Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookie Bars

In my neck of the woods, it snowed ten inches yesterday. Naturally, there’s only one thing to do when the flakes are falling down from the sky at such a steady pace… Bake! I created these beauties yesterday afternoon as an idea for a super versatile dessert – whether giving to your kids in a bagged lunch, serving at a party, or just having on hand around the house when your sweet tooth comes knocking!

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This recipe turned out perfectly to make 8 bars, but feel free to double it to make more!

Start by pre-heating your oven to 375 degrees and spraying mini loaf pans with cooking spray. I have a nifty set of 8 that are all connected, kind of like this one.

Like most cookies, these start by prepping dry and wet ingredients separately. In a medium bowl, combine 1 and 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt. Then, in a stand mixer bowl, cream together 1 stick of softened butter, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla.

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Remember that “creaming” together butter and sugar should be done at a high speed for at least two minutes! Start at a low speed to get things starting to break down, and then kick it up to medium-high until the mixture is smooth.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat in one egg. Reduce the mixer speed to “stir” and slowly combine in the flour mixture. You’ll probably need to use a spatula at the end to fold in the last bit of flour and make the dough into a nice ball.

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Fold in a heavy 1/2 cup each of dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries until they are distributed throughout the dough. Divide the dough evenly between 8 mini loaf pans and then bake at 375 for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.

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Once they come out of the oven, allow to cool in the pan for a minute or two before using a metal spatula to help remove them cleanly from the pan. Place them on a wire rack to cool completely… but feel free to enjoy while they are still warm!

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These are perfectly sweet, so one bar should be plenty enough for one person! You may want to cut them in half for the kiddos.

Oh, and you’ll DEFINITELY want to serve these with some cold milk!

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Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as my house did – 24 hours later, they are already gone!!

Full Recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookie Bars

Yield: 8 bars

Ingredients:

1 & 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
Heavy 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
Heavy 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 375 and spray 8 mini loaf pans with cooking spray.

2) In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

3) In bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla on with paddle attachment medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.

4) Scrape down sides of the bowl and then beat in one egg to butter and sugar.

5) Reduce mixer speed to “stir” and slowly combine in flour mixture a little at a time. Turn off the mixer and remove paddle to allow you to fold in the last bit of flour by hand at the end and create a neat dough ball.

6) Fold in chocolate chips and cranberries until well distributed throughout the dough.

7) Divide batter evenly between 8 mini loaf pans and bake at 375 for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan slightly before using a metal spatula to remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Heavenly Mai Tai

Happy snowy Saturday! As promised in last Saturday’s Coconut Chicken recipe, here’s my take on the ever-popular tropical Mai Tai drink. This is without a doubt one of my favorites to make and drink, but be warned – it’s deceptively strong!

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This is a shaken drink, so you’ll need to put some ice into a cocktail shaker and then fill a hurricane or sangria glass with ice. To the shaker, add 2 ounces of Bacardi Gold, 1 ounce of Disaronno, one ounce of grenadine, and four ounces of pineapple juice. Shake vigorously for a few seconds and then strain into the prepared glass. Float 1/2 an ounce of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum on top of the drink and serve!

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This is sure to be a hit at any party – or if you’re snowed in on a cold February Saturday!

Full Recipe:

Heavenly Mai Tai

Yield: One drink

Ingredients:

2 ounces Bacardi Gold Rum
1 ounce Disaronno
1 ounce grenadine
4 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce Captain Morgan Spiced Rum

Process:

1) Fill a hurricane glass or sangria glass with ice, and then add ice to a cocktail shaker.

2) Add Bacardi, Disaronno, grenadine, and pineapple juice to shaker and shake vigorously for a few seconds.

3) Strain into prepared glass. Float Captain on top of drink and serve!

Coconut Chicken with Pina Colada Glaze and Hawaiian Rice

Happy Valentine’s Day to all! This would be an awesome dish to make your valentine if you’re sick of the cold and want to imagine you’re in the tropics with a Mai Tai in your hand and not a care in the world! (Stay tuned later this week for my amazing take on a mai tai.) Of course, this is also just an awesome dish in general – I’d even wager that your kids would like it, as long as they don’t have anything against coconut or pineapple.

The title is a little of a mouthful (sorry!) but there’s a lot of moving parts to this meal and there’s just so many good things about it that I had to include as much in the title as I could!

