Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dark Chocolate Lemon Truffles (made with chocolate chips)

Typically I do not make truffles with chocolate chips. I actually do not think I have ever made any truffles with chocolate chips, unless you count the chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, where the filling has mini chocolate chips. Well, I don't have the time to be a chocolate snob anymore (or the money), so I'm glad these turned out so amazingly delicious.  I had been wanting to make these truffles for awhile. I chose to make them last night as a distraction because my due date came and went, but still no baby. Usually I make these lemon truffles with Scharrfen Berger bittersweet chocolate. I thought I had some in my baking cabinet, so when I set out to make them, I realized I actually had an unsweetened chocolate baking bar with 99% chocolate - not ideal for truffles (but it did work well as a topping). I had half a bag of semisweet Ghiradelli chocolate chips in the cabinet, and I thought, hey, I'll give these a try. They worked perfectly! It was so nice to eliminate the step of finely chopping the chocolate for the truffles because I usually use the big baking bars. These truffles have the perfect balance of rich chocolate and zesty lemon. I rolled and coated them this morning and started the day with 18 of them - now there is only 1 left in the fridge (shared between 5 people - I did not eat them ALL)!  I have a feeling I'll be pregnant until mid-April. But I'm on my maternity leave, so I'll just stay home to make and eat truffles all day long. Yum! I hope you love these truffles as much as I do. They are delicious and easy to make. An added bonus of eating a dark chocolate lemon truffle over other treats is that one truffle only has about 55 calories. So if you eat three for breakfast, you still are having an under 200 calorie  breakfast (not that I know anyone who would ever do something like that...)! Enjoy!

Recipe for Dark Chocolate Lemon Truffles (made with chocolate chips)

8 Tbsp. of heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 tsp. of lemon zest
5 ounces of Ghiradelli semisweet premium baking chips
2 tsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cocoa powder
1/2 ounce of bittersweet or unsweetened baking chocolate, grated with a box grater (optional)
Cacao nibs (optional)
Extra chocolate chips, for topping

Put the heavy cream and the lemon zest into a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Once it simmers, remove from heat and pour in the chocolate chips. Cover the saucepan for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, gently stir the mixture until it is completely smooth. Gently stir in the lemon juice. Cover the saucepan (make sure to wipe the lid of any moisture before covering) and set in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

Put the cocoa powder into a shallow bowl. Lightly dust your hands with the powder. Scoop up some of the mixture and then use your hands to roll into 3/4-inch balls. Dust with more cocoa if desired. Continue until the mixture is gone. Then roll each ball into the grated chocolate, cacao nibs, or a combination of both. You might need to use your fingers to gently press down the grated chocolate/cacao nibs onto the truffles. Top each truffle with a chocolate chip. Put truffles into the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Recipe makes approximately 16 - 20 truffles. About 55 calories per truffle. 

Recipe inspired by various cookbooks in my home and sources on the web. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Quick and Easy Meals Roundup

Creamy Lemon and Thyme Pasta is a really quick and easy meal! You can serve it with or without greens - I used kale. 
I have a confession to make. This post is really more for me than it is for you. I know, I'm selfish. I have been feeling more and more tired these days and therefore much less motivated to cook, as I anxiously await the arrival of baby Wendy. She is due to be here by this Friday, but it seems like she is pretty comfortable where she is and she just might be waiting for the warmer weather before she decides to come! As of now, there are no signs of her showing up on Friday, unless you count being extremely huge, tired, and uncomfortable as signs!  I thought that having a compilation of quick and easy meals would help to encourage me to cook because I know that they require little preparation and cook time, and they seem to be healthier than pre-made meals from the grocery store. Pasta meals pretty much dominate the quick and easy meal list - I have definitely been craving carbs all throughout my pregnancy.

If you are super tired these days or you find yourself pressed for time in the evenings, this post is for you, too! Enjoy.

