Friday, December 28, 2012

December 28, 2012

Oh my...this week has flown by and here it is Friday already!  I almost missed posting!  Thankfully I have 2 wonderful recipes from the holidays with my in-laws.  It is tradition to make quite a few types of Christmas cookies, as I am sure it is with many of you.  You should see the cookie trays that my grandmother-in-law puts together.  Traditional treats like fudge and thumbprint cookies, but then specialties like bird-nest cookies, chocolate crinkles, apple pie bars, and so many others.  This year there were even her chocolate chip cookies just in case some of the great-grandkids weren't feeling too adventurous. You cannot go wrong with one of those!

This week I am highlighting two of my favorites, Peanut Butter Brittle and Three Layer Christmas Bars.  The layer bars are from the famous cookie platter, but to be fair, the peanut butter brittle was found by my mother-in-law years ago in the paper.  It is really soft, and not at all like your traditional brittle.  It can be a bit of a two person job in the final stages, though, because you need to work quickly in order to get the mixture on your pan.  If you do try this one, maybe the first time you make it enlist some help.  If you do make it, I bet there will be a second, and a third, and a fourth time...

Well, the next time we meet it will be 2013!  I am just so surprised that the year is coming to a close.  I hope for you a new year better than the last, even if you had a wonderful 2012.  We here around our dinner table are looking forward to an excellent, but hopefully uneventful, new year.

Give your loved ones a hug, and try a new recipe!

New Recipes
Peanut Butter Brittle
Three Layer Christmas Bars

Three layer Christmas bars

* 1/2 cup butter
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 5 tbsp baking cocoa
* 1 tsp vanilla
* 1 egg
* 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
* 1 cup coconut 
* 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts of your choice (walnuts is what we've used)
* 1/4 softened butter
* 3 tbsp milk
* 2 tbsp instant vanilla pudding
* 2 cups powdered sugar
* 1 tbsp butter
* 4 oz chocolate

1. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and egg in the top of a double boiler.   Cook until set.
2. Add the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts.  Blend well and press firmly into a 9x9 pan.
3. Mix softened butter, milk, vanilla pudding and powdered sugar.  If too stiff, and an additional splash of milk. Spread this layer over the crust and refrigerate until firm (about 15 minutes).
4. Melt 1 tbsp butter and 4 oz of chocolate in a double boiler. Spread evenly over the pudding layer and let it set.  Once set, cut into bars and enjoy.

The top layer is just a very thin layer of chocolate.And in the pudding layer, it will be thick, but if you think it is really tough to mix, feel free to add a bit more milk.  You don't want it to be runny, though!  These are best kept in the fridge.  They are fine left out, but are really good cold!

Peanut Butter Brittle

* 2 cups sugar
* 1/4 cup water
* 1 1/2 cup light corn syrup
* 2 cups salted peanuts
* 2 to 2 1/2 cups peanut butter
* 1/2 tsp vanilla
* 1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1. Combine sugar and water in heavy saucepan. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in corn syrup; cook to the hard crack stage (300 degrees).  Watch the mixture carefully to prevent scorching.
2. Mix peanuts, peanut butter and vanilla.  Butter a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
3. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat, immediately add the peanut butter mixture.  Stir in the baking soda and pour onto the buttered sheet.  Quickly spread the candy with a fork.
4. Once cool, break or cut into pieces.

This is a tradition in my husband's family.  It is a soft peanut brittle and delicious!  It is a challenge to make this on your own, so you will probably want to enlist a helper, especially for the quick stirring at the end and pouring it onto the pan.  You will need to boil water in the saucepan you used in order to remelt any candy that didn't get onto the sheet pan. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21, 2012

It's almost time to wish you a merry Christmas!  Can you believe it that the next time you read this it will already be after Christmas!  Wow!  This holiday season flew by, as did this week.

Our family was really busy all week, so we only made one new dinner recipe, but it was fantastic, a real keeper!  For Christmas, the kids gave me an early gift. They had picked out a mac and cheese cook book, and Hannah picked out the first one for me to try.  We made fajita mac and cheese, and added chicken to the ingredient list.  It turned out really well, though it did seem to generate a lot of pans in the process.  The next night I re-heated it in the oven for the kids, and it was almost as good as the first night!  In some ways it was better, because the flavors had a chance to meld even more. This cookbook was an excellent gift from the kids for sure!

Have a Merry Christmas, and happy cooking!

New Recipe
Fajita Mac & Cheese

Fajita Mac and Cheese

* 3 cups milk (I used 2%)
* 1 small half onion
* 2 bay leaves
* 3 whole black peppercorns
* 1 clove
* 1/2 lb macaroni
* 1 tbsp chili powder
* 1 tbsp paprika
* 1 tsp ground cumin
* 1 tsp dried oregano
* 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
* 1/4 cup unsalted butter
 * 1/3 cup AP flour
* 10 oz shredded cheese (I used a mix of pepper jack and cheddar)
* 3 tbsp olive oil
* 1medium onion, diced
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 to  1-1/2 peppers, diced (I used one whole red and half a green)
* 2 cups of cooked and cubed or shredded chicken
* 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
* 2 tsp dried parsley
* lime wedges

1. Bring the milk to a simmer and add the  half onion, bay leaves, peppercorns and clove to the milk.  Allow the milk to steep for 30 minutes.  Strain the milk and discard to solids.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a 13 x 9 pan.
3. Cook the macaroni as directed on the package just until the al dente stage.  Drain the pasta and add it to the 13 x 9 pan.  Add the chicken to the pasta.
4. Combine the chili powder, paprika, cumin oregano and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.  Mix well and set aside.
5. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium to low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.  Increase the heat to medium and slowly whisk in the strained milk. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes.
6. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.  Add the remaining cheese to the sauce a little at a time.  Stir in the cheese and make sure it is melted before adding more.  Stir in two-thirds of the seasoning mix.  Pour the sauce over the noodles.
7. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, cook 5 -7 minutes and stir frequently.  Add the peppers and the remaining seasoning to the pan.  Cook an additional few minutes, and then add the vegetable mixture to the noodles and sauce and mix well.
8. Combine the breadcrumbs, the parsley and last tbsp of olive oil.  Mix well.
9. Sprinkle the noddle mixture with the additional cheese, and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top.
10. Bake the casserole for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.  Allow the casserole to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
11. Serve with the lime wedges- to be juiced over the casserole if desired.

Wow- we loved this!  The original recipe didn't call for chicken, but I wanted this to be a main dish, so we added chicken. We used equal parts pepper jack and cheddar for the cheese, and it was fantastic.    Hannah suggested we make it, and it definitely earned keeper status!

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

Writing this in the wake of what has happened in Connecticut seems trivial.  I must say, if my kids ask for dessert tonight, I know I will say yes.  If they ask me to read twelve books, or play a game, or throw the football, or just snuggle, I know I will.  It isn't that I usually say no, but I, like you, sometimes say "in a minute" and it turns into 5, or 10, or longer.  Tonight I will do it right away - I will not wait.  Today has been a stark reminder that life is precious, and fleeting.  We never know what is coming.  An ordinary Friday turns heartbreaking for so many, and the date becomes etched in our mind. We all hug our children and one another and try to make sense of the events of the day.  But senselessness cannot be sorted out...

During this holiday season there are families and individuals everywhere that are in desperate need of a hug, or a shoulder upon which to lean, or even just the touch of a friend.  Be that friend, that shoulder, those arms for the hug.  And continue to be that friend long after you've put away the holiday decorations.

Sometimes food helps - a meal brought to a family in tough times, a treat dropped off for a friend, a casserole new parents can put in the freezer to be pulled out when their sleep deprived brains have no idea what to cook for dinner.  Perhaps one of these recipes can help you serve others in their time of need. Hold your families close, and say a prayer for the world.

New Recipes
Stuffed Peppers
Chocolate Marshmallow Bars
Peppermint Striped Delight
Buffalo Chicken Soup
Big Beautiful Muffins

Chocolate Marshmallow Bars

* 3/4 cup butter, softened
* 1.5 cups sugar
* 3 eggs
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
* 1 1/3 cups AP flour
* 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 3 tbs cocoa powder (Dutch processed is preferred)
* 4 cups mini marshmallows
* 8 oz chocolate chips
*3 tbsp butter
* 1 cup peanut butter
* 2 cups crisp rice cereal

1. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes.
2. Add vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next.
3. After all the eggs have been added, mix on medium for 6 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa.
5. After the six minutes, add the flour mixture.  Mix until well combined and no white streaks remain.
5. Spread the cake layer into a greased 13 x 9 pan.  Bake at 350 for 24 minutes.
6. Remove cake; sprinkle the marshmallows evenly over the cake.  Return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.  Spread the melted marshmallows over the cake if needed once the cake is removed from the oven.
7. For the top layer, heat the chocolate chips, butter and peanut butter on the stove over low heat.  Stir until melted and well combined.  Remove this from the heat and add the cereal.
8. Spread the cereal mixture over the marshmallows.  Chill in the fridge.

We kept this in the fridge even after it was fully cooled.  You can make this in a bigger pan if you have on (15 x 10), and reduce the oven time for the cake to about 16-18 minutes.  I think I would prefer these in a bigger pan because the cereal layer was very thick.  Another option would be to keep it in a 13 x 9 pan but perhaps half the cereal layer ingredients.  The cake layer is very fudge-y and rich.  Additionally, it will fall a bit once you add the marshmallows and the cereal layer - don't worry; this is normal.

Buffalo Chicken Soup

* 2 tbsp olive oil
* 3 stalks celery, diced
* 1 cup onion, diced
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cup 2% milk
* 3 cups chicken stock
* 2 cups cubed cooked chicken
* 1/3 cup buffalo wing sauce, or more to taste
* 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, or pepper jack cheese
* salt and pepper to taste

1.      Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; saute the celery and onion in the oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and allow to cook until absorbed, about 1 minutes more. Slowly stir the milk.  Once the milk is fully added and smooth, add the stock into the mixture.
2.      Stir in the chicken and buffalo wing sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring occasionally, allow the soup to simmer about 10 minutes.
3.      Just prior to serving, slowly add the cheese and stir it until melted.
4.      Serve with rolls or crackers and celery, with additional shredded cheese to add to the soup if desired!

      I let this simmer about an hour because that was how dinner time went at our house the day I served it.  I still waited until just before serving it to add the cheese.  Instead of serving additional cheese on the side you can add it to the pot of soup, but I didn't want it to be too "cheesy".  Also, people can add additional hot sauce to their soup if they want to kick up the heat!

Peppermint Striped Delight


* 3/4 cup finely crushed nilla wafers
* 1/8  cup  butter, melted
* 1/4 cup  sugar, divided
* 4 oz cream cheese, softened
* 1 ½ cups  plus 1 Tbsp. cold milk, divided
* 1/8  cup  finely crushed candy canes
* 8  oz. cool whip, thawed, divided
* 1 pkg. chocolate instant pudding
* 1/8 cup coarsely crushed candy canes, plus additional for topping


1. Mix cookie crumbs, butter and 1 tbsp. sugar; press onto bottom of 8x8 dish. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar and 1 tbsp. milk in medium bowl until blended. Stir in finely crushed candy canes. Add 6 oz of cool whip; mix well. Spread over crust.
3. Beat pudding mix and remaining milk with whisk 2 min.; pour over cream cheese layer. Let stand 5 min. or until thickened. Cover with remaining cool whip.
4. Refrigerate 4 hours. Top with coarsely crushed candy canes just before serving.

I popped this in the freezer for about an hour before I served it, and it made it easier to cut.  We loved it.  I put it back in the freezer instead of the fridge, and the next night it was too hard, and we didn't enjoy it as much. So - lesson learned...use the freezer to aid in cutting, but store it in the fridge! 

Big Beautiful Muffins

* 3 cups (15 oz) AP flour
* 1 tbsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
* 1 cup (just about 8 oz) sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
* 2 cups of frozen blueberries - thawed, rinsed and dried (or whatever additional mix-ins you want to add)
* raw sugar, for sprinkling on each muffin prior to baking

1. Preheat the oven to 425, and prepare a 12 cup muffin tin
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar for 3 minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time.  After all have been incorporated, beat the mixture on medium for 5 minutes.
5. Reduce the mixer to low, and begin to incorporate the flour and yogurt.  Add 1/3 of the flour, followed by 1/3 of the yogurt.  Continue adding each until you have mixed in all the flour and yogurt.
6. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl, and then fold in your blueberries.
7. Divide the batter into the muffin cups.  Each cup will be very full.
8. If desired, top each muffin with a little sprinkling of raw sugar.
9. Bake at 425 for the first 5 minutes.  Then lower the heat (without opening the door) to 375. Continue to cook the muffins for approximately 20 more minutes.

You can use fresh blueberries, but if you do, mix them with 1 tbsp flour before folding them into the batter.  I used wild blueberries; they are small and worked very well!  Although I made these fresh, the original recipe from America's Test Kitchen Make Ahead Cookbook indicates that these can be refrigerated overnight so you can pop them in the oven in the morning, or even frozen in muffin liners so that you can cook just the right amount when you need them!  If you do freeze them, you do now need to thaw them, though you do need to increase the baking time.  Cook for about 7 minutes at 425, and then an additional 30-33 minutes at 375.   This recipe will make between 12-15 muffins.

You may be wondering about the is actually a picture I took on my phone to text to a friend  of my muffin success!  Then my family ate them all before I remembered I hadn't taken a better photo. Ha!  I bet your family will love these as well!

Stuffed Peppers

* 1-1.5 lbs ground beef
* 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs (more if you prefer)
* 8 oz can tomato sauce
* 1 pkg Lipton Onion Soup mix
* splash to 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
* peppers

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Mix all the ingredients together.  You can add additional breadcrumbs if you need or desire.
3. Wash and cut the peppers in half.
4. Stuff your peppers with the meat mixture.
5. Cook on a cookie sheet for 25-30 minutes or until the meat is fully cooked.

This recipe is very forgiving!  You can cook it a little longer if you are still getting other parts of the meal together - the pepper will keep the meat moist.  By cutting the peppers in half you can make reasonable size portions, and they won't take so long to get fully cooked through.  While these are not your typical "Italian" tasting stuffed peppers, they are fantastic.  This meat mixture is also great as a traditional meatloaf, or used for meatball sandwiches. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

December 7, 2012

The holiday season in full swing - crazy,  I know!  Only one more week of class for me until the semester is over, though I am enrolled in two classes in the spring.  I will enjoy the break and perhaps do some cooking to fill our freezer a bit since I will be out a minimum of two nights a week beginning in January! 

This week started off on the right foot- I made Chicken Wellington.  It had quite a bit going for it, and we enjoyed the flavors. Unfortunately, the accompanying sauce didn't match well, and I used the wrong dough...phyllo dough instead of puff pastry!  Ha!  Imagine my surprise when I unrolled the thawed dough expecting to see puff pastry and instead discovering phyllo!  They still turned out fine, but didn't blossom into beautiful little packets with golden coloring, rather they didn't do much of anything.  I will make the base recipe again, use the right kind of dough and find a better sauce to pair with the dish.  Perhaps with these tweaks a keeper will be born. 

Later in the week I made a new favorite - Tex Mex mac & cheese.  Pasta, cheese, taco flavored kids heard the ingredients list and were already ready to vote it a keeper!  Thankfully it lived up to the expectations they placed on this budget friendly casserole and it earned its place in the recipe archive.  Ryan brought it to work a few days later and he still enjoyed it.

Finally, I stumbled upon a new muffin recipe that I tried this week.  Let me tell you - they looked gorgeous!  Absolutely stunning - these muffins had bakery shop star power.  However, meh, they were a little bland.  I used blueberries and cranberries, though I think if I made them again I would add some lemon zest.  I will definitely be tweaking these because I want to turn this in to a keeper recipe.  One of the fabulous features of this recipe is that the batter can be made and placed in the fridge for 24-36 hours before baking, or better yet - the uncooked batter freezes!  Can you imagine pulling a frozen muffin batter ball out of the freezer, placing it in a muffin tin and then into the oven before you got ready for the day.  Fresh baked muffins without any work?  Sign me up!  So, I will be working on this recipe (it is really easy) and hope to get it to keeper status sooner rather than later.

Hope the week ahead looks good for you!
Happy Cooking!

New Recipe
Tex Mex Mac & Cheese

Tex Mex Mac & Cheese

lb lean ground beef

* 1 small onion, chopped
* 3 tbsp tomato paste
* 3 tsp chile powder
* 2 tsp ground cumin
* 1 1/4 tsp salt
* 12 oz veggie pasta (or whatever kind of pasta you want to use)
* 3 cups milk (skim worked very well!)
* 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
* 1 1/2 cups shredded pepper-Jack cheese
* 1 cup crushed baked tortilla chips (about 2 ounces) 

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Prep a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the beef with the onion. Drain the meat if needed.  
3. Stir in tomato paste, 1-1/2 teaspoons of the chile powder, 1 teaspoon of the cumin and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Add 1/4 cup water and cook 1 minute. Set aside.
4. Cook pasta following package directions. Drain and set aside.
5. While pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a medium-size saucepan, stir together milk, flour, the remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons chile powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1-2 minutes, until thickened. Off heat, stir in 1 cup of the cheddar and 1 cup of the pepper-Jack cheese until a smooth sauce is formed.
6. Combine the cheese sauce, the pasta, and the beef mixture and pour into the prepared baking dish. Top the casserole with the remaining cheese and crushed chips over the top. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes until bubbly and browned.

I ripped this recipe out of Family Circle back in 2007!  I found it earlier this week when I was looking in an old writing file for inspiration.  I think it was fate - I rediscovered a character that has quite a bit of potential, and I found a keeper recipe!   Everyone at the table loved this, and it reheated well for leftovers.  My kids love the veggie pasta, but you could use whole wheat pasta in this or any kind of pasta you have on hand. I used Taco flavored Dorito tortilla chips instead of plain tortilla chips, and that was a wonderful alteration!