Monday, April 30, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 4.30.12

I can't believe it's the last day of April. I really just can't believe it. This month has been such a busy month, both personally and professionally, and it absolutely flew by. I guess when you're constantly working on something and barely have time even to breathe, it's easy to forget what day it is and how quickly the time is passing.

And now suddenly it's nearly May, and my oldest son turns four years old in a mere eleven days. Talk about time passing quickly! He is just the sweetest little boy, and I love him to pieces. He also hasn't been feeling too great for the past few days, so I hope he's over whatever this is by his birthday.

The meal plan this week is shortened because of his upcoming birthday. We're having two small parties for him this weekend, and I'm not exactly sure yet what we'll do foodwise.

I'm hoping that May is much less busy, or at least that I'm able to manage my time better so I can share receips with you more often. I really miss posting here regularly. I really, really miss it.

Monday: Turkey bacon ranch sliders on pretzel rolls, chips. This is a carry-over from last week. I bought some frozen pretzel rolls at the grocery store that'll be perfect for these. I'll add tomato and Swiss cheese to the sandwiches, and maybe some baby spinach. These are based on a delicious sandwich I once had in my work cafeteria, actually.

Tuesday: Boursin chicken quesadillas, steamed broccoli, rice. Another carry-over from last week. I was going to add bacon to these (and still might) but worry that its flavor will over-power the other ingredients. I may just go with the chicken and cheese.

Wednesday: Gyro meatball lettuce wraps, Greek quinoa. I can't wait to try these lettuce wraps, and since I made quinoa for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I'm finding myself craving it. I think I'm hooked! I'll be adding chickpeas and feta to the quinoa, too.

Thursday: Joe has softball practice. So it's sandwich night at our place.

Friday: Smoky white bean chicken chili, cheese quesadillas for dipping. Too warm for chili? Nah! This version looks delicious.

Saturday: Andrew's party, part 1.

Sunday: Andrew's party, part 2.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken and Broccoli Crescent Pockets

My friend Leigh and I share a mutual love of crescent rolls, so when she posted a recipe for crescent rolls stuffed with chicken and broccoli, I was all over it...especially when I saw that there was also cream cheese in the recipe. You guys know how I feel about cream cheese.

Not surprisingly, these crescent pockets were absolutely delicious and a hit with my entire family. I doubled the recipe so we could have leftovers for lunches, and I thought they were just as good reheated. You really can’t go wrong with a stuffing this flavorful, or a stuffer as delicious as a crescent roll!

Chicken and Broccoli Crescent Pockets

2 packages crescent rolls
1 package frozen steam-in-a-bag broccoli
1 8-ounce package softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups cooked chopped chicken
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pinch two crescent rolls together to make a rectangle, for four rectangles per package. Steam the broccoli in the microwave two minutes shy of the time suggested on the bag.

2. In a large bowl, stir together cream cheese and sour cream. Add chicken, cheese, and partially steamed broccoli, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Scoop some filling into each crescent rectangle and seal shut completely. Place on a baking sheet.

4. Cook for 15 to 17 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pineapple Quinoa

I’ll admit that, when one of the girls in my cooking club proposed that we make vegan food for our next gathering, I was somewhat apprehensive. That’s just not the way my family eats, and it’s pretty far outside my cooking comfort zone. I have nothing against vegans, of course – in fact, I think they have an incredible amount of willpower and are nearly superhuman with their ability to resist cheese, something I could never give up – but I just don’t eat a lot of vegan food.

Although I was apprehensive, I was also excited and to expand my culinary horizons. And it turns out that our vegan meal was probably the best one we’ve had yet. We had falafel, vegan paella made with chickpeas and wheatberries, two kinds of hummus, salsa, vegan chocolate cake, vegan pineapple upside down cake, and – my contribution – this pineapple quinoa.

My cooking club just met on Saturday, so obviously I’m skipping way ahead in my list of recipes to post to share this with you today, because I seriously can’t stop thinking about how delicious it was, even days later. This is probably one of the best dishes I’ve made, ever. It was so flavorful and delicious and healthy, and I just can’t wait to make it again for my family. Even Joe, who is as meat-and-potatoes as they come, sampled some and raved about it.

