Friday, January 28, 2011

Mocha Truffle Cheesecake

Lately, I've been itching for cheesecake. I have about fifty recipes I want to try. But I have a tendency to talk myself out of making a cheesecake if I don't have a reason to make one. I know what you're thinking. Who needs a reason to make a cheesecake?! Well, I do. I need a reason that involves hungry mouths willing to help me eat the darn thing because I have very little self control when one is sitting in my frig. I really don't have too much self control over anything I make because I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas, so I try to  ensure all my baked goods have a beeline out the door before I start making them. Besides, most of what I enjoy about baking is sharing with others!

We had some friends over the other weekend, and when I heard they were coming for dinner I got very excited because I knew I would need to make a dessert... and since others were going to help us eat the dessert, I was ecstatic... finally a reason to make a cheesecake!
Each bite was richly divine. I loved the hint of espresso wrapped in chocolate, accented with a fluff of almond whipped topping. The texture was silky smooth. I was almost uncertain whether to even call it a cheesecake because the texture was not as firm as I expected. My initial thought was that I didn't bake it long enough. But when I tested it by tapping the side of the pan, the top seemed to have set and I was almost fearful that I had over-baked it. None the less, everyone seemed to really enjoy it so that was good enough for me. :) But the next time I make this, I want to try it with a chocolate wafer crust. This crust called for a box of devils food cake mix which while tasty, did not really win me over. I even wonder if the thickness of the crust affected the baking of the center... but honestly I don't know too terribly much about baking cheesecakes, so I could be way off with that assumption.

Does anyone have any tips on making a successful cheesecake? I have forty nine recipes left to go, and still a whole-heck-of-a-lot to learn... :)

Yields 12-16 servings
1 box of devil's food cake mix
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg 
1 tbsp instant espresso

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
3 tbsp instant espresso
1/4 cup hot water
3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, butter, egg, and espresso until well blended. Press onto the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a greased 10-inch springform pan; set aside.

Preheat oven to 325°F. In another large bowl using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in condensed milk and melted chocolate. Dissolve espresso in water. Add espresso and eggs to cream cheese mixture; beat on low speed just until combined.

Pour cream cheese filling into prepared crust. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake for 50-55 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the sides; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove sides of pan. Before serving, in a medium bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Beat in sugar and extract until soft peaks form. Spread over top of cheesecake. Garnish with chocolate pieces. Refrigerate leftovers.

Source: adapted from Taste of Home Fall Baking Cookbook magazine

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Marinated Chicken with Mozzarella

When I started this blog in September, my intention was mainly to blog about baked goods... and that is definitely still my primary focus because baking is my true passion in the kitchen. But I also enjoy cooking. During the first couple months of blogging, my baking increased drastically... and as a result I found myself cooking less homemade meals. This year I'm working on balancing both cooking and baking, so that's why you're seeing a few more savory posts sprinkled into the mix. I love trying new recipes, and my objective for this blog is still the same - to share with you the great things that I try out in my kitchen.

This dish was a great find. The meal came together with such ease and was delicious! That's two thumbs up for this working gal. Not to mention it's a pretty well balanced meal. I'm going to make sure we incorporate this dinner in our regular rotation. Try it out, and I think you'll do the same. :)

Yields 4 servings
1 (6 oz) package long grain and wild rice pilaf mix
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
1 cup broccoli florets
2 tsp olive oil
4 thin sliced boneless chicken breast halves, marinated in lite Italian dressing
1 medium tomato, halved and thinly sliced
3-4 slices mozzarella cheese, halved

Prepare rice according to package directions, adding green onions for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil; add broccoli. Cover and cook for 3 minutes or until crisp-tender, drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook 8-10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink, turning once. Overlap tomato slices on top of chicken. Spoon broccoli over tomato slices, and cover broccoli with a half-slice of cheese (I used 2 half slices on larger pieces of chicken). Cover skillet and crank heat up a little higher to melt cheese.

Serve over rice.

Source: Borders at Home Simple Meals

Monday, January 24, 2011

Seven Layer Bars

I have seven words for you... Holy. Moly. These. Bars. Are. So. Good!

