Monday, January 30, 2012

Triple Chocolate Cookies

I first heard about this concept of Pajama Day a long, long time ago.  Sounded cool, but as a busy working-outside-the-home Mom, when would I have the time to indulge in spending the day in our pj's??  So the idea of it just sat there in the back of my mind, simmering...

And now I'm at home with my kids.  And it's winter time.  And it looks like Wisconsin FINALLY decided to act like it was winter time and give us a good snow.  Sounds like a Pajama Day to me!!

And I've decided that it really can't be Pajama Day without a seriously good cookie to go with it.

Triple Chocolate Cookies
Recipe from Ellie Krieger

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped*
2 oz milk chocolate, coarsely chopped*
2/3 cup pecans

*Substituting white chocolate chips for one of these is also quite yummy.

1.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  In a large bowl, mash together the butter and sugars with a fork until well combined.  Add the oil and egg and beat until creamy.  Mix in the vanilla.
Mashing with a fork makes for easier blending later.

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well.  Stir in both chocolates and nuts and mix well.
Great way to sneak in healthy whole wheat flour!

4.  Using a tablespoon or cookie scoop, scoop the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake until the cookies are just set, about 12 minutes.  Transfer the cookies to a rach to cool  Store at room temperature in an air tight container for up to 4 days.
Didn't even last long enough to get a picture of them baked.

These are DANG TASTY.  They are cookies, but they also have this chewy consistency that tastes almost like a brownie.  So a cookie, that occasionally masquerades as a brownie, and it's HEALTHY???  Dude.  Make these.  You're welcome.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beef Tenderloin with Chocolate & Rosemary

We've all been there, right?  That Big Night coming up...the night where you need to impress.  The night where not just any dinner will do.  You need a fancypants dinner.  A dinner where your guests say "holy freaking cow" after just one bite.

Not only will this dish totally meet the Big Night/Fancypants Dinner criteria, but it's also super easy to make.  No joke!

Beef Tenderloin with Chocolate & Rosemary
Recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger

One 2-lb beef tenderloin roast
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 small carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cloved garlic, minced
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp freshly chopped rosemary

1.  Preheat oven to 425.

2.  Season the meat with salt and pepper.  In a large skillet, heat 2 tsp of oil over medium-high heat until HOT.  Add the meat and sear until well browned on all sides (about 10 minutes total).
A HOT skillet will get that perfect sear and seal in those juices.

3.  Transfer the meat to a rack set on a baking sheet.  Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat reads 140 F for medium-rare (about 45-50 minutes).  Remove it from the oven, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for AT LEAST 15 minutes before slicing.
If you're pressed for time, chop everything ahead of time.

4.  While the meat cooks, make the sauce.  Heat the remaining 2 tsp oil in the same large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the shallots, carrot and celery and cook, stirring a few times, until softened (about 5 minutes).  Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the wine and broth and stir in the tomato paste; be sure to scrape up the brown bits from the tenderloin!!  Add the bay leaf and thyme and bring to a boil.  Simmer until the liquid is reduced by 1/2 (about 40 minutes).
Chopping the veggies smaller will help them cook faster.

5.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan.  Stir in the cocoa powder and rosemary and season with salt and pepper.  Serve on the side with sliced tenderloin.
The smell of the cocoa and rosemary hitting the hot red wine mixture is INTENSE.

Even though this does take a little while to make, don't be intimidated by the steps.  All you're doing here is browning meat, moving it to the oven to roast, and making a pan sauce.  That's it.  Easy, right?  Right. :)

And if you haven't yet tried the combination of beef and cocoa, you seriously need to.  The beef comes out juicy and tender; the sauce is luscious and flavorful without being overly rich.  The cocoa powder deepens the flavor while the fresh rosemary brightens it.

So if you have a Big Night coming up, consider splurging on a beef tenderloin and wow-ing the taste buds off your guests!
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Caesar Chicken Sandwiches

This is an easy one.  So easy that I'm sure most of you have already done this, or at least a variation of salad-dressing-marinated-chicken.

But just in case this one hasn't occurred to you yet, I want to make sure I pass it along.  It's easy, and, in the words of my oldest, "this sandwich is FANTASTIC!"

Caesar Chicken Sandwiches
Recipe from my mother-in-law

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Caesar salad dressing, plus more for the sandwiches [Or use whatever creamy dressing you prefer]
4 slices provolone cheese
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
4 hamburger buns or kaiser rolls

1.  In a resealable plastic bag OR between two sheets of plastic wrap, pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness.  Yes, you really do need to pound them.  I've tried the shortcut way of just cutting them in half and pounding makes for a more tender, tastier sandwich.
Pounded and ready to go!

