Sunday, October 31, 2010

Almond and Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Happy Halloween! We're getting ready for a big night of trick-or-treating with the kids tonight. We've got our 5 year-old dressing up as Shaggy and our 23 month-old dressing as Scooby-Doo. Since both boys are huge fans of Scooby-Doo, this year's theme was a no-brainer. I hope to be able to get some picture of the boys in their costumes posted here in the next week or so. In the meantime, though, I offer you some lovely brittle!

Nothing screams Halloween more than candy and pumpkins. This Almond and Pumpkin Seed Brittle is a very tasty little treat that would make a great snack for the trick-or-treaters, or their parents. We served it at a Halloween party that we helped out with yesterday at my in-laws'. It's great finger food, and the guests seemed to enjoy it.

Now, I have to confess something. This is actually my second attempt at making this brittle. The first time I made it, I burned the candy and ended up with a very, very dark brittle. It was almost the color of a milk chocolate, but it sure didn't taste like chocolate! It had a salty, bitter taste (yes, I tried it, and yes, I actually ate way more of it than was rational, considering it was a flub!) and nobody else in my household would even touch the stuff.

I did use a candy thermometer, even though the recipe did not indicate that I had to. I read other brittle recipes online and was trying to go by what they were telling me to do, temperature-wise. I thought I needed to take the temp all the way up to 320-ish, although other recipes say to remove the candy from the heat at about 300. Plus, I think the thermometer was off, and I took the candy too far because I was relying on the temperature I was reading from it. Making this stuff is trickier than I thought it would be, mainly because there's such a fine line between perfect and burnt. Maybe in the future I should rely strictly on the recipe's instructions, and shouldn't depend on a thermometer to tell me what's right!

Though this second batch turned out much, much better, it's still pretty dark. Maybe I need to be removing the candy from the heat even sooner than the recipe says to? I dunno, but it really doesn't matter this time because this brittle is dee-licious! The pumpkin seeds I used were lightly salted, and then you add more salt to the candy before adding your nuts. This results in a delightfully sweet/salty combo, enhanced by a dash of cinnamon for extra spice. The cinnamon was something I threw in on a whim; it wasn't part of the original recipe. I'm glad I added it; I can never have enough cinnamon! I really think it works in the brittle.

Almond and Pumpkin Seed Brittle
adapted from The Craft of Baking
makes 1 1/2 pounds

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups sugar
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. kosher salt (the recipe called for 1 1/2 Tbsp., but my pumpkin seeds were salted so I cut down on that)
4 oz. (about 1 cup) pumpkin seeds, salted and toasted
4 oz. (about 1 cup) raw almonds, left whole or halved, toasted

1. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set it aside (Nonstick aluminum foil worked great, too!). Mix together the salt and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Combine the sugar, butter, water, and corn syrup in a large saucepan. Stir together so that all of the sugar is wet. Cook the mixture over high heat without stirring until it turns a dark amber color, about 10 minutes. (I used my candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to about 320 degrees. In the future I would probably aim for between 300 and 320, just so that the brittle is a little bit lighter in color.) Remove from the heat.

3. Carefully whisk in the baking soda, followed by the salt and cinnamon; the caramel will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, fold in the pumpkin seeds and almonds. Pour the brittle onto the prepared baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon, spread it out into a layer about 1/2-inch thick. Let it cool completely.

4. Break the brittle into bite-sized pieces, using a mallet or the back of a heavy knife. The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

CEIMB: Spaghetti Frittata with Salad Presto

As much as I love being in the kitchen, and as fun as it can be to make a complicated, elaborate meal for my family, sometimes it's great to have an old standby recipe like this one. For this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe, chosen by Marthe of Culinary Delights, I made Spaghetti Frittata with Salad Presto. Both recipes can be found in Ellie's So Easy book; they're listed on facing pages, and they're meant to be served together to make a full meal.

We love frittatas around these parts; they make frequent appearances on our breakfast table on the weekends. The thing is, they're usually prepared by my husband, and not by me. When I am in charge of breakfast, we end up with muffins, pancakes, waffles. You know, something nice and carb-y! When the hubs makes the food, however, we will more often than not eat eggs of some kind, preferably with bacon or sausage on the side. It's nice; we balance each other out that way!

Anyhow, I knew I could definitely use the practice with my frittata-making abilities, so I was happy to make this for dinner and give Andy a break. I was really excited for this one. Come on: pasta, eggs, cheese, sundried tomatoes, and spinach, just to name a few ingredients. There was no way I was not gonna love this! It's like comfort food on top of comfort food to me. It's full of flavor, it's very filling, and it doesn't take much effort to get it on the table. The salad is almost ridiculously simple, so it made a great counterpart to the egg/pasta dish. I was able to whip this together in no time flat, and it was gobbled up almost as fast.

So, thank you, Marthe! We loved this meal, and I already told my husband to move over, because there's a new frittata-maker in town! I intend to make this one over and over again. I can't wait to try this with different variations thrown in. I think it would be great with so many things added; just let your imagination run wild!

