Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Pie

Consider the fact that my husband isn't really a fruit person and combine that with the fact that he really doesn't want fruit "messing up" his dessert, you may be able to understand why this is the only pie that Brad eats. And it really is pretty darn tasty. Kristen actually introduced this pie to us years ago and Brad loved it, so I knew I had to keep it in my arsenal. It's yummy and simple so it works for any occasion but you could spruce it up with some whipped cream or ganache drizzle if fancy is what you are going for.

The biggest con to this dessert is that it is a frozen pie and starts to lose it's texture if exposed to room temperature for too long. Also, you need to give this several hours in the freezer before it is firm enough to serve, so it doesn't lend itself to any last minute applications. That being said, it's definitely a people-pleaser. It's very light but the peanut butter flavor definitely stands out. I've served it to adults and kids and they all loved it!

Peanut Butter Pie**
(Original recipe by Hold the Tomato)

1 cup milk
8 oz cream cheese
2/3 cup peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
12 oz Cool Whip
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl and beat together. Once combined, stir in last 3 ingredients. Pour mixture into the two prepared crusts and freeze for several hours or overnight. Remove from freezer a few minutes before serving and garnish with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, etc.

**This recipe is for two pies but can be easily halved. In fact, I rarely make the full recipe.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows

This is one of those recipes that I never thought I'd be able or willing to tackle. I know that I can make my own marshmallows at home and I know how wonderful they are but I also know enough to know that they are a huge pain in the rear! In other words, I hadn't convinced myself that they were really worth it. Plus I'm a huge mess-a-phobe and that even extends to the kitchen and I was worried that there was no way that I could make these without creating a disaster area in my kitchen.

Kristen had the guts to tackle these lovelies a couple of Christmases ago and, of course, they were little pillows of heaven. (Especially yummy in hot chocolate.) And she even brought her own horror stories back about mixing madness, crazy-sore arms and sticky gunk, oh my! And I was still content to let her do all the work once a year and partake in the yummy afterward.

Well, no longer! We had a baking day recently and this is one of the recipes she had on her list. Since I was participating I got a chance to see exactly how bad this stuff really was. The truth? Not too terrible! Sure, there are hurdles in this recipe and you have to be smart enough to know how to maneuver around them. But Kristen has done a pretty good job of finding the annoyances in the process and sidestepping (or outsmarting them) them as much as possible. So I am a convert and am no longer afraid of homemade marshmallows. I'm sure I'll be tackling these again next holiday season . . . or sooner if the craving hits! ;-)

So here is the recipe and I've included our notes to help you through the process. It can be done with minimal frustration and mess, just take a breath and follow along!

Homemade Marshmallows

(Original recipe by Alton Brown)

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of water into the bowl of your stand mixer. Attach the whisk attachment and let gelatin solution stand. In a small saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil, allowing to cook for several minutes until the mixture reaches 240 F. (Note: AB's recipe says this will take 7-8 minutes but ours took longer.)

Using a candy thermometer is the easiest way to monitor this, but we didn't have one so we used the "cold water test" to determine which stage our sugar solution was at. You want your solution at the soft-ball stage. For a great description of each sugar stage and how to determine when you've reached the soft-ball stage, go here.

Once your sugar solution has reached this stage, remove from the heat and turn your mixer (with the gelatin solution in it) on low. Slowly add the sugar solution to the mixer while running. Once the syrup is all added, increase the mixer speed to high and continue to mix for 12-15 minutes. The mixture will turn white and become very thick, very sticky, and increase in volume significantly. During the last minute of mixing add the vanilla (or any other flavorings you want) to the marshmallows.

During this time, combine powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with nonstick spray and coat the bottom and sides with powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture.

NOTE: Up until now, the process will have run relatively smoothly. But this next step is where things can get very messy. The best advice I can give you during this whole process is to avoid touching the marshmallow mixture at all costs, unless absolutely necessary.

