Sunday, August 28, 2011

Scrumptious French Fries

One thing that I love to order from fast food places are French fries!  There is just something about the crispy texture that is so addictive.  Naturally, I have tried to make my own French fries, but have always had very little success.  The main problem being that they always turned out soggy, which was not what I was going for.  That's when I decided to get serious and do some research.  Over the past couple of days I've visited many different food blogs and read through many different cookbooks and finally feel that I have a winner.  Not only did these French fries turn out crispy, but in my opinion, they were seasoned to perfection!

Scrumptious French Fries
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2 large russet potatoes, cut lengthwise into even sized wedges (you may peel if desired)
1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Lowry’s season salt
½ tsp. garlic salt

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  While the oven is preheating fill a large mixing bowl with hot water and soak the potato wedges in the bowl for 10-20 minutes.  Spray a baking sheet with PAM cooking spray and then sprinkle the pan with the salt, pepper, Lowry’s seasoning, and the garlic salt.  Set aside.

Drain the potatoes and then spread them out onto a dish cloth or paper towel and pat dry.  Now, dry out the large mixing bowl and add back in the dried potatoes.  Toss the potatoes together with the vegetable or canola oil, until they are well coated.  Spread the potato wedges onto the prepared baking sheet making sure that they are in a single layer.  (Feel free to sprinkle the fries with more seasoning for added flavor.)  Cover the baking sheet with foil and bake for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes has passed remove the foil and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, or until the bottom of the French fries are a spotted golden brown.  You may have to rotate the pan to ensure even browning.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and using tongs, or a spatula, flip the French fries over and bake for another 5-15 minutes, or until crispy. 

Serve as a side to your main course, or just enjoy as a tasty snack!  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chicken Tequila Burgers

What a crazy week this has been!  First there was an unexpected trip to the hospital (all is ok), then there was a small earthquake (In North Carolina!  Can you believe it!?!), I was also asked to make a birthday cake for a 16th birthday, and school started back up.  So, as you can probably guess, I have been incredibly busy and have not had a lot of opportunities to cook large, time consuming meals.  That is one of the reasons that I love to make these chicken tequila burgers.  Not only do the burgers taste great, but they are also very quick, easy, and for the most part, healthy.  All you have to do is toss the ingredients together in a food processor and pulse. 

(If you don't have a food processor that is fine.  Just purchase pre-ground chicken and knead all the ingredients together by hand.)

This burger goes great with a side of fries, or in my case strawberries.  I unfortunately didn't have any potatoes at the time, otherwise I would have made a batch of hand-cut fries.  

Chicken Tequila Burgers
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Makes 5 to 6 patties
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 chicken breast totaling about 11 oz.
2-3 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
Zest of ½ a lime
1 oz. tequila
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
½ cup Panko bread crumbs

Preheat the broiler.  Line a baking sheet with foil and then lightly brush with a little olive oil.  In the bowl of a food processor combine the garlic, jalapeno pepper, chicken breasts, cilantro, and lime zest.  Pulse the ingredients together until the chicken is evenly ground.  Now add in the tequila, soy sauce, salt/pepper, and bread crumbs.  Pulse together a few more times until everything is well combined.

Form the mixture into 5-6 patties and then place the patties onto the pre-lined baking sheet.  Broil the burgers for 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking so that both sides have a chance to brown.  Before serving, be sure to check that the burgers are done cooking.  Garnish with desired toppings. 

I like mine served with lettuce, sautéed or fresh red/green peppers, and pepper jack cheese!

Source: Slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

(Healthy) Baked Zucchini Fries

Zucchini has definitely become one of my favorite vegetables this summer and I have tried to incorporate it into meals in a variety of ways.  This particular recipe turned out to be one of my favorites!  Baked zucchini fries are not only a healthier alternative then regular french fries, but to me, they taste just as good!  *For extra enjoyment remember to serve these tasty little treats with your favorite dipping sauce* 

(Healthy) Baked Zucchini Fries

¼ cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. water
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. Lowry’s seasoning
1 lb. zucchini, cut into 4-5 inch sticks

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs with the water and then place in a shallow dish.  Next, combine the Panko breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and Lowry’s seasoning in a pie plate, stirring together until well blended.

