19 February 2015

It's Improv time again!

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.  

This month's ingredients are coffee and cream.  Two ingredients that I enjoy every day!  I thought it would be fun to be super creative and use coffee and cream in some kind of savory dish.  And I'm sure it would have been, but February got too busy and I went with something more obvious. And simple.  But you know, it's just so perfect for this time of year.  I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here in Wisconsin, it is frigid!  It is -1 right now as I type this (Wednesday night) and today have a high of 1.  1 degree for a high!  And living on Lake Michigan, the windchills are brutal. Supposed to be between -20 and -30 tomorrow.  So you can understand why a hot coffee drink was appealing to me!

This one is awesome because it not only contains hot coffee, but also alcohol!  I often get so cold in the evenings that I just can't warm up no matter how many layers I wear or how many blankets I pile on.  Whenever that happens I have to get warm from the inside out.  A glass of wine does the trick every time.  So combining coffee and alcohol in one drink is doubly effective!  Are you familiar with a hot toddy?  A traditional hot toddy is hot water or tea mixed with rum, brandy, or whiskey and sweetened with honey or sugar.  This variation uses coffee, a caramel creme liqueur, butterscotch liqueur, and is topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce.  Mmm.  I got the recipe from Delightful E Made.

Caramel Creme Coffee Toddy

1 shot caramel creme liqeuer
1 shot Buttershots 
8 oz. hot brewed coffee
Whipped cream
Caramel ice cream topping


Pour caramel creme and Buttershots in a mug.  Pour in hot coffee.  Top with whipped cream and drizzle with caramel sauce.

Makes 1 drink.

It's so easy, it's almost not even a recipe, but it's too good not to share.  Bailey's has a salted caramel variety, but I found a Bailey's knock-off brand at Aldi that came in caramel cream variety.  It was really good and less than half the price of Bailey's.  Love Aldi!

Since my husband and I enjoy this drink in the evening, we use decaf coffee.  But of course it works with any kind of coffee.

I don't actually recommend serving this in the kind of glass I used in the pic above.  It's best served in your favorite coffee mug.  But I chose a clear glass for the pic so you could see what it looked like.  Otherwise it would have just been a mug with some whipped cream on top.

So if you are experiencing the same cold snap I am, go make yourself one of these!  If not, and you are someplace warm, I don't want to hear about it! ;)

Check out all the other great coffee and cream recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with chicken and noodles.

13 February 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!  I made a yummy Valentine's Day treat that I had to share with you.  I am also sharing the Valentines I made for my girls' school exchange, so don't forget to scroll down and take a look at those.

These brownies are amazing.  Brownie base topped with raspberry cheesecake and swirled with more chocolate and topped with fresh raspberries.  Yum!  Chocolate and raspberry is my favorite food combo at Valentine's Day.  It's just perfect.  I saw these brownies at Sally's Baking Addiction and had to try them.

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies

1 box brownie mix
Eggs, oil, and water
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup seedless raspberry jam
1 egg yolk
Red food coloring, optional
12 fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat an 11x7” baking dish with baking spray.

Prepare brownie mix as directed on box, adding eggs, oil, and water.  Pour brownie batter into the prepared baking dish, leaving 2 tbsp or so of brownie mix in the bowl.  Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, raspberry jam, and egg yolk.  Mix until there are no cream cheese lumps (it helps to have the jam and egg at room temperature before mixing).  If desired, add a couple of drops of red food coloring.

Pour cream cheese mixture over the brownie batter in the baking dish.  Add a tiny bit of water to the remaining brownie batter in the bowl to make it a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle the batter on top of the cheesecake mixture in horizontal stripes.  Run a knife through it vertically one way, then the other way in between to create the swirl pattern.  Place raspberries so that one will be in the center of each piece when cut into 12 pieces.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Cover pan with foil and bake an additional 25 minutes, or until middle is slightly loose but not jiggly.  Remove from oven, uncover, and let cool completely.  Cut into squares, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Refrigerate any leftovers.

Makes 12 brownies.

These are really pretty easy to make. The original recipe called for making the brownie part from scratch.  I'm sure it's really good, probably better than the mix, but I am too lazy for that.  They are awesome with the mix.  I used a Ghiradelli mix that has chocolate chunks in it.  Yum.  If you are inspired to make the brownie part from scratch, click over to get Sally's recipe.  

I could not achieve the beautiful light pink color that Sally got.  The first time I made them I forgot the part about covering them with foil.  They came out tasting good, but they were hardly pink at all.  The egg yolk in the cheesecake part will make them brown if you leave them uncovered.  They are a bit prettier if you cover them.

Here are a few pics of the assembly process:

 I assume you have all seen brownie batter in a pan, so I skipped that pic. :) Here is the cheesecake layer spread out over the brownie batter.  I was too lazy to get out my hand mixer, so I mixed it up by hand.  I had the cream cheese nice and soft and creamy, but when I added the cold raspberry jam and egg yolk, it created lumps.  If you think about it, get the jam and egg out early so they are room temp before mixing with the cream cheese.  If you don't think about (like I didn't), don't worry about it. The white lumps will not be noticeable in the finished product.

 Thin out a little bit of brownie batter and drizzle it horizontally only on the cheesecake layer.

 Drag a knife through the other way, three times in the same direction.

 Then drag the knife the opposite direction in between to make the pretty swirls.

 Place the raspberries on.  You can do more raspberries if you like.  I think they look pretty with one in the center of each piece.

Out of the oven.  These are not the kind of brownies you eat warm from the oven.  They are best served chilled, because of the cheesecake layer.  I do recommend cutting them before refrigerating though, because it's difficult to cut through cold brownies, especially if they have chocolate chunks in them like mine did.  I powered through, though!

Now I have to show you the Valentines I made for my daughters' to exchange at school.  I am not very crafty at all, so every year I scour Pinterest for something cute, but not too difficult or involved.  

The Fishbowl for Eva.  All you need to make this is on Backless Shirt.  It was super duper easy.  One disclaimer though, that wasn't mentioned on Backless Shirt: The goldfish will leave greasy marks on the cardstock.  I didn't realize this until I had them all done and ready to go the next morning. It was too late to do anything about it, so I gave them out that way. I would suggest either laminating the cardstock, or using Swedish fish instead.

For Lena I did the Love Bug.  The instructions are found at The NY Melrose Family.  These were a little bit more involved, but still pretty easy.  One thing I will warn you about: Do not think you are smarter than the instructions and try to use any other glue besides hot glue for this.  First I got some glue at the dollar store.  Bad idea.  Then I thought super glue would do the trick. I tried two different kinds, spent an hour trying to get the googly eyes and noses to stick, glued my fingers together several times, and could not even get one good one.  I gave up on the super glue and broke out the glue gun.  Instant success.  Don't worry; the hot glue will not melt the fruit cup.

They were a big hit at school.  

I'm planning a fun Valentine's Day breakfast and lunch for my little sweeties.  Red velvet pancake muffins, and heart-shaped sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, and heart-shaped lunchables and fruit kabobs for lunch.  Dinner will be with my in-laws because my sweetie is taking me to see Alton Brown Live! tomorrow night!  Can't wait!

What I'm Reading Right Now


01 February 2015

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.     

This month I was assigned to Wendy's Weekend Gourmet.  I was quite familiar with Wendy's blog, not only from SRC, but also because I participated in her monthly Salad Bar challenge for a while.  I love Wendy's Texan enthusiasm about cooking and during this cold dreary Wisconsin winter, perusing her blog was a joy because all the bright summery ingredients made me think of warmer weather.  

Because I was familiar with Wendy's blog, I had some of her recipes already pinned.  I knew I had pinned her recipes before, but as I went to look for them, I suddenly became aware that Pinterest has no function for searching your pins by a specific source. Might have to submit that one to the suggestion box!  I did remember that I made one of her recipes before.  I made a slight variation of her Turkey Mornay Open-Faced Sandwiches.  It was a couple of years ago, and I didn't write anything down about it, and I remember that I didn't have broccoli, but we totally loved it.

  I found several things to tempt me this time around.  I thought that my daughters would love her Creamy Veggie-Ranch Chicken Wraps.  I love the bright colors from the all the veggies Wendy uses!  I also considered making her Goat Cheese-Stuffed Pork Chops with Maple-Balsamic Parsnips, Apples, and Potatoes.  Yum!  That one is still definitely on my to-make list.  In the end, I decided to do something seasonal.  February provides two options: Valentine's Day and Mardi Gras.  I loved the looks of her Mardi Gras Crispy Fish Sandwiches.  But since Valentine's Day is closer, I went with that.  She has a couple of fun Valentine's Day goodies.  I decided to make her Red Velvet Strawberry Cheesecake Trifles.  Red velvet pound cake, strawberries, and cheesecake filling layered together into one yummy dessert. Mmm!

Strawberry Red Velvet Cheesecake Parfaits

1½ cups chopped strawberries
1 tbsp sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1 cup powdered sugar
Red velvet cake, pound cake, brownies, or cookies (I used 3 Marie Callender’s mini red velvet cakes, thawed)
White chocolate, for garnish

Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Combine the cream cheese and the Greek yogurt in a medium bowl.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, mixing well to remove any lumps.  (You can use a hand mixer for this, but I just did it by hand.)

Cut the red velvet cake (or brownies) into cubes.

Get out four parfait glasses and place some of the cheesecake mixture into the bottom of each, being careful not to touch the side of the glass with the spoon.  (I used a parfait spoon and just dropped a couple of dollops into the bottom.)  Place a few red velvet cubes on top, then a couple spoonfuls of the macerated strawberries.  Repeat layers until all ingredients are used.  Shave or grate some white chocolate over the top of each as a garnish.

Makes 4 parfaits.

Wendy used wine glasses, but since I happened to have parfait glasses, I used those.  I actually used two parfait glasses for my husband and myself, but I thought that might be too much for my 4 and 6 year old daughters, so I used these little juice glasses for them.  If you don't care about presentation, you can also just layer this in a regular bowl.  Tastes just as good!

They loved them.  My husband and I did too.  They are amazing!  The cheesecake filling made with cream cheese and Greek yogurt is so good!  I seriously had to stop myself from eating it out of the bowl.  It would make a really awesome fruit dip too.  

 I couldn't find any red velvet pound cake, and thought I was going to be out of luck finding anything red velvet, but then I spotted these in the freezer section.  They worked really well.  I thawed them according to the package directions, then scraped the frosting off.  

Aren't they cute!  If you can't find these, or anything else red velvet, these parfait would be just as good with regular brownies or pound cake.  Use whatever you can find.

The combination of the chewy cake cubes, the creamy cheesecake filling, and the bright tart strawberries is just amazing.  This is one of those recipes where the pictures just do not do it justice.  You've got to make these for your favorite Valentines this year!

Thanks for a great recipe that I already can't wait to make again, Wendy!

Be sure to check out all the other great SRC picks below.

30 January 2015

Are you hosting or attending a Super Bowl party on Sunday?  Are you still undecided on what to make or take?  I make this for dinner sometimes, but it would be an awesome Super Bowl party snack.  Super easy to make, easy to slice and serve, and feeds a crowd.  Perfect!  It's adapted from What About Pie?.

Pepperoni Rolls

2 loaves frozen bread (I use Rhodes)
1 tbsp cornmeal
1 package pepperoni
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp pizza seasoning (I use Penzeys Frozen Pizza Seasoning)
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 tsp Italian seasoning (I use Penzeys Tuscan Sunset)
Pizza sauce, for dipping

In the morning, remove bread dough from freezer.  Spray a plate with Pam and place dough on plate.  Cut a length of plastic wrap and spray one side with Pam.  Loosely cover the dough with it, Pam side down.  Let bread sit for 6-8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°.  Spread ½ tsp cornmeal out on a large cutting board.  Remove one loaf of dough from plate and place on cutting board.  Using a rolling pin or your fingers, roll or press out to form a large rectangle.  Shoot for 11x8”, but don’t stress if it’s not exact.  

Place pepperoni slices on dough, slightly overlapping.  Sprinkle with 1-1½ cups cheese, 1 tsp garlic powder, and 1 tbsp pizza seasoning.  Starting with the long side, carefully roll the dough up, making it as tight as you can.  Bring the far edge up and pinch the edge to the roll to seal it up.  Pinch the edges of the log together to seal the ends. 

Transfer log to a baking sheet (I use stoneware), with the seam side down.  Brush top with 1 tbsp melted butter and sprinkle with 1 tbsp Parmesan and ½ tsp Italian seasoning.

Repeat with the second loaf of dough and remaining ingredients.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bread is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before cutting.  Cut into 1” thick slices.  Serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Makes 6 servings as a main dish, 12 as a party appetizer.

Note: If you don't have time the day of to let the dough thaw and rise for 6-8 hours, you can do that part the day before, then refrigerate overnight.  Let it come back to room temperature the next day before proceeding with the recipe.

Even though it's super easy, I took a few pics of the process.

 This is what my dough looked like after thawing and rising.  It got crazy big!

 I was fortunate to have a handy dandy kitchen assistant on the day I took these pics.

 Press or roll dough out to a rectangle shape.

 Have your lovely assistant place the pepperoni on.

 Don't let her sneak too many pieces of pepperoni!

 I used turkey pepperoni, so that's why they are kind of curly-looking.  Regular pepperoni will lay more flat.  If you use regular pepperoni, I suggest blotting it well with paper towels after laying it on the dough to remove some of the extra grease.  

 Layer on the cheese.  Don't be stingy!

Then top with pizza seasoning.

 I used Penzeys, of course. This stuff rocks. I use it any recipe that has pizza flavors going on.

 Roll that baby up.  Pinch the seam together.

 Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with more seasoning and Parmesan. I used Tuscan Sunset, which is a different Italian-style seasoning, but you can use the same seasoning you used inside.  You can even omit it if you want.

 This is how it looks coming out of the oven.  Isn't it gorgeous?


I cut them into 1" slices when I made them for dinner.  You could slice them a bit thinner if making them for party appetizers.  Just don't get too skinny or the filling might fall out.  Serve with your favorite marinara sauce for dipping.  

These pepperoni rolls would be a huge hit at any party, let alone a Super Bowl party.  I have made them for dinner a couple of times and they are always a huge hit with my family.  Served with a nice salad, they make a great "fun" dinner.  

Secret Recipe Club resumes on Monday; come back to see what fun thing I made.  (Here's a teaser: it's perfect for the next great holiday coming up.)

What I'm Reading Right Now


21 January 2015

Can you believe it's the second half of January already? Time flies when you're busy!  We have been super busy since the kids finally went back to school (after Christmas break and multiple snow days).  Weeknights have changed a lot around here in the last year with me working part-time (today is my one year anniversary!) and with my oldest daughter having homework every night.  I used to be able to cook pretty much whatever dinner I wanted on whatever night I wanted to, but not anymore.  I really need quick-cooking dinners on weeknights that are easy enough that my husband can throw them together if I get bogged down helping Lena with her homework.  He's not inept in the kitchen by any means, but simple is always best on these busy nights.  I recently created this awesome recipe that is perfect for these nights.  Not only is it ready in about half an hour, with pockets of time when you are able to leave it and go do something else while it cooks, but since it cooks all in one pan, you have only one pan to clean up afterwards.  I love that!  

The lovely folks at Red Gold sent me an nifty little package of tomatoes, lasagna noodles. an apron, and a coupon for Laura's Lean Beef and invited me to participate in their "Red Gold Simple Gourmet Lasagna Party".  Do you love lasagna?  Lasagna isn't something I have mastered, so I looked forward to an opportunity to work on my lasagna skills. I have two main lasagna hang-ups: 1. I don't like ricotta cheese, and 2. it is a complicated dish with lots of prep work, then a really long baking time.  Ain't nobody got time for dat!  Well, maybe somebody does, but I don't!  The lasagna recipe that I came up with fixes both of those issues.  I replaced the ricotta with a mixture of cream cheese, parmesan, and garlic powder.  Yum.  And I cooked the entire thing on the stovetop.  It was ready, from start to finish, in half an hour or less (I didn't time it exactly.)  It's not layered like traditional lasagna, but the taste is the same and you really feel like you're getting the whole "lasagna experience".  
Skillet Lasagna

1 tsp olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 (14.5 oz.) cans Red Gold Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic, and Oregano
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
⅔ cup water
1 tbsp Italian seasoning (I use Penzeys Tuscan Sunset)
11 lasagna noodles, broken into pieces
½ cup cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp Parmesan
½ tsp garlic powder
2 oz. mozzarella pearls

Heat oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet.  Add the onion and sauté until tender.  Add the ground beef and cook until browned.  Drain off grease if necessary.  Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, and Italian seasoning.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Add noodles, stir, and replace cover.  Cook for 10 minutes, or until noodles are al dente.  Meanwhile, combine the cream cheese, Parmesan, and garlic powder.  Drop by spoonfuls into the pan and gently fold inside.  Place mozzarella pearls on top and cook for another 5-10 minutes, covered, to melt. Top with freshly grated Parmesan or Fontina, if desired.  Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

This is how I broke up the lasagna pieces.  I assumed that you would have to use no-boil noodles for something like this, but I was wrong!  Regular lasagna noodles work perfectly.  If you happen to have some no-boil (aka oven-ready) noodles or you want to speed up the cooking even more, I think that you could use them as well.  They are thinner and more delicate than regular, so be gentle with your stirring.

If you can't find mozzarella pearls at your store, you can buy a mozzarella ball and just cut little pieces off of it.  Of course, you can always use shredded instead, but I like the looks of the pearls.  Makes it seem fancier somehow.

My family loved this!  While it was cooking I steamed some green beans in the microwave and threw some garlic bread under the broiler and dinner was done.  Easy peasy. Both of my girls made a point to tell me how much they loved it.  We had just a little bit leftover and it was quickly gobbled up for lunch the next day.

Give this a try the next time you get hungry for lasagna but don't have all day to devote to making it.  And be sure to head over to Red Gold's Facebook page to enter for your chance to win one of 750 aprons or one of 6 Gourmet Lasagna Party Prize Packs which include a Le Creuset Lasagna pan.  It ends February 3rd, so go enter now before you forget!

What I'm Reading Right Now


15 January 2015

It's Improv time again!

The premise of the Improv Challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it. 

This month's assigned ingredients were pork and rice.  So many options!  I actually already have several pork and rice dishes on my blog: Baked Pork Chops with Brown Rice, Coconut Galangal Pork Fried Rice, Sausage, Spinach, and Brown Rice Skillet, and Smoked Sausage, Peas, and Rice Skillet,  Pork and rice is a great combo!  I searched my pins on Pinterest for something new to try and was overwhelmed by the number of pins I had that would work.  

I settled on soup.  I was going to make a slow cooker creamy sausage and wild rice soup.  But it was one of those times when you set out to create one thing, and end up with something completely different!  My intention was to cook wild rice, mushrooms, and seasonings in beef broth, with a little gravy mix for thickening, then when the rice was tender, add sausage and some heavy cream, and more broth if necessary to make it a cozy winter soup.  But when I checked on the rice to see if it was done, it was not only done, but it was amazing!  The broth and gravy had thickened up just perfectly for a really yummy rice dish.  I simply could not imagine watering it down to make it into a soup!  It was not yet time for dinner, so I added the sausage and turned the slow cooker down to warm until dinnertime.  The funny thing is, I hadn't even intended to serve this for dinner that night; I was making it a day ahead so I could get some good pics of it at lunchtime the next day, then we would eat it for dinner.  But after smelling it cook all afternoon, and seeing how amazing it tasted, I couldn't resist eating it that same night.  It worked out well because I had some unexpected errands to run right before dinner that night, so it was awesome to have dinner ready when I got home.  (The meal I originally planned for that night was easily switched to the next night.)  

Slow Cooker Sausage and Wild Rice Pot

32 oz. reduced sodium beef broth
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 cup wild rice blend (I used Lundberg Wild Blend)
1 tsp dried onion flakes (I used Penzey's toasted)
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried oregano
1 (.87 oz) packet brown gravy mix
2 tsp flour
1 lb. ground Italian sausage

Place beef broth, mushrooms, rice, onion flakes, bay leaf, and oregano in a 3 qt. slow cooker.  In a small bowl, combine the gravy mix and flour.  Add to slow cooker, using a whisk to combine it with the beef broth.  Set slow cooker to high and cook for 3 hours.

Remove bay leaf.  Brown sausage in a medium skillet.  Drain off grease and add sausage to slow cooker.  Stir and serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

I browned the sausage and added it at the end, but if it's more convenient for you, I'm sure you could add it to the slow cooker at the beginning so it all cooks together.  

I served this with some roasted broccoli.  While my four-year-old wasn't wild about this (pun intended), my husband and six-year-old raved about it.  Lena actually said it was a "flavor sensation that is sweeping the nation!"  She's a total goof.  My husband devoured the leftovers for lunch the next day.  He mentioned that it had great "umami".  He watches too many food shows with me!

This is just such perfect wintertime comfort food.  I have never had much luck cooking rice in the slow cooker before, so I was so excited that this turned out so perfectly.  Cooking it on high probably had a lot to do with that.  I'm not sure low would work with this recipe.  It might make the rice mushy.  I can already think of a couple of variations with this same method; chicken with chicken broth and chicken gravy mix immediately comes to mind.  Can't wait to experiment some more!

Check out all the other great pork and rice recipes below and come back next month to see what I make with coffee and cream.  Yum!