Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adventures in Baking and a Very Hungry Caterpillar..nom, nom, nom!

Once more into the kitchen to see if I can take on the challenge! I received a phone call from a friend of a friend who was looking for cookies for her child's birthday party.  Well of course cookies ARE my specialty so I was happy that someone remembered that.  Haha!  This lady didn't just want birthday cookies, she wanted sugar cookies.  And she didn't just want sugar cookies, oh no! She wanted to e-mail a photo of EXACTLY what she was looking for! OK, I love a challenge, so bring it!

Hahahaha! Silly Baker!! What was I thinking?!  Oh right, I'm a kitchen wizard, lol!  What I got was not what I was expecting.  Apparently, another cookie baker/blogger had at one time, made these adorable sugar cookies that were based on the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. It's a very sweet story all done in water colors.  Ok, so how hard could it be to find some cookie cutters, bake a delicious sugar cookie and make it happen? So of course I promised her the cookies and I wouldn't disappoint!

Let's start with the cookie baker/blogger who had apparently abandoned her blog 2 years ago and had over 100 requests for those cookies. I scoured the internet trying to find her, all to no avail.  Do you see a business opportunity? I sure did!  An exhaustive search of the internet revealed that while there is a caterpillar cookie cutter on the market, there is no caterpillar cookie cutter for THIS caterpillar.  And while I found a lot of other folks out there baking and selling cookies based on this story, none of them even closely resembled what my client was looking for. So a little research was definitely in order!

Right here, let me give a BIG SHOUT OUT to Bake at 350(blogger& sugar cookie maven) and University of Cookie  where I spent an exhaustive amount of time reading and watching tutorial videos until I had the confidence to get started. A million Thank You's!

What I discovered was that sometimes you have to make your own cookie cutter and sometimes you can have one custom made.  In this case, I decided to make my own and use a technique I learned at University of Cookie for when you have to cut the dough by hand.

I also learned that making Royal Icing, piping and flooding isn't nearly as hard or scary as I thought.  Gel colors, while they get a bad rap, don't really make the icing taste bad if you make a good tasting icing! However, the cookie should always be the star of the show so make sure it tastes delicious!

Most importantly, remember, it is just a cookie!  Yes, people will oooh! and aaah! over how it looks but it's not life or death, it's fun!


So somewhere between making the dough and seeing my caterpillar begin to come to life, creativity kicked in.  Why just ice the cookie when I could actually make it look like the watercolor paintings in the book?  Ah-ha!  Now I was on to something! And oh! by the way...don't forget all the fruits!  That was one hungry caterpillar!

In the end, I was pretty pleased with my results. I'd have to say that this was perhaps one of my most challenging cookie adventures but now I am hooked!  It's a great tasting, sturdy cookie that looks fabulous and I am ready to take on other characters but I have a feeling that this Very Hungry Caterpillar will be the show stopper for a long time to come!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Easy Empanads, Ole'!!

There isn't much that I don't love about an easy way to make something that appears to be either complicated or calorie laden!  So WOW! was I happy to come across an easy recipe to make Empanadas. Y'know those delectible little Latin hand-pies that are usually fried and stuffed with savory goodness!  These were so easy and NOT fried, that my mind was racing around thinking of all the variations I could make with these babies while I was still in the throws of assembling my filling, The other fabulous thing about these little morsels is that most people have the ingredients on hand or some variation and pie dough is the easiest thing to throw together if you don't have pre-made dough on hand!

I served these up with some Turkey Chili, yellow rice and all the fixin's. Let me say I impressed myself!

I had a rotisserie chicken hanging out in my refrigerator-shout out to something I read on Pinterest, that a rotisserie chicken is cheaper than buying raw chicken you have to cook yourself and costs about the same as a frozen pizza.  So now, rotisserie chicken is permanently on my shopping list.  I remove the skin and the dog gets the left overs! Win-win! So I shredded and chopped one half of the chicken(skin removed) into a large bowl. I added 3/4c. of garlic-lime salsa (you can use any kind you like), 1 small can of green chilis and about 1c. of finely shredded Mexican Cheese blend.

 While I had all this going on, a little salsa music in the background, I also had 2 boxes of pre-made pie dough coming to room temperature on the counter.  I mixed the chicken and condiments in the bowl and then got out a 3" wide glass (my only round cookie cutter was scalloped).  I floured the counter top and rolled the pie dough out to about 1/8" thickness and began cutting my circles.  Then I put a scant t. of the chicken mixture on each one.  I used an empanada maker, but you could just fold the circles in half and crimp with a fork (If the dough is too dry, wet the edges with a drop of water on your fingertip to make them seal closed).  Place the empanadas on a dry, non-stick cookie sheet.  Prick the top of each one with the tines of the fork and bake at 400* for about 12 minutes. They will be golden brown and the inside will be full of melty, savory chicken goodness. Nom, nom,nom....munchy good and gone in a flash!

So now you're probably thinking, "Hey she said something about chili"...and you're tight, I did. Everyone has a favorite chili recipe; some people like it with beans, some without, some like it 5 alarm and some prefer it more like a meat sauce!  I'll share my recipe for turkey chili with you but here's the secret...ssssshhhhh.....Toast the spices.  Yep, that is the secret to a really good chili no matter how you make it.

You will need:
2 generous T. of Chili Powder (3 if you don't like any heat at all)
1 generous T. of Chipotle Chili powder
1T. Cumin
1 generous t. Oregano
1 medium onion minced
5 cloves of garlic, minced OR 1 heaping T. of minced garlic from a jar
1/28oz. can of petite diced tomatoes w/juice
1 small can of tomato paste
2T. oil
approximately 2lbs of ground Turkey

Measure all your spices into a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.  Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the oil.  Then add the onions, stirring so they don't burn. Cook until just soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Now add the spices to the onion and garlic in the pan.  Stir and cook for about 2 minutes until fragrant but don't let it burn. Once the spices start to turn a little dark, add the ground turkey and continue to stir and break up until it is all browned.

Do not drain the turkey. Add the can of tomatoes with the juice and stir to distribute.  Next add the tomato paste, stirring until it is completely incorporated.  Simmer the chili for about an hour or 2 turning to low if necessary so it doesn't burn.

Serve with diced onions, cheddar cheese, red beans and hot sauce on the side.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Happy Fall! Caramel Apple Bread Pudding!!

I'm baaaack! Yes I know I have been gone for over a year but that does not mean that I haven't been cooking, baking and collecting new recipes!  I have had some interesting changes since my last post but it has all been good!

So let's get this party started!  It's fall!  Happy Day!  Warm afternoons and cool evenings, apples, pumpkins and cranberries!  Believe me I have recipes for it all!  As soon as October comes along, I start thinking about comfort foods and what I can make in my crock pot. I'm also looking to use up anything I have around the house that might be on it's last few days because I hate to waste anything.

Since we were talking about Thanksgiving that morning, I began to think about how I make my stuffing/dressing in the crock pot in order to reduce the fat and calories (more about that later).  Then I realized I had a few apples that had been hanging around the fruit bowl a little too long, a loaf of day old Italian bread and some eggs that had taken up residence in my garage refrigerator.  Oh yeah and I also some fat-free caramel apple dip in those little cups you pack in the lunch bags, that no one ever wanted in their lunch bag.  Ta-dah!  Caramel apple bread pudding!  Why not?  If it didn't work out, it would all get tossed anyway so using a little ingenuity, here's how it went down.

I got out a large bowl, peeled, sliced and diced the apples and tossed them with a little Fruit Fresh to keep them from turning brown. (I used a combination of 2 Granny Smiths, 1Golden Delicious and about 3 small Gala apples).  Then I sliced the bread into 1" slices, tore them up and tossed it in the bowl with the apples. I used a pair of tongs to really mix the bread and apples together, then I set it aside. 

I shamelessly have to recommend a product here. I own a Pampered Chef Batter Bowl. This thing is fabulous because, not only can you mix in it, it doubles as a measuring cup, has a pour spout and a lid! You can make a big batch of pancake mix and them store it in the fridge for quick breakfast during the week. I love it!   OK, so now I cracked eggs into the batter bowl, added 2 cans of evaporated milk, 1c. 2% milk, Cinnamon, Vanilla, Nutmeg, Ginger, Granulated Sugar and Brown sugar.  I mixed it really well with a wire whisk and then poured it over the bread and apples. Now I'm sure you're wondering, where's the fat? Where's the butter? There is none!!  Save those calories for later!

I use crock pot liners in my crock (best invention, ever!) and sprayed it with a little non-stick cooking spray.  I poured the whole wet, eggy bread mixture into the crock, covered it and let it bake for 3 hours on low.

At the end of the cooking time, I took 3 of those caramel cups and pulled their lids off.  I took a large tablespoon and made a few slits in the fabulous smelling bread pudding. I then scooped the caramel out and dropped it/drizzled it over the top of the hot pudding.  I left it on warm for about 10 minutes and put the lid back on, letting the caramel soak in.

