Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fruit Crumb Bars

A few weeks ago these Blueberry Crumb Bars started popping up all over my Google Reader. Turns out they were originally posted on the Smitten Kitchen blog (which is a new love of mine). After seeing these in so many blogs I decided that I had to make them, and D quickly agreed. I whipped these up one night after work and they were incredibly easy to make. They turn out moist and delicious, especially with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

These were so good in fact that I decided I needed to use this recipe with different fruit, in the name of science of course, to see if they were as good without the lovely berries. Luckily, this opportunity game faster than I thought it would. One of the women I work with has a peach tree and it was producing gorgeous, juicy peaches faster than she and her family could eat them, so she started bringing big bags of them to work. I took a couple of bags of them: we froze some, are eating some whole, and some of them became a peach crumb. I cut the peaches into thin slices, covered them in sugar and let them sit for a few minutes while I made the crumb part of this recipe. To make the peach crumb I simply followed the blueberry recipe and substituted the peaches for the berries. Both of these are incredible and I totally recommend you try these (if you haven't already). I'm hoping to get my hands on some apples soon and try this again (all in the name of science, of course).

Blueberry Crumb Bars

1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.
In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Trying My Hand at NOLA Cooking: Red Beans and Rice

D and I both take our lunch to work 5 days at week, which means that the same old standbys get really old really quick. To counteract this I've been trying to make a large batch of something on Sunday that at least one of us can eat for a few days. To counteract the boring same old lunch ideas I've been trying to find recipes for new dishes that I may not have made. This recipe, for red beans and rice, was recommended by a friend of mine on the What's Cooking board. It is from the blog Culinary Infatuation (which is written by Ally) and is actually for a healthier version of this classic New Orleans dish (hence why it was also in Joelen's NOLA blog event: which has some really tasty looking dishes).

I had never even had red beans and rice before, so I was a little intimidated making it. But it turns out I had nothing to worry about. This dish was incredibly easy to make and I actually found myself having fun making it. Not to mention it made the house smell really good! I had a little bit of an issue with finding some of the ingredients, some I could not find where I do my shopping (probably has something to do with where I live). I could not find turkey sausage at my store so mine is a little less healthy because I ended up using regular sausage. I didn't buy the hot sauce (I forgot to write it on my grocery list) but D said it was good without it, and I left out the celery, I just cannot make myself like this vegetable. I did buy Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning and I'm glad I did, it is really good! We've put it on chicken as well and it is really tasty.

This made a lot, but it was really good and D said it reheated pretty well for quite a few days. I definitely recommend this recipe, either my not-quite-so-healthy version or Ally's healthier version.

Red Beans and Rice
Ally says this makes 6 large servings, which is about what I had.

2 cups rice (I used white rice, Ally used brown rice)
2 cans dark red kidney beans drained and rinsed
1 cup bell pepper (I used green but any color will do)
1 medium onion finely diced
1 cup diced celery (I omitted)
3 garlic cloves minced
1 Tbs. canola oil (I used vegetable)
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
1 link turkey smoked sausage chopped into half moons (I used regular sausage)
5 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth/stock
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 Tbs (or more to taste) Tony Chachere's creole seasoning (I stuck with 1 Tbs because I was not familiar with the taste, next time I will use a bit more)
cayenne pepper to taste

Heat a large pot over medium heat and add canola oil. Add onions, peppers and celery (The Cajun Trinity) and saute about 5 minutes. Add sausage and saute about 3 minutes more. Add rice and garlic and stir occasionally for about 3-5 minutes until rice is toasted. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. When pot comes to a boil reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer 35 minutes. Uncover and mash some of the beans with a potato masher or a large spoon so mixture gets creamy. Cook uncovered for about 10-15 more minutes. Serve with pepper sauce.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Great Morning Muffins

I work about 45 minutes away from where we live, so every day I leave the house around 6:20 to get to work in time. Since I leave so early I don't have time to eat my breakfast at home (I do not want to wake up any earlier!) so I eat in the car. I quickly grew tired of pop tarts, dry cereal, and granola bars so I decided to start making a batch of muffins so that I would be able to take a couple to eat as breakfast during the week.

The first type I started with were these Sugar and Spice Muffins. I saw the recipe in my Google Reader from What's Cooking in the Orange Kitchen? and thought they looked really good. They got rave reviews over there and they did not disappoint! I thought they were really moist and had an interesting flavor. D did not really care for them, but we have different tastes on sweets, he is not a big fan of sugar cookies and shortbread while I am, I think these cookies fall into the same type of taste category. I would definitely recommend these, they are really great and I plan to make them again soon.

Sugar and Spice Muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Lightly grease 12 muffin cups.In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat together oil, 3/4 cup sugar, egg and milk. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture, just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

While muffins are baking, mix together 3/4 cup white sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. While muffins are still hot, dip tops in melted butter and then in cinnamon sugar mixture.

What's Cooking in the Orange Kitchen sites the original source for these as

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dinner Divas #1- Orange Mandarin Chicken

So two of the girls on the food board I go to for all the really great recipes there are decided to create a really neat food blog event for those of us who are too busy for a super-strict event. They named the group Dinner Divas. I've only done one blog event so far (I'm working on another one) but I've wanted to do more, but so many of them are really structured and have strict rules. So, the girls decided (with help from a lot of people on the board) that this group will have only one rule: there are no rules. Every month 2 members will pick 2 recipes (one from the Food Network and the other from another source) and you can make however many you want (if you even want to) and you can change them however you want. This month's event had some really tasty sounding recipes but I decided to make the Orange Mandarin Chicken from Cooking Light because it sounded really good and didn't seem too hard. However, I've never made a sauce before and really thought that I had messed this up until I saw someone else blog it yesterday and I realized that my sauce was actually just about right. But, since I thought it was messed up I just ended up basting the chicken in the sauce instead of pouring it all over. I thought the sauce could have used some more orange flavor (although I did leave out the jalapeno and didn't put in as much onion, so I'm thinking that could have changed the taste). The only other change I made was to use chicken drumsticks instead of breasts because that was what I had. This was pretty good, but I think I may look for a different recipe next time. Any suggestions?

Orange Mandarin Chicken

From Cooking Light- here on

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil (I used olive oil because that was what I had)
4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I used drumsticks)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges in light syrup, undrained
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper (I omitted)
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce 2 teaspoons cornstarch


Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned.
While chicken cooks, drain oranges in a colander over a bowl, reserving 2 tablespoons liquid. Add oranges, 2 tablespoons liquid, onions, jalapeño, and garlic to pan. Reduce heat; simmer 2 minutes. Combine broth, soy sauce, and cornstarch; add to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Outdoor Birthday Bash

Last weekend D and I went camping with his parents in honor of his dad's birthday. After the (I think) success of my cake for my mom I volunteered to make the cake. Well, I found this awesome cake on one of my favorite blogs and was all set to make it, until I saw the weather forecast. Last weekend here in Illinois was forecast to be HOT and HUMID, aka: not the best environment for taking a cake with butter cream icing and chocolate candy to eat at a campground. So, fairly late in the game, I hit the blogs to see what I could find. I had an idea in my mind from a magazine I saw that had a simple cake with whipped cream and fruit, so that was what I was looking for when I went to Kayte's blog (another one of my favorites). There I found this recipe for her Brown Sugar Pound Cake and I was sold. I've never made a pound cake before, so I was a little nervous but it came out great. The only problem I had was that I don't have a tube pan so I used my large loaf pan and the cake took a while to bake because it was so thick. Luckily, it did not dry out and turned out great. I topped it with some peach halves and some French Vanilla Cool Whip (too hard to make fresh whipped cream in a camper!).

This was really good and everyone seemed to like it. It is very rich, so a little goes a long way. Enjoy!

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, softened
2 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup of milk (Kayte used fat free half and half)
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10" tube pan (I used a loaf pan). In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugars and cream until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and then add to the butter mixture alternately with milk or half and half, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the vanilla. Fill prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (mine took longer). Cool cake completely, then remove from pan.

Kayte's recipe includes a rum sauce, which I didn't use. It sounds really good and I might make it next time I make this cake, the recipe is here.
To top the cake I used one large can of peaches and had one container of French Vanilla Cool Whip. You could use whatever combination you wanted, or even just eat the cake by itself.

A Great Grilled Meal

So one of the greatest things about being married to D is that he is a whiz at grilling things. Seriously, give him access to a grill and a stocked fridge/freezer and you will not go hungry. So not too long ago D was off while I was at work and decided to make dinner on the grill. So he went digging into the disaster area that is our freezer to see what he could find: frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts and a half empty bag of frozen mixed berries. Now, my mind probably never would have seen how the two could ago together, but this genius that I married set right to work, pureeing the berries and making awesome marinade for the chicken. Now, this night we actually put dinner on hold when his parents called to ask us to dinner, so the chicken sat in its fruity bath for about 24 hours and ended up turning a shocking purple color. I will admit I was slightly (or majorly) freaked out by the color and was really afraid of what the chicken was going to taste like: but it was so good! It was really moist and it didn't really taste like a berry. The fruit just provided a perfect accent to the mix of spices that D used. I definitely recommend this meal, it is really good!

Now, the other thing that D has made a few times now is his grilled baby carrots. These came about one day when he was searching for a side to go with our meal and I told him there were carrots in the fridge. At first he says he wondered if these would work, but his Eagle Scout brain kicked in and he reverted back to his Scouting days of making foil meals while camping. He ended up throwing these simple ingredients together and making an awesome side dish that I now beg him to make. We actually just had these again last weekend and I already want more: they are basically like crack to me now, I just want to take the whole bowl and go hide in a closet and eat them all myself.

So, before fall weather gets here, fire up your grill and try D's concoctions. I promise, they're great! What the chicken looked like after the marinade and before grilling.
Berry Spicy Chicken

Created by Doug

1/2 bag frozen mixed berries
5 big tablespoons sugar
1 - 1 1/2 cups Cranberry juice
7 chicken breasts (or really as many as you want)
Grill seasoning (to your taste)
Red pepper flakes (again, to your taste)
Mrs. Dash (to your taste)
Season salt (to your taste)

Place berried, sugar and a little water in food processor or blender and blend until they form a sauce (add more water in small amounts if necessary). Set aside.

Butterfly the chicken and pound flat. Add a little salt and pepper and let sit a few minutes.

Place the chicken in a bowl or plastic bag (whichever way you prefer to marinate meat) and add the berry mixture. Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cranberry juice.

Let marinate (ours sat for 24 hours, but at least an hour is best).

Remove the chicken from the marinade (pour it out) and place the chicken on a plate or platter.

Add the spices to your taste (the more you add the spicier it will be).

Grill the chicken until cooked.

Grilled Baby Carrots
By Doug

1 small bag Raw baby carrots
1 -2 tablespoons Butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the carrots in a sauce pan and cover with water, place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Allow the carrots to boil for 3 minutes.

Drain 90-95 % of the water off the carrots (keep a little).

Place the carrots in a large piece of aluminum foil (you'll want a good, heavy foil).

Cover with salt and pepper and cut the butter into chunks and place around the carrots.

Wrap the foil up into a pouch like shape.

Place on the grill. The cooking time will depend on how big your pouch is and how soft you like your carrots. A good idea is 10-12 minutes for a small pouch.