Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Hello everyone!!  I see a lot of "best of" and/or "top 10" lists on people's blogs.  Since I've only been blogging since August, and definitely have A LOT to learn, I don't really feel qualified to publish such a list.  In lieu of a list of the best/most popular recipes I've put out there thus far, let me share with you our menu for this New Year's weekend and give you a sneak peek of what's to come.

Shrimp Wonton Cups from the Pampered Chef (coming soon!)
Mac-Raff n' Cheese from Patent & the Pantry (coming soon!)
Sauteed kale (coming soon!)
Homemade chocolate ice cream (coming soon!)
Cranberry-Orange Infused Liqueur with champagne

Crock Pot Kielbasa, Pork, and Sauerkraut
Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

So, as you can see, plenty of new recipes will be appearing on this blog in the early days of 2012! In addition to the ones being prepared this weekend, I have quite a few sitting around as drafts, waiting to be published.

At any rate, I hope that you all have a truly happy start to the new year.  If you're celebrating, please do so safely.  Have fun, and I'll see you in 2012!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Peanut Chocolate Chip Pretzel Oatmeal Cookies

When Sean was out of town for the weekend a few weeks ago, I decided to go on a baking rampage.  I made these cookies, some more Oreo Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Homemade Dog and Cat Treats, and some festive Chocolate Covered Pretzels.  In order to make sure that they were fresh for the holidays, I froze a batch of both kinds of cookies.  They freeze very well.  All you need to do is let them cool completely (and I mean completely, don't get antsy), and put them in zip top bags.  Put wax paper between the layers of cookies, and squeeze out all of the air.  Then pop them in the freezer!  Anyway, on to the cookies.

This recipe was found on the blog Food~Fitness~FreshAir.

You'll need:

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 sticks butter, room temperature
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup thin salty pretzels, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup salted peanuts, halved or roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and oats.

In another large bowl (or your stand mixer), cream together the butter and sugars.  Add the vanilla and eggs, and beat until thoroughly combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until just combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and peanuts.

Spray your cookie sheet(s) with cooking spray.  Place ~2 tbs dough balls, slightly flattened on the cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the pretzel pieces on top, pressing them into the dough slightly.  Bake 12-13 minutes, until edges are golden brown.

Makes 3 - 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

My apologies for the hastily taken photo (even more so than usual...).  I had fully intended to blog about these cookies prior to Christmas, but obviously didn't, and photographing them didn't occur to me until I was setting them out to be consumed on Christmas day.  

The verdict?  These cookies were a bit different, but good!  They're nice and chewy, but still have the crunchy elements, too.  I like to delude myself into thinking that these cookies are healthy-ish, since they're made with oats and whole wheat flour.  Don't burst my bubble, please.  

The pretzels give them a little extra something.  Although next time I make them I might try crushing up more pretzels and mixing them in with the dough.  And I'd definitely add more peanuts and chocolate chips, too.  If you're in the mood for some slightly different chocolate chip cookies, give these a shot.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Buffalo Shrimp Dip

I almost forgot about this post.  It's been sitting there, labeled as a draft for about a month and a half now.  Why I never decided to finish and post this is a mystery.  Especially since this dip was so good.  Everybody loves some Buffalo Chicken Dip (see also: Crack Dip), right?  Right.  Well how about Buffalo Shrimp Dip??  I don't know why I never thought to make it with shrimp, since the idea is clearly genius.  At any rate, this is a nice, very easy variation on a classic tailgating/party/any time staple.

Recipe adapted from the Snappy Gourmet's blog.

You'll need:

8 oz. package of low fat cream cheese
1 cup low fat sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar, plus a little more for the topping
1/2 cup Frank's hot sauce
1 (1 oz.) Ranch seasoning packet
2 tsp lemon juice
1 lb. cooked shrimp, chopped
vegetables, pita, crackers, chips, etc. for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream, shredded cheese, hot sauce, Ranch seasoning, and lemon juice until well combined.  Stir in shrimp.

Scrape the dip into an oven safe dish, and top with some more cheese.  Bake for approximately an hour.

