Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chicken Chow Mein

There is nothing like a good meal out...even better when you can have a good quality meal at home.  I am a fan of Asian cooking (though by no means any good at it), and this is a great and easy recipe.
I added free range egg noodles (fresh noodles found in the produce aisle or fresh pasta aisle of your grocery store) and interpreted the chinese noodles to mean the crunchy chow mein noodles you can buy in a can from the Asian food aisle in most grocery stores.
I also added carrots (sliced thinly) to add some color and a healthy crunch! 
Time: 45 minutes total
Yield: 6 Servings

2 T olive oil
2 onions
2-3 C celery
2-3 C bean sprouts
1 8 oz package mushrooms
4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper

3 C water
3  Chicken bullion cubes
2 T soy sauce
1/2 t sugar
3 T cornstarch dissolved in 1/3 C water

Hot rice
Chinese Noodles (crunchy chow mein noodles)
1. In a large skillet heat 1 T olive oil. Cut up the chicken breasts with a pair of cooking scissors. Add them to the pan and sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper. Cook over medium heat until the pieces are golden brown. See how pretty they are? This beautiful golden brown color is going to add some screaming delicious flavor to your chow mien.

2. While the chicken is getting itself beautifully browned you are going to be chopping up your veggies.
3. When your chicken is browned, set it aside. Add 1 T olive oil to the same skillet you cooked the chicken in. Add your veggies and cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the veggies are crisp tender. 
4. While your veggies are cooking put the water, bullion, soy sauce, and sugar in a small sauce pan. Heat until boiling, and add the cornstarch/water mixture. Stir it in thoroughly. The sauce should thicken quickly. Set aside.
5. When your veggies are done, add the chicken and the sauce back into the skillet with the veggies. Heat through and serve with rice and Chinese noodles.

French Dip Sandwiches

I love crock pot meals...easy to get going and less fuss (and mess) for me.

I found this recipe for French Dip Sandwiches on Jamie Cooks It Up!  My family loves sandwiches...they love could this go wrong?

Now, I am no expert on roasts.  I don't know one cut from another, so I stood befuddled in the meat section of the grocery store for a good 15 minutes before I finally picked one.  I went for a silverside roast (and NO, I have no idea what that means).

I only purchased a one kilo roast (that is about 2 1/4 pounds for my American friends), as our family is not that big.  I kept all the proportions of the original recipe, and I let the meat cook for 9 hours on high in my crockpot.

I took the meat out (about one hour before serving) and shredded as directed.  I added a packet of Au Jus Gravy mix to the juices (and stirred well) before putting the shredded meat back in to "soak" for that last hour.

We left the cheese out, but toasted the buns ( I used sesame seed topped Kaiserbroetchen rolls) under the grill in my oven.  I served the sandwiches with chips (ummm, that is French Fries for you non-English folks) and rootbeer (yummmmmmm, rootbeer).

The sandwiches were absolutely delicious!  The kids had a few bites and mostly stuck to the bread, but I was hooked.  I'm not usually a big fan of meat (I have texture issues), but this was good.  The sauce was awesome as well!

If you are looking for a quick easy meal to make, this is a great idea.  You can adjust for big or small crowds!

Time: 10 minutes prep + 6-9 hours in the crock
Yield: 8 servings

1  3-4 pound beef roast
1  T olive oil
salt and pepper
2  1 oz packages Lipton Onion Soup mix
4  C hot water
beef bullion cubes
8  rolls (something with a good sturdy crust on it)
Provolone, Swiss or Mozzarella Cheese Slices (optional)
softened butter

1. Heat up a large skillet. Add the olive oil to the pan.
2. Sprinkle your roast with salt and pepper and place it in the pan. Let it get nice and seared on each side.
3. Place the roast in your crock pot. Sprinkle the Onion Soup mix over the top. 
4. Let your bullion cubes dissolve in the hot water and then pour it over the roast.
5. Put the lid on your crock and cook on high for 6-8 hours. Take the roast out and shred it up with a fork about 1 hour before you are ready to serve. Put the shredded beef back in the crock and let it cook in all those yummy juices for the last hour.
6. Spread just a bit of softened butter on your rolls. Toast them on a griddle. Then add the meat and some cheese if you'd like.
7. Pour the hot juices left in the crock into small bowls for dipping.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bake-a-thon 2011: Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake

I love chocolate and I LOOOOOVE cheesecake.  I found this scrumptious looking recipe for Chocolate Toffee Cheesecake on Jamie Cooks It Up!  How could I resist chocolate, cheesecake, and toffee together? 

