Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chicken Saté with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Note: this recipe includes a 15 minute marinade. Be sure to allow for that time in planning.
  • 2 1/2 tsp creamy peanut butter
  • 1 to 2 tsp and 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tsp firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (lowest sodium available)
  • 8 oz chicken breast tenders, all visible fat discarded
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, 1 to 2 tsp lime juice, and red pepper flakes until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a shallow dish, stir together the remaining 2 Tbsp lime juice, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
3. Meanwhile, soak two 6- to 8-inch wooden skewers for at least 10 minutes in cold water to keep them from charring, or use metal skewers. Preheat the broiler.
4. Remove the chicken from the dish. Thread half the chicken accordion-style onto each skewer. Place on a baking sheet. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until no longer pink in the center. Brush the chicken with the peanut sauce.

Robyn's notes: I love chicken in peanut sauce, and have several recipes from the simple (buy Thai peanut sauce in a jar, marinate the chicken, broil it) to the complex (ask the owner of our favourite Thai restaurant how they make their pra ram long song). This one is a perfectly acceptable version. If it's not terribly exciting that may be because it's from a book specifically geared toward heart-healthy dishes. It's still good. I served this with steamed white rice (not included in Nutritional Analysis below), and I made minor changes. I cut boneless skinless chicken breast into long strips, instead of purchasing chicken tenders. I threaded onto more than just two skewers, because I find that getting one skewer with 4oz of chicken feels like less than getting the same 4oz of chicken spread across two or three skewers. I also used the broiling pan, not a baking sheet, as I always do when broiling. Personal preference there. I used barely a pinch of pepper flakes, because I can't eat spicy foods, that probably made a difference for how exciting or not the dish turned out. I was most surprised that the chicken wasn't cooked in the peanut sauce, that it was applied after cooking. What that mostly meant is that the sauce was very difficult to "brush" onto the chicken, as it maintained the peanut butter consistency. GF if you use GF soy sauce.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Nutritional Facts: Exchanges = 1/2 Carbohydrate, 3 Lean Meat, 1/2 Fat. Calories 180; Calories from fat 55; Total Fat 6g; Saturated Fat 1.4g; Trans Fat 0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 1.6g; Monounsaturated Fat 2.6g; Cholesterol 65mg; Sodium 190mg; Total Carbohydrate 5g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sugars 3g; Protein 26g

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cookies and Cream Zoku Pop

  • 3 chocolate sandwich cookies, twisted apart into halves
  • 1 recipe vanilla base
  • 2 Tbsp crumbled chocolate wafers (see notes, below)
1. Dip the decorative side of half a sandwich cookie in the vanilla base. Using tweezers, apply the dipped cookie to the wall of the pop maker mold. Insert the stick and repeat with remaining molds.
2. Combine vanilla base and crumbled wafers. Immediately pour into prepared molds until you reach the fill line. Let freeze completely.

Robyn's notes: When I twist apart my Oreos (which were Double Stuf because they're the best, but I'd recommend using regular Oreos for this recipe, as the Double Stuf were a bit too big), I always have one plain chocolate cookie side and one side that's chocolate cookie and all the creme. Instead of buying additional wafer cookies for crumbling, I just crumbled the half of the Oreos that didn't have creme on them. These popsicles were really very good.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Zoku Pop Vanilla Base

  • 4oz vanilla pudding (1 individual serving cup)
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
1. Whisk together all ingredients until sugar has dissolved.

Robyn's notes: this makes enough vanilla base to be used with other ingredients for 3 popsicles. No star rating because it's not eaten on its own.

Baked Ravioli with Tomato and Cheese Sauce

  • 7oz marinara sauce
  • 8oz fresh ravioli, tortellini, or other stuffed pasta
  • 3 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cheese Sauce:
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/2 C grated Cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat marinara sauce. Spread it in the bottom of a large, shallow ovenproof dish. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain. Turn into the dish containing the marinara sauce.
3. Make the cheese sauce by melting the butter in a medium pan over low heat. Stir in the flour until it has all been absorbed. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, and cook over medium heat, still stirring to thicken. Add the cheese and continue cooking until it has melted. Season to taste.
4. Spoon the cheese sauce over the pasta in its ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling. Serve from the dish.

Robyn's notes: this went very quickly and was well-received. He ate all the sauce that was left on my plate when I was done, even. I heated the marinara sauce in a bowl in the microwave to save time, but it can just as easily be done on the stove, and any tomato-based pasta sauce works. No photo because he'd just gotten home from the gym and was too hungry to wait for me to make it pretty and snap a picture.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Product Review: Zoku Quick Pop

One of my xmas gifts this year was a Zoku Quick Pop Maker (Amazon link). It had been on my wishlist for quite awhile because one of the most frustrating things about my health problems is how often I have to be on a liquid diet. Liquid diets allow me to eat popsicles, but most popsicles don't have a lot of nutritional value, so I end up eating a Dreyer's Strawberry Fruit Bar once a day and drinking Ensure and juice the rest of the time. After a couple days of this, I am absolutely dying to chew things.

Enter the Zoku.

The point of the Zoku is that it takes ice cream maker technology and rearranges it to work for popsicles. The Zoku sits in the freezer empty (for at least 24 hours before you use it the first time, then just leave it in there between uses), then you remove it from the freezer, pour in the ingredients, and wait. 7 to 9 minutes later, you have 3 popsicles.

Now, I've read all the reviews, I know that the Zoku doesn't work fabulously with anything that has a low sugar content (or is made with artificial sweeteners), but I also know that I can use it to make a popsicle out of fruit juices or yogurt thinned with milk, and these are things that are staples of my diet when I'm not feeling well.

So far I've made four batches of popsicles with the Zoku. All have been edible, but there have been varied levels of success.

Batch one: strawberry Yoplait yogurt thinned with milk. Worked fine. Froze into a popsicle in about 8 minutes, wasn't terribly exciting but, then, strawberry yogurt isn't exactly the most exciting dish when it's in yogurt form.

Batch two: milk chocolate Ensure. I did this with the full expectation that it wouldn't work. Ensure is a nutritional drink (meal replacement), and while "sugar" is high on the ingredients list, the liquid consistency made me question its suitability for Zoku pops. I waited 11 minutes, then tried to remove the first popsicle I'd poured. It absolutely would not come out, which the instruction manual says is a sign that the sugar content is too low or the ingredients were too soft. I left that one alone, waited a 4 or 5 more minutes, then tried to remove the other two popsicles. Both came out fine. Again, they weren't exciting, but again the ingredient was something that isn't great when eaten in its usual form, so it wouldn't make sense to expect a popsicle made out of it to be fabulous. For the popsicle that wasn't to be, I filled the sink with hot water, placed the Quick Pop Maker into it, and the popsicle came out. The Quick Pop Maker had to refreeze for 18 hours or so after that intentional defrost before I could use it again.

