7.31.2012

Baked Parmesan Zucchini Fries

We all have them, or we know people who do. Those giant green garden logs have taken up our counter space log enough. It's time to take a stand before it gets out of control (those of you who have zucchini-infested gardens understand exactly what I'm talking about.)

When my Mom brought over a couple zucchini and squash last week, I was pretty pumped about the squash. I love squash. I usually bread it up and fry the heck out of it. Done. But that zucchini could only be met with a glazed-over look of complete hopelessness.

I used one of them on my Thin Crust Garden Vegetable Pizza with Pepper Jack Cheese last week, but I still had another zucchini lingering over my head, and I hate to be wasteful - especially with fresh garden produce.

It was then when I remembered eating at one of my favorite places in Utah: Magleby's. We don't get to eat there often, (the entrees are a wee bit out of our price range), so we usually save it for Valentine's Day or our Wedding Anniversary (coming up on the big number 5 this month). Their salads are nothing to write home about, but MAN they have one of the best Prime Rib dishes out there; their Filet Mignon as a tasteful close second. The first time we went to Magleby's, it was during recruiting season for law school. Ryan still hadn't decided which law school to choose from his acceptance letters, so a local law professor took us out to dinner to talk things over. He ordered us a plate of fried zucchini - at first I was completely skeptical. But after dipping those crispy, but deliciously savory, zucchini slices in that zingy marinara sauce, I was hopelessly in love. I'm not big on appetizers, but the second we step into Magelby's, I can't help but crave a full-plate of that tasty, fried zucchini.

So, naturally, with this last zucchini, I wanted to take a crack at one of my favorites - except this time, I ditched the frying pan and pool of oil, and decided to keep things light in the oven. Baked zucchini fries. And yes, warm marinara sauce was essentially nearby.

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Baked Parmesan Zucchini Fries

Ingredients:
1 large zucchini, ends removed
1/2 C flour
2 t salt, divided
3/4 t ground black pepper, divided
3 large eggs
1 1/2 C panko crumbs
1/2 C grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper, and position oven rack in the center of the oven. Cut zucchini into thick french fries. I noticed that the very center of the zucchini (with all those seeds) doesn't hold together very well for fries. So it won't hurt to leave those pieces out.

With 3 shallow and wide bowls, you're going to make 3 separate coating mixtures:
In the first bowl, stir together flour, 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper.
In the second bowl, whisk together eggs, 1/2 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper.
In the third bowl, combine panko crumbs, Parmesan, and 1/2 t salt.

Working in batches, and keeping one hand for the dry ingredients and one hand for the wet eggs, first dip zucchini in flour, shaking off excess. Transfer to egg mixture and toss until coated, letting excess egg run off, then coat zucchini in panko mixture.

Arrange zucchini, without crowding, in one single layer on prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes and then carefully flip zucchini to other side (I noticed a fork worked best). Continue to bake until panko is golden and crisp, about 10 minutes (take a peek after 7 minutes, though, just in case. Baking time will depend on oven, size of zucchini slices, etc).

Serve with warm marinara/pizza sauce. 

Recipe Adapted From: Oprah.com/food
linking up here.

7.30.2012

Garlic Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon + Green Beans with Toasted Almonds

Yesterday for Sunday dinner I decided we needed a little bit of Rachael. This chicken recipe has been on my list for a while, and I wanted Ryan to give green beans another shot.

You see, he hates green beans. I love green beans. So naturally, I'm going to try to make them in new ways to get him to like them, too. I thought maybe if the little beauties were smothered in butter, garlic, and tossed with a bit of toasted almonds, they'd be enough to tip his scale. Long story short: I went crazy over them, Ryan still doesn't like them. *Sigh* I guess if someone tried to feed me pickles, in any way/shape/form, I'd sense them from a mile away. And I'd still avoid them like the plague. These beans, on the other hand, were a definite win (if you like beans, that is). They were still a little crisp, had beautiful flavor, and oh how I loved the addition of those toasted almonds.

The chicken smelled incredible cooking in the oven. The fresh rosemary combined with the lemon was such a tender way to dress your typical chicken breast - and proved to be a perfect Sunday dinner dish. I changed up the cooking time a bit. Rachael originally had it at 425 for 20 minutes, and to slice up the chicken breast into large pieces. I wanted to serve a whole breast, and knew 20 minutes isn't enough to cook through, and continue to cook until it falls apart, so I lowered the cooking temperature, and added on a couple hours. I love how tender and juicy meat becomes at lower temperature, but longer cooking time. It gave the seasonings a chance to seep through the chicken, and create something truly memorable for dinner. 

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Garlic Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon

Ingredients:
2 whole chicken breasts, trimmed
6 cloves garlic, chopped small, but not minced
3 T fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from stems
3 T EVOO
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 T grill seasoning blend - I used Montreal Chicken by McCormick -or- salt and pepper
1/2 C dry white wine or chicken broth

Directions:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a medium-sized oven-safe dish (I used my 2 quart dish {looks like a giant white ramekin}. Add garlic, rosemary, EVOO, lemon zest and grill seasoning. Toss and coat the chicken with mixture, then place in oven, covered. Slow-Cook on low for about 2-3 hours. Check after 1.5 hours with a meat thermometer. Cooking time will vary depending on your chicken breast size. The longer it cooks on a low temperature, covered, the more moist and juicy that chicken is going to be. 30 minutes before you take chicken out of the oven, squeeze on lemon juice (watch your seeds), and pour on white wine or chicken broth. Finish cooking. Remove from oven, let sit for 10 minutes, covered. Spoon pan juices over chicken before serving.

Recipe from: Rachael Ray/Food Network

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Fresh Green Beans with Toasted Almonds

Ingredients:
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
1 T EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
2 T butter
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted
salt

Directions:
Cook green beans 5 minutes in 1-inch boiling water, covered in a medium saucepan. Drain beans and return pan to heat. Lower heat to medium/high. Add oil and butter to pan. Toss beans gently, season with garlic powder and salt and transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with toasted slivered almonds.

Makes 4 servings. 
Recipe adapted from: Rachael Ray/Food Network

linking up here.

7.29.2012

Mini S'mores Cups

Chocolate. Graham Cracker. Marshmallow. 
These flavors just will not stop. 
These will satisfy any and every s'mores craving you could ever have, and are thankfully easy to throw together. 
 
That said, as I type this entry, and look at these delicious pictures, I'm saddened to relate, I was only able to eat two of them. "Oh! She must have given the others away! How generous of Blondie!" you might say. I regret to report, the other 10 mini S'mores Cups weren't given away, nor were they kept for ourselves...

Let me explain. 

This weekend Ryan's family generously let us borrow one of their cars for the trip to the airport/grocery store - I wrecked ours the night before the bridal shower. We hopefully get it back from the auto repair shop on the 7th of August. Anyway, I was getting ready to pick Ryan up from the airport/return the car to his family. So I made a batch of these little lovey bites of s'mores heaven to say thank you to them. I took a few quick pictures of them for the blog and headed out the door.

I put the mini-muffin tin full of s'mores desserts on the top of the car while I loaded in the manchild in his car seat and threw my purse in the passenger's side. This entire time, I was casually taking with my landlords, who were there to spray for spiders (thank heavens...).

I was about a half mile down the road, and almost on the freeway, before I remember that I did NOT have the s'mores cups with me in the car.

Yes.

I had left them on the roof of the car.

Never in my life have I made this mistake. Ever. Never ever (even with a shining toe head since birth, believe it or not). I quickly pulled over, and dared to peek on the roof of the car, but who was I kidding? They weren't there. Obviously they wouldn't be there. How could they? There's less than zero traction on the bottom of a mini muffin tin against the roof of the Lexus. My beautiful s'mores cups had flown off the car somewhere, and smashed all over the ground.

I drove up and down the street frantically, over and over again. Nothing. No marshmallow mess. No graham cracker crumbles. Not even my mini muffin pan. I was devastated, but had to get to the airport to pick up Ryan. So I drove to the airport, and to his family's house empty-handed.

Hours later, when we returned home, I went for a run up and down the street - checking the gutters, under cars, in garbage cans (people probably thought I was nuts)... I couldn't find it anywhere. I even contacted my landlords to see if they saw them fly off my car as I pulled out the driveway. Nothing.

And thus ends the mystery of the vanishing S'mores Cups. Maybe I should put up some of those "Lost" signs with a picture of my mini-muffin tin. I'm over being sad about my dessert, but I just want my dang pan back.

 
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Mini S'mores Cups

makes 12 mini cups

Ingredients:
7 whole graham crackers, (or enough to equal 1 cup when finely crushed)
1/4 C powdered sugar
6 T butter, melted
2 bars milk chocolate candy, melted
1/2 C dark chocolate chips
6 large marshmallows

Equipment:
mini-food processor 
mini-muffin pan
melon baller

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grind graham crackers in a mini-food processor until a fine powder forms. Add in powdered sugar and melted butter until mixture turns into a crust (it shouldn't be greasy, if it's too greasy, add some powdered sugar to the mixture. But not too much.)

Spray mini-muffin tin with cooking spray. Press about 1 tablespoon of the graham cracker crust into each mini-cup with the back side of the melon-baller (it helps form the cup shape. you can use your hands if you want - either way works).

Bake 4 minutes, remove pan. Add about 3 dark chocolate chips to each cup, put back into oven for about a minute. Cut marshmallows in half crosswise and place one marshmallow (cut side down) into each cup, covering up the dark chocolate. Put back in the oven for 1-2 minutes, or until marshmallows begin to grow in size. Remove from oven, and cool on rack for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove cups from the pan, and continue to cool on rack.

Break candy bars in a small, microwavable bowl, and melt (slowly, nuking for only about 10 seconds at a time, and stirring often). Dip each s'mores cup in the chocolate, or drizzle chocolate over s'mores cup with a spoon. Leave alone to set (in fridge is best - NOT in the freezer).

Recipe adapted from: The Pampered Chef   

linking up here


7.27.2012

Thin Crust Grilled Garden Vegetable Pizza with Pepper Jack Cheese

I have the most wonderful neighbors around, and they're always so generous with the beautiful vegetables they grow in their gardens. I temporarily looked like quite the vegetable hoarder.... and decided I needed to use them up in one bang. 

Pizza was the perfect vessel, and the grill was calling to me (minus the spider episode, this time.)

I decided a sauce would have been too heavy on the decadent thin crust, so I used a light drizzle of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil.... for those who don't watch the Food Network/Rachael Ray enough) and some light seasonings on a bed of shredded pepper jack cheese to cushion the beautifully colorful vegetables. Ever since I used pepper jack on pizza a while ago, it's been hard to not crave that extra depth of flavor it provides. 

My little brother Ryan came over today after work for a visit. He arrived right when I was assembling the grilled vegetables. He must have thought I was nuts as I was carefully placing each piece... but I wanted to savor the moment. You see, sometimes I have no time to throw together a pizza, and I just toss the toppings on the dough like a crazy woman. And that's fine.... but on days like today where I have a little extra time to kill, I took my sweet time, caught up with my little brother (who is getting married to Miss Gorgeous in just two short weeks!), and made a beautiful pizza for us to eat while watching the beginning of one of my favorite things: the Summer Olympic Games. Go team.


Thin Crust Grilled Garden Vegetable Pizza with Pepper Jack Cheese

Ingredients:
1 small yellow squash, ends removed, sliced thin
1 medium zucchini, ends removed, sliced thin
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1 yellow pepper, seeds & top removed, sliced in thin strips
1 red pepper, seeds & top removed, sliced in thin strips
2 C shredded pepper jack cheese
1 C whole mushrooms, sliced with stem
1 package refrigerated thin crust pizza dough
garlic powder
1/4 C EVOO, plus more for drizzling
1/4 C butter, melted
Italian seasoning  
salt & pepper 

Directions:
Get your grill going. Warm up to medium heat. Combine EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and butter in a large bowl. Throw in all the veggies and stir around until they're all coated. Salt and pepper to taste, and add in a bit of garlic powder. 

