Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Macaroni and Cheese with Ham

Every year on Memorial Day my Great Grandma hosted these great big potluck parties. Over the years there always seemed to be a different mix of people in attendance, from immediate family, to distant cousins we only saw on that holiday, to new and old family friends made over the years. No matter who was there it was always a wonderful time enjoying good company and great food. I have so many memories of spending the afternoon rolling down the big hill in the backyard, jumping in the sand pit, going on long walks after lunch to the pond or the brook, and of course catching up with everyone, telling them all the new stuff happening at school and what-not.  All the while my Great Grandma was always bustling around her kitchen making the most wonderful food.  Even though the company sometimes changed, the food always held fairly constant; swedish meatballs, baked beans, bbq kielbasa, funeral chicken, lots of different salads, endless kinds of cookies, and of course, my favorite, macaroni and cheese.  I will never know how she managed to make so much food and have it all come out right and be warm at the same time. Every burner on the stove was always topped with a pot, the oven was jam packed, and every inch of counter surface had some kind of delicious dish waiting to be gobbled up.  My Great Grandma's recipe was the creamiest mac and cheese I have ever had, but then again everything she made was fantastic. Quite a few years ago I asked my mom if she knew what made the mac and cheese so good and she said that Great Grandma makes hers with Velveeta! So I tried my hand at making her recipe but it just didn't come out the same way no matter what I tried. Eventually I decided to change a few things up to try to recreate a similar version. I pretty much kept the same base bechamel white sauce and the ritz cracker topping but I experimented with different types of cheese (trying to limit the amount of processed foods we eat, etc) and mixed up the spices in the cheese sauce, plus I added the ham.  Although this recipe will never be the same as Great Grandma's it comes in a pretty close second.

Even though I nixed the Velveeta, there is still SO MUCH cheese in this recipe! This is one of those dinners that you only make on occasion or if someone is in need of some serious comfort food.  This meal is certainly not high on the list of healthiest dinners ever, but it is worth all those extra calories every now and then!    

Just look at all of that melty cheesy goodness!  Feel free to change up the cheeses to whatever your family likes. I would definitely at least keep the cheddar, but if you like a different combo of cheese, go for it. Sometimes I like to do half colby jack and half gouda instead of just one or the other and sometimes I put in pretty much all cheddar.  The American cheese helps take place of all the Velveeta in the original recipe (yes I know, it is still processed, but it is only a few slices) and it adds that creaminess that I just can't recreate without it.  You can absolutely leave it out if it isn't your thing. 

The recipe is actually pretty flexible overall. You can use any short cut pasta that you want; elbows, shells, rotini, bowties, gemelli, etc. If you don't have chicken broth on hand, just substitute with all milk. You can use lower fat milk, though the sauce will be somewhat less creamy. You can leave the ham out. You can change the spice mixture up to whatever you like or even change out the Ritz crackers for breadcrumbs or top with an extra layer of cheese instead. Take this recipe base and make it your own. 

The cheese sauce is ultra creamy and beyond cheesy. The Ritz crackers are buttery and crispy from baking in the oven and really, how can you go wrong with ham in your mac and cheese?  As I mentioned, this dish is great for potlucks or if you need a casserole to bring over to a friend.  Also, as long as you are careful not to add excess water to the cheese sauce, this reheats incredibly well. Give this mac and cheese a try next time that craving for comfort food hits!

Macaroni and Cheese with Ham

4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp seasoned salt (i.e. Lawry's)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
5-6 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 cups whole milk
6oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
6 oz monterey jack, colby jack cheese or gouda, shredded
~5 slices American cheese
1 1/2 cups diced ham
Approx. 15 Ritz crackers
1 box (1 lb) elbow noodles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook noodles according to package directions for "al dente" cooked pasta. While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour and cook for about a minute. You want to make sure to cook the raw flavor out of the flour.  Add the spices, the worcestershire sauce and then whisk in the cold milk until the mixture is smooth.

Bring the sauce to a boil over medium high heat, whisking constantly until thickened. This will take maybe five minutes.  Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses. Drain the noodles extremely well and combine with the cheese sauce and diced ham.  It is important for the noodles and ham to be as dry as possible so that the cheese sauce does not separate and become grainy.  I usually pat the ham (and sometimes the noodles too) with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Top the mac and cheese with the crushed crackers.

