Friday, May 28, 2010

Pepper Jack Cheese Quick Bread

This is a super fast bread to make that we like to serve with soups—especially with asparagus soup. Thus, this has become a tradition for us to make in the spring.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup butter or margarine, melted
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease bottom only of 9 x 5-inch or 8x-4-inch loaf pan with shortening (or spray pan with Baker’s Joy).

In medium bowl, mix flour, cheese, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in remaining ingredients just until moistened (batter will be lumpy). Spread in pan.

Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; run knife around edges of pan to loosen. Remove from pan to wire rack. Cool 30 minutes before slicing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Baked Pears with Raspberry Sauce

I loved this dessert recipe! But Stephen and Derek wouldn't even try it because the spices made it smell like "potpourri" or one of my "smelly candles". Kind of strange, I thought. They both love pumpkin pie and applesauce oatmeal cookies. They noticed the spices because they had to finish making the sauce for me. See note below.

2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 firm, ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, halved, and cored (stems left intact)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup frozen raspberries, thawed and drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an ovenproof skillet, combine butter, sugar, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Add pears, cut side down; cover with foil. Bake, turning pears over halfway though, until tender when pieced with the tip of a paring knife, about 25 minutes.

Remember that the skillet handle is hot. It just came from the oven! This is why Stephen and Derek finished making the sauce for me. I was administering first aid to my burned fingers.

Lift pear halves with a slotted spoon, allowing any juices to drip back into skillet, and divide among four serving plates. Bring liquid in skillet to a boil over medium heat. Add cream; cook until slightly thickened, 1 minute. Stir in raspberries. Spoon sauce over pears; serve. Serves 4.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cafe Rio Mexican Buffet

Here is how you can have a party with all of the recipes I posted. Guests can make burritos or tacos or salads or whatever combination of ingredients they want.

By the way, I cooked dry black beans for the first time in my slow cooker. After doing a quick soak with the beans, I put them in the slow cooker with some fresh water. I added a little cumin and a chopped onion. After the beans cooked, I drained some of the liquid and added salt until they tasted just right.

Serve in the following order for salad:
Cheese, shredded
Chicken or Pork
Black or pinto beans
Lime Rice
Romaine or red and green leaf lettuce, shredded
Pico de Gallo
Olives, chopped
Fresh cilantro
Parmesan cheese
Fresh lime slices
Tomatillo dressing

Pico de Gallo

2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/8 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine together in a medium bowl.

Lime Rice

This rice goes great with a Mexican themed meal. Very flavorful. I'll note the substitution I used at the end of the recipe.

In small pan, saute:

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

In large pot, bring to boil the following:

4 cups water
1 1/4 tablespoon chicken bouillon
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 small can diced green chilies
1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add onion and garlic to boiling water. Add 2 cups long grain rice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until liquid is absorbed and rice is done.

Kendra's Note: I used 4 cups of chicken stock in place of the water and chicken bouillon.

Tomatillo Dressing

Simply scrumptious! Enough said.

1 package Hidden Valley buttermilk ranch dressing mix
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tomatillos
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 small jalapeno, seeds removed

Blend ingredients together in a blender. Add additional mayonnaise if dressing is too thin. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Cafe Rio Chicken

Okay, I've never eaten at Cafe Rio but I've read several blogs where people were raving about the food. And then at her NCAA Basketball Championship Party last month, my friend Alison served some of these dishes. I made the recipes today and they were delicious.

2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used frozen ones)
1/2 small bottle Zesty Italian Dressing
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 garlic cloves, minced

Mix all ingredients together in a large slow cooker. Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours. Remove chicken and shred with a fork. Reserve a small amount of liquid and pour over shredded chicken to keep it moist. Keep warm until serving.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

I made this giant cookie for a primary training meeting with the theme “Magnify Your Calling.” Everyone really enjoyed these cookies—I saw several people going back for seconds.

Recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ½ oz) packed light brown sugar
½ cup (3 ½ oz) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 ¾ oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips
¾ cup white chocolate chips (or milk chocolate chips)
½ cup chopped macadamia nuts
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish if desired
Sweetened cocoa, for garnish if desired
Sweetened whipped cream, accompaniment if desired

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a 14-inch, light colored, round pizza pan (or cake pan) with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after the addition of each.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix with a whisk. Add to the butter mixture, mixing to incorporate, and add the vanilla extract. Fold in the dark and white chips and the nuts. Spread across the bottom of the prepared pan and bake until the edges are golden and the cookie is set but the center is still slightly soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To serve, sift confectioners’ sugar and sweetened cocoa over the top, and cut into wedges. Serve sweetened whipped cream on the side.

Thousand Island Shells

Alyssa made this side dish for dinner the other night. She says it is “a really yummy side dish that doesn’t take a lot of work to make.”

8 ounces small shell pasta (or elbow macaroni)
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons pickle relish
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and transfer to a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, pickle relish, ketchup, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Add the mixture to the shells and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm or cold.

Big Beautiful Muffins (Photos)

Alyssa made us a delightful meal recently consisting of 3 different types of muffins. I've already posted the recipe for these muffins, but I wanted to post the pictures of the muffins she made.

Decorator’s Buttercream icing

This icing recipe is from one of my new cake decorating books, Wedding Cake Art and Design by Toba Garrett. The Italian meringue-style buttercream that I have tried in the past was wonderful to work with, but tasted too much like straight butter for our tastes. This recipe is a nice compromise. It spreads smoothly, pipes beautifully, and tastes delicious!

1 pound (454 g) unsalted butter
8 oz (230 g) white vegetable or hi-ratio shortening
1 ½ tsp (7.5 ml) lemon, vanilla, or almond extract (I used Crème Bouquet flavoring)
1 tsp (5 g) salt
3 lb (1.36 kg) confectioners’ sugar
3 Tbsp (24 g) meringue powder
4 ½ fl oz (128 g) water, milk, or heavy cream (I used water)

Cream the butter and shortening with the paddle attachments of a 5 or 6-quart mixer for 3 minutes on medium-high speed. Stop and scrape the bowl. Cream for another minute. Add the flavoring and salt and mix until combined. Gradually add the sugar, then the meringue powder. The mixture will appear dry.

Add the liquid of your choice and beat until light and fluffy, 5 to 8 minutes. Keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.

Store the icing in an airtight container for 2 weeks in the fridge or freeze for up to 3 months.

Chocolate Chip Muffins

This recipe is from a new cookbook I received for Mother’s Day, The Williams Sonoma Baking Book. We all loved these muffins. The muffins have what I consider to be the perfect outer crust texture—slightly crisp and contrasting nicely with the tender interior.

½ cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup (6 oz) buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (6 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease (or spray with Baker’s Joy) 12 standard muffin cups.

In a bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla until smooth.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the buttermilk mixture, and beat until smooth and well mixed, 1-2 minutes. Using a large silicone spatula, fold in the chocolate chips just until evenly distributed. Do not overmix. Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim.

Bake the muffins until golden, dry, and springy to the touch, 15-22 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Orzo with Cranberries

Last week Bart and I went grocery shopping for a bit. While Alyssa was home, she went through my magazines and found a recipe that looked good for dinner. We didn’t have all the ingredients called for, however, so she substituted a few things (orzo for couscous and dried cranberries for golden raisins). Her substitutions were wonderful! She invented a whole new dish that we all loved! Following is how Alyssa made the recipe. (By the way, she had the food ready to eat, garnished beautifully, and arranged in our fancy pasta bowl by the time we got home.)

2 cups orzo
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cinnamon (a pinch—about 1/8 teaspoon)
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons water
Sliced almonds (about a handful)
Chopped fresh parsley (about a handful)
Salt and pepper

Cook 2 cups orzo as directed on the package--drain when done. Sauté one diced onion in olive oil with a pinch of cinnamon until golden, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup dried cranberries and 2 tablespoons water and cook 2 minutes; toss with the orzo and add a handful each of sliced almonds and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Avocado with Chicken Stuffing

Bart made this for us for dinner the other night. It’s a perfect spring-time meal—cool, filling, and delicious!

