Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicken Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

Hey look - a post that's about something besides dessert! I DID make one or two meals this month - and this is one of them. I came across this recipe on Maryanna's blog and thought it looked like the perfect winter meal. It was very easy to make and turned out to be hearty and comforting. We really liked the "stew" part of this meal but thought the dumplings left something to be desired. It may have been the cornmeal element, they seemed a little gritty. I think next time I make this I will do it with regular dumplings instead of the the cornmeal ones. But it was a good meal for a cold winter evening and a nice change from all the cookies, candies and other sweets of the month.

Chicken Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings

1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth
1 (10-ounce) package frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup frozen small whole onions (I omitted)
1/2 cup water
2 tsp snipped fresh basil, oregano, or dill, or 1/2 tsp dried basil, oregano, or dill, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 cup milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups cubed cooked chicken or turkey
1 recipe Cornmeal Dumplings (below)

In a large saucepan combine broth, frozen vegetables, onions, water, dried herb (if using), salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Bring to boiling.Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine milk and flour; stir into vegetable mixture. Stir in chicken. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in fresh herb, if using.Drop dumpling dough from a tablespoon into 4 to 8 mounds on top of the bubbling stew. Simmer, covered (do not lift cover), over low heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in a dumpling comes out clean.

Cornmeal Dumplings:In a medium bowl stir together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal, 1 tsp baking powder, and a dash black pepper. In a small bowl combine 1 beaten egg, 2 TBSP milk, and 2 TBSP cooking oil; add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork just until combined.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Minty Christmas

My favorite night of the year is probably Christmas Eve. Joe's aunt Linda hosts the family at her house for dinner and Santa gifts. Everything about the night is just plain fun, from the big spread of food to the ridiculous gifts that come out of Santa's grab bag. Linda asked me to bring some desserts to the party this year and I was happy to oblige. I knew right away I wanted to reprise the pumpkin gingerbread trifle that I made earlier this month - it's perfect for Christmas! But I also wanted to bring something chocolatey as well. I recalled this recipe for chocolate-mint bars that was on the cover of the March issue of Cooking Light. I've had the recipe since then but hadn't gotten around to making it, so I thought Christmas Eve would be the perfect opportunity to try it out. After all, you need a little mint at Christmas!

These bars are very easy to make, although I feel as if I may have done exactly what the recipe warns against and baked the bottom layer a tad too long - they were more cake -ike than fudgey, but in the end that was okay! The mint layer is sweet with just the right amount of mint flavor and the chocolate glaze is a great topper. Everyone enjoyed these bars and they made a sweet ending to a wonderful Christmas Eve.

Chocolate-Mint Bars

Bottom layer:
1 cup all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
1 (16-ounce) can chocolate syrup
Cooking spray

Mint layer:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons fat-free milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops green food coloring

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare bottom layer, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and salt; stir with a whisk. Combine granulated sugar, egg substitute, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons water, vanilla, eggs, and chocolate syrup in a medium bowl; stir until smooth. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture, stirring until blended. Pour batter into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
To prepare mint layer, combine powdered sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, and next 3 ingredients (through food coloring) in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer until smooth. Spread mint mixture over cooled cake.
To prepare the glaze, combine the chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until melted, stirring after 30 seconds. Let stand 2 minutes. Spread chocolate mixture evenly over top. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into 20 pieces.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you a fantastic new year! Happy Holidays!

A Gingerbread Tree for Christmas

Last Christmas Eve my cousin Adam came over in the afternoon and we decorated a gingerbread house. He must have enjoyed it because he asked if we would be doing it again this year. I told him sure, but that we should mix things up a little and do something besides a house. I picked up a gingerbread tree kit instead - it came with pre-baked gingerbread stars, icing mix, candy presents and a candy star and some little candies for decorating. I also bought a tube of sparkly red icing gel that I thought would make good garland.

