Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: Sweet Stuff

Ahhh, dessert. The sweet ending to a good meal. The sweet ending to my Best of 2009 "miniseries." I'm ending 2009 on a sweet note. (Forgive me for that. I have a cold this week and I'm feeling...well, frankly I'm feeling a little loopy.) This was probably the hardest category to narrow down to just 10 items, because I made so many delicious desserts this year. In the end, though, I narrowed it down to the ones I would make (and have made!) again, over and over again. My mouth is watering just taking another look at all of these decadent treats!

Red velvet cheesecake: This was probably my very favorite dessert of the year. I made it for Valentine's Day and sprinkled it with cocoa powder, and I made it for Christmas and decorated it with green sprinkles in the shape of a Christmas tree. But garnish or no garnish, this is one decadent, sinful treat. It's a cheesecake with cream cheese frosting, after all, and what is there not to love about that? The answer is NOTHING. Add an Oreo cookie crust to the mix, and it's pretty much dessert heaven.

Sour cream-orange coffee cake with pecan streusel: This coffee cake was the surprise of the year for me. I thought it would be pretty tasty, but I was unprepared for how delicious it actually was. The texture is great, and the orange flavor is perfectly balanced with all of the other ingredients. This is one of those desserts in which you can taste everything individually -- the sour cream, the orange, the pecans, the brown sugar -- and they all work together in perfect harmony.

Carrot cake: This is The Pioneer Woman's carrot cake recipe, and what I love about it is that it's so straight-up and simple. There's no pineapple in it, no raisins -- none of that fancy stuff. Just carrots and cinnamon and a decadent, pecan-laced cream cheese frosting. This cake proves that, sometimes, simple really is best.

Chocolate-peanut butter cake with cream cheese and Butterfinger frosting: I made this cake pretty early on in my pregnancy, when I wanted to eat every single thing I saw, right now, please and thank you. Its title alone made me start salivating. It was a bit time-consuming to prepare and assemble, but if I remember correctly (and oh, I believe I do), it was so, so worth it. Rich, decadent, and sinfully delicious, this is one cake you simply must make in 2010.

Frozen banana bites: Couldn't be simpler or more delicious. The frozen bananas take on the texture of ice cream, which (to state the obvious) is a wonderful thing. Dip the sliced bananas in chocolate and roll them in any toppings you want: chocolate chips, peanuts, hazelnuts, crushed vanilla wafers or pretzels, miniature M&Ms. This is a wonderful little summer dessert that I'll be turning to a lot as my boys get older; it's super easy, sort of healthy, and extremely kid-friendly.

Cookies and cream cheesecake cupcakes: This is one of those desserts that immediately made me think, "D'oh! Why didn't I think of that?!" Using a whole Oreo cookie as the "crust" for these miniature cheesecakes is a brilliant idea, and the results are just as delicious as you'd imagine them to be. Try using the Christmas Oreos with red filling for a quick and festive holiday dessert, or the ones with green filling for a sweet Easter treat, or the orange-filled ones for Halloween. Or try all three. These are definitely good enough to eat every single holiday -- or day, really -- throughout the year.

Coconut chocolate pecan pie: I made this pie twice in the span of two weeks, and would probably make it again at least once a month if my husband wasn't a coconut-hater who refuses to help me eat it. One of the times I made it was for Thanksgiving, and everyone who tried it raved about it. Believe me, this rich, gooey pie deserves every bit of the praise. It's so good that it may become a Thanksgiving tradition in our family.

The best pumpkin bars ever: It seems like I'm always on the search for the "ultimate" of some food. The ultimate chocolate cake, the ultimate fried chicken, etc. etc. If only I would have capitalized on this tendency before Tyler Florence did, I'd be a rich woman. Anyway, these pumpkin bars are the ultimate pumpkin bar. They have a light, fluffy texture that still somehow manages to be moist, and the perfect amount of spice. They are, in a word, perfect, and they'll be my go-to pumpkin bar from now on.

Snickers pie: This pie is composed of a cinnamon-spiced peanut crust, a layer of chocolate fudge, a layer of Snickers bars, a layer of sweetened cream cheese, and a layer of chocolate ganache. I'll pause for a moment to let that sink in. Actually...Do I really need to even say anything else?

Sticks and stones candy clusters: They may not look like much, but these inconspicuous little clusters are packed full of delicious things: namely, chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, peanuts and pretzels. They're dangerous to have in the house because they're incredibly addictive, so I'd recommend sharing some or giving them as gifts. They'll be on my cookie trays every single Christmas -- and you can bet I'll be indulging in them quite a few other times throughout the year.

