Monday, March 31, 2008

Recipe Remix is HERE!

Please check out my new blog event that my fellow good friend and food blogger Danielle are hosting.

Info on the event can be found here!

Hope you can all join us in the fun!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Monthly Muffin Challenge: March

It's been a busy March and I practically forgot about my own personal Monthly Muffin Challenge but luckily I remembered this morning. I decided to bust out a long archived I'll-try-that-one-day recipe for Ham and Cheddar Muffins - a nice savory twist on a typical muffin. I chose the mini muffin option on these since my mini muffin pan hasn't seen any action in awhile. What a cute little addition to your weekend breakfast! I should mention I skipped the onion step, since my hubby doesn't like them but otherwise followed this to a T. So easy!

Ham and Cheddar Muffins


3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 medium-size sweet onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups all-purpose baking mix
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1 cup finely chopped cooked ham

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat; add onion, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.

Combine baking mix and half of cheese in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
Stir together milk and egg, blending well; add to cheese mixture, stirring until moistened. Stir in onion and ham. Spoon into lightly greased muffin pans, filling two-thirds full. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese.

Bake at 425° for 18 minutes or until golden (approximately 14 minutes in a min-muffin pan). Let stand 2 to 3 minutes before removing from pans.

Yields 12 (3-inch) muffins or 2 1/2 dozen mini muffins

Friday, March 28, 2008

Recipe Remix is making its debut.... week. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

And they said....let there be dessert!

I just realized I forgot to blog about Easter dessert.

You know those little recipe booklets that you find at the supermarket near the register? Well a couple of months ago I fell victim to the impulse buy and bought a Pilsbury one all on pies. I had made all of one recipe out of it so far. I picked it up a couple of weeks ago to look for something good for Easter dessert. I found what I remember being called a Strawberry Cream Tart and figured I could modify it to be something that my father-in-law, who is diabetic, could eat. It was very few ingredients, it called basically for a pre-made pie shell, cream cheese, some sugar, strawberries, and fresh whipped cream. I had decided using Cool Whip would just be a lot easier. So when I went shopping I didn't reference the recipe at all. But when I went to make the recipe on Saturday night I realized I couldn't find my little Pilsbury recipe booklet at all. I searched high and low, and in any room I could have brought it into. Nothing. I decide to search on the website. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

At that point I was pretty much forced to make it up myself from memory and it came out quite good I think! Below is my best re-creation of what I did - which was, in the end, super simple! I had leftovers of this and thought enough to take a picture of it last night before it disappeared. And that's dots of cool whip on those strawberries. I always seem to pick the worst piece of something when I photograph it. *sigh*

The second dessert I made was an easy one - I was all about easy dessert so I had more time to focus on brunch. It's a cookie dough cheesecake from I failed to take a picture (I know, you're totally surprised...not!) so I'm borrowing one from Kraft. This was easy, rich, and tasty. Can't get much better than that.

Last, is the dessert my mom made. She wanted to bring dessert but couldn't make up her mind so I sent her this Shortcut Carrot Cake recipe. Wow, was it good! Super moist and yummy. Thanks, Mom!!!

I'm also borrowing pictures from the Kraft website for the 2nd and 3rd recipes. I am sick of not having pictures and they are a lot easier on the eyes than my own pictures would have been anyway!
Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart
(Inspired by a Pilsbury recipe)

1 Pilsbury pre-made pie crust, softened according to package directions
1 8 oz block of low fat cream cheese, softened
1 small tub light Cool Whip
1/2 cup Splenda
About a 1/2 pint strawberries with stems removed and cut in half lengthwise

Heat oven to 450°F. Make pie crust as directed on box for One-Crust Baked Shell, using 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Bake about 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool.

In a medium sized bowl, combine cream cheese, 1/2 of the container of cool whip, and Splenda. Beat on medium/low until combined and creamy. Spread into cooled crust and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Using the rest of the Cool Whip, spread across the top of the tart (I did this more for looks than anything else). Then lay strawberries on top of tart in a concentric circle formation until tart is "full" with strawberries.
PHILADELPHIA® 3-STEP® Cookie Dough Cheesecake*

2 pkg (8oz each) Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup prepared or refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough, divided
1 Graham Pie Crust (6 oz.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs; mix just until blended. Remove 1/2 cup of the dough; drop by teaspoonfuls into batter. Stir gently until well blended.
Pour into crust. Top with level teaspoonfuls of the remaining 1/4 cup cookie dough.
Bake 40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.
*Picture from Kraft Foods

Shortcut Carrot Cake*

1 pkg. (2-layer size) spice cake mix
2 cups shredded carrots (about 1/2 lb.)
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup PLANTERS Chopped Pecans, divided
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, thawed
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cake mix batter as directed on package, stirring in carrots, pineapple and 3/4 cup of the pecans until well blended. Pour into 2 (9-inch) square baking pans. Bake 25 to 30 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool. My mother used 2 - 8 inch round cake pans. She noted that she had to increase the bake time by about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and sugar with electric mixer or wire whisk until well blended. Stir in whipped topping until well blended.

