Friday, February 15, 2013

Brown Sugar Glazed Chicken

It's funny how sometimes the simplest recipes can be the best.  This one only calls for 3 ingredients and one of them is the chicken!  It's so simple yet has a great depth of flavor.  My husband just loved it and ate seconds and had to stop himself from eating thirds so that he'd have some left over for lunch the next day.  As you can see, I paired it with some roasted asparagus and wild rice.  Perfect.

slightly adapted from Simply Great Chicken on Bunny's Warm Oven

2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs or breast tenders*
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 (0.6 oz) packet dry Italian dressing mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x13 baking dish with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and lightly coat with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and dry Italian dressing mix with your fingers.  Rub mixture all over thighs or tenders and place in baking dish.  Sprinkle with any remaining brown sugar mix.  Bake for 30-35 minutes for thighs, 20-25 minutes for tenders, or until juices run clear. 

*If you want to make this with bone-in chicken, adjust the cooking time to 50-60 minutes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Strawberries and Cream Crepes

Do you ever find a dish you love at a restaurant and forever after always order only that dish?  I do.  I mean, why mess with perfection?  It drives my husband crazy.  He doesn't get it.  The particular dish I'm referring to is the strawberry crepes at Village Inn.  I always order them.  Always.  Why?  
  1. They are seriously good.
  2. I never make them at home.  (Cuz crepes are scary.)
Well, I thought they were scary and complicated.  Until some friends of ours invited us over for brunch and served...crepes!  I was in awe, and complimented my friend on her culinary prowess.  She kept insisting they were really easy.  I kept thinking, "Maybe for you."

Funny thing.  After that brunch my HUSBAND was inspired to make crepes.  The man whose skills in the kitchen extend to making eggs...and pretty much nothing else.  I was laughing inside and expecting an epic fail but was completely surprised when he succeeded.  And easily!  Honestly, I was a little miffed that a culinary neanderthal had triumphed at something I'd been too scared to try.

The secret to his success?  A super easy recipe that doesn't require you to chill the batter for an hour or more (one of the reasons I'd avoided crepes - I never plan ahead).  And a non-stick frying pan or skillet.  Seriously no fail.

Well, once I put on my big girl panties and decided to try making them myself, I decided I wasn't just going to make crepes, I was going to make strawberries and cream crepes like the ones at Village Inn!   And after lots of internet searches and some adjustments, I've got something close enough that I may actually order something DIFFERENT next time.

If you would feel better seeing a video tutorial, check out this one.  He disses making the batter in a blender, but just ignore him because it's much simpler.  Starting at about 1:10 he shows you how to make a crepe.  He makes them much thinner than me, but you get the general idea.

Here's a crappy photo of my crepes:
One side is usually a mottled light brown, and the other side will have a lacy golden brown pattern.  They are VERY EASY to flip over.  You just slip a spatula under it and turn it over.  And it holds together and doesn't rip apart!

Now, some people like to roll their crepes, but I like to fold them.  I spread half the crepe with the cream mixture like so:

Then fold the top over, and fold in half again:

And by the way, you don't have to fill these with strawberries and cream.  You can just use fresh fruit or do what my brunch friend does - fill them with strawberries, bananas, and Nutella!

Crepes can also be a savory dish, filled with veggies and sauces.  Just Google "savory crepes recipe" and you'll find all kinds of recipes to try.

Don't be afraid to try making them, like me.  You can do it!  I recommend making the strawberry glaze and cream filling first.


4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, melted

Add all ingredients into a blender.  Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.

Heat an 8- or 10-inch nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium heat.  Lightly coat with cooking spray.  Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into pan, tilting the pan in a circular motion so the batter coats evenly.  Cook until top is dry and bottom is a light golden brown (about 45 seconds).  Flip with a spatula and finish cooking other side (about 20 seconds).  Repeat with remaining batter.  (You probably won't need more cooking spray.)

