Archive for October, 2009

Halloween Brownie Bites

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

These tasty mini-treats are perfect for bringing along to a halloween party, especially if you’re looking for a healthy option. They’re still brownies, but they’re actually very low-fat and have a decent amount of fiber due to the added pumpkin. (Don’t worry, they don’t taste anything like pumpkin!)

I’m not always a big fan of these low-fat baking tricks, but this one worked out very well. Perhaps because I started with a good quality brownie mix (mmm…Ghirardhelli!)

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Halloween Brownie Bites
Makes 48 mini-muffin sized brownies

  • 1 standard brownie mix
  • 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree
  • 2 egg whites
  • sprinkles or walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat your oven according to the package directions on your brownie mix. Lightly spray a mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray, or line with mini-cupcake wrappers. Set aside.

2. Using a the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, beat together the pumpkin puree and egg whites until well combined. Add the brownie mix  and continue to beat on medium until the dry mix is fully incorporated. Important: Do not add anything else to the mix, no matter what the back of the box says. No oil. No whole eggs. No water. The batter will be very thick, but that’s okay.

3. Scoop into mini-muffin pans. I had enough batter to fill my 24-cup pan twice, and just baked two batches. If you have two mini-muffin tins, you could probably do both at the same time. If you plan to use any nuts or sprinkles, now is the time to add them. I used orange sprinkles  on one pan, and I pressed a walnut half into the top of each mini brownie in the other pan.

4. Bake according to package directions, adjusting the cook time if your package doesn’t call for mini-muffins. The mix I used wanted to be cooked for 40 minutes in a 9×13 pan, but the mini-muffins only took 20 minutes. Just keep a close eye on them. Allow to rest in the pan for 5 minutes or so, then remove to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Note: The nutritional information based on the mix that I used and the directions above is 55 calories, 1 gram of fat, and .5 grams of fiber per brownie bite.


Mini Ham & Cheddar Quiches

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Last weekend was my first weekend back on Weight Watchers, but we also had two parties to attend. To help mitigate some of the party point damage, I brought a couple of tasty treats that also happened to be healthy. This was the first.

These Ham & Cheese Quiches are meant to be made with pre-made phyllo dough cups, but our store was out, so I had to make my own from sheets of phylly dough. (Super easy, by the way: Thaw the phyllo dough completely, cut into small squares, press four single squares into each cup of a mini-muffin pan sprayed with non-stick spray.) I’m writing the recipe out below with phyllo cups, but if you can’t find them don’t worry. Just follow those quick steps above.

quiche

Mini Ham & Cheddar Quiches
Adapted from Weight Watchers Comfort Classics (makes 15 quiche)

  • 1 ounce ham, chopped
  • 1/4 cup shredded fat free cheddar cheese
  • 1 box frozen pre-made phyllo dough cups (15 count), frozen
  • 2 egg whites plus one whole egg
  • 2 tablespoons fat free half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley, to garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Sprinkle the ham and cheese evenly into each pastry shell. Whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour evenly into the prepared quiche cups.

3. Bake until the pastry shells are lightly crisped and the filling is set, about 12 minutes. Be careful not to overbake.

Note: These were very tasty little bites. I’ll probably make them again sometime, but the possiblities for fillings are pretty much endless. I’m sure I’ll be experimenting with them (especially since we bought WAY too much phyllo dough, and I have plenty leftover just hanging out in my freezer).

Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

This recipe caught my eye on the cover of last month’s Real Simple magazine. I’m not really prepared to admit how much I liked the rest of the magazine or what that says about my life stage (I clearly have more in common with the Real Simple crowd than the Cosmo one), but I definitely enjoyed the feature on “A Month of Easy Dinners.”

This ravioli dish was very tasty. Just a little bit out of the ordinary, but quick to throw together. An excellent weeknight dish, since I spent 20 minutes, at most, throwing it together.

Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts

  • 1 pound cheese ravioli (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 crisp apple (I used a honeycrisp), cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)

1) Cook the ravioli according to the package directions.

2) Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes.

