Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chocolate Almond Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

Not gonna lie. These were freaking unbelieveable. One of the best desserts I've ever made. Certainly the best chocolate cake-based recipe I've ever made. The cake was light and fluffy. The frosting was phenomenal - not too sweet but sweet enough. Not the easiest to eat if you want to stay neat (cake crumbs and coconut flakes will fall about) but who cares? You won't, once you take a bite.

I had wanted to make Ina's coconut cupcakes but wanted to make something chocolate. I found this recipe that I had long ago printed from Epicurious and decided to use Ina's frosting. Delicious. While I plan on trying her coconut cupcakes, I can't wait to make these again. One aspect of these that I particularly enjoyed is that they incorporate actual almonds, not almond extract, to get the nutty flavor. Not a fan of the extract, love the actual nut.

If you like Almond Joy, you'll like these. Even if you don't, so long as you aren't adverse to coconut, you'll like them. Yum.
Chocolate Almond Cupcakes
Source: Epicurious.com
Yield: 30 cupcakes

3/4 cup blanched almonds (or rounded 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds)
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups sweetened shredded coconut (from two 14-ounce bags) [I used less than this, due to not needing as much to coat the frosting.]
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 (13 1/2-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk, stirred
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Source: Ina Garten, FoodNetwork.com

1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
1 1/2 lbs confectioners' sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In food processor, process almonds and 1/2 cup sugar until finely ground. Add 2 loosely packed cups shredded coconut and pulse twice to chop slightly. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and whisk in flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Melt chocolate in microwave, being careful not to burn. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and remaining 1 cup sugar at high speed until fluffy, about five minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add melted chocolate and beat at moderate speed until incorporated. Add 1/2 of flour mixture and mix at low speed until nearly smooth. Add coconut milk and vanilla and mix at low speed until blended. Add remaining flour mixture and mix at low speed until smooth.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups (paper cups), filling to about 2/3 full. Bake until tester inserted in center of 1 cake comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Cool in pans on racks.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Pour remaining shredded coconut into 9-inch-square baking dish. Spread frosting on cakes and invert each into coconut to coat frosting liberally. Garnish with Jordan almonds, if desired.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Not your usual coffee cake (made from refridgerated bread sticks!) but probably the easiest you'll ever make. This loaf found on My Kitchen Snippets was delightful. Michael and I polished off all but one piece. My father in law came over just after breakfast and inquired why I didn't make two.

It turned out a bit smaller than I expected, and I had twice as much cream cheese filling than I needed, but that's good to know for next time - and there will be a next time - so I can make two just as easily as one!

This loaf would be good with pretty much any kind of fruit. I used blueberries not so much because that's what was in the original recipe, but because I had them on hand.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
Source: My Kitchen Snippets
*Refer to the link above for more detailed photos of making the loaf.

6 oz of low fat cream cheese (I used 8 oz - the whole block)
1 egg, separated
3 Tbsp of powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (or fruit of your choice)
1 (11 oz) tube of bread stick dough

For the glaze:
1/2 cup of powder sugar
2 Tbsp of lemon juice (I ran out of lemon juice so I subbed lime)

Preheat over to 350.

In a bowl combine soft cream cheese, powdered sugar and egg yolk. Mix until well combined. Remove breadstick dough from the tube, unroll it and separate the dough and you will have two rectangles. Join the dough up by placing both dough rectangles horizontally on a lightly greased baking sheet. Press the steam together. Spread cream cheese mixture onto the center of the dough. Sprinkle the blueberries on top of the cream cheese.

Separate the dough perforations up to the cheese mixture (you might need a scissors for this). Slightly pull and stretch the dough strips. Start from the top and braid dough strip to cover the filling. Make sure to tuck and seal both ends of the loaf. Beat the egg white and brush it all over the loaf.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. (I had to bake mine a bit longer and the dough was still not cooked all the way in the center). Cool the loaf. Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle all over the cool loaf before serving.

Gooey Butter Cookies

Michael and I had friends over a few weeks ago who were home for the weekend. Gooey butter cake is a St. Louis speciality, so I decided to make the cookies as a reminder of home. A bit time consuming to make, only because you have to make the dough and let it chill for a few hours before rolling into balls, but otherwise easy to make. They were perfectly soft and Michael had to force himself to stay away from them otherwise he'd have eaten them all. I thought they tasted a bit too much like the cake mix. I'll make them again, however, and maybe next time try another flavor mix. (Note that the original recipe is for chocolate cookies).

Gooey Butter Cookies
Source: Paula Deen, Food Network.com
Yield: 2-3 dozen cookies

1 (8-ounce) brick cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (18-ounce) box moist yellow cake mix
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the egg. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the cake mix. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up so that you can roll the batter into balls. Roll the chilled batter into tablespoon sized balls and then roll them in confectioner's sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft and "gooey." Cool completely and sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar, if desired.

