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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chicken, Vegetable and Noodle Soup

For our third day of Soup Month 2013, we made some adjustments to the traditional chicken noodle soup by adding more vegetables and chicken and decreasing the noodles.  Starting with homemade stock, this soup is hearty, healthy and oh so good on a chilly fall evening.

The addition of Brussels sprouts was delicious and brought an earthy taste to the soup.  With a light clear broth, its ideal for cold and flu season, which is right around the corner.  If you prefer a thicker soup, you can blend in a cornstarch and water mixture near the end of the cooking time, or you could always add a can of cream of celery soup to provide an even thicker broth.

This soup does include a homemade stock, which takes about an hour to prepare, but the rich flavored broth is well worth the extra work.  If you don't have time to make the stock, you can use 8 cups of packaged stock and about 3 cups of cooked chicken. 

Stock Ingredients
3  Chicken Quarters, skin removed
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 stalk Celery, coarsely chopped
1 small  Onion, coarsely chopped

Soup Ingredients
2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 TB  Butter
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 small  Onion, chopped
1 stalk  Celery, chopped
2 medium  Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pkg  Frozen Brussels Sprouts, defrosted and cut in half
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
12 oz  Pasta of Your Choice - Wide Egg Noodles, Linguini, etc

To prepare the chicken and stock:  Using a large soup pot, add the chicken pieces, onion, and celery  to the pot and fill the pot with water.  Add salt and pepper and bring the water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and pulls easily from the bones. 

When the chicken is cooked, transfer the chicken to a platter to cool, then pull the chicken from the bones, set aside and discard the bones.  Strain the chicken stock, discard the cooked vegetables then measure 8 cups of stock and add it back to the pot.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion, celery, carrots and Brussels sprouts to the pan, season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to sauté.  Arrange the sprouts cut-side down so they can sear.  Add the thyme to the mixture, stir and sauté until the vegetables are just tender.

Add the cooked chicken, salt and pepper to the vegetables and stir to combine, and continue cooking until the chicken is warmed.

Bring the pot of stock to a boil over high heat and add the pasta.  Cook the pasta until just al dente, then add the chicken and vegetable mixture to the pot and cook for 5 minutes.  (If you would like a thicker soup you can add a mixture of cornstarch and water to the soup at this point, cook for 5 minutes and the soup will thicken.  One can of cream of celery or cream of chicken soup will also thicken the soup and create a creamy consistency.)  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Creamy Asparagus and Brie Soup

For our second day of Soup Month 2013 we are going a little more fancy with a special occasion soup, and we combined two of my favorite ingredients, fresh asparagus and silky Brie cheese.  This soup is definitely not low-calorie, but with its rich, creamy and almost velvety texture, I wouldn't change a thing. 

Asparagus Brie Soup would be great served as a first course for a holiday dinner, and would pair nicely with Prime Rib, roast pork loin or even grilled salmon or swordfish.  You could even serve it with a mixed greens salad and a glass of Chardonnay for a lighter meal. 

This is a very easy soup to make and tastes better than any restaurant soup I've ever tasted.  Start to finish, this soup will be ready to serve in about 40 minutes.

The Brie used in this recipe is one of my favorites, Saint Andre Brie, which is available at most larger grocery stores. With a slightly salty, buttery flavor, this cheese combines beautifully with the asparagus.  There are many varieties of Brie on the market, some are inexpensive and others can get quite pricey, but this Brie offers a consistent flavor at a reasonable price.  I discovered this brand over 20 years ago and it's still my favorite.  (If you cannot find Saint Andre Brie at your market, look for a soft-ripened Brie and it should work nicely.)  Enjoy!!

1/2 lb  Fresh Asparagus Spears, peeled* and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup  Salted Butter
1/3 cup  Flour
3 cups  Chicken Broth
1 cup  Heavy Cream
1/2 cup  Dry White Wine
5 oz  Saint Andre' Brie Cheese, rind removed
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  White Pepper, or more to taste
Homemade French Bread Croutons or Store Bought Croutons for Garnish
Blanched Asparagus Spears for Garnish

In a large saucepan, sauté the asparagus in butter until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.  Stir in the flour until blended and cook for 2 minutes or until the flour is golden brown.

Slowly add the broth, cream and wine to the pan and bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Use a stick blender (or a standard blender) to puree the soup until creamy and smooth.  Cut the brie into small pieces and add the pieces to the soup.  Add salt and white pepper, adjust to taste, and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes over low heat.  Ladle the soup into small bowls, add a crouton and a few pieces of blanched asparagus for garnish and serve.

* Use a potato peeler to lighter peel the asparagus and remove the tough outer skin.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Creamy Italian Sausage and Potato Soup

Welcome to Soup Month 2013

Today begins an exciting month for our family, because October 1st marks is the start of our 4th annual Soup Month.  For the entire month of October, each day we will bring you a new soup, stew, chili, or chowder recipe, and there will be something for everyone.  My kids take part in the fun, too, by helping choose the types of soups they want to try, especially a few "Halloween" recipes that you won't want to miss.

We've got quite a variety of soups in store for you including hearty, vegetable packed chowders, creamy and elegant soups for your upcoming holiday dinners, and healthy high-fiber bean soups. It's going to be an excited month and I hope you visit each day to check out the new recipes. 

For our first day of Soup Month 2013, we start with a creamy Italian sausage soup.  Even though weeknights can be crazy busy for many families, it's still possible to get a warm bowl of soup on the table in a short amount of time.

This hearty Italian Sausage and Potato Soup makes a great one-pot meal on a cold winter night, and it only requires a few ingredients.  The Italian sausage (choose from mild or hot, depending on your preference), is cut into bite-sized pieces and then browned along with onions, garlic and potatoes, and the flavored broth adds most of the seasonings needed. The College Inn broth is something I really enjoy using.  With a mild white wine and herb base, this broth gives the soup a great depth of flavor without a very long cooking time.  From there, the only thing left to do is adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste.  Super easy and convenient.

The soup is finished with a bit of heavy cream, to add a rich flavor to the broth, and a generous amount of fresh spinach.  For a little extra thickness, I pureed some of the cooked potatoes and it really added a nice texture to the soup.

If you prefer some extra spice in your soup, add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes to the finished soup and Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
5  Italian Sausage Links, mild or hot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small  Yellow Onion, finely chopped
1 TB  Minced Garlic
6 medium  Potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
32 oz  College Inn White Wine and Herb Broth
6 oz  Fresh Spinach, stems removed
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, for garnish

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 8 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to brown the vegetables.

Add the potatoes and broth to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender.

Remove 1-1/2 cups of potatoes from the pot, along with about 1 cup of broth.  Puree this mixture and set aside.

Add the spinach and cream to the pot and stir to combine.  Once the spinach has cooked down and wilted, add the pureed potatoes back to the pot and stir.  Season with salt and pepper to taste then cook 5 minutes longer over medium-low heat.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Peanut Butter and Cranberry Bar Cookies

Although I'm not much of a baker, I've been on a baking binge this week.  Besides, I'm always up to the challenge when I come across a new product and this new peanut butter from Planter's was just destined to be turned into cookies.

I love any kind of peanut butter and this new product from Planter's, called Nut-rition Energy Mix Berry Nut, takes regular peanut butter and adds a pretty generous amount of chopped peanuts and dries cranberries. Yum!  It tastes great on a piece of wheat toast, but in a cookie it is just heavenly.

To add an extra bit of texture to these cookies, I added some ground oat flour and it really added a nice oatmeal flavor, while letting the peanut butter stand out.  For more recipes using the oat flour check out the  Banana Bread and Banana Cookies

We tried this recipe with various additions like finely chopped peanuts, extra dried cranberries and even mini chocolate chips and wouldn't you know it, out of the 3 kids, one chose peanuts, one chose cranberries and one chose the chocolate chips as their favorite...lol.  All three varieties were equally good but I would probably choose the cranberries as my favorite.

I thought about making these into regular round cookies, which certainly is an option, but in order to make this a really quick project, I chose the bar cookie route.  ( Note to self:  If in need of cookies for school a.s.a.p., this is a great go-to recipe for my files.)

1/2 cup  Flour
1/2 cup  Oat Flour
1-1/4 tsp  Baking Powder
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Nutmeg
1/2 tsp  Cinnamon
1/4 cup  Butter, softened
1/2 cup  Planters Nut-rition  Berry Nut Peanut Butter
1 cup  Sugar
2  Eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp  Vanilla Extract
1/4 cup  Your Choice - Craisins, Mini-Chocolate Chips, or Chopped Peanuts

In a medium bowl combine flour and oat flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon and set aside.

Use a mixer to blend the butter and peanut butter, then add the sugar and vanilla and blend, and finally add the eggs one at a time and blend until the mixture is smooth.

Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated.  Stir the craisins or nuts into the dough using a spoon.

Pour the dough onto a lined baking sheet and spread to about 12 X 14 inches, and bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until the top is golden and the center is set.  Makes about 20 bar cookies.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banana Cookies with Chocolate Chips

If you're a fan of Banana Bread, this little cookie will be your new favorite!  Like little bundles of moist banana bread, these cookies have lots of sweet banana flavor, combined with ground oatmeal flour for texture and tiny chocolate chips.  A couple of these, with a morning cup of coffee and you'll be ready to tackle the rest of your day.

The ground oatmeal flour is something I started using for regular Banana Bread, and it's very easy to make.  Instead of spending a crazy amount of money on already ground oatmeal, I make it myself.  When Old Fashioned Quaker Oatmeal goes on sale, I stock up, then grind the oats into flour using a coffee grinder.  I've been doing this for years and I can never figure out why people pay so much for pre-ground oat flour.  It's super easy, only takes a few minutes and I can grind just a few cups at a time so I always have some ready to use.  Enjoy!!

1/2 cup  Unsalted Butter, softened
1 cup  Sugar
1  Large Egg
1 cup  Mashed Ripe Banana, about 2 medium bananas
1 tsp  Baking Soda
1-1/2 cups  Flour
1-1/2 cups  Oat Flour
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Cinnamon
1/2 tsp  Nutmeg
1 tsp  Vanilla
1 cup  Mini Chocolate Chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Blend the butter and sugar together until creamy.  Add the egg and blend.

Add the bananas and baking soda to the butter mixture and blend until combined.  Add the flour, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, blend the mixture again, then stir in the chocolate chips by hand, mixing just until combined.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the lined baking sheets, keeping about 1-1/2 inches between the cookies.  Bake for 12 - 14 minutes or until golden.  Let cookies rest on warm sheets for 2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool.  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.  Store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Soup Month 2013 - October 1st thru October 31st - 31 New Soups in 31 Days

Fall has officially begun and it's almost time for our Annual Soup Month 2013.  After this very warm summer, I'm looking forward to cooler temperatures and some new delicious soups.

Beginning October 1st and continuing all the way through Halloween, we will be posting a new soup, stew, chowder, chili or cobbler recipe each and every day, and there are some yummy recipes coming your way.  From creamy and elegant bisques worthy of your Holiday dinners, to hearty vegetable stews and savory cobblers to warm your winter evenings, there will be a new recipe to entice your taste buds each day. 

So get those crock-pots and soup pots ready and be sure to check back daily or follow us on Facebook or via email  so you don't miss a single recipe.

Just to get everyone in the mood for soup, here are a few of the most popular soups from the last few years.

Ham and Split Pea Soup 

Ham and Bean Soup 

Savory Pumpkin Soup in the Crock-Pot 

Shrimp Bisque 

Pork Harvest Chili 

Oktoberfest Beef Stew 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chorizo Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Chorizo and chicken always work well together, with the spicy chorizo adding a generous layer of flavor to the mild white-meat chicken.  To make this combination even better, we added creamy Monterey Jack cheese and finely minced poblano peppers.

Many people think making chicken bundles like these is difficult, but once you learn the method, these are super easy to prepare.  Here are a few hints:  By slicing the chicken breasts horizontally, but not all of the way through, you can open the chicken up like a book, lay it flat, then pound the chicken until it is as thin as you'd like. Second, instead of using toothpicks to secure the bundles, I use metal turkey lacers.  You can buy 6 or 8 of these at the grocery for about $2 and they work great for meals like this one.  (Toothpicks always scare me.  I really don't want a piece of wood in someone's dinner! lol)  Last tip, Be sure to place the bundles seam side down and try to tuck the end pieces in under the bundle.  This will keep the cheese and other ingredients inside of the bundle as much as possible.

For the sauce we prepared a homemade enchilada sauce, but if you're in a hurry, you could also use a can of premade sauce.  The sauce was served on the side so the chicken can be dipped, or it can be spooned over the chicken before serving.  Serve with Green Chili Cornbread and Enjoy!!

4 large  Boneless and Skinless Chicken Breasts
1 large  Poblano Chili, finely minced
1/4 lb  Bulk Chorizo Sausage, cooked and crumbled
4 oz  Monterey Jack Cheese, cut into 4 thick slices
1/2 cup  Bread Crumbs
1 tsp  Chili Powder
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Cumin
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
6 tb  Butter, melted
Chopped Green Onions for Garnish

Enchilada Sauce
8 oz  Tomato Sauce
1/2 tsp  Cumin
1/4 tsp  Chili Powder
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

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

Combine the bread crumbs, chili powder, salt, garlic powder, cumin and pepper in a shallow dish and set aside.

Using a sharp knife, slice each chicken breast horizontally about 3/4 through.  Open the chicken breast so you have a large fillet.  Place a piece of waxed paper over the chicken and pound the meat until it is about 1/4-inch thick.  Do this carefully so the meat does not pull apart.  Set aside and prepare the other pieces of chicken.

Spread each piece of chicken with equal amounts of chopped poblano and chorizo, then top with a slice of Monterey Jack cheese.  Roll up each bundle and secure with a toothpick or metal skewer.

Dip each bundle into the melted butter, then roll it in the bread crumb mixture, pressing firmly so the crumbs will adhere.  Place the bundles seam-side down on the baking sheet and bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden and the chicken juices run clear.

Prepare the sauce while the chicken is cooking.

Combine the tomato sauce, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper in a small skillet and heat to a low boil, then reduce heat to warm until ready to serve.

Remove chicken from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  Slice each piece of chicken, place on a plate and spoon the sauce over the chicken or serve it on the side.  Sprinkle with green onions for a garnish.

Green Chili Cornbread

Home-style cornbread is a great side dish for many meals, especially soup or chili, and only takes a few minutes to prepare.  With the winter months just around the corner, this is a great recipe to keep handy.  We served this bread with Chorizo Stuffed Chicken Breasts, and it complimented the dish nicely.

I got a little sneaky with this bread in order to get past my daughter's picky personality, and I actually loved the results.

Since my daughter does not like "little green things" in foods, I decided to puree the corn and chilies together and the results were delicious.  Not only did she not notice the little flecks of green chilies, the flavor of the chilies was infused into the cornbread. 

This same recipe can be used with white or yellow corn meal mix and you could also add some extra flair to the bread by adding minced jalapenos, grated cheddar cheese or even crumbled bacon.

I used my 12-inch "everyday pan" for this bread and it cooked beautifully, but you could also use a 9-inch cake pan for a thicker bread, just add about 5 minutes to your cook time.

2 TB  Butter
1/3 cup  Canola or Vegetable Oil
2 cups  Self-Rising White Corn Meal Mix
2/3 cup  Milk
2/3 cup  Buttermilk
2  Eggs
2 TB  Sugar
1 4-oz can  Diced Green Chilies, (pureed if desired)
1 cup  Frozen Corn, defrosted, (pureed if desired)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread butter in a large cast-iron or glass baking dish, making sure to coat up the sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients and stir until blended.

Place the buttered pan in the oven for 3 - 4 minutes or until the butter has melted.  Remove the pan from the oven, pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden on the edges.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Vanilla Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Oreos

OK.  So, I know this is not a low calorie treat.  But, if you like to treat yourself to a really decadent dessert every once in a while, this is the one to try.  Since the weather has been unbelievably hot this week, we decided it was time for something cool for dessert.

We have this great little ice cream maker that can even be used to make fruit sorbets or frozen yogurt.  It's so much fun to use and with just a few ingredients, you can have incredible creamy ice cream at home. 

The processing time is only about 25 minutes or so, and you have delicious soft-serve ice cream.  For a firmer consistency, we like to freeze the mixture in an airtight bowl for a few hours so the ice cream is completely frozen.

Tonight we went with basic vanilla ice cream and added crumbled Peanut Butter Filled Oreos to the mixture just before the processing was complete.  After a couple of hours in the freezer, dessert was ready to serve.

1 cup  Whole Milk
3/4 cup  Sugar
2 cups  Heavy Cream
1-1/2 tsp  Pure Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup  Peanut Butter-Filled Oreo Crumbles (about 4 cookies, crushed)
Extra Oreos for Garnish

In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer to blend the milk and sugar on low speed until all of the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.

Add the mixture to the frozen ice cream bowl, turn the ice cream machine on and mix until thickened, about 20-25 minutes.  During the last 5 minutes of this process, add the cookie crumbles to the mixture.

Serve immediately with a sprinkle of crumbled Oreos.  For hard-frozen ice cream, place the soft ice cream in a plastic, air-tight bowl with a lid, and freeze for 2 - 4 hours or overnight.    Makes about 10 1/2-cup servings.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Red Potato Salad

On a hot summer night, nothing tastes better with a grilled steak dinner than a cool and creamy Red Potato Salad.  This recipe is one of my favorites and is a great go-to recipe for weekend barbecues.

We combined the cooked potatoes with bacon, chopped hard-boiled eggs and grated cheese, and added cool cucumbers and radishes for some bright summer flavor and color.  The Green Goddess Dressing, which is made with lots of fresh herbs, adds a nice creamy coating to the salad, but if you don't have time to prepare the dressing, you can also use bottled Caesar dressing, or any of your favorite creamy dressings that you have on hand would work fine.

3 lbs Red Potatoes, washed and rinsed
1/2 lb thick cut Bacon, diced in small pieces
1  medium Cucumber, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and then diced
6-8  Radishes, thinly sliced
6  Hard-Boiled Eggs, cooled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano Cheese
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Black Pepper
Green Goddess Dressing - click here for recipe, or use your favorite bottled dressing
Fresh Chives, chopped, for garnish
Diced Pimiento for garnish

Cut red potatoes into 1-inch cubes and place in a large pot.  cover the potatoes with water and boil gently until just tender, but not fully cooked. Drain and cool completely. While potatoes cool, cook bacon and then set it aside to cool.

To assemble the salad: Place potatoes in a large bowl and add bacon, cucumbers, radishes, eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Pour the Green Goddess Dressing over the salad, adding about a 3/4 cup to start, then gently blend the salad with a spatula. You can add more dressing, if needed, to suit your own taste. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.  Sprinkle with chopped fresh chives and diced pimiento before serving.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

Now that the kids are back in school, dinnertime has again become a race against the clock.  Between travel time between the schools, then homework and this huge pile of papers that have to be signed right away (gee thanks teachers), getting dinner on the table fast is a challenge.

Well, tonight we have a solution for you.  This is a delicious and easy to make Italian dinner that everyone in your family will love. Even the picky kids!  Add some crunchy garlic bread and you can have dinner on the table in about 45 minutes.

Since my daughter is allergic to tomatoes, but she really likes spaghetti, we created this sauce using roasted red peppers that come in a jar.  The peppers already have that nice bright roasted flavor, so most of the seasoning is already there, just add some dried Italian spices, a bit of half and half and cream cheese to create a rich, creamy sauce.  We also added some spicy-hot Italian sausage and balanced the sauce with a dash of white wine.  For a little extra heat add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes.

5 links  Hot Italian Sausage, casing removed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large  Green Pepper, chopped
1 medium  Yellow Onion, chopped
1 TB  Minced Garlic
6 oz  Mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1/2 cup  Dry White Wine
2 tsp  Dry Italian Seasoning
1-1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 jars  Mezzetta Roasted Red Peppers, half of liquid drained then pureed
1/2 cup  Half and Half
4 oz  Cream Cheese
2 oz  Grated Parmesan Cheese
Grated Parmesan Cheese for Garnish
Red Pepper Flakes for Garnish
Cooked Whole Wheat Spaghetti or Pasta of Your Choice

In a large skillet, brown the sausage pieces over medium-high heat, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the sausage is no longer pink add the peppers, onions, garlic and mushrooms and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. 

Add the wine to the skillet to deglaze the bottom, stirring to loosen and browned bits from the pan.  When the wine has reduced by half, add the remaining ingredients to the pan, stir and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cream cheese has melted.

Spoon the sauce over cooked pasta and serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.  Enjoy!!

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.