Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Caramel Soaked French Toast

I have a great brunch recipe for you today.  I made this as our Christmas breakfast and as always it was a hit!  I love the crispy, crunchy french toast top with the caramel soaked, oh so delicious ooey-gooey bottom.  You've got to see this for yourself to believe how fantastic it is!  This would be a perfect addition to a New Year's Day brunch!  I don't make this very often because it makes so much, but when I do I want to make it over and over again!  I must admit that the leftovers are really tasty the next day. They loose their crunchiness, but not their caramel gooeyness! :)  Little Man kept wanting more french toast both times that we ate it!  He couldn't get enough of it either!  Make it one of your New Year's resolutions to make this for breakfast, it's one resolution that you can keep!
Caramel-Soaked French Toast
from: Southern Living: Our Best Five-Star Recipes

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
10 slices French bread (~1 3/4" thick)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups milk or half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until mixture is bubbly.  Pour syrup mixture evenly into a lightly greased 13x9" pan.  Arrange bread slices over syrup.

2. Combine eggs and next 3 ingredients; stir well. Gradually pour mixture over bread slices. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
3. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon; stir well. Sprinkle evenly over soaked bread. Drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter over the bread.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately. Makes 10 servings.

Happy New Year!  2011 is going to be a great year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

From our family to yours - we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  May the reason for the season be on your hearts today, tomorrow and throughout the New Year!
Rachael, C and Little Man

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rachael Ray's Chicken with Wild Mushroom and Balsamic Cream Sauce

This is one of my favorite weeknight meals.  It comes together so quickly and has such a wonderful flavor - like you have been slaving all day to make it!  I'm a big fan of Rachael Ray and this was one of the first recipes that I tried.  I was hooked, and I've been making at least once a month since then.  Don't let the Wild Mushroom and Balsamic Cream Sauce deter you from making this wonderful dish.  The balsamic vinegar gives it a nice hint of something different, it's not over the top.  And the wild mushrooms aren't very wild at our house, I usually end up just using baby portobellos or white mushrooms.  I used to make a dish with Chicken and Cream of Mushroom Soup, but this has since replaced it!  Here's what you need:

Chicken with Wild Mushroom and Balsamic Cream Sauce
adapted from: Rachael Ray
1/2 pound orzo pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces 
2 tablespoons butter
12 cremini or baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
12 shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
12 white mushrooms, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, a couple of sprigs, chopped
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

To cook:  Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add orzo pasta. Cook to al dente.  Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add extra-virgin olive oil.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper and add to the hot skillet. Cook the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm.
Return the skillet to the heat, turn heat back a bit, and add the butter. Once the butter melts add the mushrooms and brown stirring occasionally for about 4 to 5 minutes. Once the mushrooms are brown season with salt and pepper then add the garlic, thyme and shallots. Cook stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes or until the shallots are wilted. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook 2 minutes more. Whisk in the stock, balsamic vinegar and the cream. Turn the heat up to high and simmer for about 2 minutes or until thickened. Add the parsley and the chicken back to the skillet to heat up, about 1 minute.
To serve, pile orzo on dinner plates and top with the sliced chicken and sauce.

Delicious!  Just a few notes, I usually use one type of mushroom (whatever looks good the day I'm at the store), I rarely use fresh herbs in this recipe, and I don't add the parsley at the end.  It tastes great even with my modifications - I'm sure it tastes better her way, but I just don't buy fresh herbs very often!  What can I say?  Spices in a jar are so much easier!

I hope you guys are ready for Christmas.  I know I am!  I want to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Brownie Covered Oreos and Sugared Up Sugar Cookies - Final Week of 12 Weeks of Cookies!

Can you believe that we are at Week 12 already?  I can't, it seems like just a few days ago I stumbled upon this wonderful cookie linkup.  I'm so thankful that I happened upon it on Baked Bree's blog, and I'm so thankful to Abby Sweets for putting it together.  I hope that you guys have found some great recipes to share with your friends and family, I know that I have!  Since I'm working on my Christmas cookie trays a week early, I decided to go with two new recipes this week, I couldn't pick just one!
I decided to make Brownie Covered Oreos and Sugared Up Sugar Cookies.  I found the delicious Brownie treats at Picky-Palate last week.  How can you go wrong with an Oreo dunked in brownie batter.  I'll answer that for you, you can't! :)  My sugared up sugar cookies were suppose to be more of a snickerdoodle cookie, but I goofed on the cinnamon and didn't get enough on the cookies!  Isn't it funny that when you mess up a recipe, you sometimes create something better than you were intending to make?  Sometimes, other times you get a gigantic cookie mess!  Here are the recipes:
Brownie Covered Oreos
from: Picky Palate
1 Brownie mix
1 package Oreos

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare brownie batter according to package directions.  Leave in mixing bowl.  Dip Oreos in brownie batter then place in bottom of a muffin pan that has been generously sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until brownies are cooked through.  As soon as you remove, take a plastic knife and run along edges, (this is VERY important so you get the cookie out with brownies not stuck to pan).  Let cool for 5 minutes, remove and EAT!  Enjoy! Makes entire package of Oreos

My first batch turned out more cake looking then cookie looking.  I discovered on my second batch that you don't want a whole lot of brownie batter around the cookie, it's best to shake some off before you put it in the pan.  It makes it more cookie like, less muffin/little cake like!  To us these tasted best when cooled off, if you can wait that long!
Sugared Up Sugar Cookies
1 package Sugar Cooke Mix
Granulated Sugar
Red and Green Sugar Crystal Sprinkles

Prepare cookie mix according to package directions.  In a small bowl, combine sugar, red and green sugar sprinkles and cinnamon (create your own proportions, use more cinnamon if you  want it to be more snickerdoodle like, or leave it out if you want just sugar cookies).  Cook according to package directions!  Deliciously crispy and fantastic!  I know it's not really a recipe, it's a package with sprinkles and cinnamon...sorry!  Just wanted to share though, because I thought they turned out really great.  And I love rolling the cookies in the colored sugar crystals rather than just sprinkling them on top - you get sprinkles on the top and bottom of the cookie and the sides! :)

Thanks for joining us along this 12 week journey.  I've discovered some really great blogs along the way and I can't wait to see what every one has in store for the new year!  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.  May the Joy and Hope of Christmas remain in your heart throughout the coming year!

Week 12 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Lights and Bokeh

Bokeh, eh?  I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't sure what this was the first time I saw it.  I knew it had something to do with photography and getting a good picture, but I had to go look it up!  Kevin and Amanda had a fun idea to take some pictures in front of the tree and see how you can change up your bokeh.  Your bokeh is the amount of blurriness behind your subject and is really fun to play with when you have Christmas lights in the background.
I have very limited photography skills.  I use a Kodak EasyShare Z915.  It's a point and shoot camera, but it also has the ability to go into manual mode and play with the settings.  I thought it would be a good introductory camera to try to figure out "Manual Mode," ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed and all those other terms I'm still learning.  I love my camera and love that I have the ability to adjust my settings.  I play around with it all  the time.  Usually on my blog posts you see the one photo that I think looks decent, what you don't see is the 20 others I take to find one decent one! :)
After seeing K&A's fantastic cupcake and Christmas tree photos, I decided to play around a little bit.  I did this one evening when C got home from work and Little Man was chasing him around.  So I had about 5 minutes to play with it before we were headed out the door!  I'm definitely going to experiment more, but this was fun for a first try.  I've included my camera settings for each photo below it.
1/5 sec.
1/2 sec.
1/5 sec.

So in about 5 minutes, I manage to play around with the camera and test out my settings.  Personally, I like the first one.  I think the angel stands out pretty well and the lights in the background look nice and twinkly.  Which one is your favorite?

You can find some other really great holiday photos here:
Kevin and Amanda - bokeh post
The Pioneer Woman - bokeh photo gallery (there are some really amazing photos here, check them out if you have the time)  You will be inspired!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Week 11 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

I've decided to go with a classic this week - Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I've been making this exact recipe for quite a while now.  I remember in college I had a Monday evening class, and I would always make a batch of these cookies to take with me.  My friends and I would sit in the back row eating these cookies and doing crossword puzzles.  Needless to say, we didn't get a whole lot out of the class.  One thing that I did learn is that everyone loves these cookies!  To give the cookies a Christmas look I added some red and green M&M's to the mix - so festive!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
from: Chocolate Fantasies by Southern Living
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (6 ounce) package semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup or more colorful M&M's

Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating at low speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla; beat well.  Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture, beating well.  Stir in chocolate morsels and M&M's.  Using a cookie scoop, drop onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes on cookie sheet; transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Yields: 2 to 2 1/2 dozen cookies

I love this cookie.  It's my favorite go-to cookie when I'm in a pinch.  I always have the ingredients on hand to quickly throw some in the oven.  I made this cookie a lot in college - especially when I was having a rough day.  Make some today and share them with a friend, you'll brighten their day! :)
Week 11 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas

We love Mexican food in our house.  I think C would choose it everyday if I was game for that.  I'm not though, but I do love it every now and then.  One of my favorite weeknight meals is Chicken Enchiladas.  A friend gave me this recipe a few years ago.  I've adapted it a little and been making it ever since.  It has very few ingredients, but those few ingredients pack a nice punch.  I used to make this with pre-cooked fajita chicken strips, but now that I've had my Chicken *WOW* Moment I will only be using chicken cooked in a crockpot.  If you don't have time to cook the whole chicken, feel free to substitute pre-cooked strips or cooked chicken breast.
Chicken Enchiladas
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken breast
1 package cream cheese, (8 oz.)
1 can green enchilada sauce
1 package Monterrey Jack cheese (10 oz.)

Heat the chicken and cream cheese thoroughly.  In an 11x7x1/2 inch pan, pour enough green enchilada sauce to lightly cover the bottom.  (Do you like my obscure pan size?  I have no clue where that pan came from, I just know it's great for enchiladas.  If you don't have that size, which I'm guessing most people wouldn't, use whatever you have.)  Place approximately 1/3 of a cup of cream cheese/chicken mixture in each tortilla and roll up.  Place the tortilla seam side down, repeating until you fill the pan, run out of tortillas, run out of chicken, or just get tired of rolling. ;)  Cover the enchiladas with the remaining green sauce and the Monterrey Jack cheese.  Make sure you cover the ends of the tortillas with sauce so they don't get too crunchy and dried out.  Unless you like crunchy ends of tortillas, some people in our house don't so we cover everything with sauce.  Cook them for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly.  Serve them piping hot with a nice Spanish style rice, some refried black beans and some guacamole that you whipped up while the enchiladas were cooking.  Enjoy!  I usually get eight enchiladas out of the recipe.  The last ones that I roll are significantly larger than the first ones.  Once I see I'm running out of space in the pan, those last ones get a lot of chicken and cream cheese stuffed in them.  I mark the larger ones with a toothpick and serve them up to C. :)  I'm not exact when it comes to cooking and I like it that way!

My Chicken *WOW* Moment

So I mentioned last weekend that I was *thinking* about cooking a whole chicken in the crockpot.  There is one thing that you need to know about me before you read this...I can't stand raw chicken.  I despise handling raw chicken.  I've mustered up the courage to cut it into pieces for dinners, but it still makes me a little squeamish to handle.  I know it's weird.  As much as I love to cook, I should be over this irrational fear of raw chicken, but I'm not.  Whew, that feels better.  Back to our regularly scheduled post...
So I finally did it, I cooked a chicken in the crockpot!  Yay me!  I started by unwrapping the bad boy, hoping that the insides would be nicely packaged in a bag to pull out.  Nope wrong, I had to fish them out myself.  Nothing like doing that before you eat breakfast, gross!  So after being grossed out enough for one week, I rinsed the chicken and put it in the crockpot.  I seasoned it up with a generous amount of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning.  I know you have all seen the HV Ranch packets, but did you know that you can buy it in a shaker to sprinkle on everything.  Yes, I mean everything.  I found this tasty tidbit over at the Picky Palate and have used it multiple times already.  Run out and buy it today.  By the way, I am loving the recipes I'm finding there!  Stop by and check them out.  Back to the chicken (I'm definitely diverting today, sorry about that).  I let it cook for 8 hours on low and by the time hour seven rolled around you could see the chicken falling away from the bone.  Yum, Yum!
Next I de-boned the chicken.  This is not a fun task either.  Make sure that you have plenty of time to devote to sorting chicken from bones.  These little chickens have what seem like a thousand bones.  It's something you definitely want to spend time on, especially if you have Little Ones who will be eating it.  So I'm making cooking a chicken sound like a horrific task, right? Yes, but now it's time for the *WOW* moment.  Ready?
The moment we sunk our teeth into that chicken, we knew we would never go back to frozen, pre-cooked or any other forms of chicken.  This chicken was out of this world tender and had the most amazing flavor.  I can't say it enough, the best chicken ever.  This makes so much chicken, I had enough to make the following:
Chicken Enchiladas (recipe to come soon) - this chicken made a world of difference in the taste of my go-to Enchilada recipe.  C and I took our first bite and we were sold on the chicken.  Our enchiladas will never be the same!
Salsa Chicken and Ranch Florentine Tostadas - a Picky Palate find that I am now in love with.  It was Soooo good!  What little leftovers I had, I put on top of a spinach salad the next day - oh my!
Cajun Chicken Pasta - Pioneer Woman Style.  Very tasty, not as good looking as PW's though.  She has mad skills though, and I sadly do not.  I'm working on them! :)
Chicken and Artichoke and Garlic Cream Pasta - a tasty concoction that I threw together using a Nutcracker Market find.  It's an Artichoke and Garlic Cream sauce.  I tossed it with a can of chopped artichoke hearts, a little chicken and some thin spaghetti.  I'm working on recreating this cream sauce, it's on my massive to-do list.  Maybe in January I'll cross that off my list!
That's more chicken dinners than we normally eat in a week.  I usually try to have a nice variety of beef, seafood or chicken.  I wanted to give this a try and see how it worked out though.  Next time I'll plan to make a couple of chicken dinners and freeze the rest for future dinners.
So all my squeamishness and being grossed out by the chicken in the beginning was totally worth the results.  Something that had me so intimidated in the kitchen turned out to be something great!  I'm sure I'll have a whole chicken on my grocery list at least twice a month now.  Hopefully I've encouraged you to get in the kitchen and try something that makes you nervous!  What intimidates you the most in the kitchen?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Andes Mint Cupcakes

I'm in love!  Yes it's true!  I'm in love with this new cupcake that was just concocted in my kitchen.  Do you know what I'm even more in love with?  My sweet hubby...I made this delightful treat to celebrate the big 3-0 today!  On the count of three everyone saw "Ahhh, that's so sweet!"  One, Two, Three!  Or just make a yucky face at the computer if you don't think it's sweet!

So there's no hiding the fact that Andes Mints are high up on my list of holiday treats.  Haven't noticed?  Check these out...Andes Mint Cake Balls and Creme de Menthe Truffles.  Seeing how popular the Andes Mint Cake Balls are, I just knew I had to experiment in cupcake form.  Generally I wouldn't use a boxed cake mix, I would use this recipe; but today I didn't have the time to whip up a from scratch batch.  It's okay to use a boxed mix when you need too, they have perfected some of those mixes so why not take advantage of it? I chose the Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge for this cupcake.  I knew that I wanted something extra decadent and rich, and it seemed like the perfect match.  I let the cupcakes bake according to the package directions, let them cool for a bit and then whipped up a Mint Buttercream Frosting.!  I could prepare a batch of this and eat it like ice cream, it is that good people.   I almost didn't want to put it on my cupcakes, I almost sat down in front of the tv with a bowl and spoon.  Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration.  That might be even a little too sweet for me! :)  After piping on the frosting, I adorned the cupcakes with Andes Mint baking chips, just to give it a little something!  One bite of these tasty treats and you will be dancing for joy.  Just make sure no one is watching, okay?
Mint Buttercream Frosting
Generously frosts 12, meagerly frosts about 18-20
Double the recipe if you are a frosting gal
Recipe adapted from:Chocylit
1 stick of butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/8 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon pure mint extract
3-4 drops green food coloring
Cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar, milk, mint extract and food coloring until nice and creamy.  Frosting will be thick enough to pipe using this recipe!
Happy Birthday C!  Another decade down, many more fantastic ones to come!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies - Week 10 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

Raise your hand if you like chocolate and peanut butter.  That's what I thought, most of you do!  I was lurking around Pioneer Woman's site in honor of cookie week and happened upon these delights.  They are a creamy, oh so delicious peanut butter filling sandwiched between two chocolate cookies.  What's not to love?
The cookies are so quick to make, they take a little help from a box of cake mix.  The cook time for the cookies is only 10 minutes and the filling comes together in a snap.  If you are looking for a tasty treat to make at the last minute, add these to your list!
Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
from: The Tasty Kitchen
2 Eggs
½ cup Vegetable Oil
¼ cup All-purpose Flour
1 box Devil's Food Cake Mix
4 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
¾ cup Smooth Peanut Butter
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
2-½ cups Powdered Sugar
3 Tablespoons Milk

For the cookies:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly whisk eggs and oil in a medium bowl. Mix in flour and cake mix until well blended. Roll into 1 inch balls and bake for 8-10 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cool completely on a wire rack.
For the filling:
In a bowl cream together cream cheese, peanut butter and vanilla. Add in powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add in milk a little at a time until you get the desired consistency.
Spread about 2 Tablespoons of frosting onto the bottom of one cookie and then place another cookie on top.  Repeat with remaining cookies.  Enjoy!

The next time that I make these (oh there will so be a next time, maybe as soon as this batch is gone and maybe with a mint filling), I will flatten the cookies a little before they go in the oven.  I like to use a cookie scoop, but sometimes cookies retain too much of that ball shape and don't flatten out.  That happened here, so my sandwich cookies looked a little more round than they should have.  They still tasted great though and that counts for something.
The recipe says it makes 16 servings, but we all know that I never get that many.  I was able to get about 14 sandwiches and a lot of leftover filling.  I'm thinking of making a batch of brownies and putting the filling on top and then a layer of melted chocolate over that.  Does that sound fantastic or what?  Stay tuned for that experiment!
Oh and make sure you have a big glass of milk nearby, these cookies require it!

Can you believe we only have two more weeks of cookie posts?  That means Christmas is right around the corner, hooray!
Week 10 Twelve Weeks of Christmas:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good Intentions...

It's shaping up to be a sloppy joe kind of night!  I had intentions of cooking my first whole chicken in the crock pot and then using the meat for enchiladas tonight and other dishes throughout the week.  Waking up later than usually, rushing out the door as always and forgetting to put a chicken in the crock pot may make that a little difficult don't you think?  Good thing I'm prepared with my trusty can of Manwich...*everyone cringe* and hamburger buns!  I like Manwich every now and then...please don't stop liking me! :)

Maybe I'll get that chicken cooked tomorrow and bring you a delicious Enchilada Recipe to go with it...just maybe!


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