Chocolate Custard Muffins

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Raise your hand if you need an excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast (my hand is not raised☺).  If your hand is in fact raised, this muffin recipe is the excuse you've been looking for.  Unlike a standard muffin or quick bread, this recipe uses cornstarch and water to make a thick custard as a base for the batter.  Once baked, the dome of the muffin becomes cracked and crunchy, but the center stays soft and cake-like tender.  The ingredient list might read that these are actually dessert, but with the nutritional benefits from dark chocolate and safflower oil, I like to think these are rather good for you.  More importantly, these are absolutely scrumptious. Enjoy them for breakfast, pack in school lunches, serve as a snack, or sneak one in as a late night treat.  They are delicious on their own, but are also enjoyed with a slather of raspberry or black cherry jam.  And with Valentine's Day on the brain, I think these would be a perfect way to spread the love. I ♥ chocolate muffins.


Sunday Dinner

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Pomegranate Glazed Sausage Bits

Rice and Gravy
Southern Green Beans

This is what happens when you let your 13 year old son plan the Sunday dinner menu. I asked him to plan a menu that his father and sisters would enjoy after a weekend in Wisconsin for a basketball tournament.  Without hesitation, he declared fried chicken to be the main course.  We all love fried chicken, but why do I have a feeling that he was thinking of his own appetite when planning the menu?  That's o.k.  It really has been quite some time since I fried up a batch of that southern specialty.  But since I had a bit of pomegranate juice that needed to be used up, I took charge of the appetizer.

Three ingredients (well, 4-5 if you include the hot sauce and crackers) and 10 minutes is all you need for a simple, but very flavorful starter to a meal or snack with cocktails.  It is sliced kielbasa that is glazed in a reduced syrup of pomegranate juice and ketchup (just one tablespoon). 

Serve them by themselves with toothpicks or place them atop your favorite cracker (Ritz is a good pairing). Serve them as a starter to your meal, as a snack with cocktails, or bring them to a game day party for a nice alternative to the regular mini meatballs or little smokies. Hit those meaty coins with dash or two of Tabasco and I guarantee this recipe will be filed in the "hit" category.


Magic in the Middles

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After enjoying a delicious, savory Italian Sub Sandwich, I like to finish the meal with something sweet.  A cookie after a sandwich is always a welcome treat.  But these are not ordinary cookies. These are magic.  No, I am not talking tricks.  I am talking about a chocolate cookie dough that is stuffed with a sweetened peanut butter filling, rolled in sugar, and baked until the whole house smells like a peanut butter cup.  Put out a plate of these and they disappear before your very eyes.  Get it?!?  Good.  Now go make them!


Italian Sub Sandwiches

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When I think of a good, classic sub sandwich, the picture above comes to mind.  I call this an Italian sub.  I know people have their own definitions of exactly what an Italian sub should made out of, but this is what I go with and it is everything I want in a sandwich and more.  I give it the Italian moniker because it has salami, capicola, and provolone making up most of the main body (don't forget about the homemade roll).  Add lettuce, tomato and onion for flavor and crunch.  The vinegar, herbs, garlic, and oil dance around the edges of all that yumminess for a can't go wrong "sammich" that is sure to satisfy for a game day or any day. A few potato chips and some hot pepperoncini on the side-- score!

*Note-- Below is the amount and type of meat that I like to use, but feel free to use the meats according to your own taste, as well as the amount.


Homemade Submarine/Po-Boy Rolls

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With game days and the Super Bowl around the corner, I wanted to share a couple of sandwiches this week and next to enjoy while you watch.  But before I give this week's sandwich recipe, I want to share the bread that cradles all the goodness.  I wrote about this dough in a different form not too long ago, so I won't go into a lot of detail about the crisp crust and tender inside.  The base formula of these rolls is the New Orleans French Bread recipe.  It is perfect for sandwiches like Po-Boys and submarines when you want the fillings and fixings to be the star.  You can make the rolls as big or as small as you like.  I usually make 6-8 depending on what else we are having, but I have even made them smaller for deli sandwiches to pack in school lunches.  Speaking of deli sandwiches-- stay tuned for a classic!


