Saturday, December 12, 2009

Baked Blueberry Pecan French Toast

Our church held our Christmas party this year in the morning and had people sign up for breakfast casseroles, fruit and/or milk. LOVED this breakfast idea on a Saturday morning! In looking for a new breakfast dish to make that wasn't the usual sausage and egg dish, I immediately went to My Kitchen Cafe. This blog is great! The author's SIL is a friend of mine from medical school and they are both quite amazing with their dedication to food blogging. So thanks, Melanie for all your hard work. For a picture of this dish, go to her site HERE. I didn't get up quite early enough to bake it and still be on time this morning, so when it was done, I rushed out the door and didn't even have a second to snap a pic of my version.

As for my version... I pretty much doubled the recipe in the same pan because I wanted it to serve more people. This increased the cooking time quite a bit. So instead of using 1 baguette, I used a 1lb. 6oz. Italian bread round loaf (the very dense kind of bread) from my local store's bakery. Also, plan ahead for this recipe, it has to soak for at least 8 hours overnight and bake for over an hour in the morning. Here it goes:

1- 1lb. 6 oz. round dense Italian bread loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes
12 eggs
2 c. milk
1 t. nutmeg
2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. brown sugar, divided
1 c. chopped pecans, toasted in skillet with 2 t. butter
1 stick butter
4 c. fresh blueberries

Butter or spray 13x9 pyrex pan. Place cubed bread in pan. In a medium-large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla and 1 c. brown sugar until eggs are beaten slightly. Pour evenly over bread and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day, until most of the liquid is absorbed. I toasted my pecans the night before to save time in the morning.

Preheat oven to 375. Toss the bread a little bit to try to get the cubes on top saturated as well. Evenly distribute blueberries over bread and then sprinkle pecans on top. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and 1/2 c. brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Pour evenly over dish and cover with foil. Bake at 375 for an hour. Remove foil and continue baking until top is brown, dish is very bubbly and juices from blueberries are seeping out into bread, about 20 more minutes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Caramel Apples

Let me tell you, these suckers aren't as easy as you would think. I have had 3 batches that haven't turned out very well but the good part is that I now know every possible mistake that you can make!  I have been humbled, let me tell you! I mean, how hard can some caramel apples be to make, right?

Mistake #1: This led to disaster batch #1.... get ALL the wax off your apples! Don't just rinse them, like the normal apple eater does. Gently scrub with a washcloth and warm water. Then towel dry.

Mistake #2: On the back of your Kraft Caramel bag it will say to mix 2 T. water with 1 bag unwrapped caramels. Use milk or cream instead.

Mistake #3: Don't use Almond Bark over the caramel. You can't thin it out very easily and when your chocolate is too thick, it pulls the caramel right off your apple. Trust me.  Buy good chocolate, like Ghiradelli chocolate chips. Before melting in 30 second intervals or with a double boiler, add 1 T. vegetable shortening for every 2 cups of chips to thin out the chocolate a little. It should put a thin coat on your apple. Refrigerate to dry the chocolate. If you want to roll in crushed Heath bars, nuts or whatever your little heart desires, do it when the chocolate has barely dried then stick back in the fridge.

So, your instructions are pretty much above... Here's what you will need to pick up:

3-4 Granny Smith apples (3 large, 4 medium)
1 bag Caramel candies (5 popsicle sticks come in the bag)
1 bag chocolate chips
2 T. vegetable shortening
candy or nuts to crush

Holding the apples by the sticks, roll the apples in the bowl of melted caramel (melted with milk or cream, 2 T. for every bag) followed by the chocolate (melted with about 1 T. shortening per 2 cups chocolate chips).

I used Heath toffee chunks on the apples above.  Other options are to sprinkle any crushed candy bars (twix, snickers, andes mints, etc.), sea salt, coconut, or to drizzle white chocolate over top, chopped nuts.  The list goes on!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oatmeal Cake with a Brown Sugar-Nut Topping

Wow... it has been a while. Sorry! This last month has been hectic and busy and hasn't left me time to post much! Stay with me though... To make up for it, here is one of my favorite from-scratch cake recipes!

This cake is another one of my mother-in-law's and is wonderful. This might sound a little funny but it is a cake that is perfect to serve at a book club meeting or an informal lunch date. The taste and texture, with its perfect topping, reminds me of the good ol' days where our grandmas used to sit around on their patios and drink tea. Enjoy!

