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The Kids Cook Monday – Chicken and Green Beans with a Twist

Tired of coating your chicken in plain old bread crumbs?? Did you know that you can bread your chicken with just about anything that crumbles? So, leave your bread crumbs in the pantry and pull out a box of Cheez-Its instead.

I have to admit, I’ve been on a major Cheez-It binge lately. I don’t recommend this diet to any health-minded individual. Nor am I proud of the quantity of Cheez-Its I’ve consumed in the past few weeks. They’re irresistible to me. If only my local grocery store would ban me from buying them. (But thank goodness they don’t!)

But, back to the chicken. If you can crumble it, you can coat your chicken with it. Cheez-Its, crackers, potato chips, croutons, cereal…the possibilities are infinite. Like Doritos? Smash them up and coat your chicken with ’em. More of a corn chip fan? Go crazy with crushed corn chips. Another fun option? It turns out that those crunchy French-fried onion pieces, which you’ve probably seen on green bean casseroles, make a delicious chicken breading too. Have fun and liven up your chicken. It’s a great way to get the family excited about a simple baked chicken dinner. Follow the same procedure you would to coat your chicken in bread crumbs; season with salt and pepper, dip in an egg wash, coat with the crumbs, and bake.

On the side, we’re serving another dish with a twist. Bird’s Eye makes a fantastic frozen vegetable dish, called Beans with a Twist. It’s a super tasty combination of green beans, wax beans, baby carrots, and dried cranberries, in an herbed butter sauce. To Bird’s Eye’s credit, it is absolutely delicious and free from the unnecessary preservatives or sweeteners which are so commonplace in many other prepared foods. I’ve bought this dish for myself on several occasions and always enjoy it.

Recently, while rummaging through the freezer, the kids found one of my packages of these tasty veggies and requested to have it with their dinner. The possessive side of me wanted to save them for myself, but what mom is going to deny their child’s passionate request for veggies?? The kids loved the simple veggie dish. So, along with our chicken, I decided to serve our own homemade version of Beans with a Twist.

This entire recipe is full of opportunities to get kids involved in the kitchen. Children of all ages are expert food crushers. In fact, my experience has been that toddlers come preprogrammed with impressive destruction abilities. The best way to go about crushing your Cheez-Its (or other desired breading) is to place the quantity in a ziploc and let the kids go to town. Running a rolling pin over the bag or smashing with a child-safe mallet or fists are all effective methods.

Cutting the soft, steamed green beans is another excellent, kid-friendly task for tonight’s recipe. I wasn’t the only one to receive new cutlery for Christmas. The boys received a set of child-friendly, but effectively sharp, plastic knives. Made by Curious Chef (available on Amazon.com), these knives are not toys, but rather real, functional kitchen tools for little chefs. Before using, we reviewed a few basic knife safety rules, such as watching out for fingers and I modeled how to safely hold the green bean with one hand, while cutting with the other. Then, under close supervision, the boys took care of chopping the beans. My boys will be cutting julienne and brunoise vegetables in no time! A regular plastic dinnerware knife would also make an appropriate cutting tool for most young chefs.

So, join in on the Kids Cook Monday fun and get cooking as a family. And if you don’t have any pint-sized helpers of your own, borrow someone else’s kids or simply awaken your inner child. Just be careful with those plastic knives!

Breaded and Baked Chicken with a Twist

Ingredients

  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups Cheez-Its, crushed (substitute crushed potato chips, French-fried onions, chips, or other crackers, if desired)
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten egg mixture. Then, press the chicken into the crushed cracker crumbs to coat. Place the coated chicken in a baking dish and bake until fully cooked. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken. My large chicken breasts took about 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Chicken is fully cooked when it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

Green Beans and Carrots with a Twist

Inspired by Bird’s Eyes’ Beans with a Twist

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Green Beans and Wax Beans, steamed until tender, but crisp
  • 1 1/2 cups Baby Carrots, steamed
  • 1/3 cup Dried Cranberries
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 cloves Roasted Garlic, smashed into a paste*
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Fresh Chives, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

*Click here to see my photo guide on How to Roast Garlic.