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The recipe following is for four, but feel free to adjust as necessary!

The first thing you’ll need to do is preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and then put together your breading assembly line. Doing any kind of “breading” process on meat is very simple, but so many people wind up with their yummy coating not sticking and falling off the meat! There’s an easy trick to it, as some may remember from my Parmesan Breaded Chicken (which was a popular hit on Pinterest!): you have to coat the meat in flour first, THEN egg, THEN the breading. Coating in flour first gives the egg something to stick on to, which then makes the breading adhere better!

So, you’ll need three shallow dishes:

Dish 1: 2 tablespoons of flour plus 1 teaspoon of salt plus 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
Dish 2: 1 egg, beaten
Dish 3: 1 heavy cup coconut flakes plus 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Adding the salt and pepper to the flour ensures that the flavor is close to the chicken and doesn’t get lost in the breading. Follow this rule any time you’re breading meat, especially with coarser coatings like this one!

Next, prep your chicken. I tend to buy the store brand of chicken breast, and they are HUGE, so I cut one of those babies in half to make two better portioned pieces. Cut two large breasts in half to make four pieces and then get a few tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Coat the chicken first in the flour (shake off excess), then the egg, and finally the coconut. You’ll really need to use your hands to coat the chicken thoroughly. Lay each piece carefully in the pan and allow to brown on both sides. (About 2 minutes or so per side.)

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Once the chicken is browned, put the pieces in a glass baking dish, sprinkle with some additional coconut (1/4 cup or so) and bake for 20-25 minutes. (Conveniently, that should be about the time you’re finishing up everything else.)

Next, you’ll need to get your pina colada glaze reducing. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup pineapple juice, 1/4 cup cream of coconut, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup coconut flakes, and 2 ounces of crushed pineapple (1/4 of an 8 oz can). Stir well and keep over high heat, allowing it to boil and then reduce down while you’re making the rice.

KITCHEN TIP: You can find cream of coconut in most liquor stores, or in the section of your grocery store where they sell drink mixers. As my loyal readers know, I’m a bit of an amateur mixologist, so I always have some on hand for when I make tropical drinks!

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I use regular old Uncle Ben’s white rice, which takes about 20 minutes to cook. Put 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan, allow to boil, then cover and reduce heat to low to allow the water to soak into the rice while it cooks. (Otherwise, follow the directions for whatever kind of rice you use.) Once the rice is going, you can work on the rest of the components to make the rice super delish. 🙂

I call it Hawaiian rice, but really, it’s essentially just fried rice with some minor changes… I gave a recipe for excellent fried rice in my Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken recipe, but since this is a bit different, here’s a refresher:

Dice 1/4 of a sweet onion and 1/2 a green (or red, or yellow, or orange…) pepper. Put these in a skillet over medium high heat with a few tablespoons of oil. (I just washed the pan I used for the chicken and used that one – less dishes later!) Once these have sweated for about a minute or so, add 3/4 cup frozen peas, stir to distribute, and allow to cook for 4-5 minutes. Just before it’s done, add 1 clove of minced garlic.

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KITCHEN TIP: Buy your peppers in bulk and prep them once your home – I usually like to julienne some and dice the rest. Put them into separate Ziploc freezer bags, labeled with the date, and freeze them! They’ll be good for up to 6 months, and then you can just take out what you need.

Once the veggies are cooked, push them to the side and pan-scramble one egg in the empty space of the pan. It’s not going to look super appetizing, since it’s going to pick up the oils and juices from the vegetables, but don’t worry. The brown stuff is packed with flavor!

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Once the egg is cooked, mix it in with the rest of the vegetables. Add your cooked rice, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, and 1 tsp ground ginger, along with 6 ounces of crushed pineapple (the rest of the can you opened earlier for the glaze) and 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce. Stir this all together until combined and then remove from the heat.

By the time your chicken is done, your glaze should have reduced nicely. Take the glaze off the heat and get the chicken out of the oven. You’re ready to plate and serve! Top the chicken with the glaze and serve immediately. (You could also double the glaze recipe and add it to the rice, too!)

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I’m not responsible for when this dinner disappears faster than you can blink! Once you get the process down, it works like a well-oiled machine, and I’m sure this will become a staple dinner for your house!

Full recipe:

Coconut Chicken with Pina Colada Glaze and Hawaiian Rice

Yield: 4 servings

Chicken:

2 large chicken breasts, cut in half to make 4 pieces
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 heavy cup coconut flakes, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
3 tbsp canola oil, for the pan

Glaze:

1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup cream of coconut
3 tbsp sugar
2 ounces crushed pineapple
1/4 cup coconut flakes
1/2 tsp salt

Rice:

1 cup regular white rice
2 cups water
2 tbsp canola oil, for the pan
1/4 onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
6 ounces crushed pineapple
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp teriyaki sauce

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare breading assembly line by combining flour, salt, and pepper in first dish, beaten egg in second dish, and coconut and pecans in third dish.

2) Coat a large skillet in canola oil and put over medium heat. Bread the chicken by coating first in flour, making sure to shake off the excess, then the egg, and finally the coconut. Use your hands to ensure the chicken is well coated in coconut and then lay each piece carefully into the pan. Brown on each side for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a glass baking dish, top with additional coconut, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

3) In a small saucepan, combine pineapple juice, cream of coconut, sugar, crushed pineapple, coconut flakes, and salt. Stir to combine and bring to boil over high heat and then allow to reduce.

4) In a medium saucepan, add rice and water. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to low, allowing rice to cook through until all the water is gone.

5) In large skillet, heat canola oil over medium high heat and add onion and pepper, allowing to sweat for a minute before adding frozen peas. Let this cook for 4-5 minutes, then add garlic and cook for one additional minute.

6) Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and pan scramble an egg in the open space, then stir into the vegetables.

7) Once the rice is done, add to the vegetables, along with pineapple, salt, pepper, ginger, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce. Stir to combine and then remove from heat until ready to serve.

8) After chicken is done baking, remove from oven and plate with the rice. Top chicken with glaze and serve!

Perfect French Toast

Wow! What a year it has been. It’s hard to believe it’s been over 10 months since I last posted. Here’s the obligatory explanation and apology, before we get into the meat of the post:

As you may have read somewhere in my About, my profession is a professional wedding photographer. I own my company, and I have been growing exponentially. (Yay!) I also made the decision to go back to school for my Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and that started up last January (2014). Both of those things by themselves are big time commitments. Both of those things TOGETHER took up nearly all of my free time while I adjusted to dealing with the two coinciding. I let Sweet, Spicy, and Neat tragically fall by the wayside as I determined how to allot my time and remain successful, and for that I deeply apologize.

With that being said, I can’t promise updates as frequently as I was once posting them. However, this little blog was a great source of happiness for me, and I loved reading comments from people who were excited to try the recipes! I will be doing my best to pick it back up with a moderate amount of frequency. You may have to bear with me for a while as I get back into the swing of things, but the best way to encourage continued updates is to FOLLOW and COMMENT and LIKE! 🙂

And now, onto the real reason you’re here!


Folks, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s only a WEEK away! Hopefully you already have your evening plans set in stone with your Valentine, but I’m hoping this post might give you an idea to start that romantic day a little bit earlier! (Hint: No woman ever turned down breakfast in bed…)

Of course, this little gem is good for more than Valentine’s Day. It was written partly out of my sheer exasperation at the plethora of sad, flimsy, flavorless, and otherwise pathetic versions of French Toast I’ve had the misfortune to be exposed to throughout my adult life. Now, I get it. Kids don’t care. Give ’em good ol’ Wonder Bread dipped in eggs and milk, and to them, that’s the breakfast of the gods. My four year old cousin will easily 4 pieces of that all by himself. But we’re all adults here. And darn it, it’s time for some decent, ADULT French Toast.

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Now, don’t be intimidated. It’s really not hard. It’s just that the devil is in the details here. French toast is a really basic staple breakfast dish. And it’s time we stop insulting it and start giving it the reverence it deserves.

The first step in your journey to French toast nirvana is ditching the Wonder Bread. It practically dissolves in your mouth. It just doesn’t have the stability and stamina to stand up to truly good French toast. Instead, grab yourself a loaf of unsliced Italian bread. You know, the kind your grocery store makes every morning in their bakery. Little tip: usually, a loaf of bread from your grocery store’s bakery is far cheaper than your favorite sliced loaf from the big companies.

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Make your slices about 1 to 1.5 inches thick, and cut the bread with a long serrated knife.

