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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pavel's Bread Pudding


My Uncle Paul used to belong to a social club that occassionally held multi course dinners. One of these dinners was covered by a local newspaper and included his recipe for Bread Pudding. My uncle was quite proud of his Polish heritage and sometimes called himself Pavel, so the recipe was printed as "Pavel's Bread Pudding."  I have had a clipping of the newspaper for years and always intended to make it for my mom, my aunt, and my sister. It is a very rich and decadent dessert, so it had to be the right occasion.  Finally this summer, I decided to make it for my aunt's hot tub party, even though the occasion did not at all call for a rich and decadent dessert!  We really enjoyed this dessert, especially the sauce, and it would be a perfect dessert for the holidays.

Pavel's Bread Pudding

Makes at least 12 servings

For the pudding:
Butter, to prepare the pan
1 pound brioche or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
6 eggs
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

For the sauce:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dark rum or bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To prepare the pudding:
1. Butter a 13x9-inch pan. In a bowl, mix the bread, 8 tablespoons melted butter, chocolate chips, and nuts if using. Spoon into the pan.

2. In a bowl, whisk together half-and-half, milk, sugar, eggs, yolks, vanilla, and salt. Pour over bread. Let sit at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.

3. Drizzle the bread pudding with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter; sprinkle with the brown sugar. Bake until set, about 1 hour.

To prepare the sauce:
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until dissolved and bully. Remove from heat. Stir in rum and vanilla. Serve warm over pudding.

Source: my Uncle Paul


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dairy-Free Soy-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (MSPI)


Here is another recipe from my days of following the MSPI (Milk Soy Protein Intolerance) diet while nursing my second baby. Normally I am not a fan of cooking with Crisco, but when you absolutely cannot have butter, these types of priorities often take a back seat. One nice thing about working with Crisco is that you don't have to wait for it to soften like butter since it's stored at room temperature.

My mom and sister really loved these cookies and actually preferred them to the typical all-butter chocolate chip cookie.

During my MSPI days, I relied on dairy-free soy-free chocolate chips. "Enjoy Life!" Brand is my favorite and thankfully my local grocery store carries them in the health/organic food aisle. These chocolate chips were so good - you would never know they were dairy-free!

This recipe is actually adapted from the Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe, so you know it won't dissapoint!

Dairy-Free Soy-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (MSPI Friendly)

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup traditional or butter-flavored Crisco
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life brand- they are dairy-free and soy-free)

Preheat oven to 375F.
1. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Beat Crisco, sugars, and vanilla extract in a large mixer bowl until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets.

4. Bake for 8 - 9 minutes or until edges begin to turn golden.  Cool for one minute on the cookie sheet and remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Source: One Ordinary Day

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Skillet Chicken Fajitas


When I received my America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook several years ago, I came across this recipe for Skillet Chicken Fajitas.  I was hesitant to try them at first because I already have a favorite fajita recipe (Grilled Chicken Fajitas), but during the winter the last thing we want to be doing is grilling in the dark and in the cold, so I was hoping to have a good stove-top fajita recipe for the winter months. We love this recipe and welcome the different flavors not present in our go-to fajitas.  The orange juice and chipotles in adobo make a great sauce that flavors the chicken, and I love the addition of the tomatoes and green onions at the end for some freshness.

Skillet Chicken Fajitas

2 teaspoons canola oil
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced thin
1 red onion, halved and sliced thin
salt and pepper
3 - 4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup cilantro, minced (divided)
2 teaspoons chopped chipotles in adobo sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
*** 1 - 2 cups chicken broth (optional)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 green onions, sliced thin

tortillas (I prefer Tortillaland brand)

Optional toppings:
sour cream

1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add the sliced peppers and onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and well-browned, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl or plate and cover with foil, store in warm place.

2. Combine the orange juice, 1/2 cup of the of the cilantro, the chipotles, Worcestershire, and garlic in a measuring cup, then add to the skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-low heat, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over, cover, and cook until the chicken registers at least 165F on an instant-read thermometer.  This may take 10 - 12 minutes, or longer depending on the thickness of your chicken. You will need to keep an eye on the liquid during this step. Often, mine evaporates and starts to burn in areas, so I add chicken broth to the pan when this begins to happen.  This is not in the original recipe, but I have this issue every time - perhaps my pan is too large or the heat is too high, I'm not sure. Regardless, keep an eye on it because you don't want the sauce to burn on the bottom of the pan because of the sugar content.

3. Transfer the chicken a plate and shred. If necessary, simmer the sauce until reduced to 1/4 cup (I never have to do this step as my sauce is naturally reduced while the chicken cooks). Return chicken to pan. Off heat, stir in mustard, tomatoes, green onions, and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Serve the chicken mixture with the peppers/onions and warm tortillas (and toppings if desired).

Source: America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lasagne / Lasagna



Obviously from my posts, I like a variety of different types of food - Mexican, Asian, American, and of course Italian. My grandmother was 100% Sicilian, and I have always identified strongly with my Italian heritage. Surprisingly, she didn't cook much Italian food, but her influence on our family has inspired many recipes. My aunt originally developed this lasagna years and years ago, and my mom then took it on - whether she tweaked anything, I'm not quite sure, but I do know that I put a major wrench in it by substituting ground turkey for the beef! To be honest, most of the people who have tried this recipe don't even realize it's turkey. The only thing that tips them off is this: I'm eating it!

My aunt and mom also make a homemade sauce with it, which I've made and really enjoy, but for me, as I've mentioned before, Prego Traditional is so good that it's not worth my time to make the homemade sauce. My new favorite sauce is Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Marinara.  I only go to Trader Joe's about 4 times a year so I make sure to stock up on this sauce. I buy so much that the checker once asked me if I was buying it for an Italian restaurant.  He actually had a customer who did this before! 

The ricotta-type layer actually uses cottage cheese. I always thought this was a little strange, but it's delicious so I ever complained. Then I saw Cook's Illustrated substitute cottage cheese for ricotta in some recipes! Guess it's not that strange!

One thing this lasagna does contain is a classic St. Louis ingredient - Provel cheese.  If you do not live in the area, you probably won't be able to find this cheese (and may not even like it if you didn't grow up with it), so you may substitute mozzarella or Provolone.  


Lasagne / Lasagna

For the sauce:
1 - 2 pounds ground meat (I use lean - not extra lean - ground turkey. 2 pounds if you like it a bit heartier)
homemade or store bought marinara sauce - I like a lot of sauce so I use about 40 ounces, but you may use less if desired

For the lasagna:
12 lasagna noodles
24 ounces small curd cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
chopped parsley (fresh or dried)
Parmesan cheese
2 - 2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups shredded Provel cheese (if available - if not, you may substitute mozzarella or Provolone)

1. Brown the meat in a skillet. If using ground turkey, you may want to add a teaspoon or two of olive oil.


2. Drain the meat if necessary.  Sometimes with ground turkey there isn't much liquid left to drain, and the small amount that is there may lend flavor to the sauce.

3. Add the homemade or prepared sauce of your choice to the meat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour or more. I find that ground turkey starts to break down if cooked too long, so I wouldn't do an all-day simmer.

4. Cook the lasagna noodles as directed on the package to al dente (use the lower time or even a minute less). When the noodles are done, I like to lay them in a single layer on pieces of waxed paper to cool until I'm ready to assemble the lasagna.

5. Place the cottage cheese, eggs, salt, pepper and parsley (to taste) in a food processor and blend until smooth.

6. To assemble the lasagna: spread about 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 9x13" pan then beginning layering: 3 noodles, sauce to cover, 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Provel cheese, and a little Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers. If your pan is not deep enough for 4 layers, 3 will suffice. For the final layer, I top with lasagna noodles, sauce, and then an extra 1/c cup mozzarella and some Parmesan.

7. If the pan is full, place it on a baking sheet lined with foil because it may spill over the sides. Bake uncovered at 350F for 45 minutes. (To make ahead, assemble but do not bake, then refrigerate or freeze. If you make ahead and refrigerate, then bake for 1 hour. If make ahead and freeze, it may take up to 90 minutes or more).

8. Remove dish from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before cutting.
Source: My Aunt Sue and my Mom :)  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding Revisited


I posted this amazing recipe for Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding two years ago and promised better pictures.  I was able to capture some last year so I'm revisiting the recipe today. I make this "pudding" each year for our annual "Dickens Dinner."  It quickly became a hit the first year and will remain a staple on the menu.

This is a very rich dessert, and I only make it once a year, but it is SO worth it. The caramel sauce is an absolute must, and really, so is the ice cream.

Ina Garten had a chef friend on her show once who showed her how to make Date Toffee Pudding - the recipe I use is different because it has figs and also flecks of chocolate - to use Ina's own words against her, "how bad can that be?"

Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding

Serves 4 

For the pudding:
¾ c. dried pitted dates, chopped
¼ c dried figs, chopped
1 c. water
½ tsp baking soda
3 ½ tablespoons butter, softened
½ c superfine sugar
1 egg
1 ¼ c. self-rising flour
1 ¼ oz. dark chocolate, grated (I use Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
Butter for the ramekins

For the sauce: 
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. heavy cream
7 tablespoons butter

For serving: 
Vanilla ice cream or whipped heavy cream (optional)


1. Add the dates, dried figs, and water to medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the baking soda. Let cool for 5 minutes, then add to a blender to puree.

2. Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs and beat well. Fold in the flour, the pureed date mixture, and the chocolate.

3. Pour the batter into buttered ramekins filling halfway. I divided the batter equally into 4 ramekins. (At this point, I wrap the ramekins in plastic wrap and take them to my sister's house, refrigerate them during dinner, then bake them. They turn out perfect! You may bake them immediately if that works with your schedule.)

4. Bake at 350F for 20 – 25 minutes.

5. To prepare the sauce, stir the sugar and cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to a boil, then reduce and simmer 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir until incorporated. (I make this at home and take it to my sister's. Then I reheat the sauce prior to spooning it over the cakes).

6. Remove the ramekins from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve in the ramekin or unmold each cake onto a serving plate. With a paring knife, cut a cross in the center of each cake. Pour the sauce over the pudding and allow it to soak in slightly, then top with more sauce as desired.


7. Serve warm topped with ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy! I highly recommend vanilla ice cream :-)


Source: Adapted from – Ultimate Recipe Showdown

Note: The original recipe said it serves 4, but the reviews said it made much more so I cut the recipe in half and it was just right for 4 servings (meaning the recipe on FoodNetwork probably makes 8 servings rather than 4!)


