Tag Archives: easy

Microwave Chocolate Pecan Toffee

24 Dec

It’s Christmas Eve! For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope you’re ready to enjoy a wonderful day. I have kind of mixed results on my holiday preparedness this year. I had most of my gift shopping done early, but we didn’t decorate our place at all. Once it got close to the holidays and we still hadn’t done anything, the BF and I agreed that it was kind of silly to put a lot of effort into decorations when it’s just the two of us here and we’ll be spending much of our holiday time at our parents’ houses. So instead of going all out, I just put little tiny star ornaments on our bamboo plant. That works, right?

O Christmas Bamboo O Christmas Bamboo...

All I have left to do is bake! Today, I’ll definitely be making a couple apple pies — one for each family’s house — and the apple cinnamon baked oatmeal. After I talk to my brother and sisters, that plan might be slightly expanded. After all, it’s not Christmas without coconut balls.

If you still need something to add to your family’s dessert table or something to take to a holiday party, try this amazing toffee. It’s super easy, so you’ll be able to get it done in between wrapping those last-minute presents and blow-drying your hair.

The only thing better than a delicious candy recipe is an easy delicious candy recipe. I had never made toffee before, and for some reason, I had it in my head that it’s a difficult thing to make. But it wasn’t at all. It was actually super simple. And DELICIOUS. Toffee is kind of like a hard caramel. Yum!

YUM

Somehow this recipe came to me through a long chain: a friend of the stepmom of an ex-boyfriend of a friend. So who knows where it first came from, but I’m glad it arrived in my inbox.

I made a few batches of toffee as gifts for volunteers who helped out with a big work event. It was quick and easy:

Microwave all the toffee ingredients together.

Step 1

Pour it on a pan and spread the chocolate chips over top that.

I have no idea what's up with that weird shadow.

Let it cool/harden, and then break it up into bite-sized pieces.

DONE

I packaged them up in cute little boxes that I got from AC Moore and tied some ribbon around them. Adorbs.

Packages tied up with string...

The only downside to this recipe is that it can get a little expensive. It doesn’t really make a ton of toffee, especially if you’re trying to fill a box, so I had to make quite a few batches. With butter, chocolate, and nuts… not the cheapest.

But it’s so delicious and good-looking, it makes an excellent gift. After I packaged all the pieces up, I collected all the leftover little pieces that were too small to load into the boxes, chopped them up even smaller, and packaged them in a jar as Toffee Crunch Ice Cream Topping. Yum!

Toffee Crunch Ice Cream Topping... It's a little frosty from the fridge, but dang if I'm not craving a bowl of ice cream now.

Well, all that’s left is the recipe. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Holidays!!

Microwave Toffee with Chocolate and Pecans

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Coat the sides of a large mixing bowl with butter and place the remaining butter in the bowl. Add sugar, salt, and water; do not stir. Microwave on high for 11 minutes or until mixture begins to turn light brown. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet.

Sprinkle chocolate chips over the toffee and let stand 1 minute. Spread chocolate over the toffee to form a melted layer, and sprinkle with pecans. Chill until firm.

Break into bite-size pieces. Package or serve. Yields about 1 pound.

Delicious delicious toffee

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Citrus-Fennel Quinoa with Chickpeas

15 May

I made the healthiest dinner last night, and with all the citrus in there, it must have been jam-packed with vitamin C. And good thing – the BF was sick 2 weeks ago, then I was sick, and now he’s sick again. We apparently could both use a vitamin boost. As with most of my dinners, I found this original recipe online from thekitchn.com, and then I edited based on my own tastes. And also based on what I had on hand and what was cheapest at the grocery store. Instead of the original couscous, I swapped quinoa, since I already had some of that. And instead of lemon and orange, I went with lemon and lime, because those were on sale at the store. I made a couple other small edits here and there.

I started off with one lime and one lemon. I used a microplane to zest each of them and added that into a medium sauce pan. Then I juiced the lemon and one half of the lime into a large measuring cup. If you don’t have one, try this handy citrus press from Pampered Chef – it’s amazing. If you don’t have anything fancy to really get all the juice out, you may want to add another lime or lemon. I topped off the juices with enough water to make 1 1/2 cups liquid and added that to the sauce pan. I finished it with 1 tablespoon olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon salt and cooked over high heat. Once it started boiling, I poured in 1 cup quinoa, covered the pan, and reduced the heat to a simmer. Keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t dry out.

I heated 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. I added 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 fennel bulb, cut into matchsticks (about 1 inch long, 1/4 inch thick). I cooked those about 10-15 minutes. Then I added 1 can (15 oz) drained chickpeas and the juice of half a lime. The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, but I didn’t have any, so instead I added about 1/4 teaspoon “French herb blend” and 1/4 teaspoon lemon garlic blend. But just add whatever you have that sounds good. Last, I finished it off with a couple handfuls of baby spinach. As soon as the spinach cooks down, it’s ready!

What did the Garbanzo say to the waiter? "Chick, peas."

Similar to rice, the quinoa is ready when the water is absorbed. If you’re ready to serve and there’s too much water, let it cook for a few minutes with the lid off. I served the chickpea/fennel blend overtop the quinoa and it was subtly delicious. If you’re looking for a kick-in-the-mouth flavor, go somewhere else. But if you want to appreciate subtle flavors delicately balanced throughout your meal, this is it. Also, this is super healthy, unlike the block of cheddar cheese I’m currently snacking on.

Dinner time!

We enjoyed some tzatziki sauce and pita bread as a little side dish. As a side note, I figured out a super easy way to enjoy this Greek yogurt dip whenever I feel like it. I ordered tzatziki seasoning blend from Wildtree, a company that sells all-natural foods through a Pampered Chef-style set up. You only have to use a little at a time, so it lasts forever – well worth the price. Then I buy individual servings of plain Greek yogurt, like Oikos or Chobani, which is a perfect size for just two people. Before I start dinner, I cut up half a cucumber in tiny teeny pieces, mix it into the yogurt with a teaspoon or two of the seasoning blend, and then it’s ready. It’s delicious and it’s the perfect amount. A lot of the pre-made or store-bought versions are too big, and I usually don’t finish them before they go bad.

Gotta get some Vitamin C up in here

Anyway, the meal was great. I will probably add it to my list of stand-by meals. I thought it was pretty easy to whip up on a weeknight. Bon appetit!

Citrus-Fennel Quinoa with Chickpeas adapted from theKitchn

zest and juice of 2 limes, divided
zest and juice of 1 lemon
olive oil, divided
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, cut into matchsticks (~ 1″ long, 1/4″ thick)
1 can (15oz) chickpeas, drained
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 handfuls baby spinach

Add the lime zest, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a medium sauce pot. In a large measuring cup, combine the juice of 1 lemon and the juice of 1 lime. Add enough water to make 2 cups total liquid. Pour the liquid into the pot and cook over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 cup quinoa, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 20 minutes; fluff with a fork and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and fennel; cook 10-15 minutes.

Add chickpeas, the juice of one lime, and coriander. Stir well. Add the spinach and cover, stirring occasionally. Cook 5-10 minutes, or until spinach is wilted.

Serve over quinoa.

Free Dinner!

14 Mar

This isn’t a nice recipe or anything, but I was just super impressed with my own economical dinner skills tonight and thought I’d share.

I got home late from a meeting, the BF is still out, and I was starving. I was doing my typical stand-in-front-of-the-open-fridge-and-hope-something-tasty-magically-appears. And in my head, I heard my dad yelling, “Shut the door!” (Everyone’s dad yells that, right?) But then something magically did appear: an idea. (Oh so cheesy, I know. Apologies.)

From the top shelf: Leftover bhindi (okra) masala from going out to Tandoor Indian last night (Yum!). The BF already ate the chicken tikka masala, so there wasn’t enough left for a meal.

From the way back of the middle shelf: Leftover brown rice from last weekend’s salmon lunch.

From the bottom shelf: Leftover baked chicken a friend sent home with the BF when I couldn’t make it to dinner this weekend.

From the drawer: Leftover asparagus spears, also from the salmon lunch.

Each on its own, certainly not enough for a meal. But together – perfect! I just finished, and it was delicious, easy, and free. Yay for no waste!

Leftovers Dinner

And for dessert… coconut chocolate chip oatmeal cookies leftover from a visit to a friend this weekend!

C is for Cookie!

Herbed Salmon with Asparagus and Brown Rice

11 Mar

We just made a super delicious Sunday lunch. Pretty fancy, but it wasn’t much work. This would make a great meal for dinner guests.

