September 17, 2012

... a Baby Shower!

My sister is having a baby... there's no better reason to celebrate!  Two of our best friends siiisters and I hosted a shower for her and it couldn't have been more fun!  Thanks to Pinterest (I know, it's kind of an obsession), we found great baby (sized) brunch foods, a fun idea for a Mimosa Bar (hey, who says you can't toast the mother-to-be?), and some cute decorating ideas.

{clockwise from top alongside decorations: chocolate dipped strawberries, sweet elephant sugar cookies, silverdollar pancake stacks, mini cinnamon rolls, a make-your-own mimosa bar, 
grandma norma's fruit cups}

It was a great time with fun family and friends and Baby E was certainly spoiled!  We're all so excited for him to arrive!

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries are a piece of cake.  Be sure to wash your strawberries and let them dry completely before dipping them into melted chocolate almond bark.  We sprinkled ours with brightly colored nonpareils.  Set the dipped and decorated strawberries on wax paper to cool and set.

Connie's Cookies makes delicious and adorable decorated sugar cookies.  We've been a fan since we were kids, so it only made sense that we share the love with super cute elephants as a small gift for the guests.

Who wouldn't love a miniature stack of pancakes?  Skewer your favorite recipe with a couple of blueberries, drizzle with real maple syrup, and just try to not eat your weight in stacks.

Know what's better than a cinnamon roll?  Miniature cinnamon rolls that are just a little to easy to pop in your mouth.  Click here for a simple recipe that's sure to be a hit.

My sister may disagree, but I'd say that one of the most fun things at the shower was the make-your-own mimosa bar.  It was one-stop shopping for us where this was concerned and the stop of choice was Trader Joe's.  Fresh fruit - we chose strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries - fruit juice - peach, cranberry, blackberry - and Prosecco.  What combinations can you come up with?

And, in case that's just not enough, we also served Frozen Fruit Cups.  Grandma Norma always had these at the ready for me and Kate anytime we'd visit her.  They're perfect for kids and adults the same and, with a quick zap in the microwave, make for a perfect breakfast-on-the-go.  There's just something that makes your day go better when you start it off with sweet memories.

1 large (12 ounce) can frozen orange juice, thawed
2 cups sugar (absolutely optional - and is actually better without... at least as an adult)
1 large can apricots, chopped and drained
1 large can crushed pineapple, drained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup water
6 bananas, chopped

Mix all ingredients and freeze in muffin cups, wine-sized small Solo cups, or, for a special occasion, darling pedestal cups.


As I mentioned above, the four of us are more than friends - we're siiisters.  Can't you see the resemblance?

{Lindsay, Taylor, Ashley, Kate}

And two of the four of us are pregnant (or were at the time of the actual shower!)  We got to welcome Ashley's baby, Bennett, to the family this weekend.  He joins his two brothers, Quinn and Owen.  Once Baby E arrives, he'll join his brother, Mason, and we'll have five - FIVE! - nephews... and we couldn't be happier!

How cute are they?!?  Love my siiisters!

August 29, 2012

... Chocolate Paradise Cake

Yum, yum, yes please, yum.  Translated: Chocolate, chocolate, toffee, more chocolate.  

A special cake.  A special celebration.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

Chocolate Paradise Cake
serves 12

Devil's Food Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for preparing pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for preparing pan
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line the bottom of the pans with parchment and then butter the parchment.  Dust the pans with flour, coating the bottoms and sides, and then tap out the excess.

In a large bowl, sift together the 2 1/4 cups flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In another large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the 3/4 cup butter until creamy.  Add the brown sugar and continue beating for 1 minute.  Add the vanilla and continue beating until incorporated.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  The butter mixture will look separated and grainy, which is not a problem.  Beat in the sour cream and then add the flour mixture in 3 batches.  The batter will be quite thick.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, using a rubber spatula to spread the batter evenly.

Bake the cake layers until a toothpick inserted near the center of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the cakes rest in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Place a rack on top of 1 cake, invert the cake and rack, and then lift off the pan.  Peel off the parchment circle.  Repeat with the second cake.  Let cool completely.

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup sour cream
pinch of kosher salt

2 cups coarsely crushed English toffee
2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups homemade or store-bought caramel sauce, warmed

To make the Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler or saucepan.  Place the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl placed over the pan, and heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate melts and the chocolate and cream are mixed together and smooth.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sour cream and salt.  Set aside to cool.  When cool, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the frosting until it is thick enough to spread and nearly double in volume.

To assemble and decorate the cake, using a pastry brush, brush off any loose crumbs from the sides and tops of the cake layers.  Using a serrated knife, trim the domed tops of the cake layers, making them level.  Place 1 layer on a cake plate, bottom-side up.  Cut strips of waxed paper and place under the edges of the cake to keep the cake plate clean while frosting the cake.  Spread the top of this layer with about one fourth of the frosting.  Top the frosting with 1/2 cup of the crushed toffee.  Place the second layer, bottom-side up, on top and gently press it into place.  Spread frosting all around the sides of the cake and then frost the top of the cake.  Using the remaining toffee, press it all around the sides of the cake.  Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift a healthy dusting of cocoa powder over the top of the cake.  Carefully remove the strips of waxed paper.

When ready to serve, slice the cake and serve each slice centered in a pool of warm caramel sauce.

Taylor's Notes:
This was a bit of a labor of love (would you expect any less from Nordstrom?).  My first double-layer cake and who knew how hard it would be to find English toffee not coated in chocolate?  Did you notice the chocolate shavings?  Yes, I'll admit it.  I shaved the chocolate from the Heath bars I bought so that the toffee would show up on the chocolate cake.  Labor.of.Love.  Totally worth it, though... Happy Birthday, Mom!


Someone decided she should taste the cake early and helped herself while no one was looking.  Luckily she didn't take down the whole thing before getting caught.

{clockwise from top left : evidence, culprit, jealous bystander, super cute kiddo}

... Seared Sea Scallops with Summer Vegetables and Buerre Blanc

This is one of those brilliant recipes that looks and tastes pretty darn impressive, but is, for the most part, very simple to put together.  That's a win-win in my book.

There's a first time for everything and this was mine for searing scallops.  They didn't get quite as caramelized as I'd have liked, but they sure didn't lack in flavor.  Thanks for your help, Dad!

serves 4

1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 orange bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small red onion, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup grape tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
1/4 cup small basil leaves

Place a jelly-roll pan in the oven.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees (leave pan in oven as it preheats).

Combine wine and shallots in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Cook 6 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 2 tablespoons.  Strain through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.  Return mixture to pan.  Gradually add butter, stirring with a whisk until smooth and emulsified.  Stir in rind and 1/8 teaspoon salt; keep warm.

Cut zucchini and yellow squash in half lengthwise.  Cut each half crosswise into 3 pieces; cut each piece lengthwise into 4 strips.  Combine zucchini, squash, bell pepper, onion, and 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl; toss to coat.  Arrange vegetable mixture carefully onto preheated jelly-roll pan.  Bake at 500 degrees for 4 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned.  Remove from oven; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

While vegetables cook; heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat.  Pat scallops dry with paper towels; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add scallops to pan; cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until scallops are seared and desired degree of doneness.  Serve scallops with vegetable mixture and sauce; garnish with basil leaves.

Taylor's Notes:
Definitely take the time to prep your veggies first.  After they're ready and the sauce is made, the rest of the recipe moves pretty quickly.  Depending on how many vegetables you have or what size they are, they may take a little more time than 4 minutes.  We kept ours in the oven for about 15, but also had larger veggies and an additional pepper or two.  Keep an eye on them and start the scallops when you're about five or six minutes out.  It won't hurt the veggies to sit for a minute or two, but you definitely want the scallops to be hot.


... Pineapple Mango Salsa

Oh, Summer, with all of your delicious, fresh flavors and reasons to get together with friends... a reason in and of itself to make a tasty snack.

This salsa pairs great with lightly salty tortilla chips - use blue corn for even more color! - or, as with most fresh salsas, as a great partner to chicken or fish.

Pineapple Mango Salsa
serves 8

1 whole pineapple, peeled and diced
1 whole mango, diced
1/2 whole medium red onion, finely diced
1 whole jalapeno, seeded and diced
fresh cilantro, chopped
1 whole lime, juiced
dash of kosher salt
dash of granulated sugar (optional)

Combine diced pineapple, mango, red onion, jalapeno, and cilantro.  Squeeze in lime juice and add salt and sugar if needed.  Stir to combine.  Serve within an hour with tortilla chips or on top of chicken or fish.

Taylor's Notes:
It's really as easy as that... and really really tasty.  Thanks Pioneer Woman!


... Superfood Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

It probably goes without saying that I'm a fan of cooking blogs and I think I've mentioned a time or two that I've found some great recipes on Pinterest.  Well, add this one to the list... maybe even the top of the list.

And if this is one of my favorite new recipes, then quinoa is one of my favorite new ingredients.  It's so versatile - sweet, savory, breakfast, dinner - and really quick and easy to make.  It has a ton of protein and few carbs.  Quinoa, I think I love you.

The ingredient list is a little random... oranges, black beans, corn, pomegranate, avocado.  But it all comes together so perfectly with a light, lemon vinaigrette.  On its own or as a side, this salad will be showing up in my kitchen on a regular basis.

Superfood Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
serves 5

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1 orange, peeled, segmented, and chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup pomegranate arils (about 1 pomegranate worth)
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

Cook quinoa according to package directions.  Set aside to cool.

Combine cooled quinoa with red onion, orange segments, avocado, beans, pomegranate arils, corn, cilantro, salt and pepper.  Pour Lemon Vinaigrette over the salad and stir to combine.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Lemon Vinaigrette
2 lemons, juiced (you need 1/4 cup juice)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
dash of sweetener (agave nectar, stevia, or white sugar)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Taylor's Notes:
This superfood salad is super easy... and super delicious!  I added grilled shrimp for a little extra oompf, but it'd be great without meat, too.  I didn't find the pomegranate seeds, so left them out.  I'm sure they'd add good color and flavor, but I didn't miss them and I'm not sure it'd be worth the work to dig them out of an actual pomegranate.  Who knows, though, let me know if you give it a shot!


... Butterflied Pork Chops with Plum, Mint, and Jalapeno Salsa

I think I've mentioned that my family is great about trying new recipes.  We all love to cook and aren't overly picky eaters, so it's always fun getting together for a family meal.  And when it's summertime, more often than not, that meal involves grilling.  Weber has a great number of cookbooks with terrific recipes - an abundance of what to grill, how to grill it, and what to pair with it.  So, for a holiday as colorful as the Fourth of July, we thought it would be appropriate to have a equally colorful meal.

serves 4-6

4 center-cut butterflied pork loin chops, each about 10 ounces and 3/4- to 1-inch thick, trimmed of excess fat
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
4 ripe plums, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and minced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Season the pork chops on both sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Allow the chops to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).

In a medium bowl gently combine the plums, jalapeno, mint, sugar, coriander, pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Set aside.

Lightly brush the pork chops on both sides with the oil.  Brush the cooking grates clean.  Grill the chops over direct medium heat with the lid closed as much as possible until they are still slightly pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice.  Remove from the grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve warm topped with the salsa.

Taylor's Notes:
Make this when the plums are in their peak.  We had a tough time finding ripe plums, but did just fine with what we had.  It'd just be that much better with riper, juicier plums.  You could definitely pair this salsa with chicken or fish if you're not that big a fan of the other white meat.


... Brussels Sprout Salad

Why is it that when you're a kid you can't imagine eating certain foods, but once you grow up, you just can't get enough of those same things?  I don't know many kids who like Brussels sprouts.  But give them this version, with pancetta ("bacon" where kids are concerned), cheese, and apple, and I bet you won't hear too many arguments.

Just don't put them in charge of shredding the sprouts.  The mandonlin is sharp and kids of all ages (ahem) can easily hurt themselves.

This salad was a great addition to our Fourth of July meal.  My family loves trying new recipes and sometimes we find them in the most random of places.  Like this one from Canadian House & Home magazine.  Lucky for us, Mom loves house magazines... and new recipes.

Brussels Sprout Salad
serves 4

10 slices of pancetta
4 ounces Piave cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 medium-sized Matsu apple (or Gala, Fuji, or whatever you like)
3 dozen Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup caramelized pancetta vinaigrette (see below)

Caramelized Pancetta Vinaigrette
1 shallot, peeled
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup reserved pancetta fat
1 cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives

Bake pancetta on parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.  Reserve 1/2 cup fat for dressing.  Place all dressing ingredients except oil and chives in a blender and blend on high until smooth, slowly adding oil until emulsified.  Add chives and mix by hand.  (Store extra dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.)

Shave cheese into long, thin curls using a vegetable peeler.  Cut apple into matchsticks using a mandoline or sharp knife.  Shave Brussels sprouts into very thin slices using a mandoline or sharp knife.  Toss all together in a bowl until well mixed, then add just enough dressing to coat.

Taylor's Notes:
This is a really tedious recipe, but pretty well worth it (if I remember correctly... I actually made this for the fourth of July).  If you've never cooked with Brussels sprouts, you need to wash them well and peel off any of the outside leaves that aren't tight to the sprout.  Be very careful shaving the Brussels sprouts.  You can easily shave those little guys right on down to your thumb or finger if you're not paying attention.  

When you cook the pancetta there won't be 1/2 cup worth of fat that drips off.  That was what we expected to happen, but as it so happens, you'll actually break or cut off the fat from the edges of the cooked pancetta.  See, cooking is learning!  


... Spaghetti with Herbs, Chilies, and Eggs

Is there anything more simple than pasta?  Maybe PB&J, but I try to not keep peanut butter in the house (I'm a bit of an addict.)  So... pasta.  Simple, quick, delicious.  And so many ways you can make it.

I'm a big fan of cheese and olive oil.  Always have been.  Add freshly minced garlic and a little heat from some chili flakes and there's not much better.  Until...

Yep.  That's an egg on pasta.  Don't knock it 'til ya try it.

serves 4

12 ounces spaghetti (3/4 box)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 red chili pepper, sliced
12/ cup chopped fresh herbs
4 large eggs
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.

In a small saucepan, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the garlic and red chili pepper, until the garlic begins to sizzle, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add to the pasta in the pot, along with the herbs, and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the eggs and cook until the whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes.  Serve the eggs on the spaghetti.  Top with the Parmesan.

Taylor's Notes:
As I've said before, the beauty of cooking is that, from time to time, you can wing it.  Especially when you don't happen to have all of the ingredients on hand and you're too lazy hungry to go to the store. So, my version of this recipe included spaghetti, olive oil, garlic cloves, chili pepper flakes, eggs, and Parmesan.  Hey, look at that - practically only missing the herbs!


June 15, 2012

... Creamy Avocado Dip

This delectable little snacker is brought to you by me (with love) via Pinterest (of course) via Two Peas and Their Pod (how cute is that name?).

It's every bit as good as guacamole, with a brighter flavor and it's just as quick to whip up.  I'm pretty sure this will become a staple in my house this summer!

Creamy Avocado Yogurt Dip
serves 4

1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
2 ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped, seeded jalapeno
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
s&p to taste

Place the yogurt, avocados, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and cumin in blender or food processor.  Mix until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with pita chips, tortilla chips, or fresh cut veggies.

Taylor's Notes:
Although I did roughly chop the garlic and jalapeno, I didn't worry about how fine of a chop since they were going straight into my food processor.  I used the juice from two small limes and really eyeballed the cilantro and jalapeno.  Just taste it and add more or less depending on what flavors you like best.  And I dare you to not go through an entire bag of pita chips just so you can eat as much of this as possible.  Yep, it's that good.

Know what else is good?  Using it as a spread on a turkey sandwich with Provolone, tomato, sprouts, and a little bacon.  Want proof?  Take a look at this...


May 21, 2012

... Pinto, Black, and Red Bean Salad with Grilled Corn and Avocado

Let it be known that, as of right now, this recipe will be known as "The recipe with the longest name ever."  It's ok, though, and let me show you why...

If that doesn't scream SUMMER BARBEQUE!, I don't know what does.  Except maybe this, paired with a grilled burger, potato chips, fresh fruit, and a cold beer.  


Pinto, Black, and Red Bean Salad with Grilled Corn and Avocado
serves 12

1 cup halved heirloom grape or cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3 ears shucked corn
1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
cooking spray
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 diced peeled avocados

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Let stand 10 minutes.

Brush corn, onion, and jalapeno evenly with oil.  Place vegetables on grill rack coated with cooking spray.  Grill corn for 12 minutes or until lightly charred, turning after 6 minutes.  Grill onion slices and jalapeno 8 minutes or until lightly charred, turning after 4 minutes.  Let vegetables stand 5 minutes.  Cut kernels from cobs.  Coarsely chop onion.  Finely chop jalapeno; discard stem.  Add corn, onion, and jalapeno to tomato mixture; toss well.  Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and next 4 ingredients (through kidney beans) to corn mixture; toss well.  Top with avocado.

Taylor's Notes:
The only bad thing about this salad is that it's not too easy to make ahead of time, but the grilled vegetables are totally worth it.  It makes a lot - definitely serves more than twelve as a side - and is best the same day, but not too shabby the next.

Notice anything different down there??  Yep, I'm now going to add nutritional information to the ol' blogaroo.  Well, at least to the recipes that already have it listed... let's not get all crazy and think I can come up with this stuff on my own.  Why recreate the wheel when Cooking Light does such a bang-up job?


Nutritional Information...
Calories 141  |  Fat 6.4g   Protein 5g   Carbs 18.2g  |  Fiber 6.8g  |  Sodium 211mg

May 14, 2012

... Open-Faced Sandwiches with Ricotta, Arugula, and Fried Egg

What comes to mind when I say "BFD!"?  If you're thinking "Breakfast For Dinner!", gold star for you.  If you're thinking something else, well... double gold star.  Because, in my book, breakfast for dinner is a BFD.

Creamy ricotta with crisp arugula and a fried egg?  How could you go wrong?  

serves 4

4 (2-ounce) slices whole-wheat country bread
cooking spray
2 cups arugula
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 large eggs
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Preheat broiler.

Coat both sides of bread with cooking spray.  Broil 2 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted.  

Combine arugula, 2 teaspoons oil, juice, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; toss gently.

Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Crack eggs into pan; cook 2 minutes.  Cover and cook an additional 2 minutes or until whites are set.  Remove from heat.

Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and thyme; spread over bread slices.  Divide salad and eggs evenly over bread.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Taylor's Notes:
Delish!  This is great for dinner, but I'm sure would be just as tasty for breakfast or lunch... somehow, though, BFB and BFL don't have quite the ring that BFD does.  Amiright?  

I left out the lemon juice and thyme because I didn't feel like running to the store (lazy much?) and it still disappeared quickly.  


May 13, 2012

... Peach and Gorgonzola Chicken Pizza

You always want what you can't have.  I've been waiting a while for peaches to be in season so that I could make this pizza.  It's not a normal combo: peaches, chicken, and stinky cheese, but it sure is a good one.

It'll be difficult to not eat it all in one sitting, but if you save some for leftovers you'll be very glad you did.  The good news is that if you do indulge, you can feel a little less guilty as this is another terrific recipe from Cooking Light.

serves 4

1 (10-ounce) prebaked thin pizza crust (such as Boboli)
cooking spray
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 medium unpeeled peach, thinly sliced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place pizza crust on baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Brush 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil evenly over crust.  Top evenly with 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, chicken, Gorgonzola cheese, and peach slices.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella.  Bake at 400 degrees for 11 minutes or until crust browns.  

Place vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons (about 5 minutes).  Drizzle balsamic reduction evenly over pizza.  Cut pizza into 8 wedges.

Arugula Salad
serves 4

Combine 1 teaspoon minced shallots, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon honey in a large bowl; gradually whisk in 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.  Add 4 cups loosely packed arugula and 1/3 cup vertically sliced red onion to bowl; toss gently to coat.

Taylor's Notes:
I used a canned pizza dough instead of a prebaked dough.  You could also use your own homemade dough if you do that or purchase premade dough from your favorite pizza shop.  Just adjust the baking time accordingly.  I ended up baking my pizza for about 20 minutes.  

I actually completely forgot about the balsamic reduction until I just typed it out in the recipe.  Dang!  Good thing I have leftovers and can whip that up later today... see, it all works out in the end.


... Spicy Basil Chicken

I'm becoming quite a fan of Thai food.  Although I haven't gotten extremely adventurous when ordering out,  it's always fun to try new things at home.  This is a safe (it's chicken and veggies which are definitely not scary), but tasty and spicy (look at those chile flakes!) dish you can make anytime you're in the mood for something a little different.

As it was my first Friday night at home in a while, I tried a new recipe, rented a couple movies, opened three bottles of wine (ahem*), and made a few observations...

1.  Guys like Channing Tatum (The Vow) and Zac Efron (New Years Eve) don't exist... they're just too nice (and way cute).  If you disagree, prove it.

2.  It's very sad to discover that two bottles of wine have gone bad and you have to pour them out. 

Thank goodness for one last (unopened) bottle that saves the day.

3.  After a spicy homemade meal, sometimes the simplest sweet dessert is best.  Haagen Dazs Mango Sorbet topped with Smucker's Chocolate Magic Shell.  

I digress.  If you, too, find yourself digging Thai food, this is definitely a recipe to try.  It's even light, so you don't need to feel the least bit guilty about the sorbet and chocolate.  Wine and movies with dreamy men are optional.

serves 4

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless, chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons chile paste with garlic (such as sambal oelek)
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sliced basil leaves

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add shallots and garlic to pan; cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add chicken to pan; cook 13 minutes or until chicken is done.

Combine fish sauce and the next 6 ingredients (through salt) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk.  Add fish sauce mixture to pan, and cook for 1 minute or until mixture thickens, stirring to coat chicken.  Remove from heat, stir in basil.

Sauteed Snow Peas and Peppers
serves 4

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
2 1/2 cups fresh snow peas, trimmed
1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add snow peas and bell pepper to pan; saute for 4 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally.  Remove pan from heat.  Drizzle vegetable mixture with remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well to combine.

Taylor's Notes:
When I'm using new ingredients, I always find it helpful to know what I'm looking for at the store.  I'd never bought Sambal Oelek before and wouldn't have guessed it was in a little jar like this. If you have Sriracha on hand, you could probably substitute that, but you won't get the great flakes and texture that the Sambal Oelek provides.  

I added the snow peas (actually I used snap peas because they were all out of snow peas at the store) and peppers to the chicken mixture instead of alongside and served it all over brown rice.  


May 8, 2012

... Chocolate Cake S'mores Cookies

There's something about s'mores that everyone loves.  Everyone.  I mean, really, have you ever met someone who doesn't like s'mores?  If you have, you're probably not friends with them anymore because, let's be honest, there's something not right about that.  

Oh boy, I got a little carried away there.  Sorry about that.  But, come on, look at those cookies and tell me you don't love s'mores.  Based on this recipe, I know Jenny over at Picky Palate does.

Chocolate Cake S'mores Cookies
makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 box Devil's Food cake mix
2 eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
3 Hershey's chocolate bars, cut into rectangles
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1 1/2 cups graham crackers, cut up into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix the cake mix, eggs, brown sugar, and butter until combined.  With a medium cookie scoop, scoop dough onto a silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Press cookies into little discs to flatten slightly.  On each cookie press a chocolate bar, a couple marshmallows, and a couple graham cracker pieces.

Bake for 11-13 minutes or until cooked through.

Remove and let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Taylor's Notes:
These couldn't be easier to make or more fun to share.  I crumbled a few graham crackers and sprinkled them over the cookies before baking them to add just a little more crunch.  I think it might be fun to torch the marshmallows a little bit after the cookies come out of the oven, but I'm that girl who loves to char her marshmallows over the fire.  ;)


... Insanely Good Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

I think I've made it pretty clear how much I love baked goods and my feelings certainly don't falter when it comes to blueberry muffins.  Especially if they're dubbed 'insanely good'.  I mean, who could resist that proclamation?  

When you pair that with something that's good for you... or at the very least not bad for you... (thankyouverymuch Skinny Taste!) you've got one great recipe and one insanely good breakfast treat.

Insanely Good Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
makes 12

1 1/2 cups Quaker quick oatmeal
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or skim milk)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons agave (or sugar, honey)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
baking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with liners and lightly spray with oil.

Place oats in a food processor or chopper and pulse a few times.  Soak oats in milk for about 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl combine brown sugar, agave, applesauce, vanilla, egg whites, oil, and mix well.

In a third bowl combine whole wheat flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and whisk to combine.

Combine oats and milk with sugar, applesauce mixture and mix well.  Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.  Fold in blueberries.

Spoon into the muffin tin and bake for 22-24 minutes.

Taylor's Notes:
I have a sinking suspicion these will become a staple at my house.  Won't you join me?


... No Bake Nutella Cheesecake

Two no bake cheesecake recipes later and I'm officially a huge fan of Jamie over at My Baking Addiction.  You would have thought that her blog name would have clued me in, but actually it was her use of this...

aka the best.thing.ever.  Did you know that when you whip it with cream cheese it turns into this...

and when you combine it with a classic like this...

you get something super awesome, like this...

And so, my friend, welcome to the fan club.

No Bake Nutella Cheesecakes
4-6 servings (or 10-12 mini servings as shown)

For the Crust:
12 Oreo Cookies, crushed into crumbs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup Nutella
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (8 ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed

For the Garnish:
whipped topping, optional
chocolate shavings, optional
toasted, chopped hazelnuts, optional

In a medium bowl, stir together the Oreo cookie crumbs and melted butter.  Evenly divide the crumbs between your individual serving dishes and press into the bottoms of the dishes to form a crust layer.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and Nutella until smooth.  Add vanilla and mix to combine.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping until well blended and no streaks remain.

Evenly pipe or spoon the filling into individual serving dishes.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

If desired, garnish with additional whipped topping, chocolate shavings, and/or toasted, chopped hazelnuts.

Taylor's Notes:
I've made these twice... in less than a week.  The good news was that I shared them with other people both times, the bad news is that I had to share them with other people both times.  I will say that they're pretty rich, so unlike Jamie's other cheesecake recipe  that I made, you'll probably only be tempted with one satisfying serving.  

I topped mine with more Oreo cookie crumbs... because you can never have too much of a classic.


... No Bake Raspberry-Lemon Cheesecake

When I stumbled across these on Pinterest, I knew they'd be perfect for Easter.  Easter?!  Yes, Easter... so I'm a little behind on the blog.  What?

Ahem, as I was saying, Jamie over at My Baking Addiction nailed it with this one.  The raspberries are perfect for Spring, the light whipped filling doesn't put you over the edge after a big holiday meal, and the fact that you can spend more time with your family and less time in the kitchen is never a bad thing.  (well, with most families... for sure with mine!)

No Bake Raspberry-Lemon Cheesecake
6 servings

For the Crust:
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:
2/3 cup sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (8 ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 cup fresh raspberries, slightly mashed with a fork

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 1 tablespoon of sugar and melted butter.  Evenly divide the crumbs between individual serving dishes and press into the bottoms of the dishes to form a crust layer.

In a large bowl, mix together the sugar and lemon zest until the sugar becomes moist and fragrant.  Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add lemon juice and vanilla, mixing to combine. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping until well blended, then fold in the raspberries.

Evenly pipe or spoon the filling into individual serving dishes.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.  If desired, garnish with fresh raspberries and a sprig of fresh mint.

Taylor's Notes:
It's as easy and delicious as it sounds.  And you know, probably pretty easy on the figure, too, if you use light whipped cream and third-less-fat cream cheese like I did... and only eat one serving, which isn't as easy.  I won't judge if you don't.


March 29, 2012

... Garlic Toasts with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, & Goat Cheese

I don't know about you, but I am loving this early Spring / Summer we're having.  I know it'll most likely be like an inferno this summer, but right now I'm soaking up the gorgeous, sunny 80 degree temps we have in Kansas City.  And getting to use fresh produce like this certainly doesn't hurt...

I made this for wine club last night and it was a huge hit.  Really easy to prepare and the perfect size to bite on with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc while sitting outside with some of your most fun girlfriends... heaven.

Garlic Toasts with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, & Goat Cheese
serves 6-8

2 cups cherry tomatoes, preferably a mix of red and yellow, stemmed and halved
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 baguette, cut into 16 slices about 1/4-inch thick
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
3 ounces mild goat cheese, at room temperature

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil and toss to mix well.  Let the mixture stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Rub the garlic halves over one side of the bread and brush lightly with the olive oil.  Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes.

Spread each toast with the goat cheese, top with a spoonful of the tomato mixture, and serve at once.

Taylor's Notes:
This was really easy to make and is the perfect appetizer or snack for Spring and Summer.  I followed the recipe except that I minced and mashed the garlic cloves with a little kosher salt and added it to the goat cheese rather than rubbing the cloves on the toasts.  Either way would be delicious, but I was with a group of garlic-lovers so we opted for the choice that would give us more flavor.  Good thing we didn't have dates that night!


March 15, 2012

... Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Bailey's Irish Cream Cheese Frosting

When a recipe calls for these two things as main ingredients, you should be quick to find a reason to make said recipe.  Lucky for me, St. Patty's Day is right around the corner.  

Those little bottles above, accompanied by a little cream cheese and powdered sugar, make the most incredible frosting.  I actually wondered aloud to myself... to my dog... to myself (which is worse?) why you wouldn't make this frosting for anything and everything you'd want to frost?  Trust me.  I don't lie.

Those scrumptious little guys below may not be as cute as Gina's, but I can only believe that they're every bit as delicious.  Oh, did I mention that Gina is the brilliant mind behind the blog Skinny Taste?  Yep, you read that right... these cupcakes won't even make you feel guilty!  Now who's the lucky one?

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Bailey's Irish Cream Cheese Frosting
serves 12

For the Bailey's Frosting:
5.5 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons Bailey's Irish Cream

For the cupcakes:
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup flour
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup stout
4 ounces unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
cooking spray

Combine all the frosting ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until smooth with an electric mixer.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cupcake tin with 12 liners and lightly spray liners with oil (to prevent sticking).

In a large bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients : sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients (egg through canola oil) and beat until smooth.

With a mixer, slowly add the sifted flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.  Pour into cupcake liners and bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Taylor's Notes:
The only switch up I made to this recipe was using vegetable oil instead of canola oil.  I'm sure it makes a difference in the nutritional value (although at only 1 1/2 tablespoons I can't imagine it's huge), but I couldn't tell that it made a bit of difference in the taste.  

I found the Double Chocolate Stout at my fave liquor store, but Gina mentioned she found her's at Trader Joes.  If you can't find it anywhere, I would bet that any dark stout would do.  I even saw a Mocha Stout at my store... mmm, coffee and Bailey's.  It just makes sense.  


March 12, 2012

... Brownie Cookies

Brownie Cookies?  What could be better than that?!  Oh, I don't know, perhaps say, light brownie cookies?  Yes, you heard me right.  My new favorite cookbook wins again.  Yea new cookbook!

Sisters, brothers-in-law, and super adorable two-year-old nephews alike all love this amazing, chocolate, cookie.  You will, too, I promise.

Brownie Cookies
makes 34

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water.  Stir until melted, then remove bowl from heat and let cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.  With mixer on low speed, add chocolate and flour mixture in alternating batches; mix just until combined after each (do not overmix; the consistency will be more like brownie batter than stiffer cookie dough).

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, about 2 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in center of a cookie comes out clean, 14 to 16 minutes.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  (Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.)

Taylor's Notes:
In one word... delicious.  I may have made a slight misjudgement on the size of the cookie as my batch only made 17... oops!  Still, I'm guessing a double-size cookie is less than one brownie of this deliciousness.  


... Lighter Chicken Enchiladas

I love new cookbooks.  Shocker, I'm sure.  I especially love new cookbooks that are kind of sequels to a favorite cookbook that I already have and are dubbed "light".  Win win.  If you're in the market for a new one, I'd highly recommend Everyday Food : Light... the sister of Everyday Food : Great Food Fast.  Really, you should own both, because they're both excellent... yes, do that, buy both.

Look at that sauce!  That light (!) sauce!  Don't you just want to dip your finger in it?

I honestly think that you could use this chicken mixture as the topping for nachos or put it in tacos, but it's really good rolled in corn tortillas and doused in sauce and topped with cheese... with a little dollop of light sour cream.

Lighter Chicken Enchiladas
serves 4

3 boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves (6 to 8 ounces each)
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 to 2 tablespoons minced canned chipotles in adobo
1 can (14.5 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
8 corn tortillas (6-inch), warmed
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese (2 ounces)

In a large skillet, bring 1 inch water to a boil.  Add chicken and season with salt; cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 5 minutes; remove skillet from heat.  Let chicken steam, covered, until cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a medium bowl; when cool enough to handle, shred with two forks.

While chicken is cooking, in a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic, cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add flour, cumin, and chipotles to taste; cook, whisking, 1 minute.  Whisk in broth and the water; bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cook, whisking occasionally, until sauce has thickened slightly, 5 to 8 minutes; season with salt and pepper.  Transfer 1 cup sauce to bowl with chicken; toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread 1/4 cup of remaining sauce evenly in an 8-inch square baking dish.  Fill each tortilla with chicken mixture, dividing evenly; roll up tightly, and arrange, seam side down, in baking dish.  Cover with remaining sauce, and top with cheese.  Bake until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Taylor's Notes:
To warm the tortillas, stack them and wrap them in damp paper towels and microwave for 30 to 60 seconds until soft.  This really helps them to not crack and tear when you're filling and rolling them up.  

I get that this is a light recipe and I probably shouldn't add more sauce, but I think I'll make just a tad bit more on the next go around.  More sauce, less cheese... if I must make a sacrifice.  And, speaking of cheese, I used pepper jack for a little more spice.  And, for the same reason, I added 3 or 4 chipotle chilies.  

I had this for leftovers a couple times and even froze one serving.  It heats up really well and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about leftovers, so eating this four different times really says a lot!


... Mini Mocha Cheesecakes

Martha Stewart (or, more likely, her awesome team) strikes again with another great recipe from her terrific light cookbook.  Call me crazy, but Mini Mocha Cheesecakes seemed like the perfect addition to our wine club.  Chocolate, wine, great girlfriends... 

... and pureed cottage cheese?  I know, it's weird, but when it comes out looking like this, you'll want to give it a try, too.

Mini Mocha Cheesecakes
makes 9

2 cups nonfat cottage cheese
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (not instant coffee)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
9 chocolate wafer cookies, such as Famous
whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Line 9 cups of a standard muffing tin with paper liners.  In a food processor, combine cottage cheese, eggs, confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, flour, espresso powder, and vanilla.  Puree until smooth, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides as needed.

Divide mixture among prepared cups, filling each one just below rim, and place 1 cookie on top of each.  Bake until fillings are set and cookies soften, 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in pan, then refrigerate (in pan) at least 1 1/2 hours (or up to 3 days, covered).

To serve, invert cheesecakes onto plates and peel off liners.  Top each with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Taylor's Notes:
I was a little leery of this one - pureed cottage cheese? - but after seeing the picture in the cookbook, I had to try it.  I knew my Cellar Dweller girls would be totally honest and, unless I'm wrong about them, they all agreed that it was a keeper of a recipe... especially at 196 calories.  Did you hear that?  196 calories for chocolate cheesecake!

I pureed my cottage cheese in my food processor and it worked great.  I must remember, however, to add a large processor to my wish list.  My mini guy does the trick, but takes a few may rounds to blend all the ingredients.  

As you can probably tell by the picture, I wasn't able to find chocolate wafer cookies, but did find wafer sugar cookies and those worked just as well - the slight crunch was a great change of texture.