Friday, February 25, 2011

Chicken Piccata

The sauce is light and nicely seeps into the breaded part of the chicken, which is oh-so-delicious!

I tend to prefer recipes that have as few ingredients and steps as possible. I saw this recipe in Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa At Home  cookbook and thought it was one that I could actually manage. While I dirtied a few more dishes than I usually like to, I found that I was able to master this process pretty easily. It's now one of our favorite dishes and a go-to for guests because it has such great flavor to it. The bread crumbs become slightly crispy, and the sauce - oh the sauce - so easy and great on any kind of chicken to be honest. I've whipped up the sauce on nights where all I feel like doing is throwing a chicken breast on the skillet. 

I chose to pair this with buttermilk mashed potatoes (separate post, pictures here and in other post) and frozen peas. I love fresh vegetables but I always have frozen peas and broccoli in the freezer to use on nights where I don't have the energy - or space! - to cook more than a few dishes from scratch. This sauce is nice drizzled over the peas, and even mixed into the mashed potatoes.

I hope you enjoy this one because, as I mentioned, it's one of our favorites! :)

*2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
*kosher salt  (regular salt is fine but I've found, thanks to Ina, that kosher salt is a little softer)
*ground black pepper
*1/2 cup all-purpose flour
*1 extra large egg
*1 cup seasoned dried bread crumbs (I love the FoodClub Italian seasoning bread crumbs)
*olive oil
*3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
*1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons), with lemon halves reserved (don't throw them away after you're done squeezing the juice!)
*1/2 cup dry white wine (I usually get whatever Chardonnay is on sale)
*sliced lemon and/or parsley for serving


*Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper (I've skipped this step and been just fine with results).

*Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap (plastic or zip-loc bags work fine if you don't have parchment paper!). Pound chicken out to 1/4-inch thick. (The first time I read this I said, "Pound out how??" So, I decided to place the parchment paper and chicken on a cutting board, and I used a rolling pin to literally pound the chicken until it was thinner. It made a lot of noise - still does - but it got the job done!) After you've pounded out the chicken sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

*Mix the flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on a shallow plate or dish. In a second plate (or, as I prefer, shallow bowl), beat the egg and 1 tablespoon water together.  Place the bread crumbs on a third plate or dish.

*Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  I've found it's important to really let the pan heat up before adding the chicken.

*While the pan is heating up, dip each chicken breast in the flour, shaking off any excess. Then dip the chicken in the egg mixture, followed by the bread crumbs. I like to gently push both sides into the bread crumbs to ensure it doesn't all fall off.

*Add both chicken breasts to the hot pan and cook for about 2-5 minutes on both sides, depending on your stove. We have an electric stove so it really requires about 5 minutes, but I know good gas stoves could do it in about 2 minutes. You want to make sure each side is browned, and try to touch the chicken as little as possible to avoid it drying out.

*When both sides are browned, place them on a sheet pan and allow them to bake for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

*On medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in small saucepan. Once the butter is melted, add the lemon juice, white wine, lemon halves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

*Boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and swirl to combine. Discard the lemon halves.

*Serve one chicken breast on each plate, spoon on the sauce, and serve with sliced lemon and/or parsley (optional). Choose your perfect sides to pair this with and enjoy!

This is how thin my chicken is after I pound it out. If it's much thicker than this the bread crumbs will cook too quickly and will burn. If it's much thinner than this the chicken will cook more quickly than the bread crumbs and can leave you with dry chicken.

My little station for breading the chicken breasts before throwing them on the hot skillet. A little - er, a lot - messy, I know. I'm working on cooking without the mess. Baby steps.

What the white wine, lemon butter sauce looks like while cooking.

Chicken before dressing it with the sauce.

I plated the chicken with buttermilk mashed potatoes (see later post) and peas. I chose frozen peas because they're cheap and after all the other dishes I needed an easy, healthy, cheap way to finish the meal. *Chicken is shown before I dressed it with the sauce. I got too excited to eat it after dressing it that I only managed one picture!