Batch three: Naked Juice Power-C Machine. Another that I suspected might not work, because there's no sugar added. Since I love Naked Juices so much and I rarely get them (they're not cheap), I only filled one popsicle form with the juice. That way if it didn't work, I wouldn't have wasted the rest of the juice. Worked fine, froze in about 10 minutes. It was more noticeably tart as a popsicle than as a juice, but was still good.

Batch four: Kern's Strawberry-Banana with banana coins. Here I decided to branch out into the fancier popsicles. I sliced the banana coins very thinly, carefully placed them in the popsicle forms (difficult, because as soon as the banana touches the side of the form it freezes to it), then poured in the juice. It took about 14 minutes to freeze completely, but worked perfectly and tasted wonderful. The photo at the head of this entry is these strawberry-banana popsicles.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the Zoku. My biggest complaint is the need to separately purchase a popsicle storage container. Without that item, I have to either eat all three popsicles or make less than three at a time, because you can't leave the popsicles in the Zoku to eat later. Considering that a single serving of yogurt thinned with about 1/4 C milk (I didn't measure it) made 3 popsicles, it's not as if I'd be gorging myself to eat 3 at a time, but I would like to be able to eat one, then eat the next an hour later. Basically, the product is exactly what it's advertised as: a quick and easy popsicle maker.

No compensation received for this review, product was a gift from a family member and all ingredients were purchased by me. No endorsement by any named company is implied.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peach-Glazed Chicken

  • 1/2 (15.25oz) can sliced peaches in fruit juice, drained with 1/4 C juice reserved
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried basil, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 4oz each), all visible fat discarded, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • olive oil spray
  • 1 tsp olive oil
1. In a small bowl, stir together the peaches, reserved juice, brown sugar, vinegar, and lemon juice. Set aside.
2. In another small bowl, stir together the basil, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over both sides of the chicken. Lightly spray both sides with olive oil spray.
3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat, swirling to coat the bottom. Cook the chicken for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until browned on the outside and no longer pink in the center. Push the chicken to one side. With a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the pan, reserving the juice. Cook for 1 minute. Turn the peaches over and cook for 1 minute, or until lightly browned.
4. Pour in the reserved juice. Stir to combine the juice, chicken, and peaches. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the juices are slightly caramelized and glaze the chicken and peaches, stirring occasionally.

Robyn's notes: this went quickly and was quite good. The peaches, to me, seemed to soak up quite a bit of vinegar, but I was the only one who felt that way, and I'm sensitive to the taste (and smell) of vinegar, so most people probably wouldn't notice. The chicken was great. I served this over couscous (not included in Nutritional Analysis below), which I prepared by replacing some of the water with the leftover peach juice from the can. Usually I won't use recipes that call for "half a can" of anything, but when it's canned fruit it's not as big of a deal to me. I just put the remaining peaches into a container in the fridge and can have them as a side dish with lunch or as a snack the following day.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Nutritional Information: Exchanges = 1 Fruit, 1/2 Carbohydrate, 3 Lean Meat. Calories 250; Calories from Fat 45; Total Fat 5g; Saturated Fat 1.1g; Trans Fat 0.0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 0.9g; Monounsaturated Fat 2.6g; Cholesterol 65mg; Sodium 360mg; Total Carbohydrate 26g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 23g; Protein 25g

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Panko Chicken in Mustard Cream Sauce

  • 1/3 C low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 C panko
  • cooking spray
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 4oz each), all visible fat discarded
  • 1/4 C fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp fat-free sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp dried tarragon, crumbled
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow dish. Put the panko in another shallow dish. Lightly spray a baking pan with cooking spray. Set the dishes and baking pan in a row, assembly-line style.
3. Dip the chicken in the buttermilk, turning to coat. Roll each piece in the panko, lightly shaking off any excess. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in the baking pan. Lightly spray the top of the chicken with cooking spray.
4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.
5. Meanwhile, pour the broth into a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisk in the sour cream, mustard, and tarragon. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth and heated through, whisking constantly. Pour the sauce over the cooked chicken.

Robyn's notes: this is a heart-healthy and diabetic-friendly recipe, thus the "fat-free" qualifiers in the ingredients. Substituting the regular version of each of those would likely be fine, though obviously the nutritional information below would be inaccurate. This was fine, but not exciting for me, mainly because I'm not a big fan of Dijon mustard. But it went quickly and the chicken turned out well, moist inside but with a crispy coating. I served it over plain couscous (not included in the nutritional analysis below).

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Nutritional Facts: Exchanges=1 starch, 3 lean meat. Calories 195; Calories from fat 30; Total Fat 3.5g; Saturated Fat 0.9g; Trans Fat 0.0g; Polyunsaturated Fat 0.7g; Monounsaturated Fat 1.2g; Cholesterol 70mg; Sodium 280mg; Total Carbohydrate 11g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sugars 2g; Protein 27g

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache

  • 6 oz premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 oz premium-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 C plus 3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
1. Place the chocolates in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium power until glossy, 2 to 3 minutes; stir until smooth. Let cool; whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Let stand until thick enough to spread.

Robyn's notes: there were many problems with this recipe. It's hard to give it a rating, because two of the problems were on my end, but overall I'm still rating it down because neither of them should have made that much difference. First, my microwave will not allow "medium power". If I press the button for power level, the display says "power level may not be changed at this time". I don't know why. However, I have melted chocolate in the microwave every year for at least 25 years. I always do it on high for a minute or less, stir, then another minute, stir, repeat if necessary until the chocolate is melted. Second problem that may have been on my end was that the semisweet chocolate I had in the house was a little on the old side. Not out of date, but close to it. That should not have made a difference, but I acknowledge it for what it's worth.
The chocolates would not melt properly. The semisweet chocolate would do nothing but solidify into clumps. I eventually gave up, because it is possible to over-melt chocolate, even in the microwave. As a result, the final product was not smooth, it was lumpy and unattractive. It tasted ok, but not exciting. The recipe says the yield is 1 Cup, but after I used it to frost two mini cakes I poured the leftover into a plastic storage container and still have more than a cup of frosting. Since I feel that the point of using a small-batch cookbook for frosting is to not have leftovers, that was the final straw.
I will probably try the recipe again sometime with fresher semisweet chocolate, just for fairness, and if it comes out better I'll remove the above notes.

** 2 Stars: Acceptable. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, if I make changes

Classic Chocolate Cakes

This recipe comes from Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers by Debby Maugans. She has a full page of instructions for cooking individually-sized cakes in clean cans (14.5 or 15 oz cans that once held diced tomatoes or beans or soup, for example). I am not including those instructions. More information about that is in the notes after the recipe.
  • unsalted butter for greasing cans
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp well-beaten egg
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 C plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter the insides of two clean 14.5oz cans and lightly dust them with flour, tapping out the excess. Line the bottoms of the cans with rounds of parchment paper and set them aside. Alternatively, line 4 regular-size muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Whisk the milk, egg, and vanilla in a small bowl.
3. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a fine-mesh sieve placed over a small, deep mixing bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl. Add the butter and half of the milk mixture; beat with a handheld electric mixer on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium, and beat until the batter has lightened and increased in volume, about 45 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining milk mixture, and beat until well blended, about 20 seconds.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared cans or muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean, about 20 minutes for cupcakes and 27 to 29 minutes for cakes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen the edges of the cakes from cans using a small sharp knife; invert the cans and remove the cakes. Cool completely. Cut in half crosswise with a sharp knife. Frost with the Sour Cream Chocolate Ganache, between layers and on the tops and sides of the cakes, or on the tops of the cupcakes.

Robyn's notes: this recipe is way too complicated for what you get. It comes out as two perfectly acceptable small chocolate cakes. Not great cakes, not special cakes, just fine. I cooked the cakes in the cans, to see how well it would work, and it wasn't worth the trouble. Yes, the final product came out looking like actual mini cakes instead of like cupcakes, but to have to remember to set aside empty cans, clean them, remove the labels, store them, then grease them, flour them, cut parchment paper rounds just the right size to sit inside the bottom of the cans...too much hassle. Cupcakes are fine.
In one of the Amazon reviews for the cookbook, someone complained strongly about the suggestion to use cans, because Maugans does not mention anything about the BPA that is in most cans. The reviewer felt this was very irresponsible, as they feel it's a health risk. I don't really care about that aspect, because I'm re-using cans that I've already eaten the contents of, which means I've already been exposed to the BPA of that can once. If I were seriously concerned about BPA, I wouldn't have commercially canned foods in the house and therefore wouldn't have cans to use for this recipe, thus would be using muffin tins.
In step 3 of the recipe, I didn't bother with any of that sifting through a fine-mesh sieve. Doing it the way she's described doesn't change the measurements (sifting dry ingredients through a sieve
before measuring them does, sifting them afterward does not), and the dry ingredients incorporated with each other just fine without sifting, so I didn't need to use yet another tool that I'd later have to clean (this recipe already uses a bowl for beating the egg, fork or whisk for beating the egg and whisking the wet ingredients, a bowl for the milk mixture, the main bowl, beaters, two measuring cups, four measuring spoons, a spatula, a muffin tin or cans, and that's before making the frosting).
The one thing I can't really speak to is the size of the finished cakes. My sweetheart prefers cake batter to cake, so he kept dipping a spoon into the bowl and then into the filled cans. When I finally got them away from him and into the oven, they came out different sizes, one about 2.5" tall, the other about 3.5" tall.

** 2 Stars: Acceptable. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, if I make changes

Monday, November 14, 2011

Green Bean Un-Casserole

Most Americans are familiar with the 56-year-old Thanksgiving side dish that calls for cream of mushroom soup and french fried onions. This is a much lighter and healthier version, sized, of course, for two.
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/4 C panko
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried minced onion flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut
  • 1/3 lb mushrooms, thinly sliced
1. In a small pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add panko, onion flakes, and salt. Saute about 6 minutes or until crumbs are slightly toasted.
2. At the same time, steam green beans and mushrooms for 6 minutes.
3. Place green beans and mushrooms in serving dish, top with crumb topping.

Robyn's notes: as a refresher, to steam the vegetables with a steamer basket, place a pot on the stove and add about an inch of water. Place steamer basket into pot so that the veggies are not touching the water, but with the water almost reaching the bottom of the basket. With the lid on the pot, bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and steam for the required time.
This recipe is obviously not as rich as the original, but my taste-testers both enjoyed it.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Panko is a Japanese-style bread crumb, which is made from bread without crusts. Panko is coarser than the usual dried bread crumbs, airier, with larger flakes that tend to stay crispier longer. It also contains far less sodium, and doesn't generally absorb as much grease, so makes a good substitute for those trying to eat healthier.

Although several years ago it was difficult to find outside of Asian food stores, panko is now much more widely available and can usually be found near other packaged bread crumbs, or in some areas of the country in the Asian section of the store.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chicken Alfredo Crepes

Another not-really-a-recipe one-serving dish, to give an example of things to do with crepes.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In small bowl, combine first 3 ingredients. Spoon mixture down the center of crepes. Roll crepes up and place, seam side down, on baking sheet.
2. Bake for 9-10 minutes, until heated through.

Robyn's notes: I checked the crepes every 2 minutes, starting at 6 minutes, by touching the top of each crepe at the center. After 10 minutes, even though they were only warm to the touch at that spot, I took them out of the oven because the edges were getting pretty crispy and I didn't want them to burn. Turns out they were hot all the way through, even though I couldn't feel it from the outside.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Turkey Crepes Two Ways

This is not really a recipe, as there aren't any measurements. Still, I enjoyed how these came out and thought I'd share them as examples of ways to use crepes. This is a single serving.
  • 2 cooked crepes, cooled
  • deli-sliced oven-roasted turkey breast
  • thinly sliced cheddar cheese
  • cream cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place turkey breast in single layer over each crepe, covering as much of crepe as possible.
2. On one crepe, place slices of cheddar cheese in single layer over turkey breast. On the other, spread or drop dollops of cream cheese over turkey breast.
3. Roll up and place, seam side down, on baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes, or until cheddar cheese in first crepe is melted.

Robyn's notes: I made one of each of these at the same time because I wasn't sure if either or both would come out well, and didn't want to have to re-heat the oven and start again if the first one I tried wasn't good. They both came out well and I ended up alternating bites, so that I'd have a cream cheese bite then a cheddar bite. This is good for a quick lunch, and was filling. Don't roll the crepes too tightly, or the centers will still be cold when the edges appear ready.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quick Chicken and Broccoli Crepes

  • 5oz frozen chopped broccoli (fresh ok, too)
  • 1/2 of a 10.75oz can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 C cooked slivered chicken or turkey
  • 7-8 cooked crepes (see notes, below)
  • 3 Tbsp mayonnaise (see notes, below)
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp additional grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cook broccoli according to package directions, drain thoroughly. Combine with soup, Worcestershire sauce, 3 Tbsp cheese, and chicken. Fill crepes with chicken mixture; roll up and place in shallow baking pan. Combine mayo with milk; spread over crepes. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp cheese. Broil until bubbly.

Yield: 7-8 crepes (see notes, below)

Robyn's notes: lots of changes and notes for this recipe. First, I can't eat broccoli, so the rest of the sauce was made separately while the broccoli was cooking, and then after filling my crepes, the broccoli was added to the remaining sauce and the other crepes were filled. Secondly, this in no way filled 7-8 crepes. The broccoli filled out the crepes a lot more than the sauce that didn't have broccoli, but in total we got about 4 crepes out of this recipe, two each. It was plenty for us with a side of fruit. Third, my stomach doesn't generally react well to mayonnaise, so while I cook with it sometimes, I don't when I'm already feeling somewhat unwell. So in place of the mayonnaise and milk, this is what I used for a sauce on top of the crepes:
approx 2 Tbsp of remaining condensed cream of chicken soup from can
approx 1 Tbsp sour cream
approx 1 Tbsp milk

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Sunday, October 9, 2011

All-Purpose Crepes

I don't usually share recipes that have large yields, or recipes for freezing. I'm not someone who enjoys leftovers or thawing Tuesday's frozen food for Friday's dinner. Crepes, however, are different. When I was a small child, around 6 years old, I fell in love with crepes, and I've been filling them both sweet and savory ever since. This recipe has a large yield, and the finished crepes take up very little space in the fridge or freezer.
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 C flour
  • 2 C milk
  • 1/2 C melted butter
1. Combine ingredients in blender, blend for about 1 minute. Scrape down sides with rubber spatula and blend for another 15 seconds or until smooth.
2. Refrigerate batter at least 1 hour.
3. Brush pan with butter and heat over medium-high heat. Pour 2 to 3 Tablespoons of batter into pan (using a ladle makes this easier), and tilt pan in all directions to swirl the batter so that it covers the bottom of the pan in a very thin layer. Cook crepe until bottom is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Turn carefully with spatula and brown the other side for a few seconds until set. Remove from pan with spatula; stack between layers of waxed paper.

Yield: 30 to 35 crepes

Robyn's notes: do not feel that your crepes need to be perfectly uniform in size or an exact circle. Basically you are making an exceptionally thin pancake. Whereas when making pancakes, you're watching for bubbles to form, when making crepes you're watching for the surface sheen to disappear. When the surface of the crepe batter appears dull, that's when it's time to turn the crepe over. Once the crepes have been made and stacked on the waxed paper, they can be stored in the fridge or freezer in a ziploc bag. Fridge for about a week, freezer for up to 4 months. This batter can be used for any manner of fillings, both sweet and savory. Be creative, or search "crepes" in the sidebar for my recipes using this base.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gluten-Free Vanilla Cupcake Pair

This is an adaptation of this recipe by How Sweet It Is.
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 C brown rice flour mix
  • pinch xanthan gum
  • 1/4 heaping tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 2 liners.
2. In medium bowl, add egg white and sugar and beat until combined. Add vanilla and melted butter and stir until mixed. Add brown rice flour mix, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt and stir until smooth. Stir in milk. Divide batter equally between the 2 cupcake liners.
3. Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool completely, then frost as desired.

Robyn's notes: This is not a fabulous version of the recipe. The cupcakes seemed very dense and slightly rubbery to me, and weren't good on their own, they must be frosted to taste good. However, with a good frosting and with the understanding that I found the original recipe to be more of a muffin than a cupcake, they're reasonable.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffin Pair

After I made my Chocolate Cupcake Duo, an adaptation of this recipe by How Sweet It Is, I realized that the cupcakes were very similar to the chocolate chocolate chip muffins that we used to get when we had a Costco membership. This recipe is almost exactly the same as my earlier one, just a couple minor changes.
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1/4 heaping tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 2 liners.
2. In medium bowl, add egg white and sugar and beat until combined. Add vanilla and melted butter and stir until mixed. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and stir until smooth. Stir in milk, then chocolate chips. Divide batter equally between the 2 cupcake liners.
3. Bake at 350 for 16-18, or until cake is set. Let cool completely.

Robyn's notes: I didn't even check the muffins until they'd baked for 18 minutes.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peanut Butter Frosting

As soon as I decided to make the vanilla cupcakes mentioned here, I knew I wanted to make a chocolate version, but not with chocolate frosting. I'm a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter, so decided to create a small-batch peanut butter frosting.

2 tsp peanut butter
1/2 Tbsp shortening
1/4 C powdered sugar
1/2 Tbsp milk

In a small bowl, cream the peanut butter, shortening and powdered sugar until well combined. Gradually beat in enough milk to achieve spreading consistency.

Robyn's notes: the peanut butter flavour in this frosting is light, not overwhelming. I had exactly enough frosting for two of my chocolate cupcakes.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Chocolate Cupcake Duo

This is my adaptation of this recipe by How Sweet It Is.
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1/4 heaping tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp milk
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 2 liners.
2. In medium bowl, add egg white and sugar and beat until combined. Add vanilla and melted butter and stir until mixed. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and stir until smooth. Stir in milk. Divide batter equally between the 2 cupcake liners.
3. Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes, or until cake is set. Let cool completely, then frost as desired.

Robyn's notes: this version of the recipe still seems very much like muffins to me, but still yummy. I frosted these with my peanut butter frosting.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Chocolate Frosting for Cupcake Pairs

I wanted to try this recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes by How Sweet It Is, but I don't keep frosting in the house and I didn't want to have a bunch of frosting left over. So I looked at what was in the cupboard, and wrote this recipe for small-batch chocolate frosting. I have also included notes below on my experience with the cupcake recipe.
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 C + 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
1. Cream butter in an electric mixer until fluffy, add vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar with the mixer on low speed. Pour in melted chocolate and beat until incorporated. Add milk 1 teaspoon at a time with mixer on low speed, until desired consistency is reached.

Robyn's notes on the frosting: I used 62% cacao bittersweet chocolate. Note, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate are not the same. Be sure you have the right ingredient. I ended up not using the entire 1/2 Tbsp of milk, but you may want the frosting thinner, so use as much of the milk as you need. If it gets too thin by mistake, add additional powdered sugar. The recipe made a bit more than needed, probably enough to frost three cupcakes, but definitely better than having an entire canister of frosting in the fridge.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Robyn's notes on the cupcakes: I find these cupcakes more like muffins, they're denser than I usually consider cupcakes to be, and several people in the comments on the linked blog post complained that their cupcakes were very "eggy". After 12 minutes of baking, my cupcakes were still liquid inside, I had to cook them for 17 minutes, and many comments over there mentioned cooking for up to 20 minutes. Be sure to fill the empty muffin tin cups with water, to keep your tin from warping. GF: cupcakes are not gluten-free! My gluten-free version will be posted soon. The frosting recipe is gluten-free.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quick Angelic Dessert

This recipe takes advantage of some pre-prepared items, and so can be thrown together very quickly.
  • 1 Angel Food cupcake (from 4-count package*)
  • 2 Tbsp Sugar 'n Spice Fruit Dip
  • approximately 15 raspberries
  • 2 tsp powdered sugar OR whipped cream (optional)
1. Cut cupcake in half horizontally:

2. Spread 1 Tbsp of dip on cut side of each half. Arrange raspberries on top of dip. If desired, dust with powdered sugar or top with spoonful of whipped cream.

