Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The green stuff

We definitely love Mexican food around here and probably have it at least once a week. I've been working on perfecting my guacamole recently, but I still like to cut corners a bit and use a package of Produce Partners Great Guacamole seasoning. Lawry's also makes a good guacamole seasoning (the McCormick stuff in the orange package is nasty though). Eventually I may move to a completely from scratch guac with peppers and other spices, but for now I like my easy semi-homemade guac :)

Easy Mild Guacamole
4 ripe avacados (skin will be dark and the avacado will yield to slight pressure)
3 small roma tomatoes, seeds removed
1/4 of a white onion
1 packet of guacamole seasoning
juice of half a lime
dash of salt

Remove peel and mash up avacados in a large bowl. Chop up tomatoes and onion, add to the avacado mixture. Mix in packet of guacamole seasoning, lime juice, and salt. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Chocolate cake, meet my lovehandles.

Yikes this chocolate cake is sinfully good. It's my third from scratch cake and maybe the best yet, but how can anything beat chocolate cake? Not possible. This stuff is amazing. Warning: do not attempt to eat without a big glass of milk. Thanks to Michelle for recommending this recipe on her blog!

Texas Sheet Cake (from Cooking Light magazine)

Cake Ingredients:
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (I used skim)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs

ICING Ingredients:
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
optional: 1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 F.

To prepare the cake, coat a 13x9 cake pan with cooking spray, and dust with 2 teaspoons flour. Set prepared pan aside.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour and next 3 ingredients (2 cups flour through salt) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Combine water, 1/2 cup butter, and 1/4 cup cocoa in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; pour into flour mixture. Beat at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add buttermilk , 1 teaspoon vanilla, and eggs; beat well. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake at 375 F for 22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Place on wire rack.

To prepare the icing, combine 6 tablespoons butter, milk, and 1/4 cup cocoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and gradually stir in powdered sugar, pecans, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Spread over hot cake. Cool completely on wire rack.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mexican Lasagna

I don't have much to say except this is another one of our standbys. It tastes AMAZING the next day, not that it's bad the first night, but after it's cooled in the fridge the layers settle in well and it reheats great. Leftovers will take care of lunch for the next 2-3 days! So here's the recipe, I got the original from Allrecipes and tweaked it to my liking.

Mexican Lasagna

1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (4 oz) can diced green chili peppers
1 (2 oz) can sliced black olives
1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chile peppers
1 (8 oz) jar medium taco sauce
1 (16 oz) can refried beans
6-8 flour tortillas
1 cup shredded colby jack or mexican blend of cheese
(optional addition is a can of black beans and/or corn, but you'll definitely need a large skillet for all that filling!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the ground beef for 5 minutes. Add the onion, green pepper and garlic, and saute for 5 more minutes. Drain any excess fat.
2. Mix in the olives, green chile peppers, tomatoes with green chile peppers, and taco sauce. Stir mixture thoroughly, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Spread a thin layer of the meat mixture in the bottom of a 4 quart casserole dish. Cover with a layer of tortillas followed by a layer of refried beans then more meat mixture and cheese. Repeat tortilla, beans, meat, cheese pattern until all the meat mixture is used up, topping off with a layer of meat mixture and cheese.
4. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cheese is slightly brown and bubbly.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A favorite standby

This is one of my favorite meals to make because everything mixes up quickly and you can bake them all at the same time. So outside of baking the potatoes the meal takes less than 45 minutes start to finish (with a little help from Tyler trimming the fat off the chicken!) The first two recipes are taken from the Betty Crocker Cooking Basics cookbook which I totally love. This is one of the first meals I learned how to make. I highly recommend that cookbook if you are just starting out. There are tons of helpful tips and a picture for every recipe. Plus it's Betty Crocker, you can't go wrong with Ol Betty.

Parmesan Dijon Chicken

2 large chicken breasts, cut in half.
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 T melted butter
2 T dijon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Mix melted butter and dijon mustard in a large bowl or flat dish. Mix bread crumbs and parmesan cheese in a large ziploc bag.
3. Dip the chicken into the butter/mustard mix making sure to thorougly coat it. Then toss into the bag and coat with crumb mixture. Place chicken in single layer in an ungreased rectangular pan.
4. Bake uncovered 30 minutes, making sure to flip the chicken over halfway through baking. Chicken is done when juice is no longer pink when you cut into the center of the thickest piece.

Twice Baked Potatoes

4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed clean.
2 large spoonfuls sour cream
2 T butter
dash salt and pepper
2 T milk
1 cup colby jack or mexican blend shredded cheese.