Place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Spread with 1-1/2 cups of the cream cheese mixture. Carefully place second cake layer on top of first cake layer. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining cream cheese mixture. Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup pecans. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
*Picture from Kraft Foods

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie & my 100th post

***Updated for picture below***

***Unfortunately you can see that my flan does not appear caramel-topped at all. I'm not sure if I messed up the caramel part of the process, if it had anything to do with using a nonstick pan, or I just needed more caramel. Overall it's a tasty recipe though, certainly not bad, just was looking forward to that little something extra in the caramel topping***
Last week I joined with Tuesday with Dorie after a little gentle prodding from my friend Danielle. Tuesdays with Dorie is a weekly event of sorts where one member of the blogroll picks a recipe out of the Baking From My Home to Yours cookbook by Dorie Greenspan.

This week's featured recipe was for Caramel Topped Flan chosen by Steph from A Whisk and a Spoon. I was going to make it for Easter dessert but I decided not to last minute and save this one for...well...for last minute!

I made this only just tonight and as of right now, since I don't want to be shamefully late for my first TWD post, I can only provide a picture of it fresh out of the oven perched upon a cooling rack. I did, however, get a smidge of a taste of this when I stuck a knife in the first time to check for doneness. I have to say that when I licked the knife clean of the remnants (yes, I admit to being a knife licker) it was quite tasty. I hope to update this with a fresh picture tomorrow once this has had ample time to cool and then chill for the 4 recommended hours.

I'd also like to mention that this is my 100th post! I have really come to enjoy food blogging even though, at the beginning, I was off to a slow start. Once I got myself going, now I find that I just can't stop - kind of like a bag of Lays chips...or was that Pringles?! Either way, I'm looking forward to the next 100!

Caramel Topped Flan

For the Caramel
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
squirt of fresh lemon juice

For the Flan
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1-1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a roasting pan or a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with a double thickness of paper towels. Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil; when the water boils, turn off the heat.

Put a metal 8-x-2-inch round cake pan-not a nonstick one-in the oven to heat while you prepare the caramel.

To Make the Caramel: Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Put the pan over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar becomes an amber-colored caramel, about 5 minutes-remove the pan from the heat at the first whiff of smoke.

Remove the cake pan from the oven and, working with oven mitts, pour the caramel into the pan and immediately tilt the pan to spread the caramel evenly over the bottom; set the pan aside.

To Make the Flan: Bring the cream and milk just to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a 2-quart glass measuring cup or in a bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Whisk vigorously for a minute or two, and then stir in the vanilla. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter of the hot liquid-this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the hot cream and milk. Using a large spoon, skim off the bubbles and foam that you worked up.

Put the caramel-lined cake pan in the roasting pan. Pour the custard into the cake pan and slide the setup into the oven. Very carefully pour enough hot water from the kettle into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. (Don't worry if this sets the cake pan afloat.) Bake the flan for about 35 minutes, or until the top puffs a bit and is golden here and there. A knife inserted into the center of the flan should come out clean.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven, transfer the cake pan to a cooking rack and run a knife between the flan and the sides of the pan to loosen it. Let the flan cool to room temperature on the rack, then loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When ready to serve, once more, run a knife between the flan and the pan. Choose a rimmed serving platter, place the platter over the cake pan, quickly flip the platter and pan over and remove the cake pan-the flan will shimmy out and the caramel sauce will coat the custard.

Yield: 6 to 8 Servings

Easter Eats!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we hosted Easter brunch. This was our 2nd year so and I really enjoy hosting a brunch. It's a change in pace from the typical holiday-type dinner that we are all accustomed to, likewise Easter and brunch are a perfect fit.

Per usual when entertaining, in my haste to get everything out of the oven and served before it got cold, I neglected to take pictures of most of my meal. However, here is how the menu looked:
* Fruit & cheese kabobs
* Orange Cream Mimosas
* Broccoli, Chicken, and Mushroom Quiche
* Bacon, Onion, & Cheese Quiche
* Scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese in puff pastry pockets
* Corned Beef Hash
* Mashed Potato Hash Brown type casserole
* French Toast Souffle
* Blueberry Bread (confession: this came from a box mix!)