We got a frozen salmon fillet from Trader Joe’s and thawed it out. The BF laid it on a baking sheet while I put together the herb blend. I was going for a similar idea as the Herb-Crusted Pork I posted a while back. In a small bowl, I mixed up some toasted chopped almondsdried rosemarydried thyme, and some sage. (Sorry I don’t have exact measurements here, I was just making it up as I went.) I added enough olive oil to give it a somewhat paste-like consistency. Then I spread it evenly on top of the fish. If it looks like it’s not enough, just make a little more.

Fish Close-Up

I set the whole pan in the fridge until we were ready for lunch. Then the BF popped it in the oven, and we baked it on 400 F for about 12-15 minutes. He covered it in foil while it baked so it would stay moist. If you like it flakier, you may opt to go without the foil, or to take the foil off in the last few minutes.

He also prepared a tray of asparagus seasoned with a lemon and garlic spice blend, and baked it right alongside the fish. That’s what made it so easy – they baked at the same temperature for the same amount of time, so only one thing to keep track of.

Asparagus

We served our fish and asparagus with brown rice. A delicious and healthy meal. Lunch is served!

Lunch

Dee Dee’s Broccoli Casserole

8 May

My mom is affectionately known as Aunt Dee Dee or just Dee Dee to all of her nieces and nephews. She is the fun, crazy aunt who not only lets you throw a ball in the house, but is often the one to initiate and participate in said indoors throwing game. I was jealous of my cousins as a teenager because at that age, I thought my mom was a way cooler aunt than mom. But now I have a little more perspective (and a little less attitude), and I more remember all the fun and crazy projects my mom cooked up over the years, which now loom much larger than the fights and arguments we were having when I was in high school. For example, my Double Dare birthday party was the coolest party of the 4th grade, complete with pie-throwing contests, tricycle races, and a relay race that involved massive amounts of butter, popcorn, Jell-o, and a Slip ‘N’ Slide.

My mom is also a pretty amazing chef, and it’s humbling to think back over the years at how she taught herself new skills in the kitchen. When my siblings were very young (before I was around) and our family didn’t have a lot of money, they ate a lot of casseroles, soups, and one-pot meals. They were classic, homey meals that were cheap and easy to put together, perfect for a mom working crazy hours with 2 small kids. But by the time I came along, my parents were a little more settled. My mom left work to stay at home with us, and our meals became more complex, fresh, and nutritious. By the time my little sisters were in the picture, the family was eating ethnic foods like Indian and Japanese, and our meals had a lot more fresh produce and a lot less cream of mushroom soup.

I think this trend is very interesting from a sociological standpoint, but I also think that from a personal view, I became very used to learning about food and trying new things. Now my mom and I swap ideas for new foods, new recipes, and how to use the massive quantities of rosemary she gets from the rosemary bush in her backyard big enough to hide two toddlers in (speaking from experience). I regularly call her for advice (“Mom, 10 people are showing up for dinner in 20 minutes, and I ran out of ___. What should I do!?” or “Mom, this chicken I just cooked is, like, gray… If I eat it, will it kill me?”), and I give her tips I pick up from health food nuts and farmers’ markets in my more liberal small town. My goal one day is to be able to take a quick glance into a pantry or refrigerator and put together a dinner plan, just like I’ve seen her do a million times. I’m not that comfortable or familiar yet with food, ingredients, and recipes, but I think I’m getting there.

When I was staring at the broccoli – this month’s seasonal produce – and trying to figure out what to do with it, I could not stop thinking about broccoli casserole. This is a huge throwback dish, something my mom made relatively regularly when I was a kid. I loved it so much, I think I even requested it as part of my birthday dinner one year. But as I explained above, our family has trended over time toward more nutritious foods, so this is a dish that my mom no longer makes or eats. It’s very unhealthy, especially since I only want it if she agrees to my request for extra cheese. Every year at Thanksgiving she proposes leaving it out, and every year my siblings, cousins, and I demand that we have it. It’s a Thanksgiving staple that I generally only have once a year. So she agrees to its presence at our Thanksgiving table, but one of us has to make it ourselves. It’s a very simple recipe that can be made in 15 minutes or less. So here it is… Dee Dee’s Broccoli Casserole.

Start with 1 bag frozen broccoli. Thaw it completely (on the counter or in the microwave) and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Spread it in the bottom of a glass casserole dish. Top with a layer of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Broccoli and cheeseSpread a layer of cream of mushroom soup over top the cheese.

Cream of Mushroom SoupAnd now spread another layer of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese. Cover with plastic wrap, cut a slit in the center, and cook it in the microwave on high for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the broccoli is cooked.

More CheeseI hadn’t made this in a long time, but I knew the cheese was the most important part, so I just kept adding some. I wasn’t sure how much was necessary. When I pulled it out of the microwave, it really just looked like a dish of cheese with a few broccoli bumps. I realized I went a little overboard, but obviously it was good because I tried to take a picture a few minutes later, but people were already digging in!

Broccoli Casserole

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Spinach and Salmon Salad

24 Apr

On Friday, the BF and I had the day off, and we took a little time to try to throw together a nice lunch. We wanted something light and healthy because we were anticipating a weekend’s worth of delicious, fatty food, what with Betsy Bundt‘s wedding on Saturday (don’t fret… I’ll have more cupcake and decorating gossip on that later) and Sunday supper with the family. So we hopped on our bikes and rode to Trader Joe’s to pick up some veggies.

Upon our return, the BF fired up the George Foreman and seasoned the salmon with a dusting of chili powder while I assembled the salad. Actually, the truth is, he pretty much did all of it while I moped around the kitchen in a post-exercise, hunger-induced daze. I did, however, manage to make us each a fruit and yogurt parfait for dessert, and then consume every last bit of mine while he made lunch.

In our salad, we had a bed of organic spinach (a seasonal ingredient available in North Carolina March through December!), carrots, walnuts, goat cheese, and croutons. I found that if you scrape the goat cheese with a fork instead of try to cut it with a knife, then nice little crumbs will fall evenly all over the salad, instead of clumping together.

After the BF finished mastering the electric grill (he suggests medium-low heat, about 4-5 minutes on each side), we added a salmon fillet right on top. Carrots + salmon… weird!? But hey, there are no rules in this kitchen. I drizzled mine with some Italian dressing and the BF chose a light cucumber ranch dressing. It was super delicioso!

"Parfaits got layers! Everybody loves parfaits!" Too old? Too lame? Yes.

As I said, for dessert we had a yogurt and fruit parfait, though I had already eaten mine by this point. I mixed 1 part nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt and 1 part store-bought cream cheese fruit dip (to sweeten it a bit — this is dessert, after all) in a small bowl. I filled the bottom of these cute little glasses with grapes, then a spoonful of my yogurt mixture, then blueberries, then yogurt, then mandarin oranges. A small dollop of yogurt on top made it camera-ready.

Healthy Lunch!

How Sue Sees It:

  • I know this recipe is a bit of a scam, since most salad recipes are lame. I mean, does anyone really need a recipe to make a salad? Put vegetables on a plate and top it with salmon. There, you’re done.
  • If you don’t want to buy the fruit dip, you can easily mix your own — my mom, Susie Senior, makes a great one with one part marshmallow creme/fluff and one part strawberry cream cheese. So your overall mixture would be one part marshmallow fluff, one part cream cheese (choose your flavor), and two parts yogurt.

Pork Chops with Mushroom Sauce

7 Mar

I have no idea why I’m posting so much pork on this blog. I really don’t eat much pork at all, and actually, I’ve been trying to cut down my overall meat consumption lately. Maybe that’s why these end up looking good enough to take pictures of. My favorite part of this dish is the mushroom sauce, so feel free to search for things other than pork to smother. This recipe originally came from Rachael Ray, who just loves to smother fat with fat, so it’s pretty easy, but no claims here about being healthy.

I preheated a large skillet with some extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. I added a dash of salt and pepper to each side of the pork chop and then added it to the pan. I cooked it for about 6-7 minutes, then flipped it to the other side and cooked it for another 6-7 minutes. I removed the pork chop to a temporary plate and tented some foil over it to keep the heat in. Back to the skillet: I turned the skillet down to medium-low and added 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1/2 pound sliced white mushrooms, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme. I let that saute for 3 or 4 minutes and then added a dash of salt and pepper. I also added about 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and then cooked for about a minute longer. Then I whisked in 1/3 cup dry white wine, 1 cup chicken broth, and 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard. I let it simmer until most of the liquid was absorbed and it had a thick, creamy texture. I served it with a side of baked sweet potato and steamed green beans. As Rachael says, “Yum-o!”

How Sue Sees It:
– Seriously, this mushroom sauce is amazing. And it gives me something to do with all the leftover mushrooms I end up having after I buy some for salad.
– Be flexible. Don’t have mustard? Leave it out. I doubt you’ll notice.