Place the flour in a large Ziplock bag.  Now, place the zucchini strips into the bag, seal, and shake until the strips are well coated.  Remove the zucchini from the bag, dip into the egg wash, and then into the Panko breadcrumbs, turning until the strips are well coated.

Place the now breaded zucchini onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the strips are a nice golden brown color.  Serve immediately with a dipping sauce of your choice!

Source: Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cranberry-Orange White Chocolate Biscotti

One food that goes great with a nice, tasty cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or any other warm beverage for that matter, is biscotti.  At first glance I know that biscotti may seem a bit intimidating to make, but believe me when I say that it's actually very easy and the best part is, there are a ton of creative recipes available, for all sorts of wonderful flavors!  What that means is that there is something delicious out there for everyone!  However, I happened to have some leftover dried cranberries in my pantry and wanted to make sure to incorporate them.  The result was incredible!

Cranberry-Orange White Chocolate Biscotti
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Servings: 2 dozen
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. orange zest
2 cups white chocolate chips, divided
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and orange zest on a medium-high speed until well combined.  Reduce the electric mixer’s speed to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Using a spatula, or a large wooden spoon, stir in 1 cup of the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

Divide the dough in half.  (It may seem a little gooey, but that’s ok, it will raise while baking.)  Now, working with one section of the dough at a time, shape it into a large rectangle (about 12” x 3”) and place the rectangle on one side of the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat the same process with the remaining dough and place the sections of dough parallel to each other on the baking sheet.  (Make sure to leave about 2 inches between the rectangular sections of dough, as they will expand while baking.)  Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown in color.  Remove the baking sheets from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 25-30 minutes.  (Keep the oven on, because they will need to go back in.)

Gently transfer the biscotti onto a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the biscotti into half inch slices.  Place the slices, cut side up, back onto the baking sheet.  Return the baking sheet to the oven and let bake for another 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  While the biscotti is cooling, place some foil under the rack and drizzle with the remaining white chocolate.  (You will need to melt the white chocolate first.)  The biscotti will keep for about a week, if stored in an airtight container. 


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seasoned Potato Packets on the Grill

Even though I may be heading back to school tomorrow, I still consider it summer.  Temperatures may also have cooled off slightly, compared to what it was a few weeks ago, but that doesn't mean I feel like standing over my stove or oven to cook (unless of course my craving for something sweet kicks in).  What this means, is that my husband and I will continue making the most of our outdoor grill.  So many wonderful possibilities of what to make!  I can't wait! 

One thing that I really enjoy as a side item though, when we cook pretty much anything on the grill, is potatoes.  Don't get me wrong, french fries are great, but sometimes I prefer roasted potatoes.  Seeing that I don't want to stand over my stove and boil water, or turn on the oven to a high temperature, I decided to try out this foil packet recipe I found.  It's so easy!  All you have to do is toss the potatoes (any kind you prefer) into the foil, place the individual packets on the grill, and allow the heat from the grill to bake the potatoes.  Not only do the potatoes turn out soft and flavorful, but everyone gets their own individual packets! 

Seasoned Potato Packets on the Grill
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Serves 4-6
8 small red potatoes, diced (or potato of your choice)
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
Olive oil
Dash of Lawry’s seasoning
Dash of Italian seasoning
(Feel free to add any other desired seasonings)

Add the potatoes and onion (optional), in a medium size bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Season with the salt, pepper, Lawry’s, Italian seasoning and any other spices you desire.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the potatoes are well coated.

Tear off 8-12 pieces of foil, making sure that they are large enough to wrap around ¼ of the potatoes.  Place two sheets of foil on top of each other to create a double layer, resulting in 4-6 sets of foil packets.  Spray the tops of the foil with cooking spray and start layering the potato mixture in the middle of each double-layer foil set.  Gently fold the foil over the potatoes and twist the edges to form a seal.