The original recipes can be found here and here. And of course, the CEIMBers' various interpretations of these recipes can be found by checking out the blogroll, here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poppin' Jalapeno Bread

We were lucky enough to have been given a ton of jalapeno peppers recently. Andy's parents grew them this year, especially for Andy and I (since nobody else in their family eats spicy food; go figure!), and a couple weekends ago we received over a hundred! Seriously, this is no exaggeration: they handed us over a hundred jalapenos all at once, thereby leaving me both extremely grateful and a bit overwhelmed all at once. We're certainly fortunate to have access to such a fabulous supply of peppers, lovers of all things spicy that we are. However, I didn't know what I could do to make the most of them before they weren't usable anymore.

My panic disappeared pretty quickly, though, once I started researching jalapenos online and discovered that, among other things, I could freeze some! This was a relief to know, and I set about readying some jalapenos for the freezer. I made up a freezer bag of regular, fresh jalapenos, and another freezer bag of roasted jalapenos with the skin peeled off. Hopefully, they'll survive being thawed out when I need them; I'll keep you posted on that whenever I get around to using some of them.

Anyway, this post is actually supposed to be about this yummy bread I made, so let's get to it! I found this wonderful recipe for jalapeno cheddar bread that I instantly wanted to try. I have been pushing myself more and more lately to make yeast-based goodies, and this one was just the latest effort to make me more confident in my bread-making abilities. Fortunately, it worked out very well, so I'm getting braver and braver with every new recipe I try.

It's pretty simple, actually. You dissolve your yeast in warm water and allow it to get all nice and foamy. Add an egg and some butter, and mix to combine. Next comes a mixture of flour, sugar, and salt, which is added to the wet ingredients to form a dough. The dough needs to be kneaded (knead, need, ha ha!) for just a minute, then shaped into a loaf and placed in a loaf pan to rise and then bake. It's very low maintenance, as far as yeast breads go, because there's hardly anything you have to do with your hands. The minimal kneading that is required of you is effortless, and you don't even have to worry about the shape of the loaf, because it eventually conforms to the shape of the loaf pan anyway. For my particular skill level, this recipe was perfect. I (almost) feel ready to tackle something a little more advanced next time! Almost. We'll see. Maybe. In the meantime, I have this yummy, slightly spicy, cheesy, flavorful bread to reward me for my bravery. Life is good.

Poppin' Jalapeno Bread
adapted from
makes 1 9x5x3-inch loaf

1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1 cup water, 100 to 110 degrees F
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
4-4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
3 small canned jalapenos or 3 small fresh jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (the original recipe used 1 cup)
1/4 cup minced onion
Nonstick cooking spray

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in the bowl of an electric stand mixer; let sit 5 minutes until foamy. Add the eggs and butter to the bowl and mix until the butter has melted.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together 3 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, and garlic salt. Gradually add the flour mxiture to the yeast mixture, beating with the electric stand mixer until smooth. Beat in the jalapenos, cheese, onions, and enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Shape dough into a loaf and place into a greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

4. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts (I used my oven, which was turned off), 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (but make sure your risen bread is no longer in the oven before you turn the oven on!).

5. Bake the bread for 40 to 45 minutes or until done and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Potato, Sausage, and Egg Breakfast Casserole

I just love making breakfast casseroles. We eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, doesn't matter. They're good any time, they're great to eat as leftovers, and you can pretty much throw anything but the kitchen sink into them and they're still bound to turn out perfectly. I used this particular casserole recipe when I was just trying to use up some different ingredients I had lying around.

It includes some standard breakfast casserole staples: potatoes, green and red bell peppers, onions, and cheddar cheese. The vegetables were cooked until soft (the potatoes were parboiled and the peppers and onions were sauteed) and then tossed into an 8x8 baking dish. Then, the undisputed star of the dish is added: chicken sausage.

According to one of my sons, the sausage was the best part of the meal. I think I have to agree. I've never made a casserole like this with the precooked, sometimes flavored chicken sausage you can buy so readily in the grocery stores these days. It was really delicious. The kind I happened to use this time was sun-dried tomato and provolone, but certainly any flavor would be great. I debated whether to pre-cook them before adding them to the baking dish, but since they come already cooked when packaged I figured I'd be safe. I just chopped two links of sausage into manageable pieces, added them to my pan of onions and peppers while they were sauteeing, and then took the pan off the heat once the sausages were warmed through.

Then came some shredded cheddar cheese, and finally lightly beaten eggs were drizzled evenly over the top. The whole concoction was placed in the oven and baked until the eggs were set and fully cooked, about 30 minutes or so. I allowed it to sit for a couple of minutes once it had exited the oven, just to make sure everything was all set up properly inside. I don't know if that step is really necessary, but it worked for me!

