Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chicken Fajitas

Last summer I decided that I wanted to conquer fajitas- a meal my husband loved, but one I didn't really make. (Partly because I didn't think I liked peppers- I have since found out that I love red peppers!) I found this marinade recipe on, and adapted it to our tastes. It has turned me into a fajita fan! I typically serve these with crockpot "refried" beans.

The finished fajita mixture, cooked in my 12" cast iron skillet

Chicken Fajitas
Printable version here

Marinade ingredients
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. olive oil (or vegetable oil)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more if you like it spicy
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. liquid smoke flavoring, optional

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 small onion, sliced
1/2 to 1 red pepper, sliced into bite-sized pieces, about 1/4" wide

1. In a medium bowl, mix together marinade ingredients. Pour over chicken, either in a glass or plastic dish, or a large zip-top bag. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or at least 30 minutes.

2. Drizzle some canola or vegetable oil in a large skillet and preheat over medium. Once oil is shimmering, remove chicken from marinade and place in skillet, reserving leftover marinade. Cook, turning occasionally, until chicken is nearly done (about 160º). Remove chicken from pan to a clean dish or plate, cover with foil, and set aside.

3. Carefully wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and drizzle fresh oil in it. Add sliced onion & red pepper, saute until vegetables start to become tender. Pour reserved marinade into pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until sauce thickens. Meanwhile, slice the chicken into thin strips. Add to the pan, stir to combine, then serve in tortillas. Suggested toppings: sour cream, cheese, lime, and chopped cilantro.

Why I love it? It really isn't that hard- I typically have all of the ingredients in my kitchen already. (Thanks to the bulk section at WinCo, I have pretty much every spice I could ever need!) You could also adapt this recipe- make it spicier, use it with a different kind of meat, etc. For me though, this version is perfect! The meal works for the kids, too- I take out their chicken before adding it in with the peppers & onions, because they're not the biggest fans of peppers & onions. That's okay, it means more for the adults! :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Easy Chocolate Sauce

I found this recipe online about a year ago, when I was looking for a substitute for Hershey's syrup. I found many variations of it- they all used the same 5 ingredients, just in slightly different amounts.

I like this version a lot. I use it to make chocolate milk, as a topping for desserts (like this Peanut Butter Pie), or... shh... I just eat some when I need a chocolate fix! :) It keeps a while in the fridge, too- at least a month, probably more.

If you're curious about the ingredients of Hershey's chocolate syrup (as I was while writing this post), here you go- it's not the easiest thing to find online! High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, water, cocoa, contains 2% or less of: potassium sorbate (a preservative), salt, mono and diglycerides , polysorbate 60 (an emulsifier), xanthan gum, and vanillan, an artificial flavoring.

Oh my! Here's a person's blog post on this topic, as well: Hershey's Chocolate Syrup- What is it? So, ready for the homemade version? :)

Easy Chocolate Sauce
Printable version here

1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup hot water
Dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine cocoa, sugar, hot water, and a dash of salt. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Can be used immediately, or cool to room temperature before storing in refrigerator.

Why I love it? I love that it's super easy, inexpensive, and you can make exactly the amount you want. You could increase (or decrease) the amounts listed here. I also love that it has a short & simple ingredient list!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti

This week I was signed up to bring Valentine's goodies to my husband's work. I was looking for a dessert that had either red or pink, in addition to the caramel corn & sugar cookies I was already planning. I found this recipe for white chocolate cranberry biscotti on, and tried my hand at making biscotti. It was fun! This turns out nothing like the brick-hard packaged biscotti. It's still crisp & crunchy, but not overly so!

I know there are many flavor variations for biscotti, so I'm sure you could use these basic directions and make it your own. I did one batch with white chocolate chips (and dipped one side of them in melted white chocolate), and one batch with semi-sweet chocolate chips. They were both wonderful! From what I read online, these stay fresh for several days in either an airtight container or a ziploc bag. They only lasted a day in my house though!!

(Recipe source:

You divide the dough into 3 parts, and shape each one into a 10x2-inch log.

After the first bake, you let it cool for 5 minutes, then you slice it diagonally like this.

Lay them flat side down on a baking sheet, then bake again until lightly browned.

All done baking!

I dipped them in melted chocolate, then put them on a non-stick mat to set up.

White Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti
Printable version here

Yield: 21 pieces of biscotti, plus end pieces

1/2 cup butter (no substitutes), softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional)
Pinch of salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup (white) chocolate chips

1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in cranberries and chocolate chips. Divide dough into three portions.

2. On ungreased baking sheets (I used parchment), shape each portion into a 10-in. x 2-in. rectangle. Bake at 350º for 21-22 minutes or until lightly browned. (*I put each portion on its own baking sheet, otherwise they would've run into each other. I baked my 2 smaller sheets at the same time, and my 1 larger sheet on its own after that.) Cool on sheet for 5 minutes.

3. Transfer to a cutting board; cut diagonally with a serrated knife into 1-inch slices. Place cut side down on baking sheets. Bake for 14-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container.

4. (Optional) To dip in chocolate- I used Wilton chocolate candy melts, which are just meant to be easy to melt & dipped in. I heated them in the microwave according to package directions, then poured the melted chocolate into a shallow rectangular dish. I dipped each piece of biscotti into it, then set it on a non-stick mat to set up. You could also set it on waxed paper or parchment paper.

Here's an article someone wrote about how to melt chocolate, if you want to read more about it:

Why I love it? It was easy to make, even having never made biscotti before. I followed the directions, and it worked! It's delicious, and fancy enough to give as a gift! It can also be made with unlimited variations. I've only made the two I posted about here, but I'd love to hear about any variations that you make, too!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Magical Layered Brownies

So I am a huuuuge chocolate fan, and this dessert I made last weekend (for the first time) has risen to the top of my favorite dessert list! The bottom layer would be good on its own- it's a dense, fudgy brownie. The top glaze is good, too- but it's the middle layer that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

I have never made anything with "browned butter", but that's the star ingredient of the white layer. Butter takes on a new taste when browned- it's richer, and kind of caramel-like. After mixing up this layer, I could not stop licking the spatula... All 3 layers combined are just divine! When I took my first bite, I said "Wow... WOW!" It took a minute to get the taste of the browned butter layer, but when I did... let's just say you will need to try these to find out. :)

That said, these brownies are fabulous, but they do take a bit of time to make. They're not hard, you just have to make sure you have enough time to do the various layers & let them cool. Since you cut them into small pieces, it makes a lot. Make sure you have people to share them with! ENJOY!

Recipe source: here

Magical Layered Brownies
Printable version here

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Browned Butter Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used the remaining 2 ounces from my box of unsweetened chocolate, plus 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips)

1. Preheat the oven to 300º. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch aluminum pan with nonstick cooking spray and cut parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Lightly grease the parchment paper. Set the pan aside.

2. For the brownies, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and salt. Mix with a handheld mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer for 4-5 minutes, until the mixture has lightened in color and is very thick. Fold in the warm (not hot!) chocolate/butter mixture. Stir in the flour and vanilla extract. Mix until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing evenly.

3. Bake the brownies for 25-30 minutes until the sides pull away from the pan just slightly (I did 27 minutes). Remove the brownies from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 1/2 hours).

4. For the browned butter frosting, place the stick of butter in a small saucepan and set it over low heat. It is best to not use a non-stick or dark coated pan in this step because it will be difficult to tell when the butter has turned brown. Let the butter melt over low heat and turn a caramel brown color, about 15 minutes. (In my cast iron pan, which is really thick, this took about 25-30 minutes.) Watch carefully so the butter doesn’t burn. Once it has turned a nice medium-brown color, remove it from the heat. (There will be browned specks of butter in the bottom of the pan.) Pour the butter into a medium bowl. Immediately add the powdered sugar, heavy cream and vanilla. Mix well with an electric mixer until the frosting is smooth and thick.

5. Spread the frosting over the cooled brownies. Let sit for at least 15 minutes until adding glaze.

6. For the glaze, melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave or on the stovetop (in a pot or double boiler) until it is smooth. Pour the warm glaze over the frosted brownies. Tip the pan from side to side to even out the glaze over the frosting (or carefully spread with a knife or offset spatula). For best results, let sit for 1-2 hours or until glaze is set, then cut into small squares.

7. Chill the brownies until the glaze is set and the brownies are chilled through, about 1-2 hours. The brownies taste best cold. Store in an airtight container, or covered with plastic wrap.

Why I love them? I think I pretty much covered that above. :) They taste fantastic, and are unlike any other brownie (or dessert) I've ever eaten!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My week... and meal plans

This isn't so much a recipe, as it is just a check-in. I know it's been a week since I last posted. I'm still busy cooking away, figuring out what to cook next, homeschooling, etc. So, in honor of what I'm working on today (my menu/shopping list for the next 2 weeks), I decided to just share some meal plans instead.

About a year ago I switched to doing my main grocery shopping every 2 weeks, instead of every week. It started because my favorite grocery store (WinCo) was 25 minutes away, and I was looking to save time & gas. I've continued shopping like that, even though a new location opened just 5 minutes from my house. It only takes me maybe 30 more minutes to do a double shopping trip, and the biggest benefit is that every other weekend, I have a Saturday free of grocery shopping! :)

Here are my dinners from last week. (I never plan out breakfast & lunch, although we always eat those at home, too.)

Then this is what I have planned for the next 2 weeks:

I still have a couple more days to plan out. Oh, plus I'll be making a batch of caramel corn, because one of Dave's coworkers wants to buy another batch of it. :) So, if you don't see me posting so much, this is why! Cooking, cleaning, and caring for these little munchkins is a full-time job!

Sidenote- this is from the ice storm we had 2 weeks ago. We had 7" of snow, followed by about 1/2" of ice. This was our front yard!