December 30, 2009

Cranberry Orange Cookies

It would be a stretch to call these cookies a health food, but the bursts of red color spotted throughout them do pack a punch! Cranberries are high in vitamin C, chock-full of antioxidants, may be a source of anti-cancer agents, and may benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems (according to wikipedia). Also, Oprah recently declared them "the ultimate holiday health superfood." Apparently she turns to cranberry juice whenever trying to ward off a cold. Maybe she'd enjoy these cookies?

The recipe can be found on AllRecipes.
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups chopped cranberries
  • Cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg. Then mix in orange zest and juice.
  • Time for the dry ingredients: slowly mix in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix in cranberries on low speed.
  • Drop dough onto cookie sheets. Leave a little room for them to spread.
  • Bake in pre-heated oven at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until cookie edges are a light golden brown.
  • The original recipe calls for icing, but honestly these cookies are sweet enough without it.
Before Baking
Out of the oven, warm, and ready to eat!

Because of the zesty hint of citrus, they make a refreshing alternative on a cookie tray!


We're still talking Christmas cookies... we have a tin or two left in the freezer! There is no more perfect time of year for sparkly, sugary, green and red cookies.
Shortbread are a Christmas classic, and sablés are yet another take on the perennial favorite. They are a delicate butter cookie that take their name from the French word for "sand", which refers to their crumbly texture.

The full recipe can be found here, as part of a Tuesdays with Dorie baking challenge. We followed it to a tee. Thoughts from us are posted below:
  • To bring butter to room temperature in a hurry, microwave at 20-30% power.
  • Make sure the logs are rolled smoothly and don't have any air pockets.
  • The logs of dough are cut after being refrigerated... we found that they needed a few minutes to warm up after coming out of the fridge. Otherwise, the dough cracked.
  • The cookies will be a very light brown on the bottom when cooked - just lift up a corner of the parchment paper to check on the color.
Sablés are very similar in taste to Pillsbury slice-and-bake cookies... if you figure out how to get pictures of snowmen and Christmas trees in the middle of your dough, let us know.

December 20, 2009

Vegetable Lasagna

We had left-over ricotta cheese to use up... and it turned into this. Funny how one ingredient can spur a dish that includes everything but the kitchen sink!

This lasagna is a hearty pasta dish. It's definitely rooted in veggies, but to add a little protein kick we added half a pound of ground beef.

The base for this recipe came from AllRecipes - but feel free to get creative, just like we did.

1 package lasagna noodles
1 pound fresh mushrooms (we didn't add these... Lisa isn't a fan)
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced (helpful video - but don't worry if you aren't that fancy - we aren't)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 jars pasta sauce (this is a great way to switch up the flavor of the lasagna! Spicy? Mushroom-y? Plain tomato?)
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 container part-skim ricotta cheese (we subbed in a little cottage cheese instead)
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Optional: 1/2 pound ground beef

Note: go crazy with the vegetables! We added zucchini, red pepper, and brussel spouts (Amy added those in. And didn't tell anyone. No one noticed!).
  • Check your lasagna noodle box. Amy boiled water and then mom saved the day and noted they were NO cook noodles. You assemble the lasagna with uncooked pasta.
  • If you have to cook your noodles, do so according to the directions on the box. It probably says to boil them for about 10 minutes for al dente noodles.
  • Heat oil in large pot. Add vegetables and cook. Stir in pasta sauce and basil, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. The sauce should thicken a little.
  • If you are adding ground beef, brown it first. Heat pan over medium heat, add beef, mash/stir until all pink disappears. Add to tomato sauce before assembling lasagna in baking dish.
  • Combine ricotta, 1/2 the mozzarella cheese, and eggs.
  • Time to assemble! Spread some tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 greased baking dish. Layer lasagna noodles, cheese mix, sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Repeat this pattern 2 or 3 times. Top with remaining 2 cups of mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake in 350 F oven for 40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Look at all those vegetables!
If you look hard enough, you might spot a brussel sprout.
Out of the Oven

Slow Cooker Pepper Steak

We've had a slow cooker sitting in a kitchen cupboard for a while... We keep hearing they're great tools, but we've never taken the jump and tried it out. Dad made something in it once or twice, and we actually have a box of that pre-made-crockpot stuff in the freezer.
Anyway, instead of digging out the frozen crockpot box, we took out about 2 pounds of beef and turned it into Slow Cooker Pepper Steak!

