Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grilled Pesto Chicken with Tomato Cream Penne

Sometimes I really wish we lived in a location where it was possible to grill year-round. I mean, I know that's what grill pans were invented for...but using a grill pan just isn't the same as cooking on an outdoor grill. But it's hard to cook on an outdoor grill when it's 30 degrees and snowing outside. Such is the plight of Midwestern life.

I love grilling not only because it's a delicious and relatively healthy cooking method, but also because it means that half of the dinner cooking work is my husband's job. And he doesn't complain about it one bit; in fact, he loves to grill. On the night I made this, he took charge of the chicken, while I handled the simple pasta and sauce. And either we're a great cooking team or this is just an awesome recipe (I think it's both!), because this meal was amazing. Absolutely delicious. I can't believe I'd never considered adding pesto to a marinade before, but you can rest assured I'll be doing it constantly from now on. The pesto gave the chicken such a wonderful, earthy flavor, which was nice with the bright flavor of the lemon. The chicken paired perfectly with the creamy tomato sauce. This was a hit with the entire family, and I'll be making it every grilling season from now on for sure!

Grilled Pesto Chicken with Tomato Cream Penne
adapted from Plain Chicken

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup Italian dressing
1/4 cup prepared pesto
Juice of 1 lemon

1 pound penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a plastic bag or sealable container, mix together Italian dressing, pesto, and lemon juice. Add chicken and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, up to overnight (the longer, the better). Grill the chicken until cooked through.

2. While the chicken is cooking, cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Add onion and cook until softened. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Heat to boiling, then add tomato sauce and heavy cream. Add sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until sauce is slightly thickened. Stir in the pesto and heat through.

4. Gently stir the pasta into the sauce. Top each serving with sliced chicken.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ranch Chicken Tacos

It's only Monday, but I can already tell that I'm having one of those weeks in which I just don't want to mess with dinner. I did make a meal plan this week, but I'm not bothering to share it because it's pretty boring: spaghetti, sloppy joes, that sort of thing. I'm in the mood for simple, uncomplicated food. Less time cooking dinner means more time watching the Olympics. I have my priorities!

One of the meals we're having this week includes these ranch chicken tacos, which I've made before and which we all absolutely loved. The ranch flavor works so well with the taco seasoning. We kept our toppings pretty simple: just some shredded cheddar, sliced avocado, chopped lettuce, and a drizzle of ranch -- and I'm making them the same way this time. I'm really excited that we're having these again this week, because they're incredibly delicious!

Ranch Chicken Tacos

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 packet taco seasoning
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1/4 cup water
Flour tortillas
Shredded cheese, avocado, lettuce, and ranch dressing for topping

1. Preheat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium skillet. Add chicken and, when nearly cooked through, season with taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix. Add water to keep the seasonings from sticking to the bottom of the skillet and stir to evenly combine as the chicken finishes cooking.

2. Serve chicken on flour tortillas topped with desired toppings.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Creamy Succotash with Bacon and Thyme

I think lima beans are one of those vegetables that just get a bad rap. Most people just don't like them, for either their texture or taste. Take my husband, for instance. When I told him we were having succotash for dinner, he definitely made a face. He denied it later (after he tasted how delicious this was), but I saw it. He definitely wrinkled his nose in distaste. I guess I never bought into the lima bean disdain, since I used to eat them all the time at my grandma's house, sauteed with onion, butter, and lots of salt and pepper. This was the first time I'd ever made succotash at home, though, so I wasn't sure how it would turn out.

It turned out amazing. Even the boys devoured it, and Joe completely forgot about his dislike of lima beans the minute he tried it. The thyme and bacon definitely add some delicious flavorful elements to the succotash, and I loved the addition of  the cream -- not too much, just enough to give the whole dish a silky texture. This will be a staple summer side in our house from now on.

Creamy Succotash with Bacon and Thyme
adapted from Allrecipes

4 strips bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 10-ounce package frozen baby lima beans
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water
1 10-ounce package frozen sweet corn
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon grease and discard the rest.

2. Melt the butter with the remaining bacon grease in the same skillet. Add onion and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables are softened.

3. Stir in the lima beans and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 7 minutes. Add corn, heavy cream, and thyme leaves and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in reserved bacon and serve.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Smoky Chicken and White Bean Chili

I know you're probably scoffing at me right now. "Chili? In July?" you're asking. And the answer is yes, folks, chili in July! I'm one of those people who enjoys soup year-round. Think about it for a minute. Soup is cooked on the stove-top, so it doesn't require an oven heating up the house. And since practically everyone eats a hot dinner, even in the summer, I don't see what the difference is between having soup in July and soup in January.

If my faultless (ha) logic hasn't convinced you, you'll be completely convinced when you try it. This chili is so good. The fire-roasted tomatoes, bacon, and smoked paprika give it such a wonderful smoky flavor. Since it's more smoky than spicy, even the boys enjoyed it. And it comes together in no time, and it's relatively healthy. I'll take a big bowl of this chili any day of the year!

Smoky Chicken and White Bean Chili
adapted from Tasty Kitchen

4 slices bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups shredded chicken
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 quart chicken stock
2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
2 14.5-ounce cans cannelini or Great Northern beans
7 ounces fire-roasted diced green chilies
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded cheese for topping

1. In a hot Dutch oven, cook bacon for about 3 minutes.

2. Add the onion and garlic to the bacon. Lower the heat to medium low and cover pot. Cook, stirring as needed until the onions are translucent and just starting to caramelize.

3. Add the chicken, smoked paprika, ground cumin, and chili powder to the pot and continue to cook for 10 minutes, covered.

4. Stir in the chicken stock, diced tomatoes, white beans, and green chiles. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a slow boil and cook, uncovered, stirring as needed until the liquid has reduced to your preferred thickness. Top each serving with shredded cheese.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.23.12

I'm hoping to get back on track this week with posting, since I slacked last week. Sometimes it's hard for me to balance all of my various responsibilities, and sometimes the blog, unfortunately, falls to the bottom of the list. I've been making lots of delicious things, though, that I'm really excited to share with you.

I can't believe this is the last meal plan for the month of July. This month passed by so quickly, and it's been a really busy month too. Hopefully August will be the month we're able to slow down a bit!

I'm trying something different this week: a whole week of meatless meals. Well, almost a whole week, since we're going to a cookout on Sunday and there will be lots of grilled meats to enjoy. There's no real reason for this (I'm not planning to become a vegetarian or anything like that); I just thought it would be fun to try something a little different. I'm not telling Joe about my plan, and am going to see how long it takes him to notice the lack of meat in his meals!

Monday: Cruncy black bean tacos and Mexican rice. I didn't get around to making this meal this week, so I'm excited to have it tomorrow night.

Tuesday: Sweet potato corn cakes, spinach salad with strawberries, avocado, feta, cashews, and strawberry-lime vinaigrette. I think these sweet potato cakes will be a huge hit, since we are a yam-loving family. The salad is one I've never tried, but I think the combination sounds delicious; we'll see how it turns out.

Wednesday: Roasted poblano quesadillas, elote. To say I'm excited to try this method for corn on the cob would be a massive understatement.

Thursday: Joe has a softball game.

Friday: Pasta with Tex-Mex pepper cream sauce, Mexican-style garlic bread. This pasta is another dish I had on our meal plan previously but didn't get around to making. I'll use roasted red peppers, because I have a jar on hand.

Saturday: Bacon pierogi bake, minus the bacon, plus broccoli and maybe some other stuff. (I know, that sounds way professional.)

Sunday: My cooking club is meeting, but we're getting everyone together (significant others, kids, etc.) to have a cookout and pool party. We'll be having delicious barbecued foods. I'm responsible for bringing dessert, so I'll be taking peanut butter pie and s'mores whoopie pies.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Burger and Fries Friday: Smoky Gouda Bacon Cheeseburgers with Smothered Onions

When I do something like I did this week (disappear without posting with no explanation), I feel like I owe you guys a really, really good recipe to make up for it...and here it is. I have no excuses, really; life is just very, very busy these days, and it's hard enough to cook dinner, let alone find the time to blog about it!

Anyway, back to this amazing burger. If you're a burger lover (like I obviously am; if you're getting sick of burger recipes, you might as well stop reading, because I'm not going to stop trying new variations), you're going to adore this one. It gets its deep, smoky flavor from bacon, smoked gouda, and onions smothered in steak sauce. Goodness gracious, is it ever delicious. Good for the waistline? No. Good for the taste buds? OMG YES VERY MUCH SO. You're going to love it.

