Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Contribution to Becky's Online Bake Sale: Lemon-White Chocolate Graham Cookies

Happy weekend! I'm so excited to be taking part in an online bake sale even that my friend Becky over at Baking and Cooking, A Tale of Two Loves is holding on Monday! All bake sale proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Cancer has touched the lives of several of my family members and friends in the past few years, so I'm always happy to do anything that I can to raise money for cancer research and awareness. Today was the Komen San Antonio Race for the Cure, and I was one of 30,000+ people who took part in a 3K walk this morning. So inspiring to see all those people united for such a great cause!!

Once I signed up for Becky's bake sale, I started searching for a cookie recipe that would taste yummy and ship well, since these cookies could be going anywhere in the United States. I was flipping through a Pillsbury cookbooklet and found a recipe for lime-graham tea cookies. I immediately knew that I'd found what I was looking for! I tweaked the recipe a bit, subbing lemon for lime...and I added white chocolate chips instead of the nuts the original recipe called for. 

These cookies are really nice...they're not overly sweet, and the texture is reminiscent of a sand tart. The graham cracker crumbs give the cookies a slight nutty flavor in the background. The lemon flavor is boosted by adding frozen lemonade concentrate, lemon zest, and a bit of lemon extract to the cookie dough. You simply roll the dough into balls, bake, and then coat them in a bit of powdered sugar. The white chocolate chips added exactly the sweet addition that I was looking for. 

Lemon-White Chocolate Graham Cookies
adapted from Pillsbury

Step 1:  Add two sticks softened butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Bet on medium speed for 3 minutes, until the butter is very fluffy. Add 1 tbs. vanilla, 1/4 cup thawed lemonade concentrate, 1 tbs. lemon zest (about two lemons), and 1/2 tsp. lemon extract. Beat on medium-low until incorporated (about two minutes).

Step 2:  Add 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, and 1/2 tsp. salt. You can grind up 20 graham cracker squares if you want, but I just bought the crumbs in a box for convenience. Beat on low speed, just until combined. Stir in 1 cup white chocolate chips, then refrigerate dough for an hour.

Step 3:  Heat oven to 400. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, and place on a cookie sheet that's lined with parchment. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes, then roll in powdered sugar. 

Step 4:  Let cookies cool completely before eating...about 45 minutes. I rolled them in a little extra powdered sugar once they were cooled, and it gave it a nice coating on top. I couldn't resist taking a bite so you could see what the cookies look like inside.

Want to bid for a chance to win a batch of these lemony cookies direct from The Weekend Gourmet's kitchen in San Antonio? Here's what you need to do: on Monday, Becky will post all of the items that each baker has donated -- there are 27 in all! Each item will have a minimum bid of $15. Once the items are officially posted, interested buyers (bidders) will send their bid to Becky's e-mail, along with the item would like to purchase.  More details about the bake sale can be found here. You'll find a full listing of all items that will be available, as well as specific rules about taking part. I hope you'll all go by and check out this very worthy cause...and bid on my cookies on Monday!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Grown-up Twist On a Childhood Favorite: Garlic-Infused Macaroni and Cheese

One of my all-time favorite comfort foods is macaroni and cheese. Homemade, the ubiquitous "blue box" of my childhood, you name it. Cheese + macaroni = a winning combination in my book any day! I made dinner last weekend for Michael's family, who were in town visiting for Easter. I wanted to feature comfort food: salad, meatloaf, and macaroni and cheese...but I wanted to try my hand at homemade macaroni and cheese. I searched online and found a great recipe from Rachael Ray. 

Yeah, she's really chipper...but I can be pretty chipper too, so I like Rach! I really enjoy her cookbooks, magazine, and TV show. She's someone who I'd love to hang out and cook with, ya know? When I saw her recipe for macaroni and cheese with garlic-infused panko breadcrumbs on top? I knew I had found just what I was looking for. I tweaked it a bit to go with the cheese that I had on hand. Feel free to sub in 2 cups of whatever combo of cheese you like and/or have in your kitchen. The original recipe called for gruyere, sharp cheddar, and fontina. 

Garlic-Infused Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Rachael Ray

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350. Cook 12 ounces of penne pasta in well-salted water. While the pasta is cooking, make your crumb topping. In a medium saucepan, melt 3 tbs. butter over medium heat. Add 2 cloves finely minced or grated garlic and let it infuse in the butter -- but don't brown it. Remove the melted garlic butter to a bowl. Add 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup grated parm-reggiano, and 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley. Set aside while you make the sauce.

Step 2:  Melt another 3 tbs. butter in the same medium saucepan. Add 1 clove finely chopped or grated garlic. Whisk in 3 tbs. flour and cook for about 1 minute. Add 3 cups milk and whisk until smooth. Cook over med-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add 1/2 tsp. nutmeg and salt & pepper to taste. Add 2 cups shredded cheese of your choice -- I used a four-cheese cheddar blend with a touch of cream cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and incorporated into the sauce.


Step 3:  Place the cooked pasta in a large mixing bowl. Pour the cheese sauce on top and stir well to combine.  Pour the pasta into a greased casserole dish. Top with the panko breadcrumbs and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the panko is browned. This took about 20 minutes, but your mileage may vary. 

Step 4:  When the mac and cheese comes out of the oven, let it sit about 5 minutes before serving. That sauce is hot, so you don't want to burn yourself.

We all really enjoyed this mac and cheese! The cheese sauce was rich and creamy, and the garlic-butter panko topping was the perfect crunchy compliment. The garlic flavor really came through thanks to infusing it in the cheese sauce and adding it to the topping. It was a really great side dish for the meatloaf.

I think this recipe will be a regular feature in my dinner side dish rotation. There are tons of variations that you can make, depending on which combo of cheeses you use. Think of this version as a good starting point...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tag, I'm IT! A Weekend Gourmet Easter Menu...

Happy Easter, everyone! My sweet friend Elisabeth at Food and Thrift Finds has invited me to take part in an Easter menu blog event, and I'm so excited to join in on the fun! She tagged me on her blog and asked me to come up with an Easter menu featuring some of the recipes that have been shared in this blog since it started last August. 

Here are the menu items that I have chosen, along with links to the original post in case you'd like to add them to your Easter menu this Sunday!  First up is the drink and everyone has a little something to drink and munch on while the rest of the meal is cooking. For my beverage, I select light and refreshing Sparkling Blueberry-Pomegranate Sangria. The appetizer is my Greek Ranch Dip, which is great served with pita chips. You can even make the dip a day ahead to save some time!

For my main meal, I would make Sweet and Spicy Glazed Ribs, served with corn on the cob and Bright and Sunny Potato Salad. I'll give you the recipe for these yummy ribs at the end of this post. They are SO GOOD, and you don't even have to fire up the grill to make them! The potato salad is full of veggies and has a nice kick thanks to plenty of yellow mustard in the dressing.

For dessert, I would serve the White Chocolate-Strawberry Easter Cake that I made last weekend. For the recipe and directions for decorating the top of the cake, all you have to scroll down on this page. It's the PERFECT centerpiece for an Easter table, and it tastes just as great as it looks! For my Easter meal on Sunday, I'm making Red Velvet Cake...but the decor will be very similar to this.

That, my friends, is my suggestion for a fantastic Easter feast! We actually are firing up my brother-in-law's grill and making BBQ on Sunday...along with my mother-in-law's famous potato salad and a few other goodies. So? This menu isn't too far off from what we're actually eating! As promised, here's the recipe for the ribs pictured above. These are so good that people beg for the recipe every single time I serve them. They're quite different from the usual BBQ ribs that we eat in Texas, but I LOVE them!!

Sweet and Spicy Glazed Ribs


  • 5 lbs. pork spare ribs
  • Season salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons instant minced onion
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder 


1. Cut spare ribs into serving-size pieces. Place ribs, bone side down, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

2. Sprinkle w/season salt. Cover pan with foil and roast ribs at 350 for 1 hour. Drain off any fat that has accumulated.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Spoon or brush about half the glaze on 
ribs. Roast uncovered 30-45 minutes longer or until meat is tender, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze. The ribs will be golden brown and caramelized when they are done. Let sit for about 5 minutes before cutting.

Now I need to tag a few blog friends to join in on the fun! I choose:
  • Louanne at Louanne's Kitchen
  • Claire at Claire Cooks
  • Celeste at Cooking Creation
  • Tracy at Tracy's Living Cookbook
  • Katrina at In Katrina's Kitchen
Now it's your turn! Have fun, and pass it on...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

White Chocolate-Strawberry Easter Cake

I did something yesterday that I've never done before. I decorated a holiday-themed cake for Easter. Even better? It came out pretty darn cute, if I do say so myself!! People sometimes ask me how I decide which recipes to feature in here. I don't really have a set method...I get my inspiration from all sorts of places. Sometimes I see a recipe on TV -- or in a cookbook or magazine -- and decide to tweak it. Sometimes I see what I have in my  kitchen and let my creativity guide me to create something fun and yummy.

Other times, I have to think a little bit outside the box. Like this time. Vosges Chocolate is my favorite brand of upscale gourmet chocolate. They recently sent me some of their delicious gourmet chocolate Easter bunnies to sample and share with with you in a recipe. But how would I showcase a chocolate Easter bunny in a recipe? When the bunnies arrived, they were so cute that I knew immediately that I wanted to feature at least one as decor for an Easter-themed cake. I knew this was a bit outside-the-box for me, but I decided to go for it. 

Honestly? I bake cakes so rarely that I only own ONE 9-inch cake pan! To make this cake, I had to go buy a second cake pan + a plastic cake keeper to transport's that for dedication? I visited The Cake Doctor's website to find inspiration for a yummy recipe that used a boxed cake mix as a starting point. I figured the time saved by using a mix would allow me to focus my time and attention on decorating the cake. Michael's favorite cake combo is strawberries and cream cheese, so I knew that was the flavor I wanted to use.

This cake features melted white chocolate in both the cake batter and the cream cheese icing. A fresh strawberry filling is placed between the two cake layers before it's frosted with the white chocolate cream-cheese icing. I tinted the icing a light shade of green and topped the cake with green coconut "grass," Cadbury mini eggs, and a Vosges Barcelona Bunny (deep milk chocolate flavored with grey sea salt and hickory smoked almonds). It was a very simple idea, but it turned out really cute. If I can do this? I PROMISE that you can too!!! If you've got kids at home, this could be a fun project to do with them one afternoon this week. 

White Chocolate-Strawberry Easter Cake
adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Prepare the cake batter by adding the following ingredients to a mixing bowl: 1 package white cake mix, 2/3 cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 3 large eggs, and 6 ounces melted white chocolate. Beat on low for 1 minute, scrape down sides of bowl, and beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes. 

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool for another 45 minutes.

Step 2:  While the cake layers are baking and cooling, make the icing and filling. Combine 1 stick butter, 8 ounces softened cream cheese, and 6 ounces melted white chocolate in a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, until fluffy. Add 3 cups powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until combined. Remove 3/4 cup of the icing to a smaller bowl. Add 1 cup chopped strawberries and a few drops red food coloring and stir to combine; this is your cake filling. Add a few drops of green fool coloring to the remaining icing.

Step 3:  To assemble and decorate the cake, place the bottom layer on a serving platter. Top with the strawberry filling. Make sure to leave a bit of a border so the filling doesn't come out the sides. Top with the second cake layer and frost the top and sides with the green icing. Place 1 cup sweetened coconut colored with green food color to look like grass on top.

Step 4:  Decorate the top of the cake with a chocolate Easter bunny and candy eggs to resemble an Easter yard decorated with eggs ready to be found on Easter morning.

Step 5:  When you're ready to serve the cake, cut into slices with a serrated knife. I thought the pink strawberry filling was a nice visual contrast to the green exterior of the cake.

This cake is really good...the white chocolate gives the cake a rich flavor. The coconut compliments the strawberries in the filling nicely, and the little chocolate eggs are a nice little extra treat at the end. In case you're wondering, the white border along the bottom of the cake is miniature meringue cookies that I found while wandering around Central Market yesterday. They're totally optional, but I thought they made a pretty addition to the decor. In their place, you could use white chocolate candy kisses or even pipe an icing border if you have a bag.

This cake would make a really cute centerpiece for an Easter dessert table next weekend! You can click here to order the Vosges chocolate bunny to place on top of the cake. They come in four different gourmet flavors, and they all taste fantastic. My personal favorite is the Orchid Vanilla Bunny: 62% dark chocolate with pieces of Tahitian vanilla bean pod.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Celebrating Fiesta With a Duo of Mexi Dips!!

If a week can be "one of those weeks," then this one certainly qualifies for Casa Garcia. It's been super-hectic here, with lots of stuff going on. Needless to say? I'm so glad that tomorrow is Friday, and that I have a three-day weekend coming up! My office is closed tomorrow because it's Fiesta time in San Antonio. Fiesta is a 10-day citywide celebration with parades, fiestas, and all sorts of fun events all over town. Trust me: it's a Big Deal! Sort of like our version of Mardi Gras with a Tex-Mex twist, if you will.

What better way to celebrate Fiesta than whipping up a couple of fun and tasty dips to share with family? So, that's exactly what I'm doing tonight! As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I received samples of three new all-natural dip mixes from Tostito's and Lay's earlier this week: Country Ranch, Garden Onion, and Freshly Made Guacamole. For tonight's family get-together, I decided to make some guacamole and use the ranch seasoning to create a Weekend Gourmet original recipe: Mexi-Ranch Dip. The Greek Ranch Dip that I shared in here recently was such a hit that I used the same basic idea...this time using ingredients commonly found in Tex-Mex food.

Mexi-Ranch Dip...and Freshly Made Guacamole

Step 1:  To make the Mexi-Ranch Dip, add the following ingredients to a mixing bowl: an 8-ounce light sour cream (I prefer Daisy brand), 8 ounces whipped cream cheese, 1 tbs. puree from a can of chipotle chiles, 1 packet Lays Dip Creations Country Ranch dip mix, 3/4 cup shredded four-cheese Mexican blend, 1/2 chopped seeded tomato, and 2 sliced green onions.

Step 2:  Stir well to combine and spoon the dip into a pretty serving bowl. Refrigerate for at least one hour to let the flavors combine.

The guacamole isn't a recipe so much as a method. I simply added the Freshly Made Guacamole seasoning mix, diced tomato, finely chopped white onion, and 2 tbs. finely chopped cilantro to two large, ripe avocados.

I mashed everything together with a spoon, making sure to leave some of the avocado chunky. I personally find that avocados from Mexico are creamier and make the best look at your label when you're grocery shopping!

The dip mixes made it super easy to whip up these two dips in about 20 minutes. The packets added just the right amount of seasoning to the dip and the guacamole without tasting fake or overwhelming. Both dips are delicious and simple to whip up, even during your most hectic week!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sausage and Potato Hash...aka The Girl Next Door

One of my favorite things is eating breakfast for dinner. I think it stems from my childhood, when my Mom would make my siblings and I our favorite breakfast foods for dinner in the fall when my Dad would go off deer hunting. I love breakfast food, but I'm not really a morning person. During the week, I eat yogurt and a piece of fruit at my desk most days. On the weekends, I'm normally on the go and not in the kitchen in the mornings. That means if I want breakfast food, dinnertime is my best shot at eating it. 

Frittatas, apple Dutch Baby pancakes, and home fries have all been on the menu for our recent breakfast for dinner nights. Last night, I decided to see what was on hand in my kitchen to whip up something tasty for us. I had red potatoes, chicken-parm sausages, and some I decided to make a hash. Granted, hash won't win any beauty pageants. It's not the supermodel of food, but sometimes it's better to hang out with the girl next door. That's what this hash is...the girl next door who you love to hang out with because she's just so darn down-to-earth! 

Sausage and Potato Hash...aka The Girl Next Door

Step 1:  Cut three or four red potatoes into small cubes. Put in salted water, bring to a boil, and cook for 10-15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, cook two links sausage of your choice. I had chicken-parmesan on hand, but Italian sausage would be good too! Slice the sausage and set aside.

Step 2:  Heat 1 tbs. olive oil and 2 tbs. butter in a non-stick skillet over med-high heat. Add 1/2 chopped yellow onion, two cloves minced garlic, and one sliced celery stalk. Cook for about three minutes. Then add the cooked potatoes, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and cracked black pepper to taste. Cook until the potatoes start to brown. Let them sit in one layer for about five minutes before patient!

Step 3:  Add 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, the sliced sausage, and 2 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley. Toss gently to combine and continue cooking until the potatoes are evenly golden and the sausage is heated through. This took me about 10 minutes last night...I gave it a toss and let it brown on one side for about five minutes. Then I flipped it over and let it brown on the other side for another five minutes. To serve, place the hash on a platter. 

You can serve it topped with sunny-side-up eggs, but Michael opted for scrambled eggs last night. I wasn't in the mood for eggs, so I simply served my hash in a shallow bowl. I topped it with a bit of lowfat sour cream and a sprinkle of parmesan reggiano cheese. 

It was so good...the onions were caramelized and slightly sweet, which really complimented the sweetness of the corn. The sausage and potatoes were browned and delicious, and the parm worked well with this particular sausage. This hash might not win a beauty contest, but it's comforting and delicious. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Green & Black's Prize Pack Giveaway Winner...and Spicy Peanut Noodles with Shrimp

Happy weekend...Saturday means that it's time to announce the winner in my Green & Black's chocolate giveaway. The lucky winner of the Green & Black's Ultimate Chocolate Recipes cookbook and two bars of chocolate to bake with is:

#12: Lizzy from the blog That Skinny Chick Can Bake.

Congrats, Lizzy...I can vouch that you definitely have mad baking skills, so I can't wait to see what you decide to cook from the cookbook!! I'll be in touch via e-mail to get your shipping info so I can forward it to Green & Black's this week.

My brother spent the past couple of days with us while he was doing some research for a grad-school paper. One of his favorite foods is chicken with peanut sauce, so I decided to try my hand at making peanut noodles for dinner last night. The verdict? We all loved it! The general consensus is that it's as yummy as anything we've eaten in a restaurant. Even better? It's easy to whip up, and it's very adaptable. My brother had his noodles with chicken breast, while Michael I opted for shrimp since it was Friday.

Spicy Peanut Noodles with Shrimp
adapted from Cooking Light

Step 1:   Peel 1 lb. large shrimp and place in well-salted water for at least 30 minutes while you prep the rest of the meal. A little trick I learned: this will brine the shrimp and give them a fantastic flavor and texture.  

Step 2:  Cook 8 ounces of fettuccine according to package directions. While you're waiting for the pasta water to boil and the shrimp to brine, make the peanut sauce. Combine the following ingredients in a bowl: 1/3 cup peanut butter, 1/3 cup chicken broth, 2 tbs. soy sauce, 2 tbs. honey, 1 tbs. red wine vinegar, one finely minced garlic clove, 1 tsp. ground ginger, and 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper. Whisk well to combine and set aside while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Step 3:  Add 1 tbs. olive oil to a skillet over med-high heat. Remove shrimp from brine and pat dry with a towel. Add your favorite seasoning to them. Last night, I used a chipotle salt blend. Add 2 sliced green onions, 2 tbs. minced shallot, and 1 carrot cut into thin strips using a veggie peeler. Stir fry until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. This took about 3 minutes. Turn off heat. Add the cooked fettuccine and reserved peanut sauce to the pan. Toss well with tongs to combine.

Step 5:  To serve, place each serving of noodles in a shallow bowl. Top with chopped peanuts and more chopped green onions.

These noodles are seriously GOOD! The peanut sauce infuses the noodles with flavor...peanutty, salty, spicy, and a little sweet and sour thanks to the honey and red wine vinegar. The shrimp were the perfect addition for us, but you could leave them out or sub in tofu for a veg-friendly option. Or use leftover chicken to save a little money. The possibilities are endless, and I can't wait to make this recipe again!!