Monday, June 27, 2011

Cobb Salad

Did you have a chance to cook up some chicken over the weekend?  If you did, I highly recommend using some of it in this:

Cobb Salad
Recipe adapted from what I've heard and AllRecipes

1 1/2 pints of grape tomatoes, halved
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
5 slices of bacon
2 avocados, cubed and tossed in a little lemon juice
3 hard boiled eggs, quartered
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Spread out bacon on a broiler pan and bake until bacon is crisp, around 20 minutes.  Drain what little grease there is on a paper towel-lined plate and chop after cooled.

2.  Spread lettuce out on a large platter.
Beautiful lettuce I picked up at the farmer's market

3.  Lay out remaining ingredients across lettuce, each in their own section.
Normally I like a tossed salad, but this just turned out gorgeous!

4.  Season to taste with salt and pepper

Use whichever dressing you prefer, but a simple red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil is fantastic!  This salad actually turned out better that I could have expected for our family to eat for dinner.  Because I kept the toppings segregated, we were each able to take from the sections we preferred.  Since Gavin has become quite the selective eater in the last couple years, this made dinner suddenly more normal, instead of the battle that it usually is.  Gotta love that!

Oh yeah...Cobb salad usually has a section of bleu cheese but I didn't have any handy, plus I ran out of room on the platter anyway.  Obviously next time I need to use a bigger one! :)
Pin It

Friday, June 24, 2011

Get Ahead: Cooked Chicken

About the only kind of chicken I keep handy at all times is frozen, boneless/skinless chicken breasts.  Chicken can be such a blank canvas and so versatile that I think it's necessary for any kitchen to have a few pounds tucked away for a fast, easy, and healthy dinner.
One little ingredient, so many uses

I get myself into trouble though when I find a recipe that I'm DYING to try and it calls for pre-cooked chicken.  I have a lot of good intentions of getting whole chickens and roasting them off for the meat, as time allows.  Ha!!  That's funny.  I really like the rotisserie chickens available in grocery stores but I struggle with spending $2-$3 more than just getting a raw chicken and doing it myself.  And have you seen the prices for those tidy little packages of pre-cooked, pre-chopped chicken??  Ack!!

So the question becomes, how can I easily pre-cook some chicken with minimum fuss using the breasts I keep around anyway?  Well, like this...

Slow Cooker Chicken Breasts
Recipe adapted from my mom because I lost the sheet she wrote it down on

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large onions or 3 medium ones
Season salt
Garlic powder

1.  Because it's me and I have such a hard time remembering to do this, I will make thawing the chicken breasts it's own separate step.
Think of these as like a natural cooking rack

2.  Slice the onions and scatter in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Lay the chicken breasts on top.
Not so hard, right?

3.  Sprinkle the season salt and garlic powder over the chicken to taste.
Flavor hint: be generous

4.  Cover and cook on LOW for 4 hours.
I want to point out I added NO LIQUID before cooking.

Use this chicken in salads, casseroles, pasta dishes, soups, or just as is.  I have to say that the aroma of this chicken cooking is quite fabulous so I'd have no problem doing the latter!  And I love, love, LOVE that I can have several cups worth of cooked chicken done and ready for my freezer with only about 5 minutes of hands-on time from me and no need to buy something extra. :)
Pin It

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Keeping it Spicy

As we get into summer, and farmer's markets open up and start offering such glorious wares, I start to get a little glazed over in excitement.  All those fresh ingredients!!  Big juicy tomatoes, gorgeous leafy greens, sweet golden honey, fantastically flavored cheeses, organic meats, bricks of homemade soaps....the bounty at these outdoor markets just astounds me!

I love working with fresh ingredients and allowing their natural flavors to shine.  However even the most perfect piece of produce can benefit from a little help.  That's where my spice cabinet comes into play.  Yup, not just a spice rack, a spice cabinet.

I have this adorable triangular shaped cabinet almost completely devoted to my spices. 
Yes, that's a cigar box helping me organize my bagged spices

In college, my roommates and I shared a spice rack that sat conveniently on the counter.  It held all the basics and we'd use them as the creative cooking inspiration struck (sometimes it struck more often than others).  I have since learned though that the kitchen counter isn't really the best place for your spices.  Sunlight is deadly to these little flavor canisters.  As the color of spices fade, so does the flavor. 


Since I don't have the money to be constantly replacing my spices, I decided I'd devote some of my precious little cabinet space just to my spices.  It's a little inconvenient, especially as I get more kitchen gadgets to play with and no where to store them.  However I'd also taken advantage of having a roomy cabinet and increased my spice count quite a bit.  In fact, I'm quickly running out of room!

All of these come in handy as I play and experiment with different recipes.  It's so nice to be able to open up the doors to my spicy Aladdin's Cave to find everything I need. 

I've also been able to stock up on different spice blends.  I have LOTS of various grill seasoning blends, Quebec Beef Spice being one of my favorites.  Chicago's Spiced Sugar is a recent addition to my blended family.  And I just picked up a jar of Garam Marsala, which I cannot WAIT to try.  I've picked out several recipes already that highlight this tasteful spice blend.  I'll keep you posted on how those experiments turn out!

So I'm curious...what's in your spice rack or cabinet?  What's your favorite?
Pin It

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strawberry Upside-Down Cake

I have an abundance of sour cream in my fridge.  Yeah, I know.  It's what happens when you're not quite able to go grocery shopping on your own with two small boys yet so your husband goes with you.  But that's ok.  There are ways, other than the obvious nacho/baked potato topping, to use up this creamy ingredient.


Enter this delectable blog, and Kieran's impromptu nap, and you have this lovely confection baking away in the oven.
Mommy's newest sous chef

Strawberry Upside-Down Cake
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup sliced strawberries

For the Cake:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup sour cream

1.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Place butter in a cake pan (I used a spring form pan but an 8 or 9-inch round will work) and place in the oven.  When butter is melted, remove pan from the oven.  Using two pot holders, tilt the pan around and around, coating the sides of the pan with butter.  Once sides are coated, set aside.  If you're using a spring form pan, set pan on top of a cookie sheet, just in case of leaks.
Prepare to be melted

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.
Two of my favorite spices in baked goods

4.  In a large bowl, cream butter, applesauce, and brown sugar on medium speed with an electric mixer.  You can use a stand mixer too, fitted with a paddle attachment.  Cream until slightly pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Stop mixer, scrape down the bowl with a spatula, and add egg and vanilla extract.  Beat for 1 minute.

5.  Turn the mixer off, scrape the bowl, and add the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed while adding the sour cream.  Beat until the batter just comes together; it will be thick.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish incorporating ingredients with a spatula.
I have so much, I didn't think leveling the cup was necessary

6.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup brown sugar into the melted butter in the cake pan.  Sprinkle strawberry slices over the butter and sugar in a single layer.  Spoon batter over the strawberries and spread evenly with a spatula.  Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

7.  Let cake rest for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the cake and inverting the cake onto a cake plate.  Serve warm with whipped cream or a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
Thick batter makes for a dense, moist cake
Pin It

Monday, June 13, 2011

Warm Tomato-Corn Salad

I'm not really sure what Mother Nature's issue is, but clearly she's hormonal about something.  One day it's hot, the next it's 30 degrees cooler.  At 8:00 a.m. the sun is blazing but by 10:46 there's a downpour.  Wha???

You know what?  Mother Nature can have her tantrums.  I'm going to make my own warm sunshine in my kitchen, starting with this salad.
No one will ever know if you lick the monitor. ;)

Warm Tomato-Corn Salad
Recipe adapted from So Easy

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 green onions, chopped with the green and white parts divided
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups frozen corn (or if you use fresh off the cob, you'll want about 4 ears of corn)
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 avocados, chopped

1.  Heat EVOO in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the white parts of the onions and saute a few minutes, until softened.  Add the garlic and cook another minute, being careful to just brown the garlic, not burn it.
I used the white and pale green parts to saute first.

2.  Add the tomatoes and corn to the skillet and let cook about 3 minutes, until softened but they still retain their shape.  Stir in the green parts of the onion.  Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper.
The color in this salad is fantastic!

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice and cilantro.  Drizzle over the tomato mixture and toss to combine.  Serve the warm salad topped with chopped avocado.
Yummy yum yum

No longer does a salad need to be served cold with watery lettuce!  It can be warm.  It can be happy.  It can make you do a little dance around the kitchen!  No?  That's just me?  Well, ok.  But try this first and then tell me you're not dancing for summery joy, no matter what Mother Nature decides to do that day.
Pin It

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cherry Brown Betty

It's cherry season!!!
Omg they're like Nature's rubies
Did you know that cherries are really only in season for about a month out of the year?  Now is the time to TAKE ADVANTAGE.  But how?  That's usually my problem.  I'm a happy camper just having a bowl full of rinsed cherries sitting on the counter for me to nosh on throughout the day.  I've never cooked or baked with fresh cherries because, well, honestly it's because of the pits.

I'd love to cook more with fresh cherries, but who wants to spend their day cutting pits out of cherries??  Um, not me.  But, before I rush out and get a lovely cherry pitting gadget, I'll go ahead and take the time to do this with an ordinary paring knife.  Plus, I have very badly wanted to try making a Cherry Brown Betty for several months and now was the time I was going to do it!
Y. U. M.
The recipe I found that inspired me, when I went to look at it again I was flabbergasted at the amount of butter and sugar involved.  Cherries are sweet I really need to add That Much brown sugar on top of that natural sweetness??

Actually, no.  I happen to also have a recipe for an apple brown betty that uses FAR less sugar and butter.  So I decided to get creative and combine the two.

Cherry Brown Betty
Recipe inspired by Joy the Baker and So Easy

2 to 2 1/2 cups pitted cherries
4 slices whole wheat bread
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup walnuts

1.  In a food processor, combine the wheat bread, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Pulse until well-combined and the bread slices become bread crumbs.  Add the melted butter and vanilla, pulsing until the mixture looks like wet sand.
Or give the bread a head start before adding the sugar & cinnamon

2.  In a shallow baking dish or pie plate, layer the bread mixture and cherries a few times.  I think I did three layers of each.  Top with walnuts (and, if you like the extra sweet, just a slight scattering of more brown sugar).
Probably could have chowed down on this without baking

3.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Fact: I ate this for breakfast topped with yogurt.  Nope, not ashamed about that one bit!
Pin It

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tuna Pasta Salad

Just another normal seasonal change in Wisconsin.  It appears that we've skipped over spring time and gone right into summer.  Not that I'm complaining mind you.....I love the warmth and the sunshine after a long, long, looooooooong gray winter.  This is the kind of weather where the last thing anyone wants to do is stay inside and fire up their stove.

Unless we're talking pasta salad.
Pasta. Veggies. Some kind of protein. Dressing.  YUM!!

I've hit that point where I am beginning to crave cool, lovely summer salads.  Whether they're pasta or chicken salads, using a creamy dressing or vinaigrette, I. Love. Them.
A little extra tomato never hurt anyone, right?

First salad up for this season?  My mom's tuna pasta salad.

Tuna Pasta Salad
Recipe adapted from my mom

1 lb short-cut, whole wheat pasta
1/2 lb frozen green beans, cut into 1" pieces
2/3 - 3/4 cup mayo
2 tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp celery salt
2 can tuna, drained
1 tiny yellow onion, finely chopped [you want about a 1/4 cup of chopped onion]
1 large tomato, chopped [or two medium ones]
1/2 cup sliced black olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Salt the water and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions.  In the last four minutes of the pasta cooking, add the green beans.  Drain the pasta mixture in a large colander and rinse with cold water to stop everything from cooking.  Set aside.
I could just snack on this actually

2.  While you wait for the pasta water to boil, in a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, vinegar (use your favorite; I like red wine vinegar and it gives this dressing a pretty blush color), and celery salt.  Set aside to let the flavors get to know each other.
Creamy deliciousness

3.  In a large bowl combine the pasta, green beans, tomato, onion, tuna, and black olives.  Drizzle with the dressing.  Toss to combine and make sure everything is well-coated in the dressing.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge at least one hour before serving.  Longer would be better.
Color explosion is a good thing
I like this recipe for a variety of reasons.  First is kind of obvious because I wouldn't make something year after year that didn't TASTE GOOD!  I think this salad has this fabulous saltiness to it between the celery salt in the dressing, tuna, and black olives.

Second, it makes a TON.  When the weather gets hot, I prefer to have the stove working as little as possible so I like cold salads that can feed a small army.  This makes enough to be a main dish for 4-6 people but could also be a side dish for 8-10.

Third, it just looks pretty.  I love all the colors in the salad between the nutty brown pasta, ruby tomatoes, dark dark dark olives, and gorgeous green beans.  It's a beautiful addition to any summer plate.

I do want to make a note about the dressing for this salad.  This is one of the very few times where I'm not subbing in yogurt.  Given the size of this salad, I'm really not making a ton of dressing for it; I'm ok with keeping the mayo in.  That's not to say you couldn't do a healthy swap if you wanted to though!  If you'd like to cut a few corners so you don't feel guilty going back for seconds, I'd recommend about a 1/2-2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt and then 2-3 tbsp mayo so you still get that mayonnaise flavor.
Pin It