January 27, 2015

Oven-Baked Potato Wedges

I came across these wedges on Natasha's Kitchen, and I promptly made them for my family. These are quite tasty and easy, and I think they'll be a regular guest at our dinner table. The seasonings are great, and they're fairly healthy.

Of course, then I made a version of dip reminiscent of Granite City dip, which is oh so addictive. My rendition isn't a perfect match, but I think I'm moving in the right direction for an authentic recreation. The dip wasn't healthy, and the recipe isn't perfect yet, so only potatoes for now.

Oven-Baked Potato Wedges
4 russet potatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Wash & cut potatoes into wedges by cutting lengthwise in half, and then slicing each half into 4 slices.

Place potatoes in a bowl of water with about 2 cups of ice cubes. Let them stand for 30 minutes, and then dry with paper towels.

Combine salt, garlic powder, paprika and pepper in a large ziplock bag. Add potatoes, and shake them to coat. Next add olive oil to the bag, and toss until potatoes are coated.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper or Silipat. Place potatoes on the lined sheet, and bake at for 30-35 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through, browned and crispy.

If desired, combine parsley and cheese in a large mixing bowl. Toss potato wedges in the mixing bowl with parsley and cheese, and serve warm. (I skipped this since my husband deems Parmesan to be in the category of feet cheese.)

Dulce de Leche Cupcakes

My husband walked into the kitchen while I was making the dulce de leche for these cupcakes, immediately noticed my pan of simmering water and questioned, "What are you doing? Is that can opened? Why are you boiling a can?" followed by, "It could explode!" He was quite dubious, but I told him I had done my research, and there should be no explosion provided I maintained the proper water level.

He remained a bit skeptical but made no further comments. After his reaction, given that he's a rather educated engineer, I was a bit more paranoid about maintaining the water level. Thankfully, my sweetened condensed milk became delicious dulce de leche without incident.

These cupcakes are pretty delicious. I'm not sold on the actual chocolate cupcake from Sweetopia because I had issues with them not rising beautifully and rather spilling over and seeming not baked quite enough but ending up a bit dry. I would repeat the concept but use another chocolate cupcake as the base. The frosting and dulce de leche filling were excellent!

Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dulce de leche (homemade or storebought)
3/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake tins with cupcake liners.

Sift cocoa into a medium bowl. Slowly stir in the boiling water until smooth, and then gradually whisk in milk. Set aside to cool.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl, and set aside.  In an electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Beat in the vanilla.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, add flour mixture and reserved cocoa mixture a little at a time in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour. Beat until just combined.

Divide batter into the cupcake liners, about 1/4 cup for each liner. Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or longer - until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Time will vary according to your oven. Cool cupcakes in tins for 5 to 10 minutes, and then remove from pans to cool completely on wire racks.

Make a small hole in each cupcake (I used a cupcake corer) or use a bismark piping tip to fill cupcakes with dulce de leche.

To make frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Gradually add in powdered sugar. Beat in dulce de leche until smooth and creamy. Frosting may be too soft to pipe without chilling for 30 minutes or so in the refrigerator. Pipe on frosting, and chill until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature for best flavor, though, immediately prior to serving. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Note: I used an entire can of dulce de leche made from sweetened condensed milk for these cupcakes, divvying up the goods between the cupcakes and the frosting.

Lemon Chicken Skillet Dinner

So this Cooking Light recipe initially didn't impress me, but by the end of the meal I was thinking it was worth repeating. After eating the leftovers, I indeed gave it another go a week or so later. Perhaps I was ticked originally that it took a bit longer than the promised 30 minutes or that it required a second pan when it was billed as a one pan meal. Regardless, the veggies are good (although I left out the potatoes and added in wild rice the second time), but the lemony chicken is really what shines for me.

Lemon Chicken Skillet Dinner
12 oz. baby red potatoes, halved
1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 (6 oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to 3/4-inch thickness
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. pepper, divided
1 tsp. thyme, divided
4 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup whole milk
5 tsp. flour
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
8 very thin lemon slices
8 oz. trimmed green beans
1 tsp. dried parsley

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place potatoes in a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain potatoes.

Heat a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tsp. olive oil. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper and 1/4 tsp. thyme. Place in pan, and cook 5 minutes or until browned. Flip chicken, and bake for 10 minutes or until done.

Remove chicken from pan, and place pan on medium-high heat with remaining oil. Add potatoes, cut side down, and mushrooms. Cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring once. Add remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper and 3/4 tsp. thyme. Whisk the flour into the milk, and add that mixture along with the stock, lemon and beans. Bring to a boil, stirring until thickened slightly. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until beans are desired texture. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

January 13, 2015

Oreo Bars

I made these for New Year's up north at my in-laws' cabin. They were quite tasty, although the top layer was overly sweet for my liking. My version of this Cookies and Cups recipe below should alter these more to my taste. Definitely worth a repeat, though.

