Seattle and will make this recipe again with it.  The flavors came together quite nicely even without the mastic, though, and my husband and I both are looking forward to the leftovers and making it again another time.  I'm so glad I was assigned Sawsan's blog because these three specific recipes are probably not ones I would have come across otherwise.

Below is my version of Sawsan's recipe.  There were a couple of things I was a little unclear about in the main recipe, so I did it how I thought she intended, but I followed her recipe pretty closely.

Chicken Shawarma

8 oz plain yogurt
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp mastic (I did not have this)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground bay leaf (I put a whole bayleaf in with the marinade)
1/8 tsp nutmeg

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into strips (I used breasts)
2 Tbsp
1 onion, halved and sliced
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges

pita bread
sliced pickles
toum or tahini
french fries

Mix together marinade ingredients.  Add chicken and stir to coat.  Refrigerate several hours or over night.

When you're ready to cook, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high.  Add chicken to skillet with tongs and discard the remaining marinade (some will stick to the chicken).  Saute until chicken is almost cooked through, then push it to one side of the pan and add the onions.  Saute the onions until they soften, about 3-5 minutes, then push them to the side of the pan.  Saute the tomatoes until they begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes more.  Stir everything together and let it simmer for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

To serve, open up a pita and spread with some toum or tahini.  Make a line of the chicken shawarma mixture down the center of the pita and add sliced pickes and a few french fries if you'd like.  Roll up the pita and serve with fries on the side.

Yield:  About 4-5 servings

An InLinkz Link-up

Friday, May 16, 2014

Quinoa Chicken Chili

 This is a recipe I randomly came across a few months ago on the Queen Bee Coupons website.  The idea of quinoa in chili intrigued me and I love chili, so decided to make it!  This was actually my first time cooking OR eating quinoa and it was great.  There's not a whole lot in the chili, but it really expands a lot and adds a bit of substance and texture.  Quinoa aside, the chicken and spices are just perfect.  My husband said this was the best chili he's ever had, and I'm inclined to agree!  I made it over a month ago and froze most of it, but need to make another batch already.

Quinoa Chicken Chili

4 C chicken broth
10 oz can Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chiles)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 15 oz cans black beans, drained
1 C quinoa
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Toppings such as sour cream, grated cheddar, diced avocado, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, or green onion (I just did grated cheddar and it was perfect)

In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, stir together everything except chicken.  Add chicken.  Cover and cook until meat is cooked through, about 4 hours on high or 6 on low.  Remove chicken, chop or shred, and return to slow cooker.  Serve with your favorite chili toppings, such as grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and green onion.

When I did this, I added the broth, Rotel, and half the crushed tomatoes to the slow cooker, blended with the immersion blender, then added everything else.  My chicken was frozen in a large solid brick, so it took longer to cook- about 4 hours on high.  I put the chicken in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool off before shredding.

Yield:  About 13 servings

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: The Mothership Tomato Salad

Secret Recipe Club

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the awesome blog, Chit Chat Chomp!  Isn't that the best blog name?  Chit Chat Chomp is run by an Australian lady named Leigh, and she has a ton of very intriguing, tasty looking recipes of all kinds on her blog. 

I ended up choosing a recipe called The Mothership Tomato Salad.  It's from the chef Jamie Oliver, and I was drawn to it because I LOVE tomatoes!  We have tomato salad very frequently, usually just using tomatoes, a pinch of salt, and balsamic vinegar.  Simple and delicious.  The Mothership Tomato Salad is like a fancier version of that.  It's still super fast and easy to make, but has things like oregano, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  So good, and definitely a repeat!  Best of all is there aren't even really any measurements, you just sprinkle in the ingredients to your heart's content.

In a few days I plan to make Leigh's wonderful looking Chickpea Falafels.  I actually made the tomato salad a few days ago just because the recipe looked irresistible, and planned to make the falafels for this post, but then I got sick.  I'm still recovering, so the falafels will have to wait a couple of more days!

The Mothership Tomato Salad

tomatoes (recipe calls for heirloom, I used grape), cut into bite size chunks
small amount of minced garlic
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
pinch of oregano
pinch of red pepper flakes
splash of extra virgin olive oil
splash of balsamic vinegar (about 1/4 the amount of olive oil)

Just toss everything together in a bowl, taste, and add a bit more of anything if it needs more!  Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rainbow Float

This is definitely more of an idea than a recipe, but it's such a smashing idea that I had to share!  My brother's soon to be wife is the one who told me about rainbow floats when we were down visiting my family a couple of weeks ago.  We may or may not have stopped at the grocery store that night to get the ingredients, and after we got home to Alaska, I may or may not have taken myself right over to the store again!  That really says something coming from a person who is not especially fond of sherbet (until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't had sherbet for maybe 10 years) or root beer floats, and who has a dessert/sweet treat once a week.  There's just something about the sherbet-soda combination that is just perfect, though.  Three flavors of ice cream if you go with rainbow sherbet, the bubbly tartness of the 7 Up, the creaminess and foam of the two together.  Yum!