Directions

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the roasted garlic paste and stir until well combined. Add the beans, carrots, dried cranberries, and chives. Toss to coat with the roasted garlic butter. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Guinness-Braised Beef

I was suffering from a major case of the lazies yesterday. I could try to blame it on being pregnant, in the same way that I gave myself full permission to wear sweatpants every single day since the day I got that positive test. But, the truth is that sometimes a case of the lazies just strikes out of nowhere and you can either fight it all day or just submit. Thankfully, this particular strain of lazies seems to have been contagious. The boys were equally content to snuggle on the couch with me for a good part of the day, watching an endless marathon of Nick Jr. and Disney programming, which would have been more tolerable if Nick Jr. weren’t airing the video of Big Time Rush’s, Big Night, during every single commercial break. I’ve heard the song so many times now, that it’s become the ongoing soundtrack in my mind and I’m almost convinced I actually like it. DJ, take me away… At one point, I muttered aloud about the song being stuck in my head, to which my three-year-old attempted to manually remove it from my mouth. Kids are so hysterically literal.

But, the family needs to eat, even on lazy days; perhaps, especially, on lazy days. Gathering the motivation to prepare a meal was a challenge, but I had the perfect, sleepy winter-day meal in mind. I’d picked up a tray of stew beef earlier in the week, with only a framework of a plan in mind; some sort of slow cooked beef over hot buttered noodles. Perhaps a stew of sorts? Only, I’m not really a big fan of stews. I love the tender chunks of meat, but can totally skip the thickened broth or the mushy carrots and potatoes which are typically found in a beef stews. Now, braised beef, on the other hand, with its equally tender chunks of meats and rich, comforting sauce, is an idea I can wrap my mouth around.

The actual preparation time for this recipe is minimal. The ingredient list is pleasantly restrained. The technique is simple. Once it’s in the oven, just sit back and let your house fill with the scent of warm, beefy goodness. We’ll start with some chunks of beef. Many grocery stores will sell packages of pre-cut meat labeled simply as Stew Beef. I used a package of lean, no external fat, stew beef. You can use just about any cut of beef, but tougher cuts, such as beef chuck or round work particularly well for braising. The beef is quickly browned on the stovetop, then combined with braising liquids, covered, and slow-cooked in the oven. Towards the end of the cooking time, we’ll throw in a bit of vegetables. I stuck with pearl onions and mushrooms, but you can adapt the recipe to your tastes by adding any variety of vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, green beans, or peas would all work nicely.

The end result is a comforting mix of tender chunks of beef coated in a thick, flavorful sauce served over hot buttered noodles. Perfect, lazy-day comfort food.

Guinness-Braised Beef

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Stew Beef
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 cup Guinness Draught (or additional beef broth)
  • 2 cups Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups Frozen Pearl Onions, defrosted
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Fresh Parsley, for garnish
  • Hot, Buttered Egg Noodles

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large oven-safe dutch oven pan over medium heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pan and cook for a few minutes to brown on all sides. (Do not overcrowd the pan. You want to beef to brown quickly in the oil. If necessary, brown the beef in batches.) In the pan, sprinkle the cooked beef with flour. Stir to evenly coat the beef in the flour. Cook for a minute or two. Add the beef stock and Guinness. Bring to a boil. Simmer for about two minutes. Cover the pan and place it on the middle rack in the oven. Cook for about 2 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking time, add the mushrooms and onions (or your vegetables of choice). Remove the cover during the last 15 minutes of cooking time to help the sauce to reduce and thicken. Remove from the oven and season with a good amount of salt and pepper, to taste.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve over hot, buttered egg noodles.

**Tip** If you do not have a large, oven-safe dutch oven pan, you can start the recipe in any pan, up to and including the simmering step, and then transfer the mixture to an oven-safe pan or baking dish. Use something with a tight-fitting lid or securely cover the dish with foil before placing it in the oven.

Broiled Salmon Bruschetta

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After weeks of overindulging in holiday treats, I’ve been craving a good healthy dose of fresh, nutritious fare. While this new year won’t be bringing any immediate weight loss goals for this expecting mom, I can certainly focus on improving nutrition and increasing my ratio of healthy foods to cookies and Cheez-Its. Oh, Cheez-Its, how I adore thee!


But, it’s still winter, and I yearn for heavy blankets and hearty foods during these chilly months. Salads and other light dishes just don’t fit the bill right now. As such, I decided on a hearty piece of broiled salmon for my main course. Full of healthy fats and flavor, it has the same satisfying effect as a nice piece of steak.

I decided to serve my salmon over a bed of fresh, garlic-sautéed spinach with just a bit of orzo pasta and parmesan cheese. Those of you who’ve taken on low-carb diets for the new year can easily eliminate the orzo for a perfect low-carb dinner option. A generous spoonful of fresh tomato and olive bruschetta topping adds a burst of Mediterranean flavors to the dish.

If salmon is not your fish of choice, you can easily substitute another type. Broiled sea bass or halibut would be delicious. Pan-seared or broiled shrimp or scallops would work nicely too!

Broiled Salmon over Sautéed Spinach and Orzo with Tomato and Olive Bruschetta Topping

Ingredients

For the Salmon:

  • 2 Salmon fillets (about 5 ounces each)
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

For the Spinach and Orzo:

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic, minced
  • 3 cups Baby Spinach
  • 1 cup Orzo, cooked according to package directions
  • 1/8 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper

For the Bruschetta Topping:

  • 1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Olives, chopped
  • 1/8 cup Capers
  • 1/8 cup Balsamic
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic, minced
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat broiler. Rub the salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and cook, several inches under the broiler, for about 8-10 minutes, until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees.

Meanwhile, prepare the spinach. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s wilted. Turn the heat down the low. Add the cooked orzo and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

To prepare the bruschetta topping, combine all ingredients in a small container with a tight fitting lid. Gently toss the mixture to combine.

To serve, place the broiled salmon over a bed of the sautéed spinach and orzo. Top with a generous spoonful of the bruschetta topping. Garnish with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Bonus: Serve your leftover bruschetta topping with slices of toasted bread.

Post Christmas Recovery and Recap

Well, the big day has passed. The carefully wrapped gifts have been enthusiastically unwrapped. The cookies, pies and festive dinners have been prepared and consumed, with minimal leftovers to speak of. New toys have been put through their paces and new clothes have been worn and washed. Our house guests and house pets have all made their way home and all that’s left is to launder the sheets and towels. It was a beautiful holiday filled with laughter, love, and smiles.

And now, things are gradually returning to normal. We’re slowly reclaiming the house from the holidays, sweeping up the pine tree needles, and finding places to stash the new toys. As much as I thrive on the Christmas festivities, I’m looking forward to a bit of normalcy. I’m ready to pack away the cookie sheets for a while and get back to our normal day-to-day cooking and routines.

I must admit, I’ve been feeling a bit of post-holiday indulgence remorse. I ate way too many cookies and slices of eggnog pie “for the baby”, which I’m pretty sure went straight to my hips instead. The measly remainder of holiday cookies have been officially exiled from the house and I’m looking forward to some light, nutritious meals for the sake of my hips. But speaking of the baby, we found out yesterday morning that we are expecting our third boy! Looks like my husband just formed himself a foursome for golf!

I’ll be whipping up some healthy new recipes soon. But first, here’s a quick recap of some of the goodies we enjoyed with our holiday guests.

We started on Christmas Eve Eve (does that make sense?) with a request from my brother-in-law for my Steak Bordelaise Pizza. I’ve shared this recipe for you before, back in my Pizza Dragons and Chairs of Stock post. I guess you can say this is one of my signature dishes. It’s sort of a steak dinner on a pizza crust. This is definitely not your run of the mill pizza. My pizza traditionalist father would be reluctant to call it a pizza at all, but we’re all big fans of the dish around here.

