Monday, December 21, 2009

The Ultimate “Gag” Gift: Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa Cake

Sandra Lee's Kwanzaa Cake I originally witnessed this monstrosity of a cake on a Food Network episode of Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade a few years ago. Since then, the now infamous Kwanzaa Cake has taken on a life of its own on the web. Everyone wants to bad mouth this thing. But who can blame them?

There are some things that shouldn't be mixed. She begins with a store bought angel food cake and adds cinnamon and chocolate to white icing from a can. She then coats the angel food cake (which is already sweet) with the icing. If that's not enough, Sandra Lee then dumps a whole can of apple pie filling in the middle of the angel food cake. But wait, there’s more. The crazy looking cake is then sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, and get this, corn nuts.

So what makes this crazy, unappetizing and sickly sweet cake a Kwanzaa cake? None other than red and green candles that look like they belong in a candlestick. So what have we learned? Just because someone on TV says "do it", doesn't mean you should.

Watch the horror below. And obviously Sandra is confused, as she calls the corn nuts, “acorns.” The original video I witnessed, and the original recipe also calls for popcorn, yet it seems to have been edited out. And the recipe is now missing from the Food Network website. Hmmm.

Here’s the recipe if you want to give someone a “gag” gift.

1 (10 to 12-ounce) purchased angel food cake
1 container (16 ounce) vanilla frosting
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (21-ounce) container apple filling or topping
1 (1.7-ounce) package corn nuts
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/2 cup popped popcorn

Special Equipment:
Kwanzaa candles

Using a serrated knife, cut cake horizontally into 2 layers. Place bottom cake layer, cut side up, on a serving platter. Mix frosting, cocoa powder, vanilla, and cinnamon in large bowl until combined. Spread about 1/4 of the frosting over top of cake layer on platter. Top with second cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake to coat completely. Spoon apple pie filling into hole in center of cake. Place candles atop cake. Sprinkle top of cake with some corn nuts, pumpkin seeds, and popcorn. Sprinkle remaining corn nuts and pumpkin seeds around base of cake.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Soft & Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

Soft and Chew Gingerbread Cookies The holidays wouldn’t be complete without gingerbread. Of course, this would be my first attempt ever at making the traditional cookie so I didn’t know what to expect. Even though you have to roll the dough and chill it, it’s a pretty simple cookie to make.

I used the food processor method to mix all the ingredients. But unless you have a large food processor bowl, I would use a regular stand mixer. The directions are simple. Just add your dry ingredients, then a little butter and gradually add the milk and molasses. Almost instantly you’ll know you’re making gingerbread. The aroma from the ginger and molasses and the deep color of the dough is a wonderful sight.

Once the dough was mixed, I divided it and rolled it flat between two pieces of parchment paper. If you hate rolling dough, this method is pretty simple. You don’t have to worry about dough sticking to the rolling pin, or flouring your work surface.

I prepared the dough the day before I need the cookies, then chilled the sheets of rolled dough between the parchment overnight. The next morning I used my new tree cookie cutter to cut out the cookies and gently put them onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. In my gas oven, each sheet of cookies only took about 8 minutes.

The cookies taste great. Even if you’re not a fan of gingerbread you may like these. They are slightly spicy, yet mild. And the soft texture of the cookie is great. I prefer chewy and soft gingerbread rather than the gingersnap style of cookies. I’d like to keep my teeth in one piece.

For a rolled cookie recipe, this one is super simple and great for the holidays.

Printable Version

For about twenty 5-inch gingerbread people or thirty 3-inch cookies

Because flour is not added during rolling, dough scraps can be rolled and cut as many times as necessary. Don't overbake the cookies or they will be dry. Store soft gingerbread in a wide, shallow airtight container or tin with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper between each cookie layer. These cookies are best eaten within one week.


3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons milk


1. In food processor work bowl fitted with steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms soft mass, about 10 seconds.

Alternatively, in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Stop mixer and add butter pieces; mix at medium-low speed until mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal, about 1 1/2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, gradually add molasses and milk; mix until dough is evenly moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.

2. Scrape dough onto work surface; divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll 1/4-inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. Leaving dough sandwiched between parchment layers, stack on cookie sheet and freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes. (Alternatively, refrigerate dough 2 hours or overnight.)

3. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. Cut dough into 5-inch gingerbread people or 3-inch gingerbread cookies, transferring shapes to parchment-lined cookie sheets with wide metal spatula, spacing them 3/4 inch apart; set scraps aside. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full. Bake cookies until set in centers and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes, rotating cookie sheets front to back and switching positions top to bottom halfway through baking time. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature. (I did not switch positions of the cookie sheets in my gas oven. I just put the sheets on the top rack since they’re are no heating elements on the top.)

5. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking in steps 2 and 4. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.

From Cook’s Illustrated

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What the Experts Won’t Eat

microwave popcorn From Prevention Magazine

How healthy (or not) certain foods are for us, is a hotly debated topic among experts and consumers alike, and there are no easy answers. But when Prevention talked to the people at the forefront of food safety and asked them one simple question—“What foods do you avoid?”—they got some pretty interesting answers. And their answers are, well, food for thought:

1. Canned Tomatoes

The expert: Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A

The problem: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young," says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes."

The solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe's and Pomi.

2. Corn-Fed Beef

The expert: Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming

The problem: Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grains. But farmers today feed their animals corn and soybeans, which fatten up the animals faster for slaughter. More money for cattle farmers (and lower prices at the grocery store) means a lot less nutrition for us. A recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. "We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure," says Salatin.

The solution: Buy grass-fed beef, which can be found at specialty grocers, farmers' markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It's usually labeled because it demands a premium, but if you don't see it, ask your butcher.

3. Microwave Popcorn

The expert: Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group,

The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize—and migrate into your popcorn. "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.

The solution: Pop natural kernels the old-fashioned way: in a skillet. For flavorings, you can add real butter or dried seasonings, such as dillweed, vegetable flakes, or soup mix.

4. Nonorganic Potatoes

The expert: Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board

The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes—the nation's most popular vegetable—they're treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they're dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. "Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won't," says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."

The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn't good enough if you're trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.

5. Farmed Salmon

The expert: David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and publisher of a major study in the journal Science on contamination in fish.

The problem: Nature didn't intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT. According to Carpenter, the most contaminated fish come from Northern Europe, which can be found on American menus. "You can only safely eat one of these salmon dinners every 5 months without increasing your risk of cancer," says Carpenter, whose 2004 fish contamination study got broad media attention. "It's that bad." Preliminary science has also linked DDT to diabetes and obesity, but some nutritionists believe the benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks. There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.

The solution: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it's farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon.

6. Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones

The expert: Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society

The problem: Milk producers treat their dairy cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST, as it is also known) to boost milk production. But rBGH also increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. It also leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. "When the government approved rBGH, it was thought that IGF-1 from milk would be broken down in the human digestive tract," says North. As it turns out, the casein in milk protects most of it, according to several independent studies. "There's not 100% proof that this is increasing cancer in humans," admits North. "However, it's banned in most industrialized countries."

The solution: Check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. These phrases indicate rBGH-free products.

7. Conventional Apples

The expert: Mark Kastel, former executive for agribusiness and codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group that supports organic foods

The problem: If fall fruits held a "most doused in pesticides contest," apples would win. Why? They are individually grafted (descended from a single tree) so that each variety maintains its distinctive flavor. As such, apples don't develop resistance to pests and are sprayed frequently. The industry maintains that these residues are not harmful. But Kastel counters that it's just common sense to minimize exposure by avoiding the most doused produce, like apples. "Farm workers have higher rates of many cancers," he says. And increasing numbers of studies are starting to link a higher body burden of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson's disease.

The solution: Buy organic apples. If you can't afford organic, be sure to wash and peel them first.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Zesty Oven Steak Fries

Zesty Oven Steak FriesSteak fries are more satisfying than regular fries. But all store bought or restaurant variations have a more pillowey texture than what I have normally made at home. So I decided to take another stab at it.

Zesty Oven Steak FriesRather than just relying on the oven to bake these potato wedges of differing sizes, I went to the microwave. I poked holes with the tines of a fork into whole potatoes and microwaved about 8 or 9 of them for 5-6 minutes. Once done, and slightly cooled, I cut the potatoes into wedges. The microwaving seemed to help the potatoes with their final texture. Once the wedges were baked in the oven, they came out crispy on the outside, and more like a baked potato on the inside.

I also like this particular set of spices to turn these potato wedges into something zesty. I originally used 2 teaspoons of salt, but quickly discovered it was too much. I’ve dropped it to 1 teaspoon.

Printable Version
  • 8 medium russet potatoes
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • Olive oil for drizzling over potatoes
  1. Heat oven to 450-degrees
  2. Spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray
  3. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Rinse potatoes and pierce the skin with a fork. Arrange on a microwave safe plate and heat in microwave for 5-6 minutes. (You still want the potato to be firm.)
  5. Remove from microwave, and cut potatoes into steak fry sized wedges.
  6. In a large bowl, drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil and mix with you hands until evenly coated.
  7. Add potatoes to your bowl of dry ingredients and coat well.
  8. Arrange potatoes on a single layer on baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.


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Friday, December 11, 2009

Slow Cooker Root Beer Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sandwich I picked up a Crock Pot Slow Cooker on Black Friday. So I was eager to put it to good use. So while searching for slow cooker recipes, I found one for pulled pork that really stood out.

You know how two ingredients should never go together in a recipe, such as a Krispy Kreme doughnut and a hamburger. Well surprisingly, root beer and pork loin goes together quite well.

Yea it sounds weird. But it turned out great. I just put the pork loin in the Crockpot, sprinkled with some salt and pepper, added the onions and garlic and set it for 8 hours. Once it was done, I could still smell the root beer and it gave it a unique flavor, but not overpowering at all. I imagine you could also use regular beer.

Be sure to drain the meat well before adding your barbecue sauce. I missed that step, and ended up putting the meat through a strainer to get rid of all the extra juices.

Printable Version
  • 1 (2 pound) pork tenderloin or pork shoulder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle root beer
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into half rings.
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 1 (18 ounce) bottle your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 8 hamburger buns, split and lightly toasted
  1. Place the pork tenderloin in a slow cooker; pour the root beer over the meat. Cover and cook on low until well cooked and the pork shreds easily, 6 to 7 hours.
  2. Drain well.
  3. Stir in barbecue sauce.
  4. Serve over hamburger buns.

Note: the actual length of time may vary according to individual slow cooker.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

White Chocolate Fudge with Pecans

White Chocolate Fudge with PecansI love white chocolate and it’s also approaching the holidays. So I wondered if it’s possible to make white chocolate fudge. Sure enough there’s plenty of recipes out there. I opted to try one that was simple and had the least amount of ingredients.

I’ve melted white chocolate chips before and they always seemed to have a higher melting point as compared to regular chocolate chips. Of course, I could be wrong since they seemed to melt just fine in the sweetened condensed milk.

White Chocolate Fudge with PecansI also wondered how in the world would this fudge set up, when it’s just white chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk. Well, I don’t know how it works but it sets up great. Just chill the finished fudge for two hours, cut into squares and then it’s good at room temperature.

The best way to describe this fudge is creamy, but has a texture more like fondant (used to decorate cakes). But don’t let that scare you. It’s an incredible change to the holiday platters of chocolate fudge.

Printable Version
  • 3 cups white chocolate chips (1 12-ounce bag plus half of another)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 c. pecans
  1. Pour the chips, condensed milk and vanilla into a medium saucepan. Put the pan on the stove and turn the heat to low. (Stir occasionally while you prepare pan).

  2. Line an an 8-inch pan with foil. This makes it easier to remove the fudge when it’s time to cut.

  3. Stir the chips and milk until they melt together, about 3 minutes. Stir in pecans. Pour the fudge into the pan.

  4. Put the fudge in the refrigerator and chill until firm (about two hours, you can speed it up with the freezer). Lift the fudge from the pan and remove the foil. On a flat surface, cut the fudge into small squares to serve.


Feeling festive? Use 1 1/2 cups shelled pistachios and 1/2 cup dried, sweetened cranberries instead of the pecans.

Adapted from Rachael Ray

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Discovery of Real Parmesan

Parmigiano-ReggianoSure. I knew Parmigiano-Reggiano was the best parmesan out there. But I’m used to the Kraft version, either grated or shredded. The grated is perfect for spaghetti and the shredded works great for my chicken carbonara. But now I know what I was missing all this time.

