Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Re-Make Recap

April has been our busiest month so far this year, and throughout the month I found myself relying on tried-and-true family favorites rather than trying a lot of new dishes. As a result, the recap this month is rather large, so bear with me! Hopefully you'll find something delicious that you missed the first time around!

These ranch chicken tacos are definitely one of my favorite quick meals. This recipe has come in handy a few times this month when we had a 6:00 soccer game during the week. When these are on the menu, dinner is literally ready in minutes.

This ravioli with bacon pesto mushroom cream sauce is another quick and easy weeknight meal, but you'd never know it by looking at it. It's definitely a bit more special than your average ravioli dish. I serve it with buttery cheesy garlic bread, which is easily adaptable with whatever Italian herbs or spices you have on hand.

We had a small party at our house to celebrate Joe's birthday at the beginning of the month, and I made broccoli salad and ranch macaroni and cheese (in addition to quite a few other dishes). I've sung the praises of the broccoli salad many times before, and this macaroni and cheese recipe is still one of my favorites. It's so deliciously different.

I made these BBQ chicken and cole slaw wraps on another busy night this month...I believe it was the night I registered Andrew for kindergarten (SOB...not ready to talk about it). Anyway, they're delicious and simple and a great meal for a warm evening.

Asparagus is definitely the spring vegetable I look most forward to, and this simple and flavorful shaved asparagus pizza is the perfect way to highlight it.

There's nothing like a meal you can just plop in a dish and toss in the oven and forget about for an hour, and this chicken, potato, and green bean one dish dinner is exactly that. A few notes about this one, though: In the past, I've had trouble getting my potatoes to cook through completely when I make this. To counter that, I always use baby red or yellow potatoes and slice them very thinly (differently than in the picture). I should also mention that Joe doesn't like the texture of the chicken when it's cooked this way, so if you have a weird-texture-person in your family, you can always saute the chicken off in a skillet separately and just cook the green beans and potatoes together. The green beans and potatoes are really delicious seasoned this way.

Oy, not the prettiest photo, I know. It definitely doesn't do justice to these pork loin chops with roasted garlic cream sauce. These pork chops are so simple, and I'm telling you: The sauce is amazing. You'll want to lick every single bit of it off your plate. I realize that isn't very ladylike, but there you have it.

This rosemary ranch chicken is the best chicken ever, and I should know: I eat a lot of chicken. It's so juicy and succulent, and the flavors of rosemary and ranch just work so well together. I serve it with grilled asparagus and some type of potato dish so I can pawn two-thirds of dinner preparation off on someone else -- namely, Joe, who is the grill master in our house.

I served fettuccine alfredo (minus the chicken) when I hosted my cooking club's Italian night earlier this month (along with a yummy chicken saltimbocca that I didn't photograph -- boo), and let me tell you: I am so happy to have this alfredo sauce in my life. It's perfect. Not grainy, not too thick, not too thin...just right. (Sorry to channel Goldilocks there, but seriously. This sauce is amazing.)

This "perfectly chocolate" chocolate cake was the third recipe I posted here (FIVE YEARS AGO! OMG! I just realized I missed my five-year anniversary!), and it has become one of the most beloved recipes in my family. I've made it for countless birthday celebrations, and it is definitively the best chocolate cake I've ever had. It's moist, fudgy and rich, and the frosting is simply to die for. Since posting the recipe, I have made one change to it, and that's to add some instant coffee granules (just a teaspoon or two) to the chocolate batter. The bitterness of the coffee brings out the flavor of the chocolate even more. I also make it in a 13 x 9 pan, since the layers tend to break apart because the cake is so moist. Whenever I eat a slice of this cake, I think of Bruce Bogtrotter, the little boy in Matilda who ate an entire chocolate cake. This cake is what I imagine the cake in the book tasted like.

We eat this Crock pot pork roast with potatoes and carrots at least once every couple of months. It's perfect for every season, and it comes out delicious every single time. Joe and Will love the pork, and Andrew and I prefer a larger helping of the potatoes and carrots, mashed with butter and salt. Everyone's happy.

