Thursday, December 17, 2015

Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole

My husband is crazy about casseroles, and I hadn't made one for a while, so decided to go with this one when I saw it on the Macaroni and Cheesecake blog.  This is a very simple casserole, but proves how nicely things can turn out if you use decent ingredients.  I'm quite certain that the same casserole made with canned chicken, cream of blank soup (which I do use sometimes, no regrets!), and frozen veggies would have landed several rungs lower on the casserole tasty-meter.  this is just a nice cozy casserole, nothing fancy, but great on a cold night and pretty quick to prepare!

Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole

10 oz mix of fresh, chopped broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots
2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
3/4 C milk
3/4 C chicken broth
1/2 C sour cream
5 oz container plain (NOT vanilla!) greek yogurt
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 tsp Montreal chicken seasoning (I used Montreal steak seasoning)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
meat from 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
for topping:
1 Tbsp butter
12 Ritz crackers, crushed
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.
Microwave vegetables in a covered bowl until barely beginning to turn tender, about 5 minutes.
In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium-high.  Whisk in flour until smooth, then cook for one minute, whisking constantly.  Whisk in milk a little at a time, making sure it's completely smooth before adding more.  Whisk in the chicken broth in the same fashion.  Bring to a boil and simmer, whisking constantly, for another minute or two.  Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and greek yogurt, then seasonings.  Stir in chicken and veggies.
Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish.  Melt butter and toss with the crushed crackers, then spoon the crumbs evenly over the casserole dish.
Bake until bubbling around the edges and crackers are golden, about 20 minutes.
Yield: 6 main dish servings

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tamale Pie

This is another recipe from Catherine Newman over at Ben & Birdy.  I've meant to make it for a while, and am glad I finally did!  It turned out really well, my husband loved it.  He's not a fan of regular tamales and liked it a lot more than them.  I personally love tamales, and this tamale pie doesn't bear many similarities to them, but that's okay.  This honestly turned out better than I expected.  I've seen many recipes for tamale pie and always passed them by because I thought they'd be kind of boring, but I've had great success with all of Catherine's recipes, so decided to try her version.  I'll certainly make this one again! 
This recipe is tweaked a bit from the original.  I had to add a bit more buttermilk (just milk plus a little vinegar) to make the batter... batter (instead of dough) and decided to put all the cheese on top because cheese seems to disappear into baked goods.  In the future, I'd like to experiment with using another can of beans instead of the corn and leave out the sugar, but it sure was good this way!
Tamale Pie

1 lb ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz can pinto beans, drained
8 oz can plain tomato sauce
2 C frozen corn
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp white vinegar
for cornbread topping:
2/3 C cornmeal
1/3 C whole wheat flour (or you can use white)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2/3 C buttermilk
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 egg
1 C grated cheddar
Preheat oven to 400 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium and add ground beef and minced garlic.  Break up with a spatula and cook until the meat is cooked through and crumbled.  Add beans, tomato sauce, and seasonings.  Stir to combine, reduce heat to low, and simmer while you prepare the cornbread topping.
In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients for cornbread topping.  Add buttermilk, oil, and egg, and stir just until well combined.
Spoon meat filling evenly into prepared baking dish, then pour cornbread batter over top.  Spread with a spatula.
Bake 15 minutes, then sprinkle on cheddar cheese.  Bake 5 more minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
Yield: 6 servings

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Coconut Oatmeal Cake

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog A Taste of Madness.  It's written by a Canadian woman named Cathleen.  Cathleen is a math teacher (how cool!) and enjoys doing yoga and traveling, in addition to making- and eating- desserts.  Sounds like we have a lot in common!

I'm not sure I'd seen A Taste of Madness before, but believe me, I'll be back frequently to try new recipes.  There were about 25 looking awesome ones that I bookmarked, and I didn't even go through her whole blog.  I actually made two recipes of hers this month, the Cottage Cheese Pancakes (which I added a smidge of vanilla to, they were amazing), and Coconut Oatmeal Cake.  My husband and I both really wanted to make her crumpet recipe but ran out of time, it's one we plan to make soon, though!  Cathleen is originally from the UK, so we figure she would know a good crumpet recipe!

This Coconut Oatmeal Cake was great.  I've seen recipes that called for a broiled coconut-pecan topping and always wanted to try it. I brought it to a friend's get together where we got to paint, and it got rave reviews from everyone.  It's so moist and the topping is delightfully sweet, crunchy, and a little chewy from the caramelization.  This is a perfect cake for winter because of the spices, oats, and rich topping!  I can picture it perfectly on a Thanksgiving or Christmas table.

My only change was to decrease the salt in the cake (I worried it would be too salty with 1 1/2 tsp), and for the topping, there was a difference between the types of sugar mentioned in the ingredients list and the recipe itself.  I decided to go with what the ingredient list said, and it turned out wonderfully!

Coconut Oatmeal Cake

for cake:
1 1/4 C boiling water
1 C quick cooking oats
1 1/3 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 stick salted butter, softened
1 C sugar
1 C packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs

for topping:
1/4 C milk
1/2 C salted butter
1/4 C packed dark brown sugar
1 C sweetened coconut flakes
1 C shopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 pan.

In a heat safe bowl, pour boiling water over oats and stir to combine.  Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.

Cream together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar, then stir in eggs until smooth.  Mix in the dry ingredients a little at a time, until smooth.  The mixture will be thick.  Mix in cooked oats.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

When cake is almost done baking, prepare the topping.  Place the milk, butter, and brown sugar into a medium sauce pan and cook over medium until everything is melted and well combined.  Remove from heat and stir in coconut and pecans.

When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately top with the topping mixture.  Spread the topping as smoothly as possible so no bits of coconut or pecan sticks up, this will help prevent burning.

Place an oven rack at the highest setting, turn the oven to broil, and place the cake on the top rack.  Watch it very carefully (don't walk away!) and remove the cake immediately when the topping turns golden.  This will only take about 2 minutes.

Let cake cool, and serve.  It's great both warm and at room temperature.

