Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Week: Halloween Pumpkin Bars

I know, I know: I missed yesterday's Halloween-themed recipe. But this week has been long and stressful, and I've decided the only way I can cope is to take some of the pressure off of myself. On Wednesday night, that meant eating fast food for dinner and resting on the couch instead of cooking dinner and making chocolate-caramel apples (I know, don't those sound good? I'm definitely keeping them in mind for next year). But yesterday I did muster up the time and energy to make these adorable treats for a work potluck today:

Aren't they cute? They were so much fun to make. I think the guys on the right look like Easter Island statues. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Halloween Pumpkin Bars
source: inspired by Taste of Home and ...and a cookie for dessert

Baked pumpkin bars (use Taste of Home's recipe, or this one, which is truly the best)
Cream cheese frosting (canned will work, but homemade is much better)
Yellow and red food coloring
Candy corn
Black decorating gel

1. Bake pumpkin bars according to recipe directions; cool.

2. Meanwhile, tint frosting with yellow and red food coloring to make orange; spread over cooled bars. Cut bars into squares.

3. Using candy corn and decorating gel, make a face on each bar.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Week: "Scream" Cheese Swirl Brownies

It's day three of Halloween Week! Today, I'm so excited to share these "scream" cheese swirl brownies with you.

Honestly, who doesn't love brownies swirled with sweet, tangy cream cheese? In this Halloween-themed version, the cream cheese mixture is tinted orange with food coloring to make them fun and festive. These are made with boxed brownie mix, which makes them even easier. And the best part? They taste AMAZING. In fact, I can't wait to go home and indulge in a couple of them tonight!

"Scream" Cheese Swirl Brownies
source: Betty Crocker

For the filling:

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
4 drops red food color
4 drops yellow food color
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the brownies:

1 box (1 lb 6.5 oz) Betty Crocker® Original Supreme brownie mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of 13 x 9-inch pan with shortening or cooking spray. In small bowl, beat filling ingredients with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Set aside.

2. In large bowl, stir brownie mix, pouch of chocolate syrup, oil, water and eggs until well blended. Spread 3/4 of brownie batter in pan. Spoon filling by tablespoonfuls evenly onto brownie batter. Spoon remaining brownie batter over filling. For marbled design, pull knife through batter and filling in wide curves; turn pan and repeat.

3. Bake 26 to 30 minutes or until set. Cool completely at room temperature, about 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 1 hour until chilled. For brownies, cut with plastic knife into 6 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in refrigerator.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Week: Monster Eyeballs

For day two of Halloween Week, behold: monster eyeballs.

Pay no attention to that guy on the left. He's a little...lazy.

These treats caught my eye because basically, they're nothing more than Buckeyes with miniature M&Ms stuck in the top to serve as the pupils. Buckeyes are my favorite holiday dessert without question, so I'll take any opportunity to get a jump on eating them. (Here's a question: Are Buckeyes as popular a dessert outside of Ohio as they are within the state? I'm just wondering how much of their popularity here has to do with our football team.)

After I'd already assembled these, I thought how perfect it would have been to melt some white chocolate and paint that over the exposed peanut butter section. I think I may do that if I make these again to make them look even more like real, honest-to-goodness eyeballs. Regardless, these are an easy and irresistibly delicious treat.

Monster Eyeballs
source: Epicurious

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 (1-pound) package confectioners’ sugar (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1 (3-ounce) package miniature M&Ms

1. Blend the peanut butter with the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl.

2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper. Roll the peanut butter mixture by teaspoons into small balls and place on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to firm up the eyeballs.

3. Put the chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and melt the chocolate in the microwave: Heat on high for 60 seconds, and then stir well. If it’s not quite smooth, heat in two or three 10-second bursts, stirring well after each burst. (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate, stirring frequently, in a double boiler, over just-simmering water. Avoid overheating, which can cause chocolate to seize up into a stiff mass.)

4. Take the sheet of balls from the refrigerator; use a fork or a toothpick to dip each one most of the way into the chocolate, leaving a round or oval opening of undipped peanut butter on top. (This opening in the chocolate will be the cornea.) Hold each ball over the chocolate to catch the drips, and then return to the wax paper, cornea side up.

5. Place an M&M in the center of the peanut butter cornea to make an iris. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Store the eyeballs in the refrigerator or freezer and serve chilled.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Week: Vampire Cupcakes

Welcome to Halloween Week! This week I thought it would be fun to highlight some quick, easy, and festive Halloween desserts. Halloween is a holiday I'm enjoying a lot more now that I have a little one (and another little one on the way). Everything seems so fresh and fun again -- the candy, the pumpkin carving, the costumes.

