Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Southwestern English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about my love of breakfast sandwiches before. Interestingly, they’re not something I typically have for breakfast (except for the occasional fast food indulgence), but I love making them for dinner. And the sandwich combinations (in addition to eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.; you know, the usual suspects) are absolutely endless.

When I made this particular sandwich, I was thinking of the avocado eggs Benedict with chipotle hollandaise I’ve made before. They’re absolutely delicious, but between the poaching of the eggs and the making of the hollandaise sauce, they’re a little bit fussy. This sandwich hits the same flavor notes with much less fuss.

The sandwich starts with crispy bacon, which is balanced out perfectly by a few slices of creamy avocado. Pepper-jack cheese adds the perfect amount of spice, and a fried egg adds a silky, luxurious texture. I spread a thin layer of store-bought chipotle mayo on the sandwiches to add some smoky heat (you could easily make your own). The English muffin, with its nooks and crannies for catching the egg yolk, mayo, and avocado, is the perfect vehicle for the sandwich. These were a big hit with both Joe and me.

Southwestern English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches

English muffins, split and toasted
Eggs, fried to desired doneness
Bacon, cooked to desired crispness
Pepper-jack cheese
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Chipotle mayonnaise

Layer an egg, a few strips of bacon, a slice of cheese, and sliced avocado on the bottom half of an English muffin. Spread the top half of the English muffin with chipotle mayonnaise and add to the top of the sandwich, pressing slightly to break the egg yolk. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Farfalle with Bacon, Onions and Gouda

My husband has a new favorite cheese. It used to be Muenster, but after these burgers introduced him to gouda, there was no going back. We always, always have gouda on hand for his sandwiches (and, thankfully, I can always find it for pretty cheap at one of my very favorite places to shop).

Recently, when I was feeling uninspired to meal plan, I was going through a folder of saved recipes on my computer and stumbled across this gem. I knew that not only would Joe love it, but that the kids and I would love it too. And, not surprisingly, we did. The onion, gouda, and bacon all complement each other perfectly with a great balance of flavors. The onions are slightly sweet, the gouda is deliciously creamy, and the bacon is crispy, smoky and salty. I served the pasta with a side of steamed broccoli, and it was a delicious dinner that came together really fast.

As Joe said, “That’s some goud-a pasta.” He’s corny. It’s one of the reasons I love him.

Farfalle with Bacon, Onions and Gouda
adapted from Tasty Kitchen

1 pound bow tie pasta
7 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded gouda cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove to a paper towel to absorb some of the drippings. Drain all but one tablespoon of bacon drippings.

3. Add butter to the remaining bacon drippings. Add onion and sauté until tender.

4. Add cream to the pan. Let simmer on low heat for a few minutes, until the cream sauce begins to reduce and thicken. Stir in the reserved bacon and the gouda. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Add the pasta to the skillet, and stir until all of the ingredients are incorporated and the pasta is coated with the sauce. Serve warm.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 2.27.12

As I type this, my kids are being so quiet. I know I shouldn't type that because it will surely jinx this wonderful thing that is happening, but I can't help it. They're getting along so well and playing so nicely and peacefully together. So I'm going to post this meal plan all quick-like so I can bask in the quiet while it lasts.

Monday: I'll be in a meeting at work late, so Joe and the boys are on their own. They'll have pizza or spaghetti, I'm sure.

Tuesday: Cashew chicken wraps, chips. Yes, these are on the menu for the third week in a row, and I still haven't made them! I have no excuse for this.

Wednesday: Chicken-bacon bundles, steamed broccoli. My friend Leigh e-mailed me about these last week because she thought they sounded like something I'd enjoy (she knows me so well!), and I couldn't wait to put them on our menu.

Thursday: Chicken Caesar sandwiches, fries. I pinned these sandwiches on Pinterest a long time ago, and when I saw that Stephanie made them and loved them, I knew I needed to get around to making them.

Friday: Greek tacos. I think these look so good. I'm going to make some tzatziki sauce to go with them, too.

Saturday: Chicken tetrazzini. I'm trying my own version this time. I've tried lots of different recipes for this classic dish, but I haven't been completely happy with any of them. Let's see what I can come up with on my own!