French's Fried Onion-Crusted Cubed Steak

I bought cubed steaks on sale, thinking they'd be really tough, but I thought they were worth the try anyway, given the price (about $4.25 for 4). I bought them with no real recipe in mind, having recently discovered that Michael is not a fan of country fried steak - the only recipe I knew to make with cubed steak. So I went home that night (many weeks ago... this poor blog has been sadly neglected of late) and came up with my own recipe. Turned out pretty delicious, and not tough at all.

I served the meat with sides of egg noodles and broccoli and packaged brown gravy.

French's Fried Onion-Crusted Cubed Steak
Source: Yours Truly

4 cubed steaks
1 small can French's Fried Onions, crushed
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
To taste: salt, pepper, garlic powder
2 eggs
Flour for dredging
Olive oil or butter

You'll need three wide-bottomed bowls. In the first bowl add a cup or less of flour. In the second, beat two eggs. In the third, add the crushed onions through garlic powder and mix. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add olive oil or butter to the pan. Starting with your first cubed steak, dredge in flour, then in the egg, then coat as best you can with the onion mixture. Add to the pan and repeat with the other steaks. Fry for a few minutes on the first side before turning so that the crust browns nicely. (Sorry for the lack of specific timing, I didn't write it down). Turn over, adding more oil or butter to the pan in necessary. Remove to your plate and drizzle brown gravy over the meat.
Surprisingly delicious and easy, though not so good for you. Still, it was worth it, and I'll make it again. Even the leftovers were good.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Apple Cake

When I saw this cake on Smitten Kitchen's blog, I knew I had to try it. It looked completely fantastic, and we were planning on going to an orchard for apple picking, so the timing was perfect! This cake was dense, but at the same time incredibly moist and delicious. Perfect for fall.

I had recently baked a few things with whole wheat flour, and those recipes turned out well, so I tried to make this recipe a bit lighter than the original. All of my changes worked really well, save for the Splenda I included. I didn't notice a strange aftertaste to the cake until my mother in law mentioned it (and Michael agreed), but then it was all I could taste.

I will absolutely make this cake again and again, but will use all sugar next time. If you want to splurge a little more than I did, click on the link below for the original recipe. One note based on my experience: the original poster made this cake in a tube pan, which I didn't have. That would likely have reduced baking time for the cake that I made (using a springform pan). For presentation purposes, I liked using the springform pan; you'll just have to keep baking the cake and watch it.

Apple Cake
Source: Smitten Kitchen

6 apples (I used Fuji & Golden Delicious)
1 Tbsp cinnemon
4 Tbsp sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 cup sugar
1 cup Splenda (next time I'll stick with 2 cups sugar)
1/4 cup orange juice
2-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 "egg substitute"
1 cup walnuts (would be heavenly in this cake, but I wanted Chloe to be able to eat some, so I ommitted)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel apples and chop into chunks. Toss with cinnemon and sugar and set aside.

Stir flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients, then add eggs one at a time. Pour half of batter into pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour rest of batter and then arrange rest of apples on top.

Bake for one and a half hours, or until toothpick (or knife) comes out clean.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not Quite Semi-Homemade

"Hey, aren't you going to take a picture of this for your food blog?"

"Well, of course, I was just getting out the camera."

"Use my plate. It'll photograph better."

I was running late last night so Michael was kind enough to make dinner for us. Two nights in a row, he's had to do this. I am very lucky to have a husband who doesn't just sit around scratching himself on nights like these when I can't get home before quarter to seven. Not only did he cook, but he also had a little ankle biter to watch.

I'm afraid I don't have any recipes or kitchen tips from the chef. But the menu consisted of chicken nuggets, green beans and Velveeta shells and cheese. A meal the whole family could enjoy!

Pumpkin Dollar Cakes

I saw this recipe in a local grocery store's monthly recipe publication and knew I had to make it asap. Most weekends I like to make a nice breakfast and this looked like a fun, easy, seasonal thing to make. Michael's not a lover of pumpkin, but I looked forward to introducing it to Chloe.

The batter came together very easily but was much thicker than your usual (runny) pancake batter. Also, the recipe calls for two tablespoons of batter per cake. I found that to be too much, so I went with closer to one.

Verdict: these are a fun fall breakfast, served with a side of scrambled eggs (with ham and cheese). I have no need to make them again, as I have over half frozen for weekday breakfasts in my freezer (bonus!). Michael ate quite a few, though he's still not won over by pumpkin. Chloe barely touched hers. That's either due to the finicky eating habits of a 17 month old, or due to the fact that these aren't overly sweet.

Oh, and lest I forget: these babies are only ONE WW point per pancake!

Pumpkin Dollar Cakes
Source: Dierbergs' Everybody Cooks, September 2008
Yield: about 40 dollar-sized pancakes

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs, slightly beaten (I used egg substitute)
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
Pancake syrup

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and spice. In medium bowl, whisk together eggs and buttermilk; whisk in pumpkin and oil. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Pour in pumpkin mixture; stir until just moistened. Batter will be lumpy.