I even took a picture of my rainbow float to share, but it looked so bad that I figured we'd be better off without.  A decent photographer would make it look beautiful, though, and it certainly tastes beautiful!

Rainbow Float

rainbow sherbet (or whichever flavor you want)
cold 7 Up

Scoop sherbet into tall glasses, then top with 7 Up.  It will foam up a lot, so don't add too much soda at once!  Serve with a straw and a long spoon.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Broccoli Cheese Soup

Secret Recipe Club
It's time for another Secret Recipe Club reveal!  This month, my blog assignment was Jessie Weaver's blog.  Her blog has recipes on it of course, but also posts about all kinds of other things.  I spent a solid two hours reading her posts the other day and really enjoyed it!  Jessie is a great writer and seems very thoughtful and kind.  Her kiddos are super cute, too.

Anyway, on to the recipe.  Hope Jessie doesn't mind that the recipe I went with is one she posted 7 years ago!  I can't help it, I love broccoli cheese soup, and the recipe she shared sounded really good.  I did alter it some.  Butter and full fat cheddar instead of cooking spray and light cheese, added an extra cup of chicken broth in place of one of the cups of milk because I didn't want to waste part of the carton of broth, and after tasting it I added both salt and a bit of mustard to punch up the cheese flavor.  I also decided to sprinkle the cheddar on the individual bowls of soup as a garnish so it could just barely melt into the soup- yum!

In any case, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the soup.  It's thick, creamy, has great flavor, and is basically the perfect comfort food.  I can pretty much guarantee I will make it again!  Next time I would try doing 8 oz Velveeta because it was surprisingly difficult to detect, and I say that as someone who cannot stand even the tiniest bit of Velveeta in any other recipe.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

2 Tbsp butter
1 C diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 C chicken broth
1 lb frozen broccoli florets (or can use fresh, chopped broccoli)
1 tsp bottled yellow mustard (not dried)
1/4 tsp black pepper
salt to taste (start with 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 C milk
1/3 C whole wheat flour
6 oz Velveeta by weight, diced
shredded cheddar cheese for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and add onion.  Saute until the onion begins to soften, then add garlic, and saute until golden.  Add chicken broth and broccoli.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk and whole wheat flour until smooth.  Bring pot of soup to a boil and pour in milk mixture in a thin stream while stirring the soup continuously.  Let simmer about 5 minutes so the flour has time to cook and thicken the soup.  Add Velveeta and stir until melted.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup to your preferences, I made sure to leave some bigger pieces of broccoli.  Divide soup among bowls and sprinkle each bowl with a tablespoon or two of grated cheddar.

Yield: 6 servings 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ina Fridays: Bibb Salad with Basil Green Goddess Dressing

It's Ina Friday time again!  This is my third month participating, and the recipe I chose this month was a big hit at our house.  The recipe category this time was Appetizers/Drinks.  There are lots of tasty looking Ina Garten appetizer recipes, but this one for Bibb Salad with Basil Green Goddess Dressing immediately caught my eye.

For some reason the idea of green goddess dressing has always intrigued me.  I've only had it once before, on a large lunch salad at a restaurant.  Unfortunately, the combination of herbs they used was extremely off putting and strange tasting, to the point that I couldn't force myself to eat it!  Lucky for us, though, this recipe was pretty amazing and unlike any other dressing I've had.  The basil is incredible and the flavors all just work together perfectly, especially after spending a couple of hours in the refrigerator.  It reminds me a bit of a good caesar dressing, but the basil really sets it apart.  It was great on salad of course (I used bagged butter lettuce), but I think it would also be good in pasta salad, potato salad, or with fish, shrimp, or chicken.  I also had some as a snack with baby carrots and cucumber and it's great that way, too.

Quick Note:  This recipe makes a lot, about 3 cups!  I halved it (though wrote the full amount of ingredients below) and it turned out great.

Edit: I've found the green onion intensifies quite a bit after the dressing is in the refrigerator for a couple of days, so I usually cut back the green onion to 1/2 cup and bump up the basil to 1 1/2 cup.  This has become one of our favorite salad dressings.

Basil Green Goddess Dressing

1 C chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1 C chopped green onions, green and white parts
1 C mayo
4 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp chopped garlic
2 tsp anchovy paste
1 C sour cream

Place everything but sour cream in a blender, the bowl of a food processor, or in a bowl compatible with an immersion blender.  Blend until smooth.  Scrape down sides, then add sour cream, and blend until completely incorporated.  Taste the dressing and add more salt if necessary.  The dressing will look a bit thin, but should thicken nicely in the refrigerator.

