Caramelized Apples with Dried Figs & Walnuts

February 28, 2016 by  
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I have loved cooked apples, in all of their various forms, for as long as I can remember. In fact, it’s one of the first thing I remember cooking for myself without a recipe.

I honestly have no idea how old I was, but I was old enough to be home alone, so I’d have to guess 11 or so. I really wanted some cinnamon apples, but I had no idea how to make them. Google did not exist (let alone the internet in homes…but, let’s not go there…), so I just had to wing it.

I diced up an apple, put all the small pieces into a pot, poured in some water, and sprinkled a bunch of cinnamon into the water. I let it simmer on the stove for a while, then scooped up the apple pieces with a slotted spoon. I fell in love with the apples, and with the entire process of dreaming up a “recipe” on my own.

caramelized apples with figs and walnuts

This recipe is a bit more involved than that early one, and infinitely more tasty, if I do say so myself.

Caramelized Apples with Dried Figs & Walnuts
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: side dish
Serves: 4 - 6
Ingredients
  • ½ c. butter
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • ¼ t. cinnamon
  • ⅛ t. nutmeg
  • 1 c. dried figs, quartered
  • ⅓ c. chopped walnuts
  • 5 - 6 apples, diced
Instructions
  1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Stir in brown sugar and cook for about 5 minutes, until it just begins to bubble. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  2. Add dried figs and and walnuts and continue cooking for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Stir in diced apples and cook for 8-10 minutes, until apples are tender.

I’d love to hear about some of your early kitchen experiments, and how they’ve evolved over the years. Do you still make yourself any of those recipes you used to make as a kid?

Are you looking for some meal inspiration for March?

I’ve got just the thing for you!

Grab your FREE March Menu Plan + Grocery Lists right here.

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Stuffed Jalapeno Chicken Rolls

February 24, 2016 by  
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stuffed jalapeno popper chicken rolls

Every Friday night, Eric and I have a date-night-at-home while the kids have what we’ve affectionately dubbed “fun night.” That basically means that they get to have a fun dinner of frozen foods or convenience foods that they’re in charge of making. This is usually a sampling of different frozen appetizers, or frozen pizzas, or hot dogs and shells and cheese. All 5 of them absolutely love these nights, and Eric and I love that it gives us a night off!

The two of us have the same thing every single Friday night, and our menus haven’t varied in probably 2 or 3 years. For me, I have 8 – 10 Jalapeno Poppers (I’m not picky and I’ve yet to really find a frozen brand of poppers that I don’t like!) with some kind of fun dipping sauce. Eric grills himself a steak either outside or on the stove, depending on the weather, and then some of our favorite kettle-style potato chips as a side. We both get exactly what we want, and we’ve yet to get tired of it. Every week I wonder how those poppers can still taste SO good.

In case it’s not obvious, I am a big Jalapeno Popper fan, but my favorite frozen ones are reserved solely for our Friday nights. So, when I, or anyone else for that matter, want that flavor during the week, I get a little creative. Just like with these Stuffed Jalapeno Chicken Rolls!

jalapeno chicken filling

 

Stuffed Jalapeno Chicken Rolls
 
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Author:
Serves: 4 - 6
Ingredients
  • 6 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
  • 1 t. salt
  • ½ t. garlic powder
  • 1 - 1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins, pounded flat
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 T. melted butter
  • 1 c. breadcrumbs
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, diced jalapenos, salt and garlic powder. Use immediately or refrigerate for a while to allow the flavors to combine.
  2. Spread some cream cheese-jalapeno mixture down the center of each piece of chicken.
  3. Roll up tightly and secure with a toothpick. Season each roll with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Dip the chicken in the melted butter and then roll in the bread crumbs. Repeat until done. Place in a casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken, until fully cooked.

stuffing chicken jalapeno

These are super freezer friendly too. What I find works the best is prepping them through the breadcrumb step, and then freezing on a cookie sheet before putting into a freezer bag for long term storage. Then, I just cook them right from the freezer without thawing for about 45 minutes to an hour at 400 degrees. Perfection!

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National Chili Day – Chili Recipe Roundup

February 20, 2016 by  
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Did you know that every year, the fourth Thursday of February is National Chili Day? You can read all about this annual celebration here.

There’s definitely an abundance of food-focused holidays throughout the year, but this is one I can definitely get behind! We absolutely love chili around here, so it sounds like the perfect excuse to simmer up a big pot.

Check out some of these killer chili recipes and pick one to party with this Thursday!

national chili day recipes

Beef Chili

Chicken Chili

Vegetarian Chili

Miscellaneous Chili Dishes

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Sour Cream & Jam Muffins

February 18, 2016 by  
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sour cream jam muffinsI used to make muffins at least once a week, but that hasn’t happened in years. Now when I make muffins, it’s usually a big batch baking day that I use to stock the freezer. I think muffins are probably one of my favorite things to have in the freezer too, because they are perfect for a grab-and-go breakfast, to toss into lunch boxes, for an after school snack, and even as a dessert in a pinch.

These Sour Cream & Jam Muffins are a special treat because they’re just slightly richer than ordinary muffins. They almost taste like bite-sized coffee cakes, without all of the extra work. That’s a big plus in my book! Oh, and they also go great with a cup of coffee!

sour_cream_muffins

Speaking of coffee, I’m going to go off script for a minute here. We are big (HUGE) coffee drinkers in this house. Between the two of us, Eric and I go through at least 20 cups of coffee a day. I know…that’s a lot of coffee! For a few years, we were big fans of our Keurig because we loved the convenience of on-demand coffee. We definitely felt spoiled with every cup we drank. But it slowly started to dawn on us just how much this habit was actually costing us. Eric sat down one day and did the math.

Needless to say, within a day or two, we made the switch back to a regular coffee pot. Only since we were now completely spoiled with the on-demand, fresh coffee aspect, we also bought an awesome carafe to keep up this habit. We bought the Thermos 34-oz Stainless Steel Carafe and it is honestly amazing! It holds about 8 cups of coffee and it literally keeps coffee hot and fresh-tasting for hours and hours. We’ve actually filled it up and taken it on the road with us when we drive to my parents’ house 5 hours away. And whenever it’s stormy and seems like we might lose power, making a new pot of coffee to fill up the carafe is a top priority.

All that to say, it’s insane just how much we save every month by ditching the Keurig and going old school. The last time we figured, it broke down to just under $90. Crazy, right?

Anyhow…enjoy these muffins with a cup of coffee, no matter how you brew it!

Sour Cream & Jam Muffins
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 12 or 24
Ingredients
  • ½ c. butter, softened
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. flour
  • ¾ t. baking powder
  • ¼ t. salt
  • ½ c. sour cream
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • Preserves or jam of choice (I used blackberry preserves.)
  • Additional sugar for topping, optional
Instructions
  1. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixing until creamed, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg and beat until well combined.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a second small bowl or measuring cup, combine the sour cream and vanilla. Add half the flour and half the sour cream mixture to the mixing bowl and stir just until combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and sour cream, being careful not to overmix.
  3. Grease and flour a muffin tin, or line with baking cups. Fill muffin cups ⅓ full with the batter. Add a dollop of jam or preserves on top of the batter and then top with remaining muffin batter. Sprinkle additional sugar over the tops of the muffins, if desired, for a crispy muffin top.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes for mini muffins or 20-25 minutes for regular sized muffins.

Alright, now I’m just dying to know – all of you other coffee drinkers out there, how many cups do you drink each day?

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission on any purchase you make after clicking that link*

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Italian Stuffed Squash

February 16, 2016 by  
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I am huge fan of Italian Sausage. I love its strong or subtle flavors (depending on if I use the hot or sweet variety). I also believe it can make any dish taste better. Adding it to my spaghetti sauce or lasagna is a no-brainer for me. But I really like adding it to other dishes that might seem less obvious.

italian sausage stuffed squash

I’m also a big fan of squash of all kinds. The kids? Not so much, but they all enjoy this one because they’ll at the very least pick out all of the stuffing. I comfort myself with the thought that they’re still getting some extra veggies in there without really realizing it. Right?

 

Italian Sausage Stuffed Squash
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Serves: 4 - 6
Ingredients
  • 3 links Italian Sausage (flavor of choice)
  • ¼ c. diced red pepper
  • ¼ c. diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ⅓ c. bread crumbs
  • ⅓ c. Parmesan cheese
  • 1 T. diced parsley
  • 4-6 yellow or green squash, depending on size
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut and remove the casings from the Italian sausage links and crumble into a skillet. Add the red pepper, onion and garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the sausage is fully cooked. Drain. Remove from heat and cool.
  2. Once cooled, combine the sausage mixture with the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and parsley.
  3. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the centers with a spoon. Discard or reserve for another purpose. (I froze mine to add to the pot next time I make a homemade stock.)
  4. Spoon the filling into the cavities in the squash in generous portions. Drizzle the squash halves and filling with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until squash is completely tender and lightly browned.

 

I haven’t tried freezing these, but I bet they’d freeze really well. I’d probably bake, and then cool and freeze on a cookie sheet before transferring to plastic freezer bags for storage. The reason I’ve never freezed them is because I love the leftovers (if there are any) for lunch.

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BBQ Ranch ‘Fried’ Chicken Salad

February 15, 2016 by  
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bbq ranch fried chicken salad

I know I’m totally dating myself with this Seinfeld reference, but I absolutely agree with Elaine’s love of the Big Salad! Part of my love is the eating of the salad itself, but the other part is coming up with what to add to it. I kind of geek out over thinking of fun, new mix-ins to add to a big salad. And I’m biased toward the greens either – I am an equal supporter of all greens, from spinach to romaine to kale to plain old iceberg. Put ’em all in a bowl, toss with some awesome ingredients, and drizzle a tasty dressing on top and I am good to go!

Fortunately, everyone else in this house seems to enjoy the big salad too, as long as I don’t make it too much. If I put a big salad of any kind on the menu plan once or twice per month, I know it will be happily eaten up by all of us. Any more than that though, and it just won’t get eaten as well. In fact, when I made this BBQ Ranch ‘Fried” Chicken Salad last week, there were fights over who would get seconds.

bbq ranch big salad with fried chicken

 

 

This one is definitely one of our favorites. Surprisingly, it even beats out taco salad. I rarely serve any sides with this when I make it, but some plain fruit is always a good option.

BBQ Ranch 'Fried' Chicken Salad
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: salad
Serves: 6 - 8
Ingredients
For the Salad
  • Pre-made chicken fingers (frozen or refrigerated - we use gluten free refrigerated chicken fingers when we're in a hurry, or the GF version of Homemade Chicken 'Things' when we have time)
  • 2 t. butter
  • 2 c. frozen corn
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Romaine or Iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • 1 c. quartered grapes tomatoes
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, cubed
  • ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese
For the Dressing
  • ¾ c. Ranch dressing
  • ¼ c. Sour cream
  • 3 T. Barbecue sauce
Instructions
For the Salad
  1. Cook chicken according to package directions, if using refrigerated or frozen, or per the recipe. Slice or cube once warmed.
  2. Melt butter in a small skillet, add the corn and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until corn starts to crisp and brown. Remove from heat.
  3. Add all ingredients into a large bowl and toss to combine.
For the Dressing
  1. Stir all ingredients together until well combined. Toss with the salad, or serve on the side for individual dressing preferences.

What are some of your favorite big salad mix-ins?

 

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Pasta with Portobello Mushroom Sauce

February 14, 2016 by  
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Although most of our meals heavily revolve around meat as the main dish, I like to try and mix it up with some vegetarian meals whenever possible. I can’t get away with it too often as everyone, with the exception of Isabelle and me, think that a meal is only a meal if it involves meat. But when I do, this Pasta with Portobello Mushroom Sauce is one I like to fall back on.

I absolutely love the flavor of portobello mushrooms! I like them grilled or sautéed in a skillet like in this recipe, especially when the get a little crispy on the outside while still meaty on the inside. So good!

This meal can definitely stand on its own as a main dish, but it can just as easily work as a side dish. It tastes especially good with steak or chicken. Also, since there are no wheat-containing ingredients in the sauce, this meal can easily be made gluten free by swapping out the regular pasta for your favorite gluten free pasta.

Pasta with

 

Pasta with Portobello Mushroom Sauce
 
Prep time
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Author:
Serves: 4 - 6
Ingredients
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 lb. portobello mushrooms, cubed or sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
  • ½ t. Rosemary
  • ½ t. salt
  • ¼ t. black pepper
  • 1½ c. beef stock or vegetable stock
  • 1 lb. pasta, fully cooked and drained
  • Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese, optional
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and butter. Add mushrooms and cook for 3-5 minutes over medium heat, until they start browning. Add garlic and continue cooking until mushrooms are fully browned.
  2. Stir in carrots, green onions, rosemary, salt and pepper. Add stock, bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about half. Serve over hot pasta. Garnish with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Do you make vegetarian or meat free meals on a regular basis? What are some of your family’s favorites?

