Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monkey Bread

"Hey Gavin, guess what Mama's making for breakfast Christmas morning?"


"Monkey bread!"

..............."Oh.  How many monkeys is she putting in it?"

My boy is too funny.  Anyway, this is our Christmas morning tradition.

Monkey Bread
Recipe from my mother-in-law; method slightly adapted

1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3 (10oz) containers refrigerated biscuits [NOT Grands!!! Trust me on this one.]
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar

1.  Liberally grease a large bundt pan with cooking spray.  Sprinkle pecans around the bottom and set pan aside.  Combine granulated sugar and cinnamon in a resealable plastic bag.
A cinnamon bomb went off on the sugar

2.  Working in batches, use kitchen shears to cut each biscuit into quarters and toss into the sugar mixture.  Seal the bag and toss to coat the biscuit pieces.  Layer the pieces evenly in the bundt pan. 
No need to be precise, but try to keep it somewhat even.

3.  Whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar.  Drizzle the butter mixture over the "top" of the bread (this will actually become the bottom once it's baked).  At this point, you can either bake it right away or cover it and put it back in the fridge.  Because it takes me about 40 minutes to put it together, I always make it the day before.
I feel positively decadent just looking at this.

4.  If you've refrigerated the assembled bread, pull it out at least 30 minutes before baking.  Preheat oven to 350.  Bake for 40-45 minutes; let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Cover the bundt pan with a platter and carefully flip it over (you may need to give it some encouragement with a knife around the edges).  Voila!
Don't touch yet!!  It HAS to rest 10 minutes before inverting.  Set a timer. Walk away.

Your patience is rewarded.

This is an easy yet impressive breakfast item because it just looks so pretty!  And since it's REALLY SWEET, I like to serve this with some kind of eggs and a fresh fruit salad just to round things out a little more.
Gavin was panting at the table in anticipation.
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Yogurt Pancakes

We are a Pancake House.  I think I've mentioned here before how much my son LOVES pancakes.  He's not alone!  Rob and I also love to drown golden disks of goodness in butter and syrup.  Is there any happier way to start a weekend?
Simple.  Homey.

Rob tends to be more traditional in his pancake love.  He'll happily eat whatever I make but, given the choice, it's Buttermilk Pancakes all the way.  And if you haven't figured me out yet, let me spell out my preference for you: I like to experiment.  I REALLY love pancakes that are light, fluffy, and have a flavor that's awesome enough to complement whatever I want to put on it.  I'm a big fan of alternative pancake toppings like fruit, chocolate, and whipped cream with a little cinnamon or nutmeg.

There was one Saturday morning where I think I went to make Rob's preference and realized, as this happens to me frequently, that my buttermilk was way beyond it's sell by date.  Man I HATE that.  Why does buttermilk have to spoil so quickly???

What?  Oh yeah, pancakes.  Anyway, I looked around and found a recipe for pancakes using an ingredient that I ALWAYS have around: yogurt.

Yogurt Pancakes
Recipe from Food Network Magazine

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla

1.  Preheat a skillet over medium LOW heat.  Yes, low.  I'll explain why later.

2.  Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, butter, eggs, and vanilla.
Yeah, I over-measured. But I caught myself before I dumped all of this into the bowl.

3.  Whisk the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.  Yes, the batter will be thick and feel dense.  Stay with me, these are awesome.
It's a dark picture but I want you to see just how thick this batter is.

4.  Ladle 1/4 cupfuls of the batter onto the hot, greased griddle and spread it out a little bit.  You may not see bubbles as easily with this batter so watch the edges for slight browning to know when to flip.  Keep the heat on the low side of things so as to not burn the outside before the inside cooks.  Serve hot with whatever toppings you like.
Cook these low and slow.

The first time I made these, I had knots in my stomach over the batter.  I was convinced they were going to be these heavy, hockey-puck-esque cakes that would sit in our stomachs like lead.  Boy was I so happily wrong!!  These are light, fluffy, and moist.  Rob of course like his traditional butter and syrup on his, and sometimes I like to join him in that.

