Friday, December 30, 2011

Cinnamon Baked French Toast

It's that time of year when we all evaluate our lives and make promises to do more, be better and generally strive for self improvement.  Although I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions, this year I am firmly in the camp of wanting to be the best person I can be.  With that said, I like to idea of adding more to the list than the obligatory exercise more, eat better, etc.  I like the idea of improving my mental being as well as my physical being.  For example, just look at this photo!  I wanted to jump off the sofa and make this french toast the minute I saw this image.  While French toast may not fall into the "eat better" category, it got me thinking.  I've been blogging for a couple of years now and while I love cooking and exploring new recipes, I've done a meager job at best at depicting the food.  Borrowed (forgive me all you expert photographers) photos generally grace this blog.  Resolution in the making.  Learn how to use the good camera I insisted we buy and start representing my own food, my own children and my own life more frequently, realistically and beautifully.  I'm up for the challenge as soon as I get off the treadmill, steam some kale and read War & Peace.   

Thankfully this recipe is not challenging and so basic in its goodness - bread, sugar, cream, eggs that it seemed fitting to serve on Christmas morning.  Santa's elves were fat, happy and dreaming of resolutions for 2012. 

1 loaf Crusty French Bread
8 whole Eggs
2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Whipping (heavy) Cream
3/4 cups Sugar
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract

1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 stick Cold Butter, Cut Into Pieces
Fresh Fruit (optional)

Grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan with butter. Cut bread into cubes and evenly distribute in the pan.
Mix together eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla. Pour evenly over bread. Cover tightly and store in the fridge several hours or overnight.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add nutmeg if desired. Add butter pieces and but into the dry mixture until mixture resembles fine pebbles. Store in a Ziploc in the fridge.
When you're ready to bake the casserole, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove casserole from oven and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top. (If you're using fruit, sprinkle on before the crumb mixture.) Bake for 45 minutes for a softer, more bread pudding texture. Bake 1 hour or more for a firmer, less liquid texture.  Serve with butter and drizzle with syrup if desired.
Recipe and photo by The Pioneer Woman

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

I've often gone to Mexican restaurants and seen this meatless option on the menu and wondered who would bother when there was beefy, cheesy sumptious entrees to be had but now I'm converted.  The sweetness of the potato is a nice contrast to the mild spice in this dish and I even had the meat eaters singing the praises of this vegetarian meal.

2 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes (about 1 large or 2 small potatoes), mashed with 1 tablespoon butter
1 can canned black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided (could use queso fresco or a combo of both cheese)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can creamed corn
1/2 cup sour cream
1 16-ounce jar fire-roasted tomato enchilada sauce (I just used Trader Joe's Enchilada sauce but would be good with the fire roasted if you have it)
8-10 flour tortillas
Cilantro and avocado for garnish, if desired

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together sweet potato, black beans, 1 cup cheese, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and salt until well combined.
Whisk together creamed corn and sour cream in a small bowl. Add about 1/2 cup of the mixture to the sweet potato mixture and set the rest aside.

Pour half of the enchilada sauce into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Place about 1/4 cup sweet potato mixture on one side of a tortilla, roll up, and place in baking dish; repeat process with remaining sweet potato mixture and tortillas.

Pour reserved sweet corn sauce on top of the tortillas, then drizzle with the remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve enchiladas with cilantro and avocado, if desired.  You can also make a little extra of the sour cream mixture to drizzle on top as shown above. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bacon-Blue Cheese Dip

So you've been cooking, cleaning, wrapping, entertaining, cooking, cleaning and napping, etc. and now New Year's Eve is creeping upon you and you need a little something different to take to a soiree or two.  Here's a cheesy, bacon-y bowl of addicting goodness.  So easy even my huband can whip this up all by himself! 

7 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is fine)
1/3 cup half-and-half, heavy cream, or Greek yogurt
1-2 dashes hot sauce
4 - 6 oz crumbled blue cheese (depending on how strong your cheese is)
2 Tbs chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper to taste
crackers, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon in a skillet until browned and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but about 1 tsp fat, and add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the bacon (reserve a small amount for garnish), garlic, half-and-half, blue cheese, hot sauce and chives. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into a lightly greased serving dish, and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Garnish with reserved bacon and allow to cool slightly before serving. Serve with crackers.
Adapted from Southern Living, December 2004

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sausage Ravioli Lasagna

Sometimes you need a little Christmas miracle.  My miracle comes in the form of easy dinners that can be tossed together whilst baking Christmas cookies and addressing holiday cards.  This is a riff on a recipe that's been around.  Pasta sauce, cheese and frozen ravioli turns into a mock lasagna but with the addition of the spinach and pesto, the recipe is tastier and more satisfying.  More time for shopping, decorating and the like.  Ho ho ho...

1/2 lb. Italian sausage - hot or mild, your choice
1 - 24 oz. jar of your favorite jarred tomato/basil pasta sauce
6 oz. fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup prepared basil pesto sauce (like Buitoni Basil Pesto)
1 - 25 oz. pkg. frozen cheese-filled ravioli (do not thaw)
1 cup shredded Italian blend shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cook sausage, about 10 minutes, until cooked through and crumbled.  Drain fat and return to pan.  Add pasta sauce.  Chop spinach by hand (do not use Cuisinart/food processor or you'll have green mush) and stir into prepared pesto sauce.  Spoon about 1/3 of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 7x11 baking dish.  Top with 1/2 of spinach/pesto sauce.  Arrange 1/2 of frozen ravioli in a single layer over spinach and repeat layers once and top with remaining tomato sauce. 

Bake for 30 minutes and then sprinkle with cheese and bake another 5-8 minutes more until hot and bubbly. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Spicy Lentil Chili

For all the holiday indulging that goes on this time of year, it's nice to be able to serve a hearty but healthy meatless meal.  You could serve this over brown rice, quinoa or even plain with a side of cornbread.  I love the versatiliy of the lowly lentil and in this dish, they shine.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 fresh jalepeno chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 teaspoons dried oreagano, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken stock or broth (64 oz)
accompaniments: sour cream, chopped tomato, scallions, cilantro
Cook onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, celery, carrot, garlic, salt, and pepper in oil in 5 to 6 quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together brown sugar, spices, oregeno, thyme, and mustard, then add this mixture to the vegetables and cook, stirring until fragrant, for about 4 minutes.