This made for a very easy and delicious weeknight dinner for us. It's one of those recipes that could also be assembled at night, and then set in the fridge overnight until you pull it out and bake it in the morning. I cut the recipe it's based on in half, so if you made the full amount it'd be great to feed a crowd. Best of all, there are so many possibilities with this. You could throw in some chopped bacon or ham, leftover chicken, mushrooms or eggplant, or even sweet potato for a nutritious spin on the potato base. Go ahead, try it out! It was so good, even my "picky one" ate it.

Potato, Sausage, and Egg Breakfast Casserole

adapted from Breakfast Casserole III, on

serves 4-6


Nonstick cooking spray

3 baking potatoes

2-3 links chicken sausage, any variety, cubed

1 Tbsp. butter

1/2 onion, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 tsp. seasoning salt

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (2 oz.)

6 eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Place the baking potatoes in a medium-sized saucepan, fill the pan with enough water to just cover the potatoes, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down slightly, and cook the potatoes until fork tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, chop the potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Add them to a 8x8 baking pan that has been lightly coated with cooking spray.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. While the potatoes are cooking, heat another medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter to the saucepan to melt. Once it has melted, add the onions and bell peppers. Cook until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the cubed chicken sausage and continue to cook until the sausages are warmed through, 3-5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with seasoning salt. Place onion mixture into the baking dish with the potatoes.

3. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese on top of the vegetables. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and evenly pour on top of the sausage and veggie mixture. Top with salt and pepper, to taste, and then bake for about 30 minutes or more, until the eggs are set and the cheese is melted and slightly golden brown. (A knife or toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.) Cool the casserole just slightly, a few minutes, and then cut into wedges and serve.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Caramel Apple Cupcakes with Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

These cupcakes were the product of my imagination, running wild, and trying to come up with the perfect way to use a really awesome caramel sauce that I made recently. Funny how something as multi-step as a cupcake could be born from something so simple as caramel, but that's exactly what happened. Of course, there are many, many things you could do with this caramel sauce; it's actually quite versatile. But for my blogging purposes today, we're just going to talk about it in this recipe.

So what is this magical caramel I speak of, anyway? Well, it's Apple Cider Caramel Sauce, and it is heaven. Instead of making this caramel with lots of butter or cream, or both, you add lots of fresh apple cider. Then, to make it even more apple-y, you throw in a bunch of diced apple pieces and allow them to get all soft and mushy in there. Once the caramel has had a chance to come together, you puree the mixture, so the apple pieces actually become part of the sauce. Oh, my, is it good! After it's had a chance to chill in your fridge, it thickens up nicely, almost becoming a cross between a caramel sauce and an applesauce. Then, you're ready to use it!

The cupcakes I decided to make were from Cooking Light. I found a special issue that I snatched right up at the bookstore; it was a Fall Baking edition! I flipped through it before purchasing and realized I could see myself making over half of the recipes; I thought it would be a good investment! (Okay, that's what I told myself so I'd feel better about buying the more expensive special edition.) I'd probably have to put these cupcakes in the sorta cupcake/sorta muffin category. I mean, they're delicious and everything. They're moist, with nice chunks of apple throughout, but they did remind me of a muffin more so than a cupcake. Still, I suppose that's to be expected when it's a "light" recipe. And, besides, the frosting would more than make up for the healthiness! So I forged on.

I whipped up a Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the cupcakes, using Martha Stewart's basic recipe as my guide. I did have a little bit of trouble with the buttercream, as is usually the case when I make this tricky frosting. But I managed to get everything under control, and the frosting came together quite nicely.

So now it was time to add my Apple Cider Caramel Sauce! I wanted to transform my ordinary, muffin-y apple cupcakes into Caramel Apple Cupcakes, and I knew that adding the caramel to the frosting would be divine. I wasn't sure how much caramel to add to the buttercream at first, so I started out with about 2/3 cup and kept checking the flavor. It took a little over 3/4 cup caramel total before you could really taste the sauce in the frosting. Once I had enough caramel in there, the frosting turned a lovely light caramel color. It was silky and smooth, and you could detect the hint of apple flavor in the caramel sauce. It was pretty amazing.

Just to take these over the top, I finished them off with a drizzle of the caramel sauce over the buttercream. The piping on some of these were really weird, sorry about that (I was trying a thing. It didn't work), but I think for the most part these were a rousing success. I love it when a crazy notion in my head turns into delicious reality!

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

cupcakes adapted from Cooking Light (the original recipe had a streusel topping and a glaze, which I omitted due to my addition of buttercream frosting)

makes 12 cupcakes


6.75 oz. all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup (2 oz.) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 Tbsp. amaretto (you can use 2% milk, which I did)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 large egg

1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk

3/4 cup finely chopped Gala apple

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place muffin cup liners in 12 muffin cups; coat with cooking spray. Weigh or lightly spoon 6.75 oz. flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine this flour with baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl; stir with a whisk.

2. Combine granulated sugar, cream cheese, and 1/4 cup butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add amaretto or 2 T. milk, vanilla, and egg to sugar mixture, and beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Combine sour cream and 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk until well blended. Combine apple and 1 T. flour in a small bowl, and toss well.

3. Add flour mixture and sour cream mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat just until blended. Fold in apple mixture. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake at 350 for 27 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack; remove the cupcakes from pan and allow to cool on racks.

Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream

adapted from Martha Stewart (I made just half the recipe)

makes about 2.5-3 cups


1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar

3 large egg whites

Pinch of salt

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, softened and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3/4 (or more as needed) Apple Cider Caramel Sauce, recipe follows


1. Whisk together the sugar, egg whites, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water, whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture registers 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

2. Return bowl to mixer; fit mixer with whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff. Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter, a few tablespoons at a time. Continue whisking until smooth.

3. Switch to paddle attachment. Add caramel and vanilla; beat on lowest speed until combined, 3 to 5 minutes. The buttercream can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Before using, bring buttercream back to room temperature; return to mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until smooth.

4. To assemble cupcakes, pipe the frosting onto each cupcake in the desired pattern. Drizzle with leftover caramel sauce and serve. (The frosted cupcakes do keep well in the fridge; just bring to room temperature before serving.)

Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

from The Craft of Baking

makes about 2 cups


2 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds reserved

2 small tart baking apples, such as Mutsu, Cortland, or Granny Smith, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces

3/4 cup apple cider

1/4 tsp. kosher salt


1. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 cup water, and the vanilla bean and seeds in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat until the sugar becomes a medium golden caramel, about 15 minutes. Add the apples and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the apples have softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully add the cider and stir to combine. Continue to cook until the sauce is sticky, about 5 minutes more.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the vanilla bean. Rinse and recycle the vanilla bean for another use. Whisk the salt into the mixture.

3. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Reheat the sauce in a saucepan over low heat.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CEIMB: Chicken Pot Pies (In a Pumpkin!)

This week, I decided to make the Craving Ellie in My Belly meal truly in honor of our hostess. The recipe, Chicken Pot Pies, was chosen by the wonderful Shandy of Pastry Heaven. I like to visit her blog each week to check out her spin on the week's CEIMB recipe, as well as to see what else she has been up to in the kitchen. Last week, her post on the Apple Brown Betty included a really interesting spin on a traditional pot pie-ish dinner. In addition to her apple dessert, she talked about how she made a meal by stuffing a pumpkin full of chicken and veggies, and then she topped it with a flaky crust! It was so cool, I was both impressed and inspired all at once! It looked absolutely gorgeous, not to mention incredibly delicious (and I'm still new to eating pumpkin in things, but Shandy's pictures of the stuffed pumpkin made my mouth water!). I just had to try this out!

I told my husband about the stuffed pumpkin idea, and he was intrigued as well. Then, I realized that Shandy had chosen the Chicken Pot Pies for this week, and it just seemed like fate! What better opportunity to try her pumpkin trick out than by using it on the recipe that was her pick? I was so excited to do this, we took the kids out this weekend and had them help us choose two perfect pie pumpkins for the occasion. I was planning on making this for Sunday dinner. I would make two pumpkins stuffed with pot pie, and then two more pot pies in individual serving dishes.

Then, Sunday morning, I woke up and felt terrible. I have been nursing some cold/allergy thing for over a week now, but that Sunday was the worst. I was exhausted, crabby, and was so hoarse I was squeaking at people. It was the pits. Why am I telling you all this? Because I wanted to be upfront and honest with everybody, and tell you that in the end, it was my hubby who was the dinner hero that evening, and not me. He cooked the whole thing himself, and oh, my goodness, was it divine! I felt so spoiled eating all that deliciousness, and knowing that I didn't have to lift a finger for it!

I've prepared Ellie's variation on the classic pot pie in the past, so I knew it would be scrumptious. The pumpkin made for such a showstopping presentation, and it was fun to scrape at the inside walls of the pumpkin while eating. You could mix in the softened pumpkin innards with the pot pie filling for that extra pumpkin-y touch.

One more confession I have to make: I'm not happy with the pictures for this post. See, the camera was working just fine....right up until we sat down to eat! Then, all of a sudden, the camera's memory card conked out on us. Yep, that's right. All the pictures hubby took of the beautiful pumpkin preparations, anything from before we sat down, they're all gone. But we did manage to save a few on the camera itself, and that's what you see here. Phew! I was afraid I may have lost them all, so it was a relief to see that some still made the cut.

Anyway, I have to send out a profuse thank you to Shandy this week! Not only did you pick an awesome fall recipe for us this week, but you also inspired me to make something completely new and different at the same time. It was a great success; my hubby and I are very grateful! If you'd like to check out everybody else's results this week, be sure to go to the CEIMB blogroll. Ellie's original recipe can be found here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks

Just one of the many things I love about cooking and baking is the fact that you get to share recipes with other people. I love discovering a new meal or a different treat, and then being able to show it off to whoever will patiently listen, or read this blog, or endure my kitchen experiments enough to try all the messes along with the successes (that was directed at you, hubby!). This Peanut Butter Cookie recipe, from the wonderful cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, is the kind of recipe that you want to tell the whole world about, just so that everybody can try it and revel in its deliciousness.

