Friday, December 28, 2012

5 Favorite Posts from 2012

Are you all excited to move into 2013? Me, too! Before we do, I wanted to share my 5 favorite posts from 2012:

1. Cranberry-Almond Granola Bars

My life was actually, really changed a bit when I realized how easy it is to make your own granola bars. I also made Trail-Mix Granola Bars, and still want to post a recipe for a simple Chocolate-Chip Granola Bar.

2. Quinoa & Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

This was one of the first recipes I made with quinoa, and I quickly fell in love with the fantastic grain.

This cake was such a long-coming breakthrough for me! So, so tasty, and the lemon buttercream is amazing.

These bars take so much work out of being able to have a soft, chewy, frosted sugar cookie. And they are completely irresistible. Love, love, love.

5. Pork Chops with Garlic-Thyme Pan Sauce

Besides being lovely to look at and delicious to eat, these pork chops are also very easy. I loved being able to share how simple it is to make a gorgeous pan sauce.

I hope you have a wonderful New Year's! I'm looking forward to sharing some more recipes with you!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Simple Roasted Cauliflower

I like cauliflower and eat it raw or in soups or other vegetable dishes, but I've never tried it roasted until now. I might never be the same again. Just kidding, but it really was fantastic. I've seen recipes that include balsamic vinegar, or Parmesan cheese, or bread crumbs, but I decided to make it super-simple this time--just some olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. Amazing! I couldn't believe how mellow and nutty the flavor was. I'll have to experiment with different add-ins, but for this time, it was a great side with these Pork Chops with Garlic-Thyme Pan Sauce.

Simple Roasted Cauliflower
printable recipe

1 head fresh cauliflower, cored and cut into bite-sized florets
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

1. Heat your oven to 425. Lightly spray a 9x13-inch pan with non-stick spray.

2. Put the cauliflower in the prepared pan. Drizzle the olive oil on the florets and toss gently to try to evenly coat. Add the kosher salt and pepper and gently toss again.

3. Roast, stirring gently half-way through, for 20-30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and golden brown in some places, caramelized in other places.

Makes 4-6 side servings.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Almond Joy Bars

Almond Joys are up there in my Top 5 favorite candy bars. Love them. When I came across this recipe for Almond Joy Bars on Pinterest I knew I had to try them. I had a cookie exchange coming up--Perfect! I could make them, take most to the cookie exchange, and not end up eating the whole pan myself (minus the 1 each I'd allow my family).

The original recipe was for a sheet-pan's worth of bars, but I didn't need that much, so I cut it in half and used a 9x13-inch pan. Also, if you notice, there are no almonds in the original recipe (which means they should really be called "Mounds" bars). So I added some slivered almonds to the top. The bars went together really fast and easy, and are super-fantastic. The only other thing I changed was to add a little Crisco to the melted chocolate to make it easier to spread and cut through after the bars cooled.

Almond Joy Bars (adapted from Our Recipe Garden)
printable recipe

1/3 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 14-oz package shredded coconut
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 12-oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
2 teaspoons vegetable shortening
1/2 cup sliced almonds

1. Heat your oven to 350. Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, 2 ends extended over the sides to make handles, and spray it lightly with non-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the flour and salt, and mix until it resembled bread crumbs. Transfer to the prepared pan and press into an even layer. Bake for 5 minutes and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla. Gently spread over the partially cooked crust, and bake for 16-18 minutes, or until starting to brown around the outside. (I let mine cook a little too long.)

4. Melt the chocolate and shortening in a double boiler, stirring until melted and smooth. Pour over the cooked coconut bars and spread into an even layer. Immediately sprinkle with sliced almonds. Cool completely in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to set and make cutting easier.

5. To cut, use the foil handles to lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut  them into 24 bars. Serve room temperature for best quality.

Makes 24 bars.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pork Chops with Garlic-Thyme Pan Sauce

What's that? Pan sauces are only for when eating out at a restaurant? Only chefs make them? They're scary and complicated? Pfffft! I disagree! If you can cook a chunk of meat in a pan, you can make a pan sauce.

