Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best-Ever Sugar Cookies

It's Holiday time!  That means time for me to go crazy making homemade candy (Cream-Filled Truffles, Chocolate Caramels), cookies, and other goodies (like my Hot Chocolate with Peppermint Chocolate Marshmallow Sticks).  I swear, if I ever quit my day job, it will be to open a place where I get to make these treats all of the time.

These sugar cookies have received rave reviews from anyone who eats them and after a little bit of tweaking, I finally think I have them just perfect.  This recipe yields about 60 cut-out cookies, which is just right for me to give some as gifts and leave some at home for us to nibble on.  The longest part of this process is the frosting, but it's fun (I cheesily blast Holiday tunes while I frost) and I look forward to a couple years from now when my son, Maxwell, can help me (instead of me frosting them while he naps).

I will admit that I wouldn't try to tweak the recipe to be healthier (shocking that I would say that, I realize), by adding whole wheat/less butter/other sweeteners or whatever, because I've been trying it for awhile and my results yield a mediocre cookie (using whole wheat flour) with less than stellar reviews.  So, enjoy this treat in moderation.

The frosting/icing recipe is found here (along with how to make Chocolate Sugar Cookies):

1 1/2 Cups Butter, Softened
2 Cups White Sugar
4 Eggs
2 Tsp. Vanilla Extract (the real thing is better than imitation!)
4 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour (plus more for rolling out the dough)
2 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Sea Salt

1.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla.
2.  Mix in the flour, sea salt, and baking powder (you might want to stir in the last cup by hand).
3.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
4.  Roll out dough (working with 1/3 the batter at a time) onto a floured surface.  Roll out the dough to 1/4" to 1/2" thickness.  Cut into shapes with cookie cutters.  Reroll scraps 2-3 more times and cut shapes into that (eventually dough will get too stiff and flour-y, so discard scraps after 2-3 re-rolls).
5.  Place cookies 1" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Serve plain or frost and decorate as desired (directions found here).


Some Menorahs for my Jewish friends. 

Some Personalized Christmas Stocking Cookies

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Skinny Cilantro-Lime Rice

Here is another recipe inspired by the awesomeness that is Chipotle.  I have also posted a recipe for making a complete mock-Chipotle burrito at home, and have separate recipes for cilantro-corn salsa and Barbacoa beef.  Enjoy this rice in a burrito, as a side dish, and with any Mexican-flavored fare.

1 Cup Extra Long Grain Rice or Basmati Rice
2 Cups Water
1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Juice of 1/2 Lime (1 Tbsp Lime Juice)
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
3 Tbsp. Cilantro, fresh and chopped

1.  In a large saucepan, combine rice, water, and oil.  Bring to a boil until half of the water is evaporated
2.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit, covered for 5 more minutes.
3.  In a medium bowl, combine lime salt, cilantro, and rice and stir until well-combined.

Serve and enjoy.

Chipotle-Style Barbacoa Beef

In my quest to make Chipotle-style burritos at home, I decided to make Barbacoa beef.
Another thanks to Gina of Skinny Taste for her recipe of Chipotle's Barbacoa beef on behalf of my husband's stomach.  I did modify the recipe in terms of ingredients and directions, but used her recipe as the base.  I rarely make beef (personal preference) as it is generally less lean and heart healthy than my usual vegetarian, fish, or chicken dishes.  However, when you do want to make beef, here is a handy wallet card of the lean cuts of beef.  Feel free to serve this with my cilantro-corn salsa and cilantro-lime rice for a tasty meal.  I hope you enjoy the barbacoa beef in your own burritos, as a sandwich, over rice, or by itself!

1 lb Beef (round roast--eye, bottom, or top), trimmed of fat
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
2 Tbsp. Minced Onion
1 Tbsp. Lime Juice
2 tsp. Chili Powder
2 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Oregano
1 Bay Leaf
1/3 Cup Water

1.  Trim fat from meat and cut into 4 inch pieces.  Put in crockpot/slow-cooker.
2.  Pour/place all of the ingredients in slow-cooker.  Turn heat to low and cook for 6-8 hours, or until meat is cooked through.  Remove bay leaf.
3.  Use two forks to pull the meat apart (shred it) once cooked through.  Cover and let cook for another 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Enjoy as a spicy sandwich or for the meat in a Chipotle-inspired burrito.

Mock-Chipotle Burrito

This past weekend, after a shopping extravaganza (well Holiday shopping), we stopped at Chipotle.  Although this is just another day for us (we love Chipotle), I sat there and realized I should attempt to make one of their meals at home.  After all, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach...and given Aaron's obsession with Chipotle, he'll be thinking quite positively of his wife come Christmastime.  And I'm hoping he doesn't actually read this blog post.  Ha ha.
Gina's skinny recipe was the inspiration for all of the Chipotle recipes, including Barbacoa Beef and Chili Chicken and Corn salsa.

Tortillas (I used multi-grain flax, yum)
Beans (Black or Pinto--I used refried black actually)
Meat of choice (Chicken, Barbacoa, Steak, Carnitas, or meatless)
Cilantro-Corn Salsa (or other salsa)
Skinny Cilantro-Lime Rice
Romaine Lettuce, Chopped
Mexi-Blend Shredded Cheese
Sour Cream (optional)
Guacamole (optional)

1.  One tortilla at a time, spoon on some beans (or smear on if using refried).  Top with meat, salsa, rice, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream or guac.
2.  Fold (or wrap up if your tortillas aren't huge) tightly and enjoy with a side of Jalapeno pepper sauce, or whatever sauce you prefer.

Serve and enjoy!

Cilantro-Corn Salsa

Corn salsa  is so good in a burrito or eaten with chips.  I love Chipotle's salsas and in my desire to replicate a Chipotle burrito at home, I made this salsa to serve with it.  This recipe was inspired by Gina of Skinny Taste's recipe...and by of course, Chipotle.

2 Cups (10 oz) Sweet Corn, cooked (organic)
2 Tomatoes, diced (or 1 Can Diced toms)
3 Tbsp. Minced Onion (or 1/2 red onion, diced)
1 Jalapeno, diced (seeds removed unless you want it h-o-t)
3 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Cilantro (or 3 tsp. dried)
3 Tbsp. Lime Juice (or juice from 1 1/2 Limes)
1/2 tsp. Chili Powder
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper

1. Combine all ingredients well.  Refrigerate for 1 hour and serve.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cinnamon-Roll Pie Crust

Seriously--a pie crust made of cinnamon rolls!  This is such a fun recipe.  I saw a photo of a cinnamon-roll pie crust recently on Pinterest and had to do this myself.  Not only was this easy and great-tasting, but it looks unique (and yummy) and is sure to be a conversation-starter where you serve it (I brought it to a big family Thanksgiving in Massachusetts and it was a total hit).  I made it as an apple pie (hence, the need for two pie crusts--one to cover the filling), but you could try it with a number of different pies.  Pumpkin, pecan, or banana cream would all be great pies with this crust too.

2 12" Pie Crusts (Premade or Homemade)
Ground Cinnamon
Pie Filling of Choice

1.  Roll out one pie crust and sprinkle enough cinnamon on to cover the pie (about 1-2 tsp).  
2.  Tightly roll back up the pie crust and cut pie into 1/2" thick slices.  
3.  Lie the "cinnamon rolls" back down into a circular shape.  Using a rolling pin (and your fingers to make some seals tight), roll the cinnamon rolls together, sealing the edges together and making the pie about 1/4" thick (a 12" circle).
4.  Gently flip the pie crust over and use your fingers to seal together any major cracks or crevices.  
5.  With the help of a large flat spatula, carefully transfer the newly sealed pie crust into a pie tin or dish.  Use your fingers to seal back together any seals that came apart.  
6.  Pour in your pie filling of choice (in my case, apple filling).
7.  Repeat crust process for second pie crust (if using a double layer).  Place over top of filling and seal edges with bottom pie crust.
8.  Finish making your pie according to the directions (bake, refrigerate, etc).


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tomato, Basil, & Mozzarella Panzanella

I love Panzanella.  My Pea Panzanella is to-die-for.  This recipe is a different take on the bread dish, with heart-healthy Mediterranean flavors.  The classic combination of tomato, basil, and Mozzarella come together in a different way, making for one tasty meal....actually, way beyond tasty.  My husband and I savored this dish--it is so so good.  Serve it as an entree or a side dish to a lean meat.
I adapted the recipe from one I found in Gourmet magazine.

3/4 Loaf Italian or French Bread, cut into 1" pieces (1 day old is best)
1/4 Cup, plus 1 Tbsp. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1 Garlic Clove, Minced
2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Capers, Drained and Chopped.
15-16 oz Tomatoes, Cut into 1" pieces (or buy canned, diced, to save time--be sure to drain the juice)
8 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, cut into 1" pieces
6 oz. Diced Ham or Prosciutto (I just used deli sliced ham)
1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil (3 Tbsp. Dried, but best to get fresh for this recipe)
1 Small Red Onion, thinly sliced (optional to add more flavor--I did not add--if you know my aversion to fresh onions, you understand).
Oh and ignore the lettuce in the photo at the right--we had a side salad with our meal, but the lettuce is definitely not a key ingredient.

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray (or line with foil and spray that with cooking spray).
2.  In a large bowl, toss bread pieces with 1 Tbsp. oil and pepper.  Spread bread mix onto baking sheet into 1 layer.  Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until bread is lightly browned (outer part will be crunchy and the middle will still be a little soft).
3.  Whisk together the garlic, vinegar, capers, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in large bowl.
4.  Add bread, tomatoes, Mozzarella, ham, and basil to bowl and stir and toss well to cat.  Let flavors sit for 20-30 minutes, at room temperature, before serving.  Or, make a couple hours ahead of time and chill in refrigerator (then serve at room temperature).


Baked Southwest Egg Rolls

After making my Baked Mozzarella Sticks, I was inspired to make more egg roll wrapper meals.  I've always loved Southwest Egg Rolls in restaurants, but know they are sinful for my health.  I decided to make my version of Southwest Egg Rolls, using healthy ingredients and baking them instead of frying.  These would make a great appetizer (great for fall football games!) or serve them as a vegetarian meal (that's what I did).  They were so good.  I'm looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. 

2 Cups Frozen Corn, Thawed
1 Can (15 oz) Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
1 Bag (10 oz) Frozen Chopped Spinach, Thawed and Squeezed Dry
2 Cups Shredded Mexi-blend cheese (Low or Non-Fat)
1 Can (4 oz) Diced Green Chilies, Drained
2 Tbsp. Chives (Green Onions)
2 Tbsp. Dried Cilantro (or 1/4 Cup Fresh Cilantro)
1 tsp. Cumin (Ground)
1 tsp. Chili Powder
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1 Package Egg Roll Wrappers, Room Temperature

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients (minus the egg roll wrappers) in a large bowl and stir well thoroughly mix.  
2.  Lay an egg roll wrapper out on a work surface so that one of the corners is pointing toward you and put a large spoonful (about 1/4 cup) of the filling in the center.  
3.  Fold the tip closest to you up over the filling snugly.  You can add a few drops of water to make it stick better.
4.  Carefully (here is where it can sometimes break), fold the right and left sides in to the center (use a bit of water again if you desire).  
5.  Roll up the wrap and use a bit of water to seal it.  Repeat with the remaining filling and wraps.6.  Place the sealed egg rolls on the baking sheet (sprayed with cooking spray) seam side down.   Spray a little cooking spray on top of the egg rolls.
7.  Bake at 400 for 12-17 minutes, or until lightly brown, turning halfway through baking.  

Serve immediately, warm with fresh salsa and ranch sour cream dip.   

Skinny Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie.  You either love it or hate it.  I hated this comfort dish with a passion growing up.  I remember when Mom was working or in school and it was Dad's night to cook (before I decided to learn to cook to help him out).  Pot pies were one of his things and I would literally cry my eyes out and go to bed hungry before I ate one.  I've decided to rediscover chicken pot pies twenty or so years later, giving it my own spin.  Inspiration for this recipe comes from Cooking Light's recipe, but I have significantly modified the recipe.  I changed a number of the vegetables they used, plus I used phyllo dough instead of puff pastry.  I LOVE phyllo dough (crispy, light, crunchy, yummy) and it is much much healthier than puff pastry.  The outcome was pretty tasty and makes a great dinner on a chilly evening or a night you're craving some hearty comfort food (without the hearty calories).