For today's recipe, I present to you these vampire cupcakes that I actually made way back in September, for the finale of my favorite TV show, True Blood. How fun are these?! I adapted the recipe from Baking Bites, but made the cupcakes a lot simpler by using boxed cake mix and canned cream cheese frosting (something I probably wouldn't do again, since store-bought cream cheese frosting in no way compares to the real thing). I've never made a white cake from scratch that wasn't dry, but have always had good luck with boxed white cake mixes, and this time was no exception. The bloody cherry center helped make these nice and juicy, too. These cupcakes are delicious and festive, and would be a fabulous addition to any Halloween party.

Vampire Cupcakes
source: adapted from Baking Bites

1 box white cake mix
Oil and eggs called for on cake mix box
1 can cream cheese frosting (or make your own)
1 can cherry pie filling

1. Bake cupcakes according to directions on box. Cool.

2. Meanwhile, puree cherry pie filling in a blender until smooth.

3. Using a paring knife, cut a cone out of the center of each cooled cupcake. Trim off the pointy end of the cone, leaving a flat circle of cake. Set circle aside to use later and repeat this process for all the cupcakes.

4. Spoon about tablespoon or so of the cherry pie filling into each cupcake cavity, filling it almost to the top. Top off with the flat circle of cake you just removed to seal the hole and hold the “blood” filling in place.

5. Frost cupcakes. Dip a wooden toothpick or skewer into some leftover cherry pie filling and poke two fang-holes, about 3/4 inch apart, in the frosting on one side of the cupcake. Dribble a little extra filling from the holes for effect. Repeat process with all cupcakes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

Before I get to this week's meal plan, I just want to let you guys know that I have something in the works for this week that I think is going to be lots of fun. I'll be taking a break from my normal posting schedule and doing something fun to celebrate Halloween. So be sure to check back tomorrow!

I spaced on quite a few dinners last week -- either we weren't hungry or we just ate what we had on hand -- so a couple of those meals are carrying over to this week.

Monday: Chicken fingers (from the grocery store deli), tater tots. Because sometimes it's fun to eat like a kid.

Tuesday: Cauliflower soup, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. For some reason I've been craving cauliflower like mad lately. Who craves cauliflower? Seriously, this pregnancy is weird.

Wednesday: Pizza-stuffed peppers, garlic bread. I didn't get to make these last week. I was lazy and we had McDonald's instead. (The baby wanted a Big Mac.) (I cannot control these urges.)

Thursday: Cheesy salsa mini meatloaves, Mexican sour cream rice

Friday: Chicken spaghetti. Apparently it's Pioneer Woman week 'round these parts.

Saturday: It's Halloween! It's also our town's trick-or-treat night, so we'll probably order pizza -- or something that can be eaten just as easily on the porch while we're handing out candy. Ah, screw it; we'll just eat candy. That's okay for one night, right?

Sunday: Artichoke lasagna with spinach added, garlic bread

Weekend Breakfast: BELTs (bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato sandwiches)

Baking: Chocolate apple bread. This will be great for breakfasts throughout the week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Best Pumpkin Bars Ever

You guys, I have found The One. The One Pumpkin Bar to Rule Them All. It's the best pumpkin bar I have ever tried, and I am ready to forsake all others and use this recipe exclusively in the future. I know, I'm being melodramatic, but these pumpkin bars really are that good.

What sets these apart from other recipes I've tried is their texture. They're incredibly light and fluffy, but moist at the same time. They have just the right amount of pumpkin flavor without being too overwhelmingly spicy. And the frosting, you guys. It's cream cheese frosting, so it couldn’t possibly be bad, and it definitely is not. I stirred some pecans into the frosting for some added crunch, which was a delicious addition.

Make these as soon as you possibly can. And then make another batch with the canned pumpkin you have left over. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Best Ever Pumpkin Bars
source: whoorl

For the bars:

4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For the frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs well, add in the sugar and butter and mix well. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and mix. Add the flour and spices and mix well. Spread in a 9 x 13-inch greased pan.

3. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.

4. To make frosting, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar until just mixed. Stir in pecans. When the brownies are cool, frost. Cut into squares and serve.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sausage-Stuffed Baked Apples

This just may be the perfect autumn supper. I mean, who doesn't love baked apples, right? This savory version made with maple sausage is absolutely impossible to resist.

These were absolutely delicious just as I made them, but you could play with the filling in lots of ways. The original recipe calls for dried figs, which I omitted, but I think they would have been delicious in these. Golden raisins or dried cranberries would be excellent too. And some brie would take these absolutely over the top. I made them during the week, but when I make them again I'll do it over the weekend, since these take a little bit longer to prep and cook than I prefer for weeknight cooking. But oh, these were so good. They were a literal taste of autumn. Served with a simple salad of mixed greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, this was a comforting, warm-you-up fall supper.

