Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pop On Over for Popovers

But you should probably call make sure we're presentable. Not necessarily a given at this home.

Since my husband got home from work sometime during the wee hours of the morning, I felt like he should be rewarded in some small way, but was also itching to dust off the popover pans (an impulsive buy from my I-have-a-real-job days). If any of you want an idea for a special breakfast during a holiday weekend, try these light, hollow rolls made from an egg batter. 

With the exception of the baking time, these popovers are relatively easy and require very few ingredients. I believe you can use a muffin pan to make them, but I cannot speak about those results since I have never tried it. The best part: the batter can be made up to 4 days ahead and stored covered in the fridge until ready to use (just remix prior to using).

They are called 'popovers' because of how the batter 'pops' over the the baking tins while they are baking--and are apparently of American origin, but related to the English's Yorkshire pudding. Popovers have a crisp outside and a soft, chewy inside. These below can be made savory or sweet. We like to serve them with butter and jam, but you can dust them with powdered sugar too.

Here is my first tried and true recipe attempt I found on Amazon years ago with standard white flour. The article will tell you about pan substitutions, if you are interested. Below is my version (through my pseudo 'healthification' process--possibly called 'recipe perversion' by purists). They're still fantastic tasting--and best straight out of the oven.

You can double the recipe (to make twelve) and freeze the popovers that you don't eat.*


Makes only 6 in a popover pan (recipe can be doubled)

1 cup whole milk (or 3/4 cup skim milk and 1/4 heavy cream)
2 extra large eggs or 2 large eggs + 1 egg white (or eggbeaters)
1.5 Tbsp. light butter, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Place your ungreased popover pan(s) (or muffin pan) into oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Your pans will heat while you prepare the batter.

In a blender (don't ask me why I do it this way, I just do), puree the milk, eggs, salt, and melted butter. Add the flour(s) and blend JUST until ingredients are mixed.

Remove the hot pan(s) from oven. Lightly grease with butter-flavored cooking spray.

Fill each cup about halfway full with batter. Bake WITHOUT opening oven door for 18-20 minutes (until pale golden). Lower heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake until they are 'rich brown' in color--anywhere from 10-15 minutes (in my experience).

Serve warm.

*As noted in article, frozen popovers can be warmed in 325 degree oven until heated through, about 5-10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stuffed Mushrooms (with Soy Chorizo and Cheese)

Even your vegetarian friends will like this recipe...that's how good they were. You can probably make them with real chorizo (just cook longer), but if you use vegetarian soy chorizo, you don't even have to tell them the mushrooms don't have meat (I know, SO mean!). These mushrooms are savory, sweet, and smoky.

In a desperate attempt to use both leftover mushroooms & some soy chorizo I impulsively purchased, this was my solution--stuffed mushrooms. I first saw something similar at Trader Joe's (on a handout), but theirs did not have onion, seasonings, or bread crumbs & they pureed the filling. I think we had them done in 30 minutes from first chop to out of oven. You can find soy chorizo at most grocery stores these days--either in the refrigerated produce section or the 'health food' section of a traditional grocery store (probably Yves brand). Whole Foods & Trader Joe's both sell soy chorizo.

Just a tip-you can make a double batch of the filling and freeze it for later use and that way you can use an entire block of cream cheese and all of the soy chorizo package so you are not stuck with leftover ingredients. I hate it when that happens to me! The filling should last a couple months in the freezer.


1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion or half a big onion, chopped
20 oz. baby bella mushrooms (larger-sized mushrooms make stuffing them easier)-about 18-22 mushrooms
6 oz. soy chorizo, casing removed (half of one package)
1/2 tsp. dried parsley or about 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
salt & pepper, to taste (probably about 1/2 tsp. each)
2-4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature (your choice on how creamy you want them)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko-the crispy Japanese kind)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Clean the mushrooms by brushing off any dirt from the caps. Chop the stems and set aside.

In a medium saute pan (frying pan), heat oil and saute onion until softened (a few minutes). And since I'm a one-pan-girl, add the mushroom stems and saute for a bit longer. Then add your chorizo and break up with a spatula. Leave on heat for a minute or two and then add the rest of your ingredients. Turn off the heat and mix everything well. The cream cheese will melt into the hot filling. If you like your mushroom filling really pureed, you can add this mixture to a food processor and then use it to fill your mushrooms. (I am not that person because I don't want to add one more step and have more dishes to clean.)

Using a teaspoon, place filling into each mushroom cap. (Now, most recipes will tell you to be careful not to overfill and that the filling should be about even with sides of mushroom and not overflowing. As you can see from my pictures, I piled it on high and disregarded traditional instructions.) Place mushrooms in a baking dish or sheet pan.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until mushrooms have softened (they will release some of their liquids and appear 'wet' at their base as well as darken in color-this is TOTALLY NORMAL), and filling is bubbly. Serve hot.

