Sunday, February 7, 2016

Key Lime Pie

The other night, we were eating this pie, and the kids asked me to tell them a funny story.  I told them about a story when I was a senior in high school.  My friend Jessi and I were quite the trouble-makers in government class.  Our teacher learned this quickly but never got mad at us.  He would just look at us and say, "Jeesssssiii, Caaaalllllie" and give us a disgruntled expression and a raised eyebrow.  Before the bell rang, he always stood in the hallway and talked to the other teachers.  One day, we had a quiz over the counties of Nevada.  Jessi and I made about 20 copies of the answers and stapled them all over the walls, unbeknownst to him since he was yapping in the hallway.  He came in the classroom, looked around, smirked, and looked right at Jessi and I and said, "Jeessssssiiiii, Caaaaallllliie."  He made us take them down, but we sure thought it was hilarious.

We were having some people over for dinner a few weeks ago, and I asked what they wanted for dessert.  One of them quickly asked if I could make key lime pie.  I had never made or eaten key lime pie, but I was bound and determined to do it.  When I got home, I researched key lime pie recipes for a good hour trying to find one that looked amazing.  I saw one that had a coconut macaroon crust, but I thought that it might be a bit too sweet.  I finally settled on the America's Test Kitchen key lime pie recipe, but I toasted some coconut to sprinkle on top.  Sweet mother of all that is holy.  This is one good pie.

A couple weeks after making this the first time, I made it for another friend.  He said that it was the best key lime pie that he'd ever had and told me that I should work in a bakery.  That made my whole day!

Key Lime Pie
source: America's Test Kitchen: The New Family Cookbook

Graham Cracker Crust:
8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch chunks 
3 T sugar
5 T butter, melted and cooled

Preheat over to 325.  

Place the graham cracker crumbs and sugar in a food processor.  Process until fine.  Add the melted butter and pulse about 5 more times.  

Press into a 9-inch pie plate.  You can use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack the crumbs in.  Bake until beginning to brown, 12-18 minutes.  Remove to cool, but keep the oven on.

Key Lime Pie:
4 large egg yolks
4 t grated lime zest and 1/2 c lime juice (about five limes)
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 c heavy cream
1/4 c powdered sugar

Set oven to 325.

For the pie, whisk the egg yolks and lime zest for two minutes until mixture has a light green tint.  Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk.  Add the lime juice, and whisk to combine.  Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to thicken.

After the 30 minutes is up, pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the center is firm but jiggles slightly.  Cool on a wire rack for one hour.  Cover and cool in the fridge for at least three hours or overnight.  

Before serving, make the whipped cream.  Beat the heavy cream and sugar with a whisk attachment on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  Spread over the chilled pie.

If you want to add toasted coconut, heat a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Add about 1/2 c toasted coconut.  Watch it closely and stir often to prevent over-browning.  Once it's nice and golden brown, sprinkle it over the whipped cream.  

Chipotle Salsa

My best friend Sara and her husband always tease me and how I cook.  If I bring them cookies or something, they go on and say things like, "Oh, I just made these with some fresh eggs from my chicken hatchery in the backyard, I ground the wheat that I grew in my garden, and I used the butter I churned by hand after milking my prize-winning cow Betsy Sue."

I recently made this chipotle salsa and gave half of it to them.  When the husband texting me to see how I made it, I wrote him back saying, "I used my hand-picked, perfectly ripened tomatoes from my garden, fresh chili peppers imported directly from Mexico, and fresh limes straight from a tree in my citrus grove." 'Cause I live in Las Vegas and have room for a cow, a hatchery, and a citrus grove.  Heck, I'm lucky that my rosebushes survive year to year.

This salsa though... It is so good.  It can't be easier to make, and it is amazing.  It tastes a lot like the salsa from Chevy's, which I can eat by the bucketful.  Next time you have a get together, whip up a batch of this and brace yourself for recipe requests.

Chipotle Salsa
source: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays pg. 138

Yield: 5 cups!

Two 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
One 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies (like Ro-Tel)
1 medium onion, diced
1-3 chipotle peppers in adobo (I used 1 to keep the heat down.  If you like more heat, add more)
1 t cumin
1 t salt
1/2 t ground pepper
1 t sugar
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
1/4 c lime juice

This directions are pretty tricky... brace yourself.  Add all ingredients in a blender and turn it on.  Blend until it's a nice consistency like the picture above.  Done and done.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Soft Mall Pretzels and Cheese Dip

Back in the days of my youth, I used to work at the mall.  I worked at a few different kiosks and in the stores.  Being that I would usually go right from school to work, I rarely had time to eat at home.  I was stuck eating mall food most days, hence the reason I wasn't the skinniest kid you've ever seen.  One day, I was sitting at my kiosk waiting for people to come by while I was snacking on some mall pretzels for dinner.  All of the sudden, I heard this faint music playing.  Quizzically, I looked around.  I couldn't find the source of the music at first, but then I spotted it.  Oh, boy.  Did I ever.  I saw an older, heavier guy with long, brown flowing hair pressed down under his mesh trucker hat sitting on a rascal driving full speed ahead.  He had an American flag duct taped to the back of his chair and a boombox from the 80s jimmy-rigged to the back of his chair with bungee cords.  As if this wasn't hilarious enough, the song... oh, man.  He was blaring "Mmm-bop" by Hansen, flying through the mall at full speed (and when I say full speed, I mean like 2 miles an hour), with his American flag flapping behind.  The sweet sound of Hansen filled the mall.  God Bless America and Hansen.  And mall pretzels.

These stupid pretzels were the most amazing pretzel I have ever tasted.  Aunt Annie and Wetzel, wherever you are... your pretzels are dead to me!  I was sure that they wouldn't turn out or taste very good, but sweet mercy, they were delicious.  I think my oldest daughter inhaled hers in a matter of seconds saying something like, "Mom, thesefsee  preiahkjanscalsatzels  arejrrerer aiaufyhasfamaziashring."  I couldn't understand it much since her mouth was completely full, but I'm pretty sure she said that the pretzels were amazing.  You could make pretzel bites for a great appetizer for "the big game."  Heaven forbid me mention the S word in February.  I don't need to be sued.  If I was, I'd want a batch of these pretzels as my comfort food.  Ridiculously delicious.

Soft Mall Pretzels

cheese sauce recipe:

1 c milk
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 t)
3 T light brown sugar
2 1/4 c flour
5 T unsalted butter, divided
1 t salt
1/3 c baking soda
coarse salt

Warm the milk in a large glass bowl in the microwave for 40 seconds.  Add the yeast.  Stir to dissolve.  Let the yeast soften for two minutes.  Stir in the brown sugar and 1 c of flour.   Mix well with a wooden spoon.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and mix it in.  Add the remaining 1 1/4 c flour and salt.  Mix until your have a sticky dough.  If needed, add more flour.  (I added about 2-3 more tablespoons to cut down on the stickiness.) 

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth but still slightly tacky. 

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise for an hour, or until doubled in size. 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment and spray with cooking spray. 

Punch the dough down and divide into six equal-sized balls. Roll each ball in a rope about 24-30 inches long.  It can be tricky to get the dough into ropes that long without breaking.  If you can only get them 18-24 long, that's fine.  Mine came out to be about 20 inches long.

Combine 3 c of warm water and 1/3 c baking soda.  Stir to dissolve.

Shape the ropes into a pretzel shape, dip it in the water, reshape if necessary, and place on the cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes.  When they come out, brush the tops with the remaining melted butter.

Serve with cheese sauce.

Ingredients for cheese sauce:
1 c whole milk
2 T unsalted butter
2 T flour
1 c sharp cheddar cheese
1 T hot sauce (reduce if you don't like heat!)
1/2 t cayenne (reduce if you don't like heat!)
salt and pepper to taste.

Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the flour and whisk to combine.  Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Slowly add the milk, whisking as you add it.  Whisk constantly for five minutes.  The mixture will thicken.  Add the cheese and whisk until melted.  Add the hot sauce and cayenne (you can omit this entirely if you don't want any heat).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie

When the rare occasion arises that my kids and I go to Wal-Mart, we like to play Wal-Mart I-spy.  Now, if you've ever been there, especially after dark, you can probably guess what is on the list:

Someone on a motorized shopping cart
Someone wearing camouflage
Someone with a 'Merica shirt on
A mom screaming at her kids
Someone with crazy dyed hair
Someone wearing pajama pants (and slippers for a bonus point)
Someone wearing clothes that are clearly too small

One time when my oldest daughter and I went there, she saw a lady with pink hair, wearing camouflage pajama pants, wearing a shirt with an American flag, and she was screaming at her kids.  Nailed it!  Wal-Mart I-Spy just may revolutionize your shopping trips. 

Now, let me tell you about these cookies.  They really are the best.  The dough has dry pudding mix in them which keeps them ridiculously soft for days.  The original recipe is for Cookies and Cream cookies, which has crumbled Oreos in the dough.  Come on now, who doesn't want to eat an incestuous cookie?  Those are probably my favorite cookie, but sometimes I just want a good ol' chocolate chip cookie.  I used dark chocolate chunks and semi-sweet chocolate chips for the pictured cookie, but you can use whatever chips you've got on hand.  These cookies will never disappoint you, and people will love and hate you at the same time- hopefully, a little heavier on the love side though. 

Make the cookies.  Play Wal-Mart i-Spy.  Thank me later- maybe with a cookie.  :)

Yield: 2 dozen

3/4 c butter, at room temperature
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
3.5 oz. vanilla instant pudding mix
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2 1/4 c flour
10 oz. chocolate chips (about 1 1/2 c )
If you want something magical, crush up 8 Oreos and add them to the dough in addition to the chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until it looks light and fluffy- about 2 minutes.  Lower the mixer speed to medium-low and add the eggs and vanilla.  Mix well to incorporate.  Turn off the mixer.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dry vanilla pudding mix, baking soda, flour, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Turn the mixer on low and add the flour mixture.  Mix well.  Add the chocolate chips.

Use a cookie scoop and plop the dough onto a cookie sheet (about two tablespoons of dough), two inches apart.  Bake the cookies for 12 minutes.

Do not overbake!  These cookies don't brown very much, and they look undercooked after 12 minutes.  However, you take those bad boys out at 12 minutes, let them sit for about 30 minutes, and they're perfect. 

One quick cookie tip- The darker the cookie sheet is, the quicker the bottoms of the cookies bake.  So, if you have one of those really dark-colored cookie sheets, the bottoms of your cookies will be a lot darker and most likely burn.  I use the light colored stainless steel looking cookie sheets.  You can get three in a pack at Sam's club for about $20.  I won't bake cookies on anything else!

These cookies stay soft for about three days, and it tastes like you're eating straight cookie dough- freaking delicious.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Outback Green Beans Copycat

Let me tell you a little fairy tale.

There once was a guy (I'm not saying any names to protect those involved) that hated green vegetables.  I mean, he looked at them as though the were dirt clods.  It's quite safe to say that he was completely disgusted by the things.  Now, this guy was a good sport, and he would give them a try when someone put them on the table just to be nice.  However, after one bite, they sat on his plate and went cold.  Smothered in cheese?  No, thank you.  Drenched in garlic butter?  Meh. I'll pass.

Well, these French green beans were presented to him.  Disgruntled, he agreed to try them.  He took a bite, and all sitting at the table waited in eager anticipation but expected a snarl on the face.  He said, "MMM!  What did you put on these things?!  I love these!  Like,  I don't even want to eat anything else on my plate even though it all looks amazing."  He scarfed down the green beans and demanded that the recipe never be lost.  Hence, here I am documenting the recipe for this chap that has come to love a green vegetable.  *Enter a heavenly light from above with angels singing a chorus of wonder and praise.*

These really were delicious.  I've never had the Outback version of these, but if they are anywhere near this good, I'm impressed!

Outback Green Beans Copycat

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed on the ends
4 T butter
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t soy sauce
1/2 t garlic powder
1/8 t salt
1/8 t cracked black pepper

Steam the green beans for 8-10 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, add the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.

Place the green beans on a plate, drizzle the butter mixture over them, and toss to combine.

That's it!  Enjoy!

Fiesta Spaghetti

My mom was so gracious to take my kids for a sleepover on New Year's Eve.  My husband and I went to a little Italian place close to our house called Gabriella's.  We were standing there waiting to be seated, and I was freezing since we just came in from outside and it was so cold!  I saw their brick oven in the back and told my husband that if he gave me a dollar, I would go stick my hands by the fire in the kitchen to warm up.  He just chuckled, but the guy next to me said that he'd give me a dollar.  Luckily, he got seated so I didn't have to get kicked out of the restaurant before getting to eat.  We got seated shortly thereafter, and that same guy came over and put a dollar bill on my menu!  I wouldn't keep it from him, but it did make me laugh.

The food at this place is great!  I got their vegetable pizza that first time, and it was amazing.  This time around, I got the fiesta spaghetti.  It's basically a meat sauce loaded with vegetables.  It was delicious.  The flavor of the sauce was fantastic.  I wanted to recreate it at home, and this is my best shot.  It was pretty darn close!  I loved the extra vegetables and extra meat in the sauce.  Also, don't be shy about adding the red pepper flakes!  I put it in all my red sauces because it gives it just a little kick.  It's so good.  At the restaurant, there was also some chicken strips in the sauce, but I just did the pepperoni and hamburger.  I noted all my modifications to the regular recipe.  Enjoy!  This may be my new favorite pasta sauce.  The flavor was outstanding!

Source: Modified from Taste of Home Italian Favorites pg. 68

1 lb. ground beef (90% fat)
1/2 lb. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
1 red pepper pepper, diced (not in original recipe)
1/2 c. sliced olives (not in original recipe)
1 cans (14 oz each) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14 oz) stewed tomatoes, undrained, pureed (the original recipe just used 2 cans of diced)
1 can (12 oz) tomato paste
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 c. reduced sodium beef broth
1/4 c. red wine (not in original recipe)
15 pepperonis, halved (not in original recipe)
2 T dried parsley
1 T brown sugar
1 t dried basil
1 t oregano
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 t red pepper flakes (not in original recipe)
1/4 t fennel seeds (not in original recipe)

In a large skillet, add ground beef, mushrooms, onion, and red pepper.  Saute until beef is no longer pink.  Drain fat.  Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for two hours.  You can also transfer it to a slow cooker, if you'd like.  The longer you simmer, the better the flavor becomes!

Serve over whatever pasta you like.  I used thin spaghetti.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

One Hour Cinnamon Rolls

We were playing Monopoly today, and my son drew the card that said, "It's your birthday!  Claim $10 from every player."  We all forked over our ten dollars and said, "Happy birthday" in the most un-enthusiastic voice we could muster.  His response?  "Should I get in my birthday suit?!"  Ha!  That kid cracks me up.  I'm happy to report that he did not get in his birthday suit, and we continued to play Monopoly fully clothed.  That could have gotten really awkward really fast!

I've been doing this blog for a few years now, and I have never had a very good camera with a macro lens.  Those days are over now, my friends!  My husband got me a new camera with three lenses for Christmas.  Hip, hip!  I love that camera, and look at these lovely pictures!  I was having too much fun.  These cinnamon rolls deserve all the pictures they get.

These bad boys were on the table in one hour!  Ooh!  It's a miracle!  I rarely do cinnamon rolls because they usually take three hours, and by the time they're ready my kids are famished and squirming on the floor from the hunger pangs.  Well, well, well.  You can have these ready in one hour.  They use yeast, they rise beautifully, and they taste amazing.  I'm so glad that I found this recipe!

Check out the fluffiness in the middle!  I'm telling you.  These are tender and delicious.  Be sure to the rapid rise yeast!  This doesn't take as much time to activate, hence the quicker rising time.  

If you don't like cream cheese frosting, I'll forgive you, but you're missing out!  They really make the cinnamon rolls so much better.  *drool*

One Hour Cinnamon Rolls:

yield: One dozen cinnamon rolls


1 c milk
1/4 c butter
3 1/2 c flour, divided
1/4 sugar
1/2 t salt
1 packet instant or "rapid rise" yeast
1 egg

1/3 c sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
2 T cinnamon
1/4 c butter, softened

1/4 c butter
2 T cream cheese
3/4 c powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 T milk (if needed)

In a microwave safe bowl,  combine the milk and butter and cook on high for one minute.  Remove and stir.  If the butter isn't melted, put it back in for 20 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval.  When it's done, make sure that the milk is warm but not hot.  If it's too hot, set it aside to cool for a bit.  When it's too hot, it kills the yeast.

In a large mixing bowl, add three cups of the flour, sugar, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer, add the yeast and lukewarm milk mixture.  Stir with a rubber spatula to combine.  Add in the flour mixture and the egg.  Beat on medium-low until it is mixed well. If the dough is still too sticky and not forming a ball, add the remaining flour, 1/4 c at a time.  Continue to beat for five minutes.  Place a damp towel over the bowl and let the dough rest and rise for ten minutes.

While that is rising, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon for the filling.  Set aside.

Once the ten minutes has passed, place the dough on a floured surface.  Roll out to a 14x9 rectangle.  Spread the softened butter over the entire area of the rectangle.  Sprinkle the sugar-cinnamon mixture over the entire area as well.  Use it all!  

Roll the dough up from the 14 inch side.  Roll it tightly as you go.

Use dental floss to cut the ends off, then cut the dough into 12 even rolls.  Place into a greased 13x9 baking pan.  Place them in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 25 minutes.  I always boil water in a Pyrex measuring cup, place in the back corner of the microwave and put the bread in there.  It rises perfectly every time!

Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

For the icing:
In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese on high until light and fluffy.  Turn off the mixer and add the powdered sugar.  Turn it on low and beat until well-mixed.  If it is too thick, add a little milk to thin it out.  Spread or pipe it onto the rolls.  Just an FYI- I actually halved the cream cheese recipe here because I didn't want too much frosting on them.  If you like to really like to cake it on and have a ton of frosting, double the recipe I have here.