Sausage-Stuffed Baked Apples
source: adapted from Blue Ribbon Family Favorites

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound bulk maple pork sausage
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
3 baking apples, halved and cored (I used Honeycrisp)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until sausage is browned and onion is softened. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans.

3. Fill each apple half with some of the sausage mixture. Place apples, filling side up, in a baking dish; cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes or until apples are tender.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mom's Shredded Chicken Sandwiches

I think everyone has their own version of these sandwiches. Some people make them with cream of celery soup; some people add saltines to thicken up the mixture. The version I'm sharing today is my Mom's. It's pretty simple, but no less delicious for it. I've been eating this sandwich for as long as I can remember, and it's still one of my favorite comfort foods. As Joe said when I made a batch the other night, "I could eat ten sandwiches and still never have enough of these."

You'll be seeing this on my menu frequently this fall and winter, because these sandwiches are so quick, easy and delicious to prepare, they work great as leftovers, and they remind me of home.

Mom's Shredded Chicken Sandwiches

2 pounds chicken breasts
1 cup chicken stock
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 cup milk (more or less depending on how thick you want the mixture to be)
Lots of black pepper
Salt to taste

Sandwich buns
American cheese slices, if desired

1. Add the chicken breasts to a slow cooker and top with chicken stock. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork and drain most of the liquid.

2. Stir in the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and milk until desired consistency is reached. Add black pepper and stir to combine, then taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. Continue cooking over low heat for 30 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly. Serve on sandwich buns with American cheese, if desired. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cream Cheese- and Pesto-Stuffed Chicken

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know that I love stuffing chicken breasts. I just think it's such a great way to add flavor to chicken, which really doesn't have a whole lot of flavor on its own. And there's so much opportunity for innovation, too, which is always fun and a good way to stay out of a cooking rut.

I first saw this recipe on Carrie's blog quite a while ago, and I knew immediately that I wanted to try it. I can't believe it took me this long to get around to making it, and now that I've tried it, I can't wait to make it again. It may sound like there's really not a lot going on with this recipe, but to date it is absolutely the best stuffed chicken recipe I've ever tried. The filling is so creamy and flavorful and downright decadent, and it pairs perfectly with the crispy breading. You absolutely have to try this one, immediately. We served the chicken with steamed broccoli florets and garlic and cheese orzo, and I think it was one of the best meals we've had for a while. Seriously -- so good!

Cream Cheese- and Pesto-Stuffed Chicken
source: adapted from Eating Well

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1 tablespoon basil pesto
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Combine cream cheese, pesto and pepper in a small bowl with a fork.

3. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin, long edge of a chicken breast half, nearly through to the opposite side. Open up each breast; season inside and outside with salt and pepper. Place one-fourth of the filling in the center. Close the breast over the filling, pressing the edges firmly together to seal. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.

4. Lightly beat egg with a fork in a medium bowl. Place breadcrumbs in a shallow glass dish. Hold each chicken breast half together and dip in the egg, then dredge in the breadcrumbs.

5. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts; cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Place the chicken, browned-side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170 degrees, about 20 minutes.

Garlic and Cheese Orzo

There's nothing particularly fancy about this pasta -- it's just a delicious, simple, and quick side dish. It's something I'll definitely be turning to in the future as a side for all kinds of things.

I have a habit of reading a recipe through once and then making it without looking at the recipe again -- even if it's something I've never made before. That's what I did this time, and for some reason I got it in my head that this pasta was supposed to have onions in it. The original recipe doesn't call for them, but I'm actually really glad I added them. I thought they added a nice sweetness to the dish and worked really well with the cheese and garlic.

We did have some leftovers that I knew Joe and I wouldn't eat, so I mixed the pasta with some broccoli and sent it for Andrew's lunch at daycare the next day, which he really enjoyed. I usually suck at side dishes and lately I've been making an effort to change this. This one was definitely a hit with the whole family.

Garlic and Cheese Orzo
source: adapted from Rachael Ray

1/2 pound orzo
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Ground black pepper

1. Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat to boil the pasta. When the water reaches a bubble, season it with salt and drop the pasta. Cook to al dente according to package directions then drain and reserve.

2. When the pasta is ready, place a large skillet over medium heat with the butter. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook until aromatic and tender. Add the cooked pasta, cheese and parsley to the pan, season with pepper and toss to thoroughly combine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

Monday: Breakfast for dinner -- banana nut pancakes and bacon. I'll be doubling the recipe this time, because I'm pretty sure we all could have eaten more the last time I made these.

