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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Roasted Garlic, Caramelized Leek & Bacon Bites

I haven't been talking much about it, but I'm pretty freakin' excited about the Super Bowl.  As a lifelong Giants fan, you can understand why.

Once again, the underdog has prevailed.  I LOVE that.  Even when my team isn't the underdog, I think it's awesome.  All I keep thinking is, it's deja vu...and I'm hoping for the same outcome as four years ago.

My birthday is on Thursday and I'm not even thinking about it.  It's all about SUNDAY.

Now, I don't know what your Super Bowl plans are, but if you're looking for something a little classier than the usual football apps, this recipe is for you.  I'm all about the nachos, wings and crack dip, but sometimes I like to see some different options.

The blend of flavors here is really, really good.  And although they seem "fancy", they're very easy to make.  Oh, and I used frozen leeks (Trader Joe's comes through once again) so if that's all you have, go ahead and use them.

So, what are your Super Bowl plans?  And who are you rooting for?

Roasted Garlic, Caramelized Leeks & Bacon Bites
slightly adapted from What's Cookin' Chicago?

1 package prepared pie crust dough (or homemade)
2 bulbs garlic
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
4 thick slices bacon, cut into small chunks
1 cup frozen chopped leeks (or one medium leek), thawed and completely dried
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Season garlic with salt and pepper and coat with oil.  Wrap individually in foil and bake for about an hour, until soft.  Squeeze garlic out of skin with the side of a knife.  Set aside.

Saute bacon over medium low heat until crispy, about 15 minutes.  Add leeks to skillet (keeping heat at medium low), season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft and sweet, stirring occasionally, about 20-30 minutes.

Lightly spray each tin of a mini-muffin pan.  Roll a small piece of dough into a ball the size of a quarter and press into tin, carefully, while making sure it reaches the sides.  Repeat until all dough is gone.

Place a small dollop of garlic paste into each crust, followed by leek and bacon mixture, then cheese.  Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.  Let cool slightly before serving.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

What's Baking Roundup - Snowday Treats

It was my turn to host our monthly What's Baking? group challenge, and I figured January was the perfect month to choose a theme involving snow.  Normally, by this time of year, our area has already seen plenty of it.  This season, however, has been pretty "balmy", with only two snowstorms thus far - the bigger one happening right before Halloween!  Still, baking your favorite snowday treat is always fun - white fluffy stuff or not.

Jen from Beantown Baker baked these Hot Chocolate Cookies...a clever way to get a popular snowday beverage into the oven...


And apparently, Jey from The Jey of Cooking had the same idea with her version!


Jill from JBean Cuisine submitted a fun twist on a usual favorite with these Butternut Squash Cinnamon Buns:


Lindsay from Peace, Love and French Fries showed her spirit and baked these Creamsicle Cookies, even though it was 50 degrees (in Denver!) that day:


Hezzi D's Books and Cooks author Heather chose a chocolaty treat - how delicious does this Chocolate Covered Brownie Bottom Cheesecake look?


Ange from The Tiny Tyrant's Kitchen made a treat that was a big hit with our family this Christmas - Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies:


More of that oh-so-popular hot chocolate made an appearance, in Our Share of the Harvest's Lindsey's Hot Chocolate Cupcakes:


Yudith from Blissfully Delicious made some beautiful looking Madeleines:

                                     madeleines 2.jpg

Ammie from Adventures in my Kitchen served up a jolt with Chocolate Cappuccino Chip Cookies:


The Boys Made Me Do It's Cara made this yummy looking Orange Sticky Bun, which brought back some memories for her:


Catherine from Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness actually DID have snow when she baked these Oatmeal Maple Scones:


Jaida from Sweet Beginnings made my mouth water with this Chocolate Lava Cake:


Stephanie from Brownies and Blondies had the same thought process as I did when it comes to baking on a snow day, and used what she had on hand for these Kitchen Sink Cookies...


...just like Bella and I did when we made our Monster Cookies (see below for recipe).  Who wants to drive in the snow, anyway?                


