Warm Butternut and Bell Pepper Salad

Warm Butternut and Bell Pepper Salad

On Sunday, I woke up and realized that I’d barely eaten a single vegetable between Friday and Saturday. Please tell me that happens to you, too. This recipe was born out of a need to make something delicious and vegetable-based, with the ingredients already in my kitchen. It’s funny how sometimes the most wonderful dishes come together that way – and I can guarantee that this dish is indeed wonderful. It’s got soft, slightly sweet butternut squash, bell peppers, garlic, and onions as a base.  To flavor it, I created a cross between a light balsamic vinaigrette and Chinese take-out inspired sauce that works with the nutty squash flavor better than I could’ve dreamed.

I was cooking bacon before I started concocting my “stir-fry,” so I threw some torn, thick-cut bacon in with the mix. It added another dimension to the texture, and I don’t think I even need to remind you how adding the flavor of bacon to just about anything will immediately improve it. I wilted some spinach into it at the end to add a little more color and bulk. I don’t actually love cooked spinach all that much, but the flavor of it sort of disappeared in this dish, so I got more nutrition without that bitter wilted spinach flavor. This is yet another addition to my “make vegetables taste good” file.

I was truly just throwing things in the pan for this one. Chop up the vegetables, saute them, and add your sauce. Then throw in a big handful of fresh spinach, let it cook down, and the result is a perfect alternative to a regular cold salad. The prep and cooking processes take maybe 30 minutes, and you don’t have to stand at the stove the whole time the food is cooking. Since starting this blog, I’ve become very aware of how much I like being able to multitask. If I can make lunch and clean up the kitchen at the same time, (and maybe text and dance and dream up other blog ideas as well), I am a much happier person.

I invented this recipe to be my lunch, but it would make a fabulous side dish for beef or chicken, or even a vegetarian entree if you forgo the bacon (just make sure to taste it and see if it needs an extra dash of salt in that case!). That said, the recipe makes a fairly small portion. Even as a side dish, you may need to double or triple the measurements depending on who you’re feeding. It’s a quick, healthy lunch or dinner for when you want something warm and comforting, but still light and fresh. If you’re doing any kind of low carb diet, then this recipe is definitely for you.

I always mention how recipes are incredibly versatile, but I suppose that as a person who can’t ever follow a recipe without tweaking it, I just think everything is open to interpretation. You could try this dish with other kinds of squash, any greens you like, beets, or mushrooms – the possibilities are endless when you’ve got some onion, garlic, and a great sauce to start.




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Warm Butternut and Bell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 medium white onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 2 cups diced butternut squash
  • 2-3 strips of bacon
  • 3 tsps olive oil, divided use
  • 1 tsps balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsps sesame chili oil
  • 2 tsps soy sauce
  • 2 tsps honey
  • 2 tsps rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsps brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 big handful of fresh spinach

Instructions

  1. Chop red bell pepper, onion, bacon, and butternut squash, and mince garlic. Add to skillet on high heat with a tsp of olive oil. Give them a quick stir once every minute or so.

    2. In a small bowl, stir together all remaining ingredients including 2 tsps of olive oil to make the sauce. When the vegetables in the skillet just start to brown, pour half of the sauce over them and stir.

    3. Keep an eye on the skillet, stirring frequently (but not constantly). When the vegetables look like they're almost done (squash and peppers are tender, onions are browned), pour the other half of the sauce into the skillet and stir.

    4. Let cook for 3-4 more minutes, and lower heat. Add fresh spinach to the skillet and stir in. Let it cook just long enough for the spinach to wilt. Remove from heat and serve.

    Note: I place a large pot lid over my skillet after adding the spinach to help it wilt a little faster.


King Cake Cinnamon Rolls

King Cake Cinnamon Rolls

If there’s any food more ubiquitous for celebrating Mardi Gras than King Cake, I’m not certain what it is. I suppose pancakes would be a reasonable answer, but I wasn’t really in the mood for pancakes. I wanted to create something a little more interesting than an ordinary King Cake, and lot more delicious than any version that involves cinnamon rolls from a can. They’re okay in a pinch, but no substitute for the real thing.

This recipe is essentially the most delicious homemade cinnamon roll you’ve ever had, braided, baked, and topped with cream cheese frosting and festive sprinkles. Cinnamon rolls are a perfect choice for a sort of imposter King Cake, because King Cake is typically a yeast dough with cinnamon – the biggest difference between the two is the texture. If you’re a stickler for tradition, maybe check out a different King Cake recipe. If you want to make a batch of perfect, soft, gooey, “personal King Cakes,” then this recipe is for you.

King Cake Cinnamon Rolls are far superior to regular cinnamon rolls because of the way the cinnamon mixture is folded into the dough. The even distribution of gooey, buttery cinnamon-sugar throughout each roll makes every bite perfectly balanced. To achieve this, you start by splitting the dough into three sections. The sections are rolled out, one at a time, into roughly 12×10 inch rectangles. The rectangles of dough are covered with a thin layer of butter, then the cinnamon-sugar mixture, and then sliced into eight equal pieces, as shown in the photo below:

At this point, you stack the strips in layers of two, so you have four piles. Then you twist two of the piles together, and repeat with the other two piles, to get this:

Then you curl each twist into a circle, pinch the ends together, and place it in a greased 9×13 pan. They look a lot more elaborate than they are, but since you’re braiding just two sections together, it’s really just criss-crossing the pieces over each other. When you get them all in the pan and bake them, the result looks so impressive you may decide to skip frosting and sprinkles entirely – I mean, look at them:

But everyone knows that cream cheese frosting is half the reason you eat cinnamon rolls in the first place, and not adding sprinkles on Mardi Gras would be silly, so I don’t know if skipping them is really in your best interest. The cinnamon rolls do bake up sort of square-shaped, since they’re nestled in the pan that way. I cut the corners off of mine (after baking) to give them that nice, round, King Cake shape. This is a great way to go, because then you can eat all those extra corners. It’s not gluttony, it’s Fat Tuesday. It’s important not to waste food, after all.

If you want to make the experience more authentic, you can hide a little plastic baby inside one of the cakes. A popular alternative is to use a bean –  or in my case, a gold jelly bean (champagne flavored!).  In either case, remember to warn people to watch for it. Finding the baby or the bean in your cake symbolizes luck and prosperity, and means you’re the king for the day. Which, of course, means automatic permission to snag another cinnamon roll!

 




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King Cake Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon roll dough adapted by Homemade With An Upgrade from "Master Formula: Multipurpose Sweet Dough," from Crust & Crumb, by Peter Reinhart.

Filling and cream cheese frosting recipes are from "Glazed Cinnamon Rolls", from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated.

Servings 6 King Cakes

Ingredients

Cinnamon Roll Dough

  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling 420g
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 50g
  • 1 Tbsp instant yeast .33oz
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softend
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature 9.75oz
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter for spreading on rolled dough

Cinnamon Filling

  • 3/4 cup packed, light brown sugar 144g
  • 3 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar 60g
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • yellow, green, and purple sprinkles for decorating

Instructions

  1. Combine all the ingredients, except the cinnamon sugar, in the bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook or in a mixing bowl. Mix on slow speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for about 8 minutes.

    2. If mixing by hand, stir the ingredients together till they form a ball, and turn onto a floured surface (at this point, I let the dough rest while I quickly wash, dry, and spray the bowl). Knead for 10 to 12 minutes. The dough should be soft, smooth, and a little bit sticky, and should pass the windowpane test: after kneading for 6 to 8 minutes, or when the dough feels supple and stretchy, pinch off a small piece and stretch it slowly apart, gently pulling and rotating it. You are trying to stretch the dough into a thin, translucent membrane or windowpane. If it tears easily before reaching this state, knead for a few more minutes and try the test again. If the dough has not set up within 15 minutes, it may be too wet or too dry, in which case you will have to add more flour or water, as needed.

    3. Place the dough in the clean bowl lightly oiled with cooking spray, mist the dough with cooking spray, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for 45 minutes. The dough will double in size. Then put it in the refrigerator for 1 hour. It will firm up as it cools. It can stay in the refrigerator longer, if necessary, but I have not tested it past 3 hours.

    4. Prepare a 9x13 pan. If baking immediately, generously butter the bottom and lightly butter the sides, and sprinkle the bottom with cinnamon or cinnamon-sugar (1 part cinnamon, 4 parts sugar, stirred together). If freezing for future use, line pan with parchment or parchment-lined foil, butter the bottom lightly, and sprinkle the bottom with cinnamon or cinnamon-sugar. Set aside.

    5. Prepare filling: stir brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a small bowl, and set aside.

    6. Separate chilled dough into three equal pieces, cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out one ball of dough into a rectangle about ¼” thick, 12” along one side and about 10” on the other. Use the back of a spoon to gently spread the dough with a ½ Tbsp very soft butter. Evenly sprinkle the butter with 1/3rd of the filling.

    7. Slice dough into eight equal strips. Working with two strips at a time, stack one on top of the other so you have four sets of two stacked strips. Take two of the sets, pinch the top ends together, and braid them together. Each stack is treated like a single unit, so really you're just criss-crossing the two stacks back and forth over one another. Curl the criss-crossed dough into a circle, pinching the ends together to close the circle, and place in the greased baking pan. Repeat this process with the other two balls of dough until you have six round braided rolls in the pan.

    8. Mist the rolls with cooking spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set the pan aside to rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes. Position the baking rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

    If you need to hold the rolls longer than 45 minutes before baking, pop them in the fridge after the rise. If freezing for future use, cover tightly with plastic wrap, then wrap securely with aluminum foil (pan and all), and use a Sharpie to write gently on the foil to label it: “Thaw in fridge overnight, then let rise 1 hour on counter. Bake at 350 degrees about 55 minutes.”

    9. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the swirls at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

    10. Prepare the icing/glaze: Beat the cream cheese until it is perfectly smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar and salt until completely mixed. Beat in the corn syrup, cream, vanilla extract, and almond extract, if using, until the icing is smooth.

    11. When the spiral rolls have baked 15 minutes and look just barely golden brown, gently break a center swirl open to check that the middle is done (not still doughy-looking). Do not overbake. Drizzle and spread the glaze over the finished rolls. Top with yellow, green, and purple sprinkles. Add a gold jelly bean or little plastic baby, pushed into the underside of one of the rolls.


Dark Chocolate Caramel Raspberry Popcorn

Dark Chocolate Caramel Raspberry Popcorn

I’m one of those people who loves awards season. I love all the beautiful people in their gorgeous clothes on the red carpet, and I love when someone funny does a great job hosting. The atmosphere at awards shows seems somehow both laid back and also buzzing with excitement, and I like feeling like I’m a part of it, even though I’m just sitting on my couch. As the Academy Awards are coming up this weekend, I thought it would be fun to create a very fancy snack to eat while watching, since I can’t go be a very fancy person at a huge, televised event.

I looked up the menu for this year’s official Oscars after-party, always catered by Wolfgang Puck. Among other things, he’s planned gold-dusted truffle popcorn. A decadent popcorn seems like just the thing to snack on while watching the Oscars, but I do not have access to gold dust. I mean, I probably could if I tried hard enough, but who really wants to eat gold dust on popcorn, when you can just coat it with beautiful, golden caramel instead? So I started thinking about what would go nicely with caramel, and chocolate came to mind, as it is the most obvious answer in the world. I wanted to add a little something extra, a little more glamour. I’d seen freeze-dried berries in a recipe from my name is yeh recently, and thought they might be the perfect addition. (You have to click on that link, by the way – her photos are gorgeous).

I went with freeze-dried raspberries, and I was so right about adding them to my popcorn. The combination of the slightly salty caramel, the sweet, almost bitter chocolate, and the tart raspberries is completely amazing – and addicting. The tartness of the berries really diffuses the bitterness in the chocolate, so every bite is perfect. This is the kind of recipe you can’t make too often because it’s very rich, but the compelling flavors make it easy to eat the whole batch. The recipe makes a good amount, so there’s plenty to share – if you have the self-control for that.

It starts with whipping up a basic caramel popcorn (only takes 20 minutes, and I highly recommend you eat some of it right away), and then you add a dark chocolate drizzle, followed by chocolate chunks, and crushed, freeze-dried raspberries. You can play with quantities, depending on what you like, but I promise the raspberries give this popcorn some serious star quality. This might be the Meryl Streep of popcorn.

It’ll keep for a couple days in an airtight container, if you have it around that long. Dark Chocolate Caramel Raspberry Popcorn is like a fantastic Oscars dress: custom made for the occasion, but talked about for years to come!

 




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Dark Chocolate Caramel Raspberry Popcorn

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 8 cups of popcorn

Ingredients

  • 8 cups air-popped popcorn
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped dark chocolate; I just used dark chocolate chips divided use
  • 1 cup whole freeze-dried raspberries

Instructions

  1. Start by popping your popcorn with an air popper - you can also do this in a brown paper bag in the microwave. Place popcorn in a large bowl.

    2. Melt brown sugar, butter, and salt together over high heat. Bring just to a boil - (right when you start to see tiny bubbles), and then reduce heat and let simmer, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. 

    3. Pour caramel over top of popcorn and stir until the popcorn is all coated. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Pour popcorn out onto the baking sheet, and spread into an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. 

    4. While the popcorn is in the oven, melt half of the chopped dark chocolate in a piping bag - you can also use a sandwich baggie. Be sure to melt it in 10 second bursts in the microwave to keep the chocolate from seizing. Crush the freeze-dried raspberries into small pieces.

    5. When the popcorn comes out of the oven, let cool until you can handle it without burning yourself. Eat some, and then drizzle half of the melted dark chocolate over the whole tray. Sprinkle on a 1/4 cup of the chopped dark chocolate bits and half of the raspberries. 

    6. Place the tray in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from freezer and check that the melted chocolate has mostly firmed up. Stir popcorn around on the tray. Drizzle on the rest of the melted chocolate, and top with the rest of the chopped dark chocolate and raspberries. Freeze for 5-10 more minutes, and then pour into a bowl and enjoy. 


Tomato Basil Bisque

Tomato Basil Bisque

I should really save myself some time and just re-name this blog “Stuff I Like to Eat.” If you were wondering how I decide what I’m going to post next, it’s generally a combination of what I’ve been craving, and what recipes I’ve already done some work and testing on. This Tomato Basil Bisque is exactly what I’ve been wanting lately, despite the fact that I live on the east coast and we’re currently experiencing some full-on early spring. It’s not exactly creamy tomato soup weather, but who says it really has to be? It’s February, and that’s good enough for me!

This Tomato Basil Bisque is, like most of my recipes, a conglomeration of several others, with some of my own additions. The main inspirations for this soup were this recipe, and this one. I took my favorite parts of those, and went from there. My version of Tomato Basil Bisque is thick and creamy, deeply flavorful, and it’s got a little kick that’s balanced by the cream in the recipe. It’s not too spicy in any sense of the word, but it’s most certainly not bland.

This recipe calls for butternut squash, which I think adds a lot of body and a nice, almost nutty flavor that blends really well with the tomato. I wish I could say that was my own idea, but I got it from the second recipe linked above. The first time I worked with this soup, I tried it with sweet potato instead, to see if I could cut the (already small) amount of added sugar, but it was mostly a failure. Recipe testing is so fun – until it doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, and then you’re left with half a gallon of weird failure soup.

I paired my Tomato Basil Bisque with an upgraded grilled cheese, made on sourdough with cheddar and mozzarella, and a thin layer of mayo (try it, it’s a game changer). I’m sitting here writing this and wondering what else people serve with tomato soup – will begin that research soon!

The process for making this soup is pretty easy, and not too time-consuming. The whole thing spends roughly an hour on the stove, but you don’t have to watch it constantly. The only prep work is chopping some garlic and onion and measuring out spices, so it doesn’t become too tedious, either. You could get a batch of Stuffed Corn Bubbles filled with cheese rising/baking in the oven while making this soup, and then die of happiness when you eat them together. The southwestern flavors in both recipes would make them a brilliant pairing! I guess I just answered my own question about what else you serve with tomato soup!




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Creamy Tomato Basil Bisque

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 5

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 14.5 oz cans Hunt's fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2 oz tomato paste
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups butternut squash, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsps dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Instructions

  1. Roughly chop onions and mince garlic. Add to a large pot with 2 Tbsps of butter. Let cook until onions and garlic begin to brown.

    2. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, butternut squash (make sure the squash chunks aren't too large, so they won't take forever to cook), salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, brown sugar, cayenne, and chili powder to the pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Cover and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Continue to stir occasionally while soup is simmering.

    3. Test butternut squash to see if it's fork-tender. When it is, remove soup from heat, and blend until smooth. I used my NutriBullet, but any blender would do.

    4. Return soup to the pot over low heat and stir in cream, milk, and onion powder, Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy with a grilled cheese, or by itself! 


Apple, Feta, and Turmeric Stuffed Chicken

Apple, Feta, and Turmeric Stuffed Chicken

I was raised by a couple of serious foodies. My mom is known among family and friends as an enthusiastic baker, who is happiest playing in the kitchen. My dad’s secret dream is to be on one of the amateur episodes of Chopped, and I’m certain he’d be a strong contender – he’s got some kind of innate flavor-mixing sixth sense that continually amazes me.

We all owe my dad an enormous debt of gratitude for this recipe, because it’s all his creation, and it’s unbelievably good. Thinking about it makes me immediately hungry. It’s the kind of impressive, crowd-pleasing dish that people take a bite of and swoon over. At least, that is, if they’re anything like me. It’s a little unusual for a stuffed chicken recipe, and you definitely need to have some specific ingredients for this one, but it’s beyond worth that extra trip to the grocery store. They’re not weird ingredients that you’ll only use once and then lose in the back of the refrigerator or pantry. If you don’t use them up by making this dish over and over – it’s that good – you’ll find lots of other recipes for them. If you don’t cook with them already, prepare to have feta, sun-dried tomatoes, and turmeric become your new best friends.

This dish starts with garlic, onion, and sun-dried tomatoes, stewing in olive oil. Then you add apples, ginger, and turmeric, and let them cook until everything is soft and the flavor has started to develop. The filling is finished with a good helping of feta cheese, stirred in until it gets all melted and the whole mixture thickens. Tell me you’re not thinking about that filling and wondering if you’ve got time to stop at the grocery store to get sun-dried tomatoes and feta! The chicken breasts get seared in a pan, sliced open to create a pocket, stuffed with the filling, and then cooked in the oven. After baking, they’re topped with mozzarella cheese, and then go back in the oven just until the cheese melts.

I generally prefer food that has some kind of spicy heat, but this dish is an exception. The sweetness of the apple with the salty feta and mozzarella, mixed with the tart sun-dried tomatoes, and flavored with the turmeric, onion, garlic, and ginger, make this stuffed chicken an absolute standout. With so many flavors involved, it’s important that they’re balanced just right, and in this recipe they go together perfectly.

The turmeric in this dish turns everything a bright yellow color, so I definitely recommend serving it with some colorful veggies. I went with a simple spinach salad, topped with feta, apple, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The flavors in the stuffed chicken would go well with just about anything, so you could serve it with asparagus, roasted sweet potato, or brussels sprouts. Or you could just forgo worrying about aesthetics because you’re more concerned with eating your stuffed chicken than posting it on the internet. Sometimes I barely get my blog photos taken before I dive into the food!

The nice part about this recipe is that it can be done from start to finish in about 45 minutes. Once you’ve seared the chicken and made the filling, you’re only 25 minutes away from eating. Make a quick salad or steam some veggies, and dinner is served. This dish is a great choice if you want to really impress someone with your cooking skills, because it looks and tastes complex, but it’s so easy to put together. I’m excited to try variations of this filling, with different fruit and seasonings – let me know in the comments if you try it out, and how you put your own spin on it!

 

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Apple, Feta, and Turmeric Stuffed Chicken

Servings 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1/3 cup olive oil + 2 Tbsps, divided use
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese
  • 1 small Gala apple
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 2 tsps ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 5 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 5 oz sun-dried tomatoes
  • dash of salt - add to taste

Instructions

  1. Dice onion and mince garlic. Add all to a small saucepan with 1/3 cup of olive oil. Begin cooking over medium heat. Dice apple with skin still on, slice sun-dried tomatoes into thin strips, and add both to the sauce pan. Let cook until the apples and onions become tender.

    2. While the filling is cooking, get a skillet hot. Add 2 Tbsps of olive oil, and place chicken breasts in the skillet. Sear chicken on each side for two minutes, and remove from heat. Chicken should still be raw on the inside. Searing it on the stove just makes it easier to stuff, and helps it cook in the oven faster.

    3. Add turmeric, ginger, and feta to the sauce pan. Stir gently until cheese melts and the filling is well-mixed. Remove from heat.

    4. Cut a pocket into each chicken breast along the long side - be careful not to cut all the way through. Fill each with a fourth of the filling.

    5. Place stuffed chicken breasts on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Check to make sure chicken is cooked through.

    6. Remove from oven, top with mozzarella cheese, and cook in the oven for an additional 4-5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!




Perfect Flatbread

Perfect Flatbread

I began my hunt for a great flatbread recipe online, and didn’t have to try too many before I found a seriously amazing option. This recipe is directly from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, and I wanted to make it and post it here to make sure this recipe gets the attention it deserves.  I incorporate it into a lot of my own dishes. This flatbread is light and soft, with the right amount of chewy, and most importantly, flavorful. I’ve tried a few flatbread recipes that got the texture right, but were bland and boring. This flatbread recipe is truly delicious by itself, or wrapped around just about anything you can think of.

Flatbread in grocery stores is criminally expensive. It’s one of those things that I never buy because I know I can make it on my own for a small percentage of grocery store prices. The best part? This flatbread recipe is way better than anything you buy in the store, and you can eat it at its absolute freshest, right out of the skillet. If there’s something better than warm, fresh bread, with a slight crunch on the outside edges, then I just haven’t found it yet. I suppose that goes for all bread, but flatbread doesn’t need to be sliced or buttered…just eaten!

This flatbread is beyond easy to make. It’s one of those recipes that involves more waiting for the dough to rise than actual cooking, but don’t worry – you only have to wait about an hour total. That’s plenty of time to get the rest of dinner ready, so you can throw these in a pan and have them fresh and hot to go with whatever else you’re serving. They do need to be cooked individually, but each flatbread only takes about two minutes in the pan – if you have a large griddle you can absolutely do more at a time. I generally roll one out, get it in the skillet, and then roll the next one while the first is cooking.

The key to this recipe is the bread flour. You may be tempted to whip out some all-purpose flour because you don’t want to shell out the dough for a bag of bread flour that you’ll only use for this recipe, but bread flour will yield softer, chewier flatbread. After you experience the flatbread from this recipe, you’ll be so happy to have the extra bread flour around to make these again! The original on Mel’s Kitchen Cafe notes that you can use 2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour plus 1/4 cup wheat gluten, definitely a good solution if you have wheat gluten on hand instead of bread flour.

I have a single request if you decide to try out this recipe: please please eat at least a bite straight out of the skillet (don’t burn yourself). I cannot accurately describe exactly how gratifying and wonderful this is, when the flatbread is warm and fluffy, and smells delicious. I’m afraid it’s not something re-heating the flatbread can quite capture. It does freeze well if you want to make a lot at a time, and it’s completely delicious re-heated, just not exactly like when it’s fresh. But then again, how many things are better re-heated?

5 from 1 vote
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Perfect Flatbread

Recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe - Slight adaptations on cooking method from Homemade With An Upgrade.

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp rapid rise yeast
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup milk, heated until just warm, about 100 degrees
  • 2/3 cup water, heated until just warm, about 100 degrees
  • 3 cups bread flour

Instructions

  1. Stir together yeast, sugar, salt, oil, milk, water, and 1 cup bread flour.

    2. Stir in another 1 1/2 cups of the bread flour, until a shaggy dough forms. At this point, turn the dough out onto a clean surface. 

    3. Use the remaining 1/2 cup of flour to lightly flour the surface. Knead the dough, adding flour from the the surface you're kneading on, until it's elastic and smooth - usually I end up adding about 1/4 cup of flour through this process. 

    4. Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a clean dishcloth and set somewhere warm to rise until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

    5. When dough has risen, separate it into 6-8 even balls and set on a tray to rest for 10-15 minutes. 

    6. After the dough has rested, heat a skillet or griddle until hot. You want to keep it on a medium heat level once it gets hot. 

    7. Roll out one of the dough balls on a floured surface to a circle roughly 1/8 inch thick, and transfer to the skillet. Let cook for around 2 minutes on one side, until golden, and spots of color develop. Flip with a pair of tongs and let cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side. Transfer to a plate/your mouth. While the flatbread is cooking, roll out another to go into the skillet - continue this process until dough is all gone. 

    Note: I like to turn my oven onto its lowest heat when I separate the flatbread dough into balls. Then, when I'm ready to start cooking, I turn off the heat on the oven, and place the plate for the finished flatbread inside, adding each to the plate as they come out of the skillet. This keeps them warm and fresh until I'm ready to serve!






Triple Chocolate Hearts

Triple Chocolate Hearts

This recipe really counts as four recipes, because there are four homemade components that go into it. Triple Chocolate Hearts begin with a gooey brownie base. Next is a layer of smooth, pink, vanilla buttercream, followed by a layer of fluffy, moist, chocolate cake. The whole thing is topped with rich chocolate ganache, dripping down the sides of the cake. I wanted to create individual desserts of a similar size and cuteness as cupcakes, but in a more interesting form. I think these fit the bill perfectly.

Before you go running away because there are way too many parts to this recipe, let me make it easier. You can use a box brownie mix, a box cake mix, and a can of frosting if you so desire/don’t happen to have some extra time on your hands. Your treats will still be adorable and delicious, and you’ll only need to make a quick ganache from scratch. That said, baking is clearly my favorite hobby, so if I can find the time, I like to do it all from scratch. If you do have a little extra time, a quick way to improve canned frosting is to whip it with your mixer. This gives it a lot more volume, so you can put a nice thick – yet light and fluffy – layer between the brownie and the cake.

Triple Chocolate Hearts are extraordinarily rich, but I feel that Valentine’s Day calls for it. What is Valentine’s Day, if not an excuse to eat a lot of decadent chocolate-y desserts? Yeah, yeah it’s about love and all that, but the rest of the year can be about love if you make it, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? Letting yourself indulge in desserts like this all year is definitely not going to work out as well. Love all year, eat extraordinary treats on Valentine’s Day.

These fit perfectly in little individual cupcake boxes, so you can package them with a pretty ribbon and hand them out to your favorite people. Be careful who you give them to, though – as soon as they take the first bite, I pretty much guarantee they’ll fall in love with you all over again.

You’ll be left with scraps of brownie and cake, and maybe extra frosting and ganache. I think it would be an absolute crime to waste all of this. Instead of just eating all the leftovers the very same day, I like to work them into other recipes. You can make mini triple chocolate parfaits, cake pops, or use the extra bits to top off yogurt or an acai bowl if that’s your thing. Of course, I’m not always the best at following my own re-purposing advice. I ate basically all of the scraps myself when I made these for co-workers last year. I was in the thick of planning my wedding; I promise I needed to eat the extras to keep from losing my mind. You can easily freeze the leftover cake and brownie pieces for self-medication purposes down the road, if you don’t want feel like turning them into something else.

You can change the concept here, and make adorable non-heart-shaped cakes with different sprinkles and white or chocolate frosting in the middle instead. These would make perfect birthday treats if you’re looking for something to make besides cupcakes. The only thing that won’t change is how delicious they are.

Every layer of Triple Chocolate Hearts has a different level of sweetness, so they aren’t overwhelmingly sugary. The varying textures of the layers make them much more interesting than a typical cake,  so you’ll keep coming back for another bite, and another. Just, do yourself a favor and have some milk on hand – anything this chocolatey requires milk.

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Triple Chocolate Hearts

I use the standard Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake recipe for Triple Chocolate Hearts.  I didn't invent this one, but I wish I had!

The brownies and frosting are just typical recipes for brownies and buttercream - nothing super special or innovative (but extremely delicious).

The ganache is an original recipe. 

Ingredients

Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups cocoa
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cup water

Brownies

  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate (I used Baker's)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Fluffy Pink Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar - divided use
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 dashes salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 4 drops red food coloring

Chocolate Ganache

  • 4 Tbsp melted, unsalted butter 56.5g
  • 6 Tbsp cocoa 30g
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 85g
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

Hershey's Collector's Chocolate Cake

  1. Cream butter and sugar in large mixer bowl. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 1 minute at medium speed. 

    2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture (quickly, with the mixer running - takes about 3 minutes).

    3. Pour batter into two greased and floured 8-inch or 9-inch layer pans, or 13x9 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 mins for 8-inch; 30 - 35 mins for 9-inch; 37 mins for 13x9. 

Brownies

  1. Melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate, stir until smooth. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. 

    2. Stir in salt and flour. Pour batter into a greased and floured 8x8 pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Do not over-bake. 

Fluffy Pink Buttercream

  1. Cream together butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla, salt, and milk.

    2: Stir in remaining powdered sugar. When sugar is completely incorporated, add food coloring and stir until frosting is uniform. 

    3: Optional, but highly recommended: Whip frosting in a mixer on high until very fluffy, about five minutes. 

    - Keeps well in the refrigerator for several weeks. 

Chocolate Ganache

  1. Combine melted butter and cocoa in a small bowl. 

    2. Pour chocolate chips into another bowl. Heat heavy cream for about 25 seconds in the microwave - you can also do this over the stove. You just want it hot enough to come barely to a boil. Pour cream over chocolate chips and let sit for one minute. Stir until chocolate has melted and the mixture is completely smooth. 

    3. Combine the two bowls of chocolatey essence into one bowl of nirvana.

Tripe Chocolate Hearts

  1. Make Cake (I did a 9x13) and Brownies. While these are baking, make frosting and ganache. When cake and brownies are cool, use a cookie cutter to cut heart shapes from each. Cut off the excess cake/brownie that sticks out over the top edge of the cookie cutter so that both sides of your heart shapes are even and flat. 

    2. Use the brownie hearts as the base. Frost with a generous layer of the pink buttercream. Top with a cake heart, bottom side-up, to give you a smoother surface for the ganache. 

    3. Spread a thick layer of ganache across the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the sides. Decorate the hearts with sprinkles, and try not to eat all of them immediately!





Jambalaya Zoodles

Jambalaya Zoodles

I mentioned in my last post that one of my prime reasons for learning to cook was to be able to make vegetables taste wonderful. This recipe is the epitome of delicious vegetables, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a take on about a million versions of jambalaya, turned into an unbelievably flavorful plate of meat and vegetables. Healthy eating should never boil down to boring, flavorless dishes.

If you’re unfamiliar with cooking dishes like jambalaya, then this is a good place to start. There’s a lot of prep work involved, but no tricky techniques, and the actual cooking is quick and easy.

My Jambalaya Zoodles start as all good Cajun and Cajun-inspired cooking does: with the holy trinity: onion, bell peppers, and celery, along with some diced tomatoes and garlic. The vegetables are coated in a blend of spices and sauteed in butter. They’re taken off the heat while shrimp and andouille sausage are cooked with more seasoning. After that, everything is combined in the pan with chicken stock, and reduced until the meat and vegetables have soaked up all the flavor. The zucchini is added last, cooked in with everything else until barely tender, and then it’s time to serve!

The zucchini is a fabulous base for this combination of meat and sauce. I find that zoodle recipes are often either underwhelming in texture, or drenched in a cream sauce that leaves them feeling heavy in your stomach. These Jambalaya Zoodles have loads of interesting textures going on, between the crunch of the zucchini, the soft peppers and onions, and the hearty shrimp and sausage. This dish is a little spicy, but not so hot that you can’t truly appreciate the flavor. You can always reduce or increase the cayenne and pepper to adjust to your liking – just remember that a little cayenne goes a very long way. I’ve learned this the hard way!

If shrimp and andouille sausage aren’t your thing, you can use chicken instead and still end up with an amazing dinner. Beef or pork would probably be delicious as well, although I haven’t tried them in this recipe. It would be a wonderful meatless dish as well, perhaps with pasta mixed in with the zoodles, or mushrooms in place of the meat.

Since this isn’t a recipe for a true jambalaya, there’s no need to worry that what you end up with isn’t technically right. This recipe doesn’t pretend to be Cajun jambalaya like you’ll find in New Orleans. This is a take on the deep, spicy flavors of jambalaya, with a healthy twist. Once you taste this dish, you’ll never want to flavor anything else differently. And you’ll probably spend a few hours casually planning a dream trip to New Orleans to try some truly authentic jambalaya. In my head, I’m headed to Louisiana tomorrow. In real life, I’m making this for dinner tonight to dull the pain of an existence that doesn’t support snap-decision excursions to interesting places.

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Jambalaya Zoodles

Servings 3 people

Ingredients

  • 1/2 green bell pepper
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsps butter
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 lb andouille sausage (about 5 links)
  • 2 Tbsp white wine
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 medium zucchinis - about 9 cups of zoodles when spiralized

Instructions

  1. Note: This recipe requires a fairly sizeable skillet - I used a 12 inch skillet.  A wok would also do a great job.

    Step 1: Stir together cayenne, pepper, salt, paprika, onion powder, oregano, thyme, and basil. Spiralize three zucchinis. Roughly chop the spirals so you don't end up with very long zoodles.

    Step 2: Thinly slice peppers, onion, and celery. Mince garlic. Add peppers, onion, celery, garlic, tomatoes, and butter to a large skillet. Stir in half the blend of seasonings. Cook on high heat until vegetables are soft and starting to brown. 

    Step 3: Prick sausages all over with a fork and place in another skillet over medium heat. Pour in just enough water to come about a quarter of the way up the sides of the sausages. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook until any remaining water in the skillet has evaporated and sausages are golden brown. Remove sausages from heat, cut into pieces, and set aside. 

    Step 4: When vegetables have started to brown, remove from skillet and set aside. Do not clean the skillet.  Add the shrimp to the same skillet and sprinkle the remaining spice blend over top. Cook shrimp on high heat just until they turn uniformly pink. 

    Step 5: Reduce heat to medium, and return sausage and cooked vegetables to the skillet with the shrimp. Pour about a cup of chicken stock into the skillet, and let cook, stirring occasionally. 

    Step 6: Stir together corn starch and wine. When chicken stock has reduced by half, pour corn starch and wine mixture into the skillet and stir. Continue cooking until the sauce begins to thicken. 

    Step 7: Pour remaining chicken stock into the skillet, let cook for three more minutes. Add zucchini to the skillet and cook just until it becomes tender. Remove from heat and serve! 







Black Bean Confetti Salad

Black Bean Confetti Salad

Black Bean Confetti Salad is possibly my favorite recipe of all time. The original is from Smitten Kitchen, and it honestly changed the way I thought about bell peppers. When I started learning to cook, a lot of the motivation was (and still is) to find delicious ways of preparing vegetables so I’d want to eat more of them. I used to be very bell-pepper-ambivalent. They were too sweet and too crunchy, which is generally not a combination I enjoy in my produce. Putting them in this recipe has really helped me re-think bell peppers. I’ve found that you can learn to like almost any food if you prepare it with flavors you already love.

I became obsessed with food way before I discovered this recipe, but making and eating this stuff over the years is largely responsible for me finally sitting down and creating the food blog I’ve always dreamed of. This isn’t my own recipe, but I’ve tweaked it, adding green onion, and honey and cayenne to the dressing. I think the changes really enhance this recipe. Playing with recipes like this is so satisfying, especially when my experiments work out.

I just desperately want everyone to know about this salad, because not only does it taste like a dream, it’s also extremely healthy. Black Bean Confetti Salad is a big bowl of fresh vegetables, fiber, protein, and healthy fats – what could be better for keeping your New Year’s resolution going?

It might seem like more of a salsa than a salad, and I absolutely invite you to enjoy it with chips (and a margarita), but it also makes a fabulous side dish. I served it with Cajun-seasoned tilapia and rice recently, and they went together beautifully – that sort of meal is also inexpensive, which I love. Proof you don’t need to spend a ton of money to eat well.

This recipe makes a fairly large amount, so you could halve it, although I don’t know why you would. I personally have to force myself not to eat the whole bowlful by itself as soon as I’ve finished making it. This is partially because it’s actually better the next day, when the flavors have had time to meld, and because I think eating an entire can of black beans in one sitting would destroy me.

I’ve made a number of changes to the original recipe, including the addition of scallions. This is definitely the kind of recipe where you can play around with the spices and ingredients to really make it fit your taste. The Smitten Kitchen original suggests adding cilantro if that’s something you really love.

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Black Bean Confetti Salad

Adapted, with slight changes, from Smitten Kitchen's Black Bean Confetti Salad.

Servings 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 15oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small white onion
  • 2-3 scallions
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper

Dressing

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1 large lime

Instructions

  1. Step 1: Dice onions, scallions, and bell peppers - small is better; you want the pieces to be about the same size as the beans.

    Step 2: Drain and rinse black beans. Stir together with onions, scallions and peppers.

    Step 3: Pour olive oil into a liquid measuring cup, and add salt, honey, cayenne, cumin. Add lime juice until the amount in the measuring cup reaches 1/3 cup. Whisk until the salt is completely dissolved. 

    Step 4: Pour over salad and stir. This salad can be stored and served the next day, and will stay good for up to five days in the refrigerator. It's actually better the next day because the flavors meld overnight!





Chocolate Chip Crater Cake

Chocolate Chip Crater Cake

I’m going to tell you a secret that I hold close to my heart. I don’t always tell people, because they often react in shock and horror, but I think it’s time to proclaim it to the world. Click away now if you’re easily distressed. Ready?

I don’t like coffee.

I know you’re staring at your screen right now, mouth agape, wondering how this could possibly have come to pass. Who doesn’t like coffee? Most people practically live on the stuff! I don’t have anything specific against it, I’ve just never enjoyed drinking it enough to make it a part of my life.

You know what I do like? Coffee cake – all versions of it. Chocolate Chip Crater Cake makes an absolutely delightful coffee cake. You can also choose to enjoy it sans coffee, perhaps with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, as I do. It’s versatile that way.

Chocolate Chip Crater Cake is a long-standing favorite from my childhood. My mom couldn’t tell me exactly where we got this recipe, although she suspects that it came from Betty Crocker. This isn’t exactly a new recipe, but I haven’t seen it around at all lately, so I figured it was time to start bringing it back.

This cake is a different creature from a lot of typical go-to desserts. It’s got a fluffy, cake-ybase, a layer of gooey, melted chocolate chips, another layer of cake, and a buttery, cinnamon crumble topping that ties the whole thing together. It’s baked in an 8×8 pan, so the recipe doesn’t make a huge amount. I tend to prefer that in dessert recipes I know I love. If I don’t bake too much of it, I won’t eat too much of it. Seems pretty rudimentary, but portion control has never quite been my strong suit. Especially when we’re talking about something this delicious.

Chocolate Chip Crater Cake is the dessert equivalent of those tiny restaurants that don’t look like much, but serve amazing food. It’s not the prettiest or the most intricate, but the balance of flavors and textures really makes up for what it lacks in appearance.

This recipe originally calls for Bisquick, which you are perfectly welcome to use – your results will be perfectly fine. I use a homemade version of Bisquick that I like to keep on hand – it keeps well for a long time in the refrigerator. I’ve included it below the recipe for the cake, in case you decide to make it from scratch as well. I know a lot of people like to know exactly what ingredients go into their food, and commercial mixes can make that more difficult.

Whether you enjoy it by itself, with ice cream, coffee, or coffee flavored ice cream, Chocolate Chip Crater Cake is a dessert you’ll want to make again and again. It’s simple yet rich, and about as comforting as a dessert can be. Try it hot out of the oven, and I promise you won’t even remember that it’s winter.

5 from 1 vote
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Chocolate Chip Crater Cake

Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 cups Bisquick 216g
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Topping

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Bisquick
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Step 1: Stir together Bisquick, sugar, and cinnamon. Add egg, vanilla, and milk, and stir until well combined. It's alright if there are some lumps; these won't matter once it's baked. 

    Step 2: Pour half the batter into a greased 8x8 pan. Top with chocolate chips in an even layer. Pour remaining batter over the chocolate chips and spread to cover them.

    Step 3: Use a fork to stir together topping ingredients, and sprinkle evenly over batter. 

    Step 4: Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until the topping is golden brown and crispy. Cool completely and cut into squares.

 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Homemade Bisquick

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour 240g
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp buttermilk powder
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, unsalted

Instructions

  1. Step 1: Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. 

    Step 2: Cut in butter to the size of small peas. Refrigerate if not using right away - may also be stored in the freezer.