March 30, 2013

Strawberry Avocado Sandwich

Boy, this has been one crazy busy week.  Baseball has started for my son, so it's back to running around like a maniac!  I haven't had much time for anything, so my house is a disaster.  My mom and sister are coming today for the weekend and I haven't even started cleaning.....I'm thinking I better get moving pretty quick here!

The other day I was trying to think of something different to do with the raisin bread I made.  I've seen salads that have strawberries and avocado in it, so I thought why not an open faced strawberry avocado sandwich with balsamic and goat cheese.  Sounds weird right?  But really if you think about it, it has all the elements of the perfect sandwich - sweetness from the raisin bread and strawberries, tartness from the goat cheese, smoothness from the avocado and everyone knows balsamic and strawberries go together.

I couldn't have been more right!  This sandwich was sooooooo good.....I seriously LOVED it.  I could eat this everyday no problem.  I didn't have much time to do a well thought out "photo shoot" of this sandwich, so excuse the not so fabulous pictures.  If I had more time I would have tried for a better shot to showcase how delicious this sandwich was.  I guess you will just have to trust me when I say that you really need to make this now.

Strawberry Avocado Sandwich

2-4 strawberries
1/2 avocado
1 thick slice raisin bread (of course you can use any bread you want)
balsamic vinegar
goat cheese

Toast the bread and spread a tiny amount of butter on it (optional).  Take half the avocado and slice it up.  Lay the avocado slices on the bread.  Cut the strawberries into quarters and lay them on top of the avocado.  Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar lightly over all the strawberries (just a few drops over each strawberry piece).  Top with goat cheese - you don't need a ton, a little goes a long way.  I popped mine into the oven under the broiler set on low for a couple of minutes, but really you could probably skip this step and it would still be delicious!

March 27, 2013

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Ahhh, cinnamon raisin bread.  Just the smell of it cooking makes me smile.  I haven't had it in so long, I think I forgot for a brief time how much I love this bread.  So good straight out of the oven, but really you can use this bread for many things - toast, french toast, and for an endless array of sandwiches.  For me, since I am a sweet & savory kinda girl, so I love using it for sandwiches - the weirder the combination, the better (tuna, chicken salad, turkey, egg salad, etc.)

I have tried different recipes and methods, all producing slightly different results.  Sometimes the recipes I tried didn't rise so well, or took very long to rise.  After doing some research I discovered a theory that the cinnamon in the dough counter-acts the rising agent of the yeast.  I don't know if this is true or not because I haven't tried making it without the cinnamon mixed into the dough, but it is next on my list of experiments for this recipe.....just so I can see for myself if it really matters.

For now, here is the recipe I use - it is a compilation of different recipes I've collected and tried.  It's delicious.  It makes me want to curl up on the couch in front of a fire, wrapped up in a blanket and sipping some coffee while munching on this bread all toasted up and slathered with butter.  Mmmmm.....too bad I don't have a fireplace, but you get the idea ☺

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups bread flour
1/4 cup whole milk (or buttermilk)
1/3 cup warm water
1 tbsp shortening, room temp
1/2 cup raisins

1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 2 tsp cinnamon

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook, stir together the yeast, sugar, salt, cinnamon and flour.  Add the milk, water, egg and shortening and mix on medium-low until it comes together to form a ball.  Mix for 5 minutes, add the raisins then mix for another 2 minutes.  Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and turn out the dough.  Knead it for a couple of turns by hand just to make sure the raisins are well incorporated.

With a rolling pin roll the dough out into a 10" x 12" rectangle.  Brush with the egg wash, then sprinkle the sugar & cinnamon mixture on to cover the entire surface.  Roll the dough up to form a loaf and place into a loaf pan that's been coating with cooking spray.  Spray the top of the dough lightly with cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Place pan in a warm area of your kitchen and let it rise for 3-4 hours.  Once it's risen high enough (to the top of pan or higher), place in oven that's been preheated to 350.  Bake for 20 minutes, rotate pan and cook another 20-30 minutes.  If you tap on the top (or some say the bottom) of the loaf it should sound hollow, and it should be a nice golden brown.  Remove bread from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

March 25, 2013

Cheesecake (made in the crock-pot)

I don't know what it is about cheesecake, but I have never had any success making it.  Granted, the last time I tried to make it was probably 12 years ago.  When I first started getting into baking I tried to make cheesecake and it was a total disaster.  The water bath leaked into my pan and it was a total mess.  The next time I tried it I think it was a faulty recipe or something because the flavor and texture were just not right.  After those two failed attempts I decided it would be a long time, if ever, that I would try making cheesecake again.  I'm sure my thighs were thanking me anyway.