Once the mixture is ready, tilt the head of the mixer back (with the whisk still attached) and let the mixture attached to the whisk drip off. It will fall, very slowly, back into the bowl. Do not be tempted to scrap the whisk clean. If you try to battle this stuff or hurry it up . . . you will lose. After a minute or so, most of the mixture should have dripped off the whisk. Invert the mixing bowl over your coated pan and again use gravity to dump most of the mixture into the pan. Then use a lightly oiled spatula to get the rest.

NOTE: If you are an obsessive bowl-scraper, like I am, please understand that you will have to let that go on this recipe. There will be a good size mass of goo on the sides of the bowl that you will not be able to scrape down. Just do your best and walk away!

Alright, you're almost done now! Once the mixture is into the pan, use moist hands to flatten out the marshmallows into a sheet. If the marshmallows start sticking to your hands, just re-wet them a bit and continue smoothing the mixture out. Dust more of the cornstarch mixture over the top and let stand for 4 hours to overnight to allow the marshmallows to cool and set.

To cut, use a pizza cutter to slice the marshmallows into squares. Once cut, toss once again in the cornstarch mixture to lightly coat the remaining sides. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks!

One last thing. While I am not a fan of mint, Kristen wanted to try adding some different flavorants to the marshmallows. So after mixing, she separated a small batch and added some peppermint extract, mixed well and then added a drop or two of red food coloring and folded that once or twice into the mixture to give it a roughly swirled pattern. From what I hear, they were great . . . but I will take her word for it!

OH! And one of the most important notes I can give you, from one mess-a-phobe to another, it this: the clean up on this is actually NOT BAD!! Just make sure to soak your sticky dishes in warm, soapy water and all that sticky goo will just dissolve away! Just make sure the water is warm and cleanup should be a breeze!!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Saltine Toffee Candy

This is one of those recipes that seems to be everywhere in the food blogosphere. And with good reason . . . because it's fan-freakin-tastic and ridiculously easy. Only right that we should include it here also.

I first saw this particular version on Peabody's blog where she said she preferred butter crackers but after a little bit more searching, it seems like the larger preference is saltines. And who am I to mess with popular opinion? Kristen and I first made this last Christmas and we were skeptical, at best. But, lo and behold, it was amazing. It was such a simple idea. Use saltines as a base for homemade toffee, melt and spread chocolate on the top, cool and break into pieces. The result is a wonderful "bark"-like candy that is an absolute winner!

This year I had some white chocolate chips laying around so we got the idea to experiment with the topping. On half, we repeated last years version, which was milk chocolate with sliced almonds. On the other half we used white chocolate with red and green sugar crystals to add color and in the middle we swirled the white and milk chocolates together. They were all amazing but we all decided that the milk chocolate and almond combo is still the best.

Saltine Toffee Candy
(Recipe adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
Enough crackers to make a layer on a cookie sheet
1 cup chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips)
Sliced almonds, sprinkles, toffee pieces, etc (for topping)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with foil (very helpful lator on when you are trying to break the candy). Put a single layer of saltines on the cookie sheet, close together. Bring the butter and brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan and simmer it for about 5 minutes. Pour the brown sugar mixture over the crackers and bake for about 6-10 minutes at 350F.

Remove and immediately pour the chocolate chips over the crackers, evenly distributing them. The following are Peabody's instructions and I really think she has nailed doing this the easy way:
  • "The recipe will tell you to spread immediately…I don’t. I let it sit for about 30 seconds. Then with the back of a spatula I move the chocolate chips just a little bit. I wait another 30 seconds and repeat. I start to slowly move the chocolate around being careful not to move the crackers. I let is sit for another 30 seconds and at this point it pretty much spreads like frosting."
At this point, top the candy with whatever you like. Like I mentioned above, we've tried different types of chocolate with colored sugar and nuts. I'm not a fan of mint so we obviously went another direction, but crushed candy canes would look very nice and festive for the holidays. Use your imagination! Cool the candy in the refrigerator until hard and then break into bite-sized pieces and serve!


PS: I hope everyone is having a wonderfully Merry Christmas today!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Too. Much. Sugar!

Yes, this is actually how many sweets are currently residing in my fridge. It's scary really. SIX CONTAINERS worth!?! Two containers are from cookie baking adventures that I had with my mom last week. We made Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, Chocolate Crack Cookies and Bourbon Balls. Toward the end my mother started losing it (baking is not her forte) and we got into some Lucy-and-Ethel type troubles. Think forgetting ingredients and mistaking flour for powdered sugar. The Bourban Balls bore the brunt of the badness but (surprisingly) still turned out very tasty!

Another two containers are from the much-less-exciting but still very, very tasty cooking adventures of Kristen and I earlier this week. We made more Crack Cookies, this time Coconut Crack Cookies, half rolled in powdered sugar, the other half rolled in flaked coconut. (Oh. My. God. YUM!) Also, on our list was Saltine Toffee Candy and Homemade Marshmallows. All turned out amazing and more to come on those. . .

The pretty round tin was my "cut" from Kristen's family's baking ventures. Too many yummy sweets in there to name but all great! And, finally, for some strange reason, I was in the mood to bake this last weekend and made whole wheat chocolate chip muffins with an oatmeal, brown sugar crumb topping. Of course, the recipe made 12 muffins and Brad and I only ate them for breakfast this weekend. We have been slowly whittling away at the rest of the batch since then.

The next couple of posts are a few recipes that Kristen and I made for the holidays. Obviously many many cookies, candies, pies, etc. . . were made for the holidays by the both of us but these recipes were the ones we made together. Oh! And there are amazing. So we thought we'd share.


PS: Merry Christmas Eve!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

French Toast Bread Pudding

Back in October (October? Has it been that long?!?) I had plans to go to a potluck brunch and when I thought about what I wanted to bring I instantly had an idea. French toast bread pudding. I absolutely adore bread pudding and french toast is a relatively obvious breakfast choice so why not combine them?!? It sounded delicious and perfect for a potluck situation when a casserole-like dish would be so much easier to bring and keep fresh-tasting than servings of french toast which would probably stick together, get cold and be limp before anyone could dig in.

I knew I could probably wing it and be okay but I decided to Google "french toast bread pudding" to see if I could find any existing recipes or at least get an idea of what others did. I found a few but none were exactly what I had in mind. Some had the nutmeg and cinnamon I knew would make it taste warm and fall-y but didn't have the maple flavor, others had the maple but didn't use the light, egg-y challah that I knew would be so good in this dish, and so on and so forth. So I took the parts of each I liked and made my own Franken-recipe. I do this a lot. Really. A. Lot.

So here is what I came up with and it is wonderful. Not overly sweet on it's own but puffy and light with a slightly crispy top. Add a smidge of your favorite syrup and it's perfect! Enjoy!
French Toast Bread Pudding
(recipe loosely adapted from Dozen Flours)

1 (1 pound) loaf challah, cut into 1 inch cubes
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
6 tablespoons maple syrup, divided

Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange the bread cubes evenly in the dish. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and 3 tbsp syrup. Pour over bread cubes, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and maple syrup; heat until bubbling. Pour over bread and egg mixture. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Bread pudding should be puffed, browned and crisp on top. Serve with maple syrup!


PS: On another, slightly related, note here are some pictures of the lovely ladies that attended that brunch. Kristen and I are both there, can you spot us? Well, if not, the next picture is just us. Don't ask what was so amusing?!?! I couldn't begin to tell you. :-)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chocolate/Peanut Butter & Cinnamon/Sugar Crescent Rolls

I found the recipe for these crescent rolls on For the Love of Cooking and thought they were a brilliant idea. It's one of those things that's so simple and obvious you think, why didn't I think of that? Well, I didn't think of it but I did take credit for it!

I brought these delicious crescent dessert rolls to Kristen and Justin's Housewarming party last weekend and they were a hit. And they paired wonderfully with all the other delicious food that Kristen and her family prepared for the party. They are great for an afternoon snack or a wonderful dessert or appetizer. Try them! They are too easy and too delicious to pass up!

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Crescent Rolls
(recipe adapted from For the Love of Cooking)

1 tube of crescent rolls
Peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
Chocolate chips

Preheat the oven according to the package directions. Place the unrolled and separated crescent rolls onto an foil-lined cookie sheet sprayed with Pam. Spread a layer of peanut butter on each triangle and top with chocolate chips. Roll from the bottom of the triangle to the point, ending with the point on the top and center of the roll. Place in the oven and bake for 10-11 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve while hot.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Crescent Rolls
(recipe adapted from For the Love of Cooking)

1 tube of crescent rolls

Preheat the oven according to the package directions. Place the unrolled and separated crescent rolls onto an foil-lined cookie sheet sprayed with Pam. Sprinkle triangles liberally with cinnamon sugar. Roll from the bottom of the triangle to the point, ending with the point on the top and center of the roll. Sprinkle additional more cinnamon-sugar to the top of the crescent rolls, to taste. Place in the oven and bake for 10-11 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve while hot.


*Make your own cinnamon-sugar by combining 1/4 cup granulated sugar with 4 tsp cinnamon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Housewarming Party

On Saturday, October 17th, my husband and I threw a housewarming party to break in our new home. The house was open from 2pm until 2am and we had a variety of munchies all day long. Here's a peek at the menu:


stuffed cold shrimp

BLT bites in cherry tomatoes

Greek-style deviled eggs

pepperoni pinwheels

tortilla chips and salsa

cheddar cheeseball with crackers

cucumber-yogurt dip with vegetable dippers

chocolate "crack" cookies

chocolate peanut butter crescent rolls

cinnamon-sugar crescent rolls

cream cheese-Fluff dip with fruit

balsamic-strawberry cups

Dinner on the Grill

hot dogs


Andouille sausages with roasted onions and peppers

Friday, October 16, 2009

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

This meal was another great surprise. I love cooking in my crock pot because it's so gosh-darn easy. And I love the feeling at the end of the day that dinner is done and the whole house smells good and it doesn't feel like I had to do any work to make it happen. I had tried pulled pork before but it was an on-the-bone cut of meat that roasted in the oven for hours, required regular basting, was very difficult to shred and, in the end, wasn't the greatest. I decided to try to find a recipe that included a boneless cut of meat (read: cheaper and easier) that could be cooked in the slow cooker. And voila! This made for an amazing dinner.

I found this recipe and was hoping it would be a winner. It was so easy, used mostly staples that I always had on hand (except for the pork) and was very budget friendly. My husband and I aren't really into spicy foods, so I omitted the tobasco sauce. I also omitted the liquid smoke just because I didn't have any in the house. When my husband came home from work and started drooling immediately, I knew it was a good sign. Because I didn't start this until after lunch, I opted to cook it on the high setting and planned to let it cook for 4 hours. Well, this smelled so good that we lost all control and dug in just shy of 3 1/2 hours in. Even still, the meat was super tender and fell apart when I took two forks to it. I really think this recipe is foolproof and worth a try!

Crock Pot Pulled Pork
(adapted from Prudence Pennywise)

1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 lb. pork chops
1 teaspoon or more tabasco sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

Place first 5 ingredients in slow cooker and whisk to combine. Add pork chops and turn to coat. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours. Remove pork chops and use two forks to shred meat. You can use the sauce that was created as your BBQ sauce by adding the pork back to crock pot and tossing with sauce. We chose to use our favorite BBQ sauce instead but did spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce in the slow cooker over the pulled pork and tossed to combine. This just added more moisture and flavor to the pork. Slap on a bun for a very tasty pulled pork sammy!


PS: I served mine with some yummy sweet potato fries which made for a very tasty dinner combo!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love baking but I don't do much of it. It's a shame and I've been wanting to get into the habit of baking more. For a while I had the hankering to make some wonderful homemade, baked, sweet something. But what? I wanted it to have some semblance of healthfulness. Zucchini bread. Bran muffins. Oatmeal cookies. Something that wasn't all calories and fat and sugar and guilt.

When it comes to healthfulness my biggest challenge is my husband. It's not that he doesn't care about being healthy but to say veggies really aren't his thing would be the understatement of the year. I try to sneak any form of nutrition into what I cook for him but it's definitely difficult to say the least. Brad was pretty wary of the whole vegetables in dessert idea so I postponed the zucchini bread in favor of some oatmeal cookies. He had had some at a party a couple weeks prior and really liked them and I knew I could make something healthy and delicious with them. So I decided to find a recipe and play with it.

First, I wanted to eliminate most of the fat by replacing
the 3/4 of the butter in the recipe with apple butter. You can also do this with apple sauce but while I'm not really a fan of applesauce, I love apple butter and had some in the house. The apple butter I used had less that half the calories and NO fat compared to the butter I was using. So I saved 540 calories and 96 grams of fat JUST by making this substitution. (This counts the whole batch of cookies, but still.) Also, because apple butter adds a lot more sweetness than butter would, I also cut out some of the sugar in the original recipe.

I also added some wheat germ to the mix. For those who don't already know, this is a great option to any baked recipe to add nutrition. I add wheat germ to pancakes, waffles, cookies and muffins. It adds nutrition without changing the flavor. One note of caution, though. When you are baking the ratio of dry ingredients to wet ingredients is important. Since it has a dry, powdery consistency, wheat germ may throw this ratio off some. To counteract this, if your mix seems too thick add more of a wet ingredient. For example, in my pancakes I add a splash more milk. In the case of these cookies, the dough was fine so I didn't need to add anything.

One last thing I do in almost all of my baked recipes is switch half of the flour needed from all-purpose to whole wheat. Again, by only switching out half the flour for whole wheat, you can maintain the flavor and texture while still dramatically increasing the nutrition.

So these cookies were absolutely the surprise of the season. I thought they would be good but since I was seriously tweaking the recipe and wasn't sure exactly what the outcome would be. To both of our surprise these were amazing! It must have been the apple butter because there was this depth of flavor that couldn't be explained by anything else. If it's at all possible, these cookies really taste like fall, not too sweet with a great mix of spices and a burst of chocolate every now and then. They didn't puff up the way most cookies do, I think because of the lack of "real" butter . They held the shape they had in their raw form and just got nice and golden. But it didn't really bother us. Really it just added to the rustic, homebaked look of them.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from
Crepes of Wrath (originally from Quaker Oats)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
3/4 cup apple butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

2 tbsp toasted wheat germ
1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

3 cups dry oatmeal

1 cup milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the flours, wheat germ, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. In large bowl, beat together the butter, apple butter and sugar until light and fluffy, at least 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and beat well.
3. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat together until just moistened. Stir in your oats, then stir in your chocolate chips.
4. Drop the dough by heaping spoonfuls onto foil-lined cookie sheets.
5. Bake the cookies 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool for a bit on the cookie sheets before transferring elsewhere to cool. Makes approx. 3 dozen, depending on size of your cookies.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ok, now I was tagged by Layne to post six things that make me happy. And, since this is a food blog, I've decided that my six things will pertain to food. :o)

Here are the rules: Link to the person who has tagged you. Write down six things that make you happy. Post the rules, tag six others and let them know you did it. Then tell the person when your entry is complete. Six Things That Make Me Happy, in no particular order. . .

1. CHEESE (what more can I say?)
2. Stuff that goes with cheese (like fruits and crackers and veggies and WINE)
3. Big parties with small hors d'oeuvres (there is nothing better than creative finger food)
4. Meat... don't get me wrong, I love vegetarians... I eat vegetarians at almost every meal!
5. Desserts that are way too rich and filling to take more than a couple of bites
6. Last, but not least, sharing food with my friends and family (awh... I know, cheesy, but true)

I'm tagging Layne, Alan, and anyone else who feels like responding. ;o)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grilled Pesto Chicken

Brad just got his first grill for Christmas so we are grilling a lot lately. And, luckily, he loves it! I like it not only because the grill adds so much flavor on it's own, but also because it's very easy to stay healthy and low fat by grilling. On that note, I adapted this Cooking Light recipe last week and it was wonderful! By far the best thing we've had on the grill.

Grilled Pesto Chicken

(adapted from Cooking Light)

2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup basil pesto

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tsp minced garlic

Juice of one lemon

1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a bowl, and stir well. Place the chicken in a baggie and add half of the sauce to the bag and. Seal bag and turn to coat chicken well. Marinade in refrigerator for 30 minutes (longer would be better, up to 4 hours but I didn't have much time).

Prepare grill. Place chicken breasts on grill rack and grill for about 6 minutes per side or until the chicken is done, turning occasionally.

Remove from grill and top with remaining pesto mixture. We served this with grilled corn, sauteed mushrooms and rolls. It was delicious. Very moist chicken and the sauce was so flavorful!


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

So this is the first post that truly tested the limits of the whole hatred-of-tomatoes theme. I love tortilla soup but I'm pretty picky about it. I'm not a fan of the very thin broth-y soups that taste very much like tomato soup with taco seasoning and some tortilla chips thrown on top for good measure. For me, those soups don't have any interest or character and taste way to much like raw tomatoes to be tasty. No, I prefer the creamier versions where you can tell the flour tortillas have lent their starchy goodness to the whole soup and it really tastes like a chicken taco on a flour tortilla with all the fixin's was just blended up and stuck in a bowl for you.

Since it has been unusually cool these last couple of weeks, I've been thinking a hot bowl of soup would hit the spot. I found this recipe on Cooking Light and decided to give it a go, but of course I tweaked it a bit. Since it was our main course I added some chicken to the soup. I also decreased the tomato sauce and added some skim milk to help add a creaminess. The end result: my official taste tester (Brad, the husband) approves. In fact, he loved it. I actually really liked it too but it bordered on almost too tomato-y for my taste. Next time I may add a little less tomato sauce and a little more milk. I like to play around with ratios until I get it just right, even still I really enjoyed it. But I couldn't eat the whole bowl. No worries, Brad finished off his and mine too. And he went back for seconds and thirds, that's right, he had it for dinner three nights in a row. He just couldn't stop talking about it! I always love having his seal of approval.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
(adapted from Cooking Light)

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1 whole wheat flour tortilla diced into bite-size pieces
1/2 red onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 cups water
1/2 cup skim milk
1 14 oz can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup favorite bottled salsa
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro

Optional Toppings:
shredded sharp cheddar cheese, light sour cream, tortilla chips, etc

Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and sear in a soup pot over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pot and slice into bite size pieces and set aside. In the same pot, add onion and saute over low heat until soft and almost translucent. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. Then add tomato sauce, water, milk, broth, salsa and spices. Be sure to stir well and scrap up all the browned chicken and onion bits from the bottom of the pan (read: flavor!) Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10-12 minutes.

This is where I did something I have a feeling most would find strange. I tend to like my soups either super thick or pretty creamy and not really anywhere in between. So I pulled out my handy-dandy new immersion blender and blended the soup while still in the pot on the stove to make the texture nice and smooth. Of course this step is optional.

Afterward, I added the diced chicken and tortilla pieces back into the soup and simmered on low for another 2-3 minutes just to combine the flavors. (Beware: only add the sliced tortillas to the soup if it's going to be eaten immediately. We learned the hard way that if they sit in the soup too long they got real soggy real quick and I wasn't a fan.) Serve with a dollop of light sour cream and a pinch of grated cheddar cheese. I also served this soup with a spinach salad and side of black beans.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

I got the idea for this particular recipe from Annie's Eat's. She claims that she doesn't understand the obsession people have with the peanut butter and chocolate combo. I developed this particular obsession in college and today, I'm hooked. It's absolute heaven. Don't tell anyone but I've been known to spread peanut butter on a graham cracker and top it with chocolate chips as a sweet snack. ::drool:: Anyway, that being said, she has quite a bit of chocolate-peanut butter recipes on her blog. So this is where I went on Saturday evening when I was looking for a dessert recipe to make with my new Kitchenaid stand mixer.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins
(adapted from
Annie's Eat's)

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup brown sugar plus more for topping
3 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a muffin pan with 6 paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Divide batter evenly between prepared muffin tins, filling each to the top. Optional: Sprinkle the top of each muffin with brown sugar. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This is a half-batch, so it made 6 muffins. The batter was a little bland so I added the vanilla and since I love a crunchy muffin-top, I also added the brown sugar on top which caramelized nicely in the oven.
I would have to say that these weren't my favorite muffins ever. Definitely tasty but they were a bit heavy for my taste and the peanut butter flavor wasn't all there. Now for those of you not all that into PB, that may be a good thing. But for me, I was really looking for the big BANG! of the chocolate PB combo and it just wasn't there. I may tweak the recipe and give them another go. Again, they were definitely tasty, just some room for improvement.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

An amazing dinner...

Layne and I made a pretty amazing "Christmas dinner" for ourselves and our husbands on New Year's Eve. It was the first chance we had to actually sit down together, just the four of us, to have a nice meal and exchange Christmas gifts. Then, following the meal, we threw a pretty rockin' New Year's Eve bash into the wee hours of the morning!

I'm sorry it has taken so long to get these pics posted, but you know how the holidays are--busy, busy, busy!!!

We wanted to incorporate some really nice steaks into our meal, but we've definitely done the "seared filet mignons with blue cheese" thing before. So, we instead decided to go with something a little more special--perfect for the big occasion. Here was the dinner menu:

- Individual beef wellingtons with petite filets and herbed cheese spread

- Cheesy potato gratin

- Sauteed Mushrooms with Garlic

- Honey butter-basted rolls

Layne and I mostly made up the recipe for the individual beef wellingtons, checking with a recipe from Emeril that helped with cooking times. We liked the idea of wrapping petite filets in puff pastry, but skipped the pate and added herbed cheese spread instead (parmesan peppercorn flavored).

For the potato gratin, we adapted our version from this recipe that honestly didn't call for much cheese. That just doesn't fly with us! So, we added a healthy handful of grated sharp swiss cheese and substituted feta for the goat cheese (since my local grocery store was out of the goat variety). The result was sharp and tangy, wonderfully seasoned potatoes with a nice crust of cheese on top for good measure.

The mushrooms and rolls were simple. Layne sliced down some small cremini mushrooms, then we sauteed them with a little butter, olive oil, and tons of minced fresh garlic. For the rolls, we mixed regular unsalted butter with local tupelo honey, in about equal parts. Then, we toasted Hawaiian brand sweet rolls in the oven, smeared with the honeybutter goodness. Yum!

Overall, I think the meal was a success, although it looks a bit monochromatic when all on the plate together. But, we loved it and so did the boys (not that they could complain... they got to play video games while we cooked).


Then, it was on to party time!!! The spread looked awesome but of course we were too busy having a good time to take pictures, so you'll just have to trust us. Our late-night menu for the evening consisted of some old stand-bys and a few new additions:

- Cheddar cheeseball (8 oz. cream cheese, 8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, ½ tsp minced fresh garlic, 1 tsp. spicy mustard, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste) with crackers for spreading

- Spinach dip (recipe on the back of the Knorr vegetable soup mix packet) in a bread bowl with vegetable crudites for dipping. It's amazing how good this boxed recipe is!

- Roast beef and herbed cheese in mini puff pastry cups (we used Boar's Head roast beef, from the grocer's deli, and parmesan peppercorn flavored Aloutte spreadable cheese)

- Cheezy Beer Whiz (my own invention: jar of Cheez Whiz + half a bottle of good beer--I like Sam Adams... I know it may sound odd, but it's brilliant... try it!) with chips for dipping

- Saltine toffee candy (amazing recipe) made with almonds

- Peanut butter truffles rolled in chopped peanuts (adapted from the following recipe by adding about 1 TSBP peanut butter instead of flavored liquor--the other flavors failed, but this one would have been our favorite anyway!)

- Red sugar-rimmed white chocolate martinis, a Layne holiday drink staple. Made with 2 parts Godiva White Chocolate liqueur to one part vanilla vodka. If it's too strong, you can add a splash of milk or cream to tone down the bite.

- Champagne and strawberries (to ring in the New Year!)

All-in-all, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to 2008 and start off 2009 with a bang! Cheers to lasting luck, fantastic friends, and memorable meals!