Monday, November 14, 2011

Thanksgiving Planning

I apologize for the temporary absence from my blog. I haven't really been in the mood for blogging and I have  had many other things on my mind. My husband and I are expecting a baby! I am due May 18th and we are so excited. I have constantly been thinking about the food I am eating, but not in relation to my blog. I have been reading the book Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck. It's amazing how overwhelming it can feel when you hear everything about what you should and shouldn't eat. Nina's book breaks it down into simple, whole, real foods and makes nutrition easier to grasp.

As I got on my computer tonight, I browsed through my blog pictures folder...apparently I haven't been taking any food pictures either! So I decided to share my Thanksgiving planning with you. I am very excited to be hosting again this year. My husband's parents are coming from Iowa. Right now we have 6 guests and are planning on a few more possibly. I am making a few changes from my menu and preparation from last year. I am making more items ahead of time to make the holiday more relaxed. I will be brining my turkey like I did this summer and will use Alton Brown's recipe again. Anyway, enough with my talk! Here is my tentative plan (subject to some changes) to prepare for Thanksgiving. You can watch these videos from Good Eats if you want to learn about brining the turkey and feel like a little bit of weird Alton humor. : )

  • Already made
  • Sunday
    • Shop for final fresh ingredients
  • Monday
    • Put turkey in fridge to thaw
    • Clean house after arrives tomorrow!
  • Tuesday
    • After work, make pie crusts and keep in fridge
  • Wednesday
    • Morning:
      • Make brine and keep in fridge
      • Bake pumpkin and chocolate meringue pies
      • Make Cheesy potato casserole and keep in fridge
      • Make Green bean casserole and keep in fridge (or maybe this recipe?)
      • Make cheeseball dip
      • Make fluff (technical's Cooper family recipe)
      • Prepare relish tray with olives (another Cooper thing : )
    • Afternoon
      • Do something fun with family! : )
    • Evening
      • Place turkey in brine
  • Thursday
    • Morning:
      • Make mashed potatoes and place in crock pot on warm
      • Prepare stuffing and place in crock pot to cook
      • Sweet potatoes...I don't have a recipe yet. 
      • Get turkey in the oven, save giblets to boil for stock to make gravy
    • Relax for a couple hours :)
    • About 12:45
      • Make topping and put cheesy potatoes in the oven to begin cooking (45 minutes)
    • After turkey is done and resting
      • Make topping and put green bean casserole in the oven (20 minutes)
      • Put rolls in the oven to bake
      • Make gravy 
    • About 1:30 
      • Enjoy a meal and count your blessings together!
Now for a few final tidbits. I would love a probe thermometer for my turkey (early Christmas present anyone??). This eliminates opening the oven to check the temperature. Instead you set it to the temperature when the turkey is done, and the timer goes off when it reaches the correct temperature. I also watched this video from Alton Brown (yes, I like his shows and info!). Did you know that bubble wrap will keep food warm for hours? Interesting idea that I may try out. 

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! We have so much to be thankful for!

This post is linked to Mingle Monday

Monday, September 26, 2011

One Year Anniversary!

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of when I started Cooper Cookin'. I believe I have come a long way from my first recipe post; and as this next post demonstrated, I am thankful I no longer feel the need to have catchy titles with matching first letters. I decided to compile a list of my family's favorite recipes, in order of oldest to most recent, from this website as a celebration of my first year blogging. These are recipes that I make often and enjoy sharing with others. Thank you to all of those who read this blog, your comments really make my day! Have a wonderful week!

1. Taco Ring
A family favorite and most popular main dish on this website. If you haven't made this yet, you need to do so soon! Check out this recent update for ideas on making this a little bit healthier.

2. Herbed Breaded Chicken
Eeek that's a terrible picture but the chicken is no less delicious. Most of the time I just throw in whatever herbs I want and I always use homemade breadcrumbs.

3. Taco Soup
 I actually haven't made this for a while (it's a good fall/winter recipe) but it's always one of our favorites.

4. Garlic Bread
Yummmm I love this stuff. I use whatever bread I have on hand and real Parmesan cheese if I have it too. Always delicious with some pasta...carbs anyone?

5. Cast Iron Seared Steak
So simple and delicious. Make it a treat by spending a few extra bucks on high quality grass-fed beef.

6. Bourbon Chicken
Recently I have quit frying the chicken with cornstarch and usually just stir-fry it with some olive oil. Last time I made this I added diced red peppers and sugar snap peas!

7. Cinnamon Streusel Pancakes with Cream Cheese Drizzle
Knock your socks off delicious and heavenly. These are definitely a rare treat, good for lazy weekends with family visitors.

8. Slow Cooker Maple and Brown Sugar Ham
This recipe is so simple, don't even bother measuring. Just put it in the slow cooker and walk away. Amazingly tasty. I love to save the leftovers for casseroles, soups, and egg dishes.

9. Brownie Bite Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache
Okay, so this isn't something that I've made more than once, but I really shouldn't unless there's going to be a crowd. Because it's that good. I might eat half of it on my own if no one was watching.

10. Puffy Chocolate Chip Cookies
I make these often. Once or twice a month. My husband is addicted, I pretend I'm not addicted. When I wrote this post I mentioned that I wanted to try other chocolate chip cookie recipes, but I just haven't gotten around to that yet because these are always so good. I have the recipe memorized...