However, I recently came across a recipe for cheesecake made in the crock pot, which I found to be very intriguing.  Could this be the method that I need to achieve cheesecake success?  I printed out the recipe and set it aside for a while, pulling it out every once in a while pondering whether or not to give it a try.  Finally this weekend I decided to do just that.  Now, I know I've been posting a lot of crock pot recipes lately, but really for the most part, I don't use mine that often.  Fingers and toes crossed that this would not be yet another cheesecake disaster.

I did not use a spring-form pan (I think the ones I have must not be very good and I didn't want leaking to occur again).  It was a little challenging finding a pan that would fit in my crock pot while still leaving enough room around all sides so it could sit in a water bath.  The original recipe must have been for a larger crock pot than the one I have, so I had to make some adjustments in order to make it work (I have a 4 quart crock pot).  I have to say that I was VERY impressed with the results!  It really came out perfectly....and I will be the first to admit that I was shocked!  It was the perfect size for the three of us also - I really didn't want it to be so big that it would be sitting around all week tempting me every day.  This lasted the three of us for 2 days, which was just right.  I was so thrilled with the results, I may even be inspired enough to try making it in the oven again......we'll see.

Cheesecake in the Crock-pot (adapted from

2, 8 oz packages of cream cheese, at room temp
2 eggs, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tbsp sugar

Mix the cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until well blended.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until blended before adding the the second egg.  Mix in the vanilla.  In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 1 tbsp of sugar.  Add the melted butter and stir with a fork until well blended.  

Spray a 7 1/2" x 5 1/2 " round pan with cooking spray (you may have to adjust your pan size to fit your crock-pot).  Press the graham cracker crumb mixture into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan - make sure you have a smooth even layer.  Pour in the cream cheese mixture, and carefully place the pan into your crock-pot.  Carefully pour water into the bottom of your crock-pot - enough water so that it goes about halfway up the outside of the pan.  Place lid on the crock-pot and cook on high for 2 1/2 hours, or until the center is set.  Remove the pan from the crock-pot and let it cool for about an hour before transferring to the refrigerator.  Chill in fridge for at least an hour before serving. 

March 23, 2013 the crock pot

My husband and I decided that our one culinary goal for this summer is to master the art of cooking ribs.  We both love ribs. For years we've discussed ways to cook them and new ideas on how to make THE ultimate ribs.  There are several ways to cook them, and since it's not exactly warm outside yet, I decided to start now using the slow cooker method. 

My husband, who believes cooking ribs on the grill will yield the best results, was skeptical about the slow cooker method.  While I understand his skepticism, I've had it all worked out in my mind on how to do this and hopefully have good results.  The one element I didn't really think about was beef ribs verses pork.  I can not say with certainty if this recipe/method would work exactly the same on both types of meat or not, but now that I've tried it with one I will have to try making it the same way with the other.  I suppose that would be the best way to go about doing this little experiment!  I chose beef ribs for this round.

I thought these ribs were delicious - fall off the bone, finger licking good!  There are of course other elements involved that will influence the outcome, such as the sauce you use.  For me, on this day, it was more about the method than about the "recipe."  I wanted to see if the slow cooker would produce the fall off the bone result we were looking for, and it most certainly did. PS - I had a difficult time getting a good picture of these ribs.  This is the only one that was halfway decent, yet it still doesn't portray how good these ribs were!

Beef Ribs (slow cooker method)

4 lbs of beef ribs - *MAKE SURE TO REMOVE THE MEMBRANE*
1 can or bottle of beer, any kind will do but I used a darker beer
Garlic salt and pepper seasoning
Your favorite BBQ Sauce - here's two of my homemade recipes:  Honey Chipotle BBQ Sauce
or BBQ Sauce I

The first step to making fabulous ribs is to remove the membrane from the back of the rack of ribs.  Rather than me trying to explain how this is done, here is a great video that will show you exactly what to do - Click here for video.  Season both sides of your ribs with the garlic salt seasoning mix, then cut the rack into to sections in order to best fit in your slow cooker.  Place one section in and spoon a little bbq sauce on, then lay another layer of ribs on top and repeat process until all the ribs are in the slow cooker.  Pour beer over the ribs, put the cover on and turn it on low.  

After 4 hours I flipped the ribs around so the ones that were on top ended up on the bottom.  Cook another 4 hours.  Check to see if the meat is falling off the bone, and if it is carefully remove the ribs from the crock pot and place on a lined baking sheet.  Brush your favorite BBQ sauce all over the ribs, then place tray in the oven under the broiler for 4-5 minutes.  My broiler has settings from low to high, so I set mine to medium and watched them carefully.  If you don't want to use the broiler, just turn your oven on to about 375 and place the ribs into the preheated oven.  Leave them in there for about 5-10 minutes.  Serves 4.

