Friday, May 30, 2014

SWEET SUMMERTIME LEMON BARS


It may not technically be summer yet, but it certainly feels like it! And thank goodness. I've been awaiting warm temperatures since last October! However, this year I'm a little depressed because it's my first summer without a "summer break." Apparently they don't let you take 12-week summer vacations in the working world. Who knew?! 

So when I was looking through old recipes recently and saw this one, I just knew it would be the perfect cure for my depression. Nothing says summertime quite like bright colors and citrus fruits.

I'm generally not the biggest fan of lemon-flavored treats, but just thinking about these bars makes me salivate. There's something so wonderful about the contrast between the buttery shortbread crust and the tart filling. And of course they're topped with a generous layer of powdered sugar for the perfect sweetness.

This recipe comes from my mother's long-time friend Jane. My mom keeps the recipe in a hand-written recipe book, so you know it's a classic!


SWEET SUMMERTIME LEMON BARS

INGREDIENTS
For The Crust
·       2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
·       2 cups all-purpose flour
·       1/2 heaping cup confectioners’ sugar

For the Filling
·       4 large eggs
·       2 cups granulated sugar
·       1/2 cup lemon juice
·       1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
·       2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS
1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.     Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray; set aside.

For the Crust
1.     In a large bowl, combine all crust ingredients and mash the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork until a sandy, crumbly mixture forms.
2.     Transfer mixture to prepared pan and use the back of a spoon to press crumbs down and form a flat layer of crust.
3.     Prick crust with a fork haphazardly in a dozen places so air and steam can escape while it bakes.
4.     Bake crust for 16 minutes. It should not be golden at all; it should still be white.
5.     Let crust cool for 20 minutes.

For the Filling
1.     In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
2.     Add the flour and whisk until lumps are gone.
3.     Pour mixture over crust and bake for 22-25 minutes or until the top has set and isn't jiggly and runny in the center.
4.     Allow bars to cool at room temperature for at least an hour.
5.     Cover pan and refrigerate for at least three hours before slicing.
6.     Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
7.     Store extra bars in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

This is what your shortbread crust mixture will look like. Nice and crumbly.

Spray pan with non-stick spray and press crumbs down with the bottom of a spoon.

The lemon filling

After bars have cooled off, sprinkle make it rain powdered sugar. Lots of powdered sugar.

I think Kyle would eat anything with powdered sugar on top.

The finished product!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ROASTED GARLIC CHICKEN ALFREDO PIZZA


It's hard for me to believe there's a single person who doesn't love pizza. I mean, what's not to love? There's dough and cheese and meat and more cheese. Some people may refuse to eat pizza because they say they don't like it, but I’m convinced that's just their way of not tempting themselves into eating an entire pizza pie. (True story: In the 4th grade I was in a Girl Scouts pizza-eating contest and my mother was appalled to find out I ate an entire pizza – and that was even after dinner.)

The problem with pizza is that it gets a negative connotation for being unhealthy. And that can certainly be the case depending on what type of pizza you eat. Ordering a meat lover’s pizza with cheese stuffed crust and garlic butter dipping sauce is probably not a good decision.

But when you make pizza at home, you can customize it and make it however healthy (or unhealthy) you want it to be.

And that’s exactly what I did with this Roasted Garlic Chicken Alfredo Pizza. I made a white sauce with garlic, flour, skim milk, and parmesan. I used boneless, skinless chicken breast for a healthy protein. And I topped it off with low-fat cheese. These changes from the typical chain-store pizza cut big time calories without sacrificing taste!

So go ahead and indulge, guilt-free!




ROASTED GARLIC CHICKEN ALFREDO PIZZA

INGREDIENTS
·         1 pound pizza dough (I just use Betty Crocker Pizza Crust Mix)
·         2 tablespoons butter
·         2 tablespoons minced garlic
·         4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
·         ½ teaspoon black pepper
·         1 ¼ cup skim milk
·         ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
·         1½ cup boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and shredded
·         1 cup low-fat Mozzarella cheese
·         1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
·         ½ teaspoon dried oregano
·         ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

DIRECTIONS
For the sauce
1.       Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.       Melt butter in a small saucepan.
3.       Saute roasted garlic for 1 minute.
4.       Slowly add milk and stir on medium-low heat (about a 3 on the stove temp scale)
5.       Add flour and stirring constantly making sure to break up any clumps
6.       Keep stiring until the sauce starts to thicken (about 3 minutes)
7.       Mix in the pepper.
8.       Remove from heat, and stir in Parmesan cheese.

For the pizza assembly
1.       Spread dough into roughly a 12-inch circle on prepared baking sheet.
2.       Spread the sauce over the dough then use the back of the spoon to spread into an even layer.
3.       Top with chicken.
4.       Sprinkle top evenly with mozzarella cheese.
5.       Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the cheese is melted.
6.       Remove from the oven, sprinkle with thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Cut and serve immediately.


This recipe is adapted from Dinners, Dishes & Desserts

The sauce will be thick kind of like a cheesy, garlic gravy.

The pizza pie before it is baked

Makes 6 large slices

Mmmm who can resist melted cheese and a garlicky crust?!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Best Snickerdoodle Cookies Ever


The Fox59 Morning News show always likes to mention what special "holiday" it is. For example, earlier this week it was Be a Millionaire Day and Pick Strawberries Day. In fact, if you Google “Bizarre Holidays” you can find a special day for every single day of the year.

So what’s today’s special holiday? National Vanilla Pudding Day.

For some people, vanilla pudding may seem like a rather bland treat to celebrate. And in the past I would have agreed.  That is until recently when I discovered the magic that happens when you put pudding mix in cookies.

I’ve seen pudding cookie recipes floating around the internet the past couple of months. But I never understood what the big deal was. So I did some research to figure out what exactly the purpose is for adding vanilla pudding mix to a cookie recipe.

Brief Lesson in the Science Behind Pudding Cookies
I found out that one of the main ingredients in pudding mix is cornstarch. In cookie recipes, cornstarch reduces the spread of the cookies making them thicker and more cake-like. However, if you don’t use the right amount of cornstarch in a recipe, it can give your cookies a funky taste. That’s where pudding mix comes to the rescue! A 3.4 ounce box has the exact amount of cornstarch to prevent your cookies from flattening out, and you don’t have to worry about tainting the taste!

So the first vanilla pudding cookie recipe I chose to make was snickerdoodles. I love a good, cakey snickerdoodle and I thought the recipe could benefit from a boost of vanilla flavoring. I used my mother’s standard snickerdoodle recipe, and the only changes I made were omitting ¼ cup of flour and adding the vanilla pudding mix to the batter.

The result – absolutely incredible! The snickerdoodles came out of the oven like fluffy pillows of cinnamon sugar. Our meteorologist Brian Wilkes said they were the softest cookies he’s ever had. Even days later, they still taste like I’ve just pulled them out of the oven. Not to mention, the vanilla pudding gives them extra vanilla flavoring!

SNICKERDOODLE VANILLA PUDDING COOKIES
Makes about 16 cookies

INGREDIENTS
·         1/2 cup butter, room temperature
·         1/2 cup vegetable shortening
·         1/2 cup sugar
·         1/2 cup powdered sugar
·         1 egg
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         1 (3.4 oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix, dry and unprepared
·         2 cups flour
·         1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
·         1/2 teaspoon baking soda
·         1/4 cup sugar
·         2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
1.       Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.       In a large bowl cream the butter, shortening and both sugars until light and fluffy (about 1 minute).
3.       Beat in the egg, vanilla and dry pudding mix.
4.       In a separate bowl combine the flour, cream of tartar and baking soda
5.       Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat until just combined.
6.       In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar & the cinnamon.
7.       Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls.
8.       Roll the balls into the cinnamon sugar mixture until well coated and then place the dough onto the baking sheets.
9.       Bake for 10 minutes.
10.    Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Monday, May 19, 2014

ONE POT CHICKEN ALFREDO


I hate it when recipes say, "You can make this recipe using ingredients you already have in your kitchen!" And then the recipes calls for fresh tarragon or fish sauce and coconut milk. I don't have that on hand! Does anyone else? That being said, you really CAN make this recipe using only the staples in your kitchen! I'll tell you how I know this... 

We all remember that horrible week this past January known as the "Polar Vortex." The week when the weather was so horrible and the road conditions were so scary I literally cried driving to and from work each day. I refused to leave the house even to grocery shop (that's a big deal for me). And since I didn't stock up on food before the storm, I had to get creative with dinner. Hence the creation of the One Pot Chicken Alfredo. For this dish, I really was forced to use only the ingredients I had in my kitchen: chicken, broth, milk, pasta, and cheese. 

I was skeptical at first glance of the list of ingredients. It sounded pretty bland. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the results! It really did taste like chicken alfredo! It was so creamy and cheesy. And best of all, I only used one pot - meaning I only had one pot to clean up! The uncooked penne pasta cooks in the same pot as the milk, broth and chicken. How genius! Additionally, you can save yourself even more clean up by just eating out of the pot, but I won't personally recommend that since my mother reads this blog :)


ONE POT CHICKEN ALFREDO
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

INGREDIENTS
·      2 tablespoons olive oil
·      1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
·      3 teaspoons minced garlic
·      1 (14-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
·      2 cups milk
·      1 pound penne pasta, uncooked
·      2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
·      Salt and pepper to taste
·      Flat leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS
1.     Pull out the largest pan you own (personally, I use my 5 quart chili pot).
2.     Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper.
3.     Brown chicken in olive oil over medium high heat for just about 3 minutes. The chicken should still be a little pink on the inside because it will continue cooking as the dish simmers.
4.     Once chicken is browned, add minced garlic and sauté for about one minute.
5.     Add chicken broth, milk and uncooked pasta to pan and stir.
6.     Bring to a boil, then cover the pan and reduce to a simmer.
7.     Simmer for about 15 minutes.
8.     Check to see if the chicken is cooked-through and the pasta is tender.
9.     Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese.
10. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
11. Store leftovers in airtight container in refrigerator for 4-5 days. 

Adapted from No. 2 Pencil

*NOTES: If you're not serving 4 people, or if you don't like leftovers you can easily cut this recipe in half. I personally always cook the full amount because it reheats very well, and it's one of Kyle's favorite leftover lunches.

Chicken is still a little pink on the inside

Dump all the ingredients into one pot, including the uncooked pasta

This is what the pot will look like when it's done simmering

Add the Parmesan to the pot to create a creamy Alfredo sauce

Sprinkle with a little parsley for garnish
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