Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Italian Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

As of yesterday, my husband and I decided to go on a very healthy diet and start working out more often. I guess you could say we just started our New Year's resolution a week early. One of my goals for this year is to plan and cook healthy dinners and this recipe falls right into that category. Have you ever eaten a spaghetti squash? Or better yet, have you ever cooked one and then witnessed the miracle when it turns from a regular summer squash look to stringy spaghetti?! I think I spent a good 10 minutes in awe that I could lightly touch the squash with my fork and it would somehow transform into a form of noodles! I then proceeded to tell my sweet husband every detail of the process.. Poor thing. Always has to listen to my food stories. :) I was extremely surprised at how good this meal tasted. Neal commented that if he didn't know it was squash, he would have thought it was regular pasta noodles! It is an extremely easy meal and took me about 20 minutes to put it all together. Dinner made and on the table in under 30 minutes is a HUGE bonus in my book! I used basic ingredients for the squash: ground chicken, mushrooms, spinach, spaghetti sauce and cheese. Just keep it simple. And don't worry, when everything is put together, it makes a lot of food. Serve with a side salad and some garlic bread and you've got yourself a pretty darn good meal. Let me know if you've ever had any fun experiences with spaghetti squash!! (Picture courtesy of My Kitchen Addiction)

Ingredients:


  • 1 medium spaghetti squash

  • 1 pound ground chicken (or beef)

  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • 1 cup diced mushrooms

  • 1/2 cup frozen spinach

  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce

  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the spaghetti squash in half (I found it was easiest to stick the point of my knife in first, and then push down the rest of the knife. Continue all the way around until cut in half). Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. Place squash halves cut-side down on a plate and microwave for 10-12 minutes, or until soft. Using a fork, scrape out the inside of the squash, forming spaghetti-like strands. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the ground chicken until cooked through. Drain the grease and set aside in a small bowl. In the same pan, melt the butter and saute the mushrooms and spinach until softened. Add back in the ground chicken and the shredded squash. Pour the spaghetti sauce over everything and stir to combine. Spoon the squash mixture back into the squash halves and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Place squash halves on a baking sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and everything is heated through. Serve immediately.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Layered Peppermint Cheesecake

Every Christmas I look through all of my cookbooks, food blogs, and cooking magazines to find "the" ultimate Christmas dessert. I know the holidays are always insanely busy and packed full of ugly sweater parties, Christmas concerts, shopping and gift wrapping and it can be difficult to make all of the traditional cookies, cakes, and egg nog to celebrate the season. Although I'm sure you're short on time and energy this time of year, you should really try to find time to make this cake. It is the perfect dessert for your annual Holiday party or Christmas Eve dinner! I saw this cheesecake in the December issue of Southern Living and knew I had to find the time and place to make it. Surprisingly, it really wasn't that difficult. It's one of those desserts that looks extremely impressive, but is a cinch to throw together. I made the cheesecakes one night, the cake the next night, and then assembled everything together the day after that. I love the fact that it uses a box cake mix because you know the cake will rise correctly and it will save you time to mix it together and throw it in the oven. It does take a little more time than your average cake recipe, but it's so worth it!

Let me give you just a few details about this cake that I am in love with: (1) The Cheesecake. I have never thought to make a peppermint cheesecake, but it was divine! So refreshing with just a hint of crunch from the peppermint candies. It was slightly tangy when combined with the cake, which made for a perfect combination to combat the overall sweetness. (2) The Frosting. Ohh.. the frosting. Is it bad to say I literally licked the bowl clean after frosting the cake? It was divine!! Light, airy whipped cream combined with melted white chocolate to make the fluffy mousse frosting. Even after eating 2... or 4.. pieces of cake, I still can't get enough of the frosting. (3) The boxed mix cake layers. Easy, delicious, and perfectly spongy. I love the combination of chocolate and mint so I substituted a devil's food cake mix instead of the white cake mix that the original recipe called for and it turned out amazing! Enough said. If these reasons aren't enough to make you want to make this, then you must hate peppermint.. or cheesecake.. or desserts in general. It's just that good. :) (Recipe and picture adapted from Southern Living)

Ingredients:

Peppermint Cheesecake Layers:


  • 3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 2 Tbsp. butter, softened

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 2/3 cup crushed hard peppermint candies

Sour Cream Cake Layers:



  • 1 (18.25 oz.) package chocolate cake mix

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 cup sour cream

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup water

White Chocolate Mousse Frosting



  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1 cup white chocolate morsels

  • 2 cups whipping cream

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Garnishes (optional): White chocolate curls, peppermint candies (I put some chocolate shavings on top of mine to tie in the chocolate cake pieces)


1. Prepare peppermint cheesecake layers: Preheat oven to 325. Line bottom and sides of 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with aluminum foil, allowing 2-3 inches to extend over the sides; lightly grease foil. Beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar, and 2 Tbsp. butter at medium speed with an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes, or until creamy and smooth. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add flour and next 3 ingredients, beating until blended. Fold in candies. Pour batter into prepared pans. Place cake pans in a large pan, add water to pan to depth of 1 inch. Note: I always have a really hard time with water baths and cheesecakes. Since these cheesecakes are going to be covered up with cake layers, you could probably just cook them regularly without a water bath and it would turn out great.


2. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven to wire racks. Cool completely in pans (about 1 hour). Cover cheesecakes (do not remove from pans), and freeze 4 to 6 hours or until frozen solid. Lift frozen cheesecakes from pans, using foil sides as handles. Gently remove from cheesecakes. Wrap in plastic wrap, and return to freezer until ready to assemble cake.


3. Prepare sour cream cake layers. Preheat oven to 350. Beat cake mix and next 4 ingredients at low speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds or until moistened. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Spoon batter into 3 greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans. Note: I only used 2 cake pans so the cake wouldn't be as tall. It turned out great! Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely (about 1 hour).


4. Prepare white chocolate mousse frosting: Cook 2/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Add morsels; cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes or until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Beat whipping cream and 2 tsp. vanilla at high speed with an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes or until soft peaks form. Gradually fold white chocolate mixture into whipped cream, folding until mixture reaches spreading consistency. Beat cream a few minute longer if needed.


5. To assemble cake: Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of the stand/plate to hold the cake in place. Lightly frost both cheesecake layers with the whipped cream frosting and place one on top of the cake layer. Top with second cake layer and remaining cheesecake layer. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread top and sides of cake with frosting. Chill until ready to serve. Garnish, if desired.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Key Lime Bars

Before I talk about these brilliant bars, I need to get something off of my chest. Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!!! I am just a leetle obsessed with the Christmas season. As in I'll listen to Christmas music year-round and, if I could, I would leave my Christmas tree up all year and decorate it according to the seasons/holidays. My mom put up one of her Christmas trees in early November and decorated it for Thanksgiving. It was absolutely adorable and I wanted to go home and do the same. But, after several pleading glances from my husband, and after a few "Please???" and "No." sessions, I decided to focus on Thanksgiving and pull out my dozens of Christmas decorations after the Turkey Day. I was listening to the radio this morning as I drove to work and heard Bob August announce the forecast for the day. The temperature at 7:00 am was 27 degrees and the high for the day was around 40. Hello winter! So, despite the chill in the air and the holiday recipes that are popping up everywhere, I decided to share with you something reminiscent of Spring, warmer weather, sunshine, and fresh fruit. I shouldn't say things like that in December.. That's just mean.