Robyn's notes: *Angel Food cupcakes are available in the bakery section of my grocery store. Each cupcake is approximately 4 inches in diameter.
This is a nice way to have a sweet dessert without going overboard if you're counting calories. I can't do an exact nutritional analysis, because there were no nutrition facts on the angel food cake packaging, but each half of this should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 calories.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Gluten-Free

  • 1/4 C vegetable shortening (not butter or margarine)
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp egg substitute OR 2 Tbsp of beaten egg
  • 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C + 1 1/2 tsp Brown Rice Flour Mix
  • 3/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C chocolate chips (about 3oz)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Combine shortening and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until fluffy.
3. Add flour, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt; mix until well blended. Mix in chocolate chips.
4. Drop heaping teaspoons of dough onto cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake in center of oven for 8-10 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

Yield: 18 cookies

Robyn's notes: this recipe has been reduced heavily, the original recipe made 70 cookies. The original recipe said to grease the cookie sheet with cooking spray, which I did for the first batch that went into the oven. The cookies came out with a strange spreading:

and though they tasted ok, they were very greasy and the scallopy edge was sharp, crunchy, and not pleasant. I pulled out a fresh cookie sheet for the last few cookies, and did not spray it with cooking spray. The cookies came out without that spread (see photo at top of recipe), but they were very difficult to get off the pan and were still quite greasy (I had to wash my hands after picking one up). Next time I attempt this recipe, I'll try using parchment paper, see if that helps. This recipe does not keep you from ever baking any cookies because you've eaten the raw dough too fast, but the dough is ok. I ate a spoonful of it and it was similar to standard cookie dough, just a little less developed, likely due to the lack of butter. The cookies did not seem at all grainy to me, so in this instance, the use of Bob's Red Mill brand brown rice flour in the flour mix was acceptable.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Friday, August 5, 2011

Gluten-Free Brown Rice Flour Mix

In measurements:
  • 2 C brown rice flour (extra finely ground)
  • 2/3 C potato starch (not potato flour)
  • 1/3 C tapioca flour
For a larger batch:
  • 6 C brown rice flour (extra finely ground)
  • 2 C potato starch (not potato flour)
  • 1 C tapioca flour
1. Combine all ingredients, based on the measurements for the batch size you're making. Store in airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Robyn's notes: this recipe comes from a book by the Food Philosopher. She stresses that it's very important to use an extra finely ground brown rice flour (not just any grind), or the baked goods will be gritty, heavy, and/or crumbly. She recommends Authentic Foods brand, and mentions that they now make this entire recipe already prepared under the name of GF Classical Blend. It can be purchased online, and the price looks reasonable, but part of my focus here was to make and test the recipe based on what was available at my local chain grocery store (I didn't even go to the Trader Joe's in town or the nearest Whole Foods, because I know they're not available to everybody). So I'm using Bob's Red Mill brown rice flour, which I bought for just over $3 at Nob Hill (Raley's). It's true that I can feel a bit of grittiness between my fingers, but that may be partly because I was forewarned. Once I've cooked with it, I'll add my notes to this entry and give this flour a star rating.

Remember that when measuring flour, especially gluten-free flours, not to dip the measuring cup directly into the flour. Spoon the flour into the measuring cup, shake it gently, and use the flat part of a table knife to level it off.

Xanthan Gum

A white powdery flour, produced from the fermentation of corn sugar, which is used as a thickener or binding agent for dressings, gravies, and sauces. It's an ideal substitute for gluten in gluten-free baking.

Unlike other gums, it is stable under a wide range of temperatures. Most recipes call for very small amounts, which allows a small bag of xanthan gum to go a long way.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Tapioca Flour

Derived from the root of the cassava plant, this flour is very light, powdery, smooth, and tasteless. It can be used as a thickening agent, as well as combined with other gluten-free flours to make delicious baked goods. It thickens quickly and at a relatively low temperature, which makes it a good choice for correcting a sauce just before serving it.

Tapioca flour and tapioca starch are two names for the same product.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Potato Starch

A flour derived from cooked potatoes that are crushed and washed until just the starch remains. The starch is then dried to a powder.

Potato Starch is used as a thickener for sauces, soups, and stews. Potato starch tolerates higher temperatures than cornstarch when used as a thickener. It's a natural way to add moistness to many baked goods.

Unlike cornstarch or other grain-based foods, it is permitted for use during Passover.

Potato starch and potato flour are not interchangeable.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Rice Flour

Polished rice, with the hulls removed and the raw rice ground very finely, becomes rice flour. It can be made from either white rice or brown rice. Rice flour has a similar texture to cornflour and can be used as a thickening agent, mixed with a little water, milk, or stock according to the recipe, and added while the dish is still hot and still cooking. It is a particularly good substitute for people who are intolerant of wheat.

In Asia, it is widely used for making rice papers and the dough for dumplings. It is often used to make sticky Asian cakes and sweets. Rice flour can be combined with wheat flour to make bread, but this produces a crumbly loaf.

Glutinous rice flour is a separate product and is usually labelled rice powder. It is made from finely ground glutinous rice, or "sweet rice" and is principally starch, plus a small amount of protein. The starch is waxy and makes an excellent gel.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vegan Chocolate Raspberry Mini Cupcakes

The original recipe this was based on was Chloe's Vegan Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes, by Chloe Coscarelli. I had never heard of Coscarelli, or her experience winning Food Network's Cupcake Wars...or, for that matter, the show. I learned of both when I recently flipped through an issue of Sunset magazine that included Chloe's recipe. Or did it? The recipe on Coscarelli's site is not the same as the recipe in Sunset magazine. Both are credited as being "the first vegan recipe to win on Food Network!". Regardless, I'm not fussed about which version was actually the filmed recipe, as I've never watched the show. I reduced the Sunset version twice, changed the cupcake size, an ingredient, the cooking time, and the assembly process to come up with what I bring you today.

  • 1/4 cups + 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C water
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Frosting & finishing
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
  • 2/3 C sifted powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp nondairy milk, such as soy, almond, or rice
  • 1 to 2 dozen raspberries, rinsed and drained (See note, below)
  • 1 tsp additional sifted powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 12-cup mini muffin pan.
2. Make cupcakes: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and whisk until just combined.
3. Divide batter among cupcake cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean, 9 to 12 minutes. Let cupcakes cool completely in pan.
4. Make frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat shortening, 2/3 cups powdered sugar, and the vanilla together to mix. Beat in nondairy milk until frosting is smooth and fluffy.
5. Run knife edge gently around cupcakes to loosen and remove from pan. Smooth about 1 Tbsp frosting onto each cupcake and cover with one or two raspberries Put remaining 1 tsp powdered sugar in a fine-mesh strainer and dust cupcakes with sugar.

