Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dark Chocolate, Almond & Toffee Clusters

Dark Chocolate, Almond & Toffee Clusters
Often, when I make English toffee, I end up with extra melted chocolate, extra bits of broken toffee, and extra almonds. I like to mix them all together and make these little nuggets of goodness. The ones you see here were not made from leftovers, but were made intentionally: intentionally made toffee with extra small bits of almond and Dove Dark Chocolate Promises unwrapped specifically for this purpose. These taste just as delicious when you use milk chocolate, but I decided to mix things up a bit with the dark. 
The beautiful thing about these is that when you bite into one, you taste all three of the ingredients on their own: first the smooth dark chocolate, and then the buttery crunchy toffee, and then the hearty toasted almonds. Mmmm... They are much like Symphony bars, except with dark chocolate and more toffee and almonds.
It would probably be best to just make these around Christmastime so I can give them all away and not risk eating too many on my own. These you see here, along with all of their buddies, are heading to Florida tomorrow for my brother's Air Force retirement festivities. I should probably go get him a card too, or something.
Enough said. I don't know how to finish this post after that statement. Have fun, and enjoy!

Dark Chocolate, Almond & Toffee Clusters

  • 1 bag Dove Milk or Dark Chocolate Promises, unwrapped (9.5 ounces), melted & tempered
  • 1 cup almond toffee bits (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted almonds, roughly chopped (if you're making your own toffee, you'll need 2 cups total)
  • If your almonds are not yet roasted, spread them evenly on cooke sheet and roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted when you cut into one. Set almonds aside to cool. 
  • If you are making your toffee bits, follow the recipe below.  Feel free to use Heath toffee bits, though.
  • Roughly chop almonds--I usually cut each into half or thirds. Yes, I actually do cut only one or two at a time for this, but I'm a little nuts (pun possibly intended).
  • Stir chopped nuts and toffee into melted & tempered chocolate until thoroughly coated. Drop teaspoon sized blobs onto parchment or wax paper lined cookie sheet, making sure they don't touch.
  • Allow to set in a cool, dry place until chocolate is no longer tacky to the touch. If you've tempered your chocolate right, it should take about two hours for the chocolate to firm up at a reasonable room temperature (72 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • Then, remove from parchment/wax paper and store in a zip-top bag or other airtight container.
  • Gee, I don't know how much this makes, but it's a LOT. Enough to fill up a 13"x18" half sheet pan with less than 1/4 inch between blobs.
Clusters waiting to firm up

Yummy toffee bits

English Toffee
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped almonds or macadamia nuts (roasted unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds (roasted, unsalted)
  • 1/4 cup packed C & H Light Brown Sugar 
  • 1/2 cup C & H White Sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter

1. Line a square Pyrex pan (8X8) with parchment paper or non-stick foil. 
2. In a heavy saucepan heat butter and sugar to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat until it reaches 300° on a candy thermometer. At that point immediately stir in the half cup of chopped almonds. Pour into prepared pan and evenly spread with a silicone (not rubber) spatula. Allow to cool completely.
3. Break toffee up into big chunks with your hands and then on a clean cutting board, chop into smaller bits. Be sure to taste some to see if it's good.

Makes almost 2 cups of toffee bits. Use the extra to make some toffee chocolate chip cookies or use as an ice cream topping. They'll keep in a zip top bag for a few weeks as long as you keep them in a cool, dry place.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chili Baked Potatoes

Chili Baked Potato

So, this is one of those meals that seems easy to me, but even I don't think about making it very often. My husband requested "chili size" tonight, so he got a hamburger with chili all over it, and I had a baked potato with cheese and chili all over it. The kids had other variations of the same. I love this because I always have leftovers, and it's something I can look forward to eating for lunch at work the next day. Usually I burn my tongue, but it's worth it. It's kind of like eating chili cheese fries, without the frying.
You can add whatever other toppings to this that you like. The sour cream in the picture was scraped off right after I took the picture because I'm not a fan of sour cream on my food. In my food is one thing, but on my food is quite another. I can't explain it; I just accept it because it saves a few calories in an already fattening dinner.
You can use your favorite chili recipe for this, which might even involve opening a can. I like to use Williams Original Chili Mix because it calls for two pounds of ground beef, it has no added salt, and it tastes really, really good. I add 3-4 tablespoons of masa (corn) flour as well, to add some body to the chili. You can use wheat flour as well, but the corn flour just seems to go better with chili in my opinion. I use the one can of diced tomato option and I add a can of water and two beef bullion cubes for the salt. 