Yield: Will serve about 8-10 as an appetizer (no promises-that would give each person about two), but you can probably serve about 6 people if you were to make them your main entree.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Santa Ate Last Night: Peppermint Bark Chocolate Fudge Cookies

These are AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Your taste buds will click heels in joy :) What a wonderful idea to use brownie mix--really cuts down on time! We've all decided this is definitely going to be a family favorite recipe that we're going to make continually at Christmas time.

SOME NOTES on what I've learned making this recipe: The original recipe calls for 2 Tbsp. flour, but we felt that the dough was very liquid-y & could maybe use another tablespoon of flour. Also, our family likes to use salted butter because the bark is sweet & the mix is sweet and the combination could be too much sugar. We made the mistake (possibly) of using extra large eggs...not sure if that made the cookies spread thinner than I'm used to. Next time I make these, I will chill the dough before baking to see if that makes a difference--if you try it, let me know how it works for you.

adapted from Costco Connection

1 (20 ounce) bag of brownie mix (I highly recommend Ghiradelli brand)
8 Tbsp. salted butter (1 stick), melted
2-3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2-2 1/2 cups finely chopped peppermint bark (about 1/4 inch pieces)--divided in half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 cookie sheets (or use a silpat) and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the melted butter with the brownie mix, flour, and eggs until the ingredients are just mixed (30-60 seconds---haha! Who really times these things?!). Gently stir in 1 1/4 cup of peppermint bark into the batter (this is half the total amount needed for recipe). Consider chilling the batter for about 15 minutes at this point.
Using a small scoop or spoon, drop cookie dough by generous tablespoons or 1-inch balls about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Press a heaping 1/2 tsp. of the remaining peppermint bark into the top of each cookie.

Place the baking sheets one at a time into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven when done and let the cookies cool on the pan for about 2-3 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies onto another surface (or wire racks) to cool.

Serve warm or let cool 20 minutes before storing.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quick Dinner: Potato-Corn-Lima Bean Chowder & Spinach Cheddar Rolls

If you have 30-45 minutes, try this delicious and comforting meal. Created when I was in a jam: My husband was going to be home in less than an hour and my daughter needed to be fed...desperate to get dinner made fast, I was inspired by a Southern Living corn and potato chowder recipe--yet changed it up to make it healthier by using fat free half and half and adding creamy, but healthy, lima beans. Also, it seemed to crave a 'bacon' flavor and the rolls below seemed to be perfect with the soup (and used up my spinach!).

Makes 4 servings

~1 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 potatoes, diced (I used gold or 'Yukon')
1 1/2-2 cups water
1 tsp. seasoning (such as 'Old Bay')
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen lima beans
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp. dried parsley, or 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
~3/4 tsp. salt
~1/8 tsp. pepper
1 cup half and half (fat free is fine)
3 Tbsp. bacon-flavored bits (such as Betty Crocker Bacon Bits)

To serve (OPTIONAL):
Green onions, chopped
Shredded cheese--your choice on what kind (about 1/2 cup)

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or medium sized soup pot on medium-high heat. Saute onion and potato for about 5 minutes. Raise heat to high. Add water if the potatoes or onion start to stick to the pot. Add the rest of the water and seafood seasoning. Bring to a boil.

Add the corn, bell peppers, lima beans, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and tender. Add the half & half  and bacon bits. Mix these in gently until soup is completely heated through-about a minute or two (being careful not to boil).

Garnish each soup serving with chopped green onions and ~2 Tbsp. shredded cheese.

Makes about 4 servings.


1 tube reduced-fat crescent dough rolls (such as Pillsbury brand)
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
4 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese (freshly grated is particularly wonderful)
2 green onions, chopped (OPTIONAL)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a muffin pan with olive oil cooking spray. Set aside.

Unroll the crescent dough roll and pinch seams (perforations) together and flatten dough out with your hands until the dough is connected and pulled together, yet flat--shaped like a rectangle.

Add the chopped spinach and cheddar cheese over the crescent dough and season with salt and pepper. Add green onions if using. Gently roll lengthwise. Slice into ~1 inch pieces, being careful to keep the spinach and cheese filling in the dough. You should have about 10 rolls.

Place the spinach-cheese rolls into the muffin pan and bake for about 13-17 minutes, or until dough turns golden brown.

Makes 10 rolls. Serve with soup.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh Oh Oh Oat 'N' Toffee Grahams

Here's another fun holiday recipe that is a bit different than what you may or I may be used to around Christmas time. These toffee grahams are a cross between cookie and candy. I love the sweet and salty combination and the crunch of these treats.

