Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pumpkin is good for you!

With all the pumpkin recipes floating around this time of year I was dying to whip up some pumpkin treats in my own kitchen. My first instinct was to go right for my favorite pumpkin bread recipe, but I like that bread a little TOO much and knew I would end up eating the entire loaf myself in 2 days flat. In an attempt to keep myself under control but still enjoy my pumpkin I started searching for a healthy recipe to try. I discovered these healthy pumpkin muffins on Elly's blog and knew right away they would be the perfect treat to try. I got started on these right after work on Wednesday and had them baking away in no time. I did not have any buttermilk so I poured 1 cup of skim milk and added 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to substitute. I also used pumpkin pie spice instead of cloves and vegetable oil rather than applesauce since I didn't have any. These muffins came out great! Nice and moist with a light spicy pumpkin flavor. I brought them to work to share with my co-workers and they were devoured by lunchtime. These are the perfect guilt-free pumpkin fix!

Healthy Pumpkin Raisin Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves (I used pumpkin pie spice)
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ginger
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (or vegetable/canola oil)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 and grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Sift together flours, baking powder and soda, salt and spices.
In a separate bowl, beat egg with brown sugar until well combined. Stir in vanilla, buttermilk, applesauce and pumpkin puree.
Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in nuts and raisins.
Pour mixture into muffin cups and bake approximately 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John's Chicken Parm

My brother-in-law John loves to cook (And yes, he's single. Just saying). Which works out well for me, because I like to eat whatever he cooks. A few weeks ago John and Joe put themselves in charge of dinner and made an awesome Italian feast. While Joe declined to share his secret recipe for meatballs (well, beyond "Cheese. Lots of cheese.") John was more than happy to provide his chicken parm and tomato sauce recipes. And they are good. Really, really good . Awesome food is one of the benefits of marrying into an Italian family!

John’s Chicken Parm

Chicken breasts, cut into strips
Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
Locatelli (Pecorino Romano) cheese
2 eggs
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Tomato sauce (recipe follows)
Mozzarella cheese – shredded
Basil (fresh or dried)

Cut the chicken breasts into strips and trim off any fat and that annoying hard white cartilage thing that’s in the breasts sometimes. On a big plate, break the 2 eggs and scramble them a little bit. On another big plate spread out a good amount (1 1/2 cups) of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. On the same plate, mix in half that amount (3/4 cup) of grated Locatelli. Mix the cheese and bread crumbs thoroughly.

Now dip the chicken strips one at a time in the breadcrumb mix, then in the egg, then another dip in the breadcrumbs. Make sure to get a good coating of the breadcrumbs the second time. When they are all coated, they’re ready for the oil. Now most of the time I bread the chicken the night before and keep them in the fridge, I also find that they fry more evenly when I keep them chilled at least for an hour or so. But you can fry them right away, just the same.

In a nice big frying pan, coat the bottom of the pan with about a quarter inch of extra virgin olive oil and get it hot. Now fry the strips for a few minutes on each side until they get a nice golden crust.
In a 13 x 9 pyrex, or similar size oven safe pan, spoon in enough tomato sauce to coat the bottom, and lay in the strips to form a nice layer. Sprinkle in however much cheese you like over the chicken, then another layer of tomato sauce, again, however much you like. Top off with more mozzarella and a little dusting of Locatelli.

Bake in the oven until the cheese melts throughout and just starts to brown. (350 for 30 minutes) Sometimes I cook on a lower temperature and finish browning the cheese under the broiler, but be careful not to burn the cheese!

When its still hot, sprinkle with basil (fresh if you have it) and serve.

John’s Tomato Sauce

2 28oz. cans DOP Certified San Marzano peeled tomatoes (I like Cento brand)
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Small onion
Fresh garlic
½ cup good red wine (optional)
Locatelli (Pecorino Romano) cheese
Fresh Basil

Note: The important thing about this sauce is the tomatoes. The DOP San Marzano’s are every bit worth the hefty price tag. I’ve tried a lot of different brands, and these are the hands down winner. Once you try them, you won’t use anything else.

