Friday, April 4, 2014

Bacon Wrapped Spinach Chicken Breast

My sisters were lucky enough to be roommates a few years back. I was always kind of jealous of them because, among other things, they got to cook together. Of course, my mega food-family entwined sentimentality is always in high gear and made me really bummed whenever I heard of their culinary adventures together. At any rate, one dinner they frequently made together was the scrumptious looking dish pictured below. Doesn't it look awesome? Well, let me tell you, it tastes as good as it looks.
 
If you're more of a low-fat kinda person, just omit the bacon. One of the great things about this dish is its versatility. You can pretty much add whatever you like and it'll come out just fine. My sisters usually just poured a bag of baby spinach into a baking dish, added chicken on top and would then top it with things like swiss cheese or tomato slices. The spinach wilts and cooks perfectly in the chicken and tomato juices and is divine. Voila. With very little effort you have a completely satisfying one dish wonder.

 

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breast with Spinach

Ingredients
1 (10 ounce) bag of baby spinach leaves 
1/2 cup, or 4 slices, shredded swiss or mozzarella
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
1 pinch ground black pepper
8 slices bacon
 
Directions 
Preheat oven to 375-degrees.
Saute garlic in olive oil over medium high heat 3-4 minutes or until garlic is fragrant.
Dump bag of spinach into bottom of greased 9x13 pan.
Pour garlic mixture over the top of the spinach.
If using bacon, wrap each chicken breast with two slices of bacon. Secure with toothpicks, if necessary.
Arrange chicken breasts oven spinach.
If not using bacon, top chicken with cheese and tomato slices
Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, then increase heat to 500-degrees, or use oven’s broiler, to cook for an additional 5-10 minutes to brown the bacon.
 
 
 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cabbage Apple Slaw

As much as I enjoy cooking/baking, breaks from it are nice, too. I just spent several glorious weeks back in my home state spending precious time with family. While there, I of course pitched in with dinners when necessary, but mostly I relaxed and let my awesome family show off their talents. My mom and sisters all have amazing skills in the kitchen that I totally benefited from over the last few weeks.
 
One night while I was there, my younger sister made this incredibly refreshing slaw. We all enjoyed it so much that we requested it again a few nights later. I've had several versions of cabbage slaws throughout the years (I'm sure you're all familiar with the ramen noodle version), but this one trumps them all. We took the liberty of adding sliced apples to it for extra crunch and for variation of flavor. The sweetness paired nicely with the savory cabbage and toasted almonds. Add shredded chicken and this works as a nice meal on its own.
 
 

Cabbage Apple Slaw

Salad:
1 16 oz bag of shredded cabbage or slaw
3 green onions
1/4 cup sliced and toasted almonds
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 gala apple, diced
1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken, optional
 
Dressing:
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar (any variety will do)
2 Tbs soy sauce
 
Mix salad ingredients together in a large serving bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk all dressing ingredients together until well incorporated. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
 
 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zucchini and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast

Last month I mentioned I was on a healthy eating kick. I'm not going to lie. It hasn't been easy. That said, I've seen great results already and I'm glad I've stuck with it. Finding great recipes that are low in fat but still flavorful has been the key.
 
Take this recipe, for instance. It's one of my favorites, but I've modified it to take it one step healthier. I've incorporate some of my favorite cheese products that I'm lucky enough to receive from Kerrygold every once in awhile. Their Dubliner cheese is one of my favorites and it adds a scrumptious and delicate twist to this dish. Even better, Kerrygold makes a reduced-fat version of the Dubliner that melts every bit as creamy as the original.
 
 
Combining the olive oil and the butter when sautéing the zucchini and onions creates a great rich flavor without all the fat that butter alone would provide. The lemon juice drenched chicken gives the entire dish a mouth watering freshness. Give it a try and come back and let me know what  you think.
 
 

Zucchini and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast

Ingredients:
 
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbs Irish butter 
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups (1 medium) zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced 
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 oz shredded reduced-fat Dubliner cheese
salt and pepper to taste
8 thin chicken cutlets
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
juice of one lemon
1 Tbs olive oil
salt and fresh pepper
olive oil cooking spray

Directions:

Wash and dry chicken cutlets, season with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 450°. Line a baking dish with foil and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil butter on medium-high heat. When hot, sauté onions for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Then add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes, or until golden. Add zucchini, salt and pepper and sauté about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. 

