Friday, December 31, 2010

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers

If you know me at all, you know how much I LOVE spicy food. Not spicy to the point of burning your face and taste buds off, mind you, but a little kick is good. And these delightful little bullets of yumminess always hit the spot!
This recipe is one that I came up with, incorporating my version of savory cream cheese and adding my other vice, bacon, swaddling the pepper so lovingly. Then, you cook them over some hot charcoal until the bacon is crispy and the peppers have a little bit of char on them. Really, does it get any better than that?! I think not!! I suppose, if you really insisted upon it, you could grill these on a gas grill over low heat, but I love my charcoal grill. And, yes, I am the one who uses the charcoal grill, and consider myself quite adept at it!
If you ask me, one of the most important things you can buy when using a charcoal grill, other than the charcoal, is a chimney starter. You can find them for fairly cheap at many stores, including Wal-Mart, and you will definitely get your money's worth out of it. If you think about it, you probably waste at least $20 a year buying that toxic charcoal lighter fluid which doesn't ever really seem to burn off, leaving you with the terrible flavor all over your food. I don't know about you, but I don't find it altogether appealing! Not to mention, the chimney starter gives that stack of old newspapers and flyers a purpose, as the use of paper and fire is required in getting the charcoal started. You simply crumple approximately three pages of a newspaper and stuff them in the bottom space of the chimney, place that side down on the grill grate, fill the top with charcoal, and light the newspaper in a few different places. In 15 to 20 minutes, you should see fire near the top of the chimney and the charcoal will have grey ash around the edges - it's ready! Simply pour the charcoal out onto the bottom grate, making sure to use a long-handled utensil to spread the hot coals around, and set the cooking grate in it's place. I generally like to add some extra charcoal before putting the cooking grate in place, but that's a matter of personal preference... Then, close the lid of the grill, allowing the coals to work their magic while you finish preparing your food. See?! It's really not so hard! :-)

Now that we've had our lesson in using a charcoal grill, let's get on with the good stuff that we really came here for!!

18 -21 good-sized jalapeño peppers (equal to the number of bacon strips)
2 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened slightly
¼ tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. dried minced onion
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
¼ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ c. shredded cheddar or Colby jack cheese
1 pkg. center cut bacon

Wash the jalapeño peppers and clean by cutting off the stem end to make a cap and then removing the seeds and membranes. (They have special coring tools that can be purchased for a decent price if you're going to make these often. This helps to ensure the peppers remain intact and that the filling will remain inside when it is cooked.) Rinse the peppers under cool running water to make sure the insides are cleaned out, and then turn upside down next to their caps to dry while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the filling, start by mixing the cream cheese with all of the spices, making sure that they are fairly evenly distributed. Next, add the two cheeses and mix thoroughly. Once everything is mixed together well, spoon the mixture into a plastic cake decorating bag fitted with a large round tip. (You can also use a heavy duty zip top bag and cut one of the bottom corners off, if you don't have cake decorating supplies.)
While the filling is still slightly soft, pipe it into the insides of the hollowed out jalapeños, filling until very nearly full. Attach the pieces of jalapeño back together by threading them onto thin metal skewers or bamboo skewers soaked in water for at least 30 minutes (this helps to prevent them from burning on the grill), going through the bottom of the pepper and then up and through the cap. You should be able to fit 2-3 peppers on each skewer, just be sure to push the caps down as close as possible to cover the filling inside each pepper. Then, wrap one piece of bacon around each jalapeño, overlapping the meaty part with the fatty part if necessary, and secure each end with a toothpick that's been soaked in water. At this point, you can cover the peppers and refrigerate if you're preparing them ahead of time.
When you're ready to grill the peppers, be sure that your grill is not flaming hot. If it's too hot, all of the bacon grease will drip down and cause very large flare-ups; you're going to have some flare-up anyways, as you are cooking with bacon, but if the coals are more like embers they won't be nearly as bad. Place your skewers of bacon-wrapped peppers on the grill, making sure to turn them fairly often; cook until the bacon is crispy, the peppers are slightly charred, and the cream cheese filling is heated through. Enjoy! :-)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cranberry Cake