The pineapple gives a delicious sweetness to the quinoa, and the serrano pepper counterbalances the sweetness with some heat. Cashews provide nuttiness and texture, the edamame provides color and flavor, and the soy sauce provides that salty quality. The basil and lime juice, stirred in at the end, just take the dish over the top into some new realm of taste. It’s seriously so delicious, you guys, I can’t even describe it. I’ll be making this again and again – and feel really good about eating it, too.

Pineapple Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce, divided
1/3 cup raw cashew pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup cooked edamame
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and grated
Half of a medium pineapple, cored, peeled and diced
1/2 cup loosely packed basil, finely chopped
Lime wedges, for serving

1. Combine the quinoa, pineapple juice, 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, let stand covered for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff with a fork.

2. Toast the cashews in a large skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Return the pan to the stove and increase the heat to medium-high. Heat the vegetable oil. Stir in the bell pepper and edamame and stir fry for about 3 minutes, or until the bell pepper is slightly softened. Stir in the scallions, garlic, ginger, and serrano and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

4. Stir in the pineapple, quinoa and basil. Mix well to combine. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and continue to cook for a few minutes more until everything is well blended and heated through. Serve garnished with lime wedges.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 4.23.12

It’s Monday again, which means it’s meal planning time again, which is hilarious in and of itself because it implies that I’ll actually be cooking. I’ve been so incredibly busy lately that I’ve definitely been ignoring the meal plan more often in favor of sandwiches or other easy meals. I’m forcing myself to cook every single meal on the plan this week, though, because I’m sick of wasting ingredients.

Without further ado (and without many more words, because of the whole so-busy-I-could-cry thing), the meals that I’ve sworn to prepare this week:

Monday: Chicken enchilada pasta

Tuesday: BBQ chicken sandwiches with onion strings and fries

Wednesday: Berry buttermilk pancakes, tater tots, sausage links

Thursday: Joe has softball practice, so the boys will be getting Happy Meals and I’ll probably just have a sandwich.

Friday: Boursin bacon chicken quesadillas, steamed broccoli, rice

Saturday: Italian macaroni and cheese

Sunday: Turkey bacon ranch slicers on pretzel rolls, chips

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas

My love of all things buffalo chicken is probably apparent by now, right? I mean, there are the sloppy joes, the enchiladas, the nachos, the lasagna, and I’m sure there are more dishes that I’m just not thinking of right now. Oh! How could I forget my very favorite salad of all time in the history of ever? (Make that salad. Then come back and thank me for its existence in your life.)

I tried a recipe for buffalo chicken quesadillas couple of months ago and while they were good, they weren’t exactly what I was craving. So I decided I’d create my own version. The end result is a simple combination of spicy buffalo chicken strips, cool and creamy sliced avocado, and sharp cheddar cheese, and it is absolutely delicious.

You could skip the breading-and-frying aspect of these quesadillas if you wanted to, but since this is an every-once-in-a-while sort of dinner anyway, I figure why not just go all the way to give them more of that buffalo wing feel? The chicken strips themselves are soaked in buttermilk, so they’re incredibly tender and juicy. Most people pair buffalo chicken with carrots and celery, but I really love it with avocado. It seems like such a natural pairing: the avocado cool and creamy, the buffalo chicken crispy and spicy. With ranch dressing on the side for dipping, these quesadillas just could not be more perfect.

Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas

1 pound boneless skinless chicken tenders
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup Frank’s Red Hot or other hot sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Flour tortillas

1. Add the chicken tenders to a medium bowl; pour the buttermilk over and mix to ensure that the tenders are coated completely. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature.

2. Mix together the flour, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Add the chicken tenders and dredge completely.

3. Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When heated, shake excess flour from chicken tenders and add to skillet. Fry until cooked through, golden brown and crispy, about 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side. Fry in batches, removing each previous batch to a paper towel to drain.

4. While the chicken is cooking, heat the hot sauce and butter in a small skillet. Toss with the chicken tenders.

5. Add some cheese to a tortilla. Top with two or three chicken strips, some sliced avocado, and another sprinkling of cheese. Top with a second tortilla. Cook each quesadilla in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crisp. Slice and serve.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pork Loin Chops with Prosciutto Cream Sauce

It’s Tax Day, a dreaded day in the lives of so many Americans. Hopefully you’re all on the receiving end of funds from our friends in the federal government, rather than on the giving end. If you are on the giving end, though, have I got a recipe to cheer you up. It won’t soothe your pocketbook too much, but it will definitely soothe your soul.

I’ve posted a lot of recipes here on this little blog of mine. Like, about 850 of them. And I’m not fooling around when I say this: This is quite possibly the best dinner recipe I have ever posted here. I first made it years ago and hadn’t made it since. Joe took one bite of his dinner and promptly asked me, “Um, why don’t you make this more often?” And after my first taste, I responded, “I have no idea.”

I will certainly be making this often, monthly if not weekly, in the future. Pork chops are nestled in a creamy, flavorful sauce of prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, and sage. Serve them with mashed potatoes on the side so you have another element to soak up the delicious sauce. This tastes like something that came from a restaurant, and it’s ready in well under 30 minutes. You are going to love this recipe!

Pork Loin Chops with Prosciutto Cream Sauce

1 1/2 pounds pork loin chops, about 1/2 inch thick
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces chopped imported prosciutto
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 small red onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork. Cook on both sides, turning once, until browned. Remove to a plate and cover with foil.

2. To the same skillet, add prosciutto, sage, and onion. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Add wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to remove any browned bits, and let the wine reduce. Stir in heavy cream, pepper, and salt.

3. Return the pork chops to the skillet, along with any juices. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the pork is no longer pink and the sauce is slightly thickened.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 4.16.12

I had a lot of trouble coming up with the meal plan for this week, but now that I look back over the meals I’ve scheduled, I’m pretty happy with my selections. I’ve been a slacker at planning our meals lately, waiting until the last possible moment before going grocery shopping to get it done, but I’ve made some yummy things lately – so maybe this is a good strategy? Who knows – it’s Monday. I don’t think my brain is working properly yet.

I hope you all had a nice weekend. We did, although our power randomly went out yesterday for the entire day. This put a definite kink in the Crock pot meal I’d planned, so we’re having that meal tonight. The rest of the menu is all new recipes, and I’m excited for each and every one.

Monday: Pesto-fredo Crock pot chicken over whole wheat spaghetti. I’d just added the chicken and the sauce to the Crock pot yesterday when our power went off, so I just stuck the whole thing in the fridge, and we’re having it for dinner tonight. The sauce smelled fantastic as I was mixing it yesterday, so I can’t wait for dinner! I’ve also switched our family completely to whole wheat pasta products in an effort to be a bit healthier. I love whole wheat pasta, and no one else has complained, so it works out well.

Tuesday: French dip crescents, rosemary roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli. These crescent roll sandwiches sound pretty fantastic. I though the roasted potatoes would go perfectly with them, and I may even dip the potatoes in the au jus (let it be known: I LOVE AU JUS).

Wednesday: BBQ chicken sandwiches with onion straws, fries. I saw Jeff Mauro make onion straws for a sandwich on an older episode of his show, and it immediately made me think of the BBQ chicken sandwich I sometimes get at Red Robin. I have to try to duplicate it at home.

Thursday: Chicken enchilada pasta. Joe has softball practice on Thursday nights, so I think this pasta will reheat well for him to eat when he gets home. It should also be easy enough for me to make while on solo parent duty.

Friday: Greek burgers and pita chips. My friend Leigh suggested these burgers when I asked for help planning my menu. Since I’ve been thinking of Greek burgers for a while and am currently sort of obsessed with Greek food, I put these on the meal plan immediately. I can’t wait to have them!

Saturday: My cooking club dinner. We’re having vegan food this month, and I’m making pineapple quinoa.