½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ cups diced cooked chicken
¼ cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup coarsely chopped blanched almonds
2 ripe, firm avocados
8 leaves Bibb lettuce

Blend the mayonnaise and lemon juice together. Mix with the diced chicken and celery. Salt to taste and stir in the almonds. Peel the avocados and cut in half lengthwise. On each salad plate, place two lettuce leaves with one avocado half on top. Spoon one-fourth of the chicken salad into the hollow of each avocado half, letting some spill over onto the lettuce.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Rich and Creamy Mini-Cheesecakes

This is a great way to make cheesecake for a crowd. Serving is simple, the cheesecakes can be made ahead, and you can change the topping to suit your tastes.

2 cups (10 oz—or about 2 packages) crushed graham crackers
8 tablespoons (4 oz) butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons (1 ½ oz) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 pounds regular cream cheese
1 ¼ cups (8 ¾ oz) sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon zest from 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup (2 oz) heavy cream
¼ cup (2 oz) sour cream

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a muffin pan with foil or paper liners.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the butter, brown sugar, flour and salt and mix well. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the mixture (I use a #20 cookie scoop) into each muffin cup and press into an even layer. (Note: the round pusher that comes on my food processor works perfectly to press the crumbs.) Bake the crust until beginning to brown, 7-8 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool on wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat on medium speed until it is fully incorporated, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl after each addition. (If you don’t scrape down bowl after each egg, any cream cheese sticking to sides will make batter lumpy.) Add zest and vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Stir in cream and sour cream by hand. (Note: do not over mix or cake will puff up from too much air and then collapse.)

Pour about 3 tablespoons batter into each muffin cup (I use a #20 muffin scoop). Set roasting pan on lower oven rack and pour in about 1-inch of boiling water. Place filled muffin pan on middle rack and bake until cakes are almost set, about 15 minutes (the cheesecakes will be puffed but still white). Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. The muffin liners will shrink away from the sides of the tin as they cool. Refrigerate the muffin pan (with the liners still in the pan) until the cheesecakes are cool and set, about 1 hour. Then remove from pan and top with topping as desired.

Cheesecakes are best made at least a day ahead.

Yield: About 30 mini-cheesecakes. (You’ll need about 2 pounds fruit topping.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Angel Hair Spaghetti with Vegetables and Ham

I tried a new recipe for pasta and we really liked it. It didn't take very long to prepare. I will give you the original recipe, then I will tell you how I changed it!

(Photo and original recipe from Land O'Lakes. Comments and adaptation by LaVee.)

8 ounces uncooked dried angel hair pasta
1 (16 oz.) pkg frozen vegetable combination (broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon granules
1/2 aeaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 cup light sour cream
8 ounces cooked ham, cut into julienne strips
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta and vegetables according to directions, drain; keep warm.
Melt butter in 2-quart saucepan; add garlic. Cook 1 minute over medium-low heat. Stir in flour; continue cooking and stirring until smooth and bubbly about 1 minute. Stir in milk, bouillon granules, dry mustard and basil. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened (4-6 minutes). Stir in sour cream; continue cooking, stirring, until heated through (2-3 minutes)

Remove from heat; stir in ham and vegetables. (I put it back on the burner to warm the ham and vegetables again.) Serve over hot cooked pasta. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Yield: 6 servings

Now how I did it: I used only 4 ounces pasta (as there is only the two of us), and the vegetables were different. I used carrots, celery and green beans. I put the sliced carrots and celery in a small saucepan, covered them with water and brought them to a boil and boiled for 7 minutes, drained and kept them warm, and added green beans to come to 12 ounces. I kept the sauce as directed, except I added minced onions to the butter and simmered until softened, then added the flour and followed the directions. For the bouillon granules I used 1 teaspoon of my "Better than bouillon" soup base. For the ham, we had purchased a 1 pound sliced ham package. When we came home we cut the slices in half and put 6 half-slices into separate freezer bags, placed them in a gallon freezer bag and froze them. So I used one of the bags of 6 half-slices to make the julienne strips. I added salt and pepper to it to blend the flavors a little bit more. The light sour cream was the nonfat sour cream.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Citrus-Cornmeal Pancakes