Yield:  about 10 servings

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spaghetti and Meatballs

This recipe for meatballs and sauce comes from Serious Eats.  It was actually the first recipe I made from Serious Eats, the description about the author's Friday Night Meatball tradition intrigued me.  I first made it a year ago and absolutely loved it.  The sauce is perfectly savory and flavorful, even though it doesn't have many ingredients, and the meatballs are among the best I've ever had.  I'm particular about tomato sauce and meatballs, so you know these are good!  The meatballs are great served over raw spinach, roasted veggies, or as meatball subs, too.  This recipe is simple, but takes at least two hours to get on the table, so plan accordingly!
Quick Note:  I've changed this recipe a little.  The biggest thing is that I use a lot less salt.  I also put the entire 1/2 C parsley into the meatballs.  Didn't realize until I'd made it a couple times that half the parsley was supposed to go in the sauce, but it doesn't hurt the meatballs at all!  Also, this most recent time I served the sauce and meatballs over whole wheat penne.  The plan had been to use spaghetti, but the box I thought was in the pantry had been used up!  Turns out the sturdiness of the penne really held up well to the sauce, I may do it this way in the future occasionally.
2 Tbsp butter
7 cloves garlic, freshly minced
6 oz can tomato paste
2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, crushed with hands
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 slices bread in crumbs
1/2 C minced parsley
1 1/2 Tbsp Goya seasoning
2 T dried minced onion
3/4 tsp black pepper
2 eggs
2 lb ground beef
2 Tbsp olive oil
grated parmesan to serve
cooked pasta
Heat butter/oil in a large pot over medium.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add tomato paste and stir constantly for 1 more minute.  Add crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, cover pot, and reduce heat to low while you make the meatballs.
Stir together bread crumbs, parsley, Goya seasoning, onion, pepper, and eggs.  Add ground beef and mix gently just until well combined (don't over mix).  Form meat into 1 1/2-2 inch balls and place on a foil lined baking sheet.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium and add a single layer of meatballs.  Brown meatballs on all sides, turning gently with tongs.  Place meatballs into simmering sauce and brown the rest of the meatballs.
When all the meatballs are browned, stir them gently in the sauce making sure not to break them up, and simmer over low heat, uncovered (but use a spatter screen!), for 1 hour 15 minutes (you can go as long as 2 hours), stirring occasionally.  You'll have to stir more frequently as the sauce cooks down.  Serve sauce and meatballs over cooked pasta, sprinkled with parmesan.
Yield:  About 8 servings

Sunday, November 22, 2015

S'more Treat Bars

I found this recipe on the Macaroni and Cheesecake blog while looking for a s'more bar recipe, and made them immediately.  I did make a few small changes (mini chocolate chips and more marshmallows), but the gist is definitely the same.  These bars are a great choice if you're looking for a dessert that is really easy to make and love both Rice Krispie treats and s'mores, like we do!  About half of the bars went to our neighbor as a thanks for helping us move our new couch, but my husband and I polished the rest of the pan off over about 3 days.  Yum!

S'more Treat Bars

12 oz box Golden Grahams cereal
5 Tbsp butter
16 oz bag mini marshmallows, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 C mini chocolate chips

Place the mini chocolate chips in the freezer a few hours before you make this recipe.

Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and set aside.

Place butter and all but 3 cups of the mini marshmallows in a large pot and melt over medium-high heat, stirring until fully melted.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Stir in cereal until evenly coated, then add the additional 2 C marshmallows and 1 C of the frozen chocolate chips.  Stir very quickly and just enough to evenly distribute the additions, you don't want them to melt too much.  

Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish.  Grease your hands (nonstick spray works great for this) and evenly press the cereal mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 C mini chocolate chips on top of the bars and press down again so they'll stick.

Let bars cool completely, then cut into squares.  These keep well covered tightly and stored at room temperature for a few days.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cheddar Bacon Potato Waffles

I came upon this recipe on Serious Eats and decided to make it the next day because by some coincidence, I had all of the ingredients in my refrigerator (even cooked bacon) except for the mashed potatoes.  After buying 3 of the biggest potatoes I've ever seen and making them into mashed potatoes, we were ready to go. 

The batter was easy to make, but the cooking process required some tinkering.  I started out cooking the batter in my panini press because I was worried it would gunk up my waffle iron (my waffle iron is well seasoned and I didn't want to ruin it by having to wash it to remove stuck on bits), but that didn't work so well.  The waffles ended up very thin and fragile.  However, I could see the batter didn't stick to the grill plates, so decided to chance it with my waffle iron after all.  It worked great!  No sticking at all.  

You do need to cook them just right, though.  The temperature should be low enough that the waffle can cook through nicely inside without getting overdone on the outside.  If you cook the waffles at too high of a temperature, they will turn golden on the outside, but will be very difficult to remove from the iron because the inside will be too soft.  You will need to experiment some with your waffle iron and use a timer, but in my Black & Decker waffle iron, 6 minutes with the temperature at to the lowest waffle setting was perfect.  Additionally, if you open the iron too early, the waffle will tear in half with half stuck to the bottom grate and half to the top, so leave it alone for 3 minutes or so before checking!  I also decided to make big waffles instead of smaller ones because the batter tended to join together in the waffle iron, anyway.  You can just cut them apart along the indentations if you want smaller ones.
All the fiddling paid off, though, because these waffles were awesome!  When I asked my husband how many stars they get, he said, "a million!"- high praise!  I really enjoyed them, too.  Very yummy.  Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and tons of flavor from the cheese, bacon, and green onions.  I also didn't mash my potatoes very finely, so the waffles had delightful little chunks of potato in them.  The waffles are great plain, but a little sour cream makes them extra special.  For some reason salad with waffles seemed kind of odd, so we had them with applesauce on the side.
Below is my slightly tweaked version of the recipe.  I doubled also doubled it.  To make the mashed potatoes, I just added about 4 Tbsp butter, enough milk to make them the right consistency, and salt and pepper to taste.  This would be a great use for leftover mashed potatoes, though!
Quick Note:  Leftover waffles can be reheated on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in an oven set to 350 until hot and crispy, about 15 minutes.
Cheddar Bacon Potato Waffles
about 5 C of your favorite mashed potato recipe (leftover or freshly made, mine were warm)
1/2 C buttermilk
1/4 C vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 C grated cheddar
3/4 C cooked, crumbled bacon
1/3 C sliced green onions
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Brush the plates of a waffle iron with canola oil, and preheat the waffle iron to medium.
Place the mashed potatoes into a large mixing bowl.  Add buttermilk, oil, eggs, cheddar, bacon, and green onions, and stir until combined.  In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper, then stir it into the wet ingredients until well mixed.
To make waffles, spoon about 1 C batter (amount depends on how much your iron holds!) into the center of the greased, preheated waffle iron, and cook until the outside is dark golden.  Don't check on the waffle for at least 3 minutes or you could accidentally tear the waffle in half.  Use a timer so you can get the number of minutes right for the other waffles.  If you can't easily remove the waffle when the outside is dark golden, lower the heat on your waffle iron and cook for another minute or two.
Keep already cooked waffles hot on a platter in the oven set to warm.
Serve waffles with sour cream if desired and fresh fruit or applesauce on the side.
Yield:  About 8 servings as a main dish

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels

This is another recipe from Macaroni and Cheesecake.  We love buffalo chicken, so of course it caught my eye.  I've had bad luck in the past with refrigerated tortilla rolls getting soggy, but these ones were fine.  I used a mixture of new tortillas and slightly stale ones.  The stale ones softened perfectly and the fresh ones were a little softer than that, but still okay.  This is an appetizer recipe, but we actually had them for dinner and loved them!  When I make them for dinner next time, I'm going to cut the cream cheese in half.  They were fine this way, but a bit richer than I would prefer for a main dish.