Coat the bottom of your sauce pot with a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Turn the flame to a medium simmer. Add in a half cup of finely chopped onions and cook until they are just translucent, then add in the garlic. (Now I have been known to cheat here when I don’t have fresh garlic or an onion on hand, I get nearly the same results with a tablespoon or so of garlic powder and just a little bit less of onion powder. After all, this sauce is all about these tomatoes). You only want to cook the garlic for a minute or two, do not burn it!

At this point you can add the wine if you want, cook it for a couple minutes, just to let a little of the alcohol cook away. Next add the two cans of tomatoes. Fill each can halfway with water and pour back into the sauce, making sure to get all the bits from the can into the sauce. Stir well and cover for 15 minutes or so to soften the tomatoes, then turn down the flame to a low simmer and uncover. Since the tomatoes are whole, you need to get a potato masher and start crushing the tomatoes. I usually do this for a couple minutes every so often as the sauce cooks.

Eventually you’ll have the sauce to whatever level of chunkiness you prefer. (This sauce can take anywhere from a half hour to 2 or more hours to cook, its really up to you. The longer you cook it, the thicker its going to get because all that water is evaporating.) When the sauce is how you like it, add in a half cup of grated Locatelli, add more or less, depending how cheesy you like it.

Stir it in well for a few minutes, then add in a tablespoon or 2 of fresh or dried basil and serve.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blake Bakes: Pineapple Pudding Cake

Check out my new post on Blake Bakes! This Pineapple Pudding Cake is delicious and perfect for Indian Summer!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sausage and Bean Casserole

I've had this recipe from Cooking Light saved for almost a year now. I never got around to making it last winter, and once it turned warm I was waiting for a nice fall day to give it a try. When I put this on the menu for tonight, I was anticipating a nice fall day. Instead I got temperatures in the 80s. Oh well. I went ahead and made it anyway and it was worth heating up the kitchen for. This casserole is super easy to toss together and it hearty and delicious. I stirred in about 2 cups of spinach for a little extra nutrition and added some shredded pecorino romano to the breadcrumb topping. It was a perfect fall meal, even in Indian summer.

Sausage and Bean Casserole

Cooking spray
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1 (16-ounce) package light smoked turkey sausage (such as Hillshire Farm), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 (16-ounce) cans cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf (I omitted)
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
3 (1-ounce) slices white bread (I used breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 375°.
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and turkey sausage to pan; sauté for 5 minutes or until browned. Add garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in 2 tablespoons brown sugar, tomato paste, dried thyme, freshly ground black pepper, cannellini beans, and bay leaf. Add ground red pepper, if desired. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place bread in a food processor, and pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1 1/2 cups.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over bean mixture, and lightly coat with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until browned. Discard bay leaf. Sprinkle with parsley.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tomato Basil Bread

Fresh bread seemed like the perfect accompaniment to last night's Bruschetta Chicken Bake. I have several favorite bread recipes but I was in the mood to try something different so I was glad I remembered the Tomato Basil Bread I saw on Amanda's blog. I had never heard of putting tomato sauce into bread before so I was eager to try it. I had an open jar of Prego in the fridge so I used that (and thanks to my brother-in-law John for pointing out that my jar was 1 lb AND 10 ounces and not 10 ounces total before I dumped the whole thing into the bread machine - that would have been one soupy bread). This bread smelled amazing while it baked and came out such a unique and pretty light red color. And it was delicious! It just had that little extra kick of flavor that made it interesting. I served it with Italian-seasoned olive oil and it was devoured. It's the perfect match for chicken and would be great with an olive-oil tossed pasta. Yum!

Tomato Basil Bread

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1/4 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram1
teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

In bread machine pan, place all ingredients in the order suggested by manufacturer. Select basic bread setting. Choose crust color (I used light) and loaf size according to bread machine directions (check dough after 5 minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed). (I did not need to add any additional water of flour.)

Bruschetta Chicken Bake

I received the Fall issue of Kraft Food and Family magazine last week and saw several easy recipes I wanted to try. Shockingly, my first selection did NOT contain Kraft Zesty Italian dressing - I continue to be amazed at just how many recipes Kraft can create that call for salad dressing. But anyway, this recipe was easy and sounded yummy - so much so that I invited Joe's parents over to enjoy it with us. It was a hit! Since I was feeding 5 people I doubled the recipe and baked it in two 9 x 13" baking dishes. I seasoned my chicken with salt, pepper and some Italian seasoning but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. Everyone loved it and we finished 1 1/2 pans. A great quick and satisfying meal!

Bruschetta Chicken Bake

1 can (14-1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pkg. (6 oz.) STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1 cup KRAFT 2% Milk Shredded Reduced Fat Mozzarella Cheese

HEAT oven to 400°F. Mix tomatoes, stuffing mix, water and garlic just until stuffing mix is moistened.
LAYER chicken, basil, cheese and stuffing in 3-qt. or 13x9-inch baking dish.
BAKE 30 min. or until chicken is cooked through.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sensational Side: Parmesan Orzo

I have never made orzo before. Don't ask my why. It just never occurred to me to try it. But recently I feel like I've been stuck in a side dish rut - potatoes, potatoes, potatoes - so I figured I would give orzo a try. I scoured some web sites for a simple recipe that would compliment my pulled chicken sandwiches and found this one for Orzo with Parmesan and Basil on All Recipes. My main reason for choosing it was that it didn't use a lot of butter - I HATE fatty, high calorie side dishes. Even though it only needs 2 tablespoons of butter I still subbed lowfat margarine, and I left out the basil since Joe isn't a fan and stirred in some corn instead. This was fantastic! So creamy and delicious - I could eat this as a meal by itself. I had seconds. And then some spoonfuls from the pot as I was cleaning up the leftovers. And then I ate the little orzos left stuck in the pot after I put away the leftovers. I have no shame when it comes to yummy food.

Parmesan Orzo

2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Melt margarine in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in orzo and saute until lightly browned.
Stir in chicken stock and corn and bring to boil. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15 - 20 minutes.
Mix in Parmesan cheese and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to shallow bowl.

Five Spice Beef Stew

If there's one thing Joe loves for dinner, it's big hunks of meat so I wasn't surprised when he bookmarked this recipe in my Sandra Lee Slow Cooker cookbook. The recipe is very basic but what makes it unique is the addition of Chinese Five Spice Powder. I had never used nor tasted it before so it wasn't until I bought the bottle that I learned that the powder contains anise, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Upon a little Wikipedia-ing I learned that the mixture is designed to incorporate the five basic flavors of Chinese cooking - sweet, sour, bitter, savory and salty. It smelled strongly of anise and I was immediately concerned that Joe wasn't going to like it. I went ahead anyway, and sure enough he wasn't crazy about it. We determined that its the cloves he doesn't like. Oh well. I didn't even try it, as unlike Joe, I am NOT a fan of big hunks of meat in my meals. But if you enjoy the flavors in five spice powder, this would make a nice fall meal.

Five Spice Beef Stew

2 lbs stew meat
1 lb baby carrots
3/4 cup beef broth
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes with garlic and onion
1 tbsp Chinese five spice powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients through five spice powder in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours on low. Season with salt and pepper and serve with mashed potatoes.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Cookie

What's the one thing that could make a chocolate chip cookie better? The addition of MORE chocolate chip cookies! This recipe, from Big Fat Cookies, instructs you to prepare your cookie dough and bake off 10 cookies. Once baked and cooled, those cookies are mixed back into the remaining dough for a thick and unique almost twice-baked chocolate chip cookie. This recipe also helps solve the dilemma of whether to make crispy or chewy chocolate chip cookies - it gives you both! The giant soft cookie has little bites of crispy cookies throughout - the best of both worlds. Once the baked cookies are mixed back in, this recipe produces the best-tasting cookie dough I've ever eaten. And it also bakes some of the most delicious cookies to come out of my kitchen. These were a hit! Why didn't anyone think of this before?!?

Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Cookie

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until blended, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until blended, about 1 minute. On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing just until it is incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips.
Drop 10 heaping tablespoons of dough 3 inches apart onto one of the prepared baking sheets. Set aside the remaining dough. Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned but the centers are golden, about 13 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Break the cooked cookies into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. Add the pieces to the reserved dough and mix on low speed to distribute them evenly, about 10 seconds.

