Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stovetop Popcorn

Yummy note: I'm always trying to figure out how to make a healthier version of our butter-soaked popcorn, and I finally found a delicious alternative. Popping the popcorn kernels in coconut oil gives the popcorn a much more flavorful popcorn, rather than using like a canola or vegetable oil for popping the popcorn and then covering it in butter. I was surprised how the coconut oil worked so well; personally, I like the refined coconut oil better, as it is a little less "coconutty" of a popcorn. My kids start complaining sometimes when I used the unrefined coconut oil, so now we stick with either the basic coconut oil or use a specialty popcorn oil. For an added healthy kick to this popcorn, I enjoy adding a good shake or two of nutritional yeast on top, which is a good source of Vitamin B12, protein, and folic acid. Nutritional yeast is a somewhat acquired taste for some, but I think it a nutty-like, similar to parmesan almost, taste to the popcorn.  

Stovetop popcorn

2-3 tbsp coconut oil (other oil will work, but it doesn't have same flavor as coconut oil)
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Optional toppings: Butter, salt, cheese, or nutritional yeast

Directions: Place 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil (or if use about vegetable oil, you may need closer to 3-4 tbsp) in a large, heavy pot with a lid. Heat the oil over medium/high heat and add one or two kernels of popcorn to the pan. Wait for the kernels to heat up and pop, as this will tell you when your oil is ready. Remove the popped kernels and then add in the rest, about a 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels. Cover the pot with a lid, and give it a few shakes, so that the kernels have a single layer in the pan. You could also put a pinch of salt in at the same time as the kernels. Make sure to use potholders to lift/shake your pan over the heat, as it does get quite warm. Keep the lid shifted just a little to allow steam to vent, or sometimes it causes popcorn to get to mushy, and not the crunchy yummy popcorn you want! Be careful when shaking the pan and don't walk away from it or it might burn. Basically keep shaking the pan continuously and it should only take a few minutes of shaking to get all of the popcorn kernels to pop. Again, don't open the lid all the way, as you could get hit with a hot flying kernel, and trust me that hurts for a second, lol. While the popcorn is popping, melt a little butter if desired. Pour the popcorn into a big bowl; drizzle with the melted butter, margarine, or alternative butter/oil. Sprinkle with salt and nutritional yeast for a healthy treat.

Simple ingredients

Put one or two kernels of popcorn in first until oil is ready. 

Once the first kernels pop, remove them, and add the rest of the popcorn kernels. 

After a few minutes of popping and shaking the pan on the stovetop, enjoy fluffy popcorn!

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crunchy Onion Chicken Tenders

Yummy note:  I really have a sweet tooth and it shows on my blog. I've been making and posting about too many dessert-like items lately, so when I got this month's Secret Recipe Club assignment, I made a decision to find a recipe that wasn't for my sweet tooth. Honestly, with a name of SteakNPotatoesKindaGurl, I was really hoping this was going to be an easy pick. Boy, was I wrong! Desi from SteakNPotatoesKindaGurl had a selection of desserts and treats (these smores were looking just bite-sized amazing!) that were teasing and taunting me to make for this month's assignment, but I held strong. I was doing a few searches on my blog and realized I only had a handful of dishes that I used chicken, seriously?! So with that in mind, I ended up making these crispy crunchy chicken tenders; these are not your normal chicken tenders, as they are packed with flavor! These are easy-to-make chicken tenders, not to mention crunchy, salty, and yummy! My family loves to eat these crispy onions quite often, on salads, burgers, or really just to snack on, so combo them with chicken strips and it's a hit! Thanks Desi for adding another delicious option to my family rotation of meals. 

Crunchy Onion Chicken Tenders

about a pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins 
2 eggs (depending on size of the eggs, you might be able to use 1 large egg) 
half of a small can of French's French Fried Onions 

Prepare chicken breasts and cut into strips or use pre-cut chicken tenderloin pieces. Crush about half of a can of french fried onions in a ziplock bag. Mix up the eggs in a separate bowl. Dip chicken pieces in the egg wash and then drop into the crushed up french fried onions. Place on a prepared baking sheet and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. You can test the chicken by making sure the juices run clear when pierced or use a meat thermometer. 

A simple 3 ingredient meal- chicken, eggs, and french fried onions.
Prepare a little assembly line to make the prep easier.
Crispy onion covered chicken tenders ready for the oven. 
Perfect meal of chicken tenders and mini potato gratins!