Quick and Easy Meals Roundup 

Eggplant Parmesan (Romano) Burgers
Tortellini Soup with Sun Dried Tomato, Artichokes, and Chickpeas
Creamy Lemon and Thyme Pasta 
Super Easy Pad Thai (no meat)
Penne Pasta with Arugula Pesto, Chicken Sausages and Goat Cheese
Crustless Quiche with Quinoa, Kale and Peppers
Savory Kale and White Bean Soup
Spicy Bean Burritos 
Quinoa, Corn and Black Bean Wraps
White Chicken Chili Soup 
Pasta with Red Grapes and Sausage 
Easy Chicken Risotto with Caramelized Onions

So, there you have it. The easiest meal on this list would definitely be the tortellini soup. It seriously takes less than 15 minutes from start to finish. The creamy lemon and thyme pasta only requires one pot, so that's nice for clean up! I hope you find these meals to be as convenient and as delicious as I do.

Just for fun I'd like to share a couple pictures of Wendy's nursery . My parents and husband have been doing major home renovations in the last several months and they are turning out to be amazing. I was pretty scared about a month ago that things would never get finished before Wendy was born. I am super impressed with the way things have turned out and wanted to share!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (using marshmallow creme)

Greg and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house a few weeks back, but everyone had to keep rescheduling because of adults or kids not feeling well! I had been asked to bring a dessert. The first time we planned to go over there I made the salted caramel brownies the day before, but then we had to reschedule. I couldn't eat all the brownies myself so I still dropped some off for the family. When I asked my friend how she liked the brownies she said she is allergic to chocolate (poor girl), but that her kids and husband thoroughly enjoyed them. So, after finding that out, I decided to go with a non-chocolate dessert when we went over there Saturday night. I also chose to do an easier dessert since I'm more and more tired these days. I thought that the kids and adults would all love funfetti cupcakes with a vanilla buttercream frosting (I was right). The cupcakes were simple, since they came from a box, and then I made the easy and delicious frosting!  I have made chocolate buttercream frosting with marshmallow creme before and this was my first time making vanilla buttercream frosting with it. I think the frosting is amazing! It has such a smooth consistency and I wish I would have had some frosting leftover because I would have totally eaten it for breakfast the next morning! I sprinkled the frosting with mini shamrock sprinkles and gold sanding sugar in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day. Enjoy!

*I call this easy buttercream frosting because traditional buttercream calls for using egg whites and heat and lots of time. The marshmallow creme is the trick in making this recipe so easy!

Recipe for Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (using marshmallow creme)
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 7 ounce jar of marshmallow creme
3/4 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of powdered (confectioners) sugar

Put the butter into a medium bowl. Use an electric hand mixer set on medium speed to beat butter until it is smooth and creamy. Add in the marshmallow cream and beat again on medium speed until well incorporated (about 2 minutes). Stir in the vanilla extract. Add in the powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, and beat after each addition until well incorporated. Continue adding in the powdered sugar and beating until it is at your desired consistency, and add more as needed. Use to frost cupcakes - or eat with a spoon!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cheesy Spinach Soup with Potato (a fun soup for St. Patrick's Day)!

I was actually surprised at how tasty this soup was. I mean, I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, because it came from a food blog that I love. But how could something so healthy and green be so yummy? Well, it's probably the cheese!

I think this soup is a fun and festive meal or side for St. Patrick's Day. You can call it Luck of the Irish Soup! It also is a good idea for Halloween, when it can be Witches Brew Soup or Spooky Green Soup. But, you don't have to eat this soup only two times out of the year, you can eat it any time. It's super healthy, easy to make, and delicious. Serve the cheesy spinach soup with some grilled cheese sandwiches, if you want to make it a heartier meal. I used the leftover swiss cheese for the grilled cheese sandwiches and they tasted great. I also included a recipe below for grilled cheese because I seriously had to look up on the Internet how to make grilled cheese sandwiches. So, if you are like me, you might benefit from having the recipe!