I love trying new cheesecake recipes! 

To be honest there were a few hiccups in the process, not due to the recipe itself, but rather what was available to me here.  First, our base commissary was out of Oreos (I know, really, who could possibly ever be out of Oreos?), so I had to use the Chocolate Creme Oreos.  

Second, those magical Heath Toffee chips were not available either (seriously disappointed).  I couldn't even find a Heath Toffee bar.  I eventually found a bag of mini Heath Toffee bars for an outrageous sum of money.  These little monsters then had to be crushed. I only have a blender so, in they went.  I ended up with more toffee dust than toffee chips, but hey, as my grandma used to say, it all tastes the same going down!

Those problems set aside, it was actually quite an easy recipe to make. Just a few minutes to crush the cookies in the blender (I know I really need a food processor).  The cheesecake filling was a snap (though remind me to take the cream cheese out of the package before letting it soften), even with my aged electric mixers (I know I also really need to get a Bosch or Kitchenaid).
By evening time, my kitchen smelled wonderful and I could hardly wait to tuck in!   Just a few minutes to make the chocolate sauce and top the yummy cheesecake.

And oh what bliss!  I give super high marks to the crust, chocolately and crunchy (really good even with the Chocolate Creme Oreos).  The cheesecake itself was good, but not the best I've had.  (If you want a really good filling try this recipe for Almost the Plaza Cheesecake).  I was a bit disappointed by the toppings themselves.  With the cheesecake and the crust, you didn't get a lot of the chocolate and toffee flavours on top, unless you happened to bite into a piece loaded with the chocolate sauce....and even then the toffee was barely noticable.

Now don't get me wrong, it will get eaten, every last crumb, and it will be delicious, just not as great as I had been hoping.  I'm considering making it again (in the distant future, as my arteries will need time to recover), but using my own cheesecake filling recipe, and probably skipping the toffee bits (but keeping the chocolate sauce).

Okay, enough talking the recipe is below.  Try it out, and see what you think.  I've put some of my cheesecake making tips below the recipe.

Time: 90 minutes + time 3 hours refrigeration
Yield: 12 servings

30 Oreos
1/3 C melted butter

4  8 oz packages cream cheese
1 C sugar
2 t vanilla
1 C sour cream
4 eggs

8  oz  Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (2/3 of a 12 oz bag)
8  oz whipping cream
dash salt
1/2 t vanilla
1  12 oz bag Heath toffee pieces

1. For the crust, grind your Oreos in a small food processor. Place the crumbs in a small mixing bowl. 
2. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and mix to combine well.
3. Get out your handy 10 inch spring form pan. Press the crust crumbs over the bottom of the pan and up 1 inch of the sides. It works well to use the a small measuring cup to help form the crust to the pan.
4. Beat the cream cheese in your stand mixer, or with hand held beaters for about 2 minutes, until smooth. 
5. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix until well combined.
6. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each egg.
7. Stir the sour cream into the mixture, just until incorporated.
8. Place a 9x13 pan of water on the lower rack of your oven.
9. Pour your cheesecake filling over the chocolate crust.
10. Put the cheesecake into a 350 degree oven and bake for 60-70 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven when a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cheesecake comes out clean.
11. Cool completely on a wire rack and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 
12. Put all topping ingredients (but the toffee chips) into a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 seconds, and then stir. Keep heating in 30 second increments until the chocolate melts and can easily be incorporated into the cream. Whisk it together well.
13. Set the chocolate topping on the counter and let it set up for about 15 minutes, or until it begins to thicken a bit. You need to be careful here. If you pour it over the top of your cheesecake when it's too thin you'll have a real mess on your hands. You want it thick enough that once you put it on the top of the cheesecake, you can gently push it over the side and it will set nicely. The longer you let it sit, the thicker it will become. 
14. When the topping is the right consistency pour it on top of the cheesecake. Gently push it over the sides in several areas with a spoon.
15. Cover with toffee chips and return to the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

