17 December 2011

The fine people over at Marx Foods have issued another blogger challenge.  The challenge this time was to create a decadent chocolate recipe using one of the following ingredients: fennel pollen, dried Habanero chiles, dried Puya chiles, coconut sugar, granulated candy cap mushrooms, and vanilla beans.

My thoughts immediately gravitated toward the dried chiles.  I love a tiny little bit of heat in chocolate.  A few years ago, Haagen Dazs had a flavor of ice cream called Mayan Chocolate.  It didn't have any chiles in it, but it did have cinnamon, which I had never really had paired with chocolate before.  But having cinnamon in chocolate really opens the door to spicing chocolate up even more.  A year or so ago I made some "Mexican brownies" for a church dinner that involved adding chipotle powder and cinnamon to brownie batter.  So good.

So I knew I wanted to do a spicy chocolate thing, but what?  I tried to make fudge, but it was an epic failure (my second epic fudge failure in the last two months.  I'm pretty sure I am DONE trying to make fudge!).  Then I got the idea to make a spiced hot fudge sauce to go over ice cream and other desserts.  This one was an instant winner!

Spiced Hot Fudge Sauce

2-3 dried Habanero chiles
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
⅓ cup cocoa
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter

Remove the seeds and ribs from the chiles and crumble them into a spice or coffee grinder.  Grind until it becomes a fine powder.  Measure out ⅛ tsp – ¼ tsp, depending on how spicy you want the sauce to be.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, cinnamon, and chile powder.  Stir to remove any lumps.  Add milk and stir.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil until sauce has reached desired consistency, keeping in mind that the sauce will thicken a bit as it cools.  Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted.

Serve warm over ice cream, cheesecake, pound cake, and anything else you can think of!

It turned out so well and was super duper easy to make.  While it was really good with the ice cream, I had to really restrain myself not to just eat it all off the spoon!  And it's really easy to adjust to your heat preferences. I wanted some spice, but we don't like things too hot, so I used ⅛ tsp.  It was perfect for us.  If you use any more than that, you better like things HOT!

If you think this hot fudge sauce sounds good, please go over to the Marx Foods Blog and vote for it. My recipe is certainly the simplest one on the ballot, but complicated doesn't always mean tastier, right? :)

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16 December 2011

It's Friday! How about some dessert?  These are some little treasures I made a while back.  I'm not sure why I haven't blogged about them yet, but it works out because today is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day!  So it's the perfect day to share this lovely recipe with you.  I got it from the blog Make Happy.

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Pretzel Balls

½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp brown sugar
⅛ tsp salt
1½ cups pretzels, crushed 
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

In a small bowl, combine peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, and salt. Stir until all ingredients are completely blended and smooth.  Add pretzel bits to peanut butter mixture and mix thoroughly.
Add powdered sugar and mix thoroughly. 

Take about a tablespoon of the peanut butter pretzel mixture into your fingers and gently pat it into a ball with your fingertips.  If the peanut butter starts sticking to your fingers, your fingers are too warm. Run your fingers under cold water for a minute to chill them, and begin rolling again.  Place the peanut butter balls onto the prepared baking sheet. Place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.

After the peanut butter balls have chilled, prepare the chocolate. Pour the chocolate chips into a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir. If needed, microwave for another 10 seconds and stir again. Continue until the chips are completely melted.

Place one peanut butter ball into the melted chocolate and gently roll it around with a fork until completely coated. Remove from the bowl with the fork and place back onto the waxed paper. Repeat for all other balls.  Once all the peanut butter balls are coated in chocolate, return the sheet to the refrigerator and chill another 30 minutes.

Makes approximately 18 balls.

Putting pretzels in desserts is really big right now, and after trying these, I can see why!  I've definitely had my share of chocolate covered peanut butter balls in my lifetime, but adding pretzels takes them to a whole new level!  I absolutely love the little bit of crunch and texture they give and then they've also got that salty/sweet thing going on too.  They're pretty perfect!

You can see that the chocolate is melting against my fingers in the pic above.  That's because I had to take about 30 blurry shots to get one good one!

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15 December 2011

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

Improv Challenge

Last month, the challenge was pumpkin and cream cheese and I made those lovely Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls.  They were a big hit!  I'm probably even more excited about my recipe for this month's challenge ingredients: eggnog and cranberries.  I don't think I have ever cooked or baked with eggnog before.  It's not something I like to drink, but I don't mind the flavor, so I was eager to try it in a baked good.  And muffins are my go-to baked good of choice, which you already know if you are a regular reader.

I found this recipe for Eggnog Cranberry White Chocolate Muffins at Your Homebased Mom.  I was not familiar with Leigh Anne's blog, but she has some really tasty-looking stuff on there!  I thought these muffins sounded so delicious.  I made just a few minor adjustments.  Here's my amended recipe.

Cranberry Eggnog White Chocolate Chip Muffins

2¼ cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup eggnog
5 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup white chocolate chips
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, slightly softened

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Coat 18 muffin cups with baking spray.  

In a medium bowl, add together the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir to combine.  In a large bowl, add together the sugar, eggs, eggnog, oil, and almond extract.  Stir until well combined.   Add in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Fold in the cranberries and white chocolate chips.  Do not over mix.

Divide the batter among the 18 muffin cups.

For the streusel topping, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or a fork until a coarse, crumbly mixture forms.  Sprinkle the mixture  on top of the muffin batter.

Bake for about 18-22 minutes, or a until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Makes 1½ dozen muffins.

I know this recipe pretty well by now, as I made it three times in about a month.  I made these muffins once, to try them out for the challenge, and they were so good that I made another batch to give to my sister when we went to her house for Thanksgiving, then I made them again for our fellowship/coffee time at church earlier this month.  They are not the easiest muffins to throw together; chopping the cranberries is quite tedious, but the end result is so much better than using dried cranberries.  I love the bright tartness they add to the muffins. They are the perfect balance to the sweetness of the other ingredients.  And I just love their vibrant red color.

As Leigh Anne says in her post, these muffins taste like Christmas!

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12 December 2011

I hope you're in the mood for muffins, because I've got two great recipes to share with you this week.  And guess what?  They're both Christmas-y muffin recipes.  I love cooking seasonal food.  Food doesn't get much more Christmas-y than gingerbread.  I pinned a Gingerbread Waffle recipe to Pinterest a long time ago and so far it has gotten 30 repins.  Unfortunately, I don't have a waffle-maker. :(  So what's the next best thing?  Gingerbread muffins!  This is a Betty Crocker recipe.

Gingerbread Muffins

¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup molasses
⅓ cup milk
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
Raw sugar

Preheat oven to 400°. Coat a 12 cup muffin tin with baking spray and set aside.

In large bowl, combine brown sugar, molasses, milk, oil, and egg.  In a another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice.  Gently stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients, until just combined, being careful not to over-stir. 

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle each cup with a generous pinch of raw sugar.

Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Makes 12 muffins.

I changed almost nothing about this recipe.  It called for a white chocolate drizzle that I left off.  While it sounds good, they most certainly don't need it.  They are so great on their own. I think they're really good with a little smear of butter.

Now you know I am not much of a baker, so these muffins are as close to gingerbread men as I am going to get!

Come back on Thursday for another awesome Christmas muffin recipe.

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08 December 2011

I recently cooked with a veggie I had never used before.  Kale.  I don't know why I had never used it before; I like leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard.  So when Grimmway Farms sent me a coupon for free produce, I thought it was high time to give kale a shot.  It's winter, so of course, my mind automatically went to soup.  Even though I had not had kale before, it just seemed like it would go well with beans and sausage.  Here's what I came up with.

White Bean, Sausage, and Kale Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
2 cans white beans, one drained and rinsed, the other not
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
6 cups red kale, chopped

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and saute until onion begins to get soft.  Add sausage and break up into chunks.  Cook until sausage is  browned and cooked through.  Drain off grease.

Add beans, broth, and kale.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until kale is softened.

