Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I love using my mini springform pans to make little cheesecakes.  They freeze beautifully, and when we want a little cheesecake for dessert, I just take one out and let it thaw on the counter for a few hours.  There’s another advantage to making minis:  it gives me an opportunity to experiment. 
Kraft Foods has developed a recipe specifically for mini springform pans.  You can pick from a variety of flavors (citrus, chocolate chunk, cookies and cream, chocolate royale, peanut butter, mocha and cherry) to customize each mini cheesecake.  Instead of using their flavor profiles, I developed my own (mocha peanut butter and New York vanilla bean).  Both were firm, creamy and delicious.  You can follow the instructions for the original Kraft recipe, or mine, below.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Mini Cheesecakes:  Mocha Peanut Butter and New York Vanilla Bean
Adapted from kraftfoods.com
Rating:  9 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 Tbsp. sugar
3-1/2 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2-1/2 squares semi-sweet chocolate, melted
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided use
2 Tbsp. + 3/4 cup sugar, divided use
1 tsp. coffee essence (equal parts coffee brandy and instant coffee granules)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 (8 oz.) pkgs. Neufchatel cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup lite sour cream
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp. high-quality vanilla extract or paste)
1 tsp. vanilla powder

Heat oven to 300F.  Mix cracker crumbs, 3 Tbsp. sugar and melted butter; divide equally among 5 springform pans (or use a large custard cup or other oven-proof dish for the fifth).  Press mixture onto bottom of each pan.  Bake about 7 minutes, or till set.

In medium bowl, whisk together peanut butter, chocolate, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 Tbsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla; set aside.  In medium-large bowl, beat cheese and 3/4 cup sugar with mixer on medium speed until well blended.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just till blended.  Pour 1/2 of batter (about 2 cups) into peanut butter-chocolate mixture in medium bowl and whisk till smooth.  To remaining batter, add 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tsp. flour, vanilla scrapings and powder, and mix on low speed till thoroughly combined.   (Put the vanilla pod in your sugar canister to make delightful vanilla-scented sugar, or grind it up finely with some powdered sugar to make vanilla powder.)

Pour batter over cooled crusts.  There will be some of each left for the fifth crust.*  Pour the vanilla batter in first, then the chocolate, and swirl it together.   Place the pans on a cookie sheet and bake 35-40 minutes, or till centers are still a little jiggly.  (The vanilla may be done sooner, so be prepared to remove it if you need to.)  Run a knife around rims of pans to loosen cakes as soon as you remove them from the oven; cool completely on wire rack before removing rims.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight. 
Yield:  5 mini cheesecakes
*Kraft does not allow for the fifth mini-cake.  But when you add the extra ingredients, there is too much batter for the four pans.  I put my extra batter into a large custard cup.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Here’s another great cookie with almond butter.  These are tender, slightly crisp on the edges with soft insides.  If you want them chewy, use dark brown sugar for the brown sugar.  If you want them crispier, bake them longer.  If you want them sturdier, use half bread flour.  And you can always use peanut butter in place of the almond butter, if you prefer.  These are not as good as my fave, Triple Almond Cookies, but they’re very good.  The toffee bits and chopped almonds add a nice crunch factor, and there’s plenty of yummy flavor here too.

You don’t have to use almonds from a can – you can substitute plain almonds if you prefer.  (You might want to add a big pinch of salt to the dough if you use unsalted almonds.)007
Almond Butter Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source:  Judy’s Kitchen
Rating:  8 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  1 stick unsalted butter (I used Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar (I used 2 Tbsp. NuNaturals Stevia)
3/4 cup almond butter
1 large egg + 1 yolk
1 Tbsp. almond liqueur (or 1/4 tsp. almond extract)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds (from a can of mixed nuts)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup toffee bits
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

In large bowl, whisk together butter and sugars till smooth.  Whisk in almond butter.
Add egg and flavorings and whisk till smooth. 
In small bowl, combine dry ingredients, including toffee and chocolate chips.  Add to creamed mixture with spoon or spatula, mixing just till combined. 
For sturdier cookies, cover bowl and refrigerate overnight.  If you don’t have the time to do that, refrigerate as long as possible, or just bake them right away.  Heat oven to 350F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Place about 20 golf-ball size dough balls on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 12-14 minutes, or till cookies test done when a toothpick  is inserted in center. 
Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.  Yield:  about 20 (3-1/2”) cookies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


spinach stuffed chicken
It’s not that I don’t want to try new recipes.  I do.  But when a recipe is tried and true, one that has been used for 30+ years and one that seems to please just about everyone, why not keep using it?  And when a recipe can please my hubby AND me, then definitely it should be used.  This recipe is great for company, because it’s special enough to make a grand entrance; yet, it can be made ahead and reheated at the last minute.  What I particularly like about it is that it gets some veggies into those who would otherwise not eat them. 
spinach stuffed chicken (4)
Because the sauce is made up of only tomatoes, be sure to buy the best for the best flavor.  I like Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes for this, because they’re not watery, they have a wonderful fresh flavor, an d all you have to do is open the can and pour it.  Since the chicken already has spinach and mushrooms inside and tomatoes outside, all you really need to go with this is mashed potatoes or pasta – your choice.  I’ve used both and both are perfect accompaniments.  You certainly can serve another veggie or salad with it, as we cannot eat too many veggies (5 a day, remember?)
Spinach-and-Mushroom-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Source:  Unknown
Rating:  10 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 whole breast, both sides)
2 tsp. + 1 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread or butter, (or olive oil) divided use
3 oz. mushrooms (about 4 medium-large), sliced thin
3 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 of a 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry 
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 tsp. sea salt, divided use
1/4 tsp. black pepper, divided use
About 1-1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Slice chicken breasts in half to make 4 cutlets.  Pound thin between two pieces of plastic wrap. 

In medium skillet, heat 2 tsp. Smart Balance over medium-high heat till sizzling.  Add mushrooms and cook for two minutes, till mushrooms start to brown.  Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes, till onions wilt.  Add garlic, reduce heat to low and cook another minute.  Stir in drained spinach and cook on low 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat; stir in nutmeg, half the salt and pepper; transfer to small bowl.  Wipe out pan.

Heat oven to 425F.  Spray an oven-proof baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Sprinkle  the cutlets with the remaining salt and pepper; spread each with some spinach-mushroom filling and roll up.  (Save remaining filling for the sauce.) 

spinach stuffed chicken (2)

Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. Smart Balance in pan on medium-high heat.  When Smart Balance sizzles, add chicken.  Brown lightly on all sides, about 5 minutes; transfer to baking dish.  Scatter remaining filling around chicken.  Bake 10 minutes.  Spoon tomatoes around and over chicken.  Bake 15-20 more minutes, or till chicken is cooked through and sauce is bubbling.  Sprinkle with copped parsley.  Serve with mashed potatoes or pasta.  Yield:  4 servings
spinach stuffed chicken (3)

Friday, April 9, 2010


Making a cake for just two people isn’t practical.  That’s why I bought a multi-mini-bundt pan.  The following recipe, from American Profile (the magazine insert that comes with our Tuesday newspaper), will make enough batter for a regular-size bundt pan.  Instead, I used it to fill my 6-cup Wilton Excelle Elite Mini-Bundt Pan and a 6-cup cupcake pan.  Each mini cake is about the size of two to three standard cupcakes, depending on how much batter you use. 
I added a grated chocolate bar and broken pecans to the topping; and orange zest to the batter for some extra flavor.  Homemade double-strength vanilla bumped up the flavors even more.  Some stevia in place of some of the sugar, and some applesauce in place of some of the butter lowered calorie and fat content.  You can also make this with walnuts, but the pecans are so buttery and delicious, they’re my first choice. 
Just remember if you make this:  the cupcakes are right-side up, and the bundt pans are upside down.  For the bundt pans, the topping goes in first, then batter, repeat.  For the cupcakes, the batter goes in first, then topping, repeat.  If you carefully follow the recipe as written, you won’t have any trouble.  You also have the option of baking this in a standard bundt pan (upside down).  Or you could make about 2 dozen cupcakes (right side up).  Regardless of how  you decide to make it, you’ll be delighted with the flavors and texture of this outstanding cake.
Adapted from American Profile, Marsha Madere
Rating:  10 out of 10
Topping:  2 tsp. cinnamon
4 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup grated chocolate bar
1-3/4 cups broken or chopped pecans

Cake:  10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 cups  sugar (I used 3/4 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp. NuNaturals Stevia) 
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (I used lite) 
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp. double-strength vanilla, homemade) 
1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup applesauce

Heat oven to 350F.  Brush a 6-cup multi-mini-bundt pan with melted butter.  Line a 6-cup standard cupcake tin with paper cups.  In a small bowl, combine topping ingredients.

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs, sour cream,vanilla and orange zest, beating well on medium speed to combine ingredients.  In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.  Add dry mix, one cup at a time, to liquid mix, beating until combined after each addition.  Stir in applesauce. 

Using about 2 Tbsp. batter, partially fill the standard cupcake tin.  Using half the topping, sprinkle some on the bottoms of the multi-mini-bundt pan and the rest on top of the batter in the standard cupcake tin.  Use additional 2-3 Tbsp. batter for the standard cupcake tins, and top each with more topping. 
Use half of remaining batter for multi-mini-bundt pan; sprinkle with remaining topping; top with remainder of batter. 

Bake about 16-19  minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  (Multi-mini-bundt pans and cupcakes will both bake in about the same time.)  Cool in pans about 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling.  If desired, spoon a simple glaze over the cakes after they cool.  (Simple glaze:  1-1/2 cups powdered sugar + 2 Tbsp. orange juice or milk)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


chicken fajitas 004
It was a little more than a year ago that I made Fajitas for the first time and raved about Tyler Florence’s recipe.  His marinade did something very special to the dish and completely sold me on fajitas.  But the problem is one of cholesterol.  How much beef can a person eat when they have elevated cholesterol levels?  So I decided to try chicken instead of beef.  Using the exact same recipe, I just substituted chicken for the beef.  And the fajitas were just as outstanding, even though I used green peppers instead of red.
This is a great recipe for an informal dinner (double the amounts if you want more).  What’s nice about it is that you don’t need another thing – it’s a complete meal in itself.   Corn on the cob, in season, would be a nice accompaniment, but the dish can stand alone, if need be.  Now I’m wondering about fish fajitas.

Adapted from Tyler Florence
Rating:  10 out of 10
Marinade:  1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp.  lime  juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1-1/2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. sea salt

Fajitas:  1 lb. boneless chicken breasts
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. lime juice
6 flour tortillas
Purchased or homemade guacamole
Purchased or homemade tomato salsa

Combine all marinade ingredients in blender; puree till smooth.  Transfer to resealable plastic bag and add chicken breasts; seal and shake to distribute ingredients.  Refrigerate 2-4 hours to tenderize and flavor the chicken.

Preheat a ridged grill pan (or gas or charcoal grill) on high heat.  Drain marinade from chicken.  Lightly oil outside grill or indoor grill pan.  Season chicken liberally with  salt and pepper.  Grill about 4 minutes each side, or till chicken is no longer pink inside.  Transfer to cutting board and let rest.  

Toss  peppers and onions with olive oil and lime juice.  Outside:  place in foil packet and grill about 6-8 minutes.  Inside:  grill the veggies till limp.
chicken fajitas 005Heat tortillas over a low flame, briefly, about 30 seconds each side; transfer to clean towel, covered, to steam and keep warm.  (You can also heat tortillas in a microwave.  Lightly dampen a tea towel with some water, wrap the tortillas in the damp towel and heat in microwave for about 1 minute.  Check to see if they are warm; if not, repeat the heating and 1 minute intervals until they are warm and pliable.)
chicken fajitas 001
Slice the chicken on diagonal, or shred it.  Spread some guacamole on a tortilla.
chicken fajitas 002Top with a few slices of chicken, peppers and onions, and salsa. 
chicken fajitas 003  Roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling.  Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese, if desired.  Yield:  6 servings

Saturday, April 3, 2010


.....Melinda RD.  Congratulations, Melinda.

