Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013

Did you have a happy Christmas? Since I'm sure you were wondering, ours was lovely. My little boy played with trains in his jammies, we went sledding, and we ate copious amounts of prime rib and chocolate cake. It was quite festive.

But now it's time to get ready for 2014. What better way to prepare for the future than to reflect on the past? Today I'm sharing my favorite Hot Dinner Happy Home recipes from the past 12 months. Get ready for some good eatin'...

Neiman Marcus Cookies: There's nothing like warm chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven. And these soft cookies exploding with milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips are my absolute favorite.

Three Cheese Bacon Macaroni & Cheese: Ok. Let me put it like this: THREE CHEESE BACON MACARONI AND CHEESE!

Parmesan and Yogurt Crusted Chicken (a.k.a. OMG Chicken): So simple, but so good! "OMG Chicken" is really the most appropriate name for it. The chicken is flavorful and moist, and—here's the kicker—it comes together in about 5 minutes of prep. Angels are singing.

Slow Cooker Asian Beef & Broccoli: I love this one! It is so good! And so easy! The tender beef and crisp broccoli are coated with a sweet-and-savory sauce. I need to make this again soon.

Tropical Almond Granola with Chia Seeds: I've been on a serious granola kick, and this one might be my fav. Dried mangos and agave add a touch of sweetness to this healthy, almond-studded granola.

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon: Other brussels sprouts are blase once you've roasted them with bacon.

Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies: The husband said it best, "This is how every brownie should be made."

Sloppy Joes with Crunchy Coleslaw: I served this to guests. With tater tots on the side. That's how much I like this one. Bonus points because it freezes and reheats well.  

Apple Cinnamon BreadStudded with apples, scented with cinnamon, and crowned with buttery streusel. Need I say more?

Slow Cooker Chicken & Biscuits: This is a little bit of a cheater recipe—you use biscuits from the refrigerator section—but it's one I want to make over and over. Who cares if it's a cheater recipe; it's good.

Honorable Mention
Bacon Braised Green Beans: Apparently all my vegetables must be served with bacon.

Healthier Fried Rice: I'm always looking for ways to use up leftovers. With this recipe you can clean out your fridge of leftover rice and pork. Oh, and it's delicious. And healthy.

Low Fat Pumpkin Spice Muffins: All of America went bonkers for pumpkin spice this fall. I was no exception.

Crockpot Applesauce: I eat a lot of applesauce, and, in my humble opinion, this is the best way to make it.

Roasted Vegetable & Goat Cheese Panini: Three of my favorite things: roasted veggies, goat cheese, and carbs.

What was your favorite meal of 2013?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Creamy Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli

Last week I wasn't performing in the dinner department. I had a hunch that things were below average, but the husband tactfully confirmed my suspicions. "I don't know about you," he said, "but in the winter time, I tend to crave hearty dinners." Then he looked me in the eye, and I knew it was serious. "Last night we had salad for dinner."

So this week I'm back with pasta! Creamy pasta! With meat! (And a salad on the side, thankyouverymuch.)

Creamy Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli
Serves: 6-8
Adapted from Celebrations

12 ounces angel hair pasta
5 cups chopped broccoli florets (2 small heads)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large chicken breasts, butterflied
Salt and pepper
1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in pasta and chopped broccoli. Cook according to package directions for al dente, about 4 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain and set aside pasta and broccoli.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium high. Season chicken generously with salt and pepper. Add to hot skillet and cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Set chicken aside and tent with foil to keep warm.

If the skillet you cooked the chicken in is dry, add an additional tablespoon of oil. Reduce heat to medium, add onion, and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, until flour begins to toast.

Very gradually whisk in the chicken broth. (Doing this step slowly will help you avoid a lumpy sauce.) Stir in milk and nutmeg and allow the sauce to cook for 1-2 minutes to thicken. Turn off the heat and stir in yogurt and cheese. Chop cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir chicken, cooked pasta, and broccoli into sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add reserved pasta cooking water to help thin it out so it evenly coats the pasta. (Start by adding a little bit of the cooking water and then add more if needed.) Serve pasta topped with additional Parmesan cheese.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cinnamon Crisps

Whenever we visit the husband's family in Seattle, he needs to eat at Taco Time at least once. Usually more like two or three times. I don't fully understand what excites him so much about Taco Time, but since I have plenty of inexplicable crazy, I don't ask questions about his devotion to the Crisp Beef Burrito.

A meal at Taco Time isn't complete without an order of Cinnamom Crustos for dessert. So without a trip to Seattle in our near future, the husband and I set out to make Crustos in our humble Milwaukee kitchen.

Flour tortillas are fried until flaky and crisp then dusted with cinnamon sugar. Well, in snow terms it's more of a cinnamon sugar blizzard than a dusting, but that's how we roll.

Cinnamon Crisps
Serves: 4 reasonably, 2 realistically

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (or to taste)
2 quarts vegetable or peanut oil
4 flour tortillas, each cut into 8 wedges

In a small bowl combine sugar and cinnamon until well blended. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven with high sides, heat oil over medium-high until it reaches 350 degrees. Very carefully add half the tortillas and cook for 2 minutes, until the tortillas are golden and crisp, flipping with a slotted spoon halfway through cooking. (Flipping the tortillas ensures they cook evenly on both sides.) Place tortillas on a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle generously on both sides with cinnamon sugar. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Cinnamon crisps are ridiculously delicious served warm, but no one will complain if they're room temperature.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Easy Asian Beef

Christmas is in less than two weeks. Holy cow, I am so not ready. If I am going to get everything purchased/wrapped/baked/shipped on time, I need some crazy easy meals. That means it's time for Easy Asian Beef.

