Cannellini Bean Salad


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For those of us in rural America, cannellini beans are new or unheard of.  Also known as white kidney beans, cannellini beans are widely used in Italian cooking and are slowly starting to creep onto the shelves of our grocery stores.  I can't really remember my first encounter with them, but, as with so many other legumes, I love them.  What's not to love about a bean?  It has protein and fiber and is low in fat.  Beans are among some of the cheapest healthier foods out there, making them budget friendly as well.  Cannellinis are creamy and a great complement to other common Italian/Mediterranean ingredients, such as olive oil, tomatoes, red onion, etc.

I first found this recipe thanks to a daily recipe e-mail I get from allrecipes.com, and decided to try it out.

Remember the last post I did, the slightly disappointing chicken and pasta salad?  Well, this one is not a disappointment.  I love it AND it tastes like what I expect a bean salad to taste like.  I love it when things work together like that!  It is Italian-y (anyone who is Italian and disagrees let me know!) and has the great quality of being able to sit out for a while, making it a great picnic or potluck item.

Like so many recipes, I didn't follow this one to the letter- imagine that!  I have written the recipe as I did it.  To see the original, click the link. 

Cannellini Bean Salad
adapted from allrecipes.com, submitted by Alden Thornton

1 large red bell pepper or equivalent of one roasted red bell pepper
2- 14 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 minced fresh basil
3 Tb. red wine vinegar
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper

1.  Roast the pepper over a flame or under the broiler, rotating the pepper as the skin blackens and blisters, until the skin is totally black and blistered, about 15-20 mintues.  Place the pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  This will loosen the skin.  Let cool for about 10 minutes, and then peel off skin and dice pepper.  OR if you are pressed for time, use a jarred roasted red bell pepper. 

2.  In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper.  Shake well to combine.

2.  In a med-lg. bowl, combine beans, pepper, onion, and basil.  Pour dressing over the bean mixture and toss everything to coat.  It is best if the salad sits overnight in the fridge. 

This is the beginning of the pepper roasting process- I just turned on my broiler and let it go until it looks like a campfire marshmallow torch.

Here's what it looks like when it's done roasting.  Notice how the skin is loosening from the steam that is created when the plastic wrap covers the bowl?

A great way to cut an onion (I still haven't figured out how to cut one without crying, so if you know how, please tell me in the comments section!) is to leave the bulb part on and make slices with your  knife, like I did.  Then, cut across all those slices and you have a dice- the bulb part serves to keep the onion from slipping while you cut.

A Slightly Disappointing Pasta Salad


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Hi and welcome!  I am sure you're probably looking at the title for today and wondering if I've lost it a little bit for taking time to write about a recipe that I found a bit disappointing.  Well, the reason is that, while I wasn't head over heels for this recipe, you may love it, so here goes.  I also will post something I did like the next time.  Not all new recipes are the holy grail of whatever dish it is.

I was first attracted to the Roasted Chicken Pasta Salad recipe during a search I made to find pasta salads that I could bring to work for lunch.  When you work far enough away from your home that it makes it difficult or impossible to go home for lunch, your options are usually one of two things; go out to eat in a restaurant near your place of work or bring your lunch.  If you know me or have read this blog, so many of the recipes I make are budget friendly.  I am on a budget, and eating out every day is NOT budget friendly.  It's also really fattening.  I'd gain 10 pounds a month if I had to eat out every day!  It is, however, difficult to make your lunch every morning- figure out what leftovers or sandwich toppings should go into lunch.  Is that just me?  It's difficult for me.  I am always getting places late- it's a trait I hate about myself- so thinking about lunch in the morning is something I like to simplify and streamline.

So, beginning to think about what I could have that is pre-made, healthy, and GOOD, I thought- ooh!  Pasta Salads!  I love pasta salads!  So, I began searching on Cooking Light's website (cookinglight.com) and Southern Living's website (southernliving.com), and found the Roasted Chicken and Bow Tie Pasta Salad.  It seemed perfect- rotisserie chicken for protein and convenience, walnuts, grapes, onion, celery.  Here's a warning for people who don't like unconventional flavors, though- the dressing includes lemon and orange juice. 

Now, The Fresh Market has a lemon pasta salad that I LOVE and thought that this one might be like that one, only with chicken and grapes. 

So, all that to say that this pasta salad is easy to throw together, and it makes a lot of food, but it's not my favorite.  I probably won't make it again because its flavors are just too much a departure from what I'd expect pasta salad to taste like.  What I do like about it is that its flavors were better two days after I made it than the day after- meaning that today when I eat my lunch it may be even better.  We'll see.  I'm holding my breath in anticipation and turning blue. 

I also like that it tastes fresh and that the dressing has no mayo.  If you left out the chicken, you could leave this dish out of a fridge for hours and not worry about violent illness later.  I'm for that.  I am not crazy about all the flavors that the dressing has going on- I mean, you have the mustard and the orange, which to me don't complement the grapes. 

So, all that long explanation to tell you that I have not found a lunch food that will be my BFF lunch, but if you like trying different things, you might like it.  I would suggest that you make a half batch, though.  Enjoy the rest of the rotisserie chicken as itself or in chicken salad, pasta, quiche, etc. 

I am not going to actually post the recipe, but here is a link:  Roasted Chicken and Bow Tie Pasta Salad

  • To increase the health quotient of the pasta salad, I substituted whole wheat rotini for the white bowites. 
  • I didn't put in celery because I didn't feel like it.  I want to like celery, but we're still in that "I only like you when you're covered in peanut butter or pimento cheese" phase. 

The prep work- it helps to have a great knife!

Mixing of the dressing- no mayo here= no spoiling IF you leave out the chicken, too. 

Perfect Party Cake



For those that don't know me well, I took a cake decorating course a couple years ago and fell in love with it as a new creative outlet.  Since taking the course, I've had the privilege of decorating a wedding cake for a friend and doing other friends' baby shower, wedding shower, and birthday cakes. 

This weekend I was able to make a baby shower cake.  This post will focus on the cake itself and not the decoration. 

Underneath the ribbon, fondant, and icing are two layers of a delicious cake I recently discovered:  Perfect Party Cake by Dorie Greenspan.  Unsure of what to choose as the flavor for this cake as the person who ordered it and I forgot to discuss that part, I opted to go with a white cake.  I had just made Rose Levy Beranbaum's White Velvet Butter Cake as a wedding cake sample, and I liked it.  I just decided that I wanted to try something different.  I like trying different things, especially when they're baked so closely together. 

So, I looked through my cookbooks and on the internet, and everybody seemed to love the Perfect Party Cake.  All the reviews I read about it said that people rave about its taste, and that the lemon perfectly accents its lightness and helps to offset the sometimes eggy or floury taste white cakes have.  That caught my attention.  The recipe is in Dorie's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.  If you don't have this book and you love to bake, I would highly recommend it.  There's even a blogging community called Tuesdays With Dorie devoted to baking the recipes of this book. 

The feedback I got from this cake was that it "was great, and everyone loved the way it tasted."  Success! 

Due to the zesting of the lemon, the infusion of the sugar, and separating the eggs, this recipe has a couple more steps than your average cake, but it's very worth it. 

My husband hates the egg separator because it's a unitasker, but it's so handy. 
I recommend a Microplane for zesting- they're found in kitchen stores, Bed Bath, and Beyond, etc.  They're amazing!  I also have a cheese grater. 

This is a picture after I have mixed the sugar and zest until fragrant- the smell is heavenly!

Below is the recipe and then my notes and more pictures.  Enjoy!

Perfect Party Cake
by Dorie Greenspan

2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.

Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.

Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.

Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.

Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners.

Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

  • The first time I made this cake (I ended up making it twice because one layer fell apart upon unmolding), I forgot the lemon extract, so I used lemon juice.  The second time I actually got the extract.  The difference is significant- go with the extract for a better flavor.
  • As just mentioned, one of the cakes fell apart when I unmolded it (or took it out of the pan), so the second time I made it I left it in the pan to cool longer.  These cakes are delicate!
  • My hot oven had the cakes done in 25 minutes.
  • To get the batter in the pans to be as smooth on top as possible, I spread them with a spatula as directed, but then I gave the pans a couple quarter turn spins (put one hand on each side of the pan and turn clockwise and then counter clockwise, like turning a steering wheel).  It's much gentler than banging the pans on the counter as some people do.  That lets air bubbles out, making for a more dense cake, and that's not what you want.

Fish Tacos


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The first time I saw the fish taco idea was a few years ago, in Cabo Fish Taco, a restaurant in the NoDa section of Charlotte.  At the time, I didn't really like fish and found the concept of fish in a taco a little revolting, but things do change.  I don't know if my tastes changed and expanded as I started cooking for myself or if my husband coaxed me off the ledge of fish hating, but now I love fish.  Many people order steak at nice restaurants; I order fish. 

All that nice bit of useless information to tell you that even a former fish hater can be won over to these tacos.  The best adjective I can think to describe the taste is summery- they're light but filling, and healthy.  I had seen recipes all over the place for fish tacos- apparently they're catching on- but none of the recipes I read at the time I wanted to make them really hit the spot for me.  I decided to venture out on a limb and just sort of make up my own recipe.  I think it went well.  If you try this recipe, I hope you agree.

First, I wanted a mild, white fish.  I went to the only grocery store around that has fish worth anything (and that's even a bit of a stretch) and bought haddock.  I marinated it for about 30 minutes in a mixture of oil, lime juice, lime zest, salt, pepper, and chili powder.  On my recent mission trip to Mérida, Mexico, the lime and chili powder are a prominent flavor combination.  It's brilliant!  Anyway, after marinating the fish, we grilled it.  We love to grill as much as possible! 

To go with the fish inside the taco-and here's where I couldn't find what I wanted so I made it up- I envisioned a slaw-type concoction made with thinly sliced red cabbage, avocado, red onion, jalapeño and bell pepper, lime juice, and chili powder.  It turned out just how I wanted it!  I LOVE when that happens!

So, we ate them for the first time about a month ago.  We have made them twice since.  We love them!  On a hot day, they're refreshing and won't bog you down.  When grilled, the fish takes on some of the smokiness from the charcoal that heightens the other flavors of the marinade.  If you haven't made fish tacos, I encourage you to try them.  I hope you find my recipe as great as I do!

Yucatan Inspired Fish Tacos
feeds 2 adults with small amt. of leftovers

1- 3/4 to 1 lb fillet of haddock, or other mild, white fish
2 limes, zested and juiced
1 avocado, diced
2/3 c. cabbage, shredded
1/4 c. red onion, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (optional)
1/2 bell pepper, diced (I like colored ones but you can use whatever you want)
1/4 c. vegetable oil
Chili Powder

1.  Start preheating your coals.  In the meantime, mix up the fish marinade: the oil, zest and juice of 1 lime, and some about 1/8 tsp. salt, a dash of pepper (3-4 grinds from your pepper mill), and about 1/8 tsp. chili powder.  Mix all that up and either pour into a dish or a resealable gallon plastic bag.  Place the fish into the marinade and marinate while the coals heat up. 

2.  Meanwhile, make the slaw: combine the zest and juice of 1 lime with about 1 Tb. vegetable or extra virgin olive oil, a dash of salt, pepper, and chili powder.  Add to this the cabbage, peppers, onion, and avocado.  Stir to combine. 

3.  When the coals are ready, prepare the grill grate by brushing it with oil to help prevent sticking.  Place the fillet, skin side down on the grill and grill for about 8 minutes covered.  At this point, begin checking the fish for doneness every couple minutes.

4.  When the fish is fully cooked, remove from grill, remove skin, and allow it to flake.  Place some of the fish and the slaw topping into a tortilla shell and enjoy!  You can also eat any leftover slaw on tortilla chips.

