Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Margarita Cheesecake

Is this making anyone else hungry?

I really love cheesecake. Always have and always will, I'm sure of that. Any kind of cheesecake - it really doesn't matter what's in it. And I've had a lot of cheesecake in my life. But never margarita cheesecake. Until now. Why, oh why didn't anyone alert me of this sooner?

Please make this for your next get-together. Or for just your family. Or just yourself. And don't forget to come back later and thank me.

Happy Spring to everyone!

Margarita Cheesecake
(from Good Housekeeping magazine)

7 Tbsp. butter or margarine, cut up
5 limes
1 orange
8 ozs. (65 wafers) vanilla wafer cookies
4 packages (8 ozs. each) cream cheese, softened
1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 large eggs
1 container (8 ozs.) sour cream
1/4 cup orange-flavor liqueur or orange juice
Orange and lime slices, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Wrap outside of 10" by 2 1/2" springform pan with foil to prevent leakage. While oven preheats, melt butter in springform pan in oven.

2. Meanwhile, from limes, grate 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. peel and squeeze 1/2 cup juice. From orange, grate 1/2 tsp. peel. In food processor with knife blade attached, pulse vanilla wafers and 2 tsp. lime peel to make fine crumbs (you should have about 2 and 1/2 cups crumbs). Stir crumbs into melted butter in springform pan, then press onto bottom and 2 inches up side of pan to form crust. Bake crust 15 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

3. In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Gradually beat in sugar and salt until blended. Reduce speed to low; beat in eggs, 1 at a time, sour cream, liqueur, orange peel, lime juice, and remaining 1 Tbsp. lime peel just until blended and smooth.

4. Pour cream-cheese mixture into crust, making sure to scrape any peel on beaters into batter. Bake cheesecake 45 minutes (cheesecake will still jiggle slightly in center). Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in oven 1 hour to cool slightly and set.

5. Remove cheesecake from oven and cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cover and refrigerate cheesecake at least 6 hours, until well chilled or up to 2 days.

6. To serve, carefully remove outside of springform pan. Let cheesecake stand at room temperature 30 minutes for better flavor. If you like, arrange orange and/or lime slices on top of cake for garnish.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Weekly Menu - 3/29/09

Here's the menu!

Sunday - leftovers. We just have a TON, it's only right.

Monday - Phyllo Pie with Chicken.

Tuesday - Steak on the Grill and Zucchini Boats.

Wednesday - Baked Chicken and Rice with Black Beans.

Thursday - Pierogies (my husband is obsessed with these) sautéed on the stovetop, with a veggie on the side.

Friday/Saturday - Eat out or order in.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zucchini Boats

Something occurred to me recently. I don't make a whole lot of side dishes. I mean, I make side dishes, but they're usually of the boring, low-effort sort. On any given night, you can usually find us eating rice or zapping a Green Giant mixed veggie in the microwave. That's all well and good, but I decided I needed to give a little more love to my side dishes.

Which led me to this. Zucchini boats. I looove zucchini, and I thought these sounded delicious. And they are. And extremely easy. Sounds like a fabulous combination to me!

All you need is a few zucchini, ends trimmed, and boiled in water for about 8 minutes. Then split them in half horizontally, scoop out the insides, mix them with onion, cottage cheese, rice, egg, parsley, basil and salt. Put the mixture back into the zucchini and top it with a few strips of American cheese. Pop them in the oven and there you have it!

This recipe got all sorts of good attention from my hubby and a few friends who I mentioned it to. One suggested serving it with a little marina sauce. Genius... that sounds great! I even think adding a little chopped cooked bacon would add a nice flavor. It really pays off to give a little attention to your side dish! Note to self: do this more often.

Zucchini Boats

(adapted from For Goodness Taste cookbook)

2 medium zucchini
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3/4 cup cream-style cottage cheese
2/3 cup cooked white rice
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1/8 tsp. crushed dried basil
Pinch of salt
2 ozs. sharp American cheese, cut into 16 strips

1. Trim ends of zucchini. Cook zucchini in small amount of boiling salted water for 8 minutes or until just tender.

2. Halve zucchini lengthwise. Scoop out pulp to form boats. Coarsely chop remaining pulp.

3. Cook onion in butter until tender.

4. In a large bowl, combine chopped zucchini with onion, cottage cheese, rice, egg, parsley, basil, and a pinch of salt. Divide mixture among zucchini boats.

