Friday, June 29, 2012

Recipe Swap - Balsamic Caprese Panini

Oh caprese, how I love you. I kinda have a thing for all things caprese, in case you haven't noticed.

So I was, of course, thrilled when I received my recipe for the Burger/Sandwich Swap. Not only was it one of my good friend Jaida's recipes, it was something I've had my eye on every since she posted it. The Balsamic Caprese Panini combines my love of caprese ingredients with the tang of balsamic vinegar and the crunch of crispy bread. I couldn't wait to make it.

Like Jaida, I had some trouble with this sandwich. I used a nice, crusty roll to combat the wetness of the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, but I had forgotten to take the roll out of the freezer before I started cooking so that was problem #1. Problem #2 arose when I got careless. I was patting myself on the back, proud of how well my sandwich was cooking in a skillet with a brick to weigh it down. Then, since everything was going so well, I walked across the kitchen to clean up a bit and the next thing I knew the brick was sliding, taking the top half of the sandwich with it. I managed to salvage the sandwich, and it was positively delicious, but not exactly photogenic. No matter. I had plenty of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil and I planned to try again for lunch another day.

The photos are attempt #2 and as you can see it was still a mess. Ingredients sliding every which way. This is a messy sandwich, folks. The juicy tomatoes and moisture in fresh mozzarella conspire against you. I tried adding more cheese so I could have three layers to sort of glue everything together, but that didn't work. You could maybe shred the fresh mozzarella instead of slicing it or just make it and deal with the mess.

I made only one modification and that was to swap the oil for a little mayo. I used about 1 tablespoon for my sandwich and mixed it with the balsamic to create a balsamic mayo. Holy yum, folks. Thankfully I had a little leftover to dip my sandwich in. I'm trying to think of other ways to use balsamic mayo, perhaps on a sandwich with some arugula and proscuitto?

Big thanks to Jaida for an awesome sandwich recipe!

Balsamic Caprese Panini
Slightly Modified from Sweet Beginnings
Makes 1 sandwich

4 slices of tomato (I used beefsteak tomatoes)
Salt and pepper, to taste
A splash of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon mayo
3 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
9 basil leaves, stems removed
2 slices crusty bread
Cooking spray

Sprinkle the tomato slices with salt and pepper. In a small bowl combine the mayo and balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine. Spread half the mayo on each slice of bread (if you have leftover, you can dip the sandwich into it later). Place alternating layers of tomato and mozzarella slices on the bottom bun (2 layers of each). Place the basil leaves on top and top with the other bread slice.

Heat a skillet or panini press over medium-low heat. Spray the pan with cooking spray and place the sandwich in gently. Spray the exposed slice of bread with more cooking spray, then top with a sheet of tin foil. Weigh down the sandwich with a heavy skillet, a brick covered with tin foil (what I used) or a plate with some cans stacked on top. Cook 5 minutes, watching the sandwich carefully as the contents will shift as they cook. Flip over and repeat on the second side.

Cut in half and serve.
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches

I love the combination of chicken and pineapple. I first had it in this summer staple, Pineapple Chicken Salad, and then these delicious Grilled Chicken and Pineapple Quesadillas. These Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches received rave reviews on my cooking board, so I knew I had to make them.

Hawaiian chicken sandwiches

All I can say is wow. No wonder these were a favorite in Katie's house growing up. They couldn't be simpler yet the flavor is outstanding. Marinating the chicken overnight imparts such great flavor, so don't skip that step. Unfortunately we were out of charcoal so I had to cook these inside on the stovetop. I think the smokiness from the grill would only enhance the flavor. These are definitely a winner. I even strong-armed SP into sharing a second sandwich with me. I couldn't stop thinking about them and almost cried when SP inadvertently took the only leftover sandwich to work the next day. I guess I'll just have to make them again next week.

The only change I made was to add a smear of mayo to the top and bottom buns. I loved the way the marinade on the chicken and the juice from the pineapple mixed with the mayo. I also doubled the recipe so we'd have leftovers for lunch (although obviously not enough leftovers). If you like chicken and pineapple you NEED to make this. Thanks for an amazing recipe, Katie!

Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches
As Seen on So Tasty, So Yummy

2 large boneless skinless breast of chicken
1 large can pineapple rings (8 rings)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 slices provolone cheese
4 hamburger buns or kaiser rolls
A smear of mayo

Pound out the chicken breasts and slice each into two pieces. Combine the juice from the pineapple can, soy sauce, brown sugar and mustard. Marinate the chicken overnight in the the juice mixture.

Prepare your grill. Grill the chicken for 15 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Add the cheese with 3 minutes left. While the chicken is grilling, add the pineapple rings halfway through, turning once. Smear some mayo on the buns, then top with a piece of chicken and two pineapple rings each.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Best Macaroni Salad Ever

I know The Pioneer Woman is a brand. I get that she has to make over the top claims about things because people expect her to have the best of the best recipes. That's fine. She's obviously doing quite well for herself. But is her claim that this is The Best Macaroni Salad Ever actually valid? Ehhh...not necessarily.

I rarely make macaroni salad at home but whenever we've bought it at the store I remember why I dislike it so much. See, there was a Jewish deli in my hometown growing up that made THE BEST (and yes, I stick by that statement) macaroni salad I'd ever tasted. It was simple, not too gloppy from mayo and perfectly seasoned. Sadly, the deli closed its doors a decade ago and I have yet to find macaroni salad that's as good. Now this recipe is completely different from any macaroni salad I've had. As SP pointed out, there's no carrot or celery. Instead you have olives and roasted red peppers. But I figured it was worth a shot.

I cut the recipe in half since it was just the two of us and that was perfect for dinner (including going back for seconds and thirds) plus lunch the next day. I'd say half the recipe makes 6 servings. I'm not sure what kind of pickles she was recommending so I just used the hamburger dill slices we had in the fridge. I'm sure whatever pickle you like would work just fine. I reworked the directions below because nothing irks me quite like a recipe ingredient list that doesn't go in the order of the instructions.

We both enjoyed this, especially the fact that it wasn't overly mayo-ed, but it wasn't quite what either of us were looking for in the perfect macaroni salad. I think I'll keep the base (mayo, pickles, vinegar) and swap the red peppers and olives for carrot and celery. I'll report back since I envision plenty of grilling opportunities this summer.

The Best Macaroni Salad Ever
As Seen on The Pioneer Woman

4 cups elbow macaroni
3 whole roasted red peppers, chopped
1/2 cup black olives, chopped fine
1/2 cup diced pickles (I used dill, any type would work)
3 green onions, sliced (white and dark green parts)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Plenty of black pepper
1/4 cup milk (more if needed)
Splash of pickle juice

Cook the macaroni in lightly salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool, then put in a large bowl. Add the roasted red pepper, olives, pickles, and green onions. In a small bowl, mix together mayo, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Splash in enough milk to make it pourable. Splash in pickle juice for extra flavor. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add dressing to the macaroni and toss to coat. Add more of any ingredient you'd like

Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir and serve.
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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blueberry Muffins with Strudel Topping

Lately we've been buying a big container of blueberries at the supermarket. They pair beautifully with strawberries and bananas in smoothies and SP likes to take them to work as a snack. He was out of town for three days this past week and the blueberries were getting old fast. I needed something to make with them and then it hit - a craving for muffins. The first recipe I tried was a bust but then I was pointed in the direction of this recipe for Blueberry Muffins with Strudel Topping . Thankfully I had plenty of blueberries to try again.

Excuse the holiday muffin liners. I didn't realize they were Christmas liners until I was looking at the photos. Gingerbread men and Christmas trees in June? Eh, what can you do? Regardless of the wrappers, these were divine. The topping provides a great crunch and the muffin itself is cakey, sweet and bursting with blueberry goodness.

Blueberry Muffins with Strudel Topping
As Seen on Fried Ice and Donut Holes, originally from Annie’s Eats

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3-1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners (I got 9 muffins and I still think they were a little big, so I'd go for 10 and have more, slightly smaller muffins).

Whisk together flour, sugar salt, and baking powder. Pour vegetable oil in a 1-cup glass measuring cup. Add the egg and enough milk to make 1 cup of liquid. Whisk together, then slowly whisk into flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Scoop into lined muffin cups.

Combine topping ingredients, mixing with a fork until crumbly and combined. Sprinkle over tops of muffin batter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool in muffin tin for 10 minutes, then remove to wire rack and allow to cool completely.
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Greek Pita Pizzas

SP was out of town for work last week, so I took the opportunity to make some things for dinner that I know he wouldn't enjoy. I don't know why, but he isn't a big fan of Greek food. He'll tolerate it every once in awhile, but I knew these Greek Pita Pizzas wouldn't go over well if I made them for him. I, on the other hand, loved them. They combined a few of my favorite things - hummus, tzatziki, olives, feta, tomatoes and tangy Greek-style dressing - into an easy, healthy dinner.

I actually made these a few times while he was away but the first time (the one I photographed) I opted to leave off the mozzarella cheese simply because I didn't feel like opening the package. It was still delicious. Later in the week I ate it for lunch and also served this with one of my new favorite dishes, Mediterranean Couscous for dinner. I couldn't get enough of the flavors and was happy to use up the pocketless pita making these over and over again. Simple, tasty and healthy to boot.

Greek Pita Pizzas
As Seen on Pink Parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 (8-inch) pita breads
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/2 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
3/4 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/2 cup hummus
1/2 shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Tzatziki sauce, for serving

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Brush 1 tablespoon of the oil over both sides of pitas. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake about 5 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining oil, vinegar, and oregano in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Toss with the olives, onions, and tomatoes.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the hummus over each pita, leaving a small border. Divide the vegetable mixture evenly over the cheese, then sprinkle with the feta. Top each pita with 2 tablespoons of mozzarella.

Cook until the vegetables are softened and the cheese has melted, 6 to 8 minutes. Drizzle with tzatziki sauce and serve.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Weekly Menu - Week of June 24, 2012

The end of June is quickly approaching and summer is officially here. Hard to believe how fast the time goes as you get older. Some days might feel like they're taking forever but overall time flies by way too fast. We had a heat wave here this week, with temps around 100 degrees, which is unusually for this area. I'm glad the weather is going to be a bit cooler this week. Those high temps make me want to lay around and do nothing all day.

I'm really excited about this week's menu, mainly because of the variety of dishes. And the fact that my shopping list was pretty short because I tried to use items I already have on hand.

Sunday - SP likes to grill on Sundays so I thought I'd revisit these Smashed Sliders. I'll serve them with Pioneer Woman's The Best Macaroni Salad Ever. Let's see if it lives up to its name.

Monday - I've got some ground beef in the freezer and tortillas in the fridge that need to be used up so I'm going to try my hand at Beef Tostados. I'll make these Refried Beans and cook the ground beef using recipe #1, then top the whole thing with shredded cheddar, shredded Romaine, diced tomato, sour cream and salsa.

Tuesday - Hoagies

Wednesday - These Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches have been talked about a lot recently on my cooking board so I'm finally making them. I'll serve them with oven fries.

Thursday - I found this Rachael Ray recipe for Pasta Carbonara with Corn while I was going through magazines and tearing out recipes I want to make. I'm leaving the chiles out of the original recipe since I'm not a big spice fan.

Friday - I've stopped meal planning on Fridays because we will likely go out since it's summer and it stays light later.
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Friday, June 22, 2012

Black Bean Patties with Corn Relish and Avocado Cream Sauce

After the success of the Black Bean Burgers I went looking for other ways to incorporate black beans into our meal plan. I remembered seeing these Black Bean Patties with Corn Relish and Avocado Cream Sauce on Annie's blog and thinking that while they looked delicious SP would never eat them. Happily, I was wrong.

I absolutely loved these. I'm shocked at how much I enjoy black beans. SP was hoping these would just be burgers and he ended up eating his salad separately and making his patties into a burger on some whole wheat bread, but I enjoyed taking a bite of the patty with some of the salad, avocado cream and corn. I decided to gild the lily with my leftovers the next day and top the whole thing with a fried egg. Amazing.

This is an awesome dish, definitely restuarant-quality, and while I wouldn't call it an easy weeknight meal, it's simple to put together if you prep the bean mixture ahead of time. Unfortunately I don't have a squeeze bottle so my dollops of avocado cream are less than photogenic, but believe me, this is a truly fantastic dish. The tanginess from the lime juice works beautifully with the corn and tomatoes (I omitted the jalapeno so Baby Girl could eat it) and you can't go wrong with avocado in my book. And the patties are pretty much the same recipe as the burgers, so I knew they'd be a hit.

Baby Girl watched me make these and couldn't wait to try them, although she kept calling them chicken patties which made me laugh. She ended up eating one and a half patties, as well as two servings of corn and couldn't get enough of the avocado cream. That's my girl!

Black Bean Patties with Corn Relish and Avocado Cream Sauce
From Elly Says Opa, as seen on Annie’s Eats

For the patties:
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 roasted red bell peppers, 1 coarsely chopped, 1 finely minced
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1 medium onion, finely diced
2/3 cup panko
Salt and pepper
Canola or vegetable oil

For the corn relish:
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cups corn kernels
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (I omitted)
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the avocado cream sauce:
1 avocado, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup light sour cream
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place half the beans in a food processor with coarsely chopped bell pepper, the eggs, oregano, and cumin. Process until smooth. In a large bowl, lightly mash the remaining beans. Stir in the remaining bell pepper, onion, and smooth bean mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the panko mixing lightly. Chill for 30 minutes.

While the bean mixture is chilling, heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the corn and sauté until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and jalapeño and cook about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the tomato, lime juice, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the avocado cream sauce, combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Form the bean mixture into patties. Heat about 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the patties in batches, cooking until lightly browned and firm, about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve the patties warm topped with the corn relish and drizzled with the avocado cream sauce.
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Breakfast Tacos

These Breakfast Tacos were supposed to be dinner last Friday, but by the time Thursday rolled around I only had 3 eggs in the fridge and a jam-packed day on Friday that involved 2 hours in the car. I'm not sure why I meal plan for Fridays anymore. More often than not we end up going out or making something simple. Fridays are fun days, a day to celebrate the end of another work week. So what did I do? I made these for breakfast. Score another one for working from home.

My tortillas were a bit too large for tacos, so I modified these into breakfast burritos. Since I was making just one burrito for myself I scrambled up two eggs (which ended up being too much for my tortilla to hold, but I don't mind an overstuffed burrito), nuked one of the cooked breakfast sausage links we keep in the freezer and heated up a handful of tater tots in my toaster oven. As an aside, I don't know what I'd do without my toaster oven. I love having a mini oven to do everything from toasting bread to pine nuts to roasting garlic. Not having to turn on the big oven all the time is awesome.

Anyway, back to the burritos. This was excellent. I love hand-held breakfasts and this was fast and easy to make. I kept the filling simple with just the salsa Cassie mentions and I dipped the burrito in some sour cream as I ate, but the filling possibilities are endless. The addition of the tater tots really made it for me. I love potatoes with my breakfast and these little bite-size nuggets of crispy potato goodness really hit the spot.

Thanks for another winner, Cassie!

Breakfast Tacos
As Seen on Cassie Craves

1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese
Tater tots, prepared according to package directions
Taco-size flour tortillas
Salsa and sour cream for serving

Cook the sausage in a large skillet, using a wooden spoon to break it up into chunks, until sausage is browned and cook through. Remove to paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, scramble the eggs and season them with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat in a large skillet until they’re softly scrambled. Stir in cheese and remove from heat.

Assemble the tacos by topping each flour tortilla with some of the eggs and sausage, a few tater tots, and salsa and sour cream.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Recipe Swap Roundup - Blogger's Choice Part 4

As I've said before, Blogger's Choice is a favorite amongst the bloggers that participate in the recipe swaps. They love being able to choose any recipe to make from the blog they're assigned. It's always fun for me because even I don't know what everyone is going to make, unlike with the themed swaps where I see all the recipes that have been submitted. It's like Christmas morning on reveal day, waiting to see what everyone chose and what they thought of it.

Eva wanted to try a fun, new dessert and this Peach Cobbler fit the bill:

I've had my eye on this fun twist, Cajun Mac and Cheese:

Dawn enjoyed finding something new for breakfast with this Baked Oatmeal:

Melissa loved my recipe for Corn and Mushrooms with Cilantro, a perfect side for any grilled meat:

Nichole had been thinking about making Croque Monsieur Sandwiches before finding a delicious recipe in her assigned blog:

Coleen hasn't had Mexican food in awhile but had been wanting to make the Creamy Chicken Taquitos that have been making their way around the blogopshere:

Jenni really enjoyed her Large Chinese Scallion Pancake:

Nicole enjoyed these healthy, filling Chicken and Basil Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes:

Christina loves Cookies and Cream Ice Cream even though she isn't a big fan of Oreos:

{photo coming soon}

Lishie was able to take advantage of a solo night for dinner by making these Copy Cat Burrito Bowls:

Christine chose Oven Baked Sriracha Chicken because she loves hoisin and Sriracha sauces:

Jenna was shocked by how good her Shrimp, Black Bean and Pineapple Foil Packets were:

Kate loved her restaurant-quality BBQ Chicken and Pineapple Quesadillas:

Carrie's whole family loved the Confetti Waffles she made:

Kristina was looking for something different to make for the swap and stumbled on these delicious Korean Short Ribs:

Mary Ellen couldn't chose just one recipe so she made Yakitori:

... and Vegetable Lo Mein:

Katie loves English Muffins but had never made them at home. Now she has a go-to bread machine version:

Joelen loves the tartness of lemonade and especially enjoyed this fun twist with Fresh Raspberry Lemonade:

Nicole loved the caramelized onions in her Ultimate French Onion Soup:

Jaida loves fun dips and this White Bean, Garlic, Rosemary, and Red Pepper Dip was no exception:

Ashley enjoyed these rich and delicious Creamy Au Gratin Potatoes:

Jessica, a newcomer to the swaps, was very happy with her choice of Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole:

Amy had a hard time choosing a dessert to make, but finally settled on Coffee Cinnamon Snack Cake:

Kylee, another swap newcomer, loved her Beer and Onion Braised Chicken with Bacon:

Brianna had an abundance of strawberries so this Strawberry Banana Bread was a perfect way to use them:

Jey had some ground beef in the freezer and these Cabo Beach Burgers were calling her name:

As soon as Lauren found out which blog she'd been assigned she knew what she was going to make - Pork Florentine, a dish she'd been drooling over since Joelen first posted it:

Ammie made a delicious pot of Bolognese Sauce:

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Baked Ziti with Summer Vegetables

I love baked ziti. What's not to love about creamy, cheesy pasta? But as I've said before, we are trying to eat healthier these days. That's easy to do in the summer when fresh vegetables are plentiful. This Baked Ziti with Summer Vegetables was part of the recent Noodle Swap and as soon as I saw it I added it to my weekly menu.

I'll admit, SP was disappointed that (1) this wasn't traditional baked ziti and (2) that it didn't have a tomato-based sauce. Even so, he grudgingly admitted it wasn't half bad. He cracked a joke about how there was no meat in his portion and he'd have to take that up with management, but he cleaned his plate and went back for a small second helping so it couldn't have been too bad.

I, on the other hand, loved this. The bright, fresh veggies made me feel less guilty about eating creamy, cheesy pasta. Unfortunately my yellow squash had gone bad by the time I got around to making this, but the addition of some chopped mushrooms worked well. I opted for canned diced tomatoes instead of fresh because I can't stand loose skin on tomatoes. I also doubled the recipe so we'd have enough for leftovers. Even Baby Girl enjoyed this, although she picked around most of the veggies. Oh well. She loves peas and corn, so that's something. She did take a bite of raw zucchini as I was prepping this, so she'll get there eventually. The pasta, however, she downed by the handful. I added some grated pecorino cheese on top, which added a nice, salty kick.

This is a great way to showcase some of the summer produce that's available right now.

Baked Ziti with Summer Vegetables
Slightly Modified from Cooking Light, as seen on Cooking for Fun

4 ounces uncooked ziti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow squash, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 large mushrooms, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup (2 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
1/2 chopped grated Pecorino cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Preheat oven to 400°.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan. Add squash, zucchini, onion and mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes. Add tomato and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in pasta, 1/2 cup mozzarella, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper.

Combine ricotta, remaining salt, and egg. Stir into pasta mixture. Spoon into an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and pecorino.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until bubbly and browned.
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Easy Mixed Greens Salad

I get bored with salads. I know I need to eat more salad and it's a great side dish, but it needs to be interesting in order to keep my attention. Enter this Easy Mixed Greens Salad, originally made with arugula (which I'm sure would also be delicious). Pine nuts are my new favorite salad ingredient after they made an appearance in my all-time favorite salad, the Bacon, Egg and Asparagus Salad, so as soon as I saw these on the ingredient list I knew I'd love this salad. Add two more of my favorite things - tomato and avocado - and I'm sold.

SP wasn't a fan of this salad, although he did eat the bowl I served him. He likes plainer salads, so I need to find a happy medium. I loved this, as I knew I would, and can't wait to make it again. It went very well with the Chicken and Basil Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes.

Easy Mixed Greens Salad
Slightly Modified from The Keenan Cookbook

4 cups mixed greens
1 cup cherry or grapes tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 large avocado - peeled, pitted and diced

In a large bowl combine greens, tomatoes, pine nuts, oil, vinegar, and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to mix. Divide salad onto plates, and top with diced avocado.
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Friday, June 15, 2012

Recipe Swap: Cajun Mac and Cheese

It's recipe swap time again. I love these recipe swaps and I'm thrilled that the ladies who participate enjoy them as well. As I've mentioned before, Blogger's Choice is the most popular theme for the swaps since it allows everyone the freedom to pick any recipe they want from their assigned blog. In fact, people love it so much I've decided to alternate between a theme and Blogger's Choice starting the end of July and going into mid-October.

This time I was assigned my friend Christina's blog, Tales from a Mad Men Kitchen. Christina had a lot of recipes I wanted to try, but I've had my eye on this Cajun Mac and Cheese since I saw it in Food Network Magazine and was disappointed when I didn't get it for the Noodle Swap. It was an obvious pick for me since we love mac and cheese.

Mary Ellen, the blogger who made this for the Noodle Swap, thought the flavors were a little flat so I made some changes to make sure this had plenty of oomph. I think the brand of andouille used probably has a lot to do with the spice level. Ours had a nice kick to it. I also made my own Cajun Spice Mix, which added another layer of spice. I opted to swap the cheddar for pepper Jack, not thinking that Monterey Jack is a mild cheese. In the recipe below, I changed the cheese to half cheddar, half pepper Jack, which I think will work perfectly.

This had a definite kick to it. The sauce was a little runny the first night, but perfect for leftovers the next day after the pasta absorbed some of the liquid. If you make your own spice blend you can control the heat, leaving out the cayenne if spice isn't your thing and increasing it if you want more kick. The little bites of andouille and red pepper were great and the onion flavor was nice and mild from the scallions. It's also a gorgeous plate of food. Just look at those colors. I served the mac and cheese with a salad made with mixed greens, diced tomato, diced avocado and some frozen corn I defrosted, tossed with a simple vinaigrette made with rice vinegar, oil, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Super simple and delicious.

Cajun Mac and Cheese
Slightly Modified from Christina Cooks

Kosher salt
12 ounces wagon-wheel pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces andouille sausage, diced
2 cups thinly sliced scallions
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon Cajun spice blend (see below)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
4 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, cut into cubes
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 1 minute less than the label directs. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and sausage in a large skillet over high heat and cook, stirring, until the sausage starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the scallions and bell pepper and cook until the vegetables are slightly soft, about 3 more minutes. Add the Cajun spice and flour and cook, stirring, 2 more minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and continue whisking until the sauce is thick and smooth, about 5 more minutes.

Add the pasta, cheese and reserved cooking water to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, tossing to coat the pasta in the sauce and melt the cheese, about 1 minute.

Cajun Spice Mix

3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Stir together all the spices until evenly blended. Store in an airtight container.
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Chicken and Basil Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes

We are big baked potato fans in this house, but I rarely make them. Why, I have no idea. I think of them as more of a side dish, which I then self-limit to being served alongside steak, which we don't eat often. And there you have it. But these Chicken and Basil Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes are a meal in themselves, especially served with a side salad or some steamed veggies. SP was a big fan, which I was happy about. He knows he needs to eat healthier meals but old habits die hard. Of course he joked how much better they would have been with bacon, so maybe I'll look into turkey bacon to make them healthier (or just use two slices divided between 4 potatoes). I doubled the recipe so we'd have leftovers.

I cooked the potatoes and poached the chicken, made the sauce and then assembled the stuffed potatoes during the day, which meant all I needed to do was put the baking sheet in the oven when SP called to say he was on his way home. As Jessica said, these are not an easy weeknight meal due to the amount of time needed to prep them, but if you're able to do all the work ahead of time it isn't too bad. I think these could even be prepped the night before and stored in the fridge until ready to bake. Regardless, these are delicious and filling.

Chicken and Basil Stuffed Twice Baked Potatoes
As Seen On Sunny Side Up in San Diego

4 baking potatoes
Olive oil and kosher salt for coating
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup half and half
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh basil, minced
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.

Scrub the outside of the potatoes really well, then pat dry with paper towels, prick each potato with a fork 6-8 times, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each potato with about a teaspoon of oil and use a pastry brush to evenly distribute over surface then sprinkle with kosher salt. Flip the potatoes and repeat on the other side. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half, or until they are tender.

When the potatoes are close to being done, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 3-4 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the half and half and broth. Stir well and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. In the meantime, chop the basil. After the sauce has simmered, add the basil, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Once the potatoes have finished baking, cut them in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop out the insides, leaving a thin shell around the edges, then return the shells, open side up, to the baking sheet. Place the potato guts in a bowl. Use a fork to slightly mash the potatoes. Pour the sauce into the bowl with the potatoes and stir to incorporate. Add the cooked shredded chicken and stir.

Fill the potato shells with the filling, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese, and return them to the hot oven for 10 minutes, switching to the broiler for the last minute or so if the cheese hasn't yet started to turn golden brown. Serve hot with a small side salad or steamed vegetables.
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