Monday, December 17, 2007

My 2nd Annual Cookie Swap!

This year we had our second annual Cookie Swap and we received some quite impressive cookies. My only complaint was we didn't make enough! The recipes below are some appetizers and drinks I made for the cookie swap. Each year I want to make a festive, non-ordinary cookie and I kept seeing this recipe in my magazine. I thought they came out pretty well. Be careful not to overcook them...they are very chocolately and make a perfect pair with a glass of milk.

Peppermint Bonbon Cookies

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
Additional coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies, divided
1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
2 1/2 teaspoons milk (optional)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels, melted (optional)

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint and 6 Tbsp. sugar. Let cool 30 minutes.

Add eggs to melted chocolate, 1 at a time, stirring well. Stir in extracts.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in chocolate morsels. Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm enough to shape.

Shape dough into 1 1/2" balls; place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 325° for 12 to 13 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked on top. Sprinkle coarsely crushed peppermints onto cookies; press candy lightly into cookies. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Whisk together powdered sugar and milk; drizzle over cooled cookies, if desired. Drizzle with melted chocolate, if desired. Sprinkle cookies again with chopped peppermint, if desired. Let cookies stand until glaze and chocolate are firm.

These shrimp cups are my mom's new favorite thing to make. She brought then for the cookie swap and has made them several times since. Don't let the Chipolte scare you, they really are not spicy and it only adds to the flavor. The mixture can be made the night before and added the wonton wrappers in a muffin tin right before baking. I would not suggest prepareing the cups until right before baking as the wontons may get soggy.

Chipolte Shrimp Cups (Cooking Light)

36 wonton wrappers
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped cooked shrimp
1 cup chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers
1 cup bottled chipotle salsa
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 350º.

Fit 1 wonton wrapper into each of 36 mini muffin cups coated with cooking spray, pressing the wrappers into sides of cups. Bake at 350º for 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Keep wontons in muffin cups.

Combine cheese and remaining ingredients, and spoon about 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into each wonton cup. Bake at 350º for 6 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from muffin cups. Serve immediately.

No Holiday Party is Complete Without...

Last year for our cookie swap we made Chocolate Peppermint Martinis. This year we thought we'd still do something festive, but have punch instead. It was a huge hit...I thought I'd be drinking punch for days as leftovers, but everyone loved it and I made it for our big family Christmas get together too. It calls for Blood Orange juice and I never found it and subsituted ruby red grapefruit instead. I adapted it from Southern Living, so feel free to add what ever you have on hand. Our first round was made with cranberry vodka and the second was made with regular non-flavored vodka...both were very tasty.

Sparkling Holiday Punch (Southern Living)

7 cups blood orange juice, chilled*
2 cup pomegranate juice, chilled
1 liter club soda, chilled
1 1/2 cup vodka, chilled
2 cup orange liqueur, chilled
2 oranges, thinly sliced

Stir together blood orange juice and pomegranate juice in a large serving bowl. Chill at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

Stir in liquor, club soda and orange slices. Serve immediately.

*Sweet red grapefruit juice may be substituted.

Non-alcoholic version: Substitue 2 liters ginger-ale for the liquor and club soda.

A Delightful Sammy...

This is another recipe I got from a NC Nestie...Elizabeth! These sandwiches are addicting and delicous. I could not stop eating them! Beware they are a special treat with 2 sticks of butter, but I'm sure that's what makes them taste so good. Apparently they are a popular Christmas snack. A few notes...I wasn't sure what type of roll, so I used sub rolls. I only made 2 packages, but used all the "spread" for them and then cut the sandwiches in thirds.

Ham & Cheese Delights

3 packs of Pepperidge Farm rolls
1/2 lb butter or margarine
3 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons Poppy Seeds
3 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 lb boiled ham, sliced
3/4 lb Swiss Cheese

Slice rolls down middle to make two halves. Cream margarine, poppy seeds, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and onion. Spread top and bottom half of rolls with mixture. Add ham and cheese, put foil over and bake at 350 deg for 10 min. Can be frozen.
This appetizer has been on my list of things to make for a party since it has over 1,200 reviews on and a perfect 5 stars! It does take a while to chop everything up, but its well worth the effort. I suggest using a hand chopper. I didn't want to use my food processor since I wanted the salsa to be rather chunky. I does get really juicy over a few hours. The leftovers would be awesome on pound cake or ice cream. The cinnamon chips are really easy to make and are a perfect dessert all on their own.

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips (Allrecipes)

2 kiwis, peeled and diced
2 Golden Delicious apples - peeled, cored and diced
8 ounces raspberries
1 pound strawberries
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons fruit preserves, any flavor
10 (10 inch) flour tortillas
butter flavored cooking spray
2 cups cinnamon sugar

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, Golden Delicious apples, raspberries, strawberries, white sugar, brown sugar and fruit preserves. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Coat one side of each flour tortilla with butter flavored cooking spray. Cut into wedges and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle wedges with desired amount of cinnamon sugar. Spray again with cooking spray.

Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit and spice mixture.

The most addicting cheeseball

At my Nestie Cookie Swap, Mrs. Hughes bought this cheeseball to share on the same snowman plate I have. I'm a sucker for cheeseball and had to have this recipe. I've made it twice and everyone has asked for the recipe. I accidentally left out the onion and worcestershire sauce, but it tasted great anyways. I suggest using only 3/4 the package of ranch seasoning unless you like it more salty.

Ranch & Herb Cream Cheeseball

2 packages of cream cheese, softened
1 package dry Hidden Valley Ranch mix
1 8oz package of shredded sharp cheddar
1/4-1/2 cup minced onion
a dash (about a teaspoon or so) of Worcestershire sauce

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Shape into a ball, and wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for a few hours, until it's not as soft. Sprinkle with parsley, or roll in chopped pecans.

Perfect Christmas Pasta

In the December Cooking Light there is a recipe for each day in December and it has a caption about how great the dish would be after specific December chores such as trimming the tree, writing Christmas cards, shopping, etc. I wanted to make every recipe for every day, but I don't have enough mouths to feed here. This sounded like an excellent Christmas pasta dish after wrapping gifts. It doesn't have a lot of sauce and it's quite rustic, but it got 5 stars from Ben and a request to move it into the regular dinner rotation. Normally, I don't make too many recipes twice, but this one we definitely will have again soon.