But if you're in the mood for something else, and say you happen to notice you have apples that are starting to go on you.  Perhaps make some chunky applesauce with them with some brown sugar, a little lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves... that's also quite AMAZING on these cakes. ;)
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Festive Fudge Blossoms

Christmas is merely minutes away.  Or, at least that's what it feels like to me.  I am STILL baking and decorating cookies.  I have dozens and dozens of the sugary confections already decorating my dining room table so why on earth am I compelled to keep going?

Because it's Christmas dammit!  And this is the only time of year I can bake cookies with maniacal abandon and be totally normal.  So COME TO MY HOUSE AND EAT COOKIES PLEASE!!!
Who wouldn't love cookies for Christmas??

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, the origins of this particular recipe... It was my first Christmas in an apartment.  I was in college and had a BURNING desire to make some Christmas cookies.  But I was dirt poor and hadn't developed a fully-stocked pantry yet.  I needed a cookie recipe that didn't require me to go out and buy pounds and pounds of flour, sugar, and butter.  I needed quick, cheap, and easy.

I don't think it gets any faster, cheaper, or easier than cake mix.

Festive Fudge Blossoms
Recipe from Santa's Favorite Cookies cookbook

1 box chocolate fudge cake mix
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened [FYI, I've tried both and find margarine easier to work with here]
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tbsp water
3/4 to 1 cup FINELY chopped walnuts
Chocolate stars

1.  Preheat oven to 350.
Hard to tell from here but the margarine has been cut in.

2.  Using a dough cutter, fork, or whisk, cut the margarine into the cake mix in a large bowl until coarse crumbs form.  Stir in egg and water until well blended.
Dough doesn't look like this? Keep stirring.  It takes a little bit.

3.  Shape dough into 1/2-inch balls; roll in walnuts, pressing nuts gently into the dough.  Place about 2 inches apart onto an UNGREASED baking sheet.
I love walnuts.

4.  Bake cookies 12 minutes, or until puffed and nearly set.  Place a chocolate star in the center of each cookie and bake another minute.  Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet.  Remove cookies from baking sheets to wire rack to cool completely.
The chocolate cousins of Hershey Kiss Peanut Butter Blossoms

Depending on how big you like your cookies, this recipe can yield between 2 and 4 dozen cookies.  I like A Cookie so I usually get a couple dozen.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Honey Baked Chicken

So I've been arguing with myself this week over whether or not to share this recipe with you.  Not because it tastes "meh" or anything... the flavor in this dish is fantastic!  Moist, tender chicken baked in an easy, rich, flavorful sauce.  Why should I hesitate over sharing that??

I hesitate because, well, the story behind this dish is embarrassing.  But, it's just too good to keep to myself!

I first made this dish a rather long time ago.  Knowing my luck it's probably been at least a year, if not closer to two years ago.  You see, I'm not entirely sure when I made this because..........................

I forgot about it.

No wait!  I promise it's REALLY GOOD!!  It was so good I raved about it to my mother-in-law and even e-mailed her the recipe.  It was so good that I set it aside with every intention of making it again "soon."  And then the weeks went by.  And weeks turned into months.  And as I explored other recipes (because that's what I like to do), I just, well, forgot about it.

But the really embarrassing part is when my mother-in-law mentioned she was making "my" honey chicken and I just totally blanked.  "What honey chicken?"  Thankfully she is wonderful and gracious and forgiving of my faulty memory.  AND sent the recipe back to me so I could refresh that memory personally.

I swear I won't forget this dish again!  And I bet you won't either once you make it.

