Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TWD - Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

This week's TWD selection was made by The Tea Lady of Tea and Scones. I had intentions of making this one. However, despite trekking to two grocery stores with two kids in tow yesterday, I somehow managed to make it home without any cream cheese. There was no way I was going back yesterday, nor was I getting back out today in the cold and snow (yes, more snow -- what is up with that??), so no cheesecake for me this week.

Be sure to check out what the other TWD bakers did with this recipe, however. For the recipe click here. And cross your fingers that I'll actually make it home with all the ingredients for next week's recipe!! ;)


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peanut Brittle Two Ways

I have a confession to make. I've never made peanut brittle the traditional way. For the last few years, I've made it in the microwave. There. I'm a slacker candy maker. :)

Anyway, I managed to buy more peanuts than I really needed at the store yesterday, so after making a batch of microwave brittle, I thought why not try something new and make a batch on the stove. I wanted to see if I could actually pull it off, and I thought it would be fun to have a little taste test! We are iced and snowed in today (nothing like the blizzard some people are expecting, but bad weather for us!!), so I figured why not spend the day cooking (and blogging!).

I can remember being at my grandmother's house and "helping" her make the peanut brittle every year. She may have had a recipe, but I'm not entirely sure about that. I do know that she never used a candy thermometer. She tried to teach me how to tell what stage it was at, but I didn't trust myself, so I pulled out my thermometer (that admittedly I haven't even used before!). She hasn't been able to make any candy in several years, so that was one reason I searched out the microwave recipe in the first place. It's not Christmas without peanut brittle (or pecan pralines, but I haven't mastered that one...yet).

I will definitely say that the microwave recipe is the way to go if you're pressed for time. Quick and easy would be the words to describe that one. However, it was fun and satisfying to make it the traditional way, even if it did take a lot longer.

How did the taste test go? Sprout liked both versions (he ate some of the tiny pieces of candy without nuts in them). Munchkin refused to participate in the test. D and I both agreed that while the microwave brittle was good, the traditional brittle won hands down. I have to admit, I'm proud of myself!!

Microwave Peanut Brittle

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large microwave safe bowl add sugar, peanuts and corn syrup. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Remove and stir. Microwave an additional 3 minutes. Remove, add butter and stir. Microwave 2 minutes longer. Remove, add vanilla and baking soda and stir. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet and spread with a spoon until thin. Let peanut brittle cool completely and break into pieces.

Note: cooking times will vary depending on your microwave. Mine is pretty powerful and I have to decrease the cooking time or it will overcook. Watch the color of the sugar mixture and how it smells, and you will learn exactly how long to cook it in your microwave.

Traditional Peanut Brittle

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
2 cups raw peanuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Heat and stir sugar, syrup and water in a heavy 3-quart saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat the soft ball stage (234'F). Add nuts and salt. Cook to hard crack stage (305'F), stirring often. Remove from heat.

Quickly stir in butter, vanilla and baking soda. Pour at once onto a well-greased sheet pan (or two, depending on the size of your pans), spreading with a spatula. Let cool and break into pieces.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TWD - Dorie's Favorite Pecan Pie

I had originally planned on ending my TWD break in January, but when I saw that a pecan pie had been chosen...well the break had to end early! I'm always on the lookout for a new pecan pie recipe. I've been baking pecan pies for years, and once I decided that I wasn't satisfied with the recipe on the back on the Karo syrup bottle...well, it's been a neverending quest ever since.

Beth of Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina made the selection for this week, chosing a pie that Dorie lists as her favorite pecan pie. After reading the recipe, I decided that there was no way that my family would actually go for this pie -- it contains espresso powder, cinnamon and chocolate in it!! I thought about making it without those ingredients, but then decided just to go for it! It sounded intriguing and I really wanted to try it. I figure I can always make the "plain" version for Christmas if I need to.

The only change I made in the ingredients was the addition of a tablespoon of flour before adding the pecans and chocolate. Also, I did not partially bake the crust before filling. I knew that I would be increasing the cooking time (I wound up cooking it an additional 10 minutes at the lower temperature). This seems to be a constant issue that I have with pecan pie recipes. I don't know if it's my oven, the weather, the altitude, or if I just don't hold my tongue right when placing it in the oven, but it never sets up correctly if I don't bake it long enough. The tricky part is not overbaking it in the process...which I have done before!!

To be quite honest, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this pecan pie. However, after taking my first bite, I immediately uttered "ohmygoodness." This may be my new favorite pecan pie. Now I'm anxious to try the plain recipe as well. If it turns out anything like this one, I think my family will be pleased! I'm just going to tell D that this one is a chocolate-pecan pie, carefully omitting the fact that it has espresso powder in it. If I divulge that secret beforehand, I am quite certain he won't even try it!

Be sure to check out what the other TWD bakers did with this week's choice, and for the full recipe, click here!