Cheesecake Tips:

  • I agree with Jamie, placing a pan of water on the rack beneath the cheesecake is a great way to keep the cheesecake moist (and prevent cracking).  This is much easier and less messy than trying a water bath.
  • When the cheesecake is done baking, run a sharp knife around the edges to make sure the filling is not sticking to the sides of the pan.  This will help to keep it from cracking as the filling cools and contracts.
  • When the cheesecake is done baking, open the oven door (say halfway) and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for a little while.  This helps it cool slower and prevents too much cracking.
  • Remember, cracking isn't the end of the world...especially when you have toppings...they cover a multitude of sins.  It will still taste the same, cracks and all!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bake-a-thon 2011: Double Chocolate Cake with Hot Fudge Sauce

It has been a busy few weeks, and so I finally got around to my next installment in my Bake-a-thon.
We had friends over for dinner on Sunday, and I figured that the perfect topper to our dinner would be a scrumptious chocolate cake (seriously you can't go wrong with chocolate cake).
It was very easy to make (seriously didn't take long), and smelled so yummy.  I made the hot fudge sauce after dinner (right before I served the cake) and it only took a few minutes.
The cake was heavenly.  Everyone wanted seconds, and I had it for breakfast, lunch and dessert the next day.  The best part of the cake has to be the homemade hot fudge.  If it hadn't seemed so obscene I would have just eaten the hot fudge straight.
I'm curious to see if using sweetened condensed milk would improve the recipe for the hot fudge.  But even the recipe below was AMAZING, no improvements needed.

If you have a party to go to, a bake sale, or need a great baked gift for someone this cake is great.

My only change would be the chocolate chips.  The chocolate chips didn't melt, just hardened and some of them burned.  I spent a great while picking off burned chocolate chips before serving.  I would suggest either mixing the chocolate chips into the batter, or at least tapping them down into the top of the batter (just gently).  Leaving them off altogether would be just fine as well.
Time: 20 min. hands on + 50 minutes baking
Yield: 12 servings

1 devils food cake mix
1 small package instant chocolate pudding
1/3 C flour
1/3 C oil
1 1/2 C water
1 t vanilla
1/3 C sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 C semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C milk chocolate chips 

             ***Note: Use regular sized chocolate chips here. The large ones will make a big mess!***

2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T cornstarch
1 C sugar
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
2 T butter
1 t vanilla
dash of salt

Cake Directions:
1. In a large mixing bowl, or in your stand mixer add the cake mix, pudding and 1/3 C flour. Stir it all around to combine.
2. Add all other cake ingredients (but the chocolate chips). Mix on low for about 1 minute. Then mix on medium speed until the batter is nice and smooth. This should take about 2 minutes. 
3. Spray a bundt pan generously with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the pan.
4. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the cake batter.
5. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes. (For convection ovens bake at 325 for 40 minutes)
6. Invert your cake onto a cooling rack if you are several hours away from serving. However it is just DOWN RIGHT LUSCIOUS warm from the oven. If you are going to serve it right away, invert it directly onto your serving platter.

1. In the bottom of a medium sized sauce pan combine the cocoa, cornstarch and sugar.
2. Pour your can of milk over the top of the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla, pinch of salt and only 1 T of the butter.
3. Stir the concoction up over medium heat. After it comes to a boil cook for 3 more minutes while stirring. The sauce should thicken as it boils.
4. Remove it from the heat and add 1 more T of butter. Stir the butter around until incorporated. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before pouring it on your cake.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bake-a-thon 2011: Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies

I love cranberries.  I love chocolate.  So what could be better than pairing the two together?  It also helped that I had plenty of oatmeal that needed using, and a bag of Craisins to throw in (all in line with my goal of using ingredients I already have).

I hade very high hopes for this recipe. I mean I got it straight from Ocean Spray (and who knows more about Cranberries?).  Sadly, they did not turn out as I had expected.

The flavour of the cookie itself is very dry and bland (not enough sugar for my taste).  The cookie dough did not flatten out at all, so the cookies themselves are fairly dry hard balls of dough.  The cranberries and white chocolate help with the flavour, but not enough to make up for the lackluster dough.

Personally, I like the concept and am willing to give it another try, but probably using an oatmeal cookie recipe I know and love, and just adding the white chocolate and Craisins.

Well, despite the failure, here is the recipe.



2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 6-ounce package Ocean Spray® Craisins® Original Dried Cranberries
2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips


Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Makes approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Since I was less than impressed with the cookie dough from Ocean Spray's recipe, I would definitely use another one.  The cookies need to be a little softer, and sweeter (plus a splash of vanilla or almond flavouring couldn't hurt).  Here is the alternative oatmeal cookie recipe that I would use, but using any normal oatmeal cookie recipe you like is perfectly fine.

Soft Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups quick cooking oats

1. In a medium bowl, cream together white sugar, butter, and brown sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla.
2. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda,and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in oats. If you are using nuts or raisins, mix into dough, combining well. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. Roll the dough into balls, and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approx. 36-60 cookies, depending on how large or small you make them.

Here are some other tips:
  1. You can also consider adding in some chopped walnuts or almonds.  Besides an additional flavour, the nuts will add a little crunch.
  2. Craisins come in many flavours.  I personally used the Cherry flavoured Craisins, but you can also get Plain, Orange, Pomegranate, and Blueberry.
  3. If you aren't in to white chocolate, milk or semi-sweet chocolate are reasonable alternatives.  This will change the overall flavour of the cookie, but both are quite compatible with the cranberries.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bake-a-thon 2011: Eggnog Bundt Cake

In keeping with my desire to try and find recipes that use ingredients I already have, and need to make use of, I chose this Eggnog Bundt Cake recipe from The Sisters Cafe.  It is the end of the eggnog season here, and I had some left that just needed to go, and who could resist eggnog and cake together?

It was surprisingly easy and quick to make.  I have to say though, I was highly underwhelmed by the eggnog flavour.  In reality it just tasted like a yellow cake, with perhaps just a hint (a very very mild hint) of rum.  That is not to say that it wasn't good, it was tasty, just not in the eggnoggy way I was hoping.  The kids loved it, and came back for seconds.

It was great with the caramel sauce, and I added a little whipped cream to "jazz" it up.  All in all an enjoyable dessert, but simply a disappointment in the eggnog department.

Eggnog Bundt Cake
from The Sisters Cafe

Eggnog Bundt Cake

1 yellow cake mix (preferably with pudding in the mix)
3 T. flour
2 c. eggnog
¼ c. butter, softened
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¼ tsp. rum extract*
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Beat until smooth and creamy. Pour into greased** bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees (F) for 35-45 minutes. Dust lightly with powdered sugar for presentation.

Caramel sauce
½ lb brown sugar (~1 1/8 c.)
½ lb butter
½ lb powdered sugar (~2 cups)
½ T. cinnamon
½ qt. rich vanilla ice cream

Melt together over medium heat. Pour warm over individual servings immediately before serving.

* I used imitation rum, as this was the only option available at our local commissary.

** I know not everyone enjoys this, but I highly recommend that you grease (usually with shortening or butter) and flour your bundt pan.  I think this makes it much easier to get out  of the pan in one piece and gives you a much better presentation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bake-a-thon 2011: Double Chocolate Banana Bread

My first recipe this year was Double Chocolate Banana Bread.  I figured the easy way to start was with something that only require ingredients that I already had on hand (and some, like the bananas, that needed to be used).  I mean, I love banana bread and I love chocolate, so what could be better?

I found a great recipe for Double Chocolate Banana Bread at an awesome recipe site called The Sisters Cafe.

I made some modifications (hey, what fun is it if you can't put your own touch on it), and the bread turned out DELICIOUS!  My kids are enjoying it for the dessert in their packed school lunches, and I get to have some at home while I relax!

Double Chocolate Banana Bread
From The Sisters Cafe

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups mashed bananas (about 3)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350. Spray bottom of 8x4 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. Beat sugar, eggs, and oil in large bowl at medium speed until combined. Beat in banana and vanilla at low speed. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; beat into banana mixture at low speed just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

3 Spoon batter into pan. Bake 60-70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.
** My Modifications:
1. Instead of the larger loaf, I made mini loaves.  The recipe can make 3 of them.  You'll need to adjust baking time as the mass is obviously smaller.  Instead of 60-70 minutes at 350 degrees, you'll only need 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees.  This is a great size for snacking, and for little slices to put in your kid's lunch for school.  You can even wrap up the mini loaves for gifts or for bake sales!

2.  I used semi-sweet baking cocoa (from Hershey's) and not the dutch process cocoa Melanie recommends.  Hey, I have to use what is available for sale out here!

3.  I opted for mini-chocolate chips (from Nestle) to go with my mini-loaves. I figured that would give a more even spread of the chips.

Bake-a-thon 2011: The Beginning

So here's the deal....ages ago in my life before kids (MLBK), I used to love to bake.  I've done it since I was a kid, which by no means indicates that I am any good at it.  I decided this year that since I've let my passions and hobbies fall by the wayside since the kidlets came along, that I needed to have a project to reignite the flame.

My project for this year is "Bake-a-thon 2011".  The goal: bake one new recipe (meaning one I've never made before) each week, for a total of 52 new recipes this year.  The rules: recipes have to be ones I've never made before, they can't just be mixes (so just making a Betty Crocker cake doesn't count), but they can contain mixes (so a recipe that calls for a Betty Crocker cake mix as an ingredient still counts).

I plan on sharing the recipes here, along with my own commentary on the results.  If I've found the recipe from a source other than my own box, I'll give you a link to the original page (if one exists).

So Happy Baking!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hawaiian Pineapple Chicken

I found this recipe on Jamie Cooks It Up!  It was a great hit at our house (kids even came back for seconds).  I made it with crushed pineapple instead of pineapple chunks, and I liked the way it turned out with the sauce.

In addition to the rice, I would recommend some Hawaiian Sweet Bread (hey my kids LOVE bread).

Hawaiian Pineapple Chicken

Recipe below taken from Jamie Cooks It Up!

Time: 20 min. prep + 45 minutes baking
Yield: 7 servings
Recipe from Katherine Rose

5 chicken breasts cut into strips
1/2 C flour
1 t salt
1 T lemon pepper
3 T olive oil
1 can pineapple chunks
1 1/4 C pineapple juice (use the pineapple juice from the can, there won't be enough to equal 1 1/4 C. Just add a bit of water to make up the difference.) 
3/4 C apple cider vinegar
1 t soy sauce
1/4 t ginger
1 chicken bullion cube
1 C sugar
2 T cornstarch
green onions (optional, but tasty)

1. In a dish mix the flour, salt and lemon pepper.
2. Cut your chicken into strips with some kitchen scissors. Dredge the chicken through the flour mixture.
3. Into a large HOT skillet add the olive oil. Place each piece of chicken into the hot pan. Over medium heat cook the chicken until it is golden brown. Turn each piece over and repeat. Lay the golden brown chicken in a 9x13 pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
4. Pour the juice from the pineapple can into a measuring cup. Add enough water to the juice to equal 1 1/4 C.
5. In a medium sized sauce pan mix the ginger, sugar and cornstarch. Add all other sauce ingredients to this dry mixture and stir.
6. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then pour 2/3 of the sauce over the top of your chicken.
7. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
8. Take the chicken out of the oven and pour the pineapple chunks over the top. Pour the rest of the sauce over the top of the chicken and return it to the oven. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle a bit of green onion over the top if you choose.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chicken Parmigiana with a Tomato and Basil Sauce

1/3 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.)
1 small  onion, chopped
1/4 cup Italian Dressing
2   tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup  shredded Mozzarella Cheese 
HEAT oven to 400°F.
ADD Parmesan to coating mix in shaker bag; shake gently to combine. Coat chicken with Parmesan mixture, then bake as directed on package.
MEANWHILE, cook onions and dressing in large skillet on medium-high heat 4 min. or until onions are crisp-tender. Stir in tomatoes; cook 2 to 3 min. or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Stir in basil. Keep warm.
TOP chicken with sauce and cheese.

Great with any type of pasta (my kids like Fusili, aka corkscrew pasta) and a nice italian bread or a baguette.