Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cookies for Friends...Speculoos

I have the greatest friends in the world! 

Exhibit A: It's the day before Christmas Eve, and I haven't started my holiday baking.  My wonderful cousin Whitney came to save the day and help me.  :)  Love her!

I am truly blessed with many different people who have all touched my life in some way.  This year I have some really good friends abroad that I have not seen since our wedding/honeymoon and won't get to see over Christmas.  Two of them are in Europe working and enjoying newlywed life together, and one of them is in India right now, traveling the world!  Since I wouldn't be able to see them this year, I made them cookies...virtual cookies.  With promises to make them again when they arrive back in the states.

One of our good friends Abe took off shortly after our wedding for a year of traveling.  He started out in Amsterdam, then to Africa, then to Turkey, Greece...some more places I'm sure I'm missing, and is now in India.  This summer, whenever we would go to dinner or out for drinks, or just talking about making drinks, Abe would want Lemoncello.  I think he made me a drink with Lemoncello for his good-bye party, though I'm not absolutely positive.  Regardless, when I saw these cookies I just had to make them for Abe. 

Unfortunately I was not thrilled with the results.  The dough ended up being really wet, the lemon candied wheels were hard to chew through and we ended up taking most of them off the cookies.  The first couple of batches actually cooked up looking like Pacman. 

Eventually we ended up freezing the dough and then cutting thick slices and cutting back the cooking time considerably.  This made somewhat presentable cookies that we ended up serving and surprisingly had some friends and family who really enjoyed them.  Whitney and I had a blast laughing at how disappointed we were in how the cookies turned out after all the work we put into them.  While they tasted better than I expected I am not sharing the recipe because I was not happy with it.  I do however love the idea, so I will definitely be re-working it and posting a Lemoncello cookie in the future.

We miss you this Christmas holiday Abe and hope you are having a great one!  By the time you make it back to us I will have perfected a Lemoncello cookie to make for you.

Now for the cookies that really turned out well:

On our honeymoon we took a detour to visit our friends in Brussels on our way back from Greece. Trisha and Michael got married and moved to Brussels about 4 months before we got married. We were thrilled that we were planning a European honeymoon and would be able to visit them in Brussels. We had a wonderful time visiting them and they were awesome hosts!

First let me state that Trisha is just as much of a chocolate fan as I am. Second, Belgium chocolate is AMAZING!! My husband will tell you that Swiss chocolate is better, but I'm on the fence kind of leaning towards Belgium. When I asked Trisha about getting some chocolate her eyes lit up and she told me that they don't have chocolate chip cookies in Belgium, they have Speculoos. My thoughts, "Really, something can replace chocolate chip cookies???". Regardless she pulled some out of her cabinet that she had bought just for us and we had some. They were delish!

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp unsweetened coco
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
7 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
Raw sugar for sprinkling


In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon,salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, coco, cardamom, and nutmeg.

Beat together the butter and sugars until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add egg and beat until just combined.

Gradually add in the flour mixture, until the dough is just moistened.

Dust a counter or work surface with flour, turn the dough onto it, and knead it just a few times until it comes together.

Lightly flour some parchment paper and place the dough on top.  Cover with another piece of parchment paper.  Roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Place the dough as it is with the parchment on either side in the fridge to chill for at least 2-3 hrs and as long as overnight.

One the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 250-degrees F. 

Using a 1 1/2 in diameter cookie cutter, or a shot glass like us if your at loss, cut out the cookies and place them on the baking sheet. 

The dough was a little hard to work with, so we used an offset spatula to help move the dough from the counter to the baking sheet.  A butter knife would also work well.

Sprinkle the cookies with raw sugar if desired and bake for 7-10 minutes, until they are almost set and lightly golden.  Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

These cookies will now always remind me of our honeymoon and visit with Trisha and Michael. Merry Christmas! We miss you, can't wait to see you again, and hope you have an amazing Christmas!


Amanda's Tips:
When baking it is always best to add things in at room temperature, with the exception of pastries which call for cold butter.  Therefore allow any butter, milk, buttermilk, eggs, etc to sit on your counter 30 min to 1 hr before you start baking.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chicken, Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Lasagna

Lasagna has alway been one of my favorite meals.  I don't have it that often, because, well let's face it, it's not exactly a quick and easy dish, and it's not always waste-line friendly.  This version however, is fairly easy to put together and much friendlier on your waistline. 