Enjoy & have a happy (and safe) St. Patrick's Day. Here in Annapolis we are getting ready for a shamrock snowstorm, even though it's 60 degrees today. I am hoping that Spring will come soon and stick around for good!

Recipe for Cheesy Spinach Soup with Potato (a fun soup for St. Patrick's Day)!

3 Tbsp. of unsalted butter
1 medium to large yellow onion, chopped coarsely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely
A dash or two of salt
Several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
A pinch or two of ground nutmeg
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into about 1 inch cubes
4 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth, if you want to make it vegetarian)
9 ounces of baby spinach leaves (I used the the pre-rinsed/packaged kind)
1/4 cup of fresh parsley leaves
4 ounces of Swiss cheese, grated
1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
Sour cream or greek yogurt, for topping (optional)

Put the butter into a large pot and melt over medium heat. Add in the onions and cook until they are tender, about 4 - 5 minutes. Add in the chopped garlic, potato, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the chicken broth and bring the broth to a boil. Then adjust heat to medium low so the soup simmers, and cover the pot. Cook for 10 - 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork.

Pour in the baby spinach leaves and parsley. Stir so the spinach leaves are covered by the broth. Cover the pot and cook until the spinach leaves are wilted, about 2 minutes. Then turn off the heat and remove pot from heat. Carefully puree the soup with an immersion blender until the soup is smooth and creamy. Return the soup to the stovetop and put the heat on low. Stir in the Swiss cheese and stir until the cheese is fully melted. Stir in the heavy cream. Taste soup, add extra salt, pepper, and/or nutmeg if desired. Serve soup and garnish each bowl with sour cream or greek yogurt and parsley leaves, if using.

Recipe Makes 4 - 6 servings.
Recipe Adapted from: Annie's Eats

I know this might seem silly, but I actually had to Google how to make grilled cheese sandwiches! I mean, I knew the basic concept, but I still needed that extra support. So here is a recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches that you can eat with the soup, and you can use the leftover Swiss cheese for the sandwiches.

Recipe for Grilled Swiss Cheese Sandwiches (makes one sandwich)

2 pieces of white sandwich bread
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, slightly softened so it spreads well
Slices of Swiss cheese
A very small pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)

Put a large saute pan on the stovetop and turn heat on medium high. While pan is heating, butter both sides of the two pieces of bread (making sure to leave 1/2 Tbsp. leftover for the pan). Once pan is hot, add the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. of butter to the pan. Once butter it is melted and slightly sizzling, put one piece of bread in the pan and top with slices of cheese. Sprinkle on the nutmeg if using.  Put the other piece of bread on top. Cook for a couple minutes and then flip (the bottom side should be light brown and toasty). Cook for about another minute and then transfer to a plate. Eat it while it's hot!
*If you make additional sandwiches, make sure to put additional butter in the pan before you make each one. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

M&M Cookies - Rainbow Colors and Shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day!

Mmm, the texture of these cookies is so good! I made M&M Cookies on Sunday while my parents and Greg slaved away on the house. I added in some mini chocolate chips too to make them extra chocolatey. They were quite the hit, and Greg didn't even complain that they were too sweet, like he did with the salted caramel brownies. Last night we had a couple friends for dinner. I made easy chicken risotto with caramelized onions, parmesan bread, and served these cookies for dessert. Needless to say,  once there were 30 cookies, and now there are none. It was my first time making M&M cookies and it definitely won't be the last.

I think these M&M cookies are a great idea for St. Patrick's Day. The M&Ms make a fun rainbow color and you can sprinkle on some green sprinkles or shamrock sprinkles on top if you are feeling extra festive. Enjoy!