Happy New Year, everyone! Thank you for visiting my humble little corner of the internet this year. I've loved sharing with you, connecting with you, and eating with you. May all of you be blessed as we begin this new decade. I have a feeling 2010's going to be a great year for us all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009: Pastas and Main Dishes

I have ten more of my 2009 favorites to share today, this time main dishes and pasta dishes (my favorite category of all).


Pasta with creamy spinach and parmesan cheese: This pasta is, hands-down, one of Joe's favorite meals to eat. And that greatly pleases me, since it's vegetarian and I'm always trying to get him to eat more vegetarian meals. Looking at the list of ingredients, it's hard to pick out what it is exactly that makes this so delicious, but I think its yumminess lies in its simplicity.

Creamy artichoke alfredo: Also known as, "quite possibly the most decadent pasta you will ever eat." Made with heavy cream and sour cream, the sauce is incredibly rich and undeniably irresistible. The artichokes and lemon add wonderful flavor and texture to the dish.
Baked ziti: This is one of those dishes that I just threw together with what I had on hand, and much to my surprise, it instantly became a family favorite. I make this frequently, and it's so good that I would even make it for a family with a new baby or a sick neighbor. Creamy, cheesy, flavorful, and slightly spicy, this baked ziti is one of those dishes that just never goes out of style.

Mock risotto with shrimp and roasted asparagus: This just may be my favorite dish of the year. I love the creaminess of the orzo and the flavors of the roasted asparagus and shrimp together. It's a little fancy but incredibly easy to make, and it tastes absolutely amazing.

Spinach artichoke lasagna: I've said it before: This lasagna tastes exactly like spinach-artichoke dip, only with pasta thrown in as an added bonus. It's a hearty vegetarian dish with lots of flavor. It is, in a word, delicious, and you all must make trying this one of your New Year's resolutions.

Main Dishes

Baked chicken meatballs with peperonata: This was my first time making chicken meatballs, and the results were out-of-this-world good. You get a little bit of salt from the pancetta, a little bit of sweet from the bell peppers, and a little bit of bite from the capers; it's the perfect balance of flavors. The meatballs are incredibly moist and as an added bonus, the leftovers (if there are any!) make for an absolutely delicious sandwich.

New Orleans-style shrimp: These little babies are cooked in a foil packet -- either in the oven or on the grill -- and the cooking method results in shrimp that is incredibly sweet and juicy, nestled in a spicy, succulent broth. Serve this over boxed New Orleans-style rice, and I promise you will want seconds. And thirds. And then you'll cry because there are no fourths.
Cream cheese- and pesto-stuffed chicken: Stuffing chicken breasts is one of my favorite ways to add flavor to a meat that can sometimes be boring and bland. I've tried lots of different stuffed chicken recipes, and this one is definitely my favorite so far. The creamy filling is so flavorful and delicious. This chicken tastes so good that you'd think it takes a long time to prepare, but actually, it's incredibly quick and easy. Sometimes it's hard to find a chicken recipe that's worthy of company, but look no further: I'd definitely entertain with this.

Pioneer Woman's BBQ meatballs: I couldn't do a "best of" post without one recipe from The Pioneer Woman, right? All the recipes I've tried of hers have been delicious, but these meatballs are my absolute favorite. They're a little bit time-consuming, but the results are definitely worth it. They taste like home. Serve them on top of a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes or egg noodles, and they're like little balls of meaty heaven.

Jalapeno popper stuffed chicken: Another stuffed chicken recipe. I still think this is just such an ingenious idea: all the flavors of jalapeno poppers -- jalapenos, bacon, cream cheese, cheddar -- stuffed inside a breaded chicken breast that's pan-fried until it's crispy. It's just as delicious as it sounds -- and pretty easy, too.

Coming up tomorrow: my favorite desserts of the year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of 2009: Soups, Sandwiches, and Sides

Over the next few days, I thought it would be fun to highlight some of my favorite recipes that I've shared on the blog this year. I thought choosing which recipes to highlight would be a difficult task, but it turns out I was wrong; my favorites stood out distinctly as things that I've made again and again and just can't seem to get enough of. I'm starting today with my favorite soups, sandwiches and sides of the year.


Lasagna soup: This soup tastes exactly like lasagna, but it's so much easier and so much less time-consuming to prepare. What really takes it over the top is the creamy surprise waiting at the bottom of each bowl: a dollop of ricotta and ooey, gooey, melty mozzarella cheese.