This simple but delicious dinner comes together in twenty minutes. Seriously. And it reheats really well if you happen to have any leftovers, which is unlikely. I was counting on Easy Asian Beef for lunch the next day when I made this such luck. Every last morsel was devoured at dinner, and we all sat looking longingly at the empty pan. Maybe the moral of the story is to double the recipe.

This is a simple recipe, so it helps to use ingredients that really pack a punch. Since I don't always keep fresh ginger on hand, I often substitute powdered or candied ginger in recipes that call for fresh. In this case, though, I think it's worth a trip to the store for fresh ginger. It really adds pizzazz. If you have leftover fresh ginger, you can store it in the freezer so you're ready next time it's called for. The dark brown sugar is a bit richer and more complex than typical light brown sugar. And sesame oil adds a nutty depth to the dish that makes it complete.

Now you know one of my favorite easy meals. What do you make to save time? These presents aren't going to wrap themselves!

Easy Asian Beef
Serves 4
Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Hot cooked rice for serving*

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add ground beef and cook, breaking up the beef into bite-sized pieces with a spatula, until beef is browned and cook through, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in dark brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper. Allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sauce is thickened and all the beef is evenly coated. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve over rice.

*You could totally serve Easy Asian Beef in lettuce cups instead of rice. That would make a lovely appetizer, too.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013 Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Cardamom Cookies

Food memories.

I'm talking about Mom's Potato Casserole or Grandma's Chocolate Cake or Spamwiches. (Don't ask.) One bite and you're immediately transported back to the dining room table in your childhood home. Everyone's gathered around, candles are flickering, and the gang is singing happy birthday. (Off key? Perhaps.)

A flavor that envelops me in a flood of food memories is cardamom. When I was a gap-toothed little girl, my grandma would visit with her sister and brother-in-law. Gram, Great Aunt Phyllis, and Great Uncle George would pile out of the velour-seated Town Car bearing gifts from her hometown of Rockford, Illinois: sweet rolls and coffee cake from her local bakery scented with cardamom. Gram didn't cook, but she bought with the best of them. It was my first taste of the warm spice, and I was hooked.

Fast forward 15 years to the first Christmas I spent with the husband's family. A homemade loaf of braided bread graced the breakfast table. As I devoured my first slice, spread generously with butter and dusted with sugar, I was transported back to Gram's visits. It was Cardamom Bread! Suddenly the first Christmas away from my family felt so much more like home.

When I thought about what to bake for this year's Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I couldn't wait to share the taste of my home with all of you. It seemed only appropriate to make Cardamom Cookies. Tender and buttery with the subtle warmth of cardamom, these little gems are rolled in a snowfall of sugar until they sparkle.

If you're looking to round out your cookie tray, consider trying one of these delicious treats that I was lucky enough to receive as part of the Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Peanut Butter Cookies from Mackenzie at Susie Freaking Homemaker, Snickerdoodles from Christine at If you give a gal a mixing bowl..., and Cranberry Bliss Cookies from Kimberly at Rhubarb and Honey. Thanks for sending holiday cheer my way, ladies!

Cardamom Cookies
Gently adapted from The American Club
Makes about 24 cookies

1 cup butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup superfine sugar (Or pulse granulated sugar in your blender a few times to make it fine.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar at medium-high speed until smooth, fluffy, and increased in size, about 2-3 minutes. On low speed, beat in egg yolk, vanilla, flour, baking soda, cardamom, and salt until combined. (Dough will be crumbly.)

Shape dough into 1" balls. (Since the dough is crumbly, you may need to press it together in the palms of your hands in order to form the balls.) Place dough about 1" apart on an ungreased baking sheet. (Seriously, ungreased. No parchment paper or anything. I tried baking the cookies on parchment paper, and they spread way too much.) Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes until cookies are just golden. (This recipe works best if you bake one tray of cookies at a time. If you bake two trays in the upper and lower thirds of your oven, watch the bottoms very carefully to make sure they don't burn.)

Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool. Once completely cool, roll cookies in superfine sugar.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A change in programming.

Good morning! Usually I post new recipes on Mondays, but I've got something good coming for you on Wednesday this week instead.

It involves Christmas cookies.

See you on Wednesday!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Bread

How's your Christmas shopping going? Mine is...well, it's still going. That's all I need to say about that. 

But today I'm here to help you spread some Christmas cheer. Do you need a little hostess gift? Something for your neighbor or the nursery worker at church who deals with your crying baby every week? (Not that I would know anything about that last one or anything.) I have just the ticket: Apple Cinnamon Bread. 

If you come bearing a loaf of this bread—a tender crumb, studded with apples, and gilded with an avalanche of streusel topping—your recipient will be thrilled. But you can take it to the next level without too much trouble. You can present your Apple Cinnamon Bread in one of those cute disposable pans. (They even sell Christmas-y ones at Target so you can pick them up next time you're getting Lysol wipes.) Make it even better by pairing your bread with a little jar of cinnamon. (Tie a little ribbon or twine around the cinnamon if you're feeling fancy.) 

If I may, I'd like to recommend Penzeys cinnamon. Besides the fact that Penzeys is a local company with great products, my reason for giving Penzeys a little plug is selfish: I totally pilfered this recipe from them. I come up with most of the recipes on this site, either adapting other recipes or pulling them from the empty space between my ears. This recipe, though, is 100% Penzeys. I thought about tweaking it, but the original was too doggone good to mess with. And it would have been cruel of me not to share something this delicious; I had to tell you about it. Hence the plug. It helps alleviate my guilt. 

So bake Apple Cinnamon Bread! Eat Apple Cinnamon Bread! Gift Apple Cinnamon Bread!

Apple Cinnamon Bread
From Penzeys
Makes 2 loaves

4-5 large apples*, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1" pieces (about 4 cups)
4 large eggs 
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Grease to 9" x 5" loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside. 