There were 39 entrants for the giveaway.  Each was assigned a  number (from 1 to 39) by the random.org sequence generator.  A second set of  39 random numbers was generated, and the first 3 numbers in that list were #4, #33 and #12.  (In the first sequencing, # 4 was assigned to Melinda RD; #33 was assigned to My Carolina Kitchen; #12 was assigned to Nell.)

There is only one prize.  If Melinda RD can produce a US or Canadian mailing address, the prize is hers. Melinda, congratulations and please contact me via email (judycastranova@gmail.com) with the following info:

1.  Which prize do you want, the stool or the cutting board?
2.  What is your Canadian or US mailing address?

You have till Wednesday, April 7 to respond, or the prize will go to #2 on the list.

Thursday, April 1, 2010



Banana cake or bread is not one of my fave things to make or eat.  I can’t tell you why.  It’s just kind of okay for me.  But my fussy hubby is insane about all things banana.  Maybe it’s from his years of working on the Island of St. Lucia, where bananas abound.  Occasionally there would be a “banana glut,” from a surplus of the crop.  Bananas would be everywhere, free for the taking.  My first trip to St. Lucia found me filled with anticipation of a bite of a really “fresh” banana, which I thought had to be better than our grocery-store varieties.  Not so.  A fresh banana tastes exactly the same as bananas picked green and ripened enroute or in a grocery store.  Each night at dinner, Guy would urge me to order bananas flambĂ© for dessert, which I finally did; but I never enjoyed it as much as he did.


Many years ago, I latched on to a banana-nut cake recipe from a Pillsbury cookbook.  Because the recipe is so good, I stuck with it and still make it, though I’ve made some changes, as noted below.  Since ripe bananas are a rarity in our home (my hubby eats bananas usually before they’re ripe enough for a cake), this cake doesn’t get made too often.  But our local Harris Teeter recently had bananas half-price ($.34/lb.), so I overbought.  Even so,  only  two bananas remained that were over-ripe; but that was enough for this recipe.  Instead of a layer cake, I decided to make 1 dozen standard-size cupcakes and a small (4” x 7.5”)loaf.  The cupcakes were frosted with cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with toasted chopped walnuts.  The loaf was left plain.  And my hubby is happy.


One-Bowl Banana-Nut Cake
Adapted from Pillsbury
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

INGREDIENTS:  2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour  (I used 1 cup white whole wheat flour + 1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
1-1/4 cups sugar (I used 3/4 cup brown sugar + 2 Tbsp. NuNaturals Stevia)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup shortening
(I used 1/4 cup Smart Balance 50/50 butter blend + 1/4 cup vegetable oil)
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
(about 2 medium)
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Heat oven to 350F.  In bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt.  Turn mixer on low to blend ingredients.  Add shortening (or other fats), eggs and bananas and beat at lowest speed to combine, then at low speed for about 1 minute.  Add milk and vanilla; beat 1 minute on low.  Stir in walnuts.  Turn into pan (or pans), well greased and lightly floured on the bottom.  Bake till toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs, using baking guide below.  Do not over bake.

13x9x2-inch pan, 25-30  minutes
2 (8 or 9-inch) round pans, 20-25 minutes
2 (9x5x3-inch) pans, 35-40 minutes
2-1/2 dozen cupcakes, 15-20 minutes
15-1/2x10-1/2x1-inch jelly roll pan, 18-22 minutes
2 (8-inch) square pans, 25-30 minutes
2 (9-inch) square pans 20-25 minutes
(My 4x7.5-inch loaf pan took 37 minutes, and standard cupcakes were done in 15 minutes.)