Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dijon-Balsamic Vinaigrette

I was looking for an easy balsamic vinaigrette with a slight twist. Perusing through countless recipes on the web, I found this recipe was rated very highly on the Food Network. While the base recipe was good, I felt it was a little heavy for our tastes, so I "doctored" it up to our liking. The original recipe is located here, but I've posted my changes below. I love the soy sauce! The end result yielded a simple and refreshing vinaigrette that tasted better than store-bought vinaigrette! The recipe recommends pairing this with mixed greens- the darker, the better.

2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp dijon mustard
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Soy sauce, 3 small splashes (I use only Kikkoman or Yamasa brands)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups mixed greens- the darker the better

1. Add the garlic and the mustard in a bowl and whisk in the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce (a French secret!) vigorously for about 10 seconds to get a creamy consistency.
2. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
3. Drizzle in the olive oil as slowly as possible with 1 hand while whisking as quickly as possible with the other hand to emulsify.
4. Lay the salad greens on top of the dressing and toss just before serving.

Source: Melissa D’Arabian

Sausage, Herb, and Cream Cheese Crescent Rolls

I had been perusing through Paula Deen's Family Cookbook, and I came across this appetizer. Sausage and cream cheese wrapped in a flaky crescent roll, and only 5 ingredients? I was sold. Any way to dress up crescent rolls gets 2 thumbs up in my book. These are best served warm, but still taste great at room temperature, and are easily portable!

4-oz (1/2 of an 8-oz package) cream cheese, softened
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
1/2-lb breakfast sausage (Used spicy hot sausage roll)
1/4 tsp hot sauce (Used Frank's Red Hot sauce)
8-oz tube refrigerated crescent rolls

1. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and chopped sage until well mixed.
2. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage until cooked through, 5-7 minutes, breaking it up with a fork as you go.
3. Stir in hot sauce. Let cool.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
5. Remove the crescent roll dough from the tube and open the dough triangles so they lie flat.
5. Spread cream cheese over each triangle.
6. Top each triangle with an even layer of sausage.
7. Roll the dough into a crescent according to package directions, and transfer to a baking sheet.
8. Bake until golden, about 12-15 minutes.
9. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: Paula Deen's Family Cookbook

Pork Chops with Brie & Apple Stuffing

This recipe was fantastic, and we loved the tasty aromas of the woodsy rosemary mixed with the sweetness from the apples. The pork chops (I would recommend using thick-cut chops) are stuffed with creamy brie cheese, seasoned, and pan-fried to form a nice crust. The stuffing is absorbed with apple juice and chicken broth, and then everything is baked together for 30 minutes. This was delicious!

(4) 4-oz each boneless center cut pork loin chops, preferably thick-cut
2-oz brie cheese
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp canola oil
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup unsweetened apple cider (Used unsweetened apple juice)
2 large garlic cloves, halved
1 tsp dried rosemary seasoning
2 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (Used Stove Top Stuffing mix)
1-1/3 cups chopped apple (approximately 1 medium apple)
Garnish- 1 apple, cut into wedges
Garnish- 2 fresh rosemary sprigs

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cut a pocket in one side of each chop, but not all the way through the remaining 3 sides.
3. Cut cheese into 4 portions. Place one portion into each pocket of chops. Secure with toothpicks. Repeat for remaining chops.

4. Combine flour, pepper, and paprika. Dredge chops in flour mix.

5. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray, and add oil.
6. Over medium heat, add chops and cook 3 minutes on each side, until browned. Remove chops from pan and place into a baking dish.
7. Combine broth, cider, garlic, and rosemary to pan. Bring to boil for 1 minute.
8. Remove and discard garlic and rosemary.
9. Add stuffing mix and chopped apple. Stir well until all the liquid has been absorbed.
10. Pour contents, gently, into the baking dish on top of the pork chops.

