Chocolate chip shortbread cookies

I couldn’t wait for Friday to share this amazing recipe. I’ve been tinkering with this chocolate chip shortbread for a long time now and it is finally perfect. I first tried my hand at shortbread for Thanksgiving 2013 and I was encouraged by the initial results. Since then I’ve made some tweaks here and there to come up with a recipe that I absolutely love. The biggest change was using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar. I shared my first attempt (Chocolate Chip Cookies #41) back with that ingredient swap back in February when I baked desserts for a Super Bowl party. The powdered sugar gave the shortbread cookies an amazing crumbly texture, but I didn’t think they were quite sweet enough with only 3/4 cup. Luckily folks still seemed to like them. However, I thought there was room for improvement. After doing some research about substituting different kinds of sugars in recipes I decided to double the amount of powdered sugar (1 1/2 cups) and see how that worked. Well, the flavor of the resulting cookies was incredible! They were buttery and just as sweet as I wanted them to be, but unfortunately the lovely shortbread texture was missing. So today made another batch with 1 1/4 cups of powered sugar and it’s perfect! I’m so glad I stuck with this recipe until I got it right. Go and make a batch and see for yourself how great these cookies are!

1 c butter, softened
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 c flour
1/2 c mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. (Measure the powdered sugar like flour, loosely spooning it into a measuring cup and leveling the top with a knife.) Since powdered sugar has a tendency to clump (and I don’t own a sifter), I usually use an electric mixer for this recipe. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat until almost completed incorporated, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Fold in the mini chocolate chips. Spread the dough into an 11×7″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 deg F for about 25 min (check after 20 min just in case), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is starting to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 min and then lift the cookies out of the pan with the sides of the aluminum foil. Slice into squares before the they cool (it’s easier while the cookies are warm). Cool completely before eating. Enjoy!

Based on Kirbie’s Cravings’ Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies and Add A Pinch’s Shortbread Cookies.

Foodie Friday – Buttermilk banana bread

In case you happen to be looking for the absolute best banana bread recipe, your search is over. This is the best banana bread in the world! And to think I only discovered it because I had some buttermilk leftover from making a birthday cake for a co-worker! Banana bread doesn’t usually have any dairy products in it, unlike most loaf cake recipes, but adding buttermilk was a stroke of genius. It made the bread incredibly moist, rich, and more cake-like than regular banana bread. I couldn’t get enough of it! And all of my co-workers raved about how delicious it was.

I actually doubled this recipe and made two loaves – one with chocolate chips (mini semisweet chips) and one without – to use up as much of the leftover buttermilk as possible. For a double batch I used 5 large bananas and it worked out great. However, I learned something about optimal pan sizes. Since I only own one 9×5″ loaf pan I baked the second loaf in an 8×4″ pan instead. Unfortunately the loaf in the smaller pan took longer to cook and was actually still a little underdone in the middle (but overdone on the edges) when I finally retrieved it from the oven. The loaf in the 9×5″ pan turned out perfectly so definitely one of those for this recipe. I’m going to buy another large pan so I can whip up two more loaves soon!

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 medium sized ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 c buttermilk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
Chocolate chips, optional

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. (I usually just mix ingredients by hand when I bake, but I made an exception this time.) Add the eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla and beat to combine. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and beat until the flour is incorporated. Fold in some chocolate chips, if desired. Spoon the batter into a large loaf pan (preferably 9×5″) coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 deg F for 50-60 min (mine took closer to 60 min) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 min before turning out of the pan. Cool completely before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Edited on 9/20/15: When I made this again yesterday I doubled the recipe and used three 8×4″ pans to make slightly smaller loaves. However, in this configuration the edges browned too quickly and I had to turn down the temperature halfway through. Next time I’ll try 325 deg F and see if that works better.

Based on Two Peas and Their Pod’s Buttermilk Banana Bread.

Foodie Friday – Dark chocolate brownies (revisited)

First of all, I must apologize for neglecting my webpage. Again. I’ve been working on a few posts, but I just haven’t been able to finish any of them. Traditionally there’s a lull in posts in the summer and it seems this year is no different. It’s a lame excuse, I know, and I’m working on rectifying the situation. But for now, check out these amazing dark chocolate brownies!