On Christmas Eve, I cooked up a Chicken Parmigiana dinner, complete with spaghetti and toasty hot garlic bread. I’ve been cooking Chicken Parmigiana on Christmas Eve in this house for many years now, long before my husband and I were married and long before this house was our house. I’ll give the Chicken Parm it’s own post with a proper recipe soon, but for now, you can take a look back at my recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana. My Chicken Parm follows the same basic recipe, only substituting breaded thin-cut or pounded chicken breasts for the eggplant. It’s a delicious meal that can be almost fully prepared ahead of time. It’s definitely a satisfying crowd pleaser!

On Christmas, we started with two easy appetizers of Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes with Basil Pesto on Baguette and Shrimp with Spicy Cocktail Sauce. You can find my recipe for Basil Pesto back in my Toasted Caprese Sandwich post. For the shrimp, simply boil large de-veined shrimp for a few minutes until they curl and turn bright pink. Or, take the easy route, as I do, and buy a large bag of frozen, peeled, tail-on shrimp and allow them to defrost in the fridge overnight. Make a quick, delicious cocktail sauce by combining about a cup of ketchup with a healthy dose of horseradish (a few heaping tablespoons), a splash of Worchestershire Sauce, splash of Lemon Juice, and splash of Tabasco.

Our Christmas dinner featured Roasted Beef Tenderloin with two sauces. I trimmed and tied a 5 1/2 pound beef tenderloin, rubbed it with olive oil, generously sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted in a 425 degrees oven for about 45 minutes. Smaller roasts will cook quicker. On the side, I served a Horseradish Cream Sauce (made with sour cream, a generous amount of horseradish, dash of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper) and a Red Wine Mushroom Sauce, which was simply an adaptation of the Bordelaise Sauce used on my Steak Bordelaise Pizza; a little less wine, slightly less reduced, with sauteed mushrooms added at the end.

On the side, we enjoyed my Cheddar Garlic Biscuits, Spicy Utica Greens, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts. Every bit was enjoyed. The brussel sprouts even managed to surprise a few apprehensive diners. For dessert, we enjoyed massive platters of cookies and Chocolate Eggnog Pudding Pie. Overall, it was a simple meal to pull off for a large group, which gave me plenty of downtime to enjoy with the kids and our guests.

It was another truly wonderful Christmas season, topped off by the revelation of our third baby boy! We are so very thankful for all of our blessings. Stay tuned for new recipes, coming up soon!

Choco-Cherry-Coconut Bars

We’re still working on building our Christmas cookie collection over here. Shamefully, I think I’m eating as many cookies as I’m saving for cookie platters. I have a sneaking suspicion that my weigh-in at my next prenatal appointment is going to be a shocker. Do you think I can blame it on the baby?? A wild holiday growth spurt, perhaps?

Though I may be taste-testing an excess of these holiday goodies, I’ve got to say they’re being thoroughly enjoyed. And if you’re going to indulge in holiday treats, these next cookies make it worth it! This recipe comes from my mom, whose recipe card notes that it originally came from a package of Durkee coconut. I’m not sure Durkee even makes coconut anymore, but my family has been making these delicious cookie bars for as long as I can remember. How can you go wrong with a mix of chocolate, cherries, and coconut? The best part is that these are cookie bars, which means you just press the dough into a baking dish, bake, and slice. No floured tables, no rolling, no cookie-cutting, no decorating. This is my kind of simple recipe!

I made a few tiny adjustments to the recipe, mostly related to the quantities of the fillings and the baking time. The original recipe also calls for chopped walnuts, which I omitted since one of my cookies recipients is allergic to nuts. If nut-allergies aren’t an issue in your home, go ahead and throw in about a half-cup of chopped walnuts! Finally, I like using a disposable aluminum baking dish for this recipe, since it gives you a little more flexibility in popping out the baked dough for slicing.

Choco-Cherry-Coconut Bars

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 2 sticks Butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 3/4 cup Chocolate Chips
  • 3/4 cup Sweetened Flaked Coconut
  • 1/2 cup Marashino Cherries, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13×9 inch baking dish with vegetable shortening. In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another minute or two, until well-blended. Gradually blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips, coconut, and cherries. Press the mixture into the prepared baking dish in an even layer. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the baking dish. Then, carefully invert over a cutting board. Make 4 cuts lengthwise and 8 cuts across to form 32 cookie bars.

