Monthly Archives: February 2012

On the Wagon…

Here is one wagon to get onto my friends! My family has this recipe they call ‘Chuck Wagon Mac’ that is so simple yet so tasty at the same time! It is basically a fancier, home-made version of a cheesy hamburger helper. And my favorite part about it is how versatile it is! You can literally add anything you like or change it up any way you like to suit your tastes. I made a version of this Sunday night, with more of a Mexican flair and it turned out to be, well in my opinion at least, the best one yet! I’ll give you the basic recipe first and then the one I made up on Sunday:

Original Chuck Wagon Mac

  • Box of macaroni & cheese, prepared
  • 1 can tomato paste, with a few tablespoons of water to smooth it out
  • 1 can of corn, drained
  • 1 1/2 – 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 – 1 onion, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole dish. Cook ground beef with onion, green pepper and celery until cooked through. Mix together with the corn, tomato paste and macaroni and cheese. Pour all together into casserole dish and bake 45 minutes – 1 hour, until heated through.

Honestly, how simple is that?! And this variation alone is incredibly delicious, it used to be a favorite of mine growing up! (I must admit though, I’ve never made this using a boxed mac & cheese, I always make my own or at least do my own with chopped up velveeta and butter)! But it is good even with the box! I just like to have control of the amount of cheese, since I loooove cheese and am able to add as much as I want!!

Mexican Chuck Wagon Mac

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni, shells, rotini, whatever
  • 20 ounces velveeta cheese, cubed (at least 20 ounces)!
  • 3-5 T butter (add as much or as little as you’d like to reach desired creaminess…you can use milk instead or also but butter gives a much better flavor)!
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced (I kept the ribs and seeds because we love spice)!
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 – 2 T cumin
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, pureed in food processor to make tomato sauce
  • 1 small can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • bag of shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a casserole dish or 9X13 pan. Cook pasta to al dente. While cooking, cook ground beef with onion, peppers, celery and cumin until cooked through. Drain if necessary. Once the pasta is cooked almost through, drain and add back to the pan with the velveeta and butter. Stir over low heat until velveeta is melted. Mix everything together, with a cup of the shredded cheddar and put in casserole dish. Top with remaining shredded cheddar and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour.

I really liked the spice the jalapeno added and the flavor the cumin added! I think this combination worked great and am going to try more and more…after all, ground beef with mac and cheese could never get old in my book! Hell, mac and cheese with anything will never get old, Josh and I still eat it at least once a week, but usually a few times a week! Enjoy and let me know of any variations you guys try out and like or dislike!

Also, on a side note, I posted about home-made pasta we tried the other day and how well it turned out. Not surprising, I’ve been playing around with it and have made home-made noodles a few times now and Friday we made our own lasagna noodles and they were amazing! And the entire process took less than 45 minutes, including the 30 minutes for the dough to rest! I highly suggest giving your own a shot, it was much easier and tastier than  I imagined it would be!

 

Pops for Peanut Butter!

My best friend is getting married in May and her shower is coming up fast! I am in charge of baking some goodies for it and have been doing some experimenting as of late! My latest endeavor has been trying out different kinds of cake pops…let’s be honest, who doesn’t love cake pops?! I think I came up with a great combination the other night, now I just have to perfect my presentation skills! I used a boxed Devil’s food cake mix for the cake, but substituted milk for the water. I then used my sister-in-law’s peanut butter frosting recipe which is TO DIE FOR! I was literally force feeding this to myself by the spoonful (not recommended).

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high-speed until the mixture is light and smooth. This frosting is so fluffy, smooth and amazing, it really can be eaten all on its own!

To make the cake balls, bake the cake as directed. I used two 9″ pans to speed the process along. Let cool on a wire rack until completely cooled. Crumble the cake into a large bowl. I used a food processor to finely grind the cake (very important the cake is completely cooled for this or it’ll just stick everywhere and not grind properly). Combine about 1/2 cup of the frosting with the cake crumbs and mix until moistened. Add more frosting if needed but you want a consistency that is neither too dry and will fall apart or too moist and will be too wet and sticky! Roll into balls, place on a baking sheet or tray of sorts and refrigerate at least an hour until firm. Once firm, roll in melted chocolate of your choice and let cool/harden. Save any extra frosting for another cake or to just enjoy by itself 🙂

Emily, my best friend that is getting married, and I realized that these are even better straight out of the freezer! Obviously there is tons of fun to be had with different types of cake pops so if you come up with any combinations that you love, please share here! Pictures to come, I swear…I am terrible at documenting my little projects!

A Valentine’s to remember!

Who doesn’t love Valentine’s Day?! But I must begin by saying, we are one of those couples that doesn’t really go all out and celebrate the so-called ‘Hallmark Holidays!” We came up with an idea/agreement that I treat him to dinner on Sweetest Day and he treats me on Valentine’s Day (but not on the actual days to avoid the crowds and pre-fixe menus, etc) but no elaborate gifts or anything! I am one of those lucky girls you always hear about or see in movies, the ones with the boyfriends/husbands that constantly bring them with flowers for no reason, surprise them with gifts, cook them dinner, etc. So I don’t need a Valentine’s Day to feel appreciated and spoiled, but it surely doesn’t hurt to feel special!Unfortunately this year, I dropped the ball on Sweetest Day and we didn’t do a darn thing and we recently purchased our first home and are trying super hard to save as much money as possible so we weren’t even planning on doing dinner for Valentine’s Day.  But I still wanted to do something sweet for my sweetheart and make him feel special for a change! Instead of going out, I decided to make a meal I think he’d order out at a nice restaurant! I went with homemade angel hair pasta with scallops in a white wine, tomato, butter sauce and mussels. And for dessert, 7 layers of pure amazingness!

I’m not going to lie, I decided to do homemade pasta so I can try out some new gadgets I got and the cake, well that was also mostly for me too! But he surely enjoyed it, so it was well worth it! The mussels though, those were all for him!

Homemade Angel Hair:

  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T water
  • Salt to taste
By hand: pour flour on working surface, make a well in the center, add the eggs and mix by hand, add in olive oil, water and salt and hand knead until dough comes together. If sticky, add more flour, if dry, add more water or oil. With Kitchenaid mixer (preferred method): with paddle attachment, mix together eggs, olive oil, water and salt. Switch to dough hook and add in flour a little bit at a time until dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand until perfectly smooth and together (same rule as before, if sticky add more flour, if dry, add more water or oil). Divide dough into 6 sections and feed one at a time through Kitchenaid mixer attachment or roll out by hand. Feed through pasta cutter attachment or cut by hand, set out to dry. I left mine out overnight and it was very dry and tasted wonderful!
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Sauce (adapted from Giada):
  • 3 T cup olive oil
  • 3-4 T butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 t crushed red pepper and/or flakes
  • 1 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • package of mushrooms
  • fresh scallops

Melt butter and heat with olive oil. Saute mushrooms and shallot until soft, add in garlic, bay leaf, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to taste and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add white wine to deglaze, let cook until reduced by half. Add in tomatoes and let cook down until thickened a bit. Add in scallops and mussels, cover and cook in sauce for 3-5 minutes. Add in some Parmesan and serve over pasta…adding more parm as necessary while eating! Be sure to serve this with some hearty, crusty bread (we baked some Ciabatta rolls and they were perfect for slopping up any extra sauce)!

Dessert is a wee-bit more complicated and took about 3 hours in total to construct…but it was definitely worth it! You essentially bake your favorite brownie, chocolate chip cookie and cheesecake recipes, splitting each batter between 8X8 or 9X9 pans so you end up with 2 brownie rounds, 2 chocolate chip cookie rounds and 2 cheese cake rounds. You  make two different frostings and then assemble from there! Here are the recipes I used:

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This is what it looks like when it is all said and done! Standing at least one foot tall!

Brownies (courtesy of my lovely sister-in-law Mandy):

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 11 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of two 8X8″ or 9X9″ round pans. Line the pan with parchment paper and spray again.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

3. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

4. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pans using the parchment paper. Cool completely on a wire rack before assembling cake or frosting!