Sunday: Grilled chicken parmesan over whole wheat spaghetti, grilled bruschetta. This dish was inspired by an Olive Garden commercial. Yes, that’s right. Apparently they have a new grilled chicken parmesan dish, and when I saw the commercial for it, I thought to myself, “Hey, I can make that at home.” I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out! The bruschetta is a friend’s recipe, and it’s the best I’ve ever tried. I’ll grill the bread to give it that smoky-crusty quality.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tiramisu Cupcakes

I have a confession that I know is going to put me very, very far in the minority of food bloggers: I’m not crazy about mascarpone cheese.

Wait wait wait, come back, don’t leave! I’ve tried to love it, believe me, I really have. And I don’t completely hate it; in fact, it turns out that when it’s combined with powdered sugar and heavy cream and dolloped on top of booze-soaked cupcakes, I really sort of love it. There. Are we friends again?

I’ve mentioned my cooking club before, and when I asked you guys for dessert recommendations for our Italian-themed feast last month, you came through again. My friend Jessie (a different Jessie from the one who suggested the Mexican spinach dip – you Jessies are awesome!) pointed me towards this tiramisu cake, which looked absolutely amazing. It was just a bit too labor- and time-intensive for me, though, when I sat down and actually read the recipe, so I opted to go for these cupcakes instead. Annie of Annie’s Eats raved about them – and something I’ve learned over the years is that if Annie raves about something, you know it’s really, really good. She came through again, in a big way; these cupcakes are phenomenal.

I think what I love most about these cupcakes is that they’re not too sweet. They’re sweet enough, but not cloying, so the flavors of the coffee and the Kahlua really come through without being overshadowed by sugar. The texture of the cupcakes is perfect, eggy and spongey, and the soaking syrup gives them such an incredible flavor. My father-in-law gave us some of his homemade Kahlua for Christmas, so I used that in the syrup, and it was absolutely perfect. The mascarpone frosting is so creamy and pairs so well with the cupcakes; one of my friends actually said she just wanted to eat the frosting with a spoon, and I wouldn’t have blamed her if she did. Although traditional tiramisu is topped with cocoa powder, I opted instead for miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips, which added a great textural element. These were a huge hit with the ladies in my cooking club and with Joe, but I think Andrew and Will are still ticked at me for making “grown-up” cupcakes that they couldn’t eat.

So, for our meal this month our cooking club is doing vegan food. Hit me with your best suggestions for side dishes or appetizers!

Tiramisu Cupcakes
adapted from Annie’s Eats

For the cupcakes:

1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, sifted
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
5 large whole eggs plus 4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar

For the soaking syrup:

1/2 cup freshly brewed very strong coffee
3 tablespoons Kahlua
6 tablespoons sugar

For the frosting:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend; set aside. Add the milk to a small saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod into the pan, and add the scraped pod to the pan as well. Heat over medium-high heat just until bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until melted. Let stand 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean pod and discard.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. Whisk lightly to blend. Set the bowl over an inch or two of simmering water and heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is warm and the sugar is dissolved, about 6 minutes. Return the bowl to the mixer base. Whisk on high speed until the mixture is pale yellow and fluffy, and able to hold a ribbon when the whisk is lifted.

3. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture in three additions. Stir 3/4 cup of the batter into the milk mixture to thicken, then fold the milk mixture into the batter just until evenly incorporated. Divide the batter between the prepared liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are set and light golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool slightly before removing from the pans.

4. To make the soaking syrup, combine the hot coffee, Kahlua, and sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place the warm cupcakes on a wire rack and place a baking sheet underneath to catch dripping liquid. Use a pastry brush to brush the soaking liquid onto the tops of the cupcakes, repeating until the syrup is used up. If necessary, poke each cupcake a few times with a wooden skewer or toothpick to help the syrup soak in. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

5. To make the frosting, add the heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a separate bowl and return the mixer bowl to its base. In the mixer bowl, combine the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gently fold in the whipped cream until evenly incorporated.

6. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip (or a plastic bag with a generous corner cut away, which is what I used). Pipe a large dollop of frosting on top of each cupcake. Sprinkle the cupcakes with chocolate chips. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Salsa Ranch Chicken Taco Salads

Everyone seems to love salsa chicken, and everyone seems to have their own version of it. My favorite version is basic, simple and delicious: a jar of salsa, a cup of chicken stock, and spices. When I made the chicken for these salads, I added a packet of ranch dressing mix, which was a stroke of genius on my part, I must say. I piled the cooked chicken on top of taco salads loaded with tons of toppings and drizzled the entire thing with even more ranch dressing. These salads were so delicious, and made for such an effortless weeknight dinner.

(Sorry my posts have been short the past couple of days. I’ve been beyond busy!)

Salsa Ranch Chicken Taco Salads

For the chicken:

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 16-ounce jar salsa
1 cup chicken stock
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 packet ranch dressing mix

For the salads:

1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 packet of Mexican rice, cooked according to package directions
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, rinsed and drained
Shredded cheddar cheese
Corn chips
Ranch dressing

1. Place the chicken in a Crock pot. Add salsa, chicken stock, chili powder, cumin, and ranch dressing mix; stir to combine and evenly coat the chicken. Cover and cook on High for 4 hours or Low for 8 hours. When ready to eat, remove chicken and shred with two forks.

2. To assemble the salads, arrange lettuce on a plate. Top with rice, beans, corn, chicken, cheese, and corn chips. Add more salsa and drizzle with ranch dressing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Creamy Spinach Artichoke Pasta

Some ingredients are soul mates, just absolutely meant to be paired together, and spinach and artichoke are definitely two of those ingredients. I know I’ve made something similar to this before, but when Carrie raved about it on her blog, I just knew I had to try this version. I’m so glad that I did. This pasta is creamy, spinachy-artichokey, cheesy deliciousness. The boys just loved it, and didn’t even mind the flecks of green in their pasta. Joe and I really enjoyed this too, and found it to be a hearty, flavorful, meatless meal. And, it seriously only takes about 15 minutes to make. A win-win-win!

Creamy Spinach Artichoke Pasta
adapted from Carrie’s Sweet Life

12 ounces penne pasta
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 13.5-ounce can artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup sour cream
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 10-ounce package chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta. Drain, return to pot, and keep warm.

3. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and artichokes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the onions are tender and translucent. Add the garlic; cook and stir 1 additional minute. Add sour cream, cream cheese, and parmesan and heat through until completely melted. Stir in spinach.

4. Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese to the sauce mixture. If the mixture seems to dry, add reserved pasta water a bit at a time.

5. Pour pasta into a greased baking dish and top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Broil 3 to 5 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and cheese is melted.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Green Apple Salsa

Every March, it happens. No matter how mild the winter was, I’m done with it. I’m ready for spring. I’m ready for flowers, sunshine, evenings spent entirely outdoors, and fresh fruits and vegetables. And the grill. I am very, very ready for dinner cooked on the grill.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly got it in my head that I wanted to make a Mexican-flavored grilled chicken with an apple salsa on top. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and even as I put it on our weekly menu, it was still coming together in my head. The results were absolutely amazing. The spicy, flavorful marinade made the chicken so tender, and the crisp apple salsa on top was the perfect textural contrast. The salsa itself had a great balance of spicy and sweet elements and was just incredible when paired with the chicken. At the last minute, I decided to slice the chicken and serve it in tacos. It was delicious that way, but would have been incredible all by itself too.

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Green Apple Salsa

For the chicken:

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons taco seasoning (or 1 store-bought envelope)
1 teaspoon sugar

For the salsa:

3 Granny Smith apples, diced
Juice of 2 limes
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt

Flour tortillas

1. In a large bowl, combine oil, lime juice, vinegar, taco seasoning, and sugar. Add chicken, coating all sides evenly with the marinade. Cover and marinate for one hour, up to overnight. I marinated mine for about 26 hours (due to a last-minute change of dinner plans the night I’d planned to make this) and it was perfect.

2. When ready to eat, preheat a grill or grill pan to high heat. Add chicken and cook until cooked through.

3. While the chicken is cooking, combine all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl.

4. Slice chicken and portion into flour tortillas. Top with salsa.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 4.9.12

Happy Monday! Except, not really. I am definitely having a “case of the Mondays” today. So far today, I’ve: misplaced a favorite pair of earrings; forgotten to wash the conditioner out of my hair; grabbed a pillowcase instead of pants when I was getting dressed; had to return home for something that I forgot on my way to work, making me late; and dealt with irritating computer issues. It’s all been REALLY VERY FUN HAHA.

I did, however, have a very Happy Easter, and I hope all of you did too. The boys had so much fun and were on a major sugar high for most of the day, until crashing for the night before 7:00. The silence that came after they went to bed was very welcome, that’s for sure. And check out this bird’s nest we found while walking around Joe’s aunt’s property after our Easter dinner:

Such a cool thing to see on a beautiful, spring-like Easter Sunday!

The menu this week was thrown together literally right before I went shopping on Friday. There are a couple of egg-based meals, since Joe over-bought eggs when they were on sale a week ago and we have more on hand than we could possibly eat or dye.

Monday: Southwestern breakfast wraps. I’ll definitely share the recipe for these; they’re going to be something I just throw together. I find that I’m not very enthusiastic about cooking on Mondays (especially not this Monday!), so this meal should come together quickly for us – and be absolutely delicious, too!

Tuesday: Grilled Cajun ranch chicken pasta. It’s supposed to be a little chilly tomorrow, but I’m hoping Joe will still be willing to fire up the grill for this pasta dish, which I never got around to making when it was on the menu a month or so ago.

Wednesday: Spinach and feta omelets with roasted tomato jam, strawberries and blackberries, toast. I’m pumped for this meal; the omelets are one of my very favorite flavor profiles.

Thursday: Black bean and salsa soup, cheese quesadillas. Another simple meal for another night of the week that I typically find myself unmotivated to cook dinner. Even the boys like this soup.

Friday: BBQ chicken pizza. Not this one (which is delicious in its own right). I’m making this particular pizza to mimic one I had with my best friend when we went out for appetizers and drinks before a concert last week. It was so delicious, and I can’t wait to see how my at-home version turns out.

Saturday: Baked chicken penne. I have sundried tomatoes on hand for another recipe, which is one of those luxurious ingredients I hardly ever buy, so I’m eager to use the ones I have left over in this pasta dish.

Sunday: Pesto-fredo Crock pot chicken over whole wheat spaghetti. This chicken looks easy and delicious. (I made up my own name for it. A little hobby of mine.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Hello, my name is Cassie, and I have a Seasonal Sprinkles Addiction.

It all started with these sugar cookie bars, the first time I made them for Christmas. I just had to buy festive sprinkles to adorn them. When I made them again for Valentine’s Day, they were just begging for a sweet topping of tiny hearts, colored sugar, and festive nonpareils. By the time the Easter goodies hit the shelves, I was completely addicted to sprinkles. I bought a giant multi-pack of Easter-themed sprinkles at the grocery store, and when I saw some different ones a few weeks later at another store, I bought another one. The question then became: What am I going to do with all these Easter sprinkles? A secondary question was: Is there some sort of Sprinkle-holics Anonymous meeting I can attend?

I’ve been craving lemon baked goods for I don’t know how long now, and when my stepmom hosted a family dinner recently and asked me to bring dessert, these cupcakes seemed like the perfect thing to make. In addition to fulfilling my craving (and making my family happy, too, since they’re lemon-loving people), it would also be a great way to use up my surplus of sprinkles.

These cupcakes are delicious. Yes, they start with a boxed mix, but the additions of sour cream and the zest and juice of a lemon make them taste homemade. They’re moist and fluffy, with the perfect balance of sweet and tangy elements. The frosting is a lemon cream cheese frosting that I wanted to (and did, actually) eat with a spoon. It was creamy and sweet and just perfect to go on top of the cupcakes. And not only did my extended family love them, my sons did, too. This thrilled me, since their father is not a lemon fan. I’m happy to report that the boys seem to have inherited my lemon love.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
cupcakes adapted from Sugar Plum; frosting is my recipe

For the cupcakes:

3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 box lemon pudding mix
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 box lemon cake mix

For the frosting:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
5 cups powdered sugar
Splashes of heavy cream
Yellow food coloring, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

2. In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the eggs, sour cream, pudding mix, oil and milk until well combined. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in lemon juice, lemon zest and cake mix until moistened. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat an additional 1 minute.

3. Divide batter into muffin cups. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until well risen, and a toothpick inserted into cake comes out with moist crumbs attached (mine definitely took the full 20 minutes). Cool 5 minutes in pans before transferring to wire racks to cool.

4. To make the frosting, in a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, lemon zest, and powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Use heavy cream to thin out the frosting, if needed. Tint the frosting yellow with food coloring, if desired. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes, and decorate with sprinkles if desired. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter Bunny Snack Mix

I was lucky enough to get assigned the very last snack day before Easter for Andrew’s preschool class, and I just know that his teacher did it on purpose. I always make fun things for his class when I’m assigned a snack day around a major holiday, and this one could be no exception. Talk about pressure! Except, honestly, there really wasn’t any pressure at all, because it’s something I love to do, and I knew exactly what I was going to make this time around.

Enter this Easter Bunny snack mix. It’s simple and delicious, with a nice mix of salty and sweet elements. The multi-colored chocolate drizzle and generous amount of Easter sprinkles make it so festive. Even though the Easter Bunny himself sorta creeps me out (anyone else feel this way?), I think he’d appreciate having this delicious snack mix named in his honor!

Easter Bunny Snack Mix

8 cups popped popcorn (1/2 cup unpopped kernels, or 2 bags of natural microwave popcorn)
3 cups waffle pretzels
1 bag Easter M & Ms (I used dark chocolate)
1 bag Reese’s Pieces eggs (you could also use robin’s eggs or Whopper eggs)
12 ounces white chocolate chips
3 tablespoons sprinkles
Assorted food colors (I used purple, blue, pink, and green)

1. Combine popped popcorn, pretzels, M & Ms and eggs in a very large bowl.

2. Pour all but 1/2 cup of the white chocolate chips into a microwaveable bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30 second increments until smooth. Reserve the remaining chips in a small bowl to melt later.

3. Pour the melted white chocolate over the popcorn mix. Add the sprinkles and immediately stir to coat the entire mixture. It’s a little messy, but your hands really are the best tool to accomplish this! Lay the wet mixture out on wax paper to dry.

4. Melt the reserved half cup of chocolate chips in the microwave, then divide the melted chips evenly among four small bowls. Add a drop of purple, blue, pink or green (or whatever color you want) food coloring to each bowl and use a toothpick to stir until it reaches the desired color. Using a fork, drizzle each color over the popcorn mixture. Leave on wax paper to set up, then store it in a covered container until you’re ready to snack.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Herbed Cheese Cucumber Medallions

When I hosted my sister-in-law’s baby shower last month, I wanted the food to be simple, special, and, most of all, delicious. As I have a tendency to over-plan for events like this, I made a conscious effort to keep the menu small and uncomplicated, while still providing enough variety for my guests. In the end, I think I more than accomplished this goal; everyone left satisfied, and I didn’t have a ton of leftovers to lug home, either.

These cucumbers were one of the first things I knew for sure I’d be making. They came together in no time, and everyone loved them. The cool, crisp cucumber is the perfect vehicle for the creamy, intensely flavorful filling. I did manage to sneak a few of them home with me, and even my kids loved them. These would be a delicious addition to your Easter table this weekend!

Herbed Cheese Cucumber Medallions
adapted from Annie’s Eats

1 6.5-ounce package garlic and herb spreadable cheese (like Boursin or Alouette)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
2 English cucumbers

1. Add the cheese to a medium bowl. Add heavy cream until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Stir in fresh black pepper to taste. Place in a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the corner snipped out.

2. Slice the cucumbers into half-inch thick slices. Using a teaspoon, hollow out the center of each cucumber to remove seeds, being sure not to go all the way through the cucumber.

3. Pipe some of the filling into each hollowed-out cucumber slice. Arrange on a serving platter and refrigerate until serving. Makes about 36 medallions.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta

My older son is at an age now where he is extremely curious, and as a result he asks questions. He asks questions all the time. From the second he wakes up in the morning (“Mommy, where does the water that I brush my teeth with come from? What’s a water line? What’s a water company?”) to the second he goes to bed at night (“Can I sleep in my tent tonight? Why not? Can I have one more drink of water? Why not? What are we going to do when we wake up in the morning?”), he is asking questions. A lot of times, his questions leave me confounded, like when he asks me something like, “What does a machine do?” or “What’s freedom?” If you’ve never tried, let me just tell you: It’s nearly impossible to describe those things in a general way that a preschooler will understand. But I do my best.

I made this for dinner one night back in February, when the light for pictures still wasn’t great. As a result, before I ate my dinner, I carried my plate into the room we use for an office and put it on a small table in that room, right underneath the window, so I could get the maximum amount of natural light (which is also where I have my library books, which is why you can sort-of see a couple of them in the background). The whole time I was snapping photos, this chorus was going on in the background: “Hey Mommy, why you eating your dinner in there? Why you taking a picture? What’s a blog, Mommy? Can I have some pudding?”

Thankfully, as soon as he tried this dinner, all he had to say was: “This is yummy food, Mommy.” And after that, his only question was, “Can I have some more, please?”

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta: Quieting Children’s Questions Since 2012.

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta

1 pound mostaccioli or other short pasta
6 strips of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 packet ranch dressing mix
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in boiling salted water; drain, return to pot, and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Drain all but one tablespoon of bacon drippings from the pan.

3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the butter to the reserved bacon drippings, then add the chicken to the same skillet. Cook until tender, no longer pink, and slightly browned.

4. Sprinkle the flour and ranch dressing mix over the chicken, stirring to coat evenly. Stir in the milk, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and bubbly. Stir in the cheddar cheese and half of the reserved bacon; cook and stir until the cheese is melted. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

5. Add the cheese sauce to the reserved pasta and stir to combine. Serve each plate of pasta with more bacon sprinkled over the top. Green onions would also be a delicious topping.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 4.2.12

I really can’t believe it’s April already. Joe’s birthday and Easter are both coming up this weekend, and I am not at all prepared for either of those events. Thankfully I have the day off on Friday, so I should be able to get some things done then. Here’s hoping!

The menu this week contains a few meals that are carried over from previous weeks, but after this week, I anticipate our meals to move considerably into lighter, seasonal fare. Even though our winter was mild, it was still winter, and it’s left me craving lots of fruits and vegetables – and lots of grilled foods, too.

Monday: I’m going to a concert tonight with my best friend, so we’ll be hitting up a happy hour beforehand for appetizers and margaritas. The boys are spending the night with my mother-in-law, so Joe’s on his own for dinner.

Tuesday: Taco-lime grilled chicken with apple-avocado salsa, Mexican rice, grilled asparagus. I’m really excited for this one, even though it’s still coming together in my mind. I think it’ll be delicious!

Wednesday: Cheeseburgers on the grill, pasta salad, chips

Thursday: Spicy bacon spaghetti – a carry-over from last week.

Friday: Pork chops with prosciutto cream sauce, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli. This is a recipe from the early days of my blog that I’m revisiting. I loved it then, and I can’t believe I haven’t made it since. I’ll be sure to share it with you all again after I rework it.

Saturday: Joe’s birthday! I’m finally going to make him the sausage pancakes on sticks that I’ve been promising for weeks now.

Sunday: Easter. We’ll be having dinner with Joe’s family. I’m not sure exactly what my contribution will be, but I’ll definitely be making a few things.