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Soy-Free Chicken Fried Rice (MSPI)


As I've mentioned here and here, when I was eating dairy/soy-free (MSPI diet), I had to completely revamp our meals. Several of the dairy/soy-free dinners were so good that they have stuck around as staples in our rotation. This Chicken Fried Rice is one of them. You can serve it with soy sauce on the side if you don't have a sensitivity to soy, or if there are members of the family that can tolerate it.  Bob usually puts soy sauce and sriracha sauce on it.

Authentic fried rice is made from day-old rice. Since I usually serve the Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs with rice, I make a double batch so I have leftover rice for this recipe the next night.

I prefer chicken thighs for this recipe but have used chicken breasts before and they work too; it's just a matter of personal preference.

Soy-Free Chicken Fried Rice (MSPI Friendly)

2 tablespoons Canola oil, plus extra for cooking chicken
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper to taste
coarse salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons water
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
4 cups cooked rice (day-old leftover rice is best)


1. Drizzle Canola oil in a large nonstick skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place in pan "pretty" side down.  Cook until starting to brown and then flip to finish cooking completely. Remove chicken to a plate until cool enough to handle, shred, and set aside in a warm place.  Set pan aside for use in step 3.

2. In a smaller (medium-sized) nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-low heat; swirl to coat pan. In a small bowl, lightly beat together eggs, 2 teaspoons water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour into pan; cook, pulling in egg from edge of pan, until set, about 2 minutes. If desired, carefully flip over for a few seconds. Transfer to a plate; when cool enough to handle, cut into strips.

3. In large skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add scallions and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice; season with salt to taste. Cook, stirring often, until very hot, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, peas, eggs, and shredded chicken; cook until very hot, about 2 minutes.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs (MSPI)


I mentioned in this post that I had to be dairy-free soy-free for several months when Ella was a new baby. One of our favorite dinners that I found when searching for MSPI Friendly recipes is this recipe for Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs. We all love these, and I continue to make them despite no longer having to be dairy/soy-free.  I usually serve them with plain, steamed rice and sautéed sugar snap peas. I will soon post my favorite MSPI Friendly Fried Rice recipe that I make using the leftover rice from this dinner!

Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs

2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked paprika)
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne - can reduce if sensitive to spice)
~ 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Canola cooking spray (that does not contain soy) or Canola oil
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1. Preheat broiler. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with Canola cooking spray or brush with Canola oil.

2. Combine first six ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken to bowl; toss to coat. Place chicken on pan.

3. Broil chicken 5 minutes on each side.

4. Meanwhile, combine honey and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring well.

5. Remove chicken from oven; brush half of the honey mixture on chicken. Broil 1 minute.

6. Remove chicken from oven and turn over. Brush chicken with remaining honey mixture. Broil 1 additional minute or until chicken is done.

Source: MSPI Mama, adapted from Cooking Light

Sunday, November 1, 2015

New England Sausage and Dried Cranberry Stuffing


Now that Halloween is officially over, it's time to start getting our Thanksgiving menus together. We always have our traditional Thanksgiving Dressing on Turkey Day, but a few years ago when my we started having a December "Dickens Dinner" with my sister's family, I started making this New England Sausage and Dried Cranberry Stuffing. Since I don't eat pork, I substitute chicken or turkey sausage and even the pork-eaters love this stuffing. Whether you're looking for a new recipe for Thanksgiving or one of the many holiday dinners ahead of us, this recipe is worth trying!

New England Sausage and Dried Cranberry Stuffing

Serves 5 - 6 

6 cups white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 pound sausage, casings removed (traditional, chicken, or turkey)
1/4 stick butter
3 cups onion
1/2 pound tart green apples (or your choice), peeled, cored, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 1/2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup chicken broth 

1. Place bread cubes on a large baking sheet and bake until slightly dry, about 15 - 20 minutes. Cool completely. You can also leave the cubes out overnight to dry.

2. Sauté the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling coarsely with the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a large bowl. Pour off any drippings from the skillet.

3. Using the same skillet, melt the butter. Add the onions, apples, celery, and poultry seasoning to the skillet. Sauté until onions are softened, about 5 – 8 minutes.

4. Mix in dried cranberries. Add the mixture to the sausage, then mix in the bread, eggs, and parsley. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chicken broth to moisten stuffing depending on how most you like it (can be prepared one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate).

5. Butter a baking dish (I used a 7 x 11-inch glass dish). Transfer stuffing to the dish, cover, and bake at 350F until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Source: Adapted from The Food

Notes: I halved the original recipe, which serves 10. It calls for 4 teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary (so that would be 2 teaspoons for the half batch) and the parsley to be fresh. Due to personal preference, I omitted the rosemary and substituted dried parsley.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dairy-Free Soy-Free Brownies (MSPI)


When Ella was a month old, she had a very scary vomiting incident that resulted in us taking her to the pediatric ER. Thankfully, she just had severe acid reflux. Medicine helped a little, but the most dramatic change happened after I removed dairy and soy proteins from my diet. I was happy to do what I could to help her while still nursing, but it was so difficult!  Try finding prepared food that does not contain soybean oil or soy lecithin***(see note below). Even my favorite pasta sauce from Trader Joe's was off limits. My saving grace was stumbling across the blog called MSPI Mama.  

MSPI stands for Milk Soy Protein Intolerance.  This is not lactose intolerance, which is the inability to break down milk sugar, but rather an intolerance/allergy to milk proteins, which are closely mimicked by those in soy. It's actually pretty common in young babies and they usually grow out of it and are able to tolerate dairy proteins just fine. I had to be dairy/soy-free for about 4 months before being able to introduce them in small quantities. For what it's worth, Ella is now completely tolerant of dairy and soy - one of her favorite foods is cheese!

During those months, I had to completely overhaul how I cooked.  Most of my recipes were off limits or had to be majorly revised.  I never thought of myself as heavily dependent on dairy, but I guess I am.  I felt very overwhelmed at the beginning and finding MSPI Mama was the biggest help. She has so many recipes that are MSPI friendly - even desserts!  Once I identified a core group of recipes, I felt more in control and things became easier. Eating at restaurants, however, did not become easier and is one of the biggest challenges of MSPI. So many restaurants use soybean oil or butter (dairy) in things you wouldn't suspect.

This brownie recipes is one that I made quite often while eating the MSPI diet. The sugar cravings while nursing are no joke and still being able to enjoy desserts was a must.  I figured I needed to "pay it forward" to other moms out there, frantically Google-ing for MSPI-safe recipes (likely while their new babies scream in their arms). I will be posting a handful of my favorite recipes - ones that are so good that they continue to be in our meal rotation despite the restrictions no longer being in place.  These brownie are one of those recipes.  They are so chocolatey and fudgey and have a  nice crisp top on them. You certainly won't feel deprived eating these!

***Note: many people with a soy sensitivity can still eat soybean oil and soy lecithin but at the beginning I had to eliminate everything and then add things back.

Dairy-Free Soy Free Brownies (MSPI Friendly)

1/2 cup Canola oil
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs.

3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; gradually stir into the egg mixture until well blended.

4. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the brownies begin to pull away from the edges of the pan.

5. Let cool completely on a wire rack then place in refrigerator to cool down even more. The brownies are best when they've had time to cool and develop their flavor.

Source: MSPI Mama, adapted from

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Baked Ziti


I started making this Baked Ziti when Bob and I were on a Sopranos kick many, many years ago. We had rented the last season from mail-order Netflix and watched multiple episodes a night. It was the influence of the Sopranos that led Bob to start referring to this recipe as "Meghan's Effing Ziti." Anyone who has seen this show will understand why. This makes a big pan of ziti - enough for the two of us for dinner and leftovers for lunch the rest of the week, so I like to make it on Sundays or Mondays. It's a great "Meatless Monday" meal!

Baked Ziti

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 ounces ziti (3 3/4 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I usually use milk or fat-free half-and-half)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475F.

2. Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet and saute over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add crushed tomatoes, water, ziti, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until ziti is almost tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

3. Stir in cream, Parmesan, and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (At this point, I transfer the pasta to a 13x9-inch Pyrex dish). Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over pan. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes. Serve.

Source: Adapted from The Best 30 Minute Recipe cookbook

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mocha Cream Cake



I made this cake for my mom's birthday a few years ago. She found it in a magazine years ago and thought it looked neat so she saved the clipping. When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday dessert, this came to her mind. I was a little worried that mine wouldn't turn out like the picture, but it actually did, and this was a very impressive-looking dessert but actually not difficult.

I almost always prefer chocolate cake over white or yellow, so if I were to make this again, I would use a chocolate cake as the base. The cream filling was really good, as was the ganache, so I would keep the rest of the recipe as is.

Mocha Cream Cake

Makes 16 servings


1 package (18.25 ounces) white cake mix

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon cold water
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups (11.5 ounces) milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur

Chocolate Triangles (see recipe below)

1. Prepare cake batter according to package directions; bake in two 9-inch round pans as directed. Cool completely on wire racks.

2. For the filling: In a small bowl, combine gelatin and water; let stand for 2 minutes. Microwave on high for 10 seconds. Stir until gelatin is dissolved; set aside. In a large mixer bowl, combine the 1 1/4 cups cream, powdered sugar, kahlua, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed while slowly drizzling in gelatin mixture. Beat util stiff peaks form. Chill for several hours or overnight until ready to assemble.

3. For the ganache: In a small bowl, combine the milk chocolate chips, the 3/4 cup cream, and butter. Microwave for 3 minutes on medium-high (~70% power), stirring halfway through cooking time. Stir in kahlua. Chill for 45 to 60 minutes until thickened but still pourable. Beat with an electric mixer until spreadable, about 1 to 2 minutes.

4. To assemble the cake: Split cooled cakes horizontally. Place one layer on serving plate. Spread half of the filling over the top.


Top with the second cake layer. Spread about 1/2 cup of the ganache over the second layer.


Top with the third cake layer and spread remaining filling over top.


Reserve about 1/2 cup of the ganache. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Use reserved ganache to make 16 evenly spaced dollops around top outer edge of cake.


Place Chocolate Triangles on top of cake, resting one edge on ganache dollop. Store in refrigerator. Let cake stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.




Chocolate Triangles

Makes 16 triangles

1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons solid shortening
1 1/2 squares (1 1/2 ounces) white chocolate

1. Cut a circle of waxed paper to fit the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Lightly coat the outside bottom of the pan with butter (to keep the paper from moving); place waxed paper circle on bottom of pan.


2. Place semi-sweet chocolate and shortening in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds on medium-high (~70% power); stir. Continue to microwave and stir in 30-second intervals until chocolate can be stirred smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

3. Melt white chocolate in a similar manner to the chocolate in step 2. Transfer to a piping bag with a small tip or a resealable plastic bag with a corner cut off. Make a squiggly design of white chocolate over the surface of the waxed paper. Chill on the pan until firm, about 5 minutes.


4. Spread the cooled chocolate in a smooth, even layer over the white chocolate squiggles. Chill for 15 to 25 minutes.

5. Transfer the chocolate disc to a cutting board. Using a large sharp knife, cut the chocolate into 16 wedges. Chill until ready to assemble cake. Remove waxed paper before arranging triangles with squiggle side up on cake.

Source: Dierberg's Markets "Everybody Cooks" Magazine

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Onion Strings


Each year, my sister and her husband join us for an Apple Cider Doughnut making day.  It's one of my favorite days of the fall.  In the last few years, we've decided that we may as well put the hot oil to good use and fry something else!  We now follow up the doughnuts with these Onion Strings from the Pioneer Woman.  They are so good, they may even beat the seriously, they are that good! We only deep fry once a year, so you better bet we are getting the most out of it and making these. If you ever find yourself with a pot of hot oil, try these. They will not disappoint!

Onion Strings

1 whole large onion, sliced very thin
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant tablespoon table salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 - 2 quarts Canola oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Place sliced onions in a baking dish, cover with buttermilk, and soak for at least an hour.

2. Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

3. Heat oil to 375F in a Dutch oven. Grab a handful of onions, throw into the flour mixture, tap to shake off excess, and plunge into hot oil. Fry for a few minutes and remove as soon as golden brown. Season with salt and pepper as desired and serve immediately.

4. Repeat with remaining onions.


Source: Pioneer Woman

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cauliflower Crust Pizza


Cauliflower Pizza Crust is all over Pinterest and has piqued my interest on multiple occasions. I actually made this over two years ago and found the image file when hunting through some old files. This crust turned out really well. I find making cauliflower rice and squeezing out the water to be bit labor intensive, but it actually isn't that bad. Make sure you immediately rinse the towel you use to squeeze the moisture out of the cauliflower. I set mine aside and forgot about it and it smelled awful the next morning! I topped my Cauliflower Pizza Crust with pizza sauce, mozzarella, turkey sausage, and Oven-Dried Tomatoes.  Delish!

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

2 pounds cauliflower florets, riced
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400F.

1. To make the cauliflower rice, pulse batches of raw cauliflower florets in a food processor, until a rice-like texture is achieved.

2. Fill a large pot with about an inch of water, and bring to a boil. Add the "rice" and cover; let cook for about about 4 - 5 minutes. Drain into a fine-mesh strainer.

3. This is the secret: Once you've strained the rice, transfer it to a clean, thin dishtowel. Wrap up the steamed rice in the dishtowel, twist it up, then squeeze all the excess moisture out.

4. In a large bowl, mix up your strained rice, beaten egg, mozzarella cheese, and spices. It will not be the consistency of typical pizza dough.

5. Press the dough out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (It's important that it's lined with parchment paper, or it will stick.) Keep the dough about 1/3-inch thick, and make the edges a little higher for the crust. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes. The crust should be firm and golden brown when finished.

6. Top crust as desired. Return the pizza to the oven, and bake an additional 5 - 10 minutes, until the cheese is hot and bubbly. Slice and serve immediately.

Time-Saving Tip: make a double-batch of cauliflower pizza crusts and save one for later. After baking the crusts, wrap up the extra pizza crust in foil, and freeze it for later use.  Simply add toppings and bake at 400F, until the cheese is hot and bubbly.

Source: Adapted from Detoxinista

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Garlic-Braised Chicken Thighs with Roasted Carrots


I found this recipe on Pinterest when searching for ways to use the carrots in our garden. This recipe was actually a meal from a Whole30 plan.  While a Whole30 is not exactly my style, I do appreciate some of the Whole30-friendly recipes. The whole family eats this dinner every time I make it. The girls LOVE these carrots! They typically will not eat carrots, but they can't get enough of these. We did compare the grocery store baby carrots to those we grew in our garden, and the ones from our garden do taste better, but any carrot will do. The garlic thyme pan sauce here really elevates the dish, so don't skip that part!

Braised Chicken Thighs with Garlic Pan Sauce and Roasted Carrots

olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper to taste
bunch of fresh thyme, leaves removed and coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock/broth, divided
1 pound baby carrots or 5 whole carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet that has a lid (set the lid aside for now).

2. Line a baking sheet with foil and place carrots on the foil. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the carrots for 20 - 25 minutes, turning and mixing them every 5 - 10 minutes so they brown evenly.

3. Meanwhile, place chicken “pretty side” down in hot skillet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 - 8 minutes, until browned on one side. Flip chicken and cook until brown on the other side, then add 1 cup of the chicken stock/broth to the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and place the lid on the pan to allow the chicken to cook through. The stock will begin to reduce.

4. When chicken is cooked thoroughly (registers at least 165F with an instant-read thermometer/Thermapen), remove to a plate and set in a warm place (I put mine in the microwave NOT turned on!).

5. Add thyme, garlic, and remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock/broth to pan sauce, turning heat to high. Cook uncovered for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid thickens into a gravy.

6. Add the cooked chicken thighs back to the pan with the sauce.  Spoon sauce over the chicken.

7. To serve, pour sauce over both chicken and carrots. Sprinkle extra fresh thyme if desired.

Source: Adapted from Eat the cookie!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cheddar Bay Biscuits


As I mentioned in the last post, I used to love the Sonoma Chicken Stew at Panera. It was served with Dry Jack Cheese Biscuits, which I thought were amazing. They had a delicious, peppery flavor. In fact, on the way to the hospital when I was in labor with Ava, I had Bob stop at Panera so I could get a biscuit since I knew once I got to the hospital I would be strictly confined to clear liquids.

When my sister and I decided to recreate the Sonoma Chicken Stew, she suggested we try these Cheddar Bay Biscuits, since we like the ones at Red Lobster. I am happy to report that these are even better than the biscuits at Red Lobster! The fresh shredded Parmesan forms little pockets of cheese in the biscuits and really transforms these into some of the best biscuits we've ever had.  They really are best warm, so if possible aim to serve them that way.

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Makes 12 biscuits

2 cups Bisquick, store bought or homemade
2/3 cup milk (2%)
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup freshly shredded (not grated) Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
4 tablespoons melted butter

1. Heat oven to 450F.

2. Mix all ingredients except for butter.

3. Drop onto ungreased baking sheet by spoonful.

4. Bake for 8 - 12 minutes or until golden brown.

5. Brush with melted butter, then bake an additional 1 - 2 minutes. Serve warm.

Optional: finish with sprinkle of fleur de sel (flaky sea salt)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sonoma Chicken Stew


In the fall of 2011, Panera Bread featured a Sonoma Chicken Stew. It was pricier than their typical soups, but it was served with Dry Jack Cheese Biscuits on top. This stew was very similar to their cream of chicken and wild rice soup, which has been one of my favorites since I was in high school. It is a creamy base with chicken and vegetables, but perhaps my favorite part was these small round carrots. I was completely baffled by them. They were so tasty and has a perfect texture. Each had a marking where a stem would be, so it wasn't just small pieces of carrot that were rolled around to form balls. I did some research and found that they are actually called thumbelina carrots and are sometimes grown in Sonoma, California.

I loved this stew so much that Bob and I often went to Panera while I was pregnant with Ava just to get this stew. Sadly, in the fall of 2012, the stew did not return to the fall menu! I was crushed and knew I had to come up with a way to recreate this stew.  My sister Lisa and I set out to do just that. We pulled components from recipes for Chicken & Dumplings, and added in what I remembered being in the Sonoma Chicken Stew. Of course, I couldn't find thumbelina carrots anywhere, so we made do with regular carrots. The stew turned out amazing!  Funny thing, shortly after we made the stew, I found "Parisian Carrots" in the freezer section of Trader Joe's- and they are the same little round carrot balls!  I stocked up!  

Sonoma Chicken Stew

Serves 4-6 dinner-sized portions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.25 - 1.5 lbs chicken breast, cut into small pieces
3 carrots, peeled and chopped (or thumbelina or Parisian carrots if you can find them!)
1 leek, quartered and sliced thin
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 pound red potatoes, skin-on, diced small
1/2 cup baby peas (or more)
Fresh thyme, several sprigs
1/2 - 2/3 cup heavy cream

1. Melt butter over medium high heat in a large Dutch oven. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken and cook until browned or opaque and cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm.

2. Add carrots, onion, and leek to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften, 4 - 5 minutes. Add flour and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add chicken broth slowly and bring to a boil.

4. Add potatoes, peas, and thyme, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until cooked through. If stew is getting too thick, cover while continuing to simmer. Add cooked chicken back to the Dutch oven and cook just until warmed.


5. Add heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.

Source: Lisa & Meghan Original Recipe :-)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cheddar Dill Scones


In my spare time, I love to watch episodes of Barefoot Contessa. Ava shares my love of cooking, and she absolutely adores Ina!  She will often ask to watch "Barefoot" as she calls her. One particular episode of the Barefoot Contessa titled "Ladies Who Lunch" featured chicken salad and Cheddar-Dill Scones. I served these scones with Harvest Chicken Salad.  We all really loved them; I don't think I've ever made one of Ina's recipes that we didn't like!

Cheddar Dill Scones

4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 pound extra-sharp yellow Cheddar, small-diced
1 cup minced fresh dill
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400F.

1. Combine 4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

2. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Combine until just blended.

3. Toss together the Cheddar, dill, and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough. Mix until they are almost incorporated.

4. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 minute, until the Cheddar and dill are well distributed. Roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 4-inch squares and then in half diagonally to make triangles. Brush the tops with egg wash.


5. Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outside is crusty and the inside is fully baked.

Source: Barefoot Contessa

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ultimate Steel-Cut Oatmeal


My sister and brother-in-law share my love for cooking and recipes. They have made several recipes from the America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, and it's something I had been wanting for a while. My mom and dad got it for me for Christmas several years ago, so I was so excited to find new recipes inside.

First off, I LOVE that it's a metal-ring binder style cookbook. My Mom's 1970's Betty Crocker Cookbook is in this format, and I always wanted a cookbook like this. Browsing through this book makes me want to cook non-stop for a month - there are so many recipes I would like to try! One that caught my eye right away was this recipe for Steel-Cut Oats. I had a container of them in my pantry and had every other ingredient on hand, (which never happens!).

I am not a traditional oatmeal lover. In fact, I had a very bad experience with oatmeal as a child. I begged my mom to let me have an oatmeal with red gummy bears (gag) for dinner one night instead of tuna casserole (double gag). Why we even had this in the house I will never know. It turned into a slimy, soggy, pink slop and I did not want to eat it. I remember trying to bribe my dad to eat it (he quickly shot me down). This was the last time I ate oatmeal until college, when my roommate Kathleen showed me how to make it in a way that is not soggy or slimy - she uses about 1/4 the amount of water recommended. I continued to enjoy my oatmeal this way, and even made a similarly-textured baked oatmeal.

This dish takes some time to make, but the result is a creamy, but not soggy, oatmeal that can be tailored to your specific tastes. I decided to add in grated apple, dried cranberries, cinnamon, and some brown sugar, but ATK suggests a number of different variations, including maple syrup, honey, figs, walnuts, and/or bananas. The second time I made this, I doubled the recipe and we reheated the leftovers each morning. 

Ultimate Steel-Cut Oats

3 cups water
1 cup 1% lowfat milk*
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
1/4 teaspoon salt

Optional add-ins:
1/2 large, peeled and grated sweet apple (such as Fuji)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

*ATK advises against using skim milk. I actually only had skim and whole milk, so I used whole. Not as healthy, but it was gooood!

1. Bring the water and milk to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, then add the oats and toast, stirring constantly, until golden and fragrant, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

3. Stir the oats into the simmering liquid, reduce the heat,to medium-low, and simmer gently until the mixture is very thick, about 20 minutes.

4. Stir in the salt and the optional add-ins and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed and the oatmeal is creamy, about 10 minutes (if doubling the recipe, increase this to 15 minutes). Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.


Source: Adapted from the America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars


Although I didn't always think so, pumpkin and chocolate is such a great combination. Years ago in the fall, one of my labmates brought these Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars to a lab meeting. They are similar in theory to the Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, but in these bars the chocolate and the pumpkin are layered rather than swirled, and the crust is graham cracker rather than chocolate cookies. These bars also have a delicious sour cream topping, and if I remember correctly, the cheesecake layers in these bars are slightly less firm than the Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars.  I am happy to have both bar recipes to make during my favorite time of year!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars 

Makes 24 to 36 bars

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
 cup sugar
cup butter, melted
8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 
cups sugar
cup canned pumpkin
teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
teaspoon vanilla
teaspoon salt
 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut up (or 3 ounces semi-; 3 ounces bittersweet)
1 tablespoon bourbon, optional
tablespoons butter
1 1/4 
cups sour cream
cup sugar
Grated fresh nutmeg and/or milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate curls

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in the 1/3 cup melted butter. Press mixture evenly into bottom of the prepared baking pan; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and the 1 3/4 cups sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat in pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt on low speed just until combined. Remove 1-1/4 cups of the mixture and set aside in a separate bowl (this mixture will have the chocolate added to it).

4. In a small heavy saucepan, combine the 6 ounces chocolate, the bourbon if using, and the 2 tablespoons butter. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Whisk chocolate mixture into the 1 1/4 cups pumpkin mixture. Pour over crust, spreading evenly. Bake for 15 minutes.

5. Carefully pour the remaining pumpkin mixture over baked chocolate layer, spreading evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes more or until filling is puffed and center is set. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and 1/4 cup sugar. Gently spread over bars. Cool completely. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours. Cut into bars.

* Before serving, sprinkle with nutmeg and/or chocolate curls.

 *To make triangle-shape bars, cut the cookies crosswise into four strips. Then cut each strip into five triangles (you'll end up with two half-triangles from the ends of each strip).

To Make Ahead: Bake and chill as directed; cut into bars. Place in a single layer in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Do not freeze.

Source: Adapted from Midwest Living

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Harvest Chicken Salad


Several years ago, Subway introduced a chicken salad that had grapes, apples, raisins, and dried cranberries. I really liked the idea of this salad, although I felt like a homemade version would be much better. I love the sweet and savory balance of this chicken salad. I've served it on bread or in a dish. It's the perfect lunch or light dinner in early fall!

Harvest Chicken Salad 

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup grapes, cut in half
1 apple, diced (I like Fuji)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup craisins/dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Rub chicken with olive oil and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper and bake until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

2. Cube cooled chicken. In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, grapes, apple, raisins, and craisins. Add chicken and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Chill until ready to serve.

Source: Inspired by the Orchard Chicken Salad from Subway, portions of chicken salad recipe from Barefoot Contessa

Monday, September 7, 2015

Browned Butter Cookies with Apple Cider Caramel Filling


After making the Apple Cider Caramels, I had to try out this recipe that combines the caramels with Browned Butter Cookies. I wasn't sure how these would turn out, but I was blown away by how good they were.  The browned butter cookie base perfectly compliments the apple cider caramels. I know my words can't do these justice, so I will just let the pictures speak for themselves. Caramel oozing from a cookie? Yes please!


Browned Butter Cookies with Apple Cider Caramel Filling

Makes about 20 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon greek yogurt or sour cream
20 apple cider caramels (about 1-inch squares), unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Place the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Melt completely. Continue to cook, whisking frequently, until the butter foams, bubbles slightly, and begins to brown. Continue whisking until the butter is evenly brown, being careful not to burn. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Line baking sheets with parchment. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugars and brown butter, mixing on medium speed until well blended and smooth.

3. Blend in the egg and yolk, scraping the bowl as needed. Blend in vanilla and yogurt or sour cream.  With the mixer on low, blend in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.

4. Use a medium dough scoop to place a ball of dough onto the prepared pan (about 2 tablespoons). Press the center of the dough down to create an indentation. Place a caramel in the indentation and pinch together the edges of the dough over the caramel to completely hide it in the center of the dough. At this point, you may pinch the top of the dough in multiple spots to create a more rustic look. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing cookies at least 2 - 3 inches apart.  Chill dough on cookie sheets in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

5. Bake the cookies until golden brown, about 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through cooking. Let cool briefly on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Serve slightly warm to achieve gooey caramel texture.

Source: Annie's Eats

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Apple Cider Caramels

I made these apple cider caramels two falls ago and never got around to blogging them, which is sad because they are so, so good. I've never had anything like them before, and they truly do have a distinct apple cider flavor. Stay tuned for my next post where I show you an awesome recipe that uses these caramels!

Apple Cider Caramels

4 cups apple cider
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Boil the apple cider in a 3- or 4-quart saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3-cup and 1/2-cup (approximately 35 to 40 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper, leaving excess hanging over the sides. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and salt.

3. After the cider has reduced, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pan to medium-high heat and attach a candy thermometer to the side. Let the mixture boil until the thermometer reaches 252 F, about 5 minutes.

4. Immediately remove the caramel from the heat, add the cinnamon and salt, and stir several times with a wooden spoon. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Let sit until cool and firm, about 2 hours.

5. Once the caramel is firm, use the parchment overhangs to lift it out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Using a very sharp knife coated with non-stick cooking stray, cut the caramel into 1-inch squares.  You may need to respray the knife several times during cutting to ensure clean slices.

6. Wrap each caramel in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. The caramels can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Brown Eyed Baker, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and blog

Monday, August 31, 2015

Apple Crumble Pizza Pie


Let's kick off September with an apple recipe, shall we?  This recipe is a family favorite from my mom's old Betty Crocker Cookbook. Interestingly, it has been omitted from the new Betty Crocker Cookbook, as the one I received as a wedding gift does not have this recipe!  I was really surprised to discover this considering how much my family loves this dessert.  It's so simple, especially if you use a store bought pie crust, but it looks impressive and tastes just like apple pie, but possibly better!

Apple Crumble Pizza Pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Pastry for 8- or 9-inch two-crust pie, store-bought or homemade (see recipe below)
6 to 7 tart apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Crumble topping (see below)

Preheat oven to 450F.

1. Prepare pastry as directed except roll 1 inch larger than 12- or 13-inch pizza pan. Ease into pizza pan and flute edge. (Alternatively, roll the dough into a 13- or 14-inch circle and place on an ungreased baking sheet and flute).

2. Beginning at the ends of the crust and overlapping the slices, cover the crust with apples.


3. Stir together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sprinkle the mixture over the apple slices. Top with Crumble Topping.


4. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until edge is golden brown and apples are tender. Best served warm and, if desired, topped with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream!

Crumble Topping

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firm butter

Mix until crumbly.


Source: The Betty Crocker Cookbook

This is my go-to pie dough recipe:

All-Butter Double-Crust Pie Dough

1/3 cup ice water, plus extra as needed
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the work surface
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen for 10 to 15 minutes

1. Mix 1/3 cup of the ice water and the sour cream in a small bowl until combined. Process the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor until combined. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of large peas, about 10 pulses.

2. Pour half of the sour cream mixture over the flour mixture and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses. Repeat with the remaining sour cream mixture. Pinch the dough with your fingers, if the dough feels dry and does not hold together, sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons more ice water over the mixture and pulse until he dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, 3 to 5 pulses.

3. If using for Apple Crumble Pizza Pie, refrigerate dough until it is a consistency suitable for rolling. If using for a pie, divide the dough into 2 even pieces and wrap in plastic wrap, forming into 4-inch disks before refrigerating.

Source: America's Test Kitchen

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Baked Jalapeño Poppers


One of my favorite things about summer is the seasonal vegetables and fruit, especially if it's from our or our friends' gardens. Our neighbors gave us a bunch of their homegrown jalapeños.  All of my recipes that call for jalapeños usually only use 1 or 2, not 11! My mom suggested I make jalapeño poppers, so I found this recipe via Pinterest and was excited to try it. These were so, so good.  Everyone loved them, even Ava.  She was really sad that she only got 1 and talked about them for a long time after.  Bob and I decided that we need to serve them at our annual Halloween party and call them "Halloweeño Poppers" :-)

Baked Jalapeño Poppers

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste,
6 jalapeños, halved lengthwise, seeds sand membranes removed (I always use disposable kitchen gloves when I do this) Note: my jalapeños were homegrown from a neighbor and pretty small so I ended up using 11 of them.

Preheat oven to 350F.

1. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

2. Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add Panko and cook until browned, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese, cheddar, garlic and onion powders, salt and pepper.

4. Spoon the filling into each jalapeño cavity. Place on prepared baking sheet, filled side up, and bake until the filling is runny and golden, about 15 - 20 minutes.

5. Sprinkle with the toasted Panko and serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from Damn Delicious

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