Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hash Brown Casserole

I like hash browns. WAY more than I like homefries. My husband is the exact opposite. In case you are scratching your head wondering what the difference is, at least in our little world, hash browns are shredded and homefries are cubed. I just love the crispiness of shredded and fried potatoes! :)

I found this recipe for hash brown casserole from Southern Living and got really excited...until I realized it called for "cubed hash browns." Impossible! No such thing! But then I found then in the freezer aisle and while I still think hashbrowns should be shredded, this recipe turned out really well! And it is one of those great recipes that you prepare the night before and let sit overnight so all you have to do in the morning is pop it in the oven!

Hash Brown Breakfast Casserole

1 pound ground hot pork sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 1/2 cups frozen cubed hash browns
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 3/4 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose baking mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Toppings: picante sauce or green hot sauce, sour cream
Garnish: fresh parsley sprigs

1. Cook sausage and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until meat crumbles. Stir in hash browns, and cook 5 to 7 minutes or until sausage is no longer pink and potatoes are lightly browned. Drain mixture on paper towels; spoon into a greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.

2. Stir together eggs, cheese, and next 4 ingredients; pour evenly over sausage mixture, stirring well. Cover and chill 8 hours.

3. Bake, covered with nonstick foil, at 350° for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 more minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, and let stand 5 minutes. Serve with desired toppings. Garnish, if desired.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Casualty

Here's a series of pics of Deac with one of his new toys on Christmas....he really seemed to like it while it lasted...

And here comes the carnage:

He looks pleased with himself doesn't he? It wasn't too much longer before he got to the stuffing and the reindeer had to be retired...but it kept him busy for a good 3 minutes! :)

Molten Chocolate Cakes

I had high hopes for these little cakes...who doesn't love slightly underbaked cakes that ooze chocolatey goodness?! Top that with some homemade mint fudge sauce and a scoop of vanilla yogurt and that's pretty much as good as it gets.

I modified the recipe to just make 2 cakes...which gave me 2 chances to get it right. Well, the first cake looked like it was set but with a still slightly liquid center...But when I went to flip the cake out of its baking dish, I ended up with a runny mess. Clearly too underbaked.

So I put cake #2 back in for 5 more minutes. I was way excited when this one flipped out perfectly onto the plate and held its form.

If you look really closely (terrible pictures, I know) you can see the slightest bit of gooey center...yup, overbaked it this time.

But don't let my mishaps dissuade you from trying this recipe! The cakes themselves were very delicious and the mint fudge sauce was excellent! I've copied the original recipe below...but based on my oven and my experience I would recommend baking for 13-14 minutes. My cakes did come from the refrigerator since I had made them the night before.

Molten Chocolate Cakes with Mint Fudge Sauce
(Source: Bon Appetit, January 2001)

4 1/2 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

5 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Vanilla ice cream

For sauce:Stir both chocolates in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted. Add 1/3 cup hot water, corn syrup and extract; whisk until smooth. Remove from over water. Cool slightly. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill. Before serving, rewarm in saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.)

For cakes:Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes or custard cups. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted. Cool slightly. Whisk eggs and egg yolks in large bowl to blend. Whisk in sugar, then chocolate mixture and flour. Pour batter into dishes, dividing equally. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)
Bake cakes until sides are set but center remains soft and runny, about 11 minutes or up to 14 minutes for batter that was refrigerated. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Immediately turn cakes out onto plates. Spoon sauce around cakes. Serve with ice cream (frozen yogurt).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Last minute indulgences of 2008

Just a couple more days left in 2008...which means just a couple more days til the inevitable new year's resolutions to get back to the gym, eat healthier, drop a few lbs and the like. I'll be hopping on board that train too after an overly indulgent holiday season. But until then, I have a few more recipes you have to try even if they aren't exactly on the lighter side!

Christmas Eve was the second time I've made these filets and they were just as good as I remembered. The blue cheese and panko topping and the red wine sauce are amazing complements to the filet. As good as you'll get in any steakhouse and you can make it right at home!

Blue Cheese Crusted Steaks with Red Wine Sauce
(Source: Bon Appetit, November 2003)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup low-salt beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled blue cheese (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
4 1-inch-thick filet mignon steaks (each 6 to 8 ounces)

1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallot, and thyme. Sauté until shallot is tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth and wine. Boil until sauce is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 12 minutes. Set sauce aside.

2. Blend cheese, panko, and parsley in small bowl to coat cheese evenly with panko. (Sauce and cheese mixture can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.)

3. Preheat broiler. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper. Add steaks to skillet and cook to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to rimmed baking sheet; reserve skillet. Press cheese mixture onto top of steaks, dividing equally. Broil until cheese browns, about 2 minutes. Transfer steaks to plates.

4. Pour sauce into reserved skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Boil 2 minutes. Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce around steaks and serve.

Oh, and the green beans in the picture above were tossed in a homemade herb butter from this recipe...definitely delicious!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crockpot Turkey

In the last bit of hustle and bustle before Christmas, this recipe is a lifesaver!!! So simple and delicious!
I got this recipe from my mom and I'm not entirely sure of its origin! All you need is a 2.5-3lb turkey breast (I had picked one up on sale around Thanksgiving), 1/4 cup apricot preserves, 1 T mustard, 2 t Worcestershire sauce, and 1/4 t black pepper. Then just spray the slow cooker with cooking spray, and place the turkey inside. Mix the preserves, mustard, Worcestershire, and black pepper and spread it over the turkey breast. Cook 8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high and dinner is done!

And a Very Merry Christmas to you and yours!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mini Ham and Cheese Frittatas

I've been stressing over what to prepare for my husband's company holiday breakfast buffet since I found out about it a week ago. I love breakfast and preparing breakfast food but this event presented a unique challenge. Normally, I would opt for one of our favorite breakfast casseroles...but that would require sending my favorite 9x13 pan that comes complete with plastic cover and a canvas carrying case complete with a warm pack or cold pack...and I just wasn't sure I'd ever see it again. And Jake asked that he be given "zero responsibility" so that meant finding something that didn't require a special serving dish or serving utensil.

So then I started thinking about baked goods....muffins, breads, etc. But then I figured that is what most people looking for something easily transported and served would be going for and you can't have a breakfast of champions made up only of muffins!

And that's when I came across this recipe for Mini Ham and Cheese Frittatas. A finger food but still "real" food. No serving dish or utensil required!

Obviously, we sampled a few and thought they were great! And knowing that they are a light version made it hard to stop at just at just a few! I doubled the recipe and got 45 mini frittatas...according to Cooking Light a serving size is 3 of these little guys.

Mini Frittatas with Ham and Cheese
(Source: Cooking Light, December 2001)

Cooking spray
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped reduced-fat ham (about 2 ounces)
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 large egg whites
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add ham; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Add ham mixture, stirring with a whisk. Spoon mixture into 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until set.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 39 (30% from fat) Fat: 1.3g (sat 0.5g,mono 0.2g,poly 0.1g) Protein: 4.4g Carbohydrate: 2.3g Fiber: 0.4g Cholesterol: 32mg Iron: 0.2mg Sodium: 121mg
Calcium: 80mg

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quick (and Tasty!) White Bean Stew

I missed the memo that it was going to be 80 degrees this whole week when I headed to the store for my weekly shopping. So we ended up with soup on the menu....soup that we ate in our short sleeve shirts, shorts, and with the a/c running. And Christmas is only a week away!

Fast White-Bean Stew
(Source: Gourmet, January 2007)
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1 (1/2-pound) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (5-ounce) bag baby arugula (10 cups loosely packed)
8 (3/4-inch-thick) slices baguette
1. Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil. Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.
3. Stir in greens and cook until wilted, 3 minutes for romaine or 1 minute for arugula.

4. While stew is simmering, preheat broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until golden, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
Serve stew with toasts

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Festive Peppermint Bark

If you're looking for a last minute recipe to finish off those goodie plates for the neighbors or for an office holiday party, look no further! This Peppermint Bark couldn't be easier and it looks so festive....and it gets rave reviews! I brought this in to work with some other treats and was surprised at how many people asked for the recipe for this easy candy!

Paula Deen's Peppermint Bark

Crushed candy canes, to yield 1 cup (I used about 9 full-size canes)
2 pounds white chocolate (I used Ghiradelli white chocolate chips)
Peppermint flavorings, optional (I left this out)

1. Place candy canes in a plastic bag and hammer into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller.

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Combine candy cane chunks with chocolate (add peppermint flavoring at this point if desired.)

3. Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet layered with parchment or waxed paper and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes or until firm. Remove from cookie sheet and break into pieces (like peanut brittle.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Salmon Steaks with Orange Balsamic Glaze

Looking for a quick, delicious and good-for-you meal in the midst of this busy holiday season?! Then consider this my Christmas present to you...Salmon Steaks with Orange Balsamic Glaze.

The original recipe is shown below. I halved it so we would just have enough for the 2 of us...and I used regular orange juice instead of OJ concentrate (I probably used 1/4 cup total). The tangy marinade is excellent on salmon...and a couple of the reviews online noted it worked equally as well on chicken.

Salmon Steaks with Orange Balsamic Glaze
(Source: SELF, July 2007)

1/4 cup orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 salmon steaks (about 6 ounces each)
Vegetable cooking spray

Place first 7 ingredients in a large sealable plastic bag. Shake well. Add salmon and refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove steaks from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Coat grill with cooking spray and heat on high. Grill steaks, turning once halfway through, until no longer translucent in the center, about 4 minutes per side.

**I let the fish sit in the marinade for about 45 minutes and then baked it at 400 for 20 minutes. For those of you with a Publix nearby, fresh salmon filets are on sale through tomorrow!

**We had the salmon with steamed broccoli and couscous. And discovered that Deacon is a fan of broccoli so that's good news for Jake...yes, my 20-something husband still feeds his vegetables to the dog under the table. A win-win for both of them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ginger Cookies

My KitchenAid stand mixer was pretty much going all weekend. I put on the Christmas carols and churned out ginger cookies, triple chocolate cookies, and peppermint bark to finish up the bulk of my holiday baking.

I LOVE gingerbread and gingersnaps...especially this time of year. Early this year, Kara posted this fabulous looking recipe for soft ginger cookies. And while it took me just about a year to get around to making them (where does the time go?!), they were definitely worth the wait! These little treats smelled amazing while they baked. Like Kara said, I love that these cookies are perfectly round...and they stay soft! Well, at least they stay soft for a coworkers finished off the rest of them this morning before 9am.

Big, Soft Ginger Cookies (From
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons white sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.

3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Deacon is 1!

Little Deacon turned 1 year old yesterday and I think he had almost as much fun on his birthday as I did! :)

He LOVED his Rachael Ray pet-friendly dinner...He tried to pick around the peas at first but I guess ultimately decided they tasted better than kibble.

And his favorite aunt brought over some special treats from the dog bakery including this adorable little cupcake. Deac is not one for savoring his treats so the fact that it took him 5 minutes to eat this means it was extra special!

This is the "pup"cake we ordered for his big day! Isn't it adorable?!

Apparently it is delicious too...

Finally, it was time to open his present! I think at first he thought this was the present and was pretty excited about it!

But then something else started peeking through the paper....

A brand new octopus toy! It has squeakers in every tentacle and in its he absolutely loves it, but we're not so sure it was the best choice for our squeaking-obsessed puppy!

Happy First Birthday, Deacon!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Greek Salad Pitas

Because New Years Day is right around the corner (and with it all of the high hopes of actually keeping resolutions...get back to the gym, eat better, etc etc etc) we've really been living it up. In our warped little minds knowing we're a few weeks away from needing to seriously get it back in gear in terms of working out and eating right, means we have a free pass for now. So basically it got to the point where our bodies were screaming for vegetables...and we actually even listened.

I somehow got myself on this email list where I get a healthy recipe from sent right to my inbox everyday. Not too many have really caught my attention so far...but this recipe for Greek Salad pitas sounded like just what we needed.

I threw in some chicken (and left out the radishes) and it was a very tasty, quick and easy, and still healthy dinner!

Greek Salad Pitas
(Source: Bon Appetit, November 2007)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups chopped seeded plum or cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced seeded peeled cucumber
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2/3 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped radishes
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 1/2 ounces)
4 8-inch-diameter whole wheat pita breads, halved

1. Whisk olive oil and red wine vinegar in large bowl. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Mix tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, radishes, and parsley into dressing. Stir in feta cheese. DO AHEAD: Salad can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

2. Using slotted spoon, transfer salad mixture to pita bread halves. Serve sandwiches immediately.

Nutritional Info (for recipe as posted without chicken): Per serving: 397 calories, 20 g fat (7 g saturated), 33 mg cholesterol, 775 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 13 g protein

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chocolate Mint Squares

It just isn't the holiday season until I make these Chocolate Mint Squares. I just recently took over the tradition of making them on my own since I don't live close enough to my mom to swipe some of hers. But I remember always having these little treats at Christmas time...and they are a favorite.

I've tried many a mint square in my day, and I still think these are the best. I think it is because it calls for creme de menthe instead of peppermint extract. Which to me is the difference between an Andes mint and a Starlight contest in my book.

The tattered recipe card I have in my file credits the recipe to an old family friend...she was actually my babysitter when I was really small. But in doing a recipe search for something similar I came across the original recipe...and it's straight from the Hershey's test kitchen!

Chocolate Mint Squares

For the cake layer:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
4 eggs
1-1/2 cups (16-oz. can) HERSHEY'S Syrup

1. Heat oven to 350° F. Grease 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

2. Combine flour, sugar, butter, eggs and syrup in large bowl; beat until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.

3. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until top springs back when touched lightly in center. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

For the mint layer:

Combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter or margarine and 2 tablespoons green creme de menthe and beat until smooth. Spread over COMPLETELY cooled cake. Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

For the chocolate glaze:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter or margarine and 1 cup HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Chocolate Chips or HERSHEY'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips in small saucepan over very low heat. Remove from heat; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. Pour over chilled dessert and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

I find it is best to let the bars return to room temperature before serving. These bars also freeze very they're on the list to go in the neighbors gift baskets this year too!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Design on a Dime

I had high hopes of getting my act together to have a Christmas open house again this year. We did this little get together the first year we were married for friends...and haven't been able to repeat the event even though it was so much fun and I love having people over when the house is decorated.

And with Deacon still on the DL it looks like this year will be no different. Considering he still acts like it makes his life when we come home from work or wake up in the morning and wants to get super-excited, we can't exactly have a house full of people. So instead, I'll just post pictures of my decorations here! :)

For Thanksgiving, I created this little centerpiece out of a fall branch I found at Publix and other things I already had at home. The branch is weighted in the vase by black-eyed peas and leftover beads that I used to make the napkin rings. My sister proclaimed it the "autumnal tree"...and sure you couldn't really see around it or through it when you sat down at the table...but I really liked it!

I'm one of those girls that hurries into the "Christmas closet" as soon as the last Thanksgiving dish is washed, dried, and put away. I couldn't wait to try to put together this centerpiece idea I had seen in Pottery Barn. Of course, Pottery Barn charges $24 per frosted branch and something else outrageous per glass icicle. I think my recreation turned out really well...and came in way under budget as they say on my favorite home design shows on HGTV.

I found the branch on a walk with Deacon one morning and lugged it home. It was enormous and I'm pretty sure Deacon and Jake were both completely embarrassed by my lagging behind them with half a tree in tow. All in the name of savings! I then left it in the garage for a couple months until Jake was really about to send it to the curb after tripping over it several times. Sure, the branches aren't perfectly faux-frosted like PB's...but they were free and it rarely frosts in Florida!

I found this crystal star ornament at TJMaxx and just loved it! It's pretty heavy so I had to use some fishing line to secure it to the chandelier.