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cheese (Cooking Light)

1 (1-pound) package uncooked ziti (short tube-shaped pasta)
1 pound hot turkey Italian sausage links
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 (14.5-ounce) cans petite-diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Cooking spray
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain the pasta, and set aside.
Remove casings from sausage. Cook sausage, onion, and garlic in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine cooked pasta, sausage mixture, and basil. Place half of the pasta mixture in a 4-quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Top with half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Repeat layers. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until bubbly.

Cookie Swap #1

I made these cookies for my first cookie swap that I just attending with my Nestie friends. We had a blast and even got more festive and wore our tackiest Christmas sweaters. These cookies weren't only delicous, but quick and easy to make. Ben was quite sad I was giving most of them away and I think would have rather eaten an entire batch of these than to get an assortment of everyone elses. The tartness of the cranberry makes a great combination to the sweetness of the white chocolate chips and sugar cookie base. For drop cookies, these are pretty enough for a gift too.
Cranberry White-Chocolate Cookies (Southern Living)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups white chocolate morsels
1 (6-ounce) package sweetened dried cranberries

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; set aside.

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture gradually, beating at low speed until blended. Stir in white chocolate morsels and cranberries.

Drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned on bottom. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes approximately 3 dozen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Top of Spaghetti...

And covered in cheese...This is a slight variation on Chicken Parm, but a good way to sneak in a veggies. The chicken is stuffed with a spinach and cheese mixture, "breaded" in ritz crackers and parmesan cheese then baked. We wanted a more Chicken Parm meal, so I served it with spaghetti and extra sauce, but any side will work well too.

Chicken Parmesan Bundles (Kraft Foods)

4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well drained
1-1/4 cups Shredded Low-Moisture Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese, divided
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
6 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1-1/2 lb.), pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
1 egg
10 Ritz Crackers, crushed (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 cups spaghetti sauce, heated

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Mix cream cheese, spinach, 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 3 Tbsp. of the Parmesan cheese until well blended; spread evenly onto chicken breasts. Starting at one of the short ends of each breast, roll up chicken tightly. Secure with wooden toothpicks, if desired. Set aside.

Beat egg in shallow bowl or pie plate. Mix remaining 3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese and the cracker crumbs in separate shallow bowl or pie plate. Dip chicken bundles in egg, then roll in crumb mixture. Place, seam-sides down, in 13x9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake 30 min. or until chicken is cooked through (165ºF). Remove and discard toothpicks, if using. Serve topped with the spaghetti sauce and remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese.

A Real Taste of the South...

I've been craving shrimp and grits forever now...something must have jogged my taste buds for the ones at Noisy Oyster in Charleston. While this isn't traditional shrimp and grits and doesn't include sausage, it is a casserole that's pretty easy to make. The recipe calls for yellow stone ground grits, which aren't instant or quick cooking grits and quite difficult to find. However, they take 30 minutes to cook and taste very similar to the quick cooking kind. Next time I'll use those. This dish would also be great served as an appetizer at a cocktail party.

Shrimp and Grits Casserole (Cooking Light)

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked yellow stone-ground grits
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp, each cut into 3 pieces
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
3 large egg whites
Cooking spray

Bring chicken broth and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; add grits, stirring with a whisk. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, stirring until cheese melts.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat oil and butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, and mushrooms to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Sprinkle shrimp with black pepper, and add to pan; cook 1 minute. Stir in rind, juice, Worcestershire, and hot pepper sauce; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Place grits and shrimp mixture in a large bowl; stir gently. Beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into shrimp mixture. Spoon mixture into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned. Let stand 20 minutes before serving.

Another Perfect Dessert for the Holidays!

Ben also made a dessert for Thanksgiving...Chocolate Drizzled Bourbon Pecan Tart! This was delish...I guess he was trying to compete with my cheesecake! I think he won when we left with half the cheesecake and only 2 slices were left of his dessert. We finally used a wedding gift...our Pampered Chef Tart's had an awesome tool to make the crinkles of the crust. While, I'm a little late after Thanksgiving, it'll make an awesome Christmas dinner dessert.

Chocolate Drizzled Bourbon Pecan Pie (Cooking Light)

1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
2/3 cup pecan halves
1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
Cooking spray
1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 10 ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in pecans. Roll dough into a 13-inch circle; fit into a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan coated with cooking spray. Trim excess crust using a sharp knife. Spoon sugar mixture into prepared crust. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Drizzle chocolate over tart.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pumpkin Cheesecake...Perfect for Thanksgiving

My very first taste of Pumpkin Cheesecake was the cheesecake was heaven. This comes in at a close second to the Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes I think Pumpkin Pie is a little too pumpkin-y, so this cheesecake is the perfect balance and sweet ending to a Thankgiving dinner. I made this to take to my in-laws for their Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow night and hopefully, I won't come back with any left.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (Cooking Light)

56 reduced-fat vanilla wafers (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon butter or stick margarine, melted
Cooking spray

3 (8-ounce) blocks fat-free cream cheese, softened
2 (8-ounce) blocks 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of allspice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin

PreparationPreheat oven to 400°.

To prepare crust, place wafers in a food processor; pulse 2 to 3 times or until finely ground. Add butter; pulse 10 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Firmly press mixture into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes; cool on a wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°.

To prepare filling, beat cheeses with a mixer at high speed until smooth. Add the granulated sugar and next 8 ingredients (granulated sugar through vanilla), beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin; beat well.

Pour cheese mixture into prepared crust; bake at 325° for 1 1/2 hours or until almost set. (Cheesecake is done when the center barely moves when pan is touched.) Remove cheesecake from oven; run a knife around outside edge. Cool to room temperature; cover and chill at least 8 hours.

More of the best of...

This is the second recipe I've made from Cooking Light's 20th Anniversary magazine edition where they featured 20 best recipes from the past 20 years. Baked Potato Soup won the best soup and it was awesome, especially for a Sunday night. I made a few small changes...I used 1% milk instead of 2%, but added approximately 1/2 cup heavy cream. I also added a little more salt and garlic. This makes a pot full, but we're looking forward to the leftovers for lunch this week.

Baked Potato Soup (Cooking Light)
4 baking potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 ounces)
6 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1 cup (4 ounces) reduced-fat shredded extrasharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
3/4 cup chopped green onions, divided
6 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
Cracked black pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°.