11. Simplified Chicken Cordon Bleu
It lives up to it's name, and the flavor is fantastic. This is one of those recipes that I saved my slow cooker ham to use with.

12. Cheesy Chili Mac
This recipe is wonderful and simple. I have recently used only 3/4 pound of meat instead of a full pound and it's just as hearty.

Again, thank you so much for reading my blog and especially for making the recipes! I love it when I hear that someone has enjoyed one of the recipes that I shared. That is what makes me want to continue blogging. And you wanna know a secret? Every time I get a comment or a new follower, I do a little happy dance. : )Thank you!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Simple Roasted Chicken

Yes it's true! You can have a roasted chicken done in about an hour, on a weeknight, and have time to make a side dish! If I told you how easy this method is (not to mention how amazingly delicious), you probably wouldn't believe me. But here it is: Olive oil, salt, pepper, skillet, and your oven. That's all!

And the chicken of course. This fabulous recipe is from my favorite genius cooks at Cook's Illustrated. They tested countless methods to give us the best technique to roast a chicken without 24 hours of brining and planning. You would not believe how much flavor this little bird packed. And underneath that crispy golden skin? Tender, juicy breast meat that will have even dark-meat loyalists reaching for a second taste. Seriously, you have to try this recipe!

But don't throw away that carcass! After lunch, I picked off all the remaining chicken and set it aside. I then put the carcass, half an onion, a few garlic cloves, carrots, and rosemary in a pot. Covered it with water and let it simmer for 90 minutes to make stock. After straining and cooling, I skimmed the fat. As you're reading this, I have Southwestern chicken chili made with the extra chicken and stock waiting for me in the slow cooker. Yum!

A few notes: you may notice that the bird's legs are held together with a foil "rope." I did not have kitchen twine so I improvised and it worked perfectly! Also, the magazine offered a pan sauce but we didn't like the taste of it, and this chicken is perfectly delicious on it's own. One more thing, I didn't read correctly and covered my chicken while it was resting. This took away some of that crispy skin on top and made it kind of deflate as you can see in the photo. So keep your chicken uncovered while it is resting and all will be well. :)

Simple Roasted Chicken
Prep: 10 minutes / Cook: 50-70 minutes / Rest: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 (3-1/2 to 4 pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Place a 10 or 12-inch oven-safe skillet on the middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees (I used my 10-inch cast iron skillet).

2. Combine salt and pepper. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub entire chicken (top and bottom) with oil. Sprinkle salt mixture evenly over entire chicken. Tie legs together with twine or foil and tuck wing tips underneath bird.

3. Remove the skillet from the oven and transfer chicken to skillet, breast side up (it will sizzle!).  Place in oven and roast for 25-35 minutes, until breast meat registers 120 degrees and thighs read 135 degrees.

4. Turn oven OFF and leave chicken in the oven for 25-35 minutes, until breast meat reaches 160 degrees and thighs reach 175 degrees.

5. Transfer chicken to carving board and let rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes. You can use this time to prepare a side dish. Carve chicken and serve.

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Recipe source: adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Additional information:

This method works for several reasons. Preheating the skillet allows you to sear the thighs, giving them a head start from the breast meat. Turning off the oven halfway through helps the chicken's exterior cool rapidly, eliminating evaporation of all those precious juices. Heat inside the chicken will continue to cook the chicken until it reaches a safe temperature.

To check the temperature:
Breast: insert thermometer low into the thickest part of the breast, just above the bone. Withdraw slowly and check for the lowest temperature.

Thigh: Insert thermometer into the space betwen the breast and thigh. Angle probe outward slightly to pierce the meat in the lower part of the thigh.

Information from Cook's Illustrated September/October 2011

My Review

Monday, September 12, 2011

Get Ready for New and Improved Taco Ring!

There it is. Taco ring in all it's glory. The most popular main dish recipe on this blog, and for good reason! A year ago I never would have thought twice about using the canned crescent rolls and other pre-packaged ingredients, but this food blogging world has really affected my cooking perspective, and in a good way too. You may remember my first taco ring post and a few changes have happened since then. I plan on giving you all the recipe details soon but for now I will tell you that the above taco ring was made with homemade taco seasoning and homemade crescent rolls! Someday I would also like to make my own refried beans, taco sauce, and cheese! Baby steps! I am currently on my way back from Iowa (sniff) and will be back to my regular recipe updates next Monday. Have a great week!

Linked with Mingle Monday

Monday, September 5, 2011

Stir-Fry with Rice Noodles

As you are reading this post, I am on a plane headed to Iowa!! I could not be more excited. 70 degree weather, GREEN grass, rain, and most of all a family wedding! Goodbye for now Texas! And happy Labor Day!

I have made this dish multiple times and absolutely love it. The rice noodles are a nice alternative to the usual rice, but you could easily serve it over rice if preferred. The fresh ginger with the garlic and sesame oil are what make this meal so delicious. Have you ever had sesame oil? We love it! The veggies are versatile here. I've made it with green onions, no red pepper; I think it would even be great without the chicken. I wouldn't pay much attention to the veggie measurements in the recipe (I don't, just eyeball it). Mix and match with your favorite stir-fry veggies and enjoy! As an added bonus, this recipe is light and healthy.