Chicken tortilla soup: I'm just going to put this out there: This is the best chicken tortilla soup ever. I certainly haven't found a recipe better than this one. It's just spicy enough without burning your mouth, and it's packed with flavor. I have to admit that my favorite part of eating this soup, though, is digging into the crispy tortilla strips on top of it.
Cream cheese potato soup: I love potato soup -- always have, always will. My grandma's is amazing, and it was always my favorite -- until I discovered this recipe. The cream cheese gives this soup a nice tang, and the smashed potatoes add great texture. It's easily adapted into loaded baked potato soup, too -- just add some broccoli to it, and top each bowl with bacon, shredded cheese, sour cream, and green onions. Yum!


Taco joes: There's nothing fancy about this version of sloppy joes. I still can't quite put my finger on what it is that makes them so delicious, but they definitely are. We always top ours with Monterey jack or pepper-jack cheese, avocado, and a spread made with lime juice, sour cream, and cilantro. Every time we have them, I'm shocked all over again by how good they actually are.

Cuban-style burgers: Remember when I did Burgers and Fries Friday earlier this year? Well, this burger was the best one I made. The Swiss cheese, the honey mustard, the garlic mayo, the pickle...All the flavors worked perfectly together to make one pretty darn amazing burger.
Tuscan-style grilled chicken sandwiches: You've already heard me rave about these sandwiches more than once, but I promise, they deserve every ounce of praise I give them. The pesto mayonnaise, artichokes and fresh mozzarella cheese make them just a little bit more special than your average chicken sandwich, but they're so easy to prepare that they're perfect for a quick dinner any night of the week.

Side Dishes

Mexican sour cream rice: I couldn't talk about the food I made in 2009 without talking about this rice. I make it a lot; it's my go-to side dish for anything remotely Mexican. It's delicious all on its own, but it also makes a great taco filling, which is probably our favorite way to use it.

Buttery cheesy garlic bread: It may seem silly to include something as simple as garlic bread on a "best of" list, but I just couldn't resist. This garlic bread is the best homemade version I've ever had, and it's just as easy as opening a box of the frozen kind. It tastes much better, too.

Oven rings: These are the best onion rings I've ever made, and the best thing about them is that they're baked. Forget the big vat of frying oil; only a couple tablespoons of oil are needed to make these nice and crispy. The only bad thing about them is that they're incredibly addictive, and I always have to double the recipe so Joe can have some too.

Artichoke bread: This cheesy, flavorful bread is a perfect accompaniment to soup, but if you serve it with some herbed, buttered noodles it also makes for a simple and delicious vegetarian dinner. We've had it both ways, numerous times, and it's always delicious, no matter what I serve it with.

Check back tomorrow for my favorite pastas and main dishes of the year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Breakfast Casserole

I wanted to post the recipe for our traditional Christmas breakfast casserole last year, but I forgot to take a picture of it, so I vowed to post it this year. But what do you know, I forgot to take a picture of it AGAIN, so the only photo you get is one of my son eating it:

It was the first year he was able to enjoy this breakfast with us (last year he was only 7 months old), and I'm pleased to report that he absolutely loved it!

I think every family has their own traditional Christmas breakfast. Growing up we always just had eggs, toast, and bacon or sausage on Christmas morning, but once I moved in with Joe I started making this casserole. I've adapted the original recipe quite extensively over the years, and Joe starts looking forward to eating this at the beginning of December. I only make it once a year -- it just wouldn't be as special for us if I made it more often -- but it would make for a delicious, hearty dinner any night of the year. It can easily be prepped and stored in the refrigerator a day or two ahead, which makes it perfect for holiday or weeknight cooking.

Christmas Breakfast Casserole
source: adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes

1 package breakfast sausage links
1 cup milk
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package frozen potatoes O'Brien, thawed
1 package petit diced ham
1 package frozen broccoli, carrots and cauliflower in cheese sauce, thawed
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Eggs, cooked your preferred method, if desired

1. Brown sausage according to package directions until done; slice into 1-inch pieces.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine milk, cream of mushroom soup, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and salt and pepper. Stir in potatoes, ham, vegetables and cheese sauce, and shredded cheese.

3. Add mixture to a Crock pot sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Cook on low heat 6 hours, or until hot and bubbly (I always turn it on before we go to bed on Christmas Eve, and by the time we wake up it's perfect.). Top with eggs, if desired.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

First of all, I hope all of you had very happy holidays with your loved ones. We certainly did!

I know I said I wasn't going to plan any meals for the immediate future, but I haven't cooked anything of substance for the past three weeks or so, and the truth is that I miss being in the kitchen. Don't get your expectations too high, though -- the meals I am planning to make this week are quick and low-maintenance, but they are all new. I've seen so many good recipes lately in cookbooks and online that I just had to get some of these in before the new baby comes! (No baking this week, though, because I can't even believe I'm saying this, but I have eaten so many sweets over the past few days that I am just DONE with sweet stuff for the time being. Mark this day in the record books, because you will probably never hear me say that again.)

Monday: Dinner out for my mother-in-law's birthday

Tuesday: Open-faced hamburger cheesesteaks

Wednesday: Chicken and cheese crescent chimichangas

Thursday: No big celebration for us this year -- just a quiet night at home enjoying toasted ravioli with red pepper sauce.

Friday: We'll be having a big traditional New Year's dinner of pork, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes with Joe's family in the afternoon, so we probably won't even be hungry for dinner.

Saturday: Creamy chicken pesto pasta casserole (from Betty Crocker 2010 Annual Recipes)

Sunday: Buffalo chicken enchiladas with creamy ranch sauce

Weekend Breakfast: Carrot cake pancakes (the first of about a million recipes I want to make out of the new issue of Cooking Light), bacon

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mocha Toffee Chocolate Cookies

I know, I know, these cookies really don't look like much, do they? Let me assure you that their appearance is very deceiving, as these are truly some delicious little treats!

It's very rare that I see a recipe and know that I have to make it immediately, right now, yesterday. Last weekend the new edition of Betty Crocker's Annual Recipes arrived in the mail, and when I saw these cookies it was like they were speaking to me from the page, just begging me to make them and then eat six of them while they were still piping hot and fresh from the oven. I couldn't say no. When cookies speak to you, you listen.

I didn't have any instant coffee in the house, so I used a few tablespoons of the pot we'd brewed that morning, which worked out just fine. The cookies had a nice coffee flavor that balanced perfectly with the chocolate and the toffee. These cookies will be making a yearly appearance in our kitchen, and on my annual Christmas cookie trays.

I hope all of you have a blessed holiday with your families. It's been a pleasure sharing my cooking adventures with you this year, and I can't wait to see what 2010 brings for all of us!

Mocha Toffee Chocolate Cookies
source: adapted from Betty Crocker 2010 Annual Recipes; original recipe found here

3 teaspoons brewed coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist fudge recipe chocolate cake mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup English toffee bits

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In small bowl, stir together coffee and vanilla. In large bowl, mix cake mix, coffee mixture, butter and eggs with spoon until soft dough forms. Stir in chocolate chips and toffee bits.

2. On ungreased cookie sheets, drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart.

3. Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until surface appears dry. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sticks and Stones Candy Clusters

These little clusters contain pretty much everything that I require for my perfect dessert: chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, peanuts, and pretzels. In other words, they are like LITTLE BITES OF HEAVEN.

And best of all? They literally took about 5 minutes to make. They were so, so easy -- no baking required, just cooling time. I could barely wait for them to cool long enough before I dug in. Joe and I (and Andrew, but to a much lesser extent) ate the whole batch in 3 days. I omitted the chocolate-covered raisins called for in the original recipe and added an extra cup of peanuts, and we just loved these treats. They would be a wonderful last-minute addition to your treat trays!

Sticks and Stones Candy Clusters
source: adapted from Allrecipes

1 1/3 cups butterscotch chips
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups thin pretzel sticks
3 cups dry roasted peanuts

1. Butter a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish.

2. Microwave butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and peanut butter in large, microwave-safe bowl on high power for 1 minute; stir. Microwave at additional 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring until smooth.

3. Add pretzels and peanuts; stir well to coat. Spread into prepared baking dish.

4. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Break into bite-size pieces.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tiramisu Cheesecake Bars

I know, finally something sweet, right? It's about time.

These cheesecake bars were on my list of things to bake for Christmas last year, but I never got around to it, so I moved them to the top of my list this year. Joe and I both really liked these. They had a nice balance of chocolate and coffee flavor, and were only slightly sweet. They were, however, incredibly rich, so it's a good thing I gave most of them away; we never could have eaten them all on our own, no matter how delicious they were!

My only complaint about these was that the sugar cookie base was way too thick, so next time I make them I'll halve it. Otherwise, though, these are a wonderful treat for the holiday season -- or, really, any time of year.

Tiramisu Cheesecake Bars
source: Betty Crocker

For the cookie base:

1 pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg, slightly beaten

For the filling:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules or crystals
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

For the topping:

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup whipping cream
Chocolate curls or miniature chocolate chips, if desired

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of 13 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray. In large bowl, stir cookie base ingredients until soft dough forms. Press dough in bottom of pan. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in another large bowl, beat 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add milk; beat until well blended. Add coffee, vanilla and eggs; beat until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour over cookie base.

3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until set. Cool at room temperature 30 minutes. Refrigerate 30 minutes to cool completely.