Seven is supposed to be a lucky number, right? Well as luck may have it, I discovered these amazing bars about a year ago. Behold... seven layers of yummy goodness baked down into one fantastic dessert. These are super easy to throw together. They are made up of things I love - graham crackers, walnuts, chocolate, butterscotch, white chocolate, and coconut. You can obviously adapt these to your liking, but I find them perfectly irresistible as is. And they are a wonderful crowd pleaser - an excellent dessert for a get-together (an upcoming superbowl party perhaps). Set these on a platter and then step away... if you stand too close, you run the risk of eating them all yourself before anyone else can enjoy them. :)

Yields 20 bars
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
5 oz graham crackers
1 cup finely chopped walnuts 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips 
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing about a 2 inch overhang along the long sides of the pan. Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside. 

In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the coconut, stirring occasionally until lightly browned and golden. Remove from heat.

Place stick of butter in the prepared pan and put it in oven to melt, about 6 minutes. Meanwhile, Place graham crackers in a large ziploc bag. Using a rolling pin, crush crackers until you have a mixture of crumbs, bits and chunks. When butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven. Add graham cracker crumbs to the pan and toss lightly with a fork until butter in absorbed. Distribute crumbs evenly along the bottom of the pan. In order, sprinkle walnuts, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and toasted coconut over the graham cracker crumbs. Pour condensed milk evenly over the top.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool on wire rack for at least 2 hours. Remove bars from the pan, using excess foil to lift, and transfer to a cutting board. Use a sharp knife and cut into bars, wiping knife clean after each cut.

Source: Annie's Eats

Friday, January 21, 2011

Buttermilk Sugar Cookies

I whipped up a batch of these sugar cookies last weekend for a tennis match. And oh my, what an incredible treat! These cookies are a wonderful fluff of subtle sweetness. I could have easily sat down and devoured the entire batch all on my own. Thankfully I had already committed to bringing a dessert to the match, so my will power stepped in and intervened before they were all gone... it was a close call!
The texture of these little sweeties is pure delight. Enjoy one with a cup of hot cocoa or a glass of milk, and you will find yourself floating right up to cloud nine. Heavenly!

Helpful Tip: Up until just recently, I always purchased buttermilk from the grocery store. The problems I often ran into were (1) the milk going bad before I could use all of it or (2) not having enough on hand. So in an effort to be less wasteful, I researched substitutes for buttermilk. And it turns out that you can make your own! Place 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Add enough milk to bring liquid to the 1 cup line. Let stand 5 minutes. Voila! This way I can make just the amount of buttermilk I need, when I need it, and none goes to waste. :)  

Yields 3 1/2 dozen
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheets with Silpat mat or parchment paper; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream shortening and 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternating with buttermilk, beating well after each addition (batter will be moist).

Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Source: Taste of Home 2010 Best Holiday Recipes magazine

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Italian Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is an all-time comfort food.

I realize this statement is not a breakthrough thought. I haven't spoken an unknown truth. I'm only restating what's been said by millions before me. But none the less, it is a FANTASTIC choice of comfort... wouldn't you agree? :)

I haven't experimented much with mac and cheese variations, but I see them all over food blogs and I long for bites to be fed to me straight through the computer screen. I cannot even begin to tell you how many I have flagged, bookmarked, and archived... proclaiming that I would try them all! Up until now, I have tried out a total of big-fat-zero. Shame on me. I couldn't withstand the wait any longer, and I'm so happy my procrastination finally fell short. Wow. Speechless. So. Darn. Good! 

The great thing about this amazing dish is that every recipe for mac and cheese can easily be modified to your liking. For instance, this recipe originally called for Fontina cheese. But when I saw the Kraft package of Italian Five Cheese blend, my heart thumped with excitement. Five Cheeses. Hello! Does that not sound utterly delicious?! I made a couple other adjustments to the recipe, and voila - masterful!

1 (1 lb) box pasta shells
1 tbsp sea salt
5 tbsp butter, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1 (8oz) package Kraft Italian Five Cheese 
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and pasta shells; stir to separate. Cook 1 minute less than instructed on package.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray; set aside. Dice 4 tablespoons of butter and place in a large mixing bowl.Warm cream in microwave and cover to keep warm. Once pasta is cooked, drain water and add pasta to the bowl with the butter; toss to coat well. Add cream and cheese, stirring until cheese begins to melt. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish.

In a small bowl, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add bread crumbs and toss until evenly coated. Sprinkle mixture over top of pasta.  Bake 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and topping is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake

Hello Morning! I happily greet you today with warm sips of caffeinated fuel, and a thoughtfully witted book I find highly entertaining. But that's nothing too out of the ordinary for us, is it Morning? Just our usual routine to help align our day in the right direction. Oh but Morning, that's not all that's in store for us, is it? No. This amazing composition of heavenly goodness wishes to join us for a bit... I think we can manage a slight adjustment to our routine, don't you? Hmm. I welcome this special guest with open arms and an empty tummy. Welcome Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake! Thank you for stopping by and do promise that you'll return again soon!!

Ok, I haven't completely gone insane. I just thought I would share the conversation that went on in my head when I sat down to enjoy this delectable cake with my morning coffee. Delightful! I love berries and I love coffee cake... so when I came across this recipe, I immediately patted myself on the back for having picked up a fresh carton of blueberries the other day. The almonds were a splendid match. This cake is amazingly fluffy. I think I finally grasped the concept of "stir just until moistened." For a while I struggled with this when it came to muffins or pancakes. I just have a hard time leaving lumps in a batter. But magically enough, sometimes lumps are not a bad thing. :) Matt and I both enjoyed this little cake (very much!), and I do plan to make this again soon. Perhaps next time I'll make it with strawberries. Yum! I also might add a little more cinnamon sugar topping next time. I love for cinnamon to bite back when I gobble up a piece of coffee cake. I've provided the original dose, so you can choose for yourself if you would like to add more. Hope you enjoy!

Yields 9 servings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 cup fresh blueberries, divided 
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-in square baking dish with baking spray; set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk, butter, and extracts until blended. Stir in dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in 2/3 cup blueberries.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Top with remaining blueberries. Combine the almonds, brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over the top. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Source: The Taste of Home Baking Book

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Who loves chocolate covered peanuts??? Um, we do! :) These delectable little clusters are amazing. But consider yourself warned - these are highly addictive!
Such an easy recipe... you throw all the ingredients into a crock pot. Yes. A crock pot. Completely hassle free and great for any occasion! We go through several batches during the holidays. And with Valentine's Day just around the corner, I can't think of a better candy to gift to that special someone. Plop them in a candy dish when company comes over and watch as they're gobbled right up. Or, serve them with popcorn when you hunker down for movie night. I'm not kidding; they're excellent little treats. So long Goobers. Hello homemade peanut clusters!
Yields about 80 pieces (recipe can easily be halved)
1 (16 oz) can salted dry roasted peanuts 
1 (16 oz) can unsalted dry roasted peanuts 
1 (12 oz) package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 (4 oz) package Baker's German chocolate
32 oz white almond bark

Spray crock pot with cooking spray (you may omit this step if you're using a crock pot liner). Place peanuts in the bottom of the crock pot, mixing salted and unsalted peanuts together. Add morsels, German chocolate, and bark. Cover and cook on low setting for 90 minutes. After allotted time, stir so that all the contents are well combined. Cook an extra 15 minutes if chocolate is not completely melted.

Line baking sheets with wax paper. Place rounded spoonfuls onto wax paper and allow to cool. 


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

White Bean Chili

Winter Storm 2011 has already struck Atlanta. While this "storm" may not seem like a big deal to some people, I have to remind you that our city is not properly stocked with an endless supply of snowploughs and salt trucks. Things can get messy real quick. And of course, when the meteorologist starts throwing out words such as snow, icy rain, and... a wintry mix of snow and icy rain... a lot of folks feel the need to prepare for a lock down. Everyone starts buying up the basic essentials. So when I went to make my weekly grocery run, the stores were wiped out of all my baking essentials - eggs, milk, unsalted butter. Ok. They were not completely wiped out of all this stuff, but they were wiped out of the brands I use and I'm kind of picky about certain things. So lets just say, it was slim pickins for my pickiness. :) Lucky for us, I had already purchased the ingredients I needed to make this awesome white bean chili. There is nothing like warm soup or chili when it's below freezing outside. This recipe makes a lot, so Matt and I were set for days!

Here are some pics of our winter wonderland. Remember that we live in the south... we were born in the south... we have always lived in the south... so snow like this is VERY exciting for us!
Meet Gus...
And Charlie...
Our pups love the snow! :)

Ok, back to the chili... A friend of ours shared this recipe with us last winter. It is a Publix recipe, and it is scrumptious. Serve it up with a grilled cheese or homemade cornbread and you've got yourself a fantastic meal!

Yields 8 Servings
1 (12 oz) package reduced fat sausage
1 lb ground turkey
1 (10 oz) bag frozen seasoning blend (I use one that contains onions and a couple types of bell peppers)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 (1.25 oz) package taco seasoning mix
2 (15.8 oz) cans great northern beans (undrained) 
1 (14 oz) can low sodium chicken broth
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles
1 (16 oz) can green chile and lime refried beans

Preheat large saucepan on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add sausage, ground turkey, frozen seasoning blend, and garlic. Cook 10-12 minutes or until meat is browned and no pink remains; stir frequently and break meat up as it cooks. Stir in taco seasoning; cover and cook for 1 minute.

In a large stock pot, combine beans (including liquids), chicken broth, green chiles, and refried beans over medium-high heat. Stir in meat mixture; cover and bring to a boil. Serve.

Source: slightly adapted from Publix Apron's recipe

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Imagine, if you will, that the cold weather is long behind us. You've broken out the shorts and flip flops. The sun is beaming and you are warmed from the top of your head through the tips of your toes. What are you in the mood for? For me, it's none other than a scoop of cookies and cream ice cream to chill the glistening sweat seeping from my pores. Ah, summer. (Sigh.)
Ok, now back to reality... You're bundled in a coat and scarf, your fingertips are numb beneath your mittens, and your teeth are chattering uncontrollably. Just because it's snowing outside doesn't mean you can't daydream about warm weather and ice cream. :) And these cupcakes tastes just like one of my favorite flavors, minus the cold factor. Delightful!

These cupcakes were made special for my friend's birthday. Mary always bakes a batch of cupcakes for me on my birthday, so I felt it was time to return the sweet gesture. Mary loves vanilla cupcakes with butterceam frosting, but since I recently blogged about those I was hoping to try something different. She likes chocolate but didn't want a chocolate-chocolate cupcake. (Insert light bulb over my head.) I discovered these at Annie's Eats several months back, and I loved them! Chunks of Oreos baked inside a delicious vanilla cake, and the best part is the surprise that awaits you upon your first bite... an Oreo cookie baked right into the bottom. Yum!
 Annie's recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting, which is what I used the first time I made these. But since buttercream is Mary's favorite, I went with that this time around. Having tried them both ways, my preference is definitely the buttercream frosting. I loved the richness it added to cake. It put the "cream" in "cookies & cream". Melt in your mouth delicious!

Yields 24 cupcakes 
24 Oreo halves, with cream filling attached (reserve other halves for garnish)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
18 Oreo cookies, coarsely chopped

See Buttercream Frosting post. Note: You will need to double the recipe if you plan to pipe a lot of frosting. This recipe is enough to generously frost 12 cupcakes. I didn't want the frosting to overpower the deliciousness of the cake and cookies, so I did not use a large amount.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two standard muffin pans with 24 paper liners. Place Oreo halves in the bottom of each liner, cream side up.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Add the milk and beat just until combined, then beat in remaining dry ingredients. Gently fold in the chopped Oreos with rubber spatula.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake 20-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Frost cooled cupcakes as desired. Sprinkle with Oreo crumbs (simply rub two Oreos together). Garnish with reserved Oreo halves (cut halves into half and stand one half in middle of the frosting).

Source: adapted from Annie's Eats

Thursday, January 6, 2011

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but the past few weeks zoomed right on by and parked itself in 2011 before I could say Merry Christmas!
I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season as much as I did! My only regret was not blogging more throughout the end of the year. I baked and cooked my little fingers to death, but unfortunately I did not have time to blog about much of it. I was too preoccupied with our amazing friends and family that surrounded us throughout the holidays, and I couldn’t have been happier! Perhaps next time I'll learn how to juggle both. :)
But now that our Christmas d├ęcor is nestled back into the attic and we are slowly falling into the stride of our usual routine, we're on to the good stuff that awaits us! My head is swarming with all sorts of new recipes I want to try... how do I choose where to begin??? After much debate, (with me, myself and I), I decided to start with one of my all time favorites – white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. Oh yum!
I have tried other recipes for these cookies, but this one takes the cake for sure. They bake up so beautifully, and the yummy sweetness that dances around my palate when I put one of these babies in my mouth is just down right incredible!
I could not have asked for a better start to the new year… 2011 is bound to be amazing! 
Yields 24 small cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt butter, stirring constantly until brown bits appear in the bottom of the pan, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar and melted butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add egg and beat for another minute. Add milk and vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add flour mixture all at once, and mix by hand with a spatula, just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Fold in nuts and white chocolate.
Shape dough into two teaspoon sized balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.  

Grab a tall glass of milk and a handful of cookies, and you're all set. Enjoy! :)

Source: Joy the Baker 

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