Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cheesy Corn Bites

I’ve had my eye on these succulent little bites ever since Deborah posted the recipe over the summer. I finally had the opportunity to make them recently, when I was expecting my stepmom and sister to come over for one of our evenings of girl TV. But I guess there’d been a break in our communication, because while I thought they were coming over, neither of them actually was planning to on this particular night. That would have been fine, if I’d known that before I’d put an entire batch of these corn bites in the oven.

I knew it would be dangerous to have an entire batch of these to myself, and I wasn’t wrong. They are so addictive. I finally had to force myself to stop eating them after I’d eaten nearly half a batch all on my own (I KNOW. THE SHAME). These are dangerous not only because they’re compulsively eatable, but also because they’re so darn simple to make, and require only four ingredients. Did you know you were that close to cheesy corn bite Heaven? I bet not.

These are delicious as-is, and they’re also great with a bit of pico de gallo on top (which is how I served them at Will’s birthday party earlier this month). If you serve them for the Super Bowl this weekend, you should probably make a triple batch.

Cheesy Corn Bites
adapted from Taste and Tell and originally from Every Day with Rachael Ray

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
Salt and pepper
48 scoop-shaped tortilla chips
Chopped cilantro, for sprinkling, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the chips out on a baking sheet.

2. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, shredded cheese, corn, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; mix completely. Place 1 teaspoon of the mixture into each corn chip. Bake until the filling sets, about 20 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the corn bites with the cilantro and serve warm.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicken Bacon Ranch Enchiladas

With all the disappearing I’ve been doing lately, I figure I owe you guys a really, really good recipe to begin the week. So how about a big pan of these chicken bacon ranch enchiladas? I think these babies could bring about world peace.

It’s no secret by now that the chicken-bacon-ranch combo is one of my favorites, and I’ve played with it a lot in the past (in chili, on pizza, etc.). I just had to try the flavors out in an enchilada, and I’ve come up with something truly delicious here. The filling is composed of chicken, bacon, cheese, green onions, ranch dressing mix, and Mexican spices in a creamy combination of cream cheese and sour cream. The topping for the enchiladas is salsa, with some ranch dressing stirred in to highlight that flavor. These are SO DELICIOUS, and all four of us gobbled them up (yes, this was an instance in which I got my boys to eat Mexican food!).

The chicken-bacon-ranch combo lives on...Where will it show up next? (Hint: In a recipe I’ll be sharing later this week.)

Chicken Bacon Ranch Enchiladas

6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 cups chopped or diced chicken
1 tablespoon green onions
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
3 cups shredded cheddar-jack or Mexican blend cheese, divided
1 jar salsa
1/4 to 1/2 cup ranch dressing (as much or as little as you want)
Flour tortillas

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Combine bacon, chicken, green onions, and all seasonings in a large bowl. Add cream cheese, sour cream, and one cup of the shredded cheese and stir until fully combined.

3. Combine salsa and ranch dressing. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the mixture into the bottom of a greased casserole dish, spreading it evenly to coat the bottom.

4. Divide filling evenly among flour tortillas and roll up. Place seam-side down in the casserole dish, and pour the remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

5. Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.30.12

This second half of January has seriously not been kind to me, health-wise. Last week I had horrible cold, and this week, I came down with strep throat. It was a particularly nasty case, including a fever, chills, fatigue, head and body aches, and, of course, the incredibly painful sore throat. It's been a long time since I've been that sick. I was aboslutely miserable, and didn't even eat anything for nearly three days, much less cook anything or meal plan for the coming week. I pretty much spent the entire time huddled in my bed, trying to sleep, and trying not to cry. 

I started feeling more like myself on Friday, and today I feel practically 100% -- my head still just pounds a little bit when I start doing too much, know that feeling? Anyway, I was able to eke out a meal plan for the upcoming week, and it's filled with all of Joe's favorite meals (as well as a couple of things from last week's plan that I didn't get to make, due to The Sickness). I am all about celebrating him for the coming week, since he did such an amazing job of taking care of me and the boys while I was sick. I didn't even see Andrew and Will for a couple of days, so he had to do everything on his own: morning wake-ups, breakfasts, daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, packing lunches, making dinner, doing the dishes, baths, stories and songs and the entire bedtime routine. He did an awesome job keeping the house up and running, and it really made me appreciate having him as a partner on a completely new level. Making a few of his favorite things is the least I can do. And another good thing? Most of these meals are so hearty that I probably won't need a meal plan next week at all.

Monday: Chicken with paprika cream sauce, egg noodles, steamed green beans. I'd planned to make this last Wednesday, but that's when The Sickness hit. I did not, sadly, make a batch of homemade noodles this weekend (instead I used my baking time to make a mocha cake that I can't wait to share with you), but I found some high-quality spaetzle at the supermarket that I think will be perfect for this dish.

Tuesday: Crescent pizza rolls and salad. I felt better on Friday, but I still didn't make these. I ordered pizza instead, because I was just that lazy.

Wednesday: Bacon pierogi bake. Joe has requested that I double this this time around, so he has plenty to take to work for lunches. I'm happy to oblige, since I love this so much too.

Thursday: Black bean and salsa soup, cheese quesadillas. Okay, this isn't technically one of Joe's favorites, but he does like it. I put it on the meal plan because I was talking about it to someone at work recently, and it just made me remember how delicious it is.

Friday: Swedish meatballs, egg noodles. Technically these aren't Joe's favorite meatballs, but considering all the spicy sausage we'll be eating this coming weekend I figured three in a row was overkill. He does love these, and his eyes practically lit up when I told him I'd be making them.

Saturday: Lasagna and garlic bread. This is the very first recipe I posted on this blog, and even though I've made so many delicious things since, this is still Joe's absolute favorite meal.

Sunday: Chili with Monterey ranch bread. It's Super Bowl Sunday, so it seems like a perfect night to have this for dinner. And Joe's been clamoring for a pot of this ever since the beginning of football season. The bread is the perfect accompaniment, and is too delicious for words.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tater Tot Nachos

It’s no secret that Joe and I love Mexican food, and that we eat it frequently. On nights that I plan for Mexican food, though, I usually always have to have a back-up meal in place for Andrew and Will. Their relationship with Mexican food is kind of up and down. Sometimes they love something I make (this Mexican sour cream rice is always a hit with them), but often, they take one bite of the dish I put in front of them and refuse to eat the rest. I didn’t like Mexican food much myself when I was a kid, so I’m hoping this is just a phase and that they’ll grow out of it.

The night I served these tater tot nachos, though, they had no qualms about chowing down. They love tater tots, and would probably eat them if they were covered with dirt (really, they are boys; I wouldn’t doubt that they’d actually eat something covered with dirt). As for Joe and me, we loved these too. Sometimes it’s just really fun to eat like a kid.

Tater Tot Nachos
adapted from Real Mom Kitchen

1 24-ounce package tater tots
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 packet taco seasoning
Shredded lettuce
Shredded cheese
Sour cream

1. Prepare tater tots according to package directions.

2. While the tater tots cook, brown ground beef with onion and taco seasoning in a skillet until no longer pink; drain.

3. To serve, place tater tots on a plate and top with the meat mixture followed by lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Honey Teriyaki Chicken with Bacon Fried Rice

Growing up, I never ate fried rice. Eggs in rice always just sounded strange to me. I stuck with my plain old steamed white rice whenever we ordered Chinese food. Then I met Joe, and in the early days of our relationship we ate Chinese food a lot. And he always ordered fried rice. After much pestering from him, I finally consented to trying it, and realized that I’d been a fool for so long. Fried rice is delicious! In the years since, I’ve even developed my own at-home version that we enjoy frequently.

This recipe, my friends, takes fried rice to a completely new level with the addition of bacon. Yes, bacon! It’s also loaded with tons of fresh veggies to balance out all that bacon, and it’s this wonderful, savory, salty, delicious thing with all kinds of great textures: crisp bacon, soft eggs, peas that pop and bean sprouts that crunch. I served it with honey teriyaki chicken, which was a delicious sweet counterpoint to the rice, but this rice also would have been good on its own. It was definitely the star of this meal. This recipe makes a ton, so you’ll be eating it for days, but trust me: That is definitely not a bad thing.

Honey Teriyaki Chicken with Bacon Fried Rice
chicken adapted from Rachael Ray; rice adapted from Cooking with Cristine

For the chicken:

1 pound chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce

For the rice:

1 egg, beaten
1 pound bacon, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cups cooked rice
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup soy sauce

1. For the chicken, heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until browned and cook through. In a separate bowl, combine chicken broth, ginger, honey and teriyaki sauce. Pour over chicken. Reduce heat and simmer until serving.

2. For the bacon, heat vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet. Pour egg into wok. As egg sets, lift edges letting uncooked portion flow underneath. When egg is done, move to plate and set aside.

3. In same wok, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings.

4. Saute mushrooms and onions in bacon drippings. Stir in rice, bean sprouts, peas, soy sauce, and bacon. Chop egg into small pieces; stir into wok and heat through.

5. Serve chicken over rice.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.23.12

Sorry for disappearing there for a few days. I can't remember the last time I didn't post a full week's worth of recipes here on the blog. Thursday I was incredibly busy, and then on Thursday afternoon I got some kind of winter crud that's been going around. I suppose it was too much to ask to go through the entire winter without getting sick. I spent all day Friday in bed and finally started to feel more human yesterday.

When I planned our menu on Thursday night, I was definitely feeling crappy, and all I wanted to eat was comfort food. As a result, that's what our meals are full of this week -- lots of comfort and, incidentally, lots of cream. Not so good for my waistline, but definitely good for my soul! :)

Monday: Cheeseburger lettuce wraps, chips. I'll do my own thing with these, adding pickles and some diced tomatoes directly to the meat mixture, and probably drizzle them with Thousand Island dressing.

Tuesday: Southwestern English muffin breakfast sandwiches, hash browns. This recipe idea came from things we have on hand (English muffins, bacon) and things that are on sale this week (avocado, eggs). I'm already looking forward to this meal!

Wednesday: Chicken with paprika cream sauce, egg noodles. The recipe calls for chicken legs, but I'll use a couple of chopped breasts since I have them on  hand. I'll make the egg noodles this afternoon and let them dry for the next couple of days until this meal. That worked out really well the last time I made them.

Thursday: I may have mentioned this before, but for whatever reason I am totally burnt out on cooking on Thursdays. This is the night I'm most likely to ditch my meal plan and serve cereal or chicken nuggets or Chinese take-out for dinner. I'm embracing that this week, and leaving this night open for whatever I feel like making (or ordering).

Friday: Crescent pizza rolls, salad. We love these simple and delicious pizza rolls, which are made by rolling up a piece of string cheese and some pepperoni in a crescent roll and baking them. There's really not much of a recipe involved, but I'll post my version soon.

Saturday: Pasta alla norcina, crusty bread with olive oil and dipping spices. This pasta pretty much made me drool the instant I saw it on Pinterest. I cannot wait to try it. Dipping crusty bread in seasoned olive oil always seems so luxurious to me, so I'm pretty excited for that too.

Sunday: Shrimp enchiladas verdes with jalapeno cream sauce. I can promise you that I will be looking forward to these enchiladas all week long.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roasted Garlic Macaroni and Cheese

When it comes to garlic, I’m pretty sure my devotion rivals that of Rachael Ray. Well, I maybe don’t love it quite as much as she does, considering that I watched an episode of her show recently when she talked about buying it by the half-bushel...but still. I love garlic, and put it in practically everything I make.

When raw, garlic is so sharp and pungent, but something magical happens to it when you roast it. Seriously, if you’ve never roasted garlic...WHY NOT? Go do it RIGHT NOW. It turns into this caramelized, soft, sweet, toasty sort of thing that is definitely one of the most delicious things on the planet.

When I saw this recipe on Annie’s blog, inspired by a garlic cheddar cheese she bought in Vermont, I knew I would be making it. I’ve since made it three or four times, and it is definitely a family favorite. Since I can’t just up and travel to Vermont for some garlic cheddar cheese, I use sharp white cheddar for this, which I think offsets the smooth and mellow flavor of the roasted garlic perfectly. The Boursin makes this so creamy and highlights the garlic flavor even more. Annie bakes her version, but I just make it on the stovetop to keep it really creamy. Even though this recipe is for an entire pound of pasta, I’m not ashamed to admit that we rarely have leftovers of this in my house.

Roasted Garlic Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Annie’s Eats

1 head garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
12-16 ounces penne rigate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
8 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
1 container (usually 5 to 6 ounces) Boursin (garlic and herb spreadable cheese)
Salt and pepper

1. To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove most of the outer paper skins from the head of garlic, leaving it intact. Slice off the top portion of the head so that all of the cloves are exposed at the top, but the head is still intact. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the head of garlic on a piece of foil and loosely fold the foil up around the head of garlic to create a foil packet. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the cloves are easily squeezed from the skins. Squeeze all of the garlic out of the skins and smash with a fork to make a paste.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Drain in a colander. Return the pasta to the pot and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and the roasted garlic paste and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce comes to a low boil and thickens noticeably. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar and Boursin. Whisk until the cheese is completely melted.

4. Add cheese sauce to reserved pasta and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spinach and Chicken Tortilla Bake

(Updated with a new photo on January 31, 2013.)

I was going to save this recipe to share with you this spring, when I can make it again and photograph it with the natural light in my kitchen. I know the picture isn’t very attractive. The truth is, some foods just don’t photograph well – especially without natural light. But as much as I love including pretty pictures with my recipes when possible, the point of this blog, for me, is to share the recipes that I love with you – even if I’m not able to get a magazine-worthy photo of every recipe. And this, my friends, is definitely a recipe I love. Is it attractive? Nope. Is it messy? Yes. Does it taste amazing? ABSOLUTELY.

I first saw this on Stephanie’s blog, and I immediately wanted to try it. But for whatever reason, I haven’t really been into ricotta cheese lately. I’m not really sure why. I decided to replace the ricotta with cream cheese, which turned out to be a stroke of brilliance on my part. The cream cheese added a great tangy quality to the recipe. I wouldn’t initially think that spinach and salsa verde would work well together, but it turns out that they’re a perfect match. Although this was too spicy for my boys, Joe and I both absolutely loved it…and next time I make it I’ll be doubling the recipe so we can eat the leftovers for days.

Spinach and Chicken Tortilla Bake
adapted from Stephanie Cooks (and originally from Rachael Ray)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups salsa verde
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 large (8-inch) tortillas
3 cups baby spinach
1 1/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper, until cooked. Remove from the heat and slice thin or shred the chicken.

3. In a small bowl, combine the salsa verde and the cream cheese.

4. In a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray, place the first tortilla. Top with 1/3 of the chicken, salsa/cream cheese mix, spinach, and pepper jack cheese. Top with another tortilla and layer another 1/3 of each ingredients, repeating the process until you end with the final tortilla.

5. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the top tortilla is crisp. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Farfalle Carbonara with Peas

A creamy, silky, luxurious carbonara has got to be one of my favorite meals on the planet. It's definitely one of my favorite things to order at Italian restaurants. I was so excited when I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest, because I thought it was a brilliant idea to add peas to carbonara. After I made this, the brilliance of that idea was confirmed; the peas add such a bright flavor to what is otherwise a heavy dish, and as a textural element they're perfect. In one mouthful you get the silky, rich sauce, the salty smoky crispy bacon, and the subtle sweetness and the pop of the peas. Heaven in a bowl.

I liked using farfalle for this so much that I'll probably use it or another short pasta every time I make carbonara from now on. It held onto the sauce so much better than a long noodle would have. This is the kind of meal I would serve to my family on a weeknight (since it takes much less than half an hour from start to finish), but that would also be appropriate to serve to guests. Simple, delicious, and a little bit luxurious -- this is definitely my kind of food.

Farfalle Carbonara with Peas
adapted from Jamie Oliver

16 ounces farfalle
1 cup frozen peas
1 egg
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
6 strips bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in boiling salted water. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the frozen peas. Drain pasta and peas, reserving a cup of the cooking water, and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg, cream, and salt and pepper in a bowl.

3. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Set bacon aside on a paper towel to drain and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook and stir for 30 seconds.

4. Return the bacon to the skillet, along with the pasta and peas. Stir to combine, making sure the pasta is warm, and then add the egg and cream mixture. Toss together and loosen with a bit of the reserved cooking water if necessary. Add parmesan cheese until melted. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.16.12

We're staying cozy during this cold weekend, and I'm loving it. I don't have to work on Monday, and I don't plan on leaving the house at all for the next couple of days. I probably won't change out of my pajama pants either...not that that's any different than any other weekend. Just keeping it real. I hope your weekends have been equally as lazy and wonderful.

Last week was pretty crazy, between work and Andrew being sick and car issues, and I didn't have very much time to dedicate to planning our meals for the coming week. As a result, most of the menu is made up of tried-and-true family favorites. This week promises to be nearly as busy as the last, at least at work, so when I come home at night to the task of making dinner, I want to know that the end result is going to be delicious.

Monday: Tortellini and pancetta in mushroom cream sauce. I have a few modifications planned for this, although it looks delicious as it is: using ravioli instead of tortellini (because it's what I have on hand), adding pesto to the sauce, and subbing bacon for the pancetta.

Tuesday: Chicken fajita lasagna. It's been far too long since I've made this. Actually, I think the last time I made it was when I posted this recipe back in 2009. That is unacceptable to me, considering how delicious this is and how much we love it. Joe's eyes literally lit up when I told him I was making this, so I think he's pretty happy about it too.

Wednesday: Sausage biscuit sandwiches and tater tots. I've been in the mood for a good breakfast sandwich lately, and I love the sweet and savory flavor combination that this particular one provides.

Thursday: Chicken cheesesteaks, chips. For whatever reason, Joe just absolutely loves these sandwiches. He swears up and down that they're one of the best things I've ever made. They are definitely delicious, so I'm happy to fulfill his request to put them on the meal plan this week.

Friday: Bacon and egg quesadillas. I can't even count how many times I've made these for breakfast on the weekends, or for a quick dinner on a weeknight when I don't feel like making what I've planned. It sounds sort of silly, but these quesadillas really are a revelation. They're so flavorful, filling, and simple to make.

Saturday: BBQ spice-rubbed chicken tostadas with cilantro-ranch dressing, probably with some kind of rice on the side. I can't remember what blog I was reading last week (or maybe I saw it on Pinterest), but I recently saw someone pair something BBQ-flavored with a dressing similar to this one. I thought that sounded pretty delicious, so when I remembered these tostadas I knew they'd be on our meal plan.

Sunday: Roasted tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. It really is the best ever, you guys. It just is.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Artichoke-Crusted Chicken

Oh man, you guys, it has been a DAY. Seriously. The short version is this: During a treacherous drive to work this morning in the snow, my windshield wipers quit working. On the salty, icy roads, with the wind blowing hard and other cars spraying their slush onto my windshield. Needless to say, I did not try to drive the rest of the way to work. Luckily this happened right by a fast food restaurant, so I was able to nurse a cup of coffee while I waited for Joe to arrive to trade cars with me. My knight in shining armor a gray Impala.

My morning’s adventures have put me in a Mood. Not only do I now have the windshield wipers to deal with, there is also the fact that for a couple of weeks now, the heat in my car hasn’t been blowing on high. Oh, it blows hot air all right, but it blows it in puffs. These two factors, plus the fact that I need new tires, have had me stewing all day. Stupid car. Stupid Ohio winter.

On days like this, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook an involved dinner that generates lots of dishes. On days like this, I want something quick and low-maintenance so I can just put on my comfy clothes, curl up on the couch with my family, and not think about anything, especially potentially expensive car repairs. This chicken dish would be perfect for a night like tonight. It’s ready in minutes, it’s simple without being boring, and it tastes so good. Joe, in particular, really liked this. It basically tastes like artichoke dip on top of chicken – there’s nothing not to love.

So yes, this would be the perfect thing to make on a night like tonight...but I’m not making it tonight. Instead, I’m throwing up my hands and ordering Chinese take-out. Don’t judge me.

Artichoke-Crusted Chicken
adapted from Sugarlaws

4 6-ounce chicken breasts, pounded thin
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2/3 cup grated Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Salt and pepper the chicken and then sauté each chicken breast in a skillet over medium-high heat, for about 8 to 10 minutes, flipping once, or until the juices run clear when pierced with a fork. Set aside.

2. Mix together the mayonnaise, artichoke hearts and Swiss cheese until evenly distributed. Spread the mixture over the chicken breasts, and then broil for about 3 minutes, watching them to be sure they don’t burn. When the cheese is melted and bubbling and the tops are golden, remove and serve.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Best Roasted Tomato Soup Ever

I have a recipe for tomato soup that I make every so often, and my family really enjoys it. But it’s always sort of bugged me that the recipe calls for cans of condensed tomato soup. Call me crazy, but if you’re making homemade tomato soup, shouldn’t it...not include canned tomato soup? Otherwise, why not just open the can and heat it up?

Of course, I have nothing against canned soups of any kind, especially condensed ones. But still, when I had a recent craving for tomato soup, I wanted to try a completely-from-scratch version using fresh tomatoes. Given my love of roasted tomatoes, I knew I was almost guaranteed to enjoy this recipe from Tyler Florence.

I of course made my own modifications to his original recipe (I seem physically incapable of leaving a recipe entirely alone without changing it in some way), and let me tell you guys: That soup may look really humble up there in that bowl with no garnish, but what the picture can’t reveal is how incredibly flavorful, silky, and amazing it tastes. The ingredients are so humble and simple, but they taste so rich when they’re combined. The roasted tomatoes give the soup a deep, slightly sweet, caramelized flavor. It is honestly the best tomato soup I’ve ever had – anywhere, anytime – and is without a doubt my new go-to recipe. Joe, Andrew and Will all devoured this soup, and we all had seconds. I served it with classic American-cheese-and-white-bread grilled cheese sandwiches, and it was beyond delicious.

Make this soup. I promise you will love it.

The Best Roasted Tomato Soup Ever
adapted from Tyler Florence

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (I used a mixture of cherry and Roma tomatoes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes onto a baking tray. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, and cook until onions are translucent. Stir in garlic cloves; cook and stir 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant.

4. Remove roasted tomatoes from the oven and transfer to the Dutch oven. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third. Remove bay leaves and discard.

5. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Crock Pot Ranch Pork Chops

Every time I look at this picture, it makes me laugh. Can you guess why? It's because of that massive pile of mashed potatoes! This is my plate, you guys. I remember glopping them on there with a big old spoon, and then, when I realized how much I spooned out, shrugging my shoulders and saying, "Oh well." I can't remember if I managed to eat all of them, but I guess it wouldn't surprise me if I did (she says, lowering her head in shame). I love me some mashed potatoes.

What do mashed potatoes need to make them taste even better? A really delicious gravy! And that's exactly what this pork chop recipe produces: a rich, flavorful, creamy gravy that is perfect for spilling down over a gigantic pile of potatoes. And don't forget the pork chops, which are tender and moist. Including the pork chops themselves, you are only three ingredients and one Crock pot away from a really delicious plate of food.

Crock Pot Ranch Pork Chops

6 pork chops, 1/2 inch thick
1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
1 10-ounce can cream of chicken soup

Place pork chops, ranch seasoning and soup into a Crock pot. Cook on high heat for 4 hours or low heat for 6 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies

I’ve been sitting here staring at the “New Post” window and the picture of these brownies for probably about 15 minutes, and I just have no idea what to write about them.

First I thought I’d write about how I made these for my stepmom and sister one weekend when they came over to watch vampire-related television, and how I always make something sweet for us to eat when they come over, and how I’ve become the go-to person in my family for sweet baked goods. Then I thought maybe I could write about ingredient trends in the food blogging world – like cookie dough, cake batter, or bacon in sweet desserts.

But then I thought, you know what? I’m just going to let these speak for themselves. It’s cookie dough, on top of a brownie. Do I really need to say anything else?

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies
brownie recipe is my favorite recipe; cookie dough slightly adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker

For the brownies:

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the cookie dough:

3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. For the brownies: In large mixing bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; add to batter and mix well.

2. Pour into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

3. For the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to combine the butter and both sugars. Add the milk and vanilla and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.

4. Spread the cookie dough over the cooled brownies. Refrigerate until the dough is firm, about an hour. Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut the brownies. Store the brownies in an airtight container at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Slow Cooker Cheesy Chicken and Rice

I am the sort of person who really, really values sleep. After having two boys in 20 months, both with their own set of sleeping issues (especially the second one), I have come to fully appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Because I love sleep so much, it is so hard for me to get out of bed in the mornings.

I know this about myself, so I try to plan things accordingly to make my typically rushed mornings go more smoothly. I lay out my clothes the night before, and have the boys pick their outfits the night before. I make their breakfast and their lunches. If I’m making a Crock pot meal for dinner the following night, I make sure it’s prepped and ready to go the night before so all I have to do in the morning is turn it on.

Since the new year started, I’ve been making an effort to get up earlier in the mornings, so I’m not rushing around trying to make it out the door on time. I’ve been getting up at 5:30 every morning, and I think my body is finally adjusting to the change. Now I have time for all kinds of things in the mornings and I’m not nearly as rushed. If I wanted to, I could prep Crock pot meals in the morning instead of the night before. Who knew getting up earlier would add so much time to my day?

No matter if you prep this the night before or the morning of the day you’re making it, this slow cooker chicken and rice is definitely a recipe you should try this winter. It’s like the perfect comfort food. Chicken, rice, cheese, corn, a creamy sauce…Mmm. Absolutely delicious. All you have to do before you serve it is cook the rice. You could even cook the rice the night before, or, if you’re into the whole “getting up early” thing, the morning of the day you’re serving this.

Slow Cooker Cheesy Chicken and Rice
adapted from Southern Plate

2 to 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped (I think scallions would also work great)
1 10.5-ounce can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 15-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 8-ounce box Zatarain's Yellow Rice Mix, cooked according to directions

1. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place in bottom of slow cooker. Top each breast with 1 tablespoon of butter. Scatter chopped onion over top.

2. Combine cream of chicken soup and sour cream and pour over chicken.

3. Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours or on high 3 to 4 hours.

4. A few minutes before serving, add in cooked rice, corn, and cheese. Stir to combine. Serve hot.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 1.9.12

Today is a very special day for our family. It's my younger son Will's second birthday. I honestly can't believe he's two years old already; the time has gone so fast. He's such a sweet, bright, hilarious little boy, and I feel so blessed to be his mommy.

We're having banana pancakes with peanut butter syrup for breakfast this morning, since my little guy can't get enough of bananas. Coincidentally, I think this is also a breakfast that would please that other guy who has a birthday today. It's fitting that The King and my Prince William share a birthday. :)

We're having a little impromptu family party for him this afternoon, with lots of yummy things to eat (including a few new recipes I'll share in the coming weeks) and even a Buzz Lightyear cake! (I did find some Buzz Lightyear cupcakes, but they looked a little too complicated for me to attempt.) I'm so excited to celebrate my littlest guy's special day!

On to the meal plan for next week. Even though we've had really mild weather this winter (with the exception of some frigid temperatures early last week), I'm still finding myself drawn to the classic winter comfort foods: pastas, casseroles, things like that. That's what we're mostly eating this week, along with a few old favorites.

Monday: Honey-lime chicken enchiladas. These enchiladas are so good, I can't even explain it.
Tuesday: Chicken tetrazzini and green beans. I've tried a few different recipes for chicken tetrazzini in the past and haven't been blown away by any of them. This version, though, with the addition of heavy cream and breadcrumbs, may be just what I'm looking for.

Wednesday: Taco rice. Definitely a family favorite!
ThursdayCheesy sausage penne, salad, and garlic bread. I'm not sure if I'm going to use Italian sausage or spicy sausage for this recipe, but either way, I think it'll be amazing.
Friday: Buffalo chicken quesadillas. I'll probably cook the chicken in the slow cooker (just like I do for this salad), so this dinner should come together really quickly, making it perfect for a Friday night. Actually, now that I'm looking at that salad and remembering how good that dressing is, I may make a little avocado-ranch dipping sauce to go with these. Yum!
Saturday: Pimiento cheese stuffed chicken (inspired by this recipe), roasted potatoes, steamed broccoli. I've had Pam's version of this recipe bookmarked to try for a while. Ironically, I plan to make her healthy version rather unhealthy with the addition of cream cheese in the filling, and coating the chicken breasts with Ritz crackers before baking them. I know, I'm bad.
Sunday: Tater-topped shepherd’s pie. I have a bag of tater tots in the freezer, and they're just begging to be used in this recipe. Literally, I could hear them begging. It was keeping me up at night.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Burger and Fries Friday: Meatloaf Burgers

It’s no secret by now that we love burgers in my house, right? I mean, just look at how many burger recipes I’ve posted here. But while I certainly love eating them, I don’t always love making them. If you cook them inside rather than grill them, they can easily turn into a greasy mess. And sometimes the outside of the burger is perfectly charred but the inside isn’t cooked yet. Am I the only one who finds burger-cooking tedious, or are there others out there?

Anyway, this burger is the solution to that problem. Talk about a revelation: The burger cooks in the oven, directly on its bun. Awesome, right? Wait until you taste them.

I’m calling these “meatloaf burgers” because that’s what they remind me of in both flavor and texture. They’re so flavorful and juicy. And don’t worry about the juices from the raw meat seeping into the bread. I didn’t find that to be an issue at all for me – I think because the bread is toasted first before the meat is added.

You could easily customize these burgers to use whatever mix-ins and whatever toppings you like. Some suggestions, all of which I’m going to try at some point: Bacon. Green chilies and Mexican spices. Bacon. BBQ sauce and French-fried onions. And oh, did I mention bacon? You could mix it up a hundred different ways; the important part of this recipe is the method. It's genius!

Meatloaf Burgers
adapted from Sunshine and Bones

4 (6-inch) sub rolls or bolillo rolls, split in half lengthwise
1 1/4 cup cornflakes, crushed
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons ketchup, divided
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1. Adjust the oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Bake rolls, cut side up, on wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.

3. Combine cornflakes, onion, milk, 4 tablespoons ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, garlic powder, egg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add meat and knead gently until well combined.

4. Top bottom halves of toasted rolls evenly with meat mixture, spreading meat to edges of rolls (be sure you spread the meat to the edges, or the rolls will burn!). Mix remaining ketchup with brown sugar and brush the top of meat mixture evenly. Bake until meat registers 160 degrees, about 30 minutes. Top burgers with cheese and continue to bake until cheese melts, 3 to 4 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes. Top with the roll tops and serve.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cheesy Pesto Stuffed Shells

This meal is my favorite kind of comfort food. It's Italian, but it doesn't feel heavy. It's inexpensive to make. It's filling and comforting and absolutely delicious. Bonus points for being kid-friendly (my boys love this one) and really easy to make...or to make ahead of time.

I'm a huge fan of pesto, and it's definitely the star of this recipe. You can taste its herbaceous, earthy flavor in each and every bite. It worked really well with the ricotta cheese, although next time I make this, I think I'll sub cream cheese for the ricotta. I prefer the flavor and texture of cream cheese over ricotta (she says, as you all gasp in horror). I'd also love to try this with a homemade roasted tomato sauce. You all know how much I love my roasted tomatoes!

Really, though? This is delicious just as it is. It's the perfect warm-you-up meal for the bitingly cold winter days we've been having lately.

Cheesy Pesto Stuffed Shells
adapted from Budget Bytes

12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese (or 8 ounces cream cheese, with a bit of milk to thin it)
1 cup shredded Italian-style cheese
1/2 cup basil pesto
1 egg
1 jar pasta sauce (I used a tomato-basil version, but a roasted red pepper one would be delicious too)
Parmesan cheese, if desired
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions in boiling, salted water. Add olive oil to keep the shells from sticking to each other or the pot. Be careful not to overcook the pasta. Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let the pasta drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together the ricotta, shredded cheese, pesto, and egg. Refrigerate the filling until you are ready to use it.

3. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into the center of each shell. Add enough of the ricotta mixture to fill the shell so that it stays open just slightly (the edges should be about 1/2 inch apart). Fill as many shells as you can with the ricotta mixture.

4. Spread one cup of pasta sauce in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Place all of the shells in the baking dish as close together as possible and pour the remaining 2 cups of sauce over top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling up around the edges. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chicken Bacon Apple Quesadillas

The fact that I made these quesadillas last fall and am just now getting around to sharing them with you guys is an absolute travesty, for a couple of reasons: 1. The delicious Honeycrisp apples I used in them have long since gone out of season; and 2. These quesadillas are SO DELICIOUS OMG and you all should have been eating them for months now. Shall we agree that I totally suck for not sharing these sooner and move on? Okay then.

Remember the pepper-jack, chicken, and peach quesadillas I made last summer? My whole family absolutely loved those, and they were my inspiration for this version. Why not replace the peaches with apples, and add some bacon just to make them extra delicious? The results of this little experiment were just as tasty as I thought they'd be.

The bacon's salty smokiness pairs perfectly with the sweet, crisp apples. I used a mild cheddar-jack cheese for this version, but all cheddar would also be great if you want a stronger cheese flavor (and all Monterey jack would be great if you want a really mild cheese flavor). If you're feeling really decadent, you could even use Brie. Mmm. And even though you can't get Honeycrisp apples right now, Granny Smiths or even Red Delicious apples would work just fine in this recipe. With some honey-lime sour cream on the side for dipping, this is a quick and easy lunch or dinner that I think you're going to love.

Chicken Bacon Apple Quesadillas

1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sour cream
4 8-inch flour tortillas
3/4 cup cheddar-jack cheese
1 cup chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
4 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled
1 apple, thinly sliced

Cooking spray

1. Combine honey and lime juice in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Stir sour cream into honey mixture; cover and chill until ready to serve.

2. Place tortillas flat on a work surface. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cheese over half of each tortilla; top each tortilla with 1/4 cup chicken, the equivalent of 1 slice of crumbled bacon, and a quarter of the apple slices. Fold tortillas in half.

3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Place 2 quesadillas in the pan. Cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until tortillas are crisp and lightly browned. Remove quesadillas from pan; set aside, and keep warm. Repeat procedure with the remaining quesadillas. Cut each quesadilla into wedges. Serve with sauce.