4. In small bowl, beat 6 ounces cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Gradually beat in whipping cream; beat about 2 minutes longer or until fluffy. Spread mixture over cooled bars. Sprinkle chocolate curls or chocolate chips over topping.

5. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until chilled. For bars, cut into 9 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in refrigerator.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chicken Broccoli Rice Bake

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to be sharing the three baked goods I actually managed to make this year for Christmas, but the recipe I'm posting today would be perfect for a quick and easy dinner one night this week while you're making your last-minute Christmas preparations.

How many of you actually bother making dinner the week of Christmas anyway? I usually don't. If I make anything at all, it's something easy like sloppy joes or chicken tenders and fries. It's much more likely that I'll be relying on frozen meals and take-out this week leading up to Christmas. But I'm sure there are those of you out there more motivated than I am -- in which case, this casserole would be perfect for you. It's one of those throw-it-all-together-and-bake-it meals. If you rely on store-bought rotisserie chicken, steam-in-a-bag broccoli, and minute rice, it takes absolutely no time at all to prepare. And the best part is, it's absolutely delicious -- creamy and comforting, exactly the kind of thing you want to eat in the winter months when the snow is falling outside. Definitely give this casserole a try this winter!

Chicken Broccoli Rice Bake
source: adapted from Recipezaar

2 cups cooked shredded chicken
2 cups uncooked white Minute rice
2 bags steam-in-a-bag broccoli
2 cups grated colby-jack cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small container French-fried onions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook rice according to package directions. Steam broccoli in microwave according to package directions.

3. Meanwhile, combine soup, sour cream, broth, and cheese in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Add chicken, rice and broccoli; stir until well-blended. If more liquid is needed, add more sour cream or chicken broth.

5. Pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish and top with French-fried onions.

6. Bake uncovered until bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Old-Fashioned Meatloaf

So, yeah. I'm writing about meatloaf. Just basic, old-fashioned meatloaf, just like the one your mama made. I'm posting this recipe because even though I've only made it once, I already know that it's going directly into our regular dinner rotation. I think everyone needs a "basic" meatloaf recipe. My mom's cajun version is my absolute favorite meatloaf, but every once in a while I just crave that sweet, ketchupy topping. And this meatloaf fulfills that craving perfectly.

This is a Paula Deen recipe that I discovered through Jessie. This meatloaf reminds me a little bit of my mom's standard version, but she used celery and breadcrumbs instead of green peppers and oats, and she didn't use tomatoes. I love the addition of tomatoes and think they really add a lot to this recipe. I like the use of the oats, too, because I think they make the meatloaf less dense than breadcrumbs would. The best thing about meatloaf is that it's so adaptable -- you can throw in whatever you have on hand and even make mini loaves out of it, and it's easily doubled for freezing. This is my new go-to "basic" meatloaf recipe!

(By the way, some Christmas-related recipes are coming up next week -- promise!)

Old-Fashioned Meatloaf
source: adapted from Food Network

1 pound ground beef
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 chopped onion
1 chopped bell pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Mix beef, salt and pepper, onion, bell pepper, egg, diced tomatoes, and oats well and place in a baking dish. Shape into a loaf.

3. Combine ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard. Spread over loaf. Bake for 1 hour.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Taco Pasta Bake

This is another one of those meals that can be filed in the "tastes much better than it looks" category. I'd been eyeing this casserole for months and finally got around to making it one night a couple of weeks ago. I was planning to freeze half, but after I got it assembled it looked so delicious that I just baked the whole thing. And I'm glad I did -- this worked great as leftovers, and we got two more meals out of it. Next time I may add some green chilies and onion to the beef mixture and some fresh cilantro to the pasta layer to add a little more flavor, but other than that I wouldn't change a thing. This was a delicious, comforting meal, plain and simple.

Taco Pasta Bake
source: adapted from Lemons & Love

1 pound short pasta

1 pound ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
15 ounces tomato sauce
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1. Prepare pasta according to directions on box. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat; drain. Add taco seasoning and tomato sauce. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

3. Mix softened cream cheese and sour cream in separate bowl. Add to drained pasta and stir to combine.

4. Spray bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Spread pasta in pan. Top with meat mixture and shredded cheese.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Vanilla Bean Muffins

Having had one child already, I know exactly what those first few weeks post-partum are going to be like, and folks -- they ain't gonna be pretty. And if I get the chance to eat anything at all, I know I'm not going to want to eat things that are healthy. I'm going to want things that are comforting, things that make me forget how exhausted and sore and overwhelmed I am. That's why most of the meals I've frozen for us to eat during that time contain pasta and/or lots of cheese.