The original recipe called for smoked almonds, but I only had smoked pecans on hand and it still turned out wonderful! I prefer to use salted butter so the grahams aren't cloyingly sweet. In addition, I've been out of white sugar for a while and using all brown sugar did not seem to affect the taste either.

adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

12 whole graham crackers (rectangles)
1-1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2/3 cup butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 12-oz. pkg. semisweet chocolate pieces/chips
1/2 cup smoke-flavored whole almonds, coarsely chopped (I only had smoked pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil beyond edges of pan. Arrange whole graham crackers in a single layer in prepared pan.

In a large bowl combine the oats, sugars, and flour. Stir in melted butter, egg, and vanilla until well combined. Spoon over graham crackers and spread evenly to edges of pan to cover graham crackers.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until oat mixture bubbles and is lightly browned on top.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate pieces. Return to oven for 1 minute (or until chocolate has melted somewhat to become easier to spread). Spread melted chocolate over top to cover. Evenly sprinkle with almonds/pecans. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Use foil to lift from pan. Remove foil. Cut or break into bars.

Makes 32 bars. Store in the refrigerator in a container that has waxed paper or parchment paper between the graham crackers. I absolutely LOVED them the second day after they had been stored in the refrigerator.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies

My friend, Sara, recenly inspired me to make these cookies...I traced the recipe through blog after blog until I reached the origin (apparently a LOT of people like these cookies). The cookies come out a little cakier than other cookies due to the moistness of the pumpkin puree. They were described as 'mini muffins of heaven and spice and crackly sugar.' I'm taking them to our holiday ugly-outfit themed party tonight...hope I don't come home with any...

Adapted from
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar 
1 large egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg (freshly grated would be ideal...but come on!)
1/2 tsp. ginger

Other Ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of grated nutmeg

Combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl until mixed thoroughly.

For cookies:
In a large bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and egg then beat until mixed thoroughly; add pumpkin puree and vanilla and then mix again.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and ginger together in a bowl. Slowly add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture until well combined. (The dough will be sticky. To make it easier to work with, chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a silpat mat (or some for of nonstick surface that is heat-proof) on a baking sheet.

Scoop out balls of dough (it will be sticky) and roll into the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place on a baking sheet then flatten them a bit with the palm of your hand. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until golden brown.
Let the cookies cool. Should make a couple dozen. (I sorta wish I had doubled the recipe and frozen some dough....)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Original NYT No-Knead Bread (A Rustic Loaf)

I've mentioned this bread in earlier posts on this blog and it's time I introduced you guys to it. This bread has rocked my world. It's true. And if you ask my family, it has rocked theirs too. The first time I made this, my parents were visiting. They couldn't believe it was homemade. Heck, I couldn't believe I made it. It was as if we had gone to a bakery and picked out a's the kind of bread they serve you at authentic Italian restaurants (no, not like Olive Garden). Enough good things cannot be said about it, and when this bread recipe was first published in the New York Times (2006), it shook up the food world of internet bloggers. Here's the original article--it appeared in Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist" section.

Now, with that kind of introduction, doesn't it just make you want to attempt it?! If I can make bread, ANYBODY can do it! And this loaf requires ONLY FOUR ingredients: yeast, water, flour, salt. That's it. But (of course there has to be a 'but'), you will need to plan ahead--some waiting time is required. And if you're going to wait that long, you well as make two loaves at a time (I don't think I'd double the recipe-I think I'd just make two separate loaves). This recipe results in a bread with a chewy interior and crispy crust--the kind you make when you want to impress the neighbors, the in-laws, or yourself (we all need a little confidence boost now and then....).

I like to bake this bread in my beat up red Le Creuset dutch oven (purchased back in college on clearance for $34--I don't know how I got such a steal--it's the most regularly used item in my entire kitchen. If you've never owned a Le Creuset cast iron dutch oven....I highly recommend you save up and get one. You will never ever regret it--I'm no pro and if I say that, it must be true for you real cooks!) But, any 6-8 quart, cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic dish will suffice for this bread.

The biggest challenges are 1) waiting all those hours and 2) not tearing into it when it first comes out of the oven. Good luck.

adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I use 1 cup whole wheat flour + 2 cups all purpose flour)
  • 1 5/8 cup water (the recipe I first found stated 1 1/2 cups warm water & that's how I've always made it)
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt (recipe I first found stated 1 1/2 tsp. salt & that's how I've always made it)
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed (optional-you can use more flour)

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add the water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I like to leave it for 18 hours)

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Serve this heavenly simple rustic loaf with real butter or dip it into the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For Cold Weather Mornings: Hot Cracked Wheat Cereal (with Coconut & Sesame Seeds)

Looking for an alternative to oatmeal that still delivers the same nutritional punch and sticks with you? Then try this really delicious hot cereal from the Weimar Institute. My mother in law has been making it for years and now it's become our Saturday morning breakfast.

We like to make it with soymilk--it adds a real creaminess. But you can make it with milk. The cracked wheat (look for it in the bulk foods section of your natural health food stores or prepackaged by Bob's Red Mill brand) adds a chewy texture and a nutty flavor. You will love the slight crunch from the sesame seeds and the natural sweetness brought by the dates (no extra sugar or honey is needed). I suggest using a nonstick pan, but any saucepan will do.

