Monday, October 31, 2011

Butterfinger Blondies with Butterfinger Cream Cheese Frosting

Ah, Halloween. The one day each year when children dress up in adorable costumes and go beg for candy for their parents to eat. It’s a magical, magical day.

I’m hoping we get lots of the “good candy” so I can make these blondies again. You know the difference between “good candy” and “bad candy,” right? Good candy = Butterfingers, Snickers, Kit Kats, etc. Bad candy = individually wrapped hard candies, generic chocolates wrapped in foil. Good candy = a cupboard stocked with sweet treats for months. Bad candy = a careful inspection to make sure it’s still fully sealed, and most likely a trip to the trash can just in case.

These blondies are a perfect use for the good candy. I think you could replace the Butterfingers in the recipe with just about any type of candy bar you can think of – Snickers, Kit Kats, Twix, Nestle Crunch...they’d all taste amazing in this application. I’d much rather use the Halloween haul in recipes like this, just so I don’t have it all sitting around for the next few months, begging me to eat it. Recipes like this get rid of a lot of it at once, which is good.

Plus? These blondies are delicious. Truly, amazingly delicious. “I think I’ll eat three of them” delicious. And that’s just the blondies; don’t even get me started on the frosting.

(P.S. These candy bar cookies are another great use for Halloween candy.)

Butterfinger Blondies with Butterfinger Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Cookies and Cups

For the blondies:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups coarsely chopped Butterfinger bars (about 16 “fun size” bars)

For the frosting:

1 stick butter at room temperature
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped Butterfinger bars (about 4 “fun size” bars)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. For the blondies, cream butter and sugars in mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and eggs and mix until incorporated.

3. On low add the dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking soda) until just combined. Stir in the chopped Butterfingers.

4. Spread in a 9 × 13 baking dish and bake for 25 minutes until center is just set. Remove from oven and cool completely.

5. For the frosting, mix together butter, cream cheese and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add powdered sugar to desired consistency. Stir in Butterfingers and spread frosting over cooled blondies.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 10.31.11

Monday: It’s trick-or-treat night, so we’ll probably grab something quick afterwards – or eschew dinner completely and just eat CANDY! (I’m kidding. Kind of.)

Tuesday: Pumpkin seed-crusted chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, maple cayenne roasted Brussels sprouts. This is a very autumnal meal, wouldn’t you say? We carved our pumpkins yesterday, and I roasted two batches of the seeds: a sweet version for snacking, and a savory version to grind up and use as breading for chicken. I can’t wait to try this! The boys have actually never had Brussels sprouts, so I’m eager to see what they think of them.

Wednesday: Chicken, bacon, and apple quesadillas, sweet potato fries. These quesadillas haven’t completely come together in my head yet, but we’ll see how they turn out.

Thursday: Farfalle carbonara with peas – a Jamie Oliver recipe that looks ah-mazing. I’ll probably leave out the mint, and I’ll use frozen peas.

Friday: Open-faced Southwestern ranch turkey sandwiches, more sweet potato fries. I’ve made these sandwiches before, and we love them. Recipe coming soon!

Saturday: Butternut squash macaroni and cheese, green beans. Again, I haven’t fully conceived this recipe yet. I just know that we all love butternut squash, and it’s so affordable and delicious right now that I want to cook with it as much as possible.

Sunday: Island chicken, roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli. I’ve heard so many good things about this chicken, and I think it’ll make for a simple and delicious Sunday dinner.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Snack Mix

I love a good snack mix, and I especially love making my own. I like a good balance of salty and sweet flavors and crunchy and soft textures. I was really pleased with how this autumn/Halloween version turned out. I made this for a(nother) snack day at the boys’ daycare, and the kids just loved it. Joe and I loved it, too, and both ate more than our share!

This would be a great snack to feed your little ones before they head out for some candy. And speaking of that, here’s a bonus photo of my sweet boys in their trick-or-treating garb:

Halloween Snack Mix

Honey Nut Chex
Miniature chocolate fudge stripe cookies (I used the 100-calorie packs)
Caramel Corn
Reese’s Pieces
Mixed Halloween candy (candy corns and pumpkins)

Mix together desired amounts of all ingredients. Store in an air-tight container.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chicken Pillows

I love getting feedback from all of you who read my blog. I love it when you let me know that you tried something I’ve posted and how you felt about it, I love answering your questions (although I am a bit behind, so if you’ve e-mailed me and I haven’t responded yet I’m sorry – I will!), and I love it when you suggest recipes to me that you think I’d like. I feel like you guys know me so well, because most of the time when you suggest a recipe to me, it’s something I’ve already bookmarked to try.