Tuesday: Pepperoni- and cheese-stuffed chicken breasts, butter and garlic angel hair pasta (from a box, I know, I suck), roasted broccoli

Wednesday: French bread pizzas, mozzarella sticks

Thursday: Tuscan grilled chicken sandwiches, oven rings. I might use sliced provolone cheese instead of fresh mozzarella on the sandwiches this time, like Katie did in her version.

Friday: Pizza-stuffed peppers

Saturday: Skillet beef stew, mashed potatoes, rolls

Sunday: Artichoke lasagna, garlic bread. I'll probably add spinach to the lasagna, too -- yum!

Weekend Breakfast: Eggs and biscuits with sausage gravy

Baking: Maple-drizzled apple muffins

Friday, October 16, 2009

Walnut Pear Sour Cream Coffee Cake

The house where I grew up had an enormous back yard, and at the very edge of the property was a pear tree that produced a lot of fruit, year after year. Every year, as soon as fall arrived, my brother and I were out there collecting the harvest. They were the best pears I've ever tasted, impossibly sweet and juicy. We always had more fruit than we knew what to do with, but my mom always loved trying to come up with new ways to use them. She canned them, dried them, paired them with pork chops and chicken, and baked with them a lot. So while other kids were celebrating the arrival of fall with pumpkins and apples, my brother and I were celebrating it with pears. To this day, I have to say that pears are my favorite autumn fruit.

My love of pears is what initially drew me to this cake. And it actually ended up reminding me a lot of the pear streusel muffins my mom used to make when I was a kid. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it. It came out a little dry, but I think that's only because I cooked it a little longer than I should have (the recipe calls for a 9-inch springform pan, but mine is 10 inches). I think streusel is one of the world's most perfect culinary creations, and it worked so well with the sweet, soft pears in this recipe. I'm filing this one away to make every single autumn.

Walnut Pear Sour Cream Coffee Cake
source: Better Homes and Gardens

1 cup broken walnuts
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 2 cups)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 8-ounce carton dairy sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Combine the 1 cup nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon. For topping, cut the 1/4 cup butter into 1/3 cup flour to make coarse crumbs. Stir in 3/4 cup of the nut mixture. Set nut mixture and topping aside.

2. Toss pears with lemon juice; set aside. In a medium bowl combine the 1 3/4 cups flour, baking powder, soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl beat 1/2 cup butter with electric mixer 30 seconds. Beat in granulated sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately to batter. Beat on low speed after each addition until combined.

3. Spread two-thirds batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with reserved nut mixture. Layer pears over top. Gently spread remaining batter over pears. Sprinkle with reserved topping. Bake 10 minutes. For a chunky top, sprinkle with 1/2 cup more nuts. Bake 45 to 50 minutes more or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Remove sides of springform pan, if using. Cool at least 1 hour. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zucchini Alfredo

I discovered this recipe by accident. I went to Allrecipes in search of something completely different, but this dish happened to be the featured recipe of the day on the site. I printed it immediately. It sounded like something all of us would really like, and we did.

I loved the creaminess of this dish, and with a few additions, the sauce had really great flavor. One Allrecipes reviewer mentioned that you could omit the pasta all together and eat this as creamed zucchini instead, and she was absolutely right. The sauce is definitely thick enough for that -- in fact, when I make this again, I may add more milk to thin out the sauce a bit more. It was definitely delicious as-is, though, and Andrew especially enjoyed it (as I knew he would; we're so lucky that anything with green vegetables = love to my boy).

This one is definitely a keeper, and a dish that I'll for sure make again!

Zucchini Alfredo
source: adapted from Allrecipes

1 box penne rigate (or pasta of your choice)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cups shredded zucchini

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup milk
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente; drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic and onion and cook until onion is translucent. Mix in zucchini, season with red pepper flakes, and cook about 10 minutes, until most of the moisture has evaporated.

3. Pour the milk into the skillet, and stir in cream cheese until melted. Mix in basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and additional basil, if desired. Serve over the cooked pasta.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore Risotto

With temperatures in the 40s, cloudy skies and biting winds, and snow in the forecast for the end of the week, today seems like the perfect day to share this risotto recipe with you. Risotto is one of my absolute favorite comfort foods; it's the kind of meal that just warms the soul -- and the body, especially when the weather's getting chillier.

This recipe is adapted from a cookbook I inherited from my stepsister. She was getting ready to donate a bunch of cookbooks to charity, but I couldn't resist going through them first to see if there were any I wanted. This particular cookbook caught my eye immediately, since it contains recipes from the Mediterranean countries -- an area whose food I unequivocally love.

