Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Simple Scones (Cherry Almond version)

One of the downsides to either being a military family or living in a largely military community is the constant
knowledge that either you or your friends are going to move away.  Sooner or later.

It's a really hard reality to deal with sometimes.

Last year, one of my dearest friends moved back to her homestate of Wisconsin with her family after her husband separated from the Army.  They had lived here 3 short years.  Saying goodbye pretty much stunk. 

Since her husband is still in the Reserves, she decided to come back to VA to visit all their friends here during his 2-week commitment this June, so we got to spend some great time together with her, her kiddos, and her new baby Charlotte.

I went to a little brunch another friend hosted for her....and wanted to bring along a tasty treat.....and these were the perfect thing.

I've made scones before, ones with apples or pumpkin, specifically.  And I love them.

These are more adaptable to different flavor combinations.....and even plain, they're absolutely wonderful.

Tender, light and flaky, and ever so buttery, the simple version would be delightful slathered with jam or honey....and the version I made here, with dried cherries and almonds, was perfect with just a little glaze on top.

Everyone loved them.....and while I can't wait to try the other versions too, I have a hunch that the Cherry Almond Scones will forever be my favorite.  I'll let you know if I change my mind. 

Simple Scones (from Allrecipes - USA Weekend columnist Pam Anderson)
Yield: 8-9 large scones or 18 mini scones

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup dried raisins (or currants or chocolate chips)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg

Cranberry-Orange Scones
Follow the recipe for Simple Scones, adding a generous teaspoon of finely grated orange rind (zest) to the dry ingredients and substituting dried cranberries for the raisins.
Lemon-Blueberry Scones
Follow the recipe for Simple Scones, adding a generous teaspoon of finely grated lemon rind (zest) to the dry ingredients and substituting dried blueberries for the raisins.
Cherry-Almond Scones
Follow the recipe for Simple Scones, adding 1/2 tsp. almond extract to the sour cream mixture and substituting chopped dried cherries for the raisins.
 - Optional glaze for top: Mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp. almond extract, and 2 tsp milk. Drizzle over the top of cooled scones.  Garnish with slivered or sliced almonds if desired.


Preheat oven to 375° F.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingers to work in butter (mixture should resemble coarse meal), then stir in dried fruit or chocolate chips if using.

In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg until smooth.

Using a fork, stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball. (The dough will be sticky in places, and there may not seem to be enough liquid at first, but as you press, the dough will come together.)

Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. of sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on a cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper), about 1 inch apart. (Alternately, to make mini-scones, pat into a 8 inch square.  Cut into thirds both length-wise and width-wise, making 9 squares.  Cut each square in half diagonally.)

Bake until golden, about 13-15 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ultimate Twice Baked Potatoes

My grandma used to make twice-baked potatoes on occasion, usually a special dinner for someone's birthday or a holiday. 

I always loved them as a youngster......yet I had honestly never made them as an adult, I guess because I thought they were too much work.  Why not just make mashed potatoes?  Or just baked potatoes?

Since my father-in-law was going to be grilling the chicken and zucchini on Father's Day, I wanted to make a special side dish that I don't normally make......and these came to mind. 

I have to say, that while they are a bit of extra work, they are so totally worth it, especially for a meal you want to be extra nice.

I'm not sure if it's the fact that the mashed potatoes have been baked rather than boiled, but they were noticeably tastier than the normal mashed potatoes I make, even ones with similar ingredients.

I even bought the baking potatoes instead of the usual 10 lb. bag of russets.....a little more $$, but they were fantastic potatoes. 

I'm sure that cream cheese in place of the sour cream would be equally delicious....if that's what floats your boat.

Either way, twice baked potatoes are just a wonderful side dish to have in your repertoire, because they please just about everybody. 

Ultimate Twice Baked Potatoes  (from Allrecipes)

4 large baking potatoes
Olive oil and Kosher salt
8 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon)
1 cup sour cream (light or fat free is fine)
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
8 green onions, sliced, divided

Preheat oven to 375°.
Pierce potatoes with a fork a few times each.  Rub with olive oil all over and sprinkle with Kosher salt (or sea salt).  Bake potatoes in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
Meanwhile, place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
When potatoes are done allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl; save skins. To the potato flesh add sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 the green onions. Mix with a hand mixer until well blended and creamy. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Top each with remaining cheese, green onions and bacon.
Bake for another 15 minutes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chicken Fajitas with Homemade Seasoning

We went to the zoo last weekend with Grant's parents.

It was perfect weather, and despite the zoo being busier than usual because of some special event, we had a  terrific time and ended up spending longer there than I had anticipated.

That and we had gotten a later start than I planned because of some issues Grant had to take care of with McAfee (our virus protection which had a major problem and let a Trojan get into our computer - ick.)

Anyways, I had planned on making Shredded Barbecue Chicken in the crockpot so we could have an easy dinner when we got home.
Except I forgot to make it before we left the house.....and when you get home after 3:00 pm, it's a little late to start something in a crockpot.  Genius.

Plan B.

Oh wait, I didn't have a Plan B.

All I knew was that I had a bunch of fresh chicken breasts ready to be used.  Then I realized I had a few sweet peppers hanging out in my veggie drawer that I hadn't used yet.....Hurrah!

Chicken Fajitas it was.

I based this recipe loosely on a recipe from the little cookbook that came with our George Foreman grill,  (does anyone even use those anymore?  They used to be so popular......I haven't used ours in years) but since I added a couple of ingredients, eliminated another, and changed the proportions on a couple of others, I'm claiming this as my own.

Yes, I am.

And they were dee-licious.

So yummy, in fact, that there were more people begging for the leftovers for lunch the next day than the little portion would feed by a long shot.

All the children loved them

All the adults loved them.

I'm making them again on Monday.

They were that good.

Note: If you like things spicy, add a little cayenne pepper - 1/4 tsp. or so.  I knew our more sensitive palates in the house wouldn't go for that, so while these definitely have spice and flavor, they're not exceedingly hot.

Chicken Fajitas

1 T. chili powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2-1/2 to 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
1-2 T. olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2-3 sweet peppers (red, green, orange, or yellow), cut into strips
Tortillas and shredded cheddar cheese (for serving)

Combine all the spices together and mix well.
Cut chicken into strips or chunks and place in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and stir to coat, then sprinkle the spice mixture over the top and mix to coat pieces evenly.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the chicken.  Brown for a couple of minutes, but before it's fully cooked through, add the onion and peppers.  Saute until the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables are mostly tender.  Serve warm on tortillas with shredded cheese. 

Linked to Finding Joy in my Kitchen

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blackberry White Chocolate Cheesecake

We had a very special Father's Day, with both Grant's parents and his brother here.

We ate very well, with Grandpa's special grilled chicken, grilled zucchini, and twice baked potatoes.

Dessert.....well, if you've been reading here long, you know we love cheesecake.

Grandpa had requested a blackberry white chocolate variation for the occasion.  No problem.  I knew we wouldn't have any complaints about that!

I made a modified version of the White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake that has always been a favorite, and it turned out so delicious that Grant declared that he likes the Blackberry even better.  

It's smooth and light and creamy and fluffy......one of the best cheesecake textures I've ever made.  I used a new technique of beating the egg whites separately and folding them into the batter.  I think it really made a difference.....I may have to try it in some other varieties just to be sure.  (wink wink).

And the blackberry sauce - amazing. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Blackberry White Chocolate Cheesecake

2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbs. butter, melted
4 Tbs. sugar

Preheat oven to 325°.
Combine cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar and mix well.  Press into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a 9" springform pan.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

Blackberry Sauce:
1 (12 oz) package frozen blackberries (or fresh if available)
5 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 cup water

In a saucepan, combine all sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil and continue boiling 5 minutes, or until sauce is thick. Strain sauce through a mesh strainer to remove seeds. This can take awhile...strain small portions at a time and stir around in the strainer with a spoon to get all the goodness out!

2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 t. vanilla

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt white chocolate chips with milk, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool partially.
In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg yolks one at a time. Blend in vanilla and white chocolate. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold into cheesecake batter.  Pour half of batter over crust. Spoon 3 T. blackberry sauce over batter. Pour remaining cheesecake batter into pan and again spoon 3 T. blackberry sauce over the top. Swirl batter with the tip of a knife to create a marbled effect. Place pan on top of a baking sheet, in case of leaks.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until filling is set.

Serve with remaining blackberry sauce and sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday and Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chocolate Fudge Swirl Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Between preparing for a visit from Grant's parents (they're here until the 26th) and gearing up for the VA. Home Educator's Convention last weekend, things have been just a little crazy around here.

But that's okay.  Everything is good and we had a fabulous time at the convention, and of course spent more money than we anticipated, and now we totally need new bookcases more than ever before. 

I am such a sucker for books.  Only good ones, you know.  None of those ridiculous "Captain Underpants" waste-of-paper books, or any other such nonsense.   

One of my favorite finds at the Used Curriculum Sale was The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew.
I'm looking forward to reading that aloud to my family once we finish the book we're currently reading (The Prodigal Cat).

Anyways, I made this ice cream a couple of weeks ago and to be honest, once I tasted it, I just wanted to hide it in the freezer and make something else for the kids so I could eat it all myself. 

A deep chocolate peanut butter ice cream, a dark fudgy ribbon throughout, and chunks of peanut butter patties speckled here and there, it's a dream come true for the die-hard chocolate peanut butter fan.  (which I am, as evidenced by my birthday dessert earlier this year).

If you have a favorite chocolate ice cream base already, feel free to substitute it.  I used one with egg yolks, but only because I had some extra ones in the fridge that I needed to use up.  While I certainly do love ice cream made with eggs, it usually requires cooking and I don't always want to wait the extra time needed for the mixture to cool before freezing it. 

The fudge sauce makes quite a bit....I didn't end up using it all for the ice cream.  But that was okay; it stores well in the fridge and I added a drizzle to a cup of coffee with some milk later in the week and found it to be a fantastic mocha!  (and I don't even like coffee.)

The peanut butter patties - amazing.  They totally take the ice cream to a whole 'nother level, so don't leave them out!

Chocolate Fudge Swirl Peanut Butter Ice Cream 
(adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)
Yield: 2 quarts

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Base:

  • 1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 5 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped finely (I used Bakers Semi-sweet Chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Combine sugar, milk, salt, and cocoa powder in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Heat to about 150°, very hot but not bubbling yet.  Place the egg yolks into a small bowl. Gradually stir in about 1/2 cup of the hot liquid. and return to the saucepan. Heat until thickened (175-180°), but do not boil. Remove from the heat, and stir in the chopped chocolate until chocolate is melted. Add peanut butter and stir well.  Pour into a chilled bowl, and refrigerate for about two hours until cold, stirring every so often.  You can also refrigerate overnight.

    Fudge Ripple:
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/3 cup light corn syrup
    1/2 cup water
    6 T. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Dark)
    1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

    Whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, water, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan. (you can just use the same one you made the ice cream base in if you want).  Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble at the edges.  Continue to whisk until it just comes to a low boil.  Cook for 1 minute, whisking frequently.  Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let it cool.  Chill in the refrigerator before using.  (Fudge Ripple can be stored for up to 2 weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.)

    Peanut Butter Patties: (I recommend making extra of these!)
    6 Tbs. peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
    3-6 Tbs. powdered sugar (amount may vary depending on the type of peanut butter you use)

    Mix together the peanut butter and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Get the consistency that you can pinch off balls of it without it sticking to your fingers much.  Line a dinner plate with plastic wrap or wax paper.  Pinch off small pieces of the mixture and place on the plate.  Freeze until you add them to the ice cream.

    To Make the Ice Cream:

    After base has chilled thoroughly, freeze it in your ice cream maker (2 quart) according to the manufacturer's directions.  Fold in the Peanut Butter Patties when it has finished churning.  Just before you remove the ice cream from the machine, spoon some of the Fudge Ripple onto the bottom of the storage container.  As you remove the ice cream from the machine, layer generous spoonfuls of the sauce between layers of ice cream.  Avoid stirring the Fudge Ripple, as it will make the ice cream "muddy".

    Linked to Finding Joy in my Kitchen

    Monday, June 4, 2012

    Chicken Spaghetti, Revisited

    I originally posted this recipe from the Pioneer Woman four years ago.....and while we've enjoyed it numerous times since then, I neglected to take more photos of it, despite the fact that the original was perfectly dreadful

    So when I was menu planning a few weeks ago and realized it had been awhile since we've had this, I made it a huge priority to make and and re-shoot some photos, as well as share a couple of updated modifications I've made to the recipe itself.

    PW recommends boiling a whole chicken, de-boning it, and cooking the spaghetti noodles in the leftover broth.  I have used that method, and it's good...but you know what?  It's a big pain in the you-know-what.
    It's very time consuming to de-bone a chicken....waiting for it to cool, getting all the meat off, and inevitably one (or more) of the children will have an emergency while my hands are all greasy.  Not fun.

    I've found that the dish is just as tasty (to us) if I just poach or bake chicken breasts and dice them up when they're done. 
    I also only use homemade cream of chicken soup - it's really not hard and SO much healthier and cheaper than the store bought stuff.
    Oh, and I use a whole package (13.25 oz) of whole wheat spaghetti - I can't stand having nearly empty boxes of pasta in my pantry.  I never end up using them. 

    The end result - a creamy, cheesy casserole that will feed a crowd and please just about anybody. 

    Chicken Spaghetti (adapted from the Pioneer Woman)

    1 (13.25 oz) package whole wheat spaghetti or angel hair pasta, broken in half
    2-1/2 cups cooked chicken, packed
    2 cans cream of mushroom/chicken soup, or homemade 
    2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
    1 small onion
    , finely diced
    1/4 cup green pepper, finely diced
    1 4 oz can diced pimentos, drained
    1-1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth (as needed for consistency)
    1 t. seasoned salt
    1/8 - 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
    salt and pepper to taste

    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

    Cook pasta in a pot of salted water as directed on package, until al dente.  You don't want it too soft, since you'll be cooking it in the oven as well.  Drain.
    In a large bowl, combine cooked chicken, cream of chicken soup, 2 cups shredded cheese, onion, green pepper, and pimentos. 
    Add cooked pasta and chicken broth, starting with 1 cup and adding more as needed, stirring until well mixed.  Add seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper as needed.  Spread in a 13 x 9" baking dish.  Bake at 350° for about 20-25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.  Add remaining 1 cup cheese on top and return to oven for 5 minutes, or until its melted.

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    First Holy Communion Cross Cake

    I had the privilege of making a First Holy Communion cake for Corban's friend (and our neighbor across the street) Cort last month.  His mom and I poured over ideas for a few weeks, mostly on my favorite cake inspiration site (Cake Central) and finally came up with this idea. 

    The breakdown:

    Base: 12 x 18" white cake, frosted with blue buttercream.

    Cross: 11 x 15" chocolate cake, cut into sections to make the cross.  I did have some leftover cake from that.  Frosted with white buttercream. I actually made the cake on a Wed. and froze the whole thing.  On Thurs. I carved it and coated the sections with a light crumb coat of white buttercream.  Back into the freezer they went!  On Saturday, after I had the white cake baked, cooled, and frosted, I brought out the cross sections and laid them on the cake. 

    Helpful tip: I have used wooden dowels for cake supports before (on this graduation cake), and that works just fine - but this time I discovered something much easier. Large straws.
    Yep, like the ones you get at McDonalds.  You can just cut them with scissors to the length you need and they go through even frozen cake pretty easily - and the cake pieces stay in place. 
    You can see one of the holes made by the straw on the left section of the cross below, and on the bottom as well. 

    After the cross got a nice covering of white buttercream, I got to work on the most time-consuming part, the detail work.

    I used the Wilton tip 199 for all the shells around the border of the blue cake and around the top of the cross. (love that tip....it's the one I used for the Petal Cake also!)
    I used the Wilton tip 7 for the dots around the base of the cross and the dots forming the inner cross outline.
    The Wilton tip 2 was used for the lace-looking piping on the cross.  The technique is called Cornelli Lace.  Mine wasn't perfect, but it worked well enough.  I also used this tip for the writing. 
    I honestly can't remember if I used tip 2 or tip 4 for the white dots around the top edges of the blue cake.  But it was one of those.
    The chalis was made from Wilton Candy Melts, yellow obviously.  I drew an outline of a chalis on paper with pencil....layed wax paper on top of it, and traced over it with the melted candy in a ziplock bag.  Filled it in, refrigerated it to set up, etched in some details with a toothpick before it was set completely, and then brushed over the whole thing with gold petal dust.  That was fun!

    The rosary and the cross with the boy kneeling were decorations purchased by Cort's mom for the cake. 

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