Saturday, March 26, 2016

Simple Easter Craft + Dessert All In One

This year Easter is a little odd in our house, mostly because my husband has to work a 10-hour shift on Sunday (thank you medical field) and my mother-in-law is out of town. Because of that, we celebrated Easter last weekend with the traditional big meal, pretty dress for our daughter, church as a family and Easter basket goodies. The fig-glazed ham recipe I link to below is our family favorite, I discovered it years ago and it is demanded every time ham is expected on the table, we love it and it is just so easy!
Easter

If you're still scrambling to find your perfect Easter meal recipes, check out some of my no-fail, go-to recipes in the links below:

Fig-Glazed Ham, Tarragon Deviled Eggs & Mini Lemon Meringue Pies

Garlic Potato Gratin & Creamy Deviled Eggs

Still, I wanted to do something a little fun on the actual calendar day Easter with my daughter so we decided to make these adorable little cookie cups and decorate them with frosting and Cadbury Mini Eggs so they look like little birds nests.

simple-easter-craft-dessert


At just 3 months away from turning 4, my daughter is obsessed with all things bird. She loves ducks, baby chicks, chickens, geese and most importantly eggs. The chocolate ones that is, I can't convince her to eat a real one, but she loves cracking them open to help me when we bake and just learned the ASL sign for the letter "E" and proudly does that while saying "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" whenever she sees an egg.

That being said, this was the perfect little Easter craft/dessert for her. Plus, buttercream frosting is one of her favorite food groups.

If you're looking for a shortcut on this dessert its really easy, just use any pre-made or boxed cookie mix, make it according to package directions and use the mini-muffin tins the way I did for baking them (see baking steps below). Then let the kids pipe on store-bought whipped-style frosting (or do that part yourself) and let them decorate with the candy eggs. They'll love it, it'll keep their little fingers busy while you get Easter dinner on the table.

Make-Ahead Tip: You can even bake the cookie cups a day ahead (like TONIGHT) and keep them in a sealed container ready to decorate tomorrow.

If you want to make them from scratch, check out the recipe below that I found thanks to Lil Luna. I barely adapted the original recipe, so be sure to check out that site as well for more fabulous ideas!

Easter Nest Cookie Cups

Ingredients For The Cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup shortening
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 room-temperature eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
3 1/2 cups AP flour
2 tsp. baking soda

Ingredients For The Frosting

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Food coloring (any color you like, my daughter chose green like grass and we use Wilton Icing Color)
Easter candy (for decorating; ie, mini chocolate eggs, robin eggs, peeps, etc.)

Instructions

First, make the cookie dough. Like I mentioned in the post above, you can do this a day in advance and bake the cookie cups. Just keep them in a sealed container until you're ready to frost and decorate.

Beat together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, shortening, peanut butter, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until well combined and slightly fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, then pour in the milk and mix until creamy.

Sift in the flour and baking soda, then mix well to combine. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and use a cookie scoop to place a ball of dough in each greased mini-muffin tin (or you can use 2 small scoops in a regular-sized one). Use a tart press (if you have one) or the end of a rounded spatula or kitchen spoon (the way I did) to make a small indent in each little cookie mound in the muffin tin. This will help mold the dough a little into the muffin cup.

For mini-muffin sized cookie cups, bake for 12 minutes. For regular-sized muffin cookie cups, bake for 15-17 minutes. Let cool in the tins for at least 10 minutes before removing and setting on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

Make the frosting by whipping together the butter, vanilla, cream and 2 cups of the powdered sugar on high until smooth and creamy, then add in the remaining cup of sugar and whatever food coloring you've chosen.

Pipe the frosting on top of your little cookie cups and decorate with Easter candy. 



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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Switching Up Your Weeknight Chicken Recipe: With Pretzels

pretzel-crusted-chicken

Chicken is a standby in our house for weeknight dinners, but it can get a little boring just cooking the same dishes or cutlets over and over again. I love this concept of using pretzels as breading instead of the usual breadcrumbs! Not only do we always have pretzels in the house since they are a favorite snack of my 3-year-old, but I love the flavor.

This recipe is adapted from one I found through Food Network and is delicious served up alongside a baked sweet potato and your favorite veggie. We love roasted broccoli for weeknight dinners or a big green salad works well too.

Check out the recipe below and share your favorite weeknight chicken recipes in the comments!

