Sunday, March 27, 2011

Baby-Themed Sugar Cookie Cutouts

Tip: If you use this icing recipe, DON'T put the cookies in the refrigerator. I did, and the icing on the bears got splotchy. Instead, seal them in a plastic bag or tupperware and leave on the counter.
It's amazing these cookies made it. I had it all planned out - put the first layer of icing on the cookies during the girls' naptime, and then finish the decorations at night. But how often do plans get totally tossed up in the air when small children are involved??? These cookies are survivors.

My daughter decided it was not a nap day. Instead, she decided to destroy her room. And pee on the carpet. And eat one of the two "B" letters I had cut out to spell BABY. I couldn't believe it.

But after much perseverance (and very carefully cutting out another "B" from a baked cookie), these cookies were done. And I was pretty happy with the end result. Though next time, I will use strawberry-flavored extract for the pink icing and lemon extract for the yellow icing, then almond or vanilla extract for the other colors (this time, I used vanilla for the icing, and while they were good, I think it'd be nice to have a variety of icing flavors on the cookies).

This sugar cookie cutout recipe comes courtesy of my mother. The icing is my adaption of a few I found online. It dries shiny and hard, but is soft when bitten into. To decorate, here's a step-by-step guide on how to ice and decorate sugar cookies.

Mama Julie's Sugar Cookie Cutouts
2 1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 egg

  1. In mixing bowl, cream butter, egg and vanilla (won't be completely smooth). 
  2. In separate bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. 
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Use hands if needed to knead dough into a ball. 
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle flour on your work area and on your rolling pin. Roll dough out, sprinkling the top of the dough with flour as needed. Roll until dough is approximately 1/4" thick. Cut out shapes and place cookies on parchment paper-lined baking tray. 
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to sit on the tray for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before icing. Makes at least 2 dozen.
Sugar Cookie Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
3 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla extract, almond, etc.)
Food coloring

  1. In a small bowl, stir powdered sugar and milk together until smooth.
  2. With a handheld beater, beat in light corn syrup and flavoring.
  3. Divide into bowls and add appropriate food coloring. To ice cookies like a pro, create an outline on each cookie with thicker icing. Then, thin the icing with a little milk and spoon icing into the un-iced area, spreading icing with a toothpick until the cookie is filled in. Use this step-by-step How To Decorate Sugar Cookies guide. Allow icing to set completely before adding another decorative layer of icing. If adding sprinkles, add immediately after icing. Store cookies in sealed container on the counter.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love Ghiradelli chocolate. In fact, my daughter and I have been known to eat it by the bagful (plus, it's her "special treat" for going potty on the toilet). I love Ghiradelli's brownie recipe, and I've been making their chocolate chip cookies forever. They are just perfect.

There is nothing like warm, from-scratch chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven. With a tall, cold glass of milk, please!

If I'm just baking these for my hubby, I bake as many as he wants, then I roll the remaining batter into little balls, put them into a bowl, and place in the freezer for another night. I've also halved this recipe.

Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip Cookies (4 dozen)
2 1/4 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
Optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir flour with baking soda and salt; set aside. 
  2. Beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy.
  3. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed until incorporated.
  4. Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if desired). 
  6. Drop by tablespoon onto cookie sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Quick Dinner: Ginger-Teriyaki Stir Fry

Got leftover meat? How about some veggies about to go bad in the fridge? Then try this quick and yummy stir fry. You can use frozen veggies of course, but the slight crunch of fresh veggies is really nice in a stir-fry.

This dish is so flexible...noodles or rice work, as does chicken or steak. Kudos for the sauce recipe goes to America's Test Kitchen.