It took about four iterations, but I finally perfected this dark chocolate brownie recipe. I posted the original recipe last fall (check it out here), but I knew there was room for improvement. So I increased the amount of every ingredient except the eggs, which I reduced. And the result was incredible. These brownies are really dark. Both in the sense of the chocolate flavor and the actual color. Does anyone else sneeze when they eat really dark chocolate? No? Well, it might just be me, but these brownies sometimes make me sneeze. That’s how chocolatey they are. Everyone who tried these brownies loved them, including me. I had to share them with my co-workers because I could have eaten all of them myself. So if you’re looking for a brownie recipe with more chocolate flavor than you could ever imagine, give this one a try!

1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 c Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
1 c flour

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. You can use an electric mixer, but I usually just use a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat/stir until combined. Add the flour and cocoa powder and stir until just combined. Spread the dough into an 11×7″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. This makes for easy removal from the pan when the brownies are cool and less dishes to wash later. Bake at 350 deg F for 25-30 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Don’t overbake! Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Shugary Sweets’ Perfect Dark Chocolate Brownies.

Foodie Friday – Curried chicken tenders

Chicken curry is my culinary nemesis. Back in 2012 I even wrote a whole post about it! After trying so many different curry recipes I’d pretty much given up on producing a good result myself, but then I ran across this Martha Stewart recipe. It’s not a classic chicken curry dish since the sauce is more like honey mustard, but it’s simple and really delicious. The curry flavor definitely comes through. I deviated from the original recipe because for simplicity (and laziness) I used canola oil rather than butter. That’s not exactly Paleo, but I tried to make up for it by using raw honey. I probably could have used olive oil or melted coconut oil too. I’ll have to try one of those next time. I also used chicken tenders instead of breasts because it’s easier to split up into lunch portions. I love this dish. The flavor is amazing and the chicken stays tender. I need to remember to make it for my lunches more often!

1 to 1 1/2 lb chicken tenders
1/2 c honey
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, canola oil, Dijon mustard, curry powder, and salt. Place the chicken tenders into an 11×7″ or 13×9″ pan coated with cooking spray (I use either Trader Joe’s olive oil spray or coconut oil spray). Pour the honey mustard mixture over the chicken and turn each tender a couple of time to coat. Cook at 375 deg F about 30 minutes, turning the tenders once, or until the chicken is cooked through. Enjoy!

Based on Martha Stewart’s Curried Chicken Breasts.

Foodie Friday – Ranch turkey tacos

This dish was inspired by a recipe for ranch chicken tacos that I made a while back. The chicken was just OK (it might have potential with some tweaks), but adapting the recipe for ground turkey yielded much tastier results. I kept the spices the same (what’s easier than a couple of seasoning packets?), added a can of tomato sauce in place of the chicken broth, and cooked it in the skillet rather than the Crockpot. It’s incredibly flavorful and a cinch to make. It would be the perfect weeknight meal. The ranch turkey takes about 15 minutes, and then throw a spoonful into a tortilla with whatever fixings you want. You can’t miss! I must confess that since I’m avoiding grains in my diet I don’t actually make tacos with the turkey, but it’s delicious by itself so I make it quite often for my lunches. It’s a little like chili that way.

As a side note, I’ve tagged this recipe as “grain-free,” but I know the McCormick taco seasoning packet actually contains wheat in some form. They do have a gluten free variety, but it’s not the mild version so I haven’t tried it. I’m worried about it being too spicy! The obvious solution is to mix up some homemade taco seasoning, but my first attempt last year was really disappointing. I’ll have to try to again so perhaps I can make this a true grain-free dish. Healthy as well as tasty!

20 oz ground turkey (not extra lean)
1 packet taco seasoning (I use McCormick’s mild version)
1 packet ranch dressing and seasoning mix (I use Hidden Valley)
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce

Brown the meat in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until the turkey is no longer pink. Add the taco seasoning and ranch dressing seasoning and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn the heat down to low. Add the tomato sauce, stir to combine, and cook for 5-10 minutes. There’s not much liquid so it won’t really simmer, but you want the whole mixture to heat through. Enjoy!

Based on Family Fresh Meals’ Cool Ranch Crockpot Chicken Tacos.

Foodie Friday – Coconut oil roasted green beans

I’ve shared a roasted green beans recipe before (roasted Parmesan green beans back in 2013), but I have much more experience making them now. Just about every week I whip up a batch for my lunches, which means that I’ve absolutely perfected my recipe. And I’ve learned a few lessons from failed experiments too. First of all, coconut oil is a must. The nutty flavor is fabulous. You can substitute olive oil if you want, but I think coconut oil is just a lot tastier. Also, salt is not an optional ingredient. When roasting other vegetables I can simply use a salt-free seasoning (like Mrs. Dash) and they turn out great, but the green beans need salt. Without it they turn out bland and tasteless. so don’t skimp on the salt and pepper. Other than that, these green beans are basically foolproof!