Pretzel-Crusted Chicken w/ Sweet Potatoes
Serves 2, but is easily doubled to serve 4

Ingredients
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup small pretzels, crushed into small pieces (use a food processor if you like)
2-4 chicken cutlets
1 tsp. smoked paprika
Kosher salt
Pepper
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 tbsp. pure maple syrup

Instructions
Poke the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and cook in the microwave until fork-tender (about 10-15 minutes). Cover or wrap with aluminum foil and set aside. Of course you can bake them in the oven if you like, but for a weeknight quick meal I like to make use of the microwave.

While the potatoes are cooking, pour the crushed pretzels in a pie plate or other shallow dish and season the turkey with the paprika, salt and pepper. Once the cutlets are well seasoned, brush one side of each cutlet with the dijon mustard, sprinkle them with the dried thyme and then press that side into the pretzel crumbs to coat. Repeat with each cutlet and set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (I like to use my cast iron skillet for this). Add the cutlets to the oil pretzel-coated side down and cook 3-4 minutes until golden, flip over and continue to cook on the other side until done. Cook the cutlets in batches if you don't have a large enough skillet to fit them all in one batch.

Combine the butter, 1 tablespoon maple syrup and a sprinkle paprika in a small bowl. Split open the sweet potatoes, sprinkle lightly with salt and top with the butter. Combine the remaining maple syrup and 1 tablespoon mustard. Serve the turkey with the sweet potatoes and maple mustard on the side for dipping.


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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How To Enjoy A Weeknight Steak Dinner In Less Than 30 Minutes

weeknight-steak-dinner

Steak isn't one of those meats that makes an appearance in our house very often, not because we don't love it, but usually because it is either too expensive or I don't know what to do with it beyond including it in stir fry or fajitas. I came across this recipe concept and immediately loved it, it was easy and I love that it incorporated a fair amount of veggies along with the meat.

This is a fantastic recipe for a weeknight meal as it only takes about 20 minutes, plus you can assemble it earlier in the day or even the night before to make it super-easy to throw on the grill pan when you're ready to eat.

weeknight-steak-dinner

weeknight-steak-dinner

I served these steak rolls up with baked potatoes and roasted broccoli and they were a big hit at our dinner table. You can easily swap up the veggies that are included in the steak rolls, just go with firmer veggies like peppers, squash and mushrooms rather than overly wet veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers. Try to cut them in uniform-sized strips so they cook evenly.

weeknight-steak-dinner


I love the balsamic glaze in this dish, but have also mixed it up with a fresh chimichurri sauce that yielded fantastic results. Just go with whatever flavors your family loves and you're sure to have a popular weeknight dinner!

Go-To Weeknight Steak Rolls

Ingredients For The Rolls
8 thinly sliced pieces of steak (try flank steak or look for pre-sliced sirloin at your grocery store)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
1 bell pepper (any color - sliced into strips)
1/2 medium-sized zucchini or yellow squash (sliced into strips)
1/4 medium sweet onion (sliced into strips)
A handful of cremini mushrooms (sliced into strips)

Ingredients For The Glaze
1 tsp. olive oil
1 clove of fresh garlic (pressed or minced fine)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. red wine
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 cup beef broth

Instructions
Brush each side of each piece of steak with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Heat approx. a tablespoon of olive oil in a grill pan or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

Add in the veggies and cook just until barely tender and season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and the veggies from the pan and set aside to cool slightly.

Place a few veggie strips on one end of each steak cutlet and roll until secure. If you need to, you can secure the rolls with toothpicks, I didn't have any issues with that thanks to the olive oil and size of the steak cutlets I used.

At this point you can refrigerate your steak rolls up to 12 hours until they're ready to use. Just be sure to take them out at least 30 minutes to warm up to room temperature before cooking.

Now is a great time to make your glaze. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and cook for about a minute until you just start to see it turn golden. Add in the vinegar, red wine and brown sugar. Bring the mixture up to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

Add in the broth, return the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for another 15 minutes or until you see the glaze start to thicken.

Prepare your grill pan by drizzling olive oil on it, coating well so the steak rolls don't stick. Heat on medium-high and add the rolls to the pan, cooking over medium-high until done. These really cook quickly since they're so thin, so keep an eye on them!

Serve warm with your choice of sides: baked potatoes and roasted broccoli are my favorites!

Click Here to Print The Recipe

Recipe adapted from tiphero.com

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lighter Meatballs: How To Make Them Healthier


Pasta and meatballs are one of my favorite comfort food dishes, however, they can really be incredibly unhealthy depending on how you make them (or how many you eat!). I try to swap in ground turkey whenever I can for ground beef, but sometimes that really sacrifices a lot of flavor and you run the risk of having meatballs that are dried out and flavorless.

