Monday, November 22, 2010

Beef and Two Bean Chili

My husband has recently decided that he likes chili. A lot. All his life he's been a pretty picky eater but that's mostly been by choice. Because I love food and think that it's fun to experiment and try new things I've always encouraged him to be open-minded about food. At first, he resisted and hated trying new things, convinced that the reason he didn't like something was because he actually didn't like it, rather than he had just never tried it. Over time, he quit fighting me and started willing trying new things because he'd been able to find so many new foods that he really loved. We've been together since high school and I can't tell you how many things he has tried and fell in love with. Chinese food. Mexican food. Sushi. And, lately? Chili.

So he's been asking for me to make some kind of soup or chili for weeks now but it's just been too hot for me to think chili sounded good. Plus I hadn't found "the recipe." Over the last couple weeks here in Florida the weather has cooled off significantly (as in, it goes into the 60s on occasion) and I started thinking in earnest about trying my hand at chili. But I still couldn't find a recipe that spoke to me. So I took the things I liked about a few different recipes and adapted them to a recipe that suited our tastes.

Success!! I served this with cheese and sour cream for a garnish and biscuits as a side. Brad loved it and gushed all night long about how great it was! I really loved it too! Plus, it's a one-pot meal (read: easy clean-up) and makes a ton, which will probably serve us for a few more dinners and lunches. (I really love leftovers. Home-cooked meal without the work? Yes, please!) I subbed in green pepper for the more traditional celery (since neither of us are big celery fans) and the onion, garlic and green pepper made for a great vegetable flavor combo. The spices worked great together and the cornmeal gave the chili a great thickness without sopping up all the juices. One bowl is very filling and satisfying on a chili (pun intended) fall night. So here is the recipe. Hope you enjoy!

Beef and Two Bean Chili
(Original recipe by Layne)

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 16-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups beef stock
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
¼ cup cornmeal

In a large stockpot over medium-low heat, saute chopped onion, garlic and green pepper until soft. Crumble in ground beef and cook until brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, stock, beans, spices and cornmeal to the stockpot and stir together. Cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring frequently. Serve with cheese and sour cream.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who isn't looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe? And if you aren't, you should be. Of course, there is no one winner. Everyone has different opinions on what a chocolate chip cookie should be. And while sometimes we have different tastes and preferences, Brad and I definitely agree on this! Here's our take:

Chocolate chip cookies should be chewy, on the softer side and have a not-so-subtle brown sugar vibe about them. We also both tend to agree that the cookie part is better than the chocolate chip part. I definitely don't want an overdose of chocolate chips to drown out the wonderful brown sugar and buttery goodness of the cookies that they are suspended in. And, as far as Brad is concerned, the softer they are and the more they taste like cookie dough, the better.

So I decided I wanted to try to make not just good chocolate chip cookies, but GREAT chocolate chip cookies. I had two recipes in mind that held great promise: Alton Brown's "The Chewy" and Baking Illustrated's "Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies," which has been featured on zillions of food and baking blogs. They are both very similar and ended up I deciding on the Baking Illustrated version, mostly because of all the rave reviews.

I must say that these were amazing and did not disappoint. I'm convinced that they are my new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. They are chewy, with a great texture, and have a wonderful brown sugar flavor. Like all cookies, they are beyond phenomonal straight out of the oven but still hold onto their chewiness and flavor for a couple of days in a well-sealed container. Not much more to say other than we loved them!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Recipe from Baking Illustrated, page 434)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2-1 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

3. Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball. (This batch should make about 18 large cookies.) Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

4. Bake until the cookies are light golden gro
wn and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a metal spatula.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Grandmother's Spaghetti

I grew up eating this spaghetti and thoroughly believing that THIS is what spaghetti should be. It was my grandmother's recipe but my grandfather made a mean batch too. I loved it and I would happily slurp it down whenever it was up for dinner. (Over to the right, that would be me - and my side-pony tail - along with my wonderful grandparents on picture day in grade school. Gotta love the 80's.)

Truthfully, I had a very hard time eating pasta of any other kind. Alfredo sauce tended to be much too creamy and rich. Traditional spaghetti sauce (you know, the meatless, tomato-saucy, chunk-less kind) just seemed so boring and thin. And, at the time, ricotta and I hadn't made friends so I wasn't a fan of most filled pastas.

Of course, over the years, I've turned into a huge foodie and now there aren't too many pastas that I don't love and ricotta and I get along very nicely. But as much as I love all the incarnations that pasta, sauces and Italian food can take, there is something about this version. It's just so comforting, so homey, so satisfying and hearty.

The following are some notes on the recipe: Now that I know more about food, I realize that it's not very traditional spaghetti sauce. First of all, it's a meat sauce and there are no huge chunks of stewed tomatoes . . . thank GOD. It also includes onions (fairly traditional) and green peppers (not so much) as the base vegetables. If you are a green pepper hater, no worries. My husband is too but I make sure to dice them up very small and cook until very tender and he doesn't even know they are in there.

There is also Worcestershire sauce, which may be a strange ingredient to some. But I am convinced that it is what makes the sauce. It adds SUCH a richness and depth of flavor. YUM. There is also quite a bit of garlic but keep in mind this recipe makes a TON of sauce. My grandparents used to add the cloves in whole, simmer them forever in the sauce and then remove them. But I LOVE garlic, so I decided to mince the cloves, saute them with the veggies and let them impart all their garlic-y goodness. Feel free to cut back if you're scared.


Grandma's Spaghetti Sauce
(Original Recipe by Layne)
serves 8-10, generously

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 lb ground beef
29 oz. tomato sauce (or 2 15 oz. cans)
12 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Dice onion and green pepper and mince the garlic. Add olive oil to a large stock pot and place over medium-high heat. Saute onion, garlic and green pepper in oil until tender and fragrant, stir frequently to prevent sticking and over-browning. Crumble ground beef into pot and cook until beef is browned and cooked through.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato sauce and tomato paste and water. Mix well. Add black pepper and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine. Allow sauce to simmer for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld. Serve over spaghetti (we prefer whole wheat), perhaps with a side of garlic bread, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mushroom and Fresh Basil Pizza

Brad has always been a cheese-only-pizza kinda guy. Every now and then he'll try a new topping but, for the most part, he tends to stick with what he knows. Meanwhile, I LOVE veggies on my pizza and fresh herbs. YUM! So it's pizza-by-the-slice for us since we can't agree.

Until, last month sometime, when we were at our favorite pizza/Italian place. We were discussing what looked good and we both had pizza on the brain. I decided that mushroom and fresh basil sounded yummy (although as far as I'm concerned there should be fresh basil on every pizza) and was surprised when Brad said that sounded good to him too! So we ended up getting an entire pizza and sharing it. We both loved it and that has been "our pizza" ever since.

Well, a couple weeks later at the farmer's market, we spied some great-looking baby portobello mushrooms and decided to do "our pizza" up home-style! I even had a new baking stone that I wanted to christen for the occasion.

Mushroom and Fresh Basil Pizza
(Original recipe by Layne, Pizza Dough adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence)

Favorite jarred pizza sauce
Mushrooms, to taste (LOTS!!)
Basil, to taste (LOTS!!)
Pizza dough (half of recipe below)

Pizza Dough:
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water; stir gently to dissolve. Let the mixture stand until the yeast comes alive and starts to foam, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Turn the mixer on low and add the salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest speed until all the flour has been incorporated. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium; stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook. Get a feel for the dough by squeezing a small amount together: if it's crumbly, add more water; if it's sticky, add more flour - 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix until the dough gathers into a ball, this should take about 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over itself a few times; kneading until it's smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a round and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn it over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot (i.e. over a gas pilot light) until doubled in size, about 1 hour. This is a good time to stick a pizza stone in the oven and preheat them to 500 degrees F.

Once the dough is domed and spongy, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter. Roll and stretch the dough into a cylinder and divide into 3 equal pieces. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes so it will be easier to roll out.

Roll or pat out a piece of dough into a 12 inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Dust a pizza paddle with flour and slide it under the pizza dough. Brush the crust with a thin layer of olive oil, and top with your favorite flavors. Slide the pizza onto the hot stone in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and crisp. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cheesy Grits Bread

Okay, so recently I've become obsessed with yeast breads. I never thought I could be patient enough to enjoy baking, let alone enjoy baking with yeast! But something in me had to try it and after a few flops I've become quite good at baking bread! Who knew? I've made some wonderful boules lately and Brad has loved them! I've also tried my hand at some homemade honey, yeasty dinner rolls and they have been to. die. for. I would have shared them sooner but they tend to disappear quite fast. I'll be sure to share them soon, though. Promise.

But before the yeast craze, I was trying my hand at quick bread in hopes to avoid having to work with yeast. (Little did I know what I was missing!) Most were unimpressive. Dry. Heavy. Just yuck. Then I stumbled upon this recipe. Still like a quick bread but with a little yeast to give it rise and lighten it up. For some reason, it seemed less intimidating to me than most yeast breads. Like a gateway yeast bread. . . . Alright, I'm done now.

Anyway, this bread was awesome. Light and airy from the yeast, cheesy from the cheddar and slightly grainy from the grits. Like a more bread-y version of cornbread. Maybe that doesn't sound like a good description but it was delish!

Cheesy Grits Bread
(Recipe loosely adapted from Fake Ginger, Originally from Southern Living)

1 cup milk
6 tablespoons quick cooking grits
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (I just grated a big ol' pile and threw it in because, in my opinion, you can never have too much cheese!)
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1/4 oz) packet yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp if you buy yeast in jars)
2 1/2 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose and it was fine)

Bring milk to a boil over medium heat; stir in grits and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add salt and cheese, stirring until cheese is melted. Let stand for 25 minutes to cool, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, combine water, sugar, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Add grits mixture beating until well blended.

Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Dough will be slightly sticky. Shape into a ball and place into a well-greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Punch dough down and shape into a loaf. Place in lightly greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until golden. Let bread cool on wire racks for 10 minutes before removing.

Note: Like I said above, this was my first real foray into bread-making with yeast and it was a huge success. This is a very forgiving recipe and easy for beginners. The flavor of this bread was wonderful and the texture was spot on. I served it sliced with butter and I think it would be great for brunches or even as an accompaniment to one of my favorite kinds of meals: breakfast for dinner!


Friday, April 23, 2010

Redo! Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

So, I know I've already posted a recipe for Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Muffins. In fact, I've even already posted this one! But to be honest, they weren't that great the first time around. They were pretty dry and the peanut flavor was not very pronounced.

I was jonesing for these muffins again a while back. Well, not those muffins but the muffins I wanted them to be. So I decided to give it another try and really put my all into it. I also decided to make a half-batch because if I failed, I didn't want 11 dry, boring muffins crowding my kitchen.

Oh, but I did not fail. These muffins were glorious! Moist, with a great peanut butter flavor. They were just what I had been looking for and hit just the right spot. To accomplish this I added a little more peanut butter and a couple tablespoons more of brown sugar, both to add moisture and sweetness. I also subbed in whole wheat flour for about half of the all-purpose and added a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ for nutrition. I didn't notice that these had much of a negative impact on flavor but I know that they made these muffins more healthful . . . which made me feel better about eating them.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins
(Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Baking Bites)

Makes 6 large muffins

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp wheat germ
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup,
plus 2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy but smooth is fine)
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk (low fat or skim is fine)
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter into your paper-lined muffin tin. Each cup should be filled to the top to ensure you get a nice dome on the muffin. Optional: sprinkle on some chopped peanuts for garnish. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the top of the muffin springs back when lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Herb Garden

I have been very productive lately!! I have been wanting an herb garden ever since we moved into this house but I haven't gotten off my butt. Well, for some reason a couple of weekends ago, I was bitten by the bug and Sunday morning I woke up and asked Brad if we could go out and get all the things we needed for the herb garden. And so we spent the rest of the day at Lowe's and in the yard!