Stir-Fry with Rice Noodles
Total time: 30-40 minutes
Yield: 5-6 servings

2-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1-2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
4 ounces uncooked Asian rice noodles
4 teaspoons canola oil
1 large head broccoli, cut up
1/2 of medium red bell pepper, cut to your preference (optional)
2/3 cup chopped green onion (optional)
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger root

1. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil and 1/4 cup water. Pour 1/4 cup marinade into a large resealable bag and add the chicken. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, turning to coat chicken.

2. Add 1/2 cup water, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and chili powder to remaining marinade and set aside.

3.  Drain chicken and discard marinade. Stir-fry chicken in a skillet with 2 teaspoons canola oil until cooked through. Remove to a plate.

4. Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, stir-fry broccoli and pepper in 2 teaspoons canola oil for 4-5 minutes. Add the onions, if using, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute longer or until vegetables are to desired tenderness.

5. Return chicken to pan and add reserved marinade mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes until thickened. Drain noodles and toss with chicken. Serve.

NUTRITION FACTS: 1 cup equals 293 calories, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 63 mg cholesterol, 498 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 27 g protein. Note: these numbers are from the original recipe and some ingredients have changed. For example, I substituted water for chicken broth because I did not feel it was necessary for this recipe.

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Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lemon Cheesecake

For me, having company is the perfect reason to indulge in a special dessert; something that you don't make all the time. My sister recently came to visit and I immediately made plans to bake my delicious puffy chocolate chip cookies and this cheesecake.

This rich and creamy cheesecake with a touch of lemon to brighten the dessert will certainly have you coming back for more. I loved the lemon flavor; it wasn't overpowering and sour, it was sweet and subtle. This refreshing cheesecake is the perfect end to any summertime meal.

Lemon Cheesecake
Prep: 20 min + cooling / Bake: 40 min + cooling
Yield: 12-14 servings

2-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 40 squares)
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1-1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine crust ingredients. Press onto the bottom and 1-1/2 inches up the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Place pan on a wire rack to cool.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs all at once and beat on low just until blended. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.

3. Pour filling into crust and return pan to baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until center is almost set.

4. Remove to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cheesecake. Cool for 1 hour at room temperature. Then cool in fridge, uncovered, for 3-4 hours. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and cool for 6 hours or overnight.

5. When ready to serve, carefully remove cheesecake from springform pan. Slice the cheesecake (with a warm, dry, straight-edge knife) while it is cold. For best flavor, let the slices sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before enjoying.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

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My Review

Monday, August 22, 2011

Skillet Squash

Zucchini and yellow squash are bountiful right now. This side dish is so simple and delicious, you may wonder why you have never made it before (at least I did). Squash is almost tasteless and will pick up any flavors that you toss at it. Recently I have enjoyed making a combination of zucchini and yellow squash with either Mexican or Italian seasonings to compliment the main dish. In this picture, I made Mexican seasoned zucchini to go with the fantastic cheesy chili mac. It takes about 10 minutes to make this side dish. I don't really have a recipe, but do give credit to Deborah over at Antiquity Oaks for the inspiration. This is simply a method to help you get creative with some squash!

Skillet Squash
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Olive or canola oil
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, thinly sliced (or do a combination of both)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1/4 cup diced onion
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed

Mexican Seasoned
Ground cumin
Ground coriander
Chili powder

Italian Seasoned
Dried or fresh basil
Dried oregano

1. Heat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Season squash with salt, pepper and either Mexican or Italian spices.

2. Place squash and onion in the skillet. Let sit for a couple minutes then begin to stir. When the squash begins to look transparent on the edges add the garlic. Continue to cook until squash is transparent to the middle of the slices a little bit of browning is okay. Serve immediately.

My Review
  • Preparation: 5
    • Super fast and simple
  • Taste: 5
    • I have made this side dish many times
  • Cost: 5
    • Inexpensive and healthy
  • Clean-up: 5
  • Changes
    • Experiment with some of your favorite flavors. Squash is so easy to cook with!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

These blueberry muffins are absolutely amazing. I've shared some other muffin recipes before and these are definitely tied for first place (if not the winner!) with the oatmeal blueberry muffins. I love blueberry muffins, even though I don't like blueberries by themselves. These muffins have intensified blueberry flavor with the addition of a simple syrup. People make the mistake of adding more and more blueberries to boost flavor, but then they get a soggy muffin. The genius chefs at Cook's Illustrated have proven that concentrating the blueberry flavor is key. And then they decided to take delicious to the next level and add a lemon sugar topping that really makes these muffins special. You have to give these muffins a try!

Blueberry Muffins
Prep: 20 minutes / Bake: 16-18 minutes
Yield: 12 muffins

Blueberry Syrup:
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/3 cup sugar
zest from one lemon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. In a small saucepan, combine blueberry syrup ingredients. Cook and mash berries slightly over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, until the mixture is thickened and reduced to about 1/3 cup. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes. I stuck mine in the fridge to cool. You may find that the frozen blueberries take longer to cook down.

