Monday, November 24, 2008

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

These cupcakes are cute, delicious, and as easy as they get. I call them "I Heart My Husband Cupcakes" but you can call them anything you wish :) You can make this recipe however you wish, I prefer it with white cupcakes and strawberries mixed with the cream, but you could substitute chocolate cupcakes for the white or raspberries in place of the strawberries. Feel free to experiment!

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

1 package white cake mix and ingredients to prepare
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 cups strawberries, finely chopped
1/4 cup white (granulated) sugar

1. Prepare white cake mix according to package directions for cupcakes. Cool completely.
2. In large mixing bowl, whip cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Mix white sugar with strawberries, and gently fold strawberry mixture into cream. Frost cupcakes with strawberry-cream mixture. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 12 hours.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Creole Style Crockpot Jambalaya

I've been using the crockpot more and more for cooking at work. It lets me budget my time more effectively. I can prepare the meal the night before, when I usually have free time, instead of trying to rush to get it done in time. This realization has led to many the experimental meals, most of which have turned out fairly good. But this one has to be one of my favorites. It isn't exactly a traditional jambalaya (since the rice is cooked separate and added at the end), but is still very tasty.

Creole Style Crockpot Jambalaya
serves 8-10

1 lb sausage (I like to use Colosimo's brand chorizo, but andouille is more traditional)
2 lb chicken breasts or tenders, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 lb ham, cubed
2 TB butter
1/2 stalk celery, diced
3 or 4 large carrots, diced (or about 1/2 a bag of the baby carrots)
1 large onion, diced
2 large bell peppers, diced (I like to use one red and one green)
Cajun spice blend
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth or stock (stock is better, but take what you can get)
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 lb small shrimp, tailed and shelled
4-6 cups cooked rice
Fresh parsley, minced
Salt and pepper

1- Brown sausages on medium heat in a large skillet. Do not cut them up or puncture the skin. You want to save the tasty interior juices for the rest of the jambalaya. Once browned, transfer to a very large crockpot and cut into bite sized pieces using kitchen shears.
2- Brown the chicken in the same skillet, if there isn't enough grease left from the sausages then use a little butter. You'll probably have to do this is batches so the pan doesn't get over crowded. Once browned, transfer to crockpot with the sausage.
3- Just quickly sear the ham in the same pan. Shouldn't take much time at all. Transfer it to the crock pot.
4- Sautee the vegetables(celery, carrots, onion, peppers) in the butter, using the same pan. Try to scrape up and incorporate anything the meats left behind in the pan. Once the veggies are starting to soften add in the Cajun spice. (If you want there to be any taste of it left after crockpot cooking you better add a ton. I put in 3-4 TB to make it about medium heat. It seems like a lot, but the crockpot blands everything out.) Coat the veggies in the spice. You're trying to bloom it in the butter and make it stick to the veggies.
5-When the veggies are covered in spice and fairly soft add in the stock and tomatoes. You want to de-glaze the pan and incorporate all the nice fond you've built up into your liquid. So really scrape the bottom of that pan (don't scratch it if it's non-stick though!). After a couple minutes on medium heat everything should be pretty well incorporated. Dump the veggie/liquid mix into the crockpot with the meat and stir it up to mix everything together.
6- At this point I would usually leave it in the fridge overnight, but you could start it right away. Set the crockpot on high heat for about 3 hours.
7- When the time is almost up you'll want to get your rice cooked. Make it with just a little bit less water than normal. If it's a little dry then it'll soak up the jambalaya liquid better.
8- Right before you're ready to serve the jambalaya, you'll want to sautee the shrimp in butter. Make sure to get them fully cooked. It should just take a couple minutes, depending on the size of shrimp. Add the cooked shrimp to the crockpot and mix to incorporate fully. Let stand for a couple minutes, and garnish with a little chopped parsley.
9- Serve over the cooked rice. I should be very tasty now.

This isn't exactly a health conscious, or vegetarian friendly recipe, but it is quite good. I think it's the perfect sort of meal for the cold winter, maybe even for a reading of The Cajun Night Before Christmas. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Egg Rolls

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 cups chopped cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup minced onion
1 egg, separated
2 T. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
25 egg roll shells

1. Mix everything except egg white in large bowl. Spoon 1 1/2 - 2 Tb. filling down center of each egg roll shell. Fold up bottom of shell, then fold sides over and top down. Seal ends with egg white.
2. Deep fry at medium heat for 10 minutes or until golden brown OR spray pan and egg rolls with olive oil cooking spray and bake at 375 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Serve with sweet and sour sauce.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mini Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecakes

Stop whatever you're doing, print this recipe, and go make it. Seriously. I don't think I've ever tasted anything so amazing in my life. How good is it? Let's just say that I ate 3 of these for dinner...and then had to follow it up with some veggies so I could feel a little better about myself. I just couldn't stop, they are way too good. If you're never made cheesecake before, this is a great place to start. The mini cheesecakes are much more forgiving than the larger variety, take less time, and you can cover any cracks with the topping and it still looks perfect.

Mini Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecakes

13 ginger snaps
1/4 cup pecans
2 Tb. butter, melted

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. (8 oz.) Neufchatel 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

18 pecan halves
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 18 regular size muffin cups with papers (or, if using mini cheesecake pans, spray lightly with butter flavored cooking spray).
2. Put ginger snaps and pecans in food processor or small chopper. Process until fine crumbs, about 1 minute. Mix crumbs with melted butter and divide evenly among muffin cups. Press firmly with shot glass or fingers.
3. Bake crusts for 10 minutes. Decrease oven temperature to 300°F.
4. Beat cream cheese, 3/8 cup of the sugar and the vanilla with electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Reserve 3/4 cup of plain batter in small bowl. Stir remaining 1/8 cup sugar, the pumpkin and spices into remaining batter. Spoon half of the pumpkin batter evenly among muffin cups; top with spoonfuls of half of reserved plain batter. Top with remaining pumpkin batter. Cut through batter several times with knife to swirl.
5. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 30 minutes. Move to refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours before serving. Just before serving top each mini cheesecake with one pecan half and drizzle with caramel topping.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ranch Cheeseball

I honestly have never understood why people buy cheeseball. It's cheap and easy to make, and if you make it at home you know exactly what is going in it so you don't have to worry about any weird preservatives or ingredients. This cheeseball is always a hit and can be made in less than 5 minutes, so it's great for last minute get togethers.

Ranch Cheeseball

2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 pkg. (1 oz) Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix (dry)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Combine cheeses, dressing mix, and green onions in medium bowl. Form into ball. Roll in chopped nuts (or parsley flakes if you don't like nuts). Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until firm. Serve with crackers (I prefer Ritz, honey-wheat Wheatables, and Triscuits). Enjoy!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apple Braid

This is a delicious bread recipe that doubles as breakfast or dessert. It's just sweet enough to satisfy your sweet tooth but not so sweet that it is overpowering. Enjoy!

Apple Braid

2 1/2 cups bread flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2 Tb. sugar or honey
1 Tb. instant yeast (I recommend SAF brand)
1 - 1 1/4 cups very hot water
2 Tb. melted butter or margarine

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch cloves
2 Tb. flour
2 Tb. butter or margarine

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup softened butter or margarine
1 Tb. water
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Mix all dry ingredients for bread in large mixing bowl with bread hook. Mix until well blended. Add very hot water and melted butter. Mix for 1 minute, until well combined. Check consistency. You want it to be a stick dough, not a dry dough. Add water or flour to get to desired consistency and mix for 5 more minutes.
2. Spray jelly roll pan with cooking spray. Place dough in pan and roll out so it fills the edges of the pan. Cut 4" strips down each of the long sides of the pan, leaving the center uncut.
3. Prepare the filling by mixing all filling ingredients and microwaving in medium bowl for 2 minutes, or until apples are soft and filling is thick. Spoon down center of braid.
4. Starting from the top, fold one strip of bread over diagonally and press it so it touches the bottom of the strip on the other side. Pinch well so it stays in place. Repeat from the other side. Continue until all strips have been pinched onto the opposite side. Pinch together the bottom of the braid so it seals in the filling and fold end under the braid. Repeat with top of braid.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover braid with dishcloth and let raise 25 minutes. Remove dish cloth and bake for 20 minutes, or until bottom and top are lightly browned. Remove braid from baking sheet and place on cooling rack to cool (this prevents the bottom from getting soggy). Cool 5 minutes and top with glaze.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Honey Chipotle Black Beans

This is a recipe I've been fiddling around with for a while. I think I've pretty much got it down now.

Super Easy Honey Chipotle Black Beans:

3 cans black beans (yes, canned beans- this is where the easy part comes in)
1 TB vegetable oil
1 medium onion- diced
1 green pepper- diced
1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce- peppers removed and minced
(this will make it about medium heat- adjust the amount to your desired heat)
2 cloves garlic- minced
1 lime- juiced
Cilantro- finely chopped

1- Open one can of black beans, dump into a bowl and mash them. You're trying to make a paste that thickens the beans. I usually just use the back of a large spoon to crush it. Once this can is mashed combine it with the other two cans.
2- On medium, heat the vegetable oil in a large pot (a 6 quart or so Dutch oven works great).
3- Add the onion, green pepper, chipotle peppers and garlic to the heated oil to make a sofrito. Sautee over medium heat until onions and peppers are soft and tender.
4- Add the beans and turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes or so. Just look to see when it gets to the thickness you want. The longer it cooks, the thicker it will get.
5- Add salt, pepper and cumin to taste (I like a lot of cumin). Add in the honey. (Really the amount depends on how sweet you like it. I would say I do around a tablespoon or so, which is fairly moderate sweetness.) Simmer for a few more minutes, stirring more frequently.
6- Take off the heat. Add the lime juice and cilantro, mixing them in with everything else. Let cool just a little before serving.

I think that you'll find that these are some very tasty beans. Much better than just opening a can. This is a vegetarian recipe, but if you wanted to add a little meat, bacon is mighty tasty in it. It's also possible to omit the chipotle peppers, making it much milder, but I'd recommend increasing the cumin and decreasing the honey then. Serve this with rice and your favorite Latin dish (be it Mexican, Cuban or what have you).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Kitchen Mishaps

I know, I know. This is not a recipe, and I haven't posted one in over a week. I'll get on that ASAP. But first, I thought I would share a couple of funny kitchen mishaps. No matter how many times I've been in the kitchen and how many meals I've made I still seem to have too many kitchen mishaps. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • When we were first married, I was craving (and I do mean craving) brownies. Not just any brownies, Pillsbury chocolate chunk brownies. We drove to the store late that night and came home to make them. They're about as easy as cooking can get: just add water, oil, and eggs and bake. Fool proof, right? Wrong! I forgot the egg! Ever wanted to know what happens when you forget the egg? The brownies were boiling in the oven when I went to get them out. And after they cooled they were rock hard. Yet Corey still wanted to try them afterward, so he chiseled a piece off and ate it. Not surprisingly, he said it was pretty disgusting.
  • My freshman year in college I decided I would make a nice dinner for my roommates and some friends. I made egg rolls, chicken, rice, sweet & sour sauce, and stir fry. Everything was cooked and ready to go except the stir fry, which just would not cook! I had been cooking it for at least a half hour and it was finally starting to thaw a little bit, but that was it. Not getting hot at all. I put a baking pan over the top (I didn't have a lid big enough) to try and steam it a little bit, but still no luck. Finally I realized that I had turned on the wrong burner...once I turned on the right burner the stir fry cooked amazingly fast. Go figure.
  • Last night I made Danish bread twists to take to work. I finished making them and had just sliced them up and put them on a platter. I left a couple of pieces on the cutting board to save for Corey, then went to wash the cutting board...without remembering to take the bread twists off. Luckily I realized what I was doing before they were all soaking wet. I managed to only get one of them slightly damp...that's pretty good in my book.
  • And as an honorable mention, here is one from sophomore year in college Corey and I were making brownies to take to dinner at his brother and sister-in-law's place...only the second time I had ever met anyone in his family. Corey tried to open the brownie mix without scissors...and the mix promptly exploded over the entire kitchen. It was everywhere. We were finding brownie mix on everything for weeks.

Although these things are frustrating when they happen (especially since I'm OCD and want everything to be perfect when I'm cooking), they're a good reminder to me that it's ok when things go wrong. And, as an added bonus, they make for great stories afterward.

So what are some funny mishaps you've had in the kitchen? Go on. Spill. I know you've had them and I could certainly use a good laugh today!

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Favorite Wrap

I love anything that's like a sandwich. Wraps. Paninis. Hoagie sandwiches. Cracker sandwiches. Pitas. They're all great in my book. This is my all-time favorite wrap, a turkey cranberry wrap. Yum!

Turkey Cranberry Wrap

1 wrap (I used Sun-dried Tomato flavor) or whole wheat tortilla
1/8 lb. deli-sliced turkey
1 slice Havarti cheese (or substitute provolone, Swiss, or Muenster)
1 Tb. chive and onion cream cheese
3 - 4 Tb. jellied cranberry sauce
3/4 cup fresh spinach, washed and dried
tomato, thinly sliced (to taste)
red onion, thinly sliced (to taste)

Spread cream cheese in thin layer down center of wrap. Top with cranberry sauce. Layer with turkey, cheese, tomato, onion, and spinach. Wrap tightly, slice diagonally, and serve. I had mine with homemade sweet potato fries and strawberries to round out the meal.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

BBQ Chicken Pizza

There's just something so wonderful about BBQ chicken pizza that it makes me happy just thinking about it (then again, it is fast Sunday and I'm starving, so maybe that has something to do with it...). The combination of smoky BBQ sauce, chicken, cheese, and veggies is so delicious that I could eat it once a week for the rest of my life and be completely satisfied. The beauty of this pizza is that you can adjust it to what your family likes. Don't like mushrooms? Substitute olives or tomatoes. Don't like gouda? Leave it out and just use mozzarella. I make homemade pizza dough when I make it, and I usually roll the crust quite thick. However, you can use refrigerated pizza dough (a la Pillsbury), Rhodes roll dough, or even a Boboli crust if you want to. We also make it into individual pizzas on pitas and cook them in the toaster oven for a quick and tasty meal!

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Dough for one 14" pizza
3/4 - 1 cup Bull's Eye BBQ sauce, original or hickory smoke (Don't substitute another brand, it won't be nearly as good. Trust me)
3 cups cheese (I like to use mostly mozzarella with a little cheddar and a little smoked gouda)
1/2 lb. chicken, cooked and cubed
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
5 - 6 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, sliced (optional)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Spray pizza pan with pam and sprinkle with garlic salt. Roll pizza dough onto pan, making sure crust is even. Spread BBQ sauce evenly over crust. Top with chicken, bacon, mushrooms, and red onion. Sprinkle with cheese. Sprinkle with green onion and cilantro, if desired.
3. Bake about 20 minutes, or until cheese on top is slightly browned and crust is cooked through and brown on the bottom. Let stand 5 minutes and cut into slices.
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