Beat eggs with an electric mixer on medium high until fluffy. Add oil and beat until combined. Mix in vanilla, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon until combined. Add flour and sugar and beat on low until combined, then beat on high until the mixture is smooth. (The batter is very thick.) Gently stir in the apples by hand so they don't get broken up. Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared pans.

Make the topping in a separate small bowl. Stir together flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Use a fork or your fingers to cut in the butter until it's crumbly. Sprinkle the topping evenly on each loaf. Bake for about 1 hour, until the loaf feels fairly firm when pressed in the middle. 

*I used McIntosh apples because I wanted them to melt into the bread a little bit. If you want your apples to remain more firm, try a Granny Smith.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beer Braised Pot Roast

I have been eating Thanksgiving leftovers since Thursday, and I need some beef in my life. Now don't get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving leftovers—love them—but I'm just a little over poultry right now.

The other thing? I'm not in the mood to slave over a hot stove. Putting on the big turkey day meal wore me out. The leftovers were a good break, but since I'm out of frozen pizza, I have to cook dinner again. This roast is the perfect meal to coax me back to the kitchen. A quick sear to add flavor and seal in the juices, then pop the roast in the oven to cook low and slow. A few minutes of work yields rich, tasty results.

P.S. I haven't tried it, but I think this would be great in the slow cooker. After searing the beef and vegetables on the stove, cook in the slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours instead of putting it in the oven.

Beer Braised Pot Roast

3 pounds rump roast
Salt and pepper
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
9 carrots, peeled and cut into 1"-2" chunks
1 large onion, cut into thick slices
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
12 ounces beer
1 cup chicken or beef stock or water
1 bay leaf
Sprig rosemary
Sprig sage
Mashed potatoes for serving, if desired

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Generously season roast on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high. Add roast and sear on all sides until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove roast and set aside.

If the pot is dry add another tablespoon of oil. Add carrots and cook until they begin to get golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside for later. If the pot is dry, add another tablespoon of oil. Add onions and cook until they start to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Pour in beer and broth and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to incorporate any browned bits into the liquid. Once liquid comes to a boil, add roast and any accumulated juices, bay leaf, rosemary, and sage to the pot. Cover and cook for 3 hours, turning the roast every hour or so.

After 3 hours, add the carrots to the pot. Cover and continue cooking another 45 minutes-1 hour, until the carrots and roast are fork tender. Remove carrots and roast to a serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Remove bay leaf and herb stems from the cooking liquid. Allow the cooking liquid to sit for about 10 minutes and then skim any fat from the top. Serve roast and carrots with cooking liquid and onions. If desired, serve over mashed potatoes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Are you ready?

I had a lovely new recipe all ready to share with you today, but it just didn't feel right. It's the Monday before Thanksgiving, and who can think about anything other than the biggest food day of the year. I mean, Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of food. It would be sacrilege to tell you about pot roast.

Instead I'm resurrecting one of my favorite lists. Back in 2010 I compiled my favorite Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks. When I reread it recently, I was impressed. I don't want to toot my own horn, but these things are handy, people. So without further ado...

Making Dinner:
  • Plan your menu early. And don't feel guilty if your menu doesn't include 12 different jello salads. No one needs that much jello, anyway.
  • Are you making any new recipes this year? To keep your stress level at minimum, give new dishes a try in the weeks leading up to the big day. Once you know it tastes delicious, you'll be much less nervous. And if it tastes like crap, you can try something different.
  • Whenever possible, make dishes the day before Thanksgiving. That way, you can enjoy the holiday with your family and friends. And many Turkey Day classics reheat well or can be prepared the day ahead and popped into the oven while the turkey is resting. That's a darn good reason to give thanks, if you ask me.
  • The following items taste just as good (or even better!) when reheated or prepped ahead of time:
    • Stuffing (I actually saute the aromatics on Tuesday, prepare the stuffing on Wednesday, and bake it on Thursday. Talk about make ahead!)
    • Green Bean Casserole (Wait to add the onion ring topping until Thanksgiving day.)
    • Mashed Potatoes (Just add extra milk and butter before reheating.)
    • Candied Yams (If you're in the marshmallow camp, wait until Thanksgiving day to top with marshmallows.) 
    • Cranberry Sauce (You don't even need to reheat this one! I usually make Cranberry Sauce on Tuesday.)
    • Dessert items (pie, cake, whatever)
Staying Organized:
  • Start early. Nothing will lower your anxiety levels like having a plan in place. This will also allow you to save a couple bucks by shopping the sales, clipping a couple coupons, and avoiding last-minute desperation purchases. 
  • Once you know how many people you'll be hosting, count your plates, flatware, and glasses to make sure you have enough. My knives seem to disappear in the dishwasher, so I usually need to pick up a few replacements around the holidays. Also, it never hurts to have an extra place setting available in case you have a last-minute dinner addition.  
  • After you have your menu planned, sort through your serving dishes and serving spoons to ensure you have an appropriate platter and utensil for each item. Scooping mashed potatoes out of tupperware takes the class out of a dinner party real quick. Also, have a few extra serving utensils on hand for guests who are bringing dishes.
  • A few days before Thanksgiving, use post-it notes to label your serving bowls with what they will contain. Then set them out on the table or buffet. This will confirm that you have an appropriate dish for every item and also that there is enough room for everything. And it will be easy for you to give helpful dinner guests a job, "Katy, can you put this in the dish labelled "potatoes?" 
  • Set the table the day, or several days, before Thanksgiving. You don't want to deal with this right before the main event. And if you're worried that your kids/animals/spouse will mess up your beautiful table, cover it with a clean bedsheet or extra tablecloth. (While I've never tried this myself, it sounds pretty doggone clever.)
  • If you'll have candles on the dinner table, use unscented candles. Scented candles can confuse your taste buds when you're eating.
If You Are Not Hosting:
  • Ask your host what you can bring. And if you have a family specialty that you'd like to share, suggest that dish to the host. Likewise, if you can't cook/hate to cook/don't have time to cook, offer to bring booze.  This will save your host moolah and will be much appreciated.  
  • If you are in charge of bringing a dish for dinner, but you might be late due to another commitment, drop off your dish earlier in the day. Then your host can warm it up for you and serve dinner on schedule. My friend, Kelly, does this, and I love her (more) for it!
  • Try to remember your own serving utensils in case your host didn't read our handy holiday tip guide and doesn't have extras. 
  • If your dish needs to be reheated, use a post-it to label the dish with reheating instructions. Things get crazy in the kitchen at the last minute, and that way anyone can prep your dish. And there might be a cute guy/girl watching the football game or (let's be real) a crying baby who demands your attention more than your dinner contribution.
P.S. I wouldn't be a true friend if I didn't give this reminder: If your turkey is still frozen, get that baby in the refrigerator today! Thawing your turkey in the fridge takes about 1 day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. If you're short on time, you can thaw the bird in a bucket of cold water, which takes about 30 minutes per pound. Change water every 30 minutes to make sure the turkey stays cold and safe. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sloppy Joes with Crunchy Coleslaw