2. While the syrup cools, wash remaining blueberries and dry on paper towels. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt together. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until thickened. Slowly add the butter and oil into the egg mixture, whisking continually. Whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla. Fold egg mixture into flour mixture just until moistened. Do not overmix, the batter will be lumpy.

3. Combine the lemon zest and sugar in a small bowl.

4. Fill the muffin cups until 3/4 full. Spoon a teaspoon of the cooked blueberry syrup into the center of each cup. Use a skewer or toothpick to gently swirl the syrup into the batter. Sprinkle lemon topping over the muffins.

5. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let rest in pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire cooling rack. Wait 5 minutes before serving.

Click here to print this recipe!

Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated and My Kitchen Cafe

Linked up with Mingle Monday
My Review

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rabbit Fricasee

Yes you read that correctly. This is a rabbit recipe. I ate it, I survived, and I actually enjoyed it; quite a bit to tell the truth. After much convincing and pulling teeth, Jeremiah finally managed to get me to buy rabbit. I'll admit, I was really grossed out by the idea. And rabbits (bunnies!) are so cute and fuzzy, how could I eat one?? Ah well, this little bunneh was mighty tasty. To tell you the truth, that ol' saying is right on target: "it tastes like chicken." The meat was very tender and the flavor of the gravy fantastic. If you feel like being adventurous, give this one a try! The ingredient list is long, but you probably have most of it already. And in case you're wondering, don't ask me how to pronounce the title, because I still have no idea.

Rabbit Fricasee
Prep: 20 min / Cook: 2 hours, 40 min
Yield: 4-6 servings

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 box frozen rabbit, thawed and cut into pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 chopped green bell pepper
1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (I accidentally forgot this one)
4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups chicken stock or broth (or homemade turkey)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried parsley
Cooked rice, for serving

1. In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Combine the spices (paprika through thyme) and season the rabbit with the spice mixture. Brown rabbit on all sides in the pot and transfer to a plate (it does not have to be cooked through).

2. Add the flour to the oil in the pot and whisk to combine. Continue to whisk until the roux is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, tomatoes and garlic. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. It may look like a strange pasty consistency at this point.

3. Stir in the tomato paste and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the rabbit pieces and salt. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours until the rabbit is very tender. Stir occassionally and add water if the sauce gets too thick.

4. Add the parsley. Serve rabbit and gravy over white rice.

Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse

My Review

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cheesy Chili Mac

If you enjoy cooking, you need this recipe. If you cook out of necessity, you need this recipe. If you have hungry persons in your life who demand more than PB&J, you need this recipe. If you are a newlywed with a hungry husband, you need this recipe. If you like to eat, you need this recipe. The point is, you need this recipe in your life!

Move over Hamburger Helper, because once you try this recipe, you'll never go back! It's simple, inexpensive, and much healthier for you; not to mention it tastes 100 times better! Tender pasta in a sweet tomato sauce with melted cheese. It all cooks in one skillet in 30 minutes! What's not to love, my friends? I served it with some Mexican seasoned zucchini squash, which I will have to share with you in the near future. And I know that the first picture looks like it has nasty little greasy pools, but they're actually delicious puddles of tomato sauce. My husband absolutely loved this meal and even talked about it for a few days after I made it! The leftovers are fantastic too, if you're lucky enough to have any that is.

Cheesy Chili Mac
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 medium white onion, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 pound ground turkey or beef
2 cups water
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
8 ounces elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
6 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1. In a large skillet (It called for a 12-inch skillet but I only have a 10-inch. Use a 12-inch if you have it, but if not, a 10-inch will be very full but will work just fine) heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt. Cook and stir frequently until the onion is transparent, 4-6 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and brown sugar and cook for 30 seconds. Add the ground turkey or beef and brown completely.

3. Once the turkey is browned, stir in the water and the tomato sauce. Mix in the pasta. Cover and cook on medium-high for 10-13 minutes, stirring occassionally to prevent sticking, until the pasta is to your desired tenderness. The sauce should be thickened by this point.

4. Remove from heat and add 4 ounces (1 cup) of the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and cover for 2 minutes until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle with fresh or dried parsley if desired and serve.

Print this recipe!

Recipe adapted from tracey's culinary adventures

My Review

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Lemonade

Refreshing and sweet, this combination is the perfect taste of summer. The tart lemon juice combines with the succulent strawberries to make a beverage that is sure to please anyone. While I must tell you that the inevitable strawberry seeds deterred my husband from drinking this, I thoroughly enjoyed the drink myself and have been doing so for the last few days. I think that it gets better with age, and my husband would agree as he drank some today and said that it tasted better (I assume mostly because the seeds have all floated to the bottom of the pitcher). But don't let the tiny strawberry seeds discourage you; I loved this drink, and I'm one who can't stand the slightest bit of pulp or chunks in my beverages. Enjoy!

Fresh Strawberry Lemonade
Prep: 10-15 minutes
Yield: 2.5-3 quarts

1 cup white sugar
8 ounces strawberries, hulled
1 cup fresh lemon juice (8-9 small/medium lemons)

1. Combine the sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occassionally. Place in the fridge to cool. This is called a simple syrup.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries. Puree the strawberries in a blender with 1/2 cup water. Squeeze the lemon juice.

3. In a large pitcher, combine the cooled simple syrup, stawberry puree, and lemon juice. Add 4-6 cups of cold water, depending on your taste preference. I used 5 cups of cold water.

4. Serve and enjoy!

Click here to print this recipe

Recipe adapted from my baking addiction

My Review

Monday, July 11, 2011

Simplified Chicken Cordon Bleu

Layers of chicken, provolone cheese, ham, fresh and buttery bread crumbs, with a creamy parmesan topping...what's not to love? I've never attempted to make the official chicken cordon bleu with the rolling and stuffing, but my thought now is, why bother? This is so much easier! And it tastes just as good, if not better than the fancy version, I'm sure of it. If your wish is to impress, go ahead; do the pounding, rolling, stuffing, and praying that it all stays together. As for me, I'll do the layers, thankyouverymuch.

Simplified Chicken Cordon Bleu
Prep: 10 minutes / Bake: 25-30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
12 slices deli ham
6 slices provolone or swiss cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules or one chicken bouillon cube, crushed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Cut the chicken breasts lengthwise to get 6 thin pieces. Mine weren't perfect at all, just try to make everything the same thickness.

2. Place the chicken in a single layer in the baking dish. Top each piece with 2 slices ham and 1 slice cheese. Combine the bread crumbs and butter; sprinkle over the entire dish.

3. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the bread crumbs golden.

4. While chicken is baking, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk and slowly add the milk. Stir in the chicken bouillon and continue cooking, whisking slowly, for 3-5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Add the Dijon and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the parmesan cheese until melted.

5. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining ingredients until cheese is melted. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Click here to print recipe

Recipe adapted from mel's kitchen cafe

My Review

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Milk and Honey White Bread

It has been months since I bought a loaf of bread from the grocery store. Making homemade bread is very rewarding in several ways. Number one, you know exactly what ingredients are in the food you're eating. Number two, you can alter it according to your personal preferences. I have experimented with wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, wheat gluten, flax meal and oatmeal; the possibilities are endless! Number three, smelling bread in the oven that you made yourself is very satisfying. And finally, the taste! Nothing beats the taste of homemade bread.

This bread was the most like store-bought bread that I have ever made. It was extremely soft and tender, with an airy texture and just the right amount of crumbles. The flavor was mildly sweet and very addicting. I would like to adapt this recipe to include part wheat flour and possibly some other healthy add-ins, like wheat germ and grains.

Bread can be intimidating to many people, but I think you just have to go for it! I make mistakes along the way but always learn from them. My bread making skills have definitely improved since my french bread post and I'm still learning. Please ask me any questions that you may have, I will be happy to offer my advice!

Milk and Honey White Bread (Print)
adapted from Taste of Home Baking Book
Prep: 15 min. + rising / Bake: 30 min. + cooling
Yield: 2 loaves

2 packages (or 4-1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2-1/2 cups warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (optional)
7 to 8-1/2 cups flour*

1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm milk and allow to rest for a few minutes. Add the honey, butter, salt, wheat gluten, and 5 cups flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. *The original recipe said 8 to 8-1/2 cups flour. I found that it was nearly impossible to mix the dough by hand after 7 cups. So I kneaded the dough in the bowl for a few minutes to incorporate the 7th cup of flour. Then probably used an additional 1/2 cup when I kneaded it on the counter. The amount of flour varies depending on humidity and the size of your 'cup.'

2. Turn onto a lightly floured counter and knead until smooth and dough is elastic when stretched, 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl. Turn the dough once to grease top. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45-60 minutes.

3. Punch the dough down. Divide the dough in half and shape each portion into a loaf. Place each in a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. When I think the bread is done, I take it out of the pan to inspect the bottom. I say it's done when the bottom is evenly golden and it sounds hollow when tapped; others may tell you differently but I have found that only judging doneness by the top of the bread is unreliable. You can cover the top loosely with foil if it browns too quickly.

5. Remove from pans and place on wire racks to cool. Important: do not cut the bread until it is completely cool! It is tempting, I understand, but if you cut it too soon you will have a gummy interior that will make you think the bread is not done. I know this from experience.

It was taller than my bread box!
 My Review

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Frugal Living: Roasted Turkey

My blog posting has been slowly becoming more and more infrequent. I still enjoy doing it, but there are usually many other tasks that I choose to do first before sitting down to write a blog post. Take comfort in the fact that I continue to take lots of pictures and maybe when my husband is back in school I will pick it up more (I don't like to sit at the computer when he's home with me)!

This post topic may (or may not...I'm not always consistent) become a somewhat regular topic. I had long been leery of packaged lunchmeat and had begun to cringe when buying it at the grocery store. First of all, it's expensive; $3.99 for one package. And, when you really look at it, the stuff's just weird and funky. Processed and unnaturally slimy...

I always plan my menus by the week and then go grocery shopping (that could be another Frugal Living post). Once or twice a week I would plan on having sandwiches because we would not be home together to eat. I hated to buy that stinking lunchmeat but I couldn't think of a way around it. A few times I had some turkey breast shaved for me at the deli counter, but I still didn't really like it...have you ever seen a turkey breast the size of a basketball? Pretty sure that's processed together too. Anyway, I know I 'm getting a bit windy so back to the point.