Cheesecake:

  • 16 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter two 8X8″ or 9X9″ round pans, line with parchment paper and spray again. Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add in Ricotta and sugar, mix until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Finally, beat in sour cream and blend until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pans, evenly and bake in oven for 15 minutes, turn temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for 45 more minutes. Let cool before removing from pan, freeze until ready to use.
Chocolate Chip Cookies (I used the bake-shop cookie recipe from a previous post):
  • 3/4 cup salted, butter, room temp (if you use unsalted, just add about 1/4 – 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 bag chocolate chips
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8X8″ or 9X9″ round pans, line with parchment paper and spray again. Sift together flour, cornstarch and baking soda; set aside. Beat butter until light and fluffy, cream together with sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add in flour slowly. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour half the batter into each prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until golden and still soft. You definitely want a soft cookie, not a crunchy one for this recipe…make sure they are completely cooled before assembling cake!
Marshmallow Frosting:
  • 1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow fluff
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

To make the butter cream, beat together the marshmallow fluff and butter, on medium speed, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, add the powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat for another minute. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Set aside until cake assembly time (will need to be divided into four equal parts)!

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I let it cool about 1 hour, stirring occasionally)
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. (will have to be divided in half, and then on of the halves in half so you have 1/2 of the mixture, 1/4 and 1/4).

 

Whew, that’s a lot of components! Ok, now that everything is done and cooled completely, here’s how the layering goes: one brownie layer, marshmallow frosting, one cookie layer, marshmallow frosting, one cheesecake layer, chocolate frosting, graham crackers broken to fit around circle, chocolate frosting, other cheesecake layer, marshmallow frosting, other cookie layer, marshmallow frosting, other brownie layer, chocolate frosting to cover top and sides!

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So the layers will look like this, maybe even a little neater than mine!

Obviously you can arrange the layers  in whatever way you want but I saw this on a blog through Pinterest ( http://www.fatgirltrappedinaskinnybody.com/2011/06/ultimate-smore-anniversary-cake/) and that’s how she did it so I figured I’d follow it! After seeing this, I knew I had to make it, and boy was it amazing, what a creative and great idea!

Cafeteria Make-over!

I can still remember the disappointment and lack of excitement when my mom would tell me we were having meat loaf for dinner! I was just never a big fan, and came to find out neither is Josh! We share (or I suppose I should now say shared) the same feelings about meat loaf….boring, same-old same-old, and just overall blah! That was until Friday night when I decided to re-invent meat loaf and make it something we’d want to eat and look forward to eating! Having never made a meat-loaf before, this was quite the challenge! The project was a definite success and now meatloaf is something to get excited about!

Stuffed Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf

  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 t garlic salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 t chili powder
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 1.25 pounds ground sirloin
  • 1 egg
Stuffing
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 container mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • velveeta cheese, 8 thick slices
Sauce (Adapted from Alton Brown)
  • 1/2 cup catsup
  • 1 t cumin
  • 3 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
  • 3 dashes Siracha
  • 1 T honey

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. For the filling, heat the olive oil and butter in large skillet. Add the onion and mushroom, season to taste and saute until softened. Add in the garlic and saute a few more minutes. Set aside. In the meantime to make the meat loaf, combine the bread crumbs and all seasonings. Combine the ground meat and veggies with the bread crumb mixture. Add the egg until combined thoroughly. For the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients.

Place half of the meat mixture into the loaf pan. Top with 4 of the slices of Velveeta, the mushroom mixture then 4 more slices of Velveeta. Top with remaining meat mixture. Place in oven for 50-60 minutes, topping with the sauce about 10 minutes into the cooking process.

For dessert, I decided to combine two of my favorite things together: raw cookie dough and fudgy brownies! I made the mistake of concocting edible cookie dough that is absolutely delicious! Delicious enough that I ate the entire thing and had to make more for the brownies! Here’s how it goes:

Brownies (best brownie recipe ever by the way…adapted from King Arthur)

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t espresso
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 bag chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat. Once melted, stir in sugar until dissolved. Return to heat, but do not let boil, just heat up. While the sugar is heating the second time, whisk the four eggs with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso and vanilla. Add the butter mixture, whisking constantly until smooth. Add in chocolate chips and flour, stir until chocolate melts. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 40 minutes for an 8X8 or 9X9, and about 30 for a 9X13.

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (I let it cool about 1 hour, stirring occasionally)
    2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
    1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
    3 tablespoons milk
    1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
Place all in a food processor and blend until smooth and thick. Set aside.

While the brownies are baking, mix together one can sweetened condensed milk, 8 T softened butter, 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 t vanilla and 1 cup chocolate chips. Store in fridge until ready to use!

