Saturday, January 30, 2010

Family that Visited

I have far too many photos of the past two months to share them all on here, but I did want to highlight a few with our families that were here over the holidays.

My parents, Nonny and Granddaddy, had a wonderful visit here. Mom arrived on November 18, four days before Ellia was born, and Dad got here on Nov. 23. They left on December 5.

Eric, Grant's brother, was here for both Thanksgiving and Christmas! Obviously, the kids love to climb on him! He's such a good sport.

Grant's parents, Grandma and Grandpa, arrived on December 17 and left on January 2. We had a lovely time with them as well. We sure wish all the grandparents lived closer by. It's hard to only see them once or twice a year.

My beautiful younger sister, Anna, came for her first solo visit. It was awesome having her here...we have probably never had so much time together! I'm 11 years older than her, so for much of her life, the age difference has had a significant impact on how we relate to each other. Now, she's not the little kid anymore, but an amazing friend.

The kids all adored Aunt Anna and frequently ask when we get to see her again. She is sorely missed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Double Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

I created this recipe for Grant's birthday. He loves raspberries and chocolate, especially I combined three different recipes to get exactly what I thought he would want. It was really tantalizing, I have to say. Grant was very happy, so my mission was accomplished. Next time, I will double the raspberry sauce to have some to serve on the side, because we all thought a little extra burst of raspberry flavor would be nice.


Raspberry sauce
1 c. fresh or frozen raspberries, mashed
1 T sugar
1/2 T cornstarch
1/2 T water

1 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

4 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
6 ounces (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled to just above room temperature

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken up, or 1/2 cup chocolate morsels
2 T butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

In small saucepan, heat raspberries with 1 T sugar until boiling.

In small bowl, mix 1/2 T cornstarch with 1/2 T water. Add to hot mixture, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl to remove seeds, if desired. We desire.

Combine crust ingredients in a mixing bowl. Pour mixture into a greased 9-inch springform pan and press flat.

Preheat oven to 325°. Put softened cream cheese, whipping cream, and sugar in a large bowl. Mix at medium-low speed just until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time and mix on low speed until blended.

Divide cream cheese mixture evenly into two bowls. Add melted bittersweet chocolate to one, stirring to mix. Add raspberry sauce to the other, stirring well.

Pour chocolate cheesecake batter into prepared pan, smoothing into a flat layer. Gently spoon raspberry batter over the chocolate batter.

Bake 60-80 minutes or until edges are puffed and top looks dull and is dry to the touch. Center should move slightly when side of pan is tapped. Turn off oven. Let cheesecake stand in oven for an hour. Cool to room temperature; refrigerate overnight.

For glaze: Scald the butter and cream in a saucepan (or in a Pyrex cup in the microwave). Pour the chocolate in and stir until melted and completely smooth. Add the extract and sugar and stir until smooth. Spread over cheesecake while ganache is still warm. Chill until ready to serve.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chicken Parmigiana

After Christmas, my younger sister Anna came to visit us for a week. My in-laws were still here when she arrived. Since I knew the day I picked her up from the airport would be busy, I planned on us having leftover pizza from the previous night for dinner. Somehow I made a gross miscalculation on how much pizza we would eat and there was definitely not enough for another dinner. I had to figure something else out, and quick! I knew I had chicken and spaghetti on hand, and I remembered seeing this recipe on the Pioneer Woman's site, so I decided to give it a shot. There were a few ingredients I needed, so I sent my father-in-law out to pick out the wine (since I don't drink and have no idea how to pick out a decent one) and the kids and I hauled Anna to Wal-Mart with us after picking her up from the airport to get the rest of the missing ingredients, including fresh parsley among other things.

Now it's time for a little confession. I have never fried chicken before. Not only that, and this is more embarrassing, I have never cooked with fresh herbs before. Oh, except one time using mint. I always just take the easy and cheaper route and use dried herbs.

So as dinner prep was under way, I was exulting in the fact that I was about to use fresh parsley for the VERY FIRST TIME!

My mother-in-law, who was holding Ellia and watching from the sidelines, sweetly piped, "Isn't that cilantro?"

"Oh, No!" I exclaimed. "I'm sure the label on the shelf said it was parsley. I'm SURE of it!"

I examined the leaves. I sniffed them. I nibbled one carefully.

It was, without a doubt, Cilantro.

And even worse, it had a nice little tag wrapped around the stems that I had somehow missed seeing clearly labeled "Cilantro".

Argh. I have never seen an Italian recipe including cilantro....Mexican and Asian, but not Italian. I wasn't about to put it in my sauce. So dried parsley it was. Thank goodness I had some! Anna had taken over the cooking so I could nurse my wee baby at the "parsley-adding" moment, so I don't know how much she used. But it was delicious. I will try fresh next time, though. Because I know how to tell what it is now.

Okay, so this dish was fabulous! We all just loved it and thought it was just as good as the Olive Garden, if not better.


4 whole (up To 6) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded flat
½ cups all-purpose flour
salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
1 whole medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cups wine (white or red is fine)
3 cans (14.5 Oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons sugar
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 - 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 pound linguine or spaghetti

Mix flour, salt, and pepper together on a large plate.
Sprinkle flattened chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides and dredge in flour mixture. Set aside.
Heat olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted and oil/butter mixture is hot, fry chicken breasts until nice and golden brown on each side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Remove chicken breasts from the skillet and keep warm.
Without cleaning skillet, add onions and garlic and gently stir for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and scrape the bottom of the pan, getting all the flavorful bits off the bottom. Allow wine to cook down until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.
(At this time, you can start a pot of water for your pasta. Cook spaghetti until al dente.)
Pour crushed tomatoes into wine mixture and stir to combine. Add sugar and more salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook for 30 minutes. Toward the end of cooking time, add chopped parsley and give sauce a final stir.
Carefully lay chicken breasts on top of the sauce and completely cover them in grated Parmesan and mozzarella. Place lid on skillet and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer until cheese is melted and chicken is thoroughly heated. Add more cheese to taste.

Place cooked noodles on a plate and cover with sauce. Place chicken breast on top and sprinkle with more parsley. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares

I made these delectable little bites as a side dessert for the large birthday party of a dear friend. Well, it seemed large to me. We had 27 adults attending the party, with 10 children and two babysitters upstairs and two babies with their moms. We hosted the party - but thankfully did not have to provide all the food! This was actually the only "food" item I made, along with my Party Punch (which was a HUGE hit). Since there were so many people, I doubled the recipe found at Smitten Kitchen, which made a 8 x 8 pan. I made mine in a 13 x 9" pan.

We had a lot of cheesecake squares.

And a lot of leftovers. Which was just fine with me! I was able to send quite a few home with the birthday lady and still have some left in my freezer (which taste amazing frozen, by the way!)

The caramel flavor didn't come through as much as I was expecting, but it actually is intensified when they're frozen, go figure. At any rate, these are wonderful, and surprisingly easy.


2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4-oz envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup whole milk
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
scant teaspoon salt
2 cups dulce de leche (recipe follows)

6 oz (1/2 cup) fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 teaspoons light corn syrup

Make crust: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of an 13 x 9" baking pan with 2 sheets of foil (crisscrossed), leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.
Finely grind crackers with sugar and a pinch of salt. Add butter, blending until combined. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.
Make filling: Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand 2 minutes to soften. Beat together cream cheese, eggs, salt, and gelatin mixture in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then stir in dulce de leche gently but thoroughly. Pour filling over crust, smoothing top, then bake in oven until center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 2 hours. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.

Glaze cake within 2 hours of serving: Heat all glaze ingredients in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, then pour over cheesecake, tilting baking pan to coat top evenly. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes.
Lift cheesecake from pan using foil overhang and cut into 1-inch squares with a thin knife, wiping off knife after each cut. (Don’t skip this step! A clean knife is essential for uber-neat squares.)

Note: Cheesecake (without glaze) can be chilled up to 3 days.

Dulce de Leche (Milk Caramel) - makes a little more than 1 cup (I had to use two cans for this recipe, and it took over two hours to get to the right color. Next time I'll cook each can separately to save time)

Pour one can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan; cover. Place over boiling water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until thick and light caramel-colored.
Remove from heat. Whisk until smooth.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Celebration Chocolate Cake

Our Christmas Day dessert. Decadent, rich, oh-so-chocolaty. A definite keeper!

This was actually on the cover of Taste of Home a couple of issues ago. Their version had chocolate covered strawberries and piped chocolate decorations. I didn't want to buy expensive sub-par strawberries just to look pretty, so I improvised with the holiday M&Ms hiding out in the pantry. I also modified the frosting, as the original had just too much butter.


1 package (18-1/4 ounces) chocolate cake mix
1 package (3.9 ounces) instant chocolate pudding mix
4 eggs
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream (low fat is fine)
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

3 sticks butter, softened
3-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Scant 3/4 cup baking cocoa, sifted
1/4-1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

For the Cake:
Combine the first seven ingredients; beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Beat on medium for 2 minutes. Transfer to two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans.
Bake at 350° for 28-32 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

For the Frosting:
Beat the butter on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, until light and creamy. Add confectioners' sugar and cocoa until blended; add milk to desired consistency and beat until smooth. Spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake.

For the Ganache:
Place chocolate in a small bowl. Heat cream just to a boil; pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over top of cake, allowing ganache to drape down the sides.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Little Sweetheart

Have I mentioned how positively nuts we all are about this child? She is such a joy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Grilled Venison Backstrap

Grant went hunting (for only the 3rd time) on December 17th, the day his parents arrived for the holidays. A friend had invited him to go along with him to his grandparents' property about an hour away....and since hunting season comes to an end quickly, Grant figured he'd better take the chance while he had it. He ended up making his first kill.....a rather large doe.

They took care of all the dirty business before coming home, but Grant had a really long job ahead of him in preparing the meat. We lost count of the hours he spent carefully removing all the tough cartilage and undesirable stuff from the meat. He commented that he has a whole new appreciation for the time I spend in the kitchen preparing food!

He wanted to cook some of the prime cuts (the backstrap and tenderloin) for Christmas Eve to share with his parents and brother. I jumped on Allrecipes and found this as the top-ranked venison recipe, so we made it.

We had another backstrap that we used this recipe for again to celebrate Grant's birthday, this time with the friend that took him hunting and his wife. The friend, who has hunted successfully for years, said this was the best venison he had ever eaten.

We loved it too....and I was surprised that it really tasted just like beef. You could certainly substitute beef tenderloin and have equally delicious results.


2 lbs venison backstrap (tenderloin), cut into 2-inch medallions
1 quart apple cider
1 lb. bacon
16-24 oz barbeque sauce, your favorite

Place chunks of venison into a shallow baking dish or large ziplock bag and pour enough apple cider in to cover them. Cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove and pat dry. Discard apple cider and return venison to bag. Pour barbeque sauce over the chunks, cover, and refrigerate for 2-3 more hours.

Remove meat from fridge 30 minutes before you want to begin cooking.

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-low heat. Wrap each chunk of meat in a slice of bacon and secure with toothpicks.

Brush the grill grate with olive oil when hot, and place venison pieces on the grill so they are not touching. The bacon will kick up some flames, so be ready! Grill for 5-7 minutes per side, watching carefully to prevent scorching. The meat is best when still pink(ish) in the center.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Roasted Asparagus

I love how easy it is to roast vegetables - and the flavor they have is incredible. We had roasted asparagus twice over the holidays, once with parmesan from a can, once with freshly grated parmesan. They were both delicious.


1-1/2 to 2 lbs fresh asparagus
3-4 T. olive oil
kosher salt
parmesan cheese, fresh or canned

Preheat oven to 425°.
Wash asparagus and trim off tough ends.
Lay out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Pour olive oil over top and toss to coat evenly.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and return to oven for another minute. Place on a pretty platter to serve!
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