Lightly coat large nonstick skillet or griddle pan with no-stick cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Spoon two tablespoons (I used 1 to 1-1/2) batter per pancake into skillet. Cook until bubbles appear in tops and bottoms are lightly browned, about two minutes. Turn and cook until lightly browned on the other side, about one minute. Serve with pancake syrup.
TIP: Cook an entire batch of pancakes and freeze. Reheat as needed in the microwave.

Per four pancakes without syrup: 171 calories, 6g fat, 44mg cholesterol; 255mg sodium, 24g carbs, 2g fiber = 4 WW points

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Crock Pot Brown Sugar Chili

I knew I'd be baking a lot this past weekend, so for dinner on Friday, I prepared this Weight Watchers recipe, which had been listed as part of a post on the cooking board I frequent. Super easy to prepare, and pretty tasty, too. I served it with Trader Joe's cornbread (best mix around), prepared in a muffin top pan. The chili is sweeter than I am used to, but that may have to do as much with corn bread that I crumble in my bowl as the brown sugar in the recipe.

This is a crock pot recipe, but I don't see why one couldn't just put all ingredients into a dutch oven and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so, if you don't have the time for it to slow cook.

Now I just need to find a use for all the extra tomato juice I have on hand. Bloody Mary, anyone?

Crock Pot Brown Sugar Chili
Source: Weight Watchers website, via a post on TheNest.com
Yield: 8 servings

1 lb extra lean ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp prepared mustard
1 medium sized onion, chopped (I used frozen pre-chopped onion)
2 (14 oz) cans kidney or red beans (I used one can chili beans in mild sauce and one can red beans)
2 cups low sodium tomato juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp chili powder

My addition: frozen red, green and yellow bell peppers

Brown ground beef and onion (and peppers) in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Drain. Add all ingredients to crock pot and stir to combine. Cover. Cook on high for 2-3 hours. If possible, stir several times during cooking.

240 calories, 6g fat, 4g fiber = 4/5 WW points per serving (hits right on the line)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Berry Banana Mini Muffins

There's a lot to like about these mini muffins: they're terribly low in fat and calories (1 WW point per muffin!), they're easy to make, and if you have a little one, they're a great non-processed treat for her/him since there are no nuts involved. They also helped to make me a little less afraid of whole wheat flour, having had a disasterous experience involving it and a pumpkin loaf a few years back. While not my favorite muffin in the world (not decadent enough), I'm still going to town on a few each day. Best part is, I don't feel remotely guilty about doing so, since it's practically a health food. (Not really, but kind of. Cut me some slack.)

I got this recipe from this month's edition of Everybody Cooks, a monthly publication by a local grocery store. This publication always has a lot of good recipes. This month is no exception. This weekend alone I made two recipes from this month's pub, and there are two or three that I'd still like to make.
Berry Banana Mini Muffins
Source: Dierbergs' Everybody Cooks, September 2008
Yield: 4 dozen mini muffins

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten (I used egg substitute)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup freshly shredded carrot (I used pre-packaged)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup honey
1/4 vegetable oil
1 cup frozen blueberries

Lightly coat 48 mini muffin cups with no=stick cooking spray. Set aside. In medium bowl, combine flours, baking powser, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In second medium bowl, combine eggs, bananas, carrots, buttermilk, honey and oil. Make well in center of flour mixture. Pour in egg mixture; stir until just moistened. Gently stir in blueberries. Batter will be lumpy.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full. Bake in 400 degree oven until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 10 minutes. Cool muffins in pan for five minutes. Serve warm.

Per two muffins: 108 calories; 3g fat; 2g fiber; 18mg cholesterol; 126mg sodium. 2 WW points.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Buffalo Chicken Calzone

Ah blog... it's been too long. Too many weekends spent out of town and away from the kitchen. Hopefully this post is the first of many to come this month.

Some talk on the cooking board I frequent inspired me to create a buffalo chicken calzone. I had the pizza dough in the fridge, which I had planned to use to make one of my giant calzones anyway, so why not go spicy? And spicy it was. Wowza. A little too spicy for me, but if you like your wings flaming hot, you'll love this recipe.

If not, I suggest going the way of the legendary buffalo chicken dip, and to the ground chicken add up to one block of cream cheese, 1/2 cup hot sauce and 1/4 cup ranch dressing. That should temper the heat while maintaining a little kick.
Buffalo Chicken Calzone
Source: Yours Truly

1 lb ground chicken
Poultry seasoning to taste
Ground pepper to taste
3/4 block 1/3 less fat cream cheese
3/4 cup hot wing sauce (like Frank's)
Frozen onion/celery mix to taste
1 handful shredded mozzarella (or to taste)
1 handful shredded cheddar (or to taste)
1 refridgerated pizza dough
Ranch dressing for dipping

Preheat oven to 425. Put jelly roll pan or pizza stone in oven to warm. Brown chicken and frozen onions/celery. Drain fat and add poultry seasoning, ground pepper and cream cheese. Stir until cream cheese melts. Add wing sauce. Simmer until sauce is slightly reduced. Remove from heat.

