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.

Pork Chops with Stuffing & Curry

I got this recipe from my "Fix It & Forget It" cookbook and threw all in the crockpot on the fly one morning before I left for work. Of course I know this recipe is full of things many food bloggers shun...pre-prepared stuffing, cream of whatever soup, etc. Well, guess what? I don't care hehehe....sometimes easy is still good!

Anyway, I added a couple of things to the recipe, about a 1/4 apple juice to the bottom of the crockpot, used cream of celery soup instead of cream of mushroom, and some diced onion & celery.

All in all, this came out pretty good! I actually cut down the curry a tad from the original recipe (which called for 1 teaspoon of curry powder) which I think was good. While I like curry, there is only so much of it I can tolerate too.

Also I threw these chops in frozen since I completely spaced on taking any meat at all out of the freezer for dinner. It all worked out well though, 8 hours later the chops were fully cooked, moist, and tasty! The stuffing seemed a little crunchy on top of the chops, but I have to admit, I kind of liked that it ended up a little crunchy ;-)

Oh, and I will completely admit that this picture looks totally un-appetizing, please don't let it deter you!

Pork Chops with Stuffing & Curry
(from Fix It & Forget It)

1 box stufing mix (I used whole wheat stuffing)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple juice
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 finely diced stalks of celery
1/2 finely diced small yellow onion
3-4 pork chops

Combine stuffing mix and water. Pour apple juice in bottom of crockpot. Place pork chops in pot.

Combine soup, and curry powder and then combine with stuffing. Place on top of pork chops.

Cover, cook on low 6-7 hours (8 hours for my frozen pork chops).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Savory Cheese Soup

In cold weather, there isn't much better than a bowl of soup. Lo and behold, we've been having some cold weather here in New England (who would have thunk it?) so today soup sounded like a perfect meal.

I busted out an old recipe that I haven't made in awhile, I don't even remember where I got it (sorry! I think it may have been a magazine) but I just had to make it today. Soup on a cold day is wonderful. Cheesy soup on a cold day is even better!

I made some changes to this recipe this time around (recipe appears written to include my modifications). I did not use a bell pepper as originally called for an added a few frozen broccoli florets. I also doubled the amount of cream cheese, and since the soup just wasn't at the consistency I wanted it to be (I also subbed lowfat cream cheese for regular cream cheese). I doubled the amount of onion as well. I used minced garlic instead of garlic powder. Something else I did to jazz this up was use Sargento's bistro selections cheddar cheese that also had bacon bits in it. Bacon and cheese? How can you really go wrong with that???
(p.s. I just used Bud Light for the beer here, didn't have anything else in the house we thought would work, but I imagine you could really have fun with some flavors depending on the type of beer you use)

Savory Cheese Soup

1 Can chicken broth
1/4 Cup chopped carrot
1/4 Cup chopped celery
2 Tablespoons chopped onion
5 frozen broccoli florets
1 Teaspoon butter
1/8 Teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/8 Teaspoon dried oregano
1 Pinch salt
2 Tablespoons flour
3 Tablespoons water
6 ounces softened, cubed lowfat cream cheese
1 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 Cup beer

In a 1 1/2 quart slow cooker combine first 10 ingredients, cover & cook on low for 5 hours.

Combine flour & water until smooth, stir into soup. Cover & cook on high for 30 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cream cheese & cheddar cheese until blended. Stir in beer.

Cover & cook on low for 10 minutes or until heated

Chocolate overload!

Last night we had dinner with friends. I asked what I could bring over and the response was dessert! I was going to make an apple pie but I got a request for something chocolatey and so I decided to flip through some of my cookooks that I haven't used in awhile for inspiration.

I came upon a recipe for "Beatty's Chocolate Cake" from my Barefood Contessa at Home cookbook. It definitely fit the chocolatey bill! I decided to make the cake but not the frosting recipe that goes along with it because it called for an uncooked egg yolk. Something about that just didn't seem right. I searched on and found an easy recipe for Mocha Frosting on there. The recipe for that will appear as written, I, however, found the original recipe's frosting was a bit too thin for my taste and so I added more confectioner's sugar to achieve the consistency I wanted. I garnished the cake with mini-chocolate chips, just to up the chocolate factor a tad.

But, long story short, this cake was tasty, rich, and just really great and really easy too! The addition of coffee to the cake, and obviously the frosting (duh! That's why it's "mocha") were a great combination. I think it was a hit with our friends Matt & Alexis! My friend Melanie was over today and I gave her a piece and she loved it too.

Beatty's Chocolate Cake
(from Barefoot Contess at Home)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans*
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used regular salt)
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. (*I skippted this process and just used "PAM" for baking and sprayed that generously on my cake pans - they came out perfectly)

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, andsalt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pans for 30 minutes, then turn them onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place one layer, flat side up on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting eveny on the top and sides of the cake.

Mocha Frosting

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup strong, hot, brewed coffee
3 cups confectioners' sugar*
1/3 cup melted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine coffee and cocoa in small bowl of electric mixer. Beat until blended. Add sugar, butter or margarine, salt, and vanilla. Beat until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat icing until it has a spreading consistency. Frost the cake. (*I added at least a 1/2 cup more confectioner's sugar to achieve a thicker consistency)