Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peppermint Mocha Latte Brownies

Peppermint Mocha Latte Brownies 
I was desperate to come up something to bake at the last minute for an office birthday and was inspired  by a McDonald's billboard advertising lattes.... that got me thinking about holiday flavors like peppermint and chocolate combined. Sooooo we have peppermint and coffee-spiked brownies with a layer of fudge on them, topped with whipped cream, crushed candy canes and a drizzle of chocolate syrup, just like your favorite holiday latte. With a fantastic Ghiradelli mix as the base, these couldn't be easier to put together! 

  • 2 boxes Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate brownie mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee or instant espresso
  • 1 tablespoon peppermint extract
  • 1 jar Smucker's Hot Fudge topping
  • 4 candy canes or a handful of peppermint hard candies, crushed
  • 3 cups whipped cream (homemade is best but I used canned for easier transport - almost 2 cans) 
  • Hershey's syrup or other chocolate syrup, for drizzling 

Heat the oven to 325. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with no-stick spray. Mix eggs, oil, water, coffee, peppermint extract and brownie mix until well blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. 

Let brownies cool for 30 minutes and spread softened hot fudge topping over the brownies. Let cool completely. 

To serve, cover brownies with whipped cream, sprinkle with crushed candies and then drizzle a little chocolate syrup over the whipped cream, just like a latte! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Savory Savoy Cabbage and Spinach

I bought a small head of savoy cabbage a few days ago and wasn't sure exactly what to do with it. I also had some fresh spinach that needed to be used up, so I combined them with some sliced sweet onions, garlic, ginger, hot pepper flakes and, of course, bacon. The combination was really good - the hint of ginger really makes a nice flavor addition without being overwhelming.

It's really easy to make too, just make sure that the knife you use to slice the cabbage is sharp! Mine wasn't and it slipped and nicked my finger! If you don't have a fine grater for the ginger, just mince it as finely as you can. If you can't find savoy cabbage, regular will be fine!

  • 4-6 ounces center cut bacon, diced 
  • 1 small head savoy cabbage 
  • 1/2 small sweet onion, sliced thinly
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced 
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced 
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves 
  • Generous pinch of dried chile flakes 
  • Kosher salt to taste 

Cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Discard all but two tablespoons of the drippings from the pan. While the bacon cooks, discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut the it in quarters. Cut the core from each quarter. Add the onions and cabbage to the skillet, stirring the break the cabbage into shreds. Cover and let cook for five minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. Add the ginger and then the spinach and cook for another few minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Taste and salt if needed. (You may not need any, depending on how salty your bacon drippings are.) Add the cooked bacon pieces back into the greens just before serving. This can be eaten as a side dish or a main dish.

Of course, this is a snap to make completely vegetarian. Omit the bacon and use two tablespoons olive oil or other oil instead of the bacon drippings.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Turtle Cheesecake

A colleague requested a cheesecake with caramel, chocolate and pecans for her birthday. After reading at least a dozen recipes, I liked none of them, so I came up with my own way to do this - a graham cracker crust made with brown sugar for extra caramel flavor, layers of caramel, chocolate and toasted pecans both top and bottom, and a rich, vanilla cheesecake layer. 

It's easier than it sounds, thanks to Smucker's Hot Fudge and Hot Caramel sauces. A lot of the recipes I read called for unwrapping Kraft caramels and melting them in evaporated milk - why do all that work when Smucker's has already done it? (Especially when caramels are hard to find in some areas when it's not Halloween!) 

So here it is - my version of Turtle Cheesecake. Remember there are secrets to helping a cheesecake turn out smoothly, without cracking - greasing the sides of the pan, adding cornstarch to stabilize the batter, not over-beating the eggs and adding a pan of water to the oven. If it still cracks, and it may, that's what whipped cream is for. You also won't be using the entirety of either jar of sauce - they will be useful if the cheesecake cracks despite your best efforts! 

Tip: Toast pecans while the cheesecake crust bakes! 

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs or Oreo crumbs
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine 

Heat oven to 350. Melt butter and stir in vanilla. With a fork, mix crumbs and brown sugar, being careful to eliminate any lumps. Combine butter and crumb mixtures. Press into the bottom only of a 9 inch springform pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool. 

  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted at 350 for 8-10 minutes and chopped coarsely 
  • 4  8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla 
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch 
  • 1 jar Smucker's Hot Fudge ice cream topping, at room temperature
  • 1 jar Smucker's Hot Caramel ice cream topping, at room temperature 

Dollop spoonfuls of the hot fudge and hot caramel onto the cooled crust. Swirl with a spatula and sprinkle with half the chopped toasted pecans. 

In a large mixing bowl at high speed, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugars until well mixed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until well mixed. Mix in the vanilla. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the batter and stir in by hand. Mix at high speed for 30 seconds.

Spray the ring of the cheesecake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour batter into pan. Drop more spoonfuls of the chocolate and caramel toppings onto the batter and swirl with a sharp-edged knife. Sprinkle with the remaining pecans. 

While you make the cheesecake batter, heat the oven to 350 again if you turned it off. Put a 9x13 baking pan or roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Bring at least 4 cups of water to a boil and pour into the pan BEFORE putting the cheesecake in the oven. Bake the cheesecake for 45 minutes and take out of the oven when it is just set in the middle. Let cool completely, at least two hours, and then refrigerate at least hours before serving. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tzatziki Sauce

No matter how you spell it, this Greek sauce is amazing. Bursting with fresh flavor, creamy and a little spicy at the same time, it's great with grilled chicken or lamb, with Zucchini Bites (as pictured) or just with pita bread/chips or fresh veggies for dipping. Of course, it's also the classic topping for gyros. My version is easy - the hardest part is letting it sit while you wait for the flavors to blend!

  • 1 large cucumber
  • 8 ounces plain Greek yogurt
  • 16 ounces fat-free sour cream
  • 3-4 cloves garlic 
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill or 3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint or 1 tablespoon, fresh mint, chopped 
  • Kosher salt 
 Shred cucumber with a food processor or box grater. Place in a strainer and sprinkle with one tablespoon kosher salt, tossing with a fork to distribute the salt. Let drain for an hour.

After the cucumber is well-drained, put in a bowl with the sour cream and yogurt. Mince garlic VERY finely and add to the bowl, along with the olive oil, vinegar, dill and mint, plus a few grinds of pepper. Mix well. Taste before adding any salt! The amount of salt already in the cucumber will vary, so taste the mixture and then add salt to taste, if any at all. Once the mixture is stirred together and salted correctly, cover and refrigerate at least an hour for the flavors to blend.

Note: As part of my goal to make recipes as accessible as possible, I've mixed sour cream and Greek yogurt - feel free to use all of one or the other. Greek yogurt costs a good bit more than sour cream, which is why I mixed them, and also why I am not a purist when it comes to fresh herbs. If you can't grow your own, they are often a waste of money because they are sold in such big bunches that they rot before they can be used. Dried is fine, especially in this recipe - just make sure to check them and toss when they lose their fragrance.

Zucchini Bites

I read through literally a dozen recipes for zucchini cakes and zucchini fritters, trying to find one that I liked. No luck, so I'm calling this one mine - it has elements of several, like the lemon zest in the Martha Stewart recipe, but I used bread crumbs instead of flour, so that they will have a little more texture. I didn't really want a pancake-y kind of thing, but more like a little appetizer/finger food "bite." I added green onions, lots of herbs and garlic and kept the fat for frying to a minimum. Serve with Tzatziki Sauce for dipping!

  • 4 cups shredded zucchini, with as much liquid pressed out as possible
  • 2 large eggs
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 green onions, white and green parts sliced thinly
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely minched
  • To taste, dried or fresh: dill, thyme, mint, oregano
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Olive oil for frying 
Heat oven to 400.  Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Whisk eggs, herbs to taste and 1 teaspoon salt and pepper together. In a large bowl, toss together shredded zucchini, lemon zest and juice, green onions and garlic. Stir in eggs. Mix in half of the bread crumbs. You may need the rest after cooking the test cake.

Heat a film of olive oil in a large skillet until it shimmers. Drop a small spoonful of the zucchini mixture into the olive oil and cook until golden brown on both sides. Use that to taste the mixture for seasoning and correct if needed. Because zucchini varies in its moisture content, the mixture may need additional bread crumbs. Cook the mixture in spoonfuls, transferring to the baking sheet when golden brown. When the baking sheet is full, bake 5 minutes in the oven to finish cooking. Continue frying and baking until the mixture is gone. Serve immediately.

Note: if you make larger patties, cook them for up to 10 minutes to make sure they are cooked through.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My Version of Alice Springs Chicken

Note that I don't say this is a copycat - it's not. I wasn't trying to exactly duplicate the dish, just make an at-home version that actually had a bit more flavor. The deli mustard adds a little more of a bite to the honey mustard sauce, which I liked. The Outback Steakhouse version has mushrooms in it, which JC hates - he orders them without it, so I didn't even consider including them in this version. If you want them, throw a cup of sliced mushrooms in with the bacon the last few minutes that it's cooking.

To make 6 servings:
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, sliced into strips, or chicken tenders 
  • Garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper 
  • 4 slices Swiss cheese, regular or reduced fat 
  • 6 ounces center cut bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon deli mustard 
  • 3 tablespoons honey
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and arrange chicken pieces in the pan. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and pepper. Spray the top of the chicken pieces with more cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the chicken bakes, cook diced bacon over medium high heat until crispy and drain well on paper towels. Combine mayo, mustards and honey and whisk well.

After 20 minutes in the oven, CAREFULLY drain liquid from chicken. Spread honey mustard over the chicken pieces and sprinkle with cooked bacon.  Tear the Swiss cheese in pieces and arrange over the chicken. Return to the oven for 10 minutes.

Outback serves this with fries, but JC always gets their rice pilaf, so I cooked a box of Uncle Ben's long grain and wild rice to go with it for him, as pictured; I had roasted spaghetti squash and steamed asparagus with my chicken.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rotini with Tomatoes, Feta and Roasted Swiss Chard

I found Swiss chard, both green and rainbow, at the Yellow Green Farmer's Market last week and grabbed a bunch of each. While looking for recipes, I found one for Roasted Swiss Chard with Feta at It sounded good, but I thought it needed more, and I wanted to make it into a main dish. After mentally playing with a few options, I thought garlic, tomatoes, seasoning and pasta would be good additions. I like Barilla Plus pasta because it's more nutritious than regular. Here's the result, a good vegetarian main dish or a hearty side for roasted chicken or pork. 

Chard is a lot of work. The stems are really tough and need a lot more cooking than the leaves. The leaves have to be stripped off the stems, and the stems chopped to be cooked longer than the leaves do. One more thing: for salads, sandwiches, etc., I will use reduced fat feta - don't try it for this. It won't melt the way the real stuff does.
  • 1 bunch green Swiss chard
  • 3/4 pound Barilla Plus Rotini pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons McCormick Roasted Garlic and Herb Seasoning 
  • 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, optional 
  • 4 ounces crumbled Garlic and Herb feta cheese
  • 1 14 ounce can petite diced tomatoes

Heat oven to 350. Wash the chard thoroughly. Strip the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems and combine with the garlic, onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil and one teaspoon McCormick seasoning. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and spread the stem mixture on it. Bake for 15 minutes.

While the chard cooks, chop the leaves and toss with remaining olive oil, seasoning and red pepper flakes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. 

After the 15 minutes, add the leaves to the baking sheet and mix with the stems. Sprinkle the feta all over and bake another 20 minutes. Toss the cooked pasta with the can of tomatoes and their juice and heat through. Toss with the Swiss chard mixture. Serve immediately.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Crispy Lemon Chicken

Crispy chicken is one of my favorite comfort foods, and believe it or not, it can be made with very little fat and still have the crispiness and juiciness of fried versions. JC loves lemon pepper chicken, so I wanted to work with those flavors. Philadelphia Cream Cheese makes a new flavor of cooking creme with lemon and herbs - thinned out with white wine and with shallots and pepper added, it makes a wonderful sauce for topping the chicken without adding too much in the way of fat and calories. I paired the chicken with asparagus and wild rice pilaf - the sauce is great on asparagus too!

To serve four:
  • 4-6 chicken cutlets or 4-ounce chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup Egg Beaters 
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs 
  • Zest of 1 lemon 
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste 
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1/4 cup Philadelphia Savory Lemon and Herb Cooking Creme
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 small shallot, minced 
Heat oven to 375. I use waxed paper to coat chicken - makes life much easier!! Put flour on waxed paper. In a shallow bowl, whisk together egg or Egg Beaters and water. On another piece of waxed paper, combine bread crumbs, lemon zest, pepper and garlic powder. Dip each piece of chicken in flour, then egg wash, and then in bread crumbs.

Line a baking sheet with a sheet of aluminum foil to make clean up easier. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken on foil, making sure pieces don't touch. Spray chicken with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minute or until an instant read thermometer reaches 165 degrees.

While chicken bakes, combine minced shallots and wine in a small saucepan. Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Let simmer over medium-low heat until wine is reduced by half. Stir in cooking creme and mix well. Keep warm.

When chicken is done, spoon a little sauce over each piece and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Four Cheese Au Gratin Potatoes

Is there anything that screams "comfort food" more than potatoes baked with creamy sauce and cheese? These were inspired by an anniversary dinner at the III Forks steakhouse at the Village of Gulfstream Park. Their Six Cheese Potatoes are amazing! I wanted to try to make something similar and couldn't find a single recipe with more than cheddar OR Swiss, with maybe some Parmesan thrown in. The menu doesn't detail what the six cheese are, so I guessed and adapted based on what I know JC will like (no blue cheese, for starters!). I didn't end up with six cheeses, but these were LOADED with cheesy goodness, flavor and I managed to reduce the fat of most recipes by swapping fat-free half-and-half for heavy cream, skim milk for 2% and using reduced fat cheeses. Trying to go for that steakhouse experience, I served these with NY Strip steaks and spinach sauteed with garlic and olive oil, but they'd be great with meatloaf, pork roast, baked chicken - anything that Grandma would have made.

The proportions below are for a 9 x 13 pan. Cut them in half to make an 8 x 8 pan full.
  • 6-7 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed well (I didn't peel mine, but do it if you want to) 
  • 2 cups fat-free half-and-half
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced finely
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced yellow onion (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 container light onion and chive cream cheese
  • 1 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar-jack cheese blend 
  •  2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper 
  • Paprika and/or parsley flakes, optional 
Heat oven to 375. Butter a glass pan with the two tablespoons butter. Slice potatoes into roughly 1/4 inch thick slices. (Don't worry about being perfect!)

In a bowl, combine half-and-half, milk, flour, garlic, onion, Parmesan cheese and white pepper.Whisk well to blend.

Layer half of the potatoes in the pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dot with half the cream cheese. Cover with half of the milk mixture. Sprinkle with half the shredded cheeses. Top with the rest of the potatoes, salted and peppered lightly, the cream cheese and the milk mixture. Reserve the rest of the shredded cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake covered for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, reduce heat to 350.  Remove the foil, stir VERY  carefully to make sure top layer of potatoes is covered in sauce, and bake another 20 minutes. Top with the remaining cheese and any parsley or paprika you want for color. Bake 10-20 minutes or until cheese is as done as you like it. If you like your cheese really browned, turn the broiler on for a couple of minutes.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spicy-Sweet Shrimp and Angel Hair

This is light and SO good. Thai Kitchen has a new Ginger-Chile sauce that was the inspiration for this on a night when I was looking for something different for dinner. This is very easy to make and comes together quickly, so have all the ingredients prepped and ready to cook. I used broccoli and red and orange bell peppers, because that's what I had on hand, but fresh cilantro, green onions and slivered carrots would all be excellent additions. Rice or rice noodles can be swapped for the angel hair if you prefer.

  • 4 servings angel hair pasta - I use Barilla Plus but any will work
  • 1 pound small shrimp (51-60 count, peeled and deveined) 
  • 3 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 large red or orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bottle Thai Kitchen Thai Chili and Ginger Sauce 
  • Juice of 2 navel oranges 
  • Cooking spray 
  • Garlic powder
  • Ground chiles or cayenne pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Angel hair cooks quickly, so once the pasta is in the water, heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Spray well with non-stick cooking spray. Add vegetables and shrimp. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes.

Add the entire bottle of Thai Kitchen sauce and the orange juice.  Raise heat to high and stir well. Let simmer for five minutes. Add ground chiles or cayenne to taste. (I made it pretty spicy!) Add drained, cooked pasta, mix well and let cook one more minute for flavors to blend. Serve immediately.