Add lentils, bay leaf, and stock. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until lentils are very soft, 50 to 60 minutes. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Eggnog Waffles

We've gone a little eggnog crazy in our house but these were a fabulous start to a crisp, sunny Sunday morning!  With a little turkey sausage and fruit and you've got yourself a merry little Christmas morning menu.  We doubled this recipe to make four full rounds (or 16 waffles) in our waffle iron. 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup eggnog (low-fat is fine)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg
1/2 tsp. rum extract

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the dry to the wet, and stir until just combined.  Allow the batter to sit for 30 minutes. Preheat the waffle iron and cook the waffles according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Serve with your favortite toppings!
Recipe and photo from Pink Parsley

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Old Fashioned Eggnog Bundt Cake

The holidays are here and my preparations are in full swing.  Tonight we're headed to an annual White Elephant Christmas party with long-time friends and I'm bringing dessert.  I wanted to offer something festive but not fussy and I didn't want to spend a valuable December shopping Saturday stuck in the house.  This cake was the trick.  An easy and moist, holiday-inspired treat.  Since it's a large crowd, I'm also bringing another yummy chocolate bundt cake but adding a tiny splash of peppermint extract into the batter and topping it with crushed peppermint candies.  Happy baking all! 

1 - 18 oz yellow or butter cake mix
4 - tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 -cups eggnog
2 - large eggs
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk
1 - tsp rum extract
1/8 - tsp ground nutmeg

Glaze Ingredients:
2 - cups powdered sugar
2 - tablespoons melted butter
3 - tablespoons eggnog
1 - tsp vanilla
dash of nutmeg

In a large bowl, add the cake mix, eggnog, milk, eggs, rum extract, nutmeg and melted butter. Mix together on low speed for 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes or until smooth. Pour batter into a greased and floured bundt pan, mini loaf or mini bundt pans or just a regular large loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (large bundt pan) or 20-25 for mini bundt pans. Brush on half of the eggnog glaze . Cool for 5 minutes before removing form the bundt pan. Then remove cakes from pan and cool completely on a baking rack. Mix together the glaze ingredients and drizzle on each of the bundt cakes. Let glaze completely dry and the glaze is set.

Recipe from Mommy's Kitchen Blog; image from Food Librarian

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Creamy Edamame Dip

As Thanksgiving descends upon us all, we all can use an easy, creamy and healthy dip to add to the fray.  Maybe some snacking on this flavorful dip will distract you from a few pieces of pie! 

3 cloves garlic
1 small jalapeno
½” piece of ginger
10 oz bag of frozen Edamame, (thawed)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup water
1 tsp. sesame oil
kosher salt to taste

Combine everything in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Serve with blue corn tortilla chips (looks great with this bright green dip) and assorted veggies.

Recipe adapted from Heather Cristo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Granola Cookies

Since my last post featured Cap n' Crunch, I thought I'd continue the trend with something a bit more respectable.  Now I know that store bought granola is not truly healthy but let's admit it - we'll pretend these cookies, given the presence of a scant raisin and an oat or two, are somehow better for you. 

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups Cascadian Farm® organic maple brown sugar granola
3/4 cup raisins or chocolate chips (or dried cherries would be good too!)
3/4 cup chopped pecans, optional

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on low speed until light and fluffy. Beat in flour, baking soda and salt until well mixed.

Stir in granola, raisins/chips and pecans if using. Onto ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart.

Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.  Pour milk and resist the urge to eat them all in one sitting.

Adapted from a Cascadian Farms Cereal Box - I swear! 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cap 'n Crunch Bars

When I'm at work, a foodie gremlin (namely my mother) will occasionally drop off treats that she's concocted during her day.  This week she dropped off these bars and they've been a hit especially with my husband who secretly eats sugary "kid" cereal at night once the kids have gone to bed!  I'm not sure where she found her recipe but I found it here

6 cups Cap’n Crunch (which ever flavor you like)
4.5 tablespoons butter
1 10.5 oz bag mini marshmallows
1 tsp salt

Spray a 13×9 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Pour cereal in a large zip-loc bag. Seal and smash cereal a few times with a rolling pin. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add salt to melted butter, stir until salt is dissolved. Add marshmallows to butter. Stir until all marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat. Add in cereal and stir until cereal is completely coated. Pour cereal mixture into baking pan. Press down, and let cool completely. Cut into desired size bars.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Creamy Gouda Mac n' Cheese

While I have some old standby macaroni & cheese recipes, this is a welcomed change from the standard.  For starters, cheddar cheese is not invited to this party.  Sacrilidge I know, but after one bite I was convinced that this would make it into my repetiore often with some fun variations.  Maybe smoked gouda?  Peas, roasted garlic, chicken, cooked bacon, diced ham, or even fresh spinach would be wonderful in this versatile dish. 

1 lb. dried pasta (whatever shape floats your boat but I use a high protein if not adding meat)
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced (this goes in raw so go easy since my 2 cloves was strong for my kids)
¼ cup shallot, finely minced
8 oz. gouda, shredded (smoked gouda would be tasty too!)
2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan
¼ cup milk
4 oz. low-fat Greek yogurt
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions just until al dente. Drain well, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

Immediately return the pasta to the pot. Add the garlic, shallot, and gouda and Parmesan cheeses and stir briefly to combine. Mix in the milk, Greek yogurt, cream cheese and butter and stir until the cheese is thoroughly melted and the mixture is creamy. If necessary add a small amount of the reserved pasta water to adjust the consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Annies Eats

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fluffy Apple Dip

What do you make when you walk in the door and have five minutes to dress kids in Halloween costumes, change out of your work clothes, somehow salvage your limp hair, drive one kid to another neighborhood and oh, make an appetizer to take to a party that's already started?  This kid-friendly dip! 