3) Add the apple, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and toss to combine. Spoon over the ravioli and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Follow Up: The Ultimate Autumn Cookie?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
So, last week, Cara and I tried to bake an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie she’d had once–but all she knew was that the recipe had pumpkin in it. So I researched recipes, but then the store didn’t have pumpkin. You can see how that turned out here. Cara decided to try again, and has been kind enough to share the results here. I tried these “cookies” last night, and they were quite tasty, but at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the crispy cookies. These were soft, and fluffy–more like a muffin than a cookie.
Anyway, Cara’s here to tell you the story of her muffin-top cookies:

Ok, so that title is a little vague because I didn’t want anyone who doesn’t like pumpkin to not click. I generally don’t even like pumpkin myself! Or so I thought. But that was until I had these magnificent Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, introduced to me by an ex-boyfriend.

These puppies are meant to be soft and chewy, bordering on almost cake-like (but not quite) – in other words, the perfect cookie, IMO. Since the ex and I didn’t really stay ~friends~ (hahaha… wait, that’s not funny, is it?), I did some Googling to try to find a similar cookie recipe… and found several different ones. I ultimately ended up Frankensteining a few – perfect for Halloween, am I right?! – to create this delicious fall treat. :)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)  (Note: most recipes list 1 cup; I accidentally used the whole can, but they taste great!)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon (I used 1 tsp. Saigon cinnamon & 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice – whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. milk
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • cream cheese icing (optional)

Yield: about 3 dozen

Combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg in large bow. Mix well.
(Oil will separate; just re-stir before you need to add more ingredients later in the recipe.)

In another, smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Dissolve baking soda with milk, then stir into flour mixture. Next stir in oats.

Mix together flour mixture with pumpkin, slowly adding more flour mix and stirring each time. Mixture will thicken. You should be able to stick your spoon in the middle and have it stand up on its own.

Add vanilla and chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 on a greased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes until tops of cookies are dry and spring back when touched lightly (I find 12 mins. on the nose is perfect). Remove from baking sheet and cool on racks.

If you like, while cookies are still slightly warm, ice them with the cream cheese icing (I used the Pillsbury whipped variety). The warm cookie and the melty icing is perfection. Seriously. I’ve never iced them all and then eaten the pre-iced cookies later, so I’m not sure how that would taste, but I have nuked a cook or two in the microwave for a little bit and then iced them to re-create that fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness. Works pretty well actually.

These “cookies” were so moist and crumbly they tasted like the top of a really delicious muffin. Definitely muffintop-ish.

Your turn! Hope you enjoy – let me know if you do!

pumpkin cookie
Thanks for stopping by, Cara. And extra thanks for bringing leftover cookies last night. Yum!

What’s for Dinner?

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Tonight, we had pecan-crusted chicken and boring from-a-box scalloped potatoes. The chicken was good–I used corn meal instead of bread crumbs, because I forgot that we were out of bread crumbs, but it worked beautifully. I also used this awesome honey mustard that we picked up at Fox & Obel’s the last time we were there.  I’ve had it several times, it’s great as a spread on sandwiches or a dip for pretzels, but it also makes an awesome pecan-crusted chicken.

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While I made dinner, Leah and I were talking about side dishes. I definitely feel like I’m in a side dish rut. I feel like we never used to eat “from-a-box” sides, and I seem to be relying on them more and more lately.

What are your favorite side dishes?

Virtual Kitchen Stadium with Stephanie Izard, Round 2

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Today’s blog post is already up…over at the Chicago Redeye blog.

I entered a contest to try and incorporate ground pork, camembert cheese, and haricots vert into the tastiest dish. I don’t know if I’ll win, but the dish I made sure was tasty. We ate it two days in a row and it even got David eating green beans! There’s a picture below, but be sure to check out the post on the Redeye blog, and feel free to leave your comments over there. Maybe you can sway Stephanie towards my dish. 😉

VK2 salad burger 2

Check the recipe out here.

Steak Diane

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Usually when we make steaks, it’s the Alton Brown method. (Man I’m talking about him a lot lately, sorry about that!) We don’t have a grill, though, which makes his pan-roasted steaks a great idea for apartment-dwellers like ourselves.

