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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Twelve in Ten Challenge: Ari's Restaurant

I got this post done just in the nick of time, being the last day of February and all. It's been such a crazy short month with Ryan and I both traveling for business as well as the weekend trip to IL. Before I knew it the month was nearing its end and I still hadn't completed one of my goals for my Twelve in Ten Challenge (new readers, you can find more info about that here). To make things easy, we opted to hit up one of our restaurant picks rather than tackle one of the hands-on goals. Our restaurant of choice: Ari's Greek Restaurant.

This restaurant made the list for no other reason than the fact that we'd driven by several times and I would always say "hey we should go there sometime"...mostly because it's a Greek restaurant and also because they have an outdoor seating area that always looks so appealing in the spring and summer. Ari's does not have a website so we were unable to check out a menu or glean any more information about the restaurant. Essentially, we went into it totally blind.

The restaurant is made up of several different rooms, but in total the restaurant itself isn't that huge. It also had a little bar area where a number of people were sitting and I believe carry-out orders were being picked up. The room we were in was fairly intimate and we had parties on both sides of us, so I was a little self-conscious about bringing out my camera and only took quick pictures of our food.

Ryan and I love Greek food and have a special love for gyros. There's a great hole in the wall place near our house that serves giant gyros that are absolutely fabulous for a nominal price. So we had high hopes for the gyros at this little restaurant. I wasn't all that hungry so we opted to get the giant greek salad and then the large gyro plate to share. Our waitress assured us that this would be enough food for the two of us.

They did give us a basket of sliced bread when we sat, which we nibbled on while taking in the sights and sounds around us. Ari's is anything but fancy, it's probably a place that gets steady business from its regulars (we had a group of them sitting to the right of us) and then a few other stragglers, like us. In fact while we were eating, one gentleman entered the restaurant asking if they served pizza. The waitress was quite adamant that they do NOT serve pizza and teasingly questioned him, "Don't you like Greek food?". That being said, the menu had a number of both Greek and American dishes on it (everything from flaming cheese--which we saw two tables order--to hamburgers to a rack of lamb).

Our waitress brought out our salad first (pictured below) and we were a little disappointed. Ryan and I both love a good Greek salad and Ryan is particularly picky about his, having actually spent some time in Greece. This salad was fairly large, but consisted of mostly lettuce. The feta was severely lacking and I believe there were a total of 3 olives on the entire salad. Even so, I really liked the dressing and we had no problem finishing it off.

Shortly thereafter, we were brought the gyro plate. Contrary to what our waitress said, the serving wasn't huge (probably enough for one, but not necessarily plenty to share, had I been super hungry), especially when compared to our favorite gyro place. However, there was a fair amount of feta on the dish, unlike the salad. The lamb was perfectly seasoned and wasn't as greasy as our usual place, which I appreciated. The tzatziki sauce was great as well, and you can't mess up warm pita bread :)

All in all, it was an okay dinner, but I have to say Ari's didn't meet my high hopes. The food was good enough, just not worth making a trip back for, especially when we can get our favorite gyros for twice the size just down the block. The prices were reasonable, but again, not worth returning. I'm still glad we tried it--you can't win them all--and now I don't have to drive by anymore, wondering how Ari's fares.

Ari's Greek-American Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 27, 2010

White Chicken Chili

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I've had a craving for white chicken chili and have been meaning to make it, so I was delighted when we visited my parents for the weekend and my mom had it on the menu. My mom gets all the credit for this recipe, which she got in a cookbook her friend's neighbors created to raise money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. My mom actually did steps 1-3 early in the day, then reheated before dinner, adding the chicken and cheese. We only garnished our soup with sour cream, since the avocados were used in the salad I posted yesterday :) I thought this soup was delicious and I loved the switch from typical red chili. I will definitely be using this as my go-to white chili recipe from now on!

White Chicken Chili
from Bearpath's Cookbook for the Cure
-1 cup chopped onions
-1 tbsp olive oil
-2 (4 oz) cans green chilies
-1 tbsp ground cumin
-1 tsp dried cilantro or coriander
-1 tbsp dried oregano
-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
-3 (15 oz.) cans white beans, drained
-3 (14 oz.) cans chicken stock
-3 chicken breast halves, cooked and chopped
-2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
-optional garnishes: sour cream, salsa, and avocado

1. In a large stock pot over medium heat, saute onions in oil 10 minutes.
2. Stir in chilies, cumin, cilantro (coriander), oregano, and cayenne.
3. Add beans and stock and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Add chicken and cheese and gently heat just to boiling.
5. Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Schulz's Guacamole Salad

Avocados, and consequently guacamole, are one of those foods I could eat daily. I can't think of a more delicious way to add some healthy fats to your diet! My mom tried this recipe for the first time while we were home last weekend and we all loved it. She has no clue where it came from, it was ripped out of some newspaper a long time ago. It's a fun variation on a salad, and any guacamole lovers will love this! I think I'll make this as a main dish sometime and add some chicken or shrimp, as well as some peppers.

Schulz's Guacamole Salad
**makes 4-6 servings

-1 head iceberg lettuce
-1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
-1/4 cup grated Monterey jack cheese
-1/2 cup chopped green onions
-tomatoes, sliced as garnish
-dressing (recipe below)
-1 cup crushed tortilla chips (the original recipe called for Fritos)

Dressing Recipe:
-1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and mashed
-1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-1/2 cup sour cream (we used light sour cream)
-1/3 cup corn oil
-1 tbsp picante sauce

1. Tear lettuce into small pieces, and combine with cheeses, green onions, and tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate in salad bowl until serving time.
2. To make dressing, combine all ingredients and mix well.
3. Toss salad with dressing and sprinkle top with crushed chips.

**this post is linked to Foodie Friday

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Apple Cheddar Turkey Burgers

I love turkey burgers in all forms. They're good when they're prepared simply, but I love to soup them up in different ways too. This recipe was inspired by some meatballs my friend Ashley made at one of our monthly girl's dinners. I'm not sure what recipe she used, but the turkey meatballs included apple, cheddar, and dried cranberries. I adopted a similar theme and was pleased with the results, although I really wish I'd had time to make a cranberry sauce to top the burgers with. That would've put these over the top! These burgers were incredibly moist and juicy, I'm guessing from the addition of the apple. We topped these with more sliced apple, but next time I'll add cranberry sauce and a slice of sharp cheddar as well!

Apple Cheddar Turkey Burgers
*makes 3 turkey burgers

-1/2 lb ground turkey
-1/4 green apple, diced
-3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
-3-4 green onions, chopped
-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
-splash of Worchestershire sauce
-sprinkle of garlic powder
-1/3 cup whole wheat flour (approximate)

1. In a large bowl, mix turkey, apple, parsley, green onions, cheese, Worchestershire, and garlic powder.
2. Using hands, make sure all ingredients are well combined. Add flour a little at a time under the mixture is thick and dry enough to form patties, but still very moist.
3. Create 3 equal-sized patties with your hands.
4. Over medium heat, cook burgers on a grill pan, flipping after several minutes and allowing the other side to cook.
5. Remove burgers from heat, serve on buns with sliced apple and other condiments and garnishes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Peanut Butter Chip Brownies

Since the pudding that I blogged about yesterday turned out to be a bust, or at least too embarrassing to serve to guests, I came home from work last Wednesday in need of a quick dessert. Normally I like to decide what I'm going to make and then search the internet for a really well-liked recipe for that dish. In this instance, there was no time to mess around and ponder the various recipes (I'm weird, I know). It has been awhile since I'd made brownies and I had half a bag of peanut butter chips sitting in my freezer and this recipe from Hershey's came to the rescue.

I've never blended cream cheese into brownie batter before so I thought that was an interesting addition. These came out very moist and more fudgy than cakey, but not nearly as fudgy as my favorite brownies. I thought they were best when warm out of the oven, but Ryan and I each took some to our co-workers the next day and they seemed to still be well-liked a day later.

Irresistible Peanut Butter Chip Brownies

-1 cup butter or margarine, softened
-3 oz. cream cheese (I used 4 oz. of 1/3 less fat cream cheese)
-2 cups sugar
-3 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1 cup flour
-3/4 cup cocoa
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp baking powder
-1 2/3 cup peanut butter chips

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.
2. Beat butter, cream cheese, and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Gradually add to wet mixture, beating well. Stir in peanut butter chips.
4. Pour batter into greased pan, using a spatula to spread evenly.
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan (mine took almost 45 minutes)

*The recipe online also includes brownie frosting, but in the interest of time, I excluded it! Besides, nothing beats the ganache from the Ghirardelli brownies!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Homemade Pudding-Take 1

As pathetic as this might make me sound, one of my favorite foods from the dining hall in college was the pudding they offered. Hmm, maybe that just makes our college dining hall sound pathetic. Either way, I was no stranger to the pudding bowl ironically found on the salad bar. I usually steered away from the chocolate or vanilla and instead opted for pistachio or, even better, banana pudding, which I then supplemented with oreo cookie chunks from the ice cream station. I cringe when I think of how many bowls of pudding I consumed in my three and a half years of college. Eh, moderation in everything, right? Granted, I struggle with obeying that mantra from time to time (read on to find out why).

More than two years out of college now, I have hardly thought about bowls of pudding...that is until one day last week when I found myself with a large container of milk that was getting ready to expire. Faced with eating countless bowls of cereal or making a batch of homemade pudding, I opted for the pudding figuring I'd serve it at our weekly community group with freshly whipped cream. With my decision made, I set about to make the pudding and found this recipe on Lynn's Kitchen Adventures.

To make a long story short, homemade pudding is a food for the patient in heart. My pudding took a long time to thicken...I stirred and stirred and stirred and was about to throw in the towel when magically it thickened before my eyes. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure I either cooked it over too high of heat or that I put it in the fridge too soon. When I eagerly dug in with a spoon later that night, I was confused. I didn't make tapioca pudding, did I? Nope, definitely not. And yet my pudding was full of lumps! Hopeful, I thought maybe when I woke up the next morning the lumps would have magically disappeared. No such luck!

Not wanting to subject my friends to lumpy pudding, I made another dessert (to be posted soon). And then I was left with a giant batch of lumpy chocolate pudding. I've never been bothered by texture, so the lumps didn't present any sort of a problem for me. In fact, the pudding still tasted absolutely delicious--creamy (wherever the lumps weren't present, ha), chocolately, and without any of that fake, manufactured pudding taste. Here's where that lesson in moderation comes in...it took me two days to finish off that pudding. TWO. All by myself (Ryan helped with maybe 3 bites). While the pudding really is THAT good, it is definitely not intended to be consumed in vast amounts and in such a short period of time. Lesson learned.

And in case you're wondering, I WILL be attempting homemade pudding once again. Don't let my tale of the lumps scare you, this recipe is definitely worth a shot! In fact, please make it, I want to hear some success stories!

Homemade Double Chocolate Pudding

-1 cup sugar
-6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
-1/2 cup cornstarch
-1/8 tsp salt
-5 1/4 cups milk
-4 tbsp butter
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. In a saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Place over medium heat and stir in milk.
2. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.
3. Remove from heat and stir in butter, chocolate chips, and vanilla. Stir until chocolate chips have melted.
4. Serve warm, or chill in refrigerator until serving.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pesto Roasted Vegetables

I was looking for a different vegetable side dish and decided to get creative with a jar of pesto we had in our fridge. This was so simple, but I loved it. Roasted veggies are probably one of my favorite ways to eat vegetables and the pesto put them over the top! I'm sure homemade pesto would be equally wonderful, but I went the easy route this time. We ate them over wilted spinach, another one of my favorite vegetables (weird, I know). I think broccoli and cauliflower were good options for the pesto, but I'm curious to try pesto on other vegetables. Brussel sprouts or mushrooms maybe?

Pesto Roasted Vegetables

-2 cups of chopped raw vegetables (I used broccoli and cauliflower)
-2 tbsp pesto

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place vegetables on pan in a single layer.
3. Brush pesto onto the vegetables. Sprinkle with pepper.
4. Roast for 30-35 minutes in the oven, flipping vegetables halfway through.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup

When I went to my friend Paige's for our girl's dinner and brought margarita pie, she made us this soup for dinner. I love mexican anything, and this soup was no exception. Moreso, it's a crockpot recipe. Bonus! Turns out it's from A Year of Slow Cooking, where I've found several other crockpot recipes featured on this blog.

I made this last weekend and enjoyed lounging around the house while my crockpot did all the work, emitting yummy smells into the air all afternoon. When the cook time was up, I was more than ready to dig in, and that we did! Julia and Ryan loved this soup as much as I did. I highly recommend stirring in a little sour cream before eating; it adds an extra little bit of creaminess. We topped ours with cilantro and shredded cheddar, but next time I'll also add some avocado slices.

Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup
recipe adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking

-1 lb chicken breasts
-2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
-3-4 cups chicken broth
-1 1/2 cups frozen corn
-1 jar medium salsa (16 oz)
-1 1/2 tsp cumin
Topping Possibilities: sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, cilantro, avocado, crushed tortilla chips, etc.

1. Place all ingredients (with the exception of the toppings) in a crockpot.
2. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 6-8 hours.
3. With 2 forks, shred chicken. Stir to combine and spoon into bowls. Top with preferred garnishes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cranberry Almond Pancakes with Orange Zest

As I've mentioned several times, we (me especially!) are big pancake lovers and particularly enjoy getting creative with our pancake recipes. These are another Ryan creation, although he used a recipe as a guideline, doubling it and adding orange zest to mimic that cranberry orange flavor we love. These are actually quite similar to these pancakes that I posted, with a few ingredient swaps. Like I said, we love our pancakes...and we loved these!

Cranberry Almond Pancakes with Orange Zest
adapted from Recipezaar
**makes 12-14 pancakes

-1 1/2 cups milk
-2 tbsp melted butter
-2 eggs
-2 cups whole wheat flour
-4 tsp baking powder
-4 tbsp sugar
-2 tsp sugar (for cranberries)
-1 tsp salt
-1 cup frozen cranberries
-1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds, chopped
-zest from one orange

1. Beat milk, melted butter, and eggs together in a bowl.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, 2 tbsp sugar, and salt together in a separate bowl and add them to the wet ingredients mixing just enough to wet the flour.
3. Chop cranberries, place in microwave safe bowl, and sprinkle with the 2 tsp of sugar. Microwave on high and stir every 15 seconds until the cranberries start to bubble. Let cool and add to the pancake mixture.
4. Add chopped almonds and orange zest to the batter, stirring to combine. If the batter appears too thick or dense, dilute with water, stirring after each small addition of water until desired density is reached.
5. Prepare and heat griddle. Pour 1/4 cup of batter at a time onto the griddle and cook until the surface bubbles and the edges get crusty. Flip and allow the other side to cook.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chipotle Stuffed Chicken

I can't tell you much about this recipe, because it's actually a Ryan creation that he invented while I was in Seattle. Being the excellent husband-to-a-food-blogger that he is, he took photos of it while I was gone AND graciously dictated the steps he took to make this. Both he and Julia loved this chicken and he's already promised to make it again sometime for me. Just looking at the pictures makes me hungry...maybe the wrong McLaury has a food blog! ;)

(By the way, that other thing on the plate is another one of his creations. He sauteed some green apples and onions then stuffed it in a pita pocket, added cheddar cheese, and toasted it in the toaster oven until the cheese was nice and melty. He and Julia also had good things to say about this unconventional side dish!)

Chipotle Stuffed Chicken

-4 chicken breasts
-1 cup fresh spinach leaves
-1/4 cup chopped red onion
-1/4 cup chopped cilantro
-chipotle lime marinade (store-bought)

1. Cut into each chicken breast, clam-shell style, leaving one edge intact.
2. Open each chicken breast where cut and stuff with spinach, red onion, and cilantro. Pour a little bit of marinade on top of the ingredients inside the chicken.
3. Place each chicken breast in a bowl and cover generously with marinade. Allow to sit and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. Cook chicken in a skillet over medium heat. Keep the skillet covered and flip the chicken after approximately 6-8 minutes, allowing the other side to cook.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sugar Cookie Bars

**Guest Post on Eating Bender now up....check it out here!

Remember these adorable cupcakes? After Julia finished her decorating, there was quite a bit of leftover frosting. Since she'd used multiple colors on the cupcakes, there were multiple colors left over, which I combined in a large bowl and stuck in the fridge, determined not to let it go to waste. A few days passed and I opted to make sugar cookie bars for our weekly community group. I pulled the frosting out of the fridge, popped it open, and was a little disappointed when I saw what I'd forgotten--the mixture of frosting colors was nasty!! I did my best to doctor it up, adding red and blue food coloring until I got the half-ugly but at least bearable purple color you see above :)

Ugliness aside (I only have Christmas sprinkles these days, ha), these sugar cookie bars were still delightful, and much easier than the usual rolling and cutting associated with sugar cookies. They were so good, in fact, that Julia and Ryan both emailed me while I was in Seattle to herald their excellence. The night I returned home I was able to see for myself--they were both sick to their stomachs from eating so much sugar cookie and I happily took some of the task off of their hands. Soon I joined the tummy ache club; these are irresistible. Don't waste any more time reading--go make these!

FYI, I halved the recipe (from Baking Bites...can't link because the link is broken?) and made it in a 10-inch springform pan. Anyone else obsessed with those pans? They make cutting and removing so much easier-love it!

Sugar Cookie Bars
**double and make in a 13 x 18 baking pan if desired

-1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
-1 cup sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla
-2 1/2 cups flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp baking soda

1. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in vanilla extract.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to wet ingredients and mix until combined and crumbly.
3. Spread into a greased 10-inch springform pan, pressing down gently to evenly fill the pan.
4. Bake at 375F for 10-15 minutes until light brown.

**After cooled, frost with your favorite buttercream frosting (the frosting from the cupcakes was seriously my favorite homemade frosting ever!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guest Post on Eating Bender

Today's a special day...I'm not posting a recipe on this blog. Instead, check out Eating Bender, where Jenn gave me the opportunity to do a guest post. Thanks so much for the chance to share a few favorite recipes, Jenn!

For those of you who clicked over here today after reading my guest post, welcome! Hopefully you can find some useful recipes on here. To the right you'll find some of my labels by which I classify recipes. As promised, there are LOTS of desserts...but lots of healthy fare too :) Questions, comments, recipe suggestions? Drop me an email (natalie.mclaury@gmail.com), a comment, or follow me on twitter. Thanks for stopping by, I hope you keep coming back!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte

For Julia's birthday last weekend, I wanted to make her a chocolate peanut butter dessert-one of her favorite combos-and gave her several dessert options. After much prodding (those who know her know making decisions is something she prefers not to do), she ultimately chose this one and I secretly breathed a sigh of relief. You see, while all of the options I presented her with were enticing, this is the one I wanted to make. I saw this recipe a long time ago on Annie's Eats and have been waiting for an excuse to make it.

The only difference between Annie's version and mine is that I opted to freeze it before serving rather than refrigerate it. That was definitely the right choice. Although I liked the creamy filling (definitely chowed down on what didn't fit in the springform pan), it was infinitely better frozen. It still had the same taste, but I preferred the mixture in a more solid texture.

While this takes a few different bowls to make, it doesn't take too terribly long to put together. I made the torte crust and filling the evening before, froze it, and added the ganache the next morning, freezing again until serving. This might be one of my favorite desserts I've ever made, and certainly one that will be repeated in the future!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte
recipe seen on Annie's Eats, from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the crust--
-32 Oreo cookies, finely processed into crumbs
-5 1/3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
-small pinch of salt

For the crunch--
-1 1/4 cups salted peanuts, finely chopped, divided
-1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
-2 tsp sugar
-1/2 tsp espresso powder
-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
-dash of ground nutmeg

For the filling--
-2 cups heavy cream
-1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
-12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (I had 1/3 less fat on hand and it still tasted very rich!)
-1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (not natural)
-2 tbsp whole milk (I used skim)

For the topping--
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet. Combine the Oreo crumbs, melted butter, and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides of the springform pan. Freeze the crust for 10 minutes, then bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before filling.

2. To make the crunch, in another small bowl combine 1/2 of the chopped peanuts, mini chocolate chips, sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toss with a fork to mix and set aside.

3. To prepare the filling, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat 2 cups of the cream until it holds medium peaks. Beat in 1/4 cup of confectioners' sugar and whip until the cream holds medium firm peaks. Scrape the cream into a separate bowl and refrigerate until needed.

4. Wipe out (do not wash) the mixer bowl, replace the whisk with the paddle attachment, and beat the cream cheese with the remaining 1 cup of confectioners' sugar on medium speed until the cream cheese is satiny smooth. Beat in the peanut butter, whole milk, and 1/4 cup of the chopped peanuts until well combined.

5. Using a large rubber spatula, gently stir in about 1/4 of the whipped cream just to lighten the mousse. Still working with the spatula, stir in the crunchy peanut mixture, then gingerly fold in the remaining whipped cream. Scrape the mousse into the crust, mounding and smoothing the top. Refrigerate (or freeze) for at least 4 hours or overnight; cover with plastic wrap as soon as the mousse firms.

6. To finish the torte, put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Leave the bowl over the water just until the chocolate softens and starts to melt, about 3 minutes; remove bowl from the saucepan. Bring the 1/2 cups of cream to a full boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and, working with a rubber spatula, very gently stir together until the ganache is completely blended and smooth.

7. Pour the ganache over the torte, smoothing with a spatula. Scatter the remaining peanuts over the top and chill to set the topping, at least 20 minutes. When the ganache is firm, remove the sides of the springform pan and refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to serve.

**Note: I had some extra filling that didn't fit in the springform pan. I also had some leftover chopped peanuts, which I'm figuring out what recipe I'll incorporate those into :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Best Ever Homemade Granola

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I realize I may offend some people with this title. After all, lots of people make homemade granola these days and lots of people probably think their version is pretty darn good. I don't doubt it; I would always choose the homemade stuff over the store-bought. However, this truly is the best homemade granola I've ever had. I can't say the best granola I've ever made because, well, I've never made this. My mom's the genius behind this stuff and I've decided not to mess with perfection. I've found that sometimes I try to recreate my mom's recipes and they just aren't as good. I can't set myself up for that kind of disappointment with this granola! Instead, I patiently wait for those lucky days when I visit or my mom comes to see us and brings a large batch of this with her. She's the best, as is this recipe. Try it--you might never need another granola recipe again! This stuff is great with yogurt or milk, as a topping for oatmeal, or plain and eaten by the handful :)

Best Ever Homemade Granola

-3 cups regular oats, uncooked
-1 cup flaked coconut
-1/2 cup raw sliced almonds
-1/4 cup wheat germ
-1/4 cup oat bran
-1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
-1 cup raw pecans
-1 cup raw walnuts
-1 cup raw cashews
-1/4 cup honey
-1/4 cup safflower oil
-2 tbsp water
-2 tbsp brown sugar
-1 tsp vanilla
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Combine the first 9 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Mix together the next 7 ingredients. Pour this mixture over the oat mixture and stir until well coated.
4. Spread mixture evenly in a 9 x 13 baking dish.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. **After the first 15 minutes, stir granola every 5 minutes until done.

*note, you can stir in raisins or craisins once the granola is finished baking, but my mom usually leaves it as is! You can also modify the nuts based on what you have available--sometimes my mom adds whole almonds instead of sliced or hazelnuts--it's all equally yummy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Broccoli was ridiculously cheap at the grocery store last week so I picked up several heads of it with this soup in mind. I went through a major broccoli cheddar soup phase at Panera Bread Company for a long time. I've since broadened my horizons and will order other things, but I still hold a special spot in my heart for this soup! I've never made it at home before, but I definitely will be making this again and again....and next time I'll try to make the bread bowls to accompany it! I absolutely loved this soup. I kept mine semi-chunky and thought it was the perfect texture. Ryan liked it too, but it wasn't cheesy enough for him, so he stirred more into his bowl before eating. Yum, typing this up now and reminiscing makes me want to make it again!

I added way more (fresh, not frozen) broccoli than the original recipe called for, I'd say you can adjust to your tastes. Lisa also lightened her recipe up by using fat free evaporated milk and low fat cheese. I just used regular evaporated milk and regular cheddar and I think it goes without saying the full fat was not letdown! Regardless, I imagine it's a much healthier version than what you'll find at your nearest Panera.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup
adapted from Jersey Girl Cooks

-2 tbsp butter
-3 tbsp flour
-3 cups chicken broth
-3 heads of broccoli, chopped
-1/2 tsp onion powder
-1/2 tsp garlic powder
-1 can evaporated milk
-1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
-salt & pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, melt the butter on medium heat and add the flour. Stir until a paste is formed.
2. Add chicken broth. Bring mixture to a simmer and whisk until smooth.
3. Add broccoli, onion powder, and garlic powder. Puree with a hand mixer until desired texture is reached. (I pureed most, but not all of it and then added more chopped broccoli afterwards)
4. Add milk and cheese. Cook on low heat until simmering. Season with salt & pepper.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bran-Breaded Tilapia

First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JULIA (that's her above)! Today my lovely little sis, my best friend, my current roommate, turns 22! This is the first year in at least six that we're actually together on her birthday and I cannot wait to spend the day with her. We have grand plans including a trip to the movies, drinks and appetizers out, a mario kart tournament with friends, and a delicious birthday dessert. Details on that delicious dessert coming soon... ;)

love her!!
And now back to the food...

Usually whenever we have tilapia, we'll season it and bake or grill it, but we never ever bread it. I'm usually just not a big fan of breading on my chicken or my fish. However, when you have tons (we're talking at least 10-15) tilapia filets hanging out in your freezer, you have to get creative about how you plan to prepare them....hence the creation of this recipe! I was eager to use up some leftover bran cereal, and this turned out to be really good. It added a nice flavor and crunch to the fish while adding a healthy dose of fiber from the bran. I was just relieved to know we have a new way to prepare tilapia...any other good tilapia recipes out there? Leave your favorite in the comments please!

Bran-Breaded Tilapia

-tilapia filets (we made 3)
-1 1/2-2 cups crushed bran flakes
-1 egg, beaten
-lemon juice, salt, & pepper to taste

1. Crack egg into a bowl and beat well. Dip each tilapia filet into the egg, making sure to cover both sides.
2. In a separate bowl, place the crushed bran flakes. After dipping the tilapia in the egg, dip into the bran flakes until the fish is completely coated (you may need to press extra bran flakes into the fish).
3. Place fish onto a prepared baking sheet. Season with fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
4. Bake at 400F for 10-15 minutes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Twice Baked Butternut Squash

This year, I discovered I was a little bit addicted to butternut squash. I used to be all about the acorn squash, but lately butternut squash tops my list! As soon as I saw this recipe for twice-baked butternut squash, I knew exactly what I was doing with the lone squash sitting on my counter. Granted, I varied from Katerina's method, baking it the second time in a dish rather than the squash itself so that Julia, Ryan, and I weren't fighting over the two halves. I figured it's still baked twice, so it's still legit :) I also baked it the first time and mixed it all up with the other ingredients, but then refrigerated it for several hours until dinner time.

This was a lovely side dish to our bran breaded tilapia (up tomorrow!). I liked the kick the green onions gave it and the slight undertones of the lemon juice. Next time I make this, I'll use two squash so that I can have more!!!

Twice Baked Butternut Squash

-1 medium-sized butternut squash
-3 tbsp sour cream
-salt & pepper
-two scallions, minced
-1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
-1/2 lemon juiced (I just added some lemon juice and guessed the amount)

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and place cut side up in a baking dish. Add water to come up 1/4" on the squash. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for ~40 minutes, until the squash is nice and tender when pierced with a fork. (mine took 30 minutes)
2. Remove the pan from the oven. Uncover and remove squash from water. Allow to cook. Scrape flesh out of squash and place in a mixing bowl, leaving 1/4" in the bottom of each squash half (or scoop it all out if baking in an alternate dish).
3. Add sour cream, scallions, parsley, and lemon juice. Taste and season as necessary. (I blended mine with an immersion blender to remove all of the chunks and mix all of the ingredients)
4. Scoop mixture back into squash halves (or a small baking dish). Cover and refrigerate, or bake immediately. Bake at 425F for 30 minutes. (I baked at 400F for about 20 minutes and it was good to go!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hot Fudge Cake

I had you at the title of the post, didn't I? Who doesn't want a piece of something called hot fudge cake?! I served this last week at our community group that we host each week and not a single person resisted this dessert. That has NEVER happened before! I was rushed to serve it to everyone while it was still warm and gooey, which is why the pictures are kind of lackluster. Don't let that dissuade you though--this cake is everything you would expect from something titled hot fudge cake!

One rule, however. You absolutely must serve this cake with ice cream. The combination of the fudgy syrup atop the chocolate cake combined with the smooth vanilla ice cream cannot, should not, be missed!

Hot Fudge Cake

-2 cups flour
-4 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
-1 1/3 cups sugar
-6 tbsp baking cocoa
-1 cup milk
-2 tsp vanilla
-4 tbsp melted butter
-2 cups packed brown sugar
-1/2 cup cocoa
-3 cups boiling water

1. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and 6 tbsp cocoa in a large mixing bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, combine milk, vanilla, and melted butter. Add to dry ingredients and beat until smooth.
3. Spread mixture in a greased 9 x 13 pan.
4. Mix brown sugar and remaining cocoa (1/2 cup) in a bowl. Sprinkle over the batter in the pan. Pour boiling water over the entire cake. Do not stir or mix. It should look like a soupy mess!
5. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes. The cake will make its own fudge sauce in the bottom. Cut and serve warm, scooping up the fudge sauce and topping with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spaghetti Pie

As you can see, this picture is of the pre-cooked spaghetti pie. That's because I'm now in Seattle on business for the rest of the week and made this before leaving so that Julia and Ryan would have some food to eat while I'm away enjoying business dinners and such. All-star sister and wife? You don't have to tell me ;)

I actually made this last weekend and put it in the freezer, where it will stay until they choose to thaw and bake it sometime this week. This was a cinch to prepare. I actually made enough to fill a 9-inch pie plate and then a smaller baking dish, so we have an extra 1-2 person meal just hanging out, waiting for a long day when someone's too lazy to cook (or for me to leave town again!). Since I'm not around to eat it, I can't vouch for its taste, but I figure it has to be good...it's spaghetti after all! Julia and Ryan, I expect you two to leave comments on this post, sharing your thoughts!

The recipe is from the book Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month, but its also posted online here. I made a few minor changes, eliminating the cottage cheese (per Julia's request) and adding green pepper. My recipe is below.

Spaghetti Pie

-6 oz. dry spaghetti noodles (I just guesstimated and probably did more, hence the extra for a 2nd dish)
-2 tbsp butter
-1/2 cup parmesan cheese
-2 eggs, well-beaten
-1/2 lb, ground turkey
-1 green pepper, chopped
-1 small onion, chopped
-1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
-1 (14.5 oz.) can stewed tomatoes
-1 tsp sugar
-1 tsp dried oregano
-sprinkle of garlic powder
-1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese

1. Cook spaghetti noodles according to package. Once cooked, stir in butter, parmesan cheese, and eggs. Pour into a greased 9-inch pie plate (and another small dish if extra), pressing down to form a crust.
2. In a large skillet, cook meat, onion, and green pepper until meat is browned.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, oregano, and garlic to meat mixture. Stir and heat through.
4. Pour meat mixture on top of noodles. Sprinkle with cheese.
5. Cover with foil and freeze. To bake: thaw for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Bake covered at 350F for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies

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Chocolate covered raisins are one of my favorite candies. Usually, I'll choose the fruity candies over the chocolate (Swedish Fish, Dots, Candy Corn...), but I find chocolate covered raisins irresistible. I recall one August before my second year of college when my best friend and roommate, Kacey, and I devoured one of those giant containers of chocolate covered raisins that you can find at CostCo or Sam's Club. I remember eating handful after handful until two days later I reached my hand in to (shamefully) find it empty! Given my love for these chewy little candies, I immediately saved this recipe when I stumbled upon it, almost a year ago now. When Ryan gave me raisinets in my stocking this Christmas, this recipe came to mind and I jumped at the chance to make it.

These were so yummy! They're very dense and at first I worried they were too hard, but after finishing my first, I loved their sweet flavor and chewy texture. In fact they were still good several days later and I was pretty sad when I ate the last one. I think I'll be buying raisinets more often...

Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies
recipe from Picky Palate (great blog!)
**makes 3 dozen cookies

-1 stick butter, softened
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 egg
-1/2 tsp vanilla
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 cup quick oats (I used old fashioned oats)
-2 3.5 oz. boxes Raisinets (I used 1 box milk chocolate and 1 box dark chocolate)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in egg and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, and oats. Slowly add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in raisinets.
4. Scoop dough onto prepared cookie sheets and bake for 9-10 minutes (mine took longer on my silpat lined sheet). Cool on baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Superbowl Funfetti Cupcakes

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Funfetti cake brings me back to freshman year of high school. A few of my girlfriends and I were obsessed with the boxed mix and I have vivid memories of sitting on my kitchen counter in our pajamas, shoveling cake straight from the pan into our mouths. We were so ladylike!

I haven't made funfetti cake in years, but I was incredibly curious when I saw a recipe for funfetti cake from scratch! Julia was itching to decorate some cupcakes (every ounce of creativity that was intended for me passed right by me and she possesses it!), and I gladly volunteered to make a batch of cupcakes to serve as her canvas. We brought these to a friend's house for the big game, where we all gobbled them right up. These really do taste just like funfetti and I love how cute the cupcakes look (inside and out!).

I'm thinking we need a new feature on this blog, where I make cupcakes and Julia decorates them! I came home from a baby shower on Saturday to find her hard at work on these and I was so impressed by the detail that went into these guys...portraying both teams, giving each player a unique facial expression...those who know me personally know I'd NEVER have the patience (or the talent) to do this myself; I greatly appreciate (and secretly covet, ha) her gifts!

Funfetti Cupcakes
yields 12 regular cupcakes & 14 mini cupcakes

-1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-6 tbsp unsalted butter
-1 cup sugar
-3 large egg whites
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp almond extract
-1/2 cup milk
-1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until the mixture is coarse.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the egg whites, milk, and extracts. Add to dry ingredients and beat at medium speed until there are no lumps. Stir in sprinkles.
4. Fill muffin cups 1/2-2/3 full. Bake the mini cupcakes for 10-15 minutes and the large for 15-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan and frosting.

To frost, I used a simple vanilla buttercream frosting, found here. These could easily be frosted with whatever you prefer, but I highly recommend this recipe! This is the kind of frosting I could eat by the spoonful. Not that I know from experience or anything...