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme

Assorted apple wedges

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter and pie spice until blended; fold in marshmallow creme. Serve with apple wedges. 

Recipe and pic from Laura over at Real Mom Kitchen

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kheema (Indian Ground Beef with Peas)

Consider this Indian name just a foil to pretend that you're very gourmet.  Really this is an Indian version of Sloppy Joes but I love the idea of introducing my kids to spices beyond parsley.  Serve with basmati rice, naan or pitas for an exotic but familiar dinner. 

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch thumb) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon store-bought garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, optional
1 pound ground beef (probably could use ground lamb or ground turkey as well)
2 can diced tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 teaspoons malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few extra leaves for garnish
4 naan or pitas, warmed or serve over rice

In a large skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for another minute. Stir in the coriander, paprika, garam masala, cumin and cayenne, if using and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beef, breaking up lumps with a spoon, and saute until the meat is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, 1 cup of water and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle in the fresh English peas. Stir well and simmer, partially covered, about 10 minutes or if using frozen peas, add them now, and cook another 5 minutes, partially covered.

Stir in the vinegar, lime juice and chopped cilantro.  Serve with naan, rice or pita bread.
Recipe adapted from Aarti Sequeira on the Food Network

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simply Good Beef Stew

October just begs for slow cooked comfort food.  Perhaps it's because October is so hectic with work, soccer, kids, birthdays, etc. that most evenings I just want a bowl of something warm, a blankie and my mommy.   This simple stew was a snap to assemble and once it's on the stove, you're free to catch up on all the Housewives of Beverly Hills episodes that you've been missing.  You could get ambitious and make some dumplings or biscuits to serve with it but it was great as a solo act. 

1/2 - 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon season salt
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Butter
2 pounds Stew Meat
1 whole Medium Onion, Diced
3 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 can Beer, 12 Ounce Can
4 cups Beef Stock
2 cups Water (additional, If Needed)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1-1/2 teaspoon Sugar
4 whole Carrots, Washed and Roughly Sliced or 1/2 bag baby carrots
1 pg. sliced baby Portebella mushrooms
4 whole New Potatoes, Quartered
Minced Parsley (optional)

Place four in large plastic baggie and add season salt and paprika to bag.  Toss in stew meat - in small batches if needed to coat with flour.  Heat oil and butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown meat in two batches, setting aside on a plate when brown. Set aside.

Add diced onions to the pot. Stir and cook for two or three minutes until softened, then add mushrooms and garlic for another minute. Pour in beer and beef stock, then add Worcestershire, tomato paste, paprika, salt, pepper, and sugar. Add beef back into the pot. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Add carrots and potatoes, then cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes. (If stew gets dry, just add a cup of hot water at a time to replenish the liquid.) Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve in bowls next to crusty French bread. Sprinkle with minced parsley, if desired.

Adapted from Pioneer Woman's Beef Stew

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Halloween Candy Corn Cookie Bark

This should be outlawed as it probably could send the average person into a diabetic coma but as it so happens, I everything on hand and a bored 6-yr. old.   Perfect combination for a Sunday afternoon activity.  This is one of those recipes that you can (and should) alter to suit whatever candy you have leftover.  I'm wasn't even going to post this but my mom was kindly dropping off some dinner in my fridge when she discovered this.  She then promptly called me at work and declared that whatever she just found in my fridge was the best thing she ever ate.  Since we all shamelessly consumed our first tray, I'll be making more of this next week for teachers and maybe a lucky friend or two! 

14 whole Oreos, broken up (use Halloween Oreos if you can find them)
1 1/2 cups pretzels - any shape, broken into pieces
16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup candy corn
brown and orange colored sprinkles

Cover a large cookie sheet with wax paper, parchment paper or use a silpat mat.  Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30-second intervals until full melted.  Spread chocolate on cookie sheet and the sprinkle with broken cookies, pretzels and the candy corn. Gently press cookies, candy and pretzels into chocolate.  Sprinkle with decorative Halloween sprinkles.  Place bark in refrigerator until set and firm. Remove and gently break bark into small pieces. Store in air tight container.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

I thought I had lost my baking mojo over the last few months.  Then this recipe came into my life and my baking love was reborn.  Well, at least for a moment and I'll explain.  On a rainy Sunday afternoon my youngest daughter pulled up a chair to the kitchen counter and offered to help me make these snickerdoodles.  She was excited to measure, stir and generally be a good sous chef - until the pumpkin had to be added.  The very smell of the pumpkin sent her running from the kitchen and yelling that I had ruined a perfectly good cookie.  She then proceeded to lock herself in her room until I was done baking whatever smelled so bad.  Weird, huh?  Who has that strong of a reaction to pumpkin?  Isn't it the smell of fall, of Thanksgiving , of pilgrims?  (Well, maybe not pilgrims since they probably were a bit rank.)  In any case, these are fantastic -not too sweet and the pumpkin keeps them moist.  Overall, a great cookie despite what my pumpkin-hating daughter thinks!   

3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the coating:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
Dash of allspice

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk to blend and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Blend in the pumpkin puree. Beat in the egg and vanilla until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Cover and chill the dough until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats (just started using them and they are great) or parchment paper. Combine the sugar and spices for the coating in a bowl and mix to blend. Scoop the dough (about 2½ tablespoons) and roll into a ball. Coat the dough ball in the sugar-spice mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough to fill the sheets, spacing the dough balls 2-3 inches apart. Dip the bottom of a flat, heavy-bottomed drinking glass in water, then in the sugar-spice mixture, and use the bottom to flatten the dough balls slightly. Recoat the bottom of the glass in the sugar-spice mixture as needed.
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until just set and baked through. Let cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough. Store in an airtight container.

Source: adapted from Recipe Girl

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Easy Roquefort Pinwheels

I'm a true believer that you can never have too much blue cheese. This three-ingredient crowd pleaser comes from Meredith Brokaw (as in Tom's wife) Big Sky Cooking Cookbook. It's a beautiful cookbook that makes you feel as if you've taken a mini-vacation to Montana.  If you cannot make it to Montana anytime soon, this book is the next best thing.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half a 17.25-ounce package), thawed
4 ounces Roquefort blue cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Butter an 8- or 9-inch baking dish.  Open the sheet of puff pastry and flatten with a rolling pin. Get it as thin as you can.  Crumble the blue cheese on the sheet, leaving a good inch-wide border all around. Roll up the pastry the long way; cut into twelve to fourteen-inch-thick slices with a sharp knife. Place the rounds in the prepared dish; brush with egg wash. Bake until puffed up and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lemon Salad Dressing

This light dressing embodies my daughter's favorite saying "easy peasy lemon squeezy" and is delish!

2 Tbls. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Combine all in a jar or tightly sealed container, shake and enjoy.

Baked Cauliflower Dip

This dip was served last night at a party and was a bit controversial.   Some enjoyed it and loved the idea of getting more veggies disguised as a creamy and luscious dip while others steered clear once they heard the dreaded cauliflower was involved.  I personally loved this dip and probably would have eaten this as a side dish if not for the three cheeses involved!  This hearty dip makes a lot so it's great for a crowd. 

1 head of cauliflower, (about 4-5 cups) cut into small pieces
2 cloves raw garlic, peeled
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz Monterey jack cheese, shredded
2 oz goat cheese
½ tsp cayenne pepper or couple dashed of hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a salted pot of water to a boil.  Boil the cauliflower for about 3 minutes, or until just fork tender.  Drain cauliflower and add to food processor.  Pulse a few times to blend.  Add cream cheese and pulse.  Add Monterey jack cheese and pulse.  Add goat cheese and pulse and then add cayenne and salt & pepper to taste.  Pulse so you don't have any lumps because the smooth texture of this dip will fool people into thinking there's mayo in it!  Bake the dip at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly with a bit of golden on the top.  Serve with raw veggies and crackers.  Recipe and pic courtesy of Heather Cristo

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are probably the one and only meal I have ever remembered my father cooking.  They were tasty but probably not made from scratch!  He'd throw in some grated raw potato to cook with the rest of the ingredients and I thought he was a daredevil in the kitchen.  Meanwhile my mother did perform heroic feats of culinary brilliance on a regular basis but I digress...

If you grew up eating Sloppy Joes made from the ground beef and the canned stuff, this is a game changer.  We serve our version open face with some shredded cheddar cheese or as a sandwich with lots of napkins!
Sloppy Joes

2 Tablespoons Butter
2-1/2 pounds Ground Beef (Or Ground Turkey)
1/2 whole Large Onion, Finely Diced
1 whole Large Red Pepper, Finely Diced
5 cloves Garlic, Minced
1-1/2 cup Ketchup
1 cup Water
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Chili Powder 
1 teaspoon Dry Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
Worcestershire Sauce, To Taste
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
Dash of Tabasco Or Your Favorite Hot Sauce (optional; To Taste)
1 teaspoon Salt Or To Taste
1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper Or  To Taste

Add butter to a large skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add ground beef and cook until brown. Drain fat. Add onions, red pepper, and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, or until vegetables begin to get soft.

Add ketchup, brown sugar, chili pepper, dry mustard, and water. Stir to combine and simmer for 15 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Also add tomato paste, Worcestershire, and Tabasco if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Spread meat mixture over rolls, topping with shredded cheese and make sure to have napkins handy! 
Recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman, of course! 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Green Goddess Dressing

Summer is flying by and I know because my desire to cook goes down as the heat index goes up. We've been eating casual meals and salad for dinner has been my new thing. Really just some assembly is needed for quick cool meals. I love to make homemade croutons, shred some precooked chicken and toss in some garden tomatoes to a salad and top it with this creamy and herbaceous dressing.

Green Goddess Salad Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (5 scallions)
1/2 bunch fresh chives
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1- 2 teaspoons kosher salt (start with one and adjust)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream

Place the mayonnaise, scallions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, anchovy paste, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the sour cream and process just until blended. If not using immediately, refrigerate the dressing until ready to use.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Baby Back Ribs

Happy Fourth of July! Our community celebrated last night and as I was sitting watching a beautiful display of fireworks with friends I mentally took stock of all that I'm thankful for in my life - health, family, friends, a place to call home, a career that's challenging and the list goes on and on. Today I also give thanks for being an American. Short of singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on a picnic table, I'm feeling patriotic love wash over me this sunny morning. In true American spirit, I will spend today with family and probably eat too much. What we will be eating? Um, BBQ ribs of course! This is the sure fire way to get perfect ribs every time. Enjoy and give thanks today.

Baby Back Ribs

Heat oven to 350 degrees, Place baby back ribs (about 4 lbs. suits our family of four) in a broiler pan which has been sprayed with cooking spray. Pour your BBQ sauce of choice (mine's here) and cover with tin foil. Bake for 90 minutes then remove foil and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes. Ribs should be fall-of-the-bone perfect at this stage. Serve with your favorite BBQ sides.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pineapple Chicken Salad

I have come to realize that my inner self must be a party planner. Although my life is far too busy to actually have many parties, I love to daydream about imaginary baby showers, kid birthdays and the like. I do love the planning process - what to cook, how to decorate, music, etc. This recipe is perfect for a summertime light lunch or brunch with friends or for that next baby shower that somehow ended up at your house!

Pineapple Chicken Salad

2 ½ cups cooked chicken breast
½ cup matchstick cut carrots
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
¼ cup finely chopped green onions
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 8-oz. can pineapple tidbits, drained
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Mix in nuts at the end or sprinkle on top. Serve on rolls, pita bread or on romaine lettuce cups.

Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lemon Pepper Grilled Chicken

I have stated many times that I'm not a chicken fan so boring chicken on the grill is as exciting to me as rice cakes and water. That is, until the magic of this yogurt marinade transformed our grilled chicken last night. It was moist, flavorful and easy! From one of my favorite blogs - Dinner: A love story.

Lemon Pepper Grilled Chicken

½ cup plain yogurt
2-3 minced cloves of garlic
2 tsp salt
Juice from two lemons
1 good squeeze of honey
1 tbsp olive oil
A very healthy dose of black pepper (or as much as finicky eaters will take!)

Pound boneless cutlets between sheets of wax paper until thin. Whisk ingredients together until emulsified. Then, pour into Ziploc storage bag, drop in the cutlets, mush around until coated, and seal. Put in refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours. When grill is ready (and oiled), cook about 3-4 minutes a side until no longer pink on the inside.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ultimate BBQ Sauce

This BBQ sauce, from Tyler Florence, is the only one you'll ever need. It's just that good and even better on slow-cooked ribs or chicken.

Ultimate BBQ Sauce

2 bacon slices
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 onion, chopped
3 smashed garlic cloves
2 cups ketchup
1 cup peach preserves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard or 1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika

Wrap the bacon around the middle of the thyme sprigs and tie with kitchen twine so you have a nice bundle. Heat 2 Tbls, of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the thyme bundle and cook slowly for 3 to 4 minutes to render the bacon fat and give the sauce a nice smoky taste. Add the onion and garlic and cook slowly, without coloring, for 5 minutes. Add all of the rest of the sauce ingredients, give the sauce a stir, and turn the heat down to low. Cook slowly for 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Use to baste your favorite grilled items!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crockpot Mac n' Cheese

This is how to serve mac and cheese to a crowd. Double this recipe and let your crockpot shine at your next potluck. I've made this as a side recently where I was adored by small children who did not appreciate roasted brussel sprouts.

Crockpot Mac n' Cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 eggs (can omit the eggs if you desire a loose texture or add them for a more casserole consistency)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Boil the macaroni in water for six minutes. Drain. In a medium saucepan, mix butter and cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. In slow cooker, combine cheese mixture and add the eggs (if desired), sour cream, soup, salt, milk, mustard and pepper. Add the drained macaroni and stir again.
Cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. I tend to stir often to check if it's cooking too quickly. When ready to serve, I sprinkle some extra cheese on top just to guild the lilly.

Special Sauce

A summer burger on the grill is great but with the addition of this special sauce and perhaps some melted American cheese - it's perfection. And the best part is that some teenager won't yell through a speaker and ask if you'd like to supersize it.

Special Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbls. ketchup
1 Tbl. finely grated onion
1 Tbl. dill pickle relish
2 Tsp. adobe sauce from canned chipotle chilies in adobe sauce
1/8 Tsp. celery salt
1/8 Tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve with burgers.
Recipe from Bon Appetit - June 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Moroccan Carrot-Chickpea Salad

It's finally beginning to feel like summer and broke out the grill and had our first burgers this weekend. Since I typically burn out on potato salad and cole slaw by late May, I'm always looking to find sides that are fresh, fast and easy. Since I love carrots, it was a no-brainer to try to this Rachel Ray recipe.

Moroccan Carrot-Chickpea Salad

1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
1 tsp. ground coriander ( I also used some cumin)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt / Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. carrots, coarsely grated ( I used bagged pre-shredded carrots but chopped them up a bit more)
2 cans (15 oz. each) chickpeas, rinsed
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint

In a large bowl, combine the lemon zest and juice, coriander, cumin, cayenne and 1 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste; whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the carrots, chickpeas, raisins, cashews, chopped cilantro and mint; toss to coat. Let stand for at least 15 minutes for flavors to come together. Top with the extra cilantro leaves.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

It's May and I'm freezing. The rain and cold just won't move along and Spring may never get here. Therefore it felt appropriate to use the slowcooker on a gloomy Monday. This is a super simple and kid-friendly alternative to pulled pork. It's sweet, tender and tangy. We could all use a little Hawaiian sunshine right about now!

Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

3 pounds Boneless Chicken Breast, Thighs Or A Combo Of The Two
1 whole Onion (large), Sliced Into Chunks
1 can (20 Oz. Size) Crushed Pineapple, Drained But Reserve The Juice If Using (See Note Below)
1 bottle (18 To 20 Oz. Size) BBQ Sauce Of Your Choice (We used Sweet Baby Ray's)
Hamburger Buns Or Kaiser Rolls

Place chicken in the bottom of the crock pot. Top with onions, then pineapple. Pour the entire bottle of BBQ sauce over the whole thing.

Note: If you want a sweeter BBQ, add up to half a cup of the pineapple juice you drained, depending on how sweet you want it. This is optional.

Turn your crock pot on LOW and cook for 8–10 hours (or on HIGH for 4–6).

An hour before it is finished cooking, shred the chicken using two forks. Finish cooking an additional hour so the chicken can absorb most of the sauce. Serve on hamburger buns and top with coleslaw if desired.

Recipe and pic from Eat, Live, Run blog.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

In honor of the royal wedding yesterday, I thought it was only fitting that I post a recipe from one of my favorite Brits. I love Nigella Lawson and her effortless cooking style. I'd always wanted to attempt a Pavlova and this inviting recipe was the reinforcement I needed to try one. The directions look a bit long and involved but everything was really simple. It is impressive looking, light, chewy, crumbly and truly easy. In fact, if the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ever pop by for a visit, I'll be sure to make them this dessert!

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

For the Meringue Base:
6 large egg whites
2 cups superfine sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

For the Toppings:
2 cups heavy cream
4 cups raspberries
1 to 2 ounces dark chocolate

Prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Draw a 9-inch-diameter circle on the paper with a pencil, tracing a round cake tin that size. Flip the paper over so your meringue doesn't touch the pencil marks - you'll still be able to see the circle.

Make the meringue: Beat the egg whites with a mixer until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Add the chocolate: Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and then the chopped chocolate over the egg whites. Gently fold everything with a rubber spatula until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in.

