Sunday, December 30, 2012

Goodbye 2012 - Cake Pops, Mummy Dogs, Biggest Flop, and Much Much more

There is only one more day in 2012.  So, in the spirit of starting fresh in 2013, I'm devoting this post to all the things in 2012 that I had great intentions to blog about but never did. I'll start off on a sweet note with two sweet treats we made recently - Cake Pops and Meringue cookies.

Cake Pops

For Christmas I received a Babycakes Cake Pop maker.  With the help of my husband we successfully made three dozen chocolate cake pops with vanilla glaze (some colored red), and some with sprinkles.  I'll say the cake part was very easy, and I definitely want to try other things with the Babycakes maker other than cake pops. The candy coating part was a bit trickier, but we had an efficient assembly line going and it turned out well.

Meringue Cookies

I attempted to make meringue cookies recently for the first time in 8-9 years.  The previous time (my first attempt) did not go well, and so I decided making these light and airy cookies was not for me. My mom makes them and they always turn out so well that I decided maybe my first attempt was a fluke.  Based on my recent results, maybe I'll be making more of these cookies again soon!  (And actually promised them as a gift, so I better be getting to it....).

Finished cookies
Finished cookies up close and personal
Recipe courtesy of my mom:
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup semi- sweet chocolate mini morsels (optional)

Directions: Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Gradually add in sugar. gently fold in chips. Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Place in a 400 degree oven and turn the oven off. Leave in oven overnight or eight hours. Store in an air tight container. 

Mummy Dogs (Halloween 2012)

Thanks to Pinterest I decided to get creative with my dish for our office Halloween party.  The most creative I've gotten in the past is to bring "Devil"-ed eggs, but they looked just like regular deviled eggs.  So I really just got creative on the sign up sheet. This year I made Mummy dogs and I must say I was quite impressed with how well they turned out.  Steps: cut crescent roll dough into strips, cut sliced cheese of your choice into strips, and cut hot dogs in half.  Wrap hot dogs with cheese, then dough, bake, and dot some eyes with mustard.

Biggest Flop of 2012

Yes, we get some flops of dishes around here from time to time. Sometimes by no fault of our own, just ends up being a not so tasty or incorrect recipe.  Then other times, it's just not meant to be no matter how highly the recipe is rated and how exact you measure the ingredients.  The biggest flop award for 2012 goes to....German Chocolate cake I made for my mom's birthday.  Not only did it not come out of the pan, it really didn't taste that great either. So, thankfully I had a backup box of devil's food cake mix on hand, so I still was able to arrive at her party with a nice "homemade" cake! (Oh, and the homemade icing did turn out great!)

Complete flop of a cake. Don't we all agree using a box mix tastes just as good?

Successful finished cake (box mix, homemade icing)

Ranch Marinated Steaks - Publix Aprons Recipe

I do a majority of our grocery shopping at Publix.  They have an area of the store where someone makes food, lets you sample it, hands out the recipe card, and has all the ingredients you need in a case right there next to them.  Most of the time this is what happens: I see free food, I eat the free food, I comment how good it is and take a free recipe card, then promptly never look at the said recipe again or buy any of the required ingredients.  However, one day this summer they had Ranch Marinated Steaks.  I decided to make them since it was rather good, the ingredient list was short, and it looked rather quick to make.  It was a success!  Will save this for when we are craving a big juicy slab of meat.  Recipe can be found at the Publix website here

Baked Oatmeal

I discovered Baked Oatmeal earlier this year. It's so good and easy!  The recipe I use is from the blog Stacy Makes Scents.  Sometimes I throw in fresh blueberries if I have them on hand (which is basically all summer).  I like to make this on Sunday afternoon, then wrap up some for breakfast each morning as I run out the door for work.  Good with or without syrup on top! 

Crockpot Meals

Two new crockpot meals I discovered this year and love are Mexican Chicken and Beef Pepperoncini sandwiches. For the Mexican Chicken, I didn't take a picture. Here's what you do - take one package of boneless chicken breasts and put them in a crock pot.  Sprinkler 1 envelope of taco seasoning over the chicken, then top with 1 jar of your favorite salsa. Cook on High for 4-6 hrs or Low for 6-8 hrs.  When it's done shred the chicken with a fork.  Use for tacos, nachos, or however you'd like!