5. Place zucchini in lightly greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Loosely cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes. Top each boat with 4 cheese strips. Bake, uncovered, 5 minutes more to melt cheese.

Makes 4 side dish servings.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD: Blueberry Muffins

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection is Blueberry Crumb Cake, chosen by Sihan of Befuddlement. I bought the ingredients for this recipe early last week and was excited to make it. But somehow all of these other baked goods ended up in our house. Cheesecake, brownies, cookies... I don't know where they came from. Actually, that's a lie. I made them. The cheesecake was for a get-together that never actually ended up getting to the get together (long story). And the brownies were for another get-together in which we ended up with leftovers. So there are already way too many baked goods in our house.

I contemplated skipping... but then I remembered my husband's office. I hadn't sent anything to work with him in a while. And the ingredients were just sitting there. How could I not make it? So I decided to make Blueberry Crumb Muffins, instead of the cake. Easier to pass muffins around at work, is what I figured.

So the recipe came together really easily. I made 12 muffins and baked them for about 25 minutes. I had a ton of the crumb topping leftover and it's currently sitting in the fridge. I haven't really figured out what I'm going to do with it, but suggestions are welcome!

And then I started washing all of the dishes. And I'm now on incident number two that involves me bleeding as a result of a TWD recipe. I was very unsuspectingly washing the blade to my food processor when it slipped and sliced open my thumb. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I could say ouch a few dozen more times, but I'll spare ya. I've led a fairly boring life when it comes to injuries. I've never broken a bone, never had stitches, and before I gave birth to my son, had never had an overnight stay at the hospital or even an IV. And I had two brothers... so I'm not sure how I managed that. But yesterday I reeeeally sliced myself like never before. I wrapped my thumb up in a towel and held it over my head to try to stop the bleeding. I frantically called my husband saying, what do I do? And then when he really didn't have a good answer, I called my sister who's a nurse and said, what do I do? I think I over-reacted a little. It finally stopped bleeding and I've been applying neosporin like it's going out of style. And I'm pretty sure we're about to run out of band-aids.

But I think I'm going to survive. It's a good thing or else I'd never have gotten to eat one of these DELICIOUS blueberry muffins. Gosh, they're good. Go visit Sihan's site for the recipe. Stat!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Phyllo Pie with Chicken (Kotopita)

A few weeks ago I opened my big International Recipes cookbook to the Greek section and started perusing. I've never made Greek food, but have enjoyed it at restaurants quite a few times, so I knew this chapter would be fun to try out. I finally settled on a Phyllo Pie with Chicken. It looked easy enough to make and the ingredients sounded delicious.

For the pie, you'll need to focus on two things - the filling and the phyllo layers. Here's everything you'll need for the filling (plus ground chicken, that didn't make it in the picture). You'll notice that in my recent attempt to save money, I've been picking up Target brand spices. So far I haven't noticed a difference. Give them a try!

The ground chicken is cooked and broken into very small pieces, then mixed with the remaining ingredients to make the following.

As for the phyllo layers, you'll find the phyllo dough in your grocer's refrigerated section. I've consistently seen Athens Fillo rated very high, so that's what I go with.

The only tricky part with this recipe is working with the phyllo dough. I've done it before with no problems, but this time I forgot one crucial thing. It's really essential to keep your phyllo layers covered in order to prevent them from drying out. Use plastic wrap or a towel - whichever is handy. Pull out one layer at a time, and then immediately re-cover. The little suckers dry out so easily. And of course, I got lazy and forgot that this time. So by the time I got to my last, top layers of the pie, they were cracking and breaking. They still tasted great, but just weren't quite as pretty. At least I won't make that mistake again!

This dish is so tasty and was a big hit. The flavors were great - I looove feta cheese. It's one of the few things I missed eating while I was pregnant. I will definitely make this again. Serve it with a Greek salad and you've got yourself a complete meal. Now I can't wait to try out the rest of the recipes in this chapter!

Phyllo Pie with Chicken (Kotopita)
(from Cook's Illustrated's The Best International Recipe)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. ground chicken
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled into fine pieces (about 2 cups)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped (I omitted these - not a fan of olives!)
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp. juice from 1 lemon
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tsp.)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Phyllo Layers
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 lb. (14 by 9-inch) phyllo, thawed
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)

1. For the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and cook, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a strainer and let drain, about 5 minutes. Break apart any large clumps of meat with your fingers.

2. Meanwhile, mix the feta, eggs, scallions, olives, mint, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne together in a large bowl. Stir in the drained chicken until uniform. (The filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.)