Smoky Gouda Bacon Cheeseburgers with Smothered Onions
inspired by Rachael Ray

8 slices of bacon
4 hamburger patties
Salt and pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce
4 thick slices smoked gouda cheese
4 tablespoons butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup steak sauce (like A1)
Hamburger buns, toasted

1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp and remove to paper towels to drain. Drain most of the bacon drippings from the pan. Season the patties with salt and pepper and add to the same skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, flipping occasionally, until cooked to desired doneness. Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce and top with smoked gouda cheese. Remove the skillet from the heat and cover it so the cheese can melt.

2. While the burgers are cooking, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the onions and season with salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions are tender, fragrant, and golden. Stir in the steak sauce and heat through.

3. Top each burger with a two slices of bacon, some of the onions, and mayonnaise.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.16.12

I really did mean to post our meal plan yesterday, but the day just got away from me. We really didn't do much; it rained most of the day, so we had a lazy day inside. I spent most of the day playing with the boys rather than playing on the computer, which is a day well-spent in my opinion! My sons aren't going to want to include me in their little games forever, so I'm soaking it up as much as possible -- even if it means I spend half of the day frozen in one position due to their "freeze rays." :)

I did go to the store yesterday, though, and I'm pretty excited about all of the meals I have planned for this week.

Monday: Shrimp po' boys, chips. We ate these sandwiches only a week ago, but I am already craving them again.

Tuesday: Chicken parmesan pasta, garlic bread. We had this pasta once before and loved it...but I accidentally deleted the photos from my camera before I uploaded them. D'oh! Oh well, it's a good excuse to make this again!

Wednesday: Southwestern chicken salad melts, tortilla chips and guacamole. I'm going to add -- you guessed it! -- bacon to the sandwiches.

Thursday: Joe has a softball game, so I won't bother with a big dinner.

Friday: BLT gyros. This is based on a sandwich I had at a food truck last week. So. freaking. good. I can't wait to try it at home!

Saturday: Taco pie. There are tons of recipes out there for this, so I'm just going to pull bits and pieces from a bunch of different recipes.

Sunday: Crunchy black bean tacos and Mexican rice. I love the look of these tacos.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

I’ve come to the realization that I shouldn’t make cookies unless I have a group of people to share them with. I just shouldn’t. Every member of my family is a cookie monster. We simply can’t control ourselves around them.

And speaking of Cookie Monster...you’ve all seen the video of his new song, right? Yeah, you know the end of it? When he’s shoving multiple cookies into his mouth? That’s basically my family, with every batch of cookies I make.

Our cookie addiction came out in full-force with these beauties, not surprisingly. Chocolate and peanut butter has long been one of my favorite sweet flavor combinations, and putting them together in oatmeal cookie sandwich form was of course going to be delicious. I even upped the chocolate flavor by adding chocolate chips to the cookie batter. The cookies are crispy on the outside and fudgy in the middle, and the creamy peanut butter filling is just so tasty.

“It hard to look at your snack baby. But you got cookie, so share it maybe.” Cookie Monster speaks the truth. Go watch the video if you haven’t seen it yet; it’s hilarious!

Chocolate Oatmeal Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

For the cookies:

10 tablespoons butter (2/3 cup), softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup milk chocolate chips

For the filling:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 to 4 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Beat the butter until smooth and creamy and add both sugars. Mix well, then beat in the eggs and vanilla.

3. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture and mix until all traces of dry ingredients disappear. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips.

4. To form cookies, scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough at a time and flatten slightly. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until set on the edges but slightly fudgy inside (they’ll harden up as they cool). Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. To make the filling, place butter, peanut butter, and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat on medium speed, drizzling in vanilla extract. Scrape down the bowl as necessary. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until you’ve reached your desired consistency.

6. When cookies are completely cool, flip over and spread half of the cookie bottoms with peanut butter filling. Top with a similar size cookie. Store covered.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Farfalle with Bacon, Roasted Tomatoes, and Cream

I’ve never been very good at pulling a dinner out of thin air, based solely on what I have on hand. Creating a recipe from scratch in my mind? Yeah, I can do that with no problem. But piecing together the puzzle of a meal with what I find in my cupboard is a lot harder for me.

During the week of the Fourth of July, I didn’t want to meal plan because I knew we’d have a lot of family things going on, and whatever I planned would inevitably not get made anyway. Because I didn’t meal plan, I didn’t go to the grocery store. And because I didn’t go to the grocery store, I found myself in the position of trying to creatively come up with dinners, based on just the ingredients in my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. I surprised myself by coming up with a few really delicious meals, and this pasta is one of them.

It’s composed of just a handful of ingredients, just random bits of things I had in the kitchen: a few strips of bacon, bow tie pasta, a cup or so of cream, a pint of cherry tomatoes, garlic, wine (I always have wine), a tiny bit of parmesan cheese. And we absolutely loved this dinner! The salty bacon offset the sweetness of the burst tomatoes perfectly. It was delicious, and something I will definitely make again – this time on purpose!

Farfalle with Bacon, Roasted Tomatoes and Cream

1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
12-16 ounces farfalle
6 strips of bacon, diced
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a foil-lined baking sheet, combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of oil, and a generous sprinkling of salt and paper. Place in an even layer and roast in the oven 10 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes burst.

2. Meanwhile, cook farfalle in boiling salted water according to package directions; drain.

3. While the pasta is cooking, cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain and drain all but 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings from the pan. Add butter to melt, then add garlic and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.

4. Stir in the wine, using a wooden spoon to pick up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in cream and heat until bubbling. Continue cooking until it’s slightly reduced and thickened, then stir in a handful of parmesan cheese, season to taste with salt and pepper, and set the sauce aside over low heat until the pasta is ready.

5. Gently combine drained pasta, roasted tomatoes, reserved bacon, and the cream sauce. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos with Cheddar, Beer, and Black Beans

I’ve reached the point in my life that, even though I still love to cook and bake, making dinner in the evening is more of a hassle than anything. There are two very valid reasons for this, and their names are Andrew and Will. My two little boy tornadoes make focusing on dinner preparation completely impossible. They’re either arguing with each other, or playing together too well (meaning, they’re up to mischief). And lots of times, they’re right there in the kitchen with me serving as a distraction: trying to spoon the soap bubbles out of the sink full of dishes, riffling through the refrigerator in search of a pre-dinner drink or snack, or dragging the dining room chairs over so they can “help” me.

Oh yes. Making dinner is far from a peaceful, easy affair in my house.

That’s part of the reason I love my Crock pot so much. I can throw a bunch of ingredients in there the night before, turn it on in the morning before we leave the house, and have dinner waiting for me when we get home. It makes the evenings go much more smoothly, because it allows me to focus more on boy-corralling.

In this particular Crock pot meal, chicken breasts are stewed in beer and Mexican spices, giving them tons of flavor and making them so tender. Black beans and cheddar cheese are stirred in after the chicken is shredded to make a hearty, flavorful filling for tacos. The black beans were my own addition; I didn’t have as much chicken on hand as I thought and wanted to stretch it, so the black beans were the perfect use for that. I loved the way their earthiness paired with the yeasty flavor of the beer. I really just loved everything about this meal, from the way it tasted to how wonderfully hands-off it was to prepare.

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos with Cheddar, Beer, and Black Beans
adapted from Sweet Beginnings

2 to 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup beer
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup freshly-grated cheddar cheese
Flour tortillas, sour cream and avocado for serving

1. Mix chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic, onion, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk the beer into the seasoning mixture, until well combined.

2. Place the chicken in the Crock pot and pour the beer mixture over it. Cover and cook for 7 to 8 hours on low, or 4 hours on high.

3. Shred the chicken with two forks (don’t drain the liquid). Add the black beans and cheese and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until heated through.

4. Spread the chicken mixture over warm tortillas. Top with sour cream and avocado (and any other toppings you like).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shrimp Po' Boys

I am officially declaring these sandwiches to be The Meal of the Summer. We had these for dinner last night, and we loved them so much that I’m sharing them with you today, and they’re going back on our meal plan next week.

I’m hooked on the Food Network show Chopped, and for whatever reason, they’ve been having lots of chefs from New Orleans competing lately. Joe and I have been talking for months about going to New Orleans for my 30th birthday next year, so I’d already been thinking about the food a lot anyway – and when I saw one of the chefs on the show make a po’ boy, I immediately started craving the sandwich. (That chef made his with catfish, which I don’t like AT ALL, but it was the idea of the sandwich that made my mouth water.) I found this recipe amongst my Pinterest pins and put it on our menu – and I expected that we would enjoy them, but I wasn’t prepared for how blown away by them we’d be.

There is just something so irresistibly perfect about the combination of sweet, succulent shrimp, crispy breading, Cajun spices, and creamy sauce. This is a simple sandwich, but the flavors are so complex. The boys popped the shrimp like candy, and Joe enjoyed them so much that he ate three sandwiches. Three! That left me with only one, which I was pretty sad about, because I could definitely have easily eaten two.

Shrimp Po’ Boys
adapted from My Recipes

1 cup mayonnaise
2 scallions, white and light green parts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickle
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, divided use
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound small shrimp (51-60 per pound), peeled and deveined
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
4 hoagie rolls, split and toasted
Shredded lettuce
Thinly sliced tomato

1. Blend mayonnaise, scallions, pickle, hot sauce and 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning in food processor. Cover and chill.
2. Whisk egg, milk and cayenne. Add shrimp; let stand 10 minutes. In a shallow bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 200 degrees; line a baking sheet with paper towels and another with foil.

3. Remove shrimp from egg mixture, shaking off excess. Dredge in cornmeal mixture. Set on foil-lined sheet.

4. Pour 2 inches of oil into a large, deep skillet. Heat oil until it reaches 370 degrees on a thermometer. Cook shrimp in batches, turning once, until coating is browned and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to paper towel-lined sheet with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with salt. Keep warm in oven. Bring oil back to 370 degrees before adding a new batch of shrimp.

5. Spread 1 tablespoon reserved sauce on rolls. Divide lettuce and tomatoes among rolls. Divide shrimp among rolls and serve immediately.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tex-Mex White Cheddar Chicken Spaghetti

We're getting to that point in the summer where I just want to laze around in the air conditioning and not do anything -- including move. I usually don't get to this point until August, but with the sizzling temperatures we've been having lately, I'm getting that feeling earlier than usual. I'm sorry, Weather Overlords, but 104 degrees is JUST TOO HOT OMG. Thankfully, the weather is "cooling down" to the upper 80s this week, so I'm looking forward to not sweating the instant I walk outside my door for a change.

Even though it's settling back to normal summer temperatures, though, I still don't really want to turn on my oven. That's where this chicken spaghetti comes in. Unlike other versions of chicken spaghetti that bake in the oven, this version is made entirely on the stovetop. And it's ready in the time it takes for the pasta to boil, so you won't be slaving over a hot oven for hours. Best of all, it's absolutely delicious: creamy and cheesy, with a nice bite. It was delicious as leftovers the next day, too!

Tex-Mex White Cheddar Chicken Spaghetti
adapted from Lauren's Latest

3/4 pound thin whole wheat spaghetti
3 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
8 ounces grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 10-ounce can Rotel, undrained
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
Cilantro, if desired

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook spaghetti to al dente and drain.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. 

3. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the flour is fully combined. Slowly whisk in chicken broth, milk, and sour cream. Increase heat to thicken sauce.

4. Sprinkle in grated cheese and stir continuously to melt into sauce evenly. Stir in Rotel, cumin, salt and pepper, chicken, and cooked spaghetti. Toss to coat everything evenly in sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm, sprinkling each serving with cilantro if desired.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.8.12

I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July holiday! Sorry I disappeared there for a while; I was off work the second half of the week, and took a mini-break from blogging too. Despite the busyness of the holiday as well as a wedding this weekend, I was actually able to relax a little bit, which was nice.

A glimpse of our Independence Day fun.

With the dapper ring bearers at their cousin's wedding.

I'm also behind on e-mails, so if you've e-mailed me lately, I'll get back to you as soon as I can! I did manage to plan our meals this week, after taking a meal-planning hiatus last week. I didn't cook much, but when I did, I actually made some pretty fabulous meals just using what I had on hand (something I'm not normally very good at). I'll be sharing those with you in the coming days. Here's what we'll be eating this week (including tonight's meal, because I have no more excuses for not cooking).

Tonight: Joe's ribs, stovetop mac and cheese, creamy succotash with bacon and thyme. Joe continues to hold tight to the secret of his ribs, but I do know he's trying something different tonight: Using my detective skills, I was able to glean that he's marinating them in apple juice, and it seems that brown sugar is involved as well. I can't wait to try them.

Monday: Shrimp po' boys and chips. For some reason I've been craving this sandwich lately, and Joe is thrilled to have these on the menu this week too.

Tuesday: Southwestern BBQ shredded chicken sandwiches, Mexican rice. In my mind, these sandwiches will be a twist on a typical shredded BBQ chicken sandwich, using corn relish and avocado instead of cole slaw for the topping, and also with the addition of some jalapeno havarti cheese I found at Aldi when I went grocery shopping. I can't wait for this meal.

Wednesday: Chicken cordon bleu pasta. This pasta is so incredibly decadent that I have a feeling we'll have lots of leftovers -- but if it's as delicious as I suspect, that will be a very good thing!

Thursday: Joe's softball game, which means the boys and I will probably eat dinner out or have something simple. I usually try to take them for a walk to the ice cream parlor on these nights, but it's been so hot lately that we've skipped the past couple of weeks. I think it's supposed to "cool down" this week (with highs only in the upper 80's -- practically a cold spell!), so maybe we'll be able to take a walk this week.

Friday: Greek beef tacos. These tacos are still holding steady as my favorite dinner ever.

Saturday: Pasta with Tex-Mex pepper cream sauce, Mexican garlic bread. I plan to use roasted red peppers in the pasta. I'll use cilantro, Monterey jack, jalapenos, and garlic as a spread for the bread to give the traditionally Italian version of garlic bread a South of the Border makeover.

Sunday: Spicy avocado chicken enchiladas. These enchiladas come highly recommended by my friend Jessie, and I'm really excited to try them.

Monday, July 2, 2012

S'mores Whoopie Pies

My family definitely eats more than our share of s'mores during the summer months. We have a fire pit in our back yard, and at least one night a week, we can be found out there, roasting our marshmallows and enjoying the sticky, messy results. We're having a Fourth of July cookout on Wednesday, and I'm excited to try something I recently I found on Pinterest: marshmallows that are stuffed with miniature Rolos. How delicious are those going to be in a s'more?

While these whoopie pies are a bit more labor-intensive than your average s'more, they are definitely worth the extra time. The whoopie pies themselves are loaded with graham cracker flavor, and the marshmallow buttercream and melted chocolate complete the trinity. If you're looking for a delicious dessert for the Fourth, look no further: These s'mores whoopie pies are a must make!

(By the way, no meal plan this week. Tonight and tomorrow we're having carry-over meals from last week, and the rest of the week is up in the air since the Fourth is Wednesday, and I'm off work Thursday and Friday.)

S'mores Whoopie Pies
adapted from Cookies and Cups

For the whoopie pies:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 9 whole crackers)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 (full sized, 1.55 oz) Hershey Bars

For the marshmallow buttercream:

1/2 cup butter room temp
1 cup marshmallow fluff
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder in bowl and set aside.

3. In a small bowl stir milk, vanilla, baking soda and vinegar together and set aside.

4. In a mixer, beat butter and brown sugar together for 2 minutes at medium speed. Add eggs and continue to beat until incorporated evenly.

5. Turn speed to low and slowly add in flour mixture and milk mixture. Turn mixer up to medium and beat for an additional 1 minute.

6. Drop by heaping tablespoon sized portions onto lined baking sheet. Place the batter at least 2 inches apart, as the cookies spread during baking. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until cookies are set. Let cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

7. When all cookies are baked, melt chocolate bars in microwave on 50% power in 30 second increments, stirring after each 30 seconds. Continue until melted.

8. Flip half of the cookies over and spoon a tablespoon sized portion of melted chocolate on the bottom, spreading to the edge of the cookie.

9. To make the frosting, mix the butter and marshmallow fluff on medium speed until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar with mixer on low. Add milk and turn speed up to medium. Mix until combined and smooth.

10. Fill a piping bag or ziplock bag with prepared frosting and pipe frosting on the remaining, non-chocolate cookies. Leave room at the edge for the frosting to spread when sandwiched. Sandwich the cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days; refrigerate if desired.