Jade from The Mess Pot made Chocolate and Carmel Cookies that look so warm and rich:

                                       Chocolate carmel cookies

Carrie's Sweet Life became even sweeter with these Brown Sugar Cookies:


Amanda from Our Italian Kitchen was the only one who chose to bake a pie - this Salted Caramel Pie - which looks super comforting!


And finally, Sandra, who will host next month's What's Baking? challenge on her blog, She Cooks and Bakes, made this delicious candy treat - Twix Bars.


Thanks for your participation, ladies!  Can't wait to see what's in store for February, when the theme will be  "baking something sweet for your sweets"!

Monster Cookies
from Sweet Anna's

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1 1/4 cups creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup packed sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup m&ms, divided

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream together the butter, peanut butter and sugars.  Mix in eggs, vanilla and baking soda until smooth.  Mix in oats, and then the rest of the ingredients until combined, except for 1/2 cup of the m&ms. 

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Flatten slightly with a fork dipped in cold water.  Press a few reserved m&ms into the top of the cookies that have none showing.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until just set and barely golden brown around the edges.  Do NOT overcook!

Makes approximately 50 cookies.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Chicken with Gruyere & Sage

Our recipe swap theme this time was healthy dishes.  This dish, more of a low carb meal than "healthy", in my opinion, was delicious.  I think other people would argue it being healthy too because of the Gruyere.  Still, it was really good, and very easy to make!

I couldn't find the recipe on Leanne's blog but she got this recipe on the Whole Foods website.  I used chicken tenders instead of breasts, which saved a LOT of time because I didn't have to cut them or pound them down.  I served it with sauteed escarole.

This low carb meal definitely didn't disappoint...and we love adding new chicken dishes to our repertoire.  Make this SOON!

Chicken with Gruyere & Sage
slightly adapted from Whole Foods

8 chicken tenders
salt and pepper
1/4 pound Gruyere cheese, sliced thin
16 fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine

Season tenders with salt and pepper on both sides.  Lay tender flat and add a piece of cheese and two sage leaves to one end.  Roll up and secure with a toothpick.  Repeat with all tenders.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add oil.  Add chicken and cook for about 15 minutes, turning once, until chicken is fully cooked.  Remove from skillet, discard toothpicks and keep warm.

Add onion to pan and cook while scraping bits off bottom.  Add wine and cook until evaporated, about 2-3 minutes.  Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Baked Sweet Potato Wedges

It's easy to get into a side dish rut...especially in the wintertime when there are less fresh veggies to choose from.  You start to miss the farmer's market, the grill, the garden...

Then you remember the good ol' sweet potato.  

There isn't much to say about it except...mmmm.  And the fact that you can prep them in less than 5 minutes is a big bonus.

Works for me!

Baked Sweet Potato Wedges
2 sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon (or a bit more) extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary (or 2 tablespoons dried)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss potatoes in a bowl and add remaining ingredients.  Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for around 20-30 minutes, until soft.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Very Strawberry Cupcakes

This was another one of the cupcakes I made for my cousin's birthday party recently.  I'd say this definitely fulfilled her strawberry request!  These are soooooo good, and pretty, too :)

I think these would be perfect for a little girl's birthday, or for your sweetheart on Valentine's Day.  No matter what the occasion, they'll be well received.  Yum.

Now, can someone please come over and give me piping lessons?  I promise I'll pay you with good eats.  Grrrr.

Very Strawberry Cupcakes
from Apron of Grace

1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red food coloring
1 1/4 cups pureed strawberries
3 cups cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup buttermilk

For the cream cheese buttercream frosting:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temp
1/2 cup butter, at room temp
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon red food coloring
1 pound (approximately 3 1/4 cups) confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, beat sugar and butter together for 3 minutes.  Add egg yolks, one at a time.  Add vanilla, food coloring and strawberries, and beat for 3 minutes.

Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter/egg mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.

