Sweet Heat Chili

I am/was on a quest for the perfect chili. Let me stop there since a lot of you that read this blog are family. I love, love, LOVE my mom's chili recipe. Everyone Halloween my mom would fill our belly's full of chili and then we'd go out and feeze or patooty's off while collecting all kinds of wonderful treats. So like I said, I love my mom's chili but it's not the sweet heat kind since most of my family can't handle the "heat". (Sorry I couldn't help myself.) So as I was saying, my quest to find the BEST chili with that sweet front taste and heat on the back end, BUT I also wanted a thick texture. I didn't want a watery chili. Something I could really sink my teeth into. Well it isn't St. Patrick's day, but the luck of the Irish was with me because I have found THE recipe. And in perfect time since Halloween is this weekend and our son is old enough to go out trick-or-treating. I found the recipe from melskitchencafe but I've ommitted and added a couple of things for MY perfect tasting. Hope you enjoy!

Sweet Heat Chili

1 medium Onion, chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped
3 stalks of Celery, chopped
1 T Olive Oil
1 lb Ground Beef (or Ground Turkey, or mixture of both)
1 Quart (32oz) Meat stock (Beef or chicken or mixture of both)
2 large cans Stewed Tomatoes, pureed
1 can Red Kidney Beans
1 can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
1 Bay leaf
1 tsp dry Mustard
2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
3 tsp Creole or Cajun Seasoning (I used Cajun Seasoning)
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
2 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

1.Saute first four ingredients in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
2.Once the onions are translucent, add the ground beef and ground up with a potato smasher (or whatever works for you).
3. Add stock, bay leaf,mustard, cayenne pepper. Simmer on medium heat until the liquid evaporates by about half.
4. Puree the stewed tomatoes and add to the pot.
5. Rinse beans and add tho the pot along with the sugar, vinegar, salt and cajun seasoning.
6. Simmer for 2 (or more) hours.
7. Let cool for 5 minutes before you serve and garnish with sour cream, cheese, green onions, chips, avocados. AND...

This is what all of the bowls at your table will look like:


Sausage Breakfast Panini

My husband and I bought a panini maker for our first anniversary and we both quickly fell in love with the magic that is toasting a sandwich while squishing it all together. There's something that seems so special about the finished product, and what is easier than making a sandwich? After we had exhausted all our ideas for dinner paninis we expanded to breakfast. Paninis are a great way to use up leftover breakfast food. Take food out of the fridge, place between two pieces of bread, squish, bake and voila! New breakfast! This panini is uses cooked sausage, chopped apples, cheddar cheese and English muffin bread. Not a bad way to start the day.

Sausage Breakfast Panini

16 oz tube of sausage (we use maple flavor)
1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
8 slices cheddar cheese
16 pieces of bread

Cook sausage in a large pan over medium heat, using a spatula to break large chunks into smaller pieces. Heat panini pan. Butter one side of each piece of bread. On the non-buttered side, add 1/8 of the sausage, 1/8 of the apple and a slice of cheddar cheese. Top with another piece of bread and bake on the panini until the bread is toasted and the cheese has melted. Serve.


English Muffin Bread

Remember how I had posted earlier about a recipe that I cut out a long time ago and finally got around to making? Well, my mom did the same thing with this one, but she takes the cake because she cut this recipe out in 1981, and only made it for the first time a few years ago. Sometimes you just know you've got a winner worth keeping, though, and I'm glad she kept this one around. It's just too bad we didn't get to enjoy it sooner. This is the easiest yeast bread I have ever made. There's no kneading or shaping the dough. You just mix the ingredients, dump them in a loaf pan, let it rise, bake and you're done. It's so simple, but what you get out of it is a great bread that you can toast and eat with just about anything. It's great with soups, it's great with breakfast, it's great in a recipe that I'll share on Thursday. (Yep, that was a teaser. You're dying with anticipation now, aren't you?) I'll admit, it takes home no ribbons in the beauty department owing to the lack of shaping, but once you taste it you won't really care.

English Muffin Bread

2 packages active dry yeast
6 cups flour
1 T sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water

1. Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and soda. Heat liquids until very warm (120-130 degrees). Add to dry mixture, beat well. Stir in rest of flour to make a stiff batter.

2. Spoon into two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans that have been greased and sprinkled with cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops with cornmeal. Cover, let rise in warm place for 45 minutes.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool.

To serve: Slice and toast. Makes 16 slices per loaf.

Recipe source: Fleischmann's Yeast

Halloween Cereal Treats

This is your Halloween treat for the week - an extra post with a Halloween treat in it! I bet you're nowhere near as excited as I am right now. These treats are super easy, but still festive and attention grabbing and addictively delicious. They taste something like a Pearson's Nut Roll or a Payday Bar. And since they are cereal treats, they are nearly impossible to screw up. How can you get any better than that?

