Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint bark is extremely popular this time in the year. I decided to make some for the teachers at my school. I love how easy it is and how pretty it looks. Here's how I made it:

1 (1-pound) package white candy coating bark
1 (1-pound) package chocolate candy coating
1 (1-pound) package crushed peppermint candies

Melt chocolate candy coating in double broiler and spread in pan (I lined the pan with wax paper). Chill in refrigerator until set, about 30 minutes. Melt white chocolate in double broiler and mix in peppermint candies. Pour over dark chocolate layer and chill until set. Break into pieces.


David was not a big fan of chili, but I really wanted it one night, so he said he would eat it. Most chili I had before was made with a seasoning packet, but I wanted to create a made-from-scratch chili with the perfect amount of spices to create a rich flavor. So I experimented a little bit and when I served the chili that night, David couldn't eat enough! He requests this chili all the time and eats a ton of it at each meal. I was so happy that I got him to love chili. I make it any time of the year, but I love it on days like today when it's cold outside. David likes to fry corn tortilla chips and dip them in the chili, and I must agree that they're a great complement to the chili. I don't measure my ingredients, but here's a general guideline of how I make it:

1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 bottle dark beer
A couple dashed of cayenne
Chili powder, cumin, and oregano to taste (I would guess that I use at least 2-3 tablespoons each
of chili powder and cumin and 1 to 2 teaspoons oregano)

Cook ground beef until browned and no pink remains; drain.
Saute onion and garlic until onion is tender.
Combine pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, diced tomatoes, and beer in a large stockpot. Add ground beef and onion and garlic mixture. Add desired amounts of cayenne, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook until thoroughly heated. Reduce heat and simmer as long as desired.

This is another great meal that freezes well! I would say that you could get about 6 servings from this recipe.

Source: Erin's Life in the Kitchen

Carrot Cake Cookies

I love these cookies. My mom used to make them all the time when I was little, and I decided to include them in my Christmas baking this year. The dough will be a bit dry at first because it gets its moisture from the carrots. This is a very soft cookie. It also lasts several days longer than most cookies and tends to taste better after a day or so because the flavor of the spices start to come out. The citrus glaze also adds a lot of flavor to the cookie. I brought these to a Christmas party and gave them as part of my baked goods gifts and people loved them. I will definitely start making these cookies more often.

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
½ cup margarine or butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 ½ cups loosely packed shredded carrots
½ cup dark seedless raisins
1 (3 ½ -ounce) can flaked coconut (1 1/3 cups)
1 (3-ounce) can pecans, chopped
Citrus Glaze (recipe follows)

About 2 ½ hours before serving or early in the day:

Into a large bowl, measure first 10 ingredients and ¼ cup water. With mixer at low speed, beat ingredients until well blended, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Stir in carrots, raisins, coconut, and pecans until well mixed.

Preheat oven to 350. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons, about 1 inch apart, onto ungreased large cookie sheets; flatten slightly. Bake cookies 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned but still soft in center. With pancake turner, remove cookies to wire racks to cool.

When cookies are cool, prepare Citrus Glaze. Drizzle glaze over cookies; let dry 30 minutes or until glaze is set. Store cookies in tightly covered container.

Citrus Glaze: In small bowl, mix ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, 2 ½ teaspoons lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth.

Macaroni and Cheese

I love macaroni and cheese. I've never gotten sick of it. I was searching for a recipe that would be a bit different, and I came upon this one from Emeril. I love the way the Essence adds some kick to the topping and the bread crumb and cheese mixture adds a lot of crunch to the texture. I don't measure the Essence exactly, but use spices according to my personal tastes to determine how much I use. This mac and cheese also freezes well. I often make half of the recipe because it makes so much. Here's the wonderful recipe:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ pound elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne

2 ½ cups grated Cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)

½ cup fine bread crumbs

1 teaspoon ESSENCE

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 2-quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well.

Melt the remaining 5 tablespoons butter in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown. Using a whisk, add the milk in a steady stream and cook, whisking constantly, until thick and smooth, 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the salt, pepper, cayenne, and 2 cups of the cheese, and stir well. Add the noodles and stir well. Pour into the prepared dish.

In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining ½ cup of cheese with the bread crumbs and Essence. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings


2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container. This makes about 2/3 of a cup, but I never actually make it like this. I just add the spices to the cheese and bread crumb mixture the way I want them.

Chicken Stuffed Shells

This is a popular dish with David and me. We are both huge fans of any kind of Italian food, and we eat pasta pretty often. These stuffed shells are pretty easy to put together and it's so good! I got the recipe from Amber's Delectable Delights, but I did make a few changes after making it for the first time. It's also a great way to use up leftover rotisserie chicken. I used the chicken from my roasted chicken a few posts below. The rotisserie chicken adds a lot of flavor to the dish. This dish also freezes well. Here's my version of the stuffed shells:

18 to 20 uncooked jumbo pasta shells
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups cooked chicken (I use leftover rotisserie chicken)
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
Marinara sauce (I always do a homemade version)
salt, pepper, parsley, oregano, and basil to taste
Parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook pasta shells according to package directions and drain. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Combine chicken and garlic and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ricotta, chicken, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, and basil. Spread about 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of the dish. Fill cooked shells with chicken mixture and place filled sides up in baking dish. Pour desired amount of sauce over shells (I always use a lot of sauce). Bake covered with foil for 18 to 20 minutes; remove foil and bake until filling is lightly browned, about 5 more minutes. Sprinkle with desired cheese toppings and serve.

I always make homemade marinara sauce to go with these types of dishes. I never measure, but here is my "recipe" for marinara:

Saute 1 large onion and about 2 cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add 2-3 cans tomato diced tomatoes (If I buy these from the grocery store, I use 15-ounce cans, but often David's grandmother gives us canned tomatoes from her garden so I use those). Add 2 (15-ounce) cans of tomato sauce and 1 (8-ounce) can of tomato paste. Then add spices: oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

This makes a ton of sauce. I like to freeze it in small containers to bring out when I need it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Fudge- my favorite Christmas treat!

Fudge is a Christmas tradition in my family. My grandmother always made it and she passed the love of candy making to my mom, who passed it on to me! We always have a batch of fudge in the winter. I used a recipe for Creamy Fudge on allrecipes. It was pretty easy to make and it didn't take very long. I let the fudge set up in the refrigerator for about 2 hours before cutting it into 16 pieces. This fudge was very soft and creamy, which is the way I like it! It didn't have the gritty texture that fudge can sometimes have. I used pecans for the nuts. The recipe said to use 1/2 cup chopped nuts, but next time I will add more. I will probably use 3/4 to 1 cup nuts and see how that makes a difference. I think it would also be good with walnuts. I will definitely be making this fudge again!

Here is the recipe for Creamy Fudge:
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk (5 fl oz can)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I think pecans or walnuts would be best, and next time I will increase to
3/4 to 1 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8x8-inch pan with aluminum foil. Set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow creme, sugar, evaporated milk, and butter, and salt. Bring to a full boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and pour in semisweet chips and milk chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or until firm.

YIELD: 3 pounds

Pineapple Casserole

I never had Pineapple Casserole until David's mom made it one year for Thanksgiving. With pinapple, cheese, and Ritz crackers, I knew it has to be good! This dish became one of my new favorites. It often makes an appearance at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter dinners, and I like to make it throughout the rest of the year as well. The Ritz crackers give it a nice crunchy texture and the pineapple makes it sweet. I love the flavor the cheddar cheese adds. The cheese and pineapple are a great combination of flavors. We had the Pineapple Casserole with the Rotisserie Chicken and rice. This recipe is from the cookbook published by the Junior League of Columbus, Georgia. I made a few minor adaptations:

Hot Pineapple Casserole:
1 (20-ounce) can pineapple tidbits, drained, reserving 3 tablespoons juice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 to 1 1/2 cups Ritz cracker crumbs (I usually use about 3/4 of a sleeve)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, cut up

Place pineapple and reserved juice in a greased casserole dish. Mix flour and sugar and sprinkle over pineapple. Sprinkle cheese on top. Top with cracker crumbs and cut-up butter. Bake in preheated, 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Source: Cookbook from the Junior League of Columbus, Georgia

My First Whole Roasted Chicken!

Chicken is a popular dish on our dinner menu. There are so many ways you can make chicken, and I love it's versatility. Most of the time we have some version of the chicken breast. We often have it baked, sauteed, fried, in in some type of sauce. I have always wanted to try to roast a whole chicken but never did because I thought it would be too difficult or because I didn't have the time. Now that classes are over for the semester, I have more time to cook, so I thought it was finally time to try a whole chicken. This chicken came out so tender and moist. The chicken really absorbed the flavors of the rub. David said this was one of the best meals I've ever cooked for him. He had the idea of cooking rice in the pan drippings. We used 2/3 cup rice, about a cup of pan drippings, and about 1 1/2 cups water and cooked the rice until it was done. I got the ideas for the rub from allrecipes. Here is my recipe:

Rotisserie Chicken:
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 onion, quartered
2 cloves fresh garlic

In a small bowl, mix together spices.
Remove and discard giblets from chicken. Rinse chicken cavity, and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub chicken inside and out with spice mixture. Place in resealable bag. Refrigerate at least 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place chicken on a roasting pan. Bake uncovered for 4 to 4 1/2 hours to a minimum internal temperature of 180 degrees (mine got to about 185 degrees). Let chicken stand at least 10 minutes before carving.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Most Outrageous Brownies!

I love brownies and wanted to find the best brownie recipes. Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies have gotten some rave reviews, so I decided to try them out. I sure was impressed! I was afraid that the coffee flavor might be too strong, but it was a great element to the recipe because it brought out the rich flavor of the chocolate. These brownies are best when eaten cold, so I keep them in the refrigerator. They also freeze well. I just store them in a zip-lock bag and put them in the freezer. The recipes makes one huge batch of brownies. I halved the recipe and baked the brownies in a 9x13-inch pan.

Here is the halved recipe:
1/2 pound unsalted butter
2 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/8 cups sugar

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour (1/2 cup for the batter and 1/8 cup for the chips and nuts)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups diced walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch sheet pan.

Melt together the butter, 1 1/3 cups chocolate chips, and unsweetened chocolate on top of a double boiler. Cool slightly. Stir together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and cool to room temperature.

Stir together 1/2 cup of the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 1 cup chocolate chips with 1/8 cup flour to coat. Then add to the chocolate batter. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tester just comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, rap the pan against the oven shelf to allow air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Do not over-bake! Cool thoroughly, refrigerate well and cut into squares.

I got 20 brownies from this recipe.

Ginger Cookies

Ginger cookies always remind me of winter. Last year I got the Williams Sonoma Cookies cookbook and wanted to make their beautiful Double Ginger Cookies. These cookies came out even better that I had hoped. They were firm but chewy on the inside. The flavor of the cloves and ginger combine for an amazing taste. The best thing about these cookies is that they get better over time. I made them for a bake sale at my church and the next week people were commenting on them and asking for the recipe. David says that these are his favorite cookies and they are an often requested recipe!

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup canola oil
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup dark molasses
1 whole egg, lightly beaten, plus 1 egg white
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger (I omitted this)
1/2 cup coarse sugar crystals


Preheat an oven to 325°F. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.

Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the oil, brown sugar and molasses until well blended. Add the whole egg and stir until blended. Stir in the flour mixture and the crystallized ginger.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg white. Spread the sugar crystals in a shallow bowl.

With dampened hands, shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Brush each ball lightly with egg white and roll in the sugar to coat lightly. Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake until the tops of the cookies are set and crackled, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the racks to cool completely. The cookies will firm as they cool. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Almond Chocolate Balls

I discovered this wonderful treat while watching Paula's Home Cooking last year. I immediately thought of my mom when I saw Paula make it, so next time I was in town, we made them together. They are now a new tradition! They are similar to Almond Joy bars, but I like these better because they are creamier. Here is a link to Paula's original recipe and this is how I made them:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 (14-ounce) package shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
1 (12-ounce) package chocolate chips (I use the bark candy coating)
2 (16-ounce) boxes confectioners' sugar
Cream together sugar and butter in a bowl; add milk. Stir in almond extract, coconut, and nuts; mix well. Form candy into 1-inch balls. Place on waxed paper and refrigerate at least 3 hours. Melt chocolate in top of double boiler, stirring well. Remove from heat but allow chocolate to remain over hot water. (If chocolate becomes too thick, return to heat for a minute or so to thin). With a toothpick, dip each ball in chocolate and place on waxed paper until set.

I get 100 almond balls out of this recipe.

Homemade Pizza

I love pizza. I think I could eat it every day and not get sick of it. David and I love to go to a local Clemson pizza place called Columbos, but I wanted to be able to make my own pizza for us to enjoy at home. I used Jay's Signature Pizza Crust from allrecipes.com. The crust was soft and chewy, which was exactly what I was looking for. When kneading the dough, I had to add more flour because the dough was a bit sticky. I baked my pizza on a pizza stone. It took about 15 minutes to bake. I did not realize how much the crust would puff up in the oven, so next time I will roll out the dough a bit thinner before baking. Some people choose to prebake their crust before adding the toppings, but I baked everything at the same time. I used mozzarella cheese and pineapple for my toppings. Here's the recipe:

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and brown sugar in the water and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir in the salt and oil into the yeast solution. Mix in 2 ½ cups of the flour.

Turn dough out onto a clean, well floured surface, and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough into a well-oiled bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let the dough rise until doubled; this should take about 1 hour. Punch down the dough, and form a tight ball. Allow dough to relax for a minute before rolling out. Use for your favorite pizza recipe.

Preheat oven to 425. If baking on a stone, place toppings on the dough, and bake immediately. If baking on a pan, lightly oil the pan, and let the dough rise for 15 or 20 minutes before topping and baking it.

Bake pizza in preheated oven, until the cheese and crust are golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Hummingbird Cake

For my first entry, I wanted to post one of my favorite cakes. Hummingbird Cake is a Southern tradition, and this recipe is Southern Living's most requested recipe of all time. The bananas and pineapple make this cake moist. It is very similar to carrot cake. I made this cake for David's birthday in August. We were at the beach with his extended family and the cake was devoured that evening!
This is Southern Living's fabulous recipe:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple, undrained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped bananas
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.

Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

Makes 3 cups