Then I had a lightbulb (ah ha, that's it, I'm a genius!) kind of moment...

I would roast a turkey, shred it up and keep it in the freezer to use for sandwiches! And that's what I did. I roasted a turkey using Alton Brown's turkey recipe, which uses scientific principles to lock moisture into the meat via a brine...pretty cool stuff, watch the video online if you're interested. Then my husband shredded it up (while eating it too). I boiled the carcass to make broth. And this is what I ended up with:

9 cups of shredded turkey (and that's after we ate it for dinner last night and my husband's snacking) and 14 cups of broth! I did a little math to see how much money I saved. I'm not sure of the weight of my turkey because it didn't have a tag but I'm guessing it was between 10 and 12 pounds.
  • Cost of turkey: $13
    • 1 meal for two
    • 9 cups shredded meat
    • 14 cups broth
  • Cost of lunchmeat: $3.99/package (approximately)
    • I think the 9 cups of shredded meat would at least equal 4 packages. I don't have a scale otherwise I could have figured this out exactly with ounces.
  • Cost of 4 cups Swanson broth: $2.79 (suggested retail price)
To buy 4 packages of lunchmeat and 3.5 broths would have cost $25.73, and I paid $13. Was it as easy as buying a quart of broth and a package of lunchmeat? No. Do I feel better because I know exactly what is in my food? Yes! Does it taste better? Yes! Is it convenient to pull broth and turkey out of your freezer when needed? Yes! Did I buy an organic turkey? No. Would I like to in the future? Yes. This would cost more (the only option at my store was $50 and I did not want to pay that much when I know I could get it somewhere cheaper), but I think it would be worth it. Besides that organic turkey was like 20 pounds, so it would have given tons more meat and broth, balancing the ratio a little bit. Someday we might raise heritage turkeys, but that's a whole different chapter in life that I won't get into now!

I am pleased with my experiment and I hope that I have inspired you to be a bit more frugal today! Maybe you won't roast a turkey in June when your apartment is 80 degrees and it's 100 degrees outside (this is not suggested if your air conditioner is in bad shape like mine is!), but you will at least be more aware of the ways that you can save money. Have a great day!

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011


    Lasagna has become an American household staple. It's great for large gatherings and entertaining; add a salad and garlic bread and you're set. My husband frequently orders lasagna at restaurants. Yet, until I made this lasagna last month, I had never done so before. Well, I'm sure glad I did!

    This lasagna is delicious. The red sauce is loaded with flavor, and who doesn't love all that melted parmesan and mozzarella cheese on top? This recipe is different than some may be used to. It does not use ricotta cheese (which is a good thing if you have folks who don't like the ricotta). Instead, it is a combination of a red, meaty sauce and a bechamel sauce. I think that the bechamel sauce really contributes to the depth of flavor. While I will continue to try other lasagna recipes, this one is a winner and I highly recommend it. I split mine between two casseroles and kept one in the freezer; it held up very well and tasted fresh after defrosting and baking. The long directions may seem like a lot of work, but it's worth it!

    Lasagna (Print)
    adapted from My Kitchen Cafe
    Prep: 1 hour / Bake: 45 minutes
    Yield: 9x13-inch casserole

    Red Sauce
    2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
    1 tablespoon butter
    4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
    1/2 cup chopped onion
    4-8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
    2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
    1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
    1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
    2 teaspoons dried oregano
    2 teaspoons dried basil
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper

    Bechamel Sauce
    4 tablespoons butter
    5 tablespoons flour
    3 cups milk (I used %)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper

    1 pound ground turkey
    12 no-boil flat lasagna noodles
    16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
    8 ounces parmesan cheese, shredded

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, melt oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring constantly about 1 minute. Add the onion and mushrooms. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables are soft.

    2. Transfer the vegetables to a blender and blend into a paste, if desired. I did not do this step. Return to pan and add remaining red sauce ingredients. Cover and simmer on medium to low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occassionally. Meanwhile, continue with steps 3 and 4.

    3. Brown turkey in a skillet and set aside.

    4. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Add the salt and pepper. Continue slowly whisking continually for 5-7 minutes, until sauce thickens considerably. Remove from heat.

    5. Add the turkey to the red sauce and prepare to make three layers of noodles, sauce, and cheese. You can do this in a 9x13, or two 8x8 casseroles. Place 4 noodles, slightly overlapped, in the bottom of the pan (2 noodles if doing the 8x8). Add 1/3 red sauce, 1/3 bechamel sauce, and 1/3 mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Repeat twice, for a total of 3 layers.

    6. Cover the pan with greased foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to stand, covered, for 15 minutes before serving.

    My Review

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Zuppa Toscana

    If you have ever been to Olive Garden, you may be familiar with this soup. The sausage, bacon, potatoes, kale, and creamy broth meld into a heartwarming and satisfying bowl of goodness.

    This soup comes together very easily, and is a great way to get in a serving of healthful greens! Trust me, you won't even notice them. The recipe is easily modified to suit your preferences; hot or mild, thick or thin, russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, heavy cream or half & half, bacon or no get what I'm saying!

    If you have never had this soup as Olive Garden, make this recipe and revel in the fact that you are probably eating a much healthier version; and it tastes just as good! If you have had this soup at Olive Garden, made this recipe and revel in that fact that you are saving a bundle of cash and that you have restaurant chef talent! You see, either way I have ordered you to cook this soup for your families. And do it quick, because cozy soup weather is pretty much gone. I seem to be behind on these seasonal food trends that all my fellow bloggers keep up with faithfully. Oh well, at least kale is in season.

    Zuppa Toscana (Print)
    adapted from America's Most Wanted Recipes
    Prep: 40 minutes
    Yield: 6-8 servings

    1 pound sausage: spicy, mild, or Italian; ground or removed from casings
    8 ounces smoked bacon, chopped (optional)
    3 to 4 cups water
    2 (14.5 ounce) cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
    2 cups cubed russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
    2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
    1/3 cup diced onion
    2 cups chopped kale or swiss chard
    1 cup heavy cream or half & half
    Salt and pepper, to taste

    1. In a skillet, brown sausage; drain and set aside. Meanwhile, prep vegetables as directed above. To prepare kale: hold the stem at the base. Using a knife, slash downward to remove leafy portion from either side of tough stem. Stack several washed leaves, roll into cigar shape and chop to desired size -Cook's Illustrated

    2. If using bacon, cook it at this time in a skillet. Drain and set aside.

    3. In a 4-quart pot, combine the water, broth, potatoes, garlic, and onion. Simmer over medium heat, uncovered,  until potatoes are tender; 10-15 minutes.

    4. Add the sausage and bacon. Simmer 10 minutes, uncovered.

    5. Add the kale and cream or half & half. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until heated through, do not allow to boil.

    Note: To address all of the options, here is what I used for all the the 'or' ingredients: mild ground sausage, bacon, 4 cups water (but I thought it was too much liquid), russet potatoes, kale, and half & half. I did not think the bacon added much flavor, which is why I left it as optional. The sausage really takes the stage here, and that's even using mild. Feel free to use any combination of the listed options to make your preferred soup!

    My Review

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    I'm Still Here

    I will be without a computer until further notice, just in case anyone was curious! I will update as soon as I can!

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Puffy Chocolate Chip Cookies

    I am on a quest.

    To find the perfect chocolate chip cookies.

    And boy, this recipe is gonna be hard to beat. You see, I have very high standards for a chocolate chip cookie. It has to be soft, overloaded with chocolate chips, buttery, dense yet light, with a barely crunchy outside that leads to a gooey inside. No crumbles, hard cookies, or flatness allowed here. I don't even know if I have ever had the chocolate chip cookie of my dreams, but someday, I will find it!

    As of right now, this is my husband's proclaimed favorite chocolate chip cookie ever and until (or if or when) I find something better, this is my favorite too! He says they are perfect, and I guess I can't really think of anything about them that isn't good, once they are baked that is. You see, I am a self-proclaimed cookie dough connoisseur (had to look up the spelling on that one!). I eat any and every kind of dough/batter that I make. It's true. And the one downfall of these cookies is that the dough isn't as delicious as other chocolate chip cookie doughs that I have made. The dough is actually on the dry side, which lends to the gorgeous puff once they bake.

    I would say that these are the best chocolate chip cookies that I have ever made; but not the best cookie dough that I have tried. I suppose that considering the baked cookies are what you would be sharing, this is the recipe to go with! Alas, perfectly baked cookies and perfect cookie dough may not exist together, but perhaps this is the best of both worlds.

    Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, and everyone will be especially happy when they see one of the puffiest chocolate chip cookies ever! Make these cookies, and everyone will think you're a cookie-baking queen!

    Puffy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Print)
    recipe adapted from buns in my oven
    Prep: 20 minutes / Bake: 10-13 minutes
    Yield: about 2 dozen

    1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
    3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    1 large egg, cold
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

    1. Cut the butter into small cubes and place back into the fridge.

    2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    3. In the bowl of your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl), beat the cold butter and sugar until barely combined. Make sure to use low speed and beat no longer than one minute. Do not beat until the usual creamed or fluffy! Overbeating will cause excess air and a tough cookie. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until just combined. The dough will look soupy and strange at this point.

    4. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add them to the butter and sugar bowl, beat until combined. This will produce a stiff, lightly sticky dough. Add the chocolate chips and mix.

    5. Scoop the dough into your desired size and place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet. I have a one tablespoon scoop; I made my cookies two scoops in size. I found that the cookies looked better after baking if you do not roll them into balls; rough scoops make prettier cookies.

    6. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 5 minutes. This prevents the cookies from spreading. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until the very outside edges are lightly browned. The cookies will set and look more done after cooling. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

    My Review

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Chicken Taquitos

    I took the plunge and changed the face of my blog. This was hard for me. Even though I was getting tired of the little floating flower things on the sides and the greenish color, I tend to get sentimental about little details. I wanted something more sophisticated. I'm excited because now I can make my pictures bigger too. I would love to know what you think!

    For today, I have a delicious, inexpensive, and healthy meal to share with you! This comes from Hungry Girl, who is well known for her guilt-free recipes.

