Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Molasses Cookies

At Christmas time I usually do a ton of baking for friends and neighbors. I also usually give most of it away so it isn't sitting here begging me to eat it and not  let it go to waste. Since we traveled this year and didn't get back until late Wednesday night and I had to work Thursday and Friday there was no time for the annual baking!

I had planned to make creme brulee for Christmas dinner for two reasons. The first reason; it is my favorite dessert thanks to my very favorite restaurant in Spokane, Clinkerdaggers, where creme brulee and I first met! The second reason is that you eat this dessert and it is all gone! There is no more of it left to keep nibbling on and tempting me to come back for more.

Then I made a mistake.

I thought to myself that I should whip up some cookies quick to share with the neighbors so they don't think I am mad at them this year or something. Guess what? The neighbors got nothing! I guess I will have to explain to them sometime what happened to their Christmas goodies this year.

Thankfully when I made the molasses cookies I did clean them up slightly. They are still a definite indulgence because they do have quite a bit of sugar in them but I did make them a bit healthier so they come with slightly less guilt. The problem is that I made too many and they don't even have to beg me to eat them. Miles even said as he grabbed 3 or 4 last night, "We have to get these out of here!" I guess that is what he was working on! Even Evan completely LOVES them. He said after his first one, "Mom, your molasses cookies are soooooo good!" I promptly rushed out and bought him another Christmas present. Just kidding.

You begin with all the usual suspects; flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. I made the first switch with the flour. The recipe called for two cups of all purpose flour. Since these were supposed to be for the neighbors I switched only one cup for whole wheat pastry flour. If I make them again I will try it with all whole wheat pastry flour and see how they come out. Mix all these ingredients together.

Yes, I actually have brown sugar in my house. I do make cakes on the side so I have to keep it around. You do need to have dark brown sugar instead of light. This molasses is an unsulphured molasses. That means that no sulfur dioxide was used in the processing of the sugar cane. The best and healthiest molasses to use is blackstrap molasses because of its high mineral content. It contains significant amounts of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and selenium. However, I purchased this with someone elses money to make something for an event and I needed to use it up so it didn't go to waste.

I knew the brown sugar would be essential to the molasses cookies of course but it was also going to kill me to use a whole cup of brown sugar. So this was  my second switch. I used 1/2 a cup of brown sugar and half a cup of sucanat. Sucanat is dehydrated, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. It is still sugar but with less sucrose than table sugar and is less processed and all natural making it a bit healthier. It is actually a perfect switch for these cookies since it contains molasses. I might try using a whole cup of Sucanat next time I make the cookies.

You will want to thoroughly cream 1/2 cup of butter and the sugars together and then add the molasses, eggs, vanilla, and applesauce. Applesauce was my third and final change. The recipe called for two tablespoons of oil. I know that isn't a huge amount, especially when you spread that out over 45 cookies but I didn't substitute the butter so every little bit helps to make a more nutritional cookie with less calories. Add your dry ingredients slowly at this point until mixed in well.


Just thought I would let you know in case you thought you could make these a couple hours before your New Years party.

Once your dough is firm then take it out and roll into one inch balls. Roll the balls in sugar and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or aluminum foil. Press them down with the bottom of a cup and bake in a 350 degree oven for 9 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE! Molasses cookies should be soft and the tops cracking when they come out of the oven. Like this.....

I had actually doubled this recipe because my intentions were to give these cookies away but they began to disappear rather quickly. I think I had close to 100 cookies and there are about 7 left, which ironically is about all I have eaten.

Remember to keep in mind that these cookies are an indulgence because of their sugar content even though they have been slightly cleaned up so don't go crazy eating them. I know it will be hard but try! Also, if you can, please go for the blackstrap molasses because it actually contains heath benefits.
I will next time for sure.