Turn the grill to a medium heat and place the packets directly on the heating surface for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Caution:  The steam will be very hot when you go to open the packets, so be careful!

Source: Pennies on a Platter

Monday, August 15, 2011

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Scones

I am undeniably a coffee person.  In the mornings there is nothing more enticing to me, than waking up to the smell of a fresh pot of brewing coffee, and what goes great with coffee?  Scones. 

These soft and heavenly scones are definitely a favorite between my husband and myself, and are made quite frequently.  The best part about them is that they don't take long to make and I usually have all the ingredients on hand.  Not only do they make a tasty breakfast, but they also make a great afternoon snack.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Scones
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Makes about 9 scones
1 ½ cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
dash of salt
1 cup heavy cream (I sometimes use skim milk)
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips
¾ cup macadamia nuts
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
Additional sugar for sprinkling
Additional white chocolate for drizzle (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or line with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add in the white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts, stirring to combine.  Add the heavy cream to the flour mixture combining just until a dough forms and the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Knead the dough, with well floured hands, until everything is combined and evenly distributed.

Using your hands, or a dough scoop, tear off rounds of dough and place onto prepared baking sheets.  Brush lightly with the melted butter and sprinkle lightly with the extra sugar.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned.

Let cool on a wire rack and then lightly drizzle with white chocolate (optional).  Melt your white chocolate in a double boiler, becuase it will burn if you try to mircowave it.

Source: Inspired by and adapted from Annie's Eats; originally from Hersey's

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How to Make Delicious Pizza Dough

If you ask people to name their favorite food, most will likely reply with the word "pizza".  There just seems to be something truly addicting about a circle of crispy dough, covered with warm marinara sauce, melty cheese, and all the different toppings you desire.

For me, the best part of any pizza has always been, and will always be, the delicious crust.  I can still remember the times I use to sit downstairs, on Sunday evenings, with my parents, after they had just ordered themselves a pizza.  I use to beg my mom to please let me have her crust, which being the great mother she is, would then cut off and give to me. 

That's how I knew I needed to find just the right dough recipe before I could even consider making my own pizza.  I will be the first to admit that I'm kind of a "crust" snob.  I like my pizza crust to be crispy on the outside, but also soft on the inside.  So, after many months of searching the internet and experimenting, I'm happy to announce that I've finally found it!  Now that I have, I want to share the recipe with all of you, so that you may also enjoy your own homemade pizza! 

Part of the process though is knowing how to properly bake a pizza.  That's why I've decided to provide this helpful tutorial.

Simple to make Pizza Dough
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Servings: Enough dough for 2 medium size pizzas or about 4 calzones
½ cup warm water
2 ¼ tsp. (1 package) instant yeast
4 cups (22 oz.) bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ cup water, room temperature
2 Tbsp. EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)

In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, measure the warm water.  Sprinkle the yeast on top of the warm water and let sit for about 5 minutes. 

Combine the bread flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix briefly to blend.  Pour the room temperature water and olive oil into the measuring cup with the yeast-water mixture; stir around.  Now, with the mixer on a low speed, pour all of the yeast-water mixture into the bowl containing the dry ingredients.  Mix together until the ingredients start to form a dough-like substance. 

Now, switch the electric mixers' attachment to the dough hook.  Knead on a low setting until the dough is smooth, elastic, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5-7 minutes.  If needed, add a little more bread flour, tablespoons at a time. 

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to let rise until double its’ original size.  This should take 1 ½ -2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, gently press down with your fingers to deflate and then transfer to lightly floured work surface.  Next, divide the dough into two equal pieces and roll each piece into a smooth, ball shape. 

(If freezing the dough, to use at a later date, wrap in plastic wrap, place in a freezer safe bag, and put in the freezer.)  If using right away, cover with a damp cloth to let the dough “relax” for 10 minutes, but no longer then 30 minutes before you use.

