September 28, 2008

A Nibble for a Sunday Afternoon (Bruschetta with Tomato & Basil)

When you go to an Italian restaurant, frequently they will place a dish on your table that has some slices of toasted baguette topped with a mixture of tomatoes, basil and garlic. This delicious pre-dinner nibble is called Bruschetta. I love the fresh flavor of the chopped tomatoes and basil mixed together and probably could make a meal out of it all on it's own. Now, even though many people associate this as Bruschetta, it's not the only way it can be prepared. You can toast the baguette slices by brushing olive oil on it, then after it's been toasted you can rub fresh garlic slices over it for a different way to enjoy this as a pre-dinner nibble.

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta is a simple combination of ingredients, but since I had not made it before I wanted a recipe to follow for a guideline. I found one at Simply Recipes. Fortunately, I was able to find some wonderful plum tomatoes even though we are near the end of the season. There is a lot of chopping involved, but it's well worth it.

This recipe was delicious, and I can see making some small changes according to what you can find at the market would work well in it. I also like to use fresh bruschetta to top a breaded baked chicken breast. I love the combination of the hot, crispy chicken topped with the cool, fresh tomato bruschetta.

Looking for some other tasty pre-dinner nibbles? Check out these recipes:
A Taste of Home Cooking made some Chicken Nachos to nibble on last week, and they look absolutely delicious!
The Roasted Garlic and Herb Dip from Good Things Catered is sure to be a favorite at your next get-together.
Sophistimom tinkered around until she figured out the most delicious Sausage Stuffed Mushroom recipe.



brushetta
Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil Recipe
Source: Simply Recipes - for a printer friendly version, please visit their site:

Ingredients
6 or 7 ripe plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chopped.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 baguette French bread or similar Italian bread
1/4 cup olive oil

Directions
Prepare the tomatoes first. Parboil the tomatoes for one minute in boiling water that has just been removed from the burner. Drain. Using a sharp small knife, remove the skins of the tomatoes. (If the tomatoes are too hot, you can protect your finger tips by rubbing them with an ice cube between tomatoes.) Once the tomatoes are peeled, cut them in halves or quarters and remove the seeds and juice from their centers. Also cut out and discard the stem area. Why use plum tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes? The skins are much thicker and there are fewer seeds and less juice.

Make sure there is a top rack in place in your oven. Turn on the oven to 450°F to preheat.

While the oven is heating, chop up the tomatoes finely. Put tomatoes, garlic, 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, vinegar in a bowl and mix. Add the chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the baguette on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick slices. Coat one side of each slice with olive oil using a pastry brush. Place on a cooking sheet, olive oil side down. You will want to toast them in the top rack in your oven, so you may need to do these in batches depending on the size of your oven. Once the oven has reached 450°F, place a tray of bread slices in the oven on the top rack. Toast for 5-6 minutes, until the bread just begins to turn golden brown.

Alternatively, you can toast the bread without coating it in olive oil first. Toast on a griddle for 1 minute on each side. Take a sharp knife and score each slice 3 times. Rub some garlic in the slices and drizzle half a teaspoon of olive oil on each slice. This is the more traditional method of making bruschetta.

Align the bread on a serving platter, olive oil side up. Either place the tomato topping in a bowl separately with a spoon for people to serve themselves over the bread, or place some topping on each slice of bread and serve. If you top each slice with the tomatoes, do it right before serving or the bread may get soggy.

Makes 24 small slices. Serves 6-10 as an appetizer. Or 3-4 for lunch (delicious served with cottage cheese on the side.)

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September 27, 2008

Attention Chocolate Lovers!

I have the perfect cookie for you!!! If you love chocolate, then you'll want to make these Triple Chocolate Fudge Cookies! These cookies are easy to make and I even had all the ingredients on hand the moment I decided on the recipe. They have the rich flavor of Dutch process cocoa with the addition of milk chocolate chips, semi-sweet chips and white chocolate chips. The cookies remain soft and the chocolate flavor permeates each bit you take.

Now, you may wonder why I went searching for another cookie that speaks to the chocolate lover in me. Last week, Gloria at Cookbook Cuisine gave me the "I'm A Chocaholic" award. In order to pass the award on to some other deserving bloggers, I wanted to be able to share a completely, decadent chocolate cookie.



Triple Choc Cookies 3

I'm passing this award on to:

Jenny at Picky Palate - she creates the most amazing cookies and desserts.
Stephanie at Stephanie's Kitchen - another fantastic blogger who loves to bake and create new recipes that include chocolate.
Susan at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy - well, the name of her blog really does say it all, doesn' it?
Jersey Girl Cooks - she has a great blog, which is the reason I'm sharing this with her!
Deborah at Taste and Tell - besides making some great meals, she also indulges in baking some desserts that I can't resist.
Tanya at Sunday Baker - she has a great blog and in addition to some wonderful main meals, she makes some tasty treats as well.

There are so many other bloggers out there who can be described as Chocoholics! Each person awarded should pass the award on to anyone they want, and be sure to link back to me and forward to those who are receiving the award.


Triple Choc Cookies 1

My Boys both gave these cookies a double thumb's up and a score of a "zillion" to describe how much they liked them. I loved the cookies and they really hit that chocolate craving. According to the the cookbook they come from they freeze well, which may be the only way you'll be able to save them for a treat later. They are THAT good!