Back to the bars! These are very similar to the classic lemon bar, but there are a couple of differences. 1) The lime, of course! I thought it was a very nice change to the regular lemon flavor, and mixed with the sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese, it made a glorious creamy filling with just a tang of lime. 2) The crust is made with..... animal crackers. Weird? Yes. But surprisingly very tasty. It added a sweet, familiar taste that really paired well with the tangy filling. These are the perfect little treat! They can be cut into petite-size squares for holiday (or garden) parties, or into large brownie-sized chunks just for you. And for anyone else you have to share with.. :) Bottom line, people: these are delicious. AND the recipe is from Cook's Country at America's Test Kitchen - you just can't go wrong there. (Recipe source: Cook's Country Cook Book. Picture Courtesy of Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

Ingredients:

Crust:


  • 5 ounces animal crackers (about 2 1/2 cups)

  • 3 Tbsp. light brown sugar

  • Pinch salt

  • 4 Tbsp. butter, melted

Filling



  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature

  • 1 Tbsp. freshly grated lime zest

  • 1 can (14-oz.) sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (From about 3-4 fresh limes, or 20 key limes)

Garnish (optional)



  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, letting two opposing edges hang over at least an inch or so. Grease the foil with cooking spray.


For the crust, process the animal crackers, sugar and salt together to fine crumbs in a blender or food processor. Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and pulse to incorporate (or stir together in a bowl with a fork). Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press the crumbs into an even layer. Bake the crust until fragrant and golden, about 15-18 minutes.


For the filling, while crust bakes, in a medium bowl, stir the cream cheese, lime zest and salt together until combined. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk until smooth (you can use a handheld electric mixer, if you want). Whisk in the egg yolk and lime juice until combined.
Pour the filling evenly over the crust. Bake the bars until the filling is set and the edges just slightly begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, 15-17 minutes.


Let the bars cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Then cover the pan with foil and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil overhang and cut into squares. Sprinkle with toasted coconut if desired.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BBQ Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

Yes, yes I know I've already posted a recipe for BBQ Chicken Salad before. And I realize that the ingredients for the salad are essentially the exact same as the other recipe, but there is one huge difference in these two salads that I couldn't resist sharing: the dressing. After all, isn't the salad dressing what ultimately makes or breaks a salad? For example, ranch made with miracle whip (aka ranch from the devil) completely and utterly ruins any salad, to the point that I literally cannot take another bite. Contrast that with this Blue Cheese Vinaigrette, delicately drizzled over crisp greens and chunks of succulent, juicy chicken pieces and you've just created a masterpiece. If you think salads are boring, just try this baby out. It will become one of your favorite meals. (Picture and recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Ingredients:

Blue Cheese Vinaigrette:



  • 2/3 cup olive oil

  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • 2 Tbsp. peach jam

  • 1 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 cup blue cheese

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Salad:



  • Mixed Greens

  • Tomatoes, chopped

  • Black beans, drained and rinsed

  • Corn

  • Diced Onions

  • Cilantro

  • Chicken

  • BBQ Sauce

To make the blue cheese vinaigrette: Place all items into a food processor or blender. Mix until smooth. If the dressing is too thick, add in a little more olive oil and mix again.


Grill the chicken and brush each piece liberally with BBQ sauce. Cut into strips.


To plate the salads: Place mixed greens on each plate. Lay the sliced chicken on top of the greens. Top with tomatoes, black beans, corn, diced onions, and cilantro. Drizzle entire salad with blue cheese vinaigrette.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Raspberry Cheesecake Buttercream Frosting

Yes, I know it's a little strange to post a recipe for frosting alone... But this particular frosting was just too good to not post about! Let me preface this by saying I am not a big frosting fan. If I'm given a piece of cake with buttercream frosting, I'm most likely going to eat the cake by itself and scrape off the frosting onto my plate. Weird-o! I know, I know. But this particular frosting was completely different. I'm not sure if it was because of the cream cheese, or if it was the fresh raspberries, but whatever the reason I couldn't resist eating every last bite of it. It was my friend's birthday last week and to celebrate, I made devil's food cake cupcakes topped with this raspberry frosting. They were really easy to make and the frosting came together in less than 5 minutes. I had several comments from my co-workers and from my husband that this was some of the best frosting they had ever had. It was so light and fluffy and had a gorgeous color! It turns out to be a bold dark pink which, accented with the dark chocolate brown, makes for a beautiful dessert for any special occasion. (Recipe courtesy of Good Life Eats)


Ingredients:


  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 cubes), softened

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz.) cream cheese, softened

  • 4 - 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, or until desired consistency is reached

  • 5 oz. fresh raspberries

Cream butter and cream cheese in an electric mixer for 1 - 2 minutes until fluffy. Slowly add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add half of the raspberries and mix until combined. Add remaining powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Add the remaining raspberries and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (2 - 3 minutes). Chill frosting in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes it you want it to hold its shape. Pipe or spread onto cool cupcakes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I stopped by Panera Café a few weeks ago for lunch. It was a cold, rainy day and I simply couldn’t pass up a bowl of broccoli cheese soup with some warm, crusty french bread. I was smitten! I had to figure out how to make this soup for myself. After browsing through several different versions, I finally settled on this one for its’ simplicity and flavors and it definitely did not disappoint. Warm, thick and cheesy with chopped broccoli, this soup was heaven on a spoon after a long day at work. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe to better suit my tastes and to add in more flavor and it turned out great. (Recipe courtesy of Mels Kitchen Café)

Ingredients:


  • 1 ¾ cups chicken broth

  • 1 small onion, diced

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter

  • ½ tsp. pepper

  • ½ tsp. salt

  • 2 cups milk

  • 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce

  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese, preferably sharp

  • ½ cup shredded swiss cheese

  • 2 cups chopped, cooked broccoli


Simmer chicken broth and chopped onion for 15-20 minutes in a covered small saucepan, until onions are soft. While the onions are softening, heat milk in microwave for 1-2 minutes. In a separate medium-sized stockpot, melt butter then add flour, salt and pepper. Cook together, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, then slowly whisk in warmed milk. Stir and heat together on medium heat until soup starts to thicken, about 5-8 minutes. Add warmed chicken broth and continue to stir until well blended. Add cheeses and stir until completely melted. Stir in cooked broccoli. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve immediately in bowls or bread bowls.

Note: To speed up the process, I put frozen broccoli in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap and microwave it for about 5 minutes until tender.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crook's Corner Shrimp & Grits

“These are the best shrimp and grits I have ever had,” said my husband at dinner a few days ago. And that’s saying something when it comes from a man born and raised in the South where shrimp and grits can be found at almost every restaurant. And even though I’m fairly new to the whole grits experience, I will also agree that this is one of the best meals I have ever made (Yes, I said meals). This recipe is courtesy of Chef Bill Smith who is head chef from a restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina called Crook’s Corner. He shared this recipe in the Southern Living magazine back in 2004 and I was lucky enough to stumble across it a few weeks ago. It begins with flavorful cheesy grits and is topped with lightly sauteed shrimp with bacon, mushrooms and green onions in a creamy, zesty sauce. All of the ingredients can be found in your common fridge and pantry so it’s a cinch to throw together. Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients - most of them are just spices and very common ingredients. I dare you to try out this recipe and tell me if it’s not the best shrimp and grits you’ve ever had!

Ingredients:


  • 2 cups water

  • 1 (14-oz.) can chicken broth

  • 3/4 cup half-and-half

  • 3/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 cup regular grits

  • 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce

  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper

  • 3 bacon slices

  • 1 pound medium-size shrimp, peeled and deveined

  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

  • 1/8 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms

  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 tsp. hot sauce

  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until thickened. Add Cheddar cheese and next 4 ingredients. Keep warm.


Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp; remove bacon, and drain on paper towels, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in skillet. Crumble bacon and set aside. Sprinkle shrimp with pepper and salt and dredge in flour.


Saute mushrooms in hot drippings in skillet 5 minutes or until tender. Add green onions, and saute 2 minutes. Add shrimp and garlic, and saute 2 minutes or until shrimp are lightly brown. Stir in chicken broth, lemon juice, hot sauce and half-and-half. Cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet.


Serve shrimp mixture over hot cheese grits. Top with crumbled bacon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce

I've been noticing the recent craze of using roasted red peppers on sandwiches, in pastas, on salads, etc. and wondered why I had never seen them or heard of them before. I wasn't exactly sure what they were or where to find them and I had absolutely no idea what they would taste like. I was shopping at Ross (best store ever!) a few weeks ago when I came across a jar of roasted red and yellow peppers in their kitchen department. I couldn't turn it down.. Quick shout-out to Ross and T.J. Maxx for coming into existence!! Anyway, buying that jar was not a disappointment. The peppers marinate in a lightly sweet vinegary liquid and have a great flavor and a beautiful deep red color. The sauce was very easy to make and made my kitchen smell divine as it was thickening! I served the sauce over some diced chicken and bow-tie pasta noodles with some freshly squeezed lemon juice on top. Although skeptical at first, Neal and I both went back for seconds and scraped the pot clean. If you ever run across some roasted red peppers, buy a bottle and try them! You won't be disappointed. (Recipe and picture adapted from Mindika Moments)

Ingredients:


  • 2 large roasted red peppers, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1/2 cup diced onion

  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, or 1 Tbsp. dried basil

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • zest of 1 lemon

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 4 T. flour

  • 1 cup chicken broth

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a large sauce pan or skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic for a couple minutes until fragrant. Add the roasted peppers, basil and lemon zest. Then add the flour and stir until it is absorbed into the mix. Slowly add the lemon juice and chicken broth and stir until the mixture begins to thicken slightly. Then mix in the heavy cream and parmesan cheese and stir until well incorporated. Let it simmer, stirring frequently, until it turns into your desired thickness. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender, or transfer the mixture into a blender to puree. Serve warm over pasta. You can also add in chicken and vegetables if preferred.


Note: When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Portabella Mushroom Fajitas

I have to admit I was a little skeptical making these fajitas since my husband is such a meat-lover. I was also worried that they wouldn't be substantial enough to fill us up for dinner, but, luckily, I was wrong. Marinated portabella mushrooms replace the meat in this recipe and are sauteed along with your classic bell peppers and onions. The marinade for the mushrooms smelled divine and it tasted even better. After the mushrooms finished marinating, these fajitas literally came together in 15 minutes. I cannot stress the importance of good toppings on these babies!! We ate ours topped with homemade guacamole, salsa, cheese, sour cream, and cilantro -the perfect Mexican combination. Top it all off with a side of black beans or rice and you've got yourself a quick and delicious meal! (Recipe and picture courtesy of Good Life Eats.)





Ingredients:

For the Fajita filling:


  • 8 oz. small portabella mushrooms

  • 1 green bell pepper

  • 1 red bell pepper

  • 1 large yellow onion

  • 4-6 flour tortillas, warmed

For the Portabella Marinade:



  • 1 Tbsp. water

  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

  • 1 lime, juiced

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 tsp. cumin

  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

  • 1/4 tsp. paprika

Slice the mushrooms in 1/3 to 1/4 inch thick slices. Combine the ingredients for the marinade and whisk until well combined. Add the mushroom slices, tossing to coat, and let marinade for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the peppers and onions into strips, discarding the seeds, stem, and ribbing from the peppers and skins from the onion. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil to the pan. Add the onions and peppers, cooking until the onions are slightly translucent (about 5 minutes). Stir frequently. Add the mushrooms and the marinade. Cook until the marinade is absorbed and the mushrooms are tender, about 3-5 minutes. Fill warmed tortillas with the vegetable mixture and top with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salsa and guacamole.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CPK's Thai Crunch Salad

A few weeks ago I went to Las Vegas for my company retreat. My mom flew out and met me here and we had a blast going shopping, eating delicious foods, and enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather. One night after a long afternoon of shopping, we stopped in at California Pizza Kitchen for dinner where I had my first experience with their Thai Crunch Salad. I have seriously been craving it ever since then and this week I decided to try and duplicate it at home. The hardest part of this recipe was simply chopping and dicing up all the ingredients for the salad, but grab somebody to help you out and this can be whipped up in no time! Don't be shaken by the long list of ingredients - most of them are common items you'd find in your kitchen and fridge. I loved the comination of flavors from the lime-cilantro dressing, the creamy peanut drizzle, and the fresh cruncy vegetables in every bite. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water again...

Ingredients:

Lime-Cilantro Dressing:



  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 Tbsp. honey

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard

  • 2 tsp. lime juice

  • 1/4 tsp minced fresh garlic (one clove)

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

Spicy Peanut Sauce:



  • 2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter

  • 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce

  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

  • 1 Tbsp. honey

  • 2 Tbsp. water

  • 1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce

  • 1/2 tsp. minced ginger

  • 1 Tbsp. chili sauce

  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Salad:



  • 1-2 cups chopped red cabbage

  • 2 large carrots, chopped and julienned

  • 2 cups shelled edamame

  • 1 cup peanuts

  • 2-3 green onions, chopped

  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (optional)

  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

  • 1 cup rice sticks (found in the Asian section of the grocery store)

  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into thin slices

  • 1 bag salad - any variety

  • 1 cup spinach

Lime-Cilantro Dressing: Put all items in a food processor and mix until combined. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.


Spicy Peanut Sauce: Put all items in a food processor and mix until combined. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.


Salad: Place all salad ingredients into a large bowl. Pour the lime-cilantro dressing over the entire salad and mix or shake to combine. Drizzle spicy peanut sauce over the top and serve immediately.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sweet Potato Enchiladas

So I have a confession: I'm addicted to Sweet Potatoes. I'm not joking. If I go to a restaurant with sweet potatoes on the menu, you can almost guarantee I'm going to order them. The bowl of mashed sweet potatoes on the table at our Thanksgiving Feast... Yeah, my favorite part of the meal. So you can only imagine my excitement and intrigue when I saw this recipe for Sweet Potato Enchiladas! I went to the store and bought the ingredients the very next day and told my husband we were having enchiladas. Not sweet potato enchiladas, just enchiladas. I literally stared at his face when he took the first bite, not knowing what his reaction would be.. Success!! He liked them! In fact.. he loved them. They are a lot more dense than regular enchiladas and have a lot more substance to them. The sweet potatoes add a hint of sweetness that is perfectly paired with the savory enchilada sauce. I loved the addition of black beans and chicken and thought the combination of flavors were perfect. These were also much healthier than the regular cream of chicken soup and sour cream mixture and even gave us some extra Vitamin A and C. I'm telling you guys, you just can't beat it! I have no doubt that these enchiladas will be making a lot of appearances on our dinner table in the future. (Recipe and picture adapted from Mindika Moments)


