Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Richest Chocolate Cake EVAH

This is the first time I've really felt successful making a cake and frosting from scratch. The cake didn't fall or explode. It was moist, light and fluffy, not hard and dry like a brick. The frosting even set up and kept the layers in their appropriate layer-y height and location.  No shifting earthquake cakes here!
Look at that. Chocolate-y chocolate-y chocolate. Four layers of it. Don't you want a glass of milk just looking at that photo?

Mrblocko asked for a Chocolate cake for his birthday, and that is exactly what he got. I used the chocolate cake recipe from Chef in Training.  It might as well have been called Death By Chocolate Cake. It really is THAT rich.

As I was putting together the frosting I thought, no way this is all going to fit in the stand mixer.  And NO WAY all this frosting is going to get used up for this one cake.  But with using the frosting as a generous filling between the 4 layers of cake, there was exactly the right amount of frosting. 

When I was slicing up the cake Mrblocko balked at the size I had put on his plate.   I told him, "Trust me, this cake is super rich. It will be enough."  And it was. The next time he even asked for a smaller slice.  I've discovered I don't feel all twitchy and sluggish if Blockette and I share a small piece.  She can only finish half a small slice anyhow.

The cake on the blog Chef in Training has a dark chocolate frosting piped at the base, chocolate drizzled over the top and crushed Skor candy bars pressed into the sides.  To me, the cake I made is the chocolatiest cake on the planet.  I can't even wrap my head around those extra chocolate-y additions.  My brain gets all hurty and I have heart palpitations.  I guess it's a good thing I left the cake all plain Jane with it's decorations.  (Blockette wanted sprinkles, but Mrblocko said NO WAY.  It was his cake so he was the boss.  Although sprinkles would have been cute on the outside edge, but oh well!)

OK.  Here is the part where I come clean.  This cake is not entirely from scratch.  It uses a chocolate cake mix, AND a pudding mix.  There's just so much that gets added to this cake that it might as well have been from scratch.  It certainly beats a regular boring old cake from the box mix.  No contest.

Here's the recipe if you think you can handle the chocolate.  (You can't handle the Truth! chocolate!) Just make sure to have a gallon (or two) of milk handy.

The Most Chocolate of Chocolate Cakes from Chef in Training
1 box Devil's Food cake mix
1 small pkg Jello instant chocolate pudding mix
1 c sour cream
1 c vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 c mini chocolate chips (This is one whole bag)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In large bowl, mix everything except for chocolate chips. The batter will be thick.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour batter into two 9-inch cake pans. (You could use whatever cake pan you choose. Just follow cooking time and temperature on the back of the Devil's Food box and add about 10 additional minutes to whatever the original cooking time requires.) Make sure to do the toothpick test to check if it is done or not. It usually takes about 45 minutes for two 9-inch cake pans. (My cake rose over the top, of my 9" cake pans.  Luckily they did not overflow.  So keep this in mind if you plan on using a 8" cake pan.)

After cake is baked, let cool completely. Place the 2 cakes onto a wire rack and stick them in the freezer. It is so much easier to cut them when they are a little frozen and they don't crumble as much. (I just put the cakes on racks in my cake carrier, and then stuck the whole thing outside.  It was below 32F so that worked out great.) Once cakes have cooled completely (or are slightly frozen) cut in half width wise so you have 4 equal circles. 

While cake is cooling prepare the frosting.

Chocolate Frosting:
2/3 c milk
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c chocolate syrup
2T really strong coffee
8 c sifted powdered sugar
1 c cocoa
1 c butter

Mix milk, vanilla, chocolate syrup, and cooled coffee. In a large separate bowl, beat softened butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa.Slowly add in wet ingredients until you reach desired consistency. Beat an additional 5 min to get a fluffy consistency.

To start the frosting process,  put a little glob of frosting on the cake stand so that the base cake stays put. After the base cake is in place, frost the top of it generously. Place the second layer cake on top. Frost the top of it generously. Repeat until the fourth layer is placed on top. Then frost all around the cake carefully to keep layers from shifting.

Press some crushed Skor Candy Bars onto the sides of the cake. You can also drizzle the top with melted chocolate chips for an added look of beauty. (and insanity.)

P.S. This cake is so rich and huge it took the 3 of us, who are chocolate LOVERS, a whole week of eating a slice, every day, sometimes twice a day, to devour.  The cake, kept chilled, stayed moist, but not soggy, the entire time.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies

Because I can't leave well enough alone, and I'm always curious about new recipes, I decided to make these brown sugar puffy cookies from Let's Live la Vida.
Now, they don't look very puffy in the picture, but I assure you they are puffier than the standard Toll House Chocolate Chip cookie.  Mine would have been fluffier, but I think I let my butter get too soft.

The main difference between this recipe and the one from Toll House is that this one requires a lot more brown sugar.  The Toll House calls for 3/4c each brown and white sugar, while this one has 1 1/2 c brown sugar and 1/4c white sugar.  This recipe also has a higher ratio of flour to butter: 3.5c flour to 2 sticks vs. 2.25c flour to 2 sticks.

How did the flavor stack up?  As expected, the brown sugary recipe had more of a caramely taste to it.  Personally, I didn't think it was any better or worse than the Toll House, just different.  Mrblocko thought these cookies had a crispier outside edge, although that could have been do to the overly warm butter.

While these cookies were good (scrumptious even), and were gobbled up quickly, they still don't hold a candle to the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives.  Those babies are still my personal favorites.  I think it has to do with their almost raw cookie dough like interior.  For me, that's hard to top.

If you'd like to try a new chocolate chip recipe, give this one a whirl!  Let me know what you think, and how it stacks up to your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.  

Fluffy Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies from Let's Live la Vida
2 sticks butter, softened
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
9 1/2 oz good-quality milk chocolate, chopped (I used a whole bag of semi sweet chips)

1. Using mixer equipped with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on med-high til fluffy, about 5-7 min. Scrape down sides of bowl when necessary. Continue mixing while adding eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg. Add vanilla .
2. In med bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour mix. Mix til just combined, ensuring not to over mix. Using a spatula, fold in chips.
3. Using a small ice cream scoop(I used a large one), place cookies 1" apart on sheet. Gently press down dough balls with palm of hand. Bake 360F for 12 min. Remove from oven and allow to bake  2 min on baking sheet. Place on a rack to cool.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Blockette is 9 months old in this picture, and it is proof that we actually did try to cook her in the stewpot. 

Look at those chubby little arms. And those cheeks!  Om nom nom!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Parmesan Chicken casserole

Are you a cheater McCheaterpants like me? Are you a lazy Magee?  I fully and freely admit that I am and love to take a shortcut if at all possible to save time and effort. In particular, I hate frying things, but I do like Chicken Parmesan.  Normally that would be a problem as the usual Chicken Parmesan requires frying.  With oil.  That pops up and gives you burny hurty ungoodness.

OH ho!  Not anymore though.  This recipe for Parmesan chicken over at Food wishes needs no dangerous cooking in boiling oil.  The whole thing is more like a casserole, and it gets baked in the oven.  How simple is that?!

Here's what it looks like right out of the oven.  Silly me forgot to take a picture of the darn thing served up on a plate.  (Head over to Food Wishes if you are curious.)
The big secret ingredient in this dish is garlic croutons. Yes!  Croutons.  They are what gives the dish that breaded crispy fried fake out flavor.

Here's what you need to do: (In case you are too lazy to watch the video over at Food Wishes)

Cheater cheater Chicken Parmesan Casserole from Food Wishes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
hot red pepper flakes, to taste
5-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cups marinara sauce
1/4 cup chopped basil (or dried)
8 oz mozzarella, shredded
4 oz Parmesan, grated
1 (5-oz) package garlic croutons

Coat a 9x13 pan with olive oil.  Sprinkle on the garlic and red pepper flakes.   Place your chicken breasts on top of the oil and garlic in the pan so they don't overlap.  I like to pound the chicken flat first between plastic wrap.  This way all the chicken is an even thickness and will cook at the same rate.  Next, pour on the red sauce, covering the chicken evenly. (Like the gentleman over at Food Wishes, I didn't measure the 2 cups out.  I didn't want to have to wash out a measuring cup either, so I just eyeballed it.)  Sprinkle on the Basil and half the cheeses.  Next dump on the croutons, spreading them out evenly over the cheese.  Top with the remaining cheese. Bake 350F for 35 min-1 hour or until your chicken reaches 155F with a meat thermometer.  Let the meat sit for 10 min before serving.  Shove your face and enjoy your lack of effort!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 Thankful Thurs #4

1. I did not have a hissy fit when I couldn't find any jeans that fit me...again.

2. I found the fancy shampoo I like that I haven't bought since Blockette was a baby.

3. Said Shampoo was on sale.

4. I did not fall on my bum on the sidewalk going to get the kids from the bus.

5. Blockette got the highest possible marks on her report card.

6. All the check marks from talking too much last quarter were gone.

7. I made it home from church last night before I got sick.

8. The new Dr. I saw today was very nice.

9. Not once did he imply that it was "all in my head."

10. Nor did he make me feel like an idiot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Too Bad it's not Halloween

All she'd need is an orange shirt!
Now she's missing her upper and lower front tooth on her left side.  And if you can believe it, this was the least goofy face Blockette made out of this set of photos.  She knows exactly how long it takes for the flash to go off and the actual picture to take.  So she has this nice sweet angelic face when I click the button, and then hams it up as the shutter and flash go off.  The little stinker.

Anyhow, M and Blockette had been having a contest of sorts as to who could lose their tooth the fastest.  M lost his on Mon.  I don't think it was a fair contest as his had been hanging from a thread for over a week.  (He wouldn't even let me touch it or I would have "helped him win" ages ago.) Last night, right before bed, Blockette asked me to wiggle the tooth, just one more time.  I twisted it and she said, "Ow mom!"  And to both our surprise, there the tooth was between my fingers. 

This tooth pulling thing is really fun.  Now I know why my mom always had to resort to trickery to pull out all my teeth.  If I knew how fun it was, I'd never have let her near any of my loose teeth!

Twisty Hair for Me

I was feeling particularly yucky today but still needed to get something done, so I thought, if I try something funky on my hair, maybe I'll feel better.

Here's what I did:
Man is it ever hard to take a picture of the back of your own head!
It's called a French twist and pin.  I need practice the style some more as it doesn't look exactly like it's supposed to, but I don't think it's too shabby for my first attempt. We'll see how well it holds up for the remainder of the day.  If you'd like to see how I managed to do this to my own hair, head on over to Hair Romance for the video tutorial

Roasted Taco Flavored Chickpeas

I had tried roasting chickpeas in the oven several years ago. I thought they were rather disgusting. Of course this was before I incorporated beans into my regular diet and I was under the impression that I didn't like beans at all.  As my tastes have changed, I thought I should give roasting garbanzo beans a second chance.

There seem to be two schools of thought in roasting these beany little fellows: roasting with oil and roasting without oil.  Both methods require the chickpeas to be tossed in oil so the seasonings have some way of adhering to the bean. As less oil seems like it would result in a slightly healthier snack, I chose the no oil roasting method from Willow Bird Baking's Chili-lime roasted chickpea recipe.
For some reason, my chickpeas did not cook very evenly, even though I stirred them every 15 minutes.  I really liked the super crunchy ones, and only sorta kinda liked the not so crunchy ones.  I found these little guys quite addicting. I only made a half recipe, but I had to stop myself so I didn't eat the whole thing in one sitting.

Next time I plan on trying this out with dried chickpeas.  I think they will be slightly better tasting, as I've heard dried garbanzo beans are better than their canned cousins.

Chili-Lime Roasted Chickpeas from Willow Bird Baking
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), drained, rinsed, and blotted dry. (I also popped the little skins off of mine) (Each can is about  1 1/2 c cooked garbanzo beans)
3-4 teaspoons chili powder (I used Penzeys Arizona Dreaming spice blend)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lime juice (I didn't have any lime juice so I omitted this)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 teaspoons cumin
Pinch of dried herbs of your choice (I used a little rosemary and thyme) OR chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray. Spread chickpeas out in a single layer over the foil. Once oven is preheated, bake chickpeas for 45-50 minutes, stirring and flipping every 15 minutes or so. To check for doneness,remove a few chickpeas, let them cool for a minute, and then bite into them. Take them out when they’re really crunchy.

Near the end of the chickpeas’ cooking time, combine oil, chili powder, lime juice, sea salt, and cumin in a medium bowl. Whisk to mix. When chickpeas are done, let them cool for just a minute before pouring them into the oil mixture. Stir to coat all the chickpeas well. Eat immediately, or store in an airtight container (after cooling completely) to eat later.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chad's Cheater Cheater Veggie Soup

My friend Chad gave me this Vegetable soup recipe ages ago and I finally got around to making it.  I have no idea where he got the recipe from, so let's just say he made it up himself.  Hooray! 

It's the easiest thing ever. Are you ready for it?
Into your crockpot dump:
1 can each of canned corn, peas, beans, carrots, and sliced potatoes-undrained
1 bottle of V8 Regular or spicy(I'm not sure on the size, I think it was the 32 oz bottle)
1T Chicken seasoning (Um, I used chili seasoning/Penzeys Arizona Dreaming because my handwriting is so awful.  I thought it said chili.  Whoops.)
1t each onion and garlic powders

Let the concoction brew for 2 hours on high.  Then add 2 large spoonfuls of giardiniera. And 2-3 T  sugar to balance the heat from the giardiniera and the acidity of the tomato.

That's it!
We had our soup with some country ribs on the side.  Heaven forbid if we don't eat meat at every meal.
The verdict on the soup from Mrblocko that it was good, but he'd rather eat soup with meat in it.  We have mostly made the switch from eating canned veggies to fresh or frozen, so the taste and texture of the canned stuff was unfamiliar to our palates.

Did you know that I had never heard of giardiniera before I moved to Illinois?  I was talking to my mom about this recipe and she had no idea what it was.  If you don't know either, Giardiniera is an Italian mix of spicy pickled vegetables.  They use it a lot on Italian Beef, which are popular in and around Chicagoland.  I really don't care for them so go figure. 

The giardiniera was good in the soup though.  Added a tiny bit of heat to the mix.  It probably would have packed more of a punch if I had used the hot stuff.  I wanted Blockette to eat it though, so mild it was.

Anyhow, I think this soup has good bones, but there are a few things I'll change the next time I make it.  Instead of the Chicken Seasoning (or ahem...chili seasoning), I think I will try some beef flavoring. Beef and tomato pair quite nicely together.  I think this will give the soup a richer taste. 

Next time I'll also swap out the canned stuff for frozen corn, beans and peas.   I'll also add some fresh diced potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions and celery.  The combination of the frozen and fresh veggies will give the soup a bit more texture, something that we missed with the canned stuff. 

Finally, I'd add tubettini, or some other small cut pasta suitable for soups.  I think this will help thicken up the broth as well.  I've become accustomed to a thicker, less brothy soup, probably from all the bean purees I've been using lately.

Thank you again Chad for your Cheater Cheater Veggie Soup recipe! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This is what you find on your computer when you do a little housekeeping. A photo (taken by my mom) from a nice warm fall day.
We've had about a week of winter now and I think I've had my fill.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Oven Chili Dogs

Well you learn something new everyday. I've been married to my husband for 4 billion years, (OK maybe just 10 years,) and I did not know that chili dogs were one of his favorite foods.

I asked him how come it was that I was just learning about this now. Do you know what that crazy boy's reply was? "Well I never told you because they aren't very good for you."

Huh? For the better part of our marriage we ate horribly. Garbage and junk from various eating establishments.  Most of which were no better or worse that these baked hot dogs I found over at In the Wabe.

I must say, as bad as these babies are for you, they were so om nom nom good.  I did use whole wheat hot dog buns, so I guess they had some redeeming qualities to them. 

Here's what the chili dogs looked like before they jammed out in the oven for 45 min.
I forgot to take a picture after I baked them.  Just imagine that cheese is all melty and gooey.
Yes you did read that right.  45 minutes in the oven.  And no, they don't burn up to a crisp.  They are perfectly perfect in every way.  And that's even better than Mary Poppins.

Little old me is going to tell you something that is uncharacteristic from this blog.  Do not deviate from the recipe.  Yeah, uber weird coming from me, I know. Even if you hate mayo, use it.  It creates awesomeness on the bun in the oven.  If you leave it out, you will have sadness.  And really, who wants sadness?

Also, please for pitty's sake, use the kind of chili that has beans in it.  Even Blockette didn't complain about the beans, so you know they are part of the magic in the recipe.  I don't know why.  That's why it's magic.

Oven Hot Dogs from In the Wabe
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns
1 can of chili, the kind with beans
1/2 an onion, diced
cheddar cheese
mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
yellow mustard
relish - sweet or dill.  Dealers choice

Line inside of hot dog buns with mayonnaise (both sides) and sweet relish. Evenly add mustard. Fill with hot dogs and squish into a 13×9″ baking pan.Top hot dogs with chili, cheese, and diced onion. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

We had a few hot dogs for leftovers, which we reheated in the microwave.  I had originally planned to reheat them in the oven but I was overcome by excessive laziness.  Strangely enough, even though they were mushy, they were damn delicious.  They had to be cut up and eaten with a fork, but no one cared. 90 seconds was the perfect time for our ancient beast of a microwave to sufficiently reheat the dogs without turning the bun into a rock.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Thankful Thurs #3

1. Not being in the car when I had digestive issues.

2. Getting out with my friend for a few hours on Tues.

3. Blockette's playdate with M on Monday.

4. I didn't screw up Mrblocko's cake this year.

5. The lawn in the back yard isn't going to need to be mowed for months so I won't have to pick up all the sticks back there for months too!

6. Blockette is a fast learner.

7. Resting instead of helping out at church on Wed.

8. I only had to shovel a half inch today.

9. No one even raised an eyebrow when Blockette exclaimed rather loudly, "The Pastor looks just like a black man!" when she meant to say "Men in Black." (They have a secret agent theme going on at their youth group this session.)

10. I have not maimed or injured anyone today

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Better than Egglands Best

Remember back in September when I won a bunch of stuff, including eggs, from Egglands Best Eggs? And those eggs were the best eggs I ever tasted.  Seriously, I didn't think that there would be a difference, but there was.  Egglands Best Eggs taste fresher and more like an egg than the usual grocery store fare.  So yum yum yummy.

Nothing could ever top Egglands Best.  Or so I thought, until this weekend, when we got these beauties.
One of the parents of a child in our Sunday School class GAVE these to us.  Their chickens had laid them the day before. 

Holy cow.  So unbelievably good.

Blockette had a hard time choosing what color to have for breakfast, but settled on a pinkish one.

Now some of you who have read my profile might be thinking, um doesn't it say she lives in a suburb of Chicago?  Well yes, I do.  It just so happens that I live in a far western suburb,  very close to a lot of farmland.  I think it's the best of both worlds.  The town has become quite built up in the past 6 years, but at times still has that small farming community feeling. I love it. Especially if it means people give us free freshly laid eggs!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spice Girl

One of my friends is in the process of moving.  Like everyone does when they move, she was complaining about the amount of stuff she and her family has accumulated.  During one phone conversation she mentioned how she had way too many spices, some that she never even used.

I laughed at her.  Yes.  Laughed out loud at her, not even the fake lol that people write these days.  Nice friend I am eh?

See the thing is, I have a LOT of spices.   One might even go so far as to say that I have a problem.  An addiction to spices.

I mean I knew I had a lot of spices, but I didn't realize how many I actually had until I couldn't find the Red Pepper Flakes the other day.  I wondered how bad things actually were so I took inventory. I had 37 different spices or blends..in one cabinet, and 47 in another.

Yeah, like I said...I MIGHT have a teensy weensy problem.

It's really not my fault though.  Penzeys Spices is my pusher.  See when you sign up for their catalog they send you coupons to try spices out...for free.  FREE I tells ya.  Really yummy spice blends.  Spice blends that your child gets addicted to and must have on eggs or chili or whatever so when your free stuff runs out you have to go back to Penzeys and actually buy some more.  Because you are a good and wonderful mother, and not because you like them too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fire Hazard

Happy Birthday Mrblocko!
Don't worry, I won't put ALL the candles on the cake this year.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Entering the 21st Century

At one point I had created myself another blog (Recipe Linky Loos) in attempts to organize of all the great recipes I had discovered online. I have since transferred all that good stuff to Pinterest. I like it a lot better because I can view recipes by photo instead of hyperlink.

 If you want to check it out click on the button below.

Follow Me on Pinterest

If you're not familiar with Pinterest, beware. Looking at all that stuff can waste a lotta lotta time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 Thankful Thurs #2

Uh oh. Only the second Thursday of the year and already I'm forgetting to post on time!

1. I didn't cancel my Dr, apt.

2. Blockette and M didn't argue at all on Friday.  (Whoohoo!)

3. The screen door is functioning better.

4. First time I shoveled this winter wasn't until January 12th. (Must be some sorta record.)
myspace layouts
5. It finally snowed. (Blockette was so excited!)

6. I went to the grocery store on Thursday instead of Friday so I wouldn't have to drive in the "first snow of the season." (People forget how to drive in snow every year.)

7. I convinced my husband to leave work early so it wouldn't take him 12 hours to get home driving in rush hour.

8. Mrblocko got home safely, and in time to eat a late dinner with us.

9.On Thursday I walked 9,652 steps according to my pedometer.  (My goal is to do 10,000 and the closest I've ever come this winter is around 4K.)

10. Snugly kitties who lay on sore muscles and purr and purr and purr until you both fall asleep.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rosca de Reyes

So January 5th was Twelfth Night or Three Kings day. This day celebrates the arrival of the three wise men and January 6 marks Epiphany in the Christian calendar.  Growing up Protestant, we never really did anything for either of these days. 

Enter the internet.  I was very intrigued with all the Rosca/Roscon de Reyes I saw posted on people's blogs.  As I am too much of a mutt to have my own personal cultural celebrations, I figured I'd glom onto the ones I think are fun...or tasty!

I chose the three kings bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour Website. It looked like the easiest for me to follow as it had step by step photos. (I don't think I'd ever have learned to cook if it weren't for blogs with step by step photos!)

Here is my final product.

It's not very pretty.  I don't think I made the slits in the bread deep enough, or close enough together. That must have been why the cracks formed.  It certainly wasn't because the dough was dry.  The bread had a great soft, but not too soft crumb.  No one said nuffin bout no cracks I tells ya.  We were all too busy shoving our faces.

Traditionally, you are supposed to decorate the cake with dried candied citrus peels and cherries.  My grocery store didn't carry any citrus peels and I was too lazy to make my own.  As for the cherries, my daughter does not like them.  I knew if I had a maraschino cherry on the bread, she wouldn't touch it.

I swear she is the only kid on the planet who doesn't like them.  One time I gave her canned fruit cocktail and she freaked out because there was a cherry in there.  Touching her other fruits!!!!  The cherries were the only thing I ever wanted to eat in fruit cocktail as a kid.  I thought all the other stuff was gross...especially the grapes.  They reminded me of slimy eyeballs.  EW!!
Don't you love my Hercules Disney plate?  All the classiest dishes are being served on them.
Anyhow, back to the Rosca.  I filled mine with a combination of chopped pecans, almonds, walnuts, raisins, golden raisins, and dried cranberries.  I wanted a little more variety in the dried fruit, but the dried fruit mix in the store looked nasty, so raisins and cranberries it was.

I didn't have a baby Jesus little figure to place inside the loaf though.  I read how sometimes people use a bean.  That scared me.  I was afraid one of us would bite into the bean and crack a tooth.  Sometimes people use a whole almond but those are pretty hard as well.  Tasty bread is not worth a trip to the dentist!

The top was already being decorated with pecans so that was out.  I didn't want Blockette to get confused about the inside and outside pecans, so I slipped in a whole walnut.  It was pretty massive and hard to cram inside the loaf.  When the bread was done cooking I could sort of see where it was, but Blockette couldn't and that was the main point.

Now, I'm not a big fan of raisins in bread.  Usually, I pick them out.  I actually liked them in this bread though.  Maybe the bread was just that good, or my taste buds are changing.

M was over the day I made this bread.  He is terribly picky and usually won't eat anything unless it is something his mom has brought over for him.  I asked him if he wanted one of the things his mom brought, or if he would like to try the bread for his after school snack.  Surprisingly, he said he wanted the bread.  He loved it, although he  did pick out each and every one of the raisins and cranberries!

At first, Blockette didnt want to try it.  But she soon changed her mind when M, Mrblocko and I were  gobbling up our slices with our eyes rolled back into our skulls. M commented that I was the best bread baker ever, to which Blockette heartily agreed with pride.  I guess she is proud that I don't suck in the kitchen.  Yay!

Apparently there is a glaze that goes with this recipe.  I just saw it now when I went to the website to grab the address for the hyperlink above.  Oh well.  I bet it would have been tasty with the glaze, but it was so good, I don't think anyone missed it.

Here is the recipe with the glaze included:

Three Kings Cake (Rosca de Reyes) from King Arthur Flour
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup dried mixed fruits or Favorite Fruit Blend
1 tablespoon lemon, orange, or lime zest

candied red cherries and/or orange peel
toasted sliced almonds, pecans, cashews, or walnuts

1 T sugar
2 t water
1/2 t vanilla extract.

1) For dough: Heat milk to simmer in small saucepan  Pour the hot milk over the butter, sugar, and salt, and stir occasionally until the butter melts. Cool the mixture to lukewarm.

2) In a mixing bowl combine milk mix, eggs, and yeast. Add the flour 1 c at a time, and mix til a soft, smooth dough forms.

3) Place dough in a greased container, cover it, and set it in a draft-free place to rise until doubled (about 1-1 1/2 hrs).

4) After the first rise, deflate dough, cover, and let it rest for 10 min. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; roll into a 20" x 12" rectangle.

5) For the filling: Brush the surface of the dough with melted butter, leaving a 1/2" strip bare along one of long edges. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add nuts, mixed fruits and zest, and stir to coat. Sprinkle  evenly over buttered section of dough.  

6) Assembly: Starting with garnished long edge, roll dough up jelly-roll style, working toward edge with no butter. Pinch seam together to seal firmly, bring ends together to form a ring. To keep  bread round, grease outside of a small bowl or custard cup and put on parchment-lined baking sheet. Place ring, seam side down, around bowl and tuck one end inside other, pinching together to seal.

7) Flatten ring slightly, and using a pair of scissors, make cuts in dough at 1 1/2" intervals around  outside edge. Hide a doll or candy inside bread. You can place strips of candied orange peel in cuts. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled (about 30-40 min).

8) To bake: Once dough shaped and rising for second time, preheat the oven to 350°F. When  dough is risen, remove plastic wrap, and brush top with beaten egg. Place candied cherries (cut in half) in the spaces between slits in dough, and decorate with nuts as desired. Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over top.

9) Bake bread for 25-30 min, covering loaf loosely with foil after the first 15 minutes, as it will brown quickly. Remove bread from oven when inner parts of slits look cooked and interior measures 190°F . Cool bread on a rack.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Last minute cornbread muffins

The other day M's mom was a bit later than usual to pick him up. It was about 5:30 and I thought that some corn bread would be a tasty addition to dinner. So I did a quick search on cornbread. I quickly realized that cornbread would take longer than I was willing to spend. But then, I had the thought about corn muffins. I settled on this recipe for cornbread muffins from Eat at Home.
It's a basic, quick, no frills recipe. Nothing knock you off your feet special, but it made the perfect accompaniment to our leftover chili dinner

The cornbread was also tasty wrapped in a paper towel,  reheated in the microwave for 15 seconds, for breakfast the next day.  Almost as good as the first time around.

Cornbread Muffins from Eat at Home
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter, melted (4T)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk

Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl. Stir sugar into melted butter. Add egg and milk. Pour wet into dry ingredients and stir, just to combine. Divide into 12 greased muffin cups. (I used a cookie scooper.) Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes.  (Mine were done at 16 minutes and I let them cool 5 min in the pan before turning them out onto a cooling rack.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

White Chicken Chili-except with Turkey

Jenna over at Eat Live Run raved about this White chicken chili so much that I felt compelled to make it. Yeah. I know. Chili is supposed to be red.  I declared it here, on this very blog, on my fourth post ever.  Well, after nearly 3 years of posting, it's time for me to eat my words.

This chili was awesome.  Totally awesome.  Even if I changed the recipe up quite a bit.

The biggest change I made to the original recipe was to use leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.  I actually had this recipe in mind when I was carving up the leftover turkey after Thanksgiving.  This chili is probably a bit meatier than the original recipe, as I used a pound of pre-cooked turkey, not raw.  I think raw meat looses moisture and weight as it cooks.

The other big change to this recipe was that I used dried pinto beans instead of canned cannellini. Earlier in the week I cooked up over a pound of dried pinto beans to use in bean dip. (Precooked beans freeze really well.) It made loads more than I had anticipated. Considering I didn't have enough containers, or space in the freezer for all those beans, I set aside a whopping 4 cups of beans for use in this chili.

Four cups of cooked beans is considerably more than 2 cans of beans.  Figure each can is 14-15 oz and some of that is liquid that gets drained out. So why so many beans when I've stated several times on this blog that I am not the biggest fan of beans? Simple. I pureed all but a heaping cup before adding them to the chili. I didn't have any cream in the house and I figured the pureed beans would make up for some of that creaminess. Plus it would give us extra fiber, protein and good beany vitamins. No one, not even Blockette, complained about the beans, whole or otherwise, in the chili.

Along with the beans, I was afraid that Blockette was going to complain about the green chilies. I mean there are 2 cans of those babies. She didn't even know they were in there. I'd been avoiding cooking with chilies because I am a wimp, but seriously, I couldn't taste any heat from them. Neither could Blockette!
I call this picture, "chili smells so good I have to quick snap a horrible picture so I can shove it in my face."
White Chicken Chili adapted from Eat, Live, Run
1 lb shredded, cooked turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1 T vegetable oil
4 c cooked pinto beans, divided
4 c chicken broth or stock, divided (I had turkey stock on hand)
2 4-ounce cans chopped green chilies
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp oregano
1/8t cayenne (Mrblocko added lots of hot sauce to his bowl to up the heat.  Use more cayenne if you don't have wimpy taste buds.)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c milk
8 ounce reduced fat sour cream
Cheddar cheese for topping

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Saute onion, 6 min. Add garlic, cook 3 min. Meanwhile, puree all but a heaping cup of beans in a blender or food processor. Use some stock as needed to get the beans smooth.

Add turkey, beans (pureed and whole), spices,  remaining stock and green chilies. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

Turn off heat and add sour cream and milk. Serve cheese and sour cream to top.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Breakfast Sandwich Casserole

I had really high hopes for this breakfast sandwich casserole from Sisters' Stuff. A make-it-the-night-before breakfast casserole...that's like an egg sandwich, and all I have to do in the morning is stick it in the oven? Yeah, how could that not be awesome? I guess I built it up in my mind too much as the end result was a bit of a let down.

Not that it wasn't good. It was. I just had it in my brain that it was going to be this awesome uber breakfast. My loving husband told me that it was just fine that the breakfast wasn't "Awesome" and that it was OK for food to just be OK. Then he went on to tell me that I can't be like Wolfgang Puck all the time. That made me chuckle, 'cause what he doesn't realize is that I don't even care for Wolfgang Puck all that much. (Unless it's pastry, cheese, chocolate or bread...French cuisine is not my thang.)

I think the biggest bummer of this dish, aside from the fact that it stuck to the pan like nobody's business, was that the bread on the bottom was soggy. I hates me some soggy bread. It's like eating a wet sponge.  (Not that I've ever eaten a wet sponge before, only dry ones.)
See all those sticky bits.  Ugh what a pain to clean...that's why Mrblocko is in charge of the dishes!
The leftovers were surprisingly less soggy than the ones freshly cooked.  To reheat the leftover sandwiches I placed them "soggy" side up on a cookie sheet and stuck them in the oven as it was preheating to 350F.  Once the oven got up to 350F,  I cooked them for another 10 min.  I think this, along with sitting in the fridge for 24 hours, drew a lot of the moisture out of the sandwiches.

Breakfast Casserole from Sisters Stuff (My changes are in blue.)
12 slices of bread (Texas toast would be best.  Might eliminate some of that soggy bread on the bottom that you get with regular sandwich bread.)
18 oz of grated cheese (I only used about 8oz of cheese and it was plenty cheesy)
1 pound of your favorite meat (I used half a package of  bacon that had been fried up ahead of time and diced ham.  I have no idea if it was a pound of meat.  Probably closer to 3/4 of a pound.)
Veggies (I used 3 medium onions that had been caramelized along with 3 cloves of minced garlic.)
8-10 Eggs (I used 10 eggs, they probably could have used a splash of milk along with them)
I also added a few dashes of hot sauce in the egg mixture.  Some mustard would be good too.
Salt and Pepper

Generously, butter all slices of bread. (I don't think I slathered on enough butter.) Place 6 slices of bread, buttered side down. Then top with grated cheese, meat and veggies. Then place the other 6 slices of bread, buttered side up on the top. Beat 8-10 eggs in a bowl, with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the whole casserole...make sure to get all the bread covered with eggs. Cover the pan in foil and refrigerate over night. Bake at 350 for 1 hour with the foil on, then 30 min without.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I'm Incredible

With everyone making New Years resolutions on getting more fit and healthy, I just realized, I have the body of a super hero!

I ask you, who is more physically fit than a superhero?  

So who cares if the superhero I resemble just happens to be Elastigirl aka Helen Parr from the Incredibles. She's probably the most realistic looking lady superhero out there.

This just validates the fact that I am Incredible.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to save the world...seriously.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Reheating Bread

OK.  So I haven't tried this yet, but I'm posting it on here so I don't forget the next time I bake up loaves of bread.  Too bad I cubed and froze the extra loaf of garlic bread I wrote about yesterday!  Oh well, it will make tasty bread pudding.

Anyhow, here is the trick to getting the crusty exterior to your baguettes when you reheat them, (courtesy of One Good Thing):

Run the loaf quickly under running water. Put it directly into a 350F oven for about 10 minutes, until it’s crisp on the outside and warm on the inside.

That's it.  I can't wait to give it a try!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Garlic Bread

I'm on this quest to make crunchy crusty bread. Sadly, mine never gets this crusty shell.  Or maybe not too sadly, as I've learned that my husband doesn't really care for the super crusty exterior.  But, too bad for him, because I like it.  I've been known to pick away and only eat the crusty part off the bread bowls at Panera, much to the amusement of my friends.  Seriously, I think it's the best part.

I thought I'd give a new recipe a try and maybe I'd strike gold.  This time I used this bread recipe from Karen Cooks.
If you hop on over to her blog, you will see that my loaves don't look much like hers.  Mine were just a little on the dense side. Still tasty, but not what I wanted.  I did my best to get it warm in the kitchen.

I even did that trick where you turn the oven on to heat it up and then turn it off and let the dough rise in the warmed oven.  The bread did rise, but just maybe not as much as it should have.  Also, I'm wondering if maybe I kneaded it too long.  Is there even such a thing?  I have so little knowledge about the science of how bread works.  I really am clueless.

As the title of the post indicates, I made this bread into garlic bread. I forgot to snap a pic before I served the finished product to a ravenous crowd, so you'll just have to use your imagination. I used this recipe for garlic bread from Simply Scratch.  I didn't have any shallots or fresh parsley, so I just left those out.

The recipe from Simply Scratch says it is for 1 loaf of Italian bread, but as my loves were a tad on the small side, I used two.  Even with using two loaves I had a lot of the butter mixture that melted off onto my foil lined pan in the broiler.  Even though there was less butter per slice than the original recipe, the bread was still as buttery and garlic-y as it should have been.

Blockette said it was better than store bought frozen garlic bread, which always makes me smile.

Crusty French Bread - From Karen Cooks
2 ¼ tsp dry yeast
2 cups warm water
6 cups flour
2 T sugar
2 tsp salt
2 T olive oil
Cornmeal for dusting the pans
1 egg white
1 T cold water

Fit stand mixer with paddle attachment. Pour water into mixer bowl and add yeast. Stir to dissolve. Add sugar, oil and salt. Mix on low for 30 seconds. Mix in 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. Mix on medium until all flour has been incorporated. Add an additional 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. Mix until all flour has been incorporated. Change to dough hook and knead on medium until dough is smooth and elastic, or about 8 minutes. Dough will be sticky. Place dough in a large greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover and place in a warm place to rise until doubled, about an hour.

When dough has doubled, punch it down, cover and let rise again for 30 minutes. Punch dough down again and knead for 1 minute on a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12x9 rectangle. Roll up jelly roll fashion and pinch the seam together. Tuck ends underneath.Line baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place bread on parchment, cover and rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Make evenly spaced diagonal cuts on top of each loaf. Beat egg white and water together and brush over each loaf of bread with a pastry brush. Place a pan of hot water on bottom shelf of the oven. Place baking sheet with loaves on shelf above water. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from baking pans and cool on wire racks.

Parmesan Garlic Bread from Simply Scratch
1 loaf of Italian Bread
2 stick of Unsalted Butter, softened at room temperature
3 cloves of Garlic {two if large}, pressed
2 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon Shallots, minced
1 tablespoons Parsley, minced
Salt and freshly cracked Black Pepper, to taste

Combine garlic, shallots, parsley, salt, black pepper, softened butter and Parmesan. Mix until all the ingredients are combined. Slice the Italian loaf lengthwise and heavily smear half of the butter mixture on each of the halves. Place under broiler and toast until golden and crispy, rotating the pan if necessary, about 5-8 minutes. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I took these pictures today...

Please keep in mind that it is JANUARY 5th.  And I live just outside of CHICAGO where our average temperature this time of year is a high of around 30F.

My Black Lace Tree has buds on it.

The Crocuses are up and the Hyacinth also has begun to form buds.

Parsley anyone?

Hello Sedum.
Forecast for tomorrow is 50F.
What's going to happen when winter finally comes?  Is my garden doomed?

2012 Thankful Thurs #1

1. An easy fix for my sewing machine.

2. Not having major digestive problems for over two weeks.
Where is my Winter Wonderland Christopher?

3. Blockette being well behaved over Winter Break.

4. Not having to shovel...yet.

5. It's been warm enough that it wasn't a huge deal we left Blockette's hat, mittens and scarf up at my mom's.

6. My mom was nice enough to mail Blockette's winter things.

7. I realized Blockette didn't have school on the second before I made her lunch and headed out to the bus stop.

8. Winter break is finally over and we can all get back into the normal routine again.

9. Being Ok with things not being perfect.

10. All the Christmas cookies are gone.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Indecision Cookies

What do you do when you can't decide between a chocolate chip cookie and a chocolate chocolate chip cookie?  You have them both. (Perfect, when you think that this year is an election year and there's a lot of indecision going around.)
You can totally do that with these brown butter double fudge chocolate chip cookies from How Sweet it is.  Each cookie is made from half chocolate dough and half plain dough.

My cookies sort of fell over so each cookie bit was side by side instead of right on top of each other.  But I tell you, they still taste just as yummy.  I think this was because I didn't have time to bake the dough right away, and it got too cold sitting in the fridge for a few hours.  But who really cares what they look like right?  Especially when they are so darn tasty!

I'm quite sad to say that I gave away this entire batch (minus 2...Blockette and I had to do some quality control testing,) to my uncle for Christmas.  Although he claims that he never got any cookies for Christmas because he doesn't even know what a cookie is.  Isn't that sad.  Yeah...a sad ploy for more cookies.

Double your trouble Brown Butter Chocolate chip cookies from How Sweet it is
(The original recipe says to make the dough and then divide it, but my scale doesn't work well, so I made the dough as follows.)

12 T butter, divided
1 c brown sugar, divided
1/2 c sugar, divided
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature, divided
2 t vanilla extract, divided
1 3/4 c flour, divided
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 t baking soda, divided
1 1/2 c chocolate chips, divided

Preheat oven to 325.

Melt 6 T butter in a pan over medium high heat, whisking constantly until it gets little brown bits floating in it. Place in bowl #1 to cool.  Repeat with another 6 T butter and place into bowl #2 to cool.

Place 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/4 c sugar in each bowl.  Stir until smooth.  Crack 1 egg and 1 yolk into a small bowl.  Beat slightly to combine and divide in half, placing half in bowl 1 and bowl 2.  Add 1 t vanilla to each bowl.

In bowl #1 add:
1 c flour
1/4 t  baking soda

In bowl #2 add:
3/4 c flour
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t baking soda

Stir contents of each bowl until combined and dough forms, stir 3/4 c chocolate chips into each bowl.

Roll each dough into 12 balls, so you end up with 24.  Pull each ball apart. Take one chocolate chip half and one double fudge half, placing the round ends together with the rough edges out. Place dough rough-side down on a non-stick baking sheet about 1 1/2-2 inches apart.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are a little soft in the middle and golden on the edges. Let cool completely. makes 24 cookies

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Freezing Quinoa

Did you know that you can freeze quinoa?  I read about it over at Not Rachael Ray.  I figured it was worth a shot.  So, when I made Broccoli Quinoa Casserole in November, I cooked up the entire box and froze what I didn't use in ziplock bags in 1 1/2 c and 1 c portions. 

This was a huge time saver for me, doing the cooking just once.  When I used the quinoa, I let it defrost in the fridge first.  Guess what!  No one noticed a difference in texture or flavor.  I've heard you can do the same with rice so I might have to give that one a try next.

Monday, January 2, 2012

December Reads

The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc by Kimberly Cutter. 

Man, I thought I was going to have a big goose egg for reading books in the month of December, then I found some time to read while I was visiting my mom over Christmas. 

This book was just ok.  I've read several books about Joan of Arc in the past 10 or so years.  Can I remember any of them?  No, of course not!  Wait, maybe it was Joan of Arc movies that I've seen a bunch of.  As I can't seem to recall any specific story or author. 

Anyhow, his book was enjoyable, but nothing special.  If you were reading about Joan of Arc for the first time, I'd probably suggest something else a little more factual, but then again that would be a dry read so never mind.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Food for Thought this New Year

I saw this and it made me think about the "Occupy Wall Street (or insert city here)" Movement.
We, as in the entire United States, are the 1%.  Even the poorest of Americans have it better here than the majority of the world. I really need to remember this, shut up and quit complaining about stupid stuff.