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.