I came across this recipe after some friends came to visit, bearing gifts of yummy, fresh cranberry goodness from back home. There were also some fresh, squeaky cheese curds amongst the goodies, but those were gone by the next day! I had SOME help polishing them off!! (Luke works for one of the local cranberry marshes, where he and Lindsey live, and his sister is co-owner of a local cheese factory. I have the best friends ever!! ;-D)
Anyways... Lindsey was telling me about a cranberry cake that several people there have made, but hasn't gotten the recipe to me yet. While waiting, though, I thought I would check out some recipes and see what I could find on my own. While looking at the pictures, this cake instantly caught my attention and so I went to investigate. And was immediately intrigued!
Honestly, I would say that this was more of a coffee cake, but that could be because of the way I prepared it, with the nut topping. For the most part, I did follow the initial recipe, but you know I had to do my own thing a little bit too. While I do enjoy pecans, I don't generally have them around my house, as I prefer to snack on hazelnuts, walnuts, and flavored almonds. So, walnuts it is! I have to admit, walnuts are really the ones I prefer in baked goods anyways... If you know me, you know that I try to make everything a little bit healthier (it helps me to justify eating naughty treats for breakfast), so I used Smart Balance for half of the butter, and I left out the kirsch altogether. I think I probably did the topping a little different than was instructed also, as I was more interested in caramelized walnuts more so than a caramel kind of topping for the cake.
While I thought this was quite delicious with a little bit of whipped topping served on top, a friend of mine thought there was too much cranberry in it. Thus the basis of its appeal, right?! ;-P So, I guess if you're not really a big fan of cranberries, this would probably not be such a big hit for you. But, that's the great thing about a recipe - you can change it to be whatever you want it to be! I think some blueberries would also work well for this, so substitute those for half of the cranberries, if you'd like. Or just change the fruit entirely! Just be careful when doing this, as the water content varies between fruits and you don't want to end up with a runny batter that doesn't set up when baked. To help prevent this, you can coat your rinsed berries with flour before folding them into the cake batter, which will also keep the colors from running throughout your batter.

3 eggs
2 c. sugar
¾ c. unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. flour
2½ c. cranberries (1 bag)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan or a 10" springform pan and cut the butter into chunks.
Beat eggs and sugar together for 5-7 minutes; the eggs will increase in volume quite a bit, streaming into ribbons when you lift the beaters. They will also turn pale yellow. Add butter and flavorings and beat for 2 minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries (especially if using frozen cranberries, the batter will not be thin or soft at this time). Spread into greased pan and top with caramelized walnut topping (recipe below).
Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9x13, or a little over an hour for the springform. You may need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning too much. Cool completely before serving (Or not!).

Nut topping:
¼ c. butter
¼ c. brown sugar
1 c. finely chopped walnuts

Heat the butter in a pan over medium heat; add the sugar and stir until the mixture starts getting foamy and makes a kind of caramel sauce. Add the walnuts and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter and bake as above.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

S'mores Cupcakes

This recipe was most definitely NOT my own creation (You can find the original here.) I found this recipe while looking for ideas to make this creation on my own, but the recipe I had found was too perfect to not use as a guideline, only changing a few things. So, I kept nearly everything the same and just changed one or two things to be a little more convenient, like the use of miniature chocolate chips instead of chopping up all of the chocolate. And, if you prefer milk chocolate, use that, by all means. Like all recipes, make it your own! If you don't like something changeable in a recipe, like the type of chocolate, then use what you do like.
As for the "frosting", which is really more of a topping, I have made it using the vanilla and also have made it while forgetting to add the vanilla and it turns out delicious either way. It still tastes like yummy marshmallowy goodness! :-) And, while I've generally always made these in the warmer months, I think it would be a wonderful treat in the middle of winter!

