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Oh, those college days!

As a mentioned in a previous post, I decided to make my husband’s cousin a little care package and send it off to her in college. This is her freshman year and of course she is living in the dorms and having the time of her life. It seems like just yesterday I was moving into my dorm and starting college, but it has actually been 8 years since that big move! It is crazy how time flies. I do remember though how nice it was to get packages of goodies from my mom and my Nana. I mean if she is anything like I was, I lived off of ramen noodles and rice, unless I ventured off to have some of the less than spectacular cafeteria food. Of course I had my occasional Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, which is a splurge on a college budget, but there was nothing like getting that package of homemade goodies. I had suite-mates, but no roommate, so I didn’t have to share either.

Okay, enough reminiscing of days past, back to my care package for Juliann. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to come up with the contents of the package. The main problem being, the temperatures down here in Florida are well into the 90′s and I knew anything that contained too much chocolate was going to melt. So I needed things that weren’t only sturdy (to make it through the shipping process), but that would also get to her without being a complete and utter mess. So I decided on the Apple Cinnamon Scones I mentioned in a previous post and also went with a Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Blondie. I figured since the blondies were much more dense than a cookie the chocolate chips should hold up fairly well. I think my conclusion was correct, but Juliann will have to confirm that for me. Just an FYI, the scones didn’t do as well getting to her as I would have liked. They were more of a muffin consistency than a typical scone consistency, so by the time they got to her they were a bit on the soggy side. Once again, I believe the blondies were okay though, but Juliann will have to confirm.

I originally found this recipe on Martha Stewart’s website, but I did some modifications because honestly, they sounded a bit bland in their original form. The final product came out quite nice. My husband absolutely loved them! It’s a good thing he went out of town the day after I made them or else they probably would have never made it to you Julianne! This is a very simple recipe that is perfect for having around the house. With school just starting back this is a great treat for an after school snack or for the lunch boxes too. Not that I have children to test this theory on, but I am assuming. One day though, one day.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Blondies

adapated from MarthaStewart.com

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet minis)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch (or 9 inch) square baking pan with butter. Line bottom and two sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides. Butter paper, and set pan aside.

Using a mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. With mixer on low, gradually add the flour, granulated sugar and baking powder; mix just until combined. Mix in 3/4 cup oats. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Using a spatula or table knife, smooth batter evenly. Sprinkle with remaining oats, pressing gently to adhere. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, *30 to 35 minutes (see note below). Let cool in pan 30 minutes.

Using overhang, transfer blondie (still on paper) to a wire rack to cool completely. Place on a cutting board (peel off paper); using a serrated knife, cut into 16 squares. Store blondies in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Notes:

-If you are using a 9 inch pan, I suggest checking the blondies at 20-25 minutes (depending on your oven), otherwise they may get too dry.  I completely forgot that I used a larger pan than directed and left them in the full time; they were good but I would have liked them a bit more moist.

-According to Martha Stewart’s website, these will freeze for up to 2 months.

Yields: 16 bars

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Yes, you heard me right!

I absolutely love soup. Even though I live in a place where it is at least in the 80′s, if not the 90′s most of the year, I can eat soup all of the time. Maybe it’s because I am cold natured and once the air conditioning hits below 75 I am chilled. I don’t know, but I am not going to complain because soup is an easy meal that can be made a million healthy ways. I love the fact that it is usually hearty, but it doesn’t have to be laden with fat, calories and sodium to be that way.

With that said, you are probably thinking that cream based soups are definitely out of the question then. Wrong! A fellow blogger of mine, Cara at Cara’s Cravings, is always coming up with healthy, yet delicious and satisfying meal ideas. She is amazing at thinking outside of the box. Well, a while back I found a recipe on her blog for a Creamy Asparagus Soup. The word’s “Amazingly Healthy” were also placed in front of the title. This was definitely something I was going to have to try!

So, you ask, how does she make this so called “creamy” soup creamy while still keeping it healthy? Don’t you dare snub your nose at this when I tell you!!! Cottage Cheese. Yes, I said cottage cheese. As we all know, this is something that you either like or you loathe. I am pretty sure most people loathe it because of it’s not so appealing texture. I mean it is instilled in us from a young age that chunks in dairy products aren’t usually a good sign, except of course with cottage cheese. Well, I assure you that this “creamy” soup will in fact be creamy and not chunky. The trick is pureeing the cottage cheese so it actually has a completely smooth texture and resembles a cream substance. I honestly thought this was genius and would have never thought to do it on my own. As Cara reminds us in her post, not only are you making a soup creamy without guilt, but you are also adding a good amount of protein and calcium to your dish.

So, Cara dared us to make this for our non-cottage cheese eating husbands, which I did. The first time I made this I made it exactly the way she did. Although my husband was a bit freaked out by the thought of the cottage cheese, he did admit that it was a great soup and that if he didn’t know, then he would not be able to tell there was cottage cheese in it. Well, I decided to make it again recently, but try it with different veggies. Instead of asparagus I included broccoli and cauliflower. It turned out just as fabulous as the asparagus version. So I send you off to go try the cottage cheese method and experiment with it a bit. I assure you, you will not be disappointed.

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Creamy Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup

adapted from Cara’s Cravings

1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz. of fresh broccoli/cauliflower mix (or 6 oz. of each)
freshly ground salt & pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups chicken broth
6oz low fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup nonfat milk

Wash the broccoli and cauliflower, and chop into small pieces, about 1/4-1/2″. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 7 minutes, until softened and translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add broccoli and cauliflower, salt & pepper, lemon juice and seasoning and stir to combine. Add chicken broth; this should be enough to just cover the vegetables in the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Blend together the cottage cheese and milk in a blender or in a separate container using an immersion blender, until completely smooth. Set aside.

Remove the soup from heat and process until smooth, either using an immersion blender or by transferring to a food processor or blender. Return to medium-low heat and gently stir in cottage cheese mixture. Bring to a boil, and cook for 1-2 minutes to let it fully thicken.

*Notes:

-Cara used Penzey’s Greek seasoning in her version instead of the spice blend. If you have the Greek seasoning, feel free to use 1 tsp. of that in place of the garlic powder, oregano and lemon juice that I used.

-I have used both a blender and an immersion blender, I recommend the immersion blender over the regular blender if you have the choice.

-Be sure to blend the cottage cheese until it is COMPLETELY smooth. If you don’t get it completely smooth, then you will have small chunks in your soup.

-You can also make this soup vegetarian by using vegetable stock/broth.

Yields 4 smaller servings

Approximate Nutrition Facts (according to Spark Recipe)
Serving Size: about 2 ladles full
Calories: 92.1
Total Fat: 2.6 g
Saturated Fat: 1.7 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.6 g
Cholesterol: 10.3 mg
Carbohydrates: 8.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.7 g
Protein: 9 g

*The sodium content is going to vary depending on the type of stock/broth that you use. I recommend using a low sodium version. I used a cottage cheese that had a 4% fat content, feel free to use something less.

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I can smell fall, even if I can’t feel it!

I want to preface this with the fact that fall is my favorite time of the year. Now that I am back in Florida, I miss the chilly weather and the beautiful foliage. This is the time of year that I yearn to live somewhere in the north.

With that being said, can I tell you that I wanted to throw something at my TV the other night! My husband was flipping through the channels and stopped at a news station. The weather just happened to come on and I was watching it, even though I know it is a joke in South Florida. Well, the meteorologist proceeded to talk about how we are going to get a little cold front. What?? A cold front this early?? We don’t get cool weather (that being the 70′s) until at least December. I had this moment of extreme excitement, like a little giddy school girl. He then proceeds to say that the temperatures will be in the low 90′s with less humidity. What??? How dare he play with my emotions like that! Who in their right mind would utter the words “cold front” and “temperatures in the 90′s” in the same sentence?

So now I had to find a way to mend my broken little heart. What better way than to make Cinnamon Apple Scones? I knew that would bring my fall spirit back and shining. I came across this recipe while going through my Google Reader the other night. Again, it was a great contribution from the wonderful Katie at Good Things Catered. I knew I would have to make these ASAP! The only problem is, I don’t like baking full batches of things to keep in our house. I say that because it means the full batch will be consumed by my husband and I. Last time I checked, my waistline didn’t cooperate with that so kindly. Well, it just so happened I was also trying to find a couple of treats that would ship well to my husband’s cousin in college. It looks like she will be getting some scones in her package!

So off I went to bake some fall flavored goodies. As soon as my house started to fill with the scents of apples and spice, my memories of that wretched weatherman began to diminish. So now I can spend the week filling my spirits with fall goodness, even if I have to come to reality when I walk out of my front door and the 90 degree heat hits me.

Oh yeah, and these tasted delicious too!

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Apple Cinnamon Scones

adapted from Good Things Catered

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce (I used unsweetened)
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups apples, cored, peeled and diced (about 2 medium to large apples)

Cinnamon Glaze:
4 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine egg, applesauce, milk, and vanilla; whisk to combine thoroughly and set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt; whisk to combine.

Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until all pieces are smaller than pea-sized. Add apples and toss to coat.

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix in lightly with fork until dough just comes together. Turn dough out onto well floured work surface and pat into a large ball. Cut dough in half. Shape half of dough into a flat disk shape and cut into 8 slices.

Place on baking sheet and repeat with other half of dough. Bake until they turn slightly brown, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cinnamon and water; whisk until completely smooth. When scones have cooled completely, drizzle the glaze across the top of each with a spoon or fork. Let dry completely before storing.

Yields 16 Scones

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The lighter side of Rollatini

My husband and I love Italian food. As a matter of fact, my husband would eat Italian every night if you would let him. So I struggle at times to figure out how to satisfy our Italian cravings while still keeping it on the healthful side. Instead of being heavy on pasta I try to think of lighter ways to incorporate the flavors of Italian cooking. That way we can have the comfort of the food, but without the guilt.

After spending some time catching up on the past two months worth of cooking magazines that I hadn’t gotten around to, I had a spark of inspiration. I’ll be honest, I am still a bit green when it comes to designing my own recipes. I get a tad anxious in the kitchen when I don’t have the safety net of a tried and true recipe. I am learning to experiment though and I am getting more comfortable with it each time. My biggest motivation to do this is the fact that I want to make more healthful dishes, but I don’t want them to be bland and I want to base them off of the more indulgent flavors we love so much. So I took a stab at it and below is what I got. A tasteful and healthful combination of eggplant, chicken, green beans, sun-dried tomatoes and homemade San Marzano marinara (I’ll get that recipe to you soon); along with the flavors of Italian spices and a bit of indulgence with Italian cheese.

rollatini-cropped

Eggplant and Chicken Rollatini

1 medium eggplant
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
garlic powder
Italian seasoning
about 25 fresh green beans
2 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water
5 sun-dried tomato halves, chopped (dry or packed in oil)
2 cups of your favorite marinara sauce
12 thin slices of mozzarella cheese

Slice the eggplant thin, cutting length-wise (you should get about 12 slices). Soak the eggplant in cold water for 20-30 minutes. Remove from water and pat dry.

If you are using dry sun-dried tomatoes, place the halves in hot water and let soak until ready for use (about 20 minutes).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and heat your grill to medium-high heat.

Using an oil sprayer, spray each piece of eggplant on both sides, as well as season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Take chicken breasts and season both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Place chicken on grill and cook about 6 minutes on each side. In the meantime, place the eggplant on the grill as well and cook about 3-minutes on each side.

Heat a small pan, sprayed with olive oil, over medium-low heat. Add the green beans, garlic, salt & pepper, and crushed red pepper. Saute (continuing on medium-low) about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water, cover and increase heat to medium-high; let steam for an additional 2-3 minutes. When tender, remove from heat.

Assembly:

Cut each chicken breast into thin slices. Take a piece of eggplant and lay it flat, place two chicken slices on the bottom end, top with two green beans. Then place a couple of pieces of sun-dried tomato over the chicken and green beans. Carefully roll the ingredients into the eggplant and place in a 9×13 inch casserole dish. Continue assembling and lining in the dish until all of the eggplant, chicken and green beans are used.

Spoon the marina sauce over the rolled eggplant. Place a slice of mozzarella over the top of each roll. Place in the oven and bake 20-30 minutes, or until heated through.

*I served this with a small side of whole wheat pasta tossed with garlic and a bit of extra virgin olive oil.

Servings: about 3

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A Last Summer Treat

That last couple weeks of summer are upon us and with them brings mixed emotions for all. People like me, who live in Florida, are suffering through the most brutal days of the summer and begging fall to get here as quickly as possible in hopes of seeing 70′s in the forecast. Our friends to the north are looking forward to the apple picking and beautiful foliage but are savoring the last few warm days of the year. On the other hand we are also battling with our cooking desires. We are counting down the days until we have the scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, apple and cranberry slithering through our homes, as well as pots of soups and stews simmering on the stove. At the same time we are also trying to fit in those last few summer dishes we haven’t gotten around to yet. Needless to say, our menus are probably a bit of a mix mosh these days.

Labor Day was probably the last of the big summer get togethers and barbecues for most. So while I was thinking of sweet treats to bring to the BBQ I attended, I kept the traditions of summer in mind. I knew I had to make the banana bars I had found a recipe for, but I wanted one more thing. What is more of a summer treat than s’mores?? We weren’t going to have a campfire handy, so I needed to think along other lines. I decided to go with a s’mores brownie. That is a combination that most wouldn’t turn down!

I went to work looking to see if I could find a tried and true recipe, but to my dismay they all came back with mixed reviews. I really didn’t want to take the chance of them coming out sub-par. So I decided to take a brownie recipe that I knew was a winner and then add the s’more elements on my own. While trying to decide on what brownie recipe I wanted to go with, I remembered that I had bookmarked a Cook’s Illustrated version that Annie from Annie’s Eats had made recently and raved about. It was simple and chocolatey, so I went with that one.

I added a graham cracker crust and “roasted” some marshmallows on top. In the end I had a yummy s’more-like concoction without the campfire and flaming marshmallows. They were a perfect end of summer treat!

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S’mores Brownies

brownies adapted from Baking Illustrated as seen on Annie’s Eat’s
crust courtesy of The Bon Appetit Cookbook

Crust:
6 whole graham crackers, broken into small pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

Brownies:
5 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips)
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1¼ cups (8¾ oz.) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (5 oz.) all-purpose flour

Topping:
1/2 bag mini-marshmallows

Position oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan with parchment paper (allowing edges to extend over sides). Blend graham crackers, sugar, and butter in a food processor until moist crumbs form. Press crumbs evenly onto the parchment paper in the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake crust until light golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Place to the side.

Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt; whisk until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until incorporated. Then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to make an even layer. Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, 35-40 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully move the rack to about 6 inches from the broiler and preheat to broil. Top the brownies with the marshmallows, making an even layer. Place the pan on the rack and watch carefully with the oven door cracked. Make sure to stay by the oven and watch because the marshmallows will smoke a bit and brown VERY quickly (if you aren’t careful they could potentially catch on fire). As soon as the marshmallows have a nice brown crust, remove them from the oven. Let cool completely before attempting to remove from pan and cutting. You may want to butter your knife a bit to prevent the marshmallow from sticking.

Cut to your desired serving size.

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Black-Bean Soup with a Kick

If my husband had his way, he would eat a vegetable (preferably broccoli) and a starch with his dinner every night. Don’t get me wrong, he is not a picky meat and potatoes kind of guy, but he would still be completely content with the simplicity of those side dishes on a daily basis. Me on the other hand, would probably give up eating altogether before I would eat the same stark meals day after day. So I am always on a mission to find new, but healthy side dishes to compliment our meals. I mean let’s face it, we could all eat mac n’ cheese, loaded potatoes and every other calorie laden side dish every day of the week if our waistlines and arteries would let us, but that is not realistic. At least it isn’t in my world. So that leads us back to finding the healthy, but tasty and satisfying variety of dishes.

After plastering the title of boring eater to my husband, I will now give him some credit because he is the one who suggested black bean soup over our fairly regular black beans the other night. Although I was the one who raced up the stairs in hopes of beating him to a great recipe. See, he will look for a recipe and then try to change it in every way possible in order to not follow the recipe. In many cases this leads to a fabulous dish (b/c he is a great cook), but in other cases he turns into the spice monster and tends to “over flavor” the dish. So I raced to my computer and immediately went to Epicurious.com, which is my new favorite recipe source. One of the first recipes I pulled up was one from the December 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine. I thought it was going to be something a little too obscure for our simple dinner, but surprisingly it was a simple yet delicious sounding concoction. I passed it along to the anti-recipe guy, since I was going to put him in charge of making it, and to my surprise he said it sounded great! No only that, but he made the recipe without altering it beyond recognition. Of course we did change it up a tiny bit, but for the most part it was great the way it was.

So we now have a new side dish to add to our repertoire and my husband actually followed a recipe without completely changing every element. Don’t get me wrong though, I may like to give my hubby a hard time, but he is an amazing cook and I love him dearly.

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Spicy Black-Bean Soup

adapted from Gourment 12/08 via Epicurious.com

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh jalapeño (2 inches), seeded and minced
1 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 (15-ounces) cans black beans, 1 drained and rinsed, 1 with liquid (we use low sodium)
2 1/2 cups chicken stock/broth (use 2 cups if you prefer it thicker)
1 bay leaf
Green Onion, chopped for garnish

*Use vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian.

Heat oil in a 4-to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat, then sauté onion, garlic, and jalapeño with chili powder, cumin, and oregano until onion is beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add beans, stock/broth, and bay leaf and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until soup has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.

Transfer about 1 cup soup to a blender and purée (use caution when blending hot liquids). Return to pot and reheat over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Discard bay leaf. Season with salt if desired. Add green onion for garnish.

Yields 4-6 servings

Approximate Nutrition Facts (according to Spark Recipe)
Calories: 229.7
Total Fat: 3.9 g
Saturated Fat: .09 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.9 g
Cholesterol: 3.1 mg
Carbohydrates: 44.8 g
Dietary Fiber: 11.6 g
Protein: 13.6 g

*Please note that these are very approximate nutrition facts since one can of beans was rinsed from it’s liquid. This is also why I left the sodium out b/c it was not going to be accurate at all.  These facts were also based on the amounts for 4 servings.

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Heavenly Banana Bars

I try and pull inspiration for recipes and cooking techniques from all different sources. I watch my fair share of Food Network, subscribe to a ton of magazines, own quite a few cook books and frequent some cooking boards online. Those are the places that I probably get most of my inspiration from. Although those are all wonderful resources, I am always looking for something new to change things up a bit. I recently started visiting Tastespotting and Food Gawker, and they have become wonderful resources. Not only do you get to look at beautiful food photography, but all of those photos are linked to great recipes and ideas. I love these sites too because there is such a variety of information.

During one of my recent visits I saw a photo of delicious looking cake slices. They looked yummy enough for me to click and see where they led to. The photo took me to an adorable blog called My Baking Addiction, which is put out by Jamie. Not only did I find a fabulous sounding recipe, but I also found a wonderful new site for sweet treats! After reading over the recipe and seeing that I had two sad looking bananas hanging in my kitchen, I knew I had to make this for the Labor Day get together we would be attending.

Oh, and did I mention that this cake is topped with cream cheese icing?? This little recipe was just winning my heart over more and more by the minute. And win my heart over it did! Not only my heart, but the hearts of just about everyone who tried it. My uncle, who never eats desserts, came over and took three pieces on a plate to hide away for himself for later. Thank goodness I made the last minute decision to cut the larger pieces I made in half in order to create more, haha.

I should also mention that this is a very easy, fuss free recipe. How could you go wrong with an amazingly delicious cake that that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort? I suggest you go out and make this as soon as possible!

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Banana Bars with Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing

adapted from My Baking Addiction, originally seen on allrecipes.com

Cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I actually mixed a little plain with a bit of vanilla flavored that I had on hand)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large bananas)

Icing:
2 (8) ounce package cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar ( adjust sugar for desired thickness and sweetness)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the yogurt and vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; stir into the batter. Finally, mix in the mashed banana. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow bars to cool completely before frosting with the cream cheese icing.

In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla extract. Spread on cooled cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*This recipe creates a large amount of icing.  You could probably get away with making half of the recipe to ice this cake.  Although, there is nothing wrong with having leftover cream cheese icing hanging out in your refrigerator!

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Spice up your night.

I subscribe to quite a few cooking magazines, as I am always looking for new ideas and forms of inspiration. One of my favorites is Cooking Light. I know some people out there don’t like the magazine as much as they used to and I do admit I was getting a little tired of it myself while reading the past few issues. Well, I received my September issue a week or two ago and I was surprised to see that they have given the magazine somewhat of a face lift. I have to say, I am really liking it. The last few issues prior to this one seemed to be lacking in the recipe and food department. I really hope they keep up this new format because it has so much information on ingredients, nutrition and a huge variety of recipes.

Okay, so why did I give that shout out to Cooking Light? No, I am not getting paid to endorse the magazine. Like I mentioned, this issue had a great variety of recipes. So, of course I made one. I love one pot dishes, so anytime I come across a great one pot dish, I am all over it. This particular recipe was for a Creole Shrimp and Sausage Stew. This dish was really tasty and will be perfect for the cool days to come. Well, the cool days to come for my friends to the north. I most likely won’t be seeing a cool day at least until December or January. This recipe is also a great base recipe for switching things up. You can pretty much use it to clean out your refrigerator if you have some veggies to use up. You can also make it as spicy or tame as you like; I used the spicy Rotel and it gave it quite a kick.  We ate it over brown rice and it made for the perfect meal.

newest-stew

Creole Shrimp and Sausage Stew

Adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup thinly sliced turkey or chicken sausage (about 6 ounces)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained (such as Rotel)
8 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1 (15-ounce) can of white beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add bell pepper, onion, carrot and celery to pan; saute on medium-high heat about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sausage to the pan; sauté 3 minutes or until the veggies are tender, stirring occasionally. Add broth and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Stir in shrimp and beans; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes or until shrimp are done. Sprinkle with parsley.

Yields 4 servings

Approximate Nutrition Facts (according to Spark Recipe)
Serving size: about 1 cup
Calories: 298.2
Total Fat: 6.3 g
Saturated Fat: 1.7 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.9 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 2.1 g
Cholesterol: 117.1 mg
Sodium: 863.8 mg
Carbohydrates: 32.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 6.9 g
Protein: 27.2 g
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You can have your cake, and your truffle too!

One thing I have learned since I started cooking and baking is that in many cases, the recipes that are the most impressive in looks are sometimes the simplest to make. Although this recipe has been shared on many a food blog and cooking board, I almost don’t want to out it to my family and friends because of the simplicity. These little guys can be made so many different ways, and are so pleasing to the eye, but they couldn’t be any easier to make.

I originally found this recipe on Katie’s blog, Good Things Catered. By the way, she is a domestic goddess and you should check out her blog if you haven’t already. She made them into these cute little flower pops that she actually used as centerpieces. Since I was making these as part of a gift, I wanted to go in a different direction with them. I decided to go for more of a truffle look. In my experience of making these, I have also found that they can be difficult in the dipping process. Instead of dipping this batch, I decided to use wax paper, place a dollop of chocolate on the paper, place the cake ball down on the circle of chocolate and then, using a spoon, pouring the chocolate over the top of the ball. After placing them in the refrigerator to cool and harden, you can peel the truffles right off of the wax paper. The result, a pretty little truffle with an interesting look.

These are so tasty and you can make them to please just about anyone’s palette. So, I send you off now to be creative and create your own little masterpiece of a truffle. Of course feel free to use the recipe verbatim too!

Truffles

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Chocolate Almond Cake Truffles

adapted from Good Things Catered, originally from Bakerella

1 box of yellow cake mix (or any recipe or flavor you choose)
1 can of chocolate frosting (or flavor of your choice)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 bag of dark chocolate morsels
crushed almonds for sprinkling on top

Prepare a 9×13 baking pan and bake your cake according to directions and let cool completely.

Slightly crumble your baked and cooled cake into a large mixer bowl, add the frosting and almond extract, stir to combine completely.

Take small amounts of cake mixture and roll into 1-inch balls, placing onto a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet.

When all cake balls are rolled, place baking sheet into fridge overnight (this will form a crust around the edges and make the cake mixture much easier to work with)

In a double boiler, heat the chocolate morsels until they are completely melted and smooth.

Line a backing sheet with parchment or wax paper. For each truffle place a small dollop of the melted chocolate on the paper, place the cake ball on top of the chocolate and then spoon more chocolate over the top of the ball so it drizzles down the sides. Sprinkle crushed almonds over the top. Continue this process with each cake ball.

When finished, place the pan in the refrigerator until the the chocolate is completely cooled and set. You can then remove them from the paper and serve.

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Impressing the Bagel Snob

Who doesn’t love a great bagel?? The more important and often debated question is, what makes a great bagel? Some prefer the large, bread like bagels. Others, like my husband, prefer a bagel that has a nice crispness on the outside with a soft interior. This type is usually considered more of a NY style bagel. While I will take any bagel I can get my carbaholic fingers on, my husband on the other hand is a bagel snob. He is from NY and his uncle has been running his own bagel shops for years. Need I say more?

Well, I had been wanting to take a stab at homemade bagels for a while. I did a pretty good job with the Challah bread last year, so it was time to take on a new challenge. Of course I was really hoping to make a bagel my other half would be proud of. After looking over a number of recipes and knowing my reputation was on the line with my husband, I decided to go with the source that usually never disappoints, Cook’s Illustrated.

So the verdict? The bagel snob gave me a thumbs up!! Woo-hoo. He was actually down right impressed. He never expected to come downstairs and see bagels that looked as if I bought them from the local bagel shop. Of course my bagels don’t compare to those you will find in good old NYC, but I think I made the hubby proud.

Bagels

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Plain Bagels

Courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated

4 cups (22 ounces) high-gluten flour (I used bread flour)
2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. barley malt syrup (I used honey)
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 cups water (at 80 degrees)
Cornmeal for dusting the baking sheet (I used flour)

Mix the flour, salt, and honey (or barley malt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the yeast and water; mix at the lowest speed until the dough looks scrappy, like shreds just beginning to come together, about 4 minutes. increase the speed to medium-low; continue mixing until the dough is cohesive, smooth, and stiff, 8 to 10 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a work surface; divide it into 8 portions, about 4 ounces each. Roll the pieces into smooth balls and cover with a towel or plastic wrap to rest for 5 minutes.

Form each dough ball into a rope 11 inches long by rolling it under your outstretched palms (I found that dampening my hands made it easier to roll out). Do not taper the ends of the rope. Shape the rope into a circle, overlapping the ends of the rope about 1 1/2 inches. Pinch the overlapped area firmly together, dampening it slightly if the ends won’t stick. Place the ring of dough around your hand at the base of your fingers and, with the overlap under your palm, roll the dough ring several times, applying firm pressure to seal the seam. The dough ring should be roughly the same thickness all the way around. Dust a large baking sheet with cornmeal (or flour), place the dough rings on the sheet, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight ( 12 to 18 hours).

About 20 minutes before baking, remove the dough rings from the refrigerator. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Pour the water into a large stockpot to a depth of 3 inches and bring the water to a rapid boil.

Working 4 at a time (or however many will fit in your pot), drop the dough rings into the boiling water, stirring and submerging them with a Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon, until very slightly puffed, 30 to 35 seconds (I let mine go for about a minute). Remove the dough rings from the water and transfer them to a wire rack, bottom-side down, to drain.

Transfer the boiled rings rough-side down to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp, about 14 minutes. Use tongs to transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you want to add toppings to your bagels, as I did, dunk the dough rings into your choice toppings while they are still wet and sticky (after you have removed them from the boiling water and allowed for draining).

Tips:
*I found that using my oven on convection helped make the bagels brown more evenly.

*I found that I preferred how they baked on parchment paper rather than on my silicone mats.

*This is more of an FYI, but these bagels also tend to hold a lot of moisture, so if you have leftovers and store them in a plastic bag they will most likely get a little moist from condensation. The second time I made these I even tried letting them sit out for quite a while before storing them and they still drew out condensation. It’s not the end of the world though.

*This recipe does give your mixer quite a workout, so keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t overheat.

Yields 8 bagels

Approximate Nutrition Facts (according to sparkrecipe.com)
Serving Size: 1 bagel
Calories: 234.6
Total Fat: 0.1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 582.6 mg
Carbohydrates: 47 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.5 g
Protein: 8.9 g
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