22 December 2012

Okay, one more quick Christmas dessert before I take some time off for the holiday. These bars are amazing!  I saw them on The Freshman Cook, and couldn't wait to try them. They are very festive with their red and green colors, and they are some of the tastiest bars I've ever had. Let me map these out for you: graham cracker crust, topped with 2 bags of Heath toffee bits, slathered with sweetened condensed milk, and topped with holiday chocolate chips.  They are very rich and probably have a million calories each, so don't make them when you're home by yourself.  But if you do over-indulge on these a little, don't beat yourself up. It's Christmas!

Jingle Bars

½ cup butter (1 stick), melted
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 (8 oz.) bags Heath Bits O'Brickle Toffee Pieces
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray a 9x13” pan with baking spray.  Set aside.

Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs and press into the bottom of prepared baking dish.  Top with both bags of Heath toffee pieces.  Pour sweetened condensed milk over toffee pieces.  Smooth out with spoon to make sure it’s evenly distributed.  Sprinkle holiday chocolate chips on the top.  

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until set.  Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 20 bars.

So festive!  I only wish the holiday chocolate chips were all red and green, without the brown ones.  Would be even prettier.

If it's too late to make these for this Christmas, but you don't want to wait until next Christmas, no worries! Use regular chocolate chips and they are good to go for any time of the year.

I made these for a church potluck a couple of weeks ago.  They were a huge hit!  I sent some home with a family who was there for the church service, but not the meal beforehand.  The mom wrote on my Facebook wall the next day telling me how good they were, and the teenage boys went on and on about them at school the next day (my husband teaches there, so he heard it first-hand).  I think they liked them!

I had one other Christmas recipe to share with you, but it will have to wait until next year, as I am super busy getting ready for the holiday.  I probably won't be back until after New Year's, so I would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

21 December 2012

Here's another fun Christmas dessert for you.  My absolute favorite Christmas flavor combination is peppermint and chocolate.  I'm the kind of purist who will only get a peppermint mocha at Starbucks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.  It's just so yummy and reminds me so much of the Christmas season (prob from my years working at Starbucks!), that I can't ruin it by having it at different times of the year.  I have seen so many peppermint and chocolate goodies floating around the blog world this season and I want to try all of them!  I'm going to have to rename my Christmas board on Pinterest to "Peppermint and Chocolate Recipes".  I saw a pudding pie from Pillsbury that I wanted to try.  It was double-layered with a layer of chocolate pudding on the bottom and some kind of marshmallow peppermint layer on the top.  It sounded good, but I wasn't sure about the marshmallow part.  That sounded kind of weird to me.  So I created my own top layer using white chocolate pudding instead.  I also used a graham cracker crust instead of a traditional pie crust.  Here's how I made mine.

Peppermint Chocolate Pudding Pie

2¼ cups milk, divided
1 box (4 serving size) cook and serve chocolate pudding mix (not instant)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 box (4 serving size) instant white chocolate pudding mix
¼ tsp peppermint extract.
1 cup Cool Whip
1½ tsp peppermint sugar or red sprinkles, optional
1 chocolate graham cracker crust
1 candy cane, crushed

In a 2 qt. saucepan, stir together the 1¼ cups milk and chocolate pudding mix.  Cook over medium heat as directed on box.  Reduce heat to low; continue cooking while adding chocolate chips, stirring until melted.  Set aside.

Combine the remaining 1 cup milk and white chocolate pudding mix.  Whisk until thick.  Add peppermint extract and Cool Whip.  You can also add sprinkles if desired, but be aware that the color will bleed and it will end up pink instead of white with red specks.

Spread chocolate pudding in the bottom of the graham cracker crust.  Top with white chocolate/peppermint pudding.  Cover and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.  Just before serving, sprinkle the crushed candy cane over the top.  Cut into 8 wedges and serve.  Store leftovers covered in refrigerator (crushed candy cane will kind of melt into the top, but it’s still good!).

Makes 8 servings.