3. For the phyllo layers: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 13 by 9-inch baking dish liberally with oil. Lay one phyllo sheet in the bottom of the prepared dish and brush thoroughly with oil. Repeat with 7 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with oil. Spread half of the chicken mixture evenly into the dish. Cover with 4 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with oil.

4. Spread the remaining chicken mixture evenly into the dish. Cover with 7 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with oil and sprinkling with about 1 Tbsp. of Parmesan. Lay the final sheet of phyllo over the top and brush with oil (do not sprinkle the final layer with Parmesan).

5. Working from the center outward, use the palms of your hands to compress the layers and press out any air pockets. Using a sharp knife, lightly score the pie into serving squares but do not cut through more than the top 3 sheets of phyllo. Bake until the phyllo is golden and crisp, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes or up to 2 hours before serving. (The pie can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 4 days. Leftovers are best at room temperature or reheated in a 350-degree oven until crisp and heated through, about 25 minutes).

Makes about 6 to 8 servings.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Weekly Menu - 3/22/09

Here is my family's weekly menu - with plenty of time to make your grocery list and hit the store this afternoon.

Sunday - Italian Meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Monday - BBQ Chicken on the grill and roasted vegetables as a side.

Tuesday - Shredded Beef Sandwiches with Sweet Potato Fries.

Wednesday - Chicken Enchilada Casserole.

Thursday - Slow Cooker BBQ Spare Ribs.

Friday/Saturday - eat out/order in (my nights off!)

Have a great week everyone!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Cookies

Rolos. Is there really anything better? Delicious caramel wrapped up in chocolate. Two of my absolute favorite things. Put them in a chocolate cookie and you've totally made my day. Scratch that - my WEEK.

My husband went out of town last week on a ski trip. He left me home alone with our one-year old son. My son who I love so dearly, yet who really knows how to test my patience. If I don't constantly keep him busy, he's destroying something in our house. If I'm not giving him attention every second of every day, he's whining or throwing a minor fit. Have I mentioned how much I love him? I really, really do, but a mother needs a break... at least once a day. Not getting one for 4 days straight while hubby's out of town leads me to do crazy things. Like bake a batch of these cookies and eat them. All. By. Myself.

Chocolate really does cheer me up... especially when there's caramel (or ice cream) involved. These cookies did the trick. And they're really easy to whip up when you're having a freak-out moment like I was. The chocolate batter isn't overly chocolate. It's more like a sugar cookie with a hint of chocolate. But it's nice that it's not overpowering. The surprise rolo hidden in the center is really the best part. They're fun and something a little different - you've gotta try them!

Chocolate Caramel Cookies
(From Kristen Doyle)

2 and 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
30-36 chocolate-covered caramel candies (such as Rolos)
2 Tbsp. sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Mix together until well blended. Add flour, cocoa and baking soda and mix well.

3. Refrigerate and chill dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place 1 chocolate-covered caramel candy in the center of each dough ball. Form the dough ball around the majority of the chocolate-covered caramel candy. Roll each dough ball in sugar.

5. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes. Let cool on pan for 1 minute then take off and place on cookie cooling rack.

Makes about 35 cookies.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Join Tuesdays with Dorie!

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, the Tuesdays with Dorie group is accepting new members for TODAY only!! If you've been wanting to join, now is your chance. It may be a Loooooong time before the group opens back up to new members again.

If you'd like to join, email tuesdayswithdorie AT gmail.com with your name, and check out the Tuesdays with Dorie site for all of the rules, including the name of the cookbook you'll need to buy to bake along with us.

Join us, it's fun!

TWD: French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection was made by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction. She chose the French Yogurt Cake with a Marmalade Glaze. According to Dorie, it's the go-to cake for just about every occasion in France. She tells us that most of the French don't bake, but everyone can bake up this cake because it's so foolproof.

Well, I wasn't raised in France. And I've never even been there. Which clearly must explain why I wasn't blown away with the cake. Really though, it's not the recipe's fault. I did a few things wrong. Number one: I used a glass pan, which meant I should have lowered the oven temp. Did I? Nope. And as a result, the edges were a bit overbrowned. Number two: I discovered that I need new baking powder. My cake barely rose at all. Number three: My buttering-the-pan skills leave a little to be desired. The cake stuck to the insides of the pan.

