Monday, April 30, 2012

Tres Leches Cake

I wish I could follow the title of this post with a bunch of little hearts because I love this cake so much. Something about a cake soaked in a mixture that contains 3 types of milks (Tres Leches), sweetened condensed milk (which I could each straight up with a spoon, YUM!), evaporated milk (love it in my tea when I have it around), and heavy cream, just does something for me.

With Cinco De Mayo just around the corner, I thought I'd share this delicious cake with you.


Tres Leches Cake
~serves 12~

For the Tres Leches Mixture:
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 c. heavy cream
1 t. vanilla extract
For the Cake
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 c. 2% milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
For the whipped cream topping
1 c. heavy cream
3 T. corn syrup
1 t. vanilla extract

1. For the Tres Leches mixture: Place the sweetened condensed milk into a large microwave safe bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on low power (I chose 30% power) stirring and replacing the plastic wrap every 3-5 minutes, until the milk thickens and darkens slightly, 9-15 minutes total. (you are kind of making dulce de leche.) Whisk in the evaporated milk, 1 c. heavy cream and 1 t. vanilla extract. Cover and set aside, cool to room temperature.

2. Make the cake: Grease and flour a 13x9 inch baking dish. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 325 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat butter and milk together in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts, set aside to cool slighlty while preparing the cake.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add eggs. Beat at medium speed for about 30 second. Slowly add in the sugar. Increase the heat to medium high and beat until very thick and glossy, 5-7 minutes. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the butter/milk mixture and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as necessary. Then mix at medium speed for 30 seconds to fully incorporate. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.

4. Using a skewer, poke holes all over the cake at 1/2 inch intervals. Slowly pour the tres leches mixture all over the cake. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours prior to frosting the cake.

5. Remove the cake from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Beat the remaining 1 c. heavy cream, corn syrup and 1 t. vanilla to soft peaks. Spread evenly over cake. (Cake can be assembled up to 3 days ahead of when you want to serve it.

Recipe Source: Adapted slightly from Cook's Country Magazine.

Flour Tortillas

Do you ever just have the desire to open up a package of supermarket tortillas and eat one straight outta the bag?

Of course you don't.

Because they don't taste very good.

When I was growing up I was lucky enough to have a mom that made tortillas from scratch whenever we had soft tacos. They were soft and flavorful with a distinct floury texture that supermarket tortillas just can't even begin to match. These were something of a kid-comfort food for me. I still remember when I was in kindergarten and we were asked to draw pictures of our favorite foods, I drew a yellowish circle, representing my beloved tortillas and I can still remember getting my paper back with a question mark next to my drawing because my teacher couldn't make out what I drew. (Ha!) I loved to eat them fresh with butter and I even recall a time or two requesting she make them when I was sick and didn't have much of an appetite. I wonder if tortillas were even widely available in supermarkets when I was growing up (in the 80's), because it almost seems strange to me in retrospect that my mom always made them from scratch.

But I am really glad that my childhood experience enlightened me on the simple pleasure of eating homemade flour tortillas. After I was married I was eager to share this experience with my new family and begin making my own homemade tortillas.

If you are the least bit intimidated by the thought of making these, don't be. This is literally the easiest dough you can work with. It is so forgiving, when it comes to the process of rolling out the tortillas into rounds. The only thing your may have trouble with might be making perfect circles. But no worries, the rustic appearance just means everyone will see how amazing you are for making your own homemade flour tortillas.

Flour Tortillas
~makes about 14-16~

Note* When stacking the rolled tortillas on a plate prior to cooking, be sure to sprinkle flour between the layers,(then using your hand gently rub the flour to spread it into a thin even layer) to prevent the tortillas from sticking to each other when you go to cook them.

4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
6 T. vegetable shortening
luke warm water
vegetable oil

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add shortening and using your fingers, rub the shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Add in water, a little at a time stirring after each addition until the dough comes together. (I used a little more than a cup of water.)

2. Briefly knead the dough until it comes together in a firm ball. Pinch off pieces of dough in the palm of your hand and roll into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Place dough balls on a plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel.

3. Roll out tortillas: On a floured surface, place a dough ball and flatten into a disk using the palm of your hand. Roll into a round, 8-10 inches in diameter. (Sprinkling with flour and flouring the rolling pin as needed to prevent sticking.) Place rolled tortilla on a plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining balls of dough. Stack the rolled tortillas on top of each other sprinkling a little flour between the layers of tortillas (then using your hand gently rub the flour to spread it into a thin even layer) to prevent them from sticking to each other. 

4. Heat 1/2 t. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Using paper towel, carefully wipe the oil out of the skillet (a very thin layer should be left behind). Add a tortilla and cook on the first side, until bubbles appear evenly over the surface of the tortilla and it is just browning on the underside, about a minute. Flip the tortilla and cook on the second side, about another minute. Tortilla should puff when you flip it. Remove to a plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining tortillas. (You won't need to add any more oil.) 

5. Enjoy. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ham Pancakes

This is not really an appetizing title for this yummy breakfast treat. Of all the things about blogging, titling some of these recipes is the one thing I am willing to throw up my hands with and admit, "I just can't". I just don't know what else to call it. It tastes good, that's what matters, right?


It's time for a confession. A bacon confession to be more precise, and it's not all that nice. You know how you see all these recipes nowadays for stuff like bacon cupcakes, bacon cookies, candies, ice cream, doughnuts, etc., etc... Any and all manner of  bacony confections you can think up, it seems to be out there. Here's my confession, none of these things sound good to me at all. Maybe somebody needs to convince me because I'll also admit I have not tried a single one of these things. I need to challenge my self to make a bacon cake or something, maybe then I won't be such a hater.

There is one place however where sugar and salt intersect that is as old as time and is, in this girl's opinion, the most delicious way it's done and that is on the breakfast plate.

~Syrup and bacon~

~Syrup and sausage~

~Syrup and ham~

(I will digress so far as to say that I am  intrigued by recipes I've seen for candied bacon.)

My mom used to make these pancakes every now and again when I was a little girl and I've been singing the praises of her "pancakes with cubed ham in the batter" to my husband for the majority of our 12 year marriage. But once again, the lazy breakfast line cook in me has never gotten around to making it for him.

Until today.

It was fun to put this together for the family this morning. And everyone raved about it.

Everyone, that is, except my youngest, who is still in the "none of my foods can ever be touching" phase. He got the deconstructed ham pancakes version of the recipe (pancakes with ham on the side).

Ham Pancakes
~servings vary~

Note* This is kinda more an idea, than a literal recipe.You can use your favorite pancake mix (my family's favorite is Snoqualamie Falls Lodge Old Fashioned Pancake and Waffle Mix. Not sure if it is widely available, it's made here in Seattle) or pancake recipe.

1. Your favorite pancake mix (or recipe), prepared according to package instructions
2. Ham, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (for my recipe this morning I used 3c. pancake mix (15-18 pancakes according to package) and a little over 1 c. diced ham)
3. Syrup and butter, whatever you like to put on your pancakes

Make pancakes as you usually would. After pouring batter onto your hot griddle, sprinkle the diced ham on top of the uncooked pancake side (as little or as much as you like). Continue with the recipe as you would with regular pancakes.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

This recipe is an oldie. I started making it about 10 years ago when I was a new mom and still kinda a newly-wed. It was fun as a new cook to throw together these kind of simple recipes. I went through a long  phase where I was always on the lookout for a good casserole. Eventually as my cooking skills improved I made recipes like this less and less. Now I rarely make these kind of canned soup concoctions.  And I didn't make this recipe in particular for at least 4 or 5 years. But it's turned out to be a perennial favorite, for my oldest son in particular, who loves it!

Let's face it, this is grub food. It's not fancy, it's not complex (and it didn't photograph very well). But it's a great recipe that can be quickly put together that will fill up the hungry bellies in your family.

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas
~serves 6-8~

Note* This recipe calls for 4 cups of cooked chicken. I usually use 3 large chicken breasts (about 1 3/4 lb.), which I season with salt and pepper and then poach in about 2 cups of water in a large skillet (covered) for about 20 minutes over medium heat, turning once halfway through the cooking (first I bring the water and seasoned chicken to a simmer over medium high heat). You could also use leftover chicken from another recipe or even leftover turkey.

10 flour tortillas
4 c. coarsely chopped chicken 
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 (7 oz.) can chopped green chiles
4 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 c. plus 1 c. sour cream
8 oz. (2 c.) package shredded mexican cheese blend 
Salsa, for serving (optional)

1. Move oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13x9 inch baking dish with cooking spray, set aside.

2. In a large bowl mix together soup, chiles (I don't bother draining the chiles), cream cheese and 1/2 c. sour cream. Mix in the chopped chicken. Using a half cup measure, portion out the filling between the tortillas. Roll up and place seam-side down in the baking dish.

3. In a medium bowl, mix together remaining 1 c. sour cream and the cheese. Evenly spread this over the enchiladas. Bake, uncovered 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and slightly browned. Sometimes I will put the casserole under the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the top a little more. (Careful if using a pyrex pan under the broiler.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cuban Panini

Ok so.... I am posting another sandwich. I think ever since it hit me that April is National Grilled Cheese Month I have had hot and cheesy sandwiches on the brain. This time it's a cuban panini. I often say that my panini press is my favorite of all my non-essential cookware. I love how you can cram so much stuff into a roll, grill it in the panini press and it comes out all neat and compact, and the bread is nice and crispy. You can really put almost anything in a panini and it comes out alright. My hubby and I were just discussing what the weirdest thing we ever put in our panini, I think his putting leftover chicken teriyaki (leftover steamed broccoli included) might be the strangest one ever done in our house.

Anyway, I purposely picked up an extra-large roast the other day when I made pork roast so I could make these sandwiches. If you've never had a cuban sandwich before you should really give one a try.

Cuban Panini
~serves 4~

Note* You'll have to forgive me, I forgot to weigh the sliced pork so I could tell you how much you need for this recipe, but if I had to make a guess, I'd probably estimate 1/2 - 3/4 lb. leftover cooked pork should be enough.
Note** If you don't own a panini press, you can get a similar effect by grilling the sandwiches in a skillet with a tiny bit of oil or butter and placing a second skillet or a dutch oven on top of the sandwich to weigh it down as it cooks. 

1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 T. yellow mustard
4 sub rolls, split in half
3 large pickles sliced, excess moisture blotted away with paper towel
leftover cooked pork, thinly sliced
4 slices of deli ham (I prefer black forest)
6 deli slices of swiss cheese

1. Mix together mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl, set aside. Preheat your panini grill while assembling the sandwiches.

2. Spread about 1 T. mayo-mustard mixture on each half of the split rolls. Layer the pickles, roasted pork, ham and swiss cheese evenly between each roll. 

3. Grill each panini 5-7 miuntes until hot all the way through. Let sit for 2 or 3 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monte Cristo Sandwiches

When I was a kid there were two breakfast dishes that I almost always ordered whenever I went out to breakfast with my family. And those two dishes were 1. Eggs Benedict and 2. the Monte Cristo sandwich. Now I don't mean to toot my own horn or anything but I think those are pretty adventurous dishes for a child.

Needless to say, my love of food started early.

A Monte Cristo sandwich combines so many yummy flavors. It's a little bit french toast and a little bit grilled cheese and it is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Usually, these sammies are either served with maple syrup or strawberry jam. I like to make mine just a little bit more on the savory side by mixing together strawberry jam with a little dijon mustard.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches
~makes 4 sandwiches~

Note*I toasted the bread before I made these sandwiches, in the hopes that it would prevent the bread from becoming soggy when dipped in the egg mixture. Because whole wheat bread is heartier than white bread I found this step unnecessary. If I were using white bread I probably would toast the bread beforehand.
1/2 c. strawberry jam
2 T. dijon mustard
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T. milk
2 T. flour
8 slices of bread (I used whole wheat here but white is more traditional, see note above)
8 thin deli slices of swiss cheese
4 thin slices of ham
4 thin slices of turkey
2 T. butter
powdered sugar (for serving)

1. For the sauce: Mix together the strawberry jam and dijon mustard in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Place the eggs in a wide, shallow dish. Whisk together the milk and flour, then add to the eggs along with a pinch of salt. Mix together thoroughly.

3. Spread each slice of bread with about a teaspoon of the strawberry-mustard sauce. Divide the cheese and meat evenly between each sandwich beginning and ending with a slice of cheese.

4. Melt 1 T. butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working with one sandwich at a time, dip both sides in the egg mixture. When the butter is foaming, add the sandwich and immediately dip another sandwich in the egg mixture and place in the pan with the first sandwich. Cook each sandwich until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side.

5. Wipe out the skillet using paper towel. Repeat step 4 with the remaining sandwiches and 1 T. butter.

6. Serve with powdered sugar and remaining sauce.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Old Fashioned Pork Roast and Gravy ~ My Mama's Recipe

I am so excited about this post because not only am I posting another one of my Mom's great recipes, she was actually in the kitchen to share in the experience of cooking it with me.

My mom was such a great cook that when I was growing up, all our friends from the neighborhood would clamor at the opportunity to eat dinner at our house. It was great and let me tell you, my mom earned a certain level of respect from the neighborhood kids, especially from all my brother's friends, that lent credulity to the old saying that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach". I learned from a young age, that statement is most definitely true.

I have cooked all sorts of ways through the years and I even had times of rebellion against my mom's cooking. Believing that my mom's cooking was overly-simplistic and therefor a more fussy and complicated recipe, with a longer ingredient list must be the superior one. And as I've grown older (and hopefully wiser), I know that this just isn't always the truth.  Plus I think that anybody who was lucky enough to have mother who could cook knows, there are just certain dishes that no other recipe can hold a candle to the way that Mom made it.

I love this particular recipe because not only is it delicious, it's extremely affordable (I paid only $1.49 a pound for this roast), and it's the kind of "Sunday dinner" style comforting fare that is worthy of even a holiday meal (I have served this as Easter dinner). Also it makes great leftovers (especially sandwiches).

I was glad, in particular to have my mom in the kitchen with me on this one because she was there to coach me on the gravy. When I was growing up my Mom always made gravy using water. For some reason, I cannot help myself wanting to use canned chicken broth when I am making gravy. I don't always love it, but I just can't help it for some reason, I am afraid there won't be enough flavor even though I know my Mom's method works.... So glad I did it her way, it is the best.

As I get older, I cherish the opportunity to learn all I can about the food I grew up with.

Old Fashioned Pork Roast and Gravy ~ My Mama's Recipe

Note* You can use any pork roast you want for this recipe. I prefer to use a more inexpensive cut of pork (I used pork shoulder here). It is good if the roast has at least a thin layer of fat on top so you will be sure to get enough drippings to make the gravy. I used a pretty large roast here (6 1/2 lbs.) because I wanted to have leftovers to use in other dishes but you could go as small as 3 lb. and use the same method, the cooking time will just vary.
**I like to serve this with boiled potatoes and either steamed green beans or roasted brussel sprouts, like I did here. I made the brussel sprouts by taking halved, trimmed brussel sprouts, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees until browned and tender, about 30 minutes.

Pork Roast (see note above)
garlic powder
salt and pepper
4 T. flour
2 c. water

1. With the oven rack in the middle position, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pat pork roast dry with paper towel and sprinkle liberally with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place in a 13x9 inch baking dish (or you could us a roasting pan).

2. Roast pork until the internal temperature registers 145 degrees, when checked with a thermometer in several places (for my 6 1/2 lb. roast, this took around 3 hours). Transfer the roast to a serving platter and cover loosely with foil, set aside while making the gravy.

3. To make the gravy: Add the water to the baking dish, being sure to scrape the browned bits form the bottom of the pan. Remove the liquid to a fat separator. Separate the fat from the liquid. Alternately, if you don't have a fat separator you can poor the fat out of the pan first then poor the water into the pan and scrape up the bits.

4. In a medium saucepan add 4 T. fat and whisk in the flour. Cook over medium heat for a couple minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor. Slowly whisk in the liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute to thicken. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Skillet Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs

What if I told you that you could have spaghetti and meatballs on your table in under an hour and you'd only have to dirty one pan to make them?


This recipe will change your life.

That is, if you love spaghetti and meatballs but always thought they were too much of a hassle to put in the weeknight dinner rotation.

I love spaghetti!

A lot.

Skillet Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs
~serves 4~

2 slices of bread, crusts removes and bread torn into chunks
1/4 c. buttermilk
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 egg yolk
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 T. minced fresh parsley
1/4 t. dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 lb. (93% lean ground turkey
2 T. olive oil
26 oz. spaghetti sauce of choice (about 3 c.)
2 c. water
8 oz. thin spaghetti, broken in half
2 T. minced fresh basil

1. In a large bowl, mash together the bread and buttermilk with a fork until a paste forms. Add in 1/3c. parmesan, egg yolk, garlic, parsley oregano,1/2 t. salt and 1/8 t. pepper. Mix well. Add in the ground turkey. Using your hands mix until well combined.

2. Form into approximate 1 inch meatballs (about 2 T. meat mixture per meatball). Heat olive oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over high heat until the oil shimmers. Add meatballs and cook until well-browned on one side, 1-2 minutes. Gently turn meatballs and brown briefly on the second side. Remove meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Pour off the oil in the skillet (but leave behind any browned bits).

3. Lower the heat to medium-high. To the empty skillet add the tomato sauce, water, spaghetti and 1/2 t. salt.  Cover and cook, stirring often (watching and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively simmer),until the spaghetti begins to soften and bend, about 8 minutes.

4. Nestle the meatballs down into the simmering pasta and sauce, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, gently stirring (and scraping the bottom of the skillet to keep it from sticking), until the spaghetti is al dente and the meatballs are cooked through, about another 8 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the basil. Serve with extra parmesan cheese.

Recipe source: adapted slightly from The Best 30-Minute Recipe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Tomato

I can't believe I got over halfway through the month before it sunk in that April is National Grilled Cheese month!

Thank goodness I still have time to redeem myself. So let's go...

Grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches will forever have a memory association for me of being at a Grateful Dead  show right after I finished high school.  Like literally everyone came directly there right after graduation.  We spent the entire weekend there in that big ol' community campout area and it was one wild weekend (if you ever went to one then you know...).

I remember during the day, walking around the campsites and cool people would be selling grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches made on camp stoves and sell for like $1. You could get cheap banana pancakes in the mornings and grilled cheese and tomato in the afternoon. They tasted so good after a night of extreme festivities.

Such fun memories from that weekend!

Anyway, I have some fool-proof methods for you, if you want to make the perfect grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and they are this:

1. The most important one is dealing with the tomatoes: you need to get rid of some of the moisture in the tomatoes, nobody likes a soggy grilled cheese sandwich. This is what I do. I slice the tomato about 1/4 inch thick and season both sides with kosher salt. Then I lay the tomato on a triple layer of paper towel, and cover them with another triple layer of paper towel. I then put a lightweight baking sheet on top of the tomatoes to further press them. I let them sit at least 10 min. Then the tomatoes are well seasoned and ready to use!

2. The cheese: I am a firm believer that shredded cheese makes for the best grilled cheese. More specifically, medium cheddar shredded on the large holes of a box grater. (No pre-grated cheese from a sack please.) Shredded as opposed to sliced makes for a more evenly melted and creamy grilled cheese sandwich every time.

3. Softened, salted butter. I use unsalted butter for everything but toast, rolls and grilled cheese. Important in  this gal's opinion.

4. Lastly, don't rush it. Slow and steady wins the race. The longer you let it cook, the crispier it will be on the outside and creamier it will be on the inside.

If you follow these methods I promise you will be enjoying a seriously delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Classic Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwich
~makes 1 sandwich~

2 slices of whole wheat bread (or whatever bread you like)
2-4 (1/4 inch thick) slices of tomato
kosher salt
1/2 c. (approximate) shredded medium cheddar cheese
1 T. salted butter, softened

1. Sprinkle both sides of the tomato with salt (just as much as you would like them seasoned). Place tomato slices on a triple-thick layer of paper towel. Cover with another triple-thick layer of paper towel. Place a lightweight baking sheet on the tomatoes and let the tomatoes drain for at least 10 minutes.

2. Heat a nonstick skillet (10 inch or 12 inch) over medium low heat while preparing the sandwich

3. On one slice of bread layer half the cheese, the salted tomato slices, then the other half of the cheese. Place the second slice of bread on top. Spread the top bread slice with half the butter. 

4. Place the sandwich in the hot skillet, buttered side down and spread the remaining butter over the other side of the sandwich. Cook over medium to medium-low heat about 10 minutes per side, until the sandwich is toasty brown and the cheese is ooey gooey.

5. Remove the sandwich from the pan and let sit for 3-5 minutes to let the cheese set a little (so it doesn't ooze out everywhere when you cut it). Cut however you like, or don't.

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese and Chives

This morning I was craving some more of that Frittata with Ham, Cream Cheese and Chives I made over the weekend. But alas, it was all gone. I did however have all the fixins to reproduce the flavors so I decided to make a scramble.

 Can you keep a secret? I liked this ridiculously simple scrambled egg dish better than it's fussier cousin that made it's appearance over the weekend.

If you have never had eggs scrambled with cream cheese, you need to ASAP! I have never had such lovely, creamy and delicious scrambled eggs. The chives were a dream and I made up a quick cherry tomato salad to freshen things up a bit.

I'm telling you..... Breakfast heaven!

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese and Chives
~makes 1 serving~

1 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lowfat cream cheese separated into smallish chunks (1/2 - 3/4 inch)
2 t. fresh minced chives
1 1/2 t.unsalted butter

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Season eggs lightly with salt and pepper. Add in the cream cheese and gently stir. Add the eggs to the skillet and using a heat-proof spatula stir the eggs, adding the chives just as the eggs begin to set up. Scramble to desired doneness.

*To make the tomato salad: Cut about 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes in half. In a small bowl add cherry tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, a couple drops of red wine vinegar, a tiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a light sprinkle  of salt and pepper. Set this aside to blend the flavors while preparing the eggs. (I also added a sprinkle of  fresh chives.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chocolate Chunk, Oatmeal, Pecan Cookie Bars

I don't do a whole lot of baking. But I am intrigued by the idea of baking things in a healthy way. It can be a challenge to reduce fats and replace ingredients like white flour with whole wheat, so when it can be successfully done, I love it. One of the things I have recently learned is the virtues of browned butter. Browning butter intensifies its buttery flavor enabling you to use less of it. Such a lovely thing!

One of my families baked goods weaknesses is definitely cookies. Gosh I love cookies. The chewy-salty-sweet yumminess of a home baked cookie makes me weak in the knees. I made chocolate chip cookies a few weeks ago and was craving them again but I was having a battle of wills inside myself over indulging in all those butter calories again. That is how this recipe was born.

Now I am not claiming that this is a healthy recipe, but based on a standard cookie recipe, I did manage to cut the butter in half. I figured I needed to compensate for some of the moisture this was removing so I added a little bit of lowfat sour cream and an extra egg white. I also replaced over half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. 

Loaded with dark chocolate chunks, toasted pecans and oatmeal. These are still a decadent cookie for sure, but maybe one you can feel just a little bit better about eating.

Chocolate Chunk, Oatmeal, Pecan Cookie Bars

Note* When browning butter, be sure to use a stainless steel pan. A dark nonstick surface will make it impossible to tell when the butter browns.

1 stick unsalted butter
1 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 egg 
1 egg white
1/4 c. lowfat sour cream
1 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
10 oz. package dark chocolate chunks
1 c. pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 c. old-fashioned oatmeal
nonstick cooking spray

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13x9 inch baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk together flours, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl, set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a stainless steel, medium skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat until the butter turns golden-brown and has a nutty aroma, about 3-5 minutes. (Be sure to watch the butter carefully, it goes from browned to burnt in seconds.)

4. Add the butter to a large bowl along with sugars and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Add the egg, egg white and sour cream. Vigorously whisk this mixture for 30 seconds  then let rest for 3 minutes, whisk again for 30 seconds and rest again for 3 minutes, repeat this step once more. (This is done to ensure that the sugar melts, and helps make the bars chewy.) 

5.Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until most of the way combined. Add in chocolate chunks, pecans and oatmeal. Mix to thoroughly combined. 

6. Pat into prepared pan. (The cookie dough will be sticky, it helps to use wax paper or even a plastic bag over your hand to keep it from sticking to your hands.) Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Remove from baking dish and cut into squares.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Frittata with Ham, Cream Cheese and Chives

I feel like patting myself on the back today for getting up and making my family a hot breakfast. Ok, I'll admit it was more like brunch than breakfast, but who cares? My people got more than a banquet of toast and cereal today.

I was thinking this morning that we just may be one of the world's most lazy weekend families around. It's an accomplishment for us if we even get dressed before evening hits. I'm not exactly proud if this fact but oh well, that's just how we roll.

Actually, we do have a little bit of an excuse. A few years ago my husband started working nights and as a family we all started to gravitate towards being late night people. In the summertime it gets kinda insane and we basically become nocturnal. It's not typical, but we get to spend more time with Dad and that's what counts.

Frittata with Ham, Cream Cheese and Chives
~serves 6~

Note* This recipe uses a total of 12 eggs, 6 whole eggs and 6 egg whites. You could also use 6 eggs and 3/4 c. store-bought egg whites.
Note** If your skillet doesn't have a oven-proof handle you can get around this by wrapping the handle with a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil.

12 egg whites
6 egg yolks
2 T. minced fresh chives
3 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese 
4 oz. chopped ham
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter

1. Adjust the oven rack so it is about 6 inches from the broiler element. Heat the broiler. In a medium bowl beat the eggs with chives salt and pepper. 

2. Separate the cream cheese into about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch chunks. I did this by using 2 spoons, one spoon to scoop of small portions of cream cheese, and a second spoon to scrape it off the first spoon into the bowl with the eggs. Stir gently to combine.

3. Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet with a oven-proof handle over medium-high heat, add the ham and brown lightly. Reduce the heat to medium and add the eggs. Using a heat proof spatula stir the eggs around until large wet curds form, about 1-2 minutes. Shake the pan to evenly distribute the eggs. Leave the pan on the heat, with out stirring for 1-2 minutes until beginning to brown on the bottom.

4. Transfer the pan to the oven and broil until the frittata is puffy and spotty brown, 3-4 minutes. Remove pan for broiler and let stand about 3 minutes to finish setting up. Carefully slide frittata onto a cutting board or serving platter and cut into wedges.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Asian Chicken and Spinach Salad

The summer months are just around the corner. Which means it's time to exchange some of those heartier meals for some lighter more refreshing ones. I love main dish salads. They are filling without being heavy. As is the case with this Asian Chicken and Spinach Salad. Loaded with fresh, vibrant veggies, tender poached chicken and a flavorful dressing, this salad makes for a satisfying meal.

Asian Chicken and Spinach Salad
~serves 4~

Note* If your family eats in shifts like mine often does, or you aren't planning to eat it all at once, keep the salad components separate until your are ready to eat it.

For the dressing (makes just over a cup)
6 T. rice vinegar
3 T. creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 T. hoisin sauce
1 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. toasted sesame oil
3/4 t. chili-garlic paste (or you could substitute with your favorite hot sauce)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 t. grated fresh ginger
1/3 c. canola oil
1 1/2 T. toasted sesame seeds
For the chicken
1 c. water
1/4 c. low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 c. mirin (sweet rice wine)
4 (1/8 inch thick) slices of ginger 
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Remaining salad ingredients
6 oz. package baby spinach
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded (about 1 c.)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchstick pieces
3/4 c. shelled edamame
11 oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1/3 c. sliced almonds, toasted

1. Make the dressing. In a blender combine all the dressing ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Blend until well combined. Add the sesame seeds, pulse two or three more times. Pour into a small bowl and set aside until ready to use.

2. Poach the chicken. In a large skillet combine all the ingredients for the chicken. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the chicken over, cover and gently simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. (Adjusting heat as necessary to keep the chicken at a gentle simmer, a hard boil will produce tough chicken.) Remove chicken from poaching liquid and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly. Toss with a spoonful or two of the dressing.

3. Finish the salad. Combine all the vegetable components in a large bowl, add the dressing and toss gently to combine. Divide salad onto individual plates, top with chicken and toasted almonds.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pretzel Chicken

I have had a real thing for pretzels lately. Ever scince I tried this recipe for Chocolate Chunk Pretzel Cookies from The Naptime Chef. I discovered and was impressed by the way that pretzels could hold their crispy texture after being baked in a cookie (even after a few days). So I started to think about what else I could do with a pretzel, and I came up with this recipe for pretzel chicken.

And what goes beautifully with savory pretzels? Mustard of course. But I wanted something a little more tame than just putting straight mustard on my chicken, so I created this sauce with sour cream, a little mayo and just a touch of sugar to smooth the whole thing out. And let me just say, if you are a mustard lover like myself, this sauce is BONKERS!

All that was needed to make this a complete meal was some simply cooked green beans and it was good to go. And just a little side note, the mustard sauce is amazing with the green beans too.

Pretzel Chicken
~serves 4~

For the mustard sauce
1/3 c. lowfat sour cream
2 T. spicy brown mustard
1 T. mayonnaise
1/2 t. sugar
For the chicken and green beans
4 chicken cutlets, or 4 small chicken breasts
6 oz. pretzels (I used regular standard size twists)
1 T. canola oil
1/8 t. garlic powder
1/8 t. onion powder
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 T. spicy brown mustard
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 lb green beans, trimmed
cooking spray 
salt and pepper
minced fresh chives (optional)

1. Make the mustard sauce. Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce. Refrigerate while preparing the chicken and green beans.

2. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees with the oven rack in the middle position. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray and place over a large, rimmed baking sheet.

3. In a food processor, grind the pretzels until coarsely ground. About 12-14 pulses. (Some of the pretzels will be finely ground, the larger pieces should be about the size of lentils.) In one of three shallow dishes (pie plates work well), add the pretzel crumbs along with the canola oil, garlic powder and onion powder. Mix well. 

4. In the second shallow dish, mix together the egg whites and 1 T. mustard. In the third shallow dish place the flour.

5. Meanwhile,cook the green beans. In a large pan, bring 6 c. of water to a boil. Add 2 t. salt and green beans. Cover and cook for 5 minutes (or until desired doneness). Drain and toss with a little olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

6. Pat the chicken dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Dredge each chicken cutlet in the flour and tap off the excess. Using tongs, dip each piece of chicken in the egg mixture and transfer to the pretzel crumb mixture. Coat each piece of chicken well, pressing on the pretzel crumbs to make sure they adhere. Lay the chicken on the prepared wire rack. Spray each piece of chicken lightly with cooking spray. 

7. Bake the chicken until cooked through, (160-165 degrees) about 15 minutes. Serve chicken and green beans with the mustard sauce. Garnish with fresh chives, if desired. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Moroccan Chickpea and Vegetable Soup

Uncle! I am officially crying uncle today. Somebody get me some wholesome food, STAT!

I  think I have an Easter goodies hangover.

My mom makes the most ridiculously delicious baked beans. Basically, what she does is take a couple of cans of baked beans and adds 1 1/2 packages (count them) of bacon that she cooks and crumbles. Then she adds in cooked onions, garlic powder, a good squeeze of ketchup and lets the whole things cook together on the stove top for a while. It is ridiculous!

I wish sometimes I were one of those people who could add 1 1/2 packages of bacon to something I'm cooking and not think there's something naughty about it.

But I should be glad I'm not the kind of person who does that, my waistline would not be very happy with me.

However, I am the kind of person who at holiday meal says to myself, "I never eat stuff like this at home, so it's okay if I have second and thirds and fourths, it's allll goood!"

Plus I'm pretty sure that in my household of four I ranked second when it came to who ate the most Easter candy.

By the end of the night last night I was somewhere between diabetic shock and becoming a human salt-lick.

I felt the need to atone for my evil ways today.

Moroccan Chickpea and Vegetable Soup
~serves 6~

1 T. canola oil
1 onion, minced
1 t. sugar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. saffron threads, crumbled
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. cumin
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
2 (15 oz.) cans chickpeas, rinsed
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium carrot, rough chopped
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
4 c. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 c. baby spinach leaves, rough chopped (about 1/2 a 6 oz. package)
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
lemon wedges, for serving
salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion and sugar, cook stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Add in the garlic, paprika, saffron, ginger, cumin and cayenne pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

3. Add the chickpeas, potatoes, carrot, tomatoes (undrained) and broth. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the potato and carrot are tender, about 20 minutes. 

4. Add zucchini and spinach. Cook until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash some of the chickpeas and potatoes up against the side of the dutch oven. This will thicken up the soup. Season with salt and pepper. 

5. Ladle into soup bowl, sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.

Recipe adapted from: The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Deviled Eggs ~ My Mama's Recipe

I hope everyone had a nice Easter Sunday. I got to have it pretty easy this year. We went out to my parent's house for dinner. Typically the task of family meals falls to me. This has been the case for about a decade now. Which I do love, but sometimes it's nice to relax a little. And it was.

This evening I was talking with my best friend and we were reminiscing a little about our Easter traditions growing up. I loved Easter as a girl. Every year, Easter morning I'd wake up to a glorious basket that always had a cute stuffed bunny. There was even one year we got some baby bunnies and another year where we got some baby chicks. (Practical because I grew up on a farm.) Then there was always a frilly dress of some kind, complete with a bonnet to match. There was usually a visit from my grandparents and another cute stuffed bunny. Over the years I even started a bunny collection based on all my Easter bunnies.

Then there was the big dinner. We almost always had, and still have, ham on Easter Sunday.

My mom was (and is) such a great cook, it's a funny thing when the mantle gets passed down to the next generation. She called me a couple of times for cooking advice today. I feel pretty humbled when she comes to me though. I really felt growing up that my mom made the best food in the world. It is a great compliment for me when she comes to me now asking how to make something taste good.

So for the past years that I have been the official maker of the holiday meals, I'm in charge of the ham dinner now and my mom's job is to make deviled eggs. My mom makes, in my opinion the best deviled eggs. They are so simple it's barely even a recipe. Just eggs and mayonnaise pretty much, but so good.

This year we traded and my mom made the dinner and it was my job to bring the deviled eggs. 

Deviled Eggs (Mom's Recipe)
~makes 24~

12 large eggs
1/4 t. onion powder (optional)

1. Place eggs in a large dutch oven, add enough water to cover eggs by about an inch. Cover and bring to a full boil. Remove pan from heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain and cover eggs again in cold water to cool down. 

2. Peel and halve the eggs. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and mash with a fork to break the yolks up. Add onion powder (if using) and mayonnaise, a tablespoon or two at a time and mix well using a hand mixer. (Using a hand mixer is important to achieve the right, light,creamy consistency.) Keep adding mayonnaise and mixing until the consistency is light and smooth and you like.

3. You can just spoon the egg yolk mixture into the whites (this is how my mom does it). I like to take a large freezer bag, spoon the egg yolk mixture into the bag. Snip the corner of the bag and pipe the egg yolk back into the white. Garnish with paprika.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Oven-Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan and Poached Egg

I think eggs and asparagus go so well together. More specifically asparagus and egg yollk. It brings to my mind a similar taste experience to hollandaise, but a whole lot easier to prepare. I made this as a special breakfast for me and the husband this morning. I felt like indulging us a little, and it was like a mini break away from the kids. Them with their cereal, us with our asparagus and poached eggs.

So good, it deserves an extra photo.

Oven-Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan and Poached Egg
~serves 4~

1 lb. asparagus, tough ends snapped off
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes (optional)
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, a little or a lot, whatever you like
4 eggs
2 T. vinegar
lemon juice, for seasoning (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the asparagus on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flake. Roast asparagus until just tender and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes total. About 3 minutes before asparagus are finished, remove from oven and sprinkle with the parmesan. Place back in the oven to finish. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, poach the eggs. Fill a large nonstick skillet with water about 1/2 inch from the top. Add vinegar and 1 t. salt. Bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Remove from heat, as soon as the bubbles die down carefully crack the eggs into the hot water. Let eggs cook for 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove and drain the eggs. 

3. On each serving plate, divide the asparagus and top each with a poached egg. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vietnamese Banh Mi Steak Sandwich

Spring break is in full swing at my house. We are enjoying the proverbial "staycation" at the moment. These kind are ideal in some ways, but it can be a lot of work staying home with energetic kids.

 For instance:

I experienced complete mental taxation this afternoon was when my 7 year old came in to me with a huge, and I mean GIGANTIC spider that he caught while playing outside. He comes into me, smiling ear to ear like that spider is just the greatest thing ever. I tried to be a good sport about it but inside I think I was having a mini heart attack. (..mind over matter.. mind over matter..mind over matter..)

I flipping hate spiders!

So all day he had his spider box, lovingly collecting grasses and other little insects to add to it. While I tried to remain supportive and cautiously kept my distance. Thankfully the spider is back outside where he belongs now.

But other than that, today was an unexpectedly gorgeous day here. My husband got out and mowed the grass for the first time this year and we also pulled our patio furniture out of the garage. And that inspired me to make us an early dinner that we could all enjoy in the back yard together. Spring is in the air big time today and I love it!!

My happy countenance definitely helped this meal come to be.

 My kitchen was like an obstacle course this afternoon.

I had my 11 year old son working a delicate feat of lego brilliance all over the kitchen table.
While my little 7 year old shadow was running a restaurant right next to me, complete with setting up all kinds of little tables and props all throughout my kitchen.

And of course he needed to make food too.

On the prix fixe menu at Chez Jacob there were freshly peeled oranges, red grapes, pretzels and orange juice, (he is a man with a simple palate).

On a side note, he did make sure I was wearing my apron though, which I always seem to forget to do. So thanks for that, son.

To top things off, my 10 month old german loves to lay literally right under my feet when I am trying to prepare food. She has done this pretty much since the day we brought her home as a puppy. It's sweet...and annoying at the same time

My kitchen was in total chaos.

But in my heart I kept thinking, "this is what life's all about".

I couldn't have been happier.

Vietnamese Banh Mi Steak Sandwich
~serves 4~

For the pickled carrots and daikon radish
1/2 c. peeled, matchstick-cut carrots
1/2 c. peeled, matchstick-cut daikon radish
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. rice vinegar
1 T. sugar
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/8 t. red pepper flakes
For the spicy mayo
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 T. siracha hot sauce, or as much as you personally prefer, I like it fairly spicy
salt to taste
For the rest of the sandwich
1 baguette (I like to use a take 'n' bake baguette from the bakery of my local grocery store), split for sandwiches
1 lb. flank steak
salt & pepper
2 t. canola oil
english cucumber, sliced thin on an angle
cilantro leaves

1. Make the pickled carrots and daikon: Place carrots and daikon in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan combine water, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper flakes. Bring just to a simmer. Pour pickling liquid over the vegetables. Set aside while making the sandwich. (At least 30 minutes, longer if you can.)

2. Make the spicy mayo: Mix together ingredients for the spicy mayo, seasoning to taste with salt. Set aside.

3. Sear the steak: Pat the steak dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Add the steak and brown well on the first side, 3-5 minutes. Flip steak over and reduce the heat to medium, cook steak about 5-8 minutes longer (125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for medium rare). Transfer steak to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly.

4. Assemble sandwiches: Drain the pickled vegetables well. On each side of a roll, spread some of the spicy mayo. On the bottom half, add a layer of cucumber, then steak, then pickled vegetables, then cilantro, then top the top half of the roll. 

5. Dig in!