Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weeknight Dinner: Zucchini and Cheese Stuffed Chicken

*DON'T FORGET TO ENTER MY GIVEAWAY AND VOTE FOR MY RECIPE HERE!*
We're keeping a healthy theme this week (at least until Friday's post).  K has turned Mom onto a website she loves called Skinnytaste.  Mom has been picking out a variety of recipes to try and she finally put one into action this past weekend when John was here. 

I am not going to vouch for any of the nutritional information on her site because, well, I didn't bother to try and replicate it.  And, since I didn't do it myself, I can't say it is correct.  What I can say though is it was absolutely delicious.  Later on that night, John even said to me, wow, your Mom's dinner was delicious! 

Since that's a review usually only reserved for me, I knew he had loved it.  Because it uses thin chicken cutlets, complement it with some rice and veggies.  And, if you have hungry men, cut down on the rice and let them have two chicken breasts each.  John and Dad were happy to give up some rice for an extra portion.  In fact, it was so good that Awa even got the leftovers!
Zucchini and Cheese Stuffed Chicken (adapted from here)
Serves:  8
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups zucchini (about 1 1/2 zucchinis and save the other 1/2 for Friday), shredded
3 oz part skim shredded mozzarella
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
8 thin chicken cutlets, 3 oz each
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 lemon 

In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add oil when hot then saute garlic a minute, or until golden. Add zucchini and saute about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. When cool, add mozzarella cheese and mix to combine.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Season chicken cutlets with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Lay chicken cutlets down on a working surface and spread 3 tbsp of zucchini-cheese mixture on each cutlet. Loosely roll each one and keep seam side down.  Combine breadcrumbs and grated cheese in one bowl; in a second bowl juice lemon and combine with olive oil, and remaining pepper.  Dip chicken in lemon-oil mixture, then in breadcrumbs and place seam side down in a baking dish (no toothpicks needed). Repeat with the remaining chicken. Cook 25-30 minutes, until fully cooked through. Serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 27, 2012

Date Night Dinner: Lightened-Up Lobster Rolls + A Giveaway!

*For Giveaway Details, scroll to the bottom (bold lettering)*
Living with Mom and Dad has been an adjustment period, to say the least.  As I like to joke, Mom's dinner recipes consist of health and nutrition, taste doesn't really play as big of a factor in their house as it does (did?) in mine!  But, knowing that Johnny and I can use healthy, flavorful dishes that are really low-calorie.

When Saucy Mama challenged bloggers to a "Skinny Mama" contest with their delicious, and tasty mustards, it was like the stars had aligned.  John was coming to visit from Maine, and I was plotting to overthrow Mom in the kitchen to make him something special.  Special spoke to me loud and clear the other night grocery shopping with Mom and Dad.  Lobsters floating in a large tank begging me to eat them.  Okay, maybe not begging, but it was certainly the inspiration that I needed.
Having a boyfriend from Maine and spending most of my "adult" life in Boston has really endeared me to lobster.  Warm afternoons visiting John's family on the Maine coast or hanging out in Boston, well, they are usually accompanied by Lobster Rolls.  Once I tasted Saucy Mama's Tarragon Lemon Mustard, I knew it was the perfect accompaniment.  Substituing that for the mayo and lettuce leaves for the roll makes this dinner refreshing and light.  The "skinny" lobster roll is here...normal lobster rolls are 650+ calories.  Mine are only 325.  Enjoy-and don't forget to enter the giveaway!
Lightened-Up Lobster Rolls
Serves:  2
12 ounces lobster meat, steamed or boiled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 stalks celery
2 tablespoons Saucy Mama Tarragon Lemon Mustard
6 Boston lettuce leaves

If you have never made lobster before and you are unable to purchase pre-cooked lobster, use this guide.  In Maine, a lot of good lobstermen will boil them for you (I love that).  Either way, make sure you go to a good fish monger.  Season the lobster meat with salt and pepper.  Dice the lobster meat.  Dice the celery.  Toss.  Add Saucy Mama Tarragon Lemon Mustard slowly until the mixture is fully moistened.  Place into lettuce leaves, and serve immediately. 