I decided to try and find (and plant) my favorite herbs and then the ones I use most often. (Like parsley, don't love the taste but it's great in everything for some freshness.) The front row (closest to the walk) has three herbs. Flat-leaf Parsley is the one that is farthest away, oregano is in the middle and basil is the closest, in the corner. In the back, near the house is dill (farthest away) and cilantro.

As you can see from the picture, Raina likes to be outside with us while I'm working in the garden. She loves to explore! Luckily she has she no interest in my herbs. Those are for the grown-ups!

I can't even tell you how happy I am about this herb garden. I'm scared to death that I'll kill it but so far I have prevailed. The first couple days I was afraid of drowning it so I avoided watering. I was told to be sparing on the water for the first few days!! But by day 3, they were looking wimpy, puny and all-around droopy. And I was convinced I had killed them. I read up and found out that after they are established they should be watered about every other day, about when the soil starts looking dry. So I dashed out and watered them right away. What do you know? The next day they bounced right back, must have just been dehydrated! I've taken to watering them about every other day and almost 2 weeks later they are doing great. Look at the "after" photo!!

Well, I do have one that is lagging behind! I had the worst time finding all the herbs I wanted. There were a few I was hoping for that I just couldn't find, or what I found was in pretty bad shape. Like the cilantro. It's tied with basil as my favorite herb. I just LOVE the stuff. (Oregano is Brad's favorite herb, btw). So I was beyond disappointed when after trips to 2 different places I couldn't find any decent cilantro. But I loved it so much I bought the only two plants they had that still looked half-alive. (For reference, I bought four of each of all the other herbs.) I planted them hoping that a little TLC would bring them back.

One shriveled up and died in about 2 days. Two weeks later, the other little plant is still hanging on! And it's starting to look pretty good! But it just can't quite grow and expand like the others are. Brad and I are planning a trip to the farmer's market this Sunday and I'm going to see if I can find any more cilantro buddies for the one I have that is growing lonely in my back yard!

I never thought I would have so much fun and interest in gardening. But as much as I love to cook (especially with fresh herbs) this garden really suits me. There is nothing like snipping a few fresh herbs and then making dinner with what you grew in your own backyard! I've already made salsa and some yummy pasta (to be posted soon) with my new herbs. Can't wait to use them again! Yum!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tacos

After stumbling upon the recipe for the best salsa ever the other day I knew that I had to change my dinner plans so that I had an excuse to eat more and so Brad (my husband) could indulge also. I had a pork roast in the fridge and I was planning on making my much-loved Crock Pot Pulled Pork. We had some leftover sandwich buns in the house that needed to be used and we hadn't had pork in a while so that was the plan for dinner. (Argh! Ever notice how much waste is created when you are cooking for 2? I don't need 8 hamburger buns for one dinner?!? Ugh, rant over.)

Anyway, I still wanted to use the pork for dinner but wanted to use it in a way that would allow us to also have the salsa with it. I immediately thought of Moe's. Brad and I love, love, love Moe's. It is an unfortunate obsession. In college, we easily ate there 2-3 times a week. The food was great and so cheap and the queso was to die for! When we started going, Moe's was still relatively small and didn't have a huge selection for their proteins, just chicken, steak and tofu. But they have added more meats (much to Brad's delight) and he likes to experiment. In the last year or so, Brad he really gotten into their pulled pork tacos and gets at least one every time he goes.

So I thought pulled pork tacos sounded perfect and immediately set about Googling for a recipe. I wanted to prepare the pork on the simpler side so that we could used the leftovers for different applications without the flavors clashing. I found a great recipe where I could do that and use salsa that I had just made. Perfect!

The verdict? Super easy and very tasty. Brad and I were both very pleased by the texture of the pork. It was so tender and just fell apart. There was no gnawing on the taco to get the pork to come with it. Nope, just one easy bite! Hurray! Another win for the slow cooker!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tacos
(Recipe adapted from Real Simple)

2 cups salsa (I used homemade but you could easily use store-bought)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 2 1/2-pound boneless pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the salsa, chili powder, oregano, cocoa, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the pork and turn to coat. Cook, covered, until the meat is tender and pulls apart easily, on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours. When the pork is done cooking, lift it carefully out of the slow cooker and place it on a large cutting-board. Shred the pork by pulling it apart with 2 forks. If you would like to add moisture, spoon some of the cooking liquid over the pork and toss.

Serve over the tortillas and add whatever taco fixings you desire. For me it was cilantro, sour cream, lime, shredded cheddar cheese and, of course, extra salsa.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Best. Salsa. Ever.

I love, love, love Mexican food. Or maybe I should be more clear. I love, love, LOVE chips and salsa. Which is funny because growing up I never really was a fan. Probably because the jarred salsa was so pervasive. At parties, holidays, BBQs. It was jarred salsa and Tostitos. Don't get me wrong I like Tostitos, salty and crunchy? What's not to like? But once I tasted real salsa and real corn chips, the kind you get at a quality mom-and-pop Mexican place. . . I was hooked. And weirdly enough, I hardly ever get cravings for "Mexican food." When I'm jonesing to go out to my favorite Mexican place it's always because I'm craving their chips and salsa. For me, salsa is a Mexican place's claim to fame . . if it's not good, I don't go back.

A couple things about salsa. First, if you know the name of this blog, you know that I'm NOT a raw tomato fan. I can do cooked tomatoes but NOT big chunks of them. So chunky salsa (which most jarred salsas are) is not my thing. Second, the salsas I get at my favorite Mexican places have that awesome fresh taste where you can really taste the herbiness of the cilantro, the bite of the onion and the tang of the lime juice. Like everything that was in it had just been yanked out of the ground and thrown in the blender and given right to me! Yummmm.

Recently I made one of my famous cheese quesadillas for lunch. It had been a while since I'd had the old cheddar and cilantro favorite (a new quesadilla had stolen my attention) so I was looking forward to it, when I noticed that the dregs of my salsa (yes, I caved and bought the only non-chunky jarred salsa I could find for home use) had started to go bad. Well, I had recently had a party where I served caprese skewers of raw cherry tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh mozzerella and I had leftover cherry tomatoes in my fridge! I also had an onion, some cilantro and some lime juice so I tried making my own salsa from what I had. Blech!! The raw tomato flavor was way too prominent and the salsa just didn't have the right kick to it.

Later, I search my Google reader for homemade salsa, determined to do it right. I found a very promising recipe on PW's site and her description of ideal salsa matched mine to a tee. Yesterday, I whipped it up, hoping to have found something good and Oh. My. Good. Gravy. This salsa was so amazing, I changed called Brad to let him know that I was changing our dinner plans so I had an excuse to eat more of this stuff. Yes, it's that good.

Best. Salsa. Ever.
(Recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman)

1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice
2 cans (10 Ounce) Rotel (I used 2 cans of "mild" because I'm a weanie when it comes to spicy foods)
¼ cups Chopped Onion
1 clove Garlic, Minced
1 whole Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin (I omitted this. Again, I'm a wuss.)
¼ teaspoons Sugar
¼ teaspoons Salt
¼ teaspoons Ground Cumin
½ -1 cups Cilantro (more to taste!)
½ whole Lime Juice

Combine whole tomatoes, Rotel, onion, jalapeno, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like—I do about 10 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings with a tortilla chip and adjust as needed.

Refrigerate salsa for at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips or cheese nachos.