  • It is of course imperative to choose the freshest fish you can find for this recipe!  The more smelly it is, the older it is, and the less likely it will be that the taste will be that great.
  • All of these measurements are approximations, because when I cook without a recipe, I cook by tasting every so often.  It's a good habit to learn!
  • When selecting the avocado, find one that is ripe but not too soft so it will hold its shape.  My slaw pictured here utilized a too-soft avocado, so it became more like guacamole with slaw in it.  Same taste, but not quite as pretty. 
  • I used vegetable oil instead of extra virgin olive oil for the marinade simply because it's more cost effective.  Use whatever oil you like, but since the flavor of the oil isn't the hero here, I prefer to use the lower cost canola or vegetable. 
  • You can cook the fish in the oven.  I'd recommend either broiling it and checking on it after 6-8 minutes or preheating the oven to 400 degrees F and baking about 10 minutes before checking.
  • Because we lead crazy lives, I haven't ever prepared a side for these tacos.  For this reason the serving sizes may be a little different in your household.  My husband and I are "good eaters," so the pound fillet may feed more like three or four of you.  In that case, at least double the slaw.  The more of that, the more delicious!  I would recommend that this fish be served with something like black beans and rice or fruit salad. 
As the Mexicans say, provecho!

Mozzarella Sticks


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Oh, the mozzarella stick- it is, for me, an irresistable food, and yet it's partially why America is increasingly obese.  I mean, breaded, fried cheese?!  Pass the plate, but stop me after one or two!  I love cheese, and the mozzarella stick is a wonderful way to eat it- melty, stringy cheese inside a crunchy shell of bread crumbs, dipped in marinara sauce.  Yum!  As before stated, however, these are really quite bad for you since they're fried.  What's a girl to do?  Make Rocco DiSpirito's version, that's what!

Chef Rocco has come out with a new cookbook entitled, Now Eat This.  It's filled with ways to make your favorite guilty pleasure foods less guilty, but every bit as pleasurable.  He appeared on the Rachael Ray Show back in March to talk about this new book and to make these mozzarella sticks.  His version is baked and uses Panko bread crumbs in place of regular ones.  His version actually uses whole wheat panko bread crumbs, but the grocery stores around here aren't quite that well stocked yet. 

These sticks take a few steps, but are easy to make.  They're also relatively fast.  First, take your average mozzarella cheese stick, a.k.a. string cheese.  You can leave them whole or cut them in half, depending on your own preference.  The ones I have pictured are left whole.  Put the sticks through a three stage breading process of flour, egg white, and bread crumbs.  Line them on a baking sheet, bake, and enjoy while warm.  I served them with marinara sauce. 

We had them for my brother in law's birthday, and they were very good!  The crunch of the panko mimics the crunch that is created when the stick is fried.  I would definitely recommend these for your next get together...or your next craving of mozzarella sticks, whichever comes first. 

Rocco DiSpirito's Mozzarella Sticks
from Now Eat This

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs, such as Ian's All-Natural
3 large egg whites
8 reduced-fat mozzarella sticks, such as Polly-O 2% Milk Natural Reduced-Fat Mozzarella
Garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
1 cup fra diavolo pasta sauce, such as Victoria

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a wire rack on a foil-lined baking sheet, and set it aside.

Put the flour in a shallow dish. Put the panko in another shallow dish. In a medium bowl, whip the egg whites with a whisk until they are extremely foamy but not quite holding peaks.

Working in batches, dredge the mozzarella sticks in the flour, shaking off any excess. Add the mozzarella sticks to the egg whites and toss to coat completely. Add the mozzarella sticks, a few pieces at a time, to the panko and coat completely.

Spread the breaded cheese sticks out on the wire rack. Season them generously with garlic salt and pepper, and spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake until the breading is golden brown and crispy and the cheese is melted throughout, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the pasta sauce in the microwave or in a small saucepan for 2 minutes, or until it is hot.

Serve the mozzarella sticks with the sauce for dipping.

