Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Comfort Food

So we just had the third largest snow in the history of our town.  It pretty much shut down everything, and the mayor even declared it a state of emergency.  While I know that a lot of places up North are used to way more snow, our little West Texas town isn't really equipped to deal with it.

So, as we're stuck at home and cold and bored, the only thing to do here is to cook some comfort food.  We all have our favorites.  It's usually something old fashioned, something handed down, something warm and hearty.  I happened to have some puff pastry on hand, so I decided to make this open-faced Puff Pastry Pot Pie.  I made the stock homemade, and it all came together really easy.  It may seem like a lot of work, but it really wasn't.  The family loved this and nearly ate it all!  Comfort at its best!

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, rough chopped
1 carrot, rough chopped
1 stalk celery, rough chopped
1 small onion, rough chopped
2 bay leaves
6 C chicken stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
4 cloves garlic, rough chopped

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
1/4 C flour
1/2 C chopped carrots
1 C diced potato
1/2 C frozen peas
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 C butter
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Salt & pepper, to taste

For the stock, put all of the stock ingredients in a large pot or dutch oven.  Bring it to a boil.  Turn down the heat slightly. Continue boiling until the chicken is done.  Remove the chicken from the stock.  Strain the stock and reserve the liquid.  You will need 4 C stock.  If you don't have enough reserved stock, add enough water to make 4 C.  Shred the chicken and set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Roll the puff pastry out a bit.  Cover half of a 9 x 13 pan with one sheet of puff pastry, overlapping the edges of the pan.  Cover the other half of the pan with the other sheet of puff pastry, overlapping the edges of the pan.

In the same large pot or dutch oven, melt in the butter and drizzle in some olive oil.  Cook the celery, onion, potatoes, carrots and garlic until they are tender.  Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir.  Stir in the stock, salt and pepper to taste, and the poultry seasoning.  Bring it to a boil.  Continue cooking 5-7 minutes or until the sauce is thick.  Stir in the chicken and peas.  

Pour the mixture into the 9 x 13 pan.  Fold the edges of the puff pastry over the sides, partially covering the filling.  Brush the pastry with some melted butter.  Cook the pot pie in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the puff pastry is browned and cooked through.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Southern Cornbread Dressing

This is my mother's recipe for Southern Cornbread Dressing. We actually call it stuffing, but we don't stuff it into the turkey. This is rich, moist and so flavorful!  Enjoy!

6 C crumbled cornbread (see note)
6 C crumbled stale bread (see note)
4 C chicken stock (or more if necessary)
5-6 eggs
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
1-2 teaspoons sage ( to taste)
1 T poultry seasoning (or to taste)
1 stick butter

NOTES:  The cornbread and the breadcrumbs needs to be very dry.  This ensures that the stock and eggs will be well absorbed and the dressing will be moist.  I would suggest making the cornbread a few days in advance, crumbling it, and drying it on a sheet pan along with the breadcrumbs.  I usually have stray hamburger buns or other leftover bread in the freezer that I thaw and dry out for this.  Also, if you prefer that the onions and celery are very soft, you can cook them in a skillet in butter or oil until tender before adding it to the dressing.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the cornbread crumbs, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper, sage, and poultry seasoning.  Taste it now before adding the eggs to see if you want more seasonings.  I usually add some sage and poultry seasoning at this point.  

When you get the seasonings right, add in the eggs and stock and stir well.  Stir in the celery and onions.  If the dressing doesn't seem wet enough, stir in another egg and possibly more stock.  You want it to be pretty wet.  Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray.  Spread the dressing mixture into the pan.  Slice the butter into pats and top the dressing all over with the butter.  Cover it with foil.  Bake it for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes or until the dressing is done in the middle and it is well browned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Good and Tangy

I am a huge fan of sour or vinegary foods.  I was so excited awhile back when I came across white barbecue sauce, which is found in Northern Alabama.  I made this Grilled White BBQ Chicken that was fantastic.  But I love sandwiches, so I thought, why not turn that chicken into a sandwich!  And it was fantastic!  The sauce makes a lot, so you can either cut it in half or serve it with the sandwiches for extra sauce.  If you are a fan of tangy foods, this is for you! Enjoy!

1 1/2 C mayonnaise
1/3 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C lemon juice
1 T minced garlic
1 T prepared horseradish
1 T black pepper (less if you want)
1 T spicy brown mustard
Salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste

4 C cooked, shredded chicken
6 sandwich rolls
Pickle slices
Shredded coleslaw mix (not the one with the dressing)

Whisk together the sauce ingredients and refrigerate it until you're ready to use it.  

Mix half of the sauce with the chicken and heat it in the microwave or in a small pot.  Toast the sandwich rolls. Assemble the sandwiches by putting some of the coleslaw mix on the bottom bun, then some chicken and some pickle slices.  Serve with the extra sauce.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chick Food

When my husband is out of town, which is frequent, I get to cook things that he normally wouldn't like.  He calls these things "chick food."  He'll eat whatever I cook, but I know when he thinks it's not manly food.  He definitely considers salad chick food, unless, of course, there's steak in it.  

I told you all the other day that I peruse menus for inspiration. Well, here's another menu-inspired recipe.  Johnny Carino's has a Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad on their menu.  I didn't follow the description 100 %, but most of it is here.  This salad was so yummy!  It has spinach, tomatoes, gorgonzola, bacon, crispy onion straws and honey mustard dressing. This chick right here (me) loved it!  Enjoy!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 1/2 C panko breadcrumbs 
1 1/2 C finely chopped pecans
1 C mayonnaise
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
Seasoned salt (like Lawry's), to taste
Black pepper, to taste

1/2 C mayonnaise
1/4 C honey
2 T dijon mustard
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
1 T apple cider vinegar
Pinch garlic powder

1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2 C flour
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Peanut oil, for frying

10 ounces fresh spinach
1/2 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
5 ounces gorgonzola
2 Roma tomatoes, diced

For the chicken, put the pecans, panko, garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, and black pepper into a bowl and mix it.  Put the mayo in another bowl.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Dip the chicken strips in the mayo and then into the panko mixture, pressing down to coat.  Put the strips on a sheet pan and bake 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is done.

Meanwhile, put the honey mustard ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.  Put it in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

Put the buttermilk into a bowl and put the flour into another bowl.  Put the onion slices into the buttermilk.  Preheat some peanut oil in a skillet.  Dip the onion slices into the flour mixture and shake off any excess.  Fry the onion straws in batches until they are browned.  Be careful because they will burn fast.  Drain them on a paper towel. 

To assemble the salads, put some spinach on a plate.  Top with the cooked bacon, gorgonzola, diced tomatoes, onion straws, and the chicken.  Serve with the honey mustard.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Italian Nachos

These Italian Nachos are a fun way to mix things up.  The "chips" are pasta chips.  There is homemade alfredo sauce here along with pesto and a bunch of other yummy stuff.  But you could customize these and use grilled chicken, Italian sausage, you name it!  Enjoy!

1 package wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil
2 C heavy cream
1 stick butter
1 clove garlic, minced
5 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 1/2 to 2 C shredded Mozzarella cheese
Sliced black olives
Sliced pepperoncini peppers
Pepperoni slices
Red onion slices
1/4 C prepared pesto
2 Roma tomatoes, diced

For the pasta chips, heat some vegetable oil in a skillet to medium high heat.  Cut the wontons in half diagonally. Carefully and quickly fry them in batches for about 15 seconds per side or until they are lightly browned on both sides.  Drain them on a paper towel.

For the alfredo sauce, melt the butter in a small pot.  Add in the cream and garlic and bring it to a boil.  Turn the heat off and leave the pot on the burner.  Whisk in the Parmesan cheese in small handfuls and continue to whisk until it's smooth.  Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Preheat the broiler.  Put the pasta chips on a sheet pan. Drizzle the pesto over the chips.  Drizzle the alfredo sauce over the chips (you may have some sauce leftover).  Sprinkle on the Mozzarella cheese and the black olives and red onion. Lay the pepperoni slices over the top.  Put the sheet pan under the broiler to melt the Mozzarella and heat through. Garnish with the pepperoncini peppers and tomatoes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Menu Inspiration

I have an obsession with menus.  I read them all the time for inspiration.  I have even been known to take pictures of menus in restaurants to recreate things that sound good.  My husband doesn't like that I have to read the ENTIRE menu before deciding what to order at restaurants.  He is rewarded though by great food.

While I've never eaten this dish from Johnny Carrino's, I thought it sounded good so I made my own version.  This is Chicken Milano.  It's chicken smothered with sauteed mushrooms, proscuitto ham, and Provolone cheese.  And it's served with fettuccine with really easy homemade alfredo sauce.  And it's darn tasty!  Enjoy!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
One 3-ounce package sliced proscuitto ham (or regular deli ham)
8 slices Provolone cheese
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil
2 T butter
Garlic powder
Seasoned salt (like Lawry's)
Black pepper

1 lb fettuccine
1 stick butter
3 C heavy cream
5 ounces plus 1/4 C shredded Parmesan cheese (not the powder stuff)
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Season the chicken breasts on both sides with some garlic powder, seasoned salt, and black pepper.  Bake the chicken on a sheet pan for 15 minutes.  Turn the chicken over and bake an additional 12-16 minutes OR until a thermometer registers at 165 degrees in the center.

Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine according to package directions.  Melt the butter in a skillet and drizzle in some olive oil.  Cook the mushrooms in the skillet until tender. Season them with salt and pepper.  Set them aside.

For the alfredo sauce, melt the stick of butter in a sauce pot. Add in the cream and garlic and bring it to a boil.  Turn the heat off.  Whisk in the Parmesan cheese in small handfuls and continue whisking until it's smooth.  Continue whisking in the Parmesan until it's all melted and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

During the last 5-7 minutes of the chicken cooking, pull the sheet pan out of the oven.  Top each chicken breast with 1/4 of the mushrooms.  Top each chicken breast with 1/4 of the proscuitto.  Lay two slices of Provolone cheese over the top of each chicken breast.  Return the pan to the oven and continue cooking until the chicken is done and the cheese is slightly browned.  Mix the alfredo sauce with the drained fettuccine and serve it with the chicken.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Lessons Learned

So we've already had our first winter storm here in West Texas.  It's been rather cold, so what better thing to have for dinner than a nice hearty soup.  This is Spicy Tex-Mex Bean & Ham Soup.  I used up leftover ham from Thanksgiving, and I cooked this soup in the crockpot.  I love coming home after work and dinner is ready!  Makes life so easy.

There's only one way to learn some things, and that's just to jump right in and try it.  I have never cooked a dish with rice in the crockpot, so I thought I'd give it a shot.  When I do crockpot recipes, I usually prep all the ingredients the day before so I can just throw it all in the crockpot before work. Well, I went ahead and threw the rice in there.  Sure, sounds like a great idea.  But it didn't work out so well.  The soup tasted fantastic, but it was thicker than I wanted and the rice seemed to have dissolved.  Ha ha.  My husband raved on and on about how much he loved this soup.  We made a pan of cornbread and we were warmed up and our bellies were full.  Enjoy!

1 lb bag 15-bean mix
3-4 C cooked ham, cubed (a ham steak will work)
9-11 C chicken stock
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic minced
4-6 jalapenos, chopped
1 red (or orange) bell pepper, chopped
1/4 C lime juice
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
2 Goya ham seasoning packets
1/4 C apple cider vinegar
3 bay leaves
2 T cumin
2 T chili powder

1/2 C cilantro
2 C cooked rice
Salt & pepper, to taste
Diced tomatoes, for serving
Sour cream, for serving
Sliced avocados, for serving

NOTES:  If you want a thicker stew-like soup like my picture above, go ahead and put the rice in with everything else. Otherwise you may want to stir cooked rice in at the end or later in the cook time.  The Goya ham seasoning packets are typically found on the international aisle of the grocery store. The Walmart near my house has a section with Goya products near the bulk section.  If you can't find it, it's okay. Just make sure you add enough salt.  I used 4 jalapenos in my soup and we found that it wasn't spicy enough.  But it's your soup, so use as many or as little as you like.  Lastly, I started my soup with 8 C chicken stock.  When I got home at 4:15, I found that I needed 3 C more chicken stock.  I'm not sure if it's because of the rice or if the beans absorbed too much stock.  Check it at 6 hours and decide if you need more liquid in it.

Put all of the "for the soup" ingredients into a crockpot, including the seasoning packet from the beans (if it came with one).  (See note about the rice above.)  Cook on low for 8-10 hours or until the beans are soft.  Check your liquid at about 6 hours to see if you need more stock.  When it's done, stir in the cilantro and the cooked rice.  Serve the soup with the diced tomatoes, sour cream, and avocado slices.