11. Cover with foil and bake for 30 min.
12. Garnish with apple wedges and rosemary sprigs.

Source: AOL

Witches' Hats

These were the CUTEST things I've made in a long time- and it only took 3 ingredients and 10 minutes to make. Seriously- it took longer to unwrap the Hershey's Kisses than it did to make these adorable witches' hats. Some reviewers recommended heating the Kisses on low heat for 2-3 seconds in a skillet made it easier to handle, but I didn't feel it was necessary.

I made these for Drew's 3rd grade Halloween party, and it was a success! I paired this recipe with Witches' Brooms, and the kids (and moms) were ooh-ing and ahh-ing all over! So incredibly easy and cute, and didn't make a big mess in your kitchen or in the classroom.

32 Hershey's® Kisses® milk chocolates, unwrapped
1 package (11-1/2 ounces) fudge-striped shortbread cookies (32 cookies) (Used Keebler's Fudge Stripe Cookies)
1 tube (4.25 ounces) orange or red decorating icing (I found this, and I loved the orange sparkly color)

1. Attach 1 chocolate kiss to chocolate bottom of each cookie, using decorating icing.

2. Pipe decorating icing around base of milk chocolate candy.

3. Let it set for 10 minutes, and voila! You are done!

Source: Betty Crocker

Witches' Brooms

I was asked to be a "room mom" for one of my good friend Mackenzie's 8-year-old son Drew for his classroom's Halloween party. I was honored! I wanted to bring a fun snack that everyone could share for the party and I thought this recipe was the cutest! I also found Witches' Hats to go along with it, and the 3rd graders LOVED it! The prep work was a little time consuming since you do need to wait for the cookies to cool down, and the chocolate to set, but it was fun to make and great to eat.

One of the reviewers of this recipe recommended using the Betty Crocker pre-packaged sugar cookie mix to save time- that was a huge fail for me because the cookies expanded so much that you couldn't even recognize the "broom bristles" and it became one globby cookie mess. The 2nd time I did this, I used the recipe that came with it below- the cookies didn't expand at all- score! Happy Halloween!

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
10 pretzel rods, about 8-1/2 inches long, cut crosswise in half
2 tsp shortening
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Butterscotch-flavored chips, melted (Omitted)

1. Heat oven to 350ºF.
2. Mix brown sugar, butter, water and vanilla in medium bowl.
3. Stir in flour and salt.
4. Shape dough into (20) 1-1/4-inch balls.
5. Place pretzel rod halves on ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Press ball of dough onto cut end of each pretzel rod.
7. Press dough with fork to resemble "bristles" of broom. (You can spray some cooking spray on the fork so it doesn't stick to the cookie.)

8. Bake about 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool completely on wire rack, about 30 minutes.
9. Cover cookie sheet with waxed paper.
10. Place brooms on waxed paper.
11. Heat shortening and chocolate chips over low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth; remove from heat.
12. Spoon melted chocolate over brooms, leaving about 1 inch at top of pretzel handle and bottom halves of cookie bristles uncovered.
13. Drizzle with melted butterscotch chips.
14. Let stand until chocolate is set.

Source: Betty Crocker

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dead Man's Foot Meatloaf

An easy recipe that will sure to please your little ones for some SPOOKY eats! So fun and easy to do!

Meatloaf (any way you like making it)
Ketchup or BBQ sauce
2-3 garlic cloves, depending on size of the cloves
4 gummi worms

1. Make meatloaf.
2. Shape the meatloaf into the shape of a foot. (I made a small "wart" on the top of my foot.)

3. Squirt ketchup on top of the "wart".
4. Peel garlic cloves, rub them in a little oil, and place them on the meatloaf as "toe nails". (Some of my cloves were long, so I cut them in half and used 1 clove as 2 toe nails.)

5. Bake according to meatloaf directions. (I covered the "toe" area with foil so they wouldn't over-bake and burn.)
6. When finished baking, add gummi worms to the meatloaf (to look like worms are coming out of the "foot".)
7. Place the knife in the middle of the "wart".

