Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pecan Powder Puffs

Pecan Powder Puffs.....say that three times fast!

Trying to decide what I would make for Christmas dessert to bring to my parents' house, I was flipping through some of my cookbooks. While going through my "Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan, I came across the recipe for Pecan Powder Puffs. Upon reading this I realized it was pretty darn close to sounding like my husband's grandmother's "pecan puffs" that she made often at the holidays.

I had full intentions of making these for Christmas but time got away from me and the dough sat in the refirgerator for 2 days (which is ok per the recipe) before I made them the day after Christmas. All in all, this recipe is a keeper. My husband said they were pretty close to his grandmother's (not that I expected it could compete). I have to say they are pretty tasty and just the right size to pop in your mouth for a quick treat. Next time though, I hope to get this recipe baked in time for its intended destination. Oh well, it's not like my husband is complaining about having extra goodies in the house!

Pecan Powder Puffs
(from "Baking from My Home to Yours")

1 cup pecans
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup minus 1 tablespooon all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar, sifted, for rolling

Put pecans and 1 tablespoon of sugar in food processor and process in very short pulses until the nuts are pulverized. Scrape the nuts into a bowl, add the flour, salt, and cinnamon (if you're using it), and whisk to combine.

Put the butter in the processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth and creamy. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla and process for 30 seconds or so to blend. Pour in the pecan and flour mixture and, using short pulses, process only until it is worked into the dough. You want to process the dough as little as possible - the less you work the dough, the lighter and more appealing crumbly the cookies will be. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto plastic wrap, gather it together and form it into a ball. Wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or, for up to 2 days.

Getting ready to bake: Center rack in oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove dough from fridge. Using a small spoon break off marble-size pieces, then roll each piece of dough between your palms to form a smooth ball and place them on baking sheets; there's no need to leave much space between balls.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are lightly golden and almost firm. Gently transfer them to a rack to cool to room temperature.

Just before serving, roll cookies in confectioner's sugar and toss them gently from hand to hand to shake off excess sugar.

Friday, December 26, 2008

White Chip Caramel Bars

For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners we were heading to my parents' house on both occassions. Being a little "baked out" from all of my cookie adventures the past couple of weeks, I decided to find a bar cookie option to bring to their house for dessert. I always find bar cookies are a nice, easy to way to have a cookie but cut down on the prep time!

These were a hit with everyone. I really enjoyed them myself, very easy, delicious, moist, etc. I'll definitely be making these again! I apologize there's no picture, I thought I had taken one but apparently it completely slipped my mind during all of the holiday excitement.

White Chip-Caramel Bars

2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup white vanilla baking chips
1/2 cup white vanilla baking chips, melted

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of 13x9-inch pan with shortening or cooking spray.

In large bowl, beat brown sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Stir in flour and baking powder until well blended. Stir in walnuts and 1 cup baking chips. Spread in pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and center is set. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Drizzle with melted chips. Let stand until set. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 6 rows.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Basil Chicken

So the week of any holiday, I usually take the easy way out with dinner. Let's face it, you are going to stuff your face with food, desserts, and those leftovers, for at least a few days so why go all crazy making special dinners in that same week.

Lo and behold though, yesterday morning I was in disbelief, I didn't have anything to really offer for dinner and takeout was not an option. I had already used my grilled cheese & soup dinner night on Monday night. What was I going to do? All of my meat was frozen.

Crockpot to the rescue! Nothing like pulling out a hunk of frozen chicken breasts all stuck together at 10am and knowing that they'll be all cooked and ready by 5:30 without the annoying unthawing process. This recipe comes from my friend Pam who I have "met" on my local knot board. It was so easy and I had everything in the house of course. I added about 1/4 of white wine to this recipe and let it cook. I served the chicken and "gravy" over white rice, yummy!

Basil Chicken

4 skinless chicken breast, whole
1/2 Teaspoon black pepper
1/2 Teaspoon dried basil
1 Can cream of celery soup
1/2 sliced green bell pepper
¼ cup white wine (optional)

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker. Sprinkle with pepper and basil. Spread soup (and wine if you are using) on top of chicken. Arrange slices of green pepper on top of soup. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours.

And since it is Christmas Eve....a Merry Christmas to all!!!!! Have a safe & happy holiday!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Quick Gnocchi

My husband and I love gnocchi. More often than not when we actually do go out to dinner, and if it is to an Italian place, gnocchi is what I order. Mostly because it's not something I'd ever make myself - until now at least!

I've actually had this recipe bookmarked for ages and stumbled upon it while I was going through my recipe file on Since I had everything in the house, this seemed like a perfect warm-you-up-from-the-inside dinner for our snowy, snowy weekend. And yes, I proudly admit I keep instant mashed potatoes on hand in my house - they are always good in a pinch or when time is not on your side!

For this recipe I used garlic flavored instant mashed potato mix and doubled the recipe so we'd have plenty of leftovers (we are big on leftovers in this house). I added a little salt, pepper, and onion powder to the instant mashed potato mix since many of these reviews, while raving for the recipe, all said to add a little something extra to the mashed potato flakes. I also figured using garlic mashed potato flakes would definitely up the taste factor.

These were easy and fun to make. I wouldn't call it quick, it does take a little bit of time, but definitely a lot quicker of a solution than the more authentic totally from scratch gnocchi. This also doesn't necessarily compete with the taste and texture of the real thing, but it comes awfully close considering it's made from instant potatoes! I'll definitely be making this again.

To serve I quickly cooked up some ground turkey and tossed with marinara and poured over the already cooked gnocchi in an 11x7 baking dish, and then covered with grated Parmesan and shredded Mozarella cheeses and baked for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Delicious!

Quick Gnocchi

1 cup dry potato flakes
1 cup boiling water
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Place potato flakes in a medium-size bowl. Pour in boiling water; stir until blended. Let cool.

Stir in egg, salt, and pepper. Blend in enough flour to make a fairly stiff dough. Turn dough out on a well floured board. Knead lightly.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a long thin roll, the thickness of a breadstick. With a knife dipped in flour, cut into bite-size pieces.

Place a few gnocchi in boiling water. As the gnocchi rise to the top of the pot, remove them with a slotted spoon. Repeat until all are cooked.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pioneer Woman greatness

There's no doubt that the Pioneer Woman has terrific recipes. When the snowstorm hit on Friday afternoon in my area, I was just itching to do something since it felt like cabin fever was setting in instantly.

For some reason the little lightbulb in my head turned on (and sometimes it doesn't turn on all the time, thank goodness it did this time) and I remembered her recipe for Onion Strings that I've been wanting to try for forever. Home alone without my onion-hating hubby who was at work, I decided this would be a fantastic lunch treat for me (yes lunch), at least it involved veggies!

I must confess when Ruby Tuesday did away with the onion strings on their menu a few years back, I was devastated. Those things were a big reason Ruby Tuesday was one of my favorite chain restaurants! I know they briefly made a comeback but now I'm not sure if they are on the menu or not since we rarely go out to eat anymore. Either way, it's a comfort to know I can make these wonderful little gems in my own home!

I busted these beauties out easily and quickly (after the soaking process) and while mine do not look as gorgeous as hers, well, none of my food pictures or recipes look much like the website sometimes, but these were delicious and oh so easy. I should mention that this picture was from my first batch which I already had started to gobble up before even thinking to take a picture.

Anyway, I love that they can be a side dish (all to myself obviously) or even an appetizer. You can find Pioneer Woman's printable recipe here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cookie trays / Friday's Frugal Fun

This week I have been busy putting together some cookie trays. My husband brought a tray into work for his holiday gathering and I made 2 trays - one each for the neighbors on either side of our house. I found this recipe for Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies from "...And a Cookie for Dessert" and figured this fit very well into my cookie baking and would help boost up the variety of my trays.

These are so easy to make and only 5 ingredients, all of which I had in my house. Let me just say that these came out so tasty (of course I had to sample some!) and while they look a lot like the Chocolate Crinkles I made for my cookie exchange (in fact my husband thought that's what they are), I can ensure you they are not. And...well...were a lot easier and quicker to make! Mine didn't stay in a ball shape like Bridget's and rather flattened out a bit like a cookie, but they were still delicious! I might be making another batch of these for Christmas.

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies
(from And a Cookie for Dessert)

1 (8 ounce) brick cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (18 ounce) moist chocolate cake mix
confectioners'/powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the egg. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the cake mix.Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up so that you can roll the batter into balls. Roll the chilled batter into tablespoon sized balls and then roll them in confectioner's sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft and "gooey." Cool completely and sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar, if desired.

And on a random side note - a little bit of Friday's Frugal Fun for you! Check out this free sample! (I love Free samples). This one is for Dunkin Donuts Dark Roast!

Dunkin' Donuts. Dunkin' keeps me blogging. Try Dunkin' Donuts Coffee For Free. Get a Sample

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ham & Shells....errr...Ziti Casserole

I recently received my first issue of Taste of Home magazine which I had ordered from a co-worker's daughter who was having a magazine drive fundraiser for her school. Knowing all too well the ins and outs of a magazine drive fundraiser considering I did the same for years in grammar school/junior high, I was happy to pick out a subscription. My Everyday Food subscription is running out soon so I decided it's time for a change and Taste of Home caught my eye.

Flipping through the magazine I already have several recipes I want to try, the first of which I made last night for dinner - a Ham & Shells Casserole. I used ziti since, well, that's what I had in the house and obviously it worked out just fine.

I would describe this dish as a fancy mac 'n cheese recipe with a twist. We love goat cheese so that drew me at first glance, but the combination of flavors is fantastic. We really enjoyed this dish and I think the leftovers will be that much better! The only change I made to this recipe was that I did not use 3 onions. My husband is not a fan of onions so I knew I'd be pushing my luck with that one - plus 3 onions seems like a little much. Instead I just used one onion which in turn meant Greg didn't even notice they were in there! He also had no clue there is Ricotta cheese in this recipe, something he claims he hates, yet I've used it in recipes without his knowledge and he's never batted an eye. Sometimes what you don't know, doesn't hurt ya!

I am also submitting this recipe to the Presto Pasta Nights weekly collection of pasta recipes. This was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's host is C of Foodie Tots - check out that link on Friday for her roundup!

Ham & Shells Casserole

(Taste of Home magazine)

1 pkg medium pasta shells (I used ziti)
3 large onions, halved & sliced (I only used 1 onion)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pkg fresh spinach, torn
1 tablespoon minched fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed (I used dried Italian seasoning blend)
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp pepper
3 1/2 cups fat free milk (I used 1%)
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup (4oz) crumbled goat cheese

2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in large skillet over medium heat, cook and stir onions in oil for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Add spinach & rosemary; cook 1-2 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.

Meanwhile in a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in ricotta andgoat cheeses until blended.

Drain pasta; place in large bowl. Add the hand, onion mixture, and sauce; toss to coat. Transfer to a greased 9x13 bakind dish; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (I also sprinkled with more pepper on top). Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blogging as I bake....

So I have started a little baking adventure for this week. I am sending my husband into work with a huge tray of cookies on Thursday since his holiday get together is then. I have made cookies for his co-workers in the past usually to their delight so why not do so for the Christmas season? And while I am at it, I am also making some smaller trays for our neighbors on either side of our house.

I got started today, baking a batch of Grandma Bennet's Sour Cream Cookies which were a huge hit when I made them last, so much so they were requested for me to make them yet again by one of my husband's co-workers.

The other recipe I made today was for Katie's Cheesecake Delights from the Betty Crocker website. I got this recipe in a Betty Crocker email a couple of weeks back and immediately bookmarked it for trying at another time. I made these using apricot jam and they came out delicious in my opinion. I can't wait for others to try them!

I am also submitting this to Joelen's Tasty Tools event for December - which features baking sheets. Every month, Joelen's event featurs a different culinary item. It's been a little while since I have participated in this one so I am pretty excited to try to get back in the swing of things as far as blog events go. Thanks, Joelen, for hosting this event - the timing could not be better with the holdiays fast approaching because it seems like I am always baking this time of year!

Katie's Cheesecake Delights

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker® sugar cookie mix
1 box (4-serving size) cheesecake-flavor instant pudding and pie filling mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
3 oz white chocolate baking bar, coarsely grated

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, dry pudding mix, oil and egg until soft dough forms.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. Using thumb or handle of wooden spoon, make indentation in center of each ball. Spoon about 1/4 teaspoon jam into each indentation.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool 10 minutes; sprinkle with white chocolate.

Operation Baking GALS - Round 5

Operation Baking GALS is already in its 5th round believe it or not! I am on my 3rd round with the cause. As you have seen in my previous blog entries, I have participated in Operation Baking GALS which is a now very large group of ladies who "adopt" a soldier and send him or her tons of goodies for them and for sharing. These goodies are a taste of home for these soldiers, especially at this time of the year when they are away from their families for the holidays. My friend Dani of Make No Little Meals hosted again this round. She has 14 bakers as part of her - team Dani's Delightful Darlings this round!!
I was very excited to participate in this round and to help our soldier get a little taste of home. That soldier is SSgt McElyea who is stationed in Iraq. He is my age with a child at home, so it really made me realize how very lucky we are to live our lives of freedom because of the sacrifices these men and women are making on our behalf. I just can't imagine being away from my family for the hoidays, nevermind a young child.

My friends Amy & Melanie participated again and helped me fill up a box to SSgt McElyea. Nothing like good friends to help out a good cause! A box full of sugary goodness was mailed today to SSgt McElyea: Amy made sugar cookies, Melanie made an extra batch she had made of her Cherry Chocolate cookies (that she had brought to my cookie exchange), and I sent a batch of Chocolate Crinkles. I also sent a batch of Butterscotch blondies to round everything out (recipe appears below).

We also sent along some candy, trail mix, a small book of puzzles, and some candy canes to SSgt McElyea. We really hope he and his friends enjoy the goodies. The least we could do is send them a little holiday spirit as our thanks for their sacrifices.

<-- Melanie, me, Amy (and Amy's sister) @ Amy's wedding September '08

If you haven't already checked out the site, I encourage you to head over to the Operation Baking GALS website for more information and hope to see some of you join Dani's team for Round 6 which will likely be starting after the holidays! I will post information as I know it.

Butterscotch Blondies
(from Hershey's)

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups (11-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY'S Butterscotch Chips
1 cup chopped nuts(optional)

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

Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large bowl until creamy. Add eggs; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in butterscotch chips and nuts, if desired. Spread in prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden brown and center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. About 36 bars.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sometimes inspiration pops up in the oddest places...

I'm a coupon clipper - the Sunday paper, websites, flyers, you name it. This past weekend on was on Smart Source printing some grocery coupons. I printed a coupon for No Yolks Egg Noodles among others. When the coupon came out of my printer, there was a recipe below the actual coupon. It sounded pretty delicious, and easy. And I happened to have some chicken ready to use in the fridge. I also had some Italian sausage, which probably had no business being in this dish, but I didn't care to be honest! It was my dinner, right? So I took about 3 links out of the casing and broke the sausage meat apart while I sauteed it.

Rather than serving the teriyaki mixture over the egg noodles, I added the egg noodles to my wok and mixed everything together. This was really delicious and easy - full of meat, carbs, and veggies all in one dish. I like that - especially on a weeknight! I'm looking forward to the leftovers!

NO YOLKS Chicken Skillet

2/3 package cooked NO YOLKS
1 bag (16 oz.) broccoli slaw (found near the coleslaw in the produce section)
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 oz. lean chicken or boneless pork chops, in bite-sized pieces
2 green onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or 2 teaspoons jarred minced garlic
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cook NO YOLKS according to package directions, adding broccoli slaw at the 4 minute mark. Drain and keep warm. Stir fry chicken or pork in oil in a large skillet until lightly browned, about 5 min. Push meat to one side. Add onion and garlic, cook for 1 min.

In the meantime, mix 2 tablespoons chicken broth and the cornstarch in a small bowl until smooth. To the skillet, add remaining broth, teriyaki sauce, red pepper flakes and cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Serve immediately over NO YOLKS broccoli mixture. Serves 4.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Soup-er Stars!

As I have mentioned previously, my best friend Michelle & I are trying to get together and make it appoint to try out new soup recipes - due to her fear of making soup. A couple of weeks ago we got together to do this and she picked out a chicken noodle soup recipe from the "Soup Bowl" cookbook I gave her for her bridal shower this past summer.

She figured we should try a simple, go-to recipe out of the book first. So chicken noodle it was! This recipe called for us to make our own soup stock, which I was leery about, since while I have no fear of making soup - I've never made my own stock. After our night of soup merriment I discovered that not only was making your own soup stock easy, but it was super tasty too!

So armed with my soup stock making savvy, I made the below recipe which called for canned chicken broth. I, however, walked on the wild side and used the bones from a whole chicken I'd made earlier in the week to bust out some very tasty chicken stock instead. The result I think was a much more robust soup than this original recipe would have yielded.

By the way, I got this recipe from a co-worker and it was delicious and obviously easy. I diced up some carrots and celery and threw that in there as well. Basically this soup was a great twist on a typical chicken soup! The corn flavor is just a delicious addition!

PREMIUM® Chicken Corn Chowder

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 cans (14-1/2 oz. each) chicken broth
1 can (14-3/4 oz.) cream-style corn

Spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Add onion; cook and stir 5 minutes. Add peppers; cook and stir an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add chicken; cook 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked through, stirring frequently.

Add broth and corn; cover. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 25 minutes.
Serve with crackers.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

More Cookie Goodness

As I mentioned in my previous post, I just hosted my 3rd Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange. I posted my own recipes that I made for the exchange here. But here are all of the rest! I apologize for not having pictures for all of them, I thought I snapped one of each cookie but obviously I was too distracted by all of the sugary sweets in my house that I missed some!

I should mention that my friends are incredible people. I mentioned in my invitation that I would love for everyone to bring one canned good to donate to the local food bank and they came through - 15 canned goods were donated!

Almond Chocolate Chip Fudge Snowtops
Made by: Liz

1 pkg (18.25 oz) plain devil's food cake mix
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups thawed frozen whipped topping
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 miniature chocolate chips
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

Place the cake mix, eggs, whipped topping and almond extract into a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 second. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 1 to 2 minutes more, or until dough is smooth and thick. Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped almonds until well incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set aside two ungreased cookie sheets.

Spoon the confectioners' sugar into a shallow dish. Remove the dough from the refrigerator.

Spoon out teaspoonfuls of the batter and gently roll them into balls between your palms. Place the balls in the dish of confectioners' sugar and rol them around with your fingertips until they are coated with sugar. Coat only as many balls as you'll bake at one time. Place the balls 2 inches apart on the ungreased cookie sheets. Place the sheets in the oven.

Bake the cookies until they puff up and are firm around the edgesbut still soft in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cookies rest on cookie sheets for 2 minutes. Then, use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire racksand allow them to cool completely, 15 minutes.

Repeat the porcess with the remaining dough. Makes 5 dozen 2 inch cookies

Black Beauties
Made by: Katie

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker® double chocolate chunk cookie mix
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon water
1 egg
3/4 cup white chocolate chunks
1/2 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, 3 tablespoons oil, the water, egg, white chocolate and nuts until soft dough forms. Drop dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 20 minutes.

In small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon oil on High 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until melted and smooth. Dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on waxed paper until set, about 10 minutes. Makes: 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Keep cookies chewy and soft by storing them tightly covered. Resealable plastic bags, plastic food containers with tight-fitting lids and metal tins work best.

Butterscotch Raisin Cookies
Made by: Michelle
1 cup butter softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 package (3.4 ounce) instant butterscotch pudding

Mix1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup raisins, 1/2 cup butterscotch chips. In a large bowl cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, beat well. Combine the oats, flour, dry pudding mix and baking soda; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the raisins and butterscotch chips (dough will be stiff.

Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 9-11 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yields 3-1/2 dozen

Cherry Chocolate Cookies
Made by: Melanie

2 1/2 cups butter (no substitutes), softened
4 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 (12 ounce) package miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 (16 ounce) jar maraschino cherries, drained and halved

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls 3 in. apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Top each with a cherry half. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Date Rolls
Made by: Denice

½ cup butter
1 8oz package of chopped dates
¾ cup sugar
1 egg beaten
3 cups rice crispies
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 pkg coconut

In a saucepan, combine butter, dates, sugar, & egg. Bring to boil and turn down and simmer for 8 minutes stirring constantly. Will become a taffy consistency. Remove from heat and stir in the rice crispies & nuts. Let cool a couple minutes.

Butter your hands and then spoon a teaspoon of the date mixture and roll into a small ball and then roll in coconut. Place on waxed paper to cool completely.

*Coconut won’t stick if the mixture is too cool. If this happens just warm up mixture in microwave.

Quebec Maple Drops
Made by: Denise (my mom!)

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons maple-flavored syrup
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked quick oats (not old-fashioned oats)
¼ cup packaged chopped pitted dates

Frosting (optional)
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons maple-flavored syrup
1 ½ cups sifted powdered sugar

For cookies, preheat oven to 350○F. Beat ½ cup butter and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until creamy. Beat in 3 tablespoons syrup. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into butter mixture. On low speed, beat in oats, and dates.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased coolie sheets. Bake 12 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let stand on collie sheets 2 minutes; transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

For frosting, beat cream cheese and 2 tablespoons butter in small bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Beat in 2 tablespoons syrup. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until smooth. Spread frosting over cooled cookies. Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Santa’s Sandwiches
Made by: Cathy

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon mint extract
2 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon mint extract
Red, green food coloring

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into bowl; set aside. In large bowl, beat sugar and butter until smooth. Beat in egg, then vanilla & mint extract. On low speed, beat flour mixture into butter mixture. Divide in half; shape each into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut each log into slices, about 1/8 of an inch thick; place onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes or until almost firm. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

Filling: Beat confectioner’s sugar, butter, milk, and mint extract in bowl until spreading consistency. Tint half with red food coloring and other half with green. Spread flat side of one quarter of cookies with red filling, another quarter with green. Top each with a plain cookie. Chill.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My 3rd Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Last night I hosted my 3rd annual Christmas cookie exchange with friends. As usual it was a fun night of getting together with some of my favorite ladies and trying out some delectable cookie creations with plenty left for everyone to take home with them!

This year I made 2 recipes to share - Chocolate Crinkles and Irish Creme Delights. Both cookie recipes came from the special Better Homes & Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine. I was very happy with both recipes. Both are a little more labor intensive since both involve rolling the dough before placing on the cookie sheet, and the second recipe calls for an icing - but I think the end result is well worth the extra work! My husband joked, upon taste testing each cookie, that he may have to eat them all to "save everyone else from such horrible cookies." He cracks me up somedays.

I will be sharing everyone else's recipes and adventures soon, but for the time being I only have time to post mine so they will be forthcoming! In the meantime I am still basking of the sugary glow of all of these wonderfully outrageously good cookies in my house (the good time shared with friends last night wasn't too shabby either!)

I am also submitting these recipes to Joelen's Culinary Adventures blogging event: Holiday Cookie Swap Blogging Adventure. Good timing on this event, Joelen, because both of these recipes fit the bill!

Chocolate Crinkles
(from Better Homes & Gardens - Christmas Cookies)

4 eggs
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted, and cooled slightly
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar

In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, melted chocolate, oil, baking powder and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, scraping bowl occassionally. Gradually beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours or until dough is easy enough to handle.

Prehat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet, set aside. Place powdered sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in powdered sugar and place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet.

Bake cookies in preheated oven for 10 minutes or until edges are set and tops are dry (do not overbake). Transfer cookies to a wire rack, let cool. (Cookies will deflate slightly upon cooling).

Irish Creme Delights
(from Better Homes & Gardens - Christmas Cookies)

1/4 butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon coffee liquer
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly betaen
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Irish Creme Frosting
Ground cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine butter & shortening. Beat with electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1 cup of sugar, the coffee liquer, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occassionally. Beat in egg & vanilla. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in remaining flour.

In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in cinnamon-sugar to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer cookies onto wire rack; let cool.

Spread Irish Creme frosting over cookies. If desired sprinkle with additional cinnamon. Makes about 48 cookies.

Irish Creme Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine 3 tablespoons softened butter and 1 tablespoon coffee liquer. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Gradually beat in 3 cups powdered sugar. Beat in enough half-and-half or whipping cream (1 to 3 tablespoons) to make frosting a spreading consistency.

Quick, easy appetizer

Last night I hosted my 3rd annual Christmas Cookie Exchange but before we broke into the sweet stuff, I of course served up some savory snacking for my guests. A veggie tray, beer bread with a garlic dip (thank you Tastefully Simple!), bakery pizza, chips and salsa and then....

....Well, here's the story. I had bought cocktail wieners on sale at the supermarket over the weekend but was not in the mood to do the typical pigs in a blanket thing I would normally make. So I searched for a little cocktail weiner recipe that did not involve grape jelly, as most do, since I was out of that - oops! I found this little number on - so easy and all things I already had in the house which was nice since going back out to the store was really not an option as the cookie exchange drew nearer. I am going to keep this recipe in my back pocket for sure!

Spicy Franks

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound hot dogs, cut into bite-size pieces, or cocktail wieners, smoked sausage, etc.

Combine everything but hot dogs in the slow cooker; cover and cook on high 1 to 2 hours, until well heated. Add hot dogs, stir, and cook another 1 to 2 hours, until heated through. Turn to low to keep warm; serve from

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Dessert - Part II

Ok, so, as promised here is the second dessert I made this Thanksgiving.

For what it's worth, I had a hard time choosing what to make besides the chocolate chip pecan pie. My husband is not a big pecan pie fan, so I felt the need to make something else he would like. Well, as I have mentioned previously, he loves cheesecake. So I decided on yet another recipe from my "Cooking with Mickey" cookbook for Fantasia Cheesecake.
I decided to leave this cheesecake plain with just the sour cream topping. Simple tastes, yet so delicious and relatively easy. I am posting the recipe below as is, but I basically had to double the graham cracker crust recipe because I just didn't have enough it seemed to cover my springform pan up the sides.

Either way, this was a huge hit on Turkey day, and I have a feeling my hubby will be requesting I make this again...and again...and again....

Fantasia Cheesecake
(from "Cooking with Mickey Volume II")

Graham Cracker Crust*

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Grease bottom and sides of 9 inch springform pan.

Combine all ingredients and blend well. Press crumb mixture into bottom of pan, set aside.

*I doubled this recipe


4 8 ounce packages cream cheese
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, salt, and lemon extract until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Do not overmix batter. Pour into prepared cake pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until cheesecake is set. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for several hours before removing from springform pan.

Sour Cream Topping
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Fresh fruit or fruit pie filling, if desired

Mix sour cream and sugar together and spoon over cheesecake. Decorate with slices of fruit, canned fruith topping, or fresh whipped cream if desired.

Thanksgiving Dessert - Part I

Well since I don't have time right now to post both desserts I made for turkey day, so here's just one!

I made a Chocolate Chip Pecan pie recipe from my "Cooking with Mickey" cookbook that I picked up in Disney this past summer. This actually wasn't the first time I made this recipe. My BFF Michelle had made this awhile back and I loved it so much she sent me the recipe (from the same cookbook) so I did make it probably 2 Christmases ago now. I was definitely in the mood for pecan pie this Thanksgiving and could not wait to make (and eat) this!

Beware though, this is a super rich dessert - but in my mind - worth every single calorie!

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie
(From "Cooking with Mickey Volume II")

3 lightly beaten egg
1 Cup light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1/2 Cup sugar
1 Pinch salt
1/2 Cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 Cup (heaping) pecans
1 unbaked pastry shell

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In mixing bowl, combine ingredients in order given. Mix well and pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake for 5 minutes. Reduce heat after 5 minutes to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 1 hour or until fill is thick.

Cool on wire rack and serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Operation Baking GALS - Round 5

As you may have noticed in my prior blog entries, I have participated in the past 2 rounds of Operation Baking GALS and will again be participating for Round 5!

My friend Danielle of Make No Little Meals is once againg hosting. I encourage you to check out her blog entry for more details on the cause and how to join her team!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday I was seriously craving something sweet and maple flavored. I believe it all stemmed from a conversation I had with some friends this weekend about how I will never have maple syrups in my fridge like Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterwoth. No, I buy the good stuff....the expensive stuff...but I digress.

I found this recipe for Lighter Maple Chocolate Chip cookies online. I had all of the ingredients at home so I figured, why not? All in all these cookies taste good but were not 100% what I expected. The maple flavor was not as strong as I thought it would be. Also they did not really get a nice golden brown as I expected them to and they are a tad chewier than I thought they would be. I am not sure if I did something wrong or if this was all part and parcel of them being "Lighter" cookies (which by the way I have a hard time calling them "Lighter" when they still have a full stick of butter in them!). Either way, not a bad cookie, but if I make them again I might make some tweaks.

Lighter Maple Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon maple extract or vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 (12 ounce) bag chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F, line 1 or two cookie sheets with none stick foil, or lightly greaced foil.

In a medium bowl, vigorously stir together the butter, sugar, and sour cream. Add the maple syrup and extract.

Gently fold in the flour, salt, baking powder, and chips (do not over mix!). Spoon 1 tablespoon of the dough onto the cookie sheet (s) and press them down to about 1/4 inch thinkness.

Bake for 8-10 minutes of until golden

Italian Pot Pies....and my 200th post!

Yes, indeed, 200 posts later I am still a faithful blogger. When I started doing this I had some trouble keeping up, and remembering to take pictures, and just lacked patience for itl. Since then this blog has served probably as more motivation than anything else to always try out some new things in the kitchen, to not get stuck in a rut, and hopefully along the way discover some totally yummy recipes!

This recipe was in my most recent issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Living. Since I was planning my next week's dinner menu caught my attention for 2 reasons: 1) I had been looking for something to do with the leftover sauce from pizza I made the week before last and, 2) I also had ground beef in the freezer. So all of the conveniences were there!

At first glance this recipe seems like it is a lot of steps but really is quite easily put together. My husband loved the crust part, as did I, but overall said these weren't his "thing."

Have I ever mentioned the tragedy that my husband really is not a fan of red sauce/marinara at all??? If we have pasta for a meal he typically has to decimate it beyond belief with large amounts of parmesan cheese. He will tolerate pizza because, well, it's loaded with cheese. This doesn't stop me from serving up a meal with some red sauce occassionally though, because I like red sauce! And of coures I have heard all about the health benefits of tomatoes. So he just has to deal sometimes. I, however, can see that while he ate it, and continually raved about the crust part of this meal that this was just not his "thing." But it was definitely my "thing!" And so that just means the leftovers will be all for MY enjoyment - yippee!

Italian Pot Pies
(from Martha Stewart Everyday Food)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound ground beef sirloin, thawed if frozen
2 cups homemade or best-quality store-bought tomato sauce 1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 ounce)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with rack in lowest position. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onion and carrots; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add beef, and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce; bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat mixture has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, Parmesan, baking powder, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; make a well in center, and add butter and milk. Stir just until dough comes together.

Spoon meat mixture into four 8-ounce ramekins; mound dough on top. Place on a large rimmed baking sheet; bake until topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in topping comes out clean, 10 to 12 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Third time's a charm!

My best friend, Michelle, and her husband, Jay, came over for dinner on Friday night - after our 3rd time rescheduling this dinner (starting in August) we finally got the timing right! I made a great chicken recipe that I had had in my "to try" pile for quite some time so I pulled it out for this occassion. I let it marinate all day while I was at work (as opposed to the 2 hours suggested below) and used canola oil instead of vegetable oil.

The side dish recipe below, a baked orzo, came from one of my co-workers, the same one who handed me this recipe in the hallway a couple of weeks ago. She said she had made it recently for company and that it was a perfect recipe for when you have dinner guests. I thought it sounded kind of fun and different from the typical starch side of some kind of potatoes so I went for it. De-li-cious! My best friend even asked for the recipe after and I think we all had seconds on it! I would definitely serve this again, and much to the request of my husband and Michelle, I would make it with mushrooms this time. Yes, I was being a selfish cook who left out the mushrooms for the sheer fact that I don't really like them haha!

Chicken in Lemon Marinade

2/3 Cup vegetable oil
1/2 Cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 Teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 small grated onion
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon black pepper
1 Teaspoon celery salt
6 chicken breast, boneless skinless

Process 1st 8 ingredients in a blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides. Reserve 1/4 cup lemon mixture, and chill.

Place chicken in a shallow dish or zip-top plastic bag; pour remaining lemon mixture over chicken. Cover or seal, and chill 2 hours, turning chicken occasionally.

Remove chicken from marinade, discarding marinade; place chicken on a lightly greased rack in a broiler pan.

Broil 7" from heat (with electric oven door partially open) 11-12 minutes on each side or until tender, basting chicken frequently with reserved 1/4 cup lemon mixture.

Baked Orzo with Fontina and Peas

4 cups chicken broth
1 pound orzo pasta
3 tablespoons butter, plus more to grease the baking dish
1 onion, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces shredded fontina cheese (about 1 cup)
4 ounces diced fresh mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
Bring the chicken broth to a boil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the orzo and cook until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Pour the orzo and the broth into a large bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until the mushrooms are beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 7 minutes. Add the Marsala. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and cook until the Marsala has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture to the orzo in the large bowl. Add the cream, fontina, mozzarella, peas, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and dried thyme. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of the pasta. Bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday's Frugal Fun - Part III

Time for more frugality! Sorry for no post last week, I was out of steam!

With the holidays coming up, who couldn't use a few more ways to save money?

Another free sample site I like - Free Stuff Finder. I've gotten some neat stuff on here!

Recently I also discovered Ebates - a site that gives you rebates on your online purchases. I simply shop through their site and you get a percentage back on your purchases. I've already earned a decent amount of money back on some of my purchases for Christmas. They also have a ton of coupon codes for online shopping.

And speaking of coupon codes, Coupon Cabin is my #1 destination to find a coupon code whenever I am buying something online. Check it out!

Monday, November 17, 2008


The title of this post pretty much explains how my husband and I feel about this recipe.

A lovely lady on my local nest board, Sam, shared this recipe last week, and it caught my attention. The next day, a co-worker of mine handed me a printout of this recipe saying she had tried it and it was a huge hit in her house. 2 endorsements in less than 24 hours of the same recipe? Yeah. At that point I just had to try it!

Tonight was the night. These were easy to make, not too many ingredients and of course fun. I always have fun dipping and/or breading food. This obviously isn't the healthiest of recipes. It is a Paula Deen recipe after all (it is baked though!). But I attempted to balance out the unhealthiness of this with a baked potato and some steamed carrots (because that was going to help...hahaha).
The only change I made to this recipe was that I upped the temp to 375 degrees and then to finish them off broiled them for a minute or two on each side to get a nice brown color to them.

My husband made sure to compliment this meal more than once tonight, so I think that means it will make it back into my rotation of meals very soon. Chicken is a healthy meat....but tonight's dinner proved that sometimes it's good to be bad! ;-)

Chicken Nuggets

2 cups crushed sour-cream-and-onion-flavored potato chips
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
6 chicken breast fillets, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the crushed potato chips in a shallow dish. Beat together the egg and milk in a shallow bowl. Dip the chicken cubes into the egg mixture and then dredge them in the chips. Place the chicken nuggets on a baking sheet and drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown. The chicken nuggets can be frozen after baking. Serve with your favorite sauce, such as honey mustard or ranch dressing.

(This recipe also included a recipe for Honey Mustard Dipping sauce, I did not use that one but rather used this one which was even easier to prepare)

A cheese ball....for dessert?

Yup, that's right, dessert. This is not your typical cheeseball.

I have had this recipe bookmarked on since December 12, 2007. You read that right, 2007. But I had never made it yet. I would look at it from time to time, thinking of a good time to make it but I always forgot about it. My best friend Michelle had a little hostess party this weekend for some reason the lightbulb went on - I could make it for that!

This is delicious, and addictive. I brought over both chocolate graham crackers and regular honey graham crackers. What a combo! The only thing I didn't do was roll the ball in nuts. Frankly as much as I do like pecans, I just didn't see a need for them. Maybe next time!

And I lucked out because the only reason I got a picture of this is because I got to take some back home. Since I made the original recipe times 1.5 I had plenty extra to take home to reshape into another ball and share with my husband (who is currently devouring it as I type).

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Ball

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in confectioners' sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Shape chilled cream cheese mixture into a ball. Wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Roll the cheese ball in finely chopped pecans before serving.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Corn Muffins

The other night I just felt like baking. but I had nothing particular in mind to bake. So, I started going through my cabinet for inspiration and when I saw my bag of cornmeal I decided to make muffins. And what better recipe to use than the one on the back of the bag?

I made these in jumbo muffin tins and extended the baking time to 25 minutes. I'm not sure if that was for too long because these came out a bit dry. Although, I tend to find corn muffins to be on the drier side as far as muffins go typically. They tasted alright though and I think that next time I'd just watch the baking time more closely.

Golden Yellow Corn Muffins
(from Indian Head cornmeal)

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soft shortening
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, ans alt in a bowl. Cut in shortening. Mix egg and milk together and add to dry ingredients with a few swift strokes.

Fill greated muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, makes 12 muffins.*
(*for jumbo muffins I baked for 25 minutes which I would reduce next time; made 5 muffins)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Making dinner with my Sister-in-Law

My sister-in-law, Heather, has been asking me to teach her cook for a little while now. She's gained an interest in learning but it was just a matter of us setting aside the time to do it. I see my sister-in-law all of the time, but extra time can be hard to come by somedays!

For her birthday I got her a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook - Anyone Can Cook and since then she's wanted to get together even more. I asked her and her boyfriend Rob over Sunday and told her we should cook something from the book. So 2 nights prior we looked through the book, she'd picked out a Cheese-Stuffed Chicken recipe. (By the way, this book is fabulous, great pictures, great recipes, and lots of instructional information - like the differences in taste between yellow, white, and red onions, to what knives to use for what, and what different cuts of meat are, etc.).

We flipped through the book looking for side dishes when I asked her if she'd ever made mashed potatoes, the answer was no....that's something I wanted her to learn, pronto, so that settled one side. I was going to suggest a veggie of some sort when she asked if I'd teach her how to make a garlic bread I'd made once when we had her and Rob over for dinner. I said ok and decided not to push the veggie. I for one could live off of starches all my life - bread and potatoes ROCK - and secondly, I didn't want to overwhelm her with too much to learn in one day.

Sunday arrived and I decided we should get the apple crisp we agreed to make for dessert made and in the oven. So that was first. Then we went to the store to pick up what I didn't have in the house for dinner while we left my husband and Rob watched the Patriots came. When we got back to my house we immediately got to work on the chicken. Heather asked lots of questions all along which I thought was great - it showed how much she really wanted to learn. And of course we had a really fun time through it all. While we "slaved" in the kitchen, Greg & Rob smoked cigars on our deck....ahh...the life!

I would say our dinner was a raging success. The chicken came out fabulous. We made a few minor changes which is how the recipe will appear below. I also taught Heather the "fine art" of "winging it" (as I like to call it!) with the mashed potatoes (so no recipe below) and the garlic bread was absolutely awesome. The recipe that appears the below is my adjustment for cooking it in the oven rather than on the grill (which I did the first few times I made it), and also a few other changes to reflect our preferences.

I can't wait until we do this again. Heather was even so excited about how easy the apple crisp recipe is that she is going ot make it for Thanksgiving dessert! We had a blast overall on Sunday - as an only child I've been lucky to be blessed with such a great sister-in-law and, really, is there any better combination than cooking and/or baking with one of your favorite people in the world? I think not.

Cheese-Stuffed Chicken
(from BHG "Anyone Can Cook")

4 chicken breast halves (2 to 2 1/2 pounds total)
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 slices of bacon, crisp cooked and crumbled
Salt & pepper
Italian Seasoning

Preheat oven to 350F. Using a sharp knife, make a pocket in each breast half by cutting horizontally from side to side, cutting to but not through the opposite side and leaving the edges in tact.

In a medium bowl, combine mozzarella, feta, and bacon. Pack cheese mixture lightly into pockets. Place chicken in 3 quart rectangular baking dish. Light sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, and Italian seasoning.

Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until internal temperature of chicken registers at 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Makes 4 servings.

Unbelievable Grilled Garlic Bread
(adapated from

1 cup mayonnaise
6 teapsoons minced garlic
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 (1 pound) loaf French bread, halved lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients except bread.

Place the French bread on baking pan, cut side up and put in preheated oven 5-7 minutes or until slightly toasted.
(The picture at the above right is garlic bread in process, see chicken picture for not-so-great picture of finished product)

NILLA Apple Crisp

4 large Granny Smith apples (2 lb.), peeled, thinly sliced (we used 5 apples)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar, divided
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
1/3 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold margarine
25 Reduced Fat NILLA Wafers, crushed (about 1 cup crumbs)

Heat oven to 350°F. Toss apples with 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Spoon into 8- or 9-inch sq. baking dish.

Combine oats, remaining brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Cut in margarine with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in wafer crumbs; sprinkle over apples.

Bake 30 to 35 min. or until apples are tender. Serve topped with COOL WHIP. (Or Vanilla Ice Cream in our case!

The two of us with our finished dinner product. I swear we only broke out our ridiculously highly filled glasses of wine once dinner was already in the oven!

A little late but - Blanching Vegetables

I mentioned in a prior blog entry, that due to my best friend and her husband not being able to make it to our house (for good reason) for dinner I had tons of extra fresh veggies on hand, more than my husband and I would be able to eat before we went on vacation the week following. Coming home to veggies going bad is really not my idea of fun. Neither is wasting money on good food. I am the queen of freezing foods - I can't stand letting anything go to waste!

When I was a kid, my father used to blanch excess vegetables from his garden - most often zucchini and green beans. I used to tease him for it, but suddenly I was seeing the wisdom of his ways - an easy way to safely preserve vegetables in the freezer. I had to give it a try. But what is the best way to do it? My mom and I used to complain that my dad's vegetables seemed so watery when they came out of the freezer. I did a search online to make sure that didn't happen to me when I gave it a go.

I found this site, which gives great instructions as well as varying methods depending on the type of vegetable you blaching. I higly recommend checking it out. The night I undertook this as my project I blanched cauliflower, zucchini, and broccoli. I am happy to report I have used most of the vegetables by now except the broccoli (I've only used some of it) and all have survived their trip to the freezer and into our stomachs. The blanching really helps preserve the taste, I did not notice a difference really between the blanched veggies and how a fresh veggie would taste. I am glad to have added this method to my bag of tricks, especially since it often seems some of the vegetables I buy end up not getting used. This is a perfect way to save those vegetables for a later time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Something's fishy.... a good way of course!

This week the mood struck me that I was really in the mood for fish, tilapia to be exact. I still have not done a lot of cooking of any kind of fish, at least relative to other meats, so I really needed a good recipe. I visited some of my favorite recipe sites but nothing was grabbing me so I googled and came upon a recipe from Whole Foods which is a store I tend not to ever shop at because of the prices but, this recipe sounded delicious, and easy. And it was, on both accounts! And to boot, Whole Foods has an excellent recipe site. I found a bunch I want to make in the future!

My husband and I really liked how this came out but both agreed next time I will either cut down on the lemon zest or the lemon juice, it was a tad too overpowering for us, but still very tasty. Alongside I made parmesan roasted cauliflower, an Ina Garten recipe. Might as well make it a parmesan kind of night, right? Served with a salad, this was a very satisfying meal indeed!

Broiled Tilapia with Yogurt and Parmesan Cheese
(from Whole Foods)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Greek style yogurt or sour cream (I used sour cream)
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Juice and zest of one small lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (6 to 8 ounce) farm-raised tilapia fillets

Combine 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese with remaining ingredients (except fish). Coat fillets with mixture and place in baking dish or shallow platter and let marinate for 15–20 minutes. Preheat broiler.

Place fillets on a foil-lined broiler pan. Spoon a few tablespoons marinade on top and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Broil 4–6 inches from heat for 5–8 minutes or until topping is lightly browned. The fish is ready when it flakes easily with a fork.

Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower
(from "Barefoot Contessa at Home")

1 large head cauliflower
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese (I omitted and used extra Parmesan)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Remove outer green leaves from cauliflower and cut the head into florets, discarding stems. Place florets on sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss well. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing once, until cauliflower is tender and starts to brown. Sprinkle with Parmesan and Gruyere and bake for 1 to 2 minutes, just until cheese melts. Season to taste and serve hot or warm.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday's Frugal Fun - Part II

It's Friday already? Where has the time gone? That means it's time for part II - check out my first Friday's Frugal Fun post if you are lost!

Anyway, time for another round of money-saving goodness. First up is a site I just discovered this week called Your Coupon Buddy. It lays out some of the best deals based on sales & coupons out there. Since I just found it, I haven't gotten to use it to its potential yet but the concept is great. I love that all the homework is done for me!

Another website I use is InboxDollars. You get a $5 bonus for signing up. They are largely a click-to-earn website - in other words you are often sent emails from them and when you click, you earn a few cents per email. You also earn money back on online purchases (they have a large list on their site of vendors and you can also sign up for free offers that will pay you perhaps anywhere from 25 cents to $1. To check it out, visit the link below

Want more free samples? Another site I use is Free Samples Blog. I find it's not updated as often as it used to be, but when it is the free samples are usually good ones! Also, Walmart's website is another place where you can also find some great freebies!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Soup + Friendship = Heartwarming!

So, my best friend, Michelle...she's afraid of soup. Yeah, you read that right. Soup.

Well, not to eat soup, but of making it. Because I am so not afraid of making soup and have been known to make up my own from time to time, I got her a big ole soup cookbook for her bridal shower, a ladle, and soup crocks (among other gifts) to help her along the way. After all, Michelle is an excellent cook and baker, soup should not be standing in her way to culinary greatness!

At Michelle's wedding - Courtesy Potter Photography

This week we decided to have our first "soup night" - i.e. we just get together, hang out, and make some soup. We used to have "bake nights" at some point where we just got together and baked up some new, fun recipes but for the time being conquering soup fears are much higher on the list than baked goods. I let her choose the recipe and she picked a Tomato & White Bean Soup from

It came out delicious, and, we both agreed, even better reheated the next day! I think our first tryout was a success and at least has seemed to alleviate Michelle's soup fears for now. Next time, we'll try something a little more difficult perhaps! And in the meantime I not only did my friendly duty of helping her cook her first soup, I also introduced her to Smiles french Fries....because, what's better than soup and french fries? Especially "Smiles" fries!

Tomato-and-White-Bean Soup

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
2 (16-ounce) cans cannellini or other white beans, drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can fat-free chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add tomatoes and next 5 ingredients (tomatoes through pepper), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle with cheese.

Operation Baking GALS - Part 2!

As you may know, in September I participated in Operation Baking GALS (which stands for "Give A Little Support") for the first time. It is a small way to show our appreciation towards soldiers who are making many sacrifices to be serving our country - by giving them a taste of home. This time around, my friend Danielle, who got us all going on this great cause in September, hosted her own team - Dani's Delightful Darlings!

Obviously I signed right back up to take part of this and this tiem of course as a member of Dani's team! I also recruited some friends to join in on the fun! I got some of my best friends in the world - Michelle, Amy, & Melanie to lend a hand in the baking action. While finding a mutually agreeable time to get together for baking festivities would have been fun, it was near impossible, so basically they all brought me their goodies and I packed them up and shipped them to our marine, Corporal Jason Manley yesterday. (Below is me attempting to figure out how to fit everything in there!)

As part of Dani's 18 person team, we really put together a great package of goodies! And a lot of them - had I not used the Flat-Rate postal box they told me it would have cost $29 to ship them! That's a lot of goodies packed into one package! Amy, Melanie, and Michelle each made a batch of chocolate chip cookies...and how can you ever really go wrong with chocolate chip cookies? That will be sure to please our Marine and his buddies! Melanie also made a batch of peanut butter cookies, yummy! And I made Potato Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, and Oatmeal Raisin Squares. The latter 2 recipes appear below.

Thanks again to Dani for putting the time and effort into hosting this team! And thank you to Michelle, Melanie, & Amy (who appear in the picture below at my '04 MBA graduation) for joining me in this cause!

Peanut Butter Blossoms
(from Hershey's)

48 HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies.

Quaker's Best Oatmeal Cookies
(from Quaker Oats & Prepared as noted in the "variations" section)

1-1/4 cups (2-1/2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat margarine and sugars until creamy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg; mix well. Add oats; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8 to 9 minutes for a chewy cookie or 10 to 11 minutes for a crisp cookie. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Servings – about 3 dozen.

Variation - Bar Cookies: Press dough onto bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered. 24 Bars.

Variation: Stir in 1 cup raisins or chopped nuts.