Lay chicken cutlets down on a working surface and spread 3 tablespoons of zucchini-onion mixture onto each cutlet. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the zucchini mixture--approximately 1/2 oz per chicken breast, or until the zucchini mixture is covered. Loosely roll each one and turn seam side down. Secure with toothpicks if necessary.

Combine breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese in one bowl; in a second bowl combine olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper.

Dip chicken in lemon-oil mixture, then in breadcrumbs and place seam side down in the foil-lined baking dish. Repeat with the remaining chicken. When finished, lightly spray the tops of each chicken breast with the olive oil spray.

Bake approximately 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I have a new favorite dessert. And while I know I don't generally share recipes that I don't think are pretty darn tasty, let me just reiterate the fact that this dessert is my new favorite. That's saying a lot. I have high standards for how I'll intake my sugar.
 
If that doesn't convince you to try what I haven't even explained yet, maybe this will. You know Kate Middleton? Aka HRH Duchess of Cambridge? Maybe you're semi-captivated with her like I am (despite trying so hard to just not care!). If so, you may already know that her favorite dessert is the English classic sticky toffee pudding, which really isn't a pudding at all--just a downright awesome, flavorful cake (apparently in England "pudding" is used to describe most desserts). To make an already amazing cake even better, this cake is drizzled with the most perfectly smooth and delightful toffee--or caramel, as we commoners in the states call it--sauce and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. I'm telling you, the combination is divine. I'm pretty sure people in heaven must eat this stuff.
 
I'd been eyeing this recipe for at least two years. I knew as soon as I saw the description of it that I would be head over heels for it. The only thing that kept me from discovering its true out of this worldness sooner was that I never could remember to buy the darn dates that it calls for. When I did remember, I couldn't ever find them in the store and take my word for it, most grocery store stock boys will not know where to find them either. Don't make the same mistake I did. Although I had never even tried dates before (they're not bad, I have to say), they can be found in most grocery store produce sections. I got mine at Trader Joe's next to the bagged greens.
 
So without further delay, I present to you my new favorite dessert.
 
 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

 
 

Cake

1/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, chopped (about 6 oz)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
 

Toffee Sauce

1 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
 
 

For Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 °. Butter and flour Bundt pan. Bring dates and 11/4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside and allow to cool.
  • Whisk 11/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining 1 egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into pan.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

For Sauce

  • Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in  vanilla. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.
  • Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream or ice cream.
 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

I've had a butternut squash sitting on my counter for about a month now. Good thing squash lasts forever. I've plenty of time to contemplate what to do with it. Honestly, what I really wanted to do with it was make butternut squash risotto, but with my dietary restrictions this month I knew that wasn't a wise option. So, I did a little online searching and stumbled upon this beautiful roasted butternut squash salad with a warm apple cider vinaigrette. It tastes as good as it looks.

The recipe calls for arugula as your greens, but I think any dark green lettuce (or spinach) would work well here.
 
 
 

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

  • 1 (1 1/2-pound) butternut squash, peeled and 3/4-inch) diced
  • Good olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)
  • 3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 1/2 cup walnuts halves, toasted (optional)
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

  •  
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
     
    Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last 5 minutes.
     
    While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
    Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

    Friday, January 10, 2014

    Good for You, Too

    I don't do diets. So when I decided to commit myself to a stricter eating regimen for several weeks, I seriously got anxiety just thinking about it.
     
    I like sweets. I like carbs. I love snacking. I do not like being restricted. I do not like being forced to eat something I really don't want to. And I get downright grouchy when I am hungry. But it's January and it's a new year and the only thing I have to lose is some unwanted extra pounds. So on with it. In honor of my newfound nutritional therapy, here are a few of some of my favorite recipes that not only taste awesome but are good for you, too.
     
     
    If all you want is chocolate but you know you can't have a brownie, these no-bake chocolate bars are a good alternative. They are just as fudgy and will satisfy your sweet tooth, but with no added sugar.
     
     
    I know it's called "summer veggie soup" but seriously, you can eat this  veggie soup anytime and it's healthy, delicious and filling.
     
    Summer Vegetable Soup Recipe
     
    This steak and arugula pasta is a favorite of mine these days. In fact, it's what I had for dinner last night and lunch today. A friend found it on a diabetic living website. The balsamic sauce, caramelized onions and arugula pack it full of flavor. Use whole-wheat pasta to make it even better for you.
     
    Super foods usually make me cringe. I associate them with over the top healthy (which I am not) which to me means weird texture and not enough flavor. But kale is another story. I'm not gung-ho enough to throw it in smoothies anymore (I tried it once and it just wasn't for me), but this massaged kale salad totally changed my mind about kale in general. It's amazingly flavorful and massaging the kale first means the texture isn't as weird. :)
    I think a lot of us immediately discount steak as a healthy food. Lean poultry is not the only option if you're trying to eat better. Prepared right, protein-packed steak is great and flavorful. Try this baked steak for dinner and you'll see what I mean.
     

    If you've got any "healthy" recipes that you don't think others would normally think of, please send them my way!

    Here's to healthy, or at least healthier, eating!

    Thursday, January 9, 2014

    Homemade Salsa

    I could eat salsa all day long. Really. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. All. Day. Long. I've tried so many different salsa recipes throughout the years that I know exactly what I do and do not like. This has been my go-to homemade salsa for the past several years. It gets rave reviews by everyone who tries it. 

    When I first made it I was missing my beloved D.C. something fierce. After one bite I wanted to cry tears of joy (for the record, I did not). It reminded me so much of my favorite salsa from Tortilla Coast in D.C.--far from a gourmet establishment but one with a lot of fond memories. When it comes to salsa, in my opinion, it doesn't get much better. It tastes both fresh and refreshing (is that redundant?), which is funny since it uses canned tomatoes. But no one will ever know the difference.


    Restaurant Style Salsa


    Ingredients
    1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice
    2 (15 oz) cans diced tomatoes
    1 (4-10 oz, depending on how you feel that day) can diced green chilies
    ¼ cups Chopped Onion
    1 clove Garlic, Minced
    1 whole Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin (optional)
    ¼ teaspoons Sugar
    ¼ teaspoons Salt
    ¼ teaspoons Ground Cumin
    ½ cups Cilantro
    1-2 Tbs fresh lime juice (half of a lime)

    Combine whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like--enough to finely dice the contents but not juice it to death. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

    Tuesday, December 31, 2013

    Celestial Bars

    If you haven't noticed yet, I tend to get somewhat sentimental about food. To me, food equals memories and a lot of those memories are of people who aren't around anymore. One of the people I miss the very most in the world is my grandmother and I must have a thousand and one food memories associated with her.

    These super yummy cookie bars are one of them. They weren't a specialty of hers by any means. In fact, I only remember her making them once. But that was all it took for them to become a regular at my house.

    I remember the moment I discovered these goodies, walking into my grandma's kitchen with my sister after school one day, seeing a big pan of them on the counter and her being excited to share them with us because someone from her church had given her the recipe and they were divine.

    Divine indeed. One layer of soft vanilla cookie, another of chocolate, topped with a scrumptious frosting and drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate. As far as cookie bars are concerned, it doesn't get much better.

    At any rate, I present to you Celestial Bars, in all their layered, frosted goodness.

    Celestial Bars

    Bars

    1 cup butter
    2 cups brown sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla.

    Cream together the above ingredients and then add:

    3 eggs
    2 cups flour
    1/2 tsp. salt

    Mix well and spread half the batter onto a greased 10x15" cookie sheet. Add 3 Tbs. cocoa to the rest of the batter. Mix well. Spread on top of batter in pan. Bake at 350-degrees for approximately 15 minutes.

    Frosting

    1/2 cup butter
    1/3 cup evaporated milk
    1 tsp. vanilla
    3-4 cups powdered sugar

    Add powdered sugar until frosting reaches spreading consistency.

    Melt 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and drizzle and marble over frosting. Store covered.

    Tuesday, December 10, 2013

    Cranberry Salsa

    Yes, you read that title correctly. If you are a salsa lover, you are going to love this twist on the standard salsa (which I could eat it all day long, by the way). Cranberry salsa is my new best friend. It is divine. My sister made it while she was visiting last week and it is a new unexpected favorite. It's complete with refreshing flavors you'd never expect to go together: the sweetness of cranberries paired with the freshness of cilantro and just a little heat from the jalapenos. It's a flavor medley in your mouth and it's so good you won't be able to stop eating it. It's festive enough to serve for the holidays or any other time of the year.

    Cranberry Salsa

     
    1 12 oz bag of cranberries
    1 Granny Smith apple
    1/2 of a large red bell pepper
    1/2 medium red onion
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup apple juice
    3 Tbs cilantro, chopped
    2 Tbs jalapeno, chopped
    1 tsp lime zest
     
    Blend the cranberries, apple and bell pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. Mix in remaining ingredients and chill for several hours or overnight for the flavors to full develop (note: the flavors get better with time, but still tastes great immediately after preparing it. Also, if you aren't a fan of spicy food, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before adding it).

    Wednesday, November 27, 2013

    Pecan Pie Bars

    Confession: when we first moved to the South I used to buy frozen pecan pies from the grocery store and, pulling out a slice at a time, would eventually eat the entire pie completely by myself. Now that you're gagging in disgust, know that it has been years since I've done this. I've since repented and realized that frozen pecan pies, although they'll suffice if you're desperate, have got nothing on the real deal.

    Pecan pies look so rustic and gourmet that I always figured they were complicated to make. If I would have known how easy they actually are, I would have started making them myself years ago.

    For my Thanksgiving dessert line up this year, I wanted a lot of the traditional pies but also wanted something a little different. Enter pecan pie bars. I found a recipe online recently that I knew I'd be making the second I saw the photo. Trust me, they taste as good as they look.


    Pecan Pie Bars

    For the crust:
    1cup butter, softened
    2cups all-purpose flour
    ½cup confectioner's sugar

    For the filling:
    3eggs
    ½cup sugar
    1cup dark corn syrup
    1teaspoon vanilla
    ½stick butter, melted
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2cups pecans, roughly chopped

    Preheat oven to 350º. Mix butter, flour, and confectioner's sugar together for 1-2 minutes, or until ingredients form a well-combined dough. Using your fingers, press the dough into the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. For the filling, beat the eggs. Add sugar and mix until combined. Add corn syrup, salt and vanilla. Mix in melted butter. Add pecans and pour onto crust. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

    Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    Cheddar Cheese Straws and Crackers

     
    Relish trays. Cheese balls. Bruschetta. Deviled Eggs. All are delicious pre-dinner snackers (or Hors d'oeuvres if we must use more fanciful terms) but all are totally predictable. I'm a sucker for relish trays, so I'm not ruling one out at my house, but for my upcoming holiday feasts I also want to have something a little different, something that appeals to both adults and children.
     
    Enter Kerrygold Skellig Sweet Cheddar. Kerrygold was kind enough to send me several 7 oz. packages of the slightly different than your average cheddar cheese and I've had a great time snacking on it, melting it onto baguette slices and grating it into soups. Oh, and making these little gems:  
     
    
     
     

     Homemade cheese straws and cheddar crackers fit the bill perfectly for what I was looking for in a pre-meal munchy. Making them is easier than assembling a relish tray. The trickiest part is transferring the dough straws in one piece onto the baking sheet. But if you can get past that minor technicality, the result is a savory, crisp and utterly cheesy treat that you can nibble on to your heart's content before dinner is ready. Add fresh herbs to the dough and you've got something extra special. My husband and daughter both couldn't keep their hands off these things. I'd call them a success in every way.
     

    Cheese Straws/Crackers

     
    1 1/2 cups (or about an entire package of Skellig) grated Cheddar cheese
    4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
    3/4 cup flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 Tbs chopped fresh dill (or chives or other herb of choice), optional
    1 Tbs milk
     
    Preheat oven to 350°F.
     