  • Since I never really know what to do when I separate an egg and don't use the yolk in the recipe, and I wasn't that super concerned about the added calories, I used two whole eggs in place of the white.
  • Since I haven't found whole wheat panko crumbs in the grocery stores around here, I used regular.  It slightly decreases the nutritional value and coloration, but the crunch effect is the same. 
  • I didn't have garlic salt, so I used granulated garlic instead. 

Grilled BBQ Chicken


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Ah, summer.  It's a time to take the cooking outdoors by using the grill.  There was no real, larger grill at my house until last August, when we decided to purchase a classic Weber charcoal grill.  Last year we unfortunately used the grill only once or twice, so this summer we have made a concerted effort to use it when possible.  No chicken is safe. 

My grandmother got the Deen Brothers Cookbook for me for Christmas last year, and as I flipped through it, many recipes caught my eye, but the main one was the barbecued chicken.  I am not much for barbecued chicken, but in the past I had never made my own sauce.  This changes everything.  To me, you can get an OK bottled sauce, but nothing that really makes me crave it and want more.  Homemade sauce, however, is so much better- it's a perfect viscosity and you can control the sweetness.  I know that many people think the same thing about making your own bbq sauce as making your own bread and granola- why bother?  Well, if the superior taste doesn't win you over, think about the fact that it only takes just a couple more minutes to created an infinitely superior sauce.  As is with so many homemade things, I love the fact that you have more control over the flavor.

I like the Deen brothers' sauce.  I like a slightly sweeter sauce, but I don't want the feeling I'm eating candied chicken.  This one has a good balance to me.  So, we made the chicken.  Grillmaster Drew got on the job.  We ate.  At this point I can't remember the sides we had with it, but the chicken was so good I think we've already made it twice and the sauce one or two other times since that first time.  For a couple of people who have only bought 3-4 bottles of barbecue sauce in the last 6 years, I'd say that it ranks pretty high on the BBQ sauce list.  Did I mention that it costs the same or less than bottled sauces?  Did I mention that buying a whole chicken is almost always more economical per pound than buying parts?  I love when things make sense and I save money.  This only applies, of course, when your husband and his teenage brother don't eat all the chicken in one meal (love you guys!), but I digress.

Grill this one this weekend.  It's a crowd pleaser!

Deen Brothers' BBQ Chicken
from the Deen Brothers' Cookbook
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F or prepare a grill (brush the grill grate lightly with oil).

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients except the chicken. Reserve 1/3 cup of the barbeque sauce; set aside. Add the chicken to the remaining sauce in the bowl, turning to coat.

Arrange the coated chicken in a roasting pan or on the grill. Cook (covered, if grilling) for 40 to 45 minutes or until cooked through, basting with the reserved 1/3 cup sauce after 20 minutes.

  • I don't have liquid smoke.  I didn't buy any for this recipe.  It just means less smoky flavor, but I can live with that.  Alton Brown has a method for making your own, but maybe that'll be a different post.
  • I didn't have fresh oranges to juice, and I didn't have OJ, but I did have some frozen OJ concentrate from another recipe I made, so I used that.  Because I like some sweetness, I did not reduce the amount, but if you go this route and want it proportioned as though it were prepared orange juice, I'd do maybe 2 teaspoons orange juice concentrate.
  • The charcoal grill is, to us, much better as it imparts a lot of great flavor that you miss with a gas grill.  We have found that using natural lump charcoal and a chimney starter gives a great flavor and much less fuss without the lighter fluid.  You can find these items anywhere- Lowes, Wal-Mart. 
  • The metal thing coming out of the chicken is a probe thermometer.  The best way to determine doneness for a chicken (and many other meats) is by using one of these.  The probe sticks into the chicken and attaches to a unit outside the grill.  It has an alarm to let em know when the chicken has reached the desired temperature.  In this case, that's 170 degrees. 
  • It's important to let your chicken rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it or removing a thermometer probe.  Just take the chicken off the grill, put it on a platter, and loosely cover it with aluminum foil.  Resting the meat allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a more moist chicken. 

