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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