Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Our first meal in our new dining room.

I found this recipe in Rachael Ray's magazine, though I don't remember which issue. I halved it since the recipe claims it serves 4, but Rachael's recipes tend to serve twice the number she says it will. We didn't have any leftovers, but that was because we both enjoyed it so much and decided to stuff ourselves a little. A quarter of what I made would have satisfied us, so keep that in mind when trying this recipe. I also only used 1/2 lb of ground beef, but I always use less meat than recipes call for. Matt and I save a ton of money that way and we don't feel we miss out on any meaty goodness.

Beef and Cheddar Potpie
from Rachael Ray

6 T butter, chilled
1 small onion, chopped
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 c beef broth
salt and pepper

1 1/2 c flour
2 t baking powder
2 c shredded cheddar
1/2 c milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8x12 baking dish (I used 8x8) and set aside. In a large skillet, heat 2 T butter over med-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up as it browns. Stir in the tomatoes and beef broth and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has cooked off, about 20 minutes. Pour into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and 1/2 t salt. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, blend in the remaining 4 T butter and the cheese until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in the milk and stir quickly with a fork to form a dry, shaggy dough. Gather the dough together and knead lightly in the bowl. Transfer to a floured surface and roll or pat into a large, 1/2-in thick round. Using a 3-in cookie cutter, cut out 8 biscuits. Repeat with the scraps until all the dough has been used. Place biscuits on top of the beef mixture as close together as possible and bake until lightly browned, about 35 minutes.

Serves 4 (In RR's world)

It is finished.

After two and half very long months, our dining room is finally finished. What was supposed to be a weekend project turned into one of the more frustrating experiences of our married life together. We survived, though, and actually made it through the whole remodel without any serious fights! Go us.

We had plans for the dining room from day one since it was an absolute disaster. Before I post the pictures of our lovely new dining room, I want to post some before pictures so the change can be fully appreciated.

This is the room before.

This is the awful crown moulding.

And this is what we found underneath it. Yes, that is flowered wallpaper behind the sheetrock. Instead of taking down the wallpaper, the previous owners put another layer of sheetrock over it. And then they didn't bother to cut it right, so there was a gap of as much as one inch around the entire perimeter of the dining room. Fun.

And now, the finished project.

I am so proud of the work we did. It doesn't look anything like the room we started with. We filled the gap, fixed the crooked door trim, then painted the room. The ceiling was not level, making me worry that new paint would emphasize the waviness. My parents suggested that we create a false straight line with picture rail. I painted the ceiling, trim, and approximately 35 centimeters of the wall a light peach. Then I painted the rest of the room orange. The color is perfect and orange supposedly makes people hungry, so it's the perfect color for the dining room.

After the paint, we stained and installed the picture rail. The color was supposed to be a dark mahogany, but looks more brown than anything. It works, though, since the railing is almost a perfect match with the drapes. We also installed a faux cast iron wall sconce over the buffet, hung our clock and a few pictures and ended with an amazing room. It is now our favorite room in the house.

Big thank yous need to be sent to my parents, not only for the decorating advice, but also for loaning us the miter saw, which made cutting the picture rail a breeze. They also provided home renovation support and some gloves so I didn't stain myself mahogany. Thank you also to Ryan, who drove an hour to see us and was then roped into helping us fill the gap at the ceiling. We couldn't have done it without him! Ladies, this very handy man is single...

Thai at Home

I found this recipe while browsing my new favorite recipe website, http://www.myrecipes.com/. It was originally in the December 2004 issue of Cooking Light. It was pretty tasty, but I didn't think it tasted much like Thai food. My husband actually liked it much more than I did, which shocked me. I'm not sure I'll make it again (but when do I ever make things more than once?), but the recipe is worth a try.

I served it over angel hair pasta because I forgot to pick up rice noodles, but the recipe doesn't have you serve it over anything. Rice would work just as well and maybe even better since the sauce is pretty thin.

Thai-Style Stir-Fried Chicken
from Cooking Light

1/4 c rice vinegar
2 T brown sugar
2 T fresh lime juice
2 t red curry paste
1/8 t crushed red pepper
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 T vegetable oil, divided
1 c chopped onion
1 c chopped carrot
1 (8 oz) pkg presliced mushrooms (I omitted these- mushrooms are gross :) )
1/2 c light coconut milk
1 T fish sauce
1/2 t salt
1 c fresh bean sprouts
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro

Combine rice vinegar, brown sugar, lime juice, red curry paste, and crushed red pepper in a large ziploc bag. Add chicken; seal and marinate in refrigerator 15 minutes, turning once. Remove chicken from the bag, reserving marinade. Heat 1 T oil in a large nonstick skillet or work over medium-high heat. Add chicken; stir-fry 4 minutes. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Add remaining 1 1/2 t oil to pan. Add onion and carrot; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add mushrooms; stir-fry 3 minutes. Add reserved marinade, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add coconut milk and fish sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute. Stir in chicken and salt; cook 1 minute. Top with sprouts and cilantro.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pizza Quiche?

Yes. This is a pepperoni pizza quiche. I found the recipe in the Food section of my local paper and decided to try it. I had some leftover pepperoni from our pizza Tuesday night and figured this was as good a way as any to use it up. I also had a pie crust that had been sitting in our freezer for who knows how long. All signs pointed to pizza quiche.

The recipe is a little weird, and I was nervous at first, but the final product was actually quite tasty. I would recommend it for an easy weeknight meal. It certainly fit the bill here. Matt hasn't tried it yet, as he had parent-teacher conferences last night and was fed very well there, but I know I liked it.

Pepperoni Pizza Quiche
from the St. Louis Suburban South Journal

1 unbaked deep-dish frozen pie shell
2 c shredded Italian blend cheese (I didn't use this much)
2 oz thinly sliced pepperoni, about 20-30 slices, cut into quarters
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk (I used skim)
3 eggs, beaten
2 T flour
1 t dried basil
1/8 t garlic powder
Other pizza toppings, if desired (I used chopped black olives)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle 1 c cheese and half the pepperoni on bottom of pie shell. In medium bowl, whisk evaporated milk, eggs, flour, basil and garlic powder until blended. Pour egg mixture into pie shell. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Decorate top with remaining pepperoni pieces and any other toppings.
If pie pan is made of aluminum foil, place quiche on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven 40 to 45 minutes until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Shepherd's Pie

I remember my mom making this as a kid, and as I am still remiss in my meal planning duties, this was something I could put together with stuff from my freezer and pantry. It was really good and was definitely a Matthew meal. Put a potato on anything and he'll eat it. There were no leftovers, but there should have been. Matthew found himself in a food coma after dinner, but he said it was worth it. I guess that means the dinner was a success. If Matt's bloated, tired, and happy, I have done my job as a wife and cook.