Triple Chocolate Fudge Cookies
Source: Cookies: More Than 200 Recipes

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (I used Dutch process cocoa)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour through salt in a bowl and combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine butter through granulated sugar using an electric mixer. Beat until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat well after each one is added. Beat in vanilla.

While the mixer is beating at a slow speed, gradually add the flour mixture. Beat until blended. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, add in the chips and mix well.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Bake for 7-11 minutes, or until puffed and the edges are set.

Cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheets, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers, with wax paper between layers of cookies.

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September 25, 2008

Chicken Stir Fry Wraps and Reality TV

The new season of TV shows has begun! Tonight, as I write this post we are watching Survivor: Gabon. So far it's an interesting combination of people. I do wonder how some of these people make the cut for the show when it seems they don't have much physical ability. We'll just have to see how it continues on... to keep my interest someone has to stand out for me to want to root for them. There's been a few seasons that I didn't finish watching since I couldn't get behind some of the people. I'm curious enough tonight that I'll have to watch a few episodes. Anyone else watching it? I'd love to hear what you thought of the first episode!

For tonight's dinner, I wanted to try something that was kind of different for us. I pulled out my copy of Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, and decided to make the Chicken Stir Fry Wraps. Of course, I didn't have fresh ginger on hand. I usually do, but this time I didn't. I knew that the chicken would need some extra flavor, so I decided to add some Chinese Five Spice. I love the sweet scent of that spice blend. This recipe went together really quickly, and was tasty. I would definitely think the fresh ginger would add a flavor punch to take this dish up another notch. The lettuce wraps also make serving this so atractive.


chicken lettuce wraps-2

I loved using the lettuce wraps instead of a flour tortilla. It kept the meal light and feeling like I ate something healthier. I can see so many other ways of changing this recipe to keep things interesting. Maybe try Mexican flavors, or swap out the chicken for thinly sliced pork. I love recipes that lend themselves to variation.

Looking for some other stir-fry and Asian themed meal ideas? Check these ideas out for inspiration:

Recipegirl made Tyler Florence's Cold Sesame Noodles and they look perfect for a side to the meal I made tonight, or even for a simple lunch to take to work.
Perhaps a Quick Beef Stir-Fry would suit your craving? Check it out at Simply Recipes.
Head over to Kalyn's Kitchen for a Pork and Broccoli Stir-Fry, and some step-by-step tips on making this delicious recipe.

Don't forget to share your thought on my poll on the right sidebar. It would be great to get as many opinions as I can!


chicken lettuce wraps-1

Chicken Stir-Fry Wraps
Adapted from : Great Food Fast

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved and sliced very thin (I used about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons olive oil - divided
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced (I used about 1/2 an onion)
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (I left this out since I didn't have any - used about 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I left this out so the kids would eat this)
3 tablespoons soy sauce (I used low-sodium)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
12-16 Boston lettuce leaves (we used about 5 leaves)

Directions
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and cook until done. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.

Add the last tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the red bell pepper and onions. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes until the vegetables soften and become lightly browned.

Reduce the heat to medium, then add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, only about 30 seconds or so. Add the soy sauce, vinegar and cornstarch mixture. Remove from heat and stir to completely combine. Add the chicken back to the mixture and toss to coat with the sauce.

Serve in lettuce cups.





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September 24, 2008

Robin Miller's Chicken Fingers

I've mentioned previously a couple of problems I've got, one being a chocoholic and the other is being a pasta nut. Well, here's another one to add... reading other people's food blogs! Yep, I have so many blogs that I follow in my google reader that I have quite the reading list each and every day. I get so many great ideas on things to make from what everyone else is cooking that I just can't stop reading them.

Last week, I was reading Deborah's blog, Taste and Tell. I love her blog because each month she selects another cookbook from her personal library and cooks several recipes from that one book. It's a great way to find out if a cookbook is something you'd enjoy or not. I really should try to do that rather than cooking from the same 4-5 cookbooks each month. Some variety is a good thing. Anyway, she made Robin Miller's Chicken Fingers with Spicy Avocado Sauce and her review of it made me realize I need to revisit my copy of Quick Fix Meals: 200 Simple, Delicious Recipes to Make Mealtime Easy.



chicken fingers


I opted not to make the spicy avocado sauce since I didn't have any avocados, and I was making this using items in my pantry. I dipped mine into Ranch dressing, but I think a honey mustard would have been equally delicious. The chicken fingers were very good, even though I forgot to spray them with cooking spray before baking, which is why I think they could have been crunchier - my forgetfulness is at fault on this one. This recipe really goes together fast, it was in the oven within about 5 minutes, and 20 minutes later dinner was served!


My Husband loved these, but My boys - not so much. There was a bit too much spice and flavor for them. I'll have to continue to make them Rachael Ray's Honey Nut Chicken Stix, I think the sweetness of that recipe appeals to them more.


Please check out my poll on the sidebar. My Husband thinks I should go back to linking my recipes to a separate location rather than adding them to the text in my blog post. I'd really like to know what those people who read my blog would prefer. So, be sure to vote in the poll and I'll share the results next week!


