Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What's Baking Round-Up...Baked with ♥


As you may (or not) recall, this month, I was the host for our monthly What's Baking group.  Because it's February, I opted to go with a "love" in, Baked with Love!

The theme, itself, was quite open for interpretation as long as the recipe was something that would hold up well in a Valentine's menu.  To my pleasant surprise, many people went outside the realm of baking "themed" treats for the holiday and chose recipes that reminded them of their loved ones.  I am so glad that there were so many different ideas brought to the table this month and am thrilled to show y'all the variation of directions that everyone went in with this particular challenge!

So, without further ado, here are the entries for this month (in no particular order)....

Stuffed Red Velvet Cupcakes with 
Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: Our Italian Kitchen

 Vanilla Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Triple Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Source: Blissfully Delicious

Coconut Drop Cookies
Source: JBean Cuisine

Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites
 Source: Our Share of the Harvest 

Alice's Chocolate Chip Cookies
 Source: The Boys Made Me Do It

Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies
Source: Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness

Vanilla/German Chocolate Cake Cupcakes
with Oreo Bottoms
Source: She Cooks and Bakes!

Mint Oreo Fudge
Source: I was Born To Cook

Mixed Berry Cobbler with Cornmeal Crust
Source: Adventures In My Kitchen

Strawberry Cupcakes

Cinnamon Rolls
 Source: The Mess Pot

Brownie Pudding
Source: Cloud 8 1/2

Triple Layer Oreo Cake
Source: Beantown Baker

 Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cakeballs
 Source: The Jey of Cooking

Chocolate Strawberry Tartlets
Source: Brownies and Blondies

Molten Lava Cakes
Source: With a Cherry on Top

Source: Carrie's Sweet Life

Be sure to stick around and see next month's challenge....Amanda, from Our Italian Kitchen, is the host for March!  The theme she has chosen is Bake From Your Nationality/Heritage, in honor of St. Patrick's Day!  I wonder what everyone will make?!
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What's Baking....Baked with Love


So for this month’s What’s Baking challenge, I was the hostess with the mostess and because it was February, the month of love, I chose a theme based around just that….LOVE! 

We all did something “Baked with Love” and I was hoping that it would be interpreted in a few  different ways – not only did I feel it would be great to center it around Valentine’s Day, but to also choose recipes that, perhaps, meant something to someone or was a reminder of someone special in their life!

I chose to go the first route and made something very appropriate for V-Day…something I love seeing on a Valentine’s menu and something, actually, that I’ve never made before: Lava Cakes!

Chris and I both love the chocolatey goodness  that these cakes hold…the ooey-gooey center is what makes them so darn special!  To my pleasant surprise, they were really easy (probably one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever tackled).  But being a newbie, something went wrong (maybe I didn’t cool them long enough), but they deflated once I removed them from the ramekins….hence, deflated looking cake in the picture!
But don’t let that stop you….the deflation these babies went under had absolutely no effect on the taste!  They were deee-licious!

Molten Lava Cakes
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter
Cocoa Powder
4 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate
2 Eggs
1/4 cup Sugar
Pinch of Salt
2 Tsp. Flour

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Butter the inside of two ramekins and dust the insides with cocoa powder (to prevent the cakes from sticking).

In a double-boiler or bowl sitting atop a pan of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate over medium heat, stirring frequently; let cool.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves (about 1 minute).  With the mixer on low, slowly add in the chocolate mixture until incorporated into the egg mixture.  Add in the flour and mix to combine.

Carefully divide the batter between the two ramekins and place on a baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes and remove.  Let cool slightly and gently slide a butter knife around the inside of the ramekin to remove the cake.  Serve with whipped cream, a dusting of powdered sugar or fresh fruit!

Yield: 2 Servings
Source: Adapted from Made in Melissa's Kitchen, originally from Allrecipes
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Madness - Week of 2.20.11


So last week's menu was really good!  Unfortunately, I didn't have great lighting to get decent shots to post, so there won't be any posts from much of last week.  I will say that the Mustard-Roasted Fish (from Ina) was really good and the Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash  (also from Ina) was phenomenal!  Holy cow, I cannot believe I've never made it before, but it was SO GOOD! 

Because we both loved it, it will definitely be finding it's way on the menu again (probably sometime soon) so I'll do my best to get some good pictures and post the recipes.  But you can also find the recipes in Ina's Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics cookbook.  If you don't have this one, it's definitely worth keeping in your's a good one!

Last week was the first time Chris has tried couscous so that will definitely be making it's way into our menus more and more; it's a nice, healthy alternative to pasta and rice!  And this week, will be all new recipes so stay tuned! 

Have a great week!
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Cake Batter Candy Bark


Whew, that's a mouthful if I don't say so myself!  Valentine's Cake Batter Candy Bark....say that 5 times fast!

Well, I'll tell you the story behind this bark.  For a while now (pretty much since she posted it), I've had my eye on Stephanie's (Stephanie Cooks) Cake Batter Bark.  Seriously, it looks sooooo good and who doesn't love cake batter?!  It's, like, one of my favorite things and definitely one of my favorite ice cream flavors!

So I thought that this would be such a great treat to make for Chris to take into work to share with his co-workers.  I had planned on this and Red Velvet Cupcakes.  That was, of course, until Bridget (Bake at 350) had to go and make her version of bark, which was appropriate for the occasion what with the cute little sprinkles and conversation hearts she tossed on it!

And then I was I make the yummy cake batter flavored version, which I know will be good because, hello, it's cake batter!  Or do I make the version that has crunchy rice krispies mixed into the batter making it a pseudo "Crunch Bark?"  Get it?!  Crunch Bark = Crunch Bar....I kill myself!

Anywho, the light bulb finally went off and what better way to win this argument in my head than to combine the two was, literally, the best of both worlds.

I have to say it was pretty darn good, but I was rather disappointed in the lack of cake batter flavor.  I guess I was expecting it to stand out more but I guess I'll have to put more in next time.  All in all, it was good and definitely worth making again.  But be warned....this stuff will definitely suffice a killer sweet tooth!  It is very sweet and probably something you shouldn't give to already hyper children...just saying.

Valentine's Cake Batter Candy Bark

2 - 12oz. bags of White Chocolate Baking Chips
2 - 12oz. bags of Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
6 Tsp. Yellow Cake Mix
2 cups Rice Krispies
Conversation Hearts

Using a double boiler or sauce pan with heat-safe bowl on top, heat water over med heat until it comes to a simmer.  Add the white chocolate in the bowl and stir, continuously, until melted.  Stir in the cake mix and then gradually add in the rice krispies; mix until the each rice krispie is coated in chocolate.  Carefully spread the mixture out onto a large piece of parchment paper and let cool.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips utilizing the same method above (minus the cake mix and rice krispies) and carefully spread the mixture over the cooled white chocolate mixture.

Sprinkle on the sprinkles and conversation hearts and let cool completely.

Once it's cooled, break the bark into pieces and enjoy!

**I've increased the amount of yellow cake mix above (I originally used 3 Tsp, but I think doubling it may do the trick).  Also note, that this is very versatile and any type of candy/sprinkles can be used!

Source: Adapted from Bake at 350 and also adapted from Stephanie Cooks
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes


Happy Valentine's Day!  Today is one of the most love-filled days with weddings, romance, flowers, candy and let's not forget yummy desserts!

Red Velvet is a classic go-to idea for this special occasion as it's festive color lends itself well to the vibrant shades of red and pink!  I know it probably seems like a cop-out to go with red velvet on this day, but I have to say I do love the flavor combination of the cocoa-esque cake combined with the rich, cream cheese frosting!  It was clearly a no-brainer for me as I've been craving them for a while now!

So one blog, in particular, I really enjoy following...she's a friend on an online cooking/baking community that I belong to and one of the reasons I love her blog so much is that she does these incredible comparisons!  Every once in a while, Bridget, from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, goes on a whim and compares some of the top-rated recipes for a particular item.  I think her sugar cookie comparison is, by far, my favorite!  But when it came to making red velvet cupcakes this time around, I wanted to do something different than my normal go-to family recipe (passed down by my Great Aunt Linda).  But there are so many out there and it was hard to choose, which drew me to Bridget's blog as I was 99% positive that she would have a red velvet comparison!

Sure enough, she did!  She actually took the time to compare 5 different recipes.  Seriously, if y'all have never seen her comparisons, you need to venture over there and check them out.  They really are fantastic and she is so thorough that even if you don't want to go with her top pick, you have enough information on the other recipes to decide which one would be best for you.

Anywho, she compared 5 recipes (all very popular among our foodie community) and chose Kelsey's version of Saveur's Red Velvet Cake (Kelsey is another friend of ours, from Apple a Day) as her favorite recipe.  So I decided to give it a shot....

This recipe was good, but if I may be honest, I will say that I much prefer my Aunt's recipe!  The texture of Kelsey's was really nice; they were moist and really baked up well.  But there was something missing with the flavor and I'm not sure what it was.  I followed the recipe to a "tee" but I think that the flavors of my Aunt's recipe are a little more predominant, which is why I love them!  For me, I like that cocoa flavor to come through a little more (and for some people, they'd rather not).  I know it's a personal preference just like some people hate red velvet!

I think I would make this recipe again; however I would tweak it a bit more to let that flavor shine!  All in all, it's definitely a keeper just not my favorite (sometimes you just can't beat a good ol' family recipe)!

Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients - Cake
2½ cups Flour
1½ cups Sugar
1 Tsp. Baking Soda
1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder
1 Tsp. Salt
2 Eggs
1½ cups Vegetable Oil
1 cup Buttermilk
2 Tbsp. Red food coloring
1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 Tsp. White Distilled Vinegar

Ingredients - Frosting
1 - 12oz. pkg. Cream Cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
1½ Tsp. Vanilla Extract
3 cups Powdered Sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt into a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar until well combined. Add in half of the dry ingredients and beat until smooth; add in the remaining dry ingredients and continue beating until the mixture is smooth (about 2 minutes).

Divide the batter evenly between 3 8-inch round cake pans, greased and floured.  Bake, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean (about 25-30 minutes).

Let the cakes cool 5 minutes, then invert each onto a plate, then invert again onto a cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely.

**For cupcakes, divide the batter into cupcake liners inserted into a cupcake tin.  Bake until a toothpick inserted int he center comes out clean (about 18-22 minutes).

To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together in a large bowl until combined well.  Gradually add in the powdered sugar and continue beating until the mixture becomes light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

Put 1 cake layer on a cake plate, level off with a serrated knife, and spread one-quarter of the frosting on top. Set another layer on top, level, and repeat frosting. Set remaining layer on top, level, and frost top and sides with a thin crumb coat layer; repeat with a second layer of frosting and decorate as desired.

Chill for 2 hours to set frosting.

**For cupcakes, divide the frosting recipe by 1/4 as you won't need that much!

Yield: 1 8-inch, 3-layer cake or 20 cupcakes
Source: Adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, from Apple a Day (originally from Cake Man    
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Menu Madness - Week of 2.14.11

 Here it is...the menu for the week!  Yes, the Mustard-Roasted Tilapia is still on there and no, I have not made it yet!  That's what happens when things come up during the week, but that's also the beauty of planning a weekly menu: you can just push it out to the next week and not worry about it!  It will get made this week and I'm really excited to try it as both it and the Maple-Roasted Squash recipe come from Ina Garten, who never disappoints in the kitchen!

Other than that, it's a pretty easy week of cooking!  I'm trying to utilize some of the same ingredients and leftovers for a couple of meals, which will not only save on time, but on money as well!

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I'll be in the kitchen today whipping up some goodies: Red Velvet Cupcakes, Valentine's Candy Bark (with a twist) and Homemade Granola with dark cherries, almonds and dark chocolate...YUM!

Have a great week everyone!
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Queso Dip


I think it's pretty safe to assume that I do a majority of the cooking in our house.  But don't be fooled - Chris is an excellent cook and he definitely has his specialties.  For instance, his scrambled eggs - they are so good and the first time I came to visit him (we did the long-distance thing for a year), he made these for me in the morning and I never forgot them!

And let's talk about his catfish, shall we?

Being in the South, you can find catfish just about anywhere for lunch or dinner (it's a staple menu item at most places).  The thing is, it's always fried.  Don't get me wrong, fried is good.  Fried is VERY good, but it's not always the best for you and some places have a really heavy hand with their breading and I'm not much of a fan (neither is Chris).  But where he grew up in Alabama, grilled catfish is easier to come by and I gotta tell y'all, it is so, so good!  And when Chris makes it?  Oh lord, it's heaven!  It melts in your mouth and it's so tender.  We'll definitely have to add that to the list of blogging this Summer (we eat it a lot)!

And then there's his Queso Dip.  The infamous dip that is always requested for him to bring to gatherings of all kinds.  When we first started dating, he bragged about this dip and I thought, "Yeah, yeah, just another dip with Velveeta and biggie!"

Well, yes, it does have Velveeta in it, but it doesn't have salsa and it's SO much better than any homemade queso I've tried thus far!  I know I'm a little bias, but I'm being honest's really good!  It's one of those dips that you just can't.stop.eating.  No matter how hard you try, you just have to go back for one more chip.  And then one more.  Annnnnddd then one more.  Okay, I'm done!

Because we're trying our best to eat better these days (kind of hard to do with ribs and queso, but it was the Super Bowl), we opted to use ground turkey instead of beef.  Chicken would be exceptionally good in this as well!  And just like most of the recipes on here, you can really alter the heat to your liking.

 Queso Dip

1 lb. Ground Meat (Turkey, Beef or Chicken)
1 Med. Onion, diced
1 Lg. brick Velveeta Cheese
1 - 10 oz. can Diced Tomatoes with Lime Juice & Cilantro (we use Rotel)
1 - 10 oz. can Diced Tomatoes with Green Chiles (we use Rotel)
2 - 15 oz. cans Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed

In a large pan, cook the meat over med-high heat until browned.  Add in the onion and cook until tender.

In a large crock pot, add in the meat, cheese, tomatoes and beans; stir to mix.  Cook over low-medium heat for 2 hours or until heated through.

Serve immediately with tortilla chips, sour cream, lime, cilantro...whatever you want!

Yield: 12-14 Servings
Source: With a Cherry on Top Original
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Monday, February 7, 2011

BBQ Ribs


Yesterday was the Super Bowl...the infamous yearly event that people look forward to at the end of every football season.  It's the time to get together with friends and family to root for your favorite team, to pig out like there's no tomorrow and to laugh your butts off at all of the crazy commercials!

I will say that I normally look forward to it; however I'm not much of a fan of Green Bay nor Pittsburgh so it was rather difficult to get into the festive mood.  I thought the commercials really lacked substance this year (with the exception of a few), but none really stood out to me as the best of the year.  The half-time show was a flop and Christina Aguilera's rendition of the National Anthem was rather a disgrace to our country and what it stands for.  And the game, itself, really wasn't that good...I was hoping for something a little more exciting!

With all that negativity though, some good definitely came out of it.....these ribs!!!  We love BBQ ribs and being in the South, BBQ anything is always on the menu!  You really can't go wrong and even though it's not Summer and you can't throw 'em on the grill and slather 'em up with BBQ sauce, you can still make a pretty mean meal out of it with just a little help from the trusty 'ol oven.  Actually, I prefer them this way as opposed to the grill because they become so tender and so succulent; the meat literally falls off the bone and melts in your mouth.  And the caramelization that the BBQ sauce goes under during the process.....TO.DIE.FOR!!!

BBQ Ribs

5 lbs. Baby Back Ribs
BBQ Sauce (I prefer Sweet Baby Ray's)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Prep the meat by bringing it to room temperature well before getting ready to cook it.  Once it's ready, flip it over to the back side where you'll find a layer of white membrane.  Gently insert the tip of a butter knife between the membrane and the meat to lift it up and pull it away (you definitely want to remove as much of it as you tends to make the meat a little tough and stringy if you don't).  Discard the membrane when finished.

Season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan.  Covered with double thickness aluminum foil, bake for 4 hours.

Remove the ribs from the pan and place on a baking sheet.  Slather them with BBQ sauce (as much or as little as you want) and place them under the broiler for 5 minutes (be sure to leave the oven door slightly cracked so they don't burn)!

Yield: 4 Servings
Source: Adapted from Steamy Kitchen
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Saturday, February 5, 2011

What's Baking Challenge - Try Something New for the New Year


So I skipped out on our challenge for December because of the holiday craziness and I was really excited about doing our January challenge.  Jen, from Beantown Baker, was the host for the month and and wanted to encourage us to try something new, so she chose the theme of "Try Something New for the New Year" where we would, literally, try something new!  It could be a new ingredient, a new technique, a new recipe, etc.

Well, peeps, I'm sorry to say that "Trying Something New for the New Year" turned into a BAKING FAIL!!!  I set out to make Cinnamon Spritzes....I've had the recipe for a long time and have been wanting to make them even longer but I don't own a cookie press.  But I had found another recipe to make them using a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip to pipe the cookies instead....genius!  Well, not so much!  I don't know what happened, but I could not get the darn things to pipe for the life of me!  They were waayyy too thick and certainly did not come out like the picture I had!  So, once again, I was not able to participate (but not for a lack of trying)!

But I will definitely be back for the next one; it's a special month since I've been chosen to host it!  The theme for February is "Baked with Love"....I have asked everyone to bake something worthy of being on a Valentine's menu!  I'm excited to see what everyone comes up with; there is a lot of versatility with this one and can't wait to see what turns up (maybe some fun appetizers, tasty breads, a decadent entree or a sweet treat)!

But in the meantime, definitely check out what everyone else made for January......

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Cheese Souffle

Pistachio Cake

Coconut Madeleines

Gluten-Free Breadsticks

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Warm Apple Bread Pudding

  Source: The Mess Pot

Cinnamon Chip Bread

Cinnamon Rolls
Source: Cloud 8 1/2

Cranberry Orange Scones

Mini-Whole Wheat Bagels
Source: Beantown Baker
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Monday, January 31, 2011

Tortellini in Pesto Broth

As I mentioned previously, my friend, Branny, is hosting a Charity Souper Bowl to help donate money to the ASPCA.  She and her husband, the Omnivore, have made it their New Year's Resolution to donate more to this wonderful cause!

They have asked fellow bloggers, family and friends to enter a soup recipe to Branny's blog, Branny Boils Over, including a picture of the soup and of the pet you wish to dedicate it to.  They have offered to donate $1 for each entry received.  Their goal is to reach a minimum of 100 entries and the last I heard, they were definitely getting closer!

I opted to make a Tortellini in Pesto Broth and it was, by far, the easiest and quickest soup I've ever made!  It was also really delicious and versatile so you could add a variety of things to make it more hearty!

This soup is dedicated to sweet little Bailey!  We adopted Bailey shortly after moving to South Carolina and she has been a joy in my life ever since!  We got her at just 10 weeks old and didn't know much about her history or why she had been dropped off, but she won our hearts immediately with her sweet little face!  Just look at could you not love that face?!

Don't get me wrong, she has definitely had her "puppy" moments but all in all, she has been a great dog and she brightens my day!  She has grown up so much in the year that we've had her and really
come into her own.  She has quite the personality and some funny little quirks!

We absolutely adore her and cannot imagine our life without her!  For it being the first time that either of us had ever adopted, we sure lucked out and found the perfect addition to our little family!

Tortellini in Pesto Broth

4 cups Chicken Broth
2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves
1/3 Parmesan Cheese, grated
6 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Pine Nuts
1 Garlic Clove
32 oz. Tortellini (fresh or frozen)

In a large pot, heat the broth over med-high heat until boiling.

Meanwhile, place the basil, Parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts and garlic into a food processor and process until smooth.  Whisk 1/3 cup of the pesto into the hot broth, reserving the remaining pesto for another use.

Reduce the heat to medium and add in the tortellini; cook until tender (about 7 minutes).

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese.

Yield: 4 Servings
Source: From Radically Simple
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Menu Madness - Week of 1.30.11

Here it is!  Our menu for the week....There is definitely some overlap from last week due to a few unexpected things happening, but no biggie!  We just make the necessary adjustments and push them out to this week!  Have a great week y'all!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Garlic Rice Pilaf


I'm always trying to find new ways of incorporating "healthier" side dishes into our meals, mainly veggies and good starches.  It seems like we never grow tired of roasted (or grilled in the Summer) veggies; they take on a whole new flavor when cooked different ways and both methods are so versatile and allow you to change up the flavorings just by adding different seasonings or sauces.

Good starches, on the other hand, are a little more trying for me to work with in the sense of them not being too "fattened up" with butter, sauces, etc.  We love pasta and could eat it everyday but let's face it, it's not always the best thing to eat  Potatoes are good, couscous is good and rice is good too, but I only have so many variations in my repertoire of how to prepare these items to prevent us from getting bored and throwing ourselves off the healthy bandwagon!

So when I came across this recipe, I thought that it not only looked tasty but sounded tasty and easy enough to make.  It is a little time consuming in sense that it takes a while to cook but the preparation part is rather effortless and includes ingredients that are kitchen staples: rice, garlic, chicken broth, lemon, salt and pepper!

I actually altered the cooking time a bit to shorten it up and I felt like it turned out just fine and was really, really good!  Now that I know I can make it in less time than what the original recipe says, this will become a regular side dish in our weekly rotation of favorite meals!

Garlic Rice Pilaf

2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 cup White Rice, uncooked
2 1/2 cups Chicken Broth, divided
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/2 Lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pan, melt the butter over med-high heat.  Add in the garlic and rice; cook until both are browned (about 4 minutes).  Stir in 1 cup of the chicken broth, salt and pepper; bring to a boil.

Pour the mixture into a small casserole dish and bake, covered for 15 minutes.

Stir in the remaining chicken broth and bake, covered, for an additional 20 minutes.  Squeeze in the juice of the lemon, stir to combine and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is light and fluffy.

Yield: 4 Servings
Source: Adapted from Jaime Cooks, originally from What's Cooking in the Orange Kitchen
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