Ever since we went to the King Arthur Flour baking class, I have been wanting to try grapefruit zest in a recipe. This recipe called for orange zest. I had grapefruit in the house, but no oranges, so I decided this was a perfect time to try the grapefruit zest. I loved the flavor it gave to the pancakes! Therefore, instead of the original name of “Orange-Cornmeal Pancakes” I’ve changed the recipe name to “Citrus-Cornmeal Pancakes.” Alyssa stated that these are the best cornmeal pancakes I have ever made (and she has liked the other versions I’ve made as well).

Citrus-Cornmeal Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
¼ cup butter-flavored shortening
1 egg
1 ¼ cups buttermilk (plus more if needed)
2 teaspoons finely shredded grapefruit or orange zest
2 tablespoons cooking oil
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in food processor. Pulse to combine and sift. Add shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl.

In a small mixing bowl, combine egg, buttermilk, citrus zest, and oil. Whisk to combine. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir just until combined but still slightly lumpy. Add an additional tablespoon or two of buttermilk if necessary to thin batter. Gently stir in walnuts.

Cook pancakes (about ¼ cup batter for each) on preheated skillet or griddle, turning to cook second side when pancake surfaces are bubbly and edges are slightly dry (about 1 to 2 minutes per side). Serve immediately or keep warm in a loosely covered ovenproof dish in a 300°F oven. If desired, serve with Citrus Syrup and fresh fruit.

Makes 12 pancakes.

Citrus Syrup

Make variations of this syrup by stirring in an 8-ounce can of drained pineapple tidbits or an 11-ounce can of drained mandarin orange sections.

2 teaspoons finely shredded orange or lemon zest
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine the orange or lemon zest, orange juice, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until reduced to ¾ cup, stirring occasionally. Serve warm or cool. Cover and refrigerate remaining syrup for up to 1 week.

Makes ¾ cup.

Buffalo-Chicken Macaroni and Cheese

Alyssa, Joshua, and I worked together to make this for dinner last night. We all loved it!

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (plus more for the dish)
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup Frank’s hot sauce (divided)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 ½ cups half-and-half
1 pound yellow sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 ½ cups)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)—or you can use pepper jack cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter (or spray with baking spray) a 9x13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add ½ cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 more minute.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, then add the remaining ¼ cup hot sauce and stir until thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and jack cheeses, then whisk in the sour cream until smooth.

Spread half of the macaroni in the prepared baking dish, then top with the chicken mixture and the remaining macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce evenly on top.

Put the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the panko, blue cheese and parsley. Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

High-Yield Yellow Cake

I was looking for a white cake recipe that makes a moist cake. I decided to try this recipe (even though it is a yellow cake), because I thought the buttermilk and whole eggs would contribute to moistness and tenderness. Boy, do they ever! This is an incredible cake! It bakes up perfectly—even with the large batch. I made three batches, and each batch turned out great. I refrigerated the excess batter while baking the first part of each batch. The author of the recipe also has a normal yield version (yielding two 8-inch cakes), but I haven’t tried that version yet. The ingredients are similar, but the mixing directions are quite different. If you’re interested in that version, let me know and I can post it. As you can tell, this version requires use of a scale--but hopefully you're all hooked on using a scale in baking by now.

1 lb 6 oz (682 g) cake flour
2 lb (907 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbsp (1 oz or 24 g) baking powder
1 tsp (5 g) salt
1 lb (454 g) soft butter, half completely melted
8 fl oz (237 ml or 227 g) whole milk
16 fl oz (473 ml or 454 g) buttermilk
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
20 oz (591 mL or 567 g) whole eggs – this required about 10 ½ large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray cake pans with Baker’s Joy, line with parchment, then spray again.

Measure the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a 6-quart KitchenAid bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix for 3 minutes to sift and blend the dry ingredients.

Add the butter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Then mix on the next-higher speed for 3 minutes to fully incorporate the butter.

Return the mixture to low speed and add all of the whole milk. Mix until incorporated, about 2 minutes, and then mix on the next-higher speed for 1 minute.

Whisk the buttermilk, vanilla, and eggs in a separate bowl. Return to low speed and add the milk mixture in four increments.

Mix on the next-higher speed for 1 minute once all of the milk mixture has been incorporated.

Add the batter to the cake pans (about two-thirds full). Hit the pans against the counter to burst any air bubbles and clean up the sides of the pans. Smooth the top of the batter with a small metal offset spatula.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan.

Let cakes completely cool in cake pans.

Yield: Four 8-inch cake pans, Three 10-inch cake pans, OR two 12-inch cake pans.

Baking time: About 45-50 minutes. Larger pans may take a little longer.

(Hint: This makes a total of about 3300 g batter. Weigh the batter as you pour it into the pans to ensure the pans are filled equally. For a 12-inch pan, use 1650 g, a 9-inch pan needs 928 g, and a 6-inch pan needs 413 g.)

Recipe from: Wedding Cake Art and Design by Toba Garrett

Monday, May 3, 2010

Picnic Brownies

I was in a cooking recession. Upon arriving home from school, I ravaged the house for cookbooks. I stared down at pictures of Mississipi Mud Pie longingly, admired picture-perfect chocolate chip cookies, but there was nothing "round" that appealed to me. I was determined to cook something round. Needless to say, my Mom, the cooking expert, whipped out this recipe and within 15 minutes, both of us working together, the brownies were in the oven. The scent of melted chocolate heavy in the air, I pulled the brownies out of the oven only 25 minutes later. We served them within the hour, and, with the warm, gooey brownies in our mouths, it was unanimous that they were heavenly! These brownies were a picnic to make!

4 ounces baking chocolate
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1-3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup walnuts, pecans, or almonds, chopped
1 cup chocolate chips

Grease two 9-inch round pans. In top of bouble boiler or microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate and butter. In medium bowl, mix sugar, vanilla, and salt; add to melted chocolate mixture and blend well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and mix well. Divide batter equally into prepared pans. Spread evenly and sprinkle top of each with chopped nuts and chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes (do not overbake). Allow to cool completely before cutting. Run a thin knife between pan and brownies and turn upside down. You may need to shake hard to release brownies from pan. With knife that is longer than brownies are wide, cut brownies by pressing knife straight down through brownies; cut into 8 pie-shaped pieces. (I actually just cut the brownies in the pan and it worked.)
Makes 16 brownies.

Pantry Chocolate Cake

The other day I was home alone (Mom was at work, Josh was at swim-team, and Dad was driving Joshua). I wanted to make a yummy dessert. I found this recipe, and I'm so glad that I made it! My whole family loved it! By the time my family got home, the cake was baked and cooling, and all the dishes were done. Needless to say, we had a very happy family that night.

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/4 cup (6 ounces)boiling water
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with Baker's Joy.

Whisk the cocoa and the boiling water together in a small bowl. Let the mixture cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. In a medium bowl, whisk the vegetable oil, egg, vanilla, and cooled cocoa mixture together. Stir the oil mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and gently tap the pan on the counter to settle the batter.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (about 25 to 35 minutes), rotating the pan halfway through baking. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, 1 to 2 hours.

If desired, frost with frosting of your choice. Or serve with raspberries or strawberries and/or whipped cream. Or you can just sprinkle it with powdered sugar.

Asian-Style Pasta Salad with Chicken and Snow Peas

Simple to put together, and simply delicious!

1 pound cooked chicken (rotisserie or roasted recommended), shredded or cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound bite-size pasta (I used bow-tie—but whatever shape you want is fine)
8 ounces snow peas, halved crosswise (asparagus can be substituted if desired)
8 ounces fresh bean sprouts
3 large scallions, cut into bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons minced cilantro or parsley
Soy Sesame Dressing (see recipe below)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
½ cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped

Cook pasta in large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions (cooking just until tender). Drain, spread out in shallow baking pan and let cool to room temperature (or rinse with cold water and set aside). (If desired, you can add the snow peas to the boiling water for the last minute of cooking—I didn’t do this, though.)

Transfer chicken, pasta, snow peas, bean sprouts, scallions and cilantro or parsley to a large bowl. When ready to serve, add dressing, toss to coat, let stand for 15 minutes, and taste to adjust seasonings (salt will probably be fine, but you might want to add a little black pepper). Sprinkle cashews over each serving.

Soy-Sesame Dressing

1 tablespoon minced garlic (I just used 1 large clove)
1 tablespoon minced, peeled ginger
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¾ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup vegetable oil

Mix garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and red pepper flakes in a small mixing bowl. Vigorously whisk in mayonnaise. Slowly whisk in oil, first in droplets, then in a slow, steady stream to make an emulsified dressing. (Note: dressing can be made and refrigerated a day in advance.)

Chocolate Fudge Pancakes

I discovered another version of chocolate pancakes. This version is a bit sweeter than the version I posted previously. We loved the nuts in it! We served it with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and/or maple syrup, but I’m including the recipe for a Cherry and Pineapple topping which would be a great alternative when strawberries aren’t in season. The recipe also includes directions for Chocolate Whipped Cream (if desired).

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
¾ cup chocolate-flavored syrup (such as Hershey’s)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon melted butter OR vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
¼ miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 recipe Chocolate Whipped Cream (optional)

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In another mixing bowl, combine buttermilk, chocolate-flavored syrup, egg, butter (or oil) and vanilla. Add to flour mixture. Stir just until combined but slightly lumpy. If desired, stir in walnuts and miniature chocolate pieces.

Heat a lightly greased griddle over medium heat. For each pancakes, pour (or scoop) about ¼ cup batter onto hot griddle. Spread batter into a circle about 4-inches in diameter. Cook until pancakes are golden brown, turning to cook second sides when pancake surfaces are bubbly and edges are slightly dry (about 2 to 3 minutes per side).

If desired, serve with Chocolate Whipped Cream and garnish with chocolate-flavored sprinkles. Alternatively, you can serve it with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Or try coconut-flavored syrup. Or peanut butter and maple syrup. Or Cherry and Pineapple topping (recipe below). Or raspberry syrup. Have fun with it!

Chocolate Whipped Cream: In a chilled mixing bowl beat 1 cup whipping cream, 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, and ½ teaspoon vanilla with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on medium to high speed just until soft peaks form. Chill until ready to use.

Cherry and Pineapple Topping

1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling
1 (8 ounce) can pineapple tidbits, drained
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Chopped almonds or pecans, toasted (optional)

In a small saucepan combine cherry pie filling, pineapple tidbits, and almond extract; heat through. Serve warm. If desired, sprinkle with almonds or pecans. Cover and refrigerate remaining topping for up to 1 week. Makes 2 cups.

Chicken Greek-a-Tikka Salad with Parsley-Feta Pesto

This is my type of dinner--extremely flavorful and satisfying! My entire family loved it. Joshua commented that he was surprised how delicious it was--he wasn't too sure about how the green sauce was going to taste. Alyssa loved to hear me say the name of the dish--she made me say it so many times it became quite the tongue twister!

1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon grill seasoning (such as McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning)
2 to 2 ½ pounds white-meat chicken, cut into bite-size cubes
1 romaine lettuce heart, chopped or torn
2 vine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ English (seedless) cucumber, chopped
½ red onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
6 pepperoncini hot peppers, chopped (available jarred in the pickle section)
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parlsey-Feta Pesto
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup crumbled feta
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (eyeball it)

Preheat a grill pan to high heat. Heat oven to 250°F (to keep chicken warm in between batches).

In a bowl, combine the yogurt, coriander, cumin, oregano, and the grill seasoning. Coat the chicken in the mixture, then thread the meat onto metal skewers. Brush the grill pan with oil and grill the meat for 5 to 6 minutes on each side. (Instead of skewers, I just cooked the meat in a large nonstick skillet in a couple of batches.)

Combine the chopped veggies, olives, and hot peppers on a large platter or in a serving bowl. Dress the salad very lightly in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Place all ingredients for the pesto in the food processor except the olive oil. Turn the processor on and stream in olive oil until all is incorporated and a smooth somewhat fluid sauce has formed.

Place the grilled meat on the salad and top liberally with the pesto, streaming it back and forth over the salad and the meat.

Triple Cinnamon Scones

We agree with King Arthur Flour that "with cinnamon filling and cinnamon chips inside, and cinnamon-scented glaze outside, these moist, aromatic scones are a cinnamon-lover's dream come true." I used the Cinnamon Flav-R-Bites I get from Honevyille Grains--soaking them in the liquid before using them helps them soften. I used the Baker's Cinnamon Filling from King Arthur Flour, but you could try to make your own filling by mixing 1/4 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon Instant ClearJel (or 2 tablespoons flour). We all absolutely loved these scones! The thin glaze makes the scones taste more like a donut than a traditional scone.

3/4 cup (6 ounces) half and half or evaporated milk
1 cup (5 ounces) cinnamon Flav-R-Bites or cinnamon chips
2 3/4 cups (11 ½ ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cold butter, cut into pats
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (5 ounces) Baker's Cinnamon Filling
3 tablespoons water
3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 tablespoons (3 ½ ounces) water
1) Combine the Cinnamon Flav-R-Bites with the half and half or milk in a small bowl. Let the mixture rest for about 20 minutes.
2) While the cinnamon mixture is resting, get started putting together the rest of the ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
3) Work in the butter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it's OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated.
4) Add the eggs and vanilla to the cinnamon-milk mixture, stirring to combine.
5) Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.
6) Scrape the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Pat/roll it into a rough 9" square, a scant 3/4" thick. Make sure the surface underneath the dough is very well floured. If necessary, use a giant spatula (or the biggest spatula you have) to lift the square, and sprinkle more flour underneath.
7) Spread the filling over the dough. Fold one edge into the center and over the filling, as though you were folding a letter. Fold the remaining edge over the center to complete the three-fold. You'll now have a rectangle that's stretched to about 4" x 12". Gently pat/roll it to lengthen it into a 3" x 18" rectangle; it'll be between 3/4" and 1" thick.
8) Cut the rectangle into six 3" squares. Transfer the squares to a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet. Now you have a choice. For large scones, cut each square in half diagonally to make a triangle; you'll have 12 scones. For medium scones, cut each square in half diagonally again, making four triangular scones from each square. Gently separate the scones (if you like scones with crunchy edges), leaving about 1" between them. For softer scones, separate the scones just enough to break contact between them.
9) You may also choose to make scone strips, or tiny squares. Cut each 3" square into three 1" x 3" rectangles, for a total of 18 scone strips. Gently separate the strips, leaving about 1/2" between them. Or cut each 3" square into nine 1" squares, to make 54 bite-sized mini scones.
10) For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.
11) Bake the scones for 16 to 20 minutes, or until they're golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, and allow the scones to cool right on the pan.
11) Make the glaze by stirring together the sugar, cinnamon, and water. If the sugar seems particularly lumpy, sift it first, for an extra-smooth glaze.
12) Now you're going to coat each scone with glaze. You can dip each one individually, which is quite time-consuming. Or line a baking sheet (with sides) with parchment, and pour about half the glaze atop the parchment. Set the scones atop the glaze, swirling them around a bit to coat their bottoms. Then drizzle the remaining glaze over the top. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze over each scone, to coat it entirely. The glaze is very thin, so this is easily done.
13) Transfer the scones to a rack set over parchment, to catch any drips. As you pick each scone up, run its sides over the glaze in the bottom of the pan, both to use up some of the extra glaze, and to make sure all sides are coated. Allow the glaze to set before serving the scones.
Yield: one dozen triangles, 5" x 3"; 2 dozen triangles, 2 1/2" x 3"; 18 strips, 4" x 1 1/2"; or 54 mini (1 1/2") squares. (I chose to make one dozen large triangles.)