Notes: I made a few changes to the quantities in my salsa. First, I used a whole onion since the one I had was tiny and it probably gave me more like 3/4 cups. Also, I used more like a full cup of cilantro because I adore the stuff. I thought it was perfect but the hubs thought the cilantro flavor could have been dialed back a bit. Adjust this based on your tastes. Also, I did need to add a couple pinches more of salt to bring out all the flavors, the 1/4 tsp just didn't do it for me. But every canned product has different amounts of sodium, so make sure you taste your salsa before adding more salt.

I thought the final product was wonderful. I was worried that all the canned tomatoes would be too much for me but it turns out that canned tomatoes are cooked ever so slightly before they are canned. I guess it's enough to get rid of that raw tomato flavor becuase I loved this stuff! And the spice is just right for me, a little kick but nothing that knocks you over. So fresh tasting, tangy. Just awesome. Brad loved it too, saying he really liked that it was a great consistency and not too chunky. (Thank-you-very-much). Good thing too, because this recipe makes a ton of salsa. Too bad we've already gone through a third of it in one day!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Ham and Brie Quesadilla

I'm a quesadilla kinda girl. I have one at least twice a week for lunch and I love them. What's not to love? The crunchy tortilla? The melty cheese inside? Combined with a fresh salsa and some cool sour cream? Freaking. Awesome. Plus they are ridiculously easy to make. Pair them with some baked chips for lunch and they aren't too shabby in the health department either!

Usually I just do it up cheddar style. Throw some extra sharp cheddar and cilantro in a tortilla and saute until crispy and brown. Again, awesome. But I had some brie on had a while back and wanted to try something different. I love ham and brie together (the salty of the ham paired with the creamy of the brie just does things to me) so I decided to give it a try in my lunch time quesadilla. And, boy, was it a winner!

The next time I made this I decided to add another fave of mine, balsamic vinegar. We had some great balsamic vinegar in the house so I threw a few tablespoons into a saute pan and waited for it to reduce until it was the consistency of syrup. I drizzled a little of over the quesadilla and it was love at first bite. The salty. The tangy. The creamy. Nirvana. If you are looking for a quick, easy lunch that is tasty and will take no time, give this a try. It's sure to please.

Ham and Brie Quesadilla with Balsamic Reduction
(Original recipe)

1 whole wheat tortilla
2 oz thin sliced smoked deli ham
1 oz sliced brie

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Place tortilla in nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add ham and brie to one side of tortilla and heat for 2 minutes. Fold tortilla and continue to heat one side until golden brown and crisp. Then fold and crisp the other side. Place quesadilla on plate and slice into 4 equal wedges.

While cooking quesadillla, in a separate small saucepan, heat balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until bubbling gently. Tilt pan side to side to keep balsamic moving while it boils. Once the it has reduced down to a syrup-y consistency (about half the original volume), remove from heat and drizzle over quesadilla and serve!


Friday, April 9, 2010

PW Mac N Cheese

I realize that this is NOT a very appetizing picture of this mac and cheese but let me tell you that despite that, this is one tasty dish. It won't be confused with light fare and I suggest a dinner salad with this and maybe some bread because it's very rich and is almost a meal unto itself. This mac and cheese is rich and decadent, creamy and tangy, just how I like it.

I have a habit of always adding powdered mustard to my cheese sauces because it gives them a great sharp tang. PW doesn't fail me here and I love her for it. Also, I have never been a fan of a breaded mac and cheese. I don't think the bread crumbs add anything in the way of flavor and they certainly take away from the velvety texture of this dish. Instead, I prefer the crispy, melted cheese topped variety. In short, this hits all the right notes for me. Try it and I'm sure you'll agree.

Pioneer Woman's Baked Macaroni 'N Cheese
(Recipe from Pioneer Woman Cooks)

4 cups uncooked macaroni
4 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 egg, beaten
1 lb. cheese, grated (I used all cheddar, but I’m sure a combination would be great too)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/2-1 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cook macaroni according to package directions until slightly firm. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook the mixture for five minutes, whisking constantly and being careful not to burn. Add the milk to the pot, stir in the dry mustard, and whisk until smooth. Cook the mixture for five minutes until very thick. Reduce the heat to low.

Add the beaten egg to a small bowl. Take 1/4 cup of the warm sauce and slowly pour it into the beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid scrambling the egg. Whisk until smooth. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth. Mix in the cheese, reserving a handful for topping, and stir until completely melted. Add in salt and other seasonings. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the drained cooked macaroni to the pot and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a baking dish, top with reserved cheese, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and bubbly on top.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Herbed Balsamic Chicken with Blue Cheese

My husband had long wanted a grill even before moving into our grill-friendly house over a year ago. He finally got an outdoor gas grill the Christmas before we moved into the house and less than a month later he had it set up in our new backyard. Ever since, he has loved to grill.

So I'm always looking for fun, easy recipes for him. Usually I prepare the food in the kitchen and he takes it outside to cook. We have grilled everything from kebabs, corn on the cob, salmon, steak, chicken. And it's all been delicious. Something about grilling over an open flame really adds flavor to whatever you're cooking.

And, just in case you were wondering, here's another fun fact about us: We absolutely love, adore and cherish balsamic vinegar. In everything. So when I found this recipe in an old issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would just be a matter of time before we were making it.

The balsamic marinade gave this chicken amazing flavor and the blue cheese added a tangyness that just put it over the top. My only critique would be the addition of the dried herbs. Frankly, they got even drier and slightly burnt on the grill and only added a bitter flavor and paper-y texture to the chicken. I ended up scraping the herbs off and enjoying the chicken much more without them. If you have fresh herbs to add, I might suggest that or adding the dried herbs to the marinade. But the dried herbs directly on top of the chicken just didn't work on the grill.

Herbed Balsamic Chicken With Blue Cheese

(Recipe adapted from
Bon Appetit, June 2009)

6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (5 to 6 ounces each)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons
olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground
black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning blend

1 3-to 4-ounce wedge blue cheese, cut into 6 slices

Place chicken in large resealable plastic bag. Whisk vinegar, 3 tablespoons oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. Add to chicken; seal bag. Chill 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

Prepare grill (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack generously with oil. Arrange chicken on grill. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
(Note: I didn't use herbes de Provence because I didn't have any. Instead I substituted Italian seasoning, which was fine.) Grill chicken until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer to plates; top each with slice of cheese.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Chicken in Puff Pastry

This is such a simple and tasty meal. It started when I went to one of my (still) favorite lunch places in college. It's called the Wine and Cheese Gallery and it's in Gainvesille, FL. It's a great wine shop and they only serve food for lunch but everyday they have the most amazing salads, sandwiches, quiches, etc.

One day they had a special. It was chicken, cheese and herbs in puff pastry served with a spinach salad. It was wonderful and had me hooked! From then on I always looked at their specials first to see if their puff pastry special was being offered that day. If it was there, my lunch choice was made! They also served it with shrimp which was also amazing.

A while after we moved to Orlando, I bought puff pastry for something else I was making. Since puff pastry comes in packages of 2 at a time, I had to think of something to do with the unused sheet. I remembered the amazing dish at Wine and Cheese and decided to attempt to recreate it!

The original dish used fresh herbs but I didn't have any so I threw in pesto instead. It was absolutely delicious! If you have fresh thyme, basil, oregano or parsely, throw those in because they would work well with this. Otherwise, feel free to use store-bought pesto. I also decided to saute some mushrooms and throw those in for more flavor. (Also, since Brad isn't a huge fan of veggies, I try to throw them in wherever I can!)

For the most part, I just threw this together based on my memory of the dish. I didn't really measure as I went along and just added what sounded good to me. I tried to estimate as best I could for the recipe below. Be warned, the recipe below makes quite a bit of filling. If you don't think you'll use it all, cut back on the cream cheese and the rest of the ingredients to reduce the amount of the filling. Or just refrigerate the leftover filling and make these again for dinner later in the week!

Chicken in Puff Pastry
(Original recipe, inspired by Wine and Cheese Gallery)

1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 small onion, finely chopped

3/4 cup sliced mushroom
8 oz. cream Cheese, softened
1 cup shredded or diced cooked chicken (NOTE: Can be pre-packaged fully-cooked chicken like this or leftover grilled or rotisserie chicken)
1 Tbsp Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp tore-bought pesto (This is my favorite brand.)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 sheet of puff pastry

1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 F. Thaw puff pastry sheet at room temperature for 30 minutes. Beat egg and water together in a small dish and set aside.

Add onion and garlic to a medium saute pan over medium-high heat and cook until onion starts to soften and turn translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until tender. Remove from heat and strain. Combine cream cheese, chicken, mushroom mixture, mustard, and pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to combine. Refrigerate 30 minutes to an hour to allow the mixture to firm up. (Note: This is optional but I found that making the pastries was easier when the stuffing was less runny and more firm.)

Unfold on puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll out slightly to create a 14" rectangle. Cut pastry in 4 squares and lay each square of pastry onto a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray.

Fill the center of each square about 1/4 to 1/3 full of cream cheese mixture. Brush the sides of the pastry squares with the egg wash and fold in half diagonally to create a triangle shape. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Once all of the pastries are finished, brush the tops with more egg wash and use a sharp knife to cut 2-3 slits in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to vent. Place in oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the pastry has puffed and is golden brown.

I served this dinner with a side salad dressed with a vinaigrette. While these little pastries taste amazing, they can me quite heavy and are almost a meal to themselves!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Homemade Bread

I have been absolutely dying to try baking bread. My husband and I love bread plus we are carb-a-holics and the thought of warm, home-cooked bread right out of the oven for dinner sounded amazing to me. The only thing holding me back was the fact that I had a minor fear of working with yeast. Or more specifically screwing it up. I also worried that baking bread would be time-consuming and something that you would have to plan way in advance and then stick to a strict time table if you wanted to enjoy it. But I had heard rave reviews about the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. I've read about it on several blogs and I thought it would be a great book to try out getting started with yeast. The recipes in this book are very user friendly and allow you to make the dough and bake bread in as soon as 2 hours or up to 2 weeks later! I was hoping to get for Christmas but I didn't. But I did get gift cards so I ordered it right away! Should be here Monday!

However, I was too excited to wait and the master recipe from the book is available all over the internet. It's called a boule, which is just the French word for "ball" and is a traditional rustic loaf shape. I tried this for dinner recently and
we were both blown away by how great it was! Please try it! It's amazing and so simple to do.

Simple Crusty Bread
(Recipe adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, published by NY Times)
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves.
Recipe can be
easily doubled or halved.

3 cups lukewarm water (a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ยบ F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (or 2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt

6 1/2 cups
unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Cornmeal for the pizza peel.

1. In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. It is not necessary to knead or continue mixing once the ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough. (Note: You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches of flour. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.)

2.Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.
After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (non completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. (Note: The dough will be less sticky and easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.)

3. Before baking, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface liberally with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Store the remaining dough in the bowl and refrigerate for baking at another time.

4. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. (Note:
The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.)

5.Place the dough on the pizza peel. (Note:
If you aren’t planning on baking the bread on a pizza stone, just let the dough rest on a cornmeal-covered cutting board.) Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered. The bread may not rise much during this time.

6. Twenty minutes before baking, p
reheat oven to 450 F. If using a pizza stone, place on the center rack of the oven. Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.

7. Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone with a quick jerking motion.
(Alternatively, butter a Pyrex dish or baking pan and place the bread in the pan.) Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.

One final note! As a result of the baking frenzy this holiday season, I was starting to run very low on all-purpose flour. So about 1/4 of the flour I used for this recipe was whole wheat flour, rather than all purpose. The bread was still amazing but I have a feeling it was slightly denser than if I had used all AP flour . . . which I will do next time since I have finally replenished my stock. Oh, and yes, there will definitely be a next time!