And the icicles were also purchased at TJMaxx for a low, low price. The vase and pebbles I already had at home. And that's it! We can't really use our table now because it's quite large...and we're a bit afraid of putting an eye out. But I love the way the star and icicles sparkle under the chandelier!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Baked Acorn Squash

This "dinner" should really be dessert in my book. It tastes like Thanksgiving all rolled up in one delicious little squash! Even if you're absolutely convinced you don't like squash, trust me, you'll like this. Don't be intimidated by this little gourd's super easy to prepare!

First you need to preheat your oven to 350 and slice the acorn in half horizontally (this is the hardest part). Scoop out the seeds and pulp in the middle. Place the halves cut side down on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, flip the halves over. Add a pat of butter, brown sugar and cranberry sauce to your liking. I used Harry & David's Cranberry relish and will never use anything else now...I've been totally ruined. It even contains walnuts!

Return the filled acorn squash halves to the oven for approximately 20 more minutes. The squash should be really soft when it is ready and easy to run your fork through. Then you're ready to eat it right out of its shell!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pecan Pumpkin Filled Pancakes

I'm not usually big on specialty or novelty type pans. I stick to the basics when it comes to kitchen gadgets...for the most part. Of course, this is kind of required by my small kitchen, but it works for me. At first, this filled pancake pan from Williams-Sonoma was no different...I resisted the urge to buy it at least 2 times.

But then every month the Williams-Sonoma catalog would come and I would inadvertently tear out a mouthwatering recipe for filled pancakes...then when I went to make said pancakes, only then did I notice it required the filled pancake pan. Blast!

So a couple weeks ago after a trip around the Winter Park Farmers Market I broke down and bought the pan. I stuck to my guns and didn't buy the ready made batter for the pan that the clerk tried to sell me though. Big win, I know.

The first time I tried these Pecan Pumpkin Filled didn't go so well. I skipped over the wooden skewer requirement thinking they couldn't possibly be THAT important...well they were. I ended up with pancakes sitting on top of their "filling." Jake said they were good, but I was pretty sure I'd made a big mistake buying that pan. Until this past weekend...

While the family was still in town I thought I would give it one more try before throwing in the towel. This time I was armed with wooden skewers and a little extra determination...and this time it worked! These pancakes are amazingly delicious. Definitely a special occasion flapjack! :) The batter itself is very light and fluffy and the warm pecan pumpkin butter filling was so decadent!

My dad played paparazzi while I worked so the pics below show some of the steps in creating these little masterpieces. After pouring a tablespoon of batter into each well and allowing the bottom of the pancake to begin to set, use wooden skewers to tilt the pancakes so that some of the batter flows out.

Then drop a teaspoon of the filling of your choice onto the worked best when I tucked the filling under the lip created by tilting the pancakes as show below.

After several tilts and flips, these little guys are ready to hit the table!

They look a lot like the official pic with the recipe, right? :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pear and Blue Cheese Salad (& Sweet Potatoes!)

I was a little overly ambitious for my first Thanksgiving meal. In addition to all the usual sides plus a few extras, I wanted to throw in this Pear and Blue Cheese salad I had come across on My husband insisted there just wasn't any room for a salad before the Thanksgiving feast...he didn't want any veggies taking up any extra space in his stomach I guess! But for those of us that did manage to make some room, this salad was wonderful (the phrase "best ever salad" was thrown out a couple times...I'm just sayin'...). I can't really even take credit for anything other than finding the mom threw this together while I was finishing up the green bean casserole.

We used pecans because we had them on hand from a pecan pie...and I also left out the endive.

2/3 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, or cashews)
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch arugula
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Belgian endive
2 ripe pears, such as Anjou, Bartlett, or Comice
2 ounces mild blue cheese (about 1/2 cup loosely packed crumbles)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a sheet pan in a single layer. Bake, shaking the pan occasionally, until the nuts are toasted and fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool, and then coarsely chop.

2. Trim the stems of the watercress and arugula. Wash and dry the leaves.

3. Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar and mustard together in a large salad bowl. Season with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, starting with a few drops and then adding the rest in a steady stream, to make a smooth, slightly thick dressing.

4. Halve the endive lengthwise, cut out core, then thinly slice crosswise and add all the lettuces to the bowl.

5. Quarter and core the unpeeled pears and thinly slice; add to the salad. Scatter the cheese and nuts over the salad, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss the salad gently to evenly dress all the greens. Divide among 4 plates and serve immediately.

***Also, the next time you need a great sweet potato casserole recipe, look no further than this recipe. These orange flavored sweet potatoes with a delicious crumbled oatmeal cookie topping were excellent! They even got rave reviews from those around our table that aren't sweet potato fans. The picture turned out kind of scarily orange so just take my word for it...these are worth making!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Cookies!

Tis the season for overindulging, right?! We got our Christmas tree up and decorated this past weekend, did the outside lights and got the house sufficiently there was only one thing left to do. Crank up the carols and bake some cookies!!

Susan of Food Blogga is hosting a fantastic Christmas cookie event again this year. Make sure you check her blog frequently to see all the amazing cookie recipes people are posting from all around the world. I love the holidays!!

For my contribution to the event, I finally got around to making Rachael Ray's Kahlua Chocolate Chunk cookies. If you've read other posts on my blog, you probably know I'm not a Ray fan...I am however, a Kahlua, chocolate and all things coffee fan. And these little treats did not disappoint!

They have a great coffee flavor that complements the semisweet and bittersweet chocolate is pretty much a mocha in cookie form...better yet, a spiked mocha in cookie form thanks to the Kahlua!

I'm hoping they freeze well so I can use them on Christmas plates for the neighbors this year! I had to hurry up and get them in the freezer so I'd keep my hands off them!

1 package dry chocolate chip cookie mix, 1 pound 1 1/2 ounces

7 tablespoons softened butter

1 large egg, beaten

4 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur

3 tablespoons instant espresso or instant coffee crystals

1 tablespoon ground coffee beans

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

4 ounces walnut pieces

1. Place racks in center of oven. In a mixing bowl, make a well in the center of dry chocolate chip cookie mix. Add softened butter, egg, Kahlua, instant coffee and ground coffee, chocolate chunks and walnuts. Mix well to combine all ingredients into cookie dough.

2. Scoop with a small scoop or by heaping tablespoons and drop cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased nonstick cookie sheet or sheets lined with parchment paper.

3. Bake cookies in batches 9 to 11 minutes at 375 or until crisp and browned at edges. Transfer to wire rack to cool and serve.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Layered Pumpkin Bread

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoyed some great food and quality time with family and friends! I'm happy to report that my first Thanksgiving meal was a success (and it was so much fun!) For the first time ever, we cooked a fresh turkey and brined the bird too....everyone agreed it was the best turkey we've ever had but now we don't know if that's due to the freshness or the brining! Guess we'll just have to do both again next year!

I have a couple of side dishes that I want to get around to posting this week because they turned out particularly delicious! I know I'm a little late to help you out with Thanksgiving ideas...but the recipes will keep til next year!

This layered pumpkin bread was our breakfast on turkey day and was such a treat with some warm pumpkin spice coffee. This trimmed down version left plenty of room in our tummies for the feast that came later!

Layered Pumpkin Loaf
(Source: Kraft Food & Family)

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 egg whites, divided
1/2 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups flour
2-1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pkg. (8 oz.) Neufchatel Cheese, 1/3 Less Fat than Cream Cheese, softened

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a nonstick 9x5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

2. Mix pumpkin, 1 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 3 of the egg whites, milk and oil in large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, pie spice and salt; stir just until moistened. Set aside.

3. Beat Neufchatel cheese, remaining 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar and the remaining egg white with wire whisk until well blended.

4. Spoon half of the pumpkin batter into prepared pan; spoon Neufchatel cheese mixture evenly over the batter. Cover with remaining pumpkin batter.

5. Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 5 min. or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Run knife or thin spatula around edges of pan to loosen bread; cool in pan on wire rack 10 min. Remove bread from pan to wire rack; cool completely.