Looking for some more quick and easy dinner ideas? Check out what these bloggers have been making:

Sophistimom made an incredible looking Tortellini Soup with Sausage Meatballs. I just found her blog yesterday, and the pictures alone have my mouth watering early in the morning!
Ruth at Once Upon a Feast shares a quick and simple pasta that would be great for any weeknight, Bucatini Bolognese.
Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil made this beautiful Turkey Scallopini that looks pretty enough for company, but simple enough for family dinner during the week.

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September 23, 2008

Rachael Ray's Florentine Meatballs

Before I get into tonight's post, I wanted to tell you all about something exciting I heard about today. Martha Stewart is having a Blog Contest! Last week, Martha devoted an entire episode to blogging and knowing how many bloggers there are in the world, she's created an opportunity to be featured on her blog. All a Blogger has to do is link back to Martha's blog, then leave a comment. I am a huge fan of Martha's cookie cookbooks and holiday cookie magazines, so this would be the most exciting thing ever!

Now back to tonight's post:

One of the things I try to do as the weather starts to cool down, is begin baking and making up quick-fix meals for the freezer. It makes life so simple when it's a busy night and you still want to eat a home-cooked meal. I love being able to just pull out a package of something and heat it on the stove, throw together a couple of simple side dishes and you have a nice meal. It's so much nicer than take-out every night. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against take-out and actually enjoy bringing in Chinese food from our favorite place.

One of my "go to" meals has been Trader Joe's Party Size Meatballs with my homemade sauce served with spaghetti. While we do love those meatballs, I couldn't help but wonder if I could find a homemade one that my family would enjoy as much. I also wanted to make sure that they would be reasonably healthy. Is it possible to make a healthier meatball that my boys would love as much as the packaged ones?

In my search for a recipe to start with, I found one in my Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats--A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners (A 30-Minute Meal Cookbook). Rachael's recipe for Florentine Meatballs appealed to me for a couple of reasons. It is made with ground turkey and it incorporates chopped spinach into it. Those two things together, make them pretty healthy compared to the traditional meatball. I did make a change to her original recipe by swapping one pound of the ground turkey for sweet turkey sausage. I also made them into smaller meatballs than the recipe calls for and ended up with about 70 of them.

The verdict? My boys were not impressed and My Husband thought it might have been better to leave out the spinach so that they would look more like the meatballs they are used to eating. I have quite a few in the freezer, so we'll be trying them again, but I may mix them with the others that I know the boys like in order to use them up. However, I am back to the search for the perfect homemade meatball. Any suggestions?

Here are a few that I am marking to try... but, I'd love to hear from anyone who has a fantastic recipe that I simply must make.

Family Style Food shares thoughts on how the type of meatball you love lies in your childhood and shares a more traditional Meatball recipe.
Sugar and Spice offers up another traditional spaghetti and meatball recipe that sounds like it might be perfect for filling the freezer.
Fresh From the Oven made Giada's Turkey Meatballs and was quite pleased with the results.

florentine meatballs

Florentine Meatballs
Adapted from: Rachael Ray's 365 No Repeats

Ingredients
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
2 packages (about 2 pounds) ground turkey (I used 1 pound ground turkey, 1 pound sweet turkey sausage)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (I did a quick saute to soften it up before incorporating into the meat mixture)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large egg
1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used Italian seasoned crumbs since that's what I had on hand)
1/2 cup grated Parmiciano-Reggiano
Coarse salt and coarse black pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drain the defrosted spinach and squeeze out all water. Place the turkey in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the spinach, and remaining ingredients. Form into meatballs and arrange on a non-stick cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes.


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September 21, 2008

Mexican Chicken Soft Tacos

Now that school is back in session and we are busy with activities several days a week, it's time to get my pressure cooker back out. I love how quick and easy it is to use, and highly recommend it to anyone who has a busy schedule. With just a little bit of prep work, you can get a healthy, homecooked dinner on the table in no time at all.

My family loves soft tacos, so when I found one of my bookmarked recipes, Mexican Chicken in Soft Tacos in my Pressure Cooking for Everyone book. Since I've had this marked for quite awhile, I'll be submitting this post to Pam at Sidewalk Shoes who is hosting the upcoming week's Bookmarked Recipes event. This is a great cookbook to get if you are new to pressure cooking. Each recipe is well-written and foolproof. This recipe is a mild enough to be kid-friendly, but the spice could be kicked up a notch if you are up for that.

chicken soft tacos

I served the chicken and vegetable mixture on whole wheat tortillas with an assortment of additions. I loved the addition of diced avocado mixed with the cheese, sour cream and salsa. It really complimented the chicken. This was a huge hit with my family, which was clear by the lack of leftovers I had when we finished dinner.

If you are looking for Mexican themed dinners for the family, check out these sites:

Jenny at Picky Palate has created another winner with her Ranchero Mexi-Chicken Crostada.
Prudence Pennywise shows us how to make Grilled Flank Steak Tacos for only $10!!!!
Tanya at Sunday Baker has found the key to making her son happy and his friend's when they come for dinner - a Taco Ring!

chicken soft tacos2


Mexican Chicken in Soft Tacos
Source: Pressure Cooking For Everyone

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick half moons
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup water
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I subbed chicken breasts instead)

Directions
In a 5 to 7-quart pressure cooker, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion through cumin. Cook, stirring often, until onion becomes softened. Stir in the water, add chicken seasoned with salt and pepper. Lock the lid in place and bring to high pressure of high heat. Adjust the heat to maintain the pressure. Cook for 5-7 minutes.