You are now set to make your own pizza, so be creative!

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees with the pizza stone already inside.  (Preheating the pizza stone with your oven will give the dough a nice crispy texture on the outside, but will allow it to stay soft on the inside.)  Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal.  Shape the dough using your hands.  (Sometimes it helps if you lightly cover your hands with flour.)  Once the dough is shaped, lightly brush the outer edge with olive oil. 

Add your toppings and place the pizza (still on the parchment paper) onto the pizza stone and bake until the crust is a golden brown color, and the cheese is bubbling.  This should take around 8-12 minutes.  

*You may need to use a cutting board to help you get the pizza onto the pizza stone, as the parchment paper alone will not hold up to the weight of the pizza.*      

Source: Annie's Eats; originally adapted from Baking Illustrated

Friday, August 12, 2011

Green Bean Spaghetti Carbonara

One thing that I really enjoyed doing this summer was going to the local farmer's market.  I discovered that you can get the best fruits and vegetables from a farmer's market and that they are definitely much tastier and a whole lot cheaper than what you can pick up from a grocery store.  Fresher too! 

One vegetable that I always try to buy fresh, instead of canned, or frozen, is green beans.  All you have to do is snap off the ends, throw them into a pot of boiling water, and presto, you have a tasty snack or a great side to any dinner.  Lately, it seems that my obsession with green beans has grown, and I wanted to try to include them in a main dish, instead of just serving them as a side. 

That's when it happened.  I had just received my latest issue of "EveryDay, with Rachael Ray" and as I was flipping through the magazine I noticed a recipe for a green bean spaghetti carbonara dinner.  I knew right away that I had to try it!  Not only did it look delicious, but it also looked fairly simple to make (great for a busy evening) and did not call for a ton of ingredients.  It was exactly what I was looking for!

Green Bean Spaghetti Carbonara
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Serves 4-6
16 oz. spaghetti
¾ lbs. green beans cut into bite-size pieces
½ lb. bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions, adding the green beans halfway through cooking time.  When the pasta and beans are done, carefully drain, making sure to reserve ¼ cup of the water.

Brown the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and soften, this will take about 30 seconds to one minute.  Deglaze by pouring in the reserved cooking water and remove from heat.

Whisk together the eggs and the Parmesan cheese.  Off of the heat add the pasta, beans, eggs and cheese to the skillet and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a little extra Parmesan cheese.

Source: Everyday with Rachael Ray

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Peanut Butter S'mores Cups

One thing that I absolutely love about summer is the idea of making s'mores around a campfire! There's just something special about the gooey, burnt marshmallow, that melts chocolate, and is squeezed between two graham crackers that gets me every time.

I believe this conversation from "The Sandlot" pretty much sums it up.

Ham Porter: Hey, Smalls, you wanna s'more?
Smalls: Some more of what?
Ham Porter: No, do you wanna s'more?
Smalls: I haven't had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?
Ham Porter: You're killing me Smalls! These are s'more's stuff! Alright, now pay attention. First you take the graham, you stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the 'mallow. When the 'mallows flaming... you stick it on the chocolate. Then cover with the other end. Then you scarf. Kind of messy, but good!

Such an amusing scene and it just so happens to be perfect for this post, seeing that it's National S'more Day and all!  In honor of this special day, I decided that I would put a twist on the traditional s'more.  This is mostly due to the fact that I feel most people already know how to make one.  Instead, I decided that I would make s'mores cups.  These tasty little treats are super easy to make and do not take long at all.  Another important fact.....they can still be enjoyed while sitting around the campfire!

Peanut Butter S’mores Cups
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Makes 24 servings
7 whole graham crackers (finely crushed)
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
4 bars milk chocolate candy, divided
12 large marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the graham crackers in a Ziplock bag and smash with the end of a rolling pin or meat tenderizer, until the pieces are finely crushed. 
One of my favorite parts because I get to hit things!