This time I felt like doing something a little bit different, and a recipe for Steak Diane from Cooking Light is what caught my eye. This recipe is also pan-roasted, but has you create a steak sauce out of the pan drippings. The sauce was tasty, and David really enjoyed it, but I’d be just as happy with A1. The creating your own sauce is a nice touch for entertaining, I suppose.

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Cooking Light’s Steak Diane

  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
  • 1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 6  (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks, trimmed (about 1 inch thick)
  • 1  teaspoon  butter
  • 1/2  cup  finely chopped shallots
  • 1/3  cup  water
  • 2  tablespoons  Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  dry sherry
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper evenly over steaks. Add steaks to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from pan; cover and keep warm.

Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add shallots, and cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add water and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spoon sauce over steaks, and sprinkle with parsley.

Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Though I am generally a pretty good cook, sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. This is one of those times. Luckily, the results were tasty, just not quite what we had in mind. My friend Cara came over to bake something last weekend. She wasn’t too particular, but had an idea of a cookie she’d had once before, and I did my best to cooperate. Except first, I think my recipe wasn’t exactly what she had in mind, and then the grocery store was out of a key ingredient, so I had to make substitutions. The cookies we ended up with were so far from what we initially planned that it doesn’t make sense to talk about what we tried to make. Instead, here’s what we ended up with: buttery, crunchy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

When it comes to oatmeal cookies, I’m more of a raisin girl. I’m also a chewy fan. That doesn’t mean that these weren’t good cookies. Once we got over the initial disappointment, I realized that they were actually delicious. Awesome dunked in milk–kind of like a Chips Ahoy, but with oatmeal.

cookies

Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick cooking rolled oats, uncooked
1 teaspoon baking Soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup applesauce
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease baking sheets. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. Beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mix. Alternate additions of dry ingredients and applesauce, mixing well after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup of dough onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, until browned and crisp at the edges. Let rest on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes or so before removing to a metal cooling rack.

Alton Brown Book Signing at Borders in Chicago

Friday, October 16th, 2009

It’s no secret, at all, that we love Alton Brown around here. The recent Good Eats Anniversary special on Food Network called Alton’s classic show “Good Eats” one part Julia Child, one part Mr. Wizard, and one part Monty Python. That’s about the most apt description I can think of. Ten years ago, Alton set out to create a cooking show that would be fun and educational, and I don’t think anyone is doubting that he was successful. Even the shows about things I don’t like (Brussels Sprouts, Okra) are fun to watch. Sometimes, they even make me think, briefly, about trying those things. As I’ve said before, when we’re looking for a go-to recipe, for pretty much anything, Alton’s the guy. Below is a snapshot of all the Alton dishes I’ve made for the blog. The best thing about an Alton recipe is it quickly becomes a standard. Many of the things you see below are made frequently around here.

  • Pancakes
  • Salmon
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Stuffed Pork Chops
  • Pork Wellington
  • Pan Roasted Steaks
  • Pulled Pork Sandwiches
  • Fried Chicken
  • Fajitas
  • Baked Brown Rice
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese
  • Chicken & 40 Cloves
  • Baby Back Ribs
  • Cheese Fondue
  • Waffles
  • French Onion Soup
  • Coconut Macaroons

So when we heard that Alton Brown was doing a signing for his new book, Good Eats: The Early Years, we were there. (P.S. Amazon has it for half the price of Borders! If you want it, I recommend you get it there)

ab book2

I plan to review the book in full once I get through it, but from what I’ve seen (Mostly from the time I spent waiting in line!) it looks excellent. The book goes through all of the recipes from Seasons 1 -6 of Good Eats, and provides updates, behind-the-scenes info, and even deleted scene-style additional recipes that didn’t make it into the original episode. I’m excited to look back over some of our old standbys and see what new tips Alton has for us!

Borders, on the other hand, gets a not-so-great review. When we saw Alton at Crate & Barrel a few years ago, there was a crazy-large crowd, but they still managed to let everyone at least have a chance at hearing the discussion/demonstration that he did. We really enjoyed that demo, but in this case, Borders had people waiting in all different sections of the 3 level store. Determined by an unpublished wristband system. We were on the same floor as Alton, and you could hardly hear that he was speaking, except that the group closest to him laughed every now and then. Why not at least broadcast that audio through the speakers over our heads, instead of the innane music we could also barely hear?