Remove the pressure cooker from the heat and quick-release the pressure. Open the lid, tilting it away from you to block any escaping steam. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Using a large knife, coarsely chop the chicken and add to serving bowl. Add the vegetables to the chicken and thoroughly mix together.

September 19, 2008

Linguine with Garlicky Bread Crumbs

With My Husband away on a business trip for a few days this week, I kept the cooking simple. Often letting the boys choose their dinner, thankfully, a vegetable was always chosen as part of the meal since they both have been learning about eating healthy foods. I don't always indulge my little men, but with Daddy away I thought I'd be extra nice to them - and, it doesn't hurt that their desires are simpler than what I normally make.

I must admit that I am a pasta lover. Yes, in addition to my addiction to chocolate you can add pasta to that list. As a kid, I would often eat plain spaghetti with the Parmesan cheese (you remember the green can, right?) sprinkled over it. Actually, when I was living on my own I often had pasta that same way or with melted butter... yummmmm... total comfort food - at least it is for me. I think I'm one of the odd one's in my family for eating it that way, but that's OK - they love me anyway. I've always got an assortment of different pasta shapes in my pantry.

I have managed to acquire a taste for whole wheat pastas, even though my family has not fully taken to them. So, with only my taste to satisfy one evening, I knew I'd be making something to contribute to Presto Pasta Nights for next week! This week, Ruth at Once Upon a Feast - Every Kitchen Tells its Stories is hosting it, so be sure to check in there next Friday for the round-up. I haven't participated in any blogging events in awhile, and I've been missing out on the fun!


So, what did I make you might be asking? I went to one of my trusty cooking sources, Cooking Light, and found Linguine with Garlicky Bread Crumbs. This is such a simple idea, that really makes the pasta so much more interesting. I loved the addition of the bread crumbs and garlic - who doesn't like garlic? - the texture really complimented the whole wheat spaghetti that I used. The recipe calls for regular linguine, but in trying to be healthier I opted for the whole wheat variety instead.

garlicky bread crumbs spaghetti

My Oldest didn't care for it, but the garlic flavor was perhaps a bit much for his taste. That's OK since it left a bit more for me to take for lunch today! I thought it was just as tasty the next day and it didn't need to be heated up either. I don't mind if I make some things that the kids don't care for since it leaves me something for the next day. I just love leftovers!

Now, if you are in the mood for some pasta creations, you may want to check out these ideas:

Good Things Catered made a Spicy Garlic Herbed Pasta that is a simple side dish for any night of the week.

A Cowboy's Wife at My Wooden Spoon shares her mom's recipe for Garlic-Zucchini Pasta with step-by-step photos, too!

Over at Our Sweet Life, an Improvised Penne Primavera using what was in the pantry and refrigerator resulted in a tasty dinner filled with veggies.

September 17, 2008

Fall is Time for Soup!

With the beginning of Fall right around the corner (September 22nd to be exact), it seems only right to start thinking about soups. I enjoy soups throughout the cooler months as something I can take to work for lunch and even for something easy on a weeknight. Many soups are very simple and can be made in about 30 minutes, while there are some that do require longer cooking times so I like to make those on the weekends.

Some time ago (I can't admit how long because I honestly don't remember), I bought a cookbook devoted to soups: Saved By Soup: More Than 100 Delicious Low-Fat Soups To Eat And Enjoy Every Day. I loved that this book was devoted not only to soups, but to healthy, low-fat soups. As I do enjoy my indulgences, I am also always looking for ways to cut calories at other meals so I can continue to have those treats.

For my first test of this cookbook, I chose Tuscan White Bean Soup. I love cannellini beans and figured it would also give me a chance to use my handy immersion blender (Braun MR430HC Multiquick Deluxe Hand Blender & Chopper). I've had this blender also for quite awhile and only used it once or twice. It's so easy to use, and you don't have to deal with the mess of trying to transfer a hot liquid to a blender or food processor since you can just puree as much or as little as you need right in the pot. Pretty cool.

So, back to the soup! The ingredients are pretty simple and don't appear that they will have all that much flavor. The single sage leaf imparts a fall flavor, but the soup seems to be calling out for something more. The recipe says to puree the whole soup, but I think if I make it again that I'd leave some bigger pieces in it. Simply put, it tasted like a tomato soup with a big cannellini bean flavor. I'm not sure I'll repeat this one as it just didn't hit the right spot overall. Besides, I have a whole cookbook at my fingertips, which gives me 100 soups to choose from for next time!

I haven't figured out how to take a great picture of soup, so rather than embarrass myself with how awful it turned out I'm not going to share this one.

If the cooler temperatures have you craving something comforting and perfect for fall, check out these ideas:

Tortilla Soup from Simply Recipes.
Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup from Farmgirl Fare.
Butternut Squash Soup from What Did You Eat?

Tuscan White Bean Soup
Source: Saved By Soup by Judith Barrett

Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
2 large clove garlic, finely minced
4 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans
2 cups chopped tomatoes, with juices
1 fresh sage leaf
4 cups chicken broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions
Heat the oil in a heavy 4 quart pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until the onion becomes soft. Stir in the beans, tomatoes and sage leaf. Add the broth. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Remove sage leaf.