I actually bought a cake mix for this, and it was worth it.

Oreo Bars
1 box chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup butter, melted and divided
2 eggs, divided
8 oz. cream cheese
4 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. Cocoa powder
8 oz. Cool Whip
12 Double Stuf Oreos, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray, and set aside.

In bowl, stir together cake mix, 1/2 cup melted butter and 1 egg until smooth. Press mixture into the bottom of prepared pan.

Beat cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar together until smooth. Remove half the mixture from the bowl, and reserve for later. In the remaining cream cheese mixture, add cocoa powder, 1/4 cup melted butter and remaining egg. Beat until smooth.

Spread this mixture over top the cake layer. Bake for 30 minutes until just set. Allow to cool completely.

Stir half your chopped Oreos into the remaining cream cheese mixture. Then fold in Cool Whip until smooth. Spread this over your cooled base. Sprinkle with remaining chopped Oreos. Chill for at least an hour. Makes 12 (or more) servings.

Tagalong Bars

Apparently I didn't have enough recipes bookmarked for baking projects because I found this one at Crazy for Crust to bake for my husband to take to work instead of any of the dozens already flagged. Tomorrow is his 2nd anniversary, so he wanted treats. I settled on this new recipe and a tried-and-true one, Cookie Dough Brownies. (Of course, that's really not my favorite brownie recipe, so I used this one instead. That's my favorite, simple recipe for brownies.)

Tagalongs were always my favorite Girl Scout Cookie, although I came from more of a Thin Mint family. Trust me, I love Thin Mints as much as the next person (frozen, of course), but there's something about the peanut butter. Speaking of which, we are almost completely out of peanut butter in our house. Hell might be freezing over ...

P.S. I went to the store this afternoon. I bought peanut butter before we ran out. Hell apparently just had a touch of frost, not an actual freeze warning.

P.P.S. The flavors on these are pretty accurate. Quite tasty bars, although my husband says they can't stand up to the cookie dough brownies.

Tagalong Bars
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 + 1/2 cup powdered sugar, divided
2 tsp. vanilla, divided
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup chocolate chips (Use milk for more authentic, but I used semi-sweet since I rarely have milk chocolate chips on hand.)
2 tsp. shortening

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9 x 9 pan with foil.

Cream butter and 1/3 cup powdered sugar. Add 1 tsp. vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Mix in salt and flour until combined. It will take a few moments to turn from crumbly into an actual dough. Just keep mixing until it does. Press dough into the prepared pan. Bake 14-18 minutes, until the shortbread is no longer shiny or translucent. It won’t brown much, if at all. Let cool completely.

Mix peanut butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Spread evenly over the top of the cooled shortbread.

Melt chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl. Spread over the top of the peanut butter layer. Allow chocolate to harden before cutting bars, but cut bars at room temperature to minimize smashing the peanut butter layer. Makes 9 x 9 pan of bars.

Totally Loaded Mashed Potatoes

I used to love my mother-in-law's cheesy potatoes. I never had them until I met her, and I thought they were the greatest thing ever ... until I was pregnant with my first child. I had a complete aversion to cheesy potatoes during my entire pregnancy to the point where the smell made me nauseous. And that ruined cheesy potatoes for me. I still will eat them, but they have yet to be the delicious, addictive dish they were prior to that pregnancy.

On the bright side, my mother-in-law made this potato dish this year from Hot Coupon World. Step aside cheesy potatoes. You have been replaced. This is now the greatest thing ever.

I made a slight modification in the amount of butter. I won't say it's to make them healthy, but I will say it eliminated the pools of grease. Also, I tried the method described to bake them frozen in the original recipe with no success, so I would plan to at most refrigerate them prior to baking.

Totally Loaded Mashed Potatoes 
3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup milk
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
Salt & pepper, to taste
12 oz. bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 bunch green onions, diced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the potatoes until they are fork tender. Drain. With a mixer, beat the cooked potatoes with the butter, milk, cream cheese, sour cream and spices until creamy. Spoon the mashed potatoes into a 9 x 13 or large baking dish, and spread evenly.

Sprinkle the top of the mashed potatoes with the cheese, bacon and green onions. Bake for 30 minutes, slightly longer if refrigerated prior to baking. Serves 8-10 easily.

Honey Sweetened Blackberry Jam

There are several people who usually receive a jar or two of homemade goodies from me as Christmas presents. Normally it's a simple process of  picking out something I think they would enjoy. However, one of those individuals has significant dietary restrictions this year after a battle with cancer. She avoids all processed sugar, but honey, specifically raw honey, is OK.