Banana Streusel Snack Cake

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I try to eat and cook as seasonably as possible, but when it comes to the banana (not really sure if there is a banana season), I use it all year long. We enjoy it in hot and cold cereals, fruit salads, sandwiches, frozen desserts, and of course, all by itself for a quick potassium boost.  But my favorite way to use bananas is in baking.  Banana bread is without a doubt the top baked banana good in our house, but this recipe is close behind.  It is lighter in texture than banana bread, yet it retains that great banana baked flavor.  Topped of with a sweet and buttery streusel (I ♥ streusel), this is a treat to enjoy not just as a snack as the recipe implies, but all day long.


Sunday Dinner

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Spaghetti and Meatballs
Roasted Garlic and Parmesan
Simple Salad with a Caesar Vinaigrette

Ricotta Cake with Chocolate Caramel Sauce

These meatballs are the meal component that you can enjoy multiple times.  How is that?  Well, the best way to make a flavorful red sauce is to commit to getting it done at least one day before eating it for dinner.  I like to take it a step further and make the sauce on Friday and then commence with making, shaping and cooking of the meatballs (don't forget to let the kids in on the fun) on Saturday before we enjoy it for a Sunday dinner. Making ahead and in stages may seem like a lot of work, but it gives the whole pot  that "next day better" goodness.  Having the dish made beforehand also frees up some of my time on Sundays, allowing me make a cake and a fresh loaf of bread and cheer on my daughter's basketball team.

I like to keep my sauce simple with good San Marzano tomatoes and the culinary holy trinity of onions, carrots and celery.  Garlic and bay leaves help balance the acid and sweetness. For the meatballs, I boost the flavor of a rather plain ground beef recipe by adding Italian sausage, Parmesan cheese, fresh parsley and a bit more garlic.  A little red wine and tomato paste help to deepen the meaty flavor. The smell of them frying in olive oil (and the taste testing) are phase one of the enjoyment process.  Place them in the red sauce where they will get to know the other flavors overnight.  A dinner of spaghetti and meatballs with some bread and red wine is the central phase of enjoyment.  When dinner is over, fish around in the remaining sauce for the remaining meatballs and put away for further use.  Meatball sandwiches make for great lunches or even another dinner later in the week.

Sunday Dinner one year ago


Chocolate Éclair Cake

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Did you really think I would put this dessert on our Sunday dinner menu and then not share it with you?  Wow, was this ever good (and hard to stop eating)!  It is simply an ice box cake of homemade vanilla pudding that is lightened up with whipped cream, then layered between graham crackers and topped with a chocolate glaze.  Once assembled and refrigerated, the crackers become soft like the pâte à choux of a traditional éclair.  The mousse-like filling is deliciously creamy and light while the chocolate glaze tops it all off.  Made in a 9x13 inch baking pan, this dessert feeds a crowd.  Whether that crowd is big or small, I guarantee that there will not be a crumb or spot of cream left in that pan.  Any leftovers will be stealthily removed and given a very temporary home in a dark corner of the fridge.  One bite and you will understand the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, and just about all day temptation to dig right into the pan with a spoon-- no plate or forks required:)


Hearty Minestrone

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I came across this recipe last year but had forgotten about it until I heard an interview on NPR a couple weeks back.  What lured me into to this recipe was the V8 in the ingredients. We are big fans of that vegetable juice concoction, so why not give it a go?

The recipe calls for dried cannellini beans, but you can use great northern or navy beans. The soup base is a mixture of chicken broth, water, and that V8.  I used chicken broth for the amount of water and water for the amount of chicken broth.  I felt this would give the base more flavor and it does. Speaking of flavor, the broth mixture is further enhanced by the addition of a piece of parmesan rind.  No, it doesn't melt.  It just gives the soup a good, deep flavor.  

Basil is added for a fresh flavor and red pepper flakes join the party for a good kick.  Serve with parmesan cheese, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a piece of that Classic American Garlic Bread for dunking. Chock-full of veggies, beans, and a bit of pasta (because that's the way I like it), this is one hearty bowl of minestrone indeed.


Classic American Garlic Bread

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Garlic bread---It's not just for spaghetti anymore!  That sounds like a pitch from an ad man from the 1970s.  But ya know what?  It's true.  It would be accepted by most that garlic bread goes well as a side with almost any pasta.   But when is the last time you had it with soup?  This bread pairs wonderfully with a variety of soups.  We recently enjoyed its crunchy, garlicky notes alongside a bowl of hearty minestrone.  Soak up that broth---mmmm!  Use it to make a salad into a meal, use it for a sandwich (oh, yeah, a garlic bread steak sandwich), or eat it all by itself. Once you make it, you can file away a new go-to garlic bread for just about any occasion.

