Fruit and Veggie Muffin Fun

or how to feed a fickle toddler who wants to live on carbs and fruit

Everyone goes through phases when they enjoy certain foods more than others, but none are so passionate in this as the average toddler.  They may go from an all fruit diet one week to all green beans all the time the next week with no rhyme or reason that we can identify.  Is it because the food has somehow offended them?  Is there a tiny warning siren going off in their ear when they consume too many nutritious foods in one day?  We have made so many efforts to keep healthy foods in our child's diet but it isn't always easy and they won't always like the pure version no matter how young you start or how hard you try.  So what do you do?  Make sure the nutrients are finding their way in somehow!  Enter the veggie infusions.

I wanted to find a painless way to add more veggies to our daughter's diet, and it doesn't hurt to add them to our own as well, so I looked up some recipes that would appeal to a toddler.  What I decided to try first was the inevitable vegetable muffin.  These recipes are all over the internet so one would be hard pressed to claim complete ingenuity, but I did put a few special spins on my recipe that make it stand out.
First, most recipes shred the veggies.  This would be a no go for our little one as she would carefully pull each one of those shreds out.  Instead we steam and then puree.  Add in some unsweetened applesauce for the fruity component and you are well on your way to a tasty treat.  You can cut back on the sugar if you want, we will be in an ongoing basis, but I wanted to ensure that the initial experiences were positive so I tossed a little extra in for good measure.  The flavor is well balanced, nothing is overpowering and it isn't terribly sweet.  I could eat these all day, and so could both my husband and toddler, so I count this as a big win!  Here's how we tackled the toddler snack -

1 medium zucchini
1/2 cup carrots
1 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar (optional)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon & nutmeg combined

Hardware: food processor, mixer (I use a stand mixer, but you could use a hand mixer), muffin pans (either mini, regular, or a combination of both)

Preheat oven to 375 F

1. Peel and dive the carrots and zucchini.  Steam either on the stove or in the microwave until soft.  Add to the food processor along with the applesauce and pulse until well blended and consistently the texture of applesauce throughout.

2. Beat together the butter and sugar(s).  Beat the egg and add to the bowl along with the fruit and vegetable mixture and vanilla extract.  Stir until well combined.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients and gradually stir them into the bowl.  Once the texture is consistent throughout it is ready to bake.

4. Grease the muffin pans before adding the batter.  Fill each cup 2/3 of the way up for standard muffins, if using the mini muffin tins I fill each cup to the top.  Bake for 15 minutes for mini muffins and 18 minutes for standard muffins, or until a toothpick comes out clean in the center.

5. Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes 12 mini + 12 regular sized muffins, not sure of the quantity if you did all of one type since I like to put everything in the oven at once and this is the breakdown of my available pans....



Fast from Frozen: Pressure Cooker Creamy Italian Chicken

or it's officially a series folks, and possibly an addiction (don't judge me and my inability to plan ahead, just enjoy the good food)

The original recipe: Pressure Cooker Frozen Chicken in Duck Sauce
The variations: Sesame Chicken & Creamy Garlic Italian Chicken

Well, pressure cooker frozen chicken is officially a weekly meal.  It has replaced our slow cooker meals for a while since I think we were getting a bit burned out on them over the particularly long winter season we had this year.  I had been rotating between BBQ, duck, and sesame sauce since most of the ingredients are pantry essentials or things I tend to keep on hand.  Even though the flavor profiles vary greatly, the sauce is still similar in texture in each and the supplemental veggies/sides are the same.  I decided I wanted a real change, something more drastic, to add to the options on our menu.  I considered a chicken scampi style, and that will probably be next, but I wanted something with a bit more richness this time.  I decided to push my boundaries and try a cream sauce.