The Fruit & Cheese kabobs were a great little idea I had seen on Strawberries, kiwi, and grapes on wooden skewers and alternated with cubes of Monterey Jack Cheese. I gave my husband the distinct honor of cutting and assembling these. I was quite impressed with the results - very nicely laid out - go Greg! I thought this was easier than making a huge fruit salad. These were easy and fun to eat! No good excuse to not have gotten a picture of these since they were done an hour before guests arrive, I just simply forgot!

Unfortunately I don't have a real recipe for the 2 quiches. I had decided on my fillings in advance and prepared them in their own containers so that on Easter morning I just had to beat the eggs, throw the fillings in, and pour everything in the pre-baked pie shells. I had a basic quiche recipe that I intended to use as a guide for the number of eggs to use, cooking time, etc. That plan went out the window. I added more eggs, half-and-half, etc. then the "guide" called for. To be honest I couldn't even tell you how many eggs I did in fact use, nevermind any other measurements. Trying to recreate my recipe here probably would only spell disaster. What I can tell you though is that they came out good!

The scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese pockets were a last minute inspiration. My friend Lindsay had mentioned something of the like to me a couple of weeks prior and it clicked with me this could be fun for Easter. Basically all I did was scramble eggs to the semi-runny state, and then laid out a little egg, a sprinkle of cheese, and some diced ham into a little puff pastry pocket. I got 3 pockets for each sheet of puff pastry (I used the fold lines as my divider). It worked out nicely and despite my fears the eggs weren't dried out at all.

There are 3 recipes I can provide you with though...

The first being is homemade Corned Beef Hash. I got this from one of my buddies, Pam, on my local Nest board for my Easter brunch last year. Since it was so popular last year, I didn't think twice about including it on this year's menu. I love how easy it is and how it's something I can prep and then not think about again! You'll never find something this good from a can!

The next recipe is for Paula Deen's Mashed Baked recipe. It's a cross between mashed potatoes and hash browns. I thought this might be a nice bridge between breakfast and lunch and hence fitting of brunch. It was delicious. I lightened it up a bit by using low fat cream cheese, low fat sour cream, and low fat cheese.

Lastly is a French Toast Souffle from I don't really know why they call it a souffle, because it's really not a souffle. I digress. It was good, but not great. I really enjoy Paula Deen's French Toast Casserole that I've used in the past (including last Easter) more. I'm sure that has something to do with this recipe being from Cooking Light and Paula's recipe...well...let's just say 2 sticks of butter can change everything!

Corned Beef Hash

3 Cups cooked corned beef
2 small chopped onion
3 potatoes, peeled and diced into small chunks
1/2 Teaspoons salt
1/2 Teaspoons black pepper
1 Cups beef broth

Run first three ingredients through food processor. Mix well with all the remaining ingredients. Press into well greased pot. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours.

Mashed Baked

4 cups frozen hash browns
1 (7.6-ounce) package butter and herb mashed potato mix
1 stick butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups boiling water
2 cups prepared French-fried onion rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the hash browns. Cook for 5 minutes and drain.

In a large bowl, mix together the cooked hash browns, mashed potato mix, butter, cream cheese, jack cheese, sour cream, garlic salt, salt and pepper. Stir in the boiling water.

Place in a greased 2-quart casserole dish. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Sprinkle the onion rings over the casserole and bake for about 5 to 8 minutes longer until onions are golden brown.

French Toast Souffle

10 cup (1-inch) cubed sturdy white bread (such as Pepperidge Farm Hearty White, about 16 (1-ounce) slices)
Cooking spray
1 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat-cream cheese, softened
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup

Place bread cubes in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Beat cream cheese at medium speed of mixer until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add milk, half-and-half, 1/2 cup maple syrup, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture over top of bread; cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Remove bread mixture from refrigerator; let stand on counter for 30 minutes. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until set. Sprinkle the souffle with powdered sugar, and serve with maple syrup.

Tasty Tools!

My husband and I hosted an Easter brunch on Sunday for 8 of us. Last year I served mimosas but this year I was looking for a little something different. Since I had fewer guests this year than last, I thought it wouldn't hurt to put a little extra time into the featured brunch beverage du jour. After some research, I found a great recipe from Tyler Florence on the Food Network website for Orange Cream Mimosas. It sounded like a fun, easy, and delicious twist on the standard mimosa and it was the perfect opportunity to take part in the Tasty Tools event that Joelen from Joelen's Culinary Adventures is hosting this month.

These two factors combined gave me the perfect excuse to buy the microplane grater I have pined after for so long. It's true, everytime I watched the Food Network and one of the chefs whips out his or her microplane grater, I turned green with envy. So it was an Easter present for myself! I was able to zest the orange for this recipe like a pro. I just love it! While my box grater is still a useful tool, I love the ease of the microplane grater, not to mention I find it neater. I definitely intend on using it often!