Quick Note:  I used my food processor to grate the cheddar, chop the green onions, and shred the chicken.

Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels

2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I used the breasts from a rotisserie chicken)
2 green onions, finely chopped
8 oz soft style cream cheese, softened briefly in the microwave (this is the cream cheese in a little tub)
1 1/4 C finely grated cheddar cheese
1/2 C Frank's Red Hot Sauce
2 tablespoons dry ranch dressing mix (I used my own)
8 six inch flour tortillas

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except flour tortillas.  Stir until well combined.  Place 1/8 of mixture on each tortilla and spread evenly to the edges with a spatula.  Roll tortillas up tightly, place on a plate, and keep covered in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  To serve, slice rolls into 3/4 inch wide pinwheels and arrange on a plate.

The pinwheels keep nicely in the refrigerator for a few days.  I experimented with placing two of the rolls in the freezer and will update after they've thawed.

Yield: 8 servings as a main dish and probably about 25 as an appetizer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Candy Bar Brownies

Yet another recipe from Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen mystery series, this time from The Cream Puff Murder!  This is more of an idea than a recipe, but it sure is a good idea.  We polished off the pan of brownies in a day and a half, even though they're very rich.  My husband, the chocolate and brownie lover, said these brownies seemed more like a candy bar than a brownie!  They're good at room temperature, but best a couple of hours after they come out of the oven and are still a little bit warm because the chocolate in the middle isn't completely set up yet. 
Quick Note:  The original recipe said to use a mix for a 9 by 13 pan, but to bake it in an 8 by 8 pan.  I used a mix for an 8 by 8 pan and have no regrets, they were perfect.  I fear the larger mix in the smaller pan would have overflowed.  Also, the recipe said to use a plain mix, but I used one with a caramel swirl and we loved how it turned out!  If you can't find a mix with a caramel swirl, you can try swirling in 1/4 C caramel ice cream topping, but no promises on how it will turn out.  I tried doing this recently with Twix brownies and used Smuckers Salted Caramel sauce and the caramel kind of boiled off and disappeared into the batter.

Update 8/15/16: I made these a different way, and they were even better.  I used a regular brownie mix, put chopped peanut butter cups and Hershey bars in the middle according to the directions below.  After the brownies were done baking, I made a caramel sauce by melting 5 oz (by weight) soft caramels with 1/4 C milk over medium-low heat.  I poked some holes in the brownies with a meat fork, then poured the caramel sauce over top.  They were awesome brownies!  So gooey and chocolaty that they were best eaten with a fork.  Good alternative if you have a little more time on your hands and want an over the top brownie or if you can't find a mix with caramel swirl.

 Candy Bar Brownies
1 8 by 8 box brownie mix with a caramel swirl (I used Duncan Hines Salted Caramel)
ingredients specified on brownie mix
2 giant size milk chocolate Hershey Symphony candy bars, or other chocolate candy, chopped up
Preheat oven to temperature specified on brownie mix and grease an 8 by 8 baking dish.
Prepare brownie mix according to box instructions, and spread half of the batter in the prepared baking dish. 
Top with the chocolate bars, breaking them as necessary to fit.  You want it to be one flat layer and will have some chocolate left over, but I don't see that as a problem!
Spread remaining brownie batter on top of chocolate so it's covered.  Drizzle the caramel evenly over the brownie batter, then use a butter knife to swirl it through the batter.
Bake brownies according to box directions.  They're done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.  The melted chocolate may get on the toothpick, but you should be able to tell the difference between melted chocolate and raw brownie batter.
Let brownies cool until just a little bit warm (about 2 hours), then serve.  Cover leftovers with foil.  You can serve leftover brownies at room temperature or warm them up in the microwave for a few seconds.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix

Like many people, my husband and I are fond of ranch dressing and ranch flavored things.  Sophisticated?  Definitely not.  Tasty?  Definitely yes!  I have a homemade ranch dressing that we both love, but sometimes recipes call for dry ranch powder, so I decided to make some myself.  After looking at many recipes online, I settled on the one from Brown Eyed Baker because it looked good and I've had success with the few recipes of hers I've made before.  As usual, I tweaked the recipe a bit, but it turned out great and what's pictured below is actually the last of the batch I made.  Time to make it again!

I should note that I only actually made this mix into salad dressing once because I was out of other dressings.  It was good- better than store bought dressing- but not as good as the homemade fresh kind.  The rest of the mix has gone into recipes that call for the dry kind.  Because I only made it into salad dressing once and it was spur of the moment, I didn't measure anything.  If you want to turn this into liquid salad dressing, I suggest stirring together milk and mayo until it has the right consistency, then stirring in the dressing mix until it tastes right.  Soon I will update this with more specific measurements.

Homemade Ranch Dressing Mix

1 C buttermilk powder
2 Tbsp dried parsley
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp dried chives
2 1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Process everything in food processor, and store in a jar in refrigerator for 3 months.  3 tablespoons of the mix is equivalent to 1 packet of purchased ranch dressing mix.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Basic Meatloaf

I honestly couldn't decide whether or not to post this meatloaf recipe because it's rather similar to another meatloaf I make.  The main difference is that this recipe has sour cream and parmesan in it.  In the end, I decided to post this anyway because the entire reason I made it is because I had half a container of sour cream that needed to be used up, and I can see that happening again!  The recipe is from AllRecipes and was originally called Eileen's Meatloaf.
Waffling aside, this is a good meatloaf recipe.  Nothing fancy, but tasty and with a good texture.  My husband gave it a score of 10/10.
Basic Meatloaf
1 1/2 C Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs (I actually used plain panko and added a little dried basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and salt)
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1 egg
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 C sour cream
1/2 C grated parmesan
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
ketchup for on top (about 1/2 C, use your judgment)
Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 9 by 11 baking dish.
In a large bowl, stir together everything except ground beef and ketchup.  Crumble in ground beef and stir until well combined, or mix with your hands.
In the prepared baking dish, form meat into an approximately 8 by 10 inch loaf.  Spread desired amount of ketchup on top.
Bake meatloaf until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 160 degrees, about 50 minutes, then remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.
Yield:  About 8 servings.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Orange Poppy Seed Waffles with Cranberry Syrup

This month's Secret Recipe Club recipe comes from the blog Adventures in All Things Food!  This blog is written by a lady named Andrea who has a very busy life with her husband, 3 truly adorable children, and a farm.  She is very talented and covers all kinds of topics on her blog, including, of course, food.  There are lots of great looking recipes on her blog, and I chose Orange Poppy Seed Waffles with Cranberry Syrup.  They seemed like the perfect breakfast for a lazy autumn day!  Other awesome looking recipes include Roasted Red Pepper and Tortellini Soup, and Chocolate Chip Malt Cookies.

The waffles and syrup both turned out great.  My only change was to add the juice of half a navel orange to the waffle batter instead of just 1 tablespoon.  This is the only time I can remember making waffles good and flavorful enough to eat without syrup or toppings of any sort!  They're delicious and the orange flavor comes through nicely.  I love poppy seeds so would probably double the amount next time.  In the future I will also experiment with making the batter into pancakes because the waffles turned out very fluffy and I think would do nicely as pancakes.