Using an immersion blender puree (or use a blender, putting the soup into the blender in batches). Stir in parsley just before serving.

September 15, 2008

Todd English's bluezoo

I mentioned last week that while we were in Walt Disney World on vacation that we had dinner at a really nice restaurant - Todd English's bluezoo. This beautifully decorated restaurant is located in the extremely posh Swan & Dolphin hotel. We wanted to have one meal that was more about us (me and My Husband) since the primary focus of the trip was giving the boys the time of their lives.

We were impressed from the first moment we entered the restaurant. The service was amazing and our boys were introduced to fine dining. They were a little confused when our server went to put their napkins on their laps for them and with the warm cloths brought to us after the appetizers.

We began by ordering wine, Tolloy Pinot Grigio. I am not a wine connoisseur by any means, but what I can tell you is that this wine was easy to drink and one I've noted to see if I can purchase it locally.

The bread basket had an assortment of breads and came with a fennel butter. Now, fennel is something you either love or hate from what I understand. My Boys love having butter on their bread, but I was a little concerned since they haven't really had fennel before. I was pleasantly surprised to discover they both loved the flavor and kept asking for more of the butter as they munched on the delicious breads.

My Husband and I started off with the selection platter which included lobster tail, ceviche, tuna cruda, jumbo shrimp, clams and oysters. It was served with several sauces for dipping. I discovered that I really love ceviche, but I was the only one at the table who did - that was fine since it left more for me! It was beautifully presented, but I didn't remember to take a picture before we had begun eating it.

For my main dish, I went with their "simply fish" selection. I had mahi mahi with the warm crabmeat, dijon and chive sauce. The sauce was so velvety smooth with small chunks of crabmeat, a perfect accompaniment for the fish. The salad that you see below was nice and crunchy and the perfect compliment to the fish.

bluezoo-1

My Husband went with the surf and turf, which was a char grilled kobe beef NY strip steak with a butter poached lobster tail. Can you say "melts in your mouth"? OMG! I've never had kobe beef before, and this was cooked to perfection and literally just melted as you ate it. The lobster was as rich as you would expect, and poaching it in butter makes it one of those dishes you should find an excuse to enjoy.

We finished off the meal in the most decadent way you can imagine - a warm chocolate cake with the chocolate ganache center topped with a peanut ice cream. As you know (at least those of you loyal readers do), I adore chocolate and this dessert was pure heaven. As you cut into the the chocolate cake, the ganache kind of oozes out in this little chocolate river. The perfect bite is combining the cake with the ganache and a little bit of the ice cream. Oh boy, just thinking about this dessert is making me want to find a place closer to home that makes it!

bluezoo-2

Our Boys were so well-behaved at this upscale restaurant that I couldn't be more proud of them. They tried everything offerred to them. The staff was fantastic, and even allowed us to request a substition of plain spaghetti to accompany My Youngest's dinner. He wasn't too sure about the fried fish that we were ordering for him, so we needed something that would make him happy. The fish was a hit with both boys so, overall this restaurant was a fantastic way to end our week in WDW.

Sorry the pictures are not that great - it's hard to take a nice picture of a dish in a darkened restaurant... the flash really washes it out.

September 13, 2008

Chocolate Indulgences


If you have been reading along with my cooking experiements these last 9 months, then you know chocolate is something I simply cannot live without. Actually, I should say I won't live without it. I love everything about chocolate. I love how rich it is, how it melts so smoothly upon hitting your tongue... oh yeah, I won't give up chocolate for anything.

I bet you are wondering where I am going with this post. Well, the other day I was at the library returning our Disney World books when I spied a cookie cookbook that was calling my name. Cookies: More Than 200 Recipes appealed to me right away. Yes, I have several other cookbooks that focus on cookies, but where's the harm in doing a test-run on a different one?

Since I've been sending in cookies as a lunchbox dessert for my boys each day, I thought it would be fun to try a new one on them as a surprise. I happened to have most of the ingredients on hand for the Soft and Chewy Chocolate Indulgences. Which also meant that I'd get to sample for purposes of reviewing this recipe. Don't you love how that works?

These cookies were everything I had hoped they would be! They were rich, chocolate-y and soft and chewy. The perfect chocolate cookie. They even stay soft if kept in an air-tight container for a couple of days. Now if you want them to last longer than that, you'll need to put them in the freezer and not tell anyone you made them!

The only substitutions I made were to use white chocolate chips and M&Ms since I was out of semi-sweet chips (shocking!). I think the white chips were pretty next to the dark chocolate color of the cookie. I'll have to use more next time I make these. My Youngest who I've mentioned before has a preference for traditional chocolate chip cookie declared these to be "the bestest cookies ever!". I think that's high praise from my little kindergartener!

I'm sure I'll be making more cookies from this book... which will probably mean I'll have to order it from Amazon soon! My wish list keeps growing!

