Monday, March 25, 2013

Homemade Challah

I am just going to warn you now - this post is going to be long. Extra long. And I have been corrected since I originally wrote about this challah bread earlier this evening- leavened bread is not to be consumed during Passover. I don't know what I was thinking. I got the matzoh and challah mixed up. How embarrassing! Boy would I make a bad Jewish girl.

Now, I know what you are thinking - yeast based breads are scary and they never work out for me. Well, let me tell you, you are not alone. Yeasty breads are intimidating, but trust me, you can master them! And, what better way than to try with this homemade (and not to mention, beautiful!) challah. Let me just say this, I am not Jewish, so I won't be telling you all about passover and the history of it (and clearly I shouldn't considering I already mixed up matzoh and challah on the first day of passover)! Before I begin telling you how to make the bread. Let me tell you a bit about the bread. Challah is made with plenty of eggs (lots of yolks), sugar, flour and yeast. Some recipes even call for a bit of honey or molasses to sweeten it up a bit. The most important feature of this bread is that it is braided. You can do it with three strands or challenge yourself with six! Not to forget, this bread is kosher - no dairy and no meat. Of course if going kosher isn't your thing, you can always use melted butter in place of the oil in the recipe, but we'll get to that in a minute. Let me walk you through this challah step by step so you won't be scared of tackling this dough yourself. Don't be scared, be prepared! My mom always told my sister and I that. I guess it even applies to baking bread too, right mom?

To start this dough, you need to dissolve the yeast (make sure it's fresh!) in warm water with a pinch of sugar. When I say warm water, I mean warm water - about 110 to 115 degrees. If it's not warm enough your yeast won't bloom, but if it's too hot, you'll kill the poor yeasties. You don't want to do that. You'll know your yeast is working when it starts foaming and looking frothy. While the yeast is doing its thing, you'll want to dump the flour, sugar and salt into your stand mixer. You can always do this in a large bowl if you're doing it by hand (you are a brave soul if you do this by hand). Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add in the egg, oil and yeast mixture and knead the dough for about 6-8 minutes or 10, if by hand. Once the dough has formed into a not so sticky ball, you will need to let it rise for about two hours. If you are having issues getting the dough to rise, warm up your oven slightly, turn it off and then stick the bowl in the oven to rise. This little bit of heat will help it get going, if needed.  Once the dough has doubled, you will want to separate the dough into three portions and roll them into long ropes, about 16 inches long. Then braid the ropes as if you were braiding your hair (for more tips on braiding, check this out!) and tuck under the ends to make the loaf look clean. Let the bread rise again, but this time only for an hour (using the oven technique if you need to). Once it's puffy, make sure to brush the whole loaf - that means all nooks and crannies - with egg wash. This will give the challah the brown and shiny exterior it's known for. Once the bread is ready, you have one last step - bake the bread! In about 30 minutes, you will have some of the best bread ever on your hands. Rich, slightly sweet, eggy, and so beautiful.

It does not need to be just any Jewish holiday to enjoy this fabulous homemade bread though. You can make it anytime. Day or night. You can eat it by itself or you can even slice it thick and make homemade french toast. Homemade challah is the best for french toast! Oooh, or even bread pudding. Now that sounds good. Regardless of how you choose to eat this fantastic bread, you must make it. This is the perfect bread to make for a first time bread maker. No fancy ingredients, no fancy techniques, just delicious bread.

Here are the pictures, step by step:

just a few ingredients are needed to make this bread

see the foaminess - that's what you want!

flour + sugar + salt
make a well and add in the eggs and oil

add in the yeasty goodness

mix until the dough comes together and knead

set the dough in an oiled bowl

after two hours the dough has risen!

shape into three long rolls

braid and tuck the edges under

look how big it gets after another hour!
brush all over with egg wash
just a little over 190 degrees

so beautiful

Homemade Challah (from The Kitchn)

2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water (110-115 degrees)
4 - 4 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
1/4 cup canola or vegetable vegetable oil (to keep kosher - you can use butter if you are not going kosher)

Step By Step Instructions:

1. Dissolve the yeast. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl, and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top. This means that the yeast is active and ready to use. (If you do not see this or if your yeast won't dissolve, it has likely expired and you'll need to purchase new yeast.)

2. Mix the dry ingredients. Whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large mixing bowl if kneading by hand).

3. Add the eggs, yolk, and oil. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil. Whisk these together to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.

4. Mix to form a shaggy dough. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs, and flour with a long-handled spoon until you form a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix.

5. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes. With a dough hook attachment, knead the dough on low speed for 6-8 minutes. (Alternatively, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.) If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but no longer like bubblegum. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball-shape.
6. Let the dough rise until doubled. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

7. Separate the dough and roll into ropes. Separate the dough into three pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope roughly 1-inch thick and 16 inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.

8. Braid the dough. Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If making a 3-stranded challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair or yarn and squeeze the ends together when complete. 

9. Let the challah rise. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lift the loaf on top. Sprinkle the loaf with a little flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Place the pan somewhere warm and away from drafts and let it rise until puffed and pillowy, about an hour.

10. Brush the challah with egg white. About 20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350°F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush it all over the challah. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.

11. Bake the challah. Slide the challah on its baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. The challah is done when it is deeply browned and registers 190°F in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer.

12. Cool the challah. Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until just barely warm. Slice and eat.

 Oh holla, it's challah!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Butterscotch Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think the name of this cookie says it all. Butterscotch pretzel chocolate chip cookies. Oh. My. Goodness. 

There is just something about a cookie. I don't know what it is or why they are so delicious, but cookies are just so perfect. You can eat them plain, you can scoop some ice cream in the middle of two and make a sandwich or you can dunk them in milk. No one way is better than the other and oftentimes the hardest part is just having one! There are a million billion different ways to make a cookie and each one is just as delicious. I'm trying to think of a cookie I've tried and didn't really like. The fact that nothing is coming to mind right now tells me that I like pretty much any cookie. Okay, maybe not an anchovy cookie. Now that just sounds gross. Now, these amazing cookies came along when I saw a friend post a picture of them on Instagram (hiiiiii Kate!). As soon as I saw them, I wiped the drool from my face and that's when I knew I had to make them. I mean, come on. Butterscotch + pretzel + chocolate chips. Talk about sweet and salt cookie heaven!

I don't know how this has come about, but pretty much anytime the captain and I go on a road trip or little getaway, I always make cookies to bring with us. Maybe it's the fact that we I get the hangries (hungry + angry) if I don't eat every four hours or so or maybe it's just that it's now become our thing that I never think twice about not making cookies when we go on a trip. I am going to go with the latter although the captain will probably tell you it's to curb the hangries. The hangries are not pretty, but I'm sure you don't want to hear about that right now. This will tell you how far these cookies go back and how far behind in my posts - I made these cookies last September when we went to the Reno Air Races. If you are counting, that's seven months ago! You don't even want to know how many recipes I have lined up to share with you. It's scary, but I promise to share them all with you! Nevertheless, since we were taking a few hour trip, of course it was time to try a new cookie. There are some cookies I know that the captain loves (aka: my crack cookies), but I wanted to try something new and something different. I am always hearing of cookies with potato chips or popcorn so when I saw cookies with pretzels, I knew I had to make them. I love pretzels! Especially those big soft ones you can dunk in the cheese (my sister is cringing here) at the ballpark. Mmm. But I digress.

