Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chocolate Chip Vanilla Pudding Cookies

Jason's parents made the trek from Texas to North Carolina a few weekends ago to visit us in our new home. I wanted to make sure they were comfortable and well fed (of course!) so I made a point to prepare some snacks to have on hand. I put a basket of goodies in their room plus left stuff out on the counter. I knew we needed some cookies (when we do NOT need cookies?!) so I took the opportunity to try out the pudding cookies everyone in the blogosphere has been raving about.

{I mentioned previously that I try out recipes on guests...}

Using pudding mix in your cookies promised to make some serious soft baked cookies... and it definitely delivered! Even a week later, they were still as soft as they were the day they were baked. The flavor of the pudding is very subtle - perhaps not even note worthy - but I've only tried vanilla (a basic flavor component to chocolate chip cookies anyways!) so I'll have to try a few more flavors before claiming an official opinion on that :)

These cookies got 2 thumbs up from us all - thankfully, including our guests! - and I loved that it made a large batch so we never ran low.

Have you tried pudding cookies yet? What flavor combo is your fave?

I am weird and don't like gobs of chocolate chips in my cookies so I only used 1 cup for the entire batch but feel free to up it to 2 cups!

Chocolate Chip Vanilla Pudding Cookies
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package vanilla instant pudding mix (3.4 ounce size)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Using a hand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a bowl until creamy. Add in the dry pudding mix,eggs, and vanilla extract and mix until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine your flour, baking soda, and salt.

Add your dry ingredients to your wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet. 

Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until slightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool on pan for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack. 

Source: adapted from The Best Blog Recipes

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crunchy French Toast

I adore french toast - if we go out for breakfast or brunch, 9 times out of 10 I'm ordering it. It's not that it's a hard dish to make at home, we just rarely make it. French toast is a fairly standard dish - egg soaked bread fried on the griddle until crisp and golden. Some like to top it with powdered sugar, fruit, and syrup. I'm a purist and am perfectly happy with some salty butter slathered on each slice and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. That sweet and salty combo is the BEST.

And now I'm wishing IHOP delivered...

This french toast was intriguing to me because it's from Cooks Country (always a good sign!) and promises to be sog-free. I mean, they call it crunchy french toast! After one of my favorite blogs tried it and gave it two thumbs up, it went on the menu.

Y'all, it's darn good. Sinfully good, really. It'll be hard to go back to regular french toast after having this version. It's crispy, and sweet, and the bread holds up so well. Since you bake it as one big batch, it would be the perfect addition to a family breakfast!

I found that the easiest way to crush the cereal was to put it in small batches in a ziplock, seal, and roll with a rolling pin. Small batches are key so your pieces are a consistent size. 

Crunchy French Toast
6 cups Cap'n Crunch cereal, crushed coarse
2 1/2 cups half & half
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (12 by 5 inch) loaf challah bread, cut into eight 1 inch thick slices (day old is best!)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Adjust oven rack to middle position. Place a rimmed baking sheet on rack and heat oven to 450.

Set a wire cooling rack inside a second rimmed baking sheet and place on counter near work space. Place cereal in a shallow dish. Whisk half & half, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl until combined.

Working with a slice at a time, soak in half & half mixture until just saturated, about 15 seconds per side. Transfer soaked bread to cereal and press lightly to adhere. Transfer to prepared wire rack. Repeat with remaining slices.

Add oil to preheat sheet, tilting to coat evenly. Return sheet to oven and heat until oil is just smoking, about 4 minutes. Carefully remove from oven and arrange prepared bread slices in an even layer on sheet. Bake until exterior is golden brown, about 20 minutes*, flipping once and rotation sheet halfway through baking. 

Transfer toast to clean wire cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes before serving. 

*watch carefully - they burn easily! 

Source: Cooks Country via The Bitten Word

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Refried Beans (Crockpot)

Psst - this is an updated recipe that was originally shared in November 2011.

We are a house divided when it comes to the merits of rice and beans with Mexican food. Just about any Tex Mex dinner comes with beans and rice ~ refried beans and Mexican rice, to be exact.

I'm a self proclaimed rice fanatic - I could eat it every day and never get tired of it - while Jason could take it or leave it. However, he loooooves refried beans. So when we go out, he'll order double beans and I'll order double rice.

Refried beans at home, however, are more challenging. For one, refried beans at a restaurant are typically made with lard and most of us home cooks aren't real stoked about going to such lengths. The refried beans in the can are really just gross. I'm not usually a snob about canned stuff but refried beans in a can are definitely worthy of any snobbery directed towards them. The texture is just plain unappetizing.

Dried beans that are slow cooked are where it's at and this crockpot version makes it almost as easy as opening a can - and guaranteed to be easier than trying to doctor the canned version to an acceptable level! If you have a food processor and some basic spices, you can easily whip up a huge portion of refried beans - sans lard, butter, or oil!

These also freeze well so you can easily get two meals from a batch.

Burritos? Taquitos? Alongside enchiladas? It's all good!

Refried Beans (Crockpot)
3 cups of dry pinto beans (rinsed)
1 onion, diced
9 cups of water
5 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-1 teaspoon ground cumin

Put all the ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low for about 8 hours. 

When they are finished cooking, use a slotted spoon to transfer batches of beans into your food processor. Puree, adding liquid from the crockpot as needed for the desired consistently.   Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Scrape into a serving bowl and repeat until all beans have been pureed.

Source: Adapted from Stick a Fork In It

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Strawberry Funfetti Scones

I don't know about you, but yesterday was hard. Heartbreaking, actually. Right on the heels of destructive storms in North Texas, Oklahoma faces devastation beyond imagination. Tornado season is nothing short of terrifying and the images we are seeing out of Moore, OK illustrate why. And when children are involved, it hurts even deeper.

It seems pretty silly to post a recipe on a hobby food blog today, and believe me I struggled with it. But I  believe that food brings people together and brings such comfort. Not only for those directly affected but those of us who are watching, praying, and crying from afar... feeling incredibly helpless.

And so, I'm sharing a recipe for a slightly sweet treat that is feel-good-tasty. It's not something you slave over (you can whip it up in minutes!) but it's absolutely delicious with a cup of coffee. Good for breakfast, dessert, or just a snack when you need a pick me up.

This is a tweak to the Funfetti Chocolate Chip Scone recipe I shared last month and as much as I love all things chocolate, truth be told... I preferred this strawberry version if it came to a vote. So now that strawberries are cheap and plentiful, take advantage of them and whip these up! 

Strawberry Funfetti Scones

1 1/4 cups Funfetti cake mix
1 1/4 cups flour (plus more for dusting)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter, diced
1 cup milk
1/2 cup flash frozen chopped strawberry pieces* 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Do not grease.

Stir together the cake mix and flour in a large bowl. Add diced cold butter to the flour mixture. Use a pastry cutter or two knives and work the butter into the flour mixture, until it is crumbly.
Create a well in the center of the mixture and pour the milk in the center. Stir gently, keeping the dough in the center of the bowl, until the milk is incorporated. Stir only until the mixture comes together (there will be small chunks of butter still, and that’s okay). Stir in the strawberry pieces. 
Sprinkle a small bit of flour over the dough and flour your hands. Turn the dough out onto the prepared cookie sheet. Gently press the dough to flatten into a circle that is an 8 inch diameter. 
Use a greased knife to cut into wedges.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*To keep the strawberries from becoming too soft/squishy, flash freeze them prior to baking. Chop them into small pieces, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and freeze for at least 30 minutes before using. 

Source: scone recipe adapted from Crazy for Crust, strawberry method via Confections of a Foodie Bride

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shredded Mole Chicken (Crockpot) #Surprise Recipe Swap

It's time for another recipe from the Surprise Recipe Swap! Each month, I'm assigned a food blogger to try a recipe from. This month, I was assigned Samantha from Custom Taste. Samantha's blog focuses on clean eating while still on a budget.

I'm always a fan of anything with a Mexican flare so I chose to make her Shredded Mole Chicken, which is easily whipped up in the crockpot! Mole sauce is typically dark, rich, spicy, and often made with cocoa or chocolate. This version delivers a tasty chicken that can easily be thrown into burritos, taquitos, or tacos for a great weeknight meal.

If you're interested in joining a recipe swap, go here and check out the details!

Thanks, Samantha, for the great recipe!

Shredded Mole Chicken (Crockpot)
2 large chicken breasts
1 cup onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 cups water
1 tsp oil
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

In a small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, chili powder, cayenne, cumin, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

In a small skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and onion and saute until the onions are soft and translucent. 

While the onions cook, slice your chicken breasts into thin strips and place in the crockpot. Once the garlic and onions are done, add them to the crockpot. Add the prepared seasoning mix to the crockpot and stir well. Add the water, stir, cover and set the timer. My crockpot runs hot so 2 hours on high was plenty of time (or 4 hours on low). The goal is for it to easily fall apart when nudged with a fork.

Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the crockpot using a slotted spoon and shred with 2 forks. Add back to the crockpot for another 30 minutes before removing it again with the slotted spoon. 

Source: Custom Taste 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chow Mein (Panda Express Copycat)

I've really missed blogging the past week! Jason's parents came to visit and no sooner had they pulled out of our driveway, I came down with something that put me out of commission for a couple of days.

We did have a great visit, and I'm so glad I didn't get sick until after they left! I also was able to try out two new recipes on them (yep, I'm one of those hosts!) that I will share in the coming weeks.

Today's recipe was a big hit at our house! I love the Chow Mein at Panda Express there because it doesn't have an overwhelming flavor so it pairs nicely with any entree you choose. These cook up fast and would be perfect to go alongside any dish that you'd normally serve with rice (like the SweetFire Chicken I posted a few weeks ago).

Psst - don't hesitate on the amount of cabbage - it cooks way down!

Chow Mein {Panda Express Copycat}
1/4 cup soy sauce (preferably reduced sodium)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
~15 ounce package Yakisoba stir-fry noodles*
2/3 cup celery, chopped
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 heaping cups cabbage, chopped

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Set aside.

Remove noodles from package and discard the included flavoring packets. Rinse noodles well, drain, and set aside. 

Heat oil in a large wok. Add celery and onion and saute until the onions are soft and transparent. Add the cabbage and saute another few minutes until soft. Add noodles and soy sauce mixture and heat for an additional 2-3 minutes or until the noodles are heated through.

Serve immediately. 

*you should be able to find the noodles in the refrigerated section of the produce department

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Moroccan Stew

It's thisclose to summer and I'm sharing a stew recipe with you! I know, totally not the right season but y'all - it's so.good. I couldn't pass up the chance to share it.

Moroccan flavors are one of my favorites and honestly, an entire cuisine I think a lot of people overlook. The flavors are so delicious and smell amazing together. I love how perfectly the sweet and salty pair together in many Moroccan inspired meals and this is no exception.

Browned meatballs are slow cooked with carrots, tomatoes, chickpeas, cranberries, celery, and onion to create this gorgeous red pot of goodness. Right at the end, throw in some briny green olives and cook up some couscous and you've got a big bowl of goodness.

Jason appreciated the inclusion of meat but I would have happily eaten this with just chickpeas. Have I mentioned my deep deep love for chickpeas? If you're vegetarian - or just looking for a filling meat-free meal - the meatballs can easily be left behind.

This makes a huge portion - we {happily} ate on this for days but if you have a small family, you may want tweak the amounts.

Don't be scared by the ingredient list! You likely have most of these ingredients already on hand. And isn't it fun to put your stocked spice cabinet to use?

Moroccan Stew
For the meatballs:
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1-2 lbs ground lamb or beef
1 tsp dry oregano
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

For the stew:
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red onion, diced
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried cranberries (could sub in raisins)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 small red chile, minced
2 tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup green olives

In a large mixing bowl, soak the bread crumbs in the milk until moist. Add the remaining meatball ingredients and mix well. Form the mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls. In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. Remove and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

To the dutch oven, add the carrot, celery, garlic, and onion. Saute until the onions are soft then add the canned tomatoes and all ingredients through the salt and pepper. Nestle the browned meatballs in the tomato mixture, cover, and place in oven and let cook an hour.

After an hour, add the chickpeas. Lower oven to 325 degrees, cover, and place back in for another hour. In the last 10 minutes, add the green olives.

Serve with couscous.

Source: Adapted from Rock Recipes

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Avocado Feta Dip

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I thought today was the perfect occasion to share this avocado based dip - and it's definitely not too late to add it to your menu today!

See, I had some leftover feta. Jason doesn't care much for feta, and while I adore it I didn't want to just eat a container of it all on it's own. Certainly nothing wrong with that method, if that's your thing, but I wanted to see what else I could make with it that wouldn't be so glaringly feta that he'd turn his nose up to it. Insert this dip.

I'm a dip fan. I really think everyone probably is, too, otherwise I'd be alone at the dip table at parties and there are always other people there getting in my way. Dips are special. They are pretty much party food at our house and never show up in regular life. But then sometimes a dip shows up on a regular day in our regular life and it quickly becomes an awesome day. Which is sorta what happened when I made this after work one evening.

{more awesome days may be headed our direction}

Things I love about this dip:
I love that this uses the avocado in a way other than the typical guacamole.
I love that the feta adds a salty bite but doesn't scare non-feta fans (psst - he loved this!!)
I love that I could dip veggies, pita bread/chips, or tortilla chips in this and it be okay.
I love that it whips up in 5 minutes or less.
I love that it could also be a delicious base for a sandwich or crostini.

Turn a regular day awesome and whip some up soon!

Avocado Feta Dip
2 avocados, peeled and pit removed
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bread, veggies, pita chips, etc for serving

In a food processor or blender, blend together the avocados, feta, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice until creamy and smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Source: slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Thursday, May 2, 2013

So Long, April!

Where in the world did April go? I looked up and it was May 1. Hard to believe that summer is right around the corner!

Though I don't remember much of April, we obviously ate well! Here's what I shared last month in case you missed something. Just click the picture to jump to the recipe.

Psst - don't miss "things I've pinned" from around the blogosphere at the bottom!

Spring is here, so we cranked up the grill and enjoyed some lighter meals this month. One of those tasty dishes were these Tequila Lime Chicken Club Sandwiches, topped with feta, guacamole, bacon, and roasted jalapeno mayo. I know, right? You need to try this sandwich - soon!

One of the biggest hits of the month was this ridiculously easy and sooooooo tasty Blackened Chicken and Cilantro-Lime Quinoa. This entire meal can be on your table in 30 minutes and those are really my favorite kind. Recipes like this go to show that delicious does not mean long and complicated!

Also making an appearance on our grill was this spice rubbed Barbecue Salmon. The spice rub is made of simple pantry staples but when blended together and grilled, it creates a gorgeous sweet and spicy caramelized glaze. So good!

We also grilled up some chicken for our own version of grilled chicken salads topped with this AMAZING Creamy Avocado Ranch Dressing. And really? It'd be good with anything you like ranch with. Like fries. Or veggies. Or rolls. Or pizza. Or a straw. 

This Okra Pilau was my first time making a South Carolina specialty and we're big fans. The rice is loaded with okra, bacon, onion, and spices making it a colorful and delicious pot of goodness that could go with just about anything. 

Roasting vegetables is by far my favorite method - even above grilling - but I now promise to always roast them solely with coconut oil. These Lemon Rosemary Coconut Oil Roasted Veggies? Ridiculously delicious. And easy!

You know I'm always on the hunt for easy weeknight meals and this Cheesy Baked Skillet hit the spot in a BIG way. Easy ingredients, done in less than 30 minutes, and so warm and comforting. Plus it has cheese. Lots of cheese. I mean, cheese is in the title. Need I say more?

Would you like another pasta dish that is not only delicious, but done in minutes? I thought so. This Creamy Lemon Shrimp Pasta is done in 15 minutes. 15 minutes! Gotta love using shrimp - it cooks up so fast! 

You know the Texas girl couldn't go an entire month without enchiladas on the menu! I pulled back out a recipe from a few years ago and made these Tex Mex Cheese Enchiladas. If you're never had this Tex Mex staple, you must try them soon. It's tortillas stuffed with cheese. Translation: you'll love it. 

{true story: I snapped this picture, put the baking dish on the counter to cool before refrigerating, and completely forgot about it. In a dog free house, this would be no big deal. In my house? You don't leave things within Winston-reach. He had a really great lunch that day and shattered my gorgeous Crate and Barrel baking dish. And I had no leftover cheese enchiladas... Sad story, right?}

I love Panda Express and my go-to dish is always the SweetFire Chicken. It's super sticky sweet with a hint of heat. And it uses white meat fried chicken. Holla! Thankfully, with this recipe I don't need to hunt down a Panda Express anymore. 

Also this month, I made two sweet breakfast items - a muffin and a scone. The Snickerdoodle Muffins were a surprise hit, especially considering how easy they were! The Funfetti Chocolate Chip Scones were simple, since they rely on a cake mix base, and I was thrilled with how my first attempt at a scone turned out. Those babies went to work with me and got rave reviews. 

{what happened to the leftover snickerdoodle muffins, you might ask? This time the tupperware housing them again sat too close to Winston-reach and he enjoyed them for breakfast while we were at church. Sometimes I think my dog eats better than most people do.}

I celebrated the start of spring temps with a big pitcher of homemade Strawberry Lemonade. It was a darn good way to celebrate! 

In non-recipe related news, I shared details about a Build a Bear/Make a Bear Pajama Party for preschoolers that I hosted recently. It was a ton of fun! 

I follow a slew of food blogs (but am always looking for more if you have any recommendations!) and pin tasty things along the way! Here are just a few dishes I've pinned this month!

Copycat Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce from Half Baked Harvest
Easy Weeknight Ravioli Lasagna from Alida's Kitchen
Chili Cheese Black Bean Dip from Pinch of Yum
Triple Pork Fried Rice from A Spicy Perspective
Pineapple Upside Down Cake Doughnuts from Kitchen Confidante
Peach Cobbler Cookies from Foods for the Soul

Delicious, right?

Czech Poppy Seed Cake #BakeForWest

I went to seminary in Waco, TX, which is just a hop skip and a jump to West, TX - a small, Czech community full of good people. Most people in Texas know them for their bakeries (especially their kolaches!) as the most traveled highway in the state cuts straight through their community. When I worked in Waco, I actually worked alongside several women who lived in West and even attended a Czech wedding while living there.

Of course, now I'm in North Carolina which seems so far away from home when tragedy hits a place that you think of as connected to home. When the fertilizer plant exploded in West just a few short weeks ago, my heart ached. Too far to be of help, all you can do is watch CNN and pray. For those outside of central Texas, it's hard to understand why a tragedy such as this is so catastrophic in a community like West.

I was thrilled when another Texas blogger invited me to join in for a bake for West cause. A way to honor their Czech heritage, a way to raise awareness, and a way to encourage people to consider donate to the relief efforts.

I chose to make a Czech Poppy Seed Cake. It's incredibly moist, buttery, and sweet enough to be called cake but doesn't make your teeth hurt. In other words, delicious. And definitely something found at a Czech bakery in West.

Check out the other blogs participating, and consider donating!
Donations: POINTWEST Bank in West, TX 

Czech Poppy Seed Cake
1/2  cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup honey
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda, scant
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In small sauce pan cook the poppy seed with honey and 1/4 cup water for 5-7 minutes. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled poppy seed mixture to creamed mixture, and egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in sour cream and vanilla.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add the wet poppy seed mixture to the dry mixture, beating well.

In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into batter.

Pour batter into a lightly greased and floured 9-inch tube (or bundt) pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Source: Slightly adapted from

See Aimee Cook

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