Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Round-up

Here it is, three days post-Christmas, and the blues are beginning to set in. The packages have all been given and unwrapped, the food has been eaten (well, actually, it continues to be eaten), and the countdown to the New Year has begun.

I thought I'd do a bit of a holiday round-up of the feasting that has gone on the past week before bravely heading into 2010 with the obligatory "I'm going to eat better and exercise more" resolution (come on, you have it too).

A couple of weeks ago, I made a sweet, festive cranberry upside down cake and served it on my adorable green cake stand, which I only get to use about once or twice a year.

The recipe was from Cooking Light, and the presentation of it was absolutely divine; if you are ever in need of an impressive holiday dessert, this is a winner. The crumbly yellow cake is topped with fresh, tart cranberries dancing with syrupy brown sugar and butter.

Christmas Eve dinner at my parents' house means good old lasagna. We have a Stouffer's lasagna every year, which has been cooking in the oven as we're sitting in church. By the time we walk in the door, the house smells of the goodness of cheese, meat, tomato sauce and more cheese.

Christmas Day brings tender prime rib coated with a crust of olive oil, salt and pepper: the staples. We marry the meat with assorted sides (mostly of the carbohydrate variety mind you), so that by the time we're finished eating, everyone but the dogs is basically in a food-induced coma. I love Christmas.

We can't forget the wine.

Then, there are the pies... This year, mom made two sinfully delicious pumpkin spice pies that were topped with gingersnap cookies and a crunchy cinnamon-pecan streusel married with a creamy ginger-cinnamon whipped cream. Seriously. Yum.

After we finish our dinner, every year, we head to our dear friends' home for more yummy food and drink. And, every year, there is a homemade Italian cream cake that is almost too pretty to eat. The layers of moist cake are topped with icing that's as light and fluffy as a cloud and peppered with sweet coconut flakes and finally sprinkled with a dusting of green and red Christmas magic.

Now, as I sit here typing, with my pants a bit tighter than a couple weeks ago, I say a warm "hello" to the grilled chicken and lettuce that is most certainly in the near future.

Farewell to Christmas 2009.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Night Pizza

It may sound crazy, but one of my favorite things about being single is the fact that on a whim, I can have a cozy Saturday night at home where I cook up some yummy food, pour a glass of wine and rent a movie (or watch some good girly TV). Tonight is one of these nights.

After having finished up my Christmas shopping this afternoon (and being several pennies poorer for it), I challenged myself to come up with a quick, easy dinner recipe made from ingredients I already have in the house. I whipped up what I like to call, appropriately, Saturday Night Pizza (aka any kind of pizza you want with whatever toppings you like).

It might seem silly, but I had a bit of apprehension about putting the ingredients together: a few pieces of Canadian bacon, a whole wheat Boboli pizza crust, some shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, an onion and fresh rosemary. Oh, and of course, a nice glass of wine.

To make things easy, I used my favorite pizza sauce, Dei Fratelli. If you try it once, you will never, ever buy jarred pizza sauce again or slave over your own. It comes in a can, and has the freshest tomato taste mixed with sweet garlic and herbs.

I added a little Canadian bacon and fresh rosemary (let's be honest, rosemary makes everything better).

Next, caramelized onions. I'm slightly obsessed at the moment with caramelized onions. Why? Who knows. The mere fact that a savory onion with a bite to the tongue can slowly cook in a bit of olive oil and butter, bringing out its sweet, sugary flavors amazes me. The texture and taste totally change.

Top it with the cheeses, and pop it into the oven. In 15 minutes, my house smelled delicious and my mouth was watering.

The final product: ooey, gooey, cheesy, savory, sweet goodness on a plate. On TV, a little holiday chic flick.

I love Saturday nights.

Saturday Night Pizza


1 small onion, sliced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 package of your favorite pizza crust (such as Boboli)
1 Cup prepared pizza sauce (I use Dei Fratelli)
1 ½ Cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 Cup of shredded parmesan romano cheese
2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, chopped
4 slices of Canadian bacon, cut into small squares


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat oil and butter in small skillet on medium heat; add onion and cook slowly on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until onions are caramelized.

Place pizza crust on baking stone or cookie sheet; spread pizza sauce on crust.