What I love most about these cookies is their sheer simplicity. They're very basic cookies, made from all the traditional cookie staple ingredients. They include a generous amount of peanut butter and a sprinkling of chopped milk chocolate, and that's what turns these from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I have a weakness for the peanut/butter chocolate combo, and these completely fit that bill. The authors of the book advise you to use milk chocolate because it pairs so well with the peanut butter, and of course they're right. The chocolate is the perfect complement to the not-too-sweet cookie.

I gave half of this batch away to my mother in-law, who was able to serve them at a birthday party that Andy and I could not attend. After all the cookies were eaten, I found out that Andy's grandmother, in particular, really loved them. In fact, she loved them so much that she asked for the recipe, which I consider a very high compliment. Andy's grandmother is no slouch in the kitchen; she's a fantastic cook, and a wonderful baker. The fact that she would want me to share my simple little peanut butter cookie recipe with her made me feel really good!

As it turns out, I haven't been able to give the recipe to her yet, but she recently obtained a computer and she has access to my blog now. So, Grandma, this one's for you!

Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks

from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

makes 24-36 cookies, depending on how big you make yours


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup creamy peanut butter

6 ounces good milk chocolate, coarsely chopped


1. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. The mixture will look light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and peanut butter and beat until just incorporated.

3. Add half of the flour mixture and mix for 15 seconds. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart. With the palm of your hand, very gently press each cookie down so it forms a very tall disk shape. Do not press too hard and do not press it flat.

5. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with granulated sugar and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until the tops of the cookies just begin to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the individual cookies to the rack to cool completely (although they are also delicious warm). The cookies can be stored, in an airtight container, for up to 3 days.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chili-Espresso Rubbed Pork Chops with Roasted Garlic Quinoa

Pork is one of those things that I'm constantly seeking new inspiration for, to try preparing it in ways I never have before. I found a recipe for Chili-Espresso Rubbed Steaks in Cooking Light a few months back, and decided to bookmark it and use it for boneless pork chops instead of flat-iron steaks.

The recipe was very simple: put together a spice blend which contained, among other things, espresso powder and chili powder, rub it all over the chops, and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Then, the original instructions advised you to cook the meat on your outdoor grill, but I opted for the oven instead, and baked my pork chops. Then, a combination of cherry tomatoes, parsley, sherry vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil was processed until not quite smooth, heated through, and used as a gravy that was to be put on top of the chops. Easy and elegant, full of tart and tangy flavors, and of course, healthy! I couldn't ask for more.

In the same issue of Cooking Light (August 2010) I also found a quinoa side dish that I decided to make along with the pork chops. I liked the fact that the quinoa utilized tomatoes as well, so it was easy for me to just use one whole small container of the cherry tomatoes to prepare this whole meal. Along with the tomatoes, you added a whole head of roasted garlic and some fresh spinach to the cooked quinoa, so it was packed with veggies and flavor. I prepared a simple side of green beans to complete the meal.

We loved the whole thing, every part of it. The pork chops were so delicious; we were big fans of the spice rub, which was at once spicy and smoky and peppery. The rub also made a nice crust on top of the meat, which yielded a tender, juicy chop underneath. It paired so well with the tomato gravy, which was tart/sweet and sort of coarse from the way it was blended.

The quinoa was just as flavorful. The roasted garlic was mellow and creamy, the tomatoes were a nice pop of tanginess, and the whole thing was lightly seasoned with crushed red pepper, Parmesan cheese, and a touch of salt. I'm happy to say that I've found yet another great way to cook and serve quinoa, as this one was devoured by everyone. It's always a victory when that happens!

Chili-Espresso Rubbed Pork Chops

adapted from Cooking Light

makes 4 servings


2 tsp. espresso powder

1 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

4 (6-ounce) boneless pork chops

Cooking spray

1 cup cherry tomatoes

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sherry vinegar


1. Combine first 6 ingredients; stir well. Rub spice mixture evenly over both sides of the pork chops; cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Place steaks on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray or lined with foil and then sprayed with cooking spray. Bake the chops for 35 minutes, until cooked through and the internal temperature is between 145 and 160 degrees F. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes.

3. While the meat rests, place the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor; process until coarsely chopped. Spoon tomato mixture into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high 1 minute. Serve with the pork chops.

Quinoa with Roasted Garlic, Tomatoes, and Spinach

adapted from Cooking Light

makes 4 servings


1 whole garlic head

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained (I used half red, half white quinoa)

1 Tbsp. dry white wine

1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup baby spinach leaves

1 cup cherry tomatoes, whole or halved

1 Tbsp. shaved fresh Parmesan cheese (mine was shredded)

1/4 tsp. salt


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove papery skin from garlic head. Cut garlic head in half crosswise, breaking apart to separate whole cloves. Wrap half of head in foil; reserve remaining garlic for another use. Bake for 1 hour; cool 10 minutes. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.