That's also why I made these muffins. I'm hoping they froze well, because I'm really looking forward to having these for breakfast the first week we're home from the hospital. They'll taste awesome with the gallons of coffee I'll be consuming.

A couple of the muffins didn't make it all the way to the freezer -- I had to taste test, of course! These muffins are absolutely delicious. I realized I'd run out of vanilla extract right before I started making them, but rather than giving up, I used an inch of vanilla bean instead, and that worked perfectly. Cream cheese and chocolate chips -- what's not to love?

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Vanilla Bean Muffins
source: adapted from Allrecipes

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup cream
1 inch vanilla bean (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or use paper liners.

2. Beat cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Beat in egg, cream and vanilla bean. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir flour mixture into cream cheese mixture until flour is moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them 3/4 full.

3. Bake in preheated oven until tops are golden, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cheesy Onion and Bacon Bread

I made this bread a few weekends ago with the intention of freezing it to go with the soups I've prepared for when the baby comes. But then I smelled it baking in the oven, and it smelled heavenly, and before the timer even dinged I'd already decided that I only really needed to freeze half a loaf. And once I sliced the loaf in half and I saw all the cheesy oniony bacon goodness inside, I knew I had to have a piece right then.

And after I tasted it, I decided there was no way I could freeze it. Joe, Andrew and I ate almost the entire loaf with our dinner that night. It was that good.

I think I've mentioned here before that I have a Great and Terrible Fear of yeast breads. One of these days I'll suck it up and give yeast a shot, but for the time being, I'm relegated to the world of quick breads. I've found many delicious recipes, but they're all sweet, so it was nice to come across a savory one. I'll be making this bread a lot in the future. It is absolutely delicious.

Cheesy Onion and Bacon Bread
source: adapted from Allrecipes

2 medium onions, chopped
2 teaspoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups biscuit/baking mix
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup real bacon bits
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 tablespoon butter, melted

1. In a non-stick skillet, saute onion in 2 teaspoons butter until tender; add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

2. Place biscuit mix in a bowl. Combine egg and milk; mix well. Stir into the biscuit mix just until moistened. Stir in the onion mixture, 1/2 cup cheese and bacon bits.

3. Transfer to an 8 x 4 x 2-inch loaf pan coated with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon butter.

4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and loaf is golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Store in the refrigerator.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning, Sort Of

First of all, it was so sweet of you guys to be concerned when I didn't post for a while last week. I wish I could tell you that the baby was here, but he's not. Early Tuesday morning I was felled by kidney stones, and I spent a couple of days in the hospital recovering. Nearly a week later, I'm still feeling pretty tender, and I'm spending every chance I get in the recliner. If you've ever had a kidney stone, you know how much they hurt; now add being pregnant to the equation, and just imagine the amount of pain. It was terrible.

Needless to say, I didn't make a single thing on my meal plan last week. Joe has been in charge of meals all week, which means we've had the following: frozen pizza, McDonald's, frozen taquitos, pizza rolls, and sandwiches. Tonight I believe delivery pizza is on the menu.

As you can probably guess, I'm ready for some home-cooked, non-processed food, so I'm carrying over last week's meal plan to this week. This will probably be the last meal planning I do for a while, though, since next week is Christmas, then the following week is New Year's, and the week after that we'll have a new baby. We're going to be so busy that I'm pretty sure cooking is going to be the last thing on my mind.

I'd planned a full day of Christmas baking today, but then this morning I sprained my ankle coming down the stairs (I'm really having a banner week!), so that's off. I had a lot of delicious things planned to share with you, but I don't think I'll realistically be able to get to all of them now. I guess I'll just have to make next December an entire month of Christmas here on the blog to make up for this year's lack of holiday cheer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cream Cheese Chicken

Would you believe that I'd never heard of cream cheese chicken until I happened to stumble upon the recipe on A Year of SlowCooking? Yes, it's true. I, the chicken and cream cheese lover, had never heard of this bit of deliciousness. It sounded like the perfect winter comfort food meal, so I knew I had to try it soon.

I made this the old-fashioned way: with cream of mushroom soup and Italian dressing mix. Next time I make this, I'll still use the cream of mushroom soup, but I may try using Stephanie's suggested seasoning blend in place of the Italian dressing mix (check out the link below for her version), just to cut back on some sodium.

This was quite tasty. I stirred in about half a pound of cooked rigatoni at the very end, and we had enough leftovers for a couple of days. This meal was a big hit particularly with Andrew, who seems to share his mama's love of all things containing cream cheese and/or pasta. He's a good boy.

Cream Cheese Chicken
source: A Year of SlowCooking

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 large chicken breasts (frozen is okay)
1 packet of Italian salad dressing mix
2 cloves minced garlic
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese

1. Add all ingredients except for cream cheese to Crock pot. Cook on low for 6 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and begins to shred.

2. Shred the chicken with two large forks and mix in the block of cream cheese. Switch the Crock pot to high and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the cream cheese is fully melted. Serve with pasta.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

This week I was tempted to just list some kind of delicious baked good for dinner every night, because all I want to do now that Christmas is inching ever closer is bake, bake, bake. I have a list of a dozen or so treats I want to make this year and I'm hoping to get my Christmas cookie packages distributed next week, so I'm going to be a very busy girl over the next week or so. I can't wait to share all of the recipes with you!

Anyway, on to the meal plan, because I may be 8 months pregnant, but I still just can't justifiy having sweets for dinner every night.

Maple-pecan chicken, roasted potatoes, mixed greens and pear salad

Chicken broccoli bake

Wednesday: Breakfast for dinner -- fried egg and cheese sandwiches, hashbrowns, fresh fruit (probably pears, because I love them)

Pork tenderloin with pomegranate cranberry sauce, rice pilaf, salad

Friday: The triumphant return of
Burgers and Fries Friday! I've been wanting to make Rachael Ray's winter white burger ever since I saw it in her magazine a year ago, and the time has finally come.

Vegetable lasagna, breadsticks. This was on the menu a couple of weeks ago but I didn't get to make it, and I want to freeze half for when the baby comes.

Chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, buttered corn

Weekend Breakfast:
Eggnog pancakes with cranberry syrup. I can't wait for this breakfast!

Baking: Too many goodies to name, but here's a teaser:
pistachio chocolate chip muffins with strawberry filling. If the thought of those doesn't make your mouth water, nothing will! I can't wait to taste them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mandarin Orange Muffins

If you asked my son Andrew what his very favorite food in the world is, I know exactly what he'd tell you: mandarin oranges. Well, okay, he'd probably say "na nas" because that's what he calls them, but you know what I mean. He loves mandarin oranges, which really comes as no surprise to me since I loved them as a kid too. I remember being a little girl, sitting at the kitchen table and eating them with my fingers right out of the can. And then slurping all of the delicious syrup off of my fingers. It's so fun to watch my little boy do exactly the same thing (except we are more civilized than my parents were, apparently, and put his oranges in a bowl first).

When I happened across this recipe, I knew I had to make these for Andrew. Unsurprisingly, these muffins were a huge hit with him. I really liked them, too, especially the combination of cinnamon and citrus. When I make these again (and oh, I will; Andrew insists) I'll use less almond extract, because I thought the almond was just a little bit too overpowering. These muffins were incredibly moist and not too sweet, and they were absolutely delicious with a bit of butter spread across the top. Definitely Andrew -- and Mama! -- approved.

Mandarin Orange Muffins
source: slightly adapted from Allrecipes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 cup cold butter or margarine
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 11-ounce can mandarin oranges, drained and diced

1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk and extract. Stir into crumb mixture just until moistened. Fold in oranges.

2. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

3. Combine 1/3 cup sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over muffins.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chicken Fajita Lasagna

I make a lot of lasagna. See? We love the stuff in our house. But the recipe I'm sharing with you today is our absolute favorite, even more so than my traditional version, which Joe loves. It's chicken fajita lasagna, and it. is. delicious.

Years ago (literally years -- I think it was in 2004), I saw Emeril Lagasse make enchilada suiza lasagna on his show, and that's where the inspiration for this lasagna came from. Emeril's looked so good that I knew I had to make my own version of it. But I was at the very beginning of my cooking life, and thus I had to simplify it a little bit...or a lot. I didn't even know what a poblano pepper was, let alone have access to queso anejo cheese! I doubt I even knew how to pronounce the name of that cheese then.

Needless to say, I've come a long way, baby. Over the years, my adaptation of the recipe has become known as "chicken fajita lasagna" in our house, and it's a family favorite. Joe would be happy if I made this every single week. Sometimes I use a combination of red and green bell peppers, sometimes I use poblanos; sometimes I top it with freshly chopped tomatoes, sometimes I leave them off. Sometimes I use a shredded Mexican blend cheese, and sometimes I use Monterey jack. But one thing remains constant: This lasagna is always delicious. It makes enough to feed an army, but trust me: You'll be glad you have leftovers of this. It is amazing.