Recently one of my readers, Brittany (she just got married, go show her some love!), e-mailed me about these chicken pillows. She saw them, she tried them, she loved them, and, since they contain a couple of things for which I have a major affinity (cream cheese and sour cream), she e-mailed me to tell me I should try them. Because I am apparently very transparent, I already had them bookmarked to try. After I got her e-mail, I moved them to the top of the list, and tried them the very next week. I’m so glad we did, too, because we all loved them. Andrew got a kick out of the fact that they were called “chicken pillows,” and thankfully I was able to stop him before he tried to rest his head on the one on his plate. :)

All kidding aside, though, these really are flavorful and delicious, and relatively simple to put together if you plan a little bit in advance. I made the filling the night before, then stuffed it inside the crescent rolls after I got home from work. Half an hour later, dinner was ready. The only thing I’d warn you against is using generic crescent rolls. I did, and I struggled a little bit with getting the rolls to stay together. The generic ones seem to be a bit thinner than the name brand, so for this recipe, I’ll definitely be using the name brand ones in the future.

Creamy filling, flaky crescent roll, crisp breadcrumb crust, luscious gravy...Mmm. This recipe has it all.

Chicken Pillows
adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything

8 ounces softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 small minced onion
1 cup shredded colby cheese
3 cups cooked shredded chicken
2 8-ounce cans crescent rolls
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
1 10.75-ounce can cream of chicken soup
1 package chicken gravy mix

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese and sour cream until well combined. Stir in salt, pepper, onion, cheese, and diced chicken.

3. Using crescent rolls, take 2 triangular rolls and push together at perforated seam to make into a square. Make sure you seal the perforations well so your filling doesn't come out. Put about 3 tablespoons of chicken mixture in the center of each square. Fold the dough corners to the center over the chicken mixture, forming a pillow.

4. Dip each pillow in melted butter on both sides. Roll in bread crumbs on both sides. Shake excess crumbs off. Place chicken pillows on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

5. Make gravy by mixing one package of chicken gravy mix, one can of cream of chicken soup and 3/4 can of water in a small pot. Mix together and heat until warm. Serve chicken pillows with gravy poured over top.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pumpkin Crunch Coffee Cake

I have about a zillion cookbooks. That may be a slight exaggeration, but still: It’s sort of an addiction for me. I love sitting down and browsing through a cookbook, folding down the corners of the pages to mark the recipes I want to try. But I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the internet is just...better. Blogs and recipe sites will probably never completely replace cookbooks for me – but having tons and tons of recipes at my fingertips is such a wonderful convenience.

Last weekend, I knew I wanted to bake some sort of pumpkin cake, but I didn’t have a recipe in mind. I turned to my cookbooks first, but after looking through seven or eight of them and finding nothing (every recipe called for ingredients I didn’t have, or it just didn’t sound good), I turned to the internet. I typed a quick search into Google, and the first recipe that popped up sounded amazing. I had everything on hand, so I decided to go with it. And you guys, it was perfect.

I can’t say enough good things about this coffee cake. It’s not too sweet, and the texture is perfect: really light and fluffy, and a wonderful contrast to the crackly, crunchy topping. The topping was actually my favorite part. There was plenty to cover both cakes with a pretty thick layer of brown-sugar-pecan-cinnamon goodness, and my older son loved helping me sprinkle it on.

I think my stepmom said it best when she told me that this coffee cake tasted “just like fall.” She’s so right. I’ll be making this every year from now on, without question.

Pumpkin Crunch Coffee Cake
adapted from Allrecipes

For the topping:

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
1/2 cup chopped pecans

For the cake:

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup canned or cooked pumpkin
1 inch of vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; I just ran out)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a small bowl, combine sugars and cinnamon for topping. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in pecans; set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the sour cream, pumpkin and vanilla; mix well.

3. Combine dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream mixture. Beat on low just until blended.

4. Spread the batter into two greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 325 degrees for 40-50 minutes (mine took 45) or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Bean Chili

I think this meal looks so Halloween-y, with the bright orange sweet potatoes and the black beans. It tastes pretty amazing, too. I’m always on the look-out for hearty, delicious vegetarian meals, and this one definitely fits the bill. It’s sweet, spicy, healthy, and filling, and a meal I’ll definitely make again and again.

This dish comes together pretty quickly, too, especially if you roast the potatoes the night before. Roasting the potatoes gives them this nutty, caramelly sort of flavor that works so well with the spicy chili on top. Sweet potatoes and black beans are such a natural pairing (exhibit A, exhibit B), and definitely one of my favorite flavor combinations. My husband loved these, too, and didn’t miss the meat – which is rare for him!

