Monday, May 30, 2011

French Toast

You've already seen that, thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law, I'm a bit of a fan of the french toast bake.  I mean, what a great way to have all that yummy french toast flavor with hardly any of the mess and fuss, right?

Sometimes I just want to go old-school.  And if I'm going to go through the hassle of soaking and frying individual slices of bread, why not really amp this up and make sure I've had a hand in each level of this recipe to ensure fabulous-ness?  Let's start with the bread...

I've discovered that, like sandwiches, the key to a rock star french toast is awesome bread.  Not just the flavor and staleness of it but the thickness of each slice as well.  Think about it...have you ever ordered french toast in a restaurant and gotten skinny, wimpy slices?  Uh-huh, that's right.  You get these big monster slabs of it!  So, put your sandwich bread back in the pantry.  Yes, go on, put it back.  If you're not a baker, make sure to grab a loaf of Texas Toast when you're next at the store.  Or, take 10 minutes and put the following in your bread machine

White Bread
[This recipe makes a 1.5 lb loaf]

1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
4 tsp margarine, butter, or olive oil
3 cups bread flour
4 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp active dry yeast or bread machine yeast

1.  Add ingredients to bread maker according to manufacturer's directions.  Bake at white bread setting.

2.  Pull out and let sit on counter, uncovered, for AT LEAST a day before using.  Two days would be even better.
I love making simple, classic breads

So now we've got the bread for our most fabulous french toast.  How do we turn these lovely slabs into fried pieces loveliness?  Oh, patience my friends.  Patience.  Well, and butter.

French Toast
Recipe from Food Network Magazine

1 loaf of stale white bread, sliced into 1" to slices
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat.
French toast is not the time to cut corners with skinny slices

2.  In a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla, sugar, and salt.

3.  Melt about a 1/2 tbsp butter on the griddle.  Working in batches, dip the thick slices bread in the egg mixture and cook on the griddle until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side, adding more butter as needed.
Oh yeah, that's the color you want
4.  Transfer the fried slices to a baking sheet and bake until puffed, 8 to 10 minutes.
This french toast is yummy on it's own.  Most of the time I like to be traditional and drown it in syrup.  Other days I might feel a little more creative.  Coincidentally the creativity usually hits when I happen to be out of syrup.  This toast is good with a little extra butter and spiced sugar sprinkled on top.  It's good slathered in Nutella.  It's good with some simple Hershey syrup and sliced fresh strawberries.  Or, and I haven't tried this myself, brown some slices of banana in butter and brown sugar and pour that on top (with whipped cream of course).  The possibilities are endless!
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Friday, May 27, 2011

Lentil Soup

If you didn't already know this, I live in Wisconsin.  I wasn't born and raised here but I've really come to love this state, which is known for several cool things.  Unfortunately, Springtime is not one of them.  It's getting to be a joke between me and my friends who live in warmer climates about how crazy our springs can be.  It's not unusual at all for temps to hit the mid-70's one day and literally the next day it's not even 50, gray, rainy, and cold.
Spicy soup with warm oatmeal bread

This constant up-and-down mood swing of Mother Nature can really drive me bonkers some days.  Other days, I'll have to confess that I secretly like that I can still pull out a few hot, comforting dishes before the oven becomes my enemy.

Like this one...

Lentil Soup
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes

1 lb sweet Italian sausage, 1/2 mild and 1/2 hot
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 (16 ounce) package dry lentils, rinsed
1 cup chopped carrot
8 cups water
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/2 tbsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper

1.  Place sausage in a large pot. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Add onion and chopped garlic, and saute until tender and translucent. Stir in lentils, carrot, water, chicken broth and tomatoes.
Blending the hot and mild meats means we get a great medium heat throughout

2.  Season with garlic powder, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover, and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until lentils are tender.  Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.
Yay spices!

This soup is hearty and with just enough spice to it that it will warm you even as the soup itself cools off.  And like any soup lover, I love to sop up the broth with some crusty bread.  This particular recipe makes a TON.  So it's a great option for a get together, or make the full recipe but put half in the freezer for a later dinner.  Gotta love those get-ahead options!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baby Bean

It might be a few days to get back to more regular posting.  My little bun-in-the-oven, affectionately nicknamed Baby Bean, finally joined the world on Monday.  :)

Little Kieran will eventually join big brother Gavin in helping me experiment in the kitchen!

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Get Ahead: Machaca Beef

I'm all about getting ahead these days.  I am due to have this baby on Monday so the more I can pack into my freezer, the better.  God bless my mom and mother-in-law for helping me with this!!!  I've also been trying to contribute to this effort by Cooking Big.  By that I mean in the last few weeks I'm trying to make a recipe or two that make enough to feed probably eight people.  Then I'm guaranteed a few leftovers for lunches plus a healthy freezer offering for a later dinner.

This is a great recipe that makes a ton and is easily frozen for a later date.  Or you can always give in to the glorious smells emitting from your slow cooker and eat all of this in one sitting.  We don't judge here.

Machaca Beef

Recipe from Fix It & Forget It cookbook

1 1/2 lb beef roast
1 large onion, sliced
2 beef boullion cubes
1 (4oz) can diced green chiles
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp season salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup salsa

1. In a slow cooker, combine the onion, boullion cubes, and chiles.  Lay the roast on top of this and sprinkle with seasonings.  Add just enough water to cover the roast.

 2.  Cover and cook on LOW for 10-12 hours.

3.  Transfer the roast from the cooking liquid to a large bowl and shred.  Stir in salsa.  Add some of the cooking liquid (and the onions too!) if it is still a little dry.  You want this to be a deliciously juicy shredded meat concoction.

4.  Use shredded beef for:
  • Nacho topping
  • Tacos
  • Burritos
  • Quesadillas
  • Enchiladas
  • Chili
  • All around feel-good happiness food
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pesto Pasta Bake

I'm a big fan of recipes.  I like looking over the list of ingredients and imagining how all those flavors will combine and balance each other out.  I like seeing approximately how long it's going to take me to put the dish together.  Recipes are guidelines.  Recipes are safe.

Sometimes is BORING.

Do you ever just want to open up the fridge, root through the pantry, find a bunch of stuff to throw in a pot and have it magically come out fabulous?  Yeah, me too.  But I know my limitations and I'm not quite at That Level yet.  I'm still baby-stepping my way into making up my own recipes.  I like to keep things simple and use fool-proof ingredients that I already know I L-O-V-E.  Like pesto, pasta, and cheese.  Can't go wrong!

Pesto Pasta Bake

1 lb whole wheat penne pasta
3 cubes of frozen pesto, thawed
1 (16oz) container small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 tbsp Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle

1.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook according to package directions.  Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid before draining pasta.  Set aside.
Every fall I make big batches of pesto to freeze in ice cube trays

2.  While pasta cooks, in a large bowl combine the cottage cheese, pesto, cheddar cheese, and cheese sprinkle.  Add the hot pasta, tossing to combine.  Add some of the hot pasta water if you'd like to thin out the sauce a little bit.

Cheesy, pesto-y goodness

3.  Pour the cheesed pesto pasta into a baking dish, spreading it out into an even layer.  Sprinkle on a little more cheese sprinkle if you like, or Parmasan would be fantastic if you happen to have some lying around (I did not the other day or you'd totally see Parm listed above).

4.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the top is browned a bit and the cheese is bubbly.

Some notes...

  • I think pesto adds Ah-Mazing flavor to just about anything so I love having it on-hand to use however I like.  I prefer to make my own though because it can be REALLY OILY normally.  Don't worry, you'll see my pesto recipe later on this summer...
  • I always feel better about the amount of cheese I'm using if I'm combining it with whole wheat pasta instead of regular.  Plus, whole wheat adds this really great, subtle nutty flavor.
  • I have a personal preference for cottage cheese over riccota.  If you're a ricotta fan though, totally use that instead.  And toss in some mozzarella too if you have that around!
  • Do you have Carnivores watching over your shoulder?  Cook up a chicken breast to shred and add to the mix.  You might need more cheese and/or pasta water though to stretch the cheesiness.
  • FYI, I measured NOTHING in this so my measurements above are approximations.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Another of my childhood classics!  I realize I'm pregnant but I seriously get intense cravings for this one.  I have contemplated just cutting to the chase and drinking the sauce with a straw.  Is that too much?  Probably...but this sauce really is just that good!

Linguine with Clam Sauce
Recipe from my mom

1/2 lb whole wheat linguine
2 tbsp butter
1/8 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
1/2 tsp thyme
1 cup milk
1 can chopped clams, undrained
1/4 tsp salt
1-2 grinds freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper*

1.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2.  While pasta cooks, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add onions.  Saute until translucent.  Whisk in the flour, basil, oregano, and thyme and let that cook a couple minutes.

3.  Slowly add the milk, whisking until smooth.  Add the clams and remaining seasonings.  Let sauce simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Ladle over hot pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

*Cayenne is HOT STUFF.  This sauce is meant to be mellow, soothing, comforting, so go easy with the cayenne.  If you'd like it spicier, it's a lot easier to add more than to take away.

My mom would make this a lot when we were little.  Not only is it super yummy in it's creamy comfort, but it also comes together in under 20 minutes.  Bonus!!
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Monday, May 16, 2011

Banana Breakfast Shake

So I had this recipe all picked out to share with you's one of my favorites with some neat tidy pictures in it.  Totally the norm.

And then I made something new for breakfast.  Something I just totally HAD to share with you RIGHT NOW because it was so yummy.

Of course no pictures for this one but you can use your imagination right?

Banana Breakfast Shake
Recipe adapted from Food Network Magazine

2 bananas
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup yogurt
2 tsp honey
Pinch cinnamon
1 cup ice

1.  Put everything in blender and puree.

2.  Pour shake into your preferred to-go cup and run out the door.  Smiling because you totally just made breakfast in under 3 minutes.

Some notes/tips:
  • If you like an extra thick shake, use frozen bananas.  Just be careful that you'll need to wait a few minutes to let the bananas and ice chips thaw a smidge before you can start drinking this.  I suppose if you're starving you could try scooping this with a spoon but I don't recommend doing that while operating heavy machinery.
  • Did you notice I didn't tell you what flavor or what kind of yogurt to use?  Yeah, that was deliberate. Use what you like!  I used plain this morning because that's what I have and that's what I like.  Use vanilla, strawberry, banana, pineapple, Greek yogurt with honey....whatever floats your boat and makes you feel all creative and happy!
  • I love cinnamon.  So my idea of a pinch is probably somewhere between 1/8 to 1/4 tsp.  I was generous this morning and got this lovely cinnamon-y background flavor that wasn't too overwhelming at all.  If you like cinnamon, be generous with your pinch.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Rice with Almonds & Raisins

Do you know what goes really well with Key West Chicken?  This.

Rice with Almonds & Raisins
Recipe from AllRecipes

1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup uncooked white rice
2 tbsp raisins
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds, toasted 

1.  Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion, stirring, until tender. Stir in the rice and raisins, letting the rice toast a few minutes.  Add the broth and season to taste. Bring to a boil. 
Rice. Broth. Raisins.  Let's party!

2.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed. Stir in almonds before serving. 
Letting the rice toast a little adds more depth of flavor

Honestly, I could eat this for breakfast.  Yup, seriously, it's that good.  The raisins add a FABULOUS sweetness to the dish.  The onions and broth lend just a smidge of savory to the background.  And the toasted almonds give it this really fantastic crunch.  Because I love texture, as well as flavor contrast, this is totally a party in my mouth.  Yummy!!

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Key West Chicken

The weather this week has been fantastic!  Temps are climbing.  Plants are poking up from the ground.  Spring is coming...
Seeing my cherry blossoms bloom just fills me with joy
WOOO HOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And maybe it's the warmer weather, or maybe it's the fact that I'm about to have a baby in a week and a half, but I am overcome by this desire to keep meals as simple and as light as I possibly can just now.

This recipe totally hits both requirements.  Yay!

Key West Chicken
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp canola oil
2-3 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp chopped garlic
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 

1.  In a shallow container, blend soy sauce, honey, oil, lime juice, and garlic. Place chicken breasts into the mixture, and turn to coat. Cover, and marinate in the refrigerator 4-8 hours. 
Such few, humble ingredients pack a ton of flavor

2.  Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat. 

3.  Lightly oil the grill grate. Discard marinade, and grill chicken 6 to 8 minutes on each side, until juices run clear. 
Broiling: for the Grilling Inept, like me

I decided to leave the original cooking instructions on here because I think this dish would taste best when cooked on the grill.  I, however, used the broiler when I made this (which worked just fine actually) because I am not blessed with any grilling skills whatsoever.  So, if you are also in a like situation, or if the Grill Master in your house doesn't feel like firing up the grill, know that you have some alternatives to still get this great flavor.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


My dad is retired Navy; have I mentioned that before?  Not sure...anyway, because of this career choice a brief snippet of my early life was spent in Japan.  I was really too young to know any different but our time there was truly amazing.  That country is GORGEOUS and man, I can't wait to go back some day.

Don't be scared.  I don't bring this up to try and force a sushi recipe on you.  So far the sushi technique has escaped me, much like grilling.  I leave that up to Rob.  Instead I have an extremely simple and TASTY dish that I bet any mid-westerners will L-O-V-E:  tonkatsu (aka breaded and deep-fried pork chops).  With me now? ;)

Recipe from Allrecipes

4 eggs
2 tsp milk
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
8 thin cut boneless pork chops (about 1/4" thick OR LESS; this is NOT a recipe for the Big Bertha pork chops I know you Iowans love)
1 1/2 - 2 cups panko crumbs

1.  In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, garlic, salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place the panko crumbs in a shallow bowl. 
I love adding more flavor to egg batters

2.  Dip pork chops in the egg mixture. Coat with panko crumbs, dip in the egg mixture again, then coat with another layer of panko crumbs (the double coating process is messy but oh-so-worth it!). Lay coated chops on a plate until the rest are finished. If you have time, let them set for about 10 minutes, and the coating will set very well. If you wish to freeze the chops (Ooo!  A Get Ahead opportunity!!), now is the time. 
Cute little pork chops...ready for freezer OR fryer!

3.  When the oil is very hot, place pork chops into the pan, and fry for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  
Drool-worthy golden color

I made some notes about this recipe...  
  • Depending on the size of pan you're using, the oil may not completely cover the chops and that's ok.  This is more like shallow frying than deep frying.  
  • The exact cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the chops and how hot the oil is. If your chops are super thin, cook closer to 3 minutes per side. Remember, nobody likes a tough pork chop.  And contrary to popular belief, pork is NOT like can be a little pink inside.
  • ALWAYS make sure to let meat rest before eating!!  They will finish cooking while the juices redistribute.
  • Though fine on it's own, the BEST way to eat tonkatsu is with sauce.  The best one I've had is a sweet plum sauce.  There are a variety of recipes out there though that range from sweet to tangy to spicy.  Try whatever suits your tastes.  If you're crazy busy some weeknight though and happen to forget about putting a sauce together (like some absent-minded Mommy of almost 2 kids who I think we all know), steak sauce works well too.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

KISS Cooking Method: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Last night my exhaustion, my lack of cooking creativity was richly rewarded.  I was reminded that not only is it ok to keep meals simple, my family NEEDS simple meals sometimes.

To my humble menu of grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches (with pesto for Mama), fruit salad, and roasted broccoli, Gavin exclaims, "Oh thank you Mommy!  This is the best dinner EVER!"

I love making this little guy happy.
How do you keep things simple in your kitchen?
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Monday, May 9, 2011

Strawberry Sauce

This is quickly becoming my favorite time of year.  Temps are warming up.  Kids are starting to play outside more.  Grills are getting dusted off and that smoky aroma permeates neighborhoods everywhere.  Garden stores are shouting at us all to stop in, get some plants, grow your own food.  Strawberries are in season.

Oooohhhh strawberries.....

Yes, I am that person who will sit by the fruit tray at parties and eat up all the luscious red berries first (sans dip of course, unless we're talking whipped cream).  I love, love, LOVE strawberries!  There's a winery not too far from me that not only makes strawberry wine special every year, but has this enormous festival celebrating the delightful berry gem!

I love it.

Do you ever struggle though with what to do with all the berries you've purchased?  Perhaps when they're on crazy sale you go a wee bit too crazy and have more than you can feasibly eat before they go bad.  Never fear... I have your solution!

Strawberry Sauce
Recipe from Rachael Ray

2 lbs fresh strawberries, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
Juice of two lemons (approx. 4 tbsp)

1.  Combine the strawberries, brown sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Partially cover with a lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries are softened and release their juices, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
I've stopped measuring the sugar and juice.  Just add to taste!

2.  Pour the strawberries into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  If you have an immersion blender, use that (less dirty dishes = WOO HOO!).
Berries before.

Berries after. I love my immersion blender!

3.  Press the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a storage container.  Straining it will get out any pulp that didn't puree well, and also the bulk of the seeds, leaving you with this luscious, velvety-sweet sauce that's just AMAZING.  If the seeds don't bother you though and you're in a hurry, feel free to skip the strainer and pack up the pureed sauce as is.  The sauce will keep for up to 10 days in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
This seriously tastes like liquid velvet.

I've been making this sauce for years but I think this is the year for it to become MAJORLY popular in my house.  Gavin's suddenly aware of it and requests "strawberry syrup" with his pancakes every weekend now.
Scraping the sauce of his plate with his fork.

I've also discovered a new use for this sauce, as well as a new favorite summertime drink: Strawberry Soda.  Pour a tablespoon or two of the sauce into a glass with ice.  Fill glass with lime seltzer and stir to combine.  DELICIOUS!!!  I need to stock up on lime seltzer.

Pancakes.  Soda.  Those are some more obvious uses for this sauce but you can literally do anything with it.  Stir it into some plain yogurt with some chopped kiwi or pineapple.  Use it as a base for a pork tenderloin marinade.  Or just eat it over ice cream!  Explore, get creative. :)
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

A very special I LOVE YOU to the woman who instilled in me my love of cooking. 

Thank you for letting me crack the eggs for cookies.  Thank you for letting me make you dinner, complete with overcooked broccoli.  Thank you for letting me burn the rice over and over and over again.  Thank you for teaching me that stove top burners operate on more than just HI and LOW settings. 

Thank you for letting me make pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving, and for encouraging me to enter my peanut butter cookies in the 4-H fair.  And thank you for the years of experimental recipes you would try on us, many successes, and a few maybe not the most stellar recipes but we ate them anyway.  You've given me the inspiration to keep trying, to keep experimenting, to keep playing, to keep having fun.

I love you Mom!!
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Black Bean & Corn Quesadillas

I can trust y'all, right?  I mean, we are talking about food here... peoples' likes and dislikes and that can get pretty intense sometimes.  See, I need to confess something....I am always on the hunt for vegetarian recipes that I think my family will like.  There, I said it.  I'm in a house of carnivores, and God knows I like to eat meat too, but I also sometimes just need to change things up a little with a vegetarian option.
Baby's really into avocado, hence my heavier hand with the guac

And can I just say that it is HARD to quietly get a vegetarian dish to my table??  Knowing how much I love cooking, Rob will usually ask about what meals I'm planning because he's awesome and wants to be supportive of my obses- *ahem*, I mean hobby.  If it comes to light ahead of time that I'm working on a dish with no meat in it, I get The Look.

But this time, I won. :)  And even though I agree this would also be good with chicken in it (occasionally), we BOTH liked it despite it's lack of meat!

Black Bean & Corn Quesadillas
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes

2 tsp olive oil
3 tbsp chopped green onion
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/4 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup salsa
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
8 (8 inch) whole wheat tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese of your choice

1.  Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion, and cook about a minute, just to soften it up a little.  Stir in beans and corn (if you're in a rush and using corn that's still frozen, add the corn first and let that heat up a minute or two before adding the beans).
Look at that COLOR!!

2.  Add sugar, salsa, and pepper flakes to the skillet; mix well. Cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. 

3.  Sprinkle the shredded cheese on half of a tortilla.  Top with a little of the bean-corn mixture and sprinkle with some more cheese [Note: a little goes a long way].  Cook on a hot griddle or dry skillet until golden, then flip and cook on the other side.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. 

The combination of the brown sugar along with the salsa and red pepper flakes really gives this an amazing flavor.  It's so not spicy at all (but then I used medium salsa and was careful with the red pepper), rather I get this lovely warming sensation in my mouth, but it's tempered by the sweetness of the sugar.  I almost think it has a barbecue flavor but that's not entirely true.....Give it a try and let me know what you think!

As for cheese, I used two different kinds of cheeses: cheddar and pepperjack.  Cheddar is my standard go-to for all quesadillas.  And since I had some leftover pepperjack cheese from those club sandwiches (and Rob and I love the kick of pepperjack), I tore those slices up too.  Wouldn't you know but I happened to love both!  I got a better sense of the filling from the cheddar quesadillas, while the pepperjack ones satisfied my desire for spice (and, again, I can't get over how great that sweetness is in this!).

So, if you're a vegetarian or into vegetarian dishes, try this out and let me know what you think of the flavor.  If you're a Tried-and-True-sure-this-looks-great-but-I-can't-do-it Carnivore, my feelings aren't hurt. ;)  Try this with some shredded chicken or, better yet, pork. 

p.s. Just want to let you know that the leftover filling, topped with some cheese and guacamole, make awesome nachos the next day!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nutella Swirled Banana Bread

I love that I am surrounded by people who love food as much as I do.  It just makes me happy!  We all get a kick out of making food, talking about food, EATING food, and sharing it with others.

One of my coworkers shared this one with me last week.  And let me just say that the name alone had me checking my dwindling supply of Nutella to make sure I had just enough to make this bread.  This is the kind of bread that can be consumed rain or shine, happy or sad.... or if you've just returned from a particularly stressful road trip that included yourself in the same car with Those Relatives.  You know the kind I mean.

Nutella Swirled Banana Bread
Recipe adapted from Lovin' From the Oven

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
1/3 cup plain low fat yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup Nutella

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x4 inch loaf pan (yes, you want to make sure your pan is fairly wide and shallow; a taller bread pan may result in the edges being done but the center still a gooey, raw mess.  Trust me on this one).

2.  Whisk together flour, baking soda & salt. Set aside.
Yes, you can use applesauce to replace some or all of a fat in baking

3.  In another mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and applesauce. Add the eggs and mix well. Add banana, yogurt and vanilla; beat until blended. Next, blend in the flour mixture until just incorporated.
I love that this recipe also uses yogurt!

4.  Microwave the Nutella for about 15 seconds until soft. Add 1 cup of the banana bread batter to the Nutella and stir together.
I really could just get a spoon...

5.  Take turns spooning the nutella batter and the plain banana batter into the loaf pan. Swirl the batters with a knife.


6.  Bake the batter for 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Polla alla Cacciatora

Polla alla whata?  Yeah, sorry...  I know the name sounds kind of weird.  Really this is like a variation on chicken cacciatore.

So I was getting my usual Saturday morning foodie fix and I watched one of the chefs prepare this.  She mentioned how this was an easy weeknight supper... yeah, yeah, I've heard that one before.  But then I really looked at her ingredients and how she was putting it all together.  Dude, this seriously is a weeknight wonder meal!  Fancy-sounding enough for company, simple, comforting, and filling enough to be just for the family, and comes together in about 30 minutes.  Wahoo!!!

Polla alla Cacciatora
Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson

4-5 strips of bacon
1 tsp (ish) fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5-6 green onions
1 lb chicken thighs
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 cup white wine
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sugar
1 (14.5oz) can Great Northern white beans (or cannellini beans, or whatever white bean you like)

1.  Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat.  Using kitchen shears, snip bacon into pan.  Let cook a few minutes and start to crisp up a bit.
Oh fresh rosemary....I love you

2.  Also using kitchen shears, snip bits of green onion into pan with the onion.  Add rosemary.  Let cook a few more minutes and try to not stick your nose into the pan too far as you inhale the glorious aroma of fresh rosemary being cooked in bacon fat.
Seriously, the smell of this concoction cooking together is HEAVENLY!

3.  As the bacon, onion and rosemary cook, cut chicken thighs into quarters.  Add to pan with the celery salt and let brown a couple minutes.  Pour in white wine and let that come up to a simmer before adding the tomatoes, bay leaves, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 20 minutes.

4.  Drain and rinse the canning juices off the white beans.  Stir into the chicken mixture and let heat through before serving.

Couple of things to make note of: I know I wasn't very exact on the time to cook the bacon because I think it's going to vary depending on how hot your skillet is.  You want to make sure though that by the time you start adding liquid to the pan that the bacon is good and crispy.  The liquids will soften the bacon no matter what so any "lightly done" bacon will seem almost raw in the finished dish.  If you want to keep that bacon crispy, I'd suggest cooking the bacon on it's own and them removing it to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Cook the onions and rosemary in the bacon fat and then add the bacon back in just before you serve.

I like to eat this over rice to help soak up some of those lovely tomato/wine/bacon juices.  I think you could also eat this in a bowl with some crusty bread.  Despite some of the more intensely flavored ingredients (hello bacon, rosemary...), the resulting flavor of this dish is pretty mild in my opinion.  Between the juicy chicken, hearty beans, and wonderfully rich tomato sauce, this is just the kind of thing I'm looking for at the end of a long day.
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