Using an ice cream scoop or measuring 1/4 cup, scoop mounds of dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies until they feel firm on top but are still soft in the center and the edges are beginning to brown slightly, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
The cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to four days.
Makes 20 cookies (or 18, if you eat 2 cookies worth of dough like I did)

Chicken with New Potatoes and Spinach

For dinner tonight I turned once again to my Sandra Lee Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook. This recipe for chicken with new potatoes and spinach had caught my eye because it seemed like a great Sunday dinner that required very little work. It turned out great! Broiling the chicken breasts for 10 minutes before adding them to the crockpot gives them a nice flavor and the cream of celery soup adds a little something extra. Next time I think I'll add even more spinach (two bags seems like so much but it cooks down to very little) and another can of cream of celery soup to give us more sauce, but overall this was a satisfying and comforting way to end the weekend.

Chicken with New Potatoes and Spinach

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb small red potatoes, quartered
2 bags (6 ounces each) baby spinach
1 cup frozen chopped onion
1 can (10.75 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup

Preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Trim fat from chicken. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and arrange chicken on baking sheet. Broil 6 inches from heat 10 minutes or until chicken is golden*. In a 4-quart slow cooker, arrange potato quarters. Top with spinach and onion. Spoon half of the soup on top of spinach; add chicken. Spread with remaining soup. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.

*This step may be omitted but it produces a better flavored dish.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

I knew I wanted some kind of biscuit to go with tonight's dinner, but the ones I'd tired in the past had been less that impressive. I remembered the pecan sour cream biscuits that had been done by Tuesdays with Dorie a few months ago and knew they had gotten great reviews, so I decided to give them a try. I'm glad I did! These are so light and tasty, and I loved that they used sour cream - it gave a nice unique flavor to the biscuits. Mine didn't rise much for some reason, but they still tasted great. I loved the crunch of the pecans too. I cut my biscuits into squares rather than circles, but other than that I followed the recipe exactly. They were a great addition to tonight's meal.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
(Makes about 12 biscuits)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
]1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between– and that’s just right.
Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you’ve got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading– 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even– a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.
Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting– just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)
Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Summer Send Off

September is here, but I thought I'd squeeze in one more summery treat before I switched over to pumpkin bread and apple crisps. Pineapple is by far my favorite fruit, so I was thrilled when I came across this recipe for Pineapple-Brown Sugar Frozen Yogurt on the Cooking Light website. I had made a few batches of delicious ice cream recently but was looking to try a recipe that wasn't so high in fat and calories and this one fit the bill. It was extremely easy to make, even though I didn't take into account the quantity of the recipe and ended up with sticky yogurt spilling out my ice cream maker. This recipe was worth the extra cleanup though. It's perfectly creamy and tangy and sweet and full of yummy pineapple flavor. Before you pull out your favorite fall recipes, I suggest you give summer one last hurrah with this frozen yogurt!

Pineapple-Brown Sugar Frozen Yogurt

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 (15 1/4-ounce) cans crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
4 cups vanilla low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and pineapple in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and cool slightly. Chill.
Combine pineapple mixture, yogurt, and vanilla in a large bowl. Pour the mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Spoon yogurt into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze 1 hour or until firm.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Anyone else remember that commercial? At least I think it's from a commercial, unless all these cheese has just gone to my head. On Saturday Joe's aunt invited the family over for dinner and I was asked to bring an appetizer. Joe's mom was making spinach dip, so I didn't want to do anything similar, but I also didn't want anything too time consuming. So I was thrilled when I remembered this cheese ball that I saw on Carrie's blog. I mean, who doesn't like cheese? This sucker was devoured at our get together and everyone raved about it. Which was kind of amazing considering that I got all distracted with my food processor and totally forgot to add any seasoning. Luckily, I had chosen to use regular sharp cheddar and a tomato basil cheddar, which added some kick. But next time I'll remember the seasoning, although there were certainly no complaints as is!

Cheese Ball

8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz. block white cheddar (I used tomato basil cheddar)
8 oz. cream cheese
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred cheddar and pepper jack cheese. Empty the cheese from the workbowl and place the metal blade into the bottom of the bowl.
Add the cream cheese, garlic and remaining seasonings into the workbowl and process for one minute. Add in the shredded cheese and process for 1-2 minutes or until everything is well mixed and creamy.Roll into a ball, with the bottom flat then roll some shredded cheese around the edges refrigerate until ready to serve, serve with crackers, triscuits, or pretzels.