Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Eggnog Bread...Hallelujah!

  Just got back from a whirlwind trip to NYC with Dick - it was our Christmas gift to each other.  Last year, we decided that since traveling is our favorite thing to do together that we'll just do vacations in place of presents.  Best decision ever!  It's a heckofa lot better than getting a million random things that I can't think of a single reason why the man I married would even imagine I could want in a million years.  Let me just say that I thought I was in the Christmas Spirit before the trip, but after being in the Big Apple during the Holiday Season there is not even the shadow of a doubt that I'm ready.  I've been cranking Glee Christmas all day every day in my office, and I'm loving every minute of it! 

If you're looking for something to help get you in the spirit, or you need a new treat to take your neighbors for their gift this year, this Christmas Eggnog Bread is just the ticket.  I came across the recipe in a collection my sister-in-law has, so I'm not sure where it originated, but God bless the jolly baker who whipped up this treat for all of us to enjoy!

Christmas Eggnog Bread


1/4 c. butter, melted
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/4 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. eggnog
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c. chopped red cherries (I used craisins)


In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar & eggs; mix well.  Combine flour, powder & salt.  Stir into butter mixture alternately with eggnog, mix only until dry ingredients are moistened.  Fold in pecans & cherries.  Pour into a greased 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes, or until bread tests done.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

going back to NYC w/ Manicotti

Have you ever tasted food so good that you dreamed about it after?  It was probably something out of the norm, something not on your normal recipe rotation.  You probably didn't even make it yourself.  It was dinner at a friend's house, or a new restaurant.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's something that sticks with you all day (like a sex dream, only you don't feel even the slightest bit guilty about it).

Manicotti from Sal's in Little Italy (remember our trip to the Big Apple?) is one of my dream-dishes.  It comes up on a regular basis in conversation when Dick and I are out to eat.  It's usually something like, "Yeah, this is good...but remember that manicotti at Sal's?"  It was the perfect amount of cheesy - like so cheesy you couldn't even talk with a mouth full no matter how hard you tried!  That's my perfect amount of cheesy.  We loved NYC (and all the food we ate there) so much the first time around, that we're going back for our Christmas vacation!  It's a pretty safe bet that we'll be stopping at Sal's.

Well, I finally tried my hand at manicotti.  It wasn't quite what I'd hoped for on the cheesy side, but we didn't do much talking while we ate.  Dick and I both loved it!  And I have to admit I was a bit skeptical because the recipe called for crepes rather than pasta.  I'm pretty sure I'd never had it that way before, but I'll definitely make it that way again.  Not one complaint from this kitch.  Not one.  I loved the spinach, and I think next time I'll add some mushrooms, too.  And I know that not everyone is a fan of leftovers, but we're big fans here.  I don't like paying for lunch if I can just bring it from home.  Especially if I loved it as dinner.  I loved it as dinner, and then I loved it as lunch the next day.  Give it a try, because I bet you will, too.

Adapted from 2 recipes found at

Crepes for Manicotti

1 c. flour
1 c. milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt


1. Mix ingredients together and stir until smooth.
2. Drop by spoonfuls or 1/4 c. of mixture onto a hot, lightly greased nonstick 6-inch pan.  Crepes should form and become dry almost instantly as you swirl the pan and its contents.  Turn crepe over to cook other side quickly.  Remove cooked crepe to waxed paper to cool. 
**They can be stacked w/ waxed paper between each and then placed in the freezer until you're ready to fill them.  This makes about 9 crepes that can be filled with more than just ricotta.

Filling for Manicotti

1 pound fresh spinach, stems trimmed and well washed or a 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed
kosher salt, plus 1/2 tsp
3 c. marinara sauce
1 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
freshly ground pepper
pinch ground nutmeg
2 tsp. unsalted butter, diced


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and season generously with salt.
2. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and season with salt, as well.
3. Boil the spinach, uncovered, until tender, about 3-4 minutes.
4. Remove with a slotted spoon, (do not drain), and immediately plunge the spinach into the ice water.
5. Drain and squeeze the excess water from the spinach, and finely chop.
**Alternatively, if using thawed spinach, simply squeeze, and finely chop.
6. Cover the bottom of a 9x13-inch ovenproof baking dish with 1 c. of the marinara sauce.
7. In a medium mixing bowl, evenly combine the ricotta, mozzarella, and 1/3 c. of the Parmesan, the eggs, and the spinach.
8. Season with 1/2 tsp salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste.
9. Spoon some of the cheese into the center of each crepe, then fold over the edges to close.  Line them up in the baking dish with the seam side down.
10. Cover with the remaining sauce and scatter the cheese on top.  Dot with the butter.
Bake for 30 minutes, and serve.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