Sunday: Chicken with boursin mushroom cream sauce, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli. This dish is full of my favorite things!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Turtle Cheesecake

Oh hi there! I have to apologize, once again, for my absence in this space. We’ve been dealing with some more sickness in my house, this time of the type that is not appropriate to speak of on a food blog. Needless to say, food has been the last thing on my mind as of late.

But let’s talk about more pleasant things, shall we? Let’s talk about cheesecake. Cheesecake is one of the most decadent, delicious, indulgent desserts I can think of, and in my opinion, the richer it is, the better it is. If you’re going to indulge in some cheesecake, you might as well make it the most luxurious piece of cheesecake possible, right?

I made this turtle cheesecake for a recent family gathering*, and it was a massive hit. Everyone absolutely loved it, and rightfully so. Turtles by themselves are already so rich, but when you add caramel, chocolate, and pecans to cheesecake? Well, the result is unimaginably delicious. There is absolutely no way to go wrong with that combination.

You know what I might try when I make this again? A pretzel crust, instead of a vanilla wafer one. How good would that be?!

Turtle Cheesecake
adapted from Allrecipes

2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
14 ounces individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped
1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
1 cup chopped pecans
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter one 9-inch springform pan.

2. Toast the pecans for 6 minutes. Remove pecans and set aside.

3. Combine vanilla wafer crumbs with the melted butter and press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Place the pan onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

4. In a double boiler, or a bowl set over barely simmering water, melt the caramels in the evaporated milk. Stir until smooth. Pour half of the caramel over the cooled crust. Sprinkle half of the nuts over the top, then 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips.

5. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla and beat until smooth, scraping down the bowl several times. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until smooth. Gently stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Pour the batter over the caramel layer.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until barely set. Let cool at room temperature.

7. When cheesecake is cooled, spread remaining caramel over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining pecans. Melt the final 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and drizzle over the top. Chill until serving.

*Christmas. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to share this with you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Shrimp Enchiladas Verdes with Jalapeno Cream Sauce

You guys know I'm a sucker for an enchilada, so when I saw this shrimp version on Pinterest I was instantly intrigued. Shrimp isn't something I cook with a whole lot, and Joe loves it, so I thought he'd appreciate this take on enchiladas where shrimp features prominently.

I was intrigued by the filling for these enchiladas; in addition to shrimp, they contain spinach and cole slaw mix. I really liked the flavor and textural combinations that these elements provided. You get the sweetness of the shrimp, the earthiness of the spinach, and the crunch of carrots and cabbage in each bite. The enchiladas are topped with a simple jalapeno cream sauce, which tastes absolutely divine.

I will say that, with all the bold flavors in these enchiladas, the flavor of the shrimp got a little lost. It's such a subtle flavor, and when it was paired with all of the other flavors, it was somewhat overtaken. This could easily be solved by either adding more shrimp or reducing the amount of spices, so keep that in mind if you make these.

I couldn't get the boys to touch these, not surprisingly, but Joe was certainly a fan. So they're definitely husband-approved!

Shrimp Enchiladas Verdes with Jalapeno Cream Sauce
adapted from Gimme Some Oven

For the enchiladas:

2 tablespoons butter
1 pound peeled, devined shrimp
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Half a white onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cups cole slaw mix
3 cups fresh baby spinach
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup green enchilada sauce
1 tablespoon honey
8-10 flour tortillas
2 cups Monterey jack cheese

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

2. In a large sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp to the pan in an even layer and let cook without moving, about 1 minute. While cooking, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder on top of the shrimp. Then flip the shrimp over and continue to cook until just pink and opaque, 30 to 60 seconds longer. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside. When the shrimp is cool enough to handle, roughly chop into bite sized pieces, if desired. Set aside.

3. Melt the remaining butter in the pan. Add the garlic and onion, and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add the cole slaw and spinach, as well as the other 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, plus the cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the spinach just begins to wilt. Add the shrimp back in and stir to combine. Stir in green enchilada sauce and honey, heat through, then remove pan from heat and set aside.