My toddler can't seem to get enough, but kids and adults all seem to like this.You can make it ahead of time and just reheat it and a little milk or soymilk (makes delicious leftovers).

adapted from the Weimar Center of Health & Education

1 cup cracked wheat
2 Tbsp. unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tbsp. raw sesame seeds
8 pitted dates, chopped (note: these add sweetness)
½ tsp. salt
4 cups water (preferable to use milk or soymilk instead for a creamier texture)
Dash of cinnamon (optional)

Toast wheat and coconut by stirring constantly in dry saucepan over medium heat for several minutes, until lightly browned.

Add the remaining ingredients to the saucepan and bring to a boil. (WATCH so the pot doesn't overflow and make a mess on your stove).

Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Serves about 4.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Creamy Mushroom Spinach Chowder

I grew up with a mom that made cream of mushroom soup as soon as the cold weather hit. In Romanian fashion, we'd often eat it with polenta. I crave a creamy mushroom soup the way that other people crave chicken noodle soup for comfort. This is a recipe I've come up with and used the last couple winters that has has seemed to stick with our family. Sure, it's not fat-free, but it's a LOT less rich than the standard recipes I've seen for 'cream' of anything...and that's my consolation (ha).

I have made this soup with both Provolone and Swiss cheese--our favorite may be a combination of the two--but you can do one or the other. I used baby portabella mushrooms--but regular white mushrooms will do just as good. Also, you can use fresh or frozen spinach and it's good either way. If you prefer, you can increase the amount of spinach if you prefer for a more nutritional punch. OR you can completely skip the spinach altogether!


2 Tbsp. butter
5 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
5 Tbsp. flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups skim milk
½ tsp. salt
black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup half and half-light or fat-free is fine (OR, 2-3 oz. light cream cheese, softened and cut in cubes)
1 cup grated Provolone cheese (or Swiss, or a combination of both)
1 package fresh baby spinach-about 6 oz. (rinsed & chopped) OR, 1/2 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. In it, slowly sauté the mushrooms and onion until tender. Add flour and stir until flour is cooked, a couple of minutes.

Whisk in first chicken broth and then milk, stirring until thickened. Add salt and pepper, nutmeg, and the cheeses. Stir until just melted. Then stir in spinach. Heat and stir very gently. Season to taste.

Serve hot.

Makes about 6 servings.

NOTE: If you have leftover soup that you refrigerate, please keep in mind that this soup will condense somewhat and you can either add more broth or water to dilute it, or the best option is to reheat it gently and add some more milk to it until it reaches your desired consistency (either on stovetop or in microwave).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Greek/Mediterranean Layered Dip

This is a WONDERFUL appetizer when you're looking for something fresh --or a change from the traditional 7-layer Mexican dip. You can buy hummus at any grocery store these days, or you can make your own. Here's my new favorite hummus recipe (in a previous post). I had read about something like this in a magazine years ago but I didn't have a recipe--just used whatever I had on hand, so ingredients are approximate. I think you guys will really LOVE it!


Should serve about 6-8 people

2 cups hummus
1/2-/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled (about 4 oz.-I used a reduced-fat version)
1/4 of a red onion, minced finely (you can use more if you want)
1 heaping cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 an English cucumber, diced (no need to peel)
5 oz of grape tomatoes, quartered (this is half of a 10-oz grocery store package)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

To serve:
Pita chips (preferred) or bread rounds or Melba toast or crackers

Layer all ingredients through the Parmesan cheese in an 8 or 9 inch dish (round or square or rectangle--whatever you wish. I used an 8X8 glass casserole dish, but anything about that size would do). Sprinkle with oregano, drizzle with good-quality olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve chilled or at room temperature with pita chips or something hearty enough to withstand a hearty dip!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cookies

Mint & can you go wrong? I just made these for a holiday cookie exchange with our neighbors by combining several recipes (out of desperation to use what I have and not run out to the store one more time this week). They turned out soft, decadent, and delcious. I had to share because they are quite 'Christmas-y'....yum!


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (or 1 cup regular white sugar & 3/4 cup packed brown sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 10-oz pkg Andes brand creme de menthe baking chips

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar (and granulated sugar, if using), and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are puffed. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies (rough estimate).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Spud's For You! How to Make the Perfect Baked Potato

Looking for a cozy comfort meal? Pair baked potatoes with soup or salad for a wonderful cold-weather meal. Get ready for a simplistic post....

Last night, I made the closest I've ever come to the PERFECT baked potato. Just like at a steakhouse....This is one of those dinners that you can customize with whatever toppings you have on hand. Below is my research--maybe you can use it too. Despite all my wording below, it's a RIDICULOUSLY easy process. But yes, it does take time. You have to plan ahead a bit.

I don't know about you guys, but I have always wrapped my baked potatoes in foil before throwing them in the oven. Apparently, that just STEAMS the potatoes instead of actually BAKING them (resulting in mushy crust).

 A couple of tips:
  1. Use Russet or potatoes labled as 'baking' potatoes--they are white fleshed and starchy (which gives the their 'fluffy' texture). This will ensure that you have a mild tasting and not overly sweet.
  2. Make sure the potatoes are smooth, hard to the touch, and do not have roots (sprouts) protruding from them.

  • Russet or baking potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse salt (or kosher)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Scrub your potatoes clean with COLD water (hot water starts them cooking and then the rest won't catch up) and dry them off with paper towels. Do not soak the potatoes in water either--it will make them soggy.

Poke your potatoes with a fork 8-12 times--you need to give steam an opportunity to escape. If not, they can explode (imagine that mess!).

Lightly rub your potatoes with oil (some people like canola, but I prefer the taste of olive oil). They should be shiny, but not dripping with oil. This also helps regulate the moisture in the potato and also create a crispy skin. Sprinkle the potatoes or roll them in salt.

Now there are two ways to do this--1) You can place the potato directly on the top rack in the center of the oven. You will have to place a baking sheet underneath the rack where you place the potatoes so that you can catch any of the moisture/oil dripping (and therefore prevent a mess). 2) You can place the potatoes directly onto a baking sheet. This is the only method I have tried and my results were great!

Depending on the heat of your oven and size of your potatoes, they will be done within 60-90 minutes--if you have a few small potatoes, they can sometimes be ready in as little as 45 minutes--but check first. To check for 'doneness', use fireproof gloves and give the potatoes a squeeze. If the skin feels kind of crunchy but the middle feels tender, the potatoes are ready!

And to serve--cut them in half lightly and squeeze the ends while slightly pushing them inward (this is after letting the potatoes cool for a few minutes, or using fireproof gloves).

And here's the fun part--TOPPINGS!!!!

Topping Options:
  • Butter
  • Sour Cream
  • Salt & pepper
  • Green onions and/or chopped chives
  • Chili
  • Cooked broccoli and cheddar cheese
  • Bacon
  • Beans
  • Salsa
  • Cottage Cheese, Parmesan cheese, blue cheese, feta, or any other kind of cheese!
  • Mushrooms
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Caramelized onions
  • Smoked salmon
  • ETC., ETC., ETC
You are only limited by your imagination.....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Traditional with a Twist--Grape Nuts Chocolate Chip Cookies

I found this recipe recently in my file and since it's cookie season, I figured that we had to start with a twist on the most traditional cookie of all--the chocolate chip cookie. We really enjoyed them, but the only thing I would do differently the next time is take out a few tablespoons of flour since the grape nuts cereal add enough of a starch element--trust me on this one--a few tablespoons less of flour will result in a better cookie.

The result is a cookie with a crisp outside and a chewy interior with just enough of a texture difference to make you raise your eyebrows in delight :) Use the best quality chocolate chips you can--it makes a difference. The healthy aspect of the Grape Nuts cereal sure make me feel justified in eating them....

GRAPE NUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (aka Cynthia Gorney's cookies)
adapted from Oprah magazine

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter (don't toss the wrappers)-I used salted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (MINUS 2-3 Tbsp.!!!!!--to prevent over-drying)
1 cup old-fashioned or rolled oats
1/2 cup Grape-Nuts cereal
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 bag (12 ounces) dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F (if you want them really crispy, jack up the oven to 400°F).

Use the butter wrappers to grease 2 cookie sheets. Combine the flour, oats, cereal, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

In a second, large bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually stir flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop batter by rounded tablespoons, not teaspoons (you can use a small ice cream scoop), about 2 inches apart onto prepared pans.
Bake until light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Use a spatula to remove cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Should make about 3 dozen cookies.
*I froze 2/3 of my dough for later uses....much less tempting that way (haha). Enjoy!!!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hueveos Rancheros

Want a fun and different weekend breakfast? We just got back from California and I was craving these huevos rancheros that we had in a little bistro near the ocean in Santa Monica. I can't even believe that the version below was better than what we ate out, but it was. And it's so easy!

You can easily double the recipe for more people and you can also use refried beans, if you prefer. You can also skip the beans or eat them on the side. If you don't have salsa, just use some Rotel diced tomatoes and chilies-you can doctor it up with cilantro or corn if you're feeling adventurous.

Serves 2

2 large or extra large eggs
4 small corn tortillas
~1/2 cup black beans (Cuban style, if you can find them) or pinto beans
~3/4 cup salsa (I mixed a more watery hot salsa with some Rotel tomatoes & chilies), warmed
~1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend

Cook your eggs to your liking--you can scramble them or cook them sunnyside up the way I did above (we don't like runny yolks, but different strokes for different folks, right?). Add salt and pepper to the eggs as they are cooking. When cooked, cover and keep warm (you can keep the eggs warm by covering with aluminum foil in a preheated oven--about 200-250 degrees).

Using some Pam or coooking spray, heat up the corn tortillas until they start to bubble (flip) and slightly brown (just slightly).

On two separate plates, add a couple tablespoons of salsa. Put 2 heated and crisped corn tortillas on top of the salsa. Divide the beans evenly atop the tortillas and add one egg on top of these tortillas. Sprinkle with cheese and top with more salsa. (You can add fresh chopped cilantro or diced avocado as well).

Makes 2 amazingly delicious servings.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Green Bean Salad with Walnuts, Fennel, & Goat Cheese

This salad has made an appearance at my Thanksgiving for a couple years now--a lighter approach to the traditional green bean casserole. I particularly like this dish for the holidays because you don't have to make room for one more thing in the oven--it can be served chilled or at room temperature. I think there is room for both types of green beans next year :)

The fennel adds a wonderful flavor and crispness to the salad. You should be able to find fennel in the produce section of your grocery store (it looks like a root with green fronds--often called 'anise').

Hope you enjoy it--even though Thanksgiving is over, this green bean salad would made a great side dish to a steak and potatoes any other night of the week for dinner.

adapted from Real Simple magazine

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (or as we used above, whole grain or stone ground mustard)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced into half-moons (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 4-ounce log fresh goat cheese, crumbled

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Gradually add the oil and whisk until well combined; set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain, run under cold water to cool, and set aside until you're ready to assemble the salad.

In a large bowl, combine the green beans, fennel, and walnuts. Add the goat cheese and vinaigrette just before serving. (NOTE: I like to add the goat cheese last so it doesn't get as mushed up and stays in clumps for easier eating and a more intact flavor).

Toss the salad well and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Savory Ricotta Basil Corn Pudding

Another fabulous holiday recipe that I can thank Ina Garten for---I've been making it for years now and this savory corn pudding has become a family tradition and makes an appearance at Thanksgiving. Of course, I have adapted it to make it somewhat lower in fat--all Ina's recipes are terrific--the same way restaurants recipes are terrific. Mainly, because all the recipes have a ton of butter and cream--haha! Even with the tweaking, this dish is still very good--I hope you enjoy it.


1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter (I use 1/2-3/4 stick LIGHT butter)
5 cups fresh yellow corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears) (or frozen or canned--I'm not cutting corn from a cob!!)
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
4 extra-large eggs (or 5 large eggs) 
1 cup milk (skim) 
1 cup half-and-half (fat-free) 
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup ricotta cheese (part-skim)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (6 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar, plus extra to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of an 8 to 10-cup baking dish.

Melt the butter in a very large saute pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and half-and-half in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and then the ricotta. Add the basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the cooked corn mixture and grated cheddar, and then pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with more grated cheddar.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. (I have SKIPPED this step and it turned out just fine) Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

Serves 8-10 people.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Recipe I've Made the Most Often for 7 Years: Harvest Apple Crisp

Which is probably part of the reason why I never lost those first year 'happy newlywed' pounds :) I'm not a big pie fan....unless it's a graham cracker crust with a chocolate filling...but, I LOVE baked fruit desserts--especially crumbs/crips. This is the most amazing homey apple crisp recipe--by far the best apple crisp I've ever had. I prefer to use salted butter and yes, I have huge success using light butter. I've probably made it 15-20 times over the last 7 years. No joke.

In order to really appreciate this dessert...there's no denying it, you MUST MUST MUST serve it with vanilla bean ice-cream. Edy's makes a fantastic reduced fat version.....thank you to the Corpening sisters for one of my favorite recipes EVER! Sometimes, the best recipes are the traditional ones....

adapted from Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook, by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford

Serves about 6-8

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces (I substituted a couple Honey Crisp)
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
contents ot 1 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
½ tsp. kosher salt

Streusel Topping:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened or melted
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup rolled oats or quick-cooking oats

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine the apples, granulated sugar, lemon juice, contents of 1 vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg and kosher salt in an 8-inch square glass baking dish and mix well. Set aside.

Mix the melted butter with the brown sugar and kosher salt. Add the flour and oatmeal and stir until just incorporated. Do not overwork. Crumble the mixture evenly over the apple filling.

Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes.

Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream.

Twirl-Me-Around-For-Joy Tortellini Soup

I think I need to start adding an 'easy, fast, and healthy'  tag....because even though this is pasta, it's really not that bad for you. Again, think eating in moderation. This is the Sommerville house tortellini soup and it is absolutely delicious. This soup is perfect for those cold evenings in between holidays when you're tired of cooking but still want a home-cooked meal.