    With a pastry blender, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and dill in a medium-sized bowl until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and, using your hands, knead the dough pieces together until they become one large soft ball.
     
    For the cheese straws, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle that is approximately 1/8" thick. With a sharp knife, or pizza cutter, cut the dough into thin strips, about a quarter of an inch wide. Gently transfer the strips to an ungreased cookie sheet (I used a silicon mat). If the straws break during transfer, gently pat them back together with the tips of your fingers.
     
    For the crackers, follow the steps for cheese straws above, but cut the dough into small one-inch squares instead of strips. Poke holes in the center of each square with a fork (or toothpick), or decorate as you wish, and transfer to a baking sheet.
     
     
    Bake the straws/crackers for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are lightly browned. Allow them to cool on the baking sheet until cool to the touch (trying to remove the straws while warm may result in broken straws). Remove and store covered for up to two days.
     
     

    Thursday, November 14, 2013

    My Thanksgiving Feast

    Oh Thanksgiving, how I adore you. I love that there is a day set aside specifically to remind people to give thanks. I think our world forgets too often that even when life isn't perfect there is much to be grateful for.

    This year, I'm hosting dinner. I've got family coming from far and wide and I am feeling the pressure. I already know I'm going to go overboard but just praying that somehow I can pull it all off in my little single-oven kitchen. Here's what I've got on the menu: 

    Alton Brown's brined turkey is a must. It's the best. Trust me. This will be my fourth year making it and everyone loves it. Find it here.

    For sides, I've had requests for lots of veggies so here's the rundown:

    Roasted beets and carrots found here. Don't they look amazing?


    Traditional Seven Layer Salad, found here.


    Creamy Confetti Corn and Bacon, found here. Doesn't it look awesome? I'm extra excited about this one.

     (Photo courtesy of  Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

    Ruth's Christ Sweet Potato Casserole (more like dessert, I know), go here, and I'm still trying to decide between traditional green been casserole and these green bean winners from last year:

       
    It seems every year I try a new stuffing recipe. I loved last year's more traditional version, but my love for trying new recipes is trumping it and I think I'll be trying this cranberry apple version this year. My mouth is watering already. I'm a sucker for stuffing.




    Of course, we'll also have mashed potatoes and home made rolls. This year because I have so much to do, I'll probably try making the potatoes in the crock pot so it's one less pan on the stove. If you've got any must-have sides, leave a comment and let us know. My Thanksgiving dessert picks will come soon!

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    Croque Monsieur

    Awhile back I was somewhat obsessed with all things Ina Garten. If you don't know who she is, hopefully that means you have a life and like to watch things other than Food Network. At any rate, I happened to find several of her cookbooks at the library and was completely hooked. The woman is obsessed with Paris (but I suppose most good chefs are) and has a recipe book devoted entirely to French food you can make easily at home. As soon as I saw this sandwich in that book I knew it would be a hit among my grilled cheese loving husband. This a gourmet/French version of it, kind of like an inside out grilled cheese, and it is amazing. If this is the kind of food they eat over there, I'm definitely adding Paris to my bucket list.
     


    Croque Monsieur

    Ingredients
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 cups hot milk
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    Pinch nutmeg
    12 ounces Gruyere, grated (5 cups)
    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
    16 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed (I used Pepperidge Farm sour dough)
    Dijon mustard
    8 ounces baked Virginia ham, sliced but not paper thin
    Directions
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
    Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.
    To toast the bread, place the slices on two baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.
    Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

    Classic French Onion Soup

    When I lived in D.C. one of my favorite things to do on weekends was shop in Georgetown with my roommates. One of my roommates and I fell in love with a little restaurant on M Street that served the most satisfying french onion soup. We'd do a little shopping, stop into eat and warm ourselves and then head back out to shop to our heart's content. Of course, I don't remember a single item I bought on any of those shopping trips, but I will always remember the time spent with a great friend and of course, that awesome french onion soup. It's still my favorite soup to get at restaurants and I've been searching high and low for a recipe that does justice to the one I remember from Georgetown. 

    To be honest, this recipe took some time. Actually, it was an all day affair. Er, at least half the day. Not that I stood in front of the stove all day, mind you. I don't have the time or patience for something that involved. And it's not that the recipe was hard--it was just a process (cooking the onions in the oven and waiting and then a lot of stirring). But when I took a bite of that soup, it was just what I remembered and well worth the effort.



    French Onion Soup

    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
    • 6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices (make sure you get yellow)
    • salt
    • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
    • 1/2 cup dry sherry
    • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 2 cups beef broth (
    • 6 sprigs fresh thyme , tied with kitchen twine (yeah, I didn't do this part--just added a little dried thyme instead)
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Ground black pepper
    Cheese Croutons
    • 1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
    • 8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)
    Directions:
    For the soup:
    1. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
    2. Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with a nonstick cooking spray. Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for 1 hour (the onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring the onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
    3. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, roughly 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.)
    4. Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping the pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
    5. Stir in the broths, 2 cups of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.
    6. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.
    For the croutons:
    1. While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
    To serve:
    1. Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Mexican Chicken Soup

    I've been sick more times than I can count over the last few months. It just will not end. Therefore, all I want to eat is soup. All of the time. I've been dragging so much that any way to make dinner (i.e. soup) easier on myself is a major plus. Luckily, my sister shared this recipe with me. I'm pretty sure Ina Garten didn't make her version in the crock pot, but that's just what I did, because when you're sick but still want home cooked comfort food, a crock pot is your best friend--even when it comes to soup. Enjoy!


    Mexican Chicken Soup

    From Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

    4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
    Good olive oil
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
    1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
    2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
    4 large cloves garlic, chopped
    2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
    1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
    2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
    1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
    6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas
    For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

    Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

    A couple years ago the one and only Pioneer Woman had her big debut on Food Network with a Thanksgiving throw down against master chef Bobby Flay. Of course I had to watch because I was a huge PW blog follower. The episode didn't disappoint. On it they made the most glorious looking bread pudding. I knew I had to make it. The funny thing is, until then I had never even tasted a single bite of bread pudding in my life. I'd never given the stuff a second thought, in fact. But once I saw Bobby Flay's pumpkin bread pudding with vanilla bean crème anglaise, I knew I had to make it. So I did. Actually, it looked somewhat intimidating so when my sister visited for Thanksgiving that year, I made her help me. I'm glad I did. It was some seriously good stuff. Sure, there are a few steps, but if you know what you're doing in the kitchen (or even if you can just follow a recipe), it's nothing you can't handle. Give it a try if you're in the mood for something impressive or just different than regular old pumpkin pie (not that there's anything wrong with pumpkin pie).
     
    I should probably add that the original recipe calls for a caramel apple sauce to go over the top. I found it to be a bit too much for my liking and loved simply adding the crème anglaise over the top instead. If you're interested in the caramel sauce, follow the link below. In addition, next time you whip up a batch of your own tried and true pumpkin bread, make a couple extra loaves just for this. You'll thank me later.
     

    Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise

     
    (photo courtesy of Food Network)

    Ingredients

    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
    • 6 large egg yolks
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
    • 1 cup pure canned pumpkin puree
    • 2 tablespoons bourbon
    • Pumpkin Bread, toasted and cubed, recipe follows
    • Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, recipe follows
    •  

    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

    Whisk together the yolks, sugar, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk in the bourbon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl.

    Scatter the pumpkin bread cubes in a buttered 9 by 13-inch baking glass baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down on the bread to totally submerge it in the custard. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard.

    Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the glass dish. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center jiggles slightly, about 1 hour.

    Remove from the oven and water bath and cool on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

    Spoon some of the Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise into a shallow bowl, top with some of the bread pudding and drizzle with the Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce. Top with freshly whipped cream. Bread pudding is best served warm.

    Pumpkin Bread:

    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 8 ounces (scant 1 cup) canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2/3 cup water
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or lightly spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

    Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl.

    In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 4 tablespoons softened butter, sugar, and oil at high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times.

    Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just incorporated. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and water and mix until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely.

    Once the bread is cool, slice in half lengthwise, and then slice each half into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread the cubes on a large baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree oven until lightly toasted, turning once, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

    Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise:

    • 2 cups half-and-half
    • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
    • 5 large egg yolks
    • 1/3 cup pure cane sugar
    Bring the half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

    Whisk together the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until at the pale ribbon stage. Slowly whisk in the hot half-and-half, return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Strain into a bowl and set over an ice bath. Stir until chilled. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013

    Potato Leek Soup

    I grew leeks in my garden this year. They were surprisingly incredibly low maintenance. I planted the seedlings and then literally did nothing but watch them grow from there on out. Are leeks something I use on a regular basis? No. But last year, after seeing a cooking show where they used leeks in an incredible looking pasta (which I'll share later), I began experimenting with them in my cooking and I love them. I picked our first leek last week and asked friends for any good leek recipes they had. One friend whose culinary instincts are usually spot on sent this one over and I knew I had to try it. It turned out to be the perfect rainy day soup. And, of course, anything with bacon is usually incredible.


    Potato Leek Soup

    3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
    2 leeks, washed and sliced (white and light green parts only)
    1 cup chopped onion
    1 carrot, sliced
    1 stalk of celery, sliced
    4 cups chicken broth
    1 Tbs dried parsley flakes
    1 tsp garlic salt
    2 Tbs butter
    12 oz. can evaporated milk
    12 oz. bacon, cooked and crumbled
    shredded cheddar cheese
    chives, chopped, optional
     
    Combine everything except last 4 ingredients in crock pot. Cook on low 7-9 hours or on high 3-4 hours. Stir in the can of evaporated milk the last 30 minutes. Serve topped with bacon, cheddar, and chives.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    Cranberry Chicken

    This recipe is similar to an apricot chicken recipe I grew up loving. Something about fruit and chicken paired together totally hits the spot. The cranberries give it a tartness and sweetness and the zesty catalina dressing and savory onion soup pull it all together into a delicious and unique dish. This is a great quick and easy dinner to pull together in no time and would be a great dish to serve up with all that leftover cranberry sauce you'll have over the holidays. Serve with rice so you can spoon the extra sauce over it. Yum!


    Cranberry Chicken


    INGREDIENTS:
    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    1/2 cup Catalina salad dressing
    1 can whole cranberry sauce
    1 envelope dry onion soup mix
    l/4 cup white cooking wine

    DIRECTIONS:
    Pound chicken breasts to desired thinness. Place chicken in lightly greased baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour over chicken. Bake uncovered at 350-degrees for 1 hour. Serve over rice.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Drenched Apple Cake

    Apple cake. Nothing special, right? Well, I must warn you about this recipe. In the first 24 hours after I made this cake I probably ate six slices. It could have been more. I lost count. This recipe takes a basic apple cake and totally wows it with the addition of some amazing sauce drenched over the top and even down the sides, if you wish. I've never had a cake like this before. I seriously could not get enough. It was so popular at my house that it barely lasted more than 24 hours, but what was left was even better the next day. So, without further delay, I present to you this incredible drenched apple cake that you will want to make all autumn long to share with friends and family (but if you want to eat it all yourself, no one will blame you).

     (photo courtesy of Deliciously Organic)

    Drenched Apple Cake 

    (adapted from Deliciously Organic)
     
    2 cups sugar
    3  large eggs
    1 1/2 cups coconut oil
    1/4 cup orange juice
    3 cups flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    1 tablespoon cinnamon
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    3 cups grated fuji apples (skins on)
    1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

    Sauce:
    1/2 cup unsalted butter
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup buttermilk
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    Preheat oven to 325°F and adjust rack to middle position.  Stir together sugar, eggs, oil, orange juice, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl.  Fold in apples and coconut.

    Pour the batter into a buttered bundt pan.  Bake for approximately one hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean (watch it carefully--you don't want a dry apple cake).

    Sauce:  Put butter, sugar, buttermilk, and baking soda in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Stir in vanilla. Immediately after removing cake from oven, pour sauce over hot cake, reserving about 1/2 cup. Let the cake stand for 1 hour and then turn it out onto a plate.  Pour reserved sauce over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.