Friday, December 27, 2013

Baked Apples with Cranberry Granola

Apples. They are a staple fruit for us. They are especially big hits with the kids and their hungry friends.

Ages ago, I used to make baked apples with plain granola and brown sugar.  Now, I have found a way to cut out the extra brown sugar. I just don't add it!

Of course, the type of apple used makes a huge difference in the finished product.  Tart green apples need the sugar.  Red varieties don't. Since nobody around here likes raisins, I used a raisin-free cereal and added the dried cranberries instead.

These apples are fragrant and beautiful.  When you slice them open,  the red skin imparts a rosy glow to the apple's flesh.  They also happen to taste divine!

4-6 large apples, I used Red Delicious
3/4 cup granola cereal (I used Quaker Natural Granola cereal)
1/4 cup dried cranberries/ Craisins
2/3 cup cranberry-raspberry juice (or cranberry-apple juice)

1. Core the apples. Arrange in your baking dish.

2. Mix together the granola and cranberries.  Fill each cored apple with this.  If you have some leftover, toss it in the bottom of the baking dish.

3. Pour 1/3 cup the juice into the center of the apples to moisten the granola.

4. Bake uncovered at.350 F for 40-45 minutes.  Baste once with the other 1/3 cup of fresh juice.

5. Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream, or just pour cream over them. Garnish with additional granola or sliced almonds if you want some crunch.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Influenster Rose Vox Box

A while back I joined Influenster, a site that sends out products to sample and review.  In early November I received the Rose Vox Box. They sent some nice stuff!

First, I devoured the chocolate, because I could. I'm familiar with Lindt Lindor truffles.  My favorite is milk chocolate, and that's what I was sent.  The outer layer is crisp milk chocolate, and the truffle filling is smooth milk chocolate that is really creamy. 

There was also a pack of BelVita breakfast biscuits. They were crisp and tasty, a lot like graham crackers with more texture.  I will definitely get these again.  I shared them with my daughter and she didn't give them back.

I was really interested in the nail polish set, Kiss Gradation Polishes.  There were three bottles of polish that complimented each other.  It was easy to apply the various layers and they turned out looking really good, even for someone like me that doesn't do nail polish often.

See? I think I will use this for the Christmas party, or maybe New Year's Eve.

Next, I tried out the Rimmel Scandaleyes Retro Glam Mascara in black.  I typically use black mascara because it helps define my eyes.  This mascara was very thick and plumped up my lashes quickly and easily.  I liked the shape of the brush and it seemed to help define my lashes.  It was easy to do my bottom lashes by holding the wand straight up and down and swiping it vertically in a few passes.

Finally, I tried the Dr Scholl's for Her Cozy Cushions.  I have never seen shoe inserts like this. They were really thick and fluffy. I had to find some shoes that had plenty of space inside because these were so thick. Even with taking out the original insoles, these were too thick for all of my shoes. It's a nice idea, but didn't work for me.

Please note: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cabernet Steak Pot Pie

What do you do with leftover roasts?  Savory pies are a great way to use leftovers. We eat plenty of French dip sandwiches and salads topped with sliced steak, but I rarely make pot pie. I think with the cold weather coming in, we needed a comfort food meal and a pot pie is definitely comfort food!

I had an open bottle of Rex Goliath cabernet, a leftover roast, and a few baked potatoes in the fridge, so no wasting! To make this pot pie a little different and more "gourmet", I added the red wine and some herbs to the gravy. It was delicious!

Dear hubby and his brother requested a deer version next time.  That's an awesome idea, especially since we have venison stock and plenty of meat in the freezer. Oh, yes, that plan is already forming. Cabernet and venison are so good together. Also, venison instead of beef? It's a natural substitution in our house.

about 1 1/2 lbs leftover cooked beef roast or steak, trimmed and diced
2-3 leftover baked potatoes, chopped with skins on
1 small yellow onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup frozen petite peas
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
3 Tablespoons AP flour
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons Cabernet Sauvignon wine
1/2 a bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground thyme
a squeeze of lemon juice
black pepper and sea salt to taste
1 recipe Pie Crust No. 3
1 egg, beaten

1. Saute 1 Tablespoon butter and the onion, garlic, and carrots until softened. Add peas and steak and cook until just warmed.

2. Prepare your pie dish, line a large pie dish with bottom layer of pie crust as described in Pie Crust No. 3 recipe.

3. Fill pie dish with sauteed vegetables and steak. Add the chopped baked potato pieces.

4. Prepare the sauce by making a roux.  Melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and cook until it turns light brown.  Add the wine, then beef broth while whisking to make a smooth gravy.  Add the tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened.

5. Pour gravy over the pot pie filling. Top with second layer of pie crust and crimp edges to seal. Poke a few holes in the center for venting.  Brush beaten egg on top crust. This will make it a lovely brown.

6. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the crust is flaky and browned to your liking.

7. Let the pot pie rest a few minutes before serving. It will be steaming hot and delicious.

8. Enjoy with a glass of wine and a refreshing salad.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pie Crust No. 3

Today I'm sharing my authentic French Pâte Brisée recipe.  It's wonderfully light and flaky with that unmistakable flavor that only comes from real buttery goodness.

This recipe makes enough for two single-crust (bottom only) pies or one double-crust (top and bottom) pie. Since it's not sweet, it is suitable for sweet or savory pies, especially pot pies for dinner. I used this butter-based crust for my Cabernet Steak Pot Pie recipe and it was fabulous.

3 cups unbleached AP flour
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold water (you may not need all of this)
additional flour for rolling

1. Chop or shred the cold butter. I used a microplane grater to grate the cold butter into a large mixing bowl.  Put it back in the fridge a few minutes to keep it cold. I had commercially salted butter on hand so that is what I used.

2. Add the flour and salt and blend with a pastry blender until evenly crumbly. (If you have unsalted butter, up the salt in this step to 1/2 teaspoon.)  Return mixture to fridge another 10 minutes.

3. Add 1/2 cup cold water to the mixture and begin blending.  If it's too dry, add additional cold water a tablespoon at a time.  Mix until it mostly holds together but it should still be a bit crumbly. Divide dough into two balls. Put the second dough ball back in the fridge.  Keeping this dough cold helps keep the crust flaky and light.

4. Dust your work surface with a little extra flour.  Place one ball of dough in the center. Dust top with flour and roll out to about 1/4" or 3/8" thickness.  It should be enough for a 9" pie dish.

5. Transfer this to your pie dish and repeat step 4 for your top layer.

6. Fill the pie dish and place the top layer on top. Crimp the edges together. I trimmed it slightly past the edge of the dish, then pinched and turned it up and over toward the center and made a little pleat.

7. Bake until done in a preheated oven. This will depend on the pie filling, but generally 350F for 30-45 minutes works well. You may want to use an egg wash to get the top extra brown and glossy.

For additional pie construction details, check out these recipes, too.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Not Your Average Pizza

 Pizza. We eat tons of it. Take-out pizza is the food of choice for most birthday parties we attend for the kids and their friends.

You're probably thinking "Gee, Jenny. Don't you get tired of nasty, cardboard-tasting crust from pizza chains?"

Why, yes. Yes, we get tired of cheap pizza.  So you know what that means.  We either go to a good pizza place or make some at home. Cuz, that's how I roll.

Then, one day this summer, I was chatting with a coworker about homemade pizza. She gave me the low-down on grilled pizza. Here's me, the wanne-be foodie thinking OMG why have I not already tried that?

I've done plenty of normal pizza, and even folding it up into a calzone. Being out in the West, with a fancy propane grill and all, I figured I had to try it. So you should, too.  Now if grilling pizza is not your thing, don't freak out.  I have instructions for regular oven-baked pizza, or turning it into calzone, along with grilling details below.

1 packet active yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast)
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110F or so)
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour plus extra for kneading
1 teaspoon salt
semolina or cornmeal for dusting cooking trays
various pizza toppings of your choice (ideas below)

1. Place the warm water in a mixing bowl and stir in the honey. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the yeast dissolve and proof about 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and stir.

2.  Mix the flour and salt together.  Pour all of it into the yeast mixture and mix until it forms a smooth dough. I recommend using a stand mixer with a dough hook and running on low.  If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle in a little more flour, about 1 tablespoon at a time. When the dough starts to pull away from the bowl, turn the mixer up to medium and let it mix about 5 minutes.

3. Turn the dough out onto a floured flat surface an knead by hand another 2-3 minutes.  (If it sticks at all, sprinkle the surface with additional flour to keep in from sticking. Knead the dough until it is elastic and doesn't stick to your hands.)

4.  Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled.

5. Remove dough from the bowl. Divide the dough by cutting it with a serrated knife. Reshape into balls. I usually cut the ball in half, and then save one half for a large pizza and divide the remaining half in half again for kid-size pizzas.  Place your newly shaped dough balls on a cookie sheet covered with plastic wrap to rise for another 30 minutes. (For the picture below, I made a double batch.)

6. When you're ready to make pizza, preheat the oven or grill to about 500F.  Stretch or roll out a ball of dough to your desired pizza size.

7. To cook in the oven: Sprinkle a flat cookie sheet or pizza stone with semolina or corn meal.  Lay out the pizza dough and stretch again to desired size if it shrunk. Spread tomato sauce on top, add other toppings. We normally make it with mozzarella cheese, Canadian bacon, and pineapple tidbits.  Bake it about 15 minutes. The crust should brown on the underside and the cheese will melt.