Halloween Treats

1 (10.5 oz) bag mini marshmallows + 1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup butter
1 T peanut butter
1 box (13.8 oz) Honey Nut Chex cereal
1 to 1 1/5 cups (depending on your sweet tooth) candy corn
1 cup lightly salted peanuts

Microwave butter and peanut butter on high for 1 min or until melted. Add the bag of marshmallows (reserving the extra 1 cup aside) and microwave 1 1/2 minutes until marshmallows are melted. Stir the marshmallow/butter mixture until smooth, and add the cereal, candy corn, peanuts and extra 1 cup marshmallows. Stir to combine and press mixture into a greased 9×13 pan. Allow treats to cool, and cut into squares.


Zucchini Soup

I know, it's getting late in the season for zucchini recipes, but in truth I'm not in the mood for soup in the summer as much as I am now that the days are colder. Plus, I must be truthful and admit that I buy my zucchini anyway and it's always zucchini season at the grocery store. If you are a better person than me and grow your own veggies in a garden you should stash this recipe away for next summer. It's a great way to use zucchini and a lot nicer to the hips than sugar and fat zucchini bread.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite ex-roommates (what would I eat if it weren't for recipes from old roommates?) who always claimed she couldn't cook, but then would whip up something like this one evening. I love pureed soups because they always seem so elegant for how easy they are. I especially like them since I got an immersion blender. If you are making this with a regular blender, just remember to leave the top cracked a bit so steam can get out or you will end up with an explosion. Trust me that this will happen, and that it will be very annoying to clean up. Also, trust me that you should not skip the final step where you add salt and pepper to taste. Soup can be pretty bland when you are making it from scratch, especially if you are using low sodium chicken broth. The idea is to add just a little salt at a time and taste in between so you don't overdo it.

Zucchini Soup

1/2 cup chopped onions
3 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 cups of zucchini, quartered and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 cup milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tsp seasoning salt
1/2 T fresh parsley or 1/2 tsp dried
salt and pepper to taste
Toppings, such as cheese, cheesy crackers, sour cream, bacon, oyster crackers . . .

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook until tender (about 4 minutes). Add flour and cook one minuted longer. Add chicken broth, adding a small amount at first and stirring between additions to prevent lumps. Add zucchini and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until zucchini is tender (about 15 minutes).

Pour mixture into blender and puree. (Don't forget to vent the top!) Return pureed mixture to saucepan and add milk, evaporated milk and seasoning salt. Heat soup until warm and stir in parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with toppings if desired.

Recipe source: Adapted slightly from my old roommate, Rachel


Basil Chicken Foil Dinner

I know, you're thinking, "Foil dinner? Isn't that for camping?" Sure, but you know what works even better than a bunch of coals? An oven. Regulated temperature without smoke. It's a great thing, especially since camping now most likely means an uncomfortably cold night without much sleep. Cooking the chicken in a foil packet makes it juicy and tasty. And did I mention healthy? You hardly need any oil and the chicken still turns out moist and flavorful. Looks like it's time to camp out in the kitchen.

PS- Did I mention my husband eats this? That's a BIG deal.

Basil Chicken Foil Dinner

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, cubed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried
1 T chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tsp dried
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt, plus 1/4 tsp
1/4 tsp black pepper, plus 1/8 tsp
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves, plus 2 T
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut six large rectangles of foil or parchment paper.

2. Divide the chicken pieces among the foil pieces, placing them on one half of the foil piece. Combine the garlic, oregano, marjoram, pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over each foil packet. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Divide 1/4 cup of the basil among the packets and top with the bell pepper slices. Finally, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp black pepper and remaining 2 T basil.

3. Fold each piece of foil in half with the chicken mixture in the center. Crimp the edges neatly to seal the packet completely. (The packets can be prepared and refrigerated up to 4 hours ahead of time. Remove the packets from the refrigerator at least 1/2 hour before baking.)

4. Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake until the chicken is white throughout, about 12-15 minutes. (I let mine sit for five minutes after coming out of the oven, and then poke a hole in the bottom of the packet and let some of the juices drain out before I serve them.)

Recipe source: adapted slightly from American Medical Association Family Health Cookbook.


