Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pork Loin Chops with Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

Let me take you through my nightly schedule for a moment. At 6:30, I give my son a bath. At 7:00, I feed him his last bottle, sing to him, and put him to bed. As soon as he's in bed, I make dinner for Joe and me. (I typically always wait to make dinner until Andrew's in bed, because I want to maximize my time with him in the evenings -- and being in the kitchen cooking while he's too young to "help" really isn't the best way to accomplish this.) There are some nights I'm not done cooking, eating, and cleaning up until 8:30, and it can make the days seems really long. Last night, though? I started cooking at 7:00, and we were finished eating and the kitchen was completely clean by 7:45. And it's all thanks to this delicious, simple recipe.

This is another recipe (yes, another one) from Betty Crocker's Dinner Made Easy cookbook. I think this is my favorite cookbook right now; it's filled with tasty, simple recipes that can be made with ingredients I typically already have on hand. I made a few changes to this one; the original recipe called for the pork to be coated with sesame seeds and broiled, and also used regular garlic in the sauce. I skipped the sesame seeds, but to provide the same nuttiness I used roasted garlic cloves in the sauce, which was out-of-this-world good.

I've mentioned my love affair with cream cheese before, and I was excited to try it in this new application. It made the sauce wonderfully tangy, paired perfectly with the garlic, and provided a subtle sweetness. I served the pork with roasted cauliflower -- chopped, slathered with olive oil and salt and pepper, and cooked at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes -- and Joe even put the sauce on that, which he said was delicious.

I couldn't believe how quickly this came together and how good it tasted. I'll definitely be making this one again!

Pork Loin Chops with Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce
Source: adapted from Betty Crocker's Dinner Made Easy cookbook (2009 edition)

1 pound boneless pork loin chops
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves roasted garlic, finely chopped
4 ounces (half a brick) cream cheese
1/3 cup milk

1. Season pork liberally with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook chops in olive oil until juices run clear.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped garlic cloves and saute for about 2 minutes.

3. Add cream cheese and milk to the garlic and stir until cream cheese is melted and sauce is hot, 1-2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (I went heavy on the pepper).

4. Serve sauce over pork chops.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Spanish Rice Bake

I know I promised a lot more holiday recipes, but the time got away from me, and the only other holiday dessert I got around to making was a batch of Andes mint brownies (using this brownie recipe but replacing the chocolate chunks with chopped Andes mints). I did make a couple of holiday dishes, but I didn't take pictures of them and the OCD part of me won't let me post the recipes without pictures. So, sorry. You're just going to have to wait for those!

Anyway. Christmas is over, and it's time for Joe and me to get back to eating normal food in normal quantities. This is another recipe from Betty Crocker's 2009 Dinner Made Easy cookbook, and it was really good. Joe really liked it, and I thought it was quite tasty myself. The rice took about 20 minutes longer to cook than what the recipe indicated, though, and I thought that was pretty annoying. But otherwise, a delicious meal. I'd recommend making this on the weekend, since the prep and cooking time is kind of extensive and not really conducive to weeknight cooking (at least for me). I did add some hot sausage to feed Joe's carnivorous appetite; it would have been good with ground beef or chicken, too.

Spanish Rice Bake
Source: Betty Crocker's Dinner Made Easy cookbook (2009 edition)

2 tablespoons canola oil (I used olive oil)
1 cup uncooked brown long-grain rice
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed, drained (I neither thawed nor drained mine, and it was fine)
1 roll hot sausage, cooked and crumbled
1 can condensed tomato soup
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 tablepoon chopped fresh cilantro, if desired
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 3-quart casserole with cooking spray. Heat oil in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook brown rice, onion and bell pepper in oil 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until rice is light brown and onion is tender. Stir in corn and cooked sausage.

2. Mix remaining ingredients except cheese in casserole. Stir in rice mixture and 1 cup of the cheese.

3. Cover and bake 20 minutes. Stir mixture. Cover and bake about 30 minutes longer or until rice is tender (mine required 20 minutes more). Stir mixture and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake uncovered 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Salty-Sweet Butterscotch Cookies

There are only a few types of Christmas treats that I make every year -- Buckeyes and Nutter Butter Santas being the two most notable examples. Generally I try to switch up the types of cookies I make each year, just to keep things interesting. And this year, the new cookies I've tried have really been wonderful. And the cookies I'm sharing with you today are no exception.

These cookies have a fabulous texture and the perfect balance of flavors. They're nutty and salty and sweet in equal parts. If you like the flavor of butterscotch but want an alternative to oatmeal scotchies, if you like nuts in cookies but you're sick of using the same old walnuts, this cookie is for you. I know I'm posting this kind of late, but seriously, if you're still baking for Christmas (like I am; I'll be in the kitchen again tonight), I would strongly encourage you to give these a try!

(Also: Since this recipe calls for less than a cup of cashews, I didn't want to buy an entire tub because they're just too expensive! So I went to our local convenience store and picked up a couple of the individual serving-sized packages. It was the perfect amount!)

