Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Great Holiday Treats- Candied Cinnamon Pecans

This candied cinnamon pecans recipe is one of my favorite bake and give treats for the holidays. That is, what's left over after I pop more than a few of them into my mouth. They are quite addicting- fair warning!

The recipe requires NO candy thermometer. A wooden spoon, measuring cups, and a saucepan are all the tools you need to make some darned delicious nuts. I've tried making these with different types of nuts, but my favorite nut for this recipe is pecan halves.

Double the recipe so you actually have some to give to your neighbors. The rest you'll eat yourself.. trust me on this one.

Crunchy, sweet, and lots of cinnamon.. so good right out of the pan. They're also great for sprinkling on ice cream, and chopping up and putting on top of a pie.

I wrapped them for gift-giving two ways:

1. A small mason jar (Target), affixed a round to/from sticker (HomeGoods) to the top of the jar, and tied on a polka dot ribbon (Fabric Barn), and small bell (Target)

2. A food-safe cello bag adorned with little birds (Cost Plus WorldMarket), wrapped with baker's twine (Cost Plus WorldMarket) and added a cute gift tag (HomeGoods)

Treat #4- Candied Cinnamon Pecans
A double batch was enough nuts for two small mason jars, and two cello bags

Single batch:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mixture gets thick and syrupy

.. then the sugar hardens, and the nuts are ready to be spread out and cooled

- Put sugar, cinnamon, and evaporated milk into a medium sized saucepan, and heat over medium heat
- Constantly stir the mixture for 2-3 minutes until all of the sugar dissolves and it starts to simmer
- Add in the pecans and vanilla, and continue to stir constantly about 6-8 minutes. You'll see the mixture first turn into a thick syrup, then into a crumbly mixture
- Take the nuts out of the pan once all of the moisture (syrup) is gone, and the nuts are fully coated in a hardened sugar coating
- Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper on your counter, and cool completely before storing

I haven't tried to substitute the evaporated milk in this recipe to make it dairy-free

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great Holiday Treats- Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies

I'm starting my Great Holiday Treats posts today. over the next couple of weeks,  I'll be sharing my favorite tried and true holiday treat recipes with you. They're all delicious, and I've made them many, many times for people.

Treat #1- Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread cookies have no eggs.. don't know how this information has escaped me, but there it is. It's incredibly easy to make shortbread a vegan treat by substituting Earth Balance for the butter. I highly recommend Earth Balance because, while it contains no dairy, it tastes just like butter.

These shortbread cookies are so incredibly easy to make. Minimal refrigeration of the dough, and no rolling pins needed. Less mess, less fuss.

It's no secret how much I love lemon. These Cookies are just the right balance of tart, fresh lemon flavor, sweet cranberries, and are so buttery. They melt in your mouth. So, so good!

I would recommend making little baby-sized cookies as I did for portion control, but yeah, like that worked as I ate 10 of them. What the heck- it's the holidays. Eat as many as you'd like- YOLO.

Packaging tips for holiday treats:
- I think a homebaked treat becomes extra special with cute packaging. It just makes the thought even more special.
- I collect small plates and bowls throughout the year when I see them on sale at HomeGoods. It's great you can buy just one plate, and usually for $2- $3.
- I discovered that the little loaf tray by Simply Baked (same company that makes the muffin cuos I use, and also available at HomeGoods) perfectly hold a dozen medium sized cookies. Simply cover the cookie filled tray with a food safe clear bag, and tie on your favorite ribbon.
- If you're in SoCal, Fabric Barn in Long Beach is worth the trip for cellophane bags and ribbons. A whole spool of grossgrain ribbon is only $4 or so- a huge bargain!

Food safe waxed tissue- The Container Store
Treat box- Target
Tag- HomeGoods
Ribbon- Fabric Barn

- If you are shipping treats, you want to make sure they are not only snug in their container (so they don't get broken), but are also airtight. To create the packaging above, I figured out how many cookies I could fit snugly into the box. I lined the box with a piece of waxed food safe paper, then set out 2 stacks of 5 cookies, and 1 stack of 3 cookies. Each stack was wrapped in SaranWrap, then placed in the box. The two stacks of 5 went in the up/back direction, while the shorter stack went horizontally on the side of the two other stacks. Airtight and ready to be shipped :)

Cranberry and Lemon Shortbread Cookies
Makes 30 small cookies
Doubling recipe will yield 5 dozen small cookies