Once the brownies are completely cooled. Spread with chocolate frosting and then spread cookie dough on top. If there is remaining frosting, throw another layer on top of the frosting!

These are incredibly rich and decadent…not for the faint of heart!

Enjoy, and get excited about meat loaf Mondays!

A little bit of green!

My husband and I are going through the process of buying our first home…exciting yes, frustrating and overwhelming, definitely! We have had to jump through quite a few hoops to get where we are now, which sadly, isn’t even where we need to be! After quite the roller coaster ride of way too many ups and downs, I think we are finally coming to a stop at a high point! Yesterday morning seemed to be the last straw for me though, when my husband called me to tell me of another bunch of documents I would need to accumulate and send in….this was, without exaggeration, the eight time this has happened and the last three were ‘definitely the last things we need!’ Needless to say, the extra stress led to some baking this morning! Now, with the house looking like more of a reality and some time to cool off, I made a delicious pistachio cake (his favorite) as an apology to my hard-working, loving husband who has jumped through more hoops than I have but kept himself together way better than I have!!

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Pistachio Bread/Cake:

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1 box pistachio pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • Cinnamon sugar mixture
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • dash of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. For the crumble topping, mix flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon together. Cut in the butter, with two knives, a fork or a pastry blender and set aside. In another bowl, mix all of the ingredients, except the cinnamon sugar mixture, together and blend well. Pour half of the batter into the pan of your choice, top with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Pour rest of batter over top and add cinnamon sugar crumble to top (or you can just add more cinnamon sugar). Bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on the pan you chose. For a loaf pan, about 55 minutes, a 9 inch cake pan, about 45 minutes, muffins or mini loaves about 20 minutes.

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I used a heart-shaped cake pan and had some batter left over so I made a few heart-shaped mini loaves, well 6 to be exact, but I ate three of them already, oops! These are great for breakfast or you can even use a cream cheese frosting instead of a crumble for more of a cake! Delicious any way you eat it!! We love this recipe so much that I actually made 150 mini loaves to put in the gift bags for out-of-town guests at our wedding…it’s that easy and that good!

A new take on an old favorite!

When my mom told me about a recipe she found in one of her cooking magazines, I was intrigued. The combination of brussels sprouts and cream cheese with pasta had me wondering…I knew we would have to try it out! I have tried just about every veggie with pasta, but never brussels sprouts for some reason! And using cream cheese seemed like a cop-out to make an alfredo-ey type sauce without having to do any sort of work but I’ve seen more and more pasta recipes recently that use cream cheese so I figured why not jump on the bandwagon?! The dish ended up being a great weeknight dinner idea, very creamy, thick and rich and fairly easy to make. And the best part being, I usually have all of the ingredients on hand to make it, they are more or less staples for us!

Roasted Brussels Sprout Pasta

  • 1-2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • 3 T olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 pound pasta (I used a shell type, but you can use elbow, orecchiette, etc)
  • 3-4 T butter
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 onion, chopped or 1-2 t onion flakes
  • 1 cup chicken broth or white wine
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, to taste
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

First, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay on sprayed baking sheet in one layer and roast about 30-40 minutes or until soft and slightly browned. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil for pasta, heavily salting as soon as it comes to a boil and cook pasta. While that’s cooking, saute onion and garlic in butter until softened, 3-4 minutes, add in chicken broth or wine and bring to a boil until reduced by half. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the water. Toss pasta and brussels sprouts with butter mixture, reserved pasta water, 1-2 T olive oil, some parmesan cheese and cream cheese. Heat until cream cheese is melted, add more pasta water as necessary to get to desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with more parm while eating! I like to add parm in layers as I eat…usually going through an additional 1/4 cup at least…I do not suggest this, however it is one of those habits I just can’t stop!

When we were younger, my best friend and I would go to my gram’s house during lunch and she’d make us pastina and egg. Another amazingly simple yet delicious recipe (seriously, just add a cracked, beaten egg or two to drained pastina, with a half a stick (or more) of butter and a ton of parmesan cheese)! We would eat an entire pound of pastina and go through half a container or more of parmesan cheese….glad to have someone to share my love of parmesan cheese with, mostly because at least I know I’m not the only one!!