    These chicken taquitos are packed full of flavor, you would never guess that they are light and healthy! I loved the flavor of the corn tortillas. And don't be afraid of the canned chicken, it is moist and tender. I admit, I sort of felt like I was opening a can of cat food, but these definitely tasted better than cat food! (although, I've never actually tried cat food). I enjoyed these with salsa and sour cream, and a kale salad on the side...however, I really didn't like the raw kale so I might not be sharing that recipe with you as I had planned! But in the end, this meal was healthful and delicious, and I know I will be making them again in the future. This simple recipe puts those frozen taquitos to shame!

    Note: The recipe said to use a 9.75 or 10-ounce can of chicken. I found neither, so I used (2) 5-ounce cans.

    Chicken Taquitos (Print)
    from Hungry Girl 123
    Prep: 25 minutes / Bake: 15 minutes
    Yield: 4 servings

    10-ounces canned 98% fat-free white chicken breast in water, drained and flaked into small pieces
    1/2 cup salsa
    1/3 cup shredded fat-free cheddar cheese (I used regular cheese)
    1/4 teaspoon dry taco seasoning mix
    8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
    Nonstick cooking spray
    Optional toppings: sour cream, salsa, enchilada sauce

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken and salsa. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

    2. After 15 minutes, add the cheese and taco seasoning to the chicken. Mix and set aside.

    3. Dampen two paper towels and place the tortillas between them. Microwave for about 1 minute. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

    4. Take one tortilla and very lightly spray each side with nonstick spray. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the chicken onto the tortilla (I 'scored' my filling into 8 slices, like a pizza, so that I knew I had even amounts). Spread it evenly over the whole surface. Roll up the tortilla. Place seam-side down on the baking sheet and place a toothpick in the center to secure. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

    5. Bake for 14-16 minutes, until crispy. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve!

    NUTRITION FACTS: 2 tortillas equals: 197 calories, 2.5g fat, 594mg sodium, 22.5g carbs, 3g fiber, 2g sugar, 20.5g protein.

    My Review

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Creamy Tarragon Chicken with Couscous and Peas

    Confession #1: I have been in somewhat of a blogging funk lately.

    Confession #2: I have an AMAZING chocolate chip cookie recipe to share with you, but those pictures are locked away in the ol' laptop until further notice.

    Confession #3: I think you should know that for some reason, the only way to see the pictures from my memory card on this new computer is to click on each individual file until I find the one I want! I'm sure the settings can be changed, but trust me, seeing 600+ little picture files all lined up makes you want to run away and forget about the whole blogging thing!

    Confession #4: This is why there is only one picture on this post, and I don't even think it's the best one, I just happened to find it and decided it was decent enough to do the job. I possibly would have edited it (via auto-adjust. Go ahead, shun me) but I have no idea how to do that yet on this computer.

    Confession #5: Typing on this keyboard still feels very strange after having a laptop for so long, and I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.

    Confession #6: I love having a mouse now though! It's much better than the little square of something that you slide your finger on from the laptop.

    I'm done now, I promise.

    Now I'll get to the point here. This chicken recipe is from this blog and it is fantastic! I had a hankering to try couscous, and as soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I had to give it a whirl. The creamy sauce is packed full of flavor, and the couscous made a wonderful starchy bed for the delicious chicken. When cooking the couscous, I just followed the directions on the container, substituting half the water for chicken broth to give it more flavor. I steamed the peas in the microwave and then mixed them together.

    I made a few changes to the recipe to make the process easier for myself. This dish is very simple and it's a great way to introduce yourself to this wonderful Israeli style pasta!

    Creamy Tarragon Chicken with Couscous and Peas (Print)
    adapted from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice
    Total time: 20-30 minutes
    Yield: 4 servings

    2 tablespoons canola oil
    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    1 teaspoon dried tarragon
    2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
    1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
    3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    3/4 cup half & half
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    Black pepper, to taste

    1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cut chicken breasts into thin (1/4 to 1/2 inch) slices. Sprinkle chicken with tarragon. Add chicken to skillet; avoid turning until the first side is cooked. At this point, flip the chicken strips and add the garlic to the skillet, gently stirring as needed.

    2. Add chicken broth and salt. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Start the couscous if you are serving it.

    3. As soon as the chicken is cooked through, you can choose to remove it to a plate or keep it in the skillet (I left it in the skillet). Add the half & half, mustard, and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Serve over couscous and peas.

    My Review

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Just a Bit of Fun

    Here I am, having the opportunity to write a blog post and I can't. For a few reasons. First of all, we got a new computer (which is amazing!), but our pictures haven't been transferred over yet. This means that I only have access to the pictures on my memory card, which totals to three recipes I could share with you.

    One of them was completely terrible and we threw it out after our valiant attempts to choke down our portions. It was a vegetarian shepherd's pie, made with lentils. I don't know what it was, but it tasted strangely like barbecue sauce. I think it was the vegetable broth, that stuff was nasty when I tasted it! I won't tell you which blog I got this recipe from... :)

    The other recipe was a variation on chili, but I wasn't too impressed. My final recipe was really good and I even started the blog post for it, but I just didn't feel inspired. I don't want to write about a delicious recipe when I don't feel like it. That takes away all the fun, ya know?

    So as I was browsing through the pictures on my memory card, I thought I might share some photos of our recent visit to the zoo, enjoy!