Refrigerate dressing for a couple of hours before serving so the flavors can develop.  A few other blogs that have shared this recipe say the dressing stays good in the refrigerator for 3 weeks, but I'm skeptical and think 1 week sounds more likely!

To make the salad, just arrange washed, dried, and torn bibb or butter lettuce on plates, then top with tomato wedges and dressing.

Yield: About 3 cups

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Oatmeal Molasses Rolls

Secret Recipe Club

I'm very excited to have joined a new cooking group called the Secret Recipe Club!  I've been wanting to join it for well over a year, so this is a long time coming.  The idea behind it is that each month, you are randomly assigned another member's blog, and your blog is assigned to someone as well.  Then you poke around on the other person's blog and pick any recipe, make it, then post about it on a specific day.  Fun!

My first match is the blog This Gal Cooks, which is written by a very nice sounding lady named Julie.  You should really check out her blog, the recipes all look amazing (I had a heck of a time narrowing down my options) and she takes lovely photos.  The recipe I chose was Oatmeal Molasses Rolls because they just looked so tasty and although I love wheat bread with oats on top, I've never actually baked bread with oats or molasses before.

I followed Julie's directions pretty much word for word, and the rolls turned out wonderfully!  They're hearty from the oats and whole wheat flour, but still very soft and fluffy with a hint of molasses.  Most definitely a keeper!  The only changes I would make are that next time I would sprinkle the oats on the rolls right after forming them into balls and really press them in with my hands because the oats ended up just falling off the baked rolls when I waited to sprinkle them on until right before baking.  Also, next time I'd like to experiment with adding 1/4 cup of brown sugar along with the yeast because I think the bit of sweetness would complement the molasses nicely.

Quick Note:  To make a warm place for dough to rise, I turn my oven to 350 for exactly 1 minute, then turn it off, place the dough in a container in the oven, and leave it to rise.  All ovens are different so you may need more or less than 1 minute.  It should be decidedly toasty warm when you stick your hand in the oven, but not hot since you don't want to actually bake the dough.  You can repeat the warming process after an hour or so if the oven has gone cold.

Oatmeal Molasses Rolls

1/4 C butter, plus 2 tbsp more for top
1 C milk
1/3 C molasses
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2 3/4 to 3 1/4 C white flour, divided
1 packet yeast
2 eggs
3/4 C whole wheat flour
3/4 C rolled oats, plus 1 tbsp more for top

Place 1/4 C butter, milk, molasses, maple syrup, and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium until butter is melted.  Remove from heat and let cool until mixture is lukewarm (about 115 degrees) so it doesn't kill the yeast.

While molasses mixture cools, place 2 C white flour and the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Attach the paddle attachment and turn the mixer on low for a minute or two, just to combine the flour and yeast.  Add cooled molasses mixture along with the eggs and mix on speed 4 until well combined.  Add whole wheat flour and 3/4 C oats to bowl and continue to mix until well combined.

Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and add 3/4 C of the remaining white flour.  Mix on speed 2 until flour is incorporated.  If needed, add additional flour 2 tbsp at a time until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and is barely sticky to the touch.  My dough ended up needing exactly 3 C white flour (so 1/4 C more), but yours may be different.

Reduce speed to the lowest setting and knead for 8 to 10 minutes.  Form dough into a ball.  Lightly oil dough ball and the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until it's doubled in bulk.  This will take 1 to 2 hours.

When dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down.  Place on a lightly floured surface and roll into a log.  Cut in half, then cut each half into 8 pieces.  Form into balls and divide evenly among two greased 8 or 9 inch cake pans.  You should have 16 roll balls.  Oil some plastic wrap (I just use no stick spray) and loosely cover the pans. 

Set pans in a warm place and let rise until rolls have doubled in bulk, about 30 to 60 minutes.  Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle rolls with about a tablespoon of oats per pan.  Turn oven to 375 and bake until rolls are golden and cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from oven, brush with melted butter, and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Yield: 18 large rolls

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ina Fridays: Brownie Pudding

This month's Ina Friday assignment was for a dessert, and with my husband's birthday coming up, I quickly decided to make him Brownie Pudding.  The guy loves brownies, chocolate, and batter, so it seemed like a perfect choice. 

I had to halve the recipe because I didn't have baking dishes that would have worked for the whole recipe (you need to make a water bath), used vanilla extract instead of the seeds from a vanilla bean, and did not have the optional framboise.

Regardless, the brownie pudding turned out really well!  It has a crunchy, sugary crust on top, then the inside is insanely chocolaty (there's more cocoa than flour in it!), soft and chewy near the edges, and delightfully gooey at the center.  I think I may have baked it a smidgen too long because the center was not actually runny, but it doesn't seem to have hurt things one bit.  My husband gave this 10 stars and had two large servings.  Most definitely a repeat, and better than any molten chocolate cake either of us have had at restaurants.