Isn't it pretty?  This is what it looks like when you first put the crushed candy cane on top.  I did that before I refrigerated it and was surprised to see that the candy cane pieces had melted into the top when I got it out of the fridge.  That's why it looks pink in the top picture.  No worries; it was still delicious!

 I stirred some of these peppermint sprinkles into the white chocolate part and they also melted and turned the filling pink.  Again, didn't matter to us!

This pie is so good!  I love pudding pies, and these two puddings together are amazing.  I love the combination of the chocolate and peppermint.  Perfection!  This is an easy pie to make for your Christmas dinner as long as you have a few hours to chill it before serving.

I have two more Christmas recipes to share with you, but I'm running out of time!  Maybe now that I have my Christmas shopping done I will be able to get those up before the big day.

20 December 2012

Sorry I have been MIA lately.  December is just so busy, and then life threw us a curveball that took us out of town for a few days. But today is the Improv Challenge, and I wasn't about to miss that!

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 chocolate and marshmallows.  I hope you weren't expecting some crazy savory dish, because there are so many fun Christmas desserts out there right now and I want to try them all!  I saw this Jingle Bell Cookie Pizza in an email from Pillsbury, and thought it would be perfect for this month's challenge.  

Jingle Bell Cookie Pizza

1 roll (16.5 oz.) refrigerated chocolate chip cookies
1½ cups miniature marshmallows
½ cup red and green M&Ms
½ cup hot fudge topping, heated, if desired

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 12” inch pizza pan with shortening, or spray with cooking spray. 

On pan, break up cookie dough into pieces and press out dough evenly on bottom of pan to form crust. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until light golden brown.

Sprinkle marshmallows and candies evenly over crust. Bake 2 to 3 minutes longer or until marshmallows are puffed. Drizzle hot fudge topping over top. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 16 wedges to serve.

Makes 16 servings.

This is such a great holiday dessert because it's so easy and quick to make, but is really fun and festive.  I made it the weekend my mom was up visiting and we all really liked it.  I'm not a big marshmallow fan, but they work really well on this pizza with the M&Ms.

I just love the red and green colors on this dessert.  But you could easily use different colors for different holidays.  I'm thinking the Easter M&Ms would be really fun.  And you could use Reese's Pieces for fall colors at Thanksgiving.

 Gotta love chocolate on top of chocolate on top of chocolate!

 If you need a quick dessert for a small party, give this one a try.  And be sure to check out all of the other chocolate and marshmallow recipes below.  Next month's challenge is bananas and nutmeg; yum!

11 December 2012

I thought I would give you a little break from all the Christmas desserts you've no doubt been seeing en masse lately. Not that there's anything wrong with Christmas desserts; I have a few to share with you too, but those will have to wait for another day because today I've got veggies on the brain.  This is a super simple, but really tasty, green bean recipe I came up with this summer.  Goes really well with Asian dishes.

Sesame Garlic Green Beans

12 oz. fresh green beans, trimmed
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Salt, to taste

Boil or steam green beans until desired tenderness.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the garlic and sesame seeds and toast, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant and seeds are lightly toasted.  Add green beans and stir to evenly coat them with the garlic and sesame seeds.  Warning: sesame seeds may pop and hop around!

Season with salt to taste.

Makes 4 servings.

I use the Pampered Chef Microcooker to cook my green beans in the microwave.  I trim them, throw them in there, cover with water, season with salt, cover, and microwave.  I like my green beans on the very tender side (but never mushy!), so I cook mine for about 11-12 minutes.  Most people like theirs less done than that, so start with 5-8 minutes and check on them.

These beans make a very pretty side dish.  Since I like my beans tender, I love the little bits of crunch that the sesame seeds give.  So good.  My kids really liked these too.

07 December 2012

It's the 7th day of the month, which means it's Crazy Cooking Challenge time. 

 This month's theme was sugar cookies.  I wasn't too excited about this because baking isn't my thing, and cookies are my least favorite thing to bake even when I do feel like baking.  And Christmas sugar cookies are the worst kind of cookies because you have to make the dough, refrigerate it for so long, then roll it out with a rolling pin, and cut out all the shapes, blah, blah, blah. I am far too lazy for all that!  I have a serious aversion to any recipe that calls for a rolling pin.  If I read a recipe that I'm interested in and I come across a sentence that starts with, "Roll out. . . "  I immediately move on.  I still wanted to participate this month though, so I started looking through all kinds of sugar cookie recipes for a "cheaters" version.  I found it at Lulu The Baker.  She calls them "No Chill, No Roll Sugar Cookies".  Sounded good to me!  And they looked cute and could still be easily decorated, so that was the recipe for me.  I got the frosting recipe from her too.  I'm calling them "Lazy Baker Sugar Cookies."  I had never done the whole baking-sugar-cookies-and-decorating-them thing with my two girls, so we made an afternoon of it.  

Lazy Baker Sugar Cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2½ cups flour
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350°. 

In a large bowl, cream butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; mix. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar and combine. Add milk and stir until completely incorporated. 

Roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until cookies are just beginning to turn golden on the edges. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Combine 1 stick softened butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 4 cups powdered sugar, and 2-4 tbsp milk. Beat until fluffy.  Add food coloring as desired.

Makes 3½ dozen (2”) cookies.

The only change I made to the cookie recipe was that I changed ½ tsp baking soda to 1 tsp baking powder because I went to put in the baking soda and found I was out. Whoops!  My husband was working and there was no way I was dragging my two kids to the store just for that, so I tried using the baking powder instead, and they came out perfectly.  I know that baking powder isn't a substitute for baking soda, but since it worked, I'm going with it!

I love how the cookies turned out.  Perfectly round, soft, but not so soft that they fell apart.  I used my Pampered Chef stoneware and they were perfectly cooked without browning at all.  

Here are the pics of my two little girls helping me make these cookies.  Lena (4 and a half) in the blue shirt, and Eva (2 and a half) in the pink.

Eva helping me mix the dough.  

Lena's turn.

Eva is the type who does not like anything on her hands.  After she rolled her first cookie, she waved her hands in my face, saying "dirty, dirty, dirty!"  She wanted me to wash them in between each cookie roll.

Can you tell which ones I rolled, which ones Lena rolled, and which ones Eva "rolled"?

I set up four different colors of frosting: white, red, green, and brown.  The brown was for the little reindeer kit I got.  I used food coloring to make the brown, then afterwards it hit me that I should have just used cocoa powder.  Duh!

The reindeer kit.  I think our cookies were a bit small for it, but oh well.

Waiting patiently to begin.

Eva and her first cookie.

Cute, and tastes good too!

Sampling the artwork.

My reindeer cookie.  I used chocolate sprinkles to make it look furry.

Lena and her reindeer cookie.

This is how a 2-year-old does sprinkles.

My husband jumped in after he was done working and made a couple too.  He made the wreath at the top.  I made the Christmas tree, the red bow on green background, and the white with red swirls.  Eva's are the ones with bites out of them.

The prettiest ones.  

The red sprinkles were cinnamon-flavored and the red-and-white ones were peppermint-flavored.

Here are all of the ones that we made.  Lena made all of the ones with mounds of blue sprinkles, because blue is her favorite color.

The mess we created.  Holy moly!  My lovely husband offered to do clean-up.  What a saint!

I had lots of fun making these cookies with my kids.  This will definitely be my go-to recipe for sugar cookies from now on.  

06 December 2012

It's been over a week since my last post? I didn't even realize it. I must have been bitten by the lazy blogger bug!  I'll fix that by sharing a yummy soup recipe with you.  This is a soup I created last November but never got around to posting.  It's definitely soup season here in Michigan, so it's a great time to dust this recipe off.

Creamy Mushroom and Brown Rice Soup

½ oz. dried chanterelles
½ cup boiling water
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ large onion, diced
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
½ tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 cup beef broth
1 tsp salt
1 cup cooked brown rice

Combine chanterelles and boiling water in a small bowl and steep 20 minutes.  Pulse mixture in food processor and set aside.