Chili Baked Potatoes


  • 6 medium (4 1/2 to 5 inch) potatoes, any kind work
  • 6 cups of prepared chili 
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • butter, if desired
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • sour cream, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  
Scrub and rinse potatoes. Pierce each potato 6-8 times, and trim off flawed spots and eyes. You have two options at this point. First, bake potatoes at 400 degrees for about an hour, until they give when squeezed with an oven-mitted hand. Second option is to place potatoes on a microwavable dish and microwave for 5 minutes before baking for about 30 minutes or until they give when squeezed with an oven-mitted hand.
While potatoes bake, prepare chili and make sure it's hot.
When potatoes are done, carefully squeeze to break up potato's interior. Cut in half and place open faced on serving plate. Spread a tablespoon or so of butter on potato, put about 1/4 cup or more cheddar cheese all over the surface of the potato. Spoon 3/4 to 1 cup of hot chili over the cheese and top with green onions and sour cream, if desired. 
Serve with fork and knife because you'll want to eat the WHOLE thing.
Makes about 6 servings. 
I should have made a few more small potatoes.
Here I have two russet potatoes and four golden potatoes. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Brisket: A Versatile Roast

Roast Brisket. Not very attractive right now, but delicious nonetheless.
Basic Brisket to serve with potatoes 
Brisket BBQ Sandwich
Taquitos & Flautas
Teriyaki Brisket (aka Meat Candy)

I've gotten to the point in this blogging thing that I need to put out there some of the ordinary, everyday foods that I cook, that although I enjoy them, aren't all that special to look at. For Fathers Day yesterday, my husband requested shredded bbq beef sandwiches. I thought about making Food Network's Oven Roasted Brisket, but then if I had leftovers I would have to stick with that flavor profile. With only four of us eating a whole brisket, I figured we'd have plenty of leftovers. So, I went my mom's old school route of roasting the brisket seasoned simply with a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix. (I let my son Max eat a bite of this just out of the oven and he savored it with his eyes closed and two thumbs up.)
Usually, the first round meal with this method/seasoning involves mashed potatoes. I mix the pan drippings (skimmed of excess fat) with a can of cream of chicken soup and enough water to thin it to a nice gravy. The onion soup mix & roast drippings mixed with the cream of chicken soup make a very salty, very flavorful gravy. Mmmm...my mouth is watering right now.
After round one, I will usually do either a bbq beef sandwich (one of my husband's favorites), taquitos & flautas, enchiladas, or teriyaki brisket. The idea for the teriyaki brisket comes from some friends' wedding reception. It was one of several choices, and boy, were Eddie and I glad we selected that one. It was simply shredded brisket mixed in a liberal amount of teriyaki sauce (Mr. Yoshida's most likely) and served with steamed white rice. The shredded meat soaked up the teriyaki sauce like a sponge. Oh my goodness, it was like meat candy. Yes, meat candy. And we LOVED it. 
The basic brisket takes a lot of time, but not a lot of effort. I suggest purchasing about a 4-5 pound piece of trimmed brisket because you get more meat per pound. A whole brisket is just too fatty, as far as I'm concerned; and this is coming from a woman who is relatively comfortable with a high portion fat in her diet.

Basic Roast Brisket

4-5 pound trimmed beef brisket
1 packet dry onion soup mix

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of soup mix on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place brisket in pan and sprinkle with remaining soup mix.
Cover tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil.
Roast at 325 degrees for 4-5 hours, or until meat is tender and shreds very easily with a fork.
Remove from oven and choose one or more of the following options for round one and for leftovers.

Option 1: Meat and Potatoes
Remove fat layer, if desired. Pour pan drippings into a heavy medium saucepan and turn heat to medium. Add a can of condensed cream of chicken soup and whisk until smooth. If the gravy is too thick, add 1/4 of water at a time and whisk to thin it out. Slice meat into 1 to 1 1/2 inch slices and serve immediately with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Option 2: BBQ Beef Sandwiches
Allow to cool for 30-60 minutes, slice into 1 to 1 1/2 inch slices, shred, and mix with about a cup of your favorite bbq sauce in a heavy saucepan. Add more bbq sauce if it seems dry. Heat through over low heat, stirring to break up and shred meat. Serve 1/2 cup portions on buns.

