Indulgent Red Velvet Fudge

or a touch of decadence in a two bite escape

How is it possible that I made it through the month without a single dessert recipe?  With the endless batches of cookies, bars, cherries, and treats that have been rolling out of my kitchen I have somehow neglected to share even one of these delicious recipes, and for that I offer my most sincere apologies.  There is no excuse for this neglect, but as a peace offering I present to you my favorite new development: Red Velvet Fudge. 

Since my time in the more "Southern" states I have had a growing love and appreciation for the decadent dessert that is Red Velvet Cake.  I bring this dessert as cakes, cupcakes, and even  soft sandwich cookies to gatherings every chance I get, but for the holidays I wanted to try to transform this irresistible dessert into a gift giving treat so the first thing I thought of was fudge.  This should be easy, right?  There has to be a great recipe out there on the internet somewhere for this evolution.  Nope.  Nada.  Nothing.  I found one or two recipes that somewhat resembled this delight but they seemed a tad challenged in texture, visual appeal, or flavor (depending on the particular recipe at hand).  So I decided to set to work combining tried and true fudge recipes I had collected with the inherent flavors of Red Velvet Cake.  It isn't a perfect transformation but it is pretty successful at capturing, and in some ways amplifying, the flavor and essence of the remarkable dessert it was inspired by.  So why not give it a try?  I humbly present to you (insert trumpet sound here) - Red Velvet Fudge:

2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp butter (+ 1 tbsp for pan)
1/2 bottle red food dye
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Grease an 8 by 8-inch pan with butter.

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan combine the sugar, chocolate, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter, and the buttermilk. Over medium heat, stir with a wooden or silicone spoon (to help maintain the temperature) until sugar is dissolved and chocolate is melted.  It won't take too long just patiently keep stirring, this is no time for a break you just got started!

2. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and boil for 3 minutes.  Do not lift the lid. 

3. Remove the cover and attach a candy thermometer to the pot. Cook until the thermometer reads 234 degrees F (there may be some flexibility here from what I've seen in other recipes, but I'm a bit compulsive on this point and personally stick to 234).

4. Remove from the heat and drop in the remaining butter cut into small pieces. Do not stir.  Seriously, no touching.  Just let it rest.  Allow the mixture cool until it drops to 130 degrees F, it'll take some time so be patient (for me this took about 40 min, I suggest leaving the area to resist the urge to mess with it).

5. Add the vanilla and food dye, mix until well-blended and the shiny texture becomes matte (this step took me about 20 min by hand with a silicone spatula, I haven't tried it with one of those fancy stand mixers but after that I have every intention to do so and see how it works).

6. Pour into the prepared pan. Let sit in cool, dry area until firm. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

This made lovely little gifts for those in my office this year, and the few bites I personally snagged were truly a decadent escape from the stressors of the season.  I do, however, advise against eating too much of this treat at once since it is quite rich and can become overpowering if you take on too much at once.  Kind of a built in "portion control" aid, which can come in handy when it comes to sweets.  Everything in moderation, but it isn't moderation without at least a taste!  So go ahead, indulge, find that moment of relief, and carry that feeling over throughout the rest of the day.  Whether you keep this for your family or spread the seasonal sweetness around, take a moment for yourself and enjoy!


Equal Opportunity Cheesy Potatoes (Gluten Free)

or Lose the Gluten, Keep the Cheese Potato Casserole

In my family not a holiday or gathering can go by without the essential dish of cheesy potatoes, I even make a breakfast version for Christmas morning.  And I consider this one of my safe "go-to" dishes for just about any occasion since it has a good "universal" appeal (who doesn't love cheese and potatoes? and together - even better!), travels easily, and pairs well with everything from grilled burgers to spiral sliced ham.  I had modified my mom's recipe that we had growing up and have been happily toting and serving this simply delicious side for years.  That is, until I came across a disturbing discovery when preparing it to take to a friend's house last Summer: it's dripping with gluten!  Now, don't get me wrong, I love gluten.  Really, I do.  Some of the best things to eat are filled with gluten.  But some of the people at the gathering were gluten free, including one of the children who has severe reactions and can not eat anything that has even come in contact with gluten.  So what was I going to bring?!  First I panicked.  Then I panicked some more.  And finally I thought - I can fix this - and headed out to the store, on a mission for gluten free foods.

Have I mentioned that I am stubborn?  I didn't change dishes to bring something that is easily gluten free, nope not me, I instead insisted on recreating this dish sans-gluten.  Much to my husband's relief, I was able to find some pretty awesome gluten free products out there.  The first time I made this I was unable to find gluten free condensed soup, so I had to use regular gluten free "creamy" soup - if this happens to you, you'll need to adjust for the extra liquid by cutting down the amount of soup and sour cream a bit.  Now this last weekend when I was once again shopping for the gluten free components I saw something that almost made me shout for joy right there in the grocery store but, as I'm sure my husband is grateful for, I restrained myself.  Right there on the shelf was a brand new product - gluten free condensed soup!  Perfect!  Now my previously perfected potatoes can be enjoyed by all, well except the lactose intolerant - sorry, there's not much I can do about that, they are "cheesy" after all...  So I rushed home with my find and happily set to work.

The ingredient list may look complicated but it really isn't bad, I just added some notes to help you ensure that gluten doesn't try to sneak in without you noticing.

  • Hashbrown Potatoes - cubed, 16oz (check the package to ensure gluten free, several brands of "plain" cubed hashbrowns are naturally gluten free)
  • Cream of Chicken Soup - 1 carton condensed, gluten free
  • Sour Cream - 8oz
  • Chedder/Monteryjack Cheese - 16oz, shredded (check package to ensure gluten free since some brands add ingredients to help keep it from sticking, if in doubt buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself)
  • butter - melted, 1/4 stick (or 1/8 cup)

Preheat oven to 325°

1. In a large bowl mix the soup, sour cream, 12oz of cheese, and butter until consistent throughout.  Add some additional spices at this time if you like (dried minced onion, poultry seasoning, garlic, salt, pepper, etc.  Just make sure they are gluten free if they are blends or all this "hard" work will go to waste!)

2. Add the thawed hashbrowns and stir until completely coated.

3. Dump the mixture into a greased 9x13 casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese

4. Bake for 30 - 45 minutes until cheese is melted and the top is lightly browned.  Allow to cool for 5-10 min before serving to give the cheese a chance to rest.

And there it is!  An easy version of cheesy potatoes fit for the gluten free crowd.  Unfortunately I do not have any photos from after it was cooked, it went too fast!  The kid that was highly sensitive to gluten was going back for a second serving before I even managed to take a second bite.  It feels great to be able to share my love of cooking and to bring something to the table to share with my friends and their families that they can enjoy even with a few dietary restrictions.  As always, I fully encourage embracing this recipe and making it your own by adding your personal flavors and touches, just use caution and be aware of any extra ingredients if you are trying to stay gluten free.

If you are a gluten lover there's no need for the specialty ingredients, and in that case I highly recommend sprinkling some Italian bread crumbs and Panko on top. Maybe then drizzle with a bit of melted butter..

But however you take it, I hope you enjoy it and welcome this dish or one of it's cousins to your next gathering.  I know we will!  Enjoy!


Pour and Go Creamy Chicken Scampi

or taking the long way home to a rich, savory meal.

You should know - there are several times of year when I fall into an all out love affair with my slow cooker.  Right now the combination of cold weather, busy days, and holiday festivities certainly makes this particular time of year a "perfect storm" for the affair to begin.  Best part?  It's a natural stress reducer.  This tendency plays perfectly with a lower food budget so it eases a bit of that stress that those of us who like giving gifts a little too much get right about now.  And for those of us over-scheduled between family, friends, and religious festivities of various sorts it simplifies dinner and the time allocated to it so that it is a more enjoyable part of the day.  Not that I'm speaking from experience on both of those points or anything..  

But I don't need to play up the amazing qualities of the slow cooker all day, if you haven't dusted yours off recently here's a perfect opportunity to pull it out.  It's not just for stews, chili, and soups.  You can make a delicious, rich meal any day of the week that has that touch of gourmet flair without even being in the house.  All it takes is a little planning, a few minutes in the morning, and in this case - a love of chicken. I must confess - the recipe calls for herb jelly, which may sound a bit strange, but if you have it on hand it is really quite good in this recipe.  Now if you don't have herb jelly just add in some basil, parsley, and a touch of oregano and you'll be fine.  You could even blend the herbs with a bit of butter to make an "herb compound" to use in its place.  No worries, just good food.  Let's get to it, shall we?

1 package of 6 chicken tenders
1/2 cup butter
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup white wine (or 1/2 cup Mead for an earthier taste)
2 tbsp herb jelly* (or basil, parsley, & a touch of oregano)
House spice blend
Garlic powder

Hardware: Slow Cooker

1. Cut the butter into tablespoon sized slabs and scatter along the bottom of the slow cooker.  Next add a layer of chicken tenders, there should be minimal overlap if at all possible, they are pretty touchy about having their own space in the sauce.  Top the chicken tenders with an thin layer of herb jelly (or herbs/compound).  Season lightly but evenly with spice blend and garlic powder.

2. Carefully pour in the chicken stock and white wine, stay towards the sides to allow as much of the jelly and spice coating to stay in tact.  Most of the chicken should be submerged once all of the liquid has been added.

3. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours.

4. Remove 1/4 cup of the liquid from the cooker and pour it into a small saucepan over low heat.  While it simmers, stir in flour 1 tbsp at a time until a paste-like consistency forms.  Once you get a nice golden color in the mixture (roux), slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid.  You may need a whisk to help it fully combine.  When you have a smooth consistency, serve chicken drizzled with the creamy scampi style sauce.

* I know what you are thinking - what is herb jelly?  and who uses that stuff anyway?  But I have a good reason... really, I do... in a whirlwind of canning this past Fall I came across some more unique recipes and thought that "herb jelly" sounded like a delightful gift for the holidays and a simple gourmet treat to have on hand.  (There are recipes for herb jelly in many places on the internet, one base recipe example is here.)  Then when I realized, a month or so later, that I had absolutely no idea what to do with it I became determined to come up with a recipe to attach to the jars when I gave them out.  I must say, this one turned out quite nicely for just such a purpose.  But, as I said above, if you don't have herb jelly just add in some basil, parsley, and a touch of oregano and you'll be fine. 

However you make it, just give it a try.  You'll be surprised just how good your slow cooker is at its job, and how you made such a delicious dinner with so little effort.  You don't need to be busy, or out of the house often, to use your slow cooker - it does just as well if you are happily relaxing in the other room in front of a nice warm fire, or typing away at your computer.  So dust off that slow cooker, or in my case take the crock out of the dishwasher from yesterday's meal, and try your own spin on this twist on a classic dish.  Enjoy!


Sugar and Spice Pork Roast

or the other white meat conquers Sunday dinner.

It's hard to think of many things that are more typical of hearty "Sunday Dinner" then a beef roast with potatoes, beef stew, or pasta with meat sauce.  Are you noticing a trend here?  I am, it's all beef.  Delicious, tender, flavor infused - but beef nonetheless.  So how do coax something with a much milder flavor, the "other white meat" perhaps, into being a meal worthy of this hearty homestyle tradition?  You give it a little love, a bit of sugar, some spice to kick it up a level, and garlic to bring it back home.  For the most part this roast makes itself, with a bit of hands on work at the start just to show you really care.  So let's get to it!

2-3 pound Pork Roast, bone in
¼ cup Brown Sugar
Cajun Seasoning
Garlic Powder
2 tbsp Honey
4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Hardware: Dutch oven with lid or a deep baking dish and aluminum foil
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

1. Evenly spread the honey over all sides of the roast.  Season the top of the roast lightly with the Cajun spices, if you like more heat you can opt to season all sides or put it on a little heavier just remember that a little of this blend goes a long way and you may need a jug of water at the table if you go overboard here.  Then season lightly with the garlic powder on all sides.  Sprinkle the brown sugar over all sides of the roast and press down to adhere all the sugar, seasoning, and honey.  Allow to sit for a couple minutes.

2. Heat the oil and half the butter in the open dutch oven over medium high heat.  Brown all sides of the roast, you'll notice a nice crispy "crust" forming from the sugars.  Once all sides are browned turn off the heat and add the remaining butter to the bottom of the pan.  Cover with lid and carefully transfer the hot dish to the preheated oven.  If using a baking dish in place of a dutch oven you will transfer the roast, along with all the oil and butter, into the dish and then cover with aluminum foil.

3. Baked, covered, for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until desired internal temperature.  Pork does not have to be cooked to well done like poultry does so a nice "medium" is usually what I aim for but it's really up to your own preference.  For a little extra crispness you can remove the lid for the last 10-15 minutes to allow the top some more direct heat time.

4. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 min before slicing.  In a small saucepan melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium low heat and then stir in 2 tbsp of flour until it reaches a "paste" consistency.  Then slowly stir in the pan drippings from the roast to create a quick gravy.  Add seasoning to taste, this is a great place to add in some .  Serve slices of roast drizzled with gravy as desired, personally I drown the pork in it (I can't help it if I love gravy, and this sweet and spicy blend is heavenly over the pork).

So there you have it, right next to a pile of mashed potatoes with a pool of butter (don't judge, it's comfort food season around here).  The leftovers are excellent reheated, but I highly recommend appropriately dousing them with gravy during the reheat process.  Even if you remove the pork from the gravy before enjoying adding the gravy while it heats will help keep it more moist.  This is not just a weekend meal, it can be prepped in the morning and placed on time bake in your oven if you have the function, it fills the house with a fantastic aroma that can't be beat when you come in from the cold.  It's a nice option if you're just looking to switch things up and a delicious alternative to the beef laden meals that results in a lighter post-dinner feeling but still brings the deep down warmth and comfort you expect from "Sunday Dinner". So why not invite a little more pork into your life?  It's worth a try, with your own tastes guiding the way, to bring something new to the comfort food laden table.  Enjoy!

* Wait!  Come back! Don't forget to save the roast bone.  It's perfect for making homemade stock for another hearty slow cooker dinner - Go with the Flow Potato Soup.  I'm just saying, why waste all that delicious goodness by carelessly tossing it in the trash?  I don't know about you, but I know I'm looking forward to soup this weekend... *


Faux Fried Chicken for the Lighter Set

or crunchy comfort food goodness on a "stick"

When I think "comfort food" I think popcorn, marshmallows, tomato soup, mac and cheese, and - of course - fried chicken.  What could be better to cure a foul mood then that crispy, irresistible skin containing the juicy goodness of perfectly seasoned chicken?  Maybe adding in a side of veggies or potatoes doused in butter, really the side selection doesn't matter too terribly much as long as it is properly doused, and hot rolls fresh out of the oven.  Mmmmm..  I'm feeling better already...

Sadly as delicious as this meal is, and trust me it truly is, you just can't dive into a plate of fat and carbs every time frustration or hostility start peaking their little heads around the corner and waltzing into your life.  To keep things in moderation I try to limit this type of meal to full on train wreck mode.  So what do I do when my bad mood just isn't quite foul enough to warrant a full on fat indulgence?  I fake it.  Just as acting "happy" can actually help improve your mood, if you can tolerate yourself long enough for it to take effect, a well planned comfort food knock off can give you a little bit of that soothing feeling without all the regret that settles in just in time to mess with your late night popcorn snack plans.  This isn't the healthiest of the "fake" fried chicken recipes out there, but I find it has a nice balance between the crispy crunchy fat dripped deliciousness of true fried chicken and the non-greasy oven baked alternative.  Plus, if you want to kick it up a notch and still not fully indulge, just use the whole eggs instead of the egg whites and toss in a splash of heavy whipping cream in place of the milk.  Don't worry, I won't tell. 

Chicken drumsticks - 6 to 8
Panko bread crumbs - 1½ cups
Low Fat Parmesan Cheese - 1/4 cup
House spice blend
Flour - ½ cup
Egg Whites - 4
Low Fat Milk - 3 tbsp
Kosher salt - 6 tbsp
Parsley - 4 tbsp
View full recipePreheat oven to 350°

1. First of all, you have to be prepared.  Create a breading station with 3 separate containers: flour, egg whites and milk (whisked together), then the Panko mixed with kosher salt and parsley.  Line everything up with the plate of chicken at one end followed by the breading station (in the aforementioned order) in the middle and a baking sheet prepared with a layer of aluminum foil and sprayed with olive oil at the end.

2. Working from the front of the line.  Season all of the chicken evenly with the spice blend.

3. Then, one at a time: dredge the chicken in flour, gently shake off any extra, then carefully coat each one in the egg mixture, take a moment as you lift it out to allow the excess to drip off, and finally roll in the Panko mixture turning and pressing to ensure that it sticks as much as possible.  Surface area coverage is essential here, so take care not to rush through things.  The moistness of the chicken is at stake, don't say I didn't warn you if you carelessly toss things around and end up with half coated, dry chicken.  I'm just saying...

4. Once the stations have been completed, place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet and spray the tops lightly with olive oil.  Bake for 20 min then flip and continue to bake for an additional 10-20 min, or until the outside is crispy and the internal temperature is 170°.  If the outside isn't quite crispy enough when the internal temperature is reached, don't worry - just turn the oven to broil and keep an eye on it as the outside catches up.

Now I realize that the picture isn't of the drumsticks version of the recipe, but I wasn't quick enough last time I made them to snatch a picture before they were gobbled up.  What this does show, however, is the same recipe made with boneless skinless chicken tenders (an even healthier alternative I'd like to add).  All you need to do to adjust the recipe is to shorten the cooking time, it will be closer to 10 min per side but it really depends on the thickness since tenders can cook really fast.  You will most likely need to broil them a bit at the end to reach the necessary level of crispiness to satisfy my tastes, but we're all different so the texture may just be perfect for you.  Crisp to your heart's content, just don't burn (nobody really likes that).  Give it a shot, it's a healthier version of one of my favorite comfort foods that even the kids can enjoy.  Top it with hot sauce, dip it in (low fat) Ranch dressing, the world is yours to experiment with - I would just avoid the melted butter or people may begin to doubt your healthy intentions.  Enjoy!