Thursday, February 28, 2013

Indulgence



People at work ask me all the time, "How do you stay thin when you eat like you do?"  I must preface this post with the fact that I'm not supermodel skinny.  I'm really just an average size.  I promise.  And, yes, I do prefer the more indulgent side of food.  Sure, I do love veggies and salads and eat those things a lot too.  But, throw some indulgent creamy cheesy or bacony thing my way, and I'm going to eat it.

The only explanations I can come up for my ability to stay average size is twofold.  First, that I'm an extremely busy person.  I work a full-time job at a restaurant/bakery six days a week.  I blog as much as I can.  I have a husband and two kids.  I even have a personal chef gig where I cook three meals a week for another family.  I'm busy.  I don't walk.  I run.  When my husband goes to a store with me, he tells me before we get out of the truck, "I don't want to sprint in here.  I want to walk."  It's really difficult for me to walk slow.  Secondly, I don't usually sit down and eat full meals.  I nibble on things all day at work.  And, when I cook dinner, I'm usually full from tasting components of dinner to make sure it's right and I can't sit down and eat a plate full.  Occasionally, when the ladies I work with make breakfast tacos, I will eat an entire taco, especially if it has bacon, potatoes, eggs and cheese.  But, most of the time, I just nibble.  

So last night I wanted to make my Arancini con Polpette (aka Rice Bombs under the Appetizer tab) for dinner, but I wanted something to go with it...pasta.  So I created this luxurious Six-Cheese Penne Pasta recipe.  This involves making something called a bechamel sauce which is a fancy name for a gravy.  You will probably have a heart attack when you see how much heavy cream I used, but it was so worth it and so delicious. I'm sure you can substitute some or all of the cream with skim milk.  You may need to increase the flour to make sure your sauce is thick enough.

Either way, you've been really good today.  You deserve an indulgent treat.  Go ahead, spoil yourself.

SIX-CHEESE PENNE PASTA
1 lb penne pasta
1/2 C butter
1/2 C flour
1 quart heavy cream (I know, it's ridiculous)
One 8-ounce bag of Italian 6-Cheese Shredded blend (or two cups of any combination of white cheeses)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon (gives an added depth)
Dash nutmeg
Fresh ground peppercorn mix (or just black pepper if you want)

Boil pasta according to directions.  While pasta is boiling, melt butter in a pot over medium heat.  Whisk in flour and cook about a minute.  Pour in the cream and whisk out any lumps.  Add in the garlic.  Continue cooking until thickened and bubbly.  Stir in the nutmeg.  Remove from the heat.  Whisk in the cheese and keep whisking until it's all melted.  Pour the cheese sauce over the drained pasta and stir.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sweet Treats for My Sweets


The boys in my house (my husband and son) love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  A lot.  It's their first candy choice when it comes to candy.  And they love cheesecake, too.  My daughter likes cheesecake, but she enjoys the fancier side of desserts, like creme brulee or fondant cakes or pulled sugar.

Now, I've said this before.   I don't eat sweets, like ever (except, like I said, maybe creme brulee once a year).  But I enjoy making them for people who do.  And what better way to satisfy the boys' sweet tooths (weird way to say that) than a collision of both worlds, kind of like the collision between the chocolate and the peanut butter in the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  Remember those commercials, "hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter; no, you got peanut butter in my chocolate"?  Well, now they can argue whether they got Reese's in their cheesecake or cheesecake in their Reese's.  Either way, it's good.  (Yes, I tasted it.)  And what better way to further that combination than a peanut butter cookie crust and fudge sauce drizzled over it!  And, of course, an extra peanut butter cookie on top.  Perfect.

It's time for dessert.  Eat it before dinner.  You know you want to.



REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUP CHEESECAKE ON A PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE CRUST
FOR THE COOKIE CRUST:
1/2 C butter, softened
3/4 C smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 C flour
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

FOR THE CHEESECAKE:
1 C sugar
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 C sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
One 11-ounce bag of Reese's Miniature Peanut Butter Cups, cut in half

FOR THE GARNISH:
Hot fudge topping
One 11-ounce bag Reese's Miniature Peanut Butter Cups
Extra peanut butter cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream butter, peanut butter and sugar with a mixer.  Add in the remaining ingredients and combine.  Spread and press this into the bottom of a greased springform pan.  Bake at 5-minute increments until the top seems a little set and the edges start looking done.

Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and sugar in a mixer until it's smooth. Add in remaining ingredients and beat, scraping down the sides, until it is smooth.  Pour half of the filling onto the crust and spread to the sides.   Sprinkle the cut peanut butter cups over the filling.  Spread the remaining filling over the top of the peanut butter cups.

If you want a white cheesecake, make a foil tent over the top of the cheesecake, careful to leave enough room for the cheesecake to expand. (This is only for appearances).  Bake for at least 1 hour.  Check it at one hour.  If it's still jiggly in the middle, cook in 10-minute increments until it's set in the middle.  Remove it from the oven and chill.

*If you want to garnish with additional peanut butter cookies, double the crust batch.  Using a cookie scoop or a spoon (slightly larger than a tablespoon), drop them on a cookie sheet.  Using a fork, imprint the top of each cookie.  Then turn the fork and imprint the other way making a grid pattern (see picture above).  Bake 9-13 minutes or until done and slightly browned.

To serve, top each slice of cheesecake with a cookie, more Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (we slightly melted ours) and drizzle with warmed hot fudge sauce.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Like I Said, I Really Love Enchiladas

Chicken Fajita Enchiladas


I really do love them.  My most favorite enchilada is Cheese Enchiladas with Robb Walsh's Chili Gravy.  So delicious.  But I really will eat any kind, chicken, beef, seafood, you name it.  My daughter likes veggie enchiladas the best.  Anytime I make enchiladas, the whole pan dissapears.

I love fajitas, too.  Same thing, beef, chicken, shrimp fajitas.  So why not make an enchilada with fajita meat?  I sure did.  You get the best of both worlds, something wrapped in a tortilla, grilled meat, and a luscious sauce topped with cheese, Chicken Fajita Enchiladas.  Darn tasty.

Fajitas usually come with a duo of grilled onions and bell peppers.  I prefer something hotter, though.  The other day, while grocery shopping, I was looking at the fresh peppers and saw a beautiful display of red Fresno peppers.  I've never eaten a Fresno pepper (that I know of), so I thought, what the heck, I'll buy some.  After I got home, I did a little research on these pretty little peppers.  They're similar to a Jalapeno and a Serrano.  Apparently, the green version of Fresnos are milder than the red version.  But the taste of them, to me, is more in line with a Serrano pepper, which has heat plus a bell pepper kind of taste.  So, in essence, the Jalapeno and the Serrano got married and had a baby Fresno.  And it was tasty in my enchiladas.  