Enjoy! :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Butterscotch Pecan Cookies

By now, I think that we all now that while I like to cook, I love to bake. So, when the folks at C&H Sugar offered me a chance to bake a recipe from their site, blog about it, and they'd even throw in a $20 gift card to cover my expenses, of course I was going to jump at the opportunity!!

What to choose, what to choose...it was hard picking! I finally decided on Butterscotch Pecan Cookies, which is actually a recipe to make a mix in a jar for gift giving. But who wants to give a mix for a recipe they haven't made? That's what I thought. I decided to pick something just a little bit different, and the butterscotch sounded like a nice change from all the chocolate you get this time of year (not that I'm hating on chocolate, by any means, lol!!).

I must have made them bigger than I was actually supposed to, because I didn't get the three dozen the recipes states it will make. No matter though! They smelled very yummy while baking, and tasted even better! The plan was to send them with D to work tomorrow...not sure they'll last that long.

I'm providing the recipe if you just want to bake them for yourself. The C&H Sugar website has the instructions listed for making it in a jar to give, and they even have handy little labels you can print off!! Perfect for those last minute gifts you forgot you needed...not that something like that would ever happen to me. Ha!! :)

Butterscotch Pecan Cookies
from C&H Sugar

2/3 cup softened butter
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butterscotch chips
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375'F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, egg and vanilla until combined. Add brown sugar and mix well. Add flour, baking soda and salt and stir until thoroughly moistened. Stir in butterscotch chips and pecans.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

I first saw these Zucchini Parmesan Crisps posted by Pamela of Cookies with Boys. They looked so good, that I had to print the recipe to try. I made these tonight while my one-pot spaghetti was cooking. Sean wouldn't try them (shocker) but Kade did, and D and I decided this is the only way to cook zucchini from now on...they're that good!! Really, you should try them. They are not that hard to fix, and quite tasty. I loved the crispiness that they got. I've tried doing something similar before, and they just got mushy, not crispy, so this recipe is definitely a keeper in my house!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chicken Soft Tacos

Lately, I have had a craving for chicken soft tacos from a certain chain restaurant that shall remain nameless, but they do have a giant red pepper on their buildings... Anyway, I almost considered ordering some to-go the other night, so I looked up their menu online. Now, it hasn't been that long since I've eaten there, but I could not find those chicken soft tacos on the menu!! If it's true, I'm disappointed because that was my favorite dish from there.

However, that also set me on a quest to find a recipe to make my own, which admittedly is not only likely better for my waistline, but is definitely better for my bank account! I printed a recipe I found online (but forgot to bookmark the source...oops) and modified it. While I won't say it tastes exactly like the restaurant version, it was quite good and definitely satisfied my craving!! This will most certainly be going in my recipe file. :)

On a side note, I'm getting better about blogging again, but not doing so well at taking pictures...baby steps, right??

Chicken Soft Tacos

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ground paprika
1/4 tsp Mexican oregano
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp lime juice
1-1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
small flour tortillas
choice of toppings (cheese, lettuce, sour cream, pico de gallo, etc)

In a large skillet with a lid (or a dutch oven) heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, spices, honey and lime juice, stirring to combine. Add chicken, cover and cook on medium heat for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and shred with a fork. Return chicken to sauce and cook an additional 5-10 minutes. Serve with tortillas and toppings!

Enjoy! :)

Spiced Tea Mix

This is something that I've been drinking forever. My grandmother has made this hot tea mix for as long as I can remember. I've seen recipes calling it Russian Friendship Tea, but I always just called it Spiced Tea. This is great for gift-giving, or just for keeping in the cabinet to drink on cold days!!

Spiced Tea Mix

1-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups instant orange drink mix (Tang)
3/4 cup unsweetened instant tea powder
1 envelope unsweetened lemonade mix
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

To use, fill a mug with boiling water and stire in 2-3 tsp of mix, to taste.

Enjoy!! :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Buttermilk Waffles

As you know, most Sundays I can be found making either pancakes or waffles. This week, I had some buttermilk to use up, and realized that I didn't have a recipe for buttermilk waffles that didn't require the eggs to be separated and the eggs to be whipped, like this recipe that I've reviewed before. Sure, I could have just used the exact same recipe and just not separated the eggs, but it was early, I wasn't thinking straight, and I hadn't had any caffeine (still haven't for that matter!). So I went on a search.

I wound up adapting a recipe I found on Recipezaar. The kiddos kept asking for more, so I took that as a good sign. When I finally got to taste, I thought they were pretty good. My waffle iron makes quite thin waffles. If it ever bites the dust, I think I'll get one that makes thicker waffles. I think that would be an improvement, but of course the kids would probably want the thin ones!! Acutally, I think the problem is that the wells for the butter and syrup aren't deep enough. :)

Buttermilk Waffles

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter, cooled

In a mixing bowl, add add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir to mix.

In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Add to dry ingredients and mix well, but take care not to overbeat.

Pour batter into a preheated waffle iron and cook until the steaming stops and the waffles are crisp and golden.