4 Cups Sodium-Free Chicken Broth
1 1/2 Cups Frozen Green Peas (Thawed)
2 Small Yellow or White Potatoes
1 Medium-Large Sweet Potato
4 Stalks Celery
3 Carrots
1 lb. Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless)
2/3 Cup Whole-Wheat Flour
1 13/4 Cups Skim Milk
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley (or 4 Tbsp. Dried)
1 tsp. Thyme
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1/3 Package Phyllo Dough (12 sheets)

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large stockpot.  Chop/dice potatoes, celery, and carrots.  Add to stockpot. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
2.  Cut chicken (not cooked) into small 1-2" pieces.  Add to broth and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove veggies and chicken from broth with a slotted spoon.  Set aside.
3.  Turn heat back up to medium and slowly add flour and milk to broth, whisking well.  Continue to cook about 5-10 minutes, or until thickened.
4.  Add chicken and veggies to the thickened broth.  Stir in parsley and black pepper.

5.  Spray a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray.  Lay 6 phyllo sheets on the bottom of the dish.  Spoon mixture on top of phyllo dough.
6.  Carefully place remaining 6 sheets of dough over chicken mixture, and press the edges to the pan to seal in the chicken mixture.  Cut 3-4 small slits in the dough for steam to escape.  Spray with cooking spray.  Place dish on foil-lined baking sheet (just in case it bubbles over).
7.  Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, or until pastry is lightly browned and mixture is bubbling.

Serve hot and enjoy!
Note: if you plan on reheating leftovers (as we definitely had to do--then add a little bit of skim milk before reheating in the microwave so the reheated portion is not pasty).

Caprese Chicken

I love easy, healthy entrees.  This dinner is simple and straightforward to make, yet tastes totally gourmet and looks great too.  My husband's reaction was something along the lines of, "Wow, fancy," which means he was totally impressed.  Did I mention how healthy this meal is?  Lean protein, heart-healthy olive oil, basil, and red peppers in this Mediterranean dish.
Ok, false advertising...this is not really "caprese" chicken, as I used red peppers instead of tomatoes...but it looks very caprese-like.  And it tastes so good, so whatever I'm calling it, just try it.

1 lb. Chicken Breasts (boneless, skinless; 3-4 breasts)
2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Divided
1 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
1/2 Red Pepper, Cut into Strips
4 Basil Leaves
4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, cut into 3-4 slices (one per chicken breast)

1.  Marinade chicken breasts in balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil, and the garlic for 2-3 hours.
2.  Grill chicken breasts, bake, or sautee on stovetop until cooked through (I baked at 350 for about 15-20 min).
3.  While chicken is cooking, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil in skillet.  Add red pepper strips and saute for 5-7 minutes, or until soft and cooked thoroughly.
4.  Place one chicken breast on a plate.  Top with a slice of Mozzarella, then basil leaf, then 3-4 red pepper strips.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Apple Cider Apple Cups

I saw the post on Gimme some Oven for cups made out of apples (!!!) and HAD to make these.  Seriously, you cut open apples and put in some homemade (or store-bought if you want) apple cider.  Genius.  Hot apple cider on a cold day, snuggled up on the couch, is one version of paradise.  You can also try putting caramel in these apple cups and serving apple slices to dip into it (Genius again!).  Here's a link on how to do the caramel apple thing.  It's on my to-make list once my son is old enough for that sort of treat (9 months is a little early for both sugar and crunchy food though).  These apple cups are not only edible when you're done, but super-cute, fun, and different.  Try making some for a party or just because.

Apple Cider (Homemade, or Store-bought)
Lemon Juice
Cinnamon Sticks


1. Cut tops off of apples and set aside.

2.  Use a paring knife to cut around the edge of the apple to make a "rim," about 1/4"-1/2" inch thick.
3.  Using a spoon, or melon-baller, scoop out the meat of the apple.  Brush a little lemon juice inside the apple to keep it from browning.
3.  If your apple sits lopsided, feel free to shave/cut a little bit off the bottom (as long as you don't cut through the apple for obvious leakage reasons).
4.  Fill with cider, add a cinnamon stick and Enjoy!!