1 lb French cut green beans (I get the pre-washed bags)
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp coconut oil
Black pepper

Dump the green beans into a large bowl. If yours aren’t the pre-washed variety, you might need to wash them and snap off the ends first. But I’m lazy and I buy the bagged ones to save time. Put your coconut oil into a small bowl and melt it in the microwave. This should only take 20-30 seconds. My apartment is pretty chilly most of the year so my coconut oil is always solid. Chiseling it out of the jar is a pain, but I think the flavor of the green beans is far superior using coconut oil rather than olive oil. Pour the melted coconut oil over the green beans and stir with a spatula to coat. (I have to do this quickly before the coconut oil solidifies again!) Generously season with salt and pepper, and stir as needed to distribute the spices. Pour the green beans onto a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray (I use Trader Joe’s coconut oil spray), and spread out as much as possible. A single layer is preferable, but I always have some overlap. Roast at 375 deg F for 15 minutes. Stir the beans and roast for another 10-15 minutes. I always end up cooking them the full 30 minutes because I like it when they start to shrivel and char a little. Enjoy!

Based on The Rising Spoon’s Oven Roasted Green Beans with Coconut Oil.

Foodie Friday – Roasted broccoli

I love roasted broccoli! Seriously, I can’t get enough of it. Every week I make a batch for the lunches I take to work, but it’s always gone too soon. I do my best to rotate other vegetables into my diet (carrots, green beans, asparagus, etc.), but broccoli is by far my favorite. A couple of years ago I shared the Parmesan lemon roasted broccoli recipe that I made for Christmas 2012 so I was already somewhat aware of how delicious it could be. But what I didn’t know is how simple it is to make an amazing vegetable dish for my grain-free homemade meals. Just a few ingredients, less than a half hour in the oven, and you have a healthy and scrumptious side dish that goes with just about any protein. Sometimes I even grab a few florets off the cookie sheet and pop the right into my mouth after they cool. This means my lunches have a little less broccoli, but I can’t resist!

12 oz broccoli florets (I get the bagged, ready-to-use variety)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (or another 1 Tbsp olive oil)
Seasoning (salt, pepper, or other)

Throw the broccoli florets into a large bowl, breaking up any that aren’t already bite-sized. Drizzle the olive oil and sesame oil (or just olive oil) over the broccoli and gently stir with a spatula to coat. Season as desired. I haven’t tried every option, but I figure you can use just about any variety of seasonings. Sometimes I use simple salt and pepper, but other times I just sprinkle some Mrs. Dash on the broccoli and nothing else. It’s all a matter of taste. You can’t really go wrong here! As far as how much, I usually add a little seasoning, stir a bit, and then add a little more. Dump the seasoned broccoli onto a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray (the Trader Joe’s coconut oil spray is my new favorite). Roast a 375 deg F for 15 min, stir, and then roast for another 10 min or so. Check for doneness after 5 min. I like it when the florets start to get a little crispy. So delicious! Enjoy!

Based on Rachel Cooks’ Best Broccoli Ever.

Belated Foodie Friday – Crockpot hot chocolate (take 2)

Also written on my flights from Long Beach to Orlando on Wednesday.

My last day of work in 2014 was the day of the annual holiday potluck. My favorite day of the year! This meant that I wasn’t very productive closing out the year, but at least I was well fed. It was awesome. Due to the craziness that was December I didn’t commit to making anything complicated for the potluck. In fact I was so unimaginative with my offerings that I simply repeated my menu from 2013 – hot chocolate for breakfast and mulled apple cider for lunch. Simple, tasty, and very little effort required on my part. Not too long ago I shared my first attempt at Crockpot hot chocolate, but I wasn’t fully satisfied with the results. My co-workers really liked it, but the chocolate chips didn’t melt properly so I knew there was a better option out there. And this year I found it! Look no further, this is the world’s best hot chocolate. It was so popular at the potluck that my co-workers drank every drop and several asked for the recipe. I didn’t even follow the exact directions in the original recipe because I was lazy and didn’t think it made a difference. Luckily I was right. I just dumped all of the ingredients in my slow cooker at 6 AM, heated the hot chocolate about 2.5 hours, and stirred it every 30 minutes or so. And it was perfect! Rich, creamy, and chocolately. I am definitely going to make this again soon!

