Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
by RaDonnaRidner-Thurman
 Savory Servings
Aug 24, 2011 | 6537 views |  0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
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Chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven
Chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven
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Total Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Cook Time: 25-35 minutes total

Have you ever tried to make chocolate chip cookies and the batter looked (and tasted) amazing but when you baked them you were underwhelmed? I have done this many, many times. Sometimes they were too hard and sometimes even crunchy. Other times the dough spread out so far on the pan it looked like one giant cookie with little lines throughout the pan dividing what used to be little drops of dough. After many different botched batches of cookies, I finally mastered making the best chocolate chip cookie ever. It’s not rocket science but believe it or not, the secret lies not in the recipe but in a few simple baking tips. I tried to give specific instructions below. If you too have been a victim of poor cookie instruction and blah batches of cookies, I encourage you to take note and try again. These homemade cookies beat the store bought dough any day. You will want to share them because you will be so proud of how they turned out but you just might be overruled by your taste buds and keep them all for yourself.

Here is what you will need:

2 ¼ cups of all purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks of butter, softened (I used unsalted, real butter)

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 12 oz package of semi sweet chocolate chips (use a name brand)

The Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and set it aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar and brown sugar and vanilla extract. You should have a light brown batter. Add the eggs in one at a time beating well after you add each one. Slowly add in the flour mixture until you have nice light brown cookie dough. Stir in the chocolate chips and drop by the rounded teaspoon onto an UNGREASED COOKIE SHEET.

Here is where the baking can go wrong. You must use an ungreased cookie sheet – do not be afraid they will not stick, I promise. Please put your non-stick spray back in the pantry. Now I have baked them on my ungreased pans in the past and they still spread out like a little road map. I have been cooking for many years and my pans have a little age to them so they are a little darker than the newer, non-stick pans. I found that a sheet of aluminum foil works perfectly to make my older pan into a nice, new “non stick” pan. Now my cookies bake up nicely. Again, do not spray the foil, simply lay the foil on your sheet pan and drop the dough. Now if you have newer pans you can skip this step all together.

The next key is pulling them out of the oven at the right time. You want to bake them for about 8-11 minutes depending on your oven. Make sure you trust your eyes and not the timer. You want them to be golden brown AROUND THE EDGES with maybe a touch of brown on the top. They will still look very pale and many of you would think “these cookies are not done!” But trust yourself, they are done. Pull them out and let them sit on the cookie sheet for at least 20-30 minutes. They will continue cooking just enough on the hot pan and firm up nicely while retaining the moist goodness in the middle.                                                                                                                                     

Baked Pasta with Pesto & Meat Sauce
by RaDonnaRidner-Thurman
 Savory Servings
Aug 21, 2011 | 3825 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Baked Pasta with Pesto & Meat Sauce
Baked Pasta with Pesto & Meat Sauce
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Total prep time: about 25 minutes
Total cook time: 15 minutes

If you love a good baked pasta dish, then you need to try this recipe. I found it in one of my Food and Wine Quick from Scratch Cookbooks. It takes a few minutes to make a simple tomato sauce with ground beef which you can do while your pasta is cooking. Then you add the pesto – which by the way is a match made in heaven with tomato sauce. If you are unfamiliar with pesto, I strongly recommend you give it a try. You can make it from scratch but it is just as tasty and much less trouble to buy it at the store. You can find it next to the pasta sauces at any grocery store. It's basically basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts all blended to make a beautiful green sauce. So you combine the simple homemade meat sauce with the pesto and layer it with Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. It takes about 15 minutes to bake and you have a wonderful dinner - made from scratch. It is delicious by itself or together with a nice piece of crunchy garlic bread and tossed salad. It makes a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and we always have leftovers to pack for the next day’s lunch.

Here is what you will need:

1 tablespoon of oil (I use olive)
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound of ground beef
1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes, drained
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
½ cup of store bought pesto
¾ pound of medium sized pasta shells
2 cups of shredded mozzarella
½ cup shredded Parmesan

The Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400. Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan with cooking spray. Put the water on to boil for the shells, I like to salt my water it flavors the pasta nicely (about 2-3 teaspoons should do it). After it starts boiling, add the shells and cook for 10 minutes.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, heat the oil over medium low heat in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook it until it’s translucent and soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the ground beef into the pan and stir it often, making sure you don’t have any big chunks of beef. Cook it until it is all nice and brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (make sure you drain the extra juice off so your pasta won’t be swimming) and the salt and bring it to a simmer (where you see a few bubbles in the sauce but NOT a boil). Take it off the heat and add in the pesto. Combine the shells and sauce together (I usually just drain the shells, and then combine it all in the large pot that I used to boil the shells – less to clean later).