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Bean Chili
adapted from Have Recipes – Will Cook

4 small sweet potatoes or yams, scrubbed and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5 ounce can diced, chili-ready tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Shredded cheese
Sour cream
Avocado and cilantro for garnish (which I didn't include, but I wish I had)

1. Heat a large baking sheet by placing it in the oven and preheating the oven to 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Brush cut sides of sweet potatoes with one tablespoon of the olive oil. Remove the hot pan from the oven, and place the sweet potatoes cut side down on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the potatoes with a spatula and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

2. While the potatoes are roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive and the onion in a large Dutch oven or skillet. Cook the onion on medium-low heat until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, and add the chili powder and cumin to bloom for about 20 seconds.

3. Add the black beans, tomatoes, 1/4 cup water, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

4. Assemble the potatoes by scraping the flesh of the potato with a fork and topping the potato with the chili. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado and cilantro.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Roast Beef Gyros

I have such a quick, easy, delicious, and relatively healthy recipe to share with you today. If you love gyros, but don’t have the time to marinate chicken, and don’t have the money to buy lamb (*raises hand*), then this is the recipe for you. These gyros, which use deli roast beef, are not at all authentic – but who cares? They’re amazingly good, and they go from skillet to table in the time it takes to pronounce the word “gyro” correctly.

Tzatziki sauce is one of my favorite condiments, for Greek food or anything else. It’s delicious on gyros, but it’s also good on a plain old chicken sandwich or as a dip for pita chips. I’ve made tzatziki sauce a few different ways now, and the one I’ve listed with this recipe is my favorite version. I use a combination of Greek yogurt and sour cream, which is probably also very unauthentic, but I really like the extra tanginess the sour cream provides. I also don’t like a lot of “stuff” in my tzatziki – just cucumber, a clove of pasted garlic, and a splash of vinegar. It can be made way ahead of time, which makes this meal come together even more quickly. Make the sauce the night before, then just throw the roast beef in a skillet five minutes before dinner time.

These were a big hit with my family, and I found that one package of deli roast beef, bought right in the lunchmeat aisle, provided enough for all four of us (although I still wish I would have had more). Greek food tastes so fresh to me, and since I love the flavor profile so much, I’m really happy to have this quick recipe in my arsenal.

Roast Beef Gyros
gyros adapted from Tasty Kitchen; tzatziki sauce is my recipe

For the filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package deli roast beef
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

For the tzatziki sauce:

Half of a seedless cucumber
4 ounces Greek yogurt
4 ounces sour cream
1 dash white wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, pasted with a little salt
Salt and pepper to taste

For assembly:

Naan or other flatbread
Half of a seedless cucumber, diced
Halved cherry tomatoes
Feta cheese

1. To prepare the tzatziki sauce, shred half of a cucumber. Place in a kitchen towel and squeeze as much moisture out of the cucumber as you can. Add to a bowl with the garlic. Stir in sour cream, Greek yogurt, and vinegar. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet and add beef, Worcestershire sauce, lemon pepper, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Heat the beef through, then cook for a few minutes on low heat.

3. Spray the flatbread with cooking spray and put it under the broiler until it is soft and warmed through. Fill it with a generous amount of roast beef, followed by lots of tzatziki sauce, feta cheese, tomato, and cucumber.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 10.24.11

Monday: Artichoke-crusted chicken and rice pilaf. This sounds so delicious and simple. I plan to use Swiss cheese rather than white cheddar...Yum!

Tuesday: Lunch lady sloppy joes and zucchini oven chips. I saw these sloppy joes mere days ago on Pinterest, and I knew I had to try them.

Wednesday: Crescent pizza rolls and salad

Thursday: Buffalo chicken enchiladas with creamy ranch sauce. The nachos I posted last week put me in a buffalo chicken sort of mood!

Friday: Tuscan grilled chicken sandwiches. A family favorite!

Saturday: Tortellini with pepperoni sauce and garlic bread

Sunday: Bistro macaroni and cheese and salad. This is so unhealthy, but I can't even begin to imagine how delicious it is. So I have to try it to see for myself. There's really no other option.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Slow Cooker Peanut Butter Fudge Cake

I typically try to bake something every weekend. I usually never know what I’m going to bake until I wake up on Saturday morning, though; it just depends on what I’m in the mood for. One weekend when I was looking through all of my bookmarked recipes, I realized I was missing at least one ingredient for every single thing that sounded good. So I moved on to my cookbooks, and that’s where I ultimately found this gem of a recipe. I had everything on hand, so it seemed like the perfect treat to make for my family.

I’ve seen (and bookmarked) lots of recipes for slow-cooker desserts, but I’d never tried one myself. I was happy with both the ease of this recipe, and with the result. I’ve since made it again, with a couple of modifications, and it’s been really well-received by everyone who’s tried it.