Now, in a small bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, confectioner’s sugar, butter, and peanut butter.  Mix until well combined.  Place about 1 Tbsp. of the crumb mixture into each cup of a mini muffin pan.  Press the crumbs down just enough to form shallow cups that go slightly up the side of the mini muffin pan.  Bake 4-5 minutes or until edges look brown and a little bubbly. 

Meanwhile, break two of the candy bars into rectangles.  Remove the pan from the oven and place one of the chocolate rectangles into each well of the crust.

Using scissors dipped in cold water, cut the marshmallows in half crosswise.  Place one marshmallow half, cut-side down, into each cup.  Return the pan to the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until marshmallows look slightly puffed.  Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack.  Let cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes (Yes, you must be patient).  Carefully remove the cups from the pan.  Let cool completely on wire rack.

Break the remaining candy bars and place in a small, microwavable bowl.  Microwave the chocolate for 1 minute and stop to stir.  At this point, if the chocolate is not completely melted continue microwaving 20 seconds at a time.  Dip the top of each marshmallow in the melted chocolate.  Turn top-side up and let dry on the wire rack for about an hour, or until the chocolate hardens.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Source: Adapted from Texas Cottage

Apple-Pear Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

I've recently set a new goal for myself and that is to try to make a dinner, at least 2 or more nights a week, that doesn't contain any meat.  Don't get me wrong though, I love chicken and beef, I just want to try to add a little more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to my diet. 

Throughout the past couple of months I have stumbled across so many delicious looking salad and pasta recipes, but for some reason have skipped over them.  I think that this is mostly due to the fact that my husband refers to salads as "rabbit food".  I've come to the conclusion though that it's ok, because on the nights I feel like making myself a healthy salad, my husband can cook something for himself on the grill.  Overall, I believe this is a win-win situation, because I know how much he loves to cook on the grill.

So, for the start of this week, I decided to begin with an apple-pear salad recipe that I found in one of my many cookbooks.  There happened to be a picture to go along with the recipe and it looked delicious, which is one of the few reasons why I decided to give it a try.  The only thing I ended up changing about the recipe was the fact that I added some spinach to the romaine lettuce.  Every other ingredient that it called for I liked, and I didn't feel that anything else had to be added.  This recipe makes a fabulous summer salad!

Apple-Pear Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing
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Makes 6-8 servings
10 oz. romaine lettuce
6 oz. baby spinach
6 oz. Swiss cheese, shaved
1 cup cashews
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 large apple, thinly sliced (your choice of apple)
1 large pear, thinly sliced
Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing

In a large bowl, toss together the first 7 ingredients; serve with Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing

Lemon-Poppy Seed Dressing

2/3 cup light olive oil
½ cup sugar (I used splenda and it was delish)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ Tbsp. poppy seeds
2 tsp. finely chopped onion (I omitted)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a small-medium size bowl and whisk together until well blended.  Store the dressing in an airtight container, in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week.

Source: Very slightly adapted from Southern Living - 1001 Ways to Cook Southern

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Coconut, White Chocolate Chip, and Macadamia Nut Cookies, Topped with Coconut M&M's

Lately, I have found myself craving coconut and have fallen in love with the coconut flavored m&m’s.  When I think of coconuts, I visualize tropical regions, which leads me to think of macadamia nuts, which therefore causes my mind to wander to one of my favorite cookies; the white chocolate chip with macadamia nut.  Even saying the name by itself makes me long for a batch.  To me, this is an example of cookie perfection. 

So why try to mess with a good thing?  Well…..I have made this cookie time and time again, and as much as I love it, I felt the need to spice it up.  Don’t get me wrong, I will still make my scrumptious white chocolate chip with macadamia nut cookies, but at least for this batch, I decided to make a change or two.  For one thing, I felt the need to add shredded coconut to the batter, and for the other, I decided that I would top each cookie with coconut flavored m&m's.  Yum!  Either way you choose to make these cookies (either the original way or the modified way), I'm sure they will turn out delectable.

