Archive | October, 2010

Apple Cider Cake

29 Oct

Short and sweet, gang. I’ve been craving an apple cider donut for like a week now but have neither the stomach for deep frying nor a donut mold for my oven. So I went on a hunt for a cake that would give me the same experience.

Found it.

The world’s most perfectest apple cider cake is here. It really is like a ginormous apple cider donut. And it only has about six ingredients, one of which is plain old yellow cake mix.

My only tip here is to be liberal in your pan-greasing. I used a baking spray with flour in it. But you’ll want to use regular baking spray and then coat with flour if you don’t have this. Much stickage potential. As you see, mine didn’t. Careful greasing is key.

Boo-ya, working moms. You will be a rock star. Promise.

Go. Go now. Make this. Enjoy. Happy weekend.


Easy, Healthier Penne Alla Vodka

27 Oct

Until last night, I’d never made Penne Alla Vodka. Two good reasons: ten thousand steps and ingredients, and heavy cream.

Who cooks with heavy cream? Christmas Eve, yes. Wedding, yes. Even birthday. Fine. But for a regular old Tuesday? I think not.

Then, I learned a secret. In almost every recipe that doesn’t involve actually whipping the cream, evaporated skim milk makes a darn tasty substitute. Open a can, and voila. Calories are slashed. Fat is slashed. Recipes that hereunto made you shudder in your skinny jeans are suddenly realistic, even for a regular old Tuesday. You get the same yummy creaminess without the dietary disaster.

This was a Giada recipe I doctored up a bit. Evaporated skim milk for the heavy cream, with a little more than she called for because I like this a little creamier. Jarred pasta sauce for her homemade tomato (which is delicious and great and freezable, but I didn’t have the time to make it or the forethought to have made it previously and frozen it).

I used shredded Parmesan in this. You should not. You’ll notice the photo above is not mine. That’s because shredded Parmesan doesn’t melt down and my sauce was a bit more…um…textured than I’d have liked. Ugly. Tasty, but ugly. So save your plates and use the grated kind. Even out of the green can. It’ll work in this. Sprinkle some shredded on top when it’s plated if you want.

I used the full cup of vodka called for in the recipe, and you could definitely taste it. Cook it down. When you think it’s ready, let it go awhile longer. Cooking it down will get rid of most of that alcohol bite. I liked it, but I can see where it would be too much for some people. In fact, you might consider using 1/2 cup your first time out with this. See what you think. You can always go up on it next time.

I learned making this that vodka boils quite violently. Keep a watchful eye on your pot and your burner temperature. You really want a simmer. And taste it before you add the milk so you don’t wind up with a table full of loopy people after dinner.

The recipe I started with said this would yield 6 servings, and that’s pretty accurate. You don’t need to drown your penne with the sauce–there’s lots of flavor in it.

To make this, you’ll need:

32 oz prepared marinara sauce (that’s one 28 oz jar and a scant cup of another)

1/2 to 1 cup vodka

3/4 cup evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup grated (not shredded) Parmesan cheese, plus more cheese for topping

In a heavy pot over medium heat, stir together the sauce and vodka. Simmer, uncovered, adjusting burner as necessary, for about 30 – 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until it reduces by about 1/5 and the alcohol taste is gone.

Stir in the milk and heat through. Stir in cheese and heat until it’s melted and combined into the sauce. Pour over cooked noodles, garnish, and enjoy.


Crockpot Irish Oatmeal

26 Oct

I was headed up to bed last night when my slow cooker called to me. Sitting there on the counter, it was all shiny and clean from Sunday’s taco night, and it wanted to make breakfast.

I’ve made steel-cut oats in the slow cooker before; it’s simple and easy. But they don’t tend to keep much of their signature crunch cooked this way. A reader wrote and asked me if I had a solution for that, and I thought about it a lot over a week or two. Last night was the experiment.

It worked pretty well. And it was really simple–just reduce the water from what’s called for on the oatmeal box or can. Makes sense, right? You reduce the water when converting a recipe from oven to slow cooker, so why not do it with a stovetop recipe as well?

This wasn’t as crunchy as making it on the stove, but it took less than five minutes as opposed to 20 or more, and was ready when I got up in the morning. I turned my cooker off, cracked the lid a bit, and let it sit for an hour or so before breakfast; I’m not a big first-thing breakfast eater. It was warm and lovely with a little brown sugar, a dash or two of pumpkin pie spice, some Crasins, some sliced almonds, and a little milk. It’s been three hours and I’m not the least bit hungry yet, so that’s another victory.

