Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mounds Pie-For Cheaters

I'm about to ruin what ever 'food blog cred' I have.  I made an easy pie using boxed pudding mix and cool-whip.  No fresh whipped cream from grain eating cows.  No lovingly whisking together a pudding from scratch.  Here's the thing, I'm not really a 'foodie'.  I enjoy cooking and eating, and sometimes that includes partaking of processed foods.  I read some wonderful blogs about eating organically and eliminating processed foods and those are some dedicated people.  I've been learning to make more things from scratch and I love to bake fresh bread and cook a batch of pancakes without Aunt Jemima's help.  But, sometimes you need a quick dessert or a 15 minute dinner and the help that boxes, cans, and bags can provide is invaluable.  For this dessert, I did make my own graham cracker crust (just because I love a thick, crunchy crust), but feel free to use a pre-made version or, even better, maybe, an Oreo crust.  The trick here is to allow the hot pudding to melt the chocolate, so you don't want to use instant pudding, you definitely want the cook and serve.  (See, it is practically homemade!)  What results is a creamy, rich, chocolaty, coco-nutty dessert.

It was born out of a "what's in the pantry" moment, so I didn't have toasted coconut or chopped mounds bars to top it off, but I'd highly recommend either one.

Mounds Pie
Graham Cracker Crust (recipe below)
1 box cook & serve coconut pudding
1 1/2 Cups milk
1 8oz Cool-Whip (thawed & divided)
1 Cup Milk Chocolate Chips 

Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Allow to cool to room temperature and combine with one cup of the cool-whip.  (The chocolate will seize a little if your Cool-Whip is cold-that's okay).  Spread on crust (it's okay if the crust is warm).  Combine pudding mix and milk in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat while stirring.  Gently pour the pudding into the crust.  Refridgerate at least 3 hours until set.  Top with remaining Cool-Whip and toasted coconut or chopped Mounds candy bars.  

Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 Cups fine graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbl. sugar
6 Tbl. melted salted butter

Preheat oven to 375°.  Combine ingredients and press into a pie pan (8 in for thick crust, 9 in for thick crust).  Bake 10-15 minutes until edges just begin to brown.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Cocktail--Chocolate Russians

I've never been a big drinker, but I do enjoy a good drink once in a while.  Generally, a 'girly' drink or a Gin and Tonic are my poison of choice.  Usually if one of these aren't available, I'm happier with a Diet Coke or Iced Tea.  Sometimes though, there is just something that triggers the hankering for an adult beverage.  Yesterday it happened to be a trip to a local retailer.  Since I've become a stay-at-home-mom, I've had trouble getting used to the differences of daytime crowds.  When I was working, I would rush into a grocery store immediately after work, or at 8am on a Saturday, run through as quickly as possible and moan about the lack of registers the entire time.  Incorrectly, I assumed that between 8 and 5 on weekdays, the stores were deserted, just waiting on the lonely mom to wander through.  Incorrect might actually be an understatement.  I am baffled by the amount of traffic and people on weekdays.  The crowds are different, but the numbers are the same (and the registers are less!)  The thing is, for shopping, I still have that 'run through' mentality, so the meandering pace that can occur during the day absolutely drives me nuts.  On this particular visit, I went to a store I don't usually shop for some odds and ends.  Every single person wanted to talk to my daughter, and that's okay, albeit a little frustrating.  She is awfully cute, and way too friendly for her own good.  But, my quick trip turned into half an hour of just shopping.  Then came the check out.  Four items and $15 should be quick.  Unfortunately, day time shoppers still use checks-lots of them.  So, the two women in front of me slooowly wrote out their checks and then slooowly filled in their check registers (do people even know what these are anymore?!).  Then, it's my turn.  I try to swipe my card (hello, 21st century), and get a beep.  "You have to answer our survey question first," says the cashier.  Um.  Seriously?  
"What do you care most about when looking for jeans?"
"Not answering silly questions at the cash register."  (aka whatever answer happened to be third on the list)
Swipe card.  Beep.
"You have to entire your email address"
"No, thanks."
"Okay, just press no."
Press No.  Swipe card.  Beep.
"You have to say why you said no."
"I don't have time."
"Press the 'I don't have time option.'"

Seriously?  I'm going back to check books.  And, I wish I was exaggerating this encounter.  Here's a fun recipe for when you have a shopping trip or a day like this.  Oh, and you can make a virgin version, it's called chocolate milk.

Chocolate Russian
8 oz Chocolate Milk
1 1/2 oz  Coffee Liquour
1 1/2 oz Vodka
Whipped Cream

Mix the milk and alcohols together with ice, then strain and serve with a float of fresh whipped cream.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Buffalo Cheese Ball--A Tutorial

I love all things buffalo.  There is just something about that buttery hot flavor that just makes me smile.  One of my favorite meals is the buffalo chicken salad at Chili's Restaurant (sans Pico) and I haven't met a crispy buffalo wing I didn't like.  I have several dozen buffalo recipes bookmarked to try (including this awesome looking one here:  The problem is, hubby likes buffalo, but isn't a huge fan of overly spicy food, so I have to balance the flavor with the spice.  Sometimes though, simple is best.  A good friend of mine brought this cheese ball to my house years ago and it's become a quick go to favorite for appetizers and parties.  I'm also going to attempt my first step-by-step pictures, because a figured out a quick trick for making cheese balls to save your hands from getting a cream cheese manicure.
After you mix your cheeses together (this works for this recipe, but also for cheese balls coated in nuts or other toppings), sprinkle your remaining loose cheese on a large sheet of plastic wrap.  

Next, scoop your mixture into a reasonable ball shape and place in the middle of the plastic wrap.  

Use the plastic wrap to move the cheese around the ball, coating it.  Twist the corners of the plastic wrap together, forming a tight ball.  Refrigerate until firm.  

The amounts below are for a single family serving size.  I highly recommend doubling for a party or gathering, or for more than one a few person(s).  The nice thing is you can adjust all of the flavors in this recipe.  Increase or decrease the hot sauce according to your like of spice.  Make using fat free cheeses for low guilt.  Replace half of the cheddar cheese with crumbled blue cheese.  Don't even take the time to roll it into a ball--simply scoop out of the bowl with crackers.  

Buffalo Cheese Ball
1 8oz package cream cheese-slightly softened
1/4 C. hot sauce (I use Frank's Red Hot)
1 Tb. ranch dressing seasoning (dry)
1 C. shredded cheddar cheese (divided)

Mix the cream cheese with the hot sauce, the seasoning, and 3/4 C of  the cheddar cheese until combined.  Roll into a ball and coat with the remaining cheese.  Serve chilled with crackers/chips/celery. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Animal Cracker Peach Crisp-for 2

Sometimes dessert just calls to you...even late at night, with nothing sweet in the house, and no desire to commit to a baking extravaganza.  Enter tonight's animal cracker peach crisp.  We had a few peaches left that were getting a little too soft, and with a 10-month-old in the house, animal crackers are pretty much a staple.  I didn't really want a "dessert" dessert, I was kind of hoping for a low guilt treat.  The animal crackers make a super mild topping that isn't too rich for the lightly sweet peaches.  It's definitely a recipe that will be a repeat in our house.    For best results, I would plop a huge dollop of fresh sweet cream on top, but my husband (who obviously hates things that are amazing) doesn't like whipped cream.  I know, I know, what person with a lactose tolerant stomach doesn't like cream whipped into delicious pillows of goodness, but he feels like it is a waste of stomach space.  Something to talk about in therapy, I guess.  I did drizzle a little Pampered Chef Caramel Sauce on top, mainly for decoration.  *Excuse the even worse that normal photograph, it was completely dark here in Pittsburgh!*

Animal Cracker Peach Crisp
Makes 2 servings (adjust as desired)

2 Large ripe fresh peaches
1 Cup crushed animal crackers (cracker style, not the shortbread style)
2 Tbl melted butter
2 Tbl sugar
Whipped Cream/Caramel Sauce/Ice Cream as desired

Preheat oven to 350°.  Chop each peach in a fine dice and place in the bottom of a oven proof dish (1 peach per dish).
Combine the crackers, the butter, and the sugar.  Divide and top the peaches with the mixture.  Gently pack down and bake 20 minutes.    Serve warm with whipped cream/ice cream/or caramel topping.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Crispy, Chewy Brownies & Other Oxymorons

When I when in highschool (last May, obviously...of course I didn't graduate 10 years ago) oxymoron was definitely my favorite word.  You could sound super smart throwing out a word like that, plus it has moron (*hehe*) in it.  There's clearly nothing more mature than muttering "oxymoron" under your breath when some mentions highschool education.  As I've gotten older and started to enjoy baking I began to realize that when you're baking there is nothing better than a good oxymoron.  If you can make a rich mousse, or a light pound cake you've achieved success.  When I saw this recipe for Oooey Gooey Fudgey Brownies on the awesome blog How Sweet Eats it brought me back to an old recipe I've tried before.  I combined the two to come up with a crispy, yet wonderfully chewy brownie.  A hint is to use a separate spatula to fold in each addition, that way you have 3 extra spoons to lick.*  Enjoy!

Reese's Brownies with a Crispy Crust
1/2 Cup Salted Butter
3 oz unsweetened chocolate (I like Ghiradelli)
2 Cups sugar
4 eggs
1 Cup flour
1/2 Cup Milk Chocolate Chips
8 Reese's Cups
1 1/2 Cup mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350°.  In a double boiler or the microwave melt the butter and the unsweetened chocolate.    In a separate bowl beat the eggs.  Using an electric mixer, beat the butter/chocolate mixture and the sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add in the eggs slowly.  Mix in the flour until combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips, the Reese's and the marshmallows.  Bake 35-40 minutes.

*I don't recommend consuming raw eggs.  You're on your own with that--well you'll be doing it with along with me, but not because I told you to!

Big Steve's Pizza Dip

My family and I live outside of Pittsburgh, PA, so it kind of goes without saying that we are a football family.  Every game for as long as I can remember we've watched Steeler games together.  When I got married and bought a house, my parents, grandfather, and we alternated weeks hosting the viewing party.  While we love the Steelers ("Pittsburgh's Going to the Superbowl!!") at least 50% of the party is about the food.  We start the season out slow, chips and dips, but by the Superbowl we're making ribs and chili and gourmet desserts.  Beginning in July I start my food planning, this is serious stuff.  For months now I've been hearing about Big Steve's Famous Pizza Dip from my Dad.  He and Big Steve work together, and apparently I was completely wrong in my assumptions about what men discuss at work, because in reality it appears to be recipes, not cars or women.  Though to be fair, maybe a daughter only hears about the recipe exchanges not the juicier stuff.  The recipe as I got it was pretty darn perfect, but I can't help but tweak just a little.  This is an amazing, decadent treat.  I love it with Wheat Thin crackers (wheat cancels out the calories), but the rest of my family prefers the scoop style tortilla chips (Pita chips also got a vote).  So, without further ado, thanks to Steve, here is an easy and delicious dip that works whether you're a Steeler Fan or not.

Big Steve's Pizza Dip
1 8oz cream cheese
3 Tbs sour cream
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/3 tsp crushed pepper flakes
1/3 tsp oregano
1/4 Cup Parmesan (I prefer fresh shredded, but the store bought works too)
Small Jar Pizza Sauce
8oz Bag of Shredded Mozzarella
Pizza Toppings of your choice

Preheat oven to 400°.  Mix softened cream cheese, sour cream, seasonings.  Add in the Parmesan cheese.  Spread mixture on the bottom of a oven safe 9x9 or 9in round dish.  Top with sauce.  Bake about 10 minutes until sauce is hot.  Top with Mozzarella and any pizza toppings you'd like.  Bake another 10-15 minutes until cheese in hot and bubbly.  Serve with chips or crackers.

P.S.  Here we go Steelers!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Peanutty Swirl Frosting

Some things are just meant to be together.  I'm not talking about the obvious Oreo and milk or peanut butter and chocolate (these are true soul mates though).  I'm talking about peanut butter and marshmallow.  Deep in the halls of suburban legend is the tale of the flutter-nutter sandwich.  It can make you laugh and make you cry, but most importantly it will make you smile.  Two slices of pure, soft, white bread, a generous smear of smooth and creamy peanut butter (no crunchy allowed), and dollop of sticky sweet marshmallow cream.  There is no greater carbo-licious (word is copyrighted to me!) dessert lunch in the universe.  So, when I saw Kristan's (Confession's of a Cookbook Queen) recipe for peanut butter marshmallow frosting I had to have it.  I made matching cupcakes (obviously) but I wasn't completely happy with how they turned out so we'll save that recipe for another day.  I may or may not have used pita chips to eat the frosting off of the cupcakes.   That only needs discussed in an anonymous setting....My name is Kacey and I eat icing on chips, and spoons, and fingers and... Visit the original recipe here Peanut Butter Marshmallow Frosting and check out my very slight adaptation below.  Make this icing for on top of rich chocolate cake or brownies or a spoon headed into your mouth.

Peanutty Marshmallow Swirl Frosting
1 Cup salted butter
1 Cup peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla
3 Tb-1/4 Cup milk
4 Cups powdered sugar
7 oz jar marshmallow cream

Combine the butter, peanut butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Beat in the powdered sugar 1/2 Cup at a time.  Gradually add in the milk until the frosting is the consistency that you prefer (I used 3 Tbs rather than the 1/4 cup).  Gently fold in the marshmallow cream until it's combined but a swirl is still visible

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops

When I first got married there was an awesome division of labor in our house.  We both worked full-time (plus a little more) at good jobs and house work was something we just whipped through as quickly as possible.  We had a small house with one bathroom, so when my husband offered the deal that he would do laundry (sorry ladies, he's taken) if I did the bathroom each week I jumped at the chance.  He is great at laundry (an occasional shrunken sweater is a small price to play) and I hate, hate, hate it.  Here's the catch, when I became a stay-at-home mom, the idea of shared chores each week seemed a little silly.  SO, sadly, I now have to do laundry and toilets!  And, I'm terrible at laundry.  Seriously.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to rewash what was in the washing machine because I left it sit overnight.  The only thing I'm worse at is picking what to have for dinner.  So, I did pass that off on my hubby.  I made a spreadsheet with a list of about 40 weeknight dinner options, 10 or 15 weekend dinners (that take more time), and side options, and he is supposed to use that list to pick 5 dinners for the week.  One night we eat out and one night we have sandwiches or take out or leftovers.  One of our favorites are grilled pork chops and here is a simple recipe.  I served with Steamfresh brown rice and Steamfresh broccoli (don't knock it til you've tried it--they are lovely, fresh, and fast!).

Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops
4 boneless pork tenderloin chops
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs honey

In a small saucepan, reduce the vinegar and honey by half.  Allow the pork chops to come close to room temperature and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Grill the pork chops on medium heat.  Once cooked through, brush with the balsamic reduction and cook 5 minutes more.  Enjoy!

PS  I'm a little late on this, but Let's Go Steelers!! (One game doesn't a season make!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Press Cookies-Redone!

For Christmas this year my Mother-in-Law gave her daughter and me both a cookie press and her coveted press cookie recipe.  I waited a few months for the Christmas cookie surplus to run dry and decided to attempt these cookies.  Sometimes the best treat is a super simple butter cookie.  Unfortunately, 2 cookies into my experiment, my brand new cookie press broke.  My husband has promised to attempt a repair, but six months down the road, I'm still press-less.  Though, to be fair, it's sitting on his work bench behind a broken VCR (yes, I said VCR and spell check doesn't even recognize that anymore!) and a tub of Legos.  That said, it's fairly obvious that he's never made it past the Legos.  Back to my unfortunate cookie situation.  I, of course, had a double batch of dough and no press.  Wait, you mean there are people out there who make a single batch of a recipe?  Really?  I decided to make two variations of the cookies and see how it went.  First variation, roll cookies into balls, and press with a fork (like a peanut butter cookie) and bake.  Second variation, roll into balls, make a divot with your thumb and place 3 chocolate chips inside.  Mold dough to cover chips.  Imagine my surprise when both variations came out great (with out the hassle of cleaning the cookie press tube).  Never one to follow the less is more approach, I drizzled milk chocolate over the top and pretended that I never intended to make pressed cookies!

Press Cookies
1 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup shortening
1/2 Cup butter
2 eggs
1 Tbl milk
2 3/4 Cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix sugar, butter, and shortening.  Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Combine dry ingredients with a whisk in a separate bowl and then add to the wet mixture.  Either form into ball or press  and bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges are a very light golden brown. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

PG Cookies

There is a title that I've been working hard to achieve and I'm fairly certain that these goodies have given me the competitive edge.  World's Best Sister.  I thought I had the award clinched when I gave my brother the opportunity to be an uncle to the cutest little girl, but it never hurts to keep campaigning.  When my brother, K, was coming into Pittsburgh from California to host a bachelor party I offered to make a few dozen sugar cookies for him.  I said I'd make PG-rated cookies, so I'm fairly certain that he had no idea what to expect from his older, married sister.  What did he get?
Super simple lingerie cookies.  All you have to do is cut the top off of a basic heart cookie and decorate to resemble bathing suits or bras and panties.  I made black, dark pink, and purple icing and was able to make 4 dozen cookies with no duplicate styles.  A few different sprinkles and sanding sugars added a special touch.   I used just a classic heart shape (Wilton Heart Cookie Cutter - Pink) and didn't worry about making the size all the same (I'm all for a variety of body types) but you could easily make them uniform by using a ruler to take the tops off.  Here are a few more of the styles.
While these were lingerie for a bachelor party, they could be a cute favor for a bridal shower (white lacy style), or a luau (bikini tops and grass skirt bottoms).  What's cooking with you today?

P.S.  Thank you to Rick Lamison Photography for the great pictures.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Taco Pizza

How.  I.  Love.  You.  Pizza.  It's true, pizza is one of my all time favorite foods.  I have only found one pizza that was unpalatable to me, and it's one of those love it or hate it styles.  The rest of my family is crazy about it, but I'm the lonely soul forced to forgo dinner (yeah, right)  when this particular pie is ordered.  Pizza is something that everyone in my house agrees on.  I constantly tease my husband over the time I visited him and his roommate in college.  They were in grad school, and were pretty much sick of higher education at that point.  My hubby and I were getting married in six months, he was trying to finish his Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering, and I was working full-time.  Not a conducive time for healthy eating.  Anyway, I made the half hour drive to visit one evening (probably to annoy the living crap out of him about guest lists or seating charts) and discovered (literally) the leaning tower of pizza boxes.  I'm not a petite woman, only being an inch or so shy of 6 foot and the stack of pizza boxes came to my neck.  At approximately 1 1/2 inch thick per box...that, let me do the math...way too many pizzas.  We won't discuss why the boxes weren't taken to the trash, that's a completely different story, but needless to say, the stack of pizza boxes have become a running joke in our house.  Sadly however, if pizza was without calories (it isn't) or my physique could handle said calories (it can't) I could eat pizza for lunch and dinner every single day (as long as we switched up styles and pizza joints regularly).  I just recently discovered baking pizzas at home and I've pretty much been trying every style imaginable.  Taco pizza recently topped my list as one of my at-home favorites.  Plus, with the tomatoes and lettuce, it's practically a health food.  Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think! Oh and try not to drool on your keyboard when you see the picture of the gooey cheesiness that will ensue.  

Taco Pizza
1 Pizza crust (I used this recipe Pizza Dough II, but store bought would be good too)

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. taco seasoning

Brown ground meat, drain.  Add water and taco seasoning, cook while stirring over medium heat for 5 minutes.

1 lb. cream cheese, softened
2 Tb. taco seasoning
2 Tb. sour cream

Combine cream cheese, seasoning and sour cream until smooth.

1 1/2 C. salsa
1 Tb. taco sauce
2 Tb. Catalina salad dressing

Combine salsa, taco sauce and dressing in a blender or food processor until just small chunks remain.

8 oz shredded mozzarella
2 oz cheddar cheese
1 Tb taco seasoning

Toss cheeses and seasoning together.

Preheat oven to 425°.  Lightly oil a sheet tray and sprinkle with corn meal.  Spread pizza crust over pan.  Cover the crust in the cream cheese mixture and top with ground meat.  Drizzle the salsa mixture over top, and then top evenly with the cheese.  Bake 10 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 400° and bake another 15 minutes until cheese is bubbly and crust is lightly browned.  Top with shredded lettuce and sour cream.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie?

Chocolate chip cookies are a passion of mine.  I am very, very particular about what I like.  They better be big, chewy (with crispy edges), and not over done.  Oh, and they should have milk chocolate chips.  I finally found a 'perfect' chocolate chip cookie recipe, and I learned a life lesson.  This particular cookie is like finding a spouse-what is perfect to one person is just 'eh' to another person.  Can you believe that some people love cakey chocolate chip cookies?  And some people (who shall not be named) like crunchy?  I feel like I'm the only sane person left in the world.  If you are a crunchy or a cakey person, perhaps its best if you just stop reading now.  Head on down to the snickerdoodle post and we can stay friends.  If, on the other hand, you crave chewy, chocolaty deliciousness, then continue reading--and make these cookies!  

The 'Perfect' Chocolate Chip Cookie
4 Cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 sticks butter (salted)
2 Cups brown sugar
1 Cup white sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 Cups milk chocolate chip (Ghirardelli or better produces the best results)

Preheat your oven to 325° and line baking sheets with parchment (baking spray will work in a pinch).  Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, melt the butter and let cool.  Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla.  Beat the dry ingredients in on low speed 1 cup at a time.  Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.  Use a large cookie scoop or a 1/8 Cup measuring cup to scoop cookies onto tray.  Leave 3 inches between cookies.  Bake for 15-17 minutes.  Cool completely on trays.