Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Christmas

I know this is late, however, I didnt realize that my friends daughter had taken this picture:

Its the cookies she left for Santa.

Our Christmas

The hubs and I make an effort to set aside time to do our own Christmas. We started this last year, our first married year, in an effort to set some precedence for our families, so they know when to expect us for the holidays. This will come in handy next year when we have Baby Boy with us.

Each Christmas I make us some fancy dinner. I enjoy cooking and to be honest, we have a better experience at home than at restaurants. We started off with a chopped garden salad. The hubs grilled our marinated KC Strip Steaks while I made a peppercorn cream sauce and baked potatoes. I love that he grilled, outside, in December, in Kansas.

The peppercorn cream sauce was based off the pepper sauce we had while in Ireland. They use pepper sauce for everything there, any form of potato, steaks, chicken, bread, etc... Its basically a lot of crushed black pepper, some butter & some heavy whipping cream. We added a bit too much pepper, but it was still very good.

For dessert, I finally made molten chocolate cakes. Between the cover of December Cooking Light & a few Food Network shows, this did not look all that difficult, but definitely decadent. I had intended to make the CL version, but I couldn't find espresso powder at the grocery store. So I made the Chocolate Lava Cake from The Neelys. I cut the recipe in half, since it was just the Hubs and I. I also used 3 oz of semisweet chocolate and 3 oz of 71% cocoa.

Molten Lava Cakes
2 sticks butter, unsalted, plus more for ramekins
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch cayenne
Pinch nutmeg
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Butter 8 (6-ounce) ramekins and sprinkle each with about 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

In a saucepan combine butter, cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, and chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth; stir frequently. Cool slightly.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, confectioners' sugar, eggs and yolks, vanilla extract and almond extract until creamy. Add melted chocolate to the batter and whisk together.

Pour into prepared ramekins.

Bake cakes until the top is stiff and cracked and the edges are dark, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a small paring knife then invert onto plates while warm.

And I am 100% serious when I say this was the easiest dessert I have ever made. Its a great way to impress people too!

Three Cheese Chicken Florentine

Chicken was on sale at the local grocery store so I stocked up. I mean when you can get boneless skinless chicken breasts for 60% off, its time to clear out the deep freeze and make room. This time around though, I searched through the chicken containers so I got packages of 4 breasts, instead of 3 ginormous breasts. I mean, when there are 2 people in the house, how is 4 chicken breasts gonna work out?

Anyway, I'll be making a lot of chicken dishes b/c I am now boycotting the grocery store. I go through this every once in awhile. This time, the grocery store not only got me on the chicken sale, but the baking sale. I could bake until the middle of 2009 and still not use all the chocolate chips/bark I purchased.

This dish was delicious! I know it says Cooking Light but I may have used some heavy whipping cream with my milk.

Three-Cheese Chicken Penne Florentine
Cooking Light
1 teaspoon olive oil
Cooking spray
3 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
3 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (16-ounce) carton 2% low-fat cottage cheese
4 cups hot cooked penne (about 8 ounces uncooked tube-shaped pasta)
2 cups shredded roasted skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of chicken soup, undiluted

Preheat oven to 425°.

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add spinach, oregano, and black pepper; sauté 3 minutes or just until spinach wilts.

Place cottage cheese in a food processor; process until very smooth. Combine spinach mixture, cottage cheese, pasta, chicken, 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, milk, and soup in a large bowl. Spoon mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheddar cheese and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly.

My changes: I omitted the red pepper. The Hubs and I don't really care for it. I used whole wheat penne pasta, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream & regular cream of chicken soup. The texture was wonderfully creamy, it tasted a lot like an alfredo sauce. I am sure it would have tasted just as good had I followed the healthy recipe options. Also, this made a ton of food. I would say about 8-9 servings so plan for leftovers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Baking

I spent this past Sunday staying inside (9 degrees outside- I wasn't leaving) and baking. I wanted to get a care package together to send to my grandma, so I gathered all my marked holiday baked goodies recipes & spent a few hours in the kitchen. At about hour three, I remembered I was 6 months pregnant & should probably take a break. So I only made it through about half of my recipes. I'll probably make some more tomorrow.

I actually made these beauties earlier in the week.
Chocolate Chip Tea Cookies & Minty Cocoa Cookies:

I have to agree that the tea cookies were excellent, but a little rich with the chocolate drizzle.

I made this dough last week & froze half of it b/c it made too many cookies! I just pulled them out of the freezer & let them defrost for about 15 minutes. Then followed the instructions on baking.
Pecan Snowballs

I decided that these were probably not the best for a goodie bag. I placed them inside plastic Zip-locs since the powdered sugar was getting all over everything else.

I started off making the Pecan Pie Cookies. These were a huge hit on the Internet last year, I was surprised they hadn't made an appearance this year.

I made a pecan pie/tart last year for my husband. Its his favorite pie, but this year, I promised to make him molten chocolate cake. So I satisfied his pecan pie craving with these cookies.

I felt I needed to add something other than cookies, so I made Irish Cream Brownies.

I cut them into smaller bites so people weren't on chocolate overload.

And lastly, peanut butter pretzel chews. When I saw this recipe, I immediately thought of my husband. He has this thing about sweet + salty. He loves Take 5 bars & when we have fondue, he usually requests fritos or tortilla chips to dip into the chocolate. A little odd, but quite delicious.

So when I saw this recipe called for pretzels, chocolate, peanut butter & salt. I knew it would be a winner. The only difference between the recipe & my cookies is that I mixed the chocolate chips in with the dough. This was really b/c I was so flipping tired.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chicken and Rice w/Creamy Herb Sauce

I hope you are sitting down b/c I have a surprise for you! I made ANOTHER recipe from the infamous Cooking Light cookbook. Yes, someday I will move on to my other cookbooks, but for now, I shall continue to use this one. Mostly b/c I am too lazy to put it away.

Now what I have found entertaining about this cookbook is that you can tell it's from 2000. I adapt things to meet today's "light" standards, but this recipe is a good example of something that is healthier than a cream based sauce, but has items that could be substituted.

Chicken and Rice with Creamy Herb Sauce
3/4 cup water (healthier version: omit this & the granules, 3/4 cup low sodium broth)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon chicken-flavored bouillon granules
4 (4-ounce) skinned, boned chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 (6-ounce) tub light cream cheese with garlic and spices
4 cups hot cooked long-grain rice (healthier version: Brown Rice)
Chopped fresh parsley

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a large skillet; add chicken. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes, turning chicken after 8 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet. Set aside; keep warm.

Bring cooking liquid to a boil; cook 5 minutes or until reduced to 2/3 cup. Combine 1 tablespoon water and cornstarch; add to skillet. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add cream cheese; cook until well-blended, stirring constantly with a whisk. Serve chicken over rice; spoon sauce over chicken. Sprinkle with parsley.

Anyway you look at it, it was really good. The sauce had a great flavor to it and would be great as a casserole base.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Comfort food done almost light

I surprised myself when I realized I hadn't made a meatloaf this year. The Hubs is one of those meat & potatoes or casserole type of guys. He isn't into my fancy schancy meals-not to say he doesn't like them-he would just prefer I make everything a casserole. I like casseroles, they are easy, usually effortless, but they just don't take pretty pictures!

We had meatloaf, mashed potato casserole & cheesy corn for dinner. Yeah not really healthy, but some of it was healthy!!! I only have one picture, and that is of the cheesy corn, b/c well mashed potato casserole looks like a lump of white mush & meatloaf, oh lets not go there.

Again, I turned to my Cooking Light Cookbook that I have been using the past month. If you decide to purchase it, you wont be sorry.

First up:
Mama's Meatloaf
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper (I omitted)
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (I used about 1 1/2 Tbsp dried)
1 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 (1-ounce) slice white bread, torn into small pieces (I used whole wheat bread)
1 1/2 pounds ground round (I use 93% lean ground beef)
Vegetable cooking spray
1/3 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl, tossing to moisten bread. Crumble meat over onion mixture, and stir just until blended. Pack mixture into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Spread ketchup over top of loaf. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until meat loaf registers 160°. Let loaf stand in pan 10 minutes.

Remove meat loaf from pan; cut loaf into 6 slices. (Mine actually made 8 slices)

Next, cheesy corn. This a favorite of a local restaurant in KC, Jack Stack. If you ever make it KC, you have to get out to the BBQ places. Although Jack Stack is not my favorite BBQ restaurant, they do have the best side dishes.

Cheesy Corn
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 teaspoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoons garlic powder
3/4 cup milk
6oz sharp cheddar cheese (I only had 2% shredded on hand)
1 (3oz) pkg cream cheese, cubed ( I used 1/3 less fat)
3 (10oz) pkgs frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
3oz ham, diced

In a large saucepan, melt margarine or butter
Stir in flour and garlic powder
Add milk all at once
Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until thickened and bubbly
Stir in cheese
Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until melted
Stir in corn and ham
Transfer mixture to a 2 quart casserole dish
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

And lastly, the mashed potato casserole. Another recipe snagged from Cooking Light cookbook, it is not listed online so I will have to post the recipe when I get home. I can tell you it had sour cream & cream cheese in it. No butter and no milk, which was a bit odd, however, it was so creamy good!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blueberry Pound Cake

Another great recipe from the Cooking Light cookbook. Fresh blueberries were on sale last week so I picked some up for the sheer purpose of making this cake. It is on the cover of the cookbook and I am always drawn to those recipes.

Blueberry Pound Cake

Cooking Light
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light butter
1/2 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) carton lemon low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cooking spray
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg white, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and blueberries in a small bowl, and toss well. Combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in blueberry mixture and vanilla; pour cake batter into a 10-inch tube pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool cake in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl; drizzle over warm cake. Cut with a serrated knife

I made this on Saturday & just got around to eating it. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it, mail it, take it to work, etc... I caved & brought it into work. It was gone in 20 minutes. Which is saying a lot b/c it snowed buckets this morning so hardly anyone is in.

UPDATE: Joelen over at inspired me to enter this into her Chef's Spotlight contest. This round is focusing on healthier recipes. I use Cooking Light for about 85% of my recipes, so its going to be tough to decide what to enter, but I did really LOVE this cake. I am sure we are all gearing up for a healthier 2009, so submit your recipes!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Raspberry Pinwheels

One should really read recipes before deciding when to make them. The other day, I had all day to bake & cook. On my menu, I had the cranberry muffins, these raspberry pinwheels & a dutch oven dinner. For whatever reason, I decided to make the muffins first, then I made dinner, then I did the pinwheels.

Um yeah, the pinwheels take about 3 hours. So at 9pm on Tuesday night, I was walking around the kitchen going-what the hell! Why didn't I make these earlier???

They are delicious cookies. I wanted them to put with my cranberry muffins to bring into the office the following day so I was determined to make them. However, 10:30 came rolling around & only half of them were cooked. So I still have dough for another half in the freezer.

Raspberry Pinwheels

Real Simple
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons turbinado or some other coarse sugar

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and granulated sugar until fluffy. Mix in the vanilla. Gradually add the flour, mixing until just incorporated.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and gently knead it 2 to 3 times, just to bring it together. Form the dough into two 1-inch-thick squares. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll one of the dough squares into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Spread half the jam over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into thirds, making three 9-by-4-inch rectangles. Starting from the long side of each rectangle, roll into logs. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Heat oven to 350° F. Slice the logs into 1-inch pieces and space 1 1/2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with the egg and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

To Wrap: A 32-ounce glass canning jar will neatly hold 2 dozen pinwheels. You can play up the cookies' two-tone theme with a striped ribbon tied around the jar's mouth and a colorful adhesive bow.

To Freeze: Instead of refrigerating the logs, freeze them for up to 2 months. To bake, follow the recipe instructions, cutting and baking the dough from frozen, and use the upper end of the time range.

I saw this recipe in a Real Simple magazine, they caught my eye b/c they had them in a mason jar tied with ribbon. Very cute idea!

And here was a my pretty display I brought to work. Don't mind the yellow, this was at 7am when the sun was rising...

Cranberry Muffins

Do you know there are not many baking recipes out there that use fresh cranberries? Everything is "Craisins". Well I don't have craisins, I have fresh cranberries. And I wanted to use them in baking.

Now I can't tell you how these tasted, b/c I didn't get a chance to have one, but they sure did look purty ;) These were probably the best looking muffins I have made, so I will probably stick with this recipe and just adapt according to the fruit/nuts/citrus I have on hand.

Fresh Cranberry Orange Muffins
Cooking Light
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
2/3 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup butter or stick margarine, melted
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Stir in cranberries; make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk, butter, rind, vanilla, and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 18 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pan immediately; place on a wire rack.

Note: These muffins freeze well. Bake them ahead, cool completely, and store in freezer bags. To serve, thaw at room temperature. Reheat in aluminum foil at 300º for 10 to 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

*I recently found a recipe for fresh cranberry scones that I will be making tomorrow in a attempt to use up the rest of my cranberries. Or I may remake these muffins but do them in a mini-muffin pan.

Oh the Holidays

Boy does time get away from us. The hubs & I have been trying to finish up Christmas shopping, get the basement finished so we can start on the nursery, traveling to Chicago & back, etc... I have been cooking, but mostly old standbys. But I have been on a baking kick!

I made some pumpkin fudge a few weeks ago. Lordy were these sweet! I felt like I was eating a softened cube of sugar sprinkled with pumpkin spice. Not all was lost with this recipe though. I was able to use my candy thermometer for candy (and not for pan frying) and I gathered some experience in making fudge.

Spiced Pumpkin Fudge

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
2/3 cup (5 fl.-oz. can) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk
1/2 cup LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Premier White Morsels
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow crème
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

LINE 13 x 9-inch baking pan with foil.

COMBINE sugar, brown sugar, evaporated milk, pumpkin, butter and spice in medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 10 to 12 minutes or until candy thermometer reaches 234° to 240º F (soft-ball stage).

QUICKLY STIR in morsels, marshmallow crème, nuts and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until morsels are melted. Immediately pour into prepared pan. Let stand on wire rack for 2 hours or until completely cooled. Refrigerate tightly covered. To cut, lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Makes about 3 pounds.

I wont be making these again. I like pumpkin far too much to waste it like this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving leftovers

Wondering what to do with all your Turkey Day Leftovers?? There are so many things out there, but this is super easy, quick & uses just about every leftover you could have!

Stove Top Turkey Bake

1 pkg (6 oz) Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1 2/3 cup hot water
2 cups turkey
1 can (10-3/4 oz) condensed cream of celery soup
1 can green beans
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Mix water & Stove Top in a dish, just until moist.
2. In a casserole dish, place beans & turkey in the bottom. I like to use the dark meat for this dish.
3. Top with soup, sprinkle with cheese.
4. Spread Stove Top over the top of the dish. Bake at 350F for about 30-45 minutes.

** You could substitute gravy for the soup if you have enough leftover.


Now I am sure many of you will be surprised, but I do not host Thanksgiving. One would think a foodie like me would love to cook all that stuff, but the hubs & I host Easter. Its our holiday, I bake like its Thanksgiving then. Although sometimes this doesn't stop me from cooking a 8lb turkey for just my husband and I.

So for Thanksgiving this year, I brought a salad & a dessert to my husband's side of the family. I didn't get a picture of the dessert, but I have made it in the past and will probably make it again today to bring into the office tomorrow. Its Cara's Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies. I like making these b/c I often have just enough pumpkin leftover from a previous recipe to make this one.

For my salad, I made a broccoli salad. Thanks to my friend Julie for getting the recipe for me. There are many variations to broccoli salad but I really just wanted the standard one, you know, the one with bacon & raisins. Some of my friend suggested craisins, which I think would be great, but I went for the traditional.

Broccoli Salad IV

1/4 cup bacon bits
1 head fresh broccoli florets
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup hulled sunflower seeds
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup creamy salad dressing, e.g. Miracle Whip ™
1/4 cup white sugar

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the bacon, broccoli, cheese, raisins, onion and sunflower seeds.
In a small bowl, whisk together the creamy salad dressing and sugar. Pour over broccoli mixture and toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

** a few difference, my husband and I HATE miracle whip, so I used mayo. Also, I just chopped up my own bacon & cooked it.

For my parents Thanksgiving celebration, I made an apple pie, a pumpkin turtle pie, chicken enchilada dip & broccoli rice casserole. The only thing I got a picture of was the pumpkin turtle pie.

Its being broadcast all over Kraft & other magazines, so I am sure you know which one I am talking about. Along with it being really delicious, it was also very easy to make.

Chicken Stroganoff

I am still on the Cooking Light kick. Let's be real honest here, the holidays always pack on the pounds. I am already packing them on for the baby, so it would be the wisest idea for the hubs and I to eat lightly during the week.

I had been craving stroganoff for awhile, so I was happy to come across a chicken version.

Chicken Stroganoff
Cooking Light
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 medium)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons sherry
1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
5 cups hot cooked wide egg noodles (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add sage, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown. Spoon mixture into a large bowl.

Combine 1/4 cup flour and paprika in a shallow dish. Cut each chicken breast half in half lengthwise; cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. Dredge chicken strips in flour mixture; shake off the excess flour mixture. Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Sauté 4 minutes or until chicken is done. Add chicken to mushroom mixture.

Add broth and sherry to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low. Place sour cream in a small bowl; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour. Stir with a whisk until combined. Stir sour cream mixture and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt into broth mixture. Stir in chicken mixture; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Add noodles and parsley; stir well to combine.