1/2 gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream (I used whipping cream)
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c cocoa powder (I used half regular, half Hershey’s Special Dark)
1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
Dash of salt

Add this to the list of easiest recipes of all time. Simply combine all of the ingredients in your slow cooker and whisk to combine. The cocoa powder won’t mix too well with the cold milk and cream, but that will change as it heats up. Cook on low for 2-3 hours, whisking/stirring occasionally. Serve with marshmallows. Enjoy!

Based on No. 2 Pencil’s Slow Cooker Hot Cocoa.

Foodie Friday – Homemade cranberry sauce

I’m working on a couple of posts about Christmas and New Year’s, but I’ve been busy this week so they aren’t ready for publishing yet. I’ll finish them this weekend. For now you’ll have to be content with this recipe for delicious homemade cranberry sauce!

On Christmas Eve I cobbled together a batch of cranberry sauce from a couple of basic recipes I found on Pinterest – one from Cooking Light and one from McCormick’s. I used elements of each one, but pretty much just threw a little bit of this and a little bit of that (including some ingredients that nether recipe called for) into the pot and hoped for the best. Fortunately it turned out great! It was the perfect complement to the smoked turkey we had for Christmas dinner, and the leftovers refrigerated really well for leftovers a couple of days later. I liked it so much that I made another batch of cranberry sauce on New Year’s Eve after I got back to California. Hey, the holidays aren’t over until I have to go back to work! (Which was actually today, but that’s another story.) I’m going to enjoy this cranberry sauce over some baked chicken this weekend. So if you have a hankering for cranberry sauce even though Christmas 2014 is over, try this recipe! Otherwise, save it until Thanksgiving 2015 and try it then!

12 oz fresh cranberries
1/2 apple, diced (or more, if desired)
1/2 pear, diced (or more, if desired)
1 c orange juice
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

In a small or medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and cool completely. The sauce will thicken more as it stands. Serve over turkey or chicken, or as a stand alone side dish. Enjoy!

Based on Cooking Light’s Basic Cranberry Sauce and McCormick’s Homemade Cranberry Sauce.

Foodie Friday – Amazing bacon chili

When the chili cook-off at work rolled around on Halloween I still wasn’t 100% satisfied with the recipe I had been working on. In the end I whipped up a batch that I called “When Zombie Pigs Fly Double Bacon Chili” that used a whole pound of bacon, but I wasn’t sure it would be a success. People seemed to like it (I knew the bacon would be a crowd pleaser), but I actually didn’t even taste my own concoction! I was a little afraid to considering how badly my previous batch had turned out. I’m not sure what I did differently the last time, but I threw half of that batch out because I simply didn’t like it. What a waste. I’m pretty sure the chili cook-off version was better than that since my co-workers at every last bite, but I still had a nagging feeling that it was just mediocre. So a couple of weeks ago when I decided to make a batch of chili for my weekday lunches I was nervous that it would be another flop. Fortunately I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was amazing! Here’s what I did differently: 1) I used maple-flavored bacon (the hint of sweetness made all the difference), and 2) I cooked in on the stove rather than in a Crockpot. Those tweaks turned this chili into one of the best things I’ve made all year. I even made a batch for my co-workers this week and they loved it.

Note: This chili recipe is completely customizable. If you want some heat, add a little cayenne pepper or some diced chili peppers. I can’t handle spicy food so I simply leave those kinds of ingredients out. Also, you can throw in a couple of cans of beans (drained and rinsed), like I did in the batch I made this week. Black beans and red kidney beans are my favorite. You can also use other meats or vegetables. Whatever you want! I think I’m going to try sweet potato chili next. The sky’s the limit!

1 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 c diced sweet onion (about 1/2 large onion)
1 c diced red bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
1 lb ground beef (preferably grass-fed)
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp paprika (mine is smoked)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
1 can (14 oz) tomato sauce (can use two 8 oz cans instead)

Cut the bacon slices into 1/2 in pieces. In a large nonstick skillet (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy, remove them from the pan and set aside for later. Add the ground beef, diced onions, and peppers to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the chili powder, cumin, paprika, coriander, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover, and cook for at least an hour (longer if you want), stirring occasionally. Enjoy!

Based on Kate’s Healthy Cupboard’s Bacon Chili (Gluten Free).