Mocha Cheesecake



Ah, cheesecake.  I love it!  Give me cheesecake or give me death.  Give me enough cheesecake, and death may follow.  Cheesecake, I found out, began as food for Olympians in ancient Greece.  I don't know that any serious athlete should eat the layered mocha cheesecake pictured here, but if you like coffee and chocolate, this may well be your new drug of choice. 

I made this cheesecake last year for Easter, and had been dying for an opportunity to make it since it appeared in the February/March 2008 issue of Taste of Home.  It was a hit that Easter, and even non coffee drinkers enjoyed this one.

As a side note, this recipe was made before my blogging days, so my apologies for only having one picture, and my notes are basically nonexistant, too.  I did, however, want to share this one so that you will be able to make it ASAP.

This was my first big cheesecake.  I had made a lower fat one that you make in a pie pan, but this one was my first big, cheesecake/springform pan recipe.  Although it has a few steps, one of which is diving the batter in half to flavor it separately, it's a fairly easy recipe.  You don't have to be Paula Deen to achieve success here. 

The flavor is amazing.  Counting the chocolate glaze and the crust, there are four delectable layers to work through.  On top, you have the soft but solid chocolate ganache.  Next you taste a coffee cheesecake layer, followed by the chocolate layer and crust.  They're smooth, silky, dense, and full of flavors that harmonize beautifully together.  I actually went to Cheesecake Factory a couple of weeks ago and ordered their Kahlua Chocolate Coffee Cheesecake, and you know what?  Seriously, their cake was good, but I thought this one was better.  Cross my heart and pinkie swear. 

Layered Mocha Cheesecake
from Taste of Home

1 1/2 cups cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons plus 1-1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon boiling water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
Chocolate-covered coffee beans, optional

Place pan on a double thickness of heavy-duty foil (about 16 in. square). Securely wrap foil around pan.

Combine cookie crumbs and butter; press onto the bottom of a greased 9-in. springform pan. In a small bowl, combine the coffee granules, water and cinnamon; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined.

Divide batter in half. Stir melted chocolate into one portion; pour over crust. Stir coffee mixture into the remaining batter; spoon over chocolate layer. Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan.

Bake at 325° for 55-60 minutes or until center is just set and top appears dull. Remove springform pan from water bath. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips and butter; stir until smooth. Spread over cheesecake. Garnish with coffee beans if desired. Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 16 servings.
  • I used a cheesecake pan rather than a springform pan.  I remember doing some research and deciding that it may just be easier to use, and it was a lot more durable than the springform pans I found out there. 
  • It is important to use good chocolate on the top ganache layer, especially.  It's the main flavoring agent. 
  • According to a recent Cooking Light issue, you can interchange Neufchatel and full fat cream cheese, but steer clear of fat free. 
  • I remember this being a tough one to test for doneness.  I'd say that you shouldn't wait for a tester to come out spotlessly clean, but as long as it doesn't wiggle like Jello, you should be good.  As with any dessert, overbaking is bad and possibly worse than underbaking.
  • Not that this affects much, but I used chocolate chips to decorate the edge rather than coffee beans.
This is a great one!  Make one and bring me a piece!

Weekly Sandwich Bread



Continuing along the lines of items to make that most people can't understand why you'd make them when you can buy them, I present to you homemade bread.  I grant you that it is tough to find the time to make your own bread when you work full time and have a social life outside of work, but it's worth finding the time to do it!  Storebought bread has odd ingredients added to improve shelf life; homemade bread does not.  You know exactly what goes into your bread, and you can vary a recipe to suit your own liking.  Homemade bread costs way less than a bakery loaf, and it even costs less than a pre-sliced, bagged loaf you can buy in the grocery store.  In looking up recipes online, I have learned that bread baking has a certain odd stigma about it.  People think that working with yeast is like working with a wild animal, and that any moment it could turn on you and attack.  So far, I have come out unscathed. 

Once you get into bread baking, you will find it hard to ever go back to store bought again.  When I first started baking bread, I followed a recipe for light whole wheat bread I got from Smitten Kitchen a year or so ago.  That recipe is good, but I always found it a little tough and dry for my personal tastes.  I started searching more, and landed on the King Arthur Flour website.  It's a great place for anyone who loves baking!

One of the recipes on the KAF website that is great for anyone who likes a soft sandwich loaf and the versatility to play around with the flour combinations is the one I'm posting about today.  It's good for beginners in that there aren't a lot of very complicated steps, and every loaf I've made has turned out delicious!  I use my trusty Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer to do the work for me, so all I have to do is measure ingredients and let it go. 

My Weekly Sandwich Bread
from King Arthur Flour

1 cup (8 ounces) milk

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick, 1 ounce) butter or margarine
2 teaspoons instant yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
*For added whole-grain goodness, substitute great-tasting King Arthur whole wheat flour (traditional or white whole wheat) for up to half of the all-purpose flour in this recipe.

Mixing: Heat the milk to a simmer, and pour over the butter in a large mixing bowl. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm, then add yeast (if using active dry; if using instant yeast you can add it with the flour) and sugar. Once the yeast softens and begins to bubble, add the remaining ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple. (You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine set to the dough or manual cycle). Add a bit of additional milk or flour if needed— the dough should be soft, but not sticky.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover, and allow it to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 1 hour, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

Shaping: Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in the lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, cover loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 60 minutes, until it’s domed about 1 inch above the edge of the pan. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly.

Baking: Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s light golden brown.Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or by measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (it should register 190°F at the center of the loaf). Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.

Yield: 1 loaf.

My Notes
  • I do have a kitchen scale, and recommend that with baking, you use weight measurement as opposed to volume measurement, but this recipe has worked very well with both
  • You can substitute an equal amount of honey, maple syrup, or molasses for the sugar.  I have done this as well, and it turns out great
  • I have always substituted 1/3 of the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour, because that's how we roll.
  • Some days are different from others, and you may have to add up to 1/4 c. more milk or more flour.  Just get to a place where your loaf isn't dry, but not sticking to the bowl it's so sticky.
  • I always knead the dough, using the bread hook in my Kitchen Aid, for about 10 minutes.  Gluten development is important for a good rise.
  • I use instant yeast and skip the proofing stage.  Just pour it in with the rest of the ingredients.  It's much heartier than active dry, and is usually labeled "rapid rise" or instant.  You can buy it in bulk and save!
  • My rises take much longer than an hour.  Slow rises are good for flavor development, so that's not a bad thing, but if you want it done ASAP, you can put the dough in your cold oven and boil water in a pot on the stove.  When the water starts to boil, place it either in a dish or just transfer the pot into the oven.  The steam and heat will help it to rise more quickly. 



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Most of the things I post on here could easily start out with the words, "I love," followed by whatever food is the post's topic.  Granola is one of those.  It's something I could eat my body weight in.  The only problem is that granola is so expensive!  I mean, $3 for a bag of granola that I can eat in 1-2 sittings?! 

So, the solution?  Make your own!  I can see I have lost some of you already, thinking that making your own granola is along the lines of sewing your own clothes- why bother, right?  Making your own allows you to control the ingredients, so you don't end up with less than your favorite granola.  It's much more economical, and it's a very healthy snack.  I love Molly Wizenberg's article on making your own granola in the June issue of Bon Appetit.  She humorously describes the bad raps we granola makers get at times.  Read here for a great article and recipe. 

My favorite recipe deviates from hers, and is found in the almost ubiquitous Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  If you have one of these, make this tonight!  It is simple, fairly quick, and creates a granola that strikes an almost perfect balance between crunchy and chewy.  Because I only like dried fruit in granola I don't eat with yogurt, I like this basic recipe for its simplicity and honey flavor.  There are options at the end for changing up the recipe, but being the person I am, I usually stick to the basic method and recipe I love.

Adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook

2 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. chopped nuts
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/2 c. either raw sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, or a combination of both
3 oz. honey
1 oz. maple syrup
2 Tb. flavorless oil, such as canola

Preheat your oven to 300 F.  Prepare a large banking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Mix all dry ingredients together.  Stir together the wet ingredients.  Pour the wet over the dry and mix. 

Pour the granola into the prepared baking pan and bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through. 

Take the granola out of the oven and pour onto a sheet of wax or parchment paper to allow to cool. 

  • I am intentionally vague on the nuts.  I usually use whatever I have on hand, be it walnuts, almonds, pecans, or a combination of the three.  Use your favorite, or if you're not into chopping nuts, buy the bagged, pre-chopped kind. 
  • In regards to the liquids, the ounce measurements are not exact.  I typically fill a 1 cup measuring cup with mostly honey and a little maple syrup.  A half and half ratio usually results, to me, in not as good a flavor, and using all honey usually makes it taste too stale after a couple days.  I find the approximate 3:1 ratio just right.  I have also tried molasses, but the honey/maple syrup combo is my favorite. 
  • The granola clumps as it cools. 
  • If you do want dried fruit in your granola, put it in after it has baked, lest you end up in the dentist's office with a broken tooth.
  • For added health benefits, try putting in some ground flax seeds.  I usually try to put in a couple tablespoons.
So, there you have it!  Let me know what you think!

Perfect Quiche


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Do you have a food that you love?  Quiche is one for me.  Think about it- this is an anytime food, and it can be eaten hot or cold.  I love that!  I don't remember eating quiche before college.  I am sure I did at some point, but it was one of those foods we didn't make growing up, and so I don't remember it.  Anyway, my first memory of quiche is from Ham's restaurant.  If I remember correctly, it was spinach.  It wasn't bad, but not something that was the pinnacle of quiches everywhere. 

A good quiche is hard to find.  If overbaked, it's a dry mess of eggs, cheese, and filling.  It's rubbery and reminiscent of a bad egg biscuit from a fast food restaurant.  Fortunately, this recipe at least is very easy, and delicious.  Its ingredients can be changed out to use what you have on hand- don't you just love a recipe like that?  I have used fresh swiss chard in place of spinach.  Other times I have added mushrooms and roasted red pepper, bell pepper, and I can't remember what else. 

This recipe is one I tried from allrecipes.com, and I have made it many times over the past year or so.  It's sort of my going steady quiche recipe.  What differentiates it is the use of mayonnaise instead of heavy creams.  What I like about that is that I can substitute plain greek yogurt for some or all of the mayo, thus making it even healthier, for those times you want to ignore the fact you're trying to make healthier a dish that is baked in a pastry crust and has 2 cups of cheese in it....oh well, at least it makes me feel better. 

I will make one on a weekend morning and reheat the leftovers on other days in the oven for 10-20 minutes on about 325-350.  In that way I can make breakfast while I'm in the shower. 

Try this quiche recipe the next time you want a great, filling breakfast.  It'd also be perfect for lunch or dinner with a salad. 

Light and Fluffy Spinach Quiche
taken from allrecipes.com, by KRISTINJONI

1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
8 ounces shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a cookie sheet with foil.

2.In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and milk until smooth. Whisk in eggs. Layer spinach, cheese, and onion in pie shell, making several layers of each. Pour in egg mixture. Place quiche on prepared cookie sheet. Cover quiche with foil.

3.Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Remove cover, and bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until top is golden brown and filling is set.
Cook's Notes
  • As I have said previously in the post, I have at times added mushroom, roasted red peppers, and bell peppers, and all worked great.
  • I often substitute half the mayo with plain yogurt.
  • I use full fat cheese.  I also usually use seriously sharp cheddar, as it's the husband's favorite.  I don't recommend mozzarella in this one.
  • It is VERY important to cover the quiche with foil- much like lasagna, it will dry out if you don't!
  • Watch the oven- I know that mine usually runs hot, so I bake it covered only about 35-40 min most of the time. 
  • I have substituted fresh rainbow/swiss chard for the spinach in this recipe.  If you do that, make sure you cut the chard into very thin, short ribbons.  I think I used maybe 2 big leaves, so a little goes a long way.