The cake itself was pretty tasty and the marmalade glaze really added a great flavor. But regardless, I just wasn't loving it. That happens sometimes. So I probably won't make it again. But I'm pretty sure Dorie will not disappoint in the upcoming week's selections... she's good like that.

Thanks to Liliana for choosing this. It's another one I never would have made on my own, and I'm glad I gave it a try!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Weekly Menu - 3/15/09

I find it incredibly helpful to create a weekly menu for my family. I really try to make one trip to the grocery store each week to avoid spending too much money (I always seem to get things I don't need when I'm at the grocery store - the fewer times I go, the fewer extra stuff I get!) and because my time is simply too precious to me. The last thing I want is to visit my grocery store more frequently than I need to. I have enough things going on in my life, so knowing what I'll be cooking each night is really helpful.

So about a month back, I started creating weekly menus and posting them on the Facebook page I created for my site. I think a lot of people find this really helpful. You can just copy my menu if it sounds good to you, or use a previous week's, or just pluck one or two things for ideas on your own menu!

You'll notice most of the things on my menu are recipes that have already been posted on my site. And you'll notice I keep posting new recipes each week that aren't on my menu! That's because I'm actually showing you my previous week's menu to allow me time to post a recipe for your use.

I'd love to know what YOU'RE having each week. Feel free to share!

Weekly Menu - 3/15/09

Sunday - The weather's chilly again. I've gotta have Corn Chowder! You'll need about 45 minutes prep time to have it ready - definitely do-able on a Sunday. Serve some bread and/or a salad on the side.

Monday - Fajita night! Use chicken or steak, pick up tortillas, fajita seasoning, refried beans, shredded cheese, tomatoes, onions, and anything else you'd like.

Tuesday - Pizza Margherita. You can make the pizza dough ahead to save time. Then just roll out your dough and follow the recipe or add your own favorite toppings. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday - Spaghetti Pie. Ooooooh yeah!

Thursday - Stovetop Sausage Mac and Cheese. Quick, easy and yummy!

Friday/Saturday - Order in/eat out or try making something fun and new!

Have a fabulous week!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spaghetti Pie with a boost!

Quite a while back I posted my go-to Spaghetti Pie recipe that I've been making for a while. And then I came across a new recipe that made my old one look a little bland and boring. This one is packed with veggies, meat, and yummy spices and it's oh-so-good! My husband is a big fan of anything pasta. And when it has beef in it, it's even better. I'm pretty sure he'll be requesting that I make this often. I guess I'll still occasionally make the old one when I'm in the mood for something quick and easy, but this one is a lot more fun!

You start with your ground beef - about 3/4 of a pound. Brown it up, drain off the fat, then throw in chopped onion, green pepper and garlic. Saute those for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to get soft.

In goes your tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. It simmers for about 20 minutes to let all of those great flavors blend.

Meanwhile, begin assembling your pie. You'll need about 8 ounces of cooked spaghetti mixed with butter, Parmesan and eggs. Use the largest pie pan you have - I could barely fit everything into my pan, and had a little leftover sauce. If you don't have a large pie pan, use a little less spaghetti to leave room for everything else. In the pan, press the spaghetti mixture along the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Top it with a layer of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. This makes it so nice and cheesy!

Spread your meat sauce over the cheeses. You could even just make the meat sauce and serve it over your favorite pasta. It's really tasty!

Then top it with a whole cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake in 375° degree F oven for about 20 minutes.

The cheese melts so nicely and it's a wonderfully tasty meal. It's great with some crusty garlic bread on the side. Thanks to Reeni at Cinnamon, Spice and Everything Nice for the recipe!

Spaghetti Pie
(from Cinnamon, Spice and Everything Nice)

8 ounces spaghetti
¾ pound ground beef
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Small onion, diced
½ green pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce or diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning
2 Tbsp. butter
1 and 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 and ½ cup ricotta cheese

1. Cook spaghetti to al dente according to package directions. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat cook ground beef. Drain off the grease.

2. Push the meat to the sides of the pan leaving space in the center. Add the oil, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Cook for about five minutes then add in tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. In a large bowl mix spaghetti with butter, 1/3 cup Parmesan, and eggs. Put the spaghetti mixture in a greased pie dish. Push the spaghetti up the sides of the pan and evenly over the bottom ‘forming’ the crust. Spread ricotta over spaghetti crust and then sprinkle on the mozzarella. Top with meat mixture and the remaining cup of Parmesan. Bake in 375° oven for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TWD: Lemon Cup Custard

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection is the Lemon Cup Custard. I admit that I actually consider myself more of a cookies and cake type of girl. I've skipped the pudding recipes and the creme brulee selection just because they don't overly appeal to me. When I read through the P&Q section where all of the TWD members post their comments and questions, the tone was largely unenthusiastic for this recipe. So I teetered on the brink of not making it, but at the last minute (i.e. last night) decided to go for it. I joined the group to try new things, so why not?

