Thursday, December 24, 2015

Cookie exchange, December 13, 2015!

I hosted my 2nd (next year, annual) cookie exchange and it was a great hit! I served various appetizers and this fall sangria.

 The cookie exchange winners...


An interesting fact is that none of the cookies have flour!  Under certain cookie nazi rule books, cookies without flour WOULD NOT be allowed at a cookie exchange.  







 
 

Christmas Tree Meringues

Ingredients
  • 4 Egg Whites
  • 1 1/3 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 TSP Salt
  • 1/4 TSP Cream of Tartar
  • Green Gel Food Coloring
  • Parchment Paper
  • Piping Bag
  • Large Star Tip
  • Sprinkles & Stars (I ordered Wilton gold stars online)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 150-170 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer place egg whites. Let the whites come to room temp.
  2. Beat egg whites until white and foamy. Mix in 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Set timer for 7 minutes. Slowly add in sugar a bit at a time taking the entire 7 minutes to do so.
  3. Add food coloring and mix well.
  4. Fill piping bag with meringue using a large star tip (I used Wilton #1M). 
  5. On a parchment paper lined cookie sheet pipe small mounds of meringue, moving in a tiny circle. 
  6. Add sprinkles and stars. If placing stars on the soft meringue is too difficult, you can also add them with a small dab of royal icing after baking.
  7. Now bake at a very low heat (about 150-170) for about two hours to two and a half hours until they are nice and crisp. I just checked on mine every so often to make sure they haven’t started to brown. Every oven is different. I have found in the past that a low temp for a much longer time is far better then a higher temp with a risk of browning.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stew and Muffins



It sometimes gets cold here.  When it does, I want to cook using my crock pot.  I made old fashioned beef stew using this very simple recipe.  I did not do any searing or cooking outside of the crock pot.  I followed the recipe other than leaving out the celery (my family does not believe in celery in stew) and I used 32 ounces of beef stock.  Start off with the amount of beef stock as called for in the recipe and then add more to get the amount of "soupyness" that you want to achieve.  I did need to thicken at the end using a corn starch slurry and add quite a bit of salt.  This was delicious, comforting and just like my parents would make and with the ease of a crock pot.



I had some fresh cranberries and oranges so I decided to whip up some muffins.  These were superb.  The muffin is almost like pound cake and it would make a great base for any combination of fruit and nuts.   I recommend cutting the cranberries in half but otherwise, this recipe is perfect.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

I made a few new dishes this year that I want to share.

First, the turkey.  This is the simplest yet tastiest turkey that I have ever prepared.  No overnight brining.  No fingers smeared with butter and working under the skin.  The aromatics go into the turkey, olive oil on the outside and you are done.  I did add some poultry seasoning to the outside because I love the flavor.  The turkey was super moist after I baked it to just under 165 degrees and let it rest. I also set it out for about 2 hours before I put it in the oven.  The aromatics add nice yet mild flavor to the meat.  The recipe link goes into great detail with a summary recipe about half way down.

I also prepared a spiral cut ham IN MY CROCK POT.  Yes!  I could not figure out how to time the turkey, ham and side dishes in the oven so I looked for alternative methods for heating up the ham and voila, crock pot!  It was perfect!  The bone in ham was slightly too tall for my crock pot so I cut some off and put it on the side of the pot.  I also had to use two layers of foil as a lid and as suggested in the recipe, still rested the lid on top.  I used one cup of orange juice and one cup of water as the liquid and only half of the glaze because I did not want the ham to be too sweet.  I think this was a good idea and the extras were not missed.   

Two new sides made an appearance this year.  My parents brought Ruth's Chris Sweet Potatoes.   These are sweet enough that you could put it in a pie crust and call it dessert!  While I thought it was delicious and decadent, I think you could half the sugar in the potatoes and would not miss it, especially since there is a cup of brown sugar in the topping!  I was impressed with my dad for following both my instructions to bring this dish as well as preparing it.  I love delegating!

The second new side dish was Black Eyed Pea squash casserole.  This is a great way to fancy up squash.  I added some fresh thyme and otherwise stuck to the recipe.  The bread crumbs create a nice crust. I put this recipe together the night before and baked it on Thanksgiving day.  This savory side dish was a nice contrast to the sweet potatoes.