4. To  make the sauce, melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the flour, whisking until golden and bubbly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk the broth into the flour mixture. Stir in the sour cream, whisking if necessary to remove any lumps. Then add the minced jalapeno, and simmer until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the fresh cilantro. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

5. To assemble the enchiladas, place a tortilla on a flat surface. Fill the middle of the tortilla with about 1/3 cup of the shrimp/cabbage filling. Then sprinkle some cheese on top, and carefully roll the tortilla and place it seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Drizzle the top with about half of the jalapeno cream sauce, then cover the dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until tortillas are heated through.

6. Remove from the oven, then serve individual enchiladas drizzled with the remainder of the jalapeno cream sauce. Garnish with additional cilantro, cheese, and/or sour cream, if desired.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 2.20.12

I'm forging ahead with my meal plan for this week, even though my motivation for cooking is still sorely lacking. My family needs to eat, after all, and at this point I'm pretty sure they're sick of the poor substitutes for real dinners I've put in front of them too often lately. Is there anything sadder than a food blogger with absolutely zero interest in food? Haha.

I've planned a delicious week of meals this week. I'm using lots of chicken, since my freezer is stocked with it due to a really good sale a couple of weeks ago. There are also (of course) a couple of meals carrying over from previous weeks. Here's hoping this week of yummy meals can get me out of my funk! (I think I've been saying that for a month now, but whatever. Maybe this is the week!)

Monday: Cheesy chicken tortilla soup. I've made this soup three or four times, at least, and I've never shared it. It's so good. I'll definitely share it this time around.

Tuesday: Creamy ranch chicken, rolls. I saw this recipe in a recent e-mail from BHG and was instantly sold. Of course I was. 

Wednesday: Pork stir fry with cashew rice, cream cheese wontons. I'm ashamed to say that I will not be making the wontons myself, but rather purchasing them frozen from the store. Making my own is just too labor-intensive for a Wednesday. This stir fry is still the best I've ever made.

Thursday: Cashew chicken wraps, chips. More cashews! And a carryover from last week. I think these are going to be absolutely delicious, and I can't wait to try them.

Friday: Blueberry buttermilk pancakes, hash browns, bacon. This is Andrew's contribution to the meal plan. When I asked him what he wanted for dinner next week, he told me he wanted blueberry pancakes. He gets his wish! (It's an easy one to grant.)

Saturday: I recently joined a cooking club with a group of friends from high school, and Saturday is our first meet-up. The theme is Mexican food, and I've been designated to bring an appetizer. In my absence, I'm sure Joe and the boys will order pizza...or just eat pizza rolls. What is your favorite Mexican appetizer? I have no idea what I'm going to take.

Sunday: Grilled Cajun ranch chicken pasta. Another carryover from, I think, two weeks ago. It's probably wishful thinking, but I'm still hopeful we'll be able to fire up the grill for this one.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Tostadas

When it comes to cooking, eating, and sharing what I’m cooking and eating, I am officially in the biggest slump I’ve been in since starting this blog. For whatever reason, my motivation to meal plan, make dinner, take photos of dinner, upload the photos, and share the recipes here has been sorely lacking. It all started a month or so ago, when I was really sick. At that time I didn’t step foot in the kitchen for nearly a week, and since then it’s been decidedly hard for me to get my mojo back.

That’s not to say we haven’t eaten some delicious meals, because we definitely have. Take these tostadas for instance, which we all loved and which I can’t wait to make again. The chicken itself is rubbed with a spice blend that hits just the right balance of sweet (brown sugar) and heat (cayenne pepper). I topped these with cilantro ranch dressing, roasted corn and black bean salsa, and shredded cheddar cheese, and I loved that combination of toppings. The tangy dressing worked perfectly with the spicy-sweet chicken, and the salsa added the perfect bit of smoky heat. I strongly recommend making your own tostadas (instructions are below), because they taste so much better than store-bought!

You’ll have some of the spice mixture left over, but you’ll want to make these a lot, so it’ll definitely get used.

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Tostadas
adapted from What’s Cookin’, Chicago?

2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
Tostadas (store bought or homemade*)
Cilantro ranch dressing
Shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the spices in a small bowl.

2. Generously rub the spice mixture on the chicken, making sure to thoroughly coat.

3. Place the chicken on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until juices run clear and the chicken is completely cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Using 2 forks, shred the chicken.

