Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cook's Illustrated All-Purpose Cornbread

I've tried a handful of cornbread recipes, and this is hands-down my favorite! Cook's Illustrated never disappoints, and this is a true example. This cornbread is moist, delicious, and perfect. The flavor was incredible! I paired this with our chili, and it was a winning combination.

The key to cornbread is to not overmix the dry ingredients with the wet. A few dry lumps is perfect:

Here's the cornbread, removed right after the oven:

Cook's Illustrated All-Purpose Cornbread

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed (I used 1 cup of canned corn)
1 cup buttermilk (Used reduced-fat)
2 large eggs
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Spray 8-inch square baking dish (I used a Pyrex dish) with non-stick cooking spray.
3. Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl until combined.
4. In a food processor or blender, process brown sugar, thawed corn kernels, and buttermilk until combined, about 5 seconds.
5. Add eggs and process until well combined (corn lumps will remain), about 5 more seconds.
6. Using a rubber spatula, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients; pour wet ingredients into the well.
7. Begin folding dry ingredients into wet, giving mixture only a few turns to barely combine; add melted butter and continue folding until dry ingredients are just moistened.
8. Pour batter into prepared baking dish, smooth surace with rubber spatula.
9. Bake until deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean- 25-35 minutes. Cool and serve.

Source: Cook's Illustrated

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffin Bites

These muffins are addicting! It is so easy to continue popping these muffin bites into your mouth. The flavors mesh really well together, very quick to prepare, and only takes 10-12 minutes since they're mini muffins. At first, I was contemplating adding the entire bag of butterscotch chips, but I am glad I didn't- they are already rich enough!

Here is a mini muffin close-up:

Mini Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffins

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 (6 ounce) package butterscotch chips
2 eggs
1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) melted butter
1 cup canned pumpkin

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.
2. Sift together the flour, brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and butterscotch chips into a large bowl. (Adding the butterscotch chips to the dry mixture prevents them from sinking to the bottom.)
3. Whisk together the eggs, butter, and pumpkin in a separate bowl.
4. Mix the flour mixture with the egg mixture. (Batter will be very thick.)
5. Pour into each well of the muffin pan to about 3/4 full.
6. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 10 to 12 minutes. (Mine took 12 minutes to bake.)

Yield: 40-42 mini muffins

Source: All Recipes

Friday, October 15, 2010

Caprese Salad Skewers

I wanted an appetizer with these qualifications: Light, filling, sophisticated, and portable (as in, a guest can easily pick it up and put it on her plate). I searched through all my "to make" recipes but none of them fit the bill with all the criteria. I finally settled on a caprese salad, but it bothered me that it wasn't portable. I was looking through a Martha Stewart catalog where she was showcasing easy desserts... on a stick. I quickly thought- how about caprese salad on a stick?. And this is how this appetizer was born. They were terrific, and got rave reviews. I purchased the ciliegine mozzarella at Trader Joe's for only $2.99. I loved how easy it was to put together (5 minutes!) and how elegant and colorflu they looked on the table.

Here is a good close-up of the skewers:

Caprese Salad Skewers

Ciliegine Mozzarella (little cherry tomato-size mozzarella balls)
15-20 basil leaves (if they're large leaves, cut them in half)
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
6-8" skewers (You want to keep these skewers short so guests can easily stick it in their mouth without poking them)
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Skewer the 1st (3) ingredients- I did it in this order: Mozzarella, Basil leaf, and Tomato. (I did this twice per skewer.)
2. Right before guests arrive, dash the appetizer with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
3. Sprinkle some freshly cracked sea salt and black pepper.

Yield: (13) skewers

Source: The Piggly-Wiggly original (inspired by Martha Stewart)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese

This was creamy and cheesy- and so easy. If you think you’re too busy to make homemade mac & cheese (and resort to the boxed mixes), think again- this is about as easy as homemade can get since it’s pretty much dumping all the ingredients into one pot and mixing it together. You essentially boil the pasta, add the remaining ingredients together, and warm it back up to achieve creamy cheesy goodness. The first time I made it, I didn’t allow the pasta to cool enough so my cheese mixture was a bit grainy- I can only assume it was from the egg curdling, so the next time (tonight) I allowed it to cool down for 5 minutes and the texture was spot on. Another excellent Alton Brown dish, and one of the simplest recipes I’ve ever made.

Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese

1/2 pound (8-oz) elbow macaroni
4 Tbsp butter
2 eggs
6-oz evaporated milk (I used 5-oz)
1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
¼ tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
10-oz sharp cheddar, shredded

1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente and drain.
2. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat. Allow it to cool down for 5 minutes.
3. Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard.
4. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese.
5. Over low heat, continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.

Source: Adapted from Alton Brown

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pastor Ryan's Cajun Meatloaf

I was nervous to try a new meatloaf recipe since my DB is so faithful to my other meatloaf, but this was seriously delicious. And huge. The sautéed vegetables lended a moisture boost to this dish, and although the title says “Cajun”, it is just enough spice to notice, yet not enough to say “spicy”. I don’t normally like meatloaf, but I really enjoyed this dish- flavorful, moist, yet doesn’t stray far from an old classic.

Pastor Ryan’s Cajun Meatloaf

6 Tbsp butter
2 large bell peppers, diced finely
2 medium onion, diced finely
5 ribs of celery, chopped finely
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cup ketchup, divided
Optional: Few shakes of Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup milk (I used skim milk)
1-2 cups breadcrumbs
2 pound ground round
1 pound ground pork
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp honey

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a sheet pan with some non-stick cooking spray. (I took a jelly roll pan, added a layer of foil, and then sprayed that with cooking spray.)
2. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large pot or 5-qt dutch oven. Once the butter begins to start browning, add the diced bell peppers, onion, and celery. Sauté the vegetables until cooked through, approximately 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and 1/2 tsp salt, and sauté an additional 3-5 minutes until garlic is fragrant but not brown.
3. Add Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and 1/2 cup ketchup. If you like it hot, add a couple shakes of your favorite hot sauce. Continue cooking and stirring for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.
4. After allowing the mixture to cool for a couple of minutes, add the milk, and stir until combined.
5. Start by adding a 1 cup of breadcrumbs. Continue adding breadcrumbs and stirring until mixture is a nice, thick paste. Allow the mixture to cool down.
6. In a separate large mixing bowl, add the ground round, ground pork, and egg. After allowing the vegetable mixture to cool down a bit, begin incorporating it into the meat. Keep working all of the Cajun-Vegetable mix into the meat until all is blended well.
7. Using your hands, form your meat mixture into a loaf on the sheet pan. Make the loaf around 6-8 inches wide and about 1 ½ inches thick.
8. For the sauce: In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together remaining 3/4 cup ketchup with honey. Slather this sauce over the whole meatloaf.
9. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes.

Source: Adapted from Pioneer Woman

Friday, October 8, 2010

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Banana Bread… Cookies?

Yes, it is true. These are soft, chewy, not overly sweet… and so addicting. I made these for a co-worker’s birthday and I got rave reviews on them. These tasted just like banana bread, but in cookie form. And what is not to love when you pair this bread cookies with some oatmeal and chocolate chips? These can be snacks, dessert, or even a breakfast on the go.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Cookies

1-1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 bananas, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and cinnamon; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar until it resembles a crumbly texture (about 1 minute).
4. Add in the egg and vanilla and continue beating until mixture becomes smooth and creamy (about 1 minute).
5. Add in half of the flour mixture and blend in at a low speed.
6. Add in the remaining flour mixture and continue blending in on low, just until mixed.
7. Add in the oatmeal and chocolate chips; stir until evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
8. Using a wooden spoon, carefully mix in the banana pieces.
9. Using a tablespoon (I used my large cookie scoop= 3 Tbsp), drop the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until the edges are lightly browned (about 17-18 minutes). (The center may appear a little soft, but the residual heat will continue to bake them.)
10. Carefully remove from the oven and let cool on pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
11. Finish baking the remaining dough, following the same steps.
12. Store in an air-tight container or resealable bag for up to 4 days (or longer if kept refrigerated).

Yield: 18 Servings

Source: With a Cherry on Top

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Salsa Verde Sour Cream Enchiladas

Please excuse this bad picture, but this dish was fantastic!

I was pleasantly surprised with this dish- I normally do not order sour cream enchiladas since I find them to taste bland and dry. However, I am so glad I did, and I ate it for 3 nights in a row! The recipe from The Novice Chef highly recommended using Salsa Verde made by Ortega, but I had the most difficult time finding this. I did find the Herdez brand, and while I can’t compare the two, I was so satisfied with this meal. I definitely feel you need to use a flavorful salsa verde! Also for convenience, I picked up a rotisserie chicken and used this to decrease time in the kitchen. When it comes to tortilla, cooking the tortilla in a little bit of chicken broth adds a lot of flavor to the dish, and makes it easier to roll the tortilla with its filling inside. I know I will be adding this recipe more frequently into our menu rotation. It was so flavorful, warm, comforting, and delicious, and we paired it with my favorite Latin Rice.

Salsa Verde Sour Cream Enchiladas

4 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I used a rotisserie chicken and shredded it)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Serrano chiles, diced (seeds-in if you like the heat; reduce to 1 if you’re not a fan of spicy food. If you can’t find Serrano chiles, substitute with jalapenos)
1 Jalapeno chiles, seeded, minced
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3-1/2 (28-oz) cups chicken broth, divided
2 cups light sour cream
16 oz jar of Herdez Medium Salsa Verde
1-1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
12 tortillas, small FAJITA size
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Pepper-Jack (We love using Pepper-Jack)
1/2 medium onion, diced

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Spray/grease a 9×13 baking dish.
2. Melt butter over medium-high heat in a medium pot or 5-qt dutch oven. Sauté Serranos and Jalapenos until soft and then add the garlic, cooking for 1 minute.
3. Stir in the flour and let cook 1-2 minutes.
4. Whisk in 2 cups of chicken broth until smooth and let cook until bubbly.
5. Stir in the sour cream, salsa, cumin, cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder and cilantro until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat.
6. Add 1 cup of sauce to the bottom of the baking dish.
7. Bring the remaining 1-1/2 cups chicken broth to a simmer in a medium skillet (where the diameter is large enough to fit the tortilla.) Working with 1 tortilla at a time, add tortilla to the skillet. Cook or 10-20 seconds or until moist, turning once. Remove tortilla, and drain on a paper towel.
8. Add chicken, cheese, and chopped onion to the center of each tortilla and roll, placing seam-side down in the dish.
9. Repeat steps #7 and #8 with the remaining tortillas. (Don’t try to “cook” the tortilla all at once. The “cooked” tortillas will start to kind of “glue” onto each other and it will be difficult to separate them.)
10. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas, top with leftover cheese, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until top is brown and bubbling.

To freeze: Cook the sauce and cool completely (I do it quickly using an ice water bath). Assemble the enchiladas in portion-friendly dishes and wrap well with plastic wrap or foil. To cook thawed, bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes (or to an internal temperature of 165). To cook straight from the freezer, increase the baking time to 45-55 minutes.

Yields: 12-15 enchiladas

Source: Originally from Homesick Texan, As seen on Novice Chef who adapted this recipe from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Sweet & Spicy Coleslaw

I don't know what got into me, but I had this large craving for pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw on top. I don't like BBQ sauce. I don't really like pulled pork. I'm not a fan of coleslaw. So, my DB found it really amusing that I wanted this particular recipe to be on our week's menu. Maybe it was because I was hungry. Maybe it was because it reminded me of this dish, which I loved so much. Or, maybe it was because Bridget's blog has beautiful pictures, it can take food I normally don't love and make me want to reach through my computer monitor and grab it, anticipating a large sumptuous bite. I don't know what, but what I do know is this- this was fantastic.

I made the spice rub and massaged it into the meat. I wrapped it tightly with saran wrap and let the meat "marinate" in the rub in the fridge for a few days. Then I chopped up some onions, added the pork, and poured some Coke Zero on top. Let it cook on the slow cooker for 10 hours, and voila... my dinner was made. As you can read, the prep work was very easy. Making it in a slow cooker was definitely the way to go- no mess and someone's doing all the cooking for you. The key here, my friends, is the BBQ sauce. This can make or break this recipe. So, make sure to pick your favorite BBQ sauce for this recipe. We both love Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce, and tried the Sweet 'n Spicy variety- definitely our new favorite.

The coleslaw was easy and quick as well. I made it in the morning after I popped the pork into the slow cooker. I allowed the flavors to marinate all day (though you definitely don't need to let it sit for a few hours). I couldn't stop eating the cole slaw. When I first saw the recipe and saw all that mustard, I thought- "Are you serious?". Regardless, I followed the recipe and the flavors were dead on. It is really the mustard and cayenne pepper that set this slaw recipe apart from the rest. I loved the sweet & spice combination, and we loved the extra kick from the cayenne pepper. This slaw recipe made me a believer.

Here is a close-up of the Spice Rub:

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Sweet & Spicy Coleslaw

For the Spice Rub (For 2# pork loin)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp table salt

For the Pork Sandwiches
2# pork loin
1 large onion, diced
1 cup Coke or Rootbeer (I used Coke Zero)
18-oz bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (We used Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy BBQ)
Kaiser buns, Bread, or Slimwiches

For the Sweet & Spicy Cole Slaw
1/2 bag of coleslaw mix
1/2 medium onion
1/4 cup Hellmann's mayo (not the reduced-fat kind either)
1/8 cup yellow mustard
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Spice Rub and Pulled Pork Sandwiches
1. Mix all spice rub ingredients in small bowl.
2. Massage spice rub into meat. Wrap tightly in double layer of plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (For stronger flavor, the roast can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
3. Add the chopped onions to the bottom of the slow cooker liner.
4. Unwrap roast and place it in slow cooker. Add the liquid, and turn slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hours, until meat is fork-tender.
5. Transfer roast to cutting board; discard liquid in slow cooker liner. “Pull” by tearing meat into thin shreds with two forks or your fingers. Discard fat.
6. Place shredded meat back in slow cooker liner; toss with 1 cup barbecue sauce, and heat on low for 30-60 minutes, until hot. Serve with additional barbecue sauce.

For the Sweet & Spicy Cole Slaw
1. Fit onion through a food processor with the large-holed grater attachment and push the onions through feed tube to grate.
2. In a large bowl, toss vegetables (coleslaw mix, onions) together.
3. In another medium bowl, prepare the coleslaw dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, mustard, cider vinegar, sugar, black pepper, and cayenne.
4. Toss dressing with the cabbage mixture, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

How to assemble the Sandwiches
1. Toast your buns.
2. Top it with your pulled pork.
3. Top your pork with cole slaw.
4. Add your top bun, and take a bite. Mmmmmm.

Source: Spice Rub recipe originally from The Way the Cookie Crumbles (As seen on and Branny Boils Over), Pork recipe from AllRecipes, Coleslaw recipe from The Neely's

Friday, October 1, 2010

Slow Cooker Cranberry Applesauce

I did a homemade Slow Cooker Cran-Applesauce last year using Craisins. This year, I wanted to make something similar but omit the cinnamon and use fresh cranberries. This was superb and healthy! Even though I used Granny Smith apples and fresh cranberries (both naturally tart), you didn't need to add any sugar since the apples have natural sugar in them. I loved every spoonful of this homemade sauce, and I loved the fresh burst of cranberry flavor in every bite.

Slow Cooker Cranberry Applesauce

4 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Granny Smith, but any type is fine)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup apple juice, cider, or water
Juice from 1 lemon

1. Add the chopped apples and cranberries into your slow cooker.
2. Add the liquid and lemon juice.
3. Cook it on LOW for 7 hours.
4. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to blend the apples to desired consistency.

* The applesauce keeps (covered and chilled) for 1 week.

Source: The Piggly-Wiggly original

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chicken Ranch Pizza

DB and I were in the mood for pizza, but just wanted to vary the flavors a little. I love going to Annie's blog because she has amazing recipes with beautiful pictures. Of course, she had this pizza listed in her blog and I thought it was be a great and easy quick dinner. I altered it to what I had on hand and we loved the flavors. If you don't have the exact ingredients listed below, you can definitely substitute to what you do have on hand. For instance, you can definitely use mozzarella, monterey-jack, or pepper-jack cheeses, you can omit the bacon, or use rotisserie chicken if you're in a hurry.

While I am still a red sauce pizza gal, this is quickly my 2nd favorite way to have pizza! I would definitely recommend making your own homemade crust (a blog update will be coming soon...), but ready-made crust will work just fine in a pinch. You can usually pick up ready-made pizza crust at your local Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, or your local grocery store.

Chicken Ranch Pizza

Pizza dough
¼ cup Ranch dressing
¾ cup shredded Pepper-Jack cheese (Mozzarella is fine here)
½-1 grilled chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces (Rotisserie chicken would work well)
1 tomato, seeded and diced
2-3 green onions, chopped
4-6 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven and a pizza stone to 500° F. Allow the stone to heat for at least 30 minutes. (Alternatively, follow your ready-made crust's instructions.)
2. In the mean time, cut a round of parchment paper the size of your pizza stone. (Alternatively, use a pizza peel.) Sprinkle lightly with cornmeal or semolina flour.
3. Gently roll out the pizza dough into a large circle, leaving a thicker ring around the edge for the crust.
4. Spread the Ranch dressing in a thin layer evenly over the unbaked crust.
5. Sprinkle with shredded Pepper-Jack cheese.
6. Top with grilled chicken, tomato, green onions, and chopped bacon.
7. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar.
8. Once assembled, carefully transfer the parchment round and pizza to the preheated baking stone and return to the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and browned.
9. Slice, serve, and enjoy!

Source: Originally from AllRecipes, As seen on Annie's Eats

Monday, September 27, 2010

Very Moist, Healthy Banana Bread

True to its name, this banana bread is very moist- and it contains NO OIL! The moisture comes from the (reduced-fat) yogurt and very ripe bananas. You can make it your own by adding chocolate chips, dusting it with cinnamon sugar, or just keeping it plain and simple. I opted to make all 3 flavors using my mini-loaf pans. Enjoy!

Here is a close-up of the Banana Bread with chocolate chips:

Here is my trifecta of breads- Chocolate Chips, Cinnamon Sugar Chocolate Chips, Cinnamon Sugar-dusted:

Very Moist, Healthy Banana Bread

2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 RIPE bananas, mashed
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (not sugar-free) (I used 6-oz Kroger brand CarbMaster reduced-fat yogurt)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp melted butter
Add-ins: Chocolate chips, Cinnamon sugar (optional)

1. Preheat to 350. Line muffin tin with liners.
2. Whisk together dry ingredients.
3. Beat together the bananas, yogurt, eggs, and melted butter in a large bowl.
4. Fold dry ingredients and any add-ins into wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
5. Bake in greased loaf pan for 55 minutes. (I baked mine in 3 mini-loaf pans for 35 minutes.)

Yield: 3 mini-loaf pans or 1 large loaf pan

Source: Seconds for Satisfaction

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ina's Easy Cheese Danish

* Photo courtesy of A Feast for the Eyes

I made this for a co-worker’s birthday, and while the flavors tasted light and sweet, I would make some edits next time around. I would make the filling the evening before- the refrigeration was necessary to “set” the consistency or else I felt it would’ve been too runny. I would also add some jam to each Danish, spreading it thinly inside the puff pastry before adding the cheese- while I liked the refreshing citrus flavor, adding some jam would have made it terrific. A fun and tasty addition would be to drizzle some melted chocolate on top of the baked danish. Very tasty, easy, and actually fun to do.

Easy Cheese Danish

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature (or 3 large egg yolks)
2 Tbsp ricotta cheese
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
8 Tbsp jam
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water, for egg wash

1. The evening before: Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don't whip!
2. The morning of: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it's a 10 by 10-inch square.
4. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife (a pizza roller works well here).
5. Spread 1 Tbsp of jam thinly inside the puff pastry square.
6. Place a heaping Tbsp of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Make sure to try to spread out the cheese mixture so when it folds, it is incorporated into all the crevices.
7. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together.
8. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash.
9. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry.
10. Bake the pastries for about 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.

Yield: 8 danishes

Source: Adapted from Ina Garten

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade

Photo courtesy of One Ordinary Day

I’ve been making homemade lemonade since I was a teen. Thus, from various attempts, I’ve determined the best-tasting lemonade starts with a simple syrup. However, this lemonade steps it up a notch by adding fresh strawberry puree- Genius! Then you top it off with some sparkling water, and what a delicious and refreshing summertime beverage. The drink can be pre-made; just make sure to add the sparkling water right before serving so it doesn’t lost its fizz. I would also recommend straining the puree- I didn’t care for the seeds in my drink, and it surely won’t look good caught in between your teeth at a party.

This drink will work well with any outdoor party, brunch, or shower. At my last outdoor party, I made a Sparkling Raspberry Lemonade Punch, but this would also top my list of favorite drinks. For an adult version, replace the sparkling water with some champagne. A perfect blend of tart and sweet.

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade

2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel (2 lemons)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (6-8 lemons, depending on size)
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
2 cups cold sparkling water (or champagne, for adult version)
Rimming: Lemon juice, Sugar
Mint sprigs, garnish
Whole strawberries, garnish

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.
2. Add the lemon peel and lemon juice, stir, and remove from the heat. Let cool completely, then strain into a clean pitcher.
3. In a blender or food processor, puree the pint of strawberries. (This produces 1-3/4 cup strawberry puree.)
4. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the strawberry puree. Discard the seeds.
5. Add the strained puree to the pitcher with the lemon juice
6. Stir well to combine and refrigerate until well chilled.
7. Right before serving, add the sparkling water and stir well.
8. Dip the rim of the glass into lemon juice, and then sugar.
9. Pour over glasses filled with ice and serve, garnished with mint and strawberries.

Yield: 1.5 quarts

Source: Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Monday, September 20, 2010

Succulent Braised Pork in Red Wine sauce

I saw Melissa’s show on Food Network, and this dish looked fantastic. I went onto the website to grab the recipe, and there were 250+ positive reviews. I was sold… and it was an OMG good. I’ve never made pork so tender, and my DB loved this dish. The flavors in the sauce were rich, and the pork came out fork tender and flavorful. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to set aside some time as the braising takes 3 hours. However, the prep work is relatively simple and easy to prepare, and the majority of the cooking is “setting and forgetting” until the 3-hour braising time is up. This is perfect for a lazy weekend meal, but special and elegant enough to serve for guests. I paired this with Garlic Cheese Biscuits- it sopped up all the yummy broth perfectly.

Look how caramelized the pork got:

Succulent Braised Pork in Red Wine sauce

2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 6 large chunks, or pork loin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine
1-1/2 cups beef stock or broth
1 bunch parsley stems, tied with string (I used 1 Tbsp dried parsley)
2 bay leaves
1 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
2. In a 5-qt dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and working in batches brown the meat on all sides until a golden crust forms. Transfer the pork to a plate.
3. To the pan add the onion, celery, and carrot and sweat until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and sweat another 2 minutes.
5. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes to cook off the raw flavor and caramelize it.
6. Sprinkle with the flour and cook another 2 minutes to cook off its raw flavor.
7. Whisk in the wine and reduce it by half. (This only took me 3-4 minutes.)
8. Return the pork to the Dutch oven, then stir in the beef stock, parsley stems, and bay leaves. Add the water if liquid does not come up to the top of the pork. Do not cover the pork with liquid.
9. Cover the pan and place it in the oven to braise until the meat is fork tender, about 3 hours.
10. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Transfer to a serving platter and serve.

Source: Melissa D’Arabian

Friday, September 17, 2010

Creamy Taco Mac

“This looks like Hamburger Helper!”
(My DB takes 1 bite.)
“… But this tastes SO much better!”

This definitely tastes much better, is healthier for you, and still just as quick to make- just a few additional steps are needed. While the multi-grain pasta is cooking, you can cook the turkey meat with the taco seasoning, throw in some chopped onions and fresh garlic, and then add some sour cream and cream cheese at the end to obtain its creamy texture. This makes enough for 4 servings (or in our case, a dinner and lunch the following day). We like food on the spicier side, so we added the cayenne pepper until our desired tastes. Quick, simple, and tasty!

Creamy Taco Mac
8 oz. dry pasta shapes (I like the rotini pasta since the sauce can get into the “twirls)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1-1/4 lbs. ground turkey (preferably 93% lean)
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained (I used fire-roasted- loved the smokiness flavor)
4 Tbsp taco seasoning (My go-to is Lawry’s taco seasoning packet)
3 oz cream cheese, cubed
½ cup sour cream (fat-free works fine here)
Garlic salt and cayenne pepper
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
Cilantro (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or sauté pan, add the olive oil. Once heated, add the tutkey and cook over medium-high heat until no longer pink.
3. A few minutes before the turkey is cooked through, add the chopped onion to the skillet.
4. Once the turkey is cooked through, mix in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5. Mix in the diced tomatoes and taco seasoning, and let simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
6. Stir in the cooked pasta, cream cheese, sour cream and reserved pasta water (I forgot to reserve pasta water, so used beef stock), and continue stirring until the cream cheese is melted and the sauce is well blended.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. Simmer over medium-low heat 3-5 minutes to reduce the sauce a bit.
9. Remove from the heat and top with shredded cheddar cheese and cilantro, if desired.

Source: Originall from Delish, Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homemade Pizza Sauce

I have been so underwhelmed by not only the variety but also flavorless pizza sauces in our local grocery store. I’ve tried the brand and grocery-store private label pizza sauces, and all have been tossed aside in favor of SPAGHETTI sauce to top our homemade pizzas. Quite frankly, those pizza sauces are an insult to the homemade pizza dough. Due to this, I set out to find homemade pizza sauce recipes, and found a terrific one on Scraping the Skillet’s cooking blog. The ingredients are what I had on hand and easy- you essentially dump everything in a pot, and allow it simmer for ~30 minutes for the flavor to marry. This sauce is flavored with garlic, basil, and other herbs, and can be used not only for pizza sauce, but as a dipping sauce (think calzones, mozzarella sticks) as well. The original recipe has 1 Tbsp of red pepper flakes- I can only imagine how spicy that sauce could be! I reduced it to 2 tsp and it still had a little heat- So if you’re looking for something on the milder side, I would recommend using only 1 tsp of red pepper flakes. This does make a lot of sauce, so just keep the extras in the fridge for your next Italian night!

Homemade Pizza Sauce

28 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained (I like to use petite-diced cut canned tomatoes)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (somewhat spicy, halve this for a milder sauce)
¼ tsp. salt

1. Toss everything into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15-30 minutes. (I let mine simmer for 45 minutes.)
2. Once you have simmered the sauce to meld the flavors, remove it from the heat and use a potato masher to break up any tomato chunks. Or, if you want something more rustic, leave the chunks.

One final tip: after what seems like zillions of pizzas we’ve determined that with sauce less is more. Don’t put too much on your crust or things won’t cook properly and the cheese is likely to slide off. This sauce gives you all the flavor you need so you don’t need to overload it.

Source: Adapted from Scraping the Skillet

Monday, September 13, 2010

Homemade Sloppy Joe's

I was in the mood today for Sloppy Joe’s, and had always heard how easy it was to make it homemade. Williams-Sonoma recipes rarely fail me, so I attempted to make this for a quick dinner and I was so pleased! I just loved the flavors- very reminiscent of the Manwich can, but oh so much better… quite possibly the best Sloppy Joe’s I’ve had. The name “Sloppy Joe’s” may have a bad reputation, but this recipe is a wonderfully delicious comfort food that also happens to be quick and easy to make homemade. I also liked this recipe since it welcomes additional veggies such as bell pepper and carrots. I chopped the veggies, sautéed them with the ground beef, and then added the remaining ingredients. Let it simmer for 20 minutes and voila! I used ground round in this recipe, but after making this, lean ground turkey would work just fine.

Homemade Sloppy Joe’s
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
1-1/2 lb ground beef (I use ground round)
¼ cup water
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup ketchup-style chili sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
6 sesame-seed sandwich buns, split
Cheddar Cheese, sliced (optional)

1. In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the beef, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring and breaking up the beef with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
3. Stir in 1/4 cup water, the tomato sauce, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
4. Toast the buns. Place the bottom halves of the buns, cut side up, on warmed individual plates and top with the beef mixture, dividing it equally. Cover with the bun tops and serve immediately.

Yield: 6 sandwiches

Source: Williams-Sonoma

Friday, September 10, 2010

Martha Stewart's Macaroni & Cheese

OMG delicious.
This uses expensive cheeses, so while this may be one for special occasions, it was so good! I loved the pungent cheese flavors from the Gruyere and Sharp White Cheddar. While I’ve always sprinkled on Panko breadcrumbs on top, I may have just switched to fresh breadcrumbs- they were phenomenal, and I wished I had doubled the breadcrumb recipe.

To begin, you still need to make a white sauce. A generous amount of butter is melted in a large saucepan, and then flour is stirred into it to make a loose paste. After the flour has cooked in the hot butter, hot milk is whisked in. The starch from the cooked flour expands in the milk, creating a thick, creamy sauce. The starch binds the sauce, so that when the cheese is stirred in, the result is creamy and smooth, not stringy and curdled.

It is important to use pungent cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, mixed with a little Gruyere or pecorino Romano for extra bite, since the white sauce and pasta will absorb a lot of flavor. The type of cheese used will also affect the sauce's texture: Sharp white cheddar produces the smoothest result; yellow and extra sharp cheddars can become grainy.

A good Italian brand of dried elbow macaroni will have the best consistency. Undercook your pasta so that it is the slightest bit crunchy (very al dente) in the center, then rinse it under cold water. This stops the cooking and washes off the excess starch. You might think that starch would be useful in further thickening the casserole, but it isn't; as it bakes, that extra starch merely expands and lends a mealy texture to your sauce.

The pasta will finish cooking as it bakes. The sauce will bubble, seeping into the hollows of your macaroni. When the smell of butter and browning cheese makes your stomach growl, you'll know the dish is ready to eat.

You can easily divide this recipe in half; use a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish if you do.

6 slices good-quality white (or whole wheat) bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish, divided
5-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4-1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar, divided
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1-1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano, divided
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside.
2. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl.
3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
4. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk.
5. In a high-sided skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 6 Tbsp butter.
6. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
7. Make a roux: Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
8. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1-1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
9. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.
10. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
11. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1-1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top.
12. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

Yields: 12 servings

Source: Martha Stewart

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It’s Game Time at the Snackadium

This is our first year participating in a fantasy football league. Quite honestly, I never understood the hoopla of doing this, but now that I’m being trained and understand how this goes, I’m really getting into it. The draft pick is such an important part of fantasy football, so I thought- why not mark this joyous day with a “Sack the Snack” Snack Day? Any significant event should be celebrated with food, I say. One of my co-workers introduced me to the Snackadium so I can’t take full credit for it, but I had it bookmarked since last Superbowl season and I was pumped to try it out for our Snack Day this year. I was nervous about estimating the amount of food to complete this, but my estimates were spot on (amounts/ingredients list is listed below)- and now you can make this for your next football or Superbowl game!

It's Game Time at the Snackadium

While there are variations of this piece, here is what I used to create this:
- The field: Spinach Dip (Guacamole is another good option, but more costly)
- End zones: Salsa and Queso
- Yardlines: Sour cream markers
- Goal posts: Slim Jims assembled with toothpicks, held up by a block of cream cheese
- Fan vs. field separation: “Pigskins” in a blanket
- “Fans”: Cheetos and Ranch Cheese-Its vs. Fritos Scoops and Tortilla Chips
- Outer stadium: Rice Krispie treats barricade joined with toothpicks

Here is a close-up of the Slim-Jim goal posts:

Here is an aerial view:

I used this picture as my inspiration, and I was determined to recreate this creative work of food porn. Elegant it is not, but it definitely had the “WOW” factor when I brought it to work. This feeds a lot of people, and I liked the variety of savory and sweet- best of both worlds.

Tips & Notes:
- I didn’t have enough time to create the sour cream yardlines, but I think this would’ve added a cute touch!
- You can use cherry tomatoes to make helmets, and use sour cream or cream cheese to design the helmets
- I’ve seen people use Vienna Sausages to create “players” in the field
- You definitely do not need to fill up the 13x9 to the brim with the salsa/spinach dip/queso. Just make sure to make the cardboard dividers/support are as tall as you’d like your food to be.

Here is how I achieved the "field":
I took a 13x9 pan, a cardboard box, and some foil. I cut off the sides of the cardboard box and used the foil to create an "upside-down T" with the foil. This way, it created more support between the food, and prevented the food from leaking into each other.

Listed below are the list of items and amounts I used to make the Snackadium. (I purchased most of these items at Sam’s Club and Walmart.)

- Large wooden board, to place the Snackadium on top (My DB made one for me, but not needed as long as you have a big table to work with to arrange and display your Snackadium)
- Disposable tablecloth (Used this to place on top of the wood board or large surface/table. Definitely would recommend disposable so you can just pick up any remaining food and throw it away- Easier clean-up!)
- Cardboard (I used this to help support/divide between the salsa, spinach dip, and queso in the 13x9 pan)
- Foil (I used this to help divide the salsa/spinach dip/queso in the 13x9 pan)
- 4 index cards or small pieces of paper (To help contain the 4 chips- Cheetos, Cneese-Its, Tortilla Chips, Fritos Scoops)
- Toothpicks (To assemble the Slim Jim goals posts, and to make the Rice Krispie treats stadium)
- Piping bag, coupler, and #3 or #4 tip (to pipe any wording), or just use a Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off

- 35-38 oz of salsa
- (2) 15-oz jars of Queso (I used this)
- 1 recipe of
Spinach Dip
- 8-oz sour cream (yardlines, any word piping)
- 2-oz cream cheese blocks, cut into (2) 1-oz blocks
- 8 Slim Jims (I cut down the Slim Jims to ¾ of its original size)
- “Pigskins in a blanket” (1 package of cocktail wieners and (2) cans of Crescent rolls)
- Cheetos (17-oz)
- 2 recipes of Ranch Cheese-Its
- Frito Scoops (18-oz)
- Tortilla Chips (20-oz)
- 1 recipe of Rice Krispie treats

In order to make it as mess-free as possible, here is how I assembled the Snackadium:
1. Rice Krispie “barricade”- I assembled this first as this is what holds all the snacks in. I just placed a toothpick on either side of the Rice Krispie treat and circled it around the 13x9 pan. How much chips/snacks you had you to buy will determine how large you make this barricade. (I used (22) Rice Krispie treats.)
2. Fan base (Cheetos, Ranch Cheese-Its, Tortilla Chips, Fritos Scoops)- Using your index cards, I placed each card between the 4 corners of the 13x9 pan and the Rice Krispie treat barricade. This helped to place “dividers” so I could place the chips in their own specific section. Once I filled up each section with their respective chips, I removed the index cards.
3. 13x9 pan- I placed the cardboard/foil dividers into the pan, and then filled in each area with salsa, spinach dip, and queso.
4. Sour cream yardlines
5. “Pigskins in a blanket”- Wrap these around the base of your 13x9 pan
6. Sour cream piping around the Snackadium

Homemade Rice Krispie Treats

This is a classic Rice Krispie treats dessert. So easy, and brings back memories of eating this as a child. Everyone has their own basic recipe, and this is mine. Most people think it is odd that I add milk to this recipe, but trust me- this will make your bars soft and achieve the perfect chewy texture. I never make it without adding the milk!

I made these specifically to make my Snackadium to celebrate Fantasy Football:

Rice Krispie Treats
• ½ cup (8 Tbsp) butter
• 8 cups mini marshmallows* (16-oz marshmallows)
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 2-1/2 tsp milk
• 10 cups Rice Krispie cereal

1. Using a butter-flavored cooking spray, spray a 13x9 baking dish**.
2. Melt butter in LARGE saucepan or 5-qt dutch oven over low heat.
3. Add marshmallows and vanilla, and stir until melted and well-blended. Remove from heat. Melt marshmallows and butter very slowly; don’t let it brown or get too hot. Should NOT be bubbling. Stir constantly.
4. Add milk, and mix well.
5. Add cereal. Stir until well coated.
6. Using buttered spatula or waxed paper, press mixture evenly and firmly in buttered 13 x 9 inch pan. (I used a buttered wax paper to press the cereal down, and it worked well.)
7. Cut into 2 x 2 inch squares when cool.

* Note: Don’t sub Marshmallow Crème or Fluff- your treats won’t set up.

** Note: For the Snackadium, I used a jelly roll pan so I would have enough treats to create a “barricade” around the stadium. If you want thinner treats, I would recommend you use (2) 13x9 pans.
Yield: 22 bars, or 15 THICK 1-3/4” bars

Monday, September 6, 2010

Blueberry Zucchini Bread

We were so excited to try our first zucchini from our veggie garden. Since growing our own vegetables is new to both of us, we accidentally let our zucchini overgrow (and it had seeds in them). No worries- they still tasted great (and now we know better). My DB’s co-worker Jen just brought in some homemade zucchini bread, and I only had a bite of it before he ate it all. In a matter of hours. So when we picked our hugely-overgrown zucchini, I wanted to make some zucchini bread of my own, but also wanted to add some fruit to it for some natural sweetness. This bread produced a moist bread, and I loved how I could sneak in the veggies. Next time, I will add a crumb topping. I made them into mini loaves, and brought them into work for friends. They raved about it, and it was demolished within the morning. I’d say- this is a keeper.

Blueberry Zucchini Bread
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups white sugar (or 2 cups white sugar + ¼ brown sugar)
2-3 cups shredded zucchini (no need to peel, or remove the water)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 pint fresh blueberries (2 cups)
Optional: Crumb topping (1/4 cup brown sugar, ¼ cup flour, 3 Tbsp cubed, room temperature unsalted butter, and ½ tsp cinnamon)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 4 mini-loaf pans.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar.
3. Fold in the zucchini.
4. In a separate medium bowl, beat in the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Gently fold in the blueberries.
5. Add the blueberry/flour mixture to the liquid mixture, and stir just until combined.
6. Transfer to the prepared mini-loaf pans. Sprinkle crumb topping (optional).
7. Bake 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean. (If you’re using regular size loaf pans, bake an additional 20 minutes.)
8. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Yield: 4 mini loaves or 2 regular size loaves

Source: Adapted from All Recipes

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Giada's Orzo Salad

Although I’ve already discovered my favorite orzo salad , this is definitely a keeper (and more cost effective). This works well at outdoor gatherings, as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and not mayo-based. This salad has a great texture from the beans and chopped red onions. A combination of superb and refreshing flavors, it can be made as a meal alone. We paired it with Giada’s Grilled Chicken with Basil Dressing, but any grilled chicken would work well with this salad. I was a little nervous about putting I fresh mint in this recipe, but it added a depth of flavor; however, if you don’t have use, I wouldn’t sweat it- Just substitute it with additional fresh basil. We added crumbled feta cheese, but this dish certainly doesn’t need it.

Giada's Orzo Salad
4 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 cups orzo pasta
15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1-1/2 cups red and yellow teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup Red Wine Vinaigrette, recipe follows (I use closer to 1-1.25 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Pour the broth into a heavy large saucepan. Cover the pan and bring the broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is tender but still firm to the bite, stirring frequently, about 7--9 minutes.
2. Drain the orzo through a strainer. Transfer the orzo to a large wide bowl and toss until the orzo cools slightly. Set aside to cool completely.
3. Toss the orzo with the beans, tomatoes, onion, basil, mint, and enough vinaigrette to coat.
4. Season the salad, to taste, with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp honey
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender.
2. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil.
3. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with more salt and pepper, if desired.

Yield: 1-3/4 cups

Source: Giada’s Family Dinners

Giada's Grilled Chicken with Basil Dressing

Another delicious, easy, and healthy dish from Giada. I’m always on the hunt for new and refreshing marinades for chicken- especially since this is prime time to grill out. As usual, I whipped out the marinade in the morning before work and allowed the chicken to marinate all day. I like to remove the marinated meat from the fridge to let it sit at room temperature for ~30 minutes while the grill heats up. The Basil Dressing is refreshingly delicious, so don’t skip that part of the recipe. The color of the dressing is a beautiful green that not only looks great drizzled over the grilled chicken, but tastes impressive and fresh. Since it was only the 2 of us, I halved the entire recipe (though the full recipe is listed below). I paired this with Giada’s Orzo Salad, which made it a complete meal.

Giada's Grilled Chicken with Basil Dressing
For the Marinade
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 tsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed (I used dried oregano)
¾ tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, butterfiled(roughly 2 pounds)

For the Basil Dressing
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp grated lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Dash of red pepper flakes
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. For the Marinade: Whisk oil, lemon juice, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper in a heavy-duty re-sealable plastic bag. Add the chicken and seal the bag. Massage the marinade into the chicken. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day, turning the chicken occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, make the Basil Dressing: Blend the basil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. Gradually blend in the oil. Season the basil sauce, to taste, with more salt and pepper, if desired.
3. Prepare the barbecue for medium-high heat or preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the chicken until just cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to plates. Drizzle the basil sauce over and serve.

Source: Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cowboy Spaghetti

Truth be told, I was very skeptical about this spaghetti. However, I couldn’t push this recipe to the side knowing there were hundreds of reviewers giving it 5 stars. I told myself- what’s the worst that could happen? It’s inedible, and we can pay a visit to our local pizza haunt. Besides, I started this blog to not only document and organize successful recipes, but to also push myself to try new foods. So what did I think of it? It was quite tasty, and I loved how easy it was- definitely something we can whip up easily on a weeknight (though I wouldn’t serve this to guests). The bacon added a great smoky flavor to the tomato sauce, and I loved the toppings of shredded cheese, chopped green onions, and cooked bacon bits. Some reviewers mentioned it tasted a little bland, so since we both enjoy robust flavors, I did add more hot sauce, tomato sauce, and Worcestershire sauce until our desired tastes. The sauce isn’t heavy, but adds a great flavor.

Cowboy Spaghetti
3/4 pound spaghetti
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
5 slices smoky bacon, chopped
1 pound ground sirloin
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
Ground black pepper and salt
2 tsp hot sauce, eyeball it (I added more to taste)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, eyeball it (I added more to taste)
1/2 cup beer
14-oz can, chopped or crushed fire roasted tomatoes
8-oz can tomato sauce (I added more to taste)
8 oz sharp Cheddar, shredded
4 scallions, chopped

1. Heat a pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and salt the water. Cook to al dente or with a bite to it.
2. Heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil and bacon. Brown and crisp bacon, 5 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon. Drain off a little excess fat if necessary. Leave just enough to coat the bottom of the skillet.
3. Add beef and crumble it as it browns, 3-4 minutes.
4. Add onions, garlic and stir into meat.
5. Season the meat with salt and pepper, hot sauce and Worcestershire.
6. Add 1/2 cup beer and deglaze the pan. Cook 5-6 minutes more then stir in tomatoes and tomato sauce.
7. Add hot spaghetti to meat and sauce and combine.
8. Adjust seasonings and serve up pasta in shallow bowls.
9. Grate some cheese over the pasta and sprinkle with scallions. Garnish with crisp bacon.

Source: Adapted from Rachael Ray

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Copycat of Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits: Garlic Cheese Biscuits

There are many copycat recipes out there for Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Believe me, I’ve tried a good handful of them, but none of them have compared to the original one… until now.

The first time my DB and I made this, we were so blown away on how DELICIOUS and TRUE TO THE ORIGINAL these biscuits were. And who knew- the ingredients are minimal and prep work is easy. I know I’ve used all the ingredients below in the various variations I’ve attempted previously, but seriously- it’s only 7 ingredients, and most of what you already have on hand. The biscuits are also incredibly light and fluffy. We made this twice in 1 week, which is a rarity since there are so many recipes I’ve bookmarked to try. I’ve even been told that Tastefully Simple’s Perfect Parmesan Mix is the closest to RL’s biscuits, but both my DB and I were disappointed since we felt this recipe was far superior. And just as easy. You need to add this into your menu rotation NOW.

9/23/11 Updated note: This recipe makes the perfect amount of garlic butter for 6 biscuits. Any more biscuits, it didn't have the "right amount". Trust me on this.

Garlic Cheese Biscuits
  • 1-1/4 cups biscuit mix (I use regular Bisquick; It wasn’t as good with Heart-Healthy Bisquick)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup water

For the Garlic Butter
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp dried parsley flakes

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine the biscuit mix and cheese in a small bowl.
3. Add the water and stir just until combined. The dough will be slightly moist.
4. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls (this scoop is perfect!) onto the prepared baking sheet. (Divide into 6 biscuits.)
5. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the biscuits are firm and beginning to brown.
6. While the biscuits are baking, make the garlic butter: In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic powder, salt, and parsley flakes. Mix well.
7. As soon as you bring the biscuits from the oven, brush them with half of the garlic butter using a pastry brush.
8. Place them back into the oven for an additional 2 minutes to finish obtaining a crispy golden color. Remove them from the oven and re-brush them with the remaining garlic butter. (You'll think you made too much garlic butter, but these biscuits just soak up the butter. We brush it once, and then re-brush it with more butter since the bread soaks it up so quickly.)

Yield: 6 biscuits

Source: Adapted from Paula Deen

Monday, August 23, 2010

The BEST Ever Spinach Dip

It is really difficult for me to pinpoint anything as THE BEST, so I’m always on the lookout for new or interesting recipes of classics, such as chocolate chip cookies, lasagna, buffalo chicken dip, etc. However, I look no further when it comes to spinach dip, because to me- I have found “the one”, and I find no reason to look for better or improved recipes.

While I like to think many dishes taste better homemade, this is THE best spinach dip I’ve ever had… and it comes from Knorr. The recipe comes from the back of the Vegetable Recipe seasoning mix, and it is super easy. Make sure to use real Hellmann’s mayo- not Miracle Whip and certainly not the fat-free or reduced fat kind… it altered the taste for me. I love it, and it always gets rave reviews anywhere I take it. You can use this to dip vegetables, or what I like to do is hollow out a pumpernickel loaf. (I hollow it out, cube the "insides" and bake the cubes and loaf in a 350 degrees oven for 5-7 minutes until crispy but not browned.)

Spinach Dip

10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
16-oz sour cream (I use fat-free or reduced-fat)
1 cup Hellmann’s mayo (Use regular, not reduced-fat or fat-free)
1 package Knorr Vegetable Recipe mix
8-oz can water chestnuts, drained and chopped (optional) (… but totally recommend it as it gives it a nice crunch)
3 green onions, chopped (I trim the ends and cup up to 2/3 of the green part)
Dippers- Club Crackers, Pumpernickel loaf, Vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes)

1. Combine all ingredients and chill for several hours.
2. Serve with your favorite dippers.

Source: Knorr

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Wow- these were incredibly good, light, and healthy. It tastes like you're using pork sausage, but the wonderful mixture of fresh herbs with the lean turkey sausage makes you forget how healthy this dish is. You could even add more zucchini, as we had ~1.5 cups of meat mixture leftover (which I've edited below). This was a great way to use zucchini from our garden, as well as the fresh herbs from our herb garden.

Stuffed Zucchini Boats
5 zucchini, 6-7" long
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
½ cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup mushrooms, chopped (I subbed this with additional zucchini "insides")
1 lb. turkey sausage or ground turkey (I used turkey sausage)
2 Tbsp dry white wine
2-3 tomatoes, seeded and diced (I used 14.5-oz can petite cut tomatoes, drained)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ tsp salt (Omit if using turkey sausage)
½ tsp pepper

1. Cut zucchinis in half lengthwise. Scoop out insides, leaving a shell about ¼-inch thick. Reserve about 1/3 of the insides, and chop them into bite-sized pieces.
2. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Sauté the onion and garlic until tender, about 4-5 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and reserved zucchini insides to the skillet and sauté another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
4. Heat the remaining Tbsp of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble in the sausage or ground turkey and cook until lightly browned on all sides, stirring occasionally.
5. Stir in the cooked onion and mushroom mixture.
6. Add the wine to the pan along with the tomatoes, basil and rosemary. Cook for 1 more minute. Drain of any excess fat, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
7. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
8. Once the turkey mixture has cooled a bit, mix in the Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper.
9. Fill the zucchini shells with the mixture.
10. Fill a baking dish with ¼-inch of water. Place the filled zucchini shells in the pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the zucchini from the pan and serve immediately.

Source: Originally on Simply Recipes, adapted from Annie's Eats

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

This cookie combines a triple delight- Peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chip cookies- in 1. The texture of the cookie resembled a peanut butter cookie- the edges were slightly crackled and had a light, buttery texture- and each bite had the delicious goodness of chocolate chip and oatmeal. The cookies were chewy and moist, yet light and airy at the same time. A great mix for a yummy cookie!

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
½ cup rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
3. On medium speed, cream together the butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the egg and beat to combine.
5. On low speed, gradually add the flour until just combined.
6. Stir in the oats, and then the chocolate chips.
7. Use a large cookie scoop (3 Tbsp) and drop dough onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden. The cookies won't look done, but they'll continue to bake on the hot baking sheets out of the oven. If they are slightly brown, the edges look just set and they are puffy in the middle they are ready to come out!
8. Cool completely on the baking sheet and then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yields- 14-16 cookies

Source: Brown-Eyed Baker

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Spicy Asian-style Marinated Chicken Breasts

We’re always looking for new chicken recipes we can throw on the grill- especially if it’s a recipe that’s as easy as marinating. I had to go to the local international food market (Jungle Jim’s) to find the pasilla chili, but I’ve been told that some of the larger grocery stores may carry it in the ethnic aisle. I threw all the ingredients into the blender, and marinated the chicken breasts while I was at work. The flavors were smoky (from the cumin) and a bit of spice. Next time, I think I will decrease the amount of cumin in half (just my personal preference), and I am glad to have found an Asian-inspired chicken marinade. I halved this recipe since it’s only the 2 of us, and it was terrific. I paired this with some Sweet & Spicy Green Beans, which were fantastic!

Spicy Asian-style Marinated Chicken Breasts
For the Marinade
1 lemon, juiced
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin (Next time, I will halve this amount)
2 Tbsp honey
2 dried whole Pasilla Chili with seeds (This is a mild pepper used in Latin cooking)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp roasted red chili paste (any Asian brand) (I used Sriracha sauce)
Few drops of green habanero chili sauce (I used Tabasco’s green Jalapeno hot sauce)

2-3 lb chicken breasts, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Add all the marinade ingredients (except the chicken, salt and pepper) into a blender, and blend until you have created a nice smooth sauce.
2. Place chicken in a shallow dish, and season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the marinade and refrigerate the dish overnight.
4. Remove chicken from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling, allowing it to come to almost room temperature.
5. Heat your grill, and place your chicken on the grill and cook 4-5 minutes per side (this might take longer, depending on the thickness of your chicken breasts).
6. Remove from heat and let sit for about 3-5 minutes before serving to allow the juices to distribute.

Source: She Cooks and Bakes

Sweet and Spicy Green Beans

This was definitely more spicy than sweet- but still all together fantastic. I wanted to pair some green beans with my Asian-style chicken, and this definitely foot the bill. It was spicy with a little bit of sweet, and we loved the soy-garlic-honey mixture. We both gobbled it up! If you’re worried about the spice level, I would halve the amount of garlic chili sauce.

Sweet and Spicy Green Beans
3/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp garlic chili sauce
1 tsp honey
2 tsp canola oil
Sesame seeds

1. In a glass, microwave-safe bowl, add your trimmed green beans and a few Tbsp of water. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the microwave for 5 minutes.
2. In a separate small bowl, mix the soy sauce, garlic, garlic chili sauce, and honey.
3. Heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the green beans, and fry for 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Pour in the soy sauce mixture. Continue cooking and stirring 2 minutes, or until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from All Recipes

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries

These little desserts are perfect for showers and parties- they look gorgeous and taste fabulous! They are also less time consuming than making chocolate-dipped berries, and I love the cheesecake filling. I made these for my boss’ baby shower and they went over very well- and with less than 30 minutes from start to finish, the prep work was a cinch for something that looks so elegant and tastes even better. I made homemade cheesecake filling, but I’ve heard others using Jello’s No Bake Cheesecake or Philadelphia Cream Cheese Ready-To-Eat Cheesecake filling with success. I would definitely recommend making this the day of- I made them the night before, and the strawberries “shrank” having been in the cold temps of the fridge overnight.

Cheesecake-Stuffed Strawberries
Cheesecake filling (recipe below)*
24 large, firm strawberries
Ziploc bags
“Dippers”- Chopped nuts (almond, pistachio, pecan, walnuts), Mini chocolate chips, Graham cracker crumbs, sprinkles
Melted chocolate (optional)- Semi-sweet, almond bark or candy melts**

Cheesecake filling
12-oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
¼-1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Combine and whip together the cream cheese, vanilla, and powdered sugar. (Skip this step if you’re using pre-made mix.)
2. Wash your strawberries and cut off the tops. Using a sharp paring knife, hollow out the inside of the strawberry without puncturing the bottom. I use the "white" insides as a measure and try to use that as my diameter to hollow out:

3. Fill a pastry bag (or Ziploc bag) with the cheesecake filling, and gently fill each strawberry until the filling is slightly overstuffed.
4. Dip the cheesecake end of the strawberry into your favorite “dipper”, completely covering the cheesecake.
5. Heat your chocolate slowly and carefully, until the chocolate is melted thoroughly. (If you plan to drizzle the berries with chocolate, make sure the berries are spaced out enough- not too close to each other- so you have enough room to fully drizzle the entire berry. If they’re too close, the chocolate drizzle doesn’t get to the sides of the berry, resulting in a chocolate drizzle on the tops of the berry only, and not the sides.)
6. Spoon the melted chocolate into a Ziploc bag, cut off a VERY small tip, and squeeze the chocolate over the strawberries.

* Can use Jello’s No Bake Cheesecake or Phildelphia Cream Cheese Ready-To-Eat Cheesecake filling
** If you want to use white chocolate, I would highly recommend using Wilton’s candy melts or almond bark. Melting and working with white chocolate was a struggle! If you use chocolate, adding a little shortening helped make it a smooth consistency.

Source: Adapted from The Novice Chef

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bacon, Egg, and Toast Cups

These were so fun and easy to make! I wanted to make an easy breakfast for my DB and the entire process took less than 30 minutes- and that includes 15 minutes of baking time. This idea is a nice twist from your usual breakfast items, and it’s all in one little cute breakfast cup which is also portable! I personally don’t like runny yolks, so I increased my baking time an extra 5 minutes. The yolks were a little runny, but mostly cooked all the way through.

Bacon, Egg, and Toast Cups
Cooking spray
6 slices of bacon
6 slices of bread (I used whole wheat)
Shredded cheese, 6 Tbsp
6 eggs
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Grease 6 wells of a muffin pan with cooking spray.
3. In a frying pan, cook bacon on medium high about 3-5 minutes, until partially cooked but not completely crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
4. Cut out rounds of bread (I used a 3.5-inch round cookie cutter, but a drinking glass would be fine.) Press the bread rounds into the greased muffin wells.
5. Curl a piece of bacon around the periphery of each piece of bread, positioning it between the bread and the muffin tin to help keep it in position.
6. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp of shredded cheese in the center of each piece of bread.
7. One at a time, crack an egg, removing about half of the white, and dropping the remaining white and yolk over each piece of bread, being careful not to break the yolks. Season with salt & pepper.
8. Once all the bread pieces have been topped with eggs, bake until eggs are cooked through to your liking (about 6-10 minutes) and bacon is crispy. (I baked it for 15 minutes.)
9. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin well and pop the egg cups out. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 muffin cups

Source: Originally from the Noshery, As seen on Christine's Kitchen Chronicles and Annie's Eats
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