Makes 32 Cookie Bars


Sweet Potato Bisque with Pan-Seared Scallops and Bacon

Confession: I’m a digger. Give me a pint of cookie dough ice cream and I will inadvertently eat the entire container as I dig and search for those luscious little bits of cookie dough. Just one more bite always uncovers the hint of another piece. So, I dig and eat and work with the patience of an archeologist at an excavation site, gently removing each glorious piece of cookie dough. I get lost in my work, until suddenly I’m holding an empty container. I feel both ashamed and proud simultaneously. I’m a digger.

So, you may imagine the little problem I had with those brownies I recently shared with you; the ones I so cleverly filled with bits of halloween candy; those bits of halloween candy which taunted me into consuming bite after bite after bite of chewy, fudgey brownies. I would have stopped. Really, I would have. But then I’d catch a glimpse of something; a piece of Twix, perhaps. One more bite. But wait…what’s that? Gooey, melted Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, behind which hid a few caramel-coated peanuts; remnants of a chunk of Snickers. And that’s how the brownies disappeared, one focused bite at a time.The baby in my belly is most thankful for the sweet treat.

But this post isn’t about my small digging problem. Though it is about sweets; sweet, sweet, sweet potatoes. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I’ve got sweet potatoes on the brain. And my brain was convinced that it was the perfect time for a spicy sweet potato bisque. I know. You’re probably thinking that this girl sure makes a lot of soups for someone who claims to be largely indifferent to soups. Perhaps I enjoy soup even more than I realize.

When it comes to creamy, bisque-style soups, I’ve got a little weakness for serving them with a bit of fresh seafood showcased in the center. (See my recipe for Chilled Avocado Soup and Crab Cake with Chipotle Remoulade.) A bit of crunch in the form of crispy bacon, croutons, seeds or nuts never hurts too. These little touches of flavor and texture turn a simple bisque into a simply elegant meal. I’m pairing my sweet potato bisque with a few seared sea scallops and some crispy applewood-smoked bacon for a fantastic autumn meal.

Spiced Sweet Potato Bisque

Ingredients

  • 4 large Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 medium Onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic, minced
  • 5-6 slices Bacon*
  • 3 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 cup Half and Half
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon Ginger
  • Dash of Nutmeg
  • Dash (or two) of Cayenne

*If available, I recommend using applewood smoked bacon. It’s nitrate free and the flavor is fantastic.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash the sweet potatoes and pierce the skin several times with a fork. Place the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for about 90 minutes until fork-tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a large wide-bottomed saucepan or stockpot, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside for garnishing the soup. Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease. Add the onion and garlic to the bacon grease and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are tender and slightly translucent. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the sweet potato and add it to the pan. Discard the skins. Add the chicken broth. Simmer the sweet potatoes in the broth for a few minutes. Then, allow the mixture to cool slightly. Blend the mixture until completely smooth. (An immersion blender is the most convenient tool for the job, but a regular blender or food processor will work fine. Just be careful when transferring the warm mixture to a blender or food processor.) Return the blended mixture to the saucepan. Add the half and half and stir until well blended. Add the salt and seasonings. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve warm.

Note: Depending on the size of the sweet potatoes and your desired soup consistency, you may need to add more or less chicken broth and half and half.

For the Pan-Seared Scallops: To cook the scallops, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium to medium-high heat. Pat the scallops dry and season with a little salt. (About a pound of scallops will serve four people.) Place the scallops in the pan. Let them cook for about 2-3 minutes, without disturbing. Once they’ve formed a golden-brown crust, turn the scallops over. Cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side, or until fully cooked through. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the scallops.

To Serve: Pour some of the warm soup into a wide bowl. It shouldn’t be too deep. Place several seared scallops in the center of the soup. Top with the crispy bacon reserved from the soup.

The Gourmand Mom has a Bun in the Oven

You know how real estate agents recommend throwing a batch of cookies in the oven just before an open house to fill the house with a warm, welcoming scent? Well, they should scratch that idea and throw these in the oven instead. Perspective buyers will be practically licking the walls.

