Monday, December 29, 2008


After looking around the kitchen yesterday, I knew that the grocery store trip would be pretty light. When I came home though, I realized that I didn't have a lot of free space! Fridge, freezer, pantry......they're all pretty full!

So it's time to do something that we don't do often enough....clean it out!! I'm trying to come up with ideas for meals that use up some of this overabundance. So last night, I made chicken breasts topped with salsa and cheese.

We have four (FOUR!) open jars of salsa in the fridge. One of them was from making Mexican Chicken and Rice last week, there's always a little left in the jar. The others were a gift set from one of my favorite people, Mrs. I. This meal was so easy to make. I browned chicken breasts on the stove, and then baked them at 400 degrees in the toaster oven for fifteen minutes. Then I spread them with the peach salsa and sprinkled fresh grated parmesan left over from Christmas. The result was a spicy, sweet, melty, delicious meal!

I've also defrosted chili with beans to eat for lunch this week, along with the corn muffins left over from Christmas. (the muffins were for cornbread stuffing in the Stuffed Apples from Christmas.)
This is actually kind of fun!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Dinner....

Christmas Dinner....what a treat!

Holiday Tortellini Soup
Roast Beef
Seafood "Cake Bake"
Stuffed Golden Apples
Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans with Shallots
Butternut Squash
Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Garlic
Hot Rolls and Butter.

My mom made the soup, it was out of Taste of Home this month. It was tomato, spinach and cheese tortellini, topped with fresh grated Parmesan. The roast beef was a bit underdone, but delicious just the same. Seafood "Cake Bake" is the silly name that Brian came up with when he put two recipes together, one for Seafood Gratin and the other for Crabcakes. Despite the name, it was absolutely delicous. And the veggies this year....roasted carrots with fresh rosemary and garlic! I roasted them the day before and Brian warmed them up in the oven. They were soooo good! And the green beans were just boiled for 4-5 minutes and then sauteed with a little olive oil and chopped shallot. Mmmmm....who knew simplicity could taste so good! The best part was that there were plenty of leftovers to send home with people and still have dinner tonight!!

Dessert was provided by our guests. Mom brought lots of Christmas cookies and a peach kuchen. Brian and Kim brought brownies that my brother had made, as well as more cookies. My aunt and cousin brought a Trader Joe's Chocolate Cheesecake sampler and a chocolate Yule Log. I haven't had any of those yet, but you can't go wrong with chocolate cheesecake!!!

This dinner is definitely worthy of "The Notebook." I keep a notebook of recipes that we've tried and really, really liked. (And yes, I write down the source so there's no plagiarizing.)

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas morning is a flurry of activity, with lots of presents to unwrap, family pics in front of the tree and of course, stockings. No one really has time or the desire to cook a breakfast, and well, a bowl of cereal on Christmas just seems ...sad. A bowl of Cheerios doesn't exactly scream "Celebration!!"

We love, love, love this coffeecake! It's delicious and is just delightful with well, coffee! Another Food Network gem. You can slice it up and nibble while you're unwrapping gifts and getting ready for guests. Also, baking it the day before is fine too. Enjoy!

Pecan Coffeecake

Pan Dusting: 1/2 c. sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon

8 tbsp unsalted butter, softened @ room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. sour cream or vanilla yogurt

1/2 c. light brown sugar, packed
2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced
3/4 c. pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In small bowl, stir together 1/2 c sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Butter a tube pan well, liberally coat with sugar mixture.

In stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. With mixer running, slowly add sugar. Add eggs and mix until light and fluffy. In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Working in batches, add flour mix to butter-sugar mixture, alternating with dollops of sour cream or yogurt. Pour into prepared pan.

Topping: In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add butter, and using fingertips or a pastry blender, pinch ingredients together into a sandy, crumbly mixture. Add pecans and mix. Sprinkle over cake.

Bake until risen and browned, 35-40 minutes. Let cool in pan and turn out. Cool completely before slicing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hosting Christmas Dinner

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and since I have the day off, it's the final preparations to host Christmas dinner.

We usually host, so that we can stay home with our son on Christmas Day. Plus, Brian and I both like to cook and entertain, so it works out well.

This year will be eight people all told, the most we've had a sit-down dinner for. We're having a soup course, entree and dessert.

Can't wait to share how it goes and what the menu was!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Party Dip

Tis the season for parties....and bringing stuff to parties! I got this recipe from a friend in my playgroup and it was so good, I brought it to a get-together last week. It was a hit!

Salsa Bean Dip

1 med red onion, chopped
1 c. celery, chopped
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 11oz can white shoepeg corn, drained and rinsed
1 4 oz jar of pimentos, chopped (rinse oil)
1/2 jar chopped jalapeno (i subbed canned green chilies)
1 c. olive oil
1/2 c. cider vinegar
1 c. sugar

In a small sauce pan, combine olive oil, cider vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar.

Combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Pour oil mixture over the ingredients in the bowl and refrigerate. To serve, use a slotted spoon to scoop out the mixture and transfer to another bowl. Serve with crackers or scoops.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Know what makes a good cold-night dinner? Chili! It also comes together quickly, for a quick weeknight meal. I usually like to serve it over rice, but I had a corn muffin mix in the pantry so I decided they'd go together well, along with a cold beer. (I'm not really a beer fan for the most part, but there's something about chili and beer together!)

We're divided in our house: I love kidney beans in chili, and Brian does not. So I usually make a basic chili recipe (hamburger, onions, tomato, garlic, tomato puree, etc, or whatever else) and put aside a little for Brian before I add a can of drained and rinsed kidney beans. That way we both get what we want for dinner---peace and quiet!! :)

I stopped using chili seasoning packets a while ago, I like to make my own little blend with chili powder, crushed red pepper, cayenne, chili powder...whatever sounds good that day. I like it hot, but not so hot that I feel like the fire department is headed over. Well, it was more of the latter tonight!! I don't measure the spices, I just toss them in and usually it's delicious. Tonight, it was spicy as hell!!! I managed to eat enough for dinner, but I didn't know where I went wrong. In doing the dishes I figured it out: the can of diced tomatoes had chilies added!!!

So, a word to the wise: check your tomatoes before you just toss in more spice! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Good Idea in Theory...

With all of the cookie madness this weekend, there wasn't a whole lot of time for other cooking. We also haven't been really great in the past few weeks about sticking to the menu that I write out every week. I allowed myself to be sweet-talked into ordering a pizza one tiring night (not that it took a lot of arm-twisting!) So the pork chops that we were supposed to have got pushed back. And well, they needed to be eaten.

Here's a good idea: When you have an insanely busy day ahead of you in the kitchen, drag out your crockpot. By the time you realize that you are simply too exhausted to cook dinner, dinner will already be ready!

Here's a good idea gone wrong.....attempting any kind of slow cooker recipe and having to make several substitutions and expecting it to go well. We settled on quasi-German cuisine tonight. The recipe was called Alsatian Pork with Sauerkraut. I like sauerkraut on hot dogs, so this sounded intriguing. Except---I subbed smoked pork with pork chops and russet potatoes for red bliss. And it called for one cup of "fruity white wine, like Reisling." Nope--finished the wine last night! It went on to say that you could substitute apple juice for a non-alcoholic version. No apple juice to be had, in a house with a toddler! I did have some white cranberry-peach cocktail, so I threw that in. It smelled pretty good while it was cooking. It was not. Dry pork, hard potatoes and the juice? Well, sauerkraut is SOUR, and peachy juice doesn't bring anything other than sin to the party. And no, not the good kind. Blech! It all went out in the trash, I wouldn't even let the dog have any!

Know what makes a good, quick back-up dinner? Brian's cheesesteaks!

Christmas Cookies, Part II

Today was more of a lazy day than a baking day.......we didn't get around to making sugar cookie dough until the afternoon, and then it had to chill for 2-4 hours. No bother. There's no reason to rush through the cookies and make ourselves crazy. We did bake the Peanut Butter Blossoms, and they are to die for! I'm not the biggest fan of peanut butter on the planet, but I do love a peanut butter cookie. We scrapped the idea of the honey nut cluster cookies. We can make them another time for ourselves but frankly, we're happy with five kinds. So here's the cookies by the numbers: In the past 24 hours, we have gone through 12 cups of flour, 10 eggs, 7 cups of sugar/brown sugar and 9 sticks of butter! And what have we achieved? Lots of Christmas cookie memories and a tradition we hope to share with our child(ren) someday. And now.....the Rollo cookie recipe that friends have asked for. They are my ultimate favorite Christmas cookie! TIP: Unless you have a big stand mixer like a KitchenAid, do not use a handmixer for these cookies. The dough gets so heavy, it will smoke out your motor and render your mixer useless!

Rollo Cookies

2 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1 c. sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 c (two sticks) butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
48 unwrapped rollos
1 c. chopped pecans
1 T. sugar

Preheat oven to 375. In med bowl, combine flour, cocoa and baking soda. Mix well and set aside. In lg bowl, blend 1 c. sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat well. Add flour mix, a little at a time and blend well.

For each cookie, shape dough around a rollo, covering completely. (Helps to coat hands with cooking spray!!) In small (cereal-sized) bowl, combine chopped pecans with T. of sugar. Press one side of each ball in pecan mix. Place nut-side-up on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 7-10 minutes.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Cookies, Part I

It's Cookie Time!!!

It's that time of year where Brian and I have our holiday tradition of baking cookies to share with friends and family. In the past, we would take a Saturday and bake till we dropped from exhaustion. We'd start churning out cookies right after breakfast and be cleaning the kitchen around 11pm. Things have changed in the last couple of years because well.....we don't have a full Saturday anymore! Last year we were fortunate to both have jobs that enabled us to bake during the week, but since we're both now "nine to fivers" full-time, we decided to split the baking over a weekend and bake just a little less. I have to say, I like the format of stretching the baking over two days instead of killing ourselves over one day. This also makes us able to stick a fork in another "tradition:" the "Post-Cookie Exhaustion Argument." You know the one I mean, folks...the sqaubbly, gripe-y fight that is inevitable when you are both sore, tired and hungry. Not a tradition that I'm sorry to see go away!

So, in order to make fewer batches of cookies but still enjoy every minute, we made a list of cookies that we wanted to make and ranked them. (We're big, organized dorks in this house and take our cookie-baking seriously. And if you make fun, you may not get any cookies!!) First, we each chose a kind of cookie that it just wouldn't be Christmas for us if we didn't bake them. For me, that would be Rollo Cookies and for him, that would be Coconut Macarooons. Then we looked at a couple of other classic recipes and also decided on a couple of new recipes to try this year. Here is the list:

1. Rollo Cokies: I've been making these for years. I used to think they were some sort of family secret, but then I found out that my Mom got them on the back of a flour bag. Ah well. They're a chocolately, pecan cookie with a Rollo candy stuffed inside. Pure heaven.

2. Coconut Macaroons: Brian's absolute favorite, he could make these every week and still never have enough! They're crispy, coconutty and come together quickly.

3. Pecan Caramel Surprises: These are a new one for us this year, kind of like a rollo cookie but they aren't chocolate and they have a caramel square in the middle.

4. Rolled Sugar Cookies: A holiday tradition, the sugar cookies that you roll out and use cookie cutters and then decorate. I used to hate roll-out cookies until Alton Brown had a show dedicated with all sorts of tips and tricks to making them. We're not really picky about decorating them, usually it's frosting with sprinkles instead of a lot of detail.

5. Peanut Butter Blossoms: the traditional, peanut butter-and-hershey kiss variety. You know, the ones that tend to disappear from the platter first!!

6. Honey-Nut Clusters: This is also a new one for us this year.

Tonight we made the macaroons and the Rollo cookies, as we didn't remember until late that the sugar cookie dough needs to be refrigerated for 2-4 hours!! So we'll make the dough as soon as Will is napping tomorrow. Since we're supposed to get just a little snow tomorrow, it'll be fun to hang out at home and bake.

As I've already stated--we're pretty serious cookie bakers around the holidays. We double most of the recipes, plan grocery lists and only use the best ingredients. This is really the only time of the year that we bake like this, so we don't scrimp on quality. My feelings are, if you are going to bake a cookie, use what the recipe calls for and no substitution like margarine. Or applesauce, and if it calls for shortening, use it! I very rarely bake cookies, most of the time I can't be bothered. ('Cept for the occasional batch of Toll House Cookies!!) These are a real treat. :)

So what happens to all of these cookies?? Well, I'm glad that you asked. We make up platters and tins for friends and family. We also ship them in holiday packages to friends and family in places as far away as Maine, Pennsylvania and Illinois. And we keep some to indulge ourselves at home, sometimes with guests. There's nothing like sitting with your family by the tree, lights low and some cookies and milk. Mmmmm.............

What a guy!!

There's a well-known "secret" in my family. My husband has a tough time holding onto birthday presents until my actual birthday. Sometimes he just gets excited about what he got me and just can't wait to give it to me! Our anniversary is the first week of October and one year I got a beautiful mid-September. Not that I mind, mind you! However, I do find it amusing.

Sometimes he ends up gift-giving early because it's something we could really use in the moment. Like last year, when he had gotten me silicone cookie mats and we were about to bake a mess of cookies. Or this year.

It's cookie making weekend in our house.......anyone who knows us well knows that the first weekend of December we knock ourselves out baking. We make tons of cookies and give them away, ship them in packages and of course....indulge in some of them ourselves. :) Last night we were making the "short list" of what we wanted to bake and ranking them. (Yes, I'm aware that makes us big dorks, but hey, that's allright, cookies are awesome!) I was disappointed that we had to cut out one recipe because it needed a food processor. And anyone who's read this post knows that you can't use a blender in place of a food processor!

Suddenly, Brian opened the basement door to listen for the washing machine "to see if it was done." He went downstairs to put towels in the dryer, and I went out to the computer. He comes upstairs and presents me with a box wrapped in Christmas paper and blue painter's tape, "Happy Birthday, Dear!!!" Oh boy, my very own food processor!!!

Now we can make "Pecan-Caramel Surprises" with the rest of our cookie menu. Thanks!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Not a Chance

I know that I usually say I'll try anything once....and it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion. Over the years, I've found myself eating things like scrapple, or whatever concoction my college buddies mixed into a dessert at a birthday dinner in a restaurant. Or salsa con queso and sour patch kids on a dare. (yes....blech) But I found something today that I would, quote the song about Mr. Grinch, "touch with an eleven-and-a-half foot pole"......liver and onions!

Liver? Really? Why would you want to eat an organ that's responsible for removing toxic impurities from the body? Seriously!!