Yield: 12 mini cupcakes

Robyn's notes: The amount of raspberries is not exact because it depends on your preferences and the size of your raspberries. I put only one raspberry on some, and two on others, large raspberries meant only one would really fit, smaller ones meant I could fit two. I found the cupcake batter to be alarmingly thin, but it baked up well. The cupcakes did not rise practically at all during baking, so filling the pan nearly full is fine. Mini cupcakes bake quickly and can go from "almost ready" to "overcooked" alarmingly fast, so start checking them at 9 minutes and if they're not yet ready check them regularly until they are. Although it may seem a waste of time and cleaning energy to use an electric mixer for such a small amount of frosting, it's worth it because it gets the right amount of air into the frosting. I used regular Crisco shortening because it was what I had on hand, and I checked the local grocery to find that they had exactly two shortening options: Crisco, and Crisco butter-flavoured. Both are hydrogenated. It did not seem to make any difference in the recipe. I used Silk brand soymilk, plain flavour (not vanilla), because it's the type of soymilk I always have in the house. Do not be fooled into thinking that because this is a vegan recipe that makes it healthy. Going off of the nutritional facts provided in Sunset, a single one of my mini cupcakes will be somewhere around 100calories and one is not nearly enough! Assuming that you're not going to eat all 12 in a single sitting, I suggest only frosting the cupcakes you plan to eat, then refrigerating the remaining frosting and raspberries and storing the remaining cupcakes in a sealed container to be frosted and finished when you're ready to eat them.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cheddar Cheese Bread

  • 1oz Parmesan cheese, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 1/3 C; see note)
  • 3/4 C plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • pinch pepper
  • 2oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1/2 C)
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 1 large egg
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 5-1/2 by 3 inch loaf pan, then sprinkle 2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp Parmesan cheese evenly over bottom of pan.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne, and pepper together in medium bowl. Fold in cheddar, breaking up clumps, until it is coated with flour mixture. In separate bowl, whisk milk, sour cream, melted butter, and egg together until smooth. Gently fold milk mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula until just combined (do not overmix). Batter will be heavy and thick.
3. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle remaining 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese evenly over top of batter. Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few crumbs attached, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
4. Let bread cool in pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Robyn's notes: this is an America's Test Kitchen recipe, which means it's very specific and has several notes. These are theirs: Shredding the Parmesan on the large holes of a box grater and sprinkling it over the top of this bread adds a nice texture and helps prevent the cheese from burning; do not grate it fine or use pre-grated Parmesan. The texture of the bread improves as it cools, so resist the urge to slice the loaf while it is piping hot. The bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days. These notes are mine: I did grate the Parmesan myself, and I measured both cheeses by weight, not cup measurement. Cutting the cheddar into quarter-inch cubes probably took me about as long as the rest of the preparation. The first loaf I made was cooked through (clean toothpick) after 30 minutes, but the top wasn't at all golden. I took it out and let it cool anyway, so that the inside wouldn't get too dry. It was tasty and moist but a bit dense. I'm making two more mini-loaves as gifts, so I will likely let them cook a bit longer to see how they do. The Parmesan top and bottom was a great touch.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sugar 'n Spice Fruit Dip

  • 1/2 Tbsp packed brown sugar or honey
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 container (6 oz) Yoplait® Thick & Creamy vanilla yogurt
  • 1 C red raspberries
  • 1 1/4 C cubed honeydew melon, apple, or pear
1. In small bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in yogurt.
2. Spoon yogurt mixture into small serving bowl. Sprinkle with additional ground cinnamon. Serve with fruit.

Yield: 5 servings (2 tablespoons dip, 3 pieces cubed fruit and 5 raspberries each)

Robyn's notes: this is half of the original recipe, but still makes quite a bit of dip. It will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for a couple days if necessary.  Watch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Nutritional Information: 1 Serving (1 Serving) Calories 70 (Calories from Fat 5); Total Fat 1/2g (Saturated Fat 0g, Trans Fat 0g); Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 30mg; Total Carbohydrate 13g (Dietary Fiber 2g, Sugars 10g); Protein 2g

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Homestyle Mac n Cheese With a Kick

  • 1 C elbow macaroni (4 oz)
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 -1/2 C whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground white or black pepper
  • 1 -1/2 C grated sharp Cheddar, divided (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/2 C crushed Hot 'n Spicy Cheez-It crackers
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Cook macaroni according to package instructions, drain, set aside.
3. Spray 1-1/2 quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray, set aside.
4. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until well combined (up to 90 seconds). Do not allow the flour to brown. Using a whisk, add the milk slowly and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, 1 C of the cheese, and stir well.
5. In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 C of cheese with the crushed Cheez-Its.
6. Add the macaroni to the pot with the milk and cheese. Stir to combine well, then pour the mixture into casserole dish. Top with the cheez-it mixture. Bake until golden brown and bubbly at the edges, about 20-25 minutes.
7. Remove the dish from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 3 servings

Tips: Once the flour and butter have been incorporated, spoon some of that mixture into the measuring cup full of milk. This will help the milk start to warm up to the temperature of the flour and butter, so that when the milk is poured into the pan it doesn't curdle. The less fat there is in the milk, the higher the likelihood of curdling, so using whole milk you're unlikely to have this problem, but this is a useful trick to have in your arsenal.
When I had finished whisking in the milk, the sauce seemed quite thin to me, but it thickened up a lot during baking, so don't worry too much if it appears thin to you.
If you have a food processor, you can crush the crackers with it, otherwise use the method I usually use (I don't enjoy cleaning my food processor, so I don't use it often): bag the crackers in a zip-loc bag (double bag if not using heavy-duty freezer bags), then crush with a rolling pin. 1 C of whole crackers will crush to a bit over 1/2 C.

Robyn's notes: I wrote this recipe after my friend Patience Ann mentioned that her mom had used Cheez-Its for her macaroni and cheese topping when cooking for a Scouting event recently. I immediately started thinking about the various Cheez-It varieties and how each of them could be used to make a different kind of mac n cheese. My taste-testers really enjoyed this (as did I), and I'm quite proud of it. I made this in individual casserole dishes, instead of the one large one I've written the recipe for. There was exactly enough for three servings.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hard-Boiled Eggs

also known as Hard-Cooked Eggs
  • 6 large eggs
  • Cold water
1. Place eggs in a single layer in a large saucepan (do not stack eggs). Add enough cold water to cover the eggs by 1 inch. Bring to a rapid boil over high heat (water will have large rapidly breaking bubbles). Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 15 minutes; drain.
2. Run cold water over the eggs or place them in ice water until cool enough to handle; drain.
3. To peel eggs, gently tap each egg on the countertop. Roll the egg between the palms of your hands. Peel off eggshell, starting at the large end.

