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.