On a piece of parchment paper, roll out pizza dough. Sprinkle cheese over dough, then spread slightly cooled chicken mixture over half (long ways) of the dough. Roll the dough long ways and seal the dough at the seam. Helpful hint: rather than trying to pull the dough from the parchment as you roll it, lift the parchment long ways so that the entire piece of dough rolls at once without breaking. Note that with the amount of meat in the calzone, you'll only be able to fold the dough over once and seal; you won't be able to form a pinwheel.

Cut slices on top of the dough with a knife so steam can escape. Spray lightly with olive oil, or brush dough with an egg wash. Put calzone with parchment on the hot jelly roll pan and bake for 17-20 minutes, or until brown. Once out of the oven, let calzone rest for a few minutes and slice into generous diagonal pieces. Serve with ranch for dipping.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ground Turkey "Stroganoff"

I'm not even sure what to call this. The recipe I used as a base is called "Hamburger Buddy," but I didn't use beef, and "Turkey Buddy" really just doesn't offer much explanation for what's happening here. So I decided that since this incorporates many of the elements of a stroganoff, that's what I'd call it. I'm even using the dreaded air quotes, possibly opening myself up to inclusion on this blog, which I find very amusing.

Now, I've tried making traditional beef stroganoff several times, as I'm a huge fan of comfort food and Michael loves stroganoff. But I've only been truly successful once, and that was long before my blogging days, so I have no idea what I did differently that time. Usually the resulting dish is fine. We eat it. But it's always pretty bland. I can't figure out what to do to fix the problem. I'm thinking it's because the beefy flavor isn't shining through (more Worcestershire?). Someone on the cooking board I frequent suggested the addition of brandy, which I may try next time. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

(Comments of "You're a moron - use beef if you want it to taste beefy" are already acknowledged).

Anyway, the pseudo-blandness is happening here. But there are far too many reasons to like this dish otherwise (lots of veggies, decently good for your backside, a fair amount of spice, etc.), so I know I'll take a crack at it again. You'll note my ingredients are pretty rough. Since I wasn't baking, I just threw stuff in.

I recently found the website EatingWell.com, which is where I found the original recipe. It's a great alternative to Cooking Light. Check it out.

Ground Turkey "Stroganoff"
Source: adapted from this recipe at EatingWell.com

3 cloves garlic, minced
Few handfuls of baby carrots
Not quite half a bag of frozen spinach
Not quite half a bag of frozen diced onion
1 lb lean ground turkey
1 bay leaf
2 tsp Italian seasoning
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups hot water mixed with beef boullion seasoning (Wyler's), or reduced sodium beef broth
2 cups whole-wheat macaroni noodles
6 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp corn starch, plus more to get desired consistency
8 oz reduced fat sour cream

Finely chop garlic, carrots, spinach and onion in food processor. Set aside. Boil noodles until tender. Drain. Cook turkey and bay leaf in a skillet until no longer pink. Drain fat in collander. Add back to skillet with veggies. Return to heat and stir until mixture is hot. Add seasonings to mixture. Pour mixture into pot with noodles (or use a really large skillet and pour noodles in with meat). Mix 2 tbp corn starch into boullion/water mix. Add boullion mix, Worcestershire and sour cream to noodles and meat. Thoroughly mix and return to heat for 10 minutes or so, until sauce has thickened and flavors have mixed. Remove bay leaf and serve.

I made far to many changes to the original recipe to have a clue what I did to the per serving nutritional information, but am sticking this under "Lite" anyway, as I don't think the changes are so bad for you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Banana Blondies with Mini Peanut Butter Cups

You know what's nuts? You can prepare one batch of blondie mix, split it in two, add different things to each batch, and you might not even be able to tell that they are related! This is what happened to me last night. With half of the batch, I added toffee bits. The bar was chewy like a cookie. To the second batch, I added smashed banana and mini peanut butter cups and the bar was cake-like. Goes to show how versitile this dessert bar is.

Kinda like having kids, I guess.

Anyway, like I said above, these blondies are more cakelike than your traditional blondie (the expert that I am, having made my first ones last night). Not that a fork is required. Though a glass of milk might be. The banana flavor is clearly there, but the best bites are those where you get a mini peanut butter cup. Completely great.

Basic Blondies Yield: 16 bars

6-7 Tbsp butter, melted (I used 6)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder (optional, creates lighter blondie texture)

Ellen's additions:
1 1/2 ripe bananas, smashed
3/4 cup mini peanut butter cups (I used Trader Joe's)

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8x8 pan with foil and lightly spray with PAM.In a large microwave safe mixing bowl melt the butter. Allow to cool for 5 mintues. Mix the brown sugar with the melted butter and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Add salt, stir in flour and baking powder (if using). Mix in any additions (some ideas below). Pour into prepared pan and use a greased spatula to evenly spread mixture in pan and level the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until set in the middle. (I baked for 22 minutes) Cool on rack before cutting.