Let me just say, these mimosas were Stupendous, despite my horrible choice of where I took the picture. I was scrambling around the kitchen and as you will soon see, I didn't even take a picture of the rest of my Easter meal! (p.s. I love my Keurig Coffee maker!)

Anyway, I digress. They were Stupendous...yes, with a capital S. When we ran out of champagne and still had some of the frozen portion left we switched to ginger ale. Still Stupendous. I almost wished I had doubled the batch - in fact next year I will!

Orange Cream Mimosas

2 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (5 to 6 oranges)
1 orange, zested
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup superfine sugar
1 bottle sparkling wine or Champagne*
Strawberries, for garnish
*Non-alcoholic sparkling wine, sparkling cider, or ginger ale can be substituted

Put orange juice, zest, half-and-half, and sugar into a blender and process until the sugar has dissolved, about 30 seconds. Pour this mixture into a shallow pan and freeze until hard, 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the frozen orange mixture from the freezer and let it sit to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. With a scoop or tablespoon, scrape out a small scoop and put it into a Champagne glass. Slowly fill the glass with Champagne and serve garnished with strawberries.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I heart my pressure cooker, and Nigella!

I already used my pressure cooker again. I don't think I've ever completed a batch of homemade mashed potatoes in such a short amount of time. It is just so fast, I love it and looking forward to using my pressure cooker more often now. I don't know wha took me so long to use it in the first place!

Nigella provided tonights main course. Chicken is one of those things you can never have too many different ways of preparing. I really do love my "Nigella Express" cookbook. This was an entirely unhealthy way to roast a whole chicken, but surely quite a yummy way to roast a chicken! I used maple-flavored bacon and I cannot tell you how yummy my kitchen smelled while it was cooking. I wish I could watch Nigella on TV but she grates on my nerves for some reason, oh well, at least her cookbook is great! :-)

Brandied-Bacony Chicken
(from "Nigella Express)

1 (2 1/2 to 3-pound) chicken
2 strips bacon (I used maple flavored)
1/4 cup brandy

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a small frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until it's crisp and the pan full of gorgeous bacony fat, about 4 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, the bacon out of the pan and straight into the cavity of the chicken, sitting the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan as you do so.

Pour the brandy into the still hot frying pan with bacon grease and let bubble for a minute. Pour the brandy mixture over the chicken. Place the roasting pan into the hot oven and roast for 45 minutes, making sure juices run clear between leg and body. Let rest 10 minutes before carving. Serve with bacon pieces from cavity of chicken.

Quick Garlic Mashed Potatoes
(adapted from "Pressure Cooking for Everyone")

3 pounds medium red-skinned potatoes peeled & cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 medium sized yellow onion, quartered
4 cups water
8 large garlic cloves crushed under a knife & peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup shredded cheese (I used mozzarella)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a 5 to 7 quart pressure cooker, combine the potatoes, onion, water, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Lock the lid in place. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and quick release pressure. Open the lid, tilting away from you to block any escaping steam. Open the lid, tilting it away from you to block any escaping steam. Drain well.

Return the potatoes, onion, and garlic to the warm cooker. Using an electric mixer or potato masher (I used a masher to disguise the onion into the mix), mash the potatoes with half-and-half, butter, and cheese. Season with additional salt and pepper. Serve hot.

It's Master Baker time again!

Finally, a blog entry this week with an actual recipe :-)

With so much going on the last couple of weeks and Easter approaching quickly (and we are hosting brunch), I wondered if I'd really get around to participating in this month's Master Baker challenge. The featured ingredient for the month is Easter candy.

I was having a craptastic day yesterday and I realized that nothing would get me out of my funk more than going home and whipping something up in the kitchen. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to complete the Master Baker challenge for the month.

So off I was searching for ideas, when the thought came to me *cue lightbulb over head* to make my own Easter candy rather than incorporating an Easter candy into a recipe. So I Googled for a recipe that could re-create Cadbury Cream Eggs and voila! I found one in an instant on that seemed simple enough.

Cadbury Cream Eggs, without a doubt, are my favorite Easter candy and the recipe below is a pretty close match to the real thing. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips in my recipe because I thought this would make them even better - I love dark chocolate. Also, while I am including the steps and the related ingredients, you can see by the picture below that I did not make the orange "yolk" filling. Making these eggs was a pretty time consuming process since you do a lot of waiting for the filling and chocolate to chill (as it is, I made a note where I cut down some of the times a bit). I wanted to finish everything all in the same night, so I skipped this part. I figure that as long as it tastes good I can give up on the aesthetics of a fake yolk ;-)

Cadbury Cream Eggs

1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 drops yellow food coloring
2 drops red food coloring
1(12ounce) bag milk chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vegetable shortening

Combine the corn syrup, butter, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Beat well with an electric mixer until smooth. After fully combined, add powdered sugar, a little bit at at time and mix by hand after each addition. Mix until creamy.