I honestly had no idea how this would turn out when I first tried it.  I knew the sauce would thin out from the additional water that was released from the chicken as it cooked, but I was still worried the cream sauce would burn on the bottom.  The result - it had some delicious, almost caramelized spots, but didn't burn.  It was absolutely delicious.  I haven't tried this with frozen chicken breasts yet, and because of my concern over burning I don't want to include a time for them until I do, but I am sure with the right timing it could work too.  This is definitely at the top of our list now.  My husband described it as akin to roast chicken with gravy, and I can't disagree, but I'm not sure that captures it fully.  All I can say is that it is the essence of comfort food for our family.  Adding in the baking potatoes was fantastic and further set it apart from the other recipes, though you may need to salt them a bit when serving to bring out the flavors.

Here's how it went this time around:

Creamy Garlic Italian Chicken

1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp minced garlic
1 ½ tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp dried minced onion
3 small Idaho potatoes
5 boneless thighs, frozen
¼ cup large dice carrots or frozen carrots

Hardware: pressure cooker

1. Wash and then cut the potatoes into quarters.  Heat the chicken stock to a simmer and set aside. 

2. Melt the butter over medium/low heat in the base of the pressure cooker.  Add in the fresh minced garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for 1 min.  Stir in the flour to create a roux (even, golden consistency throughout) and cook stirring constantly for 2 min.  The sauce should be thick and creamy.

3. Add in the chicken stock very gradually, stirring well to combine as you go (this will help prevent lumps later).  Once it is combined, add in the frozen chicken in a single layer.  Spoon some of the sauce over each piece of chicken.  Wedge the potatoes in between the pieces of chicken, they can overlap a bit just try to get at least part of each one in some sauce.

4. Evenly spread the seasoning, salt, and dried minced onion over the top.  Seal the pressure cooker and raise the heat to medium high.  Once high pressure is reached, turn it down to the lowest level where it can maintain that pressure.  Continue to cook for 8 minutes. 

5. Release pressure according to manufacturer guidelines. After the cooker is opened, flip over the chicken and stir the vegetables. Serving suggestions: with buttered noodles, alongside garlic bread, or stir in some extra steamed veggies.  You may want to salt to taste, particularly the potatoes, when serving.


Fast from Frozen: Pressure Cooker Sesame Chicken

or the love affair grows - pressure cooker frozen chicken for those who fail to plan, or just like good food

The original recipe: Pressure Cooker Frozen Chicken in Duck Sauce
The variation: Sesame Chicken

So to say that my husband jumped on board the frozen chicken band wagon might be an understatement.  And I honestly love the fact that this method somehow turns out perfect almost every single time.  But the biggest bonus for me is that I can prep this in the cooker in 5-10 minutes and then spend some time focusing on my toddler while it cooks on its own.  She is loving being in the kitchen and helping mommy cook, I can still accommodate this by putting the pressure cooker on the back burner while helping her with her special "dish" a few feet away.  

I have been playing with different sauces to keep it fresh and different ways to keep it an easy and complete meal.  Adding more veggies was definitely a win and so was the sauce below.  I love ordering Chinese food as take-out but the greasiness of my favorite dishes (mostly batter fried chicken or shrimp) isn't always easy on my stomach, or - let's be honest - all that good for me.  This isn't the truest recipe for authentic sesame sauce but it is pretty darn close to some of our local take-out restaurants so it definitely satisfies my cravings and gives me the "fix" I need.  I did make an adjustment to the original recipe for cook time with this type of sauce, if you want to have leftovers you need to decrease the cook time to 8 minutes for frozen thighs.  With nine minutes the chicken is moist and delicious the first day but can dry out when reheating, at eight minutes it is still cooked through and is able to retain that moisture as leftovers too.  Here is how I changed things up:

Sesame Chicken

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 ½ teaspoon chile powder
1 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp minced ginger
3 boneless chicken breasts or 5 boneless thighs, frozen
½ cup frozen broccoli
¼ cup large dice carrots or frozen carrots

Hardware: pressure cooker

1. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in the base of the pressure cooker. Add in the chicken stock, stir to combine, then bring to a simmer. And the remaining ingredients except for the chicken and vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes to reduce the sauce.

2. You can remove a cup of the sauce to save for other uses or leave it all in the cooker. Add in the frozen chicken and vegetables, stirring and flipping to coat. Spoon a little sauce over the side of the chicken that is left facing up.

3. Seal the cooker and bring to high pressure. 
Once high pressure is reached, turn it down to the lowest level where it can maintain that pressure.  For the frozen breasts cook for 12 min once pressure is reached, for the frozen thighs cook for 8 minutes.

4. Release pressure according to manufacturer guidelines. After the cooker is opened, flip over the chicken and stir the vegetables. Serve over prepared white rice with extra sauce as desired.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do, and make your own adjustments to suit your tastes.  Enjoy!


Fried Chicken Patty Fun

or another walk down memory lane for a childhood favorite - homemade chicken nuggets

I am kind of stuck in this personal retro throwback mode.  I loved a lot of the instant foods as a kid.  No matter what my mom would do to entice me otherwise I couldn't get enough boxed mac n cheese (new variations one and two here), powder based instant potatoes, and canned tomato soup with grilled cheese (as explored in last month's post).  A favorite among my friends that always stood out was chicken nuggets and there were truly few in my elementary school class that would pass up that hot lunch given the option, and that is where this exploration begins.

Recreating this one seemed like a bit of challenge since I do not own a meat grinder attachment for my stand mixer, but the market has begun to work in my favor and now I am able to regularly find ground chicken at the grocery store so I was excited to give it a go.  I started out making larger chicken patties that are excellent on their own or made into chicken burgers for a hand held meal (see variation at the end), but the recipe works just as well for those ever tempting little nuggets of deliciousness I so fondly recall.  It just comes down to the size and cook time so keep that in mind as you go along.  It's easy to adjust seasoning to your tastes, but you'll want to keep in mind the wet to dry ingredient ratio since going too far in one direction can give you either a gooey mess or a dried out hockey puck, and nobody wants to eat that.  For something they do want to eat, check this out and give it a go:

1 pound of ground chicken
1 quarter cup of whole milk
2/3 cup bread crumbs Italian style
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 quarter cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 of a small yellow onion grated
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Hardware: high edged fry pan, optional - cookie sheet

1. Mix together the milk, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Add in the ground chicken and combine with your hands. Gradually add in half of the Italian bread crumbs, half of the Panko bread crumbs, and the Parmesan cheese working it into the mixture evenly with your hands.

Toss half of the extra breadcrumbs in a bowl big enough to move one of the chicken patties around in and mix together. Form into 8 equal patties or into two inch round “nuggets.”  Put one patty in at a time and shake lightly to coat the first side, flip and repeat. Remove the patty and press both sides to help the bread crumbs stick. Place on a plate and repeat with the rest of the chicken patties, adding the remaining breadcrumbs to the bowl when it runs low. Place in the fridge while bringing oil to temp.

Bring oil to 350F or a bread cube browns in 1 min. Cook time depends on size and thickness of the patty, internal temp needs to be 165F. Flip at least every minute for even browning.  Place on a wire cooling rack if possible and salt lightly as they come out.  Test as needed for internal temp.

* For 8 patties (from 16 oz of ground chicken, so approx 2-3 oz each once all the ingredients are added) I was good with approximately 3 minutes but you will need to test this to be sure as you go. Once golden you can always toss them in the oven to finish or keep warm. 

Alternate variation: Skillet Chicken Burgers

Ingredient changes:
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp oil

Hardware changes: 
cast iron skillet, optional cookie sheet

Complete Step 1 above.

2. Form into 6 equal patties and place in the refrigerator to cool while you prep your side dishes and the cast iron skillet. Turn the oven to keep warm.

3. Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet once it is hot and swirl it around to coat. Cook the patties 3 at a time. Sear lightly and then lower the temperature some and continue to cook for about 3-5 minutes. Then flip and repeat. Once the internal temperature has reached 165F place in an oven safe dish in the oven to keep warm. Repeat the process with the second batch.

Optional topping ideas (not to be used all at once!): provolone cheese (melted on top in the oven), mayo mixed with Parmesan cheese, ranch dressing, relish, lettuce, tomato, yellow onions sauteed with the burgers in the skillet…


Slow Cooker Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

or easy comfort food for fast or frozen

Tomato soup and grilled cheese is a classic comfort food combination that many people love from childhood on.  Yes, it is true that you can get this in minutes from a can, and there are times that I will admit that I crave just that.  There is just something about your childhood favorites that can bring those wonderful feelings of simple joy flooding back.  It is also true that this can be made stove top in about 40 minutes, but I am a fan of instant satisfaction and slow cooking not only gives you dinner in the same amount of hands on time it would take you to cook up the canned version but it also gives the flavors even longer to mingle and get to know each other.  The additions to the flavor give the soup a bit more depth without being overwhelming and it is a great base to build from and try out different combinations.

Bonuses for stress reduction: this can easily be a back up pantry meal made with items you can keep on hand, it freezes really well in individual portions for lunches and in freezer bags for family meals.  We've tried three different variations and love them all!  The tips for alterations are included at the bottom.  I hope you enjoy and find some new ways to customize it to your tastes!

The base version is great alongside provolone topped garlic bread or mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches (outside sprinkled with house seasoning before cooking).  Here's how it's done:

2 tsp dried minced onion
½ tsp fresh minced garlic
¼ tsp salt
½ teaspoon paprika
1 can crushed tomatoes (24 oz) or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup sliced roasted red peppers (prepared already, about ½ of a jar)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Hardware: slow cooker, immersion (or regular) blender

1. In the slow cooker: Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, onion, garlic, salt, and paprika. Stir well to combine. Next add in the stock and stir until blended.

2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

3. Using an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender, working in batches), puree until almost smooth. Stir well then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add in options for serving: 1 cup frozen cheese tortellini, a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese for garnish. Directions - turn the slow cooker up to high after step 3.  Add in the frozen tortellini. Continue to cook until heated through, approximately 20 min. Then top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  

Alternate variation: Add ½ tsp chili powder in with the other spices and serve drizzled with both olive oil and lime juice. This version could be served either hot or chilled (try it with some diced fresh bell peppers and tomatoes tossed in).


Simply Shortbread

or a slightly less dense and crumbly comfort food delight

I love shortbread.  It has been one of my favorite comfort foods from the time I could climb up onto my mom's counter and sing until she made some for me ("mama's little baby loves short'nin, short'nin. mama's little baby loves short'nin bread" I assumed this was referring to shortbread as a kid but I was wrong, it got my message across anyway though).  There are many ways to enjoy shortbread and I have made a lot of them: bars, triangles, Irish, Scottish, "muffins," and cookies.  Everyone in our family loves shortbread so I have never had any complaints about these experiments, and the minimal time commitment is a huge bonus when you need comfort food fast for quick stress reduction.

Most shortbread gets kind of crumbly after the first day so my husband uses that as an excuse to eat as much as he can within the first 8 hours after they are made.  Well, I wanted to have some that I could hide away for my lunches, at least for a couple days, so I started looking at recipes again trying to find something a little less dry.  It takes a few more ingredients this way but the comfort lasts a few more days so I think it is worth it, plus when it comes out of the oven my family is lining up at the kitchen door so I think that speaks well to its success.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

2 cups white flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 tbsp
1 cup butter softened
1/4 cup milk

Hardware: 8" square or 9" round glass baking dish, stand mixer or hand mixer

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, powdered sugar, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar to the mixing bowl and turn on for a few seconds on the lowest speed to stir well.

2.  While it is running, add in the butter in tablespoon sized sections.  Once all the butter is in, pour in the milk.  Turn the speed up one level and mix until a stiff dough forms.

3. Grease the baking dish and then dump in the mixture.  Spread it out evenly and pat down lightly so the thickness is consistent and it reaches all edges (I like to take a piece of plastic wrap and lay it over the top during this process if I need to keep my hands clean).  Prick holes evenly throughout with a fork and then sprinkle remaining granulated sugar over top.