Coconut, White Chocolate Chip, and Macadamia Nut Cookies, Topped with Coconut M&M’s

1 cup butter, softened                           -----
1 ½ cups sugar                                    
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract                                          Original
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour                                    Recipe
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups white chocolate chips
¾ cup chopped macadamia nuts           -----

¾ cup shredded coconut
1 bag coconut m&m’s

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla, making sure to scrap down the side of the bowl as needed.

In a separate, medium size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk together.

With the mixer on a low-medium speed, beat in the flour mixture until just combined.  Finally, stir or beat in the white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.  (STOP!!!  Make sure to stop here if you would just like white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies.)  Otherwise….Don’t forget to stir in the shredded coconut. 

Now, using a cookie scoop, drop the dough onto already lined baking sheets, making sure to leave about a 1”-2” space between the cookies.  Top each ball of dough with as many coconut m&m’s as you desire. 

Bake for 7-9 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.  Cool on wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Source: Slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

Monday, August 8, 2011

Slow-Cooker Mexican Pulled Chicken Tacos

I'm so excited!  My new camera finally arrived today!  I have never owned a camera like this before and therefore have a lot to learn about all the different features, but I just had to try it out.  I made slow-cooker Mexican pulled chicken tacos for dinner and attempted to use my new camera for the photos.  Here is how the image turned out.  Not bad for my first attempt.

Oh yeah.....I almost forgot to say that the tacos were delicious, which is why I'm sharing this recipe.  The chicken turned out very moist, which made it incredibly easy to shred and the flavoring was great!

Slow-Cooker Mexican Pulled Chicken Tacos
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1 lb. chicken
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic, minced

Spray your slow cooker with PAM and then place the chicken on the bottom.  In a small bowl combine the remainder of the ingredients and whisk together until well blended.  Pour the mixture evenly over the chicken.  Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.  When done cooking, shred the chicken using two forks and pulling in opposite directions.  Serve in warm tortillas, and top with whatever ingredients you desire.

Source: Can You Stay for Dinner

30-Second Peanut Butter Cake

Time.  It is something that some of us feel like we don't ever get enough of.  By the time work is over, the last thing most people want to do is go home and spend time in the kitchen.  Of course, I'm kind of an exception there, because I love spending time in the kitchen!  Back to reality though.  I know quite a few people who never seem to have any extra time, due to other things that they have going on in their lives, especially once work is over for the day.  Sometimes they're running to the gym, to other appointments, dropping their kids off at after-school activities, etc. 

But what if I told you I had the perfect recipe to enjoy as you just relax and unwind after a long and busy day, and that the best part is, it only takes 30 seconds to bake.  Would that be something you might be interested in?  Well grab a book, or turn on your favorite tv show or movie, because here it is.  A sweet treat and a perfect end after a long day.  Or, it could also make a great morning treat to start your day off right!  Either way, you deserve it, so enjoy!

30-Second Peanut Butter Cake
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1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
½ tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 tsp. milk
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

*If you feel the need to spice up the recipe, you could always add a Tbsp. of mini chocolate chips, like I did, or add other ingredients.  I might try adding peanuts the next time I make this.* 

In a small bowl whisk together the egg, brown sugar, baking powder, flour and peanut butter.  Pour the batter into a greased ramekin.  Microwave for 30 seconds (if it doesn’t look done after 30 seconds, microwave it for 10 more seconds, as microwave strengths vary.  The top of the cake may appear a little gooey still, but believe me, it is done.).

While the cake is in the microwave, stir together the milk and the powdered sugar.  Feel free to add more powdered sugar, if needed, until your desired consistency is reached.

Invert the ramekin onto a plate to release the cake (or don’t).  Pour the frosting over the top and enjoy.