I was sitting at the dining room table yesterday and working on my grocery list for Thanksgiving: one bag of cranberries, five pounds of potatoes, three onions, eight ounces of sausage for stuffing... I checked my list against my menu several times, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. Then it struck me: I didn't have any groceries to make meals for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I mean, we all know I love cereal, but I don't think three days of it is going to fly.

With most of our food prep energy being channeled to turkey day, it's time for easy meals. Enter the homemade Sloppy Joe. Ground beef or turkey is coated with a sweet and tangy sauce that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy. Piled high on soft rolls and topped with crunchy coleslaw, it's filling and delicious comfort food. The best part? This recipe doubles beautifully so you can have dinner for Monday and Tuesday! 

And on Wednesday? Order pizza. 

Sloppy Joes
Adapted from Real Simple
Serves: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey, ground beef, or a combination
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
8 ounces tomato sauce
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (You could use a bit less brown sugar, if you want.)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
4 hamburger buns
Crunchy Coleslaw (recipe below)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high. Cook ground meat and onion until the meat is browned and cooked through, 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. 

Stir in tomato sauce, dark brown sugar, barbecue sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on buns topped with coleslaw. 

Crunchy Coleslaw
Adapted from Foodie with Family

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon agave (or substitute honey)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (14 ounce) package coleslaw mix (or 7 cups of shredded carrots and cabbage)

Stir together Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, agave, vinegar, poppy seeds, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in coleslaw mix. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Panini

When I was a workin' girl, I was lucky enough to have free lunch at my office. That's right, people; there is such a thing as free lunch. The cafeteria offered a hot entree, salad bar, soup, and pizza. My favorite, though, was always the sandwich station.

I'd walk up to Bill the Sandwich Guy every day at 12:15, and he'd say, "The usual?" And it would be the usual. Because I'm a creature of habit, and I ate the same thing for lunch 99% of the time. (Turkey on wheat with a little bit of honey mustard, lettuce, and tomato.) Every once in a while, though, I'd live on the edge and order one of the seasonal specials.

Now that I'm years removed, the details of the special sandwiches are a little fuzzy. There was the one on the pretzel roll, and that other one on a baguette. But there is one sandwich that I remember like I'm spilling it's crumbs on my keyboard as I type. A whole wheat ciabbata roll was schmeared with herbed goat cheese, topped with roasted vegetables and a handful of mixed greens, then grilled to crunchy, melty perfection.

Recently the memory would suffice no more. I had to have the special sandwich again. So I made it. And I ate it. And good gosh it was as wonderful as I remembered.

I think Bill the Sandwich Guy would be proud.

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Panini

1 small zucchini, halved and cut into 1/4" slices
1 small yellow squash, halved and cut into 1/4" slices
5 ounces mushrooms, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 red pepper, cut into thin 1" strips
1/2 sweet red onion, cut into 1" slices
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 ounces goat cheese, softened
2 whole wheat ciabatta rolls
1 cup mixed greens

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss together zucchini, squash, mushrooms, red pepper, onion, 1 teaspoon rosemary, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 minutes, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, stirring halfway through.

Meanwhile heat panini press. Stir together goat cheese, remaining 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, and pepper to taste. Spread goat cheese on the cut halves of both ciabatta rolls. Top bottom halves of the rolls with roasted vegetables* and a handful of mixed greens. Close up sandwiches with the top halves of the rolls. Grill in panini press for 4-5 minutes until everything is hot and the bread is toasted.

*You may have some leftover vegetables. Use them up in a salad, eat them plain, or make another panini!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gooey Pumpkin Bars

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. Does this make you feel:

a.) Excited. I love Thanksgiving! I've had my menu planned since July, ordered a heritage bird from the market, and created shopping lists based on the ad flyers from four different stores.
b.) Uncertain. Seriously? Thanksgiving? I'm still recovering from Halloween. I guess I'd better call my mom to make sure she's willing to host again this year.
c.) Terrified. I am not ready for this. I am not ready for this. I am not ready for this...

No matter how you answered, I've got a recipe that will have you shaking your tailfeather at the thought of Thanksgiving. Gooey Pumpkin Bars are delicious, indulgent, and the perfect alternative to pumpkin pie.

Eschew your rolling pin and pull together a tender crust using--get this--cake mix. (I won't tell your mother-in-law.) The rich pumpkin filling is extra creamy from the addition of cream cheese. And perhaps the best part? You only dirty one bowl.  