2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and red pepper to pan; cook 1 minute. Add quinoa to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

3. Remove the quinoa from the heat and stir in the garlic pulp, spinach, tomatoes, cheese, and salt. Serve immediately.

Friday, October 15, 2010

MSC: Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

It's that time again; time to post another selection from the Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club! This one, Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, was chosen by Katie of Katiecakes. I'm really glad this one was picked, as anything with cinnamon is always a hit here at my house. I'd been wanting to try these out but never really had an excuse to make them. Now was my opportunity, finally!

As I'm sure you can tell from my pictures, I decided to simplify this recipe by making just the cupcake, and not the frosting. There were several reasons for this. For one thing, my kids aren't the biggest frosting fans, so I knew it would not be missed by them. For another, I knew the 7- minute frosting would not be doable here because I would not be able to serve these immediately after assembling, as Martha's instructions tell you to do. I would like to try her 7-minute frosting recipe sometime, but it just wasn't meant to be this time. So, I considered making a different type of frosting for these, such as cinnamon cream cheese frosting or just a buttercream of some kind. But in the end, I decided to just make a half-recipe of the cupcakes and leave them as is.

This turned out to be a wise decision, because my frosting-hating 5 year-old son is absolutely addicted to these! What I did when putting these together was to sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar mixture over the top of each cupcake, then I put them in the oven to bake. I was hoping that this would give each cupcake a nice, sugary crust, but that didn't quite happen. The tops of the cupcakes were very moist, not that this is a bad thing. As for the cake itself, it was....well, it was good. It was pretty standard, as far as cakes go. The addition of a hefty amount of cinnamon was very nice, but otherwise it was just a basic yellow cake recipe. I am willing to bet, though, that frosting would definitely have made this much, much better! If I ever have an occasion to serve these right away, I will try these with the recommended frosting, promise!

Thanks to Katie for the pick this month! And if you'd like to check out the other MSCers' results, be sure to visit the blogroll.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CEIMB: Apple Brown Betty

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly selection was the Apple Brown Betty from Ellie's So Easy book. It was chosen by Jess of Learning to Love Vegetables, and it could not have come at a better time for me. I've been knee-deep in freshly picked apples lately, and have been coming up with all kinds of different recipes to put them into. This one, it turns out, was a fantastic addition to my repertoire of apple dishes.

First of all, it was a snap to put together. I decided to make them into individual servings and cut the recipe down to just a third of the full amount. This made enough to fill two little ramekins, which was perfect. I was able to assemble these in about 15 minutes, including the time the apples spent on the stove, and then all I had to do was wait for them to bake. I did bake the dishes for about 10 minutes less then the recipe indicated, since I was not baking a full 9-inch pie plate's worth of Brown Betty.

Second of all, it turned out delicious! My husband is a huge fan of apple crisp, and I make it for him every fall. But with this recipe, I've found a way to make him a similar treat, but with lots less butter and sugar! The use of whole-wheat bread crumbs in place of oats or flour for the topping is pretty genius, I thought. The walnuts provide welcome texture, and there's just enough sweetness and spice from the cinnamon. I could see how adding nutmeg or a dab of ginger to the topping could be great, too. Unfortunately, I didn't think of that until just now! Well, there's always next time, right?

I'm sure there will be a next time with this easy, scrumptious fall dessert. It's great on its own, would probably be even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce on top, and requires very little of you in the kitchen. I'm glad it was chosen this week; otherwise, I may have just skimmed right over this one in the book. Thanks, Jess! Be sure to check out the blogroll for everybody else's results. The original recipe can be found here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chicken Sausage Rigatoni in a Spicy Vodka Sauce

This pasta rocks. I'm being quite serious. You need to try this stuff. I even diverged from the recipe, making it a bit less fattening, and it was still magical. Here, I'll break it down for you.

Chicken Sausage Rigatoni in a Spicy Vodka Sauce...well, the name alone pretty much sells it, right? This one comes from The Food Network's Sunny Anderson, and after eating this meal I have to say I'm liking her more and more. I caught her making this pasta one afternoon, and decided that it was going straight to the top of my must-make list. I was drooling in the general direction of the television. It was bad.

It's a pretty straighforward dish. Boil up some water for pasta, and then get started on your sauce. Brown some chicken sausage in a pan, add veggies, then throw in seasonings and tomatoes, and simmer. Then, you finish the sauce with some vodka and some cream, and then you add some cheese and parsley before tossing the whole shebang with rigatoni. However, what seems like such a simple dish is nothing short of spectacular in flavor.

I think the secret is this: along with your veggies, you add in one jalapeno pepper, and then you toss in some hot paprika along with the seasonings. These are such simple additions, but they contribute so much to the overall taste of the dish. There's a great blast of heat from the pepper, and the paprika lends a new depth to the tomato sauce that I absolutely loved. I think I want to add paprika to all my tomato-based sauces now! It was that good.

I made this a touch healthier by omitting the butter Sunny used in combination with olive oil to brown her meat, and by using a lot less cream than she did. I read some reviews of the dish where the authors used only 1/4 cup and it still turned out fine. So, I added just 1/4 cup of half-and-half to mine, and I thought it was fantastic. It didn't turn the sauce into a cream sauce at all, but it did give it some lightness that cut the acidity nicely. Oh, and I cut way back on the cheese, too. I didn't miss it, either. And yes, there was booze in it, but it wasn't that much, so I'd like to believe that this was still healthier than it could have been! It was so savory and satisfying, and I can hardly wait to make it again.

Chicken Sausage Rigatoni in a Spicy Vodka Sauce
from Sunny Anderson via Food Network
makes 4-6 servings

1 Tbsp. butter (I omitted)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1 jalapeno, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup roughly chopped green pepper
1 tsp. Hungarian hot paprika
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes with basil (I used crushed)
1/3 cup vodka
1 cup heavy cream (I used 1/4 cup half-and-half, and it was still creamy enough for us)
1 lb. rigatoni
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley leaves (I omitted)

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add chicken sausage and brown, 3 to 4 minutes, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon. Add onions, jalapeno, and garlic, and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add green pepper, paprika, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper, to taste, and cook 3 minutes more.

2. Generously salt pasta water and add the rigatoni. Cook until al dente, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, add tomatoes to the sauce and bring to a simmer, for about 10 minutes. Add vodka and cream and cook a few minutes more. Toss in cheese and chopped parsley.

3. To serve, drain the pasta well and add to the sauce. Mix until pasta is nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Apple Cider Muffins

I had a bunch of apples left over from going apple picking with my boys, and I have been busy putting them to good use! Since we all eat muffins at my house, I finally had an excuse to try out a recipe from one of my baking cookbooks, The Craft of Baking. I love buying a big gallon of fresh apple cider each fall and drinking it warm on occasion, but I find myself with a lot of it that doesn't always get a chance to be used. So, these Apple Cider Muffins seem like a great solution! It utilizes those apples and the apple cider at the same time.

Okay, so the pictures of my boys don't necessarily have anything to do with this recipe, but I think I was overdue to show them off here on the blog! I haven't posted pictures of them in months, and I know there are people who have been wanting me to. So, here they are, eating their mid-afternoon snack, which I believe consisted of Halloween-shaped marshmallows, dried fruit strips, and these muffins. Eclectic!

Now, I wanted to share a little trick with you for making baked goods just a bit healthier. I purchased a bag of ground flax seeds a while back, thinking I'd just look it up later and find creative ways of slipping the flax into things I would make. I knew they were rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and high in dietary fiber, and that they can even lower your cholesterol. It seemed like a great ingredient to use in place of other, less healthy ones.

As it turns out, you can actually use ground flax seed in place of oil or butter in a baked good recipe! I was floored when I read this on the back of the bag. It's a 3:1 ratio, meaning if a recipe called for 1/2 cup butter, you would use 1 1/2 cups of ground flax seed in its place. I was pretty skeptical about the substitution, because it seemed like it wouldn't work. You're basically replacing a "wet" ingredient with a "dry" ingredient, which seemed doomed to fail. But I practiced this trick on some other muffins I made the week before, by replacing half the fat with flax seeds, and guess what? It really did work!

The flax seeds give the muffin an extra texture and heartiness, as well as some darker flecks that are visible when you bite into it. The muffin was, amazingly, still moist and not heavy like a brick, as I feared it would be. It does taste a bit healthier, if that makes sense, and less indulgent. But I suppose that is the point here, anyway, so it was a welcome flavor!

These muffins are delicious and disappeared very quickly. They were a hit at my house and a hit at Andy's work, too. I'm so glad I've found such an awesome way to incorporate ground flax seed into our diet; we hardly eat any fish at my house, or any other foods that are well-known for their Omega-3s. Now I know we can still sneak it in, and it won't affect the taste! Just one note: the recipe below is written as I made it, not the way the book did. The changes I made are listed, and then the book's original ingredient is listed in parentheses after.

Apple Cider Muffins
adapted from The Craft of Baking
makes 12 muffins, plus 5-6 mini muffins

Unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing muffin tins
3/4 cup granulated sugar (the book used 1 cup)
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (the book used 1 cup)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup applesauce (the book used 3/4 cup grapeseed oil; I used applesauce and flax seed)
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup ground flax seed
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 crisp baking apples, such as Granny Smith or Mutsu, peeled, cored, coarsely grated (I used my food processor with the shredding attachment), and drained, juices reserved and used as part of the cider measurement
1 Tbsp. turbinado sugar (the book used Demerara sugar)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter or spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin (plus a mini muffin tin, if using), or line with paper liners (I used paper liners, but the muffins like to stick to those).