Yield: 6 hard-boiled eggs

If you have extra-large eggs, let eggs stand in the boiled water for 18 minutes.

Robyn's notes: this is the method I use to hard-boil eggs. It seems basically every household has their own preferred method. My family's one addition to this is to poke a small hole in the base (rounded end) of each egg with a pin. It helps keep the eggs from cracking during cooking.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Nutrition Facts: Calories 78; Total Fat 5g; Saturated Fat 2g; Monounsaturated Fat 2g; Polyunsaturated Fat 1g; Cholesterol 212mg; Sodium 62mg; Carbohydrate 1g; Total Sugar 0g; Fiber 0g; Protein 6g; Vitamin A 0%DV; Vitamin C 0%DV; Calcium 3%DV; Iron 3%DV; Medium-fat Meat 1(d.e.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oatmeal Scotchies

Check yield, this makes a lot of cookies
Update: I have written a small-batch version of this recipe, found here.
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange
  • 3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
  • 1-2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Butterscotch Flavored Morsels
1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
3. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies or 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Yield: 48 cookies

Robyn's notes: I make these in a slightly different order in order to minimize the dishes to be washed. I start by creaming the butter, sugars, and vanilla extract. Then beat in the eggs. I drop the flour on top of the wet mixture, and carefully drop the soda, salt, and cinnamon on top of the flour, stirring the dry ingredients together without incorporating the wet. Once the dry ingredients are fairly well combined, then I stir the whole thing together. Add oats, stir, then morsels, stir. I prefer these chewy, so I cook for the shorter time range.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rigatoni and Ham Bake

  • 1 1/2 C Rigatoni or 3/4 C elbow macaroni
  • 1 C diced cooked ham
  • 3oz (3/4 C) shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 1/4 C milk
  • 1/3 C crushed potato chips
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain.
2. In large bowl, combine cooked pasta, ham, and 1/2 Cup cheese.
3. In medium saucepan, melt butter. Blend in flour, salt, and mustard. Add milk all at once. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Combine sauce with pasta mixture. Turn into individual 2-cup casserole dishes. Toss remaining 1/4 Cup cheddar cheese with potato chips; sprinkle over top. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Robyn's notes: We've been making this recipe in my family since 1981. It's one of those very typical late-70s/early-80s casseroles, but we love it all the same.  My family always uses more cheese than is called for in practically any recipe, so feel free to go a little overboard on cheese.

***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chicken and Citrus Couscous Salad

  • 1 C orange juice
  • 2 tsp olive oil or butter
  • 3/4 C plain couscous
  • 6oz cubed fully cooked chicken breast (approximately 3/4 C)
  • 1/4 C dry roasted peanuts
  • 1/4 C mandarin orange segments, drained (or one "fruit cup" size)
1. In medium saucepan, bring orange juice and olive oil just to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with fork, transfer to a covered dish, and refrigerate.
2. In 10-inch skillet, heat chicken and peanuts for 4-6 minutes, or until chicken is browned.
3. Add chicken and peanuts to cooled couscous, top with mandarin orange segments.

Robyn's notes: the couscous does not need to be cold, just cooled. This is meant to be a quick dish for a warm day, and if the couscous is hot it makes the orange segments seem kind of gummy. I served this on a bed of baby spinach.**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Sunday, May 22, 2011


  • 4 C fresh spinach, stemmed and lightly packed
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 C coarsely grated zucchini
  • 1/2 C thinly sliced green peppers
  • 1/2 C thinly sliced onions
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1. Wash the spinach in cold water to remove any sand and grit. Shake off the excess water but don't dry the spinach.
2. Place the spinach in a heavy 10" nonstick skillet with just the water left clinging to the leaves. Cook over medium heat until just wilted. Coarsely chop the spinach and set it aside.
3. Dry the skillet with a paper towel and place over medium heat for a minute or two. Add the oil, then stir in the zucchini, green peppers, and onions. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the liquid released from the zucchini has evaporated and the vegetables have cooked down to about half their original volume. Stir in the spinach and remove the skillet from the heat.
4. In a small mixing bowl, beat the eggs, salt and pepper until foamy. Return the skillet to the heat and pour the eggs evenly over the vegetables. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the eggs are set.
5. Run a knife around the edge of the frittata to loosen it; then carefully invert it onto a plate. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Cut into wedges and serve.

Robyn's notes: this is not something I can eat, but my sweetheart loves when I make frittatas. I like them as a way to use up leftover vegetables before they go bad. My general rule of thumb is about 1/2 cup cooked vegetables for every egg, and I briefly blanch raw veggies (except tomatoes and onions). One that I made that went over particularly well was mostly asparagus pieces, with extra Parmesan. Even though I can't eat them due to my dietary restrictions, I really like frittata nights because they're quick to make and I can make myself a fast omelet at the same time.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Bars

Check yield, this is a full-size dessert, not scaled down for two
  • 1 pkg Pillsbury Fudge Cake Mix
  • 21-oz can cherry fruit filling (pie filling)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 C sugar
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 C milk
  • 6-oz pkg (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Using solid shortening or margarine (not oil), grease and flour 13x9inch pan.
2. In large bowl, combine first four ingredients. By hand, stir until well mixed. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
3. While bars cool, prepare frosting. In small saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and milk. Boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate pieces until smooth. Pour over partially cooled bars.

Yield: About 3 dozen bars.

Robyn's notes: this has been a family favourite for decades, because it's so easy but comes out so good every time. It's moist and the cherry isn't overpowering. This was a Pillsbury Bake-off recipe winner in 1974, and Pillsbury does sometimes change the name of their boxed mixes. I don't know if they currently use the words "fudge cake mix", but any basic chocolate cake mix works. Just be sure it's a cake mix, not brownies, and that there isn't anything additional (such as chunks of chocolate). When making this last night, we had a Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Cake Mix in the house, and that's what we used.

***** 5 Stars: Excellent. A favourite for both of us, I will make this repeatedly

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stir-Fried Chicken with Toasted Sesame Seeds

  • 2 Tbsp hot water
  • 3 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 C soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 Tbsp canola or peanut oil
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • pepper to taste
1. Place sesame seeds in a small skillet over medium-high heat and cook briefly until nicely brown and fragrant. Place seeds in a small bowl.
2. Whisk the water, dry mustard, soy sauce, 2 Tbsp sesame seeds and garlic in a small bowl.
3. Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add chicken cubes and stir-fry 5-8 minutes until lightly brown and opaque. Sprinkle with pepper, lemon juice and remaining sesame seeds. Cook for 2-3 more minutes until heated through. Serve with mustard sauce as a dipping sauce.