Makes about 16-18 8-inch crepes.

from Strawberry Creme Crepes on

1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small bowl, beat the cream until stiff peaks form; set aside.  In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  Fold in whipped cream.  Refrigerate until using.

adapted from Strawberry Creme Crepes on

4 cups fresh, sliced strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch (= 4 1/2 tsp.)
3/4 cup water (or more for a thinner glaze)
1 tsp. lemon juice
red food coloring, optional

Mash enough strawberries to equal 1/2 cup strawberry puree.  In a small saucepan, mix together sugar and cornstarch.  Whisk in strawberry puree, water, and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for one minute, until thickened (adding a little more water if you want a thinner glaze).  Stir in a couple of drops of red food coloring, if desired.  Let cool to room temperature before stirring in sliced strawberries.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Boston Cream Poke Cake

This recipe is all over the web right now and for good reason.  It's easy and it tastes good!  Most of these recipes call for a tub of chocolate frosting, however, and I just wasn't down with that.  I don't like canned frosting.  Does that make me a snob?  Anyway, I found a great recipe for a homemade chocolate icing on the blog Makin' it Mo' Betta and used that instead of the tub of frosting.  But if you aren't a frosting hater like me, go right ahead and use one.  :)

I've changed the recipe a little (I always do) and reduced the amount of  milk used so that the pudding layer is a little more thick and stable and I added 1/2 cup of sour cream to the cake mix.  Doing so makes the cake more dense and moist - more like traditional Boston Cream Pie.

slightly adapted from Makin' it Mo' Betta

1 box yellow cake mix plus ingredients to make cake (eggs, oil, water)
1/2 cup sour cream

2 small boxes instant vanilla pudding mix
3 1/2 cups milk

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
(or 1 tub of chocolate frosting)

Bake cake in a 9x13 pan according to package directions but adding 1/2 cup sour cream to the mix.  Let cool slightly before poking holes evenly over surface of cake with the handle of a wooden spoon (poke all the way to the bottom of the pan).

In a medium bowl, whisk together pudding mix and milk.  Beat for 2 minutes.  Spread pudding evenly over cake, making sure to fill holes (there will be a thick layer of pudding on top of cake).  Refrigerate at least two hours to let pudding set.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, and milk over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Boil for one minute (still stirring).  Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.  Keep stirring to help icing cool and thicken.  Spread quickly and gently over cake.  Refrigerate until serving.

If using canned frosting, remove lid and foil cover.  Microwave on HIGH for 10-15 seconds and stir.  Spread gently over cake.  Refrigerate until serving.

This cake keeps pretty well in the fridge.  I made it on Saturday and we're still eating it today (Wednesday).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cowboy Caviar

I've seen lots of variations of a black bean salsa.  I've even made one here.  Then I saw this bean and avocado salsa on Tidy Mom and the pictures were so pretty (prettier than anything I'll ever take) that I was inspired to make it.  However, I can never leave well enough alone, so I changed the recipe.  The recipe was good as-is, but I wanted more flavor.

I actually roast my jalapenos in my toaster oven.  You don't have to roast the jalapenos, but I like the flavor better (and it seems to reduce the heat of the jalapenos so that this salsa is only mildly spicy).  I also drain and chop the canned tomatoes to reduce some of the liquid and prevent any super-big chunks of tomato.

This recipe makes a lot - about 8 or 9 cups worth.  Here in Arizona that's considered a good thing.  It also tastes better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to mingle, so I usually make it the night before.  And no, the avocados won't brown.  :) 

adapted from Bean and Avocado Salsa on Tidy Mom

1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15.25 oz) sweet corn, drained
2 cans (14 oz each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 bunch (about 5-6) green onions, sliced

2 jalapeno peppers (or more if you like it spicy), roasted (optional) and chopped
4-5 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced 
2 ripe avocados, diced
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cumin
2-3 tsp. chili powder
salt and pepper, to taste
tortilla chips (Tostitos Scoops work great.)

Combine all ingredients - except avocados - and season to taste.  Gently fold in avocados.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or until ready to serve. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice

I don't think I've ever had from-scratch Red Beans and Rice before...  I usually buy the box mix from Zatarain's, and then I just use it as a side dish or wrap it in a tortilla with shredded cheddar and sour cream.  Sooo authentic!  But recently I saw (on Pinterest, where else?) a recipe for red beans and rice in the slow cooker and I figured it was time to try making it from scratch.  Especially if it was something I could make ahead and let cook all day!

If you want to be authentic, this dish should be made with Andouille (pronounced "an-doo-ee") sausage.  However, it packs a spicy kick and can be hard to find - I searched 4 different stores before finding this brand at my local WinCo.  If authenticity is not your priority, you can certainly substitute it with a simple smoked sausage.  Hillshire Farms seems to be the most popular brand of smoked sausage around here.

Red beans are not the same thing as red kidney beans.  They are smaller and have a different flavor.  DO NOT cook dried red kidney beans in a slow cooker.  They contain a toxin that may not be eliminated if your slow cooker doesn't reach a high enough temperature.  For more info, go here.  Canned kidney beans are safe for your slow cooker because they are already cooked.  Dried red beans (again, not the same as red kidney beans) are safe to cook in your slow cooker.  Just wanted to put that out there because many people are misinformed on this subject.

As for Creole seasoning, I use the Tony's brand and find that it's usually pretty cheap (as in under $2).  If you'd rather make your own (and therefore control the heat by increasing or reducing the cayenne pepper) here is a popular recipe.

slightly adapted from Little Magnolia Kitchen

1 pound dried red beans
6 cups hot or boiling water
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (14.5 oz each) chicken broth
1 pound smoked sausage, cut lengthwise and sliced
2 Tbsp. Creole seasoning
hot cooked rice

Rinse and sort beans, removing any rocks or pebbles (yes, I've found some before).  Add all ingredients, except rice, to slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 7-8 hours. 

This is a rather soupy version of red beans and rice.  If you'd like to thicken it up, scoop up about 1/2 cup of cooked beans and sauce and puree, then stir it back into the pot.  You can also try leaving the slow cooker uncovered for the last hour of cooking.  Serve over rice.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cherry Chocolate Kisses

I got the idea for these cookies here.  I saw the photo on Pinterest and thought they looked divine.  But the recipe is for a shortbread-type cookie and that is not what I wanted.  So I decided to tweak my Almond Chocolate Kiss Cookies recipe, which makes soft and chewy cookies.  And it worked!  Well, not at first.

I got the dough right, but I followed my original recipe's directions to bake the cookies for 8 minutes, push in the Hershey Kisses, and then bake for 3 minutes more.  Mistake.  Why?  Because I used Hershey's Cherry Cordial Kisses and they do not hold up to heat like the regular milk chocolate ones do.  They burn!  But this is an easy fix.  Instead of adding the Kiss midway through baking, I just added it at the very end.  Problem solved.

I also made the balls of dough a little too big.  They should be about an inch in diameter - I was being hasty and made them more like an inch and half.  You'll get more cookies (and a greater ratio of chocolate to cookie) if you stick to 1 inch.

inspired by The Curvy Carrot

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 (10 oz) jar maraschino cherries
1 bag Hershey's Cherry Cordial Kisses (or regular Kisses)
1/3 cup sugar (for rolling)

First drain the cherries, reserving 4 teaspoons of syrup.  Pat cherries dry with paper towels and chop.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat, if desired.

In a large bowl, cream shortening, sugar, and almond extract.  Add egg and reserved cherry syrup; beat until light and fluffy.  Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together and blend into creamed mixture.  Fold in chopped cherries.

Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned.  Press a Kiss into the center of each cookie and let cool on pan for 5 minutes before removing to wire rack.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.  One bag of Kisses will be enough for 2 batches of cookies.