This recipe uses two types of garlic-- toasted and raw.  Ten cloves of toasted garlic may seem like a lot, but the method brings out a sweet, nutty flavor.  For even more of that garlic heat and bite, I add a couple more cloves of finely grated raw garlic.  Butter is the main platform for the "schmear", but to bring even more flavor, I reduce the amount of butter slightly and add some good extra virgin olive oil  (olive oil and garlic is always a good combo). Add a little parmesan and herbs to the mix then slather it on some good Italian bread, like homemade ciabatta.  Bake in a high heat oven until golden with a crisp crust.  Garlic bread has never tasted so good!


Homemade Ciabatta

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One food staple that I just cannot live without is bread.  Not just any bread, but homemade bread.  I love the feel of the soft dough, the smell of the yeast emanating off a freshly baked loaf, and the satisfaction from the overall taste and texture.  

Ciabatta, also known as "slipper" bread, is a white Italian bread.  It has an elongated, flat shape with a porous structure and crisp crust.  Although popular across Italy and some parts of Europe, ciabatta wasn't widely known of or available in the U.S. until the early 1990s.  Its higher profile is a welcome development for this baker!  I make ciabatta and use it for sandwiches, panini, stuffing, croutons, and an outstanding garlic bread (recipe to come).  I shape it into its traditional long "slipper" form, but I also shape it into rolls.  

The recipe does require a bit of advance planning because of the biga (the pre-fermentation process used in Italian baking), but you can skip the step and make it all in one day.  In fact, the bread pictured was made without the biga and you can see that there is still a significant amount of holes and open texture.  Which ever way you decide to make it, it will be good.  Make a batch to have warm and drizzled with a good olive oil for dinner, then have some toasted with a good slathering of butter in the morning.  


Sunday Dinner

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Hot Onion and Cheese Soufflé Dip

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Chocolate Éclair Cake

With a nice blanket of snow on the ground and a good chill in the air, a comforting menu was on my mind for our Sunday dinner.  Meat and potatoes with a few veggies certainly fits the bill.  And to help keep off the cold, a warm starter to our meal is in order.  I made this appetizer for the first time on Christmas Eve and it got a five star rating. Onion, cheese, mayonnaise, and a little kick of heat-- um, yes please!  I throw all the ingredients in the food processor for a smooth, creamy texture (plus it is easier) and add a little cayenne pepper for some zip.

Baked until browned and puffed-- this is a dip that will surely please any hungry crowd.  You can serve it with crackers, chips, or sliced veggies (red bell pepper would work well) if you want a healthy alternative.  I like it best with some buttered toasted crostini for a really good crunch.  It makes a big batch, so if you have any leftovers, the dip is excellent on a roast beef sandwich:P

Sunday Dinner one year ago


French Toast Bagels

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I can't believe it is January 13 and we are just now receiving the first measurable snowfall in the Chicagoland area (6-8 inches of heavy snow in case you were wondering).  I can honestly say that I am happy the white stuff is finally here for several reasons.  First, it finally looks and feels like winter. Secondly, my children can get out and make forts and snowmen and have some fun in it.  On mornings when they are really itching to get out there,  I want them to have a breakfast that will fill them up in a good and tasty way, but won't tie them down to the breakfast table and cut into their playtime in the snow before school bell rings.  A quick or on-the-go breakfast is a good place to start and bagels are a great option.  But these are no ordinary bagels.  

This recipe is adapted from my plain bagel recipe (step-by-steps included in that post).  It has all of those qualities, but with all the flavors of french toast-- so good!  By adding a few extra ingredients like brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, maple flavor, and an egg for richness and great texture, these bagels take on a whole new look and taste.  And since I added more wet ingredients like the sugar and egg, I also reduced the amount of water from the original.  As I do for some of my plain bagels, I like to garnish the top with a little something extra.  I sprinkle on organic maple sugar before baking and they come out with a nice sugary and crunchy top.  Certainly optional, but I highly recommend it, especially if they are to be eaten the same day.  If you make them in advance, the maple sugar may start to dissolve and become sticky when stored in an airtight container, but the goodness is there and they still toast up beautifully.  My only problem with these bagels is that I cannot decide what I like to schmear them with-- butter, cream cheese, jam, fresh fruit, or little bit of everything for a stuffed "french toast" bagel to go.  Yum!


Tomato Gorgonzola Pasta

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It has been quite some time since I have posted a pasta recipe.  It's odd because we usually have some sort of pasta dish about once a week. I like pasta dishes because they are quick and easy to get on the table during the busy week when the evenings are filled with taxiing the kids to and from practices and after school activities. This recipe is a good example of a quick and easy pasta dish. There are a few more ingredients than most simple pasta recipes, but it still comes together quickly and it certainly delivers the flavor.

Speaking of flavor-- one of the key flavor ingredients in this pasta is the creamy Gorgonzola. So please buy a quality brand and stay away from the pre-crumbled container. You can use any pasta shape to your liking, but I choose to stick with a medium size shell. I like the way the sauce and the tomatoes get stuck inside the shells and my kids love the shape:)


Beer Battered Corn Fritters

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After a long day of basketball activities and a Sunday dinner management circus act, I thankfully had enough time to capture a picture of our Sunday starter.  I'm glad I did because these were delicious and I need to share them right away.  

Some people think of corn fritters as flat pancake-like eats, but when I hear the word fritter, I think crispy on the outside and light and tender on the inside.  And that is exactly what these are-- sweet corn in beer batter fried to crispy perfection.  To bring out more flavor (once fried and drained), they can be hit with more cayenne, a dash of Tabasco, or even a drizzle of honey-- yum!  The recipe makes quite a few, so these would be perfect to make for game day parties and half-time treats. Wash a few down with a cold one and fry up some more.


Sunday Dinner

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Shrimp Étouffée
Buttered White Rice
New Orleans French Bread

Salted Caramel and Vanilla Baked Cheesecake

Tell me how one is supposed to prepare a Sunday dinner, let alone enjoy it, when one of your children has three basketball games scheduled over the course of the day and you have to fulfill a two hour volunteer assignment at the concession stand?!  Steps, strategy, and get my husband to run the concession stand while I do the last minute prep:)

I made the cheesecake minus the topping yesterday and it is chilling in the refrigerator.  The bread is rising between games one and two and it will be baked between games two and three.  I will prepare the slaw between the last two games, prep the veggies for the Étouffée, and enjoy the appetizer as well.  Then while my husband is manning the concession stand after the last game, I will finish the cheesecake, steam the rice, and cook up some smothered shrimp.  With planning and time management it all will get done.  We will eat late Sunday night, making sure every last bit is mopped up with a piece of this New Orleans French Bread.

This bread is incredibly tender on the inside with a crisp, golden crust. I use this recipe for loaves, rolls, buns, and just about anything that requires a bread that compliments the flavors of the meal.  It is delicious served at room temperature, but this bread's true characteristics come out when it is sliced and reheated in a warm oven.  The crust gets crispier and the inside is warm and soft.  It is a good platform for a schmear of butter, but it is even better to soak up the sauce.


Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

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You may have figured out by now that I have a bit of a sweet tooth.  And after the Hot Chocolate Layer Cake with Homemade Marshmallows, I thought I would take it easy on you (and my family, of course).  You might be asking yourself, "frozen dessert in winter?"  Yes, absolutely!  Ice cream, sorbets, sherbets, and frozen yogurt are year 'round treats for me.  This frozen yogurt is one that I prepare all year long and is a nice departure from the store bought/chain operation frozen yogurts out there.  For a low fat and rather plain dessert, the taste and texture are anything but ordinary. In the winter, I use Greek yogurt for a rich, tangy flavor.  In the summer, I use plain yogurt for a lighter and tasty spoonful. The key ingredient for the creamy, cloud-like texture is beaten egg whites and yes, they are raw.  Just make sure your eggs have clean, unbroken shells and crack them on a flat surface rather than on the edge of a bowl to prevent any possible bacterial contamination.  If you are still concerned about the use of raw eggs, you can use powdered egg whites instead.  Just beat them according to the manufacturer's instructions.

One beautiful thing about this yogurt is that it is good any time of the day.  Top a scoop with a drizzle of honey and granola for breakfast.  A bowl in the afternoon with some fresh fruit is great way to keep you going.  My favorite way is a big spoonful after dinner to cleanse the palate and satisfy that sweet tooth of mine without any guilt.  


Pomegranate Glazed Salmon

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If you are a reader, you might recall that when it comes to fresh salmon, my family is a little finicky. They love the smoked, cured, and potted kind, but it takes a certain recipe to win them over on the fresh stuff.  Having said that, this recipe is now in my caché.  

This is a delightful, seasonal recipe that uses pomegranate molasses, an ingredient that not all of us have in the cupboard, but one I strongly suggest you try.  It is simply pomegranate juice that is mixed with lemon juice and sugar, then boiled down until it is thick and syrupy.  The recipe also calls for agave nectar, a natural sweetener, but I had some brown rice syrup on hand.   Don't have either? You can use honey instead.  The salmon is marinated before being brushed with the glaze and broiled for a few minutes until it is just cooked through and still slightly pink in the middle-- just the way I like it.

Serve with the Rice with Edamame and Prosciutto and you have a well-balanced meal that everyone will enjoy.


Rice with Edamame and Prosciutto

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With the holiday eats behind us, many people are looking for a light and healthy alternative.   While the blog may sometimes advertise otherwise,  I do have a few healthy and delicious options in my culinary repertoire. 

This is a dish that we enjoy on busy weeknights for a light dinner or as a side to something more substantial.  Rice, edamame and prosciutto provide a base that is flavored with shallots and garlic.  After all has been cooked and warmed through, it is further seasoned with a bit of tamari and sesame oil.  With all of those flavors and seasoning, the only accompaniment needed is a little heat from a good Thai chili paste.

As good as this recipe is as written, it is also a nice platform to which you might add or subtract ingredients to suit your own taste.  To keep it vegetarian, omit the prosciutto.  If you want it to be more filling, add a scrambled egg or two.  Not only is this dish simple and delicious, it has nutritional bonus characteristics too.  Low in fat, high in protein, and high in omega-3 fatty acids-- it is good and good for you.  The added Thai chili jam is also a welcome sinus drainer this time of year.

Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids, I have a seasonal main dish recipe to share with this as a side.  Stay tuned...


Sunday Dinner and Happy New Year!

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Hoppin' John
Southern Collard Greens
Baked Cheese Grits

Hot Chocolate Layer Cake with Homemade Marshmallows

I have already spoken about the tradition of eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's, but what I haven't told you about is the importance of starting off the New Year with a big, decadent piece of chocolate cake.  O.k.-- no real importance, it is just my rule:)

Even though there is still no snow on the ground, the weather is a bit chilly and perfect for a hot cup of cocoa.  I could think of no better way to end our New Year's Day Sunday dinner and start 2012 than with this cake.  Although the name of the cake implies that there is hot cocoa flavor, this cake is more an excellent excuse to eat a fantastic piece of chocolate cake with homemade marshmallows on top.

This is a pretty intense chocolate cake.  The cake is very moist and flavorful and the frosting is right at the top of the "best chocolate frosting ever" list (at least that is what my husband claims).  The cake itself is rather straightforward and simple, and is made in a bowl and mixed by hand. The frosting, however, utilizes a different method which I take one step further by straining it through a fine-mesh sieve to ensure a completely smooth consistency.  It is cooked on the stove top and cooled in a 9x13-inch baking pan before being whipped until fluffy and smooth.  I changed up the recipe slightly by adding a bit of espresso powder to the cake batter and frosting and by using semisweet instead of bittersweet chocolate.  The recipe also calls for a few not so common ingredients, like vanilla bean and Lyle's Golden Syrup, but they can easily be found in most grocery stores.  Cake, frosting, and marshmallows may seem like a lot of work, but each step can be made in advance.  The cake can be made and stored at room temperature for up to one day or frozen for up to one month.  The frosting can be made and refrigerated for up to three days and the marshmallows (you only need half of a batch, so save the rest for s'mores:) can be made one month in advance.  So, on the day the cake is to be served, all you need to do is frost and mound with marshmallows and indulge.

Speaking of indulgence, since this is a "hot chocolate" cake, I go over the top and serve this cake with a dollop of whipped cream on the side.  I know-- completely unnecessary, but trust me, it really provides a nice counter to the richness of the cake.  Any leftovers are enjoyed the next day with a tall glass of cold milk.  Whether you start preparation one month in advance or the day before, whatever you do, don't wait, don't bookmark, please make it soon and get your New Year off to a "sweet" start!

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