{TWD} Rewind Recipe: Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

It's the time of year that we all count our many blessings, and I know that one on all of our lists (if you're not cuh-razy, that is) is chocolate!  This is a food blog, folks, you don't have to feel guilty or silly admitting that here.  As a matter of fact, it's something to be proud of here in the kitch!  Another thing I'm thankful for is the fact that we got to choose a rewind recipe for the baking group Tuesdays With Dorie, because that is the reason I was able to bake these delicious little ditties!  Chocolate for breakfast?  Don't mind if I do.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins
From Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan


6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2. tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter a regular-size muffin tin with 12 molds.
2. Melt the butter and half the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; or do this in a microwave.  Remove from heat.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. In another large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined.
5. Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted butter and chocolate over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend.  Don't worry about being thorough - a few lumps  are better than overmixing the batter.
6. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate.
7. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
8. Bake ~20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pumpkin Cream Trifle & Brussels Sprouts Gratin for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I know I'm a bit early, but I have to be if you're going to use any of my Thanksgiving recipes for the big day.  I've only got two, but they're out of this world!  I'm posting them both today to give you as much notice as possible (what, 2 full days isn't enough?!).  I just made them for our first family Thanksgiving celebration yesterday, and both were big, BIG hits.  I'm still getting FaceBook comments about them.

My favorite part about Thanksgiving is all the delicious food, of course, and even more so the Gingerbread house decorating after dinner (see pictures at the very bottom of this post).  Many people would tell you that the Pumpkin Pie is their favorite part of Turkey Day.  You're going to have to trust me when I tell you that you should just forget about the pie this year.  Blasphemy, you say?  Not so.  I'm giving you a much better alternative!  It is this fabulous Pumpkin Cream Trifle that will have you "mmmmm-ing" and "yummmmm-ing" with every single bite.  You're just going to die!  My friend, Keri, that gave me this recipe titled it "The BEST dessert ever," and I do believe she is right!

Pumpkin Cream Trifle
From Keri Abney

for the cake

1 package spice cake mix
1 3.4 oz package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 c. canned pumpkin
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

In a large bowl, combine these eight ingredients, mixing well.  Transfer to a 9x13 inch nonstick baking pan.  Bake 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.  At this point, the cake can be frozen for later use.

Making the Trifle

2 c. cold milk
2 3.4 oz packages instant cheesecake pudding mix
1 8 oz carton whipped topping, thawed
1 c. chopped pecans, toasted (optional)
*3/4 c. English Toffee bits (Skor bars mashed up work perfect)
*I used 8 Skor bars (just to make sure...)

Combine milk and pudding mixes; whisk for 2 minutes.  Fold in whipped topping.  Cut cake into 1-inch cubes.  Layer cake, pudding mixture, pecans & Skor bar bits in a glass 3 quart bowl or trifle dish; repeat to make three layers of each.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serves 15-20.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin
Adapted from Food Network Magazine, November 2010


2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the dish
Kosher salt
2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, outer leaves and stems removed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 c. bread crumbs


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 2-quart baking dish.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until tender, 8-10 minutes.
2. Drain the Brussels sprouts and coarsely chop.  Transfer to the prepared baking dish and toss with the red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste, then spread out evenly.  Pour the cream on top, sprinkle with the cheese and breadcrumbs and dot with butter pieces.
3. Bake the gratin until bubbly and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Gingerbread "Heaven"

It's tradition to decorate Gingerbread houses every Thanksgiving with my mom's side of the family. 

A tradition we all love.

Although looking at these pictures, I'm not exactly sure why. HA!

When the houses are bare, there are smiles all around...

But when the candy and icing come out, so do our true colors...

 Just for a minute...

and then they're back again...

 until Chow hides every last bit of candy inside her house...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Creamy, Crunchy Apple Dip

If chocolate or cheese were food groups, one of those would probably be my favorite...or maybe even tie for my very favorite food group.  But since neither of those gets it's own category, I choose fruit as my favorite food group.  You can eat it on your cereal/oatmeal/toast/yogurt/waffles/pancakes for breakfast, as a snack, on the side of your lunch & dinner, mixed in with your salad for lunch or dinner, and with a little sugar for dessert - fruit is the jack-of-all-meals.  And I love fruit for that reason.  But you want to know something else I love about fruit?  You can pair it with something completely unhealthy and not feel quite as guilty as you normally would eating that unhealthy thing.  A perfect example of that situation is the apple dip I'm sharing with you today.  It's absolutely divine, and definitely one of those things you could find yourself licking the bowl clean after finishing it off.  Cheese.  Brown Sugar.  Heath bar.  It's literally that simple.  Don't forget the apples, though, or you're in for a major guilt trip.

Creamy, Crunchy Apple Dip
Something I picked up somewhere...I just don't remember!