My sister was home that weekend to go wedding dress shopping, so I had her help me whip these up so I could bring these to keep the captain and I fueled while walking around the air races and looking at planes. The planes weren't the only things that were going to need fuel to get through the two days! Plus, let's be honest, I knew that planes and cookies would make the captain a very happy man. These cookies are a breeze to make and bake up just like any other chocolate chip cookie. They are soft, slightly crunchy and have the perfect balance of sweet and salty. I don't know about you, but that butterscotch is just so so good. The perfect bite is when you get a little bit of the chips and the pretzel at once. Yum!  Just be warned, these cookies won't last long. That I can almost guarantee. They didn't even last the whole weekend with us!

I'm guessing sugar is in the plastic bag?

crushing up the pretzels
adding the flour in batches

adding in the pretzels

dumping in all the chips before we tried to eat them!


Butterscotch Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction)

2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup  salted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped pretzels
3/4 cup butterscotch chips

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325F degrees.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. With an electric mixer or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well. Gradually add the flour mixture and stir until a dough forms and then add in the pretzels, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips.  Mix just enough to combine all the ingredients. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Drop or scoop dough onto a baking sheet lightly sprayed with non-stick spray. Press a few more pretzels (or butterscotch chips or chocolate chips) onto the tops for decoration. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. The centers should appear very soft and puffy. Let cool completely and enjoy!

You had me at butterscotch.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Skinny Crock Pot Sesame Honey Chicken

Happy first day of spring everyone! I don't know about where you are, but the weather here is cool, rainy and rather dreary. Very springy don't you think? When the weather is like this, what is better than coming home on a cool and rainy day to a big crock pot full of warm and yummy honey sesame chicken? Not much. Okay, maybe a big cookie and a cup of cocoa, but that's probably not the best thing to do. Although it sure does sound delicious, it's not so nutritious. As you already know, the crock pot is one of my all time favorite kitchen appliances. Well, next to my Kitchen Aid stand mixer that is. There is no doubt that my mixer is my favorite and my true BFF in the kitchen. I am sure you knew this already though. Nevertheless, the crock pot is still one of my favorite and it has endless uses - from making desserts, to sauces, to homemade stock and so much more. Did you know you can even bake in it? I had no idea about this until recently. Crazy! 

Now, I have made sesame honey chicken in the crock pot before, but this recipe was different and it was skinny. Even better! I have ten more pesky pounds to lose before my sisters big wedding day and I will take all the help I can get in the lower calorie but still totally tasty and delicious category. And I am sure you are looking for the same thing. Maybe not to lose weight, but to get a wholesome and yummy dinner that is both tasty and healthy for you and your family! I think this dish will do just the trick to even please the pickiest of eaters in your family.

When I saw this new recipe for sesame honey chicken, I knew I had to try it. To be honest, it sounded too good not to try! In fact, my mom was the one who suggested we tried it. I actually had the Friday off we decided to make this, so I threw it all together in the afternoon and had it ready to go by the time she got home. It couldn't have been easier - throw in the chicken breasts and then pour over the flavor town mixture of honey, garlic, sriracha, soy sauce and more! Let everything cook together for about 4 hours and then pull out the chicken and shred it up. At this point, it should be just falling apart and oh so tender. Just the way you want it to be! While the chicken is cooling a bit, you will thicken up the sauce and juices by adding a bit of cornstarch and let sit for about 20 minutes. Once the sauce has thickened up, add the chicken back to the crock pot and you are ready to go. The best way to have this totally delicious chicken is over a bed of brown rice and then top with sesame seeds and green onions. For exra veggie power, serve with a side of stir fried broccoli or snap peas! 

This honey sesame chicken is totally healthy, totally yummy and the best part of all, it will keep you full and satisfied. At 185 calories for a big 2/3 cup, this dish is a winner. With a half cup of brown rice, you are looking at under 300 calories for the total meal. A fab meal for under 300 calories a serving, now that's what I'm talking about! Plus, the leftovers are great for the next few days or you can even freeze individual servings for a grab and go lunch. How more perfect can this crock pot recipe get? Not much. Just saying.

yummy yummy ingredients
don't forget to season the chicken with salt and pepper
saucy sauce

cover the chicken with the honey sauce

thicken that sauce!
shredded and back in the crock pot

served and ready to eat. yum!

Skinny Crock Pot Sesame Honey Chicken (Skinny Taste)

Makes: about 8 large 2/3 cup servings
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (tamari for gluten-free)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp sriracha hot chili sauce, or more to taste
1 heaping tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 medium scallions, chopped for garnish


Place the chicken in the slow cooker and season with black pepper. In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, honey, tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, 1 tbsp water, sesame oil, onion powder and sriracha hot chili sauce. Pour over chicken and cook on low for about 4 hours. Once the chicken is cooked remove it, leaving the sauce in the slow cooker. Shred chicken with two forks and set aside.

In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in remaining 1/4 cup water; add to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on high until slightly thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes; return chicken to the slow cooker and mix well. Serve chicken and sauce over rice and top with sesame seeds and chopped scallions for garnish. Enjoy! 

This honey sesame chicken may never make you go back to your favorite chinese take out for a quick dinner again!

Monday, March 18, 2013

No Bake Baileys Cookie Truffles

Need a way to use up all that extra Irish cheer that is called Baileys? Well, if you didn't drink it all yesterday, I have the perfect recipe for you - Baileys cookie truffles! How good do those sound? Pretty good if you ask me! Now, I've made regular chocolate truffles before, but never cookie truffles. To be honest, I never even knew such a thing existed. I've seen cake truffles, but never cookie truffles and I was intrigued. When I first saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it 1. Because both ovens in my house are out of commission at the moment (ahhh!) and 2. I had just made a ton of homemade Baileys and knew I wouldn't be able to drink it all. Wait. I know I could drink it all, but that would not be good for my figure!

Not being able to use an oven the past few days has been rough, but it has definitely shown me that you don't need an oven to make something super yummy. And let me just say, these cookie truffles are the perfect example. Well, that and corned beef cooked in the crock pot, but that's a whole other story and I don't want to get sidetracked. You know how I get. For these cookie truffles, you only need a few things and you may already have most of these in your panty already -  vanilla wafer cookies, powdered sugar, Baileys, corn syrup and chocolate for the coating and to give it that truffle look and feel. Five ingredients or less, how good is that! Now that's what I am talking about. Easy peasy super easy. Now say that five times fast!

These little cookie truffles take no time at all to whip up. All you need to do is grind up the vanilla wafer cookies into a fine crumb and then add in the powdered sugar, baileys and corn syrup. When I first made these, the mixture was a bit too moist to roll into balls, so I added more powdered sugar until I could roll the mixture with out it sticking all over my hands. Although it tasted good, I think the extra powdered sugar took away from some of that delicious Baileys punch! Not to worry you though - they were still delicious! So, my recommendation for you all is that if you need to add more to the dough to make it roll-able, add in a little bit more of powered sugar and crumbs, in even proportions, until it's the consistency you like. That goes for the Baileys too. If you think it needs more, without making the mixture too moist, go ahead. Just remember to do a little at a time otherwise you'll end up with a soggy mess that won't roll into balls and you'll only be able to eat with a spoon. Not that eating this with a spoon would be a bad thing, but then they wouldn't be cookie truffles. We want cookie truffles! Now that I think about it, these may also be good with chopped cherries and amaretto instead of the baileys. Oooh, and a white chocolate coating. I better write that one down for next time.

use a big bowl so you have plenty of room to mix everything up

crumbs + pow sugar

add in the wet ingredients
mix until the dough is workable

roll that dough!

dipping station
melted chocolate

sprinkled by leprechaun love

Baileys Cookie Truffles (adapted from Life, Love and Sugar)

Makes about 20 truffles
3 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup Baileys Irish Cream
12 oz dark chocolate, melted with 1-2 tablespoons shortening

Combine vanilla wafer crumbs and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Add corn syrup and irish cream and mix well. If mixture is too sticky, add additional crumbs and powdered sugar, in equal proportions, until the mixture can be rolled into balls. Once the "dough" is ready, make balls of about two heaping tablespoons each of the vanilla wafer mixture. Shape balls and set in fridge on a foiled lined cookie sheet to firm up for about 10-15 minutes.

While the cookie balls are cooking, melt the dark chocolate and shortening in a bowl in the microwave using short time increments of one minute on medium power until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Don't over cook or you chocolate will seize and you'll have to start all over! Once the chocolate is melted and ready, dip each ball into the chocolate and set on a piece of parchment paper to dry. When all the truffles have been coated sprinkle with sprinkles (or leave plain) and place in fridge (on the same foil lined cookie sheet) for about 30 minutes to firm up. Enjoy!

Cookie truffles may just be the next biggest thing!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Homemade Baileys

Yes, I said it. Homemade Baileys. Rich, creamy, homemade Baileys! To be honest, I didn't think this could be done, but who was I to second guess such a thing, especially after I didn't think you could make homemade amaretto. And that turned out just as good, if not better than I thought! So, I decided to take on this Irish cream challenge and see if I could make this taste like the real deal. Plus, who doesn't love Baileys!

Since St. Patrick's day is just around the corner and I wanted to experiment with some non-baking recipes (did your jaw just drop to the ground?), I thought, what better than to make some homemade Baileys. Why not, right? It's perfect in coffee, on the rocks, or perfect in your favorite recipes. You can even add homemade Baileys to hot cocoa. That is the way the captain and I like to enjoy it. Perfect for those cold nights or just because. Do you really need a reason to have Baileys? I don't think so. Here are a couple of recipes you can use this creamy and delicious alcoholic beverage:

  1.  Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes
  2.  Irish Cream Cheesecake Tart with Jameson Caramel Sauce
  3.  Baileys Cookie Truffles- To be featured soon!

Let me just tell you, this homemade baileys was a cinch to make.  Maybe a little too easy. So easy, even I was skeptical it would taste just as good as the one you can buy in the store. Seriously. Here is what you will need. Are you ready?

Half and half, chocolate syrup, Irish Whiskey (I used Jameson), sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and espresso powder (or instant coffee).

That's it! Just dump in a blender and mix for about 30 seconds so it gets nice and creamy and super delicious. I will tell you now, I was a little afraid to try this, but boy am I glad I did. It tasted just like baileys, but with a little more punch! The Jameson definitely shined through, but wasn't too overpowering. It was just perfect! Who knew homemade baileys would be be so easy? I am sure glad it was!

Not only is this homemade Irish cream great to drink straight up or use in your favorite recipe, it's also great to give as a gift to someone! Who wouldn't love a bottle of homemade Baileys? I know I wouldn't say no! Would you? The only downside is that it must stay refrigerated so it wouldn't be something you could ship to anyone. Unless you had a way of cold shipping it. Then that would work. The good news is that this homemade Irish goodness will last up to about two months in the fridge, so it does give you plenty of time to use it in any which way your heart desires. Regardless of how you chose to use this Baileys, you need to try this recipe out.  And what more perfect time than right before St. Patrick's' day. Once you make homemade Irish cream yourself, you may never go back to buying it from the store again!

oops, I really used half and half, not cream!

mmm, Jameson

espresso pow

rich an sweet condensed milk. a guy at work told me he ate a whole can of this once. talk about sugar high!

birds eye view

swirling Baileys!

Homemade Baileys (adapted from All Recpies)

1 cup Jamison Irish whiskey
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (I used dark chocolate syrup)

1 cup half & half (you can also use heavy cream)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Place all ingredients in a blender and whip for about 30 seconds to allow the mmixture to get thick and creamy. Once it's all mixed, store in the fridge for up to two months. Just make sure to mix well before serving as some of the ingredients may settle to the bottom of the container. Enjoy!

Homemade Baileys...who knew!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Apple Crumb Pie

Happy pi(e) day everyone! Since today is 3.14 it only makes sense that I share with you one of my favorite pies to make and one that everyone always seems to just love - apple pie! This pie is a classic, but the real question I have for you is crumb topping or crust topping? For me, I am a crumb girl through and through. There is just something about that brown sugar crumbly goodness that makes the apple pie, apple pie. Maybe it's the fact that you have to crack through it to get to the apples and cinnamon that gets me every time. I may never really able to tell you why I love the crumb, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't eat apple pie with a double crust. That would just be a silly reason not to eat pie. Ridiculous to be exact.

Today, I share with you my all time favorite recipe for apple pie. This apple pie is loaded with fresh and tart apples, cinnamon, lemon and topped high with crumb topping. If you realllllly wanted to do a lattice or double crust here you could, but just promise me you'll try this recipe just once. Then, if I still did not convince you with my crumb topping, then you can go back to the crusty goodness. Promise. Now, many people debate on which kind of apples to use. Fuji apples are my favorite to eat for a snack, but since they are so sweet, they would not be the best kind to use here. You want to use a tart and firm apple. Something that will stand up and balance well with the sugar and cinnamon. Most of the time, I just use granny smith, but if I am feeling really wild, I will do half granny smith apples and half honeycrisp, if I can find them. Honeycrisp apples are firm and have a good balance of tart and sweet. But to be honest, most of the time I just stick with granny smith apples because they are always easy to find and they seem to really hold up during the baking process.

This pie couldn't be easier to throw together. The first and almost most important part of the pie is the crust. You want a crust that is slightly salty and slightly sweet, but not too salt or too sweet. Did I just confuse you? You can always use store bought pie crust, but why use that when you can whip up your own homemade dough and have it ready to use in under 30 minutes. To make the pie crust I always use in my pie and quiche recipes, check it out here. It's flaky and so so delicious. Once you make homemade crust, you probably won't ever by store bought again. Just saying. Now that I think about it, I think I already told you this before. Oops. It's just a really yummy pie crust!

Okay, now on to the filling. You'll need to peel and slice (not to thick, but not too thin) about two and a half pounds of apples. If you can get someone to help you peel all of those apples, even better! Once the apples are peeled and sliced, you coat them simply with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, a little flour and some lemon juice. Simple and clean. Add the apples and the juices to the prepared pie crust and then top with the crumbs. Lots and lots of crumbs. I swear this is the best part about this pie. You may think the apples are, but I say it's the crumbs. Here is a word of advice - before you stick this in the oven, make sure to put the pie on a foil lined cookie sheet. If you don't, you'll end up with thick sugary goo all over the oven and that's no fun to clean up. Also, about half way through the baking process, keep an eye on the topping. If it's looking a bit brown, place a piece of foil over the top to prevent it from burning. Burnt pie is never a good pie.

This pie smells absolutely heavenly while baking, but just because it's done cooking, doesn't mean you can eat it right away. Do you want to burn your tongue? I don't think so. You need to let this pie cool for at least a couple of hours. This will allow everything to cool down and allow the pie to firm up a bit. Once the pie is cool, slice yourself a big ol' piece and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Nothing says happy pi(e) day like a big slice of homemade apple crumb pie a la mode!

the line up

pie filling!

crimp that crust
I make my crumb topping ahead of time and just keep in the fridge until I am ready to use it

load up all those apples

a mountain of crumbs

baked and ready to eat!

Apple Crumb Pie

2 1/2 pounds granny smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced  (about 6 cups sliced apples)

1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 recipe crumb topping (see below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Roll and lay pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate. Ease pie crust into plate without stretching it. Crimp edge as desired. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add apple slices and lemon juice and gently toss until coated. Transfer apple mixture to the pie crust. Coat the top of the pie with crumb topping. Bake for one hour or until the filling it hot and bubbly. About half way through the cooking process, check on the topping. If it's getting too brown or the crust is getting too brown, cover the pie with a piece of foil for the remainder of the baking time. Cool on a wire rack. To serve warm, let pie cool at least 2 hours.

For the crumb topping combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar,  1-2 teaspoons cinnamon and 6 tablespoons of cold and cubed butter into a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or your hands, combine until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Tip - grating the cold butter will make this come together in no time!

Happy happy apple pi(e) day!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lightened Up Chicken Marsala Casserole

I am just going to say this and get it out there. My mom makes the best chicken marsala. Ever. I don't know how she does it, but she just does. It's not fried, it's not overly battered, it's just light and so so delicious. I've tried to make her version several times and although it turns out well, it's not "mom good". You know what I mean? I either put too much marsala or not enough. Or, I didn't let it simmer long enough because it always turns out more soupy than hers. Not that that's a bad thing - that's what the brown rice is there for. To sop up all those fabulous mushroom, chicken and garlic juices. It's just not the same. Hers is better. Way better. Maybe someday I'll get it right. A girl can dream, right?

One day I was searching Pinterest for some new recipes and this chicken marsala casserole caught my eye. I knew I loved chicken marsala and I love how quick and easy casseroles are, so I knew I had to try it! This dish is a Rachael Ray original and as much as I love her and her cooking, I wanted to lighten this baby up and still make it taste just as good. Her original recipe calls for heavy cream and butter, so I decided to ditch the butter and replace it with olive oil (who will ever know?!), use fat free half and half instead of heavy cream and swapped the white rice for brown rice. These few little changes make this yummy dish only 230 calories a serving, with 5 grams of fat and 16 grams of protein. And these are not little itty bitty servings either. There are eight servings in a 9x13 pan, not a 9x9 (don't you just hate when there are 16 servings in a 9x9?! I do!). Now that is a hearty serving size I can live with!

This marsala goodness could not be easier to whip up. If you are in a pinch, you can use a rotisserie chicken, but I like to cook up my own chicken breasts. In fact, if you were really savvy, you could cook up a bunch and then keep them in the freezer for a quick grab and go when you want to make something with chopped or shredded chicken. Let's just say, I'm not that savvy. I just thew the chicken breasts in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and let them cook while I prepared the rest of the dish. By the time you get the mushrooms cooked down in the marsala and all the other deliciousness, the chicken breasts are ready to come out, be chopped up and thrown into the mix. Once everything is ready, pour the sauce over the chicken and rice and bake. That's it! Super easy, super delicious and totally low calorie. Nothing pairs better with this dish than a big salad and a glass of white wine. Now that's a dinner!

pre-sliced mushrooms are the way to go

onions + garlic = love

hello brown rice

close up of the "gravy"

add in the chicken broth

pour the sauce over the rice and chicken

cooked and ready to enjoy. yum!

Lightened Up Chicken Marsala Casserole (slightly adapted from Rachael Ray)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced 

5 garlic cloves, minced 
16 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used crimini, but use button if you like them!)
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup marsala wine (or white wine)
1/2 cup fat free half & half (low fat milk will work here too)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock

1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup brown rice, uncooked
2 packed cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat until just melted. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 - 7 minutes. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the flour on top and stir in for 1 minute. Stir in the marsala and cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of broth/stock. 

Spray a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole with non-stick spray and spread the rice in an even layer. Top with the chicken, pour the mushroom gravy on top and sprinkle the parsley over everything.Cover tightly with foil and bake until bubbly, about 45 minutes. If your rice still is not cooked at this point, turn the oven up to 400 and bake until rice is fully cooked. Remember, brown rice takes longer to cook (if you use white rice, cook the whole dish at 350 degrees for 35 minutes). Discard the foil, sprinkle the parmesan on top and bake for 5 minutes more. 

Casseroles are no longer a thing of the past!