Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chinese Bakery-Style Cake

This cake is THE BOMB!  Holy moly you have got to try it.  Chinese Bakery-style cakes are known for their lightness in both texture and can eat many slices and not feel sick :).  The cake itself is a light and moist sponge-cake like texture.  Sandwiched between the two cake layers is a creamy custard and fresh fruit.  The frosting is a fresh whipped cream.  And then you top it all off with more fresh fruit glazed to a glass-like finish.

I originally intended to make this as part of my mom's birthday celebration back in January but they changed the day on me so I didn't have the time to do so.  My Dad's side of the family was getting together for Chinese New Year celebration dinner so I thought what a perfect opportunity to give this one a shot.

It did take some effort (lots of whipping's times like these that I am so grateful for my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer!) but the end result was delicious and beautiful.  Fresh fruit right now is a bit expensive but looked so pretty on the cake.  I wanted fruits with varying colors so ended up with strawberries, mangos, and green grapes.   I would have used kiwi instead of grapes but my brother is allergic.  Other fruits that would work well are canned peaches, canned mandarin oranges, honeydew, canteloupe, blueberries, red grapes, raspberries...let your mind get wildly creative!  I used my new cake decorating tools to frost the cake and then quickly learned to put a border around the top and bottom of my cake.  I took it a step further and wrote "Happy New Year" in CHINESE!  Man that was a challenge given I had never decorated or written on a cake in English before let alone Chinese...not to mention I can't even really write Chinese with pen and paper, either :).

I come from a family of cooks and therefore picky eaters so this was a true taste test.  My Aunt Cesena immediately recognized the Chinese text as "Happy New Year" (phew, that's a relief!).  My Uncle Ben ate 3 slices and my Aunt Lai, who said she doesn't typically like cake, went for seconds!  My Dad, who's a fruit fan, requested this cake for his birthday next month.  My cousin Donny said that I should sell it for at least $25 a pop (in Chinese bakeries, this type of cake is AT LEAST $20).  I have a feeling there's going to be many future requests for this cake and I'd say this one passed the test :).

A few notes of caution: 1) The original recipe was in metric and Lucy re-wrote it to be in US units.  This resulted in some funky numbers, which you'll see below.  Just estimate it the best that you can!  2) I used red buttercream frosting to write on the cake because I thought it would be easier than using the whipped cream frosting.  The red seemed to bleed a bit.  Also, because it has fresh fruits and other fresh ingredients, this cake is best served fresh on the same day that it is made.

So what are you waiting for?  Go and make this cake!!

PS:  Now taking orders :).

Chinese Bakery-Style Cake
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Chinese Bakery Style Cake


For the Cake
  • 0.7 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 0.8 cups of granulated sugar (split into 2 even portions)
  • 6 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
  • 1.4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1.4 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
For the Custard Filling*

  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
*Note: Used a large box of cook-to-serve (not instant) vanilla pudding instead of creating homemade custard filling.  Tasted great and helped simplify this recipe a little bit.  After cooking the pudding before putting in fridge to chill, lay a sheet of saran wrap of wax paper over the surface so that it won't form a "skin".

For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2 tsp vanilla flavored instant pudding
  • 2 cups (1 pint) of chilled heavy cream
  • 2.5 tbsp of confectioner's sugar
For Fruit Filling and Decorating
  • Various fruits of different colors and shapes, sliced as desired (I used mango slices, whole grapes, and halved strawberries.  Honeydew, canteloupe, canned peaches, kiwi, blueberries, red grapes etc. would be great, too!)

To Make the Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 340 degrees F. Cut out wax paper or parchment paper to the size of the bottoms of two 8" or 9" round baking pans.  Lightly grease sides of pans and parchment paper.
  2. Warm eggs to room temperature.  Separate 6 egg whites into large stand mixer bowl and 6 egg yolks into a separate large mixing bowl.  Be sure to separate carefully because any bit of yolk that gets into the egg whites will make whipping the whites much more difficult.
  3. Mix first sugar portion (0.4 cups) with the egg yolks and beat until slightly thick and pale yellow.  Stir in vanilla to the yolk mixture.
  4. In large stand mixer bowl, beat egg whites until they are 60% foamy (a little more than halfway to forming stiff peaks). Add the remaining portion of sugar (0.4 cups) in three separate additions while continuing to whip egg whites. Continue until stiff peaks form when the beaters are pulled away from the foam (this is meringue).
  5. Gently fold in 1/2 of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture, folding in carefully to minimize volume loss. Gradually add flour and baking powder and mix gently.  Add melted butter and milk to the batter.  Fold in the remaining half of the meringue carefully. 
  6. Divide batter into the two prepared pans. Immediately bake for about 20-25 minutes in preheated oven until tops are a light brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Bake shorter in a dark, matte, or non-stick pan, and bake longer in a glass, aluminum, or other shiny pan). It's important that you bake the two cake layers immediately after the batter is finished, as the meringue will tend to re-liquefy as it sits around, and you'll get a weird thick layer at the bottom of your cake if you bake it like that.
  7. Remove cakes from oven and leave in pan to cool to room temperature.  If assembling cake later in the day, wrap cooled cake layers in saran wrap until ready to assemble.
For the custard filling
(If using cook-to-serve vanilla pudding, skip these steps and just follow the instructions on your package)
  1. Mix the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Be careful not to scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms as it will leave clumps in your custard.
  3. Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat. At this point the mixture should have thickened up dramatically.
  4. Mix together egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then combine with the mixture in the saucepan, whisking vigorously to combine. Return to heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps as you first incorporate the egg mixture, but just keep whisking as you heat it up and most of the lumps should disappear.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the custard to prevent any skin from forming on the custard. If you still have any remaining clumps in the custard now would be a good time to put some more elbow grease into the whisking and if you really can't get rid of them just scoop them out :)
  6. Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight if desired.
For the Stablized Whipped Cream Frosting
  1. Use stand mixer to beat heavy cream in a large well-chilled stand mixer bowl.  Beat cream on low speed until small bubbles form (about 30 seconds).  Increase speed to medium and beat until beaters leave a trail in the cream (about 30 seconds).  Increase speed to high, moving beaters around bowl. Beat until just before it becomes soft and billowy.
  2. Slowly add sugar and instant vanilla pudding at the sides of the bowl while continuing to whip until it is barely stiff.  These ingredients will stabilize the whipped cream and prevent it from separating over time.
  3. Use immediately for frosting or refrigerate for later use.
To Assemble the Finished Cake

