Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Rice

I made this rice to go with my Copy Cat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork because you need some good cilantro lime rice in your homemade Cafe Rio burrito or salad. We love to put a large tortilla in a pie tin, cover it with shredded cheese, and broil it until the cheese is nice and bubbly! Then we cover it with black beans, this yummy rice, and sweet pork. Add some lettuce, pico, avocado, and tomatillo dressing and you've got something worth staying home for! 

This recipe is simple- rice, chicken bouillon, cilantro, green chiles, and fresh lime juice. Waiting to add the cilantro until after the rice is cooked brightens the flavor, and waiting to add the lime juice keeps it tasting fresh. Even if you're not making a full-on Cafe Rio meal, this rice is the perfect side dish for weeknight taco nights. Or, I'm just thinking out loud here, add black beans and some toppings and you've got a full on meal! I love food. -sigh-

I'll admit. Cooking rice stresses me out, so I always use a rice cooker and this recipe works great. You can make it on the stove it you want to.

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Rice


  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tbs chicken bouillon
  • 2 oz diced green chiles
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • lime juice, to taste

  1. In a rice cooker, combine rice, water, bouillon, and chiles. Cook until rice is done.
  2. Toss in chopped cilantro and squeeze in fresh lime juice. (I used about 1/2 a lime.) Serve immediately with Cafe Rio Sweet Pork.
**Tip! You'll only use half a can of green chiles, so use the rest to make some awesome black beans. Drain one can of black beans and put them in a microwave safe bowl. Stir in the green chiles. Add 1/2 tsp of cumin and microwave for 2-3 minutes, until warmed through. Throw them into your burritos or salad with the rice and you'll be happy! 

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

I feel like having my own copycat recipe for Cafe Rio Sweet Pork is like a food blogging rite of passage, similar to the feeling I had when I got my first piece of Pyrex, or when I used my Bosch for the first time. It may not be important to the rest of the world, but it is to me. 

My family always has Mexican food on Christmas Eve. As in, my dad makes loads of meat and flavorful, lard laden masa, and we make dozens  of pork, chicken, or even chile verde tamales. So many tamales! Like about a hundred. When we arrive at the house he's got all the corn husks soaked and the pans ready so that as soon as we're done rolling tamales, he's ready to steam them. We eat them smothered in fresh pico de gallo, sour cream, and cheese, with refried beans on the side. It is so awesome! I'm not sure exactly how this started, but I do know that when I was younger we lived in San Antonio, Texas and we would get the best tamales from H.E.B, the grocery store near our house. Then, we moved away and we couldn't get them. My dad has spent years perfecting his recipe, and every year we say, "This year. These ones are the best yet," as we groan appreciatively after multiple helpings of tamale bliss. This year really was great though.  I don't know that I'll ever even attempt to post a recipe for these tamales, because they need Christmas magic, but if you are nice and you live nearby I might share some with you someday. (So. Many. Tamales.)

But guess what! Not everyone likes tamales! Like my husband. I'm not sure how that happened. I mean, he passed the Harry Potter test, but his taste buds are broken when it comes to tamales, which is what brings me to my Copy Cat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork recipe. What he lacks in affection for masa he makes up for in respect for sweet pork. I knew if I had a crock pot full of sweet, sweet pork he'd be happy while I feasted on tamales. So I made this, and it rocked. He was happy. I was happy. Plus, I made the creamy tomatillo dressing which was equally heavenly on pork and tamales. Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men. 

I found this recipe from Tiffany at Creme de la Crumb and I really liked it. But, I felt like the pork wasn't quite sweet enough, so I added more brown sugar. Liberal amounts is probably a better way to describe my brown sugar usage. But, I did use a pork loin roast, which is a leaner cut of meat. Using a fattier cut will make your Cafe Rio Pork sweeter, more tender, and maybe less expensive. Plus, they do better in a slow cooker. Any way it goes down though, this recipe is a winner. My friend said it was the closest thing to Cafe Rio that wasn't Cafe Rio that he'd ever had. That's quite the compliment, folks! (I'm telling you- extra sugar...and extra soda.) 

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Adapted from creme de la crumb
Step 1
  • 2 lbs pork roast
  • 3/4 cup cola (Coke)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
Step 2
  • 1 cup cola (Coke)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Step 3
  • 3/4 cup cola (Coke)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1 4 oz can diced green chiles
  • 10 oz red enchilada sauce
  1. Step 1: Place pork in a Ziploc bag or large bowl with a tight fitting lid. Add cola and brown sugar. Chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.
  2. step 2: Put pork in slow cooker and discard marinade. Add cola, water, spices, and salt. cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4 hours, or until pork is fork-tender. If it doesn't fall apart when you poke it with a fork, it isn't quite ready! 
  3. Remove pork from slow cooker, drain juices, and shred pork with 2 forks. 
  4. Step 3: Blend cola, brown sugar, chili powder, green chiles, and enchilada sauce in blender until smooth. Pour sauce into slow cooker. 
  5. Cook for 30 more minutes. Serve in a burrito, salad, quesadilla, or on nachos with Cafe Rio Copy Cat Rice, black beans, and dressing.

**Tip: You can make this the day before an event! Add another 1/2 cup of cola to refresh the sauce. It reheats wonderfully in a crock pot on low for about an hour, and then turn it up to high just before you serve it. Prepared meat freezes well too!

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Cream Cheese Bars

Wait! Don't throw away those candy canes!

You know you were thinking about it, because who really eats those things? (Actually, my kids do.) But really, candy canes leave you with three choices: 
  1. Throw them away.
  2. Pack them up and display them again next year. 
  3. Make Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Cream Cheese Bars.
I dreamt these cookies up before Thanksgiving, but I exercised some self-control because I wanted to post them right before Christmas. My family went to a caroling/cookie exchange on December 14th and I knew this would be the perfect place to debut my vision. The pictures even turned out despite the late lighting because we had so much snow that day and it made it just light enough outside to take some tolerable pictures.

And then that week happened when I was gone every night until late, and all day Saturday, and then we went out of town, and then we came back, and I went to that banquet, and then it was the day before Christmas and I still wasn't quite done shopping, and then it was Christmas, and then I discovered all my sweet food pictures were no longer on the camera because my husband backed them up and deleted them off the camera, and then I watched like 6 movies with my kiddos because it was too cold to go outside, and now I finally present to you Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Cream Cheese Bars! 

Okay. Perfect dark chocolate cookie made with Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder. Cream cheese filling that isn't overly sweet, with a delightful bite of peppermint. Rich, dark chocolate ganche made with Guittard dark chocolate chips (that is actually not that scary to make, it turns out). Candy cane crunch. These cookies are just delicious. Normally I like good-sized portions when it comes to bar cookies, but I cut these smaller than usual because they are kind of rich. Of course, I still ate 3 of them at a time, but, whatever. 

I brought a bunch to the girls who work at the kids' club at my gym as a Christmas gift, and I promised to have the recipe on the blog by Saturday. That was almost 2 weeks ago, but better late than never! Plus, you maybe still need to make a treat for New Year's, or just because. 

True story- when I was getting the photos ready to put on the blog the tastiness they emanated, combined with the memory of the chocolate and cream cheese peppermint filling was so powerful that I took a break to bake cookies. As if I needed more treats in my house! And then my friend, Megan, brought us some peanut butter kiss cookies which were amazing, so this day was a healthy eating day fail. All because of Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Cream Cheese Bars. 

But they're worth it. 

Happy holidays from the Little Red Hen! Never waste a candy cane again. 

Candy Cane Cream Cheese Bars

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder 
  • 2 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup Guittard dark chocolate chips
  • 2 crushed candy canes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  3. Add flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and chocolate chips. Stir until combined.
  4. Press dough into pan. Bake for 12-17 minutes, without overbaking. Cool completely. Top with Candy Cane Cream Cheese Filling and Dark Chocolate Ganache. Top with crushed candy cane pieces immediately before serving. 

Candy Cane Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tbs butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 crushed candy canes
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract

  1. In a large bowl, cream cheese, butter, sugar, and peppermint until light and fluffy. Fold in crushed candy canes. 
  2. Spread onto cooled cookie. Chill for 15 minutes. Top with Dark Chocolate Ganache.
Dark Chocolate Ganache:
  • 1 cup Guittard dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp light corn syrup
  1. Fill a medium sized bowl with ice and water, to make an ice bath. Place chocolate in a smaller, heat-proof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small pot. Pour over chocolate, covering completely. Let stand until chocolate has melted. Let stand until chocolate has melted. Add corn syrup and whisk until smooth.
  2. Set bowl in ice bath. Stir occasionally, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour over bars.

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cookie Cake

This year I participated in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap  sponsored by love & olive oil and the little kitchen. It was awesome! Not only did it raise money for a great cause, Cookies for Kids' Cancer, but I also "met" some other really talented food bloggers. I sent 1 dozen cookies to 3 different bloggers, and 3 talented ladies sent cookies to me. I sent cookies to Prudy over at Butter, Basil, and Breadcrumbs, Jamie at The Kitchenarium, and The Cat Dish run by Catherine Toth Fox. Their blogs are beautiful and interesting, and give me something to aspire to!

Because the cookie I chose to make isn't the prettiest cookie, I really wanted to make the packaging cute. Craftiness and presentation isn't my strong point, so I went to The Paper Source. I'd never been there before, so let me tell you, if you want to feel like you want to get your life together, go there. Everything in that shop looks beautiful and necessary. I desperately wanted to buy a desk and start writing important things and become one of those people who always have beautiful stationary and wrapping for all occasions. They even had this mug with gnomes sitting in a red convertible which said, "Rolling with my gnomies." I had to exercise real restraint not to take that home. (Put it on my Christmas list.) I wound up with some quality paper, baker's twine, food boxes, and gift tags. I left feeling put together and wanting to rearrange my closets.

I loved my cute little boxes, but I am on a serious budget so when it came down to shipping them, I couldn't do it! I ended up taking out the inners, wrapping the polka dot paper around the cookies, and packing them tightly in small flat-rate boxes. Nice try me!

By far my favorite part of the whole Swap was waiting for my cookies to come! I mean, how often do you get cookies in the mail? I think that was a first for me, and now that I've experienced it, I think I will be cookie swapping every year. Red Velvet White Chocolate Chip from Wild Wild Wisk, Chocolate Dipped Oatmeal Cookies from Reverberations, and Chocolate Chip Rugalach from Haute Pepper. It was the best!

But what did I send?

One of my favorite cookies of all time. They aren't pretty. In fact, they are boarderline ugly, but they are amazing. I made Cookie Cake.

Correction. Cookie Cake is my favorite cookie of all time. I have a December birthday, and most years I chose Cookie Cake over birthday cake. But what is it? Imagine a thick, chewy cookie, heavy on the brown sugar, humming with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg baked in a cake pan. Then, take that beautiful, beautiful thing and saturate it with a simple brown sugar glaze. The result? Tender, cinnamonny, chewy perfection. My friend Shaury dubbed them "heroin cookies" because they are so addicting. I laughed, but it is absolutely true! I try to only make Cookie Cake once a year because I know I won't stop eating them until they are gone! I may say that about everything, but this time I'm not exaggerating.

These cookies stay moist and tasty for more than a week, so if you are wanting to ship some goodies for the holidays, Cookie Cake is the answer. It is also an excellent treat for cookie exchanges, or neighborhood gifts. Make up a batch and it will keep so you can deliver the goodies whenever you have time. No pressure, like with cinnamon rolls, or even chocolate chip cookies.

Bottom line. Make Cookie Cake. You'll be glad you did.

Cookie Cake
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbs milk
  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 pan with parchment paper or non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add eggs, spices, and milk. Cream.
  4. Stir in baking soda, salt, and flour. Mix until combined.
  5. Press dough into 9x13 pan. Flour your hands to help with sticking.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. 
  7. Let cool in pan for about 2 minutes. Using a fork prick holes all over cookie cake.
  8. Prepare glaze. Pour evenly all over cookie cake. Cool completely before serving. 
  • 9 tbs brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
Bring to a boil in a small pot. Pour immediately onto cookie cake.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What Pancakes Taught Me About God's Love

Given a choice between cereal and pancakes, my son will always choose pancakes. Of course, they can't be plain. He likes A LOT of syrup. If he can't see the syrup, it doesn't count. So, because I love him and before he had to ask, one Saturday morning I heated up his pancake, drizzled on some syrup, and then cut it up the way he likes it. I also made sure to leave a trail of syrup visible on the plate as proof that there was syrup, just in case all that sweetness got absorbed by the pancake before he could eat it.

He sat down at the table and I patted myself on the back. "Way to avoid a two-year-old tantrum at 7..." I was cut off mid self-congratulation by the predictable question, "Mom, can I have some syrup?"

I already put syrup on your pancake. It's right there. See the drizzle pattern? And see, I left some extra on the plate so you can dip pancake in it! Isn't that great?

It's not there. I need some syrup. Can I have some syrup?

Buddy, see? I put the syrup on before you got to the table. Then I cut your pancake for you. It's right here.

No! (whining intensifying) I need some syrup! 

And then the tears begin. I tell him just to take a bite. He'll taste the syrup if he just takes a bite! (There is so much syrup on that pancake that I can't justify adding more.) Just try it, Guy!

But no go. He cries. He yells. He screams. And so finally, I ask if he wants to go back to his room and take a break on his bed. He screams in reply, so I pick him up and let him take a cool-down in his room. I wait in the kitchen, finishing the rest of the dishes and feeding the other hungry kiddos at my table.

A few minutes later, calmly and quietly, Guy walks into the kitchen, sits down at the table, and takes a bite of his pancake. In fact, he eats all of his pancake, without tears, and talks to me about the cars he sees outside our kitchen window. Then, he asks for another pancake and he watches me heat it up, watches me cut the pancake, and sees me pour on the syrup. I prepare the pancake just like I did before, and the syrup gets absorbed again by the pancake. But this time, he recognizes it is there. He believes me because even though he can't see the syrup, he's tasted it.

How often have I looked at my plate and thought, "It isn't enough"? Sure, I may see a trace of syrup over on one side, but my pancake seems dry, tasteless, and unappealing. I start to wonder why my house can't look like this one, or why my clothes can't look like hers, or why this person doesn't seem to like me as much as they like someone else. Or I look at what is going on in the world and wonder at the hearts of men! I wonder at how much people are willing to sacrifice to cause pain, and I ache for the innocent caught up in bitter, hateful conflict. Where is the sweetness for them? Even if there is syrup on my pancake, what difference does that make? I don't see it. So I get mad. I yell. I cry. I ask for more.

I can't pretend to have an answer to all of these troubles, and in making this comparison I'm not trying to make light of desperate situations. But as I thought about my son and his pancakes, I realized how much I am like him. God's love is there, on the plate, waiting for me to try it. And unlike the quantifiable amount of syrup I put on my son's pancake, God's love is endless and eternal. To help me understand that love, He leaves me little trails of sweetness for those times when I can't see all the syrup He has already provided for me. God knows me. He knows I love a break in the storm. He knows when I need a hope-filled note, a smile from my child, a recipe to work out, a spot of quiet beauty, a season of peace.

While some may try to dismiss this time of year and its commercialism, I believe it is still a season of peace. It is a season in which I have "tasted that the Lord is gracious," and because I've tasted that before, I can't deny that sweetness. I have tasted of that love in personal, powerful moments and it has shaped my spirit because:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 

My son wasn't filled until he tried the pancake. Once he did, he wanted more. I think that is the important lesson- to try it, to eat, or perhaps more eloquently put, to partake. And what is this gift of love of which I should be partaking? The ultimate gift and manifestation of God's love is that He "sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."

So because there are times when I may lose sight of the sweetness of that truth, I am infinitely grateful for a season in which I can look around and see symbols which remind me to be a "partaker in Christ," and to "hold the beginning of [my] confidence steadfast until the end."

I forget sometimes that the ultimate manifestation of God's love is there, in front of me, already given. My prayer for this season is that I remember how sweet a gift that is, and that I live more fully dedicated to being more because of it. More importantly, I pray that I remember to partake of that gift.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

(Romans 8:16-18; 1 John 4:14; Hebrews 3:14; John 3:16)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Turkey Club Pizza

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I make a mean pizza. Friday nights are almost always pizza nights   chez Little Red Hen, and though sometimes that means Little Caesar's, most of the time that means I'm whipping something up. 

I'm still working towards the perfect pizza crust. There is something inexplicably difficult about getting the pizzeria flavor at home, even for me. I say this with a bit of  authority because my dad was in the pizza industry for over 20 years. We even owned and ran a pizza restaurant when I was in high school, so my friends and I spent a fair amount of time making pizza. It was the best. Even today if I'm making a pepperoni, you can bet I'm  counting out each of the 48 slices of pepperoni as I place them speedily on my pizza in a clockwise circular pattern.

The one consistent and critical key to good pizza is oven temperature. Keep it high, and preheat your pizza stone in the oven so that your crust begins to get that crunch the moment you place it on the stone. I also sprinkle cornmeal on my pizza stone before I put the dough on it. Not only does it smell beautiful when the corn hits the stone, but it also prevents the dough from sticking. 

I have about 4 pizza crust methods that I use on a regular basis. I've tried countless more using whole wheat, all-purpose, and bread flour. Today I'm going to share my easiest and quickest recipe, so obviously it is the one I make most often. It doesn't taste exactly like a pizzeria style crust, but what it lacks in authenticity it makes up for in convenience. No special ingredients, no mixer required, and in 15 minutes you have a pizza, hot-n-ready.

My friend, Alicia, used to make these cute little cookbooks for Christmas, and this dough recipe comes from the first book she gave me. My husband tells me it is getting better and tastes more like pizza and less like bread, which from him, is a true compliment! (He's sort of a pizza snob, though I'm competing against Little Caesar's.) Really, I love how quick it is to pull this together! 

Oh! And this Turkey Club Pizza? I played around with this recipe and I think it is a win. You start with your basic tomato sauce and mozzarella, (copious amounts, please). Next, here's an idea for that left-over turkey you've got bagged in the freezer! Put it on this pizza! (Or use good quality deli turkey). Add large pieces of smokey chopped bacon and bake it until it is nice and bubbly. Throw onto that fresh, perky tomatoes and crisp, cold lettuce tossed with a mayo-pesto to get that club sandwich creaminess. Oh baby. This pizza will make you want to tie a sweater around your shoulders, take up golfing, and start calling your best friends Biff and Muffy!

Turkey Club Pizza

Yields 1 large pizza
Crust adapted slightly from the baker upstairs

Ingredients for Crust:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tbs active quick rise yeast
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • about 3 cups flour, more or less
  • 1 tbs cornmeal
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped turkey (leftover turkey is great!)
  • 1 cup chopped cooked bacon
  • 4 cups (or more) chopped iceberg lettuce
  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 3 tbs mayonnaise
  • 1 tbs prepared pesto
  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees with pizza stone in oven. If you don't have a pizza stone, use an overturned heavy cookie sheet. (But really, you'd love having a pizza stone...)
  2. In a large bowl, mix warm water yeast, sugar, and oil. 
  3. Mix in salt and flour with a heavy wooden spoon or your hands, adding the final cup of flour in degrees so that the the dough doesn't get too dry. Dough will seem rough.
  4. Transfer dough to a floured surface. Knead for about 1 minute, or until dough is smooth. Roll out into large circle, about the size of pizza stone.
  5. Remove pizza stone from oven. Quickly sprinkle with cornmeal and transfer rolled out dough to stone, adjusting if needed to make sure dough fits on stone.
  6. Spread pizza sauce, then cheese. Evenly spread turkey and bacon on pizza.
  7. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly. 
  8. While pizza is baking, mix mayo with pesto. In a large bowl, toss lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo-pesto. 
  9. Remove pizza from oven. Immediately pour salad mix on top of pizza. Slice and serve.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pumpkin Hot Chocolate Chip Bread

pumpkin chocolate chip bread with hot chocolate

I know, this looks a bit last month. More pumpkin? Really? Its December, Cort!

I don't really think pumpkin has a season, and if it does, it extends clear until January. After making some Pumpkin Apple Cider last week I had a good amount of pumpkin puree left and knew it was time for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread. Wanting to try a new recipe, I scoured some of my favorite places for inspiration, including Sally's Baking Addiction. I especially love her cookies, and the fact that her name is Sally.

My dad calls me Sally and has for years. It started as a joke because of a nickname we gave my sister, but it stuck and I like it. So, when I told my parents about Sally's Baking Addiction, they thought it was a clever name I came up with. Sadly, no, but she's got some great stuff, including a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread. But, it called for orange juice,  and less pumpkin than I had. Another recipe I found called for yogurt, but I was out of that too. So what's a Little Red Hen to do? Improvise and do it myself!

pumpkin chocolate chip bread with hot chocolate

It is December, so while I didn't have orange juice or yogurt, I did have hot chocolate! Let's try that! I'm so glad that I did because adding some hot chocolate to Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread intensifies the chocolate flavor, and the bread turns out moist and delicious! Any kind of hot chocolate will do. I used Stephen's Gourmet Hot Chocolate with Mini Marshmallows.

This recipe makes two 8x4 inch loaves. If you only have 9x5 inch loaves, I would make one full loaf and a couple mini loaves. I like thick, tall loaves of bread, so 8x4 inch pans are my favorite for quick breads. I had to use a dark pan and a light aluminum pan and both worked equally well, but of course the darker pan baked more quickly. Can I add that I don't always use a timer when I bake? So, I don't know exactly how long the bread took to bake. Roughly an hour, so just keep an eye on it after 50 minutes.

Some of you may be turned off by having two loaves of chocolaty, spicy, moist pumpkin bread, but I can't see a down side. Either you have one loaf to share, one loaf to freeze, or one loaf to eat now, and another to eat after dinner. Win-win.

Pumpkin Hot Chocolate Chip Bread

  • 2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup prepared hot chocolate
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-2 cups chocolate chips (you be the judge)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare 2 8x4 inch loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl,stir together pumpkin puree, oil, sugars, and eggs. 
  3. Add soda, flour, salt, spices, and hot chocolate. Stir until just combined. 
  4. Pour evenly into loaf pans. Bake for about an hour, until center is set.
  5. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan and continue to cool on a cooling rack.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

I used to think pancakes were only for weekends and special occasions. Then I had four kids and I realized I was doing them no favor by starting their day with a bowl of Lucy Charms. An hour after breakfast my little guy is asking for snacks! Don't get me wrong. Anything is better than nothing, and we still have our share of cereal days, but it is pretty easy to whip up some pancakes before school while the kids are getting dressed. They leave the house full and although I hate it when my kitchen smells like maple syrup and I take them to school in my pajamas, it is kind of a win.

These pancakes, are good, but they taste a bit healthier than my go-to recipe. My little guy took a bite and asked, "Why did you make these?" I typically don't use whole wheat flour, so it was a taste adjustment for him. That said, they are really good. Filling and hearty, I prefer to top them with something a bit more substantial than just syrup. Peanut butter and sliced bananas with syrup is an acceptable option.  Berries or a chunky jam is an excellent choice as well. And, of course, whipped honey. Or even a fried egg, which is how my husband usually eats them.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs sugar or honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil 
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  1. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together sugar, 2 eggs, oil, and buttermilk. 
  2. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just combined. 
  3. Heat frying pan just below medium heat. Grease with non-stick cooking spray or butter. (Really, don't forget this because this particular batter sticks to the pan easily!)
  4. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to form pancakes. Cook until bubbles form on pancake, then flip and cook until done, about 30 seconds- 1 minute longer.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies

Busting out the fancy cheap photoshopping skills for this delicious beauty! Look at my lovely Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies! Ok, I'm learning and trying, and I did this like 6 weeks ago, so cut me a bit of slack. Really, these cookies will send your tastebuds rocking around the Christmas Tree.

My friend introduced me to Cutler's Cookies and I fell in love. Any place where you can buy four cookies and they will serve them to you in a small pizza box is for me! I tried a peanut butter cookie, a sugar cookie, a chocolate chip cookie, and a chocolate mint cookie. They were all big wins in my extensive cookie-tasting book, but my kids loved the mint! I knew I had to make them, but I had to make a few small changes because I didn't want to go to the store, again. It seems like many of my cooking successes come that way. Do you find the same thing?

I loved making these cookies, and they have the addicting duo of taste and texture! Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies are rich, thick, and minty. I topped them with my Chocolate Chip Fudge Frosting and they turned into the gift that just kept on giving.

I halved the mint frosting from the original for two reasons:
 1. I didn't want them to have too much frosting and
2. I was running out of butter.

No worries though, because I think I struck an excellent balance between fudge and mint. Plus, the cookie itself was so great! Dark, rich, chewy, and studded with chocolate chips, they were delectable even without with the frosting. I used the Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder, my new favorite baking ingredient, too.

These Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies are perfect for a holiday party, neighborhood treats, or just for eating while you watch a movie. Or just for eating while you wrap presents...or clean the house... or just for eating.

Dark Chocolate Mint Cookies

Adapted from Cutler's Cookies 

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 baking powder
  • 2 1/3 cups cake flour (can use all-purpose, but for that bakery flavor, use the cake flour)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Directions for Cookies:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 pan with parchment paper or non-stick cooking spray. 
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  3. Add flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and chocolate chips.  Stir until combined.
  4. Press dough into pan. Bake for 12-17 minutes, or until just done, without overbaking. Cool completely. Frost with mint frosting and let set for about 20 minutes. 
  5. Prepare Chocolate Chip Fudge Frosting. Pour over mint frosting and smooth. Let set before cutting. 
Mint Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2-2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbs milk, about
  • 1/4 tsp mint extract
  • green food coloring 
Directions for Mint Icing:
  1. Beat butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add only enough milk to make smooth. Add the food coloring and mint extract. 

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Cheesy Potato Casserole aka Funeral Potatoes

Yessss. It is finally December so I can share my recipe for cheesy potato casserole, better known as funeral potatoes, around my neck of the woods. Why did I wait until December to share it? Because I guarantee you'll have to go to some sort of party or potluck in the next month, and you'll have to bring a side dish. Or, you'll be planning Christmas dinner and ask yourself, "What tastes good with ham?" Or you'll be wondering what to do with those left-over baked potatoes from last night's dinner. See, lots of reasons to share my recipe for cheesy, delicious potatoes in December.

Some of you may be wondering why I call them funeral potatoes. Well, it is very common that when someone passes away the church in my area and the people in my neighborhood will supply a luncheon for the family of the deceased after the internment. While the church may provide the ham, we sign up to bring salad, rolls, desserts, or cheesy potato casserole, AKA funeral potatoes. Frankly, they are the best.

Of course, I don't only make funeral potatoes for funerals! They are the perfect side dish for chicken and ham dishes. They typically show up on my table around Christmas, Easter, and for the occasional Sunday dinner. Creamy, cheesy, buttery, comforting, warm, they are difficult to stop eating and are a crowd pleaser.

There are as many variations to this recipe as there are covers of "Sleigh Ride." Topped with corn flakes, sans corn flakes. Shredded hash browns, or southern style. My mom and I often like to make a southwestern version by adding diced green chiles to the cheesiness. But, I must say my mother-in-law, Yvonne, makes a really outstanding batch of funeral potatoes, loaded with cheese and made with real baked potatoes. I think this is a key secret to a successful batch of funeral potatoes. I'll admit, I normally use frozen hash browns, but actually baking the potatoes, peeling them, and then chopping them makes a world of difference. Yvonne finely dices her potatoes with the precision of a surgeon, but when I chop them they just turn into odd shaped lumps of potato.

Here's the deal though- most recipes for cheesy potato casserole, or funeral potatoes, use canned condensed soups.  I don't love that. And I ran out of sour cream. And I didn't have corn flakes so I had to use Special K. But I wanted funeral potatoes, so what's the Little Red Hen to do? Do it myself! Make something new! And I did, and it ROCKED, and my family loved it, and I'll never go back. So, try it out.

Cheesy potatoes made with a homemade white sauce and Greek yogurt for some extra protein and creaminess! And it only takes an extra 5 minutes? And your family will eat it? Yes, please.

Cheesy Potato Casserole aka Funeral Potatoes

  • 6-8 baked potatoes, peeled and chopped (or could use one bag frozen hash browns)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 chicken broth
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or more because you can't go wrong with more cheese)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 2 cups crushed corn flakes, (or Special K)
  • 2 tbs melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 9x13 pan. Fill pan with chopped potatoes.
  2. In a shallow pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and saute until softened, about 2-3 minutes. 
  3. Briefly remove pot from heat and whisk in flour. Slowly whisk in chicken broth and milk. Return to heat and stir continuously until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. 
  4. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, yogurt, salt, and pepper. Pour over potatoes. (Add more shredded cheese, if you like!)
  5. Toss corn flakes with melted butter. Sprinkle over cheesy potatoes.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Bake the bread. Share the slices.