Pierce potatoes with a fork; bake at 400° for 1 hour or until tender. Cool. Peel potatoes; coarsely mash.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Place flour in a large Dutch oven; gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (about 8 minutes). Add mashed potatoes, 3/4 cup cheese, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, stirring until cheese melts. Remove from heat.

Stir in sour cream and 1/2 cup onions. Cook over low heat 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated (do not boil). Ladle 1 1/2 cups soup into each of 8 bowls. Sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons onions, and about 1 tablespoon bacon. Garnish with cracked pepper, if desired.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A feast...

I haven't cooked like this in forever and boy do I miss it. Lately it seems we just have casseroles all the time. But tonight I was craving fish...salmon. I've made an adaption of this recipe for years now, but didn't have all the ingredients and improvised. Ben said I couldn't make it the old way anymore now since this was even better. I should make fish more often, it's not only quick and easy, but so good for you too. I served the salmon with roasted potatoes, lemon and asparagus, salad and whole wheat rolls...what a feast for a Monday night!

Apricot Sesame Glazed Salmon

2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp maple syrup
3 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspon chili pepper
1 lb salmon

Combine first seven ingredients to make a marinade. Salt and pepper salmon and place on broiler. Top fish with marinade. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Top fish with remaining marinade and broil for 4 minutes.

BBQ So Quick and Easy

This Sunday we went to the Panther's game and after each game when we get home late I'm too exhausted to cook. I made a plan to do something in the crock pot and we continued our tailgating back home with BBQ sandwiches. It was no NC BBQ, but still turned out awesome. I used a recipe I found online, but added and changed a few things. Any cut of pork will do...I used pork sirloin roast, which was inexpensive and very lean. Feel free to use a pork lion, ribs, pork butt, etc...

BBQ Pork Sandwiches

3 ounces pork sirloin roast
1 can beef broth
8 oz dark beer
1 small onion, sliced
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chili pepper
1 bottle bbq sace

Pour beef broth and beer into a crock pot. Add sliced onions and chili pepper. Spinkle pork with garlic powder, salt and pepper and put in the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Shred pork with fork and pour bbq, mix well. Serve on buns.

Even more pumpkin...

This pumpkin dip tastes just like pumpkin pie. It's perfect with apples, ginger snaps, cinnamon graham crackers. Serve in a hollowed out pumpkin for the perfect centerpiece.

Pumpkin Dip (Allrecipes)

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon frozen orange juice concentrate

In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth. Gradually mix in the pumpkin. Stir in the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and orange juice until smooth and well blended. Chill until serving.

This is salad....???

Who knew salad could be so fabulous. This super sweet, seasonal salad is a delicous and simple dessert that tastes exactly like caramel apples. I've made this 3 times and everyone has asked for the recipe.

Caramel Apple Salad

6 Snickers bars
6 granny smith apples
1 pkg dry butterscotch pudding mix
12 oz Cool Whip

Chop apples and Snickers and combine. Mix dry pudding with cool whip then stir into apples and snickers. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

Pumpkin Pumpkin Pumpkin...

During the holidays I get obsessed with pumpkin. I've found by far the best pumpkin bread...chocolate chip pumpkin bread. It's really easy and makes 2 loaves...Perfect for making one for you and sharing the other! This bread is made with pudding, which makes it super moist. And you can eat a slightly bigger piece since it's a light recipe from Cooking Light.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread (Cooking Light)
2 cups sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla pudding
4 large egg whites
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Dinner

Ben and I won't be celebrating Halloween together this year, so tonight I made a special dinner...Penne with Sausage and Pumpkin Cream Sauce. It was delicious...the pumpkin was a suttle taste and the sage added a hint of woodsyness. The cinnamon and nutmeg gave it a spicy flavor. This made way too much, but luckily Ben has lots of leftover for when I'm out of town this weekend. I'll definitely be making this's such a great way to use pumpkin in the fall season. I wanted to make the Spinach Apple salad that was included with the recipe. For a short cut, pick up the Fall Harvest salad in a bag at the grocery store...the pine nuts and apple cider vinagriatte are and excellent pair with the pasta.

Penne with Sausage and Pumpkin Cream Sauce (Rachel Ray)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, cracked and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into chiffonade, about 2 tablespoons
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock, canned or paper container
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup (3 turns around the pan) heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound penne rigate, cooked to al dente
Romano or Parmigiano, for grating
Pumpernickel or whole grain bread, as an accompaniment
Spinach Salad with Apple and Red Onion, as an accompaniment, recipe follows

Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Transfer sausage to paper towel lined plate. Drain fat from skillet and return pan to the stove. Add the remaining tablespoon oil, and then the garlic and onion. Saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender.

Add bay leaf, sage, and wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5 to 10 minutes to thicken sauce.

Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.

Serve pumpkin sausage pasta with pumpernickel or whole grain bread and Spinach Salad with Apple and Red Onion.

Spinach Salad with Apple and Red Onion:
1 pound triple-washed spinach, de-stemmed
1 small Golden Delicious apple, quartered, cored, and sliced
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons (a couple of splashes) apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grain mustard 1 tablespoon (a good drizzle) honey
Coarse salt and black pepper

Place spinach, apple, and onion in a salad bowl. Place oil, vinegar, mustard and honey in a small plastic container and fit lid on container. Shake dressing to combine, 1 minute. Pour dressing over salad, toss, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Fall turns me into a baker and I've been dying to make some pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Last year I made these from scratch and they were awesome, but this October has been unbelievably busy. So I received this recipe from a friend...not only are they quick and easy, but they're very low fat. We especially enjoy these for breakfast or a late night snack after dinner.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 box spice cake mix
1 (15 oz) pure pumpkin
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix spice cake mix, water and pumpkin until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Divide mixture among 20 muffins and bake for 20-22 minutes.

Sausage, Peppers and Onions...Oh Goodness

I never thought such a simple dish could be so good. For some reason I had a craving for this. I searched for a recipe and found one from Giada that had 5 stars. It is definitely worth 5 stars. This recipe was super simple to make and has tons of flavor. Leftovers are better the next day and it's incredibly versitle. We served this over rice, but it'd be amazing on subs with some provalone cheese melted over top.