The recipe as it's written in the cookbook is very basic, consisting of only chicken, chicken broth, tomato sauce and some garlic. But to me, that's just not chicken cacciatore. When I think of chicken cacciatore, I immediately think of mushrooms, onions, and green peppers in a thick tomato-y sauce. So I added all of those things to the recipe, and I must say that this turned out wonderfully. Even Andrew liked it, and the leftovers heated up really well for lunch the next day.

Chicken Cacciatore Risotto
source: adapted from Viva la Mediterranean

1 cup arborio rice
5 to 6 cups warm chicken stock
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
8 ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
1 14.5-ounce can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. In a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, heat a small amount of olive oil. Add onion, bell pepper and mushrooms and cook until peppers are crisp-tender and mushrooms are beginning to brown. Add garlic; cook and stir 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Add rice to pan and cook until it begins to brown and smells nutty, then add about 1 cup of warm stock to the pan. Cook over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed. Keep adding stock and stirring until the liquid is absorbed until rice is completely cooked (the whole process should take anywhere from 18-22 minutes).

3. Stir in chicken, diced tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and parsley until heated through. Top servings with additional parmesan cheese and parsley, if desired.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chicken Bacon Broccoli Alfredo Pizza

We liked the chicken taco pizza we had a couple of weeks ago so much that I couldn't wait to start experimenting with different toppings using the same method. First up was an idea I saw ages ago on Courtney's blog for chicken bacon alfredo pizza. I took her idea and ran with it, adding broccoli to the topping, because I love the taste of broccoli with alfredo sauce. We liked this pizza a lot. Next up to try: BBQ and buffalo chicken versions!

Sorry for the poor photo quality. Unless I can somehow manage to get dinner on the table by 4:30 PM, it's looking like I'm going to have to start using my flash more. I wish Daylight Savings Time lasted all year!

Chicken Bacon Broccoli Alfredo Pizza
source: inspired by Cooking Up a Family

1 12-inch pre-baked thin Italian pizza crust
1/2 cup alfredo sauce (purchased, or you can get fancy and make your own)

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian-blend cheese
6 strips of bacon, diced
1 cup cooked broccoli

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cook bacon over medium heat to desired crispness; set aside on paper towels to drain.

2. Place pizza crust on cookie sheet. Stir together chicken and alfredo sauce in a small bowl; spread over crust, stopping about one inch from the edges. Top with cheese.

3. Bake 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and pizza is thoroughly heated.

4. Top with broccoli and bacon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quick Mozzarella Sticks

First of all, I just have to say this: I have a deep, deep love of breaded mozzarella sticks, so in my book there is absolutely no way these can compare to the more traditional version. These mozzarella sticks are, however, a quick and easy at-home version of the traditional ones, and while they will never take the place of my seasoned and breaded cheese sticks, they're a perfectly acceptable and satisfying substitute. They were heartily enjoyed by all three of us.

How clever is this idea? Seriously. Using egg roll wrappers in place of the more traditional breading -- it's nothing short of genius, and something I can't believe I never thought of. I think I should have deep-fried mine for just a little bit longer than I did, just so the cheese would get meltier (no, I don't care if that's not a word), but really, I can't say a single bad thing about this recipe. I can see myself making these for my boys (and all their hungry friends, too) far, far into the future.

Quick Mozzarella Sticks
source: seen on Tried and True Cooking with Heidi, originally from Simple & Delicious Magazine

12 pieces string cheese
12 egg roll wrappers
Oil for deep-fat frying
Marinara or spaghetti sauce

1. Place a piece of string cheese near the bottom corner of one egg roll wrapper. Fold bottom corner over cheese. Roll up halfway; fold sides toward center over cheese. Moisten remaining corner with water; roll up tightly to seal. Repeat with remaining wrappers and cheese.

2. In an electric skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil to 375°.

3. Fry sticks, a few at a time, for 30 to 60 seconds on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with marinara sauce.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

Short and sweet today, since I have a lot to do before I leave to see Julie and Julia this afternoon. FINALLY. I'm so excited!!

: Egg salad club sandwiches, fresh fruit (probably sliced pears, because they looked absolutely gorgeous at the store yesterday)

Tuesday: Cream cheese- and pesto-stuffed chicken breasts, garlic and cheese orzo, steamed broccoli

Wednesday: Sausage-stuffed baked apples, salad. I had these on the menu a few weeks ago, but unexpected guests prevented me from preparing them. So this meal has been long-anticipated.

Thursday: Crispy chicken wraps, chips

Friday: Mom's shredded chicken sandwiches, baked beans. When the weather starts cooling down, I start missing my mom even more, so making one of her tried-and-true specialties is always comforting for me. The recipe is so simple, but I'll probably share it with you anyway, just because it's so delicious. (The baked beans are just the canned version, doctored up with some bacon, onions, and -- of course -- BBQ sauce. I'm not Superwoman, especially on Fridays, and the canned ones taste great to me.)