In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.  Add to cake batter one third at a time, folding in thoroughly but gently.

Pour batter evenly into 36 lined cupcake tins.  Bake for approximately 18 minutes.

To make the frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter together until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add liquids and blend.  Slowly add sugary while mixing.  You need a medium stiff consistency, so add more sugar if necessary, and beat for several  minutes.

Frost when cupcakes are completely cooled.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday
                   Sweets for a Saturday
                   Strawberry Blog Hop

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey & Veggies

I'm glad Frank has hopped on the spaghetti squash train.  He loves it!  There isn't much not to love - it's delicious, healthy and versatile.  We've had it three times in the past two weeks, prepared differently each time.

This meal is super easy to make and quick enough to prepare during the week.  You can always roast the squash ahead of time if you're really crunched for time.  Just heat it through with the turkey once it's cooked.

It's a pretty dish, too!

If you have a hard time cutting the squash in half (like I usually do), pop it in the microwave for a few minutes first.  It'll soften it up a bit.  You could also boil it for a little while.

Feel free to add any other veggies you like (zucchini, eggplant, spinach...anything goes!).  Ground beef, pork or chicken may also be substituted.  Use your imagination!

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey & Veggies
1 spaghetti squash, cut lengthwise, pulp and seeds removed
1 pound ground turkey
extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 (8-10 ounce) package mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/3 cup dry white wine
grated pecorino romano cheese (optional, for topping)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place squash halves, inside side down, on the pan.  Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add turkey, carrots, onion and garlic.  Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and basil.  Cook until turkey is no longer pink, about 4-5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook another minute or two, until soft.

Add wine and lower heat to medium.  Cook until liquid is almost gone.  Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Scrape insides of squash out into a bowl.  Mix in salt and pepper to taste.  Plate a healthy portion of squash, followed by turkey mixture.  Top with grated pecorino romano, if desired.  Serve.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

The easiest cocktail meatballs in honor of the GIANTS!

Well, it's happening again...the Giants are heading back to the Super Bowl!  Big news for us here as we are lifelong fans.  SUCH a great game last night!  Can't wait for the big day.

Speaking of the big day, I bet there are lots of parties being planned for it right now.  Some will be small gatherings while others will be big bashes.  Back in my single days, I spent Super Bowl Sunday every year in Vegas (which also dubbed as my birthday celebration, since it's always close to SBS).  These days I stay local and usually head to my cousin's house for one of her fun parties.

People are always looking for different football food ideas, and simple ones are usually happily welcomed.  Well folks, it really doesn't get easier than this.  This was something I literally threw together on New Year's Eve after surveying what was in my fridge and freezer.  And it was delicious.

So, who will you root for in the Big Game?

Cocktail Meatballs
One big batch of meatballs (homemade, store bought, beef, turkey...whatever you like)
1/2 large jar duck sauce

Place ingredients in a crockpot.  Cook on high for a few hours...more if the meatballs were frozen.  Serve with toothpicks.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Chicken with Mustard-Cream Sauce

When I posted on my Facebook wall yesterday (as well as a few other foodie friends' walls) that we were having this dish for dinner, I got a lot of requests for the recipe.  So, I figured I better post it ASAP!

I was so happy that I found this recipe at the last minute.  I really didn't know what to do with the chicken breasts I had defrosted, and nothing sounded appealing to me.  My potatoes were baking in the oven and time was running out...I was feeling the pressure.  Kind of like when Frank and I are in a restaurant and I can feel his eyes practically burning holes on me when I have my nose buried in the menu and can't decide what I want to order.  Totally indecisive.

(and by the way, that's the only thing he has a right to complain about when it comes to my perfect self...after all, I'm not the only one who does that...right?  anyone?  Bueller?)

Another thing I discovered while making this dish - I need to buy tarragon.  So much for my fully stocked (and completely disorganized) spice cabinet.  But, I'm happy to report that my choice for a substitute spice worked out just fine.

This was delicious!  And couldn't be easier.  It all came together in about 15 minutes...can't beat that!

Chicken with Mustard-Cream Sauce
adapted from Martha Stewart

extra virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 heavy cream
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried marjoram

Heat skillet and add oil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on chicken and add to hot pan.  Cook through, turning once, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside, keeping it warm.

Pour wine into hot skillet and whisk, stirring for about one minute, or until it reduces in half.  Add cream, mustard, and marjoram and whisk until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Pour any accumulated juices into pan.  Stir together.  Plate chicken and add sauce on top.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mini Black & White Caramel Cheesecakes

Sometimes you feel like something sweet, but you don't want to overdo it.  Sometimes.

That's when these little beauties come in very handy.  Just pop one in your mouth and you're good to go.

They may look simple, but wait until you taste them.  Words.can't.describe.

You can thank me later.  

Mini Black & White Caramel Cheesecakes
adapted from Nestle Toll House

3/4 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips, divided
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
caramel ice cream topping

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Paper line 12 mini-muffin cups.

Combine crumbs, sugar and butter in small bowl.  Press rounded tablespoon of crumb mixture onto bottom of each cup.  Divide 1/2 cup chips between all cups.

Beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Add milk, egg, cocoa and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Spoon mixture into each cup until just full.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cake centers are set.  Remove from oven.  While still warm, top with remaining morsels.  They will slightly melt but retain shape.  Cool completely.  Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Serve drizzled with caramel topping.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leftover Crack Dip Mac-n-Cheese

So, remember that crack dip I posted last week?  You know...everyone's favorite dip...the one that disappears in a flash...the one you always have to triple the recipe for?

Well, something strange happened on New Year's Eve.  I found myself, with last minute notice, cooking a ton of food for some people who were coming over.  I made way too many dishes and entirely too much of everything.

(yeah, I know, those of you who know me are now saying, that's not strange...making enough to feed an army is your MO!)

Anyway, there it was...leftover crack dip.  A lot of it.  An enigma!

So I figured the only thing that could make it better is...pasta.  Right?


Leftover Crack Dip Mac-n-Cheese
because hey, you never know...there may actually be some leftover!

2 cups leftover crack dip
1 box pasta (I used elbows...use whatever you like), cooked al dente, drained
panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place dip in a large bowl and microwave until just heated through, so it can easily be stirred.  Add pasta to bowl and stir to combine.

Pour mixture into an 8x8 square pan.  Sprinkle panko crumbs on top and bake for about 20-25 minutes.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage Soup for the Souper Bowl (in memory of the greatest dog I've ever known)

Another year, another Souper Bowl from Branny Boils Over!  Last year her effort yielded much success, and she's looking to go even further this year.  Click here for more details on how you can be a part of this great cause.

Last year I made my crockpot lentil soup for the event, and honored my sister's English Bulldog, Vito...my first nephew.  Seeing as he is the only pet in our family, I planned on doing the same this time around.

Unfortunately, circumstances have changed since I made my soup last week...otherwise it definitely would have included lots of meatballs.

On Sunday, January 15th, at around 10pm, Vito crossed to the other side and joined many other animals that we've loved in the past.  For a while now, the V-Man hasn't been in the best of health, and the past few weeks were really, really awful.  My sister and brother-in-law did all that they could, but his time had come.

He was 13 years old.  The most handsome 13 year old I've ever known.

Vito was a HUGE part of our entire family.  There have been lots of tears in the past few days but we all can smile and think of many, many fond memories of Vee Vee, as Bella called him.

We love you, V!  I know you're having plenty of meatballs up there in doggie heaven :)

Stuffed Cabbage Soup
very slightly adapted from Join Us, Pull Up A Chair

1 pound ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small head green cabbage, chopped
2 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook garlic and beef in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until beef is no longer pink.  Drain fat from pot.  Stir in cabbage, water, rice, worcestershire, garlic powder, basil and peppers.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 25-30 minutes.

Stir in crushed tomatoes and salt.  If at this point you feel it isn't "soupy" enough for you, add more water and adjust seasonings to taste.  Heat through.  Serve with grated cheese, if desired.

Serves 6.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday
                   Soup Link Up

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

I polled some of my Facebook fans over the weekend, wondering what their favorite kind of cupcakes are.  I love hearing about all the different combinations and why they appeal to people.  It was on my mind because over the weekend, cupcake baking certainly kept me busy.

I baked three different types for my cousin's birthday party, based on the flavors she named when I asked earlier in the week what her favorites were.  Which, by the way, wasn't that convincing...

"Banana.  Hmmm...strawberry.  Chocolate.  Oh, I don't know."

Um, okay.  So now you know why I made three different kinds :)

The original recipe that I used for these cupcakes called for a browned butter frosting, but I had a better idea...an idea that uses a very well received, delicious ingredient that begins with the letter N.

You with me so far?

These were a cinch to make, thanks to the fact that the recipe calls for boxed cake mix.  A little doctoring goes a long way.  Yum.

And the frosting, well, let's just say I'm thankful that I have a little bit leftover in the fridge.

Finally, one LAST time...PLEASE vote for my Pasta e Fagioli...voting ends TODAY!!  Share the link with your friends and family too, if you don't mind :)

CLICK HERE to vote.

Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting
cake recipe from Betty Crocker

1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup (2 medium) mashed ripe bananas
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup water
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake liners in about 20 of the muffin cups (I got 22).  In large bowl, stir all ingredients just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Spoon batter evenly into cups.

Bake for about 16-18 minutes, or until toothpick comes out of center clean.

For the frosting (from Ming Makes Cupcakes):
1/2 cup Nutella
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons heavy cream

Mix all ingredients together until fluffy.  Add a bit more cream if necessary.

Frost cupcakes once they are completely cool.  Garnish with a banana slice, if desired.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Crack Dip (aka Buffalo Chicken Dip)

Yeah, I know...this dip is everywhere.  But hey - it's a huge crowd pleaser, it's super easy to make, and it's perfect for football season (Go GIANTS!).  And although it had been a long time since I made it, I broke the dry spell on New Year's Eve.  So, I gotta throw it in here.

There definitely are a lot of variations of this recipe.  This is how I've been  making it for years - I like this one the best.  And please, whatever you do, take the extra few minutes to cook chicken breasts.  DO NOT used canned chicken.  I beg of you.

Stay tuned next week to see what I did with the leftovers :)

Crack Dip
 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (I use boneless chicken breasts, and I either bake them or boil them in chicken broth)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup blue cheese dressing
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup hot sauce (I usually use Frank's)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place cream cheese in a bowl and stir.  Add dressing, cheese and hot sauce, and stir to combine.  Add in chicken and stir.  Pour into baking dish.

Bake about 20 minutes or until mixture is heated through.  Serve with crackers and celery.

**You can also cook this in the microwave, uncovered, for 5 minutes (stirring halfway through)...or in the crockpot for a few hours on low**

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Baked Eggs with Cheddar & Potatoes

I love dishes that can be served any time of day.  I think Rachael Ray has some sort of term for them, but no need to go there.  You get what I'm saying.

How much easier could this possibly be?  Perfect for an intimate breakfast, double/triple it for a large brunch crowd, or serve it as a simple dinner.

Adding meat to this would make it even heartier, but it was delicious just the way you see it.  Either way, I encourage you to try it this weekend.  Enjoy!

And please, vote for my Pasta e Fagioli if you haven't already!  THANK YOU!!  

***CLICK HERE to vote***

Baked Eggs with Cheddar & Potatoes

3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 large eggs
1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Melt butter in a cast iron skillet (or, as seen in photo, in dutch oven for larger quantities) over medium heat.  Add potatoes and cook until tender and brown, about 15 minutes.  Stir in parsley, garlic, salt and pepper, then remove from heat.

Push potatoes aside to make 4 pockets for eggs, and break 2 into each.  Bake until egg whites are cooked and yolks are still runny, about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle cheese over eggs and bake another minute or two until cheese melts.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Linked to: Fusion Friday

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spiced Walnuts...and PLEASE vote for me!

Even though I'll be 43 (gasp!) in a few weeks, I'm still fortunate enough to have two grandparents that are still alive.  One is my grandpa.   Unfortunately, I don't get to see him that much since he lives down in Florida.  But because we spent SO much time with my grandma and him for so many years, I have countless memories of all different kinds.

My brother, sister and I spent lots of time at our grandparents' house.  Grandpa was a truck driver so he wasn't always there, but when he was, you could bet he was sitting on his recliner, watching tv and smoking his pipe, with a jar of nuts right by his side.  I don't remember exactly what kind of nuts they were, or if they were always the same or not, but I do remember them being his favorite snack.

I love all kinds of nuts, but sometimes the ones right out of a can or jar just don't cut it.  So, I look for different ways to "spice" them up.  Like this.

The perfect snack for anytime.  But be careful - they are definitely addicting!

And before I share the recipe, I have to ask all of you, my wonderful readers, to take just a few minutes to vote for my Pasta e Fagioli in a contest I entered, sponsored by Lidia Bastianich (one of my idols!).  Every vote counts so PLEASE vote and spread the word if you can!

CLICK HERE to vote.  Thank you! :)

Spiced Walnuts
from Dolcetto Confections

1 cup raw walnut halves
4 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil or parchment paper.

Combine walnuts, syrup and oil in a bowl and mix.  In a small bowl, stir together cinnamon, salt and cloves.  Add spice mixture to nuts, stirring to coat evenly.

Bake until nuts are very fragrant and toasted, about 10 minutes.  Allow walnuts to cool on baking sheet before serving.  Store in airtight container.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Almond Tilapia with Wilted Tomatoes & Spinach

Our monthly recipe swap took a different twist this time around - our theme was Secret Recipe Club style (as you've seen me blog here before), so we had a lot of freedom as far as what to cook or bake.  The blog I was assigned is one I'm very familiar with, and one I've chosen other recipes from in the past...The Jey of Cooking, which belongs to my friend Jessica.

Jey has some great dishes to choose from, so it was no easy task to pick just one.  I had a few on deck, but ultimately chose one that used tilapia, since I knew I wanted to prepare it one night this week.  So, I was all set to go and headed into my pantry to get the ingredients, when I realized that I had no almonds (yikes!) which are a main ingredient to the dish.


I looked further and saw an unopened bag of almond meal.  Why I bought it a while back is beyond me, but it finally came in handy.  Just be careful when you turn the fish in the pan...the almond meal is delicate and will come off easily.  There was still plenty of coating on the fish but I'm putting it out there so you handle with care.

I may have made a few adaptations to the dish, but it was delicious...we both loved it, and it was a nice, light meal to have after all the recent holiday indulging.

Another great recipe from Jey...be sure to check out her blog!

Almond Tilapia with Wilted Tomatoes & Spinach
adapted from The Jey of Cooking

4 tilapia filets
extra virgin olive oil
cherry tomatoes
fresh spinach leaves
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
fresh parsley
lemon slices

Heat oil in skillet and add tomatoes.  Cook until they pop or are close to it, about 8-10 minutes.  Put spinach on plates and place hot tomatoes on top.  Set aside.

Beat egg with lemon pepper, red pepper and garlic powder.  Put almond meal and cheese in another shallow bowl.  Dunk each filet in egg mixture, followed by almond meal mixture, and place in same skillet used for tomatoes.  Cook until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes per side.

Place fish on top of spinach and tomatoes (spinach will wilt from heat of fish).  Add lemon and parsley to plates and serve.

Linked to: Fish Blog Hop

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Monday, January 9, 2012


There are some things you can always count on.

1- The Giants somehow making it into the playoffs when the odds are stacked against them (let's go Big Blue!!!)

2- At least two tantrums a day from a 3 year old (it's a good thing mine is cute)

3- My mother-in-law's stromboli at any family gathering she attends (YUM!)

Our New Year's Eve plans changed at the last minute and we ended up having a few people over.  As I frantically went through what we had on hand to come up with some food to make, Frank told me he was heading to the store to get cold cuts.  He wanted to make his Mom's stromboli.  

Hey, works for me!

Obviously, you can fill it with whatever you want...below is what Frank used on NYE.  Other favorite combos of ours are spinach and cheese, broccoli and cheese, sausage, peppers and onions (and cheese)...the possibilites are endless.

And yes, it's as easy as it seems.  This is the way my MIL has been making it for years and it's always gone in a snap!

from my husband, via his mom

pizza dough or french bread dough (homemade or store bought)
10 slices Genoa salami
10 slices provolone cheese
10 slices ham
Marinara (to serve on the side)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Using flour, roll out dough.

Starting a few inches from the bottom, place 5 slices of salami across the dough.  Add another row of salami on top of that.  Continue with two rows of cheese and two rows of ham.  Make sure there is a little dough left on top.

Carefully roll dough up from the bottom.  Place seam side down on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Let cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing.  Serve warm, with marinara for dipping.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday
                     Game Day Blog Hop

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cuban Chicken Soup (Sopa de Pollo)

It's Crazy Cooking Challenge time again!  This month, the "topic" was well suited for this time of year - chicken soup.  Perfect!

I had a bunch of ideas floating around my head, until this came along...

Yum.  Seriously...YUM.

This soup has many great qualities.

1- it's very easy to make
2- it uses mainly pantry items
3- it's guaranteed to cure all ailments (not that we were sick when we had it...but I know from my Cuban sis-in-law that most things Cuban will)
4- it's cheap to make
5- it's DELICIOUS!

Wish I made some more...

I took these pictures right after the soup finished cooking.  By the next day, when I heating some up for lunch (mmmm), it had thickened up a bit.  It was even better that way!  Just a warning - the more pasta you add, the thicker it will get - so keep that in mind when cooking.


Another fun challenge in the books!  Check out all of the other crazy contributions below...

Cuban Chicken Soup (Sopa de Pollo)
slightly adapted from Best Cuban Recipes

6 chicken thighs, bone in, skinned
6 cups water
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 potatoes, peeled and quartered 
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
fine noodles (I used thin spaghetti...about 1 cup, broken in half)
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup lemon juice (close to 2 lemons, depending on size)
salt and pepper

Salt chicken lightly.  Add water, chicken, tomato paste, onion, garlic and oregano to large pot.  Bring to boil, then reduce to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add potatoes and carrots.  Cover and simmer another 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Add noodles, saffron, lemon juice salt and pepper and cook until pasta is tender.  

Serves 6-8.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Facing my fears

I have admitted here before that I'm much better (and more confident) with cooking than I am with baking.  Part of the reason why I chose to bake everyone's birthday cakes when I started this blog was to fine tune my baking skills, which in my opinion needed a lot of sharpening.  And still do!

What I don't think I've mentioned, however, is my fear of yeast.  I've been writing this blog for over a year, and I'm not sure if anyone's noticed that I haven't baked one thing that included it.  Until now.

A few weeks ago I got my Secret Recipe Club assignment for the month.  I perused the blog that was given to me and came across what I considered to be an easy bread recipe.  Yes, it required yeast, but I mentally prepared myself for it.  So, off I went to Trader Joe's, and purchased my first packet of yeast.

The next day, I got an email from SRC that our assignment for the month was canceled.  But, the trooper that I am decided to continue with facing my fear and bake the bread.  Yeah...a woman on a mission.  Go me!

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

The truth is, you can buy amazing bread in this area, like, the best pretty much anywhere...so, I guess if that weren't the case I'd have done this sooner.  I'm not sure how often I'll be doing it, but at least now I'll have a bit more confidence :)

Garlic Rosemary Focaccia
from The Cookaholic Wife

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast
1 cup + 1 tablespoon warm water (105 degrees)
3 1/2 cups AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
sea salt and cracked black pepper for sprinkling

Heat oil and garlic in a small saucepan until garlic begins to brown.  Remove from heat, discard garlic and let oil cool.

In bowl of stand mixer, add water and yeast.  Add half of oil.  In large bowl, combine flour and salt.  Attach dough hook to stand mixer and and add half of flour mixture to mixing bowl.

Continue adding flour on low speed until dough ball starts to form.  Increase speed to medium and mix until dough becomes soft and slightly sticky, about 5 minutes.

Oil a large bowl and transfer dough to it.  Turn dough so oil covers both sides.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Grease a 9x13 baking pan with some of the remaining oil.  Remove bread from bowl and gently press into pan, working it out so it reaches all edges.  Lightly coat a piece of plastic wrap with oil and cover dough again.  Let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Using your fingertips, make indentations around dough in various places.  Drizzle garlic oil over dough, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, and finally rosemary.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Linked to: Bread Recipe Link Up

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

It's good (un)stuff!

Do you have crazy love for stuffed artichokes like I do?  They're one of my favorite things to eat.  Sometimes, though, you just don't have the patience to make them...or you can't find decent artichokes if they're out of season...or you'd rather not spend the time eating them and making a big mess.

If any of those are the case, you need to bookmark or pin this recipe now.  This way you'll always have it for safe keeping, and you'll be able to fulfill your stuffed artichoke craving very easily.

We tried this for the first time this past Christmas Eve, in place of another side dish we usually make, and it was a HUGE hit!

It's pretty sloppy looking, but SO delicious.  Trust me.

Oh, and it's far from low cal, so all of you New Year dieters might want to skip this one...just save it for February :)

Un-stuffed Artichokes
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
4 cans artichoke hearts, drained and slightly chopped
1 package (10 ounces) mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh garlic
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in large pan, then add mushrooms and garlic and saute.  Add artichokes and stir to combine.

Mix parsley, oregano, cheese and bread crumbs in a bowl and add to pan.  Stir together.  Pour mixture into baking pan and drizzle olive oil on top.  Bake for about 45 minutes.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad-in-law!

Months ago, my father-in-law put in the order for his birthday cake.  He even tried getting me to make it in July for his half birthday.  As tempted as I was, I politely told him he needed to wait until December 15th.

He was kind enough to wait 10 days longer, and even kinder to share it with everyone around our Christmas Day table.

What got me super excited about his cake choice was that it's totally in my top 3.  I would have made it myself for my own birthday next month, had he not requested it.

A thing of beauty.

Chocolate + peanut butter = heaven.  In my book, at least.  And my father-in-law's.

I was worried about this cake traveling about an hour and 15 minutes to my inlaws' house, but it survived.  It may have fallen a wee bit lopsided, but it still tasted amazing!

Happy Birthday, DIL!

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cake
slightly adapted from Heather Drive

Chocolate cake (I used this recipe...use your favorite!), baked in two round layers
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4-1/2 cup milk, divided
Reese's peanut butter cups (mini size)...I used about 1 1/2 bags

Bake cake and let cool completely.  Place peanut butter cups in freezer for later use.

In bowl of stand mixer add butter, peanut butter and 1/8 cup milk.  Mix on slowest setting and combine well.  Slowly add confectioners' sugar, mixing on slowest setting.

Start mixing in remaining milk SLOWLY until desired consistency is reached.

Level off cake layers and place one on serving plate.  Scoop about one cup of frosting onto top of layer and spread evenly.  Take cups out of freezer and crush enough of them to add on top of frosting (about 10-12).

Place second leveled layer on top and frost cake fully.  Decorate with remaining cups as seen in photos above, or however you like!  Refrigerate until 30-60 minutes before serving.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday
                   Fusion Friday
                   Sweets for a Saturday

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