Here is a close-up shot. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Attack of the Green Monster!

I've been hearing so much about the awesome effects of the Green Monster Smoothie that I had to try it out for myself. When making this, add the lightest weight ingredients first (powders, flax,spinach), followed by heavier weighted (banana, milk, PB) ingredients- the heavier ingredients will weigh down the lighter ingredients and keep it from flying around in your blender and sticking to the sides.
Like many readers, I was somewhat skeptical of the so-called "delicious" taste from the spinach, but it is true... you can't even taste the spinach! Delicious, nutritious, and be prepared to have some energy! A great and easy breakfast smoothie, snack, or pre- or post-workout nourishment. Check back here to see other NEW combinations!

Here are the reasons why I love and became a believer of the GMS (Green Monster Smoothie):
1. Increase in energy
2. It's fool-proof- The combinations are endless, and you can experiment with what you have on hand or what your taste buds are telling you. From looking at online websites and blogs, it consists of:
a) Fruit- Banana, Frozen fruit, ANY fruit
b) Spinach
c) Liquid- Milk, Soy milk, Rice milk, Coconut water, Almond milk
d) Supplements- Amazing Meal, Flax seed, Protein powder (optional)
e) Sweetener- Honey, Agave nectar, Splenda (optional)
f) Peanut butter- Peanut butter, Almond butter, Cashew butter (optional)
3. Terrific way to incorporate FRESH fruit and veggies in a smoothie form- Raw spinach has many nutritional benefits, but when cooked, many of the benefits are lost- thus you get more bang for you buck if you consume it raw.
4. It satisfied my hunger for hours- I had it at 7am and was full until lunch at 12pm.
5. Have read your skin becomes clearer and glows

1 cup fresh spinach
1 cup non-fat vanilla soy milk
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1 banana
Handful of ice

1. Add ingredients in the order listed to a blender. Mix until well incorporated, and texture becomes a smoothie. Enjoy!

* Note: This was my first time trying this, and I am looking forward to trying new combinations of ingredients in the days ahead!

Oreo-crusted Mini Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites

After seeing this recipe on Picky Palate's blog, I ran out and purchased the mini cheesecake pan. This pan is super cute- I mean, isn't anything that is "mini"-shaped just cuter than the original? I heart the mini-Coca Cola bottles, mini Tabasco sauces, mini ketchup bottles, etc. I love Oreo cookie crusts too- the pumpkin cheesecake, caramel, and Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses were fabulous paired with the chocolate crust! (FYI- My local Kroger and Meijer were out of the kisses, but I found a huge display at my Target.) This took moderate amount of prepwork, and not a whole lot of ingredients. Happy fall everyone!

8 whole Oreos, finely ground in food processor
1 1/2 Tablespoons melted butter
8 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (I used Libby’s)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
3 Litehouse Low-fat Caramel Dip (comes in a package of (6) 2-oz little cups) (any caramel dip would be fine)
12 Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses, unwrapped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the inside of each cheesecake well with cooking spray.
2. Combine ground Oreos and melted butter into a bowl until well combined.
3. Spoon into 12 mini cheesecake cups. Press into the bottom of each cup so the crust is flat.

I used a some wax paper and a small, circular spice to "flatten" the cookie crust:

4. Partially bake for 10 minutes then remove from oven.
5. In a stand or electric mixer beat the cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin until smooth. (Really beat the cream cheese well to remove lumps.) Scrape down the bowl.
6. Beat in egg, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg until just combined.
7. Pour evenly into the 12 cups filling about 3/4 way full.
8. Spoon about a teaspoon of caramel into the tops of each filled cup and swirl with a toothpick gently.

9. Bake for 25-28 minutes or until cheesecake is cooked through. (Mine were done baking at 28 minutes. I also placed a large baking dish filled with water on the lower rack of the oven to add moisture to the air.)
10. Let cool completely.