As far as the marinade I used for the chicken, I used a combination of a store-bought packet of fajita marinade mix and a packet of McCormick's Chipotle Pepper Marinade.  If you can't find that, just chop up one chipotle in adobo and add in a little of the sauce from the can and add in a splash of lime juice.  

Are you hungry now?

CHICKEN FAJITA ENCHILADAS
FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 lb chicken breasts
1 packet fajita marinade mix
1 packet McCormick's Chipotle Pepper Marinade (or 1 chopped chipotle in adobo with a little of the sauce)
1 T garlic powder
1 T cumin
1 T onion powder
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 T lime juice
1/4 C olive oil
Water

FOR THE ENCHILADAS:
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Fresno peppers, seeds removed and chopped (or whatever peppers you like)
1/4 C cilantro, chopped
One 4-ounce can green chilies
1 C sour cream
2-3 C chicken stock
1/4 C flour
2 T bacon grease
Olive oil
1 T cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Corn tortillas (about 20)
Shredded cheese (as much or as little as you like, any flavor.  I used pepper Jack)

Place the chicken breasts in a zipper bag.  Put in all the marinade ingredients and enough water to cover the chicken.  Seal the bag up and move the bag around to mix it all together.  Put it in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.  Overnight is best.

When your chicken is done marinating, fire up the grill and cook the chicken until done (cooking times will vary depending on how big your chicken breasts are).  You can also cook the chicken breasts in the oven at 350 for about 12-16 minutes per side.  Let them rest about 10 minutes before slicing them.  Slice them just like they are sliced at a restaurant.

Melt the bacon grease in a skillet over medium high heat.  Drizzle in a little olive oil.  Cook the onions and Fresno peppers until tender.  Add in the green chilies.  Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir.  Pour in 2 cups of the chicken stock and stir and cook until it starts getting bubbly.  Add in the garlic and sour cream and cumin.  Taste it now to adjust for salt and pepper.  Put your sliced chicken into the sauce.  If the sauce doesn't cover the chicken, add in the extra cup of chicken stock and cook a couple more minutes until it thickens back up.  Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wrap the tortillas in a damp towel and microwave one minute.  Turn the tortillas in the middle to the outside, rewrap, and heat one more minute.

To assemble the enchiladas, ladle some sauce into a 9 x 13 casserole pan. Put 1-2 tablespoons of the chicken and sauce into a tortilla and sprinkle in some cheese.  Roll it up and place it in the casserole pan.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.  Pour the rest of the sauce over the top and top with shredded cheese of choice.  Bake about 20-25 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is lightly browned.

Comfort Food for a Snow Day!


Today is a snow day.  Everything is closed.  It's very cold.  I hate the cold. Snow is pretty to look at, but, for me, I don't want to be in it.  My husband and the kids will be bundling up later to go build a snowman. I'll be waving at them through the window.

One good thing that comes from cold snowy days, besides building snowmen, is getting to cook and eat my favorite comfort foods.  Comfort foods remind you of Mom, remind you of days past.  We all get those fond memories when we eat something like that.  We all may have a different idea of what comfort food is, but we all have them.

Now, I have many favorite comfort foods, but today I wanted chicken pot pie.  Not just any chicken pot pie, but one with a twist.  Since I roll out a lot of pie dough at work (40 at a time twice a week, and an astounding 300 for Thanksgiving), I wasn't in the mood to roll out crusts for lunch. So I opted for a corn and jalapeno cornbread crust.  And, boy, was it good.

Is it snowing where you are?  Better get your snow boots out and get in the kitchen.  Everyone will be hungry after building snowmen.

INDIVIDUAL CHICKEN POT PIES WITH A CORNBREAD CRUST
FOR THE FILLING:
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 lb cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 C flour
3 C chicken stock
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 C frozen peas
1 C frozen corn

FOR THE CORNBREAD:
1 C flour
1 C cornmeal
1/2 can cream-style corn
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 T baking powder
2 T sour cream
2 eggs
1/4 C butter, melted
1-3 T diced jalapeno slices

Boil the potatoes until they are tender and drain.  Meanwhile, make the pot pie filling.  Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat the skillet at medium high heat.  Cook the onions, carrots, and celery until they are tender.  Season with salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and poultry seasoning.  Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir.  Pour in the chicken stock and cook until bubbly and thickened. You can add in a little water at this point if it seems there is not enough sauce for all the veggies. Just cook it a little longer to thicken back up.  Add in the corn, peas, chicken and potatoes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the cornbread ingredients together in a bowl.  Ladle the filling into four greased ramekins or a greased 8x8 glass casserole pan if you don't have ramekins.  Pour the cornbread batter over each ramekin.  Bake them for about 20-25 minutes or until the cornbread is lightly browned and done through.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cheese & Herb Butter Rolls


CHEESE & HERB BUTTER ROLLS

2 packages of highly-active yeast
1 C milk
1 C real butter
1/8 C sugar
1/3 C water
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
4 C flour
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 C shredded cheese, your choice

Mix water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Meanwhile, heat butter, milk and sugar in a small saucepan until butter melts.  Don't boil this.  Let it cool slightly and mix in the two eggs.  Add the milk mixture into the yeast mixture and stir with the dough hook.  Mix in the flour and salt and all the herbs and cheese.  This will be a really gloppy dough.  Don't add more flour, or the rolls will be tough.  The dough comes together surprisingly well during rise time.

Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl three times its size.  Cover and let it rise one hour.  After the first hour, scrape the dough out onto a really well-floured board.  Kind of fold it in over itself, making sure to incorporate some flour.  Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let it rise another hour.  After the second hour, divide the dough into about 20 1 1/2 inch balls.  Place them in a greased glass casserole dish.  (You can use a metal pan, but the end result is a much browner and crispier bottom.)  Cover the rolls and let them rise another hour or until the rolls grow higher than the top of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cook the rolls anywhere between 15-25 minutes, depending on your oven and when the rolls are browned on top.

Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots


BROWN SUGAR GLAZED CARROTS
2 C baby carrots
3/4 C brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 C water
2 T butter
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a pot.  Bring to a boil.  Continue boiling and cooking until carrots are tender and most of the liquid is gone, about 20-30 minutes.  **NOTE:  If the liquid starts cooking out too fast, reduce heat and add a little water.

Rockin' Guacamole



ROCKIN' GUACAMOLE
2 Haas avacados
1-2 T red onion, chopped
Juice of half to 1 whole lime
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 T cilantro, chopped
1 T jalapeno slices, chopped
Salt to taste

Scoop avacado out of the shells and remove the seed.  Slightly mash the avacados and then add in remaining ingredients and season with salt.  Let refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

*Add in diced tomatoes if desired.

A Pinterest tip I found:  Spray the top of the leftover guacamole with pan spray to keep it from turning brown.  It works!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Pancetta, Pea & Mushroom Risotto



PANCETTA, PEA & MUSHROOM RISOTTO
1 onion, diced
4 T butter, divided in half
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
8-ounce package mushrooms, sliced
2 C arborio rice
4-5 C chicken stock, kept warm on the stove
1 C white wine
1/4 lb pancetta, diced
1 C frozen peas
1/4 C Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 C Parmesan cheese, shaved (shredded is okay too)

**NOTE:  The pancetta, chicken stock, and Parmesan cheese will salt the risotto on its own.  Wait until the risotto is completely done, taste it, and then add salt if it's needed.

Drizzle some olive oil in a skillet.  Heat the skillet over medium high heat and cook the pancetta until crispy.  Drain on a paper towel.

Melt half of the butter in the same skillet and add in the mushrooms. Add in more olive oil if necessary.  Cook until browned and done. Remove from heat.

In a large dutch oven or pot, melt the remaining butter over medium heat.  Drizzle olive oil in the pot, enough to cover the bottom.  Cook the onions until they are tender.  Add in the rice and stir, browning slightly. Pour in the wine and cook about 2 minutes to absorb.  Add in the garlic now.  Using a ladle, spoon a ladleful of the chicken stock into the rice. Cook and stir constantly until the liquid is almost gone.  Add in another ladleful and keep doing that until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender.  If the rice still isn't tender, continue with about 1 C of water at a time until done.

Remove from heat.  Stir in pancetta, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, and parsley.  Season with pepper and salt if necessary.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

This One's For Me


My very favorite grocery store in the whole wide world (I guess I can't say that because I haven't been to them all) is Central Market.  I go in that store like a kid in a new toy store in a big city.  I'm in awe when I look at each section of the store, my favorites being the produce and deli section. I could spend several hours in a Central Market exploring and sampling new things.  If I were loaded, I could also drop a pretty penny there.  I always go up and down every aisle looking and picking up and reading ingredients.  And the meat market isn't too shabby either.  I've taken my kids there on field trips (yes, it's entertainment for the whole family), and their favorite department is the meat market.  Strange creatures are found there, things like whole octupuses (according to Oxford dictionary, that's the right plural of octopus) frogs legs, whole fishies and tons of other fascinating things.  And the produce section has so many different varieties of mushrooms and potatoes that seem like space creatures.  One of the things I always buy there is marinated bocconcini, little balls of Mozzarella marinated with olive oil and herbs and red chili flakes.  My daughter and I always fight over them.  I usually win (not really).  I don't have a Central Market where I live now.  But, anytime I'm in a city that has one, you can bet I'll show up there.

The very first time I stepped into a Central Market, I discovered something else amazing about this store.  They have a beautiful gourmet take-out section and a mini restaurant staffed with chefs to create a meal for you.  There is a line for pastas, gourmet sandwiches and pizzas, to name a few.  So we decided to eat lunch there.  I ordered this decadent pasta with shrimp, chicken, artichokes, mushrooms, spinach and Parmesan cheese in a lemon cream sauce.  It was pricey, but it was so worth it.  It was inevitable that I had to create my own version of this pasta.

Now, I know a lot of men frown on the idea of eating artichokes, including my husband.  But I persevered and persuaded and eventually he agreed to eat my version of this beloved pasta.  And he loved it! Artichokes and all.

So here's my version of this pasta.  Something you should know about it though...the sauce is made with heavy cream, but it's not a thick sauce. It's a little thicker than just adding in heavy cream, but still kind of a runny sauce.  If you prefer a thicker sauce, no problem.  Just sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour in the skillet after cooking the mushrooms. It will thicken up quite nicely with the addition of wine and cream.

Go get some shrimp!  It's time to eat!

SHRIMP & CHICKEN LEMON CREAM PASTA
2 shallots, chopped
One 8-ounce package mushrooms, sliced
One 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons (depends on how lemony you want it)
3 chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 to 3 C heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 C white wine
2 C fresh spinach leaves
1/4 C Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon
1/2 C shredded Parmesan cheese
1 lb bowtie pasta (or whatever pasta you like)
1/2 stick butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Shaved Parmesan for garnishing

Cook the pasta according to directions.

Melt the butter in a skillet over high heat and drizzle in some olive oil. Cook and brown the chicken until it's done.  Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Reduce the heat to medium high.  Add the shallots and mushrooms into the same skillet.  Add in more olive oil if you need to. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and the shallots are done.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  When mushrooms are done, pour in the wine and deglaze the pan.  Cook for about 1-2 minutes or until most of the wine is cooked out.  (This is the time to add in flour if you want to.)

Sprinkle in the chicken bouillon and add in the garlic.  Next add the chicken back in.  Add in enough cream to cover over all of it and make sure there is enough to cover all of the pasta.  Add in the lemon juice and Parmesan cheese.  Cook until bubbly and thickened.  Add the shrimp in and cook about 3 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and done.  Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and spinach.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.  Serve over the pasta.  Garnish with the shaved Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fried Ice Cream Brownie Sundae


I have a shocking confession to make to you.  SHOCKING!  I have to get it off my chest so I can feel better about myself.  Are you ready?  Okay, here goes.  I don't eat sweets.  Ever.  Well, maybe once a year I'll eat creme brulee.  But that's it.  I swear.

The craziest part of that is that I work in a bakery/restaurant full of pies, cakes, cookies, bars and cheesecakes.  When I first started working there, for the first two weeks, the lady who makes the bars and cookies, Judy, kept trying to offer me samples of the things she made.  I would always politely respond, "no, thank you."  Finally one day she flat out asked me, "do you not eat sweets?"  The answer was no.  Everyone I work with can't believe it, but I just don't touch the sweets.  It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I don't crave sweets at all.

When I was pregnant with my son, I swear I ate half a tub of Blue Bell ice cream every night.  I guess that's what did it.  Sweets overload.  And my poor kids are deprived of the sweets they crave because I usually don't make them either, especially since I do it at work all day.  The only sweets they get really is what I bring home from work.

So, as I'm getting deeper into this blog and looking at what my followers want and look at on Pinterest, I have decided to make a better effort of bringing you desserts.  And my children are ecstatic about the prospect of actually having a dessert now and then that I made.

So the Fried Ice Cream Brownie Sundae was an idea that my husband and I threw around.  He wanted a dessert with fried ice cream, and the rest just fell into place.  And, yes, that is chocolate-covered bacon on top of that sundae.  Trust me, it's good.  I even ate a little of the finished product.

I know your mouths are watering now, so run to the store and get some ice cream.  Hurry.  It melts fast.

FRIED ICE CREAM BROWNIE SUNDAE
(Makes eight)
FOR THE BROWNIE:
1 C flour
1 C sugar
1/2 C cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 C vegetable oil
1/2 C water

FOR THE ICE CREAM BATTER:
3 C cookie crumbs (I used snickerdoodle)
3 eggs, beaten
2 T cinnamon
Ice cream, any flavor (we used vanilla bean)

FOR THE BACON:
8 slices bacon, cooked and drained
4 squares of chocolate bark

Vegetable oil for frying

TOPPINGS:
Caramel sauce (see my post on White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake for a homemade caramel)
Hot fudge sauce
Whipped cream
Walnuts

Several hours before wanting dessert, scoop out eight scoops of ice cream. Put them on a sheet pan and freeze at least an hour.

For the bacon, melt the chocolate bark in the microwave until completely melted, a couple of minutes.  Dip the bacon carefully in the bark and dry on a rack.

For the brownies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all the brownie ingredients together and spread in a greased 9x13 pan.  Bake 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool.  Cut into squares.

Mix the cookie crumbs and the cinnamon together.  Dredge the ice cream scoops in the cookie crumbs, into the egg wash, and back into the cookie crumbs, making sure no ice cream is showing through.  Put them back in the freezer at least an hour.

When it comes time to fry the ice cream, make sure everything else is ready.  Make sure the caramel and fudge are hot, whip your cream (if you're making homemade).  Put the brownies on plates ready to be topped.  The ice cream melts quickly after coming out of the oil.  Also, get a plate ready with a paper towel to drain the grease off of the ice cream.

Preheat a pot with vegetable oil (halfway up the pot) to about 350 degrees.  Drop in a scoop or two of ice cream and fry, turning frequently, for about 30 seconds.  Drain quickly.  Put the ice cream on the brownie, top with whipped cream and fudge, caramel, and walnuts.  Stick the chocolate-covered bacon in the whipped cream and eat eat eat!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

I'm No Shepherd, But I Love His Pie!

Shepherd's Pie

When it's cold outside, I crave hearty, filling foods, like chicken & dumplings or chili or this, Shepherd's Pie. Yes, it's a little old fashioned, but don't you just want that sometimes?  I know I do.  With its great beefy flavor and creamy mashed potatoes and, of course, cheese, this meal hits the spot every time.

So what the heck is Shepherd's Pie and why do shepherds eat it?  Well, I'll tell you.  It's traditionally made with lamb, usually a way to use up leftover meat.  And the shepherds are tending lamb, not cattle.  Although I used beef for this one.  I didn't have any leftover lamb.  Don't tell the shepherds.  I guess it was a meal the shepherd's wife made for him after a long day of tending sheep and she didn't have time to make something new for dinner.  She made a beef and vegetable and gravy layer topped with a mashed potato layer.  However she came upon it, she was right.

I made this last night for my family, and it was the first time my son, Trevor, actually tried it.  He's a little skeptical when trying new things, but he's getting better about trying them.  He said, "Mom, I really love Shepherd's Pie."  He ate a lot too.  12-year-old growing boys eat a lot.  I served it with the Copycat Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits, which he ate three of.  (That recipe is out there on the internet everywhere.  Try it.  It's good.)

My daughter, Taylor, on the other hand, prefers a more refined version of Shepherd's Pie with chunks of steak meat and parsnips and turnips. She's quite the gourmet.  (I didn't have any parsnips or turnips either.)  She went to her 8th grade banquet where they served spaghetti.  When she came home, she mentioned how all the kids liked the spaghetti except her because it wasn't like the spaghetti I make with homemade sauce. I've ruined my children.  They can't eat food most teenagers eat because I consider myself a pretend gourmet cook, and they're used to flavorful meals instead of bland canned and jarred food.

So, if comfort food for shepherds is what you're craving, get out your potato masher, put on your apron, and let's get cooking!

SHEPHERD'S PIE
1 lb ground beef
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
One 8-ounce package of mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil
2 C beef stock
1/4 C flour
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 stick butter
1 T garlic powder
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 to 1/2 C heavy cream
Salt & pepper

Boil the potatoes until tender.  Drain.

For the beef layer, cook the onion and carrot in the olive oil until tender. Add in the mushrooms and cook until browned.  Season with salt and pepper. Add in the ground beef and garlic and cook until the beef is done. Sprinkle the flour over the beef.  Pour in the beef stock and stir quickly to dissolve the flour.  Cook until bubbly and thickened.  Remove from heat. Adjust for salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put the butter in a stand mixer.  Put the potatoes in the mixer and start mixing with a whisk attachment (you can do this with a potato masher if you don't have a mixer).  Add in the garlic powder and season with salt and pepper (Remember, I don't give measurements on salt because I tend to be heavy-handed with salt).  Add in enough cream to your desired consistency for mashed potatoes.

Spread the meat filling into an 8x8 casserole pan.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the top, getting as close to the edge as you can.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top.  Bake about 20 minutes or until cheese is browned.

Creamy Corn with Bacon and Jalapenos


CREAMY CORN WITH BACON AND JALAPENOS
One 16-ounce bag frozen corn
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T chopped jalapeno slices (the kind from the jar)
1/2 stick butter
Olive oil
1/2 C heavy cream
1/4 C Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, drizzle in a little olive oil, and add in the jalapenos.  Cook until tender.  Add in the corn and garlic and cook about 2 minutes to heat the corn.  Next add in the cream and cook until it starts bubbling and reducing.  Cook until the cream is reduced by half.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese and cook about 30 seconds to melt.  Remove from heat and stir in bacon.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.  *Add more jalapenos if you want it spicier.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cadillac Queso


My husband is my biggest fan.  He loves the food I cook and gets very excited when I try new things.  He even challenges me to create things he sees on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives or other wow-type food shows.  But he also has his favorites, and this is one of them.  Besides fried chicken, this is his second most-requested thing to make for him...Cadillac Queso.

So you are probably wondering why I called it Cadillac.  The Cadillac is the first American-made luxury car. They have all the bells and whistles you'd expect.  And, since we live in Texas where everything is bigger, the big old Cadillac is seen everywhere since it's a Texas-sized car.  And this queso is like a Cadillac in the sense that it has everything you could want in a queso, and the flavor is as big as Texas.  It has roasted peppers and roasted garlic, serrano peppers, cilantro, heavy cream, and pepper Jack cheese, along with, of course, Velveeta and Rotel.  Although Velveeta and Rotel don't seem like luxury items and some of you may have just turned your nose up, it is a great queso full of flavor.  Texas-sized flavor.  And, as far as the heat level, if your tongue is spice-impaired, don't worry.  Use cheddar cheese instead of pepper Jack cheese.  You can leave out the serranos.  You can use the Original Rotel instead of the hot.  Make it your own.

And the good thing about me making my husband's favorites is not only does he get to eat it, he takes the pictures of my food and he gets to eat the "picture plate," which usually has the best part of whatever I've cooked.

I hope you enjoy it as much as he does.

CADILLAC QUESO
One 2-lb block Velveeta, cubed
2 poblanos
1/2 C shredded Pepper Jack cheese
2 cans Rotel (I use one original, one hot)
1/4 C cilantro, chopped
1/4 C heavy cream
2 bulbs Roasted Garlic (click for my recipe)
2 serranos, chopped

To roast poblanos, put them on a sheet pan and into a 400 degree oven.  Cook them, turning occasionally, until they are black and charred all over.  Let them cool.  When you can handle them, peel as much of the skin off as you can. Remove the stems and seeds and chop them.  Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the skins and chop them.

Put all of the ingredients in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cook in three-minute increments, stirring in between, until the Velveeta and cheese are all melted.  Serve with chips or on eggs, quesadillas, enchiladas, whatever you like.

Not Just Cheese, if You Please



Most nights I love to come home and cook a great meal for my family. But, every now and then, after a long day, I don't feel like going through a huge production.  It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.  Usually the thing I want on those long days is a quesadilla.  A quesadilla is cheese in a tortilla, kind of like queso de tortilla.  I like them because they are quick and filling and crowd-pleasing.

But sometimes, when it hasn't been a long day, I still want quesadillas, except I want to do something bigger than just cheese quesadillas (is it redundant to say "cheese quesadillas?")  So last night I created these Ranch Chicken & Bean Quesadillas.  Filled with shredded chicken, homemade refried beans, green chilies, and shredded cheese, these quesadillas were a big hit and sure to please anyone.  It took a little longer than a regular quesadilla, but the result was well worth the effort.

RANCH CHICKEN & BEAN QUESADILLAS
2 C cooked, shredded chicken
2/3 C water
2 C refried beans
1 4-ounce can of green chilies
1/2 to 1 whole packet Ranch dip mix
1/2 to 1 whole packet Taco seasoning
1 1/2 C shredded cheese, like Cheddar or Pepper Jack
Olive oil
8 tortillas
Butter, softened
GARNISHES:
Sour cream
Cadillac Queso
Salsa
Guacamole

Over medium high heat, preheat the olive oil in a large skillet and add in the chicken.  Add in the half packet of Ranch and half packet of Taco seasoning.  Add in the water and stir until most of the water is cooked out.  Stir in the beans and green chilies and cook until heated through. Taste to see if you need more Ranch and Taco seasoning.  Remove from heat.

Preheat a grill pan or a large skillet with a wide bottom to medium high heat.  Butter one side of a tortilla.  Put the tortilla butter side down. Spoon some of the chicken and bean mixture onto the tortilla, coming close to the edges. Sprinkle some cheese over the chicken and bean mixture. Top with another buttered tortilla, butter side up.  Cook until browned on the bottom side, flip it over, and cook until it's browned on the other side.  Repeat for the other three quesadillas.  Garnish as desired.


Cheesy Twice-Baked Potatoes


CHEESY TWICE-BAKED POTATOES
4 large potatoes, washed and dried
Olive oil
1 1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 to 1/2  C heavy cream
1/4 C sour cream
1/4 C butter
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Green onions for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Take four pieces of foil and put a potato in each one.  Drizzle olive oil over each one and season them with salt and pepper.  Wrap them up and put them on a sheet pan.  Cook for about an hour or until they feel soft.  Let them cool until you can handle them. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Unwrap the foil enough to be able to cut a slit in the potatoes.  Squeeze the potato open slightly.  Scoop out the filling into a mixing bowl.  When all the filling is scooped out, put the butter in the mixer.  Using a whisk attachment, mix the potatoes until the butter is melted.  Add in the heavy cream, sour cream, cheese, and garlic powder.  Add the extra 1/4 C of cream if the filling seems dry.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.  Stir in the bacon with a spoon.

Spoon the mixture back into the potatoes.  Place them on a sheet pan and cook about 20-25 minutes or until heated through.  Garnish with green onions.


Party Food Becomes Dinner


I love party food.  Some of the tastiest bites are found among friends, everyone bringing something new to the party, everyone laughing, eating, bonding.  My family loves these decadent appetizers too.  Sometimes we have "Party Food Night" for dinner.  And one of the most popular foods you'll find at most parties is the Jalapeno Popper.  It's a perfect blend of spicy, cheesy, bacony goodness.

So I decided I would focus on the Popper and turn it into something bigger...dinner.  Now, obviously you can't find a really giant jalapeno big enough to eat as a meal (not even in the Guinness World Records.  I looked it up).  So instead I stuffed it into something we eat a lot.  Chicken.

One of the things my husband doesn't like about bacon is the tendency for it to get soft when you cook it in something, like when I make homemade macaroni and cheese and put bacon in it.  It doesn't remain crispy.  So my way to overcome that soggy bacon effect was to wrap it around the chicken.  Perfect crispy texture.  And the cream cheese, jalapenos, pepper Jack cheese and parmesan are inside the chicken.

So there you have it, Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Popper Chicken.  Serve it with my Cheesy Twice-Baked Potatoes.

BACON-WRAPPED JALAPENO POPPER CHICKEN
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 slices bacon
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/4 C Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 3 T jalapeno slices, chopped
1 C pepper Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  For the filling, mix cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, garlic, jalapenos and shredded cheese in a food processor.

Next, carefully butterfly the chicken by slicing through the thickest part of the chicken lengthwise. Continue pulling the top back until you've opened it kind of like a book, being careful not to go all the way through to the bottom.  (There are YouTube videos you can watch to see the technique.)

Divide your filling into four.  With your hands, mash the filling into an oval ball shape.  Place the filling in the chicken.  Fold the other side of the chicken down over the filling.  Secure with toothpicks, making sure no filling is showing through.  **Tip...use three toothpicks per chicken breast.  That way you'll be able to tell the people eating the chicken how many toothpicks to look for and pull out.

Wrap one slice of bacon around each chicken breast.  Put them in a glass casserole dish and cook about 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is done and bacon is crisp.  Don't worry if some of the filling cooks out.  It creates a great sauce to spoon over the chicken.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Spicy Coleslaw



SPICY COLESLAW

1 14-ounce bag of shredded coleslaw mix (not the one with the dressing included)
1 C mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 C vinegar (depends how sour you like it)
2 1/2 to 3 T sugar (depends how sweet you like it)
1 to 3 teaspoons red chile flake (depends how hot you like it)
1/4 C sunflower seeds, shells removed (optional)

Mix the mayo, vinegar, sugar and chile flake with a whisk.  Mix the slaw mix into the dressing mix.  Let sit at least an hour before serving.

Good News Pinterest Fans!!!

I have now corrected the links from my pins to my blog.  You can now access the recipe by clicking it in Pinterest and it will take you straight to the post.  You no longer have to search or find the recipes on my dropdown menu.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but it's fixed!  Happy Pinning!

Pinterest Fans

Implementing my new dropdown menu has caused the links from my pins to be broken.  You can find the Smothered Chicken recipe under the Main Dish tab.  And the other popular pins are here too under the appropriate tabs.  If you have the time, please browse through the tabs and recipes.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience and hope you find what you are looking for here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Easy Access to My Recipes!

My new dropdown menu is in place!  I hope you find it user friendly when trying to look for recipes.  Now, when you hover over the "Appetizers" tab (or any other tab), you'll see a list of the recipes I've posted there.  You can now click the recipes and go straight to the post instead of scrolling through all of the posts!  Hope you enjoy it!

Roasted Garlic


ROASTED GARLIC
1 bulb garlic, top cut off
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

All you do is take a whole bulb of garlic, cut the top off, drizzle with olive oil, salt and cracked pepper.  Then wrap it with foil and roast at 350 until the cloves are soft, about 30-40 minutes.  When it's cooled, pick the whole thing up and squeeze the cloves out from the fat end.  Simple!

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Man's Gotta Eat



Before my husband and I started dating, I had some friends over for dinner and swimming.  He was a friend at the time, so I invited him too.  That particular night, I happened to make Beef Stroganoff, one of the things my mother always made me growing up.  It's a creamy delicious blend of beef, mushrooms, and a wonderful sour cream sauce. 

He actually showed up later than dinner time.  The rest of the people there were swimming.  When he came out, I told him that there was some Beef Stroganoff in the house and he should help himself.  He said he wasn't really that hungry.  My next words to him changed the course of our relationship.  I said, "a man's gotta eat."  That statement, he told me later, was the one that told him that I'm the one for him.  (Ladies looking for a man...remember that line.)

So, a few years later, I suggested that I make Beef Stroganoff for dinner.  That's when the confession came.  He didn't really like it and he fed the meat to the dogs.  I was surprised.  His dislike wasn't for the flavor of the dish or the components, it was the texture of the meat.  He thought it was too tough.  So I let this recipe go for a long while until last week. 

Last week I was going through my recipes to find something for dinner, and I came across this Beef Stroganoff again.  I thought long and hard on how I could make this for him where he liked the meat.  I tried ground beef.  Nope, not right.  I tried Italian sausage.  Still wrong.  Then it hit me...I needed to buy meat that's been tenderized by the butcher.  So, for my last-ditch effort, I headed to the grocery store to buy tenderized meat.

Now, I know some stores carry tenderized beef stew meat, but I couldn't find that.  All I could find was tenderized beef for chicken fried steaks.  So I bought that, headed home, and prepared to win this Stroganoff battle.  And I won!  When I saw the gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face after he tasted, he looked like it was his birthday.  He loved it.  The texture issue was conquered.  Now, my daughter doesn't like the softer tenderized meat.  She prefers it traditionally with cubes of beef.  So go either way with your Stroganoff.

Just remember, a man's gotta eat.

BEEF STROGANOFF
1 onion, chopped
8-ounce package of mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb egg noodles
2 T beef bouillon, or more to taste (I like the paste kind, but powdered works fine too)
1/2 C water
1/4 C flour
1/2 teaspoon pepper
16-ounce container of sour cream
1 stick of butter, divided in half
1 C white wine
1 lb beef for stew meat or 1 lb tenderized beef (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
Olive oil

Cook the noodles according to directions.

In a bowl, whisk together the sour cream, garlic, beef bouillon, water, flour, and pepper.  Taste to adjust for salt and beef bouillon flavor.

In a skillet, melt half of the butter and drizzle in some olive oil.  Over medium-high heat, sear the meat on both sides.  Remove to a plate.  It won't be cooked through.  It just gives it color.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet.  Cook the onions until tender.  Put the mushrooms in the skillet and cook until browned and tender.  Pour in the white wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits off the bottom.  Whisk in the sour cream sauce mixture and return the meat to the pan.  Turn the heat down to medium, cover, and let simmer until bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.  Serve over the egg noodles.

*Serve this with my Garlicky Roasted Green Beans under the Sides tab

Garlicky Roasted Green Beans


GARLICKY ROASTED GREEN BEANS

2 lbs fresh green beans, stem end trimmed
4 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
3-4 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the green beans in an even layer on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice and sprinkle garlic and salt and pepper over them.  Mix them around with your hands and return to a single layer.  Bake 15-20 minutes or until tender.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Double Sweet Valentine



This post is really for two people...my wonderful husband, of course, and my beautiful sister-in-law, Lisa.

My husband loves cheesecake.  LOVES IT.  Seriously.  Up until today, he only wanted plain cheesecake with a buttery candy-like crust.  His sister, Lisa, told me that once, when they were kids, their grandparents took them to a cafeteria for dinner.  Lisa said that she remembers that John ate 10 pieces of cheesecake.  She said she was little and maybe didn't have a clear concept of numbers, but my husband confirmed it and said he really ate 10 pieces. 

My sister-in-law is a sweet, special person.  She has two beautiful daughters, a loving husband, and she is my biggest champion when it comes to my food blog.  We all adore her.  Today she requested that I make a cheesecake like the Cheesecake Factory's White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake with a Blond Brownie Crust.  Now, I've never tasted this cheesecake, and I haven't been to the Cheesecake Factory for probably 20 years.  So, with her description and a brief look at a picture of said cheesecake, I hope I did this justice.

So the dessert is for my sweet Valentine, and the recipe is for my sweet sister-in-law.  I hope it meets up to everyone's expectations.  My husband loved it, and I hope you do too, Lisa.

WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA NUT CHEESECAKE

FOR THE CRUST:
1 C flour
1 C brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 C butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 C toasted, chopped Macadamia nuts (toast on a sheet pan at 350 degrees for 6 minutes)

FOR THE CARAMEL:
1/2 C butter
1 C sugar
3/4 C heavy cream

FOR THE CHEESECAKE:
24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
1 C sugar
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 1/2 ounces white chocolate (a bar cut into chunks or a package of chunks if you can find them)
1/4 C caramel sauce
1/2 C Macadamia nuts, toasted (toast as above in crust layer)

FOR THE GARNISH:
2 C heavy cream
1 C powdered sugar
More caramel sauce for drizzling

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

Make the caramel first.  In a small saucepot, melt the butter and sugar together over medium high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and golden brown, about 7-10 minutes.  The longer you cook it, the stronger the flavor it is.  If you don't want a really strong caramel, cook it closer to 7 minutes.  Let it cool about 2 minutes and then whisk in the cream carefully.  It may have a tendency to puff up and boil.

Mix the crust layer ingredients together.  Spray a springform pan with pan coating.  Spread the crust mixture on the bottom of the springform pan.  Cook the crust layer 8-10 minutes or until it's slightly firm in the center and not as sticky.

Meanwhile, for the cheesecake layer, in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until soft.  Scrape down the sides, add in the sugar, and beat again until combined.  Scrape the bowl down again and add in the remaining ingredients.  Mix until well incorporated and smooth. 

Gently spread half of the cheesecake mixture over the crust layer.  Drizzle in some caramel, all the white chocolate, and most of the Macadamia nuts (leave some for garnishing).  Spread the remaining cheesecake mixture over the top. 

Make a large foil tent to cover over the cheesecake pan.  This will keep your cheesecake white.  Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour.  Remove foil tent and cook in five-minute increments until the center is set.  Refrigerate or even freeze until cold.

When the cheesecake is cold, beat the heavy cream and powdered sugar in a mixer until stiff.  Put a dollop of whipped cream on the cheesecake slices, drizzle caramel over, and the remaining Macadamia nuts.

Perfect Two-Egg Omelet

The first time I ever had an omelet was at a restaurant called Blue Mesa Grill.  They have an amazing brunch on Sundays, and my favorite part of that brunch was the omelet station.  There is an Omelet Guru manning the station and creating omelets to suit your palate.  He must have gone to omelet school or something to become such a Master Omelet Maker.  He had multiple ingredients to add to your omelet, like meats and cheese and veggies.  I like mushrooms in my omelet always.  Sometimes I want bacon, sometimes ham, sometimes sausage.  Really, any combination of fillings is good.

I've made some good omelets in the past, but getting them out of the pan or getting them to fold can sometimes be a challenge.  So yesterday, when my husband asked for omelets for breakfast, he came up with a genius idea for cooking them.  No, not in a bag or a fancy omelet pan...in a flat cast-iron skillet.  Like this one here...


Shocking, I know.  And I doubted him in my head.  But I tried it, and it really worked.  That spatula made the omelet easy to fold the sides over, and the cast-iron skillet made the omelet slide right onto the plate effortlessly.  Genius!  And I didn't have to go to omelet school or have to become a Guru.

If you don't have a flat cast-iron skillet, don't fret.  Any 10-inch skillet, stainless steel or nonstick, will work.  Just make sure you melt enough butter in the pan and make sure you don't overstuff the omelet.  Also, you need a rubber spatula to coax the edges up.  And don't try to rush the omelet.  It will cook on top after a few minutes.

The fillings we picked in the picture above were ham, lightly browned in a skillet, sauteed mushrooms, pepper Jack cheese, and jalapenos for my husband.  But feel free to play with your fillings and put whatever you like in them.  And, as far as the cheese sauce, feel free to play with that too.  You can use whatever cheese you like.  You can substitute jalapenos for the chipotle or serranos or omit the peppers altogether.

Time for breakfast!

PERFECT TWO-EGG OMELET

2 eggs
A splash of milk
2 T butter
Desired fillings, such as ham, bacon, sausage, cheese, veggies
Chipotle Cheese Sauce, if desired (see below)
Sliced green onions, if desired

Whisk the eggs and milk together.  Preheat your pan over medium heat and melt the butter.  Pour in the eggs, tilting the pan to make sure the eggs cover the entire surface of the pan.  As the omelet starts to set, run your rubber spatula around the edges to start helping the omelet come up from the bottom of the pan.  When most of the top looks cooked, about 3-4 minutes in, sprinkle your cheese down the center to start it melting.  When it looks like the top is cooked, sprinkle your desired toppings down the center.  Gently fold one side over the middle with a rubber spatula, then the other.  You can now either slide your omelet onto a plate or remove it with a large spatula.  Top with cheese sauce and green onions.

CHIPOTLE CHEESE SAUCE

1/4 C butter
1/4 C flour
1 1/2 C milk
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle in adobo, chopped
1 1/2 C cheddar cheese

Melt butter in a pot over medium high heat and whisk in flour.  Whisk in the milk.  Add in the garlic and chipotle and cook until it's bubbly and thick.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until it's melted.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Labor of Love!

We all aspire to do great things, right?  And sometimes, no matter how much effort we put into it, we fail.  But I am not one to give up.  I am a very determined individual, and I am also very competetive.  Just ask my husband.  We compete at everything, even who will win American Idol or Survivor.

So my great challenge for myself this week was homemade ravioli.  I've attempted it numerous times and failed.  Either the pasta is too dense or the filling bursts out or the pasta is too thin.  Discouraging.  But, after two tries this week, I finally got it right.  I did research on pasta recipes.  I Googled why ravioli bursts open.  I found many helpful answers.  And...I made the dough in my mixer.  You heard me right.  Many Italian women right now are probably very unhappy with that last statement since authentic pasta is always kneaded by hand.  But I did it, and it worked.  Here is my formal apology to all you wonderful Italian women who follow the traditional way of making pasta.  I'm truly sorry I used my mixer, but I'm not nearly as patient as you.  Please don't hold it against me.  Please.

So back to the story...Now, this is not a beginner's recipe.  However, if you're a beginner and you like to challenge yourself, try this.  Trust me.  It was really amazing how it all came together.  There are three important things you need to follow with this recipe.  1.  Let the dough rest for an hour.  I don't know why, something to do with glutens relaxing.  2.  Flour flour flour your pasta sheets.  We had a terrible experiment earlier this week with wax paper and sticky dough.  It wasn't pretty.  3.  Bring your water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  This is the key to keeping the ravioli from bursting open.  And, 4. (sorry, I said three), only cook four or five ravioli at a time.  Time consuming, yes, but it works.  Drain them on a towel on a sheet pan until they are all cooked.  Oh, and 5. (just thought of one more), don't pour the water and the ravioli into a collander.  Carefully remove them from the water with a slotted spoon.  Okay.  That's all.

This recipe was made in a large quantity, so feel free to cut it in half.  And I used a pasta maker to roll out the pasta.  You can use a rolling pin too.  Just make sure you roll it out pretty thin, not so thin that you can see through it, but somewhere right before that.  Helpful, I know.

HOMEMADE SIX-CHEESE RAVIOLI WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE MARINARA

DOUGH:
4 C flour
5 eggs
1/4 C water
2 teaspoons salt

FILLING:
32 ounces ricotta cheese
2 C Italian six-cheese shredded blend
1 T garlic powder

MARINARA:
4 C Basic Marinara Sauce (recipe below)
2 lbs Italian sausage, hot or mild, casings removed
2 T fresh basil, chopped

ALSO NEEDED:
2 eggs
1/4 C water
1 C Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Mix the dough ingredients in a stand mixer until it becomes a smooth ball.  Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour.

Mix the filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside until you're ready to use it.

After your dough has rested, divide it into eight equal portions.  Keep the portions covered with a towel while working with the first portion.  With your pasta maker, set the sheet setting on the widest setting.  Mine is 7.  Flour your counter top well.  Roll out the sheet on 7, turn the setting down to 6 and repeat, making sure the dough is floured each time.  I continued reducing the setting until I rolled it out on the 3 setting.  Keep the sheets covered with plastic wrap until they are all done.  Now mix the 2 eggs and 1/4 C water together for an egg wash.

Mound tablespoons of the filling along one sheet about 1/2 inch apart.  Brush the egg wash all around the filling.  Lightly lay another sheet on top of that.  Cup your hands around each mound to press out the air.  Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut out squares around the filling.  Be sure not to get too close to the filling.  When they are all stuffed, cook four to five at a time on a simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is tender.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a towel on a sheet pan to drain.

Preheat a skillet over medium high heat and add in a little olive oil.  Cook the sausage, breaking it apart as you go, until it's done.  Turn down the heat to medium.  Pour in the marinara sauce and cook until it starts bubbling.  Add in the basil and remove from heat.  Plate the ravioli with the sauce over it and dprinkle the shredded Mozzarella over the top.

BASIC MARINARA SAUCE

3 onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
6 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes (San Marzano is preferable)
10-12 cloves of garlic (a whole bulb), minced
1 T beef bouillon
1 C red wine (any kind you like)
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
1/4 C fresh Italian parsley, chopped
6 bay leaves
Red chili pepper flake, to taste
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

For the marinara, heat a really big stock pot over medium heat.  Drizzle olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot.  Add in the onions, carrots, and celery.  Cook about 10 minutes or until tender.  Add in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium low heat for at least an hour, longer if desired.  Remove all the bay leaves and blend.  I use an immersion blender, but you can blend it in batches in a blender.  Transfer with a ladle to plastic containers (I use the rectangle ones that lunchmeat comes in) and freeze the marinara.  I got 8 3-4 cup containers of sauce.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

They Ate it All!


Sometimes kids (my son) are picky, but sometimes they really surprise you.  I never know when my son will eat what I cook.  But last night he devoured this meal, along with the rest of my family.  I made eight pieces of corn on the cob, and they ate it all.  And all of the Roasted Potato Rounds.  Seriously, I made an entire sheet pan of the potatoes, and they are gone.  (I ate only two slices, by the way.)  And the chicken, while it has a fancy-pants name, it's really pretty easy and darn tasty...Chicken Cordon Bleu.  My son said it was the best chicken he's ever tasted.

Chicken Cordon Bleu was traditionally made with veal, stuffed, breaded and fried.  But this is the version I prefer.  It's still stuffed with ham and cheese (I chose Swiss), but I didn't bread it and fry it.  Instead I browned it and removed it from the pan.  I then made a mushroom sauce in the same pan, returned the chicken to the pan, and finished cooking the chicken in the sauce.  The result is rather tasty and tender chicken.  If you don't like Swiss, pick another slice of easy melting cheese.  And, for the ham, use whatever you like, even proscuitto.  I just used plain-old deli sliced ham.  And I secure my chicken breasts with toothpicks.  I ALWAYS use three toothpicks so that I know exactly how many are in there and I can warn whoever is eating the chicken to find the three toothpicks before eating.

Anyhoo, here's the recipes.  See if your kid (or kids) love it as much as mine did!

CHICKEN CORDON BLEU
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 onion, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices deli ham
4 slices Swiss cheese
1/2 C white wine
2 C chicken stock
1/4 C butter
1/4 C flour
2 T olive oil
12 toothpicks

To butterfly the chicken breasts, place them on a board and put the fattest lengthwise part towards your knife.  Gently cut a line through the chicken, peeling back as you go, without going through the bottom.  (Don't worry.  Google a YouTube video on it if you're unsure.)  Place the chicken in a large zipper bag and pound the chicken breasts thin with a small pot. 

Place one slice of ham and one slice of Swiss cheese (fold over on itself twice) on the inside of the chicken breast.  Slightly fold the ham over the cheese.  Using three toothpicks per chicken breast, secure the edges of the chicken together, making sure no ham is showing through.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and the olive oil together.  Place the chicken breasts in and brown one side.  Turn over and brown the other side.  Remove to a plate.  Add the mushrooms and onions to the same skillet and cook until tender.  Add in wine and deglaze the pan.  (That just means scraping up any brown goodness on the bottom of the pan.)  Cook about 1 minute to reduce.  Whisk in the flour.  Add in the chicken stock and garlic and whisk to combine.  When it's bubbling, turn the heat down to medium and return your chicken breasts to the skillet.  Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until chicken is done. 

**Don't forget to warn your eaters about removing the three toothpicks!


ROASTED POTATO ROUNDS
5 russet potatoes, thick sliced
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (very slightly undercooked)
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T dried parsley
1/2 to 1 C colby jack cheese, shredded
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place potatoes in a single layer on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle seasonings over them.  Turn them over and repeat.  Bake 30 minutes or until tender.

Sprinkle the shredded cheese and bacon over the tops.  Return to oven and cook about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.



CREAM CHEESE ROASTED CORN
8 frozen half ears of corn
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
1-3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (or seasoned salt)
8 pieces of foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put cream cheese and butter in a microwaveable bowl and heat until butter is melted.  Add in the Cajun seasoning and whisk together.  Brush the cream cheese mixture on each piece of corn.  Wrap in foil and place on a cookie sheet.  Cook about 20 minutes or until corn is tender.