Friday, December 28, 2012

Monkey Bread

Let's plan ahead here for a moment. Say it's New Year's morning. You have the best intentions of whipping up a festive breakfast for your family, but you're feeling a bit foggy. You're still wearing your party dress under your spit-up crusted robe and one of your stick-on eyelashes has come un-stuck. Perhaps you had one too many glasses of champagne at your New Year's Eve soiree the night before? (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) At that moment, you're going to want the ingredients for Monkey Bread handy.

There are many variations of Money Bread, but this is the super simple version that my roommates made in college. Besides being quick and easy, it fills your house with the scent of cinnamon as it bakes. It's gooey with a crunchy crust of sugar on top. It's the perfect way to ring in the New Year.

Monkey Bread

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tube refrigerated biscuit dough (The kind that has 8 biscuits in the tube. Use whatever brand you like.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon. Cut each biscuit into quarters and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat. Place biscuits in a single layer in a 9" x 13" baking dish.

Combine melted butter and brown sugar and pour over the biscuits. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve warm.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow is Christmas! I'm so excited, I can't even stand it. I'm pretty sure I like Christmas Eve even more than Christmas day. All the anticipation...Oh, geez!

What are you doing for Christmas? Are you having people over for roast goose and carols? Please tell me you are. In case you were wondering, we'll be a small but fabulous crowd at my house this year: the husband, my sister, Danny (baby's first Christmas!), and me, of course. At the husband's request, I'll be making prime rib, which I've never done before. Wish me luck.

My Christmas excitement is obviously causing a bit of blathering here. Sorry about that. What I meant to share is a super easy centerpiece in case you're like me and forgot about that kind of thing. I always have good intentions about setting the table, but then I get caught up in the food and forget about decor. Miraculously, I thought of this lovely idea for a recent holiday fete at our place:

Purdy, ain't it? So easy:
  1. Get out a white platter or plate.
  2. Put some candles on the platter.
  3. Sprinkle cranberries around the candles.
  4. Light candles.
  5. Boom goes the dynamite.
Step five was actually my Christmas excitement getting the best of me. Anyway, I used tea lights because that's what I had on hand, but this looks lovely with pillar candles as well. Just use what you've got. Make it work people. 

Go forth and be merry!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Salt River Bars

When I shared the recipe for Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies on Monday, I mentioned that I'm a bit lazy in the cookie baking department. Well this no-bake cookie bar is right up my alley. You melt stuff and layer it in a pan. Hot diggity.

Salt River Bars are also handy because they keep well in the fridge. When you're pulling a million dishes together and wrapping a trillion presents for the holidays, you need stuff that you can prepare ahead of time. And with a pan full of Salt River Bars at the ready, you'll have a salty, sweet, chocolate-y, peanut butter-y, caramel treat to nibble on while you're building that doggone Barbie dream house. Ho ho ho!

Salt River Bars
Adapted from Bakergirl

Club crackers (You'll need about a sleeve and a half.)
1 (very) heaping cup peanut butter chips
1 cup butter (That's two sticks.)
1 cup brown sugar
11.5 ounce bag chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips.)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Coarse salt

Line a 8" x 8" square baking dish with aluminum foil. Make sure the foil is long enough so it hangs over the edges of the pan. This will give you "handles" to remove the bars from the pan later. (Also, if you have a baking dish with squared-off edges as opposed to a curved bottom, now's the time to use it. If not, don't sweat it.) Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.

Place 15 Club crackers on the bottom of the pan (three rows of five). Sprinkle a third of the peanut butter chips over the crackers.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is bubbly and smooth. This will take about 5 minutes. Evenly pour or spoon a third of the brown sugar mixture over the peanut butter chips in the pan. Top with another layer of fifteen crackers, another third of the peanut butter chips, and another third of the brown sugar mixture. And then one more time...Repeat with a third layer of fifteen crackers, the remaining peanut butter chips, and the remaining brown sugar mixture. Top with a fourth layer of fifteen crackers.

PHEW! Did you get all that layering? It goes like this:

15 crackers
One third of the peanut butter chips
One third of the brown sugar mixture

15 crackers
One third of the peanut butter chips
One third of the brown sugar mixture

15 crackers
One third of the peanut butter chips
One third of the brown sugar mixture
15 crackers

Once all of that deliciousness is layered in your pan, melt the chocolate chips together with the vegetable oil. Feel free to use a double boiler, but I used my trusty microwave. Place the chocolate chips and oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30-second increments, stirring in between, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Evenly pour chocolate over the final layer of crackers.

Allow the chocolate to cool for a few minutes and then sprinkle with sea salt. (If you put the sea salt on the chocolate while it's still super hot, the salt will melt. It will still have the salty-sweet taste, but you'll miss seeing those lovely flakes.)

Place bars in the fridge to cool. After they've cooled for 20-30 minutes, cut through the partially-set chocolate so it's easier to cut through once the bars are completely cooled. Let the bars finish cooling before you cut them for serving. (I removed the bars from the pan to cut them, but they got a little crumbly. Next time, I'll cut them in the pan, then remove them using the aluminum foil handles.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies

I'm not the best cookie baker in town. I think I lack the patience required. The instant gratification of dessert bars is more up my alley. My Recipe section confirms this preference: There is only one single cookie listed. In my dessert-obsessed world, that's pretty pathetic.

It being the season of cookie platters, I dragged myself into the kitchen to make an official cookie. Not truffles. Not bars. Not Minty Mindies. A real Christmas cookie. But I'm still my impatient self, so I made a total cheat cookie using a cake mix. (At least I keep it real, people.)

