Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010: Happy New Year!

This was a damn good year ...

January found me eating the best damn carne asada tacos in Ensenada, Mexico.  I still cannot believe that I was in Mexico.

February was about these amazing peanut butter, oatmeal, cinnamon chip cookies.  They are so good that I'm seriously considering going upstairs and firing up the oven to make a batch.  And that says a lot since my goal today is to see how long I can stay in my pajamas and do nothing but type and drink coffee.

March tested my theory whether or not Giada de Laurentiis was placed on this earth to get people hooked on garlic and cheese.  Me thinks that is her purpose in life.

June was all about fresh asparagus and this incredible dish from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks site.  This will be one of the first things that I make when asparagus is in season again.

In July, my mother-in-law briefly became a Facebook sensation when I started talking about her Pink Champage Cupcakes.  The irony is that she isn't even on Facebook.  The lasting result is that my co-workers request these cupcakes whenever we have any kind of celebration to mark at work.  Love, love, love these!

One of my favorite August posts was in homage to an incredible sangria that I had in July ... I cannot wait for better weather to make this again.

And wow - I just realized that I didn't post anything in September.  Not entirely sure how that happened, so we'll go back and throw in an honorable mention from July ... Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp.  I'm drooling as we speak ... and wondering if I should go to the grocery store in my jammies to get shrimp and make this for breakfast.

2010 was the year of the weekend roadtrips.  I'm not entirely sure how many miles Ryan and I clocked on our respective vehicles, but we made the most of gorgeous weather and our kind friends and family who let us crash at their places.  In October, we logged about 550 miles to see Here Come the Mummies in Rock Island, IL (and Ryan's grandma, his folks and our 10-year college reunion on the way). Best.  Weekend.  Ever.

I also got to meet Ina Garten in October.  I'm still mentally "squee-ing" over how wonderfully gracious she was.

November was a good month all around - my mom got to play impromptu therapist one Thursday night when I called her cursing about these apple pie bars - a nostalgic delight from my childhood, which she never bitched about making when I was younger.  I love you mom ... bless you for being such an awesome baker and never letting on that some of our favorite dishes from childhood were a total pain to make.

And after four nephews, I finally was blessed with a niece in November.  Kaylee (still affectionately known as "Sweet Pea" to her uncle and I) was born on Nov. 21 and has been known to be entranced by Ina Garten when she's on Food Network.  That's my girl!

In December, I wrote about Gwendolyn's Snack Mix.  I'm still in love with this snack mix ...

So there you go - 2010 in review.  All of us here from ShelleyBakes (that's me, the hubby and our Cat) wish you a wonderful new year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holiday Snickerdoodle Cookies

While there are several reasons why I married my husband (he's cute, he loves me, he puts up with the cat, etc.), I have a secret that I need to share with you.  You know how that adage goes, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach?"  I think my mother-in-law might have tweaked it to say "the way to get a daughter-in-law is to send home treats with her single son to woo potential suitors."

I'll be featuring her cinnamon popcorn at some point during this holiday season.  (That's actually one of my most favorite things that she makes.)  But this is my second favorite recipe of hers that started as a holiday treat and has now been tweaked to make a year-round appearance in her cookie jar.

I think the recipe originally came from a Taste of Home magazine. What's brilliant about it is that you can change the coffee creamer used to fit the holiday season.  Gloria's used eggnog-flavored creamer in the winter months and uses French vanilla creamer at other times.  You could also use some of the pumpkin-flavored creamers around Thanksgiving and Halloween, etc.  These are also brilliant because they freeze brilliantly and a single batch makes about 100 cookies.

Holiday Snickerdoodle Cookies

½ c. butter-softened
½ c. shortening
2 c. sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. rum
½ c. evaporated milk
½ c. refrigerated French vanilla nondairy creamer
5 ½ c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter, shortening, and sugar.  Beat in egg and extract. Add milk and creamer.
Stir in flour, salt and baking soda.

Shape dough into 1 in. balls and roll in mixture of 5 T. sugar and ½ t. ground nutmeg or cinnamon.  (I used Penzey's Baking Spice.)  Flatten slightly with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Let rest on the cookie sheet for about five to 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Goodie Advent Calendar o' Wonderment

You might notice that I have a new badge on my website - this is from Heather, one of the fabulous cooks from He Cooks She Cooks.  I'm a little late to the game, but Heather is rounding up a bunch of holiday recipes from bloggers and linking to them on a special "Advent" calendar.  O wonderment.

I'm thrilled to be invited to the party and will be participating in future posts.  In the meantime, get your merry self over to the calendar by clicking on the badge.  You will be glad that you did.

Soup Saturday: Easy Tortellini Soup

I was making another soup recipe lately and I jotted in the margins of the page "soup is circumstantial."  And although I don't exactly remember what I was getting at with that recipe (which is still getting tweaked ...), I know what it means when it comes to this soup.  This one originally called for mushrooms, which I forgot to buy - so I substituted celery.  It also called for frozen spinach.  Though I recognize that frozen spinach can be really cool, I'm not that into it, so I used fresh.  Don't like carrots?  Don't use them.  The sky's the limit with this very basic soup.

This tortellini soup (it's from Better and is called Tortellini, Mushroom and Meatball Soup) was brought to a work potluck by my coworker Pat. It's easy and utilizes convenient ingredients, and is a nice change of pace from some of the other soups that I make during winter.

Easy Tortellini Soup
adapted from Better

2 quarts chicken broth
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme (**note on these, I just threw them in the pot as my soup was simmering and then removed the stems when the soup was done cooking.)
1 bay leaf
14-16 frozen prepared meatballs
1 3/4 c. chopped carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
9 oz. frozen or refrigerated, prepared three-cheese tortellini

**Note on the herbs, the original recipe called for 1 tsp. of dried Italian seasoning.  I did not have, so I substituted the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf.

Swirl a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the bottom of a large pan over medium high heat.  Saute the carrots, celery and onion in the hot oil until the onion is translucent.  (Add a little bit of salt, which will help the process).  Add the broth, the herbs and the meatballs.  Simmer for five minutes.  Add tortellini and cook until the pasta is just tender.  Wilt spinach into soup, heat through and serve.

As it seems with all soups - this is "meh" the night you serve it, but gets better as the days go on. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seven Layer Salad

I have a confession to make:  Some of the easiest recipes make me kind of panicky.  I'll tackle a cheesecake or making my own beef stock with pleasure, but tell me to make no-bake cookies and there's a part of me that wants to hide.  And why?  Because cheesecake is complicated, making your own beef stock impresses people because of the time commitment involved.  With more difficult recipes, there's a bit of wiggle room of forgiveness if you screw something up.  "Easy" recipes?  No such room for error.

So when my aunt Robin asked me to bring seven-layer salad to our family's Thanksgiving, I was relatively certain that I would be able to ace this challenge and then I panicked when I looked at other recipes online and didn't see one that looked like what my mom always made.  So of course I had to call her and after a little bit of coaching, I realized ... my family's standard seven-layer salad is actually more like a six-layer salad.  Somehow, that doesn't sound as enticing ...

Bacon.  Eggs.  Cheese.  Miracle Whip.  Peas.  Lettuce.  This is a non-healthy slice of heaven.
Mom's Seven (Erm, Six) Layer Salad

Hardboil four large eggs. 
Crisp one pound of bacon

Layer the following in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan, shredded iceberg lettuce and one bag of frozen peas.  Top with Miracle Whip (I used most of a 30 oz. jar).  Sprinkle a bag of shredded cheddar cheese on the top of the Miracle Whip, crumble up the cooked bacon on top.  Quarter and place hard boiled eggs on the top. 

So what's so difficult about this salad?  What caused me a moment of sweaty palm panic?  It's pretty simple, actually ... do you know what a pain in the butt it is to spread Miracle Whip on top of frozen peas without pulling said peas up?  It's worth it though ... who knew that "salad" could be so unhealthy?

I'll even throw in a bonus picture ... since I didn't really know what I was doing when I made this salad, I hard boiled way too many eggs.  So I reached back even further to my nostalgia vault and made some deviled eggs.

My mama didn't use paprika, but I'm a rebel.
The filling for the deviled eggs is also pretty simple ... you combine the cooked yolks with a little mayo/Miracle Whip, mustard and pepper and then fill the egg white shells.  Because I think it's pretty, I sprinkled with a bit of paprika.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gwendolyn's Snack Mix

This super-easy recipe is from my friend and co-worker Gwendolyn.  I am in love with it because it combines my lust for things like cereal and sweetened condensed milk.  What Gwendolyn loves about this recipe is that you can have the ingredients on hand at any time in case surprise guests appear at your doorstep. (Which I might start doing now that she's told me that she will always have said ingredients on hand.)

Gwendolyn's Snack Mix

8 c. Crispix cereal
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. cashews
1 c. pretzel nuggets

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Put cereal, cashews and pretzels in a large bowl.  Combine sweetened condensed milk and vanilla in a smaller bowl.  Drizzle over cereal mixture and gently stir to coat.  Transfer to 2 lightly greased cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Immediately remove to waxed paper and spread out to dry.  Store in an airtight container.