March 21, 2013

Zucchini Fries

Over the last couple of years I have had some digestive issues, but it is only recently that I've started to narrow down the list of things that may be causing these issues.  As a result, I have begun a quest to find recipes that allow me to enjoy foods I love, but just using alternative ingredients to make them. 

So, the first ingredient I've chosen to explore is almond flour.  Pair that with my never ending need to find recipes to utilize my always overabundance of zucchini in the summer, and I ended up finding a recipe for zucchini fries using almond flour on a blog named Wag Doll.  The first thing that always attracts me to a recipe is the picture of the item, and her pictures of the zucchini fries looked delicious.  The use of almond flour in the recipe intrigued me, so I knew I wanted to give this recipe a try.  My son played a roll in this decision as well since he asked me the other day why we have to eat the same vegetables all the should have seen his face when I told him I was making these to have with dinner!  Ha ha ☺

These turned out beautifully!  I didn't tell my family about using the almond flour, and really there was no need to because you definitely can not tell it was used.  These were nice and crunchy, just as I had hoped.  You can flavor the flour mixture with your favorite spices, so it's easy to tailor the recipe to suite your tastes.  Even my son said "Actually, these aren't bad" as he ate his dinner.  In my book, that in itself makes this recipe a winner!  Now I am excited to use almond flour in some of my other dishes....

Zucchini Fries (adapted from

2 eggs, beaten
3 smallish sized zucchinis 
3/4 cup almond flour
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 and spray 2 cookie sheets generously with cooking spray.  Slice the zucchini into fry-like wedges.  Mix the almond flour, Parmesan cheese and all the spices together in a shallow dish.  Beat the eggs in another dish.  Dip each piece of zucchini into the egg and then into the flour mixture, making sure to coat them completely.  Lay them onto the cookie sheets and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.  Serves 4.

March 19, 2013

Another Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

I swore to myself last year that I wouldn't try another chocolate chip cookie recipe.  At my house, we all love my chocolate chip cookies and think they are the best (everyone does right?).  Over the years I have tried recipe after recipe but have always come back to my recipe.  Yet last year, there was so much hype about the NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe that I just couldn't resist trying them.  I am really glad I did, because they are really quite delicious.  HOWEVER, those at my house still voted my cookies as their favorite. 

Last week I stumbled across the blog Sally's Baking Addiction  and after reading her post on her chocolate chip cookie recipe, I just couldn't resist trying them.  The way she described them definitely reeled me in!  I have seen this recipe around for a while as well, but never felt the urge to try them until I read what she had to say about the cookies in her pictures looked super yummy.  So I set out making ANOTHER chocolate chip cookie recipe this weekend.  I think I have a recipe addiction problem.

We all gave these cookies 2 thumbs up.  Very good cookies - thick, moist, soft yet chewy and downright delicious.  So we took a vote - my son said he couldn't really tell the difference, my husband said he likes mine better but that these were really good, and myself....I guess I'm on the fence, but in the end l think I'll be sticking to my recipe (click here for my recipe).  Thank you to Sally's Baking Addiction - these cookies are VERY good!  I did make a couple of slight changes, so here's what I did.....

Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350, and spray cookie sheets with cooking spray.  In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light & fluffy. Mix in egg and vanilla, scrapping down the sides as needed. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Dough will be thick and sticky. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Once chilled, the dough will be slightly crumbly, but will come together if you work the dough with your hands as you are rolling individual balls. I used about ¼ cup scoop for each cookie, rolling into balls and placing on cookie sheet. Sprinkle a tiny bit of sea salt on each ball.
Bake for about 12 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges. Do NOT over-cook them. Remove and let cool for 3 minutes on the cookie sheet. Transfer to cooling rack. Cookies stay soft and fresh for up to 10 days in an airtight container.  

March 16, 2013

Sweet Potato Fries

Some people may find this odd, but I actually prefer sweet potato fries over regular fries.  Not that I don't like regular fries....I definitely do.  However if I have the option, I would choose sweet potato fries.  My son HATES sweet potatoes and it just doesn't make sense to me.  Kids like sweet things right?  So it would stand to reason he'd like sweet potatoes!  I just don't get it. 

I had one sweet potato on it's last leg in the fridge the other day, and since my husband was out of town I knew it was a good time to use it up.  As I scoured my freezer for something to eat I came across a box of veggie burgers.  What goes with burgers?  Fries.  So I set out to make these sweet potato fries.  Homemade sweet potato fries are difficult to get crispy, so this time I decided to use the Cooks Illustrated method of making fries in hopes that it would help.  They suggest soaking them in hot water first.  They also do a few other things to ensure a soft center with a crispy outside, but since sweet potatoes are pretty soft when cooked I didn't use their other methods for these.   

I think the soaking helped.  They were delicious, although no matter how they turned out they would be delicious to me.  I like dipping mine in honey mustard sauce - so good!  So here's how I made them......