I wish I'd been able to take pictures of the process, but it was already dark when I made dinner, so pictures were not an option. This is actually a pork chop I saved so I could take a picture of it today. It was actually my pork chop for dinner, that I didn't eat, so I could take a picture today. I'm pretty sure my husband didn't quite understand my sacrificing my dinner so I could write this post... I had a really nice lunch today, though ;) I'll take pictures another time so you can see how totally easy it is.

One of the keys to a pan sauce is to not move the meat around in the pan. It needs to stay in one place as it cooks so it develops all the yummy browned, stuck-on stuff on the pan (technically called "fond"). Browned stuff = flavor. (Note: Some people will tell you that you can't use a non-stick pan if you want to make a pan sauce. Not true! I do it all the time. You just must leave the meat in one place, turning once, while it cooks in order to create the browned stuff.)

After the meat is cooked and removed from the pan to rest, you deglaze (fancy word for "getting the browned stuff unstuck") with a liquid. Just about any liquid works. This time I used chicken broth, but sometimes I use white wine and let it reduce. If I'm making beef sometimes I use red wine. You could even use fruit juice if you wanted (apple juice and pork? Yum.). Next some herbs for flavor, and a little flour to thicken. Add back the juices that have accumulated on the plate where your lovely chops have been resting (don't skip this part, those juices are loaded with more flavor), then a little butter to add richness, and you have a fantastic pan sauce.

Oh, make sure you have some lovely bread to soak up any extra won't want to waste any of it. Also, this would be equally as delicious made with chicken instead of pork.

Pork Chops with Garlic-Thyme Pan Sauce
printable recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 pork chops, 1/2 to 5/8-inch thick, about 1 to 1-1/4 lbs total (I used boneless)
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon flour mixed w 2 tablespoons water or broth
1 tablespoon cold butter cut into 2 pieces

1. Lightly season both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a 12-in skillet (non-stick or regular--if using a regular skillet you will need more oil) over medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil and let it heat for about 10 seconds. Add the pork and cook for 3-4 minutes, (without moving it) until it is nice and brown on the bottom. Turn the pork over and cook another 3-4 minutes (without moving it) until it is nice and brown on the other side. Transfer the pork chops to a plate and cover with a bowl to keep warm.

3. Add the chicken broth to the skillet and scrape up the browned bits that are stuck to the bottom with a wooden spatula. Add the thyme and garlic powder, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 3 minutes to reduce the liquid a bit.

4. Add the flour/water mixture, stirring constantly, until well combined. Bring the sauce back to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened, 3-5 minutes (it reminds me of room-temperature pancake syrup).

5. Add the pork juices that have accumulated on the plate where your chops are resting, simmer for a minute or two, and remove from the heat. Add the cold butter and stir the sauce until the butter has melted. Put the pork chops back in the skillet, and swish and turn them to coat with the sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cheesy Quinoa

First, I have to tell you that I tried really hard to think of a name for this other than 'Cheesy Quinoa'. But other than 'Creamy Cheesy Quinoa', which is worse, I couldn't come up with anything. So 'Cheesy Quinoa' it is.

I love quinoa. It is one of the best things I've discovered in 2012. It's so easy to cook, it tastes fantastic, it's a nutrition powerhouse, and it's really, really versatile. I have found though, that like rice, you have to fiddle with the water amount and cooking time until you find what works for you. Through trial and error I've found that I need less water and more cooking time than on the directions for both brands I've tried. If you make some and find that it's too wet, or too crunchy, or mushy, don't give up. Keep trying until you get it just right; quinoa is definitely a food you want in your diet.

This is a super side dish, and it was perfect with the pork and roasted cauliflower I made tonight. Though, with it's higher-than-other-grains protein, you can totally get away with eating it with a nice salad and calling it dinner.

For this recipe I altered the sauce for my Mac and Cheese a bit and it worked out just right. If you like a strong cheese flavor, make sure you use a sharp or extra-sharp cheddar. If you or your kids prefer a more mild flavor, try a medium or mild cheddar. Also, it's worth spending a little extra on a good brand of cheese (my favorite is Tillamook). Cheaper cheeses can behave badly when melted into a sauce, and the last thing you want is naughty sauce.