Saturday: Leftover shredded chicken sandwiches, chips. These sandwiches taste even better the next day.

Sunday: Arroz con pollo, cheesy drop biscuits (with Spanish olives folded into the batter). Another meal I didn't get the chance to make a couple of weeks ago, another meal I've been eager to try.

Weekend Breakfast: Maple sausage and cheese muffins

Baking: Frozen pumpkin squares. And because that's not really "baking" (and I'll have half a can of pumpkin left over anyway), I'm also going to make these pumpkin brownies. The only grocery store in our area carrying canned pumpkin (due to the "pumpkin shortage," which I still don't understand) happens to be the store my husband manages, so I've made sure that we're stocked! I need my pumpkin this fall, more than ever.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stuffed Pizza Rolls

These pizza rolls were The Meal That Almost Didn't Happen. When I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients on the night I was going to make them, the store was out of refrigerated pizza crust. The shelf was totally empty, and I couldn't find an employee to help me. And I live in a pretty small town with only one grocery store, so it's not like I could go somewhere else.

Instead of scrapping our dinner plans, though, I decided to improvise. I found a package of Pillsbury's crescent creations that I thought would probably work, so I decided to use that instead. And it worked wonderfully! I was so glad I went forward with making these, because they were absolutely delicious. Joe is pretty obsessed with frozen pizza rolls, so I was eager to see what he'd think of this homemade version -- and he really liked them too. The same goes for Andrew, who would eat anything dipped in red sauce (he's just like his mama).

These pizza rolls will be a repeat dinner in our house, for sure. Wait until you see what I served them with -- that's coming up on Monday. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Stuffed Pizza Rolls
source: Our Best Bites

1 roll refrigerated pizza dough (I substituted crescent creations out of necessity, which worked fine)Marinara/pizza sauce

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Mozzarella cheese, diced
Pizza toppings of your choice: i.e., ham and pineapple, pepperoni slices, sausage, etc. (I used diced pepperoni)

1. Preheat oven to heat specified on pizza dough package, usually 400 degrees.

2. Unroll dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat or roll the dough so it's about 12" by 8". Use a pizza cutter to slice the dough into 24 squares.

3. Place cheese and desired toppings on each square, about a teaspoon each of cheese and toppings.

4. When all of your dough squares have cheese and toppings on them, carefully lift up each square and wrap the dough around the toppings. Pinch to make sure each ball is sealed shut and then place them seam side down in a lightly sprayed pie pan (or similar sized dish).

5. Brush the tops of the dough balls melted butter and then sprinkle with the garlic and Italian seasoning and top with parmesan cheese.

6. Cook rolls in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Southwestern Shepherd's Pie

I'm so excited to share this recipe with you. We absolutely loved this dinner. Joe liked it even better than the "regular" shepherd's pie I make every year. Andrew ate the sweet potatoes off the top of his serving and picked out the corn kernels to snack on, but other than that was pretty indifferent. But I'm sure he'll eventually come around to loving this too.

Sweet potatoes are an under-utilized ingredient in our house, especially considering that Joe and Andrew absolutely love them. Other than sweet potato fries and the casserole I make for Thanksgiving every year (which I'll definitely post the recipe for eventually), I don't use them for a lot of things. This was a great way to satisfy Joe's and Andrew's love of sweet potatoes, and also my nearly constant craving for Mexican food. The recipe calls for 2 cups of tomatoes, so I used one can of diced tomatoes, but I think salsa would be a great substitution to add even more flavor to this dish. Delicious!

Southwestern Shepherd's Pie
source: adapted from Epicurious

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped green jalapeño
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can corn
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño; cook for 2 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high; add beef and brown for 5 minutes.

2. Add tomato paste and spices; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; simmer until liquid reduces, 15 minutes. Add corn, beans, and 4 tablespoons cilantro. Spoon into a 9 x 9-inch baking dish.

3. Meanwhile, place sweet potatoes in a saucepan with water to cover. Boil until fork-tender. Drain; mash with butter and milk. Spread mash over the meat mixture. Bake in a 400 degree oven until brown, 30 minutes. Garnish with more cilantro.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Bars

I saw this recipe a month or so ago, and it immediately went on my "Must Bake Immediately!!!" list. But then I got busy and sidetracked, so I didn't get around to actually baking these bars until last weekend. And with my first bite I was cursing myself for waiting so long -- I could have been on my third or fourth batch of them by now!

