Sunday, March 19, 2017

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken

I confess that there hasn't been much going on in my kitchen lately. Most of the dishes in my dishwasher are cereal bowls. There are dairy products with expired dates in my refrigerator. I think about cooking, but planning a menu and going to the grocery store is too much strain on my already-tired brain.  The bright side is that there is less than a month of tax season left.  The business returns deadline is behind us, I only have 2 more weeks of client interviews left. Soon another tax season will be behind me and I'll be back in the kitchen again!

All this past week we've grabbed dinner on the way home or ate cereal (mini shredded wheat is the cereal of choice these days). I so crave a homemade meal. This easy and flavorful pasta dish met the criteria. I found this recipe online but tweaked it to our tastes, adding spinach and artichoke hearts. Of course, the sun-dried tomatoes provide so much flavor, due to the concentration of flavor during the drying process. This recipe uses the oil from tomatoes left in olive oil and has no cream, it thickens with milk and a little cornstarch. Both of these cut down the calorie ratio in this dish.  After sitting at my desk 12 hours a day we don't need a meal laden with calories!  I served it over pasta because that's how my Hubbers likes it. It could easily be served over vegetables for even less calories.

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken

1 pound chicken fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced garlic
7-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained (reserve liquid)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 can artichoke hearts (not marinated), sliced in half
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup fresh parmesan cheese

In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shake off the excess and set the pieces aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved sun-dried tomato oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot.  Cook the chicken until golden on each side, cooked through and no longer pink (about 12 minutes).  Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet; saute the garlic one minute.  Add the sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms; cook until the mushrooms are softened.

Reduce heat to medium-low heat, add the milk and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture to the center of the pan.  Continue to simmer while quickly stirring the mixture until the sauce thickens.

Add in the spinach and parmesan cheese, allow sauce to simmer until the cheese is melted and the spinach is wilted.  Add the chicken back in the pan and heat through. Serve over pasta or vegetables, if desired.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Texas Sheet Cake

My family has been making this chocolate cake ever since I can remember.  As I'm now 60, that's a while now! It's very popular in the southern states, which is where I trace my Okie roots to. I'm always amazed at how many people have never had or heard of this cake as various forms of the recipe have been around forever. It's a favorite of my officer manager, Anne, so I recently made it for her birthday.  At 8:30 in the morning she was already enjoying a piece!

It is a very easy chocolate cake, using ingredients commonly found in our pantries. It's a very moist cake and, because it's baked in a sheet pan, the cake can be cut in brownie-size pieces. It's a great cake to take to a gathering where you need to serve many people.  No one can resist! Our recipe calls for cinnamon, many of the recipes don't.  I like the addition of the spice, it adds a nice sweetness to the cake.

Rumor has it, the cake is called Texas Sheet Cake  because it makes a cake as big as the state of Texas!

Texas Sheet Cake

1/2 cup shortening
1 cube unsalted butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk


1 cube unsalted butter
6 tablespoons buttermilk
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, combine the shortening, butter, cocoa and water.  Bring to a boil and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, salt, soda and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.  Pour in hot liquid mixture and beat well.  Add the eggs, vanilla and buttermilk, beating well.

Pour into a greased (I use Pam baking spray) 11x17x1-inch baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Pour frosting over the cake while the cake is still warm (this will help the frosting spread over the cake).   

To make the frosting, bring the butter, buttermilk and cocoa to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, stirring out any lumps.  Add more powdered sugar, if necessary, to get a proper spreading consistency.

Chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans) may be added to either the cake batter, frosting, or both. I usually just sprinkle some over the top of the frosted cake.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ham and Sausage Jambalaya

The Mardi Gras season ends Tuesday.  Ash Wednesday and the more solemn events of the Lenten season are about to begin. Mardi Gras isn't a big deal out in California, but I have many friends in the New Orleans area and they have been celebrating for a while now! Someday I hope to join them.  In the meantime, to keep in the spirit of this festive season, I made jambalaya.

Jambalaya is a Louisiana based dish, heavy on it's French and Spanish influences.  It's quite similar to a Paella.  It consists of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditionally, the meat always includes sausage of some sort, often a smoked sausage such as andouille, along with some other meat or seafood, frequently pork, chicken, crawfish, or shrimp. The vegetables are usually a mixture known as the "holy trinity" in Creole and Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery, and green bell pepper, though other vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, chilis, and garlic are also used. After browning and sauteeing the meat and vegetables, rice, seasonings, and broth are added and the entire dish is cooked together until the rice is done. You can use any kind of sausage, but spicy andouille gives the jambalaya a nice kick of heat.  The jalapeno and Tabasco in this version adds even more heat, the Tabasco can easily be cut back to suit your taste buds.

This easily serves 6-8 people, so share with friends. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Ham and Sausage Jambalaya

1 pound andouille or other smoked sausage
1 pound smoked ham, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, finely chopped
Kosher salt
3 plum tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
4 bay leaves
10 dashes hot sauce (preferably Tabasco)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves with tender stems, divided
Lemon wedges (for serving)

Cook sausage and ham in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 12 minutes; transfer to a plate.  Wipe out pot.

Melt butter in same pot over medium-high heat.  Cook onion, celery, green pepper, red pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt, stirring frequently, until onion is transparent, 10-12 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, garlic, jalepeno, tomato paste, and thyme; cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt, if necessary.

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Stir in rice, bay leaves, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.  Uncover and stir in reserved sausage and ham. Cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.

Add shrimp, scallions, and 1/4 cup parsley. Stir a few times to allow shrimp to begin cooking, then cover pot, turn off heat, and let jambalaya sit until shrimp are cooked through, 15-18 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl, then top with remaining 1/4 cup parsley.  Serve with lemon wedges alongside.

Source: Bon Appetit magazine

Monday, February 20, 2017

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

We are saturated in California.  I think it's safe to say that our five-year drought is over!  When the weather is lousy outside I like to bake. The activity warms the house and creates wonderful scents. And what could be better than curling up on the couch, fireplace going, rain falling on the rooftop, with a plate of warm-from-the oven cookies? I think this is my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe.  The toasted pecans give the cookies a nice nutty flavor. I am not a fan of cinnamon in oatmeal cookies so don't add the spice, there is no loss in flavor by doing so.

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal CookiesMakes 30 to 35 cookies

1-1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1-1/2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

Note: For larger cookies, drop 3-inch mounds and bake for 20 minutes.

Note: For chewier cookies, allow them to cool on the pan.

Recipe source:  Ina Garten

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Orange Crescent Rolls

These little crescent-shaped rolls are a great morning coffee break treat.  They aren't as sweet and gooey as a cinnamon roll but pack a lot of orange flavor. The glaze is especially good; sour cream isn't a normal glaze ingredient but it adds a lot of richness to the glaze. One of my food board friends makes these every year for her family's Christmas brunch.  She got the recipe years ago from a neighbor.  They call it orange coffee cake, I'm not sure why as the rolls don't resemble any coffee cake I've ever had. Nonetheless, they are fabulous!

Whenever I make a yeast breakfast dough I always try to make the dough the night before.  I like my sleep and getting up 2-3 hours early to get dough rising isn't my idea of a fun time. Instead I make the dough the night before.  I do all the steps until the final rise, at that point I put the yeast dough in the refrigerator.  Even though the fridge is cool, the yeast dough will do a slow rise.  In the morning I take it out and let it come to room temp, usually a half hour to 45 minutes, and the dough continues to rise.  There is no compromise in the dough and it's definitely a time saver.

After the first rise, the dough is rolled out into a circle and spread with melted butter and a sugar-orange rind-coconut mixture.  The dough is cut into triangles and each one rolled into a crescent shape. They are very easy to do!

My two pans of orange rolls went to the office.  I took one in my car and my husband took the other. We both laughed at the fact that we each had two rolls missing by the time we got to the office.  The smell was too intoxicating and we couldn't resist eating a few on our trip! They disappear fast!

 Orange Crescent Rolls

I package yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 3/4 cups flour
1 cup coconut, toasted **
2 tablespoons grated orange rind

In large mixing bowl, combine yeast and warm water, until starting to soften and bubble, about 5 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup of the sugar, salt, eggs, sour cream, and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter.  At medium speed, gradually add flour to form a stiff dough, beating well. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled, about 2 hours.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup toasted coconut, and orange rind.  

Knead dough on well-floured surface 15-20 times.  Roll out one-half the dough to a 12-inch circle.  Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with one-half of the sugar mixture. Cut the circle into 12 wedges.  Roll up, starting with the wide end.  Place rolls, point side down, in a buttered 9x13-inch pan, forming 3 rows.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). (Or refrigerate overnight and let come to room temperature).

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.  Leave rolls in pan and pour glaze over hot rolls.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut.


1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup butter

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil, over medium heat, for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

** To toast coconut, spread coconut evenly on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees, stirring frequently, until lightly golden.  Be careful, as it burns easily!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentines' Tags

My Hubbers and I aren't big on Valentines Day celebrations.  We both are working long hours and with Valentines Day falling on a Tuesday we will be lucky if we get dinner together, much less anything romantic!  Ah, well!  I do like to remember our grandchildren, though.  This year I bought them ice cream bowls and filled them with candy, a jar of heart sprinkles, and a Baskin Robbins gift card.  Not a lot, but they will know that Nana and Papa thought of them!

My relaxation activity for the week has been making tags for their gift bags. I recently bought some new supplies so it was fun to mix 'n match and come up with ideas for the tags.  Of course, I could buy tags much cheaper than what I spent for supplies but this keeps me out of trouble (for the time being, that is!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Winter Minestrone

During our crazy tax season, the hours are long and we're working 7 days a week.  What little lunch break we get is mostly spent answering phone calls and e-mails, addressing questions from our staff, and trying to catch up on projects. We usually eat at our desks. There are no long lunch breaks at our favorite downtown spots!  Consequently, I try to make dinner meals that will provide enough leftovers for lunch or another dinner. A big pot of soup works for both!

This soup is very thick and hearty, it's almost a stew.  It is full of chunky vegetables, beans, pasta, and spinach.  The broth's flavor is enhanced by browned pancetta.   The pesto and white wine added at the end adds a multitude of flavors. Serve it with some garlic bread and you have a filling and nutritious meal.

For fair disclosure I must admit my Hubbers isn't a fan of this soup.  He dislikes squash, (though he loves pumpkin pie). I keep trying to hide squash in his meals as it is so good for us. He ate it but his bowl was full of uneaten squash pieces. I took the leftover minestrone to work the next day and he went out to lunch. Don't let his picky ways deter you, this is a great soup!

Once all the veggies are diced, making the soup is easy!

I make pesto from my basil crop each summer and freeze in mini muffin pans. Pesto can also be found in the grocer's frozen food section.

Winter Minestrone

Good olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, 1/2-inch diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Discard the bay leaf.  Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through.  The soup should be quite thick but if it's too thick, add more chicken stock.  Just before serving, add the spinach and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad).  Cook just until the leaves are wilted.  Stir in the white wine and pesto.  Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add salt to taste. Serve in large shallow bowls.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Recipe source: Ina Garten