Friday, May 27, 2016

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

My 2016 goal was to conquer my fear of baking with yeast. I imagined my kitchen would be a little bread factory; I'd be gifting loaves to my friends and neighbors to get rid of the glut of yeasty goodies flowing from my oven.

Yeah, not so much. When the middle of May rolled around, I'd only made cinnamon rolls and pita bread. That's not exactly conquering anything.

It was high time to bake yeast bread. So when I went grocery shopping this week, I purposely didn't buy any bread. As you know, I'm a PB&J addict, so lunches without a sandwich were looking pretty bleak. Day 1 without bread, I rustled up some leftovers. Day 2 without bread, I dug a bagel out of the freezer. Day was time to put on my apron and get baking.

If I'm totally honest, I was pretty nervous to get started. I hemmed and hawed as I pulled out my measuring cups. But, you guys, it wasn't hard! Seriously! I kept waiting for everything to go wrong, but it didn't. The dough puffed up beautifully. I had no trouble shaping it into a loaf. The house smelled glorious as it baked to a golden brown. And it tasted absolutely divine.

Erin vs. Yeast? Don't worry. I've got this.

Let's get cooking baking with yeast!

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
Makes 1 loaf

1 cup warm (110 degrees) 2% milk
1/3 cup warm (110 degrees) water
2 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup*
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter, divided
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups bread flour (plus more for flouring the counter)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
Vegetable oil
Cooking spray

Whisk together milk, water, syrup, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 cups bread flour, flax, yeast, and salt. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the milk mixture. Mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

Turn up the speed to medium-low and knead the dough with the dough hook until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. (If the dough is still sticking to the bowl halfway through mixing, add up to the remaining 1/2 cup bread flour.) Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for another few minutes. You want the dough to be a smooth, round ball.

Place a little bit of vegetable oil into the now-empty mixing bowl. Add the dough to the bowl and turn so it's coated in oil. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it somewhere warm to rise until it's doubled in size, about an hour. (I put my bowl in the microwave...just don't forget not to turn the microwave on. Yikes.)

Grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan with cooking spray. Shape the dough into a loaf and place it in the prepared pan. Loosely cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size again, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush loaf with remaining 1/2 tablespoon melted butter. Bake until crust is golden and bread sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles, about 40 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

*I used maple syrup because Elaine isn't supposed to have honey until she's 1 year old. Maybe honey is fine when it's baked into stuff, but I wasn't sure and I wasn't interested in risking botulism. Feel free to try substituting honey and let us know how it is!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pudding Mix Brownies

My kids love brownies. When I promised to make some for an after school snack, I didn't realize I was out of cocoa powder. Not wanting to run to the store, I decided to try using pudding mix instead.

Adding pudding mix to cakes and breads delivers moist baked goods, something I learned while experimenting with Amish friendship bread starter.

My boys agree that it works just as well in brownies.

Mangia! Mangia!

Pudding Mix Brownies
Inspired by this recipe from

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup dark or light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3.9 ounce package, plus 2 tablespoons chocolate instant pudding mix (change the flavor to whatever you prefer)
2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 to 3 tablespoons water
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine butter, oil and sugar. Beat in eggs, vanilla and pudding mix with an electric mixer.

Add flour and baking soda and mix together by hand or with an electric mixer. If batter is too dry, add up to 3 tablespoons of water, one at a time, until all dry ingredients are combined. Batter should be moist, but not wet.

Add chocolate chips and mix well.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan comes out clean.

Let cool, then cut into squares and enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Slow Cooker Mediterranean Fish Stew

I've been trying to find new, easy ways to cook fish, so the slow cooker naturally comes to mind. Readers, this is my new favorite easy-to-do fish dish. I love the mix of seasonings -- garam masala, paprika, cayenne pepper for heat and saffron for mellow.