When I first posted the recipe for these banana nut pancakes, I urged you to have them for breakfast or dinner that very day. Well, I'm going to tell you the same thing again. Have them for breakfast, then have them for dinner the same night! These pancakes are amazing. They don't taste like they start from a boxed mix, trust me. And that topping! To die for.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Burger and Fries Friday: Gouda Bacon Patty Melts with Marsala Mushrooms and Onions

I don't think I will ever grow tired of trying new burger recipes. I just don't see how I ever could, not with so many delicious possible flavor combinations out there. One of my favorite combinations for burgers is mushrooms, bacon, and gouda cheese. The beefy mushrooms compliment the burgers so perfectly, and the creamy gouda and smoky bacon just enhance the flavor even more. These patty melts get their inspiration from two other burgers, and the results are simply perfect. What more can I say, really? 

Gouda Bacon Patty Melts with Marsala Mushrooms and Onions

4 burger patties
Salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
8 slices bacon, cooked to desired crispness
8 slices gouda cheese
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for the bread
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup marsala wine
8 slices hearty wheat bread

1. Season burgers with salt and pepper and cook in a large skillet to desired doneness. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce to each burger, then remove the burgers from the skillet.

2. Add 1 tablespoon butter to the same skillet and let melt, then add mushrooms and onions and saute until mushrooms are browned and onions are softened. Add garlic and salt and pepper to taste; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add marsala and cook until reduced, scraping the bottom of the skillet to remove any browned bits.

3. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Top the unbuttered side of four slices with a slice of cheese, a burger patty, two pieces of bacon, a quarter of the mushrooms and onions, and another slice of cheese. Add the other four slices of bread to the sandwiches.

4. Preheat a griddle over medium heat. Add sandwiches and cook, flipping once, until each side is browned and crispy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Grilled Cilantro-Lime Chicken with Avocado Salsa

Besides the fact that we've only had a few days of true spring weather around here, we've been grilling out frequently. Last night, after Joe brought in the food from the grill, Andrew told him, "Daddy, I want you to grill every day." I of course have no complaints about this, because any time I can pass the main portion of cooking a meal off on someone else, I'm happy. I was not so happy about the fact that Andrew told my mother-in-law that Daddy cooks all of our meals when he was asked (NOT TRUE). Oh, kids.

This chicken was one of the first things to grace our grill this year, and it was fabulous. I was skeptical about the fact that the chicken only stayed in the marinade for 3 minutes, but I was so surprised by how much flavor it got during that short amount of time. And the salsa is so simple, but so unbelievably good. I used some sweet little multi-colored cherry tomatoes, and I thought they made the salsa look so pretty. I think the salsa would be delicious on just about anything, but it really did pair perfectly with the chicken in both texture and flavor. This was such a simple, flavorful, and healthy meal, and even the boys gobbled it up. Win!

Grilled Cilantro-Lime Chicken with Avocado Salsa
barely adapted from Cooking Light April 2009, also found on myrecipes

For the chicken:

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the avocado salsa:

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 avocado, pitted and chopped

1. To prepare chicken, combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; toss and let stand 3 minutes. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 6 minutes on each side or until done.

2. To prepare salsa, combine tomato, onion, lime juice and salt in a medium bowl. Add avocado; stir gently to combine. Serve salsa over chicken.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mint Chocolate Cookies

I sometimes occasionally often get obsessive over things until I either make them/buy them/read them, etc. Recent examples of this include re-decorating our kitchen and bathroom and purchasing about 10 books by my favorite childhood author because I couldn't stop obsessing about re-reading them. There are countless more examples, because I do this frequently, I assure you.

These cookies were one of my obsessions. They started out in my mind as regular chocolate chip cookies with mint M&Ms, and they evolved into chocolate dark chocolate chip cookies with mint M&Ms and crushed Thin Mints in the batter. It was a delicious evolution, I think. Joe said they're some of the best cookies I've ever made (second in his mind only to the chocolate peanutella chocolate chip cookies). They have the perfect amount of minty flavor without the use of any extract. They're crispy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. The cookie base is pretty perfect, and I'm eager to start experimenting with different types of add-ins. I'll keep you posted!

Speaking of add-ins...If you're anything like me, your Girl Scout cookies were gone pretty much the same week you received them. So if you don't have Thin Mints on hand, you could easily replace them with mint Oreos or any other mint cookie you like. But replace them with something, because the texture that the cookies provide is really fantastic.

Mint Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Food Network

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups dark chocolate chips
1 cup mint M&Ms
1/2 cup chopped mint cookies (like Thin Mints or mint Oreos)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large bowl stir together flour, salt, and baking soda. In another large bowl cream together butter and both sugars. Add eggs, vanilla, and cocoa. Gradually stir flour mixture into butter mixture and mix until combined. Stir chocolate chips, M&Ms, and cookie pieces. Stir to distribute evenly.

3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake 10-13 minutes until cookies are set. Cool on a baking rack.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chipotle Chicken Cheesesteaks

I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record with this I love Cooking Light! and I love sandwiches! business. But the fact remains: I do love both of those things whole-heartedly. I've never been let down by a recipe from Cooking Light, and I've never been let down by a really good sandwich. These chipotle chicken cheesesteaks are yet another delicious example.

It seems like a simple change -- merely adding chipotles in adobo to chicken cheesesteaks -- but the flavor difference is just phenomenal. The chipotle adds a spicy smokiness that works so well with the sweet bell peppers, the cool avocado, and a smear of creamy mayo. With only about 15 minutes of cooking time, this dinner is ready in a snap, and it's just so unbelievably good.

Chipotle Chicken Cheesesteaks
adapted from Cooking Light May 2010, also found on myrecipes

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces chicken cutlets, thinly sliced
Salt to taste
1 onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons chipotle in adobo puree
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 hoagie rolls, split and toasted
Sliced avocado and mayonnaise for serving

1. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and season with salt; saute 4 minutes or until done. Remove chicken from pan.

2. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and thyme; season with salt and saute 4 minutes. Stir in chipotle in adobo puree; cook 30 seconds. Add chicken; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

3. Divide mixture evenly among toasted rolls. Top each sandwich with cheese and broil on low until cheese is melted. Serve each sandwich with avocado and mayonanise.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Crock Pot Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

My story of making this dinner is very similar to the story Stephanie shared when she posted the recipe. I was prepping it the night before I planned to serve it when Joe walked into the kitchen. Upon seeing (and smelling!)  the piles of garlic on the cutting board, all he could say was, "Uhh..." When I told him all of the garlic was for one recipe, he was well beyond skeptical. Later on in the evening, we were sitting on the couch holding hands, and he raised my hand to give me a kiss (awww) but stopped short when he smelled the scent of garlic that no soap can completely remove. Not that I blame him; I'm not a fan of walking around smelling like garlic on a daily basis, which is why I use the minced stuff from the jar whenever I can get away with it (deep dark culinary confession!).

Anyway, the lack of hand kisses was completely worth it, I have to say. It really does sound like a lot of garlic, and it is a lot of garlic, but after cooking all day in the Crock pot the flavor totally mellows and becomes similar to that of roasted garlic. The flavor is intense, slightly sweet, and absolutely delicious, and the paprika adds a nice smoky quality to the broth. This was a hit with the entire family, and the leftovers worked great in these Tuscan-style chicken sandwiches. This meal is perfect for this time of year; you get all the flavor of a chicken dinner without even turning on your oven. 

Crock Pot Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
adapted from Stephanie Cooks

1 medium onion, chopped
3 bone-in, skinless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons each salt, paprika, and freshly ground black pepper
40 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon butter

1. Cover the bottom of the Crock pot with the chopped onions. Then add the chicken and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Stir the chicken, spices, and onion together with your hands until everything is well coated.

2. Add the garlic to the Crock pot and mix so the cloves are in and around the chicken. Pour in the chicken broth. Add the bay leaf and the thyme sprigs. Top with the butter.

3. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. Discard bay leaf and thyme.

4. When serving, pour the broth over the sliced chicken.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Greek Turkey Panini

Very rarely do I have the opportunity to make dinner just for myself. I typically have three other mouths (two of them small, one of them large) to feed. If I do get an evening to myself, I usually just slap a piece of lunchmeat between a couple slices of bread or graze from the fridge throughout the evening. But recently, on an evening when Joe was working late and I gave in to the boys' cacaphonous pleas for Happy Meals, I decided to treat myself to a really, really delicious dinner. I decided to make myself a sandwich, but not just any sandwich: one loaded with Greek flavors, which are some of my favorite flavors. It's not a flavor profile Joe and the boys are crazy about, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to make something just for me.

Now, if you happen to be without two small boys interrupting you every three minutes, I imagine this would be a very quick dinner indeed. However, since I do have two small boys interrupting me every three minutes and opting to play RIGHT BY ME FEET WHY DO THEY HAVE TO DO THAT, it took me about 35 minutes. But by the time I finally got to sit down to enjoy this sandwich, it was completely worth it. Sun-dried tomato pesto, turkey, olives, feta, spinach, and a tzatziki sauce on the side for dipping...I really need to make dinners like this for myself more often.

Greek Turkey Panini

For the sandwich:

2 flatbreads
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto
1/4 pound smoked turkey breast
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoon chopped olives (I like Lindsay Naturals California Green Olives)
1/4 cup baby spinach leaves, trimmed

For the quick tzatziki:

Half of a cucumber, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat a panini press or skillet sprayed lightly with cooking spray.

2. Spread 1 tablespoon of sun-dried tomato pesto on each piece of flatbread. Top one flatbread with turkey, feta, olives, and spinach, and the other flatbread. Add to panini press or skillet and cook until both sides are browned and crisp.

3. To make the tzatziki, squeeze excess moisture out of cucumber using a paper towel. Combine cucumber, sour cream, Greek yogurt, vinegar and salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Refrigerate until serving.

4. Slice panini in fourths (for two servings). Serve with tzatziki sauce for dipping.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pudding Cake

This is one of those really, really dangerous desserts. Like, really dangerous. Like, This dessert is so rich that eating one piece is plenty but I think I'll go ahead and have three more dangerous. It's basically a giant chocolate chip cookie, layered with pudding, sweetened cream cheese, and whipped cream. And a sprinkling of chocolate chips. So, basically, it's heaven in five layers.

I would suggest making this immediately, like this weekend, but just be sure you have a large group of people to share it with. If not, it will probably be hard for you to resist eating it all yourself...and don't say I didn't warn you.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pudding Cake
as seen on Stephanie Cooks

1 16.5-ounce tube  refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 12-ounce carton frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided
3 cups cold 2% milk
1 3.9-ounce package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 3.4-ounce package instant vanilla pudding mix
Chocolate chips

1. Let cookie dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes to soften. Press into an ungreased 13- x 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth. Fold in 1 3/4 cups whipped topping. Spread over crust.

3. In a large bowl, whisk milk and pudding mixes for 2 minutes. Spread over cream cheese layer. Top with remaining whipped topping and chocolate chips.

4. Allow to sit in the fridge overnight or at least 8 hours.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Crock Pot Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwiches

I've been on a sandwich kick lately. I'm not sure why, but I'm not questioning it, because my current obsession has resulted in some really, really delicious sandwich-based dinners for us recently. The sandwich I'm sharing today is OMGgood, so delicious that there really are no words. The balance of flavors is just so perfect. And this sandwich is made mostly in the slow cooker, making it perfect for warm weather, busy nights, and lazy people such as myself.

Let me break it down for you. The sandwich starts with a beef roast that's seared in a hot Dutch oven until it's beautifully browned on all sides. Then it takes a bath, along with some garlic, onions, and spices, in red wine for 8 or so hours. As if that wasn't delicious enough on its own, the meat is then shredded, placed in a toasted bun, and topped with sweet bell peppers, marinated fresh mozzarella, and spicy chopped giardiniera. And! Even better! You'll probably have some meat left over, which you can freeze for an easy dinner later.

Honestly, the most difficult part of this recipe is lifting your heavy Dutch oven to pour the wine into the Crock pot. And sweet mercy, this is just delicious.

Crock Pot Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwiches
adapted from Ezra Pound Cake

For the beef:

1 boneless beef chuck eye roast (about 3 1/2 pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme

For the sweet bell peppers:

2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

For the sandwiches:

4 soft, hinged sub or hoagie rolls, toasted
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced (I found some marinated with basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and crushed pepper flakes, which I highly recommend if you can find it)
Hot giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables), chopped

1. Season the entire roast with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Brown the roast on all sides, and transfer the roast to the slow cooker.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and saute, stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown. Add the garlic, and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to slow cooker.

3. Increase heat to medium-high, and add red wine to the Dutch oven. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the stock, and bring back to a simmer. Add Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, and fresh thyme. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker.

4. Set slow cooker to low, cover, and cook until tender, about 8 hours. (Or, set the slow cooker to high, and cook for 5 to 6 hours.) The meat should fall apart easily. Shred the meat with two forks, and put it back in the slow cooker with the juices.

5. To make the sweet peppers, add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the pepper strips, garlic, and salt and pepper. Saute until peppers are softened. Sprinkle with sugar, stir to combine, and cook for 1 more minute.

6. Place some beef on a roll. Top with peppers and cheese. Set the oven to broil and cook until cheese is melted. Top with hot giardiniera and serve.

Monday, April 1, 2013

White Wine Pasta with Bacon, Asparagus and Asiago

It may be April Fool's Day, but I'm not fooling when I tell you that this is one of the best pastas I think I've ever made. (Heh. Sorry.) I'm sure you've heard of drunken spaghetti before (spaghetti noodles cooked in red wine), but this recipe uses white wine instead. It adds a completely different flavor than red wine would; it gives the pasta itself a light, crisp, slightly sweet flavor. And don't worry: Since the wine is boiled, the alcohol cooks out, so this isn't a dinner that's going to get you drunk. It probably won't even make you tipsy!

Since it's spring now (FINALLY), I added some asparagus to the pasta, and that made it even better. Asparagus and bacon are a natural pairing, as are asparagus and white wine, so it just all made sense. If you don't like asparagus (hi, Mary!!) you can leave it out. You can also replace the asiago with parmesan; I just used it because I had it on hand, and I liked the slightly funky quality it provided. This dinner was ready in just about 20 minutes, and it's fancy enough for company while still being so simple to prepare. We loved this, and thought the leftovers tasted even better. My kind of meal for sure!

White Wine Pasta with Bacon, Asparagus, and Asiago
seen on A Hungry Teacher and adapted from Framed Cooks

6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bottle dry white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound mostaccioli or other short, hollow pasta
1/2 pound asparagus spears, trimmed and chopped into thirds
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated asiago cheese, plus extra shaved with a vegetable peeler for garnish

1. Cook bacon in a large deep skillet until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon, leaving the bacon grease in the skillet. Turn off the heat and let the skillet cool down for 5 minutes.

2. Pour 1 1/2 cups of wine into the skillet and simmer for 10 minutes, until the wine is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Stir in the sugar.

3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water until it just starts to become flexible, about 5 minutes. Scoop out a cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet.

4. Add remaining wine and the reserved cup of pasta water to the skillet and return to a low boil. Cook the pasta in the wine until it is done to your liking, tossing it frequently with tongs. 

5. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus and reserve.

6. When the pasta is done, add the asparagus, cream, and grated cheese and toss together. Season to taste with salt and pepper and divide among plates. Garnish with bacon and shaved cheese and serve.