Poke holes in potatoes and bake in a 375 degree oven for 1 hour.
Let potatoes cool, then cut in half and scoop out the potato, place skins on baking sheet to be refilled.
Mix potato, sour cream, butter, salt and pepper on medium speed. Add in milk until the mixture becomes smooth.
Spoon potato mixture into skins, top with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Broccoli Casserole

10 oz frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and squeezed dried
1 cup stuffing mix
3 T melted butter
6 oz can creamed corn
dash of salt and pepper
1 egg

Mix butter and stuffing mix together until moistened. In a separate bowl mix egg, creamed corn, broccoli, and salt and pepper. Add in stuffing mix and then pour it all into an 8x8 greased pan, bake for 35 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Friday, May 18, 2007

20 minute meal

So depending on how long it takes you to to chop and saute the veggies this meal could easily take less than 20 minutes to make, and who doesn't love a super fast meal? I had a bunch of tomatoes and decided to make fresh salsa for the first time. We decided to whip up some quesadillas and call it a meal. We had leftover quesadilla filling so we had them two nights in a row, yum.

Quesadillas (made by Tyler)

1 red pepper
1 red onion
1 green pepper
Shredded 4 cheese Mexican cheese
Flour tortillas

Chop up onion and peppers into small pieces, saute with a little oil over medium heat until tender. Place tortilla in pan and put cheese and onion/pepper mix on top, fold over and cook, flip to cook other side until cheese is melted and outside is slightly brown. Serve with fresh salsa.

Fresh salsa (made by Julia)
2 tomatoes, seeds removed
1/2 white onion
2 jalepenos, seeds removed (be careful not to touch the inside/seeds or else your skin will burn for hours!)
1/2 cup cilantro or however much you prefer
juice of one lime
dash of salt
1-2 cloves garlic chopped

Chop up tomatos, onion, peppers, put in food processor and add cilantro, lime juice, salt, and garlic cloves. Pulse/chop in food processor until finely chopped. Serve with quesadillas and chips.

Easy black beans (made by Julia)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 t cumin

Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with your favorite Mexican dishes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fondue night

We are always looking for reasons to celebrate and bust out our fondue pot. Birthdays, valentine's day, anniversaries...but this week we wanted fondue and decided to use the series finale of Gilmore Girls as our reason. Not that we are happy it has been canceled, but celebrating 7 great years of my favorite show (though the last year was a little less than stellar!) Obviously this was my idea, not Tyler's ;) We whipped up fondue and it was good but not as good as last time. I skimped on cheese and bought Kraft shredded sharp cheddar, I should have gone for extra sharp and bought a block of the good stuff to grate myself. One should not skimp on cheese. I found the original recipe by googling "the melting pot's cheddar fondue" and we've tweaked it a bit to our liking.

Melting Pot Cheddar Fondue (made by Julia and Tyler)

3 to 3 1/2 oz beer (our chef at The Melting Pot said they use Miller High Life so that's what we use)
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1-2 Tablespoons worcestshire sauce, however much you prefer, it can be strong.
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup swiss cheese

Grate cheese and mix in some flour to very lightly coat the cheese and keep it from clumping.

Mix beer, mustard powder and garlic in the fondue pot, bring to a simmer.
Add in cheese in small batches, and stir until the consistency is right. Add in worcestshire sauce and continue stirring until thickened.

Serve with whatever dippers you prefer. We use Italian or French Bread, Pumpernickel & Rye, and granny smith apples.

For dessert we had chocolate covered strawberries, very yummy. I was not impressed with the microwaveable tub of bakers dipping chocolate. It worked and tasted fine but it clumped up terribly so I wasn't able to use all the chocolate. Next time I will melt the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove so I can better control the temperature.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Menu planning tip

About a month ago I was completely out of meal ideas and drawing a complete blank on what I know how to make. I was trapped in a rotation of the same 4-5 meals and really needed to break out of it. So I followed the advice of a friend and created a list of everything I know how to make, broken up into categories. Now when I am planning meals I can look at this list and choose a few oldies but goodies to add to the list of new recipes I want to try. It makes meal planning for the next week much quicker. Here's my current list that I am always adding to, let me know if you want the recipe for any of these that are not currently posted on my blog:

Asian: potstickers, stir fry, curry

Mexican: burrito pie, black bean casserole, fajitas, burritos, tacos, quesadillas, taco salad, chicken enchiladas, black bean and rice enchiladas.

Italian: baked ziti, lasagna, spaghetti, lemon spaghetti, ravioli/tortellini, chicken parmesan, pizza, balsamic chicken drummettes, lasagna rolls

American & Other Misc: cheeseburgers, parmesan dijon chicken, slow cooker pork chops, pot roast, french dips, turkey-swiss sandwiches, pancakes, chicken salad, grilled chicken salads, greek pitas, slow cooker bbq chicken

Soups/Stews: chili, potato soup, santa fe chili, chicken and dumplings

Side Dishes: broccoli casserole, quiche, pasta salad, fruit salad, twice baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, oven fries, salad, black beans

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lasagna rolls....just the way I like em!

So I made lasagna rolls a few months ago and BLECH I hated them! I used as much spinach as the recipe called for and I felt like I had to choke that green stuff down. Frozen spinach does not taste so great, especially in large portions. So this time I decided I was going to make the lasagna rolls my way, and not follow the recipe so closely. So I took the original recipe, adjusted the spinach to ricotta ratio, and topped them with meat sauce made with our new favorite tomato sauce: Classico spicy tomato and basil.

Lasagna Rolls with Meat Sauce

Meat Sauce:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 onion chopped
26 oz of your favorite tomato sauce, store bought or homemade

Lasagna Rolls:
10 lasagna noodles
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1/4 package of frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry (they come in 10 oz packages)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 t salt
1/2 ground black pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella & provolone cheese (or just mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cook ground beef and chopped onion over medium heat, drain fat. Add tomato sauce, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Cook lasagna noodles in a pot of boiling water, drain and set aside.

Mix ricotta, spinach, parmesan cheese, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl until blended.

Spread 1/2 c tomato sauce on the bottom of 13x9 glass pan to prevent lasagna rolls from sticking to the bottom.

Spread 3-4 tablespoons of cheese mixture on each lasagna noodle, roll and place seam side down in 13x9 glass pan. Cover with meat sauce, sprinkle with cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before eating.

lasagna rolls before covering with sauce and cheese

Making bread for the very first time

Thanks to Amber for introducing me to this recipe, it was intimidating at first but I'm glad I took on the challenge! Kneading the bread and punching it down was good stress relief. It was an all day project but the bread turned out quite tasty though a little denser than I expected (this could have to do with the bread not rising as much as it should, who knows). This is a Williams Sonoma recipe that you can find on their website.

Parmesan Cheese Bread

Use freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, preferably imported, for the best flavor. And you will achieve better results in bread making if you buy one of the professional-quality active dry yeasts, such as Engedura from Holland or SAF from France. You can also make the dough by hand: Stir together the ingredients in a bowl and then knead the dough on a lightly floured board until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.


3 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more
as needed
1 Tbs. (1 package) active dry yeast
2 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cups warm water
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing


In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, combine the 3 3/4 cups flour, the yeast and salt. Add the warm water and stir with a wooden spoon until just mixed together. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese over the dough. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and begin mixing and kneading on very low speed. When the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 12 to 15 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is too sticky. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, brush it with a little olive oil and return it to the bowl. Cover with a towel and let rest in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 425°F. Brush a 9-inch round pan with olive oil.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on a plate. Punch down the dough. Return it to the floured work surface and knead a few times. Then, using your palms, roll the dough to form a log about 12 inches long. Cut the log in half crosswise, then cut each half crosswise into 6 equal pieces. Knead each dough piece a couple of times, roll it between the palms of your hands into a ball, and then roll it in the cheese to coat lightly and evenly, shaking off any excess. As each ball is coated, place it in the prepared pan, resting it against the rim and pressing down slightly to form a 2-inch disk. Arrange 9 balls around the rim and 3 balls in the center. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.

Sprinkle the top with the cheese remaining on the plate. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, cut a slash 1/4 inch deep in the top of each ball. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until brown and crusty, 20 to 30 minutes more. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the rolls rest in the pan for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove them from the pan; the rolls will come out in a single loaf.

Serve the loaf warm, breaking off the rolls at the table. Or let cool, top side up, on the rack. Makes 12 rolls.

And I'm back...

I did not want to cook last week. At all. I don't really know what we ate but we survived and today I made up for my lack of enthusiasm with a whirlwind day in the kitchen. I baked bread, made a cake from scratch, and I made lasagna rolls for dinner. I will reveal the bread and lasagna rolls shortly, but let's do dessert first ;) I was surfing the food network website this morning looking at the Barefoot Contessa's amazing recipes and found this one and since I had the ingredients on hand I went for it. I've posted the recipe below with my changes in italics.

Ina's Strawberry Country Cake (made by Julia)

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (they warm up to room temp really fast if you soak them in a bowl of hot water for about 20 minutes)
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the filling for each cake:
1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream, chilled (the store was out of regular heavy cream so I had to buy presweetened bakers cream. It tasted fine when whipped up so I did not have to add the sugar or vanilla)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans. Then line them with parchment paper and butter and flour the lined pans. (I didn't have parchment paper but some non-stick cooking spray and flour did the trick).

Cream the butter and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, then the sour cream, zests, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine just until smooth.

Pour the batter evenly into the pans, smooth the tops, and bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (my cakes cooked much faster since they were in dark nonstick pans, I don't think they baked for more than 30 minutes). Let cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then remove to wire racks and let cool to room temperature. If using 1 cake, wrap the second well and freeze.

To make the filling for one cake, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until firm. Slice one of the cakes in half with a long, sharp knife. Place the bottom slice of the cake on a serving platter, spread with 1/2 the whipped cream and scatter with sliced strawberries. Cover with the top slice of the cake and spread with the remaining cream. Decorate with strawberries.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Tyler was kind enough to whip up dinner tonight (well I did the sides, he made the chicken). This recipe has received raves so we thought we'd give it a try. It is Giada's recipe for chicken drumettes but we used chicken breasts instead. We did not have sesame seeds on hand or the fresh herbs so we used the dried stuff, it would be even better with all the ingredients! This was a great chicken dish, we will definitely make it again.

Balsamic Chicken (made by Tyler)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 sprigs of rosemary
5 garlic cloves, halved
10 to 12 chicken drumsticks
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Combine the balsamic, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, rosemary sprigs, and garlic cloves, in a large, re-sealable plastic bag. Shake and squeeze the contents of the bag to dissolve the honey and the brown sugar. Add the chicken drumsticks to the bag and seal with as little air as possible in the bag. Place in the refrigerator and marinate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the chicken drumsticks on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until the skin is caramelized and very dark in spots, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the marinade in a small saucepan. Bring the marinade to a boil (in order to kill bacteria). Reduce the heat to simmer and cook over low heat until thick, about 15 minutes. Reserve.

Use a pastry brush to brush some of the cooked marinade on the cooked chicken. Place the chicken on a serving platter. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and the chopped parsley.

Monday, May 7, 2007

5 minute dessert

I whipped these up as fast as instant pudding. Sooooo tasty. A great Monday night dessert to eat while watching Heroes :)

Peanut-Butterscotch Haystacks


  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 cups chow mein noodles


  1. Melt butterscotch chips and peanut butter on top of a double boiler, or in a microwave. Blend together.
  2. Stir noodles gently into the melted peanut butter mixture.
  3. Drop dough by forkfuls onto waxed paper. Cool until set. Keep refrigerated.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Outrageous Brownies

I thought I'd give from-scratch brownies a try this weekend since we need a delicious dessert for our Cinco de Mayo party. This recipe has been getting raves and I saw Ina make it on her show recently. They taste intensely chocolatey! Ina recommends keeping these brownies in the fridge instead of serving them at room temperature.

Ina's Outrageous Brownies

1/2 pound unsalted butter
1/2 pound plus 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1.5 tablespoons instant coffee powder (I omit this ingredient)
1 tablespoons real vanilla extract
1cup + 2 tbsp sugar
0.625 cups all-purpose flour, divided (1/2 cup for batter and 2 tbsp cup in the chips and nuts)
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5 cups diced walnut pieces (also optional, I left them out)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13 by 9 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan. (325 degrees if using a dark non-stick pan)

Melt together the butter, chocolate chips, and unsweetened chocolate on top of a double boiler (I did this step in a glass dish in the microwave at 30 second intervals). Cool slightly. Stir together the eggs, instant coffee, vanilla and sugar. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and cool to room temperature.

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and chocolate chips with flour to coat. Then add to the chocolate batter. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tester just comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, rap the pan against the oven shelf to allow air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Do not overbake! Cool thoroughly, refrigerate well and cut into squares.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Easy Italian

Mmm I love this dish! It takes less than 40 minutes including prep time and cook time. I served it over rotini with some garlic cheese rolls I threw together. This is an recipe that I have tweaked to my liking.

Tomato Chicken Parmesan (made by Julia)


  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 5 ounces seasoned bread crumbs
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 pound pasta sauce
  • 1 cup shredded cheese of your choice (Tonight I used a mix of mozzarella and provolone)


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. Pour beaten eggs into a shallow dish or bowl. In another shallow dish or bowl, mix together the grated Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Dip chicken breasts into beaten egg, then into bread crumb mixture to coat.
  3. Pour half of tomato sauce into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Add chicken, then cover with remaining sauce and sprinkle cheese over each breast, then bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until cheese is completely melted and chicken is no longer pink inside.