Chicken Fajita Lasagna
source: Cassie, inspired long ago by
Emeril Lagasse

6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil
4 poblano peppers, seeded and thinly sliced (or 2 large bell peppers, any color, thinly sliced)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked shredded chicken
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
6 burrito size flour tortillas
3 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese (or Mexican blend cheese)
Chopped fresh tomatoes, if desired
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnishing, if desired
Sour cream and salsa or pico de gallo for serving, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, little by little, until thoroughly combined. Add the chicken stock and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened and flavorful, about 10 minutes. Add the pepper jack and stir until melted. Season with the salt and remove from the heat. Set aside, covered, while you assemble the remaining ingredients.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add vegetable oil, peppers and onions to skillet. Give the vegetables a minute to cook without stirring them -- you want them to sear a little bit, like in a fajita. When vegetables are crisp-tender, add garlic; cook and stir one minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and reduce heat to low. Add chicken, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Remove from heat and keep warm.

4. Spoon 1 cup of the sauce onto the bottom of the casserole dish. Top with 2 of the tortillas, or as many as needed to form a complete layer. Top with half of the chicken and pepper mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the sauce, and 1/3 of the shredded Monterey jack. Make another layer in exactly the same way: tortillas, the remaining chicken and peppers, 1 1/2 cups of the sauce, and 1/3 of the shredded Monterey jack. Top with the remaining tortillas, remaining sauce, remaining Monterey jack, and tomatoes and/or cilantro if desired.

5. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for about 15 minutes longer, or until the lasagna is bubbly and light golden brown on top.

6. Serve immediately, garnished with a dollop of sour cream, chopped cilantro, and a spoonful of salsa or pico de gallo, if desired.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Give-Away Winner!

Thanks to all of you who commented in my very first give-away. I had a lot of fun hosting it, and hopefully I'll be able to do more in the future. I loved hearing about all of your favorite Christmas cookies, and you gave me lots of ideas for my holiday baking this year. Now, without further ado, here's the winner:

...Okay, well for some reason the website won't let me import the little box thingy, so I'm copying and pasting and you just have to trust me:

True Random Number Generator
Min: 1
Max: 14
Result: 8
Powered by

Anth said:
Are you aware that you are the cutest blogger ever? A giveaway! A lovely idea and I am really hoping 8 is my lucky number! Ha ha

My favorite Christmas cookie is a tie between cranberry pistachio cookies and good
old sugar cookies in Christmas shapes with icing. If you like cranberry &
pistachio, I bet you'd like
these cookies.
Congratulations, Anth -- it looks like 8 was your lucky number after all! I will definitely be trying those pistachio cranberry cookies very soon -- they sound delicious! E-mail me your info at cassiecraves [at] yahoo [dot] com so I can get your prize mailed out to you!

Thanks again to all of you who played along!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

I never really ate chicken noodle soup a whole lot when I was growing up -- except for when I was sick, of course. On those occasions, my mom would pop open a can of the high-sodium Campbell's stuff and heat it up for me. It always did the trick, but it definitely wasn't what I'd call healthy. For all the cooking she did when I was younger, chicken noodle soup was something my mom never made from scratch.

A few years ago, my best friend came down with a horrible cold, and I decided I'd try my hand at making some homemade chicken noodle soup for her. We lived in the same apartment complex at the time, so it was easy for me to whip up a batch and take some over to her. I kept some for our dinner, too, and when Joe tried it, he was really impressed. My friend was, too. Since then, I've tweaked and added to the recipe, and it's become a winter family favorite. My secret ingredients are lemon pepper, white wine, and a touch of cream stirred in at the very end. The lemon pepper adds a wonderfully fresh element to the soup, and to bump up the lemon flavor even more, I've even sprinkled a quick gremolata of parsley and lemon zest on the top. We like our soup pretty thick, so the leftovers are more like chicken and noodles than they are like soup. This was Andrew's first year trying it, and he absolutely loved it too.

This chicken noodle soup is sure to cure your cold, or just comfort you and warm you up on a cold winter day. Serve it with salad and crusty bread for dipping. I think you'll really like it!

And this is your last reminder about the Christmas from the Heart give-away! Be sure to comment on that post before tomorrow at 12:00 PM Eastern time for a chance to win!

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
source: Cassie

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, leafy tops included, chopped

2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and lemon pepper to taste

1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I always use a store-bought rotisserie chicken for this)

1 cup frozen peas
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound egg noodles
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs (no need to remove the thyme from its stems; it'll come off on its own during cooking). Season with salt and lemon pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook and stir one minute.

2. Add white wine; cook until alcohol is cooked out, stirring constantly to release any bits of vegetables from the bottom. Add the chicken, peas and chicken stock and bring to a boil.

3. Add egg noodles to soup and cook, stirring occasionally, until noodles are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

4. Just before serving, stir in heavy cream.