5.31.2012

Our New Favorite Chicken Tacos

I had such a beautiful afternoon with my almost sister-in-law. I can't wait for her to marry my little brother! We first went to Michael's so I could use up my gift card (Thanks Frugal Girls!)on some baking goodness (and a couple little summer toys for the manchild). Then we hit up the DI for some dishes and textiles. We found some life-sized plastic bald women heads. Always an adventure.

Then my stomach wouldn't stop grumbling....

So we came home and made some tacos together. To be 100% honest, this was the first time I've set out to make tacos without using the packaged taco seasoning. I know. Apparently that's weird in food land? No idea. However, they were fantastic! And oh-so-simple! But did they taste like "plain-chicken-tacos?" Heck no. WAY no.

We've had tacos hundreds of times at our house, so I wasn't really planning on blogging about trying this Rachael Ray recipe today. But there's just something deeply perfect about these "seemingly-boring" tacos - the combination of ingredients is just so healthy and crispy fresh to the point of absolute bliss. All the flavors complimented each other. The avocado was made for Mexican food - having it coupled with juicy tomatoes and the slightly crispy texture of the lettuce and scallions make such an amazing shell-fellow with the moist, tender chicken. After Ryan had one when he got home from work today, he has officially deemed these his favorite - and demanded the "blondie" family to make them with Rachael's recipe from now on.

I guess we've found our new Go-To taco recipe. Taco packet seasoning? We're so over it.

We omitted the "golden raisins" and "Spanish Olives" Rachael listed in her recipe. Very odd.

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Our New Favorite Chicken Tacos
recipe adapted from Classic Rachael Ray, 30 Minute Meals

1 T EVOO
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 cup tomato puree
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
salt & pepper
8 jumbo corn taco shells

Toppings:
shredded cheese
diced avocado
diced tomato
chopped scallion
shredded lettuce

Heat a big skillet over medium heat, add EVOO, and brown chicken. Add onion and garlic and cook another couple of minutes to soften onion. Dump in tomato puree, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a bubble, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Scoop filling into shells and have everyone add toppings at the table.


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5.30.2012

Rolo Cheesecake Bars


Thanks Natalie for the "crinkled wax paper" idea :)
A nearby tall glass of milk has never been so much of a necessity.

These are dangerously addicting - and the hard thing is that they're just so darned rich! It's hard to eat more than one of them. But the deep, caramel taste in your mouth beckons for more..... the flavor was pretty difficult to say anything but YES PLEASE to. I love myself an over-the-top dessert, and this recipe was perfect for such a craving.

I loved this combo of flavors - the classic cheesecake (with graham cracker crust) dotted with Rolos, enveloped in thick chocolate, and drizzled with caramel. Don't you just love the design? It's what first caught my eye when I saw this recipe on Pinterest last week. 

If you've already looked over the ingredients, and laughed your head off at how much butter/fat there is, know this: I cut it down from the original recipe.... 

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Rolo Cheesecake Bars
recipe adapted from Bakers Royale

Crust
1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
1/2 C sugar
6 T butter

Cheesecake
8oz low fat cream cheese
1/3 C caramel sauce
1/3 C sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 1/2 C mini Rolos

Chocolate Layer
4 oz 65% cacao chocolate
6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
2 t corn syrup
6 T butter
4-5 T caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

If haven't already, blend up graham crackers to make a fine powder. Mix graham cracker crumbles in a bowl with sugar and toss to combine. Melt butter, and stir into graham cracker mixture until combined. Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan 9x9 (aluminum foil spilling over 1 inch on each side, and sprayed with cooking spray). Bake for 8 minutes, remove from oven, and set aside to cool.

Place cream cheese, caramel sauce, sugar, egg and vanilla in a bowl attached to a stand mixer. Combine until smooth. Add in Rolos. pour mixture over crust and bake for about 33 minutes (same 350 degrees as before). Remove from oven and set aside to cool. If you become impatient, like me, put in freezer/fridge for a bit. 

Place chocolate, corn syrup, and butter in a metal bowl over a small saucepan (saucepan filled 1/4 with water, simmering). Stir until chocolate is melted and all ingredients are fully combined. Pour chocolate over baked cheesecake. 

Without waiting for the chocolate to harden, pipe carmel in straight lines about 1/2 inch apart. To gt the pattern, use a toothpick and draw a line opposite direction of your caramel lines. Alternate whether you're going up and down with the toothpick (so don't drag the toothpick in the same direction). 

Put in freezer for an hour or so to harden.  
 
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5.29.2012

Lady Bug Pizzas

 Aren't they just the cutest little things? And who knew bugs could be so tasty? 

A while ago, our family fell in love with the Caprese Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. This little lady bug pizza is basically the kiddie version - same ingredients, but add some olives for the spots.

This recipe is from another one of my Rachael Ray books (Can I praise my mother-in-law enough for the stack of cookbooks in my kitchen? Never :) This one is called Rachael Ray, Yum-O, The Family Cookbook, and it is crammed full of food that adults would typically eat - transformed into kid-friendly snacks and meals. She also has tips on how your little one can help prepare the meal. Good, good stuff.

I guess you could say we had our own little ladybug party this afternoon. The manchild and I ate these for lunch while I read him from one of our favorite Sara Gillingham series. On My Leaf. They are just the cutest books! I received a few from the manchild's baby shower and ended up using up a Barnes & Noble gift card for a couple more.

Woah. I think that's the first time I've ever really told a story not related to food on here. Weird.
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Lady Bug Pizzas
Rachael Ray, Yum-O Family Cookbook

4 T homemade/store-bought pesto (here's my recipe)
2 whole wheat/white English muffins
1 C shredded mozzarella cheese
4 slices of ripe tomato
1/4 cup black olives, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Slice English muffins, so there are 4 separate slices.  Spread about a tablespoon of pesto on each slice and top with 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella. Add on your slice of tomato and dot your tomato with olives. Cook for 8 minutes, or until bread is nice and crispy. Serve warm.

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5.28.2012

Grilled Corn with Cilantro Butter

I've never really seasoned my corn on the cob with anything other than butter, salt, and pepper. Also, I never grilled my corn before either.

My friends, those days are over. This recipe was revolutionary. And Memorial Day was the perfect stage for it.

We all know my obsession with cilantro and lime is beyond therapy at this point. This was just another shot of pure heaven in food form. I can't wait to try other spreads on grilled corn - it added so much flavor, and made each bite something to remember.

Corn on the cob screams summertime - the next time you serve it to your family (and there are many opportunities coming up over the next few months for it), I highly recommend this recipe. Plus, it's Martha Stewart's recipe... she's yet to steer me wrong. Enjoy!

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Grilled Corn with Cilantro Butter
adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for smaller portions 

4 ears corn, husked
1/4 C packed fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 t finely grated lime zest
1 t fresh lime juice
salt
1/3 stick butter (or you can use olive oil)
grated Parmesan cheese

In a mini food processor, blend cilantro, salt, lime zest, lime juice and butter until a paste forms.

Heat grill to medium high. Spread cilantro butter mixture over all 4 ears of corn and season with more salt. Grill corn, turning occasionally, until nicely charred and vibrant in color (about 10-12 minutes). Brush again with cilantro butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve warm.

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Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

Memorial Day was very relaxing this year. We had our own little BBQ in our backyard and pulled out the kiddie pool for the manchild to play in.

The menu was very simple, but Ryan and I had fun making everything together, and were grateful for such a beautiful afternoon to share as a family. We made cheeseburgers with bacon/lettuce/tomato on wheat buns, grilled corn with cilantro lime butter, Simply Lemonade (we call it ''rich people juice'' because it's expensive, but the BEST tasting juice in existence), and.... sweet potato fries!

After tasting them today, Ryan has decided that making sweet potato fries should be a new family tradition on the holidays.... as in ALL of the holidays. I settled with just having them on the menu for  future Memorial Days. He must have liked them just a little bit, eh?

I was really scared of making these - I've never fried anything at anything higher than medium temperature (making tortilla chips) and I didn't want them to be sopping in oil after frying. But I'm really happy things worked out really well, that it turned out to be very easy, the fries were dry from any oil, and that we could enjoy our favorite sweet potato fries at home (with fry sauce, of course).

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Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 T garlic powder
1 T flour 
salt
pepper
vegetable oil

Wash and peel sweet potatoes. Slice up in skinny-fry sized pieces. Throw in a bath of cold water for a few hours. Drain, and dry (either with a salad spinner or towel).

Once dry, toss with some salt, T flour,  1/2 T garlic powder and some pepper. This is a really good video tutorial on how I fried 'em up. (And it's by Alton Brown, so you know you're in good hands).


Have a cookie pan + cooling rack over it, ready for after your potatoes have been through the hot oil. Do not use paper towels. Also, have a tool ready to remove your potatoes from the hot oil.

If you've watched Alton's video, you know you need to fry your potatoes twice - once at a medium/high temperature for the inside layer, and once at a high temperature to give the outside that delicious crunch. Here we go... 

First fry: Heat up your oil to about 320 degrees (I didn't have a thermometer, so I just put my stove on medium high) in a pan deep enough to cover your fries, but not shallow enough to bubble over. Working in small batches, add your potatoes to the hot oil (about a handful's worth) and fry for about 1 minute. Remove from oil, place on cooking rack and sprinkle with salt and the rest of your garlic powder  (which is over a cookie sheet), and repeat until all your potatoes are fried. They should be floppy. 

Second fry: Let them drain and cool to room temperature. Turn up heat on oil to 375. Working in handful batches, add potatoes to oil and fry for about a minute (or until they're golden and crispy) and quickly move them over to the draining pan and sprinkle with salt/pepper to taste (don't burn your mouth, though :)  ENJOY!

note: If you're doing more than about 4 potato's worth of sweet potato fries, you might have to change the oil often. We did only 4 potatoes and the oil didn't need changing.

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Marinated Grilled Sirloin Tip Steak with BLT-Smashed Potatoes

I love Rachael Ray. Love her show, love her magazine, love her food. I'm convinced she can cook just about anything - she won Iron Chef with Mario Batali for crying out loud (beating out Chef Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis.) She also won a 2011 People's Choice award for Favorite TV Chef - you go, girl! 

However, I think she gets a lot of flak for using non-accessible ingredients. I think there's a bit of truth to this. In my nearest Rachael Ray cookbook, I flipped through some of the pages to find the following ingredients peppered through her recipes: palm, eel, vermouth, sake, haddock, and sopressata. I mean, who really has these type of ingredients on hand, anyway? I don't even know what half of them are! 

With that said, I still adore Racheal Ray. With each of the strange recipes she puts out, there's about 50 family-friendly and completely accessible ones on top of them. She has entire books dedicated to quick meals, family meals, but also meals for chefs alike

I tried out another one of her recipes yesterday and it was absolutely wonderful! I was at first a little hesitant of the whole "BLT Smashed Potatoes" idea. But the flavors from the crunchy Bacon, lavish Leeks and juicy Tomatoes were far too much fun mixed in with our beloved red smashed potatoes. 

This recipe originally was for flank steaks, but we couldn't find any at our local supermarket. So I settled for some thin sirloin tip steaks, and it was plenty for two of us. I also added a little more bacon, a splash of milk, and used less cayenne (recipe below reflects my changes). Ryan told me to add his "Official Husband Stamp of Approval" on this entire meal - especially the BLT Smashed Potatoes.

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Grilled Sirloin Tip Steak 
with BLT-Smashed Potatoes
recipe adapted from Classic Rachael Ray, 30-Minute Meals

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t Montreal Grill Seasoning blend by McCormick
1 t smoked paprika (or ground cumin, chili powder)
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t Worcestershire sauce
2 T red wine vinegar
1/3 C EVOO
1.5 lbs thin sirloin tip
1.5 lbs small red potatoes
1 leek, trimmed of tough tops
4 slices bacon
1 15oz can diced tomatoes, well drained
1/2 cup sour cream
splash of milk
2 T butter
salt & pepper

Mix together garlic, grill seasoning, paprika, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and EVOO in a shallow dish. Place meat in the dish, coating it evenly in the marinade. Cover with lid and let stand 15 min/overnight.

Leave small potatoes whole, and cut larger potatoes in half. Place potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Cover pot. Bring to a boil, remove lid, then cook potatoes until tender - about 12 to 15 minutes.

Heat up your grill over high heat. (We have a mini outdoor grill)

Cut leek in half lengthwise. Chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Place leeks in a small bowl of water and swish around to separate the layers. Drain leeks in colander.

Heat a small skillet over medium high heat. Add a drizzle of EVOO and cook your bacon until crisp. Remove bacon, and add in leeks. Cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add in tomatoes and heat through, about 1 minute.

Drain potatoes and return to hot pot. Smash potatoes with potato masher or whisk. Add in your leek/tomato mixture and bacon. Add in sour cream, splash of milk, and butter. Stir together, but not too much - leave some chunks. Season with salt and pepper.

Grill steak, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove thin steaks from grill and let it sit for a few minutes before slicing into them. Cut against the grain, and serve next to the BLT potatoes.

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5.27.2012

Creamy Cookie Dough Dip

I know. Insane. And very naughty.

I've seen a bunch of Cookie Dough Dip recipes floating about on Pinterest, and am happy to have finally made one. On Thursday (the day I make my grocery list for Friday), I once again I pulled up my D e s s e r t s page on Pinterest, and had Ryan choose whatever the heck he wanted from it. Last time, it was the Lava Flows. This time it's the crack dip.

This stuff is nuts. I mean, with that list if ingredients, it's bound to be good, right? (Maybe too good...) Don't be deceived by the graham crackers. After Ryan and I overdosed on the dip Saturday afternoon, we decided this dip is better eaten in much smaller portions - as in, using teddy grahams or small apple slices to scoop it up versus a giant graham cracker shovel. Don't get me wrong, it was beyond heaven eating this dip, but man, it's some rich stuff. Small doses is the key here, folks.

Then again, Ryan ate with a spoon for a while - I think that's just asking for a stomach ache.

The first time I had something similar to this dip was at a friend's baby shower last year. They served it with little teddy grahams - very smart. However, I think the addition of toffee chips that "Add a pinch" put into the recipe was genius, and certainly turned the dip up a few notches.

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Creamy Cookie Dough Dip
recipe from Add a Pinch

1 8oz package cream cheese
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 C powdered sugar
2 T brown sugar
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 C chocolate chips
1 C toffee bits

In a stand mixer, cream together your cream cheese and butter. After they're combined, and almost fluffy, add in the rest of the ingredients.

Serve with teddy grahams, apples, strawberries, vanilla wafers, chocolate/honey graham crackers (if you dare).


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5.23.2012

Spicy Apple-Glazed Meatballs

Another week night meal success! I decided to go all "dinners" on you guys this week. Last week I felt like I was making dessert after dessert.

Tonight's dinner recipe was a huge hit - and super easy (thank heavens). Sometimes I really don't like cooking dinner, but when I find recipes as quick and tasty as this one, it motivates me on those harder days. Tonight I have rehearsal, so these were so easy to prepare ahead, simmer away, and have the white rice all ready in my little rice cooker (for whenever Ryan gets home...sometimes it's a mystery).

I love meatballs. Whenever I go to a wedding reception or baby/bridal shower and they have meatballs, I clean them out. Why not? A savory little pop of juicy meat? Count me in. Always. I snuck a little taste of the meatball sauce while making it, and I immediately couldn't wait for the meatballs to be finished! It was sweet, but had a little after kick. My house smells so wonderful from the sauce!

If you wanted to add some veggie-value, perhaps some steamed broccoli. We ate these with freshly sliced cold oranges for fruit-goodness. Yum, people. Yum. This recipe gets a solid 10/10 from the blondie household.

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Spicy Apple-Glazed Meatballs
recipe from Better Homes & Gardens

Spicy Meatballs:
1 egg
1/4 C milk
2 slices whole-wheat bread, torn
1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t pepper
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t vegetable oil

Apple Glaze:
1 C apple juice
1/4 soy sauce
3 T packed brown sugar
1 1/2 t cornstarch
1 t ground ginger
1/4 t cayenne pepper
6 green onions, chopped

For Spicy Meatballs, in a large bowl whisk together egg and milk. Add bread. Let stand 10 minutes, just until bread is softened. Add beef, garlic, black pepper, salt, and cayenne pepper. Mix thoroughly with hands or wooden spoon. Shape beef mixture in 48 one-inch meatballs.

In a 12-inch skillet heat oil over medium heat. Cook meatballs, half at a time, about 6 minutes per batch, turning occasionally until brown and crusty on outside and no longer pink inside. Transfer meatballs to a covered dish; cover to keep warm. Drain fat from skillet; wipe out skillet.

For Apple Glaze, in a small bowl combine apple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, and cayenne pepper. In same skillet as meatballs were cooked, cook and stir juice mixture until thickened and bubbly (at full boil). Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Return meatballs to skillet to heat through and coat with sauce. Transfer glazed meatballs a serving dish. Top with green onions.
 
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5.22.2012

Sweet Potato Cakes & Sour Cream with Black Bean Salsa

Sweet potatoes and I have fallen in love again.

My favorite way to eat them is via the ever-addicting sweet potato fries. We live near a lovely little eatery called Gurus. They have everything there - salads, wraps, sandwiches, soups, rice bowls, pasta, and of course - desserts. The first time I went there was about a year ago to catch up with some friends from the music studio/college. We ate al fresco, and it was such a beautiful late afternoon. One of my buddies ordered the most delicious sweet potato fries for our table. It was the first time I've ever had sweet potato fries, and it was beyond delicious. 

These lovely potato cakes provided the same crunchy potato fries flavor, but with more of a subtle crispiness, and a lovely creamy center. The cool sour cream was a perfect bed of softness for the light and vibrant black bean salsa, too. These would be really wonderful appetizers if you made them more bite-sized. We just made bigger patties, and ate them as a meal. The manchild downed about two of these before I took these pictures.

I changed salsa recipe - it originally called for chipotle, and I'm just not a fan. So I used roma tomatoes. I also didn't fry the heck outta them - I left them a little crispy on the top and bottom, but soft on the edges. Everything else I prepared exactly as the recipe called for - such fun, and tasty, little sweet potato cakes these were.

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Sweet Potato Cakes & 
Sour Cream with Black Bean Salsa 
recipe from lisa is cooking 

Potato Cakes:
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 C flour
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
5 green onions, both white and green portions chopped
5 T EVOO
5 T butter
1/2 C sour cream

Black Bean Salsa:
16 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/4 C minced red onion
1/4 C cilantro, chopped
1/4 t salt
Juice of 1 lime
 
Steam sweet potato chunks for 15 minutes until completely tender. Transfer to colander and drain until very dry. 

While your potatoes are steaming, prepare black bean salsa. Combine all salsa ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Store in refrigerator. 

Once dry, place sweet potato chunks in a large mixing bowl and mash to break up chunks. Don't use a mixer, or over-mix, or they'll turn gummy. Add flour and finely chopped green onions, mix with hands to form a smooth batter. Add salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should be sticky, not wet. Add more flour if it's wet. Form round, flat cakes. If you're using these as appetizers, make the little potato cakes smaller. If you're having them as a meal, make them larger.

In a skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of oil and butter over medium high heat. Fry four or five at a time for 3 minutes per side until golden. Transfer finished cakes to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and cool. Add more butter and oil in pan between batches as needed. 

Allow to cool before adding sour cream. Top each potato cake with sour cream and black bean salsa.

5.21.2012

Gnocchi, Sweet Corn & Arugula in Cream Sauce

 What a fun weeknight meal this turned out to be!

Another recipe from Better Homes & Gardens strikes again! I love those guys! I'm definitely their new biggest fan. I would have never thought of putting these ingredients together, but after tasting them in this dish, I don't know how I'll ever keep them away from each other in the kitchen.

The creamy, soft gnocchi was great contrast to the the tasteful crispiness of the corn and arugula. I threw in some mushrooms (leftover from yesterday), too. The recipe originally calls for less corn, but I wanted three whole ears (corn is in my blood, so to speak). Also I changed the herb seasoning to fresh basil. The basil went so well with the arugula and creamy sauce. We'll definitely be making this one again. It was light, and had a little taste of everything.

Ryan said it needed bacon :)

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Gnocchi, Sweet Corn & Arugula in Cream Sauce
recipe based on Better Homes & Gardens

3 medium-sized fresh sweet corn on the cob
3 C fresh arugula (I used a mix of fresh arugula and spinach)
3/4 C fresh mushrooms, chopped (optional)
1 pound potato gnocchi
3/4 C half and half (or half heavy cream, half whole milk/skim)
3 oz light cream cheese
1 t salt
1 t garlic powder
1 t fresh basil, julienne
1/4 t black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper 
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

In large pot, boil water and cook gnocchi according to package directions, adding in the corn on the cob in the last 5 minutes. Remove corn, transfer to cutting board. Drain gnocchi, but make sure to reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Don't rinse your gnocchi.

For the cream sauce, combine half and half, cream cheese, salt, garlic powder, fresh basil, and pepper in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium for about 10 minutes, stirring until cream cheese has evenly dispersed throughout sauce. Stir in reserved pasta water.

Slice your corn off the cob. 

In a medium bowl, combine your pasta sauce, corn, gnocchi and arugula. Sprinkle with additional salt, pepper, basil, and crushed red pepper if desired. Enjoy it, man.

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5.20.2012

Tortellini and Garden Vegetable Bake

Ryan licked the bowl. He doesn't always do that - but when he does, I know I've done good.

Today was another rough day wrestling with my almost-toddler through church. This savory and veggie-crammed dish was just the comfort I needed (accompanied by a long nap later in the afternoon, thanks Ryan!)

So, when I say veggie-crammed, I meant it. This dish has carrots, sugar snap peas, red onion, parsley (eh?), cherry tomatoes, green pepper, and mushrooms (even through it's a fungus, I'm gonna throw it right in there). Plenty of veggies to go around - and cleverly paired with cheese tortellini.

Another blonde moment today - all the beautiful colors of the veggies put me in such a trance, that I forgot to read my directions. I chopped all of them up, in the proper quantities, then threw them all in a big happy bowl together. Well. Um. Let's just say a few minutes after I went through that entire bowl, sorting them out again into their own families. Some veggies were to be used now, and some later. Go me.

I don't know how I've avoided Better Homes and Gardens for so long. It's wonderful! I'm making three of their recipes this week (this being one of them). I actually have a free monthly subscription to their magazine now (thanks to the manchild, and his Huggies diapers). I've been collecting the codes on the diaper packaging, entering them in on their website, and built up quite the stockpile of points! I was so happy to see the Better Homes and Gardens magazine on the rewards list, and can't wait to try more of their scrumptious recipes.

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Tortellini and Garden Vegetable Bake 
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

1 lb package Buitoni Cheese-Filled Tortellini
1 C carrots, chopped
1 1/2 C sugar snap peas, halved
1/2 C red onion, diced
1 C fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 C cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 green pepper, chopped
1 T butter
1 large chicken breast, diced
1/3 C chicken broth
1 T flour
3/4 t garlic powder
1/2 t pepper
1 C milk
1 T lemon juice 
8 oz light cream cheese, cubed
2 T grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook tortellini in boiling salted water according to package directions, adding the carrot during the last 5 minutes of cooking, and the sugar snap peas during the last 1 minute of cooking. Drain and pour into a big bowl.

Heat butter in a skillet over medium-high. Add chicken, red onion, and mushrooms. Cook about 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove from skillet. But keep skillet on the stove.

Combine chicken broth, parsley, flour, garlic powder, and pepper until smooth. Add to skillet with the milk. Cook and stir until thickened, and bubbly. Add cream cheese. Cook and stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice.

Pour creamy mixture and chicken/mushroom mixture into your big bowl of tortellini. Add in tomatoes and green pepper. Toss to coat. Turn into an ungreased 9x13 baking dish.

Bake, covered, for 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan. This makes a ton of delicious goodness. Enjoy it, and enjoy the wonderful leftovers tomorrow.
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5.18.2012

Simple, but Decadent, Poached Pears


Today it poured and poured outside, only to have full sunshine a few hours later. I love days like this. I think the rain soothed my little man into an almost 3-hour nap. These poached pairs didn't even take a small fraction of that time to prepare.

The first thing that captured me about this dessert is the way it looks. Pears are so beautiful. They look beautiful. They taste beautiful. I originally wanted to make the Poached Pears/Pear Compote earlier this week, but the pears were taking their sweet time ripening. They were well worth the wait.

The second thing I noticed was the star. What is that? I quickly looked through the ingredients - it's called the Star of Anise. I couldn't find it at two of my local supermarkets. A friend told me to head on over to the Latino Market, and that's exactly where I found them (about 10 stars for 74 cents). The star of anise coupled with the cinnamon smelled just like Christmas wassail. It was absolutely wonderful. When the buzzer went off in my kitchen to take the pears off the stove, I didn't want to because they smelled so good as they simmered away. 


I love how simple the ingredients are. The pears tasted sweet, with the subtle zing of cinnamon and comforting warmth of the anise. I think that even though these taste like the holidays, they're perfect for summer because they're served cold. And oh how refreshing they are that way! I think these would serve well after a big meal. They're not heavy at all, but have enough light sweetness to satisfy any sweet tooth.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Simple, but Decadent, Poached Pears
recipe from Cooking Tackle

2 Asian Pears
3/4 C water
2 T sugar
1 T lime/lemon juice
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of salt

Peel the pears and halve lengthwise. Use a melon baler to remove the core from each half of the pear. Combine the pear, water, star anise, cinnamon, lime juice, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 14-20 minutes (could me longer, depending on how ripe your pears are. Mine took about 30 minutes because they weren't quite ripe). Do not stir. Cool, refrigerate, and serve chilled.
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5.17.2012

Chicken Pillows with Creamy Parmesan Sauce

I learned tonight that onion powder looks very identical to garlic powder. They're in the same type/color container, too. It's a good thing I noticed this difference right when it happened, versus after the chicken pillows came out of the oven. I ended up scooping the top layer of chicken right outta the bowl and tossing it. I guess my blog title can be perfectly fitting sometimes...   The onion powder is now on the opposite side of the cabinet.

These little pillows of love were just perfect for an overcast day. Ryan got off work early, so he walked in right when these came out of the oven. We all (including the manchild) gobbled them up with some fresh pears and green beans (excluding Ryan... he hates green beans with a passion) and headed straight to the park to enjoy the evening. The chicken pillows were so filling, and very rich with creamy parmesan flavor. I loved how the inside filling was so warm and scrumptious, but the outside biscuit layer was crispy - with the parmesan sauce slathering every bite along the way. I cut the recipe in half, and it was plenty for our little family. It made about 8 pillows, and we had 4 left over.

Mel has such a wonderful website - and has some really tasty ideas that I can't wait to try and devour. I didn't want to make her parmesan sauce, though, so I used my basic alfredo sauce and added a bunch of parmesan cheese. Also, her recipe calls for homemade rolls. Obviously I didn't want to... Pillsbury made my rolls tonight. Cut the prep time in half.

I like to think of these as the female version of beef wellington.

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Chicken Pillows with Creamy Parmesan Sauce
based on Mel's Kitchen Cafe but with my own adaptations to the rolls and sauce

Filling:
2 chicken breasts, cooked & shredded (I threw mine in the crock pot for 4 hours on high with 1 cup chicken bouillon, salt, pepper, garlic powder)
1 package light cream cheese
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt

Rolls and Coating:
1 package Pillsbury Jumbo Biscuits
1/2 stick of butter, melted
1 C panko bread crumbs
1/2 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Parmesan Sauce:
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 1/2 C milk
1 t minced garlic
1/2 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Cook the chicken however the heck you want to, then shred it. In a medium bowl combine the chicken, cream cheese, garlic powder and salt and mix until well combined. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

Pop open your jumbo biscuits and flatten each of them out to about 1/4 an inch. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the chicken mixture into the center. Fold up all sides and pinch together to seal well. 

When all the chicken pillows have been formed, combine the panko crumbs and Parmesan cheese in a bowl. One by one, dip each chicken pillow in the melted butter and roll in the panko/Parmesan mixture. Place seam side down about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until the chicken pillows are lightly golden brown and the dough is baked through.

While the rolls are baking, prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add minced garlic. Whisk in the flour, cooking over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is golden and bubbly. Slowly whisk in the milk, salt and pepper once the milk has been completely added. Stir constantly over medium heat until the sauce thickens and bubbles, about 5-10 minutes, taking care to adjust the heat accordingly so the sauce doesn't burn on the bottom. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted. Remove the sauce from the heat. Thin the sauce with a little milk if needed.

Serve the rolls warm from the oven with Parmesan cream sauce drizzled over the top.

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Pear Cake Brûlée

My mother-in-law is a complete gem. She finds the most wonderful cook books for me, and I'm so grateful! The book I baked from today is called "Creme Brulée". What a fancy little thing it is. This book is stuffed with over 50 creme brulée recipes ranging from basic vanilla, to your savory dishes (they look more like little dinners than brulée).

I've had a few recipes on my list from this book for a while. I've tried the basic vanilla, and it was simply wonderful (I served it with fresh raspberries). This time, I wanted to make the Pear Cake Brulée. I love pears. They're not quite in season, but still available. You only need pear juice anyways for this dessert, so it wasn't a bit deal at all.

My favorite part of this book is the caramel tutorial in the back. I didn't realize how fun it is to make caramel garnishes! I started with the very very basic, and it was crazy. That stuff burns layers off your skin in an instant, and almost destroyed my piping bag, but I had a blast! I started off with just a few little drops, then streams, then a caramel cage around a spoon..... well.... the cage broke the second I touched it. Apparently I'm not as delicate as I thought I was while removing the caramel cage from the spoon. So, I was left with the droplets and streams to garnish my brulée with. I need much more practice with caramel, but I'm not as scared of it as I used to be.

I loved the cake + creme brulée together. Sometimes creme brulée can be a bit too much of the same texture for me. The crunchy caramel and moist cake layer balanced it out very well. 

I had a little trouble making these little lovers. They taste top notch, don't get me wrong, but the "cake" layer wasn't as thick as the picture in the book! And that was the yummiest part! Lame. Oh well, can't win 'em all, eh? I think I'll have to stick to non-cake brulée from now on.

At least I was able to use my mini-torch for something other than lighting candles. 

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Pear Cake Brûlée
Dominique & Cindy Duby, Creme Brulée

2 T butter
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C pear juice
3 large egg yolks
1/2 C whole milk
1/2 C whipping cream
1/4 C flour
2 large egg whites
3 T sugar for carmelizing

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Grease 6 ramekins with butter then sprinkle inside with sugar to oat evenly, shaking out any excess.

In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add pear juice and egg yolks, then beat until the mixture is smooth. Add milk and cream and continue mixing until the mixture is completely smooth. Add flour and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

In a separate medium bowl and using an electric mixer with clean beaters, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg whites into pear mixture until well combined and no white streaks remain. Divide the mixture evenly among prepared ramekins. Place the mixture eventually among prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins in a shallow roasting pan. Pour hot water into roasting pan. Pour hot water into roasting until lightly golden brown and springy to the touch, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly, then turn cakes out of ramekins and let cool in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over top of each cake to cover it completely. Ignite a blowtorch and caramelize sugar until evenly melted, moving the torch constantly so sugar doesn't burn.

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5.16.2012

Chicken Crunch Wrap



If you've never had a crunch wrap from Taco Bell... then you don't know what amazing goodness this tortilla keeps in hiding...

I love taking my favorite foods from restaurants (in this case... a not-so-restaurant) and making them at home. I can't get enough of that dang Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supreme. If I go to Taco Bell, I get this almost every time (it's not like we really ever eat out... unless it's Cafe Rio or a special occasion). 

After eating one of these tonight for dinner, it'll be hard to talk me into going through that drive through again. It was too easy to make these, and (didn't think it was possible) they tasted a thousand times better. The gooey nacho cheese is the star - it's what makes this thing absolutely heavenly.

Let's just talk about the layers of this little lover: 

Layer one: Gooey, warm, shredded chicken. (normally, crunch wraps are prepared with ground beef, but I'm on a bit of a chicken kick this week). 

Layer two: Spicy nacho cheese. I actually used the Taco Bell brand queso cheese. Yes, it's probably processed/fake, but I like it. 

Layer three: A crispy/crunchy & warm corn tortilla

Layer four: Sour cream. I believe sour cream was created for Mexican food. Straight up. 

Layer five: Fresh, ripe tomatoes, crisp romaine lettuce, and (of course) a few cilantro leaves.

All layers wrapped in a warm and slightly crunchy burrito tortilla for your hand-held convenience. 


I know. It should be a crime.

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Chicken Crunch Wrap
inspired by my endless Taco Bell cravings

1 fresh vine-on tomato, chopped
2 giant romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
Burrito-size tortillas (you can use wheat, as well)
Corn tortillas (or you could use taco chips, maybe?)
Nacho Cheese (I used the Taco Bell brand because I'm obsessed with their fake cheese. But you could use shredded cheddar, or make your own cheese sauce via your typical roux)
1 chicken breast, chopped
1/2 packet taco seasoning (or make your own. I just wanted to save time)
cilantro (of course)
sour cream
EVOO

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat up your EVOO over medium in a small pan. Throw in your chicken, and about halfway through (little pink) dump in half of your taco packet seasoning and about 1/4 cup water. Turn temperature down and let simmer until cooked through and small sauce forms. Remove from heat, set aside.

Add however many corn tortillas you need onto an ungreased pan (I just used our pizza pan) and into the oven for about 5 minutes (until crispy).

Microwave your burrito tortilla about 25 seconds. Layer on your chicken, nacho cheese sauce, crispy corn tortilla, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, and cilantro on your warm burrito (in the middle). Next is the fun part. Starting on one side, take small sections and fold up around the circle shape of the corn tortilla - keep doing this until your innards are all covered (if you can see lettuce and tomato, cut a small circle from another burrito tortilla and slip it inside to cover the top).

Heat up grill/large pan (about medium heat) with a teeny bit of EVOO. Lay your crunch wrap folded-side down on your warm pan. When it's crispy, flip it.

Devour. 

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5.15.2012

Blackberry & Mint Brownie Parfait

Blackberry, Mint, and Chocolate, eh? Not usually the combination you see in one glass. After tasting how fresh and vibrant they can be together, I'd say they should be permanent neighbors.

First of all, Chasing Delicious has got to have some of the most beautiful food photography I've ever seen. Visit his site when you have a chance - it will change the way you see food. The two recipes I prepared today, I'm proud to admit, are all his.

Blackberries are such a gorgeous little fruit, aren't they? They're packed will all kinds of goodness, have such a fun texture, and can be used in so many different ways. Today, I coupled them with fresh mint, homemade whipped cream, and gooey chocolate. My kind of late-afternoon treat.

The recipe was originally listed with almost all "ounce" measurements. It was not my favorite at first, but forced me to remember my metrics, and convert the ingredients accordingly. I have yet to purchase an ounce scale, and would have loved one today, but I survived without it.

Making whipped cream from scratch is amazing. I'm not hard core enough to shun the store-bought stuff, but I've learned to really appreciate the depth of real flavor homemade whipped cream provides. Also, this recipe was the first time I've used cake flour. Felt the same.

I've always used this technique, but never really knew the name for it. It's called: bain marie. I've used it mostly to melt chocolate, but in this case today I was able to use it with a few more ingredients. Bain Marie is when you take a bowl of food (I use my medium metal bowl), and place it into a pan with simmering water. The steam heats up the bowl of food with gentle, slow, heat. I know you're beyond excited.

All in all, the overall flavor of this dish was perfectly decadent. The mint-infused whipped cream was the perfect touch. However, this recipe took a while to prepare. I'm sure there's a much easier way (store-mix brownies, mint extracts, (heck, you could just do mint brownies), store whipped cream, and use some good 'ol blackberry jam...

But you'd seriously be missing out. The extra time in this case = extra depth of flavor.

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Blackberry & Mint Brownie Parfait 
recipe from chasing delicious 

1 brownie recipe (*See Easy Fudge Brownie recipe below)
12 oz whole blackberries
1/2 C sugar
2 T mint leaves, finely chopped
1 T honey
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 C water
1 1/2 C heavy cream
6-10 mint stems with leaves
3 T sugar

Prepare the brownies according to the recipe and set them aside to cool completely.

Prepare the blackberry macerate by putting the blackberries, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons mint leaves, honey, vanilla extract and water in a bowl. Mix with a fork, mashing some of the blackberries, until everything is evenly distributed. Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the mint-infused whipped cream by placing the cream and the mint stems and leaves in a heavy-bottomed pot. Heat the mixture over medium heat just to the scalding stage – don’t let the cream come to a simmer or a boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool at room temperature before placing in the fridge to chill completely.

Once ready to whip – making sure the cream is cold – strain the cream through a fine mesh sieve – saving the cream but discarding the mint. Place the cream in a bowl and whip at high speed. Once the mixture begins to thicken, slowly add the 3 tablespoons sugar and continue whipping until the mixture forms stiff peaks – this will take longer than whipping normal heavy whipping cream. Set aside.

To assemble the parfaits place a few brownie chunks in the bottom of a cup. Spoon the mint-infused whipping cream on top of the brownies and then spoon blackberry macerate onto of the whipped cream. Repeat these steps until the cup is filled to the top (I placed a couple large chunks of brownie and some fresh mint leaves on top for decoration).

Only assemble the parfait just before eating. Store the parts separately refrigerated for up to a couple days (you will have to re-whip the cream a bit if you let it sit longer than a few hours).

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*Easy Fudge Brownies
recipe adapted from chasing delicious

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chopped
1 3/4 C sugar
3 1/2 oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 C choc chips
1/2 t
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, cold
1/2 C cake flour

Butter a 9×11 pan (I used a cookie sheet - that way I could have smaller pieces for the parfaits); preheat an oven to 325°F with a rack in the bottom third of the oven.
Place the butter in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water - (bain marie). When it begins to melt, add the sugar, cocoa powder and chocolate bar. Stir occasionally until the butter and chocolate have completely melted and mixture is completely mixed together–it may still appear a bit grainy.
Remove the bowl from the bain marie and allow the temperature of the mixture to cool slightly.
Add the vanilla and stir. Then add each egg, one at a time, mixing well after each to completely incorporate it.
Add the cake flour and mix until it is completely dispersed. Continue to mix for another minute to ensure the mixture is smooth. The batter will be very thick.
Pour batter into the pan and spread it out evenly if needed. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 22 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out covered in crumbs and a paste-like substance, but not a liquidy looking substance (it should stick to the toothpick and not run or fall off).
Allow the brownies to cool to room temperature.


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