Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chocolate Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies

Brownies come from a box. The End.

Just kidding! I had never ever made brownies from scratch until I made these cheesecake-marbled brownies for a friend's wedding a few years ago. (She had a dessert table that was gorgeous!) I tried these a few weeks ahead of time, fell in love with them and made them for the wedding party. This same friend is now pregnant and I made these brownies for her baby shower. They are dense, really chocolaty, a little tangy from the cheesecake swirls, and surprisingly easy. 

Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies - from SmittenKitchen

Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 triangle brownies (these are small, but they are almost like fudge - you don't need much for a chocolate fix.)

Preheat oven to 350 

Brownie Batter
1 stick of butter, cut into pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2/3 cup flour

Cheesecake Batter
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup of sugar
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chocolate chips to sprinkle on top.

Butter an 8-in square baking pan. Heat butter and chocolate in a double boiler or in a glass or metal mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring until everything has melted together. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread it in the baking pan. It doesn't look like a lot of batter, but fear not. 

To make the cheesecake batter, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla until smooth. Dollop it on top of the brownie batter and swirl it around with a knife or spatula. 

Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips and bake about 35 minutes, or until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set. 

Per SmittenKitchen's original instructions, chill these REALLY well before cutting. I let these cool on the counter, and then cover with plastic and chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. It makes cutting these into small squares or triangles really easy!

While making these from scratch is really very easy, I have totally cheated and made a box of brownies and swirled in the cheesecake batter. Almost as delicious. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Banana Nut Muffins

Muffins are a regular part of our weekend breakfasts because they are super quick and easy.  They’re certainly at their best after just baking but are also great to have throughout the week for breakfast on the go.  Since there are only two of us in our house, there are always plenty left over…well, if hubby doesn’t eat 5 in one sitting!  But that’s another story :) 

Bananas seem to get old so quickly since they typically are sitting out at room temperature.  Unlike other fruit, you don’t typically store them in the fridge to slow the ripening process.  However, bananas are at their BEST for cooking when they are brown and typically past the point where people enjoy just peeling and eating.  Some people may be turned off by how quickly they go bad but it’s just motivation for me.  In my house, it means one of two things: banana bread or banana nut muffins.  This time, it was muffins…and let me tell you, they were AMAZING!

Banana Nut Muffins
¼ c butter, softened
½ c sugar
1 egg
¾ c mashed ripe banana (about 2 bananas)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 c all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ c chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray bottom of 6-muffin cups in a muffin pan with cooking spray or use paper liners.  Note: If using a 12-cup pan, use the middle 6 cups to ensure even cooking.

In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg, banana, and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Add to creamed mixture just until moistened.  Fold in nuts.

Use an ice cream scoop to spoon mixture into muffin cups until they are each about 2/3 full with batter.  Bake at 350F for 18-22 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool slightly before removing from pan and serve warm.

When I have the choice of walnuts or pecans, I typically go with pecans because they are one of my favorite nuts.  It’s a personal preference but I feel they have so much more flavor and more to offer your palate than walnuts.  They have a subtle sweetness that I love.

Tip: The measurements in this recipe make everything super easy to double or triple so make as many as you want!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Roasted Strawberry Shortcakes

It's strawberry season in the Pacific Northwest! Oregon has these wonderful, tiny berries called Hood Strawberries that are totally unlike any store-bought berry I've ever had. First, they are tiny - like the size of a gumdrop. Second, they are dark red all the way through, and not hollow. Totally unlike the white insides and hollow cores of store-bought berries. Last, they keep for about 20 seconds. You pick 'em and eat 'em. Or, let them sit on your counter all day, sort of mush-out and decide to roast them and make strawberry shortcakes. We liked this idea.

Roasted Strawberries
Preheat oven to 375
2 cups halved strawberries
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey

Whisk vinegar and honey, toss in strawberries and stir to coat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and put all of the berries, and add all of the vinegar/honey mixture. Roast until berries are very tender and juicy, about 25 minutes.

Honey Sweetened Strawberry Cream Biscuits - adapted from Epicurious
Preheat oven to 400
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt 
1 tablespoon honey
2 heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped strawberries

Combine flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl combine honey and cream. Stir honey and cream into flour mixture and add strawberries. Stir just until combined. 

Drop biscuits onto parchment lined baking pan and cook for 15-18 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown and tops are lightly golden.

To serve, slice biscuits in half, scoop roasted strawberries off the parchment, tying to save as much as the delicious juice as possible, top with whipped cream and a drizzle of honey.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chicken with Balsamic Peppers

Well, today it’s 97 degrees in NYC!  It’s also the first day of summer.  Yep, so I’m expecting a brutal one this year.  Heat (above 90) and I don’t mix…at all!  But bell peppers and chicken do.  Bell peppers thrive during the summer and this dish uses them in a way that everyone is sure to love. 

