Monday, December 28, 2009

Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas and Prociutto

the bottom of the bowl...
I know, I know, there's pork in this. Loyal readers many be pointing fingers at my hipocracy refering to an earlier post outlining my recent diet guidelines. I did mention, however, that there are a few exceptions. This is one of them. Try it, and you'll know why. Even though there is pork in this, it's a very small amount, not like I'm eating a pork chop or something, and it does amazing things for the flavor. With that said, my Mother-in-law found this recipe in the newspaper last summer, and prepared it as a side for a family dinner. It became an instant, and I mean first bite instant, favorite. The flavors are fresh and simple... The procuitto-pea combination is really nothing new, but it was to me, and it came just in time to take advantage of the fresh, Michigan peas and asparagus that were so readily available. Unfortunately, the produce is not local this time of year, so I have to settle for peas and asparagus of a slightly lower quality, but it's still worth it. Often times pasta can be considered a budget meal, but you have to be careful with this one. A very nice gentleman at a local market tried to persuade me with a new prociutto they were carrying that customers raved about. I was intrigued, but not at $30 a pound (!), especially since this is a great meal for entertaining, and in that case I usually double or triple the recipe. Even picky eaters go back for seconds, and will be surprised at how many vegetables they'll eat when spiked with the flavors of parmesan and the bacon-y goodness of sauteed prociutto. Omitting the prociutto would make this an outstanding vegetarian dish. For Thanksgiving, I took some liberties and made this without the pasta and prociutto for a non-traditional vegetable side dish, reducing the amount of oil and spices, and everyone was delighted. I decided not to share it then because I wanted to present the recipe in its entirety.

Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas and Prociutto
adapted from the Detroit News

4 oz. prociutto, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes as desired
1 tablespoon fresh, crushed garlic
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2 inch peices
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 lb. bow-tie pasta
3/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 oz.), divided
fresh ground black pepper

1. Saute prosciutto in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
2. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil to the pan along with red pepper flakes and garlic, and heat until fragrant.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package directions. Add asparagus and snap peas 2-4 minutes before the pasta is completely cooked. Drain pasta and vegetables.
4. Add the pasta and vegetables and prociutto to the oil mixture and toss to coat. Add 1/2 c. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with extra cheese.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup

This recipe was a result of a lonley can of pumkin that had been sitting in my pantry for over a month, and would stare at me every morning begging for a purpose.  I was desperately searching for a savory and healthful application all while being taunted by the Pumpkin Roll recipe on the back of the can. As I said before, sometimes you just have to back away. The web, and many other blogs did not disappoint. Pumpkin soup recipes are more common that I would have thought. Many are sweet, rich, and thickened with cream. I chose beans, surprise, surprise. I was pleased with how it turned out, but I'm still trying to convince that picky guy I live with. Give it a whirl, and let me know what you think.

Pumpkin Soup
compiled from many sources, inspired by smitten kitchen

2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onion
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. curry powder
pinch of cinnamon
2 cans (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) No Salt Added diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) pumkin puree
1 quart (4 c.) low sodium vegetable stock
2 tsp. white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a 6 quart stock pot, combine butter, oil, oinion, garlic, and spices. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent and just starting to brown.
2. Meanwhile, coarsely puree black beans and tomatoes in a food processer. It should only take a few long  pulses.
3. Add bean mixture, pumpkin, and vegetable stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.
4. Continue cooking uncovered for about 25 minutes or until the soup begins to thicken. Add vinegar and continue simmering for an additional 5 minutes. Serve plain or garnish with pumpkin seeds, sour cream, or an extra splash of vinegar.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vegetable-Bean Spirals

I finally won something. Not once, but twice in the same day, at the same event! Perhaps my inherent "unlucky-ness" has taken a turn. The fact that these wins may have been a phenomenal guess at a candy-filled estimation jar and Christmas carol worksheet at a recent holiday party is irrelevent. I am soaking it all in. :) I would also consider these little veggie bites a win, considering that I had never made them before, and did so in a hurry in the interval between work and pre-party beautification. They came together rather quickly and without any cooking! Since I was hurried, their uniformity was compromised, but were still tasty, healthy, and pleasing to the eye. I don't know about you, but nothing screams "eat me" like a colorful, fresh, veggie-filled spiral of an island in the middle of the crashing sea of cream cheese-laden dips that frequent holiday buffets. Please don't get me wrong, I do love my cheese, but sometimes, you just need to back away slowly. Did I mention that I was rushed when I made these? Future veggie spirals will have a bean mixture made with hot salsa, some onions, added spices like cumin and paprika, and significantly larger slices of avocado in the center.

Vegetable-Bean Spirals
lifted from vegetarian times

Bean Mixture:
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
3-4 Tbsp. salsa
1/4 c. packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
salt to taste

Vegetable Spirals:
4 9-to-10 inch spinach tortillas
1 1/3 c. packed finely shredded red cabbage
4 thin carrot sticks, about 8 inches long and 1/2 inch wide
4 strips red bell pepper (you'll probably need 8), about 1/4 inch wide
8 slices ripe, firm Hass avocado, sprinkled with juice of 1/2 a lime

1. To make Bean Mixture: In food processor, blend beans, 3 tablespoons salsa and cilantro into thick paste. Add more salsa, if needed for spreadable mixture. Add salt.
2. To make Vegetable Spirals: Using spatula, spread 3 tablespoons bean mixture on a tortilla, leaving about 1/2 inch around edges. Sprinkle on 1/4 of cabbage, and gently press in. Place a carrot stick horizontally about 1 inch from bottom of tortilla, and place 1 strip red bell pepper above it. Arrange 2 slices avocado, end to end, on top of carrot.
3. Wrap bottom edge of tortilla over vegetables, and roll tightly. Moisten top edge lightly with bean paste or water to seal. Gently press roll to shape it into log. Fill and roll remaining tortillas.
4. To serve, set each roll seam side down on cutting board. Use sharp knife to trim off edges. Hold roll firmly, and use gentle sawing motion to cut into 5 or 6 pieces, making every other slice on the diagonal. Divide among 8 salad plates, or arrange on party platter, diagonal sides up.

A special thanks goes to the husband who permitted me to bring this item, rather than individual cheesecakes, to the aforementioned soiree.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cashew Apple Salad

It's been a while since I've been in a yoga class, and I really miss it. I miss the routine relaxing feeling of going through a sun salutation in a room full of friendly strangers, where all other thoughts and worries seem to float away. I haven't really thought about it this way before, but I kind of have an alternative to this feeling in the kitchen. Cooking in general (and apparently writing about it) has a therapeutic effect on me especially if what I am cooking is something that I know and love, and I don't have to worry about following a recipe. Making salads compounds this feeling. I have always enjoyed chopping fresh, colorful veggies with no real exactness and piling them high into a bowl. There is something very zen about it. I happen to love eating salads too, and crave them almost as much as chocolate chip cookies, and am a total sucker for a good salad bar or deli with a variety of vegetable, pasta, fruit, and potato salads to delight the palate. My daydreams have been preoccupied with this particular combination for several months, ever since some good friends introduced us to it. This salad really is perfect any time of year. The dressing is light and bright and accompanies a summer barbeque quite nicely-which is how we first had it-while the apples and nuts make it somewhat harvesty (my blog-I'll make up words if I want to) and wintery. Now that I think about it, some dried cranberries might make an aesthetically pleasing and flavorful addition.

Cashew Apple Salad
adapted from the Chicago Sun-Times and

1 head romaine lettuce, red romaine, or red leaf lettuce
2 Granny Smith apples, sliced thin
1 c. lightly salted cashew halves
1 c. shredded swiss or mozzarella cheese

1/2 c. canola oil
1/3 c. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1. Combine dressing ingredients in a well sealing container and shake vigorously to mix.
2. In a large bowl, combine lettuce, apples, and cashews, and toss with desired amount of dressing. (I use less than half of what this makes)
3. Serve immediately topping each serving with cheese. Alternatively, add the cheese in step 2 with the other ingredients. We add it to each serving becuase of the swiss vs. mozz battle in my house.

Another option for the dressing is to combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender to create an emulsion by drizzling in the oil, yielding a creamier dressing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taco Soup

It's getting colder and time for some warm comfort in a bowl, and this might be just the thing to satisfy your hunger while saving you some calories (if you skip the chips and cheese) for the mashed potatoes and pies you'll no doubt be indulging in this week. I first had this soup a couple years ago when a neighbor brought it to a potluck dinner. I immediately fell in love with it...and then modified it ; ).  I made this over the weekend for a potluck of my own and it was a success once again.  It couldn't be any easier-just open a bunch of cans and dump. This is great for a crowd becuase its easy and cheap. The best part is that it is very forgiving and you can swap out whatever you want. Rather have more black beans? Add another can. Don't like black beans? Add a second can of chili beans or omit them altogether. You can use some leftover chicken (or turkey) and cube it, ground beef, ground turkey, Morningstar crumbles, etc. I do make it quite often with out any meat or meat substitute at all and it's equally wonderful. My one recommendation is that you do use No Salt Added ingredients and my salt-free taco seasoning as much as possible. Using the regular stuff makes it quite salty, and it's better to add a little salt while its cooking and control the amount yourself. Make sure that you do taste it because canned beans already have quite a bit of sodium and so does the ranch seasoning.

Taco Soup

olive oil
1 lb. ground chicken breast
1 medium white or yellow onion, finely diced
1 can (14 oz.) hot chili beans
1 can (14 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) white beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) No Salt Added, corn undrained
1 can (14 oz. ) No Salt Added, diced tomatos
1 can (14 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilis
8 tsp. homemade taco seasoning or 1 store bought packet
1 packet ranch seasoning

1. In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until soft.
2. Remove onion from the pan. Add a little more oil and the chicken to the pan. Season with a few pinches of taco seasoning and cook through.
3. Add onion, cooked chicken and the remaining ingredients to a 6 quart crock pot, along with 2 cans of water. I use the water to rinse out the cans first to get any sauce that sticks to the inside.
4. Stir to mix ingredients, making sure to dissolve seasonings. Cook for 8-10 hours on Low setting or 4-5 hours on High.

Garnish with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, sour cream, green onion, avocado...anything you can think of.

*Update* - 1/14/2010 - I recently made this recipe as a vegetarian chili to top baked potatoes. Just drain the corn and diced tomatoes, omit the extra water (and chicken), and only use about 2/3 of the can of tomato sauce. I added some chopped red and green peppers too. Thick and delicious!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake

I have been promising a pumpkin cheesecake to the previously mentioned snarky friend for something awful like 3 years now. I used to make this recipe quite often and usually for Thanksgiving, so unlike my friend, it might be just in time for you. The original is ultra easy because it uses a pre-made graham cracker crust. However, I don't know if you have ever really looked at them, but they contain a ridiculous amount of trans fat, 2 g per "serving". That's more than recommend daily maximum and there's no way I get 8 servings out of that little thing, so you'd be eating even more. Ok, I am finished with my health rant for the day-I know, know this is a cheesecake! Anyhow, this discovery coupled with the recent crust revelation generated a "kicked-up" homemade crust. Because this was meant to be made in a 6 oz. crust, it's a smaller (shallower) cheesecake than some others, but it does give more of a pumpkin pie feel. I also add more pumkin than the recipe calls for so it doesn't set-up as hard, but you'll thank me later.

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Kraft Foods

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs (preferably homemade)
1/3 c. melted butter
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
large pinch each of cloves and nutmeg-about 1/16 tsp. ;)

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Combine graham crackers crumbs, butter, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and stir to mix. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform or pie pan.
3. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended.
4. Remove 1 cup of the batter and place in another bowl. Stir in the pumpkin and spices.
5. Pour remaining plain batter into crust. Carefully, top with pumpkin batter.
6. Bake for 40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

A tip for packing the crust into the pan: use a flat bottom measuring cup! Press firmly all the way around. I learned this trick from Paula Deen. It also makes it easy to push the crumbs up the side of the pan. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aloo gobi mattar bhaji

(Potato, Cauliflower, and Pea Bhaji)

I recently posted the comment "So many recipes, so little time..." on a random social networking site. To which, a rather snarky friend of mine replied "So many friends to invite over for dinner..." We made a date, and when the husband's away, the garam masala will play. Dan is not a fan of Indian food so I had to take this opportunity seriously. Aloo gobi was the very first Indian dish that I ever tried-at the time, it seemed the most "safe." It was, and I have been in love with the dish and the cuisine ever since, much to the dismay of my better half. It only makes sense that this would be the first dish I try my hand at. The recipe is from a great little book that I recieved for Christmas last year, and is one of my few cookbooks. Who needs a ton of cookbooks when you have the internet? I really do feel this way, but also say it to defend my somewhat lonely collection of books. The book is Global Vegetarian Cooking: Quick & Easy Recipes From Around the World. It's very user friendly, and when they say easy they mean it. The book is full color, it has an introduction all about food and nurtrition, and each recipe has a paragraph preceeding it that tells a little story about the culture and the dish. My only gripe is that many of the recipes have the ingredients listed by weight, this one calls for 1/2 pound each of the cauliflower, potato, and peas. And since I don't have a kitchen scale-sigh-I have to rely on the ones at the grocery store. For the record 1/2 lb. heads of cauliflower don't exist, and exactly how much is a 1/2 pound of frozen peas from a bag anyway? I did the work for you on this one by simplifying the amounts and adjusting the spices accordingly. The red pepper flakes were my addition and next time I'll be adding more!

Aloo Gobi Mattar Bhaji
adapted from Global Vegetarian Cooking

1 small head cauliflower (1 1/2-2 lbs.), cut small
1 medium baking potato, peeled and diced
1 c. frozen peas
2 tbsp. canola oil
3/4 tsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
3/4 tsp. garam masala
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt (a few pinches)
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped

1. First, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and fry the chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, cumin seeds, and pepper flakes for 30 seconds-1 minute.
2. Then add the vegetables, half the cilantro and salt, and stir-fry to mix the ingredients for 1-2 minutes.
3. Pour in a little water to cover the base of the pan. Put on the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring from time to time and partially mashing the ingredients.
4. When cooked, garnish with the remaining cilantro leaves before serving.

This was beyond easy and so fragrant and delicious, but not overwhelming. I served it with Trader Joe's Garlic Naan-the original naan is fantastic too. You can find them both in the freezer section.

*Update* - 1/16/10 - I made this again this week, and for those of you who are wondering if it's really necessary to buy cumin seeds for's not. I accidentally used 3/4 tsp. ground cumin instead just beacause that's what I am used to grabbing and I couldn't tell the difference.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas and Taco Seasoning

Let's say that you have 8,000 flour tortillas leftover from a recent party and some chicken in the freezer. Solution = Enchiladas. When I was growing up, tacos and nachos were on the permanent dinner menu rotation, but we seemed to ignore other, arguably more delightful, mexican dishes. The first time that I had homemade enchiladas was at a good friends house. She's a very good cook, an even better baker, and just so happens to have some Mexican blood. Quite a while ago I had the privledge of helping her whip up a batch. She makes hers with homemade tortillas, which are beyond excellent all by themselves, mole sauce, muenster cheese, and cream cheese in the filling. Very rich, but very worth it. Mine are not as heavy and I use canned enchilada sauce. I have tried a few different kinds and they are all pretty good, even the national brands. Check the nutritional information though, some are just packed with sodium. You can even find a couple that have a decent amount of fiber. We like it with medium heat so I mix some of a hot variety into a can of the mild. But, if anyone has a good recipe for a tasty homemade sauce, I am all ears. Until then, I make up for it with my own taco seasoning. It's more flavorful, salt free, and without the nasty MSG. I use it in my chili, tacos, and refried beans. If you search the web you can find several recipes for taco seasoning, but this one comes with my seal of approval: Amy tested, Dan approved. And, it's cheaper than buying the little packets for $1 a piece. 

Chicken Enchiladas

olive oil
2 bonless, skinless chicken breasts
Taco seasoning - *recipe below
1 large (19 oz.) or 2 small (10 oz.) cans of your favorite enchilada sauce
2 oz. freshly grated, reduced fat cheddar cheese
8 oz. freshly grated, monterey jack cheese
3/4 c. canned black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp. diced green chilis - about 1/2 of a 4 oz. can
black pepper
8-10 small flour tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 350 . Heat olive oil, once around the pan, in a small skillet on medium heat. Liberally season chicken with taco seasoning, add to pan, and saute until golden brown and cooked through.
2. Remove chicken from pan and alow to rest for 10 minutes. Shread chicken by pulling apart with 2 forks.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the shreadded chicken, cheddar cheese, black beans, green chilis. Add pepper, another sprinkle of taco seasoning, and about 1/3 c. each of the monterey jack and enchilada sauce.  Mix well.
4. Spray a 13 x 9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Fill tortillas with chicken mixture, roll, and place in dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the tortillas, and top with remaining jack cheese.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles around the edges and the cheese begins to brown.

Taco Seasoning

6 tsp. chili powder
5 tsp. paprika
4 1/2 tsp. cumin
2 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Combine in a well sealing container and shake to mix. 7-8 teaspoons of this mix is about the same as one of the packets.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moroccan Style Vegetable Couscous

About a month ago, I had a fabulous vegetarian couscous dinner at a friend's house, and I realized that I have never made couscous. I have been thinking about it ever since, and decided to stew some vegetables for myself. This was basically an attempt to come up with some more relatively easy vegetarian recipes that both my husband and I can agree upon. Inspired by the smell of fresh fall leaves on the crisp autumn air, I really wanted to add some butternut squash to the mix; however, mentioning this idea only produced a semi-frown upon the face of the aforementioed husband. This, plus the dilemma of what to do with a large unused portion caused me to leave the grocery store sans squash. Oh, but I'll be back for you sometime soon, Mr. Butternut, don't get too comfortable.

For now, this is a hearty, aromatic, vegetarian dish that does a decent job of showcasing the mighty chickpea, garbanzo, ceci bean, Indian pea, or whatever you want to call it. They look like mini peaches to me. ; ) Anyway, it was very tasty, but not a fast favorite. I probably won't use plain couscous next time-oh yes, it was good enough for a "next time"- and some fresh lemon juice might shake up the flavors a bit. It must also be said that like any good stew or chili, it was even better as leftovers. Plus, with "Moroccan" in the name it forces be back into an old, but newly revisited hobby: Vacation Dreaming. Right now, my thoughts flock to Ireland, Costa Rica, France, Italy, the Caribbean, the Grand Canyon, and Disney World, where in Epcot there is Moraccan restaurant!

Moroccan Stlye Vegetable Couscous
compiled from many sources

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 small red potatoes, unpeeled, and cut into large chunks
3 small carrots, chopped
1 small yellow onion, large dice
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 zucchini, about 7-8 inches long
1/2 sweet bell pepper, large dice (I wanted yellow for color, but settled for orange)
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) No Salt Added, diced tomatoes with juice
1 c. low-sodium vegetable stock
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy!)
1/4 tsp. salt
Plain Couscous

1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes or until onions start to soften.
2. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, vegetable stock, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. The potatoes should be almost fork tender.
3. Add zucchini and bell pepper. Continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes until all of the vegetables are fork tender. Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package directions. (I prepared 1 c. dry couscous for the two of us.)
4. Serve vegetables over couscous. Salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Spiderwebs

So, these little beauties are why I had the buttermilk. I know that many people think of Red Velvet for Valentine's Day and Wedding cakes, but who doesn't want a fantastic "blood" cupcake on Halloween, eh? So I started with a recipe from Paula Deen, the queen of southern cooking that she is, and then compared it to some others. I have to admit I was quite reluctant when it came to the amount of oil in the recipe. It seemed like alot, and some recipes use oil and some butter. Never having made a cake from scratch before, I wasn't sure which works better, or why you'd choose one over the other. But, Paula Deen and Martha Stewart say oil, and if Deb uses oil, well then who am I to argue. ;)

Red Velvet Cupcakes
adapted from Paula Deen and Martha Stewart

2 1/2 c. all-pupose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 teaspoon salt
 2 tbls. cocoa powder (I used heaping tablespoons)
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
 2 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2 tbls. red food coloring or 1/2 tsp. red gel-paste food color

1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line muffin pans with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.
2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla. 
3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each.
4. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
Yield 24 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
from Paula Deen-this is her recipe halved! It's plenty to frost 24 cupcakes

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Add the sugar on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until very light and fluffy.

Chocolate Spider Webs

I saw these in Country Living and had to make the toppers. I used Baker's semi-sweet chocolate baking squares rather than chocolate chips because I liked how well they melted for the cheesecake. Here is the template: Itsy Bitsy Spiderwebs

These were delicious. Even though they ended up being more of a burgundy velvet than red velvet.  I had what I thought was red gel, but when added it gave more of a hot pink color, so I added several drops of red liquid food coloring to "fix" it. It was still not red. The gel looked red, and the bottle and cap were red, but the box did read "pink." I decided to use it anyway mostly because I had already bought it. Next time I don't think I will be as generous with the cocoa powder (Ms. Deen's recipe only calls for a teaspoon) for less of a chocolate taste, and I'll stick to the liquid food coloring, or look for actual red gel. The toppers turned out pretty awesome too. I'll have to remember this for future events, and with all of the colored chocolate available for candy making you could really make anything you want.

Friday, October 30, 2009


It's 10:00 pm on a weeknight and you're hungry. Not really hungry, but interested in snacking. Do you grab some chips or popcorn? Cheese and crackers? Maybe. We made biscuits. Especially because we were watching Food Network whose shows are peppered with Pillsbury commercials. They got us. No, we didn't go out and buy a tube of pre-made biscuits, but they still got us. I threw caution to the wind, and did not "appropriately" search for the "right" recipe. Instead, I openned a cookbook and made the recipe within.

from the Taste of Home Cookbook

2 c. all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. shortening
1 egg
2/3 c. milk

1. Preheat oven to 450 °F. In a smal bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. In another bowl, beat egg with milk; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. (It will be very wet dough)
2. Turn onto a well floured surface; knead 20 times. Roll to 3/4-inch thickness; cut with a floured 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter (or use a glass like I did).
3. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Yield 1 dozen.

These were just what we were looking for. Nothing fancy, but very satisfying with a little butter and honey. You could even brush them with melted butter before putting them in the oven if you like. My only regret is that we used skim milk, which is all that we normally have in the house, but I actually have a bottle of buttermilk in the fridge that would have been wonderful. Why do I have the buttermilk? You'll see. ;) These biscuits were a tad dry in the morning, but excellent with some eggs and cheese.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deviled Eggs

The older I get the more I miss my great-grandmother, Marie. She was incredible. She passed away when I was 18.
As a child, I was very blessed by spending my days at my great-grandparent's house, rather than a daycare. I know how special this was because many people never even get to meet their great-grandparents let alone see them 5 days a week. Grandma was a firey Irish, Catholic woman who always made her opinion clear, especially in conversations with my grandfather. She also made it abundantly clear that she loved me to death. She read Little Red Riding Hood to me so many times that she probably could recite it in her sleep. She taught me how to prune and pick flowers from her rose bushes (after a five-leaf cluster), and place them in a glass on the kitchen window sill above the sink. She would let me play in that sink for what seemed like hours. I would put a stool up to the counter so that I could splash in the soap bubbles, and fill and pour out measuring cups full of the steamy water. However, Grandma didn't hesitate to shove a fresh bar of Caress in my mouth after I got angry with her and called her a name. All done with love.
For the most part Grandpa was the cook, and what a cook he was. From fresh baked breads, which made the most incredible toast, to soups, roasts, casseroles, and cookies. He grocery shopped every day. While eating breakfast, he would often ask us what we wanted for lunch or dinner! I used to think he was crazy, and now I find myself thinking about it too. So he was the daily chef, but on Easter and Thanksgiving, Grandma and Grandpa would both be in the kitchen, with the doors closed. The holidays always felt different in that house. Oh, the smells coming from that kitchen. The china placed just so on the white linen covered dinning table. It was very different from the work week. Occasionaly, I'd sneek past the double doors to watch as she basted the Ham with Sprite, or stirred something on the stove. One specialty that appeared only on Easter was her deviled eggs. She never had a recipe that I knew of-just a little grandma magic. When she slipped away, so did the recipe. For the next few years, Easter came and went, but without the deviled eggs.
After searching through many cookbooks I decided to try them for myself, but it didn't pan out. Something was not quite right. I tried onions, onion powder, garlic, vinegar, etc.. Finally, Easter 2006, after consulting with various family memebers. I got it-well, as close as it gets. So, without further adieu, my (grandmas's) deviled eggs.

Deviled Eggs

12 large, hard cooked eggs
2/3 c. Miracle Whip
1 tsp. yellow mustard
1 tbsp. dill pickle juice
salt and pepper

Peel eggs, slice in half lengthwise, and remove the yolks. In a small bowl, smash yolks with a fork until fine. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Fill a piping bag (or a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off) with the yolk mixture, and fill the whites. Sprinkle with paprika for garnish.

I know, after all that build up, it's a very simple recipe, but it's a great one. The secret is using Miracle Whip rather than mayo, and adding the pickle juice. Note that the pickle juice and mustard measurements are approximate becuase I ususally just add some and taste until they are right. I do have a few tips though. For easier peeling, boil the eggs and refridgerate them overnight before peeling. I was in a hurry this time and peeled them after refridgerating for 3 hours, and I did notice the difference. Also, tap the eggs on the counter to crack the shell all the way around, and peel under cold running water. Even though I do measure the Miracle Whip, they do turn out a bit different each time. This time I think my yolks were smaller than normal and the proportions were a bit off. Not perfect, but very, very good. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grilled Pork and Chocolate Cheesecake

For his birthday, Dan asked for a meal of grilled pork (I used some brisket grillers we had in the freezer), and a chocolate cheesecake for dessert. So being the loving wife that I am, I happily prepared the meal with some garlic and rosemary redskin mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and a salad. Here is my seasoning blend for the pork. It could be used on anything really.

Pork Rub

2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt

As far as cheesecake goes, I usualy fancy plain with some sort of tart fruit element, like raspberry or lemon. Plain cheesecake with raspberry sauce, delicious. However, because of this little chocolate number, I may have to rethink my order the next time I visit The Cheesecake Factory.

Chocolate Cheesecake
a combination of Kraft's Chocolate Lover's Cheesecake and Classic Cheesecake

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c. melted butter
3 Tbsp. sugar
3  packages (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
6 squares (1 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate, melted, and slightly cooled

Preheat oven to 325 °F, or 300 °F if using a dark, non-sitck springform pan. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate according to the package directions and set aside to cool. In a small bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 3 tbsp. sugar. Firmly press into the bottom of the springform pan.
Beat together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs and mix until just blended. Stir in the melted chocolate.
Pour filling over crust and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until almost set. Cool completely, and refridgerate overnight.

I think it was the graham cracker crust, rather than a chocolate cookie crust, that sealed the deal. I must give credit where it's due...this was Dan's idea.  Melted butter with graham cracker crumbs is a match made in heaven. I had to taste the mixture before putting in the pan, to make sure it was safe. It was. I am not a fan of those super sweet dessert scented candles that some people rave about. They are just too overpowering for me. But, if someone comes up with a graham cracker crust candle he or she may have a new customer. You hear that, Yankee? Even if you think you don't like chocolate cheesecake, try this. I promise you won't be disappointed.

If you'd like to try my raspberry sauce, put about 2 cups mostly thawed, frozen raspberries into a blender with a couple teaspoons sugar and 1/4 - 1/2 c. water. Blend until smooth. These measurements are approximate. I usually just eyeball it. Make it as thin or think as you like. Serve over any plain cheesecake, or try it on this one. We like Kraft's Classic Cheesecake listed above.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I made my own graham cracker crumbs for the first time. This was partially due to the fact that my grocery store stopped carrying the brand of crumbs that I typically buy, and that the crackers, by the ounce, were cheaper-and we'll have something in the pantry to munch on. I just used store brand honey graham crackers, and pulsed them in the food processor until fine. The ones I bought were squares rather than the rectangular sheets, so it took about 20-22 squares to yield 1 1/2 c. of crumbs. This made the crust very fresh and not completely uniform in texture. Lets just say that I don't think I'll be using the ready made kind anymore. I'll refrain from raving about this crust again. Maybe when I am feeling extra ambitious I'll try my hand at these.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Individual Potato Broccoli Frittatas - 2 ways

If I could design my perfect day, the recipe would be as follows:

Sleep in and wake up slow
Have a lunch of cider and doughnuts at your local cider mill of choice
Take a brisk hike in the woods
Eat a delicious, healthy, and leisurely prepared dinner
Watch Michigan football

Execute each step in this order with a good friend or loving spouse. Well, this was my Saturday. Exactly the respite I needed after a long week of work and not seeing my husband. : ( So, back to the food. I went with the idea of baking individual frittatas because I have made frittatas in a mini muffin pan for parties, and they turn out quite good. Also, I don't have a decent pan to go from stovetop to oven (ahhh...daydreaming of cast iron skillets), and I do have these great little non-stick 4 1/2 inch springform pans that we recieved as a wedding gift and have never used. You could, however, scale up the recipe for a 9 inch pie pan, or prepare the frittatas in a regular or jumbo size muffin pan.