Remove about 1/3 of the sugar mixture and place in a small bowl. Add the food coloring and mix well. Cover both mixtures and chill for at least 2 hours or until firm. (I chilled for about 90 minutes)

When mixtures are still firm roll a small, marble size from the orange filling then, wrap a small amount of the white filling around the orange.

Form into the shape of eggs and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. (I used wax paper instead). Repeat until done and chill for at least 4 hours. (I chilled for 2 hours in refrigerator and then 15 minutes in the freezer).

Combine the chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler or ceramic bowl. Melt down and mix well.

Working quickly, take each egg filling and dip into the melted chocolate mixture and return to baking sheet.

Repeat and chill again for 2 hours. After these 2 hours are up, repeat the dipping process, chill again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's coming....

Recipe Remix is coming.......

My wonderful friend Danielle (from Make No Little Meals) and I have a lot in common. We actually met on a local wedding planning chatboard back in 2004. We got engaged a week apart and were both planning to get married the same year. Over time, we realized that we grew up one town over from the other, and we both went to the same high school. We even discovered our mothers went to high school together! By this point I hope it's evident that our online friendship quickly grew into a wonderful in-real-life friendship.

I should tell you we have another thing we have in common - we are self-proclaimed "food dorks." We love to cook, bake, blog, buy cookbooks, and as of late, participate in blog challenges and events. We are always informing each other of events or challenges in which we think the other would be interested. I think we have both discovered that food blog events and challenges are a fun way for us to amp up our kitchen creativity and try new recipes we may not have thought to try before.

Recently an idea for a blog event came to mind and I decided to run it by Danielle. After a lot of brainstorming we came up with our little brain child of "Recipe Remix," for which we are very excited!

More details will be coming soon. We are shooting to kickoff the challenge the week after next, so stay tuned for further details!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Williams Sonoma Gift Card Giveaway

Wow, Kate of The Clean Plate Club, is giving away a $50 Williams Sonoma gift card. Ahhh the things I could buy there. Tops on my list would be a salt and pepper mill, preferably, these. Sadly I don't even have a salt and pepper's a serious gaping hole in my culinary supplies.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

When the stars align....

My friend Danielle (of Make No Little Meals) and I are new to the blog challenge/event world, but we are both addicted already. When Danielle emailed me the link about a week and a half ago to Weekend Cookbook Challenge - I was excited instantly about this month's theme - dutch ovens, crockpots, and pressure cookers. I had to laugh at the timing because just the night before I had been flipping through my "Pressure Cooking for Everyone" cookbook.

My mother is a big pressure cooker fan - she cooks chicken in there, beef stew, boiled dinner, soups, pot roast, etc. When my husband and I set up our wedding registry I not only requested a pressure cooker, but I also requested the aforementioned cookbook.

It's been a little over 2 years since - 2 years of never having used a kitchen gadget or a cookbook (so not like me!). I want to clear the air and dispell the any notion you may have right now - the fact that I had not yet used my pressure cooker is not because I am afraid of it. I know many people have a fear of pressure cookers - afraid of getting burned by steam or losing an eye. I remember hearing the mumble of some concerned guests at my bridal shower when I opened it. I'm not afraid of a pressure cooker, I watched my mom use it for many a year, and there have been no injuries! So, I figured it's time for me to take the plunge. I resolved that I needed to use both the pressure cooker and the cookbook sooner rather than later.

If it wasn't ironic enough that I had resolved to use my pressure cooker in the very near future, and pressure cooking was one of the themes of the latest Weekend Cookbook Challenge, St. Patrick's Day was also approaching. When I was flipping through my "Pressure Cooking for Everyone" cookbook I had dog-eared the Corned Beef Boiled Dinner recipe which I tried out last night.

Being a pressure cooker virgin (ok, c'mon, I had to make the joke!) it was a little bit of an adventure for me which included a phone call to my parents' to ask some advice, and my husband lending me a hand with the process since I've been feeling a little under the weather (isn't he sweet?).

So, the recipe below is a reflection of stars aligning at the right place and the right time! I've completed the Weekend Cookbook Challenge, used my pressure cooker and cookbook (everything went well and I can't wait to use my pressure cooker again!), and cooked a celebratory St. Patrick's Day meal (which turned out great may I add, the corned beef was SO tender!)

Corned Beef Boiled Dinner
(from "Pressure Cooking for Everyone")

One 3 pound corned beef brisket with pickling spice packet
2 cups water
One 12 oz bottle of lager beer
2 medium onions, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 medium red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup baby carrots
1 small head green cabbage, cut into 6 wedges

Rinse corned beef but do not trim the fat. Tie the spices in a double thickness of cheese cloth.