Tomato Meat Sauce over Cheese Tortellini

Sauce over the tortellini with a little Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

I think knowing how to make your own meat sauce is such a great skill. Who doesn't like spaghetti? And on a busy night, this meal is so fast that it's a breeze to whip up. I love how well the sauce saves, too. I make a little extra and have lunch for a few days. The sauce reheats in the microwave nicely, and what could be better on a cold, cloudy winter day than some warm noodles with your homemade sauce? Not to mention the bright color of this sauce seems so much...better?...than sauce from a can. Pairing the meat sauce with cheese tortellini makes it extra filling. I was going to make sides but we were so full from one bowl that I didn't even bother.  Few dishes + filling and satisfying meal = great in my book. :)

PS: This is my own recipe that I made up. I started with a marinara recipe from Rachael Ray and went from there to make a heartier, meat-including sauce. I'm not an experienced cook - at all! - so if I can make something up that is actually easy and tasty, so can you! Try it!

*3 cloves garlic, minced
*2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
*2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*2 cans (28  ounces each) crushed tomatoes
*15-20 leaves fresh basil, roughly cut or torn
*2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves stripped from stem and chopped
*A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used a few shakes of dried parsley and thought it was just great)
*tablespoon brown sugar (This is my addition, I like how it softens the bitterness of the tomatoes and makes for a warmer sauce.)
*Italian seasoning to taste (basil, oregano, garlic, rosemary)
*Ground beef or ground turkey (I prefer ground turkey because it's healthier, cheaper, and tastes pretty much the same when mixed in a sauce or other dish.)

*Combine olive oil, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in a saucepan. When the garlic sizzles add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and seasoning as desired. Bring the ingredients to a boil, then reduce heat and allow the sauce to simmer while you work on the meat.

*Place ground beef or turkey on a skilled over medium to high heat, depending on your stove. Use a spatula or turner to turn meat and break it apart as it cooks. If you use the lean ground turkey, the juices will run clear and then be reabsorbed as the meat browns and finishes cooking. With ground beef you may need to drain the meat of its fat and juices after it's finished cooking. Paper towel or a strainer will work just fine.

*Add the cooked meat to the sauce, stirring it together well. Allow the meat sauce to simmer for at least ten minutes to absorb all the flavors. The longer you let them simmer together the richer the sauce will take and more it will thicken.

*When you're about read for dinner place the tortellini - or any pasta you'd like - in a pot of salted boiling water. The tortellini cooks fast! Less than five minutes.

*Place tortellini in a shallow bowl and top with sauce. Sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top and enjoy your quick meal! :)

All the ingredients for this easy and yummy meal.

Mixing the ground turkey into the sauce.

My sauce all mixed together.

So the box of the tortellini told me to cook it until the interior temperature was...wait, take pasta's temperature? Easier way: once the tortellini rises to the top, it's done. So much simpler.

So delicious and super filling!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mustard-Roasted Potatoes

Hot, crispy and fresh out of the oven...mmm :)

After John and I got married I decided I was going to learn to cook once and for all.  My family teased me for my lack of cooking skills growing up, and I was ready to prove to myself I was actually capable of doing more than calling takeout - GrubHub for you Chicago people. I figured that if I waited until I had kids to learn to cook I'd never have the time or energy and I'd be committed to a life of store bought meals or takeout.  Not only that, I thought it had to be cheaper to cook than constantly order out. We are on a budget!  Besides, I couldn't let all those wonderful wedding gifts go to waste. :)

This was one of the first recipes I tried. As usual, I chose it for it's simple ingredient list and seemingly easy preparation. It was super easy, and a HUGE hit. John requests these at least once a week, and I am all too happy to whip them up.  I'm sure if you try the recipe it will quickly be one of your go-to side dishes as well. The original recipe is from Barefoot Contessa at Home. As I like to do, I've made my own modifications and put those in parenthesis.

Now I might go reheat some of these leftover potatoes from tonight... :)

*2 1/2 pound bag red potatoes (I usually use half of one of the big bags you buy for a few dollars. I've also done this recipe with regular potatoes, which are also yummy and usually a little crispier.)
*3 tablespoons olive oil
*2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard (I've always used country dijon.)
*2 yellow onions, sliced (We're not huge onion people so I only use about half of whatever kind of onion I have in the fridge.)
*kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I use regular salt and pepper to taste.)
*1/4 cup fresh cut parsley (I always end up skipping this because I don't care about it enough to spend the extra few dollars.)

 *Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

*Cut the potatoes into quarters or smaller, depending on your preference. (Keep in mind they will shrink slightly as you cook them. The smaller the pieces the crispier they will be.) Place the potatoes in a large bowl.

*Remove the ends of the onion(s), peel them and cut them in half. Slice crosswise to desired width. Toss them in the bowl. Add olive oil and mustard and toss, coating potatoes evenly.

*Transfer contents of bowl to a lightly greased sheet pan (this was my addition after scraping the potatoes off the pan my first time). Add salt and pepper.

*Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the potatoes are lightly browned on the outside and tender on the inside.  Toss the potatoes from time to time (I suggest about every 15 minutes) with a spatula so they brown evenly.

*Serve hot and sprinkled with the chopped parsley and a little extra salt. (Hope you love them as much as we do!)

On the pan and ready for the oven.
Hot, crispy and fresh out of the oven...mmm :)

Maple-Mustard Pork Chops

Covered in that savory sauce and out of the oven. :)

Now that I've been cooking more Ive expanded my repertoire to include more than just chicken (I've added ground beef/turkey, chuck roast, salmon and tuna steaks, woo!). I saw another recipe from Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals, this one for pork chops, and decided I was ready to try it.  When I saw it was only $3.10 for 4 chops at the store I was even more excited for this new recipe adventure (I love a deal!).

This dish has some really great flavors. Grilling the pork chops gave them a nice smoky flavor (though my unventilated kitchen was slightly filled with smoke, too). The spiciness of the brown mustard, combined with the richness of the cumin and sweetness of my apple cider impromptu substitution made for a great meal.  John told me how great they were several times, and then, sweet as always, reiterated by saying, "I don't want to sound like a broken record, but everything you cook is just so wonderful. I promise to tell you if I don't like it, but it's just all better than the last."  I'm a lucky girl. :)

*1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
*1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
*1/2 teaspoon allspice
*1 teaspoon ground cumin
*grill seasoning blend (I used Montreal Seasoning) or salt and pepper
*olive oil
*8 center-cut boneless pork loin chops (I only used 4)
*1/2 cup dark amber maple syrup (I couldn't find this at the grocery store - maybe I didn't look hard enough - but I went ahead and substituted the dark amber maple syrup for good old light syrup that was sitting in our fridge. I think it worked out just as well - and healthier!)
*1/4 cup apple cider (I forgot this, so I substituted 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon  - - it was great!)

*Preheat a grill or nostick griddle pan over medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

*Combine syrup, mustard, cider (or cider substitution), onion, allspice and cumin in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, 7 to 10 minutes, until sauce begins to thicken.

*Coat chops lightly in olive oil, season with grill seasoning blend - or salt and pepper - and cook on the grill pan of your choice, 3 minutes on each side. Baste chops liberally with sauce and cook, 2 or 3 minutes more, then transfer to a baking sheet. Baste again with sauce and place in hot oven to finish cooking, about 10 to 12 minutes (I did 12 minutes but feel 10 minutes would have been better).

*Serve along your sides of choice! I chose mustard-roasted potatoes - recipe posted here too! :)

Sauce...such a delicious and interesting combination!

On the grill pan. So nice to have when you can't have a grill at your apartment (but received an amazing one as a wedding gift and have to store it).

Flipped after first 3 minutes.

Covered in that savory sauce and out of the oven. :)

Zesty Chicken Tenderloins Parmigiana

Plated meal - may I suggest sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top? Enjoy!

This recipe is primarily inspired by Rachael Ray's "Zesty Chicken Cutlets Parmigiana" in her book Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals (thanks, Dad and Peggy!).  I used her recipe as a starting point and improvised based on what I had and my own personal taste preferences. Oh, and also my wallet. Some of her ingredients - fresh Parmigiano Reggianno or Romano cheese, for example - are way expensive. As in, about $10 each. We were already buying fresh mozzarella, equally expensive, and decided spending that much on cheese was a little over-the-top.

I cooked this once before and John said it was so good he would order it in a restaurant (internal high five!). Given his golden review, I decided to make the recipe again for our Valentine's Day dinner and try out homemade garlic bread too - yum!. John and I both agreed that while we love going out to dinner, Valentine's Day dinner at restaurants are less than romantic. Restaurants pack you in so tightly that I feel like I'm eating with my neighbors and not my husband. Anyway...This recipe was perfect for our romantic dinner. We had a perfect first married Valentine's Day evening and a wonderful dinner.


Quick Marinara Sauce:
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
*2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*2 cans (28  ounces each) crushed tomatoes
*15-20 leaves fresh basil, roughly cut or torn
*2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves stripped from stem and chopped
*A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used a few shakes of dried parsley and thought it was just great)
*tablespoon brown sugar (This is my addition, I like how it softens the bitterness of the tomatoes and makes for a warmer sauce.)

Italian Style Chicken:
*The juices of 3 lemons
*1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano cheese (or, in our case, good old grated Parmesan cheese)
*1 cup Italian bread crumbs
*Ground black pepper to taste
*a pinch crushed red pepper flakes
*handful chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or a few shakes of dried parsley, as I used)
*1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets (I used chicken breast tenderloins; about 8 came in the package)
*2 cloves garlic, popped from skin and left whole
*3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (three times around the pan)
*1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
*pasta (may I suggest whole grain spaghetti? Since it's under the chicken and sauce the richer taste of whole grain, versus white pasta, adds a great heartiness to the meal and is much healthier)

Garlic Bread:
*loaf of French bread
*1/2 stick butter, melted
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*a few shakes of Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, and rosemary, I believe will do the trick)

Sauce and Chicken Preparation:

*Start a big pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Cook according to package directions, until al dente, or still slightly firm to the bite. Drain.

*Meanwhile, throw your sauce together by heating garlic and crushed red pepper in olive oil in a pot over medium heat. When the garlic speaks by sizzling in the oil, add tomatoes and fresh herbs. Bring to a bubble, reduce heat, and let the sauce hang out over low heat while you prepare the chicken.

*Squeeze lemon juice into a shallow dish or bowl. Mix cheese (not mozzarella!), bread crumbs, black pepper, red pepper and parsley on a large plate or bowl. Turn each cutlet/tenderloin in lemon juice, then press and coat in breading.

*Heat 2 whole cloves garlic in a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Note: this may take some time for larger pans. I suggest heating the olive oil when you start preparing the chicken. When garlic sizzles, remove cloves and saute chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

*When the chicken is done, arrange on an ovenproof serving dish covered with a layer of sauce. Dot each chicken with a little more sauce and a slice of fresh mozzarella. Place platter under broiler to just melt cheese.

*Take warm platter right to the table. Toss drained spaghetti with remaining sauce. Serve spaghetti and a green salad as side dishes.

Marinara Sauce

Chicken cooking on the skillet
Chicken after broiling in the oven with the mozzarella. Yum!
Garlic Bread Preparation:
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

*Combine melted butter with Italian seasoning and garlic. Slice bread into 1-inch pieces, being careful not to cut completely through. Try to cut to bottom crust. Brush garlic-butter-seasoning mix in each slice, being sure to coat both sides of bread evenly with mixture (including minced garlic pieces - they tend to sink).

*Wrap bread in foil but don't cover. Foil should come about halfway up sides. Place in the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, depending on how crisp you want the outside. The foil with help keep the insides soft, but exposing the top of the bread will leave the outside nice and crisp.

*Serve with Italian meal and enjoy!

The garlic bread smelled so good!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vegetable Soup with Chicken and Cheese Tortellini

This recipe came from one of my good friends, Jourdan. Within a week of posting this recipe on her blog ( -- check it out!), two of her friends (me included) tried out this recipe. The result was amazing. Warm, comforting, yet light at the same time. It is a very healthy meal and you didn't feel like that while eating it at all. Adding the tortellini and chicken (Jourdan's idea!) made it a hearty meal that was awesome for leftovers all week - - yay for "free" lunch!

*Original recipe from Good Stuff Maynard 
*Diced chicken breast (1-2)
*1/2 cup sweet yellow onion, chopped  (or, Jourdan used red onion while I used regular white onion)
*2 carrots, coarsely chopped
*2 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
*4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
*6 cups of vegetable or chicken broth (I used reduced sodium chicken broth from Swanson)
*1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (I used the no salt added variety)
*handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped (1-2 teaspoons dried)
*1 teaspoon of oregano
*salt and pepper, to taste
*2 small zucchini, chopped into bite size pieces
*1 small yellow squash, chopped into bite size pieces
*13 oz frozen cheese tortellini (I could only find a 16oz frozen ricotta-stuffed tortellini and it was fantastic)
*3 cups sliced fresh spinach (about 3 ounces)
*Asiago cheese, shredded (or grated Parmesan was what we had)
*olive oil
*Place the olive oil in a large pot oven over medium heat. Add the chicken, onions, carrots and celery then cook 4-5 minutes or until chicken is cooked and veggies are softened. 
*Add the seasonings and garlic then stir constantly for 60 seconds before adding the tomatoes and broth. Cover and let the soup simmer for 30 minutes.
*Increase the heat to medium high, then add the tortellini, zucchini and squash. Cook for 10 minutes or until the tortellini is cooked through. 
*Stir in spinach and simmer, uncovered, until spinach is wilted and all vegetables are tender, about 1 minute longer. 
*Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Asiago cheese.

*Note: If not serving immediately, add the spinach just before serving to retain the bright color and prevent overcooking.

Jourdan went so far to be inspired to make some toasted bread to go with this soup. She used Jimmy John's loaves while I grabbed a loaf of French bread while I was at the store. To add this delicious bread to the soup follow the instructions below.

*French bread or another loafed bread, sliced
*olive oil
*low-fat ricotta (though I'm sure regular would work fine)
*herbs (I used the "Herbs Provence" from my spice rack) 

*Lightly brush each slice of bread with olive oil (both sides) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
*Place bread slices onto preheated grill pan (mine was on medium to medium-high). Toast each side until golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside. 
*While bread is toasting, mix desired amount of ricotta cheese with herbs. Sprinkle and taste to achieve desired ratio and flavor.
*When bread is done, lightly cover each slice with herbed ricotta and dip in soup. Delicious!!

Prepping for olive oil, salt, pepper and herbed ricotta

Herbed ricotta with "R" serving spoon :)

Toasting the bread

Dinner time! John absolutely loved this bread and dip. He has since requested we buy 4 loaves to make more of it for every meal!

Table Centerpieces

The hubby and I received two beautiful vases as wedding/shower gifts. The first was a Lismore Waterford vase and the second was a Tiffany vase.  As a one-income household - and teacher nonetheless - we're not in a position to be buying fresh flowers for our vases each week.  It used to make me sad to see my gorgeous vases without anything in them, so I decided to use them for centerpieces. I found spice-scented potpourri from Target for about $6 and found fake, yet good quality flowers from Wal-Mart for $3 each!

I found the flowers on my first trip to Wal-Mart since I lived in southern Illinois. I'm not going to lie, I'm a bit of a Target snob, finding clothing, electronics, food and decor there, but shunning Wal-Mart. Well, I was wrong to do that. Wal-Mart had a much bigger selection of fake flowers, and they were way cheaper than Target AND HomeGoods, which is another of my favorite stores. If you are in need of nice looking, inexpensive picture frames, HomeGoods is the place to go. It's even great for holiday decor.  I bumped into my friend Jourdan there so she can vouch for it. :) Target/Wal-Mart centerpieces brighten up my dining room and living/family room so much. I am so happy to have them and I smile each time I see my vases filled with flowers. :)

Tiffany Vase with potpourri and flowers on our dining room table
Lismore Waterford vase with potpourri and flowers, next to an engraved wedding frame and an embroidered wedding handkerchief

Savory Salmon

I may have gone a little overboard on the garnish because you can barely see the salmon. I assure you it was well cooked and delicious!

This is another recipe from The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook, written by Paula Dean.  After becoming more comfortable with my cooking skills, having fairly mastered chicken and ground beef dishes, I decided to try cooking salmon for the first time. This seemed like a simple enough recipe for me to try.  John and I really enjoyed the flavors from this recipe. It is a bit sweeter, so if you prefer salty fish dishes it might not be your favorite. We both thought the recipe would be excellent by substituting grilled chicken for the salmon (though you'd have to grill the chicken prior to the oven steps). Steaming the salmon makes it healthier, and we felt it was a very light yet filling meal. Hope you enjoy!

*1 2-pound salmon fillet (we chose Atlantic salmon)
*seasoning of salt, pepper, and garlic powder
*juice of 2 lemons
*1 medium orange, sliced thin
*1 small red bell pepper, julienned
*1 small green bell pepper, julienned
*1 pint strawberries, cleaned and sliced
*1/2 cup water
*1/2 cup honey
*1/2 cup chopped fresh chervil or baby dill (John and I forgot this at the grocery store so we substituted dry parsley, about 8 tablespoons)
*4 cloves garlic, minced
*1 bunch chives, chopped

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

*Place salmon fillet on a foil-lined pan. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon juice. Cover and surround fish with orange, onion, and red and green bell pepper.

*Mix strawberries, water, honey, chervil or dill (or dried parsley), garlic and chives together. Pour evenly over salmon. Cover with foil and pierce foil, allowing salmon to steam.

*Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

May I suggest serving salmon and garnish over rice (we used instant white rice though varieties would be great as well).

I may have gone a little overboard on the garnish because you can barely see the salmon. I assure you it was well cooked and delicious!

Low-Fat Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake

May I suggest serving each slice with light whipped cream...Yum!

As a tweeter (@lbrapp), I have fun following other cooks, chefs and celebrities in addition to my friends. One of my favorites is Bethenny Frankel from original Real Housewives of New York because she posts lots of fabulous recipes that are easy and healthy. While I love learning classic dishes - like chicken Parmesan or coq au vin - I also like to find tasty healthy recipes to add to my repertoire, and Bethenny has been a good source for this.  This cheesecake was surprisingly simple and a delicious dessert. John asked me to make another one immediately after finishing the last piece of cheesecake!


* 1 1/2 cups graham crackers, crushed finely (about 9-10)
*2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
*1 tsp ground ginger
*2 tbsp melted butter (I ended up using about 3-4 tbsp to ensure the crust really firmed up well)

*2 8 oz. containers reduced fat cream cheese, softened
*3/4 cups raw sugar (I used regular granulated sugar and added 1/4 cup baking splenda)
*2 eggs
*2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
*1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
*1 1/8 tsp nutmeg
*1 can of 15 oz. pumpkin (do not substitute pumpkin pie filling!)
*1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, mix together the crushed graham crackers, butter, applesauce, and ground ginger. Press into the bottom, and about 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake crust 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Set aside to cool.

*In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, ½ cup sugar and 1/4 cup splenda (optional), and vanilla until smooth. Mix eggs in one at a time, blending well after each. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture. Blend ¼ cup sugar, pumpkin, cinnamon, apple cider vinegar and nutmeg into the remaining mixture.

*Spread the pumpkin flavored batter into the crust, and drop the plain batter by spoonfuls onto the top. Swirl with a knife to create a marbled effect.

*Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until filling is set. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Allow the cake to cool before removing pan rim. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

For Christmas John's grandmother, Mimi, gave me The Lady and Sons cookbook, based on recipes used by Paula Dean and her sons at their southern restaurant. I wanted to start with an easy recipe, as well as a recipe that would yield leftovers. As a house composed of a preschool teacher and a dental school student, we need to pack lunch each day. This recipe was super easy, delicious, and it reheated so well that we enjoyed a few lunches from our dinner. The combination of ingredients made for a very bright presentation and the flavors combined very well. It's a very comforting meal, filled with almost every food group. One small helping and were stuffed - in a good way!

*3 cups diced chicken (I used three fresh chicken breasts, diced and cooked on the skillet. Note: chicken must be cooked before being added to the casserole)
*1 box Uncle Ben's Long Grain and Wild Rice, cooked according to package instructions
*1 can cream of celery soup
*2 cans French-style green beans, rinsed and drained
*1 4oz. jar pimentos, drained (Note: After much searching I found these in the mustard/dressing aisle on the bottom shelf. They are easy to miss!)
*1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
*1/2 cup mayo (recipe called for 1 cup, but after my first time making this I felt it could do with less. I used 1/2 cup reduced fat mayo and John said he couldn't taste a difference. Score!)
*1/2-1 medium onion, diced and sauteed

*Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

*Be sure to cook chicken and rice. Both must be cooked before going into the casserole. I found cooking the chicken with the onions on a skillet, lined with olive oil, made the chicken more flavorful and allowed the onions to become soft enough not to be too potent in the casserole. Obviously if you enjoy very onion heavy dishes you can modify how you cook them.

Combine all ingredients in an oven-safe casserole dish.

*Be sure to mix the ingredients well enough so that all ingredients are evenly dispersed. Place in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until warm.

*For reheating: you may reheat in the oven or in the microwave. Both made for yummy leftovers!

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