2.  Place the pounded chicken and salad dressing in a resealable plastic bag and squish around to make sure everything is coated.  Marinate in the fridge at least 2 hours, turning occasionally.
Creamy bath

3.  Preheat the broiler.  Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess, and lay on a broiler pan.  Broil about 5 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through.
Meh, a little excess dressing isn't going to hurt ;)

4.  Put a piece of provolone cheese on each chicken breast and melt it under the broiler.  Build the sandwich on your favorite bread or roll, a couple slices of tomato and a healthy schmear of dressing.
Good with steamed mixed veggies and oven fries.

Now, when I made these, I wasn't sure how Gavin would take to Caesar dressing so I made his with Ranch.  He DEVOURED the sandwich.  He asked for seconds.  And I lost count how many times he said how good the sandwich was.

Sometimes the best meals are the simplest ones. :)
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Friday, January 20, 2012


Wouldn't you know it but the day I decide to make my mom's lasagna Wisconsin FINALLY got some good snow.

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to layer a small mountain of pasta, meaty sauce, and salty cheeses.  Heaven!!

Recipe slightly adapted from my mom

1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb sweet italian sausage (OR just use 1lb of ground beef; either is mighty tasty)
2 (14.5oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 (6oz) cans tomato paste
1 (6oz) can red wine
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups small curd cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
12 oz shredded mozzarella
9 whole wheat lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

1.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Brown the meats, draining an excess fat.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine and seasonings and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. [GET AHEAD: Make the sauce ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to assemble]

2.  In a medium bowl, mix together the cottage cheese and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan.  Set up an assembly line by your lasagna pan with the noodles, sauce, cottage cheese mixture, and mozzarella.

3.  To assemble, lay 3 noodles on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Top the noodles to 1/3 of the sauce.  Then carefully spread out 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture.  Sprinkle 4oz of mozzarella on top of this.  Repeat these layers 2 more times, sprinkling the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan on top at the end.


4.  Preheat the oven 350.  Bake the lasagna, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

I prefer to eat lasagna with a tossed salad and garlic bread.  If it's not really salad weather though, I like my go-to veg of steamed green beans.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nikki's Chili

I thought I had fairly well-rounded tastes when I was growing up.  My mom liked (and still likes) to experiment with new dishes on us, and very rarely did she miss the mark with those experiments.

But getting to college, and living with one of the most AMAZING roommates, opened my eyes to a whole new culinary world.  Nikki encouraged me to think outside the box.  She showed me how to experiment with new ingredients and flavors.  She taught me that it's OK to make additions or substitutions in a recipe and things still turn out dang tasty.

This recipe is one that she adapted from a box of barley.  It probably has a real name out there somewhere but in my house, we just call it:

Nikki's Chili
Recipe from Nikki Da Ronco

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp canola oil
3 cups water
1/2 cup barley, uncooked
1 (16oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (8oz) cans tomato sauce
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 (4oz) can chopped green chilies
4-5 red potatoes, cubed
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
2 pkgs pre-cooked chicken strips, chopped (I recommend Southwest seasoned ones)

1.  In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the onion and garlic in the oil until tender.
A few of the tasty ingredients

2.  Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT chicken.  Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Only two seasonings in this whole pot of goodness

3.  Add the cooked chicken; continue simmering 5-10 minutes until the chicken is heated through and barley is tender.  If the chili becomes to thick while standing, add a little more water.
Ooooohhhhh yumminess

This is such a simple, homey, warm, comforting dish to make.  I absolutely LOVE IT!!  It's especially good topped with a little sour cream and shredded cheddar.  Serve some hot cornbread alongside and you've got quite the warmup meal.

p.s.  For anyone out there who may be questioning my use of potatoes and still calling this "chili" instead of "stew", I did a little research on that.  Chili, which is short for chili con carne, is a specific kind of stew.  A stew is a dish that's cooked by simmering or slow boiling.  Just a little FYI there. ;)
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Thursday, January 12, 2012


I lost an old friend this week.  She and I weren't best friends or anything.  In fact, we'd lost touch a bit after high school... but I stayed connected through family and church.  And though our lives took different tracks that lead us apart, she always maintained that true beauty of heart, body, and spirit. She will be DEEPLY missed.

Sorry for the train analogy there.  Gavin's currently building a train track in the sunroom and keeps showing off his additions and improvements.  Guess I have trains on the brain now!

