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By learning about basic ingredients and how to use them, you can create simple, quick and delicious meals your family will love!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Potatoes Gratin with Creamy Toscano Cheese

The inspiration for this rich and creamy Potato Gratin came from an episode of Jacques Pepin.  Although he did not use cheese in his recipe, instead relying on the milk and cream as a base, he did mention that he sometimes added Gruyere cheese to the creamy sauce, so we included cheese in ours.

Since we did not have Gruyere on hand, we decided to try a Creamy Toscano Cheese we recently picked up at Trader Joe's.  This cheese is similar to an aged Parmesan, but the cheese has been soaked in Syrah wine and is absolutely incredible.  With such a bold flavor, I knew this cheese would be the perfect addition to the creamy gratin.

These potatoes do take a little extra time to prepare, and the 20 minutes of resting time after baking is very important to let the sauce pull together and thicken.  Other than the extra time involved, this is a very simple side dish and with the golden brown crust on the top, you are sure to get rave reviews. 

Serve with a grilled New York Strip steak and a glass of hearty red wine such as the NV Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot 58  or if you are a Cabernet fan, try the 2008 Hendry HRW Cabernet Sauvignon.  Enjoy!!

2 lbs  Potatoes  (Yukon Gold potatoes work great as they will not crumble as easily)
2-1/2 cups  Milk
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1-1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
6 oz  Creamy Toscano Cheese  (or substitute Gruyere, Parmesan, Gouda or even Monterey Jack)
1 cup  Heavy Cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/4-inch rounds.  Do not rinse the potatoes as the starch will help the sauce thicken.

In a large saucepan combine the potatoes, milk, garlic, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a low boil, stirring gently to separate the slices and prevent the milk from scorching.  The sauce will begin to thicken as it boils.

Pour the mixture into a large gratin dish, crumble the cheese over the potatoes, then drizzle the cream over the top.  Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly on top.  (Test the potatoes with a fork to make sure they are fully cooked.) 

Let the potatoes rest for about 20 minutes before serving.  This will allow the sauce to cool slightly and thicken.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Braised Chicken with Potatoes and Red Wine

I can't believe we have come to the end of another summer.  The kids are ready to go back to school and that means it's time for me to get back into the kitchen to work on some new recipes.  And this meal is a great way to ease back into those family dinners.

If you have a meat and potatoes fan in your family, they will love this dish.  This rustic, peasant-food style dish gets its incredible flavor from a combination of dark meat chicken, red wine, and slow roasted vegetables. It's almost a chicken version of a classic pot roast.  It's that good!

The dish starts off with a dozen or so pieces of dark meat chicken, that have been lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.  A quick sear in olive oil seals the flavor and juices inside the chicken.  Next we added some chopped veggies, a sprinkle of smoky Spanish paprika, and a healthy dose of dry red wine.  All of these flavors are simmered for 30 minutes, to create a delicious gravy.  (Be sure to have some French bread on hand to serve with this meal.)

The last ingredient that brings this dish together is the addition of crispy sautéed potatoes.  By cooking the potatoes separately in a skillet, the potatoes have a nice seared edge before they are added to the cooking liquid. (No mushy potatoes here.) A quick 10 minutes later, you have this beautiful meal of what some people might call peasant food, but we call, exceptional.  This is one dish you really have to try.  Enjoy!!

10 - 12 pieces  Dark Meat Chicken
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
3 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Dried Parsley
1-1/2 tsp  Smoked Spanish Paprika
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1 medium  Sweet Onion, finely chopped
4 - 5  Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium  Red Bell Pepper, seeds removed, then finely chopped
1-1/2 cups  Dry Red Wine
3 TB  Olive Oil
6 medium  Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Rinse the chicken pieces under cool water, pat dry with paper towels, then season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.

In a large roasting pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Place the chicken pieces skin-side down in the pan, and sauté until browned.  Turn the chicken over, sprinkle with the parsley and paprika, then continue to brown for about 8 minutes, or until the outside of the chicken is golden brown, but not fully cooked through.

Add the garlic, onion, carrots, and pepper to the pot, arranging the vegetables around the chicken pieces, and sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat until the vegetables have softened.  Pour the red wine over the chicken, cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat the potatoes with the oil.  Continue to sauté the potatoes for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden but not quite fully cooked.

Add the potatoes to the chicken and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.  Serve with crusty French bread to soak up the red wine gravy.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dinner Rolls in the Bread Machine

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that could not be more true than the creation of this recipe.  We had decided on a cool evening dinner of Chicken Salad sandwiches.  Nothing fancy, just a simple salad to use up some leftover baked chicken I had in the fridge.  Then along came this giant summer thunderstorm.  Not only was it pouring down outside, it appeared the rain would be with us for a few hours.

Dreading the thought of going to the store and getting soaked for just one package of sandwich rolls, I decided I would try making the rolls in the bread machine.  I know using a machine to make bread is not the most authentic process in the world, but it is quick and it easy.  So the experiment began.

I started with a basic dinner roll recipe, then added a few teaspoons of garlic powder and oregano to the other dough ingredients and everything went into the bread machine.  When the dough was finished it already smelled wonderful, but the dough still needed to rise a second time.  I portioned out the dough into 9 sandwich rolls and covered them with a tea towel, then gave them 30 minutes to rise.

After 30 minutes the dough had doubled in size and the rolls looked beautiful. I brushed the tops of the rolls with an olive oil and herb mixture then baked them for 25 minutes. You could also skip this step, but the olive oil on top was very tasty.

The finished product was delicious!  With the garlic powder and oregano inside the dough and the extra herbs on top, the rolls were so full of flavor and tasted much better than the plain store bought variety.  And, they made the chicken salad even better.

We tried this recipe a second time and made smaller dinner size rolls to serve with spaghetti, and we ended up with 20 rolls total, so you could easily divide the portions depending on your needs.  Enjoy!!

1  Egg, scrambled plus warm water (about 80 degrees) to equal 1-1/3 cups
1/4 cup + 1 TB  Canola or Vegetable Oil
1/4 cup  Sugar
2 tsp  Salt
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
2 tsp  Dried Oregano
4 cups  Bread Flour
2-1/4 tsp  Bread Yeast

Place all ingredients in your bread machine and select the DOUGH setting.  (On my machine this cycle will run for 1 hour 36 minutes.)

When the dough is finished, place the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Divide into pieces, 9 or 10 for sandwich or hamburger buns, 12 - 14 for large dinner rolls or 20 - 24 for smaller dinner rolls, and shape the dough into rounds.  Not much work here, just shape them a little.

Place the pieces of dough onto a greased baking sheet.  Cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel and place in a warm area for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

When the dough has risen, apply the seasoned olive oil mixture to the top of each roll using a pastry brush, then bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden.

Olive Oil Mixture to Brush on Top of Rolls
2 TB  Olive Oil
1/2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Italian Seasoning
1/8 tsp  Salt
1/8 tsp  Black Pepper
Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Brush the olive oil mixture over the top of the rolls prior to baking.

Recipe Variations:
(1) As an alternate, we later made these delicious dinner rolls without the oregano and garlic powder in the bread dough, and instead used 1 tablespoon of onion powder.  The rolls were wonderful and full of this great oniony flavor. The perfect bun for a grilled chicken breast sandwich.

(2) As another alternate, we made salted buns for French Dip Sandwiches.  For this version of the dinner rolls, we skipped the oregano and garlic powder in the bread dough, and continued with the standard recipe.

When the dough was ready, I placed the dough on an olive oil coated cutting board, divided the dough into portions, and at the same time coated the rolls with just a little olive oil. Next, I added a sprinkle of coarse kosher salt to the tops of the buns, covered the dough with a piece of plastic wrap, then a clean towel and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.  This resulted in a nice salted top to the buns, while the interior was light and fluffy.  Perfect for the French Dips.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Swai Fillets with Cornbread Stuffing and Shrimp Sauce

Tonight we have for you another great way to serve swai fish fillets.  Swai is a type of catfish that has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a flaky texture, and is a very versatile fish to cook.  We have used swai in many dishes such as Swai and Shrimp Creole Chowder or Blackened Swai Chowder, and the results are always delicious.  If you haven't had a chance to try this delicious, inexpensive fish, this is a great recipe to try.

The inspiration for this dish came from basic cornmeal coated catfish.  Cornmeal creates a flavorful breading on the exterior of fish, so I wondered how it would taste on the inside, in the form of stuffing.  My idea sounded possible and tasty, and I knew I was onto something, so I started by baking a batch of cornbread muffins.

Something I always have in my cupboard are a few boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix.  My kids have always loved corn muffins for dinner, and they are super quick to prepare.  Even better, you can add fresh corn or green chilies to them and they make a great addition to a meal.

Once the muffins were cooked, (I ended up with 7 muffins total), I crumbled 4 muffins into crumbs, added some diced greens chilies, melted butter and chopped parsley to make the stuffing.  The stuffing was rolled up into the fillets and baked.  But the bundles needed a sauce.  Something silky and rich and full of flavor. Hmm.

While the fish was baking I made a quick white sauce, added a cup of chopped shrimp and a spoon of lobster base and the results were amazing.  The sauce had this luxurious texture, with just enough shrimp and lobster flavor to make the sauce pop.  When the sauce combined with the fish and cornbread, plus just a hint of green chilies, it created the perfect balance of flavors and a really remarkable dish.

This would be a great meal to serve guests, as it looks very elegant without too much work.  If you cannot find swai fillets you could substitute any flaky fish such as halibut or red snapper.  Enjoy!!

6  Swai Fillets, rinsed and patted dry
2 TB  Butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter in a 8 X 8 baking dish and set aside.

Cornbread Stuffing
3 cups  Cornbread Crumbs (from about 4 muffins)
2  oz  Chopped Green Chilies
1/2 cup  Butter, melted
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/8 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Parsley

In a medium bowl, combine all 6 ingredients and stir with a fork until the stuffing is evenly moist,  then divide the stuffing into 6 equal portions.  Place a portion of stuffing in the center of each swai fillet, roll the fillet to enclose the stuffing and place each bundle in the baking dish, seam side down.  Spoon a little of the melted butter in the bottom of the dish over each fish bundle.

Bake the fish for 20 - 25 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.  Prepare the white sauce while the fish is baking.

White Sauce with Shrimp
3 TB  Butter
3 TB  Flour
1/4 tsp  Salt
1 cup  Half and Half  or  Milk
1/2 cup  Cooked Fresh Shrimp, chopped
1-1/2 TB  White Wine
1 tsp  Lobster Base

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour and salt and stir to combine into a roux.  Slowly add the half and half (or milk) to the roux, adding a few tablespoons at a time and stirring to combine each time.

Heat the sauce over medium heat until warm, then add the cooked shrimp, white wine and the lobster base.  Continue to heat over medium heat and stir until the sauce has thickened.

Remove the fish from the baking dish to a platter and pour the white sauce over the fish. Serve with the extra corn muffins on the side.  Serves 6.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chocolate-Pretzel Bar Cookies

I don't usually do a lot of baking, so when the mood strikes, I try to make something really decadent, and these cookies fit the bill.  If you can imagine a chocolate covered pretzel, dipped in cookie dough batter, then baked to a golden brown, you can only imagine how good these cookies are!
These cookies can be made with just about any type of chocolate chips, my favorite being Hershey's Dark Chocolate chips.  These chips are not as sweet as the chips you find in most cookies, and that distinct dark chocolate flavor is heavenly.  If you're making these for your kids, they might prefer the semi-sweet chips over the dark chocolate, but our family was pretty divided on which one was their favorite.  Or better yet, make two batches and everyone will be happy.  Enjoy!!

2 cups  Flour
1 tsp  Baking Soda
1/2 tsp  Salt
1-1/2 sticks  Unsalted Butter, softened
1 cup  Brown Sugar
1/2 cup  Sugar
2  Large Eggs
2 tsp  Vanilla
12 oz bag  Chocolate Chips (bittersweet, milk chocolate or semi-sweet)
1-1/2 cups  Mini Pretzels or Pretzel Sticks, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, allowing about 1- 2 inches to drape over the ends of the sheet.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda an salt.  In a large bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and both sugars, until blended and creamy.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla, mixing on low speed.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter, then using a spoon, stir in the chocolate and pretzels.

Spread the batter evenly onto the lined baking sheet.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until golden.  (The center will still be a bit gooey.)  Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then carefully slide the cookie off of the pan and onto the wire rack.  (Do this by lifting the edges of parchment paper at either end.)  Slice into squares and serve.  Store cookies in a sealed container for up to 1 week.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Green Goddess Dressing over Cobb Salad

Tonight we made one of my favorite salads, the Cobb Salad.  This is a classic meal that really comes down to using whatever ingredients you have on hand to make a big, platter-style salad.  Start with a bed of chopped romaine, add any protein toppings you like, such as chopped turkey, ham or cooked chicken, add a few veggies like chopped tomatoes, green onions, or avocado, then a few yummy accompaniments, like crumbled cooked bacon, crumbled blue cheese or cheddar and a few diced hard-boiled eggs.  As many or as few toppings, any way you like it. (Kids love this meal!)

For the dressing we went with another classic that usually does not appear with the Cobb salad, a creamy, herb-infused, Green Goddess Dressing.

Green Goddess Salad Dressing is a restaurant classic created back in the 1920's in San Francisco.  The dressing was hugely popular during the 1960's and 1970's, and could be found on almost any restaurant menu in the country.  Then something happened.  This incredible dressing disappeared from diner menus in favor of ...Ranch!  Ugh.  Don't get me wrong, some homemade ranch dressings are OK, sort of, but they are not something I've ever been a fan of.  Especially the bottled ranch.

This recipe will explain why this dressing had such a huge following, it tastes amazing!  There are dozens of recipes that claim to be the "original".  Some recipes call for avocado or garlic, while others, like my version, do not contain either.  But the ingredients that are consistent are mayo, vinegar, fresh herbs, and anchovies.  Just a few ingredients and 30 seconds of blending time and that's it.  You have homemade dressing, full of bright herb flavors and no preservatives.  This recipe makes about 2 cups of dressing and will keep for 10 days in the refrigerator.

This dressing also makes a great veggie dip.  The kids and I tested this on carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and even pretzels and it was equally amazing on everything. lol  To serve this as a dip, just reduce the half and half in the recipe down to 2 or 3 tablespoons.  It is excellent!  Enjoy!!

Green Goddess Dressing
1 cup  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1/2 cup  Sour Cream
2 TB  Snipped Fresh Chives
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Parsley
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Tarragon
1 TB  Lemon Juice
1 TB  White Wine Vinegar
3 Anchovies + 1/2 tsp liquid from the can
Salt and Pepper to Taste
4 - 5 TB  Half and Half

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times.  Add half and half, one tablespoon at a time until the dressing is the desired consistency.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chicken, Poblano and 3 Cheese Lasagna

Tonight we found a tasty way to use a few more poblano peppers from our garden.  Although this is far from any traditional lasagna, the combination of provolone cheese, Monterey jack cheese and just a bit of Parmesan gave the lasagna a rich flavor, and it was a surprisingly easy meal to put together.

We used the Dreamfield's low carb lasagna noodles and they tasted great.  The poblano peppers can be roasted ahead of time, if needed, and the instructions for roasting the peppers can be found here.  The process is very easy and the flavor released from the peppers adds a nice pop to the meal.

Since I found them on sale, we used chicken drumsticks, but you could also substitute cubed chicken breasts.  The main benefit of the drumsticks is the dark meat will have much more flavor versus white meat.

Thanks to a generous amount of mushrooms, this dish had almost a stuffed-mushroom quality that I loved.  A nice poblano and chicken taste, with the earthy mushrooms and cheesy backdrop.  So yummy.  This was an instant hit with the family, and I'm sure it will be added to the most-requested list.  Enjoy!!

3 lbs  Chicken Drumsticks, boiled off and meat pulled off the bone
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 medium  Yellow Onion, finely chopped
8 oz  Portabella Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1/4 to 1/2 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (use 1/2 tsp for more spice)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the onions and sauté 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet and sauté about 5 minutes over medium heat, until the mushrooms are tender but not mushy.  Add the cooked chicken to the pan, stir and sauté 2 minutes, then cover the pan and remove from the heat.  Set aside while you make the sauce and noodles.

8  Whole Wheat or Regular Lasagna Noodles, cooked al dente

3  Fresh Poblano Peppers, roasted, peeled and deseeded, then cut into strips
1 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Salted Butter
1/2 medium  Yellow Onion, chopped
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1/3 cup  Flour
1-1/4 cups  Chicken Broth
1/2 cup  Milk
1/2 cup  Half and Half
Salt and Pepper to Taste
6 slices  Smoked Provolone Cheese
6 slices  Monterey Jack Cheese
Grated Parmesan Cheese

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté 4 minutes until tender.  Add the flour and stir until fully incorporated into a smooth roux.  Slowly add the chicken broth to the pan, a little at a time, stirring to combine.  When the mixture is smooth, add the milk and half and half to the pan and stir.

Add the poblano peppers to the pan and bring the mixture to a low simmer over medium heat.  Add salt and pepper as needed, then remove the pan from the heat once the sauce has thickened slightly.

Pour the sauce into a blender and pulse several times if you prefer a chunky sauce, or puree for a smooth sauce.  (I did not puree the sauce completely and it was very tasty with little bits of poblano.)


In a large non-stick baking pan, pour a 1/2 cup of sauce and about 1/3 of the chicken/mushroom mixture into the pan in an even layer.  Add a layer of cooked lasagna noodles, then a layer of provolone cheese slices.  Next add another 3/4 cup layer of sauce, and the remaining chicken mushroom mixture.  Add the second layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce and top with the sliced Monterey jack cheese, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn the oven to broil for 3-4 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

7 Day Slaw

If you have potlucks or picnics coming up or you are planning a camping trip, this is a great salad option.  Since this slaw does not contain any mayonnaise, it does not require the level of refrigeration that a mayo-based salad would need.  That's also where the name comes from.  Without the mayo, the salad has a refrigerated shelf life of one week, if it lasts that long!

After allowing a little time to marinate in the vinaigrette, at least 2-3 hours for the best results, this slaw is crisp-tender and has lots of flavor from the cider vinegar, with just a bit of sweetness from the carrot and sugar.  We served this slaw with the El Diablo Burger, and it also tastes delicious with Country Style Pork Ribs with Mustard or your favorite BBQ.  Enjoy!!

3/4 cup  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
2 tsp  Dry Mustard
1 tsp  Whole Celery Seeds
2 TB  Sugar
2/3 cup  Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup  Sugar
1 medium  Onion, thinly sliced
1 medium  Green Pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 medium  Carrot, peeled and shredded
2-1/2 lbs  Green Cabbage, thinly sliced

Place cabbage in large bowl with bell peppers, onion, carrot and 1/4 cup sugar. Toss together and set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the 2 tablespoons sugar, vinegar, celery seed, dry mustard and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, stir, then simmer for 2 minutes until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool, about 15 minutes.

Pour the vinaigrette over the cabbage, then add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the slaw to combine, cover and refrigerate for several hours until ready to serve.  Be sure to toss the slaw a few times while it is chilling.

El Diablo Burger

During our recent trip to Universal Studios, we were excited to find the park was home to one of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurants.  Overlooking the waterway in the heart of the park, this was a great place too cool off, grab a burger for dinner and enjoy the very "festive" atmosphere.

My husband chose the El Diablo burger which included a spicy assortment of toppings including crispy fried onions, roasted poblano peppers, Monterey jack cheese, chili paste, and spicy chipotle ketchup.  Not only did he love this burger, he wanted to recreate it at home.
So that was my assignment.  Try to duplicate this burger, that I never tasted, and get as close as possible to the original.  So the challenge was on and, according to my husband, this was a pretty good burger.

The crispy fried onions were easy, we used French's crunchy onions for that step.  The poblano peppers in our garden were just the right size, and this would be our first chance to use them this season.  We quickly charred the peppers on the grill, let them cool, then removed the blackened skin to reveal the smoky pepper inside.  Then it was easy to slice the peppers open so they would lie flat on the bun.

The chili paste stumped me a bit, but I ended up using Sriracha sauce and just blended it into the meat with a bit of salt and pepper.  The chipotle ketchup was super easy and will be something we will make for many other meals.  Start with plain ketchup, add one chipotle pepper and a spoonful of the adobo sauce the pepper is packed in, then blend for 10 seconds. It's an easy, spicy sauce that would taste great with almost anything. (If you like extra spicy sauce, add two chipotle peppers to the mixture.)

We grilled the burgers until medium-rare, then topped them off with a slice of Monterey jack cheese and the sandwiches were ready to serve.  Everyone loves the burgers, kids included!  For those not too into lots of spice, you can serve the ketchup on the side.  It makes a great dip for the sandwich or even French fries.

There is a bit of extra work involved with this burger recipe, but the results are well worth it.  The ketchup can be made and the peppers can be roasted in advance, which will save some time when you're ready to grill. This is one great burger. Enjoy!!

Chipotle Ketchup
3/4 cup  Ketchup
1  Whole Chipotle Pepper, packed in adobo sauce
1 TB  Adobo Sauce

Add the 3 ingredients to a small blender and puree a few seconds.  Refrigerate until needed.

Roasting Poblano Peppers
Rinse 1 pepper for each sandwich you will be serving.  Place the whole peppers on the grill over medium-high heat and roast 5 - 8 minutes, turning frequently to evenly char the entire pepper.  We also tried this on the side burner and it worked great, too.

Place the peppers in a paper bag and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Remove the peppers from the bag and gently peel off the charred skin. (The skin will come off very easily.) Carefully slice off the top of the peppers, and remove all seeds.  Slice the peppers from top to bottom and lay flat on a plate until needed.

2 lbs  Extra Lean Ground Beef (this will make 6 patties)
1 TB  Sriracha Sauce (or a bit more to taste)
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Pepper

Combine the beef with the seasonings, form the meat into patties and place on a platter. 

Other Burger Toppings
Sliced Monterey Jack Cheese
6  Deli Burger Buns
French's Fried Crispy Onions

Grill the burger over medium heat until medium-rare, then add the Monterey jack cheese during the last few minutes of cooking.

Place a spoonful of chipotle ketchup onto each bun, lay a poblano pepper on the bottom bun, then add the burger.  The top bun gets a generous sprinkle of crunchy onions and dinner is ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Basil-Dijon Salmon on Red Lentil Puree

Two of my top favorite ingredients to cook with are basil and salmon, so this recipe was especially fun to put together.  This recipe also uses the Basil Cubes from my previous post, but you could also use fresh basil and a bit of olive oil, in place of the cubes.

The inspiration for this dish came from a jar of coarse ground Dijon mustard from Trader Joe's.  The mustard was filled with so many little mustard seeds, just bursting with flavor, I wanted to use them in a special way. 

During the same shopping trip I found a bag of red lentils, which I had never used before.  Lentils are commonly used in Indian foods, and have a very unique, slightly nutty flavor.  They are also used to thicken soups, which I can't wait to try, but since this type of lentil tends to cook down quickly, I wanted to create a puree with them.  A creamy puree, infused with basil. (As a bonus, lentils are packed with fiber, magnesium, iron, B-vitamins and protein, so these little gems are something I'm looking forward to cooking with a lot more.)

So for this dish we combined both ideas.  The salmon was quickly seared in a hot skillet, flipped over and coated with a fragrant basil, Dijon and garlic sauce, and served atop the red lentil puree.  The flavors of the salmon, basil and lentils came together beautifully, with the basil highlighting the whole dish.  This is a really unique combination, and we loved the results.  Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
1/2 cup  Red Lentils
1-1/4 cups  Chicken Stock or Water
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 small Basil Cube  (or 1 TB chopped fresh basil plus 1 tsp olive oil)

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the lentils and stir to coat, then add the broth or water and the salt to the pan.  Cover the pan with a tight lid, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 12 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. 

**Note: If you like a completely smooth puree, you could blend the lentils at this point using a stick blender, but I liked the added texture of the lentils so we skipped the blender this time.

Add the basil cube (or fresh basil) to the lentils and stir until blended.  Set aside and allow the lentils to thicken until you are ready to prepare the plates.

4 - 6 oz  Salmon Portions, skin on, rinsed and patted dry
2 tsp  Olive Oil

Basil-Dijon Marinade
Basil Cube  (or substitute 2 TB chopped fresh basil)
2 TB  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Lemon Juice
1-1/2 tsp  Coarse Ground Dijon Mustard
1 tsp  Dijon Mustard
1 tsp  Minced Garlic

Place the basil cube in a small glass bowl and microwave for just a few seconds to defrost.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, both mustards and garlic to the bowl and stir to combine.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the salmon to the pan, skin side up and cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until slightly browned.  Turn the salmon over and divide the marinade evenly between the portions, smoothing the mixture to the edges of the salmon.

Cover the pan and cook for about 5 - 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon fillets.  When the salmon is cooked through, remove the salmon from the skillet and place on a cutting board.  Using a long knife, slide the knife between the salmon and the skin, and remove the skin from each piece of salmon.

Spoon a portion of the red lentil puree into the center of each plate, place a salmon fillet on top of the puree and serve.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Freezing Basil in Ice Cube Trays

Basil adds such a bright, fresh flavor to so many foods, it's always sad when the basil plants start to flower, and then die off as the summer draws to a close.  But fear not, there is a simple way to freeze those sweet basil leaves, and it's as easy as making ice cubes.

Do you remember all of those basil plants I planted a few short months ago?  Well, they are full grown plants now and that means it's time for the first batch of cubes.

We pulled about 8 cups of basil leaves to make this first batch, which will yield a dozen or so cubes when we are finished.  Remove any of the larger stems from the leaves, but the smaller ones are fine to leave on.

Using a food processor, pack the bowl full of basil leaves and drizzle with a few teaspoons of olive oil.  No specific measurement here, just enough oil to moisten the mixture.  Pulse the mixture until the basil is coarsely chopped, then scrape down the sides of the food processor, add more oil if needed, and pulse again.  The mixture does not need to be pureed, just a finally chopped blend.

Spoon the mixture into a plastic ice cube tray, pressing the mixture down slightly.  When you are finished, drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto each of the cubes, then cover the tray with plastic wrap. 

Freeze for one to two hours or until frozen solid, then pop the cubes out of the tray, place them in a plastic bag and freeze until needed.  These will keep in the freezer for at least 6 months, but I've almost always used them up faster than that! lol  The cubes can be added to spaghetti sauce, lasagna, or any dish that calls for basil.   Enjoy!!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Old Fashioned Pea Salad

With summer upon us and the 4th of July right around the corner, this is a super easy recipe that will be a welcome change at your next cookout.  Instead of the usual macaroni or potato salad, this simple, old-fashioned recipe is something everyone will love, and they will be asking for the recipe!

We wanted something light and cool to serve at our barbecue tonight, and I was trying to come up with something new.  Then this recipe popped into my head and I knew it would be perfect.  Pea Salad is something I have not made in many years, and I can't believe I had not thought about it before now.  With a very short list of ingredients, and literally one or two minutes of stirring, this will be the easiest salad you've ever made.  Sweet baby peas, chopped eggs, a little grated cheese and mayo plus a few seasonings and you are ready to serve.  That's all there is to it.  Enjoy!!

16 oz  Frozen Peas, defrosted
2 TB  Chopped Pimentos
1/2 cup  Light Mayonnaise
2  Large  Hard-Boiled Eggs, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup  Grated Cheddar Cheese
1/2 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp  Ground White Pepper

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and stir until blended.  Will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Penne Pasta with Chicken and Spinach

This delicious Italian dish was inspired by a recipe on Jacques Pepin's television show.  His recipe called for eggplant and escarole as the main focus of the dish, which was a yummy vegetarian choice, but we switched it up a bit by using chicken breast and baby spinach.  The results we so good, even our picky eater gave this dish a thumbs up. Yay!

The ingredients in this dish are things you probably already have on hand.  You could use just about any regular or whole wheat pasta shape including fettuccine or linguine noodles.  The one secret ingredient in the sauce is a small can of anchovies.  (Don't tell my daughter!)  I know many people don't like anchovies, but I hope you give them a try in this recipe.  Anchovies add lots of flavor and really make this sauce something special.

What makes this meal even better is that it's cooked in one pot, and for me, that is a major time saver.  This made a really light summer meal, focusing more on the chicken and spinach and going a little light on the pasta.  A glass of Chardonnay wine adds the final touch.  Enjoy!!

2 TB  Olive Oil
2 lb  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut thinly into 1-inch diameter slices
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Red Pepper Flakes
3 oz can  Anchovies, chopped, oil reserved
2  6-oz bags  Baby Spinach, rinsed and large stems removed
1 lb  Pasta of Your Choice, such as Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

In a medium pot, cook pasta according to package directions.  Keep warm.

In a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken to the pan and season with salt and pepper.  Cook the chicken for 4 minutes, turning several times, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan, stir and cook 4 minutes longer, or until the chicken is no longer pink, then reduce heat to medium.

Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a platter;  cover with foil to keep warm.

Add the anchovies along with any oil from the container to the pan and stir, then add the spinach and stir again.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and cook over medium heat for about 4 - 5 minutes or until the spinach has reduced.

Return the chicken and any collected juices to the pan and stir, then drain the pasta and add it to the pan, stirring well to combine.  Cook for 2 - 3 minutes longer while the sauce thickens.  Serves about 8.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Braised Chicken and Mushrooms with Mustard Sauce

Whew, what a busy month it's been!  After a visit from relatives and a quick trip to Universal  Studios,  it's time to get back to cooking. 

I've been wanted to try this recipe for quite some time because I love to cook chicken breasts on the bone, and braising adds lots of flavor to the chicken, while keeping the meat moist and juicy.  Cooking the meat with the bones on does add a little extra time to the cooking process, but the extra flavor is well worth the additional time.  Once again, cooking low and slow delivers excellent results.

This recipe seemed so simple, I wasn't sure what to expect, but to my surprise, this dish is not only very simple to make, the flavor is rich and elegant enough to serve as a special occasion dinner.  The final touch to this dish is the brown mushroom sauce that pulls all of the flavors together.

Herbs de Provence is a new seasoning blend that I was not very familiar with, but I was excited to try.  Basically a combination of thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, chervil, bay leaf and savory, this blend includes all of the classic French herbs in one jar.  Even with a cabinet full of herbs and spices, this one is something extra special, and I can't wait to try it in other dishes.  The flavor is just incredible.

This dish starts with braising the chicken in olive oil and butter, adding sliced mushrooms, white wine and the herbs, then slowly cooking the chicken in the braising liquid.  When the chicken is cooked, the sauce only takes 5 minutes to prepare and dinner is ready.  Serve with wild rice and steamed veggies.  Enjoy!!

3 - 4 large  Bone-In Chicken Breasts, skin on
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
3 TB  Olive Oil
3 TB  Butter
10 oz  Mushrooms, sliced
1 TB  Herbs de Provence
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup  Dry White Wine, divided
2 heaping TB  Dijon Mustard
1/3 cup  Heavy Cream

Rinse the chicken under cool water and pat dry with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper.

In a large deep pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat, then add the chicken to the pan, skin side down.  Brown the chicken on all sides, about 12 minutes total.

Remove chicken from the pan to a platter and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Sauté mushrooms for 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits.  Add the chicken back to the pan, sprinkle the chicken with the herbs, then pour the 1/2 cup of white wine around the chicken.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and juices run clear.  (The chicken breasts we used were fairly thick, so they needed the full 40 minutes.  You could also use chicken thighs instead of the chicken breasts.)

Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a platter.  Cover with foil to keep warm.  Add the 1/4 cup white wine to the pan, stirring to blend, and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add the mustard and cream to the pan, increase the heat slightly to medium, and stir until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.  Serves about 6.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Kitchen Garden

When I was growing up, my Dad always had a garden.  I don't remember a single year when he didn't have at least a couple of tomato plants and some green onions, and we even had a year of two when broccoli, corn and watermelons made an appearance in our back yard.  I still think he grew the biggest Beefsteak tomatoes the Midwest has ever seen.


So, it must be in my genes that every spring I have this urge to plant something.  In Florida, the first tomato plants of the season appear in our local garden center in early February, and I have to force myself to wait just a little longer to buy them, until the last cold snap has moved on, in favor of warmer temperatures.  Then the fun begins.

This year I wanted lots of basil to make homemade pesto, so I started my plants from seeds.  If you've never seen basil seeds, they are extremely small, and it's nearly impossible to count out just 2 or 3 to each pot.  So I planted this packet of seeds, and I what I thought would be about 10 basil plants turned into 25!   As a result, not only will we be making lots of pesto, and freezing the basil in cubes, but several of my husband's coworkers will be receiving basil plants of their own..lol.


 Other goodies in our kitchen garden this year include a jalapeno pepper and a poblano pepper plant, lots of green onions, chives and parsley, along with cherry tomatoes and full sized tomatoes.

Many people think you need a lot of space for a garden, but all of the items above are growing beautifully in pots, with the exception of the large tomato plants, and they don't take up very much room.


If you've never tried to grow your own herbs or vegetables, there is still time this season to pick up a few plants at your local garden store.  Gardening is also a great project for kids.  Not only will they enjoy watching the plants grow, they will be excited to help decide how to use the harvest.

Tomatoes, both the full size and the cherry tomatoes can be used in salsa or salads, and they are yummy on pizza.  Fresh herbs like basil, oregano or chives can be added to salad dressings and many dishes, and they are all very easy to grow. 

Thanks for visiting my Kitchen Garden and check back soon. We have lots of great recipes coming up using this years harvest. Happy Gardening!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Shrimp and Crab Po'Boy Sandwich

It's always been a custom at our house that the birthday person gets to choose anything they would like for their birthday dinner.  It's been an especially fun tradition to watch as our kids grew older.  Their tastes have changed each year as they experienced new foods and cuisines, and they have learned which foods they love and even some foods that they don't like.  And as a very proud Mom, I have to admit, they have never, not even once, asked for McDonald's for their birthday dinner. YES!!

So tonight, for my daughter's very special 13th birthday, she chose a Seafood Po'Boy sandwich.  She really didn't specify at first what kind of sandwich she wanted, but just gave me a basic suggestion of shrimp, made into a po'boy.  So we came up with this sandwich together, and she was very pleased with the results.

What made this dinner even better, was that it is super easy to make.  Shrimp, crab meat, a few seasonings, lots of garlic and a quick 10 minutes to marinate and you are ready to cook.  Sautéing the seafood mixture takes less than 10 minutes, and a quick broil to crisp up the rolls is just 4 minutes longer.

This is a great seafood sandwich that's full of flavor and gets a little kick from Sriracha sauce.  You might notice we use fresh and dried basil in this dish.  This is something we've done for many years when cooking shrimp, and for some reason, as good as fresh basil tastes, the flavor is further enhanced by the dried basil.  I'm not sure why, but it tastes great when they are blended.  You could also use only fresh or only dried basil in this recipe and the results would still be delicious.  Enjoy!!

6  Hoagie Rolls, sliced lengthwise
1-1/2 lbs  Medium Raw Shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 oz  Imitation Crab Meat, flake style (also called Surimi)
1/3 cup  Olive Oil
3 TB  Minced Garlic
2  Heaping TB  Chopped Fresh Basil
1 TB  Dried Basil
1 TB  Paprika
2 TB  Sriracha Sauce  (use 1 TB for less heat)
3 TB  Balsamic Vinegar
1/8 tsp  Cayenne Pepper
Grated Parmesan Cheese for Garnish, optional

Place the hoagie rolls on a foil-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a large glass bowl, combine all of the remaining ingredients.  Stir gently to evenly coat the shrimp and crab, then set the mixture aside to marinate for 10 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high.  When the skillet is hot, add the shrimp-crab mixture and spread into an even layer.  Cook for 4 minutes undisturbed, then turn the seafood over and cover the skillet with a lid.  Cook for 4 minutes longer, then stir the mixture to make sure all of the shrimp are cooked through and pink.  Remove the skillet from the heat while you make the sandwiches.

Spoon the seafood mixture into the hoagie rolls, pressing the mixture down slightly while stuffing the rolls.  Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over the sandwiches and broil for 4 minutes or until golden on top.  Serve with cole slaw.  Serves about 6 and any leftover seafood makes a wonderful lunch the next day.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich

The legendary Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich is said to have originated in the early 1930's in Philadelphia.  This hearty sandwich is served on French or Italian rolls and consists of very thinly sliced roast beef, sautéed onions and peppers, and melted cheese.  There seems to be a lot of disagreement regarding the type of cheese to use, but provolone and American seem to be the favorites.

Instead of buying deli roast beef for our sandwiches, which currently runs $10 or more per pound (ouch!), I bought a bottom round beef roast, which at $4.50 per pound is a great bargain and my favorite choice for sliced beef sandwiches.  This cut of beef cooks quickly, and only needs a generous coating of seasoned salt and cracked pepper before roasting.  Cooking the roast until it reaches 145 degrees in the center, then letting it rest for about 20 minutes, delivers a tender and juicy cut of beef that is right around medium-rare and ready for slicing.  The 3 pound roast used in this recipe is about twice the amount needed for the 5 of us, but the leftover beef is great for sandwiches, and the 3 pound size seems to always cook perfectly, so I always buy the same size.

For the toppings, we sautéed sliced onion and green and orange peppers for our sandwiches and topped them off with smoked provolone cheese.  A quick 3 minutes under the broiler melted the cheese until it was bubbly and the bread was slightly toasted. Delicious!

3 lb  Bottom Round Beef Roast
Seasoned Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Olive Oil
1  Green Pepper, cored and sliced
1  Orange or Red Pepper, cored and sliced
1  medium Onion, sliced
Smoked Provolone Cheese Slices
French or Italian Hoagie Rolls, sliced lengthwise

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking pan with foil and place the roast in the pan, fat side up.  Generously coat the roast with seasoned salt and pepper, then bake uncovered for about 60 to 90 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 145 degrees.

Remove the roast from the oven and allow to rest for 20 - 30 minutes.  Once the roast has cooled slightly, slice the meat very thinly and place the meat on a platter until you are ready to prepare the sandwiches.

Line a baking sheet with foil, place the hoagie rolls on the sheet and place a slice of provolone cheese in the base of each roll; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the peppers and onions to the skillet, add a little more ground black pepper, and sauté until tender, about 8 - 10 minutes. 

Add about half of the meat to the skillet with the peppers and onions (this will serve about 6 people) and set the rest of the meat aside.  Sauté the mixture quickly, stirring the beef, onions and peppers together.  If the beef looks a bit dry, add one or two teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet, and continue to stir, only cooking the beef for about 2 minutes.

Scoop portions of the beef, onions and peppers onto the hoagie rolls, pressing the mixture into the rolls.  Top with slices of provolone cheese, then place the sandwiches under the broiler for 2 - 3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the rolls are slightly browned.  Serve immediately.

Friday, May 31, 2013

White Pizza

Tonight we made a delicious White Pizza that is not just a great meatless dinner, it would also be wonderful sliced into small squares and served as an appetizer.  Honestly, this was so good, you could even slice it into wedges and serve it instead of  garlic bread with your favorite Italian dinner.

The inspiration for this sauce-less pizza came from a local Italian restaurant that recently started selling a similar pie.  Although their pizza had a pretty good crust, the problem with their version was a total lack of seasoning!  Not even salt and pepper!  So what could have been a great meal was totally bland and sad.  But I knew how to fix that, so I was ready to create our own version of this interesting pizza.

We used our standard Bread Machine Pizza Dough, or you could use a store bought pizza dough, which is actually pretty good and it does save time when you are in a rush.  A light dusting of garlic powder to the crust adds a great burst of flavor, then you're ready to pre-bake the crust.

After cooking the crust for a few minutes, and the crust is lightly browned, you are ready to add the toppings.  Ricotta cheese, blended with garlic powder, salt, and just a touch of white pepper create a light base, then a layer of sautéed baby spinach and a light sprinkle of mozzarella cheese complete the pizza and it's ready to bake.  After the pizza was finished, we applied a light drizzle of olive oil across the whole pizza and served.

This pizza got rave reviews, even from the picky eater in the family, and she even requested we make this again next week.  (Gasp! That is the ultimate compliment.)  Enjoy!!

1 lb  Pizza Dough  (half of the Bread Machine Pizza Crust Recipe or 1 pre-made dough)
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
6 oz  Low Fat Ricotta Cheese
1/2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  White Pepper
2-1/2 cups  Fresh Baby Spinach, washed and stems removed
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

In a small bowl, use a fork to combine the ricotta cheese, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, salt, and white pepper, and set aside.

Coat a pizza pan or baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, spreading oil all the way to the edges.  Place the pizza dough on the pan and spread the dough out with your hands to flatten, turning 2 or 3 times to coat the dough with olive oil, and spreading the dough all the way to the edge of the pan.  Set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, then add the spinach to the pan.  Stir the spinach frequently as it begins to shrink, and continue to stir a few minutes until the spinach is wilted.  Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Bake the crust for 5 minutes, or until the crust is lightly golden and no longer shiny from the olive oil, and remove from the oven.

Spread the ricotta mixture in an even layer over the entire pizza, then apply the spinach leaves, followed by a layer of mozzarella cheese.  Bake for about 12 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.  For a final touch, drizzle the pizza lightly with olive oil before serving.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Crispy Shrimp Cakes with Lime Salsa

Today I was lucky to find some early-season Florida corn on the cob at the grocery, and I couldn't wait to use it to create these Shrimp Cakes.  Sometimes the early corn crops don't have that sweet corn taste that you get from the late season corn, but this corn was sweet and tasty and smelled like summer.  We pureed half of the corn and left the rest of the kernels whole, which added a nice layer of texture when combined with the shrimp.

A blend of two flours are used for the batter, a mixture of regular flour and masa harnina, which is the flour used to make tortillas. The masa flour keeps the batter light and airy, which let the shrimp flavor comes through, but also allows the cakes to form a nice crispy exterior.

The salsa we used is a quick and simple recipe we've used for years.  The first tomatoes of the season always end up in a batch of salsa, with fresh minced jalapenos and lime juice. Yum!

If you have kids that are a little finicky about seafood, there is an easy way to get them to at least try this Shrimp Cake.  Call it a Krabby Patty!  Anyone under the age of 30 or so knows that the Krabby Patty is the staple food in the SpongeBob cartoons, and this will at least get them interested in trying something new for dinner.  For a little less spice, you could also serve these cakes with a simple tarter sauce or cocktail sauce in place of the salsa.  Enjoy!!

1/2 cup  Minced Red Onion
2  medium  Tomatoes, chopped
2  medium  Jalapeno Peppers, finely minced
2 TB  Lime Juice
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt

To prepare the salsa, combine the above 5 ingredients in a glass bowl and stir to combine.  Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

2/3 cup  Masa Harina Flour (this can be found in the Mexican foods section)
2/3 cup  Flour
1 tsp  Baking Powder
2 tsp  Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
3/4 tsp  Freshly Ground Black Pepper
2 cups  Fresh Corn Kernels, cut from 3 ears of corn, divided into 1 cup portions
2 TB  Low-Fat Buttermilk
1 TB  Grated Lemon Rind
2  Eggs
1-1/2 lbs medium  Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 medium  Red Bell Pepper, minced
1  Green Onion, finely minced
1 TB  Minced Garlic
Canola Oil

In a large glass bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, Old Bay, salt and pepper, and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine 1 cup of corn, buttermilk, lemon rind, eggs, and shrimp.  Pulse the food processor several times, just until the shrimp is a chopped consistency, but some pieces still remain.

Pour the shrimp and corn mixture into a large bowl and add the red pepper, green onion, garlic and the remaining 1 cup of corn kernels.  Stir to combine, then add the flour mixture and stir gently only until the batter is blended.

Heat 1/4 inch of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Using a 1/3 cup measuring scoop, place scoops of the batter into the skillet, pressing the tops of the cakes down slightly with a spatula.  Cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown, then turn the cakes over and cook 4 minutes longer until golden.

Remove the cakes from the skillet and place on paper towels to drain while you cook the rest of the cakes in batches.  Serve the shrimp cakes with the Lime Salsa, tortilla chips and guacamole. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Buffalo Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

With the school year almost over, each day seems to get more and more busy.  Between field trips, class projects, award ceremonies and graduations, the calendar for this month is fully booked!  As a result, our weeknight dinners have been quick meals that we can work in among all of the activities.  I'm ready for a nice relaxing summer, where most of the meals can be prepared on the grill.  Until then, I'm always looking forward to our weekly Sunday Salad feature, so I actually have a little time to do some cooking.

Sunday Salad continues this week with a healthier version of Buffalo Chicken Wings, and this salad was a huge success!  For this dinner salad, instead of using chicken wings, we used boneless and skinless chicken breast and lightly coated the chicken with a flour and cornmeal breading.  The breading gave the chicken the familiar taste and texture you would find on wings, but without the fat from the chicken skin.  Even better, the chicken breast is baked, then quickly broiled for just a few minutes to give the chicken a nice exterior, while keeping the interior moist and tender.

To complete this salad, we mixed up a homemade Blue Cheese Dressing that requires just a few basic ingredients.  The dressing itself is amazing!  If you are a connoisseur of blue cheese dressing, this is going to be some of the best stuff you have ever tasted.

Although this recipe has several steps, it can be pulled together pretty quickly.  If you prepare the dressing and salad ahead of time, the chicken and sauce will be ready in about 20 minutes, start to finish.

Blue Cheese Dressing
8 oz  Blue Cheese Crumbles
1 tsp  Sea Salt
1/2 tsp  Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Chopped Chives
1/2 cup  Buttermilk
1/2 cup + 2 TB  Sour Cream (regular or low-fat)
2 TB  Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp  Red Wine Vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl and stir with a fork to combine.  For best results, refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

For the Salad
1  3-pack  Romaine Lettuce Hearts, washed and chopped
1 small  Carrot, shredded

Combine the lettuce and carrot in a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare the Buffalo Wing Sauce
6TB  Salted Butter
1 TB  Red Pepper Flakes
3 TB  Garlic Powder
1 tsp  Black Pepper
1/4 tsp  Salt
3/4 cup  Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1 TB  White Vinegar

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat, then add the red pepper flakes, garlic powder, salt and pepper, stirring to combine.  Stir the mixture until you have a roux consistency, then add the hot sauce and vinegar.  Bring the mixture to a low simmer and continue for 10 - 15 minutes on low heat.

Keep the mixture warm until ready to prepare the chicken pieces.

To prepare the Buffalo Chicken
2 lbs  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup  Flour
1/2 cup  Cornmeal
1 TB  Garlic Powder
1 TB  Seasoned Salt
1 tsp  Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Olive Oil in a Spritz Bottle

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with non-stick foil and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

Add the chicken pieces to the breading and lightly toss to coat each piece.  Place the chicken pieces on the lined baking sheet so they are not touching, and spritz the chicken lightly with olive oil.

Bake the chicken for 6 minutes, remove from oven and turn the chicken over.  Lightly spritz the chicken with olive oil and return to the oven until lightly golden, about 6 minutes.  Turn the oven to a broil setting and broil the chicken for 3 - 4 minutes or until browned.

Remove chicken from the oven and dip the pieces into the wing sauce, one at a time, to evenly coat, and place the chicken in a bowl.

To assemble the salads:  Place a serving of lettuce in a large salad bowl and place several pieces of the Buffalo chicken in the center.  Drizzle the salad with blue cheese dressing and garnish with carrot and celery sticks.  Serves about 6.  Enjoy!!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Grilled Chicken and Buttermilk Dressing Salad

We are really enjoying our Sunday Salad dinners and this week we have one of my favorite combinations, a grilled chicken breast over a mixed romaine salad, with homemade buttermilk and herb dressing.  Even better, we were able to garnish the salad with a few little tomatoes, straight from our garden. Yummy.

The chicken is very easy to prepare on an outdoor grill, but, if you find your gas tank empty, like we did today, the chicken cooks quickly in a skillet.  The chicken is sautéed with olive oil, butter and fresh garlic, and only needs a generous sprinkle of pepper for seasoning.

The salad dressing is very easy to prepare and most of the ingredients you probably already have on hand.  This dressing is almost a vinaigrette, but the buttermilk plus a touch of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard add a bit more body to the dressing and allows it to stick to the salad, without being too heavy.  I love making homemade salad dressings because you can control the flavors to your own liking, and keep the sodium content much lower than the bottled dressings.

This is a very quick meal to assemble, which makes it ideal for an easy Sunday night dinner.  If you blend the dressing ahead of time, the chicken and salad only take about 15 minutes to prepare.  Enjoy!!

3  Whole Romaine Hearts, washed and chopped
2 cups  Fresh Baby Spinach, washed
1-1/2 lbs  Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, about 3 or 4
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Salted Butter
1 TB  Minced Fresh Garlic
1 cup  Buttermilk
1/2 cup  Grated Parmesan Cheese
4 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Basil
1 TB  Chopped Fresh Chives
2 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Dijon Mustard
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Prepare the salad dressing at least one hour, or up to several hours, prior to serving to allow the flavors to fully blend.  The longer it has to sit, the better the flavor will be.

In a glass bowl combine the buttermilk, Parmesan, vinegar, basil and chives, olive oil, mayonnaise, mustard and garlic.  Use a whisk to stir the dressing, whisking until the olive oil is fully combined. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Prepare the romaine and spinach, place in a large bowl and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes until lightly browned.

Slice the chicken breasts horizontally to create thin fillets.  Add the chicken to the skillet and sauté for 4 minutes, turn the chicken over and cook for 4 minutes longer, or until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and rest for 5 minutes.

Pour half of the salad dressing over the romaine and spinach, stir to combine, then divide the salad among each of the dinner plates.  (To keep the salad nice and cold, chill the plates in the refrigerator for one hour.)

Slice the chicken breasts for each plate, place the chicken on top of the salad and garnish with fresh cherry tomatoes, a few croutons and a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.  Serve the remaining dressing on the side.  Serves 6 - 8.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Chicken and Chorizo Pizza

Pizza night at our house is something the whole family loves, but this time we had a reason to like our homemade pizza even more.  After one crazy busy day last week, we decided to order pizza from one of the national delivery chains.  What a horrible mistake! 

After placing the order online, and seeing the $30+ price for two pizzas, we reasoned that this was a rare treat and it would make dinner quick and easy, with little to no clean up, and that would justify the cost. So we sat back and waited...and waited..and waited some more. After 55 minutes the delivery guy arrived with our pizzas.  The kids were starving and tired of waiting, and I was still not thrilled with the cost, but we dug into the pizzas.  The first bite delivered an undercooked crust and a barely visible layer of toppings. Yuck!  I made it through 3 bites and that was enough. The rest of the meal went in the garbage.  Come to think of it, I believe this was why we started making our own pizzas in the first place.

So, tonight we were looking forward to a delicious homemade pizza and we decided to add a little Mexican twist and create a Smoky Chicken and Chorizo Pizza.  For the crust we used our standard Bread Machine Pizza Crust recipe, and we chose to skip the traditional sauce in favor of a drizzle of olive oil and add a layer of smoky sun-dried tomatoes, then a layer of sautéed chicken and chorizo, followed by a light sprinkle of Mexican cheeses.  The smoke from the tomatoes and the chorizo were a great combination and added a great deal of spice to the chicken.  So yummy!

This recipe is a great way to use up leftover chicken breast that you might have on hand and you can add other ingredients to your liking.  This pizza would be delicious with sautéed onions or green pepper, or switch the cheese to a grated jalapeno-pepper jack cheese for even more spice.  The recipe below is for one pizza, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

To Make 1 Chicken-Chorizo Pizza

1/2 Recipe  - Pizza Crust
Garlic Powder
1/2 lb  Soft Chorizo
1-1/2 cups  Cooked Chicken Breast, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup  Smoked Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped
1 cup  Shredded Mexican Blend Cheese, or more to taste

Prepare the pizza crust in the bread machine, and prepare 2 pizza pans by coating them with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté the chorizo until cooked through, then add the chicken to the pan and stir.  Cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, then add the salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Place half of the pizza dough on each pan, and spread the dough out to reach the edges, turning the dough over a few times to coat the dough with oil.

Sprinkle the edges of the dough lightly with garlic powder, then place the pan in the oven.  Bake for about 6 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden, but not fully cooked.

Remove the crust from the oven and coat the crust with a drizzle of olive oil, then add the chicken and chorizo mixture, followed by the tomatoes and finally the shredded cheese.

Bake for 12 minutes or until the pizza is golden and the cheese has melted.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Greek Pasta Salad

This is the second installment in our series of Salad Sunday dinners.  Throughout the summer months, we are going to try a new dinner salad each and every Sunday night, and we have lots of new recipes coming up.  Dinner salads are a great way to try new vegetables, vinaigrettes and dressings, or even a couple of new salad toppings.

Tonight we made a salad that can be served as a side salad or as a main dish for those warm summer evenings that are fast approaching.  This Greek Pasta Salad has a delicious mix of pasta, kalamata olives, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, a light olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing, and is topped off with a sprinkle of feta cheese.  If you want to increase the protein in this salad, you could easily add one cup of diced cooked chicken and it would taste great.

This is a very simple to prepare salad and it can actually be made several hours in advance.  The longer the salad has to marinate, the better the dressing will taste, so you could easily make the salad in the early afternoon and serve it for dinner.  Enjoy!!

8 oz  Dry Pasta, such as Mostaccioli Rigati or Penne, regular or whole wheat
1-1/2 cups  Grape Tomatoes, whole or halved
1 medium  Cucumber, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
1 or 2  Green Onions, chopped
1/2 cup  Pitted Kalamata Olives, cut in half
1/3 cup  Olive Oil
2 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp  Dried Basil (or 1 TB fresh, chopped)
1 tsp  Dried Greek Oregano (or 1 TB fresh, chopped)
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Freshly Ground Black Pepper
4 oz  Feta Cheese, crumbled

In a medium pot, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain the cooked pasta, then rinse under cool water.  Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl.

Add the tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, and olives to the pasta.

In a small bowl combine the olive oil, vinegar, basil, oregano and salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine then add to the pasta and stir gently to coat.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, if possible, and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese just before serving.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Catfish Tacos

This recipe is a family favorite that we've been making for several years, so I was really surprised when I noticed we didn't have a picture of the tacos on the web site.  So, below is an update of the recipe, with a picture included.  If you like catfish, you are really going to love these tacos.

Catfish has a sweet flavor that tastes great when topped with a spicy Chipotle Slaw.  The slaw was something that took a lot of trial and error to get just right, because chipotle powder is a very intense seasoning. A little goes a long way!  The first few times we made the slaw, the chipotle flavor was a little too strong, and it overpowered the catfish.  So each time we made the slaw, we would reduce the amount of chipotle powder just a little, until we reached just the right amount of spice to go with the fish.

The catfish can be prepared very quickly.  First the fish is dipped in a buttermilk and lemon pepper mixture, then in a breading of cornmeal, flour and seasonings.  Frying takes just about 8 minutes and you are ready to assemble your taco with slices of fresh avocado and a squeeze of lime.  Enjoy!!

1 1/2 pounds  Catfish Fillets, cut in half diagonally
1 cup  Buttermilk
1 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1 cup  Flour
3/4 cup  Cornmeal
2 tsp  Seasoned Salt
2 tsp  Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp  Black Pepper
Vegetable or Canola Oil, for frying
Flour Soft Taco Shells

Place catfish fillets on a plate and set aside.

In a large shallow dish, combine the flour and cornmeal with the salt, Old Bay, and pepper. In a second shallow dish combine the buttermilk and lemon pepper.

In a deep skillet, heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil until hot.

Dip the pieces of catfish into the buttermilk then in the flour/cornmeal mixture, pressing the breading onto the fillets to help it adhere. Gently place the fillets into the heated oil and fry the fish in two or three batches, about 3 - 4 minutes per side until cooked through and golden. Transfer the catfish to a paper-towel lined platter and let drain briefly.

Place a piece of catfish onto a flour tortilla shell, top with a scoop of Chipotle Slaw, drizzle with a squeeze of lime juice, fold the taco closed and serve with sliced avocado and lime wedges. 

Chipotle Slaw

This is not your ordinary coleslaw.  For this slaw we used a combination of thinly sliced green cabbage, some shredded carrots, along with lime juice, cider vinegar and chipotle powder, to create a zesty slaw that's a great addition to any summer dinner, but is even better as a topping for Catfish Tacos.

1/2 medium Green Cabbage, thinly sliced and coarsely chopped
1 Carrot, shredded
1/3 cup Sour Cream
1/3 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 - 1 tsp Chipotle Powder (1/2 tsp for medium spicy and 1 tsp for extra spicy)
4 TB Cider Vinegar
1 TB Lime Juice
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp Sugar
1/4 tsp Celery Salt (optional)

In a large bowl combine sliced cabbage and shredded carrot and set aside.

In a glass bowl, combine remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour mixture over the cabbage and carrots and stir, making sure to coat all of the cabbage.

Refrigerate at least 2 - 3 hours or overnight for the best flavor. Serve with lime wedges.