Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mozzarella-Baked Gnocchi

This is one of the few recipes I’ve made countless times and haven’t shared with you guys yet. I made it so often last year, but I never posted about it because I just couldn’t seem to get a good enough picture of it to do it justice. Once you try this, you’re going to be so mad at me for not sharing it with you earlier, because you’ll wish you had this meal in your life a long time ago. So for that, I apologize in advance. The important thing is that I’m sharing it now, right? :)

This dish comes together so quickly, and it tastes absolutely incredible. My boys cannot get enough of this, and would gladly eat it once a week – or more. I love using gnocchi as an alternative to pasta – those little potato dumplings are so tasty! The fresh mozzarella is a must, in my opinion; it melts so wonderfully, and it gets that great blistery texture after it’s been broiled. Although both the gnocchi and the fresh mozz are a bit pricey, there’s no meat in this dish, so that’s really all you’re paying for. It still costs less than $10.00 to make, and that’s for at least four portions, plus leftovers.

I think you’re going to love this one.

Mozzarella-Baked Gnocchi
inspired by

2 packages vacuum-packed gnocchi (I think they run about 15.75 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can diced Italian-style tomatoes
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 to 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced (I use a full pound, because we like it really cheesy)

1. Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water, one minute shy of directions on package; drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cook until softened. Add garlic, and cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and Italian seasoning. Heat to boiling. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

4. Add sauce to cooked gnocchi. Pour into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top with slices of mozzarella cheese.

5. Broil until cheese is melted and begins to blister. Serve.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

My friend Jessie tweeted about this recipe last winter, saying these were possibly the best enchiladas she'd ever had, and I've had the recipe bookmarked ever since. As soon as butternut squash came into season, I put them on our menu. I'm only sorry I waited so long to make them, because they are indeed delicious.

They remind me a lot of these sweet potato and black bean enchiladas my family loves so much. The flavor profile is very similar. I loved the creaminess of the cream cheese and the heat and texture from the jalapenos. And they're vegetarian, which means they're not very expensive at all to make.

These enchiladas are the perfect way to highlight one of my favorite winter vegetables. They're hearty, comforting, and so incredibly delicious.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas
adapted from The Savage Feast

3 cups cooked, unseasoned, mashed or pureed butternut squash
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves minced garlic
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
Flour tortillas
2 cups shredded Mexican-blend cheese, divided
1 16-ounce jar fire-roasted chipotle enchilada sauce, divided

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a large rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butternut squash and cream cheese until well-mixed. Stir in spices, garlic, jalapenos and black beans. Add in about half a cup of the enchilada sauce and 1 cup of the cheese.

3. Place a generous amount of filling in each flour tortilla and roll tightly. Place in baking dish and pour remaining enchilada sauce over the top. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup of cheese.

4. Bake, uncovered, 30 to 40 minutes until they're bubbly and the cheese is slightly browned.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pretzel Ranch Chicken Tenders

What if I told you that you were only two ingredients away from the most delicious chicken tenders you’ve ever had? Because you are. The recipe I’m sharing today is only two ingredients (plus the tenders themselves), and the result is the most moist, flavorful, delicious chicken tenders you’ll ever eat. There’s not even really any measuring required. You are going to love these, and if you have kids, you’re going to be a rock star if you make these for them. I’ve been enjoying rock star status since I made these for my boys, and they’ve requested them frequently ever since.

I shallow fried the tenders in batches in a little bit of canola oil, then kept the batches warm in the oven -- but I bet you’d get a similarly delicious result if you just baked them instead. The quick dunk in ranch dressing adds so much flavor to the tenders themselves (and makes them really, well, tender), and the pretzel coating is salty and crispy. These chicken tenders are absolutely perfect for a night you just don’t feel like cooking, because they’re ready in no time.

Rather than using store-bought tenders, I used two large chicken breasts sliced into strips. Two breasts yielded about 15 chicken tenders, which was more than enough to feed us, and the boys had leftovers to take for lunch the next day, much to their delight.