It was delicious!  I served up scoops of the pudding with whipped cream on top.  There was enough to feed about 10 people from the one loaf of bread. My kids heated some up the next morning and ate it with butter and syrup.  Happy Eating!!


  •  loaf Italian or French bread or white country bread, cut into cubes
  • 1-1 ½  cup apples, peeled, cored and small diced (about 5-6)
  • 4-6 eggs or egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups milk (evaporated milk + 2% is fine!)*
  • Caramel sauce
  • Vanilla ice cream
Spray slow-cooker with non-stick cooking spray or  use a greased pot-liner.
In a large bowl, combine bread and apples. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, vanilla and milk until well combined. Pour mixture over bread. Transfer to slow cooker. Cook on high for 2 hours or low for 3 hours.
When pudding is done but still hot, poke holes in it with a spoon and drizzle caramel sauce over the top, letting it soak in. Spoon up with a dollop of whipped cream on top or serve in individual serving bowls and top with a drizzle of caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
* You may need an additional egg and some milk depending on the amount of bread and its density.  The mixture should be very wet and eggy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Fruit Pie

As soon as I start to see the price of peaches and blueberries become affordable and the fruit is actually fragrant, I know that summer is here. First I start seeing some of the produce in the supermarket but being the conscientious locavore that I am, I make my weekly trek out to the Chesterfield Berry Farm store on Hull Street in Mosely. Yes, I know that gas is precious but I really try and support my local farmer and business man whenever I can. I also know that I don't have to check what country the produce is from, just if it is from the Berry Farm or some other local farmer! If you haven't really thought it is worth the time or effort, you are really missing something special by just plopping some gassed fruit in a plastic bag at the market. Not only is the produce superior, you just cannot beat the taste! Even buying green beans that were picked that morning or peaches that were picked yesterday...Well you just have to try it for yourself and see that the taste and quality are worth the trip!

Sometimes though, the fruit ripens very quickly and then no one wants to eat it because it doesn't look pretty. Our solution is to make summer pie. I mean if all those peaches, nectarines and berries taste good on their own, wouldn't they be spectacular together?! And it certainly beats the heck out of fruit salad! You won't be sorry you turned on the oven even if it is 100 degrees outside!

Summer Pie

You will need:

2ea 9" Pie Crusts
1/2c. sugar
1/4c. flour
2-3T. cold butter
Summer fruits-Peaches (about 4), nectarines(about 1-2), plums(1-3), strawberries(about 1qt.), blueberries(about 2 handfuls), raspberries(about 1 small plastic container) Any combination of these fruits will do. Feel free to use more of one or less of another or omit something if you don't have it. The point is to use up what's on hand and most definitely just past pretty or overripe!

Either make a pie crust or buy one (I recommend Pillsbury because it tastes almost as good as home made). Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Wash all your fruit and using a sharp knife over a large bowl, slice your stone fruits (peaches, etc) leaving the skins on. Discard any really mushy or discolored spots by cutting them off. Hull strawberries if using and also cut them into pieces discarding any bad spots. Finally dump in the rest of your berries. Sprinkle with approximately 1/2c. white sugar. Very gently, toss fruit to coat with sugar and let sit for about 5-10 minutes.

Take the bottom pie crust and place in pan. There is no need to pre-bake the crust. Fill with sugar coated fruit. Sprinkle about 1/4c flour over the fruit. Cut ice cold butter into small pieces and dot the flour covered fruit all over. Now place the top crust over the fruit and crimp edges together. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut slits, triangles or v's into the middle of the top crust to vent the steam. Place the whole assembled pie on top of a pizza pan or rimmed baking sheet to catch the juices that will bubble up. Lastly, using some very slim strips of foil, cover the edges of the crust so that they won't burn.

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. When timer goes off, remove the foil strips from the crust, lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35 minutes. Crust should be golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit/cool for approximately 1 hour before serving. It is delicious with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Corn off the Cob

Ok, there are 2 things that I associate with summer no matter where I live; Jersey corn and Jersey tomatoes. Yes, I know I live in Virginia and I frequent the local farm stand because I believe in being a 'locavore' (read "Animal , Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver) and I even grow my own tomatoes. Maybe it is the nostalgia but in my mind, they just somehow taste better than any other corn or tomato!