Ultimately, David and I were the only ones out of a group of 4 that stayed. The wait was too long, with too little reward it seemed. And I mostly agreed. David and I already had a signed book from the Crate & Barrel appearance, so why wait around? On the other hand, once you’ve waited around for 2 hours, what’s another hour and a half? At least we do have a signed book to show for all that waiting.

Dave’s friend Phil left reasonably early, and his friend Mike left about an hour or so after that. Dave and I stuck it out. When we’d gotten pretty close to the end, AB walked out into the crowd and offered to sign books for children so they could go home. It was a nice gesture, but it also happened right next to us in line–and it was fun to hear his conversations with the little kids.

ab kids signing

When we finally got up to our turn with AB, we introduced ourselves, got our picture taken and were pretty much on our way.

ab signing

Except, in an amusing turn of events, when we mentioned that Mike had gone home earlier (but we were still hoping to get his book signed) Alton added a tongue-in-cheek personal message to his autograph:

ab mike's book

It was all in good fun, I promise.

P.S. I also had a chance to flip through the Cake Wreck’s book while waiting in line, and I feel like buying it for everyone I know for Christmas. It’s such fun, and a great intro to the Cake Wrecks blog. I really wish I’d gone to Jen’s book signing when I had the chance, but Skokie seemed a little far for a Thursday night. *shrug*

Chorizo Tacos

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

This might be the closest thing I have to a “secret family recipe” to share with you all. There are plenty of meals that I make just like I grew up with, but I don’t necessarily think that they involve secrets or tips that other people don’t already use. Chorizo is a great ingredient, and I don’t think enough people are using it.

The chorizo that I’m talking about here is the mexican kind. (There’s also Spanish chorizo out there–it’s hard, like salami or pepperoni) The mexican chorizo, on the other hand, is soft and crumbly, a spicy pork sausage that you can find at nearly every grocery store, near the bratwurst and other sausages. I like to mix it with equal parts ground beef, ground pork, or ground turkey to make tacos–it adds a whole new level of flavor. It’s more than just heat, though chorizo-based tacos are spicier. The chorizo imparts this intense mexican flavor. Once you try tacos like these, you won’t want to go back!

taco

Chorizo Tacos

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound chorizo mexican sausage
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix
  • tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, or whatever you like on your tacos!
  • taco shells (soft shells or hard shells, whichever you like)

1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the chorizo. It will be very crumbly and will render lots of fat. That’s okay. Once the chorizo is mostly cooked, about 10 minutes or so, add the ground beef and continue cooking until browned.

2. In the meantime, prepare your taco shells and other fixings. Hard shells require several minutes in the oven, so don’t forget to preheat.

3. When the meat is cooked through, drain the mixture thoroughly. You want to get as much of the extra fat out as you can, or the tacos will be way too greasy. I don’t like to go so far as to rinse the meat, because you rinse flavor away with the extra grease, but I do use a paper towel to soak up as much as I can. Return to the skillet and follow the directions for your taco seasoning. Even though you’ll have about 2 pounds of meat at this point, you only want to use enough taco seasoning for one pound. Remember: the chorizo half of the meat brought it’s own flavor.

4. When the meat is finished cooking, you’re done. Let everyone assemble their own delicious tacos. Dig in!

Note: It’s worth saying that while the chorizo is quite a bit fattier than using just ground beef, there are some things you can do to lighten the dish, while still getting tasty tacos. 1) I’ve substituted Soyrizo successfully–barely noticed a difference. You’ve probably noticed we’re not much for vegetarian dishes around here. I wouldn’t recommend the Soyrizo if it wasn’t good. 2) The chorizo brings plenty of fat to the mix, which will let you use a lighter ground meat without risking a dry meat mixture. Feel free to use the leanest ground beef you have, or even ground turkey or ground chicken. 3) Even 1/2 pound of chorizo to a full pound of turkey or lean beef makes a difference in the flavor. Feel free to experiment to find your favorite combination.