11. Remove cheesecakes from pan and top each with a spoonful of remaining caramel and a Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kiss.

12. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: 12 mini cheesecakes

Source: Picky Palate

Pear Sauce

I've been really digging my new crockpot, and using it every chance I get. I've been on this kick lately to make homemade fruit sauces- why pay for them at the grocery store when you can make them homemade, control the ingredients that goes in it, and it is cheaper than buying it pre-made? I love my homemade applesauce, and even tried a variation of it by making cran-applesauce. Pears just went on a crazy sale last week, so I picked up a few pounds and guess what? I am making pear sauce tonight! Yep, you read that right. It is just like applesauce... only with pears. I cooked them on HIGH for 4 hours but it wasn't soft enough so I added 2 additional hours and they turned out perfect.

Fruit sauces make great toppings to oatmeal and my personal favorite- fat-free cottage cheese- and you can eat it alone as a healthy dessert as well. I also like substituting it for oil in baking/quick bread recipes to cut down the fat and calories. I'm also making this for my "niece" Anna, who just turned 7 months and has started eating pureed foods! Since I didn't want to add any sugar or spices (cinnamon), I kept this purely pears, but I did notice that it wasn't as naturally sweet as the apples. Thus, I would add a little brown sugar or Splenda, as well as a dash of cinnamon the next time I make it.

6-8 pears, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks (I have a 4-qt slow cooker, so this is how many I can fit inside comfortably. I used Bartlett pears.)
Splash of lemon juice

1. Toss your pears into your slow cooker.
2. Add the lemon juice, and toss to evenly coat.
3. Cook on Low for 8-10 hours or High for 6 hours.
4. Use a potato masher to mash up the pears, or place in food processor/blender to puree it to your desired consistency.

Yields: 4 cups

Source: A Piggly-Wiggly original

Caramel-Apple Crumb Pie

There are 3 reasons why I loved this pie:
1. It is from Cooking Light, so it's much healthier than the average butter-stricken pie
2. I loved the addition of caramel syrup added to the pie
3. The taste was wonderfully sinful and reminiscent of fall

I didn't want to fuss making homemade pie crust, so using a tip made by one of the reviewers of this recipe, I went to Whole Foods and found this fabulous alternative in the frozen aisle:

SCORE! This was so easy and I loved every.single.bite.

For the Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp chilled butter or stick margarine, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp vegetable shortening
3 Tbsp plus 1/2 teaspoon ice water
1 tsp cider vinegar
Butter-flavored cooking spray

For the Filling
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
9 cups sliced peeled Granny Smith apple (about 2-3/4 pounds) (Used 9 medium-sized apples)
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp lemon juice

For the Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp chilled butter or stick margarine, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup fat-free caramel sundae syrup

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare Crust
2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.
3. Combine 1 cup flour and salt in a bowl; cut in 2 tablespoons butter and shortening with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.
4. Sprinkle surface with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time; add vinegar.
5. Toss with a fork until moist and crumbly (do not form a ball).
6. Press mixture gently into a 4-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap; cover with additional plastic wrap.
7. Roll dough, still covered, to a 12-inch circle.
8. Freeze 10 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed.
9. Remove 1 sheet of plastic wrap; fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray.
10. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap.
11. Fold edges under; flute.
12. Line bottom of dough with a piece of foil; arrange pie weights (or dried beans) on foil.
13. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until the edge is lightly browned.
14. Remove pie weights and foil; cool on a wire rack.

To prepare Filling
1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
3. Add sugar mixture and apples to skillet; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Don't overcook this- the apple will continue to soften while baking in the oven.)
4. Remove from heat; stir in 3 tablespoons flour and lemon juice.
5. Spoon into prepared crust.

To prepare Topping
1. Lightly spoon 1/4 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.
2. Combine flour and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a bowl; cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Drizzle syrup over apple mixture; sprinkle topping over syrup.
4. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until apples are tender. Cool on a wire rack.