This is a lot like a pudding cake, so the chocolate is poured in on top of the cake mixture, but the cake mixture “floats” to the top while the chocolate becomes the sauce. The cake itself is moist, and the chocolate sauce is rich and decadent. The peanut butter flavor is subtle, but not overwhelmed by the chocolate. This cake is definitely best served warm right out of the slow cooker with a dollop of whipped cream, and it is a divine dessert.

Slow Cooker Peanut Butter Fudge Cake
adapted from Taste of Home

1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup peanut butter (do not use reduced fat)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 cup boiling water
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for serving

1. In a large bowl, combine the milk, peanut butter, oil and vanilla; beat until well blended. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, flour, baking powder and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture until blended. Spread evenly into a 1 1/2-quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray.

2. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa and remaining sugar; stir in boiling water. Pour into slow cooker. Do not stir.

3. Cover and cook on high for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until a toothpick inserted near the center of comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Nachos

I’m pretty sure I married one of the most patient men on the planet. Not that I’m hard to live with, by any means (at least, I don’t think I am!). But I do like to try lots of new recipes, many of them a bit...experimental, and many of them things that make my meat-and-potatoes husband raise his eyebrows doubtfully. He doesn’t always enjoy everything that I try, but he always eats it. So I thought it was high time I tried a new recipe that I knew he’d love. Enter these buffalo chicken nachos.

This is definitely one of the most indulgent dishes I’ve ever made. There’s nothing at all healthy about these nachos – except maybe for the sprinkling of celery on top, which hardly counts. It’s cheese on top of buffalo chicken on top of Cool Ranch Doritos. So, basically, these nachos are not the least bit nutritious, is what I’m saying. But they sure are delicious, and they were definitely a husband-pleaser. And I bet if you took these to a tail-gate or over to a friends’ house to watch some football, you’d be a rock star. These nachos are irresistible.

Buffalo Chicken Nachos
slightly adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything

8 cups Cool Ranch Doritos
4 cups cooked shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups Frank's Buffalo Wing sauce
1/2 cup water
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped celery
Sour cream
Ranch dressing

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spread tortilla chips on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow dish.

2. Bring wing sauce and water to a simmer. Add shredded cooked chicken; heat through. Strain the chicken (reserving the sauce) and spread over ranch-flavored tortilla chips. Top with shredded cheddar.

3. Bake in the upper third portion of the oven until cheese is melted for about 5 to 7 minutes. After nachos are baked, top with chopped celery and the reserved wing sauce.4. Mix together equal parts sour cream and ranch dressing. Serve with nachos.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stuffed Crust Pizza

I feel a little bit silly even posting this recipe, because it’s incredibly semi-homemade and so simple, but it’s such a crowd-pleaser in my house that I can’t not post it.

If there are two things that both of my sons love, it’s string cheese and pizza. One night when Joe wasn’t home and I didn’t feel like cooking anything too involved, I decided to combine these two loves to make my own at-home version of stuffed crust pizza. It was definitely a hit, and has been requested frequently ever since.

This really couldn’t be simpler. Pull the edges of refrigerated pizza dough (you could of course make your own) up over string cheese, add your toppings and bake as normal. Voila! Stuffed crust pizza at home. My favorite thing about it is that some of the cheese oozes out of the crust, so the entire bottom half of each pizza slice is pure cheese. Does it get any better than that?

Stuffed Crust Pizza

1 refrigerated rectangular pizza crust
String Cheese
Pizza Sauce
Toppings of choice

1. Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the package. Place string cheese around edges of crust and fold crust up and over, pinching to seal the edges. Pre-bake crust as directed on package.

2. Add pizza sauce and toppings of choice. Bake as directed until crust is crispy and browned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Apple Whoopie Pies with Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cheese Filling

It seems like when fall weather first hits, my mind automatically goes to all pumpkin, all the time. My pumpkin love runs deep and true. But with all my pumpkin adoration, I tend to forget about that other delightful seasonal fall ingredient: the apple. I couldn’t let autumn pass without baking with apples at least once, and right about the time I vowed to make something apple-icious, Stephanie serendipitously posted these whoopie pies. Done, and done.

I learned a lesson while making these. I knew the filling was going to be amazing (cinnamon cream cheese frosting, I mean, come ON), but I decided I wanted to make it even better and add some caramel. Sounds delicious, right? I had half a bag of caramels in the cupboard from when I made these snickerdoodles, so I thought that would be the perfect thing to use. But, um, do you know what happens to caramel after you melt it? It starts to harden up IMMEDIATELY. When I tried to add it to the frosting, it got all clumpy – not to mention the mess I made of my stand mixer. There were bits of caramel everywhere. In hindsight, I should have tempered the caramel with the frosting. Or I should have just made my own caramel.