Sausage, Peppers and Onions (Giada De Laurentiis)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup Marsala wine
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
4 to 6 fresh Italian sandwich rolls, optional

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook until brown on both sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain.

Keeping the pan over medium heat, add the peppers, onions, salt, and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, basil, and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the Marsala wine, tomatoes, and chili flakes, if using. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the browned bits. Bring to a simmer.

Cut the sausages into 4 to 6 pieces each, about 1-inch cubes. Add the sausage back to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls. Or, if serving as a sandwich, split the rolls in half lengthwise. Hollow out the bread from the bottom side of each roll, being careful not to puncture the crust. Fill the bottom half of the roll with sausage mixture. Top and serve sandwiches immediately.

Mac and Cheese with a Twist

The twist to this macaroni and cheese recipe was actually a mistake, but Ben won't let me make it any other way now. The recipe orginially came from a Weight Watchers Comfort Foods cookbook and used plain diced tomatoes and fat free cheese. I can't stand fat free anything, so I always use 2% cheese. On accident I used diced tomatoes with green chilis and it added a little kick to ordinary mac and cheese. Additionally it has a bread crumb topping which adds to its richness. This recipe always makes more than we can eat. By using multigrain or whole wheat pasta it really fills you up. We enjoy this on a Sunday evening with just a salad.

Kicked Up Mac & Cheese
1/2 lb multigrain or whole wheat elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups fat free milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 (14 1/2 oz can) diced tomatoes with green chilis and their juice
1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Cook the macaroni according to package directions, omitting the salt if desired.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occassionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Increase the heat and cook, whisky constantly, until slightly thickened, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Cook whisking occassionally, until the cheeses melt, about 1 minute.

Remove the saucepan from the heat; stir in the macaroni and the tomatoes with their juice. Pour mixture into the casserole dish. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are evenly coated, about 1 minute. Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until bubbly and the top is golden, about 30 minutes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ben's Italian Chicken Casserole

One Monday night as I was working late, I called Ben to let him he would be making dinner...imagine his shock and surprise that I'd let him in the kitchen and that he had do it. He has been helping out with the cooking lately since I've been working late a lot. I found this recipe in Southern Living and new it'd be awesome. Ben made a few modifications...added more italian seasoning and drained the tomatoes. This also made a ton...perfect for a week of leftovers or freeze it for later.

Italian Chicken Casserole (Southern Living)

2 (3.5-oz.) bags quick-cooking rice
1 pound chicken breast, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 (8-oz.) package sliced fresh mushrooms
1 (10 3/4-oz.) can reduced-fat cream of chicken soup
1/2 (8-oz.) container sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, undrained
Cook rice according to package directions.
Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Sauté, in 2 batches, in 2 Tbsp. hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from skillet.
Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to skillet, and sauté onion 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in mushrooms, and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Remove skillet from heat.

Stir together soup, sour cream, and Italian seasoning in a medium bowl until well blended. Stir soup mixture into onion mixture in skillet; stir in rice. Gently stir in tomatoes and chicken just until combined. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes.

To make ahead: Line a 13- x 9-inch baking dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing several inches of foil to extend over sides. Prepare recipe as directed through Step 4; spoon mixture into dish. Freeze 2 hours or until firm. Lift casserole from dish using foil sides; fold foil over casserole. Wrap in additional foil, or place in a large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Freeze up to 3 months. Remove casserole from foil or freezer bag. Place in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Thaw in refrigerator 24 hours. Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until bubbly.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Making up for lost time...

It's been a busy few weeks. Between Ben in school, work loads picking up and vacations...I've barely had time to cook. But, it's fall now and we're excited for some new recipes. Plus with all the junk we've been eating the past few weeks you can expect a few recipes that are good for you too.

I'm back in my routine of making a menu for the week. So this week you can expect Better Than Ever Enchiladas and White Bean Chicken Chili.

Tonight I made the Enchiladas. It was featured in the Kraft Food and Family magazine a year ago. It's a lighter recipe that doesn't use oil for the tortillas nor enchilada sauce, but its by far one of my favorite homemade enchilada recipes. It only calls for 1/2 lb ground hambuger, but I always double the filling and stuff them extra and make as many as I can fit in the dish.

Better Than Ever Enchiladas (Kraft Food & Family)

1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 cup chopped red peppers
2 cups salsa, divided
1 cup 2% Milk Shredded Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar Cheese, divided
2 Tbsp. Light Zesty Italian Reduced Fat Dressing
8 corn tortillas (6 inch)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook meat and peppers in large nonstick skillet on medium heat until meat is no longer pink, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup of the salsa; simmer 3 to 4 min. or until peppers are tender. Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Spread 1/4 cup of the salsa onto bottom of 13x9-inch baking dish. Brush dressing lightly over both sides of tortillas. Stack 4 of the tortillas on large sheet of waxed paper; wrap tortillas in waxed paper. Microwave on HIGH 20 to 30 sec. or just until warm. Immediately spoon 1/3 cup meat mixture down center of each warm tortilla; roll up. Place, seam side down, in dish. Repeat with remaining 4 tortillas and remaining meat mixture. Spoon remaining 3/4 cup salsa evenly over filled tortillas; cover with foil.

Bake 20 min. or until heated through. Uncover; top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake an additional 2 to 3 min. or until cheese is melted. Top with cilantro.

An Anniversary Dinner at home

Ben and I celebrated our first anniversary in Disney World enjoying dinner at the French restaurant, Bistro De Paris, overlooking the Lagoon at Epcot. We continued our anniversay on a cruise eating tons of yummy food. When we got back I actually missed cooking dinner for us. My mom had picked up our fresh anniversary cake, so I set out to make a nice dinner. The new Cooking Light is celebrating 20 years and included 20 of its best of each category. I decided on the best Fish & Seafood recipe and it was delicious. The aioli sauce adds a ton of flavor. If I was short on time, I'd make the aioli and serve it with fish sticks. I'm determined it could make them taste gourmet.

Cornflake Crusted Halibut with Chile-Cilantro Aioli (Cooking Light)

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup fat-free milk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
2 cups cornflakes, finely crushed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
Lemon wedges

To prepare aioli, combine first 4 ingredients, stirring well.
To prepare fish, combine milk and egg white in a shallow dish, stirring well with a whisk. Combine cornflakes, flour, salt, and black pepper in a shallow dish.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Dip fish in milk mixture; dredge in cornflake mixture. Add fish to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with mayonnaise mixture and lemon wedges.