Sweet Potato Fries (serves 4)

3 sweet potatoes peeled & cut lengthwise into French fry type slices (I like mine more on the thin side)
2+ tbsp. vegetable, canola or olive oil

Garlic Salt

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Cover with hot water and soak for at least one hour.  

Drain the potatoes. Spread them out on layers of paper towels or on kitchen towels and pat dry with additional towels.  Place on baking sheet & drizzle oil over top.  Toss the fries until each one is coated with the oil, then arrange them on the baking sheet in a single layer - make sure no fry is touching another.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn each fry over, being sure to keep them in a single layer. Continue baking until the fries are golden and crisp, 10-15 more minutes. Rotate the pan if needed for even browning.  When the fries are finished baking, sprinkle some garlic salt to taste then toss to combine.  Serve warm with your favorite dipping sauce – I like honey mustard ☺

March 14, 2013

Sweet & Savory Pork Chops

I wore a new shirt today, so of course I got a big glob of salad dressing on it while eating lunch at work.  Happens every time!  I had to attend a meeting with a big old stain on the front of my shirt in plain view for everyone to see.  Ahhhh, why oh why can I not eat without wearing it??  Not only does it happen every time I wear a new shirt, but it also happens every time I am out in public.  Over the weekend we went to a St. Patty's Day party and within the first 15 minutes of being there I had food all down the front of my shirt.   Big sigh.

OK, enough ranting.  Here's an oldie but goodie.  I got this from an old church cookbook years ago - gotta love those church cookbooks!  People that went to the church dinners all the time or attended frequent potlucks came up with some really quick, easy and tasty meals I tell ya!  Lots of times those church cookbooks have old family recipes in them that you just can't find anywhere else.  I just love browsing through them.  I am not a collector of anything except recipes. 

We all love this pork.  Serve it over mashed potatoes or rice, you could even use different cuts of pork and cook it in the slow cooker.  It's a very versatile recipe, which is one of the things I love about it.  I've modified the original a bit.  In fact, almost every time I make it I change it or add something different.  It's a perfect weeknight meal - enjoy!

Sweet & Savory Pork Chops

4-6 bone-in pork chops 
1 can or bottle of beer (the darker the better, but I wouldn't use black beer)
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch

Drizzle about a tbsp of olive oil onto the bottom of a large skillet and heat on medium-high heat.  Season both sides of the meat with salt & pepper (or your favorite seasoning salt - I use a garlic salt & pepper mix).  Sear the meat in the hot skillet on both sides until nice a brown (couple minutes each side).  

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the beer, ketchup, sugar, mustard, and garlic.  Pour over pork and turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 40 minutes.  Take about a 1/4 cup of the liquid from the pan and pour it in a small bowl.  Whisk in the cornstarch until smooth, then add it to the skillet.  Stir it around real good so it's evenly distributed.  Cook for a few more minutes and it should thicken up to make a nice sauce.

March 12, 2013

Brie & Jam Bites

This recipe is a knock-off from one of my favorite appetizer's that my aunt makes.  Maybe you've seen it before - it's a block of brie topped with jam and wrapped in Cresent Roll dough.  You cook it, slice it, serve it warm and it is ooohhh soooo good!  Such a show stopping appetizer.  I can never stay out of it when she serves it.  I am so in love with sweet and savory combinations!

I wanted to make something similar, but I wanted to make it a little more "finger food" like. I also wanted to be able to have it on hand as a snack.  This is what I came up with, and I have to say I really love these things.  I think the best part about them is that you can use any jam you want - strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, fig, peach.....really, the possibilities are endless.  That fact that you can tailor it to your tastes is always a plus in my book!  They are good as an appetizer, a snack or even as a dessert.  Everyone in our house loves these little bundles (especially me I think). 

Brie & Jam Bites

Wedge/Circle of brie cheese, cut into 32 bite-size pieces
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1/2 cup of your jam of choice (I used my homemade black raspberry & strawberry jam)
Turbinado Sugar
Spray bottle with water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray 2 cookies sheets with cooking spray.  Cut each pastry sheet into 16 squares (for a total of 32 squares). I did this by cutting each sheet in half, then I cut each half in half.  Repeat in opposite direction and you will end up with 16 squares. 

Place one piece of brie in the center of each square, then top each with about a teaspoon of the jam.  Wet your finger and run it along all four edges of a square, then bring the four corners together in the center and pinch together.  You also want to pinch along the edges to seal.

Once all my little bundles were done, I sprayed them with fresh/clean water – just lightly, don’t soak them.  If you don’t have a spray bottle, you could gently brush them with a little water.  Sprinkle each with the turbinado sugar.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool for 5 minutes before serving.