My second attempt at the frosting was much better (good thing I always keep myself supplied with cream cheese and powdered sugar!). I used caramel ice cream topping instead. I don’t know what they add to it to keep it soft (nor do I really want to know), but it worked perfectly. The filling was AMAZING – nutty and sweet from the caramel, and spicy from the cinnamon. It was such a perfect flavor combination.

The apple whoopie pies themselves were pretty delicious, too. They had a nice amount of spice, and I loved the texture that the bits of apple added to them. Joe and my boys loved them. Andrew kept calling them “apple pie whoopie cookies,” which was pretty cute. :)

Apple Whoopie Pies with Cinnamon Caramel Cream Cheese Filling
adapted from Macaroni and Cheesecake

For the whoopie pies:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated

For the frosting:

1/2 cup butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
3/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add butter and beat on medium speed until creamy (about 30 seconds). Add in brown sugar, baking soda, apple pie spice and salt. Beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Add egg and beat until combined. Add in applesauce and milk and mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Add in flour a little at a time and mix until combined. Add apple and fold into mixture with spatula.

3. Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop dough onto prepared baking sheets approximately 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until tops are lightly browned. Let stand a couple minutes on cookie sheets to set and then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

4. For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and cream cheese until creamy. Add caramel and mix until combined. Add in confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until light and fluffy and a spreadable consistency.

5. Add frosting to the flat side of one cookie, and top with another cookie. Chill before serving. Makes 18 whoopie pies.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Two-Packet Pork Chops and Ranch-Roasted Potatoes

I love having seasoning mixes on hand for cooking. I know it’s much healthier and cost-effective to make my own, but, honestly, that just doesn’t always happen in my house. What can I say – I like the convenience of just being able to rip open a packet.

I heard someone mention this technique somewhere online a few months ago. I can’t remember if it was on Twitter or if it was on Facebook, and I can’t remember who posted it, but the content of the message stuck with me. She said she coated pork chops in onion soup mix and ranch dressing mix and pan-fried them, and that her husband loved them. They sounded like something we would really love, too, so I finally decided to put them on our meal plan.

Joe sometimes gets (playfully) irritated with me for trying different pork chop recipes since he has a definite favorite version that I make, but he turned out to be happy that I made these. He really enjoyed them – we all did, in fact. The ranch dressing and onion soup mixes gave them great flavor, and a dredge in some flour made them crunchy and kept all the juices in.

I used a couple of tablespoons of ranch dressing mix for the pork chops, and the remaining tablespoon for some baby red potatoes. I used my normal method for roasting the potatoes, with the addition of the ranch mix, and I loved the flavor it gave them. Together, the pork chops and potatoes were a satisfying, flavorful, and delicious meal.

Two-Packet Pork Chops and Ranch-Roasted Potatoes

8 baby red potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 boneless pork loin chops
1 packet onion soup mix
1 packet ranch dressing mix, divided
1/2 cup flour

1. For the potatoes, preheat oven to 475 degrees. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Melt butter and mix with olive oil. Add to potatoes, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing mix, and toss to combine. Roast in the oven, stirring frequently, for 20 to 30 minutes to desired crispiness.

2. Meanwhile, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork chops on both sides with salt, pepper, onion soup mix, and remaining 2 tablespoons of ranch dressing mix. Coat each pork chop in flour, shake off the excess, and fry until browned and cooked through.

3. Serve pork chops alongside potatoes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 10.17.11

It took me a long time to come up with a meal plan this week. Not because there’s a shortage of food I want to try (Pinterest has me pretty covered in that area), but because I just couldn’t seem to find the time to put the meal plan together. I seemed to be foiled at every turn! But here it is, at last, and I’m really excited about all of these meals, even if it did take me longer than usual to put them together.

Monday: Jap chae. This looks and sounds simple and delicious!

Tuesday: French onion pasta with roasted asparagus. I didn’t get to make this when I put it on the menu a couple of weeks ago, and I still really, REALLY want it.

Wednesday: Long boy burgers and fries. These look like a cross between meatloaf and burgers. Can't wait to try them!

Thursday: Spinach artichoke dip pizza. Mmmmm.

Friday: Bacon, egg and cheese savory waffle sandwiches, tater tots. I’ll use real eggs and cow’s milk for the waffles.

Saturday: Butternut squash enchiladas. I found butternut squash for 59 cents each. There’s no way I’m not going to take advantage of that deal!

