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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Best-Ever Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I don't have much to say about these cookies, except that they are THE BEST and I think Ryan loves me a little more each time I make them. I was first introduced to these in high school when one of my best friends made these and have been hooked since. They have the best flavor and the best texture...enough talking about them, just make them and see if you agree :)

Updated in November 2011--these are still a staple in our house each fall. I make a batch and we literally devour it within a few days...these little gems are just irresistible! Yes, they're full of sugar. And shortening. And chocolate chips. But pumpkin is a vegetable, so it all evens out right? That's what I tell myself after I eat 10 in a night! :) Try them, I dare you to find a better pumpkin cookie!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Colleen
-2 cups sugar
-15 oz. can of pumpkin puree
-1 cup shortening
-4 cups flour
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-2 teaspoons baking soda
-2 teaspoons cinnamon
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-12 oz chocolate chips (dark chocolate is especially good!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix sugar, pumpkin, and shortening in a large bowl until combined.
3. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the pumpkin mixture, blending well.

4. Drop large tablespoons of batter onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

**my friend always stored these in a container with a slice of bread to keep the cookies soft, but I never have and they've stayed soft...probably because we eat the entire batch before they have a chance to get hard!

**I usually make my cookies pretty small because they fall apart if they get too big but know that this recipe makes a LOT of cookies (I got 100 this time!), so just share with your friends...they'll be thrilled!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Veggie Stuffed Peppers

This was one of those dinners where I literally threw whatever I could find in the fridge into this dish in the hopes that it would all taste okay together. In this case, it did! I'd never made stuffed peppers before, but green peppers were on sale 4/$0.75, and I needed to use some of mine up before they went bad.

Typically stuffed peppers have ground beef or turkey in them, but I didn't have either on hand. I did have a few cans of beans that I could've used in the filling, but I was saving those for other recipes. So, instead I went with a veggie-based filling, and figured we'd get our protein from eating copious amounts of candy corn + peanuts later that night (the protein coming from the peanuts and not the candy corn, obviously).

For this "everything but the refrigerator" version of stuffed peppers, I did the following:

-3 green peppers
-2 cups of spinach
-2 celery stalks
-2 full-sized carrots
-2 roma tomatoes
-1 microwavable pouch of brown rice
-1 small can tomato sauce
-1 cup ricotta cheese
-garlic powder & dried parsley, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375. Cut the tops off of the green peppers and clean out the seeds and membrane. Set aside.
2. In a food processor, chop the spinach, celery, carrots, and tomatoes (could also chop by hand, it'll just take longer).
3. Microwave the brown rice and pour into a bowl.
4. Add the veggie mixture to the rice and stir to combine.
5. Add the ricotta and the tomato sauce and mix well. Sprinkle liberally with garlic powder and parsley and stir again.
6. Spoon the filling into each of the peppers. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until peppers are soft (ours were still a little crunchy after 30 minutes, but Ryan was headed out the door so we ate as is and they were fine)

For being a complete dinner on a whim, these turned out really well. They smelled great while cooking and were very flavorful. I was a little disappointed that the ricotta cheese couldn't really be tasted, but it did make the filling nice and creamy.

**Note: there was a lot of extra filling! we easily could have stuffed 2 more peppers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tortilla Pinwheels

When trying to determine what I all wanted to serve for game night, I found this yummy-sounding recipe. I liked that it could be made ahead of time and it was easy to make. These were a hit! I only tried one, but I had a few licks of the filling when I was putting it together. These were great dipped in salsa and could easily be altered with different fillings!

-8 oz sour cream
-8 oz cream cheese
-1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used a Mexican blend)
-4 oz chopped black olives
-4 oz chopped green chilies
-1 medium onion, chopped (I used half of a large one)
-8 tortillas (I used 10)
-1 bottle of salsa

1. Combine all ingredients but the salsa and tortillas in a mixing bowl and blend well.

2. Using a knife, spread a layer of the mixture on a tortilla.

3. Roll the tortilla up and place it in a container.
4. Continue until you run out of tortillas or filling (I filled 10 and still had some filling left over).

5. Refrigerate overnight and slice the next day.
6. Serve with salsa!

Yum! Perfect little appetizer bites! Thanks for sharing your recipe Abby!

Caramel Apple Dip

This post has been updated--see better pictures HERE!

This dip totally reminds me of my childhood. This is one of those foods I feel like my mom made a lot while we were growing up, and has since moved on to better and bigger things (ie. more gourmet foods). However, this is another one of the recipes she included in my wedding shower binder (that I explained here) and I hadn't yet had a chance to make it. Game night seemed like the perfect chance…who wouldn't like to celebrate the beginning of fall with some apples dipped in some creamy-sugary goodness? :) (side note: I don't think this tastes particularly like caramel, but that's what my mom called it, so I'm sticking with her name)

This dip is very sweet and so addicting! I suppose you could leave out the chopped peanuts if you have an allergy or something, but if not...Don't! They make it!

-8 oz cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat)
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 cup peanuts, chopped

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.
2. Keep cool in refrigerator until serving.
3. Serve with sliced apples.

I have a feeling we'll be eating a lot of apple dip this fall...

Chocolate Marshmallow Bars

I made these on a whim for game night because they were relatively easy to make and I like all things marshmallow (I'd seen them on the blog Dinner and Dessert). When I made them Thursday night, I didn't think they seemed like anything special. Then on Friday when I was cutting them and sneaking a few tastes, I thought they were pretty decent...good but not my favorite. However, they went over VERY well with my friends...several people commented on how much they liked them and a few guys even took the leftovers with them, saying they planned to eat them all on their drive home. So, I guess they were indeed quite good, I just wasn't feeling them that night!

Recipe, as found on Dinner and Dessert, here:

-3/4 cups butter
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-3 eggs
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 1/3 cups flour
-3 tablespoons cocoa
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup nuts, chopped (I omitted)
-4 cups miniature marshmallows

Topping Ingredients-
-1 1/3 cups chocolate chips (I just used 1 cup)
-1 cup peanut butter
-3 tablespoons butter
-2 cups rice krispies

1. Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.
2. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until fluffy.
3. Combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a separate bowl and add to the creamed mixture.
4. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan.
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 350 degrees (I baked for closer to 20 because the middle wasn't setting)
6. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the marshmallows over the cake. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes.
7. Again, remove the pan from the oven and use a wet knife to spread the marshmallows evenly over the cake. Cool.
8. Melt peanut butter, butter, and chocolate over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly, until combined and fully melted.
9. Stir in the rice krispies until they are fully coated in the chocolate mixture.
10. Immediately spread over bars. Chill bars until ready to serve.

**Sorry, I meant to take step by step pictures of this recipe, but completely forgot!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Super Easy Spinach Dip

A few weeks ago we had a work picnic that was potluck-style. If you'll recall, I made these. There was a great variety of dishes there, including some chinese desserts that I loved! This spinach dip was one of the "classics", and I definitely had more than my fair share of servings. I love spinach in all forms, but put it in a dip like this or spinach artichoke dip, and I'm extra happy! However, I've never actually made spinach dip before, so I asked my co-worker for her recipe and she told me she just used the one on the Knorr Vegetable Soup mix box. I went to the grocery store that afternoon to grab the ingredients and added this to the list of things I was making for game night!

Knorr's Spinach Dip (aka super easy spinach dip!)

-1 (10 oz) package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
-1 cup sour cream (I used light)
-1 cup mayo (I used light)
-1 (4 oz) package of Knorr vegetable soup mix (2 come in the box so I'll be making this again soon!)
-1 (8 oz) can water chesnuts, finely chopped
-3 green onions, finely chopped
-Loaf of pumpernickel bread (the grocery store only had rye, so this is what I used)

1. Squeeze spinach until dry.
2. Mix together spinach, sour cream, mayo, and soup mix.
3. Stir in water chestnuts and green onions.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I kept mine in there overnight).
5. Hollow out the loaf of bread and fill with spinach dip.
6. Cut the bread filling into cubes and use as dippers.

**You could also use crackers or vegetables as dippers!

Praline Party Mix

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My mom is famous for this recipe. I don't think she can take it anywhere without someone asking her to share the recipe. This is a staple at any family party or social gathering that my mom hosts, and she's constantly being asked to bring it to share. In fact, her personal trainer loves it so much she always makes him a big batch at Christmas. Now this is not exactly healthy, so you know it's good when the personal trainer can't get enough of it!

The best part about this recipe is that you can make it up to a week ahead of time. So long as its stored in a sealed container, it'll taste fresh for days. I made it on a Monday to serve on a Friday and it tasted great. In fact, I've been chowing down on it today and it's still great (wish it were out of my house already, I can't stay away!)

This praline mix is not difficult to make and one batch yields a ton (but believe me, you'll want it all!). This is perfect for a party or to store in your cabinet to snack on. Enjoy!

Praline Party Mix
1 bag of pretzels (sticks, rounds, or knots)
1 box Crispex cereal
3 cups whole pecans
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine pretzels, cereal, and pecans in a large bowl and set aside (I didn't have a bowl big enough so I split evenly between two)
2. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt until it boils, stirring constantly. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring from time to time (the mixture will bubble and froth).

3. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla.
4. Pour the mixture over the cereal mix and stir until well coated.
5. Lay the cereal mixture in a large roasting pan or on cookie sheets and bake in the oven at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and spread mixture on wax paper until cool. Store in containers with lids or ziploc bags until ready to eat!

Beware of its addicting powers!

Game Night Snacks

This is just a preview post of what's to come...

Friday night we had some friends over for a game night and I made several different snacks for people to munch on throughout the night. I'll be posting these recipes over the next few days, or as soon as I can get them up.

To give you an idea of what recipes are coming (I'll add the links once I've posted them all):

Candy Corn & Peanuts (no recipe here, but this is the best combo ever, especially if you're a candy corn addict like myself!)

Stay tuned, I'll get them up soon :) That's all I have for the weekend, we've spent the rest of the weekend eating leftovers and getting food from other places (yummy Thai food at a new-to-me thai place last night, AWESOME bread from a local bakery at the 5k we volunteered at this morning)...it's been a nice break from cooking, but I'll be back in the kitchen soon!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Double Oat Breakfast Cookies

When I was asked to bring a breakfast item to our church women's event this Saturday, I immediately starting thinking about all of the quick breads, muffins, and coffee cakes that I have bookmarked in my google reader to make. Then, I remembered that I had pulled a breakfast cookie recipe out of a Better Homes and Garden magazine awhile ago. Cookies for breakfast? Who wouldn't like that?!

These cookies are great for breakfast or anytime! They aren't super sweet and taste pretty healthy, thanks to the whole wheat flour and minimal amount of sugar. These were easy to make although the dough was very sticky to work with, even after chilling for about 45 minutes. There were plenty of these cookies left over and the girls were happy to take them off my hands, so I'd say they were a hit!

Double Oat Breakfast Cookies
*the recipe said it would make 48 cookies, I got about 42-44 cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour (I used half whole wheat & half all-purpose)
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup raisins and/or milk chocolate pieces (I used both)
3 cups round toasted oat cereal (I used Kashi Heart-to-Heart cereal)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat butter and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.
3. Add sugar, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl.
4. Beat in water, egg, and vanilla until combined.
5. Beat in flour until combined.
6. Beat in oats until combined. Stir in raisins/chocolate and cereal.
7. Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls about 3 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until edges are lightly brown.
8. Cool on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in a tightly covered container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to three months.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cinnamon Cranberry Almond Oat Pancakes

Whew that's quite a mouthful! People that know me know of my obsession with pancakes. While I love all breakfast foods, pancakes probably remain at the top. My usual go-to pancake is banana chocolate chip, mostly because it's like eating dessert for your meal! However, awhile ago, Ryan made cranberry almond pancakes that we both loved. Recently, I started craving pancakes again (never mind the fact that I had them a week ago) and found a recipe for cinnamon oat pancakes on the blog Cooking with Christine. I decided to use this as my base and add almonds and cranberries to it, hence the super long title!

These pancakes are very hearty and the recipe makes a ton! We still have a huge stack of them sitting in a ziploc in the fridge. I loved the nutty, chewyness the pancakes have as a result of the oats and whole wheat flour, not to mention the almonds! While I typically prefer my pancakes very thin, I didn't mind the density of these. I couldn't really taste the cinnamon in there, probably because the almonds and cranberries overpowered it, so if I made this exact recipe again, I might eliminate. I will definitely be trying this recipe with bananas and chocolate chips :)

Recipe-adapted from Cristine

-2 cups flour (I used 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
-1/4 cup packed brown sugar
-1 tablespoon baking powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-2 cups old fashioned oats
-2 cups milk (I used skim)
-2 large eggs
-1/4 cup vegetable oil (next time I'll try applesauce)
-1/4 cup water (I added this to thin them out a bit :))
-1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped
-1/2 cup cranberries, chopped (I would increase this to a cup next time, but it was all we had left)

1. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and 1 cup of oats in a food processor. Pulse until oats are ground.
2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, and oil. Add dry ingredients plus the other cup of oats.
3. Stir in almonds and cranberries.(I must note again that my life has been greatly improved by my food processor! Chopping is such a piece of cake!)

4. Cook pancakes on a hot griddle and enjoy!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Apricot Bran Bread

I still have a pretty full box of Bran Flakes left and I wanted to do something different than muffins this time. After some online searching, I found several recipes for Apricot Bran bread. I was intrigued by this recipe, as it has you mix all of the ingredients but the flour and then let it sit out overnight (it didn't say anything about refrigerating, but Ryan was not a fan of leaving it out on the counter, so I put it in the fridge overnight...I didn't want to be forced to eat the 2 loaves by myself!). Furthermore, this bread recipe has no eggs or oil, which is pretty atypical for a quick bread (aka super low fat). Intrigued, I opted to give it a go and boldly doubled the recipe (trying to get rid of milk before it goes bad!).

Two nights ago, I mixed the bread up and then I actually finished the bread off the next morning before heading into work. I guess there are some benefits to being up at 5 am every day! This bread turned out wonderfully and I'm pretty happy we now have an extra loaf waiting for us in the freezer! It's a very short, dense bread with sort of a gummy texture which might turn a lot of people off. However, we really liked the texture and flavor. On our way out the door to work, we both tried a bite of it warm and liked it...but both liked it better that night after it sat in the fridge all day. This is definitely different than the usual quick bread, but it was a nice change and I know the first loaf won't last long!

Apricot Bran Bread
adapted from this recipe

Ingredients: (for 2 loaves)
-2 cups bran flakes
-2 cups milk
-1 1/2 cups brown sugar
-2 cups chopped, dried apricots (I used my food processor for this)
-2 tablespoons honey
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1 cup whole wheat flour

1. Put the bran flakes, milk, sugar, apricots, and honey in a bowl. Cover and let it sit out overnight.
2. The next day, add the flour and mix well.
3. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans.
4. Bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees (or until a toothpick comes out clean)

Day 1: All ingredients except the flour

Day 2: Flour added, all mixed up

Ready for the oven...and forgot to take a picture upon removal :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Frozen Peanut Butter Pie

I love frozen desserts (actually, if you haven't realized it yet...I'm a fan of ALL desserts!) and have seen several different versions of frozen peanut butter pie. I'd saved a few different recipes and combined them to create the version below. I used low-fat versions of many of the ingredients to lighten it up some and it was still incredibly rich and didn't taste low-fat in the least bit! This was for our Wednesday night community group, but I made it on Sunday and kept it in the freezer covered in foil. I had no problems cutting it into slices and it was a hit among our group! I will definitely be making this again, and think it would be excellent if chopped up Reese's peanut butter cups were added to the filling.

Frozen Peanut Butter Pie
recipe by me, adapted from tons of versions found online

For the crispy crust-
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups rice krispy cereal

For the peanut butter filling-
1 cup milk (I used skim)
8 oz cream cheese (I used 1/3 less fat & only had about 7 oz)
1 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 carton cool whip (I used low-fat)

1. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate chips in the microwave, stir to remove lumps.
3. Add the cereal and mix carefully until the cereal is coated in the chocolate.
4. Press the cereal into the bottom of the springform pan and place in the freezer while making the filling.

5. Using a mixer, mix the milk, cream cheese, peanut butter, and powdered sugar until combined. Mix in the cool whip.

6. Pour the filling into the springform pan. If desired, top with candies or chocolate syrup (I topped with crushed peanut butter m&ms).

7. Cover and freeze for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, remove from freezer and slice. (I had no problems cutting into this although it was kind of hard to break through the crust with a fork while eating. Totally worth the extra effort though :))

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eggplant Lasagna

Funny little fact: Ryan ordered eggplant parmesan on our very first date. To remind him of this momentous occasion, I like to prepare eggplant as often as possible! Actually, we've discovered that giant eggplants are ridiculously cheap at our local farmer's market so I've started to take advantage and incorporate eggplant into more of our meals. I found this recipe in my Real Simple magazine and decided to give it a shot, especially since it called for using a food processor and I'm obsessed with my new favorite kitchen tool :)

The great thing about this dish is that it can be prepared ahead of time. I actually made the lasagna on Sunday afternoon when I had some free time and kept it covered in the fridge until tonight when we ate it. I was thrilled to come home tonight, knowing all I had to do was stick it in the oven and thankfully, it still tasted incredibly fresh! It was a little runny, and I'm not sure what caused that, but it didn't affect that taste at all. This wasn't my favorite way to eat eggplant, but overall I liked it.

Eggplant Lasagna (recipe adapted from the September issue of Real Simple and can be found here)

See below for most of the process in pictures!

1/2 lb plum tomatoes, halved and seeded (I used 5, which was slightly more than 1/2 lb)
1 clove garlic (I doubled, we love garlic!)
4 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt & black pepper
2 eggplants (about 3 lbs), sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick (I used 1 giant eggplant and didn't even use the whole thing)
1 cup ricotta
1 large egg
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (I used dried)
1/4 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan (we were almost out, I just sprinkled what we had left on top)
~1-2 cups spinach

1. Heat broiler. In a food processor, puree the tomatoes, garlic, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
2. In 2 batches, arrange the eggplant on a broilerproof baking sheet, brush with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (I didn't measure this, just sprinkled away) Broil until charred and tender, 3-4 minutes per side.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, basil, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
4. Spread half the tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. On top of it, layer a third of the eggplant and half the ricotta mixture. Add a layer of spinach. Repeat with another layer of eggplant and ricotta. Add another layer of spinach. Top with the remaining eggplant and tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese.
5. If baking immediately, heat oven to 400 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes. If making ahead, cover well and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you're ready to bake it, reheat at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. (mine took xx minutes)

Real Simple tells you to serve this lasagna with mixed greens, drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Instead, I added greens to the dish itself. I loved the addition of spinach to the lasagna, but I'm sure it would be good either way!

Making the sauce via my food processor :)

sliced eggplant, pre-broil

and post-broil

the ricotta mixture

Layer 1, sauce + eggplant

a layer of spinach

ricotta added in
after all of the layering, topped with the remainder of the sauce

sprinkled with cheese and ready to bake

messy to cut and attempt to photograph, but that didn't affect the taste :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mediterranean Skillet

Ryan and I both LOVED this dinner. We're big fans of anything mediterranean flavored and this certainly fit the bill. My sister Julia emailed me this recipe last week, saying she'd made it and enjoyed it, and upon reading the recipe, I knew it was something I would also like. I'm not sure where she got the recipe from, and I adapted it slightly, so I'm going to post my version below.

This was easy to prepare and took less than thirty minutes start to finish. After a busy weekend, this was just what I was looking for! The recipe says it serves 4, and we probably have 1 1/2 servings left...for sure enough to eat tomorrow night for dinner if we supplement it with something else. Yea leftovers!

Mediterranean Skillet
serves 4

2 medium skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 14 oz can of quartered artichoke hearts
approximately 1/2 6 oz can black olives (I cut the olives into fourths)
1/2 tsp dried italian seasoning (I didn't have this and instead used spices I had on hand...I made sure to add some red pepper flakes which gave the dish a nice kick)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups spinach (the recipe Julia sent me called for romaine or mesclun mix)
handful crumbled feta cheese

1. In a 10-inch skillet cook and stir chicken and garlic in hot oil over medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until chicken is brown.
2. Stir in tomato, artichoke hearts, olives, and spices.

3. Bring mixture to boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes (covered) or until chicken is no longer pink.
4. Add spinach and cover until spinach is wilted. Sprinkle on feta cheese.

5. Serve on top of or alongside of crusty italian or french bread (we served with the LAST of our bagels)

(as always, excuse the terrible picture...but know the taste far exceeds the view :))