Yield: 1 pie

Source: Cooking Light

Slow Cooker Swiss Casserole Chicken

OMG, this was another successful crockpot recipe! I was in heaven! We served this to some friends who came over to help my DB create some steps in our garage, and we got rave reviews on this dish. The only change I'll try next time is to add a little (maybe 1/2 cup) chicken broth and omit the butter- while the chicken was fork-tender, it tasted a little dry. The ingredients are those you would have on hand, so go out and make this. NOW!

Updated 9/18/13- Since chicken breasts are coming in larger packages now (3 breasts is now roughly 2.25-2.5# packages!), I'm adjusting this by adding (2) cans of cream of... soup, and making it lower in fat and calories substituting chicken broth instead of melted butter (still tastes great). All updates are in blue italics font.

3 chicken breasts (roughly 1.75-2.5 lb)
Seasonings- Garlic salt, Black pepper, Cayenne pepper
3-4 slices Swiss cheese (optional)
(2) 10-3/4 oz cans of reduced-fat cream of celery soup (any Cream of... soup would be fine here)
1/4 cup milk (Used skim milk)
2 cups stuffing mix (Used Stove Top) (I use the entire box of Stove Top)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted (I pour 1/4-1/3 cup chicken broth or chicken stock)

1. Lay chicken breasts on the bottom of the slow cooker. Season chicken with desired seasonings.
2. Place cheese slices on top.
3. In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine soup and milk. Place into slow cooker on top of chicken and sliced cheese.
4. Sprinkle the stuffing mix evenly over chicken.
5. Using the same 2-cup measuring cup (used to mix the milk and cream of soup), melt the butter in the microwave, and then pour the butter over the stuffing, ensuring even coating on the stuffing.
6. Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or HIGH for 3-4 hours.

Source: Crockpot Tuesdays

Spicy Shredded Pork

This dish was incredibly easy- as easy as throwing everything together and sticking it in the oven. I've never worked with pork shoulder, and it produced some wonderful, succulent meat. I wanted to make spicy pork tacos (using this recipe), and the meat shredded so beautifully since it was so tender. Flavorful too! Although the original recipe title says it is spicy, I didn't find this spicy at all. Since I wanted to make pork tacos, I purchased some low-carb 100% whole-wheat tortillas, and made this delicious salsa to accompany it. It made a terrific taco!

4-7 lb pork shoulder (Used a 5-lb shoulder)
1 onion, cut into quarters
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tbsp salt
Pepper, to taste
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Garnish/Toppings: Tortillas, lime wedges, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, tomatilla salsa, cheese... or try my homemade Corn and Avocado Salsa!

1. Rinse and pat dry pork shoulder. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Throw the onion and garlic into a food processor. Combine until chopped fine.
3. Throw the remaining ingredients (chili powder through white wine vinegar) with the onion/garlic mixture and combine thoroughly.
4. Pour the mixture over the pork shoulder. Rub it into every nook and cranny of the meat, tucking under folds and crevices.
5. Place the shoulder into a roasting pan or dutch oven, and add a few cups of water. (I placed 2 cups, which was plenty... I may do only 1 cup next time.)
6. Cover tightly, and roast pork for several hours, turning once every hour. (I roasted mine for 4 hours, and it was perfectly fork tender. The time will depend on how large your pork shoulder is.)
7. When it is fork tender, crank up the heat (I place it on broil), remove the lid, and roast it, skin side up, for an additional 15-20 minutes to get the skin nice and crispy.

8. Remove from oven, and let it rest for 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute in the meat.
9. Shred the pork (2 forks works well).
10. Once shredded, pour the juices all over the meat.
11. Serve with warm tortillas, lime wedges, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, tomatilla salsa, cheese... whatever you'd like!

Source: Pioneer Woman

Monday, October 26, 2009

Corn and Avocado Salsa

This salsa was the perfect accompaniment to our spicy shredded pork! I was looking for something that was healthy, had a great crunch, and paired well with our pork tacos, and this recipe foot the bill. I loved the tastes of the red bell peppers, onions, beans, and avocado with the slight hint of garlic and vinegar. It includes crushed red pepper (you can substitute sliced jalapeno peppers too) for a nice warm heat. The original recipe calls for fresh corn, but I subbed in canned corn which was fine. If you plan to make this ahead of time, I would chop and mix all ingredients together, but add the avocado right before serving so you will avoid it getting brown. This recipe made a lot more than what I needed, so next time I will scale the recipe in half!

3 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed (Used 15-oz can of corn, drained)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 avocados- peeled, pitted, and cubed
1/4 large red onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
¼ cup fresh lime juice (roughly 2 limes)
Salt and Black pepper, to taste

1. Place the corn in a large pot with enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cook until kernels are tender but crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain, and cool in cold water. Use a knife to scrape kernels from the cobs.
2. Place kernels in a medium bowl.
3. Stir in avocados, red onion, bell pepper, and garlic.
4. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, and cilantro.
5. Mix in vinegar, olive oil, and lime juice.
6. Season with salt and pepper.

Source: All Recipes

Garlicky Baked Butternut Squash

I love garlic and I love butternut squash but I had never thought about combining the two ingredients. I wanted a side for my grilled pork chops, but something healthier and lower in carbs than potatoes. Butternut squash is easily found in grocery stores all-year round with its peak season during fall through early winter. They are beige-colored and shaped like a vase with a bulbous end. The color has a deep-orange hue with a flavor that reminds me of a sweet potato. I was a little nervous about the sweet (squash) and savory (garlic) combination, but it paired well together! An easy, quick, and healthy way to prepare butternut squash!

The finished product:

2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3-1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large bowl, combine the parsley, oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
2. Add squash and toss to coat.
3. Transfer to an ungreased shallow 2-qt. baking dish.
4. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees F for 50-55 minutes or until squash is just tender.
5. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese after the dish is out of the oven.

Here is what a sliced butternut squash looks like...

Source: All Recipes

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Double-Delight Peanut Butter Cookies

While I like homemade food as much as possible, sometimes I just like the ease and convenience of pre-packaged mixes- and that includes cookie rolls. I ran across this recipe while perusing Pillsbury's website for some new snack ideas. My DB loves cookies, and I like how these were "doctored" up. You start off with a creamy sweetened peanut butter middle (think Reese's cup interior) nestled in between a peanut & sugar-crusted peanut butter cookie with a hint of cinnamon. I heart Nutella, so I wanted to try one cookie with a Nutella filling. Too much peanutty taste? The Pillsbury Cook-Off judges didn't think so- this was the $1 million dollar recipe in 2008... and we can now see why!

1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated peanut butter cookies, well chilled

1. Heat oven to 375°F. In small bowl, mix chopped peanuts, granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
2. In another small bowl, stir peanut butter and powdered sugar until completely blended. Shape mixture into 24 (1-inch) balls. (To equally divide the peanut butter batter, I scored the mixture into 4 segments. From each segment, I divided it in half and formed 3 balls. Repeat with remaining segments.)

3. Cut roll of cookie dough into 12 slices. Cut each slice in half crosswise to make 24 pieces; flatten slightly.
4. Shape 1 cookie dough piece around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely.
5. Repeat with remaining dough and balls.
6. Roll each covered ball in peanut mixture; gently pat mixture completely onto balls.
7. On ungreased large cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart.
8. Spray bottom of drinking glass with cooking spray; press into remaining peanut mixture. Flatten each ball to 1/2-inch thickness with bottom of glass. (Don't flatten too much- I did and they were flat. Lesson learned.)
9. Sprinkle any remaining peanut mixture evenly on tops of cookies; gently press into dough.
10. Bake 7 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
11. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack.
12. Store tightly covered.

Yields: 24 cookies

Source: Pillsbury

Cran-Applesauce Snack Cake with Oat-Nut Streudel


I have been making a lot of recipes from Cook's Illustrated, and I'd bookmarked this recipe ever since I made some homemade Cran-Applesauce last weekend. No time like the present to whip one up, right? The sugar & spice streudel mixture sprinkled on top makes for a nice, crispy sweet crust, and the texture of the bread within is smooth and apple-y. The room smells wonderfully fall with the aroma of apples and spices. However, this does take some prep work- there is an apple cider reduction, and the dried apple reduction will need to take a spin in the food processor (or blender). However, while the apple cider is reducing, you can proceed with the recipe and even have time to wash some dishes in between.

Since I wanted to take some to our friends and neighbors, I doubled the recipe. I baked it in a 13x9 dish, and cooked the cider reduction for 20 minutes, and baked the cake for 45 minutes- all tips from CI. (However, I will post the original recipe made for an 8" cake pan below.) While I used my Cran-Applesauce, any applesauce will do. The cake resulted in a moist, yet light texture and the crispy sweet oat-nut streudel topped it all. It's worth it!

This cake is packed with cider-infused apples, warm spices, and a crunchy-sweet oat-nut streudel

3/4 cup dried apples (2 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup apple cider
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup sugar (4 3/4 ounces)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats (or quick)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup unsweetened applesauce, room temperature (Used Cran-Applesauce)
1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp table salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 16-inch length parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 7-inch width. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and fit parchment into dish, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish. (Just an fyi- I didn't cover my pan with parchment paper, and the cake came out just fine.)
2. Bring dried apples and cider to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until liquid evaporates and mixture appears dry, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
3. Whisk flour and baking soda in medium bowl to combine; set aside.
4. In second medium bowl, whisk sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Measure 2 tablespoons sugar-spice mixture into medium bowl and add brown sugar, nuts, and oats.
5. Work in softened butter by rubbing mixture between fingers until fully incorporated; set aside.
6. In food processor, process cooled dried-apple mixture and applesauce until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed; set aside.
7. Whisk egg and salt in large bowl to combine.
8. Add sugar-spice mixture and whisk continuously until well combined and light colored, about 20 seconds.
9. Add butter in three additions, whisking after each.
10. Add applesauce mixture and vanilla and whisk to combine.
11. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients; using rubber spatula, fold gently until just combined and evenly moistened.
12. Turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with rubber spatula.
13. Pinch reserved sugar-oat mixture into hazelnut-sized clumps and sprinkle evenly over batter.
14. Bake until wooden skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
15. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours.
16. Run knife along cake edges without parchment to release. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang and transfer to cutting board. Cut cake and serve.

Yield: Makes (1) 8" square cake

Source: Cook's Illustrated

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Sweetest Day!

Yes, DB and I celebrate Sweetest Day. We can't help it- we are both hopeless romantics! And we both agree that when it comes to romantic holidays, spending "just us" time is the best celebration.

My DB surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, an apron, and some bath products from Bath & Body Works (White Citrus) tonight! Oh, and he also got me a bag of Jelly Bellys- who doesn't love those jellybeans? :)

UPDATE: One of the items I received was this Scentbug from Bath & Body Works- this thing works so well. It freshens up a room so quickly and without the danger of an open flame/candle... I may need to invest in this for all my rooms.

Alrighty then, we're off to our getaway trip now, but here are some pictures from last night.

Here I am in my glorious PJs, admiring my new apron:

Here is a close-up of my flowers- can you tell lillies are my favorite?

Happy Sweetest Day, D! :)

Latin Rice

I made this dish to pair with this recipe- this rice dish was AWESOME. Simply OUTSTANDING- both my DB and I raved about this dish. I loved the cilantro flavoring paired with beautifully seasoned rice, tomatoes, and green onions.