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My Kitchen-Loving Kids

February 11, 2016 by  
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Ever since Isabelle was born, I’ve done my best to get all of the kids involved in the kitchen in one way or another. And that’s something I’ve stuck with (for the most part) for the past 16 years.

Olivia has by far been the biggest kitchen-helper enthusiast. As soon as she could confidently sit by herself, I began sitting her on the counter right next to whatever I was working on in the kitchen. And until she started kindergarten, that was pretty much the spot where she spent her days, as shown in this picture from 2008.

P1012675

She obviously learned some good lessons in that time spent in the kitchen with me as she is now a 10-year-old master of the kitchen. She makes breakfast and lunch for herself and her siblings on the weekends, she is in charge of dinner (fully, from start to finish) at least one night a week, and she chooses to binge watch Food Network shows over any other TV show.

So, it’s not surprising that Jill has developed a kitchen love all her own. However, her love in the kitchen is tied in to her primary love – YouTube videos.

I now present…Jill in the Kitchen, Episode 1.

She’s definitely got a knack for video, and for making a killer cake!

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Kiwi-Glazed Cheesecake Bars

February 10, 2016 by  
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At what point of the winter do you hit the end of your rope with all things winter? Compared to the past few years, it’s been a really moderate winter here in Michigan. Moderate enough that we’ve all missed the snow and the really cold weather. I’ve definitely missed the snow too, but as of today, I’m officially done with winter. I am craving longer days, sunnier skies, and warmer weather.

When that mood hits, whether it’s me or anyone else in the family, I find that having a little taste of spring or summer is the best medicine. Hot dog picnics in the middle of a snowstorm…ice cream cones and popsicles after a long drive home from school on ice-covered roads…and summery desserts on nights when mom is freezing.

If you could see my right now, you’d know that the blanket on my lap and the freezing fingers wrapped around my hot coffee mug mean we all enjoyed some summery (at least in my mind) Kiwi-Glazed Cheesecake Bars tonight.

kiwi glazed cheesecake bars

Kiwi-Glazed Cheesecake Bars
 
Prep time
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Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 12
Ingredients
For Crust
  • 2 c. graham cracker crumbs (about one sleeve, crushed)
  • 2 T. sugar
  • ½ c. butter, melted
For Filling
  • 2 8oz. packages cream cheese, softened
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 T. lime juice
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 eggs
For Glaze
  • ½ c. sugar
  • ⅓ c. water
  • 2 T. lime juice
  • 2-3 kiwis, quartered and sliced
Instructions
  1. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Press into a 13x9 casserole dish lined with foil. (For easy removal of the bars, leave an inch or two of foil hanging over the ends of the dish.) Bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes, until golden and set. Cool.
  2. While the crust cools, beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until creamy. Add sugar, lime juice and vanilla. Beat an additional 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs until combined. Pour on top of cooled crust.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until edges are lightly browned and filling is set. It will firm up as it cools. Cool on a wire rack and then move to the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before cutting.
  4. Shortly before cutting the bars, combine sugar, water and lime juice in a small pot. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Cook until slightly thick and syrupy, stirring often. Remove from heat. Stir in kiwi pieces.
  5. Remove the bars from the casserole dish and cut into squares. Garnish each square with a spoonful of the kiwi. Serve and enjoy. Store leftovers in the fridge.

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25 Romantic Recipes for a Valentine’s Date Night at Home

February 9, 2016 by  
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I have a feeling a lot of people will be spending their Valentine’s Day date night at home given that it coincides with the return of The Walking Dead after a long winter hiatus. (I’m sure Eric and I aren’t the only ones with this plan…right?) I’m thinking a nicer-than-usual Valentine’s dinner + an evening of TV together on the couch sounds like the perfect date.

Other benefits of doing Valentine’s Day dinner at home include the savings, the avoidance of long waits, going out in the cold, and a fun project that the two of you can do together.

If you’re planning a night in just like us, I figure you might appreciate some awesome meal ideas. Check out this list I’ve pulled together and get ready to create a memorable (and delicious!) night.

25 romantic recipes for valentine's day

25 Romantic Recipes for a Valentine’s Date Night at Home

Appetizers

Soups & Salads

Beef

Chicken

Seafood

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