Place the rack in a 5-7 quart pressure cooker. Add water, beer, onions, garlic, and spice sachet. Place corned beef in the pot (do not be concerned if corned beef touches sides of the pot as it will shrink as it cooks).

Lock lid in place. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain pressure. Cook for 1 hour, 10 minutes. Let the steam release naturally (about 15 minutes). Open the lid, tilting it away from you to block escaping steam.

Transfer meat to serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to large serving bowl. Cover with with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Place the potatoes and carrots in cooking liquid in pot. (The nitrates in the corned beef will have probably turned the liquid red, but don't be concerned). Place the cabbage on top, trying to submerge it in the broth as much as possible. Lock the lid in place. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to the serving bowl.

And on that note...........
Enjoy your St. Patrick's Day!!!!

Everything is better wrapped up in some puff pastry!

I had about a half pound of steak, some leftover sliced mushrooms, and plenty of cheese. With these ingredients in mind, I was going to make regular Philly cheesesteak sandwiches on torpedo rolls, but then I remembered I had a sheet of puff pastry in the freezer. Just like the cartoons, a little animated lightbulb went on above my head. Ok, maybe it wasn't really like a cartoon...but it's more fun to imagine that that's how it happened.

Here's my version of a tasty twist on a regular steak & cheese. I didn't put onions and peppers in this because of my picky husband, but adding them would only make this sandwich that much better.

Admittedly, that's a pretty horrible picture I took of one of the pieces of the "sandwich." I promise you though that your tastebuds will thank you for making this. The photographer just stinks :-)

Mushroom Steak & Cheese Sandwich in Puff Pastry

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup sliced portabello mushrooms
Approximately 1/2 lb steak of your choice (I used top round) cut into slices
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
1 tablespoon Lite Soy Sauce
3/4 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used a combination of 2 cheeses)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium saute pan, add olive oil and mushrooms. Cook on low/medium heat until tender.

Add steak, pepper, salt, oregano, BBQ sauce, garlic and soy sauce to pan. Saute gently until steak is almost cooked through. Add additional salt and pepper if needed.

Lay puff pastry on lightly greased cookie sheet so that the sides of the puff pastry are over the edges of the pan. Spread half of the shredded cheese down the middle of the pastry, then top with steak mushroom mixture, then the remainder of the cheese.

With damp fingers, pull up edges of the puff pastry to meet in center and pinch closed. Pinch ends of pastry closed as well.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden. Slice to serve.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Taste & Create Event

"Hi, my name is Robin....and I'm a food blog challenge/event addict."

All it took was my first challenge, Master Baker, and I was in - hook, line, and sinker.

Now I'm on my 3rd challenge/event. I decided to participate in the Taste & Create Event this month where you are randomly paired with another food blogger and you have to pick one of the recipes in their blog to make yourself. I was paired with the ladies of Peanut Butter Etouffe and let me tell you, it was hard to pick. I'll likely be making something else out of their blog one of these days unrelated to the event just because there were so many recipes on there that made my mouth water.

I decided on these chocolate toffee treats (they were nameless in the post so I apologize that I am taking the privilege of giving them a title!) that just sounded like they were delectable and boy were they! I decided since I was baking this the night before a team meeting at work I'd bring in "the goods" for the meeting. After my co-workers ogled the results, the container was passed around and by 10am when the meeting ended, and all but about 4 small pieces were gone.

These were simple, easy, and incredibly tasty! As Doodles suggested in her blog entry, I will definitely try this recipe again perhaps switching up the type of chocolate, etc. This is one of those recipes that would be a lifesaver to make for a quick dessert/snack for unexpected company or for any gathering really - it's sure to be a hit!

Chocolate Toffee Treats

4 ounces saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).

Line cookie sheet with saltine crackers in single layer.

In a saucepan combine the sugar and the butter. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Immediately pour over saltines and spread t cover crackers completely.

Bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes. Spread melted chocolate and top with chopped nuts. Cool completely and break into pieces.

We love us some pork chops!

Really, we do, I don't cook a lot of red meat these days because it can be expensive but also because it isn't the healthiest for you. You gotta love "the other white meat." Thing is, I'm always looking for a new way to prepare it since my husband I have pork fairly often. Anotehr pork perk? It's versatile meat that can take on a lot of different flavors.

I tried this recipe tonight for Honey and Spice-Glazed Pork Chops from, making just a minor change. They came out fab! I really loved the sweet flavor, but it wasn't overpowering either. I'm definitely adding this to my repetoire of pork recipes.

Honey and Spice-Glazed Pork Chops

1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cooking spray
4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl.

Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Reduce heat to medium-low; add honey mixture. Cook 10 minutes or until done, turning pork once.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cheesecake Toffee Drops

A couple of months ago I caught a recipe on one of the blogs I like to read, Brooke's ...and a Cookie for Dessert. I knew eventually I would make them. I finally got around to making these last week and they came out great. I probably could have eaten just the batter it was so tasty, but then I figured I should actually try to bake them.
I love that this came from the Small Batch Baking cookbook - it's nice to have a recipe that doesn't make 4 dozen cookies, and instead makes "just enough." Thanks for sharing this great recipe, Brooke!

(from ...and a Cookie for Dessert & "Small Batch Baking")

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon well-beaten egg or egg substitute
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped chocolate-covered toffee bar (such as Heath or Skor)

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Set aside an ungreased baking sheet.

Place the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Place the butter, brown sugar and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the beaten egg and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until dough is light in texture, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are blended in. Stir in the toffee with a wooden spoon.

Drop the cookie batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies appear dry and golden, 20-25 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack, cool completely.

Makes 6 cookies

Thinking outside the box....

About a year ago, I found a recipe for Updated Shepherd's Pie in my Kraft Food & Family mag that I receive seasonally.

I was of course intrigued and made it right away. Since then I don't think I've ever looked at Shepherd's Pie the same way again. It is funny how narrowminded you can become over one staple - figuring it should be done one way and that's it and then you suddenly discover there's a whole new world to it! For example, I never would have thought to use mixed vegetables prior to seeing this recipe, I only thought of corn when I thought of Shepherd's pie.

Since making this version of Shepherd's pie, I've switched up my methods and ingredients more often than not, and let me tell you, as much as a traditional Shepherd's pie is a great comfort food, it is kind of fun to put a different twist on it now and then. This past weekend I used ground turkey cooked in some light soy sauce and it gave the dish, once again, different spin on taste.

I have no specific recipe to share except to tell you it was inspired by the one above and that we all should try to think outside the box, or should I say "cook outside the pot" now and then!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Choosey wives choose Jif ....

....when making baked goods for her husband's co-workers!

Once again my husband had to head off on business this weekend with a couple of his co-workers. Since I've started the trend, I now need to live up to the anticipation of what I will bake for them next. My husband has started to field inquisitions and special requests as to what I may make for them on their next trip.

This time I sent Greg off with a double batch of Rich Chewy Peanut Butter Bars from the Jif website and, per usual, he came home with an empty platter.

Rich Chewy Peanut Butter Bars

No-Stick Cooking Spray
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Jif® Creamy Peanut Butter, or crunchy
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9x2 inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray with flour.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside

Heat peanut butter and butter or margarine together until melted. Stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well blended.

Add flour mixture and stir just until combined. Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack and cut into bars.

Yield: 36 servings

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I told you I like to blog-hop!

Speaking of "blog-hopping," on Sunday morning I was looking for a solution for what to do with some ripe bananas. A banana bread seemed too mundane. I used the food blog search engjne on the side of my page and eventually I landed on a banana scone recipe from Baking Bites. I love scones and since the recipe only made a small batch it was perfect for my needs.

I made a few modifications by adding more banana, a little cinnamon, and a tablespoon of half-n-half. I also subbed half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. They came out so yummy. I hadn't had a scone in a long, long time, so the timing was perfect.

(from Baking Bites)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoon butter, cold
4-5 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon half-n-half
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup banana, diced (approx. half a medium banana)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and ginger. Cut butter into a few chunks and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips.

Mix milk, half-n-half, and vanilla in a small glass. Pour about 4 tablespoons into the flour mixture and stir until the mixture starts to come together. Add the banana chunks and continue to stir, adding more milk if necessary, until dough comes together.

Pat dough into a disk about 1 inch thick. Cut into four sections with a knife and place each on baking sheet.

Bake at 400F for 17-20 minutes, until light gold. Cool on wire rack or eat warm. These scones are best the day they are made.

Makes 4 scones.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Baked Greek Chicken

If you haven't figured it out yet, I do a lot of "blog-hopping" - in other words, I love to read other blogs for ideas and inspiration. I ran across Kate's Blog - Paved with Good Intentions. I loved it and quickly added her blog to my list of favorites.

The Baked Greek Chicken recipe she posted last week was just what I needed to jazz up two chicken breasts I had unthawing in the refrigerator, and better yet, I had all of the ingredients! To top it all off, it was even healthy, especially since I used a reduced fat feta cheese.

The only changes I made to the recipe was adding a little oregano (based on what I saw in Elly's reply) and cooking the chicken with the diced pepper right on top. I love the flavor of red pepper so I thought this was a great way to infuse that flavor into the dish while it baked, especially knowing that my hubby would pick them off when come serving time. He doesn't mind the flavor of onions and peppers, but he doesn't like to bite into them, so if he sees them he won't eat them (hence why I have started to grate onions into dishes and chop things super fine - for instance he had no problem with the peppers and onions in the salmon cakes I made the other night because he couldn't really see them). All in all though, I can't complain, he tries whatever I give him, he's my #1 guinea pig. I mean taste tester! He could be a much pickier eater than he is!

But, I digress....bottom line is that this was delicious. Thanks, Kate, for the easy, yummy, and healthy recipe (if you want nutrition facts for this, visit Kate's blog)!

Baked Greek Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 lemon, cut in half
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp oregano
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 red pepper, diced

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange chicken in oven safe baking dish. Drizzle chicken with juice from half of the lemon.

Season chicken with salt, pepper, and oregano. Top with feta cheese and diced red pepper. Drizzle with juice from remaining half of lemon.

Bake 35-40 minutes.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Butterscoth Spice Cookies

When I saw this recipe in my food website browsing I thought 2 things: 1) This is easy and 2) That's an interesting combination of flavors. So being the curious person that I am, I made these cookies this past week and they came out great. My husband ate 10 of them when they came out of the oven - and no - I'm not exaggerating, he really ate 10 of them! At least I was able to snap a picture of what was left.......

Butterscoth Spice Cookies

1 package spice cake mix
1/2 cup veg. oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375. Combine cake mix, eggs, oil and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at low speed with electric mixer until well blended. Stir in buttercotch chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet. Remove to cooling racks. Cool completely.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Eat to the Beat!! Another Blog Challenge!

Last week after completeing my first blog challenge, I started to look for others and stumbled upon the Eat to the Beat challenge hosted by Elly of Elly Says Opa - you pick a song or a band or lyrics and relate it to a recipe.

I started really listening to songs on the radio and let's face it, most songs have a common theme of love. As I listened more I realized that so many of these love songs had another common word in them besides the word love: heart.

Think of it, there's a band named Heart. There's also "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, "Cross My Heart" by George Strait, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, "Unbreak My Heart" by Toni Braxton, "Heartbreaker" by Mariah Carey, "Open Your Heart to Me" by Madonna, etc. Obviously I could carry on about songs with the word heart in the title, nevermind the word heart in the lyrics - I'm sure there are thousands of those!

So while I hadn't chosen one particular song, the common thread of the word "heart" in so many songs, and song titles (and even one band name!) led me to making a heart healthy main dish.
First I had to do some research on heart healthy foods and was easily able to find a great list on WebMD. The first food on that list is salmon. Salmon immediately struck a chord with me because I haven't had salmon in a long time. However, I really didn't want to just make a boring piece of salmon so I started searching for ideas. On Martha Stewart's food site I found a recipe for salmon cakes that piqued my interest but, per usual, I wanted to make some of my own modifications to it.

To help the cakes stick together, instead of using breadcrumbs in the mixture itself, I used oatmeal which is also on WebMD's heart healthy foods list. The recipe already called for some finely diced red bell pepper (on WebMD's list again) but I decided to add another veggie from the list - carrots. So, in the salmon cakes alone, I had 4 heart-healthy ingredients that you can Eat to the Beat with!

Check out the results and eat your heart out! I was really pleased with how these came out in the end - a nice crunchiness on the outside of the cakes and lots of great flavor inside. I served the salmon cakes atop some orzo tossed in olive oil and pepper. Unfortunately I was so consumed with the blog challenge that I hadn't put any thought into a side dish at all. Oops! Luckily this entry is about the salmon cakes!

Salmon Cakes
(inspired by Salmon Cakes recipe on

2 - 6oz pouches of salmon (I used Bumble Bee which was already de-boned)
1 small red bell pepper (or half of a large pepper), seeded and finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped carrots
¼ cup grated onion
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of ground ginger
½ cup quick cooking oats
½ cup bread crumbs
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a bowl, combine salmon, bell pepper, onion, egg, egg whites, mustard, paprika, celery salt, pepper, and ginger, and oatmeal. Using hands, combine well.

Pour bread crumbs into a shallow bowl. Form salmon mixture into 8 three-inch patties. Coat patties in bread crumbs; place on prepared baking sheet. Cook for 15 minutes and flip cakes and return to oven another 15 minutes (for a total 30 minutes of cook time). Serve warm.

Nice Matters Award

I received the Nice Matters Award the other day from Dell of Cooking and the City! Thanks, Dell! Now it's my turn to make a tag!

Danielle of Make No Little Meals

Katerina of Daily Unadventures in Cooking

Diana of D.S. Brennan Photography