2¼ c. plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1¾ c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. plus 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 c. 2% milk
½ c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. boiling water
1½ c. graham cracker crumbs
⅓ c. unsalted butter, melted
9 oz. miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Marshmallow Frosting:
8 large egg whites
2 c. sugar
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, optional

For cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners; set aside. Sift 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix ingredients together on low speed.
In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl and continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add boiling water and stir to combine; set cake batter aside. (The batter will be very watery after this last step, which is absolutely how it's supposed to look. Trust me, it will bake into a perfectly moist and delicious cupcake!)
Place graham cracker crumbs, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and melted butter in a large bowl; stir until well combined. Place 1 tablespoon graham cracker mixture into the bottom of each prepared muffin cup. Use the bottom of a small glass to pack crumbs into the bottom of each cupcake liner. Reserve the remaining graham cracker mixture for topping. Place 2 teaspoons of chocolate into each muffin cup. Transfer muffin tins to oven and bake until the edges of the graham cracker mixture is golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and fill each muffin cup three-quarters full with cake batter. Sprinkle each with remaining chocolate and graham cracker mixture. Return to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through baking, until tops are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer muffin tins to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely.
For Marshmallow Frosting: Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Transfer frosting to a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round or French tip (I like the Wilton large star tip - #2110). Pipe the frosting in a spiral motion on each cupcake. Transfer cupcakes to a baking sheet. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the frosting, taking care not to burn the cupcake liners. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container, up to 2 days. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Panini

So, the idea for this sandwich was definitely NOT my own original creation. The original concept comes from the Deli Bean Cafe in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, where I had lived for several years, and I kind of just took the idea and ran with it (since they wouldn't share their own recipe with me)! I often play around with some of the ingredients and have definitely found and mastered the technique which works the best.
First and foremost, let me just start by saying that if you initially roast more of the eggplant and zucchini, you can make sandwiches for the rest of the week without having to do all of the work all over again! Slice the eggplant and zucchini each ½-thick and spritz or brush with balsamic vinegar and olive oil; roast the slices in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes per side. Also, if you make sandwiches in advance, they reheat best is you do so on a panini press or on your George Foreman. Like the ratatouille paninis, I also make these sandwiches on my George Foreman, which works the same as a panini press.
For the pesto mayonnaise, I use some of my fresh pesto or thaw some of the frozen cubes and then mix it with mayonnaise until it's combined well. You can adjust the pesto in the mayonnaise to suit your own personal tastes, but I like a good deal of pesto in mine!

2 slices potato bread
2 slices provolone cheese
Handful baby spinach leaves
2 medium/large thin slices tomato
4-6 slices each roasted eggplant and zucchini
1 Tbsp. pesto mayonnaise

Spread enough margarine on one side of each slice of bread to thinly coat. On the inside of one of the slices of bread, place one slice of the provolone cheese; on top of the cheese, layer the spinach leaves in an even layer and then the tomato slices. Place another slice of provolone cheese on top of the tomato slices, then layer with the slices of eggplant and zucchini. Spread the pesto mayo on the inside of the other slice of bread and place it on top of the vegetables to make a sandwich, with the buttered sides on the outside. Place the sandwich on a panini press, or a George Foreman grill, and toast until the outside of the bread is golden brown, the vegetables are heated through, and the cheese is melted. Makes 1 yummy sandwich

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fresh Basil Pesto

If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE basil. And is it really so hard to understand why?! Basil is so fresh-tasting and delicious that almost anything you add it to automatically tastes fresher and better! If you need convincing of this, get yourself some fresh basil and try this: take approximately 10 basil leaves and roll and slice them thinly, then sprinkle it over the top of a plain frozen cheese pizza. It won't taste like any other frozen pizza you've ever had, that's for sure!
Even though I like using the basil leaves fresh off the plant by themselves, one of my favorite things to do with fresh basil is to make pesto. The best thing about this is that it preserves well, so you can keep it for a year and enjoy the same fresh herb taste in the middle of winter that you could in the middle of summer! After you have prepared the fresh pesto, all you have to do is fill the compartments of an ice cube tray with the mixture and freeze it until it's solid. When the pesto is frozen, just pop it out of the ice cube trays and place the frozen blocks into a freezer-safe zip top bag to keep in the freezer for whenever you need or want them. You could wrap the frozen blocks of pesto in plastic wrap before placing in the freezer bag, if you would like, and that will help hold it all together, but it's not necessary.
Now, after you've made the fresh pesto, there are countless things you can do with it. Mix it into fresh-cooked pasta before adding the sauce... Mix it with mayonnaise to use on sandwiches... Use it as a sauce on pizzas... Serve with crostini... Etc.
The only thing that I have to say is this... Pine nuts are DISGUSTING!! If I wanted my food to taste like a pine tree, I would go gnaw off some of the tree and just eat that. I don't know which crazy individual discovered that pine nuts are edible and then decided it would be a good idea to eat them, but it's just wrong. Pine nuts are just what you might presume - they're the seeds from inside pine cones. Someone goes and breaks open pine cones to harvest the little seeds from inside of them so that the delusional people who are told how yummy they are will eat them and then disillusion themselves further by convincing themselves that they taste good. Who are these people?! They are just wrong! I ALWAYS use walnuts, which ARE yummy, in my pesto, and I've never had bad results. :-)

½ c. walnuts
3 - 4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 - 5 oz. fresh basil leaves
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 - 1½ c. olive oil
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until garlic is coarsely chopped. Add the walnuts to the bowl and pulse again until the walnuts are chopped and mixed with the garlic, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper in batches; with the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Taco Meat

For those of us who enjoy cooking, there is not much greater reward than having people tell you how wonderful your dish was. Whether an original recipe or not is irrelevant, because YOU are the one who put the time and energy into it, maybe added some of your own little touches, and shared it with your loved ones.
For those of us who are health-conscious, or at least semi-conscious of what we're putting into our bodies, it is extremely gratifying to know that what you prepared for your loved ones not only tastes good but is also good for them. With all of the artificial colors and preservatives junk, not to mention a TON of added sodium and MSG, is there really much about the prepackaged mixes that is real?! With so much concern about heart disease and obesity, I can't even begin to explain how important it is to keep an eye on your sodium intake. A little bit really does go a long way, and it's not necessary to douse your food with the stuff. You really do want to taste the other ingredients in your dish, not be overwhelmed by the excessive salt flavor assaulting your mouth with every bite.
And that is what I love about growing my own herbs, especially basil, and mixing together my own spice mixes. Taco seasoning is no exception. For a long time, I've looked for a really good taco seasoning mix, and everything I had tried seemed to fall somewhat short of my expectations. Finally, my cooking mentor, Alton Brown, came along with his taco seasoning concoction, and I am now quite content with the taco seasoning I mix together right in my own kitchen! Not only do I get to choose the best ingredients that go into the mix, there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and I get to control how much salt goes in to my dish (which I have to say is not even half of what is suggested in a recipe).
The original recipe for Alton Brown's beef tacos, which is where I got this from, is here, and I would encourage everyone to at least take a look at it. Keep the things you like, change the things you don't. As with every and any other recipe - make it your own! In my case, I couldn't find the hot smoked paprika, so I just bought the regular smoked paprika and added a tiny bit of extra cayenne pepper to the mix. I wouldn't have even needed to do that, though, since it was spicy enough!

2 Tbsp. chili powder
1½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine. Store spice mix in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Yield: ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons spice mix

To use: Pour 2 tablespoons of canola oil into a skillet and turn heat to medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add 1 medium onion, chopped, and cook until softened and lightly browned around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add one pound of ground sirloin, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 cloves of garlic, minced. Cook until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, to break up the meat. Add Taco Potion and ⅔ cup (low-sodium) beef broth. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until sauce is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

Nothing says summer like fresh, vibrant flavors. Nothing says summer like fruit. I love when summer finally gets here, because that means all of the fruits and vegetables will be at their peak for freshness and flavor. And I could live on fruits and vegetables!
This is another one of those recipes in my collection that I found somewhere, and it wasn't exactly/entirely what I wanted, so I added some stuff and changed it until it was my own. I had liked the original idea, that of making a sweet salsa instead of a savory, but it just didn't have enough fruits in it for me. So, more of the fruits I like were bought and added to the mix! The first time I made this was with my best friend, Steph, and I can't even remember what exactly we were cooking for. I only remember that we were cooking a lot of food for some kind of party, and this was to be our snack while we were preparing all of this other food. We doubled the recipe, and there was still very little left over at the end of the night!

Printable Recipe

1 qt. finely chopped fresh strawberries
½ pint blueberries, halved
1 (15 oz.) can mandarin oranges, drained and chopped
1 lb. fresh bing cherries, pitted and chopped
3 medium kiwifruit, peeled and finely chopped
16 oz. unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained
1½ tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Cinnamon Chips:
10 (8-in.) flour tortillas
¼ c. butter, melted or butter-flavored cooking spray
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
⅓ c. sugar

In a medium bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
For the chips, brush tortillas with butter; cut each into eight wedges. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over tortillas. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 5-10 minutes or just until crisp. To prepare the chips in less time, and with more calories, you can also deep fry the tortillas in hot oil until they are golden brown and crisp. When they are done, remove them from the hot oil to a paper towel lined plate, and immediately sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Serve with fruit salsa. Yield: approximately 5 cups salsa (80 chips).

Oven Roasted Potatoes

So, this recipe is not entirely difficult or anything, but it IS one of my favorite ways to prepare potatoes. Actually, roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare almost everything! I love the way that what you're roasting gets this wonderful golden brown color from being gently caramelized and the flavor that the roasting brings out. It's just wonderful, yummy goodness...
When it comes to roasted potatoes, I have gotten so discouraged at times because nearly every single recipe out there calls for you to roast them with rosemary. I'm fairly certain that I just haven't had a recipe in which it was prepared properly and this has led to my absolute dislike of the herb as a result. In my opinion, there are two things, despite some popular belief, that you can have too much of - garlic and rosemary. Don't get me wrong, garlic can be delicious. But you CAN have too much of a good thing! As for rosemary... Until someone can prepare a dish for me, using rosemary, and I am not overwhelmed by the extremely intense flavor of it, I will continue in my dislike of it. And if I feel the unbearable desire to eat something that tastes like pine needles, I'll just take a hike out to the pine tree in the yard and pick a few off! :-P Now, give me some yummy, fresh basil, and I could probably just put that in a salad and eat it all by itself!! Hee hee hee!
For roasted potatoes, my very favorite are the baby reds. However, you can probably use any potato you like and they will be wonderful and delicious. I recently found a bag which contained a combination of baby russet, red, and purple potatoes, so I used those with yummy results! I've seen purple potatoes, like in magazines and on television, but they had never been in any of the grocery stores I had access to, so I never tried them. So, of course, I just had to try them! And they taste like a potato. While being a pretty and interesting presentation, the flavor does not stand out as being anything really spectacular or addictive. But, they ARE potato goodness! :-) I think the important thing to remember is that you don't NEED to have the little baby potatoes to make this dish - you can use whatever potato you have on hand or find on sale at the grocery store - you just need to be sure to cut the potatoes into a somewhat uniform size so that they roast in the same amount of time.

2 lb. red new potatoes, quartered
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning. Remove the potatoes from the oven and serve hot.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tarragon Chicken Salad

So, this is the chicken salad recipe I had been referring to... The one that one of my residents begged her daughter for so that she could give it to me! Admittedly, I did change a couple of things in the original recipe to suit my own tastes better, but the original comes from Kathy! :-)

I remember when I was first given the recipe... One of the ingredients - East Shore brand Key Lime mustard - is not a very conventional ingredient at all, and I spent a long time searching in local grocery stores for the dumb stuff. Only to find that Kathy usually gets it when she vacations in Door County! So, we called Kathy up and she told us exactly where I could find this mustard, which happens to be a little store called Main Street Market in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. Needless to say, I called them up and gave them my credit card information to send me some of this mustard... Now, normally, I would have just forgone the special mustard and opted for a good Dijon instead (which is what I did when making it prior to ordering this special mustard), but I was intrigued by what the flavor might taste like. It's really quite interesting!
I don't know if anyone else does this, but I do it all the time... Any time I'm working with a new ingredient that I'm not sure of, I taste it. Just the ingredient, whatever it may be. There are a few exceptions, of course, but I generally taste everything separately before adding it to anything else. Spices... Herbs... Fruits... Vegetables... Sauces... Mustards... Whatever! It really is easier to know/figure out what I would like best with an ingredient if I know what said ingredient tastes like on its own. And this Key Lime mustard was no exception. In fact, I still remember the day it came in the mail... I opened my mailbox and was initially confused by what it could be in this big manila envelope, until I saw the return address and realized that it was my mustard arriving already!! (I'm easily excitable at times...) I ran back to my apartment and immediately ripped the envelope open and took the jar of mustard out, followed by breaking the seal and taking a small sample about a minute later! It's different... But really tasty!

Now, like I said, if you can't find the Key Lime mustard and/or don't want to order it, don't even worry about it; feel free to use a good Dijon mustard instead. And feel free to mix up some of the ingredients if you prefer something else, make it your own! That's what recipes are for. Recipes are not set in stone, they're a guide you can change all you want until they are exactly what you do want!

2 (13 oz.) cans Chicken Breast (like Tyson)
4 Tbsp. coarsely chopped walnuts
4 tsp. dried minced onions
4 tsp. dried tarragon leaves
8-12 twists fresh ground pepper
1/2 - 3/4 c. craisins
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Key Lime (East Shore brand) or Dijon mustard
1 c. Hellman's mayonnaise

Drain the chicken and remove from cans to a double layer of paper towels; pat dry and then flake the chicken into a medium bowl. Add the next five ingredients and stir to combine. Mix together the mustard and mayonnaise in a small bowl and add to the chicken mixture. Cover and chill; allow to sit for at least an hour to marry the flavors. Serve on croissants.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Tomato & Cucumber Salad

Last night I thought I had it all figured out about what I was going to post for today... I have this wonderful chicken salad that one of my residents begged her daughter to share with me (who I in turn share it with every time I make it), and I just made a fresh batch of it so that I could take pictures. I bought some fresh croissants from the bakery. Everything was planned out. And then today happened!
Like the crazy person I am, I agreed to work for one of the girls this morning. But, it was only a four-hour shift, so it wasn't so bad... At 10:30, I finished that shift and started walking home when I came across someone setting up a garden-fresh produce stand on the route I take! There were baskets and baskets of fresh, red, ripe tomatoes... Baskets of fresh zucchini... Fresh cucumbers (the great farm fresh kind that aren't covered in wax)... Watermelons... And all kinds of other stuff that I know I'm missing! Admittedly, the cucumbers and tomatoes caught my eye and grabbed my attention right away, so I didn't really have eyes for much of anything else today. The only thing stopping me from buying a whole crap-ton of vegetables right then and there was that I only had $7 in my pocket... So, I settled for 2 cucumbers, at a lovely price of 2 for $1, and 3 very large tomatoes, at $2 a pound.
I didn't even know what I was going to do with my treasures right away - there are so many things I want to make with the fresh produce that I was having a hard time picking just one! Should I make some yummy BLTs?! With a Creamy Cucumber Salad? That sounded wonderful! But, as delicious as that sounds, there is ONE thing that sounded even better, especially because I haven't had it since last year - Tomato and Cucumber Salad!! It's so easy, yet so delicious! My only regret... It was so good that I ate it all in one afternoon/evening and now I have none left until I go back and get some more veggies! :'( Maybe I should just triple the recipe... ;-P
This is one of those recipes I have in my arsenal which was inspired by something else. I used to work at a nursing home that made a very similar salad, and I liked it so much that I decided to try making it myself. I might be a little biased, but I think mine tastes much better! Hmmmmmm... Perhaps because I am so awesome?! :-P Most likely, I think it's because I only make it in the summertime, when fresh produce is at its peak and readily available. If you've never had a real garden-fresh tomato, you NEED to go find your local farmer's market and grab yourself some real tomatoes! I can't even describe how much better the flavor is compared to what you buy in the store... They are just AWESOME!!

Look at these! You can just SEE how much better they're going to taste!!

3 large, ripe tomatoes
1 large or 2 small cucumbers
1/2 medium purple onion
2 Tbsp. dried parsley (or use fresh if you have it)
Zesty Italian salad dressing

Core the tomatoes, chop into large chunks, and place in a medium-sized bowl. Peel the cucumbers and cut them lengthwise into quarters; slice to medium thickness and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Dice the onion and add that to the bowl. Sprinkle dried parsley on top of everything, crushing a little bit to help release the flavors of the herb. Pour Italian dressing over everything until it makes a nice sauce for the vegetables to bathe in (I used approximately 3/4 of a bottle of dressing) and stir to combine. Let the salad rest for at least an hour, to marry the flavors, before serving.

Roasted Ratatouille Paninis

After making my ratatouille and having so much left over, I had to come up with something to do with the rest of it... I mean, it was really good and all, but I can only eat the same exact thing for about two or three days in a row before I'm growing a little tired of it. And since I apparently only know how to cook like I'm feeding an army instead of one person, I had a TON of ratatouille leftovers!

That got me thinking... I make a roasted vegetable panini, which has many of the same ingredients, so I got out my little George Foreman grill, some bread and cheese, and got to work! These paninis are equally delicious and I know I received at least one envious stare while sitting at the lunch table at work that evening. :-)

2 slices cottage or potato bread
2 slices Provolone cheese
1 c. (approximately) prepared ratatouille
Spreadable margarine or butter

Spread one side of each slice of bread with enough margarine or butter to just cover, like you would for a toasted cheese sandwich. On the non-buttered sides of the bread, place one slice of the Provolone cheese each. On one of the slices of cheese-covered bread, spread the ratatouille mixture to evenly cover the inside of the sandwich and top with the other piece of cheese and bread. Place the sandwich, with the buttered sides facing the outside, onto a preheated panini press or George Foreman grill and cook until the bread is toasted a nice golden brown color and the cheese is melted. (If you're using a George Foreman grill, you may have to rotate the sandwich 180 degrees after a few minutes in order to get an even press on the sandwiches.) Remove sandwich to a cooling rack and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before cutting into it. Makes 1 sandwich

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oven Roasted Ratatouille

So, this is one of those recipes that I have NO idea exactly where I found it... I know I had found it online somewhere, and had just happened to stumble across it while looking for something else, but I don't remember exactly where it was.
In any case, I was intrigued by the recipe and typed it up into a Microsoft Word document and then saved it onto my "Cookbook" flash drive. (Yes, I am THAT kind of fruitcake! All of the recipes I find and like or am intrigued by, I type into a Word document and save onto this little flash drive which I titled "Cookbook". I have the folders - 25, to be exact - and subfolders on this flash drive set up so that I can easily access it and find whatever I might want, from beverages to vegetables. I even have a Twilight-Themed Party folder, which includes recipes for a party I am helping to plan with some friends for when the next movie in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, comes out in theaters! And, yes, the recipes I test for that will appear on my blog. :-) )

So, anyways, back to the ratatouille!

I had never had the stuff before, but I was more than willing to give it a try... Especially when it included one of my favorite herbs - basil! Not to mention, it is loaded with vegetables, making it extra healthy. Basically, all ratatouille recipes are made up entirely of vegetables which are cooked or roasted in some way, shape, or form. I've come across recipes for ratatouille previously which consisted of a number of ways to prepare the dish, including grilling and cooking on the stove top, but they didn't really grab my attention because they were essentially just recipes of a bunch of cooked vegetables thrown together in a dish and served. Now, c'mon, that's not really a recipe! Well, not in my opinion anyways...
Then, I found this recipe! Every time I make this dish, it turns out delicious; and I'm not one for exact measurements when cooking, so it turns out a little bit different every time. The best thing about ratatouille is that it's so versatile - you can eat a whole plate of it with some crusty French bread as a meal in itself, you can serve it as a side dish, and even use it in sandwiches. And while you CAN prepare this and freeze it for later, I would suggest that you only use the thawed stuff in sandwiches because all of the vegetables tend to get really soft when thawed out and heated up.

1 pan of already roasted ratatouille next to one waiting to be roasted.

The completely finished product!

1 medium Italian eggplant or several Asian
2 lb. ripe Roma tomatoes
¼ c. red wine
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 medium green or yellow zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 large red onion
6 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. coriander seeds, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the eggplant into 2½ - 3 cm. chunks and put all of them into a colander. Salt well, if necessary, and then place several paper towels on top of the vegetable. Place the colander in a sink basin or in a bowl and then put a weight on top of the vegetable to draw out the bitter juices and let sit for about 30 minutes. (This step of salting is really only necessary sometimes for the Italian eggplants.)
Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the pulp and seeds before cutting them into chunks. Put the chunks into a bowl, add salt, pepper and then the wine and vinegar. Let the tomatoes macerate as you set the oven temp to 450°, then go about chopping the zucchini and bell peppers into 2½ - 3 cm. pieces and cut the onions into wedges.
In one or more roasting pans (for this quantity, two 9 x 13 pans will work splendidly - and I used disposable pans so that I wouldn't have to scrub my good pans afterwards) coat the insides with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Take the weight off the eggplant, discard the bitter water, rinse, and tumble the vegetable into the pans, then follow with the tomatoes (juices and all) and the rest of the vegetables and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, and then sprinkle the spices on top and mix all the vegetables together by hand. I usually add another restrained glug of olive oil on top prior to popping the tins into the oven. Bake for an hour or until the veggies are tender and their edges are slightly singed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

French Onion Soup

For many years now, I have sampled French Onion Soup at nearly every restaurant I've gone to (so long as they've offered it on the menu). If it's good, I LOVE French Onion Soup. But, when it's bad... Ugh! The part that really burns my butt, though, is this - French Onion Soup is cheap to make. I mean really cheap. So, for them to rob me of my hard-earned five dollars in exchange for their mostly mediocre broth concoction is just a crime! Especially when said concoction is mostly just a bunch of beef stock or broth with a few little chopped onions in the bottom of the bowl. What the frank is that crap?!
Frustrated by the lack of deliciousness when I'm being forced to pay an obscene amount of money for something, I finally decided to figure out how to make it myself. I went to Google and typed in "French Onion Soup," and could have spent days pouring through (no pun intended) all of the soup recipes... From Julia Child's recipe to every other home cook's variation, I picked through maybe 10 different recipes, looking for what I wanted most. I never actually did find that recipe, though... So, what I did instead was looked at the recipes I liked some parts of, took those parts and mixed them with some other parts, then put my own little touch on it. The recipe I came up with gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it!

Printable Recipe

4 lb. onions, sliced
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 - 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
8 c. beef broth
1 Tbsp. dried thyme, crushed
2 - 3 bay leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Baguette, cut in ½-in. slices and toasted or croutons
Provolone cheese, sliced
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil; add onions. Cover and cook, without stirring, for 15 minutes. Cook 30 - 45 minutes longer or until onions are translucent, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic, mixing it with the onions a little bit, and pour in the beef broth. Add salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven's broiler. Toast the bread slices. Ladle the soup into ovenproof bowls and place the bowls on a baking sheet. Place a toasted slice of bread (or croutons) over each bowl and top with Provolone and Parmesan cheeses. Place the bowls under the broiler until the cheeses are melted and lightly browned.

Welcome to Sandie's Bitchin' Kitchen!

I can't even begin to describe what I am feeling right now in creating this blog... I am really very excited about the whole thing! I'm also a little nervous too. I know that I don't come up with all of my recipes on my own, and I have never claimed that I do either. However, I don't remember where I found all of my recipes, and I don't want to get in trouble for copying someone else's recipes because I don't know who to give the credit to - although, if it's a basic recipe, it most likely definitely came from Alton Brown. :-) I seriously have Food Network or The Cooking Channel on my television ALL THE TIME. I'm always looking through cookbooks and cooking magazines. And is that really necessary with recipes, to have to give your source for where you got your inspiration?! I don't even know! Really, if you think about it, all recipes had to start somewhere... All recipes had to get their information, even a base knowledge, from somewhere... So, if they don't credit those base recipes as where they adapted their "original" recipe from, is that not also copying someone else's ideas? A painter or musician receives inspiration from their everyday lives, the people around them, objects around them, but they don't have to state the source for said inspiration. Cooking is equally artistic and beautiful! Really, I would just like to think that we're all sharing and borrowing... Food can be so wonderful. Why hog it all to ourselves?! And, for the most part, I don't mind sharing my recipes, whether original or not. If someone else would also enjoy the creation too, why keep it a secret and hoard it like the last cookie found at the bottom of the cookie jar?

Now, speaking of cookies, there is ONE recipe in this whole world that I will NOT share... And that is the recipe for my Oatmeal Cherry Cookies. That is a special recipe, created with a friend, and we are both sworn to secrecy. One day, we are going to make it rich with that recipe! I just know it!! :-)

With that being said... Welcome to my blog!