Real ParmesanThe Kraft version is approaching $5 most of year. So I decided to make the switch to a $4.99 wedge of the real deal. Of course a sale at $3.99 sale got me hooked. An 8 ounce wedge for $4.99 beats the 7 ounce can at $4.49, if you ask me. You’ll be amazed at the difference in taste.

Parmigiano-Reggiano has a more sharp flavor, and a little goes a long way. This fact makes the few extra cents worth it. I use a microplane to finely shred it for whatever I need it for.

From Wikipedia: Parmigiano-Reggiano, called parmesan in the English language, is a hard granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova (in Lombardia), Italy.

Go ahead and try it out. If you can find the right brand, at the right store, it’s not as expensive as you think. And you just might make the switch.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ultimate Southern Macaroni & Cheese

Southern Macaroni and CheeseSouthern Macaroni and CheeseThis past Thanksgiving I was treated to some comforting, homemade macaroni & cheese, so I had to share the recipe. Now many of us have come to the conclusion that mac and cheese should be swimming in sauce. We can thank box dinners for that idea. But real macaroni and cheese is so much heartier.

Homemade Macaroni and CheeseI’ve eaten homemade macaroni and cheese before. But each recipe was hit and miss. Often times the whole dish was heavy or the cheese just turned it into a greasy mess. But not this recipe.

Southern Macaroni and CheeseIt has a great cheesy flavor, but even more significant, the pasta came out fluffy instead of weighed down. This is the recipe I’ll stick with from now on.  

Printable Version
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked - al dente, drained well
  • 2 overflowing cups of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or cut into 1/4-in cubes
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Season salt - to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper - to taste
  • Dash or two or three or four of cayenne pepper


  1. In a bowl, mix cooked and well drained macaroni and cheese together.
  2. In another bowl whisk together eggs, milk, sugar and seasoning.
  3. Pour egg/milk mixture over mac and cheese mixture, stir until well incorporated.
  4. Pour into baking dish or tin, cover with foil.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.
  6. Remove foil, turn on broiler - broil top of mac and cheese until golden brown and bubbly.
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Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving-the fallout

Thanksgiving TurkeyI hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Of course the fallout after this huge meal is the guilt. After all, we’re eating upwards of 3,000 calories. Luckily Lean Cuisines are on sale at the grocery store. Maybe I can eat those at least until Christmas. :-)

Thanksgiving MealThanksgiving is centered around the food. But this year I didn’t even have to cook. It’s good to know a chef. He put together this great meal for us.

Homemade Macaroni and CheeseA wonderfully brined and moist turkey with macaroni and cheese, green beans and bacon and dinner rolls (store bought). We also had the choice of three deserts; chocolate cake, peach pie with a crumb topping, and sweet potato pie. I loved the sweet potato pie because it had a non-gummy texture and wasn’t overly spiced so the sweet potato flavor came through.

ZoieZoie's Thanksgiving BowlEven Zoie, my smart little border collie mix, got a Thanksgiving plate. You can see her extremely worried face as if she wasn’t going to get anything. But she got all the fixings and she even ate the green beans. It probably helped they were cooked in bacon.

Green Beans and Bacon

So I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Now I need to prepare for Christmas, and that means cookies. I’m sure I’ll be testing a few recipes that you’ll see here soon. Wish me luck!

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Easy Peanut Butter Fudge

Peanut Butter FudgeI hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I wrote this post on Thanksgiving, and set it up to post automatically. I have a feeling I’ll be up extra early to catch some of the Black Friday deals along with herds of crazed shoppers. I’m not proud of it, but hey, I need a griddle and a slow cooker for $13.00.

Peanut Butter FudgeBut if you’re not going shopping you may still have a house full of people to entertain and feed. So why not whip up an easy batch of peanut butter fudge and keep everyone’s sweet tooth in check.

Peanut Butter FudgeI’ve made fudge recipes before, that ended up crystallized and gritty with un-dissolved sugar. And granted, these sound like peanut butter flavored sugar cubes, but my batch came out creamy with a rich, peanut butter flavor.

Even if you don’t have time to make them for this holiday, they would be perfect for Christmas and New Years. Simple and tasty is the only way to go. 

Printable Version
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  1. Place butter into a medium saucepan and melt it over medium heat.

  2. Add brown sugar and milk, stirring.

  3. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

  4. Remove from heat.

  5. Mix in peanut butter and vanilla.

  6. Place confectioners' sugar into a large mixing bowl.

  7. Pour hot peanut butter mixture over confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.

  8. Pour fudge into an 8 by 8 inch pan.

  9. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.

  10. Cut into 1-inch squares.


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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Baked Honey Mustard Chicken

Honey Mustard ChickenI don’t want to eat fast food everyday. So quick meals are what get me through the work week. And this recipe for chicken breasts is one of my new favorites. It seems the grocery stores here always have boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale, so I always stock up. But at this rate, I just may grow feathers.

Honey Mustard ChickenAnyhow, the flavors combine perfectly in this baked chicken dish. You won’t get too much honey or too much mustard flavor, as the two meld together to create a zingy and moist chicken breast. Serve alongside some wild rice.

Honey Mustard Chicken
Printable Version
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts

  • 1/3 cup honey

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed rosemary

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.

  2. Arrange chicken pieces in a shallow baking dish.

  3. In a saucepan over med-low heat, combine remaining ingredients. Heat and stir until melted and well-blended.

  4. Pour over chicken pieces.

  5. Bake at 350° for about 45-50 minutes (or until internal temperature of about 177-degrees); basting chicken occasionally.

  6. For the last 20 minutes of cooking, sprinkle with some Italian breadcrumbs.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Oh No! Where’s My Eggo?

Kellogg is rationing its Eggo products due to flooding and equipment problems at two bakeries. The shortfall could last through mid-2010.

Flooding at an Atlanta bakery during heavy rains in October forced Kellogg to shut down production temporarily. Plus, equipment at Kellogg's largest waffle facility, based in Rossville, Tenn., needs extensive repairs.

Apparently remaining inventory will be rationed to stores across the country based on historical percentage of business.

You could always make waffles from scratch or with homemade Bisquick. It’s almost as fast as the toaster, and probably tastes better too.


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Friday, November 20, 2009

Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake

Apple CheesecakeI love cheesecake. But apple cheesecake is not my favorite. With that said, I was up for the challenge to come up with a recipe that worked for me. Let's just say my first venture into the land of apple cheesecake was a complete disaster. I used Granny Smiths and sautéed them much like this recipe calls for. But the apples were still too moist, allowing their juices to mix into the cheesecake batter making for a gloppy mess. This time was different thankfully.

Apple CheesecakeI adapted my base cheesecake recipe with some added brown sugar, apple pie spice (usually a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice) an d apple cider. The apple cider gave it a hint of apple flavor but the star of the cheesecake are the apples themselves. A surprise layer of sweet and caramelized apples are hidden inside this cheesecake. They came out tender and didn’t mess with the texture of the cheesecake batter.

Apple CheesecakeI used Fuji apples this time and I was pleasantly surprised. They don’t fall apart in the frying pan, they hold their texture and even caramelize beautifully with a little added brown sugar. These are my new favorite cooking apples.

Apple CheesecakeThe ginger snap crust was great with some added cinnamon and brown sugar. Although the cookies are strong flavored, the crust didn’t overpower all the other flavors.

Apple CheesecakeOverall, this cheesecake is a winner. But now I want to try the recipe with the apples ON TOP of the cheesecake, drizzled with some caramel sauce. That sounds even better.

Printable Version

4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese

1 c. brown sugar

½ c. white sugar

¾ c. milk

4 Tbs. apple cider

4 eggs

1 c. sour cream

¼ c. all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons apple pie spice


4 tablespoons butter, divided

3 large Fuji, peeled, cored and cut thinly, divided

2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided


1 ½ c. ginger snap cookie crumbs

2 Tbs. brown sugar

4 Tbs. melted butter

½ tsp. cinnamon



For the Apples

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high. Stir in half of the apples and cook, until they are golden and limp, about 5 to 10 minutes. Scatter the apples with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and cook, tossing to coat, for 1 minute. Scrape apple mixture onto a plate and repeat with remaining apples, butter and sugar. When done, set aside to cool.

For the Crust

In a medium bowl, stir together cookie crumbs, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Drizzle in butter and stir to moisten the crumbs. Scoop crumbs into a spring form pan coated with nonstick spray and firmly press them over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place pan into a preheated oven at 350 degrees and cook for 10 minutes, until the edges are golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

For the Filling
  1. Triple wrap bottom of spring form pan with the wide version of Reynolds foil.
  2. In a large bowl or stand mixer, mix cream cheese with sugars until smooth. Blend in milk and apple cider, and then mix in eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate. Mix in sour cream, apple pie spice and flour until smooth.
  3. Pour about a third of the filling into the prepared crust. Add the apples as an even layer, and pour the rest of the filling on top.
  4. Use a water bath for the cheesecake. Put spring form pan in larger rectangular pan. Set in oven, and add water until about 1-2 inches high on spring form pan.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and leave cheesecake to cool, about 2-3 hours, to prevent cracking from cooling down too fast. Then remove from oven and set on counter to finish cooling to room temperature.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

fastfood@home: Taco Bell Seasoning

Taco Bell Seasoning Copycat In my post a few weeks ago I talked about the MSG in Taco Bell’s seasoning packet that you can find at the grocery store. Well I’ve scoured the Internet to find a great alternative to those packets. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the spice mixture. It gives great flavor to the taco meat without that added greasy flavor from those Taco Bell seasoning packets.

When I do buy those packets from the store, I never use the whole thing for one meal. Half a packet works for me because I find the flavor to be way too salty using the full packet. This recipe is no different. 1/2 to 3/4 of the spices is all you need with the 3/4 cup water.

Taco Bell Seasoning Copycat

If you want to avoid the MSG entirely, leave out the beef boulion granules as they contain a small amount. Like all recipes, this one isn’t set in stone. If you like a little more spice add some red pepper flakes or other spices to fit your tastes.

Printable Version
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  1. Combine and store in an air-tight container.

  2. Notes: To make taco meat, brown 1 lb ground beef in skillet; drain.

  3. Add seasoning mix and 3/4 cup of water.

  4. Bring to a boil then reduce heat.

  5. Simmer uncovered, 2-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Oat-Nut Pancakes

Oat Nut PancakesTired of plain ol’ pancakes? It seems many restaurants have a fascination with thick, heavy pancakes. They’re so thick, they barely get a chance to cook inside, leaving a funny, floury after-taste. They may even go so far as to call them “fluffy.” But as you near the end of your breakfast, you realize you’d rather not see another plate of pancakes any time soon.

There’s really not much to pancakes. It’s basically flour and water or milk. Not exactly the most nutritious by the time it’s drizzled with syrup and butter. But enough preaching. I wanted to try a different take on the regular pancakes. This recipe is said to be a copycat of Ihop’s Harvest Grain & Nut Pancakes. I’ve only eaten at Ihop once so I can’t say if these taste like them or not. But I will say this is a welcome change to Bisquick-style pancakes.

Oat Nut PancakesI ground up the oats and mixed all the ingredients together. Once my pan was hot enough I added the batter and waited for the first side to get done. It seemed to take a little longer for these to cook compared to regular pancakes. My pan was lopsided on the bottom so that may have had something to do with it. But I soon found they do indeed cook differently.

Flipping the pancakes was a more delicate process than I’m used to. I had to wait to flip them until the top batter was almost dry. Once I realized how they cook, the rest of the process was easy.  

Oat Nut PancakesAnd the small amount of extra effort paid off. They turned out pillowy, and I mean that in a good way. The syrup didn’t just run off the top, it soaked into every nook and cranny it could, almost like a sponge. The taste was hearty and wholesome from the wheat flour, the oats and walnuts. While the buttermilk helped give it a slight zing.

As for my crappy frying pan? It’s about to be traded in for a nice griddle. That’s the one thing I’ll be after during all these crazy Black Friday sales.

Printable Version
  • 3/4 cup Quaker Oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  1. Lightly oil a skillet or griddle, and preheat it to medium heat.

  2. Grind the oats in a blender or food processor until fine, like flour.

  3. Combine ground oats, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

  4. In another bowl combine buttermilk, oil, egg and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.

  5. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients, add nuts and mix well with mixer.

  6. Ladle 1/3 cup of the batter onto the hot skillet and cook the pancakes for 2 to 4 minutes per side or until brown.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Magic Cookie Bars

Magic Cookie BarsLayers of chocolate, coconut and nuts with sweetened condensed milk and graham cracker crumbs. Sounds good doesn’t it?

This is one those easy favorites anyone can make. There’s recipes all over the net and you can even buy a kit from the grocery store by Eagle Brand (they’re the ones who make sweetened condensed milk.) I definitely had graham cracker crumbs left over from my fanatical cheesecake baking a few months ago. But I was out of sweetened condensed milk. Yet strangely, I had all the ingredients to make homemade sweetened condensed milk, so that’s what I used.

I just added the graham cracker crumbs with the butter and pressed them down to form a good, solid crust. And then I just layered the sweetened condensed milk, the chocolate chips, coconut and nuts on top, and that was it.

The coconut gained even more flavor from baking and they turned into a great crunchy topping. You’ll definitely need a plate because the coconut does fall off fairly easily.

Magic Cookie BarsMake sure you have a house full of kids or some company so they can disappear quickly. Maybe it’s just my sweet tooth but I have a tendency to eat all the treats I make by myself. As a kid I could easily eat 3 to 4 candy bars a day. By 18, I was out on my own and rarely ate a candy bar. Nowadays I’ve moved from the candy bar to fattening treats. What could go wrong?

Magic Cookie BarsMagic Cookie Bars
Printable Version
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds because they were on hand.)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees for glass dish). Coat 13x9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly with a fork.
  3. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature.

Substitute 1 cup (6-ounces) butterscotch flavored chips* for 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and proceed as directed above.

From Eagle Brand 

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veggie Pasta with Herb Butter and Parmesan

Veggie Pasta Talk about simple. This pasta is full of flavor and takes just a few minutes. You can use any veggies you want, but I find the pre-packed bags of vegetables at the grocery store makes this recipe a snap. For this pasta I used broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots along with some celery and capers I had in the fridge.

Veggie Pasta with herb butterThe ultimate flavors come from my recipe for herb butter. The herb butter has Italian spices and of course fresh garlic. To begin, I put a sauté pan on medium-low heat and used the herb butter to sweat and steam the veggies. You don’t want the heat too high or else the butter will burn and the veggies won’t get a chance to cook properly. You can also steam the veggies separately before adding them to the pasta.

Once the veggies were done (tender, but still with a little bite), I turned off the stove top and sprinkled some shredded parmesan over the top. I then added the pasta and mixed all the ingredients together in the pan as the parmesan quickly melted. Just transfer to a plate with tongs and you’re done.

I love this recipe because it’s fast and simple. The aroma of garlic from the herb butter along with wonderful, gooey blobs (is that the right word?) of parmesan. The celery seems to be best at soaking up the flavor of the herb butter and the little, salty capers fit right in.

Easy Veggie PastaThis is one of those recipes you don’t really need exact measurements. The pictures above could probably feed two, even though I scarfed it down myself. :-)

I used about a one inch circumference of angel hair pasta. In the sauté pan, I just added a nice handful of veggies and used two hefty tablespoons of the herb butter. 1/2 to 3/4 cup of shredded parmesan should also do the job.

Butter, cheese and pasta don’t sound very health conscious, but at least you’re getting your veggies.


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Monday, November 9, 2009

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

Homemade Sweetened Condensed MilkDon’t you hate it when you have every possible ingredient for a recipe except one thing that requires a trip to the store. Well it turned out I had four ingredients to make the one thing I needed. Who knew sweetened condensed milk was so easy to make at home? And this is no stretch of the truth, it tasted just like the famous Eagle Brand.

Amazingly I have a couple boxes of nonfat dry milk which is the prime ingredient for this recipe. All you need is a little sugar, butter, water and a blender and you’re done. I did find that the water may not be enough. Use the amount listed and if needed, add a little more water until it reaches the consistency like that from the can.

I could eat this stuff all by itself. When I was kid we used sweetened condensed milk for snow ice cream. Freshly fallen snow (we lived in the mountains) mixed with some of the sweetened condensed milk became instant ice cream flavor.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed MilkPrintable Version

1 c. nonfat dry milk
1/3 c. boiling water
2/3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. melted butter


Place all ingredients in mixing bowl and mix until well blended. Makes the equivalent of 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, about 1 1/3 cups.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding with Caramel SauceDuring my trip to Ketchum, Idaho, I tasted some wonderful pumpkin brioche bread pudding at the Ketchum Grill. It was so good I knew I had to try making it at home.

Little did I know, my first big challenge was finding a bakery with Brioche. I made a few phone calls and was shocked some “bakeries” didn’t even know what brioche was. I made a mental note to avoid going to their shops in the future. Finally I found Rustica Bakery in Minneapolis, which bakes fresh brioche on Tuesdays. So that would be my day.

Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding

Brioche is a rich yet light bread made with ample amounts of butter and eggs. It has a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied before and after proofing. The crust is a little too tough for bread pudding, so you’ll have to slice it off. But the texture and crumb of the bread is great to soak up the cream, milk, sugar and of course pumpkin. You can also use white bread, but I wouldn’t use a dense bread like Pepperidge Farm or Brownberry. This is where good old Wonder Bread is your best bet.

The bread pudding itself is very moist but not runny like some bread puddings (thank goodness). The pumpkin flavor is not overpowering, but it’s definitely pumpkin. It’s a great flavor for the fall and through the holidays. But the homemade caramel sauce really ties it all together with a rich sweetness alongside some refreshing ice cream.

Hopefully you have a full house, to share this with because it’s addictive. I had leftovers the next morning and it reminded me of French toast. I wondered if I could cut a square in half and fry it up. Sounds like a good breakfast worth trying.

Printable Version
Pumpkin Bread Pudding

2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Granulated sugar for dusting the pan
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
7 cups of cubed brioche or white bread (crusts removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes)

Caramel Sauce (here’s my post about this awesome caramel sauce)

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup heavy cream


Prepare pan: Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 13x9 baking dish. Dust with granulated sugar.

Prepare and Bake Bread Pudding: Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the 1/2 cup sugar.  Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy but not boiling. Turn off the heat and add the pumpkin puree, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt.  Stir to mix. Slowly, pour over the egg yolks/sugar mixture while whisking. Gently fold in the bread cubes. Transfer the pudding mixture to baking pan.  Bake until nicely browned and set, about 40 minutes.

Caramel Sauce: Combine 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, salt and cream of tartar in a small saucepan. DO NOT STIR. Bring to a boil and cook until the caramel browns. When the caramel is medium brown, carefully add 1 cup of cream and simmer.

Serve: Cut bread pudding into large squares or just spoon onto a plate. Spoon a layer of caramel on top. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. Serve alongside caramel swirl ice cream or even better, some salted caramel ice cream.


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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grilled Cheese with Dilled Havarti and Sliced Apples

Havarti Grilled Cheese with ApplesIt’s getting downright chilly. So why not warm yourself up with some gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.

When most people think of grilled cheese, they might imagine American cheese on white bread. Well, I can barely eat that stuff now. Grilled cheese should have real cheese in it. There’s nothing better than some toasty bread with sharp cheddar cheese. But this recipe is a little different with the addition of fall fruit.

Havarti Grilled Cheese with ApplesA hearty wheat bread with dilled havarti cheese and some fresh fall apples sounded like a perfect fall lunch. After all fruit and cheese go together. And I was pleasantly surprised at how all the flavors melded together so well. The sweetness of the apples cut through the richness of the cheese. The wheat breads adds a wonderful nutty flavor. And I always love the fresh and invigorating flavor of dill

Havarti Grilled Cheese with ApplesAlmost any grocery store has Havarti with dill. It’s a semi-soft white cheese with lots of flavor. The dill gives it that refreshing taste that is made more apparent after it’s melted. For the apples, super-thin slices of Granny Smiths or other firm apples (Gala?) will go great with this. I used a mandoline to slice the apples for the perfect thickness.  

Havarti Grilled Cheese with Apples

Printable Version
  • 1-2 thinly sliced apples
  • Salted butter, softened
  • Honey whole wheat bread
  • Havarti dill cheese
  1. Slice apples thinly with a slicer or mandoline.
  2. Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, spread butter on 1 side of each slice of bread. (I toast both sides with butter)
  3. Once the pan is warm, add 1 slice of bread buttered side down, and top with  the cheese and apples to your liking. Close with the second bread slice, buttered side up.
  4. Cook until bread is toasted and cheese is melted, about 3 minutes per side.
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