*Saucy Mama has been kind enough to give one of my lucky US readers a Saucy Mama kit of their own with three mustards (below).   To enter, you must be a GFC follower.  Leave a comment with a healthy idea for using the below mustards.  For a bonus entry, find another recipe you like on my site and leave a comment.  Come back here and tell me which recipe you commented on. 
The contest opens NOW (8:23 A.M. 2/27/12) and closes at 11.59 p.m. on Friday, March 2, 2012.  GOOD LUCK!!
Friday, February 24, 2012

Brilliant Brunch: Four Cheese Quiche

This four cheese quiche is sinful.  It's also the perfect brunch food.  I made my quiche the night before and then reheated it when it was time for brunch which makes it very family friendly.  With John here this weekend, I was on the lookout for delicious but easy brunches to make him.  I didn't want to spend the time slaving over the stove when I could enjoy spending time with him!

Four cheese quiche fits the bill perfectly.  If you ever wanted to just visit with your guests and forget about your brunch, this is how you do it.  I even loved it reheated in the microwave for lunches later in the week.

Four Cheese Quiche (adapted from here)
Serves:  8
Crust
3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick butter
2 tablespoons water
Filling
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cups cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard
5 eggs
6 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1/2 pound Swiss cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Sift the flour in a large bowl.  Add salt.  Cut the butter into one-inch cubes.  Incorporate the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers (or a pastry cutter).  Dig a hole in the center.  Stir in the water with a wooden spoon.  If the dough is not homogeneous and does not come together, add a little more water (one tablespoon at a time), mixing well before adding more.  Place the ball of dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour.  Let the dough come to room temperature before rolling out.

Roll out the dough and place it into a 9-inch pie pan.  In a small saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour until smooth; gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Remove from the heat; cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cottage cheese, baking powder, and mustard. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Slowly beat in the cream cheese, cottage cheese mixture and white sauce until smooth. Fold in the Jarlsberg and Parmesan cheeses. Pour into the prepared 9 inch pan. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting. Serve warm.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sassy Sweets: Baked Hot Chocolate

I don't know anyone who does not LOVE hot chocolate.  It's so rich, delicious, and best of all, it brings back those memories of snow days with no school and jackets and snowsuits.  It's like a hug in a mug.  I just thought that up (its early in the morning, bear with me) but it's so cute.  A hug in a mug.

If it's possible to make hot chocolate even better, I didn't know about it until this month.  One day there was a small story for baked hot chocolate on the Wall Street Journal website.  It was the most heavily trafficked 'story' of the day.  What that says about us, the day, or hot chocolate in general is going to have to be debated by others that do not include the sleepyhead over here on this end of the computer.

The "key" to this recipe (says WSJ.com), is the quality of the chocolate.  Make this with the best quality chocolate you can.  Sister M got a huge 5 pound Hershey's bar from boyfriend M and his family.  Mom and I set about chopping that up last weekend and we reserved 9 ounces for this recipe; Mom even brought M a sample in a disposable cup.  Lucky college girl that she is!
Baked Hot Chocolate (adapted from WSJ.com)
Serves: 4
9 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Arrange four 8-ounce ramekins or mugs in a baking pan.  Melt chocolate and butter together in a saucepan.  Whisk occasionally until smooth.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Stir eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then pour into double boiler set over simmering water.  Stir until warm to the touch.  Remove from heat.  Beat egg mixture with an electric beater until light and fluffy (3-5) minutes.  Gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture.  Spoon batter into ramekins/mugs.  Add enough very hot water to baking pan to come halfway up sides of mugs or ramekins.  Bake until the tops lose the glossy shine (about 15-20 minutes).  Carefully remove the roasting pan, and then remove ramekins or mugs from the roasting pan.  Meanwhile, beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Top the ramekins / mugs with whipped cream.  Serve immediately.

If you want, you can prepare them ahead of time (one day).  To reheat, bring them to room temperature and then heat them in a 350 degree oven until warmed through (about 8 minutes).  Gooey deliciousness!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 20, 2012

Slow Cooking Supper: Tortellini Minestrone Soup

The winter here in New York has been good to me thus far; I don't want to jinx it but I'm beginning to believe that spring is in my sights.  However, there are nights when you realize, yes, it is still February--the biting wind and cold nights makes a soup like this the perfect dinner.  It's not a fast dinner by any means, and it takes time, which means it's probably a perfect Sunday night dinner (when you can devote a little more time and attention to dinner).

I won't lie to you--there is a lot of cutting and dicing in this recipe.  Mom likes to do it all at once early in the morning.  I, on the other hand, like to incorporate some of these vegetables throughout the week and chop up extra.  The extra goes into zipped plastic bags and then I can just dump them in when the soup calls for them.  If you have a helper in the kitchen that's good with a knife (like John is), then pawn some of it off on them and get going on some other tasks!  It is your Sunday after all.

I was torn on this recipe.  I love it, but it is so involved, too involved, I think to really classify as a dinner I would make often.  But then, I took the leftovers to work one day.  People are still getting to know me there and the truth is, there are very few people to connect with and feel comfortable enough to share your obsession with food!  One woman walked by my desk and asked where I bought the soup from; when I told her I had made it she said, you MADE that?!  But it smells so good.  Ah, the life of a food blogger...if only she knew.

That was the moment when I knew I would be foolish not to share this recipe with you.  It's a once a winter dish that everyone can't wait to have.  Double the batch and freeze half so you can look forward to it again when you need a quick dinner.
Tortellini Minestrone Soup
Serves:  6
1/2 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 cup diced zucchini
1 1/2 cups green beans, chopped
3 cups shredded cabbage
5 cups of chicken stock
5 cups water
1 35-ounce can plum tomatoes
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 tablespoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2-inch rind of Parmesan cheese
1 pound cheese-stuffed tortellini
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Heat olive oil in crockpot over medium heat (if your crockpot can be heated on the stovetop, if not do this in a large pan).  Add the onions and saute for 10-15 minutes.  Stir in the carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes, tossing occasionally.  Add potatoes and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Continue sauteeing each vegetable 2-3 minutes: green pepper, then zucchini, and finally green beans.  When all the vegetables haave been added to the pot, move the pot into the crockpot container.  Stir in the cabbage and cook 5 minutes.  Add the stock, water, tomatoes with their juices, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Nestle the Parmesan rind in the middle of the soup.  Cook on High.  Reduce heat to Low and simmer for 1-2 hours (soup will thicken up).  Fifteen minutes prior to serving, add the tortellini.  Turn the heat to High and cook the tortellini.  Stir the soup often.  Ladle the minestrone into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 17, 2012

Date Night Dinner: Linguine in Clam Sauce

While it is rare that Dad takes over cooking in our kitchen, but when he does, it's always something delicious!  It helps, of course, that you only need to be good one day out of 30, while Mom must please everyone 29 out of the 30 days.  But, Dad did teach Mom to cook when they first got married and Dad's mom was a wonderful cook, one that I like to model myself after!

This clam sauce is no exception.  He received the clams as a gift from a fellow co-worker, and made the executive decision to freeze them until the whole family was home to enjoy the sauce together.  And enjoy it we did!  Dad never measures when he cooks so I stood behind him observing and scribbling. 

The best thing about these types of sauces is that you can add pretty much whatever you want to it and it will taste good.  I love to add a lot of garlic which is a great complement to the pasta, but I wouldn't attempt it on a first date hehe.  As for my dating life, I'm thrilled that John will be here soon; I am already making dinner plans for the two of us!  I can't wait to be able to spend some quality time with him.  I hope you all are looking forward to the weekend as much as I am.
Linguini in Clam Sauce
Serves:  6
1 pound clams
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme, dried
1 box of linguine

Boil the clams in warm water, about 3-5 minutes until fully cooked.  Chop them in the food processor until bite-sized.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet.  Heat over medium-high heat until warm.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant.  Add lemon juice, white wine, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Cook about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook linguine according to pasta box directions.  Drain and set aside.  Add clams to the wine mixture and cook for about 10 minutes, until clams are heated through and sauce thickens slightly.  Toss pasta with sauce.  Serve immediately!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stand Out Sides: Warm Brussel Sprout Salad

Brussel sprouts have never been a favorite of John.  In fact, this Thanksgiving when he came to my house for dinner, I absolutely thought he was going to pass on Mom's roasted brussel sprouts entirely.  But, he is a very good sport and gave them a try.  Well, imagine my surprise when later that night he said to me, "You know, I really hate brussel sprouts, but your Mom's brussel sprouts were SO GOOD".  I could only laugh.  And for the last few months, Mom's brussel sprouts have been a frequent joke in the family.

Sometimes it takes getting out of your comfort zone to find something you really enjoy; I think the same is true in life.  John and I met in a completely random, probably could never be duplicated again, meeting.  It's those kind of spontaneous and unplanned meetings that can sometimes reward you with the best things life has to offer.  Despite the hard times we've been going through being separated, I think we both know something special when we see it.  And we work extra hard to make sure that it stays that way.

Mom and Dad have always done a great job of pushing their children out of their comfort zones through new experiences, new foods, or new people.  I think that kind of experience at an early age helps children develop a great sense of self (and self-confidence, while we're at it).  At least it did for us three.  So when Mom and I were planning our weekend menu, and this salad came up, we paused.  But then, we went for it because we knew that sometimes things aren't always what they appear. 

Even if you dislike brussel sprouts, or are intimidated by their weird looking shape and size, I encourage you to try this recipe.  It may be out of your comfort zone, but like us, it might turn into the best thing you've ever made. 
Warm Brussel Sprout Salad (adapted from here)
Serves:  4
1 pound brussel sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Thinly slice the brussel sprouts.  Pour the olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat.  When the olive oil is warm, add brussel sprouts.  Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Cook, stirring until brussel sprouts have wilted and are bright green (about 3 minutes).  Add walnuts and cranberries.  Toss until well-combined and warmed through.  Serve immediately.



We are in love with this salad which while called a "salad" is actually perfect for the winter and spring where it warms you right up.  The ingredients are healthy but hearty.  And, you can feel good about trying something new!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 13, 2012

Time-Out: Strawberry Lemon Fizzies

Its the day before Valentine's Day, did you remember that?  If not, don't worry...I have a "recipe" that you can make in no time flat.  In fact, I thought about this recipe for a long time.  I wanted to make sure today featured something that you could make for your kids or for yourself quickly.  Substitute champagne for seltzer so everyone can enjoy this treat without having to worry.  Best of all, is even if you don't plan anything else, this drink will lend a festive atmosphere to dinner! 

For me, Valentine's Day is going to be like any old day and I will wait anxiously for Friday to come, when I can finally see John again.  I feel like its been forever and its hard to think we still have a few more months to go until we can share a space again.  But, this week, rather than being melancholy, I'm becoming excited to plan a nice weekend for the two of us! 

I'm not sure what the weekend will include, but it doesn't really matter, does it?  Its nice to know you can spend a whole uninterrupted weekend together.  In fact, we might even go look at some apartments.  Obviously, I am having trouble adjusting without John here which has put off the apartment hunting some; but eventually we will be in the same place, our place, and knowing that time is coming (however far it is) helps me stay optimistic and hopeful for the future.
Strawberry Lemonade Fizzies
Serves:  4
3 cups strawberies
1/3 cup sugar
3 lemons, juiced
4 cups champagne or seltzer (recommended:  berry or lemon)

Hull and dice the strawberries into a bowl.  Stir in the sugar and let the strawberries macerate.  In a large pitcher, add the strawberries and juice, lemon juice, and champagne/seltzer.  Stir to combine.  Pour into champagne glasses and serve. 

Enjoy your Valentine's Day!!! 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 10, 2012

Sassy Sweets: Strawberry Champagne Creme Brulee

The fact that no one has made a creme brulee with two iconic Valentine's Day ingredients before now, is just amazing to me.  Everywhere you can see everyday ingredients transformed into new delicious dishes.  So the knowledge that these got a pass made me immediately crave making them myself.

Champagne, Strawberries, Creme Brulee.  They are the perfect romantic ingredients for a truly romantic Valentine's Day.  I made a few different versions of these before I finally found the right amount of each.  There is the fizz of the champagne, the sweet strawberries sprinkled throughout and the perfect consistency of any creme brulee.

In order to get this recipe right for you all by today, I experimented over the weekend.  I was nervous, but when everyone exclaimed over them, I knew that eventually I had gotten it right.  It was originally Alton Brown's creme brulee recipe.  And, the key find was heart ramekins which makes this all the cuter.  Mom, last year, used these to make Dad mini meatloaves on Valentine's Day!  They come in so handy for this month. 
Strawberry Champagne Creme Brulee (adapted from here)
Serves:  6 (6 ramekins)
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar, divided
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons champagne
2 cups strawberries, hulled and diced + 6 strawberries for presentation

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Combine heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat.  In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until it just starts to lighten in color. Pour in the cream a little at a time, whisking constantly. Stir in champagne until well-blended.  Evenly distribute strawberries into the ramekins.  Pour the liquid over the strawberries into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Stir so the strawberries are mixed evenly.  Place the ramekins into a pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup sugar equally among the top of the ramekins. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Place a strawberry on each.  Serve immediately. 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Date Night Dinner: Stuffed Shrimp in Beurre Blanc Sauce

If I want to slave over dinner, it better be for something good.  And these shrimp screamed something good.  The pictures looked so good in fact, that I took out the recipe without glancing at the ingredients or cooking time.  When I finally got around to making our Valentine's Day recipes, I noticed the list of the ingredients on this baby was way more than I could handle.  A classic case of (literally) biting off way more than I could chew.  So as you will see below I took a lot of liberties with this recipe. 

The spoons are another story entirely. I've been drooling over these little one bite spoons for months while many of my favorite blogs use them often in their pictures.  I even went so far as to pick them up at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  But, $10 for 4 spoons seems ridiculous, doesn't it?  I passed.  Then, we were at a family party a few weekends ago with the entire family.  And, they served beet salad in these little spoons.  Loving my good luck, I immediately set about cajoling everyone to hand me their used spoons so I could stash them in my purse. 

M and K are much better people than I.  Therefore, the spoons never went farther than everyone's mouths.  By then, I already had this stuffed shrimp recipe in mind and I couldn't think of a better vehicle to showcase them.  And that is when this story takes a fortuitous turn.  Mom likes to walk, and I like to be with Mom.  The next weekend, we walked to Marshalls (about 2 miles) and there, on a shelf were four ceramic spoons...for $3.50.  That same night, I finally made this recipe.  It was well worth the wait, and so were the spoons. 
Stuffed Shrimp in Beurre Blanc Sauce (adapted from Rachael Ray February 2012 issue*)
Serves:  4
1 celery stalk
1 large shallot
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup lump crabmeat
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lemon juice, divided
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon dry white wine
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
12 jumbo shrimp (peeled and deveined)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons of butter (1/2 stick)

Finely chop celery and shallot.  By hand, combine celery, shallot, panko, crabmeat, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white wine, and Old Bay Seasoning.  Roll into twelve small balls onto a greased cookie sheet.  Set aside.  Butterfly the shrimp from the underside and lightly place one over each ball.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake the shrimp about 12-15 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and firm.  Meanwhile, make the beurre blanc.  In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and remaining wine to a simmer over low heat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Simmer until reduced by half (2-3 minutes).  Remove the pan from heat and immediately whisk in 1 tablespoon of butter until incorporated.  Whisk in the remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Stir in the remaining lemon juice.  To serve, place a buddle of sauce on plates or shallow bowls.  Arrange three shrimp in the sauce with the tails toward the center.

*I liberally adapted this recipe for a number of reasons.  The first is that just because it's Valentine's Day, doesn't mean we need to stop watching what we eat.  Rachael calls for 2 sticks of butter for 4 servings with 16 shrimp!  Which is way beyond my diet.  Also, I don't believe that 4 shrimp is dinner.  These should be served as a light dinner/fancy appetizer.  I served a light chicken and lots of vegetables after we started our night with these.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, February 6, 2012

Brilliant Brunch: Cherry Danish Squares

What better way to say "I love you" than a sweet brunch?  When I saw this recipe a few weeks ago, I knew it would be a perfect way to start a Valentine's Day.  A little sweetness, lots of red, and an honestly beautiful presentation.  In fact, it makes a large pan which means its enough to share with neighbors, family, friends, or a great classroom treat! 

Mom has a very sociable office; when someone has a birthday, they really go all out.  Its a nice camraderie and a few weeks ago it was one of Mom's favorite people's birthdays!  Since I pour through recipes anyway, we decided this little breakfast treat would fit everything. It's big enough to feed a crowd but also a perfect little treat for Valentine's Day.  Even as a snack! 

If you don't want to use the cherry pie filling, I suggest making your own filling.  For a berry filling, macerate 12 ounces of berries.  Then, add a little corn starch (about 1 - 2 teaspoons) to the juices until it is thick and syrupy.  That would be a great twist on this, without using the premade cherry pie filling.  The nice thing about the cherry pie filling is it makes the recipe just so easy.  It's perfect for a little holiday brunch and you still get to enjoy the morning too.  While it's cooking, curl up with a big mug and read your favorite book!  Although I can't promise you won't get interrupted--the smell of this is sure to wake up even the deepest sleeper!
Cherry Danish Squares (adapted from here)
Serves:  24 (24 squares)
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1-21 ounce can of cherry pie filling
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, until fully combined.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Gradually add flour to the butter mixture until just combined.  Spread half of the batter into a greased 9x13 pan.  Spread with pie filling.  Drop the remaining batter by tablespoon over the filling.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.  While cooling, combine the remaining ingredients to make a glaze:  Mix together confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and almond extract.  Add milk until the desired consistency of the glaze has been reached.  Drizzle over the top of the bars.  Cut the squares and store in an airtight container until serving.  These will keep well for at least 3-5 days. 

Only 3 more recipes until Valentine's Day! 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, February 3, 2012

Sassy Sweets: Chocolate Covered Pretzels

I am madly in love with chocolate covered pretzels.  A crazy, all-consuming, craving, type of love.  Everyone that knows me well, knows that.  Over Thanksgiving when sister M went visiting boyfriend M's family, she brought them a very fancy gourmet basket of chocolate covered pretzels, and refused to sneak a single one out of the beautifully laid basket for me.  Being the good big sister I am, I didn't let her forget that she took my favorite snack to someone else's house, teasing me with the basket of goodies.

Color me surprised when for Little Christmas, M&M presented me with a large container of my own homemade gourmet chocolate covered pretzels.  M had painstakingly added each decorative flourish and they couldn't have been more beautiful.  I have been eating them, savoring really, slowly over the past few weeks and I couldn't think of a better treat to continue our Valentine's Day sweets.  The salt combined with the sweet chocolate.  My mouth is watering.

It reminds me of that M&M commercial (the synchronocity here is just incredible, isn't it?) where the "salty-sweet" snack gets eaten and has the choice between the beautiful woman and the hungry-eyes guy.  I am not a beautiful woman, nor a hungry-eyed man, but I am the only choice my salty-sweet snacks have to be eaten by. Thank goodness; once I have these treats, I am not sharing.  Ever.  Don't ask, don't even look my way.  John knows not to stand between me and my chocolate covered pretzels.  That's a good boyfriend, if I've ever heard one. 

This is another great treat for the kids though--set out tubs of sprinkles, etc. and let them dip their own (after you dip their pretzels for them since the chocolate should stay warm).  Let them set, and then enjoy them together; or, if you're like me, separately.  But happy!
Chocolate Covered Pretzels
Serves:  12 (36 pretzels)
16 ounces chocolate chips (mix it up and use semi-sweet, milk, or dark for different flavors)
36 large pretzels (I love the UTZ pretzels best)
Toppings such as non-pareils, sprinkles, candy hearts, etc.

Prepare a cookie sheet by placing wax paper or tin foil over it.  Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, stirring until smooth.  Keeping the chocolate warmed, dip pretzels, one at a time, coating the entire surface.  Place on the prepared cookie sheet.  While still warm, top the pretzels with desired toppings (if you are using non-pareils or candy hearts, carefully place each one in its place, pressing slightly).  Press the toppings in slightly so they stick to the pretzels.  When all pretzels have been finished, let them set in the fridge.  Once set, place in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks. 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sassy Sweets: Chocolate Mice

For the first half of February (through February 14th), I'm sharing a variety of Valentine's recipes that I think would be great for the classroom or office parties (or even, for that special someone).  I've said it many times on this blog, even if you don't have a special someone to share with (and this year, my special someone is far away), its still a good reminder to thank others for their love, and remember that loving yourself is so important.  I wouldn't be here in New York if my parents and Awa hadn't encouraged and enabled me to make this move.  I'm hoping that by February 14th, everyone I love will remember how much I care. 
These, I think are perfect for a classroom visit or office party.  Mom refused to make them though, unless we had the "right" black licorice.  I don't know if you've ever looked but finding black shoestring licorice is hard to do!  Now that I work in NYC, some of these harder ingredients become my job as I scavenge unfamiliar streets, subways, and stores to find the perfect thing.  The licorice was no different.  I went to three candy stores the first week looking for this string licorice.  After three swings, three misses and striking out, the second week I immediately visited the holy grail of candy.

Dylan's Candy Bar in NYC is pretty famous for its vast array of the sugary confections.  But when I walked in and made a beeline to the licorice display, I was floored.  There was no black shoestring licorice.  At that moment, it looked like NYC had defeated me yet one more time.  Until I found a very helpful employee who informed me they have lots of stock in the back and went to check for himself.  Ta-da!  Black shoestring licorice had been found--I didn't need much either, just 6-7 strands.  So, $1.37 later, off I went, flush with the victory of capturing my elusive licorice.
Chocolate Mice (adapted from here)
Serves:  10 (20 mice)
40 chocolate wafers
2/3 cups chocolate chips
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup slice almonds
40 sprinkles
20 black shoestring licorice strands (2-inches each)

Crush the chocolate wafers into crumbs (about 2 cups).  Set aside.  In a microwave, melt chocolate chips (about 1 1/2 minutes on 50% power).  Stir until smooth.  Stir in one cup of chocolate crumbs and sour cream.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (until easy to handle).  For each mouse, roll about 1 tablespoon of the sour cream mixture into a ball and taper one end to resemble a mouse.  Roll in remaining chocolate crumbs to coat.  Position almond slices for ears and same-colored sprinkles for eyes.  Press a licorice strand into the back of each mouse for a tail.  Refrigerate until serving.  Serve two matching mice to each person.

Enjoy my two weeks of Valentine's Day posts!  And, the conclusion of Valentine's Day signals that we are almost through winter.  I dread winter like I dread the dentist.  Inevitable, but inconvenient all the same.  I can't wait to start us off with some spring recipes soon.

Until the next time my oven is on...
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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