Kielbasa & Peppers w/ Couscous

October 21st, 2009

As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew James would love it. The rustic, hearty flavors have a slightly southern flair, given the recipe came from Southern Living magazine. Of course, I made a few alterations to the recipe (the original version had dried plums, which just did not sound good!) and the results were a big hit. The biggest substitution was using kielbasa instead of Italian sausage, which worked out really well in the dish.


The main issue I had with the original recipe was that it used pre-packaged measurements in the ingredient list (ex: 1/2 of a 20 oz  package of bite-sized dried plums), which means you have to actually buy the package or put forth your best guess on the amounts. Given the economy, many people are buying in bulk and using simple measurements such as “1 cup” or “1/2 cup” would lend itself better to the recipes usability.

Kielbasa & Peppers w/ Couscous
adapted from Southern Living

1 cup couscous
1 cup golden or regular raisins
1 lb kielbasa, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 tbsp olive oil
2 sweet bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow) thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
Cracked black pepper

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in couscous and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Cover and let set for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in raisins.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Over medium-high heat, saute bell peppers, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes with 1/4 tsp sea salt for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Add kielbasa to pan and saute until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Add additional olive oil to pan if needed. Add diced apples and an additional 1/4 tsp of sea salt and saute 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together chicken broth with orange juice, brown sugar, cornstarch, and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Add to skillet and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 2 minutes or until liquid has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and toss all ingredients. Season to taste with cracked black pepper.

Serve kielbasa and peppers over a bed of couscous. Spoon additional sauce from the pan over top.


Muffin Madness continues with this fall-flavor inspired creations. The original recipe was for quick bread, and I made some additions to give it some bigger flavors. When I bake, I tend to gravitate toward recipes that have bold flavors rather than subtle. While tastes vary from person to person, it seems many people enjoy a burst of flavor.

Originally, the only spices in the recipe were 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, which for an entire batch of muffins is just not enough. I upped the cinnamon, added ginger and orange zest, and topped the muffins with cinnamon-sugar.

Most “quick bread” recipes (breads without yeast) can be converted into muffins. A general rule of thumb is to fill the muffin cups 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350-375F.


Sweet Potato & Fresh Cranberry Muffins
adapted from Cooking Light magazine

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup canned pureed sweet potato (from a can)
3 eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, combine sweet potato puree, eggs, orange juice, and melted butter. Add to dry ingredients and stir until just moist. Fold in cranberries.

Spoon batter into muffin tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar or chopped nuts, if desired. Bake 20-25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes approximately 18 muffins.


Mexican Lasanga: Revisited

October 9th, 2009

One of my very first attempts at cooking a meal was Mexican Lasagna. It was the first time I had invited multiple people to dinner and served an entire meal, complete with sides, beverages, and dessert. It turned out great, not just as a first attempt but as a good dish in general, so much so that I have made it several times when feeding a crowd for the first time.

Every time, though, I never managed to take any pictures. I have also updated the recipe as I have grown as a cook. This most recent version is from an anniversary dinner I cooked for James, his parents, and his brothers. So here, for the first time, is my version of the recipe with pictures!


Mexican Lasagna
adapted from Southern Cooking

1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt, divided
1 lb ground beef
1 (16 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 cup picante sauce
1 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 (24 oz) container low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
2 large eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
12 (5 inch) corn tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375F and coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large skillet, heat oil using medium heat. Saute onions and garlic in 1/2 tsp of salt for 3-5 minutes, until softened. Add ground beef  to skillet, stirring until it crumbles and is no longer pink. Add chili powder, cumin, and remaining 1/2 tsp of salt and stir until spices are evenly distributed in beef mixture. Add corn, tomato sauce, and picante sauce; bring liquid to a simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, combine cottage cheese, eggs, oregano and garlic salt.

Arrange tortillas on bottom and up sides of the prepared baking dish. Spoon half of meat mixture over tortillas; top with cottage cheese mixture. Arrange remaining tortillas over cheese mixture; top with remaining meat mixture.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serving suggestions: serve with a side of mexican rice and toppings such as sour cream, onions, peppers and blue corn tortilla chips.


Pumpkin-Cherry Muffins

October 7th, 2009

muffin-madness-thumbnailWelcome to Muffin Madness! Let’s kick things off with the perfect fall muffin, made with the flavors of pumpkin, cherry, and autumn spices. These muffins are perfect for breakfast or a little after-dinner dessert.

The original recipe from Cooking Light magazine calls for dried sweetened cranberries, but I substituted dried cherries (regular or golden raisins would also fit the bill if you are so inclined). I also increased the amount slightly because 2/3 of a cup just didn’t seem like enough to distribute the cherries evenly into the muffins.

Rather than relying on butter or tons of oil, this recipe uses pumpkin puree and low-fat buttermilk to keep the muffins deliciously moist (only 2 tablespoons of oil required). If you do not have the individual spices for this recipe, you can substitute approximately 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice mixture with the same results (check out this recipe to make your own pumpkin pie spice).


Pumpkin-Cherry Muffins
adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375F and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Whisk to combine.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin puree, buttermilk, light brown sugar, oil, and egg. Using an electric mixture, beat 3 minutes on medium speed until batter is well blended. Gradually add flour mixture to bowl and beat at low speed just until all ingredients are combined.  Fold in cherries.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pan immediately; place on a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm with a smear of butter, if desired (or top with a little cinnamon-sugar).


It’s been awhile since I’ve done a special project, and it seems rarely do my special projects revolve around baking. This is a little odd because often I prefer baking to cooking. The precise measurements that guarantee a certain chemical reaction that results in (ta-da!) baked good is a wonderful process that clears the mind and creates a delicious final product. Baking is also easier to share with others, and usually easier to transport.

It started with Pepper-Cheddar Muffins, a savory cornbread style muffin with a spicy kick and cheesy goodness. My muffin tin had not seen much action prior to this recipe, so it was nice to bust out this forgotten piece of bake ware.

Then I moved on to a late night baking inspiration: Pumpkin & Cherry Muffins (recipe posting soon). James felt that I had been holding out on him, this hidden talent for baking muffins that I revealed a week before the wedding, but the truth is I had never really thought much about making muffins until now. But really, who doesn’t love a muffin in the morning?

So join me as I launch my first special project in about six months: Muffin Madness. New recipes to post very soon! Look for the category Muffin Madness in the menu bar to the right.