Add Canadian bacon, rosemary and caramelized onions; top with cheeses.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is golden brown and bubbly.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sugary Loot

This is the best part of a cookie exchange: coming home with a plate (or two) of cookies that will make all your holiday guests think you've been baking for months in preparation for their arrival.

Check out my sugary loot...

I came home with two plates full of all these cookies. Yes, I did.

If you've never been to a cookie exchange, it works like this: everyone brings a few dozen cookies and guests circle the table filling their plates with goodies from everyone's platters until all the cookies are gone.

Then, you bring the cookies home and serve them throughout the season! (If you're like me and can't keep you fingers out of the cookie jar, you can freeze them and pull them out a few hours before serving.)

This little get-together has become a holiday tradition...if you got these kind of goodies (for FREE), wouldn't you go back for more?

After the sugary fun is over, I get to hang out with this cutie.

How bad can that be?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wanna Cookie?

One of my very favorite things about the holidays is taking a lazy weekend afternoon, snuggled up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee, and pouring over my cookbooks and foodie magazines choosing cookie recipes to try in the upcoming weeks. Every year, my girlfriend has a cookie exchange that is the driving force behind my delight. There is always a challenge to up my game, yet provide the standards everyone is anticipating.

The decisions are plentiful: Dad's peanut clusters? Mom's sugar cookies? Standby snickerdoodles? Chewy chocolate chip? Try the new recipes I'm drooling over??

I made my list a few weeks ago, but the agony of decision has been haunting me.

"Kristina, be reasonable. You can't actually take seven different kinds of cookies."

Why not?

"Because you only need to take a few dozen cookies, and you would gain 20 lbs. in the process of baking them!"


"I don't care how many recipes are from Cooking Light."

And the winners are: Caramel-pecan bars, Gingersnaps and Mexican chocolate cookies. I wish you could have been in my kitchen last night, smelling the wafts of cinnamon and ginger mixed with the scents of brown sugar, honey and butter melting... Holy cow.

I had never made any kind of caramel-nut bar, but it was really quite simple. Beware: if you are afraid of butter, you should stop reading.

The recipe was from Southern Living, and began with toasting pecans in the oven until the delicious, nutty fragrance hits you like a brick when you open the oven door. For you skeptics, yes, toasting the nuts does make a difference.

Then, you make a shortbread crust with butter (lots of it), flour and powdered sugar. (The foil makes a great liner for the pan and allows you to get the bars out easily. No washing the dish either!)

While that's cooling, you melt brown sugar, butter (lots more of it), honey and a bit of whipping cream until it's rolling in the pan. (Is it weird that I love the gurgling sounds of a rolling boil?)

Mix in the pecans, pour the mixture over the cooled crust, and bake it off until you see golden bubbles. Cool, cut and enjoy.

These are addictive. I'm not kidding.

Next up: gingersnaps. My standby recipe from my treasured Joy of Cooking cookbook. (By the way, if you don't have one, you should. It's filled with all kinds of fantastic kitchen know-how.)

Who doesn't love the smell of gingersnaps fresh from the oven?

Finally, Mexican chocolate cookies, which earned the highest rating available from Cooking Light's Test Kitchen (according to the recipe in the magazine). As of about 30 minutes ago, they earned my highest rating as well. A dash of red and black pepper makes the flavors come to life. You cannot beat the chewy, chocolatey center dusted with powdered sugar like a light snowfall. (Hey, Christmas makes me corny. What can I say?)

The most exciting part of baking these cookies was that I finally got to use my fancy melon ball sized ice cream scoop to make perfect circles of dough! I used to see Barefoot Contessa and other celebrity chefs do this and for some reason, continued to play with the sticky dough in my hands. Not anymore!

Cookie anyone?

Caramel-Pecan Bars


3 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons whipping cream


Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes or until completely cool.

Pulse flour, powdered sugar, and 3/4 cup butter in a food processor 5 to 6 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press crumb mixture evenly on bottom and 3/4 inch up sides of a lightly greased heavy-duty aluminum foil-lined 13- x 9-inch pan.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes or until completely cool.

Bring brown sugar, honey, 2/3 cup butter, and whipping cream to a boil in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in toasted pecans, and spoon hot filling into prepared crust.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack 30 minutes or until completely cool. When completely cool, using the aluminum foil as handles, carefully lift the tart from the pan, and transfer to a serving tray. Cut into squares.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies


5 ounces bittersweet (60 to 70 percent) chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.

Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); stir with a whisk.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg; beat well.

Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended.

Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until almost set. Remove from oven. Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set. Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fungirl Cooks Meets Pioneer Woman

Me: Hi, my name is Kristina, and I am a PW groupie.

Support group: Hi Kristina.

Yes, I am one of "those" people. The ones I previously thought of as disturbed that stand in line for hours to savor 2 seconds of time with a celebrity they adore/stalk. Last night, I met Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman at a local signing of her cookbook here in Atlanta. (In case you aren't familiar, PW has the most amazing blog filled with delicious recipes, beautiful photography and generally entertaining stories about life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch with her cowboy hubby and four kids.)

Now, I have had my share of teenage celebrity crushes (circa NKOTB) and continue to be slightly obsessed with yummies like Jon Bon Jovi (Black leather pants, really? Mmm.) and George Clooney. Never in my life though, have I spent an evening standing in line for someone's signature and a quick shutter click. Until last night.

I must say, there was something quite exhilirating about the frenzy. There were women from Florida and South Carolina that had made girls' trips out of it; there were people like myself that thought it would be cool to just pop over from work; and there were ladies that just wanted an opportunity to chat foodie to foodie (and to find out what Marlboro Man aka PW's cowboy is really like).

PW has quite a following, so it took a bit longer than I expected to actually get to the front of the line, and I'm not sure what I thought would happen (fireworks? spontaneous celebrity by association? instant girlfriend status?), but it was a fun way to spend a Monday evening. Treating myself to a sugar-n-spice latte and piece of chocolate peppermint bread didn't hurt either.

And to think...just a few years ago, she randomly started a blog to entertain herself and keep family and friends updated on her kids. Now she's got sold-out cookbook signings and a mega-popular blog. Definitely makes me think...where can I get one of those cowboys?

Since I read the cookbook (which I highly recommend!) cover to cover while waiting in line, naturally what did I do when I got home at 10:30 p.m.? Grilled chicken, of course!

Seriously, I had a couple boneless, skinless breasts in my favorite marinade and needed to cook them before they were no longer viable. They were deliciously juicy and perfectly done; tender and crispy at once. Too bad the raisin bran I had for dinner didn't taste the same.

After grilling them up on my nonstick grill pan (i.e., panini pan without the panini press), these babies were ready for some red potatoes or a salad. Note: when grilling indoors, always turn on a fan...I'm not sure why I can never learn that lesson until my house smells like chicken for three days.

Tip: if you've not explored your local grocery's marinade section, do so immediately. My favorite marinades are from my local Kroger - this chicken had been getting happy all day in the juices of lemons and herbs o'plenty (mixed in with a shake of no-salt seasonings).

Dinner tonight: grilled chicken atop a bed of baby romaine and spinach topped with feta cheese, dried cranberries and sweet vidalia onion dressing (which I scarfed down too quickly and forgot to snap a'll just have to use your imagination.)

Who says leftovers are boring?

Fantastic Chicken for the Week


2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 bottle of your favorite marinade (I used 30-minute lemon, garlic, herb)
A few shakes of your favorite no-salt seasoning (I use Costco's misc. seasonings, you could use lemon pepper, Montreal Steak, or any other seasoning that floats your boat that day)


Place chicken breasts in a ziploc bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken, add seasonings, seal bag and shake until well coated. Place in the refrigerator for several hours (overnight is best). Grill, broil or bake to your desired doneness. Enjoy the chicken for dinner, lunch, snacks for the rest of the week.

(I like mine over salad for lunch or with roasted potatoes and veggies for dinner; but get crazy! There are no rules!)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oh Pumpkin Bread, Oh Pumpkin Bread!

The past month has been a busy one. It hasn't left me much time for blogging, but I promise to do better. I have been meaning to post this note for a bit now...there is always time for chocolate chip pumpkin bread. This recipe is a favorite of mine and adds a little bit of chocolatey goodness in each bite. I took the bread to our annual company Thanksgiving celebration, and it was gone in a flash.

The recipe is from the December 2004 issue of Cooking Light and has splattered pumpkin and flour all over it, but I pull it out every year. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

2 cups sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla pudding
4 large egg whites
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Showering Baby G

A couple weekends ago, some girlfriends and I showered our friend Kristy, who is expecting her first child in early January.

My girlfriend Shana wrapped the silverware in the cutest blue napkins and tied them with adorable bows. She set them out for guests in this precious wire stork basket!

Now, these girls cook and bake like nobody's business. We had everything from olive and cream cheese filled pecans... chicken salad croissants... strawberry pretzel salad... chocolate covered strawberries and pumpkin bread !

Check out the full spread. Delish!

No shower - baby or wedding - is complete without a proper quiche. I made my favorite smoked turkey sausage and spinach quiche. So easy. So yummy.

A fantastic Cooking Light recipe from the June 2008 issue.

Crustless Smoked Turkey and Spinach Quiche

Cooking spray
3/4 cup (4 ounces) cubed smoked turkey ham or sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese, divided
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 cup evaporated fat-free milk
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add ham, onion, and pepper to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until ham is lightly browned.

3. Sprinkle 1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese in a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Top with ham mixture. (I use a deep dish pie plate.)

4. Combine remaining 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, spinach, and next 5 ingredients (through egg whites) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.

5. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring with a whisk until blended. Pour egg mixture over ham mixture. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center of quiche comes out clean.

This picture just might be my favorite of the day. I caught Shana's daughter sneaking a taste of the dip while her mommy was looking the other way. Priceless.

Had to get a bite for the road...she headed off to Monkey Joe's for a birthday party after this nibble.

I Give Thanks

It's 3:20 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I am sitting at my kitchen table listening to Christmas carols and smelling beef and barley soup simmering on the stove.

The Christmas tree is trimmed, the garland and stockings are hung, and the poinsettias are in full bloom on the hearth. My sweet pup, Max, is lazing around napping from corner to corner in the living room.

For this - and so much more - I give thanks.

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday (with the exception of Halloween - for obvious reasons if you know me; um, it's my birthday!) because it signals the beginning of a season of hope and joy and faith. The days ahead are filled with red and green, twinkle lights, cookie-baking and shopping for that perfect gift to wrap and place under the tree for someone special. But, all must go through the turkey and stuffing first.

My family traditions begin with watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from start to finish - something I've done since I was a little girl. The Radio City Rockettes, the marching bands, the huge balloons and of course, Tom the Turkey!

This is our version of Tom the Turkey at home:

As the parade marches through New York City, the house fills with the smells of a juicy turkey roasting in the oven and permeated by fresh sage, lemons and onions.

While the turkey rests and awaits it's carving, the delicious smells of my mother's stuffing made with celery, onions and autumn herbs come from the oven.

The cheesy, creamy goodness of Grandma's famous cornbake wafts through every room, calling to me like a long-lost sibling. (Ok, that's a bit dramatic, but this stuff is GOOD.)

Cornbake = bliss. No corn bake = no Thanksgiving. Sorry, it's a secret family recipe.

Dad always whips up his mother's cranberry-grape salad that I only recently realized was divine (leftover hangups from my picky-eater childhood precluded me from indulging in years past). Red grapes, pecans, cranberries, Cool Whip; I'm not sure why I don't have this recipe...

This year, instead of my usual streuseled sweet potato casserole, I contributed smoked gouda macaroni and cheese to the menu. We finished the table off with fresh green beans and "smashed" potatoes as my brother used to call them. Oh, and a relish platter of cranberry sauce, sweet pickles and whole black olives (no, I no longer put them on my fingers and eat them like I did as a kid).

And of course, pumpkin pie for dessert.

Man, I need a walk.

The days following this great day of thanks will be hectic, and I know that at times (e.g., when I'm standing in long shopping lines or sitting in holiday traffic) it will be hard to remember the true reason for the Christmas season.

That's when I will channel my Thanksgiving Day memories and remember how grateful I am for my family, my friends, a job, a warm home and food on my table. I have been richly blessed. For that, I give thanks.