Wednesday, October 28, 2009

chocolate-hazelnut cookies

Giada's always using Nutella on her show, it's like she knows how addicting it is and just sticks it in everything so more people try her recipes. That nerve!

Okay, Giada, I'm just kidding. Please don't be mad. We love Nutella and will make whatever you decide to put it in with smiles on our faces. And a little chocolate on our chin.

Today's recipe is Chocolate-Hazelnut Smooches, minus the smooch for us. (I'll get to that in a second.) I saw her making these on Everyday Italian this week and thought they'd be a fun Halloween cookie to make with my daughter. We followed the recipe closely, only one modification, leaving out the chocolate kisses on top, which means we baked the cookies for 11 minutes straight. I just didn't feel like smooches on our cookies this time around. My daughter, Ava, and I had so much fun making these. (She got to roll them in the sugar and lick her fingers afterwards. Yum.)

I won't leave you in suspense. These are awesome. The sugar coating provides a fun crunch to the cookie, but they are still chewy in the middle. Such a perfect balance of texture, and the taste is delicious. How could it not be with yummy Nutella goodness inside?

When I told my husband what we were baking today, he was less than excited. But I brought him a sample anyways, and he took a bite with an apprehensive look on his face. I'm not exactly sure what look was on his face while he continued to eat a few more cookies, but, you get the picture. These are good, even for the toughest critic.

Monday, October 26, 2009

no need for take-out: general tso's chicken

My husband's FAVORITE meal is Chang's Spicy Chicken from P.F. Chang's, their version of General Tso's Chicken. Most of the time (even now that we don't live near one) when I ask him what he'd like for dinner, that's his answer. So when Sunny Anderson was making her version of General Tso's on Cooking For Real this week, I decided to see if it would compete with Chang's, or at least get my hubby excited about what's for dinner.

Sunny calls hers Airman Anderson's husband actually thought I came up with the name.

Here's what I did differently:

1. I used chicken breasts instead of thighs since that's what we prefer.
2. Instead of serving it with her Stormy Rice, I made my Citrus Rice-tastic instead. I thought the slight orange flavor in my rice would complement the orange in the sauce of this recipe.
3. We sauteed sliced carrots, mushrooms, celery and scallions to toss with the chicken.

This recipe was more work than I initially anticipated, but after my husband's reaction, totally worth it. He says it doesn't beat out Chang's (not yet at least, I'm not giving up that easily) but it was very good, much better than what you'd get at any other Asian restaurant. My husband raved about the sauce, and that was the easiest part of the recipe. I have to say I really enjoyed it as well, but it was a little too spicy for my tastes. I think the next time I make it I'll dial back the cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes a notch or two so it's a little more enjoyable for me.

We'd absolutely recommend this recipe. As long as you have the time, this is much better than your typical take-out and is even yummy reheated for lunch the next day too, as we just found out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

brownie pudding

Oh my chocolaty goodness. If you get together with a group of girls, be it a book club, girls night in, bible study, whatever...this dessert would be a welcome addition to the festivities; you have my word. It reminds me of college when my roommates and I would sit around the kitchen counter, each armed with our own spoon, eating under baked brownies fresh out of the oven. Granted, we were all athletes at the time so doing something like that had absolutely no effect on our waistline, not so much the case now. This is not a healthy dessert, not even close. BUT if you're sharing with friends, it's worth the indulgence. (Even if you're not, that's okay too. Who cares what anybody else thinks.) Trust me, you don't want to go through life having not experienced Ina Garten's Brownie Pudding. It would be a crying shame.

A few recipe notes: I had to look up what framboise liqueur is so it obviously didn't make it into the mix, but I now know that it's a raspberry liqueur and you could easily substitute raspberry juice for it. Yum. What's not to love about chocolate and raspberries? Also, I didn't have a vanilla bean so I used 1 tablespoon vanilla extract instead. The closest baking dish I have to what Ina recommended is an 11 x 7 x 1 1/2 and it worked without any modifications to the baking time. Oh, and one more thing, when beating the eggs and sugar together, I had the mixer going for 7 minutes to get the thick, light yellow consistency that the recipe desires.

You should know that this is a very rich dessert so you'll need a tall glass of milk to wash it down, as my husband reminds me to make sure I mention. (I don't drink milk so water worked just fine for me.) Or vanilla ice cream would be great with it too.

My daughter helped me put the brownie pudding together last night, but because it has such a long baking time, she was in bed by the time it was done. There's no lapse in her memory, though. When she came downstairs this morning and I asked what she'd like for breakfast, her answer, as sweet as she can sound, "A brownie, please." You'll just have to guess whether we ate brownie pudding for breakfast though, because we aren't telling.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

herbed garlic bread

If you're having pasta tonight, or chicken, or steak, or pork, or...well, you get the picture, then I've got a recipe for excellent garlic bread to go alongside your main course. Tyler Florence doesn't disappoint with his Herbed Garlic Bread.

I've made this recipe using the fresh herbs like it calls for and also with dried ones when I don't have fresh on hand. As you'd expect, the fresh tastes better, but I certainly still enjoy it with the dried herbs too. One other note, when I mash it all up together, I usually end up adding some additional olive oil to make the butter paste easier to spread over the bread. Enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

a better biscuit

I absolutely love it when I come across a recipe that I just know is going to be a mainstay in our home for years to come. Actually, I'm going to tell you about two of them today. The first one is Alton Brown's Southern Biscuits. A few weeks ago I'd given Ina Garten's Biscuits a try and we liked the way they came out, but I'd mentioned that I still wanted to give Alton Brown's recipe a shot. I'm so glad I did. These are just the way biscuits should be, truly the perfect biscuit. I don't feel any need to try any other biscuit recipe, ever. Yum. (I didn't get a chance to take pictures of the biscuits this time around. It was just one of those nights that got a little crazy right before dinner and, honestly, all I wanted to do was sit down and dig in, so...maybe next time.)

We had the biscuits with one of my favorite meals...pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. The pot roast recipe is another one of our faves. It came from my Uncle John and is very much worth the try. And you can use the exact same recipe to make Italian Beef! The only extra thing you'll need is rolls for the sandwiches.

A roast of your choice
1 package Italian Seasonings salad dressing mix
1 package onion soup mix
2 cups water

Put the roast in a slow cooker. Mix both seasoning packets in the water. Pour the mixture over the roast and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Shred meat for Italian beef or tear into larger pieces for pot roast.

The leftover juices in the slow cooker make an excellent gravy. All you need is a rue, no additional seasoning needed. It's awesome. Thanks for the idea, Penny! I've always been intimidated to make gravy, but this really is one that's hard to mess up. So simple, so delicious.

This is a great meal for a cool fall evening. Mmmm, and I can't wait to make those biscuits again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

roasted asparagus

Some things taste best when treated simply and left very close to their true form. I discovered this weekend that I love asparagus this way. Tossed with a little extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and pepper and roasted in the oven for 20 minutes. That's it. Ina Garten can give you all the specifics in her recipe, Roasted Asparagus. I've been craving it since then and can't wait to make it again tomorrow night for dinner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

pumpkin bread at its finest

And now to the most delicious pumpkin bread we've ever tasted. (We finished off our loaf today and both my daughter and I were a little sad at lunch when it was all gone. What's better with 'roni and cheese than warm slices of pumpkin bread?)

This recipe was inspired by Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread from, but I made quite a few modifications so I'll spell out the recipe here in the blog this time.

2 generous cups fresh pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2/3 cup water
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
cinnamon/sugar mixture
melted butter/brown sugar/cinnamon mixture

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and coat with cinnamon/sugar mixture one loaf pan and put baking cups in regular muffin pans for 16-18 muffins.
2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, applesauce, water and both sugars until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the loaf pan and then pour remaining batter into the muffin pans.
3. Bake muffins for 30 minutes and the loaf for 1 hour 10 minutes. (Times are approximate, make sure you're checking on them from time to time.) They are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. Place loaf pan on a greased rimmed baking sheet immediately after it's done baking. Poke holes all over the top of the bread and pour a melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon mixture over the holes. (I didn't do any measuring for this mixture so just start with a couple tablespoons melted butter and add brown sugar and cinnamon until it's to a consistency you like. It needs to be runny enough to seep into the holes.) Let cool and dig in! Or you can eat it before it cools if you're just too excited like we were.
5. Let the muffins cool. I topped some of them with cream cheese frosting and orange sugar sprinkles for dessert for a dinner party this weekend. (I halved this recipe except for the powdered sugar. I still used 2 cups of that.)

Now, let me start by saying my husband doesn't like pumpkin OR cream cheese, until now. I didn't expect that he'd eat any of our pumpkin bread and definitely not the icing-topped muffins. I didn't even bother offering him any because I didn't want my feelings hurt when he wasn't interested in trying it. But he didn't even want to share with our daughter. She had to have her own muffin, and that wasn't even her request. I loved it too. Best pumpkin bread I've ever had. We've found a new fall staple for our home. Can't wait to go back to the pumpkin patch next week so we can find our next right pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

how to make your own pumpkin puree

Playdate at a pumpkin patch: $7

Wrong pumpkins selected before she found the right one: 4

Oven temperature to roast a pumpkin and help warm our chilly house: 375 degrees F

Watching my daughter find such joy in turning her pumpkin into something delicious: Priceless

Last week the kids and I met up with a few other families at a local pumpkin patch for a hayride, a walk through a straw maze and a pumpkin patch. We had fun, although my daughter becomes so quiet around other kids it's hard to tell what she's thinking. She got to pick out a small pumpkin which was perfect because the small ones are best to cook with and I promised her we'd make something yummy out of her find. She's developing such an eager desire for helping me cook; I love getting to share my time in the kitchen with her.

And now I'll share our creation with you (Part 1 of 2)...

First, let's roast those pumpkins. Not as easy as picking up a can of pumpkin at the grocery store, but worth the learning experience for me and my baby and the upgrade in flavor of your chosen pumpkin dish.

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking dish or rimmed cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. (I used a 13x9 pan.)

2. Cut the pumpkin in half and cut out the stem section and remove the stringy pulp and seeds. I used an ice cream scoop for this and it worked wonderfully. I'd also recommend a serrated knife for cutting the pumpkin for a little more stabilization.

3. Place the two halves face down in your baking pan and cover with foil.

4. Bake in the oven for about 1½ hours for a smaller pumpkin, or until tender.

5. Once the baked pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree or mash it.

Tomorrow I'll continue this pumpkin adventure with what we made with our pumpkin puree. You won't want to miss it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

pancakes: no box mix allowed

We've conquered the first week of our month-long No Eating Out Challenge!

but not without a few cravings...

My daughter and I particularly fancy the pancakes from Mem's Country Cupboard, a local diner that serves breakfast and lunch. So this morning when I asked her if she'd like pancakes for breakfast, her answer was a very enthusiastic, "Yes!" (She must have been missing Mem's too.) Since we had breakfast there the first time, I've been researching pancake recipes, trying to figure out exactly what they do to make their flapjacks so yummy. I settled on a recipe to try and this morning we made these pancakes from

Oh, can I tell you, our bellies were happy this morning. I will never make pancakes from a box mix again. After tasting these, it would be a crime. Seriously, they were incredible. Absolutely incredible. The recipe was simple to put together too so there's no reason your family shouldn't enjoy these pancakes this weekend too. My husband isn't a pancake enthusiast, but he came back with an empty plate saying, "Those were REALLY good." (He works from home so he gets goodies delivered to his office courtesy of our toddler whenever we're in the mood to make a mess in the kitchen.) And, I know, I know, I keep telling him he needs to be more descriptive about his food critique, otherwise the blog will be BORING, but right now, I can tell you that most of the time he describes food as "fine," so to say that these pancakes were "REALLY good" well, that's something.

Two recipe notes: I didn't have blueberries so I made them without. I'm sure they'd be great with berries too. And I wouldn't use a buttermilk substitute for this one. I think the buttermilk adds flavor that you'd otherwise be missing.

And finally, what I'm learning from our challenge: you really can make restaurant quality food even better at home. All you need are the right recipes...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

pulled pork sandwiches with maui onion straws

Two new "firsts" were created in our kitchen last night. I tried my hand at pulled pork sandwiches, recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence. The paste to marinate the pork had a great flavor combination, I thought the meat would be very tasty, but unfortunately I was disappointed by the outcome. It tasted like every other pulled pork sandwich I've had at restaurants (before they pour on the BBQ sauce). I even let it marinate overnight for maximum effectiveness. Not that it wasn't good, but I was frankly expecting so much more. The meat really does have to be sliced like the recipe calls for, it's too tough to shred apart with forks, but it wasn't chewy to eat, even my daughter didn't have a problem eating it and she sometimes doesn't care for the texture of meat. I was hoping for the pork to be more like the fall apart texture that a roast gets when it's cooked in the slow cooker all day and a greater penetration of the flavors of the paste.

I choose an alternate topping to the sandwich which brings me to my second "first" from last night. Rather than the coleslaw that Tyler recommends in his recipe, I went with Guy Fieri's Maui Onion Straws to top off the pork. Great decision. They were awesome. My husband would be very upset if we didn't have those again. The only bad thing about this part of the dinner was that I halved the recipe. We could have eaten the whole onion, no problem. I think you could pretty much top any sandwich with those onion straws and it would bring it to a whole new level, except maybe peanut butter and jelly. That, my friends, might not be a great idea.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

a new take on chicken pot pie

While watching the chicken pot pie episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay, his challengers said the magic words...puff pastry. I was instantly inspired to write my own recipe, void of carrots and peas (two veggies I don't enjoy eating when cooked). Here's what I came up with:

Mama Anderson's Pot Pie Extravaganza (until I come up with a better name)
Note: This is made for a smaller audience. It wouldn't be enough to fill a 13x9 pan. Since there's only 3 of us, I made it to fit a smaller dish. If you want to make a 13x9 size pie, I'd double the recipe.

1 pound chicken breast, cut into small cubes
1 cup diced potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, plus one tablespoon water, whisked to combine
grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 11x8 dish (you could probably fit it in an 8x8 pan too).
2. In a large saucepan, combine chicken, potatoes, celery and mushrooms. Add water to cover and the bouillon cubes and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
3. While that is cooking, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until translucent. Stir in flour, salt, garlic powder and black pepper. Continually stir while it cooks for a minute then slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Pour chicken mixture in pan. Pour sauce over the top and mix gently. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Roll out puff pastry to make sure it will fit over dish. Cover dish with puff pastry. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

We all loved it and we'll definitely be having this one again. My husband even said this would be great to serve at our restaurant. (Yes, we dream of maybe opening a restaurant someday.)

I served it with the Taste of Fall salad from the latest issue of Taste of Home magazine and it went very well with the chicken pot pie. If anyone would like the recipe, I'd be happy to post that one too.