Honestly... not sure about the "a slow cooker is a time saver" idea, but I guess it's nice if you want to cook in the morning and go out in the afternoon. It might be more of a time-shifter than a time-saver.

Recipe is from our favorite: AllRecipes.

2 Pounds beef sirloin, cut into 2 inch strips
Garlic powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cube beef bouillon (a.k.a. stock)
1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon cornstarch... and sprinkle in more as needed
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 large green bell peppers, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
  • It would have been ten times easier to buy pre-sliced steak. Slicing the big chunk of beef got messy!
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet. Brown the beef strips over medium heat, sprinkling with a little garlic powder. When you brown ground beef, you make sure no pink is left. But, remember this is steak. You don't want to over-do it, or you'll end up with some very well-done, tough-to-chew beef.
  • Transfer the beef to the slow cooker.
  • Dissolve the beef bouillon/stock in the water, then mix in cornstarch (this will make the sauce thicker... you'll probably need to add an extra teaspoon or two toward the end). Pour into slow cooker.
  • Stir in onion, stewed tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, salt. Leave the green pepper out for now, otherwise it will go mushy.
  • Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours.
  • Add the green pepper in for the last hour of cooking.
Serve over rice.

We have some catching up to do...

We have some catching up to do....

(We've been busy)

December 13, 2009

Peppermint Meringues

Another AllRecipes success! Next post will be from a different site, promise... there's just so much good stuff on there. And the rating system paired with user suggestions is so helpful.

Meringues... these are sometimes called "forgotten cookies," because after they're cooked they are left in the oven for a long time. You probably won't forget about them though - they're just too pretty! The crushed candy canes are a perfect finishing touch on these light and airy cookies!

2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup white sugar
Peppermint extract
Crushed candy canes
  • In large bowl, beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until the mixture forms soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Mix in a few drops of peppermint extract.
  • Scoop the mixture into a ziploc bag and cut a tip off a bottom corner of the bag. Use this to pipe little dollops onto parchment-lined cookie trays (see below).
  • Sprinkle crushed candy canes over the cookies.
  • Bake for 1 1/2 hours in a preheated oven at 225 F. The meringues should be dry on the inside, but not tanned at all.
  • Turn off the oven and open the door. Let the meringues sit inside the oven until completely cool.
  • Store loosely covered in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Before baking

What a winter-y looking cookie!

December 6, 2009

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

This recipe got rave reviews on
("perhaps the most fantastic cookie I have ever made", "just the way biscotti is supposed to taste", "very =best= biscotti recipe", etc.)
... and the red and green detail means they can be made while Christmas carols are playing!

These italian cookies are perfect for dipping (or dunking) in tea or coffee, although they can be eaten along because this version is a little softer than many coffee shop creations.
They are twice baked - once as a log, and then again as individual slices - but they actually don't take that much time to make.

1/4 cup light olive oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pistachio nuts (buy them out of the shell)
  • Mix oil and sugar, add vanilla and almond extracts. Beat in eggs.
  • Add flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix on low speed.
  • Stir in cranberries and nuts.
  • Divide dough in half and shape into two logs. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake at 300 F for about 40 minutes (original recipe says 35, but it took a little longer for the logs to turn a light brown).
  • Remove from oven, cover with a towel (this is supposed to prevent cracking... they still cracked a little), and cool for 10 minutes.
  • Reduce oven to 275 F.
  • Cut logs into 3/4 inch thick slice (thinner would be nice, but the pistachios make it difficult... next time we'll roughly chop the nuts). Usually a serrated knife is used when making biscotti, but in this case a large bread knife works best.
  • Lay slices on sides and bake for 10 minutes or until dry.
  • Cool before storing.

Whipped Shortbread

We're going to let the pictures do the talking for this recipe...

Check out mom's note in the top corner!

A few suggestions:
  • "Whipped" means whipped! Mix these on high speed for quite a while.
  • Make them tiny. They are super buttery and rich.
  • Cherries = Christmas! Chop up the cherries into tiny pieces. The splash of red definitely makes these cookies festive.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay enough with the experiments.
Tried, tested, and true.

Everyone needs a good chocolate chip recipe to fall back on. There are so many variations (the biggest basic difference lies in whether you use butter or shortening)... but once you find a good one, whipping a batch up is a reliable treat.

A little secret: our secret recipe is printed on the back of "Chipits" chocolate chip bags everywhere. We've been using it for years... we have it cut out and pasted into the recipe book just in case Hershey stops printing it... but for now it's always easy to find!

1 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Chipits, obviously...!)
  • These are "drop cookies" - so all you have to do is drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet
  • Make sure you leave a little room between cookies, because they'll spread out a little bit
  • Bake at 375 F for about 10 minutes

November 29, 2009

Pumpkin Ravioli

Continuing on the pumpkin theme (which might have gone a little too far with this one)...
Pumpkin Ravioli!

Okay, the Ravioli seemed a little iffy. And why is it red? There were two options on the AllRecipes website and the one I chose (Amy is taking full responsibility for this) said upfront that it had an "unusual taste."

There was a lot of hype leading up to it... I said I was going to make it on a Wednesday, but then not all the ingredients were on-hand. I had to work Thursday. Friday I tried to squeeze it in before jetting off to the restaurant job, but assembling the pieces took longer than I'd anticipated. We had to wait until Saturday to eat them!

Recipe (modified from the original):
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup pumpkin pie filling
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water
  • Mix the cheese, pumpkin, garlic, and salt. This will be the filling - set it aside for now.
  • Combine the flour and salt. Push toward the edges of the bowl, creating a "well" in the center. Blend the tomato paste, oil, and eggs, and pour into the center of the bowl with flour. Stir with a fork, gradually bringing in the flour mixture from the edges of the bowl. If dough is too dry, mix in a little water (the recipe said up to 2 tablespoons, but it was more like 5...)
  • Knead for 5 minutes on floured cloth-covered surface, adding flour if dough is too sticky.
  • Cover dough and let it rest for 5 minutes. Divide in 4 parts. Roll out dough sections one at at time into rectangles (about 12 x 10 inches was the recommended size, but mine looked more like large blobs).
  • Drop pumpkin filling by the teaspoon onto half the rectangle, leaving an inch or two between rows.
  • Moisten the edges of the dough and the spaces between the filling piles. Fold the other half of the dough over the pumpkin mixture and press down around the filling, so that little filling pockets are created.
  • Cut between the rows and seal the edges of the ravioli pieces with a fork. Seal them well, or they will explode/leak when you cook them!
  • Place ravioli on a towel and let stand for about 30 minutes, until dry. Turn them once so that both sides dry out.
  • Cook ravioli in boiling water until tender (about 10 minutes).
  • Drain and serve with sauce.
Make sure to seal the edges!

1/2 cup pumpkin pie filling
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 Romano cheese
Sage leaves (or a little bit of dried sage)
Salt & pepper to taste
  • Heat pumpkin and cream in a small saucepan. Add remaining ingredients.
  • Let sauce simmer for a few minutes until it thickens.
I'm glad I tried this recipe, but I'm not sure it will get made again... It was definitely unique. The sauce was a little too sweet and the ravioli a little too doughy. It was a good exercise it pasta-making though, something that we haven't attempted before.

November 28, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

Halloween brought a slight pumpkin obsession to the house....
Unfortunately, the orange squashes did not turn into horse-drawn carriages. But, we did end up with pumpkin bread and pumpkin ravioli!
Lisa wasn't crazy about the bread, and the ravioli was met with a lot of trepidation. But I love trying new fruit-based or vegetable-based recipes.

The star of the show

The back-up dancers

Mixing it up

AllRecipes Recipe:
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (note: this is not pumpkin pie filling... if you use filling, omit the spices and be prepared for a much sweeter-tasting bread)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (make it a little healthier by substituting applesauce for at least half the oil)
1 1/3 cups white sugar (you can probably use closer to 1 cup)
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon each: baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves
  • Mix pumpkin, oil and applesauce, sugar, and eggs together in a large bowl.
  • Combine the dry ingredients and stir into the pumpkin mixture.
  • Pour batter into greased and floured loaf pan.
  • Bake in 350 F oven for about 60 minutes (until knife comes out clean)

Tip: try spreading with a thin layer of cream cheese.

November 8, 2009

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

Do you know what this is?
Surprise!!! It's NOT pasta!
Nope, it's a crazy vegetable that likes to pretend it's a pasta!

We're big fans of this winter squash. It's often found on our dinner table, simply salted and/or buttered, or sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese. We ended up with two sitting on the counter, so we decided it was the perfect time to experiment a little.

Here it is raw... once cooked, the insides take on a thread-like texture.

If spaghetti squash is going to pose as a pasta, why not treat it like a pasta?
AllRecipes offered up a recipe for Baked Spaghetti Squash Lasagna:

1 spaghetti squash
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 can (28 ounce) stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 cube vegetable bouillon (we used an equivalent amount of chicken stock)
Black pepper
1 can black olives (optional)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Halve spaghetti squash and remove seeds. Place face-down in a baking dish with a little bit of water. Microwave for 8 - 10 minutes.
  • Saute onion and garlic over medium heat. Stir in tomatoes, basil, bouillon/stock, and black pepper. Cook for about 15 minutes, until sauce thickens a little.
  • Remove squash "strands" from the shell. Cover bottom of oven-safe dish with squash. Cover this layer with sauce and mozzarella cheese (and olives, if you'd like...). Lay down another squash layer. Then cheese. Make a 3rd layer if you still have ingredients. Top with Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake in oven at 325 F, until Parmesan cheese melts. Turn on the broiler for a minute or two if you'd like a crispier topping.

p.s. For more spaghetti squash info, check out Fabulous Foods.

Mocha Walnut Cookies

Chocolate is quite a pick-me-up, is it not?
If you have any doubts about the day-boosting power of chocolate, try adding coffee. Now that will perk you up!

We weren't sure how these cookies would turn out, so we only made half the recipe... that was our only mistake. These little guys were decadent. Seriously. Starbucks should sell them - not as huge monster cookies, but as dainty little bites to pair with coffee (like those cute mini vanilla scones they have).

Recipe (from AllRecipes):

2 cups chocolate chips
2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
2 teaspoons boiling water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

  • Melt a 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips (over hot water on the stove, or in the microwave on a very low setting), stir until smooth, and let it cool to room temperature.
  • Dissolve the instant coffee in the water, and set aside.
  • Combine in butter, sugars, and coffee. Add egg and chocolate. Mix well.
  • Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt). Note: it's a good idea to stir them together first, but we confess that we're lazy and we always skip this step.
  • Stir in the remaining chocolate chips, along with the walnuts.
  • Form dough into small balls (we made them about the size of a quarter), and place on cookie sheets.
  • Bake at 350 F for 10 - 12 minutes.

Be forewarned: the coffee taste is powerful... they are very rich!

October 23, 2009

White Bean Soup with Salsa

Apple season is passing, the leaves are falling, and people are sneezing.
It's cold and flu season again.
We don't know about you, but soup is a cozy cure for all sorts of ailments. And even if it doesn't completely banish the sniffles, there is a lot to be said for the comfort factor of soup - especially when it's homemade.

This recipe came from a Heart and Stroke foundation calendar that arrived in the mail. It's a little different, super healthy (packed with fiber and protein), and kind of fun to make (especially if you have trouble keeping the top on a blender...).
1 1/2 cups dried white kidney beans or navy beans
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp chili flakes
8 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock will also work)
1/2 cup uncooked whole wheat macaroni
  • Soak beans in water for about 3 hours. Drain and rinse.
  • Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and chili flakes. Cook until softened.
  • Add beans and stock to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for about 1 hour.
  • Puree soup in blender or food processor (this can get messy... Amy had to break out the windex to scrub down the window afterwards).
  • Return soup to pot. Thin with water if desired. Add pasta and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt & pepper.
  • Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with a spoonful of salsa.

October 21, 2009

Apple Pie

"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness."
- Jane Austen

Does anything say harvest time quite like apple pie? There's nothing like a crisp, crunchy apple picked from an aging tree. A sweet, succulent tartness is captured in every bite.

We had two big bags of apples picked from the orchard around the corner. We put our muscles to good use lugging the fruit back to the entrance of the farm - it seemed like we'd been overzealous in our picking.
Those apples were gone so fast... And many of them disappeared into this pie!

Find your favorite recipe! We used leftover pastry from the Upside Down Apple Pie. We'd stashed some in the freezer.

The Pie
We read through a few recipes and then decided to be creative. There aren't really set amounts - jut mix together the ingredients common to most recipes, add a little love, and put it in the oven. Really.

Here are some guidelines:
8 cups (2 pounds) apples - thinly sliced, peeled
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon

  • Toss the apples and lemon juice together in a bowl (the lemon juice helps prevent browning), and then throw everything else into the mix.
  • Put pastry into pie plate, put apple filling on top of pastry, drape more pastry on top and cut steam vents in the center.
  • Bake in bottom third of oven for 15 minutes at 425 F... reduce heat to 350 F and continue baking for 40 minutes (or until filling is bubbly and apples are soft when pierced with knife)

  • Brush the rim of the bottom pastry with water before draping on the top pastry - this helps them to stick together
  • Brush the top of the pie with a little bit of milk to make it a golden brown

One last big apple pie thought:
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."
- Dr. Carl Sagan

October 2, 2009

Upside Down Apple Pie

Jean Pare is a Canadian culinary legend. When looking for an apple pie that would be a definite winner, her "Pies" book was the first stop in the cookbook cupboard. There are 11 apple pie recipes listed in the index... think of all the experimenting that must have gone on in her kitchen!

Start with a recipe for basic pastry. We used Pare's but there are millions online. 

1/2 cup Walnut halves
1/3 cup Brown sugar

1 cup Granulated sugar
2 tbsp All-purpose flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon (times 4... this is a crucial flavor-boosting ingredient!)
1/8 tsp Salt
2 tsp Lemon juice

5 cups Apples - peeled, cored, & sliced (McIntosh works well)
  • Line a 9 inch pie plate with a wide circle of foil
  • Take two 2-foot long pieces of foil and attach them with a drug-store fold (we had to use Google images to figure out what that meant... basically, line up the two pieces so that they're slightly overlapping, and then fold a few times so that you get one big piece) - press into pie plate, grease 
  • Spread the walnut halves on the bottom of the pie plate, and sprinkle with brown sugar
  • Combine the next 5 ingredients in a large bowl
Don't forget this stuff!
  • Add apples to sugar mixture, stir to coat... and pile into pie plate
  • Roll pastry and place over top of apples (we found it easiest to roll out the dough on wax paper, and then we simply flipped the pastry onto the pie)
  • Fold the pastry edges under the pie plate and flute (make nice little dents with your thumb)

  • Turn up the foil around the edges - it should be a few inches high... cut slits in the pastry and put the entire strange-looking-set-up into your pre-heated oven 
  • Bake at 350 F for about 50 minutes (until apples are cooked)
  • Now comes the fun party! Cover the pie with a large plate and FLIP IT 
  • Remove the foil carefully

Delicious when served warm... and with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream!