Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Granola Bars

My kids are major snackers.  So I've been trying to incorporate the healthiest snacks possible for when their mood strikes.  And my sweet little 8 year old is addicted to peanut butter, so I whipped up these yummy Peanut butter and Chocolate Granola Bars.  They've lasted all of 8 minutes.  I digress.  Next time I'll make a double batch!

1/2 cup reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup peanut butter chips
1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, beat the peanut butter, honey, egg, oil and vanilla until blended.

In another bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar and salt; add the peanut butter mixture and mix well. Stir in chips. (Batter will be sticky.)

Transfer to a 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray.  (I like to line my pan with nonstick foil)

Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until set and edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taco Dip Super Bowl Dish

My dear friend Kristen (who is totally amazing) asked me for a vegetarian recipe idea she could make in the crock to take to a super bowl party.  I had to put my thinking cap on and come up with something munchie like so I offered my suggestion for a Taco Dip and Black bean stuffed peppers.

The more and more I thought about it, the more hungry I became for taco dip.  Amazing how that happens.

I highly suggest you take Beano before eating.  Just sayin'.

Taco Dip 
1 cup frozen corn
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1 can black kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup mild taco sauce
1 can (4 oz) mild diced green chilies
1 can (4 oz) ripe olives
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
tortilla chips
sour cream

Mix first 8 ingredients in crock pot.  Cover and cook on low for 2-4 hours or high 1-2 hours.  Just before serving, stir in cheese.  Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream.  This can just be left on low for serving at a party.

*Note:  If you want to add meat, cook ground beef in a skillet until brown, drain well, then mix with other ingredients in the crock.

*Note:  This can be cooked in an oven safe dish at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baked BBQ Burgers And Onion Rings

What a week.  What a very long week.  And it's only Wednesday.  

This shirt about sums it up!

I've been in a training class all week, which has thrown off my entire sleep/work/chore schedule, and that has prompted easy meals this very strange January week.  However, we have been eating our dinners early and that has made a huge difference in our entire day!  That just might become a new thing.  Early Bird special with the seniors at 4pm...I totally get it now.  

I've had a couple of new recipes on the menu and tonight I just decided to make some Baked BBQ Burgers and Crispy golden buttery salty delicious homemade Onion Rings and Fries.  Need I say more?

BBQ sauce is really easy to make and it's even better when you modify the ingredients to your own taste.  I like a smoky sweet sauce.  If you don't prefer to make your own, just use your favorite bottled brand.  Here's an easy fallback sauce recipe. 

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup quick-cooking oats  (Adds great source of fiber and serves as a binder I use it in my meatloaf too)
1/4 cup BBQ sauce + 1/4 cup more for basting
1 tsp Montreal Steak Seasoning (my favorite)
1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef (you can easily substitute other ground meat)
hamburger buns
(lettuce, cheese, pickles, tomatoes, optional)

In a small saucepan, combine the first 10 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Set aside 1 cup barbecue sauce to serve with burgers.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, oats, 1/4 cup of the remaining barbecue sauce, seasoning. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. Shape into six patties.

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place burger patties on a foil lined baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, or until desired doneness.  Serve with your favorite burger toppings.

*NOTE:  I like to use a roasting rack to place my burgers on, so all of the extra fat drains from the meat without allowing the meat to sit in it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cinnamon Streusel Ribbon Muffins

It's the beginning of another week and I can already tell is going to be a doozy!!  We cleaned the whole house and the girls were really helpful.  Everything is organized, dinners are prepped, and clothes laid out.  It always saves me so much time in the mornings if I've planned ahead.  That also includes what we'll be having for breakfast.  This muffin thing might be a new "Sunday thing" for me....Make a big batch of yummy muffins and store in an airtight container for breakfast throughout the week.

I whipped up these Cinnamon Streusel Ribbon Muffins and boy do they smell scrumptious!  I just love fresh muffins with coffee, fruit and yogurt.

I've been using unbleached King Arthur Flour for baking for a few months now and I'm sooo in love with the way my baked goods turn out!  

Streusel Topping
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
½ stick unsalted butter
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl using a fork until crumbly.
Sprinkle over muffins right before baking.

Cinnamon Ribbon
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Muffin Batter
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all the cinnamon ripple ingredients in a mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to blend them. Set the mixture aside. Then heat the oven to 400° and grease the bottoms only of 12 standard muffin cups or line with foil liners (foil are WAY better than paper ones).

For the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Stir in the dry ingredients just until the batter is blended. Then sprinkle the cinnamon ribbon over the batter and use a flexible spatula to fold it in a couple of times.

Divide the batter equally among the muffin cups, top with streusel topping, and bake the muffins for 13 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before removing them.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Popcorn that Pops

It is Science Fair time in our little world.  My approach to the science fair is usually kicking and screaming, lots of tears and "please don't make me help you".  And then it's followed by something that resembles giving in.

Ugh.  Anyway, this year, my tune changed just a smidge when I realized my child actually picked something interesting.  POPCORN!!  Holy moly, what a concept.  Something I actually thought could be fun!  A little chemistry project.

The GREAT thing is I have learned how to make my very own popcorn (Thank you Pinterest) AND how to properly store it to get the most popped corn.  Don't you hate it when you pop a bag in the microwave and then there's nothing but 10,000 kernels rattling around in the bottom of the bag?  What a waste of money.

Move over Orville!  I've got the trick to your favorite snackaroo, I can save you money, and it's way healthier than prepackaged poppers.

On average the cost of prepackaged popcorn is a whopping $3.53 per pound....with my method you can save a bundle by buying in bulk and prepare your favorite snack at only 50-60 CENTS per pound.  A steal!!

Plus, there will be no mystery ingredients in your paper bag.  Check out the ingredient list on Act II popcorn:

Important Information
Safety Information:
Contains soy, milk.  Caution! Handle tub carefully.  Open away from face.  Tub and contents are very hot!

Popcorn, Partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Annatto Color.  Contains: Fish, Milk

Are you kidding me??  Fish and milk?  In my popcorn?  Gross.  Just gross.  But that's what happens when you don't read the label.

There are so many ways you can flavor a homemade batch and KNOW EXACTLY what is in your bag of deliciousness and there is no need for an expensive air popper.  NEVER will I buy those prepacks of popcorn again!

Now back to the basics of science:  Corn is merely made of starch and a tiny bit of water inside each little shell.  When the water is heated it turns into a gas and once it reaches a precise temperature, the gas explodes through the outer shell resulting in a perfectly popped kernel of corn.

Shall we?  Don't mind if I do!

Start with your basic no name brown paper lunch bags.  I picked up a stack of 40 at the Dollar Tree for one buckaroo.  And a 2 pound bag of Yellow Popcorn kernels, although I believe it also comes in white kernels, for $2.00 at the market.

1/4 cup good quality popcorn

1-2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or popcorn salt
Paper lunch bag

Toss the popcorn with the oil and salt  in the paper bag. Fold the top of the bag over twice to close.

Place the bag in the microwave and microwave on high (100% power) for 2 minutes to 3 minutes, or until there are about 5 seconds between pops.  Each microwave is different, so popping times may vary.

Toss with your favorite flavored popcorn salt or other seasonings and/or melted butter!!  Enjoy!

*Science Fair Note:  The best place to store popcorn so it yields the most popped kernels is at room temperature!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Croque Monsieur Provençal

Butter.  Bread.  Cheese.  More butter. 

I've been craving grilled cheese sandwiches for days.  Probably since I came across the Cookoff of such sandwiches.  Yep.  The Grilled Cheese Invitational is held in Los Angeles and WHAT would be more fun than to enjoy every buttery bite of a such an intense competition??  I can't think of anything, but I'm sure it would involve food.  Bacon maybe. 

Anyway, I wanted to build upon the basics of the average grilled cheese and make it a WOWZA supper, so a little kitchen magic turned my plain old grilled cheese into a Croque Monsieur.  What the heck is that you ask?!?

Well, traditionally Croque Monsieur is just french for hot ham and cheese.  Something you'd probably find in a little bistro or cafe.  Croque Madame is the same sandwich, but with a fried or poached egg on top.  No matter what way you like it or the variation you choose, it's an out of this world experience and I urge you to try it soon.  Why am I calling mine provençal you ask?  Well, simple, I added a thick slice of tomato.  (Homegrown summer tomatoes would taste SO much better, but I did what I could with what I had.)

I picked up this beautiful fresh French loaf at the market.  

You can use what you have.  I got this baby for a steal, otherwise I probably would've chosen a hearty bread like Ciabatta or a Focaccia.  Eh.  It works.  If you want to impress someone though, just pop into your bakery and pick up something special.  Heck, just getcha some from Panera.  (our secret.)

One thing to remember when making these is to make sure your pan isn't too hot.  That, and Thick slices of bread are key to making this an amazing sandwich experience.  Well, that and lots of butter.

Anywho...back to sandwiching.

I choose to make a cheesy spread for each slice of bread, then assemble the sandwich with the slices of cheese of your choice.

For the Sandwich you'll need:
Bread (as discussed above)
Spread (directions below)
ham and/or bacon
sliced cheese in your favorite flavors

For the spread:
4 oz. cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tablespoons mayo (REAL mayo, not Miracle Whip)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together.
Smear it all over those bread slices.  Just a thin layer will do.  This batch will yield 4 sandwiches perfectly.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Place 2 slices of bread, plain side down in pan.  This will allow the cheesy spread to get all creamy and melty on top.  (SOOO good) 

Yes, I realize there is another pat of butter in my pan on the verge of melted happiness.  Don't judge.

Then layer with ham, bacon, tomato, sliced cheese....I had swiss, Meunster, Cheddar and Provolone on hand...everyone chose their favorite. 

Brown perfectly until golden on each side and heated through.  Adding butter 1 tablespoon at a time as needed.

Enjoy your Croque Monsieur Provençal!!!  Happy Eating!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chicken Piccata

New Year.  More recipes. More family time.  More happiness. More homework.

This afternoon my 10 year old asked for some help. "Mom, there's this famous music guy that I need to find some facts on in order to get some extra credit in chorus. His name is Mozart or something?" 

Chew on that without choking while you make this recipe for an easy Chicken Piccata.  This Piccata doesn't have capers and I don't think it really needs them.  It's just a nice lemon butter sauce with a lightly breaded chicken. 
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 egg
3 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon montreal steak seasoning
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
1/2 cup boiling water

In a small bowl, beat the egg together with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Set aside.

In a shallow bowl or dish mix together the flour and seasoning. Dip the chicken in the egg/lemon mixture, then in the seasoned flour.

In a large skillet, melt butter/margarine and brown the coated chicken pieces.  (Very important to brown both sides of the chicken before the next step.  If you rush it, your breading will fall off and the chicken will lose it's moisture.)

Dissolve the bouillon in the boiling water, then add the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Pour liquid into skillet. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, turning chicken pieces after 10 minutes, until chicken is tender. Garnish as desired and serve.