Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween: Pumpkin Pie Bites

J and I were headed to a Halloween party, and needed a treat to bring. I knew I wanted to make something Halloween-themed, and for a while I thought I would just make sugar cookies and decorate them with royal icing.

Then, I saw the cute little pumpkin pie bites on Bakerella's blog. Perfect - I love pumpkin treats, and I liked that these were finger foods for easy nibbling at the party. A little extra decoration, and these are even more festive! I made my own pie crust instead of using packaged, but that is the only change I made to her recipe. (Check out Bakerella's post for pictures of each step if you want more detail.)

Pumpkin Pie Bites
ala Bakerella; makes 24 bites (see notes at end)

2 pie crusts (see dough recipe below, or use packaged)

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. canned 100% pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter (or round shape)

1/2 cup chocolate morsels
vegetable oil
re-sealable plastic bags

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Use cookie cutter to cut 12 pumpkin shapes from each pie crust. You will need to roll the dough thinner than it comes out of the box.
3. Press dough shapes into a 24 cup mini muffin tray. (Make 12 at a time, alternating cups to make sure pie crusts don’t overlap each other.)
4. Apply egg whites from one egg to the top edges of each pie.
5. Mix cream cheese, sugar, canned pumpkin, remaining 2 eggs, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice together until thoroughly combined. Spoon mixture into each pumpkin-shaped pie crust.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
7. Remove pies to cool and repeat with second pie crust. Place the muffin tray in the freezer to cool it quickly for re-use. Makes 24 pies. Keep refrigerated.
8. Optional: To decorate, melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave on medium. Heat in 30 second intervals, stirring in between until melted. Add a little vegetable oil to make the chocolate more fluid. Transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag and cut the corner off. Drizzle or draw faces on pies.

Note: The cutter Bakerella used was 3 3/4 inches wide, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry. Just use a round cutter around that size or slightly smaller to cut circle shapes out of the dough. Then make stems with the scraps. Press each stem over the edge and down the side of the dough before filling.

Pastry crust dough (enough for 1 double crust or 2 single crusts)
from Martha Stewart
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (much smaller than peas,but don't let it form a paste), 8 to 10 seconds.

2. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
3. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

I had a couple issues, but nothing show-stopping. First, roll out the dough super thin. I though the ratio of dough-to-filling was way off in my bites, because there was too much dough. Secondly, I think I overfilled my muffin cups, as the filling puffed up a lot more than the pictures on Bakerella's blog, and then sunk way down. The real issue was that it sunk unevenly, which made them hard to decorate. Finally, I would say this filling recipe actually makes enough for 36 bites, maybe even more. I ran out of dough first, so I had to throw at least 1/3 of the batch away. Next time, I will either make more dough, or make less filling. I also think these would be good with the standard pumpkin pie filling (the kind with evaporated milk on the side of the pumpkin can). I might try this in the future; I imagine the baking time might change a little. These would be great for a Thanksgiving get together as well, maybe without the pumpkin faces :) Oh yeah - the most important part of the review: They still tasted great!

Hope you had a happy, safe, and SWEET Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Apple Harvest Cake-Loaf

With all of the apples available lately, and at super cheap prices, I see a few apple posts in my future. I came across this recipe for Apple Harvest Cake, but adapted it to make sweet apple bread loaves. These are definitely a sweet treat, more like cake than bread, but they are easy to freeze this way. The apple cake is sweet enough to eat on its own, but you can also choose to top it with the cream cheese icing (which is also delicious). I made 1.5 times the following recipe for 3 loaves, and froze one of them. I only made half of the cream cheese icing recipe, and just poured it over the two loaves I didn't freeze. I plan to take one into work, and well, the last one will get devoured at home.Apple Harvest Cake
adapted slightly from 30 Day Gourmet
makes 2 loaves, or 1 9x13 cake as written

For the cake:
2 eggs
2 c. sugar
1 c. applesauce
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 c. chopped apples (I used granny smith, about 5 small apples)
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional, I omitted)

For the Cream Cheese Icing:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1/4 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Grease and flour pans; either 2 cake rounds, 1 9x13 cake pan, or 2 9x5 loaf pans.
2. Combine eggs, sugar, applesauce, and oil. Beat well. Add flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Mix until dry ingredients are moistened.
3. Stir in apples, and nuts if using.
4. Pour into prepared cake pans and bake 35-45 minutes (40-50 for loaf pans).
5. Cool cakes, and frost if desired.
6. For cream cheese icing, mix all ingredients. This icing will be kind of runny - decrease amount of milk to stiffen it up, or add more confectioner's sugar to reach desired consistency.REVIEW:
Very tasty. The only issue I have is that since the icing doesn't set up, its a little messy to eat. But really, it is intended to be eaten as a cake with a fork, so I think my issue is that I am trying to eat slices with my fingers ;) If you were going to serve this as a coffee cake, instead of the cream cheese icing you could just top it with a cinnamon-sugar mixture before baking.

To freeze, wrap the loaf in plastic wrap and stick in it a Ziploc Freezer bag.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Red Chili Chicken and Rice with Black Beans

Another Annie recipe - and another good one! I am always looking for new Mexican recipes for J and I to enjoy, and this is even rather healthy!The only issue I had with this recipe was the length of time it took - our rice just was not cooking! It wouldn't have been as big of a deal if I expected it, but we just kept constantly checking it every 10 minutes after it was supposed to be done. We will make this again, but next time I'll either allot more time for the rice to cook, or remove the cooking liquid from the recipe and toss cooked rice in there at the end and just heat everything together for a few minutes. Annie generally posts pretty reliable recipes though, so I'm guessing it was just the kind of rice I used, and it might not even happen next time.

Red Chili Chicken and Rice with Black Beans
from Annie's Eats, originally adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
serves 4

2 tbsp. canola oil (I used olive oil)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2.5 tbsp. ancho chili powder, divided (I used regular chili powder)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup long-grain rice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup green onions, chopped (or 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro)
½-1 cup salsa, for serving

1. Heat the oil in large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the chicken breast halves with salt and sprinkle with half of the chili powder. Place the chicken in the hot oil and brown on each side, 2-3 minutes. Remove to a plate, leaving behind as much oil as possible.

2. Add the onion and rice to the pot. Stir for several minutes, until the rice turns from translucent to opaque. Add the garlic and the remaining chili powder to the pot. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the chicken broth and salt to taste. Stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer on medium-low heat. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces and add them to the pot along with the beans. (This chicken is still uncooked in the middle at this point, but it will be cooked through after you add it back to the pan for longer, don't worry!) Recover the pot and allow to cook 12 minutes longer.

4. Sprinkle the green onions on top of the chicken, beans and rice. Test a grain of rice – it should have no more than a hint of chalkiness at the center. If the rice has the correct texture, replace the cover, remove the pot from the heat and let stand 5-10 minutes. If the rice is not completely cooked yet, cook for 5 minutes longer before covering to let stand.

5. Fluff the mixture with a fork and serve with salsa.

This was very tasty. We actually served with salsa and sour cream. I really liked this recipe from the standpoint that I normally keep the ingredients on hand, so I could make it without too much planning. Other than our rice not cooking as quickly, it was a great recipe. Can't wait to try it again to work out the kinks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

The thing I look forward to most about carving pumpkins is cleaning and eating the seeds! We got quite a few from our two pumpkins this year, and I decided to be a little adventurous in their flavoring. Normally, I would just toss them with salt and roast them, but this year I tried some different seasonings. The steps are the same, just vary the seasoning to your tastes and what you have in your spice cabinet. Be creative!

This year, I made:
Salted - the old stand-by, spray with cooking spray and toss with salt
Cinnamon Sugar - a sweet treat! Toss with a little bit of melted butter and then some cinnamon, and sugar, with a touch of nutmeg, ginger, and ground cloves thrown in (or pumpkin pie spice)
Garlic Parmesan - A savory treat! Spray with cooking spray and toss with garlic powder, parmesan cheese, and a touch of salt
Hot - A spicy treat! Spray with cooking spray and toss with salt and a little (or a lot) of cayenne pepper

There are a lot of other combos that would work. Italian herbs, cajun spices... the possibilities are endless!Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin seeds, cleaned well
cooking spray, oil, or butter
seasonings of choice

1. Separate pumpkin seeds from pumpkin guts. Place in a colander and rinse WELL. Try to remove as much orange stuff as possible (a little won't hurt you).
2. Spread the seeds out on a paper towel and pat dry. (Mostly dry anyways).
3. Heat oven to 300 deg F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
4. Toss seeds with oil or butter (or just give them a good spray of cooking spray). Then toss with seasonings (I put the seasoning in a sandwich size Ziploc and tossed them that way). Vary the amount of seasoning you have to the amount of seeds. Generally, you need a couple tablespoons of seasoning to ~1/2 cup of seeds. The exception here is strong flavors - you don't want too much salt or too much cayenne. Spread seeds on baking sheet in a single layer.
5. Roast seeds at 300 deg F for 30-40 minutes, flipping/tossing them about halfway through. Seeds are done when they don't taste soft in the middle, but watch so they don't brown too much.

I am very pleased with the flavor combos I tried. The spicy seeds aren't too hot, and the parmesan garlic seeds had a great taste to them (got this idea from the sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings). When I mentioned a sweet option with cinnamon and sugar, Josh said I was on my own. These are actually really good! I only wish I had more pumpkin seeds to make some more!

And if you are wondering what I carved this year... well, I took the easy way out. But aren't these just adorable?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings

We had a low-key Saturday planned, and I knew we would be watching a lot of football. Chicken wings are a great football snack, so I whipped some up buffalo wings for us to snack on during the UofM game.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

serves 2

~2 lbs chicken wings
1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. hot sauce (I use Frank's Red Hot)
3 Tbsp. butter
celery and ranch for serving, if desired

1. Heat oven to 425 deg F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Place chicken wings/pieces on baking sheet and bake at 425 deg F for 25 minutes.
2. Melt butter. Add butter and 1/4 c. hot sauce to a large Ziploc bag. Remove chicken wings from oven and toss them in the sauce in the bag. Replace wings on baking sheet and bake for another 20 minutes.
3. Remove chicken wings to a plate. Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp. hot sauce, if you like them hot. Serve with ranch and celery sticks as desired.

These were good. We like them spicy, so I added a little extra hot sauce at the end. Next time I think I will try Frank's Buffalo Sauce, since I think that is thicker and my one complaint about this is how runny the sauce is when you first toss the wings, it doesn't seem like enough of it sticks. These were pretty spicy though!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Slow Cooker Maple-Dijon Chicken

I was looking for something easy, and found this recipe on the Good Morning America site. The Crockpot Lady, aka Stephanie O'Dea, came out with a book of recipes. I've had success with her recipes in the past, and this looked like another winner. Using the crockpot makes dinner so easy! We had a work FUNction to go to for my work tonight (it was fun - a visit to the pumpkin farm complete with cinder, donuts, and a pumpkin catapult!), and it was nice to walk in the door a little later than usual and have dinner waiting.

Maple-Dijon Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
serves ~4 as written

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken pieces
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
1 tsp. dried thyme
3 Tbsp. maple syrup (we used sugar-free, I recommend ~1/4 c.)
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (I recommend 3 Tbsp.)
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup chicken broth (we used vegetable stock, I recommend using 1/2 as much)
2 bay leaves

1. Use a 4-quart slow cooker. Put the chicken into the stoneware and toss with the onion, garlic, thyme, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard. Place the sweet potatoes on top of the chicken. Pour in the broth and add the bay leaves.
2. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 7 hours, or on high for 3 to 5 hours. The chicken is done when it is cooked through and the vegetables reached the desired tenderness.

We served this over rice with a side of parmesan-roasted asparagus, and it made for a good meal. I was a little disappointed with the flavors - we didn't think the maple or dijon was strong enough. Next time I will try adding a little more of those ingredients, and cutting back on the stock some (maybe by half, since the result was very liquidy).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This post is WAY overdue! Back on our anniversary (in August!) Josh made me breakfast (insert "Awwws" here). He did a darn good job, too! This was a delicious coffee cake, and he served it with a yogurt-berry parfait. He mixed a little honey in the the yogurt, and it was delish! Now, back to the coffee cake....

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick), room temp.
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4 c. dairy sour cream
1 1/2 cups flour
Nutty Cinnamon Topping (see below)
confectioner's sugar (Josh omitted)

2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 tbsp. coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (he omitted the nuts)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 7"x3" loaf pan with wax paper (or dust with flour).
2. Sift flour with salt and baking soda; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl. Add sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.
3. Add vanilla and egg. Beat until mixture has an airy texture. Stir in half of the flour mixture until moistened. Beat until smooth. Add half of the sour cream. Beat until smooth. Add remaining sour cream. Beat until smooth. Stir in remaining flour mixture. (Note: the amount of flour you should add in any baking recipe varies according to the humidity, storage conditions, and the quality and age of the flour you're using. Only use enough flour to make a soft batter for this recipe.)
4. Beat about 30 seconds until smooth. Do not overbeat.
5. Prepare Nutty Cinnamon Topping by tossing ingredients in a separate bowl. Spread half of batter evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of topping. Cover with remaining batter. Sprinkle remaining topping evenly over surface.
6. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until cake pulls away from edges of pan and springs back when lightly touched in center.
7. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Remove from pan by lifting ends of wax paper liner. Sift powdered sugar generously over top before serving.
This tasted delicious, despite whatever complications Josh may have had int he kitchen. He was trying to surprise me, and couldn't find the loaf pans, so he used a bundt pan instead (which worked by the way). He forgot to add something, so after pouring the batter into the pan, we had to scrape it back into the mixing bowl, finish adding stuff, and then pour it back in. Imagine me laying in bed thinking - wow, this is taking kind of a long time. Just when I thought he must be done, I hear the mixer turn on again. So I don't have the full story on this recipe, but whatever he did to it, it turned out fantastic!!

Chicken and Brown Rice Stuffed Tomatoes

So back in the days of garden overflow, Josh was tasked with making dinner. We had LOTS of tomatoes, so he surfed around for a recipe, and found this one for chicken and rice stuffed tomatoes. We made some modifications, but these were actually really good!

Chicken and Brown Rice Stuffed Tomatoes
serves 3-4, easy to scale if necessary

6 large, ripe tomatoes
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
3/4 lb ground chicken or cut up chicken breast
1 c. cooked brown rice
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese (provolone slices would work too)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish, large enough to accommodate the tomatoes, with non-stick spray.
2. Wash tomatoes. Cut off tops and scoop out insides into a bowl. Reserve.
3. In a non-stick skillet, brown chicken. Add onion. Make sure you break up the chicken into little pieces (if using ground chicken), it makes stuffing the tomatoes easier. Remove from heat.
4. Add rice and seasonings to the meat and onions.
5. Take the reserved tomato guts, and put into blender. Blend for a moment and pour back about 3/4 of a cup into the meat mixture. Mix well.
6. Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture; place tomatoes in baking dish. Top tomatoes with cheese then bake @400 for about 30 minutes.
These were quite tasty and filling, I think we each had 2 for dinner. This is great, healthy meal when served with a green vegetable. This meal is also easy to scale up or down, I think we ended up stuff ~8 tomatoes, but some were on the small side, so I would guess this filling would be adequate for 6 normal size tomatoes.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Island Chicken

I remember seeing this recipe on Annie's Eats last week, and since we needed something quick for dinner, it fit the bill. Josh was able to prep the marinade earlier in the day, and when I got home from work, we tossed it in the oven, did some household chores, and right before it was done we steamed some green beans to serve with it. It worked out quite well, and required very little kitchen time or clean up.

Like Annie, I'm not sure what makes this "island" but its still tasty!

Island Chicken
Serves 2-4, but you can easily scale the marinade to make more or less chicken

½ c. vegetable oil (we subbed olive oil and only used 1/3 c.)
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1½ tbsp. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-4 chicken breasts

1. Combine all ingredients except chicken in a mixing bowl or large airtight plastic bag. Whisk or shake well until the marinade is well mixed. Add the chicken breasts to the bowl or plastic bag so that they are covered by the marinade. If using a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap. If using a plastic bag, press out all the excess air and seal the bag tightly. Refrigerate and marinate up to 10 hours.
2. When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish and pour the excess marinade over them. Bake in the oven until cooked through and the internal temperature reaches 165° F, about 45 minutes (exact baking time will depend on the size of your chicken pieces.) Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

This chicken was not that special, but it was very flavorful and tasted good! (I will make this again because it was good, there just isn't really a "wow" factor here.) Marinating chicken is one way we manage to have homecooked meals when we are short on time or just don't feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen. (It does require a little planning ahead though.) Serve this with a green veggie, and a carb (mashed potatoes, a roll, or even rice) - we skipped the carb - and you have a great dinner!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pumpkin Blondies

I told you there would be pumpkin recipes on this blog!
I really like making blondies - they are faster than cookies, and don't need to be frosted or decorated like a cake. If you haven't tried any before, blondies are essentially a bar cookie with a soft chewy texture (kind of like a brownie). Baking this with pumpkin gave them a little more of a puffy, cake-like texture, but they weren't too crumbly. You can use any combination of chips in yours - I used white chocolate and semi-sweet, but butterscotch would be good too. Also, add nuts to your liking - I omitted them this time around.

A trick from Martha - Line your pan with aluminum foil before baking. In addition to preventing your bars from sticking to the pan, it makes clean up a breeze!

Pumpkin Blondies
adapted from Martha Stewart; makes 24 bars

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
2 c. chocolate chips (I used 1 cup white choc chips and 1 cup mini choc chips)
1/2 c. chopped, toasted nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with foil. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Stir together and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined. Mix in the pumpkin puree. With the mixer on low speed add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips you are using (and nuts, if using) with a rubber spatula.

3. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely before cutting.
To serve, lift the cake from the pan using the foil and transfer to a cutting board. Peel off the foil and using a sharp knife, cut into 24 squares.
Love these! So yummy, they were gone in no time!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vegetable Stock

You can call me cheap, that's ok. Yes, I made my own vegetable stock from veggie scraps that I have been saving in the freezer for a few months.
In the past I have tried making chicken stock, and I will do so again next time I buy a whole chicken. But during that process, I also read about making your own veggie stock - its even easier!

I got some tips from Stock Making 101 - the veggies you add will alter the taste a little, but it sounds like everything except broccoli and cauliflower are a go. Tomatoes can give a very strong tomato flavor, so I skipped those as well. Don't limit yourself to whole veggies - start saving scraps while you cook, and you will have a bag in no time! Over the past few months I had a large Ziploc in my freezer where I tossed (clean) veggie scraps: Onions/onion skins, garlic (the skins left after pressing), celery, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash, butternut squash rind, mushrooms, green onions, a couple carrots. I even tossed in a few stalks of asparagus and a few green beans that I had on hand. This is also a great use for veggies that are about to go bad but you can't use in time. (You can also toss in herbs, and even some fruits - apples and pears are said to be tasty.)

Vegetable Stock
yield depends on how many veggies you have

Veggie scraps / chopped up veggies
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
Salt - optional (I prefer to leave my stock bland and season the dish I am using it in)

1. Put all veggies in a large stock pot. Fill with water until veggies are covered. The rule of thumb is half solid ingredients to half water.

2. Add bay leaves and peppercorns, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a couple hours (~2-3). The longer you let the stock simmer, the more concentrated your flavors will be.

3. Strain the stock - I strain mine twice. First use a colander to separate the large scraps, then I line my colander with a paper towel and strain again to remove any smaller pieces left behind.
4. Cool and store - this is good in the fridge about 1 week, or in the freezer about 6 months. I store mine in ~2 cup portions. This batch yielded 14 cups of stock for me! (Only 12 are pictured since I used 2 cups in a recipe that day.)
This is very easy, and I highly recommend making your own soup stocks at home! I thought this stock turned out pretty good - the flavor tasted a little bland to me, but I'm pretty sure that's
because there was NO salt added. I used some to make a broccoli cheddar soup that evening, and it tasted great! Other than making soups, stocks can be a great way to add a depth of flavor to rice (use stock instead of water, or half stock half water); or can also be used to poach chicken or fish.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

With the temps getting chilly here, there was nothing more comforting on a Sunday afternoon spent watching football than broccoli cheese soup. I saw this on Lindsay's blog last week, and since I had the ingredients on hand, it was on the weekend menu!
I'm slightly ashamed to admit, but I had the Velveeta on hand that the recipe suggested. I also added in a little Swiss, but Lindsay just used a bunch of varieties of shredded cheese she had on hand, so I'm sure that would work as well. Also - the entire recipe is posted below, but that is enough to feed an army! I made a third of it - and it was still plenty for dinner for Josh and I, with leftovers for lunch the next day.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
originally from; serves 8 (or more) as written

3 (~10 oz) packages frozen chopped broccoli
3 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth (I used homemade veggie stock)
6 tbsp margarine
1 onion, chopped
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. milk (I used skim and it turned out fine)
1.5 lbs processed cheese food (i.e. Velveeta), cubed (about 12 oz of cheese total, see notes in review below)
1 pinch ground white pepper (who has white pepper? I used regular!)

1. In a large pot over medium heat, simmer the broccoli in the broth for 15 minutes. In a separate skillet over medium heat, melt the butter or margarine, add the onions and saute for 5 minutes, or to desired tenderness.

2. Add the flour to the onions and stir well, forming a pasty substance. Gradually add the milk and stir until thick. Add this mixture to the broccoli mixture in the pot and stir well. (It might not look appetizing at this point, but keep going!) Then add the cheese, stirring until melted. Finally, add the pepper. (Note: Be careful not to let the soup boil, or the cheese will break down.)

This was really good, but I thought it was a little too cheesy, to Velveeta-y actually. Next time, I will either sub half of the Velveeta for shredded cheddar, or not use Velveeta at all (since I rarely keep it on hand and it was kind of a fluke this time) and use a combo of shredded cheeses. I think cheddar and 5-cheese Italian would be good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chicken Pot "Pie" Soup

I had a hankering for chicken pot pie, but was not craving all those calories! I searched around a little, and decided to skip the crust all together, and just make a soup. I served with reduced fat crescent rolls, and it was delicious!

Chicken Pot "Pie" Soup
adapted from Recipe Zaar; serves 4

1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. reduced-fat chicken broth (I used homemade chicken stock)
1 12 oz bag frozen mixed veggies (I used Valley Fresh Steamers green beans/carrots/peas/corn)
1 (10 oz) can reduced-fat cream of chicken soup (or cream of mushroom)
1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
~1 lb. chopped cooked chicken breasts (I poached mine, then cut them into bite sized pieces)
1/4 tsp dried basil (or sub fresh)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1. In a large saucepan (or stock pot) over medium heat, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and veggies. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 12 minutes, partially covered.
2. Combine condensed soup and flour in a small bowl. Add to vegetables, along with chicken, basil, thyme and pepper. Stir well.
3. Continue to simmer soup for ~15 minutes, until it has thickened slightly and flavors have melded. Prepare biscuits if serving.
4. Serve and enjoy!
This was quite tasty, for a creamy chicken soup. It was actually really thick, like the inside of a chicken pot pie, which is what I was going for. And by skipping out on the heavy cream and pie crust, we definitely saved a few calories (all in all, it wasn't too bad health-wise). You can certainly add whatever veggies float your boat (including fresh or canned), as well as potatoes if you choose (just cut them up small enough, add with the other veggies in Step 1 and simmer until they are fork tender before movign on). Some fresh parsley would be good in here too, if you have any.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting

Its fall, and this is one of many pumpkin treats bound to show up on this blog. I just love the stuff! Pumpkin is very versatile, and is great in sweet and savory dishes. While its available all year round, I generally only cook/bake with it in fall just because it seems most appropriate.These cookies were great - two to three bite treats that are greatly complimented with the butter-sugar frosting. You could spread the frosting on, but I put mine in a Ziploc and cut off the corner to drizzle it over the cookies. To make clean-up a breeze, leave the cookies on a cooling rack, and slip some wax paper (or paper towels) underneath. The paper will catch any frosting drips, and you can simply throw it away!

Pumpkin Cookies (frosting recipe below)
source: Betty Crocker, via Carrie's Sweet Life
makes ~3-4 dozen cookies (I can't remember exactly)

2/3 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 eggs
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

1. Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar, 3/4 cup butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until well blended. Beat in pumpkin and eggs until well mixed. On low speed, beat in flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

2. On ungreased cookie sheets, drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls. (I flattened my cookies ever so slightly with the back of a spoon. This batter hardly spreads while baking.)

3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until almost no indentation remains when touched in center. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Browned Butter Frosting

3 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 to 4 tbsp milk
1/3 c. butter (do not use margarine or spread; it will burn)

1. In medium bowl, place powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 tablespoons milk. In 1-quart saucepan, heat 1/3 cup butter over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until light brown.

2. Pour browned butter over powdered sugar mixture. Beat on low speed about 1 minute or until smooth. Gradually add just enough of the remaining 1 tablespoon milk to make frosting creamy and spreadable. Generously frost cooled cookies.REVIEW:
These were yummy! I especially liked the frosting, it was a great compliment to the cookies. Treats with pumpkin are generally more cake-like in texture, and these were no exception. They weren't crumbly, but if you are looking for a cookie with some bite to it, these aren't it- they are very soft cookies.

Garden Season is Over

... for this year anyways! Here is the last of our haul this year - we managed a few bell peppers, a couple more jalapenos, and a bunch more tomatoes. We put the green ones by the window to see if they would ripen - but we ended up tossing most of them (it looked like they actually got frostbit - oops!)We even had one little surprise - a tiny little watermelon! I didn't even taste it since it was so light inside, but just maybe we will get a good size one next year.Next year, we plan to add a second garden, right by this one. Our major problem this year was over-crowding. We are looking forward to trying most of the same things again. I am still undecided on the bell peppers though - only because the yield was so low. But then again, they were right next to the tomatoes, and we have to wonder how much that hindered their growth since the tomato plants got SO big! All in all, it was quite a successful year!

Our garden, all cleaned up for the year:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Canned Tomatoes

More garden surplus! Even after making homemade marinara sauce, we still had a lot of tomatoes from the garden. I really wanted to try canning, and it turns out tomatoes are pretty easy to do in a water bath. I was a little worried because I don't have any canning equipment (besides the jars), but we made do with a large stock pot, and makeshift foil "grate" to separate the jars and keep them off the bottom, and tongs and hot-mitts. It might not have been pretty, but for 4 jars of tomatoes, it worked for us.

I have included the procedure as written below, courtesy of Frank, found on Tasty Kitchen.

Canned Tomatoes
very easy to scale based on how many tomatoes you have (we canned 4 pints, but I don't know how many tomatoes we used - it seemed like a lot though!)

21 pounds Ripe Tomatoes
7 teaspoons Salt
14 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice

water bath canning pot (I used a large stock pot)
canning jars (pints or quarts)
lids (round metal lids with a gum binder)
rings (metal bands that secure the lids to the jars)
jar lifter (to pick up the hot jars) (I used tongs and hot mitts)

METHOD: Sterilize the Jars and Lids

1. Fill the canner with water until it is half full and put it on medium high heat.
2. Fill the jars partially with water and place them on the rack in the canner for sterilization.
3. Bring the water to a boil.
4. Boil the jars for about 10 minutes.

Note: Jars can also be placed in the dishwasher and run through the high heat cycle. Be sure to let it go through the rinse cycle to get rid of any soap!

5. Fill the canner about ½ full of water and start it heating (with the lid on).
6. Put the lids into the small pot of boiling water for at least several minutes.

METHOD: Processing the Tomatoes

1. Wash tomatoes.
2. Cut shallow in non stem end to aid peeling.
3. Remove the tomatoes’ skins.

• Dip in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split, then dip in cold water.
• Slip off skins and remove cores. Leave whole or halve. (I removed most, but not all, of the seeds. I roughly chopped the tomatoes, primarily to help with packing them in the jars.)

4. Fill jars with raw tomatoes, leaving ½ inch headspace.
5. Press tomatoes in the jars until spaces between them fill with juice.
6. Add salt to the jars.

• 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of tomatoes
• ½ teaspoon of salt per pint of tomatoes

7. Add lemon juice or citric acid to the jars.
• 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon citric acid per pint of tomatoes

Note: Acid can be added directly to the jars before filling with product; in fact, this is recommended to be sure you get the acid in each and every jar. (I added the salt and lemon juice to empty jars, then filled with tomatoes.)

8. Using a flat plastic or wood utensil, free trapped air bubbles by gently sliding it up and down around the inside edge.
9. Put the lids and rings on.

Note: Just screw them on snugly, not too tight. If there is any tomato on the surface of the lip of the jar, wipe it off first with a clean dry cloth or paper towel.

10. Put the filled jars in the canner and keep them covered with at least 1 inch of water.
11. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath.

• 85 minutes for quarts.
• 85 minutes for pints.

12. When processing is complete, lift the jars out of the water and let them cool in a draft-free place. (Once they are cool, you need to check the lids to make sure they have sealed. You should not be able to depress the "bubble" on the top. If any did not seal completely, you can stick in the fridge, but should use within a week or so. In general if you are not familiar with canning safety, do a little research. I checked out Canning for Dummies from the library, and it gave a decent overview for someone who was completely new to canning.)

I can't quite review these yet - we haven't used them! But we will soon enough. I see some chili in our future!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Crockpot Salsa Chicken

I have probably made this dish at last 3 time since I started this blog, maybe as many as 5. It is simple, delicious, and relatively healthy. Yet, I've never posted it. Why? Because every picture I take of it looks like a pile of crap. Ok, a shredded pile of crap.
See, I told you so. Please, don't let the picture deter you! This is super yummy, and we make it a lot because I often have the ingredients on hand. I recommend eating this over rice or in a tortilla, or even with tortilla chips.

Crockpot Salsa Chicken
From, via Foodislove's blog
serves 4-6, depending on what you serve with it

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, frozen
1 cup salsa (we use about 1.25 cups)
1 package reduced sodium taco seasoning
1 can reduced fat cream of mushroom soup condensed (you can also use cream of chicken)
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

1. Add frozen chicken to the crockpot…I promise it is ok to put it in there frozen!
2. Sprinkle taco seasoning over chicken
3. Mix salsa and soup in small bowl, then pour mixture over chicken
4. Cook on low for 6-8 hours (time will vary, mine is generally done in ~6 hours, but I have left it in there for 10-12 and it is still fine too)
5. When ready to eat, remove from heat and stir in sour cream. At this step, I prefer to shred the chicken with a fork… it always shreds really easily. (Remove each chicken breast from the crockpot, then I usually use two forks and just keep pulling it apart, then add back to the crock and stir.)
6. Serve on tortillas, over rice, or however else you want. Enjoy!REVIEW:
Like I said - we LOVE this. I even eat it plain when I'm trying to limit my carbs for the day, and J will either wrap it in a tortilla or use it as a dip for tortilla chips (scoops work best). Very yummy, and easy to throw together in the morning before work!

Friday, October 2, 2009

UM vs. MSU: GO BLUE!!!! (aka fondant cupcakes)

Its rivalry weekend, time again for my University of Michigan Wolverines to take on the cross-state rival Michigan State Spartans!

We have an annual tailgate party at work, and I knew I wanted to make a UM/MSU themed dessert. I kind of settled on sugar cookies with royal icing, until I saw Annie's post about fondant earlier this week. It had been on my list of things to try, so that was it. I went for it!

Annie's tutorial is great, so I won't even go there. A few comments about the process:
-I made the fondant (1 batch of the below recipe for 24 cupcakes) a few days ahead and stored it in a Ziploc bag, which worked out great. I suggest making it the day before because it took me about an hour to color the fondant - I used 4 different colors, and it took quite a bit of kneading to evenly distribute the color.
-I do not suggest intricate shapes - I think I spent 3 hours cutting out the M's and S's from a card stock stencil. Next time I will either do easier shapes, or search for cookie cutters beforehand!
-Transport carefully! My fondant got a little sticky in my carrier, and the cupcakes bumped into each other leaving a little of the coloring on other cupcakes - hence why you see some blue on the edges of the white.
-I actually did like this fondant, but not as much as I enjoy buttercream! You pretty much need a stand mixer to make it, no guarantees how it would turn out otherwise!

Because I knew I would spend a lot of time decorating these, I just made a box mix of spice cake cupcakes, and a batch of this vanilla buttercream to go under the fondant. (I made 4/5 of the batch, but would easily have had enough if I only made 1/2 the batch.) I made 1 batch of the fondant recipe below.

Marshmallow Fondant
from Confections of a Foodie Bride

16 oz bag plain marshmallows (I used jumbo and they worked fine, but you need 16 oz)
2 Tbsp water
shortening, for greasing bowls
1-2 tsp flavoring (I used almond extract)
2 lb confectioner’s sugar, divided
pinch of salt

1. Grease a microwave safe bowl, a spoon, the dough hook, and the bowl of your stand mixer with shortening (grease it well).

2. Place the marshmallows and water in the greased microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir with the greased spoon. If all the marshmallows have not melted, microwave for 30 seconds more. Stir in flavoring.

3. Place confectioner’s sugar and salt in the stand mixer bowl, reserving 1 cup, and make a well in the center. Pour in the marshmallow mix and turn the mixer on to the lowest setting. When it sounds strained, increase the mixer speed up one setting. Turn off the mixer once all sugar has been incorporated. If the fondant is sticky, add the reserved confectioner’s sugar 1/4 cup at a time. (My mixer was sounding a little strained, so once the sugar was just incorporated, I kneaded it by hand for a while - I covered my hands in Crisco first.)

4. Turn fondant out onto plastic wrap. Rub a bit of shortening on the outside of the ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, place in a Ziploc bag, and let rest for at least 2-3 hours. Keep unused portions covered when not using. If the fondant becomes stiff, place in microwave for 20 seconds at a time until pliable. (I used this microwave trick quite a bit - it doesn't hurt it at all.)

As for the game, well, I'm banking on my team to come out on top. Watch out Sparty!