Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Italian Experiment: Chicken Parmigiana

Yesterday, I received an email from Maggiano's restaurant announcing a contest. They are looking for new or updated recipes. The grand prize winner will be featured on their menu. The email started me thinking of how I could update a family favorite, chicken parmigiana. I used chicken thighs instead of breasts as they are smaller pieces of meat and also I usually can get them thinner than chicken breast. I made a double batch of marinara too. I'm planning to use the other half of the sauce next week in stuffed shells. My husband enjoyed the recipe, but said on the messy scale, it was a 10 so beware of the dishes!

Chicken Parmigiana:

6 boneless, skinless thighs
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup fat free milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Romano cheese
1 tsp italian seasoning
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp parsley flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Safflower Oil
1 lb gluten free pasta
2 cup mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350*. Clean and pat dry the chicken Place the thighs between individual sheets of wax paper and pound thin. Mix the egg and milk together. Mix together in a shallow pan the bread crumbs and next five ingredients. Set up the flour in a shallow pan. Coat the chicken first in flour then dip in the egg mixture and finally in the bread crumb mixture. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with about an inch of safflower oil. Heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the chicken about 2 minutes on each side and then drain on paper towels. This is not meant to fully cook the chicken, just to give it color and crispness. Place the chicken on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. While the chicken is baking cook the pasta per package directions. After 20 minutes, ladle a tablespoon of marinara and sprinkle a 1/4 cup of mozzarella over each chicken cutlet. Bake for an additional ten minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve over the cooked pasta with additional marinara sauce. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Baking Class with Giveaway Winner!

Today, Traci, the winner of the "Guess the Vegetables" contest, came to the house and we made Paula Deen's " Bobby's Caramel Cake".  Traci didn't really need a lesson, she is already a great cook! She taught me a couple of things too!  she brought a roll of Reynolds Pan Liner which is foil on one side and parchment on the other.  The liner worked like a dream and the cake layers released from the pans like a dream!  The afternoon was spent baking and chatting!  She saw first hand why my husband calls me the Messy Cook!  She met my taste testers who hung around waiting for beaters to be taken out of the mixing bowl and my supervisor, Max, the golden doodle , who likes to lie in wait under the kitchen table hoping we will leave food unattended!  We had lots of fun and at the end, we split the cake so both our families could enjoy our efforts!  Thanks, Traci for a fun day in the kitchen!

Bobby's Caramel Cake:
Serves 16-20


For the cake:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • eggs
  • 3 cups sifted self-rising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, or more if needed
  • 1 (16-ounce) box confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped nuts, optional


For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add granulated sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4-inches above counter dropping it flat onto counter. Do this several times to release air bubbles and assure you of a more level cake. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
For the filling:
While cake is baking, in a saucepan, combine butterbrown sugar, and milk. Cook and stir over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Remove cake layers from oven and allow cake to remain in pans as you prepare to stack and fill. Remove first layer and invert onto cake plate. Pierce cake layer with a toothpick over entire surface. Spread 1/3 of filling mixture on cake layer. Top with second layer, repeat process. Top with last layer and repeat process again.
*Cook's Note: As I stack layers together, I stick them with toothpicks to prevent cake from shifting.
For the frosting:
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in brown sugar and cream. Bring to a boil, and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat with a handheld electric mixer until it reaches a spreading consistency. At this time it may be necessary to add a tablespoon of heavy cream, or more, if frosting gets too thick. Just be sure to add cream is small amounts because you can always "add to", but you can't take away. Frost cake and sprinkle top with chopped nuts, if desired.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


We've had an Italian theme going this week and tonight we continued with calzones. I saw this recipe on a recent episode of "The Pioneer Woman". It was simple and quick. Dinner only took about 45 minutes to prepare which include the calzones and a marinara dipping sauce. This will stay in the rotation. I cut the recipe in half as there are only 4 of us, but I think you could freeze and reheat these and they would hold up well.

Easy Calzones by Ree Drummond


  • 16 whole frozen, un-risen dinner rolls (I use Rhodes, can also use frozen bread loaves)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 whole medium onion, diced
  • 1 pound breakfast or Italian sausage
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 15 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 whole eggs plus 1 whole egg, beaten
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • Marinara Sauce, warmed, for serving, recipe follows


Place the frozen rolls (or frozen bread loaves) on a baking sheet to thaw. Cover with a tea towel and let thaw and rise for 2 to 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the sausage and cook until brown, crumbling the sausage as you stir. Add the Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Remove from the skillet and allow to cool on a plate.
In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, salt, some pepper, parsley and 2 eggs.
When the sausage is cool, stir it into the cheese mixture and set aside.
When the rolls are thawed and risen, roll them out on a lightly floured surface until paper thin. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of the filling onto half of the dough circle. Fold half of the dough over itself, and then press the edges to seal.
Brush the surface of each calzone with the beaten egg, and then bake until nice and golden brown, 10 to 13 minutes. Serve with warm Marinara Sauce.
Cook's Note: If you want a larger calzone, use frozen bread loaves and use one-quarter to one-third of the loaf for each calzone.

Marinara Sauce:

  • Olive oil
  • 3 to 4 whole cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 whole small to medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine (or chicken broth)
  • Three 15-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • Salt and ground pepper
  • Pinch sugar
  • Fresh parsley leaves
  • Fresh basil leaves
Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a hot pan over medium-high heat and throw in the garlic and chopped onions and give them a stir.
Now add the wine (or chicken broth), whisking to deglaze the bottom of the skillet. Cook until the liquid reduces by half.
Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Toward the end of the cooking process, chop up your fresh parsley and basil and add it to the sauce to taste, stirring to combine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hummingbird Cake

Today, we celebrated a coworker's 25th year with our company! We have many great cooks in our department so of course we did a pitch-in! I saw this cake recipe on Pinterest and having been looking for a chance to try it out! Hummingbird cake is a very light and moist cake. It gets most of its sweetness from the fruit that is incorporated into the batter. The prep is a little more time consuming, but well worth the effort!

Serves: 12 -16 servings

3 cups flour (gluten free or regular)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar 1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup fresh pineapple, crushed
2 cups roasted bananas*, mashed (approximately 4 large or 6 medium-small bananas with peel left on)
1 cup chopped pecans
Parchment paper to line bottom of the cake pan

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, chilled
3-8 ounce packages of cream cheese, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 ½ cups finely chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350*. Place bananas on a cookie sheet with peels left on. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes until the skins are black (the bananas may leak which is fine). Remove and let cool until they can be handled. Peel bananas, place in a small mixing bowl and mash. Set aside. Leave the oven heated to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 3-9 inch round baking pans. Trace the bottom of the pan (for all three pans) onto parchment paper, cut out circle and place in the bottom of each pan. In a sifter over a large mixing bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Sift into the bowl. Set aside.
In a second large mixing bowl combine the granulated and brown sugar; stir to combine. Add the eggs and stir briskly by hand to combine all ingredients into a smooth mixture. Whisk the oil and vanilla into the sugar/egg mixture until combined and smooth. Add the flour mixture all at once and hand stir (do not beat) to combine the mixture fully.
To crush the pineapple: Place 1 cup of finely diced fresh pineapple in a medium mixing bowl and using a potato masher, crush the pineapple. Add the fruit and juice to the batter. Also add the mashed banana and the pecans. Stir just until combined; do not over stir. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. Tap the pans on the countertop to release any air bubbles and place in the 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes until cake bounces back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes then turn out onto cooling racks to fully cool before frosting. Be sure to peel off and discard the parchment paper.