Robyn's notes: this was seriously painful to eat. It has potential, but would need some changes. For me it was especially difficult because I'm not allowed to eat sesame seeds, but I felt that the toasted flavor they'd impart was probably necessary to make the recipe "go", so I didn't leave them out, which meant lots of scraping my food before I could eat it. For me, if I were to make it again, I'd strain part of the sauce and set it aside for my own use. In addition, I'd definitely reduce the amount of mustard and probably be more sparing with the lemon juice. Every time I put a piece of chicken in my mouth, my tongue seized up. I served this with white rice and glazed carrots.

** 2 Stars: Acceptable. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, if I make changes

I did not take the below picture, forgive the poor angle

Friday, May 6, 2011

Skillet Spaghetti with Hot Dogs

  • 1 1/4 C elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 lb hot dogs, sliced into coins
  • 2 Tbsp chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2oz (1/2 C) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1/2 C condensed tomato soup (half of a 10.75oz can)
1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain.
2. In large skillet, fry hot dogs with onion and butter over medium heat. Add cheese, water, and soup. Cook until cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Stir in cooked pasta and cook until heated through.

Robyn's notes: this is purely comfort food, I do not claim this as a healthy recipe. Ever since 1981, my family has used this as a go-to meal when everybody is tired or stressed and needs something quick and filling.  See "Using Up Ingredients" at the top of the page for suggestions for using the other half of the can of soup. Originally this recipe called for "sp-o-ghetti rings™" which I've never seen in stores (like the pasta in spaghetti-o's), we really just use whatever small pasta we have on hand. 

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lazy Meaty Lasagna

This is based on the recipe for Lazy Lasagna, which was vegetarian. I was cooking this for people who prefer to have meat with every meal, so I added the ground turkey. Follow the above link for the meatless version.
  • 1 1/2 C wide noodles
  • 1/2 lb lean ground turkey
  • 1 C spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 C cottage cheese
  • 3/4 C shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, crumble turkey into a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in the spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese and mozzarella. Fold in the noodles. Pour into two greased 2-cup casserole dishes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
2. Bake, uncovered, at 375°F for 20 minutes or until bubbly.

Robyn's notes: very simple recipe. I had shredded Parmesan in the house, so used that instead of the grated and I think it was better. As far as "greasing" the casserole dishes, I sprayed them with Pam cooking spray. I've made the meatless version in the past using lasagna noodles that I broke in half before cooking. Made this again, for my sister, June 14, 2011, using ground beef instead of turkey. Came out very well.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Processed Dinners For Two

Sometimes, I'm just too ill or too exhausted to cook a full meal. But we do need to eat, and I don't like leftovers or tv dinners, so when I can't cook for whatever reason, I try to stick with items marketed specifically for two servings. Some are pretty good, some are pretty awful, some are fine but a waste of money.

Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini 8oz package

I've walked past this on the shelf a few times and it never grabbed me, so I never grabbed it. But last time I went shopping it was on sale, so I decided to give it a try. The sale price was 2 for $6 (I bought only one) and regular price $3.49.

Pros: definitely enough pasta for two people, possibly even a bit more than we'd normally have. Very few of the tortellinis opened in cooking/draining, so very little filling spilled out. Easy prep. Tasted good. Shelf stable.

Cons: Apparent typo on package instructions. Package advertising not strictly accurate.

Details: the packaging attracted me because it's labelled as "Dinner for 2 in 10 Minutes". It is not, however, a 10 minute prep time. There was very little information on the packaging, and the instructions were nearly on the bottom (it's bag-shaped, so a curved base, which means it was somewhat back, somewhat bottom), but it says "Bring 3-4 quarts of water to a rolling boil". This annoyed me, frankly, because while I do own a pan large enough to boil 3-4 quarts of water, it's my stockpot, which is not often used, and it takes forever to bring that much water to a boil. Since the pasta had to cook for an additional 10-11 minutes after the water came to a boil, obviously it's not "dinner in 10 minutes". The product description on my grocery store's website says "Total Time 20 minutes" but that is not anywhere on the packaging. The same website includes the instructions for the product, which state "bring 2-3 quarts of water to a rolling boil". This sounds much more accurate for the amount of pasta being cooked, so I can only assume that there's an error at the package printing site, and that the instructions for the 12oz size were printed on what is definitely an 8oz bag.

I plated the pasta with two separate toppings, as I didn't have any pasta sauce in the house. I sprinkled a shredded cheese combination over the top on one plate, and it was acceptable. On the other, I tossed the pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese. Better than the other plate but still not exciting, though it's what the packaging suggested.

In the past I've several times served Buitoni refrigerated Three Cheese Tortellini in the 9oz package and liked it. Comparing the two it's basically a draw. The Buitoni fridge pasta tastes a bit better to me, but has to be eaten or frozen within a certain number of days, it's more pasta than we need for two people, and it's $1 more expensive at my grocery store. The Barilla wasn't quite as good, seemed a bit lower quality, but can sit on the shelf for months just like canned foods, and is the less expensive option. Both should be served with a pasta sauce for best results, whether fresh or in a jar, which drops both products down a notch for me because it doubles the price of the meal and means leftover sauce that has to be used or tossed (as pasta sauce is not generally available in sizes serving 2).

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oven Ranch Chicken

  • 1/3 C bread crumbs
  • 1 (0.4 oz) package buttermilk ranch salad dressing mix
  • 1/3 C light sour cream
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In shallow dish or pie pan, combine bread crumbs and salad dressing mix; mix well. Place sour cream in another shallow dish or pie pan.
3. Dip chicken in sour cream, coating well. Roll coated chicken in bread crumb mixture. Place chicken on sprayed cookie sheet. If desired, spray chicken with nonstick cooking spray. Discard any remaining bread crumb mixture and sour cream.
4. Bake at 375°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear.

Robyn's notes: I used Progresso bread crumbs. This recipe keeps the chicken nicely juicy, and it's very quick to make. Not visually exciting, but quite good.

**** 4 Stars: Very Good. Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mediterranean Vegetable Medley

Mediterranean Chicken, Couscous, Veg

  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1/2 eggplant
  • 1/2 zucchini
  • 1/2 yellow pepper
  • 1 C mushrooms
  • black pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
1. Chop & salt eggplant, let stand 15 minutes.
2. Chop remaining vegetables.
3. Fry onion and garlic until soft.
4. Add yellow pepper and zucchini, fry for 5 minutes.
5. Rinse eggplant and squeeze to remove water and juice, add to frying pan with mushrooms and black pepper, fry for 10 minutes.
6. Add tomatoes to the pan with lemon juice and soy sauce, fry until tomatoes are soft.

Robyn's notes: this was meant to be placed on Foccacia or Ciabatta bread and topped with cheese, but I didn't have any bread in the house, so I simply served it as a side as shown below. Because this called for 1/2 each of several vegetables, I prepped two meals at once so as not to waste the other half.