  1. Carefully remove cakes from pans, cutting around edges if necessary.  Peel or cut away the skin of the cakes (the brown parts on the surface) using hands or a long serrated knife. If needed, level the surface of cake with a knife to make surface as flat as possible.
  2. Prepare fresh fruits to be placed between the cake layers. I used strawberries, green grapes, and mango slices. Use whatever you have on hand, just cut it up into small bite-sized pieces and make enough to cover the entire surface between the two cake layers. You can also prep fruit to put on top of the cake as decoration at the same time.
  3. Make a simple syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar by stirring together in a saucepan and slowly warming it up just until all the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Brush each cake with a thin layer of simple syrup on all surfaces. This helps keep the cake moist.
  4. Lay the first cake layer down onto plate.  Spread about half of prepared cooled custard onto the top of the cake layer leaving about 1/2" uncovered around the edge of the cake.  Add prepared fruit pieces on top of the custard, covering the entire custard area. Add remaining custard on top of the fruit.
  5. Place second cake layer on top of fruit filling. Gently press layers together and if needed, wipe away any excess custard that escapes from the sides.
  6. Frost the cake using the stabilized whipped cream topping and a wide blade or a frosting spatula.
  7. Be creative about how you want to decorate your cake. I piped out shells along the top and bottom edge of the cake rim. I then garnished with my prepared fruit and wrote in red buttercream frosting.
  8. For the finishing touch, you can make a nearly clear glaze that can be brushed on top of your fruit to give them a glass-like finish similar to the fruit on top of fruit tarts. Heat 1/4 cup of fruit preserves (any flavor - apricot is pretty popular) with an equal amount of water. Stir until boiling. Reduce by boiling off the water to alter the consistency of your glaze. If needed, press the boiled preserved through a fine sieve to separate out the fruit and seeds.  While it is still warm, gently brush it over your fruit and let it dry to achieve that beautiful shiny finish.
  9. Finally, put your cake into the fridge and chill for a few hours to let the frosting set. It is best served in the same day it was made.
Source: Modified from Edible Memories

Crockpot Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

I was excited to try the Pioneer Woman recipe for Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken) because Jes trialed it and said it was awesome and was also interested in the A Year of Slow Cooking's version which has been bookmarked on my Google Reader for who knows how long.  So, I took the ingredients from Pioneer Woman and the method from Slow Cooking's to make this recipe.

Because I only had 2 chicken breasts on hand, I halved the recipe but what you'll find below is the original recipe.  But since my crockpot is HUGEEE (yeah, got it from Costco and everything at that store, including appliances, comes in bulk sizes!) I decided to use the method of nesting a stoneware dish inside of my crockpot to create a smaller vessel and avoid burning/drying out of my food.  Did you know you could do that??  Yeah, nifty little trick.  Take a heat safe dish like Corningware or Pyrex and just stick it right inside of your crockpot.  Cool.

The end result?  A really easy version of Chicken Makhani.  But, flavor wise it was too weak and I much prefer the Chicken Tikka Masala that I previously made and blogged about (in fact, had some for dinner recently that I froze and reheated...still awesome!).  Yes, they're technically different dishes but the modifications I made to the original Tikka Masala recipe made it closer to a Makhani and in restaurants that don't have one of the other they tell you to get the other anyway as a subsitutute.  Texture wise, I should have known that crockpotting would result in a shredded chicken and I'd MUCH rather have real chicken cubes rather than shredded chicken.  If anything, this reminds me of what I'd imagine an Indian version of pulled pork/chicken might look like lol!

Anyway, I'm sharing this with you because my goal is to share all things yummy and not-so-yummy that comes ouf ot my kitchen.  Thankfully, things I consider successes far out number what I'd consider failures.  I wouldn't personally make this one again as I know that I can do better but if you don't mind crockpot chicken texture and are looking for something a bit different, I suppose it's worth giving a shot.

Crockpot Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)
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Yields: 4 servings

  • 4 pieces Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 5 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • ½ teaspoons Black Pepper
  • ½ teaspoons Cayenne Pepper
  • ¼ teaspoons Ground Coriander
  • ¼ teaspoons Cumin
  • ¼ teaspoons Cardamom
  • 1 whole Lime, Juiced
  • 1 whole Onion, Diced
  • ¼ cups Butter
  • 1 can (14.5 Oz. Can) Tomato Sauce
  • 1 can (14.5 Oz. Can) Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 pint Whipping Cream
  • 1 bunch Chopped Cilantro, to taste
  • 2 cups Basmati Rice (or However Much You Want)
  1. In a bowl or gallon sized ziplock bag, combine first 9 ingredients (through lime juice).  Let marinade in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Put chicken in crockpot, and add onion then butter and tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4. The chicken should shred easily with 2 forks when fully cooked.
  3. 15 minutes before serving, add whipping cream.  Serve over basmati rice and garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.
Source: Ingredients from Pioneer Woman and cooking method from A Year of Slowcooking

Grandpa N's Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Bun) - Trial 1

When I was a young girl, one of my absolute FAVORITE things to eat was my Grandpa N's Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Bun).  I loved them so much that my grandpa would literally bake a whole party tray of like 50 to bring for my birthday parties.  They were divine.  The bread was tender, soft and fluffy, the meat was sweet and salty at the same time with beautiful red coloring, and the glaze on top was both buttery and sugary.  While Chris' favorite Chinese bakery bun is the Bolo Bao with Nai Wong Filling, I go for the Char Siu Bao anyday.

Sadly, when my grandpa passed away, there were no more char siu bao to be had.  The kitchen had closed.  My mom and aunt had a recipe that was supposedly his.  The recipe looked authentic enough...a small scrap of paper with both english and chinese, all crinkled with wear and stained with cooking ingredients but it just didn't taste the same as when Grandpa made it. 

We swear it's because he used lard instead of butter as in the supposed written recipe.  Or maybe it was because he probably really did knead the dough the old fashioned way - by hand.  What also was strange was that no one seemed to have a recipe for the filling, just the bun dough itself...which makes it even harder to try to replicate.  Either way, I asked my mom for the recipe and decided I would make it my life's goal (ok, a bit dramatic, I know...but I really do LOVE these buns!) to try to re-create my grandpa's buns that we all know and love.

This post will document my first trial run.  I made the buns and ended up bringing them with me to my extended family's Chinese New Year celebration so I would have lots of expert critique on them.  The final verdict was that the filling that I had concocted (with the help of the internet and sheer taste and trial during cooking!) was pretty good and authentic.  Where the epic failure was was in the dough bun itself...very dense and hard, not at all like Grandpa's.  Heart wrenching but I won't lie, I didn't have high expectations of myself because the recipe that I was given was poorly written/vague and we all know that grandpa/grandma/mom/etc always has that special touch to make things taste delicious.

So below I will post what I did in Trial Run #1 (I tried to interpret the original written recipe and clarify what I thought it meant) and then I will post what I would do differently next time in Trial #2.  I won't lie, this really might be a life-long pursuit because it is time consuming (4-5 hours dough rising time!) and I got the BBQ pork from my mom who doesn't make it often.  I could get the recipe to roast the pork myself, I suppose, but again, that process itself is a bit time consuming.