These bars are pretty much everything I could ask for in a dessert. Composed of a snickerdoodle blondie layer topped with a pumpkin pie layer, then drizzled with white chocolate, they are a rich, decadent fall treat. Joe has become quite possessive of them; when I suggested taking a few in to my co-workers, he flat-out refused to part with them. These bars were also Andrew's first taste of pumpkin (he was too young last year), and he definitely enjoyed them too. In fact, his eye lit up, and he smiled and said, "Mmmm!" when I gave him a bite. I think he's going to follow in his parents' footsteps and become quite the little pumpkin lover.

Make these, immediately! Then bake another batch right afterwards, because this is a dessert that just has to be shared.

Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Bars
source: seen on Megan's Cookin', who got it from Dozen Flours

For the snickerdoodle layer:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the pumpkin pie layer:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

For the topping:

2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the drizzle:

1 ounce white chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and lay a piece of parchment paper across the pan, so that it extends the pan slightly.

2. To make snickerdoodle layer, sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan (mixture will be thick and cookiebatter-ish).

3. In a mixer bowl (you can use the same one you used to make the snickerdoodle batter) with a paddle attachment, mix together all pumpkin pie layer ingredients until well combined. This layer will be less thick and more pourable. Pour over the snickerdoodle layer, smoothing out the top.

4. Combine white sugar and cinnamon in a little bowl. Evenly sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over the top of the batter.

5. Bake for 33-40 minutes (maybe more depending on your oven) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let the bars cool completely (about an hour). They will deflate a bit and remain a bit pie-like on the top layer. The bars that are closer to the edges of the pan will be more firm.

6. After the bars are completely cool, place the chopped white chocolate into a bowl or zip-lock bag and melt on low power. When it's completely melted, add the pumpkin pie spice and mix (or knead if using a zip lock bag). Use a spoon or cut a small corner off the bag and drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the bars and let it cool and harden.

7. Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Place on a cutting board and cut into bars. Store in a covered container.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Parmesan Knots

If you haven't noticed, garlic bread is one thing that shows up on my menu at least once a week. We love the stuff, and ever since I came up with this recipe on the fly, it's been our household staple. But every once in a while, it's nice to try something different for a change -- without resorting to the frozen variety, as I so often do. I couldn't wait to try this recipe when I saw it in a recent issue of Taste of Home, and it did not disappoint. The original recipe calls for each biscut to be cut into thirds before rolling, but I just rolled out each whole biscuit into a rope to make more substantial knots. This is a delicious, buttery, quick and easy alternative to garlic bread, and I will definitely make these cute little knots again!

Parmesan Knots
source: adapted from Taste of Home

1 tube (12 ounces) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

1. Roll each biscuit into a rope and tie into a knot; tuck ends under. Place 2 inches apart on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake at 400° for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

2. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients; add the warm knots and gently toss to coat.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Three Packet Pot Roast and Leftover Pot Roast Hash and Eggs

I've only ever made pot roast one way: cooked in the Crock pot all day long with salt and pepper, garlic powder, bay leaves, and thyme. That's the way my mom always made it, and I guess I just never thought her method could be improved upon. And while this pot roast (found on Jessie's site) doesn't necessarily top my mom's recipe, it is certainly just as good as hers. It had great flavor and was nice and tender, and all three of us enjoyed it a lot. Tomorrow I'll post about the yummy parmesan knots I served alongside the meat and vegetables.

(Also, I have to apologize for the crappy picture. As I was snapping it, my son was sitting in his high chair systematically throwing his dinner onto the floor, so I had to stop that madness rather quickly. Toddlers, they are not what I would call easy.)

Three Packet Pot Roast
source: adapted from Mrs. Ca Cooks, who adapted it from RecipeZaar

1 (2/3 ounce) package Italian salad dressing mix
1 (1 ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1 (1 1/4 ounce) package mushroom gravy mix
1 2-3 pound beef roast of choice
1 cup water
1 cup baby carrots
1/2 pound baby red potatoes, cut into chunks

Place the roast in the center of the Crock pot and arrange the vegetables around the sides. Combine the dry mixes and sprinkle over the roast. Pour water around the sides. Cover and cook for 8-10 hours on low.


I reserved some of the meat specifically to use for breakfast the next morning. One of my favorite things to order at Bob Evans (a restaurant we dine at frequently, and yes, we are in our 20s, why do you ask?) is pot roast hash, and I was eager to duplicate it at home. Consisting of red potatoes, leftover pot roast, onion and green pepper, and topped with over-easy eggs, this hash was a perfect, hearty breakfast for a chilly weekend morning.

Pot Roast Hash and Eggs
source: Cassie

2 tablespoons butter
Vegetable or olive oil
1 pound baby red potatoes, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup leftover pot roast
4 eggs, cooked to taste

Melt butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and cook until they just begin to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add bell pepper and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in leftover pot roast and heat through. Top with eggs and serve.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weekly Meal Planning

It's October? Seriously? ALREADY? I just don't know where this year has gone. Fall has definitely fallen around here; the leaves are starting to change, and the air is getting crisper. We even had to use our heater a couple of days last week. Autumn is my favorite season, so I hope it sticks around for a while before winter takes over.

It's not hard to see what I've been craving lately: My menu this week is pretty Italian food-heavy. Luckily for me Joe's half Italian, so he never gets sick of Italian food!

Monday: Stuffed pizza rolls, mozzarella sticks. I didn't get to make this last week, and my desire for melty cheese and red sauce has been particularly strong lately, so I can't wait to eat this meal.

Tuesday: Chicken bacon alfredo pizza. We liked last week's pizza so much that I'm using the same method for this yummy-sounding version.

Wednesday: Chicken cacciatore risotto, garlic bread. This risotto is a "leftover" from my meal plan a few weeks ago. I'll use half of a rotisserie chicken for Tuesday night's pizza, and the other half for this meal. (Side note: I think rotisserie chicken is one of THE ABSOLUTE BEST values you can find at the grocery store. It makes everything so convenient!)

Thursday: Chinese take-out. A new place just opened in the same shopping center as the grocery store, so whenever I'm shopping it smells so good I can barely stand it. I've heard good things about this place already, so I'm excited to try it. Our town is sorely lacking in the Chinese food department.

Friday: Zucchini alfredo, parmesan knots. The store is still carrying some decent-looking zucchini, so I figure I'd better take advantage of it while I can.

Saturday: Meatball subs. Totally inspired by Jessie.

Sunday: Meatloaf, individual potatoes au gratin, green beans, rolls. Another meal I'd planned to make a few weeks ago and didn't get the chance to. Clearly it's shaping up to be a meaty weekend.

Weekend Breakfast: Egg, cheese, and tomato bagel breakfast sandwiches -- one of our favorite go-to breakfasts. I just spread toasted, buttered bagels with Miracle Whip (mayonnaise would also work, but I like the flavor of Miracle Whip with eggs), then layer on a fried egg or two, sliced American cheese, and some sliced and salted tomato. Joe usually requests some form of meat on his, but I much prefer mine without it.

Baking: Walnut pear sour cream cake. I can't even type the name of this cake without salivating a little bit. I hope it lives up to my expectations, because they are HIGH.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mexican Corn Bread

One of the main complaints I always hear about corn bread is that it's just too dry. In fact, it's one of the main complaints I've always had about corn bread I've eaten at restaurants and potlucks. Maybe I've just been lucky so far, but this is the second time I've made corn bread at home, and it's the second time my corn bread has come out perfectly moist and not dry at all. I think this has very little to do with my cooking skills, and everything to do with the ingredients involved.

In any case, this is a delicious corn bread. I elected to leave the jalapeno out of mine to make it milder, but the green chiles still gave it a nice bite. The sour cream provided the moistness, and it also added a nice, tangy flavor. This was the perfect accompaniment to last night's chili, and I’m very happy there are leftovers to warm up for lunch today. I halved the recipe, but just click the link to see the original.

Mexican Corn Bread
source: adapted from Allrecipes

1 (8.5 ounce) package corn bread/muffin mix
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cream-style corn
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped green chilies
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1. In a bowl, combine corn bread mix and onion. Combine the remaining ingredients; add to the corn bread mixture just until moistened. Pour into a greased 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

2. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until lightly browned and the edges pull away from sides of pan. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes 9 servings.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chicken Taco Pizza

This chicken taco pizza was seriously delicious. And it was such a quick and easy weeknight meal for us, too; it came together in about 20 minutes, and tasted absolutely amazing. This is a really versatile recipe; you can add your favorite taco toppings, and even use the same preparation method for lots of different kinds of pizzas (Joe suggested buffalo-style and BBQ chicken versions; he was very excited about this prospect). We loved this version, though, and will be making it frequently!

Chicken Taco Pizza
source: adapted from Betty Crocker

1 12-inch pre-baked thin Italian pizza crust
1/2 cup refried beans
1/2 cup salsa
2 cups cooked shredded rotisserie chicken
2 cups shredded Mexican-style cheese blend
1/2 cup sour cream
Your favorite taco toppings: shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced red onion, black olives, avocado
1/2 cup crushed Doritos

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pizza crust on a cookie sheet and spread refried beans over surface, stopping about 1 inch from the edges. Stir together salsa and chicken in a small bowl.

2. Spread chicken mixture over refried beans. Top with cheese. Bake 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and pizza is thoroughly heated.

3. Top with desired taco toppings, dollops of sour cream, and crushed Doritos. Cut into 8 wedges.