1 c. rolled oats
1 3/4 c. boiling water
1/2 stick butter or margarine
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. + 2 T. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine oats and water in heat proof bowl and set aside. While oats are soaking, combine butter and sugars with mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until just combined. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Scrape down sides of bowl. Stir in oatmeal mixture. Pour into 9x13'' pyrex pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes until light brown and knife inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
While cake is baking, in small saucepan combine over low heat until smooth:
6 T. butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. evaporated milk or cream
1 c/ chopped walnuts
1 c. coconut
1/4 t. vanilla
When cake comes out of the oven, turn the oven to high broil and spread topping on hot cake. Broil until topping is bubbly and begins to brown. *Watch it very closely b/c it will get too dark quickly! Remove from oven and let cool before cutting.

Garlic Chicken Pasta with Spinach

I got this recipe straight from My Kitchen Cafe. This is a wonderful blog with tried and true, delicious recipes that even the average home cook can keep up with.

I loved this pasta dish because it was fairly healthy and had wonderful flavor. You can usually count on pretty good flavor when lemon and garlic have a role. I used whole wheat pasta (I always do) for a little healthier dish. It took me less than 1/2 hour to make too, which is always a plus. It could be a one-dish meal too! You have your protein, starch and veggies all on one dish, though serving some good rolls along-side wouldn't be a bad idea!

You know what... for the recipe, just go here! Enjoy!
PS: I used a 6 oz. bag of spinach (it looks like a lot when you first pour it in, but don't worry, it wilts way down!), a 14 oz. box pasta (whole wheat) and more like 1 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan. :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Marble Cookies

These are my favorite cookies, I think. It is a hard choice, because I am a cookie nut, but these are so divine, I think I may come out and say that they are my favorite. You have never tasted a cookie like this! I think that's what is so fantastic about them! The presentation is absolutely beautiful as well. The marble effect is so pretty and unique that it draws people to pick them right up and scarf. Please don't take this recipe for granted! Don't just cut and paste the recipe and print it out and never make them! You probably have all of the ingredients already... so get bakin'!

For a beginner, this recipe may be a little challenging. It's not really hard, but care is required when folding the chocolate into the dough, so if you have never had to do anything like this before, try it! I am sure you will do fine. You just don't want to over mix... try to slice your rubber spatula through the places where there is the most unmixed chocolate.

From the Mrs. Fields' Cookie Book & introduced to me by my SIL, Marta.

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 c. sour cream
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. In mixer, cream sugars and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl. Add egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat at medium speed until fluffy once more. Scrape bowl.

Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Do not over mix.

Place chocolate in glass bowl and microwave on high in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted. Let cool for 3-4 minutes. Pour evenly over batter in a drizzling-like fashion. Using the edge of a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate. Do not mix chocolate completely into the dough. It is OK to have larger streaks of dough and chocolate throughout. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto greased cookie sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for 20-24 minuted until there is a faint hint of brown around the bottom edges of cookies. Move to a cool surface, such as a baking rack immediately. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Buffalo Pico Quesadillas with Black Beans

How the heck do you take a good picture of quesadillas? Anyway... these were GREAT. I absolutely loved them!! I had some pico de gallo left over from Sunday's Cafe Rio dinner that we had, so I thought I would use it up in some quesadillas. My husband and I always dip our quesadillas in Frank's Hot Sauce, so I included that spicy stuff right inside the 'dilla. For some added flavor, texture and protein, the black beans were the perfect choice.

My husband really doesn't care for leftovers. He doesn't usually like to eat the same thing 2 or 3 days in a row, or in the same week. However, I caught him, the very next day, making these quesdadillas for himself for lunch! That means he really liked them! I was proud.

8 large flour tortillas
2 large chicken breasts, cooked and shredded or chopped
1 can black beans, drained
2 c. pico de gallo*
1/4 c. Franks hot sauce (original or buffalo flavor is fine)
~1 c. monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
~1 c. cheddar, shredded

Heat a large, heavy skillet over med-high heat for 3-4 minutes until hot. Place 1 tortilla on skillet and, working quickly, sprinkle 1/4 c. (or more) monterrey jack over tortilla. Spread a handful of chicken, about 1/2 c. black beans, 1/2 c. pico de gallo, 1 T. Franks and 1/4 c. cheddar evenly as well. (Amounts are approximate... use your eye to judge how much of everything to put on.) Place another tortilla on top and check the bottom to see how brown it is. If the bottom tortilla is nicely browned already, then flip the quesadilla, swiftly, since you will have falling beans if it is flipped too slowly. Cook on the other side for 3 minutes or so until lightly browned. Slice with a pizza slicer into 6 or 8 slices. Serve hot with sour cream and/or guacamole for garnish.

Makes 4 quesadillas.

*For pico de gallo, chop up 3-4 roma tomatoes, 1 jalapeno and 1 small red onion and add ~1/3 c. chopped cilantro (more or less, depending on your taste) and about 2 T. lime juice. Toss.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Amazing Cafe Rio Bar

I am appalled that I haven't posted this recipe yet. If I am having a crowd over for dinner and want less stress, this is what I always seem to default to. By "default", I don't mean "settle for." This chicken/pork is so flavor-bursting that you will never forget it.

This is the deal: Make the chicken or pork in the crock pot and let it cook all day, on high for 2-3 hours to get it going, then on low for 4-5 hours, until the meat is very soft and will shred easily with two forks. I usually just put all the dishes on the counter and let people do what they want. I LOVE to make a big salad on my plate, my husband likes to put everything in a tortilla and chow.

The Amazing Cafe Rio Bar

~2 lbs. chicken or pork (You can use less than this, I usually use about 1 large chicken breast for every 2 people that I am feeding.)
1 c. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
2 T. dried chopped onions (You can use fresh too)
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. chili powder
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 c. red enchilada sauce (comes in a can, you can also use red or green taco sauce)
1 c. brown sugar (sometimes I decrease this to 2/3 - 3/4 c.)

Place chicken in crock pot. Combine next 8 ingredients in small bowl then pour over chicken. Cook as said above. An hour or so before serving, add enchilada sauce and sugar. Make sure to use a slotted spoon when serving.

In the afternoon or an hour or so before dinner get any or all of these toppings ready:
- black beans
- guacamole (for recipe, click)
- pico de gallo (diced tomatoes and red onions, chopped cilantro and jalapenos and lime juice)
- finely shredded cheddar cheese
- rice
- green or red leaf lettuce
- whole kernel corn
- sour cream
- tortillas of your choice

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chicken Marsala

Here is a classic chicken dish that is one of my favorites. The sauce is made from Marsala wine, which is one of the easiest wines to cook with, which is sweet and rich and fulfilling. You can serve this dish over homemade mashed potatoes or pasta, though I much prefer the potatoes. Serve with some healthy veggies.

This recipe was given to me by my uncle James, off the top of his head. This is for 1 serving.

1 chicken breast, pounded to 1/2 inch thick
Olive oil
2-3 T. finely diced red onion
1 T. butter, divided
3 oz. Marsala wine (measure this out in advance)
6 oz. chicken stock (measure this out in advance)
Handful fresh mushrooms, pre-sauteed in a little olive oil

Heat enough oil to cover bottom of heavy, nonstick skillet over high heat until dots appear. Add chicken breast and cook, undisturbed until just the top edges of breast become white. Flip and cook about 3 minutes more. Use a fork to hold chicken breast in place and tip pan to drain oil. Leaving chicken in hot pan, drop 1/2 T. butter in pan and let melt. Place onion in pan over high heat and let caramelize , about 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and without leaning over pan, add Marsala wine. Wine will sizzle. Put pan back on full heat. Immediately add chicken stock and mushrooms and 1/2 T. butter. Taste the sauce at this point. It is NOT done yet, but its good to taste what it shouldn't taste like! Simmer on high heat for 3-5 minutes, tasting sauce with finger every 1-2 minutes. When that sauce is done, it should be slightly thicker and should be quite sweet and wonderful. :) Place a bed of mashed potatoes or noodles on plate. Top with chicken and then pour sauce over the top.

Chunky Garlic Red Skinned Mashed Potatoes
1 serving

3-4 large red skinned potatoes, cut into quarters and boiled until soft
2 T. butter
2-3 fresh minced garlic cloves
whole milk, enough to make potatoes creamy to your likin'
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in small mixing bowl. With handheld electric mixer, mix on med-high speed until desired consistency is reached.

From Scratch: Peanut Butter Ice Cream

OK, this ice cream is to die for! I absolutely love it!

Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped unsalted, dry roasted peanuts
5 Reese's Peanut Butter Holiday shapes (trees, hearts, eggs), chopped into small pieces (if you can't find these, you can use regular peanut butter cups)

In medium bowl, combine eggs and sugar with whisk. Add cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Add PB and whisk until smooth. Place in ice cream maker and freeze according to machine directions until almost frozen. 5 minutes before done (or as frozen as it will get with the ice cream maker) add peanuts and PB cups. Place in airtight plastic container in freezer for at least 30-45 minutes before serving, to firm up. And the most important part... enjoy!

Note: The base to this ice cream is derived from Ben & Jerry's ice cream recipe book. You can use these amounts of eggs, sugar, cream and milk for any ice cream base that you want to make! Be creative! (Or go to Coldstone and get some ideas there!)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cheesy White Chicken Chili

A lot of my friends have had this soup, so sorry for the repetition but this is definitely a recipe that is worthy of a blog post! My mom's church has a chili cook-off every year and this was a winner a few years back, made by one of her friends. My friend, Valerie made it last year at her church's chili cook-off and it won there too! This recipe has also won the favorite-recipe-of-the-night at one of our cooking clubs that the med-wives hold monthly. So, there's your proof that its good!

1 T. oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans green chilis
2 t. cumin
1 t. oregano or ital. seasoning
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
30 oz. chicken broth
3 c. chicken breast meat, cooked & chopped or shredded
4 cans white beans, drained
1/2 - 1 c. sour cream (optional)
4 - 6 oz. cream cheese (optional)
1 can whole kernel corn (optional)
12-16 oz. grated Mexican blend cheese (can use any combination of Monterrey Jack, pepper jack, or cheddar, stay away from mozzarella b/c it is stringy when melted)

In 4 or 5 qt. pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and soften onion and garlic. Add green chilis, cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper. Cook a few minutes, then add broth, chicken, and 3 cans of the drained beans. Mash the fourth can of beans (use a potato masher, fork or pastry blender and mix in a little bit of the broth from the soup to make it a little easier) and add it to the pot. Turn heat to low, wait until it is hardly simmering and add cheese slowly until completely melted. If you add the cheese while the soup is bubbling ferociously then the cheese will clump and stick to the chicken... yuck. You can add the sour cream, cream cheese, and/or corn if you would like, but the soup is great without them, depends on your taste. You can serve it with tortilla chips, extra cheese, fresh cilantro, jalapenos, green onion, salsa, or serve over rice or in a bread bowl. Personally, I like it straight up, in a bowl with some homemade bread.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Molasses Spice Cookies

Both my husband and my mom's favorite cookie!

It is important to underbake these cookies so that they stay soft for days after they are baked. They won't look done when they come out of the oven, but they will finish baking on the cookie sheet after they are out of the oven. If you overbake them they will be dry and crisp. I like to make my Ginger Snaps small and cute. They always turn out perfectly round with cracks throughout!

Adapted from The Best Recipe

In medium bowl, sift:
2 1/4 c. flour
2 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
3/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground allspice

In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes:
12 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar

Then add and beat until combined, about 30 seconds:
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla
1/3 c. unsulphured molasses

Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Working with about 1 T. dough at a time, roll dough into balls then roll in granulated sugar before placing on ungreased cookie sheet. Place 1 1/2 inch apart. Bake at 375 for 8-9 minutes until cracks begin to show on each cookie and edges are just barely light brown. Cool cookies on sheet for 2-3 minutes then transfer to wire wrack to cool.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lemon Fusilli Pasta with Grilled Lemon Chicken

YUMMO! I loved this dish. Of course, it came from my friend Katherine the Great. This is definitely a keeper. Like I have said before, I just love finding such wonderful new recipes like this one. And a bonus for this one is that it isn't very time-consuming. Boil the noodles, whip up the sauce, steam and cut up some veggies and you're done. All those things can be done simultaneously too, with ease.

1 T. good olive oil
1 1/4 T. garlic, minced
2 1/2 c. heavy cream
3 large lemons
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 large bunch broccoli
1 lb. dried fusilli pasta
1/2 lb. baby spinach or arugula
1 c. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 pt. grape tomatoes or seeded/diced Roma's
1 recipe grilled lemon chicken, prepared (requires 2-day marinating for best results)

Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium high heat until hot. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add cream, zest from 2 lemons, the juice from both lemons, 2 t. salt, and 1 t. pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat to med-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until it starts to thicken. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions and cut broccoli in florets, discarding stems. Steam broccoli on stove top or in microwave until tender, 5-6 minutes. Drain broccoli and run cold water over to stop the cooking. Set aside. Once pasta is done and sauce is thickened (hopefully at about the same time) immediately combine the 2 in the pasta pot. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Slice remaining lemon longways, then crosswise into thin slices. Add spinach/arugula and heat over medium heat for an additional 3 minutes. Turn off heat and add 1/2 c. Parmesan, tomatoes and broccoli. Stir lightly to combine. Turn mixture into a large pasta bowl. Top with remaining Parmesan and sliced lemons. Serve hot.

Grilled Lemon Chicken

4 chicken boneless, skinless breasts, thawed
lemon juice
olive oil
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 t. dried thyme

Marinate chicken in equal parts lemon juice and olive oil (1/2 - 3/4 c. of each), salt, pepper and thyme for at least 2 days (3 days is best). Grill on outdoor grill or George Foreman. If you don't have either, the chicken can be baked or cooked however you usually cook your chicken. In a pinch, saute un-marinated chicken in above ingredients over medium heat. Some of the flavor will be there, but not all. This chicken is SO good!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Buffalo Ranch Taco Salad

My mom's creation.

Toss in large salad bowl:
2-3 heads of romaine lettuce, washed and torn
1-14 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1-14 oz. can black beans, drained
1-14 oz. can light red kidney beans
1/2 c. cilantro, washed and torn into pieces
1/2 c. red onion, chopped coarsely
1 c. finely shredded cheddar cheese

2-3 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into thin strips, and tossed in a bit of lime juice, olive oil, paprika and cumin (optional, if you want to make a meal out of it)

Top with tortilla chips for garnish.

Mix 1 c. buttermilk ranch with 1T. - 3T. (or more) Franks hot sauce. This depends on your taste!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creamy, Spicy Buffalo Chicken Dip

It really isn't yellow, more of an orange color. My camera didn't know what to do with the color I guess!
Ok, this dip is amazing! If you like fattening creamy dips with a little zing, this is for you! I LOVE anything with the word "buffalo" in the title!

3 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped or shredded
12 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. blue cheese dressing
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1 1/4 c. Franks Red Hot sauce
1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese

In a glass, microwave-safe bowl, heat cream cheese for 1-2 minutes until melted. With a whisk, mix in dressings. Mix in the Franks and cheddar cheese and transfer mixture to a small slow cooker. Cook on low setting until hot and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

White Chocolate Fruit Tart

From my friend Ruth Gough.

3/4 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 1/2 c. flour

1-12 oz. package real white chocolate chips
1-8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
Fresh fruit (I like to use a package of strawberries, 1 pint blueberries, 2-3 kiwi and 1 pint raspberries. The recipe calls for 1-20 oz. can pineapple chunks (juice reserved), 1 pt. strawberries, 1-11 oz. can mandarin oranges, drained and 2 kiwis)

3 T. sugar
2 t. cornstarch
1/2 t. lemon juice

In small mixing bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar until creamy. Gradually add flour until mixed well. Press into greased 11 inch tart pan (I have used a 10 in. spring form pan and a 9x12 pyrex too) and bake at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes until you see a hint of golden brown.

For filling, melt chocolate chips in microwave at 30 second intervals and let cool for 3 minutes. Beat in cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Spread over cooled crust and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Filling will firm up in that time. Meanwhile, prepare fruit. Arrange over tart in a beautiful design. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the glaze (which I have just left out before b/c I ran out of time and didn't use pineapples, and the tart was still amazing... it is great either way) combine sugar and cornstarch in small saucepan. Stir in lemon juice and reserved pineapple juice until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until thickened. Allow to cool and drizzle over tart.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Spinach Articoke Dip

My mother is a classic no-recipe-required cook. She was in TGI Friday's, lovin' their S.A.D. and decided to go home and throw it together. She did a great job. I inherited a little bit of this talent, but I also really like to stick to trusted cookbook recipes when it come to baking cakes, cookies, breads and other things involving flour. However, I am an advocate of "eye-balling it" when it comes to dips, pasta dishes, sloppy joes, marinades, chilies and soups, spaghetti and pizza sauce and most things made on the stove.

This dip is NOT a healthy appetizer (are any?) but *whoa!* it is good!

8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. shredded Italian blend cheese (no mozzarella)
1/2 - 3/4 c. real mayo (not miracle whip) or sour cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 T. fresh minced garlic
1/2 t. ground pepper
4-5 shakes Italian seasoning
a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
a few shakes of red pepper flakes
14 oz. canned artichokes, coarsely chopped
10 oz. block frozen spinach, thawed

In stand mixer or with hands, mix together all ingredients except spinach and artichokes until very smooth and blended. Place spinach in strainer and squeezed small amounts in your hands to get all water out. Mix artichokes and spinach into cheese mixture. If it is too stiff, add a little milk.
Place in a shallow glass or ceramic dish, lightly greased. Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and slightly browned on top.
Serve warm with crustini bread, sliced baguettes or tortilla chips.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baja Chicken Pizza with Bacon and Cilantro

I mean, come on, what more could you want in a pizza? I was inspired by Quizznos a few months back with their Baja Chicken sandwich, which I recreated on this blog last month. I was all geared up to make it again when I realized my bread supply was low and I didn't have enough time before dinner to make a fresh batch. "Pizza!" I thought. Ah! This creation is SO DANG GOOD! I think that it is important to have a bit of cilantro, onion and bacon in every bite, so dice these up into medium pieces and give them good coverage over the entire crust. I used half wheat four in this crust and it was excellent. I think it would be fine with whole wheat crust, or white, whichever you prefer.

Pizza Crust
adapted from Jessica Crapo's recipe

1 c. warm water
1 T. yeast
1 t. sugar
2 T. oil
1 t. salt
2 1/2 c. flour

Combine water, sugar and salt in bowl of mixer (not required) and let sit for 5 minutes until foamy and puffy. Add the remaining ingredients and knead, adding additional flour by the teaspoon if needed, until dough doesn't stick to bottom and sides of bowl, about 3-4 minutes. This dough is very soft so you may need to help it at first and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl. If you don't have a mixer, knead by hand, lightly oiling surface and your hands to knead for about 3-4 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Let sit while you prepare toppings.

Baja Chicken Pizza with Bacon and Cilantro

3/4 c. Open Pit BBQ sauce
2 c. cooked, diced chicken
3/4 - 1 lb. good bacon, cooked and torn into medium pieces
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. thinly sliced red onion
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven and pizza stone to 425 degrees. With lightly greased hands, form dough into a pizza crust by using fingertips to spread dough outwards on counter top. Once in a disk about 6-8 inches in diameter, hold dough up by one edge and rotate around to let the weight of the dough stretch itself out, taking care to not let the center get too thin, but encouraging the edges to stretch as well, until 14 inches in diameter. Remove hot stone from oven and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place dough on hot stone and situate so it fits nicely over stone. Brush sauce over crust with a pastry brush or bottom of large pasta spoon,getting some on edges of crust. Then sprinkle chicken, bacon, half of cheese, then red onion and cilantro over as well. Top with remaining cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes until crust and cheese is lightly browned.

Penne Rustica

I rarely find a new pasta recipe that I am in love with. Truthfully, most new recipes I try I am kind of disappointed in. There are a few diamonds in the rough though and this is one of them. The prep time is worth every bite of this delicious pasta. It makes a generous quantity as well, so have some friends over when you make it... unless you want it for leftovers. Yes, you might want it all for yourself.

Adapted from Katherine Fields' blog

16 oz. whole wheat penne pasta
16 oz. smoked bacon, a good brand
12 oz. chicken breast, cut into small-medium chunks
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 t. paprika
fresh rosemary, chopped
mozzarella cheese

Prepare topping as described above. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions and begin cooking Grantinata sauce (below). Also, cook bacon until crisp and nicely browned. Let cool and then break into small pieces with your fingers. Combine grantinata sauce, cooked pasta, chicken, bacon, peppers, Parmesan and paprika in large mixing bowl. Spread in a 9 x 13 baking dish or 2 smaller baking dishes. Top with mozarella cheese and fresh rosemary. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.

Grantinata Sauce

2 t. butter
2 t. garlic, minced
1/2 Marsala wine (available at most well-stocked grocery stores, not Walmart.)
1/2 t. Dijon mustard, or dry mustard
1 t. salt
2 t. rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 t. red pepper
3 1/2 c. heavy cream (you can substitute up to 1 c. cream for whole milk if you desire.)

In 5 qt. pan saute garlic in butter. Add Marsala wine and boil until it reduces by half, about 20 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and allow to cook over medium-high heat until it thickens.


Hands down of of my favorite appetizer recipes. Not only that but it is completely glorious on tacos, burritos, in taco or tortilla soup or on quesadillas. I mince the ingredients with my handy-dandy Pampered Chef food chopper (that I have had for 5 years + and will NEVER be without in my kitchen.) This is the only picture that I managed to take last time I made it, darn. I will come back next time I make it and post a pic of the finished product. You probably know what guac looks like anyway, right?

adapted from The Best Recipe
4-5 ripe avocados (if they are large ones, only 4)
3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small minced jalapeno
1/2 c. minced red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced (with garlic press)
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 - 1 t. ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. minced fresh cilantro
Cut avocados in half long-wise and remove pits. With large spoon, scoop flesh from shells. Mash avocados with potato masher, pastry blender or large fork, not completely turning it to mush, leaving a few small chunks for texture. Add rest of ingredients right away. Serve with tortilla chips as an appetizer.

Orange-Spice Banana Bread

Can I tell you please that I absolutely love The Best Recipe cookbook by Cook's Illustrated. I recommend it to anyone. Not only did they test almost every ingredient to all their recipes in different quantities and methods of preparation, but they explain their every move, helping an interested cook understand the mechanics behind using different ingredients.

About the banana bread. I have on this blog already the BR's version of this wonderful, easy quick bread. I was about to make it again for the 100th time when I noticed the variations they provided. (Another perk of this cookbook is that they often give you variations to classic recipes. The base recipe is the same, they just give ideas of how to give a zing here or some pizazz there.) There were 3 variations listed, only one of which I had all the ingredients for: Orange-Spice Banana Bread. It was amazing.

My husband is a very traditional sort of fellow (I think that word is funny and like to use it every once and a while) and didn't like the variation as much as the original. He can just be a little borderline boring like that sometimes. I thought it was a great twist to this classic quick bread and I will definitely be trying the other two variations: Banana-Chocolate Bread and Banana-Coconut Bread with Macadamia Nuts.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bottom only of regular loaf pan or grease and flour bottom and sides of non-stick loaf pan.

In medium bowl, sift:
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. grated nutmeg
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

In large bowl, mix:
3 very ripe, darkly speckled, large bananas, mashed by hand (NOT pureed)
1/4 c. plain yogurt (I use any flavor I have)
6 T. butter, melted and cooled
1 t. vanilla
2 large eggs
2 T. grated orange zest

Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients until just incorporated and you can no longer see flour streaks. This is important. Don't over mix to avoid gluten development that can prevent the bread from rising well. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 55 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and top is golden brown.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Baja Chicken Sandwiches

Inspired by Quiznos
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded or coarsely chopped
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 - 3/4 lb. cheddar cheese, sliced
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked
3/4 - 1 c. Open Pit BBQ sauce, your favorite flavor (I like the spicy variety)
your bread of choice (we used what we had in the house, which was my whole wheat bread, but next time I will use a long sandwich roll, for presentation purposes.)
Turn your oven up to broil. Prepare ingredients as described above. On a broil pan, cookie sheet or preheated baking stone, place bread with top and bottom crusts down, open-faced. Place cheddar slices on all pieces of bread. Broil for 2-3 minutes until cheese is just melted. In the meantime, mix BQQ sauce and chicken in small bowl. When rolls come out of the oven, evenly distribute chicken mixture over cheese. Broil 2-3 more minutes until nice and hot and BQQ sauce in bubbly. Top chicken mixture with bacon slices, red onions and cilantro. Place bun tops over bottoms and cut sandwiches in half. Serve hot.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holiday Wassail

From Valerie's cooking blog
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 oz frozen orange juice, thawed
3/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
2 1/2 quarts water
Place all the ingredients in a large pot and heat until warm. Then I like to put it in the crock pot on the low setting and let it simmer until you're ready to serve.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Jum Jills

ie: Pecan Balls, Snow Balls... A perfect Holiday cookie; great for any occasion really!

Adapted slightly from my MIL, Jeanine Franson's, recipe.

1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cup flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cup finely chopped pecans
2 cup powdered sugar (to roll cookies in)

Gradually add the sugar to the butter. Cream until light and fluffy, then add vanilla. Add flour, salt, and nuts, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Shape into small balls and bake 10 - 12 minutes at 350, until bottoms are slightly browned. Let cool and roll in powdered sugar.


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