As you well know, we are only in the beginnings of summer and already we have had some scorchingly high temperatures. I don't know about your family but as soon as the air conditioning comes on, everyone asks me to make potato salad, pasta salad or buy some corn-on-the-cob. For being early in the season, I have to say, the corn we had was pretty good but I was left with a few extras that no one was interested in reheating. Normally I would make corn-tomato salad but sadly, it is a little early for some really good, worthwhile tomatoes (I'll post the recipe later in the summer!)

Since it was one of those unbelievably hot days, I was looking for a quick and not too involved idea for dinner. Pancakes are ok but I am trying to work more fresh veggies into our meals while they are available. Ah ha! Corn cakes! Add a little grilled chicken and I had a home run!
Hope your family enjoyed them as much as we did. I knew it was good when the pickiest of the bunch asked me to make them again before dinner was even over!

Now I know you could just take a knife and cut the kernels off the cob and there are many other contraptions out there that do the job. However, I have to tell you, Pampered Chef has the best gadget for this job, EVER!What! Pampered Chef again?! No, I am not getting anything for telling you about this gadget and I'm not selling Pampered Chef either. I'm just so happy with a couple of really neat kitchen tools that happened to come from Pampered Chef, they I had to tell you!

Corn Cakes
Kernels stripped from 2 ears of corn
3 Green onions, trimmed and chopped fine (green and white parts)
1/2c. Yellow corn meal
1c. Bisquick
1+ cup of milk
1 egg
3T. vegetable oil
salt, pepper, red pepper, onion powder
1/4c. finely shredded Cheddar/Jack Cheese
1/4. crushed pineapple

Strip Kernels into a deep bowl. Mince onion and add to bowl. Toss together. Pour dry ingredients on top of corn, add milk, egg, oil and optional ingredients if using. Add seasonings. Use a sprinkle of red pepper for taste, more if you want heat. Stir together until combined. Add a little more milk if necessary. The batter should be fairly thick and lumpy, not smooth or thin like breakfast pancakes.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat until hot (a few drops of water should dance in the pan and quickly evaporate). Drop batter by Tablespoon into pan and cook until brown on one side then flip, and brown for another minute or two. Delicious!

I served these with grilled chicken (rubbed with Fajita seasoning) and topped with sour cream and salsa. Que Sabroso!

Calzone at Home!

Who doesn't like bread and cheese? Add a little wine and you're in heaven! Unless you have children like mine then it's 'whine' and you want to start drinking anything you can get your hands on!

Seriously, with the temperature outside hovering near 100 degrees at 7:00 PM, no one is going to turn on the grill but wait, isn't heat good for making dough rise? And who doesn't like cheap eats especially when you don't have to go out and get it? A package of pizza crust mix costs about $.69 cents. Add a little warm water and a smidge of oil and you are ready to make something delicious. Of course you could make a home made pizza, the combinations are endless, but my family enjoys a good cheesy, gooey, melty calzone from time to time. They bake up in the oven beautifully and are ready in about 15-minutes once they are assembled.

Now, I have to say, I 'm not usually one to promote a particular product or piece of cooking equipment BUT! if you have a baking stone from Pampered Chef

...well your calzone just went from really good to awesome. I must tell you that the stone gives such a crispy finish to the dough, it is the closest you will get to baking in a pizza oven! The other thing that will make life easier is if you have a dough press or empanada maker. This is a handy gadget but

not necessary to make delicious pocket goodies!


4 packages Pizza dough mix (any brand)
Cornmeal or flour
2lb. Ricotta Cheese
2c. Mozzarella cheese
1/2c. Parmesan Cheese, finely grated or powdered
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1t. garlic powder, salt and pepper

Optional: thinly sliced ham, pepperoni, hard salami, roasted peppers

Mix pizza dough according to directions making 2 packages at a time. Make sure to cover dough with a little bit of oil as suggested. Cover and let rise.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine cheeses, eggs and seasoning. Set aside.

Pinch off dough in fist size pieces. Roll in a bit of corn meal or flour until no longer sticky to make a ball. Begin to flatten into a circle like a small pizza. If you are using the dough press, make it big enough to nearly fit and then adjust to cover the press. If you don't have a press, use a bowl about 6-7" in diameter to measure the right size, trim away any excess and save for the next one.

Place a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture on one side of the dough. (If using optional items, place on top of cheese) Fold dough press to crimp securely. If not using a press, fold dough over cheese to make a half-moon and crimp edge of dough with the tines of a fork to seal. Place on a baking sheet or baking stone if you are using one. Rub the tops of the dough with a tiny bit of oil and place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve with Pizza sauce for dipping or home made marinara if like me, you are possessed by making everything from scratch! Enjoy!

Goda il Suo pasto!