Put half of the pasta mixture into your large baking dish and put half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan on top. Then pour the rest of the pasta mixture on top of that and top it all off with the remaining Mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake it for about 12-15 minutes or until it is golden brown and bubbling. If your cheese browns too quickly and it hasn’t started bubbling yet, you can cover it loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil. It will continue cooking but it won’t get too brown.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
by RaDonnaRidner-Thurman
 Savory Servings
Aug 20, 2011 | 3723 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
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Carrot cake fresh out of the oven
Carrot cake fresh out of the oven
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Total Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Cook Time: Depends on what size pan you use, see below

Until recently I had never cooked a carrot cake. I had eaten carrot cake a few times and it was pretty good but it wasn’t until I had a homemade one from a dear friend of mine that I fell in love with this moist and delicious cake. I got the recipe from her about 8 months ago and I’ve made it several times for family gatherings, birthdays, or just because it sounded good. Don’t be intimidated by the grated carrots, especially if you have a food processor. The first time I made it I thought it would take a lot longer than it did and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the batter came together. If you’re in a hurry, you can use store bought frosting – I would definitely recommend the cream cheese flavor. If you have a little extra time you should definitely make the frosting. Homemade cream cheese frosting is absolutely incredible. It matches just perfectly with the moist and subtle flavor of the carrot cake. One quick note about the frosting – if you are going to make a rectangular cake and leave it in the 9 x 13 pan then this recipe will be the right amount. If you plan to do two 9 inch rounds and stack them then you will want to double the frosting recipe to make sure you have enough. Also with two 9 inch rounds, make sure you put a generous amount of frosting between the layers. It is not only scrumptious but is also makes for a beautiful presentation when you cut and serve it.

Here is what you will need:

For the cake:

2 cups of all purpose flour
2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups finely shredded/grated carrots
1 cup oil (I use vegetable)
4 eggs

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 stick butter, softened (use the real butter, you can definitely tell a difference in taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

The Instructions for the cake:
In a small bowl, mix together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a larger bowl, mix the sugar and oil with your mixer. Add the eggs one at a time then add your carrots. Beat at medium speed until blended (about a minute). Then slowly add your flour mixture until it is thoroughly combined. Pour your batter into a greased and floured 13 x 9 inch pan and bake for about 50 minutes at 325 degrees. My oven cooks a little quicker than most and it finished around 42 minutes. Let your cake cool completely (at least an hour) or your frosting will melt on the cake. Make your frosting and spread if over your cake and serve. You will want to keep the cake in the fridge since the frosting is made of cream cheese and real butter. I like it pull it out about 25 minutes before serving to knock the chill off.

If you are using two 9-inch round pans, you will want to bake them for about 30-40 minutes. The key to knowing a cake is done – a toothpick will come out clean when inserted in the middle and the cake will “spring back” when you push on it very gently. Let them rest in the pans for about 20-25 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to help them release. Place your cake plate upside down on top of your pan and making sure you have a good grip, flip it over and your cake should release onto your plate. I love this cake because I’ve never had it stick. It always comes out just perfectly every time (I can’t say that about other recipes I’ve made!). Let the cake cool completely and frost it and enjoy!


The Instructions for the frosting:  
Cream the butter and cream cheese with your mixer. Add the vanilla until thoroughly combined. Slowly add the powdered sugar until it is all mixed together. You should have a nice, spreadable consistency. If you have extra left over - it is delicious on fresh strawberries, pineapple and grapes.

Black Bean Burritos with Italian Sausage
by RaDonnaRidner-Thurman
 Savory Servings
Aug 14, 2011 | 3132 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
Black Bean Burrito with Italian Sausage
Black Bean Burrito with Italian Sausage
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The yummy filling for the burritos
The yummy filling for the burritos
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Total prep time: about 20 minutes
Total cook time: 15 minutes

This is one of our family’s favorite dinners. It is quick and easy and so delicious and filling too. I love that I can make it for dinner and I really don’t need anything else to go with it. It is perfect by itself or maybe with chips and salsa if you have them on hand. It also makes about 6 burritos – great for larger families or they also heat up great the next day for leftovers. You can make it as spicy or as mild as you want depending on the sausage you use. We make it mild for the younger palates and they love it – in fact kids of all ages like this burrito. By finishing it in the oven the tortilla has a nice crisp texture but the stuffing is a combination of very yummy flavors that work together just perfectly. You can also substitute ground beef if you want and add your own spices to give it a little kick.

Here is what you will need:

¾ pound Italian sausage links
1, 15 oz can of black beans (drained and rinsed)
½ teaspoon of salt
2 cups of Monterey jack blend shredded cheese
1 large tomato or 4-5 small romas chopped
Juice from 1 lime
½ red onion, chopped
6-7 large flour tortillas
Lime wedges (to spritz on your burritos right before you eat them)

The Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the casings from the sausage and cook in a large skillet over medium heat. I usually use a wooden spoon to break it up into smaller pieces. Cook it until it is nice and brown and completely cooked. Remove it from the pan and put it in a large bowl to cool. You may need to go back and break up the meat a little more by hand after it cools.

Return the pan (don't wash it!) to the heat but reduce it to low. Add the beans and the salt and cook them for about 3 minutes. While they’re cooking you want to stir them all around the pan so they pick up the yummy sausage bits that were left behind from the last step. It’s also good to mash them a little so that they’re all a little broken up. Remove the pan from the heat add the beans to the sausage. Then stir in the tomato, lime juice, onion and 1 cup of the cheese.

Spoon the mixture onto the center of a tortilla (I usually do about 3-4 spoonfuls, just enough so that it’s not too big to fold up). Before you fold it up, put a small handful (from your remaining cup) of cheese on top of the sausage mixture. Roll it up and put it seam side down in a rectangular glass or pyrex baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and mixture. Bake them in the oven for about 15 minutes, just enough time to get the filling nice and hot. If the tortillas start to get too brown cover the pan loosely with some aluminum foil. Give them a little squeeze of lime juice before you dig in – it really brings out the combination of flavors.

Vegetarian Version:
For our resident vegetarian, I used the imitation soy sausage crumbles and even a couple of our carnivores couldn’t tell the difference. You can also skip the cheese on this if you are sensitive or allergic to dairy. It doesn’t taste quite the same but it is still very delicious.

All American Heath Bar Brownies
by RaDonnaRidner-Thurman
 Savory Servings
Aug 07, 2011 | 3851 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
All American Heath Bar Brownies
All American Heath Bar Brownies
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Heath Bar Brownies after the last step (right before they were cut)
Heath Bar Brownies after the last step (right before they were cut)
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Total Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Cook Time: 20 minutes

I must admit I am a sucker for a good brownie recipe – made from scratch. For years I swore by the box mix (it’s easy and foolproof!) until I stumbled upon the butterscotch brownies that I posted about a few weeks ago. After that I was in constant search of the next amazing brownie recipe… And I must admit I have tried many (I promise I will post recipes as I make them again with photos, instructions, etc.). This recipe is one of the latest discoveries. I found it on the back of the Heath Bar Toffee Bits bag and if you love toffee bits and chocolate, you will love this recipe. It wasn’t very difficult and they tasted amazing – a little crunch at first (the toffee) but then moist chocolate heaven on the inside. My only complaint with this recipe is that it only made an 8 x 8 pan of brownies. If I am going to make something from scratch, I want it to be worth my while. They are rich so you could cut them small and make them go a little further. But overall, they are definitely worth making and found a new home in my recipe file.

Here is what you will need:

1/3 cup of butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
1, 8 oz package of Heath Bar Toffee Bits
3 sections (1/2 oz each) or Unsweetened chocolate baking bar
2 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt


The Instructions:
First, preheat your oven to 350 and lightly spray an 8 x 8 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set it aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate together over low heat stirring as it melts. Remove it from the heat and stir in the sugar. After it is combined, add the eggs one at a time, mixing very well after you add each one. Stir in the vanilla. Slowly add the flour mixture until thoroughly blended.

Spread your batter in your pan and bake it for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle. As soon as you remove it from the oven, sprinkle the entire bag of toffee bits over the warm brownies. Quickly cover it very tightly with foil and walk away. Resist all temptation to peel the foil back and watch it melt. It needs to retain all of that heat to turn out right. Cool it completely (I waited over an hour) and remove the foil. Cut them and enjoy your labors. They will keep in an air tight container for about a week.
A note about the ingredients: When it comes to butter or margarine in a dessert recipe, I almost always use real, unsalted butter. I mean if you’re going to the trouble of making it from scratch you might as well enjoy every bite. The only exception of course is when I am cooking for my son who is very allergic to dairy or his grandparents who are diabetic. The heath toffee bits can be found on the baking aisle with the chocolate chips. The unsweetened chocolate bar can be found there as well – make sure you get the unsweetened bar. The toffee and other ingredients provide more than enough sweetness for this recipe.

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