September 28, 2012

Pork with Sauerkraut

Back in July I visited my Aunt Judy in Maine, and one night for dinner she made this pork with sauerkraut dish.  When she told me what she was making I figured it would be fine, but didn't expect to love it.  I forgot how much I love sauerkraut.  There must be something in the blood of anyone who is German because we all seem to love sauerkraut.

I did wonder in the back of my mind how my son would like it, but those German genes must have kicked in for him too because he loved it also!  This is such a quick and easy dish to throw together - totally perfect for a busy weeknight.  Serve it with apple sauce, mashed potatoes and a vegetable of choice for a satisfying and comforting meal. 

Sauerkraut Pork

2 1/2 pork roast
1, 10oz can cream of mushroom soup
1/2-1lb sauerkraut (amount depends on how much you like) - fresh is best, but use whatever you can find
1 cup water
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350, and spray a 11x7 baking dish or roasting pan with cooking spray.  Dump the sauerkraut, mushroom soup and water into the pan and stir to combine.  Rinse your pork roast and pat it dry, then season with salt & pepper on all sides (I also sprinkled a little onion and garlic powder on it).  Place pork in pan and pop it in the oven.  Cook for about 45-60 minutes, or until pork is completely cooked.  Feel free to spoon some of the sauerkraut mixture over top of the pork every occasionally while it's cooking to keep the pork moist.

September 26, 2012

Sauteed Kale

I have used kale in lots of things - soup, egg dishes, mixed into mashed potatoes, etc.  However, for some reason I never thought to just saute it up and have it as a side dish.  While flipping through my Cook's Illustrated cookbook the other day I came across a recipe for it.  I thought I'd give it a try since I had some kale leftover from when I made minestrone soup last week.

I always liked kale - it is so healthy for you, it truly is a "super food".  But now that I've had it cooked like this, I LOVE kale!  I can't believe I've been missing out all this time on such a wonderfully delicious dish.  I honestly could eat a big bowl of it as a's that good!  If you've never had it cooked like this, trust me - give this a try.  Now I know why people have bumper stickers that say "Eat More Kale!"

Sauteed Kale with Raisins & Pine Nuts (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

4-5 cups kale, removed from stems and chopped
1/2 tsp garlic, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tbsp of raisins
Olive oil
salt & pepper

Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil medium heat in  medium-sized saute pan.  After chopping the kale, submerge it in water & swish it around to get it nice and clean.  Remove from water and shake off excess water, but don't pat it dry - you want it to be a little damp.  

Add the pine nuts and garlic to the oil in the pan, and cook for about 2 minutes or until the nuts start to sizzle.  Add the raisins and kale, stir and cover.  Cook until the greens wilt, stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes).  Remove the cover and season with salt and pepper.  Turn the heat up to high and cook for about another 2 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates.  Will serve 2-3 if used as a side dish.

September 25, 2012

Chinese Chicken

This post will be taking a slight departure from the usual posts you see from me.  Instead of posting an actual recipe, this is going to be more about a "method" of cooking.  Topic - Chinese style chicken, aka chicken that's battered and fried then tossed in your sauce of choice (teriyaki, sweet & sour, etc.).

First I gotta start off by saying that I hate frying food, and for the most part don't care for eating fried foods (with a few exceptions of course).  However, there are some things that I enjoy eating that I guess have to be fried.  For instance, my family really likes General Chicken, but the nearest Chinese restaurant is about 30 minutes away (and as far as my thighs are concerned, this is not a bad thing).  So, needless to say, I think we get Chinese take-out about once a year.  The rest of the year, if we get a craving for Chinese food, I buy it frozen at the grocery store.  

It has been my mission for a long time to find a way to cook Chinese style chicken at home, from scratch.  I have tried it a few times and each time it was a disaster.  It all goes back to frying (or so I thought) - I hate frying foods and I'm convinced it hates me too.  The coating never stays on, or the oil is too hot, or the oil in not hot the end it just ends up being one big oily mess.  UNTIL NOW.....I have found THE method of frying & cooking the chicken so it comes out perfectly - just like chicken from your favorite Chinese restaurant.  It really is so simple, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to figure it out!!!  