Cheddar Jalapeno Burgers

About a year or so ago I saw a television advertisement for Burger King's new "cheddar jalapeno burgers" and thought that they sounded and looked delicious!  Right away, I knew that I wanted to try to make them.  Unfortunately for me, this was back when I first really got into cooking.  With that being said, it should be no surprise that I wasn't satisfied with how the burgers turned out.  Naturally, I put the idea aside and completely forgot about them. 

So, time went by and the other weekend when my husband, some friends, and I decided to go camping I knew that we would need something we could easily throw onto our portable grill.  That is when the idea of the cheddar jalapeno burgers suddenly re-entered my mind.  Right away I went to work.  I dug through my cabinets looking for different types of seasonings and other ingredients I could add to help flavor the beef and the recipe that follows is what I came up with.  This time around, I am completely satisfied with the results and am glad that I decided to give it a second attempt!  These burgers are definitely scrumptious!

Cheddar Jalapeno Burgers
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1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, cubed (very small cubes)
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1 red hot pepper, seeded and chopped
¼ tsp. minced onion
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¾ tsp. chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
dash of salt
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs

Combine the lean ground beef and egg in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well combined.  Add in the cheese, jalapeno, red hot pepper, minced onion, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and salt.  Pulse the ingredients until they are all blended nicely together.  Now, add in the Panko bread crumbs, and pulse one last time until everything comes together.

Next, place the beef mixture into a bowl, cover, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  This will give the beef time to absorb the flavoring.  After 30 minutes, remove the beef mixture from the refrigerator and using your hands form 5 large patties. 
Place the patties onto the grill and cook until they are done.  Garnish with whatever toppings you like and enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Homemade Magic Shell

A friend of mine recently told me about this awesome website called  Now that she has, I have to admit that I'm kind of addicted to it.  Especially when I have nothing to do!  The purpose of the website is to navigate you to other websites that contain topics that you are interested in, but might not otherwise have known were out there.  All you have to do, in order to get started, is check off things that you're interested in based on the categories provided.  Then you just have to click the "stumble" button. It's that easy!  The website will do the rest for you, by automatically popping up other websites and blogs that relate to your interests.

So, you might be wondering why exactly I'm telling you about this website.  It's how I happened to "stumble" across a recipe for magic shell.  I have to say that I am a huge fan of ice cream and all the toppings that go along with it.  I know that homemade ice cream is always the best, but as I was walking through the grocery store yesterday, I noticed that ALL Bryers ice cream was buy 2, get 3 for FREE!  Who could resist such a fantastic offer?  Not me, that's for sure!  Sooooooo many delicious flavors were calling to me, but my husband and I decided on our top five and I figured that this would be the perfect time to try out the new magic shell recipe I had stumbled upon.  I knew that the recipe would definitely make more than a little store bought container, but that is fine because I have plenty of ice cream to put it on! 

I'll admit that I was a little sketical of this recipe at first, seeing that there were only 2 ingredients called for, but to my surprise it turned out great and hardened up exactly the way that it should.  I will definitely be making this again and again, and also experimenting by adding different flavors.

Here is what you will need:

That's all!!

Homemade Magic Shell

1 cup coconut oil (must be the hard kind, not the oily kind)
2 cups chocolate
dash of salt (optional)

Feel free to incorporate any extract flavors you want.  I think next time I might experiment by melting in some peanut butter!

*For an 8 oz jar use 90g coconut oil and 135g chocolate*

In a small or medium saucepan melt the coconut oil over a very low heat.  Slowly stir in the chocolate until completely melted and well blended. 

 Here is where you could add in a dash of salt or any other flavors that you desire! 

Now, serve over your favorite ice cream!

 Store your homemade magic shell in a mason jar or squeeze bottle with cap.  In warmer climates the magic shell with remain in the liquid state and in cooler weather it may begin to solidify.  If this is the case, just microwave it for a few seconds until it becomes a liquid again.  Do NOT store in the refrigerator!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Extra-Special Butterscotch Rum Cake

Finally, a chance to sit down, relax, and update my blog! I know that I am a little behind with posting, mostly because my summer seemed to get really busy all of a sudden.  The end of July was filled with a trip to Michigan, my birthday, a white water rafting/camping trip in West Virginia, and then a 2 day teacher workshop.  I had a great time traveling, but I am also glad to say that things are finally returning to normal.  Well, somewhat normal.
Robinette's Apple Orchard
The beach in Grand Haven, MI

Grilling out while camping
Now that my vacations are over, I hope to get back to updating my blog on more of a regular basis.  It may become difficult at times though, seeing that my husband and I are in the process of trying to sell our house.  With that being said, I have had some chances to bake and cook recently, so today I've decided to share something sweet with you! 

As I have already mentioned, the month of July was my birthday month, (Agh....I turned the big 30!) so I felt the need to make a special cake and believe me when I tell you that this is definitely a special cake.  Being a HUGE fan of butterscotch, I knew that I would want it incorporated into my cake somehow, so when I stumbled across this recipe a few months ago, I knew that it would be the one.  In addition to it being called a butterscotch cake, it also said that it contained rum.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic to try it out.  You might look at the recipe with your jaw dropped, thinking "Oh my goodness!  That is A LOT of butter and sugar!"  But hey, ones' birthday only comes around once a year so you might as well celebrate it properly!

Extra-Special Butterscotch Rum Cake
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Yield – 2 (8 inch) round cakes
For Cake
2 ½ sticks butter, softened
2 ½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. canola oil (I substitute apple sauce, it works the same and is healthier, not like it matters with this cake)
4 large eggs
2 Tbsp. rum
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 ½ cups finely chopped pecans

For the Butterscotch Buttercream
1 lb. butter softened (Yup, a whole pound)
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. rum
3-4 cups sifted confectioners sugar (I used around 4 or maybe a little more to get the frosting to the consistency I desired)

For the Butterscotch Sauce
¾ cup dark brown sugar
6 Tbsp. butter
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup heavy cream

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter and flour 2 8-inch baking pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and dark brown sugar together until light in color and fluffy.  This will take about 3 minutes.  Beat in the oil (applesauce) until well combined.  Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the side of the bowl as needed.  Beat in the rum and vanilla until combined.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the batter in two additions, alternating with the sour cream until just combined.  Mix in the chopped pecans and continue to beat at medium speed for one more minute.

Divide the cake batter between the pans, filling about 2/3 full.  Bake the cakes at 325 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and an inserted cake tester comes out clean.

Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the buttercream:  Melt 8 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan, over medium heat until it turns a deep golden brown and becomes fragrant, about 6 minutes.  *Make sure to stir constantly while the butter is melting* 

Now, add the brown sugar, cream, and salt, all while continuing to stir until the sugar dissolves.  Bring the mixture to a boil, while stirring, and cook for 3 minutes longer.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at a high speed until the bowl feels cool to touch, about 8-10 minutes.  Beat in the rum.  With the mixer running at a medium speed, add the remaining butter one tablespoon at a time, beating until incorporated.  Continue to beat the mixture until it becomes smooth and creamy.

Beat in the confectioner’s sugar, one cup at a time until it achieves a thick and spreadable consistency.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the butterscotch sauce:  In a medium sauce pan combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes, making sure to stir frequently.

Now, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the cream.  Then, return the saucepan to the heat and cook for 2 more minutes.  Take the sauce off the heat and let cool to room temperature.

How to assemble the cake:  Once everything is cooled place a layer of frosting on top one of the cakes.  Follow that by a little of the butterscotch sauce.  Now, place the other cake layer on top and spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake and down the sides.  Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.  This will help the frosting form a crumb coat, so that when you frost the cake you won’t get any loose pieces coming up.

Take the cake from the refrigerator, frost, and decorate as desired.  You could choose to add some extra sauce to the top or even sprinkle on some pecans.  I chose to decorate mine with butterscotch chips.  Enjoy!

Source: The Curvy Carrot, originally adapted from Peanut Butter and Julie