Growing up, my mom never had to ask me what I wanted for dinner on my birthday, when it was my turn to choose (my twin brother and I alternated picking) it was always lasagna.  Now I'm thinking that I will need to start celebrating my 6 month birthday again, so I can have an excuse to have this version in the winter months.  I love the pairing of flavors this provides!  The layer of carmelized onions, fresh sage, BUTTERNUT SQUASH, sweet potatoes, and roasted chicken play perfectly off each other.  The cheese layer isn't quite as rich as other lasagna's but definately provides a nice contrast to the dense squash layer. 


Squash layer:
2-2 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed 
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs Sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbs butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 - 3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded (recommend roasted chicken)

Cheese layer:
15oz low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tbs sage
1 Tbs thyme

Lasagna noodles (I used no-bake)

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese

Squash Layer:
Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.  In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash and sweet potato in olive oil, sage, and salt and pepper.  Spread on a large, foil covered baking sheet and roast for about 30-40 minutes, until soft, turning halfway through.  Transfer squash and potatoes to a bowl and let cool.  Reduce heat to 350-degrees F.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt your butter.  Add in onions and cook slowly until caramelized.  About 15 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Mash the squash and potatoes well.  Add the onions and chicken.  Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.

Cheese Layer:
In a bowl, combine ricotta, greek yogurt, parmesan and mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, sage, and thyme.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread 1/3 of the butternut squash mixture in the botttom of a 9x11 pan.

Top with lasagna noodles.  I break mine to try and cover the entire pan.

Spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the lasagna noodles.

Repeat sequencing with 1/3 of the butternut squash, then noodles, then ricotta, and end with another layer of butternut squash.  

Sprinkle cheese over the top layer of butternut squash.

Cover with foil and bake for 55 minutes, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and it is hot and bubling.


Serves: 6-8

Nutritional Information: 8 servings, Calories - 334, Total Fat - 11g, Sodium - 317mg, Potassium - 602mg, Total Carbohydrate - 30g, Dietary Fiber - 4g, Sugars - 5g, Protein - 28g

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No Food, Just Great News

Last Friday night...

          ...yeah we danced on table tops, and we took to many shots...

     Haha, just kidding Katy Perry...sorry, sometimes I crack myself up!

One more time:

Last Friday night...

...we went out to a nice French Restaurant (my favorite cuisine):

...had a great chocolate souffle and coffee for dessert:

...drove around chatting, listening to Christmas music, and looking at Christmas lights:

...pretty much the best date EVER!

All to celebrate the fact that:


You know, the one I spent every minute of my first 3 months of newlywed life studying for.  I am not sure who was more excited, myself or my husband, but I'm pretty sure I have the best husband ever for putting up with my studying. 

I am now a licensed professional engineer!  Kinda scary, but mostly exciting for the moment.  I ordered my seal on Friday.  :-)

Hope the holiday season is treating you well and that you are all in for a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stuffed Chicken Parmesan

This is one of those meals you make when you want to impress someone but you don't want something so complicated that you're in the kitchen for hours on end.  The only trade-off with this dish, is that the leftovers don't reheat that well.  I do realize I am probably just picky about this, but when the main ingredient in a meal is a meat that is meant to be juicy, leftovers warmed up usually tend it to dry out a bit more.  Therefore this recipe is written for two breasts because it is one of the few that I usually try not to have leftovers.  This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled based on how many you servings you want.  As it is written, this would serve four with each serving being one half of the breast.


2 Chicken Breasts, evenly sized
1 small potato, 3-4oz, thinly sliced
2 Tbs cheese, I used a mixture of Parmesan and Mozzarella
1.5 oz cooked spinach
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 egg
2 tbs water
1/2 breadcrumbs or Panko, more as needed
1 Jar of your favorite Marinara Sauce


The first step is pounding your chicken breasts.  The goal is to get the chicken breast as even in thickness as possible so that the breasts cook as evenly as possible.

Next you butterfly your chicken breasts, once again, trying to slice it as evenly down the middle as possible.

Set up your station in a line so that it is easy to move from one step to the next.  Place the butterflied chicken breasts on the far right, next to it beat the eggs and water in a large bowl, to the right of the egg mixture place your plate of breadcrumbs.

Gather all of your stuffing ingredients. 

Heat about 2 tbs of olive oil in a skillet.

