Monday, August 8, 2011

Smoked Sausage & Pasta Casserole

Last night's dinner was wonderful. It had a few of my favorite things all rolled into one. Let's just start by saying, I love casseroles. Most of the cooking in one or two dishes and you have time to wash the prep dishes while its baking. Also, only one serving platter and its the same dish you baked it in. Then, we are brought to one of my biggest ingredient obsessions which is CHEESE!!! If you've read my blog for a little, you have to know my love affair with carbs (potato or pasta, I'm not picky) and CHEESE which is, more often than not, an ingredient in most casseroles!!! This casserole also contains two lesser known loves of mine, smoked sausage and FRONIONS!! I usually use turkey smoked sausage but used regular for this recipe. Also, I now know from this recipe that there is such a thing as Cheddar french-fried onions. I must find these things however, I made this recipe last minute so I just used the original variety that I had in my pantry and just added some cheddar along with the mozzarella cheese. This one was a hit, including the day after!


Smoked Sausage & Pasta Casserole
Adapted from Taste of Home

2 c. uncooked farfalle pasta,
       (original calls for penne)
1 lb. smoked sausage, cut into 1/4" slices
       (I cut the slices in half moons)
1.5 c. 2% milk
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of
        celery soup, undiluted
        (I used cream of mushroom)
1.5 c. french-fried onions, divided
0.75 c. shredded mozzarella cheese,
         divided
0.5 c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 c. frozen peas



Cook pasta 1-2 minutes shy of package directions to allow for a little sauce absorption during baking. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, brown sausage over medium heat for 5 min.; drain. In small bowl, combine the two cheeses. In a large bowl, combine milk and soup. Stir in about 0.5 c. onions, 0.5 c. (heaping) of the cheese mixture, peas and sauteed sausage. Drain pasta; combine with sausage mixture.

Transfer to a greased 13" x 9" baking dish. Cover and bake at 375F for 25 - 30 min or until bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining onions and cheese. Bake, uncovered, 3 - 5 min longer or until cheese is melted.

ENJOY!


**Sharing on Melt in Your Mouth Monday & Jam Hand's Recipe Sharing Monday**

Saturday, August 6, 2011

PB & Jelly Ice Cream

The highlight of my week was, by far, using my ice cream maker for the first time! My husband bought me an ice cream maker for my birthday last year. The kind that you can either hand crank or use an electric motor for but, either way, you need ice and rock salt. I hadn't taken the time to break it out of the box yet since I was a little intimidated, to say the least. But, I consider myself an adventurous cook in other areas, why not make myself an old-school ice cream maker aficionado too. (Note: You don't have to use this kind of ice cream maker. Use what you have/prefer and be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Also, something to keep in mind if you are using the ice/salt kind, it's hard to find rock salt in the middle of the summer. Plan ahead!)

Being that I have a certificate in baking and pastry arts and I bake for a living, including doing work for a catering department on a regular basis, I am NOT afraid of making sauces such as creme anglaise. I've known for a while that, a classic creme anglaise made with egg yolks provides a base for making any ice cream. Growing up, on a occasion, my mom would break out the ice cream maker on a snowy day. She too had a machine that required ice (or snow) and rock salt, but she always used those mixes for an ice cream base that you bought in the store. I wanted to make my own, from scratch. So, as usual, I jumped on the web looking for recipes in a 'go big or go home' mindset. I couldn't start with plain old vanilla so my first homemade ice cream recipe search, PB & Jelly.

It is DEFINITELY worth making ice cream from a creme anglaise base. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the mix packs. They are delicious. But, I found out from tackling this approach that, when using a creme anglaise, the ice cream doesn't melt down to milk like most store bought ice creams or other recipes. Making the creme anglaise means that, as it melts, it melts back down to the same consistency sauce you started with. A creamy, almost custard-like sauce! Therefore, the last bite, melted or not, is almost just as wonderful as the first. Just make sure you heat your sauce until almost boiling and thickened. This will kill the bacteria that may exist in he eggs and thicken your sauce. It also becomes thicker upon chilling in the fridge. Also, if you do accidentally boil the mixture and get a grainy, curdled consistency from the eggs, quickly pour it through a fine strainer and blend with a little milk (in a blender or with a stick blender) and you can almost always bring it back to a velvety texture. It might also help to put your bowl or sauce pot into an ice water bath (bowl filled with ice and water) to quickly stop the cooking process so it doesn't go too far.

So here it goes folks! The most amazing thing I ate last week.... possibly all month!!! It really isn't as scary as it sounds and you HAVE to try it! The result is SO worth it!


PB & Jelly Ice cream
Recipe adapted from The Frozen Fix's Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice cream but I TOTALLY want to try he original recipe too!

1.5 cups heavy cream
1.5 cups whole milk (I only keep 2% milk in the house so I used 2 c. heavy cream and 1 c. milk)
.5 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
.5 cup peanut butter, heaping (I used chunky but, upon freezing, the peanuts got a little chewy, your
       preference)
About .5-1 cup jelly (I used my mom's freezer strawberry jelly)

In a medium saucepan, combine heavy cream, milk and sugar over medium heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Just before the cream and milk come to a simmer, gradually add about half of the liquid while whisking constantly. This will temper the eggs so that you don't scramble them when adding into the pan. Add the egg mixture back into the pot with the rest of the cream mixture. I switch to a heat resistant spatula at this point so you can keep scraping the sides and bottom of the pan. Continue to stir until the liquid forms a thick custard that coats the back of the spoon. You'll know it's ready when you can run your finger across the back of the spatula and nothing drips over the line your finger drew. Remove the custard from the heat and pour into a separate bowl (possibly using an ice water bath as described above). Add the peanut butter, mixing until all the peanut butter melts. It may take a minute or two for this to happen. I prefer to chill it overnight at this point. Once, your mixture is good and cold and finished thickening, pour into your ice cream maker and process as directed by the manufacturer's instructions. When it's done, layer the peanut butter ice cream in a container with layers of the jelly in between. I swirled it a little by hand before freezing to harden the rest of the way (but you could enjoy it immediately if you don't mind the soft ice cream). When you scoop the ice cream, you'll get the ice cream and jelly swirled together.

This recipe made approximately 5.5 cups!

ENJOY!



**Sharing on Melt in Your Mouth Monday & Menu Mondays**

Another Smoothie: Green Style

It's been a couple weeks since I posted again and, looking back through the pictures, it's hard for me to decide where to start. So I'll start slow, but yummy! I made another delicious, and healthy, smoothie concoction worth noting again. Basically, just throwing whatever I had available into my bullet large cup attachment and it turned out awesome again. Even my husband agreed he'd drink one! He described it as looking like Christmas in a glass (because of the green-spinach and red-strawberry flecks). But this drink is anything but Christmas tasting. The fruits make it the perfect summer drink!


Here's the basics of how this one went. I was working on pureeing some avocado and freezing it, so I first pureed the avocado flesh (adding a little fresh lemon juice to keep it from browning). I then took out most of the avocado and put into the freezer for later use (possibly for another delish smoothie). After I did this, I skinned and pitted one fresh peach. I then added a handful of frozen strawberries and the same of raw baby spinach. Finally, I added about 6 oz. of mixed berry Greek yogurt and blended it all together. The mixture turned out a touch thick, so I added a splash or two of milk to make it a good, drinkable consistency.

ENJOY!

Since this post turned out a little short, I thought I'd also share with you a little more insight to me. While I LOVE cooking at home, my professional life consists of being a full-time baker at a local college. While I don't currently do cakes on the side for a profit, every once in a while a friend or organization will ask me to supply the cake for a party or event as a gift or donation. This is a recent cake I did for the first birthday of a daughter of a couple of great friends! I like how it turned out and Mommy to the birthday girl seemed very pleased! Liliana also enjoyed delving into her own, over sized cupcake! Another day of making people happy and seeing smiles on people's faces complete!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cafe Rio Chicken over Cheesy Rice (Slow cooker)

OK! I know I haven't gotten a chance to post the Beef Chimichangas yet but tonight's dinner was SO delicious that I had to post it first. I was a little unsure of how I felt about the smell coming from my slow cooker but it turned out great! Even my husband made a point to say it was good. So, without further delay, here are two great recipes to add to your collection.


Cafe Rio Chicken
From Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms

2 lbs. chicken breast
1/2 of a small bottle of zesty Italian dressing
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 pkt (2 Tbsp.) ranch dressing mix
1/2 c. water
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin

Place all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on High 5-6 hrs OR on Low 8 hrs. Shred chicken using two forks and serve. Has multiple uses including in salads, tacos, wraps, or served over rice. Cheesy Rice below worked well.

Note: The original recipe suggested make a double or triple batch and freezing for a quick, thaw and serve meal. I did this since I had a jumbo pack of chicken breasts that needed to be used and I'm glad I did. It probably would have made plenty for a meal with a single batch, but now I have some on hand!

**For some reason the blog platform is not letting me comment on my posts so.... in answer to the comment, the recipe above is a single batch. My grocery store sells 3+ lb. packs for a discount (usually 4 - 4.5 lb) and I just used a whole pack to double the recipe. Hope that helps!**


Cheesy Cheddar Rice

2 Tbsp. butter
1.5 c. medium rice, uncooked, not instant
1 small can chicken broth + enough water to make 1.5 cups
about 1 c. shredded cheddar
Salt & Pepper to Taste
about 1/2 c milk

Melt butter in a saucepan that has a lid. Add rice and toast for a minute or two, tossing in butter to coat. Add chicken broth and water. Allow to come to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook about 15 to 20 min until water is absorbed. Add salt and pepper and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Add milk a few splashes at a time until your desired creaminess.



**Sharing on Melt in Your Mouth Monday & Menu Mondays**

Oatmeal & Smoothies: A Quick Meal for a Hot Night

This one is a simple quick one folks, but fairly nutritious, or so I tell myself, and little cooking needed for a HOT HOT night.

I spend a lot of money on the fruits on sale at the grocery store and at the local market. I was blessed to have a son who, usually, loves most veggies and loves his fruit even more. So, I buy a wide array each week and let him pick what he'd like to eat throughout the rest of the week. This, of course, leads to lots left over which is fine with me since I then freeze them and use them for several different uses later. My favorite use, SMOOTHIES!

I'm referring to this recipe as a hodge podge smoothie because you can literally put in whatever you want. From fresh or frozen fruits to fresh or frozen veggies. Accompanied by anything from fruit juice (of any flavor) to milk to yogurt to frozen yogurt to ice cream. Almost anything goes!!! Great right! The only thing I would say, if you have no frozen fruit I'd try to add ice cream or frozen yogurt for that cold creamy factor. At the very least, throw in some ice cubes! I'll give you approximately what I put in this one but, seriously, the sky is the limit! Have fun with this one!

Hodge Podge Smoothies

I mixed this all in my tall Magic Bullet cup with the cross blade attachment but any blender would work fine. It's just a convenient size so I don't make too much.

Asst. Frozen fruit filled to top of cup (roughly 2 cups worth)
              Watermelon Chunks, Cantaloupe Chunks, and Mixed Berries including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
1/2 a fresh banana (sliced) - leftover from oatmeal to follow
Orange Carrot Juice (about 1/2 the bullet cup - approximately 3/4-1 cup)
A few splashes milk (for added creaminess and to thin out to a drinkable consistency)

Once you have all this in the cup or blender, just blend until everything is smooth.

I know I didn't use any veggies in this one but I have before and I promise you, it's delicious!! Try carrots or spinach or avocado is delicious and adds creaminess. You can also add things like almonds or nuts for protein and energy or seed such as flax seeds. I also found out that some fresh pieces of peeled ginger are delicious blended into the mix! SO good and GOOD FOR YOU!

Cinnamon Banana Honey Oatmeal

This is another simple one! I used instant (the 5 min or 10 min cooking stuff in the canister) but I'm sure you could do it with the regular oatmeal too.

Measure out the ingredients for the portion you'd like as directed on the back of the canister using the milk version. Now, here's the trick for extra special oatmeal. When bringing the milk to a boil, add a good sprinkle of cinnamon. Follow directions as usual. When finished, I always cook mine a little longer than directed to dry it out a little and then I add extra fresh milk once it is in the bowl (just as you would any other cereal). I think it tends to make it a little creamier. Slice banana 1/2 to 1 banana and drizzle with a healthy amount of honey. I used a local honey from a neighbor bee keeper. This is such an easy and YUMMY meal!

ENJOY!!

Making a Comeback With Homemade Pizza!

I would like to start by saying that I, once again, apologize for my long absence. This time, there really was a good reason which I will not get into other than to say that I've had a lot going on in my life both physically and emotionally. Thank you to those who bear with me through these long periods of no posting. I hope to be able to stick with it a little more. That being said, let's get down to the good stuff, THE FOOD!!

Of course, I would be the crazy one who would decide to get my life back into order and start menu planning, cooking, and blogging during the HOTTEST week of the year. What was I thinking? But, I did it! More or less anyway! I may not have accomplished the menu on the nights I planned, but I got them all cooked except for one (which I still cooked on that night, just an impromptu meal instead of the planned one). So, what did I cook this week? Here's a quick list of this weeks cooking. Yes, I realize it isn't 7 recipes but we also ate out a little and had a picnic to go to. (I never said I was perfect... lol)

White Chicken Bacon Spinach Pizza on a Homemade Herbed (Pan-style) Crust
Cinnamon Banana Honey Oatmeal & Hodge Podge Smoothie (posts to follow)
Beef Chimichangas (post to follow)

I started Monday out with a White Chicken Pizza recipe that I found at www.mommiecooks.com. We've been eating a lot of frozen pizzas in this house this summer and I also am familiar with making pizza dough since we make it in huge batches at work and I've also made it from scratch at home so I felt this was a great way to jump back into my routine of cooking. My husband was also home, so we had the pleasure of getting into the kitchen together. The pizza turned out OK. My husband decided to add bacon to it (because everything is better with bacon) and a friend suggested adding feta. The crust, however, was one of the best I've made at home. Very nice and fluffy and thick and just like the pizzas I like to get when I eat out. I doubled the pizza dough recipe. When it was finished mixing, I divided it in half, and froze one half (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap) for a future use. I then continued with the recipe to make Monday night's pizza. Hope you all enjoy and I see you back here a little more often.

White Chicken Bacon Spinach Pizza
Adapted from www.mommiecooks.com

*2 sm. Chicken Breast, chopped small
*2 Shallots, chopped
*5 cloves Garlic, minced
*2 Tbsp. olive oil
*1 large bunch basil, chopped
*1 large handful fresh spinach, chopped
*Salt
*Pepper
*6-8 oz. shredded pizza cheese (I used a 4 cheese Italian blend)
*1 ball homemade pizza dough (or store bought) (recipe I used follows)


 1. Saute the chicken, shallots, and garlic seasoned with salt and pepper until cooked through. While this is cooking, parbake your crust for about 7-10 min. at 425F.
2. Remove crust from oven and chicken from heat. Brush crust liberally with olive oil. Spread the chicken mixture on the crust and then top with basil first and then the spinach and finally with the cheese.
3. Put back in the oven for another 7-10 min or until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown around the edges.
4. Remove from oven and let rest a minute or two for the cheese to set.

Homemade Herbed Pizza Crust (pan style)
This yields ONE pizza. If you'd like to freeze some, you must double the recipe!
Adapted from www.mommiecooks.com

1 c. lukewarm water (slightly warmer than your body temperature)
1 pkg. dry active yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
2.5 cups all purpose flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. basil (dried)
1/2 tsp. onion powder

1. Mix water, yeast and sugar. Let rest for 10-15 min until the yeast reactivates and starts to bubble.
2. Add oil, salt, garlic, basil and onion powder. (I mixed these ingredients in a separate bowl while the yeast was setting).
3. Add flour and knead for about 10 min to develop the gluten. (I did this all in my stand mixer and used the dough hook.)
4. Let dough rest 10 min and start preheating oven to 425F if you haven't already.
5. Now, roll out (or stretch your dough) to the size of your pan. I stretched it, pizzeria style on my hands, to about the size I needed and then used my fingers to stretch it the rest of the way once in the pan.
6. Poke the dough in several places (docking) the dough so it doesn't bubble too much at spots while baking. Brush with oil.
7. Bake at 425F for 7-10 min to parbake. Then add topping of your choice and bake another 7-10 min or until your cheese is bubbly and edges are golden.

ENJOY!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cooking on a Budget: Slow Cooker Roast Beef & Oven Baked Parmesan Potatoes

Today's post is all about cooking on a budget! Things have been, for several reasons, a little tight in our budget this month. My husband and I both working for a college dining service and, therefore, hit times where our finances get a little tighter due to lack of work when the students leave campus. This month was one of them for us. So, I used a couple key strategies to making it through. First off, I bought things on sale. The main place I check for this is in the meat section. The reason I start there is because that's usually where my menu planning has to start. So, why not look to the sales to base my recipes off of. Plus, I can get the best deals there a lot of times since the protein and fresh produce are usually the bulk of my grocery bill. I am blessed to have a large pantry and upright freezer so, I often buy in bulk or take advantage of 'buy one, get one' offers. Getting two anything for the price of one is awesome on any budget. I scored a great deal on an Angus beef bottom round roast so I knew I was either going to slow roast it in the oven or put my slow cooker to work. This is another budget saver. Cuts of meat that you would roast take a little longer and a little planning, but they are tougher pieces of meat and therefore cheaper. With a little TLC and taking the time to slow roast it, you can do wonderful things taking a 'tough' piece of meat and making it incredibly tender.

The other thing I took advantage of this week was shopping in my own pantry. I purposely didn't find a recipe and make a list and go shopping for that recipe as I usually would. I, instead, used what I had and found and tweaked a recipe to work for me and what I had on hand. Just so happens, since I was off that day, when trying to figure out what to serve with it, I was able to do the same with the side dish. I took a suggestion from a Facebook friend, thanks again Nicole, and luckily, I had all the ingredients on hand. This helps my budget in a few ways. First, I'm not spending more money on product when I already have useable product on hand. Second, considering the closest grocery store is 15 minutes away and gas is $3.49+ a gallon in this area, I didn't make an extra run to pick up something I didn't have. Third, I avoided the impulse buying that inevitably occurs once I get in the store.

I'd also like to share with you a site that I came across this week and that is Foodily.com. I'm extremely excited to have found this site and I think it may be my best friend in finding recipes to accommodate my budget in the future. It allows you to enter in ingredients you have and ones you DON'T have or don't want to use and then searches all over the web for you. So you can easily get ideas for recipes for the food you already have, or don't have.

In short, with a little time searching for sales and the perfect recipes, and a little creativity adding this ingredient or taking another out, you CAN cook dinner TONIGHT! Also, use your networking. Facebook, is not used, in my eyes, for purely socializing. Yes, it's great reconnecting with old friends and being able to reach out to people so easily, but it's also a place for finding recipes and sharing recipes amongst others cooking at home just like you! So, enough of me rambling, here is my latest recipe for Slow Cooker Roast Beef adapted from a few other recipes found mostly at http://www.cooks.com/ and, for the side, Parmesan Baked Potatoes made as recommended by a friend.


Slow Cooker Roast Beef (with Carrots, Mushrooms, & Tomatoes)
Adapted from many recipes, mostly from http://www.cooks.com/

2-4 lb. any cut of beef for roasting
1/4-1/2 cup flour
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup (I used low sodium variety)
1 lb. baby carrots

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Coat roast in flour and sear roast in olive oil, turning on all sides to brown. Meanwhile, mix the soup mix, tomatoes, mushrooms, and soup in the slow cooker. Once browned on all sides, set roast into mix in slow cooker and spoon some of the mixture over the top of the roast. Add carrots along the sides of the roast. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.


 Parmesan Baked Potatoes

6-8 Tbsp. butter
1/2-1 cup grated parmesan
About 2 1/2 lbs. any potatoes, I used Red Potato
Salt & Pepper (or other seasoning), to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. While oven preheats, place butter in a 13x9-in baking dish and put in the oven for a few minutes just to melt the butter. Wash and slice potatoes into 1/4" rounds, leaving peal on. Sprinkle half of the cheese all over the melted butter in the bottom of the pan. Layer half of the potatoes in pan. Season liberally with salt and pepper. (Next time I'd like to also try garlic powder or Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb seasoning or other spices to kick it up just a little bit. Don't get me wrong, very yummy as is but I'm married to an Italian and we LOVE garlic!) Layer the other half of the potato slices. Sprinkle with remainder of the cheese and season, again, with salt and pepper. Bake in preheated oven until tender and golden (but not browned). This will depend on your choice of potatoes. The red potatoes took about 40 to 45 min.

ENJOY!




Red Potato on FoodistaRed Potato

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two-fer: An OK Entree but Delish Side

There's not a whole lot I have to say about tonight's dinner. There was nothing incredibly wrong with it, but there was also nothing to make me really jump up and down. Maybe it's just too overshadowed by the greatness of today's earlier post, Sweet & Sour Chicken which was amazing. While the side was delicious and will definitely be making an appearance back in my kitchen, the pork left a little to be desired. The flavor was decent, and it was great having it thrown in the slow cooker in the morning and being able to do something special to go next to it, but just wasn't something I'd rave about. I also seemed to have a problem with uneven cooking. I don't completely understand this coming from the slow cooker, but there were parts of the chops that were so incredibly juicy and tender while others weren't tough but a little dryer. It wasn't hard to chew and the meat did completely fall off the bone to the point where I had difficulty getting the chops out of the cooking liquid, but the texture was definitely different at some spots versus others. While I enjoyed it, I really don't think I'll be going back to this recipe considering all the other recipes that are out there in the world just waiting for me to dive in to.

Slow Cooker Smothered Pork Chops
I found this on Imperfect Happiness's Website but they gave credit to Cook's Illustrated The Best Slow & East Cookbook

4 oz (about 4 slices) bacon, cut into 1/4 in. pieces
3 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
4 tsp. light brown sugar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dry
Salt (use sparingly due to salt content of bacon and soy sauce)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Minute tapioca
2 bay leaves             
6 bone-in blade-cut pork chops, about 3/4 in. thick
Ground Black pepper
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley (didn't use)

1. Cook the bacon in a 12 in. nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 min. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the fat in the skillet, and refrigerate until serving time.

2. Pour off all but 2 Tbsp. of the bacon fat left in the skillet and place over medium-high heat until simmering. Add the onions, 1 tsp. of the brown sugar, garlic, thyme, and 1/4 tsp. salt to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and caramelized, 10-15 min. Stir in 1 cup of the chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

3. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker and stir in the remaining 2 cups broth, remaining Tbsp brown sugar, soy sauce, tapioca, and bay leaves until evenly combined. Season pork chops with salt and pepper and nestle them in the slow cooker. Cover and cook, either on low or high, until the meat is tender, 7-8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.

4. Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter with a large spoon, tent with foil and let rest for 20 min. Let the cooking liquid settle for 5 min, then gently tilt the slow cooker and remove as much fat as possible from the surface using a large spoon. Remove the bay leaves, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Remember, go easy on the salt before tasting it.) Reheat the bacon in the microwave on high power until heated through and crisp, about 30 seconds. Pour 1 cup of the sauce over the chops, sprinkle with the crisp bacon and parsley, and serve, passing the remaining sauce separately. (I kept all of the sauce separate and just poured on chops as desired by each person.)

The next recipe, I feel, was the star of the show. So simple, but definitely hit the spot for me. Unfortunately, I didn't think of the fact that I was offering the recipe for this also, so the picture really shows you how I felt about it. There are no words to describe this. I'll let the empty dish speak for itself.

                                                        Easy Baked Sweet Potatoes
From http://www.food.com/ submitted by The Range Rover

2 (15 oz) cans sweet potatoes, with juice (in 1/2 in. chunks) (I drained and left the size they were.)
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, (oops, forgot this)

1. Layer potatoes, brown sugar, and margarine in a casserole dish.

2. Sprinkle with cinnamon. (OOPS!)

3. Bake, uncovered, at 375F for 30 min. (I tossed them a few times during baking to make sure they were getting coated well with the sticky yummy goodness.)

ENJOY!

Take Out Fake Out: Sweet & Sour Chicken

I recently joined a Facebook called The Great Recipe Exchange Between Friends. It's a new group so there aren't very many recipes on there, but all the recipes already posted seem very promising. When I saw this one, I must say, I had mixed emotions of being excited and sceptical at the same time. I work in a college bakeshop and get to see alot of the behind the scenes in the kitchen while walking through. I've seen bits and pieces of the process of making sweet and sour chicken and, while I haven't seen it from start to finish, I'm pretty sure that their technique involves marinating, definitely deep frying, and then tossing in sauce. When I saw the picture that went with this recipe, I was beyond excited because it looked SO sticky and delicious without breaking out the deep fryer. I love Chinese food and was SO excited how GREAT this tasted and how similar it was to the real deal. I think we've broken a little of our Chinese take out habit which will definitely save us cash (not only on the extra expense of the restaurant mark up, but also on gas with the closest Chinese restaurant being 15-20 min away and gas prices currently at roughly $3.50 a gallon). This is, by no means, the healthiest dish to have, but add a little broccoli and the fact you can make brown rice instead of the usual white served along side the local take out and maybe, just maybe, you can ignore all the sugar. Either way, I know this one will show up in my kitchen again and I'm very grateful that this recipe was shared among the group and I can pass it on to you!

Sweet & Sour Chicken
Courtesy of a Member of The Great Recipe Exchange Between Friends on Facebook

For the Chicken:
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil

For the Sauce:
3/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. ketchup
1/2 cup vinegar (preferably rice or white)
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
3. Working in two batches, toss the chicken pieces in cornstarch and then coat with the egg. Heat the oil over med-high heat and, again working in batches, brown the chicken, turning it so that all sides are browned.
4. Place the chicken in a single layer in a 9x13in baking dish. (My 13x9 was dirty, or rather filled with my hubby's birthday cake, so I used two 8in square pans and it worked fine.)
5. Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and pour evenly over the chicken. Turn the chicken to ensure each piece is coated.
6. Bake for 1 hr, turning the chicken every 15 min. For the first 30 to 45 min it will look like it is not turning out. Stick with it! In the last 15+ min, something magically happens and it is incredibly delicious, I swear!

Serve with veggies and rice of your choice. I chose broccoli to make it most like our local take out and brown rice to make it a little healthier.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pockets: Endless Possibilities

Last week was both my husband's, March 2, and my father's, March 3, birthdays. Since their birthdays are so close, we usually celebrate them at the same time. Since I love to cook, I usually contribute a great deal to the event, if not completely. I always give my father the option to request something for the menu, but he usually differs to my husband. That being said, the first year my husband and I knew each other, he told me his two favorite things to eat were chicken cordon bleu and pasta with alfredo sauce. So, since we've been together, I've tried MANY different varieties of cordon bleu. This year was a chicken cordon bleu pocket. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this so it didn't post it. Why am I telling you all this you want to know? Because it was the inspiration for tonight's meal.

Normally, I'm very thorough at planning the weekly meals. This week, however, we were on vacation and my mother-in-law was visiting so it was alot more meals and less leftovers. So, I stopped at the store for a few things and picked up some proteins, since that's what I was lacking. One of the proteins I picked up was ground beef since I was craving a thick, juicy burger. My husband said I could make those pockets again. I didn't have any cooked chicken and cooking some would have taken too long, so I tried to figure out what else I could stuff in the pocket. At that moment, it came to me, bacon cheeseburger pockets. My husband saw what I was doing and requested that I make some with swiss cheese instead of cheddar and add mushrooms. So thus, dinner was made.

This is just an example of letting your imagination go wild when cooking. Take techniques you've used, like making pockets for the Chicken Cordon Bleu pockets, and use whatever you have available. I think these were, by far, a step up from last weeks meal and I never would have known if I hadn't tried! So start cooking, build your repertoire of techniques, and have fun!

Mushroom Bacon Cheeseburger Pockets
Yields: 8 pockets

1.25 lb. ground beef
Salt & Pepper
1.5-2 tsp. Steak Seasoning
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. bacon
2 c. cheddar or swiss cheese
2 cans crescent rolls

Note: I made this recipe half cheddar for me and half swiss for my husband. Out of that, I used roughly half of each mixture. You could definitely cut this in about half and still fill 8 pockets. I, however, enjoyed having extra for other uses (see note at bottom).

Cook bacon using desired method. (I laid the slices out flat in a single layer on two cookie sheets and baked at 400F for about 15 min. checking often so as not to burn and rotating pans halfway.)

While the bacon cooks, brown burger in a small amount of olive oil, seasoning with salt, pepper and steak seasoning. Drain. Brown mushrooms and then season with more salt and pepper. Add to burger.

When bacon is cooked, cool until able to handle and then crumble into burger and mushroom mixture. Mix in cheese of choice or separate into two bowls if doing both cheeses.

Unroll crescent rolls, leaving 2 triangles together to make 4 rectangles. You may need to pinch seems together to help them stay as one. If you can get the 'recipe creations' crescent dough, it would work GREAT for this and just cut the sheet in quarters. My store no longer carries this product, bummer! Pile about a 1/4 c. (good handful) of beef mixture on one half of each rectangle. Fold the empty half over the mixture and pinch along the edges to seal. If your seam where the triangles met begins to come open, you can pinch it closed a little bit.

Place on lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 350F for about 13 to 15 min or until golden.

ENJOY!

Second note: The original recipe talked about freezing these pockets after baking and microwaving to thaw. I'm going to make extra and put them in the freezer for this purpose. I think the beef and cheese mixture would also be delicious mixed with pasta or rice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chicken Breasts Filled with Cheese Spread

Today, I will give you two recipes. I don't often focus on the recipe for sides because, often, it means me pulling a steamable vegetable out of the freezer and throwing it in the microwave while the entree finishes cooking. This, however, is one of the few standby vegetable recipes I come back to again and again because it is SO yummy and that's roasted asparagus. But, before we get to the recipe for that, let's talk about the chicken. This chicken is a work in progress for me. It's something I through together myself but I don't want to really call it my recipe. It's basically take a few techniques that I've seen over and over and trying to make it work with what I have. It takes regular boneless, skinless chicken breast halves and marries it with Allouette® cheese spread and makes one delicious mouthful. It started because I saw it on 'Manager's Special' in my local grocer which mean it was going to go past it's sell by date VERY soon. The thing I realized was it is a cheese and cheeses often last past their sell by date. As long as it isn't moldy or sour smelling, it is still okay in my book. So I bought it for 50% off. The first time it was the Garlic and Herb variety and I took the chicken breast halves and split them horizontally to make twice as many. This does a few things, first it is a budget saver since you are obviously getting twice as much product for your money. Alternatively, if you are not worried about your budget and want to save time, you can buy the thin cut breasts at the grocer but they are a little pricier. The second reason why I treated the chicken in this way the first time was because I put a 'blob' of spread at the thickest end and then rolled my chicken around it. 
First attempt, rolled
Without cutting them thin, I would have never been able to roll it up in a tight compact manor. The problem with this technique was I had to add alot of toothpicks to secure the cheese inside the chicken and it was just a pain. Plus, I worried about the temperature reaching fully cooked on the inside and the outside ended up getting VERY dark. Delicious but still, not appealing looking. The recipe that follows is what I made today and was much easier and I think is what I will do in the future. The cheese spread is a little on the expensive side but really is delicious and often goes on special in my town so this recipe will be returning to my kitchen in the future.

Cheese Spread Filled Chicken Breasts
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 container Allouette® cheese spread, any flavor (I preferred the Sundried Tomato Basil variety)
Panko Bread Crumbs for coating (I tossed with a little Mrs. Dash garlic and herb seasoning to add more flavor)

Working very carefully, take a small paring knife and insert it horizontally into the thickest part of the breast. Carefully, without piercing a hole in the top or bottom halves of the breast, move the knife from one side and then the other creating a pocket as far down towards the tip of the breast you can. Fill a pastry bag or resealable plastic bag with the cheese spread. (If using a resealable bag, cut a corner off to make a homemade piping bag.) Insert the tip as far down into the chicken pocket as you can and begin to pipe the spread into the breast. You can apply pressure to the chicken to help evenly distribute the spread further down the toward the other end of the breast. When filled, dredge in panko crumbs and saute in a little olive oil over medium to medium high heat. If the outsides begin to brown and you don't think the center will be done in time, I covered mine for a few minutes to help cook them more evenly. Some of the cheese did run out during cooking but I just scooped it out of the pan and put it over the breasts.

Roasted Asparagus
As much asparagus as you will need to feed your diners (I get 2 medium bunches)
A couple good Tablespoons olive oil just to coat asparagus
1 to 2 teaspoons seasoning of your choice (I use several good shakes of Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning - incidentally the same thing I used to season the panko crumbs above)

Leaving the majority of asparagus in its bundle, hold 1 or 2 individual spears of asparagus at either end and bend until it breaks at it's natural weak spot. Trim the rest of the spears to this length and discard tough ends a place whole spears on cookie sheet. Toss in oil and seasoning. Bake at 425F for about 15 to 20 min or until desired doneness, tossing halfway through cooking. I like my asparagus roasted a little longer until it gets a little brown on the tips and gets a nutty tasting but I also appreciate a crisp-tender asparagus. Try it out a couple different ways and see what works best for you. (The picture at the top of the post is done lighter than the asparagus accompanying the chicken. Both delicious just a matter of personal preference.)

Enjoy!


Monday, February 28, 2011

Passion!

It has been brought to my attention today that I need to reiterate the purpose behind this blog every once in a while so that new and old followers alike can understand the reason why I'm taking the time to do this blog. That reason can be summed up in ONE word... PASSION! Passion for many things! Passion for food. Passion for variety. Passion for the excitement of new recipes. Passion to share those recipes with others. Last and MOST important to me, PASSION for the family table! I don't claim to be a 5 star chef. I have NO training in traditional culinary skills. I attended a culinary school but only under a baking and pastry art curriculum. I am NOT a food photographer. I try to make food look the best I can with the skills and tools I have. I am NOT a nutritionist. I do however, have basic skills for putting a meal on my family's table. I do have a desire to encourage others to pick up a pot or pan and try their hand at developing their own skills. I believe America has become a country of quick fixes. Don't get me wrong, life is busy and you need to do what you need to do in this world to survive. I just want to give people the access to approachable recipes in hopes that one less family will go through the drive thru tonight. One less family will reach for the processed chicken nuggets in their freezer. I'm not saying that I don't do this. I'm a busy wife and an even busier mother and I work full time to pay bills and it's okay to go to the quick fix. I just want people to realize that you don't have to do this EVERY night. You CAN throw together quick, easy recipes with good wholesome food and sit around a table as a family and enjoy each others' company. I believe that the message sent to your family when you take the time to find a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and put the meal together is more powerful than most realize! It can really show someone you love that you truly care. Care about their health, wants and needs. So as a wife and mother, I hope you take from this website what YOU want or need. Whether that be a recipe to add to your repertoire or the encouragement to try cooking for the first time. Get in the kitchen, take your kids and family members with you. Make a game of mixing ingredients. Let them help! Teach them counting and measuring and the importance of food to our lives!

That being said, I've posted below an easy recipe for homemade chicken fingers. These were a big hit with my family. What kid doesn't like chicken fingers? But not only that, my husband and I agreed that the breading had a very similar texture to that of chicken fingers you would get in the freezer section in your local grocery store. This would make them even more appealing to kids. Now, I'm not saying they were as easy as pulling out of a bag, but they did throw together in mere minutes. Also, I'm not implying that this was the healthiest choice of foods but, in comparison to the processed frozen ones full of preservatives and the deep fried ones from the fast food joint, these were a much healthier baked version made with REAL, unprocessed chicken. Therefore, this is a perfect example of a meal that would be pleasing to kids and easy to make. I'd also, in the future, like to try making them ahead and freezing them, unbaked, and see how they would turn out as a prep ahead meal. An extra bonus, its easy clean up since you toss them in a resealable bag and line the cooking sheet with foil. What more could you want?

Ultimate Chicken Fingers
From the Bisquick® Box

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1 lb.), cut crosswise into 1/2" strips (or 1 lb. fresh chicken tenders, raw rib meat)
2/3 c. Original Bisquick® mix
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt or garlic salt (I used a mix of salt and garlic powder)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted

Heat oven to 450F. Line cookie sheet with foil; spray with cooking spray. In 1 gallon resealable bag, mix Bisquick® mix, cheese, salt and paprika.

Dip half the chicken strips into egg; place in bag. Seal bag; shake to coat. Place chicken on cookie sheet. Repeat to use up remaining chicken. Drizzle butter over chicken.

Bake 12-14 min., turning halfway through bake time with pancake turner, until no longer pink in center.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

Creamy Yummy Crunchy Goodness: Nacho Mac 'n' Cheese

There's not much to be said about this one except for it's DELICIOUS! The food just kind of speaks for itself and, this one, will definitely be showing up in my kitchen again sometime soon. There are, however, some things I may do different next time. Possibly try it with ground turkey or chicken instead of the beef, for one. Also, I used to keep a homemade taco seasoning on hand but I've been buying the premixed stuff lately. With how many Mexican recipes I've been making here of late, I really should think about mixing my own again. Just to make you aware, this does make a fairly large batch but the leftovers were even more delicious! Well, as I said, that's about it. Hope you enjoy it as much as we all did.

Nacho Mac 'n' Cheese
From Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious Cookbook 2nd Edition

3 c. uncooked gemelli or spiral pasta, I used a vegetable mix rotini
1 lb. ground beef
2 c. chopped sweet red pepper
1/4 c. butter, cubed
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 env. taco seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/4 c. milk
2 c. (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. frozen corn, thawed
1 c. coarsely crushed tortilla chips, (I used Fritos® corn chips and I'm pretty sure it was more than 1 c.)

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, cook beef and red pepper over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.

Stir in the butter, flour, taco seasoning and pepper until blended. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese and corn until cheese is melted.

Drain the pasta; add to the beef mixture and stir to coat. Sprinkle with the tortilla chips. (I kept the chips at the table to sprinkle there so that there were no chips on the leftovers or they would get soggy in the refrigerator.)

ENJOY!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Impromptu Cooking, Taking Advantage of Sales: Pork Chops with Apples and Onions

This is an example of one of my impromptu recipes. I was grocery shopping and there was a great sale on bone-in pork chops that I just HAD to buy. Usually, when I head off to the grocery store, I have my list in hand compiled of all the ingredients I need for my predetermined recipes that week. But when I came across these great looking chops, a protein I don't often work with, I figured I'd find some way to work it in. So, I searched around the web for recipes involving bone-in pork chops that I had the ingredients on hand for and this is the one I decided on.

I can't complain about the way it turned out, all considering. The pork chops were surprisingly tender and juicy, something my husband tells me both my mother and I have trouble with. The flavor imparted by the apples and onions to the chops was good but I wasn't a big fan of actually eating the apple-onion mixture itself. I added some radiatore pasta and peas to complete the meal.

Pork Chops with Apples and Onions
From www.marthastewart.com - Orig. published in Martha Stewart Living Dec 2009

6 bone-in pork chops (loin or shoulder), cut 3/4" thick
Salt and Pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large white onion, sliced
2 to 3 apples, cored and sliced (about 3 c.)
1 c. beer, white wine, cider, or chicken broth (I used broth because it's what I had.)

1. Trim the chops of excess fat. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper on both sides. (I seasoned the first side, placed them in the pot, and then seasoned the second.) Heat a 14" cast-iron skillet (if you have a smaller one, you'll need to work in batches) over high heat, and then swirl in the olive oil. (I don't have a cast-iron skillet and my chops were HUGE so I used the Rachael Ray Oval Pasta Pot and still needed to work in batches.) Lay in the pork chops in a single layer and don't move them for a few minutes to assure a good golden sear forms. Turn and brown well on the second side for a total of about 10 minutes. Transfer the chops to a warm plate.

2. Swirl the butter into the pan. Add the onions and apples. Saute until onion slices are lightly caramelized and the apples have begun to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the beer or other liquid. Return chops to the pan.

3. Cook until the pork is tender, about 15 more minutes, depending on the size of the chops, turning halfway through and covering the chops with the apple mixture. If the apple mixture needs a little thickening, transfer the chops to the warm plate again and simmer the mixture on high for a few minutes to reduce. Serve the chops over rice or mashed potatoes with a large spoonful of the apple-onion mixture over the top.

Enjoy!

Stocking the Freezer AND Eating Tonight: Green Bean Chicken Casserole

I've grown to hold casseroles near and dear to my heart for several reasons. First and foremost, alot of times you have everything in one dish. Your protein, starch, and vegetable all in one yummy pile. Second, they usually make less dishes dirty and the dishes they do dirty, you can usually get washed while its baking so you can relax with the family after you eat. Third, they usually involve cheese or some other form of creamy goodness. Lastly, you can usually prepare them ahead and often freeze them and you can give them to people in need of ready made meals that they can reheat at their convenience. I mainly speak of friends who either don't cook or who are too busy to cook, say with a move, new baby, or illness or surgery.

When I found this recipe, I was super excited because I LOVE green bean casserole and was looking for an excuse to make it anytime of the year. This not only did that, but made it a main dish too. I was slightly disappointed because it was not very reminiscent of the famous Thanksgiving Day side, but it was still delicious!! Let's just put it this way, I had told a coworker that I would bring in leftovers because I know she enjoys green bean casserole as much as I do but there was none left!! I highly recommend this to anyone looking for all the benefits of a casserole; it's definitely a keeper! Oh, and another plus to this recipe, the amounts are for two casseroles so you can eat now and freeze one for later.

Green Bean Chicken Casserole
From Taste of Home's Freezer Pleasers Cookbook

1 pkg. (6 oz) long grain and wild rice mix
4 c. cubed cooked chicken, (I used a rotisserie chicken from the store for a quick fix)
1 3/4 c. frozen French-Style green beans
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted (Original recipe calls for cream of chicken and broccoli soup but I couldn't find this)
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed (Original recipe calls for a 4 oz can stems and pcs., drained)
2/3 c. chopped onion, I sauteed these along with the mushrooms
2/3 c. chopped green pepper, I also sauteed these
1 env. onion soup mix
3/4 c. shredded Colby cheese (I used about this amount for ONE casserole)
Additional Ingredients for EACH casserole:
2/3 c. french-fried onions (I used half a large can for ONE casserole)

1. Prepare wild rice according to package directions. While the rice cooked, I sauteed my veggies. Stir in the chicken, beans, soups, mushrooms, onions, pepper and soup mix. Spoon into two greased 1 1/2 qt baking dishes. Sprinkle with cheese.

2. Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 3 months. Cover and bake the second casserole at 350F for 25-30 min. or until heated through. Uncover; sprinkle with french-fried onions and bake another 5 min. longer or until onions are golden.

3. To use frozen casserole: Completely thaw in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 30 min. before baking. Bake, covered, at 350F for 60-65 min. or until heated through. Uncover; sprinkle with french-friend onions and bake 5 min. longer.

Enjoy!

Tried and True and Tweeked a Bit: Chicken Fried Rice

Growing up, my family was mainly a meat and potatoes kind of family given that we had strong roots in a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. We didn't eat much, if any, ethnically diverse meals. No Mexican or Indian or French. A little spaghetti here and there, but you don't have to be Italian to enjoy a big bowl of pasta smothered in sauce and, being married to an Italian now, I know we didn't truly know how to make spaghetti as Italians do. Our meals were very undiverse, with one exception to this rule which was the homemade Chinese stir-fried rice we had as a side, usually to our own version of sausage sandwiches which were completely PA Dutch. A country style sausage butterflied open served on a potato roll accompanied by American cheese, sauteed onions and peppers and ketchup. Talk about a confused meal. But I grew veryattached to it and that meal, as a whole, has become a comfort meal to me no matter how strange it sounds.

As a young teenager, I remember being home from school one summer day and wanting to make myself real food. Wanting something other than sandwiches or mac n cheese from a box or soup from a can or pizza from the freezer. So I started searching through my Mom's recipe box and stumbled upon this recipe. So, to my best recollection, this is the first recipe I really made by myself, with no adults within ear shot. Yet another reason it may have become so near and dear to my heart. Now, I've made this recipe over and over and have had it memorized for years. My Mom even thinks I make it better than her. At some point, I decided that I wanted to make it a main dish and started adding whatever protein I had in my fridge and using up any, and all, veggies that were sitting around. So here it is, a recipe that I adore not only for its flavors but it's versatility! This recipe is TRULY a part of my heart that I share with you! Hope you enjoy it!

Fried Rice Basic Recipe
From the recipe box of MY MOM!

1 c. water
1 1/3 c. Minute® Rice
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 c. chopped onion
1/3 c. water
3 - 4 Tbsp. soy sauce, I prefer La Choy®

Bring 1 c. water to a boil in small saucepan. Stir in rice, remove from heat and cover. Let stand at least 5 min., untouched, until water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saute pan. Add eggs and cook until just set. Add onions and continue to saute until desired doneness. Add rice. You may need to add a touch more butter if the pan is very dry.

Mix water and soy sauce (I usually mix it right in the measuring cup) and then pour over the rice making sure to mix well to distribute the soy sauce mixture.

My Additions:
Any protein (I prefer chicken) cut into very small pieces
Any Veggies cut to a small dice or julienned

Start by following the same directions as above with the rice. Instead of going to the eggs next, I first cook all my veggies and protein. I prefer to work in batches and, when making this amount, I use a large pot instead of saute pan because the veggies do really stretch a buck and make the yield huge! I usually start by sauteing mushrooms, adding onions, peppers, julienned carrots and, in this case, asparagus. Literally, whatever is sitting in my fridge. I then move them to a plate or bowl and keep warm. Try to be sensitive to the cooking time of each veggie or the desired doneness you'd like. If you are new to cooking and aren't sure what cooks longer than others, cook each veggie solo and just continue to add to your bowl and keep warm.  I then saute my protein. After the protein is fully cooked and has joined the veggies in the bowl, continue following the recipe. After your eggs are cooked, rice added, and diluted soy sauce distributed throughout, added your bowl mixture back in. This is when I would add peas, if using them, since it literally takes a few minutes for them to heat through. When I was younger, I'd add a few more glugs of soy sauce from the bottle so you may want to keep the soy sauce bottle close to the table so you can adjust to your own taste.

ENJOY!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hitting All the Key Components

This recipe was another home run recipe in my book. Imagine sweet buttery crescent crust joined with the salty crunch of corn chips, a mild spice from taco meat and subtle creaminess from tangy sour cream... and then add cheese. DELICIOUS! That's all there is to it. Hope you enjoy!

Superspeedway Taco Pie
From http://www.pillsbury.com/

1 to 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 (1 oz) pkg. taco seasoning mix
1/2 c. water
1/3 c sliced green olives (which I omitted)
1 (8 oz) tube refrigerated crescent roll
1 1/2 to 2 c. crushed corn chips
1 (8 oz) container sour cream (about 1 c.)
4 oz shredded Cheddar cheese or 6 slices American Cheese
Shredded Lettuce, if desired
Avocado Slices, if desired

1. Heat oven to 375F. Cook ground beef in 10 in. skillet until thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently. Drain. Stir in taco seasoning mix, water and olives (if using). Simmer 5 min.
2. Meanwhile, seperate crescent dough into 8 triangles. Place triangles in ungreased 9 or 10 in. pie pan, pressing to form crust. Sprinkle 1 cup of the corn chips over bottom crust.
3. Spoon beef mixture onto corn chips in crust. Spread sour cream over beef mixture. Cover with cheese. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 to 1 cup corn chips.
4. Bake at 375F for 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cut into wedges. Serve immediately with lettuce and avocado.

Couple notes: I choose to omit the olives since I'm not really a big fan. I also did not use the lettuce or avocado this time but would like to try it in the future and maybe a little chopped tomato. I served broccoli on the side, instead, to include a veggie. Also, next time I think I will try to lighten it up by replacing the ground beef with ground turkey or maybe shredded chicken. I'd also try substituting low fat sour cream for the full fat version.


Happy Eating!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An A+ and a Needs Improvement

I've got two recipes for you today. The first is one that was delicious smelling while baking but, when I tasted it, it let me down. It's not that it was awful and I needed to dispose of it immediately. I don't know that I'd even say I'm going to throw the recipe in the trash bin. It just wasn't up to par. (Stay tuned in this post though, because the second recipe is definately worth EVERYONE trying!)

A note about this recipe: I originally found this recipe in one of those recipe magazine/booklets that they have in the grocery check out aisle that was put out specifically by Stove Top Stuffing. The recipe in there didn't not contain veggies and so that is how I made it. I have found several reprinted recipes since then that does contain veggies including the actual Stove Top website. That is the copy of the recipe I am posting here because I think it would be delicious and definately adds a little nutrients to the dish but you can easily remove these and serve a veggie on the side.


Stove Top Stuffing Easy Chicken Bake
http://brands.kraftfoods.com/stovetop/hearty-meals/easy-chicken-bake/

1 pkg (6 oz) Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 in. bite-size pieces
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of chicken (or mushroom) soup, undiluted
1/3 cup sour cream (may want to consider using a light sour cream)
1 bag (16 oz) frozen mixed vegetables, thawed, drained (give or take as you prefer)

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Prepare stuffing mix as directed on package and set aside.
2. Mix chicken, soup, sourcream and vegetables in 13x9 in baking dish and top with stuffing. (The recipe I used called to put the chicken down and then pour the soup mix over top and then top with stuffing mix. Other recipes I've seen directed you to mix chicken with 1 c. of veggies and then, again, top with soup and then stuffing.)
3. Bake 30 min or until chicken is cooked through.

The second recipe for posting today is a Tangy Pork Roast made in the slow cooker. This one, as I said, is definately a keeper. It was so tender and had a wonderful flavor. As the title says, it had a tang to it, but there was also this sweet in the background. I served it with Fontina Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and Green Bean Casserole. (Thank you to Green Giant and their frozen boxed sauced vegetables for the casserole.) This meal was absolute heaven on a plate to me. My two year old son also gobbled it down. He even wanted a second helping of the pork which he doesn't normally ask for seconds of the protein. I WILL be making this one again.




Tangy Slow Cooker Pork Roast
http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/tangy-slow-cooker-pork-roast/Detail.aspx

1 large onion, sliced
2 1/2 lb boneless pork loin roast - (I used a regular petite pork roast, not a loin roast.)
1 cup hot water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
A couple dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1. Arrange onion slices evenly over the bottom of the slow cooker, and then place the roast on top of the onion. In a bowl, mix together water, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, and hot sauce; pour over roast.
2. Cover and cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours OR on High for 3 or 4 hours. (I choose the low and slow versions which tends to give a slightly more tender finished product.)

Something else I want to touch base on in this post is sales. I know I've mentioned it before but I think, as a mother and wife, it is partly my duty to save as much money as I can. Both these meals were products of using the sales flyer. It really does pay off to look through your local flyers and to clip coupons. Both the proteins used here were bought on sale. In addition, the side vegetables were bought with a coupons AND on sale. The stuffing mix was bought with a coupon. The potatoes were on sale. If you don't buy your local Sunday paper (which is the issue that usually contains both the sales papers and coupons) you can usually grab a copy of the flyer in the front vestibule of your local grocery store. Swing by a couple days in advance and take it home to plan your week's menu around the sales. Also, alot of the websites (such as Green Giant, Pillsbury, Kraft, and many others offer printable coupons on their website or join a coupon website where you can get endless deals.) I see it this way; there are lots of benefits to taking a little extra time to do things to save money including having a little extra money to buy that dress you were eyeing up in your favorite store window or an extra book to read to your child at night. Especially in this economy, who couldn't use a little extra cash.

Whether you look for the deals out there or not, I hope you all take the time to cook for your friends and family and try these meals and enjoy them as much as we did or more!

Happy Eating!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Highlights Recap for December & January

Once again, I've started a food blog and, once again, I've let it slip away. It seems the further I let it slip, the sillier I feel coming back to it after so long so the more and more I put it off. Well, the ends now! I will not feel bad for letting my blog go for a couple of weeks and coming back! Better late than never, right? It's about sharing food amongst friends, not who's the most organized and diligent with their posts! So, that being said, here are a few recipes from the last couple months that were stand outs. It is, by far, not all the recipes I've tried recently. It contains mostly recipes that were worth sharing that I have pictures for or recipes that I felt really need to be shared so everyone can have a taste. Hope you all enjoy them!

A deliciously rich dip marries macaroni! This one got mixed reviews but I loved it and so did my 2 year old son who licked the bowl clean not once but twice and then again the next day for leftovers! I don't have a picture for this but, if it got that much spinach in my son it was worth making the top of the highlight list in my book!
Spinach & Artichoke Mac 'n' Cheese
From Rachael Ray's Look + Cook

    Salt                                                           
    1 pound semolina or whole-wheat penne                          
    2 tablespoons evoo                                             
    3 tablespoons butter                                           
    1 medium onion, finely chopped                                
    3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated                      
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour                                
    1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chicken broth)                  
    2 cups whole milk                                              
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste                
    1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped artichokes, defrosted and drained (I couldn't find frozen so I used jarred artichokes and drained and chopped them.)
    1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and wrung dry in a kitchen towel
    Pepper                                                         
    1 1/2 cups shredded Italian fontina cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top
    1 1/2 cups grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, plus additional for sprinkling on top
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta, salt the water, and cook the pasta to al dente.
2. While the pasta water come to a boil, place a medium pot over medium-low heat with EVOO and the butter. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until very soft, about 10 min
3. Heat the broiler and position the rack in the middle of the oven.
4. Turn up the heat under the pot to medium-high and sprinkle the flour into the pot. Cook for about 1 min, then whisk in the wine and cook for another minute to burn off the alcohol. Whisk the spinach, and salt and pepper to the sauce and simmer until thickened and the vegetables are warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add 1 cup of each of the cheese to the sauce and stir until melted.
5. Toss the prepared sauce with the cooked pasta and transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining Fontina and Parmigiano over the top and brown under the broiler for about 3 min.

The next recipe also had mixed reviews but was delicious in my book and rather easy. I made it with peas on the side and my son and I gobbled both down.

Enchilada-Style Casserole
From Campbell's Casseroles and One-Dish Favorites (published 2009)

    2 10 3/4-ounce cans Campbell's condensed cheddar cheese soup   
    1/2 cup water
    1 16-ounce jar Pace chunky salsa (used mild and only half the jar)
    4 cups cubed cooked chicken (used rotisserie picked and shredded)
    12 corn tortillas or 8 flour tortilla (6-8 in.), cut into strips (I used corn and cut in thirds and then strips for bite-sized pieces)
    1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (4 oz) - You KNOW I used more approx1.5 to 2 cups

1. Mix the soup, water, 1/2 cup salsa (I used 1/2 the jar) and chicken in a bowl. Stir in the tortillas. Spread the chicken mixture in a 13x9x2 in shallow baking dish. Top with the cheese. COVER
2. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Serve with remaining salsa (which I didn't because of putting extra inside the casserole).

Another easy throw together meal that passed the test with even my husband was a crescent recipe. Deliciously cheesy, one pie was supposed to serve 6 to 8 and only fed my husband, 2 year old son, and myself! Hope you enjoy it as much as we did! No room for enjoying this the next day.

Italian Crescent Pie

    1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained                        
    1 cup basil and garlic tomato pasta sauces (from 16 oz jar)    
    1 8-ounce can Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls     
    1 1/2 cups shredded italian cheese blend (6 oz), divided       
    1/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves                                
1. In 10-inch skillet, mix beef and pasta sauce. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Separate dough into 8 triangles. Place dough in ungreased 9-inch glass pie plate in spoke pattern, with narrow tips overlapping rim of plate about 3 inches. Press dough in side and bottom to form crust; sprinkle with 1 cup of the cheese. Spoon meat mixture evenly over cheese. Bring tips of dough over filling to meet in center; do not overlap. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and the basil.
3. Bake at 375°F 15 to 20 minutes.

Note: Would be even better if you added cooked bacon or pepperoni but also wonderful as is.

The next recipe I took what was laying in my fridge and tweeked a recipe I think I saw a while back. That's one of the wonders of cooking... it's about learning techniques and then changing them up to suit you and your family and what you like. This time, it was because I had the cheese that need to be used so this was born.

Kelli's Sundried-Tomato Cheese Filled Chicken Breasts

3 chicken breast halves sliced in 1/2 horizontally to make 6 THIN breasts
2 eggs, beaten and mixed with a splash of water to make an eggwash
Bread Crumbs (as needed for coating)
2 tbsp. olive oil

Add oil to large skillet over medium high heat. Spread cheese onto one side of each breast. Roll, starting at smallest end, and secure with toothpicks. Roll each bundle in egg wash and then again in bread crumbs to coat. Place in skillet with hot oil. Cook until chicken is cooked through (about 15-20 minutes total), making sure to turn onto all sides as to cook evenly. Remove toothpicks before serving!

Well, that's all I have time for now! There are plenty more recipes I'd love to share (some with pictures, some without) but they will have to wait until this busy mom has more time. Hope you all love these recipes and it sparks your interest for more to come!

Happy Cooking and Eating!
-Kelli-