Grandpa N's Meat Bun Dough with Christine N's Char Siu Bao Filling - Trial #1
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Yields: 24 buns


For the Dough
  • 2 packages of yeast (4 ½ tsp)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 c warm water
  • 7 c bread flour
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 ½ sticks (3/4 c) butter
  • 1 egg
For the BBQ Pork Filling (as Christine made it; No recipe from Grandpa N)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ pounds char siu, cooked and diced (this is a complete guesstimate!  Buy at a Chinese grocery store or Google for a recipe because my mom gave me this pre-cooked!)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • ¼ c dry red wine
  • ¼ c ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 ½ Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp Chinese 5 spice seasoning*
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Red food coloring, if desired
*Note: DO NOT leave this ingredient out!  During my taste test trials this was the last ingredient that I added and when I did, it was truly the golden ticket to making it taste "right" in my opinion.  Everything before it tasted good but didn't have the correct taste.  If you can't find Chinese 5 spice seasoning, Google has a substitute listed as: 2 teaspoons of Szechuan peppercorns, roasted & ground + 8 star anise, ground + ½ teaspoon ground cloves + 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon + 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds.  As you can see, a very unique flavor is imparted from this blend.
For the Egg Wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk
For Finishing
  • ½ stick (1/4 c) butter, melted
  • 1 ½ Tbsp honey

For the Dough
  1. In a large mixing bowl, proof the yeast by combining warm water, 1 Tablespoon sugar, and yeast. Mix together and let sit in a warm place until mixture is frothy (forms bubbles on surface).
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and knead (by hand or in stand mixer with dough hook) until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Add more flour by the Tablespoon if dough continues to be too sticky. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place and let dough rise for 4-5 hours. While the dough is rising, make filling.
For the Filling
  1. In a large sauté pan, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent and slightly carmelized (browned). Then add cooked char siu pieces and sauté until heated.
  2. Add red wine and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. If a redder colored filling is desired, add food coloring until desired redness is reached. Continue cooking until heated throughout.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
For Making the Buns
  1. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. After dough has risen, punch down and separate into 24 pieces. Roll each piece between your hands to form a ball.
  3. Add a heaping Tablespoon of cooled filling to the center of the dough ball. Pull edges of dough around filling and pinch to close. Place seam side down onto prepared baking sheets. Continue until all buns have been formed.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. In a small bowl, use a fork and beat together the egg and milk. Gently brush the mixture onto the buns as to not disturb the risen dough.
  6. Bake buns in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden brown.
  7. While buns are baking, combine melted butter and honey in a small bowl. Brush the mixture generously on top of each warm bun after it has come out of the oven.
  8. Allow buns to cool completely on a wire rack and serve or store in an airtight container.
Source: Meat Bun Dough recipe from Grandpa N (Christine's Grandfather) and Char Siu Filling Recipe a Christine's Kitchen Chronicles Original, inspired by Kiteless on Visual Recipes
What I'd do differently next time:
  1. Substitute 1 stick of butter for vegetable shortening (Crisco).
  2. Change first rise time to about 1-2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.
  3. Use a rolling, pin, roll each piece of dough into a circle, making the edges thinner than the center. Do not roll too thin or holes may form during baking. Add a heaping Tablespoon of cooled filling to the center of the dough circle. Pull edges of dough around filling and pinch to close. Place seam side down onto prepared baking sheets. Continue until all buns have been formed.
  4. Change second rise time to 4-5 hours (after buns have been filled and formed).  Periodically mist buns with water during this long rise time to ensure that they don't dry out.  This long rise time before baking should result in a lighter, less dense bun.
  5. Aunt Peggy says to consider using the Bolo Bao bun recipe instead of Grandpa's.  Will consider for a future trial run.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Red Lobster's Parmesan Crusted Tilapia

This recipe comes straight from the Red Lobster's website.  I actually wanted to make their Fish in a Bag because that's my favorite meal there but ended up feeling that was too complex for a week night.  It was extremely simple to put together and a perfect dinner during Lent.  It's so good and easy it's worth considering adding this to your regular meal rotation because we all know we should add more lean protein like fish to our diets :).  I intended to also try the Red Lobster Copycat Cheese Biscuit Recipe from Jes' blog but got too lazy that night.  Maybe next time...

I halved the recipe for the two of us but will leave the original recipe for 4 intact. I ended up using those individually wrapped tilapia filets that you can get at like Kroger and then brushed each with a thick coat of alfredo and then sprinkled some bread crumbs, parmesan, and parsley on top instead of pre-mixing them in a bowl.  I figured it would taste the same and was much easier :).  The bread crumbs give it a nice crunch to an otherwise tender and flaky fish but without the whole frying thing (which, I think we established in the Pretzel Chicken Tenders post I just prefer to avoid...).  Sadly, I didn't have any panko on hand and settled for the regular italian seasoned bread crumbs that I had.  I know it would have been a million times better with panko.

I chose to use my Quick and Easy Alfredo Sauce (leftover from when I made Pasta Bravo) as the sauce for the fish and pasta for simplicity but you can always use the recipe supplied here.  Again, multiple sauce use makes life easier!

Need more ideas for Lent?  There are many meals on my blog with which you can subsitute meat choices (ex: Chicken Lo Mein or Fried Rice but with shrimp instead of other meats).  I also found there to be plenty of delicious looking recipes on Red Lobster's Recipe Files (amazing that they can share so many of what you'd think are top secret recipes!). 

You can also try one of these seafood recipes from my blog:
Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
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Yields: 4 Servings

  • 4 ea 5-6 oz Tilapia Fillets
  • Non-stick Cooking Spray
  • ½ lb. Linguini, cooked
For the Parmesan Crust:
  • ½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
  • ½ cup Parmesan Cheese, pre-shredded
For the Parmesan Base:
  • ½ cup Parmesan Cheese, pre-shredded
  • 1 Tbsp. Parsley, dried
  • 10 oz Prepared Refrigerated Alfredo Sauce
For the Parmesan Cream Sauce: (used Quick and Easy Alfredo, instead)
  • 1.2 Tbsp. Fresh Basil, Chopped
  • 2.¼ cup Chablis or Chardonnay Wine, optional
  • 3.¼ cup Half and Half
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray a 9X13 baking dish with Non-stick Cooking Spray. Place the 4 Tilapia fillets in the dish and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the Panko bread crumbs and ½ cup Parmesan cheese to make the crust for the topping. Set aside.
  4. To assemble the Parmesan Base, place ½ cup Parmesan cheese, 1 Tbsp. parsley and the prepared Alfredo sauce in a medium bowl and stir well. Remove ½ cup of the mixture (reserving the rest to make the Parmesan Cream Sauce) and brush onto the 4 pieces of Tilapia, making a thick, even covering on the fish. Evenly sprinkle the Parmesan Crust on top of the fish. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 15-20 minutes or until fish reaches 140-150 degrees and the crust is golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile while the fish is baking, make the Parmesan Cream sauce if desired for using on pasta. Place the remaining Parmesan Base in a medium sauce pan, add the fresh Basil, Wine, and Half and Half and heat over medium heat until the sauce is simmering, stirring often.
  6. Toss the Parmesan Cream Sauce (or other prepared alfredo sauce) and the Linguini together and serve with the Parmesan Crusted Tilapia. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.
Source: Red Lobster

Monday, February 22, 2010

My First Submission Was Accepted at Foodgawker!

Foodgawker is a website dedicated to bringing you the best food photos on the web.  Basically, it's a feast for your eyes!  The food on there looks so good you can almost taste and smell it from your screen.  Mmmm.  Good thing you really can't eat the food off your screen or you'd gain about a million pounds because everything looks so scrump-diddly-umptious.  I like looking at this site to be inspired by what others are making (I've found great food blogs and recipes this way!) as well as how they are making it look delicious through a meer picture.

Anyway, I was looking through the food photos that I had recently taken for Dinner Club and thought hmmm...this one actually looks pretty good in terms of overall composition and general lighting.  It did look a little muted for color though so I took the photo and did an auto correct filter using the software that comes with Windows.  Voila, it looked absolutely beautiful with a few quick fixes.

I submitted it to Foodgawker and just hoped for the best.  Their site said it would take up to 12 hours to hear back on whether or not the photo was accepted to be posted on our website.  I wasn't holding my was my first submission and I feel like having a photo posted on there is just an entirely new league in terms of food blogging.  Regulars on The Nest What's Cooking message board have even complained that their success rate is only as good as maybe 50%...and I envy their blogs and photos!

Low and behold I check my email this morning and MY PHOTO WAS ACCEPTED!!!  It probably helped that I felt pretty good about this particular photo to begin with.  If I submitted all of my stuff I'm sure this might be the only one that they would take lol.  Maybe a few others but I really doubt it.  It should be interesting to see whether being featured on their site homepage will bring any increased traffic to my website.  (Not that I make money from my blog or anything right now...Sig said I should look into it, though...).  If anything, this helps give me confidence in my little food blog here and inspires me to try to improve on my photo taking skills.  We do, after all, eat with our eyes first :).

So now....I present to you, my first ever submission to food gawker...accepted on my first try!  Go ahead, click here, it's okay to gawk ;)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

Mmmm...well, my Dinner Club friends all know that Chris loved these truffles (as evidenced by Emily's photo on facebook and the fact that he ate like half a dozen on his own in just a few hours) but I'm pretty sure that others loved them too because I only came home with about 10 of them and started with at least 30.  I could eat the cookie dough batter straight up with a spoon, too.  And, the best part about this recipe is that there's no eggs in it so you can eat the cookie dough to your hearts content without worrying about contracting samonella or other nasties! 

This is a really easy recipe to make.  I'd also consider using this cookie dough to use as part of homemade chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.  Chris is requesting that I make a peanut butter version sometime...but...I think that's called a Buckeye (which, I do have a separate recipe for that one!) lol.

I added some shortening to the chocolate coating.  This change is reflected in the recipe below and learned from a different recipe that I use.  I find that the shortening allows for a shinier coating and makes for a thinner and softer chocolate coating.  I hate it when the chocolate snaps off when you bite into it...this helps with that!

Combined with the Heart-Shaped Red Velvet Whoopie Pies, they made a very cute Valentine's Day Love at First Bite Dinner Club dessert presentation (Hey, I think I'm getting better at taking pictures! See above and below!).  Beware though, the small size makes it deceiving and you can snack your way through quite a few in a short time!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
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  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1½ lb. semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, coarsely chopped or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening or vegetable oil
  • Mini chocolate chips (for garnish)
  1. Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the salt, flour, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla until incorporated and smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the mixture has firmed up enough to form balls.
  2. Shape the chilled cookie dough mixture into 1-1½ inch balls. Place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Cover loosely, transfer the pan to the freezer and chill for 1-2 hours.
  3. When ready to dip the truffles, melt the chopped chocolate and shortening or oil in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Dip each chilled truffle, one at a time, coating in chocolate and shaking gently to remove the excess. (If at any point during dipping, the cookie dough balls become too soft, return to the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.) Transfer to a wax-paper lined surface. If using mini chocolate chips for garnish, sprinkle on top quickly after dipping each truffle before the chocolate sets. Once all the truffles have been dipped, store them in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Source: Modified from as seen on Annie's Eats and originally from Taste of Home

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

I made these whoopie pies heart shaped so they'd really match our Valentine's Day Love at First Bite Dinner Club Theme but they'd be great any time of year in the traditional round shape, too. 

I won't lie, I was pretty scared about the full bottle of red food coloring that goes into this but that's how you get the beautifully vibrant red color of the cake.  It's interesting because I noticed that by the end of the night they were a darker red than when they were freshly baked earlier in the day.  Avoid getting the dye and uncooked batter on your hands and clothing though or you may end up a bit stained until you can scrub it back off!  I never piped anything prior to recipe but it was pretty easy and the heart shapes (see my pic below!) made this dessert extra cute.  And, I got to use my awesome cake decorating tools that I bought from Michael's for 60% off!

Nestled among Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles, they made a very cute Valentine's Day Love at First Bite Dinner Club dessert presentation (Hey, I think I'm getting better at taking pictures! The one above was accepted by Foodgawker, a site that features beautifully delicious food!  You can read about that here.). 

I was able to make about 16 fully assembled pies out of this recipe but that may vary depending on the size of the cookie (cake? pie?...never really sure what to call these things!) that you make.  These hand-held pies are perfect for picking up and snacking on for a sweet treat!

Are you a whoopie pie fan?  Check out these other flavors that I've made previously:
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
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For the cookies:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 oz. red food coloring
For the frosting:
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

  1. Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.
  2. To make heart-shaped whoopie pies: Using a heart template cut out from card stock or a heart shaped cookie cutter, trace evenly spaced hearts onto pieces of parchment paper sized to fit two cookie sheets. Place the parchment on the cookie sheets so that the side you have drawn on is facing down; set aside.
    To make regular round whoopie pies: Place parchment paper on cookie sheets and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, beat in about a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the buttermilk, beating each addition just until incorporated. Repeat so that all the buttermilk has been added and then mix in the final third of dry ingredients. Do not overbeat. Blend in the food coloring.
  4. To make heart-shaped whoopie pies: Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe the batter onto the parchment paper using the heart tracings as a guide.
    To make regular round whoopie pies: Spoon heaping tablespoons on batter onto parchment paper.
  5. Bake 7-9 minutes or until the tops are set. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack.  Repeat with any remaining batter. Allow cookies to cool completely before proceeding.
  6. To make the cream cheese frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.
  7. Transfer the frosting to a clean pastry bag fitted with a plain, round tip.  (Alternatively, you can spoon heaping tablespoons of frosting onto each cookie and spread, leaving the edges clear).  Pair the cookies up by shape and size. Flip one cookie of each pair over so that the flat side is facing up. Pipe frosting onto the flat-sided cookie of each pair, leaving the edges clear. Sandwich the cookies together so the flat sides are facing each other and press gently to help the filling reach the edges. To store, refrigerate in an airtight container.
Source: Whoopie Pies originally from Better Homes & Gardens, December 2008; frosting adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride; Both as seen on Annie's Eats.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chubby Hubby Cookies

Ben & Jerry's has this ice cream flavor called Chubby Hubby:

Chubby Hubby® - Fudge Covered Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels in Vanilla Malt Ice Cream Rippled with Fudge & Peanut Butter
It began with two office jokesters' pulling a prank on a colleague whose endless tales of his love for Ben & Jerry's made them nuts. They hatched an imaginary batch packed with pretzels, peanut butter, & fudge in vanilla malt ice cream & spread a rumor of a brand new Ben & Jerry's hit called "Chubby Hubby". After searching obsessively he was crushed when the hoax was revealed, so the jokesters home-made a pint. He proclaimed it too good to be a joke & after one taste, so did we. The rest is history. Chubby Hubby -- it's no joke!
I had a whole bag of pretzels leftover from when I made Pretzel Chicken Tenders and needed something sweet with which to end my (Belated) Valentine's Day At Home Bravo! Italian Cucina Dinner.  Joelen took inspiration from a pretzel based chocolate chip cookie recipe she found and then created this magical Chubby Hubby inspired cookie!

These cookies took a little getting used to as it looks like a regular chocolate chip cookie but has that slight twist to it from the pretzels.  Once you ate a few though they're quite addicting!  The pretzels lended the cookie an extra crunchy texture with a boost of saltiness which pretzels are known for.  The chocolate and peanut butter chips gave it a traditional sweetness.  The sweetness and saltiness together just tantilizes your taste buds!

I must have made my cookies smaller than the recipe intended because it said it makes 20-24 but I got a good 3 dozen out of them so extras definitely got passed along to friends and family.  That's not to say we didn't keep quite a few, though.  Chris has been eating at least 2 per day since I made the batch.  I told him that just because they're called "Chubby Hubby Cookies" doesn't mean he's supposed to eat them all and actually get chubby!  Phew, good thing we've been exercising!

The rest of my (Belated) Valentine's Day At Home Bravo! Italian Cucina Dinner menu included:
*Note: I didn't make the dipping oil this time but I've linked to a recipe that I've bookmarked to try next time that's supposedly the real deal from Bravo! It'll need scaling though as the recipe is for 1 GALLON! Sheesh!

Chubby Hubby Cookies
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Yields: 20-24 cookies (but I got more like 36 so these must be large cookies!)

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup graulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips*
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter chips*
  • 1/2 cup crushed and processed pretzel sticks*
* Subsituted 1 1/2 cups chocolate peanut butter swirl chips because that's what I had on hand!  I figured since they're swirly it's the same difference and more evenly distributed in the cookie flavor-wise :).
** The pretzel sticks can actually be any hard pretzel - thin sticks, standard pretzel shapes, pretzel rods, etc. Place them in a food processor and process until you get the consistency of graham cracker crumbs.If you want more texture in the cookies, pulse the pretzels down to coarse crumbs instead.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer attached with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.
  3. Sift flour and baking soda together. Beat into batter on low speed. Stir in chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and crushed pretzels.
  4. Drop by rounded tablespoons (or use a small scoop) onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 11-14 minutes until golden on the bottom and just set in the middle. Cool on wire racks.
Source: Joelen's Culinary Adventures

Pasta Bravo

This is Bravo! Cucina Italiana's signature dish consisting of wood grilled chicken and sauteed mushrooms with a roasted red pepper cream sauce served over rigatoni.  At lunchtime it costs a whopping $11.99 so when I saw it posted to Sara's Piggly-Wiggly Blog I was psyched and surprised by how simple it looked!  I thought the perfect time to give this recipe a try was for my (belated) Valentine's Day dinner gift to my hubby :).  He doesn't like mushrooms but he's been trained to just pick them out and throw them onto my plate...more for me!

What was so awesome about this recipe was that I was able to take 2 sauces that are already staples to make in my house and then add some jarred roasted red pepper to create a totally new dish!  Just blend it all together - it really was that simple!  For the chicken, I used some of my leftover Crockpot 40 Clove Garlic Chicken (which shredded more than sliced...) but you could use pieces of Rotisserie Chicken or any sort of grilled chicken.  The recipe really calls for Wood Grilled Chicken but who does that at home??  That's probably the only part about this recipe that wasn't spot on!  And, to be honest since the recipe supposedly came from a recipe issued by the restaurant, I'd feel a bit ripped off if it didn't taste like the restaurant's version :).

Definitely make sure to use sauce that you really like..whether it's homemade or bought.  I didn't know this but apparently you could go to Olive Garden, Bravo, or probably your other favorite Italian restaurant to buy their sauces.  Thanks Sara for that tip!  Or, your neighborhood grocer would probably do as well...

Bravo remains one of our favorite restaurants today and so for our (belated) Valentine's Day dinner this year I made a Mock Bravo Italian meal for the two of us at home. I put the recipes I used and breakouts of restaurant pricing below but in total had we eaten the same meal at Bravo it would have cost us at least $40 + tax and tip.

*Note: I didn't make the dipping oil this time but I've linked to a recipe that I've bookmarked to try next time that's supposedly the real deal from Bravo! It'll need scaling though as the recipe is for 1 GALLON! Sheesh!

Pasta Bravo
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Yields: 2 Servings


  • 8-oz rigatoni pasta
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (Bravo! uses wood-grilled; I used leftover 40 Clove Garlic Chicken; Can use rotisserie chicken or any chicken breast)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 8-oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint (2 cups) alfredo sauce (used Quick and Easy Alfredo Sauce but can subsitute your favorite homemade or store bought sauce)
  • 1 pint (2 cups) marinara sauce (used Marinara Magnifica but can substitute your favorite homemade or store bought sauce)
  • 7-oz roasted red peppers, drained well
  1. If needed, fully cook chicken throughout using preferred method and then slice into strips.  Set aside.
  2. Boil pasta according to package directions to al dente.  Drain and return to pan and set aside.
  3. While the pasta and chicken are cooking, melt the butter over medium heat and add the mushrooms. Saute until tender.  Add mushrooms to sauce.
  4. Place the alfredo sauce, marinara sauce, and roasted red peppers into a blender, and mix well.
  5. Pour majority of sauce over noodles and mix to coat.  Plate the pasta, top with chicken and spoon remaining roasted red pepper cream sauce on top. Serve hot!
Source: Bravo! Cucina Italiana as seen on The Piggly-Wiggly

Mock Bravo Insalata Della Casa

Chris used to work at Bravo! Cucina Italian before he met me.  It is a nationwide chain restaurant group that also owns Brio Italian Gril.  He was a server there for quite some time and at the time, got 80% off or something rediculous when he dined there.  Basically, he could get a FILET MIGNON dinner for the price of a fast food value meal!  Sadly, once we started dating, he quit his job.  He says it was so he could spend more time with me (servers were required to work on Saturdays) but I say why the heck didn't we at least go for a good (and cheap!) date before he quit! 

You already know that Chris despises anything white and creamy...ranch-type dressings being one of them.  Oddly enough, he loves this salad and I think it's possibly the only a la carte add-on salad that he'll get a restaurant yet it's a cream-based sauce!  What really makes this salad is the creamy parmesan dressing.  I couldn't find Bravo's specific recipe but I found one by Emril so decided to give it a shot.  As expected, it wasn't quite the same but still rather good, nonetheless :).

At any rate, Bravo remains one of our favorite restaurants today and so for our (belated) Valentine's Day dinner this year I made a Mock Bravo Italian meal for the two of us at home.  I will put the breakouts of restaurant pricing below but in total had we eaten the same meal at Bravo it would have cost us at least $40 + tax and tip.
*Note: I didn't make the dipping oil this time but I've linked to a recipe that I've bookmarked to try next time that's supposedly the real deal from Bravo! It'll need scaling though as the recipe is for 1 GALLON! Sheesh!

Mock Bravo Della Casa Salad
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Yields: 4 Servings

  • Iceburg lettuce, rinsed, dried, and chopped
  • Tomato, diced
  • 1/2 Cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 Red onion, diced
  • Creamy parmesan dressing, store bought or recipe to follow
  • Bacon bits
  • Tortilla strips (omitted)
Creamy Parmesan  Dressing
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (used unflavored yogurt)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Essence, recipe to follow
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Yield: about 1/2 cup

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast)*
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all seasoning ingredients thoroughly. Yield: 2/3 cup. 

*Note: Since I didn't know if I'd use the blend again anytime soon I just improvised and did 2 dashes each of paprika, salt, and garlic powder; 1 dash each of remaining ingredients directly into the dressing mixture.

  1. In a large salad bowl, combine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.
  2. Add some prepared creamy parmesan dressing and toss to coat.  Add more dressing as desired.
  3. Top salad with bacon bits and tortilla strips before serving cold.
Source: Original Christine's Kitchen Chronicles copycat recipe; Creamy parmesan dressing from Emeril Live 2005 (Mushroom Show)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pretzel Chicken Tenders

Remember how I mentioned that Chris' favorite meal was his Grandma B's Chicken a la King...with exception to perhaps Chicken Tenders?  Well my hubby is one lucky guy because in a single week I made him BOTH meals! 

The first time I ever tried pretzel chicken tenders was at one of our favorite chain restaurants, O'Charleys.  Their regular chicken tenders are seasoned deliciously as well but pretzels just gave the tenders that special crunch and boost of saltiness.  Since then, I've been hooked!

Quite possibly my LEAST favorite part about making any sort of breaded chicken is all the dipping into various ingredients that is involved.  I also hate frying anything.  I don't deep fry and I seldom pan fry food.  I just hate the greasy smell (despite having an awesome exterior venting hood over our stove) and greasy feeling on my skin that's left behind after slaving over the pan.  Plus, I know I put a certain amount of oil into the pan and yet when I'm done, it's all gone.  To me, that means it's still stuck in that breading...which is gross and bad for your health!  All in all, it was fun to give this one a whirl and turned out deliciously but I think I'm willing to go ahead and let others handle the breading and frying for me!

This recipe is modified to use chicken tenders instead of whole chicken breasts as originally written.  You can also just use chicken breasts and then cut them into strips for tenders or cubes for nuggets before coating.  The original recipe also used a Honey Mustard by Alton Brown across the top of the finished chicken.  Since I had previously whipped up a batch of Paula Deen's Honey Mustard Sauce and Chris absolutely hates anything remotely mustardy, I served Paula's Honey Mustard on the side for me and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ for him.

Pretzel Chicken Tenders
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Yields: 4 Servings

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups crushed or processed pretzels*
  • oil for frying
  • 1 1/2 - 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast tenders
  • salt and ground pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste
* The pretzels can actually be any hard pretzel - thin sticks, standard pretzel shapes, pretzel rods, etc. Place them in a food processor and process until you get the consistency of graham cracker crumbs. If you want more texture for your chicken coating, pulse the pretzels down to coarse crumbs instead. (I went with the coarse texture!)

  1. In a shallow dish, whisk the egg with the 1 tablespoon of water.  In another shallow dish, place the flour.  In a shallow dish, place the crushed/processed pretzels.
  2. Coat bottom of skillet with oil and heat over medium low heat.
  3. While oil is heating, season both sides of the chicken tenders with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Dredge the seasoned chicken breast in flour and shake off excess. Dip the chicken tenders in the egg wash and then press it into the crushed pretzels to cover all sides.
  4. When oil is hot, carefully place the crusted chicken breasts in the hot oil and fry until browned on both sides, about 5 -7 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken.
  5. Serve hot with dipping sauce(s) of choice.  I served with Paula Deen's Honey Mustard and Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce.
Source: Modified from Joelen's Culinary Adventures

Meatball Subs

This one's easy and another one of those multipurpose meals.  You take something old and create something new.  It's so easy Chris asked me "are you really posting this to your blog?" because you pretty much don't even need directions.  From a single batch of Grandma B's Spaghetti Meatballs I was able to make dipping sauce for Pizza Bites, 4 meals worth of traditional Spaghetti and Meatballs (3 portions which were coveniently portioned into 7 meatballs with sauce for 2 and frozen for later use), and a couple of Meatball Subs!  In the past I've also used the sauce for Spinach Sausage and Cheese Manicotti (but if you do that, you'll either want to make fewer meatballs or more sauce so your ratio isn't all messed up!).

I wanted to make homemade sub bread but wasn't able to find a suitable recipe in time and was feeling a bit lazy (*gasp*).  Do you have a tried and true sub recipe that I can try?  If so, leave a comment so I can give it a whirl!

I've been making a concious effort to make meals based on what's on sale for the week and then reusing either ingredients or even leftover meals to create something completely new for later in the week.  Whenever I do this, I'll make sure to point out the possibilities.  How's that for easy meal planning? :)

Prefer chicken?  Try this Chicken Parmesan Meatball Sub from Rachel Ray!

Meatball Subs
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Yields: 2 6-inch sub sandwiches

  • Approximately 12 Meatballs and some spaghetti sauce
  • 1 Foot store-bought take-and-bake sub sandwich bread
  • Shredded mozzerella cheese
  1. Slice bread lengthwise then into two equal 6 inch pieces. Bake according to package directions, underbaking by about 3 minutes.
  2. If needed, heat meatballs and sauce on stove over medium heat.
  3. Turn oven onto broil.  Spoon 6 meatballs and some sauce onto each sandwich then top with shredded cheese.  Put sandwiches back into oven and broil until cheese is brown and lightly toasted.  Serve hot.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ham, Cheese, and Green Pepper Pretzel Bites

Happy 100th Blog Post!

Can you believe how quickly time has gone?  I feel like I've improved my cooking skills and explored many different recipes over the past (not quite) year but there is always room for improvement.  I still consider myself an amateur cook and what gets me by is my ability to follow a recipe.  I hope that you've found something that you were able to make and enjoy from this collection of recipes.  If there's something you'd like to see or a recipe you think I should try, definitely leave me a comment so I can give it a shot!

This post is the final in the 2010 Super Bowl series.  If you missed the others, check out the Spicy Sausage Dip and Honey Mustard Sauce recipes here!  The recipe was supposed to end up with bite sized pretzel spirals but as I had technical difficulties, I ended up using the method from Pizza Bites and adding green pepper for color and flavor.  Nobody knew the difference and they were eaten right up.  Ahhh, I love recipe adaptation...and using my bread maker for kneading and rising :).  It's the lazy (wo)man's way to baking delicious bread.  I definitely see a lot of potential in the "bites" arena...the endless possibilities.  Jes told me she'd made some with chicken and pesto filling.  Yum!

I loved the way our house smelled while these were baking.  It smelled like real soft pretzels and the smell was almost intoxicating!