Shape the meringue: Secure the parchment to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue under each corner. Mound the meringue onto the parchment within the circle, smoothing the sides and the top with a spatula.

Bake the meringue: Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F and cook for one to one and a quarter hours. When it's ready, it should look crisp and dry on top, but when you prod the center you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers.

Let it cool: Turn off the oven and open the door slightly; let the chocolate meringue disk cool completely in the oven. When you'reready to serve, invert onto a big flatbottomed plate and peel off the parchment.

Decorate the Pavlova: Whisk the cream till thick but still soft and pile it on top of the meringue, then scatter the raspberries on top. Coarsely grate the chocolate over the top.

Recipe and pic from Nigella.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fruit Salsa & Cinnamon Pita Chips

This is a fantastic little recipe that my sister-in-law just gave me. It's easy, fresh, sweet and a little something different to serve as an appetizer or even a light dessert. I imagine this will be a staple at summer parties in the coming months!

Fruit Salsa & Cinnamon Pita Chips

2 peeled & diced kiwi
2 diced & peeled golden delicious apples
8 oz. chopped raspberries
1 lb. diced strawberries
2 Tbl. sugar
1 Tbl. brown sugar
3 Tbl. fruit preserves - raspberry comes to mind

Mix all ingredients, cover and chill for at least a few hours

Preheat oven to 350
Coat sliced pita bread with cooking spray, sprinkle with cinnamon & sugar mixture then spray with cooking spray again
Bake for 8-10 minutes

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fancy Hasselback Potatoes

I'm just starting to come down from the sugar rush that was Easter in our house. After ham, lamb, beans, tomato tart, jello, beans, orzo, salad...well you get the idea...I was very happy with my little potato experiment. I've been wanting to try these and they are crispy, creamy and beautiful all at the same time. You can use rosemary or really any other herb of choice. It's a lot of knife work but if you find chopping or cutting theraputic like I do - consider this kitchen therapy.

Fancy Hasselback Potatoes

3 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (divided)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut potatoes crosswise at 1/8-inch intervals, cutting to within 1/4 inch of the bottom. (You can place the potato on a large spoon so the edges of the spoon prevent you from slicing completely through the potato.) This is time consuming but it's the secret to these crispy babies.

Place the potatoes in a large bowl, add the olive oil, salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of the rosemary and toss well, working the salt mixture in between the slices. Arrange the potatoes on a sheet pan cut side up.

Bake the potatoes for 30 minutes, until they are tender and golden and crisp on top. I actually turned my potatoes a bit to ensure they browned all over.

Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa of course!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Heaven in Bar Form

Nothing says comfort better than any combination of peanut butter and chocolate. In my childhood memory, these were the best thing my mom ever made - and she cooked and baked a ton. Forget fancy rack of lamb - I just begged for these bars. Now I make them for my kids but truth be told - the grown ups devour these babies too!

Reeses Peanut Butter Bars

1 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 package semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter or margarine, graham cracker crumbs, confectioners' sugar, and 1 cup peanut butter until well blended. Press evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan. Melt chocolate in 30-second intervals in the microwave, stirring occasionally until smooth. Spread over the prepared crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

As the weather starts to break here in the Northeast, my mind turns to outdoor entertaining. I still have some work to do to get our patio into tip top shape for the season but the thought of easy summer fun with friends is on my mind. This simple recipe comes together in a snap and is creamy, light yet mild for kids to enjoy. I serve it with pita chips or baby carrots. Double this for a crowd.

Simple White Bean Dip

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
I've sometimes added some rosemary to it if the mood strikes me....

Place the beans, garlic, lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, and parsley in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the bean puree to a small bowl.

Recipe (and pic from Ada + Darcy) courtesy Giada De Laurentiis - the goddess of simple California/Italian goodness.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nigella's Perfect Steak

This is one of my favorite ways to cook a nice big steak. It's a simple but elegant way to infuse flavor. Now all I need is some steady sunshine and time to get my grill in tip top shape for some Spring grilling.

Nigella's Perfect Steak

1 rump/round or sirloin steak - really whatever cut you love (1-inch thick and about 1 lb.)
Oil, for greasing
1 - 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, smashed with a side if a large knife
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon sea salt
Good grinding fresh pepper

Brush the steak with oil to prevent it sticking and cook until the desired doneness. While the steak is cooking, place the thyme leaves, garlic, oil, lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper in a wide shallow dish. Once the steak is cooked, place it in the dish of marinade for 4 minutes a side, before removing it to a board and slicing thinly on the diagonal. Open a nice bottle of wine, a crisp salad and consider yourself lucky.

Recipe (and picture) adapted from my favorite goddess - Nigella Lawson

Monday, March 21, 2011

Beef Lombardi Casserole

Tomorrow is the big day. We're getting a very special delivery in our house - over 100 pounds of locally raised, grass-fed, hormone-free beef. We were lucky enough to go in on a cow and now we are the recipients (along with three other families) of lots o' beef. I've been scanning several of my old recipes and came upon this classic casserole, adapted from Southern Living.

Beef Lombardi Casserole

1 pound lean ground beef
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 (6-ounce) package medium egg noodles
6 green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes, stirring until it crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain.

Stir in chopped tomatoes and next 4 ingredients; cook 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and bay leaf, and simmer 30 minutes.

Cook egg noodles according to package directions; drain.

Stir together cooked egg noodles, chopped green onions, and sour cream until blended.

Place noodle mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with beef mixture; sprinkle evenly with cheeses.

Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 350° for 35 minutes. Uncover casserole, and bake 5 more minutes. Note: Freeze casserole up to 1 month, if desired. Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Bake as directed.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whatchamacallit Cereal Bars

Another Friday night meant another kid sleepover so these little sugar nuggets were whipped up in no time when I ran out of snacks to feed the hungry girl mob. Beware because these are very sweet so cut in small girly squares. My husband declared they tasted just like the candy bar Whatchamacallits so hence the name.

Whatchmacallit Cereal bars

6 cups puffed rice cereal
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 0z. butterscotch chips

Combine the puffed rice cereal and the peanut butter in a large mixing bowl (do not mix yet). Set aside. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Combine the honey and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until boiling. Immediately remove from the heat and pour the hot mixture over the peanut butter and rice cereal. Mix well with a spoon or spatula until the peanut butter is completely melted and all ingredients are evenly combined.

Press the mixture in an even layer in the prepared baking pan. Combine the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips in a heatproof bowl and microwave in 30-sec increments stirring occasionally until completely melted and smooth. Pour over the cereal layer and smooth with a spatula. Cover and chill until the top layer is set before slicing into bars.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bisquick Coffee Cake

My mom's friend said this is so quick you can make it minutes before guests arrive! Super easy because you probably already have everything on hand. Delish and would be great with some nuts in the topping as well.

Bisquick Coffee Cake

2 cups Bisquick
3 Tbls. sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
2 Tbls. melted butter

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbl. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
2-4 Tbls. cold butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients with wooden spoon and spread in greased 8x8 baking dish. Mix topping together with fork and sprinkle over cake. Bake for 30 minutes and best served warm.

Birthday Banana Pudding Pie

If you know one thing about my father is that he never just goes with the flow. We just celebrated his birthday and when we asked him what kind of birthday cake he wanted, I assumed he'd request some easy variation that I could pick up at the local grocery store. Wrong. His request was for banana cream pie. Oh sure, just an easy request so I was on a search to make a homemade version and this was the perfect balance of banana goodness. Not too sweet and making the homemade pudding was not nearly as complicated as I imagined.

Banana Pudding Pie
(yet another great recipe from Lick the Bowl Good and originally from SouthernLiving)

Vanilla Wafer Crust (recipe below)
Vanilla Pudding (recipe below)
Whipped Cream (recipe below)
3-4 medium bananas, cut into slices
20 vanilla wafers plus more for decoration (see note)

Vanilla Wafer Crust:
2 1/2 cups (about 30) crushed vanilla wafers
1/2 cup butter, melted.
Vanilla Pudding:

3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
4 egg yolks
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
For the crust:

In a medium bowl, stir together crushed vanilla wafers and butter until blended. Firmly press on bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate.
Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack, and let cool 30 minutes or until completely cool.

For the pudding: Whisk together sugar, flour, eggs, yolks and milk in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 10-12 minutes or until it reaches the thickness of chilled pudding. (Mixture will just begin to bubble and will be thick enough to hold soft peaks when whisk is lifted. It must be thick and slightly bubbly to set up properly!) Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.

Transfer to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic directly on top of the custard so it doesn't get a "skin" on it. Refrigerate til completely cool. (Can be made up to a day in advance.)

Whipped Cream: In a medium bowl, whip cream on medium high speed til soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat til thick and stiff. Don't overbeat or you'll have butter!

Assembly: Arrange half of the banana slices evenly over bottom of cooled crust. Spread 1/3 of cooled pudding over bananas, then layer with 20 vanilla wafers. Spread 1/3 more pudding over vanilla wafers, then add the remainder of the banana slices and cover them with the last of the pudding. Spread the whipped cream over the entire pie and decorate with more vanilla wafers if desired.

The layers from the bottom up should be: vanilla wafer crust, bananas, pudding, vanilla wafers, pudding, bananas, pudding, whipped cream

Refrigerate at least for 4 hours. Overnight is best. Consume within 2 days.

NOTE: It's best to prepare the pudding in advance to allow it to chill properly. If you prefer this pie be topped with a meringue then there's no need to refrigerate the filling. See the original recipe here.

Also I used an entire box of vanilla wafers for the pie. If you want to decorate with additional wafers then get a second box to be on the safe side.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blender Strawberry Ice Cream

We've been on a quick mini-vacation in Florida and every night my mom has made this quick ice cream for my kids. When strawberry season rolls around at home this will be a staple at our house.

Blender Strawberry Ice Cream

3 cups whole FROZEN strawberries (1 pkg)
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 eggs (pasteurized or egg substitute can be used)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice (works without also)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Soften the berries for few minutes before beginning. Mix the cream, eggs, and sugar in the blender. Jog the blender to mix. With the motor running, feed in the strawberries one at a time. Blend until the mixture is smooth, stopping to stir with a spatula. Add the lemon juice and vanilla in the last few seconds. Serve at once or store in freezer. To double, make two batches separately.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Salmon Recipe

Years ago I hosted a Murder Mystery party for about 20 of my friends and I was so excited to serve some spectacular dishes until I realized it was a Friday during Lent and had to eliminate all meat from my game plan. I had plenty of Catholics coming over who would not have appreciated beef stew! So after some quick thinking, I decided to brave it and serve salmon. Even the non-fish eaters were raving and this recipe has now become legendary with my friends and still is one of our favorites. The herbaceous mixture is lovely and light and a perfect way to serve fish. Note that this recipe will not serve a 20-person party but can be easily doubled or triple for a crowd.

THE Salmon Recipe

1 3-lb. salmon fillet (I never buy salmon steaks but I guess you could)
1 1/2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl. butter
1 Tbls. Dijon mustard
4 garlic cloves - finely minced
2 dashes of hot sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried dill
2 tsp. capers - drained from liquid

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place salmon is shallow baking dish. Combine the rest of the ingredients in small saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes on stove top over medium heat or until combined. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Pour entire mixture over salmon, cover and bake for about 15 minutes then 5 minutes uncovered or until fish is no longer translucent. We like to serve this with couscous to soak up any flavorful juices!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pork and Tomatillo Stew

This is a great and different stew I found over at the fantastic Smells Like Home blog. I had never worked with tomatillos but they were a cinch to work with and really made the dish. Just peel away the papery skin under warm running water and consider yourself a fancy chef! This has a rich but mild flavor so it's a blank canvas for adding more heat or whatever floats your boat.

The Swallow’s Pork and Tomatillo Stew
Adapted from Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

1/4 cup canola oil
8 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 lbs. lean pork, cut into cubes
1 bottle dark beer
12 oz. orange juice
1 lb. tomatillos, halved
28oz canned diced tomatoes, drained
2 large onions, chopped
2 jalapenos, diced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
salt and pepper

1 cup sour cream
juice of one lime

In a saucepan, add the beer, orange juice, tomatoes and tomatillos. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmering until the tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. Set aside.Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a dutch oven or stockpot. Add the garlic cloves and stir to coat with the oil. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper and then add it to the oil, in batches, to brown on all sides. Remove from the dutch oven. Add the onion and jalapeno and saute until tender, 5 or 6 minutes.

Add the tomatillo mixture to the dutch oven, scraping the bottom of the pot to be sure you are getting all the browned bits. Add the pork, cilantro, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cook, partially covered, for about 2 hours.

Taste for seasoning. Add the black beans and corn and cook an additional ten minutes, uncovered.

Serve the stew over rice, with lime wedges, sour cream and hot sauce for those that need kick.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Simply Homemade Ranch Dressing

Ranch dressing is king at our house. I make a mean salad dressing but my kids' hearts belong to ranch. They might even eat chicken feet if I gave them ranch for dipping! This homemade version is fresh and will turn even non-ranch fans into believers. Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook, 2004.

Ranch Dressing

3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice (start with 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1 small bunch of chives, roughly chopped
Small handful of parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients with 1/4 cup of buttermilk in a blender. Blend for 10 -20 seconds. Check consistency and blend in additional buttermilk and lemon juice if desired. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge and will keep for 2-3 weeks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ginger Bens

My mom worked her holiday magic again this year and brought these unbelievably addictive cookies to our Christmas Eve festivities. There was no way Santa was getting his hands on these! Inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit, October 2004.

Ginger Bens

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
1 cup granulated sugar, plus additional for coating cookies (divided)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup light molasses
2 tbsp of orange juice

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, pepper and salt. In another large bowl, beat 1 cup sugar and oil until pale in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg, orange juice and molasses. Gradually stir in flour mixture.

Roll 2 tablespoonfuls dough into ball, then roll in additional sugar to coat. Repeat, forming 6 dough balls. Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet (cookies will spread). Bake until cookies are golden brown around edges and cracked on top, about 12 minutes. Let cool 2 minutes on sheet; transfer cookies to rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.

Stir white chocolate in top of double boiler set over barely simmering water until melted. Dip fork into chocolate and drizzle over cookies. Refrigerate until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

The thing about reading food blogs is that everything makes you hungry and a tempting photo can send me running into the kitchen. Take a look at this apple cake. Just take a good look and tell me you cannot mentally count the apples in your kitchen in hopes of making this immediately? This was a fantastically moist and a perfect fall/winter dessert with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's so good that the next time I make this cake I'll try and double the recipe, invite some friends over and wait for the compliments to roll in.

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

Apple Cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups finely chopped apples
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)

Brown Sugar Glaze:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon heavy cream

For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch pan (round or square) and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.Stir with a whisk to mix everything together.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs with a hand mixer til light in color and foamy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well.

Stir in the flour mixture with a spoon and continue stirring the batter til the flour disappears. Add the apples and nuts (if using) and stir to mix them into the batter.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Place the hot cake on a wire cake. While it's still hot, prepare the glaze.

For the glaze: Combine all the ingredients into a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook for 3-5 minutes.

Spoon the hot glaze over the still hot-from-the-oven cake. Let the glazed cake cool completely before serving straight from the pan.

Adapted from Southern Cakes with irresistible photo from the great blog Lick the Bowl Good

Monday, January 3, 2011

Express Chicken White Chili

Sometimes a lonley (aka boring) rotisserie chicken just speaks to you and today my chicken was feeling a little fiery. She yearned to be liberated from her sad state and reborn as a spicy, heart-warming dish. I think this quick version of white chili did her proud.

Express Chicken White Chili

4 whole cooked chicken breasts - shredded or one rotisserie chicken picked clean
1 whole white onion, chopped
2 cloves mined garlic
3 cans (16 Ounce Cans) Northern (white) beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (26 Ounce) Cream of Chicken soup - can use low-fat
2 cans (28 Ounce) Rotel or fire roasted diced tomatoes - I used one can Rotel and one can diced since my kids cannot take the heat! Do not drain.
1 package McCormick White Chicken Chili Seasoning Mix
32 ounces chicken broth - more or less depending on how thick you like it
1 cup frozen corn

Dutch Oven Method:
In a large Dutch oven saute onion and garlic in a few Tbls. of extra virgin olive oil until softened and fragrant. Add all ingredients and simmer on low for at least two hours but as long as you can.

Crock pot Method:
In a small saute pan, saute onion and garlic in a few Tbls. of extra virgin olive oil until softened and fragrant. Add onion/garlic mixture to Crock pot and add all other ingredients to pot. Cook on high for a couple of hours and then switch to low for a couple of hours. Or cook all day on low if necessary.

Toppings (optional)
Extra Hot Sauce
Sour cream
Shredded cheese
Raw onion
Tortilla chips or Fritos

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tea Punch

Happy New Year all and I hope to make it a healthy, happy and delicious one! This punch recipe hails from my sister-in-law and is requested by my eldest for special occasions such as her birthday, sleepover with friends or a random Tuesday night. The last occasion doesn't count so she'll have to make due with milk at dinner and not punch accompanied with a floating ice ring. Although I'm a sucker for a nicely made ice ring - makes me feel very 1950s housewife. A favorite at baby/bridal showers.

Tea Punch

2 cups boiling water
6 tea bags - your favorite variety is fine just don't get too crazy or it will fight with the other friends in the pool

Let tea steep in hot water for 5 minutes then remove bags. Then add:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
6 Tbls. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 tsps. almond extract
46 oz. pineapple juice
2 liter 7-up (I may try with diet since the drink it sweet)

Mix together and chill. Serve with ice ring made from 7up and Maraschino cherries or other fruit.