Option 3: Taquitos & Flautas. (Click on the words to go to that post.)

Option 4: Teryiyaki Brisket
Allow to cool for 30-60 minutes, slice into 1 to 1 1/2 inch slices, shred, and mix with about a cup of your favorite teriyaki sauce in a heavy saucepan. Add more teriyaki sauce if it seems too dry. Heat through over low heat, stirring to break up and shred meat. Serve with fresh steamed white rice.

Option 5:
Find a good enchilada recipe and use the meat for that. (Sorry, I don't have an enchilada recipe posted yet.)

I'm sure there are several other options, but these are the ones I use most frequently and that I find most delicious.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Key Lime Cheesecake

Key Lime Cheesecake

When tossing around ideas on what to take to our friends' house for dinner this weekend, my husband suggested key lime cheesecake. So, I googled some pictures and found one that looked good. I landed on cheesecakefactorymenu.com. Just from the look of things, the sight seems to be unofficial, so although I got the recipe from this site, I don't think it's an actual Cheesecake Factory recipe.
The original recipe made a large cheesecake, which would have been too much, so I adjusted amounts and made a 7-inch cheesecake. After adjusting, the recipe only called for 3 tablespoons of lime juice, and that just didn't sound like enough to give something like this much lime flavor or kick. So after making it with the 3 tablespoons of key lime juice, I thought a nice thin limey glaze on top would help, just in case. So I found a recipe for a lemon glaze on Creative Culinary, and substituted key lime juice for the lemon juice.
The cheesecake tastes perfect. It's creamy, but not wet; tart, but not sour. It's a good key lime cheesecake, if that's what you're into. Me, I usually like chocolatey or caramely cheesecakes best, but I was able to eat a healthy slice of this and enjoy it. 
The interesting thing to me about this cheesecake, is how beautifully shaped it is. I'm wondering if it's the 3 tablespoons of flour, along with the water bath, that allowed it to rise and stay as high as it did. I love that it didn't get that high outside ridge with the sunken middle, and it's so tall. I will have to try the flour in other recipes to see if I get similar results.
Note: cheesecakefactorymenu.com is no longer a working site, so I guess I'll have to be glad I got their recipe before they stopped doing what they do. 

Key Lime Cheesecake 
  --adapted from cheesecakefactorymenu.com

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs

  • 1/3 cup butter, melted

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks (20 oz. total) cream cheese at room temperature

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream at room temperature

  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons key lime juice (6 tablespoons if using regular lime juice)
Glaze (adapted from Creative Culinary)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons key lime/lime juice
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (or make stabilized whipped cream)
  • Sliced key limes/limes
Mix graham crackers, melted butter, and sugar in a medium bowl or plastic bag. Pour into a 7-inch spring form pan that's been coated with non-stick cooking spray. Carefully spread crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and press firmly all over.

Put a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil on the bottom and up the sides of the spring from pan as a protective barrier to keep the water from getting into the cheesecake. I also like to put my pan into an oven-proof plastic turkey bag (top open) and then put it in the water bath, just to ensure I don't get a soggy cheesecake.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a large shallow pan filled with 1 inch of water into the oven to create the water bath. 

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a standing mixer), beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in the sugar, sour cream, flour, and vanilla until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and lime juice and continue to beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. 

Pour the cheesecake filling into the spring form pan. Place the pan into the water bath in the oven. After 8 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes, or until filling is puffed, set, and light brown. Remove from oven and from the water bath, and allow to cool on a wire rack. Once cooled to room temperature, take the foil off, put a paper towel over the pan, and then cover with the foil (you can use a new piece of foil, but reusing is just as good).  Refrigerate overnight.

For the glaze, combine the sugar, cornstarch, water, and lime juice in a small pan. Mix until smooth. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook for 3 minutes. Cool/chill until cool, but not set. 

Pour cooled glaze into the center and spread evenly with an offset or rubber spatula. Refrigerate until glaze is cold and firm. Run a clean, thin knife around the edge of the pan, and then remove the collar of the springform pan. 