To Make the Frosting:
Cut sticks of chilled butter into 1 inch pieces and place in the bowl of a standing mixer (can use a hand held mixer if needed). Beat on low speed, gradually increasing speed to medium until the butter is still cool but has softened together (about 3 minutes).
Cut the cream cheese into 1 inch strips and add to the butter. Mix at medium speed until fully combined, and smooth. Add the vanilla and slowly add the sifted powdered sugar. Beat until well blended, increasing speed to beat on medium-high for 3 minutes or until the frosting becomes light and fluffy. Fold in pecans by hand.

Cake assembly:
• Place the first layer of cake upside down (the bottom of the cake will be frosted) on the serving plate. Cover with 2/3 cup of frosting. This will be a thin covering.
• Place the second layer of cake right side up (flat cake bottom onto the frosting) and frost the top of this layer with 2/3 cup again.
• Place the last cake layer with cake right side up and use the remaining frosting to cover top of cake and the sides.
• Allow cake to stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving and store any uneaten cake in the refrigerator. Cake best when made the day prior to serving!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

All Week Salad (aka Pasta Salad)

Tonight, I made my niece's favorite food, pasta salad. I call it "All Week Salad" because the recipe has enough servings for a week's worth of meals! This particular recipe is from my Aunt Pam and is a cornerstone of many family parties. It is best if it is made a few hours ahead of serving and allowed to chill.

All Week Pasta Salad:

1 lb pasta
1 can medium pitted olives
1 brick cheddar cheese, cubed
1 brick pepper jack cheese, cubed
1 brick Colby cheese, cubed
4 stalks celery, diced
1 pkg cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 vidalia onion, diced
1/2 pkg pepperoni ( I use turkey)
1/4 lb ham, cubed
1/4 lb salami cubed
1 bottle Italian dressing

Cook pasta according to directions on package. Rinse with cold water and set aside to cool. Mix the other ingredients together in a large bowl. Fold the pasta into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pot Roast and Smashed Potatoes

I haven't cooked a meal in almost two weeks! I was away a week and we've had a combination of my husband cooking and restaurants the last four nights. He makes a great grilled cheese and beanie weenies! As much as I enjoy others' cooking, I missed doing it myself. Tonight, I made a pot roast, peas and smashed potatoes. A deli cole slaw and sourdough bread rounded out the meal.  The roast was a sirloin round tip roast. This type of roast has just enough fat for flavor. Most pot roast recipes call for carrots, but this house doesn't have carrot fans so I leave them out.

Pot Roast:
(12 servings, 227 cal, 10 g fat)

3 lb roast
2 large onions cut in half
3-4 cups beef broth
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Brown the onions in the hot oil, this will only take about 1 minute per side. Remove the onion to a plate. Salt and pepper the roast and then place it in the hot oil. Sear the roast on all sides and then remove to a plate. Add a cup of the broth to the pan and scrape the bottom to loosen drippings. Add the roast and onion back to the pan and then the remaining broth to cover about half of the roast. Add the seasoning, cover and place in a 275* oven. Roast an hour per pound for medium (~170* internal temp). Let the roast rest for 10 minutes on the cutting board before slicing. This will seal in the juices.

Smashed Potatoes:
(12 servings, 229 cal, 14 g fat)

2 lb redskin potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light sour cream
3/4 cup shredded cheese
4 green onions
1-2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

After washing the potatoes, place them on a large piece of foil. Pierce the potatoes with a fork, drizzle with oil and season to taste. Close up the foil to form a packet. Bake the potatoes for 1 hour in a 400* oven. After baking, place potatoes, butter and sour cream in a large bowl and mash enough to mix the ingredients, but there should still be large pieces of potatoes. Incorporate 1/2 cup of the cheese plus half of the diced green onions. Place the mixture in a casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350* for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle the remaining diced onion on the casserole as a garnish.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Baptism Cake for a new Godson!

This week I've been away from home for work and pleasure! Yesterday, my husband and I were blessed to become Godparents again! All of our Godchildren are dear to us and we feel very honored to be chosen to be this new little one's Godparents. I was given the honor of making the cake for his celebration. Being 10 hours away from my kitchen this was a bit of a trick as I didn't have all of my tools! I made the cake using Duncan Hines Butter Cake as I think they are the moistest cakes! I made Wilton butter cream icing for the filling and also to layer under the fondant that I covered the cake and board with. Fondant is the adult version of play dough. You get to knead, roll and cut out fun shapes. For this cake, I tinted some fondant blue and cut out 50-75 small flowers. After covering the cake with white fondant, I put the flowers on to create a silhouette of a cross. The whole process took about 3 hours not including the cooling times for the cakes. I don't think you will ever see my work on the Food Network, but as long as it earns a hug, that's enough for me!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ultimate Crock-Stars

I recently had a friend try the crock-pot chicken soft taco recipe and she liked it so much that she recommended I enter the Ultimate Crock-Stars contest to appear on the Cooking Channel!  My recipe  is posted on the contest website.  The finalists will be chosen after November 1st with public voting after that.  I'm not sure if I'll be chosen, but it is fun to dream about!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Apples, Cabbage and Pork, Oh My!

Today was a beautiful Indian Summer day! After several days of drizzly weather, I took advantage of the clear sky and thought I could fire up the grill. I made a cilantro, lime marinade for some beautiful boneless pork chops. For the side dishes, I made a potato and cabbage dish and baked some apples. My mom made a similar potato/cabbage dish when I was young which I loved. She would pair it with kielbasa which is another great combination. The baked apples are a great way to get apple pie without the work of making crust! All of these recipes are super easy. The meat can be put in the marinade in the morning, but no less than 30 minutes. From the time I started cooking this evening to the table was an hour.

Cilantro-Lime Pork Chops:
1 cup canola oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice from 1 lime ~2 tbsp
1 tbsp season salt
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Red pepper flakes to taste
4-5 boneless pork chops

Place pork chops in a gallon size baggie. Mix the other ingredients together and pour over chops. Place meat in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Grill to taste.

Potato and Cabbage Casserole:
2 tbsp butter
1/2 head of cabbage cored and with outer leaves removed
1.5 lbs potatoes, peeled & cubed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp course grain mustard
1/2 cup gruyere, Gouda or another good melting cheese, shredded. I used Kerry Gold Dubliner cheese

Preheat oven to 375*.
Melt butter in oven proof skillet. Slice up cabbage and add to the skillet. Stirring occasionally, cook until wilted which is ~5 minutes. Add potato cubes and salt to taste. Mix cream, mustard and pepper together then pour over cabbage & potato mixture. Stir, top with shredded cheese, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Baked Apples:
4 apples. Tart apple varieties work best to offset the sweet.
Brown sugar
2 tbsp butter quartered

Core and scoop out middle of apple. Don't go through the bottom. Pack ~2 tbsp of brown sugar in each apple. Top each with a quarter of the butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake in a 350* oven for 15-20 minutes.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Coconut Milk Chocolate Pudding

Tonight, I made a chocolatey treat for the boys and their friend, John. I created a recipe from pieces of recipes that I liked and substituted regular milk for cartoned coconut milk, not from a can. It set up really nicely and is bursting with chocolate and coconut taste!

Coconut Milk Chocolate Pudding:
(Makes 6 servings)

3 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 oz milk chocolate for baking bar
1 tsp vanilla extract


In a saucepan, cook 2 2/3 cups of the coconut milk with chocolate, stirring until chocolate is melted and milk is scalded.

In a medium bowl mix cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and salt; stir in remaining 1/3 cup milk. Add to scalded milk and chocolate mixture and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and smooth. Continue cooking, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Cool slightly; stir in vanilla and pour into a bowl and cover in plastic wrap. Be sure the plastic wrap touches the surface of the pudding to keep a skin from forming. Let the pudding chill at least 2 hours before serving.