Heat olive oil in large soup pot.  Add onions, cremini mushrooms, and thyme and sauté until tender.  Sprinkle in flour and cook for a few minutes.  Slowly whisk in beef broth.  Add brown rice and chanterelle mixture.  Check for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.

Makes 4 servings.

This is a very comforting soup on a cold day!  I love the combination of the two different types of mushrooms.  And while you can certainly use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian, I love the the flavor of the beef broth with the mushrooms and thyme.

Whenever I make rice for dinner, I always save the leftovers, even if it's just one cup.  I bag it up and stick it in the freezer and it's perfect for throwing into soups like this.

I'll be back tomorrow with something sweet and Christmasy!

28 November 2012

I've got another great-tasting, super easy Asian dish for you today.  Yesterday we visited Thailand with my Coconut Galangal Pork Fried Rice, and today we are visiting Malaysia.  As part of the World Foods Fusion Taste Team, I made a recipe using World Foods' Maylasian Rendang Curry Cooking Sauce.  

Pumpkin Beef Curry

6 cups fresh pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1” cubes (3-4 lb. pumpkin)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
1 tbsp olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
¾ lb. sirloin steak, cut into 1” cubes
1 jar Malaysian Rendang Curry Cooking Sauce
4 servings cooked rice
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Spread the pumpkin out in an even layer and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Roast in the oven for 20-40 minutes, or until pumpkin is just fork-tender.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften.  Add the steak and cook until it is brown on all sides.  Add the curry cooking sauce and the pumpkin and cook until beef is cooked through and tender.

Serve over rice and garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.

Serves 4.

I had been wanting to try a beef curry with pumpkin for a while.  I happened to have a pumpkin around the house:

My daughter got it at her preschool class's Halloween party.  It had been sitting around for a while, and I thought, "Why not use it?"  It was the kind of pumpkin suitable for eating (unlike the huge ones we carve), so why not turn it into dinner?  He was 2 lbs. 14 oz.

 Lena and her pumpkin.  At first she was kind of distressed to hear that we were going to cut up and eat her beloved pumpkin, but eventually she got used to the idea.

 This is the little guy all cut up.  I like using fresh pumpkin, but man, what a pain to cut up!  I didn't even attempt it by myself; I gave the thing to my husband.  But even he had a heck of a time with it.  He eventually managed to quarter it and I took over from there. I was aiming for 6 cups of pumpkin flesh, but turns out he was kind of skinny on the inside, so I only got 5 cups.  Close enough for me!

Roasted pumpkin is so good!  I tried a piece when it came out of the oven and had to use some willpower not to just eat it like that.

I'm glad I didn't though, because the finished dish was amazing.  Pumpkin and beef go so well together and that curry cooking sauce is so good! It's not spicy, but it does have a little kick to it.  If you like things spicy, you could add some kind of chiles to it.  But it's very flavorful on its own.  Check out the ingredients:

Water, Coconut Milk, Onion, Roasted Grated Coconut, Sugar, Dried Chilli, Galangal, Lemon Grass, Tamarind Puree, Garlic, Modified Tapioca Starch, Salt, Lemon Grass Leaf, Ginger, Coriander, Fennel, Turmeric, Cumin, Black Pepper, Star Anise, Cardamom, Cloves, Cinnamon.

It would totally double the cooking time of this dish if you had to put all those ingredients in separately.  Having jarred sauces like these are so handy on busy weeknights, heck, on relaxing weekends too!

It was the perfect compliment to the pumpkin and the beef.  And while my daughter ended up not being able to eat her little friend, my husband and I absolutely loved it.

This is kind of a competition to see which team (we are in state teams) can get the most comments, likes on Facebook, and repins on Pinterest.  So it would be great if you could take just a few seconds to pin this recipe and like it on Facebook!

Disclosure: I received a free sample of the curry cooking sauce from World Foods as part of the Fusion Taste Team. All opinions are 100% my own.