Of course, I have collected many recipes over the years for various Chinese style chicken recipes.  I was looking all of them over recently and one in particular caught my eye (unfortunately, I don't know where I got the recipe from).  After reading the recipe I realized I hadn't come across this method of cooking the chicken before so I knew I had to try it.  I was afraid to get my hopes up only to end up with another failure, but I've had a jar of General Chicken Sauce sitting in my cabinet for a while now so I figured it was time to give this another shot.  Man, even though I hate the way my house smells after all that frying, this method worked and our dinner of General Chicken came out perfectly!!!!  I am so excited about this - now that I got the method for cooking the chicken down, I can start experimenting with making different homemade Chinese style sauces for the chicken.  This is exciting stuff people!!!

Chinese Style Chicken (serves 4)

3 chicken breasts
1 heaping cup of cornstarch
2-3 eggs, beaten
1/4 or so of canola oil

Preheat your oven to 325, and pour the oil into a large skillet or saucepan and turn to medium-high to get it hot.  Put the cornstarch into a medium sized bowl, and beat your eggs in another medium sized bowl.  Cut your chicken into bite size pieces, then dredge them in the cornstarch.  After dredging the chicken in the cornstarch, transfer it to the eggs and make sure each piece of chicken is coated with the beaten egg.  Then into the HOT oil - you want to cook it in the oil just until it's nice and brown on both sides (maybe 2-3 minutes on each side).  

Line a cookie sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.  Once all the chicken is nice a brown from the frying, place it on the cookie sheet pan.  Bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through and it's nice and crispy.  Remove from oven and place all the chicken into a large bowl, then pour your sauce of choice all over and toss to combine.  ENJOY!

September 24, 2012

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

We realized today that we really missed the whole apple picking thing.  So, we decided to swing by a local apple picking farm and just buy a bag of apples.  As it turned out it was their last day open for picking apples, and people were saying you needed a ladder because there were none left on the trees within reach. Even though I was disappointed we didn't get to pick our own, I thought it wouldn't matter to my son - I figured at 14 he was probably over the whole apple picking thing.  However, when I told him we kinda missed the window of opportunity for apple picking and so we were just gonna buy a bag of apples he was shocked, disgusted & even a little upset!  Turns out tradition does matter to him - so cute!!!!

Anyway, this weekend I pulled out an old church cookbook that I bought at a church yard sale years ago.  I was looking for a recipe I haven't made in forever - pumpkin coffee cake.  Gotta love those church cookbooks - you can really find some interesting and delicious, yet forgotten recipes in them.  While I normally prefer to make things from scratch, this recipe calls for a boxed cake mix.  It's so good though, that in the end you won't even think twice about using it.  This stuff is seriously delicious....dangerously delicious.  I've had a really hard time staying out of the pan.  Oh well, I guess I'll just have to do extra long workouts this week!

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

1 box of yellow cake mix
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1, 15oz can pumpkin puree
1/3 cup water
3 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

Preheat oven to 350, and spray a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, whisk together the water, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla and the spices.  Add the cake mix and baking soda, and whisk until just combined then pour into the baking dish.  In a small bowl mix together with a fork the flour, brown sugar and melted butter until crumbly.  Spread topping evenly over the batter, then sprinkle the nuts on top.  Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from oven and poke holes all over the top of cake with a toothpick.  Pour glaze over warm cake.

Glaze:  Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup of half & half  in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer stirring constantly, and making sure the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and pour evenly over the top of the warm cake. 

September 23, 2012

Vermont Minestrone

Minestrone soup.....what can you really say about it?  So delicious, so good for you, so filling, so satisfying....need I go on?  I had a little cold last week and all I wanted was soup, and this one was the first to pop into my head.

I love that it is chock full of veggies, and I love that most of them come from my garden.  Perfect for using up all those veggies at the end of the growing season.  This is my version of minestrone soup, and it is my favorite.  I am forever ruined for all other versions I made a pot of it and ate it for lunch all week, and I even had it for dinner another night.  I just can't get enough of it - it's that good!  Make it just have to.