I have often added shredded carrots to it (during the garlic cooking process)--just to squeeze in some extra veggies. I'm sure you could add celery if you'd like too. The original recipe calls for cheese tortellini, but I have had great success with mushroom tortellini too (and even considered adding mushrooms to the soup--maybe next time). I'm guessing that chicken tortellini would be great too. Anyway, it's comfort food--my husband's loves this soup.

Serves 6-8

1 Tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
*2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth (or vegetarian 'chicken' broth such as McKay's mixed with water)
1 (9 oz) pkg. or container of tortellini (preferrably cheese, but mushroom, spinach, chicken should be find)
1 can stewed tomatoes (un-drained)
1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese + more for topping on soup
6 tsp. fresh chopped basil or 1 tsp. dried basil
1 (9 oz) bag of fresh (washed) spinach leaves

Melt butter and add garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tortellini. Bring to a SLOW boil (if you boil to fast, the filling can escape the tortellini). Reduce heat and mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper--if your chicken broth is not low-sodium, you may not need to add salt--taste and adjust seasonings.

Simmer (GENTLY) until tortellini is tender--about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, spinach, and basil.

*NOTE: I often add about 2 more cups of broth or water as the pasta seems to absorb so much of the liquid in the soup.

Simmer for 2 more minutes. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a little bit more freshly grated Parmesan cheese (if desired).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Redneck Gourmet--Baked (Barbeque) Potato Chip Crusted Fish

I came up with this 'lighter' version of potato chip crusted fish one night when going through my pantry and freezer. The best kind of potato chip encrusted fish uses 'kettle chips'--but kettle chips are quite rich from excess frying. I think you still get a crispy coating from baked potato chips--and WAY less calories, fat, and guilt.

Frozen fillets work great in this recipe too--it may just take another 5-10 minutes to cook. I used cilantro and parsley as part of the marinade, but you can use thyme, rosemary, or dill instead. Any potato chip flavor will do, but I particularly like the cilantro/barbeque combination. I hope your family enjoys it--the recipe doubles easy to serve 4.

This fish makes a particularly delicious meal when served with a tex-mex salad (lettuce, corn, tomato, black beans, avocado, cheddar cheese, fresh cilantro, etc.--a good dressing would be to mix some light ranch dressing with barbeque sauce).

Serves 2

~2 Tbsp. light mayo or light sour cream or light butter
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of one lemon OR lime (zest can be added for punch of flavor--but this is optional)
A dash of garlic powder
Handful of freshly chopped cilantro and/or parsley (or 1/4 tsp each dried--or you can use dill or thyme)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 (approximately 1 1/8 oz size) bag baked barbeque potato chips (crushed in bag--I used 'Lay's' brand)

2 fillets of white flaky fish (we used orange roughy, but tilapia, flounder, or halibut would work just as well)
Whisk/mix all ingredients up to the fish together. Or, process all ingredients in a mini-food processor (my favorite method).

Line a baking dish of your choosing with aluminum foil. Spray the aluminum foil with Pam (cooking spray) and add the fish fillets on the foil. Drizzle the above-made marinade on top of the fish fillets. Then, evenly divide the crushed potato chips on top of the fish. (Or alternatively, you can dip fish in the above made dressing and then coat (using your hands) in the crushed potato chips.)

Bake for about 20-25 minutes at about 425--or until fish is flaky when pierced with fork.

Garnish with lemon or lime wedges.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Herbed Buttermilk Popcorn--WORTH the change from the microwave bags!

My husband and I belong to two camps...his camp believes in microwave popcorn. Mine believes in the old-fashioned popper popcorn. Growing up, my dad would make bowls of it that we would consume plain. Lately, I've found a middle ground: Herbed Buttermilk Popcorn. It's very delicious & the pre-made buttermilk spice mix would make a great hostess gift if given together with kernel corn.

I came across the recipe in the Bride & Groom, First & Forever cookbook, but have modified it to include Brewer's yeast (or nutrional yeast--bulk section, Whole Foods-tons of B vitamins)--my friend, Jessica Korzynowski, introduced me to this--what a find! Thanks Jessica! Below is the original version & and, what I consider, an easier way (if you have a popcorn maker). I skip the corn oil & butter and end up using canola flavored cooking spray (butter flavored) and I Can't Believe It's Nut Butter spray--this is my (alternatively) healthier approach and I think it coats the popcorn better--no, no measuring, but I still think it ends up being less decadent that with the oil & butter. But you can do whichever version you want!!!


**1 Tbsp. tablespoon powdered buttermilk
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
1/2 tsp. powdered chicken bouillon or kosher salt

*1 Tbsp. corn oil
*2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup popcorn kernels

Combine the buttermilk, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, dill weed, and chicken bouillon in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the popcorn and cover with a lid (it's probably best to leave a small little crack in the lid to let a bit of hot air out and prevent condensation in the pot). Shake the pan frequently. Remove from the heat when the poppin subsides.