Next up is the Beef Pepperoncini sandwiches.  I found the recipe on the Krazy Coupon Lady website. Great to make when the beef goes on sale! When the meat is done, shred it up and put on rolls of your choice with a slice of cheese. 

All the ingredients for the beef sandwiches
Coconut Cream Pie

Since I started off this 2012 summary/hodgepodge post with something sweet, why not wrap things up with something else sweet!  I am a huge fan of anything coconut, including coconut cream pie. I've made this recipe a couple times and both times it turned out perfectly. The recipe is from Cooking Light (love this magazine!), so you don't feel too bad about having a 2nd helping!  Just looking at this photo again makes me want to go make one now. Except I really might make some baked oatmeal later, need some breakfast for this week.....

Happy New Years!

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese, Recipe by Giada DeLaurentiis

Earlier in December we made this rustic no-meat pasta dish from the cookbook Giada's Kitchen by Giada DeLaurentiis.  Lots of mushrooms made it hearty with carrots, onions, garlic, and red bell pepper rounding out the vegetables.  Oh and lots of herbs.  This would also be great in the summer with fresh herbs and bell pepper from the garden! Marscapone cheese makes it creamy and delicious.

The recipe is also found at

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese


  • 1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 ounces assorted mushrooms (like shiitakecremini, and brown), stemmed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 pound rigatoni pasta
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan


Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1-1/2 cups very hot water. Set aside and let the mushrooms soften. Place the carrots, onion, bell pepper, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse the vegetables until finely chopped but still chunky. 

Place the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. 

Strain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the porcini mushroom liquid. Add the porcini mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, and tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring to dissolve the tomato paste, until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the porcini mushroom liquid and red wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let the mixture simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add mascarpone cheese and stir just until the cheese is incorporated.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and add to the vegetable mixture. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid, if necessary, to moisten the sauce. Toss with Parmesan and serve.

We also served with some French bread, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toasted in the toaster over for a few minutes until golden.

 Ready to eat!

Chicken and Mushroom Posole Soup, Recipe by Bobby Flay

A couple of years ago we went on vacation to Las Vegas and the San Francisco/Wine Country area.  I posted about our trip and all the food adventures we had (a lot!). Check out our restaurant experience here.   While in Vegas we ate at Bobby's Flays Mesa Grill at Caesar's Palace, a 1 star Michelin Restaurant.  Here we are outside the restaurant: 

A couple of days ago we tried our first recipe from Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook. Since it's so cold outside, a soup sounded like a good idea. We made Chicken and Mushroom Posole Soup. The soup is very simple to make, all in all probably taking an hour or less, with most of that time allowing the soup to simmer or vegetables reconstitute.  We had a little trouble finding the ancho chilies; surprisingly no chain grocery store in town had them.  Zac finally found them at an Hispanic grocery store in Montgomery about 25 minutes away.  The porcini mushrooms also were hard to find, but a local Publix ended up having some in stock. 

We followed the recipe and oven roasted the boneless but skin on chicken breasts.  I bought bone-in chicken breasts and simply removed the bones.  You could also use leftover rotisserie chicken.

Most of the ingredients from our local Publix. This was our first hominy-cooking experience. It made the soup very hearty. 

While the chicken roasted in the oven, we reconstituted the chilies and mushrooms for about 30 minutes, then chopped them up. Once the chicken was cooked, we removed the skin and shredded it:

stemmed, seeded, then chopped ancho chilies

We also used our enameled cast iron pot for the first time too! It's 7-quart, quite heavy, but destined to get used quite a bit. Here we are bringing chicken stock up to a boil. 

After the chicken stock was boiling, the chilies and mushrooms were added, and simmered for a few minutes. Then, the chicken, herbs, and hominy were added and left to simmer.