Here are some other chocolate indulgences you may want to try:
Recipegirl made some Chocolate Chip Toffee Scones that sound like they'd make a decadent treat at brunch.
Peabody turned Dorie Greenspans Chocolate Malted Cookies into Chocolate Malted Cupcakes that are sure to cure that chocolate craving.
Prudence Pennywise recently made the ultimate in summer desserts: Chocolate and Peanut Butter S'more Bars.

choc cookies-1


Soft & Chewy Chocolate Indulgences
Source: Cookies: More Than 200 Recipes by Jill Snider

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (white chocolate chips and/or M&Ms can be substituted)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar together at medium speed using an electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat well. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a prepared cookie sheet (I use parchment paper and that helps with clean-up and keeping the cookies from getting stuck to the baking sheet). Bake in a pre-heated oven for 8-12 minutes or just until set. Cookies will be set around edges, but soft in the middle. They will finish cooking while cooling for 5 minutes on the baking sheets. Remove after 5 minutes and allow to finish cooling on wire racks.

September 11, 2008

First Day Of School

Please note: Picture of the recipe has now been added!

As of this week, we no longer have any children in day care. Yes, both of our boys are now in elementary school. I can hardly believe how quickly the time flew by the past 5 years. I didn't get emotional (strange for me), but was actually rather excited and anxious for both of them. I remember anticipating the first day of school each year and wondering what the teachers would be like and what we would be doing. I have been anticipating the start of school more since I bought the school supplies - don't you just love new school supplies? - and backpacks, lunchboxes, etc. So much preparation to get ready for a new school year.

The bus came right on time, and the bus driver was quite nice about all the pictures the parents were taking. We had a few kindergarteners at our stop, so it was almost like the papparazzi were there! Everyone made it to school and had a good first day, with an assembly to boot! Both boys love their new teachers and are enjoying the afterschool program that is held there.

With a new school year also comes new activities. Both boys opted to take karate this year instead of playing soccer. I can't say this bothers me in the least since they are in the same class and it's always at the same times/days. This makes the running around after work and school much simpler. Of course, since we do have activities it will mean better meal planning and shopping. I will have to break out my pressure cooker more often and plan ahead by prepping any vegetables ahead of time. Can I do this? Well, we will soon see. I hope to make a menu plan each week and try my best to stick to it.

Since we only returned from vacation on Sunday there is no menu plan for this week. Kind of flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to meals. My Husband was nice enough to shop and purchase everything on my general grocery list when we returned. However, I didn't have recipes in mind when I made the list but rather wanted things to get us back to eating healthy after a week of Disney dining.

For tonight's dinner I checked the refrigerator and found some sweet Italian sausage that I had asked My Husband to purchase. I decided that perhaps a simple dinner with some pasta tossed with the sausage and some diced tomatoes might be in order. It's not really a recipe, rather a quick and easy weeknight meal. As I went through my spice cabinet, I realized I had not tried the dried, toasted, minced onions I bought when I went to Penzey's. The scent when you open the bottle is strong, and they suggest cooking them with something that has liquid to soften them (if using for a homemade bread, they suggest letting them sit in water before incorporating into the dough). I really liked the way the onion added a new dimension to my simple sausage and tomato sauce. Almost like a smokey taste to it, that really added more to this dish than it would have been without it.

penne with sausage

Penne with Sausage and Tomatoes
Source: Patsyk

Ingredients
1 package Sweet Italian Sausage
1/2 pound penne pasta, cooked (or whatever small pasta shape you like)
2 heaping teaspoons of chopped garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried toasted minced onions (found them at Penzey's)
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning (I used the Tuscan Sunset blend from Penzey's)

Directions
Cut the sausage links into 1 inch pieces. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then add sausage pieces. Turn occasionally to ensure all sides are browned.

Add garlic through Italian seasoning and allow to come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Looking for more quick weeknight meals? Check out these recipes:

Flank Steak Pinwheels at Everything Rachael Ray
Parmesan and Lemon Crusted Dover Sole with Spinach at Jersey Girl Cooks
Spinach Fettucine with Cherry Tomatoes in Garlic & Wine Sauce at Fun and Food Blog Recipes

September 9, 2008

Did You Miss Me?

Probably not since I had scheduled some posts while we were away! If you are wondering where I've been that would keep me from blogging and cooking, take a look below at the wonder that is....

IMG_7370


My boys and their first trip to Walt Disney World! We got lucky and the weather was with us and the typical hot and humid Florida weather. That just meant pool time every afternoon and the boys were all over that each day. We were able to visit each of the parks and spend a bit of time there each morning and evening. It felt like we did everything we wanted to without going crazy and trying to do too much. We didn't want the kids to be completely worn out when we returned to our normal life and the start of school.

We managed to have some wonderful meals while we were there, although I did not take pictures at each of them. If you are going to WDW, I highly recommend getting the dining plan. It's plenty of food (and then some) and you can make your reservations well in advance to get the coveted character meals!

We were lucky enough to meet up with My Husband's cousin and her family for dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Cafe in the Downtown Disney West End section. It was so nice to see them and get a little time in with them while we were in their neck of the woods. Even though the visit was short, we enjoyed every minute of it! The food was tasty as well (sorry no pictures... we were enjoying the company too much to stop to take pictures of the food). We had a couple of sushi rolls that were delicious, one was a spicy tuna and the other was a California roll (I think, but my memory on the rolls is a bit foggy at this point). My Husband and I shared the Pizza Margherita and by the size of it, I'd say sharing it was the best for us, too big for just one person. We also had the Beef Satay, and the sauce was this sticky sweet flavor that had me wanting to go back for more. I will have to try making satay at home sometime. My Youngest actually COMBINED his sauce from his meatballs and spaghetti in the same bowl (never happened before), so now I will be searching for a copycat recipe so I can try to recreate that at home!