Your kitchen will smell like a combo North African, Italian and Spanish restaurant. Your husband, who is supposed to be eating more fish and watching his cholesterol, will tell you this stew is merely OK. But you won't care. He's wrong and besides that means easy leftover lunches for you.


Slow Cooker Mediterranean Fish Stew
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen's Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution

2 onions, chopped fine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 (13-15 ounces each) cans artichoke hearts, with artichokes cut in half length-wise so that juice runs out; then pat with paper towels or clean dish towel so they are less wet
2 cups chicken broth (I prefer reduced sodium)
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained (I prefer no salt added)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Pinch of saffron
1 1/2 pounds cod fillets, 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped coarse
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced (optional)

Microwave onions, tomato paste, garam masala, paprika, cayenne and olive oil, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.

Add in rest of ingredients in list, down to and including the saffron. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 3-5 hours.

When time is up on the slow cooker, your kitchen will smell amazing. Add in fish and olives and cook on high until cod falls apart when gently prodded with a fork -- about 30-35 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Slow Cooker Mongolian Chicken

Usually when I'm working on an idea for dinner, I read a gazillion recipes and then cobble them together for a new final product. Or I stand in front of the open cupboards long enough to come up with a recipe that uses up what I have on hand. Yeah, usually the second one.

When I stumbled across a recipe for Slow Cooker Mongolian Chicken on Pinterest, I had to try it. No substitutions to use up the half-empty box of whatever in my pantry. No additional research. No comparing similar recipes. I even bought special ingredients I'd never used before. (I'm talking to you, sweet chili sauce.) And I barely tweaked the recipe.

After one bite, I knew I had to share this one here on HDHH. It was SO good. Worth a trip down the Asian aisle at the grocery store.

And it's a crock pot recipe! Amy is the crock pot queen around here, but I thought she'd be willing to share the spotlight for this delicious dinner.

Let's get cooking!

Slow Cooker Mongolian Chicken
Gently adapted from Carlsbad Cravings

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons sweet rice wine
2 tablespoons fresh chopped peeled ginger
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds* boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Cooked rice for serving, optional
Steamed broccoli for serving, optional
Sesame seeds for garnish, optional

Whisk together soy sauce, water, brown sugar, sweet chili sauce, sweet rice wine, ginger, Hoisin, salt, and pepper. Place chicken in the slow cooker. Top with 1/2 cup sauce and turn to coat. Refrigerate remaining sauce. Cook chicken on low for about 4 hours**.

Remove cooked chicken to a plate and use two forks to shred it. Return chicken to the slow cooker.

Place reserved sauce in a pan over high heat along with the liquid from the slow cooker. Whisk in cornstarch. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 6 minutes. Stir as much sauce as you'd like into the shredded chicken and keep on the warm setting until you're ready to eat.

Serve chicken over rice with remaining sauce on the side. Garnish with sesame seeds. This meal is extra tasty with steamed broccoli.

*This was two gigantic chicken breasts for me.
**After 4 hours, my chicken was fall-apart tender and not over-cooked. I think my slow cooker tends to run a bit hot, so yours may take longer. When you can shred the chicken with two forks, you'll know it's done.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Smoky, Coffee-Rubbed London Broil

My kids love a good steak, so I make it pretty frequently. When beef is on the menu, I know they'll eat at least some of their dinner.

My husband and I also appreciate a good steak and it's nice to change the preparation up a bit every now and then. Enter the giant bag of Dancing Moon Coffee we received. As much as we love to drink java, I got to thinking about other ways I could use the beans. A coffee rub kept sticking in my brain.

I've never made a coffee rub so this was a good reason to try one out. My favorite kind of steak to prepare is London Broil, so I decided to marry the two.

This main dish turned out pretty well. So well, in fact, that Max (my oldest) asked for a steak sandwich in his lunchbox the day after we had this for dinner. Score one for mom!

I hope you like this rub as much as we do.

Mangia! Mangia!

Smoky, Coffee-Rubbed London Broil
3 tablespoons ground coffee beans
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder or ground mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 2-3 pound London broil
1 tablespoon oil

In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients through salt.

Generously coat London broil on all sides with the coffee rub. Gently press rub into steak. Wrap steak in plastic wrap and let chill in refrigerator for a few hours.

When ready to cook, prepare a broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray (or use a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet). Start to preheat your broiler.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high flame. Remove plastic wrap from steak. Sear London broil in pan for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, to help the rub form a nice crust.

Place London broil on broil pan and then transfer to oven. Cook 3 to 4 minutes and then turn steak over and cook another 3 or 4 minutes. Check steak for doneness. I like to shoot for medium-well, which retains some pink color in the middle of the steak.

Remove from oven and let London broil rest on a cutting board about 5 minutes. Then slice thinly, going against the grain.

I like to serve with green beans, scalloped potatoes and a good beer.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday Shout-Out: Dancing Moon Coffee

I've long had a love affair with coffee. It began in high school and remains quite strong today.

My kitchen has what I refer to as the "coffee closet" if that's any indication (my monthly coffee supply is on auto ship!) At our house, we drink everything from flavored coffees to robust brews. We mostly use our Keurig, because my husband and I have different java preferences. But we also own a lovely grind & brew coffee maker for those times when we want to indulge by the pot instead of by the cup.

So my interest was piqued when Dancing Moon Coffee asked me to give their boutique coffee a try. This is a new-to-market brand bent on introducing coffee lovers to "The Legendary Coffees of the World" via Dancing Moon offers six varieties and says its special roasting process delivers three times the antioxidant power of green tea.

A coffee with additional health benefits? I'm in!

Three friends bored with retirement launched the brand because they wanted something fun to do with their time that would allow them to pursue their love of coffee while giving back to a cause. Jamie Weldon, Nick Pronovich and Gunar Skillins give 5 percent of profits to the Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial assistance to wounded and critically ill veterans of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The entrepreneurs call Dancing Moon the "fourth wave" of coffee. Here's why: The first wave is commercially produced brands like Maxwell House or Folgers, followed by espresso drinks popularized by Starbucks. The third wave was artisan-made boutique coffee beans from specific growing regions.

Dancing Moon's beans come from a single source within each region and are certified organic and fair trade. This level of detail, according to the founders, is "java nirvana" for consumers who can tell the difference between an Ethiopian and a Kenya coffee. It also means the owners know exactly which acres on a specific farm produced their beans.

We tried the Full Moon Gourmet Blend which was smooth and rich with a hint of chocolate. This blend is a little bit smoky, too. The Full Moon was not too robust for me and just robust enough for my husband.

Dancing Moon roasters say this blend combines the "caramel sweetness of Central America and Colombian beans," a bit of Brazilian "for a hint of chocolate" and a small amount of Sumatra for "earthy complexity."

I'm certainly not a connoisseur when it comes to being able to taste the subtle differences in every coffee varietal, but if you appreciate a good cup of coffee – and want to buy a socially conscious brand – give Dancing Moon a try.

Mangia! Mangia!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blackberries and Pineapple with Basil Simple Syrup

I love a good fruit salad. But you know what's even better? Fancy fruit salad.

A couple weeks back, I was bringing fruit to my mom's night out, and I wanted to class things up a bit. An herbal simple syrup seemed like just the ticket, so I headed to the grocery store to pick up fruit (truth: I got whatever was on sale) and fresh herbs. Since it's spring (hurray!!), Trader Joe's had giant pots of basil and mint. I promptly bought one of each and texted Amy and Andrea to determine which I should use.

The vote was speedy and unanimous: basil. And it was absolutely the right choice.

Basil simple syrup was an unexpected but delicious twist on the standard fruit salad. Check out this gorgeous bowl of sunny pineapple, tender blackberries, and ribbons of basil glistening with a drizzle of basil simple syrup. Don't you want to dive right in there?

Let's get cooking!

Blackberries and Pineapple with Basil Simple Syrup

1 pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
20 ounces blackberries
1/4 cup (or to taste) basil simple syrup (recipe below)
1 tablespoon chopped basil for garnish, optional

Gently stir everything together and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Basil Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup basil

Combine sugar, water, and basil in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Allow syrup to cool for about 30 minutes. Strain syrup into a small container to discard basil. Press on the basil to make sure you extract all the good stuff from the herbs. Refrigerate until you're ready to use it. Yield: 1 cup simple syrup

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Vegetable Bean Soup

In an effort to ignore the dreary spring rains outside, I'm making vegetable soup to brighten things up inside.

It's a meal I used to make all the time, and I'd forgotten how forgiving a vegetable soup can be, especially when you just start tossing in whatever vegetables are in the fridge. All you need is some good stock or broth and a big pot. Add a few spices and dinner is served.

This time around I added a bunch of mixed dried beans, to give the soup a bit of heartiness.

Mangia! Mangia!

Vegetable Bean Soup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 of a large red onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 stalks celery, diced
1 pound carrots, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (I used a bag of baby carrots and cut each piece in thirds)
2 yellow bell peppers diced
10-12 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 1/2 cups mixed dried beans, cleaned and prepared according to package directions (mine was a blend of beans, peas and lentils)
3-4 large rainbow chard (or substitute kale) leaves, stems removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Italian parsley, roughly chopped

In a Dutch oven or large pot, melt butter and heat oil over a medium high flame.

Add shallot and onion and cook, stirring frequently until shallot becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir, cook for 1 minute. 

Add celery, carrots and bell pepper and cook and stir until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add 8 cups of stock, and scrape bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Add salt and pepper, tomatoes and beans and bring to a boil.

Let boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover pot with lid and simmer for 90 minutes or more. Check soup after 1 hour. If it has become too thick, add more broth or stock, 1 cup at a time. Return to a boil, then back to a simmer to continue cooking until beans are tender and no longer tough.

Add chard or kale and stir until greens are wilted. Ladle into bowls and top with chopped parsley. Serve with a chunk of crusty bread.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Kentucky Derby Cookies

This past weekend was Derby weekend and I was nostalgic thinking of my Old Kentucky Home. As usual on the first Saturday in May, I teared up at the playing of the state song just before the big race.

I was lucky enough to get to cover three derbys while a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where I met my husband. The Bluegrass is a special place.

Often on Derby Day, I make Derby pie. But this year I decided to create something different -- Kentucky Derby Cookies. Think of them as Derby pie in cookie form. Yes, there's bourbon and two kinds  of  nuts -- pecans and walnuts. That's because I learned that some versions of the pie have walnuts and others have pecans, which is what I've always used. Why choose?

And why wait until next Derby to bake up these delicious cookies? With more than half a cup of bourbon I promise you will enjoy them any day of the year. Besides, we have a Triple Crown to watch out for in the coming weeks.

Then next year, you can add Kentucky Derby Cookies to your Derby Day menu.


Kentucky Derby Cookies
(Note: This is a double batch that yields 7 dozen cookies. I like to bake a lot of cookies and freeze half or more for later. If you want to cut this recipe in half, no problem. For the bourbon, use 5 tablespoons)

5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 cups packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons bourbon
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 12-ounce package chopped pecans
1 12-ounce package chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt -- and then set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the sugars and butter until smooth. Add in eggs and mix to combine. Mix in vanilla extract and bourbon. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.

Drop large spoonfuls of cookie batter on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until just beginning to golden. Cool cookies on wire racks.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Kentucky Derby Menu

It's Derby Weekend, folks! Amy is our resident southern gal, but today I'm throwing a virtual Kentucky Derby party. Whether you're cheering on My Man Sam, Danzing Candy, or Whitmore, you're going to be a winner with this Derby Day menu.

Let's get cooking...and betting!

We're starting the party off right, with Amy's famous Mint Julep. Let's be honest, if the drinks are good, no one will really care what else is on the menu.

When you're having cocktails, you need Spiced Nuts. Make these ahead of time, then munch on them while you're supposed to be vacuuming.

Also, Deviled Eggs. Because everyone loves them. I mean, have you ever had leftover Deviled Eggs? I didn't think so.

Lightened-Up Curry Chicken Salad is next on my Derby Day menu. It feels classy enough for a horse race, but it's easy enough to prepare while you're holding a teething toddler on your hip. (Not that I know from personal experience or anything...)

Asparagus is in season. Which means in addition to being delicious, it's probably on sale. Let's guild the lily and wrap it with pork. Yes, folks, I'm talking about Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus Spears.

My mom makes the tastiest Butterscotch Cashew Bars, and they're requested at every church potluck. I think your Derby guests deserve to try them, too.

Because one dessert is never enough, we should serve Crock Pot Chocolate Cake, too. With a giant dollop of whipped cream, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Our top Cinco de Mayo recipes

Need ideas for your Cinco de Mayo menu? We've got you covered from appetizers, to dinner to dessert.

We have a special affinity for Mexican flavors here at Hot Dinner Happy Home, which means there is no shortage of recipes.

Today we're serving up some of our most popular Latin-inspired dishes.

What does your family eat for Cinco De Mayo? We'd love to know!

Mangia! Mangia!

P.S. Need more ideas? Simply type "taco" or "tortilla" or "enchilada" or "quesadilla" or "Mexican" into the search function in the upper left hand corner of this page to discover more recipes.

Taco Pie is easy, tasty and the perfect comfort food.

Tacos are fun and family friendly, especially when the kiddos get to build their own. Skip the packet and give DIY Taco Seasoning a try.

Amy's Guacamole is the perfect appetizer or topping for tacos — or any of the these dishes.

Crockpot Queso is a yummy way to honor Cinco de Mayo, especially as an appetizer.

Enchilada Casserole is spicy, cheesy and a great weeknight meal.

Don't forget dessert. These Cinnamon Crisps are a great way to end the meal.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Kid Friendly Pesto Chicken Bow Tie Pasta

My Tower Garden is going gangbusters. So far this Spring, I have harvested two kinds of lettuce, two kinds of kale, some spinach and some cilantro and basil. And there's so much more goodness to come -- tomatoes (large and cherry), yellow squash, peppers, celery, cucumbers and more.

I'm practically living off the land right here in South Charlotte. Ha!

With the basil I harvested this weekend, I made one of my kids' favorite dishes -- Pesto Chicken Bow Tie Pasta. They love this dish and I love that it goes a long way in that it fills them up for a few dinners with leftovers packed in their school lunches.

I hope your kids love it,  too!


Kid Friendly Pesto Chicken Bow Tie Pasta
For the pesto:
1 bunch of basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 garlic clove
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the rest of the dish:
1 pound bow tie pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions
1 pound chicken breast or tenders, seasoned with salt and pepper, cooked and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Put all of the pesto ingredients into food processor and blend until pine nuts are mostly smooth.

A note or two about the pesto: I really just eyeball all of the ingredients based on what I am making and the amount of basil on hand. Here is how much basil I harvested from my Tower Garden for this dish. Ideally, it would have been a bit more, but I was OK with that because this dish is going in my kids' Thermoses for their lunches for the week and they prefer the dish to be a little less "green."

You could easily double the amount of pesto you use here. You could also add more or less garlic. You could add a pinch of red pepper. You could add more olive oil if you want a runnier pesto. But be careful on the olive oil and add it bit my bit because you can quickly go from perfect pesto to an oily mess.

In large bowl, combine the cooked pasta and chicken with the pesto and the grated Parmesan cheese. Place in a baking dish that you have sprayed with cooking spray. Top with the shaved Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees until hot throughout.