Season yours as you’d like. I’d cook it plain and then season and add ingredients when it’s finished. This makes a crust around the edges of the pot. Just stir that in when you wake up. It’ll soften and blend in as it sits. You can also make a big pot of this and store it in the fridge. It microwaves really well, especially if you stir in a little milk first.

It doesn’t get much healthier than this and my tummy is happy. You’ll need:

Cooking spray

1 cup of Irish or Steel-Cut oats (not quick-cooking)

3 1/2 cups of water

Whatever add-ins you like

Coat your slow cooker with cooking spray. Add the oats and water. Give it a quick stir, set it on low, and go to bed.

In the morning, turn the cooker off, stir in the crusty bits from the edges, crack the lid a bit, and go take your shower. Stir in your add-ins and enjoy when you’re ready (I used a teaspoon of brown sugar, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice, about a teaspoon each of Craisins and sliced almonds, and a half-cup of milk on mine).

This should make four servings. It made two for us. DH is an oatmeal guy and enjoyed it a lot. I need to hide my portion next time. 😉


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Pumpkin Seeds

25 Oct

I know, I know. Everybody already knows how to roast pumpkin seeds. Simple, basic, blah blah blah.

I have a trick. And you’re going to have to trust me on it.

We were away with friends for the weekend a little while back and we stopped at a local farm to buy pumpkins. “For the kids,” of course. Mind you, the moment we got back to the house, the knives came out and we ripped into the biggest one to make a funny face, complete with snot hanging out its nose.

Grown-ups’ weekend away. I digress. *giggle*

Anyway, there was a group decision that we should roast the seeds. One of the men started scooping them out of our gourd, and I heard the sink start running. Which sent me into the kitchen at mach 3.

“DON’T RINSE THEM OFF!!” I yelled, snatching the bowl away.

Crazy lady in the kitchen, y’all.

But that’s the secret. Don’t rinse off the pumpkin goo. And before you start faux retching (I have children. I can tell fake from real heaves, you sissies), try it. Just once. I promise, you’ll never wash your seeds off again. Because that stringy goo roasts down into a crunchy coating that gives the seeds the flavor they were intended. They taste like pumpkin. Imagine that!

This is the big week for pumpkin carving. Carve away. But then, do this. Go get:

A rimmed, metal cookie sheet

Aluminum foil

Nonstick spray


The seeds of a pumpkin

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the seeds out of Mr. Jack O’Lantern. Resist the urge to rinse. RESIST. Pull them apart so they’re almost all individual seeds, but leave the orange strings on them.

Toss the gooey seeds with salt to taste. Cover your baking sheet with foil and spray it liberally with cooking spray. Lay the seeds on it in a single layer (patience, grasshoppah). Pop them into the oven.

Gently turn the seeds about every 15 minutes or so using a flat spatula. Let them roast for about 45 minutes, until they start to pop. Just like popcorn. Try one to make sure they’re crunchy and amazing, let them cool, and have at it.


Crockpot Jambalaya

21 Oct

I hear my New Orleans friends cringing and I’m sure this isn’t exactly authentic, but it’s really good. It’s simple and easy and my kids like it (bonus!) and comforting and warm.

It’s also a dice-and-dump recipe. My favorite kind of recipe for the slow cooker.

The original version of this recipe had you cook the rice in the same cooker as the sauce. Which is fabulous if you’re eating it all at once. For leftovers…not so much. Mushy second-day food, and we’ve already established that I don’t do mush.  So I fiddled with it. I reduced the overall liquid in this, cooked the rice on the stove, and served the rice/chicken mixture over the rice. Awesome, and it keeps really well for a second or third day.

Frozen shrimp is great in this. I always have a few pounds in the freezer, and it’s super simple to pull it out and dump it in. Just don’t do it until an hour or so before you’re going to eat, or they’ll curl up into nothing. And feel free to leave the green peppers out if you don’t like them. No worries.

Give this one a shot. You’ll need:

1 cup sliced celery

1/2 large onion, diced

1 cup chicken broth

1 14.5 oz diced tomatoes, drained

1/2 a 6 oz can tomato paste (1/3 cup)

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning

1 pound chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

8 oz peeled shrimp

3/4 cup chopped green pepper

Cooked rice, white or brown

Spray your slow cooker with nonstick spray. Dump in everything but the shrimp, peppers, and rice. Stir well. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

An hour before dinner, stir in the shrimp and peppers. Serve over rice.