I decorated the table with a centerpeice from our wedding, our aniversary cake, cake topper and our cake cutting set.

Fajita Pizza...

This fajita pizza taste just like the real thing. Using rotisserie chicken, red and green bell peppers, onions and chipotle cheddar was the perfect combination for a mexican inspired pizza.

Speedy Dinners...

This is another Kraft Food & Family recipe and perfect for our busy weeks. It's super quick, but the taste isn't compromised. Add whatever veggies you have on hand as well as either spaghetti, angel hair or vermacelli noodle pasta.

Speedy Chicken Stir Fry (Kraft Food & Family)

8 oz. angel hair pasta (capellini), uncooked
2 cups small broccoli florets
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. each: ground ginger, garlic powder, crushed red pepper
1/3 cup chopped Dry Roasted Peanuts

Cook pasta as directed on package, adding broccoli to the boiling water for the last 3 min. of the pasta cooking time.

Meanwhile, spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 6 to 8 min. or until cooked through, stirring occasionally. Stir in dressing, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper; cook 1 min., stirring occasionally.

Drain pasta mixture; place in large bowl. Add chicken mixture; mix lightly. Spoon evenly into four serving bowls; sprinkle with the peanuts.

Pizza Experimenting

Lately, we've been experimenting with pizza toppings and using whatever meats, veggies and cheeses we have at home. We were both craving banana peppers, so we added that to leftover bbq chicken, onion and montrery and colby jack cheese. This was delicious!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Goat Cheese Inspired

A couple of weekends ago we had my college roommate, Meg, and her new hubby, Pat down for the weekend. Since they are from DC we had to find the coolest restaurant in town and decided to take them to Red Room for tapas. (We're secretly trying to convince them to move down to Raleigh and wanted to show them Raliegh has some cool places too.) While at Red Room I ordered a fried eggplant with goat cheese and fell in love with the cheese. Lately, I've also discovered I don't hate blue cheese like I thought. So, after I bought 3 lbs of chicken on sale I searched Cooking Light for a 5 star chicken recipe and I stumbled upon Artichoke Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken. Yeah I know it didn't take me very long to find something good...starting with the A's.

The ingredients sat in my fridge for a week and finally after a particularly very stressful week, I made this for dinner on Sunday. My pieces of chicken we're thick enough to stuff, so I used my meat mallet for the very first time in almost a year since we recieved it as a wedding gift to thin the chicken out a little bit more. Then, I wraped the chicken around the stuffing.

I was also supposed to save the artichoke juice from the can for the sauce, but didn't remember. I used a combination of chicken stock and white wine for the base of the sauce. After cooking the chicken in the pan, and making the sauce, I added the leftover stuffing mix for extra artichoke and creamyness from the goat cheese. I served with garlic mashed potates and salad. Needless to say, Ben was pretty impressed for a Sunday night dinner.

Artichoke and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken (Cooking Light)

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke bottoms
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat or feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped chives, divided
1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind, divided object2=" ?
8 (4-ounce) skinned, boned chicken breasts halves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Drain artichokes in a colander over a bowl, reserving liquid. Coarsely chop artichoke bottoms. Combine artichokes, cheese, 2 tablespoons chives, 1 teaspoon thyme, and 1 teaspoon lemon rind in a medium bpwl; stir well.

Cut a horizontal slit through thickest portion of each chicken breast half to form a pocket. Stuff about 1/4 cup artichoke mixture into each pocket. Sprinkle chicken with pepper.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 chicken breasts, and sauté 6 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Remove chicken form skillet. Set aside; keep warm. Repeat procedure with 1 teaspoon oil and remaining chicken breats. Add reserved artichoke liquid, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon rind to skillet. Combine cornstarch and lemon juice; stir well. Add to skillet. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Return chicken to skillet. Cover and simmer 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Spoon sauce over chicken. Top with 2 tablespoons chives.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A sweet tart of a cake!

This past weekend we hosted our friends Kim and Jeff over for dinner. Of course I can not have guests over and make dinner without dessert. Once we decided to grill out, this gave me the perfect excuse for making this summer cake. You can find the recipe in the latest edition of Cooking Light and it tastes even better than it looks. We basically devoured this cake in one night with each of us having 2 slices. I sent a huge slice home with Kim and Jeff and Ben almost fought them for it too.

Simply adding lemon and lime zest to the cream cheese frosting really brings out the citrus flavors. It's a satisfying, substantial cake that isn't too heavy...making a perfect dessert for these final few days of summer.

Lemon Lime Layer Cake (Cooking Light)

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup egg substitute
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon grated lime rind
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 10 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 (8-ounce) package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted (about 10 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare the cake, coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms of pans with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray.

Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg substitute and the next 3 ingredients (through 1 tablespoon juice); beat well. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Spoon batter into prepared pans; tap pans once on countertop to remove air bubbles.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove cakes from pans. Carefully peel off wax paper. Cool completely on wire racks coated with cooking spray.

To prepare icing, place 1 teaspoon lemon rind and next 3 ingredients (through cream cheese) in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth (about 1 minute). Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat). Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup icing. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. Chill 1 hour. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

Decadent Pasta

If you don't get the Kraft Food and Family magazine, you should! It's free and comes quarterly with yummy, inexpensive and family friendly recipes. What I enjoy most is most recipes call for very few ingredients and most are quick and easy with time saving tips. This recipe takes regular spaghetti sauce and adds cream cheese to make a rich sauce. By cooking the chicken in an italian dressing it adds another layer of flavor. Usually, I go ahead and make the entire box of bow tie pasta to have tons of leftovers...the recipe makes a lot of sauce and is plenty.

Creamy Bow-tie Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli (Kraft Foods)

3 cups (8 oz.) farfalle (bow-tie pasta), uncooked
4 cups broccoli florets
3 Tbsp. Roasted Red Pepper Italian with Parmesan Dressing
6 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1-1/2 lb.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups tomato-basil spaghetti sauce
4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) 1/3 Less Fat than Cream Cheese, cubed
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Cook pasta as directed on package, adding broccoli to the cooking water for the last 3 min. of the pasta cooking time. Meanwhile, heat dressing in large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add chicken and garlic; cook 5 min. Turn chicken over; continue cooking 4 to 5 min. or until chicken is cooked through (170ºF).