Potato Broccoli Frittatas
adapted from Cooking Light

1 large redskin potato, cooked and diced
1/2 c. cooked broccoli
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 sliced cooked bacon, chopped  (for my meat lover)
2 tbsp. chopped, cooked onion  (for me)
1-2 tbsp. chopped parsley
4 eggs
2 egg whites
1-2 tsbp. milk
2/3 c. grated cheese  (I used about 1/3 c. of 2 different kinds)
1/8-1/4 tsp. thyme
1/8-1/4 tsp. paprika
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Spray pans with non-stick cooking spray. Add half of the potato, broccoli, and garlic to each pan. (I did cook the garlic with a little bit of olive oil ahead of time) Now comes the "2 way" part. To one I added the bacon and some grated cheddar cheese, and to the other I added the onion and my new favorite cheese, which is a combo of white cheddar, swiss, and parmesan. Mmmm. In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, parsley, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over other ingredients. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. They will puff up quite a bit.

I did learn a valuable lesson when preparing this dish. Make sure that your springform pans are sealed properly and are liquid tight. Some of my egg mixtue leaked out when I poured it into the pans. One was worse then the other, and it just continued oozing. I kept saying "Oh, NO!" and laughing as the eggs weeped out of the side. But, since it was not completely gushing out, I gingerly threw them onto a cookie sheet with a piece of aluminum foil, and prayed for the best.  What I realized is that unlike a cheesecake, this egg mixture is thin and there is no crust to seal it off the bottom of the pans. Maybe not the best bakeware choice for this, but live and learn I guess.  The oozing did stop shortly after I put them in the oven, and the loss was not that much. They still turned out OK, and were very tatsy.  I served these with some crusty bread, and a tomato avocado salad drizzled with my homemade balsamic vinegarette.

I think my favorite thing about frittatas is that they are so versatile. You can put just about anything inside, like an omelette or a quiche. The possibilities are endless. Mushroom, onion, and swiss. Tomato and basil with parmesan. Ham and cheese.  Zucchini and squash, etc. Plus, it's a great way to get rid of some leftovers. Hmm...a Thanksgiving leftover frittata? Probably not. ;)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spicy Baked Penne

So, this recipe does not have any special story to accompany it other than it is a delicious week night dinner to satisfy the mostly vegetarian (the would be me, but more on that later) and the omnivores they love...and to use up some things I had in the fridge.

Spicy Baked Penne

1 lb. penne rigate
1-26 oz. jar of your favorite sauce - I like the garlic & herb variety
2 bonless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (or 1/2 of a large one)
1 small orange bell pepper, chopped
Grated parmesan
about 8 oz. shredded Italian Five Cheese blend
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes - a couple of large pinches
1 large clove garlic, crushed
3-5 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Start a large pot to boil for the pasta. Cook pasta until almost al dente. Drain, but do not rinse. (You still want some bite to it because it will absorb some of the sauce while it bakes.) Meanwhile, add oil and garlic to a skillet and preheat on medium-high. Cut chicken into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Add pepper, oregano, and a handful of parmesan, and toss to coat. When the skillet is hot, add chicken and saute until golden brown. In a medium sauce pan, combine the sauce, basil, pepper flakes, zucchini and peppers, about 1 cup of water, and cook over medium low to start to cook the veggies, and to start to marry the flavors. The water helps to thin the sauce out a bit because it will thicken as it bakes. (In a perfect world, the sauce would be hot, and the chicken and pasta would all be finished at the same time!) Combine the pasta, sauce mixture, and chicken in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Toss to coat, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown and the sauce begins to bubble.

This is not exactly your mother's mostaccoli. The veggies will still have a bit of a crunch, which we love, and the heat from the red pepper is just right. Comforting and healthful.

As for my diet, I have been working on the vegetarian thing for about 4 months now. I decided to do this both for health and environmental reasons. Plus, I have many friends who maintain a vegetarian diet so I know that I would have support if I need it. I have been doing pretty well, except for a couple of my favorite things, which I have chosen to keep eating in strict moderation. Fish is the first one; especially my sweet and spicy rubbed salmon, which I am sure that I will put up here at some point. The others are either chicken or turkey dishes. No pork and no beef. I have not eaten beef for nearly a year. I am enjoying it (if you didn't glean this fact from my first post...I love beans). I am forced to be more deliberate about everthing that I consume, and as a result, I am eating and feeling better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Monster Cookies

About a month ago, we had the honor of being a part of one of the most beautiful weddings I have witnessed. It took place in Archbold, Ohio at Sauder Village. I had some free time before the ceremony and headed over to the Doughbox Bakery located just out in front of the village. The bakery sells everything from dinner rolls and noodles to freshly made doughnuts and pies. My eyes were locked on the cookies. They had chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, the usual fare...and monster cookies. Regretably, I only purchased one (the size of my face) for Dan and I to share. My favorite cookie will always be chocolate chip, but this monster gave it a run for its money. Oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chip and m&m! Since then, I have been looking for a recipe. I actually found a hand written one that I was given many years ago, but never tried. However, that one made a gigantic batch and included corn syrup, which I did not have, and made me a bit skeptical. I finally decided on this one.

Monster Cookies

3 eggs
1 1/4 c. packed, light brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I doubled this)
1 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 c. chocolate candies (I was very generous; used closer to 3/4 or 1 c. ;)
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/4 c. rasins, optional (I opted out!!!)
2 tsp. baking soda
4 1/2 c. quick cooking oatmeal,  not instant (the 1 minute kind)

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Spray cookie sheets with non-stcik spray, or use parchment paper.
In a very large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugars. Mix well. Add the salt, vanilla, peanut butter, and butter. Mix well. Stir in the m&ms, chocolate chips, baking soda, and oatmeal. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake. Let stand for 3 minutes (or longer) before transferring to cooling racks.

Oh, I decided to use dark chocolate m&ms for these cookies, and I am sure glad that I did. I highly recommend it if you like dark chocolate. Also, make sure that you use a very sturdy spoon or spatula to mix the batter-it gets super thick and tough to stir towards the end. The recipe instructs that you should not overbake. I heeded the warning and was very pleased. I baked the cookies until they were just barely turning brown around the outside. The top of the cookies looked like they were still a bit raw, but don't be afraid, once cooled they were not undercooked, but wonderfully chewy.

So, this recipe is not exactly like the ones that I had at the bakery. It might be better! Either way, I guarantee that they will be a favorite. And, with all of the protein and fiber from the oatmeal and peanut butter, these monster cookies are practically a health food. At least that's what I am telling myself.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cute cukes, checca, and chocolate

Dan and I had the privilege of having a dear friend over for dinner the other night, so I decided to mix the experimental with a family favorite. Our appetizer was inspired by Cherrapeno's Boursin, Tomato, and Cucumber Nibbles. I absolutely love seedless cucumbers, and I fell in love with this idea as soon as I saw it. Instead of Boursin, I mixed a bit of garlic hummus, feta, and fresh cracked pepper (of course) with some reduced fat cream cheese, and topped it off with a fresh slice of tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinegarette. They were scrumptious.

The main course was Giada's Spaghettini with Checca Sauce -barely modified. This is a dish that my Mom makes all the time, usually a triple to quadruple batch when the whole family is around. We just can't get enough of it, which is saying something considering that we can all be pretty picky. I have made checca with my Mom many times, but the was the first time on my own. For some reason, Mom's tastes better. Maybe it's the homegrown basil she uses or the extra pinch of love she adds when my back is turned. Either way, our's was still quite satisfying, and there is nothing better than openning up the food processor and taking a great big whiff of the fresh tomato sauce. Mmmmmm...

                                      ...I wish I could make this scratch-and-sniff

Spaghettini with Checca Sauce

8 ounces thin spaghetti
4 scallions (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (12-ounce container) cherry tomatoes, halved 
1 ounce grated Parmesan
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until tender. Stir often to keep it from sticking together.
Meanwhile, combine the next 7 ingredients in a food processor. Pulse just until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped (do not puree). Drain the pasta and do not rinse. Toss the pasta with the tomato mixture and fresh mozzarella in a large bowl. Serve immediately.

I did not reserve any pasta water as Giada recommends. I used a container of grape tomatos this time, and they were very juicy. I actually removed a bit of the liquid that came out of the sauce. I have read reviews of this recipe stating that the fresh garlic flavor is too stong or intense. Never! I will warn you, however, that you should not plan on meeting anyone new within 2 days of eating it. : ) The smell and taste do not go away, but it's well worth it as far as I'm concerned. OK, if you are not into the strong garlic flavor, either use only one clove, or try roasted garlic. 

Finally, dessert! of consciousness. I have been thinking about the cooler weather and hot chocolate, Abuelita hot chocolate to be exact, with it's cinnamon-y goodness, which makes me think of other spiced chocolate like the chili chocolate bar that Dan and I found at a museum in New York several years ago and the way it tickles my taste buds. So...I decided to make a chili, cinnamon pudding.

Spiced Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream, adapted from Cooking Light

1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. skim milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
generous pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk. Gradually add milk and evaporated milk, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring contantly with a whisk. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; add chocolate, stirring until melted and mixtre is smooth. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and cayenne and mix well. Pour into a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and refridgerate overnight.

Just before serving prepare Whipped Cream. Pour a half pint of heavy cream and 1 tsp. vanilla extract into a chilled mixing bowl. Slowly add 1/2 c. powdered sugar while beating on medium speed with a whisk attachment. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

The flavor turned out awesome! Rave reviews, especially fom my parents who were lucky enough to sample the left-overs. But, I have to confess. My futile attempt to save calories and fat cost me a bit with this one. The pudding did not thicken up a much as I would have liked. Next time I will use the 1% milk that the recipe calls for...or maybe just 1/2%, we'll see.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I saw this the other day after thinking even more about's a great place to start.