I saw this recipe in Cooking Light last year and absolutely had to try it.  I made a few of my own modifications but the combination of flavors in this dish is amazing. The chicken is seasoned with a spice rub that features the use of fennel seed.  Fennel seed has an anise taste, which is reminiscent of black licorice.  Many people may find black licorice unappealing but a subtle anise addition just adds a little zing to the dish and is seriously AMAZING!  Hubby was hmmm-ing and ahhh-ing the whole time J

Chicken with Balsamic Peppers

¾ tsp salt, divided
¾ tsp fennel seeds, crushed
½ tsp black pepper, divided
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp Italian seasoning (dried herbs)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp EVOO, divided
cooking spray
1c thinly sliced red bell pepper
1c thinly sliced orange bell pepper
1c thinly sliced yellow bell pepper
½ c thinly sliced shallots (about 1 large)
1 ½ tsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Combine ½ tsp salt, fennel seeds, ¼ tsp black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano.  Brush chicken w/ 1 ½ tsp oil; sprinkle spice rub over chicken.  Add 1 ½ tsp oil to pan.  Add chicken and cook thoroughly, 5-7 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear.

Heat remaining EVOO over medium-high heat.  Add bell peppers, shallots, and rosemary; sauté 3 mins.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Stir in vinegar, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper.  Cook 3 mins, stirring frequently.  Serve bell pepper mixture over chicken.  

This is great served with mashed potatoes and a green veggie!

Tip: Purchase a digital meat thermometer.  It’s a lifesaver!  Chicken can be difficult to judge if you don’t have as much experience cooking it.  To use, place the probe in the thickest part of the breast and cook until the temperature reads 165F.  Remove immediately and let rest for a bit so that the juices reabsorb into the meat and don’t run all over your plate J.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lettuce Wrap Salad

I love lettuce wraps. I love lettuce wraps at the Cheesecake Factory. I feel SO bad saying that while living in a place like Portland that has more amazing restaurants on any given block than most cities have in entire zip codes. Regardless, I love lettuce wraps at the Factory. However, since the arrival of our tiny gentleman last August, we don't go out too much; we had to start making our own so I could get my fix. Enter lettuce wrap salad. Delicious, easy to eat, no grubby fingers, spicy dressing, cool veggies. We eat it at least once a week. And, we haven't been to the Factory in a zillion years. 

Lettuce Wrap Salad
1 head of lettuce (we like green leaf, or butter lettuce - sturdy lettuces work best in this salad)
1 cup of grated carotts
1 cup of chopped cucumber
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
1/2 pound of ground turkey or chicken (we've also used crumbled meat substitutes, no meat at all, shredded chicken - use what you like, or what you've got.)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup cooked thin noodles, broken in half before cooking
Ground pepper

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter 
juice and zest from 2 limes - about 1/4 cup of juice and 2 tablespoons zest
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons Sriracha (this is a SPICY salad dressing... start with a little bit of Siracha and add more to taste. We like 2 teaspoons, but this is pretty spicy.)

Cook the ground turkey in a little bit of oil and add a tablespoon of soy sauce, and some ground pepper.

Cook noodles and drain.

Chop lettuce and veggies.

In a large bowl, whisk soy sauce, peanut butter, lime juice, lime zest, grated ginger and Sriracha. Add noodles and meat to the dressing, toss to coat. Add in lettuce and veggies and toss to combine.

The noodles and dressing are great on their own. This dressing is also a great marinade for grilled chicken, as a topping for rice and veggie bowls, or as a dressing for real, build your own, messy, wonderful lettuce wraps. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Turkey Spaghetti

Even though it’s summer right now, everyone adores comfort food.  Unfortunately, comfort food is always touted as a very heavy and fattening dish that is deemed satisfying by its loads of calories.  I have taken one of the most popular comfort foods and subtracted the “guilt”.  After all, how many people actually feel comfort after overindulging???

Turkey Spaghetti
 13.25oz box whole-wheat spaghetti
1 lb ground turkey
¾ c chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp ground pepper, divided
½ tsp salt
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
3 oz canned tomato paste
15 oz can tomato sauce
½ c fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp seasoned salt
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning

Brown turkey in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  When half of the turkey is browned, add onion and garlic.  Cook until all turkey is browned.  Sprinkle with ½ tsp pepper and ½ tsp salt.  Reduce heat to low.

Tip: Be sure to use ground turkey and not ground turkey breast.  It’s not as lean, but you maintain the flavor.  Ground turkey breast tends to be a little to dry for my taste.

Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, remaining pepper, basil, sugar, seasoned salt, garlic powder, red pepper, and Italian seasoning.  Stir until well mixed.

Increase heat to medium-high and bring sauce mixture to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Stir and reduce heat to low.  Allow sauce to simmer as long as possible – at least 20 minutes. 

While sauce is simmering, cook pasta according to directions on package or until al dente.  Serve sauce over spaghetti.

Tip: Whole-wheat pasta takes a little longer to cook than regular pasta.  Follow package directions for cooking but be sure to test the pasta throughout the cooking process to ensure it is al dente when drained.

I use whole-wheat pasta for everything now (when I can find it).  It gives a great texture to dishes and a more complex flavor profile than regular pastas.  It is also much better for you because it adds healthy fiber to your diet.  More and more types of pastas are becoming available in the whole-wheat version.  My next challenge is to find whole-wheat orecchiette :)  Let me know if you find some!  Bon appetit!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancakes... with Fruit

Makin' banana pancakes, pretend like it's the weekend now!

I pretty much can't make pancakes without singing Jack Johnson. It's a good thing I like Jack Johnson. And pancakes. And weekends. I like it all. Here are some half whole wheat flour, half all-purpose flour pancakes with a lot of yogurt folded in - some are made with blueberries, and some are made with bananas - it's all the same batter, just some berries folded into half of it, and bananas poked into the other half while the pancakes cooked on the griddle. 

Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

1 cup yogurt - I use Nancy's organic yogurt, a pretty thick plain yogurt. Greek yogurt also works
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup blueberries - I use frozen wild berries. They are tiny and fold in really well. If you use frozen berries, your batter will be sort of cold. As I heat up the griddle, I keep it on rather low heat as I like to cook these a little lower and slower than the pancakes without berries.
Bananas - I don't fold these in, I put the batter on the griddle and pike several banana slices into the batter, then flip and cook the banana side. The bananas get all warm and gooey and awesome.

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Whisk together yogurt, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and vanilla. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Measure out half the batter and add blueberries. Cook pancakes on a hot griddle until little bubbles burst, flip and finish cooking. Transfer batches to a preheated oven to keep warm while you finish cooking the rest of the batter.

We like peanut butter on our banana pancakes. Peanut butter and maple syrup. Or honey. Or just maple syrup. Or cut up strawberries. Or nothing at all. Pancakes are good.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shredded Chicken Sandwiches, Mom’s Famous Cole Slaw, and Mini-Lemon Cakes

June 2012 marks the start of the summer and also the start of the “No Pressure Cooker”.  More importantly for me, this June marks the start of the COOKOUT season.   Cookouts are a joy for everyone.  They bring about fun, smiles, and of course, great food.  Here are three staple cookout items that will make your friends and family keep coming back for more!

Shredded Chicken Sandwiches
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 skinless boneless chicken breasts
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ c ketchup
½ c bbq sauce
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp yellow mustard
1 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp cumin
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp hot sauce
½ tsp crushed red pepper
4 whole-wheat hamburger buns

Cut onion in half and slice into thin half rings.  Line bottom of crock-pot with onions.  Trim chicken breasts and place on top of bed of onions.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and black pepper.

Mix remaining ingredients together and pour on top of the chicken covering completely. 

Place a paper towel under the lid of the crock-pot to prevent the sauce from getting watery during cooking.  Cook chicken on high for 3 hours.

Take two forks and shred the chicken.  Serve on top of lightly toasted whole-wheat buns. 

Tip: Sauce can be made ahead.

Shredded (insert meat here) sandwiches are great paired with coleslaw.  Pick whatever meat you want!  The coleslaw can either be served on the side or on the sandwich itself.  This coleslaw is very special to me because it’s been made famous by my own mother.  And she’s going to KILL me when she finds out I’m giving away her secret ingredient…celery seed!

Mom’s Famous Cole slaw
24 oz packaged cole slaw mix
1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp celery seed
salt to taste
10-12oz Marzetti’s cole slaw dressing (because this is the BEST!)

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl.  Ensure that cole slaw mixture is moistened just enough to coat cole slaw lightly.  The cabbage will reduce and continue to moisten as it sits.

Note: To make a more homemade version of this, refer to Sarah’s “Cilantro and Lime Cole Slaw” and use her mix of red and green cabbage with carrots.

Citrus with sugar is an amazing combination so I’m going to my all-time favorite cake for dessert.  The cake itself is from the Duncan Hines “Lemon Pound Cake” recipe.  But the glaze is what makes it!  The glaze has the perfect balance of sweet and sour.  Also, it’s very light so it completely soaks into the cake and leaves you looking forward to every glorious bite!  The mini-bundt pan just makes it all the more endearing (and adorable).

Mini Lemon Cakes
1 pkg lemon cake mix
1 (3.4 oz) pkg instant lemon pudding and pie filling mix
4 large eggs
1c water
1/3 c vegetable oil

1/3 c lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
2 c confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a mini-bundt cake pan.  Tip: Use a sandwich bag as a glove, dip into margarine, and spread generously throughout the pan.  Combine cake mix and pudding mix in an electric mixer bowl and stir on low to combine.

Lightly beat eggs and combine with water and oil.  Add wet mixture to dry mixture; beat at medium speed until well mixed. 

Pour cake mix into a large freezer bag.  Cut a dime-size hole in the bottom corner of the bag to allow for easy filling of the cake pan.  Fill each cavity until about half full.  Bake at 350F for 18-20 mins or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. 

While cakes are baking, combine lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar using a hand mixer until smooth.  Place glaze in a small freezer bag and cut a tiny hold in the bottom corner of the bag to allow for drizzling of the glaze over the cakes.  Tip: Drizzle glaze over the bottom of the cakes prior to removing from the pan for added gooey heaven :)

Remove cakes from pan by inverting onto a cookie sheet.  Once cakes are successfully removed, pour glaze over each cake.  Garnish with lemon slices.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Carnitas-ish Tacos, Cilantro-Lime Coleslaw and Grapefruit Pound Cake

Summer takes a while to get to the Pacific Northwest. I mean it really takes it's sweet time. We wait in the rain and we dream about all of the things we will do once the weather warms up and every layer we own (which is a LOT of layers) dries out. Sometime around the beginning of April I freak out. So I start to cook as if it's summer. It helps. Sometimes. Here is my "tribute to summer" meal... I hope you like it!

Carnitas-ish Slow Cooked Pork
3lbs pork shoulder (picnic roast)
2 small onions chopped (about 1 cup)
2 oranges - juiced (about 1/2 cup)
2 limes - juiced (about 1/4 cup
4 cloves of garlic chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 12oz beer
olive oil

Chop the onions and garlic; juice the limes and oranges; crack open the beer (maybe another for yourself - this is a tribute to summer after all!)

Sprinkle the meat liberally with salt and pepper. Heat up a large pan and add oil to the hot pan. Brown the meat on all sides and transfer to a crock pot. Add the beer to the hot pan and scrape up all the brown bits. Poor the beer into the crock pot. (You can braise this meat in the pot you browned it in, but I don't like to leave the house with the oven on so the crock pot works well for me.)

Add the citrus juice, garlic and onions to the crock pot. Cook on low until the meat is very tender and falls apart. About 6 hours. 

This pork goes SO well with some nice, cool coleslaw, but not any coleslaw - coleslaw with cilantro and a light, lime based dressing!

Cilantro and Lime Cole Slaw
1/2 a head of red cabbage shredded (about 2 cups)
1/2 a head of green cabbage (about 2 cups)
4 large carrots - shredded (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (more or less to your taste)
1/3 cup mayonaise
2 limes - juiced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon spice blend (I use Trader Joe's Pasta Blend - 'cause I like it. It has cumin and anise in it. It's delicious.)
pinch of salt

Shred the cabbage, carrots and chop cilantro. Whisk together mayo, lime juice, sugar, spice, salt and pepper. Toss veggies and dressing about 30 minutes before serving. This makes a lot of slaw - we ate this for 2 dinners and I took some to work for lunch.

This meal demanded dessert. When my husband tasted this grapefruit pound cake, his response was "This is one for the books!" Success!! This cake only got better a day later and was even better yet 2 days later. The glaze soaks in and bottom is super moist and the sugar on the top is almost crunchy. 
It. Is. Awesome.

Grapefruit Pound Cake - adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 2/3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons butter - softened
6 ounces cream cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
grapefruit rind - grated (from 2 grapefruits - a like a lot of zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup grapefruit juice (from 2 grapefruits)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter and flour a bundt pan or tube pan. Combine flour, baking powder, salt. Beat sugar, butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add eggs, then add oil, rind and vanilla. 

Add flour mixture and milk alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour. Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool and invert onto a cake stand, plate or wire rack.

Boil juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce to 3 tablespoons. (This is from the original recipe - I might still be cooking all this juice if I wanted it to reduce to 3 tablespoons!! Anyway - reduce - a bit.)

Cool slightly and add powdered sugar and pinch of salt. Drizzle over cake. I really suggest drizzling this over the cake only once it's on a plate. The extra juice soaks in and this cake stays nice and moist.