I could have sworn that I had some pictures of the finished product... but as it turns out, all I have is the "before" pictures.  Oh well, you get the idea!  If you'd prefer the original recipe, by all means substitute some cooked shredded or chopped chicken (or the canned stuff) for some or all of the shrimp.  

The dip seems to get spicier the longer it cooks, so if you're concerned about the heat level, consider reducing the amount of hot sauce you use.

If you're having friends over, heading to a party, or are just hungry for some dip, consider making this one.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cranberry-Orange Infused Liqueur

This is really plain vodka infused with the flavors of cranberries and orange.  And it is fabulous.  I used this recipe from Creative Culinary, although I have seen variations elsewhere on the internet. 
You'll need:

1 cup water

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
3 tbs fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tbs grated orange zest
2 cups vodka (use something relatively decent, please!)

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan and bring it to a boil.  Simmer the mixture for 3 minutes, making sure all of the sugar has dissolved.  Congratulations, you have just made a simple syrup!

Add the cranberries, orange juice and zest.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Add the mixture to a blender or food processor.  Be careful, this can be sticky work if you spill some.  Pulse slightly, just enough to open up the berries.  Cool this mixture completely.

Once it has cooled, add the vodka (I used Smirnoff) and mix thoroughly.  

Pour this mixture into a container for storage.  Cover and store in a dark, cool location for 3 weeks.**  Stir every few days.

When you're ready to use the liqueur, strain it through a fine metal sieve.  You can store this in an airtight container, or in something more open if you're going to be using it immediately.
Though you can use this in any way you see fit, I poured it in the bottom of a champagne flute and topped it with some champagne.   

This little cocktail is festive as hell, if I may say so myself!  It's sweet, and goes down very easily.  So watch yourself =).  This cocktail was really nice on Christmas day, I'll probably use up my leftover liqueur on New Year's Eve.  But don't let the season limit you.  This would be nice any time!

**I allowed my liqueur to "brew" for about 9 days, rather than the 3 weeks that the original recipe recommends.  I think it would only get better and better if I let it sit longer, but I found that 9 days was enough to allow the flavors to really meld together.  Let yours sit for as long as you'd like, or as long as your time table will permit.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Fudge

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Fudge.  Ya heard.  Plus a short roundup of how the Pacek family Christmas went (our first Christmas as a married couple!).

Between visiting Sean's grandparents up in Punxsutawney, PA (yes... where the groundhog lives...) on Christmas Eve and spending a very relaxing Christmas day at my parents' house, we had an extremely enjoyable holiday.  Everyone is healthy and doing well, so I can't complain there.  I just wish I had thought to take more pictures of the food, because it was awesome: homemade pierogies, sauerkraut, turkey roll, mushrooms at his grandparents' and pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, some tasty shrimp-filled wontons, and a ton of cheese at my parents'.  I may have overindulged.  Just a little.  Have I mentioned that I am borderline obsessed with cheese?
Left to right: horseradish, salsa jack, and apple-cinnamon.  This makes me happy.
We both got some really nice stuff, too.  Among other things, we received new luggage (badly needed), some books and clothes, and my parents got us an ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.  Be on the lookout for some ice cream recipes in the fairly near future!  My mom also picked me up a copy of Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl.  So... yeah.  Be on the lookout for a lot of PW recipes, too.  She has some really great looking recipes in this cookbook.  Maeby made out pretty well, too.  Gram Tam (my mom) got her a nice container to keep her dog food in (and of course it's red to match my kitchen!), a well as some treats and a new Nylabone.  She was a happy little girl.

Anyway, on to what you're really here for: the recipe.  I found this recipe on the blog A Spicy Perspective, and not only is it delicious, it is incredibly easy to make.  I don't know why the word "fudge" always conjured up images of some ridiculously complicated preparation in my mind, but that's definitely not the case.  

You'll need:

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 tbs butter, plus extra for greasing dish
1 lb. dark chocolate chips/chunks
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Andes Peppermint Chunks

Grease an 8x8 baking dish.  Sprinkle half of the peppermint chunks into the bottom of the dish and set aside.

Place a medium sauce pot over medium heat with about 2 inches of water.  Place a glass bowl over the top, making sure the glass bowl doesn't touch the water.  You've just created a double-boiler.

Pour the condensed milk and butter into the bowl and heat.

Add the chocolate and salt to the bowl.  Stir the chocolate until it melts and thickens.  The mixture should be pretty thick, like a thick cake batter.

Add the extracts and mix well.  

Pour the mixture into the baking dish.  Gently tap the dish on the counter for a minute or so.  This will help release any air bubbles that are trapped under the surface.  

Sprinkle the remaining peppermint chunks over the top and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and possibly longer, until the fudge sets.

To cut, dip a knife in hot water, wipe off, and cut quickly.  You can dip and wipe between cuts (you'll probably need to).  Cut fudge into desired shape and size.  I think I ended up cutting mine into 30 square pieces.  I do feel obligated to say that I had a devil of a time cutting this up and getting it out of the pan.  Is this always the case with fudge, or am I just challenged in this arena?

Despite having difficulty making very neat cuts, the fudge came out very well (if I do say so myself), and was smooth and creamy.  The chocolate/peppermint combination was perfect.  I admit that I had to order the Andes Peppermint Chips on Amazon.com, since I simply couldn't find them in Baltimore.  They're pretty cool, though.  I kept eating them out of the bag as I made the fudge.  They put me in mind of the big, soft, individually-wrapped peppermint balls, only softer.  Delicious.

I realize that this is sort of a Christmas-y fudge, but you could definitely get away with making it through the remainder of the winter, and no one would complain.  Or, heck, put this recipe in your back pocket for the next holiday season!  Either way, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope that your holiday has been a very happy one.  Mine has been excellent thus far.  After the excitement dies down a little (i.e., tomorrow) I'll be bringing you some more recipes.  In the coming days you can look forward to: dark chocolate peppermint fudge, cranberry-orange infused liqueur, chocolate chip peanut oatmeal pretzel cookies, and many more.  

For now, I'll leave you with a picture of my Maeby baby =)

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Have a safe and happy holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Homemade Dog and Cat Treats

Today you get a two-fer, though the recipes might not be what you usually expect to see on this blog.  Today we're making some homemade treats for our furry friends!  If you're anything like me, you think of your dog (or cat, if you have one) as more of a family member than just a pet.  And don't our family members deserve some home-baked goodness every now and then?  I think so.  Which is why I decided to bake up some treats for Maeby, my parents' dog, and my in-laws' dogs and cats for Christmas.

The recipe for the dog treats was found on the blog Brownie Bites, and the recipe for cat treats was found on this site.

You'll need:

Dog treats

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup uncooked oats
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbs honey
1 tsp baking powder

Cat treats

6 oz. can tuna, undrained
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup water

Both dog and cat treats bake at 350 degrees F.  But let's start with the dog treats first.

Dog treats: Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Add the wet ingredients and blend well.  Roll onto a smooth surface sprinkled with flour to keep from sticking.  Roll until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into shapes using cookie cutters (check out how cute mine are!) and arrange on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.  Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Cat treats: Mix all of the ingredients together into a ball.  Roll the dough out onto a smooth surface until it is about 1/4 of an inch thick.  Cut into treat-sized pieces (this is a little subjective... but do whatever you think looks right).  Place on a greased cookie sheet, and bake for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  These should probably be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, because of the tuna.

I made the dog biscuits using these super cute cookie cutters, purchased at Michael's.  

Admittedly, the dog treats turned out looking much better than the cat treats... but what can you do?  I'm sure they'll taste good to the cats (I hope!).

Both of these recipes take almost no time to throw together.  I can't vouch for how much cats will enjoy their treats, but Maeby loved the dog biscuits!  She is the head taste tester here at Hey, who cut the cheese?, after all! 

Om nom nom nom...
Please don't forget your furry friends this holiday season =)   

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate Covered Pretzels

 Festive chocolate covered pretzels, at that.  =D I don't really think any one person can lay claim to the chocolate covered pretzel, so I can't attribute the inspiration for this post to any particular person/blog.  However, I did happen to see some super cute chocolate covered pretzels very recently, posted by Kim, on the blog Feed Me, Seymour.  Please swing by her blog if you haven't done so already.  You'll be happy that you did!

Every year during the month of December (and sometimes a little earlier than that) I become acutely aware of the fact that the holidays are approaching.  I mean, aside from seeing nonstop commercials and ads and whatnot, I start to feel Christmas-y.  That hasn't happened yet this year.  I obviously know that Christmas is 1 week away, but I'm still not feeling it.  Maybe it's because the weather has been pretty warm lately, or maybe it's because I've just been busy with school and have only recently been able to pull my head out of my ass.  Who knows.  Regardless, I'm not feeling the holiday spirit quite as much as I'd like.  That's where these chocolate covered pretzels come in.

Sean was out of town this weekend, so I took that as my chance to spend (probably) too much time in the kitchen.  Perhaps some baking would help put me in the holiday mood?  It did... a little.  Cranking up the holiday music and helping some friends decorate their tree helped too. =)  These chocolate covered pretzels are really easy to make, and look pretty impressive, or at least I think that they do.  You can use different colored sprinkles for different holidays, too.

You'll need:

chocolate chips/chunks (whatever kind you'd like)
assorted sprinkles

Melt your chocolate chips in a double boiler, or, do like I did.  Place them in a glass bowl and microwave in 30 second increments, stirring frequently.  You can add a little butter or a smidge of vegetable oil to the chocolate too, if you like.  I added a little bit of vegetable oil.

Dip pretzels in chocolate, allow excess chocolate to drip off, and apply sprinkles!

It's that easy. =)  Let them cool and the chocolate set.

I would, however, make a few recommendations: 

1) Put some parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  It will provide a relatively non-stick surface on which your pretzels can dry.  

2) For the love of all things holy, apply the sprinkles to the pretzels over a baking dish.  Otherwise you're going to have a mess on your hands.  I used a 13x9 Pyrex dish.

3) If you use milk chocolate chips or chunks, put the cookie sheets in the fridge while the chocolate sets up.  Otherwise it will take a really long time to set up (or at least mine did).

I used milk chocolate and white chocolate chips.  Although I'm a bigger fan of eating milk chocolate, I thought that the white chocolate ones came out looking better.  It's easier to see the sprinkles against the white chocolate background, and white is more festive than the milk chocolate.
Here's the whole assortment =)

Pretty cute, huh?  Plus check out the adorable penguin bowl I have them sitting in!  I couldn't resist.  Whip some up for a holiday party, for friends, or just for yourself.  Enjoy! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Creamy Orzo "Risotto" with Butternut Squash

With this being a perfect recipe for Meatless Mondays, I really should have posted this yesterday, but I was on the road for most of the afternoon, and then really didn't feel like doing much of anything once I got back to Bmore.  So here it is, a bit late.  This is another Weight Watchers recipe, and I've modified it slightly.

Although the original title of the recipe indicates that it's a risotto, it really isn't.  But it's a good, far less labor intensive mock risotto.

You'll need:

Cooking spray
1 small-medium butternut squash, cubed
1/2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet or two with foil and spray the foil with the cooking spray.  Put your cubed squash and olive oil in a gallon zip top bag.  Season with salt and pepper.  Seal the bag and toss everything around until the squash is well coated.

Put the squash on the baking sheet(s) in a single, even layer.  Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through until the squash is tender and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the onion and garlic.  Sautee until the onion is translucent.  Add the orzo.  Stir constantly until the orzo begins to smell toasty.  Add the water, broth, and thyme.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.  Stir occasionally.

Stir in the cheese and roasted squash.  Season well with salt and pepper.

It's really nice and creamy, despite not having to go through the whole ordeal of constant stirring.  The saltiness of the cheese and sweetness of the squash contrast with one another nicely.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Easy Roasted Acorn Squash

On a note completely unrelated to the contents of this post: This blog's Facebook page finally has enough people "liking" it that I could assign it an actual username!  This is pretty exciting for me.  Ahh, the little things in life...  At any rate, if you use Facebook and get some enjoyment/amusement out of reading this blog, please swing by http://www.facebook.com/HeyWhoCutTheCheese and "like" the page if you haven't already.  Thanks!