Working in several batches, grill the vegetables directly on the grill until heated through, and slightly charred. I started with the zucchini and squash, then headed onto the smaller sliced veggies. Cover veggies to keep warm. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or whatever your packaged dough calls for). Spread out dough on a greased cookie sheet and drizzle with EVOO. Sprinkle a bit of garlic powder and Italian seasoning on dough. Prick all over with a fork. Pre-cook dough for about 5 minutes. 

Take out of oven and layer on your cheese first, then the grilled veggies and sliced mushrooms in whatever design you want. Put back in oven for about 9 minutes. 

Devour.

Source: Baking with Blondie original. 

Linking up here.   

Pink Ombre Mini Cakes

Ombre is taking the design world by storm. Thankfully, it's now bleeding into food land. It is most welcome, I must say.

Yesterday my husband flew out of town for some law interviews, so I needed a little somethin' extra to keep me busy. These little cakes took less time than I thought, but were so much fun to prepare, color, frost and assemble. I only wish Ryan were here to help me eat them. Being trapped in a house with these lovely stacks of velvety frosting and moist white cake staring at me all day... I think I'll have to sneak in an extra run this weekend...

They're not the most evenly-shaped little lovelies, by any means, but how pretty would they be for a little tea party? mother's day? little girl party? You could switch up the colors to fit just about any theme you want - as well as the frosting. With the cake mix flavor (yes, I used a cake mix this time), be sure to choose a flavor with a lighter-color batter. That way it will be easier to guide the batter towards whatever color you're choosing for the ombre effect with food coloring. 

Here's how you make them:

*note: after baking, cooling, and cutting, make sure you work quickly. They tend to dry out if you don't have them covered. I stored mine in the fridge, in a tall glass platter (with a glass cone cover), and they stayed moist. 

Pink Ombre Mini Cakes

Ingredients:
1 box cake mix (I used straight up White)
1 recipe *Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting (see below)

Equipment:
Stand mixer/hand mixer
2 regular cake pans
food coloring
4 small bowls
circle cookie cutters/mason jar for shaping
cooling rack
wax paper 
 
Directions:
Prepare cake mix according to package directions (preheat oven to appropriate temperature, as well). Split batter into 4 separate bowls - I used about 1 cup of batter in each bowl.

With one of the bowls, add drops/gel food coloring until it reaches the desired color for the bottom layer of your mini cakes  - so make it the darkest. In the next bowl, use less coloring. Same for the next, and in the last bowl use barely any food coloring. That way you have 4 different shades (increasingly lighter) of cake batter.

Coat your cake pans with shortening and a dusting of flour/powdered sugar. Working in two batches at a time (unless you have 4 separate cake pans) bake 2 bowls-worth of cake batter (saving the other two for after the first two are finished). After they're done baking, cool on a wire rack coated with wax paper.

After cooled, you're ready to make your circles. BUT before, make sure your cake layers are level (I forgot this step, and mine teetered just a bit - they're look much neater than mine if they're flat and even before you start stacking!) With your cookie cutter/mason jar top press circles into each cake (you should get about 6 circles per cake, depending on the size of your circle shape/cutter). Work quickly so the cake doesn't dry out.

Start stacking and frosting! I piped the layers on with the large circle tip and stacked the circles with the darkest color on the bottom and lightest on the top.

I then topped them off with the star tip and little white pearl sprinkles. So dainty! Store in the fridge. Enjoy!

*idea from Glorious Treats

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Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting

Ingredients: 
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
3 T whole milk or heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 1/2 C powdered sugar
1/4 t salt

Directions:
In a stand mixer mix together butter, vanilla, salt, and heavy whipping cream. Slowly and with the mixer on low/medium, so that the powdered sugar doesn't spew out, add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time. If you want your frosting to be thicker consistency, add in more powdered sugar. If you want it to be more thin and pliable, add in more liquid.

*recipe as seen on Life {Made} Simple

Linked up here

7.24.2012

BLT Pasta

My love/hate relationship with tomatoes started long ago. I grew up hating tomatoes. I'm pretty sure my Mom made sure of it (she hates tomatoes, too). When we were little kids, my Mom would gather us all together in the backyard next to the brick-red picnic table. On said picnic table was strapped the devil himself... the tomato press/strainer. We knew what we were in for when we saw that thing.
Pic from Fine Cooking
My Mom was (and is to this day) huge on canning - this was the machine that took the whole tomatoes and transformed them into a very fine seedless juice/thin puree. Seems harmless, right? So why did the children in my family hate this thing so much, you ask?   ... While writing this blog post I actually called my older brother and sister and asked them if they remembered processing tomatoes in the backyard with Mom - and oh, how they remember the vegetable gore.

The pungent smell of tomatoes in the summer heat, the guts flying out of the side of the press, the horrible smell of tomato juice, having to take turns smashing the tomatoes into the machine, the awful smell of the pile of tomato guts in a bowl, turning the crank to power the beast..... if you hadn't noticed... the smell was the infamous star in our memories. It soaked our nostrils and lungs with evil. It was worse when weather was bad, and we had to juice the tomatoes indoors.

Why did she torture us so? Well, my Dad loves tomatoes. Her mother also tortured her with the tomato press... except they had a garden 10x as big (which meant bushel after bushel of tomato torture). Howerver, she also saw the value in preserving the beautiful vegetables and fruit that grew in our backyard. She knew how to be self sufficient, and use what we grew in the garden in our dinners throughout the year. She taught us how to work hard, and to always have a garden - I'm truly grateful for her, and those dang tomatoes...

....even if the smell of tomatoes still haunts her children's taste palates to this day.

Well... some us... later I realized I could actually handle a tomato on my burger, then in a salad, on bruschetta, and eventually... in the BLT pasta you see before you today. It was delicious, and I even liked the tomatoes :)

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BLT Pasta

16 oz ziti pasta (or whatever short pasta you love)
12 slices Bacon
1 Leek, trimmed, cleaned, and chopped. (or a medium onion if you don't have a leek around)
3 cloved garlic, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 C chicken broth
2 14.5 oz cans diced Tomatoes
4 oz cream cheese, softened and cubed
1 1/2 C grape Tomatoes, halved
1/2 C fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 C Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Cook bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Remove, drain & crumble bacon (after it's cooled down a bit first, of course). Leave about a Tablespoon of drippings in skillet. Cook pasta until al dente; drain.

Add leek/onion, garlic and red pepper flakes to bacon drippings in skillet and cook for about 4 minutes (or until leeks/onions are soft). Stir in chicken broth and diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Add cubed cream cheese and stir until cream cheese is melted and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add pasta, grape tomatoes, bacon and parsley and cook until heated through. Top with Parmesan and a little extra parsley. Serve immediately.

recipe source: Let's Dish

Linking up here.


7.23.2012

Texican Pillows

On Sunday I made this crazy rice-bean-corn dish and it totally bombed. Ryan loved it. The manchild loved it, but for me it wasn't goopey enough for a casserole. It tasted like dry rice, with random corn and beans here and there. Just wanted to keep it real on here. Not all the recipes I try turn out well, and those ones just don't make it up on the blog. Thankfully, the leftovers are edible for their lunches for the next few days.

These, on the other hand, have received the official 'husband stamp of approval.' I knew the second I put a mixture including cream cheese inside a crescent roll that Ryan would stuff about 4 of them in his mouth before they hit the plate.

Just in case I haven't already shared, whenever I make a recipe that Ryan can't resist, and asks for on a weekly basis, I label the recipe as 'husband approved' on the blog. So, if you scroll down on the blog and look at the right sidebar at the bottom, there's a label cloud - if you click on 'husband approved' it will take you to all the recipes Ryan loved. Let's be honest, he doesn't go crazy for them all, but when he does, he always tells me to make sure I share with you that it has officially 'made his list'. I get emails a lot about the 'man food' meals... the husband approved section is a good place to start.

These little pillows were amazing! There's everything you could hope for in an enchilada, but with the cripsy, thick layer of jumbo crescent rolls leading the way. I think they'd even make good appetizers!

I grew up loving enchilada sauce - I used to dip taco chips directly into the sauce while my Mom carefully assembled each enchilada. The main reason I loved these little Texican Pillows is because they're perfectly dunk-able in that same beautifully spicy sauce. We were eating these as a family (which means my little guy was having some, too) so we used mild sauce this time. They were quick, easy, and tasted just right for a weeknight meal.

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Texican Pillows 
 makes about 8 pillows

 1 package jumbo crescent rolls
3 oz cream cheese
1/2 C Mexican blend shredded cheese + 1/4 C for sprinkling
3/4 C shredded/diced cooked chicken (I baked 1 chicken breast covered in the oven for 20 minutes in a pool of salsa, 1 T cumin, 1 T chili powder, salt and pepper at 350 degrees)
1/3 C enchilada sauce
2 t taco seasoning

Preheat oven to 350, spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Mix cream cheese and 1/2 C Mexican blend cheese in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds - just to make the 'glue' of the mixture.

Add seasoning mix, enchilada sauce, and chicken to melted cheese and stir until combined.

Unroll crescent rolls and lay flat.

Scoop 1 large tablespoon of chicken mixture onto large end of crescent roll, then fold over the large ends, and roll into the skinny end. Form into a ball as much as possible (pinching any exposed parts closed.)

Sprinkle tops of pillows with the 1/4 C cheese. Bake for 15 minutes (or until pillows are golden brown). 

recipe source: Tidy Mom

linking up here.

Honeymoon Bridal Shower


\
This weekend I threw a wee little bridal shower for my friend Megan. It was less of a traditional bridal shower, and more of a 'honeymoon' shower :)  She already had plenty of things ready for their home/kitchen from previous showers, but really wanted more of what my husband calls "recreational pajamas."
Of course I'm not going to include all the pictures (mostly because they all came out completely fuzzy like these ones).... but I can tell you we had a grand 'ol time as giggly girlies. I think it turned out alright for a pretty tight budget!
I served my favorite fruit salad (Strawberry, Blueberry, and Grape Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Dressing), some lovely sandwiches (Zupas Chicken Pesto Sandwiches) and had a friend bring Megan's Mom's famous salsa (I've had the recipe since high school - maybe someday I'll ask for permission to post it on here - it's a goodie).

For dessert, I had little light lemon cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting (killer recipe, Natalie. We'll be using it from now on). And for party favors, I bagged up some simple sugar cookies with white glaze/frosting as a base and piped on some 'tops and bottoms' with custom sprinkles/pearls patterns.
 Originally I wanted to use these same spiral straws, but yellow or grey stripes... I still had a pack of blue ones from the manchild's Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party, so I just used the rest of them (why buy a whole pack of straws just to get a matching color?) I cut out little flags to slip on the straws, though.  

From the ceiling I hung yellow, white and grey tissue paper pom poms. And we strung up her new 'night wear' on a clothes line in the living room. We played some fun/flirty games and had quite the lovely afternoon. 

7.18.2012

Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta


Sometimes you just need some comfort food. Despite the weather, temperature, season, I wanted some stick-to-your-bones pasta this week.

I originally wanted to use penne, but I spotted a box of beautiful little campenelle pasta instead. I've never cooked with them before, but pasta is pasta, right? You just boil until al dente and you're all good. Plus, it's always fun to use a different kind of pasta shape here and there in the kitchen.
Pic Source
This recipe was very simple, but very tasty (that phrase is practically a cliche at this point, but it's the truth). Bacon goes so well with a nice cheese sauce - and this recipe is no exception. The sauce is kind of heavy, though (meaning: Ryan is going to love it), so if you wanted to use skim milk, fake butter, and less bacon drippings, I think it might help tone things down a bit. This recipe makes a ton of pasta (a whopping pound), so plan on leftovers if you're serving a small family like I am.

I think next time we make this, I'm going to throw in some steamed broccoli or some other kind of vegetable. It needed it. Desperately. Thankfully, I could settle having them as a side this time around.

