December 31, 2011

Christmas Treats and Feast Part 2

The cooking began first thing Christmas morning.  We had some time to get brunch prepared and ready while the rest of the gang opened presents at their own house, then drive over to us.   As I walked down the stairs, I felt all giddy like a child. I knew what would be waiting for us.  On Christmas Eve, I helped my father-in-law put together a really cool train table.  It has lots of moving parts to lead to hours of fun playtime!

I always look forward to seeing the stockings overflowing with goodies so much that they can no longer hang so they are placed on the floor by the fireplace. And I absolutely love when there are big toys put together by Santa ready for you to play with!  One of the greatest Christmas memories from my childhood was walking out to the family room to tear into presents before the sun was even up, still rubbing my eyes to wake up and to my surprise a brand new bike from Santa waiting for me by the tree.  Talk about excitement and a Christmas gift I'll never forget!

My mother-in-law and I made a simple and delicious brunch that would hold us over until dinner.  She made a very nice spread that included a fruit salad, homemade sticky buns and hashbrown casserole.  I whipped up a breakfast sausage casserole for the first time and it turned out fantastic!  Everything was very delicious and went well with our traditional mimosas!  We dug right in once the rest of the clan arrived.
The baby of the family kept us all entertained throughout the day.  She oo'd and ah'd at opening presents and giggled loudly while she played with new toys.  I think each of us took a turn on the floor with her while she showed us new things.

Christmas dinner was a delight as usual.  This year we each made a few new things to change it up a bit from the normal menu.   A big change that led to some intense discussion was a spiral cut ham instead of turkey.  (Certain people that I won't mention are very critical of ham as they don't care for the texture or possibility of fatty parts.) I welcomed the change to ham this year as I am not a huge fan of turkey anyway.   We also switched out some of the other standard fare such as fancy baked mashed potatoes instead of regular mashed potatoes and we added a new item, Roasted Brussel Sprouts.  Both dishes were full of flavor in my opinion.  It's always nice to discover new dishes to throw into the mix of things.

Our Christmas feast consisted of:
Spiral Cut Ham
Corn Casserole
Fancy Baked Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze
Ciabatta Stuffing
Homemade Yeast Rolls

Cheers to a Happy New Year and I look forward to discovering and sharing new culinary treats in the coming year!

December 30, 2011

Christmas Treats and a Feast Part 1

Another Christmas has come and gone.  Is it just me or did it fly by too quickly? I feel like it was a whirlwind of craziness and was over before I realized it.   I baked all kinds of goodies and forgot to take pictures to share with you.  I made candies with a friend that had pretzels with a rolo candy baked until soft, then you press an M & M or pecan on top.  Once it sets it's a delicious salty candy. 

I also made a Peppermint White Chocolate Cheesecake for a friend.  She had mentioned how much she would love to try it.   So out of the goodness of my heart, I made one and it turned out beautifully and surprised her with it.  She was so excited and it made me feel good!   I took a quick picture with my phone before running out the door.

My husband and I traveled to Seattle to visit his family for Christmas.  We always enjoy our short time with them.  We only make it out to the west coast to visit twice a year at most but normally only once for Christmas.  Our very chatty and charming niece who is over a year and a half was very entertaining and filled us with joy.  She tugged at our hearts and provided much cuteness the entire time. I chased her around with the camera of course.  Here is a sampling of pictures I was able to capture of the adorable little child.

My sister-in-law and her husband hosted a scrumptious Christmas Eve dinner.  The delicious 3 course meal started with grilled romaine, ceasar dressing and homemade croutons.  The char on the greens provided a subtle and welcome hint of smoky flavor. I really enjoyed it! The main dish presented was a homemade pasta topped with meaty yet light bolognese sauce.  Dessert was a decadent rich chocolate tart loaded with nuts. 

Stayed tuned for Christmas Treats and a Feast Part 2! I'll share photos of the tasty spread for Christmas brunch and dinner.

December 12, 2011

Quick Corn Chowder

It's that dreaded time of year again.  The season of sickness is here. My husband has been whining.. er sick for almost a week now.  I've done all I can to take care of him and shadow his every germ-ridden move to sterilize anything he touches.  It may seem ridiculous but so worth it to me.  There is no time for me to be sick and rundown.  There's this little thing called Christmas around the corner and we're flying to Seattle.  My Christmas wish is to NOT get sick.  Help me Santa!

I finally broke down and decided to make homemade soup to try and cure his sickness but kept it simple with what I had on hand and improvised where I needed.  After many minutes of staring in the pantry and fridge and creating recipes in my head, I had an idea and started pulling ingredients together to whip up my own version of Corn Chowder. 

I didn't have bacon or onions on hand which definitely gives this soup a lot of delicious flavor.  I was a little hesitant that the end result would be stellar because of the lack of 2 essentials that I'm use to.  However, in my favor, his tastes buds were out of whack so I knew he wouldn't be able to taste the difference.  Although it would bother me just knowing it didn't taste right. 

To replace the bacon, I used a bit of this amazing concoction called Bacon Jam we received as a gift made by Skillet Street Food.  Get some!  It definitely gave the chowder it's expected and necessary smokey flavor.  We were quite pleased with the soup over all.  This spread is yummy on toast.  (** I've used it to make BLT Crostinis which are perfect for brunch or an appetizer.  Toasted French Bread rounds, a dollop of the bacon jam, a small leaf of lettuce, half a cherry tomato and sprinkle of salt) 

If you have bacon I'd use at least 3 strips of cooked bacon crumbled up.  Use more if you fancy the bacon!  I liked the small kick of heat from the red pepper flakes and it helped clear his sinuses too.   Feel free to use more or less depending on your heat tolerance.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1-16oz bag frozen corn
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp bacon jam (or at least 3 bacon strips crumbled)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
4 c chicken broth
1 c. water
1/2 c heavy whipped cream

In a large pot, over medium-high heat melt the butter then add in the corn.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until corn begins to defrost.  Add the thyme, bacon, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt.  Saute for about 1 minute or until you start to smell the garlic.   Stir in the broth and water, then bring to a boil.  Then lower heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Taste and season with more salt and red pepper flakes as needed.   Stir in cream and warm through for about 3-5 minutes.   If you have a hand blender, I highly recommend you use it to thicken the soup.  Otherwise you can use a Cuisinart and just add about 2 cups of the soup and blend.  Stir back into the pot with the remaining soup.  Serves about 5 healthy portions. 

November 6, 2011

Quick Butter Chicken

Sorry for leaving you hanging the last couple of months.  It my favorite time of year again.  I've been in the kitchen making some tasty things to share just in time for the cooler weather.  
For recipes like this, you normally want to follow the ‘low and slow’ rule in a Dutch oven or crockpot to allow the ingredients to marry together to create a delicious flavor. However, for those of us that work long hours, that particular cooking method isn’t an option on most weeknights if we want to eat at a decent hour.   I’ve always taken my time with this recipe but one night I was craving the buttery, creamy goodness of this dish and decided to try a quick method to see how it worked out.  I think I got it down to around 30 minutes for those of you who like quick and easy.
I like to use the boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they cook faster.  I’ve seen other recipes that marinate the meat over night with various spices.  I didn’t plan ahead so this is my quick version and I think it turned out pretty tasty.   I do suggest that when and if you have the time, that you cook this dish lower and slower.   It’s almost that time of year anyway for big pots of delicious comfort food.  Get the crockpot out and make the house smell all tasty while it cooks throughout the day.
When I cook delicious food such as this, it reminds me of back in the day before I knew what I was doing in the kitchen.  I threw a lot of nonsense together and most of it really should not have been consumed.  We all have flops and I understand that now that I cook tons more than back then.  I realize now that it’s okay to not eat every dish you make.  Duds are expected here and there.  I remember making a so-called “Chicken Alfredo” one evening using cream of mushroom soup as my sauce, maybe some flour and who knows what else and served it to my boyfriend (now husband).  I knew it tasted bland and horrible.  Wow, that “white sauce” was a big no-no!  That was also back when the only seasonings I was willing to use or eat were salt, pepper and garlic powder. I think he forced it down so my feelings wouldn’t be hurt.  It’s so sweet how guys do that when you’re dating.  Then when you get married they are honest and let you know when something sucks.  I’m not sure which I dislike most to tell you the truth. 
Cheers to expanding my horizons and learning to share delicious recipes such as this!

2lbs Chicken Thighs, Boneless, Skinless
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, (*I like to use basil, garlic, oregano seasoned)
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp salt
½ c heavy whipping cream
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  In the meantime, season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.  Add 2 tbsp butter and olive oil to skillet and when melted, add chicken.  Brown the chicken on both sides 5-7 minutes.  Remove chicken from pan and add the onion.
Sauté the onions until they start to become translucent, about 8-10 minutes.   Then add the remaining 2 tbsp butter, garlic, tomatoes, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in cream.   Cover and simmer on low for 10-12 minutes.   Take a taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.   Serve over steamed brown or basmati rice.

August 20, 2011

Bourbon Ribs & Creamed Corn

It's been really hot so we haven't been grilling out as much as we like.  Plus my husband and I have both been super busy and working late at work the last few weeks.  (I can't wait to get a fancy stove one day that has a grill top on one side.  I think it would be used a lot.)  I decided to bear the heat and make some delicious ribs.  And I decided homemade creamed corn would be a great side.  It was my first time to make homemade creamed corn and I feel it turned out just like I had hoped.   I added bacon because it makes everything taste better and my husband loves bacon.  That's just how amazing I am as a wife. 

Everytime I think of ribs, it reminds me of our good friend, Zeus, who left us for the sunny state of California a few years ago. His rib recipe is amazing!  I think he uses Jack Daniel's or some other tasty whiskey.  It's the type of recipe that you crave.  I know it's easy but some things just taste better when someone else makes it.   When he's in town, we all plan a get together at someone's house just so we have an excuse to ask him to make his ribs.  My recipe isn't the same but it's a good alternative until he comes to visit again.  

Bourbon Ribs
1 rack of baby back pork ribs
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c bourbon
1/2 c BBQ sauce (to brush them with before you throw them on the grill)

Rinse the rack of ribs and pat dry with paper towels.  Lay out a big sheet of aluminum foil and place the ribs on it.  Rub down both sides of your rack with the salt and pepper.  Then pour the olive oil over the top and then the bourbon.  Rub everything in on both sides.  Lay the meaty side down and wrap them up carefully in the aluminum foil.  Adding more foil as needed to cover completely.  Place wrapped ribs on a cookie sheet and put in the fridge. (I like to use the cookie sheet just in case the juices drip out.) Let them sit over night.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 275 degrees F.  Place ribs and cookie sheet in oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until you can pull a piece of the tender meat off with a fork easily.  When cooked to desired tenderness, remove from oven.  If you like a charred or crispy finish, heat up the grill.   Brush both sides with your favorite BBQ sauce.  Place rack of ribs directly on the grill.  Cook until a nice grilled finished on both sides.  About 3-5 minutes per side.

Creamed Corn with Bacon
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tbsp butter
4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed
1/4 c water
1/2 c heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
freshly ground nutmeg (approx. 10-15 strokes over the microplane)

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the butter and shallots and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the corn niblets and water and bring to a boil.  Then turn down heat, cover and cook about 10 minutes until corn is tender.   Then add heavy cream, 1/2 of the crumbled bacon, salt and pepper to taste.   Then grind the nutmeg straight into the skillet.   Stir and cook until warmed through.   Sprinkle the remaining crumbled bacon on top just before serving.  Serves 4-6.

August 11, 2011

Alfredo Pasta Bake

Pasta.  It is such a versatile ingredient.  You can make so many simple dishes.  This is why I love it.   You can simply add a little olive oil, your favorite fresh herb, salt and pepper for a super light no-sauce spaghetti.  When I’m in a hurry I like to melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and let it brown just a little until I smell that nuttiness.  Then I stir in a splash or two of balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper and taste.  That’s what I call a BBB Sauce. (Brown Butter Balsamic sauce) 
Just because you’re on a diet or trying to eat healthier, doesn’t mean you can’t have pasta every now and then, especially if you use the whole-wheat version.   We’re all human so we crave these delicious carbs.  It’s okay.   You should give in and enjoy.   It’s also a great way to get kids to eat their veggies.  Mix veggies in with pasta together with a light sauce and it will all taste good to them.   The tasty sauce will coat the veggies adding flavor.
I made this dish when we had a friend over to watch a TV show one night.   I wanted something creamy but not too heavy.   I’m all about cream sauces of any kind.  I love alfredo sauce but it’s always so rich and filling.    So I tried not to make so much of it to mix with our pasta and veggies.   You don’t want the pasta to be swimming in sauce but you also don’t want it to be dry.   I love how this turned out.   A small portion of this gave me the fix I needed for the creaminess I was craving. 
Alfredo Pasta Bake
1lb penne (or other fun pasta shape such as bowties)
2 c frozen peas
3-4 slices cooked bacon, diced or crumbled into bite-size pieces
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
¼ c heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded (plus 4 tbsp for top)
salt & pepper to taste
fresh grated nutmeg (optional but adds a nice flavor – just run the seed over a micro plane about 4-5 times.  You don’t need much just the hint.)

Cook the pasta according to directions on package.   Drain pasta, reserving ¼ c of the water to set aside.  Then stir pasta in a large bowl with the peas (this helps defrost the peas).   Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.   Prepare a 3- quart casserole dish with butter or spray with cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in the flour and let it soak up all the butter until it’s like a paste.   Then whisk in the whipping cream until there are not clumps.    Whisk in the parmesan cheese until melted. Whisk occasionally while it cooks and thickens.  Don’t let it boil.   Season with salt and pepper to taste and the nutmeg if you choose.    Once it’s warmed through and thickened up just a bit, pour the sauce in the large bowl over the pasta and peas.  Stir in half the bacon.   If it gets too thick or glue-like, pour in some of the reserved pasta water to help thin it out.  It should be creamy.  Pour the pasta mix into the prepared casserole dish.  Sprinkle the remaining bacon pieces over the top and the remaining parmesan cheese.   Bake about 25 minutes.  Serve with your favorite salad.  Serves 6-8 generous portions.

August 9, 2011

Strawberry Scones

I don’t know about you but I love when strawberries are in season!  It’s even better that they are on sale most of the time.  Double bonus!! I buy several packages at a time of these fresh ruby red gems and then come up with tasty ways to use them in recipes.  As I hull and clean them, I can’t deny that I steal a few nibbles for myself.  There’s nothing like biting into a ripe and juicy strawberry.  This fruit definitely says summer to me and it is officially here in Texas!

For a quick treat, hull and clean your preferred amount of strawberries.  Fill a piping bag with homemade or store-bought no bake cheesecake filling.  Pipe the filling into the middle of the strawberries and you have Strawberry Cheesecake Bites.  Enjoy as many as you want for breakfast or a snack!

I decided to make scones one evening to take to work the next day for breakfast.  I thought it would start everyone’s Friday off right.  I’ve made scones in the past but these have been the best by far in my humble opinion.  Each one was fluffy and perfectly golden just the way a scone should be.  It helps that it has a lot of butter.  Please disregard that last little fact and enjoy them.  You deserve it!

Strawberry Scones
1 c hulled and finely diced fresh strawberries
4 c flour
¼ c sugar, plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
¾ c (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cold heavy cream
1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp water or milk, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper, set aside.

Place diced strawberries on several sheets of paper towels to absorb their juice.  Meanwhile, mix 4 cups of flour, ¼ cup sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.   Using your fingers or a fork, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the flour-coated pieces are about the size of peas. 

Add the strawberries, tossing them gently to coat them.   Make a well in the mixture.   Stir the eggs, heavy cream and vanilla in a measuring cup until the eggs are lightly beaten.    Add the wet mixture to the well of the dry mixture.  With as few strokes as possible, gently stir the dough until just blended.  You should still see lumps of butter in the dough. 

Flour your hands and turn dough onto a lightly floured counter or a large cutting board.   Roll out the dough to a 3/4-inch thick rectangle.   Cut with a sharp knife into squares.  Then cut the squares in half diagonally to make triangles. (Or whatever shape you desire) 

Carefully place scones on the lined baking sheets about 2-3 inches apart.  Brush the tops with egg wash.  Sprinkle with sugar and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes about 16 large scones.  **They are best served warm.  If cold, zap them in the microwave about 15 seconds. 

June 9, 2011

Courageous Contributor

I am now a contributor for Southlake Moms which is a local website that provides information and entertainment for local moms.  I provide recipes and pictures for easy dishes that busy moms can whip up for their family.  The launch of their new site design was Friday, June 3rd.    Please show your support and comment, like or share the articles you enjoy.   The other contributors provide a lot of great stuff too so check out the other sections on the site too!  Check out the Food & Drink section to see articles from me.

Bookmark the site and visit often!   I'll provide posts here and on facebook when new articles are published.   Thanks for all of your support and encouragement!

June 3, 2011

Ladies & Babies Sunday Brunch

As we get older, it gets more and more difficult to make time to get together with friends.  Too many hurdles get in the way such as work and babies.   I was very happy that my very adorably pregnant friend, Lesley scheduled a brunch at her house.  I always look forward to time with my girls.  It's a rare luxury these days but it makes that time more special when we do get together. 

There was a nice spread of bagels, cream cheese, proscuitto, salami, smoked gouda, fruit, lemonade and other homemade goodies. In an effort to be healthy, I made a crustless spinach quiche.   I realized this is the first time we haven't had alcohol on the menu.  I'm amazed that I didn't bring or ask where the sangria or the champagne was.  Is something wrong with me?  Did I have an actual classy adult moment?  Oh well.  Once in a while won't hurt.  However,  I don't think the alcohol was missed much because we were entertained by the long lost girl talk and the babies chewing on our necklaces when they weren't crawling around our feet.   Overall, it was a great afternoon with the ladies and babies.

Crustless Spinach Quiche

1 pkg frozen spinach, thawed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried minced onion flakes
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 eggs or 3 individual egg beaters containers
1 1/2 c + 2 tbsp mozzarella, shredded
1/4 c. feta cheese, crumbled

Heat oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Saute spinach, garlic, onion flakes, red pepper flakes until heated through, about 5-7 minutes.   Add salt and pepper.  Taste and add more seasoning to your liking.   Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray.

Stir together eggs, 1 1/2 c mozzarella, feta in a medium bowl.  Stir in the spinach mixture.  Pour into the prepared pie plate.  Sprinkle with remaining 2 tbsp mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.    Great for breakfast or a healthy dinner.

May 19, 2011

Update on the Fly

I've been very busy my friends.  That dang thing called life has had me in a bear hug for over a month.  I've slowly gotten away and have made the time to cook up tasty treats to share with you.  I promise I'm working on providing you new delicious photos and easy recipes soon.   I also have something exciting coming up in a couple of weeks.  I'll share more details when it's time. Stay tuned! 

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you.  Let me know what you are cooking or what you'd love to see me make.

Email me

April 9, 2011

Tasty Saturday

Happy weekend!  Today, my sneaky husband wanted to surprise me for lunch and drove us to a place nearby we've been wanting to try out for a while.   We've both read and heard great reviews and wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.   Let me tell you that this place is a MUST if you're in the Plano, TX area.  I wanted to provide our feedback and photos.  Don't judge by the amount of food we consumed.  It was for you my friends.  All for you!  

Their method of cooking is low and slow and they use fresh ingredients which you can definitely taste.   Daily specials offer items not featured on the everyday menu along with a fresh new pie flavor everyday.  Since it was a beautiful day, we sat on the comfortable patio which they refer to as "the porch".  Very fitting.   The only hindrance on the perfection of the patio was the busy tollway about 50 yards or so away. 

Everyone, this is Whiskey Cake.   Whiskey Cake, meet everyone!  I'm sure you both will get along just great. 

Beverages and Beginnings. . .
For our drink of choice, I had the tasty whiskey sour and Chris had the mint julep.   Both were very refreshing and gave just the right amount of kick.  For an appetizer, we ordered the fried green tomatoes with a flavorful but light remoulade dipping sauce.   The tomatoes were so fresh and perfect!  They had the right amount of tanginess.
Whiskey Sour
Fried Green Tomatoes w/Remoulade Dipping Sauce

Munching and Lunching. . .
It was a tough decision to make for me.  Not that there were too many choices but everything sounded so good.  I wanted to order one of each item on the menu.  Thanks to the daily specials I was able to make up my mind on a brunch item.  (Note to self:  Must schedule brunch here with girlfriends ASAP.)   I chose the Pulled Pork Benedict.  This dish is layered with tender pulled pork, perfectly poached egg, fresh micro greens drizzled with a light green chili hollandaise sauce all over a freshly homemade biscuit split in half.   I took my time with this and savored each bite.  I absolutely loved it!  I see a re-creation of this dish at home in my near future. 

Chris has been on a Bahn Mi kick lately.  He's on a mission to discover a perfect version of this Asian sandwich in our area. As soon as he saw the BBQ Bahn Mi on the menu, he zoned in and made his mind up quickly.  He said the bread was perfect. It looked amazing!  They served this on craft paper with a couple of thickly sliced homemade pickles.  The pickles were crunchy and had a hint of spice but so delicious.
Pulled Pork Benedict

BBQ Bahn Mi
Happy Endings. . .
Now we're down to the dessert and happy ending to our amazing meal.  I didn't want this experience to end.  The dessert options were minimal which is good.  I don't like having too many to choose from.  We were torn between the infamous whiskey cake or the pie of the day.  When the waitress mentioned that the coconut cream pie was made this morning, I was in.  Chris isn't a fan of coconut so he said he may have a bite or two.   Puh-lease!  He took one bite and didn't stop there.  That says a lot!  The custard didn't have that artificial flavor you taste in most.   They drizzled honey or amaretto over the top that added a nice sweet touch.  (That is still out for debate. We were too busy stuffing our faces to ask the waitress to confirm and settle the argument.)  Needless to say, we didn't have a problem devouring this gem of a dessert.   Hungry?   You're welcome.

Coconut Cream Pie

March 29, 2011

Meatball Pasta Bake

I love to cook and bake.  But I still always look for motivation to get me in the kitchen.   Especially after a long day or even long week at work.  I definitely need to be in that certain mood to make a blog-worthy dinner happen sometimes.   Cooking can be time-consuming and then turn into a chore if you don't have fun or make new recipes regularly.   However,  if I have company over for a small party or just to watch trashy tv shows that definitely helps to get me super excited to whip up something for dinner.   Whether it be a new dish I've wanted to try or a trusty standby that I'm dying to share, you can count on me to put all my effort into it.   This is a perfect dish if you have guests or if you want lunch and dinner for an extra day or two.  

If you make your own pasta sauce, you know it tastes so much better the longer it cooks or has time to mingle with all the ingredients.  If you have the time to prep this a day in advance, it tastes much much better.   If not, don't let that discourage you from trying this recipe out.  It's still tasty either way!   

Meatball Pasta Bake
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 lb pancetta or bacon, chopped
2 - 14oz cans tomatoes, diced (Italian Style) with the liquid
1 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning
1/4 c parsley, chopped
1 lb tube pasta such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1 c ricotta
1/3 c parmesan cheese, grated, plus 1/4 c for the top

1 thick slice Italian type bread, crusts removed
1/4 c milk
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 parmesan cheese, grated
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

Make the meatballs first, soak the bread in the milk until the milk has been absorbed.  Squeeze the bread dry and crumble into a bowl, together with the sausage, garlic, egg, parmesan and parsley.  Mix well and season with salt and pepper.  Roll into small balls with wet hands.  Heat a oil to a large frying pan over high heat.  Add the meatballs and brown them on all sides, shaking the pan regularly so they brown evenly.  Remove meatballs from pan and set them aside. They won't be completely cooked but that is okay as they will simmer with the sauce and finish cooking.

Combine the oil, garlic and pancetta into the same frying pan and cook over medium-high heat until pancetta or bacon browns, about 5-7 minutes.  Add tomatoes, oregano and parsley.  Bring to a boil, then add meatballs to sauce and simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.   Taste test the sauce.  Add salt and pepper as needed.

At this point you can store the sauce in a sealed container in the fridge overnight until you need.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Cook the pasta per the directions on the package.  Drain, reserving a 1/4 c of the cooking liquid.  Combine the pasta in a large bowl with the tomato sauce and meatballs, mozzarella, ricotta and 1/4 c of the parmesan.  Add enough of the cooking liquid to moisten everything.

Transfer to a large greased baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden and cheeses are bubbly.  Serves 6-8.

March 20, 2011

Beef Asparagus Stir Fry

Beef Asparagus Stir-Fry
I had some asparagus left over from my tart in a previous post about "Green Grub".    I decided to make a stir-fry for a weeknight dinner.  I was exhausted and ready for the stressful week to end.  I needed something simple and quick.  This dish hit the spot!  So tasty!   I have a soft spot in my heart for any Asian dishes such as stir-fry, noodle bowls, fried rice, etc.  

Asian food may scare a few people away from cooking at home due to the lack of knowledge of any good recipes or they don't like the food at all due to exaggerated stories they've heard about what it's actually made of.  (It's kind of like people that don't want to try sushi because they don't like raw fish.  Obviously assuming sushi is raw fish.  Believe me, I'm not a huge fan of raw fish and the sushi I always get actually contains cooked fish or crab.  Now sashimi is the raw fish so if you don't prefer it, just don't order it.  But there are various types of sushi that I'm sure you'd enjoy.)

I apologize for losing track there.  I just had to clarify for you if you weren't aware.   Moving on. 

If you learn to adapt the recipes to using ingredients you know you enjoy, it's very simple and the dishes are very versatile allowing substitutions to personalize the dish to your tastebuds.  

Beef Asparagus Stir-Fry
1 lb beef sirloin, cut in 1-inch strips
1/2 c teriyaki sauce
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp chili oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 lb asparagus spears, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 c cooked white or brown rice

In a medium bowl, whisk the teriyaki sauce, red wine vinegar and chili oil and pepper.   Add the beef strips and stir to cover all the meat in the marinade.   Cover and put in fridge to marinate.

Heat 1 tbsp peanut oil and butter in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat.   Add onions and cook for about 5-7 minutes.   Add mushrooms and garlic and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until mushrooms start to brown.  Remove from pan to a bowl and set aside.  (you will add it back in to finish off with the rest of the items later)  

Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil to the pan.   Add steak strips and the marinade to the pan.  Cook until browned on all sides.  (3-5 minutes) *If you like spicy, you can add a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes at this point.  Add the asparagus and the cooked veggies to the pan.  Let it simmer all together for about 8 minutes.  Taste test for flavor and add salt and pepper as needed.   Serve over hot rice.  Enjoy!

March 19, 2011

Festive Treats

I think everyone at work is on a diet because of me.   I bring in treats for them to try new recipes or I just share goodies to celebrate a holiday or birthday.  They hate the temptation, then love when they finally give in.   These cookies were so freakin' easy and tasty!  I brought them in for St. Patrick's Day. I'm glad I left some at home to share with the hubby and have for snacking all weekend.   Try them out!  Be prepared my fellow co-workers... someone's birthday is next Tuesday.  I am whipping up a special treat to celebrate!

Festive St. Patty's Cookies
Shortbread Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
2 c white chocolate chips
green sugar crystals
crushed pistachios
green food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   In a large mixing bowl, add butter and powdered sugar.   Cream together until mixed.  Add vanilla.   Gradually add flour.  Mix well.

You can roll it out onto a lightly floured surface and cut in shapes or use cookie cutters. Or just simply shape a tablespoon of dough into logs or squares.  Leave about 2 inches between each cookie.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for about 9-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown.   Cool for 2 minutes on pan and then move cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

You can drizzle or spoon melted chocolate over cookies. Then sprinkle with toppings of your choice.   I spooned white chocolate and sprinkled green sugars or pistachios over mine.  I also colored the white chocolate with green food coloring on some.  Makes about 24 cookies.

March 17, 2011

Green Grub

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Hope you're enjoying green beer or green food today... or better yet, BOTH!  I celebrated early with a small luncheon at a friend's house over the weekend.  It's always nice to get with the girls.   We each made something green.  Everything was tasty and festive!   I made the appy's so I'm sharing my recipes below along with pics of the other dishes.  I feel the Spinach Ricotta Rolls were pretty to look at more than they were tasty.  They were good but very different flavor and texture than I expected.  Check out my additional notes on how to make it better.   My friend E also mentioned the filling could be a good sauce over bowtie pasta.  That would be a quick and tasty dinner.   Good idea E!

The menu consisted of:
Appetizer - Spinach Ricotta Rolls
                   Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart

Main - Spinach Salad
            Ham, Egg & Pea Casserole

Dessert - Key Lime Pie

Spinach Ricotta Rolls by Chrystal
Spinach Ricotta Rolls
1/2 c pistachios (measurement done with shells on)
6 Lasagna Noodles
olive oil
1 tbsp butter, unsalted
1 bundle of fresh spinach
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.   Lay each noodle flat on paper towel or aluminum foil to cool and dry.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add oil and butter.   When butter is melted, add spinach and saute for about 6-8 minutes or until wilted.  Add garlic and salt.  Cook for another 2 minutes.  Set aside to let cool.

Grind pistachios in a coffee bean grinder or food processor until finely chopped.  Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Using a blender or food processor, pulse the cooked spinach 2-4 times. In a large bowl, stir together the spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt.

With a rubber spatula, spread about 2 tablespoons of the spinach filling onto each noodle.  With a sharp knife, slice noodle in half lengthwise.  (it's easier to do this before rolling in my opinion) Gently roll up each noodle tightly.  Sprinkle about a teaspoon or so of the ground pistachios.  Repeat for each noodle.   From here you can eat as a cold appetizer or reheat in oven for about 5-7 minutes or 15 sec in microwave and enjoy.  I recommend eating them warm.  **You can also make a casserole out of it. After rolling each noodle, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese in a small casserole dish and bake until cheese is melted.  I may try that version next. 

Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart by Chrystal
Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
4 oz goat cheese
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
1 tbsp butter
1 bunch green onions, sliced thin (white and light green parts only)
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   Place asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1-2 pinches of salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

In a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter.  Add sliced green onions and garlic.   Cook about 1 minute until softened.  Set aside to cool.

On a light floured sheet of parchment paper, roll out the pastry sheet to be about a 12-13 inch square.  Transfer parchment and pastry to a baking sheet.    Bake for about 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned.   Then spread goat cheese onto warm dough or place chunks if needed all over the dough in the center, leaving about an inch on the edge.   Place the asparagus spears side by side working from the center out.  Fold the edges of dough over onto the asparagus.   (I forgot to do this and added the asparagus AFTER I had already folded the dough. Mine looks sloppy in my opinion. But to each their own.)  Sprinkle the green onions and garlic over the top.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until pastry is golden brown all over.   Slice into squares with a pizza cutter.  Enjoy!

Spinach Salad by E

Ham, Egg & Pea Casserole by Carole
Key Lime Pie by Carole

March 8, 2011

Stuffed Greek Chicken

You get a real punch in the face from these flavors!  It's a super simple meal and perfect for a weeknight when you get home from work.   If you pay attention to the amount of goodies you stuff your chicken with, it can be a fairly healthy meal as well.   I served over steamed rice but it could be good over orzo or just serve with a side salad or steamed veggie.

2 tbsp olive oil
4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
1/4 c kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 c feta cheese, crumbled
4 sun-dried tomatoes in water or oil, chopped
1/4 tsp dried basil leaves

Stir kalamata olives, feta cheese, tomatoes and basil leaves together in a small bowl.  Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.   Sprinkle with 2 tbsp of filling in the middle of each chicken breast.   Roll up chicken starting with shortest side.  If you need to secure with toothpicks, seal the seams closed so filling doesn't spill out while cooking.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in large saute pan.  Place chicken in pan and cook covered, until browned and cooked through, 6-8 minutes each side.   Remove chicken from pan to a serving platter and keep warm.  Keep pan on heat and pour 1/2 cup of chicken broth to hot pan and stir using a wooden spoon to scrape up brown bits from bottom of pan. (This also gets a head start on cleaning your pan.)  Then you have a tasty sauce to pour over chicken.    Top with additional filling if you have some left or sprinkle with feta cheese and olives, if preferred.  Enjoy!

February 19, 2011

Creamy Artichoke Pasta

I get bad cravings for pasta.  Not as much as I use to.  But there are times those tasty carbs scream my name so loud that I can't ignore it.   My husband had to work late and I didn't have a plan for dinner yet.  So I made this due to a sudden craving for a creamy pasta dish. (This definitely scratched that itch!)  I just pulled things out of the pantry and fridge that I had on hand and started cooking.   It's a very versatile recipe so sub in any vegetable that you may like best such as broccoli or spinach.  I just realized those are all green foods.  Weird.  I must be ready for St. Patrick's Day!!  Ooooo fresh spinach would be really good in this dish.  I imagine it would taste like Spinach Artichoke dip. Yum!  I guess that recipe is in the near future to try out and share.  If you beat me to it, let me know how it turns out.

1 lb rotini pasta (or your favorite shape)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 15oz can artichokes, drained
1/2 - 1 c vegetable or chicken broth
4oz (1/2 8oz block of cream cheese)
2 tbsp capers
1/4 parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground is always best (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.   Drain and set aside.

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add butter and olive oil.   Add onion and garlic.  Cook until onions start to get translucent, stirring occasionally about 6-8 minutes.   Stir in artichokes and broth.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add more broth as needed if sauce evaporates too quickly.  Stir in the cream cheese, nutmeg and capers.   Cook until cream cheese is melted in and sauce is creamy.  Stir in pasta and cook until heated through.  Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top and serve.  Enjoy with garlic bread and/or a green salad.

February 4, 2011

Pear Tart with Gingersnap Crust

 I made this fancy but easy dessert for a friend's dinner party.   Every bite is full of flavor but very light!  This was a new flavor combo for me. You can really taste the gingersnaps and the zestiness of the orange and Tuaca flavors.  At first taste, I was unsure... it was interesting and different but I realized that I actually really liked it more after each bite.  So give it a try!!  The filling has a very citrusy flavor, so if you want to cut back use less Tuaca or a smaller orange.  I used a large navel orange in this recipe.

2 c gingersnaps
2 tbsp granulated sugar
6 tbsp butter, unsalted, melted

4 pears, peeled and cored (Bartlett or Bosc will work well)
6 c white wine
1 c granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1 lb cream cheese
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c Tuaca
Zest 1 large orange

CRUST DIRECTIONS - Place the crumbs and sugar in food processor. Grind into fine crumbs. Add the butter and mix well. Press into a well greased 10-inch flan or tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate until ready to use.

PEARS DIRECTIONS -  Place the pears, wine, sugar and vanilla in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the pears are fork tender about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. 

FILLING DIRECTIONS - Place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, Tuaca, and orange zest in a large bowl and blend with a handmixer or stand mixer until smooth.

To assemble the tart, remove the tart shell from the refrigerator. Spoon the filling in the bottom of the tart pan. Slice the pears and arrange the slices on top of the filling and arrange in concentric circles. Cool about 2 hours slice and serve cool with softly whipped cream.  Enjoy!

February 3, 2011

One-Pot Chicken

I love when I throw something together and it turns out much better than I anticipate.   This is one of those dishes. The sauce was full of flavor and the perfect consistency.   I was thinking Chicken Caccitore when I started throwing everything in but it's more of a random One-Pot wonder. I love cooking with chicken thighs, especially when done slow and low.  The meat turns out so tender and flavorful.  This is my One-Pot Chicken recipe that you'll love. Perfect for a cold weather dinner!  It's easily adaptable so you can include any veggies you like.

2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 Chicken Thighs, (skin on, bone in adds flavor but feel free to use skinless, boneless)
1 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 jar roasted red bell peppers, sliced in strips
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tomato, quartered
3/4 c white wine
1 c chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot.    Add flour to a resealable plastic bag.  Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken thighs.  Place the chicken in the flour and toss until coated.  Shake the excess flour off the chicken and add to the pot.   Brown chicken on both sides, 6-8 minutes.   Remove from pot to a plate and set aside.  

Add butter, onions and roasted red pepper to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes until onion starts to become translucent.   Stir in garlic and thyme, cook for about 1 minute.   Then add tomato, white wine and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil.  Then add chicken back to the pot and cover.  Place pot in the oven and cook for 1 hour.  Remove lid and cook for an additional 15 minutes to brown the top of the chicken. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta or wild rice.   Enjoy!

January 31, 2011

Mac N Cheese Soup with a side of Buffalo Chicken Fries

It's been a while my foodie friends.  Work is interfering with my personal life and I don't like it one bit.   I've finally found a bit of time to cook up some more goodies to share.  I thought I'd start off the year with a tasty dish that will be sure to warm your tummy and heart during this crazy winter.  We had a beautiful weekend in Dallas with mid-70's. Starting tonight it will drop to the 30's and tomorrow in the teens for the low.  (You didn't realize you'd get a weather update while reading a food blog, did ya?  Well there you have it.)  So whip up a batch of this Mac N Cheese Soup and the Buffalo Chicken "Fries" to warm your soul.  I could eat more than my share of this chicken.  Wow!!   Mmmm Mmmm Good!  Wait, can I say that even though that's Campbell's Soup?  Oh well.  Believe me on this, you won't want anything to do with that canned stuff when you can make something as simple and delicious as this.  


Mac N Cheese Soup
1 c (4 oz) elbow macaroni
2 small shallots
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 3/4 c fat-free low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 c 2% milk
6 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c crumbled blue cheese

Bring medium sauce pan to a boil.  Add the macaroni and cook per the directions on the package.  Drain.

Mince the shallots, carrot and celery in a food processor.  Mist the saucepan with cooking spray.  Add the vegetables and cook over medium-high heat until softened, 4-5 minutes. 

Add the flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.  Gradually stir in the broth and bring to a boil; stirring, until thickened, 6-7 minutes.  Whisk in the milk, sharp cheese and parmesan cheese until cheese melts.  Remove from heat.

Stir in the macaroni and season with pepper.  Garnish with blue cheese just before serving.   Serve with a side of Buffalo Chicken "Fries".  (see recipe below)

Buffalo Chicken "Fries"
1/3 c hot sauce (such as Frank's)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp honey
1 lb boneless skinless chicken tenders (cut in half length-wise into strips)
1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c vegetable oil, divided

Whisk the hot sauce, butter and honey in a large bowl.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the chicken strips with flour in a large plastic bag until coated; shake the excess flour off. 

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large saute pan over medium-high; add half the chicken strips, saute until browned, about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to the hot sauce mixture and toss to coat.  Repeat with remaining oil and chicken strips.   Arrange chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 7-9 minutes or until sizzling and browned.