8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 - 3/4 c. heath bar bits


Combine all 3 ingredients in a bowl & mix well, until the sugar is well-incorporated and not a grainy texture.  Serve with Granny Smith apples, or other fruit of your choice (also very good with bananas!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Great Pumpkin

I'm a big fan of traditions.  As a matter of fact, I love 'em!  Traditions, the good ones at least, give me that tingly, happy fluttery feeling from the ends of my hair to the tips of my toes...every time.  One of my very favorites that Dick and I have had the entire time we've been married is enjoying a pumpkin-shaped pizza from Papa Murphy's.  It started out as an excuse to not eat something I'd made, because, let's face it, in the beginning it was pretty bad, folks.  But now, its just one of those things we look forward to - its festive, its fun, and its pretty darn tasty!  Here's our 2010 Jacko-Yummy!

Another thing I really love is trying new recipes.  I especially love making seasonal foods, so when I saw the recipe for this pumpkin penne I knew it was a must-try.  Sometimes I halve recipes since its just Dick and I at our house, but when I think we're gonna like something I'll risk making the whole thing so we can have the leftovers for lunches at work throughout the week.  The leftovers from this pasta were gone in record time, and may have even been fought over.  Just a little bit, though.  So, yeah, this yummy seasonal dish was a hit, and I bet it will be at your house, too!

Penne-Wise Pumpkin Pasta
From Rachael Ray on

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, grated
2 c. chicken stock
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1/2 c. cream
1 tsp. hot sauce, to taste
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2 pinches ground cinnamon
salt & black pepper
7-8 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced
grated parmigiano-reggiano

1. Heat water for pasta, salt it & cook penne to al dente.
2. Heat the oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat.  Add shallots and garlic to the pan, saute 3 minutes.
3. Stir in chicken stock and combine w/ pumpkin, stir in cream then season sauce w/ hot sauce, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt & pepper.
4. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5-6 minutes more to thicken.
5. Stir in sage, toss with pasta with grated cheese, to taste.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

TWD ~ Pumpkin Granola ~ Quarter of a Century!!!

This past week was crazy, but it was the good kind of crazy.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  Started my new job as Employee Wellness Coordinator at a University very near my home, which was enough crazy for a whole month if you ask me, and I also turned 25 years old - that's a quarter of a century, folks!!!  My fabulous bff, RJ, and phenomenal husband made it into a whole "birthweek" celebration - there was seriously some kind of shenanigan for me to look forward to every single day!  They sure do know how to make a girl feel special.  Also note, my grandma gave me a genuine food processor (so my blender won't have to work overtime anymore), and my parents gave me a SEXY KitchenAid Artisan Mixer that I've been drooling over since cooking/baking crept their way into my heart.  I'm a very happy foodie!!! Anyway, with all the work/birthday goings on, I just did not have time to do my share of baking, but it was CARAMEL PUMPKIN PIE week, and that was the recipe I would have wanted to make for Tuesdays With Dorie this month, so I still have to post...even though its almost a week tardy.  Janell, from Mortenson Family Memoirs has the full recipe posted, so click HERE to get the goods. 

Like I said, I didn't make it, but I'm sure as heck not going to leave you empty handed.  That's not my style.  In honor of the season, I'm sharing with you a tasty & festive recipe for Pumpkin Granola.  I got the recipe from a friend and former co worker's blog:  Two Peas and Their Pod.  It was a huge success - Dick had it as cereal, I had it in yogurt, and of course alone as a snack.  Delicious every way we could think to eat it.  Some people aren't big pumpkin fans, and I'm not gonna lie, I just don't understand that at all.  The pumpkin in this isn't overwhelming, and it definitely doesn't effect the texture, so I think that even the pumpkin-haters should give this one a try. 

Pumpkin Granola
From Maria at Two Peas and Their Pod


5 c. rolled oats
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1/4 c. apple sauce
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. pepitas


1. preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet w/ parchment paper, and set aside.

2. in a large bowl, combine oats, spices, and salt.  mix well.

3. in a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, pumpkin puree, applesauce, maple syrup and vanilla extract.  whisk until smooth.  pour wet ingredients into oat mixture and stir until oats are very evenly coated.  they will be moist.  evenly spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet.

4. bake for 20 minutes.  remove pan from oven and stir.  bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the granola is golden and crisp.  remove from the oven and stir in dried cranberries and pepitas.  let cool completely.  store in airtight container.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pumpkin Blondies

So, there were a couple of reasons for me being M.I.A. on the blogging scene, one of which being our trip to North Carolina that I posted about last time.  The other reason is that I got a new job!!!  The transition from one job to the other has kept me really busy - starting with the interview for the new gig, finding out that I actually got it, and then training my replacement for the old one.  My last day was just this past Friday, and it took a lot of organizing and teaching to pass the torch to the new me.  I really wanted to show her everything because I wanted to leave the people I've been working with in good hands.  I know they are - just wanted to do everything I could to make sure, ya know?!  Also note, I may have been working with them on improving their health for the last year and a half, but I wanted to go out with a bang, so I took them a treat on my last day.  These pumpkin blondies were a hit!  Not so healthy, but definitely festive and delicious.  They loved them, and I know you will, too.

Pumpkin Blondies
Adapted from My Baking Addiction

1 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
15 oz. canned pumpkin puree
12 oz. chocolate chips (mix of white & bittersweet)
3/4 c. chopped pecans, optional

1. Line a 9x13 inch pan with tin foil & spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together dry ingredients.
3. Cream butter & sugars until smooth.
4. Beat in egg & vanilla.  Then beat in pumpkin.
5. Mix in dry ingredients until just combined.
6. Fold in chocolate chips.
7. Pour evenly into prepared pan & bake for 35-40 minutes.
8. Let cool completely in pan.  Remove from pan by grabbing the edges of the foil and set on counter or flat surface to cut squares.

***I covered them and let them settle over night because I wanted them to be more chewy than cakey (they were cakey right out of the oven).  They were perfectly chewy the next morning!!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Highlights from the Crystal Coast ~ Food & Fantasies

I know you've been dying to know where I disappeared to for a month, so here's part of the story.  We made a quick, but fabulous, trip to the southern coast.  The Crystal Coast in North Carolina, to be exact.  There were a couple of reasons for heading out that way, but the one dearest to my heart is that I'm one of the biggest, girliest, sappiest fans that Nicholas Sparks has, and because I'm in love with all of his books (and movies based on them), I just had  to visit the region they all take place.  How lucky am I to have a husband that likes to entertain my crazy dreams?!  I know.  As luck would have it, we also got to eat some of the most DIVINE cuisine my lips have ever encountered.  You're in luck, too, my foodie friends!  Because you know this girl doesn't take a trip without taking just as many pics of her food as she does of her adventures.  Here are some of both:

Fresh fresh FRESH seafood dinner of shrimp & scallops in an ocean of butter.

Is it still considered sailing if the wind isn't blowing? 

Well, I'm sitting on a sailboat & loving every minute of it.

Bar. B. Que.

This is how its done, my friends.

L - R:  Hush Puppies (my fave!!!), smoked pulled pork, chicken, slaw (eh), fries (I didn't even give them a thought after tasting the puppies...french what?)

First souvenir of the trip?

You know it was some of Moore's famous sauce!

A HUGE omelet and french toast at The Baker's Square in New Bern. 

Breakfast of champions.

My favorite guilty pleasure is the tv show One Tree Hill (you can laugh all you want, but I'll still be watching it every week - been w/ the Ravens since day one back in 9th grade, so there's just no turning back).

My BFF, RJ, looked up some addresses of where they film the show in Wilmington, and Dick was kind enough to chauffeur me to a few.  So fun!
B. Davis's store, Clothes Over Bros - I wish it was real!

Met some fellow fanatics @ the River Court.  No kidding.

On the pier where many a One Tree Hill & Dawson's Creek scene have been filmed.

Waiting to be seated at The Chelsea, a restaurant that is in the book The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks, that just so happens to really exist.

I only know because I'm a stalker.

Fried Green Tomatoes.

I've never liked tomatoes, but this was all it took to convert me.

All I remember about this pasta was that there was crab, shrimp, and lots of veggies.

Oh, and that I loved it.

This was called South African Bread Pudding.

Call it whatever you was the perfect ending to my perfect day.

Dick thought it was too rich.  I don't even know what that means.

You can't tell because of the awesome flash in the window, but we had the best view of downtown right from our table.  Seriously felt like I was right in the book.


Remember in The Notebook when Ally and Noah lay in the middle of the street?

Dick is seriously my soul mate. 

And such a saint for reenacting it with me!

We asked around for a new place to have breakfast the next day, but the only thing anyone told us was to go back to The Baker's Square.

So we did.

This butter syrup was heav-en-ly, I tell you.

Did you know New Bern is the birth place of Pepsi Cola?

Now you do.

On the ferry out to Hammock's Beach on Bear Island.

Frolicking in the sand dunes...just like in Dear John

This was seriously our 3rd basket of hush puppies.

Enough to make me want to cry when I think of Jamie Oliver burying that family's Fry Daddy.

Who knew deep fried cornbread could be so dangerously addicting?  I'm hooked for life!

We both are.

My first bite of soft shell crab.


Last minute stop at the Waffle House.

I did have the apple cinnamon waffles, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Another delicious trip crossed off my list of dream vacations.

Thanks to this guy.

Love ya, babe!

Coming up:

Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin

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