Now, to the recipe.  I love squash.  Butternut, spaghetti, acorn, pumpkin (hello?! my family had to plead with me to stop making pumpkin-based recipes)...  you name it; I'll likely eat it.  In addition to them being pretty delicious, it's nice to be able to eat foods that are in season.  Not that I adhere to this principle really strictly, but it's still nice.

Recipes like this can be found all over the place, but you can use this recipe as a template if you'd like.  I don't really use any strict measurements, so feel free to play with it until you arrive at something you like.

You'll need:

1 acorn squash, halved with seeds and guts scooped out
~1 butter
~1-2 tbs brown sugar
maple syrup

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees F.

This is an acorn squash.

It can be prepared in a variety of ways, but I find that peeling it can be a little tedious, so I always just slice it in half.  

Scrape out the seeds and discard them.  Or keep them and roast them like you would pumpkin seeds.  

Score the flesh of the squash with a knife, being careful to not cut the whole way through.  Spread some butter on each of the halves of squash.  I like to take a stick of butter and just rub the end of that stick onto the squash, using the wax paper wrapper as a handle.  Sprinkle some brown sugar and give each half a drizzle of maple syrup.  Finish the whole thing with a small sprinkling of salt.

Set the squash, cut sides up, in a baking dish with ~1/2 inch of water in the bottom.  The water will help to prevent the squash from drying out while baking.

Slide the dish into your preheated oven and bake for 1 hour - 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check it after 1 hour, though.  The squash should be very soft and the tops starting to brown.  

Let it cool for a little bit before digging in.  You can spoon some of the syrupy liquid in the base of the squash over the other exposed areas.  It can be served as is in its own built in "bowl".

Acorn squash are sweet on their own, and this sweetness is accentuated by the sugar-butter-maple syrup mixture.  I usually portion out 1/2 a squash per person as a side dish, although I could easily eat an entire squash by myself.  It's that good.  Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes

Okay so technically my mom made these, not me.  I didn't think anyone would really care about that little detail.  She made them for Sean and me when we were staying at my parents' over Thanksgiving.  My mom had been telling me about them for a while, and now I can totally see why.  They're amazing!   

This recipe was originally seen on an episode of Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentis.

You'll need:

1 2/3 cups water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups pancake/waffle mix (yes, the stuff in a box)
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
melted butter

Using a rubber spatula, stir the 1 2/3 cups water and vanilla in a large bowl.  Add the pancake mix and stir until just moistened, but still lumpy.  Stir the ricotta into the pancake mix, and gently incorporate while still maintaining a lumpy batter.  Fold in the blueberries.

Heat a griddle/cast iron skillet/whatever pan you usually make pancakes in over medium heat.  Brush with melted butter (or I'm sure cooking spray works here too).  Working in batches, spoon 1/4 cup of the mixture onto the griddle for each pancake.  Cook until golden brown, ~3 minutes per side.   
You can serve them with the honey syrup listed with the original recipe, regular old maple syrup (what we did), or whatever you'd like.

These pancakes are very moist, and are really more like crepes, if you must know.  Though we didn't have them this way, I bet they'd be really good with a little lemon zest added to the batter.  The only thing wrong with them is that you don't want to stop eating them!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Orange Chocolate Stout Cake

Yesterday was my friend Emily's birthday.  Earlier in the week, she had asked if I would mind baking her cake.  Of course I didn't mind!  Baking is great on its own, and I thoroughly enjoy that.  However, baking for a friend is exponentially better.

So last night we went over to her place for some champagne and cake before heading out for margaritas and entirely too much food.  A big "thank you" should go to Sean, too, since he was gracious enough to give me some of his beloved Guinness for this cake.

Sean harassed Lola while we were there, too.  Can't you tell that she's thrilled?
I'd like to thank Evil Shenanigans for this recipe.

