Monday, December 17, 2012

Steak House Mac and Cheese

Anyone up for some comfort food (with a healthy twist)?  When I saw this recipe in March, I knew I had to try it immediately.  I have made it several times (once, when my mother-in-law came for dinner) and I cannot say enough good about it.  Spinach.  Bacon.  Mushrooms.  Blue Cheese.  I have found those to be ingredients people either love or hate, but I happen to love them all.  Put them together with some penne, greek yogurt, panko, and garlic?  Let me tell you...This dish is amazing.


  • 4 tsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 8 oz uncooked penne pasta or macaroni
  • 3 bacon slices (I have reserved some from Sunday morning breakfast when I make it)
  • 10 oz fresh mushrooms, quartered (I have used more, depending on the package size)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I use 1 tsp jarred minced garlic)
  • 10 oz fresh baby spinach (I used most of two 6 oz bags)
  • 1/4 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
  • 4 oz blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I don't generally have this and therefore skip it)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Coat 2-quart baking dish with 1 tsp oil and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt and pasta.  Cook for 6 minutes or until just barely tender.  Drain pasta but reserve one cup of the cooking liquid.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan, and crumble.  Add mushrooms to drippings (appx 2 Tbs) in pan.  Cook for 8 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.  
  4. Add pepper, garlic, and spinach (in batches) to the mushrooms; cook 3 minutes or until spinach wilts, tossing occasionally.
  5. Combine yogurt and cheese in a large bowl, stirring until almost smooth.  Add pasta and mushroom mixture toss to combine.  Stir in 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid (or more if mixture looks dry).  Spoon pasta mixture into prepared dish.
  6. Combine crumbled bacon, panko, and parsley.  Drizzle with remaining 3 teaspoons of oil; toss to combine.  Sprinkle evenly over top of pasta.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Difficulty: medium
Time: about 50 minutes total (the last 20 of which are completely hands-off)
Source:  Cooking Light magazine, March 2012, page 81

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Old-fashioned Orange Cookies

As the granddaughter of a baker, I love cookie season! I enjoy trying new recipes and filling the house with many, many dozens of treats to deliver to friends and family. This recipe came from my first ever cookie exchange when (gulp) I actually bought cookies from my grandfather's bakery instead of making my own. If you are intimidated by cookies like I was, try organizing a community or work cookie exchange; it is a great way to score some good recipes!


Cookie Ingredients
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 T orange rind (Valencia orange rinds provide the most flavor)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 t each: salt, baking powder, baking soda
Icing Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 T butter (softened)
  • 1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar (I've had success with Domino)
  • 1 1/2 T orange juice
  • 2 t orange rind
Cookies (4 dozen, 2-inch cookies)
  1. Mix shortening, sugar, and eggs until creamy.
  2. Stir in orange rind and orange juice.
  3. Blend in dry ingredients.
  4. Drop by teaspoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-8 minutes.
Cookie Icing
  1. Mix the butter until creamy.
  2. Slowly add confectioners sugar and orange juice.
  3. Mix until blended well.
  4. Stir in orange rind.
Note: I recommend investing in a grater; mine is handheld with a container to collect the rind.

Difficulty: Medium (you do have to grate an orange)
Time: Start to finish about an hour
Source: Work Cookie Exchange

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chewy Chocolate Cookies

I have made a few recipes similar to this one over the years for my cookie tray and to mix in with others as gifts.  It is a perfect addition, with the festive candy cane sprinkles on the top.  The nice thing about this recipe is if you don't care for the candy cane topping, you can substitute whatever you would like - half of a caramel, walnut or pecan pieces (or halves), a drizzle of melted name it, and it will probably work.  I love the chewy, almost brownie-like texture...delicious!

  • 4 squares Baker's Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
  • 3/4 c butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c flour
  • 3 or 4 coarsely chopped peppermint candy canes (or other topping of your choosing)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwavable bowl on HIGH for 2 minutes or until butter is melted.  Stir until chocolate is completely melted.  (At this point, I transfer to the mixing bowl of my stand mixer.)
  3. Stir in sugar.  Blend in eggs and vanilla.  Add flour; mix well.  Refrigerate 15 minutes, or until dough is easy to handle.  (This is very necessary.  I actually put the dough back into the fridge between batches.)
  4. Shape dough into 1 inch balls; place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets.
  5. Bake 8 minutes or just until set (do not overbake).  Once removed from the oven, immediately sprinkle candy cane bits onto the top and press into the cookie slightly.  Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Difficulty: Pretty easy on a cookie scale (only the rolling into balls keeps it from being very easy, in my opinion)
Time: 15 minutes prep, 8 minutes cooking time per batch
Source: adapted from Kraft Food & Family magazine, Holiday 2006 edition

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Peanut Butter Blossoms

I have been debating getting a stand mixer for years.  Typically, I borrow my mom's if I have to do a serious bout of baking.  For anything else for which a stand mixer would come in handy, I just make due by some other means (like hand-mashing potatoes, which doesn't happen often).  When a stand mixer showed up on my doorstep a week ago as an early Christmas present from my husband, the first thing I made were these cookies - his favorite.  I used a recipe out of my recipe box from my mom.  I had to smile when I noticed it was the exact recipe from the back of the bag of Hershey Kisses.  (Incidentally, my kids loved to help - I shaped the dough into balls, they rolled the balls in the sugar and put them on the cookie sheet.)

  • 48 Hershey Kisses
  • 1/2 c shortening
  • 3/4 c peanut butter
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/3 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl until blended. 
  3. Add 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar; beat until fluffy.
  4. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well.
  5. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.
  6. Shape dough into 1 inch balls.  Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.  
  8. Immediately press a chocolate piece into center of each cookie.  Cookie will crack around edges.  Cool on wire rack.  Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Difficulty: I think these are relatively easy as far as cookies go, but I have made easier
Time: 10 minutes prep; 8-10 minutes baking per batch
Source: my mom (or the back of the bag of Hershey Kisses)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Kelly's Menu Plan 12/3 thru 12/9

The Christmas season is full of activities for my family-trips to outdoor ice skating rinks, cookie parties, gingerbread house making, parties.  This weekend we were stuck at home; everyone had the flu.  I used some of my extra downtime working on a menu.  I am hoping doing some meal planning will keep me out of the crowded grocery stores while letting me spend the rest of this special time with my kids.

Monday-Sausage, Spinach, and Tomato Pasta
I bought spinach on sale earlier this week, and we have some frozen sausage. This recipe is one of my husband's favorites.

Tuesday-Turkey Day Casserole
John asked that I would add this dish to the rotation, and Andrew, my 16 month old son, loves it.  I took advantage of all the sale prices on canned cranberries and stuffing.  The coupon on the Country Crock side dishes will be useful to pick up the mashed potatoes.

When I get home from work, John will be handing me 2 dance bags, two ready dancers, and a bag of dinner for us.  
Thursday-Zesty Chicken Pasta
We haven't had this dish in a few months.  The kids don't like it so spicy, so I'll reserve some pasta for them.

Lately, I've been having my husband stop at Aldi to pick up their take-and-bake pizza on his way home.

Saturday-Pulled Barbecue Chicken Crescents 
I've been seeing lots of holiday coupons for crescent rolls lately, time to stock up.  I'll use the rest of the chicken I defrosted for Thursday's dinner to make this.  

Sunday-Snickers Cookies and Apple Crescent Surprise
We'll be having dinner with my family so I will need to bring a dessert, the apple crescents. We are working on our Christmas cookies. I did have to break down and buy the snickers this year; we didn't have a lot of leftover Halloween candy, and I wasn't fast enough to collect the snickers bars and hide them.