10 Tbsp ( 1 stick + 2 Tbsp) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or scraped vanilla bean
1 Tbsp lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1 cup + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
Granulated sugar for pressing on cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
- Mix together butter and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl 3-4 minutes until light and creamy
- Add vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon peel until mixed in
- Scrape down bowl with a spatula
- Add in the flour and mix just until combined
- Stir in cranberries with with a large spoon
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper
- Scoop out dough with small cookie scoop, and roll into balls
- Place the dough balls about 2" apart on sheets and put them in fridge for about 20 minutes to chill dough
- Place a few atbsp of granulated sugar on a small plate and set aside
- Once dough has chilled, lightly flatten each dough ball with the bittom if a drinking goass dipped in the sugar
- Bake for 12- 14 minutes until the cookies just start to briwn around the edges, and are cooked through
- Cool on a wire rack completely before you package them

Dairy free option- use Earth Balance in place of butter. Replacing the butter also makes these cookies vegan.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sweet and Tangy Meatloaf and Smashed Yukon Potatoes

If I were asked to name my 5 favorite comfort foods, meatloaf and mashed potatoes would definitely be on the list. You can't beat a moist meatloaf topped with a sweet and tangy sauce paired with creamy smashed potatoes. Love on a fork.

One of my goals with starting this blog was to focus on making more of our family's food from scratch. I'm all for a spice pack or creamed soup in a can in a pinch, but there's nothing like knowing exactly what's in your food; being able to control the amount of salt and sugar and to pronounce all of the ingredients.

Truth be told, this is the first time making a meatloaf without that little meatloaf seasoning pack from the grocery. I studied this recipe for inspiration from Ina Garten (you can't go wrong with Ina), and what I ended up with was a very tasty and MOIST meatloaf. It was a bit of a leap of faith as you can't taste raw hamburger to check for seasoning, etc. but it came out great and I wouldn't change a thing.

Give it a try- you won't be disappointed!

Recipe Tips:

- This is a recipe that is best to use a meat thermometer. I have one that plugs into my stove, but checking the loaf with a stick-in one is fine too. You want the loaf to reach 165 degrees in the center.

- If you ever find this meatloaf pan, I highly recommend picking it up. It's a two-layered pan with the bottom looking like a regular loaf pan, and a top layer that fits over the bottom one and sits up a little higher. The top layer has holes in it to allow the meatloaf to drain off fat as it cooks. No more soggy meatloaf. Genius.

- I'm not the biggest fan of raw onion flavor in hamburgers or meatloaf. Sautéing the vegetables (onion, red pepper, and garlic) for a couple of minutes before adding it to the meatloaf mix keeps the flavor of the vegetables without the raw bite. Just make sure to let them cool a bit before mixing into the loaf so the eggs don't start cooking.

Sweet and Tangy Meatloaf 
Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
1 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch cracked black pepper

2 lbs ground beef (I used 1 lb. of 4% fat and 1 lb. of 15% fat)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup beef or vegetable broth
1/2 cup plain Panko bread crumbs
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (it's a lot of meat.. this amount is perfect)
1 tsp cracked black pepper

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp ketchup (I use organic- no high fructose corn syrup)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried mustard

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Heat a saute pan or dutch oven over medium high heat, then add the oil and heat it up as well
- Add the onion, garlic, and red bell pepper and sauté for 3 minutes or until the onion starts to turn translucent, set aside to cool for a few minutes
- In a large glass bowl, add the beef, thyme, sage, Worcestershire sauce, broth, Panko bread crumbs, beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and cooled sauteed vegetables
- With hands, carefully combine the ingredients without squeezing together too much (you don't want it to be too dense)
- Transfer the loaf to the meatloaf pan. Again, careful to not pack down the loaf
- In a small bowl, stir together the light brown sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and dried mustard until combined
- Pour the topping over the top of the loaf and spread out evenly
- Place the loaf pan on a cooking sheet and put it in the middle of the oven
- Bake until the internal temperature of the loaf is 165 degrees (it took my loaf about 70 minutes to cook through)
- Let the meatloaf sit for a few minutes before cutting into portions

Dairy free recipe!

Smashed Yukon Potatoes
Serves 6

- Peel 3 lbs (small bag) of Yukon potatoes and cut into 3" pieces
- Place cut potatoes in a large pot with enough water just covering the top of the potatoes
- Heat pan over high heat for about 20 minutes until the potatoes pierce easily with a fork
- Drain potatoes and pour them into a large glass bowl
- Add 1 cup milk (I used non-fat), 1 stick of unsalted butter, a healthy pinch of kosher salt and pepper
- Mash the potatoes by hand with a potato masher (I don't like using a mixer- the potatoes come out gummy) until they are almost smooth
- If the potatoes are too thick, add a little more milk
- Taste, and adjust salt and pepper to taste

Dairy free option- use almond milk in place of dairy milk, and Earth Balance in place of the butter

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lemon and Chicken Pasta

Sometimes "mistakes" in the kitchen end with happy results. I had envisioned making a white wine pasta with sauteed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, chicken, some sundried tomatoes...

When I got home from the grocery store, I realized I forgot to buy mushrooms. Then, when I looked in my pantry, saw I only had vegetable broth. To top it off, I'm out of white wine.

Think, think, think. Okay- I still have sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and chicken. I have a lemon in my basket- maybe use the lemon as the acid in place of the wine?

Even with the missing ingredients, this turned out to be a delicious pasta. Chicken, artichokes, and sundried tomatoes taste so good together. The sauce is delicious and light- who knew lemon and veggie broth together could create such a punch of flavor?

I even sauteed extra chicken breasts to use for salads for my husband's lunches this week. You've got to love shortcuts!

Lemon and Chicken Pasta
Serves 6

1 lb  boneless and skinless chicken breasts (2 large breasts)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

1 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
kosher salt

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
Zest and juice from 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp each)
1 jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

- Place chicken breasts between saran wrap and pound to about 1/2 inch thickness
- Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper
- Heat sautee pan over medium/high heat and add oil and butter
- Once butter has melted, add chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until seared and cooked through
- Remove chicken to a clean plate and set aside
- In sautee pan, add vegetable broth, lemon zest and juice and simmer for 5 minutes until it starts to bubble and thicken
- Adjust seasoning with kosher salt and/or pepper
- Add in artichokes and sundried tomatoes and continue to heat another couple of minutes
- Dice the chicken breasts and add them back to the sautee pan, along with any juices from the plate
- Add in the cooked pasta and simmer another couple of minutes to meld the flsvors
- Use some of the reserved pasta water if needed

Dairy free recipe!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November Leftovers Club- Lightened up Pumpkin Bread

I had the fun opportunity to participate in the Leftover's Club for November. The club is a great group of food bloggers who are matched up once a month to send goodies to one another, and then blog about the experience. I've had some amazing baked goods sent to me from members of the group over the past months. If you'd like information how you too can participate, check out their website.

This month, I was matched up with Paula Dohnal from The Low-Acid Kitchen. She requested a goodie without a lot of fat or acid. Although acid (lemons, vinegars, tomatoes, other citrus) is a staple in most of my recipes, this challenge was no problem at all.  I put together a lower fat and lower acid version of my delicious Leaded Pumpkin Bread for her- as delicious as the original recipe!

Thanks Paula for the delicious Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes! They were some of the moistest cupcakes I've ever tried. Be sure to check out her recipe in the listing above.

Lightened Up Pumpkin Bread
Makes 1 loaf
Original recipe located here

Recipe Tip:
- Get your ingredients and bowls (you'll need one large, two smaller) ready before you start this recipe. It comes together in no time- no mixer needed. Double it up while you've already got everything out.. 1 cup of pumpkin is only 1/2 of a can. Make two loaves, and give one to your family or neighbors :)

1 2/3 cup for cup gluten free flour (I like Domato brand)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking Soda
1/2 tsp baking Powder
1 egg, 1 egg white
2 tsp vanilla paste
1 cup canned pumpkin (1/2 can)
1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance 
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, salt, baking soda, and baking powder
- In a small bowl, whisk together egg and egg white, vanilla, pumpkin, Earth Balance, and canola oil until combined
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients bowl. Add the nuts, and stir until the mix is combined
- Grease a 9x5" bread/loaf pan
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan
- Bake for about *50- 60 minutes, until a toothpick pushed into the center of the loaf comes out clean
- Cool completely on a wire rack
Dairy and Gluten Free recipe

Hatch Chilies Chicken Enchiladas

I would say my favorite food discovery of the year is Hatch chilies. They're a little spicier than jalapeños, not as hot as Habaneros, and have a fantastic salsa verde flavor- just yum. They get their name from the Hatch Valley region of New Mexico where they're grown, and are available for only a short time of the year.

Trader Joe's recently came out with a Hatch chili jarred salsa that is terrific, and I've jumped at the chance to use it in some new recipes. I've also stocked up my pantry… Hatch season extended!

These enchiladas were an experiment from start to finish. I usually boil chicken to shred it for tacos, etc. but wanted to try using my slow cooker. I thought maybe the chicken would have a little more flavor, and be a little juicier from the cooking process. Wow- tons of flavor, and much juicer! I won't make chicken any other way from now on.

Hatch Chilies Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 6

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 cup no salt added chicken stock or broth
1 small can mild green chilies, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Mexican oregano
kosher salt
black pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 small red onion, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, pressed

1 cup Hatch chili salsa
1 cup sour cream
1 big handful fresh cilantro
Liquid from slow cooker (after cooking the chicken breast)
kosher salt
black pepper

12 corn tortillas
2-3 cups shredded cheese (I used a pepper jack and cheddar blend)

sour cream
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped red onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (after the chicken is cooked)

- Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, ground cumin, and oregano
- Place the chicken in a slow cooker, and add the stock/broth and mild green chilies
- Cook on high for 2-3 hours, until the internal temp of the chicken reads 165 degrees
- While the chicken is cooking, heat the oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium/high heat
- Saute the onion/garlic for 3-4 minutes until the onion starts to caramelize
- Once it's done, remove the chicken from the slow cooker and shred the meat with two forks, set aside on a plate
- Pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a large glass bowl
- Add the onion and garlic, Hatch salsa, cilantro, sour cream, salt and pepper
- I used an immersion blender to blend up the sauce
- Adjust seasoning to taste
- Measure out 2 cups of the sauce and place in a separate bowl
- Add the shredded chicken to the rest of the sauce and stir
- Spray a 9x13x2 with non-stick spray
- Pour a little of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of the baking dish (1/4 cup or so)
- One at a time, dip the corn tortillas in the enchilada sauce (without the chicken) until coated
- Place about 3 Tbsp of the chicken mixture and some shredded cheese in the middle of the tortilla, and roll it up- place in the baking dish
- Continue this step with all 12 tortillas, using all the chicken, and packing the enchiladas tightly in the dish
- Pour the rest of the sauce evenly over the rolled enchiladas, and top them with the rest of the shredded cheese
- Bake the enchiladas for 20-25 minutes, until they start to brown and the cheese is completely melted
- Serve with garnish of sour cream, chopped cilantro and red onion

This is only the second recipe posted in which I'm not going to give a dairy-free option. There's just too much dairy in these enchiladas to sub everything out and retain the taste.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

White Flag, I Surrender Cake

My Mojo cakes this year started out as a joke. The Dallas Cowboys have not been known for consistency, and had an absolutely horrible first game this football season. A dear friend is a fan, so I made a My Cowboys are Big, Fat Losers Carrot Cake for her as a joke. Well, seems the Cowboys don't like to be called big fat losers, and they then proceeded to win the next 6 games straight.

Now my same friend is having issues with her Fantasy Football team. She's got a 1-7 record, despite having one of the top scores every week. Her team seams to have a knack for bringing out the highest score ever from her weekly opponents (even our team, who was 0-7 before we played her.)

I now present the newest mojo cake.. the White Flag, I Surrender Cake. A beautiful mostly white cake, topped with a pure buttercream frosting, and a little added sprinkle of edible glitter to bump up the good mojo.

This dense, buttery cake bakes with a good crumb coat already on it, and was super easy to frost. The frosting is a true buttercream- thick, a little sweet, and a lot rich. The cake was easy to make (very little sifting of cake ingredients and no separating eggs) and I was pleased with how it turned out- it's a keeper.

Okay Betty- you can now start winning again. You're welcome. LOL

Recipe Tip:
- If you follow the frosting recipe listed for the cake, you'll want to 1 and 1/2 the recipe. I found the amount written wasn't enough to frost the whole three-layer cake. Better to have a little more than needed, then to have to make an additional batch.
- Set the eggs, butter, and buttermilk out on your counter while you get everything else together (and sift the dry ingredients) for the cake. It takes about 1/2 hour for the ingredients to get to room temperature.

White Cake with White Buttercream Frosting
makes one 3-layer 9" round cake, or about 24 cupcakes

Cake recipe slightly adapted from Add a Pinch
Frosting recipe appears on the blog as well

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking Powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

- Set your oven racks so you can fit the cake pans on both of the racks
- Butter and flour 3 9" cake pans, set aside
- In a mixer, cream together the butter and Earth Balance until light and fluffy- about 3-4 minutes
- Add the sugar in, 1 cup at a time, and make sure each cup of sugar is fully mixed in before you add the next one
- Add the eggs, again 1 at a time, making sure each is fully mixed in before adding the next one
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla
- Starting with the dry ingredients, and ending with the dry ingredients, take turns adding some of the dry and wet mixture in with the cake batter. Mix well before the next addition
- Pour equal parts batter into the three pans, and even the batter out with a spatula
- Bake the cakes for 25-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean
- I let the cakes cool for almost 15 minutes before I removed them from their pans and then continued to let them cool completely on a wire cooling rack
- Frost the cake after it is completely cooled

Dairy free option- Use Earth Balance in place of the butter (for a total of 3 sticks of EB), and use either almond milk or silken tofu mixed with a little vinegar in place of the buttermilk

Frosting Recipe
I prefer my frostings not too sweet, and adjusted the recipe and used about 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.