Poppy seed cake

Poppy seed cake

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I’m collecting recipes for a favor for the wedding, and it has been the most fun. In one of those recipes, my aunt wrote that my cousins always knew there was company coming over when she made the meatloaf (for which she sent the recipe) and scalloped potatoes. That’s how this poppy cake recipe feels to me: I knew there was company coming over when I would come home from school and see this bundt cake cooling on the stove, dusted with powdered sugar.

I asked my mom for this recipe last week because we were going to A.J.’s mom’s to celebrate her 70th birthday! Little did I know how easy it is to throw together.

This recipe comes from a great family friend, Charliene Meyer, who wrote on my mom’s recipe card: “this comes out very pretty and makes a nice gift!”

(Charlene is also the first person in the world to call me “Jewels.”)

In the email to me, my mom wrote, “Glad you remember this. It’s one of my favorites because it’s not a fussy cake, and it lets the poppy seeds be the stars!”

To make this, I combined all of the ingredients in one big bowl. Those ingredients included one box of white cake mix (without the pudding, if they even still make cake mixes with pudding anymore), one small box of vanilla pudding, eggs, vegetable oil, a little cream sherry, cream and poppy seeds. [Read more...]

Easiest icebox cake

Easiest icebox cake

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When we go to dinner somewhere I really, really like to bring something to share. It’s really important to me in order to show my appreciation for the time and effort it takes to host dinner.

But sometimes there isn’t time. Sometimes it’s too hot to slave away in the kitchen in front of a hot oven. Sometimes it’s too much.

This is the time you need to channel your inner-Sandra Lee.

I was faced with this scenario a few weeks ago. We decided last minute to accept an invitation for a delicious grilled dinner out at the farm, and I had no time and it was too hot and our day was too jam-packed for me to bake a dessert.

So I wandered aimlessly through the grocery store trying to come up with some sort of dessert. Out of sheer desperation, I came up with this little number: angel food cake layered with lemon, blueberries and frosted with Cool Whip.

I’m telling you guys this took five minutes to put together and it was the perfect summer dessert — light, cool, fluffy, no-bake and containing fresh fruit.

I started with an angel food cake that I bought, baked, from the store. I had to cut the packaging away from it and them remove the cardboard tube from the bottom, but angel food cakes are pretty durable.

[Read more...]

Summer veggie-loaded pizza

Summer veggie-loaded pizza

IMAGE_21C8A6BD-C2A1-4C46-9DA3-D52716ADEFBF My parents have a pretty extensive garden behind their house in California. And all I want in the world is a house with space for a garden, and they know this. So it has gotten to the point where my mom won’t even tell me about their “farm-to-table” meals because she doesn’t want to make me sad.

Until we have a garden, I just buy as many fresh things from the market as possible, especially during the summer. And what do you do when you become inundated with vegetables that need to be used?

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Make a pizza! It’s the best way to use everything at once and it’s delicious and it’s healthy!

As I’ve talked about before, homemade pizza dough can be made in advance and frozen, so it can be a pretty easy meal during the week.

Two Sundays ago, I doubled my pizza dough recipe, which allowed for me to use enough dough for this veggie-loaded pizza, and then set aside three other crusts’ worth if dough for future weeks!

So I wanted to use up some broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes.

I think the key to delicious vegetables on pizza is to cook them first. [Read more...]

Southern baked chicken casserole

Southern baked chicken casserole

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You guys.

I am in love with casseroles right now.

I buy the disposal pans (that can totally be washed and reused) and make them on Sunday and stick them in the freezer.

Obviously frozen casseroles take a lot longer to cook — sometimes more than two hours — but luckily A.J. is usually home to put it in the oven, while I’m still riding the bus home.

This southern baked chicken casserole, which I adapted from Food and Wine, used Tabasco sauce to kick things up and really provided a lot of flavor to something that I think would have otherwise turned out really bland.

I am not a regular fan of Tabasco sauce, but I think in this dish it served as an undertone of heat and warmth and brought out a stronger flavor in the celery, bell peppers and pimentos.

I started by sautéing some chopped onion; yellow, orange and red bell peppers; and celery together in some melted butter over high heat. [Read more...]

Slow cooker chicken taco chili

Slow cooker chicken taco chili

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If one more person asks us if we are planning on having kids, I’m going to scream.

It’s not the question so much that bothers me. People are curious of our plans, and while I appreciate their interest in our lives, the conversation that follows my emphatic “no,” is the worst.

I have found that people either refuse to believe me (“oh you’re young, you’ll change your mind”), or they are offended that we don’t want to rear offspring.

We couldn’t be less interested in raising children. I love children. I can’t wait for my friends to get pregnant so I can come and help out once the baby is born. I love my future niece and nephews, and want to be a positive role model for them. I want them to come stay with us sometimes, so I can spoil them with trips to the zoo, the latest animated feature and so much sugar. And then I want to give them back, preferably with some sort of noise-making toy in tow.

So can we all just support each other in our life decisions?

Regardless of your thoughts on that rant, I know something we can all get behind. This taco chili.

Man I love chili powder. It’s warm and rich, and adds this base of mild heat to dishes.

So this meal is quick, can be partially made ahead of time and is delicious. What more do you need in a dinner?!

(Sidebar: Please, please, please excuse the photos for the next few posts. The same week I decided that I needed to get back to cooking and writing happened to be the same week I brought my camera to the shop for a professional cleaning! Next week things should be looking better!)

[Read more...]

15-minute gourmet burgers

15-minute gourmet burgers

IMG_3885 On Monday, A.J. woke me up at 7 a.m., and as I came to consciousness, I could see (in my head, I mean) the last Westmoreland County bus, en route to Pittsburgh, leaving from the bus station, located at least 30 minutes from my house.

Whoops.

As I was rushing around the house preparing to drive to work, I muttered, “And everything falls down like Dominos.”

The carefully prepared plans I had outlined the previous night — to prep two slow cooker dishes that morning for A.J. to turn on before he left for work — were clearly not going to work out.

Luckily the 51-country-mile journey gave me plenty of time to ponder dinner and come up with a new game plan.

It’s really frustrating to spend so much time planning for dinner — creating a menu, making the grocery list, going to the store, lugging the groceries up the stairs and scheduling time to cook — to have it all just fall apart due to oversleeping. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all watched the best laid plans fall apart before our eyes, and there’s nothing to do about it, except come up with a new game plan under the new circumstances.

So my new plan was simple: stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home and buy something we could eat for dinner.

What resulted was one of the best dinners we’ve had in a very long time, and I was able to throw it together in 15 minutes.

After wandering the crowded aisles at TJ’s, I settled on burgers, with frozen, grass-fed, Kobe beef patties, focaccia buns and organic tomatoes, along with these frozen potato coins that looked delicious.

To make them “gourmet” though, they have to be a little special, so I sautéed some sliced mushrooms I already had at home to put on top of the burgers, smothered (and held together) with melted cheese.

To make the mushrooms, I melted some butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. [Read more...]

Three universal tips for cooking fish

Three universal tips for cooking fish

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As of this moment, salmon is one of my favorite dishes on the planet. Not only is it extremely healthy, providing valuable Omega-3s with a laundry list of joint, artery and immune system benefits, but it also tastes oh-so-good! If you enjoy curry dishes or Indian food in general, be sure to try out Jewels’ delicious Tandoori Salmon recipe.

For years, I had the misfortune of falsely believing I disliked fish. I imagine there are plenty of other individuals out there who, like my past self, believe that fish just isn’t their thing. Perhaps you had a single bad dining experience involving fish. Maybe the only fish you’ve tried was from a frozen bag. It’s possible that your first fish experience was with a species like mackerel, which has a more “fishy” taste, and you haven’t quite worked up to that.
In my case, the only fish I had ever eaten had been cooked by my father, and while my dad was a master at grilling steaks, he had a tendency to over cook fish.

Anyone who has successfully cooked fish can tell you that overcooking is possibly the worst mistake you can make. The delicate meat deteriorates quickly once you get passed the perfectly cooked point, unlike chicken and steak, which have much wider margins of error.

It wasn’t until I decided to try cooking a fresh piece of salmon for myself, prompted by the numerous health benefits, that I discovered how delicious fish could be. Here’s what I learned:

1) Don’t overcook the fish! [Read more...]

Apple bird’s nest pudding

Apple bird’s nest pudding

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So there is a lot happening right now.

I just got back from one of the best weekends of my life, where I went to D.C. to celebrate my pending nuptials with my five best friends, and it was amazing. I really, really, really can’t wait to share my bachelorette weekend Project Life pages with you guys.

In addition, I have accepted a job with the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, and I will start that new position on Monday. It’s in downtown Pittsburgh, which is more than a stone’s throw from Ligonier, so I’m really nervous about the commute and making new work friends and the major life change. BUT I’m also super excited to work for an established, historical organization that does such positively focused work.

Thirdly, there’s still a giveaway going on around here, so be sure to take a look how you can get multiple chances to win one of five $50 gift certificates to Exceptionalsheets.com, an online bed and bath linens store.

Between traveling and packing and unpacking, and then finishing my last week working as a reporter for the Ligonier Echo and trying to plan for next week and calling my dad every few hours and demanding pep talks where he tells me how proud he is of me, I feel like I haven’t had any time to meal plan or grocery shop or cook, so I’ve been sort of winging it. Read: I made a really terribly mozzarella macaroni and cheese, but a really delicious apple dessert. That we ate for dinner. Whoops.

This recipe came from my Little House on the Prairie cookbook, which is next on my list of cookbook reviews. The recipes are very primitive and some of them are ridiculously impossible. (Where can I buy a freshly killed jack rabbit or a flock of black birds, for example?) The methods are also hilarious. But sometimes they can be modified fairly easily for modern-day cooking, such as the case with this apple bird’s nest pudding. Unlike the blackbird pie, which uses actual black birds, this recipe has nothing to do with birds. Thank God.

I started by using my apple machine to peel, core and slice (all at the same time!) six apples. I used Golden Delicious, because that is what was on sale.

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I layered the apple slices in the bottom of a glass 8-inch square baking dish, coated with cooking spray.

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Then I topped the applies with brown sugar, poking it down into the spaces between the apple slices. [Read more...]

Chicken casserole

Chicken casserole

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I really like making this recipe at the beginning of the week because it’s perfect to take as leftovers in lunches or to have a square of as a snack.

It’s loaded with veggies and I feel like the leftovers always taste better than the just-out-of-the-oven version because the flavors have time to marry (or as my family says, fester!)

It’s pretty quick to make, although there is some chopping and stove top cooking involved.

This recipe comes from a Penseys spices catalog.

I started by sauteing some diced celery, diced onion, diced yellow and orange bell pepper, sliced mushroom and some chopped frozen broccoli in melted butter for about 10 minutes, until everything had softened. [Read more...]

Slow cooker: French chicken

Slow cooker: French chicken

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One of my favorite things in the kitchen is when there’s a bunch of ingredients that you don’t think will go together at all, and then you put them together and realize it’s an incredibly tasty combination. It’s like a little surprise. This past week that combination was: canned cranberries and French dressing. I don’t even really like those two things by themselves, but when they festered in the slow cooker for several hours, the combination was really incredible.

I made this meal in advance, adding the chicken, dressing and cranberries to a large baggie on Sunday night and then refrigerating it until I was ready to dump it into the slow cooker on Friday, which worked out really great. Unfortunately, I, somehow, forgot to take pictures during any of the stages other than the delicious, finished stage. (I think when I was putting the ingredients into the bag, I thought that I would just take pictures when I added it to the slow cooker and when I was adding it to the slower cooker, I thought I would just use the pictures I took of putting the ingredients into the bag.)

Anyway it was pretty easy, so I’m not sure step-by-step pictures are entirely necessary anyway.

I started by adding one can of whole-berry canned cranberry sauce, one cup of French dressing and three chicken breasts into a gallon-sized plastic bag. (If you can skip this step, if you’re not making this in advance.)

Once everything was in the bag, I sort of smashed it up to mix it and crush the cranberries, and then I chilled it until the day I used it in the slow cooker.

At that point, I just dumped everything in there, covered it and turned the slow cooker on. It’s really important this recipe cooks on low for no more than  6 hours. The sauce will thicken and burn if it’s on high, and the chicken can dry out if it cooks for much longer than six hours.

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SLOW COOKER FRENCH CHICKEN:

3 chicken breasts
16 ounces whole-berry canned cranberries
1 cup French dressing

Combine ingredients. If making it in advance, combine in a gallon-sized zipper bag and chill until use, up to one week. Otherwise, dump into slow cooker and cook, covered, on low for no more than six hours.

Printable recipe here.