Drain pasta mixture in colander; return to pan and set aside. Add spaghetti sauce and Neufchatel cheese to chicken in skillet; cook on medium-low heat 2 to 3 min. or until Neufchatel cheese is completely melted, mixture is well blended and chicken is coated with sauce, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from skillet; keep warm. Add sauce mixture to pasta mixture; mix well. Transfer to six serving bowls.

Cut chicken crosswise into thick slices; fan out chicken over pasta mixture. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Perfect Brunch

This past weekend, my college roommate, Meg and her new husband, Pat come to visit us for the weekend. We love having guests and entertaining, so a brunch was a perfect ending to the weekend. This brunch casserole orginially called for canned mushrooms and frozen spinach, but I used fresh and it was wonderful.

Sausage, Spinach and Mushroom Breakfast Casserole

2 1/2 cups seasoned croutons
1 pound spicy pork sausage
4 eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
Half a bag of fresh spinach, chopped
4 oz fresh chopped mushrooms
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
2 sprigs fresh parsley, for garnish

Spread croutons on bottom of greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Crumble sausage into medium skillet. Cook over medium heat until browned, stirring occasionally. Drain off any drippings. Spread sausage over croutons.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until well blended. Stir in soup, spinach, mushrooms, cheeses and mustard. Pour egg mixture over sausage and croutons. Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until set and lightly browned on top. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve hot.

Hot and Spicy!

I've had this recipe printed out for a while, just waiting for the perfect time to make it. I wish I had made it sooner. It will definitely be in our rotation for dinners. It could not have been quicker to make too. You can use chicken breasts or chicken thighs as well as either broil the chicken or grill it. We had the time to start the grill on the night we made this, and it turned out wonderful and very moist. Next time I will probably half the spices since we only grilled 3 pieces of chicken, but the spices weren't overpowering since the honey balances it out.

Spicy Honey Brushed Chicken (Cooking Light)

2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Cooking spray
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Preheat broiler.
Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken to bowl; toss to coat. Place chicken on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil chicken 5 minutes on each side.
Combine honey and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring well. Remove chicken from oven; brush 1/4 cup honey mixture on chicken. Broil 1 minute. Remove chicken from oven and turn over. Brush chicken with remaining honey mixture. Broil 1 additional minute or until chicken is done.

Our Beach Trip...

For the past 2 years, we've been taking our annual family vacation to a new beach. Since we all love cooking and on vacation have the time, we each take a day to do all the cooking. This year we made breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and a special cocktail to enjoy with appetizers. The 12 recipes are just a sampling of what we enjoyed while in the Outer Banks this summer. Most of them Ben and I made for our days, but I added a few we really enjoyed or that we make often ourselves. ENJOY!

Mahi Mahi with Fresh Mango Salsa

This is a great dish for a hot summer evening. Any white fish such as Mahi-Mahi, Halibut or Tilapia work well. You can serve the leftover salsa with tortilla chips for snack or make it on its own. Also, if Mango's are out of season peaches are a good subsitute.

Mahi-Mahi with Fresh Mango Salsa (Cooking Light)

2 cups plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 1/2 cups diced peeled ripe mango
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 (6-ounce) mahi mahi fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil

PreparationPrepare grill.

Combine first 7 ingredients. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and garlic.
Rub halibut with oil; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place fish on grill rack; grill 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with mango salsa.

Banana Split CAKE!

My dad made this cake for his dessert at the beach. It's delicious and even better the following day. If you love banana splits, you'll love this dessert...the best thing is it doesn't melt as quick. Make sure to serve with with lots of cherries on top.

Banana Split Cake (Paula Deen)

4 cups crushed graham crackers
3 sticks butter, room temperature
2 eggs
16-ounce box powdered sugar
20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
2 to 3 bananas, sliced 1
2-ounce container whipped topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For crust, mix crushed graham crackers and 1 stick of butter. Line bottom and sides of a 13 by 9-inch pan with mixture. Bake crust for 5 to 8 minutes.

Beat the eggs, 2 sticks butter, and the powdered sugar until fluffy. Spread mixture on cooled crust. Add layer of crushed pineapple and layer of sliced bananas. Cover with whipped topping and sprinkle with nuts or graham crackers. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

A taste of summer.

Key Lime Pie (Cooking Light)

2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup Key lime juice (such as Nellie and Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice)
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1 (6-ounce) reduced-fat graham cracker crust
1 1/2 cups frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat eggs and egg whites at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Gradually add juice, rind, and milk to egg mixture, beating until well-blended. Spoon mixture into crust, and bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until almost set (the center will not be firm but will set up as it chills). Cool pie on a wire rack. Cover loosely, and chill 4 hours. Spread whipped topping evenly over filling.

Twice As Nice!

This dish is known as "The Meal" in my family. We have this whenever we left for camp, school, celebrated a birthday and have always had this on Christmas Eve. The side dishes may vary each time, but the steak and peppers are always a must. It's safe to say it's a family recipe!

Grilled Pepper Steak with Bell Pepper Salsa (Cooking Light)

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 large shallots, peeled and minced lengthwise
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped (about 8 ounces)
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped(about 8 ounces)
Cooking spray
4 teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
4 (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks (about 1 inch thick)
Thyme sprigs (optional)

Combine first 9 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes. Place marinated vegetables and sauce in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook until vegetabales are soft and marinade has reduced.

Place a grill pan coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat until hot. Press 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper onto 1 side of each steak. Wipe pan clean with paper towels; recoat with cooking spray. Place pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add steaks, peppered sides down; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with bell pepper salsa and thyme sprigs if desired.

Twice Baked Potatoes

4 large baking potatoes
8 slices bacon
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
8 green onions, sliced, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake potatoes in preheated oven for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

When potatoes are done allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl; save skins. To the potato flesh add sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 the green onions. Mix with a hand mixer until well blended and creamy. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Top each with remaining cheese, green onions and bacon.

Bake for another 15 minutes.


This is one of my favorite cocktails that I discovered in Mexico on our honeymoon. Try using brown sugar instead of white sugar to add a slightly different taste.