Here is the recipe. Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Molasses Cookies
2 cups flour (preferably whole wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature (or use butter substitute)
1 cup sucanat or dark brown sugar (or mix ½ of each)
2 tbsp. applesauce (can use oil if you must)
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses (or unsulphured molasses)
1 large egg
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
White sugar for garnish
Directions:  In a large bowl sift or whisk together all dry ingredients.
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the sucanat and/or dark brown sugar and the butter until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the applesauce, molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture slowly. Cover and chill the batter until firm (about 2 hours or overnight).
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.
Place some white sugar in a bowl. When the dough has chilled sufficiently, roll into 1 inch balls. Roll the balls of dough into the sugar, coating them thoroughly. Place on the baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart and, with the bottom of a glass, flatten the cookies slightly.  Bake for 9-10  minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crinkles yet are barely dry. (They will look a little underdone.) Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

8 Layer Mediterranean Dip

You will have to forgive me for the lack of posts. Traveling so close to Christmas and then trying to be ready for the day with all the meals planned, grocery shopping done, presents wrapped, house cleaned (my own and my cleaning jobs), table set, cookies baked, etc.... there is no time left for blogging. I did take pictures however of some of the things I did make so I can now share them with you.

Since I had made such a big meal for Christmas Dinner I planned to make some snack type foods to eat that evening and into the next day so I wouldn't have to cook again. Besides there are too many leftovers! I stumbled across this recipe on the Whole Foods recipe page for this dip and thought it was totally up my alley! So I made it on Saturday evening and we ate it Sunday evening. I thought I would share it today because it would make a great appetizer to try for New Year's Eve if you have something planned.

Miles' exact words when he came up the stairs after having eaten some, "That dip, me likey! You can do that again!" (I know he needs a little help in the grammar department but I will take the compliment.)
I started by spreading a layer of hummus in the bottom of a 9 x 7 inch dish. I used Sabra this time instead of homemade to save a little time. Then I topped that layer with some chopped spinach and then some roasted red pepper.

I know I made each of my layers a little more generous then the recipe called for because I was expecting to really like this and my dish was a different size then what they recommended. You can see the beautiful colorful layers stacking up here!

If you have an angled spatula like this one it works very well to spread things out and to pack the layers down. You should also note that you really need to drain the wet ingredients well so that the dip doesn't get too watery. (red pepper, artichokes, olives)

Next was the artichokes. I should have taken a picture of the can for you. I drained them and roughly chopped them. I should have also patted them with a paper towel just to absorb a little more moisture. Next time!

My favorite......Greek yogurt. I think a thicker brand like Athenos works best for something like this.

Top the yogurt with some roughly chopped Greek olives. I know Greek olives are an acquired taste so if you don't care for them use regular black olives but they do add some great color so don't skip them all together!

I guess I skipped the picture of the green onion. Finish it off with the green onion and a layer of feta cheese. I did refrigerate it overnight but if you give it about an hour it would set up nicely I think.

Doesn't that look delicious????

I served it with two kinds of multi-grain pita chips. I like the Kangaroo brand best not only for their garden herb flavor but also because they do not come all broken up like a lot of pita chips do. They are nice firm squares. Regular pita would have been great to eat with this as well.

We loved this dip so much that we ate it for dinner last night as well and had some more with our lunch today. It is about gone but I am not even the least bit sick of it! I might be making some more for this weekend myself!

You can click here Whole Foods Recipe for the original recipe I found. I didn't change any ingredients but just made bigger portions for each layer. Don't worry. You can't really mess this up!

Stay tuned.........I also made some slightly cleaned up molasses cookies that turned out quite incredible if I do say so myself. They would also be a welcome addition to any New Year's Eve party you might be attending.

Dinner is in the crock pot and Cars 2 is on the agenda for tonight's Christmas Break Movie Marathon! Enjoy your evening!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Disneyland and Tonight's Dinner-Chipotle Cheesy Chicken

Well hello everyone! We arrived home from our California vacation last night around 9:30 and we were wiped out! We were all off to school and work today and then the back for the dreaded task of unpacking!!!! Packing up to leave is hard enough but unpacking doesn't have any excitement attached to it!

I am sorry to say that I forgot to take pictures of most of the food I ate while on vacation. I guess I was too busy taking 400 other pictures while at Disneyland that it didn't occur to me. It is quite unfortunate also because Disney actually does a great job with healthy food options! Thursday evening I had their Mediterranean picnic which included a marinated grilled veggie wrap with hummus, a couscous side dish, a raw zucchini and squash spaghettini with lemon infused olive oil, and a lemon layer cake. It was delicious. Friday at lunch we were at Ariel's Grotto for a princess lunch and the choices were excellent there too. They brought us out a three tiered tower of appetizers. There was jello, cheese, olives, peppers, a wonderful salad, and bread in the shape of a flower with three different things to dip it in. I chose a spinach ravioli in a mushroom broth for my entree. I usually don't love mushroom anything but the spinach ravioli sounded so good I went with it and I was not disappointed! I did however get a picture of the dessert plate they brought for us to share because my mother-in-law reminded me at that point to take a picture. So here you go.

Berries and a white chocolate sea shell, macaroon cookies, chocolate lava cake, chocolate chip bars, and some brownie bites. They were all wonderful. My sweet little baby decided she wanted to save some of those raspberries for her brother because he loves them so much. We got a box to go to take him the raspberries and little bit of leftover we had to the rest of the boys!
It was so much fun to get to watch Faith enjoy this experience. Expensive, but worth it! She was so delighted when each princess came to our table and talked to her and signed her autograph book.

I mean who doesn't want to put a smile like that on their little girls face!
On the plane last night Faith told her Nana, "I can see Disneyland from Willmar. It is in my memories!" I hope she will have memories forever of this vacation!

We did some super fun boy stuff also! Jedi Training Academy! Evan and his cousins got picked to be a part of the training and we were so excited! Surprisingly Faith wanted nothing to do with this. She usually likes to be a part of the show but she was a bit afraid this time.

Wouldn't you be if Darth Vader appeared from his ship rising up from the stage?

Not Evan! This is him fighting Darth Maul. I had my long lens on my camera so thankfully my sister-in-law Erin got better pictures of this for me but I don't have them on my computer. This was such an unforgettable moment! Evan is usually not brave enough to do this kind of thing. He barely wanted to participate in the scavenger hunt we had for them the night we told them where we were going because he doesn't like the unexpected. He has a fear of not knowing what is ahead. I was so proud of him for doing this because I know he would have been disappointed in himself later if he hadn't!

We got Mickey all to ourselves after we had visited his house! Nice surprise!

Being at Disney is magical enough but being that at Christmas time was incredible! EVERYTHING is decorated for Christmas! The castle looked so incredible all lit up at night. It has to be one of my favorite things. I am sure we will remember this trip for a lifetime. Thank you Nana and Papa for the opportunity to do this for our kids and for being there with your grandkids making these memories!

Now onto dinner! I really have barely any food in the house on purpose since we were gone for a week so this was a night I had to improvise. We also are on Disney sugar detox and tying to eat strict for a few days so we can enjoy a little indulgence on Christmas.

I gathered up a few ingredients to cook my chicken in......
Lime Juice
Some chopped onion (use red if you have it.)

Secret ingredient -- Southwest Chipotle Mrs. Dash! The chili powder, and minced garlic were for the side dish. I was too lazy to peel more fresh garlic tonight I guess.

I put the chicken in a pan with some olive oil and poured the lime juice and garlic I had mixed together over it. Then I topped it with the Southwest Chipotle Mrs. Dash, some chopped onion, and the cilantro. I cooked them on each side for a couple minutes then put it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes.

When it was done I took them out and topped them with a couple slices of reduced fat pepper jack and put it back in the oven to melt for about 5 minutes. The kids got reduced fat cheddar cheese.

On the side we had some black beans and peppers with more chopped onion. I simple heated these up in a little olive oil and added the minced garlic and chili powder. I also added the juice of one more lime. I cooked them for about 10 mintues then turned the heat off and  just kept them warm on the burner. I didn't want mushy beans.

After tasting the beans I decide they needed a little bit of cumin as well.

When the chicken came out I topped it with the little bit of cilantro I had left and we had the beans and some fruit. Pretty delicious for not really having much food in the house. Aren't we always looking for something different to do with chicken anyway??? I will do this one again for sure.

Chipotle Cheesy Chicken Recipe:
1 lime, juiced
2 cloves garlic minced
1/4 -1/2 cup chopped onion, preferably red
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon Southwest Chipotle Mrs. Dash
olive oil
reduced fat Pepper Jack cheese (2-3 slices per chicken breast)

Mix lime juice and garlic together. Place chicken breasts in a pan with a 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Top chicken with lime and garlic, chopped onion, and cilantro. Cook on each side for about 3 minutes and then place in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place cheese slices on chicken. Heat in the oven for about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediatley.