Anyway, it's been hard to stay focused this week.  And you're probably wondering what my grieving process has to do with a food blog.  In the almost-year since I started this blog, I've tried really hard to keep my focus on food.  I don't want this to become a mommy blog, a garden blog, a crafty blog or a bitching blog.  Nothing against any of those kinds of blogs!!  I follow a number of them myself, but I wanted to keep this one about food.

But where there's food, there's emotion.  I enjoy sprinkling in my little stories, anecdotes, observations, and notations among my recipes.  I cook because the act of cooking is soothing to me.  I cook because the smells are like my aromatherapy.  I cook because certain flavors, certain recipes, remind me of things, people, and places.  I cook, not so much to make others happy (although that's a fantastic perk!), but to make ME happy.

In situations like this, where the sadness threatens to overcome, I figure I have three options. I can make one of my mom's recipes, make soup, or bake something.  Tonight, I'm making soup.  Tomorrow morning I'll be baking.  And I have pretty good feeling that my mom's lasagna will make it onto the table in the next few days.  Because this is how I work through my pain.  Through the creation of wonderful, comforting smells and tastes, I will be able to get past the sad and remember the loving, happy, beautiful soul that my friend was, and always will be.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts

I know what you're thinking.  And let me just say, before you rush to judgment, that I've been where you are.  I used to haaaate brussels sprouts... and then I got pregnant with my second child. 

We were at a holiday gathering a year and a half ago with friends, and one was putting together this sprout dish that just smelled INSANE.  While normal, non-pregnant people were having seconds or thirds of things like turkey, mashed potatoes, or pie, I was popping those little suckers into my mouth like candy.

Well, as with the PB & J Obsession with my first-born, I fully expected this newfound taste for sprouts to go away after the baby was born.  It hasn't.  In fact, I reallyreallyreally want to make some!

So when I saw this recipe, all rational thoughts flew out of my head, I knew I had to make them.  Now!

Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Recipe from Ree Drummond

3 lbs (ish) fresh brussels sprouts
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
A handful or two of dried cranberries

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Aren't they cute?!

2.  Trim/clean the sprouts, then cut them in half. Arrange on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil. Roast until brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
I could fit these easily on one large baking sheet, but you may need two.

3.  Combine the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and reduce until very thick.  Psst!  You won't quite be able to tell how thick this is while it's bubbling away.  I recommend letting it reduce by about half; I think this took about 15 minutes?  I'll be honest though that I was not watching the clock.  As it cools it will get thicker.

4.  Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the roasted sprouts, then sprinkle on the dried cranberries.

Sweet.  Festive.  Fabulous.
 A little time saving hint for you: if you are making these for a special occasion, clean and trim these the day before.  That alone will save OODLES of time as you're trying to orchestrate the remaining dishes for your holiday feast.
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My apologies for my quiet lately.  The holidays always throw me off a bit, especially when we're traveling. 

I will return to regular posting very soon!  Just wanted to let you know I'm still here, and I'm still playing in my kitchen.
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Friday, January 6, 2012

Clam Chowder

I have a healthy love for clams.  There are a couple clam dishes from my childhood that I absolutely ADORE, clam chowder being one of them.  Whenever I saw Mom get out the big soup pot and start to fry up bacon in it, I'd get pretty giddy with anticipation.  So of course it wasn't long after I got married that I was excited to try making my own clam chowder.  Even better, I'd found a slow cooker version that sounded so good that I couldn't wait to try it.

I'll spare you the horrific details of that venture and just leave it at "it bombed."  It was so horrible that I don't think I tried making chowder again for 3-4 years.

And then my mom told me about her sister's recipe.  Actually, to be perfectly honest, I think it was more like raved about her sister's version.  Sooo tasty and SO EASY.  Really?  Really Mom?  Because I'm not quite sure I can bear the heartache of another batch of clam chowder down the drain.

Let me tell you it really is that tasty and that easy.  So much so that I insist on making this every year for Christmas Eve dinner.

Clam Chowder
Recipe from Marsha Ray

1 stick butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cans condensed New England Clam Chowder
3 cans condensed Cream of Potato soup
2 cans chopped clams, NOT drained [You can get minced clams if you don't like large pieces in your soup.  My feelings will not be hurt.]
1 quart half & half

1.  Melt butter in a medium frying pan* over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened.
Kinda feeling like Paula Deen

2.  Pour cooked onion and butter into a slow cooker.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Dump and stir

3.  Cover and cook on LOW for 4 hours.
It really is that easy.

*You could cook them in a dutch oven as well.  Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and bake in a 150 degree preheated oven for 4 hours.

My favorite way to eat this soup is with some warm white bread and fresh cracked pepper on top.
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