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and applesauce. Add the eggs and whisk to combine. In another bowl, sift together the flour, flax seed, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a third bowl, whisk together the apple cider, sour cream, and vanilla.

3. Add one third of the flour mixture and one third of the apple cider mixture to the sugar mixture, folding with a spatula just to combine. Add the rest of the flour and cider mixture in two additions. Fold in the grated apple, and then divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup three quarters of the way. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with the turbinado sugar.

4. Bake, rotating the muffin tin halfway through, until the muffins spring back to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes (mine took about 3-5 minutes longer). Transfer the pan(s) to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Then turn out the muffins from the pan(s) and let them cool completely on the wire rack. These muffins are best the second day, and will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

CEIMB: Tomato-Tortilla Soup

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was Tomato-Tortilla Soup, chosen by Mary over at Popsicles and Sandy Feet. I remember making this soup last winter and loving it, but I never blogged about it. I think it's probably just because I was so bad at blogging back then, and not because this soup wasn't memorable! In fact, it was a very welcome repeat here at my house.

I just adore the simplicity of this meal. Just saute some onions, then add garlic and cumin. Throw in your jalapeno, two cans of diced tomatoes (I used one can of regular and one can of tomatoes with diced green chiles), and a carton of chicken broth, along with some dried oregano. Let it simmer for a brief period, then you're ready to blend it!

This was my favorite part. Since the last time I made this, I've acquired an immersion blender (thanks, K and E!) and I am a bit obsessed with it. It makes such quick work of pureeing a soup, among other things! Best of all, with this soup you're able to make it as chunky or as smooth as you'd like it to be. I opted for almost completely smooth; that's just my personal preference.

To finish off this soup, you remove it from the heat and add some lime juice. Then, you can top if off with some fresh cilantro and sour cream, as well as corn tortilla strips that have been baked until crispy in the oven. I love the corn tortilla strips! I had to make twice as many just to have enough for the soup; we all kept snacking on them before the soup was ready. I added some scallion tops and fresh lime zest to the garnish; I think it just added a little something extra special.

My husband went for his soup with sour cream, and I left mine without it. (That's why at the top of my post you see one bowl of soup all decked out, and then this last picture above is my sour cream-less version.) My hubby also had a grilled cheese alongside his, which he said was fantastic dipped in the soup. My son drank his through a straw, so whichever way you choose to ingest this soup, it's spicy and warming, tangy and tart, and just plain awesome.

Thanks to Mary for choosing this; I'm so glad I was able to revisit this, and give it the proper blog love it deserves! You can check out the full recipe on Food Network's website, here. And don't forget to check the CEIMB blogroll for everybody else's results!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Garlic "Fries"

We love french fries around here. It's probably one of the very few foods that we can all agree on in my household. Populating my family is a hubby who will eat anything, a picky-ish but increasingly adventurous me, an extremely picky 5 year-old, and a 22 month-old who throws mostly anything besides cake on the floor. Sigh. So when you've struck gold, as I have, with discovering how much everyone loves fries, you've got to capitalize on that.

Unfortunately, they're kinda bad for you. The run-of-the-mill, greasy, restaurant-style ones are, anyway. Delicious, yes. Great to eat daily? Not so much.

Well, thanks to my most-beloved cookbook, Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave, we now have an easy way to enjoy french fries any time we want, without the greasy unhealthiness. Ellie explains in her book that fries are a weakness of hers, so obviously she had to create a way for her to indulge and still eat well. These are a perfect solution.

To be honest, I took the lazy way out with these fries and I did not follow the recipe exactly. In her version, Ellie infuses canola oil with garlic flavor, then uses that oil on the potatoes before baking them in the oven. I just used some oil and some garlic powder and called it a day. I would love to try it with the garlic-infused oil next time because you can totally tell that these would just be delicious on a completely different level. Ellie also garnishes the finished fries with fresh parsley, but I didn't bother with that, either. I told you, I was lazy that day!

I've made oven-baked french fries before, but these were the tastiest I've had yet. It could have something to do with the fact that I had the patience to cut them like actual french fries, I dunno. In the past I've made really big cuts, and they turn out more like roasted potatoes, not that there's anything wrong with roasted potatoes. Hey, that's probably why I was so lazy by the time I got to the seasoning step; I had already used all my energy cutting up the taters! Ha. I'm posting Ellie's version of the recipe below; obviously, it's better than what I did!

Garlic "Fries"
from Ellie Krieger via Food
serves 4

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. canola oil
3 large baking potatoes, 12 oz. each
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Heat the garlic and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Strain the garlic from the oil with a small mesh strainer. Set both garlic and oil aside.

2. Cut the potatoes into 1/4-inch sticks. In a large bowl, toss the oil, potatoes, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and spread the potatoes onto it in a single layer. Bake until golden and crisp, about 35 minutes.

3. Remove the potatoes from the tray with a metal spatula. Toss with parsley, reserved garlic, and additional salt, to taste. Serve immediately.