* I doubled the basic recipe before splitting it in two and adding my additions. I also baked in 9x9 pans, which accounts for a thinner bar.

Toffee Bit Blondies

In preparation for this weekend's roadtrip, last night I made two types of blondies. Want to know what makes making blondies so excellent?

1) You likely have all ingredients in your house;
2) no forethought is required - you can decide to make them and get started immmediately;
3) they take all of 20 minutes to bake;
4) and you can double (or triple) the batch of basic blondie batter, split it, and add whatever you like, so you end up with two or three different bars.

You know what else is completely excellent about blondies? They are delicious!

For this batch, I made the basic blondie recipe (borrowed from my blondie-making inspiration, the appropriately named Baking Blonde), and added Heath chocolate-covered toffee bits. If I had pecans on hand, I would have added those as well, but alas, I did not. I might also add some toffee bits and chopped pecans on top once it's almost baked. As my pans are 9x9, the bars were a little thin. Next time I make two batches of blondies, I'll likely triple the recipe before dividing it in two. The texture of these bars were that of a cookie cake. Rich and delicious.

Basic Blondies
Yield: 16 bars

6-7 Tbsp butter, melted (I used 6)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder (optional, creates lighter blondie texture)

Ellen's addition:
3/4 cup chocolate-covered toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8x8 pan with foil and lightly spray with PAM. In a large microwave safe mixing bowl melt the butter. Allow to cool for 5 mintues. Mix the brown sugar with the melted butter and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Add salt, stir in flour and baking powder (if using). Mix in any additions. Pour into prepared pan and use a greased spatula to evenly spread mixture in pan and level the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until set in the middle. (I baked for 22 minutes.) Cool on rack before cutting.

*Note that I doubled the basic recipe and split it in half so that I could create two types of blondies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spicy Polenta Tamale Pie

I know. From the photos, this doesn't look like much. Might not even look that appetizing. Oh, but it is. If you're a fan of tamales or polenta in general, and if you're dieting or not, this is a delicious and easy week night meal.

I'm actually looking forward to left overs tonight.

Spicy Polenta Tamale Pie
Serves: 6, 1 cup each

24 oz. Pre-packaged cooked polenta (comes in a plastic roll)
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (10 oz.) can enchilada sauce (mild, medium, or hot) [I suggest you go with "hot" if you want this to live up to it's name - "spicy" - otherwise it will likely not be so.]
1 (11 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained [I didn't have corn so I subbed hominy.]
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 cup fat free cheddar cheese [I used reduced fat.]

Ellen's additions:
1 lb 93% lean ground beef
Chopped, frozen onions
1 small can diced green chilis

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8X8 dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cut polenta into small cubes. Mix all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl and pour into prepared dish. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes*.

* This dish can be served even more quickly by cooking the meat (if you add any) in a large skillet, then adding the rest of the ingredients and simmering for 10-15 minutes. I've made this both ways and prefer the skillet method.

Per Serving (without my additions or substitutions): 263 Calories; 7g Fat; 7g Dietary Fiber = 5 WW points

Hershey Bar Haystacks

Here is another winner courtesy of Aimee's Adventures. I swear, that girl has so many unique, delicious recipes that are Weight Watchers compatible, it's ridiculous. These haystacks... you wouldn't even know they are "diet." They are freaking unbelieveable. Michael even pronounced last night that they are better than a similar recipe his mom makes using those fried Chinese noodles. If you're a fan of the chocolate-peanut butter combination, which - who isn't - you'll enjoy these.

But not only are these amazing tasting, they are so quick and easy to make, which makes them even more marvelous. AND, you can't feel too terrible when you eat the whole batch in one sitting because they are diet! Though, I guess if you actually are on a diet, you should feel bad about that, but we're veering off course here.

The only change I'd make to the recipe is to double the recipe (at least). If there are two of you eating these, you'll be out inside of five minutes otherwise, then you'll have to wait another 40 minutes or so for more.

Please make these. They are completely super.

Hershey Bar Haystacks
Serves: 6

1 Cup Fiber One cereal
1 (1.5 oz.) Hershey's milk chocolate bar
1 Tbsp reduced fat peanut butter, smooth or chunky [I use smooth.]

Melt bar and peanut butter in microwave until smooth at 30-second intervals. Be careful not to burn. Stir to mix chocolate and peanut butter. Add cereal and gently toss till coated. Drop onto parchment paper making 6 pieces. Refrigerate until chocolate hardens (about 30 minutes).

