Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

I made a couple of new dishes for Christmas.  One was a squash casserole that I found from Paula Deen.  The only change I made was using Panko breadcrumbs on the top.  Leave it to Paula to take something wholesome like squash and add sour cream, butter and cheese to it.  It sure was delicious and I will make it again!

I had some left over cranberries and I used these in a cranberry apple crisp.  It turned out very well and quick to put together.  It had plenty of sweetness and the topping, my favorite part, was very tasty.

I also feasted on a dessert that I think was probably this peanut butter brownie trifle.  It was AMAZING.  AMAZING.  It sounds almost like too much, but it was not.  A small serving is all you need, though I wanted to take the bowl and lick it clean.  I will definitely be making this myself.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cookie Competition 2011

I entered my company's Christmas cookie competition this year and the best place I finished was third.  My third place cookie was Betty Crocker's Chocolate-Marshmallow Pillows.  This cookie, according to the website, was a prize winning cookie in 2009.  The prize was probably THIRD place.  I thought this was a delicious cookie and a chocolate lovers dream.  Some hints I learned:  

  • Cut the marshmallows with kitchen shears.  
  • When you first put the marshmallow in the cookie, it is not that important to push it down.  After you cook it for 2 minutes, THEN really push it down and make is spread over the entire cookie.

My other cookie, which did not place, but was delicious nonetheless, was Oatmeal Toffee Cookies.  These were super easy to make and I liked them alot.  I think nuts would have been nice in them as well.  Or maybe chocolate chips.

The winning cookie, also from Betty Crocker, was AMAZING!  It is a bar cookie, which makes it quicker to produce large quantities.  The Praline Crumb Caramel Cheesecake Bars are tasty as well as pretty.  Very nice choice for a cookie competition and I was happy to pass my trophy on to the winner and end my reign of 3 years running.

Chicken Soup

One of my favorite bloggers, The Pioneer Woman, had a recipe for Chicken Soup last week.  Perfect, seeing as I am obsessed with soups as of late!

The recipe, if you only look at it and not the blog post, fails to mention to remove the chicken, take off the meat, and return the meat to the pot.  

This is an easy, basic, chicken soup recipe.  It features parsnips, and this is the first time I have ever cooked with those.  I think the soup needs more oomph - either rice, noodles or potatoes.  And, because the entire chicken cooks in the broth, there is a lot of fat floating at the top.  I only ate a sample while it was hot and the rest I put in the refrigerator for left overs.  Then the fat congeals and I can spoon it out before heating.

The soup has a nice, gentle flavor and would be perfect for giving to someone with a cold. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sugared Cranberries

I enjoyed the cranberries on our appetizer tray at Benjy's so much that I decided to try them at home. Despite what our waiter claimed, the cranberries do get cooked a bit when you pour the hot simple syrup over them. I don't think my sugar layer turned out as even as the ones an Benjy's, but they taste great and were easy to make.

I couldn't find superfine sugar at HEB, so I just gave some regular granulated sugar a whirl in the food processor for about 40 seconds.


Split Pea Soup

My winter of soups continues.  The latest, Split Pea Soup, was the simplest and tastiest.  You layer everything in the crock pot, set it, and forget it!  DO NOT STIR because you need to maintain the layers so the peas will get soft.  

I made a couple minor changes, and I am glad I did.  I did NOT add any salt or pepper and the soup ended up being perfectly seasoned.  It is almost too salty due to the ham.  And speaking of ham, I used an entire ham steak with a bone.  I cooked the bone and removed it at the end.  I also used all my parsley which did not affect the flavor, only added some colorful flecks.  And finally, I threw in a couple sprigs of thyme.  

After 5 hours I stirred the soup and knew it was finished cooking.  I left the lid off for 20 or so minutes to thicken a bit.  This soup is wonderful and re-heats beautifully.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I made homemade pizza today and it turned out deliciously!  I used this recipe for the dough and made the following variations, as recommended by other reviewers.

I reduced the water to 3/4 cup and I added 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp thyme and 2 tsps of Italian seasoning to the dough. Next time I will use a little less Italian Seasonings as this really is a dominate flavor.  I also let the dough rise several hours.  The crust could have been crisper and next time I will pre-heat the pizza stone as well as cook at 400 degrees.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chrstmas Dinner 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011 was held at benjy's on Washington Street.  All were in attendance except for Lauren and Carol.  

I must say... this is now my favorite restaurant.  Everything was wonderful.  The staff was the nicest and most accommodating that I have ever encountered.  This is a VERY trendy bar and restaurant where I would not have been surprised if the staff were rude and uptight, especially since this is such a happening, "place to be seen", Washington Avenue hot spot.  I shall share examples of the awesome staff as I recount the evening.

