Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cinnamon Hazelnut Bread Pudding with Granny Smith Apples and Caramel

I literally dreamed this one night but it was a little more of a nightmare - in my dream, the glass pan I baked in exploded in my oven.... no doubt a surfaced memory of when a huge glass bowl of rice pudding did exactly that to my mother! Anyway, I was intrigued by the combination and decided the next day to give it a try, using an aluminum pan for safety!

I considered a few ways to infuse the whole dish with hazelnut flavor, including using a Torani syrup or Frangelico liqueur, but settled on Nestle's Coffee Mate Natural Bliss creamer with Hazelnut as the way to go. It was the perfect amount of hazelnut flavor, and the Natural Bliss line is just milk, cream, sugar and natural flavorings, so none of the artificial stuff in many creamers. I used that as part of the liquid normally included in any bread pudding recipe.

A key component of any bread pudding is, of course, the bread. I recommend using a challah, brioche, or another quality loaf. My Publix was out of challah and brioche, but had a lovely, soft but substantial Colombian bread available -- it was perfect! A single loaf should be about a pound, and I prefer to use unsliced bread and just tear it up roughly before a light toasting, but that's a matter of taste.

  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 loaf bread, preferably challah or brioche, torn in pieces 
  • 4 large eggs 
  • 1 bottle Nestle Coffee Mate Natural Bliss Creamer with Hazelnut
  • 2 cups half and half 
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter, melted 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla 
  • Ground cinnamon
  • 1 bottle Hershey's Caramel Syrup 
Heat the oven to 350. Toast the hazelnuts for 7 minutes and let cool. While the hazelnuts cool, toast the bread pieces on a baking sheet until light brown, between 5 and 10 minutes -- start at 5 minutes and check frequently after that. Don't let it get too dark. While all of that is toasting, chop the apples into bite-sized pieces -- don't bother peeling them unless you really want to. 

Whisk the eggs and hazelnut creamer together with the butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Mix the toasted bread with the egg mixture, working it well together. Add 1 cup of the half and half, and mix again, working in as much of the second cup of half and half as needed so that the mixture is quite wet. Layer half of it into a greased three quart casserole or 9x13 pan, then layer on half the apples and hazelnuts. Sprinkle the layer well with cinnamon -- as much as you want! Repeat with the rest of the bread, apples and nuts, finishing with the cinnamon. Bake at 350 for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 

Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzling each serving with caramel syrup. Vanilla ice cream wouldn't hurt, of course! It works as dessert or breakfast! Make it ahead and bake in the morning - perfect with coffee. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chicken in Creamy Rondele Sauce

I love Rondele, Boursin, flavored cream cheeses -- anything cheese-based that's spreadable and tastes good, basically. Rondele was on a rare buy-one, get-one deal at Publix yesterday, so I grabbed a couple of containers for our game watch that night. Because I (as usual) made WAY too much food (including my Mediterranean Spinach Dip), they weren't touched. So I decided to use one to make a light, creamy, flavorful sauce for chicken tenders. This is really easy to make - once the chicken is browned, you do nothing for 15 minutes but look at it once in a while to make sure it's not cooking down too much. After that, it's about 3 minutes to done! I served this with brown rice for JC and steamed kale for me. The sauce was delicious with both!

Rondele makes several flavors of spreadable gourmet cheese, including Herb and Garlic, Artichoke and Garlic, Garden Vegetable, Chipotle and Tomato and Roasted Tomato and Basil. I used Herb and Garlic because I thought JC would like it the best, but this is so basic that the cheese really controls the flavor of the dish, so use whatever you like. You can make this regularly, with different flavors of cheese, and it will be a completely different dish each time.

To make 4 servings:

  • 8 chicken tenders 
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth 
  • 3/4 cup any flavor Rondele Gourmet Spreadable Cheese 
  • 6 green onions, sliced, dark green parts reserved
  • Rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, gnocchi or steamed greens, to serve

Lay a large sheet of waxed paper on the counter. Lay the chicken tenders on it and sprinkle them generously with pepper and just a touch of salt. Sprinkle with the flour and coat well on both sides.

Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large skillet. Brown chicken on both sides, working in batches if needed to avoid crowding it in the skillet. Add the white and light green parts of the sliced green onions to the skillet, and pour in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the level of broth, because the flour on the chicken will make it thicken. Add more if it seems to be cooking down too quickly.

Carefully remove the chicken pieces from the thickened broth and set aside. Stir the Rondele cheese into the broth, letting it melt and blend well. Stir in the reserved dark green parts of the green onions, and add the chicken back into the skillet. Let simmer for a minute and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bacon-Cheddar-Ranch Potatoes

These are great for breakfast or brunch, perfect for a tailgate and would make an excellent side dish for pork chops, burgers or BBQ chicken. I came up with these for a tailgate a few weeks ago and they were a huge hit. I made them again, and they disappeared even faster the second time. If -- ESPN forbid -- we have another noon game this year, I'll double or triple the batch! They're THAT good!

  • 1 32 ounce bag southern-style hash browns, thawed 
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided 
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour 
  • Large pinch chipotle chile powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk 
  • 8 ounces sour cream (light or regular) 
  • 2 3 ounce pkgs real bacon pieces or 1 cup crumbled cooked bacon 
  • 1 envelope Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix 

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat and cook the red bell pepper and onion, covered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the broth and milk, then the chile powder, garlic powder and pepper. Cook until you have a very thick sauce, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream until well-blended.

While the vegetables cook, mix the thawed potatoes, bacon pieces, 1 1/2 cups of cheese and the ranch dressing mix in a large bowl. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and pour over the potatoes. Mix the cooked sauce into the potatoes. Pour into a greased casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the rest of the cheddar over the top and bake another 15 minutes. Stand back to avoid getting trampled once they're out of the oven!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Easy Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Chicken Sausage

Tortellini soup (tortellini in brodo, in Italian) is one of my favorite comfort foods, and today, I came up with the easiest version I've ever had -- and the most delicious! This is entirely made from stuff in boxes and bags and jars; there is NO difficult prep work involved, and only a tiny amount of chopping! It took a whole 20 minutes to put together, and although I didn't plan to write about it, it was too good not to share. (You'll thank me later!)

Sooooo here we go:

Pour both containers of broth into a large pot. Bring to a boil.

While the broth heats up, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the sausage. Once the broth is boiling, add the frozen tortellini. After 5 minutes, add the spinach. Once the tortellini is cooked, which means you will see it floating to the top, stir in the pesto and the browned sausage, with the olive oil it cooked in.

When serving, sprinkle some grated Parmesan on each bowl.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oreo-Crusted Hot Fudge Caramel Brownies

Oreo-Crusted Hot Fudge Caramel Brownies
Proof that you CANNOT shove too much goodness in one pan!!! These brownies have a slightly crunchy Oreo crumb crust, topped with a layer of hot fudge and hot caramel, then a brownie that is just heaven on its own. The real kicker is that they are incredibly easy to make, because an inexpensive boxed brownie mix is the base, dressed up with some pantry staple goodies! I came up with these for tailgating, looking for something sweet and decadent that didn't require bank-breaking specialty ingredients. They really couldn't be easier, especially if you use the baking parchment, then use the parchment to lift the cooled brownies out and cut them into SMALL pieces with a pizza cutter!


  • 1 pkg Oreos
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup Smuckers Hot Fudge Topping
  • 1/2 cup Smuckers Hot Caramel Topping (OR use 1 cup of either one instead of half of each!) 


  • 1 9x13 size Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix (Save the Box Tops for your local school!) 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup chocolate syrup
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper, long enough to overhang the sides after it's pushed tightly into the corners.

Melt the butter in a large glass bowl. Pulse the Oreos into fine crumbs and mix into the butter. Pat into the pan, using the weight of the crumb crust to hold the paper down and pushing it into the corners. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

While the crust chills, heat the oven to 325.

Mix the eggs, oil, water, instant coffee, chocolate syrup and vanilla until well combined and the espresso is dissolved. Stir in the brownie mix and chocolate chips. Set aside.

Take the chilled crust out of the fridge and spread evenly with half a cup each of hot fudge and hot caramel sauces, or a full cup of one alone.  (If using the plastic squeeze bottles, you will need to heat it up to get the sauce you need!)

Top the sauce layer with the brownie mix. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes and then check every 5 minutes until done. A tester inserted in the middle should be a little sticky when removed. Cool completely before lifting out of the pan and cutting.

HINTS: Try other flavors of Oreos for a twist! Mint? Peanut Butter? You could mix in different chips for other flavors too!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Red Velvet Cheesecake-Swirled "Brownies"

Red Velvet Cheesecake-Swirled "Brownies"
I wanted something special for the first football game of the year, and since it was also meant to celebrate a few special birthdays, I thought "red velvet." Pretty much everyone likes it, but it looks impressive, and it's easy. That said, layered cake with creamy cheese frosting is not going to hold up well to September's heat and humidity in Miami! So I did some research, and of course, found some "red velvet brownie" recipes. I wanted the cheesecake component, and none of the recipes I found had what I wanted as a balance of simplicity and impressiveness, so I cobbled a couple of recipes together. This is the result!

Brownie base:

  • 1 Box Duncan Hines Red Velvet Supreme Cake Mix
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 standard bag) 

Cheesecake layer:

  • 2 8-ounce pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 

Heat the oven to 325. Mix the cake mix, melted butter, vanilla, water and egg until thoroughly combined and there are no dry lumps of cake mix left, about 3 minutes. Take 1/2 cup batter out of the bowl. Stir in chocolate chips and spread evenly into a lightly greased 9x13 baking pan.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth and beat in the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in
vanilla. Pour over the brownie layer. Drop the reserved 1/2 cup batter on top of the cheesecake layer in random small spoonfuls, then swirl with the tip of a sharp knife until well-marbled.

Bake on the center rack at 325 for 40 minutes and check doneness. They may need up to 55 minutes to bake. Cool completely before cutting, and refrigerate if desired, up to a day ahead, before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Roasted Green Beans and Hazelnuts

If you've known me in the last 18 months or so, on social or IRL, you know that I LOVE, love, love the Pacific Northwest. It's beautiful and majestic, and the restaurants there excel at making the most of local, seasonal food. Hazelnuts, marionberries and asparagus are just a few things I got to enjoy during our last two trips, both of which were in May.

For some reason, the last time I bought fresh green beans, it hit me that green beans are also big in Oregon, because I am also addicted to the epic Aaron Sorkin series "The West Wing." In the second season, the press secretary worries about losing votes in Oregon because President Bartlett doesn't like green beans.

My foodie mind went to the idea that local foods often work well together, so I had the idea of roasting hazelnuts and green beans together in olive oil, seasoned simply. It was an incredible combination. So I did it again and documented it. I made my Chicken with Shallot Cream Sauce, and instead of the long grain and wild rice mix I made for JC, I had it with the green beans and hazelnuts.

I bought fresh green beans at Publix yesterday, and I was honestly disappointed with the quality once I opened the bag, but even discarding a lot more than I expected, I still had more than enough for the recipe. So here's what to do.

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed 
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped -- don't worry if some stay whole 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Garlic Powder (I use powder instead of fresh so it won't burn and turn bitter, but a few cloves of fresh work too; just watch it carefully in the oven.) 

Heat the oven to 400. Wash and trim the green beans. Chop the hazelnuts. Spread the olive oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet. (I line mine with foil because I hate to scrub pans.) Add the hazelnuts and green beans. Sprinkle with pepper, salt and garlic powder to taste, and mix well with your hands so that everything is evenly coated with olive oil, then spread the green beans out as evenly as possible. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.