Per Serving: 71 Calories; 4g Fat; 5g Dietary Fiber = 1 WW point

Monday, September 15, 2008

Corn Fritter Casserole

I recently stumbled across this recipe in an old issue of Cooking Light and thought it would be a great side dish for the pork loin I was making for Sunday night's dinner. Particularly since the rain from Hurricane Ike swept in, making the day cool and blustery. The more I ate of this dish, the more I liked it. It's sweet like corn bread, but the consistency isn't so dry that you can hold it like a small piece of cake or muffin. The accompanying article suggests it's a "cross between corn bread and corn pudding."

I guess Michael's more of a purist; being a corn bread enthusiast, he would have been happier with a pan of regular corn bread. However, I think I prefer this to corn bread. It's soft and doesn't have the crunchiness that the corn meal often brings to corn bread (and which I don't enjoy). So delicious.

Corn Fritter Casserole
Source: Cooking Light, September 2004
Yield: 9 servings, 2/3 cup each

3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 large egg whites
1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (8 1/2-ounce) package corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in onion, bell pepper, whole-kernel corn, and cream-style corn; mix well. Add muffin mix and black pepper, stirring until well combined. Pour into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

247 calories; 8.4 grams fat; 1.9 grams fiber

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chocolate-Covered Tuxedo & Wedding Dress Strawberries

I'm not one to use streamers and tissue paper decorations to decorate for a shower, but I still wanted to do something festive for last weekend's bridal shower. One of my dessert ideas didn't pan out (cheesecake lollipops in the wedding colors were a disaster), so chocolate covered strawberry brides and grooms were it.

These were surprisingly easy to make, though next time I'll do a few things differently: I'll thin out the chocolate and candy melts with a little more shortening so the chocolate has a smoother finish (would also help with the details, like buttons & bow ties), and I'll use the smallest decorating tip I have to apply the details, rather than just a zip lock bag with a hole snipped in one corner (worked fine but not as well as I had hoped).

Another thing: I took the advice of the blogger whose tutorials I followed and bought long stemmed strawberries even though they weren't cheap. Not only will all strawberries be roughly the same size - nice for displaying them - but the long stem is a bonus when dipping the berries in the chocolate.

I think with practice I can make these look professional. (Take a look at what I tried to copy in the source link below, and you'll not only be amazed - works of art! - but see what I mean.) I have a long way to go, but I was generally pleased with how they turned out (the brides could use some work, though). They were a big hit!
Chocolate-Covered Tuxedo and Wedding Dress Strawberries
Yield: 40 strawberries

2 boxes long stemmed strawberries
Bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, or chocolate bark, cut
Bag white chocolate chips, or chocolate bark, cut
Bag Wilton pink candy melts (optional)

Wash strawberries and thoroughly dry them. When you're ready to use each kind of chocolate/candy melt, melt in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between heatings, until smooth. Add shortening until it's melted and incorporated into chocolate; add enough to make chocolate thinner than normal chocolate consistency (sorry that isn't a better description).

To make the tuxes, dip half of strawberries (from very top to bottom) into white chocolate; put on parchment-covered cookie sheet let air dry or chill in the refridgerator until hard. Remove from fridge and dip in semi-sweet chocolate to form a "v" on the white chocolate, and coat the remainder of the strawberry. When forming the "v," be sure to dip at the same angle each time you dip. Also, to get clean lines, make sure the bowl of chocolate has a smooth surface. Make sure and let the excess amount of chocolate fall off of the strawberry into the bowl so that you don’t get a big pool around the bottom once it dries. At this point you'll either have to re-melt your semi-sweet chocolate or start with a new batch. Put chocolate into a ziplock bag or piping bag with a small decorating tip. If using a bag only, cut off a small part of the tip of the bag, so that your chocolate doesn’t flow out too easily and then pipe three small dots up the strawberry and pipe two sideways triangles to form a bow tie. Let dry.

To make the wedding dresses, dip the entire strawberry in white chocolate. Put on parchment-covered cooking sheet and let air dry or chill in the refridgerator until hard. Put melted white chocolate or pink candy melts into a ziplock bag or piping bag witha small decorating tip. If using a bag only, cut off a small part of the tip fo the bag, so that your chocolate doesn't flow too easily. Pipe 5 dots along the top of the "dress" to act as a pearl necklace. To make the dress effect you need to pipe lines of white chocolate at an angle on one side of the strawberry and then the other. Let dry.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps

These lettuce wraps were the main dish that I served at the bridal shower I hosted last Saturday. They were a huge hit - several people asked for the recipe and commented on how similar they tasted to Chang's. I quadrupled the recipe to serve about 20 people but will post a standard-sized recipe here. I made a few changes to the original recipe after testing it a few weeks ago and deciding that the flavor from the oyster sauce was too pronounced. I also had tried it without the shrooms, which generally disgust me, but Michael and I decided they were needed in this recipe for taste and texture, if you're looking to duplicate Chang's.

Normally if I were to order the lettuce wraps at the restaurant I would ask not to include the fried cellophane noodles, as I think they taste like styrofoam packing peanuts, but we fried them Mr. Mom-style because the presentation is nice.