I happened to have a jar of Linskens raw honey in my cupboard, so I decided to make a variation of this recipe from 100 Days of Real Food. I'm not sure that it's still technically raw honey after it's been cooked in the jam, but I started with raw honey.

Honey Sweetened Blackberry Jam
1 quart blackberries
2/3 cup honey
1/2 lemon, juiced
Dash of vanilla

Smash the berries in a low, wide, non-reactive pan. Add the honey and lemon juice, and stir to combine. Let the mixture sit until the honey begins to dissolve. Place the pan on the stove, and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring regularly, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the jam thickens. Stir in vanilla.

To make the jam shelf stable, pour it into clean, hot jars. Apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes about 1 pint.

Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin

This recipe from Laura Sweets was a definite winner for us. It's a slow cooker meal, for the most part, which makes it extremely easy. I've tweaked her recipe slightly to modify how to apply the glaze because we enjoyed the glaze caramelized onto all the meat best, rather than any extra just applied after cooking.

Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin
2 lb. pork tenderloin
1 tsp. ground sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup water, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce

Mix together the sage, salt, pepper and garlic. Rub over tenderloin. Place 1/2 cup water in a slow cooker, and then place tenderloin in slow cooker. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours.

About 30 minutes before serving, mix together brown sugar, cornstarch, balsamic vinegar, remaining 1/2 cup water and soy sauce in a small sauce pan. Heat over medium, and stir until mixture thickens, about 4 minutes.

Remove roast from crock pot, and place on a lined cookie sheet. Use a fork to pull apart the tenderloin. Liberally brush with glaze. Broil 1 to 2 minutes until bubbly and caramelized. Repeat 2 to 3 more times until desired crust is achieved, and all glaze is used. Serves 6.

Seeded Multi-Grain Bread

It's been a while since I've baked bread. In fact, I can't guarantee I've baked bread in our new house yet ... and we've been living here since August. This wouldn't be significant, but I don't tend to purchase bread because I bake it instead. I still haven't been buying much bread, so we've been lacking in that department lately.

On the bright side, a fresh loaf of homemade bread tastes much better after a couple months without one. It makes you appreciate how good homemade bread is. So I can't say this Cooking Light recipe is spectacular, but to our deprived taste buds, it tastes quite good. It's probably not a favorite for me, but it's worth repeating for its ease of preparation despite the time commitment. Start a day ahead of when you want your bread.

Seeded Multi-Grain Bread
6 oz. whole wheat pastry flour, divided
1 1/2 tsp. dry yeast, divided
1 1/4 cups warm water, divided
Dash of sugar
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. rolled oats
2 Tbsp. flax seed
2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds

Combine 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour with 1/4 tsp. yeast. Whisk in 3/4 cup warm water. Cover loosely, and let stand 8 to 24 hours.

To make bread after the 8 to 24 hours, combine remaining 1 1/4 tsp. yeast, remaining 1/2 cup warm water and sugar in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Let stand 5 minutes. Combine using the whisk with the starter mixture.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine remaining flours and salt. Stir in yeast mixture, and use the bread hook until dough forms into a smooth ball pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Place dough in greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface, and pat into an 8-inch square. Working with one corner at a time, pull dough into center to form a ball. Repeat the process one more time of flattening into a square and shaping a ball. Roll the dough to tighten the ball. Return dough, seem side up, to the greased bowl. Cover, and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450°F with a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in the middle rack and a jelly-roll pan on the bottom rack. Gently invert dough onto a baking sheet or pizza paddle liberally sprinkled with flour. Gently brush dough with beaten egg white, and sprinkle with oats and seeds. Gently slide dough onto pizza stone. Pour 1 cup water into jelly-roll pan. Bake 30 minutes or until loaf is golden brown, and a thermometer inserted into the center registers 205°F. Cool on rack for 1 hour before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.

January 12, 2015

Heath Caramel Corn

This recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod combines two of my favorites: caramel corn and toffee! Shockingly, I actually found it almost a tad too sweet, so I modified this version slightly. And there should be a next time with this recipe.

Heath Caramel Corn
12 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped Heath candy bars

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place popcorn in a very large bowl, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is a deep golden color. Remove from heat, and carefully stir in baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will bubble.

Pour mixture over the popcorn in a thin stream. Stir to coat the popcorn. Place popcorn on a large baking sheet that has been lined with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Bake for 45 minutes stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with chopped candy bars. Cool completely, and then break into pieces. Makes 12 to 13 cups.

Candied Pecans

Of all the new recipes prepared for Christmas, these pecans from Two Peas & Their Pod were the overall favorite. My family enjoyed them, my husband's family enjoyed them and I quite simply devoured them. These are incredibly addictive, so it's probably a good idea to share some or plan to eat the entire batch in fairly short order.

And, of course, there's no pictures. We ate both batches without photographing them. They are delicious, so you really can't blame me.

Candied Pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
4 cups unsalted pecans halves
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. water

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment pape,r and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add sugars, cinnamon and salt. Whisk until combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg white, vanilla and water together until frothy. Add the pecans, and gently toss until the pecans are well coated. Add the sugar and cinnamon mixture, and toss until pecans are covered.

Spread the pecans in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. The sugar mixture will harden on the pecans. Remove from the oven, and let the pecans cool on the baking sheet. When completely cool, store in an airtight container. Makes about 4-5 cups of delicious pecans.

Toffee Shortbread

Shortbread somehow has become a favorite of mine, particularly around Christmas. My mom's Scotch Shortbread is always delicious, but I was intrigued by this recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod. I'm glad I was because this will become a staple of my Christmas baking ... and perhaps throughout the rest of the year. You can make them look as rustic or pretty as you like. I cut some into circles for nice presentation when gifting cookies to neighbors, but they all taste equally delicious. If you like shortbread at all, these are worth making.

And, I must give credit where credit is due. My 3-year-old son sprinkled all these cookies with toffee bits for me. He did very well ... so well he can keep the job.

Toffee Shortbread
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup toffee bits, divided
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a small bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Slowly add in the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of toffee bits.

Form the dough into a disk shape, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour or until firm. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat, and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick square. Cut into squares, rounds, or shape of your choice using a lightly floured cookie cutter or pizza cutter. Place shortbread cookies on the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until cookies are very lightly browned around the edges. Remove cookies from baking sheet, and cool completely on a wire cooling rack.

Put the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl, and melt, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Dip the shortbread cookies in the melted chocolate, and sprinkle with additional toffee bits. Lay on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper to set up. Once chocolate is completely dried, store cookies in an air tight container for up to 5 days at room temperature or much longer when frozen (as I always keep my Christmas cookies in the garage. In Wisconsin, that essentially equates to freezing them.).

Linzer Muffins

I made these Cooking Light muffins for Christmas with my family and froze them to reheat for a quick breakfast Christmas morning. (Trust me, they were about the only thing quick Christmas morning. Opening presents with a 3-year old and 1-year old can be a long process, particularly when the toddler gets hung up on the 2nd gift he opens.)

Anyways, I really like these muffins. I adapted the recipe slightly based on ingredients I had on hand, and I still have a few in the freezer. Although I could microwave them, I prefer to toss them in the oven while it preheats to 350°F. A few minutes after the oven is warm, I have a nice warm muffin with a deliciously crunchy exterior.

Linzer Muffins
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. almond flour (I simply pulverized ground almonds a bit more)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup raspberry jam
Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line 12 muffin cups. Combine flour, almond flour, salt and baking soda, stirring with a whisk. In a separate bowl, beat sugars and butter together until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour.

Spoon half the batter into muffin cups. Top each muffin with a teaspoon of jam, and cover with remaining batter. Sprinkle muffins with coarse sugar. Bake for 5 minutes, and reduce oven to 375°F. Bake for an additional 10 minutes or until muffins spring back lightly when touched. Cool on wire rack. Makes 12 muffins (but the recipe doubles well).

Marinated Feta Skewers

I wasn't sure my family's feelings on feta, so I had my doubts as to whether anyone would eat this Christmas Eve appetizer aside from me. Personally, I like feta. My husband refers to it as feet cheese and finds it disgusting. As it turns out, this Cooking Light recipe was a hit with my family, particularly my dad.

Marinated Feta Skewers
1 medium lemon
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. feta cheese, cut into 16 cubes
16 small cherry tomatoes

Grate rind from lemon, and squeeze juice equal to 2 Tbsp. Combine rind, juice, oregano, oil and pepper in a shall dish. Add cheese, and marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes, turning cheese over after 10 minutes. Skewer 1 tomato, and place skewer (or toothpick) into each piece of feta.

Note: I served the feta skewers in the marinade and then actually reused it to make another batch the next day.

Cheesy Sausage Balls

These were one of the snacks I made for my family's Christmas Eve celebration, and they were certainly a hit. The original Cooking Light recipe calls for reduced-fat cheese and sausage. I used full-fat varieties as I had those on hand, but I imagine even the lighter version would be delicious. These are a new favorite, and they're easy to make.

Cheese Sausage Balls
1 cup cooked quinoa, chilled
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb. pork sausage

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Shape mixture into 40 balls. Place on a lined baking sheet and bake 18 minutes or until lightly browned and done. You can freeze the shaped sausage balls before baking. Simply bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned and done. Makes 20 appetizer portions of 2 sausage balls each.