Fruity Pebble Macarons

My mother-in-law and I bond over cooking shows. We both enjoy baking and talking about what we would make in the contestants’ place. In our discussions, we keep coming back to macarons. While I’ve eaten many macarons, I have never made them… until yesterday!

A few weeks ago I happened across a recipe for Fruity Pebbles macarons. As a kid, I loved this cereal and this recipe finally motivated me to get the ingredients (and a kitchen scale) to make them. 

This week, my in-laws came to visit and my mother-in-law and I had our time in the kitchen. 

For a first try, I’m pleased with how our experiment turned out. The shells had the distinctive, chewy macaron texture. The outside didn’t puff up quite like macarons are supposed to, but I don’t think I got the Fruity Pebbles quite as finely ground as I needed to.

The flavor conjured up memories of Saturday morning cartoons and cereal on the living room floor. However, this version of macarons was a tad too sweet. Even my preschooler couldn’t finish his cookie. Perhaps these just need to be made into mini macarons. 

If you’re interested in trying the recipe, it’s in a cook book called Cereal Sweets & Treats by Jessica Sergarra. 

I’ve heard time and again how delicate a difficult macarons are to make, but my mother-in-law and I had fun making these. Despite the attention and precision called for by macarons, I’d be willing to try them again. Next time around, I’ll try more traditional flavors for my macarons: almond shells and chocolate or cherry filling, perhaps?

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

I saw some beautiful, large strawberries at the grocery store today and immediately thought of a video I’d saved a while ago on Facebook: No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bites. I couldn’t pass up the chance to use these berries.  

The original recipe can be found here: http://rare.us/rare-life/food-and-drink/these-no-bake-strawberry-cheesecake-bites-are-everything/ however, I did quarter the recipe since my husband wouldn’t have any interest in helping me eat these. My measurements are below:

Ingredients

4-6 strawberries (depending on size)

2 ounces cream cheese

1/3 cup powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Crushed animal crackers to taste

I followed the directions exactly as given in the video. They turned out great! Don’t let the name fool you, though; these are not filled with cheesecake. They are filled with cream cheese icing. Even still, they are not overly sweet and the vanilla compliments the flavor of the strawberries. The only caveat I have is that this recipe wouldn’t work well if the berries aren’t perfectly ripe. If you find perfect strawberries like I did, enjoy these perfect bites of summertime sweetness.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bars

Oh, it’s obvious I’m still getting back on the swing of things; I forgot that yesterday was Tuesday so I didn’t post.

This is a recipe from November during my first few days in our new house. I had limited cooking supplies. Just to drive home this point, I mixed up the batter for these in a large saucepan, not a mixing bowl and I mashed the bananas by smushing them between my fingers. I now understand why babies who are learning to eat big-people food find it so fun to squeeze everything between their little fingers.

Now for the recipe itself. As I was looking over my box of Jiffy baking mix for a muffin recipe, I found one for banana nut loaf. I didn’t have a loaf pan or all of the ingredients, but I was able to modify the recipe to fit my pantry contents and my not-quite-9×13 inch jelly roll pan. Here is what I came up with:

Ingredients

2 cups Jiffy Baking Mix (You might be able to use another brand, but it would have to be labeled something like “all-purpose” and not instant or complete)

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup canola or vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

1/3 cup mini, semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Put all ingredients except the chocolate chips into a mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes.

Allow to cool before cutting and serving.

These bars have a light, cakey texture and a subtle banana flavor. They are a great snack with a glass of milk or even a good breakfast food that can be served next to yogurt or spread with peanut butter. Of course, my son loved this sweet treat and although I prepared these by myself, the banana chocolate chip bars would be a great way to bake with small children because of the simplicity of the recipe.

Enjoy both the making and the munching of these deliciously simple little squares!

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts… In a Waffle Iron!

In case you’ve missed the promotions at your neighborhood doughnut shop, it’s National Doughnut Day. Since I had some sour cream left over from a tasty corn hot dish (think casserole or spoon pudding) I made last week, I decided to try a recipe for sour cream doughnuts. These are possibly my favorite variety. I definitely prefer cake doughnuts to yeast, and I find traditional glazed and powered sugar doughnuts overly sweet.

There was only one immediately apparent problem with the recipe: it called for frying. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I favor simple cooking methods. Frying just doesn’t seem simple to this Northern girl, though I admit that this is probably just lack of familiarity with the technique. Luckily, I remembered seeing a recipe for doughnuts in a waffle iron cookbook, so I went for it. You can find the original recipe for the sour cream doughnuts here at the Handle the Heat blog.

If you want to make these in a waffle iron, you can do the following:

The original recipe only uses egg yolks. I found that the dough wasn’t wet enough to get all of my dry ingredients incorporated, so I added some of the egg whites. However, I didn’t read the instructions closely enough at the beginning (rushing to finish during the kids’ nap time will do that) and whisked the sugar in with the dry ingredients instead of creaming it with the butter. This (and the fact that I used all-purpose flour instead of cake flour) may account for the dryness. Therefore, don’t add the whites until you see how your dough turns out. I also didn’t let the dough rest for an hour (once again, nap time). Once your dough has a sticky texture with a consistency somewhere between cookie dough and a thick cake batter, roll it into golf ball-sized rounds. Heat your waffle iron then coat lightly with cooking spray. Place one ball in the middle of each section. This will create diamond-shaped doughnuts that are slightly smaller than Eggo waffles. Close the iron and allow to cook for the preset time. Remove to a cooling rack and repeat. 

These were best hot off the waffle iron because they have a crispness on the outside that goes away as they cool. They crisp up nicely when reheated in a toaster, though. I broke mine into pieces and tried various toppings: a dusting of powdered sugar, store-bought icing, peanut butter, and plain. My favorite was the powdered sugar. It added just the right amount of sweetness and paired great with my afternoon coffee pick-me-up. The touch of nutmeg in the dough (I opted for 1/4 teaspoon) made these wonuts (doffles?) great plain, too.

So are these as good as traditionally fried and glazed sour cream doughnuts? No, the waffle iron smashes out some fluffiness, but they are easier, taste good, and contain less fat. I will definitely make these again.

One Pot Sausage, Spinach, and Parmesan Pasta

I took a break from Try It Tuesday after my second son was born. Originally, I had written a few articles in advance of his arrival, but adding a newborn to a household with a preschooler was more challenging than I anticipated. I didn’t end up posting any of them. Now, three months later, I feel like I’m almost ready to get back into the swing of things. Over the next few weeks, I’ll use the articles I wrote for immediately following the baby’s arrival, then I’ll start doing new ones. I prepared this meal and article back in December 2016 and I’ve made the recipe a few times since then. 

I have seen recipes for one-pot pastas and been skeptical. I worried that they would be less flavorful than those with rich sauces. I also worried that my husband wouldn’t eat it. When it comes to pasta, he is a red-sauce-or-nothing kind of guy. However, when I looked over the recipe that inspired my version of this dish, I saw many of the ingredients in the sausage, kale, and tortellini soup we love; so I finally took the plunge. To be fair, I had also forgotten to plan anything for dinner this past Sunday, didn’t feel like a grocery run, and had everything I needed for the recipe in the house.

The original recipe can be found here: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/256570/one-pot-italian-sausage-kale-pasta/

 My version is below:

Ingredients

8 ounces short pasta like penne, ziti, macaroni, etc.

8 ounced breakfast or sweet Italian turkey sausage (I actually added a little extra sausage to mine.)

1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with garlic (I use no salt added.)

1 bag fresh baby spinach, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

4-5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

4 cups water

Parmesan cheese (for topping)

Directions

Cook the sausage in a skillet and drain any grease. Put all ingredients into a large pot and stir. Bring to a rolling boil, then continue cooking for 10-12 minutes. Most of the water should be absorbed by the pasta or evaporated. Be sure to stir regularly throughout cooking to avoid having the pasta cook onto the bottom of your pot.

Remove from the heat. Allow the pasta to sit for five minutes before serving. Top with a generous amount of parmesan cheese.

My husband began dinner by teasing me about the lack of red sauce and how frequently I’d been experimenting with new recipes recently. It’s true I’ve been going beyond my once weekly, Try It Tuesday agreement, but in my defense, this is so that I don’t have to cook when I’m recovering from the C-section in a few weeks. The teasing stopped after a few bites, however. My husband followed up with a, “I really like this,” and even added, “This may be better than that tortellini soup.” Victory!

I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, too. Not only is it easy to throw together, but it smells and tastes great. The red pepper flakes add a nice touch of heat to the dish. I also appreciated how the pasta stayed firmer than I expected, though not quite al dente. I may experiment with adding a little less water and having a shorter cook time. If you like a bit more life in your veggies, wait until five or six minutes have passed before adding the spinach – or use kale like the original recipe does. All in all, this one’s a winner, though!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I tried to make a vanilla cake with caramel swirls in it last week. My husband doesn’t bake, so I make my own birthday desserts and this sounded like such a tasty way to celebrate. However, I wanted to try making it in advance so I wouldn’t be disappointed on my birthday if it failed—it failed. 

The yummy caramel sauce I made to swirl into the cake melted into the bottom of the cake and made the cake soggy, greasy, and overly dense. Thank goodness for my hacker’s intuition.

I realized that swirling caramel sauce into the batter wouldn’t work because no matter what, it would melt and sink. Instead, I’d have to choose a simple but dense cake to go with my caramel sauce. 

The obvious choice was a pound cake. I read through a number of recipes and decided on this one for cream cheese pound cake: http://www.marthastewart.com/315556/cream-cheese-pound-cakes

I halved the recipe since this makes two pound cakes and I only needed one. I’m including the measurements I used because in the comments section, there were some people who noted mistakes in the original recipe. I’m not sure if they are correct or the original recipe, but my halved version makes one awesome pound cake:

1 ½ sticks butter

4 ounces cream cheese

1 ½ cups sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

I have to say this recipe turned out really well. The batter looked like freshly-churned ice cream. It was light, fluffy, and flavorful (My son and I always try a lick from a spatula once we put a cake we’ve made in the oven).

Our cake only needed 60 minutes, but I did need to cover it with foil after about 40 minutes to keep it from over-browning. Between the flavor and the texture, I don’t think I could have picked a better recipe. It included helpful details (instead of simply saying “beat until light and fluffy,” it included estimates for how long that should take) that made the end result the success that it was. Instead of icing, I paired it with homemade caramel sauce, but it would go great with sliced strawberries, any kind of compote, or simply a cup of coffee or tea. I will definitely be using this recipe again!

Honey Ham and Swiss Crescent Twists

Quite honestly, this is a recipe that popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. I know these things are really just advertisements, but this sounded so good (and so simple) that I went out and bought the necessary ingredients last week. Then, when I realized I’d forgotten to get the roast for last night’s dinner out of the freezer, I decided to do Try It Tuesday a day early. You can find the recipe for the Honey Ham and Swiss Crescent Twists here: https://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/honey-ham-and-swiss-crescent-twists/5f4a21e9-e44b-4bca-bdc6-975e363d2220

Yes, this was simple. Yes, they tasted great (in my opinion… luckily I made pepperoni rolls as a backup for my finicky hubby and son).

The website says these are meant to be appetizers, but refrigerated dough tends to have the best taste and texture fresh out of the oven. While they wouldn’t be bad after sitting on a table with other appetizers for an hour or so, they certainly wouldn’t be at their best. But I really feel these work better as a lunch or light dinner served with salad, fruit, or a steamed veggie.  I also think serving them with a dipping sauce like honey mustard or apricot jam would add some pizazz. 

My only complaint is that the ham and cheese didn’t stay in the dough very well as I was twisting them. The problem seemed to stem from the fact that I’d chopped the filling into little squares like the recipe photos show. Next time, I’ll try laying the whole slices between the sheets of dough instead. Since you slice through the sandwiched ingredients anyway, I think the twists will still look nice while being more manageable.

Enjoy! I sure did!

Peanut Butter Cup Pudding

Our favorite grocery store had bags of peanut butter cups on sale for $1.25. I also have been needing to take it easier than I (or my two-year-old) am used to thanks to a somewhat difficult pregnancy, so I’ve been looking for quick, fun activities I can do with my son between rests. He’s much more willing to play quietly and independently when I find these sorts of things. It’s also pretty warm out, so I’m reluctant to turn on the oven. 

All of this inspired me to look up some pudding recipes during a kick count (baby number 2 is an active little guy). I came across this recipe and decided it was a better choice than avocado pudding (yum!) simply because I had all of the ingredients: https://www.hersheys.com/reeses/en_us/recipes/peanut-butter-cup-pudding.html

I got all of the equipment and ingredients out on the table then called my son over. This was such a great recipe for him to help with because there was so much for him to do: count and unwrap the peanut butter cups, use the chopper, dump ingredients, stir, and, of course, lick the spoon. For both of us, the hardest part was not eating the peanut butter cups while we unwrapped them and waiting to taste the pudding until it had had a chance to chill.

I really liked that the recipe used vanilla pudding. I’m sure chocolate would taste great, too (or even banana cream), but the vanilla let the peanut butter be the star of the show. I used sugar-free pudding, but regular or even cook and serve would work, too. I would avoid using pre-made pudding cups, however, because the peanut butter wouldn’t mix in smoothly. That said, in order to get the best texture here, you need to make sure to mix vigorously and long enough to achieve a smooth pudding. If you’re doing this by hand, it takes a few minutes. Also, it’s important to let the pudding chill for an hour or so. Not only does this improve the texture, but it makes the taste of the artificial sweetener less pronounced if you’re using sugar free.
All in all, this was a great success. My son and I enjoyed making and eating this treat. I’m sure I’ll pull this out again in the summer months when it gets really hot.

Chicken Fricassee

I have a problem: I save waaaaayyy too many articles and recipes in Facebook. Perhaps as some sort of nesting or simply as a part of my need to organize and clean in order to stay sane, I recently started going through those links and getting rid of things. Today’s recipe has been towards the bottom of my saved links in Facebook for months, so I decided to make it for dinner tonight.

During my four-plus years in France, I sampled many traditional dishes: petit-salé, cassoulet, pot au feu, blanquette de veau, but never fricassee; so I was excited to give this Martha Stewart rendition a try. I only made 2 changes to my version: two boneless chicken breasts instead of whole chicken pieces and no tarragon at the end (I really don’t like that herb). You can find the recipe here: http://www.marthastewart.com/925889/chicken-fricassee-fricassee-de-poulet-lancienne

The key to this recipe is to chop and measure out everything in advance. None of the steps is complicated, but there is quite a succession of things to do. If you aren’t immediately ready to move on to the next step, you can get overwhelmed. This fact alone made it a poor recipe choice for me. At 35 weeks pregnant, it required too much standing and bustling around the kitchen at the end of a busy day. I’m just not used to needing to rest this much. Lesson learned.

As for my family’s evaluations of the end result, I’d say they were generally unimpressed. My son has recently boycotted napping and it finally seemed to be catching up with him today. I think he would have liked it more if he had been in a better mood. After all, it’s basically chicken, carrots, and celery (and I served it over oven-roasted potatoes). You can’t go wrong with that combination in my household. But even I felt a little disappointed. I enjoyed the rich sauce and mushrooms, but it was a lot of work for a stew. I’d happily eat this again, but only if someone else prepared it.

Chicken Thighs with Couscous and Kale

As a military family, we shop at the local base commissary. Every couple of months, they put out a magazine called Eat Well Live Better, and it usually includes a series of recipes and meal ideas for a featured military family. In the Winter 2017 edition that I picked up last week, I found that the solution to their meal challenge “One-pot meals for toddlers and adults” fit my own family perfectly. Moreover, the specific recipe I chose for Try It Tuesday catered to foods everyone in my family enjoys: my son love couscous. My husband is a fan of how kale blends into dishes so seemlessly. I enjoy the Moroccan spice profile chosen by the author. 

The original recipe can be found on page 18 of the magazine if you’re a military family. Or, right here if you aren’t: Chicken Thighs with Couscous and Kale.

Unfortunately, our commissary didn’t have any Israeli or pearl couscous, which cooks differently from the instant stuff you find in most grocery store (and is different still from traditional couscous that is steam-cooked); this was the beginning of my troubles with the recipe. While I was purchasing the ingredients, I decided to use instant couscous and resolved to add it in the last few minutes of cooking. Unfortunately, my pregnancy brain kicked in a few days later when I was cooking and I followed the instructions for the Israeli couscous. That meant my couscous didn’t toast but burned to the bottom of my skillet. It was also ready well before the chicken thighs were actually cooked. On top of that, our TV wasn’t working properly, so my two-year-old son was whining because he couldn’t watch his new favorite cartoon while I made dinner. 

With a little teamwork from my husband, who took a break from his workout to fix the TV and get our son calmed down, and a little quick thinking from the chef (add more broth to keep the couscous moist; pick out the chicken, cut into small pieces, and cook in a second skillet) dinner was salvageable, but I don’t know that any of us enjoyed it like we should have. Although I enjoyed the flavor (I recommend using only one teaspoon each of the thyme and cumin and adding an extra clove of garlic for a more balanced flavor), I couldn’t stop thinking about the mess I’d made for myself to clean up in the kitchen. My husband was disappointed we were having couscous. My son was just grumpy. All in all, we just had one of those nights.

That said, I’d like to try this recipe again with either the proper couscous or a fully functioning brain that will remind me about the tweaks I need to make when substituting ingredients. Hopefully my fiasco (or one of your own) doesn’t keep you from trying a tasty new recipe this week!