Since I’m gearing this for Valentine’s Day, this recipe will be set for two people, but it’s very easy to double to make more, if needed. So, cut 4 slices of bread and set them aside. Then, in a shallow dish, whisk up your egg batter.

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This batter is everything. This is a huge part of what makes this French toast so good. Whisk together 3 large eggs, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp almond extract, and a shot of spiced rum.

Yes, rum. It’s distilled from sugar cane, and then aged and spiced. What part of that DOESN’T sound like it belongs in French Toast?? Bacardi Gold or Captain Morgan are my favorites, but you can use whatever spiced rum you prefer.

So, once your eggs are all broken up and it’s looking pretty consistent (see photo), it’s time to start cooking! Put a griddle pan over medium low heat and melt a 1/2 tablespoon of butter on the pan. Yep, we’re using good old butter. No canola oil or cooking spray here! It’s all about FLAVOR.

Once the pan is heated, soak each piece of bread one at a time in the egg mixture, making sure to let each side really soak up the egg. (Read: don’t just dip it in and move on! Take your time with it. If you get to the end of your four pieces and you still have a lot of egg left, you did it wrong.) Lay each piece in the pan, spacing them accordingly. Now, here’s the really sweet part of the deal: liberally sprinkle the top side of each piece with cinnamon sugar, while the egg is still wet.

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For those of you doubters wondering why there was no cinnamon in the egg batter… this is why. If you put cinnamon loose in the egg mixture, it all floats on top. Consequently, your first piece of French toast is nice and cinnamon-y, and your last piece gets totally shafted. Not so nice!

Since your pan is on a nice medium low, they should cook nice and evenly. Let them stay on the first side for 3-5 minutes, and then flip them over.

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They should be a nice golden brown! Now, here’s where the magic happens. Once you flip them over, that cinnamon sugar caramelizes with the butter on the hot pan and fuses into the egg. Let them cook for another 3 minutes or so, then remove them from the heat and serve them cinnamon side up! If you’re feeling really fancy, slice up a large banana and cover the toast in bananas before drizzling with syrup and sprinkling with powdered sugar.

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There you have it, folks. Doesn’t get any better than that for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast! Also, just a disclaimer: I know I sometimes talk about healthy ways to eat, and I’ve even done some posts where I post nutrition info. However, there are some things in life that just shouldn’t be messed with, unhealthy as they are. French toast is carbs dipped in cholesterol and fat… let’s just let it do its thing, and not try and slim it down!

Full recipe:

Perfect French Toast

Yield: 2 servings (4 pieces)

Total time: 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

Four 1-inch slices good Italian bread
3 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 shot spiced rum
1/2 tablespoon butter
Cinnamon sugar, to taste
1 large banana, sliced into 1/4 inch coins (optional)
Maple syrup and powdered sugar, for serving.

Process:

1) Whisk up eggs, milk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and rum in a shallow bowl until eggs are well beaten.

2) Melt butter on a griddle over medium low heat. Soak both sides of each piece of bread in the egg mixture and lay on the heated pan.

3) Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of each piece while the egg is still wet. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, then flip and cook for an additional 3 minutes.

4) Serve cinnamon side up and top with banana, syrup, and powdered sugar. Enjoy immediately. 🙂

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Loin

Slow cooker recipes are always the best, so here’s another for you that may shock you! I grabbed a 2 pound pork loin on sale the other day and I was trying to decide how to make it different and interesting … Obviously the first way I decided was to cook it in the slow-cooker instead of the oven, but the second was to use a balsamic vinegar based cooking liquid.

Let me tell you, it was some kind of amazing! Super tender, so much so that I couldn’t even slice it nicely for photos – it just fell apart! And oh-so-flavorful… and oh-so-easy!

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The cooking liquid is important, of course, but the key to really flavorful meats is the spice rub. I always start pork spice rubs with brown sugar (about 3/4 cup) and then build up from there. For this one I added 2 teaspoons of salt, and then a half teaspoon or so each of black pepper, celery seed, oregano, thyme, cumin, and cayenne.

You might have to cut the pork loin in half before rubbing it (I did), but once its an appropriate size to fit in your slow cooker, rub it on all sides with the spice rub until it’s entirely gone.

Into the bottom of the slow cooker, add half a diced onion and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, then carefully place the pork on top.