 Mary, Janet and I arrived first and started at the upstairs bar.  At 6:30 pm, it was packed.  There was plenty of seating and standing areas and an outdoor patio.  The menu featured happy hour drink and appetizer specials.  Mary and I had the blood orange margaritas that were delicious!  The drinks were a bright orangey pink color, very sweet and with a hint of tequila.  YUM.  The waiter brought us water with our drinks, which is uncommon in a bar, but very appreciated and a nice touch.

At our reservation time of 7, the maître d' came upstairs to find us and told us we could have a table or a booth.  He seemed to really care which we preferred.  When we went downstairs and met Tonya he told us the booth was almost ready.  Upon sitting we were gives a triplet of munchies:  sugared cranberries, two types of sliced pickles and a wonderful flat bread.   Each item had us guessing as to how it was prepared and the waiter was happy to tell us.  He said the sugared cranberries were raw cranberries soaked in simple syrup (he told us that simple syrup is sugar and water HAHA) and then rolled in plain sugar and air dried on trays and "thrown in Tupperware".  The berries were tart and sweet and delectable.  The pickles were mild and the flat bread was very thin and crisp and like nothing I have ever had.  It was an usual pairing of treats but all delicious.

For dinner, Mary and I ordered the crunchy nut chicken which was 2 slices of a chicken breast coated in nuts (when asked, the waiter mentioned about 10 nuts) and served with potato gratin, asparagus, corn reduction and a balsamic vinegar sauce.  It was very very good and a huge portion for only $16.95. 

nut crusted + marbled potato gratin
+ sweet corn reduction 16.95

Janet had the:

local shrimp + lump crab + forest
mushrooms + piquillo cream 17.95

I did not sample the ravioli, and the plate was beautiful with large shrimp piled high.

And Tonya had the:

jalapeño-potato cream
+ warm brussels sprout salad 22.95

Tonya shared some of her ribs with me and they were AMAZING.  So very tender and flavorful.  The brussels spouts were delicious as well.  Next time, I will order the ribs.

A manager took our dessert orders and this was part of the entire restaurant staff working as a team.  I often saw others helping the waiters get their orders in ASAP to ensure food arrived quickly, which it did.  For dessert, I had read in reviews that Mom's chocolate cake was the one to order.  I like chocolate, but it is not my favorite desert.  I asked the manager about the banana pudding and if it was worth it.  Because yes, I have been places before and asked about desserts and was steered away from one, ordered it anyway, and was very disappointed.  Why would a restaurant have a sub-par offering on the menu?  The manager told me "get the banana pudding".  I did.  Mary ordered a challah bread pudding with white chocolate ice cream and Janet and Tonya ordered the chocolate cake.

When the desserts arrived, the waiter brought an extra chocolate cake for me and Mary to share!  How wonderful and totally unexpected!  The cake had two huge pieces, so I know Tonya or Janet would have given Mary and me a bite (we all shared our entrees).   Instead, Mary and I enjoyed our desserts as well as the cake.

The banana pudding, pictured below, had a silky, sweet meringue and the pudding tasted as if it had some peanut butter in it.  It also had peanut butter cookies rather than vanilla wafers.  On the side were two homemade peanut butter cookies and two homemade chocolate chip cookies.  All were wonderful.

The chocolate cake was divine with a ganache like chocolate icing with pecans and it was served with homemade vanilla ice cream.  

I highly recommend benjy's.  The staff is wonderful, the food is reasonably priced and delicious and there is great people watching of the young and hip of Houston's inner loop.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

The recipe I used for Molasses Crinkle Cookies is on the back of the jar of Grandma's Molasses.  However, I could not find it on the Internet.

This was a super easy recipe that only requires a spoon for mixing.  The dough is chilled and then you form balls the size of walnuts and roll in sugar.  Finally, sprinkles of water cause the cookies to crack and crinkle.

I used a small ice cream scoop that is about twice the size as recommended in the recipe.  I made 2 dozen cookies and the recipe says it makes 4 dozen.  These are delicious and have a soft texture.  The spices blend together beautifully.

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

3/4 cup softened shortening (use the baking blocks)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses (spray measuring cup with Pam for easy pouring)
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
sugar for rolling

Mix shortening, sugar, egg and molasses.  Stir in remaining ingredients. Chill dough.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough into balls the size of walnuts and then roll in sugar.  Place balls on greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with water for a cracked surface.  Bake 10-12 minutes.