Sunday: Roast beef with mushroom gravy with homemade egg noodles, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Yes, noodles AND mashed potatoes. What you do is mix the beef and noodles together and serve the whole shebang over mashed potatoes. I've never made my own egg noodles, but this recipe looks really easy. I think this is going to be delicious and perfect for a chilly-weather Sunday supper.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup

This is one of the first recipes I ever pinned on Pinterest. I’ve since gone on to pin (or re-pin) more than 500 food-related items, but I kept this one in the back of my mind, because it was one I knew that I definitely wanted to try. Roasted garlic, roasted cauliflower...Um, YUM. As soon as the weather cooled down enough that soup seemed like an appropriate dinner option, I put it on our menu.

The beauty of this soup is in its simplicity. It’s literally only four ingredients, not including oil and seasonings, and that allows its flavor to really shine through. It’s intensely flavorful, slightly sweet from the roasted garlic, slightly sharp from the leeks, and slightly earthy from the cauliflower. It’s creamy without containing a hint of cream. Underneath it all is the nutty flavor brought out by roasting the vegetables. I served it alongside a humble grilled cheese sandwich and topped each serving with croutons for some crunch. This was such a simple, delicious dinner.

Roasted Cauliflower, Leek and Garlic Soup
slightly adapted from Tartelette

1 small head of cauliflower
1 whole head of garlic
2 leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 to 1 cup chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and position a rack in the middle.

2. Trim the outer leaves from the cauliflower head. Cut in quarters, remove the core, and cut the cauliflower into medium size florets. Place on a large baking sheet.

3. Peel each garlic clove and place the peeled cloves on the baking sheet with the cauliflower.

4. Trim the white part from the green stalk of the leeks. Keep the white part and cut into medium sized chunks. Wash well under water and place also on the baking sheet.

5. Drizzle with the oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes.

6. Let cool slightly. Place in a food processor, start running the machine and add enough stock to have a creamy soup. Re-season if necessary with salt and pepper. Serve.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts with Spiced Maple Glaze

When I (finally) got my stock of pumpkin puree this fall, I knew that one of the things I had to make was pumpkin doughnuts. My doughnut pan was practically begging to be filled with pumpkiny deliciousness. So when Deborah posted her recipe for baked pumpkin doughnuts, I of course made them that very weekend.

My family absolutely loved these doughnuts – shocking, I know. We are pumpkin people. The earthy flavor of pumpkin is such a perfect pairing with the sweetness of maple syrup. In fact, I loved the glaze so much that I may have eaten dozens a few fingertips full of it. This recipe makes a dozen doughnuts but I only have a six-doughnut doughnut pan, so I used my mini muffin pan to make doughnut holes out of the rest of the batter. They were delicious and adorable, and also disappeared too quickly for me to photograph them.

You can probably see that my glaze isn’t very thick. This is because I’m incredibly impatient when it comes to dunking doughnuts. I just can’t seem to wait until they’re cool. I’ve come to accept this about myself.

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts with Spiced Maple Glaze
adapted from Taste and Tell

For the doughnuts:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:

1 1/2 to 2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a doughnut pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, cream together the brown sugar, butter and pumpkin. Add in the eggs, mix well, then mix in the vanilla and milk. Stir in the reserved dry ingredients.

4. Place the mix in a large zip-top bag. Cut off the corner and pipe into the doughnut pan.

5. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

6. Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice and milk. When the doughnuts are cool, dip them in the glaze. Return to the wire rack to allow the glaze to set.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mexican Pulled Chicken Stuffed Peppers

I love making Mexican-style shredded chicken in the Crock pot, but I usually use it for burritos or tacos. I was really excited when I saw this recipe, because I love stuffed peppers, and I always try to put some version of them on our menu whenever bell peppers are on sale.

These were absolutely delicious, and so easy too. The chicken cooks itself, basically, so all you have to do the night you serve this meal is stuff and cook the peppers themselves. I always halve my peppers before I stuff them, because I think it makes them easier to eat (and they cook faster too!). I haven’t tried it, but I bet they’d freeze well too.

With our favorite sour cream rice on the side, this was a hearty, satisfying, and easy meal.

Mexican Pulled Chicken Stuffed Peppers
adapted from Life As A Plate

3 chicken breasts
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, drained
1 package taco seasoning
4 cups salsa, divided
4 large bell peppers, any color
Shredded Mexican-blend cheese

1. Put chicken breasts, black beans, corn, taco seasoning and 2 cups salsa in the Crock pot. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Shred chicken with two forks and mix well.

2. Using a sharp knife, halve peppers and pull out all the seeds and ribs. Stuff each pepper half with chicken mixture.

3. Spread 1 cup salsa on the bottom of a baking dish. Place peppers in dish and top with remaining 1 cup salsa. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until peppers are soft.

4. Top with shredded cheese and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Potatoes and Apples "Risotto-Style"

I saw this recipe last fall, and I was so intrigued by it. Potatoes and apples, together? Cooked “risotto-style”? It sounded so strange, I just knew I had to give it a shot. And I’m glad I took a chance on it, because the end result was quite tasty!

