Friday, May 31, 2013

May Re-Make Recap

I can't believe we're at the end of May already! This month has absolutely flown by, and I'm so ready for our evenings and weekends to slow down a bit in June. (Ha. YEAH RIGHT.) There were quite a few nights in May when cooking dinner went by the wayside, due to extracurricular activities or just plain exhaustion on my part. I still managed to pull together a pretty delicious recap for you, though, thanks in part to Andrew's birthday party.

We've been grilling out a ton since the weather's warmed up, and these grilled chicken Caesar flatbreads are one of our absolute favorite things to make. The chicken has tons of flavor, and it's so tender. This meal is basically like a portable Caesar salad. In my mind, the only possible way to improve upon a Caesar salad is to make it portable. Win!

You probably know by now how much I love a good sandwich, and these chipotle chicken cheesesteaks are one of my favorites, for sure. This time around, I upped the smoky flavor even more by using roasted red peppers instead of a regular bell pepper, and I topped my sandwich with ranch dressing instead of mayo. I loved the way the ranch cooled down the heat of the chipotle. I also skipped the avocado this time, and surprisingly, I think I preferred them without the avocado (but either way is delicious).

I made these pepperoni pizza puffs twice this month: once for Andrew's Super Mario Brothers birthday party (where they masqueraded as "Toad's Pizza Muffins") and once for us for dinner, because they are so dang good. The boys absolutely love these, and Joe and I are pretty fond of them too. I don't know why I don't make them more often, but that is definitely going to change going forward. (Side note: We actually prefer dipping them in ranch rather than the pizza sauce in the picture. We are Ranch People, if you hadn't noticed.)

I also made pesto pasta salad for Andrew's party and called it "Mario and Luigi's Pasta Salad" (I got really into the theme, if you haven't noticed). I doubled everything and used a block of mozzarella rather than the fresh stuff. It was just as delicious. This was one of the first things that was gone at his party, and even the kids seemed to like it!

One last party-related recipe: I made a batch of soft sugar cookie bars and decorated them to look like the question mark blocks in Super Mario. These are always a huge hit, and the frosting is just to die for.

I'm not joking when I say that I could eat taco rice three nights a week and never get tired of it. This is by far one of our family's favorite dinners. Joe and I actually fight over who gets to take the leftovers to work every time I make this, without fail.

I'm pretty sure this broccoli salad has been on my last three recaps, and here it is again. I made this for Memorial Day because everyone always requests it. I don't blame them! This stuff is seriously so good.

When pierogies went on sale recently, I jumped at the chance to make this bacon pierogi bake. Gah, you guys, this is just so good. The cream cheese sauce is amazing, and the bacon pairs so perfectly with the pierogies. The chopped tomatoes and sliced green onions give the whole dish such a wonderful freshness.

I made Cuban sandwiches and shredded pork po' boys on back-to-back nights, using the same batch of shredded pork. This is the best recipe I've found for making pork loin in the Crock pot. The meat is rubbed with vinegar, oil, garlic and spices and marinates overnight, which makes it so tender and flavorful. I love that the same batch of meat can be used to make two completely different, but equally delicious, sandwiches.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I can’t believe it’s Memorial Day weekend already! All of the months tend to fly by these days, but this month went especially quickly. And now, it’s officially time to kick off the holiday cookout season!

This pound cake is something that I will most definitely be making for several cookouts this summer, and I highly recommend that you bake it for your celebrations this weekend. It’s probably one of my new favorite desserts...ever. It’s made with pantry staples, so it won’t require you to purchase any special ingredients, and you can customize it in tons of different ways. The first day, we topped it with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. The second day, I made a simple chocolate sauce, which we poured over our slices and topped with vanilla ice cream (and yes, that was as phenomenal as it sounds). The cake itself has a slightly tangy flavor from the cream cheese and is dense and moist. I love the flavor that the almond extract provides. Just like the toppings, the cake itself can be customized (with the additions of citrus zest, fresh fruit, chocolate, etc.) – but I think it’s simply perfect, just as it is.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter at room temperature
1 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan (or spray with cooking spray).

2. Place the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar, increase the speed to high, and beat until light and airy, at least five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, then the flour and salt all at once. Beat just until incorporated.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and shake lightly to even out the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, 1 1/4 hours.

4. Place the pan on a cake rack and cool for 20 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Asian Noodle Bowls with Fried Eggs

Let me just get this out of the way: The main component of this dish is packaged ramen noodles.

Wait! Come back! Would it make you feel better if I told you that the first thing I do when I make these noodle bowls is throw away the high-sodium, artificially-flavored seasoning packet? Because it is the first thing I do. I replace the packet with fresh garlic and freshly-grated ginger, and I cook the noodles in chicken stock. There...will you at least hear me out now?

We all have those nights when: a.) we’re too busy to cook an involved dinner; b.) the meal we planned to make just doesn’t sound good; c.) we just really don’t feel like cooking; or d.) all of the above. This meal is perfect for a night like that. It’s literally ready in five minutes, and it tastes absolutely delicious. The ramen noodles cook in the yummy combination I mentioned above, and then each bowl is topped with a fried egg, green onions, and generous drizzles of sriracha and soy sauce. The add-ins for the noodles are endless: red bell peppers, sugarsnap peas, shredded cabbage or bok choy, mushrooms...the list goes on and on. The velvety egg yolk coats the noodles and turns into this lovely sauce, and the sriracha adds such wonderful heat.

I know it sounds weird, but just trust me on this one, guys. You’ll love these.

Asian Noodle Bowls with Fried Eggs

2 packages of ramen noodles (any flavor, the seasoning is getting tossed anyway)
1 teaspoon vegetable or peanut oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon freshly-grated ginger
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 eggs, cooked to desired doneness
Green onions
Soy sauce

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fresh ginger; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the ramen (discard the seasoning packet) and cook, stirring occasionally, until done (about 3 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, cook the eggs to desired doneness.

3. Add ramen to a bowl (with as much or as little liquid as you like). Top each bowl with an egg, a sprinkling of green onions, and soy sauce and sriracha to taste.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chicken Tacos with Mashed Black Beans and Avocado-Sweet Corn Relish

Sorry for disappearing for the past week and a half! I've been busy planning a fifth birthday party for Andrew, which was (nearly) flawlessly executed this past Saturday. Between soccer, birthdays and birthday parties, preschool graduation, and kindergarten orientation, my oldest son has kept me extremely busy this month. But he's more than worth it, obviously, and we've had so much fun this entire month, even as busy as we've been.

Let's talk tacos today. I was originally going to pile all of this stuff on a tostada shell, but guess who turned off the oven when the tortillas were finished crisping, and then forgot to actually take said tortillas out of the oven, resulting in tortillas that were blackened and inedible? That's right, this girl!As delicious as a crispy tostada would have been, flour tortillas were a nice stand-in.

Honestly, I think I would eat this combination of ingredients on just about anything, though. I can't say enough good things about this recipe. The mashed black beans and chicken are so flavorful, and that relish! Seriously, it's only five ingredients (and one of them is just salt!), and I think it's probably one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. Ever. I can't wait to make it again later in the summer, when sweet corn is at its peak. This was such a delicious, light, and refreshing late spring meal, and one that I'll be making a lot going forward.

Chicken Tacos with Mashed Black Beans and Avocado-Sweet Corn Relish

For the chicken:

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast tenders
1 teaspoon each salt and chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon each garlic powder and oregano

For the mashed black beans:

1 onion, finely diced
Salt to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can black beans, partially drained
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin

For the avocado-sweet corn relish:

6 ears fresh sweet corn
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 avocado, diced
Salt to taste
Juice of 2 limes

For the tacos:

Flour or corn tortillas, warmed
Queso fresco cheese, crumbled
Sour cream, if desired

1. Heat about a tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil in a large skillet. Coat chicken tenders evenly with spices. Add to skillet and cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through. Move chicken to a plate and cover with foil to stay warm.

2. In the same skillet, add the onion and season with salt (you can add a bit more oil if needed). When onion is softened, add garlic and cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add black beans, chili powder and cumin and heat to bubbling. Mash beans roughly with a potato masher. If they look too dry or thick, you can thin them out with a bit of water or chicken stock. Remove from heat.

3. To make the relish, cut kernels from ears of corn. Add kernels to a bowl along with diced tomato and avocado. Season with salt and sprinkle with lime juice.

4. To serve, spoon some of the black beans into the center of a tortilla. Top with chopped chicken, the avocado-sweet corn relish, and a sprinkling of queso fresco. Serve with sour cream.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pickle Roll-ups

If loving these delicious little ham-wrapped cream cheese-blanketed pickle morsels makes me uncool...then I am supremely uncool. And I am absolutely okay with that. I've been eating these pickle roll-ups for most of my life, and I'm not sure if they're just a Midwestern thing or if everyone already knows about them, but I just can't keep the recipe to myself. Not that there's really a recipe involved -- it's just a pickle, wrapped in cream cheese, wrapped in ham. That's it. The only bad thing about them, I guess, is that they're dangerously, deliciously addictive.

Pickle Roll-ups

1 10-ounce package sliced ham
1 8-ounce container spreadable cream cheese
Refrigerated whole pickles

On a work surface, lay out two slices of ham so that they overlap in the middle. Spread with an even layer of cream cheese. Place a pickle on the top edge of the ham, then roll the ham around the pickle. Repeat as desired. Cut into slices and refrigerate until serving.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rigatoni with Italian Beef Ragu

You're getting a two-for-one recipe today. Remember the amazing Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches I shared with you last month? Well, you really need to make them. And then you need to use the leftovers for this pasta.

What's great about both of these recipes is that they require so little time to prepare, because the Crock pot does all the work. You don't even need to make the recipes on consecutive nights; just have the sandwiches one night, and freeze the leftovers for later, which is exactly what I did. The meat tasted just as good after it had been frozen -- maybe even better!

I used a sturdy pasta with lines for this recipe to stand up to the robust sauce. Because the meat had already stewed in so many delicious ingredients, all I really had to do was make a quick tomato sauce for it, and the flavor was amazing. This dinner was a show-stopper, and definitely tasted like it took a long time to cook -- even though it was ready in the time it took to boil the pasta.

Rigatoni with Italian Beef Ragu

1 pound rigatoni or other sturdy pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Italian beef with its juices
1 sprig thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 14.5-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1 large can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly-shredded parmesan cheese

1. Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water according to directions on package; drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is softened and translucent. Add garlic cloves; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in Italian beef with its juices and cook for a couple of minutes until heated through.

3. Add thyme and both cans of tomatoes to the pan and stir gently to combine. Heat through, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Serve sauce over rigatoni and top with shredded parmesan cheese.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Grilled Steak and Chicken Fajitas

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the fact that Cinco de Mayo is coming up this weekend. Although it isn't a holiday we really celebrate, I am always looking for an excuse to eat Mexican food and drink Mexican drinks. These fajitas are a great way to celebrate both the holiday, and the fact that grilling season has returned.

I was initially going to just make chicken fajitas, but then I remembered the box of steaks in my freezer and decided to do both. (Remind me to tell you sometime about the poor steak salesman who came to my house around dinner time on a night of solo parenting, who was bombarded with questions from my curious children for 30 minutes, who finally gave in and sold me 12 total sirloin and T-bone steaks for dirt cheap, I think just so he could escape my house.) I made two different marinades for the meat: a Southwestern ranch marinade for the chicken and a chipotle brown sugar one for the steak, so you're really getting two recipes for the price of one here. And they're both absolutely delicious!

Grilled Steak and Chicken Fajitas

For the chicken:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup ranch dressing
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon each chili powder, cumin, and salt

For the steak:

2 sirloin steaks (or you could use a flank steak)
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove minced garlic
3 tablespoons chipotle in adobo puree (or the equivalent of chopped chipotles in adobo)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

For the fajitas:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 each red, green, and orange bell peppers, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Mexican beer
Juice of half a lime
Flour tortillas
Shredded monterey jack, salsa, and sour cream for serving

1. Combine all ingredients for both marinades with the meats. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Let come to room temperature before grilling.

2. Grill chicken and steak until chicken is cooked through and steak is cooked to desired doneness. Let rest before slicing.

3. While the meat is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and bell peppers, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent and peppers are slightly softened. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and add beer, stirring until reduced. Remove from heat and sprinkle with lime juice.

4. Serve chicken and steak in flour tortillas, topped with the pepper mixture, shredded cheese, salsa, and sour cream.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Parmesan Pasta with Asparagus and Eggs

If you will allow me to brag for a moment about my Andrew, I have two exciting pieces of news to share about my oldest son: 1. He scored a goal at his soccer game last Saturday! It was his first goal of the season, and to say that I was excited would be a massive understatement. And 2: He has developed a deep and abiding love for asparagus.

This second thing may not seem all that exciting, but I am just thrilled about it. I myself didn't even try asparagus until I was in my '20s, so it makes me happy that my kids are getting exposed to (and enjoying!) this vegetable so early in their lives. Well, Andrew is enjoying it, at least. All Will has to say about asparagus at this point is, "Ew, that's dee-sgusting." But he says that about pretty much everything these days. (It's a phase we're in right now. A really fun phase.)

Anyway, I'm digressing. Let's talk about this pasta. As we all know, asparagus and eggs were made for each other, and when they're combined with creamy pasta and salty cheese, the result is pretty much perfection. My friend Sarah made this too, and she added peas to hers, which I think is a delicious addition. You know what else would be good in this pasta? (Say it with me...) BACON.

This dish is delicious as-is, though, and really doesn't need anything else. I love the way the velvety, smooth yolk coats the creamy, asparagus-laced pasta. It's so simple, and simply divine.

Parmesan Pasta with Asparagus and Eggs
adapted from The Saucy Southerner

1 pound linguine or fettuccine
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided
4 eggs, cooked to desired doneness (I cooked mine over-easy in a bit of butter, salt and pepper)

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions for al dente. In the last  minute of cooking for the pasta, add the asparagus to the pasta water to poach. Drain pasta and asparagus.

2. In the same hot pot or in a different large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the half and half. When the half and half begins to thicken slightly, stir in 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese. Cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the pasta and asparagus back to the pan and toss to coat.

4. Top each serving of pasta with an egg and a sprinkling of the remaining parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.