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For your cooking liquid, in a small glass bowl or measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 cup cranberry juice, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Whisk it together and then carefully pour it around the pork in the slow cooker.

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That’s it! Cover and set the slow cooker to low and leave it alone for 4-5 hours. Once it’s ready, carefully lift it out and attempt to slice it – if it doesn’t really work, just pull it apart!

Full Recipe:

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Loin

Yield: About 4 servings

Ingredients:

One 2-pound pork loin
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup cranberry juice
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced

Spice Rub:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne.

Process:

1) Combine ingredients for spice rub in a small dish and rub onto all sides of the pork until it’s all been used.

2) Add onion and fresh thyme to slow cooker; carefully lay pork loin on top of the bed of onion.

3) In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, cranberry juice, mustard, and garlic until combined. Pour over the pork loin and then cover. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or until cooked through and tender.

Grilled Cheese BLT with Warm Apple Salad

So the classic sandwich of winter is the Grilled Cheese, and the classic sandwich of summer is the BLT. It’s now March, and spring is at least trying to get here, so BAM, here’s a hybrid of the two that is a sandwich that is sure to impress!

I’ve also included a great side to go with it, and it is ALL done in ONE pan. (Always makes it better!)

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Of course, the best part is the bacon – at least for me – so start by cutting two pieces of bacon in half and frying them up until they’re crispy. Place them on a paper towel to drain while you cook the rest of the sandwich.

Now, sandwich making is an art. (Women-in-the-kitchen jokes aside.) There’s a certain way that is optimal for layering and ensuring every bite is the same, so pay close attention!

Slice two pieces of Italian bread and butter one side of each. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and thyme on both.

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I used fresh thyme because I happened to have some on hand, but dried would do fine as well!

Next, add a few slices of extra sharp cheddar cheese and then your reserved bacon slices.

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My favorite brand of cheddar is Cabot – it’s super sharp and tastes fabulous!!

Next comes the lettuce. Any kind will do, but I feel like this sandwich is classy enough for spring greens:

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Then comes tomato slices and julienned onion:

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And finally, top with some more cheese before capping the sandwich with the other piece of bread. Make sure the buttered side is INSIDE the sandwich on both slices!

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The cheese goes on the outside so that it melts and creates a “glue” that holds the sandwich together. The tomatoes and lettuce are in the middle to keep them farther from the heat, and the lettuce goes between the tomatoes and bacon to ensure the wetness of the tomatoes doesn’t make the bacon soggy!

Now here comes the awesome part… put the heat back on the pan that still has your bacon fat in it, on medium-low, and then carefully place your sandwich right into the bacon fat. Let it cook for just a minute or two, enough to crisp up the bread and melt the cheese, and then turn it over and do the same to the other side.

Remove it from the pan and plate it along with some more spring greens, then turn the heat in the pan up to medium-high and add 1/2 an apple (sliced) along with some julienned onion and pepper. Squeeze in some lemon juice, sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper, and toss to coat.

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The goal is to brown the apples, onions, and peppers quickly so that they still retain some of their crunch. Once they’ve cooked for a minute or two, plate them on top of the spring greens and enjoy your fabulous spring dish!

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I’m still a little kid inside and like to have my sandwiches cut in half… but it also does a great job of showing the layers inside and how delicious this thing really is!

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Full Recipe:

Grilled Cheese BLT

Yield: 1 sandwich

Ingredients:

2 slices Italian bread
Butter/salt/pepper/thyme (to taste)
4-6 slices sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices of bacon
3 slices of fresh tomato
1 thin slice of an onion, broken apart
A small handful of spring greens

Process:

1) Cut the two slices of bacon in half and cook them in a frying pan until crisp. Set aside on a paper towel to drain.

2) Butter one side of each of the 2 slices of Italian bread and add salt, pepper, and thyme to the buttered sides.

3) Place one slice of bread, buttered side up, on your work surface and then layer the ingredients as follows: half the cheese slices, the bacon pieces, the spring greens, the tomato, the onion, and finally the other half of the cheese slices, before capping with the other half of the bread (buttered side down).

4) Put a medium-low heat under the same pan that you cooked the bacon in and carefully place the sandwich directly in the bacon fat. Allow to cook for just a minute or two, until browned, and then flip and cook for an additional minute. Serve immediately.

St. Patrick’s Day Drinks

Happy St. Patty’s Day to all! As promised, following are several drinks to help you get in the spirit tonight!