Pipe whipped cream around the top of the cheesecake, if desired. Garnish with lime slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 8 servings

Paper umbrellas under plastic wrap keep whipped cream pretty.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Oatmeal Caramel Bars

Oatmeal Caramel Bars

Okay, so here's my crazy train of thought on these Oatmeal Caramel Bars. First of all, I volunteered to bring a dessert (2 doz.) to Summer Library Night at my school. My first thought was to make simple chocolate chip cookies to use up the huge bag of Nestle chocolate chips I have. No, wait! Brownies. No, a pan of brownies and a batch of chocolate chip cookies. No, wait! I'm on summer vacation--I should make some cute rainbow cupcakes. Funfetti cupcakes. No, rainbow cupcakes. MINI RAINBOW CUPCAKES! Just buy some Oreos. Reread the email from the teacher in charge: cookies and bars are best. Dang. Wait! Do your own thing. Tonia's not the boss of you. Well, I'd have to go to the store for cake mix anyway. Brownies again. Wait. Pan of brownies and a pan of oatmeal bars. I have those caramel bits I need to use. I could mix those in. Look up recipe for oatmeal bars. Haven't I seen oatmeal bars with caramel or something? Google "oatmeal caramel bars." Find recipe on allrecipes.com that looks good. Unwrapped caramels? Oh! I have those caramel bits! Oh, but I used some for the banana oatmeal cookies the other day, and I don't think there will be enough. I think I have enough cream to make my own caramel. If I use my own caramel, then I can't use regular chocolate chips. I'll use Dove milk chocolate. No, dark. I need to save my milk chocolate for the English toffee I'll be taking to Florida for my brother. Dang, apparently 240 degrees is too high for the caramel. I need to add a little heavy cream. Dang it! I used my last cup of heavy cream for the caramel! Go to the store, get cream, smooth out caramel, proceed with the recipe.
I am so thankful for summer vacation that gives me the mental and physical space and time to do this.
These bars are pretty darned rich, so I suggest cutting them relatively small. I cut mine to make 40 bars from a 9x13 inch pan, and I think that's a good size. I also noticed that there's a lot of butter residue on the parchment, so next time I make these, I might consider reducing the butter to just one cup. I enjoyed the bar I ate, but it was a corner piece.  The middle pieces look pretty gooey, so if you like sweet and gooey, this will probably be right up your alley. I'll add more info. if I get any noteworthy responses when I take them to school tonight.
By the way, I didn't make any brownies.

Oatmeal Caramel Bars
  --adapted from allrecipes.com
  • 32 individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped OR homemade caramel (recipe below)
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream (omit this if you're making homemade caramel)
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats (quick or old fashioned, or a mixture)
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or 14 Dove Dark Chocolate Promises, chopped)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt together the caramels and heavy cream, stirring occasionally until smooth (or make homemade caramel using the recipe below).
Line a 9x13 inch pan with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir in the melted butter until well blended. 
Press a little more than half of the mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan. Reserve the rest.
Bake the crust for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove and sprinkle with chocolate. Pour the caramel mixture over the top and then crumble the remaining crust mixture over everything.
Return to the oven and bake for an additional 20-22 minutes, or until the top is lightly toasted. 
Allow to cool completely. Pull the entire thing out of the pan using the edges of the foil/parchment.
Cut into squares with a sharp knife or pizza cutter.



  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a large heavy saucepan, combine cream, corn syrup, sugar, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Once it's boiling, clip on the candy thermometer and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 230 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Remove pan from heat, carefully add vanilla extract and stir. Pour into a heat-proof bowl and set aside while you prepare the bars.
Note: If you decide to use this homemade caramel, you're likely to end up with a little extra caramel to eat on the side.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tortilla Chips--Fried at Home

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Well, it's about time I post this simple yet delicious recipe. Tonight I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner and I forgot to pick up some tortilla chips for our Mexican meal. I remembered the corn tortillas for the tacos, though, so I figured, "Well, I guess I'll have to fry up some of my own." It's a super simple recipe; so simple that I hesitate to even call it a recipe. If you've never had homemade tortilla chips, though, and you don't mind frying, you ought to give these a try. They're nothing like Tostitos, and because they're made with actual tortillas, they taste authentically Mexican. Plus, if you're on a low-sodium diet like I should be, these are a great way to go for a Mexican dinner side dish. They're also a good way to use up older (but not disgustingly old) corn tortillas. They go great with guacamole, salsa, chile colorado burritos, or just by themselves.

Tortilla Chips

  • 12 corn tortillas (or more)
  • 1 inch of canola oil in a large frying pan
  • salt to taste
  • the large frying pan mentioned above
  • 2 tongs 
  • paper towels
  • cookie sheet
  • wire rack to fit in cookie sheet, or just over it
  • a large sharp knife 
Place the wire rack in/on the cookie sheet. Place a double layer of paper towels on top of that.
Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat.  You can either check the temp with a thermometer (ready at 375 degrees) or put in a little piece of tortilla when you think it's ready. Be careful to not let the oil get TOO hot.
While oil heats, cut tortillas into eighths, like you'd cut a pizza.  
When oil is hot, fry enough chips to cover the oil with a little overlap, turning a time or two until both sides are a deep golden brown. Remove fried chips to prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle immediately with salt. Repeat with remaining tortilla wedges.
If you have any left over, seal in an airtight container for up to a week, I suppose.
Makes a lot of chips.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicken Soft Tacos & Quesadillas

Chicken Soft Taco on a homemade flour tortilla
Chicken Quesadilla
Here'a another dish, like chicken nachos, that I make regularly, but have never written the recipe for. Now I have. My husband really enjoys chicken quesadillas, but I just don't. I'm not sure why, but whenever he tells me that chicken quesadillas sound good for dinner, my heart sinks a little. So, I usually make chicken nachos or a chicken burrito instead. I know, I know, what's the difference really? I think I just like to reserve that much cheese for pizza. I can't explain it. Maybe it's me being oppositional. At any rate, that's why you get two recipes in one here. 
This chicken can also be prepared in the crock pot by placing frozen chicken breasts in the crock pot with salsa and a little salt. Cook on low 6-8 hours, shred chicken, and you have nice juicy chicken for tacos, burritos, or quesadillas. My son Max and I really don't fully enjoy the flavor of the chicken when it's prepared that way. I can't put my finger on that one either, but it just has a different flavor. At least it's an option for those who aren't so picky, though.
Usually, I serve these things with Mexican rice and beans, but tonight, we used leftover rice, tortilla chips, and watermelon as our sides. None of those seemed worth photographing, so the tacos and quesadillas are the stars. I'm not going to try to get these onto foodgawker.com or anything; you get the idea.

Chicken Soft Tacos & Quesadillas


  • 1 pound chicken breast, cut into chunks, or about 6-8 chicken tenders
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup salsa (I like Herdez medium)
  • salt to taste
Over medium heat, bring chicken and salsa to a simmer and cook until tender and shreds easily (about 30  minutes).  If you're using the chicken tenders, when chicken is cooked, remove the tendon at the fat end with tongs or a knife and fork.
Sprinkle chicken with a little salt and set aside.  

  • 5 large flour tortillas 
  • 2 1/2 cups (approx.) shredded cheese (pepper jack, jack, cheddar, or some mixture of those)
  • salsa, sour cream, guacamole, or other preferred condiments
Preheat oven to about 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Put in a large tortilla. Immediately place about half a cup of cheese on half of the tortilla and fold over to make a half circle. If space allows, put in another tortilla and do the same. Cook on one side for about 1 minute; then turn over with a spatula. Cook one more minute. With the spatula or tongs, carefully open up the tortilla to expose melty cheese.  Place about 1/4 cup of the shredded chicken evenly over one side; then close again. Turn over to heat again on other side. Repeat with other quesadilla. When tortilla is lightly browned on both sides and cheese is completely melted, remove to a cutting board and cut into wedges with a pizza cutter or large knife. Place on an oven-proof plate and place in the warm oven to wait. Repeat with remaining ingredients. 
Serve warm with desired condiments.
Makes 5 large quesadillas; serves about 4.

Soft Tacos:
Place a clean kitchen towel on a plate so that you can fold it over the warmed tortillas when they're hot. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Heat one or two tortillas at a time, about 30 seconds on each side. When hot carefully move to the towel-lined plate, cover with the towel and another inverted plate. When all tortillas are warmed, you can assemble tacos with about 1/4 cup chicken and desired condiments.
Makes 10 soft tacos.

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