If your skillet is large enough and oven proof you can mix everything together in the one pan and put into a preheated 350°F oven for 20 minutes. If your skillet is not large enough, transfer to a 9x13 casserole dish to bake. Do not add the cracker topping until after you have transferred to the casserole dish. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Watermelon Sugar Cookies

What ever happened to watermelons with seeds?  Are watermelons even advertised as "seedless" anymore or is that just considered the norm nowadays? I guess I have a bit of a soft spot for watermelons with seeds because I have this one particular memory of the last day of first grade and for some reason we were eating a ton of this really delicious watermelon just full of seeds. My teacher had everyone in the class save all of their seeds and she took us outside at the end of the day to have a watermelon seed spiting contest. Apparently I thought this was pretty awesome because I can still remember that afternoon quite vividly even 20 years later.  I don't actually recall eating watermelon full of seeds since that day, but it seems that whenever watermelons are recreated iconically they always tend to be covered in seeds. These cookies, for example, would not be complete without those little chocolate seeds, but when eating actual watermelon even that stray seed the pops up here or there tends to have people giving the reaction of "hey what the heck is this seed doing in my watermelon?!?"  Don't get me wrong, it is so much easier to chow down on a bunch of watermelon without seeds all over the place, but it all just seems a little ironic.  Also, the whole seedless watermelon thing makes you wonder what genetically modified fruit or veggie are they going to come up with next?  But let's not even get started on that subject ;-)

Whether you like your watermelon with or without seeds, these sugar cookie duplicates were a huge hit, not only because they look amazing; they were also very tasty. The dough is very easy to put together; you just have to have some patience and forethought to make these super cute cookies.  The dough needs to chill for at least a couple of hours and assembly is a little time consuming so make sure you have plenty of time to get these together.  To make the cookie dough, add the cold butter slices, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and red food coloring to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium low speed until this mixture comes together. Add the salt, baking powder, and half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the rest of the flour, and mix until everything is well incorporated.  Divide the dough in two and form each half into a disk shape. The dough will be pretty soft and might be a little sticky at this point, but just do the best you can and then wrap the disks in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least two hours. I made this dough the night before I wanted to bake the cookies so it was able to chill out overnight. I think this made a big difference in working with the dough since it was very well chilled and my kitchen is basically a sauna this time of year; so the longer the dough had to chill out, the easier this whole process was for me.

Once the dough has chilled  remove one disk of the dough from the fridge, unwrap from the plastic wrap, and place between two sheets of wax paper. This makes it extremely easy (and pretty much mess free) to roll the dough out without adding any extra flour like you might normally do when rolling out dough.

Roll the dough out to approximately 1/4" thick.

 Use a cookie cutter or other round object to cut circles of whatever size watermelons you plan on making. I think my cookie cutter was about 2".

Remove the excess dough from around the circles and reform into a disk and pop back into the fridge while you work on assembling these cookies. Cut each circle in half to make your watermelon slices. Then using a super small circle cutter or the edge of a heart with a scalloped edge cut the little "bites" out of the watermelon slices. You could probably just use a knife and cut a small indent but it might not have exactly the same effect.

Place the cookies on a baking tray and press five mini chocolate chips upside down in a random pattern to make the watermelon seeds. 

Bake in a 350°F oven for about 7-8 minutes, just until the cookies are set but not yet browning.  Cool completely on a wire rack before adding the "rind" decoration.  Keep rolling out the remaining dough and repeating the same process until you use up all of the dough. By the way, this recipe made a lot of cookies. I ended up with about 5 dozen, so feel free to cut the recipe in half or freeze one of the disks for later use.  Also, you can make any variety of decorated sugar cookie you want with this dough. You can leave out the red food coloring at the beginning and have plain sugar cookies or if you want to make a variety of colors, make up the dough, separate into bowls, and color before chilling in the fridge.

Once the cookies are fully cooled melt some white chocolate or white candy melts in the microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring in between, until the candy is completely melted and smooth. If the candy melts are really thick when melted (this happens sometimes depending on the color candy melt you are using) you can add a tiny spoon of shortening to thin the mixture.  