The tree was fun to assemble if not a little messy. I blame the foggy headed-ness of my nasty cold on the fact that I did not assemble the little pastry bags correctly and ended up having to Scotch tape the nozzles onto the bags. Whoops. Still, in the hands of a 9-year-old boy it was bound to get a little messy anyway. With Tucker's help, Adam and I make a pretty nice looking gingerbread tree to kick off Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Dip

After my whirlwind weekend of cookie baking and candy making, I wasn't really in the mood to bake yet another treat for the pre-holiday get together being held at Joe's aunt's house. However, I didn't want to show up empty handed so I started thinking of alternatives to baked goods. I remembered my friend Lauren mentioning a pumpkin pie dip when she was getting ready for her son's birthday party last month and I thought that sounded like a great idea, especially since I had two big cans of pumpkin in my pantry. I hit Google and came up with this recipe on RecipeZaar. This mixes up in no time at all, and let me tell you, it is good! It tastes just like the center of a pumpkin pie - I could have eaten it with a spoon! Instead, I did the civilized thing and served it with gingersnaps and graham cracker sticks for dipping. This was a hit for sure - I definitely plan on making this again. It's a great dessert alternative to the usual cakes and brownies.

Pumpkin Pie Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioner's sugar
15 ounces canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Beat cream cheese and sugar at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth.
Add pumpkin, cinnamon, and ginger, beating well.
Cover and chill up to 5 days.

Hazelnut Fudge

I never really thought about making fudge. It always seemed like quite the effort, plus I don't own a candy thermometer. However a few weeks ago while I was watching Food Network on the elliptical at the gym (yes, I watch food while I exercise) I saw Nigella make this super easy fudge and decided to give it a go for my holiday treat bags. This could not be easier. It literally took about 3 minutes to make from start to finish. And it SO good! Creamy and chocolatey - yum! Nigella used pistachios in her fudge but I chose hazelnuts for mine - any nut would work fine. This is a wonderful simple treat and makes a great gift. I packaged mine with Oreo truffles - that says "Happy Holidays" to me!

Hazelnut Fudge

12 ounces 70 percent dark chocolate, chopped or 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
Pinch salt
1 cup chopped hazelnuts

Melt the chopped chocolate, condensed milk and salt in a heavy based pan on a low heat.
Add the nuts to the melted chocolate and condensed milk and stir well to mix.
Pour this mixture into a 9-inch square foil tray, smoothing the top.
Let the fudge cool and then refrigerate until set. You can then cut into small pieces approximately 3/4 by 1 3/4 inches or cutting 8 by 8 lines in the tin to give 64 pieces.
Once cut you can keep it in the freezer, no need to thaw just eat straight away. (I stored mine in the fridge.)

Oreo Truffles

So by now, almost everyone has either heard of, tasted or made Oreo truffles. Still, they seem to be a big favorite so I decided to make them this year for my holiday treat bags. I had it in my head that these were going to be messy and time consuming, so I was pleasantly surprised when they turned out to be neither! I made the filling on Friday afternoon, rolled it into balls and put them in the fridge on cookie trays to set. I left them in there for about 24 hours so they were nice and firm by the time I got to dipping them in the chocolate. Joe helped me with this part, and I'm glad I did. We made a good team and the whole process went more quickly with two people. Joe stuck toothpicks in each truffle and then we dipped them in the chocolate. Joe then went to work drizzling chocolate over the little toothpick holes to make sure they were completely enrobed in chocolate. Tucker helped too!

We finished them off with some red and green sprinkles then stuck them back in the fridge to harden. I was thrilled with how nice they looked, and of course they tasted fantastic! If you're one of the few people who have not tried these awesome treats, you better get in the kitchen! You don't know what you're missing!

Easy Oreo Truffles

1 pkg. (1 lb. 2 oz.) Oreo Cookies, finely crushed, divided
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 pkg. (8 squares each) Baker's semi-sweet chocolate, melted
Mix the cookie crumbs and the cream cheese until well blended. Shape into 42 (1-inch) balls.
Dip balls in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered baking sheet. (Any leftover melted chocolate can be stored in tightly covered container at room temperature and saved for another use.) Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Store any leftover truffles in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

Chocolate Chubbies

Chocolate and nuts - it's one of the greatest taste combinations, so you know these cookies have to be good. They are so loaded with goodies - chocolate chips, pecans and walnuts - that there are more mix-ins than dough. And that's okay! Speaking of dough, the dough for these cookies seemed awfully thin when I was done mixing it - it looked more like cake batter than cookie dough. So I added about 1/4 cup more flour and that seemed to help a bit. Plus I froze the dough and defrosted it about 2 weeks later to bake these, so that may have helped firm it up a bit.

These came out great - chewy and dense and full of all those delicious extras. I made them on the small side so they are like little brownie bites. They'll make a great chocolatey addition to your Christmas baking!

Chocolate Chubbies

6 (1-ounce) semisweet chocolate squares, chopped
2 (1-ounce) unsweetened chocolate squares, chopped
1/3 cup butter
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine first 3 ingredients in a heavy saucepan; cook, stirring often, over low heat until chocolate melts. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
Beat eggs and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth; add chocolate mixture, beating well.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in chocolate morsels, pecans, and walnuts.
Drop batter by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto lightly greased baking sheets.
Bake at 325° for 12 to 15 minutes or until done. Cool cookies on baking sheet 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool.

Revised Recipe: Peanut Butter Fiber One Bars

Don't get me wrong, I loved these the old way, but this revised recipe version is even better! The former version of this recipe made bars that were crumbly and didn't hold together very well. Still delicious, but more like trail mix than bars. The recipe's creator at Must Love Chutney recently revised the recipe, and now it's spot on! Have I mentioned I love these? Cause I do! The recipe has been revised in my original post. Do yourself a favor this gluttonous holiday season and make up a few of these healthy goodies for breakfast. Then make more cookies ;)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Butterscotch Gingerbread

I posted about these last Christmas, but I decided to feature them again because they are a unique addition to a cookie tray - something different from all the chocolate, mint and peanut butter that often dominates. These cookies are soft and spicy with the perfect balance of sweetness from the butterscotch chips. And they fill your kitchen with the most wonderful holiday-ish smell while baking. Give them a try!

Butterscotch Gingerbread

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup light molasses
1 (11 ounce) package butterscotch morsels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, sugar, egg and molasses in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in flour mixture until well blended. Stir in morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Mint Chippers

It seems as if year after year I make the same cookies come Christmas time (see last year's Christmas cookie post for the usual suspects). They are all great cookies and I will be making some of them again this year, but I decided to give few new types a try as well. These mint chippers came to me by way of the My Recipes Cookie Countdown emails. Who doesn't like mint at Christmas time? Unfortunately, these didn't really live up to my expectations. They're okay, but definitely not minty enough. I would recommend upping the peppermint extract to at least a full teaspoon. The mint flavor is there, but it's a subtle background flavor. Definitely not what I was going for. These are okay, but not as exciting as I'd hoped. I used regular chocolate chips instead of the minis, but otherwise I stuck to the recipe. Aside from wishing there was more mint flavor, I also wish I had used some green food coloring - I feel like these are so plain looking! I guess I like my cookies with more pizazz.

Mint Chippers

1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large egg whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup miniature chocolate chips or 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

In a bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat butter, powdered sugar, peppermint extract, and vanilla until well blended. Beat in egg whites until incorporated. Reduce speed and mix in flour, salt, and chocolate chips. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill until dough is firm but pliable, about 30 minutes.
With powdered sugar-dusted hands, shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, flattening each slightly between your palms to about 2 1/2 inches wide. Place 1 inch apart on buttered 12- by 15-inch baking sheets.
Bake in a 300° regular or convection oven until cookies feel firm to touch and are barely beginning to turn golden on the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. If baking more than one sheet at a time in one oven, switch positions halfway through baking. Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

I know this is the season for peppermint and gingerbread, but I still have pumpkin in my pantry! So when we were invited to a potluck Christmas party I decided to put that pumpkin to good use and make this bundt cake from Cate's blog. The cake was super easy to put together. The only change I made was to stir in a bunch of dark chocolate chips to make it a little more decadent. The cake smelled awesome in the oven and looked beautiful, which was a relief after my last experience with making a bundt cake. But I buttered and floured my cake pan really well this time so there were no issues. I wish I had put my glaze on a little thicker - and I wish I hadn't been lazy and skipped sifting my powdered sugar. I ended up with clumps that I needed to smooth out with a pastry brush. Sift, people, sift! My only other regret is that I didn't get to taste my creation! We left the party I brought this to before dessert was served. But it couldn't' be bad - just look at it!

Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice (I used pumpkin pie spice because I thought I didn't have allspice - I naturally found the allspice immediately AFTER I used pumpkin pie spice)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-oz can; not pie filling)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups dark chocoalte chips

For glaze:
2 T butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1-3 T cream or milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour bundt pan. Combine together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla in another bowl.Beat butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, then add eggs and beat 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth. Stir in chocoalte chips. Spoon batter into pan. Shake a few times to be sure to remove any bumps then bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert rack over cake and reinvert cake onto rack. Cool 10 minutes more.To make glaze, heat butter until melted. Stir in sifted powdered sugar. Mix in cream or milk 1 Tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Drizzle over cake while it is on a wire rack so excess falls through.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Southwestern Potatoes

It's all too easy to get into a rut with side dishes. I find I make the same main dish accompaniments over and over again. This is not your same old side dish though! I found these little goodies on Melissa's blog and am officially in love with them. They're awesome! The flavor is fantastic thanks to the barbecue sauce and they're the perfect mix of slightly soft and crispy. Yum! The only change I made was to use less cheese then called for to make them less fattening. I just sprinkled a little bit of cheese on top and they were good to go. If you're in need of something different to spice up your dinner plate, these babies are it!

Southwestern Potatoes

2 unpeeled large potatoes, scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used more like 1/4 cup)
bacon bits
1/2 sour cream, optional (for dipping)

Line 2 large baking sheets with foil and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Toss the potatoes, olive oil, garlic salt and pepper in a big ziploc bag to coat the potatoes. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Brush with barbecue sauce, then top with the shredded cheese and bacon bits. Bake until the cheese melts, about 3-5 minutes. Top with sour cream, if desired.

Baked Shrimp and Scallops

Last week at the grocery store frozen shrimp was on sale so I happily snagged a bag. I love shrimp! I tend to mainly use it in pasta, so I was happy to find a recipe on Colleen's blog that would let the shrimp stand alone. I was a bit worried that this would not be filling enough as a main course, but I was wrong! It's suprisingly hearty and very, very good! The only change I made was to use fat-free half and half instead of regular. I also add two packs of tiny little frozen scallops in the freezer so I threw those in as well. Oh, and because I was worried that it would be bland I threw in some Old Bay seasoning, but it really didn't need it! We really enjoyed this! It was a different way to enjoy our favorite shelfish.

Baked Shrimp

1 pound shrimp, peeled and devined with tails removed (or bay or sea scallops)
2 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine wine, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Add scallops and stir.Pour in half and half.Melt butter, add bread crumbs and crumble over scallop mixture. Bake 15 minutes until brown and bubbly.

Taco Pasta Bake

Okay, now I'm starting to feel like kind of a stalker. This is another recipe from my friend Colleen's blog. What can I say, we like the same types of food! This one has actually been on my menu for a few weeks now but for one reason or another kept getting bumped off. I finally got to make it tonight and I'm glad I did. Joe LOVED this. He's definitely a "simpler is better" kind of guy when it comes to dinner, so this was right up his alley. Simple or not, this is a yummy dinner. Nice and creamy and comforting. As with all my meals, I did my best to make this a little healthier. I used extra lean ground beef, whole wheat penne, reduced fat sour cream, about half of the cheddar cheese called for and fat-free cream cheese. (I firmly believe that fat-free cream cheese should never be eaten on its own or used in a dip, but mixed with sour cream in a dish like this it's acceptable!) Joe, John and I ate almost the entire pan of this, so you know it was good! Give it a try when you need an easy and comforting dinner.

Taco Bake

servings1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 packet taco seasoning
15-ounce can tomato sauce
8 ounces medium shell pasta (I used a full lb of penne)
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Brown ground beef, drain. Add taco seasoning and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.In the meantime, cook pasta according to directions. Drain.Mix softened cream cheese and sour cream in separate bowl. Spray bottom of 9x13 pan. Put pasta in bottom of pan. Spread cream cheese mixture over pasta. Spoon ground meat mixture over this. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thyme-Coated Pork Loin

Ever since my successful foray into pork loin a few weeks ago I've been eager to try out some new recipes. When I spotted this one on Julie's blog I printed it immediately. I made this for Sunday dinner and it was an excellent choice - so delicious! I'm not even a huge fan of pork and I loved it. The meat was tender and juicy, and the crispy crust on the outside was full of flavor. My only issue was with the cook time - I cooked mine for closer to 45 minute because it just didn't look done after 30. I was actually still concerned after 45 minutes, but my brother-in-law whipped out his digital meat thermometor and proved that the pork was fully cooked.