You'll need:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cups cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup stout beer (I used Guinness), room temperature
4 eggs
1 tbs orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed, please!)
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 sticks butter
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4-1/3 cup milk

This can be made into a sheet cake (what I did) or into a round layer cake using two 8 inch cake pans.  If you're interested in going the layer cake route and need some guidance, please see the original post.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

In another bowl, combine the melted butter, beer, eggs, orange zest, juice, and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix until well combined and no large lumps remain.  Be careful not to over mix.

Pour the batter into the pre-greased pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean once inserted into the center.

Let the cake cook completely.

While the cake cools, start on the frosting.  In a small pan over medium heat, melt the 1.5 sticks of butter until it is nut brown.  Make sure to keep stirring the butter almost constantly. Allow the butter to cool to room temperature.

Beat the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until combined.  It's probably going to look pretty clumped up at this point.  Add in the milk, little by little, until you've reached the desired consistency.  Once the cake has cooled you can go ahead and frost it.

This cake itself was fudgey and pretty moist, and not overly sweet.  The orange flavor really came through, too.  The frosting was pretty sweet on its own, but was balanced by the not-so-sweet cake, and the whole thing seemed to go over pretty well!    

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oreo Chocolate Chunk Cookies & World AIDS Day 2011

Hi everyone.  It's not often that I'll get up on a soapbox in this forum, and I promise to keep it brief.  And I know that this is a food blog, and that HIV/AIDS and tasty food aren't the most palatable combination.  But today is World AIDS Day 2011.  For those of you who do not know me in real life, the majority of my time is taken up by working on my PhD at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where I am extremely interested in  HIV prevention and working to improve the lives and health of persons living with HIV/AIDS.  

World AIDS Day is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice, and improving education regarding HIV-related issues.

2011 marks 30 years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.  Since 1981, more than 60 million people have become infected with HIV, and more than 25 million lives have been claimed by AIDS.  Currently, it is estimated that 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide, yet only about half of these people know their HIV status.  Not a single country in the world has escaped the devastation of this truly global epidemic.

Please consider joining the effort and doing your part in Getting to Zero.  Your can get involved in a wide variety of ways: Become informed, get tested, be compassionate, donate, and so on.

Alright *stepping off of soapbox and putting it away*.

Actually, one more thing... Not that I've run into this kind of negativity yet (no one cares enough to be negative, hahaha), but if HIV/AIDS prevention is not something that's important to you or if you have some disparaging remark to make, please save your fingers the extra work and keep it to yourself.  K?  Thanks!

Now, to the cookies!

I really wish I had had enough time this week to come up with something World AIDS Day-related... but alas, these cookies are all I have for you.  Next year I'll try to budget my time a little better.  Anyway, I found the recipe for these ridonkulous Oreo Chocolate Chunk Cookies here, at Butter Baking.  Looking at the recipe now makes me want to whip up another batch right now.  If you haven't yet, go check out her blog!  She has some other cookies similar to these ones that look ah-ma-zing too!

You'll need:

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
15 Oreos, roughly chopped into ~6 pieces each

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Beat the butter and sugars together using your stand mixer (or handheld electric mixer) until combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

Mix in the flour, salt, and baking soda on low speed until combined.  Add the chocolate chips and the Oreo pieces and mix until just combined.  Try to resist eating all of the dough right now.  Seriously, it is so so good!  Try it! 

Scoop tablespoons of the mixture onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are just golden.

Honestly, these are some of the best cookies I've ever made and eaten.  They taste like cookies and cream.  Please try them, you won't be disappointed!!

When telling my mom about these cookies, she (in a stroke of genius) suggested that I use those mint-flavored holiday Oreos or Trader Joe's Joe-Joes in place of the plain Oreo cookies to jazz them up for Christmas.  Don't think that I won't be doing that in just a few weeks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Autumn Vegetable Pot Pie

This post has been sitting around in my backlog of recipes for some time now.  I figured it's about time it saw the light of day.  You know, before autumn is officially over and winter is upon us full force.  Not that you can't make this during the winter... but the name is "Autumn Vegetable Pot Pie" after all.

Anyway, the recipe for this seasonally-appropriate pot pie was found at the blog Heather Christo Cooks.

You'll need:

1/4 cup butter
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup leeks, chopped
1 small butternut squash, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
1/4 cup flour
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
kosher salt
~1 tsp dried thyme (fresh would be great if you have it)
pre-made refrigerated pie crusts
1 egg, beaten

In a large, heavy pot, melt your butter and cook until browned.  Add the vegetables and coat with butter.  Cook until slightly softened.  This took quite a while for me (~15-20 minutes... no really, it did).  

Add the white wine, and simmer until your vegetables are nice and soft.  Add the flour, and stir until the vegetables are well-coated with flour.  Cook for a couple of minutes until the raw flour taste has cooked out.

Add the broth and simmer for about 15 minutes until the stew base is slightly thickened.  Season with Kosher salt and dried thyme.

While your filling is simmering away, preheat your oven to whatever temperature your pre-made pie crusts' packaging tells you.  Place one crust in the bottom of a pie pan.  Fill the pie pan with filling and top with the other crust.  Trim the edges to remove excess.

Prick the top with a knife or fork to allow steam to escape.  Combine the beaten egg with a little water.  Brush the top with the egg wash.

Bake according to your pie crusts' packaging directions.  Serve hot.

The finished product!
I enjoyed this pot pie immensely.  Sean's assessment?  "It would be better if there was meat in it."  *Sigh*

I would make a few tweaks next time around, though.  1) I'd boil the potatoes separately and then add them to the filling once the broth was added.  2) Add some chicken or something for Sean.  3) Add some mustard or other flavorings to punch up the filling a bit.  4) Try to thicken the filling a bit.  You can see in the picture that it's still pretty soupy.  It thickened a lot in the fridge overnight (it makes for great leftovers!)

All in all it was very good.  Enjoy it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Breakfast Casserole with Sausage and Egg

Hello everyone!  I hope that you had a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.  Ours was rushed (as always), but very nice.  It was so good to go back to Pittsburgh for a few days and spend time with our families and some friends.

I'll keep this one short and sweet, since I have quite a bit of work to catch up on following our long weekend.  I make this breakfast casserole every time we have visitors come for the weekend.  It's incredibly versatile, and simple to make.  The best part?  You can make it the night before.  It's great; just pull it out of the fridge while the oven preheats, stick it in the oven, and voila!  You have breakfast.  No slaving over the stove while your guests are having fun elsewhere without you.

My mom makes something very similar to this on Christmas morning, which is where I got the inspiration for this.  I'm sure there's a recipe somewhere, but I don't have it.

You'll need:

16 oz. breakfast sausage (1 tube)
1 loaf good French or wheat bread (you probably won't use the whole loaf)
10 eggs, beaten
splash of milk
salt and pepper
shredded cheddar cheese

Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until crumbled and browned.  Set aside for a few minutes. 

Grease the heck out of a 9x13 glass pan with cooking spray or butter.  Trust me on this one.  If you want to be able to clean this pan in a reasonable amount of time, you will need to grease it (Sean can back me up on this one).  Cut your bread into 1 inch cubes and place evenly in the greased pan.  Or alternately, just rip it up, like I do.

Beat your eggs and a splash of milk in a medium-large bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Evenly layer the cooked sausage on top of the bread.  Pour the egg mixture over the casserole.

Top the whole casserole with shredded cheddar (as much as you'd like; not pictured here).  If you'll be baking it straight away, place your uncovered casserole in a preheated oven (350 degrees F) for 30-45 minutes. 

If you plan to make this ahead, cover the dish and place it in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, remove the casserole from the fridge and allow it to start coming back up to room temperature while the oven preheats to 350.  Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes, or until the eggs are done (casserole should be firm and spring back when touched in the middle, and nothing should be runny).

Scoop some up and enjoy!

You can customize this dish any way you'd like.  It's good with different flavors of sausage, and with some vegetables thrown in.  It's also good topped with some salsa or maple syrup.