Let’s start off with the crowd pleaser…

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This is my version of the famous Irish Crush featured at Looney’s Pub. Any “crush” drink features fruit juice, especially orange juice, and this one is no different!

In a cocktail shaker with ice, add 2 ounces of Jameson whiskey, 1/2 an ounce of blue curaçao, and 4 ounces of orange juice. Shake until combined and then strain into a glass filled with ice. Fill the remainder of the glass with Sprite and serve!

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The blue color of the curaçao mixed with the orangey-yellow of the orange juice is what creates the green color. The pigmentation of the blue curaçao is really dense, so that’s why you only need 1/2 an ounce to create the green!

Looney’s Irish Crush

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients:

2 ounces Jameson whiskey
1/2 ounce blue curaçao
4 ounces orange juice
2-3 ounces Sprite, depending on glass size

Process:

1) Fill a glass with ice and set aside.

2) In a cocktail shaker with ice, mix Jameson, blue curaçao, and orange juice. Strain into prepared glass.

3) Fill remainder of glass with Sprite and serve.

Next up are a couple of shooters that I promise won’t disappoint!

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Some shooters are vastly complicated and involve all kinds of mixing and layering, but this one and its counterpart are super easy. For the Irish Sweetie (also known as a caramel apple), just mix 1 ounce of butterscotch schnapps with 1 ounce of apple schnapps.

Its counterpart (not pictured) I refer to as “Liquid Gold.” You still start with 1 ounce of butterscotch schnapps, but then add 1 ounce of Jameson whiskey on top instead of apple schnapps.

Last but not least, for the classiest among you, my version of the famous “Apple-tini” drink.

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This one is another cocktail shaker drink. So, fill a shaker with ice and then add 2 ounces of vodka and 2 ounces of apple schnapps. Shake to combine, then strain into a martini glass. Fill the remainder with sprite (maybe 2-3 ounces) and serve!

Apple-tini

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients:

2 ounces vodka
2 ounces apple schnapps
2-3 ounces Sprite

Process:

1) Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add vodka and apple schnapps and shake to combine.

2) Strain into a martini glass and top with sprite. Serve immediately.

Barbados Sunrise

The temperature is slowly creeping back up, but I’m still wishing for summer, so here’s a super-fab summer drink for you all! (Tune in on Monday for some St. Patty’s Day themed drinks!)

This is a layered drink, so it does take a tad bit of skill, but once you get the hang of it, layering is pretty simple!

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I love tropical drinks, and I especially love “sunrise” drinks, so this is like the epitome of perfection for me! Start off by mixing 1 ounce of Bacardi Rum and 3/4 ounce of blue curaçao in a small glass and set that aside. (I have little parfait glasses that work perfectly for holding 2 ounces or so of liquid.)

Fill a collins glass (or other tall glass) with ice and then pour orange juice about 2/3 of the way up. (The amount will vary, of course, based on the size of your glass, but it’ll probably be about 6-8 ounces.)  Then, slowly pour about 1/2 an ounce or so of grenadine syrup into the middle of the juice. Since it’s heavy, it will settle to the bottom.

Now comes the tricky part! Take your small glass of rum and blue curaçao and slowly pour it over the back of a spoon so it flows slowly into the glass and sits on top of the orange juice. Ta-da, that’s it! You’re done!

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Of course, all the liquor is on top, so you’ll want to stir it before drinking, but just be aware that it looks like horrible dirty dish water once it’s mixed!

Full Recipe:

Barbados Sunrise

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients:

1 ounce Bacardi rum
3/4 ounce blue curaçao
6-8 ounces orange juice
1/2 ounce grenadine

Process:

1) In a small glass, mix rum and blue curaçao. Set aside.

2) Fill a Collins glass with ice and pour in orange juice, then slowly pour grenadine into the center so it settles to the bottom.

3) Carefully pour the rum and blue curaçao mixture over the back of a spoon so it slowly pours on top of the orange juice. It is lighter than the juice, so it should sit on top of it. Serve immediately!

Hearty Chicken Stew

In light of the fact that winter is just NOT giving UP, here’s a fabulous cozy winter dish to keep you warm until spring finally decides to arrive! I’m a big fan of any kind of stew, but this one is like if you made chicken pot pie without the crust – it is so thick and hearty and full of goodness.