Recipe for M&M Cookies (Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies) 

2 sticks (8 Tbsp.) of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
M&M Cookies with Festive Shamrocks - a fun treat for St. Patrick's Day
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
1/2 tsp. of salt
2 tsp. of cornstarch
3/4 cup of M&M's (for the batter)
1/2 cup of mini semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. of heavy cream
Festive sprinkles (optional)
1/4 cup of M&M's (for topping when cookies are hot)

Put the butter into a large mixing bowl and beat on medium speed with an electric hand mixer until smooth, about 30 seconds. Then add in the light brown sugar and mix on medium high speed until the sugar is well incorporated. Pour in the granulated sugar and mix on medium high speed for 1 - 2 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the egg and pure vanilla extract and mix well.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch. Then pour the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Fold in the M&M's and chocolate chips.  Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 1 hour. Take out of fridge and stir in the heavy cream which will help the dough to gather up better - use even more than the 2 Tbsp. if needed (you can also use milk).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the dough up with a 1 1/2 Tbsp. cookie dough scoop and place on the baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each scoop. If using the sprinkles, sprinkle them on or gently press down some sprinkles onto the balls of dough. Put baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and gently press down a few more M&M's onto each cookie while they are still hot. Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for about one week (but they probably won't last that long).

Recipe Adapted from: Crunchy Creamy Sweet

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Salted Caramel Brownies

Back in January I did a baking day with a few of my friends. While gathering ideas for recipes, salted caramel brownies were one of the things that I considered for our baking day. In the end, the best ever chocolate chocolate chip cookies won, because the recipe made more for sharing. I never did forget about those salted caramel brownies though. One of the friends who joined me on the baking day asked me for dinner this past Sunday and I said I would bring a dessert. I remembered that the brownies also caught her interest, so that's what I decided to bring. I made these on Saturday morning. Sadly, Saturday evening and Sunday morning I wasn't feeling too well and neither was my friend's husband, so we had to reschedule our plans. But I still had all those brownies! I dropped some off to her place and shared with Greg and my parents. My parents thought they were the best brownie they had ever had. Greg, on the other hand, said that the brownies were too sweet. Hmm, last time I checked, brownies are supposed to be SWEET! Does anyone disagree with me and agree with Greg? Yeah, I didn't think so. It's okay if Greg doesn't want to eat the brownies though..because that just means there are more for me and Wendy. I already know that Wendy takes after me - she loves sugar too! I hope you enjoy these sweet fudgy gooey and delicious brownies as much as I do.

*Because these brownies are so fudgy, you can actually cut them into mini bites and they can be served as candies or fudge. But I won't judge you if you eat a big brownie or two or three large brownies either.

Recipe for Salted Caramel Brownies 

For the salted caramel sauce
1/4 cup water
1 cup of granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. of light corn syrup
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. of sea salt
1/4 cup of sour cream
For the brownies
1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tsp. of coarse sea salt
2 Tbsp. of Dutch processed cocoa powder
A couple pinches of instant coffee powder
11 ounces of bittersweet baking chocolate (I used Ghiradelli), coarsely chopped
16 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of light brown sugar, packed firmly
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
For topping
Sea salt and coarse sugar

For the caramel sauce
Put the water, sugar, and corn syrup into a saucepan and set it over medium high heat. Stir almost constantly and cook until it becomes a deep amber color or reaches 330 degrees on a candy thermometer. This will take about 15 - 20 minutes. Be careful not to let the mixture burn!

Then remove the saucepan from the heat. Put the cream in a microwave safe liquid measuring cup and heat for 45 seconds. Then slowly pour some cream down the side of the saucepan and whisk constantly, then continue to add more until all of the cream is incorporated (the mixture will steam and bubble up during this process). Then add in the sea salt and sour cream and mix well. Set the caramel sauce aside to cool.

For the brownies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper. Put the flour, sea salt, cocoa powder, and coffee powder into a smallish bowl and sift together. Put the chopped chocolate and cut butter into a large saucepan and set over low heat. Gently stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Add in the granulated sugar and light brown sugar to the chocolate mixture and use an electric hand mixer set on medium speed to fully incorporate. Then add in the eggs and mix well. Stir in the vanilla extract. Then pour in the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Carefully spread half of the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Smooth down with a spatula. Then pour the caramel sauce over the top of the batter into an even layer. Top the caramel sauce off with the rest of the brownie batter, making sure to carefully smooth over the caramel and fully covering it. Put into the oven and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, making sure to rotate the pan halfway through the baking process. Remove brownies from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, sprinkle the sea salt and coarse sugar over the brownies (about 1/2 - 1 tsp.). Cover the brownies and put them into the fridge before cutting. This helps to make them extra fudgy!

Recipe makes about 2 dozen regular-sized brownies and makes about 60 small bites.

Recipe Source: Pink Parsley, originally from Baked Explorations 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Eggplant Parmesan (Romano) Burgers

Hmm, can I call this Eggplant Parmesan if it doesn't actually have Parmesan in it? I don't know, but that's what I'm doing here. I think Pecorino Romano cheese is close enough in taste to Parmesan, and it's way less expensive! A container of shredded Parmesan at Wegman's is close to $8, and the Romano is only $4. Why is Parmesan SO expensive?

Anyways, I called Greg from work the other day to ask him if it was okay if I made a yummy pasta dish again, and he said he wasn't sure...because his stomach felt like it had turned into pasta (or mush). Ok...! Maybe we had been eating a lot of pasta, with the tortellini soup and the ziti with sausage, but I am liking my carbs these days. I searched my Pinterest board from top to bottom for inspiration. Nothing stood out to me...except for the eggplant dishes. There was a basic baked eggplant parmesan that looked good, but then I came across these burgers - and they looked easier to make and also required less ingredients. I'm glad I went with them! They are super tasty and fairly easy to make. They also taste great without the bun too, just serve with the marinara sauce on the side. I was hoping to roast some potatoes to go along with them but I forgot to get the potatoes when I was at the store! I think they would make a nice side. Just to warn you, Greg pointed out that these will kill your breath...thanks to the garlic (but it is worth it - plus garlic fights off illness and vampires)! Enjoy.

Recipe for Eggplant Parmesan (Romano) Burgers

2 pounds of eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 1/4 cups of Panko breadcrumbs
2/3 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 Tbsp. of fresh basil, chopped finely
3 - 4 cloves of garlic, pressed
Several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 eggs, beaten
Marinara sauce
Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Basil leaves, for garnishing
Your favorite burger buns

Add about 1/2 Tablespoon of salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Add in the cubed eggplant pieces to the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, making sure to stir frequently and making sure that all of the eggplant gets submerged into the water (it has a tendency to stay on the surface). Drain the eggplant in a colander and allow it to cool.

Arrange oven so that a rack is in the second to top position. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

While eggplant is cooling, put the Panko breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, black pepper, and olive oil into a large bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Once eggplant is cool, put it between a clean dishcloth and press down and try to get out as much excess moisture as you can. Then transfer the eggplant to a cutting board and chop finely or use your hands to tear and place into the bowl with the bread crumbs. Add in the beaten eggs and gently stir the mixture together. Use your hands to form about 6 - 8 patties, adding in more breadcrumbs if necessary (if mixture seems to moist). Place each patty on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Drizzle about 1 tsp. of olive oil over top each patty and sprinkle with some freshly ground black pepper. Place the patties in the oven and cook for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and cook for another 7 - 8 minutes. While they are cooking, lightly toast the buns. About 1 minute  before the patties are finished cooking, add a piece of mozzarella cheese on top of each patty and cook for one more minute or until cheese is bubbly and melted. Remove eggplant patties from oven. Assemble burgers. Spread desired amount of marinara sauce on each side of the bun, put a patty on the bottom half, and top with a basil leave (or serve the patty without the bun and put the marinara sauce on the side for dipping). Serve with a side of roasted potatoes or potato chips, if desired.

Recipe Adapted from: Annie's Eats, originally from Eats Well With Others