Ham, Cheese, and Green Pepper Pretzel Bites
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Yields: About 30 individual  bites


For the dough:
  • 1½ tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2½-3 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling:

  • ½ cup small diced ham
  • ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup green pepper, diced
To finish:
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • Kosher salt (or pretzel salt), for topping

  1. To make the dough, combine the yeast, brown sugar, water, milk, and 2½ cups of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until a dough has formed. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until a soft, elastic dough forms. Add the remaining flour a 1-2 tablespoons at a time until the dough is tacky but not sticky.  (Alternatively, add dough ingredients to your bread machine according to the manufacturer's directions.  Set it to the "dough" setting and set it and forget it until the end of the cycle.  Skip to step 3 if using bread machine.)
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, until the dough has doubled in size and bubbles on the surface, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pinch dough off into 30 equal balls. Spoon some of the diced ham, green pepper and the shredded cheese into the middle of the dough ball then pinch the edges shut so the filling is tightly sealed inside. Place seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough, and the remaining filling.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. (Make sure to use a big pot because it will bubble when you add the baking soda!) Add the baking soda and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Boil the pretzel bites in batches, cooking for about 30 seconds and turning once. They should be slightly puffed. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to transfer them back to the baking sheet.
  5. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Brush the warm pretzel bites with the melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Serve with dipping sauce (such as Honey Mustard Sauce), if desired.  (Not that it needs a sauce - it's plenty flavorful on its own!)
Source: Adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Gourmet, October 2009

Honey Mustard Sauce

This sauce is very versatile.  I made it to accompany my Ham, Cheese, and Green Pepper Pretzel Bites which were brought to my Uncle's Super Bowl Party and it found second life as a dip for Pretzel Chicken Tenders later in the week for dinner.  It'd also be great over a salad, as a spread for sandwiches (my cousins made various cold cut sandwiches for the party and people ended up using the sauce for this application, too!) or as a dip for regular soft pretzels.  It really gives dishes that special sweet n spicy creamy zip.

I don't think I have to remind you that Chris HATES mustard...and mayonnaise for that matter.  The sight and smell of it literally makes him want to vomit...or at least that's what he tells me.  Thankfully, we've never had any issues and since it's a side (optional) dip he doesn't have to partake.

This recipe was modified from Ms. Paula Deen, who by the way is coming to Cincinnati for a special cooking show.  You can have dinner with her and/or go to a cooking demo.  How cool is that?!  Anyway, for this recipe I subbed dijon mustard for the yellow and removed the horseradish (figured the dijon would have that needed zip).  I also didn't need to use any of the orange juice but depending on the consistency you are going for you may decide you want/need to add some.  Oh yes, and there is 1 step to this recipe.  It doesn't get much easier than that!

Sorry this picture is so shady.  I snapped one of it near the end of the night.  I can't say it was ever that pretty to begin with but since it was heavily used it got drippy all over the bowl haha.

Honey Mustard Sauce
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Prep Time: 5 minutes
Chill Time: 2 hours
Ready In: 2 hours 5 minutes
Yields: 1 1/4 cups

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or juice from 1/2 lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice (more or less as needed)
  1. Combine all ingredients except orange juice; stir well. Thin to pouring consistency for dressing or dipping consistency for dips with orange juice. Cover and chill for 2 or 3 hours.
Source: Modified from Paula Deen

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spicy Sausage Dip

They might as well call this one "crack dip" because it's so addicting.  I had to taste test it before bringing to my Uncle's house for the Super Bowl party and it was so hard to stop eating it straight from the pan!  I'm kind of like the unofficial appetizer/dip bringer to our family events...probably because I personally prefer savory/salty stuff to sweets and Ali owns that arena, anyway.  I think it kind of looks a bit unappetizing (dare I say, like vomit?) but don't let that fool you...

Yes, it's fattening but your taste buds will thank you for eating this one.  If it makes you feel any better, make it with turkey sausage and low-fat or fat-free cream cheese.  I doused mine with who knows how many dashes of Tabasco sauce.  I like it hot!!!  I feel like the cream cheese can cool the overall heat of the dish down so I could really load up on the spiciness.  It's the kind of yummy spiciness that builds over time so be careful if you plan on getting addicted and eating a lot.  You can adjust the seasoning to your desired spiciness.

Spicy Sausage Dip
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  • 1 (16 oz.) package spicy/zesty sausage
  • 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
  • 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese
  • Hot sauce, to taste

  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the crumbled sausage until browned. Drain off any excess fat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and mix in the tomatoes, cream cheese, and hot sauce. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is warmed through and the ingredients are well blended.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve warm with tortilla chips and/or crackers.
Source: My Baking Addiction as seen on Annie's Eats

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pizza Bites

Yummy little morsels that burst with flavor when you bite into them.  Be careful, they're addicting!!! 

I used the other 1/2 batch of Basic Pizza Dough that I had frozen.  They do get surprisingly bigger when you bake them so next time, I'll make mine a bit smaller (I didn't split my dough out into the number of pieces in advance so ran short on dough and room). 

I really don't have much else to say about this recipe except to go try it.  I served it with some spaghetti sauce for dipping because I had made a batch that same morning but Marinara Magnifica, other tomato sauce, and/or ranch dressing would taste great too, I think.  Chris probably ate half of them..  He requested them the next day again so I'd have to say these got 2 thumbs up from him.  Yum!

Pizza Bites
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  • ½ batch pizza dough (enough for 1 pizza)
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cubed (about 20-24 pieces)
  • Sliced pepperoni
For topping:
  • Olive oil based butter, melted
  • Garlic powder
  • Italian seasoning
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan.
  2. Divide the pizza dough into 20-24 roughly equal sized pieces.
  3. Take one of the dough pieces, top with a cube of cheese and a slice or two of pepperoni. Pull the edges of the dough around the fillings and pinch closed. Place seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.  (Bites will touch each other and bake together but pull apart for you to enjoy as individual bites)
  4. Lightly brush the tops of the dough balls with melted olive oil-based butter. Sprinkle with garlic powder, Italian seasoning and shredded Parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Serve warm, pulling apart individual bites and enjoy with dipping sauce as desired.
Source: Modified from Annie's Eats

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chinese Almond Cookies

Happy Chinese New Year!...a few days early.  2010 is the Year of the Tiger!  I decided to jump this recipe ahead of the 8 others on my list to post so that in case you wanted to make these treats for Chinese New Year (which this year happens to coincide with Valentine's Day) you could.

Let me start by saying that it really just wasn't my day in the kitchen yesterday when I was making these.  When I was making our pretzel chicken tenders (on my list of 8 recipes yet to post!) for dinner I went to get an egg out of the carton and it was apparently stuck.  I must have used too much force because the darn egg was crushed between my fingers and made a huge mess in the carton and in our fridge.  (Must be all that jazzercising...I don't know my own strength!!). 

Then, when I went to make these cookies, I accidently tipped over my (new) bottle of pure almond extract and lost A LOT of the bottle.  That stuff was expensive so I ended up trying to use a rubber spatula to scrape the extract from my counter into a bowl held on the edge of the counter and then poured it back into the bottle.  I was able to salvage some of it, this way. 

But that's not all, folks.  You know the old adage that bad things always happens in 3?  Well, mess #3 for the day happened when I went to separate my eggs (thanks Sig and Kristen for buying this off our wedding registry lol).  It must not have been securely on my bowl because the separator slipped off and out plopped a lot of egg whites onto my nice hardwood floor.  Ai yah!  (Yes, this is me appropriately throwing a traditional Chinese expression of lament into a post about Chinese New Year)  Certainly wasn't my night in the kitchen :-/. the end I have to say it was all worth it!  I made these delicious cookies and now I'm sharing the recipe with you to make your own.  Hopefully without all the mishaps that I had, though.  I brought the bulk of the cookies into work but kept some for ourselves.  It was a bit crispier  than I prefer in a cookie but that's generally how they are.  I'd love to try another recipe sometime that uses ground almonds (or almond flour), too.