The ingredient list was rather simple - milk, lemon zest, eggs, sugar and lemon extract. The ease of the ingredients is really what convinced me to go through with making this. And since I only wanted to sample it, I halved the recipe to make it just enough for my hubby and I to each have a serving.

To start, the lemon is zested. I opted to zest the entire lemon, which is what Dorie recommended for the full recipe. But even though I was halving the recipe, I still used the whole lemon in order to make the flavor more pronounced (based on people's feedback who had already tried the recipe). Oh, and I accidentally zested my thumb while I was at it. Ouch. The amount of injuries I sustain while baking is just unbelievable... you'd think it's a contact sport.

The lemon zest is combined with the milk and brought just to a boil. It sits for 30 minutes to allow the flavor to infuse. I let it sit for an hour. I was doing everything possible to bring out that lemon flavor.

The eggs and the sugar are whisked together. Pretty easy recipe so far!

Next, the milk is poured in through a strainer to catch the zest. It goes in nice and slowly to temper the eggs. Whisk constantly. Hard to do when you're holding a pan of milk in one hand, the strainer in the other hand, and your bowl is covered by the strainer. Thankfully, I made it work.

The lemon extract is now added to the mixture. I used extra. Again, going for that lemony flavor, all the while hoping I'm not going overboard.

Pour the custard into your dishes and place them in a pan on paper towels. Pour boiling water into the pan. It should go halfway up the custard cups. Bake in a 325 degree F oven.

I found that mine needed to bake way longer than Dorie suggested. I kept checking at every five minute interval and they were still jiggly. I lost track of how many times I did this, but eventually the tops started to brown ever so slightly, so I decided to just call it a day and take them out.

The verdict?


I didn't like it and neither did my husband. I did have two bites... I really wanted to like it. But I felt like I was eating cold scrambled eggs... with a tiny hint of lemon. A lot of people complained of the eggy-ness of this and now I know what they mean.

My husband did finish an entire cup of it, though. He kept taking a bite and making a really horrible face. I yelled at him to stop putting himself through the torture - I wasn't going to have hurt feelings if he didn't eat it. But he insisted on eating it. And making funny faces. He exclaimed that he was eating it because it kind of tasted like some sort of weird health food. His exact statement was, "anything this bad must be good for me." Well, ladies and gentlemen, that pretty much sums it up. No offense to the wonderful Dorie (and she is beyond wonderful), but custard just isn't for me.

If you'd like to try the recipe yourself, it can be found on Bridget's blog The Way The Cookie Crumbles.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday's Super Tip - Baker's Joy

Several months back someone introduced me to Baker's Joy and I love it! I'm sure a lot of people use it already, but I knew I had to pass along the tip for those who don't use it or haven't heard of it. You'll thank me - I promise.

Well, you know how every time you bake a cake you have to first butter, and then flour, the inside of your pan? It's such a pain. Not only do I always end up with flour all over me (and the counters and the floor), but it's also time consuming! Baker's Joy replaces all of that. It's a butter/flour spray designed specifically for baking. Just spray the inside of your pan and in 2 seconds it's ready for your batter.

You can also spray your utensils in order to have your batter or food slide right off. It really doesn't stick. I swear by it. Go out and get some if you don't have it. You'll love it!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Baked Chicken and Rice with Black Beans

Every once in a while, a meal comes along that really surprises you. Those types of meals are not typically casseroles, but today ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be surprised.

Baked Chicken and Rice with Black Beans is a fantastically easy and simple main dish. The ingredients are all easy to find and you get four of your food groups all in the same dish. You've got your rice, your meat/beans, cheese, and veggies.

But let's not make any mistakes here - this doesn't count as healthy food. Perhaps it would if we weren't using 2 whole cups of Monterey Jack cheese. I suppose you could cut back on the cheese, but I didn't go that route. I wanted all that flavor.

You begin by chopping up your green peppers, carrots and onions. Sauté them in oil for about 10 minutes.

Cook your yellow rice according to the package directions.