I’d originally planned on making apple cinnamon buns. Then, I ran across a recipe for pumpkin buns and the idea of an autumn harvest bun came to mind. I made a few adaptations to the pumpkin bun recipe, then whipped up a little apple, pear, and walnut filling; similar to a thickened pie filling. Next, I rolled the sweet pumpkin dough with the apple, pear, and walnut filling, baked them, and drizzled the whole batch with a sugary glaze.

The entire process takes a little time, but the result is well worth it. You’re not going to get buns like this out of any can. And just wait until your home is filled with the aroma of warm cinnamon, pumpkin, and apples. Who needs seasonal scented candles anyway??

These buns are moist, doughy, and bursting with fall flavors; an autumn harvest, indeed! The best part is that the reheat really well the next day. So, make them a day ahead of time and reheat in the morning for a special breakfast treat! A few seconds in the microwave should do the trick.

Autumn Harvest Buns

Ingredients

For the Buns:

  • 1 packet Dry Active Yeast
  • 1/2 cup Warm Water (about 110 degrees)
  • 3 3/4 cups Flour (plus additional flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 1/2 stick Butter, melted
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup Pumpkin Puree

For the Filling:

  • 3/4 cup Water
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 large Granny Smith Apple, diced
  • 1 Pear, diced
  • 3 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Cornstarch
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup Walnuts, chopped

For the Icing:

  • 3/4 cup Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Water, plus more if needed
  • 1/4 tsp Vanilla

Directions

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to combine. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the milk, butter, egg, and yeast mixture. Add the pumpkin puree. Stir until well combined. The dough should be sticky, but manageable.

Place the dough onto a generously floured surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, gradually incorporating more flour until the dough is smooth and elastic. Periodically, add more flour to your work surface, as necessary, to prevent the dough from sticking.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the kneaded dough into the bowl. Cover with a towel and allow it to rest at room temperature for about an hour, until the dough has double in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine the water and lemon juice. As you dice the apple and pear, place the pieces into the water mixture. Add the cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toss to combine. Place the mixture in a pan over medium/medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the liquid thickens and the fruit becomes tender, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the walnuts. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a small baking sheet with cooking spray.

After the dough has risen, remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 10″x12″. Spread the fruit mixture over the dough.

Then, starting with the long end, tightly roll the dough. Cut the dough into 1″ slices. Place the slices onto the prepared baking sheet. Pack them in, if necessary. Let the buns rest for another 20 minutes before baking.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes.

As they cool, prepare the glaze. Combine the confectioners sugar with the water and vanilla extract. Add additional water, a few drops at a time, until the glaze has the consistency of a syrup. After the buns have cooled for about 10 minutes, drizzle with the glaze. Serve warm.

**The dough portion of the recipe is adapted from the Cooking Light recipe for Pumpkin-Cinnamon Streusel Buns, found here.

One more little thing… I’ve been keeping a teeny-tiny secret from you all. I’m extremely delighted to announce that I’ve got a bun of a different sort baking in the oven. Our third baby is due to arrive early May 2011!

Coming in May 2011!

Woolverton Inn Lemon-Almond Biscotti

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I can’t remember how I fell upon the Woolverton Inn.  It may have been during my online search for a wedding venue. I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that I fell in love with it instantly. A wedding at the Woolverton would have been beyond-words lovely.  Though we chose to have our wedding at a beautiful historic house closer to our home, I never forgot about the Woolverton Inn. Many times, I visited their website and daydreamed about spending some time there. We finally had the opportunity in September, 2006. It was our first wedding anniversary. I was newly pregnant with our first son.  We had just announced our pregnancy at a surprise birthday party for my father. We had so much to celebrate. And the Woolverton Inn couldn’t have been a more perfect place to celebrate.

The Woolverton Inn in Stockton, NJ

Set in the midst of rolling hills, along the Delaware River, the Woolverton Inn was a tranquil escape from the rush of day to day life. The main building is a beautiful 1792 stone manor house, comfortably situated on 10 acres of land. A handful of private cottages are steps away. The grounds are peppered with beautiful gardens, frog filled ponds, and large open pastures with grazing sheep.

Tranquility

We stayed in one of the cottages, the Sojourn Loft, which featured a fireplace and a second level with jacuzzi tub and hammock. The featherbed on the mattress was so amazingly comfortable, that my husband later contacted the inn to order me one as a birthday gift.  My husband got an in-room massage on the first day and we spent another day strolling around nearby New Hope.  The surrounding area is full of interesting things to do, including wine tours, antiquing, hiking, and hot-air ballooning.  The inn even offers a package, which includes a bike rental and gourmet picnic lunch. There are many wonderful dining options in the surrounding towns and breakfast at the inn is indescribable. Seriously, you have to visit this place! I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Upstairs in the Sojourn Loft

I have so many wonderful memories from our short stay at the Woolverton. But one of the things which left an indelible impression on me was the biscotti! To be honest, I have no memories of tasting biscotti before the Woolverton.  I’m not certain if it’s that I never had it before then or whether their biscotti was just so delicious that it erased any other memory. (I’m inclined to believe it is the latter.) They kept a jar full of the fresh, sweet treat in the dining room at all times. I lost count on the number of biscotti I consumed during our time there. I apologize to the other guests for taking more than my fair share. I couldn’t help it.

As I was watching my son eat a biscotti the other day, I was instantly drawn back to the Woolverton Inn. I thought about the biscotti for a few days. Then, I started looking up biscotti recipes. Finally, I decided to send the inn a message to see if they’d be willing to share their recipe with me.  And, they were!! I am very delighted to share this wonderful recipe with you!

Lemon Almond Biscotti

The Woolverton Inn’s Lemon-Almond Biscotti

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½  teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole blanched almonds

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend.

Add the flour and almonds and stir until a dough forms.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead a few times; dough will be soft.

Divide in two and roll each into a log about 2 inches in diameter.

Transfer logs to sheet pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.

Carefully cut into 1/2 inch slices with a serrated knife.

Place slices on pan and bake again for another 20 minutes.

These keep nicely in a cookie jar.

Biscotti Dough

Rolled Biscotti Log

Biscotti after first baking

Sliced biscotti

Biscotti after second baking

Watch out for sneaky babies.

A note about blanched almonds…

This recipe calls for 1 cup of whole blanched almonds. Blanched almonds are simply almonds with the skin removed. I searched online and found the same procedure for blanching almonds outlined in several places. Place shelled almonds in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the almonds.  Allow them to sit for a minute. Drain.  Rinse. Pinch the skins off with your fingers. Sounded easy enough. In actuality, it was a much more time-consuming process than I’d anticipated.  On my first attempt, the skins did not slip off at all.  I repeated the process, allowing them to sit in boiling water for another minute.  This time, some of the skins slipped off easily, others came off with a little effort, and some skins remained stubbornly in place.  I am not sure if the freshness of the shelled almonds has anything to do with it. For curiosity’s sake, I’ll probably try blanching almonds again to experiment with freshly shelled almonds and alternate procedures. But, in the mean time, most grocery stores carry blanched almonds slivers, which will work wonderfully for this recipe!

Enjoy!

A Runner’s Victory Feast

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Yesterday morning, my sister and I ran our first 5k ever! We ran for a cause that is close to our hearts, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  You see, 30 years and some months ago, when my mother was pregnant with my youngest sister, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  As a mother, I can not imagine the choices she was faced with. With two young daughters at home and a baby growing inside her, she was faced with risking her life to preserve the health of my unborn sister or choosing her own health, at a cost of my sister’s life. Against her doctor’s advice, she chose my sister’s life above her own. She is my hero. Her doctors treated the cancer as best as they could, with the baby’s life in mind. But, the cancer spread too rapidly.  My sister was born two months premature. Seven months later, my mother passed away. Today, my sister thrives, a testament to a mother’s love for a baby she hadn’t even met.