What makes this even more awesome is that it’s SO cheap. I mean like less than $7 when you break it down – and this feeds 5-6 people. The most expensive part is the chicken – all the vegetables come SUPER cheap in the produce department.

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The best part is that the whole thing is made in only ONE pot – which means less dishes! Yay!

Start by doing all your prep work – called “mise en place” – you’ll need a cutting board and a good kitchen knife. 😉

Dice: 1/2 an onion, 2 stalks of celery

Peel & Slice: 2 carrots

Cube: 2 red potatoes, 1 large chicken breast

MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Do it in THAT order and you should only need ONE cutting board and ONE knife! 🙂

Once this is all completed, put a couple tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. After the oil has heated, add the chicken to the pan and season with salt, pepper, and oregano.

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Allow the chicken to brown, moving it around the pan occasionally to keep it from sticking. This should take about 5 minutes or so. Once it’s browned, remove the chicken and then add the diced onion and celery.

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Sweat the onions and celery until they start to become translucent (about 3-5 minutes), making sure to scrape those brown bits off the bottom of the pot as you go! Once they’ve sweated, remove them from the pan.

Now, here’s where you can cheat a little: to the pan, add 1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup and 2 cups of milk. Stir this until it has all combined, and then add two teaspoons of salt and a teaspoon each of pepper, oregano, and thyme. To give depth, add 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and the zest of half a lemon. Stir in all the spices, and then add your previously cooked chicken, onions, and celery, along with the potatoes and carrots. Stir those in, then add 1 cup of frozen peas, 1 cup of frozen corn, and 1 cup of uncooked white rice.

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Cover and cook on LOW for about an hour (maybe even 45 minutes if you need it quick!), returning occasionally to stir. (The rice likes to settle to the bottom, so you’ll have to stir it every so often and scrape the rice off the bottom of the pan.)

After an hour of cooking it should be nice and thick and everything in it should be cooked through. Ladle it out and serve immediately!

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Best part, it just gets thicker and better if you leave it overnight! The starch from the potatoes and rice seeps into the liquid and just keeps thickening it!

Alternatively, you could do this in a crock pot by adding the soup and milk first and stirring until smooth, and then putting in everything (raw) at once and leaving it on low for about 4-5 hours or so. But I like this quicker version better. 😉 After you spent a few minutes prepping and browning, you can essentially busy yourself with something else for the hour that it’s cooking on the stove as long as it doesn’t take you too far from the kitchen. If you’re home from work at 5:00, you could theoretically have this on the table by 6:30!

Full Recipe:

Hearty Chicken Stew

Yield: 5-6 servings

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of oil
1 large chicken breast, cubed ($2)
1/2 onion, diced ($0.20)
2 stalks celery, diced ( ($0.25)
1 can cream of chicken soup ($1)
2 cups milk ($0.50)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into medallions ($0.16)
2 red potatoes, cubed ($0.80)
1 cup frozen corn ($0.50)
1 cup frozen peas ($0.50)
1 cup uncooked white rice ($0.10)
Salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, cayenne (negligible)
Zest of 1/2 a lemon ($0.25) – because you can still use the lemon for something else.

(Total cost, if you buy in bulk and fraction it out: $6.26. That’s $1.05 per person!!)

Process:

1) Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add chicken, season with salt, pepper, and oregano, and stir occasionally until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan.

2) Add onions and celery to pan. Stir, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Once onions and celery start to become translucent, remove from pan.

3) Pour in can of cream of chicken soup and 2 cups milk. Stir until smooth and combined, then add 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp each pepper, oregano, and thyme, 1/2 tsp of cayenne and the zest of 1/2 a lemon. Stir to combine.

4) Add previously cooked chicken, onions and celery, along with the potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, and rice. Stir until well distributed, cover, and cook on low for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to ensure rice doesn’t stick to bottom of pan.

5) After simmering for 1 hour, give it a final stir to ensure it has thickened properly and then ladle into shallow bowls and serve immediately.

Triple Chocolate Brownies

If you are not a chocolate lover, please feel free to leave this blog post. I won’t be offended, I promise.

Now that I have the full attention of the remaining chocoholics: You. Will. Love. These. Brownies.

They are RICH.

They are DECADENT.

They are CHOCOLATEY.

And they are NOT AT ALL good for you. (Diabetics, beware!!)