You'll have to forgive my photos - not that any of my photos are great - but in my rush to get the food ready to serve I forgot to take photos until everyone had gone through the buffet line. Hence the "leftovers" you see here. Though I guess this is a testament as to how much people ate. I also forgot to take a photo of an actual lettuce wrap, but you know what that looks like.

PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps
Source: adapted from Top Secret Insiders' Recipes Master Edition

8 mushrooms
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp dry sherry
2 tsp water
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, minced
1 Tbsp Thai Chili Sauce, or to taste
8 ounce can bamboo shoots, minced
8 ounce can water chestnuts, minced
1 package cellophane Chinese rice noodles, prepared according to package

Cooking Sauce:
2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch

Iceburg lettuce "cups"

Mince mushrooms, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts in food processor. Set aside. Mix all ingredients for cooking sauce in bowl and set aside. In medium bowl, combine cornstarch,
sherry water, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and chicken. Stir to coat chicken thoroughly. Let sit 15 minutes to marinate.

Heat wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and stir fry for about 3−4 minutes. Set aside. Add ginger, garlic, chilies(if desired), and onion; stir fry about a minute or so. Add mushrooms, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts; stir fry an additional 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan. Add mixed cooking sauce to pan. Cook until thickened and hot.

Break cooked cellophane noodles into small pieces and surround chicken in serving dish with them. Spoon into lettuce leaf and roll.

Pink Sangria

Over 30 and want to feel young again? Here's what you do: dress in sweats with no makeup (preferably with baseball hat), go to the grocery store, put a few bottles of white zin and a bottle of peach schnapps on the conveyor belt, and I assure you, you'll be carded. It happened to me and it was a joyous experience. Now, had I left the baby at home and also bought a few bottles of Purple Passion and a case of the beast, I'm sure the checker would have thought I showed her a fake. Because these are the drinks of (underage drinking) youth.

Anywho, I was buying said zin and schnapps to make sangria for a bridal shower. I wanted to make a pink sangria rather than the usual deep red because pink is one of the wedding colors. Plus it would look fancy in these light pink wine glasses we got for our wedding, and which have never been used. I searched high and low and found a recipe on Epicurious. It was a big hit, refreshing and fruity. A little too peachy for me, but not so much that I didn't drink at least five glasses. (Bonus: I managed to not get drunk and make a fool of myself.)

The only changes I made to the original recipe was to cut up a small red apple in place of the lemon that the recipe calls for. Also, I meant to slice up strawberries in place of the peach but forgot, and did the peach instead. The biggest change was that I didn't just slice the fruit so it would float prettily in the pitcher. I like my sangria to be a mini-meal - a fruit salad with lots of liquid - so I diced my fruit so that each person would get a lot of fruit in their glass.

White Zinfandel Sangria

1 750-ml bottle of chilled White Zinfandel
1/2 cup peach schnapps
2 Tbsp Cointreau or other orange liqueur
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 lemon, sliced
1 orange, sliced
1 peach, sliced into wedges
1 10-ounce bottle of chilled club soda
Ice cubes

Mix first 8 ingredients in tall pitcher. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Mix in club soda. Fill 6 wineglasses with ice cubes. Pour sangria over ice and serve.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Creme Brulee Mini Cupcakes

This weekend I hosted a bridal shower for my sister-in-law, Melissa. I made a variety of desserts including these cupcakes. They were a huge hit. I wasn't in love with them at first, but I think they're improving with age. They were a bit more dense than I thought they'd be based on the original recipe review, but that may be because the batter sat for so long as I used it all up. The recipe was easy to make. Only part that was overly time consuming was the actual baking, as I only have one decent 12-cup mini cupcake pan.

Creme Brulee Mini Cupcakes
Source: How To Eat A Cupcake
Yield: 60 mini cupcakes

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt, plus a pinch for the egg whites
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp caramel syrup (ice cream topping)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternately beat in dry ingredients and milk. Add caramel syrup and vanilla. Beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into batter. Spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling cups about 2/3 full. Bake for about 14 minutes* or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool.

Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1 cup light brown sugar
4 egg whites
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Put sugar, egg whites and salt into the top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 160 degrees). Pour heated egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg white mixture on high speed until it forms stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until fluffy and cooled, about 7 minutes total. Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low, add butter two tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and continue beating 1 minute to reduce air bubbles.

*See original recipe for baking times, etc. for regular-sized cupcakes.

Crock Pot Whole Chicken

I got the idea to cook a whole chicken in the crock pot from the cooking board on TheNest.com. I loved the idea, as I'm a fan of rotisserie chicken and am always looking for new crock pot meals, as I get home too late from work each night to make nice dinners and not eat at 8pm.

My chicken was a little tough due to it being cooked for too long. I often have that problem with my crock pot, even if I cook for shorter times than the recipe calls for. That said, I am anxious to make this again, as the meat was falling off the bone upon its removal from the crock pot (see photo above). I can tell that had I turned off the heat an hour or so earlier, it would have been amazing. Plus, it was too easy not to keep in rotation. You can use whatever spices you have on hand. We ate the whole bird, however, between that night's meal and curry chicken salad made with leftover meat.

Whole chicken, crock pot-style
Source: adapted from Carrie's Sweet Life

5 lb chicken
Olive oil
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Accent seasoning
Black pepper
Poultry seasoning
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup water*

Wash bird and pat dry. Remove gizzard, etc. from cavity. Rub olive oil all over bird and shower with spices. Put in crock pot and add 1/3 cup water and bay leaves. Cook on low for 8 hours*.

*Next time I may not add water, as it creates its own juices and will cook on low for 5 1/2 hours and see how well done the meat is. I think cooking time depends on the individual crock pot. My bird filled about 2/3 of the pot but still overcooked.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fiber One Crunchy Fudge Cookies

Michael loves Fiber One cereal and is often trying to make me eat it. I do not enjoy it, as it is not Captain Crunch. However, he left the box out on the counter last Friday and I noticed this recipe. I know from doing Weight Watchers in the past that the more fiber a recipe has, the lower the points, so these were immediately appealing to me. Plus, I had all of the ingredients. What I enjoy most about these cookies, besides how quick and easy they are to make and the low point value (one point per cookie!!) is how cinnamonny they taste. Next time I'll probably crush the cereal a bit before adding it to the mix, as these are a little too crunchy for me (every time I bite into one I expect it to be semi-chewy, since they look like they are, but then there's the cereal). However, they're good dipped in milk, and if you're dieting and looking for a chocolate fix, this is a great recipe.

Fiber One Crunchy Fudge Cookies
Source: Fiber One Cereal Box
Yield: 3 1/2 dozen cookies (my batch yielded 2 1/2 dozen)

1 box (1 lb 2.3 oz) fudge brownie mix
2 cups Fiber One cereal
1/3 cup water
1 egg
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (I subbed apple sauce)
2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp mini semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350. Line cookie sheet with parchment. In large bowl, mix all ingredients with spoon. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls two inches apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 10 - 12 minutes until set. Cool two minutes, remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely. Store in tightly covered container. Can store baked cookies for up to two months in freezer in tightly wrapped.

Per cookie: 70 calories, 1g fat, 2g fiber - 1 WW point

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Canteloupe Granita

Found the recipe. Photos looked delicous. Had the ingredients and the time. Made it and enjoyed it.Canteloupe Granita
Source: Gourmet, August 2005

2 cups coarsely chopped canteloupe (from 1/2 melon, seeded)
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste (just realized I misread this and used just under 1 Tbsp lime juice)
1 cup ice cubes

Puree all ingredients in a blender (or food processor) until smooth, then pour into a 13" x 9" metal pan and freeze until mixture becomes a firm slush, at least 40 minutes. Scrape with a fork and served in chilled glasses.

Filipino Pork Barbecue

Michael's mom makes great barbecue. Her sons request it fairly often, to the point that she doesn't really enjoy making it anymore. Still, it's a rare treat when we get to have it. A few months ago I bought a Filipino cookbook in order to learn some recipes on my own. Not wanting to steal Juanita's thunder, when I decided to make Filipino barbecue for Labor Day, I took to my cookbook, rather than asking for her recipe, knowing that it would not be exactly the same. (Plus, knowing the recipe so well, she just eye balls all of the ingredients, which would have been of no help to me).

This recipe consists of marinated, thin slices of pork, threaded onto skewers before they are grilled. Slicing the meat thin is the only part of the recipe that requires any skill; if you have a decent knife, it's easier than I expected. This recipe calls for three pounds of pork; since it would be just the two of us eating it, I cut up three pork steaks but used the same amount of marinade. That amount of meat produced 14 skewers.

I was a little iffy on the marinade before tasting it - wasn't sure about the ketchup. After repeatedly reminding Michael that "this is not your mother's barbecue," I was happy to discover that it tastes very similar to Juanita's version. So was he. In fact, he told me that was both good and bad for me - good that I made something so delicious. Bad that he'll now be requesting this regularly.

Pork Barbecue
Source: Phillipine Recipes Made Easy by Violetta A. Noriega
Serves 6-8

3 lbs boneless pork, sliced 1/4" thick, 2" wide
Bamboo or metal skewers

1/4 cup vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/4 tsp black ground pepper or to taste
3/4 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 cup ketchup

In a bowl, mix marinade together and let stand for 15 minutes. Marinade pork slices for six hours or overnight (the longer the better) in the refridgerator. Stir meat occasionally to evenly distribute flavor.

Prepare barbecue equipment. Soak skewers (if wooden) in water for at least an hour. Thread meat onto skewers. Placed skewered meat on hot grill. Brush marinade on pork during the course of cooking. Make sure meat is cooked through. Serve immediately.