My boys and I liked this side dish a lot, although my husband wasn’t really a fan. I believe the word he used to describe it was “weird.” And it definitely is different, I’ll give him that. You don’t often see parmesan cheese and apples together in one dish. I’ve cooked with apples in savory applications before, but I can’t remember a time I’ve ever seen them paired with potatoes or parmesan cheese. For me, though, the combination just worked (and it must’ve worked for my sons, as well, who both asked for seconds). The starchy, earthy potatoes balanced out the sweet-tart flavor of the apples nicely, and as the apples cooked, they broke down and made this wonderful sauce that coated the potatoes.

I think this is one of those divisive dishes that people are either going to love or hate. For my part, I thought this was an interesting seasonal side dish with tons of flavor, and something I’ll definitely try to sneak onto our menu again.

Potatoes and Apples “Risotto-Style”
adapted from Epicurious

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup crisp, dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Line a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels.

2. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring salted water to a boil (use about 1 tablespoon salt for every 4 quarts water). Add the potatoes and apples and boil, uncovered, until just starting to get tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the potatoes and apples and transfer to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet to cool.

3. In a small, heavy saucepan over moderate heat, heat 1 tablespoon butter until melted. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, apples, and chicken stock and simmer, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is creamy and slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheese, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oatmeal Crème Pies

When I was pregnant with my second son, I think I single-handedly kept Little Debbie in business with my oatmeal crème pie purchases. I couldn’t get enough of them, and next to BBQ, they were my biggest pregnancy craving. I’m trying to figure out if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I didn’t have this recipe when I was pregnant. If I had had it, I wouldn’t have needed to spend so much money on the Little Debbie version. But also, if I’d had this recipe, I would have been eating oatmeal crème pies a lot more frequently, because these are just so incredibly good.

These are definitely better than the store-bought version, and while they’re not “healthy,” exactly, at least they don’t have a lot of artificial ingredients in them. They definitely taste like the store-bought ones, but they’re even more delicious because they’re so fresh-tasting. The cookies are chewy and soft and the filling is absolutely incredible, with the perfect texture and the right amount of sweetness. It was hard for me to share these with anyone, but I forced myself to, and everyone who tried them couldn’t stop raving about them. This recipe is a keeper for sure.

Oatmeal Crème Pies
from Macaroni and Cheesecake

For the cookies:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon honey
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

For the marshmallow frosting:

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, honey and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

3. In a separate medium sized bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Stir in oats until evenly distributed. Transfer dough to a large mixing bowl (this is so you can use stand mixer bowl for the frosting) and chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

4. Remove dough from refrigerator and drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet (or even a bit smaller for smaller cookies). Bake for 8 to 10 minutes just until the edges start to brown. Cookies will seem moist in the middle but they will set up. Cool on baking sheet until set and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

5. To make the frosting, in a double boiler, add egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar and heat over simmering water. Whisking frequently, heat until egg whites become very frothy and sugar is dissolved (approximately 160 degrees). Carefully add egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed for several minutes until egg mixture will hold stiff peaks and is light in texture. Carefully fold in vanilla until incorporated.

6. Add frosting to a cooled cookie and then top with another cookie. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 10.10.11

I can’t believe we’re cruising towards the middle of October already. I’ll be honest: I’m kind of anxious for this year to be over, because it’s been a pretty rough one for my family, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to enjoy every bit of what’s coming up. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas…I’m excited (and planning!) for all of them.

Here’s our menu for this week. You can see I’m still firmly entrenched in comfort food mode, and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

Monday: Ranch pork chops, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli. These pork chops have three ingredients, and they cook right in the slow cooker, so they fit into my meal plan perfectly. If I’m feeling motivated, I may try making my own cream of chicken soup using Sarah’s recipe.

Tuesday: Roasted tomato BLTs, tater tots. I love the flavor of roasted tomatoes, so I can’t imagine that I won’t love them on a BLT.

Wednesday: Creamy baked chicken taquitos with creamy lime-cilantro dressing. These taquitos are delicious, and definitely one of our favorites, but it’s the dressing that really does it for me. I love the stuff and could eat it with a spoon.

Thursday: Crock pot pork roast with potatoes and carrots, rolls. I’ve been missing my mom a lot lately, and what better way to remind me of her than by making one of her recipes?

Friday: Taco loaf. This looks a lot like a taco version of a French bread pizza. I know my family will like this one.

Saturday: Cheesy chicken broccoli bake, buttered noodles. This chicken dish reminds me a lot of something that I used to get frequently at The Cracker Barrel restaurant. I don’t think they serve it anymore (I haven’t been there in a long time anyway), so I was happy to stumble upon this recipe on Pinterest.

Sunday: Cheese and pesto stuffed shells, garlic bread. Our meatless meal for the week. These stuffed shells look incredible.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sweet Acorns

I love being That Mom. You know, the one who always brings fun, creative snacks for her kids’ classes and makes homemade gifts for the teachers. When my boys are in actual school, time allowing, I’m sure I will be That Mom who makes the fancy little Bento box lunches every day until they tell me to stop (which they will, because they are boys, and boys eventually stop thinking cutesy things like that are cool).

I always look forward to Andrew’s snack day at preschool. His snack day in September happened to fall during their “Fall Into Fall” themed week, so I knew these adorable doughnut hole snacks would be perfect. They literally only took minutes to make, and they look just like acorns! They fit right in with the kids’ theme, and as suspected, they were universally loved. According to Andrew's teacher, some of the kids even pretended to be squirrels and tried to hoard as many doughnut holes as they could in their cheeks. :)

Sweet Acorns
from Gracious Rain

Doughnut holes (I used glazed, but if you can find pumpkin ones that would be fun)
Chocolate frosting
Chocolate sprinkles
Pretzel matchsticks

Slather some chocolate frosting on the top third of a doughnut hole. Roll in sprinkles. Repeat with remaining doughnut holes. For the “stem,” stick a pretzel in the center of each top.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spicy Sausage Macaroni and Cheese

I just finished reading a book that takes place in post-zombie-apocalypse society. In the book, any living creature over 40 pounds is subject to zombification. (I promise, I have a food-related point, stick with me.) In one part of the book, the main character eats soy bacon. In another, he eats soy sausage. And you guys, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more thankful to live in a world where zombies don’t exist*, because I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t able to eat pork. No bacon? No sausage? Oh my goodness...Feed me to the living dead!

But since we’re talking about the real world, I’m thankful to have available to me the perfection that is spicy sausage. One day I was randomly thinking about food (which I do a lot), and thought about how delicious spicy sausage would be in mac and cheese. And since I love the flavor combination of sausage and tomatoes, I decided I’d add some of those in there too. The result was creamy, cheesy, spicy perfection.

I chose to leave the flavoring of this mac and cheese pretty simple, but you could jazz it up lots of different ways. Add cumin and chili powder to give it a Mexican spin, or garlic and Italian seasoning to make it taste more Italian in nature. The possibilities are limitless, and when you’re starting with a base as delicious as this mac and cheese, there’s no way you can go wrong.

Spicy Sausage Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound macaroni or other short pasta
1 pound spicy sausage
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground mustard
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions; drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage until no longer pink. Set aside on paper towels to drain.

3. Heat cream cheese and milk in a medium saucepan until smooth and slightly thickened. Season with ground mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cheddar cheese until melted.

4. Combine pasta, sausage, cherry tomatoes, and cheese sauce. Serve immediately.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

It’s high time I joined the ranks of food bloggers extolling the virtues of these muffins. I made them for the first time this year, and I really, really wish I hadn’t waited so long. They’re so delicious, and I won’t even tell you how quickly two dozen of them disappeared from my kitchen.

There are two things that make these better than your average pumpkin muffin: 1. the streusel topping, which makes a crackly, spicy-sugary crust on top of the muffins; and 2. the cream cheese filling, which is actually more like cream cheese frosting. I added a little bit of vanilla to the filling to make it taste even more like frosting. I am powerless to resist the pumpkin-cream cheese combo. Powerless, I tell you.

While I was making these, I was wondering why the freeze-the-cream-cheese-mixture step was necessary. I thought maybe the cream cheese mixture was too heavy for the batter, so I froze it as indicated. But my friend Amanda just went ahead and dolloped the mixture into each muffin without freezing it first, and she said it worked out just fine. So I won't bother messing with the freezing step next time.

There was too much clove flavor for my tastes, so I’ve adjusted that in the recipe below. But other than that and the freezing step, I won’t change a thing when I make these again. And I will be making them many, many times – this fall and every fall to come.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
adapted from Annie’s Eats

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the muffins:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

For the topping:

1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and mix well until blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Smooth the plastic wrap tightly around the log, and reinforce with a piece of foil. Transfer to the freezer and chill until at least slightly firm, at least 2 hours.

2. To make the muffins, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda; whisk to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree and oil. Mix on medium-low speed until blended. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.

3. To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl; whisk to blend. Add in the butter pieces and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well with a small amount of batter, just enough to cover the bottom of the liner (1-2 tablespoons). Slice the log of cream cheese filling into 24 equal pieces. Place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin well. Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, placing on top of the cream cheese to cover completely. Sprinkle a small amount of the topping mixture over each of the muffin wells.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.