Then it's time to plate! The soup is topped with chives, a squeeze of lime, white cheddar cheese, and blue tortilla chips.  The recipe includes instructions on how to make your own blue corn tortilla strips, but we opted for the store bought chips to make our life a little easier.  It worked out well.

Looking forward to making more recipes from our Mesa Grill cookbook! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Donald Link's Spicy Crawfish Fettuccine

I just finished eating leftovers of our dinner last night - Spicy Crawfish Fettuccine.  The recipe is from Donald Link's cookbook "Real Cajun", which we've made several recipes from in the past, all successes.  Click here for my post on other recipes we've made from this cookbook. This fettuccine is so creamy and flavorful and just all around good.  There is even a suggestion if you want to make it "light"!  We did not take that suggestion, by the way.  

I have consumed crawfish on many occasions, from taking heads off freshly steamed ones at crawfish boils (quite messy I must say), to eating crawfish etouffee at our local Cajun restaurant, but I've never cooked with it before. I was personally not feeling adventurous enough to buy whole crawfish and pull out the tail meat, so I bought frozen tail meat to use in the dish. I realize if this were Top Chef, I would be scolded and likely kicked off for this.  

Also, this was our first time buying and using a poblano pepper. Thankfully Zac isn't as affected by the pepper aroma as I am, so he did all the chopping.  Plus he's just a great chopper!  Here are all the things he had to chop, well except the lemons, I juiced those. 

Poblano, chives, lemons (for the juice), plum tomatoes, onion, garlic,
jalapeno pepper, and basil
 The mise-en-place:

plum tomatoes
Getting pan ready to cook the vegetables, followed by sauteing the vegetables and chopped ham. Oh, and no tasso ham to be found at our local Publix. So I just got regular old ham. Again, another offense not overlooked if this were Top Chef.

crawfish tail meat

mixture cooking down, juices reducing

good stuff (heavy cream) has been added, after adding flour and butter

final step of mixing in the basil leave

Ready to Eat!! Served with Parmesan cheese and chives on top
We can't wait to make more recipes from the cookbook "Real Cajun"!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Seafood and Sausage Gumbo

We love making this gumbo.  It's super tasty, fun to make, freezes well (that is if you have leftovers!), and has become one of our favorite recipes.  We've adapted this from a recipe my husband found on many years ago. We followed it exactly at first, then started changing mainly the meat quantities and types to suit our tastes.  The original recipe called for crab meat, but it seemed to dissolve into the gumbo and omitting it didn't skimp on flavor (but did cut down on the cost!).  We've also used water as the recipe calls for, or made and used shrimp stock.  Going with the water works just fine for us so it how we typically make it.  Doubling this recipe works great too! When we can't find fresh okra, using frozen okra works just fine too. 

Seafood and Sausage Gumbo

1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. canola or vegetable oil
1 c. chopped onion (we use sweet or Vidalia)
1 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped green bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 gallon warm water or vegetable or seafood stock
2 c. sliced okra 
8 oz. tomato sauce (1 small can)
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 lbs shrimp
1 lb andouille sausage, sliced
4 c. cooked rice
Small bunch scallions

All the photos below were of us making the gumbo, doubling the recipe.  

Browning the sausage

I prepped while Zac made the roux
oil and flour

Zac patiently stirring the roux

cooking the veggies

with water, okra, and tomato sauce
Almost ready for the meats and seasonings

sausage, seasonings, and shrimp ready to go

last round of simmering, rice out of the rice cooker

all done! Best served with crusty bread
Combine flour and oil in a large heavy bottom stock/soup pot, over medium heat, stirring constantly until roux is dark, about the color of a copper penny, 10-15 minutes.  Add onion, celery, garlic, and green bell peppers to roux. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add warm water (or stock), blending well after each addition. Add okra and tomato sauce. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally (approx every 20-30 minutes). 

While gumbo is simmering, cook the sliced andouille sausage in a pan over medium heat to brown.  Drain off fat and pat dry. 

Stir salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, andouille sausage, and shrimp into gumbo. Bring gumbo back to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until shrimp are cooked. Remove from heat. Serve in a bowl over rice with chopped scallions on top.