Best part? They’re EASY!

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There are a few things that make these extra awesome, so pay close attention!

Start by preheating your oven to 375 and coating a 9×9 baking pan with cooking spray. Next comes the first deviation that makes these extra delicious – a sweet “crust” that goes on the bottom of the brownies! Crush up 4 graham cracker sheets and 15 Nilla wafers and add them to a medium bowl, along with 4 tbsp of melted butter and 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir this all together and then dump it into the baking pan.

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MAKE OR BREAK TIP: It’s best if there are crumbs mixed in with bigger chunks, so don’t use a food processor! Crushing with your hands works great.

Level it out with your hands, and then use a drinking glass to tamp the crumbs down to form a firm, even layer.

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Once the oven is preheated, bake the crust BY ITSELF for 10 minutes.

Now, if you’re feeling a little lazy, you could totally skip this step and just bake the brownies on their own in the pan without the crust. But for real, I think the crust is definitely worth it!

While your crust is baking, get the batter together:

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together 8 ounces of softened cream cheese and 1 and 1/2 cups of granulated sugar.

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Say what? Cream cheese? That’s right. Cream Cheese. Another one of the things that makes these brownies extra awesome. Not butter, not oil. The fatty component necessary for any brownie recipe comes from the amazing kitchen wonder that is cream cheese. And boy does it make them rich!

After you’ve creamed this together, beat in two eggs until well combined.

MAKE OR BREAK TIP: Scrape down the sides of the bowl FREQUENTLY. As in between each and every addition of anything. It’s super important!!!

Once you’ve beaten in the eggs, melt 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips in the microwave (30 seconds, stir, 30 more seconds) and then stir an additional 1/4 cup of room temperature dark chocolate chips into the melted chocolate to temper it. Turn your mixer on medium-low and use a spatula to scrape the chocolate slowly into the mixing bowl. This is chocolate #1!

Once the melted chocolate is mixed in, lower the mixer speed to “stir” and add 1/2 cup of cocoa powder a 1/4 cup at a time. (Chocolate #2!)

Once the cocoa powder is combined, add 3/4 cup of flour (while the mixer is still on) 1/4 cup at a time.

At this point, it should look like brownie batter:

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Brownie batter is notoriously thick, so don’t let that concern you! Remove the mixing bowl from the stand and then fold in 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips by hand with a wooden spoon. (Chocolate #3!)

Spoon the batter into the pan on top of the crust, spreading it carefully so you don’t pull the crust off the pan. (The batter is really sticky!) Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out MOSTLY clean. There should still be some crumbs sticking to it, but no visibly wet batter.

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Using all of the self-restraint you can muster, allow the brownies to cool for at LEAST a half an hour before attempting to cut into them!

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If you’ve REALLY got a sweet tooth, it’s great served with ice cream, too! I used Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream, in keeping with the graham cracker crust and cream cheese content of the brownies – but just about anything would be fabulous!

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Full Recipe:

Triple Chocolate Brownies

Yield: 16 brownies

Ingredients:

4 graham cracker sheets, crumbled
15 Nilla wafers, crumbled
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Process:

1) Preheat oven to 375 and coat the bottom and sides of a 9×9 baking pan with cooking spray.

2) In a medium bowl, stir together crumbled graham crackers and Nilla wafers with melted butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Pour this into the baking pan and then level out and tamp down with a drinking class until a cohesive, firm crust is formed. Bake crust for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

3) Using a stand mixer, cream together cream cheese and 1 & 1/2 cups sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in two eggs. (Scrape the bowl again.)

4) Melt 1/2 cup of the dark chocolate chips in the microwave, and then stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips to temper. Turn the mixer on medium-low and scrape the melted chocolate into the mixing bowl.

5) Once the chocolate is mixed in, scrape the bowl again, and lower the mixer speed to “stir” and add cocoa powder, 1/4 cup at a time. (Scrape the sides of the bowl!) Then, add the flour 1/4 cup at a time. Once all the dry ingredients have been mixed in, turn the mixer off and remove the bowl from the stand. (Batter will be thick.)

6) Fold in 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips by hand with a wooden spoon, then pour batter on top of the prepared crust, carefully leveling it out to the sides and corners without pulling the crust from the bottom of the pan.

7) Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with some crumbs still stuck to it. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving.