Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Girls' Guide to Football Season

Football season is upon us. I’ve spent the past week reading newspaper and magazine articles and watching countless hours of ESPN (which seems to be the only working channel in my house at the moment) to bring you today’s post to kick the season off.


Let’s be real. Girl's game day priorities are a bit different than the men’s. 


I’m not here to tell you to change that. 


What I am going to say is that there is a little more to football season than what appetizer to bring to your tailgate party or what outfit you’re going to wear to show your team spirit. Yes, those things are important, but for a moment let’s kick off our heels (not that I would wear heels to a football game), pretend to be interested in cleats and learn a thing or two about the season ahead of us.

It’s cool to know what you’re talking about, my dears.

Pre-Season Rankings
Let’s begin with the list of the top 15 teams ranked by the Associated Press:
1
Oklahoma 
2
Alabama
3
Oregon
4
LSU 
5
Boise State 
6
Florida State
7
Stanford
8
Texas A&M
9
Oklahoma State
10
Nebraska
11
Wisconsin
12
South Carolina
13
Virginia Tech
14
TCU
15
Arkansas

If your favorite team is not in the top 15, don’t fret. Much of the pre-season rankings are just a guess.

MVPs
While it’s certainly not necessary to memorize the roster, let’s get to know a little about the best players in the country, as they are most likely to come up in conversation.

The nation’s most valuable player earns the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season. Throughout the season, ESPN follows the top Heisman candidates and ranks them here http://espn.go.com/college-football/heisman11/index. As of now, the frontrunner is Andrew Luck of Stanford. Landry Jones (Oklahoma) and  LaMichael James (Oregon) seem to be important names to know as well.

Conferences
As long as you know the names of each major conference, you will be above the curve. Below is the list of the major conferences as well as the top few teams in each. This will put you in just about every football conversation this season!

Southeastern Conference (SEC): Nations best conference whose best teams this season are Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Florida.


Pacific 12: Represents the west coast and its best teams this season are Oregon, Stanford, Southern Cal, and Arizona State.


Big 10 (which actually has 12 teams): The best teams this season should be Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State.



Big 12 (but it actually has 10 teams): This conference has the top ranked team in Oklahoma, and others like Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Texas.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC): Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Miami.


And there you have it. I wish you the best time tailgating, intelligent conversations and an overall football exciting season.

Thanks for visiting today! Be sure to come back each Thursday for my feature game-day recipe.

Cheers to your team!
Christi
WPS

Friday, August 26, 2011

Black Magic Cake

Sources are a huge determining factor when I select recipes. I also take reviews into major consideration before I stir up something I hope to be scrumptious. I like to see what others say and recommend. One source that I most always skip over is the one on the back of a box or bag. I’m not sure when this all started, but I am never quite in love with the results after baking or cooking something that was placed there by the brand itself.

That was until I kept finding my way across the Hershey.com recipes page. There is a Black Magic Cake from Hershey that has a recipe that has been around for quite some time and with amazing reviews.

Okay. I give in. Let’s try this thing out.

I baked the chocolate cake. Then I had a bite. Followed by several more bites. And now I am here to tell you how amazing this chocolate cake is.

Look at this!


Since I seemed to be doing well with the recipe off Hershey.com, I made a chocolate icing that came off of the Hershey’s chocolate powder box. It too was so marvelous.


The texture is unlike any cake I’ve ever had. It’s fluffy but dense and oh-so moist. The chocolate taste is so bold and rich. The cup of strong coffee the recipe calls for really does bring out the richness of the chocolate.

Don’t ask me if this was my second slice.


Give it a try this weekend and share it with friends.

Cheers!

Christi


Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
1 cup strong black coffee OR 2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee plus 1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans or one 13x9x2-inch baking pan. 

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes (Batter will be thin). Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick
inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool
completely. Frost as desired. Yields 10 to 12 servings.

* To sour milk: Use 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup.



Perfect Chocolate Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:
Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla.


Here's my source: http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/4754/Black-Magic-Cake.aspx

Monday, August 22, 2011

Freshly Baked Croutons

I’m back and I’ve missed you!

I spent a wonderful week in Mexico with MD. We spent our days relaxing under the hot sun swimming, playing volleyball, football and ping-pong, exercising, napping and eating. Lots and lots of eating.

We enjoyed so many delicious meals. After beginning seven days with a hearty breakfast, snacking on guacamole, ceviche and pina coladas throughout the afternoon and ending our sunny days with the most amazing dinners we’ve ever had, we just wanted something light to enjoy the day after we returned.

After returning from the grocery store with bags of fresh veggies for a crispy salad, I decided I needed to add a little extra crunch with freshly baked croutons.


These are simply amazing. I have to hide the leftover croutons from MD so we can top salads throughout the week with them. Seriously. He’d eat them as chips if I didn’t sneak them away from the pantry and tuck them back with the pots and pans.

It also packs up perfectly for a delicious work-day lunch.


Hey, good looking. I'll see you around noon today.

I topped a bed of mixed greens with goat cheese, sliced strawberries, corn and croutons with a sweet Italian vinaigrette dressing.

With this very simple recipe, you can enjoy these in about one hour’s time.

Mmmm. Go bake some crunchy croutons this evening! 

Cheers!
Christi


Ingredients:
1/2 loaf crusty French bread
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic (peeled)
Salt to Taste
Directions: 
Slice the bread into thick slices and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Throw them onto a baking sheet.

Heat olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over low heat.

Peel and crush—but don’t chop—2 cloves of garlic and add them to the oil. Use a spoon to move the garlic around in the pan. After about 3 to 5 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the garlic from the pan.

Slowly drizzle the olive oil over the bread cubes. Mix together with your hands, then sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 200ยบ for one hour, shaking the pan occasionally.

One hour after baking, crank up the heat to 400 degrees. Bake them on high heat for just a few minutes.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Hello from Mexico!

Greetings! Great to see you! Thank you so much for stopping by!


I’m out on vacation this week and have unplugged from all things electronic.

Please browse my recent posts and try something new this week! I want to hear all about it when I return.

Be sure to come back Monday morning!  I’ll be back with an exciting new post.

Happy week to you!

Cheers!
Christi

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tacos with Quinoa

I've had Mexican food three nights this week and I didn’t mind it one bit. It’s absolutely my favorite. This week I switched up taco night with a little something different. Instead of Mexican rice, we had quinoa. (Pronounced “KEEN-wah.”)

What is quinoa, you ask?

 Find it in the rice aisle.

Quinoa is a whole grain seed that can be prepared similarly to rice. It takes a quick 15 minutes to cook and is packed in protein, high in fiber, contains all nine essential amino acids and is gluten–free.

It’s healthy, y’all and oh-so delicious!

Just like rice, you can enjoy quinoa in many different ways by adding your own favorite ingredients to it and mix it together.

Once the seeds have boiled for about 15 minutes, they grow to be pretty and fluffy.

To spice up my quinoa, I added cumin, fresh lime juice, cayenne and garlic powder. I would have added fresh cilantro, but we we’re out.

The gang’s all here!


(I added lime juice to the mix, but they were late for the party pic.)


I topped corn tortillas with sour cream, pepper jack cheese, black beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado slices and served the tacos over quinoa.



Make quinoa this weekend and let me know how it goes!

Cheers,
Christi

Ingredients:
2 cups water

1 cup quinoa
Sprinkle of salt
Add seasonings of choice after it has fully cooked

Directions:
Place quinoa and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes).

You will know that the quinoa is done when all the grains have turned from white to transparent, and the spiral-like germ has separated. Makes 3 cups.   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chocolate Pudding


I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing this pudding is. I've never made homemade pudding before. I’m not even that big of a pudding fan. Here’s how I decided on pudding in the first place:

I love chocolate milk. Love. Sunday evening I went to make myself a glass only to find that I was out of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try making my own chocolate syrup. I loved the thought of it, not to mention skipping out on the whole high-fructose corn syrup nastiness.

Well, I made it. It was pretty and it was easy. Unfortunately, it was not tasty. I guess I am too used to high-fructose corn syrup. Darn.

Monday rolled around and I still had chocolate on my mind. I thought about alternative options for today's post. A few of the chocolate contestants were: Chocolate banana bread, chocolate meringue pie and chocolate cheesecake, just to name a few. 

By the way, I have an amazing chocolate cheesecake recipe that has a chocolate crust made from Teddy Grahams and topped with a chocolate ganache. Good Lord, it’s amazing. We can talk about that more at a later date.

By the time I left work, I was so hot. I needed chocolate and it needed to be nice and cold.

Hello, chocolate pudding. I feel that it is really important to mention here that I made this with FAT-FREE MILK! Heck yes!


Trot to the nearest store, pick up two chocolate bars and make this now.

This is the chocolate I used.


Get this nice and chilly before serving. I served mine with a spoonful of freshly whipped cream and a few raspberries. You don’t need to add anything though. It’s amazing just the way it is.

NOTE: If your pudding doesn’t get thick after 15-20 minutes, take the top pan off the double broiler and set it directly on the stove and stir for a few minutes. I had to do that and it thickened right up.

ANOTHER NOTE: I don’t own a double broiler. Never have. I just place a smaller sauce pan onto a bigger sauce pan and hold it awkwardly. I am super fancy.

LAST NOTE: I didn’t run my pudding through a fine-mesh strainer like the recipe suggested. It had a few tiny lumps in it. I probably won’t skip that step next time, but it really didn’t bother me a bit in this batch. Just stir, stir, stir and skip it if you want.

Seriously. Go make this now.


Cheers!
Christi



Silky Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from the fabulous 
http://smittenkitchen.com/



1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups fat-free milk
6 ounces 70% bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract



1. Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler. Slowly whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over gently simmering water and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary should lumps begin to form. After 15 to 20 minutes, when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate. Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.


2. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer (or skip this step if you’re a slacker like me who is absolutely certain that there is nary a lump her puddin’) into a serving bowl or into a large measuring cup with a spout and pour into individual serving dishes.


3. If you like pudding skin, pull plastic wrap over the top of the serving dish(es) before refrigerating. If you dislike pudding skin, place plastic wrap on top of the pudding and smooth it gently against the surface before refrigerating. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days (ahem, good luck with that).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Homemade Pesto

Welcome to the second week in August. I wanted to start you out with something quick, easy and delicious this week.

Homemade pesto, folks!


Before my basil completely fries under the sun, I wanted to ensure that I’d get at least a handful of pesto meals this summer. There is nothing like homemade pesto. You can serve it over pasta, use it as the base of a pizza, or pile it atop crostinis; really any way you choose.

The only time consuming step of this process is plucking the basil leaves off the stems. Those 10 minutes are totally worth it.

Grab some pretty pasta and whip this up tonight.

Note: Do not worry if you don't already own a food processor. Buy one of these miniature babies. This little gadget is perfect for a small batch of fresh salsa, too!  

Cheers!

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:
Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil to your food processor. Stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula. Add the Parmesan cheese and pulse again until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until mostly smooth.

Makes approximately 1 cup
Serve with pasta, or whatever you fancy. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Homemade Samoas

In approximately 160 days you’ll be able to sink your teeth into cookies covered in chocolate and filled with peanut butter, mint-flavored and covered in dark chocolate, cookies covered in caramel and toasted coconut or any of the other eight varieties to choose from.

Yep. I’m talking about Girl Scout Cookies. You still have several months to go until you can purchase your stack of colorful cookie boxes.

So, while the girls keep us waiting, I tried to recreate my favorite Girl Scout cookie; Samoas!


I opted for the easier route and made Samoas bars. These are really, really good.

Here’s what I did:

Well, first I’ll start with what MD did. He was kind enough to start the shortbread crust for me. When I finally made it into the kitchen, I tried to move the crust from one baking sheet to another. It cracked all the way down the center.

See?

Don’t do that. But if this does happen to you, carry on. You’ll be spreading sticky caramel over that little mistake in a few minutes.

Once your shortbread has baked and cooled, begin to toast the coconut.

CAUTION. Keep your eyes on this. It will burn quickly.

Mmm. How amazing does that look? Crazy amazing, I know!


Next, melt your caramels and chocolate chips with a splash of milk and salt. I used these cute little caramel pieces. Genius.



At this point MD said the coconut looked like pulled pork. Don't let that gross you out. 


Spread. Spread. Spread. 


Then place in the refrigerator to set.

After about 15 minutes, take it out and slice into small squares. Dip the base into melted chocolate and transfer to a sheet of parchment paper. Lastly, drizzle with the remaining melted chocolate and cool for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Serve with purple napkins and a tall glass of milk.

Note: These were a lot better the next day. They need to have plenty of time to set up in the refrigerator. Store extras in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Happy Friday! See you Monday!



Homemade Samoas Bars


Cookie Base:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt


First, make the crust. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly, like wet sand. The dough does not need to come together. Pour crumbly dough into prepared pan and press into an even layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until base is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before topping.

Topping:
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
10 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.

Put dollops of the topping all over the shortbread base. Using the spatula, spread topping into an even layer. Let topping set until cooled.

When cooled, cut into 30 bars with a large knife or a pizza cutter (it’s easy to get it through the topping).
Once bars are cut, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching.

Dip the base of each bar into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle bars with chocolate to finish.

Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 30 bar cookies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

I don’t know about you, but there are certain items from a restaurant or a grocery store that just don’t seem very possible to imitate in the kitchen. Things that come to mind for me are: a skinny caramel latte that is extra hot without foam, McDonald’s French fries or an Orange Julius. Mmm. Are you hungry yet?

Oh! Let’s not forget Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuits. In fact, let’s start there first.


One of my sweet co-workers makes these often. They always look and smell so delicious, so I decided to try them out myself.

These little biscuits are so easy and taste as amazing as the biscuits they serve us at Red Lobster. Better, if you ask me!

Let me tell you two very important things:

1. Grate your own cheese. Always. But in this case, grate it with the wide cheese grater (as oppose to finely grated). This way your cheese won't get lost in the biscuit mix.

2. Add fresh (or dried) parsley. It adds a kick of flavor and makes them look pretty.


Let me tell you something else. It may look like I ate an entire basket of biscuits for dinner. Well. I sort of did. 

Try making these tonight and let me know how you do resisting these heavenly, cheesy, buttery, garlicky biscuits.


I bet you'll eat six, too.

Ingredients:
2 cups Bisquick biscuit mix
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
2/3 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
¼ cup fresh parsley

Butter mixture:
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon garlic salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, combine the Bisquick mix, cheese, milk, garlic powder and parsley. Mix until dough is sticky. Using a small scoop, place dough on the prepared pan.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Combine the melted butter and garlic salt. Brush over baked biscuits immediately upon removing from oven.

Serve warm and try not to eat five (okay, six) in one sitting.




Come back Friday to see what I'll be imitating next!

Cheers!
Christi