Pretzel Ranch Chicken Tenders

1-2 pounds chicken tenders (or breasts, sliced into strips)
Ranch dressing
Crushed pretzels

1. Place chicken tenders in a bowl and cover with ranch dressing; stir to combine. Let sit for 5 or 10 minutes (while you crush the pretzels).

2. Coat chicken tenders in pretzel crumbs. Cook over medium heat in a skillet with a small amount of oil, or bake in a 350-degree oven, until cooked through.

3. Serve with additional ranch dressing for dipping, if desired.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 11.28.11

I had the hardest time coming up with our meals this week. I've been off work since last Wednesday, and with all the bustle of Thanksgiving, I hadn't even given a second thought to what we'd be eating after Thanksgiving. I guess I was pretty focused on that one big, delicious meal. This past Friday night, I finally made myself sit down and finalize our menu. Turns out, we're going to be eating really well this week! 

Monday: Spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. I'm keeping the spaghetti pretty basic: store-bought sauce and some sauteed garlic and onion.

Thursday: Mexican baked eggs. I saw a pin for this on Pinterest, but I never actually looked at the recipe. I think I'm just going to do my own thing with this. I found queso fresco for the first time ever in my grocery store yesterday, so that will definitely be incorporated into this dish in some way.

Friday: Pulled chicken Suiza sandwiches -- a quick and easy family favorite to end the week!

Saturday: We have an open house to go to in the afternoon, and then our town's tree-lighting event that evening, so I'm sure we'll be eating at both of those places.

Sunday: Roasted garlic mac and cheese. I've been so excited to try this recipe of Annie's. You really can't go wrong with one of her recipes. Her family suffered a tragic loss on Thanksgiving, so if you haven't already, please go give her family some love.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Savory Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches

I love having breakfast for dinner, and breakfast sandwiches are one of my favorite things to eat on the planet. When I saw this recipe for savory waffles as a pin on Pinterest, I knew they'd be the perfect vehicle for a breakfast sandwich. And they absolutely were. They were a hit with my boys, too, who loved eating waffle sandwiches for dinner.

The original recipe is vegan, so I de-vegan-ized it for my family, but feel free to make it as it's listed in the original if you wish. The texture of these waffles makes them perfect to serve as the "bread" for a sandwich; they're dense and sturdy, with tons of savory flavor. They taste a lot like Red Lobster's famous cheddar biscuits, only in waffle form.

Who needs plain old bread when you can use savory waffles instead? Next time you're having breakfast sandwiches, give these a try.

Savory Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches

1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Cooked bacon, sausage or ham
Fried eggs
Maple syrup

1. Hand mix all ingredients for waffles in a large mixing bowl. Cook in a waffle maker until they're crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

2. To assemble sandwiches, place meat and one egg on a waffle. Drizzle with a bit of maple syrup and top with another waffle. Makes 8 waffles (4 sandwiches).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Maple Cream Pie

I mentioned earlier in the week that my dessert contribution for Thanksgiving dinner this year was a maple cream pie. I promised to share it if it was a hit. And well, since I'm writing about it today, a mere one day after Thanksgiving, that should tell you a little something about how well it went over with my family.

This is such a delicious pie. It's so smooth and creamy, and the maple flavor is perfect. I think sometimes maple syrup can be too cloyingly sweet, but its flavor in this pie is mild and cool and absolutely spot-on. There's not any sugar in the pie at all -- it relies on the maple syrup alone for sweetness. And to think that I didn't used to like maple syrup. The wonder of this pie would have been lost of me, which truly would have been a shame. Thankfully I've reformed!

My family loved this pie so much. I wish I had some leftover for breakfast this morning but those animals ate it all! :)

Try this. I promise your family will love it too.

Maple Cream Pie
Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches) 
1/4 cup cornstarch 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 3/4 cups milk, divided 
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup, divided 
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter 
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry; trim to 1/2 inch beyond edge of plate. Flute edges. Line unpricked pastry shell with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack.

2. For filling, combine cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup milk until smooth. Gradually stir in remaining milk and 3/4 cup maple syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. 

3. Stir in a small amount of hot filling into egg yolks; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in butter. Cool to room temperature without stirring.

4. In a chilled small bowl, beat cream on high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold 1 cup cream into cooled filling; spoon into crust. Fold remaining syrup into remaining cream; frost top of pie. Refrigerate overnight. Refrigerate leftovers. Makes 8 servings.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey Treats

Happy Thanksgiving! This is my favorite holiday, and I'm so excited to have a delicious Thanksgiving dinner and visit with all my family -- many of whom I don't see very often.

Check out these turkey snacks I made for the boys' daycare earlier this month. Aren't they cute? You probably already have most of these things on hand, so if you're having children over today, this would be a fun project for them to do while they're waiting for dinner. The kids absolutely loved them!

From my family to yours, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Turkey Treats
inspired by Second Story Window

Chocolate graham crackers
Vanilla wafer cookies
Vanilla frosting
Yellow food coloring
Candy corn
Black decorating gel
Pretzel sticks

1. Tint the frosting with a few drops of yellow food coloring. Spread a small amount on the inside of a graham cracker. Alternate adding pretzel sticks and Twizzlers for the feathers. Top with another graham cracker smeared with frosting.

2. For the face, smear the back of a vanilla wafer with frosting and stick it onto the graham cracker. Use candy corn for the beaks and black decorating gel for the eyes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Last Minute Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Recipes

Man, guys, am I exhausted. This is the first time I've sat down all day, since I've been cooking for tomorrow's Thanksgiving feasts all morning. I also had to make a couple of trips to the grocery store, and it was pretty insane there. I guess I'm not the only one who waited until the last minute to get my groceries!

Today I thought I'd share a few quick and easy recipes that would be perfect for your Thanksgiving table. I'm sure your meals are already planned out, but if you're still looking for a delicious side dish to take to dinner tomorrow, I hope you find something on this list that sounds good!

Homemade creamed corn is a delicious and simple alternative to a traditional corn casserole.

A favorite in our family is my mom's recipe for sweet potato casserole. You won't find any marshmallows here!

Another of our family's favorites (for every get-together, not just Thanksgiving) is this broccoli salad. When I make it for Thanksgiving, I add in dried cranberries and toasted pecan pieces.

Those oft-reviled little cabbages are impossible to resist in this recipe for maple cayenne Brussels sprouts. The balance of sweet and spicy is so perfect, and the flavor profile is so unusual, making this a special and interesting vegetable option.

I make cranberry butter every year for Thanksgiving as well. Compound butters are so simple to throw together and are such a fun and delicious way to dress up dinner rolls.

Our family always has some type of macaroni and cheese with our Thanksgiving dinner (we are carb-loving folks), and this year I'm taking buttermilk macaroni and cheese (my new favorite!). This butternut squash mac and cheese would also be a delicious, seasonal version to take.

I know lots of families stay pretty traditional with their Thanksgiving dessert options, and that's mostly true of our family, too -- except when they put me in charge of the pie. When they do that, they're likely to get something like coconut chocolate pecan pie or sweet potato pie. I've even given them their pecan pie in cupcake form! This year, they're getting maple cream pie -- a new-to-me recipe that I'll certainly share if it's a hit. 

Here are a few more non-traditional Thanksgiving dessert options:

This apple butter cheesecake (horrible photo notwithstanding) is a spicy, creamy, flavorful cheesecake with a crispy gingersnap crust. It's delicious.

Why make pumpkin pie when you could make pumpkin pie snickerdoole bars? Here's the recipe.

Thanksgiving is, in part, a celebration of autumn's bounty, and what better way to celebrate than with a dessert combining pumpkin and apples? Pumpkin apple streusel cake is a sophisticated and delicious dessert.

I hope all of your Thanksgiving preparations go smoothly this afternoon and this evening, and that all of you drive safely to get to where you're going. I'll be back tomorrow with a fun Thanksgiving snack I made for my sons!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Southwestern Ranch Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year, you probably know by now what you’re serving on Thursday. But you may not know what you’re going to do with all the food that’s left over. Like the turkey – what are you going to do with all of those leftovers? Well, what you should do is make these sandwiches. As soon as you possibly can. In fact, you should set aside some of your turkey, just so you can make these.

I first saw this recipe as a pin on Pinterest, and I adapted the preparation and ingredients for our family. These have quickly become a favorite in our house. Bread is slathered with a creamy Southwestern ranch sauce, topped with turkey, tons of cheese, and some tomato, and baked until the cheese is melted. Cool, creamy avocado is the perfect finish. These sandwiches have tons of flavor. They’re a wonderful and quick weeknight dinner, and a great way to give your turkey new life!

Southwestern Ranch Open-Faced Turkey Sandwiches
adapted from The Sisters’ CafĂ©

6 slices sandwich bread
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
3/4 to 1 pound turkey, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cup shredded pepper jack or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 ripe avocados, sliced
Juice of 1 lime

1. Toast bread in toaster or under the broiler. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a bowl, combine ranch dressing mix, chili powder, and cumin. Stir in mayonnaise and sour cream.

3. Place bread on an ungreased baking sheet and spread 1 tablespoon of the sauce on each slice. Top with sliced turkey and 1 more tablespoon of the sauce. Top with cheese and tomatoes.

4. Bake for 15 minutes until cheese is melted. Top each sandwich with sliced avocado and a sprinkling of lime juice.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

I’m really excited to have partnered with Melissa of the beautiful blog Rooms to share this recipe. She’s created a new series called Great FOOD and a Beautiful ROOM on her site, and I was so honored when she asked me to contribute a recipe for this feature! Here’s how it worked: I supplied the recipe, and she created a “recipe” for a room to go with the food. Sounds cool, right?

I chose this butternut squash macaroni and cheese to share because its color is so warm and its flavor is so inviting. My family loves butternut squash, so I’ve been cooking with it a lot this fall, and I made this specifically with my boys in mind. Macaroni and cheese is one of their favorite foods, so why not bump up the nutritional value with some delicious butternut squash puree? This was a huge hit with them. (And even if your kids don’t like butternut squash, you can totally hide it from him. It’s exactly the same color as plain old macaroni and cheese!)

If you’re looking for an interesting dish to add to your Thanksgiving table, I think this one would be perfect. And wait until you see the room that Melissa created to go with this recipe. Go check it out. It’s gorgeous and I want to live there! Thanks for such a fun opportunity, Melissa!

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

1 butternut squash
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound macaroni pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds, and place face-down in a large roasting pan. Add about 1 inch of water. Cook for 40 to 50 minutes, or until squash is tender. Don’t turn off the oven.

2. While the squash is still warm, remove from peel and place in a blender. Add cream cheese and puree until mixture is smooth.

3. Cook pasta to al dente according to directions on package in boiling salted water; drain.

4. Meanwhile, heat milk in a large saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Stir in butternut squash/cream cheese mixture and shredded cheddar. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add cheese sauce to pasta. Pour into a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish.

6. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, sage, and thyme leaves; stir in butter. Sprinkle evenly over macaroni and cheese.

7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until breadcrumb topping is browned. Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 11.21.11

The name of the game this week (at least the first part of this week) is quick and easy. I’ll be busy cooking for Andrew’s Thanksgiving potluck at school and my family’s various get-togethers, so our meals need to be fast and low-maintenance. And it would be great if they’re all delicious, too, and I think they all will be.

Monday: Two-packet pork chops and ranch-roasted potatoes, green beans

Tuesday: Egg tostada frittata

Wednesday: Pasta fagioli (adapted for the Crock pot), breadsticks. I don’t have to work on Wednesday, so I can throw this soup in the Crock pot and not have to worry about dinner (since I’ll be cooking for Thanksgiving most of the day).

Thursday: Thanksgiving! We have two feasts to attend, so I can’t imagine that we’ll be hungry for dinner.

Friday: Take-out or pizza – something easy to end the week. I find I’m pretty burnt out at the end of the week, so I think I need to give myself more breaks from cooking.

Saturday: Roasted tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

Sunday: Swedish meatballs with (homemade) egg noodles

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Maple Brown Sugar Muffins

There’s just something about a warm muffin, straight from the oven, eaten with coffee, in your pjs, on a chilly weekend morning. That is pretty much my idea of a perfect scenario, and one that I’ve been repeating nearly every weekend lately.

My family was so happy to have these for breakfast. They make the house smell absolutely amazing while they’re cooking, and the maple flavor is spot-on. The texture of the muffins is perfect, with a crackly streusel top, a rich golden color, and a moist center. Spread with just a bit of butter, they taste almost exactly like pancakes!

And just for fun, check out what’s going on behind the scenes whenever I try to take pictures of food.

There are always two sweet little boys who are eager to help! :)

Maple Brown Sugar Muffins
adapted from Taste of Home

For the muffins:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sour cream
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, combine the milk, butter, syrup, sour cream, egg and vanilla. Stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened.

2. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. For topping, combine the flour, sugars, and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 16 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (mine took the full 20). Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Serve warm. Makes 16 muffins.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bow Ties with Spicy Sausage in Tomato Cream Sauce

This pasta literally only has a handful of ingredients in it: sausage, onion, garlic, tomatoes and cream. And yet somehow, when those ingredients all come together, the flavor becomes so complex. This pasta is spicy, sweet, creamy, and absolutely delicious. I was going to add spinach to it, but I’m glad I didn’t. I was going to add some parmesan cheese, and I’m glad I didn’t do that either. It doesn’t need a single additional ingredient – it’s already perfect just as it is. And it’s ready in the amount of time it takes the pasta to cook.

I can’t say enough good things about this dinner. It was delicious and it will definitely make an appearance on many of my future meal plans (once a week, if Joe has anything to say about it).

Bow Ties with Spicy Sausage and Tomato Cream Sauce

1 16-ounce package bow tie pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spicy sausage
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can Italian-style plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions; drain.

2. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet (large enough to hold the sauce and pasta) over medium heat. Cook sausage until sausage is evenly brown. Add onion and garlic, and cook until onion is tender. Stir in tomatoes, cream, and salt. Simmer until mixture thickens, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Stir cooked pasta into sauce, and heat through. Serve.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bacon Rosemary Chicken with Maple-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I read a book recently that I think every food-lover should read. It’s called The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, and it follows the lives of a group of students in a small cooking class and explores the relationships they create through food. The characters are wonderfully layered, but my favorite parts of the book are the descriptions of the food. Ingredients and dishes are described so gorgeously in such rich, evocative language. (Sorry; I think my English Major showed a little bit there.) It’s a beautiful book.

This meal is a lot like some of the food described in the book: simple ingredients, wonderful aroma, extraordinary flavor. The salty bacon pairs so perfectly with the earthy rosemary. Maple syrup and sweet potatoes are an ideal marriage of flavor and pair wonderfully with the savory chicken. I wish I could make this dish for Erica Bauermeister and have her write out a description of how wonderful it tastes, because she could do a much better job at describing it than I am!

Bacon Rosemary Chicken with Maple-Mashed Sweet Potatoes
adapted from Back to the Cutting Board

For the chicken:

2 to 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
5 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chicken broth

For the potatoes:

3 medium or 2 large sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Fry bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, set aside. Spoon out excess bacon fat, but leave about 2 tablespoons in the pan.

2. Place flour in a shallow dish and dredge chicken though it, shake to remove excess.

3. Add butter to the reserved fat in the pan and heat over high temperature, swirling to melt the butter. When the foam subsides, reduce heat to medium-high and add the chicken. Cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, until browned. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover lightly with foil.

4. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, rosemary and pepper flakes. Cook for half a minute or so. Try not to let the garlic brown. Add broth and simmer until slightly thick, about 4 minutes.

5. Return chicken and bacon to the pan, simmer, turning chicken at least once until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy about 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, peel and cut up sweet potatoes in large chunks. Place in pot and fill with enough water to cover the potatoes. Add 2 tablespoons maple syrup and stir. Heat to boiling and cook for 20 minutes or until tender.

7. While the potatoes are boiling, melt the butter, brown sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup, cream, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until it thickens a little. Set aside.

8. Once the potatoes are tender, drain all the liquid and return them to the pot. Mash with a potato masher.

9. Slowly pour in the sugar mixture, a little at a time and stir/mash after each addition. You may not need to use all of the sugar mixture, add enough until it gets to a consistency that you like.

10. Serve chicken with sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buttermilk Macaroni and Cheese

Raise your hand if you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year. Those of you that are: WOW, is all I can say. Hosting Thanksgiving is something I’ve never done (at least not yet), and it is something that strikes fear into my heart at the same time that it makes the planner and cook in me extremely excited. So, if you’re hosting: Good luck, and also, I’m totally jealous of you.

Every year I make sweet potato casserole and cranberry butter for our Thanksgiving dinner with Joe’s family. For my family’s dinner (which we don’t get to until dessert), I make a couple of pies. (I think I’m doing pecan and maple cream this year, but I haven’t finalized that yet.) This year, I’ll be making a third contribution to our dinner with Joe’s family: this incredible macaroni and cheese.

Do you have a go-to mac and cheese recipe? Mine has always been Betty Crocker’s version (posted here; please ignore the photo), but this buttermilk-based version has officially replaced it. My whole family loved this mac and cheese so much that we all had seconds (and Joe had thirds). Thankfully, this recipe makes enough to feed an army, so there were plenty of leftovers to send for lunch with the boys (as Andrew requested: “Can I have this tomorrow for lunch? It’s DEWICIOUS!”). I loved the tang from the buttermilk, and the eggs in the recipe (there are six of them!) made it so rich and gave it such a wonderful, custard-like texture. If you like custardy mac and cheeses, this recipe is definitely for you. It’s creamy, cheesy, tangy perfection, and definitely worthy of gracing your Thanksgiving table – or ANY table!

Buttermilk Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Taste of Home

6 eggs
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded colby cheese
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions and drained

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the cheese, buttermilk, butter, salt and pepper. Add macaroni; toss to coat.

3. Pour into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the middle comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream

Here’s an impossible question for you: If you had to choose, what would you say your favorite part of a cupcake or cake is – the cake itself, or the frosting? If I had to choose, I’d have to say my favorite part is the frosting. Especially when the frosting is as sweet and luscious as this coffee buttercream is.

I can’t even begin to describe how delicious these cupcakes are. I made them with my sister (who loves coffee and also works for a large coffee chain) in mind, and she absolutely loved them. Coffee and chocolate is one of those perfect flavor combinations (hello, mocha?!), and these cupcakes are the perfect thing to highlight the complementary flavors. The cupcakes are richly chocolate, and the frosting is sweet, with a slight bitterness from the coffee. Absolutely perfect.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream
cake adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor; frosting from Eat at Home

For the cake:

1 package triple chocolate fudge cake mix
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

For the frosting:

1 stick butter, softened
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 to 4 tablespoons strong brewed coffee, cooled

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cupcake pans with 24 paper liners.

2. Place the cake mix, cocoa powder, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed, until batter is well-blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

3. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake the cupcakes about 20 minutes, or until they spring back lightly with pressed with your finger, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the oven. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

4. While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting. With an electric mixer, beat the butter till smooth. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla and 2 tablespoons coffee. Mix again until well blended. Gradually add more coffee, by the teaspoon until the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.

5. Spread frosting on cooled cupcakes and garnish with mini chocolate chips.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baked Chicken Chimichangas with Creamy Salsa Verde

Some recipes I see and I automatically think to myself, “Yep. Making that.” That happens to me a lot when I visit Sarah’s blog. She posts the most fantastic recipes, and these baked chimichangas are no exception. It took me a while to make them (and even longer to post the recipe!), but I’m so glad I did, because they were delicious.

Because the chicken cooks in the Crock pot, these are perfect for a weeknight meal. With 10 minutes of assembly and 20 minutes in the oven, dinner’s ready in half an hour. I thought the creamy sauce was the perfect complement to the crispy chimichangas. This meal has spice, it has texture, it has tons of flavor…It’s just so very good.

Baked Chicken Chimichangas with Creamy Salsa Verde
adapted from A Taste of Home Cooking

For the chimichangas:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 burrito (large) size tortillas
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
Sour cream, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, cilantro to garnish

For the creamy salsa verde:

1 16-ounce jar salsa verde
1 cup sour cream
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon honey

1. Add chicken to Crock pot. Combine diced tomatoes, spices and cornstarch in a small bowl. Pour over chicken and cook on low until chicken is cooked through. Shred meat with two forks.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spary a large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Combine the shredded chicken mixture with the cheese. Lay out the tortillas and top each with 1/4 of the chicken mixture. Roll up the tortillas burrito style, tucking the ends in, and place them seam side down on the cookie sheet. Spray the top of the chimichangas with cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, combine the salsa verde, sour cream, honey and lime juice in a medium saucepan. Simmer over gentle heat until warmed through.

4. Serve the sauce on top of the chimichangas. Garnish with sour cream, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and cilantro, if desired.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 11.14.11

Monday: Pretzel-crusted chicken nuggets with cheddar dipping sauce, fries, steamed broccoli. I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll use the sauce for the broccoli, too.

Tuesday: Asparagus hash with eggs, toast. I’ve really been craving asparagus lately, and one night while I was doing the dishes (of all things), I started thinking about how delicious asparagus is with eggs, and then I thought, hey, why not put asparagus in a hash? So I am.

Wednesday: Teriyaki chicken with bacon fried rice. With eggs and bacon in it, this fried rice is pretty much like breakfast. I can’t wait to try it.

Thursday: Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, fries. A nice, easy dinner on the night I’ve been scientifically proven Most Likely To Order Chinese Take-Out.

Friday: Sweet pork tacos with cilantro ranch dressing. I told you this would be on our menu again this week. I really dislike cooking on Friday nights, so I think a Crock pot meal will be just perfect (and that means I can enjoy the leftovers all weekend!).

Saturday: Buffalo chicken nachos -- football food. Go Bucks!

Sunday: Chicken breasts gourmet, rice pilaf, steamed broccoli. How good does this chicken sound?! I think I’m going to use Swiss cheese in it, but we’ll see what mood strikes me in a week.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grilled Cheese Two Ways

Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? I’ve been eating them ever since I was a little kid, like most people have, and the fact that they’re so trendy and popular right now makes my former five-year-old self exceedingly happy. I’ve tried two recent variations that I just have to share with you. 

I wish I could remember how I thought of the idea to crust a grilled cheese sandwich in pretzel crumbs, but I can’t. One day I just did it, and it was delicious. Butter your bread slices just like you normally would, but before you put the slices in the pan, dip each buttered side in finely crushed pretzel crumbs. The pretzels add this delicious, salty-crunchy element to the bread that works perfectly with the melted cheese.

The second version is one I saw on The College Culinarian, and I thought it was brilliant. I tried Katie’s egg-in-a-hole grilled cheese the very next weekend, and it was just amazing as I thought it’d be. Use a glass to cut a circle out of one piece of bread, butter both pieces, and put them both buttered-side-down in a skillet. Top one slice with cheese, and crack an egg into the hole-y slice. Add salt and pepper and cook until the egg white isn’t runny. Then put the two slices together and voila! It’s grilled cheese/gooey egg perfection.

Although my very favorite grilled cheese is the no-frills, white-bread-and-American-cheese variety, both of these versions are amazing, and you should definitely try them!