Ginger-Teriyaki Stir Fry
Pad thai quick noodles or rice
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
Fresh or frozen vegetables, chopped into bite-size pieces, such as:
  • broccoli
  • carrots, cut in julienne style (match-stick)
  • mushrooms
  • sugar snap peas
  • water chestnuts
  • asparagus
Chicken or steak, cooked, and cut into bite-sized pieces (2-3 chicken breasts/steaks)

Ginger-Teriyaki Sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon dry ginger)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
red pepper flakes

Directions (serves 4)
  1. Whisk soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, vinegar and cornstarch in bowl, and set aside.
  2. Put vegetable or canola oil in wok or large nonstick pan, and bring up to medium heat. Add vegetables and cook until slightly softened.
  3. Meanwhile, cook pad thai noodles or rice according to box directions.
  4. Pour soy sauce mixture into vegetable pan.  Simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Add cooked chicken/steak bits into pan, stir, and cook for another minute or so, until meat is warmed.
  5. Add noodles or rice to stir-fry, and mix together. Sprinkle desired amount of red pepper flakes on top. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Applesauce Muffins with Streusel Topping

I woke up this morning and felt like baking. And eating. Something baked.

With a toddler and baby running (and crawling) around, and somewhere to be at 9:30 a.m., I was able to whip these muffins together, they are that easy...and they definitely hit the spot. Give me anything with a streusel topping, seriously. I love it.

These are chock-full of oatmeal, raisins, applesauce and some brown sugar. So they are semi-healthy, slightly sweet, definitely moist, and oh so yummy!

Applesauce Muffins
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
dash of salt
3/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup quick cooking rolled oats

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with liners.
  2. Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. 
  3. Add flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and mix well.
  4. Add applesauce and mix well; stir in raisins and oatmeal.
  5. Spoon into 12 lined muffin cups. Sprinkle the following streusel topping onto each batter-filled cup. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick, and cool on a rack.
Streusel Topping
1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cold butter (cut into tablespoons)
dash of cinnamon

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mushroom & Lemon Couscous

Couscous makes a great sidedish to chicken, fish or steak. It is so easy to prepare - just 10 minutes and it's done. This recipe takes ordinary couscous and yummies it up with the flavors of garlic, mushrooms, lemon, onion and Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Mushroom & Lemon Couscous
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (baby portabellas are yummy!)
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 package NEAR EAST Couscous Wild Mushroom & Herb
1 can (or 14.5 oz.) chicken stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

  1. In large nonstick pan or skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add green onions, mushrooms and garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes or until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in medium saucepan, prepare couscous according to package directions, except use chicken broth instead of water and add lemon juice with contents of spice sack. 
  3. Combine prepared couscous into the mushroom mixture, and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Easy Weekend Blueberry Pancakes

We love pancakes on the weekend. I have tried more elaborate pancake recipes, like Bobby Flay's delicious Lemon-Blueberry-Ricotta Pancakes, but when I have a hungry hubby and kiddos waiting to be fed, I opt for this simple recipe (adapted from a Betty Crocker cookbook).

You can use store-bought syrup, but have you ever looked at the ingredients? Most are made of high fructose corn syrup! Try real maple syrup with some butter in it...that simple recipe is below as well. It'll make a HUGE difference. You'll never go back to the corn syrup-based stuff again!

Easy Weekend Blueberry Pancakes
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted) or oil
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (or orange zest if lemon isn't available)
fresh or frozen blueberries

Maple-Butter Syrup:
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Beat egg in a medium bowl on high speed until fluffy. (A handheld beater works best for 1 egg.)
  2. Beat in remaining ingredients just until smooth.
  3. Grease griddle with butter and drop pancake batter by 1/4 cup. Sprinkle blueberries in freshly dropped pancakes and cook until puffed and dry around the edges. Turn and cook the other side until golden brown.
  4. To make syrup, put maple syrup in a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat. When warm, add in butter and stir to combine. Taste, and add more butter if you prefer. Serve with pancakes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Aussie Caramel Slice

I have been to Australia twice (thanks to my Aussie-hubby). And both times I couldn't get enough of this decadent little dessert. In the words of my mother-in-law who saw me baking this dessert tonight (over Skype)..."You do know the way to a man's heart!"

Australia is one cool country. If you haven't ever been, you really should go. Besides experiencing the fun Aussie culture, super-friendly people, and the beautiful beaches...the quaint, locally-owned bakeries are definitely worth exploring.

There are no chain-bakeries or restaurants down under (except for a few fast-foodies like McDonald's). Only local.

And, though I tasted many an Aussie dessert and pastry, the Caramel Slice always won. It's simple: shortbread-like crust, thick caramel filling, and dark chocolate topping.

This recipe comes from "The Essential Baking Cookbook." And it's pretty much perfect.

Aussie Caramel Slice
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Caramel Filling:
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Golden Syrup

Chocolate Topping:
5 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter (original recipe calls for 20 g or 3/4 oz. white veggie shortening)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 7x11" baking pan (I use a little smaller pan) with butter and then line with baking paper, leaving the paper hanging over on the two long sides.
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl, then mix in the coconut and sugar. Add the melted butter and stir through thoroughly. Press firmly into the baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly colored. (Because I use a smaller pan, it takes about 20-22 minutes to cook, as the base is a little thicker). Allow to cool.
  3. For the caramel filling, place all the ingredients into a small pot over low heat. Slowly bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly (so the caramel sauce doesn't caramelize on the bottom of the pot and leave you with brown burnt bits floating in the caramel). Gently boil and stir constantly for 4-5 minutes, or until lightly caramelized. Quickly pour over the cooled base, spreading evenly. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.
  4. For the chocolate topping, place the dark chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. Half fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and place the bowl with the chocolate over the pot, making sure the boiling water doesn't touch the bowl. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter have melted. Spread over the caramel. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until set. (Usually takes more than 20 minutes to set).
  5. Lift the slice from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut into pieces with a hot, dry knife.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Classic Chicken Cordon Bleu

I have two splurges in life right now.'s not shopping sprees, not trips to the salon, and definitely not traveling to far-off places. (Don't get me wrong, these would be fantastic...they just aren't budget-friendly).

My two splurges are simple: tasty food and working out. Guess it's for the best that they go good food isn't always the healthiest option!

This recipe calls for Gruyere cheese and Panko bread crumbs. The Gruyere gives the cordon bleu an unmatched creaminess, and the Panko crumbs create an extra crispy outside.

My good friend Heidi of Internecipes, inspired me to cook chicken cordon bleu, as we had some delicious cordon bleu at her house a few weeks ago.  I found this recipe online, and it got great reviews. I did make some substitutions to the original recipe by Tyler Florence.

This yummy chicken cordon bleu has officially joined our "splurge" list. (But I will have to make a special trip to the gym tonight. The cheese and bread crumbs are definitely not low-cal!)

Chicken Cordon Bleu (Tyler Florence)
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
4 slices ham
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (found in the Asian section of your grocery store)
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lay the chicken breast between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet (or a rolling pin), gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove the top sheet of plastic and lay 1 slice of ham neatly over the top to cover the breast and sprinkle a quarter of the cheese over the ham. Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll up tight like a jellyroll inside the plastic wrap. Squeeze the log gently to seal and twist both ends tight to form a nice log. Repeat with remaining chicken. (This part became a little difficult for me, so I ended up rolling each like a log, tucking the ends under, and using a toothpick to secure).
  3. Put the flour in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Mix the bread crumbs with thyme, garlic, kosher salt, pepper and melted butter. The butter will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and season, so the flour, eggs and the crumbs are all seasoned.
  5. Set up your dipping station: 1) flour bowl 2) egg mixture 3) bread crumbs 4) greased baking pan. Remove any plastic wrap from the chicken roulades, and lightly dip the chicken in the flour, dip in the egg mixture, and gently coat with bread crumbs.
  6. Put chicken roulades into the greased baking pan.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and cooked through. (My chicken needed about 40 minutes - they were pretty big chicken breasts and I probably didn't flatten them as much as I should have).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pan-Seared Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms & Onions

My husband had waited long enough. It was due time for steak night. We used to eat steak once a week, but decided we both needed to eat a little we cut back for a while. Needless to say, he was really excited last night!

This is a simple topping for a pan-seared steak, but it seems to take it to the next level. For an extra special treat, I cooked my hubby's fav steak - ribeye - and for me, a tenderloin.

Pan-Seared Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms & Onions
steaks of your choice (ribeye, tenderloin, sirloin, etc.)
3 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper
onion powder
garlic powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 oz. pack of mushrooms (baby portabellas are delicious, but any mushy will do)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (you could also use shallots)
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

  1. Season steaks with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder.
  2. Put butter in nonstick pan and heat to medium-high. Add steaks to pan and once there's a nice sear, turn down the heat to medium (so you don't burn the bottom of the steak). Cook to your preferred doneness (roughly 3-4 minutes per side, depending on how thick the steak is), turn up the heat again and sear the other side. Then, bring the heat down and let the steak finish cooking.
  3. Remove steaks and tent with foil.
  4. At the same time, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to another nonstick pan or skillet, bring to medium heat. Add mushrooms and onions, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Saute for 2-3 minutes, until onions begin to get translucent. Add 2 tablespoons butter and continue sauteing for another 5 minutes. 
  5. Add balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and stir. Season lightly with more salt. Taste, and add more of the vinegar or Worcestershire, if needed. Continue cooking until onions are translucent and mushrooms are soft.
  6. Serve steaks with sauteed mushrooms and onions on top.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Best Banana Chocolate Chip Bread Ever

If you've had a baby recently (where I live) or come over to my house, you have most likely tasted this banana bread. It is my mom's recipe, and though I am very biased, I do think it's THE best banana-chocolate chip bread...EVER!

The bread is so moist, with a deep, rich banana flavor...and then there are the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips studded throughout, oh my!

I'm counting down...65 more minutes until that beautiful loaf comes out of the oven. And I'll most likely eat half the loaf - I'm not kidding - before my hubby gets home.


Mama Julie's Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
3 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease loaf pan.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, sift the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt).
  3. In a mixing bowl, mix the butter, bananas, eggs and vanilla together on medium speed. You will see little chunks of the softened butter in the batter, and that's OK. 
  4. A little at a time, pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing as you go and scraping the sides of the bowl.
  5. Once combined, fold in the chocolate chips.
  6. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake for 55 - 65 minutes, until a toothpick comes out of the center clean, and the edges of the loaf start to pull away from the pan. (Mine seem to take about an hour to bake).
  7. Once out of the oven, spread 1/2 tablespoon of butter over the top of the hot loaf. Makes 1 loaf or 2 mini loaves. Eat with a big, cold glass of milk!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Creamy Gnocchi

If you haven't ever had gnocchi, you are seriously missing out. Soft, puffy pasta dumplings that seem to melt in your mouth. If you are a texture-person, you will love this recipe. This is my husband's favorite pasta sauce right now. It's very similar to the mushroom-pancetta pasta, but we altered it based on what we had in the house.

Creamy Gnocchi
1 package potato gnocchi
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
5 oz. sliced mushrooms, rinsed and dried (or 1 small pack)
4 strips of uncooked bacon, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper, to taste
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to serve
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (optional)

1. Put butter and olive oil in a large nonstick pan, and heat over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened.
2. Add the bacon to the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the white wine and cook until the alcohol has cooked off, about 1-2 minutes.
4. Pour in the heavy cream. Stir well and bring down to medium low heat. Cook gently for another 8 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
5. Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil and cook gnocchi according to box directions. (Usually gnocchi only takes 2-3 minutes to cook). Drain and put the gnocchi into the sauce pan and combine well.
6. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
7. Sprinkle with fresh parmesan cheese and parsley, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Simple Chocolate Frosting

This chocolate frosting is really, really easy...but very, very good. If you are a seasoned baker, you'll look at this recipe and think, "Why did she post such a simple recipe?" Well, I just find there are so many recipes out there for frosting, it can be overwhelming choosing one.

Here's one I used on cupcakes today, and the frosting was definitely the highlight. I bet it would work on top of a yellow cake, or even on sugar cookies. This frosts 12 cupcakes.

Simple Chocolate Frosting (America's Test Kitchen)
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Bring cream to a simmer in a pot.
2. Place chocolate in a medium-size bowl, pour hot cream over chocolate and cover with foil for 5 minutes.
3. Whisk chocolate and cream together until smooth, cover with plastic wrap and cool in refridgerator for 45 minutes - 1 hour.
4. Spoon chocolate into standing mixer bowl and whip on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until chocolate forms soft peaks. Spread or pipe chocolate on top of cupcakes, cake or cookies.