Instead of cooking the chicken in the bacon drippings as the recipe called for, I actually pre-grilled my chicken yesterday (you know... the same grilling episode with that dang spider). That way I could have it grilled, chopped, and ready to toss into the recipe when needed. I love the taste of grilled chicken (Almost as crispy as I like my marshmallows. I know. It's almost a crime.)

This is my last recipe of this week! I'm throwing my friend a 'bridal shower' on Saturday, and have much to do. The menu is ready, and I'm not worried about it at all. But I am completely challenged in the craft/decorating department... so this will definitely be interesting.

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Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta 

1 lb Campanelle pasta (or any other short pasta)
6 strips of bacon
1 T butter
1 boneless skinless chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces (the original recipe calls for two)
2 T all-purpose flour
1 packet ranch dressing mix
2 C milk
1 C shredded cheddar cheese (I used sharp)
1 green onion, sliced (no white parts) 
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, cook bacon on a large frying pan over medium heat until crispy. Drain bacon on paper towel, but reserve all but one tablespoon of bacon drippings in the pan. Crumble bacon into small pieces (after it's cooled down a bit).

Salt and pepper your chicken. Add butter to bacon drippings, melt. Throw in your chicken. Cook thoroughly until slightly browned.

Sprinkle flour and ranch dressing mix over chicken and stir. Slowly stir in milk and cook until thick and bubbly. Stir in the cheddar cheese and half of bacon. Keep stirring until cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper according to taste.

Serve with the rest of the bacon crumbles, and a green onions. A good side would be steamed veggies, or a crisp green salad.

recipe from Cassie Craves

Linking up here. 

7.17.2012

Grilled Pineapple Guacamole

Ladies and Gentlemen, guacamole has been redefined in the Blondie household.

I love this recipe - and it was worth what I went through this afternoon making the dang thing.

Let me explain.

I'm deathly afraid of spiders. The gag reflex gets kicked into high gear whenever I spot a large one (small/medium spiders, not so much). I loathe spiders. If I find a large spider in my house, I usually put a cup over it until my husband gets home. I don't even have the guts to look at it, let alone get close enough to squish it.

So you can now imagine the panicky blonde running around the backyard with her apron on, waving her tongs around, after opening up her mini-grill... and finding the devil himself in spider-form nesting away between the grates. I'm talking fangs. 

As much as I hate spiders, nothing was going to come between me and grilling my pineapple for this guacamole. I had to pull out the big girl pants....  I turned on the gas and dropped in the match. End of spider. Cleaned the grill. Kind of gross, but there's my story. Back to the food. 

I don't know why I've never had pineapple with guacamole. It's delicious! The sweet really cuts through the always-welcome creamy guacamole flavor. What a fun way to kick it up a few notches for summertime, eh?

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Grilled Pineapple Guacamole

3 slices of peeled and cored fresh pineapple
3 small ripe avocados
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 C cilantro, finely chopped
3 T freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 t salt
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, ribbed, and finely minced

Heat your grill to about medium high. Oil the grate and place the pineapple slices on the grill. Cook, turning one, until lightly charred on both sides. Remove from the grill and let cool to room temperature. Dice pineapple into small pieces.

Split the avocados, remove pit, and scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Mash with a fork until smashed. Stir in the onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and jalapeño and stir until well combined. Stir in diced pineapple and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve immediately with homemade or store bought tortilla chips.

Recipe from Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love 

linking up here.


7.16.2012

No-Bake Energy Bites

I've actually heard them called 'gorilla poops'. What a great way to start out a blog post, eh? I'm sure we all needed that mental image right about now.

Ryan said his Mom called these volcano cookies. She used to shape them into little mounds, and poke holes down the middle with the end of a wooden spoon - must have raised all boys :) Cute idea!

This recipe is the healthier version. I saw these on Pinterest a while back, and thought they looked delicious. However, I thought they'd taste less-awesome than my beloved childhood 'microwave cocoa cookies'. I mean, how could they? There's no butter and sugar! Thankfully, I was wrong, and they taste just as wonderful! I stand corrected.

I've never worked with flax seed before. I'm so glad I was on the phone with my Mom when I was buying it at the store. I was about to buy whole flax seed, instead of ground. She recommended I buy ground, and it was a good move. The ground state of the flax seed helped it blend it perfectly with the peanut butter and honey - versus having crunchy chunks of seed in every bite. I couldn't taste it in the mixture at all, but I was happy to know I was getting the extra nutrients it provides with each tasty bite.

When Ryan came home from work today, I popped one of these in his mouth without telling him it was "healthy" - he loved them! When he headed to the law school (to stay until late, surprise-surprise), I saw him pack a few Energy Bites for later (that's a good sign). I think the manchild loved these as much, maybe even more, than Ryan. And I didn't mind giving him a couple :) I mean, check out those ingredients! 

Another awesome thing about this recipe is that you can add in all kinds of healthy things like chopped dried fruits, sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans, cashews, and other types of chocolate. The possibilities are deliciously endless.

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No-Bake Energy Bites

2 C dry, old fashioned, oatmeal
1 1/3 C toasted coconut flakes
1 C peanut butter
1 C ground flaxseed
1 C chocolate chips (optional)
2/3 C honey
2 t vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer bowl. With paddle attachment, and the mixer on a low setting, mix until everything is just combined. Remove bowl from mixer, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. After it's chilled through, roll into 1-inch balls. Store in an airtight container, in refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from Smashed Peas & Carrots

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7.15.2012

Zupas Chicken Pesto Sandwiches - Copycat Recipe

Have you ever eaten at a restaurant several times, and found yourself ordering the same thing each visit? Why do we do this? Answer: for me, it's because the second I walk into that door, I always crave that one thing. And I gotta have it. It's not worth the risk ordering something that could be less awesome.

If you live in Utah and Arizona, you've been blessed with access to a gem of a place to eat: Cafe Zupas . It's one of our favorite restaurants. They have the most wonderful soups, the most beautiful salads, and the most killer sandwiches/paninis I've ever eaten. Plus, at the end, they give you a free chocolate-dipped strawberry. Ryan loves the Lobster Bisque (surprise, surprise) and I usually switch around between the Wild Mushroom Bisque and Tomato Basil with Orzo Pasta. The salads are huge, and healthily worth every bite, but I love their sandwiches the most. I've tried several things on the menu, and have yet to taste something that's not completely mouth-watering. But my all-time favorite has been the Gourmet Chicken Pesto Sandwich.

My obsession is to the point where I find myself wanting it between Zupas visits (which with our budget, can be a ways between). So what do I do? I make it at home!

First step, find a copycat recipe online. NOTHING. I'm serious. I couldn't find any copycat recipes, and the website was locking away every recipe secret known to man concerning this beautiful sandwich. So I flat out called the restaurant and asked them what was in the chicken mixture. The guy laughed out a ''nice try, lady.'' On our next visit, I was a little sneaky, and casually asked him what was in the chicken mixture (as if I've never had it before) - he must have thought I was asking for food-allergy purposes, and explained what a few of the ingredients were. It was just enough for me to get a head start in the kitchen.

I was planning on serving these at a bridal shower I'm hosting this weekend, so I wanted to test my ''in-brain'' recipe this afternoon. I felt like I was on an episode of Hell's Kitchen when Gordon Ramsay had the competitors taste a dish he made, and then asked them to recreate the recipe from "taste-memory."

Let me just say this:  I have cracked the code, my friends.

The chicken mixture is genius with pesto mixed right into the mayo, met with the perfect crunch here and there of the toasted almonds, and spicy zing of the roasted red peppers. I am in love with this sandwich, and can't wait to make them for a crowd of ladies this weekend! 

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Zupas Chicken Pesto Sandwiches
Copycat Recipe
makes 4 sandwiches

4 ciabatta rolls, sliced in half
1 large tomato, stem removed, sliced
about a cup of alfalfa sprouts
4 slices muenster cheese

1 chicken breast, cooked, cubed
1 roasted red pepper (I used the ones from the jar = easiest), sliced into small cubes
1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted
1 batch of my homemade basil pesto (basil, garlic, pine nuts, EVOO, parmesan, lemon juice)
1 cup real mayonnaise (I love miracle whip, but don't use it with this recipe. I beg you)

In a bowl, mix together chicken breast, roasted red pepper, slivered almonds, basil pesto, and mayo until just combined.

Slightly broil your ciabatta rolls in the oven so they're warm and a teeny bit crispy (or, if you're one of those people with a panini-maker... use the heck outta that thing after assembling the sandwich).

On the bottom half of the ciabatta roll, layer on your muenster cheese, chicken mixture, tomato (seasoned with salt and pepper), and alfalfa sprouts. Top with the other half of the roll, and use a toothpick to hold in place.

Dunk in soup, or devour as is. Both will rock your world.
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7.12.2012

Cherry Tomato and Ravioli Soup

 I have three gardening pots in my backyard. In one of them, I've planted my herbs (cilantro, basil, and Italian parsley). I thought I had planted a little packet of wildflowers in the next.... turns out they're giant sunflowers that have now grown past the height of my shoulders. Yikes. In the final pot, I planted a wee little cherry tomato plant.

That tomato plant has gone nuts, and has decided to produce ridiculous amounts of cherry tomatoes in the past week. Sure, we use them in salads, and Ryan eats them like grapes. But we still have a ton left over. What to do?
Throw 'em in a soup (yes, in the middle of 100+ degree weather). Not a soup fan in the summer? Pin it for later, man. We like soup year-round in this house!  

This recipe calls for 2 pints of tomatoes, and we had about one pint from the "garden". So I had to buy another pint from the store to compensate.

So now that I've stuffed this blog with Rachael Ray recipes over the past 2 weeks, I think we'll give her a break. For a solid 3 years, I had a wonderful subscription to her magazine, and loved every minute. However, the magazines started taking up room in our tiny apartment, and I had to find a solution. I ended up going through each magazine, one by one, page by page, and ripped out the recipes I wanted to make someday. I neatly kept the recipes in plastic-page protectors, and lined them up in a binder. The magazines went in the trash, and I still have that binder today full of Rachael recipes. Her 30-minute meals redefined dinnertime in our home. It's so easy to have a completely tasty meal in such a short amount of time.
 .
The thing I loved most about this soup is the cheese ravioli - fun for all, I must say. We used three cheese ravioli, but I could easily see Italian sausage or any other flavor used just as well.

The broth is heavenly. While preparing the broth, you simmer the cherry tomatoes in garlic and olive oil for about 10 minutes with the lip on tight. After that, they burst open and form a beautiful sauce! How easy is that?

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Cherry Tomato and Cheese Ravioli Soup

2 T EVOO
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1 quart chicken stock
1 lb fresh cheese ravioli
1 C basil leaves, torn
2 scallions, white ends removed, chopped
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

In a large, deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid or a Dutch oven, heat the EVOO over medium heat. Stir in the cherry tomatoes and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes burst and a thick sauce forms, 7-8 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the ravioli and cook untl tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and wilt in the basil. Stir in the scallions.

Serve the soup with grated Parmesan and crusty bread for dunking.

Recipe from Rachael Ray Magazine, October 2009 Issue

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7.11.2012

Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Brittle

 We love our desserts around here. But sometimes a cookie/bar just won't massage that sweet tooth enough to satisfy our sugar-cravings. We've made these a few times now, and I've always just kept the recipe around. Must be a good one, eh?

I was so frustrated making them this time, though. I usually buy this really delicious melting chocolate from our local supermarket, but for some reason, it was about $7 for the package this time. Yikes. So I left with regular chocolate chips. I really wish I had just bought the pricey stuff - the chocolate was made for a chocolate fountain, so it melts like a dream. Unlike regular chocolate chips.... they melt fine, but not as heavenly. Then I thought to myself: what's the downside, anyway? They're both chocolate, they're going to taste the same, and who cares if the chocolate is chunky vs. creamy? I blame my husband for this kind of thinking. Sometimes it just doesn't matter how it looks, but how it tastes (at least that's what I kept telling myself when I can't take a craving-inducing picture).

I also substituted graham crackers in for the matzo crackers. It was de-licious! The peanut butter and chocolate melt together perfectly on a smooth bed of crunchy graham crackers soaked in brittle. My favorite part was the coarse salt. I've never really used it before - and it ROCKS. Without it in this dessert, I think it would be far too sweet. The little salt crystals on top tie the sweet and salty together oh so well. So dreamy.

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Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Brittle

1 small package of graham crackers
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 C sugar
1 t vanilla
12 oz chocolate chips
1 C creamy peanut butter
coarse sea salt

Position oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, covering the bottom and sides. Place a layer of graham crackers on the sheet, breaking as needed to cover the surface; set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook undisturbed until the caramel mixture is light golen and about 255 degrees, about minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 1 minute. Stir in the vanilla and quickly pour over the grahams, using a metal spatula to spread evenly. Bake for 8 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake just until chocolate starts to melt, about 2 minutes, then spread the chocolate evenly and let the brittle cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the peanut butter in the microwave - 15 minute increments, stirring well between each nuke. Drizzle across the chocolate and swirl the chocolate and peanut butter together (using a handle of a spoon). Sprinkle with salt.

Let brittle cool for 1 hour, then refrigerate until set, abt least 2 hours. Break into pieces to serve.

recipe adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, November 2007 Issue  

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7.09.2012

Bacon Cheeseburger Calzone

Two words: Man Food. 

Sometimes I feed bad that Ryan is my kitchen guinea pig. Most of the time, I think he's spoiled rotten in the food department. Other times, I feel bad for serving yet another salad, or trying out a new quinoa recipe again... He's a really good sport, but sometimes after he's had my "chick food" for dinner, I hear him pour a bowl of cereal in the kitchen only a few hours after. Man needs man food. It's a fact.

Speaking of which, Ryan loves these. He often asks for them when I'm making my grocery list. It's no wonder why... they taste like cheeseburgers (without the lettuce and condiments, of course)! I used to make these all the time when we were both finishing up our undergrads (and for good reason!) First, they're easy to make. Second, they're filling. Third, they're not that pricey - especially if you spread out each package of meat you buy over a few meals.

Whenever we buy meat, (in this case ground beef and bacon), we split each package into 2 meals (so that covers 4 of your 5 weeknight meals, with only 2 packages of meat). We had half the ground beef with spaghetti/half for these calzones, and we're using half the bacon in omelets/half for these calzones, as well. I think it helps the meat go further. Yes, we are a meat-eating family.

These calzones were supposed to be grilled, but since I wasn't using "real pizza dough", I decided to throw them on a corn-meal dusted pizza pan in the oven. It worked out very well - and they came out hot and melty on the inside, and crispy warm on the outside. Instead of going with the traditional half circle shape of calzones... I wanted squares. Also, there's bacon. (insert evil laugh). Your man will thank me. 

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Bacon Cheeseburger Calzones

1 lb pillsbury refrigerated dough (or homemade pizza dough)
1 T EVOO, plus more for brushing
1/2 lb ground beef
4-6 slices bacon
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 t McCormick Hamburger Seasoning
3/4 C shredded cheddar cheese, we used sharp cheddar
salt and pepper
2 plum tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray pizza pan with a bit of cooking spray.

In a large skillet, thoroughly cook beef until browned, season with hamburger seasoning. Drain and transfer to large bowl.

In the same skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. In the bacon drippings, add the onion and EVOO and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Crumble the bacon into the ground beef.

On a slightly floured surface, roll/spread out dough into however large calzone you want. This recipe with the refrigerated dough makes 2 giant calzones (we eat half for dinner, the other half for lunch the next day). Place half the ground beef mixture on one side of the round/square. Top with half the tomatoes and half the cheese. Fold the other half of the dough over and pinch the edges shut. Brush the calzone with a bit of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, if you don't watch the Food Network). Transfer to prepared pizza pan (both calzones). Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes (check on yours at about 10 minutes, just to make sure. Cooking time depends on dough you buy, or homemade dough you pre-made). Enjoy!

(Suggested sides - if by some miracle you're not full after eating a half of one: green beans, green salad, fresh fruit, steamed carrots, etc)
*recipe adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, September 2008 Issue 

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7.05.2012

Pork Tenderloin and Bell Pepper Stir Fry with Eggplant

Today started off with some much-needed rain. I could finally see the beautiful mountains, instead of the thick-layer of nasty fire-smoke that has been covering the valley for weeks.

The manchild took a long nap this morning, so I had plenty of time to turn on some music, and slowly work my way through another new recipe. I love fast and easy recipes, but sometimes it's nice to take a little extra time, and keep things relaxed in the kitchen. The smell of rain mixed with stir-fry was most excellent.

I've never cooked with eggplant before, and the only time I've tasted it is in a restaurant. It has such a beautiful color, and it's texture is pretty surprising. By itself, it's not my favorite. But coupled with the sweet bell pepper, crispy taste of the green onions, and the juicy pork in this dish, it'd say it's a definite win.

Speaking of pork tenderloin.... oh my goodness. It's beyond juicy. It's like eating a meat starburst. Sounds strange when you put it that way, but the amount of juice that seeps from each bite of the pork is beyond ridiculous. It was a pretty penny to purchase, though, but a couple nights of soup and sandwiches this week was more than worth the amount of flavor this dish brought to the table.

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Pork Tenderloin and Bell Pepper Stir Fry with Eggplant

1 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 C chicken broth
1/2 store-bought stir-fry sauce 
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
3 T vegetable oil
3 T cornstarch

Cut the pork into 1/4 inch-thick slices, then cut the slices into 1/4 inch-thick slivers. Toss with 2 tablespoons cornstarch.

In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and garlic. Cook, stirring until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the pork and cook, stirring, until just no longer pink, 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to the skillet, add the eggplant and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together the chicken broth, stir-fry sauce and remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch; pour over the vegetables and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the pork mixture to the skillet and stir until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.

*We served this with white rice, and fresh fruit.

Recipe from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, September 2008 Issue.

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7.04.2012

S'mores Krispie Treats


 S'mores = Summer.

There's just no way around it. We loved eating these at our family BBQ tonight - and can't wait to finish them off tomorrow at the pool with the little ones!

Ryan and I whipped these up last night after a little Fourth-of-July shindig down the block... um... make that a GIANT shindig. Our neighbors know how to celebrate in style, and if it wasn't for our sleepy manchild, I think we would have partied the night away. Nonetheless, we slept the night away while people set up camp right outside our front door (we live on a major parade route). Thank heavens we're heavy sleepers.

Speaking of camp, you don't need to go camping to get a taste of your beloved s'mores. These literally took minutes to throw together, and taste almost like the real thing. I say almost because I usually light my marshmallows on fire, admire the flames, blow it out, and then stuff it in my mouth. It's hard to re-create that fire-burnt-to-the-crisp taste in a kitchen-made-dessert. However, I do recall the word "krispie" in the dessert title....

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S'mores Krispie Treats

1 bag 8oz small marshmallows
1 C chocolate chips
10 oz (1 box) Golden Grahams Cereal
4 T butter
1/2 t vanilla
non-stick cooking spray

In a 9x9 glass baking dish, prep pan by coating with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter and then add in marshmallows. Stir together until marshmallows have melted and become creamy. Stir in vanilla extract.

Remove from heat. Fold in grahams cereal until all marshmallows and grahams are evenly mixed together. Mix in 3/4 C chocolate chips. Spread treats into prepared baking pan. Press into pan and sprinkle remaining 1/4 C chocolate chips on top (lightly pressing to make sure they stick). Place into fridge for 10 minutes to cool. Slice into serving pieces (however big or small you want :)  Enjoy!

Recipe from Country Cleaver

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7.03.2012

Triple Chocolate Crunch Ice Cream

Yesterday morning was one of those days when I wanted to blow up my kitchen.

Seriously.

I decided I wanted to make these beautiful white chocolate strawberry cupcakes (from this cookbook) with white chocolate mousse frosting. I was so excited, my strawberries were perfectly ripe, and couldn't wait to use some of my new cupcake liners (Thanks Frugal Girls for the Michael's giftcard!)

When I was making the cake batter, I noticed it seemed a little dry, and was a funny texture. So I triple-checked the recipe, my ingredients, the measurements, and my oven temperature to make sure I wasn't just being a blonde. (couldn't help myself with that one...) Everything seemed fine, so I filled my cupcake liners, and threw them in the oven.

I usually set my oven for a few minutes shorter than the recipe calls for, just to check-up on things. My timer went off early, and I opened the oven....

I should have taken a picture of that horrible mess. The cupcakes had sunk so much, that it was basically just my cupcake liners with about a 1/4 inch of soggy cake batter covering them. I've never ever ever had anything remotely close to this disaster happen before! I was so confused! Needless to say, with a few muttered profanities under my breath, I scraped the rest of the cupcake batter right in the trash (along with the cupcake mess that came out of the oven). I was ticked.

So what do you do? Take a deep breath, turn on some John Mayer, clean the kitchen, and make delicious ice-cream.

And what an amazing batch of ice-cream it was. The combination of flavors was just what the doctor ordered for such a crazy afternoon.

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Triple Chocolate Crunch Ice Cream 

4 large egg yolks
1/2 C sugar
1/8 t salt
1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 2/3 C milk
1 1/3 C heavy cream
ice water
1/3 C white chocolate chips
1/3 C dark chocolate chips
1 C broken milk-chocolate covered pretzels

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar and the salt. Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar over medium heat and cook, stirring, until steaming hot but not simmering, about 6 minutes. Add to the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly, then pour into the saucepan. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens and registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 8 minutes.

Strain the custard into a medium bowl set in an ice water bath. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Using an ice cream machine, process the custard according to the manufacturers instructions. Fold in the chocolate chip and pretzels, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

recipe adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, June 2009 Issue

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7.01.2012

Chicken and Orzo Soup with Kale

It seemed like a complete oxymoron simmering soup in the kitchen with the air conditioner on in the house. Soup is not a summer-time meal, but I couldn't resist this simple recipe on a Sunday afternoon. The clouds came out a bit as the time went on, so I didn't feel as bad serving soup. After savoring each bite of flavor, we still would have devoured this soup on any scorching day nature could throw at us.

Originally, this soup called for arugula as the leafy green - but I love the familiar taste of kale from Olive Garden's to-die-for Zuppa Toscana soup. So I couldn't wait to substitute it right into the recipe. I loved how easy it was to make this soup, but how it tasted like it had been simmering away all day. We loved everything about the soup (except for the mushrooms. Ryan really isn't a fan unless they're stuffed with cream cheese and sausage.) The manchild really loved this dish, too - even though he missed out on the delicious broth (we strained the soup for him, and he just ate the pieces... even the kale!) I hope his non-picky palate stays as long as possible.

*I've recently had a reader ask for 'side-dish' suggestions along with my recipes. I'm happy to share what we had along with dinner! From now on, I'll try my best to include what we paired the recipe with, or leave some kind of side-dish suggestion. (Thanks Lauren!)

-I served this with leftover pizza dough (from the Roasted Tomato Basil Pizza) rolled into little bread sticks (they soaked up the broth beautifully). I think you could skip the side salad on this one, it's basically already in the soup with the kale. 

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Chicken and Orzo Soup Kale

32-oz container chicken stock (4 cups)
2 T EVOO
2 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
2 T thyme
1 bay leaf
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped (or grated)
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped
2/3 C orzo pasta
2 C chopped kale
1 C fresh basil leaves, julienne
1 t grated lemon peel
grated parmesan
salt and pepper

In a medium soup pot, bring the chicken stock and 2 cups water to a low boil.

Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, heat the EVOO, over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add thyme and bay leaf, then stir in onion, carrot, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook until veggies until softened, 6- minutes.

Pour the hot stock over the veggies, and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Removed from heat and add kale and basil to wilt. Stir in lemon pep, discard bay leaf, season with salt and pepper. Serve with lots of grated cheese.

*Recipe adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, October 2009

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