Recipe for Black Beans with Peppers and Onions:

1 lime, juiced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
half of green pepper sliced
half of yellow or red pepper sliced
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. minced garlic (or use 1 garlic clove)
1 tsp. cumin
olive oil

Place all ingredients in a pan and heat until warm or approximately 10 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve.

I must now go work on that grocery list! Have I said how much I despise grocery shopping before?? It wastes my life away! I have to work again in the morning and then tackle that dreaded job before school is out tomorrow. The only thing making that better right now is this is sitting on my counter.......

I know I had sworn off sugar for the next few days but I didn't know this was arriving today! We look forward to this ALL YEAR LONG! It is a cheese danish, gooey, bread, cream filled, kind of heaven and is made by our friend and worship pastor David Lanning every year. We are fortunate enough to be on the list of receivers. It is so AMAZING! The whole staff begins to wonder when it is coming as soon as the calendar turns to December. We might follow David Lanning for the rest of his life wherever he goes because we love this so much. Now don't you think after that wonderful compliment written right here for all the world to see that I deserve a second one of these so I don't have to share with Miles????

Monday, December 12, 2011

Southwest Tomato Tortilla Soup

Sorry for the lack of blogging everyone! I have to be completely ready for Christmas 11 days early this year so you can imagine my stress level and lack of time. We are heading to California for a Christmas visit with Miles' family and we get to surprise our kids tomorrow with the news that not only do they get to see their cousins, miss 5 days of school, and be where it is sunny and 70 degrees, but they get to go to Disneyland! We have a scavenger hunt planned that will lead them all over town and back to the house for a video that will break the news. We can hardly wait to tell them! We will be sure to post video tomorrow night on facebook of their reaction.

That brings me to this soup recipe. Yes I am sorry for posting yet another soup recipe but we have been eating off of this for the past 3 days so there isn't much more for me to share. I hope it helps that this one is a tomato based soup. It might also help you to know that this has been a coveted secret recipe that I have never been willing to give away before now. I learned how to make this at that mini soup making class several years back and yes I know, I have been stingy. I did share it with my mom and sister way back when.
I particularly love this one because look at all that color! There is red, yellow, green, and Anaheim pepper, along with carrots, garlic, and red onion all chopped up and tossed in the pot with some butter. I actually used real butter this time but a butter substitute of your choice is absolutely fine. Sweat the veggies for about 5 minutes.

They will look more like this when they are ready for you to start adding the rest of the ingredients to the pot. That is steam, not a blurry picture.

You will add one large can of each of these. Then fill up the can 1 1/2 times with either water or chicken broth and add that to the pot as well. Sometimes it is necessary to add a bit more broth or water, especially after it cooks down a little.

 Finely chop some parsley and cilantro and add that to the pot.
You need about 1/2 cup of each of them.

In go the magic spices. We have some chili powder, paprika, and a little cayenne. I also add whole cumin seed which I toast lightly in a pan and grind up. I use my coffee grinder because it grinds it up so finely so if you don't have one of those my suggestion is to use already ground cumin. It will only make a slight difference.

Of course by now you know that I must have a couple tablespoons of this in my soup. Add that last and give the soup a good stir. Then turn the heat down and let the soup simmer away for at least a half an hour.

While the soup is simmering begin cutting up some whole wheat flour tortillas into strips. These make the best topping for your bowl of soup. I actually made them this size first and then remembered that I like them really thin in this soup so I did the next few about half as wide, however I didn't take pictures for some strange reason.

There are a couple of ways to get these little things crispy and awesome. They are the thing that puts this soup over the top so you will want to make some for sure! You can heat a little olive oil in a pan and drop them in like this flipping them over after about about 1 minute or so and cooking on the other side. Then place them on a paper towel lined plate. Or......You can also brush them with some olive oil and put them on a cookie sheet you have greased generously with olive oil. I like to brush them on the pan. Put them in a 400 degree oven and bake them for about 3-4 minutes. Watch them carefully. Sometimes they need longer than that and sometimes they cook faster than that. I prefer the oven method. It goes much more quickly!

Don't let them get to brown whichever way you choose to do it. They will continue to brown up a bit after you pull them out and place them on a paper towel lined plate. This is a picture of some of the skinny ones.

Now your soup will have had plenty of time to simmer and you can add some sharp cheddar cheese to it at this point. It is also great with no cheese so it is up to you. We also like to just top our bowl with some cheese and the tortilla strips.

I ate this delicious bowl for lunch and skipped the tortillas this time. Mainly because I can't stop popping them in my mouth while I am fixing the rest of lunch so I probably already ate my share for the day!

We ate it with this delicious salad because I definitely didn't eat enough green food over the weekend. I need some fiber and good food to get me back on track.

Now I must get back to checking things off my list and getting all the laundry done so I can actually start packing tomorrow when I get home from working. I will be so glad to not have to keep this secret anymore. I have about blown it several times! I think several people have about blown it.  It is hard to keep such a good secret for so long!

Southwest Tomato Tortilla Soup
1 each red pepper, yellow pepper, and green pepper diced
2 Anaheim peppers diced
1 red onion chopped
3-4 carrots diced
5 cloves garlic minced
2 Tablespoons butter
1 28oz. can tomato sauce
1 28oz. can diced tomatoes
1 ½ cans of water or chicken broth (you made need a little more)
2 Tablespoons chicken base (Better Than Bouillon)
2 Tablespoons whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons Chili powder
1 Tablespoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (go easy because there are a lot of peppers)
½ cup fresh cilantro chopped
½ cup fresh parsley chopped
3-4 whole wheat tortillas cut into thin strips
Olive oil
1 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese (optional)

Add all diced peppers, red onion, garlic, carrots, and butter to a pan and sauté them until tender. Approximately 5 minutes. To the pan add both the diced tomatoes, and sauce. Then add water or chicken broth.

In a small pan toast the whole cumin seeds on the stove over medium high heat. They will smoke so keep them moving for a few minutes then grind them up. Add the ground cumin to the pot as well as the chili powder, paprika, cayenne, cilantro, and parsley.  Bring to a boil then turn heat down and let simmer for 30 minutes. Add about ½ cup cheese after simmering.

Heat olive oil in a pan and fry tortilla strips 1 minute per side or brush olive oil onto cookie sheet and tortilla strips and bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 5 minutes. Watch carefully as they will burn easily. Place them on a paper towel lined plate to drain and cool. Top your bowl of soup with a little of the remaining cheese and the tortilla strips.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple Salad and French Toast Oatmeal

Tonight I needed to just keep it simple for dinner. We have get to go to Evan's orchestra concert tonight so I didn't want to spend much time in the kitchen cooking or cleaning up. Also, we really haven't been eating enough of our greens lately if you can believe that. I know some of you think that is all we eat around here. I do love to eat salad almost everyday. It makes me feel good and keeps me full for a long time. Plus it is pretty quick since I usually have everything ready to go. But I do like variety if I am going to eat salad as often as I do. So this is what it looked like tonight.

We had a spinach and romaine mix topped with some chicken breasts I marinated in balsamic vinegar and some Greek seasoning and cooked on my fake George Foreman grill. I also added sliced avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, and caramelized onion. I chose a balsamic vinaigrette tonight for the dressing, but I think Newman's Own Sun-Dried Tomato would have been even better if I only  had some!

For the record my husband was super happy to eat a salad for dinner tonight. Know why? The avocado and the onions. He may have been seen licking the last few out of the pan before he washed it up tonight!! And it was 5:45 when I sat down to type this so I cooked and we ate and cleaned up very quickly. Goal met!

So I wanted to share something else that I stumbled across the other day on a blog. It was a recipe for French Toast Oatmeal. Incredible! I was hooked with just the title and then I fixed it, also rather quickly, and devoured it. I shared one bite with Miles. I think he was sorry he didn't pick oatmeal.

That is pure maple syrup melting in my bowl! Holy Yum!

Can you believe that I actually followed her recipe exactly? No changes whatsoever! So you can visit her incredible blog called "The Edible Perspective" and get the recipe and see her beautiful pictures by clicking here. She is a photographer also and has won awards for the photography on her blog. While you are there click on her recipes link and see all the amazing recipes she has for all kinds of different oatmeal and breakfast foods. I am going to try some of her buckwheat bakes next. She has lots of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free recipes also if you are interested in those.

I now must get out of these sloppy cooking clothes and go to the concert. I really am actually looking forward to it. Evan has come a long way since the beginning and he is doing a chamber piece with a few of his best buds tonight. I have been hearing lots of Christmas music coming from his room as he practices so it should be a festive night!

Enjoy your evening!