Honey Baked Chicken
Recipe from Idon'trememberwhere but returned to me by my mother-in-law

3 lbs chicken pieces
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup prepared mustard (yellow or Dijon, either is great)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder

1.  Preheat oven to 350.
GORGEOUS golden color

2.  Put the chicken pieces in a 9x13 baking dish.  Combine remaining ingredients and pour over chicken.  Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes.
Even using less than 3lbs of chicken, I like to make the full amount of sauce

3.  Remove foil and baste chicken with the sauce.  Continue to bake, uncovered, for another 45-60 minutes, basting the chicken every 15 minutes.  TOTAL BAKING TIME: 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Basting keeps it moist while helping build this fantastic crust on top

The butter in this sauce makes it rich.  The honey makes it sweet, but the mustard cuts that so it's not SWEET.  The curry deepens the flavor, and could make it a little spicy depending on what kind of curry powder you have (I use sweet curry powder).  And the salt enhances everything.  There really isn't anything about this dish I don't like.  But the best part for me is the cost.  Everything on this list I ALWAYS have on hand so there's nothing extra I have to buy to make it.  Bonus!!

Oh, and a recommendation if you have young children: spend the afternoon watching Winnie the Pooh movies or cartoons, anything that really plays up Pooh's honey obsession, then have this for dinner.  You could serve this with rice and some steamed veggies, or hot crusty bread (to soak up that yummy sauce!!) and a green salad.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Spinach-artichoke dip is one of those things where it sounds like it really should be good for you, but ohmygraciousareyouKIDDINGme it's not.  It's a gloriously rich, decadent appetizer that I typically stare at longingly on a restaurant menu before dramatically sighing and selecting something that won't have my stomach, or my thighs, launching a mutiny.

And then I discovered this fabulous recipe.  Bring on the pita chips because this girl is eating as much as she wants!!

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip
Recipe adapted from Food Network Magazine

1 box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 tsp dried basil
3/4 cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed
6 ounces Neufchatel cream cheese
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained, squeezed dry and finely chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese, divided
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 or 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 450.
The secret ingredient that helps lighten this dish.

2.  Puree the beans, cream cheese, garlic and chicken broth in a food processor until smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Transfer to a medium bowl and fold in the spinach, basil, artichokes, parmesan and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Add the cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste.
I like a good amount of seasoning

3.  Mist a deep 1-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread the dip mixture in the dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella. Bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with baked chips.
Can you resist melty, cheesy goodness?  Because I can't.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

The holidays are such fun, but MAN are they crazy busy!!  This weekend especially is pretty hectic but I continue to try and squeeze in as much cooking and baking as possible.  All because I love you guys so much!

So, I know pumpkin pie is usually a Thanksgiving thing, but I didn't have my camera on me with I baked it.  I absolutely LOVE this recipe though and am convinced you will too.  So, I made another one.  Oh, the sacrifices... ;)

I primarily hold my mom responsible for my love of cooking and baking.  However, it was her sister who gave me my first cookbook.  It was Christmas.  I was 6.
Not all great recipes come from celebrity chefs.

There are a few delightful recipes that came out of that book that I still use today.  Yes, I'm about to share my pumpkin pie recipe with you, one that I've been making since I was about 7 years old.

Pumpkin Pie
Recipe adapted from Kids in the Kitchen

Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tbsp milk

2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 can pumpkin
3/4 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1 can evaporated milk

1.  For the crust: sift flour, salt, and sugar together into a 9-inch pie pan.  Add milk and oil; mix using a fork or your fingers.  Pat the dough out to cover the pan.
I've never gotten a fork to work as well as just using my hands

2.  For the filling: combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Pour into the prepared pie shell.

3.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then at 350 for 45 minutes.

Since I've been making this pie for so long, I'll go ahead and let you in on a few things I've learned about this pie.  First, and MOST important, do NOT confuse the salt and sugar in the crust.  It's very easy to do, but the result is a nasty, yucky pie.  Yes, been there. Also, when you are paying such close attention to getting the measurements right for the crust, make sure you don't do something really silly, like forgetting to add the sugar in the filling.  Uh-huh, done that.

I will say that when it comes to the spices, be generous.  If you want to sprinkle a little extra cinnamon on the crust and/or on top of the filling, do it!  This pie is best consumed with LOTS of whipped cream on top.
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Garden Vegetable Soup

This is a Mad Soup.

And now you're probably wondering what on EARTH makes this a Mad Soup.  And is there really such a thing as a "Mad Soup"??  Oh yes, yes there is.

I could go with the obvious and say that eating this soothing soup will make all intense emotions mellow out and float away.  I could also say that the aromas of all the vegetables simmering away in the rich broth will smooth out that furrow of frustration on your forehead.

But let's be honest here...  this is a Mad Soup because you get to chop stuff.  A lot of stuff.  And since beating up on meat isn't really my thing, I prefer to work out my frustrations by cutting up vegetables.

Garden Vegetable Soup
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown

4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
Kosher salt
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds 
2 peeled and diced potatoes
2 cups fresh or frozen green beans, broken or cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup chopped celery, with leafy tops
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup-ish white wine [get one of those mini bottles and pour into a 4-cup measuring cup.  Fill the rest of the way with water]
3 cups-ish water
1 quart bag of roasted tomatoes, chopped
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup packed, chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 to 2 tsp lemon juice

1.  Heat the olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt and sweat until they begin to soften, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, green beans, and celery and continue to cook for 4 to 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season again with salt.
Some of the veggies that felt the wrath of my knife.

2.  Add the wine, water, and stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the tomatoes, corn kernels, broccoli, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the vegetables are fork tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the parsley and lemon juice (do NOT leave these out!!). Season, to taste, with kosher salt. Serve immediately with some hot, crusty bread.
All those gorgeous COLORS!!

Couple things to point out here, aside from the obvious satisfaction I derived from chopping up all these great veggies.  Usually when recipes call for a lot of oil or butter, I cut it back or out altogether.  However there is no meat in this to generate any additional fat so you really do need 4 tbsp of oil to get everything working.  Also, don't be afraid to season each layer of ingredients that you add to the pot.  Again, there's no meat or cheese in this, and vegetables can be pretty bland unless seasoned properly.  Be sure to taste this before serving to make any seasoning adjustments.

One of the cool things about this soup is that it's a great base to do whatever you like to it.  Have a diehard Carnivore in your house who's giving you the stink eye for making something vegetarian?  Toss in some shredded chicken or turkey.  Make this more of a tomato-y soup by replacing the wine/water with tomato juice.  Add some whole wheat pasta to this, or barley, or rice, or beans.  Do whatever you like!!  That's the beauty of soups like this one.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Contingency Plan

Some habits are tough to break.  Like stocking up the freezer with Make Later meals.  I mean, I'm at home now so the theory is that I have "more time" (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!) to cook.  So why the heck am I still doubling soup recipes, dividing casseroles in half, and sticking pre-cooked meats in the freezer to use later on?

Contingency plan, my friends.  Plan for the unexpected.

If anyone flat-out told me that staying home full-time with my kids would be harder, and WAY more exhausting than working outside the home, I did not listen.  Please accept this humble mommy's apologies!!  Exhausted Days call for soup.  I like soup a lot.  Thai Chicken soup and Creamy Roasted Tomato soup are oh-so-nice to eat on Exhausted Days.

There are Frantic Days too.  Do you have Frantic Days in your life?  I haven't really hit those quite yet, but I plan to next year.  That's when Gavin will start school, plus I want to enroll him in a few energy-sucking extracurriculors like soccer or gymnastics.  What does a busy family eat on a Frantic Day?  How about Chicken Parm Casserole, Hearty Burritos, quesadillas, or spaghetti.

Or how about days like today?  Today is a Sick Day.  My littlest guy is fighting off a barrage of yuck, which medicines are thankfully starting to work.  And this morning I went to get my oldest up and stepped in a puddle of...well, this is a food blog so we won't really go there but you get the picture.  There's sickness in my house.  So Gavin's on a bland diet today, and Kieran only eats baby food right now but Mama and Daddy still have to eat.  All I have to say is THANK GOD for the pan of Chicken Enchiladas I found in my freezer.

Today I have officially learned this valuable lesson.  Keeping cooking ahead, keep freezing, keep planning for the unavoidable.  The inevitable.  Because that day will come when finding something as simple as a meal ready-to-go in your freezer will cause you to cry tears of joy. 
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hard Cider Pork Loin

Happy belated Thanksgiving!!

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday weekend.  Ours was a wonderfully jam-packed family weekend that was stuffed to the gills with love, laughter, and really freaking awesome food. :)

But now the weekend is over.  It's back to reality.  My reality includes a more-hyper-than-normal four year-old, a sick six month-old, a house to clean/decorate, parties to plan, and shopping to do.  And that's just to get things started!!

Thank God for easy, delicious recipes, like this one, so we can still eat well even if I'm running around like a crazy person.

Hard Cider Pork Loin
Recipe from Claire Robinson

2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon cold
2 1/2 lbs pork loin roast
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced
1 bottle, (12 ounces) hard cider, plus more as necessary

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
I love cooking apples and onions together.

2.  Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Season the pork generously with salt and pepper, to taste, and sear on all sides in the hot pan until golden brown; set aside. Add the onions and apples and season again with salt and pepper. Cook until they begin to caramelize, then pour in the hard cider and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
Season liberally.  Yes, it will taste better!

3.  Bring to a simmer and nestle the browned pork roast back into the pan. Cover with a lid and put in the oven to braise until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes.
THAT'S the color you're looking for.

4.  Remove the pork roast from the pot and transfer to a carving board; tent with foil to keep warm. Transfer the contents of the pot to a food processor or blender and puree, then return the puree to the pan. Bring to a boil, season with salt and pepper, to taste, then reduce the heat to low and add more cider if gravy is too thick.
The delicious beginning of a beautiful gravy

5.  Add the remaining tablespoon of cold butter, whisking constantly as it melts. Remove from heat when the gravy is smooth and shiny and the butter is completely melted.  Slice pork loin roast and arrange on a serving platter. Serve with sauce and enjoy!

This pork roast is SO YUMMY!!!  And since it requires very little hands-on time, it's super easy to pull together.  I typically like this with traditional mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.  However it's also really good with cheesy polenta if you'd like to try something new and different.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pecan Toffee Tassies

Every Thanksgiving dessert table is laden with cakes, cookies, trifles, and pies.  Especially pies.

Did you know that pies can come in miniature form too?  Yeah, I love that. :)

Like baby pecan pies!

Pecan Toffee Tassies
Recipe from Paula Deen

1 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie crusts
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 (10-ounce) package almond brickle chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

2.  Unroll the piecrusts onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into 2 (15-inch) circles. Cut out 48 circles using a 1 3/4-inch fluted or round cookie cutter, OR a small water glass, re-rolling dough as needed. Place in 1 3/4-inch muffin pans, pressing on the bottoms and up the sides of each of the mini-muffin cups.
Tip I just learned: use a shot glass to help the crust down into the mini tins

3.  Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, flour, and eggs in a large bowl, mixing well. Add the vanilla. Stir in the pecans and brickle chips. Spoon the pecan filling evenly into the pie shells. Bake for 25 minutes, or until filling is set and crust is lightly browned. Cool in pans on wire racks.
Half of a cookie scoop fills these babies nicely.
So, as cute as these are, there are pros and cons to making these.  Pro is they are superdangcute, bite-sized, and a little goes a long way.  Con is they are bite-sized, and you quickly lose count of how many you've eaten as you keep grabbing "just one more."  Consider yourself warned before adding these to your dessert table. ;)
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Cranberry Orange Bagels

My kitchen has been a hotbed of activity the last few days.  Final countdown to the biggest gastrointestinal day of the year...  I cannot WAIT!!!

I'll try to get up as many things as possible that I've been making, just in case some of you are in need of some last minute help.  Most of my craziness has revolved around dessert.  But as completely satisfying as dessert can be, we all know that a truly good day starts with a good breakfast, right?


Start your day with these beauties....

Cranberry Orange Bagels
Recipe adapted from Taste of Home Best Holiday Recipes 2011

1 cup plus 2 tbsp water
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
Zest from one orange
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 pkg active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp if you buy yeast in bulk)
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg white, beaten with a splash of water

1.  In a bread machine pan, place the water, cranberries, brown sugar, orange zest, salt, cloves, flour, and yeast in order suggested by manufacturer.  Select dough setting (Psst!!  You'll want to check on this dough to see if it may need a tablespoon or two of water or flour.  I found the dough to be really wet for me and added a little extra flour.)
Not much to look at right now

2.  When the cycle is complete, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Cover with a towel and let rise 10 minutes.  Divide dough into eight balls.  Push thumb through centers to form at least a 1-inch hole.  Stretch and shape dough to form an even ring.  Cover with the towel again and let rise for 20 minutes.
My bagel rings still don't win beauty pageants, but I'm improving!

3.  Fill a large, deep skillet with water; add sugar and bring to a boil.  Drop bagels, four at a time, into boiling water.  Cook for 45 seconds on each side.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

4.  Place bagels on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush the tops with the egg white wash.  Bake at 400 for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove to wire racks to cool.

I like my bagels as God intended: under MOUNDS of cream cheese.
I am a HUGE fan of the cranberry and orange flavor combination.  And since I discovered that making bagels really isn't quite as hard as I remembered, finding this version has me doing happy dances in the morning, even before my coffee!
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spiced Almonds

The turkey and side dishes get way too much attention.  An awesome holiday tradition I love revolves around pre-dinner games and appetizers.

I love to play Trivial Pursuit with my brother.  I know, NERD ALERT!!  I never said I was any good at it, but it's something he and I really enjoy playing, especially before Thanksgiving dinner.  My mom makes all these yummy snacks and he proceeds to cream me in everything but Entertainment.

I can always count on the Entertainment category to stop him.

Anyway, I unfortunately won't be seeing my bro for Turkey Day this year, but the spirit of that tradition of games and snacks is definitely on my mind.  And this snack is AWESOME to nibble on whether you're playing Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, or Dominoes.

Spiced Almonds
Recipe ever so slightly tweaked from Ellie Krieger

2 cups raw almonds
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne

1.  Preheat the oven to 325.
Not an expected flavor combo, but totally awesome!!

2.  In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients until the nuts are evenly coated.  Pour onto a greased baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes, stirring once.  Let cool on baking sheet.
I dare you to stop at just one.
 These will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Orange Chicken

Even though Gavin has improved DRASTICALLY in the last few weeks with at the very least trying some of the new dishes I make, I'm always on a quest for recipes that I'm pretty durn positive he'll like.

Is there a kid out there who doesn't like juice??
Mmmm, a little sweet, a little tart, a LOT good.

Orange Chicken
Recipe slightly adapted from Four-Ingredient Cookbook

6-8 chicken breasts
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 cup flour
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 can orange juice concentrate, thawed
2-3 green onions, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Alwaysalwaysalwaysalways season the meat!!

2.  Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Dredge lightly in flour and add to the hot skillet.  Brown the chicken on both sides before placing in a lightly greased baking pan.

3.  Scatter green onions over top of the chicken breasts.  Drizzle with the orange juice.  Cover pan with foil and bake, covered for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
Ready for drizzling!
 As with most chicken dishes, I do think rice is a great companion to this dish.  I like to drizzle the thickened orange sauce over it...sooo yummy!  Add a green salad or steamed veggie of your choice and you're set!
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Cranberry Sauce

It's my favorite time of year!!  There's a crispy bite in the air.  Sweatpants and cozy blankets become the evening norm.  People tend to be a little nicer, a little more considerate (after all, Santa is watching).

And then there's The Food.  Yes, I meant to capitalize that.  Because there's your day-to-day food and then there's Holiday Food.  God bless Holiday Food!!

One of my favorite things about the holidays, and yes I have a lot of favorite things, is the chance to get together with family.  This year is thankfully no exception!  And instead of imposing on the host to make the entire Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings, we are doing things potluck style.  Of course I asked to pleasepleaseprettyplease bring the cranberry sauce.

And I ain't talking about the stuff in the can either.  Trust me, of everything on your table, cranberry sauce is the EASIEST thing to make and so flavorful, you'll forget all about the convenience of the canned kind.

Cranberry Sauce
Recipe from Rachael Ray

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick 
2 tsp grated fresh ginger 
2 tsp orange zest 
1/4 tsp salt 
1/8 tsp ground cloves 
One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine the water with the sugar, cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, orange peel, salt and cloves. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cranberries and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.
Seriously kick-butt flavors going on

2.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl and remove the cinnamon stick. Let cool.

Gorgeous ruby gems!
Can we talk about how easy this is?  First, you make a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, boiled until the sugar dissolves).  Then you add a whole bunch of stuff to it that taste FANTASTIC with cranberries: fresh ginger, orange zest, cloves, cinnamon.  Add your berries and let it boil until it's thickened and looks like cranberry sauce.  See?  Easy!

This is a truly amazing complement to your turkey dinner.  It's also quite fabulous stirred into your morning oatmeal with some toasted pecans or walnuts.  Mix it will a little yogurt, or use as an refreshing alternative on top of ice cream.  If you really want to go crazy, add a dollup of Dijon mustard and slather all over a pork tenderloin for a couple hours before roasting.  Y.U.M.  

Believe me when I say you'll be doubling this recipe just to make sure you have leftovers to play with!
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Friday, November 11, 2011


The first time I made bagels, I remember lots of steam, sweating in a hot kitchen, and itty-bitty honeyed hockey pucks that molded after about three days.  Yeah, NOT my most glamorous baking moment.  It's anyone's guess, really, as to why I've been so wanting to try making bagels again.

But I reallyreallyreallyreally wanted to.

In my bread machine cookbook, there's this recipe for bagels that has been staring at me, taunting me, for years.  But I couldn't make them.  No...not after my disastrous failure!  But.  But.


I kept looking at it.  I kept reading it over.  Sure it was a little involved but each step seemed manageable.  That's right Jeanna, just focus on the steps.  Don't freak out over the whole recipe.  One step at a time.  I know I'm a dork but sometimes I really have to break down a recipe into each step and ask myself if I can handle that one step.  If you are easily overwhelmed by recipes I definitely recommend giving it a try.  Don't look at the overall cook time.  Don't look at the number of steps, just look at each step individually and ask "Can I do that?"

Anyway, where was I?  Oh right!  The best part...

Recipe slightly adapted from Better Home & Garden's Bread Machine Baking

1 cup water
2 tsp canola oil
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1 egg white, beaten with a splash of water

1.  Add all ingredients except the egg white to your bread machine according to the manufacturer's directions.  Set to dough setting.
Mine says to put liquids in first, then flour & seasonings, ending with yeast.

2.  Remove dough from machine and punch down.  Cover and let rise 10 minutes.
Dough ball!

3.  Divide into 8 pieces, roll into a ball and punch a hole through the middle, pulling a little to stretch out the ring.
Looks kinda like a pizza here.

4.  Lay on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Once you make the first dough ring, start a 20 minute timer.  Quickly make the seven remaining rings.  Cover and let rise.
Don't be afraid to stretch the dough for thinner rings.  They're going to puff up.

5.  In a large pot or deep skillet, bring 6 cups of water and 1 tbsp of sugar to a boil.  Boil the rings, four at a time, for 45 seconds on each side.  Drain on paper towels and then return to the parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush tops with the egg white.
KEY STEP: boiling first gives bagels that outer chewiness.

6.  Bake in a 400 degree preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are browned.  Cool on wire racks.
 Yes, I just gave you a recipe for plain bagels.  Don't look at me like that....I will share recipes for other, fancier bagel flavors.  But in the meantime there's a LOT you can do with these.  If you like toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried minced onion, toasted pumpkin seeds), sprinkle those on top right after brushing with the egg white.  Experiment with flavored cream cheeses or different kinds of jelly.  OR cook up some eggs and sausage to make a killer homemade bagel breakfast sandwich.  See?  Plain bagels suddenly aren't so boring after all. ;)

Oh, and for an FYI, I'm paranoid about fresh breads going bad so I keep these in the fridge.  Since I like mine toasted and under a small continent of cream cheese, I don't worry about the fridge drying them out.
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