Thanksgiving? We've got this in the bag.

Gooey Pumpkin Bars
Adapted from The Lady & Sons

1 (18.25 ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 egg
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon*
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger*
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg*
Pinch ground cloves*
2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
Pecans and whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13" x 9" baking dish.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, 1 egg, and 1 stick butter. Mix until well combined. Press into the bottom of prepared baking dish and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl (don't bother washing it), beat cream cheese until smooth and a bit fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Beat in remaining 3 eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and spices on medium low until everything is well combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the cream cheese is incorporated and mix for another few seconds. Add in powdered sugar and beat until it's incorporated. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour in remaining 1 stick melted butter and mix well.

Pour filling on top of unbaked crust and spread it out evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the center is just a tiny bit gooey and wiggly. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. If desired, garnish with pecans and whipped cream.

*Feel free to substitute 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice for the spices listed here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Housekeeping...But I will not fluff your pillow.

I've been cleaning house lately, trying to de-clutter and get rid of junk. If my space is organized, it feels like my mind is organized, even if it's anything but. So I did a bit of housekeeping here at Hot Dinner Happy Home as well. Allow me to draw your attention to a few things...

Have you noticed the recipes tab? Next time you're looking for meal inspiration, check it out. I've listed every recipe from the site in what I hope is an easy-to-use manner. If it's confusing, please let me know. I want to make Hot Dinner Happy Home user-friendly.

Let's Connect. 
Truth: I'm not always social media savvy. (Insert embarrassed emoticon here. See? I don't know how to do emoticons. Insert emoticon of head hanging in shame.) But! I am trying to get better at it. I've been tweeting. And Facebooking. (Yeah, that's a verb now.) And pinning. And even Instagramming. So, find me! Follow me! Tweet me! I'll tweet back. Here are the details:

Want to be notified on your Facebook feed when I post a new recipe? Like Hot Dinner Happy Home and you will.

A few of my favorite recent recipe finds on Pinterest: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and BarleyCreme Brulee French Toast, and Korean Pork Roast Lettuce Wraps. Now I'm hungry. 

See? There are tweets there. It's proof. I tweeted. Find me @hotdnnrhppyhome.

It's a sneak peak at my non-internet life.

Back to food later this week. Until then!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot soup is like autumn in a bowl. Rich and creamy from sweet potatoes. An earthy sweetness from carrots. It's the mealtime equivalent of a warm, cozy sweater. And it's the exact hue as the crunchy leaves littering my lawn.

Wait a minute...I think I was supposed to rake the lawn yesterday. Dang.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
Serves: 4
Inspired by Crepes of Wrath

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces
1/2 large (or one small) sweet red onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Bonne Herbes* (optional)
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds for serving, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line one very large or two small baking sheets with parchment paper for easy clean up.

Place vegetables on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with Bonne Herbes (if using) and salt and pepper to taste. Toss together so vegetables are evenly coated. Roast for 35-40 minutes or until vegetables are fork tender, stirring halfway through to ensure even cooking.

In batches, puree vegetables and broth in a blender until smooth. Pour the soup into a saucepan and heat until warmed through. (If you have an immersion blender, you can just puree everything in the saucepan and skip the blender.) If the soup is too thick, add water or additional broth until it reaches your preferred consistency. Serve topped with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds if desired.

*Bonne Herbes is a blend of chives, dill, basil, tarragon, chervil, and pepper. Truthfully, I just sniffed around (literally) in my spice cupboard until I found something that I thought would work with sweet potatoes and carrots. While I really like the dimension Bonne Herbes adds to the soup, I think it would still be delicious without it. Or substitute a sprinkling of dried basil or tarragon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn Spice Granola

Ok, interweb, it's time for a true confession: I'm a stay-at-home mom, and sometimes I get bored.

I love my kid. I mean, he's adorable and wonderful and sweet and precocious, blah, blah, blah. But the only word he says is "hot", and sometimes I'm looking for more stimulating conversation. In order to get my kicks, I go to the grocery store. Danny loves riding in the cart; all the clerks and the guys at the meat counter smile at him, and the grandmas picking their produce stop and admire his chubby cheeks. He couldn't be happier with all the attention. Meanwhile, I get out of the house, enjoy exhilarating adult conversation about potato salad with the deli people, and fill my fridge at the same time.

Last week was gray and cold and rainy. I came up with a stellar (if I do say so myself) SAHM plan to occupy my kid: Bake granola. It was the perfect excuse to go to the special grocery store with the bulk bins to buy interesting things to put in the granola. That alone would kill at least an hour before nap time. But in addition, he could stir it all together. Best part? I'd have a delicious treat on hand for easy morning meals. Genius.

A few notes:

  1. If you're not a stay-at-home parent looking for time to kill at the market, you can absolutely use what you have in your cupboards to make this granola. Fresh out of pepitas? Use almonds or extra pecans. Don't have flax seeds or chia seeds? Skip 'em. Prefer raisins to dates? By all means, make a substitution.
  2. If you are a stay-at-home parent and let your toddler stir everything together, he will eschew the spoon to "stir" with his booger-covered hands. Then he will put his sticky, granola-crusted hands in his mouth. He will like the maple syrup and repeat this several times, adding spittle to the boogers in the granola. Ensure yourself that a stint in the oven will bake off any grossness, but use this as the perfect excuse not to share your granola with anyone. 
Happy baking!

Autumn Spice Granola
Adapted from this granola recipe

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch salt
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup roasted coconut chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine oil, vanilla, syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Stir in oats, pecans, pepitas, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Evenly spread the granola onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring two times to make sure the granola bakes evenly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Once cooled, stir in dates, cranberries, and coconut chips. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween!

Where I grew up in Buffalo, trick-or-treating always took place after dark on Halloween night. Every year I dressed as either a princess or an old lady. The old lady costume was much more practical in the cold climes of my hometown; an ancient fur coat and hat plus a ratty grey wig meant I didn't have to cover my costume with my winter parka and beanie.

The best part of Halloween was obviously the candy. After hours ringing doorbells and scouring the neighborhood for the house handing out king-sized confections, our pillowcases were stuffed with hundreds of treats. My brother, sister, and I would dump our goodies on the floor at home, sort them out, and begin to barter. Johnny would gladly trade his chocolate for SweeTarts. Katy and I would do anything for a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup. And then we would eat candy until we passed out in a sugar-induced coma.

Today we're going to make something salty to balance all of that sweetness: Spiced Pumpkin Seeds. Save the seeds when you're carving your pumpkin tonight and you'll be halfway to this savory treat. Toss them together with some butter and a few spices, and bake until the seeds are toasted and crisp.

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds*
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss seeds with butter, salt, chili powder, and cumin until they're evenly coated. Spread into a single layer on a rimmed baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until seeds are toasted and crisp, stirring halfway through.

*When you've collected the seeds from your pumpkin, rinse off all of the stringy stuff and pat the seeds dry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kale Salad with Apples and Seeds

Do you guys watch Top Chef? In one episode this season, they had a challenge about food trends. Specifically, food trends that Dana Cowin (from Food & Wine magazine) wishes were over. Kale salad is one trend that Dana scoffs at. So, guess what I'm making today?

Kale Salad.

Sorry, Dana.

Try it for yourself and let me know, is kale a food trend that should be on its way out?

Kale Salad with Apples and Seeds
Inspired by The Chew
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

4 big handfuls of chopped kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 large apple, thinly sliced

Combine kale and olive oil in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to massage the oil and seasonings into the kale for 2-3 minutes. (You want the kale to start absorbing the oil and breaking down. After a couple minutes you'll know it's ready because it gets darker and shrinks down in size.) Toss in 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Taste and see if it's tangy enough for you. If you want more zip, add the remaining tablespoon of vinegar. Top kale with sunflower seeds, cranberries, and apple.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Sweet Potatoes

I'm not a big risk taker. Roller coasters scare the bejeebers out of me. I don't run with scissors. The idea of skydiving gives me a conniption.

For some reason, whenever I use my slow cooker, I feel like I'm taking a risk. Maybe it's because I biffed a few meals in my slow cooker shortly after the husband and I got hitched. One rock-hard pot roast in particular haunts my dinner dreams.

So as my fork hovered over a plate piled with pork chops, I had a twinge of nerves. The autumnal aroma of sweet potatoes and apples hinted at deliciousness, but would the chops be tasty? Or would they be dry and bland? Bravely, I dove in.

And I devoured every bite.

The brine infused flavor and ensured the pork stayed moist. Layered with the sweetness of apples and onions, plus the savory creaminess of sweet potatoes...Good gravy.

If its deliciousness isn't enough, something else to consider about Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Sweet Potatoes is the leftover potential. I've mentioned before that I like to disguise leftovers. Here are a couple ways to re-purpose this meal:

  1. BBQ Pork Sandwiches: Cut leftover chops into bite-sized pieces. Warm it up in the microwave with a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid and some barbecue sauce. Serve the pork on rolls with a pile of coleslaw on top.
  2. Sweet Potato Soup: Puree leftover sweet potatoes, apples, and onions with a little bit of chicken or vegetable broth. Serve hot with a big salad and a hunk of crusty bread. 

Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Cheap Healthy Good
Serves: 6

3 tablespoons Kosher salt
6 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 boneless pork loin chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 apples*, cored and sliced into thick wedges
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
Salt and pepper
1 large sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced

First we're going to brine the pork chops. In a large bowl combine salt, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, peppercorns, and a few cups of water. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add pork chops then add more water until the chops are covered. Refrigerate for 1-1.5 hours.

Remove the pork chops from the brine. Discard brine. Rinse the pork chops and pat dry.

Heat oil in a very large skillet over medium high. Add the chops and cook until they're browned and release easily from the pan, about 5-6 minutes. Repeat on the second side. Remove chops from the skillet and set aside. (Brown the chops in two batches if you don't have a big enough skillet to fit all 6 chops without crowding the pan.)

Add 1/2 cup water to the skillet and boil, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the water is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile toss apple slices with the remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Place sweet potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker and season generously with salt and pepper. Top with half the onion and half the apples. Add the pork chops and top with the remaining onion and apples. Pour the liquid that you used to deglaze the pan on top of everything. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. Serve the pork chops and sweet potatoes topped with onions and apples.

*I think you can use whatever apples you have on hand, but each variety of apple will cook a little differently. I used McIntosh apples, and they broke down quite a bit. That was fine by me, but if you want your apples to stay more firm, consider a sturdier variety. Also, if you leave the peel on your apples, they will hold their shape more.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon. Savory, sweet, salty. Crisp, crunchy, tender. It's all of the good things.

It began with an innocent trip to Trader Joe's. I had already planned my menu for the week and purchased all of the required ingredients. But I got a little bored and the weather got a little crummy, so I bundled up my little boy for a trip to snag pumpkin spice rooibos tea from TJ's. And I maybe wanted a sample of whatever they were sampling. I'll be honest.

I was sticking to my pumpkin-themed shopping list until I meandered through the produce section. There I came upon a giant stalk of Brussles sprouts. "Danny, look at this!" I breathed with awe. Danny's eyes were wide with wonder, and he demonstrated true admiration by rubbing his drool-y hands all over the Brussels sprouts. He loved them. How could I not buy them? For Danny, of course.