Cheesy Quinoa
printable recipe

3/4 cup dry quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup 2% milk
3 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
extra cheese for serving, if desired

1. Place the dry quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well. Drain, removing as much water as you can. Combine the quinoa, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and  1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed (I have to go all the way to 20 minutes). Remove heat and set aside for 10 minutes, or until you're ready to add it to the cheese sauce.

2. While the quinoa cooks, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and let it melt, then add the flour. Cook, stirring often, 2 minutes.

3. Add the milk, stirring to combine well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened a bit (drag your spoon or spatula along the bottom of the pan, and it should take a 2-3 seconds for the track to fill in), about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.

4. Add the shredded cheese and gently stir until the cheese has melted. (If you stir too vigorously the cheese may separate and then you have a very sad sauce.) Add the cooked quinoa to the sauce and gently stir to combine. Serve with extra shredded cheese if you want.

Makes 4 side-dish servings.

*I have doubled this recipe and had plenty for dinner and left-overs the next day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mom's Clam Chowder

Burr!! It's so cold outside! Definitely time for some of this creamy clam chowder. It can't help but be a happy day when I have this on the stove.

This is a recipe passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me. I can remember watching my mom make it, and stealing clams out of the can when I thought she wasn't looking. She liked to use whole baby clams, and once, as I pilfered the tender little morsels while her back was turned, I bit down on a tiny, whole clam shell that had somehow made it into the can during processing. I yelped (or made a similar such sound) when I bit down on what was essentially a small rock, and she gave me a pitiless, you-totally-deserve-that look. Ahh...good times in the kitchen, right?

This simple soup comes together very fast, in about 30 minutes, which makes it a perfect weekday meal. And perhaps other than the clams and clam juice, you probably already have everything you need in your kitchen. Believe me when I tell you, once you have this, you'll never want to go back to canned clam chowder--or even order it in a restaurant--again.

Mom's Clam Chowder
printable recipe

1 onion, diced
2 large ribs celery, diced
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 8-oz jar clam juice
2 6.5-oz cans chopped or minced clams, juice drained and reserved
4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk

1. In a large pot, combine the onion, celery, potato, jarred clam juice, reserved clam juice (from cans of clams), water, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a simmer, and cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are almost tender. Remove from heat.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small (2-quart) pot over medium-low. Add the flour, whisk to combine well, and cook, stirring very often, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk to the flour mixture, whisking until completely smooth. Cook, stirring constantly (I can usually get away with "very, very often"), until the mixture is very thick (it reminds me of cake batter), about 5 minutes. Note: As it gets thicker you really have to stir and watch it so it doesn't scotch on the bottom.

4. Whisking gently, slowly add the flour roux to the big pot of vegetables, and whisk until completely combined. Add the clams, and stir to combine to warm through.

Serve 4-6.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Chocolate Waffles

All ya'll who just fell off your chair because I'm finally posting something new (after exactly 3 months), go on and pick yourself up off the floor because I HAVE CHOCOLATE WAFFLES! Whoo-hoo!

This recipe is from my sister. She usually serves it with copious amounts of whipped cream and sliced strawberries, but it's December in Utah, which means no decent strawberries. And I didn't want to wait until strawberry season to post this because 1. they are super delicious and 2. some of you might want to make these as a fun Christmas breakfast. So here they are, dressed in simple, humble powdered sugar.

Chocolate Waffles
printable recipe

1/2 cup butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Pre-heat your waffle iron.

2. In a microwave-safe bowl (I use a 2-cup glass measuring cup), combine the butter, chocolate, and milk. Heat on high 1 minute; stir well. Heat on high in increments of 30 seconds, stirring after each, until the chocolate is melted. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

3. While whisking constantly, add the beaten egg to the chocolate mixture, and mix well. Add vanilla and mix well.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and mix well. Add the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.

5. Cook the waffles according to the manufacture's directions for your waffle iron; I used about 1/4 cup for each waffle. Serve with whipped cream and strawberries, or other toppings of your choice.

Makes 12 4-inch square waffles.
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