My family had other encounters with breast cancer after my mother’s passing. It touches so, so many lives. And so, yesterday morning, my sister and I tied on our running sneaks and hit the pavement. We ran in honor of those we’ve lost and in celebration of those who have survived. We ran for our aunts, and cousins, and sister, and friends. We ran for our lives.  We ran for the lives of our future daughters and granddaughters. We ran for everyone whose life has been touched by breast cancer.

A few months ago, it was a challenge for me to run half a mile. But, yesterday, fueled by the power of our cause, we were victorious. We certainly didn’t set any records for our lightening fast speed, but we ran that course with everything we had.

Today I offer you two of the recipes from yesterday’s victory feast.  Serve with a glass of your celebratory beverage of choice. Cheers to heroes and life!

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

My dad is a pizza traditionalist. In his opinion, the only things which belong on pizza are tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and the standard list of meat and veggie toppings. Sorry, Dad…I have to heartily disagree with you on this one. I actually went through a phase where I turned all my favorite meals into pizzas; think Steak Bordelaise, Shrimp Scampi, and Chicken Marsala in pizza form. I’ll save those recipes for another day though.  Today, we get our pizza and wings in the same bite! This recipe calls for hot sauce and bleu cheese dressing.  I strongly recommend Frank’s RedHot and Marie’s Super Bleu Cheese Dressing (It has 25% more bleu cheese, so you know it’s good!).  This is a very hearty pizza, so be sure to use a thick pizza crust!

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Chicken Breasts
  • 1/2 cup Celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 12″ Prepared Pizza Dough, thick crust
  • 3/4 cup Hot Sauce (Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 2/3 cup Bleu Cheese Dressing (Marie’s Super Bleu Cheese Dressing)
  • 1/4 cup Crumbled Bleu Cheese
  • 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 25-30 minutes. Once chicken is cool, cut or pull the chicken into small pieces. Toss chicken and celery in 1/2 cup of the Frank’s Redhot Sauce. In another bowl, combine bleu cheese dressing with 1/4 cup Frank’s Redhot Sauce (add more to make it extra spicy).  Spread sauce onto pizza dough. Top with chicken and celery mixture, discarding any excess hot sauce. Sprinkle with bleu cheese crumbles. Top with shredded mozzarella.  Bake in a 375 degrees oven for approximately 15 minutes until the pizza is hot and melty.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting.

Steak Sandwiches with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms and Gruyere

Sauteed Wild Mushrooms

Typically, I make my steak sandwiches with caramelized onions and gorgonzola, but since we’ve already covered the pizza with bleu cheese, I decided to make a different steak sandwich variation, using sauteed wild mushrooms and gruyere. For this recipe, I use skirt steak, which is easily my favorite steak for sandwiches and quesadillas. Generally, skirt steak is known for being one of the toughest cuts of steak.  Color me crazy, but it always strikes me as being tender.  The key is to cook it quickly at high heat and slice it thinly against the grain. Prepared properly, skirt steak makes a great sandwich steak, because it comes apart easily when you bite into it, eliminating that awful steak sandwich situation.  You know…the situation when you bite into your sandwich, but can’t get through the steak and then a big slice of steak comes falling out and slaps you on the chin. (Does that happen to everyone or is it just me??)  Anyway, skirt steak is the way to go, but if you can’t find skirt steak, then flank steak makes a good substitution.

Ingredients

  • 1 Loaf of French Bread (preferably a batard, which is wider than a baguette)
  • 1 Skirt Steak (about 1/2 pound)
  • 2 cups Wild Mushrooms, sliced (cremini, shitake, oyster…)
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1 Tbsp Butter (optional, for sandwich)
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place skirt steak on a baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Thinly slice the steak against the grain. **If preparing the sandwich immediately, turn heat down to 375 degrees after cooking the steak.

For the mushrooms, melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a sautee pan. Add mushrooms and cook over medium heat for few minutes.  The mushrooms will begin to release their liquids. Continue cooking and stirring until most of the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms turn a golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice batard in half lengthwise. Spread 1 Tbsp of butter onto the bottom piece.  Top with sliced steak and sauteed mushrooms. Cover with shredded cheeses.  Replace top half of bread.  Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until heated through and cheeses are melted. Cut into 2-4 pieces.

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