I made a few changes based on Julie's recommendations and subbed an onion soup packet for the onion flakes called for in the original recipe. I definitely recommend this swap as the flavor was great! I also used canned bread crumbs because I just don't see the point in grinding my own when someone else has already done the work for me :)

I served the pork with macaroni and cheese, roasted veggies and rolls - it was a delicious Sunday meal!

Thyme-Coated Pork Tenderloin

1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine thyme, onion soup mix and breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Dip pork in egg whites; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place pork on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until a thermometer registers 155°. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Creamy Stove-Top Macaroni and Cheese

Only a few months ago I was celebrating the fact that I finally found an awesome, creamy mac and cheese recipe. Yet for some reason, on Sunday I felt inclined to try out yet another macaroni and cheese recipe that I had in my recipe binder. This one comes from Cooking Light and I've had it for so long that I felt it was time to give it a shot. This was okay, but I wish I had stuck with the other recipe. The mac and cheese was creamy, but tasted bland to me. Which was surprising, since it had Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and garlic in it - plus I also added some red pepper flakes. The mustard and cream cheese flavors seemed to be the most prominent. While this wasn't bad, I wasn't in love with it either - it was just missing something. It's good to try new things, but I think I'll be sticking with the other mac and cheese from now on!

Creamy Stove-Top Macaroni and Cheese

4 cups uncooked medium elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/4 cups fat-free milk
1/4 cup (2 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside.
While pasta cooks, place flour, salt, and pepper in a large saucepan. Add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Drop cream cheese by teaspoonfuls into milk mixture; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer 2 minutes or until thick and cream cheese melts, stirring occasionally. Stir in mustard, Worcestershire, and garlic; simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add cheddar cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Combine pasta and cheese sauce in a large bowl; toss well.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

I spend a lot of time on the What's Cooking message board on The Nest. And on this board I've met a lot of great women and made some great friends. Five of us are from central NJ so we decided to get together for a potluck lunch and spend some time together in person. Everyone made a dish and we gathered at my house to eat, drink and be merry. Colleen brought the pizza pockets appetizer (and a delicious loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread as a hostess gift for me - thanks, Colleen!), Jenn brought the entree of chicken marsala, Lauren brought a marsala orzo and Sarah delivered a broccoli casserole. Everything was so good! My contribution to the meal was hot apple toddies and dessert. I tossed around many dessert ideas before settling on this pumpkin gingerbread trifle that I found on Melissa's blog. I liked that it had seasonal flavors and could be made the night before. Plus it looked delicious!

I put this dessert together Friday night, and it attracted a lot of attention from the get-go from Joe and my brother-in-law John. They were fascinated seeing it come together, but then ultimately disappointed when I told them they couldn't dig in. (Well, and John was fascinated by my trifle bowl, because when he first walked in the house he thought it was a giant wine glass and got excited.) Not only is this trifle easy to put together, it makes a really pretty presentation. Oh - and it tastes awesome! I followed the directions fairly closely, except I used fat free pudding and fat free Cool Whip. I also omitted the brown sugar. I realized once I started making the dessert that I was out of brown sugar, but after tasting the pudding/pumpkin mixture I realized you would never miss it! It's definitely sweet enough without it.

I really, really liked this! The flavors are perfect together and I love the cool and creamy texture of the pudding and Cool Whip. I had a helping of this after lunch, then another (slightly larger) helping after dinner tonight. This dessert is a winner - and it makes a TON so it's perfect to bring to a party or potluck. Or a nice afternoon with friends - thanks, ladies! Let's do it again soon!

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

2 (14-ounce) packages gingerbread mix
1 (5.1-ounce) box cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix (I used instant)
1 (30-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I omitted)
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping
1/2 cup gingersnaps, optional (I used pecans)

Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool. Stir the pumpkin pie filling, sugar, and cardamom into the pudding. Crumble 1 batch of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Sprinkle of the top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl.

Hot Apple Toddies

I'm not much of a drinker, but I wanted a nice cocktail to serve at our get together. So I turned to the queen of cocktails, Sandra Lee. I was looking for something sweet and preferably warm, since the weather had turned bitterly cold. This recipe for hot apple toddies caught my eye since I actually had spiced rum in the house. All I needed to purchase was the cider and the cinnamon schnapps. However, once at the liquor store I realized that I was really unwilling to spend $25 on a bottle of Goldschlager and opted for a much less expensive bottle of butterscotch schnapps instead. The swap seemed to work out just fine - the toddies were great. I thought they were a tad too sweet, but everyone else assured me that they were only as sweet as apple cider typically is - I guess I'm just not used to cider! Still, it was great drink to enjoy with friends on a cold day!

Hot Apple Toddies

3 cups apple cider
4 cinnamon sticks
½ cup spiced rum, Captain Morgan's
½ cup cinnamon schnapps, Goldschlager (I used butterscotch schnapps)
Cinnamon sticks, for garnish

In a 4-quart slow cooker combine apple cider, four cinnamon sticks, spiced rum and cinnamon schnapps. Cover; cook over high-heat setting for 1 hour. Ladle into glasses. Garnish with cinnamon sticks (or kumquats).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey-Spinach Lasagna

There are many versions of turkey-spinach lasagna floating around, but this is the one that found its way into my recipe binder. I printed this recipe a few years ago from the Cooking Light website and last night was the second time I've made the dish. Our friends Jamie and Dave were coming over for dinner and I wanted something warm and comforting for a cold November night. Plus Jamie and Dave are both fans of turkey and spinach, so I knew this would be perfect. I made a few changes to the original recipe. I used fat free ricotta in place of the cottage cheese because, while I love cottage cheese on its own I find it strange in pasta dishes. I also added some more spices - red pepper flakes to the turkey as it browned and garlic powder and oregano to the cheese and spinach mixture. I used no-boil lasagna noodles and they were perfect. The lasagna came out perfectly set, creamy and delicious. A great comfort food meal!

Turkey-Spinach Lasagna

Cooking spray
1 pound ground turkey breast
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 (26-ounce) jars low-fat marinara sauce
1 (16-ounce) carton fat-free ricotta
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup (1 ounce) preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
8 cooked lasagna noodles
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.
Coat a large skillet with cooking spray, and place over medium-high heat until hot. Add turkey, onion,red pepper flakes and garlic; cook until meat is browned, stirring to crumble. Add 5 3/4 cups marinara sauce; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Combine ricotta cheese, egg substitute, Parmesan, parsley, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and spinach; stir well. Spread remaining marinara sauce in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles over marinara; top with cottage cheese mixture and half of the mozzarella.

Spoon half of the turkey mixture over the mozzarella. Arrange the remaining noodles over turkey mixture. Top with remaining turkey mixture and mozzarella.
Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until cheese melts and sauce is bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

Being a baker, I'd of course heard about Paula Deen's famous gooey butter cake recipe, although I had never tried it. I had never heard about gooey butter cookies, however, until I spotted this recipe on my friend Colleen's blog. My mom makes Thanksgiving dinner every year and never needs me to bring anything, but I always like to make a little something to add to the feast - usually a dessert. The only dessert my mom serves at our little Thanksgiving dinner is pumpkin pie, and since it's the only time of year I eat pumpkin pie, I don't mind that it's the only option. However, since I wanted to bake something, my mom asked for "something chocolate."

Side story: My sister LOVES pumpkin pie. Loves it. So my mom always makes a pie for us all to eat after dinner and a pie just for my sister. Each Black Friday morning you can find my sister staggering back up to her bedroom in her pjs carrying a whole pie, a fork and a can of whipped cream. I look forward to seeing it each year :)

Anyhow, back to the cookies. When my mom asked for her "something chocolate" I immediately thought of these cookies. I put the dough together Wednesday afternoon when I got home from work and baked them in them that night after dinner. These are SO easy - one bowl and five ingredients.

It is important to chill the dough for at least two hours, since it's very soft and you need to be able to roll them into balls. Mine rolled just fine and I covered some in powdered sugar as per the recipe, but I also rolled some in walnuts and some in coconut, since my mom and Nana are big coconut fans. These cookies also allowed me to use my the new sugar sifter I got from Jenny in the last What's Cooking gift exchange - thanks Jenny!

These are great cookies. Super chocolatey, soft and moist. Joe said they tasted like "pudding in cookie form." Give these a try when you're looking for a simple chocolate treat. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

1 (8 ounce) brick cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (18 ounce) moist chocolate cake mix
confectioners'/powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the egg. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the cake mix.Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up so that you can roll the batter into balls. Roll the chilled batter into tablespoon sized balls and then roll them in confectioner's sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft and "gooey." Cool completely and sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pork and Vegetable Stir-Fry with Cashew Rice

Pork may be the other white meat, but it's not one I cook with very often. Aside from the occassional use of deli ham or my standard pork roast/pulled pork dinner, I usually stick to poultry, ground beef and seafood when I cook. However when this recipe popped into my inbox from I decided to give it a whirl. (I think I've mentioned it before, but the Dinner Tonight emails are great and definitely worth signing up for! I've made many of their recipes and they've really gotten me to try new things. Case in point.) I considered subbing chicken for the pork, but then decided to just bite the bullet and try something new. This recipe is great! It's super fast and full of flavor. I doubled the sauce since we like a lot, and I also make extra rice. I made a few changes based on our personal tastes, but otherwise followed the recipe. This was a delicious dinner, and perfect for someone who is not a huge fan of pork. (However, if you are really opposed to pork you could easily substitute chicken or shrimp). I served this with some pork and vegetable dumplings I picked up at the supermarket and everyone was happy. Joe asked that this be made again soon, and also that I start making more pork!

Pork and Vegetable Stir-Fry with Cashew Rice

3/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice (I used brown)
1/3 cup chopped green onions (I omitted)
1/4 cup dry-roasted cashews, salted and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons honey
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
2 cups sliced mushrooms (about 4 ounces)
1 cup chopped onion (I omitted)
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger (I used ground)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed (about 6 ounces)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1) (I omitted)

Cook the rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Stir in 1/3 cup chopped green onions, chopped dry-roasted cashews, and salt; set aside, and keep warm.
Combine 2/3 cup chicken broth, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl, and set aside.
Combine pork, remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a bowl, tossing well to coat. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork; sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan.
Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add mushrooms and 1 cup onion; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in ginger and garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add peas and bell pepper to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in pork; sauté 1 minute. Add reserved broth mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Serve over cashew rice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vanishing Act

The first thing I ever baked for Joe, way back in high school when we first started dating, were Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from the recipe on the side of the Quaker Oats container. Joe and his father LOVED those cookies and asked for them all the time. Eventually I branched out and started baking a variety of different things, and those oatmeal cookies sort of fell by the wayside. They popped into my head this past Sunday morning, however, and I decided to take a trip down memory lane and make Joe this treat. I wasn't feeling patient enough though to make batch after batch of cookies, so I visited the Quaker website and saw that the cookies could easily be made into bars, which is what I did. The bars are thick and moist with all the same fantastic flavor of their cookie counterparts. The house smelled amazing while they baked and Joe thoroughly enjoyed the bars. Sometimes you can't beat the "classics!"

Vanishing Oatmeal Cookie Bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat margarine and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well. Press dough onto bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered. Makes 24 bars.

Pasta e Fagioli

With the bitterly cold weather we've been having this week, soup seemed like the perfect choice for dinner this past Sunday. I had found this recipe on Tricia's blog and knowing that Joe likes pasta e fagioli it easily found a spot on my menu. And I'm glad it did - this soup was delicious! It's super easy to make and just requires about an hour total of simmering time. Be warned though - this makes a TON of soup. Joe and I each had a large bowl but ended up with two giant tupperwares full of leftovers. I shared some with my parents, but we are more than happy to eat the remainder for dinner again this week. Warm, hearty and full of flavor, this is just a great soup, especially when served with some crusty bread. I followed the recipe almost exactly, but found that I didn't have much liquid. I even added an extra can of beef broth and still had a very thick soup. Not a bad thing, but if you prefer more liquid in your soup you may want to cook the pasta separate and add it into the soup to prevent it from absorbing too much liquid. But don't wait to make this - especially on a cold evening!

Pasta e Fagioli (copy cat Olive Garden)

Cooking spray
1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1/2 of a small 1 lb. bag of baby carrots, chopped
5 stalks of celery, diced (I omitted)
2 (14.5 oz.) cans of diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (32 oz.) carton + 1 (14.5 oz.) can of beef broth (I also used an additional can of beef broth)
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/4 tsp pepper
2 1/2 tsp fresh parsley, chopped (I used dry)
3/4 tsp tabasco sauce
1 jar (1 lb. 10 oz.) spaghetti sauce
1 cup dry small pasta (such as ditalini or elbow macaroni)
salt to taste

Brown ground beef in oil. Drain if necessary.
Add onion, carrot, celery and diced tomatoes. Simmer 10 minutes.
Add beans, beef broth, oregano, pepper, parsley, tabasco sauce and spaghetti sauce.
Simmer soup on low for about 30-45 minutes until carrots are almost tender.
Add pasta to pot and simmer on low for about 15-30 minutes until pasta is just shy of al dente. As the soup cools, the pasta will absorb the broth. You can cook the pasta separate and add it to the soup after the soup has cooled.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Meatloaf

Joe is always happy to have meatloaf for dinner, so I was happy to see this recipe for stuffed meatloaf on my friend Lauren's blog. I had originally planned on following the recipe exactly
(except I had no intention of making my own stuffing - I'm a Stove Top girl) however when dinner time rolled around I find myself not really feeling the Italian flavors of the original recipe. Instead, my mind was on Thanksgiving - all the T-Day themed Food Network I've been watching had taken it's toll, I guess. So I decided to change the recipe to incorporate some Thanksgiving flavors. I used ground turkey for the meat and topped the meatloaf with turkey gravy and cheddar cheese. Joe and I both really enjoyed this, and now we are totally ready for Thanksgiving dinner!

Thanksgiving Meatloaf

1 small onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried parsley
2 large eggs
1/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup dried bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 lb lean ground turkey
2 cups (packed) of your favorite stuffing
1/2 cup turkey gravy, plus more for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the first 7 ingredients in a large bowl to blend. Stir in 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and bread crumbs. Mix in the turkey. Pack half of the meat mixture into a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan. Spoon the stuffing over the meat in the pan, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Top with the remaining meat mixture, enclosing the stuffing completely and pressing firmly. Spoon the turkey gravy over the meatloaf, then sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese.

Bake, uncovered, until the meat loaf is firm to the touch in the center and has pulled away from the sides of the pan, about 45 minutes. Cut crosswise into slices and serve with additional gravy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Basil Chicken Pasta

Last week my brother-in-law John came home with a pack of frozen basil that he was pretty pumped about. Just a few days later I came across this recipe on Jaime's blog, Good Eats n' Sweet Treats, and I forwarded it right to John. He cooked this up for our dinner on Monday night. This was a very simple and quick recipe, however ours could have used more flavor. John omitted the hot sauce because he didn't realize we had any, but the dish could have benefited from a little kick. It also didn't have too much basil flavor, as John wasn't sure of just how strong his frozen basil was and didn't want to overwhelm the dish. He did follow Jaime's suggestion though to make the sauce creamy by adding 1/4 cup fat free half and half. Over all, this was a good dinner but I recommend that you don't skimp on the basil and do add a little hot sauce or red pepper flake for some punch!

Basil Chicken Pasta

1 (8 ounce) package angel hair pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 (14 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
2 cups boneless chicken breast halves, cooked and cubed
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup fat free half and half
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook angel hair pasta until it is al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, and set aside. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and garlic. Stir in the tomatoes, chicken, basil, salt and hot pepper sauce. Reduce heat to medium, and cover skillet. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is hot and tomatoes are soft.Toss sauce with hot cooked angel hair pasta to coat. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Tucker, for one, was quite impressed with this dinner. He wanted some in the worst way. Sorry, Tuck, there were actually no leftovers ;)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Celebrate Bread!

Today is National Homemade Bread Day. Technically I made this bread yesterday, but I'm posting it today in honor of the "holiday." I found this recipe on Lovestoeat's blog and printed it out immediately. I love my bread maker and am always looking for new recipes to try out in it. My in-laws invited us for a pasta dinner yesterday so I volunteered to make this bread to bring. It's delicious - nice and light with a good nutty flavor. It's yummy with butter and would be delicious as a sandwich bread. Make some today to celebrate! :)

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

1/2 cup water , plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk , plus 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast

Add ingredients in order suggested in owner’s manual; continue process with machine on basic/standard or whole-wheat bread setting.