I used this recipe from Rachael Ray as a starting point, but most of the recipe is mine.
*I have recently been enlightened; because my pie was made with ground beef instead of lamb, mine is actually a cottage or cowboy pie, not a shepherd's pie. You learn something new everyday in the blogging community.

Shepherd's Pie
from Linda with a little help from Rachael Ray

6 potatoes, cleaned and chopped into cubes
1 T butter
1/4 c skim milk
splash of chicken broth
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 c frozen peas
1/2 c frozen corn
1 T flour
1 T butter
1/2 -3/4 c beef broth
2 t Worcestershire sauce

Cover potatoes with water in a large pot, then bring to a boil. Once the water has come to a boil, salt, turn heat down, and simmer covered until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and return to pot. Add butter, milk, and chicken broth and smash to a smooth consistency. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.

While potatoes cook, brown beef in a large pan. Just before beef is no longer pink, add onion and continue to brown until onion is translucent. Move beef and onion to the outside of the pan, leaving an open spot in the middle of the pan. Melt butter in the pan and whisk in flour, making a roux. Add beef broth and Worcestershire sauce, making a gravy. Once thick, which should only take a few minutes, stir into the beef mixture and add the frozen corn and peas. Let simmer on low heat until potatoes are done.

When potatoes are finished, spoon the beef mixture in to a casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes, or until top starts to brown slightly. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes to further brown the top. Serve hot.

Pumpkin Cookies = Addiction

This cookies were among the best cookies I have ever had. They were so good, I sent a dozen with Matt to school to share with his department and took the rest with me to work to share with my co-workers. I received three recipe requests for these cookies. They were that good. The cookies are cakey, which makes for a super moist cookie. The frosting is to die for and I had a lot of fun browning the butter. I told Matt how fun it was and he told me I was weird. Whatever. He wasn't there to see the butter turn brown! Too cool.

Pumpkin Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting
from What's Cooking in the Orange Kitchen, originally found in Betty Crocker's Fall Baking

2/3 c granulated sugar
2/3 c packed brown sugar
3/4 c butter or margarine, softened
1 t vanilla
1/2 c (from 15-oz can) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 eggs
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t salt

Browned Butter Frosting
3 c powdered sugar
1 t vanilla
3 to 4 T milk
1/3 c butter (do not use margarine or spread; it will burn)

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar, 3/4 cup butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until well blended. Beat in pumpkin and eggs until well mixed. On low speed, beat in flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

On ungreased cookie sheets, drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until almost no indentation remains when touched in center. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 45 minutes.

In medium bowl, place powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 tablespoons milk. In 1-quart saucepan, heat 1/3 cup butter over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until light brown.

Pour browned butter over powdered sugar mixture. Beat on low speed about 1 minute or until smooth. Gradually add just enough of the remaining 1 tablespoon milk to make frosting creamy and spreadable. Generously frost cooled cookies.

Pumpkin Bread

Of all the things I have cooked or baked, this is by far the most intimidating. My mother-in-law is practically famous for her pumpkin bread and Matt absolutely loves it. She bakes it in a coffee can and it is always super moist and really yummy. We had some pumpkin muffins at my parents house this past Sunday and he mentioned he wanted pumpkin bread. My mother gave me two cans from her pumpkin stash and that was that. Matt would get his pumpkin bread.

I looked at a few different recipes, trying to find one that looked good, but was also a little different from my mother-in-law's. I settled on this one, which I found on Deborah's blog. It used applesauce instead of oil, which also appealed, since all this recent baking has made my pants shrink a little. It was a good bread, but Matt still prefers his moms. He called it a pumpkin cake instead of a pumpkin bread and claimed the pumpkin flavor didn't shine. Every one's a critic. I guess I'll keep looking for a recipe that compares.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

2 c granulated sugar
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1 c applesauce
1/4 c water
2 1/2 c flour
2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 1/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c mini semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9"x5"x3" loaf pans. (I halved the recipe since I only have one loaf pan.) In a large mixing bowl beat sugar, pumpkin, eggs, applesauce and water until well combined. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture until just combined - do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour evenly into prepared loaf pans and bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of bread comes out clean.

Another Pantry Winner

For some reason, this past week I have failed in the meal planning and grocery shopping arena. Monday nights I'm on my own for dinner, so I decided to play with some flavors that aren't Matt's favorites. There was some white wine in the fridge that needed to be used or thrown away, so I used that as a base and came up with a super tasty pasta with a white wine gorgonzola sauce. I didn't measure ingredients, so this is my best guess as to what the recipe is. Everything is certainly to my tastes, so someone else who makes it should make it to theirs. Enjoy!

Bow Ties in a White Wine Gorgonzola Sauce
from Linda

8 oz bow tie pasta
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c chopped onion
1/2 c white wine
1/2 t cornstarch
1/4 c gorgonzola
salt, pepper and dried basil to taste (I think it was basil. It may have been oregano. I really don't remember.)
1 small tomato, chopped
2 handfuls baby spinach
chopped black olives

Cook the pasta according to package directions. In a large saute pan, saute the garlic and onion in a little olive oil until onion is soft. Add white wine and cornstarch. Let simmer until reduced by 1/4-1/2, about 5 minutes. Stir in gorgonzola and seasonings. Add cooked pasta, along with a little of the cooking water (maybe 3 T). Toss to coat. Stir in tomato and black olives. Wilt in spinach by handfuls. Serve hot.

20 minutes from start to tummy.

Now this is what I call fast food. This took almost no prep work, was on the table in under 10 minutes, and was super tasty. It will definitely be filed under the "too tired to cook but don't want to order out" tab in my head. It was all stuff I had on head, too. I'm not sure there is anything better than that. Again, I must thank Annie for having a fabulous blog and introducing me to this recipe. Now if I could just get her to cook for me.

Black Bean and Salsa Soup

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 c vegetable broth
1 c salsa
1 t cumin
sour cream, green onion, and shredded cheese for garnish (I had some guacamole left over from the tostados, so I used that as well)

Combine beans, broth, salsa and cumin in a food processor. Blend until fairly smooth. Heat soup in a saucepan over medium heat until thoroughly heated. Put soup in bowls and garnish as desired.

You're killing me, Smalls.

Unfortunately, this fall I have not been to a hayride and have not had the pleasure of sitting around a bonfire and making S'mores. That was not going to stop me from having S'mores, though! I saw this recipe on the Williams and Sonoma website, but before I had a chance to make them, I saw them on Annie's blog. That sealed the deal. I had to make these treats. I didn't have to use the oven, so it was nice to keep the kitchen a little cooler while we had our mini-heat wave in the middle of October. They were good, but I think in the future I will limit them to something fun to make with my cousins. Not a star dessert, but a fun concept and certainly tasty. It's hard to go wrong with grahams, chocolate, and a (flaming) mallow.

S'More Bars

3 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 whole graham crackers
3/4 c sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1 1/3 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
1 c miniature marshmallows
2 whole graham crackers or 1 c mini-graham cracker shapes

Line an 8-inch square baking pan or dish with aluminum foil so that the foil hangs over the sides. Grease the foil with butter.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the 3 tablespoons butter. Using a pot holder, move the pan to a heatproof surface. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Put the 6 whole graham crackers into a zippered plastic bag. Press out all the air and seal the bag. Using a rolling pin, gently but firmly crush the cookies to make tiny crumbs. You should have 1 cup of crumbs. Add the crumbs to the melted butter and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Scrape the crumbs into the baking pan.

Lay a piece of plastic wrap loosely over the crumbs. Place your hand on the plastic wrap and spread the crumbs to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the crumbs are in place, press down firmly to make a solid, even layer. Throw away the plastic wrap when you are finished flattening the crumbs.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the condensed milk and chocolate chips. Heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Using a pot holder, move the pan to a heatproof surface. Add the vanilla and salt and stir until blended. Pour the filling over the graham cracker crust and spread evenly with the spoon.

Scatter the marshmallows evenly over the chocolate filling and press them in gently. If using the 2 whole graham crackers, break them into little pieces. Stick the broken crackers or mini-cracker shapes into the filling among the marshmallows.

Cover and refrigerate the bars until they are firm, about 4 hours. To serve, lift the foil from the pan and set the smore square on a cutting board. Peel the foil away from the sides, and cut the square into rectangles with a sharp knife. Keep refrigerated until just before serving.

Makes 12 bar cookies.

Monday, October 15, 2007


This dinner was so tasty. I put it together without a recipe, but anyone who has ever made tacos at home could have put this together. I didn't have any taco seasoning, so I seasoned the meet on my own and that ended up being a great decision. I don't think I'll ever buy taco seasoning again. I can do it just as well for cheaper! Yay! I also got to make some guacamole for this dinner, which automatically makes it a great dinner. I lightly fried the tortillas, but they could just as easily be baked for a healthier version. I decided to go more authentic tonight, but I've been using so many Cooking Light recipes lately, I figured I could splurge.

I made these with ground beef, but they could just as easily be done with shredded beef, chicken or pork. I just happened to have ground beef on hand.

from Linda

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 T chili powder
1/2 T cumin
1 t salt
1 t pepper (all the seasonings are approximate)
1/4 c water
4 corn tortillas
1/2 c canola oil

refried beans (I used canned, but you could definitely make your own)
guacamole (I made my own)
shredded lettuce
diced onion
shredded cheese
sour cream

Brown ground beef. Add seasonings and water and simmer to reduce slightly. In a small frying pan, heat oil. Lightly fry both sides of each tortilla and drain on paper towels.

To assemble, spread each tortilla with beans, then top with meat and the toppings of your choice. I meant to serve these with olives and salsa, but I forgot to get them to the table.

I served these with salsa rice (rice cooked in chicken broth with cumin and chili powder then mixed with salsa).

Another Cooking Light Dinner

This one was really really good. I loved this dinner. Matt and I both did. I could have put the Gorgonzola salsa on anything and loved it. So tasty. I served the chicken with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. It was a perfect meal and took almost no time at all to put together. After having one of my brownies for dessert, it ended up being a lovely Cooking Light dinner.

Because this recipe was in one of their menu sections, I halved the recipe for the salsa and only used 2 chicken breasts, but this was definitely a dish worthy of company, so I'm posting the recipe as the magazine published it.

Chicken Breasts with Gorgonzola-Tomato Salsa
from Cooking Light, September 2007

2 c chopped tomato
1/3 c minced red onion
1/3 c finely chopped fresh basil
2 t olive oil
1 t kosher salt, divided
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 t pepper
Cooking Spray
3 T crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Combine tomato, onion, basil, oil, and 1/2 t salt in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature.

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound each piece to 1-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with remaining 1/2 t salt and pepper.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add 3 chicken breast halves to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until chicken is browned and done. Remove from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 3 chicken breast halves.

Stir cheese into tomato mixture. Place 1 chicken breast half on each of 6 plates; top each serving with about 1/3 c salsa.
For my Gorgonzola mashed potatoes, I cooked potatoes until tender in salted water, then mashed them with about 1 T butter, 1/4 c buttermilk and pepper. Right before serving, I stirred in about 1/4 c Gorgonzola.

A Cooking Light Brownie is a Small Brownie

But still a tasty brownie! The recipe says it makes 2o brownies, but that makes for a brownie that is approximately 1.5 square inches. I made the brownies in an 8x8 pan since I didn't have a 9x9, but that won't make the brownies all that much bigger. I really enjoyed them, but they were slightly over baked. I forgot to reset the timer on the microwave, so I lost track of the time. It is definitely time to get a kitchen timer. Who knew my oven wouldn't have a timer, light or window?

Fudgy Mocha-Toffee Brownies
from Cooking Light, September 2007
Cooking Spray
2 T instant coffee granules
1/4 c hot water
1/4 c butter
1/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 c flour
1 1/3 c sugar
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t vanilla
2 large eggs
1/4 c toffee chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Combine coffee granules and 1/4 c hot water, stirring until coffee granules dissolve. Combine butter and semisweet chocolate chips in a small microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until butter melts; stir until chocolate is smooth.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine coffee mixture, butter mixture, vanilla extract, and eggs in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add coffee mixture to flour mixture, stir just until combined (don't stir this one with a whisk- I made that mistake!). Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with toffee chips. Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Serves 20 (yeah, right!)

Feels Like Fall!

I think my menu may have been inspired. The first night the temperatures fell enough to finally feel like fall, I had chili cooking in the crockpot. It was perfect. The chili recipe was the same as I always make, but this time I decided to make something other than traditional cornbread as a side. I saw this recipe in September's Cooking Light and just had to try it. They were so good! I will definitely make them again. They were perfect with the chili and took almost no time at all to put together. I highly recommend them!

Cornmeal, Jalapeno, and Fresh Corn Scones
from Cooking Light, September 2007

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c cornmeal
1 T baking powder
4 1/2 T chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 c fresh corn kernels (about 1 ear)
2 T finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper
1 c nonfat buttermilk
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in corn and pepper. Add buttermilk, stirring just until moist (dough will be slightly sticky).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 2 or 3 times with lightly floured hands. Pat the dough into a 9-inch circle on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Cut dough into 12 wedges, cutting to, but not through, dough. Bake at 400° F for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Monday, October 8, 2007

More South of the Border Inspiration

Mexican food may be my most favorite food in the world. These chimichangas were wonderful, and because they were baked and not fried, it made them much better for us and I definitely had less guilt issues while eating them!

At first, I wasn't sure I liked the relatively strong tomato taste in the filling, but it grew on me. It was a little different, but in the end I decided I liked it and will add it to the make again file in my head.

Skinny Chimichangas
from Weight Watchers via Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats

½ lb ground skinless turkey breast (I used lean ground beef)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t chili powder
1 t dried oregano
½ t ground cumin
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 T chopped mild green chiles
⅓ c shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
4 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Spray a nonstick baking sheet with nonstick spray; set aside.
Spray a medium nonstick skillet with nonstick spray; set over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, onion, garlic, chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Cook, breaking up the turkey with a wooden spoon until browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and the chiles; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the flavors are blended and the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar.

Meanwhile, wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven to warm for 10 minutes. Spoon about ½ cup of the filling into the center of each tortilla.

Fold in the sides, then roll to enclose the filling. Place the chimichangas, seam-side down, on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the tops of the tortillas with nonstick spray. Bake until golden and crisp, about 20 minutes. Do not turn. You can top these chimichangas with your favorite salsa and 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream.
I served this with rice cooked in chicken broth, cumin and chili powder and mixed with some shredded cheese and salsa.

Mexican Chicken Soup

I pulled a Robin Miller and when I made the breaded chicken breast for the dinner the night before, I pan fried two chicken breasts for tonights dinner. It made it super easy to put this soup together. I got the recipe from Bean's Bistro and thought it was pretty good. I did, however, use a little more than a dash of cinnamon (oops- darn shaker) and it was a very distracting flavor. Not a bad flavor, but it was a much bigger player in the soup than I would have wanted. I also didn't use as much olive oil, but I've included the recipe as it should have been.

Mexican Chicken Soup

1 med onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 T olive oil
1 c water
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 med tomato, chopped
1 cooked corn off the cob (I used 1/2 c frozen corn)
2 cans chicken broth
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 T chipotle powder
1 t dried cilantro
Dash cinnamon
1 c cooked chicken
1 T sour cream
1 avocado

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute the onion and garlic until soft.
Add in all the other ingredients except the sour cream and simmer over medium heat for about 30-45 minutes.

About 5 minutes before soup is complete, stir in the sour cream.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Top with chopped avocado, shredded cheese and more sour cream, if desired.

Finally went to the grocery store!

The first of the month is my favorite day in the world. It means I can make a menu with whatever I want because I get to go the grocery store! This meal was very easy and tasty, two of my favorite things. The orzo salad was inspired by the lovely Joelen (who I finally got to meet!), but I didn't really use a recipe. The chicken breasts I used must have been from a relative of Dolly Parton, so they took forever to cook. Next time I will definitely remember to pound them thin!

Orzo Salad
from me (with some help from Joelen)

8 oz cooked orzo
1 c grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 c chopped green pepper
1 small red onion, sliced
1/2 c reduced fat feta
1/3 c sliced black olives
1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 T olive oil
red pepper flakes
dried oregano

Combine all ingredients. Serve. (I told you it was easy!)

For the chicken, all I did was bread the chicken with seasoned breadcrumbs and pan fry.

Still cleaning out the pantry

Cooking at the end of the month requires a little more creativity than usual. I'm trying to avoid grocery shopping before October 1st, but my usual pantry staples are starting to dwindle. I had a package of Trader Joe's chicken sausage in my freezer so I decided a simple pasta dish would work well. However, I had no tomatoes or tomato sauce, so I had to get a little more creative. With a little help from my What's Cooking ladies, I came up with this very tasty white wine sauce. Pretty tasty pantry/freezer dinner.

Spinach and Fontina Chicken Sausage with White Wine Sauce
from Linda

1 package chicken sausage
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T olive oil
1/2 c white wine
1/2 c chicken broth
1 t cornstarch
1 T butter

8 oz cooked pasta
fresh chopped parsley

Remove casings from sausage. Slice into bite size pieces and brown in a large saute pan with 1/2 T olive oil. When browned, remove from pan and keep warm.

Add remaining olive oil and saute garlic until just softened. Add white wine to deglaze the pan. Mix cornstarch with chicken broth and add to pan. Bring to boil, then simmer to reduce by approximately 1/2, about 10 minutes. Melt in butter and add cooked sausage; warm through. Serve over cooked pasta and garnish with parsley.

A little piece of cupcake heaven

My mom is a Rachael Ray fan (she just can't help it) and was one of the first subscribers to her magazine. While Rachael's giggling and super annoying hand gestures make her show a little difficult to watch, I do like her magazine. After she gets her new issue, my mom loans me her old one and I write down the recipes I'm interested in trying. These cupcakes were one of them. I made them for a BBQ we had a few weeks ago and they were a hit. I will definitely add them to my "make again" list.

Chocolate Red-Wine Cupcakes with Mascarpone Icing
from Every Day with Rachael Ray September 2007

1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
4 oz chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 c boiling water
2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 c medium- to full-bodied red wine, such as cannonau
Two 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 c confectioners' sugar
Red grapes, halved, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line 2 muffin pans with baking liners.

In a medium, heatproof bowl, combine the cocoa powder and chocolate pieces. Whisk in the boiling water until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is combined.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until blended. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix until just combined. Alternating, add the chocolate mixture and wine in batches, mixing well between each addition, until the batter is smooth. Divide among the muffin cups, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the pan.

Lightly beat the mascarpone, then add the confectioners' sugar and beat until creamy. Remove the cooled cupcakes from the pan, spread each with icing and top with a grape half.

I recommend storing them in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. The cupcake is a super light cake and the frosting runs a little, so letting it harden a little in the refrigerator makes the cake and icing hold up a little better. Definitely store leftovers in the refrigerator!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yummy Pizza!

My first homemade pizza was a success! I really enjoyed this crust; it was recommended by the ladies on the What's Cooking board and it did not disappoint! I was a little nervous since yeast is not usually my friend and then I forgot to add 2 ingredients (the salt and the olive oil) until after I started kneading the dough. It turned out perfectly, though. I even made my own pizza sauce for the pizza. I was so domestic, my new name is now Martha.

Jay's Pizza Crust

2-1/4 t active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 t brown sugar
1-1/2 c warm water (110 degrees F / 45 degrees C)
1 t salt
2 T olive oil
3-1/3 c all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and brown sugar in the water, and let sit 10 minutes. Stir the salt and oil into the yeast solution. Mix in 2-1/2 cups of the flour.

Turn dough out onto a clean, well floured surface, and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, and cover with a cloth. Let the dough rise until doubled in size; approximately 1 hour. Punch down the dough and form a tight ball. Allow the dough to relax a little before rolling out.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If you are baking the dough on a pizza stone, you may place your toppings on the dough, and bake immediately. If you are baking your pizza in a pan, lightly oil the pan, and let the dough rise 15-20 minutes before topping and baking it. Bake pizza in preheated oven, until the cheese and crust are golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

**Makes 2 large pizzas
Pizza Sauce
from me
1 can tomato sauce
2 t dried oregano
2 t dried basil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat on low for about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly before spreading on crust.
I topped the pizza with green pepper, red onion, black olives, pepperoni, provel cheese and parmesan.

Fall weather has left, but I still want soup!

While last week held the promise of fall, this week temperatures soared into the low 90s. Though it certainly was not fall weather, I had soup on the menu and gosh darn it, I was going to make it. I'm glad I did because it was delicious, but it sure did heat up the kitchen! I didn't make any changes, but I did use skim milk instead of 2% because that was I had. If I make it again, I would add a little more cheese plus just a little bit of salt. I thought it was a little bland; surprising, since there is half a pound of cheese. Very tasty, though!

Baked Potato and Broccoli Cheese Soup
from Southern Living (found on Julie's blog)

1/4 c flour
2 (14 1/4-oz) cans low-sodium fat-free chicken broth, divided
3 c peeled, cubed potato (about 1 1/4 lbs)
2 c broccoli florets, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 1/4 c 2% reduced-fat milk (I used skim)
1 (8-oz) block 2% reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
7 t shredded 2% reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese
7 t fully cooked bacon pieces (I used turkey bacon)
7 t chopped green onions

Whisk together flour and 1/3 c chicken broth until smooth. Combine remaining chicken broth and next 3 ingredients in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Gradually stir in flour mixture. Cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Stir in milk and 8 ounces shredded cheese. Cook mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese melts. Top each serving of soup with 1 teaspoon cheese, 1 teaspoon bacon pieces, and 1 teaspoon chopped green onions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's Not Chicken, Beef, or Pasta

No, this is still my blog, but I have branched out to the "other white meat". There were some boneless pork chops on sale last week at the grocery store, so I decided it was time to try a new meat. I got the idea to stuff them with cheese and apples from Joelen (who I get to meet at the end of the month!), but I changed a few of the seasonings and the type of cheese. The rest of the meal is my own, but were created by pulling from ideas I've seen all over the place. The mac and cheese is essentially made the way my mother makes it, with a few minor changes.

Apple Stuffed Pork Chops
from Joelen, modified by me

4 center cut boneless pork chops
1 apple (I used yellow delicious)
2 oz Gruyere cheese
thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop apple and cheese and mix with seasonings. Cut a slit in center of each pork chop and stuff with filling. Place on baking sheet and seasoning top of pork with the same seasonings. Sprinkle each chop with a little olive oil and bake in 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes.

Macaroni and Cheese
from me

8 oz short pasta (elbows or shells work best)
5 T butter
4-5 T flour (I eyeball it, so this is just a guess)
1 1/2 c milk (I use skim, but you can use any kind)
2 1/2 c shredded cheese, divided (tonight I used sharp cheddar and leftover Gruyere)
1/4 c plain breadcrumbs

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in small saucepan. Add flour to make a roux. Cook about 1 minute, whisking constantly. Add milk, continuing to whisk until mixture is thick. Turn off heat and add salt, pepper and nutmeg. (You are essentially making a basic bechamel sauce) Stir in 2 c cheese, whisking until cheese is melted. Add cooked pasta and combine. Pour into baking dish. Toss remaining cheese with breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until bubbly and the top is browned. Let cool slightly before serving.

Sauteed Spinach
from Linda
4 c fresh spinach
1 garlic clove, sliced
1/2 T olive oil
1 T white wine vinegar

Saute garlic in olive oil until lightly brown. Add spinach 2 cups at a time, wilting the spinach. When spinach has wilted, add vinegar and saute for 1 minute. Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.

It's Fall!

When the weather here dipped into the low 70s, I knew it was time to have some traditional fall food. What's better than chili in the fall? Chili with Frito's and cheese. Yummy. I made this batch in the crock pot, but it can also be made on the stove top. It just needs to simmer for 30+ minutes.

I would also like to add that this particular meal tasted even better because when I ate it I was a lawyer! Yes, that's right. I have officially passed the bar. While chili at home was not the way I initially planned on celebrating the best day of my life (second only to my wedding day), it was actually a pretty darn tasty way to celebrate. Plus, Matt took me out for dessert at a fabulous little restaurant in Webster Groves, Cyrano's. I had an AMAZING brioche bread pudding. To die for.

Linda's Chili
from Linda

1 large can Brooks Chili Hot Beans
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb ground beef, browned and drained
1 can tomatoes for chili (2 if you want a thinner chili)
chili powder

shredded cheddar
chopped onion (white or red is best)

Combine beans, beef, tomatoes and seasonings in crock pot. Heat on low for about 5 hours, but as long as 8 (depending on your crock pot). Serve over Frito's and top with cheddar and onions.

My Favorite Comfort Food

I have always loved Tuna Casserole. My mom used to make it a lot when I was a kid and it would make my night. She used wild rice more than she did noodles, but I don't have wild rice on hand like she did. I'm more likely to have some kind of short pasta, so that's what I use most often.

I was feeling the need to go back to my childhood, so Tuna Noodle Casserole was the solution. I never make it the same way twice, but it does always have tuna, noodles and cream of celery soup. I know not everyone is a fan of the cream ofs, but I like the way it makes this casserole taste. So there.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
from me

8 oz short pasta
1 can cream of celery (I always use low-sodium)
1 1/2 c shredded cheddar, divided
2 cans tuna packed in water, drained
mix of frozen vegetables (I always use peas, but tonight I added corn and broccoli to the mix)
1 can diced tomatoes (I don't always use this)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Add frozen vegetables the last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain. In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, reserving 1/2 c cheese. Add pasta and combine. Pour into baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Family Favorite

Or at least our small family's favorite. This is probably the dish my husband requests the most. Of all the recipes I've tried since we've been married, this is the one I've made the most. Matt even requested the dish for his birthday. I learned that night if you put candles in a hot casserole, they melt from the bottom and fall before you have time to sing. That casserole had small puddles of blue, pink and yellow wax, but I don't recommend that addition.

This recipe was given to me as part of a shower gift, again from a woman I went to church with. Jen promised we would love it and the recipe did not disappoint! I have only made this dish with ground beef, but I'm sure it would be just as good with chicken. When I made it this time, I forgot that the meat is added separately and browned it with the onion and other sauce ingredients. The taste was the same, but it didn't look as pretty. All well. Still a great dinner!

Easy Enchilada Casserole
from Jen

1 medium onion, chopped
2 T vegetable oil
1 19 oz can enchilada sauce
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
1 can Mexi-Corn, drained
1 t chili powder (I use more)
1 t cumin (I use more)
1 10 oz package corn tortillas
3 c cooked chicken (or 1/2 lb to 1 lb ground beef)
Mexican 4-cheese blend

Saute onion in oil until tender. Stir in enchilada sauce, black beans, tomatoes, corn and spices. Simmer 5 minutes. Spoon 1/3 of sauce mixture into bottom of a lightly greased 13x9 baking dish. Layer with 1/3 of tortillas, 1/2 of meat, and 1 c of cheese. Repeat layers. Top with remaining tortillas, sauce mixture, and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes.

I served this with salsa rice.

Williams and Sonoma Meal #2

Before I get into this meal, I would like to add that I made Bourbon Chicken from All Recipes the night before (found in Amber's blog) and it was quite tasty. I took the food to my husband at work and forgot to take a picture, but we both really enjoyed it and I would recommend it. The only changes I made were to replace the soy sauce with chicken broth because I forgot I was out of soy sauce until I was half-way through making the dish. Still tasty, though!

Tonight I made a second dish from Williams and Sonoma. This meal was definitely made for me because I adore olives, but my brother and husband were not totally enamoured. My brother said it was too bitter and my husband said he didn't like kalamata olives, so I felt a little bad, but we did some doctoring that made it a pretty enjoyable meal for all of us. I figured it need something sweet to cut the bitterness a little, but my brother thought it needed more spice, so he added some Parmesan cheese to the top and some hot sauce. My husband took my suggestion on the sweetness and added some chopped tomato. It was really really good with the tomato.

If we make this again, I will use fewer olives, more parsley, and add chopped tomatoes. I would also be sure to serve lots of grated cheese on the side. Oh, and because I didn't have marjoram, I used fresh oregano instead. The tastes are similar, but oregano is a tad stronger, so I used a little less.

Spaghettini with Olive Pesto

1/2 c olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 lb. black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 lb. green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 t minced fresh marjoram or 1/2 tsp. dried
2 T salt, plus more, to taste
1 lb. spaghettini or spaghetti
1/4 c minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. In a food processor, combine the 1/2 cup olive oil, the garlic, olives and marjoram and pulse to combine. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then pulse once or twice more to form a coarse sauce. Transfer the olive pesto to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, add the 2 Tbs. salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the pesto along with the parsley and toss to combine. Add as much of the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Serves 4.

Fusilli with Raw Zucchini, Mascarpone, and Ricotta

Earlier this week I was browsing the Williams and Sonoma website and adding to my kitchen wishlist when I stumbled upon the recipe section of their site. I cannot believe I hadn't looked here before! The recipes looked amazing and I knew I had to try a few. Annie from Annie's Eats has a lot of recipes from their site in her blog, but I never thought to browse it myself. I was doing my menu planning for the week the same day I browsed the site, so two of their recipes made it to the week's menu. This was the first.

The recipe was pretty good, though I felt it was a little bland. More Parmesan helped a lot, and if I make it again, I will definitely salt the pasta water. I don't usually do that because I generally don't like a lot of salt in my food, but this recipe needed a little help. Otherwise it was a nice, easy recipe that was super quick and made very little mess. It also didn't heat up my kitchen, which is always a plus when the temperatures are still in the 90s. Now that cooler weather is approaching, I'll probably shelve this recipe until it heats up again, but it is one to remember when I need a simple summer dish.

Fusilli with Raw Zucchini, Mascarpone, and Ricotta

2 small very fresh zucchini, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1/4 c mascarpone cheese
1/4 c ricotta cheese
1 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 t grated lemon zest
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 lb. fusilli
2 T coarse salt

In a blender or food processor, combine the zucchini, cheeses, lemon zest and basil. Process until a light green paste forms. Season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and the coarse salt, stir well and cook until the pasta is al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 9 minutes.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Place all of the sauce in a warmed serving bowl and stir in the cooking water. Add the pasta and toss well to coat with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A little help from Trader Joe's

I am absolutely addicted to Trader Joe's. One of my favorite convenience items is their ravioli. It comes in so many tasty varieties and I think I've almost tried them all. Tonight I wanted something easy and I had some heavy cream that was on the brink of expiration, so I decided to pull the ravioli out of the freezer and have that for dinner. I had the spinach and ricotta ravioli in my freezer, so I figured a simple white wine cream sauce would compliment the ravioli nicely. The sauce is my own creation, pulling from various recipes. I'm really proud of it; I think it came out restaurant quality!

White Wine Cream Sauce
from Linda

1 shallot, diced
1 T butter
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4-1/2 c white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 t cornstarch
red pepper flakes
grated Parmesan
fresh basil

Melt butter in large skillet. Saute shallots in the butter until translucent. Add heavy cream and wine. Whisk in salt, pepper, pepper flakes and cornstarch. Heat over low heat until thickened, whisking constantly. Add cooked ravioli to pan. Toss lightly in the sauce. Transfer to serving plates and sprinkle with cheese and basil.

Blowing the dust off the old crockpot

I have not had a lot of success with the crockpot. Maybe it is the recipes I've used, but I haven't been impressed with it so far. Everyone raves about the wonderfulness of the crockpot, though, so I decided to give it another chance. I'm glad I did! I got this recipe from a woman from church at my kitchen shower. It was really tasty and my husband, who claims he isn't a "soup man" loved the soup! I would definitely recommend it.

Taco Soup
from Kara

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used black beans)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 pkg taco seasoning
1 lb ground beef, browned (I only used 1/2 lb)
1 onion, chopped
1 can cream of potato soup
1 can beef broth

Brown the ground beef with the onions. Combine all ingredients in crockpot and cook on low for a few hours. (Mine cooked for about 6). Serve over corn chips with taco toppings (I used sour cream, cheese, black olives and cilantro).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I've been tagged!

Alright, the tagging has made its way to me from Mari, so here are 8 facts about me.

1.) As I mentioned in my cookie post, I opened up a bookstore in college with my now husband and a friend, Jared. Jared started selling used books on Amazon right when it was becoming popular and made a ton of money. He turned it into a business. We worked out of a warehouse with thousands of books and sold quite a few on the internet. After we ended up with hundreds of books that were unlistable, either because of no ISBN or there were just too many listed online, Jared decided to open a storefront. He asked me to spearhead it, so I was able to fulfill a dream. Not only did I work in a bookstore, I started one from the ground up. It was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I learned a lot about business and I had the absolute pleasure of forming relationships with a few regulars. I knew where every book was in that store and was able to recommend a lot of great books to customers. One of the saddest days of my life was the day we closed the store. Jared let me go through the inventory before we had our closing sale and told me I could take whatever I wanted. I left with 4 full boxes and a ton of memories.

2.) I've known I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 14 years old. I did a research project on the Scopes Monkey Trial and fell in love with Clarence Darrow, the "attorney for the damned". It sort of became a calling and I decided after that project that I wanted to be a public defender. Who is more damned than the PD's clients?

3.) I am a desperately shy individual. If I am not 100% comfortable, I hold back and just watch. I come off as a snob, but it really is just being shy. As a result, I'm terrible at making friends and only have 1 or 2 close friends.

4.) I held the hula hoop record in my neighborhood for 3 summers straight. No one was better with that hoop than I. Now, I can't keep it around my waist for the life of me, but I will always have that title.

5.) I recently started running for fun. I was introduced to the Couch to 5K running program and decided to give a shot. In the past, I have always said that I hate running and would only do so if forced. Now I actually like it. I made it to week 8 in the program, but then suffered my first sport related injury. Apparently, the hip flexor is something that needs to be treated when injured, otherwise the hip will roll forward to protect it, causing one leg to be over half an inch longer than the other. This, apparently, then causes the band that connects your hip to your knee to rub on a bursa, causing bursitis and a sharp, persistent pain in the hip. Or so I've heard. I will now not only work at physical therapy clinic; I will be a patient.

6.) I currently don't have any pets. I want a pet, but my husband is allergic to cats and doesn't "believe" in indoor dogs. I have told him that it's either a dog or a baby, but he's not giving in on either.

7.) I am one of the biggest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans you will ever meet. I own all 7 seasons on DVD and watch them on a very regular basis. When I had FX, I would wake up at 7:00 AM to watch Buffy reruns, even though I have them all on DVD. My best friend and I along with 2 other friends from college would have Girls Night every week where we'd watch Buffy, eat pizza and gossip about our boys, who were all friends/roommates. Good times. I gained a lot of weight that year. Too much free pizza (our friends worked at the dining hall pizza place and would bring the pizza to us).

8.) I am not picky about movies. I will watch just about anything so long as it is not horrifically violent. I have only turned off one movie (The Nutty Professor- too many fat jokes), walked out on one (Saw II- so gross), and almost walked out on one other (Unbreakable; Worst.Movie.Ever.). I also wish I could get the two hours back I wasted watching the Transporter, but those are the only movies I can say I disliked. Some say I have no taste, but I'd like to say I have low expectations. I don't expect all movies to be Oscar contenders. While it doesn't take much to entertain me, I will say that Audrey Hepburn will always be my favorite actress and I love all her movies, even the silly ones. My friend, Jana, made quite a bit of fun of me for liking Funny Face, but how pretty was she in that movie?! Open mind, people. That's all it takes.

Alright, now it's time for me to tag some people. I'm kind of at the tail end of this, so I'm not sure I'm going to be able to tag 8 people. I'm tagging Meredith, Jana, Ang, Laura, and Mary Ellen. I don't think these girls have been tagged recently!

Another Dessert.

Someone needs to stop me. I'm so bored waiting for the results of the bar so I can actually be a lawyer, I have been filling my hours trying to perfect my baking skills. The muffins were super great and the cookies were darn good as well, so my confidence this afternoon was pretty high. I'm not the best baker- I much prefer cooking- but today I decided to revisit my arch nemesis, cheesecake.

I saw Giada make these on her show Everyday Italian the other day and decided to try them. The initial plan was to include these with the muffins, but that's not going to happen. The recipe was ok I guess, but I cannot successfully make a cheesecake. There is something or someone in the universe that has decided I will not make a cheesecake that is not cracked, sunken in the middle, or otherwise ugly looking, underdone, or overdone.

This recipe appealed to me because they were bite sized and I could use my newish mini muffin pan. Yesssss. I also figured they would be less likely to fall in the middle if they were smaller. Turned out I was wrong, but you can't blame me for hoping. The water bath was a little bit of a disaster (some of the cheesecakes went for a pre and post baking swim), but the process seemed to go alright. After I pulled them out, a few of them fell, gosh darn it, but the rest looked alright.

Then I tried to pop the darn things out of the pan. They did not want to come out without a fight. The recipe only has you butter the sides, not the bottom, of the cups and as one might expect, the bottoms didn't want to come out. They were not the prettiest dessert, but the taste was good. I may just try the recipe as a whole cheesecake. That is, if I ever decide to make a cheesecake again.

Individual Orange and Chocolate Cheesecakes

1/3 c finely crushed chocolate wafers
2 T butter, melted
1/4 c ricotta cheese
2 oz cream cheese
1/4 c sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 orange, zested
1 egg
Butter, for greasing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the crushed chocolate wafers and the melted butter. Place a tightly packed teaspoon of the wafer mixture into each mini-muffin cup and press down firmly.

In a food processor combine the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, 1/4 cup of the sugar, half of the orange zest, and the egg. Blend until smooth. Lightly grease the sides of the mini muffin tin with butter. Fill the cups with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cheesecake mixture. Place the mini muffin tin in a baking dish and pour enough hot water in the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the mini muffin tin. Bake for 25 minutes. Transfer the mini muffin tin to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Use a small knife to gently pop the cheesecakes out of the cups.

Just before serving, combine the remaining orange zest with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Top each individual cheesecake with about 1/4 teaspoon of the orange zest mixture and serve.

Makes 12 mini cheesecakes.

And the best wife in the world award goes to...

Me! This morning I woke up at 4:30 to make my world famous chocolate chip cookies for one of my husband's Physical Science classes. They actually all behaved during a fire drill so he wanted to try a little positive reinforcement. He was first going to do donuts, but then asked me to make some cookies.

Now, I don't mean to brag here (maybe I do), but it is generally accepted that I make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world (at least according to me, my husband, and a group of StuCo students from Farmington, MO who stayed with us a few days last semester). I cannot reveal the recipe, but let me say it is from my grandmother, Nestlé Tollhousé (anyone? anyone?).

While some say that it is the recipe that makes the cookie, I would have to completely disagree. The recipes don't usually vary all that much. One recipe is pretty much as good as the rest. And as we all learned from Monica Gellar and Phoebe Bouffet, the one on the back of the chocolate chips is pretty darn good.

What makes a good cookie is the technique, so rather than sharing a recipe, I will share my technique. I really do think these things make all the difference, but feel free to disagree! But remember, my cookies are the best. I now have another class of 15 year olds who agree (and asked for more!).

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
According to Linda

1. Always start with softened butter. Not solid. Not melted. Softened. Leave on the counter for about 30 minutes or so. It usually does the trick. The finger should just depress, just like testing doneness on a steak.

2. Beat the heck out of the butter and sugar before adding the vanilla. And I mean beat them. We're talking beating the crap out of them. There is a point at which the butter and sugar look fluffy- this is when they are creamed. If you're not sure, keep beating them. There's no such thing as over beating it, at least not in my book.

3. Mix in the vanilla after the butter and sugar are fluffy. Mix really well after the vanilla and after each egg.

4. SLOWLY mix in the flour mixture. I mix it in about a spoonful at a time. It really doesn't take that long and it makes less of a mess. I'm not sure if it does anything for the cookies, but this is the only way I don't end up with a cloud of flour flying all over my kitchen.

5. At this point, follow the recipe. I check my cookies really often to make sure they don't cross that fine line between perfect and crispy. I also try to get a few pans that aren't all the way done so we have some super soft ones.

This is what I have learned about chocolate chip cookie making. As long as I am totally tooting my own horn, I would also like to add that a very popular DJ in Columbia, MO raved about my cookies on air when he had them at an event held by the bookstore I helped open with a friend (and closed, unfortunately) in Columbia. People came to the bookstore just to try the cookies! Too bad they didn't buy more books.

Welcome, Neighbor!

We have a new neighbor now so I wanted to bring some baked goods over to welcome her and her children to the neighborhood. I would have loved it had someone done the same for me, so hopefully I won't come off as too June Cleaver. I didn't want to do just cookies (though I make a mean chocolate chip cookie) and I had some buttermilk to use up from those gosh darn biscuits, so these muffins made the cut. I found them on Annie's blog and have wanted to make them ever since.

These muffins may be the most wonderful baked good I have ever put in my mouth. No joke. They were moist. They were sweet, but not too sweet. The cinnamon sugar top made the muffin absolutely perfect. I could have eaten dozens of them! Luckily, the recipe only made 9 and I was giving most of them away. As of now, however, I still have them all because the neighbor hasn't been home when I have. Hopefully I can catch her this weekend; otherwise these muffins will be gone!

If you make these muffins, don't change a thing. They are perfect and there is no reason to mess with perfection. Trust me!

Cinnamon Buttermilk Muffins

7 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 c sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 t vanilla extract

2/3 c sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease 9 standard muffin cups with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray; fill the unused cups one-third full with water to prevent warping.

To make the muffins, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well until pale and smooth.In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Add to the butter mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. Stir just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each three-fourths full. Bake until the muffins are golden, dry and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins and let stand until cool enough to handle.

To make the topping, in a small, shallow bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon (you won't need this much- I only used about half this much. Ditto for the butter). Put the melted butter in another small bowl. Holding the bottom of a muffin, dip the top into the melted butter, turning to coat it evenly. Immediately dip the top in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, coating it evenly, then tap it to remove excess sugar. Transfer the muffin, right side up, to the rack. Repeat with the remaining muffins. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes 9 muffins.