Sunday, November 22, 2015

Taco Soup

Two things are happening: it's cold and it's Thanksgiving week.  It was with both of these in mind that I made Taco Soup for my meals this week.  I followed the recipe other than using 2 cans of black beans instead of pinto beans.  The cans of rotel bring some heat so if you are a wimp, proceed with caution.  The warm soup full of vegetables will be filling and comforting during this first week of cold weather.  It will also help me reduce my calories before the eating fest of Thanksgiving arrives.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Blue Cattle Truck Trading Co. Butterscotch Bars

This recipe for Butterscotch Bars was in the Wednesday edition of the Houston Chronicle.  For $5 a month I receive the paper on Sundays and Wednesdays.  Mostly the paper drives me crazy but I do appreciate the Food section and the coupons.  

I wanted to make this recipe because it has a meringue like topping.  There is a sugar cookie base, middle layer with butterscotch chips, pecans and coconut and on top, the brown sugar meringue.  It all blends together so the layers are not distinct and this results in a delicious bar that makes you wonder what all is going on here?!   Yum

The recipe should say that the butter is melted.  Also, I used the whole bag of chips.  I had about 1/3 cup of toffee chips and I put those in too.  I think the kitchen sink could be in that middle layer!  These are decadent.  No need to serve with cream or ice cream as suggested.  Unless you want to go into a diabetic coma.

(photo by Gary Coronado/Houston Chronicle)




Monday, November 9, 2015

Angelica's Chili

YEARS ago, Angelica made this delicious chili and ALMOST won a competition at work.  And I say "almost" because the organizer of the competition thought awarding 1st place was not sufficient, but that she needed to rank the chilis from 1st to 13th place (poor J.J.)  

I think Angelica's second place chili was the tastiest and she was robbed.  

"I am passing along my CHILI recipe to share. I doubled the recipe and added ground chuck in addition to the turkey, also for a lighter broth you can use one can of chicken broth instead of 2 (1 each) cans of tomato sauce/paste. I used allrecipe.com as a guide and personalized it. I put all the fixings on the side and made cornbread muffins, everything was a hit!  Hope you enjoy a bowl of homemade chili."

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 pound ground chuck                   
  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans low sodium tomato soup
  • 1 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans, drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 Pkt. McCormick Chili Mix

  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch ground paprika
  • salt to taste

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place turkey in the skillet, and cook until evenly brown; drain.
  2. Coat the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray, and mix in turkey, tomato soup, kidney beans, cannellini beans and onion. Season with chili powder mix, chili powder, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, allspice and salt.
  3. Cover, and cook 8 hours on Low or 4 hours on High.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cinnamon Rolls



I have made these cinnamon rolls before, but it has been several years. Other than requiring a few steps to allow the yeast to work, this is a simple bread recipe with no kneading!  Also, once you make the dough you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days!  That is what I did, and I only "punched" it down a couple times a day and it was fine in my covered dutch oven.  

I made one gigantic log with all of the dough, spreading it on my counter, making sure to have flour underneath and on the rolling pin.  The only trick is to make sure the dough is dry enough to work with.  Pour on the melted butter, sprinkle on the sugar and cinnamon and roll into a log.  Mine looked like a baby boa constrictor.  I cut each roll using a flour scraper.  No need to transfer to a cutting board.  The only thing I did different from the recipe is I did not add coffee to the icing.

These are delicious and so much different than the kind you buy in the tube.  You can really taste the bread and these are sweet enough that you do not even need the icing.  Your house will smell amazing as these bake too!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 25, 2015

We met at Tonya's house on a rainy, cool, Sunday amid Hurricane Patricia.  

Appetizer: Mary, Sweet Potato Corn Cakes 
Salad:  Angie, Honey Crisp Apple Salad 
Main:  Peach and Mustard Glazed Pork Chops
Dessert:  Angelica, Apple Crisp






Dinner with guest, Vivian.



Mary pan-fried these crispy, sweet potato corn cakes at Tonya's to ensure that they were hot and crispy.  To the dipping sauce recipe, Mary added Srirachi sauce.  Very yummy and a beautiful presentation.  The sweet potatoes are a subtle flavor and the corn adds some crunchy texture.  The cayenne pepper adds a kick!






For the salad, I picked one with apples, which are a fall staple.  The recipe calls for frisee however my Sprouts store  did not have any.  The produce worker scoffed when I asked for it "hardly anyone carries frisee".  HA!  I should have substituted endive but instead I used spinach.  I had not realized until later that frisee is in the endive family.  You learn something new every day!  I added some Gorgonzola cheese, pear (thanks, Mary!) and dried cranberries.  The dressing is not overly sweet with some spice from the cumin and curry.


For the main dish, Tonya picked beautiful pork chops.  Even Cookie the cat could hardly resist!  





The pork chops were rubbed with spices, seared and then finished in the oven with the peach glaze.  The glaze was not overly sweet due to the Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and dash or two of Srirachi sauce.  This pork chops were tender and juicy, thanks to the bone in and watchful eye of Tonya and her trusty thermometer.  This is definitely a "company worthy" dish.  The pork chops were served with simple white rice, with some of the glaze spooned on top.





I was so excited about Angelica's apple crisp that I forgot to take a photograph.  It was a typical crisp with apples covered in a crispy oatmeal and pecan topping.


apples_their_benefits_are_skin_deep_image

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fall dessert

My dad requested Caramel Apple Streusel Squares for dessert this weekend.  I asked how he picked the recipe, thinking he would mention fall and apples, but no, he said he did a search for "recipes with sweetened condensed milk".  Oh.  Well, I thought it was the perfect fall dessert... not that it feels like fall right now, BUT IT IS.    

I had all the ingredients on hand except for the apples.  I used my new Pampered Chef mandolin to slice the apples in thin, uniform slices.  I used the 2nd setting though next time I will use the 3rd setting to have thicker slices.  I have also decided that I will always use the guard because I do not want to cut off any of my fingertips.   Mandolins are scary!  

This dessert is all about the crust and topping.  It is sweet with brown sugar and spicy with the cinnamon and nutmeg.  The apples are nestled between the layers and the caramel mixture ties it all together.  I put some extra caramel sauce on top because the top seemed a little dry.  This addition just made the bars even more delicious.  


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Dinner and dessert

Unstuffed cabbage casserole should really be called unstuffed cabbage ROLL casserole.  It has all the components of a cabbage roll but deconstructed and mixed into a casserole.  I hate when chefs on cooking shows make things deconstructed, like chicken pot pie.  NO!  What makes chicken pot pie delicious is it is prepared and served exactly as it has been for 100 years!  

In this case, deconstructed just makes it an easier recipe to fix and with less steps.  Skip the step of blanching the cabbage.  I cut it in thin strips and it cooked through in the oven.  I also used canned, diced tomatoes, skipped the dried mint and added Italian seasoning.  It turned out very good, with lots of flavor and reheats beautifully for left overs.  When I make it next time I am going to add some hot Italian sausage because I think the fennel in the sausage will be really nice with the other Italian spices.

For dessert (i.e., one for me, the rest for the office), I made these peanut butter blondies.  The recipe seemed too simple for these to be good but in fact, they were AMAZING.  I have been on a quest for the best recipe for peanut butter cookies and these bars are it. Bars, cookies, same difference, right?  I used chunky peanut butter and the nuts added a nice texture and not noticeable as a coworker told me "chunky peanut butter would be good in these".  Did that!  Chocolate chips in these would be sinful.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Going bananas

My new office has baskets of bananas and apples throughout the suite.  At first I thought these were decorations, but nope, they are for eating.  I will never buy an apple or banana again.  I asked a coworker what happens with the bananas at the end of the week and she said "YOU take them home, make banana bread and bring it back on Monday.  70% of us like nuts."  Oh.  Well.  OK.  I have not yet been brave enough to stuff my purse full of brown bananas but I am almost there.

In the meantime, I purchased some bananas and made banana pudding.  I used this recipe for the pudding.  It's creamy and delicious.  Then I got all fancy and put it in a pie, using this recipe as the go-by, but again using the other recipe for the pudding.  One recipe of the pudding was enough for two pies.  I skipped the lemon juice and mixed the wafers and banana slices in the pudding.  Spoon it in the pie shell, scatter on more wafers, drizzle the caramel sauce and dot with whipped cream.  After setting up in the refrigerator it does actually slice nicely.  Or, just got at it with a spoon.  Either way.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

September 13, 2015

We met at my house on Sunday, September 13, 2015.  (Note to self:  never make anything curried EVER AGAIN.  My house STILL smells like curry, 4 days later.  Chad thinks it smells like celery and has said as much about 10 times. It’s not celery, dear.)

Appetizer:  Angelica, Curried Cauliflower Soup
Cocktail:  Angie, Porch-side Paloma
Salad:  Mary, Indian Spiced Chickpea Salad
Main Dish:  Angie, Curried Chicken and Rice
Dessert:  Tonya, Chai Latte Cupcakes

The cocktail is similar to one I have made before.  This one has a fancy twist with the jalapeno honey syrup.  Jalapenos in drinks seem to be the fad right now.  The after-taste of heat is an interesting twist.

Porch-side Paloma
 
1 ½ part tequila
1 part grapefruit juice
1 part lime juice
½ part jalapeno honey syrup*

Combine all and shake with ice.  Or, I made it in a big pitcher.

*Add 1 cup honey, 3 jalapeno slices (or more if you want more heat, but 3 seems good) and ½ a cup of water.  Bring to a boil, stir and take off heat.  Cool then strain.

The soup Angelica prepared perfectly fit with the curry theme (and smell).  I’m KIDDING.  The soup is thick and rich and would be a great main dish with some hearty bread.   




Mary’s salad was most unique!  Like the soup, it is healthy and full of vegetables.  The yogurt makes for a creamy dressing and the spices make the taste complex.  I love chickpeas, and like the soup, this could easily be a main course with the addition of a protein like chicken or shrimp.  I even think canned tuna would pair well.  



The main dish is a play on one of my favorites:  chicken and rice.   This dish came together pretty easily and started on the stove but finished in the oven.  The rice was perfectly cooked and the chicken was juicy and spicy. 



The cupcakes that Tonya made were as beautiful as they were delicious!  I am envious of her piping skills.  The cake tastes similar to a spice cake and the icing is not-too sweet. Very very tasty.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cheesecake!

For my last baked good delivery to the office, I brought this white chocolate mousse cheesecake.   This was a great choice as it is probably the tastiest thing that I have ever made!  I prepared it in a 9 x 13 pan so everyone could get a piece.  The only change I would suggest is I do not see why you need to wait to put the mousse on the cake.  I would just let the cake cool and then spread the mousse and it will be good to go.  I let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.  It was creamy and just sweet enough. It would go very well with berries, especially strawberries, on the top.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Apple Crisp

I very much enjoy apple crisp.  Baked apples have always been one of my favorite treats and add a crust... yum!!  This crisp is super easy.  I used granny smith apples, sliced thinly and did not even bother peeling.  I reduced the sugar on the apples to probably 1/3 cup, just sprinkled it all over the apples and called it a day.  One cup seems WAY TOO much. I did not make any changes to the crust.  I wondered if the shortening would be "boring" compared to using butter but nope, it was fantastic!  This crisp is great on its own, warmed up for breakfast or served with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Meat Sauce for Lasagna and Spaghetti

I make lasagna and spaghetti a couple of times a month.  This is my favorite meat sauce.  I add a pound of hot Italian sausage (and enough water so it can simmer down for 2 or more hours) and otherwise, it is perfect!  This makes enough for one 8" x 8" pan of lasagna and a couple servings of spaghetti. I use half for lasagna and then freeze the other half for spaghetti in the future.

For the lasagna, I use The Pioneer Woman's recipe for the cheese layers and assembly. 


June 14, 2015

We gathered at Mary's for a Mediterranean Meal!


 
 

We started with Spinach Puffs and spinach dip as prepared by Angie and HEB.  I put both eggs in the filling rather than use an egg wash.  I also added lemon zest and juice into the filling as suggested by recipe reviewers.










Mary concocted our Cucumber Basil Lime Gimlet cocktail and it was light and refreshing.  There is something about a cucumber cocktail that makes me feel like I'm at the spa waiting for a massage.  I need to feel that more often!





Our main dish was Mediterranean Style Beef Tips with Tzatziki Sauce.  The beef is marinated with oregano and the yogurt dip was cooling and creamy. 











We prepared the Mediterranean Style Cauliflower together.  This was a delicious way to prepare cauliflower with bright fresh flavors from the basil and tomatoes and a little bit of naughtiness with the Parmesan cheese garnish.





Tonya made a Greek Couscous Salad sans the olives.  I love couscous and this was a way to serve it with crunchy bell peppers and cucumbers.  The feta cheese adds saltiness and bottled salad dressing simplifies the recipe.






We ended our feast with a creamy Vanilla and Almond Fresh Fruit Tart.  These started with frozen pie crusts that taste like homemade when baked and are then filled with a delicious cream and topped with fresh berries.   I could have eaten several of these delicious little pies!

Monday, June 15, 2015

May 3, 2015

We met at Tonya's for a pre-Cinco De Mayo celebration!



We started off with Tonya's Margarita Slushes and Angelica's Seven Layer Dip.  The slushes were delicious and made it way too easy to consume large amounts of tequila!  The seven layer dip was fresh and bright with all the vegetables:  tomato, bell pepper, green onions, avocado and olives.  Very tasty, filling and almost guilt free!


7 Layer Taco Dip

1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 (16 ounce) can refried beans
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
1 (16 ounce) jar salsa
1 large tomato, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch chopped green onions
1 large avocado
1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, blend the taco seasoning mix and refried beans. Spread the mixture onto a large serving platter.
2. Mix the sour cream and cream cheese in a medium bowl. Spread over the refried beans.
3. Top the layers with salsa. Place a layer of tomato, green bell pepper, green onions and avocado over the salsa, and top with Cheddar cheese. Garnish with black olives


Eat with Chips or favorite vegetable.


Our salad was a unique one called Avocado, Tomato and Cotija Cheese and was perfect for a Cinco de Mayo dinner!  It had a sweet dressing that paired well with the salty cheese and creamy avocado.

Chili and Cheese Rice was a Spanish Rice with a cheesy twist.  It finishes in the oven to melt the cheese and make a slight crust.  

Pinto Beans without jalapenos was our other side dish.  The beans were creamy and perfectly seasoned.





The main dish was Sauteed Potatoes with Chorizo.  Tonya had all the toppings which were displayed in the cutest serving platter.  The pork was served in flour or corn tortillas and these tacos were delicious! The potatoes were perfectly cooked, creamy in the middle with crunchy outsides and the chorizo gave a nice kick.  These would also be excellent with egg as a breakfast taco too.  
























I prepared the desert, and it was a failure.  I used pastry flour instead of cake flour.  Who knew there was a difference?!  NOT ME.  Isn't cake technically pastry?  The icing was nice and I do agree with recipe reviewers that you should add some mango to the cake.  You may also want to follow the reviewers and cut back the sugar.  But for heaven's sake, do not use the wrong flour!!!



Saturday, May 23, 2015

April 19, 2015

We met at my house on a dark and stormy night.  We even had hail.  Yikes!




We started  off with  two dips with crudites.  Pioneer Woman's Crudite with Spinach Dip and Barefoot Contessa's Crudite with Herb Dip. I forgot to take a picture, so here is a picture from Food Network.   Please don't sue me.  

I enjoyed both dips and they lasted the entire week.  A relatively healthy snack to eat with fresh vegetables.

The cocktail was a Honey Poloma using my new favorite alcohol, honey whiskey.

Honey Poloma

  Ingredients

1 Part Jim Beam® Honey Bourbon & Liqueur
Grapefruit Soda

Preparation

Fill with grapefruit soda. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Easter Crudite Basket with Spinach Dip


 


Our main dish was Vegetable Lasagna. I lightened this up by using half and half rather than cream.  I also simplified the recipe by using ready to bake lasagna noodles.  I really liked this lasagna.  It was hearty and creamy yet still had lots of vegetables with the spinach and mushrooms. 








Our sides were Garlic Bread as prepared by Angelica and Green Bean and Asparagus Salad as prepared by Tonya.  The garlic bread was different than I had prepared before - it had a melted butter and herb/cheese concoction that was made into a paste and spread on the bread.  The salad was a warm salad and featured my favorite vegetable:  asparagus.  The tomatoes burst when roasted and added a fresh, summery taste to the salad.






For dessert, Mary brought an Italian Cream Cake from the House of Pies.  The first rule of cooking club is your presence matters more than your making of a homemade dish.  Second rule is that you are allowed to leave early if you have a pressing engagement.   Third rule is that there are no rules in cooking club.















Tuesday, April 14, 2015

March 22, 2015

On March 22, 2015 we met at Mary's house, along with Mary's friend and neighbor, Carol.



 Orange mamosarita ( Mary original recipe)
 
 
1-1 1/2 quarts fresh squeezed orange juice
1  12 oz can pineapple nectar
1   cup of tequila
1   cup margarita mix
1   bottle dry champagne







Appetizers of mango salsa and guacamole



A banana leaf wrapped pork roast,  Cochinita Pibil   It was full of flavor and very tender.  And who can resist BANANA LEAVES?!


For the side dish of Mexican Rice we combined two recipes.  We used one that had a puree of tomato and onions and then cooked it on the stove.  The salad was a Mexican Slaw with mangoes and avocado. 


 



Margarita Pie with Pretzel Crust

Tonya increased the tequila (double at least) and you still could not taste it in the pie. She also beat in about 2 oz of cream cheese with the condensed milk so the pie would not be too runny. More cream cheese and tequila could be added to make the pie even more delicious!