Monday, April 25, 2011

Paige and Sarah's Famous Baked Ziti

Nick has a GMS '08 Cookbook from the summer that he spent in Vermont at the Navigator's Summer Training program, "Green Mountain Summer".  Two of our beautiful friends from Penn State, Paige and Sarah, were in charge of cooking at GMS and put together a cookbook packet at the end of the summer.  We love this ziti recipe.  And it's so easy to adapt, if you want to add meat or veggies... just do it!  Our personal favorite is adding sweet italian sausage.  Here is Paige and Sarah's recipe, with our addition of sausage.

Paige and Sarah's Famous Baked Ziti
about 8 servings
• 1 box ziti
• 2 jars spaghetti sauce
• 2 eggs
• 15 oz. jar ricotta cheese
• 3 cups shredded mozzarella
• 2 cups parmesan cheese
• 3 Sweet Italian Sausages (or spicy, if you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Brown sausage in a frying pan.  Remove from pan and slice in half and then into  bite sized pieces.  Cook pasta according to box.  In a large bowl combine eggs, ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese and 1 cup parmesan cheese.  Mix until combined.  Drain pasta and add to the cheese mixture and stir well.  Stir in sausage.  Add spaghetti sauce and stir, but not too much.  Add oregano, salt/pepper, and garlic powder to taste.  Pour the mixture into a 9x13 pan.  Top with remaining 1 1/2 cups mozzarella and 1 cup parmesan.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake 40 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking 5-10 minutes longer, until the cheese is slightly browned.  Remove from oven and serve!

Source: GMS '08 Cookbook by Paige and Sarah

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Sugar Cookies

We had tons of fun decorating these!  My artistic husband had fun helping me.

This was what we did on Good Friday.  They take the better part of a day because you need breaks for: cookie dough to refrigerate, cookies to cool, and to let the bottom layer of icing dry.  And I was a little bit stressed out about making the right amounts of each color of icing.  It worked out for us though.  We had almost exactly the right amount of each color.  You really only need a tiny bit of each color.  You kind of have to figure out ahead of time what colors you're going to use for what and map it all out so that you make enough of each.  For instance, we needed much more white than black because the white was the base of the bunnies and some of the eggs.  The black was only needed for eyes, whiskers, and mouths of bunnies, and then Nick made an awesome cow egg with the extra.

Making a smooth icing base on your cookies is not difficult, but like I said, it is a little time consuming.  Brown Eyed Baked has an awesome how-to that we used.  You can see it here.  We also used a sugar cookie recipe from her website.  If you're looking for a good sugar cookie recipe I would definitely recommend this one.  The cookies were soft and chewy - really good.

Outlining the cookies
Filling in the cookies.  I really like the ones with the pink background.
My favorite eggs

Happy Easter!!

Source: Brown Eyed Baker

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chicken Bacon Cheddar Sandwiches

It is just as good as it sounds.  It has bacon... how could it not be good?

This sandwich is just simple pan-fried chicken breasts topped with bacon and cheese of your choice.  I just happened to prefer cheddar.  You can pick your own cheese if you want.

Oh, Ree's recipe also included lemon pepper seasoning, and I completely forgot to use it.  I included it in my recipe anyway and will try it next time.

As you can see below, I cut ours in half and we both had 2 little sandwiches.  Don't do it.  Just have one giant yummy chicken bacon cheddar sandwich so the bread doesn't dominate.

Forgot to take a picture once they were on buns.  Oops.  They were pretty buns, too.

Chicken Bacon Cheddar Sandwiches 
(2 sandwiches)
• 2 chicken breasts
• 4 pieces of bacon
• Cheddar cheese (or your cheese of choice)
• Lemon pepper seasoning
• Buns

Use kitchen shears to cut the bacon in half.  Cook bacon on med-low.
While the bacon is cooking, use the smooth side of a meat tenderizer to even out the thickness of the chicken.  Sprinkle both sides of chicken with lemon pepper seasoning.
When the bacon is done move it to a paper towel lined plate.  Dump out most of the grease, leaving about a tablespoon.  Add the chicken.  Cook until the outer edges of the top become opaque.  Flip and begin arranging the bacon on top of the chicken.  Then add your cheese.  Cover for a few minutes to let cheese melt and chicken finish cooking.
Make into sandwiches and enjoy!

Source: The Pioneer Woman

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chewy Cookies and Cream Bars

Okay, another blog recommendation for you - check out Picky Palate.  She has a lot of great ideas and lots of pictures that make you want to eat EVERYTHING she makes!!

These were so simple.  They only have 3 ingredients, and take barely any time.  They got awesome reviews from our small group.  And to top it off... few ingredients = small mess!  Not that much to clean up.

I think the reason that they are so good is because they're different.  They're not your normal brownie, cookie, etc.

Without further ado...

Chewy Cookies and Cream Bars
1 16 oz. package of Oreos.
1 package of marshmallows (5 cups)
4 Tablespoons butter

Prepare an 8x8 or 9x9 pan by lining with foil.  Leave foil sticking up around the edges.
Put Oreos in a food processor and pulse until ground.  It helps to do it in a few groups so that they blend more evenly and you can keep bigger cookie pieces.  Melt marshmallows and butter in a large bowl in the microwave until puffed, 1 - 1 1/2 minutes.  Remove and pour in ground cookies.  Mix until well combined.  Transfer to pan and let them set for about 10 minutes.  Use foil to help you remove from pan and cut into pieces.

Source: Picky Palate

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies

These cookies were so good that I found myself wanting to make another batch immediately after finishing them.  I somehow had self control and made it through the week without making more.  The problem - I'm still craving more!  And I have more cranberries and white chocolate, so it will probably happen soon.

If you haven't checked out Brown Eyed Baker's blog yet, go there now!  She has a huge variety of desserts and is one of the blogs that I check out anytime I'm looking for something to make.

Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies
(makes about 30 cookies, depending on size)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1/2 cup light brown sugar
• 1/2 cup white sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
• 1 cup white chocolate chips
• 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.  Lightly grease 2 baking sheets (or line with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the oats, the white chocolate chips and the dried cranberries.

4.  Roll dough into balls and place on the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten the tops slightly with your fingers.  Bake until cookies turn slightly golden, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack until completely cool.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Source: Brown Eyed Baker

Monday, April 11, 2011

Grilled Pineapple Pork Chops

I highly recommend these.  Great for a warm night to grill and eat outside!
We had them a few days before it was warm enough... but grilling makes me want to eat outside!

The marinade for these made them really good.  They don't take that long to make (besides marinating time)... and it seems like way less to me time because I don't grill.  Nick grills for us.  
Another plus to grilling... easy clean-up!  Yay!  The recipe I used actually wanted them to be pan-fried... but grilled seems ten times better to me.  

To make these really yummy pineapple slices and pork chops, start by cutting your pineapple and some green onions and using a food processor to mix with some spices for the marinade.  They marinate for 1-4 hours, and then are ready to be grilled.  Top with the extra marinade.

• 4 Pork chops
• 6 1/2-inch thick slices of pineapple  (2 cut into chunks for marinade)
• 1 bunch of scallions, sliced cross-wise into 1-inch pieces
• 1 tsp. dried thyme
• 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
• 3/4 tsp. ground allspice

Slice 6 slices of pineapple.  Cut 2 of your slices into small chunks.  Slice scallions and place in a food processor with pineapple chunks.  Add thyme, garlic, and allspice.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  
In a 9x13 inch pan place pineapple slices and pork chops.  Top with marinade and turn to coat.  Refrigerate for 1-4 hours.  Also refrigerate extra marinade to use as a topping with cooked pork chops.

Brush off the excess marinade before grilling.  Nick's grilling instructions:  Grill pork 7-10 minutes per side on medium heat (as hot as possible without searing).  If necessary, cut one open to check if the meat has cooked through.  Grill pineapple on top rack or med-low heat for 1/2 time of the pork chops.

Source: Everyday Food (Martha Stewart) March 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Roasted Carrots

Roasted carrots... pictured here with couscous and half of a
"salmon garden burger" from Giant Eagle.
This is quite possibly the easiest way to make cooked veggies.  It was the first time I have ever made carrots like this, and I would definitely do it again.

• Carrots (either baby carrots, or carrots cut into 2-inch pieces)
• olive oil
• Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450°.  In a rimmed oven safe dish toss carrots with olive oil to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast until tender and golden, about 20 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Source: Everyday Food (Martha Stewart) March 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

It's quite possible I ate half the bowl before I took this picture.
I really really like broccoli cheese soup.  I made it in a crockpot a while ago and it wasn't creamy, so it wasn't that great.  To make sure this was better, I consulted a number of recipes.  And also... I added as much cheddar cheese as I had.  And I probably would have added more if I had it to add!  This is the recipe, just as I did it, and it was very good... but like I said, we like cheese here... it can never hurt to add more!  And I added the cheddar cheese soup to get some extra cheese flavor... I might next time just add more cheese and a tad more milk.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup:
2 cups water
1 lb. broccoli (I used a frozen bag)
2 chicken bullion cubes
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1 can Campbell's cheddar cheese soup
4 oz. Velveeta
3/4 cup cheddar cheese

Begin by putting water and broccoli into a large pot and cooking on medium until broccoli is soft.

While broccoli is cooking, melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a small pot.  Add flour and whisk for about 2 minutes. Whisk in milk and cheddar cheese soup.  Cook until soup is dissolved.  Cut Velveeta into small pieces and add 4 oz. Velveeta and 3/4 cup cheddar cheese to the small pot.  Stir until completely melted.

Bring your large pot to a boil and add bullion cubes.  Stir until they are dissolved.  Then get a potato masher and mash up your broccoli until it looks like a weird green mess, like this.

You can decide how much you want your broccoli mashed and how big of broccoli pieces you like in your soup.  Pour the cheese mixture into the large pot and stir until it looks uniform.  Add 1/2 tsp. onion powder and 1/2 tsp. garlic salt.  Let simmer at least 10 minutes before serving.

Sources: ideas from The Pioneer Woman Tasty Kitchen blogAnnie's eats, and Campbell's Kitchen shared recipes

Monday, April 4, 2011

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

This is really and truly an awesome dessert.  I think both Nick and my mouth's were watering from the time I started making this on Saturday until we tasted it a day later.  It is so rich, and it seems so fancy that I can't believe I made it.  Definitely the fanciest thing I've ever made.  And a strawberry was a perfect companion.  This recipe is from Annie's Eats and can be found here (taken from Cooks Illustrated).  Annie also has a nice printer friendly version on her site.

Honestly?  It is not that difficult.  Don't let the recipe freak you out because it is so long.  It is time consuming, and it is expensive to make, depending on what chocolate you use in each layer.  We cheated a little bit to make it a little less expensive to make.  But anybody with access to a spring form pan, a mixer, and a stove could make this.

This recipe calls for 14 oz. of bittersweet chocolate.  I ended up only using 4 oz. and did the rest with semi-sweet chocolate.  If you're not afraid to spend lots of money on a chocolate dessert, then by all means, use all bittersweet!  I'm cheap and I didn't think it could make TOO much of a difference.

**Update - Shopping for another chocolate dessert I found bittersweet chocolate in small morsels instead of bars at a much cheaper price.  I guess it just depends on the store.**

Also, I cannot take credit for the beautiful chocolate curls.  I do not think that I have the patience to do something like that.  Nick is the artist in this house... he took care of the chocolate curls for me.  Thanks to the Pioneer Woman's chocolate curl how-to he knew exactly what to do and was successful!

How about one more yummy picture before the recipe?

White chocolate.
Chocolate mousse.
Chocolate cake.


Triple Chocolate Mousse cake:
Bottom layer: 
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 oz. semi-sweet baker's chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

Middle layer:
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
5 tbsp. hot water
7 oz. semi-sweet baker's chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Top layer:
3/4 tsp. powdered gelatin
1 tbsp. water
6 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Chocolate curls, cocoa powder, or fruit.

Bottom layer:
Prepare pan by either buttering sides and bottom or covering bottom with parchment paper.  Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325°.  Combine the butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in a double boiler.  Stir occasionally until the mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla and egg yolks.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds.  Crumble half of the brown sugar into the mixing bowl with your fingers (to remove any lumps).  Beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds.  Add the remaining brown sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about a minute more.  If you haven't done this before, be careful not to over beat them.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the rest with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake until cake has risen, is firm around the edges, and the center has just set but is still soft, about 14-18 minutes.  The center should spring back when touched lightly with a finger.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely.  Let sit at least 1 hour.  Do not remove the cake from the pan.  (If not making the second layer right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to proceed).

Middle layer:
Whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl; set aside.  Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth.  Once melted, remove from the heat and let it cool slightly, 2-5 minutes.

In a clean bowl whip the cream, sugar and salt on medium speed until mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to high and whip 30-60 seconds longer, until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted.  Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture until smooth.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Gently fold in the rest of the whipped cream mixture until no streaks remain.  Pour mousse over the cooled bottom layer and smooth the top.  Tap the cake on the counter 3 times to remove air bubbles and wipe the inside of the pan to remove any smears from this layer.  Refrigerate until set, at least 15 minutes.

Top layer:
Put water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin overtop.  Let it stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Put white chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring 1/2 cup of heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat and add gelatin.  Stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  I had to put mine in the microwave for a few seconds to finish melting the chocolate.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whip the remaining 1 cup of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 30-60 seconds.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the cream  into the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the white chocolate mousse into the pan over the middle layer.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula.  Return the cake to the refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2 1/2 hours.  

Nick and I added chocolate curls somewhere between 15 -30 minutes after beginning to chill, so that they would set in to the top of the cake.

Serve your cake very cool!

Source: Annie's eats, originally from Cook's Illustrated (November/December 2009)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What is the secret recipe?

We had an awesome dinner tonight... left over cheese and broccoli soup (recipe coming soon) and Giant Eagle's salmon, spinach, and feta burgers.  No bun necessary for these burgers.  They are  --so--  good.  I would really recommend them to anybody who shops at Giant Eagle.

I kind of want the recipe just so that I can try to make them once... but... why fix something that isn't broken?  They're pretty darn good, and 2 burgers aren't really breaking the bank or anything.

But, um, if you can hook me up with the secret recipe, let me know.

p.s. Also currently working on a gourmet dessert for tomorrow!

Taco night and refried beans

I really enjoy tacos.  I had some hard shells and decided to pre-make them before Nick got home from work so that all we'd have to do is open them up, eat 'em, and throw away the foil.  I didn't completely think through what would happen when I did this.  So I took some shells, put some refried beans on the bottom, meat, cheese, lettuce... then wrapped them real nice in foil and stuck them in the oven for about 20 minutes on 200°.

Taco Bell usually disgusts me... so this reminding me of Taco Bell was not good.  Did you know if you fill a hard taco shell with some fixins and wrap it up and let it sit in the oven it will get mushy - like a soft shell?  Nick liked this... I did not.  Sometimes I just don't think things through... then they make sense later.

Anyway, I made some refried bean dip.  You can eat it as a dip with chips or as a side dish.  We ended up only putting it in the tacos and not eating any plain.  It was good.  We're planning to eat tacos again to use up the rest of our shells (and eat them how I like, as hard tacos...) so we will eat it then.  If you like refried beans I would recommend it.  If not, probably not.

The recipe is from the Tasty Kitchen blog, and can be linked to here.  It takes the beans and makes them into a creamier bean mix.

I need to go grocery shopping (translation: I did not have all of the ingredients) so I just threw some things into a pot with the beans and heated.  If I were to make this again I would probably use cream cheese since that's what the original recipe calls for.

Refried bean dip:
1 can refried beans
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
1 tsp. taco seasoning
1 tsp. sugar
sprinkle garlic powder to taste
pinch salt
1/4 cup chicken broth

Source: Tasty kitchen recipies, from CindyLu,

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chocolate cake - round 2

Okay, this chocolate cake was really good.  I'm having trouble comparing it with the other chocolate cake I made for my mom's birthday though.  They're SO similar and both SO good.  I do know that Nick and I liked the mocha icing with it better than with plain white icing that we had this time.  Anyway, the cake is pretty similar to the last one I made.  Also from  The only differences are the amounts of baking soda and baking powder, and using 1 cup of coffee instead of 1 cup boiling water.  Oh, and this one wants buttermilk instead of milk.  As usual, I add a tad of vinegar instead of buying buttermilk.

What I learned about vanilla icing:  When you're adding flavor, add half vanilla and half almond extract.  The almond extract tastes so good!!!

Side note: the recipe on the food network website says to use "good" cocoa powder.  I think this is really funny.  I remember my Grandma telling my Mom to buy her "good buns" from the store.  What kind of buns are "good buns"?  In this case, at least my mom probably knew what she liked.  What is "good cocoa powder"?  Is mine not good enough?  Oh well!  I took this out of my version of the recipe.  I'm sure whatever cocoa powder you have is good enough.

Chocolate cake recipe:
• 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 3/4 cup cocoa powder
• 2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.*  Makes 6 cups of batter.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix on low speed until combined.  In another bowl combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.  Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing on low speed until combined.  Add the coffee and stir just to combine.  Pour the batter into the pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack and cool completely.  Do not ice until it is completely cool!

*As I noted in my last cake post, I am now measuring how much batter each cake recipe makes.  My round cake pan collection currently includes two 9x1 1/2 inch cake pans, one 9x2 inch cake pan, and one 6x2 inch cake pan.  I like the 9x2 cakes, so I wanted to know how much batter each recipe makes so I know how much extra I'll have if I make a 9x2.  This made approx.  6 cups of batter... which I made into 2 cakes... about 4 cups went into my 9x2 and about 2 cups went into my 6x2.  Phew!  That's way too many number is one paragraph.

Here's some pictures of my and Mom's final cakes!

This is Mom's!

Check out the basket weave!
This is mine.  
More basket weave
This is the little guy I made with the rest of my batter and my leftover icing.

Source:  Food network, Ina Garten,