Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Intensely chocolate

Rich and Dark Fudge Tassies
from the Ugly Binder, from the back of a Hershey's Special Dark Kisses package

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Hershey’s Cocoa or Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa I used regular Hershey's Cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar
Fudge Filling
60 Hershey’s Kisses Brand Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolates, unwrapped I used regular kisses
Fudge Filling:
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa or Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa I used regular Hershey's Cocoa
¼ cup sugar
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Beat butter, 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Combine flour, cocoa and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Refrigerate dough at least 1 hour or until firm enough to handle.
2. Shape dough into 60 balls (about 1-inch each); roll in granulated sugar. I forgot to do that. Press each ball onto bottom and up sides of ungreased small muffin cup (1 ¾-inch in diameter). If balls start to become too soft to press and mold easily, refrigerate several minutes; then continue.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare Fudge Filling. Evenly fill muffin cups with mixture. .
4. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until brownie cup is firm and filling is puffed slightly. Place sheet of wax paper under cooling rack. Cook in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Carefully remove each tassie from pan to cooling rack; sprinkle with powdered sugar. I didn't sprinkle. Place chocolate in center of each tassie. Cool completely.

Makes 60 tassies.

Fudge Filling: Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Stir in cocoa and sugar. Add sweetened condensed milk, cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

I'm always on the lookout for things to make in my mini-muffin pans. This recipe caught my eye and I loved it but I think I'd actually skip the kisses if I made these again. I thought they were a bit overkill. These were quite intensely chocolate even without using the dark cocoa and dark chocolate kisses.

I had some trouble getting some of them out of the pan. Most of them came out so I wouldn't blame the recipe. I think I made my tassies too big.

I can't get back into my normal rhythm. My appetite has been weird since I was sick. Well, I'm still sick. My sore throat and cough came back for an encore. I'm on vacation and I'm never on vacation the last week of the year. Everything is 'off'. I can't wait for things to get back to normal.

Question of the Day: Do you own a mini-muffin pan? How many?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Easing back into blogging

This Christmas went off about as smoothly as any. It wasn't perfect - I never got around to sending out any cards this year and I spent way too much money - but overall I'd rate it as one of the least stressful and one of the most satisfying and enjoyable Christmases that I can remember. Considering all the illnesses that ran through our household in December, that was a major accomplishment.

I almost didn't bake this year but in the end I pulled it off. I didn't put as much effort into it as I usually do. I decided just to make whatever I could reasonably make in that last week before Christmas. I had a clean slate this year. I didn't feel any pressure to make the same recipes I always make yet I wasn't intending to fiddle with new recipes. In the end I made a combination of old and new and everything went over really well this year.

Well, some recipes were 'sort of new'. I didn't have the time or energy to tackle my chocolate-covered caramels this year so instead, I made the caramel and I dipped pretzel rods in it, then covered them with chocolate and sprinkles. I also topped some Lorna Doones with the caramel and then dipped them in chocolate and sprinkles, making a Twix-like candy. I didn't even use a candy thermometer since I've made the recipe often enough to have a feel for what the caramel needed to look like. The topping and dipping was easier than letting the caramel set and cutting it (which always leaves me with blisters on my hands) and then dipping all those small caramels. I don't know if I'll every make them again since this was more fun and I can think of more things I'd like to dip in the caramel next year.

So there you go. After my little break you're only getting one non-recipe and one bad picture but at least I've dipped my toes back in the blogging pool.

Question of the Day: Did you have a nice holiday?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Something had to give this holiday season and it seems that it was blogging. I did end up doing a bit of baking afterall so I'll have recipes to share with you next week when I can finally relax. That's if I manage to get pictures of everthing before it goes out the door.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An old recipe with some new tricks

Candy-Cane Twists
Better Homes And Garders Special Interest Publications Christmas Cookies 1992

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
Powdered-Sugar Frosting

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cut in butter till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water and vanilla over part of the flour mixture. Gently toss with a fork; push to side of bowl. Repeat with remaining water, a tablespoon at a time, till all is moistened. Form into a ball. Cover and chill 30 minutes or till easy to handle.

Divide dough into quarters. On a lightly floured surface, roll two of the quarters into 12x4 inch rectangles. Spread each rectangle with jam. Roll remaining quarters of dough into 12x4-inch rectangles. Carefully place a plain rectangle over each rectangle spread with jam. Trim edges even. Cut each rectangle into twenty-four 4x1/2-inch strips. Twist each strip twice.

Shape each strip into a cane on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for 10 to 12 minutes or till edges are firm and bottoms are light brown. Cool on wire rack. Place Powdered-Sugar Frosting in decorating bag fitted with writing tip. Pipe frosting on light portions of each cane.

Makes 48

Powdered-Sugar Frosting: Stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar and enough hot water (1 to 2 tablespoons) to make of frosting consistency.

I started Christmas baking (on my own) in 1991. I can date that event by my oldest Better Homes and Gardens annual Christmas Cookie magazine. That is what started the madness. I didn't even own a hand mixer that year. I had a wooden spoon and that was all that I needed.

This recipe came out in the 1992 edition of the BH&G Christmas cookie magazine, and was added to my line-up my second year of baking. I made it for several years but it was a major pain-in-the-behind to be honest. I wasn't talented with pastry dough. It was hard to cut the strips right. The jam would melt onto the cookie sheet. I had to use a little baggie to pipe on the frosting and I would always end up with a hand full of frosting.

But I loved the final result. They were cute and delicious and they were sort of my signature cookie for a while. My boss, who was also a good friend to me, even asked me to come to her home and show her how to make them. I was happy and honored to be invited to spend time with her family but I remember not being thrilled about having to make these cookies since they always vexed me so much.

Eventually, I was baking for more people and I just couldn't make enough of these for everyone so I retired this recipe.

I decided to revisit it this year since I now know a few more tricks.

First of all, I made the dough in a flash in the food processor. I rolled it out between parchment paper. I used my Pampered Chef pizza cutter to cut the dough into strips. I baked some on parchment paper and some on silpat (both work well). I even used a bit of Wilson cookie frosting to easily frost these but then decided the vanilla taste was a bit strong for these so I pulled out a small Pampered Chef decorating bottle and easily finished the job with the simple powdered sugar frosting.

These isn't the easiest recipe in the world but I didn't struggle with it nearly as much as I used to. I guess I have learned something over the years.

And no, I wouldn't really hang these on a Christmas tree - I was just trying to liven up the photographs a bit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My absence

Sorry I've been MIA but I was down for the count with all kinds of nastiness (sinuses, probably strep throat, etc). I have absolutely no tastebuds right now so cooking anything new woul be a waste. I'm constantly hungry yet nothing appeals to me.

I really can't see doing any holiday baking if my tastebuds don't come back soon.

I did successfully revisit an old favorite recipe on Saturday, before I took a turn for the worse. Hopefully I will get a chance to post about that soon.

I hope you are all having a healthier holiday season than we are (both kids have been sick too).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Another ground chicken burger from Rachael Ray

BBQ Chicken Burgers Topped with Honey Slaw
Rachael Ray's Book of 10 Copyright 2009

2 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
1 medium red onion, 1/2 finely chopped, 1/2 thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, eyeball it
1 tablespoon hot sauce, eyeball it
2 pounds ground chicken
2 tablespoons grill seasoning (recommended: McCormick brand) a palm full
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons honey, eyeball it
1 lemon, juiced
3 rounded tablespoons sweet pickle relish
4 cups shredded cabbage mix
Salt and pepper
8 cornmeal Keiser rolls, split

In a small skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add chopped onions, garlic and tomato paste and sweat them for 5 minutes to soften and sweeten. Sprinkle in sugar and remove from heat. Cool in a bowl, 5 minutes. Add tomato paste mixture, Worcestershire, hot sauce to bowl and combine. Add chicken to the bowl then grill seasoning and combine the burgers well to evenly distribute the flavors and form 4 patties. Wash up.

Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, a turn of the pan, in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties 6 minutes on each side.

Combine the honey, lemon juice, and remaining extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl. Add relish, cabbage mix and sliced onions and season with salt and pepper. Toss the slaw to coat and reserve.

Serve burgers on bun bottoms topped with slaw and bun tops.

While this didn't wow me as much as some of the other burger recipes I've tried from Rachael Ray, it was not a disappointment. Some of her other burgers just happened to blow me away. While I wasn't crazy about the slaw on it's own, I enjoyed it as the burger topping. It was a bit heavy on that distinctive sweet relish taste otherwise and I prefer vinegar to lemon juice in a slaw. I added a bit of sugar to it. My husband ate a bowl of it on its own.

The burgers were highly seasoned. They were nicely balanced with the bun and slaw but if you were skipping the bun, you might want to lessen the amount of grill seasoning because it makes them especially salty and peppery. I liked it but some people might not. You definitely don't need any other condiments on this burger.

As usual, I could easily find this RR recipe online but the proportions weren't the same. Her book recipes rarely match her online recipes exactly (and these recipes are from either Food Network or her official site). It makes me wonder which versions I should be following.

I will add these to my list of ground chicken recipes. RR is one of my best sources of ground chicken recipes.

I started getting sick on Sunday and fought it with about $20 worth of cold-preventatives - Zinc, Vitamin C (not at the same time) and Sambucol. I felt back to normal yesterday. Today I woke up feeling like I got hit with a truck. Oh well, I really think it would have been something much worse if not for that stuff.

Question of the Day: How do you treat a cold?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Why am I always the last to know?

I just saw that today is National Brownie Day. Why am I always caught unprepared for these important occasions?

Well I may not have a fresh batch of brownies to show you but I've made plenty of brownies during my blogging career. Let's recap.

Brownie Buttons:

Brownies from King Arthur:

Chocolate Chip Brownies (I've made these many, many times. I've added sprinkles and Christmas Kissables to the top for the holidays):

Chocolate Mint Brownies:

Chocomallow Brownies:

Fudge Brownies:

Fudge Frosted Brownies:

Glazed Chocolate Chip Brownies (my son's favorite brownies):

Rick Katz’s Brownies for Julia:

Sweet Potato Brownies:

Very Chocolate Brownies:

I think you can see two things here. One, I really like brownies and two, I can't take a good picture of a brownie to save my life.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Some recipes from Domino Sugar

I was contacted by Domino sugar and offered a gift card to buy ingredients in order to make something from the Domino website. I took a quick gander and decided that wouldn't be a problem at all. They have lots of great recipes on there now but gosh, I bet their site will just grow and grow. I mean, they have such few limits with sugar as their product.

I have to admit that I will often buy store-brand baking ingredients but when I do my holiday baking, I usually reach for brand names and for sugars that means Domino. If I'm going to the trouble of baking all those treats for my friends and family, I want to use the best ingredients. Is there any difference between Domino sugar and other brands? Well, I've never come across lumps in my Domino sugar - I can't say that for the store brands. That's just my own personal experience.

So what did I make? Well, strangely enough, even though I usually follow recipes as closely as possible, I played around a little bit here.

I combined the design idea of Peanut Butter Reindeer Cupcakes with the recipe for Chocolate Sugar Cookies and made Reindeer Cookies. Since my son can't eat M&Ms (due to his peanut allergy) I used Sixlets for the eyes and nose. Sixlets aren't as sturdy in the oven as M&Ms and melted quite a bit but I think they're still cute.

They were so cute, I couldn't settle on just one picture.

I don't like to make cute cookies just for the sake of being cute. These were also delicious. I wasn't sure if the pretzels would work here but it tastes like eating chocolate-covered pretzels when you eat that part of the cookie. I'd also like to note that I rolled the cookie dough out between sheets of parchment paper which is one of the most awesome baking tricks I've ever learned and I like to pass it along whenever I can.

I also made some Drop Sugar Cookies. I was intrigued by the combination of oil and butter and the use of cream of tartar instead of baking powder or baking soda. I added some green food coloring to the cookies - I usually do that with any sugar cookie at Christmas. These had a nice crispy texture around the outside with a soft, chewiness in the center. I liked them with just the sugar on top but alternatively, these could be frosted.

But the very first thing I made was this Peppermint Swirl Fudge Cake. I opted to top it with vanilla candy coating instead of the chocolate glaze, just because. I used chopped up candy canes and candy cane kisses on the top. I added a bit of green food coloring to intensify the green in the peppermint cake batter. I just wish I had something green on the top too - next time I'll get the candy canes that have both green and red.

I love how we spend the holidays now but someday I hope I get a chance to host my own Christmas gathering so I could put a gorgeous cake like this out for my guests.

It wasn't just pretty, it tasted great too. The cream cheese gave it a nice texture. It wasn't too minty like I've found some peppermint-flavored recipes to be - the level of mint was just right for my taste.

Although, I'm not a Tweeter myself, some of you might be interested in one of Domino's programs to fight hunger. Basically for each time that #NoKidHungry is mentioned in a tweet, Domino®/C&H® Sugar will donate $1 to the Share Our Strength® organization. They're going to donate up to a maximum of $10,000.

I'm excited to do even more holiday baking now. Thanks to Domino for getting me started.

Question of the Day: What plans do you have for holiday baking this year?

Friday, December 04, 2009

I'm all out of sorts

Pollo Guisado
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Copyright 2008

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
3 tomatoes, diced I used canned tomatoes
2 ounces canned chipotle sauce I used chipotle powder
1/4 tablespoon garlic powder
1/4 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 tablespoon salt
1 cup water water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, diced

Boil the chicken for 25 minutes or until cooked. Set aside.

In a blender combine the tomatoes, chipotle sauce, garlic, cumin, pepper, salt and add water and blend for a few seconds.

In a saucepan add the vegetable oil and onions and cook for 3 minutes or until the onions turn golden.

Add the chipotle mixture and the chicken to the saucepan with the onions and cook over medium heat 15 minutes.

I was pretty loosey-goosey with this recipe. I only had about a pound of chicken so I eyeballed everything else. It was good, not a showstopper but maybe it would have been if I followed the recipe to the letter. I'm sure these tacos would have been better if I had better, fresher taco shells.

So I decided to make pizza dough last night for the first time in I don't know how long. We've been getting take-out or I've been cheating using Pillsbury pizza crust (hey, I like it) but I thought it was time to tighten our purse strings and go back to making the dough from scratch.

I followed a recipe I had written down, that I used to use almost every week but I ended up adding a lot of flour and it still wasn't enough - I ended up with a sticky mess. I have no idea what went wrong. Maybe my scale was off. Hopefully it will be edible. I can't believe that I lost my touch.

The wheels are in motion for my son's 6th birthday, 2 weeks after Christmas. That is a crappy time to have to plan a birthday party. Not only am I juggling Christmas planning with birthday planning, I have the added stress of worrying about the weather since it's January and it snows a lot in January AND I have no idea how many kids will come. In preschool, I had a general idea but this is an entire different group of kids. I can't wait until the second week of January when I can relax!

Question of the Day: Do prefer soft tacos or hard tacos?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

More chicken thighs

Smoky Paprika Chicken Thighs
Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes Volume 2 Copyright 2006

1 tablespoon smoked paprika or paprika
1 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 pounds chicken thighs, skinned I used boneless, skinless thighs, cut-up into smaller pieces
½ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 8-ounce carton light dairy sour cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch

In a small bowl stir together paprika, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Sprinkle evenly over chicken thighs; rub in with your fingers. Place chicken in a 4 ½- to 5 ½-quart slow cooker.

In another small bowl whisk together the tomato paste and chicken broth. Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 7 hours or in high-heat setting for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Transfer chicken to a serving platter, reserving cooking juices in slow cooker. Cover chicken with foil to keep warm.

If using low-heat setting, turn to high-heat setting. For sauce, in a small bowl stir together sour cream and cornstarch; whisk into cooking juices in slow cooker until smooth. Cover and cook about 15 minutes more or until slightly thickened. Spoon sauce over chicken.

Per serving: 164 cal, 6g fat, 90mg chol, 439 mg sodium, 5g carbs, 0g fiber, 21g pro

I had some smoked paprika so this recipe caught my eye. It wasn't the prettiest recipe but it had good flavor. I chose to serve it over orzo even though I really craved spaetzle. There just wasn't time to make spaetzle.

I will add this to my round-up of boneless, skinless chicken thigh recipes.

It's that time of year where I fall apart. I always get overwhelmed by the holidays no matter how much I try not to. Some things just don't help - the alternator on my 2-year old car died Friday. So don't be surprised if posting is a bit sporadic but I have to prioritize.

Question of the Day: Are you ready for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A blast from my past

Teriyaki Chicken Sandwiches
Taste of Home Annual Recipes 2000 Copyright 1999

1/2 cup canola oil you definitely do not need that much oil but I would use 1-2 tablespoons
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 1-1/2 pounds)
4 hard rolls or croissants
1 cup finely shredded lettuce
8 tomato slices
4 green pepper rings I skipped this
1/4 cup mayonnaise, optional

In a blender, combine the first six ingredients; cover and process until smooth. I just mixed it together. Reserve 1/4 cup. Pour remaining sauce into a large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken; seal and refrigerate overnight.

Drain and discard marinade from chicken. Broil chicken 4 in. from the heat for 5 minutes per side or until a meat thermometer reads 170°. I used my Griddler.

On bottom half of each roll or croissant, layer lettuce, tomatoes, chicken and green pepper. Drizzle with reserved sauce; spread with mayonnaise if desired. Replace tops.

Yield: 4 servings

I can remember when a grilled chicken sandwich was something exciting to see on a menu. Thanks to Susan Powter, the 80s were all about avoiding fat and before the grilled chicken sandwich started appearing on menus, we mainly had burgers, hot dogs and breaded fried chicken to eat on buns. I remember when a place in the food court at the Gallery in Philly started serving a grilled chicken sandwich and I was so happy even though it was actually quite boring when I think about it now.

Eventually everyone was serving grilled chicken sandwiches and eventually they just fell off my radar all together, I got so bored with them. I still made grilled chicken breast but with our attention turned from fat to carbs, I didn't turn them into sandwiches anymore. I guess I was feeling nostalgic last week and I was also looking for a quick sandwich idea for dinner so I went retro and put the grilled chicken on buns.

The marinade gave the chicken great flavor - much better than I used to get at the food court. It was a nice change from burgers.

Question of the Day: Did you get caught up in the fat-free craze?

Monday, November 30, 2009

The end of a long search

Truffle Pie
The Deen Bros. Cookbook Copyright 2007

Truffle Filling:
2/3 cup heavy cream
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips I used semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (9-inch) prepared graham cracker crust I used the larger crust they sell now

Whipped Chocolate Filling:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips I used semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped Cream Topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 ounces milk chocolate
1 1/2 ounces white chocolate
1 1/2 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate
I used chocolate jimmies

For the truffle filling, in a saucepan, bring 2/3 cup cream to a simmer. Place the 6 ounces chocolate chips in a bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then gently whisk until smooth. Spread truffle filling over the bottom of the prepared piecrust. Freeze for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the whipped chocolate filling, in a double boiler or a microwave set on low power, heat the 6 ounces chocolate chips with 1/2 cup of the cream until the chocolate is just melted, stirring often. Let cool to room temperature. In a chilled bowl, beat the chocolate mixture, remainint 1 cup of cream and the vanilla until soft peaks form (tips curl). Spread the whipped chocolate mixture over the truffle filling in the crust. Refrigerate overnight.

For the topping, just before serving, beat 1 cup cream on medium speed of an electric mixer until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners' sugar and whip until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Spread the whipped cream over the top of the pie. Using a grater or vegetable peeler, make pieces or shavings of milk chocolate, white chocolate, and semisweet or dark chocolate. Garnish pie with chocolate pieces. Serve immediately.

Years ago my sister made a great chocolate pie but by the time I asked her to make it again, she couldn't remember which recipe she had used. I never forgot that pie. It's been so long since I ate that pie, I probably don't accurately remember what it was like but that hasn't stopped me from searching for a chocolate pie recipe that lived up to that one. In my mind it was something fluffy, yet not too fluffy. That's about all I could say about it. Otherwise, it was one of those 'I'll know it when I eat it' kind of thing.

I've tried many chocolate pie recipes and most were good but none could replace that long, lost chocolate pie. I think I have finally found 'the one'. It has the perfect consistency that I wanted - fluffy but firm. It was so simple - basically just chocolate and cream. I even used a premade graham cracker crust which I usually don't do because they seem so small but they make a larger size now. I used semi-sweet chocolate to make it a bit more kid-friendly. My son LOVED this pie. He insisted very firmly that we take leftovers of this pie home. He woke up asking for it the next day. Yes, I will be making this pie again and again and again.

Question of the Day: Do you like chocolate pie? Do you have a favorite recipe for it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let's talk pies

Traditionally we usually enjoy many different pies on Thanksgiving. I thought I would review some of my favorites but not as many stood out as I thought might. I don't necessarily think I've made a lot of bad pies but I don't think they get judged fairly after a heavy meal.

These are the few I've made (for Thanksgiving and at other times) that I enjoyed the most.

Butterscotch Pie - my brother's favorite but he won't be at Thanksgiving this year so I won't be making it. It's not the traditional butterscotch pie, instead it's made with melted ice cream.

Chocolate Buttermilk Pie - a Sandra Lee recipe but a from-scratch recipe.

Strawberry-Mallow Pie - tastes like a strawberry sundae.

Key Lime Pie

Washington State Granny Smith Apple Pie

Grandpa Boyen’s Famous Belgium Rice Custard Pie - I didn't like the prune layer but I made a substitution for that so it might be better if you follow the recipe.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gearing up for the holidays

It's not even Thanksgiving and we've already make our annual trek to Candylane at Hersheypark to see Santa. It seems like we're not the only ones getting an early start this year - many people have already decorated, taking advantage of the mild weather we've been having.

I thought this would be a good time to recap my holiday baking recipes. Last year I had three posts:

Holiday Recap 1
Holiday Recap 2
Holiday Recap 3

And here's a review of the new recipes I made for the holidays last year or discovered during 2009:

Elfin Bites - These are so easy and colorful.

Gingerbread Men - I can't wait to make these again. They are a non-traditional gingerbread man made with butterscotch pudding.

Rum Balls - These are a nut-free version that I loved. They are really rum-spiked brownie bites.

Peppermint Bark and Oreo Truffles

Vanilla Popcorn - This is actually something I tested out recently that I might make this year.

Chocolate Malted Cookies - This was a cookie I tried this year that was very good.

Peppermint Patties - I made these for a bake sale and they were so easy to make and they were fantastic. I may make them for Christmas and add green food coloring.

Brown Sugar-Buttermilk Pound Cakes - These mini pound cakes would make great gifts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Boring but good

Sliced Steak Sensation
Rachael Ray's Book of 10 Copyright 2009

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 top-round steak (London Broil),1 to 1 1/2 inches thick, about 2 pounds

Preheat the broiler on high.

Combine the Worcestershire, hot sauce, vinegar, EVOO, and some salt and pepper and coat the steak with the mixture. I let it marinate all day. Put the steak on a broiler pan and situate the pan on the rack closest to the flame; broil for 6 minutes per side. Remove the steak from the broiler and all ow to rest for 5 minutes, tented with a piece of aluminum foil. Then slice it thinly against the grain to serve.

This is not much different from any of the other London Broil recipes I've tried, delicious but you've seen it before. It probably wasn't even worth mentioning again except to demonstrate that Rachael Ray occasionally does have a short ingredient list for a recipe. She listed this in the entertainment section of this book. It's a great recipe to entertain with because if you use the proper thickness of meat (and most top round where I shop is cut in the thickness that this recipe calls for), and follow the cooking instructions, the meat comes out beautifully. What you see is 6 minutes per side exactly (and those are slices from the center of the steak - the rarest section).

I was going to say that there isn't really anything else you can do with this cut of meat (besides marinate and cook to medium rare, at most) but then I remembered that I've used it in stir-fries with good results. In an only slight twist, this cut is also good to slice first, marinate, thread on skewers, and then broil or grill. It's too lean to cook it for very long, in my opinion.

I'm not sure what next week will hold for this blog. If I have time to make new recipes, I may not have time to blog about them but we'll see.

Question of the Day: Do you realize that there are only 6 more weeks left of 2009?????

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rediscovering an ignored cookbook

Tangy Pineapple Chicken
Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes Volume 2

1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 pounds, skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch strips
1 20-ounce can pineapple tidbits (juice pack), drained
1 large red sweet pepper, chopped
½ cup bottled barbecue sauce
¼ cup clean Italian dressing
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook chicken, half at a time, in hot oil until brown. Drain off fat.
2. Place chicken in a 3 ½- or 4- quart slow cooker. Top with pineapple and sweet pepper. In a small bowl combine barbecue sauce, Italian salad dressing, and oregano. Pour mixture over chicken in slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 5 or 6 hours or on high-heat setting for 2 ½ to 3 hours.
Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 314 cal, 12g fat, 121 mg chol, 436 mg sodium, 20g carbs, 2g fiber, 31g protein

I had sort of put this cookbook (and Volume 1) to the side. I did make a couple of minor successes from them, and one slight but not brutal disappointment. Sometimes a cookbook may not excite me at one point in time, but then I rediscover it later, which is what happened here. I realized these cookbooks had several boneless, skinless chicken thigh recipes. I wasn't interested in recipes for those when I first bought these books but now I'm very interested.

I thought this was going to be an 'eh' recipe but I found it very pleasing after all. Although my red pepper was a bit bitter. I find that to be the case with colored peppers (besides green) every now and then. They are generally milder and sweeter than green peppers but I often get colored peppers with a strange bitter taste. It didn't ruin the dish but I would prefer not to have that taste in my peppers. You could even use a jar of pimientos in this recipe.

This is not Asian at all - I'm not sure why I went with ramen and egg rolls. It just seemed like the right thing to do and it worked. I made it a couple of days ahead of time. I think this is one of those recipes that benefits from being made ahead of time.

So right now I'm stoked about using chicken thighs in the slow cooker. One thing that has never worked for me is chicken breasts in the slow cooker but I may go back and replace chicken breasts with chicken thighs in the chicken breast recipes I used to ignore.

I'll add this to my boneless, skinless chicken thigh recipe round-up.

Question of the Day: Do you know what I mean by that funny taste colored peppers can get or am I the only one experiencing this?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cookbook Suggestions

With the holidays around the corner, I thought I'd put together some cookbook gift suggestions. I haven't seen every cookbook out there so these recommendations are based on books that I personally own or have checked out of the library.

I can't really do this list justice in one sitting. I'll probably tweak this post every so often. This is just a start. Pleast add your own suggestions in the comment sections.

Cookbooks with a little bit of everything:
The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook -This is one of my favorite cookbooks. It's very detailed oriented which makes it great for beginners but more experienced cooks can just ignore the extraneous information.

Taste of Home Cooks Who Care Edition - Any version of this cookbook is great but this particular version sends a nice message to caregivers of any sort.

For Food Network Fans:
I have to warn you that Rachael Ray books can be a bit intimidating. The ingredient lists are long but the recipes themselves usually aren't too involved. I also find that some of her books are much better than others. My two favorites are Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book and Rachael Ray's Book of Ten.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and More Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I love these books. They bring the show to book form and there are a lot of great recipes in them too. Not all or even close to all of the recipes they show on screen make it into the book but it's still a good representation.

The Deen Bros. Y’All Come Eat - Great recipes and photographs.

Something from Giada - I haven't seen the New Family Favorite book but her books are usually consistently good.

For people who love to bake:
Dorie Greenspan Baking from My Home to Yours - the hottest baking book of the decade
Martha Stewart Cupcakes - who doesn't love cupcakes?
Martha Stewart Cookies -lots of cookie recipes and organized really well
Any King Arthur book - whether it's the Baking Companion, Cookie or whole-grain version, you can't go wrong
America’s Best Lost Recipes - I love this collection of old-fashioned recipes

Slow cooker cookbooks (maybe you can give a slow cooker and a cookbook. There are lots of slow cooker cookbooks and some are better than others):
Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook - This is a no-nonsense mainly homestyle collection of recipes. It's organized better than the smaller Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook.

anything by Judith Finlayson. Here recipes require more prep work but they are more nuanced than the Fix-It and Forget-It cookbooks - sort of gourmet crockpotting.

For those trying to eat healthier:
Cooking Light Annuals. These are great. I've noticed a difference after 2007 (recipes getting more upscale) but these annuals are still one of the best sources of lighter recipes.

Biggest Loser cookbooks. The Biggest Loser Cookbook and The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook are great for people who are seriously dieting but if you know a person who is a big fan of the show, even if they are in full diet-mode, they may still enjoy these books since they have a lot of pictures of the contestants and other helpful information to get someone started.

The Most Decadent Diet Ever - same author as the Biggest Loser cookbooks. The recipes are a step up from the Biggest Loser cookbooks but still easy to follow and mostly based on common foods most people enjoy, just lightened up.

Just one of my personal favorites:
Food and Wine's Quick From Scratch series - these are some of my favorite cookbooks. The recipes are not run-of-the-mill yet not too fancy and they're not complicated.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

She does it again

Bel Aria Chicken and Pasta
Rachael Ray's Book of 10 Copyright 2009

Coarse salt
1 pound rigatoni pasta I used Smart Taste penne
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/3-1 1/2 lb chicken tenders, cut into large bite size pieces I used breasts and cut them into smaller pieces
coarse black pepper
1/2 lb cremini mushroom caps, thinly sliced, or 4 portabello caps, gills scraped out, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 Italian hot red cherry peppers, drained and chopped, plus a splash of the pickling juices from the jar I used hoagie spread which is just those peppers chopped very finely
1/2 C dry white wine I had no wine so I used chicken broth with a splash of cooking sherry
1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more to pass at the table
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped I bought the parsley but then I didn't feel like adding any to this
crusty bread

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. When it comes to a boil, salt it and add the rigatoni.

While the pasta is working, heat a big, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the EVOO and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter melts into the oil, add the chicken to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, and brown for 2-3 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a plate. It will finish cooking through when added back to the sauce later.

Return the pan to the heat and add another tablespoon of EVOO, the remaining butter, then the mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, 10-15 minutes. Salt and pepper the mushrooms after they brown. Next, add hot peppers and a splash of the pickling liquid to the pan. Add the white wine and scrape up the pan drippings with a wooden spoon. Cook the wine down for a minute, then slide the chicken back into the pan. Cook together another couple of minutes to finish cooking the chicken through.

Just before you drain the pasta, add 2 ladles of the water to the skillet. The starchy water will help the sauce form and adhere to the pasta. Drain the pasta while it still has a strong bite to it, a little shy of al dente. It will continue to cook a little once it is combined with the sauce. Drain the rigatoni well and add it to the skillet. Turn off the heat and toss the chicken, mushrooms, and pasta together for a minute or two, sprinkling in 2 or 3 handfuls of cheese as you go, to allow the pasta to soak up the sauce and flavors. Garnish the pasta with lots of chopped parsley and pass extra cheese and crusty bread at the table.

It took me a while to warm up to Rachael Ray. One of the reasons was probably the inconsistency in her cookbooks. She has so many of them and they are all different from one another. Some don't have any recipes that impress me, others are full of recipes I want to try. I realize that she's been in the cookbook business since long before she was a big food celebrity and I would expect a difference in her earlier cookbooks but I'm surprised she hasn't grown into a particular style by now. That could just be a strategy to sell more cookbooks and it probably works. Some RR fans will buy anything with her name on it and the rest of us can pick and choose the ones we like. When I saw this one in Costco, I immediately recognized it was a good one for me and I brought it home.

This was another winner from RR. I've made recipes like this before but this version really popped due to the cherry peppers. That's such a nice way to add heat to a pasta dish. I put in enough to feel the heat but not enough to get in the way of enjoying this. The cremini mushrooms had a meatier flavor that regular white buttom mushrooms. I might be reaching for the cremini mushrooms more often now that I've realized that.

Am I the only one who feels like time has sped up recently? Where the heck did the first half of November go? This is insane.