4. Bake in oven for 30-35 min or until it is turning golden.  Take out and place dish on a cooling rack.  Allow to cool until "warm" to touch then cut. (I suggest 1" x 2" rectangles in a square baking dish)


Good for the Soul Gumbo

or this Northern girl's take on a Louisiana classic

Well, here it is - my 100th post!!! (cue the balloons, streamers, Chinese lanterns, and celebratory music)  I know, I know, I should have hit it last year at the latest but I am still thrilled to reach this milestone and to have each and every one of you along for the ride.  I truly appreciate your interest in my thoughts and recipes whether this is your first visit or you are a regular viewer.  To me recipes are to be shared and not hidden away as "secret" so the original cook is the only one who can make them "just right."  Inspiration comes from many sources and whenever I can recall who or what inspires me I do my best to credit the source, though often I take bits and pieces from friends, the web, and various books so it is hard to trace.  I hope that you are enjoying the recipes that I am sharing here and are able to make them your own by adding the flavors and ingredients that you love because that is where food and cooking really come to life.

I thought about what may be an appropriate recipe to share that properly celebrates reaching this milestone and one practically sprung to mind - Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.  This is one of my husband's new favorite dishes, it even ranks right up there with Shepherd's Pie and I thought nothing could possibly reach that level.  This dish is a labor of love.  It is not a quick weeknight meal for us but rather one to savor from the moment the vegetables are sauteing until the last bowl of leftovers has been enjoyed.  It just makes you feel good when you are eating it and warms you from the inside out.

I learned a base for gumbo in a cooking class so I used that basic technique for the process, then I adjusted the seasonings and ingredients to fit our tastes.  I have no idea how true this is to what is traditionally considered to be gumbo, but I highly suspect that mine lacks the strength of spice that is used so if you are used to more spice you may want to adjust it to taste and can expect to have to add a fair amount.  We love it just as it is.  Here is how this northern girl takes on gumbo:

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup cut or medium dice celery
1/2 cup cut or medium dice carrots
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 tsp fresh minced garlic
8 tbsp flour
1 tsp Gumbo file
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp house seasoning
1 can diced tomatoes (12 oz)
8 cups chicken stock
2 fully cooked boneless chicken breasts
9 oz Kielbasa (about 2/3 of a 14 oz package)
1/4 - 1/3 cup very small dice mixed bell peppers
1-2 cups cooked rice

Hardware: dutch oven or large stock pot
Time investment: 1 hr 30 min

1. Melt butter in the bottom of the pot with the oil (to help prevent burning). Add celery, carrots, and onions. Cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

2. Add in the flour, mixing well, and continue to cook until the roux becomes a medium brown (you will need to stir frequently, being careful not to burn). Approximately 7-8 min.

3. Season with Gumbo File, minced garlic, Cajun spices, and Top Secret. Blend spices into the roux.

4. Add the tomatoes, and then stir in the chicken stock until evenly blended. Continue to simmer for at least 45-50 min

5. Add in the cooked chicken breast, kielbasa, and peppers.  Stir to combine.  Heat for an additional 15 min, then turn the temperature down to low and cover to keep warm until ready to serve. Stir in the cooked rice before serving or place in the bottom of the bowls before pouring the gumbo over top.

Serve with fresh cornbread or biscuits.

I don't have a picture, I am sorry.  Every time I make it I forget until after we have eaten it all.  Hopefully I will remember next time and be able to add one for you all!


Fast from Frozen: Pressure Cooker Chicken in Duck Sauce

or how I got my husband to like frozen chicken

So once again I forgot to defrost chicken the night before, and since my husband claims the texture of frozen chicken seems off I generally have to take it out the day before so it can go in the slow cooker in the morning.  Well, some days that is just a bust.  So what can I do with frozen chicken?!  Turns out, boneless frozen chicken cooks just fine in the pressure cooker.  That's right, my beloved pressure cooker has a new purpose in life - to save me from failure to plan.  I have used it for applesauce, quick and easy risotto, pork ribs, and of course my all time favorite - corned beef (among other things).  But I had no idea it could work with frozen foods too.

I was inspired by an entry on the blog Frieda Loves Bread that used frozen chicken breasts and BBQ sauce in an electric pressure cooker.  I tried a variation on hers first with the frozen thighs, I used more sauce than she did (though less honey) and coated both sides before cooking.  I also had to shorten the time for the thighs since they are smaller.  They turned out great!  So I decided to go on a search for other sauces I could do this with and found quite a few possibilities.  I settled on a sauce inspired by Chinese Duck Sauce.  I like one pot meals that are quick and easy, this was pretty close to perfect in that sense (it lost one point because rice has to be cooked separately).  That was made up though because it was easy enough that I could do most of it with my toddler on my back in our Ergo, though she did have to step aside when we got to the pressure release part.  And the huge bonus?  My husband doesn't notice any texture differences from fresh chicken!  This was a winner all around.

Here's what I did:

4 boneless chicken thighs frozen (or 3 chicken breasts)
2 carrots peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
½ cup bell pepper (mixed varieties) cut into strips
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup pear sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons honey

Hardware: Pressure cooker (I use a standard cooker, but an electric one would work too)

1. Put everything except the chicken and vegetables in the pressure cooker pot and heat to a simmer uncovered. Stir until everything is dissolved and well blended.  This will only take a minute or so.

2. Add the prepared vegetables to the pot.  Then place the chicken facing up in the sauce to coat the bottom with the sauce, after a minute flip over so they are upside down in the cooker in a single layer. Secure lid and bring to high pressure. Cook for 9 min for thighs, 12 min for breasts (from frozen, time is shorter from fresh - probably 4 to 5 minutes instead).

3. Remove from heat and release pressure according to manufacturer guidelines. Remove the lid and flip the chicken over again to coat with sauce, allow to sit for a couple minutes.*

Serve over prepared rice or noodles (I like white rice or udon noodles but other styles would work well too).

* If you desire a thicker sauce, remove the chicken and vegetables to another container and cover lightly with aluminum foil. Bring the liquid in the pot back up to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches desired consistency. I would recommend adding a bit of a slurry (equal parts cornstarch and water) to speed this up.

We were out of rice when we made this last but it was definitely delicious as is!


Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

or how to thaw out on this cold winter days

Can I just say it?  I am done with the cold weather.  I have lived in Michigan most of my life and adore the change of seasons, but this winter is definitely one of the most frigid that I can remember.  We have set records for low temps as well as snowfall this year and I am ready for the thaw!  I am generally warm blooded and have been known to go the entire winter season without ever donning a sweater for fear that I would melt in the warmth.  This year I have felt like I couldn't get warm no matter what I have done on multiple occasions.  So yes - in case you are so unwise as to risk your life and ask - it is indeed cold enough for me.  I know I will be the first to complain when the temperature goes over 80 F this summer and I feel no shame, all I am asking for is a balmy 32 F so my daughter can play in the snow that is piled up around our house.  Well, enough of my rant, but I do feel a bit better getting that out.

What it comes down to is how can I possibly stay warm?!  I don't drink coffee, it upsets my stomach and the caffeine is just too much.  I love tea, both with and without honey, but can only drink so much.  I have always liked hot chocolate but the aftertaste you get from many commercially made mixes was a big turn off.  So I started looking into making my own.  It can't be that hard, right?  Well there are a ton of tasty recipes on the web.  And no doubt the very best involve melting chocolate of various types on the stove top with milk, but that is hardly portable and they simply don't have a stove top in the office.  The mix I decided on was based off of Alton Brown's recipe here.  I made a couple changes but you can't really mess too much with perfection.  The type of cocoa powder makes a big difference, I am happy with something like Hershey brand cocoa but it would be divine with higher end dutch cocoa.  The best part of this recipe is that there is no chalky or weird aftertaste, and you can always adjust the mix by adding more or less cocoa and/or sugar to your tastes.  I use a food processor or blender for this, it makes the particles smaller and they dissolve more easily, but you can simply mix by hand if you prefer.  Here's how I stay warm:

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups powdered whole milk
    (if using granulated the food processor/blender is essential)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch

Hardware: food processor or blender

1. Pour the powdered milk into the food processor and pulse until smooth.  Next add in the granulated sugar and repeat.

2. Add the remaining ingredients to the processor and pulse a few times until it appears to be consistent throughout.

3. Use 2-4 tbsp per 6 oz serving depending on how strong you like the flavor.  You can mix into hot water, hot milk for extra creaminess, or try my favorite - hot water with an ounce of heavy cream and a teaspoon of honey.  Store remaining mix in an airtight container.  


Italian Inspired Greek Yogurt Chicken

or Italy and Greece in harmony in my oven

There has been a recipe floating around the internet for "melt in your mouth chicken."  It has made appearance across the board on Facebook and Pinterest.  So I would like to preface this with saying that this is not a 100% original recipe, it is a modification on that base.  I would not describe it as "melt in your mouth" even when I did follow the original, but it is quite tasty and I believe greatly improved by a few small adjustments.  I love the use of Greek yogurt in place of the more traditional mayo in this type of baked chicken but I did not like the top texture of the mixture when baked and felt it needed a different seasoning base.  Because of this I adjusted some of the measurements and added Italian breadcrumbs both in the mix and over everything to give it a bit of a crispy top.  The mixture that tops the chicken is also great as a thin layer of filling in crescent rolls or as a white sauce for homemade pizza.

This recipe gets bonus points for very short prep time so I can spend the 45 min cook time elsewhere, it is also a "little helper" friendly prep since a toddler or kid could help stir the topping blend before applying.  Both of these greatly reduce stress in my kitchen.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!  Here's how it's done:

3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp + 1 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp house seasoning

Hardware: small mixing bowl, baking dish or cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Spray baking vessel with cooking oil then add the chicken breasts evenly spaced (they can touch if using a smaller dish)

2. Add the remaining ingredients (with the exception of the 1 tbsp of breadcrumbs) to the mixing bowl and stir until you reach an even consistency.  Divide the mixture between the chicken breasts and spread out to cover the top of each completely.  Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over top.

3. Place in the oven and bake for 45 min or until the internal temperature is 165 F


Delicious Dill Pickle Dip

or the dip that conquered the world

I know, it has been ages since I have posted.  I have this crazy thing called a toddler that just draws all my attention away from everything else most days.  I absolutely love it.  But I do need to keep better track of my recipes and this blog helps me to do that.  t also helps me to remember just how much the act of cooking and experimentation in the kitchen helps me to relax and find balance in my life.  My darling girl is not yet 2 years old, but when she reaches that point this Spring she will be joining me in the kitchen in her learning tower.  She wants so badly to help her mama out and I can only hold her during certain things.  So in order to help myself refocus on utilizing my stress relief tools in the kitchen I am going to try to dedicate at least a little of my time back to this blog.  I hope that you all enjoy the connection and recipes I have to share as well.

I decided to make my return debut with a recipe that I have been making since November that has been getting rave reviews.  It is a perfect balance of creaminess, salt, and texture.  It is incredibly versatile and can be served in many ways.  I have to make it to bring places or I will sit down and eat the whole bowl by myself!  It has quickly become one of my top three party dips - Dill Pickle Dip (it often goes alongside my other two homemade dips/spreads fromage forte and french onion dip).  It is easy to make and easy to eat.  If you have leftovers (somehow) it makes a great sandwich spread too.  Here is how I do it:

16 ounces Sour Cream
1 package Cream Cheese (8 Oz.) softened 
Garlic Salt And Garlic Powder To Taste 
Pickle Juice from the jar of pickles used (add Until Dip Is The Right Consistency) 
Pickles (dill or bread and butter variety) 
½ tsp Dill weed 

1. Beat sour cream, cream cheese, seasonings. 

2. Gradually add pickle juice until you reach your desired consistency. 

3. Finally stir in diced dill pickles. 

4. Refrigerate for a couple hours or even overnight to enhance the flavor. Serve with rippled potato chips, veggies, or pitas

Dill pickle dip is in the top of the three part dish, 
the other two dips/spreads are fromage forte on the left and french onion on the right