Yummy note: Desi had another amazing Muffin Pan Potato Gratins recipe that paired well with these chicken tenders!
Golden and cheesy mini potato gratins! 

Please be sure to stop on by and visit all of the other wonderful bloggers in the Secret Recipe Club group!
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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Banana Cake Cupcakes

Yummy note: My friend Mandi made this banana cake for her daughter's birthday last fall and I had one bite and instantly was like I need your recipe! Lucky me, it was a family recipe of hers, that she was willing to share- how fun is that? I love when recipes get handed down generations in a family and then shared with friends. This recipe comes from Mandi's great grandmother. I never met her, but I'm sure she was an amazing baker with the way this cake has turned out. I've made this recipe numerous times now, and we've modified it just slightly by only adding chocolate chips the one time, and other times we've made it into cupcakes instead of a cake. In this recipe, she used a technique here that I've never done before, which was cooking the mashed bananas in a sauce pan for a little bit before adding them to the batter. I thought it was a nice tip, as the bananas didn't have a weird texture or seem lumpy when it was baked.  They were incorporated so nicely into the cake, that the texture truly seemed more like a cake, rather than a banana bread. Each time that I've made it, it has been spot on, and what I love most, is how long these cupcakes stay so moist and soft even days after baking them. 

Mandi's Great Grandma's Banana Cake Cupcakes 

3 overripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (I have used Crisco and an organic non-hydrogenated brand and both worked well.)
1 egg
3 tbsp milk (Any type is fine - I've used soy and coconut.)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) or 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash bananas and place in a small sauce pan with the baking soda. Cook over medium heat until the banana mixture is foamy. Set aside to cool while you prepare the next part. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and spices together. In a larger bowl, beat together both sugars and shortening until well combined. Pour in the slightly cooled banana mixture, egg, milk, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until combined. Add in the small bowl of flour mixture and mix until combined. Fold in chocolate chips or nuts, if desired. Pour batter into a lightly greased/prepared 9 x 13 pan and bake for 22-30 minutes, or until done. Or pour into cupcake liners and bake until done, which was about 20 minutes. Depending on the size of the cupcakes, I usually start to peek in on them at around 15 minutes and adjust the time accordingly. Let cool completely before frosting. For the frosting, I used my traditional buttercream frosting. I can easily adapt this to be a dairy-free frosting as well, if needed. This chocolate frosting is also a nice compliment to the banana cupcakes as well.

Delicious banana cake cupcakes with white fluffy frosting. 

Mixing in some chocolate chips, to make banana chocolate chip cupcakes! 
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

New York Cheesecake

Yummy note: The February Secret Recipe Club post for me is all about what I love - I love dessert. Many of my Secret Recipe Club posts, I let my kids help me pick or my husband, but this time around, it was what I wanted. Like Margaret from over at Tea and Scones, my Secret Recipe Club blogger, I also really adore cheesecake. No, adore isn't right, I love it. I really never make cheesecake and I'm not sure why. Maybe it is just one of those desserts, I'd rather spend the money and buy a slice of really good cheesecake at a restaurant or bakery instead. Also, it does take up a good amount of bake time, so I think fear of it not setting up right is also in the back of my mind. Or perhaps it is that I'm afraid I would eat the whole cheesecake all.. by.. myself... Picture it, it is one of those late nights, I'm just relaxing, sitting on the couch watching another Golden Girls rerun and then they break out their late-night cheesecake. So I think I should join them and eat my own cheesecake. I can just see myself, half-asleep, polishing off the whole thing without even realizing it. Mmm, yeah, probably not a good idea to have a great big cheesecake in my house. With Margaret's original recipe, l ended up half-sizing it and made smaller, portion-controlled, cheesecakes, just in case ;)  This baked cheesecake recipe on Tea and Scones blog, had an amazing rich, decadent flavor, yet it was fairly simple and not a lot of ingredients to be afraid of. The texture of this cheesecake was perfect, seriously, I am not kidding you. Now, I just wish there was a Junior's Restaurant near me to try out some more of the other cheesecakes! Since there was not, perhaps I need to buy myself the cookbook that Margaret referenced, as this was love at first bite :) 


2 packages of 8-ounce cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup and 1/3 cup of sugar (about 13 tbsp of sugar total)
2 tbsp of corn starch
1/2 tbsp of pure vanilla extract
1 extra large egg
6 tbsp of heavy cream

Note: I followed Margaret's lead on this cheesecake recipe adaption and didn't use a crust like she suggested. I agree that this wonderful cheesecake didn't need anything extra for a crust, as the ingredients are simple, yet luxurious tasting when they all come together.

Set the cream cheese out to soften at room temperature. Once cream cheese is soft, put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of sugar, and corn starch in a large bowl and mix until creamy. This may take a few minutes. Next, add in the other package of cream cheese. On medium speed, mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla, and egg. Make sure all of the cream cheese is incorporated well. Then, add in the heavy cream and mix until just blended together. Be careful not to over mix the cheesecake filling. *Prepare 3 mini spring form pans by wrapping the outside of the pans in foil first. Make sure the bottom and sides of the pan are covered with foil so that the water bath does not sneak into your spring form pan. Fill the spring form pans evenly with cheesecake filling. Place mini cheesecakes in the larger pan with about an inch of water in the pan, aka your water bath. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Check cheesecakes after 45 minutes, depending on how the cheesecake it setting up, it may need an additional 15 minutes or so. When the cheesecakes are set, remove them from the water bath and leave alone to cool on a wire rack for about 2 hours. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight in the pan. When ready to serve, remove spring form pans and enjoy! 
*Note: This recipe will fill about 3 of the 4-inch mini pans. If you double the recipe it will fit into the one 9-inch spring form pan. 

That's it-- just these 6 simple ingredients to make amazing cheesecake.
I could eat this filling by the spoonful, that is when you know the finished cheesecake is going to rock. 
Cheesecakes in water bath ready for the oven.
Oops, a crack, but don't worry, it still tasted great!
New York Style Cheesecake

Be sure to visit Tea and Scones for other great recipes and for all the fun that Margaret has with her many cooking clubs! I don't know how she does it, but she does an amazing job. My runner-up choices to try out... Tex-Mex Tortilla Soup, Graham Cracker Pralines, and of course, some Scones

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

French Toast Sugar Cookies

Yummy note: It is a Snow Day! Actually more of a cold weather day for my daughter's school. The phrase every kid wants to hear when it is so cold and yucky outside and all you want to do is stay inside.  And have hot chocolate and cookies (well, that is according to my 7 year old daughter :). So in order to make the snow day complete, we HAD to make some cookies! What a perfect time to use my Secret Recipe Club monthly pick from White Lights on Wednesday. We were looking to make a new type of cookie, so we searched around  and found French toast sugar cookies. This was the top pick with the kids, while her adorable Elmo sugar cookies came in a close second with them. However, we didn't have an Elmo cookie cutter, so they decided no and regular sugar cookies didn't sound as interesting to them. But a breakfast-like cookie with maple syrup in them? Yes, please! Did I mention that Julie from White Lights on Wednesday did an awesome 12 days of Christmas cookies series? Oh, so that is why I think cookies were on the brain for this month :) as I kept seeing one delicious cookie after another. However, I did manage to try out another recipe that was fantastic, so if cookies aren't your cup of tea, try her Garlic Parmesan Monkey Bread

French Toast Sugar Cookies 

1/2 cup butter* - room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
* Instead of butter, we used Earth Balance Sweet Cinnamon Organic Culinary Spread; which was an awesome replacement as it added an extra cinnamon flavor in our cookies! 

1 pound powdered sugar
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 to 2 tsp of milk or water
cinnamon/sugar for garnish

Cream together butter and sugar. Next, add egg and vanilla and mix until combined well. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and milk while adding it into the first mixture. Note to begin and end with the flour mixture. Once cookie dough is well mixed, chill the dough for about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Then roll out the cookie dough about 1/4" thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out cookies in a square or rectangular shape and place on a prepared (parchment paper lined) baking sheet. Bake cookies for about 9 minutes, depending on the cookie size. Move cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely before putting on the frosting. Julie's original frosting recipe was butter based and it made a thicker spreadable frosting, but we were looking to make more of an icing instead without using butter. So we modified the frosting recipe to just mix together the powdered sugar in a large bowl with the maple syrup and vanilla. Then you add milk or water a little bit at a time, mixing well, until the frosting reaches a desired consistency. Frost cookies and sprinkle with a little cinnamon/sugar. These cookies stay nice and soft for days, they really were wonderful. Shh, don't tell but the kids and I even had one for a breakfast snack the one day since they were so delicious and tasted just like a cinnamon-sugary french toast.  
Our  secret ingredient - Earth Balance Sweet Cinnamon Organic Culinary Spread.
My kitchen help :)
A special add-in: If you can find these cinnamon chips, add about a 1/4 cup of them into the dough, they were a fantastic addition and an added pop of cinnamon flavor!  
Roll chilled dough out to about 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface. 

Cut cookies to square or rectangular shapes. 
Nice puffy cookies - make for a light, flaky delicious cookie!
A nice big pile of french toast sugar cookies. The kids thought they kind of looked like homemade poptarts! 

 You must try this from White Lights on Wednesday, too--
Garlic Parmesan Monkey Bread!

Don't forget and take a look at the fun all of the other Secret Recipe Club Members are having!
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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pinterest 1 hour cinnamon rolls

Yummy note: Oh boy, I thought this was going to be one of "those" Pinterest recipes that might not work how I hoped.. and well it has had some good and bad reviews by some comments on other blogs, but it appears to work more than not.. so I wanted to try and figure out why it failed for some and not others.  I found this recipe right before the holiday season and decided to try it out and make some cinnamon rolls for my neighbors this year instead of all of the holiday sweet treats. Wow, it was a great, the original huge batch made enough for everybody in the neighborhood! The other thing that appealed to me was the "1 hour" claim, which really is more like a little more than hour, as interruptions happen. So I got rave reviews from the friends about these rolls, they are amazing the first day and they still tasted great even a few days after with a little rewarming in the microwave. I made them again for the holidays back home, but instead made them into wreaths. I have a picture below to share :) My mother-in-law informed me that her mom used to make these cinnamon roll-like wreaths when they were younger, so this was pretty cool to try with her and kinda brought back some great holiday tradition stories to share. So then I shared out this link for the others to try, my family tried using this original recipe, but cut in half, and had a few issues with it, so I went back to the drawing board to take a look at what might have gone wrong. In the few times, I made it, I think my success with these rolls had to do with these 3 things- yeast, water temperature, and kneading, so I added a few more notes at the bottom to reference these tips. 

Pinterest 1 hour cinnamon rolls
Adapted from and

14 tablespoons warm water (I used about 110-115 degree water)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
4 1/2 teaspoons SAF Yeast 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
1 egg 
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of flour (You may need to add in a few more tablespoons of flour while kneading the dough if it appears too sticky.) 

1/4 cup butter, melted (I used a non-dairy spread here to make the cinnamon rolls dairy-free) 
1/2 cup sugar (I've used white sugar and brown sugar before. Brown sugar gives you a bit more caramel-like flavor.) 
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon 
*optional could add in some chopped cinnamon chips, nuts, or raisins if desired  

2-3 cups powdered sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
2-3 tablespoons milk (I used a non-dairy vanilla flavored coffee creamer here.) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the sugar and yeast together. Next add warm (110-115 degree) water and oil. Mix it together just for a few seconds, until the yeast is incorporated. Let it sit for 15 minutes, you will notice the yeast mixture will start to get activated and foamy. During this process, I just set my bowl on top of the oven to absorb some of the extra heat that the oven was giving off. After 15 minutes rest, add in the salt, egg, and flour. Mix it all together and knead the dough for about 10 minutes. If the dough feels too sticky or wet (basically too hard to handle while kneading), add in a few teaspoons of extra flour. After kneading for 10 minutes, let the dough stand for 10 minutes. Again, I just let it sit on top of my stove while I was preparing my filling. For the cinnamon filling, mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and melt butter in a separate bowl. Next, put a little bit of oil on a silicon mat or parchment paper and roll/pat out the dough into a rectangle. My dough fit into about a large cookie sheet so it was easy to contain the mess while rolling it out. Pour and brush the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mixture out evenly. Then roll up the cinnamon roll to make a long "snake" as my kids would call it. :) Cut into even pieces, about an inch or so wide, you should get roughly about 12 rolls. Place rolls on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Let the rolls rise one last time for another 10-15 minutes. Then bake for about 10 minutes or so, until lightly brown. Let the rolls cool. Prepare icing by mixing the powdered sugar with the vanilla and milk. Whisk together until it is smooth and you have reached the desired consistency for the icing. If it appears too thin, add in more powdered sugar, if it looks too thick, add in a bit more water or milk. Once rolls are cool enough to touch, drizzle with icing. 

Extra Yummy Notes: 
I have only used two different yeast brands, both were SAF yeast, basically an active dry instant yeast. This SAF yeast  you can buy online from like King Arthur Flour product line or I bought mine at a kitchen specialty store. OR some that I got at a local grocery store was the Red Star SAF Gourmet Perfect Rise Yeast. Please comment or share if you have luck or no luck with other brands of yeast, as I love to get that information to help others.  

Water temperature is also important I think, as most yeast packets will say what the best temperature is for activating it. With this recipe, I don't exactly know what "warm water" met with the original recipe, so I put my digital meat thermometer into the water and checked the temperature before I mixed it into the yeast, I went with about 110-115 degree water for my yeast. The other thing is to make sure you mix the dough for the whole 10 minutes. Seriously, I got a good workout practically when I've made these rolls by hand. I like to get my hands on the dough though, I think it is therapeutic for me as I do enjoy it. :)  So I kneaded the dough by hand for 10 minutes. Two of the times, I used a hand mixer with a dough hook, but I had some issues with the dough sticking to the hook a bit, so I then just used a wooden spoon to finish the rest and kneaded it by hand.  I really don't think it gets as incorporated and activated as well when using a hand mixer, unless you have a heavy duty mixer. Which the one time I used my big KitchenAid it ended up working pretty good. The times I used a mixer, my dough appeared to be a little more wet or shaggy-looking, which made it a little harder to cut the cinnamon rolls towards the end.  

One other thing I did with this recipe, was I modified the original down to make about one pan of 12 rolls and not a few dozen. Also, I made it a few times dairy-free, using butter and milk alternatives, which is super easy! Earth Balance Spread and their Sweet Cinnamon "butter" spread worked great as a substitute for butter here. Also, I used a dairy-free creamer in the frosting instead of milk to accommodate. 

Captured a few cinnamon roll making steps along the way.  
Rolls - 1- before first rise --   2 - after rise before going into oven and
-- 3 - size when baked

Holiday Cinnamon Roll Wreath

The 2 different brands of yeast I've used in the past yielding good results. 

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Yummy note:  In this deep freeze weather we've been having, it made me think of ice cream...haha. I know, how can one think of ice cream with this nasty cold weather. However, ice cream is always on my mind. My kids and I could eat it every day. So of course, this summer it was no surprise for my daughter's birthday, she really wanted ice cream treats to take to her party at the park. I said no...I could just picture it.. a hot day, the cooler not keeping ice cream cold at the park and one big hot mess! Oh, and then my daughter and her friends covered in ice cream at the park. Didn't sound pleasant. So I quickly diverted her to another suggestion- "how about ice cream cone cupcakes!" - Thankfully the idea was sold quickly and she loved it since it looked like ice cream but was actually a fun cupcake! Plus, her and her friends could actually participate by putting the frosting on and decorating their own ice cream cone cupcake. For transportation purposes, the ice cream cone cupcakes when plain, are so much easier to package than already decorated. If you do plan to transport them already decorated, there are some fantastic ideas you can get from a Google search. So if you think it is a little too cold outside for an ice cream treat, perhaps this nice baked ice cream cone cupcake is a good alternative! 

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes
Source: I first remember these growing up from my grandma and my mom. I believe they got it from like the back of a cake mix box, perhaps it was Betty Crocker.  

1 box of any flavored cake mix and the oil, eggs, and water as directed on cake mix box
24 flat cake cones (flat bottom cones) 
1 - 2 cans of already prepared frosting or your favorite frosting recipe 
sprinkles or other candy for decorations

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake pans by placing cupcake paper liners in the pan. Prepare cake mix according to the directions on the box or to your cake recipe. Pour cake batter evenly into the cupcake liners. Make sure it is about 2/3 of the way full and then place an empty ice cream cone down into the batter. Make sure they are pushed down into the cake batter well so they don't pop over during the baking process. They will move some when baking, so just try to do your best by making the ice cream cone level. Bake about 15-20 minutes until cupcakes appear to be done, testing with a toothpick. Remove cupcakes from the pan and cool completely before decorating them. 

Birthday Girl Alicia loves her "mint chocolate chip" ice cream inspired cupcakes! 
Make sure ice cream cone cups are pushed down over the cupcake batter evenly. 
A peek at them while they are baking. Some might tip or fall over during baking, if that happens, just try and fix it by pushing it back up gently. 
Cone cupcakes appear to be done! Ready for transport so the girls can decorate. 
Get ready for the frosting! 
Have fun decorating and mixing and matching flavors! The possibilities are endless! Strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip, rainbow sherbet, etc...
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