Question of the Day: Do you like mushrooms? I've run across many people who don't care for mushrooms but I love them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Muffins and addiction

Easy Banana-Walnut Bread
King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Copyright 2006

1/2 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract (I only increased this 50%, the original recipe called for 1 tsp)
1 1/2 cups (24 oz) mashed very ripe bananas
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups (1 lb) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) chopped walnuts I didn't use these

Preheat 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Beat together the butter, sugar, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Add the banana, honey and eggs beating until smooth. Add the flour and nuts, stirring until smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and let rest at room temperature, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Bake the bread for 50 minutes. Lay a piece of foil over top and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 10 to 15 minutes more. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 servings. Per serving 19g whole grain, 258 cal, 12g fat, 5g protein, 21g complex carbs, 15g sugar, 3g fiber, 56 mg cholesterol, 185 mg sodium, 258 mg potassium,

I made about 3 dozen mini-muffins instead. I baked them at 350 until they were just done, maybe about 15 minutes. I forgot to time them. Sorry.

Here's a tip - the surest way to keep bananas fresh is to buy them with the intention of baking with them. They practically unripen when I do that. If I buy them to eat they all turn black the next day. These were barely in baking territory (some black spots, not very mushy) after over a week but even though the recipe lead-in suggested only using extremely ripe bananas for the best result, I thought these muffins had a lot of banana flavor. I suppose they will just be even better if your bananas are riper than mine were.

I was very careful not to overbake these since I didn't want them to be dry. They turned out moist and delicious but with mini muffins, they can go from just baked to overbaked in a short amount of time so keep an eye on them if you make the mini muffins. I'm sure this recipe makes an excellent banana bread - I just didn't want to bake a loaf for an hour when I could make these mini muffins in about 15 minutes.

I'm done buying cookbooks for the year. Yes, I know, it's mid-November, big deal. I will try to start off the year without buying any for while too but for now I'm going to set my goal to resist just until 2010. I certainly haven't been accumulating as many as I did back when my cookbook guy was around but in the past month or so I bought some books at Borders, I acquired a few freebies, I purchased a few online (the new Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and a Nigella Christmas one), I picked up a Rachael Ray book in Costco. I bought one at the school book fair and then moments later I was handed a fund-raiser order I had placed earlier and two cookbooks were in that. I picked up 2 more on Saturday (one at a farmer's market and one at an antique market).

I must stop the madness. Starting in 2010, I'm going to have to start setting a strict cookbook budget. Although it could backfire - I don't really shop for much else now. It's a lot cheaper than a shoe or clothing addiction.

Question of the Day: What 'extra' do you spend the most money on? Clothes? Shoes? Home decor? Something else?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A chicken wing alternative

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book Copyright 2008

1 pound ground white meat chicken
1/2 small onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 cup parsley, chopped I used some dried parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), for drizzling
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup hot sauce (such as Frank’s)
3 scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream I used lite
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
A couple of handfuls celery sticks
A couple of handfuls carrot sticks

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground chicken with the onion, garlic and parsley, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Flatten out the meat in the bowl and score it into four portions using the side of your hand. Shape each portion into four balls – you should have sixteen meatballs in total. I used my scoop and got more.

Arrange the meatballs on a nonstick sheet pan and drizzle them with EVOO. Place in the oven and bake until the meatballs are cooked through and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

While the meatballs are baking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and whisk to combine. Toss the baked meatballs in the hot sauce to coat.

Mix together the buttermilk, sour cream, blue cheese and most of the chopped scallions.

Transfer the meatballs to a serving platter and spike each one with a toothpick or serving fork. Place the bleu cheese dressing in a small serving bowl and garnish with the remaining scallions. Serve the meatballs with the bleu cheese dressing, celery and carrot sticks alongside.

I love chicken wings but no matter how you make them (fried, baked, whatever) they are kind of a pain to make at home. This meatball version is much friendlier. It's easier to make these for a party (I made the meatballs ahead of time, froze them, then reheated them in the oven while I made the sauce). While I would never make a weeknight meal out of chicken wings, I served these for dinner, even though they were designated as an appetizer in the cookbook.

If you are looking for lighter appetizers to serve, these are a good choice if you make this dressing with light ingredients or buy a light blue cheese dressing. They are not super-light (there is butter involved) but definitely a step up from regular wings and that delicious but decadent buffalo chicken dip that is so popular. Also, these have less sugar than most meatball appetizer recipes.

I wasn't thrilled with this blue cheese dressing. It was okay but not the best. I prefer this one that my baked chicken wing recipe used. Not surprisingly, when I went to RR's site, the recipe called for prepared blue cheese dressing which I would also prefer. That is one thing I've noticed about RR's recipes - they always seem to be slightly different between her books and her site.

I almost forgot to add this to my ground chicken recipe list.

Question of the Day: Do you have a favorite hot sauce? As much as I love Frank's, I've been buying most Crystal since it's less expensive.