Mmm Mmm Smoothies!

20 Oct

There’s no ice in this here smoothie.


I don’t know why people put ice in their fruit smoothies. I like mine thick and creamy and milkshake-y, and ice just waters things down and adds crunch to the mix. There’s no crunch in smoothie, at least in my house.

Getting thick without ice requires one simple thing. Frozen fruit. If you start with frozen fruit, you don’t need ice, see? And you get that wonderful milkshake thickness in a meal or snack that’s chock full of vitamins and nutrition.

I always start with nonfat vanilla yogurt and half a sliced, frozen banana. That’ll guarantee creamy–bananas are nothing if not the perfect thickener for fruit-based drinks. The vanilla yogurt adds sweetness and a hint of extra deliciousness. And beyond that, the sky’s the limit. Strawberry-banana. Blueberry-banana. Chocolate banana (MMMMMMM!! Use a whole banana, a spoon of cocoa powder, and a little extra sugar). Nutella-banana. Peanut butter-banana. I could go on for hours.

The smoothie you see above was made with a scoop of Dole Tropical Fruit Mix that I found in the freezer of my third-world supermarket. Assuming your market is the least bit civilized, you’ll find this along with the bags of frozen strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and other fruits. Pick your favorite and you’ll be in business. I like the tropical because it’s sweet and my kids think it’s akin to soft ice cream when it’s whirled together. But anything you like is just fine.

Don’t be afraid to give your blender time to really destroy the fruit. Remember–no ice. No water. You can let ‘er rip until the job’s done and you’ll still get creamy and thick. If you hear bits of fruit whacking against the blades, let it go until the machine reaches a steady, even hum. And feel free to add powdered fiber, flax, or other supplements to these. You won’t notice.

I had mine for breakfast today, but it’s a perfect mid-day pick-me-up or after school snack. Even a dessert, depending how sweet yours is. Hope you like it!

You’ll need:

6 oz or about 3/4 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt (try Greek style if you want extra, extra thick)

1/2 a banana, sliced and frozen

A heaping 1/2 cup of another fruit or fruit blend, also frozen.

1/2 tsp sugar or Splenda, to taste

1/4 cup milk (I use skim)

Pour the yogurt into your blender. Add sweetener, frozen fruit, and milk. Blend on the highest setting until you don’t hear any chunks smacking into the works. Pour and enjoy. Makes 1 meal-sized (the glass in the photo holds 20 oz) or 2 snack-sized smoothies.

(For chocolate, use a whole sliced banana, a teaspoon or so of cocoa powder, and a teaspoon or so of sugar, to taste, adding chocolate syrup at your whim. For peanut butter, use a whole banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter, and omit the sugar.)

Super Easy Butter Cookies

19 Oct

You know those really yummy butter cookies that come in the fancy-schmancy tins at the grocery store?

Ditch the tins. You can make amazing, melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies at home. Ten minutes, tops, to make the dough, and 10 minutes in the oven per dozen. And you will not believe how good they are.

This is a Mark Bittman recipe. Mark Bittman is the man as far as I’m concerned, and if you don’t have a copy of his How To Cook Everything, you need to race right out and get one. Because if it’s not in there, you probably don’t need to make it.

I fiddled with it, just a touch. I used half bread flour, just because I wanted my cookies a little chewier. A little more bite. But you can use all AP flour and they’ll be amazing too.

You’re going to want to bake these on a cookie sheet that’s lined with parchment paper, and you’re going to want to spray the business side of that paper with butter cooking spray. That’ll help these brown and get all golden delicious on their bottoms. And as soon as you see a little golden delicious underneath, on the bottom edges, pull these out and cool them. Trust me–you’ll get soft and slightly chewy and mmm mmm good.

These keep for several days in an airtight container. They’ve never lasted that long around here, but in theory, that’s true.

To make these, you’ll need:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/4 cup milk (water works if you have an allergy)

Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a heavy cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray that with butter spray.

In a bowl, gently stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In your mixer bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in vanilla and egg. Mix well.

Gently–oh so gently–stir in half of the flour mixture. Do not overmix this–you’ll toughen up these sweet cookies. As soon as the flour is mixed in, mix in the milk, and then the rest of the flour.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto the cookie sheet–these don’t spread much so you don’t need a lot of room. Bake 10 minutes or until the bottoms start to brown. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes, and then off the baking sheet until room temperature. Store in a sealed container.