8. To cook on the grill:  Place dough on the grill but do not add toppings. Grill it until the bottom is cooked with light grill marks.  Flip it over and continue grilling while you add toppings.  Again, cook until the cheese melts and the bottom gets browned with grill marks. The time will vary depending on your grill. So cook it until it looks done.

9. To make calzone: Using a large ball of dough, shape it into a large circle. Place it on a cookie sheet dusted with semolina or corn meal.  Add toppings to half of the circle.  We use pizza sauce and a few tablespoons of ricotta cheese, followed by various toppings. Once filled not too full, flip the other side of the dough over top and seal it up by pinching and turning the edges together to seal it.  Do not cut any holes in the top.  Bake it about 20 minutes, or until the crust is browned and crisp.

Topping ideas:
  • tomato sauce, sauteed onions and garlic, cooked sausage, sliced black olives, shredded colby jack and mozzarella cheese
  • tomato sauce, oven roasted garlic, proscuitto, ricotta, shredded mozzarella
  • oven roasted garlic, olive oil, cooked and sliced chicken, cooked and sliced thin red potato, fontina cheese, sauteed onions
  • basil pesto, spinach, artichoke hearts, cooked and sliced chicken, shredded mozzarella cheese
  • tomato sauce, sliced rounds of fresh buffalo mozzarella, fresh whole Genovese basil leaves, with sliced Roma tomatoes
  • tomato sauce, Canadian bacon, pineapple tidbits, shredded colby jack and mozzarella cheese
  • tomato sauce, pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese
  • tomato sauce, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, sausage, salami, shredded cheese, green bell pepper, green onion
  • BBQ sauce, cooked and sliced chicken, shredded colby jack and mozzarella cheese, green onions
  • BBQ sauce, pulled pork, shredded colby jack and mozzarella cheese, green onions

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 Best in the West Rib Cook-Off

Yes, it happened again.  The Nugget Rib Cook-off has come and gone.

This year marked the 25th annual cookoff. There were all the usual events, like free concerts with Diego's Umbrella and Bad Company, vendors along the street, the carnival rides, the Rib Village, and Maker's Mark showed up to sell commemorative 25th anniversary silver-wax-dipped bottles of bourbon.

The old Silver Club, has re-opened under the new name of Bourbon Square Casino.  They had a beignet stand just outside the doors.  I love donuts and beignets and these were super, super good beignets! The fried pickles from the next stand were pretty good, too.

This year, we went to the Rib Village and methodically taste-tested ribs.  We took a plate of ribs with the matching sauce and shared amongst ourselves. The 5 of us, me, the husband, his mother, his brother, and brother's girlfriend did the tasting.  The kids were there, too, just not doing any evaluating.

We concluded that the overall outstanding ribs and sauce belonged to Back 40 Texas BBQ. The brother and girlfriend both really liked Rasta Joe's as their 2nd favorite. I liked Carson City's in 2nd. I was not impressed by Chicago's or  Barbecue Company's ribs or sauces.

I was a bit disappointed at some of the ribs put out for serving in the Rib Village. You could tell they had been in the holding ovens and really got dried out.  Desperado's ribs had a very strong rub that didn't agree with me, but the ribs were tender and not dried out. Aussom Aussie's ribs and sauce were tasty, but the ribs were dry. Sweet Baby Ray's was here this year. I love their sauce! We all agree that ribs fresh from the smoker are superior to the ribs held for the Rib Village, but it sure is nice to have a table and a waiter!

After we stuffed ourselves with ribs, we walked around the street vendors.  There was the usual Tiffany-style glass lamps, hats, clothes, artwork, and the like. After the food digested a bit, we also enjoyed a funnel cake with strawberries and whipped cream and some deep-fried peaches.

The official prize-winners were announced Monday.

1st place - Famous Dave's
2nd place - Texas Outlaw Barbecue
3rd place - Kinder's Custom Meats
People's Choice winner - Chicago BBQ Company

We're very familiar with Famous Dave's and Kinders, and also have previously loved Texas Outlaw's ribs.  These winners are all deserving of their prizes. They have consistently good food.

For more information, visit the official Best in the West website. See you again very soon!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

The other night, we were hungry for cake. Being the cake lover that I am, I got busy and whipped up a chocolate cake.  I have to say it can be difficult to get cakes to rise properly at high altitude. Normally they sink in the center and stay sort of gooey, unless you cook them longer and then the edges get dried out. This cake is by far the BEST chocolate cake recipe EVER. I'm not kidding! It tastes great, really chocolate-y, good texture, moist, and it didn't sink in the middle or cook unevenly.

These pictures are of a slice cut from the absolute center of the cake. See how perfect it is? This is unbelievable!

This is not my first time with a mayo cake. It was pretty common back in Oklahoma. Maybe it's one of those regional food things because my hubby thought I was crazy for using mayonnaise in cake. I asked him if he ever had sour cream chocolate cake. Of course not, but he wasn't grossed out. So I proved that even though it sounds funny at first, it tastes amazing.

One thing to note about mayonnaise, not all mayonnaises are created equal. Some brands flavor their mayo with a little mustard, spices, or dried garlic and onions. Just beware and read the ingredients on the jar. Choose one that only has eggs, oil, vinegar, and lemon juice so it has a neutral flavor. I used Best Foods Mayo. I think of the mayo as a turboboost of protein and oil.

We got creative with our cake. You can use regular frosting, or a thin glaze, or even just dust it with powdered sugar.  We opted for whipped cream and caramel sauce and stacked it like a napoleon

My recipe has a few basic adjustments that can be expected for altitude bakers. For those low-altitude followers, the original recipe can be found here.

2 cups unbleached AP flour + 1 tablespoon
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, like Ghiradelli or Sharffen Berger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar (measure scant on the last 1/3 cup)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/3 cups water

1. Mix the dry ingredients together and set aside.

2. Beat the eggs, vanilla. and sugar until light and fairly fluffy. An electric mixer is obviously a great tool for mixing it to the light and fluffy stage.  Add the mayonnaise and mix until just combined.

3. Add the water and dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat until moist and smooth.

4. Pour into your cake pan (or pans) that have been sprayed with nonstick spray or lubed up with shortening. I made this in a 9x13 pan, but it's also the right amount for two 8" rounds.

5. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 25-30 minutes for 8" rounds, or 30-35 minutes for 9x13.  The cake should pull away from the edges slightly and also pass a toothpick test.

6. Cool the cake in the pan about 10 minutes, then turn it out on a rack to cool completely.

7. You might want to frost it with some super simple and delicious Vanilla Buttercream Frosting or dress it up like mine. Slice unfrosted cake into thin layers, spread/spray/pipe whipped cream on three slices, drizzle caramel on top, and stack the slices.

If you try this out. let me know what you think!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Roast Chicken with Garlic and White Wine

Hello again, my dear readers!

I have a fabulous recipe for you today.  Chicken!  I have to laugh to myself because my dear hubby is not a chicken lover. He will tolerate it if required. However, this recipe is the one chicken meal that he actually likes and will ask for!

It's not terribly complicated. The hardest part is prepping the bird. Then it goes into the oven and just roasts away. You do need to baste occasionally, but it is worth the tending.

You can carve it like a tiny holiday turkey and plate it up all pretty. You can make gravy with the pan drippings if you want to go that route. It's pretty versatile. In this photo, you can see the garlic crusted breast skin, wild rice, and peas. Yum! If you have leftovers, they are perfect for making chicken tetrazini.


1 whole chicken, about 5-6 lbs
10 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 carrots, peeled, chopped in large chunks
1 stalk celery, chopped in large chunks
1 cup white wine, I used Rex Goliath Chardonnay

1. Wash the chicken inside and out.  Pat the chicken dry. Reserve giblets for chicken stock, or for feeding the dogs, or toss if you're icked out. (I like to make chicken stock and then feed the cooked meaty parts to the dogs. Don't give your dogs chicken bones. They can splinter and choke your pups.)

2. Combine the poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle some in the cavity, all over the outside of the bird and then separate the skin from the breast (like a little pocket) and rub some into the breast meat. Repeat with the minced garlic and 3 Tablespoons butter over the bird, inside and out, inside the little breast skin pocket.

3. Stuff the cavity with the remaining tablespoon of butter, carrot, and celery.

4. Pop the chicken into a 400F oven for 10 minutes. Do not cover it.

5. After the 10 minutes are up, gently pour the wine over the bird, let some run in the cavity.  Reduce heat to 325F.  Let it roast about 1 hour 30 minutes, basting every 30 minutes or so.

6. Test for doneness. The thigh meat should easily separate from the body if gently twisted. If it's not ready, give it another 15-30 minutes.  My big fat chicken took almost 2 hours.

7. Carve it up and enjoy. Discard the vegetables that were in the cavity. They were there to provide moisture and flavor.  I went for some wild rice blend and steamed peas as sides.

This recipe can also work with Cornish game hens.  They are essentially younger, smaller chickens.  Use two hens and reduce the cooking time to about an hour, basting every 15 minutes.

PS. If you are looking for other chicken recipes, I'm pretty impressed with Fifty Shades of Chicken. Let me know what you think!