Ingredients:


  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes

  • 1 (8 oz. ) package cream cheese, softened

  • 4 green onions, chopped

  • 1 can diced green chilies

  • 2 t. chili powder

  • 2 t. cumin

  • 1 t. oregano

  • 1 t. pepper

  • 1 t. salt

  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (optional)

  • 1 can enchilada sauce (red or green)

  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

  • Tortillas

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 pan. Bring a large pot of water to boil over medium heat. Boil the sweet potatoes until tender, about 15-20 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, mash together the sweet potatoes and cream cheese until smooth. Add in all the other ingredients except for the enchilada sauce, cheese and tortillas. Place a generous scoop of the filling in the center of each tortilla and roll up, placing them seam-side down in the baking dish. Pour the enchilada sauce over the top of the rolled tortillas and sprinkle with cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 20 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted. Serve with fresh cilantro, salsa, hot sauce and sour cream on top.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Double Chocolate M & M Cookies

Chocolate Baking Squares? Check. Cocoa Powder? Check. M&M's? Check. Chocolate lovers: These cookies are for you! I have made these cookies several times now and still can't get over how delicious they turn out every time. I absolutely love the fun colors of these cookies due to the dark chocolate cookie mixed with the bright pops of M&M's. Not only are they gorgeous, but they're also some of the most delicious cookies I've ever had. They are my husband's absolute favorite cookie, hands-down. He asks me to make them almost every week, and almost every week I refrain since it's too tempting having a few dozen cookies sitting around waiting to get eaten. These babies are soft and chocolatey (obviously....) with a bite of crunch from the colorful M&M shells. In my opinion, the more M&M's in these cookies the better. They are also a cinch to throw together and they store beautifully for about 2 days. Although these usually don't make it past my husband and I's mouths, they can also be frozen for those days when you have the "had-a-bad-day" syndrome. :) Enjoy! (Recipe courtesy of Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

Ingredients:


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 8 pieces

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  • 3/4 cup M&M's

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.


In a medium microwave-safe bowl, place the chopped chocolate and the butter. Microwave on 50% power for one minute. Stir and repeat for another minute. If chocolate is not fully melted, continue microwaving on 30 second intervals, stirring in between. Let the mixture cool slightly at room temperature, 2-3 minutes.


In a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), combine the chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until combined. Gradually add in flour mixture on low speed. Fold in the M&M's with a wooden spoon - do not mix with mixer or the M&M's will break up into little pieces rather than stay whole.


Line baking sheets with silpat liners, or spray them with cooking spray. Drop dough onto cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls, placing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies until they have slightly flattened and they begin to crack - about 14-15 minutes. The cookies will be soft, but a toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the middle. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.


Note: My cookies took longer bake than the original recipe directed. Watch cookies carefully when they have baked for about 13-14 minutes. They will have cracks on the tops when they are finished baking.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Orange-Chocolate Checkerboard Cookies



These officially marked the start of the fall season for me. I'm not sure if it was the brown and orange colors, the warm and soft combination of flavors, or the checkerboard look that reminded me of the University of Tennessee's football end zones (Yes, I married a football enthusiast :)), but I couldn't get enough of them. These cookies do take a little more time then your regular drop cookie, simply because a lot of refrigeration is required between making dough. Even though they look very complicated, they are actually extremely easy - the most difficult part is waiting for them to harden in the fridge! I couldn't get over how soft these were. Even after sitting in a Tupperware for a day or two, they were still chewy and had the perfect texture. If you love orange flavor, I would recommend adding in a little orange juice or orange extract and cutting the vanilla amount in half. I also think this dough would be great frozen. Just thaw it out for 24-hours in the fridge, slice into cookies and bake. (Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens "Our Best Recipes" Cookbook)



Ingredients:


  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 tsp. finely shredded orange peel

  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.


Divide dough in half. Stir in orange peel into one half of the dough; stir in melted chocolate into the other half of the dough. If necessary, cover and chill about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle. Shape each half of the dough into a 10-inch long roll. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Chill about 2 hours or until firm.


Cut each chilled roll lengthwise in half, then cut each half lengthwise again - you will have 4 pieces of each roll. Reassemble into 2 rolls, alternating chocolate and orange quarters. Wrap and chill about 30 minutes more or until firm.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are slightly browned. (Cookies will still be very soft to the touch - don't overbake!) Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes about 60 cookies.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Peach Bread Pudding

Anybody agree with me that sometimes bread pudding can be too mushy or soggy to eat? I completely 100% agreed with this until I made this recipe. Don't ask me why I decided to make bread pudding when I normally don't like it very much, but I couldn't resist. I had several over-ripened peaches sitting on my counter and a bag of old bread that was pleading to be used before it was thrown away. I cannot even begin to describe how delicious this recipe was! By far one of the best desserts I think I have ever had - I'm not joking here. Warm, sweet and soft, but NOT soggy, with bits of sweet/tart peaches and a creamy warm vanilla sauce that I ate straight with a spoon. And I am not ashamed. It was surprisingly very easy to make and didn't require many steps or hardly any work.
I added one unusual ingredient to the vanilla sauce that completely changed the recipe - for the better: Creamer. Yes, coffee creamer. I don't drink coffee, but I always have creamer on hand for oatmeal and for my hot cocoa in the winter. International Delight has a new flavor our called: "vanilla caramel cream" that is perfect for that warm, rich caramel flavor that we all crave. Next time you make a dessert that calls for heavy cream or milk, substitute in a little creamer and you'll be shocked at the delicious results! (Recipe and picture adapted from Tasty Kitchen.)

Ingredients:


  • 3 whole eggs

  • 3 Tbsp. butter

  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla

  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half or milk

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

  • 2 cups fresh peaches, pitted and diced

  • 1 pound old stale bread, cut into 1" cubes

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Vanilla Cream Sauce:



  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  • 1 whole egg

  • 3 Tbsp. creamer (to taste)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, beat 3 eggs, add 3 Tbsp. melted butter, 2 Tbsp. vanilla, and 2 1/2 cups half-and-half or milk. Add 2 cups sugar slowly, stirring until it's dissolved. Add cinnamon, peaches and bread cubes, mixing well. Allow the bread to soak for 30 minutes.


Spray a 9x13 cooking pan with cooking spray and pour in the bread mixture. Sprinkle with pecans if desired. Bake uncovered 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


For the vanilla sauce: In a small saucepan, cream 1/2 cup butter with 1 cup sugar. Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 egg. Add in the creamer. Stir over low heat for 5 minutes Serve warm over individual servings of pudding.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cheesy Chicken Crepes

Growing up, my mom and I used to love going to a nearby restaurant called "European Connection." It was a quaint deli/cafe that made all of their food with crepes! I always loved their "half-attack" which used a large crepe cut in half, and then filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, and sauce on one side, and berries, chocolate, whipped cream, etc. on the other. I had completely forgotten about their delicious "main meal" crepes until I saw this recipe in my Taste of Home cookbook. What a fantastic idea to put hearty fillings into light delicate crepes. Why didn't I ever think of doing that... This particular recipe is creamy, cheesy and full of flavor. And if you make extra crepes, you can even have them for breakfast the next day. Score!





Ingredients:



Crepes:


  • 1 cup milk

  • 3 eggs

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:



  • 1 cup cooked broccoli (optional)

  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms

  • 1/3 cup diced onions

  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/2 tsp. pepper

  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or cottage cheese)

  • 1 1/2 cup milk

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

  • 2 cups cooked chicken, diced


In a large bowl, combine the milk and eggs. Add flour and salt to milk mixture and mix well. Let stand for 15 minutes.
To cook the crepes: Heat a lightly greased nonstick skillet; pour 1/3 cup batter into the center of skillet. Lift and tilt pan to evenly coat bottom. Cook until the edges begin to peel away from the pan and the crepe starts to bubble. turn and cook 15-20 seconds longer. Remove to plate. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing skillet as needed.


For filling, in a large skillet, saute mushrooms and onions in butter until mushrooms are tender; set aside. In a 2-qt. saucepan, combine the flour and rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir in the mayonnaise until blended. Cook over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes. Gradually stir in 1-1/2 cups milk. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Add 1 cup cheese; stir until melted. Remove from the heat; add chicken and the mushroom mixture.
Spoon 1/3 cup chicken mixture down the center of each crepe. Roll up and place seam side down in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Sprinkle with extra cheese and fresh rosemary if desired.


Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 6 servings.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Yes, I realize that it is the middle of the summer and the average temperature around here has been 98 degrees, but I still made this soup on Sunday afternoon. Neal and I had eaten a pretty big lunch after church and wanted something light and simple for dinner, so we had sandwiches and caulifower soup. It was so easy and delicious. This is a very creamy soup and works best as a side dish rather than a main course. It also has a very mild flavor and doesn't even taste like vegetables. And did you know that one cup of cauliflower has most of your daily Vitamin C allowance? Pretty awesome! (Recipe adapted from Taste of Home Cookbook)

Ingredients: (4 servings)


  • 4 cups chicken broth

  • 3 cups cauliflower, chopped (fresh or frozen)

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream

  • 1 tsp. sugar

  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

In a medium saucepan, mix together the chicken broth and cauliflower and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and allow to simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft. Pour everything into a blender and puree until all of the cauliflower chunks are smooth. Transfer back to the saucepan and stir in the whipping cream, sugar, nutmeg and garlic powder. Warm through on low heat if necessary. Serve immediately and top with fresh chives if desired.


Note: This recipe could also be made with carrots or broccoli in place of the cauliflower. Or mix together a variety of the three vegetables to make up 3 cups.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Homemade Buttermilk Syrup

I'm not sure if I will ever be able to go back to buying regular syrup at the grocery store anymore. This stuff is incredibly delicious and very evil... This is more of a caramel based syrup rather than maple so you can use it on anything: waffles, pancakes, ice cream, or just eat it with a spoon like I do! I stumbled across this recipe one day when I made waffles for breakfast, went to the pantry to grab my syrup, and realized there was only about 1 tablespoon left in the bottle. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I have to have a lot of syrup with my waffles. This wouldn't even be enough to cover half of my waffle, let alone begin to touch my husband's. This was just a little problem.. Thank goodness for Our Best Bites who had this sinfully delicious recipe that went above and beyond solving my syrup problem. My next syrup project is to try it over a chocolate waffle with ice cream.. Mmm... (Recipe and picture courtesy of Our Best Bites.)

Ingredients:


  • 3/4 c. buttermilk*

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar

  • 1 stick butter

  • 2 Tbsp. corn syrup

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine buttermilk, sugar, butter, corn syrup and baking soda together in a LARGE pot. Bring ingredients to a boil and reduce heat to low (needs to still be bubbling). Cook, stirring very frequently, for 8 - 9 minutes. When it's down, it should turn a light golden color. Remove from heat and add vanilla. There will be a thin layer of foam on top. It tastes great, but you can remove it if you'd like by spooning it off the top. Use while it's still warm, or store it in the fridge until ready to use.


*I never have buttermilk on hand for any of my recipes, so I use the following trick: Mix together 1 Tbsp. lemon juice OR white vinegar and enough milk to make 1 cup. Let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes or until the milk begins to curdle. Yay for easy buttermilk!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orange Rolls

Have you ever heard of The Pioneer Woman and her incredible website? I'm a leetle obsessed with her, and particularly with her cooking section. She published a cookbook a couple of years ago and one of the crowning recipes that made it into her breakfast section was her cinnamon rolls. Aside from the 840 comments (Yes, that's eight hundred and forty) she's received on this recipe on her website, her cookbook was also a #1 New York Times bestseller for weeks. I feel ashamed to admit that I've been following her website almost every day for the past several years, and only now made these cinnamon rolls. After trying them I could smack myself!! 2 years without making these?! Merideth... Honestly. These. Are. Amazing. They turn out so soft and a little gooey on the inside which is a must for any type of sweet roll. I adapted the frosting to make them into orange rolls, but her original frosting with maple extract also sounds amazing. And if you're worried about using yeast and the anxiety it always causes, stop right now! I am definitely not very experienced with yeast but these turned out perfect. They rose when I told them to and turned out so big and perfectly plump! The Pioneer Woman's recipe makes around 6-8 pans of rolls so I adapted it to make only one. Yes, these are made from scratch and do take a little extra time and attention, but plan them out for a special party or for a lazy Sunday afternoon - you won't be sorry!


Ingredients:


  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 1/2 package active dry yeast

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 (heaping) tsp. baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/4 Tbsp. salt

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted (1/2 cube)

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • Cinnamon for sprinkling

  • Zest from one orange

Orange Frosting:



  • 1/4 bag powdered sugar

  • 1/8 cup milk

  • 3 Tbsp. melted butter

  • Juice from one orange (about 1/4 cup)

Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. Scald the mixture (heat until just before the boiling point). Turn off heat and leave to cool. When the mixture is lukewarm to warm, but NOT hot, sprinkle in Active Dry Yeast. Let this sit for a minute. Then add 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour.


After rising for at least an hour, add 1/2 cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir mixture together. (At this point, you could cover the dough and put it in the fridge until you need it - overnight or even a day or two, if necessary. Just keep your eye on it and if it starts to overflow out of the pan, just punch it down).



When ready to prepare rolls: Sprinkle rolling surface generously with flour. Take the dough and form a rough rectangle. Then roll the dough thin, maintaining a general rectangular shape. Drizzle melted butter over the dough. Now sprinkle brown sugar over the butter followed by a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and the orange zest.



Now, starting at the opposite end, begin rolling the dough in a neat line toward you. Keep the roll relatively tight as you go. Next, pinch the seam of the roll to seal it.



Spread 1 tablespoon of melted butter in a seven inch round foil cake or pie pan. Then begin cutting the rolls approximately ¾ to 1 inch thick and laying them in the buttered pan.
Let the rolls rise for 20 to 30 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees until light golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes.



For the frosting, mix together all ingredients listed and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls. Go crazy and don't skimp on the frosting.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Best Banana Bread

I'll be the first to admit that I often buy fresh fruit and vegetables and eat more of them, but then I forget about them and before I know it they're mushy, moldy, or too gross to eat. But the beautiful thing about bananas is that when they turn to their soft brown stage, they become perfect for banana bread! This recipe is by-far the best banana bread I have ever made or eaten. The batter is so fluffy and light and immediately looks different from regular banana bread which, in my eyes, is definitely a good sign. The bread itself comes out extremely moist and sticky and tastes so delicious. The moistness is a result of two unusual ingredients: cream cheese and sour cream. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I eat both of these plain every now and then. How can you turn anything down that has the word "cream" in it? I was feeling naughty the day I made this and added in chocolate chips, but the bread itself is absolutely delicious without any additions. Aside from my ramblings and descriptions, the bottom line is this is the best banana bread ever and you need to try it. (Recipe courtesy of How Sweet It Is)

Ingredients:


  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 3 oz. cream cheese

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed

  • 1 egg

  • 1/4 cup sour cream

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (can substitute whole wheat)

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease loaf pan. Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in mashed bananas, egg and sour cream and mix until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Bake for 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu

Whenever I hear about the recipe "Chicken Cordon Bleu," I always think of the class high school prom dinner with this as the main course. Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems like it's one of those fancy, but not overly-priced meals that works great for something like a high school dance. Anyway, the main reason I rarely, if ever, make these is simply because of the time it takes to butterfly the breasts, stuff them with ham and cheese, attempt to roll them up and stick them together with toothpicks, roll them in breadcrumbs.. You get the picture. It's just way too many steps. Enter Chicken Cordon Bleu without the endless steps and mess. Chicken breasts are cut in half length-wise and then topped with slices of ham, Swiss cheese and bread crumbs and baked until golden brown and crispy. Then there's the sauce.. the creamy Parmesan Dijon sauce that tops it all. De-licious. Granted, it's definitely not as pretty as regular chicken cordon bleu, but when you're short on time and you're just feeding your family, then pretty isn't exactly the main thought that crosses your mind.

Ingredients:
Chicken Cordon Bleu:


  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half length-wise to form two thinner chicken breast cutlets

  • 4 slices deli ham

  • 4 thin slices Swiss cheese

  • 1 cup bread crumbs

  • 2 Tbsp. butter, melted

Parmesan-Dijon Sauce



  • 2 Tbsp. butter

  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (or 1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules)

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer each chicken breast with 2 slices of ham and two slices of cheese. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the melted butter and sprinkle over the top of the chicken. Bake the chicken for 30 -35 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and bread crumbs are golden.


While the chicken bakes, in a medium sauce pan melt the butter. Add in the flour, stirring constantly, for about 1-2 minutes until it forms a roux. Slowly pour in the milk while stirring. Add in the salt and chicken bouillon cube. Stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken, about 3 - 5 minutes. Once the sauce has bubbled and thickened, remove from heat and add in the Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted. Keep warm until chicken is finished baking. Serve over warm chicken immediately.


Note: If sauce is too thick, stir in more milk until it is at your desired consistency.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Santa Fe Chicken Salad Wraps

I'm usually pretty good at packing a lunch with me when I go to work everyday, but I'm not very good at bringing a variety of meals that I don't get tired of quickly. Sometimes I feel like I eat sandwich after sandwich until I would rather starve than eat another one. Lately I've been spicing things up a bit by trying new wraps filled with everything from eggs, bacon and potatoes to chicken salad. This is a fantastic recipe that has a slight Mexican zing to it. It is very versatile and can be used for lunch or dinner and it is very healthy compared to some of my other lunchtime options. I served it last night for dinner and it made plenty for my husband and I with enough leftover to bring for lunch today! And I have to admit: you just can't beat having a home-cooked meal for lunch. (Picture and recipe adapted from Good Life Eats)



Ingredients:


  • 2/3 cup sour cream

  • 3 Tbsp. lime juice (or juice from one lime)

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

  • 1/4 tsp. cumin

  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1-2 Tbsp. minced cilantro

  • 1/4 cup diced onion

  • 1/3 cup corn kernels

  • 1/3 cup black beans

  • 1/3 cup diced green or red pepper

  • 2 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded

  • Burrito-sized tortillas

  • Sliced avocado

  • Lettuce or baby spinach

In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, lime juice, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder and cilantro. Add the onion, corn, black beans, pepper and chicken and stir to combine. Cover and chill until serving.


To prepare the wraps: Layer chicken salad, lettuce and avocado slices in the center of the tortillas. Fold in the ends and wrap up to seal it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mango Rice Salad

This is the essence of a perfect summer dish. Light, fresh, crisp, fruity and refreshing. It's absolutely delicious by itself as a side salad, or served over grilled chicken or fish. It looked intriguing with the mango mixed with the vegetables and rice and reminded me of a rice bowl from Rumbi Island Grill. I honestly can't say anything bad about this dish. I was moaning over it the entire dinner. It is big enough to serve about 4 people but my husband I kept dipping our forks into the bowl until it was scraped clean. (Recipe and picture adapted from Our Best Bites)

Ingredients:


  • 1 cup cooked rice, at room temperature*

  • 1 14 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1 medium mango, peeled and diced

  • 1/2 red pepper, diced finely

  • 1/2 medium onion, diced finely

  • 1 handful chopped cilantro (1/2 cup)

  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

  • Salt

  • Pepper

Mix together the rice, beans, mango, pepper, onion and cilantro. In a separate small bowl, mix together the red wine vinegar, olive oil and lime juice until combined. Pour on top of salad and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill at least one hour before serving. Serve alone or over chicken or fish.


*I recommend cooking the rice in either vegetable or chicken broth for more flavor.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pineapple Shrimp Kabobs

Who doesn't love grilled kabobs on a hot summer day? We made these shrimp kabobs as an addition to our main dish for Memorial Day. They had a sweet yet savory flavor that everybody loved. We used green pepper, onion, pineapple and shrimp for ours but they are extremely versatile and can be used with any vegetables you have on hand. Plan ahead to marinate the shrimp for at least 3 hours before you grill the kabobs and you'll have perfect, flavorful shrimp! Also, if you use pre-cooked shrimp you'll only have to grill them for a few minutes to slightly soften the vegetables and warm everything up. (Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home)

Ingredients:


  • 1 8 oz. can pineapple chunks

  • 1 cup Italian salad dressing

  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

  • 1/8 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1 tsp. ground mustard

  • 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

  • 1-2 large green peppers, cut into chunks

  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks

Drain pineapple, reserving the juice. Refrigerate the pineapple. In a medium bowl, combine pineapple juice, salad dressing, tomato sauce, brown sugar and ground mustard. Add in the shrimp and coat with the sauce. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.


On skewers, alternately thread the shrimp, pineapple, green pepper and onion. Grill, uncovered over medium heat for 6-10 minutes or until shrimp turn pink and vegetables are tender, turning and basting occasionally with the marinade sauce. Serve immediately.

White Chocolate & Raspberry Ice Cream

Make this now. Not tomorrow, not this weekend, now. I couldn't get enough of this perfect ice cream combination and was tempted to literally straight-up drink the raspberries and cream out of the bowl before I transferred it to my ice cream maker. This was extremely easy (as most ice cream recipes are) and it turned out perfectly sweet with a hint of tartness from the raspberries. It makes a fantastic summer dessert, particularly after a long day of sunshine and fun. I whipped up this baby after my mother-in-law suggested we make some type of ice cream for dessert for Memorial Day, and to be completely honest it's probably the best homemade ice cream I've ever had. The white chocolate added a creamy, sweet and rich base to the ice cream and the raspberries broke apart, adding juice and little chunks of fruit throughout the dessert. Even my husband, who doesn't normally like berries in general, loved it and ate every last bit of his dish. Try it again soon! I know you'll love it.

Ingredients:


  • 2 cups whipping cream

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 2 oz. white chocolate, chopped

  • 2 tsp. vanilla

  • 1-2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

In a medium saucepan, mix together the whipping cream, milk and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and slowly add in the white chocolate, stirring constantly until completely melted. Allow to cool and add in vanilla and raspberries. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until cold. Follow instructions for your ice cream maker and freeze accordingly.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Creamy Southwestern Black Bean and Corn Salad

This recipe is very similar to my BBQ Black Bean and Corn Salsa recipe I posted several months ago, but with a different sauce and a few different ingredients. I had completely forgotten about this recipe until my brother-in-law called me on Saturday and begged me to make this salad for him that night. I complied and later on that day realized I had never even posted it on my blog before! It really is absolutely delicious and can be used as a salad or, even better, as a chip dip. Ffunny enough, it tastes best with Doritos (discovered by my husband). Any flavor works great, but the Doritos really complement the light, soft flavors of the dip perfectly. This is a very healthy and fresh recipe that is perfect for a summer BBQ or family party. It literally took me 5 minutes to put this together and it was ready to eat immediately. It does taste better the longer it sits since the flavors can meld together, but it's still delicious if you're like me and can't wait a few hours to dig in.


Ingredients:



  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1 can corn, drained and rinsed

  • 1 large green pepper, diced

  • 1 medium tomato, diced

  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped finely

  • 1/2 small onion, diced (optional)

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing

  • 1 tsp. cumin

  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

Mix the beans, corn, green pepper, tomato, cilantro and onion together in a bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients and stir into the salad until evenly coated. Add more ranch and seasonings to taste. Store in the refrigerator for several hours before serving. Serve as a side salad or as a chip dip.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chicken Parmesan Bundles

Last weekend my parents and younger brother came to visit my husband and I for a few days. We tried to show them a lot of Nashville and ended up fitting a lot into just a few short days. To end the fabulous weekend, I made a special dinner for them on Sunday afternoon before they left to catch their flight back home. I wanted to do something simple that everybody would like, but that was also a little more special than the traditional pasta dish and this was the end result. These bundles take a little bit more time and effort than a regular weekday dinner, but they are absolutely delicious and extremely impressive. The hardest part is pounding the chicken breasts flat, but if you have a meat mallet (or an aluminum spaghetti-o's can in my case), it goes by very quickly and without too much effort. Try to find thinner chicken breasts to begin with and it will cut down the preparation time significantly. Next time you're looking for an upgrade to spaghetti or if you have guests over for dinner, try making these! They are an easy-pleaser and are also very inexpensive to feed a crowd. (Picture and recipe adapted from Kraft Foods)

Ingredients


  • 5-6 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4-inch. thickness

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened

  • 1 cup frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained

  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese or ricotta cheese

  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs

  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce, heated

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the cream cheese, spinach, mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese in a medium bowl. Spoon onto chicken breasts. Roll up chicken tightly, securing with toothpicks if needed. In a separate small bowl, mix together the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and roll each chicken bundle in the mixture until coated. Place in sprayed 9x13 pan and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Serve chicken topped with spaghetti sauce and some fresh mozzarella.


*If desired, serve over a bed of warm pasta.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Brazilian Lemonade

Wow, wow, wow. That is all I can say about this recipe. Oh.. and I made about 2 gallons of it in less than a week because I couldn't get enough of it. It is so simple and only requires 4 ingredients, one of which is water. Think of a sweet and tangy lemonade, but replace the lemons with limes. Then add in sweetened condensed milk and a bit of crushed ice to make a cold, sweet and extremely refreshing drink. I have always seen Brazilian lemonade on the menu at restaurants and heard about it from a few other people and I finally got around to making it this week. My husband and I had it as our drink for our Cinco de Mayo meal and I made it again for my in-laws for our Mother's Day dinner. All 6 people who drank it literally could not get enough. It is so easy and takes all of 5 minutes to throw together. You must try this recipe as soon as humanly possible. (Picture and recipe courtesy of Our Best Bites.)

Ingredients:


  • 6 cups cold water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 limes

  • 6-8 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk

Mix the cold water and sugar together until well blended and sugar is dissolved. Keep in fridge until ready to use. Wash off the limes with some warm water and dish soap since you'll be using the rind as well as the actual juice. Cut each lime into 8 wedges and set aside. Pour half of the sugar water into a blender with half of the lime wedges and pulse until the the lime juice and the sugar water are combined (Limes will look very sad and mangled). Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher and discard the limes. Repeat with the remaining sugar water and limes and pour into the pitcher. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, adding more or less to taste. Serve immediately over ice.


Note: I think this would also be delicious mixed with ice in the blender to make a Brazilian Slushy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lemon Chicken Tetrazzini

First of all, let me apologize for basically falling off the earth the past couple of months. Tax season is finally over and I now have a life outside of the office again. I am also ashamed to say that while my life was filled with taxes and financial statements, I had to put aside homemade meals and new recipes. My poor husband survived solely on Taco Bell, Subway, canned food and egg burritos. This was one of the first homemade meals I made after I had my evenings back again. Neal's first comment when we sat down to the table was "Wow, I've really missed this...." And the best part of it all is that it literally took me 25 minutes to throw this together. A compliment for a quick and easy meal? Yes, please! This recipe consists of a chicken casserole dish with mushrooms, pasta, and a creamy lemon sauce flavored with plenty of parmesan cheese. It is a quick and healthy meal to throw together and can also be frozen for one of those busy nights where cooking does not sound very appealing. I am a huge pasta fan and I'll have to say that this recipe ranks right up there with some of my favorite pastas.



Ingredients:


  • 8 oz. pasta, cooked and drained

  • 2 chicken breasts, diced into small pieces

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 cup diced mushrooms (fresh or from a can)

  • 1/8 cup butter

  • 1/8 cup flour

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice

  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese

  • 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

Turn the oven on to 350 degrees. While the pasta is cooking, saute chicken with salt and pepper over medium heat until nearly cooked through. Add in the diced mushrooms and the butter and saute until the mushrooms are soft and begin to release their juices. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add in the flour until a roux (or thick paste) forms. Slowly add in the chicken broth and milk and stir over medium-high heat until it begins to boil and thicken. Return heat back down to medium-low and add in the cheddar cheese, lemon juice and parmesan cheese until cheese is melted and flavors meld together. Add more lemon juice and parmesan cheese to taste. Mix in the drained pasta and stir until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Pour pasta mixture into an 8x8 pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are golden brown in color.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick and Easy Breadsticks

This past Sunday afternoon my husband was in meetings for my Church for several hours. I was home by myself, trying to figure out what to make for dinner, when the the craving for Olive Garden breadsticks came into my mind yet again. I did a little searching around until I found a recipe I could whip up before my husband got home and that looked promising - this is what I found. Soft, light and full of flavor, these little babies did not disappoint. I was amazed at how easy and fast they were to put together, and they tasted like they came straight from some fancy schmancy Italian restaurant in a high-rise downtown. They are also extremely versatile because you can use whatever seasonings and spices you have on-hand to give them their irresistable flavor. (Picture courtesy of McCormick) (Recipe adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe) Makes 20-25 breadsticks

Ingredients:



  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

  • 1 Tbsp. instant yeast*

  • 2 Tbsp. sugar

  • 3 1/2 cups flour (I usually use a little less than is called for in yeast recipes)

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted
Mix all ingredients (except melted butter) in a large bowl or electric mixer and knead for three minutes. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread melted butter onto an 11x17 baking sheet. Roll the breadsticks out to about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick and cut into strips with a pizza cutter. Twist slightly and place about 1/2-inch apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with garlic salt, herbs (I used oregano and basil crushed finely, but rosemary and thyme would also taste great) and parmesan cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until light golden brown.

*If using active dry yeast, stir into warm water with sugar and let sit for about 10 minutes until it starts to foam and rise. Then mix it in with the rest of the ingredients.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rainbow Cake

Looking for a fun and unique idea for a birthday or upcoming holiday? This cake has endless possibilities and can literally be used for any event! It can even be turned into cupcakes for a more delicate touch. Honestly I was a little intimidated when I first saw the pictures of this cake online. It looked beautiful, but I was worried about the time it would take to layer it all, and about the colors running together and creating a murky brown swampy color. But the colors turned out perfectly defined and the cake was quick and easy to make. I also want to point out the versatility of this recipe: You can dye the batter any color to go with any event. For example, Valentine's Day: Red, Pink, and White. 4th of July: Red, White, and Blue. Easter: light pretty pastel colors. Sports parties: team colors. Bridal or baby showers: use the wedding colors or the colors of the baby's room. Have fun and feel free to go wild and crazy with the endless color combinations!













Ingredients:
  • 1 box French Vanilla cake mix
  • Food coloring

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 pkg. 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened (half a stick)
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 4 cups + powdered sugar
  • Milk

Make cake batter according to pacakge directions. Divide batter evenly between 4-5 bowls (more or less depending on how many colors you're using). Mix in food coloring, 1 to 2 drops at a time, until desired color is reached for each bowl. Grease and flour two round 9-inch cake pans. Pour half of one color in the bottom of each pan, tilting the pan so it covers the bottom. Pour half of the second color in each pan until evenly spread (Note: don't worry about completely covering the first layer - the less perfect the more fun and creative it looks!). Continue with the rest of the colors until both pans are evenly coated. Cook according to cake mix directions. Allow the cake to cool and then gently shake the cake out of the pans onto a flat surface.

While the cake is cooling, make the frosting by creaming together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Mix in 4 cups of powdered sugar and add about 1/4 cup milk and blend until combined. Continue to add powdered sugar and milk until desired frosting consistency is reached.

Layer the two cakes together using frosting between the layers. Frost the outside of the cake completely and, if desired, top with matching sprinkles.

Note: Any white/yellow cake mix can be used with any combination of frosting.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Southwest Mini Crescent Burritos

In case it isn't absolutely obvious yet, I happen to love mexican/southwest flavors in meals. I had a tube of crescent rolls sitting in my fridge screaming to be used before they expired and happened to stumble across this recipe on Pillsbury's website. These were super easy and healthy and had an incredible flavor! Warm, soft crescent rolls envelope seasoned chicken, beans, corn, spinach, cheese and tomatoes to make a hearty and delicious meal. An added bonus about the spinach in this recipe is that you can barely even see it or taste it! My husband abhors spinach, but I snuck some in without telling him, just to see if he'd notice. He loved every bite of these babies and even went back for seconds. There is only one stipulation for making these: you HAVE to make the dip to go with it! I'm not ashamed to admit that I actually licked the leftover sauce out of the bowl using my finger. Yes, it's that good (and so easy too!) These are also very versatile and can be served as the main dish for dinner or as a light appetizer at a party or fancy dinner. (Recipe and picture courtesy of Pillsbury)

Ingredients:
  • 1 can Pillsbury refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to drain
  • 1 cup cooked chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1/2 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • handful fresh cilantro, chopped finely
  • 1/2 package taco seasoning mix
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

Sauce:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Unroll can of crescent dough and press perforations together to seal. Press or roll into a 13x9 inch rectangle. Cut rectangle in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into thirds, making 6 squares.

Mix remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl until combined. Spoon about 1/4 cup chicken mixture onto the center of each crescent square. Bring up one side of the dough over filling and roll up, folding in sides as you roll. Pinch seam to seal. On greased cookie sheet, place rolls seam-side down and 2 inches apart. Bake 14-18 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

In a separate small bowl, mix together all of the sauce ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve rolls warm with sauce on the side.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cream Puffs

How is it that something so simple can be so beautiful, creamy and perfect for any occasion? Breading and cream - it honestly can't get any better than that. I received a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook when I got married that was made specifically for newlyweds. I l.o.v.e it. Every recipe I have made has turned out fabulous, and I love all of the tips and fun ideas for making meals festive and special for any occasion. This cream puffs dessert is yet another tried-and-true recipe that I absolutely love. I literally threw this dish together in less than an hour for our Sunday dessert. The breading turned out perfectly soft and had a fabulous flavor. And the cream... Well, let's just say I ate the leftovers with a spoon until it was gone. The other wonderful thing about this recipe is you can make it as simple or as fancy as you want! The cream puffs are beautiful drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top, but taste just as wonderful with the simplicity of the bread and the cream. If you like cream puffs at all, you will love this recipe. (Picture courtesy of Deaf Lion)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 box vanilla pudding (3/4 oz.)
  • 1 cup whipped cream

In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter and salt. Bring to boiling. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously until mixture forms a ball and sticks together. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon after each addition. Stir each egg until completely combined before adding the next one.

Drop 12 heaping tablespoons of dough on to a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes until they are firm and a light golden color. Transfer puffs to a wire rack and cool. Cut tops from puffs and remove the soft dough from the inside.

Make up the vanilla pudding according to package directions. Once set, stir in the whipped cream until completely combined. Fill the puffs with the whipped cream and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Keep in fridge until ready to serve.

Tip: These also make a wonderful summer dessert served with ice cream and caramel sauce rather than the pudding mixture.

Red Chile Chicken and Rice

I am a big fan of the classic red beans and rice dish but I've never liked the acidity caused by the meat and the spices. This recipe has officially solved all of those problems! Hearty, comforting, and full of fiber, this dish is yet another one-pot-wonder recipe that only dirties one pan! It's made up of fluffy rice, red chile chicken, hearty black beans, and a punch of flavor from onions, cheese and tomatoes. It has a wonderful creamy flavor and is perfect for a weeknight meal when time is short and everyone is hungry. And don't worry about the exorbitant amount of chili powder - it's not spicy at all and creates a wonderful flavor (and an amazing red color). (Picture and recipe adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.)

Ingredients:


  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil, divided

  • 2 large chicken breasts, cut into small 1-inch pieces

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder, divided

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 1/2 medium onion, diced

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 1/2 cups rice

  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth

  • 1 can red beans (can also use black or pinto)

  • 1 can diced tomatoes (optional)

  • Sour cream, cheese, green onions and cilantro for garnish

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium-large pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder and salt. Place chicken in the pot, stirring occasionally until it is browned and cooked through (about 2-3 minutes). Remove the chicken to a plate. Add the second tablespoon of oil to the pot and saute the onion, garlic and rice. Cook on medium-low, stirring for several minutes until the rice begins to brown. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. chili powder and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover, cooking for 10 minutes.


Add the chicken, beans and tomatoes to the pot and stir everything to combine. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, green onions and cilantro on top.