 Dip the curved edge of each cookie just barely into the chocolate and then press into green sprinkles to create the "rind" of the watermelon. I tried to use the side of the bowl that the sprinkles were in to help me press the sprinkles and chocolate in to place on the cookie. 

 Place the cookies on a sheet of wax paper until the chocolate is set. You can put the cookies in the fridge at this point if you need to speed up this process. In my experience, candy melts harden pretty fast, so if you are using those, this step won't take too long and will be able to enjoy your cookies shortly!

I stacked these perfectly sweet and soft cookies up on a platter and took them to a barbecue where every last one of them was eaten within a couple of hours.

I really can't say enough about how delicious these watermelon cookies were. They were sturdy enough to decorate but so soft with a little bit of chewy when you bit into them. The chocolates added a little contrasting sweetness and the sprinkles gave a nice sugary crunchy texture.  These were really worth the time needed to prep and assemble them.  Wherever you bring these everyone will think they are the absolute perfect summer cookies! 

Watermelon Sugar Cookies

Inspired by Megan's Cookin' 
Makes about 5 dozen

  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoon slices
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon watermelon extract
  • a squirt of red food gel or 6-8 drops red food coloring
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips, or candy coating
  • pearlized green sugar
  • 1 cup miniature semi sweet morsels
  • - See more at:

    1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, sliced into 1/2" pieces
    1 1/2 cups white sugar
    2 eggs
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
    Red food coloring 
    1 cup mini chocolate chips
    1 cup white chocolate or candy melts
    Green sugar sparkles/sprinkles

    Combine butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and food coloring in a stand mixer and beat on medium low speed with the paddle attachment until combined. Add baking powder, salt, and half of the flour mixing until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and beat in remaining flour until fully incorporated.  Divide dough into two portions, form into disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator at least two hours but up to overnight. Remove dough from the refrigerator one disk at a time and roll out between two sheets of wax paper to 1/4" thick.  Cut out circles, remove excess dough, cut circles in half and then cut the "bite" out of each circle half.  Place cookies on a baking tray and press five mini chocolate upside down into the dough. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 7-8 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack completely.  Repeat process with all remaining dough.  To decorate, melt white chocolate and dip the edge of each cookie in the chocolate. Press into green sprinkles to form the "rind" of the watermelon. Place on a sheet of wax paper to harden.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for several days at room temperature.


  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 tablespoon slices
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon watermelon extract
  • a squirt of red food gel or 6-8 drops red food coloring
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips, or candy coating
  • pearlized green sugar
  • 1 cup miniature semi sweet morsels
  • - See more at:

    Thursday, July 18, 2013

    Baked Taco Bites

    Don’t you just hate dinner ruts? You know, when you make the same, maybe, six dinners over and over again and you can’t come up with anything new or you keep making the same things because they are easy and inexpensive? And then half of the time you just end up going out to eat anyways because you’ve gotten into a vicious cycle of “what do you want for dinner…I don’t care, what you do want for dinner?”  Please tell me that this is not just us!? This recipe was born during one of the worst dinner ruts that K and I ever had. I think we had eaten almost nothing but chicken tenders and mac and cheese for weeks.  One night I opened the fridge to find only a few left over tortillas from making quesadillas earlier in the week, a pound of ground turkey, and a few other odds and ends. Instead of going to the store, I decided that I could make tacos.  I had seen other recipes around the interwebz for things like cheeseburger bites and so I figured I would just apply the same idea to these and they turned out great. Ever since I started making these bites, I haven’t made plain soft shell tacos again.    

    The taco bites are very easy to make; definitely a quick weeknight meal.  Start by sauteing the chopped onion over medium high heat for a couple of minutes in a little olive oil. Once the onion is starting to get soft, add the ground turkey (or beef), breaking into small pieces as it cooks all the way through.  Add a heaping tablespoon of homemade taco seasoning or one packet of the store bought taco seasoning. 

    As always, the seasoning should be done to your taste. I usually add a bit of salt and pepper to the meat as it cooks and then the taco seasoning, which I find to be very strong and spicy (not hot, just lots of good savory spices).  The taco seasoning packets from the store are very high in sodium, so you shouldn’t need to add any extra salt.  Add the water and ketchup to the skillet, reduce the heat a bit, and cook until nice and thick.

    I think the ketchup adds a contrasting sweetness to the tacos that cuts a bit of the savory-ness of the spice mix. You could also add a bit of tomato paste instead if you don’t like the idea of ketchup in tacos.  While your meat mixture thickens, prepare the tortilla shells. I use a 3” cookie cutter and can usually cut about 4 circles out of one of the burrito sized tortillas. You could use a large glass, biscuit cutter, or a cleaned tuna can with the top and bottom cut off to get the same results.    

    Grease 2 muffin trays with baking spray or olive oil and press each tortilla down into the muffin cups. 

    Once the taco filling is thick, add about 1/3 of the grated cheese and mix thoroughly.  Spoon the filling into each of the tortilla cups, filing just about to the top of the shell. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake in a 400°F oven for 15-20 minutes depending on your desired crispiness.  In the oven, the tortilla shell transforms into a cross between a soft and hard shell with crispy edges yet a perfectly warmed soft taco in the middle.   Let cool for a few minutes in the pan and then pop out of the muffin tray with a butter knife.  Top with whatever taco toppings you normally like. I just put a little chopped tomato on mine, but you can do lettuce, sour cream, salsa, whatever you like.  We like to eat these with rice pilaf cooked with sautéed onions and peppers or with a salad.  Now that I think about it, these bites would also make a really great party appetizer with a topping station full of standard taco fixings.  I hope you give these a try!

    Baked Taco Bites
    Makes about 18 bites

    1lb lean ground beef or turkey
    ½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 heaping tbsp homemade taco seasoning (recipe below) or 1 packet store bought seasoning
    ½ cup water
    ¼ cup ketchup
    About 4-5 burrito size soft flour tortillas
    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    Toppings of your choosing: lettuce, tomato, salsa, sour cream, etc

    Cook onion in a large skillet over medium high heat until soft. Add in ground meat and brown until cooked through. Add taco seasoning, water, and ketchup and simmer over medium low heat until thickened.  Cut tortillas into circles and place in a greased muffin tin. Stir 1/3 of the cheese into the meat mixture, spoon into shells, and top with remaining cheese. Bake in a preheated 400°F for 15-20 minutes. Cool slightly, remove from the muffin tray and top with your favorite taco toppings.

    Homemade taco seasoning

    4 tbsp of chili powder
    2 tbsp ground cumin
    1 tbsp sea salt
    1 tbsp black pepper
    1 tbsp garlic powder
    2 tsp onion powder
    2 tsp paprika
    1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    1 tsp dried oregano
    1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

    Combine all spices, stir well to combine, and store in an air tight container. This mixture makes quite a bit of seasoning so it will last for a long while. 


    Sunday, July 14, 2013

    Red Velvet Cake

    I get a lot of requests from my family to make cakes for birthdays or special occasions and I always ask them to pick what kind of cake they would like. Usually I get a lot of requests for carrot cake, vanilla cake, or daffodil cake (secret family recipe), but this year I got a request for red velvet.  I have never made or eaten red velvet cake before this, but over the past few years it seems to have become a pretty major food trend and so I was very excited to see what all the fuss was about.   As I have mentioned before, I have a very large collection of recipes and a good chunk of them are "specialty" cakes that I pretty much will never have any reason to make because they are complicated and have too many components or are ridiculously decadent and it is extremely unlikely anyone will ask me to make something so fancy; but I still save the recipes anyways, umm, well because they sound too delicious not to (which probably isn't a very good reason...)? I am not sure why, but to me, red velvet cake fell into this category of fancy cakes that I am never going to make, yet I have 10 or so recipes saved for it anyways. So I'm really glad I got a request to make this, because it was as simple as putting together a basic vanilla or chocolate cake and extremely tasty too.

    To start the cake batter, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer.)  The butter adds flavor and richness while the oil add a nice moistness to the cake. While this is creaming, in a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until everything is well distributed.

    Measure your buttermilk and add the red food coloring until you get a deep red color that you like. You can use either the liquid or gel food coloring for this. If you don't have buttermilk, you can make a substitution with milk and a squeeze of lemon juice or a few drops of vinegar. Make sure you let this stand for at least 5 minutes so the acid has time to do its work.

    Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter and sugar mixture and beat until smooth and combined.  Then add a third of the dry ingredients, half of the buttermilk, another third of the dry mix, the remaining buttermilk, and then the remaining dry ingredients, beating each time until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. The last step is to mix the baking soda with the vinegar in a small bowl. This will foam up a bit, but just add it right into the batter.  This may seem like an odd thing to add to cake, but I have read that this is what gives the cake the texture that red velvet is known for.  Make sure to stop beating immediately after the batter is incorporated to avoid over mixing. Give the batter a few big stirs from the bottom up with your spatula.

    Evenly distribute the batter into two greased and floured 9" cake pans. Bake in a 350ºF oven for about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes and then invert pans onto wire racks and cool cakes completely. Sadie thought that the leftover batter in the bowl was super yummy. She licked that bowl clean!

    To make the frosting, beat together the room temperature cream cheese and butter with a whisk attachment.  Carefully add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed so that you don't get sugar all over the kitchen. Mix in the vanilla. Once everything is well mixed, beat on medium high speed for a 2 to 3 minutes. Add a tbsp or two of milk or heavy cream if the frosting seems too thick.  Chill in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cake. 

    To frost the cake, place one layer upside down on the cake plate (the flat side should be up, so that you have a nice flat cake), spread a big dollop of frosting on top to make the middle layer of the cake, then place the second cake on top (also upside down).  Pile some frosting on the top of the cake and push over the sides, smoothing the frosting down and evenly around the sides.  Add more frosting to the top if necessary and smooth until you are happy with the look. Decorate however you like. I just topped mine with sprinkles.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Look at the beautiful red, moist and delicious cake! The slightly chocolatey cake melts in your mouth and the cream cheese frosting is the perfect compliment. The birthday boy was very happy with the cake. Right after he finished his slice, he said, "I'm requesting this cake again for next year's birthday!" 

    Red Velvet Cake
    Inspired by Laura in the Kitchen

    1/2 cup unsalted butter
    1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
    1 1/2 cups white sugar
    3 eggs
    2 tsp vanilla
    1 cup buttermilk (see substitute above)
    2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup cocoa powder
    1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
    2 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    2 tsp white vinegar
    Red food coloring

    Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  In a stand mixer or large bowl cream together butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine.  Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Mix red food coloring into buttermilk.  Into the wet ingredients, alternately beat in 1/3 dry mix, 1/2 buttermilk, 1/3 dry mix, 1/2 buttermilk and 1/3 dry mix until just combined.  Stir together the baking soda and vinegar and mix into cake batter.  Divide batter into two 9" greased and floured cake pans. Bake for about 25 minutes until fully cooked.  Cool 10 minutes in pans and transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Assemble cake by frosting the bottom layer, putting the top layer on and frosting entire outside of cake. Keep refrigerated until serving. 

    Cream Cheese Frosting

    12 oz cream cheese
    4 oz butter
    4 cups powdered sugar
    2 tsp vanilla
    1-2 tbsp milk or heavy cream, as needed

    Beat together room temperature cream cheese and butter and then mix in powdered sugar slowly. Add vanilla and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until fluffy.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.


    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    Bacon Cheddar Ranch Potato Salad

    When I was a little kid, I was a really picky eater.  No seafood, no spaghetti sauce, no pizza, no cold sandwiches, definitely no mayo, and the list went on and on. I know, it's crazy, I mean what kind of kid doesn’t like pizza?! It didn't matter where we were; barbeques, potlucks, birthday parties, I was that weird picky kid who had no idea that she was missing out on SO much good food! I used to ask my mom to pack me peanut butter crackers for my school lunch because I hated almost all lunch type foods.  The only thing I did like to eat for lunch was grilled cheese and you can’t very well pack up a grilled cheese, stick in your cold lunch box and eat it four hours later. Anyways, eventually over the years I have grown out of most of my picky eating habits, with the exception of seafood and mushrooms (bleck!) As I got more and more interested in the food world I tried to expand my palate and became willing to try foods that I previously thought were evil to give them another chance.  I discovered that, while I still won’t just spread plain mayo on a sandwich, I found out that if I mix it with some other kinds of flavoring, it’s actually quite tasty!  I stumbled upon a recipe for this bacon cheddar ranch potato salad a few weeks ago and I have made it several times since then because it is so delicious. It tastes just like a loaded, ranch-y baked potato and is very simple to throw together.

    Cut cleaned red potatoes into approximately 1” chunks, place in a large pot of cold salted water, cover and bring to a boil.  Continue to boil for about 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are just fork tender. You want the potatoes to still have a bit of bite to them and not be too cooked and smooshy.   Drain the potatoes, transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator until completely cooled.  I really recommend taking the time to let them cool off in the fridge. I have made this salad in a hurry and rinsed the potatoes under cold water until cooled, but it does something that changes the texture of the potatoes. (If you don't have the time, just rinse them until cool, the salad will still be awesome. Make sure to pat the potatoes dry, otherwise the dressing won't adhere well.) While the potatoes are cooling, mix up the dressing and prep the other ingredients.  In a 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the mayo, milk, vinegar, mustard, honey, ranch seasoning, salt, pepper and fresh herbs, if using.   Set this aside in the fridge until ready to assemble.  Cook approximately 6 slices of chopped bacon until fairly crisp and drain on paper towels. Just before you are ready to assemble chop the celery and green onion into small pieces and grate the cheddar cheese.   Toss the veggies, the cheese, and about ¾ of the dressing into the cold potatoes and give it a good stir to combine.  If it looks a little dry still, add more of the dressing.  If you have time to let the potato salad chill in the fridge for a couple of hours or even overnight, it will really help the flavors come together.  Save any remaining dressing you have, sometimes the potatoes are thirsty and really soak up the dressing, so you might have to add a little more later. Stir in the bacon bits right before serving. There is nothing worse than soggy bacon!

    The potato salad would be a great compliment to burgers and hot dogs, pulled pork, barbeque chicken, etc. The dressing is creamy and has a nice ranch flavor but it doesn’t over power the other ingredients. The fresh dill and parsley, if you choose to add them, add a herb-y freshness to the salad while the bacon and cheddar give contrasting textures and a bit of saltiness.  This potato salad will definitely be a hit at your next barbeque! 

    By the way, feel free to change up the ingredients with whatever you like or have on hand; different potatoes, different veggies, different cheese, whatever makes you happy! 

     Bacon Cheddar Ranch Potato Salad

    Inspired by i heart eating

    3 lbs red potatoes
    3 stalks celery
    4 green onions
    8oz sharp cheddar cheese
    6 slices bacon
    1 cup mayonnaise
    1/3 cup milk
    1.5 tbsp dry ranch seasoning
    1 tbsp white vinegar
    1 tbsp mustard
    1 tsp honey
    2 springs fresh dill, optional
    2 springs fresh parsley, optional
    salt and pepper to taste

    Cube washed potatoes into 1" chunks, bring to a boil in salted water and boil about 10-15 minutes.  Drain and let the potatoes cool. Cook the chopped bacon until fairly crispy. Shred the cheese and chop the celery and green onions. Mix the remaining ingredients together and stir until well combined.  When the potatoes are cold, mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, except for the bacon. Reserve about 1/4 of the dressing until everything is well mixed and see if you need more. Let chill for several hours or overnight. Stir in bacon right before serving. 


    Monday, July 8, 2013

    Vanilla Whoopie Pies for Independence Day

    I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend! I love this time of year, despite the oppressive heat wave we have been having, our days have been filled with lots of swimming, day trip adventures, family birthdays, and BBQs with friends. K and I always take the first week of July off from work and some years we go on vacation but other years, like this one, we spend our time hanging out around home. This past week, we had lots of parties to attend, which meant that I was busy in the kitchen trying out new recipes to share with everyone. This also meant that in the middle of 90+ degree days with 99% humidity, in our A/C-less house, I had the oven running to bake cakes or pots boiling away on the stove top to make potato salad.   These whoopie pies were well worth the hot kitchen though! The cookies are soft, almost cake like and, wow, was the frosting delicious! The marshmallow fluff gives the frosting a great texture and adds a different twist to a standard buttercream.  Before I get into the recipe, I want to share a few pictures from the holiday weekend.

    Ok back to the recipe. Whoopie pies are always a crowd pleaser with both kids and adults so I whipped these red, white, and blue cookies up for a family barbeque at the lake.   

    You can certainly make these any color combination that you would like, or just leave the food coloring out and make good old vanilla whoopie pies.  To get started, cream together the softened butter and sugar for several minutes until light and fluffy. I used my hand held electric mixer because I was too lazy to get the stand mixer out, but these are so simple, you can even throw them together with just a whisk and a spatula if you want.  

     Mix in the egg, egg white and vanilla until the batter is smooth and well combined.  

     In a separate bowl, whisk (or sift, if you are into that kind of thing) the flour, baking powder, and salt all together. 

    Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat on low speed to combine. Repeat this process with the milk and then the other half of the dry ingredients. Make sure to just mix the batter until incorporated because we don’t want to over mix and end up with tough cookies.  I stopped using the mixer when the flour was almost incorporated and finished up with a spatula.   

    If coloring, divide the batter into separate bowls and add enough food coloring to get the color you like. I like to use the gel food coloring because it doesn’t add any more liquid and won’t change the texture of the batter.  I buy this at Michael’s but you should be able to find it at any craft store or store that carries baking accessories. Spoon the batter into piping bags or Ziploc bags. A handy tip for doing this by yourself is to get a large drinking glass, place the tip side down in the glass and fold the edges of the bag over the glass, so you can spoon the batter or frosting down into the bag without having to hold the bag at the same time. 

    Make a small cut on the corner of the bag and pipe into 1 ½ inch circles onto parchment or silicone mat lined baking sheets. The cookies shouldn’t really spread while baking, so just leave 1 to 2 inches between each one on the tray.   After I piped the cookies, I smoothed them out a little using the back of a spoon. You could probably skip the whole piping process if you aren’t concerned with perfect circles and use two spoons to scoop the batter into cookies.  

    Bake in a 350°F oven for 7-8 minutes until the cookies are set. Let the cookies cool on the tray for about 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.   

    While the cookies are cooling, make the frosting by beating together the butter and powdered sugar until combined and then adding the fluff and vanilla and beat again until a smooth thick consistency. Add a tbsp of milk if you think it is necessary to thin the filling.  To assemble, find two similar sized cookies of each color and pipe or spoon the frosting onto the bottom side of one cookie.

    Place the second cookie on top and press lightly to smoosh the frosting to the edges of the cookie.  If desired, sprinkle or roll the frosting with sprinkles or other candy of your choosing. These are best served the same day, but can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an air tight container for several days at room temperature.  

    Vanilla Whoopie Pies

    Makes about 20 sandwiched cookie, inspired by Annie's Eats and Yoyomax12

    Whoopie Pies
    ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
    ¾ cup white sugar
    1 whole egg plus 1 egg white
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
    1 ½ tsp baking powder
    ½ tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
    ½ cup milk
    Food coloring, optional

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes, with an electric mixer, until light and fluffy.  Mix in the egg, egg white, and vanilla until well combined.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Pour half of the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture and beat with the mixer until combined. Add the milk, beat to combine and then repeat with the remaining flour.  At this point, separate into bowls and color with food coloring, if desired. Place the batter into piping or ziploc bags, cut off the tip of the bag, and pipe into 1 ½ inch circles onto baking trays lined with parchment paper or silicone mats.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until the cookies are just set. Let cool on the baking tray for about 10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
    Marshmallow Filing
    ½ cup butter, room temperature
    1 ½ cup powdered sugar
    ½ cup of marshmallow fluff
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    Combine the butter and powdered sugar in a medium bowl and mix on medium speed for several minutes until well combined. Add in the marshmallow fluff and vanilla and continue to beat everything together. The frosting should be a fairly thick consistency.

    To assemble the whoopie pies, try to find two similar sized cookies and pipe or spoon the filling onto the bottom side of one cookie, place the second cookie on top and press lightly to smooth the frosting in place.  Roll or sprinkle the frosting with sprinkles or other candies. Best served the same day, but can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an air tight container for several days at room temperature.