This was the first time I used Sazon, which is a special blend of seasoned salt used in Mexican cuisine. I found this in my ethnic aisle at my local Kroger for $1.39. Inside the box contains (8) tear-off seasoning packets like this. The color of sazon resembled Lawry's Seasoned Salt- reddish in tint, but much finer in texture. Since it was just the 2 of us, I halved this recipe, and we still had plenty leftover. I don't know if it was the fresh ingredients or the sazon seasoning, but this dish was PHENOMENAL and will be my go-to Latin rice recipe.

1 Tbsp canola oil
3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 garlic, minced
1/2 tomato, diced
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 packets Sazón Goya (I used the Goya brand )
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1. In a medium heavy pot with a tight fitting lid, heat oil on medium heat and sauté scallions, cilantro and garlic for about 2 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and sauté another minute.
3. Add rice and sauté 2 minutes longer, stirring frequently.
4. Add water, bouillon cube, Sazón seasoning packets, and salt. Taste the water for salt and add more to taste. Let water boil on a high flame stirring once.
5. As the water boils down and just skims the top of the rice, turn the flame to very low and cover 15 minutes. The steam will cook the rice, so do not open the lid.
6. After 15 minutes, shut the flame and let the pot sit for at least 5 more minutes. This will finish cooking the rice without burning the bottom.

Yield: 3-4 servings

Source: Chef Mommy, originally found on Gina's WW Recipes

Shrimp Enchilada

I am not a fan of Mexican cuisine, but my DB is- and for Sweetest Day weekend, I wanted to prepare him food he loves. He's also a fan of shrimp and thus this recipe came to fruition. This dish was incredibly delicious!! I lowered the amount of butter a little, but it didn't sacrifice the taste. I also did a combination of Monterey-Jack and Pepper-Jack cheese for added flavor and heat. (Since my grocer didn't sell shredded Pepper-Jack cheese, I used my food processor to shred the 8-oz block and it yielded 2 cups.) Next time, I will play around with the seasonings- the flavor was a little mild for our tastes. Also, once I placed the tomatoes inside the skillet, it added a lot of liquid, so I will cut the tomatoes and let them drain onto a paper towel prior to adding to the recipe.

It was a comforting meal- cheesey, creamy, warm, with a hint of heat. I made this with Latin Rice, which was AWESOME!

Check out this creamy goodness...

1/2 cup sweet red pepper, chopped (Roughly 1/2 bell pepper)
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp oregano (Will add 1 tsp next time)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder (Will add 1/2 tsp next time)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (Will add 1/2 tsp next time)
1/4 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup Monterey-Jack cheese, divided
2 cups Pepper-Jack cheese, divided (Shredded an 8-oz block of cheese)
1/2 cup sour cream (Used fat-free)
1 Tbsp butter
1-1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped (Drain chopped tomatoes on paper towel to reduce amount of liquid added to pan)
8 (9-inch) flour tortillas (Used 100% whole-wheat, low-carb tortillas)

1. Sauté red pepper, onion and green pepper in the butter until crisp-tender (approximately 3-4 minutes).
2. Add oregano, salt, garlic powder, pepper, cayenne pepper, cream and flour; blend well. Continue cooking for 3 minutes or until slightly thickened.
3. Add 1-1/2 cups cheese; stir until melted.
4. Add sour cream, stir to blend. Set aside.
5. In another skillet, melt the 2 Tbsp butter. Sauté shrimp and chopped onions until the shrimp are pink. Remove shrimp and chop; return to butter and onion.
6. Add chopped tomatoes and 1/2 of the cheese sauce.
7. Spoon 1/3 cup shrimp mixture into each tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on top of shrimp mixture. Roll up tightly.
8. Arrange seam side down in a 13x9 glass baking dish.
9. Spoon remaining cheese sauce over tortillas and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
10. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Yield: 5 enchiladas

Source: Chef Mommy
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