On one half of the chicken, layer the spinach potatoes, garlic, and cheese.

Fold the chicken breast back over to cover all of the toppings.

Drench the chicken breasts in the egg mixture, then coat with the breadcrumbs.

Carefully brown your chicken on each side.  I've found that the easiest way to do this is to work with one at a time, and using tongs instead of a spatula. 

Spread about a half a cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of your baking dish.

Place each chicken breast in the baking dish on top of the marinara sauce.  If I have any grape tomatoes on hand I usually split them in half and place in the dish with the chicken to make a yummy addition.

Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake for another 10 - 15 minutes or until the chicken reaches 157-160 degree's.

Remove from oven and cover with foil.

Let rest about 5-7 minutes before serving.  This step is crucial.  During this time the chicken will finish cooking; you will notice that the internal temperature will rise to 165 degrees.  Also the resting time will allow the chicken to soak more of the juices in the pan, vs cutting into it right away and all the juices from the chicken spill out into the pan and the chicken becomes dry really quickly.

Serve with pasta mixed with the rest of the marinara sauce.

Amanda's Tips:
This recipe can be varied to fit your tastes however you would like.  Another stuffing combination that I really like is spinach, marinara, pepperoni, mushrooms and red onion.  Don't be afraid of trying the potato.  I was when Raymond suggested it the first time I made him stuffed chicken, but the starches in the potato actually help the chicken to stay moist.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lentil & Butternut Squash Shepard's Pie

It's the Christmas season again!  I love this time of the year!  If you're calendar looks anything like ours does it's PACKED with holiday parties.  We are soo blessed with amazing friends who like to host parties and get together to celebrate the season.  The only problem with this is that there is always sooo much food at these things.  While trying to decide what to have for dinner on Monday after one of these party filled weekends, I really felt like we needed a seriously low calorie, and healthy dinner.  The problem is it is FREEZING outside and the only thing that sounded good to me was some serious comfort food or soup.  We already had soup in our fridge from a couple of days ago, so comfort food it was. 

I made Raymond a version of Shepard's pie last year that he really loved, so I thought I would make it for him again...except I was of course going to change it up completely and try something different.  The version I usually make is topped with a combination of russet and sweet potatoes.  We had some butternut squash that I really wanted to use up, so I decided I would try out a butternut squash and sweet potato combination.  After our huge caloric weekend I had a hard time picking any kind of meat that sounded good, plus I wasn't exactly sure what we had on hand, so I settled on lentils.  This turned out so good and we both decided this recipe should definitely be on the repeat list.  I loved the flavor of the dish and the texture was such a great blend that it still felt like a comforting and hearty meal, just without a lot of excess fat and calories.


Bottom of pie:
4 cups beef broth
1 cup dry lentils
1/2 cup barley
1/2 large onion
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3/4 cup fresh or frozen green beans
3/4 cup fresh or frozen corn
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp water

1 1/4 lbs butternut squash (half a large or one small)
1 1/4 lbs sweet potatoes (about 3 small or 2 medium)
1/2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs milk
1 Tbs fresh sage, chopped
1/4 tsp white pepper
Parmesan Cheese (Optional)
Breadcrumbs (Optional


Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Cut the sweet potato and butternut squash and place on a baking sheet.  I would normally cube the sweet potatoes and butternut squash to cut down on the roasting time, but if you've ever tried to cut butternut squash you will understand when I say I didn't cube the squash because my husband wasn't home to help. I was proud that I didn't loose any fingers cutting it in half so I just went with that and threw it on the baking sheet.

Roast the sweet potatoes and butternut squash until soft, about 45 minutes. 

Meanwhile in a large saucepan over medium low heat, add the broth, lentils and barley.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the carrot, celery, onions, garlic, walnuts, corn, beans thyme, rosemary, and Cayenne pepper.  Simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.  Note: you will not see corn here because I totally forgot to add it in.  As we were eating it I missed the corn so I wrote it in because I just really think it belongs.

Combine cornstarch and water and stir into mixture. Simmer until thickened.

When sweet potatoes and butternut squash are finished, mash with a fork or potato masher.  Add in butter, milk, sage, and white pepper and mix well.

Pour lentil mixture into a large oven save dish.  Top with potato/squash mixture.  If you would like you can sprinkle just a bit of Parmesan and breadcrumbs to give the top a nice crust.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

This may not be the prettiest dinner I have ever made, but the taste definately made up for it.


Amanda's Tips:
If you truly wanted to make this a vegetarian dish, substitute the beef broth for vegetable broth and add in one bay leaf.  Don't forget to take out the bay leaf before you layer it in the casserole though.  They never soften and are really bitter to bite into.

Nutritional Information: Makes about 6 servings. Calories - 335, Fat - 7.6g, Sodium - 600mg, Potassium - 1086mg, Total Carbohydrate - 52.8g, Dietary Fiber - 13.1g, Sugars - 7.6g, Protein - 14.6g

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 & Sweet Potato Salad

A lot of times the things I do confuse people.  Why run a marathon when the longest distance you've ever run is a 5K?  Why not start with a half-marathon?  Why do a half ironman, when the longest distance you've done is a sprint triathlon?  Why not build up with a quarter ironman before the half?  In my head it makes perfect sence, to most other people it does not.  One of the many reasons my husband is perfect for me...he understands...he get's me.  :)

This was our first Thanksgiving together as a married couple.  This was also my very first Thanksgiving to cook the whole meal.  I couldn't have been more excited.   We drove to Dimmitt, TX after work on Wednesday, arriving around 1 am on Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with Raymonds parents.  As soon as we arrived I grabbed what I needed and headed straight for the kitchen to get the turkey in a brine and cut up the bread for the stuffing while my husband unloaded the car.  I should have taken a picture of this.  Even though I put forth my best effort every time, I'm not really known for packing light.  When I am traveling, and especially when I'm cooking somewhere I pretty much bring anything I can think of that I could ever need.  But honey, I have to bring this, it would be a shame if I didn't have my get the picture.  We got to bed around 1:30 that morning to get some rest before the major cooking would begin later that morning. 

Now, this being my first thanksgiving to cook you'd think I would pick a couple of solid dishes that I knew and was sure of the results.  Nope, not for me.  As I reviewed the menu the week before I realized that I had only one item out of eleven on my list that I have made before.  What can I say, I like the adventure.  Raymond's parents totally asked us what kind of pizza we liked btw...I think they were brainstorming a back-up plan.

In the end I had no big disasters in the kitchen that morning, a BIG thanks to my husband who played sous chef for me, and I was happy with ten out of eleven of the dishes.  I had asked my aunt for her amazing stuffing recipe the week before only to decide not to use it at the last minute because I wanted to make a super healthy Thanksgiving dinner from complete scratch.  Her stuffing recipe wasn't what I would consider "healthy".  I really should have used her stuffing recipe.  On the menu, prepare yourself for lots of pictures, was: 

Mustard Crusted Turkey Breasts  


Mashed Potatoes


Sweet Potato Knots

Spinach Bake

Butternut Squash Gratin

Sweet Potato Salad

Broccoli Quinoa Casserole

Cranberry Sauce

Caramel Apple Cheesecake for Dessert

Excluding the cheesecake, because I very much believe that desserts don't count on holidays and birthdays, I used a total of seven tablespoons of butter, one canned product, 2 tbs mayonaise, and 1/2 cup of milk. I consider this a success. While my absolute favorites were probably the butternut squash gratin, and the spinach bake, the boys both enjoyed this sweet potato salad. I was also thrilled with the salad because while sweet potato casserole is just not my thing, I still wanted to include them on the Thanksgiving table. Below is the recipe I used for the salad.


4 lbs sweet potatoes
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup light greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp coarse-ground mustard
1 tsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 pecans, roughly chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees-F.

Cut sweet potatoes into 3/4 inch cubes and spread out on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake sweet potatoes in the oven for about 30-35 minutes.  You want your potatoes to be baked, but firm enough to hold up on their own when mixing.  Let potatoes cool.

Add the chopped pecans to the oven and bake for about 7-13 minutes, watching carefully and shaking occasionally.  They are done when golden and fragrant.

In a large bowl whisk the mayonaise, curry powder, mustard, brown sugar, and garlic.  Add the cooked sweet potatoes, green onions, cranberries, pecans, and mix.


This recipe makes a lot of salad.  I halved this recipe for our Thanksgiving dinner and we still had leftovers.

Just for fun I thought I'd also include a pic of the Cinnamon Rolls we had the mornings after.  These were not a part of the healthy holiday menu.  You have to allow for a few indulgences during the holidays.  :)

Recipe adapted from Homesick Texan