I found this fantastic recipe that uses ground turkey and a swap of cooked quinoa for breadcrumbs recently and had to share it. Now, before you read "quinoa" and immediately check out or make a fake gagging motion, know that I am not the biggest quinoa fan. Honestly, most of the time I can identify with Jim Gaffigan: Quinoa is an ancient grain...it sure tastes like it! There are a few recipes I like that use quinoa, usually in salads with a great vinaigrette and lots of other veggies or as part of a "skillet" meal with sweet potatoes and black beans. I had never tried using it as a binder before and was a little skeptical, but I figured I'd give it a shot.

The meatballs actually turned out really well and I plan on making them again. If you don't want to take the time to brown them on top of the stove like I did in the recipe, try placing them on a greased baking sheet and baking at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, just until they are "set". This will keep them from forming a giant meat wad in your slow-cooker when you simmer them with the tomato sauce.

Serve up these meatballs over penne the way I did or use your favorite pasta or veggie noodles if you're really trying to earn extra healthy points!

Slow-Cooker Turkey Quinoa Meatballs

Ingredients
2 pounds lean ground turkey
2/3 cup cooked & cooled quinoa (to add extra flavor, cook your quinoa in broth instead of water)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. Italian Seasoning (I like to use Penzey's Tuscan Sunset)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Kosher salt & black pepper
1 large sweet onion, sliced into thin crescents
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

Instructions
In a large bowl, combine the turkey, quinoa, garlic, beaten egg, olive oil, cheese, Italian seasoning and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Mix so the ingredients are just combined (overmixing makes tough meatballs!) and roll into small balls. I like to use my small cookie scoop for this, that way you make sure they are all the same size!

Layer the sliced onions on the bottom of the slow cooker and add 1 can of the crushed tomatoes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a good splash of olive oil. Add meatballs in batches, searing on the top and bottom until golden, about 1 minute per side. After they're seared, add them one at a time to the slow cooker. Repeat with remaining meatballs - it is okay to stack them on top of each other in the slow cooker.

Once all the meatballs are in the slow cooker, add the other can of crushed tomatoes, completely covering the meatballs. Cook on low for 4-6 hours and serve hot over pasta or use these to make meatball subs!

Recipe barely adapted from http://www.howsweeteats.com

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Monday, December 7, 2015

How To Make A Perfect Apple Pie


Apple pie is a classic. I've been making one version or another, trying to perfect a recipe, since I was in high school and I have to say I'm pretty close to perfection with this version. You can easily top this pie with another crust or use the crumble the way I did, either way the blend of apples and spices is fantastic.




As much as I love the pumpkin flavors of Thanksgiving, the chocolate and mint tastes of Christmastime, I have a special place in my heart for apple. I think I love it the most because of the combination of warming spices that blend so well with the fruit. Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mace...such a delicious blend!



My daughter got in on the fun with this recipe, she loves baking almost as much as I do. Anytime I turn on the stand mixer or food processor she comes running!

The Perfect Apple Pie

Ingredients for the Pie
1 pie crust (use your favorite recipe or check mine out here)
5 large apples, peeled and sliced very thin (I used 2 pink lady apples and 3 granny smith)
2 Tbsp. Penzey's Apple Pie Spice blend
1/2 cup granulated sugar (you can cut back on this if you use sweeter apples)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup AP flour

Ingredients for the Crumb Topping (omit if making a traditional 2 crust apple pie)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 heaping tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 cup AP flour
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Instructions
Make the filling by adding the apples to a large bowl and sprinkling them with the apple pie spice blend, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and flour. Toss well with a wooden spoon, making sure the apples are all completely coated. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out your pie crust until its about 1/2" thick and lay it in a 8 or 9" pie plate. Flute or pinch the edges with your fingers and fill the prepared crust with your apple filling.

Mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, salt and nuts in a small bowl, then add in the butter and mash it all together with a fork. Crumble the mixture evenly over the top of the pie. *If making a 2 crust pie, omit this step and just use the second crust to top your pie, cutting vents in the top to release the steam before baking.*

Place the pie on a large baking sheet (to catch any drips if the filling bubbles over) and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 375 and bake for another 30 minutes. If the crust edges seem to be browning too much, cover it with a pie shield.

Allow the pie to cool for 2 hours before slicing and serving. It will still be warm, but letting it cool allows the juices of the apples to thicken so it slices neatly. I love topping this pie with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream, but it is delicious all on it's own too!


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