4. To assemble the tostadas, top each with chicken, shredded cheese, salsa, and a drizzle of cilantro ranch dressing.

*To make homemade tostadas, briefly fry corn tortillas in oil until crisp and lightly browned. Drain on a paper towel and cool slightly before topping.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sweet Valentine's Day Treats: Puppy {Love} Chow, Red Velvet Popcorn, and Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Milkshakes

There’s a Valentine’s Day commercial currently playing in my part of the country that talks about how guys have it easy on Valentine’s Day. They only have to buy a gift for their wives. Women, however? They get gifts for their husbands, their kids, their kids’ teachers, their kids’ classmates, etc. I can’t remember exactly how the commercial phrases it, but it calls women Valentine’s Day super heroes, or something like that.

After all the work I did yesterday to prepare for the boys’ Valentine’s Day parties at daycare, I definitely felt like something akin to a super hero. I filled out Valentine’s Day cards (which were store-bought, lest you believe I went to another level of effort), made another batch of sugar cookie bars, made fruit salsa and cinnamon chips, and put together a couple of different types of sweet snacks. After all that, I rewarded myself with the most decadent milkshake in the entire world. I felt like I totally deserved it.

The first thing I made and packaged for the boys’ daycare friends was a sweet treat I’m calling puppy {love} chow. It’s a Valentine’s Day take on the puppy chow/muddy buddies snack we all know and love. I added pretzels to cut all the sweetness, and I think this is even more addictive than its more traditional counterpart. The amount in the picture is what I had left after portioning it into treat bags, and I must admit that it was completely gone by the end of the day.

Here’s the recipe:

Puppy {Love} Chow
adapted from Betty Crocker

5 cups rice Chex cereal
2 cups pretzels
1 cup white chocolate baking chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup Valentine M&Ms
1/4 cup Valentine sprinkles

1. Place cereal and pretzels in medium bowl.

2. In small microwavable bowl, microwave white chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on high 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth. Pour peanut butter mixture over cereal and pretzels, stirring until evenly coated.

3. Place mixture in 1-gallon food-storage plastic bag. Add powdered sugar and M&Ms. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper or foil; cool about 15 minutes.

4. Return to a serving bowl and stir in sprinkles. Store covered.

As soon as I saw this red velvet popcorn, I knew I’d be making it. What a clever idea – to sprinkle popcorn that’s been coated in white chocolate with cake crumbs. I added some milk chocolate drizzle, just to make this snack even more decadent. I’d love to experiment with red velvet cake mix, pre-baking; I’m sure it would work just as well coated on the popcorn. Although this snack is supposed to be for the daycare kids, it’s going to be really difficult for me to part with it, because it is so incredibly delicious and addictive.

Red Velvet Popcorn
adapted from Cookies and Cups

8 cups popped popcorn, 1/2 cup unpopped kernels (or 2 bags of “natural” microwave popcorn)
3 cups red velvet cake crumbs
12 ounces white chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

1. Pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler.

2. Pour the melted chocolate over the popcorn and stir to coat completely.

3. Pour the popcorn onto a waxed paper lined counter and sprinkle with red velvet crumbs.

4. Melt the milk chocolate chips in the microwave or a double boiler. Using a fork, drizzle over the popcorn.

5. Let the popcorn set completely before eating.

After making the popcorn, I was left with quite a bit of red velvet cake that I had no immediate use for. In a stroke of brilliance, I recalled the cookies and cream ice cream in the freezer…and I decided to make myself and the boys a little afternoon treat.

I mixed some red velvet cake directly into the ice cream and milk mixture, and it blended in perfectly and added that distinctive red velvet flavor to every drink of the shake. This would be such a delicious, fun dessert for a Valentine’s Day feast!

Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Milkshakes

Cookies and cream ice cream
Red velvet cake
Whipped cream
Crushed Oreo cookies and red velvet cake crumbs for garnish, if desired

Combine desired amounts of ice cream, cake, and milk to desired consistency. Top with whipped cream and garnish with Oreo cookies and cake crumbs, if desired.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 2.13.12

I hope you’ve all had a great weekend so far. We certainly have. Joe and I went on a date on Friday night, which was wonderful. We had a delicious dinner out, then came home and watched a movie. The boys spent the night with my stepmom and had a blast, and it was so nice to be able to sleep in on Saturday morning. I can’t even remember the last time I was able to do that – or the last time I was able to go grocery shopping without two grabby little boys tagging along. It felt like such a luxury. All you moms understand this, right?

Anyway, due to our date and a few nights of general laziness last week, a few of our meals for this week are repeats. I’ve set myself up for a pretty easy week of meals, since I haven’t had a lot of energy for cooking lately.

Monday: Chicken fajitas and Mexican rice. This is a carry-over from last week that I didn’t make, but I am definitely making it this week. Fajitas just sound so good to me. I know I have some corn tortillas in the fridge, so I may even whip up some homemade tortilla chips and guac to go with this meal. It depends on how motivated I am.

Tuesday: Mostaccioli with roasted garlic and roasted tomatoes. I saw this recipe in one of my weekly e-mails from Betty Crocker, and I’m pretty sure I drooled a little bit. This pasta has such simple flavors, but they are flavors that I love SO MUCH. This is the perfect Valentine’s Day meal for us (since we already celebrated on Friday).

Wednesday: Cashew chicken wraps, chips. I stumbled upon this recipe when I was searching for something else, and I was immediately sold. Chicken, cashews, and a creamy honey mustard sauce, all wrapped up in a tortilla? Yes please! The only thing that could make it better would be some – you guessed it – bacon, so I may add that.

Thursday: Chicken with pimiento cheese sauce, rice pilaf, steamed broccoli. Another carry-over from last week. I’m really eager to experiment with this one.

Friday: I’m in training at work until 5:00, which is an hour later than I’m usually there, so I’ll be home a lot later. I’ll probably grab us something from the drive-thru on my way home, or order a pizza.

Saturday: Swedish meatballs, egg noodles, steamed green beans. Definitely one of our favorite meals. A neighbor recently brought us fresh eggs from his hens, so I will for sure be using those to make this batch of noodles.

Sunday: Farfalle with bacon, onions, and gouda, steamed broccoli. This sounds so delicious. I’m going to make a few changes based on some of the comments, and probably used smoked gouda because I think it’ll pair nicely with the bacon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Soft Sugar Cookie Bars

I first posted about these sugar cookie bars when I wrote my 2011 Christmas cookie wrap-up. But since they were pretty much everyone’s favorite thing that I made (including mine), I knew they deserved a post all their own.

These cookie bars are a revelation. They taste exactly like the ever-so-popular Lofthouse sugar cookies, but they are so incredibly simple to make. You just mix the ingredients, spread the batter in a pan, and bake. No rolling dough, no scooping out cookies. And this recipe makes a ton of sugar cookie bars – at least 6 dozen – so they’re perfect for sharing. In fact, don’t make these unless you have someone to share them with...because they’re addictive, and you’ll eat way too many of them all by yourself. Trust me, I know this from experience.

The frosting is a little bit more special than your average buttercream, since it has heavy cream in it. It makes the frosting taste like ice cream, which could never be a bad thing. The soft, sweet bars, the silky frosting, and the crunch of festive sprinkles combine to make a treat that is nothing short of heavenly. Absolutely heavenly.

Soft Sugar Cookie Bars
bars from Cookies and Cups; frosting from Brown-Eyed Baker

For the bars:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the frosting:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a jelly roll pan (15 x 10 x 1) with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

2. In a mixer, cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together. Add in egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated.

3. With mixer on low, add flour, baking powder and baking soda. Mix until just combined.

4. Press dough evenly into your prepared pan. The dough will be sticky.

5. Bake for 20 minutes until edges begin to golden. Cool completely before frosting.

6. To make the frosting, cream together the butter and vanilla. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar and the pinch of salt. Once smooth and creamy, add in heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two until light and fluffy. If desired, add food coloring and beat until combined (I used neon pink).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ravioli with Bacon Pesto Mushroom Cream Sauce

(Updated with a new photo in April 2013.)

When I saw this recipe for tortellini and pancetta in mushroom cream sauce on Carrie’s Sweet Life, it was a no-brainer that I’d be trying it sooner rather than later. There are so many things about that recipe that I like, and I knew it would suit my family’s tastes perfectly.

But when it came time to make it, I saw that I didn’t have tortellini on hand. I did have cheese ravioli, though, so I decided to use that instead. I knew I was going to use bacon instead of pancetta, because, duh, I always have bacon on hand. And then I thought, heck, there’s an open jar of pesto in my fridge. Why don’t I get crazy and throw some of that in there, too? The resulting dish was so luxurious and flavorful that no one in my family could get enough of it. Joe took one bite and immediately asked, “Is there any more?” That, my friends, is definitely a sign that he enjoys something. The boys both had second helpings, too, leaving me wishing that I’d doubled the recipe so we could have even more leftovers.

This sauce turned out to be similar to the sauce for one of my favorite chicken dishes, but with the addition of bacon. I loved the way the smoky, salty quality of the bacon paired with the earthy pesto and mushrooms and the sweet cream. This one is so fancy, but so quick and easy, and it is definitely a must-try.

Ravioli with Bacon Pesto Mushroom Cream Sauce
inspired by Carrie’s Sweet Life

1 package frozen cheese ravioli
4 strips bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 ounces sliced white mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup prepared pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving

1. Cook the bacon in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. Drain all but one tablespoon of bacon grease from pan.

2. Add butter to reserved bacon grease. When melted, add onion and mushrooms and cook until onions are translucent and mushrooms are browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add heavy cream, stirring occasionally until sauce begins to thicken.

4. While sauce is thickening, cook ravioli according to package directions.

5. Add pesto and reserved bacon to thickened sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

6. Add sauce to cooked ravioli, stirring very gently to combine. Sprinkle each serving with shredded parmesan or Romano cheese.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valentine's Day Snack Mix

I know I’ve mentioned before how much I love making snacks for the boys’ daycare classmates. It’s just something that’s really fun for me to do, and I know the kids love it – and my boys love it too, since they think it’s pretty cool that their mom made a special treat for their friends. I know that soon enough their smiles of pride at my homemade snacks will be replaced with plenty of eye-rolls, so I’m taking advantage of this while it lasts!

I’ve been holding onto this snack mix recipe for a year now, ever since last Valentine’s Day. I made this particular mixture for Andrew’s classmates as part of the valentines he delivered to his classmates last year, and it went over incredibly well. I love this mixture for its balance of textures and flavors – salty and sweet, chewy and crunchy. You can use whatever combination of ingredients you want, of course. My favorite part was the Teddy Grahams. How cute are they in a Valentine’s Day snack mix?!

I have something even cuter planned for the boys’ classmates this year, which I’ll be sharing early next week!

Valentine’s Day Snack Mix

Waffle pretzels
Caramel corn
Valentines M&Ms
Chocolate-covered peanuts
Yogurt-covered cranberries
Life Savers berry-flavored gummies
Teddy Grahams

Combine desired amounts of all ingredients. Store covered.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chicken and Broccoli Pasta in Roasted Garlic, White Wine, and White Cheddar Sauce

The title of this recipe is kind of a mouthful, huh? I was trying to shorten it a bit, but I didn’t know where I should. All of the ingredients listed play an important part in this dish, and they all work together to create a luxurious meal that is truly divine, and that I will make again and again.

What I loved the most about this pasta was the sauce. It’s a cheese sauce, but the base is wine and chicken broth rather than milk, so it’s not heavy at all. The cheddar works so well with the white wine, and the roasted garlic provides richness and sweetness that balance the sharp cheddar so perfectly. As long as you roast the garlic ahead of time, this meal comes together in no time at all. It’s quick enough for a weeknight family dinner, but it’s fancy enough for company (or, ahem, an at-home Valentine’s Day feast).

Chicken and Broccoli Pasta in Roasted Garlic, White Wine, and White Cheddar Sauce
adapted from Annie’s Eats (and originally from the sadly now-defunct Good Things Catered)

16 ounces penne pasta
3 tablespoons butter
2 heads garlic
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets and blanched until crisp-tender
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, grilled and cut into bite size pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Peel the outer papery skins off two heads of garlic, leaving the heads still intact. Slice about a quarter off the top of each head so that all of the cloves are partly exposed. Wrap the heads in foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool enough to touch, squeeze the garlic cloves out of the peels and smash with a fork to make roasted garlic paste.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package directions.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the roasted garlic paste and cook just until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Whisk the flour into the mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to turn golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Stir the white wine and broth into the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and stir until melted. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Mix in the broccoli florets and chicken pieces, and cook just until heated through. Mix in the cooked pasta until evenly coated with the sauce. Serve warm.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

No-Bake Nutella Cheesecake Pie for World Nutella Day

Today is World Nutella Day, but I gotta be honest with you: In my world, pretty much every day is a Nutella Day. We always have a jar open in our cupboard. The boys love it on their toast, and I just love little spoonfuls of it every now and then as a simple indulgence. It's one of the most delicious things on the planet, in my humble opinion.

To celebrate this delicious holiday this year, I whipped up this simple pie in about 10 minutes. Seriously: 10 minutes! 5 ingredients! No baking required! And it contains Nutella! So it's pretty much the most perfect dessert ever.

It's a no-bake Nutella cheesecake pie. It has an Oreo cookie crust, and the filling is whipped cream, cream cheese, and Nutella. The texture is smooth and velvety, and the flavor is so rich and delicious. Go forth and make it. You have the time, and you have World Nutella Day to use as an excuse!

No-Bake Nutella Cheesecake Pie
adapted from Sugarcrafter

1 1/2 cups Oreos or other chocolate cookies, crushed
5 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup Nutella
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1. To make the crust, combine the crushed cookies with the melted butter. Press into a greased 9-inch pie pan and place in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

2. To make the filling, beat the whipping cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, beat the Nutella with the cream cheese until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream.

3. Pour the filling into the crust. Chill 1 to 2 hours or until set before serving.

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 2.6.12

Happy Sunday and, even more importantly, happy World Nutella Day! Be sure to check back here this afternoon, because I have a special recipe to share to commemorate this delicious holiday.

But first: the meal plan. Ever since I was so sick a week or so ago, I've had a really hard time getting my cooking mojo back. I haven't been motivated to cook, or even to plan our meals. This marks yet another week when I cobbled together our plan at the last minute, just so I could make my list for the grocery store. I am pretty excited about all of these meals, though -- now I just need to actually make myself cook them!

Monday: Chili mac and cheese, corn. My favorite part about making a pot of chili, like I'm doing tonight? Using the leftovers for this mac and chese.

Tuesday: Chicken with pimiento cheese sauce, rice pilaf, steamed broccoli. A couple of weeks ago, I tried a chicken dish stuffed with a pimiento cheese mixture, but as I was eating it I was thinking of a million ways I'd change it. This is my attempt to turn it into something I think my family will enjoy even more than the original dish (which was pretty good in its own right).

Wednesday: Chicken salad sandwiches, chips, fruit. I love sandwich night, and a chicken salad sandwich is one of my favorites.

Thursday: Mozzarella-baked gnocchi. Just the sight of all that melted cheese is enough to make me drool. This is definitely a family favorite.

Friday: Chicken fajitas and Mexican rice. I haven't made fajitas in a long time. I'll be using a marinade for these that I used to use when I made them all the time, and I'm excited to share it with you.

Saturday: Cheesy sausage penne. We really love this casserole.

Sunday: Grilled Cajun ranch chicken pasta. This pasta looks fantastic. I'm hoping that the mild winter we've been having continues for another week, so Joe can cook the chicken on the outdoor grill.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lemon Cheesecake Fruit Dip

The Super Bowl is nearly upon us. I’m rooting for the Giants this year, not really because I like them, particularly, but more because I don’t like Tom Brady. My husband doesn’t either. We’re an anti-Brady household. The reasons for this are varied and not really all that important, I promise.

For me, the Super Bowl has always been more about the food than anything. It’s one of the few days a year when you can pig out on tons of foods and drinks that aren’t very good for you, because everyone else around you is doing the exact same thing. Today, I’m bringing you something lighter to add to your Super Bowl spread. It’s still not “good” for you, exactly, but you’ll be eating it with fruit, so at least you’ll get something of nutritional value!

This lemon cheesecake fruit dip is simply delicious. It has a wonderful lemon flavor and a creamy texture that makes it perfect for dipping. And it comes together in less than five minutes. I made this for Will’s birthday party last month, and I got tons of compliments and requests for the recipe. I served it with apple slices, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, and graham crackers. My favorite dipper was the grapes, but Andrew much preferred strawberries (as you can tell by his hand in the photo), and Will? Well, he preferred to just eat handfuls of the dip. Not that I blame him. If I could have gotten away with it, I probably would have done the same thing. I’m not two years old with pinchable cheeks, though. ;)

Lemon Cheesecake Fruit Dip
seen on Taste and Tell and originally from The Real Mom Kitchen Cookbook

1 6-ounce container lemon flavored yogurt
1 7-ounce container marshmallow creme
1 8-ounce container whipped cream cheese
Zest of 1 lemon

With a hand mixer, blend all of the ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Reserve a small amount of the lemon zest to sprinkle on top, if desired. Serve with fresh fruit.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chicken Broccoli Bacon Ranch Foil Packets

I know, I know, again with the chicken bacon ranch stuff, right? I guess I’m becoming a bit one-note, but seriously: If this combination is my one note, I’ll sing it until you gag me! ;)

In this recipe, my favorite combo is combined with broccoli, cheese, and stuffing and wrapped up in a tidy little foil package. I love this recipe, because it’s an entire meal in one foil packet. It’s so low-maintenance: Just toss everything in foil, wrap it up, and bake it until it’s done. Your starch, veggie, and meat are all right there; you don’t even need a side dish. And with this combination of ingredients, you know it’s delicious. I don’t even need to tell you that.

Actually, my favorite part about this recipe was what happened to the broccoli as it cooked in the foil packet. I thought it would just steam in there, but it actually roasted instead, adding a deep, rich, nutty flavor to the rest of the ingredients that I thought worked really well. My boys loved watching me open the foil packets to reveal the melty, fragrant, juicy treasure inside. They loved eating them, too.

Chicken Broccoli Bacon Ranch Foil Packets
from My Recipe Box

1 package chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1 1/4 cup water
4 6-ounce boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 cups fresh broccoli florets
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
4 tablespoons ranch dressing

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray 4 sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil with cooking spray.

2. Combine stuffing mix and water. Spoon 1/4 of the stuffing mixture onto the center of each foil sheet.

3. Top stuffing in each packet with a chicken breast half, season with salt and pepper, then add 1 cup of broccoli. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the cheese and one slice of bacon, then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing. Repeat with all packets.

4. Bring up foil sides and fold to seal, leaving room for heat circulation inside.

5. Place packets on a cookie sheet and bake 25 to 30 minutes. Remove packets and let stand 5 minutes. Cut slits in foil for steam before opening.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cheesy Sausage Penne

Being a food blogger means that you try lots of new recipes, all the time. And, obviously, not all of those recipes can be good, so some of them you never make again. Some are good enough to make occasionally, and some are so good that you want to make them once a week or more. This cheesy sausage penne falls into that last category – so good that my family could probably eat it three times a week and not get sick of it. It was so good that the instant the dinner dishes were cleaned up, I was on Facebook sharing the link with my family and friends.

What makes this dish different from other baked pasta dishes is the addition of the creamy, luxurious cream cheese-sour cream mixture that’s dotted on top and between the layers of pasta. That sauce is what takes this from good to incredible. There is a lot of the cream cheese-sour cream mixture, so if you’re not a fan of really saucy pastas, you can cut the mixture in half (and also I’m not your friend anymore, because how can you not like a lot of sauce?).

This dish is made with pantry staples and comes together relatively quickly – even more quickly if you make it ahead of time. Joe and my boys absolutely loved this, and I did too. It will be making many, many repeat appearances in my kitchen.

Cheesy Sausage Penne
adapted from Taste of Home

1 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 26-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1 16-ounce package uncooked penne pasta
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and spices to taste.

3. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and sour cream.

4. In a greased shallow 3-quart baking dish, layer half of the pasta and sausage mixture. Dollop with half the cream cheese mixture; sprinkle with half the cheddar cheese. Repeat layers.

5. Bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly.