My kids are mac n’ cheese addicts.

Mac n’ cheese seems to be the “it” thing for kids. Most kids not only like it, but they go absolutely bonkers for it.

My kids fall into that category.

Before I learned how to make it from scratch, Kraft “Thick and Creamy” lived in our pantry. I could easily blame myself for their addiction, considering it’s something that was consumed on almost a daily basis while I was pregnant with both of them. And I’m not talking about a little bowl of it, I’m talking about an ENTIRE BOX.

At one time.

All 1,100 calories.

There were no leftovers.

Ever.

Did I care that I gained 40 pounds with each pregnancy? Um, no. I was providing nourishment for my babies. That processed box of heaven was giving them nutrition, and that’s the excuse I was sticking to.

After attending culinary school, I grew some cojones and started making it from scratch. Grating fresh sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan, melting it in the bechamel sauce and stirring in those freshly boiled noodles before topping it with more cheese and baking it. Holy crap… Kraft who?? You’re fired.

Once the second kid came around, I got lazy and went back to the boxed stuff for a while, just until he got older and my sanity somewhat started to come back. I won’t lie though, I will still grab the boxed stuff every now and then, just because I still think it tastes delicious.

My daughter recently started asking for it again, because that’s what she was used to before her little brother came along. She was known as the “kid who only ate hot meals” at her old school because she refused to eat cold sandwiches. So, I’d make that mac n’ cheese for her and send it in little glass microwave safe containers that the teachers would pop in the microwave for her.

Should’ve sent in a silver spoon for her to eat it with.

Either way, this stuff is da bomb, and my daughter starts squealing like a rabid monkey when I tell her we’re having it for dinner. Or, is it me who does that? I can’t tell anymore.

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Creamy Baked Mac n’ Cheese

8 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

3 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, divided

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Melt butter in a pot on medium heat and add flour, whisk until smooth and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly add milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly until smooth. Add mustard, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook on medium heat for 14-15 minutes, or until sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally. While sauce is cooking, grate cheddar cheese. Add all but 1 cup of cheddar cheese, stir. Add Parmesan cheese and stir again. Whisk constantly until sauce is smooth and cheeses are melted. Remove sauce from heat and stir in drained pasta. Pour mixture into 8×8 inch baking dish, sprinkle with leftover cheddar. Bake,  uncovered, for about 30-35 minutes. Remove dish from oven, let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

This stuff reheats and freezes very well! Great as leftovers and freezer meals!

I put my family in a diabetic coma over the holidays.

Do you find yourself in charge of making something in particular for the holidays? I’m usually in charge of desserts.

No complaints here.

Since none of these calories count, here was the opportunity to really go overboard.

My mother-in-law asked if I could make something for their annual Christmas lunch where all of us get together. Does an alligator pee in a swamp? Of course.

But, what to make? The family LOVES cheesecake, and I knew there would be over 30 people at the gathering and one cheesecake won’t cut it. So what do you do in a situation like this?

Make two cheesecakes.

And a cake.

And two types of cookies.

And another cake.

What about my side of the family for a Christmas gathering? Several people on my side are weirdly picky about what they like, so something that will easily make everyone happy is the way to do it.

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So, here’s the Christmas dessert lineup to stuff our families like Hansel and Gretel:

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Chocolate Oreo Cheesecake:  rich, chocolate cheesecake with an Oreo crust and Oreo chunks packed throughout the cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache, fresh whipped cream and a mini Oreo cookie.

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Tiramisu Cheesecake:  coffee cheesecake with a Nilla wafer crust, ladyfingers dipped in coffee and kahlua, and a mascarpone-cream topping with sprinkled cocoa.

Boston Creme Pie:  two layers of fluffy vanilla cake filled with vanilla pastry cream, covered with chocolate ganache.

Red Velvet Cake:  two layers of moist red velvet cake smothered with cream cheese icing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  thick, soft, and chewy chocolate chip cookies. No further explanation needed.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Cookies:  two Ritz crackers sandwiching a thick layer of creamy peanut butter, dipped in white chocolate.

We had to make sure we saved chocolate chip cookies for Santa. He’s so needy.

The only promise I can make right now is to avoid eating any more desserts…for a couple days. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

The Cleaning Fairy leaves Crème Brulee when she visits.

Imagine going to bed at night, sleeping 8 hours straight, and waking up to a clean house. All the clutter is gone. The counters are wiped down. The living room is straightened and vacuumed. The trash cans have been emptied. The bathrooms don’t have pee everywhere. You go to open the door to the refrigerator, and sitting on the sparkling clean shelf in the middle are ramekins filled with crème brulee, ready to be torched and eaten. The Cleaning Fairy visited during the night, just like she does every week.

WAKE UP!!!

Reality sets in. She didn’t come by and clean the house, de-clutter anything, and most certainly didn’t leave any crème brulee. Witch.

Instead, I have to do it. When the hubaroo gets off the phone with his mom and says he’d like to take the kids out for lunch and to hang out with her for a while- “Do you want to go?” HERE is the opportunity. A quiet house (well, until the 90’s booty-shakin’ music starts blasting when they leave) to really have the chance to get things done without distraction. NO, I do NOT want to go. Love the hubaroo, kids, and even the mother-in-law, but here’s the chance to wear myself out and be somewhat happy with the end result.

De-cluttering the house is a chore that most people dread doing, especially if you tend to hoard things that really have no business being in the house. Guilty!

It took reading a book that gave some true motivation to really get things in motion. Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett got me on the wagon 9 years ago after reading it for the first time. It was on. Thirteen very large trash bags later, the house looked magical. This was B.C. (Before Children), so it was a LOT easier to maintain. The years dragged on, we got more crap, had two kids, got MORE crap, and here we are…with lots of crap.

Have you ever looked around your house and wanted to throw everything in the garbage can that was out of place? Yeah, that’s where I have been for the past month or so, but haven’t had the time (or energy) to light a fire under my butt and get things going.

So, here is the opportunity to get started. Christmas is a good motivator since there will be even more crap coming in the house when the fat man in red makes his delivery. We pay him with cookies and milk.

After going at it for a few hours and plopping down on the couch, I made a phone call to check on hubaroo and kids. After asking what he wanted for dinner, he said, “How about pizza? That’ll be simple. Oh, and some crème brulee.” You know, because pizza and crème brulee go together so well, right? (insert sarcasm here)

Since ordering pizza doesn’t take much effort, the crème brulee was definitely an option.

This and a glass of wine were my rewards for de-cluttering 10% of the house. A trip to Vegas after the whole thing is done will be sufficient. Or a new Mustang.

Since hubaroo was so gracious to remove our little freeloaders from the house for a few hours, I gave in to his dessert request. The best way to describe Crème Brulee is to call it French Pudding. Easy enough to explain that to people, and they’re more likely to eat it if they’ve never experienced the gloriousness of it before. And who doesn’t want to play with a kitchen torch?

What would you want as a reward for de-cluttering the house?

Crème Brulee Recipe

1 whole egg

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon triple sec

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

extra granulated sugar (for torching)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk together the egg, yolks, and sugar in a medium size mixing bowl. Set aside. In a microwave safe container, heat the cream until hot but not boiling. Slowly pour a stream of the cream into the bowl with the egg, yolks, and sugar, constantly whisking. Whisk in the triple sec and vanilla. Pour liquid through a wire mesh strainer into another bowl with a spout.

Pour into 4 (8 oz.) shallow* ramekins. If you have smaller ramekins, you’ll have more servings. Place in a half sheet cake pan and pour hot water into pan (BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET WATER IN THE RAMEKINS, IT’LL RUIN THE CUSTARD). Very carefully place pan in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, just until the custards are set (and just a tiny bit jiggly). Remove pan from oven, use spatula to transfer ramekins to a cooling rack. When they are cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

When torching for service, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon evenly on top of each custard. Torch the top using a kitchen torch.** Let set for about 1 minute before serving.

*Why shallow ramekins? The custard will cook more evenly in a shallow ramekin as opposed to a deeper one. The consistency will be the same throughout.

**I’ve heard some people say you can use the broiler in your oven if you don’t have a torch. It’s definitely not as effective as a kitchen torch, but is a way to improvise. Get yourself a kitchen torch though if you’d like, just keep it away from kids and pyromaniac husbands.

 

If I never see another skewer again, it’ll be too soon.

A friend from culinary school asked me to help her cater an event for her company Christmas party. Well duh! Happy to help, especially when a chunk of money is involved and it has anything to do with food.

We went over the details, and I agreed to do the desserts for the event. How about some cupcakes? Easy enough.

Then I found out the number. There were two events, 100 people at each event. Had to punch that one in the calculator for it to sink in that I was going to be making over 200 cupcakes and 2 decorated casino-themed cakes. She also needed as much help as I could provide with assembling appetizers. Sounded good to me, especially since I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like.

I started making the cupcakes two days before the event to make sure I wouldn’t be running around like a chicken with my head cut off. When I got home from my job as a pastry chef (making desserts all day), the cupcake baking began. You know, because I don’t already do enough baking at work (insert sarcasm here).

Got started on the three different flavors of cupcakes. Chocolate Peanut Butter (rich chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter chips, topped with peanut butter icing and chocolate ganache), Cookies ‘n Cream (vanilla cupcakes packed with chunks of Oreo cookies, topped with buttercream icing infused with Oreo cookie crumbs and a cute little mini Oreo on top of that), and Red Velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing. By the day of the event, there were 204 cupcakes stacked on my kitchen island. “I’m really looking forward to those cupcakes leaving the house,” my husband said. He’s a neat freak, and doesn’t like to see stuff piled ANYWHERE. Best part about that is he actually cleans, and does a much better job than I do. Yes, he’s a unicorn husband.

The morning of the event, I was running around the house like a crazed maniac. Three different types of icing had to be made and piped on top of each of the 204 cupcakes. If there was a fly on the wall, it heard a lot of self-talk, a flash of a person running through the house, and maybe even some inappropriate language. The sweat was building up first thing in the morning before I even got started on all the skewered appetizers for everyone.

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It’s a really good thing I gave in to buying a minivan, because it’s very unlikely all of this would have fit into a Mustang.

When I got to the location, my friend was already there working her butt off. I jumped in, and she put me on skewer duty.

I have never seen so many skewers in my life.

Skewers are an awesome way to serve appetizers. They’re pretty, you can assemble different items on them, and they’re easy for people to grab and eat.

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First were the salad skewers. I cut up six heads of lettuce into equal portions, “tried” to keep them somewhat stacked together for ease of assembling the skewers (and failed miserably at this). Next was slicing up the cooked bacon she prepared, then washing the little cherry tomatoes. I sat down and got to work.

After thirty minutes of assembling these little suckers, I was already mentally done… although there were at least 50 empty skewers left. Help me. “Oh my God, this is SUCH a pain in the butt. Tell boss lady that these shouldn’t be on the menu next year unless she wants to assemble them herself.” When I FINALLY finished those, she brought me the other items to go on the next skewer set. Yay.

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These skewers were colorful. Each one had:  green olive, roasted red bell pepper, mozzarella cheese cube, basil leaf, tortellini, salami, cherry tomato, and black olive. My hands smells like roasted red bell peppers after assembling 100 of these. I was okay with that.

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Once these were finally finished, it was time to put together the dessert table. The smell of sugar, peanut butter, chocolate, and cream cheese radiated through my nostrils as I was very carefully handling the precious cargo, unloading them from containers to the table.

After spending almost 6 hours of preparing these little demon skewers and all other prep to have everything together for the party, I was ready for a cocktail. Fortunately I was meeting up with some ladies from my neighborhood for a girls’ night out. After changing into something that didn’t smell like roasted red bell peppers (again that’s not a bad thing), I headed to the restaurant.

A few of them were already there waiting at the table, and I plopped down in my chair. The waiter walked up and asked, “Can I get you something to d-” and I cut him off with, “Apple Martini, please. Pronto.”

I drifted off into a deep sleep that night, dreaming of martinis and sugar. The demon skewers made their way into my dreams as well, trying to stab me with their sharp little pointers.

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In the morning, I reached for my phone and saw a text from my friend that I worked with the night before. Someone stole the poker cake. STOLE. THE. CAKE. Laughter escaped my throat as I read this message. I’ve heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but how about robbery? Clearly the cake wouldn’t have been stolen if it were ugly, right? Just agree with me here, that’s the logic I’m sticking to on this.

Have you had the pleasure of assembling skewered appetizers for a party?

 

 

SECOND COOKBOOK AVAILABLE!!!

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My second cookbook in the Moms on the Go cookbook series is now available!

Are you tired of making the same things for dinner over and over again? Are you looking for easy recipes using every day ingredients? Look no further!

The Moms on the Go cookbook series is aimed at busy moms (and dads!) who are looking for simple and delicious recipes to prepare for their family. Even if you don’t have kids, these recipes are too simple and yumdiddles to pass up!

“What’s for Dinner?” is the second cookbook in this series with over 85 easy recipes for:  breakfast & brunch, salads & sandwiches, entrees (chicken, beef & pork, vegetarian), side dishes, and desserts!

Click HERE to get your copy!

Banana Blueberry Muffins

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Nothing screams breakfast like a fluffy muffin with a hot cup of coffee. Make your coworkers jealous when they see you bite into this pure deliciousness. The way to win someone’s heart is through muffins…at least at the office.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 ripe bananas

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons butter, melted

3.5 oz. can blueberries, rinsed and drained*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together. Combine bananas, egg, and vanilla in a blender, puree until smooth. Pour banana mixture into mixing bowl with dry ingredients, stir to combine. Add melted butter, stir again. Gently stir in blueberries. Coat each cavity of a standard muffin pan with cooking spray. Evenly distribute batter between each cavity in pan (will fill up about 3/4 full in each one). Sprinkle tops with about 1/4 teaspoon of sugar on each one. Bake for about 23 minutes, until golden brown. Remove pan from oven, let muffins cool slightly and transfer to cooling rack.

*You can use 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries instead of can if you feel like gettin’ fancy. I personally prefer the little blueberries, but some people like the big ole fat ones. Personal preference takes the cake.

**These can be frozen! After muffins have cooled completely, individually wrap each one with plastic wrap, place in freezer bag and store in freezer. Grab one on your way out the door to work to enjoy a homemade muffin with your coffee. You deserve it.

 

Tiramisu Pancake Stack

It’s amazing how a simple combination of several different ingredients can make your mouth water just by thinking about them. My mother-in-law is a HUGE fan of tiramisu, and while I was making pancakes for the family one morning, her mere presence had me brainstorming about tiramisu recipes. The thoughts came swirling into my head like an ocean of chocolate syrup, and it was like a huge lightbulb turned on over my chocolate-syrup-filled brain. I gasped, then started thinking about how I could make these already delicious buttermilk pancakes, but brush each one with coffee, layer them with a mascarpone cream filling and top them with chocolate syrup. I’ll accept hugs as a thank you.

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I couldn’t wait to try these out, and thought about how perfectly a mimosa would accompany this as brunch. If you want to get technical about what is classified as a stack, of course it’ll be anything more than one pancake and cream layer…but feel free to go ahead and make a triple-decker. It’s worth it.

Oh, and did I mention this recipe will be in my upcoming book, “What’s For Dinner?” It’s the second book in my Moms On The Go cookbook series, and will have over 100 recipes for breakfast & brunch, soups, salads & sandwiches, entrees (chicken, beef, pork, & vegetarian), side dishes, and desserts.

Click HERE to check out my current cookbook available on Amazon!

For the Pancakes:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add liquid ingredients, whisk together just until mixture is combined (batter will still have a few lumps). Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup of batter at a time onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until lightly browned on the other side. Let pancakes cool to room temperature before assembling.

For the Cream Filling:

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

8 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed

2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

In a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and beat at medium speed with electric mixer for about 1 minute.

Putting it all together:

Lay pancake on a plate, brush with cooled coffee. Spread 1/4 cup cream on top of pancake. Layer two more times, then top with chocolate syrup.