Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Me and Salad? Not the Best of Friends

I'm not a big salad eater. Well, I should say, I don't eat salad at all. The whole not liking lettuce thing (or really any veggies) kind of gets in the way of us having a relationship. I do however like salads of the non-lettuce variety, but even those I'm pretty picky about. I like chicken salad, but no celery and no fruit in it please. I like potato salad, but not with a mustard base. I know...why not just leave all salads alone and let those who enjoy them have them? I just can't. I like the basic concept of the salads, but I like to add different things or omit certain ingredients. And sometimes I come across a recipe that just looks good, even if it has the word "salad" in it. And Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad has all things I love in it! I figured I couldn't go wrong.

I made this to take to a Sunday school class social, where we just happened to be watching to Auburn/LSU game. Yeah, Auburn lost but the pasta salad turned out great! Next time, I think I will omit the chicken though. It didn't seem to add that much to the dish in my opinion and would take some time out of the preparation. My additions/omissions are in italics.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
(Source: Amber's Delectable Delights)

2 cups dry shell pasta (I used macaroni)
1/4 cup julienne carrots (I omitted these)
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 pckt (or 3 tbls) dry ranch dressing mix
4 strips bacon (cooked and crumbled) (I used 6 strips... I love bacon!)
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups chicken (cut into bite size pieces; cooked and cooled)

1) Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in pasta, wait a few minutes then add in carrots and cook until pasta is al dente. Drain pasta into strainer and rinse with cold water. Shake until well drained. Set aside.
2) In medium sized bowl mix the mayonnaise, ranch dressing mix, bacon and onion powder. Add in the cooled pasta and carrots, chicken and cheese. Mix until everything is covered with mayonnaise mixture. Chill and serve.

*(If you feel that there is not enough mayonnaise to cover all the ingredients just add in a tablespoon or so more until it covers everything well). (I did add in another tablespoon and that made it perfect!)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

“And above all…Think Chocolate!”

The above is a quote by Betty Crocker. Very fitting for the queen of baking to say chocolate is at the top of her list. For me, chocolate is one of those things I crave. It’s not something I have to have all the time, but when I crave it, get out of my way! It’s one of those foods that can make you feel better when you’re having a bad day. There have even been scientific studies to show the effect chocolate has on the brain as it releases certain endorphins. Add some peanut butter and that makes it even better to me.

My sister made some Peanut Butter Brownie Cookies a while ago and I loved them! I am not a big cookie person, so I only really tried them to be polite, but WOW. They are awesome! I asked her to send me the recipe and decided to make them for our weekly girl’s night tonight. Last night wasn’t a big TV night for me, but I did want to watch Private Practice. So, I got started on them about an hour before it started and they were done in plenty of time. They were really pretty easy to make. **Helpful Hint: I could only get the batter combined so much using the spoon, so I ended up just using my hands to finish it.**

Peanut Butter Brownie Cookies

Source: Unknown (I forget where my sister found the recipe)

1 box fudge brownie mix
1/4 cup Land O Lakes butter, melted (and unsalted butter is fine)
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup peanut butter (creamy works best)
1/2 container chocolate fudge frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl beat brownie mix, melted butter, cream cheese and egg with spoon until well blended (dough will be sticky). Onto un-greased cookie sheet(s), drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart to make 24 cookies. Smooth edge of each to form round cookie. In small bowl mix sugar and peanut butter until forms a ball. Make 24 balls and lightly press one into the center of each ball of dough. Bake 10-14 minutes. (The picture to the right is after they came out of the oven before they were iced) Cool on cookie sheets at least 30 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets and spread a thin layer of frosting over peanut butter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sautéed Potatoes

This is the side dish I made for my hubby last night. (See the previous post titled "Good Friends and Good Food.") This is probably his favorite dish that I cook. You can do a million different variations by adding different seasonings. Play around with it and add in whatever seasoning blends you have in your pantry. I used prosciutto when I made them last night, but that is optional of course. I am not really exact on the measurements because I just kind of throw things in until it looks right. This is loosely based on a recipe I’ve seen Rachel Ray do on 30 Minute Meals.

Sautéed Potatoes

4 medium sized red potatoes, chopped into cubes

Roasted Garlic Seasoning Blend

½ cup chopped prosciutto (you can substitute chopped bacon or bacon bits)

1 TBSP Toasted Sesame Oil

Fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano

Fill a deep sauté pan with water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender. Pour potatoes and water into colander and put pan back on the stove over medium heat. Add prosciutto to pan and cook for approx. 2 minutes. Add potatoes back to pan and toss with prosciutto. Add toasted sesame oil. Add seasoning blend to taste. Toss contents of pan and make sure the potatoes are covered in oil and seasoning. Let potatoes sit in pan for several minutes to let the outside crisp up. Toss and let other side crisp. Place in serving dish and grate fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.

Good Friends and Good Food

Last night we had some friends over to have dinner and play cards. For me, it was the perfect time to try out a new recipe. I bought some smoked Gouda when I went grocery shopping last week and scoured the web for something new and interesting to make with it. When I came across a recipe for Smoked Gouda Risotto I knew the search was over, sign me up. Anything with rice and cheese sounds perfect to me. However, my husband is the complete opposite. Cheese and rice? No thanks. It’s not American or Cheddar cheese? He’ll pass. He’s gotten more adventurous with food since we’ve gotten married, but I guess he has to draw the line somewhere. But last night I had two new people to be my guinea pigs, so I went for it.

Let me just tell you, risotto is a labor of love. Do not make this dish if you want to be able to do other things while you cook. You might as well chain yourself to the stove top for 45 minutes because that’s the only place you’ll be. Also, your arm will get a nice workout from all the stirring. Yes, it’s sad that I count cooking food as exercise.

I really enjoyed this dish, and my guests seemed to also. It is rich and creamy with a great nutty flavor from the smoked Gouda. You could probably add any kind of cheese you like and it would be wonderful. I served the Smoked Gouda Risotto with grilled chicken and green beans. (I made some sautéed potatoes for my husband since he wasn’t touching the rice. I will post that recipe later) My changes/additions are in parentheses in italics.

Smoked Gouda Risotto

Source: Recipezaar.com

2 cups water

2 (16 ounce) cans chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups arborio or other short grain rice

1/2 cup dry white wine (I used more chicken stock instead)

1/3 cup shallots (I used 2 cloves of garlic, pressed)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups shredded smoked gouda cheese

5 cups chopped arugula or spinach (I omitted this)

  1. Combine water and broth; set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a large nonstick saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add 1/3 cup shallots, cover and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add rice.
  5. Cook 2 minutes uncovered, stirring constantly.
  6. Stir in 1/2 cup wine; cook 30 seconds or until the liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly.
  7. Adding salt and 1/2 cup broth mixture, stir until absorbed.
  8. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly.
  9. Be sure broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes total).
  10. Stir in Gouda, cook just until melted.
  11. Stir in arugula or spinach.
  12. Cook just until spinach is wilted.

(I garnished it with some parsley)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Things that make you go MMMM.....

Growing up I always liked to lick the beaters when my mom was baking. Icing....good! Cake batter....better! Cookie dough....the best! Of course we always got the lecture of how there were raw eggs in the batter and the dough, but we didn't care. That sugary goodness was all we could think about. In fact, my profile picture is of one such instance. Erin (my sister) and I were thoroughly enjoying whatever my mom was making that day.

When I came across a recipe (on several cooking blogs) for chocolate chip cookie dough dip, my heart skipped a beat. Could it really be? Everyone who made it raved about it. I decided to store the recipe away for a time when I could make it and not eat the entire bowl myself. Such a time presented itself last Thursday night when a group of girls from my Sunday school class came over. Needless to say it was a hit. It was super easy to make and I highly recommend it! I made it the night before and stuck it in the fridge until about 30 minutes before the girls got there.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip
Source: Recipezaar and the blog Sugar&Spice

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (8-oz) pkg cream cheese
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
3/4 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar over medium heat. Stir continuously, until the brown sugar dissolves. (You can also do this in the microwave but watch it closely. The butter/sugar mixture will boil over fast. Stir every 30 seconds or so.)
2. Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla extract and set aside to cool.
3. Beat the cream cheese and confectioner's sugar for 1 minute.
4. Slowly beat in the cooled butter mixture and beat again for another minute.
5. Stir in the chocolate chips.
6. Pour into a serving bowl and refrigerate.
7. Garnish with additional chips, if you choose.

Serve with Nilla wafers or graham crackers.

**Note: after refrigerating the dip it will be pretty solid and un-dippable so make sure to remove it from the refrigerator about 15-30 minutes before you plan on serving it, so it has time to soften up.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Hunt for the Perfect Salsa

Let me start by saying that Mexican is one of my favorite food genres. But the best thing about going to a Mexican restaurant to me is the salsa and the homemade chips. YUM! Add in some white cheese dip and I could sit at that table and eat all day. I don’t even need an entrée because I will gorge myself on the appetizer.

But have you ever tried to find salsa like at a Mexican restaurant at the grocery store? Trust me, I have, and it doesn’t exist. Well, not at the big chains in Alabama anyway. And don’t even get me started on the jars that say “Restaurant Style” salsa. That is a bold faced lie! I can look at the jar and see the big chunks of veggies floating around and know instantly that it is not what I want. The reason I like the salsa at the restaurant is that it is pureed. I don’t like the chunks, so don’t try to fool me with your clever attempt at advertising. Anyway, several years ago after wasting money on salsas from the store, my sister and I decided to try and replicate the fresh salsa from a Mexican restaurant. We bought all fresh ingredients and chopped and mixed them up and let me just tell you, it was NOT good and not even close to Mexican restaurant salsa. I then gave up the quest for a while. It was just too much disappointment.

I took up the cause again when I tried some homemade salsa my cousin made, and then some my co-worker made. I asked them about their ingredients and I have finally mixed and matched to make a recipe that is pretty darn close to the restaurant kind. We'll call it semi-homemade salsa because most of the ingredients come from a can.

My husband and I LOVE this salsa! I usually make a “batch” once a week. We will mix it with Velveeta cheese and just have it with tortilla chips for dinner sometimes. It is also a big hit at work when we have snack days.

Jaime's Semi-Homemade Salsa

1 can Mexican Style Stewed Tomatoes
2 cans Original RO*TEL (If you like things really spicy, you can use Extra Hot RO*TEL...but beware!)
2 - 3 cloves of garlic smashed (depending on how much you like garlic)
1/2 small white onion, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro (I just buy it tied together in the grocery store, then take half the bunch and chop off the stems)

Put all ingredients in the blender, in the order listed. Trust me, it works best this way. Pulse until it is the consistency you like.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Garlic for Breakfast??? Why Not!?

Recently I have been craving cheese biscuits from Red Lobster. I LOVE those things! I don’t even need real food when I go there. Just plop down about 4 baskets of those biscuits and I am in heaven! So, when I was asked to bring breakfast for Sunday School, I decided to look for a similar recipe and kill two birds with one stone: feed the class and indulge my craving. It was also something other than the typical breakfast casserole or doughnuts. I came across Paula Deen’s recipe for Garlic Cheese Biscuits and they looked simple enough to make on a Sunday morning before church. They turned out great, even if they weren’t “just” like Red Lobster’s. And I would probably omit the garlic next time and just top them with melted butter when taking them for Sunday School. I was amazed that some people don’t enjoy garlic for breakfast.

I tripled the recipe to make enough for my class. She says this makes 12 small biscuits, so I ended up with about 18 regular sized ones. You don't need to triple the garlic butter recipe though. You will have plenty if you just prepare it as instructed below. (I doubled it and had WAY too much butter left over)

Garlic Cheese Biscuits

Recipe courtesy Paula Deen

1 1/4 cups biscuit mix
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar
1/2 cup water

Garlic Butter:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the biscuit mix and cheese in a small bowl. Add the water and stir just until combined. The dough will be slightly moist. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the biscuits are firm and beginning to brown.

While the biscuits are baking, make the garlic butter. In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic powder, salt, and parsley flakes. Mix well. As soon as you bring the biscuits from the oven, brush them with the garlic butter using a pastry brush.