Mix all of the ingredients, pour into a casserole dish and top with cheese. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt. This is key - you want that gooey, melted goodness.

My husband took one bite and remarked, "Oh WOW." Let me just clarify that my husband is a fan of my cooking... but it's very rare that I get such an enthusiastic response to things. It was incredibly good. I'll be making this A LOT. Not only is it wonderfully good, but it's really easy too. I love that.

Baked Chicken and Rice with Black Beans
(from Southern Living)

10-oz. package yellow rice mix
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
10-oz. can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
2 cups (8 oz.) grated Monterey Jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare rice according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, sauté onion, bell pepper, and carrot in hot oil in a medium skillet over medium heat 10 minutes or until tender.

3. Combine hot cooked rice, onion mixture, chicken, beans, diced tomatoes and chiles, and 1 and 1/2 cups cheese in a large bowl. Spoon into a lightly greased 3-quart or 13x9-inch baking dish; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

4. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes; uncover and bake 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Let's face it, I'm a fan of pretty much anything chocolate. So when I heard we were making a chocolate cake this week for Tuesdays with Dorie, I was pretty excited. Until I read over the ingredients and saw... alcohol. And prunes. Prunes? Really?

Well, who am I to argue with the great Dorie Greenspan's tastebuds? If she says prunes will be good in a chocolate cake, then I'll take her word for it. The picture in the cookbook sure looked great, and I couldn't spot a single prune in the cake in that picture. So I put my faith in Ms. Greenspan and went for it.

She instructed us to cut the prunes into "bits" so I chopped them up, a little unsure how big "bits" are. I think I left them too big, but more on that later. I heated them on the stove with water, then threw in some scotch whiskey (substituted for the Armagnac that she suggests), stood back, and set it ablaze. The flames weren't anything like what I expected. They lasted about 2 seconds - not even long enough to get a picture.

My husband later saw the bottle of scotch whiskey sitting out on the counter and said, "You used this stuff? This is the cheapest, nastiest whiskey ever and it's been in the cupboard for about 10 years." Information I could have used about 20 minutes earlier. Well, all I could hope for was that it got better with age.

Next came the ground nuts. The recipe calls for pecans, but allows for a walnut substitution, which I took. I discovered that I had an abundance of walnuts in the cupboard, and just had to grind them myself. It took me a while to get them perfect. Right about the time I finished, it occurred to me that it would have been faster and a heck of a lot easier to throw them into the food processor. Why does my brain work so slow?

Then I whisked the nuts together with flour and salt and set it aside.

Seven whole, wonderful ounces of bittersweet chocolate are coarsely chopped. Ghirardelli - the absolute best (it was on sale... ssshhhh...).

The chocolate is melted with butter. Have I ever mentioned my love for melted chocolate? I could eat it with a spoon.

I wasn't a big fan of the next step. Egg yolks and sugar were to be whisked together for about 2 minutes in order to make them thick and pale. This mixture was already thick to begin with, I didn't need to whisk them for 2 minutes to make it thick. And oh my goodness, my arm hurt after whisking for 2 minutes. It would be a stretch to imagine Miss Dorie Greenspan doing this step. I wonder if she has a whisk-er to do the hard work for her. Hmmm... is that a job I can post on Craigslist?

Then the prunes, the nut mixture, and the melted chocolate are mixed together. And you fold in the egg whites, and pour it all into your springform pan.

Bake for about 28 minutes or until the batter is still wet, but not too wet. Don't you love it when the directions are vague? Fortunately, I think I got it just right.

After it cools, you spread on the rich chocolate frosting made up of bittersweet chocolate, butter and confectioners' sugar. Dorie said it would be a self spreader, and would run down the sides. But mine was rather thick and I had to spread it myself. It was really delicious.

The end result was an absolutely gorgeous chocolate cake. And it was to die for. I couldn't taste the alcohol at all, which was great for me. I could, however, taste the prunes. I think if I had chopped them finer they would have blended a little better. But there was just something about those big chunks of prunes that was a turnoff. I ate a few and picked a few out. I think next time I'd figure out a way to make the cake without the prunes.

And it was sooooo good with ice cream. I literally ate over half of this cake. I made it on Friday and it got finished on Monday. It was just my husband and I eating it... and I'm sure I had more of it than he did. I reeeally don't want to step on a scale anytime soon.

Many thanks to Lyb of And Then I Do The Dishes for making this week's selection. Very fitting selection Lyb, considering the outrageous number of dishes I dirtied while making this cake.