I'll share more on another nice dinner we had while there later this week. I did take pictures at that one, so I am hoping that they are "blog-worthy".

I plan to be back in the swing of cooking this week, especially since the boys had their first day of school today! I'll share more on that tomorrow.

September 7, 2008

Cookie Monster Would Love These Cookies!

You may be saying: "Are you kidding? ANOTHER cookie recipe?" Yes, another cookie recipe is coming at you. Now, before you think you've seen enough of those stick with me for a little bit. These cookies are chock full of all kinds of yummy ingredients. You really don't want to miss a cookie that might just hit the spot at some point, right?

I am sure there are dozens of different versions of Monster Cookies out there. This is just one, and you can put in whatever add-ins suit your tastes. These cookies are actually supposed to be 3 inches wide, I opted to make them about half that size so that they wouldn't be too overwhelming.

I found this recipe in Southern Living All-Time Favorite Cookie Recipes (Southern Living), the same place where I found the Orange-Chocolate Chip Cookies. This cookbook has quite a variety of cookies to choose from based on your mood. The Monster Cookies appealed to me because they have oatmeal and peanut butter in them, so there's some fiber and protein to make them slightly healthier.

My Oldest gobbled his right up, while My Youngest wouldn't touch even one bite. As I have mentioned before, he's a more traditional Chocolate Chip cookie lover. One day, I'll find a way to lure him into trying something different.

These cookies are very thick and hearty. I found that even though I made them smaller than called for that just half a cookie was more than enough for me. I think next time I may make them as mini cookies so that they are bite-size, which should be a nice satisfying serving.

I apologize for the photo not being as sharp as it should be. I didn't have access to my lights since I was photographing the cookies while my husband had his poker buddies over. But, you can get the idea of what they look like anyway.


Monster Cookies


Monster Cookies
Source: Southern Living All-Time Favorite Cookies

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups creamy peanut butter
3/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups regular oats, uncooked
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup M&Ms
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Directions
Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugars, and beat well. Add eggs and next 3 ingredients; beat well. Add oats, baking soda and salt; stir in M&Ms and chocolate chips. The dough will be stiff at this point.

Pack dough into 1/4-cup measure (I used about 1/8 cup and they were still huge). Drop dough 4 inches apart onto parchment lined baking sheets (the cookies do not spread, so you can place them closer). Flatten each cookie slightly with your fingertips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, the centers of the cookies will still be soft. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks.

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen

Still hungry for more cookies? Then, your my kind of reader! Check out these recipes:

The Peanut Butter Fancies at Stephanie's Kitchen will make your mouth water, and they are pretty, too!
The Caramel Cinnamin Crunch Cookies at Culinary in the Country look just like cinnamin rolls - Yum!
The Chocolate Chip Cookie Cups at Picky Palate are so adorable, you'll want to make them right away!

September 5, 2008

Petite Adorable Little Cookies

I'm on a bit of a cookie kick lately. With school getting ready to start and the cooler temperatures we've been enjoying it just seems like I need to bake. I also like to get some cookies into the freezer so I always have some on hand if I need to bring a little something to someone or pull some out when we are having friends over.

I've had Southern Living All-Time Favorite Cookie Recipes (Southern Living) for quite a long time. I've made a few different cookies from it, but never marked the recipe for Orange-Chocolate Chip Cookies. Of course, when I first got the cookbook I'm not sure I even thought this flavor combination would be tasty. Tastes to tend to change as you get older and are exposed to more flavors over time.

Once again, I had all the ingredients on hand which probably means I have a well-stocked pantry. I've been doing something right when it comes to food shopping. These cookies went together in a matter of minutes and even before baking the fresh scent of orange wafted up from the batter. I was a little uncertain that I could get 3 dozen cookies out of the batter that I had as it didn't look like very much. When I re-read the instructions, I realized that rather than dropping by the tablespoon it was a teaspoon. I loved that these were going to be a bite-size cookie.

These cake-like cookies melt in your mouth. The orange and chocolate compliment each other in such a way that you can't help but go back for another cookie. Thank goodness, they are small cookies so that you can indulge in more than one without as much guilt. I did substitute the cream cheese for 1/3 less fat cream cheese since that is what I had on hand and I think that they baked up beautifully.

Orange Chocolate Cookies

If you have room for another cookbook on your shelf, this is one worth having.

Orange-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Southern Living All-Time Favorite Cookie Recipes

Ingredients
1/2 cup shortening
3 ounces cream cheese, softened (reduced fat cream cheese can be subsituted)
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

Combine shortening through egg in a large bowl; beat until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and orange rind; beat well.

Combine flour and salt; add to creamed mixture, beating well. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Cool on wire racks.

Yield: 3 dozen.

For some more creative cookies check out these blogs:

Joy the Baker has made Lemon Scented Olive Oil Cookies with Almond Glaze.
Coconut and Lime decided to visit an island by making A Taste of the Tropics Oatmeal Cookies.
Baking Bites has a lengthy list of cookies to share, but do check out the Lime, White Chocolate and Macedamia Nut Cookies for a cookie with a zesty twist.

September 3, 2008

Martha's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

My Youngest recently had his last day of pre-school. This is a pretty big deal since he'll be moving on to kindergarten very soon. So, to celebrate his last day at his pre-school he wanted to bring cookies. Now, they can't be just any cookie but a cookie that had milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and M&M's. He's got pretty specific taste in cookies. He likes a simple chocolate chip cookie with extra add-ins.

Of course, when I went to make my usual Chocolate Chip cookie, I realized I was completely out of Butter Flavor Crisco. So, I had to find a new recipe using ingredients I had on hand. I have always had good luck with cookie recipes from Martha Stewart, so as many other bloggers have been doing, I went to her most recent book: Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share (Martha Stewart Living Magazine). The recipe for Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies was simple enough and I had everything on hand so no extra trip to the store was needed.

The only change to the recipe I made was to add the white chocolate chips and M&M's since those were the main requirements in the cookies by My Youngest. I did sneak a taste of the batter and I must say, Martha, you do know cookies! Oh my, the flavor was so addictive - and, yes, I know I shouldn't do that but I grew up eating raw cookie dough and it's one of those things I just have to do. I used the smallest scoop I have which was a bit larger than a tablespoon so my cookies were larger than called for in the recipe. I'm sure that's why the centers of the cookies took a bit longer to bake.

These cookies were a huge hit with my family, and with My Youngest's pre-school class and teachers. My Husband actually said he liked these BETTER than my usual recipe. So, Martha, you've done it again!

Martha's Choc Chip Cookie

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Martha Stewart's Cookies

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (I was out of unsalted butter so I used salted and they worked out just fine)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used about 1 cup milk chocolate chips, 1/2 cup white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup M&Ms)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk together flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. Put butter and sugars in electric mixer bowl. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low, then add salt, vanilla and eggs; mix until well blended. Mix in the flour mixture, the stir in the add-ins.

Drop by heaping tablespoons on to a parchment lined baking sheet. Allow 2 inches between each cookie. Bake cookies until edges turn golden but the centers are still soft - about 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

If you like Chocolate Chip Cookies, you have tons of recipes to choose from in the food blogging world. Go check out these blogs for some inspiration:

Smitten Kitchen shared their Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Cookie Madness has 58 different Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes to tantalize your tastebuds.
Clumbsy Cookie decided to give the Perfect Chocolate Cookie from the NY Times a test-run.

September 1, 2008

Orange-y Banana Bread

Happy Labor Day! I hope you have something fun planned for today. We have some fun things going on, but I'll be keeping you in suspense on what they are for a bit longer.

I've posted a few quick bread and muffin recipes lately, haven't I? Well, that is partly due to the fact that I bought a large bunch of bananas that didn't get eaten quick enough. So, I had these really brown bananas perfect for baking! I'm also trying to stock my freezer with some healthy snacks that I can pull out the night before packing the backpacks for school.

This time, I wanted to try something a bit different and ended up creating a whole new recipe. The bonus is that it really worked. Not just turned out ok, but well enough that I'll be making it again! This is the first time I've really changed a baking recipe significantly enough to create something different from what was originally intended, so you can imagine how happy I must be right now.

Now, you are probably wondering what in the world did I do to make my usual banana bread recipe different enough to create something new and entirely different? Well, in addition to those bananas that are perfect for baking, I also had a big bag of oranges just hanging around. Do you ever notice how when you put fruit in the drawer in the refrigerator that no one ever remembers it's there? Then, it turns well... you know what happens, and it's never pretty. Anyway, before the oranges could turn into something inedible I decided to rescue at least one and use a bit of the juice and the zest. I really love the fresh flavor that orange adds to baked goods. I need to find more ways to use it.

I also wanted to increase the nutritional value, even if only by a small amount, so I substituted half of the original all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. I had read that if you are wanting to incorporate whole wheat flour into baked goods not to substitute more than half of it. I baked the batter in two 6-inch loaf pans. I really love using my small loaf pans because I can keep one loaf out for eating now and the rest goes into the freezer for later.

Well, I simply must tell you that the result was a really moist and slightly sweet banana bread. You can taste the fresh orange flavor, but it's not the main attraction. The banana flavor is what really comes through and you would never know that there's whole wheat flour in this bread. It baked up to a light golden brown and bread crumb is a nice size, not too fine. If you cover it completely in plastic wrap or put inside a plastic container, it will retain the moisture longer.

orange banana bread2

My Oldest was in love at first bite! Wait until I tell him, I made it healthier and it's an acceptable snack to send to school. He'll be thrilled! My Youngest is still not a bread or muffin boy, so while he did give it a try he was not won over by the sweetness of the bread. Maybe one day he will be.

orange banana bread



Orange-y Banana Bread
Source: Patsyk

Ingredients
3 over-ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 6-inch loaf pans by spraying with cooking spray.

Combine bananas through egg in a medium bowl. Mix to combine thoroughly.

Combine all-purpose flour through salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine all components. Add the banana mixture and using a spatula mix gently until just moistened.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched. Allow to cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

Check out these blogs for more ways to use up those bananas:

Banana Pancakes from A Good Appetite
Black and White Banana Loaf from Chocolate Moosey
Banana Oatmeal Cookies from What Smells So Good

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