Maple Sweet Potato Wedges

14 Oct

I roasted a chicken last night and first thought I’d make some maple mashed sweet potatoes to go with it. But I was feeling lazy and didn’t feel like dirtying both a pot and my mixer bowl. So this recipe was perfect–all the flavor in my favorite mashed potatoes with only one dirty dish.

I found this one at Eating Well’s website and couldn’t resist fiddling with it. They called for a few tablespoons of butter, and I used one of olive oil. I also used a lot less salt than they wanted, skipped the pepper entirely, and found this took longer to roast than they said (which could be because I didn’t use butter, which browns quickly).

Verdict: Delicious. I’ll definitely make this again. It was really easy to make these while the chicken rested post-roasting, and everyone loved them. The maple flavor is subtle but definitely there, and these weren’t overly sweet. And the maple mixture thickened as this cooked, turning into a wonderful glaze by the end of the cooking time.

Give ’em a shot. You’ll need:

Three or four medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces

1/3 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, please)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13″ Pyrex baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray. Place the potato chunks into the dish.

Whisk together the other ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over the potatoes. Use a spatula to stir and coat the spuds with the maple mixture. Cover with foil.

Bake covered for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, and bake another 45 minutes or so, stirring every 15 minutes.

12-Minute Fall Oatmeal

13 Oct

Yes, you can have a healthy, hot, delicious breakfast.

This took 12 minutes, start to finish, pan-out-of-the-cabinet to breakfast-on-the-table. Twelve. I timed it. And even if you don’t have 12 minutes in the morning, you probably have it at night, while dishes are being done or dinner’s being made. And this keeps in the fridge overnight and nukes up really well. No artificial anything. No ingredients you’ve not heard of before. Creamy and comforting and filling. It’s not the most original idea in the world, but if you thought a healthy hot breakfast was impossible…well…try this.

You’ll need:

1 cup milk (I used 1%)

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 sprinkling cinnamon (probably 1/4 tsp)

Small handful sliced almonds

Small handful dried cranberries or raisins

In a small pan over medium heat, bring milk to a simmer. Add oats, sugar, and cinnamon, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for seven or eight minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s creamy and soft.

Pour oatmeal into a bowl. Stir in fruit and nuts. Eat and be satisfied until lunch.


Sweet White Bread

12 Oct

You know that tomato basil soup I made yesterday? Perfect with that is a slice of this sweet white bread, with just a whisper of butter smeared on top.

This is actually perfect just about anytime you need a little snack. The name doesn’t lie–it’s sweet. And rich, like challah. And airy and melt-in-your-mouth good. And it keeps for several days without getting hard.

We prefer this un-toasted. Toasting it takes away its sweetness, quite honestly. My daughter likes some for breakfast with butter and grape jam; the boy likes it first thing in the morning, but he’s a purist and goes with just butter. I, quite honestly, like it plain as a snack or with a bowl of soup, and my husband eats his with a gentle drizzle of honey. It’s also a huge hit at bake sales, so file this one away if you’ve got a fundraiser coming up. Wrap it in cellophane with a ribbon and watch people ooh and aaah over how tall it is. It vanishes right off the table.

I make this in my breadmaker, using the dough setting, and then finish it in Pyrex bread pans in the oven. You can use your stand mixer’s dough hook to knead it or do it the old-fashioned way on the counter. They all work beautifully. Strangely, this doesn’t halve particularly well, but it does freeze nicely so you can stash away that second loaf if you want to. Ours never lasts that long–our family will eat a loaf in a day–but whatever works in your house.

This is one of our favorites. I hope it’s yours too. You’ll need:

2 cups of warm tap water (slightly warmer than body temperature–it should feel hot on your hand)

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

6 cups bread flour

In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water, and then sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for about five minutes, or until the yeast is foamy.

Mix salt and oil into the yeast mixture.

Put flour into your bread maker or electric mixer bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix until blended, or set your bread maker to the dough cycle and let it go. If you’re using a mixer, either switch to your dough hook or turn the dough out onto a floured countertop and knead it until it’s smooth, which usually takes five or 10 minutes. In a greased bowl and covered by a clean kitchen towel, let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk.

Once it’s risen, punch down the dough and divide it into two bread pans that have been oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. Let it rise about 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy.

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