Salty-Sweet Butterscotch Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
3/4 cup coarsely chopped salted dry roasted cashews
2/3 cup butterscotch-flavor pieces

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Stir in cashews and butterscotch pieces.

2. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Makes about 48 cookies

Monday, December 22, 2008

Honey-Spiced Chicken with Carrots and Grapes

This week, it would be really easy for me to just drive through a fast food restaurant and pick up dinner for me and Joe. Between addressing and mailing Christmas cards, shopping for and wrapping gifts, and baking for the holiday, time that I can spend in the kitchen making dinner for us is limited. But I can only eat so many McChicken sandwiches, and last night I just really wanted something home-cooked.

A couple of weeks ago, I received my 2009 edition of Betty Crocker's Dinner Made Easy cookbook in the mail, and when I was leafing through it this recipe caught my eye. It just seemed so...strange, and I bookmarked it because I was curious how the flavors would work together. Carrots and grapes? Honey, balsamic vinegar and orange juice? And cinnamon? I was intrigued.

I put a lot of faith in Betty, though, especially since one of her previous cookbooks gave me this home run. And once again, she didn't disappoint me! This dish was absolutely delicious. The flavors all worked together so well. The grapes give the dish a subtle sweetness, and the carrots echo that sweetness in addition to adding a nice earthy flavor. Joe and I both really enjoyed this, and it came together very quickly. I served it with mashed potatoes for soaking up the (delicious) sauce.

The recipe below reflects the changes I made to the dish. The original recipe calls for the chicken to be poached in the sauce, but I much prefer chicken that's crispy on the outside, so I pan-fried it first.

Honey-Spiced Chicken with Carrots and Grapes
Source: Betty Crocker's Dinner Made Easy cookbook (2009 edition)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, fat removed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups carrots, thinly sliced
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash nutmeg (original recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon, but I'm not big on nutmeg so I went easy on it)

1. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. In a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, cook chicken in olive oil until both sides are browned (the chicken doesn't have to be cooked all the way through). Remove chicken and set aside.

2. Add carrots to the same skillet and saute, stirring frequently, until carrots begin to soften slightly.

3. Meanwhile, combine orange juice, honey, vinegar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl for sauce.

4. Return chicken to skillet. Add grapes and sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

5. Remove chicken from pan and let sauce cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Serve sauce over chicken.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Egg Nog Cream Cheese Ice Cream Pie

This recipe comes from Fun Foods on a Budget, one of my very favorite food blogs. I love Stephanie's food philosophy, and her blog is always full of scrumptious recipes that aren't expensive to make. When I saw this pie, I knew I had to make it. After all, it combines my culinary love (cream cheese) with my husband's favorite holiday drink (egg nog).

Stephanie calls this the most delicious frozen pie she's ever tasted, and I have to say that I agree with her. This pie is ohhhh so good. We both loved it. And what's even better is that it literally took three minutes to make. It's so creamy and decadent and rich; I just can't rave enough about it. Definitely try this one! I didn't make my own crust (a graham cracker pie shell works just fine for this), but I've included Stephanie's crust recipe below. Warm mulled cranberries would be delicious on top of this, and would make it a perfect holiday dessert!

Egg Nog Cream Cheese Ice Cream Pie

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted margarine or butter

For the filling:

1 package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup eggnog
1/2 cup butter pecan ice cream, softened

1. Combine crust ingredients and press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate.

2. Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggnog and ice cream. Pour into crust and freeze until firm. Remove from freezer 10 to 15 minutes before slicing to soften the pie. Return any uneaten portion to the freezer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mom's "Scalloped" Potatoes

This time of year, I really start to miss my mom. With the holidays upon us, it's even more apparent that she's not here to share them. Whenever I feel like this, I tend to make one of Mom's signature dishes that I remember from childhood. This seems to depress me less than looking through a photo album does; for some reason, cooking one of her recipes makes her feel more alive -- more present -- than photos, which just serve as reminders of what I've lost. Cooking one of her dishes is a way to bring her back again, to help me remember fondly, instead of sadly.

Last night, this meant I made sloppy joes (mom's way, which uses fresh onion and green bell pepper, and ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire and hot sauce rather than Manwich) and her "scalloped" potatoes. This is what I grew up thinking scalloped potatoes were, because that's what Mom always called them. It was only when I became an adult and started cooking more that I realized these potatoes are nothing like the typical definition of "scalloped" potatoes. But that's what I'll always call them. And last night, they were a creamy, cheesy pile of warm memories -- just what I needed to help me remember her.

Mom's "Scalloped" Potatoes

2-3 pounds golden potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a Crock pot, combine mushroom soup, milk, cheddar cheese and salt and pepper. Stir in potatoes and onions.

2. Cook over low heat 6 hours, or until potatoes are tender.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nutter Butter Santas

Joe's grandma makes these adorable little treats for her Christmas Eve feast every year, and a couple of years ago I asked her for the "recipe." I thought these would be the perfect snack to take to work for my coworkers during the holiday season; they require very little effort, but they're so yummy and festive. Who can resist a Nutter Butter by itself, let alone one covered with white chocolate, sparkly sugar and chocolate chips? No one, that's who. My coworkers love these, and they've come to expect them every year. I'm happy to oblige; these take no time at all to put together! (And as you can tell from the picture below, I couldn't resist snacking on one of them this year!)

Grandma D's Nutter Butter Santas

2 packages white baking chocolate, chopped
1 package Nutter Butter sandwich cookies
red colored sugar
32 white chocolate chips
64 miniature sweet or semisweet chocolate chips
32 red hot candies

1. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt white chocolate, stirring occasionally.

2. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on wire racks. For Santa's hat, sprinkle red sugar on top part of chocolate. Place one white chocolate chip off-center on hat for pom-pom; let stand until set.

3. Dip other end of each cookie into melted chocolate for beard, leaving center of cookie uncovered. Place on wire racks.

4. With a dab of melted chocolate, attach semisweet chips for eyes and a red hot for nose.

5. Place on waxed paper until chocolate sets.

Pumpkin Bread

First of all, am I the only person who cannot bake neatly? I don't know what my deal is, but I always seem to make a serious mess of myself and my kitchen whenever I'm baking anything. I blame the flour. It is an imperfect substance.

Anyway, this disaster of a kitchen last night had a purpose: One of my co-workers and his wife just had their first baby, a little girl, and his first day back to work was today. I remember very clearly what those first weeks were like with a newborn in the house, and the last thing I felt like doing was cooking. Joe and I relied on food from the neighbors, meals I'd frozen for us, and take-out for a good month or so after Andrew was born. So I decided to make some food for them to enjoy. I made our family's favorite comfort food casserole, some insanely delicious brownies (someone made brownies for me after Andrew's birth, and they were all I wanted to eat), and some pumpkin bread.

The pumpkin bread was a new recipe, which was taking a risk, but it turned out wonderfully. This is one of the most moist and flavorful quick breads I've ever made. It has the perfect balance of spices and it's simply just delicious. I had a couple of pieces from the loaf we kept for ourselves for breakfast this morning, warmed up and slathered with tons of butter, and it was absolute Heaven. I hope the new family enjoys it as much as I am!

Pumpkin Bread
Source: Allrecipes

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups solid pack pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
4 eggs
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I used pecans because I had them on hand)

1. Grease and flour three 7 x 3 inch pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Measure flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices into a large bowl. Stir to blend. Add pumpkin, water, oil, eggs, and nuts. Beat until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake for approximately 1 hour. (My loaves took a good hour and a half to cook, possibly a bit longer, so be sure to check yours to see if they're cooked through after an hour.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Buried Cherry Cookies

I've never been a huge fan of chocolate-covered cherries, but it turns out that if you take out that white creamy stuff inside and plop a chocolate cookie underneath, I actually love them. Who knew? This is another cookie for our holiday bakesale at work, and let me just say this: It's a good thing I only had to bring a dozen of them and that the recipe makes 40 cookies, because I just can't seem to get enough of these. They're absolutely succulent, and so cute too! To me, this is the type of cookie that epitomizes Christmas: decadent and irresistible, the kind of treat that just makes you happy. These are awfully rich, so be sure to have a tall glass of milk nearby. (And I'm already scheming about other ways to use this technique; you could put caramel and pecans inside instead of cherries to make a turtle cookie, or put a dollop of peanut butter mixed with vanilla and powdered sugar under the frosting and have a buckeye cookie! The possibilities are endless, and delicious.)

Buried Cherry Cookies

1 10-ounce jar maraschino cherries (42 to 48)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk or low-fat sweetened condensed milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain cherries, reserving juice. Halve any large cherries. In a medium mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in cocoa powder and as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour.

2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press your thumb into the center of each ball. Place a cherry in each center.

3. For frosting, in a small saucepan combine chocolate pieces and sweetened condensed milk. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Stir in 4 teaspoons reserved cherry juice. (If necessary, frosting may be thinned with additional cherry juice.) Spoon 1 teaspoon frosting over each cherry, spreading to cover.
4. Bake about 10 minutes or until edges are firm. Cool on cookie sheet 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Makes 42 to 48 cookies

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cranberry and white chocolate is another one of those classic recipe combinations, and it's one that I absolutely love. The balance of sweet and tart is just so wonderful. I've had this particular recipe bookmarked for quite a while, and a Christmas cookie exchange at work gave me the perfect opportunity to try them. And I love them. And the best part? You can eat them for breakfast! They're just like a granola bar, with the oats and the dried fruit. (Okay...I am totally just trying to justify the fact that I had three of them this morning. So sue me.) I added a few ingredients to the cookies which worked very well, and they're reflected below in purple.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Allrecipes

2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/4 cups dried cranberries
2/3 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate
(I used a full cup of white chocolate chips)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. Combine oats, flour, salt, baking soda and orange zest; stir into butter mixture one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate.

3. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bratwurst, Potato and Cabbage Soup

Today was the first day of real snow in our part of Ohio. We've had a few days of flurries, but today it really came down outside. It started snowing midmorning, and as I type this at about 9:00 PM the snow is still falling.

It seemed like the perfect day to lounge around and cuddle, and after a few errands this morning, that's exacty what my son and I did for the rest of the day. We took a nap, we played, we napped some more, and we cooked a big pot of hearty soup to combat the chilly weather.

I had this soup on our menu last week and just didn't get around to making it then, but I'm glad I decided to fix it today. It was delicious and exactly what I was craving on a winter day like this one. It reminds me a lot of a cabbage and potato cream soup that my mom used to make, but I really liked the addition of bratwurst (casings removed, so it's really just like sausage).

I made a few changes to the recipe, which are reflected below in purple. To me, soup just isn't soup without some kind of stock and a couple of bay leaves, and I think without those additions (plus salt and lots of pepper) this would have been way too bland. I couldn't have made it without Andrew's help, of course:

Joe and I both really enjoyed this soup. It's a delicious winter soup, and absolutely perfect with buttered bread for dipping! As much as I'd like to keep the leftovers for myself, I'm taking them to my dad tomorrow. He's a huge cabbage fan and I think he'll really like this!

Bratwurst, Potato and Cabbage Soup

Source: Allrecipes

16 ounces bratwurst, casings removed
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used golden potatoes, so I left the skin on for texture)
1 onion, chopped
2 cups water (reduced to 1 cup)
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried

1 medium head cabbage, chopped
3 cups milk, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces Swiss cheese, diced (I used shredded mozzarella because I didn't have Swiss, and it tasted fine)

1. In a large pot over medium high heat, saute the sausage for 10 minutes, or until browned and crumbled. Drain well and discard the fat.

2. In the same pot, saute onions and potatoes for a few minutes in the bratwurst drippings. Add sausage, water, chicken stock and bay leaves to pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cabbage, return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for another 20 minutes.

3. Add 2 1/2 cups of the milk and heat slowly to just under a boil.

4. In a separate small bowl, mix the flour with the remaining milk, and add to the pot slowly, stirring constantly, so that the flour does not clump. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. When the mixture in the pot thickens, add the cheese and stir off and on until the cheese has melted.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Cookies

Oh, food blog, how I have neglected thee. Thanksgiving came and went, and I did some cooking, and my dad's 60th birthday party came and went, and I did some cooking for that, but nothing seems to have made it up here lately.

So. I feel like if I post this (because writing anything on one of my blogs is like writing it in stone, of course), I will actually buckle down and force myself to get baking. Yes, I am totally in denial that Christmas is almost here. Without further ado, here is the list of Christmas cookies you can keep an eye out for coming up soon:

I have some other holiday desserts planned, too, plus some baking to do for a co-worker who just had his first baby, but I think if I pace myself I'll be fine. Look for the first two recipes on Monday, since I've committed to baking two dozen cookies for our holiday cookie exchange at work.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bacon Cheeseburger Roll-Up

I was really looking forward to making this, because how could it not be fantastic? A bacon cheeseburger, all rolled up in a pizza crust? Um, YUM. Unfortunately, this recipe had a major problem. Way, WAY too much Velveeta. WAY. TOO. MUCH. I have nothing against Velveeta cheese, but apparently I do when it comes in large quantities. This would have been much better with less Velveeta, or with another type of cheese.

I made a few changes to the recipe -- added some seasonings, cooked things in a different order, etc. -- so below is my adapted version of this. You could totally roll up any hamburger ingredients you like in the pizza crust -- I think using swiss cheese and adding mushrooms would have been delicious. You could even put pickles or (seeded, patted dry) tomatoes in this. I'll probably make this again, but I'll use a different kind of cheese and play with the ingredients a little bit more.

Bacon Cheeseburger Roll-Up
Source: adapted from Kraft Foods

1 pound lean ground beef
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, chopped

Hamburger seasoning blend
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound (8 ounces) Velveeta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
(seriously, if using Velveeta, USE LESS CHEESE)
1 package refrigerated pizza crust

1. Heat oven to 400°. Add bacon to cold skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently. When bacon is about halfway to desired crispness, and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook about 3 minutes, until onions are tender and bacon is crisp.

2. Add ground beef to skillet. Season with salt, pepper and hamburger seasoning. Cook until no longer pink; drain. Return meat mixture to skillet. Add Velveeta; cook until melted, stirring frequently. Cool 10 minutes.

3. Unroll pizza dough onto baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Press into a rectangle; top with meat mixture. Roll up, starting at one of the long sides. Rearrange if necessary so roll is seam-side down.

4. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Apple Chicken Chili

Every year, my company hosts a chili cook-off to benefit the individuals and organizations that we're sponsoring for the holidays. It's always a very big deal, building-wide, and it's so much fun to sample everyone's chili -- and to feel good about stuffing your face, since 100% of the proceeds raised go to support our holiday causes.

This year, I decided to enter a chili in the cook-off, but I didn't just want to make my regular old chili (which is very good!) -- I wanted to do something different. I found a Rachael Ray recipe for apple chicken chili in a recent issue of her magazine, and it sounded good, so I decided to go with that. I made it last night, and saved a small bowl for myself before putting the rest of the batch in the Crock pot.

The chili was good, but tasted like it was missing something. I've had this problem with Rachael Ray recipes before -- they're always pretty decent, but need some...something. So, I added some cinnamon (which works with apples, of course, and also with most Mexican flavors), and that was it. That took this chili from "pretty good" to "wow -- really good." The cook-off starts at 11:00, so I'll update later to let you know how Rachael and I do!

Apple Chicken Chili
Source: Every Day with Rachael Ray, September/October 2008

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds chicken tenders, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
4 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper
2 apples, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup milk
Two 15-ounce cans pinto or white beans, rinsed
2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese (about 8 ounces)

1. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, chili powder, cumin and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes; transfer to a bowl.

2. In the same pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the apples and onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 6 minutes; add to the chicken.

3. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour for 1 minute; whisk in the chicken broth and milk until thickened, 3 minutes. Stir in the chicken-apple mixture and beans, bring to a simmer, then stir in the cheese.


Well, I didn't win, but I would have come in fourth -- if prizes were awarded for fourth place, that is. Out of 15 chilies, that's not too bad. One co-worker asked me for the recipe, and the consensus was that this chili was "intriguing." Everyone seemed to like it. And it's the day before the OSU-Michigan game, so OF COURSE the winner was the person who made Jim Tressel's famous chili. So I don't feel so bad about losing out this time!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Warning: If you are a food "purist," someone who only uses the freshest ingredients and makes everything from scratch, you should probably stop reading this post right now. And if you are one of those people -- I seriously envy you. I wish I could be like you. And sometimes, I am -- but sometimes, I'm not. And I'm not ashamed to admit that.

This recipe was born a few years ago, when I came home to a hungry husband asking me what was for dinner. When I told him we were having chicken fettucine alfredo, he let out a huge sigh and said, "I was really in the mood for something...Mexican." (Mind you, we had only been married a short time at this point, and I was still all about pleasing my man. Rest assured, if he said this to me now, my response would be, "Tough. If that's what you want, you make it." Ahhh, marriage.)

Anyway, I threw together these enchiladas using only what I had on hand in our apartment -- and to tell you the truth, I didn't expect a lot out of them. But much to my surprise, they were absolutely delicious. Joe requests them frequently, but I do not make them frequently since they're not very healthy. But once in a while, when I am feeling particularly frazzled and have cook's block to boot, it's okay to indulge. Like last night. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, this is a good recipe to try.

Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas (Or: "The Store Does Most of the Work and I am Not Ashamed of That Fact Because These are Quick and Easy and Most Importantly Delicious So Don't Judge Me" Enchiladas)
Source: Cassie

2 cups diced chicken
Emeril's Southwest Seasoning
Salt and Pepper
1 jar medium-heat salsa con queso
1 can green chiles
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup mild salsa
6 8-inch flour tortillas
Shredded Mexican cheese blend

1. Season chicken with Emeril's Southwest Seasoning and salt and pepper. In a medium skillet, cook chicken in olive or vegetable oil until no longer pink; set aside in a small bowl.

2. Combine salsa con queso, chiles, milk, and salsa in a separate bowl.

3. Add a small amount of the cheese mixture to the chicken and combine.

4. Place one-sixth of the chicken mixture in each flour tortilla and roll the tortillas. Place tortillas in a greased baking dish, seam side down. Pour the remaining cheese mixture over the filled tortillas, and top with shredded cheese.

5. Cover. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until heated through. Top with salsa and sour cream, if desired.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Buffalo Wing Soup

Earlier this year, a fellow blogger introduced me to Crockpot Lady and her mission to cook something out of her Crock pot every day in 2008. I can't even tell you how many of her recipes I've starred in my Reader to make in the future. She even made cheesecake in her Crock pot. She amazes me.

Anyway, one of the recipes I starred and subsequently printed was her recipe for buffalo wing soup. My husband loves anything and everything buffalo wing-related (especially this dip) so I thought I'd try this soup for him. He's been working awfully hard lately and deserves a meal I knew he'd enjoy.

We both loved this soup. Like, we loved it so much that we inhaled the whole batch, pausing only to wipe our runny noses (because, you know, it's spicy). It was absolutely delicious. I think ranch dressing or cream cheese would have been a nice finish for this soup -- just to cut through the heat with something cool and creamy -- but I didn't have either of those things in the house, so I used sour cream...and that worked just fine. On her blog, Stephanie mentioned that this is quite a bit salty, so I replaced the garlic salt and celery salt with garlic powder and celery seed, and then added only a quarter of a teaspoon of salt -- and that was plenty. I didn't need to adjust the seasonings at all.

I will definitely, without a doubt, be making this soup again. My husband insists!

Buffalo Wing Soup

2 cups cooked and cubed chicken
1/2 yellow onion, chopped (I used red onion)
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups fat free or 2% milk (no higher fat content than 2% or it will curdle)
3/4 cup chicken broth
4 ounces Velveeta, cubed
1/2 cup hot wing sauce
1/2 tsp celery salt (I used celery seed)
1/2 tsp garlic salt (I used garlic powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Make a roux with the flour and butter: In the microwave, melt the butter on high for 45 seconds, then whisk in the flour. Set aside.

2. Chop up the onion and celery and add to Crock pot. Add the chicken, chicken broth, milk, Velveeta, and garlic powder, celery seed and salt. Stir in the flour and butter mixture. Add hot sauce.

3. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or on high for 3 to 4. The soup is done when the celery and onion reach desired tenderness and the flavors have blended. (I cooked ours on low for about 6 hours, and it was perfect.)

Apple Butter Cheesecake

Aside from baklava, cheesecake is my absolute, number one favorite dessert of all time (see previous posts, re: my love of all things cream cheese-related), and when I found this recipe in my massive binder it sounded too delicious not to try. A co-worker sent this recipe to me through e-mail two years ago (literally! the date on the e-mail is April 2006!), and I must have just printed it off and stuffed it in my notebook, where it got lost among the zillions of other recipes I've printed out.

This was my first time making a cheesecake in a water bath. For some reason, water baths always intimidated me, and I avoided making cheesecakes that called for using them -- but in reality they're very simple to construct. You just line your springform pan with foil, put the pan in a roaster, and surround it with hot water halfway up the sides. I was so pleased with the results. The cheesecake stayed so creamy and soft; the texture was absolutely perfect, and I credit the water bath for that.

Apple butter and cheesecake -- who knew they'd be such a perfect marriage? But oh, they are. This cheesecake was phenomenal, and the gingersnap crust was delicious. I would recommend using more gingersnaps than the recipe calls for, though, because when I added in the melted butter it made the mixture too wet -- which made the crust stick to the pan when I sliced the cheesecake. But no one who tried this really cared; they were too busy raving over the wonderful flavor and texture of this dessert. I'm making this again for Thanksgiving; it's a very seasonal (and delicious!) alternative to the pumpkin cheesecake I usually make.

Apple Butter Cheesecake
Source: 1001 Recipes to Send

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups crushed ginger snaps (I would use at least 2 cups)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

For the filling:
2 pounds cream cheese
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
5 medium eggs
1 1/2 cups apple butter (recommended: Musselman's)
3/4 cup butter, melted

1. In a small bowl, combine crushed ginger snaps, sugar, and melted butter. Blend well. Press the crust with a spoon into a 10-inch springform pan. Make sure to cover the bottom and the sides evenly. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, and then let it cool.

2. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and dry ingredients until smooth. Add sour cream to the mixture. Beat in the eggs. Add apple butter and butter, and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared ginger snap crust.

3. Bake at 350 degrees in a water bath for about 2 hours.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Biscuits over Creamed Chicken

Continuing my week of cooking strictly from my newly-organized binder of recipes, last night I made biscuits over creamed chicken. This isn't an internet recipe, but rather one of my mom's recipes, which I found handwritten on a sheet of loose paper, just hanging out with all of the computer-printed recipes.

My brother and I used to eat this all the time when we were kids, and to this day it's one of my absolute favorite comfort meals. It's so quick and easy to throw together. It was perfect for a rainy late-fall evening, and Joe and I devoured every single bit of it!

Biscuits over Creamed Chicken
Source: my mom

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can peas and carrots
1 can creamed corn
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 refrigerated biscuits, cooked according to package directions

1. Combine chicken, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, milk, salt and pepper, peas and carrots, and creamed corn in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Heat to boiling, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese.

2. Nestle the biscuits in the creamed chicken mixture, or pour the creamed chicken over the biscuits.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Creamy Spinach Artichoke Pasta

I am always printing off recipes I find online. I stuff all of them into a massive notebook that's already way too full of them -- so full that it will barely close. Because this system is so unorganized, most of those recipes go unused because it's too much of a hassle to sort through all of them to find what I'm looking for.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself with a little bit of spare time, and I decided to organize all of these recipes. I bought a huge three-ring binder, sheet protectors, and labeled dividers, and I threw myself into the project. And now, I have a very well-organized place for all of my internet recipes to call home.

To celebrate, all of our meals this week are coming from that binder. They're all internet recipes I printed out ages ago and haven't yet tried. Last night, I made the first one -- and WOW, was it a winner!

I love the combination of spinach and artichokes, and I love cream cheese, and I love pasta, so when I found a recipe for creamy spinach artichoke pasta I immediately started salivating. This pasta was so, so good. I made a few changes to the recipe, and they were good ones: I added one chopped roasted red pepper, as well as some additional hot sauce and some black pepper, and I topped it all with bread crumbs mixed with melted butter before I put it in the oven. Without these things, I think the pasta may have been too bland. I loved the creaminess of this dish. I can't think of one way I could improve upon it. This is our new favorite pasta dish, and I can tell it's going to become a regular in our house. When I told Joe -- a self-professed hater of leftovers -- that we were having the rest of it tonight for dinner, he was actually happy -- and that's a real testament to how good this is!

Creamy Spinach Artichoke Pasta
Source: Recipezaar

12 ounces campanelle pasta (I used rigatoni)
1 (12 ounce) package cream cheese or neufchatel cheese (I used an 8-ounce block of cream cheese, which was plenty)
3/4 cup sour cream (increased to 1 cup)
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I eyeballed it, but probably used about a teaspoon)
2 cups shredded swiss cheese
1 (13 3/4 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained, halved
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1 cup breadcrumbs, mixed with melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Cook pasta according to directions, drain; return to pot; reserve.

3. In large bowl at medium speed beat cream cheese and sour cream until smooth; reduce speed to low; add milk, salt, garlic powder, black pepper and hot sauce.

4. Beat until combined, 30 seconds; stir in 1 1/2 cups swiss cheese, artichokes, spinach and roasted red pepper.

5. Pour over pasta; toss to combine.

6. Spoon pasta mixture into a shallow baking dish; sprinkle with remaining swiss cheese, parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.

7. Bake until heated through, 30 minutes. If desired, to brown cheese broil 1 minute.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yummy Mummy Cheese "Ball"

My experience with cheeseballs has been that, at most parties, they sort of just...sit there, ignored in favor of something fancier or more scrumptious. Whenever I've taken a cheeseball to a party or family gathering in the past, there's always at least half of it left over. That is, until I took this particular cheeseball to a Halloween potluck at work two years ago. This one definitely got eaten, and it won me first prize (a cheap little witch flashlight that cackled) in our Most Festive Dish contest to boot.

I was inspired by this recipe from Taste of Home, but I decided to swap out the port wine cheese logs in favor of my go-to cheeseball recipe (the ingredients of which looked more like the mummy's guts, muahahaha). This is delicious, and so much fun to eat at Halloween!

Yummy Mummy Cheese "Ball"
Source: inspired by Taste of Home, cheese ball recipe by Cassie

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine
1 small jar pimientos, drained and chopped (reserve 1 pimiento strip)
3/4 cup sliced corned beef (Buddig brand works best)
Dash hot sauce
1 tablespoon milk
2 peppercorns

1. In a large bowl, combine 2 packages of the cream cheese with the cheddar cheese. Stir in onions, pimientos, corned beef and hot sauce. Wearing disposable, latex-free gloves, shape the cheese mixture into pieces for the head, body, arms and legs of the mummy and arrange on a serving plate.

2. Combine the third package of cream cheese with the milk. Place in a plastic storage bag and nip the tip to create a make-shift pastry bag. Pipe rows of cream cheese across the mummy, creating bandages. Add peppercorns for eyes and the pimiento strip for mouth. Chill until serving.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

There are some meals that just don't photograph well, and this is one of them. The photos here just don't do this justice. You can't tell how flavorful, aromatic, and comforting this dish is by looking at the pictures. But trust me: This is the best shepherd's pie recipe I've ever come across and it's absolutely perfect for a chilly fall or winter evening. It warms you up from the inside out and fills the house with the delicious aromas of cinnamon and beef.

Someone got me this Emeril cookbook as a gift a long time ago, and to date this is the only recipe I've made from it. Now that I have Andrew, though, I'm sure I'll be using this cookbook a lot more. It contains tons of recipes that he'll be able to help me out with when he gets a little older.

The original recipe gives instructions for how to make the mashed potato topping, but I'm going to skip over that part. I think everyone makes mashed potatoes their own way, and your usual way works just fine for this recipe.

Shepherd's Pie
Source: Emeril's There's a Chef in my Family!:Recipes to get Everybody Cooking

3 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (I use golden potatoes, which are smaller, so I used 5 of them. I also left the skins on for texture.)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb (we use beef)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon Emeril's Italian Essence or other dry Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/4 cups beef stock
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup green peas (I used a frozen peas and carrots blend)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1. Grease casserole dish with 1 tablespoon butter and set aside.

2. Position rack in center of oven and preheat the oven to 375°.

3. Boil potatoes until fork-tender, mash with a potato masher until smooth, and add your usual mashed potato ingredients (I used butter, salt and pepper, sour cream and half-and-half this time).

4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes.

5. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, then add the ground beef and cook, stirring to break up the meat chunks, until cooked through, about 8 minutes.

6. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove as much excess liquied as possible from the pan and discard.

7. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the Italian Essence, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, the cinnamon, and cloves, and cook until meat is well browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.

8. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and cook, stirring, about 1 to 2 minutes.

9. Add the beef broth, carrots, peas and tomato paste, stir to combine, and bring to a boil.

10. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes.

11. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish and spoon the mashed potatoes evenly over the top. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 30 minutes.

12. Increase the oven temperature to broil and cook until golden brown and crisp around the edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Let casserole sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes

Ohhh, how I wish I could take credit for this idea, but alas, I cannot. I was at McDonald's the other day and noticed that they have a specialty milkshake on the menu, like the shamrock shake but better. Their current specialty shake is a pumpkin milkshake, which I knew I had to try immediately. And I did, and it was delicious.

I decided to try my hand at making an at-home version, and I have to say -- my version's even better than theirs, and it's a lot cheaper per serving too. Joe and I absolutely loved these, and I think I'll be making them for years to come. Hey, any excuse to eat ice cream in cold weather, right? This recipe makes two healthy-sized shakes.

Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes
Source: inspired by McDonald's

8-10 scoops vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup to 1 cup milk (depending on how thick you like your shakes)
4 tablespoons pureed pumpkin
Pumpkin pie spice to taste

Blend ice cream and milk in a blender. Stir in pureed pumpkin and pulse to combine. Add pumpkin pie spice to taste. Pour into tall, frosty glasses, drink, and die a little death at the deliciousness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Creamy Tomato Soup

Jessie mentioned tomato soup the other day, and I immediately thought to myself, "Oh my gosh...I haven't had tomato soup since I was a little kid!" It's true: I really haven't had it for that long, and I used to love when my mom made a big pot of it when I was little. Her version of tomato soup was always really creamy, and unfortunately, even after pawing through her recipes countless times, I've never come across that one. Since I hadn't eaten tomato soup for years and had never made it myself, I didn't feel completely comfortable coming up with my own creation. So, I turned to good old Allrecipes to steer me in the right direction.

Tomato soup with grilled cheese for dipping is something I equate with childhood, and it's something I want Andrew to equate with his childhood, too, so I'll definitely be making this a lot in the future. And I don't know if I'll ever need another recipe, because this one was delicious. I sort of have a love affair with cream cheese, and its creamy sweetness really adds a lot to this soup. I did add salt and pepper to taste, which was conspicuously absent from this recipe, but otherwise kept everything the same. Fresh basil would definitely have been better, but the dried is definitely fine if it's all you have on hand. Joe and I both loved this, especially served with delicious grilled cheese.

Creamy Tomato Soup
Source: Allrecipes

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed tomato soup, undiluted
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, cubed

1. In a saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender. Stir in tomatoes, soup, milk, sugar, basil, paprika and garlic powder. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in cream cheese until melted. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spinach Feta Strata

I had French bread left over from the soup I made earlier last week, and I thought a strata would be the perfect way to use it up. Unfortunately, by the time I thought of this yesterday afternoon, I didn't have enough time to refrigerate the strata for the entire 8 hours, but it was still delicious. I found this recipe in one of my trusty Taste of Home cookbooks, and I'll definitely make this again. It had great flavor and was very filling, and I think the roasted red pepper I added really worked well. Unless you're serving guests, though, I would suggest cutting this recipe at least in half, because this makes 12 servings and it just doesn't work for me as leftovers.

Spinach Feta Strata
Source: Taste of Home's Best of Country Breakfast and Brunch, also found on the Taste of Home website

10 slices French bread (1 inch thick) or 6 croissants, split
6 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 roasted red pepper, patted dry and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 and 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. In a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish, arrange French bread or croissant halves with sides overlapping.

2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, spinach, roasted red pepper, salt, nutmeg and pepper; pour over bread. Sprinkle with cheeses.

3. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

4. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm.

Brie-Leek Tartlets

So, the picture of this delicious little appetizer was borrowed from Taste of Home, because my family swiped up and devoured these little tartlets literally before I could retrieve my camera.

I'll keep it simple: MAKE THESE. They are so creamy and delicious and I wish I would have made more than just one batch for my stepmom's birthday dinner last weekend. I could have eaten all 15 of them myself, that's how good they are.

Brie-Leek Tartlets
Source: Taste of Home Magazine, October/November 2008

1 medium leek (white portion only), finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Dash salt and white pepper
Dash ground nutmeg
1 package (1.9 ounces) frozen miniature phyllo tart shells
2 ounces Brie or Camembert cheese, rind removed

1. In a small skillet, saute leek and garlic in butter until tender. Add the cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.

2. Place tart shells on a baking sheet. Slice cheese into 15 pieces; place one piece in each tart shell. Top each with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons leek mixture.

3. Bake at 350° for 6-8 minutes or until heated through. Refrigerate leftovers.