And then this deliciousness happened. What's better than Brussels sprouts? Brussels sprouts with maple syrup and bacon, thankyouverymuch.

Get roasting, people.

P.S. No, Danny did not eat the Brussels sprouts. He only eats graham crackers. Sigh.

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves: 4

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 strips bacon, chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss together Brussels sprouts, oil, bacon, maple syrup, and salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, until Brussels Sprouts are golden brown and tender, tossing halfway through.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Canning Applesauce

I will begin this post with two disclaimers:

Disclaimer Number One: I am not a canning expert. I tried it for the first time this year and wanted to let you know how it went from a newbie's perspective. I mentioned the Pick Your Own website in Monday's post, and it was also a great resource for canning. Check it out for legit tutorial from experienced canners. 

Disclaimer Number Two: Canning is not for the faint of heart. It takes a long time, and it's fussy.

With the important stuff out of the way, I will begin at the very beginning. I thought about canning for years, but everyone says it's a pain in the neck (It is. But it's a worthwhile pain in the neck.), and I'm a little worried about getting botulism. Since the pioneers managed to can food to see them through the long, harsh Midwestern winters without getting botulism, I thought I could give it a try. I mean, they didn't even have dishwashers with a sanitize setting. 

So here goes nothing...

Step 1: Preparation
Canning isn't something you decide to squeeze in one afternoon between Maury Povich and Judge Judy. You need to make sure you have all the tools in place. Here's what you absolutely need to can applesauce:
  1. Jars. I ordered pint-sized Ball mason jars from Amazon. Then I realized they were cheaper at the grocery store. Dang it. 
  2. Apples. Obviously.  
Here's what is really doggone helpful but not technically necessary:
  1. Canning Pot with Rack. This is essentially a really big pot with a removable rack for the jars to sit on. You need to lift jars of applesauce in and out of a pot of boiling water. Think that through. How are you going to get the jars out of boiling water? You can't very well reach your hand in there. You can purchase a "jar grabber" tool--essentially jar-shaped tongs--but if I'm going to buy something, I want it to be the thing that will make my life easiest. I bought a Graniteware 21 Quart Canner with Rack.
  2. Wide Mouth Funnel. You could spoon the applesauce into the jars very neatly, but I'm not very neat. I bought a Progressive Canning Funnel. 
Step 2: Sanitize the Jars
You need clean jars to make sure you don't introduce any gross stuff into the applesauce. Remember my fear of botulism? Let's avoid that. Wash the jars and lids in the dishwasher. Then keep them hot until the applesauce is ready. If you don't have a dishwasher, you can wash them in hot, soapy water then boil them for 10 minutes. 

Step 3: Make Applesauce
On Monday I shared my recipe for Crockpot Applesauce. When I was canning, I made one batch of Crockpot Applesauce and one batch on the stove in the biggest pot I have. I used about 40 apples in total, and it cooked down to make nine jars of applesauce. So, if you want to fill a bunch of jars, make a bunch of applesauce.

Step 4: Start Canning
First, fill the canning pot with hot water and bring it to a boil. Since it's a gigantic pot, it takes a while for the water to boil.

Meanwhile, fill your jars with applesauce. Take a clean jar from the dishwasher and use the funnel to pour applesauce into the jar. You want the applesauce to come within 1/4" of the top of the jar. Place a clean lid on top of the jar and screw it on. Repeat until all jars have been filled.

Place filled jars in the wire canning rack. Very gently lower the rack into the canning pot. Make sure the water covers the tops of the jars by 1-2 inches. Bring the water back to a boil. Once the water is boiling, start the timer. Boil the jars for 15 minutes. Once 15 minutes is up, very carefully remove the rack from the water; you don't want the jars to jostle around.

Store the jars in a place where they won't get bumped until they cool completely, probably overnight. Once the jars have cooled, check to make sure they're sealed. (The lid should be sucked down. If you can push it up and down, it's not sealed.)

Now congratulate yourself because you have successfully canned applesauce! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Crockpot Applesauce

It's time for the annual pilgrimage to the apple orchard, folks. Don't know where the closest one is? The Pick-Your-Own website is a handy resource for all manner of U-Pick information. (And they're not paying me to say that; I just think it's a useful website.) So find a farm and get picking!

{Note: The preceding paragraph about apple picking was really just an excuse to show you a picture of my boy and his fluffy hair when we went apple picking. I have no shame.}

Once you've made it home with your bounty, you'll surely be thinking to yourself, "What am I supposed to do with fourteen bushels of apples?" Then an apple will roll off the counter and smack you on the foot and it will really smart and you'll hang your head in shame. It's really hard to exhibit self control when one is picking apples. Really hard.

Allow me help you out with some of that fruit. Today we're making applesauce, and we're doing it in the crockpot.

I have made applesauce many times. Why in tarnation did it take me so long to make it in my crockpot?! This is by far the easiest way to make applesauce. Bonus: Your house smells unbelievably delicious all afternoon. Seriously. If I could bottle this scent, I'd put Yankee Candle out of business.

This recipe calls for lots of apples, but they cook waaaaaay down. And it's not a bad thing to have extra applesauce on hand. It keeps well in the refrigerator and also freezes beautifully. Or you can get ambitious and can your applesauce. (Which I did. Yikes. More on that later this week!)

For now, let's get (slow) cooking.

Crockpot Applesauce

20 apples* (approximately), peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup light brown sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup water

Fill your slow cooker with apple slices. I wanted to make a lot of applesauce, so I really piled those babies in there. Sprinkle apples with brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour water over top. Cook on high for about 4 hours or on low for about 6. If you like your applesauce chunky, you're finished at this point. If you like smooth applesauce, you can puree it in the food processor or food mill until it reaches your desired consistency.

*I used primarily McIntosh and Cortland apples. I think that using a variety makes for extra delicious applesauce.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

Rich, chocolaty brownies studded with mini peanut butter cups and swirled with thick ribbons of peanut butter.

Need I go on? How about a testimonial?

As the husband devoured one of these decadent treats, he stopped drooling long enough to mutter reverently, "This is how every brownie should be made."

And I rest my case. Now it's time for you to make Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies. It is how every brownie should be made after all.

P.S. Thanks to Mo for the original recipe for these brownies. Click here to check out her version, loaded with ROLO candies and a caramel swirl. They really are ROLO-ver and die good.

Double Peanut Butter Cup Brownies
Adapted from Mo's ROLO-ver and Die Good Brownies

2 sticks butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mini peanut butter cups* (or quartered bite-sized peanut butter cups)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" baking dish and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add cocoa and stir until well blended. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in peanut butter cups.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Heat peanut butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds until it's more liquid and pour-able. Drizzle peanut butter evenly over batter and use a toothpick to swirl it into the batter. Bake for about 35 minutes, until brownies pull away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

*I used mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. If you've never seen them before, they're about the size of a pencil eraser and ridiculously addictive. Be warned that if you don't use them in this brownie recipe, you'll eat them by the handful until the whole container is gone. Not that I know this from experience... Anyway, if you don't have mini peanut butter cups, just use quartered bite-sized peanut butter cups or very roughly chopped regular-sized peanut butter cups.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Taco Salad

Some say that having salad for dinner feels like a bit of a rip off. But when that salad is loaded with sweet corn, protein-packed beans, creamy cheddar cheese, help me...crunchy, salty tortilla chips, well, then salad for dinner seems okay after all. You might even be able to convince naysayers that they're eating nachos for dinner.

There are several components to this salad. Pick and choose what you want to use depending on what's stocked in your kitchen and how much time you have. Let's review the options, shall we?

Steak: If you have a carnivore on your hands, by all means, add steak to your salad. Sprinkle the meat with some chili powder and get your husband/wife/significant other to grill it while you prepare everything else.

Dressing: I took a few extra minutes to stir together a homemade dressing to drizzle on top of our salads. The husband was crazy for it. That said, if you get home late from work, pull out a bottle of Ranch. Everyone loves Ranch.

Salad: Use what you have in your fridge or what's on sale at your market. Swap out Romaine for iceberg or mixed greens. Choose your family's favorite veggies; tomatoes, red pepper, and corn are simply our recommendations. If your avocado is still rock hard on the counter, skip it. My only hard and fast rule? Don't forget the tortilla chips.

Taco Salad
Inspired by Greens & Chocolate
Makes 2 gigantic salads

8 ounces sirloin steak
Chili powder

2 tablespoons nonfat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons lowfat mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
Salt to taste

1 small head Romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 small tomato, chopped
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 small sweet red pepper, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 ear cooked corn, kernels removed (or 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed)
Tortilla chips

Start by making the steak. Preheat grill (or grill pan) to medium high. Season steak generously with salt and chili powder and rub seasoning into the meat. Grill steak until it's as done as you like, about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Cover steak with aluminum foil and allow to rest while you prepare the rest of the salad. Slice very thinly before serving.

Next prepare the dressing. Stir together yogurt, mayonnaise, cilantro, chili powder, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt.

When it's time to build the salad, you can get creative. If you really like tortilla chips, you can start by creating a bed of tortilla chips and piling everything on top. If you're less of a chip-lover, crumble the tortilla chips over the top like croutons. Just pile everything onto your plate and drizzle with a generous amount of dressing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Corn Quinoa

I keep telling myself that I'm going to cook exclusively fall-ish recipes.

Then the grocery store goes and puts corn on sale. And the corn looks gorgeous. And Danny likes to help me pick the corn because he thinks the silk is funny. And so this recipe isn't quite so fall-ish at all.

But it's good. Let's focus on that.

Corn Quinoa
Adapted from Yahoo
Serves: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water (or a combo)
2 ears corn on the cob* or 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium. Add shallot and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add quinoa and allow it to toast for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook corn however it's easiest for you. I put corn on the cob in a large skillet with about 1/2" of water and bring it to a boil. Then I cover it and allow the corn to steam until it's just tender, about 4 minutes. Once it's cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob.

Stir cooked corn kernels, basil, and lemon juice into the cooked quinoa. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*This is a great way to use up leftover corn on the cob! I love leftovers.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bacon Braised Green Beans

I was stuck in a rut. A roasting rut.

I'd sit down to plan our meals for the week and think, think, think.

Monday: Meatloaf. With roasted carrots and parsnips!!
Tuesday: Leftover meatloaf. With roasted broccoli!!
Wednesday: Meatloaf sandwiches. With roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts!!
Thursday: More leftover meatloaf. With roasted green beans!!
Friday: Takeout.

I wanted to roast every vegetable in sight. And who can blame me, really? Roasting vegetables brings out their natural sweetness and makes them utterly irresistable.

But I had to change things up. And what better way than adding bacon to the mix? That's right...Bacon Braised Green Beans.

I tend to prefer my veggies crisp-tender, but when they're braised, green beans beg to be tender. With the salty, savory crunch of bacon, this dish is every bit as exquisite as roasted green beans.

Bacon Braised Green Beans
Adapted from The Food Network
Serves: 4

3 slices bacon
1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper

Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until just crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Once it's cool enough to handle, crumble bacon and set aside. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of bacon grease from the Dutch oven.

Add onion to the remaining 1 tablespoon bacon grease and cook over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in green beans and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium high and bring broth to a boil. Cover and simmer for 6 minutes. Remove lid and allow broth to continue boiling for another 3-5 minutes, until green beans are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with reserved bacon and serve.