We loved the syrup, too, and it was perfect exactly as written.  Mine didn't have the beautiful jewel tone of Andrea's- you should have seen the color of the cranberries after cooking for 10 hours!- but it tasted great.  The orange flavor in the syrup is subtle and easy to miss, but it's still wonderful.  Usually I have a strong preference for regular maple syrup on waffles and pancakes, but I really enjoyed this cranberry syrup and didn't put normal syrup on mine at all.  A first!  In the future, I will experiment with cooking the syrup entirely on the stove so it will have a prettier color, but that's minor.  The recipe also made a lot more syrup than needed for the single batch of waffles, so I'm going to try it with plain pancakes as well.

All in all, a great breakfast treat that really tasted (and smelled!) like autumn/winter!  This would make a great Thanksgiving or Christmas breakfast.  Thank you for the great recipes, Andrea!  These waffles will definitely be on my table again!

Cranberry Syrup

1 1/2 C fresh cranberries, rinsed
1 C sugar
2 C water
zest of one large orange
2 Tbsp cornstarch

In a slow cooker, stir together all ingredients except cornstarch.  Cook overnight, 8-10 hours.  Strain liquid through a fine meshed sieve into a medium pan and press the berries against the sieve with a spoon to extract as much juice as possible.  Discard cranberries.

Bring the liquid to a boil.  While you wait for it to boil, stir together 1/4 C cold water and the 2 Tbsp cornstarch.  Use one hand to stir boiling liquid while you pour the cornstarch slurry in a small stream.  Continue to simmer until syrup thickens, then cook for another minute or two.  Remove pan from heat, pour into a small pitcher (you can let it cool a bit in the pan first if you're worried the pitcher will shatter), and set aside while you prepare the waffles.

Yield: About 3 cups

Orange Poppy Seed Waffles

1 3/4 C flour
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp poppy seeds (do 2 if you love poppy seeds like I do)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 C buttermilk
zest of one large orange
juice of 1/2 of a large orange
1 stick salted butter, melted

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk eggs until smooth.  Whisk in buttermilk, zest, and orange juice.  Pour into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  Stir in melted butter.  Let batter rest for 20 minutes.

While the batter rests, preheat and grease your waffle iron.  Cook waffles according to manufacturer's instructions.  Place an oven safe plate in your oven set to warm and add the finished waffles as they cook.  Serve waffles with butter and the cranberry orange syrup.

Yield:  This recipe made 4 large waffles on my Black & Decker iron, which makes for 4 servings.  How many waffles it makes will depend on your waffle iron.

Eyeball Cupcakes

My boss asked me to make some Halloween cupcakes, and of course I was happy to oblige.  Other people were already bringing owl, witch hat, ghost, and spider cupcakes, so I was left looking for an easy to decorate cupcake that would still look good.  My enthusiasm for cupcake decorating is strong, but my talent is less so, and these eyeballs from The Brewer & The Baker were a great choice!  The cupcakes went over very well at work and were immediately recognized as eyeballs.  Several people also commented on enjoying the lime flavor.

When I made these eyeball cupcakes, I just placed the gummi candies right on top of the veiny cupcakes.  Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me that the red from the vein frosting would show through the translucent gummis and they ended up looking more brown than green.  Below, I included instructions to spread a small amount of white frosting on the bottom of each gummi so the red veins won't be visible.

Quick Note:  If you can't find Lifesaver Gummis, you can just use regular Lifesavers.  Adhere the Mini M&Ms with a tiny bit of frosting.  I went with the gummis because these cupcakes were for toddlers and preschoolers and I feared the Lifesavers could be a choking hazard.
Eyeball Cupcakes

1 box white cake mix (enough to make 24 cupcakes)
1 small box lime Jell-o powder
1 can white frosting
1 squeeze pouch red frosting (or you can add lots of red gel food coloring to additional white frosting)
1 package Lifesaver Gummis (one package had 27 green candies, you can always make different colored eyes if you run out of green)
24 brown Mini M&Ms (you can buy these in either a large bag or small tubes, two tubes had enough brown candies)

Preheat oven and prepare cake mix according to package directions, adding the box of Jell-o powder to the mix.  Bake in 24 cupcake papers according to box directions.  Cool completely.

Set aside about 3 tablespoons of the white frosting, then frost the cupcakes with the remaining frosting.  Pipe red frosting over the cupcakes to look like veins.  

Place one Mini M&M into the center of each green Lifesaver Gummi, it should be a perfect fit.  I did it so the M and Lifesaver logo were facing the same direction.  

One at a time, spread a small amount of white frosting over the bottom of the Lifesaver Gummi (do this on the side with the M and the Lifesaver logo), then immediately place frosting side down on the center of a cupcake.  Repeat with remaining candies and cupcakes.

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins and Donuts

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon my blog's soulmate: Macaroni and Cheesecake!  In addition to loving the name of the blog, I found tons of fantastic looking recipes that I want to make really soon.  This is the first recipe I've made from the blog, but we're having another of the recipes for dinner tonight.
This recipe for Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins was supposed to make 30 muffins.  I have exactly enough muffin tins for 30 muffins, and even had exactly 30 orange muffin papers.  Perfect!  Unfortunately, as I was prepping the tins for the (already made) batter, I couldn't find one of my 12 hole muffin tins.  This seemed like the perfect time to finally use the donut pans my mom gave me, so in addition to 18 muffins, I got 6 normal sized donuts, 12 mini donuts, and the rest of the batter I baked in 3 Fiesta bouillon bowls.  I'm honestly a little skeptical that the batter would have only made 30 muffins!  
Regardless, everything turned out great.  I brushed the donuts with melted butter and rolled them in cinnamon sugar.  My husband loved them.  I liked them, too, but preferred the plain muffins.  They're very moist and light, with a delicate pumpkin flavor, barely a hint of cinnamon, and of course, the melty little chocolate chips.  I chose to use mini chocolate chips (personal preference in muffins), and that was definitely a good call since I ended up making mini donuts with some of the batter and full sized chips would have been huge.  For some reason, in my opinion, when they were freshly baked, a bit of the flavor of the muffins was lost with the addition (and added texture) of the cinnamon sugar.  By the next day, the flavors of the donuts had melded nicely and I actually liked them better then.
I froze most of the muffins so I could put them in my husband's work lunches.  I'm pretty sure I'll be making this recipe again because we both really enjoyed them!

 Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins
15 oz can pumpkin puree
2 C sugar
1 1/2 C canola oil
4 eggs
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 C flour
10 oz bag mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 400 and either line approximately 30 muffin holes with paper liners, or grease the wells of donut pans.
Stir together pumpkin, sugar, oil, and eggs until smooth, then stir in baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir in flour until batter is smooth, then stir in the chocolate chips.
If you're making muffins, you can just spoon batter into the muffin liners 2/3 full.  If you're making donuts, I suggest placing the batter into a gallon sized Ziploc bag, cutting off one of the corners of the bag, and piping the batter into the pans.  You want the pans to be about 2/3 full.
Bake pans of muffins/donuts until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes for muffins for about 10 minutes for donuts.
If you're making donuts, as soon as they come out of the oven, melt butter (probably about 4 Tbsp, maybe more) in a bowl.  Stir together about 1/2 C white sugar and 2 tsp ground cinnamon.  Run a plastic knife around the edges of the warm donuts to loosen them from the pan, then place them on a wire cooling rack.  Brush both sides with the melted butter, then roll them in the cinnamon sugar.  Place them back on the cooling rack to cool off.
If you want to freeze the muffins, let them cool completely, then place them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  Transfer them to the freezer until they're completely frozen, then place them together in a gallon Ziploc bag and store them in the freezer.  You can either let them thaw at room temperature, or warm them in the microwave.
The leftover donuts can be stored in a container at room temperature.
Yield: Approximately 36 muffins (my guess) or a lot more donuts!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Summer Vegetable Tian

This is a recipe I found on the Budget Bytes blog.  It's called Summer Vegetable Tian and was just too pretty to resist!  My husband surprised me with an amazing food processor as an early anniversary gift a few days after I first spied the recipe, and we rushed out and got the ingredients for it, then made it that day.  You really only want to make this recipe if you have either a food processor or very good knife skills, but the food processor cut prep time down to maybe 15 minutes.  The tian turned out beautifully and was amazing served with a simple chicken dish.  I can't wait to make this recipe again!

Summer Vegetable Tian

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow summer squash
1 large potato
1 large tomato
1 C shredded Italian cheese

Preheat oven to 400 and grease an 8 by 8 baking dish.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high, then add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Spread evenly in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Slice the zucchini, summer squash, potato, and tomato into very thin slices and place each type of vegetable in its own bowl.

Fill the baking dish with rows of the vegetable slices placed on end, like in the picture.  You don't need to do them in a specific order, but I kept each row with the same type of vegetable.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake tian 30 minutes, then sprinkle with the cheese and bake 10-15 minutes more, or until the potatoes are tender and the cheese is golden.  You can cover the baking dish with foil if the cheese gets browned before the potatoes are done.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

This is another recipe from Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen series.  Book #8 is called The Cherry Cheesecake Murder, and the book contains recipes for both a large cherry cheesecake and miniatures.  My husband loves both cherries and cheesecake, so I had to make him one of them!  The mini cheesecakes are very easy to make, very cute, and very yummy.  He brought them to work when he started a new job and said everyone liked them.  In the future, I'd like to experiment with making a graham cracker based crumb crust for the cheesecakes instead of using whole Nilla wafers, but the wafers are nice, too.  I think they've shrunk in recent years though because they don't cover the entire bottom of the cupcake papers.

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

2 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
24 Nilla Wafer cookies
can cherry pie filling (you won't need the whole thing)

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tins with cupcake papers.  Place one Nilla Wafer in the bottom of each cupcake paper, flat side down.  Set aside.

Mix together cream cheese and sugar until well combined, then beat in eggs.  Beat in lemon juice and vanilla extract until mixture is completely smooth.  Divide evenly among the cupcake tins.  The papers won't be super full, but they will puff up some when baked.  Bake cheesecakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean, about 20 minutes.  Let cool completely in the refrigerator, then before serving, top each mini cheesecake with 3 cherries from the can of cherry pie filling.  The topped mini cheesecakes will stay good in the refrigerator for several days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Waffled Biscuit Sandwiches

This is just a fun, easy breakfast recipe that I found on the Buns in My Oven blog.  Karly uses eggs and cheese in hers, but I decided to add cooked bacon as well.  These freeze and reheat very nicely, so would make good breakfasts on the go!  I would like to actually try these with homemade biscuit dough, but canned dough works well, too.

Waffled Biscuit Sandwiches

1 can flaky layer biscuit dough with 5 large biscuits
3 cooked, scrambled eggs
2 1/2 slices cheese of your choice (I used half a slice per biscuit and folded the rectangle of cheese in half to make squares)
5 slices cooked bacon, each broken into 3 pieces

Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high and grease it.

You can make the sandwiches while the waffle iron preheats.  Use a serrated knife to cut each biscuit almost all the way in half horizontally, like a sandwich.  Place 3 small bacon pieces inside each biscuit sandwich, then top with the scrambled eggs and squares of cheese.  Try to squish the edges of the biscuits back together as best you can, but don't worry if you can't seal them completely.

When the waffle iron is hot, grease it and place one of the biscuit sandwiches inside.  You may be able to cook multiple sandwiches at a time (I have a square iron and can cook two at a time), but do one first so you can see how much space it will need.  Gently close the top of the waffle iron and let it cook for a minute, then place a potholder on top of the waffle iron and press it shut as much as you can so the sandwich will be flattened.  Continue to cook until the sandwich is golden, then remove it to a plate.  Repeat with the rest of the biscuit sandwiches.  You can keep the cooked sandwiches hot in an oven set to warm while you cook the rest.

Yield: 5 servings

Friday, October 9, 2015

Colombian Chicken Stew

This is my adaptation of the Kenji Lopez-Alt's Colombian Chicken Stew recipe from the Serious Eats blog.  It's a very simple stew, with only a few ingredients and no liquid added.  It's made in a pressure cooker (I used my Instant Pot) and the tomatoes, onion, and chicken make a good amount of very flavorful broth, without needing to add any liquid.  It's pretty cool and very, very yummy with simple, but really good flavors.  I should note that while this is called a stew, it's almost more like a soup because the broth is not thick at all.  You can get a slightly thicker stew if you cut your potatoes smaller because they will break up and thicken the liquid a bit when you stir it up at the end.

I made the stew once according to the original directions (except wasn't able to fit all the vegetables into my Instant Pot), then made it this way.  The original method is very tasty, but the broth is quite greasy and it requires a lot of careful sifting and straining to get all the bits of bone and skin out of the stew.  This time, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts and put them in a soup sock.  Everything turned out just as delicious, but it was even easier to make.  I'm sick with a pretty bad cold at the moment and was craving this stew, so it being easy to make was a definite perk!
Colombian Chicken Stew
2 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 large tomatoes, diced large
1 large onion, diced
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced large
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken breasts in the bottom of an Instant Pot and top with all vegetables.  Add the bay leaves and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper.  Plug in Instant Pot, put on and close the lid, make sure it's set to sealing, and cook on manual for 30 minutes.  It will take a while for enough pressure to build up to seal the pot, so don't worry!
After the 30 minutes are up, release the pressure by pushing the little lever on top with the end of a long handled spoon.  Let the pressure completely release, then remove the lid.  Discard the bay leaves.  Pull out the chicken breasts, chop/shred them however you like, and add them back to the pot.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then serve.
Alternate Prep:  I haven't actually tried it this way, but you could probably put all the ingredients in a greased slow cooker and cook on low until the chicken is cooked through, then proceed with the recipe.  How long it will take completely depends on the slow cooker.
Yield:  About 6 servings

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Pannukakku

For this month's SRC, I was assigned the blog Cook Lisa Cook.  Lisa lives in New England with her husband and her adorable little girl, Maisie.  Maisie has some food sensitivities that her mom lovingly accommodates, so this is a great blog to check out if you need to do some wheat, egg, and dairy free cooking.

Lisa has lots of tempting recipes.  I'm actually planning to make her Slow Cooker Ranch Mushrooms later this week to go with meatloaf.  My husband really loves oven pancakes, though, so I decided to try her Finnish oven pancake, called Pannukakku.  It has a very high ratio of milk and eggs to flour, so I knew it would turn out differently from our other favorite oven pancakes.  It was very good and the pancake turned out with an almost creamy texture.  My husband and I polished off almost the entire pancake between the two of us, but he took the rest for lunch at work the next day and said it reheated very nicely.  I didn't know that I needed three different oven pancake recipes, but apparently I do, because this is definitely one I'll hold onto and make again many times.  Thanks, Lisa!

8 Tbsp butter, divided
4 eggs
4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 C milk
1 scant C flour (halfway between 3/4 C and 1 C)

Put 1/2 of the butter into a 9 by 13 baking dish and place the dish in a cold oven.  Turn oven to 425 and let the butter melt while you prepare the batter.

To make the batter, melt the remaining 4 Tbsp butter in a small bowl in the microwave and set it aside.  Place eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, milk, and flour in a large blender.  Add the melted, microwaved butter.  Blend until batter is smooth.

By now, the butter in the oven should be melted.  Remove the dish from the oven, tilt it a bit so the butter evenly coats the bottom, and pour in the batter.  Bake until puffy (it will rise a lot!), browned, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  You can cover it with foil if it starts browning too much.

When the pancake has finished cooking, let it cool for a couple of minutes, then serve.  It will deflate while cooling.  Cut pancake into individual pieces and serve with powdered sugar and lemon juice, fruit jam, syrup, or whatever you would like.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Crazy Cake

This cake is so good that I made it twice in less than a month!  First to bring it to a dinner with friends, then for a potluck that actually featured most of the same people, but I didn't hear any complaints.  The recipe is from the Ben and Birdy blog, and it's one I've been intrigued with for years and am so glad I finally made it.  You know it's good if I make it twice in such a short time period!  The first time I topped it with sweetened whipped cream and sprinkles like in the pictures over on that blog.  It was really, really good that way, but I decided to try a double batch of this frosting this time.  Either way is delightful.

This recipe apparently has its roots in the Great Depression because it was a reliable way to get a fantastic cake without eggs or butter.  It's often called Crazy Cake or Wacky Cake.  Whatever you call it, it's awesome!  The first time I used all whole wheat flour (just wanted to try it out) and Hershey's Special Dark cocoa.  The cake was basically black from the cocoa and everyone loved it.  The second time, I tried white flour and normal cocoa.  Also fantastic!

Note that this cake is vegan if you serve it with a vegan icing, vegan iced cream, sprinkle it with powdered sugar, or just serve it plain.

Crazy Cake

2 1/4 C flour (white, whole wheat, or a mixture)
2 C white sugar
1 C cocoa powder (regular or dark)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp vinegar
2/3 C canola oil
2 C cold water

Preheat an oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Make 3 wells in the dry ingredients and pour the vanilla extract into one well, vinegar into another, and oil into the third.  Pour the cold water over top and whisk thoroughly until the batter is smooth.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.  Let cake cool completely before frosting, or you can just let it cool for half an hour or so and serve warm cake topped with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and sprinkles.

To make sweetened whipped cream, just beat 2 C cream until soft peaks form, then beat in vanilla extract and powdered sugar to taste.  Continue beating it until stiff peaks form, then stop immediately because you don't want to accidentally start turning your whipped cream into butter!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms

This is one of the best chicken recipes I've ever made OR tasted!  It's from AllRecipes and is definitely a winner.  My husband and I both agreed it's something we'd order repeatedly in a favorite restaurant.  I chose it just because it's fairly healthy and looked easy enough for a weeknight dinner.  While I expected it to be good, I didn't think it would be THIS good.  It reminds me of a good Chicken Marsala.  The flavors all marry together perfectly.  It tastes rich, savory, and bright, with a great tang from the vinegar, but it isn't sour.  Whoever created this recipe knew what they were doing!  My only change was to increase the flour to 4 Tbsp so I'd have enough to evenly coat the chicken, and I think that was a good call.  Regardless, I will make this recipe again and again.
Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms
4 chicken breast cutlets (you can cut 2 large chicken breasts in half down the middle), about 1 1/2 lbs
1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lbs mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini)
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 C balsamic vinegar
3/4 C chicken broth
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp butter
In a gallon Ziploc bag, mix together flour, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.  Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on both sides of the chicken cutlets.  Add to the bag, seal it, and shake to coat evenly.
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet.  Add chicken cutlets (discard extra flour) and cook until golden and beginning to brown on the bottom, then turn them over.  Add garlic and mushrooms to the spaces around the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to shrink and soften, about 5 minutes.  Add vinegar, broth, thyme, and bay leaf to skillet, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Simmer 10 minutes.
Remove chicken from skillet, cover with foil, and place in an oven set to warm.  Raise heat of stove to medium-high and cook until the sauce has reduced nicely, about 7 minutes.  Stir in the tablespoon of butter.  Serve sauce and mushrooms over chicken.
Yield: 4 servings

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sally's Banana Bread

Imagine that, a banana bread recipe on my blog!  I have only once in my life eaten a banana bread that I actually enjoyed, and that was about 12 years ago.  Bananas and I are not friends in most instances, and for me, the flavor of baked bananas is even worse than raw.  I decided to make this recipe, though, because I had some bananas to use and have had really good luck with all of the recipes I've made from Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen series.  This recipe is called Sally's Banana Bread and is from the book The Sugar Cookie Murder.  I've made at least 5 recipes from just that book so far and we have really liked all of them. 

The banana bread ended up being really good, even though it didn't have any cinnamon.  I had a couple of slices, as did my husband, and the rest of the loaf went to a new neighbor who said she liked it, as well.  It's sweet, moist, and just my idea of the perfect banana bread.  I'm happy to add a second banana recipe to my shelf, in addition to Brown Sugar Banana Cake!

This recipe escaped being photographed because it was eaten up so quickly!  It didn't look different from any other banana bread, though, except that I baked it in this lovely pan.  I love that pan, by the way.  It's great for quick breads and bundt cakes, and so far everything I have baked has come out really easily.

Quick Note:  I cut the salt down to 1/2 tsp from 1 tsp in the original recipe because I used salted butter and thought 1 tsp sounded like too much.

Sally's Banana Bread

3/4 C softened butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
3-4 mashed overripe bananas (you want about 1 1/2 C)
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans, optional (I did not add them!)

Preheat oven to 350and grease a bread pan.

Mix butter and sugar until fluffy, then mix in eggs and bananas.  Add baking soda, salt, and half of the flour to the mixing bowl and beat to combine.  Stir in 1/2 of the buttermilk, then stir in the rest of the flour.  Stir in the last of the buttermilk and the nuts (if you're using them) until everything is well combined.  Spread batter in prepared bread pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  You can cover the pan with foil if the bread browns too much.  Let baked bread rest for about 20 minutes, then invert it onto a plate to finish cooling.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Almond Apple Crisp

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog My Hobbie Lobbie.  It's written by a lady named Claire who sounds pretty similar to me, because she loves baking, crafting (especially crochet), and traveling!  I get the feeling we would get along well.

Claire has lots of yummy looking recipes on her blog, and I chose one called Almond Apple Crisp.  I made it about 3 weeks ago on a rather chilly August day.  My husband loved it so much that I had one serving that night, and by the next afternoon, he had completely polished off the entire dish.  Now he does have a sweet tooth, but that's extreme, even for him!  He says I definitely have to make this recipe again.  My only changes would be to increase the amount of cornstarch from 1/2 tsp to 1 Tbsp because the filling was very, very runny, and I'd leave the salt out of the topping because it tasted salty to me.  I made those changes in my version of the recipe below.
Thank you, Claire!  I'm planning to make your Spicy Tuna Pasta here in the next couple of weeks.

Almond Apple Crisp

3 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and cut into slices (I used 4 large Fujis)
2/3 C white sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp lemon juice

for the topping:
3/4 C flour
3/4 C brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 C sliced or slivered almonds
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick cold butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 2 quart baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together white sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon, then add apples and lemon juice.  Stir until the apples are evenly coated.  Spoon the apples and any remaining sugar mixture into the prepared baking dish and set aside.

Now make the topping.  Stir together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon, then cut in the cold butter cubes (I did all of this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment) until the mixture looks like wet sand.  Stir in almonds.  Sprinkle mixture evenly over the apples.

Bake the crisp until the apple slices in the center are tender (use a fork), which will take about 60-90 minutes (mine took 90).  You can cover the top of the crisp with aluminum foil, shiny side out, if the topping and almonds get too brown.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Honey Lemon Pepper Chicken & Pasta

This is a recipe I found on the Averie Cooks blog, and had to make it right away because it looked so unique.  For some reason I haven't seen honey feature prominently in many pasta dishes.  I made a few tweaks, like usual, and the main one was that I cut back on the honey significantly.  It was a good call, because we thought it had the perfect amount of sweetness.  This is a great recipe if you need something really quick and yummy for dinner!
Honey Lemon Pepper Chicken & Pasta
2 lbs chicken breasts, cut into 6 cutlets
lemon pepper to sprinkle
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/3 C honey
1/2 C lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon pepper (I used Lawry's)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
13 oz box whole grain angel hair pasta (I used Barilla)
Cook the pasta in salted water while you cook the chicken, then strain and set aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Sprinkle chicken generously with lemon pepper on both sides, then place in skillet. Brown on both sides.
While chicken browns, make the sauce.  Stir together 1 Tbsp olive oil, the honey, lemon juice, 1 Tbsp lemon pepper, rice vinegar, and dried thyme in a small bowl.  When chicken has browned, reduce heat to medium and pour in sauce.  Cook until it has thickened slightly and chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  The sauce will only thicken a small amount and will remain fairly runny, so don't worry!
Remove chicken to a plate and add the cooked pasta.  Mix thoroughly and heat through, then serve on plates next to the chicken.
Yield:  6 servings

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Brown Rice, Tomato, & Basil Salad

This is my somewhat loose interpretation of an Ina Garten recipe.  I used tomatoes from my own garden and just used as many as were currently ripe, and I used less of a different type of vinegar.  Regardless, the salad was really good!  My husband loved it and ate most of it.  Definitely a repeat around here!

Brown Rice, Tomato, & Basil Salad

1 C brown rice, cooked and lightly salted and then partly cooled
tomatoes, chopped into large chunks, however many you want (I used 2 large ones)
about 1/2 C roughly chopped basil
3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar (you can use less or more, according to your tastes)
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients.  Serve slightly warm, room temperature, or cold. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ravioli Lasagna

I came up on this recipe at the blog Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids and made it that night, it just looked so good and easy!  You don't even have to cook the ravioli first.  Best of all, it turned out REALLY well.  My lasagna loving husband said he liked it better than regular lasagna, which is saying a lot.  I was worried it may end up a little watery from all the raw spinach, but the ravioli absorbs all the excess liquid very nicely and the entire thing is just divine.
 Ravioli Lasagna
1 lb ground beef
1 26 oz jar/can prepared spaghetti sauce (it doesn't have to be fancy, I used Hunt's Four Cheese)
about 20 oz uncooked, refrigerated cheese ravioli
3 C grated mozzarella
1/3 C grated parmesan
4 oz raw baby spinach
Grease 9 by 13 dish and preheat oven to 350.
Cook ground beef in a large skillet over medium high, and then stir in spaghetti sauce.
To assemble the lasagna, spread a small amount of the meat sauce in the baking dish, then make a single layer of ravioli, half of the spinach, 2 Tbsp of the parmesan, 1 C of the mozzarella, half of the remaining sauce, the rest of the ravioli, the rest of the spinach, 2 Tbsp of the parmesan, and the rest of the sauce.  Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, top with the remaining 2 C mozzarella and the remaining parmesan.  Bake 20 minutes longer or until it's bubbly throughout and the cheese is browned.  Let the lasagna cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: 6-8 servings

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Basic Granola & Raw Raspberry Jam

This month, I was assigned a beautiful blog called The Smoothie Lover.  It's written by a young Danish girl named Josefine.  In addition to making very creative and mostly very nutritious recipes, Josefine takes absolutely gorgeous photos.  This is her first month doing Secret Recipe Club and I hope she had fun!

In the course of choosing a recipe to make from Josefine's blog, I actually looked at all the recipes she posted and settled on two: Basic Granola and Raw Raspberry Jam.  I made both to go with homemade Greek yogurt.  Both turned out really well.  My husband is the granola eater around here (he eats fruit and granola with lunch every day), and I am happy to have a recipe that contains much less sugar than most.  The jam is perfect in yogurt, I just stirred it into the plain yogurt and didn't need to add any other sweetener.  It's also great on toasted English muffins!  Raspberries are probably my favorite fruit, but I'd like to experiment with peaches or strawberries, too. (Update: In the month since I first made the raw jam, I have also made raw peach, grape, and strawberry jam, with great results each time!)

Basic Granola

1 1/2 C oats
2 Tbsp applesauce
1/2 C chopped raw nuts (I used cashews)
1/2 C seeds (I used sunflower and sesame)
1 Tbsp melted coconut oil (you can do this in a measuring cup in the microwave)
1/4 C water
3 Tbsp honey or maple syrup (I used honey)
1/2 C dried fruit (I used dried cherries, blueberries, and cranberries)

Preheat oven to 350 and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together oats and applesauce until evenly coated.  Stir in nuts and seeds.  In a small bowl, stir together melted coconut oil, water, and honey or maple syrup.  Pour evenly over granola mixture and stir to coat.

Evenly spread granola on parchment paper and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until granola is golden and dry.  If you're not sure whether it's dried yet, you can remove a little from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes, it will quickly harden if it's ready.

Let granola cool completely, then pour into a container, add dried fruit, and shake to combine.

Yield:  About 8 servings

Raw Raspberry Jam

2 C raspberries (I used a 12 oz bag of thawed, frozen raspberries)
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp chia seeds

Puree raspberries with a food processor or immersion blender, then stir in  honey and chia seeds.  Store covered in the refrigerator overnight so the chia seeds can expand and thicken the jam.

Yield:  About 2 cups

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pepper Parmesan Vinaigrette

Today I'm sharing my new favorite salad dressing!  I found it over on the Brown Eyed Baker blog and have made it several times.  My version is slightly different from hers and I just love it.  It's very peppery, salty, vinegary, and just all around really good.  It also could not be any easier to make and keeps fine in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Pepper Parmesan Vinaigrette

7 Tbsp Canola oil
3 Tbsp olive oil (too much will make it bitter)
7 Tbsp white vinegar
4 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth with an immersion blender, food processor, or blender.  Pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator.  Shake before serving.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lovely Lemon Bars

This is another recipe from Joanne Fluke, the cozy mystery author.  I just love the Hannah Swensen series, they're the comfort food of the literary world for me!  These lemon bars are from the first book in the series, The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  I made them when a friend came to visit a couple of months ago.  We loved them so much that they all got devoured before I had a chance to take a picture.  Okay, I take that back- there are some pictures of my puppy licking lemon bar off my friend's baby's hand, but that's it!  In spite of being crazy about them, for some reason this was the first time I made lemon bars, but we liked this recipe so much that I don't see myself trying any others!

Lovely Lemon Bars

2 C flour
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 sticks butter, cold
4 eggs
2 C sugar
1/2 C lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour and powdered sugar, then cut in the cold butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.  Dump the mixture into the greased baking dish and press it down evenly with your hands.  Bake in preheated oven until golden around the edges, about 15-20 minutes.

While the crust cooks, prepare the filling.  Whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest, then whisk in the baking powder, salt, and flour until smooth.

When the crust has finished cooking, immediately pour the filling over the top and return the baking dish to the oven.  Bake until golden on top, about 20-30 minutes.  Let cool before cutting into bars and serving.

Yield:  About 12 bars

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cheesy Ranch Potatoes

I stumbled upon this recipe on Natasha's Kitchen recently and have made it twice in the past month.  It's so simple and very, very tasty!  The first time, I used red potatoes with the skin on, bottled ranch dressing, and green onions, and this time I used peeled russet potatoes, homemade ranch dressing (actually homemade ranch dressing mix plus mayo and milk), and bacon.  Both were great!

This is very much a "do what you want" recipe.  You can make just a small amount of potatoes, or a whole lot, and pretty much any kind of potato will do.  You also don't have to measure anything, just use your own judgment!

Cheesy Ranch Potatoes

ranch dressing
garlic salt
grated cheddar cheese
cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)
thinly sliced green onion or chives (optional)

Wash and peel the potatoes if desired, then cut them into 1 1/2 inch chunks.  Boil in salted water until they can be pierced with a fork, then drain thoroughly.  Carefully fold in desired amount of ranch dressing, you want them to be coated but not swimming in it.  Spoon evenly into a greased baking dish, season to taste with garlic salt, then bake at 400 until the potatoes start to turn golden in places on top, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with desired amount of grated cheese, plus the bacon if you're using it.  Return to oven for 5 minutes.  Remove and sprinkle with the green onions or chives if you're using them, then let the potatoes sit for a few minutes before serving.  Leftovers reheat really well!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Secret Recipe Club: Arroz con Pollo

For this month's Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the fabulous blog, Kitchen Trial and Error!  It's written by the lovely Kate, who lives in Rochester, NY with her family.  She's a busy lady but still cooks all kinds of great looking recipes.  I had a very difficult time choosing one this month and seriously had about 20 set aside to pick from.  Tempting recipes included Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, Tomato & Meatball Soup, Apple Chicken Chili, and Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken.  Her recipe for baked ziti looks fantastic as well, but it's basically the same as my recipe since it's from the same source!
The recipe I ended up going with was Arroz con Pollo.  I've always wanted to try this dish and for whatever reason, it's the one my mind kept migrating back to.  My minor changes were to use bacon grease instead of olive oil (I followed the recipe back to its source on another blog and it said to use bacon), my bell pepper was a different color, I used a full 4 C of chicken broth, and I only simmered the rice for 20 minutes since that's how long my rice usually takes to cook and I didn't want it to get mushy.  Next time I would wait to add the chicken back to the pan until I add the rice to prevent it from being overcooked, but that's the only change.
Small tinkerings aside, this was a good recipe.  My husband loved it and gave the chicken a 9 and the rice a 10, which surprised me.  He doesn't even like peas, but liked them here.  We actually made this together and it was a lot of fun.  We had an insane amount of rice leftover (no surprise since it uses 3 1/2 cups!), but I'm going to freeze the leftovers to serve with tacos and the like, which will be fun.  In the future, I will use another pound of chicken.

Update:  I have tinkered with the recipe a bit more over subsequent times making it and have updated the recipe to match how I make it now.  We really enjoy it.

Arroz con Pollo

2 Tbsp bacon grease
3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cleaned and cut in half
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz beer
4 C chicken broth
8 oz tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp salt, plus more to sprinkle on chicken
1/4 tsp pepper, plus more to sprinkle on chicken
2 tsp cumin, plus more to sprinkle on chicken
2 tsp dried oregano (I used Mexican oregano)
3 1/2 C white rice
1 C frozen peas

In a dutch oven, melt bacon grease over medium high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and cumin, then brown on both sides in bacon grease.  Remove to a plate.  Add onion and bell pepper to dutch oven and saute until they turn translucent, then add garlic and saute another minute or so until it turns golden.  Stir in beer, chicken broth, tomato sauce, bay leaf, oregano, salt, and cumin.  Simmer on low for 10 minutes, then stir in rice.  Top with reserved chicken.  Bring to a boil, cover the dutch oven, and reduce the heat to low.  Let cook without lifting the lid for 20 minutes, then remove the dutch oven from the heat and stir in the peas.  Replace the lid and let it sit for a minute so the peas can thaw.

Yield:  12 servings

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