Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Famous Chili

I have to admit that I use the term "famous" loosely, because my chili is different every time I make it.  But people still seem to like it, so I tried to write down an actual recipe this time. You see, I make chili a lot! It's probably my "desert island" food (you know, if you were stranded on a desert island, what food would you want to have...).  I honestly could eat it every day.  So I've definitely developed particular likes and dislikes.  But what I like most about it is chili's seemingly unending variations.  Which brings me back around to why my chili is different every time.  I am constantly switching up the types of seasonings and chiles I use, so it's really never the same  thing twice.  

I realize that chili doesn't seem particularly "Christmasy", but we always had it as part of Christmas day dinner.  I don't know why, exactly.  Maybe it was because Mom was too tired to cook a huge meal, and everyone was tired from getting up early and opening presents?  Anyway, it was part of our holiday tradition, so I thought I would share.  This is not my mom's chili, however.  Hers had celery in it.  As a kid, I didn't know any better, but now I do.  So no celery in my chili, ever. But this recipe is more of a guideline. You can adjust it to your personal heat preferences, meat choice, or even make it vegetarian (add more veggies -- red, orange, yellow bell peppers, portabello mushrooms add an almost meaty texture, more beans, use vegetable broth or water instead of chicken stock). Some purists would say that there shouldn't be any beans in a chili, ever, so there are a lot of views and variations.

Here is what I put in my chili tonight, because, frankly, it's what I had (minus the corn, which was most likely still in the freezer...).  The small container at the bottom of the picture holds my frozen chipotles in adobo, because I never use an entire can at one time (or at least I've never seen a recipe that does it).

So, hopefully, you'll find this as tasty as I do, but feel free to tweak it according to what you and your family like.  I don't mind at all.  :-)

Marna's "Famous" Chicken Chili


1.5 lbs chicken breast, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp. Penzey's Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning (you can use chili powder as a substitute)
2 dried guajillo chiles
1 dried anaheim chile
2 cups chicken stock (plus additional)
2 medium onions, 1/4 in dice
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tbsp oil (I used olive, but you can use canola, too)
1 tbps chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 green pepper
1 14 oz can black beans
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1.5 cups fresh or frozen corn

Heat  a cast iron skillet (or 5 qt dutch oven if you just want to use one pot) over medium-high heat.  Put dried chiles in pan (dry -- no oil or anything) and heat the chiles until fragrant (about 5 minutes or so), using tongs to turn over once.  Meanwhile, heat 2 cups chicken stock. When the chiles are warm and fragrant, pull them off the heat and cut off the stem.  Pull out the seeds (most of them should just shake out, but you might have to rip open the chile to get at the ones still attached to the ribs).  Put the chiles in the warm chicken broth and let soften for 10 minutes. Once softened, put the chiles and the chicken stock in a blender and add the chipotle.  Blend (take out the middle of the cover if the chicken stock is still hot) until smooth.

While the chiles are soaking, in a soup pot or dutch oven (if you didn't use it for the chiles) cook the chicken breast, seasoning with salt and the Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning, over medium heat until cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.  Add the oil, onions and garlic.  Cook until softened, but stir occasionally so the garlic doesn't burn.  Add the tomato paste and cook until carmelized (it will start smelling sweet and turn dark, dark red -- almost brown), then add the green pepper.  Cook for 2 minutes, then add the pureed chiles and chicken stock, chicken (with any accumulated juices), tomatoes, and black beans.  Add more chicken stock if the mixture looks too thick.  Cook for 30 minutes, then add the corn.  Cook until the corn is warmed through (it should only take 2-3 minutes).

Serve with the usual accessories: cheese, sour cream, cilantro, chopped red onion (or spring onions)...or nothing at all.  This chili has layers of flavors that you'll enjoy all by itself.

This recipe makes a generous amount.  Probably enough to serve 8 as a main entree.  Maybe a couple more if you serve it with corn bread or on top of spaghetti (chili mac).

Tips and Hints:

Chipotle chiles in adobe can be found in the international or Latin section of most groceries.  You will usually have a lot left over, so I freeze mine, then scrape off what I need for whatever recipe I'm making.

This makes a medium-spicy chili (it had a kick that builds on your tongue, but it shouldn't make you cry or sweat).  You can adjust the heat of the chili by reducing the amount of dried chiles, or leave out the chipotle, if you like.

I think chili is better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to more thoroughly blend.  Just let cool on the stove top for a while, then put the pot in the fridge overnight.  Re-heat the next day.  A word of caution, though.  The spiciness will also intensify, so adjust for your personal preferences accordingly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fluffernutter Brownies - From Failure to Fantastic!

I had wanted to get this posted days ago, but then the flu happened in our house, and my time has not been my own.  So I apologize for not being able to be a more regular poster.  That will be my New Year's resolution...

Hopefully you're not sick of brownie recipes yet, because I have another one for you.  :-) And, fair warning, I have a couple of recipes you can make using up brownies, so stay tuned.  I had a lot of brownies to use up after that whole brownie experiment thing...

I didn't intend to make brownies, but sometimes things don't go your way and you need to take a different direction.  Such as today.  I had attempted to make peanut butter fudge, a recipe I saw in my latest Penzey's spice catalog (seriously, sign up for their mailing list, even if it's just for the recipes).  I should have known.  I am not very patient, and making candy takes patience. So, after letting it set up for 2 days in the fridge, I wasn't sure what I ended up with, but it wasn't fudge.  What I got was some really delicious, fluffy, peanut buttery goo that was too good to throw away. I actually made myself sick taste-testing the "fudge" to ensure that a) it tasted good, and b) it actually wasn't fudge.

Here's what I had. Clearly too soft to be fudge.

What was I going to do with this stuff?  One of my all time favorite flavor combinations is peanut butter and chocolate, so I thought, "Why not swirl some of this into brownies?" So that's what I did.

You need to make enough brownie batter for a 9x13 inch pan, so I doubled my favorite brownie recipe (nothing healthy about these, despite my previous attempts).  This is a recipe from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook and super simple. You can, however, use a box mix (I won't judge) to keep it simple, since you'll be putting in some time on the the peanut butter fudge.

Here's my go-to brownie recipe. I love it because you make it in one pan and it is incredibly simple.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Brownies

1 cup butter
12 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa (or about 1/2 cup)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

Fluffernutter Filling
(If you want the same consistency that I had, cook for 5 minutes, and don't use a candy thermometer. If you want to actually make the peanut butter fudge, then use a candy thermometer to make sure you get to the soft ball stage.)

Grease a 9x13 inch pan and preheat oven to 325 (F).

Combine butter and cocoa in a 3 qt. saucepan.  Heat over low heat, stirring, until butter is melted and cocoa is completely blended in until smooth.  Set aside to cool (about 5 minutes).

When cocoa is lukewarm, beat in sugar and vanilla. Then beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the flour and salt, beat until combined.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan, then drop blobs of filling (I only used about half of the recipe) onto brownie batter, then use a knife to swirl the two together.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (when a toothpick is inserted near the center, it should come out with a few bits of crumbs clinging to it).

I hope you enjoy these!  They are delicious!  And, in the spirit of the season, I gave the brownies as thank yous for our trash and recycling guys.  I hope they like them!

I still have to figure out what to do with the other half of that failed peanut butter fudge...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Healthy Brownie: Oxymoron or Attainable Dream?

I've been working on a long-term project to see if it's possible to create a "healthier" brownie.  After several tries and taste tests (yeah, it's a tough job), I actually did come up with a pretty good alternative, which I'll share with you a little later.

But first, a discussion about my brownie preferences and what I mean by "healthier." I fall into the dense and chewy camp of brownie lovers.  I definitely will not say no to a cakey brownie, especially if it has frosting, but I prefer the kind of brownie that is dense, rich, and chewy.  Usually the sugar amount is higher than the flour amount.  If it has a crackled top, that's even better!

What do I mean by "healthier?" Preferably, something that doesn't use refined sugar or wheat flour, with a better oil source (not dairy fat like butter, something with a modicum of health benefits).  I understand that, depending on your nutrition goals, my definition of healthy might not be yours, but there is a lot of room for experimentation.  There are tons of "healthier" brownie recipes on the internet, using black beans, beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini.  I tried them all, or at least a version of them.  And I invited over some friends to help me taste test them.  Here's what we tasted:

I numbered the different brownies so that no one would prejudge a taste before they actually tasted it.

Here are the notes from one of my friends.  I picked his list because he has fanatically neat writing, and his words summed up the general consensus of the group:

Here are the brownies, and a link to the original recipe, if I got it from an internet source:

1. Variation of the Wuollet brownie using almond flour, maple sugar
2. Wuollot brownie recipe (full butter, sugar, etc, for comparison)
3. Paleo brownie (raw, with nuts, dates, cocoa)
4. Red Velvet (with beets) - I love that my friend wrote "with a certain je ne sais quoi" for that one.  He was really surprised when I said they were beets.
5. zucchini brownie
6. Sweet potato brownie
7. Marna's "Healthier" Brownie (recipe below)
8. Black Bean Brownie
9. Brownies with egg whites, no flour (kind of like a flourless chocolate cake, but I made a mistake and added the sugar to the whipped whites before adding it to the flour mixture.  The texture was horrible, so I'm not even sharing the recipe with you on this one).

As you can see, there was a lot of tasting and experimenting.  I personally liked the texture of the zucchini brownie (although it had a kind of "green" smell that hit you just before you bit into it.  The smell went away once you had the brownie in your mouth) and the "Marna's Healthier Brownie" the best.  So, what did I find, given my initial premise?  You can add veggies or fruit to a brownie, which will give it more fiber and maybe some vitamins, but if you still keep the sugar. butter and processed flour in it, it's still going to be unhealthy overall.  In all my experimentation substituting different things, here's what I learned:

1) There's not a good natural substitute for white, granulated sugar. Either it's not sweet enough (honey) or gives it an odd taste (maple sugar) and there is definitely a difference in texture (not as chewy as I like)

2) Flours were also a problem, if you want a pure chocolate taste.  The almond flour was a little gritty (I didn't mind the texture, but my 8 year old did) and definitely added an almond taste to the chocolate (not unpleasant, but may not be what you want). The chickpea flour had an earthy taste, but with the chocolate, it wasn't off-putting.

3) Using half ghee and half coconut oil does make a good substitute for butter, without the dairy in it.  You still get some butter taste, but it's not overwhelming (as it is when you use only ghee), and the coconut oil is a neutral taste that blends well with the ghee. However, if you're trying to avoid saturated fats, this combo might not be for you. Click on the links for some nutritional information about each of them, if you are interested.

4) To make brownies healthier, it's better to just substitute one unhealthy thing, and leave the rest as in the original recipe. I don't think there's ever going to be a "healthy" brownie that will truly compare to the unhealthy original, but you CAN make it healthier, substituting a "healthy" ingredient for one of the unhealthy ones (depending on what your nutrition goals are and what you generally want to avoid).

Now this doesn't have to be the final word on the healthy brownie debate, or course, and I realize the use of chocolate chips (using refined sugar, oils and such) makes any brownie less healthy.  There are a lot of flours that I didn't try (if you're interested in gluten-free options). And I am still intrigued about using a flourless chocolate cake recipe as a starting point.  Where is the one with the applesauce, you may be asking?  Well, that recipe is pretty common, but frankly, I think that comes out a little too cake-y for my taste, so I didn't add it here, but if you have a good one, feel free to share it. I'm always open to new ideas!

For me, what worked best was using blends of things, as you can see from the recipe I came up with, below.

Marna's "Healthier" Brownie

1/4 cup ghee
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup natural honey
2 eggs
1/8 cup maple sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup natural cocoa (I get mine from Penzey's)
1/2 cup almond flour (I use Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/8 cup Chick Pea (Garbanzo Bean) Flour - again Bob's Red Mill
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8x8 inch baking pan.  Melt ghee and oil together, set aside to cool.  Beat together the eggs, honey and maple sugar.  Add oil to the egg and sugar mixture. Blend well.  Add the dry ingredients, stir to combine completely, then add the chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes (a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan should come out with a few crumbs on it, but not gooey batter).  Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting.  (Trick: to get a clean cut on the brownies, you have to let them cool completely.  No shortcuts -- except I will put them in the fridge after a while to finish cooling...).

Let me know what you think, and if you have any tricks to make brownies healthier, I'd love to hear them.  Personally, I'll probably just make regular brownies (I don't make them very often).  I figure, at least it's better than using a brownie mix, with its additives and such, right?

Happy baking!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Healthy Breakfasts

Sooo, how did your Thanksgiving go?  Of course, as usual, I overate -- especially in the sweets department. The disappointing part this year was that we ate dinner at someone else's house, and there really wasn't a lot left over to take home (my favorite is leftover turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce).  We did, however, bring home half a pan of apple crisp, which I proceeded to eat for breakfast for the next 3 days.  And it was delicious.  In an amazing display of self control, I did NOT put ice cream on top.  :-)

But now it's time to get back on track, as I am determined not have a replay of last winter, where I gained 7 pounds and had a devil of a time working it off.  Some of you might think that 7 pounds isn't that much, but when you're short (not quite 5'2"), even a pound can make a big difference in how your jeans fit. Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, but so many more parties and celebrations ahead, I'm going to make a point of eating healthy on most days, so I don't feel so guilty when I (inevitably) indulge at the parties.

Part of that healthy eating is starting out the day right with breakfast.  My three go-to breakfasts are my homemade granola with sliced banana and almond milk, Almond Joy Oatmeal, or a chocolate almond smoothie.  Seriously, who doesn't want to have chocolate for breakfast??  But, surprisingly, the only added sugar in the oatmeal is from the chocolate chips and there is no refined sugar in the smoothie (unsweetened cocoa powder adds the chocolatey taste).  However, if none of those float your boat (I understand that not everyone likes a sweet breakfast), here are some other ideas:

This one is simply whole grain bread (thinly sliced) with peanut butter, apple slices and raw honey drizzled over the top.  It would also be yummy with a sprinkle of cinnamon.  I realize that this probably qualifies as "sweet" in many people's books, but I use natural peanut butter (no added sugar, just straight peanuts) and you can adjust the amount of honey to your taste.  Pay no attention to the glass in the background.  Beer is not part of my healthy breakfast plan (Although I did date a nationally-ranked shot-putter who would go on a strict beer diet when he had to lose weight.  True story). For the record, it is actually water, which is what I usually drink first thing in the morning.

This breakfast was made with a whole grain breakfast mix from Wegman's (if you have a store near you, it's found near the rice), but you could totally make it with quinoa or oatmeal (follow package directions).  I then just added pecans and fresh blueberries.

Sometimes I just want an egg sandwich.  Since I rarely eat actual bread anymore (especially English muffins, scones and such), this was a bit of an indulgence, but you could use gluten-free or whole grain bread to health-ify it (or do away with the bread all together). It's just herbed goat cheese, a couple of slices of avocado, and a fried egg on top (I cook the egg in a non-stick pan and don't add any extra oil or butter). It was so delicious!  But if you don't do dairy, it would taste just as good without the goat cheese. Honest. You could even do a tapenade or roasted red pepper spread instead of the cheese and get some amazing flavors jumping around your mouth first thing in the morning.

I hope this inspires you to start your day off with something healthy and delicious!  Please share your favorite breakfasts with us!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Easy, But Impressive, Ice Cream Cake

When I was growing up, my mom almost always made my birthday cakes.  You might think this was awesome and way better than anything you could get in the store.  And for some, that might be the case.  For me, however, I grew up coveting my friends' store-bought cakes with the maddeningly sweet frosting.  To this day, I have a weakness for that hurt-your-teeth sweetness, but I digress.  

Really, all of this is to say that I have become my mother, for good or ill, because I also make my kids' birthday cakes...most of the time (there was the Wiggles cake for my oldest on his 3rd birthday where I gave in, mainly because of the replica Wiggle house I was building, so something had to give). Anywhoo...

For my son's eighth birthday, he wanted an ice cream cake.  Cookies and cream ice cream cake, to be exact.  That's okay.  I was ready with the perfect recipe, and it's super easy, to boot! You know what part wasn't easy?  Transporting it to the laser tag place where the party was.  I also worried about keeping it cool enough until we needed to serve it.  I put it in our biggest cooler, which had a layer of cold packs on the bottom, then a cooling rack, on which I put the cake.  Guess what? I didn't need to worry at all! The thing stayed frozen, and I even had to take it out to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes -- and it was still kind of hard!  

Why, you may ask, am I blogging about an ice cream cake with Thanksgiving looming in just four days?  No fabulous pumpkin pie recipe or apple cranberry concoction? Well, the honest answer is that I'm only just getting around to putting this up (my son's birthday party was on September 30), but I have another reason.  Because, my friends, I am going to give you an easy, impressive dessert that can be made ahead of time (won't take up precious oven real estate on the big day), and can be customized with whatever flavors you like! See how giving I am?  You're welcome!

Here's the cookies and cream version I made for my son:

Isn't that pretty?  Here's what it looks like on the inside:

Okay, to be honest, I should have used a bigger platter so that the crumbs didn't get all over the table, but that's the size that would fit in the cooler, so the presentation isn't as beautiful as I would like.  But really.  Don't you want your guests to ooh and ahh when you bring that to the table?  This time, we did chocolate cake with cookies and cream ice cream for the cake layer, but for Thanksgiving, you could totally do a spice cake with vanilla ice cream, maybe with a caramel sauce drizzle.  There are a lot of specialty ice cream flavors coming out, so you could do yellow cake (or spice cake again) with cinnamon ice cream or apple pie ice cream (I think that Edy's does that flavor).  Anyway, my point is that there are all sorts of combos that could be used.  For Christmas, a chocolate cake with peppermint or candy cane ice cream, with crushed candy canes sprinkled on top would be yummy.

Now that I've got your attention, would you like to know how I made this?  I thought so.  ;-) It may seem a little fussy, but none of the steps are very hard, or even time-consuming, and you can make the parts a few days ahead of time and put everything together the day you're serving...or put everything together the day before and store it in the freezer. If, that is, you have the freezer space, because the assembled cake can take up a lot of space. But that's the beauty of this dessert -- it's so flexible!  I swear that it will now be your go-to dessert for all your special occasions!

Easy Peasy Ice Cream Cake

1 box cake mix (for a two layer cake), plus the ingredients to make the cake
1 quart ice cream
1 large carton of Cool Whip (or other whipped topping)

Note:  You can also make your cake from scratch and whip your own cream, but sometimes it's nice to have something easy that you can go to without a lot of fuss.  So, do whatever floats your boat and reflects your baking style.  :-)

Make cake according to directions.  Soften ice cream while the cake is baking.  While the cakes are cooling, make the ice cream layer. Using another cake pan the same size as the cake layers, line the inside of the pan with plastic wrap, using enough so that you have a generous overhang all around.  Stir the softened ice cream to smooth it out. Spread ice cream into prepared pan (you may not use the entire quart -- just fill the pan either to the top or about 1/4 inch below the top, depending on how thick you want the ice cream layer to be).  Put the pan with the ice cream in the freezer and allow to harden while the cake layers cool.  At this point, you can freeze all the layers (wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil) up to four days ahead.

Remember, and this is key: you want the cake completely cool before you assemble with the ice cream layer.  I can not stress that enough!!  When you're ready to assemble, put one layer on a serving plate, then take the ice cream layer, unwrap the top then turn the layer out onto the bottom cake layer.  Pull off the plastic wrap from the ice cream, then put the second layer on top.  Spread the whipped topping or whipping cream on top.  Put back into freezer (at this point, you can keep it in the freezer up to 24 hours).  Take the cake out about 20 minutes before you're ready to serve, so the cake can thaw a little.

Serves 12-16 (you can serve fairly thin slices, since the cake is so tall)

That is the basic cake, but as I mentioned earlier in this post, there are lots of ways to make this even fancier.  The cake pictured has a cookie crumb layer in the middle of the ice cream, chocolate sauce drizzle (just regular, store-bought chocolate sauce) and Oreo cookies for decoration.  I made the cookie crumbs by crushing up half of a package of Oreos, melting 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, then stirring the crumbs and melted chocolate together.  I laid that mixture out on a cookie sheet, let it cool and harden up, then broke up into crumb-sized pieces, then spread only half the ice cream in the prepared pan, put the layer of crumbs on, froze that, then added the rest of the ice cream, then froze it all.

The whipped cream I used was adapted from a recipe I found in Bon Appetit. The recipe is for Mint Chip Ice Cream Cake, so you might want to check it out, but I just used the whipped cream part from it. The gelatin helps stabilize the whipping cream so that it doesn't turn runny once it starts to thaw.

For the whipped cream: Place 1 tablespoon cold water into a small heatproof glass or metal bowl. Sprinkle 1 1/4 tablespoons gelatin over; let soften, about 10 minutes.
Pour water to a depth of 1/2" into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transfer bowl with gelatin to skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet.
Place 2 cups chilled cream in a large bowl (I also put my beater and bowl in the fridge to chill before whipping cream). Using an electric mixer, beat cream while gradually adding melted gelatin. Beat until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and continue to beat until medium peaks form and whipped cream is soft and pillowy (not stiff or grainy).

Instead of whipped cream on the top, you could make a ganache (fancy word for glaze) to spread over the top, letting it drip down the sides. To make a simple chocolate ganache, warm up 1 cup of heavy cream (in a saucepan or in the microwave -- just be sure that the cream doesn't boil), then pour over 8 oz of bittersweet chocolate (you can use chocolate chips).  Let stand for a minute or two to let the chocolate melt, then stir until smooth.  If you don't use all the ganache, it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks (just toss in the microwave for a few seconds to get it smooth and spreadable again).

If you give this a try, please share what flavor combinations you used to give inspiration to us all!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Perfect Soup for Fall

Fall is the perfect time for soup. There's just something about the crisp, cool days, wearing sweaters and jean, crunching through fallen leaves, that makes me crave a steaming bowl of soup.  And warm, crusty bread, but I'm not eating trying not to eat bread anymore, so you all can indulge.  BUT this soup is so incredibly simple and delicious you might not even miss the bread...much. Although I did find these really great German breads, and the rye version (no gluten) goes really well this soup.  It serves as a great texture counterpoint to the smooth soup. So, in case you, too, are trying to decrease your carb/gluten consumption, you might want to try that kind of bread (at our grocery store, I've found them in the International aisle).

This soup is vegetarian, with delicious roasted parsnips, onions and apples that taste like fall in a bowl. Seriously, it's absolutely delicious!  I don't have any long-winded descriptions about going to the farmer's market or an orchard to personally pick my ingredients. Nope, just picked them up at the grocery store.

You might be tempted to skip the roasting step, and that's your prerogative, but I think the roasting pulls out more sweetness from the veggies and apples so the flavors are so much smoother.  But try it both ways and judge for yourself!

Roasted Parsnip, Apple, Onion Soup


1.5 lbs parsnips
2 medium onions
2 medium apples
Olive oil
salt and pepper
3 sprigs rosemary
1 qt. low sodium (or homemade) vegetable stock

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel parsnips and cut into large-ish chunks. Size isn't as important as making sure that all the pieces are the same relative size.  Peel onions, then cut into wedges: don't cut out the root end completely, then cut into quarters.  The root will help keep the wedges together. Cut apples into quarters, then cut out the core. Toss the parsnips, onions, apples and rosemary with some olive oil (about 2 Tbsp.), a couple of sprinkles of salt and pepper. Don't go too heavy on the seasoning, because you can adjust that later. Put everything on a baking sheet (you might need two), and spread out into a single layer.

Roast parsnip/apple/onion mixture until veggies are soft, about 30 minutes, but it will really depend on how big you cut the parsnips.  Use a spatula to flip the veggies over about halfway through the roasting process.

Once the veggies are tender, pull them out of the oven and let them cool enough to handle them.  Put the parsnips in a 3-quart saucepan, then add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook 10 more minutes.  Parsnips should be very soft.  Add onions to the saucepan, peel off some of the rosemary leaves (I'll let you decide how much rosemary flavor you want in it) and add it to the pan, then scrape off the peel from the apples, adding the flesh to the pan as well.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth.  If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a blender or food processor (you'll have to do it in batches).  Add liquid to get to the consistency you want (you could use more vegetable stock, or water, or apple cider, depending on the flavors you want to come out).   Add the liquid little by little until you get the consistency you want. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Reheat the soup so that it's nice and warm.  Serves about 4 (even more if you serve it with a nice salad and some delicious, crusty bread).

Because it's me, I added a little hot sauce (sriracha) to my bowl, but to each his own preferences.

Happy Fall, everyone!

Friday, October 12, 2012

What's in YOUR Freezer?

Some days, I just don't feel like cooking.  Sound familiar? And sometimes, I get tired of moving random containers of unknown frozen leftovers around, trying to make room for other stuff.  At those times, I like to play "Guess what's in that container" with the family.  I got to that point last week, so I took out a few containers to thaw so that we could at least eat some of it make room for more leftovers, which will also probably hang out for months.  Yeah, I know.  Don't judge me.

Here's what I found:

 Don't I have lovely Tupperware containers? I love Tupperware and have had a couple of parties (yes, they still have them!).  She doesn't know I'm doing this, but my Tupperware Lady rocks, so contact her if you want to get yourself some quality storage containers.  I'm not kidding.

But now you know why I didn't know what was in there. I didn't label. Rookie mistake, and I should have known better.

There are no recipes with this post, because, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) I don't even remember what was in the containers, much less how I made them, so you're on your own this time.  In two of the containers was some sort of mushroom-barley concoction that may have been soup at one time, but a lot of the liquid had been absorbed by the barley. I honestly can't remember if I made them both at one time or two different times.  One had bacon and the other didn't -- it was the only discernible difference I could find. The third container had some sort of green soup.  It had zucchini in it and...other green vegetables.  This container definitely had a freezer burn-y taste to it (I taste-tested a little from each container to make sure it was all still edible).  Again, I have no idea how long it's been in there.

To my family's credit, they did eat the leftovers, but I couldn't in good conscience make them eat this stuff more than once, so after everyone ate their fill, I chucked the rest.

Behold! My delicious lunch that day.  I took one for the team and ate the green soup.  Honestly, though, it wasn't all that bad.  Really.

So, what did I learn?  1) label and date your frozen leftovers and 2) have some sort of plan to use them in the near future, otherwise they'll just get lost, and leftovers aren't useful if you just throw them out anyway.

This cautionary tale and public service announcement has been brought to you by the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association, Inc. (not really, but there actually is such an association.  I'm not kidding. Look it up.).

Happy freezing!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fish Soup -- Another Variation (dairy-free)

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might have already clued into my love for fish soup.  Actually, I love soup in general. It's easy (one pot), fast (fish only takes minutes to cook) and healthy, because you can get away with only a little bit of milk or cream, or in this case, no dairy at all, plus lots of veggies. And on a cool fall day, there's nothing more comforting than a steaming bowl of soup.  Am I right?  :-)

As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to cut my dairy intake and looking for dairy-free alternatives for some of my favorite recipes, but hate recipes where you try to make something taste like something it's not (tofurkey, anyone?).  In this case, I was going to use coconut milk as a substitute for the cream, so I embraced the coconut milk as a jumping off point to make a more Asian-inspired soup.

I found a recipe on another blog as a starting point.  Here's the original:

Here's my version:

  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 half-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (or tamari)

  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 3/4 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen

  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon basil, minced
  • 12 ounces salmon fillets cut into bite-sized cubes

  • Bring vegetable broth to boil, then add ginger and fish sauce in a large pot (I used a 3 qt saucepan). Let that simmer for 5 minutes, then take out the ginger pieces (if you want more ginger flavor, you could grate the ginger before adding to the stock). After removing ginger pieces, add corn, mushrooms, and fish.  Bring back to a simmer and cook until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Add the carrots, red bell pepper and lime juice. Cover the pot, but do not stir the carrots and peppers into the soup.  Let them steam on top for a couple of minutes (you still want them to have a little crunch).  Then add the coconut milk and lemon basil.  Stir together, then turn off heat and let sit for another 10 minutes with the pot covered.


    My version basically used what I had on hand -- salmon instead of white fish, lemon basil from our garden, rather than cilantro, and extra veggies, because that's how I roll. :-)

    For those who don't think you're very good at improvising, take a look at the two recipes (mine and the linked one) to see how easy it is to cook off the cuff. It's especially easy with soups, so if you need a little confidence booster, you could start there.  Plus, Fall is the perfect time of year for a nice, hot bowl of soup, isn't it?

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    A Better Coconut Cream Pie

    So, I've been trying to cut my dairy, sugar, and refined flour intake, and I've been pretty good about it.  It also hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be.  But every now and again, I've been called upon to make desserts, like when I recently hosted a Mary Kay party. Now, I guess I didn't HAVE to make desserts (not too many people ended up eating them anyway), but as a hostess, I feel like I need to provide something.  I guess I also don't have to eat what I make for guests, but that just seems kind of rude, plus I have to make sure any experiments on my part will be edible, right?

    Anyway, I had an idea for a coconut pie using some leftover crumbs from my initial Heavenly Bar debacle  experiment. I was thinking a coconut cream pie would taste really good using a chocolate-y crust, but I was trying to figure out how to make a cream pie without actually using cream or milk.  Then I found a coconut-flavored yogurt made from almond milk.  Cool!  Unfortunately, I never did find dairy-free Cool Whip (or any non-dairy whipped topping).  Am I wrong, or did they used to make non-dairy whipped topping at some point?  Regardless, I couldn't find it, so I almost got dairy-free (although I used butter in the crust, you could totally use coconut oil).   I actually prefer this version over the traditional, because: a) it's not super sweet; b) it's got a nice coconut flavor throughout; and c) it still has chocolate.  Win-win-win!

    To make it gluten-free, you could substitute almond meal for the cracker crumbs and still have a tasty crust.  Give it a shot -- if you end up tweaking this, please feel free to post your results here!

    Chocolate Almond Coconut Cream Pie

     Crust (adapted from the crust from my Heavenly Bars post):

    1/3 cup butter (or substitute coconut oil)
    1/2 cup sugar
    6 tsp cocoa
    1 egg, slightly beaten
    15 (double) graham crackers, crushed fine
    1 Tbsp. vanilla
    1 cup coconut (you can use sweetened or unsweetened -- I've used both and it's all tasty)
    1/2 cup slivered almonds, chopped fine

    For the crust: blend butter, sugar, cocoa and egg in the top of a double boiler set over warm water. Stir until combined. Continue stirring over the hot water until warm and thick (you want to heat the mixture because of the egg, but not too much heat too fast, or the egg will cook and separate).  Take chocolate mixture off heat and add the crushed graham crackers, vanilla, coconut and nuts.  Pat into a 9-in pie pan (you might have some crumb mixture left over -- you can decide how thick you want the crust).  Chill crust while you make the pie filling.


    1 6oz. cup of coconut-flavored yogurt (I used Amande brand, found in Wegman's natural foods section)
    1 small package of vanilla instant pudding, made with almond milk (use the pie filling method)
    1 can unsweetened coconut milk (DO NOT shake the can to blend the cream from the liquid)
    1 8oz tub of non-dairy whipped topping (if you can find it) or Cool Whip

    In a medium bowl, combine all of the yogurt, 1 cup of the vanilla pudding filling (reserve the rest to use for something else -- or give to the kids to eat).  After you gently open the can of coconut milk (remember, you're trying not to shake it), carefully scoop out the thick, creamy stuff on top (I ended up scraping off a little bit layer by layer), then add to the yogurt/pudding mixture.  Stir to combine.  To that mixture, fold in about a cup of the whipped topping. Pour filling into the chilled crust.  Put back in the fridge to set up (at least 30 minutes, but I covered mine with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.

    Toppings (optional):

    1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
    1/3 cup toasted coconut
    chocolate sauce (you can use my Decadent Dark Chocolate Sauce, made with coconut milk, or your favorite recipe)

    To serve:

    Spread the rest of the whipped topping over the pie filling, then sprinkle with almonds and coconut.  Drizzle slices with chocolate sauce and serve.

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Let's Get Crafty!

    You didn't think this blog would just be about cooking, did you?  I'll forgive you, if you did, since my blog title is kind of misleading.  But let me tell you, friends, I don't just "cook" in the kitchen!  ;-)

    I used to be quite crafty, leaning more toward the "arts" side than "crafts," if truth be told.  I used to make my own cards with original artwork, as well as decorate wrapping paper, etc.  I really enjoy the creative process, whether it's art, or baking, or writing.  And then I had kids...

    Don't get me wrong; I really love my boys and wouldn't trade them for the world.  They ARE my world, but I just haven't had the time or inclination to spend hours working on a project, not to mention getting all my stuff out, just to fend off little hands from grabbing at everything.  My kids didn't nap very well, so using that hour (no 3 hour naps in this house, ever) went to cleaning or sleeping.

    Aaanywhoooo, it's taken me a while to get back into this crafting thing, but consider me back on the arts and crafts bandwagon!

    I am notoriously indecisive when it comes to choosing paint color and will think about it for weeks, trying 5, 6, 7 different colors before I finally settle on one.  Which means I usually have a bunch of those little paint sample bottles lying around.    I also happened to have two canvases I bought a long time ago, intending to do a painting of lavender fields, but that wasn't about to happen at this point, so I got this idea of using the paint samples I had left over from painting the master bath and bedroom, which were all similar in tone and hue (grays, creams, lavenders) to paint those canvases.

    Now, I didn't have time to do something really fancy and perfect, but I've always enjoyed the energy of Jackson Pollack's works, not that these come anywhere close to his genius.  The technique, however, is easy enough for anyone to try, so if you've been looking to add some original art to your space, give this a try!

    First, you need canvases (or just one canvas, depending on how big the space is that you want to fill) and paint.  Before I started painting, I took eight tacks and put them in the back of the frames. I saw this idea on Pinterest so that the canvases didn't stick to whatever they were lying on.  This worked really well!

    I painted the background of both canvases the same color I used for our bedroom wall color, with the intention of the background just fading to the wall so you would focus on the the movement of the other colors on the canvas.

    Now comes the easy part.  Once the canvas(es) have dried, just start dribbling and spattering the paint around.  Because I wanted them to look like a diptych, with both halves looking like they went together, I set the canvases close to each other and scattered the paint as if they were one canvas.

    If you wanted to get the patterns really dense (more like Pollock's work), you could do this over the course of a few days, adding layer upon layer, but I was impatient, so I stuck with my first try and let it go.  With some of the thicker splotches, it took some time for the paint to dry, but you want to be sure everything is completely dry before you handle the canvases or tilt them up, otherwise they will start dripping (unless you want it to look like that, which is a totally legitimate method, as well).

    In order to hang the canvases, I had to add some hardware on the back.  Depending on how big the canvases are, you can do the hooks and wire like I did, or you can nail in the saw-tooth kind of hanger just at the top.

    To make sure I had the hooks in evenly, I put the first one in, then measured from the top for the other ones.  The directions say you should put the eyes no more than 1/3 of the way down from the top of the canvas.

    And, voila!  Original pieces of art to hang in your home. It's always fun to see something in your house that you can say, "I made that!", with a hint of pride in your voice (or at least inside your head, which is where a lot of my conversations take place).


    Friday, September 7, 2012

    Chicken Pot Pie With a Twist

    The list of food pins on my "Yum!" board on Pinterest is getting very long.  You can tell a person's interests by comparing how many pins are on her different boards.  In order of most to least, mine are 277 (Yum!), 126 (Clothes), 107 (Kitchen ideas), 80 (Around the Home), and 52 (Places to Go, Things to Do).  All my other boards don't even come close.  Sadly, my "Books" board comes in at a measly 10 pins.  :-(

    So, since I rarely spend money on clothes and a kitchen make-over isn't in the cards any time soon, it's time to work through some of my recipe pins.  Yay!

    Tonight I had some chicken tenders thawed out in the fridge, so I thought I would try a recipe inspired by an Indian Spiced Chicken recipe I pinned a while a go from Real Simple. It reminded me more of a chicken bastilla, with its phyllo dough, cinnamon, raisins and almonds, which is my favorite Moroccan dish, so I thought I would try it. If you've never had bastilla, this recipe is an easier way to get the flavors of that dish without all the hassle.  It's not exactly authentic, but I like that it has veggies in it. If you were eating at a Moroccan restaurant, you would be getting all sorts of wonderful vegetable dishes along with the bastilla, but I'm not into long, multi-course meals when I'm cooking at home.  Getting the vegetables in with the meat is so much easier

    I didn't follow the recipe exactly (shocker!), because I had other stuff, and comments on the Real Simple website for the recipe suggested that it needed more flavoring, so below is my version.  Plus, even though I had phyllo dough in the freezer, I had half a package of puff pastry already open, so I used that instead.  By all means, use the phyllo, if you like, or don't use it at all.  The chicken veggie mixture is absolutely delicious on its own, so if you're cutting out processed flour, etc., you can still make this recipe and have a very tasty dinner.  It looks like a chicken stew:

    The original recipe used rice, but I happened to have some quinoa left over from a previous night's dinner, so I used that.  It also called for yogurt, but I'm cutting out as much dairy from my diet as I can, so I used unsweetened coconut milk instead.

    When I put the pastry on top, some of the sauce splooshed over onto the pastry, so I just went with it and brushed more of the sauce on top of it before putting it in the oven.  Luckily, it made a nice golden crust.  Happy accident!  :-)

    Here's the finished product and it was really good, if I do say so myself.  I

    Oh!  And the measurements on the spices are pretty much approximations, because I just shook stuff in until it tasted right and didn't actually measure.  I know, it's kind of a nightmare recreating stuff that I make, so I'm apologizing in advance.  The only advice I can give is to start out lightly seasoning, then taste and adjust to how you like it.  Me, I like the spices to be assertive, which is probably why my youngest son took one bite, declared it "pretty good," then decided after bite two that he didn't like it "once the flavors kicked in."  My other son, however, thought it was delicious, finished his entire portion and had seconds.  So, there you go.

    Time saving tip: If you already have leftover, cooked chicken (2-3 cups) and chicken broth, you can make this even faster by bringing the chicken broth (3 cups or so) to a simmer, adding the chunked up chicken, veggies and spices to it, letting them cook until warmed through and carrots and onions are tender, then proceed with the recipe from the coconut milk/cornstarch mixture on.

    With that, dear readers, I give you:

    Marna's Easy-as-Chicken-Pot-Pie, Kinda-Sorta Bastilla 

    1.5 lbs chicken breast (I used tenders, because that's what I had, but you're going to chunk up the chicken after it's cooked, so whatever you've got will work)
    2.5 -3 cups of water
    2 carrots, peeled, then chopped in small, bite-sized chunks
    1 medium onion, peeled
    1 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
    1 clove garlic, diced
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 tsp cardamom
    1/2 tsp sweet curry powder (mine is from Penzey's, but you can used any mild curry powder)
    1/2 tsp dried ginger
    1/4 tsp turmeric
    1 Tbsp corn starch (or you can substitute whatever thickening agent you like to use)
    1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
    1/2 cup golden raisins
    1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
    1 cup cooked quinoa (can substitute rice if you like)
    1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed but still cold (you can substitute 4-5 sheets of phyllo dough)

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken in a single layer in a heavy, oven-proof pot or dutch oven, then pour water in (the water should be at least an inch high in the pot -- it doesn't have to cover the chicken).  Bring water to a boil, lower the temperature to bring the water down to a simmer, cover the pot and poach the chicken until cooked, about 10 minutes if you're using tenders, a little longer if you're using bigger pieces of chicken.

    Remove chicken from the pot and cut into bit-sized pieces. Cut the peeled onion in half, then slice thinly.  Put onions, carrots, peas and garlic in the water.  Return to boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook until vegetables have started to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the cinnamon, cardamom, curry powder, ginger and turmeric to the vegetables.  While the vegetables and spices simmer, combine the corn starch and coconut milk and stir until smooth.  Dump the coconut milk mixture into the pot with the vegetables and spices.  Let the pot return to a simmer and cook for a couple more minutes.  Return the chicken pieces to the pot, then simmer until the liquid has started to thicken (but it shouldn't be too thick and glue-y looking).   Add the raisins, almonds, and quinoa.  Turn off heat, then stir to combine everything.

    Take your sheet of pastry dough and place it over the chicken and vegetables, then put it in the oven.  Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

    Serves 4-6

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    A Chicken in Every Pot

    Or, in this case, every oven, because today, dear readers, you are going to learn how to make the best roast chicken ever.  Personally, I think being able to roast a chicken is one of those basic things that everyone needs to know how to do.  And here's a secret: it's not that hard, I promise.

    The important part of roasting a chicken is making sure it stays nice and juicy, without the breast meat drying out to sawdust. "Easier said than done," you say. I'm sure there's a lot of science and stuff behind all the theories of what temperature and how long and all that, but all I can give you is what my experience has shown me, which is hight heat, then lower heat.  Bam!  That's it, really. Oh! and fat.  But we'll get to that in a minute.

    Some of you might be saying, "Wait!  Don't you have to truss the bird?" Well, my friends, I'm going to confess that, no, I don't always truss the bird. If someone can show me that it actually makes a difference in how it turns out, I will keep an open mind, but I have had good results, regardless of whether I'd strung up the chicken or not.  There you have it, folks.  Another myth, busted.

    The other key to success, for me, is having a meat thermometer that you can put in the chicken while it's in the oven. I like the kind that keeps the read out on the stove, with the probe (hate that word) in the chicken while it's still in the oven.  Here's my thermometer:

    Now, you don't have to have that to make great roast chicken, but it takes a lot of the guesswork (and too many opening and closing of the oven door) out of making sure the thing is done. It's not that expensive and lasts a long time (I've had mine for nearly 15 years and counting).

    Just one more thing before we get to the actual recipe: people will get in a lather over is whether the chicken is organic or not.  Honestly, I can't taste much of a difference, but if I can afford organic or locally-raised, that's what I would go for.  Mainly because I like to eat the skin, so I hope that the organic stuff has fewer nasty things lurking around the skin and fat.  That being said, I have eaten, and roasted, plenty of non-organic chickens and lived to tell the tale, so I'm not making judgements one way or another.  Just one more thing to note, though.  Some chickens might have additional brine/salt-water injected into them, so this affects the saltiness.  If the package says anything about salt solutions or injections, be careful about the additional salt you rub in to the skin.

    Okay, on to the recipe...

    Easy Roasted Chicken

    1 3-4 lb chicken, patted dry
    Large bunch of herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley are best, either one or a mixture), rinsed and patted dry
    2-3 Tbsp butter (softened) or olive oil
    2 lemons, quartered (before you quarter them, peel off some of the lemon rind, about 1 tsp)
    Salt and pepper
    1-2 onions (one if the onion is very large, otherwise you might need two if they're small-sh), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
    Other assorted veggies if you like

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees (F). While the oven is preheating, combine the butter (or olive oil), lemon peel, salt and 1 tsp of herbs. Rub the chicken with the butter mixture, making sure to get all surfaces, plus rub a little under the skin covering the breasts.  Alternatively, you can just tuck the lemon peel and herbs under the skin, then rub the plain butter or oil over the skin.  Rub some salt and pepper (the amount is up to you) onto the chicken as well.

    This was my abbreviated version -- just rubbed the butter on the skin (unfortunately, my butter wasn't softened, so it was more clumpy)....

    Toss the onions, half a lemon (chunked up) and any other veggies you want to use (I'll sometimes roast carrots and potatoes with the chicken) in the bottom of a roasting pan, then place the chicken, breast side down, on top of the veggies.  The vegetables will act as a sort of rack to allow some heat to circulate under the chicken.  Loosely stuff the cavity (be sure you have taken out the little package that had the neck, liver, and heart -- but save the neck for later, we're making chicken stock!) with herbs, a couple of pieces of lemon and a few pieces of onion (you can also use cloves of garlic instead of the onion, if you like). Be sure not to stuff the cavity too tightly, though, because it will make it harder for the chicken to finish cooking. You will want the heat to get in there as well.

    Put the chicken in the oven, rack in the center, and bake at 450 for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, flip the bird (ha!) over, so that the breast is up, insert the thermometer in the thigh and close the door.  If the skin is looking dry, feel free to baste the chicken using some of the juices in the pan, but you should only need to do that once.  Try to keep the oven door closed and the heat in.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees (F) and bake for about 40-50 more minutes, or until the thermometer registers 170 (degrees F).  If you don't have a meat thermometer, check doneness by moving the chicken leg -- it should move easily and nearly separate from the thigh bone if you twist it.  You can also pierce the thigh with a fork or knife -- if the juices are clear and not at all pink, it should be done.

    Remove the chicken from the oven, then tent with a large piece of foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes (the foil should be laid loosely over the chicken, still in the pan, to let some of the steam escape -- don't wrap the foil around to completely cover).

    There you have it!  That's all there is to it.  Quick prep, then let it sit in the oven.  And beats the crap out of those rotisserie chickens at the store that have been sitting around all day.  Oh!  And save the chicken carcass (bones) when you are done.  You can use that to make your own chicken stock later.  I'll show you how!

    Also, all that dark stuff that looks burnt on the bottom? Save that, too, because it's going to help flavor the chicken stock. Yum! As you can tell, I've already started picking at the chicken skin.  It's so good!

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    A Tale of Two Sauces

    For a friend's birthday, I made her a chocolate-peanut butter swirl cheesecake, and I promise I'll share that recipe with you in a later post.  What I want to talk about today are the sauces I made to go with it.  Not content with just the cheesecake, I wanted a chocolate sauce and a peanut sauce to serve with it and make it look pretty. Luckily, I knew where to look.

    A few years ago, I got a book called The Flat Belly Diet, which I should probably follow at all a little more religiously. I liked the book so much that I also bought the Flat Belly Diet Cookbook when it came out a little later. Honestly, when I was following the program and using the recipes, I actually did lose weight. But the reason I liked it was because most of the recipes had ingredients I was already buying anyway.  I'm not going to preach about one diet or another, because I don't think dieting in terms of short-term weigh loss works at all.  What one eats (one's "diet," as it were) needs to work with how your body metabolizes food and your lifestyle, and what works for one person may not work another.  Plus, as your body ages, it's going to have changing needs as well.  Like, cutting out carbs almost all together after you turn 40. It sucks.

    But this is not the point of my post.  The point is, in the Flat Belly Diet Cookbook, there are recipes for a Sweet Peanut Sauce and a Decadent Dark Chocolate Sauce, which was exactly what I was looking for. Not only are they tasty, but they are super easy to make and versatile.

    The peanut sauce can be served with apple slices, over ice cream, folded into whipped cream (scroll down to see pics), served over chocolate chip pancakes (oh so yummy!) or stirred into plain (or vanilla) yogurt for breakfast. The chocolate sauce can be used the same way (dip bananas in it, then swoon). I found it's also really tasty drizzled over a fig and nut cake that I bought at Wegmans, my favorite grocery store.  The sauces definitely taste better when it's warm, rather cold.

    Ummm, yeah, those are finger marks in the sauce.  Quality control and all.  Because I care.  :-)

    Folded into whipped cream...

    And, below, is the chocolate sauce drizzled over the fig and nut cake from Wegmans.  Essentially, the "cake" is just dried figs pressed together with various nuts into layers.  It was so, so good!

    So, without further ado, there are the recipes for Sweet Peanut Sauce and Decadent Dark Chocolate Sauce:

    Sweet Peanut Sauce (from the Flat Belly Diet Cookbook):

    1/2 cup creamy, natural, unsalted peanut butter
    1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
    2 Tbsp. honey

    Heat the peanut butter, milk and honey in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until melted and smooth.  Serve warm. (8 servings, about 2 Tbsp each)

    Decadent Dark Chocolate Sauce (from the Flat Belly Diet Cookbook):

    4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
    1/2 cup whole milk
    2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

    Heat the chocolate, milk, and brown sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until melted and smooth. Serve warm. (4 servings, about 3 Tbsp each)

    What did I tell you?  Super simple, yet very good.  You'll want to keep these on hand for when you just need a little something sweet!