10 fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
Juice from 1/2 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup light rum
Ice cubes
Splash of club soda

Combine mint leaves, sugar, and lime juice in a small mortar bowl; crush mint using a pestle. Transfer mint mixture to a tall glass.

Add rum, and stir; add ice cubes. Add a splash of club soda.

Note: If you don't have a mortar and pestle, simply use the back of a spoon to crush the mint leaves in your glass with the sugar and lime juice.

All wrapped Up

I have made this "lunch" dish several times since it first appeared in the July edition of Cooking Light since techinically no cooking is required. Sweet potato chips go perfectly with this wrap.

Chicken & Bacon Roll Ups (Cooking Light)

1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 (2.8-ounce) whole wheat flatbreads (such as Flatout)
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped tomato (about 2 medium)
4 center-cut bacon slices, cooked and drained
2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast

Combine reduced-fat mayonnaise, minced tarragon, and fresh lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread 2 tablespoons mayonnaise mixture over each flatbread. Top each with 1/2 cup shredded romaine lettuce, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 1 bacon slice, crumbled, and 1/2 cup chicken. Roll up.

A Tropical Breakfast

This was the perfect breakfast to start a day at the beach. A very tropical taste with the fruit and coconut milk in the french toast. It's made the night before, so the bread can soak up the coconut egg mixture and then it's baked in the morning.

Baked Coconut French Toast with Tropical Fruit Compote (Cooking Light)

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
1 cup chopped peeled mango
1 cup chopped peeled papaya
1 cup chopped peeled kiwifruit
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

16 (1-inch-thick) slices diagonally cut French bread baguette (about 10 ounces)
Cooking spray
1 1/4 cups light coconut milk
1 1/4 cups egg substitute
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut

To prepare compote, combine first 6 ingredients. Cover and chill for 8 hours or overnight.

To prepare the French toast, arrange bread in a single layer in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine light coconut milk, egg substitute, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon vanilla, stirring with a whisk, and pour evenly over bread. Turn the bread over to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove bread mixture from refrigerator, and uncover. Turn bread slices over, and sprinkle evenly with flaked coconut. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Bake, uncovered, at 350º for 30 minutes or until coconut is golden. Serve warm with fruit compote.

Dessert Pizza!

Ben's pizza night at the beach wasn't complete without a dessert pizza. This pizza is made with regular unseasoned pizza dough, a chocolate hazelnut spread base, and a combination of chocolate chips and nuts. Ben used M&Ms and substituted walnuts for hazelnuts...what a sweet ending!

Chocolate Hazelnut Pizza

1 pound homemade pizza dough or purchased pizza dough
2 teaspoons butter, melted
1/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons milk chocolate chips
2 tablespoons white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted

Position the oven rack on the bottom of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the dough to a 9-inch-diameter round. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Using your fingers, make indentations all over the dough. Brush the dough with butter, then bake until the crust is crisp and pale golden brown, about 20 minutes. Immediately spread the chocolate-hazelnut spread over the pizza then sprinkle all the chocolate chips over. Bake just until the chocolate begins to melt, about 1 minute. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the pizza. Cut into wedges and serve.

Hands Down the BEST Pizza Ever!

As many of you know we have instituted Friday Pizza Nights in our household. We've been trying several combinations of ingredients for our pizzas, but this is the absolute best version Ben has made so far. He used fresh cooked shrimp, fresh portabella mushrooms and spinach. It tasted very gourmet and I'd happily pay $30 for the entire pizza. It was perfectly crunchy. By brushing the pizza crust with olive oil and pre-baking it for about 5 minutes, then adding all the toppings and baking for another 15 minutes, ensured a perfect balance of crispy and chewy crust.

Shrimp, Spinach & Mushroom Pizza

1/2 lb. cooked peeled, deveined shrimp
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
White pizza sauce (recipe below)
1 (6 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 unbaked pizza crusts
1 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread pizza crusts out onto baking sheets or pizza pans.

Place the shrimp, spinach and white sauce in a saucepan, and warm over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Spread 1tablespoon of olive oil onto each pizza crust. Spoon the shrimp and spinach mixture onto crust. Top pizza with the mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle mushrooms on top.

Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the bottom is nicely browned.

White Pizza Sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup evaporated skim milk
1/2 cup shredded reduced sodium Swiss cheese (2 ounces)
2 tbsp Chablis or other dry white wine
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or use fresh to taste!)
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Combine cornstarch and milk in a small saucepan, stirring until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in Swiss cheese, dry white wine, garlic powder (or minced or pressed fresh!) and ground white pepper. Spread sauce evenly over Pizza Crust.



1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup frozen lemonade concentrate
1/3 cup orange juice
1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup triple sec
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
1 orange, sliced into rounds
1 lime, sliced into rounds
1/4 cup white sugar (optional)
8 maraschino cherries
2 cups carbonated water (optional)

In a large pitcher or bowl, mix together the brandy, lemon juice, lemonade concentrate, orange juice, red wine, triple sec, and sugar. Float slices of lemon, orange and lime, and maraschino cherries in the mixture. Refrigerate overnight for best flavor. For a fizzy sangria, add club soda just before serving.

Gorilla Bread

This breakfast treat is similar to Monkey Bread, but has cream cheese stuffed inside each piece. Ben has made this twice now and used a honey nut flavored cream cheese the second time. It was the perfect flavor to compliment the nuts on top.

Gorilla Bread (Paula Deen)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
2 (12-ounce) cans refrigerated biscuits (10 count)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon. In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring well; set aside. Cut the cream cheese into 20 equal cubes. Press the biscuits out with your fingers and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. Place a cube of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit, wrapping and sealing the dough around the cream cheese. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts into the bottom of the bundt pan. Place half of the prepared biscuits in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, pour half of the melted butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of nuts. Layer the remaining biscuits on top, sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, pour the remaining butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Place a plate on top and invert.

Monday, July 30, 2007

You will go Banana's for this....

Any one from the South will agree that Banana Pudding is a classic. When Ben brought home a Southern Living magazine with this recipe I knew it'd be a hit. Banana Pudding Pie is the ultimate Southern dessert. It was the perfect compliment to Lexington style bbq and huspuppies.

There are a lot of steps to this recipe, but it's easy and worth the wait! Make sure to hang on to your egg yolks--you'll be using them in the Vanilla Cream Filling.

Banana Pudding Pie (Southern Living)

1 (12-oz.) box vanilla wafers, divided
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 large bananas, sliced
Vanilla Cream Filling (recipe below)
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar

Set aside 30 vanilla wafers; pulse remaining vanilla wafers in a food processor 8 to 10 times or until coarsely crushed. (Yield should be about 2 1/2 cups.) Stir together crushed vanilla wafers and butter until blended. Firmly press on bottom, up sides, and onto lip of a 9-inch pieplate.

Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack, and let cool 30 minutes or until completely cool.

Arrange banana slices evenly over bottom of crust. Prepare Vanilla Cream Filling, and spread half of hot filling over bananas; top with 20 vanilla wafers. Spread remaining hot filling over vanilla wafers. (Filling will be about 1/4 inch higher than top edge of crust.)

Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves. Spread meringue evenly over hot filling, sealing the edges.

Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let cool 1 hour on a wire rack or until completely cool. Coarsely crush remaining 10 vanilla wafers, and sprinkle evenly over top of pie. Chill 4 hours.

Vanilla Cream Filling

3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
4 egg yolks
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk together first 5 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 8 to 10 minutes or until it reaches the thickness of chilled pudding. (Mixture will just begin to bubble and will be thick enough to hold soft peaks when whisk is lifted.) Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Use immediately.

More Casseroles...

This must be the month of casseroles! Until recently I had never heard of Turkey Tetrazzini or Chicken Tetrazzini. After the holidays I used leftover turkey for the Turkey Tetrazzini casserole and recently found one for chicken. While making this I was slightly worried about the lack of flavor since there isn't much sauce to speak of, but it was full of flavor. The almond slivers add a wonderful crunch factor. The original recipe called for Sherry, but I only had vermouth and used that. It was a pretty strong taste, in a good way, but next time I think I'll use white wine. I served this with a side Southern Green Beans as something different than salad. We make these green beans quite a lot!

Chicken Tetrazzini (Southern Living)

3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
(10-ounce) container refrigerated Alfredo sauce
1 (3 1/2-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
7 ounces vermicelli, cooked

Stir together chicken, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and next 7 ingredients; stir in pasta. Spoon mixture into 6 lightly greased 6-ounce baking dishes or an 11- x 7-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Southern Green Beans (Rachel Ray)

1 1/4 pounds green beans
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar

Cook green beans in 1-inch simmering water, covered, for 6 minutes. Drain and set aside. Return skillet to stove and set burner to medium high. Add bacon and brown. When fat begins to render, add chopped onions to the pan and cook until tender with the bacon. Add cooked green beans to the pan and turn to coat in bacon drippings and onions. When the beans are hot and bacon crisp at edges and onions translucent add vinegar to the pan and season with beans with sugar. Allow the vinegar to evaporate and the sugar to combine with pan drippings, 1 to 2 minutes, then serve.

My favorite thing to cook...

Lasagna! It's quite ironic I love lasagna now. When I was about 7 years old I remember eating lasagna at the beach right before we loaded up the van to come back home. A stomach bug was being passed around our family and later that night I came down with. It took many years for me to be able to eat any pasta with cheese in it. And slowly almost 20 years later I've learned to love it. It's almost like an art layering the noodles, cheese and sauce. It's so hearty and the perfect comfort food.

I've made several versions of lasagna and we have two favorites. This is the veggie lasagna I first made for Ben's 27th birthday party when we hosted our family and friends over. It was a huge hit and even Ben who was a little skeptical of meatless lasagna loves it.

Hearty Vegetable Lasagna (Allrecipes)

1 (16 ounce) package lasagna noodles
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 (26 ounce) jars pasta sauce
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 (15 ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Rinse with cold water, and drain.

In a large saucepan, cook and stir mushrooms, green peppers, onion, and garlic in oil. Stir in pasta sauce and basil; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.
Mix together ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, and eggs.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread 1 cup tomato sauce into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Layer 1/2 each, lasagna noodles, ricotta mix, sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering, and top with remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese.
Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Quiche Lorraine

I remember the first time I'd ever had the award winning West End dining hall at Virginia Tech. It was one of my favorite meals...quiche and salad...the perfect hearty lunch right before the lazy afternoon nap. I finally found a recipe that duplicates that quiche and also tastes pretty close to the Biltmore's quiche recipe you'd find in the Stable's Cafe.

Make sure you don't drain the bacon grease and go ahead and cook the onions in the grease. I think it's the secret ingredient.

Quiche Lorraine (Allrecipes)

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie
6 slices bacon
1 onion, chopped
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).

Line pastry with a double layer of aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 4 to 5 minutes more, or until crust is set. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Remove bacon from pan, crumble and set aside. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon grease in skillet. Cook onion in reserved drippings until tender; drain and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk and salt. Stir in bacon and onion. In a separate bowl, toss cheese and flour together. Add cheese to egg mixture; stir well. Pour mixture into hot pastry shell.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. If necessary, cover edges of crust with foil to prevent burning. Let quiche cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Meal Fit for A King...and Queen!

This past weekend we bought a new grill... and what better way to break it in than with the ultimate steak...filet mignon. Ben did a supberb job with the steaks. He wrapped them in peppercorn crusted bacon, seasoned them with salt and pepper...then grilled them over charcoal. I made ultimate baked potatoes, complete with more bacon and loads of pepperjack and sharp cheddar cheese. For the greens, I made one of favorite asparagus dishes...Lemon Asparagus. It's one of my Rachel Ray favorites and dresses up any dish.

To finish off our meal, I made a special request from Ben out of my new Perfect Scoop Ice Cream recipe book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is an ice cream fanatic. It has flavors of ice cream you can make with your home ice cream maker that you can't find any where else...such as Guinness-Milk Chocolate Ice Cream.

Lemon Asparagus

1 lb asparagus, trimmed
1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Steam asparagus in 1 inch of water in a saute pan for 5-6 minutes. Drain water, add olive oil, juice of the lemon, salt and pepper.

Guinness-Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

7 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Guinness Stout
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the chocolate pieces in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.

Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. In a seperate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as your stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer over the milk chocolate, then stir until the chocolate is melted over low heat. Once the mixture is smooth, whisk in the cream, then the Guinness and vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refridgerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer instructions.