Makes 6 servings.

It worked really well.  I made this soup when my mom was visiting and she had never had kale before either.  She heard other people say that it was kind of bitter, so she was a tad skeptical.  But we were all pleasantly surprised that it wasn't bitter at all and had a lovely flavor.  Kale is much sturdier than spinach, and since my mom is not a fan of wilted spinach in soups, she liked it much better than if I had used spinach.  My husband loved it too and my 18 month old daughter gobbled it up!

I love having a wide variety of soups in my repertoire in the winter, so I am glad to have branched out and added a new veggie to the mix.  This is a nice, hearty soup for a cold winter day.

Kim at Everyday Mom chose to make this recipe when she was assigned my blog for the Secret Recipe Club in January 2013.  Click on the button below to check out her post!

Secret Recipe Club

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07 December 2011

Today I am doing my first-ever guest post.  Mandy at Mandy's Recipe Box asked if I would be interested in doing one, so I took her up on the offer.

Mandy‘s Recipe Box

Mandy has a great blog.  If you aren't familiar with it, I encourage you to stop by and check it out.

The recipe I have posted over there is Slow Cooker Sesame Orange Chicken.  It's really easy and really tasty.  

05 December 2011

It's Secret Recipe Club reveal day!  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.  This is my fifth month participating.  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.

Secret Recipe Club

I was excited when I got my assignment for this month and it was My Fiance Likes It So It Must Be Good.  I discovered Peggy's blog when she was assigned mine the first month I joined the SRC.  I've been a follower ever since.  I was excited for the opportunity to reciprocate!  Peggy is a busy gal; she works full time and is also in her first semester of culinary school (yay, Peggy!).  Despite her super busy schedule, she has taken the time to share what she is learning at culinary school with all of her blog readers.  She posted a tutorial on breaking down a whole chicken, which was really helpful.  Then she posted a great recipe for Buffalo Chicken Breast Sandwiches, which is one of the first recipes they made in school.  I knew I wanted to make that, because it is something I had never made before, and I love to use my SRC assignments to challenge myself in areas I haven't yet explored.  So this recipe was perfect.

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup flour
½ tsp salt
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets
½ cup of Frank's Wing Sauce
4 hoagie rolls, split
4 slices bacon, cooked
Bleu cheese dressing

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add oil.  Combine flour and salt and coat each chicken cutlet in flour mixture, shaking off any excess.  When oil is shimmering, add chicken to pan.  Cook chicken until golden brown all over, about 5-7 minutes per side.

Remove from pan and coat each cutlet in wing sauce.

Assemble your sandwiches by stacking chicken, bacon, lettuce, and bleu cheese on each bun.

Makes 4 servings.

I didn't change Peggy's recipe very much at all.  I dredged the chicken in flour before browning it, just to give it a little more texture.  The only other thing I changed was to top the sandwiches with bleu cheese dressing.  I love the combination of the hot and spicy with the cool and creamy!  And I know that bacon probably isn't a traditional component to a buffalo chicken sandwich, but I happened to have some in the fridge, and it looked so good on Peggy's sandwich that I thought, who am I to mess with success? :)  I really liked the crunch it provided.

I made these sandwiches for myself, my husband, and my mother, who was visiting from out of town.  None of us like really spicy food, so I was kind of afraid that these sandwiches would be too much.  I really doused the chicken breast that I used in the pic above, but I told Jim and Mom that they could just brush a little bit of the sauce on their chicken.  We were all pleasantly surprised to find that the sandwiches weren't really that spicy.  I ate the one that was completely doused in sauce and I loved it!  Jim's only complaint was that I didn't make enough; he wanted another sandwich!  

Thanks so much, Peggy, for taking us along on your culinary school journey.  I can't wait to see what else you have been learning!

On a side note, one of my recipes was chosen by the Today Show as a finalist in their Home Chef Challenge. I would love it if you would take a minute and drop by their Facebook page to vote for my Chicken Cordon Bleu Pizza. If I win, I will be featured on the Today Show's website and could possibly even appear on the Today Show!

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