As a plus, this is super easy to make with pretty impressive and very yummy results!  And since you serve it warm (with ice cream, no less), unlike with a cake, brownies, cheesecake, or pie, you don't have to wait for it to cool before serving.

Brownie Pudding

1 stick butter
2 eggs, room temperature
1 C sugar
1/3 C cocoa powder, plus 1 Tbsp
1/4 C flour
seeds of half a vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
1/2 Tbsp framboise liquer, optional (I did not have this)
vanilla ice cream to serve it with

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a flat, 1 quart baking dish that fits comfortably inside of another baking dish (you're going to make a water bath).  In the bowl of a stand mixer, place eggs and sugar.  Attach paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick and light yellow.

While the sugar and eggs mix,sift together the cocoa powder and flour.  Reduce the speed of the mixer to low and add the cocoa powder-flour mixture, vanilla, and Framboise.  Mix only until combined.  With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the cooled, melted butter.  Again, mix just until combined.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish.  Set baking dish inside the other baking dish and place it in the oven.  Fill the larger baking dish with enough hot tap water to fill it halfway up the side of the dish.  Bake until a toothpick inserted 1 1/2 inches from the side of the baking dish comes out mostly clean, about 45 minutes.  Do not over bake. 

Let the brownie pudding cool for 15 minutes, then serve with vanilla ice cream.

Yield: 4 servings (recipe says 3, but 4 or even 6 is more realistic)

 Here's a list of the other bloggers that participate in Ina Fridays!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Copycat Frito Lay Bean Dip

This is just a really tasty, easy, and CHEAP recipe for bean dip.  We think it's better than the canned stuff from Frito Lay.  It has more flavor, as well as a definite spicy kick.  You could also make two batches of this for the price of one tiny can of bean dip!  I found the recipe over at and it's basically perfect exactly as written.

Copycat Frito Lay Bean Dip

1 can refried beans (check the ingredients if you want to make your dip vegetarian or vegan!)
2-5 jarred jalapeno slices (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 Tbsp brine from the jar of jalapeno slices
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Blend all ingredients in a food processor, or alternatively, place everything in a smallish bowl and blend it with an immersion blender until smooth.  Serve with corn chips or tortilla chips, or you can make a quick lunch by spreading some on a flour tortilla, sprinkling with a bit of shredded cheddar, and rolling it up.

Yield: About 8 servings

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chicken Cacciatore with Mushrooms & Bell Pepper

Here's another winner from Kate at Our Best Bites!  I don't think I've ever had a dud recipe from there, and this Chicken Cacciatore was extremely good.  Like, serve it to company good.  I can definitely see why this recipe is a lifelong favorite of Kate's.  It's just perfect- the chicken, bell pepper, and mushrooms are right at home in the robust, rather spicy, wine tinged, velvety tomato sauce.  A keeper for sure!

My version of this is a tiny bit different from the original.  Used more chicken (actually 1 3/4 lb, but I'm freakishly picky about fat and stuff on meat and lost about 1/4 lb when I was cutting it off), divied up the pepper a little bit differently, and the recipe suggested using more mushrooms if you love them, which we do.  The big change, though, is that I did not cook this in the slow cooker.  I was afraid the chicken would get dried out since the pieces are so small and you brown it on the stove first.  The internet told me that chicken cacciatore is often just simmered over low heat for an hour, so that's the route I decided to take and it worked out smashingly.

We had this over spaghetti, but right as the spaghetti was finishing cooking, my husband came home with a spaghetti squash and I think the leftovers will be wonderful with it.

Chicken Cacciatore

6 T olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 C white wine (not cooking wine, it's very salty and just gross)
1 1/2 C chicken broth
6 oz can tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 t dried marjoram
1/4 t dried thyme
1/4 C flour
1 t salt
3/4 t pepper
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite sized pieces (I actually used 1 3/4 lbs)
1 bay leaf
2 C sliced mushrooms (about 5 ounces by weight)
1 green bell pepper, sliced

Brown onion in 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  When onion is almost done, add garlic and cook until golden.  Remove skillet from burner and spoon the onion and garlic into a blender.  Add tomato paste, wine, chicken broth, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, marjoram, and thyme to blender and blend until completely smooth.

Place flour, 1 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp pepper in a gallon sized Ziploc bag and shake to mix.  Add the chicken and shake until it's evenly coated. Place the remaining 4 Tbsp oil in the skillet and heat over medium-high.  Add chicken and any excess flour and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (does not need to be cooked through).

Add blended sauce to the chicken in the skillet along with the bayleaf, mushrooms, and bell pepper.  Cover skillet and cook at a low simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.  The chicken, mushrooms, and bell pepper should be cooked through and tender.

Serve cacciatore over pasta, spaghetti squash, or steamed broccoli with a bit of parmesan on top.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings