Our Very Own Tiramisu

Whitney had the idea to try making some tiramisu. Some of the recipes were rather involved, so making the best of the tools, time, and ingredients we had, we ended up combining this recipe with this one (both from Eating Well). For this experiment, I would say it came out with too much coffee and was rather excessive with the chocolate, and perhaps had a bit too much cinnamon. However, I still found it rather enjoyable.

6 oz ladyfingers
4 oz mascarpone
4 oz cream cheese
1 c strong brewed coffee
4 tbsp brandy
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp confectioners sugar
Baking chocolate

1. Lightly toast ladyfingers.
2. Combine mascarpone, softened cream cheese, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar. Blend well, and adjust ingredients to taste.
3. Combine coffee and brandy. Brush mixture on lady fingers (we dipped them, which resulted in a too strong flavor) and place in small dish or loaf pan. Layer ladyfingers and cheese mixture, topping with ladyfingers.
4. Melt chocolate and drizzle on top.
5. Chill in fridge 30 min.
6. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve.

Mixing up the filling
Placing the layers, with some coffee/brandy for dipping
Turned out decent!

Chicken Milanese

Patrick and I both enjoyed some time off together over the Christmas holidays. Well, I didn't really have time off per se but I did have off the afternoons after going to work at 6:45am! We had watched Giada on Food Network (love! love! love! Giada!) and wanted to try her Chicken Milanese with Tomato and Fennel sauce recipe. With an afternoon to prep we also decided to make tiramisu (stay tuned; that's the next post). This was our first time cooking something with fennel so a merry time was had by all! We served this with green beans and a holiday wine from the Peaks of Otter winery -- Cinfulicious! A cinnamon stick in every bottle! We enjoyed apples in the fall (apple pie) from our Peaks of Otter trip and saved our wine for the holidays.

Chicken Milanese with Tomato and Fennel Sauce
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups plain bread crumbs
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 (6 to 8-ounce) boneless and skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
My fennel!
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups (12 ounces) cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
For the chicken: Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a wire rack.
Using 3 wide shallow bowls, add the flour to 1, the eggs to another and to the third bowl combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, basil, and thyme.
On a work surface, put the chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, lightly pound the chicken until approximately 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly, then dip into the beaten eggs, allowing the excess egg to drip off. Coat the chicken with the bread crumb mixture, pressing gently to adhere.
In a large, nonstick saute pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add 2 pieces of the breaded chicken into the oil and cook until light golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken to the prepared baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Reserve the cooking juices in the saute pan.
Nice, golden brown
For the sauce: Using the same saute pan, add the olive oil to the reserved cooking juices and heat over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the cherry tomatoes, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, garlic and thyme. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the tomatoes are tender. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the mascarpone cheese and stir until the mixture is creamy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Before the mascarpone was added.
Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and spoon the sauce over the top before serving.

Taco Salad

I've always enjoyed the flavor of taco-seasoned meat, but I've never been much for actual tacos. I dislike messy foods, so whenever I made "tacos", I was just dipping tortilla shells into a bowl of taco meat. For this meal, I decided to try something a little more complex! I found this recipe for taco salad on Eating Well, and adapted it to my tastes and the ingredients I had on hand as follows.

1/2 c prepared salsa
1/4 c reduced-fat sour cream
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
2 large plum tomatoes, diced
4 tsp taco seasoning
8 c shredded romaine lettuce
1/2 c shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Combine salsa and sour cream in a large bowl.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add beef and cook, stirring often and crumbling with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, celery, and taco seasoning; cook, stirring, until the tomatoes begin to break down, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the salsa mixture.
Add lettuce to the remaining salsa mixture in the bowl; toss to coat.
To serve, divide the lettuce among 4 plates, top with the beef mixture and sprinkle with cheese. For some crisp, include tortilla shells or chips on the side.

The salsa/sour cream mixture tasted great, and I would substitute this any day for my old taco preparation.

Adding celery and tomato. So colorful!

Taco salad! No cheese for me.

Special thanks to Granny for this wonderful centerpiece.

Christmas Party!!

The season of holiday parties is upon us! Of course I didn't want to be left out and enjoyed planning a little intimate evening for friends. Finger foods, desserts, and a white elephant gift exchange combined to make the perfect holiday evening. I served tortellini skewers, pigs in a blanket, fondue (from this blog post), and party punch. Tim also provided quiches and cream puffs courtesy of Costco but still super yummy. So enjoy the photos and the recipes!

The spread! 

Tortellini Skewers
I originally made these for a holiday party three years ago and decided to revisit the hors d'oeuvre. I saw a recipe that skewered tortellini, tomatoes, and a fresh basil leaf which I liked. Unfortunately the basil leaves did not look pretty at the store! So I decided to marinate the tortellinis and tomatoes in an evoo mixture with basil and garlic. This was marvelous and I'm glad it worked out this way. The amount of ingredients varies depending on the ratio of tortellini to tomatoes you'd like. We fixed about 30 skewers each with 4-5 tortellinis and 1 tomato. 
six cheese tortellini (2 packages)
cherry tomatoes (30)
evoo (4 tbsp or so)
garlic (2 cloves, pressed)
dried basil (1-2 tsp)
Boil tortellini. Mix evoo, crushed garlic, and basil. Drain tortellini and put in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2/3 of the mixture over the tortellini and toss. Add the tomatoes and the remainder of the mixture and toss. The olive oil also prevents the tortellini from sticking together. Then have fun skewering! May serve room temperature with marinara sauce!

Pigs in a Blanket
1 pkg Hillshire Farms cocktail weenies
2 cans crescent rolls
Preheat oven to 375F. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Cut each crescent into three slices and roll up a little weenie in each slice! Bake the pigs in a blanket for about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. There will be a few extra crescent slices at the end. Patrick was a pigs in a blanket rolling champ!

Party Punch
I splurged in a cake set complete with punch bowl this year. And boy am I glad I did -- the punch was a hit!! Thanks to Food Network's Sandra Lee for her fab Holiday Party Punch
4 c cranberry juice
1 liter ginger ale
1 bottle sparkling cider
juice of 1 lemon
2 oranges, sliced
12 ounces vodka
Combine liquids and pour in punch bowl with ice! Then garnish with orange slices. So pretty!!
The tree with White Elephant Christmas gifts.

Chicken with Goat Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato

Whitney and I love goat cheese, and with some left over from an appetizer (goat cheese on honey-wheat toast), I decided to try this chicken recipe. The original recipe is from Ina Garten and can be found here; below is our modified version with comments.

2 boneless chicken breasts [original calls for skin-on to retain moisture - we just used foil on skinless breasts)
Goat cheese
Jar of sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on individual aluminum sheets with cooking spray on a sheet pan. Rub salt and pepper into chicken breasts. Dress the chicken breasts with goat cheese, garlic, and tomatoes; don't worry if some falls to the side. Fully wrap each breast in the foil so the chicken won't dry out. Bake the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through. Serve hot or at room temperature.

We chopped up the result and mixed it with couscous, which was exceedingly delicious. I'm sure sun-dried tomatoes will be one of our new favorite ingredients.

Dressing the chicken.
Ready for the oven!
Serve whole, or...
Chop up and mix with couscous! Yummy!

Cubed Steak & Scalloped Potatoes

Patrick was out of town for Thanksgiving weekend so I went to the grocery store and bought cubed steak and potatoes for a wonderful, yummy meal that I would love! Cubed steak with mashed potatoes and gravy is truly a Southern comfort dish and I was excited to make it and have it all to myself. Well friends visited and fun was had by all over Thanksgiving weekend but my cubed steak stayed in the fridge. So Patrick had the pleasure of trying it after his inquiring questions of "where do the cubes come from??" I knew I would need to switch up my mashed potatoes for something else because he doesn't like mashed potatoes! So I thought I'd try my hand at scalloped potatoes - a first for me. The cubed steak is really, really easy and the potatoes turned out okay. The recipe needs just a little more refining which was to be expected because I experimented!

Scalloped Potatoes
I read a whole bunch of scalloped potatoes recipes online and merged them all together. I figured out the main preparation and then just went with it. Overall everything turned out great just too much creamy sauce for the amount of potatoes I had. The dish I prepped had about 4 servings.

Potatoes, washed and thinly-sliced (I saw recipes for peeled and unpeeled so I left half the peel!)   > I used about 4 medium potatoes
Milk  > I used about 1/3 cup, maybe?
Butter  > I used about 2-3 tbsp
Flour  > I used about 3-5 tbsp
Parmesan cheese > I used about 1/4 cup
Garlic  > I used 2 garlic cloves, zested

1. Begin by boiling potatoes for 8-10 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling make the sauce. Melt butter in saucepan. Slowly add flour and whisk together. Then add milk a little at a time until smooth. At this point I wasn't sure how much I needed so I added a little more flour and milk but didn't need this extra. Once you have enough sauce add zested garlic and parmesan cheese. Also any seasonings, I added salt and pepper.
Right after I added the cheese.
2. Drain potatoes and put them back in the pan. Toss and coat the potatoes with the sauce. Pout into small, greased casserole dish.
3. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Could place extra cheese on top and broil at the end but I chose not to do this.
A little soupy but otherwise a great dish.

Cubed Steaks and Milk Gravy
While the potatoes are in the oven you have the right amount of time to prepare your cubed steaks! Everything will be nice and hot all together at the end and ready to eat! Also at this time I put Patrick in charge of the frozen mixed vegetables.

Cubed Steak

Rub steaks with a little salt and pepper. Mix Mrs. Dash or any other seasonings into 1/2 cup of flour in a separate dish. Bread steaks in the flour and place into a medium pan with warm oil. Fry on each side for 1-2 minutes. Remove steaks to a plate and commence milk gravy making.

My milk gravy making is done differently every time and I'm still working on my technique. So here's a professionals recipe courtesy of Paula Deen! (Who else's milk gravy recipe would you want?!)

Paula Deen's Milk Gravy
1/4 cup bacon grease (the drippings from the cubed steak will substitute)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk warm
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoons pepper
2 tablespoons melted butter

Heat grease in a cast iron skillet. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and bubbly about 1 minute. Add the warm milk slowly and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and stir, until thickened, about 5 minutes, adding milk as necessary to control the thickness. Season the gravy with salt and pepper. Serve hot over biscuits.

Cheese-Honey-Mustard-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

After several days of letting Whitney choose our dinners, the dreaded day came when I was put in charge of dinner. I decided to start making use of the 10 lbs of frozen chicken breasts we had picked up from Costco, so I picked out a Ham-&-Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breasts recipe from EatingWell. Without any ham on hand, I substituted honey. Here's my modified recipe:

1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 egg white
1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Use a baking sheet with sides and lightly coat it with cooking spray.
2. Mix cheese, honey, mustard and pepper in a small bowl.
3. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin, long edge of a chicken breast half, nearly through to the opposite side. Open up the breast and place one-fourth of the filling in the center. Close the breast over the filling, pressing the edges firmly together to seal. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.
4. Lightly beat egg white with a fork in a medium bowl. Place breadcrumbs in a shallow glass dish. Hold each chicken breast half together and dip in egg white, then dredge in breadcrumbs. (Discard leftovers.)
5. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts; cook until browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F, about 20 minutes.

This was quick and easy, and turned out great aside from the stuffing spilling out a bit during baking.

    My chicken breasts look like omelettes!

    Just out of the oven

    Served with some delicious green beans

    Chocolate Fondue

    This was my first experience making chocolate fondue. I'm a little ashamed to say that I received a fondue pot for my last birthday and it had been in the box every since then. In my defense fondue was very foreign to me and, to be honest, I was a little scared!

    But I made it! And it was so fantastic! And now I can't wait to do it again!

    As I was browsing the Internet for chocolate fondue recipes I found they all had the same base -- baking chocolate, heavy whipping cream, and flavored liqueur -- in different ratios. So here's what I did!

    Chocolate Fondue
    4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped if possible
    1/2 cup heavy cream (at the grocery store I could either buy heavy cream or whipping cream...)
    1/4 cup cream liqueur

    Bring cream to a slight boil. As soon as it begins to boil take off heat and add the chocolate. The cream will melt the chocolate so don't keep it over the heat and burn it! Then add the liqueur and mix! Add to your fondue pot.

    Dipping Ideas
    We used angel food cake and fresh strawberries. Lots of fresh fruit and other cakes will be marvelous. Other suggestions on the Internet included pretzels.

    Lowcountry Smothered Pork Chops

    Ever since Patrick and I went apple picking back in October I've been wanting to have some pork chops and homemade applesauce. Well Patrick was too busy baking with those apples (pie and strudel) that I wasn't able to make applesauce but how could I complain?! Fortunately he had a few extra apples laying around this week and I snapped them up to make stewed apples (a close second to applesauce). I did a little browsing to find a nice complement to the apples and ended up with this one from Paula Deen. Feel free to visit her website for the recipe. But for convenience here's the recipe with my notes (in blue)!

    Low Country Smothered Pork Chops


    4 center-cut pork chops, 1-inch thick
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Ground cayenne pepper
    2 tablespoons butter
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour, spread on a plate
    2 medium green bell peppers, stemmed, cored, and membranes removed, cut into strips
    2 yellow onions, trimmed, cut lengthwise
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    2 cups chicken broth
    2 to 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
    I only used one pepper and one onion since it was just Patrick and myself. I did however use 4 pork chops so we would have enough for leftovers. There could've been more peppers and onions but I think we were both satisfied with the amount. Also I only used one can of chicken broth which is about 14.5 ounces.


    Trim the excess fat from the chops and season well with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Lightly roll the chops in flour, shake off the excess, and slip them into the pan. Brown well, about 3 minutes per side, and remove them to a plate.
    Browning the pork chops.
    While the pork chops brown, make sure Chef Patrick is slicing and chopping all the vegetables. Check out his new knife!
    Add the bell peppers and onions, to the skillet, and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about half a minute longer. 

    Push the vegetables to the side of the skillet. Add chops to pan and place vegetables on top of pork chops. Pour in the broth and sprinkle with Worcestershire sauce. Cover pan with foil and allow to simmer for 45 minutes or until chops are tender.

    For the apples: peel and quarter apples, saute in melted butter over medium heat with cinnamon and sugar until tender!

    Served with brown rice and stewed apples!

    Recipe Courtesy of Damon Fowler
    Servings: 4 servings
    Prep Time: 15 min
    Cook Time: 55 min
    Difficulty: Easy

    Potato Soup

    It's potato soup time again! At least once a cold season there's a pot of potato soup. Here's the potato soup post from last year (before my serious blogging days began). I still browsed around the internet for other potato soup recipes. I found one I liked from Alton Brown and merged my two recipes. Be sure to check out Alton Brown's Leek Potato Soup Recipe. So here's my new and improved potato soup recipe!

    Potato Soup
    Leeks washed and potatoes peeled.
    6 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
    4 leeks, washed and diced using white and light green parts only
    1 lb ham, diced 
    1 can chicken broth
    1 can cream of chicken soup
    1 pint buttermilk
    2 tbsp butter
    seasonings -- salt and pepper, thyme

    1. Cover diced potatoes in soup pot with chicken broth and water (maybe about 2 more cups). Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15-20 minutes until soft.
    2. Meanwhile melt butter in a pan. Add leeks and salt and pepper; saute for 5-6 minutes. Then add diced ham.
    3. Once potatoes are soft, drain off some chicken broth. The more you take out the creamier the sauce will be. Patrick wanted the soup "medium creamy" so I took a little over half out.
    4. Add buttermilk, the canned cream of chicken soup, and the thyme. Reserve about 1/4 cup of the buttermilk to adjust your creaminess level. Mix well and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. You may also mash a few potatoes here for more bite-sized potato pieces.
    While the soup simmers here you can make corn bread! Potato soup and corn bread are perfect together. See?

    Medium creamy potato soup!

    Hungry Jack Casserole

    It's finally here! The recipe I've cooked the most, know now by heart, and is enjoyed by all... is finally making it to the blog. This has been my favorite dish ever since I can remember (thanks Mom!) so it has definitely earned the "family recipe" label. This is actually one of the first recipes I cooked for Patrick and it turns out the way to his heart was with this recipe!

    1 lb ground beef (make it healthier: lean beef)
    1 - 16 oz can pork and beans (make it healthier: vegetarian beans)
    3/4 cup barbeque sauce (make it healthier: light bbq sauce)
    1 small onion, chopped
    2 tbs brown sugar
    1 can biscuits
    1 cup shredded cheese (make it healthier: 2% milk cheese)

    Preheat oven to 375F. Saute onions and brown beef, drain. In separate bowl mix beans, bbq sauce, brown sugar, and some cheese. Add drained beef and onions. Place into a 2-qt casserole dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Cook in oven for 15 minutes (or until bubbly). Then remove and add biscuits. Cook until biscuits are golden unless you're Patrick and want them pale.

    top left: Bean mixture waiting for the beef and onions! 
    top right: In the casserole dish with sprinkled cheese before the oven. 
    bottom left: Half-way through baking, just added the biscuits. 
    bottom right: All done! Nice & golden!

    Angel Food Cake with Mom's Butter Brickle Glaze

    Angel food cake was one of my dad's favorite desserts, along with this glaze my mom invented by accident. We just use a box recipe for the cake, with the only trick being to own an angel food cake pan. The glaze is quite a challenge due to the imprecise recipe that I haven't taken the time to refine. This is what's on mom's recipe card:

    Butter Brickle Glaze  (6/18/85)

    Melt 1/4 cup butter/margarine on high until it browns
    Add brown sugar (about 1/4 cup?)
    Stir over heat (should bubble)
    Add 1 tsp vanilla (sizzles)
    Cool slightly (?)
    Add about 1 cup powdered sugar (brown sugar will form lumps)
    Add several tsp milk until of glaze consistency
    Add powdered sugar or additional milk as necessary
    Drizzle over angel food cake

    It's that first step that is supposed to give the glaze its unique flavor, I think. From this most recent attempt, I would guess that heating the butter on high is not a wise choice. For this cake, I had to toss the first batch of glaze because the butter was burnt too badly, and I don't think it browned at all on the second one. Whitney vetoed my wish to try one more time, so that's what we ended up using. It was still quite good, but I think it could have been better. After consulting some other recipes that use burnt butter, I think step 1 should be to stir the butter constantly over medium heat until it reaches an amber color and has a nice caramel aroma.

    This cake is delicious when served with strawberries, raspberries, or as we discovered later in the week, chocolate fondue!

    Cooling the cake!
    Attempt #1. Should have known it was done for by the second photo.

    Attempt #2. Didn't get any browning, but at least it developed more of a glaze consistency instead of a charcoal mush. 

    Served with fresh raspberries this time!