Pour the popcorn into a bowl. Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Melt the butter in the pan. Pour the butter over the popcorn, tossing to distribute evenly. Sprinkle with the flavoring mixture and toss to coat.

Makes 8 cups; serves 4-(yeah right!-that's what the book says, though)

*MY VERSION--aka, THE LAZY COOK'S WAY-yet, with 2 more ingredients

1 Tbsp. tablespoon powdered buttermilk
1 tsp. powdered Parmesan cheese (yes, I am finally allowing you to pull out the Kraft version)
1 tsp. nutrional yeast (NOT the baking yeast that comes in packets)
1 tsp.garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
1/2 tsp. powdered chicken bouillon or kosher salt

1/3 cup popcorn kernels
I Can't Believe it's Not Butter Spray
Butter-flavored cooking spray (canola oil based-read the benefits by clicking on it)

Mix the ingredients for the buttermilk seasoning spread.

Then, using an outdated popcorn maker (ha!)-someone told me they had a hard time tracking one down these days--maybe online or garage sales?--pop your kernels into popcorn.

When finished popping, evenly spray with the two sprays shown above (mix with your hands if necessary) and sprinkle with the herbed buttermilk seasoning mix. Use your hands to continue to cover the ingredients evenly across the popcorn.

For the record, I make several recipes of the buttermilk seasoning mix and keep in a jar for later uses. I don't like to measure it out each time.

When we make this popcorn, I end up doubling or tripling the recipe. I think you will really like it! I caught my 18 month old sneaking some while I tried to take a picture...

**(And for those wondering where to find buttermilk powder...ask your grocer--some stores carry it. Check the health food section. But Whole Foods definately carries it--I've seen a couple different brands--Saco is shown below).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's For Dinner? Foil Packets!

Foil packets can be made as simple or as gourmet as you'd like to make them. They're not just for camping! All you do is use aluminum foil and pile your chicken, vegetables, and potatoes/rice OR just potatoes/rice and vegetables for a vegetarian option. The chicken and potatoes/rice and vegetables all cook together by steaming. It's really a healthy way to eat dinner. (I've never made them with uncooked rice--only cooked rice. But, I have made them with uncooked potatoes and raw chicken--worked great.)

Making foil packets is one of the BEST and EASIEST ways to entertain and a fantastic way to use what you have in the fridge for dinner. It's a do-it-yourself kind of meal. For enertaining: set up a bar-type area with all the ingredients and everyone assembles their own meal. Just have a marker handy so everyone can add their names or initials to each packet for easy identification when the packets come out of the oven.

During the summer, you can place your packets on the grill so you don't heat up your the winter, you can throw them in the oven. Foil pockets minimal clean-up--it's wonderful not to have to do dishes! And you can try a new version each time you make this meal!

There are no off-limits ingredients--it's just whatever you like or have in the fridge. Below are some ideas for ingredients to use--it's just a start. You can make Asian, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Greek, or Barbeque versions depening on sauces, cheeses or ingredients you use.

For the fastest version, use cooked potatoes and chicken. For a slower version, you can use all raw chicken and uncooked potatoes. Either way, keep the vegetables raw because they will cook fast.

ANY of these ingredients listed below can be used to make foil pack chicken (be sure to cut up your ingredients)--you pick & choose:
  • Cream of mushroom soup (for a creamy sauce)-but I'm sure cream cheese or sour cream would work too-you can skip any sauce though
  • Mushrooms (sauteed or fresh)
  • Onions or green onions
  • Garlic
  • Red bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Cooked rice
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini or squash
  • Brocoli and/or cauliflower
  • Cheese--any kind or several different kinds (Parmesan, cheddar, feta, goat, mexican blend, etc.)
  • Beans
  • Olives
  • Artichokes
  • Spinach
  • Celery or carrots
  • Pine nuts
  • Jalapenos
  • Tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes
  • Chicken
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • Salsa
  • Seasonings of your choice (taco, italian, steak, etc.)
  • Soy sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • White wine
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Barbeque sauce

To prevent sticking, spray each piece of foil with Pam or some type of cooking spray. Then layer all your desired ingredients and close up each foil packet leaving just a little bit of space for steam (basically, don't wrap it extremely tight).

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes if your chicken is raw. If it is not, your packet may be ready in 20 minutes. If they are on the grill with high heat, they will probably be ready in about 25 minutes--and even less so if your potatoes and chicken are cooked or you are making a purely vegetarian version.

If I use raw chicken, I will often open the packet and broil for another 5-10 minutes to get a crispy top--keep your eye on it to prevent burning.

When they are done, everyone can either eat the meal out of the packets or spill the contents onto a plate. BE CAREFUL OPENING THE PACKETS!!!! Steam will escape and it can be easy to get burned.

Good luck & just to assure you, everyone loves these and it's really hard to screw this up :)