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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Honey Cinnamon Butter

For our Meatless Monday potluck at work tomorrow, I decided to whip up a batch of veg-friendly sweet potato biscuits.

I found the recipe in my 1965 McCall's Home-Baked Breads cookbook, but as you will occasionally find, not all recipes in cookbooks are tried and true...or maybe ingredients have just changed since the 60s.  Followed directions to the T, but after 20 minutes of wrestling with a dough that refused to firm up, even after generous helpings of rolling flour, I decided to go back and make some modifications so that I could give you a recipe that does work and produces some nice savory biscuits.

So here for you tasting pleasure is a recipe for biscuits that will work and some yummy butter to smother them in.

Sweet Potato Biscuits with Honey Cinnamon Butter

2-1/2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potato
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp baking soda

1 stick butter, room temperature
4 tsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

In a smaller bowl, mix sweet potato, brown sugar,and melted butter together.

Add to dry ingredients, with buttermilk and baking soda and mix until all the flour is moistened.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and roll to 1-1/4" thick and cut out biscuits with a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter.

Bake at 400 degrees on ungreased cookie sheet for 10-13 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Remove from cookie sheet, and serve them with your favorite chili, stew or soup...or eat them by themselves

To make the butter, mix up the room temp butter, honey and cinnamon with either a fork or a mixer until well blended.

Makes up to 18 2" biscuits (but you can make yours bigger).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lil Veggie Pizzas

Okay, tonight I'm not going with a recipe, but rather a dinner idea.  This doesn't require a lot of cooking, or fuss, or muss, just some flavorful creativity. It's one of my favorite quick-and-easy vegetarian dinners to make, Lil Veggie Pizzas.

Just a disclaimer, the pizzas don't have to be vegetarian, but it's more fun to come up with different or new and tasty combinations if you aren't just relying on pepperoni or sausage.  I started making these with my vegetarian friend and neighbor, LT (shout out to the Upstairs Girl!) when we would get together for TV Tuesdays in our old rental place.  I loved the challenge of finding vegetarian options for dinner.

Now at any time, I always have pesto or tomato sauce in my cupboard and a small variety of cheeses as well as random vegetables making themselves at home in the crisper, so sometimes I just wing it, but here are the basics (featuring a variation of my favorite, K2's Green Green Pizza)

Lil Veggie Pizzas

Start with a pre-made 8" pizza base, wheat or white.

Slather on your favorite sauce. PESTO!

Layer with your favorite veggies and/or, cheese, and some spices. FRESH-CRACKED PEPPER!

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the cheese is to the level of melted/crispy that you like.

Slice your lil veggie pizza, pour a glass of wine, and munch enjoyably.

Here are some items and combo suggestions that I've tried before and again and again. Be creative with your toppings and how you mix them together. What's below is not comprehensive, but just want I like.

Pizza Crusts

Both Boboli adn Mama Mary's make wheat and white 8" pre-baked crusts.  They come in a pack of three, so when I open a new pack, I'll use one and keep the other two in the freezer.  I top them even when they're still frozen and just give it another minute or so to bake.

If you want to start closer to scratch, Trader Joes has the best pizza dough I've found.  I love the wheat!  It takes a little longer to bake, but you can make mini hand-tossed pizzas that look very rustic.


Now you can go with your traditional red tomato sauce, but I've also used sun-dried tomato paste, pesto (did I mention I love pesto?), and salsa.  But you can experiment with others bases like alfreddo sauce, vodka sauce, or olive tapenade (if you like it really salty).  Be bold, be daring, blend.


I like the traditionals -- shredded mozzarella, thick-sliced fresh mozzarella (as seen above), and Parmesan -- but I've used cheddar, Monterey Jack, and feta too.  If you like bleu cheese, that would be good with some quick carmelized onions as your veggie option.

Veggies and Stuff

Some of my favorites are fresh baby spinach and thin-thinly sliced zucchini and yellow squash.

In the warmer months when my herb garden is in full throttle, I pile on fresh basil, oregano and thyme.  Another favorite topping is olives, green or black, but especially green.  You can also go with the more traditional toppings like mushroom, onions, and bell peppers, but if you want to experiment, try banana peppers (sweet or hot), eggplant, green tomatoes, or beets. Just trolling through your local Farmers Market, you should be able to find new and different things.  Plus whatever veggies or toppings you use can be used in other dishes as well, not just for your lil veggie pizza.

I've also used Morningstar Grillers Crumbles which "look" like a ground beef but are actually made up of veggie protein.

So here are a few of my favorite combos if you want to give one a try.

K2's Green Green Pizza -- MM wheat crust with pesto, fresh basil and oregano from the garden (when in season), a pile of fresh baby spinach, and some thick-sliced mozzarella (generously distributed) sprinkled with fresh cracked black pepper

Mexifest Pizza -- white crust with salsa or picante sauce, Grillers Crumbles pre-cooked with some cumin and chili powder, shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, and topped with green olives

Veggie Delight -- tomato sauce/pesto blend with thin thinly-sliced zucchini and yellow squash, some lightly sauteed red and orange bell pepper pieces, shredded mozzarella, grated Parmesan and some baby spinach

If you come up with a cool combo let me know!  Would love to get some fresh ideas.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Good and Good for You: Meatless Mondays

Traveling this week so since I am away from the kitchen, I thought I would tell you a bit about this little initiative that's making big waves. 


Meatless Monday is an international (non-profit) initiative that was established as a means of encouraging people to eat healthier and more step at a time. By eating meat-free even just one day a week, the benefits for your body and for the environment are quite remarkable.

Going meatless can help save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel. Reducing meat consumption is one of the easiest and most significant ways we can reduce our carbon footprint. Going meatless once a week also has added health benefits (see below).

Now I am a meat-n-potatoes gal myself, but I like the concept behind this movement and thought I would share it with you. At work, our Green Team (of which I am a co-founder) will be hosting a Meatless Monday Potluck Lunch once a month as a way to encourage community, health and green practices at our school. There is a also a Triangle Meatless Monday movement in which local restaurants are invited to participate by offering meat-free options for people dining out on Mondays.  You should check it out.

Good for You

• LIMIT CANCER RISK. Hundreds of studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Both red and processed meat consumption are associated with colon cancer.

• REDUCE HEART DISEASE. Data from a recent study found that replacing saturated fat-rich foods (e.g, meat and full fat dairy) with foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fat (e.g., vegetable oils, nuts and seeds) reduces the risk of heart disease by 19%.

• FIGHT DIABETES. Research suggests that higher consumption of red and processed meat increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

• CURB OBESITY. People on low-meat or vegetarian diets have significantly lower body weights and body mass indices. A recent study also found that reducing overall meat consumption can prevent long-term weight gain.

• LIVE LONGER. Red and processed meat consumption is associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality.

• IMPROVE YOUR DIET. Consuming beans or peas results in higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium with lower intakes of saturated fat and total fat.

Good for the Environment 

• REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide, far more so than transportation does. As annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow, reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.

• MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires only 220 gallons of water per pound.

• HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.

So over the next couple of posts, I'm going to try to find you some new and exciting vegetarian dishes to try.  Always a challenge, but a fun one!  If you have any meat-free dishes you particularly like and want to share, please drop me a line at, I'm always open to suggestions!

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Apple Pie Cake

Yes, MORE comfort food!  (Apparently I am in need of a lot of comfort these days).  Everybody loves apple pie, well, most everyone except maybe me, but I love cake, so here is a tasty twist on an American classic that will give everyone a warm belly feeling and make your kitchen smelled DEE-licious.

Apple Pie Cake

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.

Add in the eggs and melted butter and mix well.  The batter will have a consistency that's less like a cake batter and more like a really moist, gritty cookie dough.

Core, peel and thick-slice your Granny Smith apple.  I cut mine into 1/4" slices and then cut the slices in half, gives you a better apple-to-batter ratio when you spread it in the pan.

Gently fold the apple slices and walnuts into the batter.

Spread the batter in an 8x8" greased baking pan.  And yes, for the record, spreading slippery dough-batter in a greased pan is not unlike running on ice in shoes -- it's going to go everywhere and nowhere that you want it to, but if you remain calm and be patient, it will work out.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool before tearing into and devouring the pan. Not saying I did, but somehow a third of it mysteriously disappeared after photographing it.


One sliced Granny Smith apple will measure anywhere between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups.  I've put up to 2 cups worth in and it the recipe still works fine.

When you melt your butter, you want it to have a creamy yellow color/consistency.  From experience, the recipe doesn't work if your butter gets separated (has a clear yellow layer). I usually heat mine in the microwave for 15 seconds (for room temp butter), let it sit in there another 5 seconds and then whisk it with a fork to blend the non-melted parts in.  If it doesn't de-lump completely, then microwave it for another 5-7 seconds and that should do the trick.

The thing I like about this cake is that the sugar in the mix bakes into a nice crispy crust on the top of it so it's crunchy on the outside and soft and moist and cinnamony-appleicious in the center.

If you want to change it up a bit, in the summer you can use peaches slices instead of apple.  To get the best slices for baking, you want to use a softly firm fresh peach, somewhere between hard and crunchy (like I like mine) and juicy squiggy.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beer Mac-n-Cheez with Pretzel Topping

Okay, so it's no powder cheese mix in a box, but if you like tasty, warm, beery yumminess, then you might like this. :)  Yeah, it's hard to stop eating it once you start.  Mmmm.

Beer Mac-N-Cheez with Pretzel Topping

1-1/2 cups elbow macaroni (not cooked)
1/4 cup onion, minced
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 cup milk, room temp
1 cup beer, room temp
2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pretzels, crushed

Cook macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and rinse with hot water then set aside.

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a deep pan and sauté onions until browned. Remove cooked onions from pan and set aside.

Give a quick wipe of the pan to “clean” it. Melt the remaining 3 tbsp butter over medium heat, then whisk in flour until smooth.

Whisk in milk and beer.

Add in cheeses and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until cheese is melted and the sauce thickens up a bit.

Put the cooked macaroni in large casserole dish and pour sauce over it. Stir gently together until macaroni is well-coated.

Crush up some pretzels.  I used small waffle pretzels and carefully bonked them with a meat tenderizer in a sandwich bag to crush.

Sprinkle the crushed pretzels over the cheesey 'noods and bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly around the edges.


I used Yuengling (cuz I had some left over from a party), but you can use your favorite malted brew.  The only thing I would recommend is using something like a amber or a lager that has some umph to it to carry the flavor.

As far as pretzels go, small thin ones crush easier than big fat pretzels and you'll get more salted pretzel surface that way (versus the unsalted innards of the pretzel).

If you prefer your mac-n-cheez a little cheesier, you could probably add up to an additional 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar without compromising the recipe.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: Macaroni and Cheese

I am very excited about Sunday's post!  My friends Scott and Sara gave me a great idea and I (for the first time ever) will be attempting to make homemade macaroni and cheese.  Yep, never done it before and it fits in perfectly with my current comfort food kick so should be scratch that, it should be great!

Everyone loves Mac & Cheese (who wouldn't love those crazy kids) but where did it all begin?  How did this dynamic duo come to be?  I was curious so I did some digging around.

Cheese is one of the oldest man-made foods (dating back to the prehistoric era).  Because it is a fermentation-based product, the first incident of cheese "making" was probably just a happy accident but it's been around forever.

As far as the origins of pasta (aka macaroni)...well there's a long-standing argument on who gets official credit for that -- the Greeks, the Chinese, the Koreans, or the Italians.  In my History of Food book (okay Mom's book, but on perma-loan to me), it states that term "macaroni", by which all pasta was known back in the day, is definitely of Neopolitan for simplicity, we're siding with the Italians.

In the 13th & 14th centuries you start to see recipes for macaroni dishes that contained cheese and butter. In Italy it was considered a low class dish because of its simplicity, but in England it was possible to find a number of cookbooks that included recipes for macaroni dishes that were served with cheese but also sweetened with nuts and spices, or that contained cheese, milk and spices.

Early English macaroni recipes were brought to American by the Colonists, but it wasn't until the 1800s that macaroni and cheese recipes really started cropping up.  Most of these were for baked macaroni and cheese.

Then in 1937, Kraft introduced the Macaroni & Cheese Dinner in a box (the original box was yellow, but was quickly changed to the iconic blue box we know and love today).  It gained great popularity during World War II because it was affordable and an easy single meal in a box to make.

Nowadays, you see all kinds of variations in both boxed and homemade.  People add all sorts of things to their baked mac and cheese like tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, Spam, and...sliced hot dogs.  I'll be honest with you, I'm a Kraft M&C gal myself, original, not that fancy stuff.  I can't help it, I LUV the cheese powder.  OH!  And here's something fun you can do with it. My friend Chell told me that she takes the cheese powder and sprinkles it on popcorn...I can't imagine it gets ANY better than that.

But you know, no matter how you doll it up, there's something about mac and cheese that just makes you feel at home and happy and full.  So thank you cheese-discovering cavemen.  Thank you ancient Italian macaroni makers.  You rock(ed).

p.s. Don't forget to mark it on your calendar...July 14, National Macaroni and Cheese Day!  Huzzah!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lee's Green Bean-Chicken Casserole

I know, I know, I know...I said I would bring you some healthy new foods for a healthy new year, but I've been on this comfort food kick and thought I would roll with that instead.

I hadn't made this recipe in some time, but once I started thinking about it, I couldn't stop drooling.  This is one of our family favorites my sis-in-law, Lee, makes.  I think it might be why we decided to keep her around because it's just that good. (Just joking, Lee...okay, maybe not.)  ;)

Lee's Green Bean-Chicken Casserole

6 large chicken breasts (3-4 lbs boneless)
3-4 tsp olive oil
2 (14.5 oz) cans of French style green beans
2 (10.5 oz) cans Cream of Chicken soup
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tsp Tabasco
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

In a deep saucepan, melt Cream of Chicken soup and cheddar cheese over medium heat until smooth.  Set aside to cool.

Cut chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.  Heat oil in a large skillet and cook chicken until slightly browned and mostly cooked through. Drain off any extra liquid.  I had to cook the chicken in two batches, so split the oil between the two.

Layer the cooked chicken and green beans in a 9x13 baking dish (or a 3-qt casserole dish).

To finish preparing the sauce, whisk lemon juice and Tabasco into the cheesy soup mixture.

Blend in the mayonnaise until smooth and pour mixture over the chicken and beans.

Sprinkle Parmesan and breadcrumbs across the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly around the edges.

Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving (so you don't burn your face off).


If you don't have Tabasco on hand, you can substitute your favorite hot sauce.  The 2 tsp gives it a nice subtle flavor.  If you want it a little bite-ier, you can up the amount, but not too much because you don't want to overwhelm the other flavors.

I didn't cook my chicken thoroughly before putting in the baking dish because (1) I wanted to keep it moist and (2) because I knew it had additional cooking time in the oven that would finish them off and didn't want to dry out the pieces.

You could serve over rice or noodles to make it a fuller dish, but I like it just the way it is, served with some crusty bread on the side to sop up the extra sauce.

It will serve up to 8...or 4 with plenty of leftovers. :)