If you want to bring a festive treat to your next holiday party or are looking for a suuuuper easy baking project to make with the kids, Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies are right up your alley. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies
From The Novice Chef
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup powdered sugar
18.25-ounce box red velvet cake mix
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper for easy clean-up. (If you don't have parchment paper on hand, spray cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray.) Place powdered sugar in a shallow bowl and set aside for later.

In a separate bowl, stir together cake mix, butter, and eggs until there are no more large lumps. (This will require some elbow grease...just think of it as your exercise for the day.) Roll dough into 1" balls and then roll in powdered sugar so they're coated generously. Place dough balls about 2" apart on your prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the bottoms are set and the tops looked crinkled. (The centers of the cookies will still look a bit gooey, but they set up as they cool. So be careful not to over-bake them.) Let the cookies rest for five minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Chicken

True confessions: When I was a kid, I was a picky eater. Like suuuuper picky. (Sorry, Mom.) My Happy Meals had to have plain cheeseburgers. Everyone eats peas, right? They're sweet, for crying out loud. But not me. I also didn't like french fries (Whaaaat?!), and I refused to go out to restaurants unless I was allowed to order chocolate chip pancakes no matter what time of day it was.

Tomato soup was on the list of foods I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. After I got hitched, the husband requested tomato soup with his grilled cheese. For a couple years I would dutifully make him his soup, but I wouldn't try it.

And then one day I ladled myself a bowl, too.

Good gracious, tomato soup is delicious! Why did I deny myself for all those years? When the good folks at Campbell's offered to send me some of their Sun-Ripened Yellow Tomato Soup and a recipe for a new spin on grilled cheese to try, I was all for it. I had many missed bowls of soup to make up for.

The husband, our pal Ryan, and I sat down to tomato soup and Pesto Grilled Cheese with Chicken Sandwiches this week, and we were happy campers. The husband even went back for seconds. The Sun-Ripened Yellow Tomato Soup is delicious, a bit milder than Campbell's traditional red tomato soup, I think. As a person who used to turn her nose up at just about everything, I believe it would be the perfect gateway soup for the picky eater in your family. Let me know if you give it a whirl on your next grilled cheese night.

Speaking of grilled cheese... I whipped up these sandwiches to accompany our soup. Crazy good and crazy easy. The "recipe" below is more of a guideline. Use as much of each ingredient as you like. Follow your heart. (Did I just say "follow your heart" about a recipe? Oh, geez.)

Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Chicken
Adapted from Campbell's
Serves 2

2 torta or ciabatta rolls (or 4 pieces of bread)
3 tablespoons prepared pesto (I just buy the refrigerated stuff at the grocery store. Feel free to make your own if you're ambitious.)

1 small cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced (I hacked a breast off my rotisserie chicken for this meal.)
Salt and pepper

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1.5 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat a panini press. (If you don't have a panini press, just make these in a skillet like a regular, old grilled cheese sandwhich.) Meanwhile, spread pesto on the cut sides of your rolls. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Layer 1/8 cup mozzarella cheese, half of the chicken, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and another 1/8 cup mozzarella cheese on the bottom half of each roll.

Top with the other half of the rolls. Brush the top and bottom of the rolls with melted butter. Toast sandwiches in the panini press for about 5 minutes, until cheese is melted and the rolls are toasty.

Full Disclosure: While Campbell's sent me the tomato soup to try, these opinions are all my own. Well, mine and the husband's. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla Bake

Over the weekend I realized that I forgot to post a recipe on Friday. Whoops. My bad. Here are some other things I've forgotten to do recently:
  1. Brush my teeth. This is embarrassing. In fact, I can't believe I'm admitting it for the entirety of the world wide web to know. But it's true: Since my kid was born, sometimes I forget to brush my teeth in the morning. Rest assured that I always remember at some point during the day. If you see me out and notice any halitosis, please offer me gum. Thankyouverymuch. 
  2. TiVo my shows. I forgot to record The Barefoot Contessa on Saturday. Doggone it.
  3. Eat lunch. Just kidding!! I never forget about lunch. Or breakfast. Or dinner...  

Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla Bake
Serves: 6
Adapted from

4 flour tortillas
3 cups cooked, cubed or shredded chicken
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salsa and sour cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat a 9" square baking dish* with cooking spray. Layer the tortillas in the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping so they all fit. Press tortillas into the baking dish so it forms a crust. In a separate bowl, combine chicken, 1 cup cheese, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Top tortillas with chicken mixture.

In the same, now-empty bowl (there's no need to wash it out), whisk together eggs, milk, flour, and baking powder until smooth. It will be a pretty thick mixture. Slowly pour over the chicken mixture in the baking dish, spreading it out with a spoon if necessary to make sure the chicken is evenly covered. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, until the surface is golden brown. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

The original recipe calls for a 9" deep dish pie plate. I used the baking dish because I don't have a deep dish pie plate. If you do, feel free to use one. You'll only need three flour tortillas for a pie plate.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sesame Green Beans

Am I the only one who gets stuck in a veggie rut? It's shameful, seriously shameful how many times a week we eat frozen peas. Someone please tell me I'm not alone here.

When I made teriyaki chicken recently, I decided that I couldn't stomach yet another boring vegetable. So I used the same technique and flavor profile from Sesame Asparagus to add pizzazz to my green beans. (By the way, does saying "flavor profile" make me sound like I'm on Top Chef? I love that show.)

The Sesame Green Beans that resulted were anything but bland. In fact, I snuck the leftovers from the fridge and ate them cold the next day. In my book, that's the barometer of a good vegetable.

Sesame Green Beans
Serves: 4
Adapted from An Occasion to Gather

1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Drain green beans.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high. Add beans and saute for 2 minutes or so, until they are crisp tender. Stir in the soy sauce and sesame oil. Remove green beans to a serving platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.