Vermont Minestrone

1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1/4 garlic, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, sliced
3/4 cup green peppers, chopped
3/4 cup celery, chopped
3/4 cup zucchini, sliced
1 cup kale, chopped
4 cups water
12 oz diced tomatoes
1 cup plain tomato sauce
1, 15 oz can garbanzo beans
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil then add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for 1 hour.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and a few croutons on top.

Note:  If you like noodles in your soup, you can add 1 cup of uncooked elbow noodles after it's simmered for an hour, and let it cook another 10 minutes before serving. 

September 21, 2012

Gingerbread Pancakes

I love my husband dearly, but I have to say, he is not very food adventurous.  He likes things to be cooked the same way, no deviation from the "normal".  For example, take a dish like mashed potatoes - if I suggest adding something different to it like, garlic or bacon, he'll say "why can't you just make regular mashed potatoes"?  He is a creature of habit for sure!  I've accepted this about him, however, I am finding as my son gets older that he seems to be headed down that same path, and this is NOT OK with me!!

As the temperatures have started to drop, I've been thinking about dishes that remind me of fall.  I haven't made anything "different" for breakfast lately, so I searched through my recipes to see if I'd come across anything I haven't made in a while.  One thing I came up with was gingerbread pancakes, but when I suggested to my son I make them for breakfast his response was "why can't you just make blueberry"?  Blueberry pancakes are his see how he seems to be following in my husband's footsteps???  I told him it won't kill him to try something new, but he didn't look too happy about it!

For me, gingerbread pancakes are not only yummy, but they are a great way to start off on a beautiful fall morning.  These pancakes have just a hint of gingerbread to them, so it's not at all overpowering.  They're delicious!  Oh, and my son ate them up without a problem

Gingerbread Pancakes (makes 12-14 pancakes)

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk 
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 eggs

In a large bowl add all the dry ingredients, and whisk to combine.  In a small bowl, add the buttermilk & eggs and whisk together.  Slowly add the melted butter while whisking.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined - do not over mix.  Cook pancakes on a hot griddle or pan until golden brown and the middle is set.  Serve with pure maple syrup - Vermont syrup is best of course!

September 20, 2012

Pasta with Spinach & Chicken

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was recently doing a search on Pinterest for most pinned foods/recipes.  In addition to looking for a new dessert, I wanted to find a new one-pot dish I've never tried before, and I came across this dish.  I read over the ingredients and thought it sounded.....interesting, but also a little odd.  So I moved on and kept looking.  

However, it stuck out in my mind, and in the end I went back to it and read it over again.  It had such rave reviews, so I thought I mine as well give it a try.  Everything sounded good except for the addition of onion and chive cream cheese....that was the one ingredient I was unsure about, and even contemplated omitting.  After reading all the comments I decided to tweak the recipe a bit, but I left in the cream cheese....I figured there must be a good reason it's in there so I was willing to keep an open mind.

All I can say is that I am really glad I found this recipe and that I left the cream cheese in the recipe!  This is one tasty dish - one I will definitely be making again in the future!  Flavorful and comforting, this one-pot dish may even make an appearance when we have company.  I have a few ideas of additional ingredients that I think would be yummy in this dish, but for the most part it really is good just the way it is.  So, don't let the cream cheese freak you out - take the leap of faith and give it a try.  I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Pasta with Spinach & Chicken

3 cups uncooked rigatoni
2 chicken breasts, cooked & cubed (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 cup chopped onion
1, 14oz can Italian style diced tomatoes, with juice
1, 10oz package frozen spinach, thawed & drained
1, 8oz container onion & chive cream cheese
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375, and spray an 11x7 baking dish with cooking spray.  Cover the bottom of a small saute pan with olive oil and saute onion on medium-low heat until translucent, then remove from heat and set aside in a large glass bowl.  Meanwhile, in a pot of boiling water, cook the rigatoni until cooked but slightly firm.  Drain and add to the bowl with the onions.

Add the chicken, diced tomatoes, spinach, cream cheese, cottage cheese, garlic, salt & pepper to the onion and rigatoni and stir well to combine.  Dump it all into the baking dish and top with the shredded mozzarella.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then removed foil and bake for another 15 minutes.  

September 18, 2012


Like many of you out there, I am addicted to Pinterest.  It's such a great resource for everything under the sun - I love it!  Whoever thought of it is a genius......why couldn't it have been me???

This past weekend we were having family over for dinner, and I decided I wanted to try something new for dessert.  So I went on Pinterest and searched for popular dessert recipes and came across this one called "Crunchers".  It was "pinned" a lot on Pinterest so I figured I'd give it a try. 

I didn't know what to expect as I read over the ingredients.  I was worried it would be too sweet, so I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't.  Instead, it has that sweet & salty combination that I really like and it wasn't overly sweet at all.  The youngest pickiest eater in our family said it was "delicious", so I'd say it was a hit!  I will file this one away and I'm sure that I'll be making it again - thank you Twirl and Taste!

Crunchers (by Twirl and Taste

box of saltine crackers
1 cup butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butterscotch morsels
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Line a 9x13 baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving extra hanging over both ends, and spray with cooking spray.  Line the bottom of the dish with saltine cracker.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then stir in the graham cracker crumbs, both sugars and milk.  Bring to a boil, then continue to boil for 5 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat and spread half of the butter mixture over the saltines. 

Place another layer of saltines evenly over the butter mixture, then spread the rest of the butter mixture over the saltines, and top with another layer of saltines.  In a small saucepan combine the peanut butter, chocolate & butterscotch morsels.  Melt over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, then spread evenly over the saltines.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Remove from pan using the foil overhang, then cut into bars.

September 17, 2012

Bacon, Mushroom & Spinach Crust-less Quiche

Quiche is an egg dish that I love to eat.  I only like the crust less kind though, and so over time I've jotted down ideas for quiche that I've been wanting to try.  I assumed it wouldn't be something my husband or son would be interested in, so I figured I'd make it for myself when they aren't around.  Then last week my husband and I were talking about using up all the eggs our chickens having been producing and he actually mentioned making quiche!  I nearly fell out of my chair when he said his mom made it all the time when he was a kid and he loves it.  Well, that was all I needed to hear - quiche was going to be on the menu for dinner this week!

I wanted it to include ingredients that I thought the boys would like so I settled on a bacon, mushroom & spinach quiche.  It turned out to be a wonderful combination and everyone really liked it.  Now that I know they like it and will eat it, I think I see a few more quiche recipes in our future!

Bacon, Mushroom & Spinach Crust-less Quiche

3/4 pound mushrooms (I used baby porta bella)
8 slices bacon
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
1/2 of a 10oz box of frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
2 scallions chopped
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 cup milk
1 cup half & half
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
4 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
pinch of nutmeg
salt & pepper

Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp, than transfer to paper towels to drain the fat.  Keep a couple of tablespoons of the bacon fat in the pan and add 2 tbsp of butter, the mushrooms and about 1/2 tsp salt.  Cook until the moisture from the mushrooms has cooked off (8-10 minutes).  Add the shallots to the pan of mushrooms and cook until tender. Add the garlic and spinach, stirring well to combine.  Remove from heat and cool for a couple of minutes.

Spray a 9 inch oven-safe pan or glass pie dish with cooking spray, and preheat oven to 350.  Spread the Parmesan cheese evenly over the bottom of the dish, sprinkle 1/2 of the Gruyere cheese over the Parmesan, then crumble up the bacon and add it on top. Add 3/4 of the mushroom & spinach mixture, then top with the rest of the cheese.  

Mix the milk, half & half, and eggs together.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then pour into pan over the rest of the ingredients.  Top with the remaining mushroom mixture, and sprinkle with the scallions.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until the quiche is set in the center. 

September 14, 2012

Curry Chicken Salad

Curry chicken salad is one of those things that no one in my house likes except me.  The first time I had it was years ago when I worked just outside Boston.  Someone from our office ordered a bunch of sandwiches from a local bakery/sandwich shop for a meeting, and there was a curry chicken salad sandwich left over.  My boss insisted I try it because it was soooo good.  I'll never forget that moment - homemade bread, curry chicken salad with lettuce and mango chutney on top......mmmm, it was unbelievably delicious.  

Over time, this is the recipe I've settled on, which is based on my personal preferences.  I love it, but curry isn't for everyone.  Since I'm the only that eats it, I don't make it very often.  This year we had an over abundance of cucumbers from the garden, so I tried to come up with new ways to eat them up.  Using them as sandwich boats was one of my favorites - perfect lunch for work, and you can get really creative with filling them!  If you like mango chutney, I highly recommend topping this curried chicken salad with it on a sandwich. 

Curry Chicken Salad

2 skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded or chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp honey
1/3 cup raisins
salt and pepper 

Add the chicken to a medium sized bowl, along with the rest of the ingredients.  Stir well to combine.  Taste, then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours (or overnight) to let the flavors to come together.  Serve as a sandwich or on top of leafy greens for a wonderful salad.

*Note - cashews are a nice addition to this recipe.  It gives it a nice contrast as you chew, so if you want to you can add 1/2 chopped cashews.

September 13, 2012

Healthy Lemon Blueberry Muffins

Over Labor Day weekend we decided to squeeze in another visit to Maine to hang out with my Aunt Judy & Uncle Rick.  Thankfully we had one day of beautiful weather because the other two days were rainy.  She was kind enough to stuff us with lobster until we couldn't eat another bite, and we spent the time just hanging out, talking and enjoying each others was nice to get away! 

While chatting about food with my Aunt, she pulled out this recipe she had for cranberry yogurt muffins and said it was really good .  So I scribbled out the recipe and stuffed in my purse to try when I got back.  As it turned out, I decided to change a couple of key ingredients to fit what I had on hand (don't worry, I'll be making the original recipe sometime in the near future).  These turned out really delicious, so now I'm really excited to try the original recipe!  Another perfect snack for the boy to take to school - yay!

Healthy Lemon Blueberry Muffins

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup lemon flavored yogurt
zest from one lemon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup blueberries 

Preheat oven to 375 and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, soak the oats in the yogurt with the lemon zest mixed in, for about 15 minutes.  Add the oil, sugar and egg and beat well to combine.  Sift in the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Before stirring, sprinkle in the blueberries over the flour mixture then stir until just combined.  Fill the muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes or until tester comes out clean.  Makes 10 muffins.

September 11, 2012

Little B's Chili

The chill is officially in the air here in Vermont.  It's so hard for me to accept the fact that summer is coming to an end.  So many people get excited and look forward to fall, but I'm not one of them.  The thought of summer ending just makes me sad.  I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that winter is way too long up here.  Depending on the first snow and the last melt, winter can easily last 7-8 months here, sometimes with barely any fall or spring.  Yes, I definitely live in the wrong state!  Don't get me wrong - I LOVE Vermont, and I don't even mind the snow or winter, just not for 7-8 months.  We live at the base of a mountain, so there are times when there will be flurries nonstop for over a week with no sun & 2 inches of accumulation a day.......that's when I get a little depressed and start dreaming about laying on the beach with my toes in the warm sand.  Ahhh, I just love the beach.

The first thing that came to mind when I felt the chill in the air was chili.  There's something about chili that makes me feel all snugly and warm, which is exactly how I want to feel when I am realizing that summer is on it's way out the door. This chili is thick and filling, so it makes for the perfect fall meal.  This is my personal recipe that I came up with after years of trial and error.  So, whip up some cornbread as a side dish, and kick back and enjoy this hearty fall meal!

Little B's Chili (serves 6-8)

3 lbs ground beef (or venison, which I substitute often)
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp cumin 
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne (sometimes I add 2 chopped jalapeno peppers instead of using cayenne)
1 tsp soy sauce
3 1/2 cups plain tomato sauce or marinara sauce
1/2 cup beer, any kind/brand
1/2 cup water
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or whatever kind of beans your prefer, sometimes I use black beans)

In a large skillet, break up the beef and cook until cooked through.  Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large saucepan, and add the onion & pepper.  Saute until softened, about 10 minutes, then add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes.  When the meat is cooked, drain off the fat then add all of it to the onion mixture.  Stir in the chili powder, cocoa, cumin, parsley, salt, pepper, cayenne, bay leaves and soy sauce.  Add the the beans, tomato sauce, beer and water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hrs.  Stir every 1/2 hr, and feel free to add more spices and/or liquid to suite your preferences.  To serve, top with shredded cheddar cheese and/or sour cream.

September 10, 2012

Sinful Cookies

I often times try to figure out a way to incorporate certain candy bars into cookies.  Is this something any of you out there think about???  For example - my favorite candy bar is Take 5, so I decided to try to make a cookie with some of those components in it.

I bought some mini Reece's peanut butter cups, and I already had pretzels and peanuts on hand.  So, I took my favorite chocolate chip cookies recipe and threw it all together.  The only word I can think of to describe these cookies is "Sinful".  They are so decadent, and wonderfully delicious......and, well, just down right sinful!  The boys said they are way better than regular chocolate chip cookies.....I have to say that I think I agree with that review!  All any of us could say while eating them was "mmmmm".

Sinful Cookies

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda  
1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 (3.4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of the mini Reese's peanut butter cups, cutting each cup in half

1 1/4 cups chopped pretzels
1/2 cup chopped peanuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and spray 2 cookies sheets with cooking spray. In separate bowl combine the flour and baking soda and set aside.  

In another large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in the instant pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture until combined.  Stir in the peanut butter cups, pretzel pieces & the nuts until evenly dispersed in the dough. I usually measure out about a ¼ cup of dough for each cookie - so this recipe should make 24 cookies. Sprinkle a little sea salt on each cookie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

September 7, 2012

Sweet Potato Banana Mash

Many, many, many, many.....did I mention many.....years ago I ate at a restaurant that had this fabulous sweet potato mash as a side dish.  Little did I know when I ordered it that it was going to have banana in it, which was probably a good thing because at that point in my life I wasn't a very adventurous eater, so if I had realized there would be banana in it I probably wouldn't have gotten it.  However, it was love at first bite.  Literally.  I have thought about that side dish numerous times over the years since then.

So, it stands to reason that at some point I would attempt to make it.  However, no one in my house is the least bit interested in trying it so I put it off for a long time.....but I never forgot about how much I loved that dish.  I finally decided to make it, even if I'm the only one that eats it.  I could eat this stuff for breakfast, lunch or dinner - that's how much I love it!

It's been so long now since I've had it, so I am not sure anymore if this concoction of mine is even close to the one I had so long ago.  It doesn't matter though because this is so darn good....I've fallen in love all over again!  If you love sweet potatoes and bananas you HAVE to try this dish!  Don't turn up your nose.....give it a try because there's only one way to find out if this dish is for you.

Sweet Potato Banana Mash

4 large sweet potatoes
1 small banana, with a slit cut into the peel
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp of half & half

Wash the potatoes and pierce with a fork, then wrap in tin foil and cook in the oven at 350 for about an hour or until tender and cooked through (or you could cook them for about 10 minutes in the microwave, just omit the tine foil).  During this time you want to also cook the banana in the oven for about 15 minutes (it will be pretty black).

Scoop out the insides of the potatoes and banana into a large bowl.  Add the butter, brown sugar, salt, pepper, half & half and cinnamon to the potato banana mixture.  At this point you can use a masher or an electric mixer to combine and mash everything together.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  Serves about 8.

September 6, 2012

Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is my husband's favorite cake.  I like it too, but I couldn't pick a favorite cake if I tried....all cakes are my "favorite".  But he likes it so much that we ended up having carrot cake at our wedding!  I don't make it nearly enough anymore, so as we were preparing to take a little road trip to my Aunt Judy's house in Maine last weekend I decided to make it and bring it along.  We needed to put a little dent in our carrot crop from the garden after-all!  Besides, I don't like showing up empty handed.

I don't know where I got this recipe from, but it's the only one I've ever usedI've tweaked it some over the years, and so this is my final version. I just don't see any reason to try another recipe - this makes a dense, yet moist and flavorful cake.  So why mess with perfection....right?  Just as a side note - this recipe makes a 10" double layer cake, but often times I will use 2, 9" cake pans and pour the remaining batter into a cupcake pan (it'll make 6 cupcakes in addition to the cake).  After the cupcakes are frosted I will wrap them and put in the freezer to enjoy at a later date.

Best Ever Carrot Cake

6 cups grated carrots
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
8 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

In a medium bowl add the grated carrots and brown sugar, stir to combine and set aside for 1 hours.  After an hour you can stir in the raisins.  Preheat the oven to 350 and spray 2, 10" cake pans with cooking spray.  

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until light in color.  Add the sugar, oil and vanilla and beat to combine.  Stir in the pineapple and set aside.  In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.  Lastly, stir in the carrot mixture and the walnuts.  Pour into prepared pans, and bake for 45-50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 30 minutes then remove and cool completely on wire racks, then frost with cream cheese frosting (see below).

Cream Cheese Frosting - In a large bowl beat 1 1/2 blocks of softened cream cheese, 2 sticks of softened unsalted butter and 2 tsp vanilla together until creamy.  Add 2 cups of confectioners sugar and beat until smooth.  YUM!!!!

September 5, 2012

Refrigerator Pickles

My garden was out of control this year - not that I'm complaining!  We had so much of everything, especially cucumbers, and so I was at a loss as to what to do with it all.  Normally we have no problem eating the cucumbers, but we had so much and we just couldn't keep up.   So I hit the web and my cookbook collection to try and find recipes for pickles.  

I didn't have a lot of canning jars, so I decided I would just do refrigerator pickles.  One big jar of dill and another of bread and butter pickles.  I ended up using a combination of different recipes, depending on what I had on hand so I wouldn't have to buy a bunch of ingredients.  These two recipes are what I came up with, and I have to say that I was so impressed at how good they came out that next year I just may invest in the extra jars and can a bunch of these two types of pickles.  They were that good!  The only thing I am unsure about is how long they are good for in the refrigerator - some say they are good as long as store bought pickles, and others say they are only good for 30 days.  Guess it's best to be cautious and stick with the 30 day mark!

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

5 pickling cucumbers, or a couple of regular sized cucumbers
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp celery seed
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp dill seeds
3 garlic cloves, peeled 
1 tbsp dried dill

Make sure your jars and lids are sanitized before starting.  Trim the cucumbers and quarter each of them lengthwise.  Place in a large glass bowl with 2 tbsp of the kosher salt, cover and refrigerate for two hours.  After the two hours rinse the cucumbers with fresh water and drain.  Add the water and vinegar to a small saucepan with 1 tbsp of kosher salt and bring to a boil.  Place the cucumbers and the rest of the ingredients in your jars and pour the hot brine into the container.  Let the pickles cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for one day so the flavors can develop before eating.  

Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles

2-3 regular sized pickles, or using pickling cucumbers
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 tbsp mustard seeds

Make sure your jars and lids are sanitized before starting.  Thinly slice your cucumbers and pack them into your jars along with the sliced onion.  Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds and red pepper flakes to a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Pour the hot brine over your sliced pickles and let them cool to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate for one day so the flavors can develop before eating.  

September 4, 2012

Homemade Croutons

Making homemade croutons is so simple - there really shouldn’t be any excuse as to why I don’t make them all the time instead of buying them.  I don’t know why, but it seems that every time I make them we all end up snacking on them.  This batch pictured here was eaten in less than 4 hours…..and we didn’t even have salad or soup! 

I love that croutons can have so many variations – cheesy ones, garlic & herb, etc.  It’s fun to switch it up and try different things.  When I worked in the kitchen at my son’s school we made croutons all the time with the leftover bread and/or rolls.  It was always important to us to not waste anything and to cook as much as we could from scratch.  Everyone that ate at our salad bar loved the homemade croutons and were disappointed on the days we didn’t have them.  This recipe is a basic one that I use at home.  Feel free to add or omit according to your taste/preferences.  

Homemade Croutons

8 cups of bread, cubed
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 tbsp dried parsley

Preheat oven to 375, and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.  Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and drizzle it with the olive oil.  Toss until all the bread is evenly coated with the olive oil.  Next add all of the remaining ingredients and toss again to make sure all the bread is evenly coated.  Pour the bread onto the cookie sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the croutons are browned and have reached your desired crunchiness.