As always, a few recipe notes.  This recipe came from a book photocopy that my mom gave me.  It is originally titled "Plain Almond Cookies" and looks to come from a Chinese Recipe Cookbook as it includes dim-sum recipes, too.  I have no idea of the original source but it's on Desserts section, Page 37 (right after the Almond Dream Bars).  If anyone knows the original source, please tell me so I can update it on here.  My photocopy also has what I am guessing is the Chinese Translation for each recipe.  I increased the amount of almond extract (in my attempt to salvage it from my countertop spill!...don't worry, my counters were clean!) 1/2 tsp and am glad I did because it is an ALMOND cookie, after all.  I also topped each cookie with a whole almond (what I had on hand) but slivers of blanched almonds would also work nicely here.  I found that the cookie was paler in color than what I'm used to seeing.  If you want to get that really golden yellow color to your cookie like the kind you find in restaurants, feel free to add yellow food coloring.  Finally, I used all butter because I didn't have margarine on hand.  I think had I made the recipe as described, it would have been a bit fluffier than with all butter.

Want to make an all out Chinese meal?  I don't have too many authentic recipes but I do have a "Chinese" tag to the right.  I have many recipes (like Wonton Noodle Soup, Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai Juicy Soup Buns), Singapore Mei Fun, etc.) that I'd like to make and share with you but it's on my to-do list.  Check the tag later for new additions :)

You might be interested in the following for now:
Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Happy New Year!

Chinese Almond Cookies
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Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yields: approximately 30 cookies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 125 mL) butter
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 125 mL) margarine
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking powder
  • 30 whole or slivered almonds
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  1. Cream together butter, margarine, and sugar in large mixing bowl using electric mixer.
  2. In a small bowl, separate yolks from egg whites.  Set egg whites aside and add yolks and extract flavorings to mixing bowl.  Mix well.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add the mixture gradually to the creamed mixture, beating until well blended.
  4. Refridgerate the dough for 45 minutes.
  5. Near the end of the 45 minute refrigeration time, begin preheating oven to 325 degrees (165 C).
  6. Remove dough from fridge and roll about 1 Tablespoon (15 mL) of dough into a ball.  Place onto an ungreased cookie sheet and repeat, placing 2 inches apart, until no more dough remains.  Gently push an almond onto each ball then brush egg whites over each.
  7. Bake at 325 degrees (165 C) until golden brown, for 18-25 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheet and cool on wire racks.  Store in airtight containers after they are completely cooled.
Source: Unknown Chinese cookbook

Monday, February 8, 2010

Crockpot 40 Clove Garlic Chicken

Do you like it when you come home to a hot homemade meal?  The crockpot can make this dream a reality.  I found this recipe on a blog called Crockpot Tuesdays, which specializes in crockpot recipes.  I didn't make this meal on a Tuesday, though.  I prepped it in my crock pot on a Thursday night and then turned it on on a snowy Friday while Chris was home hibernating from the snow and bad Cincinnati drivers.  He said it smelled really good while it was cooking, which is a good sign!

Don't be afraid of the amount of garlic in this recipe!  It cooks so long that the garlic takes on a mellow, buttery flavor and hey, garlic is good for your heart anyway :).  Chris got scared off by all the garlic so he didn't eat his cloves...more for me!  I liked to spread my garlic over a slice of bread.  Yum!

As a recipe note, I personally found the amount of salt to be too much in this recipe so I have reduced it from it's original 3/4 tsp.  I also didn't have any white wine in the house (We're not drinkers...the only wine I have in the house is red and we only have it because it was gifted!  It is used for things like Jamie's Minestrone, Vegetable Soup, and Marinara Magnifica.  We also have some Smirnoff Vodka...but it's purpose is also for cooking - Penne a la Vodka!) and so I subbed all homemade chicken broth (unsalted...and it still turned out too salty as originally written!).  Out of laziness, I bought a jar of garlic cloves pre-peeled which made this dish even easier.  I have a leftover chicken breast and a half so I'll have to think of some way to use it later this week...I'm thinking for cutting and laying on top of a pasta dish, perhaps.

By the way, sorry about the picture quality below.  Not sure why it was focused on the veggies versus the chicken.  I really need to work on this picture taking thing with the food.  Any tips?  We have a Canon point and shoot and  I've been trying to use the macro setting without flash and just our island lights (incandescent bulbs).  I know natural lighting is supposed to be best but since I work during all day-light hours that makes it a bit challenging to say the least :P.

Crockpot 40 Clove Garlic Chicken
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  • 2 lbs. skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (I used boneless breasts)
  • 1 tsp. herbes de Provence
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 3 tsp. extra virgin olive oil]
  • 40 cloves garlic, peeled (about 3 heads)
  • 1/2 celery rib, sliced
  • 1/2 cup onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 tbsp. chicken broth

  1. In a large bowl, combine chicken, herbes de Provence, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.
  2. Lightly coat the stoneware of your crockpot with cooking spray. Place the chicken in the crockpot, and layer celery, onions and garlic on top. Pour in wine and chicken broth.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours.
Source: Cuisinart as seen on Crockpot Tuesdays

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cream Biscuits

I made these to go with Grandma B's Chicken A La King.  Chris' mom typically bakes up a can of Pillsbury Grands biscuits when she serves this but leave it to me to want to try something a little more homemade.  This though, was very fast and easy to throw together!  I only baked half a batch.

Overall I was pleased with the way that these tasted alone/with butter.  They taste like a good biscuit that you'd use for like...biscuits and gravy or a breakfast sandwich.  As a base for the Chicken A La King versus what we're used to though, it fell a little flat....literally!  It didn't bake up nearly as fluffy or flaky as a Grands biscuit.  Probably because there wasn't any butter in the batter!  I was also lazy and just dropped tablespoons full of batter onto the cookie sheet instead of rolling and then cutting into perfect little rounds.  I read later that the little bit of kneading can really add some oomph (as in height) to the biscuit so I'm going to leave the original roll/cut instructions in but just know you CAN be lazy like me (and it'll turn out but maybe not quite AS good as intended).

I would make these again but like I said I'd use them for a different type of application.

Cream Biscuits
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Yields: 10-12 dozen biscuits

  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream*
*Note: You can probably get away with using milk but it won't be as rich of a biscuit.   If you do substitute, start with half the amount and then add more if needed.  Milk is much thinner than cream so in this application I don't think you can do a 1:1 substitution.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Melt butter in a small pot or microwave dish, and set aside.
  3. Sift two cups flour, the baking powder, salt and (if using) sugar into a large bowl. Fold in 1 1/4 cups cream. If the dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in the remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little.
  4. Turn dough onto a floured surface, mound it into a ball and, using your hands, press it to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cut into rounds, 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds.
  5. Dip or brush the top of each round in/with melted butter and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately, or flash freeze for future use. (Biscuits can be baked straight from the freezer, and additional few minutes baking time will be needed, usually around 3 to 5.)
Source: From James Beard’s American Cookery as adapated by and seen on Smitten Kitchen