Wilton Frosting (Best Frosting on Earth)

Everytime I go to some social event with cupcakes, cookies, or cakes in hand I'm always asked where I bought them from. Well for those of you who know me would know that I rarely buy things from the store when baking. For me baking is something you do from scratch using your own ingredients and therefore you control the amount and quality/quantity that you are putting into your yummy treats. BUT I'm here to tell you that there is one HUGE exception to my rule and it's the frosting. I do not make it because I found a heavenly frosting that not only tastes soooo wonderful, but has the perfect consistency to pipe or decorate or do whatever you'd like to do. It's Wilton Buttercream Icing Mix and you can buy it at your nearest Walmart. They don't carry it at Cub or Target or Rainbow (well here in the midwest anyway, they might in other parts of the U.S.) so everytime you shop your friendly Walmart I would highly recommend you pick a box up. And it's fail safe--you just add milk and butter (or margarine, or shortening). That's it. And everytime you take them anywhere people will think you are a master baker. At which point you'll of course let them in on this invaulable secret! ;o) By the way, this isn't a shameless plug for Wilton, although man would I love to visit the Wilton Factory one day!!!

***Next week I'm making some Halloween cupcakes so I'll have actual pictures of the finished product.


Peanut Butter Waffle Toast

 Do you ever find a recipe, cut it out, put it in your recipe box/binder and never actually get around to making it? That's what happened with this recipe. It seemed so cool and different that I had to save it, but since I didn't have a waffle iron I never made it. Since last month I am no longer waffle iron-less, so when I came across this recipe again I knew its time had come. These waffles are like a cross between french toast and waffles. You make a batter, dip some bread in it and cook it on a waffle iron. I was skeptical at first, but they come out looking just like waffles and have a great, lightly peanut buttery taste. It's almost magical how you can transform an ordinary piece of bread into a crispy waffle. And anytime you can make something magical in the kitchen, it's a great thing.

Peanut Butter Waffle Toast

1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup Bisquick (Reduced fat is fine)
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
6 to 8 slices bread
Toppings - chocolate chips, strawberry jam, powdered sugar, maple syrup, etc.

1. Heat waffle iron; grease with shortening if necessary (or spray with cooking spray before heating).

2. In medium bowl, stir milk, Bisquick mix, peanut butter, granulated sugar, vanilla and egg until well blended. Carefully dip bread into batter on both sides. (If the batter is too thick you can thin it with a little milk.) Place in waffle iron; close lid. (I like to press down slightly if I have thicker bread.)

3. Bake about 2 minutes or until steaming stops and "toast" is golden. Carefully remove waffle toast. Add toppings as desired.

Recipe Source: Betty Crocker


Mellowcreme Blossoms

I'll admit it. I like candy corn. And those little pumpkins. They're sickeningly sweet and kind of waxy, but I love them. And you know what is even better than eating them by themselves? Mixing some with some salted peanuts. If you haven't tried it, I would suggest not doing it because it is crazy addictive. This cookie recipe is based off the sweet/salty combination of peanuts and candy corn. I certainly can't be the first person who thought of it, but I thought I'd post it because I can't stop eating them. They're a get-these-out of-my-house-now type of cookie. Something about the super sweet candy mixed with a peanut butter cookie is really easy to eat in large quantities. I made some with the mini pumpkins and some with candy corn and I think the pumpkins are my favorite, although the candy corn ones are cuter. You'll have to make both kinds yourself and decide which one wins.

Mellowcreme Blossoms

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
 1/2 cup dry roasted salted peanuts
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), softened but still cool
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 3 dozen mellowcreme pumpkins or candy corn pieces

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk 1/3 cups flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl. Process remaining 1 cup flour and peanuts in food processor until ground, about fifteen 1-second pulses, then stir into flour mixture.

3. Beat butter and sugars together in large bowl with electric mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add peanut butter and continue to beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, until incorporated, about 30 seconds, then beat in vanilla, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl, if necessary. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in two batches, and mix until incorporated. Cover bowl and refrigerate dough until stiff, about 30 minutes.

4. Roll 1-inch balls of dough and space 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake until just set and beginning to crack, 9 to 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet from front to back halfway through baking (while cookies are baking, place additional balls of dough on second baking sheet). Working quickly, remove baking sheet from oven and firmly press one pumpkin (or candy corn) in center of each cookie. Return baking sheet to oven and bake until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies directly to wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat rolling and baking remaining cookies. Cool completely.

Peanut butter cookie recipe source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book


Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Think of those delicious Asian lettuce wraps from P.F. Changs, add a Thai twist, and you've got this recipe. They come together very quickly and have an exotic, I-can't-believe-I-made-this-and-didn't-order-it-from-a-restaurant taste. The jalapeno gives it just enough spice and the lime and basil are just so fresh tasting. My husband took seconds. That should say it all. Especially since he's not in the fish sauce fan club. The end balance of flavors, though, works great and with the crunchy lettuce wrap on the outside it's a great light dinner, lunch or appetizer.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1 cup minute brown rice
1 lb ground chicken (not 99% lean. Ground turkey works too)
2 tsp canola oil
1 japapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
3 T fresh lime juice from 2 limes
2 T fish sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T brown sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 green onions, sliced thin
1 head Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves

1. Cook brown rice according to package directions

2. In a medium bowl, mash the ground chicken with the back of a spoon until smooth and no strand-like pieces of meat remain.

3. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the ground chicken, chile and lime zest and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

4. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and cornstarch together, then add the mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened, about 45 seconds. Off the heat, stir in the basil and green onions. Serve the chicken filling with the rice and lettuce leaves.

Source: America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook


Caramel Popcorn Balls

When I was growing up, one of my mom's friends made these delicious popcorn balls all the time. At least, that's what it seemed like to me. It's likely that she only made them a few times a year and spread the bounty to our family when she did, but in my mind her house was always full of these yummy, sticky, chewy popcorn balls. When I grew up and left for college, I went through my mom's recipe box and copied recipes so that I could have a taste of home when I was across the country at school. This is one of those recipes I made sure to get. I had no real idea how to make them, but I wanted the recipe anyway.

My favorite memory of popcorn balls, actually, comes from my college years. A friend of mine asked if I'd help him make some for an apartment of girls a few doors down from us. He didn't want to make popcorn balls, though. He wanted to make one gigantic popcorn ball. I agreed (I really wanted to see the end result) and we made the mother of all popcorn balls. It was about twice the size of a basketball. When he went to deliver it he found the door of their apartment open, but only a couple of the roommates were there napping in the living room. Not sure what to do, he said he threw the giant popcorn ball into the middle of the living room and left. I can only imagine their surprise waking up to a huge popcorn ball that came out of nowhere.

Anyway, this recipe is a definited keeper in my mind. It is a little tedious stirring the mixture until it comes to soft ball stage because it takes ten minutes or so. If you don't have a thermometer, make sure you set aside a glass of ice water and periodically check the stage by dropping some of the caramel into the water. When it doesn't dissolve in the water but forms a ball that is pliable when you squeeze it with your fingers, you're there. Make sure you don't go too long, though, or you'll have some hard candy on your hands. Also make sure to share the popcorn balls with your friends, co-workers and neighbors. It's part of the tradition.

Caramel Popcorn Balls

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
12 oz evaporated milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup unpopped corn (this is about 2 big mixing bowls mostly full of popcorn.)

In saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Stir well and bring to a boil. Stir in milk, stirring constantly until mixture cooks to soft ball stage or 234 degrees. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Pour over popped corn and mix until pieces are coated. Butter or wet hands lightly (I always use just a little water because I don't like greasy popcorn balls and I think the butter makes them go stale faster) and shape into balls about 3 inches in diameter.

Makes about 12-15 balls.


Not Your Mama's Banana Pudding (Paula Deene Recipe)

A couple of summer's ago we had dinner with another young couple and they happened to bring one of the most wonderful, decadent desserts that I've ever, ever had!! It was one of Paula Deene's recipe (am the only one that when I hear her name I automally say in my head, "it's butter ya'll"? Just curious) so it shouldn't surprise you that it's a small slice of heaven. The real kicker is that I'm NOT a banana dessert person. I think bananas are a piece of healthy fruit that I eat once a day and with a sandwich at lunch time (or with peanut butter...a personal favorite when I was pregnant!) so I was a little skeptical when they mentioned that it was a banana dessert. So with that said, I'll proudly proclaim to you all that even if you don't like bananas in your dessert, just try this recipe, you'll be glad you did! As a special treat, and to prove to you how yummy this dessert is, I'll post some pictures of my son who seems to REALLY be enjoying it! (I can NOT get enough of those little chubby fingers!)

Not Your Mama's Banana Pudding
Recipe by Paula Deene

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen Cookies (any butter cookie will work, but seriously look how cute the dessert looks with the fancy little chess cookies!)
6 Bananas, sliced
2 cups Milk
1 box instant French Vanilla Pudding (5 oz)
1 package Cream Cheese, softened (8 oz)
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk (14 oz)
1 container Cool Whip, thawed
1. In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well. In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk until smooth. Fold the Cool Whip into the cream cheese mixture. Combine the pudding and cream cheese mixture and stir until well blended.
2. Line the bottome of a 9X13" dish with 1 bag of the cookies.
3. Layer bananas on top of the cookies.
4. Pour the pudding mixture on top of the bananas.
5. Layer the remaining bag of cookies on top of the pudding.
6. Refrigerate over night for best result because the cookies get soft...MMMMM!
*A little note to the chef interested in making this dessert. You can totally throw in an additional layer of cookies, just buy an extra bag of cookies and only put half the pudding mixture down over the first layer of bananas then a layer of cookies, then the other half of the pudding, then layer the last bag of cookies. I did this the for these pictures, and my husband thought it was EVEN better!!

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